The zucchini are coming! The zucchini are coming! The season is almost here. It will not be long before those vegetables we planted a couple of months ago will be yielding their bounty. And, if you did not plant your own, our local farmers market is just loaded with great product. I sure did enjoy the asparagus that was cut in the morning and on my table at night. I even did a couple of nice omelets with ham and asparagus.
So, today’s column will be mostly about using some of these vegetables with quick and easy recipes, with some nutritional comments along the way. Let us start near the top of the alphabet with beets. Not only are they delicious, but they are packed with a lot of good things and a minimal amount of the bad. One cup of beets is a healthy food with only about 74 calories, no fats or cholesterol, and only 17 milligrams of carbs and 130 milligrams of sodium, and good amounts of protein and fiber. Warming, of course, depending on the recipe, will change those numbers.
Cooking is easy, too. Wipe them clean and put them into a large pot of water. Bring to a boil for 30 to 45 minutes; the time will vary according to the size. I like them about 2.5 inches across. Drain, rinse and rub the skins off and slice. You will be surprised at how delicious they are when eaten while still warm, and dressed with melted butter and grated orange peel.
My favorite recipe for beets is Italian. Make a dressing of a quarter cup of olive oil, half that amount of balsamic vinegar, and a teaspoon each of ground black pepper and Italian seasoning, then pour over the sliced beets. I like to serve this at room temperature.
Want the easiest of all recipes? Slice the thick end from a head of cauliflower and then hollow out the core. Brush the top with a couple of tablespoons of softened butter and cover it with plastic wrap and microwave for five or six minutes. While hot, sprinkle with a quarter cup of grated Parmesan and a quarter cup of parsley. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving to blend the flavors. How easy is that?
One of my favorite ways to cook this vegetable is to cut the head into florets and steam them for 15 or 20 minutes, to just “fork tender.” Now, mash with a fork into just over rice size. Stir in half a cup of frozen peas that you thawed in the microwave, olive oil, black pepper and grated Parmesan. This dish is so tasty that I keep it in the refrigerator for a quick and healthy snack. You can use this same recipe, only leaving the florets whole and not mashing them. This is a very nutritious vegetable with 146 calories, 146 milligrams of sodium, 29 milligrams of carbs and a whole lot of fiber and protein in a medium-size head.
Swiss chard is another easily prepared vegetable. Unfortunately, most cooks concentrate on the leaves and discard the stems. Farmers tend to leave the stems in the field, too. Try this next time you have some chard. Cook the tops as you always have, and enjoy. Now rinse the stems, cut off the bottoms of the stems and then slice them into about 2-inch pieces, and then toss into boiling water. Yes, I say it over and over again: Cook until "fork tender." In America, we tend to so overcook our vegetables and not only do kids hate them, so do many adults.
When ready, drain and set aside, trying to reserve a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water. Lower the heat to medium and the pot goes back on the fire; add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Cook for two or three minutes, return the chard and stir well. Now add half a cup of seasoned bread crumbs and half a cup of Parmesan cheese, stir well and serve.
Yes, I do like Parmesan cheese. But more importantly, I like to eat well, and summer vegetables give us an opportunity to eat inexpensively, deliciously and healthily.