On The Side

Today, Gentle Reader, I have for you three recipes for easy delicious vegetable dishes.

Another trio you may have heard of: the Matthews Family Band.

Two of them are from my mother.  And, the other one would horrify her.  I think we should start with that one.

It’s roasted broccoli.  The reason why it would send chills down her spine is because you want this broccoli to get very crispy and take on some serious color.  I’m talking burnt sienna from the Crayola box.

This was the big box when I was a kid. Apparently there is a box with 120 crayolas now.

The browning of food occurs because of the Maillard reaction, and it’s a good, tasty, desirable thing.  But to my mom, anything darker than light tan is dreadfully, irretrievably, burned.  You have no idea how many innocent, yet mid-brown Parker House rolls I have seen discarded, never having lived out their delicious, yeasty, destiny.

To my mom, these are burned beyond redemption.

You can do a version of this in the skillet, but it can go from brown and crispy to inedibly scorched in a blink.  Oven roasting goes a little slower, which almost eliminates the charcoal result  (although if you fail to set a timer and forget about it, that is totally on you, Gentle Reader).

The second dish is slow-cooked string beans with salt pork.  The trick here is to make like Mom.  You start with fresh beans, cook them low and slow (but not too slow), and take them off heat when there is still a little bit of structural integrity left.  I cannot state strongly enough how much you do not want mush.  Think al dente.

Try and get a little more color on it than this. Brown means flavor and sweetness.

And finally, fried squash.  Here the big secret is to, Leave.It.Alone.  When the liquid has cooked out it becomes fragile.  And you not only want m to minimize breakage, you want everything to pick up a little color (just light caramel, Mom, I promise).  That’s also why my fat of choice is butter, unlike my mother’s vegetable oil.

Louis-Camille Maillard.

If you’re Maillard averse Gentle Reader, I feel your pain, but urge you in the strongest possible fashion, to cook past your comfort zone, at least once.  If you hate it, you never have to do it again.

But, you might just love it…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Roasted Broccoli

2 heads broccoli, cut into large florets

¼ cup vegetable oil

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked pepper

Place a large, rimmed baking sheet inside oven and set to 450°.  Let oven heat for 20 minutes to get pan really hot.

Place broccoli into large bowl, drizzle oil over and add large pinches of salt and pepper.  Toss to coat.

Spread broccoli out onto pan in single layer.  Bake for 20 minutes, flip florets and bake 10-15 more or until there is lots of browning and crisping, and stems are tender-crisp.  Serves 4-6.

Mom’s String Beans

2 pounds string beans, cleaned but left whole

5 slices of salt pork

Big pinch of Salt & pepper to taste

Put everything in large pot with a tight lid.  Add enough water to cover.  Cook on very low (2-3) for 2 ½ hours, stirring occasionally and adding water to keep veg covered.

Check for seasoning and  serve.  8-10 servings.

Fried Squash

3 pounds yellow squash, cut into ¼ inch rounds

1 large yellow onion, cut into half-moons

¼ cup butter

1 teaspoon sugar

¾ teaspoon salt

¾ teaspoon pepper

Place everything into large skillet.  Cover and cook 8 minutes on medium-low.  Remove lid and give a gentle stir.  Turn up to medium and cook until the liquid has totally cooked out.

Cook until veg starts to lightly caramelize, turn over with spatula and cook until there’s color on the bottom side.  Do this once more or until there’s plenty of light browning throughout dish.

Check for seasoning and serve.  Serves 4-6.

What Can Brown Do For You?

My mother would be convinced that the veggies were burnt and should be discarded.  This would result in my father running over to Food Lion to acquire more microwavable veggies as the family sits around the dinner table and Mom frets about everything getting cold and dried out.

It’s because she has the lowest of thresholds of what burned is.If her baked macaroni and cheese has brown spots on the top, it’s burned.  If rolls go beyond the lightest of caramel-color, they’re burned.  And if veggies get a barely perceptible touch of char, they’re burned and ruined.


Except, as Chef Ann Burrell delights in proclaiming in a fake, growly, bear-like voice, “Brown food tastes good!”.The Maillard (my-yard) reaction is when amino acids and sugars mix with heat and to a certain extent, pressure, making those delicious, delicious brown markings on food.

If you want to know how important and tasty the Maillard reaction is, think about a hot, melty grilled cheese, on limp blond, not browned, but crispy bread.  Or, flaccid bacon.  Enjoy grill marks?  Maillard reaction.Due to exposure to my mom’s brown food aversion, and my own, near-certifiable level of impatience, I came exceedingly late to the brown food fan club.

But I’m now recording secretary.

It’s easy to get a nice brown crust on meat, no matter how long it needs to cook, the recipe you’re using, or the method of preparation.All you need is a metal pan (a cast iron is best here) that’s screaming hot and a little oil.  Dry both sides of the meat, put the thinnest coats of oil on it, then season both sides.  Place the pieces in the pan without crowding them, which will steam them, rather than sear.  They should be no closer than ½ inch.  And the more contact meat makes to hot surface, the more of it will be brown.

Then cook the meat on each side until there’s a beautiful, deeply caramel-colored crust.  Flip, and cook the other side.  Finish cooking according to directions. Brown veggies though, are my newest obsession.

It all started with some frozen, multi-colored Trader Joe’s cauliflower.

The directions said to put a bit of vegetable oil in the pan to cook them.  But, we really love cauliflower with brown butter, so I put a few tablespoons in the pan and let it brown.  Then I put in the still frozen cauliflower, turned it down to about 4, and covered it.When the cauliflower was heated through, I uncovered the pan and turned it up to about 6.  There was a little water in the skillet from the veg which I wanted to cook off.  This is where I had the happy accident.

I was preoccupied with getting the rest of dinner put together, so I neglected the cauliflower, and it cooked longer than normal (for me).When I got back to it, it had developed beautiful browning.  In the past, I never cooked vegetables until they picked up color.  But, instead of deciding it was burned and discarding it, I just flipped it to expose another part to the pan.

The result was a side dish that Petey is still talking about.You can do this with both frozen and fresh.  But it must be a harder veg, like broccoli, cauliflower, or carrots.  A more tender veggie like peas, will turn gray.  So cook them gently, then roll them in brown butter.  They’ll pick up the maillard flavor without going all elementary school cafeteria food on you.

Chef Ann Burrell and chocolate can’t both be wrong.  Brown is good.And, not burnt.

Thanks for your time.