When I was attending the Culinary Institute of America, serving wilted food was enough to earn a poor grade and a not so friendly look from the executive chef instructor. Wilted vegetables were a sign of age and something to avoid. Funny how things change.
Today, wilting vegetables is in vogue. It's an accepted technique used at some of the finest restaurants nationwide. The process of wilting involves adding delicate vegetables such as spinach, arugula, tiny green beans or fresh herbs to other warm ingredients, which causes the vegetable to barely cook or just "wilt."
This has been a favorite technique of mine for the last few years and is a great way to preserve the integrity and flavor of ingredients. Wilting is simple and a great bridge between using raw ingredients and spending lots of time in the kitchen.
Cooked ingredients to use for wilting vegetables include rice, pasta, potatoes, onions and whole grains. For example, drain cooked linguine then toss with arugula and other seasonings. Or toss warm basmati rice with lemon peel to release a beautiful aroma.
Sometimes hot broth is the agent used to release flavor. For example, vegetable broth is brought to a boil, it's removed from the burner and then chopped raw vegetables and miso are added. I've recently tried warm bread as the heating medium for wilted sandwiches with some success.
Spring is the perfect season for trying this cooking method as many greens are available. Also delicate vegetables like sugar snap peas, pencil asparagus and snow peas work great when folded into warm broth, pastas or grains.
Something to keep in mind when using this cooking method is not to rinse the starch off of cooked pasta, it helps to wilt vegetables more evenly, as the starch clings to the surface of the vegetable being wilted.
Fresh herbs work very well with this method too. Fresh basil leaves, oregano leaves and tarragon produce immense flavor when added at the last moment to hot pasta, rice or lentils.
One of the classic Italian pasta dishes involves adding chopped raw ripe tomatoes, raw minced garlic and loads of fresh basil leaves to warm, just-cooked pasta to form a raw tomato sauce. It is heavenly although I have never been able to eat raw tomatoes; they are one of my pet peeves. It's a personal thing.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes that use the wilting process to barely cook your dinner through.
WILTED SPINACH WITH GORGONZOLA,
PINE NUTS AND CARAMELIZED ONION
Steve's tip: After all the safety scares, I've started eating spinach again. I wash the leaves well, even if the bag states that they are pre-washed. You can make this recipe with arugula, if you prefer. It may look like a lot of spinach at first, but it cooks down after wilting.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups sliced Spanish onions
Water, as needed
8 cups spinach leaves, well washed
3/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
Heat the olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown. You can occasionally add a sprinkling of water to prevent sticking, if necessary.
Fold the raw spinach into the warm onions, if the pan is large enough, or mix in a large mixing bowl. After the spinach wilts, add the cheese, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 287 calories, 70 percent calories from fat, 22 grams total fat, 6 grams saturated fat, 19 milligrams cholesterol, 15 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams total fiber, 4 grams total sugars, 11 grams net carbs, 10 grams protein, 434 milligrams sodium.
SPRING VEGETABLE RAGOUT WITH MISO
Steve's tip: You can make this light and colorful stew without the tofu, if you prefer. It is a filling main dish when added. Always add the miso last in any recipe because it contains live enzymes, which are destroyed when cooked. There are several quality vegetable broths available. I use the boxes of roasted vegetable broth. I find this broth is rich tasting and adds a delicate, sweet flavor to this dish.
1 medium tomato, chopped
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1 cup fresh peas or frozen peas, thawed
- 1 cup sliced snow peas
- 1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
- 2 cups chopped Swiss chard or spinach
- 1 cup whole basil leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound firm tofu, diced into small cubes
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons white miso
Place the tomatoes, scallions, peas, green beans, Swiss chard, basil, garlic and tofu in a large bowl.
Bring the broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Remove from the heat. Add the vegetable mixture to the broth. Place the miso in a small bowl and add 1/2 cup the hot broth from the pot to the miso to dilute before returning the mixture to the stew in the pot. Serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.
Per serving (with tofu): 200 calories, 19 percent calories from fat, 4 grams total fat, .11 gram saturated fat, no cholesterol, 28 grams carbohydrates, 9 grams total fiber, 8 grams total sugars, 19 grams net carbs, 13 grams protein, 1808 milligrams sodium.
Per serving (without tofu): 105 calories, less than 5 percent calories from fat, trace of fat, .1 gram saturated fat, no cholesterol, 20 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams total fiber, 8 grams total sugars, 15 grams net carbs, 5 grams protein, 1754 milligrams sodium.