5 Culinary-School Tricks That Turned Me into a Vegetable Lover
I’d never been a big “vegetable person.”
My favorite green thing used to be scallions, and my idea of getting my veggies in was stirring spinach into my Annie’s mac and cheese.
I know it’s a bit embarrassing, especially for an adult who’s enrolled in culinary school.
Before I started my cooking classes in Florence, I thought my vegetable-averse habits would remain the same. I’d learn how to make fresh pasta by day, eat doughy pizza by night, and supplement my diet with mozzarella cheese and pistachio gelato.
But then I noticed something: Vegetables were making their way into just about every dish we learned to prepare in class, from involtini of red bell peppers, breadcrumbs, capers, and anchovies to caponata to frittata.
We had several lectures emphasizing the proper preparation of different vegetables, learning how best to preserve their colors and optimize their textures.
We even had entire courses, Cooking Light and Nutritional Cooking, that focused less on pork and pappardelle and more on light, vegetable-forward cuisine.
And I liked it.
Suddenly, I was a full-blown veg head.
Living and eating in Tuscany has certainly helped. When people think of Florence, they often picture T-bone steaks and pasta with wild boar sauce. But in reality, many Tuscan staples are rooted in simple peasant fare and are often vegetarian or even vegan. Ribollita, a hearty soup that makes use of stale bread (but in my mind is more of a celebration of in-season greens and root vegetables) is the perfect example of this.
And then there are the city’s food markets. I love letting the colors of fresh produce dictate my dinner plans — and anticipating new vegetables with the changing months. Each season has introduced me to ingredients I never embraced before, like fennel in the fall and fava beans in the spring.
It’s not like I was malnourished before I came to Italy. I always enjoyed asparagus, mushrooms, and green beans, but was less enthusiastic about bulkier vegetables like kale, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Most crucially, I ate vegetables more because I felt like I should, rather than because I wanted to. I treated them like the afterthought of my meals, and therefore they tasted like afterthoughts.
Now I know better. Never again will I reluctantly throw greens into my cheesy pasta for nutrition’s sake. Instead, I’ll daydream about all of the delightful vegetables I can base my meals around — because they will be all the more vibrant, interesting, and delicious for it.
Here are some of my favorite culinary- school techniques to give vegetables the love they deserve:
Whip out the blender
One of my most joyful discoveries in culinary school has been just how incredible any vegetable tastes when sautéed with onions, leeks, or any allium, then softened in a pot with a few inches of simmering vegetable stock or water, and finally whizzed in a blender with olive oil and salt. We’ve done this with fennel, artichokes, pumpkin — you name it — and it works wonderfully every time. You can eat vegetable purées thick like soup or thin them out to use as a sauce for meat or grains. Amp up the flavor with fresh herbs, spices, or citrus zest.
Team them up with pasta
It seems obvious now, but vegetables really can make a pasta sauce that’s just as luscious as one with meat or copious amounts of cheese. Pretty much any combination works; lately, I’m loving orecchiette with broccoli raab and anchovies and pasta alla Gricia with fava beans. Just make sure you cut the vegetables with the shape of the pasta in mind (i.e. long, thin strands of asparagus with spaghetti or half-moons of zucchini with rigatoni).
Make hot-and-cold salads
I’ll admit, I still don’t love most vegetables when raw. They trigger memories of sad supermarket medleys of pulpy cherry tomatoes and cold baby carrots. So when I make a salad, I prefer to use a mixture of both raw and cooked vegetables. My favorite example of this is the Niçoise salad, which combines fresh greens and tomatoes with potatoes that are boiled until fluffy and green beans that are blanched until crisp-tender. A variety of temperatures and textures makes for a more interesting salad.
Serve them with glorious fat
Plate roasted broccoli over a swoosh of full-fat yogurt or ricotta. Crisp up sweet potatoes in pancetta fat. Top radicchio with grated parmesan. Fat offers flavor and textural contrast that make vegetables downright better — plus, it helps your body absorb nutrients.
Play with different shapes and sizes
Some vegetables just taste better when they’re cut a certain way. For example, you won’t see me snacking on raw carrots and ranch, but I do love a slaw of thin, crispy carrot ribbons sliced with a mandolin or vegetable peeler. I’m also not crazy about whole florets of raw broccoli or cauliflower, but I do enjoy them in rice-like pieces, especially in a salad with raisins, toasted pine nuts, and orange vinaigrette.