How to Save Overcooked Vegetables
It happens to the best of us. The vegetables are steaming away, and we get sucked into a conversation or the phone rings or there is a loud crash in another room and by the time we return, our beautiful farmers’ market baby zucchini is limp and smushy. Or we forget to set the timer and take a deep dive into the instafeed of the local dog rescue, completely forgetting the carrots simmering on the stove.
More than once I have dumped a pot or pan of ruined veggies in the bin, cursing my distractions and bemoaning the waste, making the salad bigger and pretending there is not a hole on our dinner plates where a delicious vegetable should be.
But sometimes it takes having such an event happen when you have eight people coming for dinner in two hours and no time to return to the store to have the flash of genius that changes your dinner—and your life.
For me, it started with asparagus. A planned starter for a dinner party of tender crisp spring asparagus, which I was going to serve with crumbed fresh chevre, a drizzle of olive oil, lemon zest, toasted pine nuts, little lavender chive blossoms. A celebration of spring. And then, in an instant, the asparagus went to a place where just picking it up made it flop over and break in half, and no amount of time in an ice bath could return it to a texture that wasn’t just shy of baby food.
I could have abandoned the idea of a starter altogether. I could have put the cheese out with some grilled bread and called it a day. But I then remembered a beautiful asparagus soup my neighborhood Italian joint makes when it is in season and had a lightbulb moment. I quickly sautéed a chopped shallot, dumped it and the ruined asparagus in the blender, added some water, salt and pepper, and set it awhir. The result was a velvety smooth soup that had all the bright greenness of spring, and pure asparagus flavor. I served it warm, topped with a toasted round of brioche that I had placed the crumbled cheese on, and the lemon zest and chive flowers. I decided to forgo the toasted pine nuts, and by forgo, I mean I tried to toast them in the oven and, you guessed it, forgot about them and burned them. But it didn’t matter. The soup was a huge hit, eight bowls scraped clean and praised all around.
Emergency-ruined-vegetable soup isn’t a recipe. It’s just a tool to have in your back pocket. Take whatever vegetable you have overcooked and put it in a blender. If you have a shallot, onion, or garlic clove lying about and feel like sautéing it, feel free, or skip it. For every 2 cups of vegetables, add about ½ cup of water. Yes, you can use stock, but I actually prefer water, because I think it keeps the flavors clean and fresh, and tasting mostly of themselves. It also makes it easy to keep it vegetarian or vegan. Blend it into a smooth puree, and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. If you think it is too thick, add a bit more water.
Then you can play. Sweet vegetables like carrots or orange squashes can stand a bit of heat, in the form of red pepper flakes or fresh ginger. White veggies, like celery root or parsnips, love some cream swirled into the mix. Greens like a bit of lemon and herbs. All of them can take a garnish of cheese, from crumbled salty feta to a circular slab of herbed goat to a grating of pecorino. You might just like the soup so much you overcook your vegetables on purpose.