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Recipes: Vegetables, The French Way

Flickr user, Laurel F
Rutabagas (CC-BY-2.0)

With fondness, Greg recalls two of his earliest encounters with Julia Child: her 1961 book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and the long-running PBS television series, "The French Chef." One "French Chef" episode titled "For the Birds" featured three different vegetable side dishes paired with chicken, turkey or duck. It inspired a 2013 Missoulian article by Greg about sautéed cucumbers and braised rutabagas.  (Child's recipe for garlic mashed potatoes involved thirty cloves of garlic, cooked slowly in butter and milk. "It was an absolute revelation," says Greg.)  The cucumbers retained their crunch -  "I'd never tasted cucumber like that" - and the rutabagas, of which Greg had never heard at all, turned out to be "this wonderful, sweet vegetable that could be served with any bird."

Greg applauds both Child and New York Times food writer Craig Claiborne for spearheading Americans' interest in international cuisine: "They were catalysts for what followed."

Jon: "I'll tell you one thing, Greg. Through her entire life, my mother probably did not cook thirty cloves of garlic. Today, it's common, when you go to the store, to look for garlic, because you've run out.  My mother never ran out of garlic."

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 4/5/15. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays, or via podcast.)

Creamed or Parsleyed Cucumbers

Julia says cooked cucumbers are a nice accompaniment to chicken, turkey and veal. Because cucumbers contain a huge amount of water, they should be salted first to draw out the excess moisture. Salt also removes bitterness. Be sure to pat the cucumbers thoroughly on paper towels before cooking.

2 large English hothouse cucumbers

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons table salt

Pinch of sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons minced shallots

1 cup heavy cream, simmered down by half in a heavy saucepan (optional)

3 tablespoons minced parsley

Peel the cucumbers and cut them in half crosswise. Cut each half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a teaspoon. A grapefruit spoon works best. Cut the cucumber flesh into 2-inch logs and put them into a large bowl. Add the vinegar, salt and sugar, and toss to combine. Let stand at least 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry in paper towels just before cooking.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When the butter foam begins to subside, add the cucumbers and shallots, stir well and reduce heat to medium. Cook 5 to 10 minutes until cucumbers are crisp-tender. You definitely want the cucumbers to have some crunch.

Just before serving, stir in the optional cream and the parsley. Taste carefully for seasoning and turn into a hot dish.

• Makes 6 to 8 servings.


Braised Rutabagas and Onions

Rutabaga, a root vegetable, is a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. The flesh is characteristically yellow to orange, and it can be eaten raw grated into a salad or cooked and served as a side dish with roast goose, duck, pork, beef or ham. Cooking tames any sharpness in the vegetable and reveals the rutabaga’s inner sweetness.

2 1/2 pounds rutabaga

4 to 6 slices thick-sliced bacon, preferably uncured, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

3/4 cup beef or chicken broth, heated to boiling

1/4 teaspoon ground sage

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 to 3 tablespoons minced parsley

Peel the rutabagas with a sharp paring knife making sure to remove all the skin and tough fibers. Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch slices; cut the slices into 1/2-inch strips; and cut the strips into 1/2-inch cubes. You should have 8 cups.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add about 1 tablespoon salt. Add the rutabaga cubes. When the water returns to a boil, cook uncovered 3 to 5 minutes or until the rutabaga is only slightly tender. Test with the tip of a sharp paring knife. Drain in a colander.

Saute the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on paper towels to drain well. Add the onion to the skillet containing the bacon fat. Stir well, cover the pan and cook slowly 5 minutes without browning. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the hot broth all at once. Return pan to medium heat and cook, stirring, until liquid is slightly thickened. Fold in the sage and drained rutabaga. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Cover the skillet and simmer slowly for 20 to 30 minutes, or until rutabaga is tender. If sauce is too liquid, uncover the pan and boil on medium heat until liquid has reduced and thickened. Stir in the reserved bacon and correct the seasoning.

This dish may be cooked ahead. Cool uncovered. When ready to serve, cover and simmer briefly until heated through. Stir in the parsley and turn into a hot serving dish.

• Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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