Get those garden-fresh veggies into a versatile primavera sauce
It’s summer, and that means a bounty of fresh vegetables are at every corner farm stand and are at their best price through your vendors. Some say there is a primavera phenomenon going on and I say it’s simply that time of year where produce is more abundant. More emphasis is put on fresh veggie alternatives because we’re learning more about how poorly our meat sources, processing and regulations are being handled. Watch any documentary on it and you’re sure to consider becoming a vegetarian overnight! Vegetarian or not, there are thousands of ways to handle and prepare vegetables. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Primavera in translation means ”Spring” but we refer to food as being prepared with vegetables when we attach the word primavera to it. Spring is when we plant our produce and then the crops of plenty begin.
Mirepoix is a standard mixture of diced carrots, onions and celery that culinary students learn on day one in the soup and sauce kitchen. It’s used in hundreds of recipes as a starter and gives a soup or sauce its rich flavor and contributes to the color. Louisiana and Creole-style cuisine has a variation called the “holy trinity” which is comprised of celery, onion and bell peppers sautéed in the same fashion of a mirepoix and then other amazing ingredients and spices are added to create some renowned dishes.
You can actually take the same group of vegetables and visit different regions of the world to create totally contrasting flavor profiles with that produce. The exciting thing is that you can incorporate those veggies as well throughout your menu. Pasta is obviously an easy way to incorporate our different primavera recipes, but also look to pizza or a house-made veggie burger. Here are some of my favorite ideas.
The most popular vegetable of the day I have served in my 30 years as a chef is a roasted medley of garden fresh vegetables. I like to slice half coins of zucchini, summer squash, red or white onions, chunks of tomato, thinly sliced carrots, green and red bell peppers, mushroom and some blanched broccoli florets. I take a large hotel pan or bus bucket of veggies and lightly coat them with an olive oil blend and some salt, pepper and garlic. I roast them up and everybody loves them. I’ve had hundreds of customers over the years tell me that they generally don’t like veggies, but they loved these. I think too many restaurants take the easy and lazy way out and use canned vegetables. There’s no need for that when you can give your customers something amazing.
This same blend of veggies can be altered with different ingredients, seasonings and sauces to create something totally different for use on pizza and in pasta:
- Add some diced eggplant and stew them in a nicely seasoned tomato broth for a couple of hours and you’ve got a wonderful ratatouille.
- Add some garlic, ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, pea pods, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots for an Asian flair. These veggies can be tossed with some of your spaghetti or linguine to make some nice Lo Mein.
- If you were to stew these veggies in a vegetable broth, coconut milk and some Thai Curry you can build a Lo-Mein style pizza or pasta.
- Let’s not leave the amazing flavors of India out of our great list. Start by stewing these veggies in a tikka masala sauce with some chickpeas and green peas and serve it over rice.
Brussels sprouts have finally gained the recognition they deserve. They seem to be appearing on menus across the nation. Beets are a beautiful root vegetable. I love to simply roast them in the oven at 300 F for an hour or so. I cover them the last 15 minutes to soften the skin to make them easier to peel once they are cool enough.
Although chickpeas –– also known as garbanzo beans and chi chi beans — are legumes and not a vegetable, it is perfect to partner them with your veggies for a variety of reasons. If you want to go the vegetarian route by avoiding meat, chic peas are a great source of protein. One cup of chickpeas offers 12 grams of protein and 24 percent of the daily-recommended protein intake.
For an appetizer or accompaniment I love to make falafel, which is simple and easy. In a food processor I grind two cups of chickpeas, a small onion, four garlic cloves, a bunch of fresh parsley, a bunch of fresh cilantro, a teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of ground cumin. Refrigerate this mixture for a least an hour and make small fritters and fry them to order. If your mixture is too wet, you can add a couple of tablespoons of flour. If you want to keep the recipe gluten free, then add a couple of tablespoons of chickpea flour. This falafel is excellent served with tzatziki (creamy yogurt and cucumber sauce), and they can be crumbled to add to Greek pizzas.
When you can buy local organic produce, if your customers are educated in the difference, you will become their culinary rock star! So if you want to see some happy and healthy customers, and some extra green in your cash registers this summer, I suggest you look to the garden!
I offer a very popular pizza that I call Roman Vegetarian, with a light base coat of Alfredo on the dough, fresh spinach leaves, sliced Roma tomatoes, artichoke hearts, chopped garlic and black olives. Top it all with your pizza cheese blend and bake as usual. This is not only eye appealing but AMAZING!
Jeffrey Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at International Pizza Expo.