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You want your veggies like a virgin

Judith Dunbar Hines with vegetables wrapped phyllo dough for Food Low-Mileage column  Wednesday May 30 2012.  | John

Judith Dunbar Hines with vegetables wrapped in phyllo dough for Food Low-Mileage column, Wednesday, May 30, 2012. | John H. White~Chicago Sun-Times.

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From the
Farmstand

The year-round Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand, 66 E. Randolph, offers Midwest-grown foods and other locally produced edibles, including those used in this recipe. Cooking classes are offered through the World Kitchen program (chicagoworldkitchen.org). Reach the Farmstand at (312) 742-8419, or go to
chicagofarmstand.com.

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:02AM



At a market, eat a handful of peas right off the vine, or munch on an earthy radish. Meet the farmer who grew them. Taste the sun and the soil and appreciate the toil of the hands that raised them. Then try serving them as close to that “virgin” state as possible.

Mom preserved them by canning or freezing without any of the mystery chemicals we now associate with processed food.

You might think I had a charmed life, food-wise. But unfortunately, between garden and table, every vegetable spent way too much time in further cooking, rendering them gray, mushy and not appealing to me in any way.

At college I was served some slightly crunchy, bright green vegetable that looked vaguely familiar but was something totally new to my palate. I checked with the cooks at our residence, who explained that what I had eaten was fresh, simply steamed asparagus.

I insisted it could not be the same vegetable my mother had served. Hers was parboiled, canned, then further pressure cooked into submission before being buried under a cheese sauce before serving. This was very, very different.

Everything changed once I discovered the joy of truly fresh, flavorful, simple vegetables. Now that locally and sustainably grown vegetables are becoming available to the general public in greater quantity, everyone can enjoy that same revelation.

At a market, eat a handful of peas right off the vine, or munch on an earthy radish. Meet the farmer who grew them. Taste the sun and the soil and appreciate the toil of the hands that raised them. Then try serving them as close to that “virgin” state as possible.

Blanching is the technique to use to preserve the freshness and just-picked taste. Heat a large pot of water to a boil, drop vegetables in for 1 to 2 minutes, then scoop out and drop into a bowl of ice water until chilled. Pat dry and enjoy or store for later use in side dishes or salads. To re-heat, toss quickly in a hot skillet with olive oil. A sprinkle of coarse salt or fresh herbs is all you need to add.

Celebrate first-of-the-season veggies such as peas, beans, tiny tomatoes or baby carrots by serving them as simply as possible with a creamy herbed ricotta dip. Or go slightly more formal with these frilly fillo cups with the sauce hiding inside. Serve warm immediately as a first course, or make the component parts ahead and carry to a picnic. Assemble on site and let guests dip their pre-cooked veggies, then eat the baskets out of hand.

College taught me many things, but crisp veggies was one of the best lessons.

Judith Dunbar Hines is the director of culinary arts and events for the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, which operates Chicago’s Downtown Farmstand.



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