Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Baby Veg

How many times have you been into your local market,
seen the wonderful selection of perfect baby vegetables
and wondered how you could use them to impress
guests? Sure, they’re great to use for presentational purposes, but
there really is so much more that can be achieved with them. If you’re put off by not knowing exactly what to do with them or which ones to choose, here’s a quick insight to help you realise their full potential.

Before we start, there’s one thing all you eco-warriors out there
should know. These little beauties are rarely organic and
sometimes not even babies! A lot of the time they are fully grown,
genetically modified miniature vegetables, produced solely to suit
the ever more exotic demands of luxury cuisine. Others are just
immature vegetables, picked before they’re fully grown. However
they are produced, they are just as nutritious as regular-sized
vegetables and most of them are sweeter and more tender.

There are around 50 varieties, the most common of which are detailed below. Your supplier should be able to provide them at any time of year. You may even find some of them in supermarkets, although do bear in  mind food miles accrued by demand for produce not locally sourced. 

It’s important to note that special rules apply when handling baby vegetables. They’re babies, so look after them like babies – with kid gloves. They are also often expensive, so don’t waste them! The packaging alone is costly, as they’re often shipped in waxed cartons that can withstand moisture from outside as well as inside. Most baby vegetables should be kept at a relative humidity of 90-95 percent. Ideal temperatures vary: squash and baby tomatoes should
be maintained at 8-10 degrees C to avoid chilling and spoilage.

As far as cooking goes, the normal rule that anything grown below ground can be cooked in water starting cold, and that anything grown above ground should always be cooked in already boiling water, does not always apply to baby vegetables. With baby carrots, for example, you should always cook them in boiling water, and immediately after cooking you should refresh them in ice-cold water to maintain their colour. 

The recipe demonstrates an easy way to prepare and serve baby vegetables – why not get stuck in and give it a go?

Baby Carrots 
These are very sweet and should be prepared by 
leaving a little of their stems at the end. They can be peeled and
left raw to be used as crudités or cooked and served alongside
another dish.
Baby Fennel
Superb served raw as a snack, or cooked in a variety
of ways. Goes well with all grilled fish. A good idea is to first cook
in boiling water and refresh in cold – then brush with olive oil,
season and grill alongside your fish!

Baby Peppers
A nice simple thing to do with these is to stuff them
in exactly the same way you would with their adult cousins, with rice, couscous, cheese or fish. Reduce your cooking time by half and use them as an attractive starter.

Baby Asparagus 
These need no preparation and are ready to be
cooked, without peeling. They are so sweet that it’s best to
preserve this quality by keeping things simple. Cook them for a
couple of minutes in boiling water and serve immediately with
melted butter, coarse sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Baby Tomatoes
There are many varieties available. One particular
type in the spotlight at the moment is the Tigerella or Tiger tomato.
They can be bought in their unripe green stage and used to make
amazing chutney.

Tempura Baby Courgettes with Sweet Chilli Dip

The Sauce

6 tablespoons rice or white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves
3 small red chillies, finely chopped

> Heat the sugar and vinegar together in a small saucepan until
dissolved >Add the salt and simmer until it thickens >Remove
from heat and pour into a bowl with the chopped garlic and
chillies >Leave to cool before serving. 

The Courgettes

8-10 baby courgettes with flowers
Vegetable oil
125 g “00” flour
30 g cornflour
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
150 ml ale or lager
150 ml Perrier water

> Separate the courgette stalks and cut in half lengthways
> Sieve the flour and cornflower together > Heat the vegetable,
ready for frying >Stir the beer and water into the flour mix until
just smooth >Dip the courgettes and flowers into the batter,
then fry for one minute until crisp and puffed – only cook a
couple at a time to avoid them sticking together>Place them on
kitchen towel to drain off excess oil >Sprinkle with a little salt.

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