Ask the Test Cooks
Ask the Test Cooks: What’s the Best Way to Cook Your Favorite Vegetable?
After developing hundreds of vegetable recipes, our test cooks have some opinions.
02-04-2019
Mari Levine

The test kitchen has been teeming with vegetables lately. (And no, it doesn’t have anything to do with New Year’s resolutions. We’re also working on recipes for apple cider donuts and every type of cocktail you can think of.) It’s because for the last several months, the members of our books team have been cooking up every type of vegetable every type of way while developing recipes for our new cookbook, Vegetables Illustrated.

Over the course of their time in the kitchen, the team found exciting new ways to make over well-loved recipes like roasted carrots and smashed potatoes, and shine a spotlight on adventurous new ingredients in dishes like Fiddlehead Panzanella and Teriyaki Stir-Fried Garlic Scapes with Chicken. So after spending months working with everything from artichokes to zucchini, which vegetables topped the team’s charts? I was curious, so I asked them to name their favorite vegetable and their favorite way to prepare it. Here’s what the experts had to say.

Bookstore

A Modern Guide with 700+ Recipes Vegetables Illustrated

An exciting guide with exciting recipes for everything from your favorite everyday vegetables to more adventurous farmers’ market choices.

Stephanie Pixley, Deputy Food Editor

Steph Pixley

My favorite vegetable right now is fennel. When eaten raw it is has this bright, clean, faintly licorice flavor and a great crunch—it turns even the most humble salad a little fancy. But roasted fennel has truly stolen my heart. I would put roasted fennel on anything if my husband let me,. It's got this rich, creamy texture that nearly melts in your mouth and the flavor is equally nutty, caramelized, and savory. I usually roast a bulb with extra-virgin olive oil and keep it on hand to add to pasta, salads, omelets, or grains, but when I'm feeling inspired I'll confit it. Not only do I get buttery, caramelized fennel out of the process, I also get the most delicious flavored oil, perfect for making vinaigrettes, dipping bread into, or holding onto as a finishing oil for meats, risottos, flatbreads and the like.

Contain Your Confit

The Best Dutch Oven Le Creuset 7¼ Quart Round Dutch Oven

This perfect, pricey pot is big enough to contain your fennel confit and designed well enough to cook everything exceptionally well.

Lawman Johnson, Test Cook

Lawman Johnson

What’s my favorite vegetable? If this question was posed to my 10-year-old self, the answer, without hesitation, would have been French fries! Now that I’m older and wiser, this question is a little harder to answer, since I’ve come to like all kinds of vegetables. If I have to narrow it down to just one, asparagus is my top choice for its sweet, nutty, grassy flavor and its versatility. It can be roasted; crusted with cheese like in our Parmesan-Crusted Asparagus recipe; or added to tarts, stir fries, and omelets, as in our Asparagus-Goat Cheese Tart and Stir-Fried Asparagus with Shiitake Mushrooms recipes. Personally, I prefer a more basic approach, letting the asparagus go solo rather than prove it can hold its own in an ensemble of other ingredients. This is why grilled asparagus is the best—just three ingredients to achieve a smoky-charred flavor that elevates the natural flavor of this simple but elegant vegetable.

Perfect Pincers

The Best Tongs OXO Good Grips 16" Locking Tongs

These tongs’ precise pincers make simple work of grilling vegetables.

Dan Zuccarello, Executive Food Editor

Dan Zuccarello

Much like Brussels sprouts and cilantro, you either love broccoli rabe or you hate it. Personally, I can’t get enough of its bold, nutty flavor, and tender texture. Plus, broccoli rabe is also incredibly versatile. From broiled to braised, stirred into a soup or featured as a side dish, its potential seems endless. It’s also basically ready to cook right out of the bag (a quick trim of its stalks is the extent of the required prep) and available all year round.

Not convinced you should be eating more broccoli rabe? Then consider this: If you tend to highlight broccoli rabe’s bitterness as its main offense, try blanching it the next time you prepare it. Simply plunging the stalks in a large amount of salted water is an easy way to tame its bitterness. Then, once you’re on the broccoli rabe bandwagon, try my favorite recipe from Vegetables Illustrated: Roasted Salmon and Broccoli Rabe with Pistachio Gremolata.

Leah Colins, Test Cook

Leah Colins

I have a NEW favorite vegetable. It’s a vegetable that I thought I hated before developing recipes for Vegetables Illustrated. It is the ever-polarizing okra. Yes, I once was in the okra-hating camp. I found it slimy, bitter, and bland. But I realized I had never given okra a fair chance and was never cooking it properly. After developing many okra recipes for Vegetables Illustrated, I am now an okra fanatic.

Roasted, fried, or stewed, this vegetable has the ability to be cooked so many different ways and takes on a variety of flavors so well. The trick to okra is knowing how to treat it for slow cooking versus fast searing or frying, and cooking it so that it retains its snappy, fresh crunch. Plus, okra takes really well to lots of big flavors.

For Vegetables Illustrated, we developed recipes from classic southern-style fried okra to Greek stewed okra, Sichuan okra to Madras Okra Curry. But my favorite okra recipe in Vegetables Illustrated is the Roasted Okra with Fennel and Oregano. In it, the okra is cooked fast and at a high heat to prevent it from turning slimy, and we add oregano and fennel seeds for serious depth of flavor. The roasting method is so simple and flavorful, and this okra dish is great served as a side dish or as a fun appetizer served with a flavorful dipping sauce.

Sara Mayer, Test Cook

Sara Mayer

My favorite vegetable, far and away, is broccoli. I love to prepare it using the roasting method we have in Vegetables Illustrated where you preheat the baking sheet and use the stems, too—they’re my favorite part of the broccoli. I find that cooking vegetables simply is usually best as it brings out their earthiness. Because of this, I also love the simplicity of roasting cauliflower—roasting the wedges covered and then uncovered, getting them very caramelized for extra flavor.

Roast Better Broccoli

The Best Rimmed Baking Sheet Nordic Ware Baker’s Half Sheet

Vegetables—and everything else we prepared in this sturdy, warp-resistant sheet—cooked appropriately and evenly.

Valerie Cimino, Project Editor

Valerie Cimino

I sometimes get odd looks when I tell people that my favorite vegetable is cauliflower. When I was a kid, I would steal raw florets off the cutting board whenever my mother was chopping up a head. As an adult, my go-to way to prepare it is simply to chop it up and oven-roast it with olive oil and salt; that becomes the jumping-off point for using it in a wide variety of other dishes. (Although I’ve been known on many occasions to eat an entire head of cauliflower I’ve prepared this way for dinner!)

I figured by this point I knew everything I needed to know about cooking cauliflower, but I love that I learned new ways to use it from Vegetables Illustrated. I can pan-roast it in a nonstick skillet on the stovetop, which is even quicker than oven-roasting and I don’t have to turn on the oven. And I can put an entire head in a Dutch oven with a robust Sicilian-style tomato sauce and pot-roast it, which satisfies my Italian heritage. And since I love all things buffalo-style, the Cauliflower Buffalo Bites (with a secret ingredient: coconut milk) are right up my alley!

Lindsey Chandler, Books Art Director

Lindsey Chandler

Listen, it's not exciting, but I love corn. I can't get enough of it. All summer long you can catch me stocking up (or should I say stalking up?) on beautiful fresh ears at the local farmers’ market. I love it in salads, chowders, or straight up grilled on the cob. But my absolute favorite might just be our recipe for Mexican-Style Grilled Corn. It's smoky, it's cheesy, it's spicy, and yes, it's corny. And now I'm hungry. Is it summer yet?

Allison Boales, Books Deputy Art Director

My favorite vegetables are tomatoes, but my favorite way to enjoy all kinds of vegetables is to prepare them in soups, whether they’re the main ingredient or simply adding additional depth of flavor to the soup. One of my family’s all-time favorites is the Cauliflower Soup. It’s amazing how creamy it tastes when there’s no cream or milk added.

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