Now, anyone interested in fine cooking should also be interested in marketing. It is difficult to judge by appearance alone the quality of meat, the flavor of melons, or the saltiness of ham and bacon, but everybody can easily learn how to pick out good vegetables. Any observant eye can see the difference between old vegetables and those recently picked. Fresh vegetables have a plump look that indicates a delectable juiciness inside. They have a slight crispness—the bean snaps and the pen pod crackles. The ends of beans and pea pods, the tips of carrots. and the cut ends of asparagus do not look dry, withered, or faded when these vegetables are fresh. Spinach that is getting old is apt to become soft and splotchy. The tips of overripe asparagus soften too, and take on a bruised look. All the care and skill in the world put into cooking vegetables is half lost if quality and freshness are missing.
Of course, if you can grow vegetables in your own garden you are fortunate indeed. For there is nothing better than a freshly picked vegetable, nicely cooked. Remember that the richer the soil, the quicker vegetables mature and the more tender and succulent they arc. Pick young small vegetables and do your picking early in the day. before the sun gets too high in the sky.
As for cooking vegetables, the younger the vegetable the less time needed to took it. It takes just a little practice to be able to judge by look and feel how much cooking will be needed. The times given in the recipes that follow are for young, fresh produce.
The French like a subtle blending of flavors, and this preference holds true for vegetable cookery. A French cook may slip a little onion into the kettle, or perhaps a faggot made by tying together paisley and chervil, and sometimes tiny cubes of fat salt pork that have been looked to a golden brown. French cooks also like to combine several vegetables in one dish, as in the recipes fur vegetables primeurs and spring soup (bat follow. However, if peas, or peas and carrots, or beans are to be dressed very simply, this is the way the French do it: When the vegetable is tender, they quickly cook away whatever water remains in the pan and add a lump of butter or a little heavy cream. Then the French chef continues to cook the vegetable until the butter or cream has blended with it, shaking the pan all the while. This process is called lier au beurre or lier Z1a la crème. In other words, the butter or cream serves not merely as a sauce but also as a liaison holding the vegetables together. The following recipes present the traditional ways of cooking spring and early summer vegetables.
Petits Pois à la Française (Peas French Style)
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan, add 6 tiny white onions, 5 or 6 shredded leaves of lettuce, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon sugar and 3 sprigs each of parsley and chervil tied in a faggot. Add 2 to 3 cups freshly shelled tiny peas, mix all together and add ½ cup water. Bring the liquid to a boil and simmer the peas, closely covered, for about 25 minutes or until they are just done. Only 2 or 3 tablespoons water should remain in the pan. Remove the faggot, take the pun from the fire and add a little beurre manie made by creaming 1 tablespoon butter with ½ teaspoon flour. Return the pan to the heat and shake the pan to combine the peas with the butter and flour mixture until the liquid boils again.
Petits Pois Paytanne (Peas Country Style)
Cut enough fat salt pork into fine dice to make ½ cup, cover the dice with water, and parboil them for 5 minutes. Drain off the water. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a saucepan, add the pork dice, ½ cup carrots, scraped and diced, and 10 tiny white onions. Cook the vegetables, shaking the pan occasionally, until they are all a light golden brown. Remove the vegetables from the pan with a skimmer.
In the fat in the pan, brown lightly 1 teaspoon flour. Add 5/4 cup chicken stock or water, bring the liquid to a boil and add the browned carrots, onions and pork dice, 2 cups freshly shelled peas, 4 shredded leaves of lettuce, and 4 sprigs each of parsley and chervil tied in a faggot. Add 1 tablespoon sugar, bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pan and simmer the vegetables for 30 minutes, or until they are tender. Discard the Faggot. Reduce the liquid, if necessary, to ½ cup. Correct the seasoning with salt.
Here are two versions of creamed carrots and peas. The first is the simpler method; the second adds a few extra flourishes.
Carottes et Pois à la Crème I (Creamed Carrots and Peas I)
Put in a saucepan 1 cup carrots, scraped and diced or cut into small balls. Add I tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon sugar and enough water to half cover the carrots. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pan and simmer the carrots until they are tender and the water has entirely cooked away, Meanwhile cook 2 cups shelled peas separately in salted water, drain them and add them to the carrots. Add I cup sauce crime (September, 1955) and shake all together well.
Carottes et Pois à la Crème II (Creamed Carrots and Peas II)
Put in a saucepan 1 cup carrots, scraped and diced or cut into small balls. Add enough water barely to cover, a very little salt, I tablespoon sugar and 2 tablespoons butter. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover the pan and simmer until the water has almost cooked away and the butter and sugar form a syrup. Continue cooking the carrots, shaking the pan constantly until the syrup glazes them. In another pan prepare petits pois à la française. Discard the faggot and combine the peas with the carrots. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook briefly, shaking the pan constantly.