Rare is the vegetable that remains perfectly colorful, flavorful and aromatic when cooked. Especially vulnerable to fading during cooking are the densely textured vegetables of fall and winter, such as squash, beets and parsnips.
By the mere nature of the long cooking normally required to make them edible, these once lively vegetables can become bland mush. While plenty has been said about microwaving vegetables to preserve their character and save time, this advice will be doubly appreciated when applied to the preparation of stout cold-weather vegetables.
Microwaving leaves even the toughest of tubers silky, bright and delicious, without the added fat usually necessary.
To show off the superiority of these vegetables, pure'e them. Adding aromatics to the pure'es will enhance flavors without lots of cream or butter. For instance, take a traditional flavor combination like carrots and thyme. Because the carrot is pure'ed, the thyme has a chance to perfume each mouthful instead of just sitting atop a chunk.
The more obvious advantage of turning chilly season vegetables into microwaved pure'es is that they're cooked in a very few minutes. A pound of squash becomes a tender gem in five minutes, not 45, which means you can enjoy it on a busy weeknight.
The recipes were created in a 700-watt microwave. If yours has less wattage increase the timing slightly. For example, if your microwave has 600 watts, the parsnips will take almost 7 minutes.
WINTER SQUASH WITH ROSEMARY AND MISO (4 servings)
1 pound winter squash, like butternut, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 teaspoons red miso (available at Asian markets)
1/2 cup chicken stock
3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary
2 teaspoons sweet butter
Toss squash into a 9-inch glass pie dish. In a small bowl whisk together miso and stock, and pour over the squash, along with the rosemary. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on full power until tender and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Let relax for about 3 minutes before pure'eing.
Scoop squash and rosemary mixture and about 3 tablespoons of the stock into a processor or blender and pure'e until smooth, adding butter as you go. Serve warm with roast turkey, pheasant or other poultry.
Per serving: 68 calories, 2 gm protein, 12 gm carbohydrates, 2 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 120 mg sodium.
SESAME PARSNIPS (4 servings)
3/4 pound small to medium parsnips, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons sesame butter (tahini)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 scallions, minced
In a 9-inch glass pie dish combine the parsnips, onion and stock. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on full power until tender, about 6 minutes. Let relax for about 3 minutes before pure'eing.
Scoop the parsnips, onion and 1/4 cup of the stock into a processor or blender and pure'e until smooth, adding the sesame butter and oil as you go. Serve warm sprinkled with the scallions with lamb, or in a pita with roasted eggplant.
Per serving: 143 calories, 4 gm protein, 21 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, .8 gm saturated fat, .1 mg cholesterol, 109 mg sodium.
BEETS WITH ORANGE AND TARRAGON (4 servings)
1 pound red or golden beets, unpeeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon prepared Dijon-style mustard
Toss beets into a 9-inch glass pie dish and add the juice and tarragon. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on full power until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Let relax for about 3 minutes before pure'eing.
Scoop beets, tarragon and about 3 tablespoons of the juice into a processor or blender and pure'e until smooth, adding chives and mustard as you go. Serve warm with grilled duck, roast pork or flank steak.
Variation: To make an interesting soup combine 1/2 cup of the finished pure'e with 2 cups of chicken stock. Serve warm sprinkled with minced fresh parsley.
Per serving: 53 calories, 2 gm protein, 11 gm carbohydrates, .4 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 107 mg sodium.
Judith Benn Hurley is the award-winning author of "Healthy Microwave Cooking" (Rodale Press).