I should have been forewarned by looking at the ingredient lists for braised spring vegetables with cornmeal-herb dumplings (from the June 20th New York Times Food Section) that this dish was going to be trouble. Requiring the purchase of no fewer than nine vegetables and three herbs, the shopping alone could prove an epic feat. In reality, the far bigger surprise was that it took me over an hour and a half to pull this together, and that was with Dylan’s help once I realized that we were going to grow old waiting for me to finish cooking this meal. Looking at the recipe, it all seemed pretty straightforward, but washing and prepping each of the vegetables (especially those delicious but ornery sugar snap peas) turned into a serious chore.
Which might have all been FINE had the finished product wowed us. As it was, the vegetables were good. Not great, but good and very healthy. But the dumplings- oh my! They were horribly dense little balls of flavorlessness! Part of that may have been my fault…I followed the recipe to a tee and the dough seemed a little dry… but I was out of buttermilk and decided that it would be fine as long as I rolled the balls a bit so that they’d maintain their integrity when I plunked them in the water. A mistake perhaps, as they took way longer to cook than expected and even after 35 minutes or so, still had slightly uncooked inner cores. Were I to do it again (and rest assured, I won’t), I’d be sure to make a wetter dough and just drop them into the water rather than rolling them first. They were like matzoh balls gone wrong.
But perhaps the most unfortunate part of it all is that with so many vegetables, this made six healthy servings, leaving lots and lots of leftovers. And I’m the sort of person who typically can’t bear to throw away food. On the eve of a long trip, not only will I carefully plan meals to use all of the fresh ingredients, but if I have to eat a wild mish-mosh of mismatched leftovers, so be it. Let me tell you, these were not leftovers that aged well. By day three the veggies were starting to look soggy and pallid and they exuded a terrible gassy smell. Those dreaded dumplings, meanwhile, were shiny, uninviting, and still dry and uncooked in the center. In the end, I managed to slog through all of the vegetables, but threw away the last few dumplings with a sigh of relief. It’s safe to say that once was more than enough for this vegetable bounty.
Braised spring vegetables with herbed dumplings (6 large portions)
Ingredients for the vegetables:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 bunch radishes, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 thyme sprigs (optional)
2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and halved lengthwise
1/4 cup white wine
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 bunch Swiss chard (preferably red), leaves torn into bite-size pieces, stems cut into 1-inch lengths
1/2 pound sugar snap peas, trimmed
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shelled fresh or frozen peas (about 1 pound in the shell)
1 small head Boston lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
6 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Cornmeal-herb dumplings (see recipe), or prepared polenta or buttered noodles
Ingredients for the dumplings:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped mint
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1/2 cup buttermilk, more if needed
2 large eggs, beaten
To make the vegetables:
1. Heat butter in a large skillet over high heat until sizzling. Add radishes and cook on one side until dappled golden brown, about 5 minutes. Turn radishes and sear for 3 minutes more. Transfer to a bowl.
2. Add oil to pan and stir in onion, thyme if using, sugar and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden brown, about 10 minutes (reduce heat if it starts to burn). Add garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add scallions, cut-side down; cook until light golden, about 2 minutes. Pour in wine and boil, stirring, for 2 minutes.
3. Toss in asparagus, chard stems, sugar snap peas and broth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 2 minutes. Toss in chard leaves, peas and lettuce; season with more salt and pepper. Cover and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Stir in cheese. Serve with dumplings, polenta or noodles.
To make the dumplings:
1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Combine dry ingredients in one bowl and the herbs, buttermilk and eggs in another. Stir the wet into the dry until just combined into a very thick batter (if it is doughlike, add more buttermilk).
2. Drop batter a teaspoonful at a time into boiling water. Simmer until cooked through (cut one open to test it), about 15 to 20 minutes. This will take longer if your dumplings are large. Turn off heat and let dumplings rest in cooking liquid until ready to use, up to an hour or until they start to fall apart.