Spring vegetable stew

(Beatrice peltre)
June 4, 2008

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Serves 4

Some dishes announce the start of spring just with their names. One is the French stew, "une jardinière de légumes printaniers" (a flower pot of spring vegetables). You know what you're about to be served: the best the soil has to offer. My mother makes her version with the first sweet peas, young carrots, and pencil-thin French green beans - known as "haricots verts" - along with spring onions (these resemble scallions, but their bulbs are golf ball-size) and new potatoes. She simmers the dish for nearly an hour with fresh herbs tied in a bouquet. Near the end, she adds the center of a lettuce, or the heart. I might add asparagus, fennel, fava beans, sugar snap peas, zucchini, and early spinach, and I shorten the cooking time so everything is still bright colored. This way, it also looks like spring.

Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 pound haricots verts (very slender green beans)
14 fresh asparagus, ends snapped off
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 spring onion, trimmed and sliced
3 cloves garlic, grated finely
1 piece (1-inch) ginger root, grated
3 slender carrots, cut in thin 2-inch matchsticks
1 small fennel bulb, white part thinly sliced
1/4 pound sugar snap peas
1 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
1 small zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4cup water
1 Boston or bibb lettuce heart, quartered
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the green beans for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse them with cold water.

2. Cut the asparagus stalks into 1-inch pieces; reserve the tips.

3. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Cook the onion for 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger and cook 1 minute more. Add the carrots, fennel, and asparagus stalks. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes.

4. Add the sugar snaps, peas, zucchini, asparagus tips, sugar, water, salt, and pepper. Cover and simmer for 9 minutes. Add the lettuce heart and cook 1 minute.

5. Remove from the heat. Sprinkle with parsley and basil. Add more salt and pepper, if you like. - Beatrice Peltre