Grilled vegetables are fantastic, but almost equally popular for a light Italian summer meal are mixed boiled vegetables (or even better, steamed) allowed to cool and simply dressed with olive oil and seasoned with salt, or—for a richer taste—homemade mayonnaise. If boiled vegetables sound boring to you, then you need to think again. If you cook and season them just right, you can bring out the pure, essential taste of each vegetable. A dish for true veggie lovers!
The choice of vegetables is yours, although some vegetables, the firmer ones, are better suited to this simple treatment than others (for details, see Notes below). Just make sure you are careful to cook them to just the right degree of doneness, to bring out their ideal taste and texture.
- An assortment of seasonal vegetables (see Notes), peeled and trimmed and cut into large pieces
- Olive Oil
- Homemade mayonnaise
- Parsley and/or other fresh herbs such as basil or mint, chopped
Plunge your vegetables into a large pot of briskly boiled, well-salted water. Let them cook just until they are fully tender but still having some bite, neither ‘crisp-tender’ nor mushy. Vegetables will cook at different rates, depending on size and type, so remove them with tongs or a skimmer as they reach their ideal point of doneness. Drain them in a colander placed inside a bowl and let them sit to dry out completely. (Nothing worse than soggy veggies!)
When all the vegetables are done, let them sit until in the colander they have reached room temperature and are perfectly dry. Then arrange them on a plate or serving platter. Drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil, making sure to cover them all so they glisten. Then sprinkle with the best quality sea salt you have and, if you like, some finely chopped herbs. If you are in the mood for something richer, nap the vegetables with some homemade mayonnaise, made rather loose so it is pourable, over some or all of the vegetables. Or serve separately in a bowl, so each diner can use as much or as little as they like.
Mixed Boiled Vegetables is obviously just about as simple a dish as you can find, but like many simple dishes, it can be hard to get just right. The very simplicity of the dish means there is nowhere to hide, and not much room for error. The main trick of the dish is making sure the veggies are cooked to just the right degree of doneness. Italians like their vegetables fully cooked (not crisp-tender in the Asian fashion) but not mushy. The veggies should still have some bite to them without actually being hard to the tooth. As soon as their done, remove the vegetables and drain them. (No need to ‘refresh’ them in the French manner; they’ll be fine if they have a short ‘rest’ while they drain and cool off naturally.) Cooked this way, your vegetables should not be at all soggy, but to be doubly sure, instead of boiling, you can also steam the vegetables, which produces an even finer result.
The best vegetables for a platter of Mixed Boiled Vegetables are those that will keep their taste and texture, so harder veggies are best: carrots, potatoes, green beans, fresh onion are all superb choices. Zucchini are also nice, but keep them whole and unpeeled (otherwise they will absorb water and become soggy) and cook them lightly. Beets are also a classic component, but be sure to cook them separately or they will stain everything deep red. (In fact, if you’re a purist, you will want to cook each vegetable separately, but that’s just too much work for me.) Vegetables to avoid include tomatoes, peppers or eggplant, none of which are very pleasant when boiled (at least if you ask me). But you can add sliced tomatoes, or whole cherry tomatoes, raw as part of your vegetable tableau. I find green vegetable a bit too bland for this method, but if you like them, feel free. In fact, any vegetable that strikes your fancy (within reason) will do nicely in a platter of mixed boiled vegetables. It’s a great way to clear out the produce drawer!