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Take a Fresh Approach to Frozen Vegetables

F resh was the big buzzword--until the recent freeze put the spotlight back on frozen vegetables. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; frozen vegetables offer availability, quality, price--and convenience. Fresh vegetables are worth all the trouble that goes into their preparation. But many are at their peak only during a very brief growing season. That is why my freezer is never without packages of frozen tiny peas, chopped spinach, corn and artichoke hearts.

There are a few basics to take into consideration when using frozen vegetables. Unlike the finest fresh crop, they are rarely best served au naturel; most require careful seasoning--fresh herbs, onions and garlic.

Another point to keep in mind is that they should be treated like blanched vegetables; thaw just until they are no longer frozen. Once they are overcooked, they tend to lose all their natural moisture and become limp. I have found that the best way to thaw frozen vegetables is in the refrigerator (overnight) or at room temperature (several hours). Finally, be sure not to squeeze out the liquid (even from spinach); gently shake the vegetables in a strainer to drain before continuing with the cooking.

At Mama Gina’s Trattoria in Palm Desert the signature dish is sauteed spinach. Loaded with garlic and served with a lemon wedge and freshly ground Parmigiano-Reggiano, it’s a definite winner as a first course or as a side dish. Although they blanch fresh tender spinach leaves at the restaurant for this recipe, frozen chopped spinach works very well. If you choose to avoid anchovies, don’t worry. The anchovies disintegrate in the sauteing and simply act as the salt component of the dish. This recipe increases easily; double or triple it as needed.

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MAMA GINA’S

SAUTEED SPINACH

2 tablespoons full-bodied olive oil

4 large cloves garlic, pureed in garlic press

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5 anchovies, washed and patted dry

1 (10-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and drained

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

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Lemon wedges

Freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese

Heat oil in non-stick 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and anchovies, mashing anchovies with wooden spoon. Cook until garlic is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add spinach and mix well. Cook until very hot, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot with lemon wedges and Parmesan cheese. Makes 2 servings.

Without exception, all the celebrated French chefs that I have worked with have removed and discarded the leaves of the artichoke, leaving only the pale green heart. At Verge’s Moulin des Mougins, fresh artichokes are used for this dish, but I have found that frozen artichoke hearts work surprisingly well.

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ROGER VERGE’S

ARTICHOKES

BARIGOULE

1/4 cup full-bodied olive oil

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2 medium onions, thinly sliced

2 small, thin carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

4 large cloves garlic, peeled

2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

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2 small bay leaves

2 (9-ounce) packages frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and drained

6 tablespoons dry white wine

3/4 cup water

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3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Fresh Herb and Garlic Garnish

Heat oil in large non-aluminum 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onions, carrots and whole garlic cloves. Cook until carrots are tender but not browned, about 8 minutes, stirring frequently. Add thyme and bay leaves.

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Arrange artichoke hearts in single layer over vegetables. Pour in wine and water. Bring to boil. Simmer, covered, 5 minutes. Uncover. Boil over high heat until liquid is reduced to about 3 tablespoons, about 4 minutes. Remove bay leaves, garlic cloves and thyme sprigs, if using fresh. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made day ahead to this point and refrigerated. Gently reheat if chilled.) Stir herb and garlic garnish into hot artichokes. Serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Fresh Herb and

Garlic Garnish

2 tablespoons minced parsley

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1/4 cup minced fresh basil leaves

3 large garlic cloves, minced

Combine parsley, basil and garlic and mix well.

There’s nothing like fresh corn at the peak of the season; at other times frozen corn is a great option. Here, frozen corn and many other colorful ingredients are combined in a lime juice dressing.

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CORN AND BLACK

BEAN CONFETTI SALAD

1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

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1 medium zucchini, diced 1/4-inch

1 large sweet red pepper, diced 1/4-inch

4 medium green onions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup minced cilantro

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1 cup fresh lime juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Red leaf lettuce

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Combine corn, black beans, zucchini, red pepper, green onions, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper in 3-quart bowl. Chill several hours.

Just before serving, arrange lettuce on serving platter. Stir salad to mix well. Drain any excess liquid. Mound attractively on lettuce-lined platter. Makes about 8 cups, about 6 to 8 servings.


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