My Recipe Box

Fast, Flavorful Vegetable Sautés

These side dishes are simple enough to make with a weeknight steak or chop, yet equally impressive with a special-occasion roast

by Maryellen Driscoll

fromFine Cooking
Issue 62

Build flavor at the get-go: Get a head start on flavor by putting the vegetables in a hot pan and letting them sit undisturbed for the first two or three minutes so that they begin to brown.

When I’m looking for a vegetable side dish that’s really flavorful yet simple enough to pull together on a weeknight, I make one of these sautés. They’re straightforward—requiring just one pan and cooking in less than 10 minutes—yet a little special with a flavorful mix of vegetables. This makes them terrific companions to weeknight chicken or a seared steak but equally exceptional to serve to guests, say alongside a roast. They’re also substantial enough that you could serve them as a main course over a starch, such as polenta, pasta, or rice. 

For depth of flavor, use a mix of vegetables and stir less for better browning. I like to use at least three types of vegetable in these sautés, including some kind of onion in the mix for the sweet flavor it contributes. 

With these sautés, it pays to be hands-off. The less disruption, the better the vegetables can brown, resulting in greater depth of flavor. In fact, the most important step is to let the vegetables sit, undisturbed, for about two minutes after adding them to the hot oil. This guarantees you a start on the nutty sweetness that you get with browning. You’ll be amazed by the flavor development—even bitter radicchio becomes pleasantly nutty. 

Gunk up your pan: For depth of flavor, the vegetables and the pan bottom should brown without burning. That means not stirring too frequently— but do turn down the heat if your pan starts to blacken. (The pan cleans up easily after a short soak in hot, sudsy water.)

Sauté over medium-high heat but reduce the heat if your pan gets too browned. The best way to read your heat is by the discoloration of the pan’s bottom. You want it to brown  but not blacken, so adjust the heat as needed.

With these recipes you end up with a relatively crowded pan, which can create some steam cooking. That’s fine. Steam can’t hurt as long as the heat is still high enough for some flavorful browning to take place, too.

Add vegetables in stages: Quicker-cooking vegetables like radicchio and spinach go in a little later. This gives the longer-to-cook vegetables a little more time and space to cook.

Add the vegetables in the order they’ll take to cook. Vegetables that need time to cook through, like cauliflower, go in the pan first, while leafy greens like spinach and arugula don’t get sautéed at all but are tossed in at the end, wilting under the heat of the other vegetables.  

I wait until the vegetables are just about done to add any garlic so it softens but doesn't lose its flavor. Fresh herbs go in at the end of cooking. Final additions—fresh ginger, soppressata crisps, Parmesan shavings, or a squirt of lemon juice—give each dish that little extra zing.

Photos: Scott Phillips

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