Asparagus with pancetta makes an easy side dish, or the beginning of an entrée.
I love sautéed artichoke hearts, but sometimes I just don't feel like bothering with the initial parboiling that's a prerequisite to sautéing them quickly in a very hot skillet. So one day I decided to sidestep the blanching and cook the artichokes directly, but slowly, in olive oil. It worked deliciously—the artichokes were meaty, tender, and succulent. When I tried the technique with asparagus, string beans, and broccoli, I came up with a bunch of great side dishes, as well as ideas for using these vegetables in other dishes, such as risotto, salads, and pasta.
I call these creatures slow-sautéed vegetables, and they are, to me, the wise old souls of the vegetable kitchen. I love the way they develop deep, earthy richness and how their natural sweetness emerges during their unhurried cooking. Most of all, I love their utter simplicity. Using this method (it's more method than recipe), there's no preliminary blanching, draining, or ice-water shocking. Here, the vegetables go straight into the pan, usually in the company of good, fruity olive oil, and are cooked leisurely over low heat to the point of browned, comforting tenderness. They can pretty much cook on their own as you proceed with other tasks in the kitchen.
The best vegetables to choose are those with a relatively low water content because they won't lose their shape and get mushy when cooked at a low temperature. Broccoli, cauliflower, string beans, artichoke bottoms, carrots, turnips, asparagus, and cabbage are good choices.
My favorite pans for this technique are the stalwarts of my kitchen—my cast-iron skillets. But any heavy-based pan that's a good heat conductor will do the job, such as thick stainless steel, lined copper, or any pan with a sandwiched aluminum core. Avoid lightweight aluminum or thin stainless-steel pans if possible because they'll cook the vegetables unevenly and probably burn them. I don't use nonstick pans because I don't think they allow the flavors to develop as fully, and when I want to deglaze the pan with a spritz of water to incorporate the brown bits stuck to the bottom, there are none to be had. Whatever pan you use, it has to be large enough—9 or 10 inches in diameter—to hold vegetables for four servings.