One of the very best things about spring and summer produce, aside from the fact that there’s a larger variety of it than at any other time of year, is that its bright, fresh flavors need very little help to be at their best.

Two of the simplest and loveliest things to provide that help with the least amount of fuss are an artless technique and a finishing ingredient: blanching and good butter.

Blanching is a simple process in which food is partially cooked in boiling water, then shocked in cold water to stop the cooking, thereby setting both color and flavor. It also speeds up the finish so that the flavors stay fresh. I call it artless because it requires absolutely no skill.

An added advantage to it is that it can be done a couple of days ahead, which means that you’ll have a head start when the time comes to finish and serve the vegetables. And when they’re intended for use with pasta, the technique gets even simpler, since the pasta cooking water can do double duty as a blanching bath.

As for butter, it doesn’t take a culinary genius to understand what it does to almost anything it touches. Loaded with flavor and richness on its own, like all fats, it’s also a natural flavor-booster, and carries those flavors to our taste buds without being intrusive.

Whether it’s simply melting over the top or used for sautéing or braising, a little butter will go a long way, and makes even a plain weeknight supper feel like a special occasion.



Pasta with Spinach and Scallions

The one drawback of fresh spinach is that it can be a bit astringent unless it’s blanched before the finished cooking. You could substitute frozen spinach, which is already blanched and therefore won’t have that problem, but it won’t have as fresh a flavor and often tastes “grassy.”

To keep from having multiple pots, use the pasta cooking water to blanch the spinach.

For a creamier sauce, fold ½ cup whole milk ricotta into the spinach sauce at the end and let just heat through before tossing it with the pasta. Serves 4.


• 1 pound fresh spinach

• Salt

• 4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter

• 1 large clove garlic, lightly crushed, peeled, and minced

• 12 ounces (¾ of a 1-pound box) fusilli, penne, or small pasta shells

• 4 small scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

• Whole black pepper in a mill

• 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil in heavy-bottomed 6-8 quart pot over high heat. Rinse spinach under cold running water and drain. When water is boiling, stir in small handful of salt and spinach. Cook 1 minute, and lift out with slotted spoon or frying skimmer into a bowl, then transfer to a colander set in sink. Press gently to squeeze out excess moisture, let cool enough to handle, and roughly chop.

2. Put 3 tablespoons butter and garlic in large, heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan over medium low heat. While it warms, stir pasta to cooking water and cook until al dente, firm to bite but cooked through, using package suggested cooking time as rough guide.

3. While pasta is cooking, add scallions to skillet with butter and garlic and raise heat to medium high. Cook until wilted but not browned and add spinach. Toss until hot through and tender, about 1 minute longer. Season well with salt and pepper and turn off heat.

4. When pasta is done, drain quickly (don’t over-drain) and add to pan with spinach. Toss and add ¼ cup cheese and 1-2 tablespoons cold butter cut into bits, toss until melted and add another ¼ cup cheese. Toss one last time and serve, passing remaining cheese separately.


Sautéed Asparagus with Lemon Butter

Asparagus, lemon and butter have a natural affinity for one another. Serves 4.


• 1½ pounds fat-stemmed asparagus

• 1 lemon

• Salt

• 4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter

• Whole black pepper in a mill

• 1 tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley


1. Wash asparagus. Prepare basin of cold water. Trim 1-inch from cut end of asparagus and peel tough lower part of stems. Drop into cold water as peeled. Grate zest from lemon with a microplane-type zester. Set zest aside and cut lemon in half.

2. Put at least 1 inch of water in large, heavy-bottomed lidded skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat, add 1 tablespoon salt, and add asparagus, cover, and cook 2 minutes, uncovering as soon as water begins boiling again. While asparagus cooks, prepare fresh basin of cold water.

3. Drain asparagus and drop into cold water, gently stirring until cooled. Drain, pat dry, and cut into 2-inch lengths.

4. Put 3 tablespoons butter in skillet in which asparagus blanched and return pan to medium-high heat. When butter is melted and hot, add lemon zest, stir until fragrant, then add asparagus. Cook, tossing, until crisp-tender, about 1-2 minutes longer. Turn off heat.

5. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Add 1-2 tablespoons more of cold butter cut into bits and toss until melted. Taste and adjust seasonings and turn out onto a serving platter or bowl. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Variation: Asparagus with Shrimp and Lemon Butter. To turn the above into a main dish, allow 1 pound large shrimp, 3 small scallions, and 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves. Peel and if desired devein shrimp, wash, pat dry, and thinly slice scallions. Before adding asparagus to pan in step 4, add shrimp and toss until curled and pink but not quite cooked through. Add scallions and asparagus and continue tossing until asparagus is crisp-tender and shrimp are cooked through, about 1-2 minutes longer. Add thyme, turn off heat, and finish with salt, pepper, lemon juice and parsley as directed in step 5. Serve over rice or pasta.


Butter-Braised Radishes

We don’t often think of cooking radishes, but they make a delightful side dish for chicken, pork, lamb or eggs. Instead of an initial blanching, here the vegetable is sautéed first and then slowly braised in a covered pan.

This is a lovely way to cook any small, round vegetables, especially baby beets and turnips or small whole peeled shallots, pearl onions, or Italian cipolline. It can also be used for small baby squash. You can even mix them up. Serves 4.


• 1½ pounds small, round radishes

• 4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter

• Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

• ¼ cup water, or chicken or ham broth

• 1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram, oregano, or flat leaf parsley


1. Scrub and trim radishes. If green tops are still attached, trim away but leave some stem attached. Greens can be washed and mixed with other greens for another dish.

2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat in lidded sauté pan or skillet that will hold radishes in one layer. Add radishes and toss until coated. Sauté, tossing, until beginning to color.

3. Season with salt and pepper and add water or broth. Cover and lower heat to medium low. Braise until tender, about 8-15 minutes, shaking pan occasionally and checking to make sure liquid doesn’t completely evaporate. Add water by spoonfuls if needed.

4. Remove lid and if any liquid remains, raise heat and cook, shaking constantly, until evaporated. Add 1-2 tablespoons cold butter cut into bits and shake pan until melted and incorporate. Sprinkle with herbs and serve warm.


Broccoli and Shallots in Butter

Serves 4.


• 1 pound broccoli

• 2 medium shallots or 1 medium yellow onion

• Salt

• 4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter

• Hot pepper flakes


1. Trim cut end of broccoli and peel stems. Trim, halve lengthwise, and peel shallots or onion. Cut lengthwise into even strips.

2. Bring 3 quarts water to a rolling boil in heavy-bottomed saucepan and prepare basin of cold water. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and carefully add broccoli. Cook 1 minute, drain, and drop into cold water. When cooled, cut florets from stem and break into bite-sized pieces. Cut stem into bite-sized chunks, keeping separated from florets.

3. Put 3 tablespoons butter and shallot in large skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat. Sauté, tossing often, until onion is softened and colored palest gold. Add pepper flakes to taste and broccoli stems. Sauté, tossing often, until crisp tender, about 1 minute. Add florets and sauté until just heated through, about 30 seconds to 1 minute more. Turn off heat.

4. Add 1-2 tablespoons cold butter cut into bits and shake pan until melted and incorporated. Taste and adjust salt and pepper flakes, toss again, and serve.