Farmers Market Asparagus Ragout with Polenta

[Ragout close up image]Erin and I have been to the farmers market plenty recently, but I believe this is the first time we’ve bought something in the morning and cooked it that night.  And really, isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be done? This recipe is adapted from the book Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison, something that we picked up in Barnes and Noble the other day.  Erin was leafing through it, reading out awesome-sounding dish after awesome-sounding dish, so we figured as new vegetarians we might as well buy our first vegetarian cookbook.

What we didn’t realize in the store was that a lot of these recipes are REALLY involved, often referencing other recipes, which reference other recipes, and so on for eight or nine iterations.  Ok, not really.  But one iteration.  This recipe is pretty easy though (with no iterations!), except that it requires a good bit of chopping and some time at the stove.  Definitely more fun with two people, just like see-sawing.

meals-0051This dish is loaded with vegetables: swiss chard, leeks, carrots, asparagus, snow peas, mushrooms, and herbs. In fact, it’s essentially a pile of vegetables with some sauce on the plate.  But what a delightful pile it is.  Part of what makes it so delightful is that there’s a substantial amount of butter in the dish.  I try not to use much butter  when I cook, but more and more I’m becoming convinced that saturated fat isn’t all that bad for us. Michael Pollan and Mark Bittman both believe it was rather unfairly associated with heart disease when some studies showed a very weak correlation in the 1960’s.  Like all fat though, butter is very calorie-dense, so I wouldn’t eat it at every meal or anything.

[Ragout on plate image]I’ll keep this short and get right to the recipe so you can get your (hopefully skinny by now) butt into the kitchen to start chopping.  This meal was fantastic.  Erin and I both loved it. Five cows out of five, no doubt about it.  The beurre blanc sauce and fresh tarragon (Erin’s favorite herb) were the perfect finish.  The vegetable stew was so rich and delicious, you couldn’t have paid me to add meat to it.  I loved the polenta– this was the first time I’d made it the real way– but Erin has never been a polenta fan so she could have done with rice or mashed potatoes instead.  That certainly would speed things up too.  We had a nice unoaked (but still nice and vanilla-y) Chardonnay from the dog-friendly Mutt Lynch winery.  Linus had a small taste and approved, but seems a little concerned over the photo setup.

[Linus with wine]Last thing before I give you the recipe– all this chopping of vegetables got me to thinking.  My friend and NMA reader (and guest-poster) Pete was telling me about some of his cooking-learning curve woes, since he’s new to it.  So I’m going to put together a list of all the great, easy tricks I’ve learned for preparing individual ingredients (for example, to find out where to snap the ends off asparagus, just bend one until it breaks, then line the others up and cut them to that length).  I’m thinking this will be something that you can print out and refer to whenever you use a new ingredient, so you’ll learn what’s taken me a few years, in a matter of days. So look for that post soon!

Ok here’s the recipe.  It’s not as simple as most of what I make, but trust me, it’s worth it.  Do all the chopping after you start the polenta, since that part takes over an hour to cook but doesn’t require much attention.

Recipe for Vegetarian Asparagus Ragout with Polenta

Vegetarian Asparagus Ragout with Polenta
Serves: 4 servings
  • 1 bunch red swiss chard with stems (if you can only find green, fine)
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp butter (we used salted butter)
  • 5 teaspoons canola oil
  • ⅓ cup finely diced leek or onion
  • 8 carrots, peeled, sliced lengthwise, and cut into three-inch lengths
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 bunch asparagus, thick ends snapped off
  • ¼ lb snow peas
  • ¾ pound mushrooms (we mixed cremini and shiitake), stems removed, halved or quartered
  • 2 Tbsp fresh tarragon
  • Beurre blanc Ingredients:
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar (we used sherry vinegar, and less since it's strong)
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp finely diced shallot (use some of the onion or leek if you don't have shallot)
  • sea salt and black pepper
  • 6 Tbsp cold butter, cut into pieces
  • Polenta Ingredients (you need a double boiler for this):
  • 1.5 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  1. First start the polenta. Boil a few inches of water in the lower half of a double boiler, then reduce to simmer. Meanwhile, boil a quart of water in the top of the double boiler, placed directly on stove. Once it's boiling, whisk in cornmeal and sea salt until it's smooth. Place on top of the bottom part of the double boiler, still simmering, cover, and cook for a little over and hour or so until it's cooked all the way through. Stir every 20 minutes or so and make sure there's always water in the bottom of the boiler.
  2. For the beurre blanc, simmer the vinegar wine, shallot, and a pinch of salt in a pan and reduce it down to 2 Tbsp. Off the heat, whisk in the butter one piece at a time, to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper and set aside. You can do this while you're cooking the vegetables if you want.
  3. For the ragout, chop the leaves off the chard stems and very roughly chop the leaves. Chop the stems into 2-inch lengths. Boil 3 cups water, add a little salt, and simmer the stems for 5 minutes, then add leave and cook for another 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp each of butter and oil in large skillet that has a lid. Cook onion and carrots over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, then reduce heat to medium. Add wine, and when the pan is almost dry add 1 cup water and the asparagus. Season with salt, lower heat more, cover, and cook until tender, 6 more minutes. Add peas for 2 minutes.
  5. Heat the rest of the butter and oil in a wide skillet over high heat. When butter foams, add mushrooms and saute until browned, about 5 minutes. Then reduce heat to medium for 3-4 more minutes until tender. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Put some vegetables on each plate, top with chard and stems, some pan juice, some beurre blanc, mushrooms, and tarragon. Serve alongside polenta.


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  1. Great post. I hate to burst your veggie tips bubble, though, but I cook a lot of asparagus and it’s not quite as easy as figuring out where one piece is tough and lining them up. Farmer’s market asparagus especially tend to be of different lengths. Some are tender from top to bottom and some are woodier part way up. It’s a good thought but doesn’t always work. If you save the broken pieces like I do and use them to make stock for asparagus soup, then it really doesn’t matter as long as you don’t end up with the tough pieces to eat.

    And if you want great nutrition beyond polenta, I’d recommend going with quinoa or millet instead of rice or potatoes for Erin. They are both more nutritious and cook fairly quickly.

    If you really want to eat great food and not have it cook quickly, get yourself a pressure cooker. You can read more about what I do with them at or

    Thanks for the great post, great photos and great ideas of how to eat deliciously vegetarian.

  2. Hi Jill, thanks for commenting! Don’t worry, my veggie bubble is still intact; I realize there’s some waste due to error with the asparagus method, but most of the time I try to prep food as fast as possible, and I’d sooner waste a little than take a long time to break each individual stalk. And we compost, so it’s all good!

    You’re definitely right that the quinoa and millet are probably more nutritious than potatoes (though it’s always brown rice for us, not white). But we’re very happy getting a variety of foods in our diet, and taste is a factor for us too, not just nutrition.

    I’ve heard lots of good things about pressure cookers, but still never used one! I have a feeling the day is not far off though.

    • While I too prefer brown rice, Consumer Reports testing concludes it has more arsenic than does white rice. Therefore I eat neither.

  3. That looks fabulous! You two are getting good in the kitchen…

    Hanlie’s last blog post..Healthy You Challenge Check In – Week 21

  4. Oh my gosh this sounds and looks fantastic! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

    Danielle’s last blog post..The Juice Feast: Day 1

  5. Laura says:

    keep posting recipes like this and you might convert me. this looks utterly delicious. might give it a try (but with rice, since i have tons and i love using my cooker)…hopefully without the other half knowing what i’m making. 😉

  6. Awesome step-by-step instructions!!! I’m constantly looking for easy and well explained recipes! This looks absolutely delicious…more gourmet than I usually cook–but it looks like something definitely worth the effort! 🙂

    Mrah’s last blog post.."Is That What You Call Tact…

  7. Yeah! 5 out of 5 cows!!!

  8. Love the pic of the dog! And, your recipe sounds delightful.

    Thanks for submitting this to today’s Fight Back Fridays carnival.

    (AKA FoodRenegade)

    FoodRenegade’s last blog post..Fight Back Fridays June 12th

  9. I made this last week and it was delicious! Thanks so much for posting. Do you also have the nutrition info on it?

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