Bring to a boil: Secret to sauteeing veg is a minute in hot water

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Every weeknight, 6 p.m. rolls around, and across America, we scramble to find something to feed our families. Our end-of-day creativity is sapped, and we turn to our core repertoire of recipes that we make over and over.

And this isn't a bad thing: having a handful of go-to dishes in our hip pocket that we can execute without having to crack a cookbook is a smart way to get a healthy dinner on the table. If those recipes are actually plug-and-play techniques, or blueprints, then all the better.

With a blueprint, one "recipe" actually becomes hundreds of possibilities, which makes your pantry seem robust, and your menu repertoire expansive.

Today's recipe is really a blueprint for sauteeing vegetables. I'll skip the lecture about how healthy vegetables are. I'm guessing you already know that, so I'll jump straight into the nuts and bolts of my Weekday Sauteed Broccoli.

I'm using broccoli for the recipe, but you could easily substitute cauliflower or carrots or asparagus, depending on what's in season or what's on sale or what's hanging out in your crisper drawer. The time-saving strategy is to blanch - boil very briefly - the veggies before sauteeing. You can do this several days in advance, blanching a week's worth of chopped veggies ahead of time and just sauteeing them in minutes before dinner. Even if you blanch and saute the same night, the whole process will take less than 10 minutes.

Boil the veggies in salted water for just a minute or so, depending on the vegetable and texture preferences, and then use a slotted spoon to place the cut veggies in a bowl of water chilled with a few ice cubes. (And truth to be told, you can even skip the ice bath in a pinch, but it does firm up the veggies nicely and control the cooking.) Now the veggies are ready for a quick, flavorful saute.

Combine a tablespoon of olive oil or butter with your favorite spices and aromatics, and saute with the parcooked veggies in a hot pan - which will only take a couple of minutes - and serve. I took inspiration from one of my favorite pasta dishes with garlic, anchovy, chili flakes and lemon zest, but use whatever flavors you love. Try lime zest, cumin, green onion and a splash of soy sauce to finish, or dried herbs, shallot and smoked paprika also work great. Once you master the basic technique, get creative, swapping out vegetables and flavor profiles to perk up your weeknight veggie game.

WEEKDAY SAUTEED BROCCOLI

1 pound broccoli, cut into slim florets

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

11/2 teaspoons anchovy paste or minced anchovies

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (or less if desired)

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan

Salt for the boiling water

Blanch the broccoli florets: Fill a large bowl with water and ice cubes and set aside, near the stove. Bring a medium-sized pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Carefully place the broccoli in the boiling water and let cook for 1 minute (for firm broccoli) or 2 minutes for a more tender texture.

Remove the broccoli florets with a slotted spoon and place them directly into the icy water to stop the cooking. (Broccoli can be made up until this point several days in advance; store covered in the refrigerator.) In a small bowl, mix together the olive oil, anchovy paste, red pepper flakes and lemon zest with a fork until well-blended. Heat a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Scrape the flavored oil into the pan and let it cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the broccoli and cook, stirring, until heated through, about 3-5 minutes, depending if florets are chilled. Place on a platter or in a bowl and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and serve.

Start to finish: 10 minutes; makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 76 calories; 40 calories from fat; 5 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 2 mg cholesterol; 187 mg sodium; 7 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 0 g sugar; 4 g protein.

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D'Arabian appears on Food Network and is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She writes about food for the Associated Press.

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