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Vegetables Become Star Of The Plate

El Centro, California (NAPSI) - As interest in locally grown produce and fresh ingredients  rises across the country, a new star is making its way to the center of the  plate vegetables.

In recent years, chefs and home cooks alike have  taken notice of the rich vegetables that are locally available and the  versatility they bring to a meal as the main dish.

Farmers’ markets make it easy to find fresh produce worthy of the  starring role in any meal. As vegetables become the focus, chefs are finding  new ways to prepare and serve up these gems. Edward Leonard, certified Master  Chef and Le Cordon Bleu Executive Chef, offers insight on the trend of  seasonal specialties.

“Diners have long been in the mind-set that vegetables belong on the  side of the plate, next to a protein,” said Chef Leonard. “That’s  shifting as people become more conscious of what they eat and where it comes  from. Whether it’s rediscovering cauliflower to tasting a wide variety  of heirloom tomatoes, we’re seeing delicious new dishes that showcase  the versatility of vegetables.”

According to the chef instructors of Le Cordon Bleu, farmers’   markets offer the best options for local produce. Before heading out to the  market, they suggest researching which vegetables are in season and potential  recipes. Having this information ahead of time will help shoppers make better  choices when perusing the produce.

When it comes time to prepare the veggies, consider cooking methods that  go beyond steaming and sautéing. Try charring leeks, fresh peppers or  aubergine eggplants on the grill. Charring vegetables gives them a boost in  flavor, eliminates bitterness and brings out a sweeter flavor. While  vegetables can be the feature of the meal, that doesn’t mean the dish  has to be completely vegetarian. Consider incorporating proteins or meats to  elevate the taste and creativity of the dish. For example, stuff tomatoes  with ground beef and rice or top a portobello mushroom with crabmeat.

“When it comes to seasonal dining, using vegetables as the main dish  expands the range of possibilities and takes advantage of the beautiful  produce we have available,” said Chef Leonard. “At Le Cordon  Bleu, we teach our students the importance of using fresh ingredients and  encourage them to think creatively when it comes to developing new dishes.”  

Students at Le Cordon Bleu learn the foundational techniques necessary to  use their skills and passion to create exceptional dishes. Exploring farmers’   markets provides a great opportunity to learn about different kinds of  produce and ways to feature them in seasonal meals, such as this one:

Eggplant Rolls With Ricotta And  Parmesan Cheese

Ingredients:

1 pound eggplant

1½ cups ricotta cheese

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

¼ cup shredded fresh basil  leaves

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup chopped spinach (fresh  is best)

2 cups of tomato sauce

Fresh basil leaves for garnish

Directions:

Cut the eggplant lengthwise into ¼-inch  slices. Sprinkle the slices on both sides with salt and let them sit in a  colander for 30 minutes to remove some of the bitterness. In medium bowl,  combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, chopped spinach, shredded basil  and olive oil. Pat the eggplant dry, arrange on a baking pan and bake at 350  degrees for about 15 minutes until the eggplant is soft enough to roll. Set  aside to cool.

Spread a heaping teaspoon of the  cheese mixture lengthwise down the middle of each eggplant slice, leaving a  1-inch border at the wide end, and, beginning at the narrow end, roll up the  eggplant jelly-roll fashion.

Pour a small amount of tomato sauce  in the bottom of a shallow baking dish and arrange the rolls, seam sides  down, in one layer. Pour the tomato sauce over the rolls and cook for another  20−30 minutes, until heated through.

Transfer the eggplant rolls with a  spatula to serving plates and garnish with basil and additional Parmesan to  taste. Serves 4.

“If you’re looking for more tips or want to bring your cooking  skills to the next level, check out the enthusiast cooking classes we offer  at Le Cordon Bleu,” said Chef Leonard. “Our 16 campuses around  the country host a variety of hands-on classes where foodies can learn from  our professional chef instructors.”

To learn more about Le Cordon Bleu, visit www.chefs.edu.