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FOR A SEASONAL CHANGE, SIMPLY SAUTE

After months of waiting for a respite from plain steamed broccoli or roast potatoes, it's time. Spring vegetables from warmer climes -- asparagus, sugar snap peas, baby carrots -- are here.

But then the question looms: What to do once you tire of the obvious -- plunging the fresh vegetables in boiling water and topping with a pat of butter?

You could toss asparagus with olive oil and roast it. Saute the carrots in butter, then drizzle with honey and black pepper. Mash the peas with mint or basil.

Or you could turn to a simple but elegant saute that applies to almost any spring ingredient.

This dish is versatile enough to accommodate whatever healthful vegetables appear at farmers markets now and later in the season, or those found in grocery stores almost year-round.

This simple saute is equally at home alongside roast chicken or lamb, fish fillets or veal chops, a risotto or steamed new potatoes. The vegetables and sauce may be made separately in advance and combined at the last minute for entertaining.

You may use virtually any combination of spring (green) ingredients, including: shelled sweet peas, spring onions, zucchini (preferably pattypan) or leafy greens such as Swiss chard (cut into strips). Any soft vegetable, such as zucchini or chard, need not be blanched. It's based on a recipe in "Frank Stitt's Southern Table" (Artisan, 2004).

Spring Vegetable Saute

1 pound medium asparagus, ends trimmed

2 carrots or 1 cup baby-cut carrots

2 cups sugar snap peas or snow peas, ends and tough strings removed, or 1 cup shelled sweet peas

1 large shallot, finely chopped

About 4 tablespoons water

Salt and coarsely ground black pepper

2 tablespoons butter

Few drops fresh lemon juice or grated lemon zest (optional)

Finely chopped or thinly sliced fresh herbs such as basil, thyme, parsley or mint (optional)
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Have ready a large bowl of ice water.

Slice the asparagus on the diagonal into thirds.

Peel the carrots, if necessary, and thinly slice on the diagonal into 1/4 -inch-thick slices.

Add the asparagus to the water and cook just until bright green and barely tender, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the ice water.

Return the carrots to a boil and cook just until barely tender, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the ice water. Repeat with the sugar snap peas. Drain the vegetables. (May set aside at room temperature for several hours.)

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter. Add the shallot and saute until softened, about 1 minute. Add the asparagus, carrots, peas and water to the skillet, bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a dish. Heat the liquid until reduced slightly to almost a glaze, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and, if desired, add lemon juice or zest and/or herbs. Pour over the vegetables and toss to combine. Makes 4 servings.

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