What's At A Vegetable's Core? Its Heart.

Please observe the photo above, a salad created by Ferran Adrià for the launch of the ICC's new Spanish Culinary Arts curriculum. You know, the one where José Andrés is the dean and your guide on your week abroad in Spain. Dead center is watermelon, goat cheese, yellow pepper and those famous little exploding olive oil bubbles. Slightly to the right is a filet of tomato guts (as I'm calling it) that made me realize instantaneously that just like animals, vegetables have different parts. And the best stuff, as with their living breathing counterparts, is close to the heart.

This tomato filet was like a vegetable oyster — slippery and succulent with a really concentrated tomato flavor. It made me forget tomato flesh even existed. Then I remembered that when I was little I used to like to bite the outer flesh away from carrots to get to the extremely tender, sweet, flavorful core and open green beans to extract the seeds within. I've always kind of had a thing for dissecting food, kind of like how pint-sized engineers take apart Dad's expensive stereo, but cheaper.

We already know and revere artichoke hearts and hearts of palm, but I've discovered two other hearts that don't come in cans and are definitely the best part of the vegetable: celery and romaine. I know that they both come labeled as hearts in the supermarket, but if you tear away the outer 1/3 or so (and set it aside to use later, obviously) you're left with that same sweet, intense, juicy bit that's pure vegetable essence, like the tomato guts filet.

I observed vegetable heart being used in another 3-star kitchen when I saw Step Up To The Plate a few weeks ago. Chef Sébastien Bras roasts an onion in foil, then pokes the core out to use in another dish and fills the outer layer with whipped goat cheese, because the caramelized, sturdier shell pairs better with the goat cheese than the succulent, more strongly onion-flavored interior. Bras also mentions "cauliflower marrow" at some point in the film. Whatever that is, it sounds amazing.

Not every vegetable you encounter has a heart. You don't want to chow down on the ribs and seeds of a bell pepper, for instance, but for those vegetables that do, honor their own special brand of offal by locating the most delicious part.

More vegetables for lunch on Food Republic: