Essence of spring ragout

Contributed by Preston Maring, MD

Essence of spring ragout

Every now and then I read something that helps simplify and enhance my life. Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food” is one such book. His cogent advice can be summarized in seven words. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” More or less the recipes I have shared since 2003 have followed that advice. 

Blue cheese turkey burgers are admittedly a deviation, but I only enjoy them once in a while. He defines “food” in part as something your great-grandmother would recognize. He is wary of anything with more than five ingredients, things you can’t pronounce on the label, and anything that makes a health claim on the package. Healthy, delicious, seasonal vegetables make no loud statements except, if you listen very carefully, you may hear them call your name. 

Fresh asparagus called me today at the market and became the basis for a vegetable ragout (French for a stew or a sauce). This side dish is delicate, wonderfully fragrant, and a good example of what Pollan is writing about. Family and friends loved this along with parsleyed mashed potatoes and roast chicken.

Servings: 4


  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 3/4 pound shelling peas, shelled or frozen peas
  • A combination of spring onions, scallions, or shallots adding up to about ¾ cup sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped herbs like chervil, tarragon, or parsley – I used a mix of parsley and tarragon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Season to taste


  1. Break the tough ends off the asparagus. Slice the stalks about 1/8 inch thick on a diagonal. 
  2. Chop the herbs. 
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in a skillet or pan that has a cover. Sauté the onion family ingredients until soft, about 4-5 minutes. 
  4. Add the peas, asparagus, and ½ cup water. Cover and cook for a few minutes until the vegetables are crisp tender. 
  5. Stir in the remaining butter and herbs. Season to taste and serve hot.

Nutrition information (per serving)

  • Calories: 140
  • Total fat: 6 g
  • Saturated fat: 4 g
  • Trans fat: 0 mg
  • Cholesterol: 15 mg
  • Sodium: 47 mg
  • Total carbohydrate: 17 g
  • Dietary fiber: 7 g
  • Protein: g