In the middle of a brutally hot summer—even by Austin standards—I’m not keen to fire up the oven. But at the farmers market, many of the vegetables I encounter are hardy ones that do well with a long, hot roast. There’s loads of butternut squash, a “winter” vegetable that in Texas gets picked and sold in high summer, and potatoes, dug in the spring and stored by farmers to be sold all through July and August.
But one can’t survive on ice cream and takeout alone. Lucky for me, my colleague Kiera Butler introduced me to a gadget that has since become wildly popular: the Instant Pot. It’s a tool that can replace all manner of other contraptions, like rice cookers and crockpots. But the function I prize above all others is its service as a pressure cooker—one that, since it’s well insulated and driven by electricity, adds very little heat to my kitchen, even as it cooks like an absolute demon.
And I’ve since discovered a concept I had no idea existed: pressure steaming. You just drop a steamer basket into your pressure cooker, add a little water, and you’ve got a magical tool. You can take a rock-hard, whole potato or a halved butternut squash, and in a matter of minutes, bring it to the fork-tender stage. For potatoes, this technique is particularly amazing, because it allows you to rapidly cook them whole, in their peels, without diluting their flavor with lots of water, as happens when you steam or boil them after they’ve been cut up. Pressure-steamed whole potatoes make for potato-ier potato dishes.
Once you get the veggies steamed to perfection, you can just cut them up, add some fat and seasonings, and fast-brown on the stove-top or under the broiler. For the potatoes, you can also just cut them up, toss them in a vinaigrette, and create a fantastic potato salad, no oven-heating necessary.
You can pursue this technique in any pressure cooker, not just an Instant Pot. But this countertop, electric-powered contraption works great for beating the kitchen heat.
(Yields three generous portions)
A pinch or two, to taste, of crushed chili flakes
1 bunch parsley, chopped (optional)
Quick-Caramelized Butternut Squash
(Yields four generous portions)