It is summer and that means Farmer’s Markets and more glorious produce than I almost know what to do with. At this time of year, there is a tried and tested book that I turn to make the most of all of the delicious things I bring home.
I discovered Deborah Madison’s book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone shortly after the 10th anniversary edition was released in 2007. Madison is well-known in the Slow Food movement and has been a long-time advocate of farm-fresh, seasonal produce and trying to reconnect people to fresh produce, the “pleasurable essential to the enjoyment of good health.”
Madison’s book is not a cookbook in the vein of a glossy, picture-filled treatise that has become de rigeur. Instead, it is a treatise along the lines of The Joy of Cooking or Jacques Pepin’s books. There is a brief, introductory section that sets the stage with suggestions for useful tools (a good knife is the most important tool in your kitchen), some explanations for basic cooking methods and cutting techniques, and a foundational chapters on seasoning and sauces.
I love that Madison pays as much attention in detailing how to make the things that can accompany great vegetables as she does in how to prepare the vegetables themselves. She includes amazing accompaniments like a Parsley-Caper Sauce (page 56) good for warm or cold vegetables, Fresh Dill and Lemon Mayonnaise (page 59) that can be used on anything from sandwiches, to eggs or potatoes, and a Goat Cheese Sauce (page 72) that can stand up to the hardiest of late summer and early fall vegetables.
But more than just easy ways to embellish good, seasonal produce, Madison introduces a way of cooking with vegetables that treats them not as a replacement for meat but as a way of taking pure joy in everything a vegetable has to offer to the eating experience. She marries grains and tomatoes in recipes like Polenta Gratin with Mushrooms and Tomato (page 289) and rice and beets in the most astoundingly, delightfully pink Beet Risotto with Greens that you will ever eat (page 553).
No vegetarian cookbook could be complete without a substantial chapter of vegetables, “the heart of the matter.” These 100+ pages provide a succinct overview of common and some not-so-common vegetables, detailing when to find them, how to store and prepare them, what flavors to partner them with, and some basics for cooking.
But these basics of preparation are not just brief tutorials on how best to steam vegetables, but also on what to accompany them with: Haricots Verts with Garlic Mayonnaise (page 337), Brussels Sprouts and Walnuts with Fennel and Red Pearl Onions (page 344), Chard Stems with Saffron and Tomatoes (page 358), Curried Parsnips with Yogurt and Chutney (page 398), Zucchini and Fresh Herb Fitters (page 424) perfect for the glut of fruit that will inundate the market in a few weeks, and Provençal Winter Squash Gratin (page 441) that should not be relegated to winter, but should be made and consumed the very first Saturday you see a butternut squash at the Farmer’s Market.
The book also has a complete index that is a useful place to start if you just found chicory or an abundance of mint in your farm share this week and you don’t know what to do with it next.
The section on vegetables is rounded out by chapters on grains, legumes, eggs, tarts (savory and sweet), pasta and noodles, soups, salads and sandwiches. In each section, Madison walks the reader through how to prepare dishes that simply highlight the best of what each ingredient has to offer. In her own words from her 10th anniversary edition: “It’s a book for those of us who like to eat, who care about what we eat, and who view cooking and eating together as one of life’s pleasures.”
If bringing home delicious, fresh food on a Saturday or Wednesday is your idea of a good time in the city in the Summer, than you need to swing by the Library on your way home from the Farmer’s Market and pick up Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.
About the Author
Melissa Carle is a Support Specialist with the KC-LSP and thinks life is too short to read a book that doesn't excite you in the first 40 pages. She likes cooking, herb gardening, and, of course, reading and thinks all good books, fiction and non-fiction alike, share one thing in common: they're just a good yarn.