Mental appetites can be a bit of an annoyance.
When it’s freezing outside and the howling Midwest winter wind forces me to wear layers of sweaters, it seems like all I can think about is eating sun-warmed homegrown tomatoes and juicy late-summer peaches.
Then, when I’ve been thoroughly baked by the August heat and am up to my eyebrows in cucumbers, peppers, squash and, yes, those longed-for tomatoes, I start craving cool breezes and crisp apples.
Ah, delicious autumn, as George Eliot called it. It’s finally here, and retail displays of berries and stone fruit are giving way to pears, pomegranates and more apple varieties than I care to count (now I just need to figure out which store is selling my favorite variety).
Autumn’s also something of a cookbook season for publishers, and foodie websites such as Eater, Food Republic and Bon Appetit are all over the scene with lists of their must-read releases.
While I certainly am not in need of any more cookbooks — I usually forget to consult the ones I own — it’s interesting to compare and evaluate these lists as reflections of what’s going on in the world of food.
Most popular this fall: Meat, haute cuisine, celebrities, baked goods and booze.
Not a lot of obvious vegetable options in that lineup.
There were a few vegetarian or produce-oriented cookbooks that popped up on the lists, such as “New Feast: Modern Middle Eastern Vegetarian,” by Lucy and Greg Malouf; Caroline Hofberg’s “Substantial Salads: 100 Healthy and Hearty Main Courses for Every Season,” which has delicious-looking recipes that make the most of seasonal fruits and vegetables; and the 40th anniversary edition of Mollie Katzen’s vegetarian-friendly “Moosewood Cookbook.”
What I found more intriguing, however, were the cookbooks that promised unusual approaches to cooking with or preparing produce.
“Brooks Headley’s Fancy Desserts,” for example, is one of those titles that should be classified under haute cuisine, celebrities or desserts — the author is the pastry chef at New York restaurant Del Posto, owned by Mario Batali and Joe and Lidia Bastianich. Along with chapters devoted to chocolate and dairy, however, his 97-recipe cookbook includes sections on fruits and vegetables.
He’s not kidding about the vegetables, either — two of Del Posto’s desserts are a bright-green pea cake with strawberries and strawberry gelato, and something called “Sfera di Caprino,” whose main ingredients are celery and figs.
A recent article in The New York Times describes Headley as “allergic to fussiness and intensely fixated on the purity of fresh fruit and vegetables.”
I can get behind that.
I might have to buy his cookbook just to see what celery in dessert form tastes like. It’d be a lot cheaper than a trip to New York, after all.
Another entry from the New York restaurant scene is “The Fat Radish Kitchen Diaries,” by Ben Towill and Phil Winser.
The cookbook promises it will take readers “through a year of vegetable-focused eating,” with recipes for breakfast, lunch and dinner organized by season.
“... the duo uses produce as inspiration but never loses sight of taste and the experience, resulting in food that is as delicious and fun to eat as it is nourishing,” the publisher’s blurb for the book says.
I’m not sure whether the recipe for peach ceviche with raw fluke sounds “fun” or not, but the carrot and avocado salad with hijiki and crispy kale sounds interesting. Maybe leaving out the hijiki — which is a brown sea vegetable, Google tells me — would make it more accessible for less adventurous home cooks (even though the publisher’s blurb says it’s “the best everyday cookbook out there”).
Unlike my other two contenders, Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi” is actually a collection of vegetable-focused and vegetarian (though not vegan) recipes.
“Plenty,” his 2011 cookbook, was organized by vegetable type — roots, onions, brassicas, eggplant, “green things,” etc. — with additional sections on grains, pasta and fruit with cheese. Its sequel “Plenty More” is organized by preparation method instead — tossed, steamed, blanched, simmered, braised, grilled, roasted, fried, mashed, cracked, baked and sweetened.
Ottolenghi explains the difference in approach in the introduction:
“In ‘Plenty More’ I have aimed to capture some of the techniques involved in constructing a dish, in putting together componenets and arranging them in layers of flavor, texture, and color. If ‘Plenty,’ through its structure and recipe selection, tried to shed light on groups of ingredients — my favorite ingredients — this book takes these favorites, adds a few new members to the happy family ... and then focuses on cooking techniques and methods that best utilize their potential.”
Since one of the biggest obstacles in the way of consumers buying fresh produce or trying new items seems to be knowing how to correctly prepare it, I appreciate the focus Ottolenghi puts on employing the best preparation methods for each vegetable (though why the heck do so many recipes use quail eggs?).
I hope this approach continues for foodservice and consumers alike, encouraging chefs and everyday cooks to get creative with fruits and vegetables.
I’ll let you know how that pea cake tastes.
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