Every other Monday throughout the summer and fall while locally raised produce is spectacular and abundant, the Heavy Table will be exploring vegetarian cuisine, both in the kitchen and at local eateries. Read other stories in this series.
I love cookbooks. Well, books of all kinds, really. I love the cool, smooth feel of paper and the smell of fresh ink. I especially love dusty old family cookbooks, with their brittle and stained pages and penciled-in markings. But, mostly, I love the potential every new book holds to change my world or, at least, my perspective, and to transport me to somewhere new and exotic for a brief visit. I read cookbooks like novels. At my house you’ll find them on my nightstand, tucked under my bed, pushed under the sofa, and piled in a stack on the floor in front of my bookshelf, waiting to be reshelved.
So, when I saw seasonal and local cookbooks sprouting in bookstores everywhere this past spring, I couldn’t wait to explore them all once our local growing season kicked into gear. Between six recipe testers and tasters, we tested 28 recipes from six books, never fewer than three recipes from any one book. I personally tested no fewer than two recipes from each book, and usually four or five. I hadn’t bought this much butter and Parmesan cheese in years. I also read all 1,715 pages of text. While many of the books have a vegetable focus, none has a strictly vegetarian focus. Nevertheless, we focused our efforts on testing vegetarian recipes from the books. I had intended to declare one book the winner above all others, but found, in the end, that the best book is the one that suits your particular tastes and needs. Therefore, I’ve summarized the key qualities of each book, listed in alphabetical order below, so you can decide which one suits you.
Cooking from the Garden: Best Recipes from Kitchen Gardener, edited by Ruth Lively [300 pages, hardcover, The Taunton Press, $29.95]
Cooking from the Garden is a compilation of 200 recipes from now-defunct Kitchen Gardener magazine that includes recipes from renowned chefs and authors such as Deborah Madison, James Beard Foundation Award winning author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone; Chicago-based chef and cookbook author Rick Bayless; and Minneapolis-based chef Lucia Watson and food writer Beth Dooley.
Two of the five recipes we tried, Lynn Alley‘s Strawberry Smoothie and Nan Wishner’s Crustless Vegetable Quiche turned out to be real favorites. The strawberry smoothie, though basic, has turned into a morning staple in the household that tested it, using peaches now instead of strawberries. The quiche made use of a good amount of garden vegetables, including kale, red onion, carrot, and potatoes, and got an appealing kick from Chinese five-spice powder which, especially when ground from scratch, is the star of the dish.
We also tried Beth Dooley’s and Lucia Watson’s White Bean Salad with Rosemary-Balsamic Vinaigrette (see recipe below) and thought it was pretty good, a B or a B+, though I wanted to add a splash of acid, apple cider vinegar, or lemon, perhaps. We didn’t use the optional homemade croutons, so perhaps that would have provided the missing element had we tried it. Unfortunately, the recipe was missing some clarification in the ingredient listing, which called for “4 cups cooked — or white beans,” which we decided meant 4 cups of cooked white beans. No directions were provided for cooking the beans, so we used our own method.