Costata Romanesco zucchini, whole and sliced.
Costata Romanesco is hands down my favorite zucchini.
I know that might sound strange, for zucchini isn’t the most interesting, vibrant, or glamorous of vegetables. Plus everyone likes to complain about how they have just way too much of it. I say to those lucky complainers, “You don’t have squash bugs, for if you did, you’d treasure each and every squash and blossom!” For some of us, the effort to grow zucchini means encounters with hoards of creepy grey bugs and the inevitable early death of one’s struggling plants. So if I’m going to open myself to squash bugs and anxiety over the early demise of my summer squash, then I’m going to grow a zucchini I get excited about. And Costata Romanesco is it.
There are three things that are special about this old variety. Each squash has ribs, the ridges that run along the long body of each one. A little hard to capture in a photo until you slice them, then you can see them as the ruffled, sculptured edges of each round of squash. I think they look wonderfully fetching and are truly so when a mass of the rounds is jumbled together. It doesn’t matter whether you steam or sauté them, either, because they will taste good.
Another virtue of the Costata Romanesco is its density. Somehow, this variety is less watery and the texture more firm, which makes it a much more satisfying summer squash to eat than others. Add to that the flavor, and you’re home. The flavor is, well, simply more squash-like. Some describe it as nutty. I think of it as down-to-earth. In any case, it’s there, and it has real taste, which cannot always be said of more modern squash.
The Costata (meaning ribs) is an Italian heirloom. Lots of companies stock seed packets for this gem. (Johnny’s, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Sustainable Seed Company, Fedco). Like many heirlooms, it doesn’t always produce as heavily as other zucchini, but the plants are big and robust and if you don’t want a glut of zucchini, why not choose the best and go with what it produces? Actually, I’ve always found that mine make plenty.
And one squash makes a a fast and neat little lunch for one.
A One-Zucchino Lunch for One
Time required: about 4 minutes
1 7-inch Costata Romanesco squash
Good olive oil
Fresh herb, such as dill, basil, marjoram
Freshly ground pepper
Lemon if you wish
Slice the squash crosswise into rounds about ¼ inch thick or a little more if you like it heftier.
Steam over boiling water for about 3 minutes —taste to make sure it’s done enough for you.
Turn it out onto a plate or better, a shallow bowl. Season with sea salt, a drizzle of good olive oil, some fresh herb, a few pine nuts, some pepper and a squeeze of lemon if you wish.
That’s it. Sit down and enjoy. Mop up the juices with a piece of bread.
And this is just the beginning. You might add halved Sun Gold tomatoes, thin shavings of Parmesan or aged Gouda cheese, a shower of very young arugula leaves, a slivered squash blossom —or just leave it as is.
My friend, Joseph Shuldiner, who wrote a beautiful sexy book called “Pure Vegan” and I decided to a joint book signing for our books (“The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” for me) in the Real Butcher Shop, a new store in Santa Fe brought into being by Tom Delehanty. Tom has been a chicken farmer in New Mexico for the past 20 or so years. The meat he sources for his shop is all from the West, grass fed, raised with care, and definitely not from CAFOs. He also sells the offal, and he also makes vegan/vegetarian stocks, gives space to a baker who is making breads from ancient grains, and he has a few excellent raw milk cheeses and other raw dairy. He plans to feature vegetables as the season progresses (and a farmer was present that day) and the store finds its stride. In short, he’s mixing things up while offering wholesome, nourishing food that’s traceable and has integrity. And since Joseph and I feel that we try to do the same in our work, only without the animals, we thought, why not join forces with Tom? I posted about the event on Facebook and those who were offended were free to let me know. And I do understand.
But I believe in the open table, a place where people can come to eat regardless of preferences, labels, and such, where vegan, vegetarian and omnivore can sit down together and break bread together. Exploring inclusiveness has always been the intention behind my work, and while I thoroughly enjoy the meatless meals I cook, I don’t like a label that pushes others away so I’ve never really felt comfortable with the word “vegetarian.” I don’t use it to describe an exclusive lifestyle, but more as an option. (That’s why it’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.”) We can all enjoy plant foods and have meals that are without meat whether we do so everyday, only on Monday’s, or on more or less frequent occasions.
Today, more than any other time, plant based way of eating is respected and even seen as valuable to one’s health and well-being. A meatless meal is now a viable option to the usual menu offerings of lamb, salmon, chicken and beef, regardless of who is eating. When recently interviewed by a graduate student who was doing a project on plant-based diets I was taken aback when he said, by way of introducing a question, “Nutritionists today say that with a plant based or vegetarian diet you’ll get all the nutrition you need.” I had to ask him if I had heard him correctly, because that’s a huge change. The questions used to be, “Do you get enough protein?” And the assumption was you weren’t. (Another reason for saying I wasn’t a vegetarian – I didn’t want to answer that question all my life.) Nutritionists, dieticians, and doctors were very concerned about all the lacking elements in a meatless diet. No more, apparently, and that’s terrific. Now it’s a plus not to eat meat.
In the 30 plus years I’ve been involved with cooking dishes based on plants rather than meat, vegetarians have gone from being weirdos who had to defend their diets to something entirely more mainstream. Now it’s not a big deal if you say you’re a vegetarian or a vegan. And one might be a hardcore or simply experimenting. I have a niece who says she’s a vegan because she doesn’t trust or like the animal foods that are offered as part of the meal plan in college. She grew up on a farm and has parents who discern the differences between industrial food and well-raised food. Does that mean she’s really a vegan? For the moment, it’s a strategy. It might stick or not. I’ve taught more than one vegetarian cooking classes in which someone confesses that although they’ve been a strict vegetarian for twenty years they now dream of eating turkey. It’s possible that we change. I also know a 3rd generation Australian vegetarian (unlikely, when you think about it) who doesn’t even know the taste of meat and isn’t curious about it nor does he think of its absence as a lack. Others might be happy little vegetarians until they smell that roast pork shoulder studded with garlic and laced with rosemary or that roast chicken being pulled from the oven, then they succumb to something larger and possibly more fundamental than their ideals.
It’s also quite possible that one can be truly offended by the smell of meat. And the thought of animals being killed. After all, none go willingly to slaughter. I think about this a lot. Such people shouldn’t come to a butcher shop for a vegetarian book signing, but others might come and also take advantage of those vegan stocks, those nutty-chewy breads, that raw milk and amazing raw milk cheeses—even if they don’t eat meat. Hopefully there is room for all kinds in this world. In fact, the event was included a great big happy mix of people. Some ignored the meat. Others ignored me and Joseph. But it all felt good. Kind of like family.
I know, a vegetarian author in a butcher shop. Sounds weird. But it doesn’t stop there. I’ll be there with Joseph Shuldiner, the author of “Pure Vegan”, a gorgeous book that came out from Chronicle last year. We both thought, why not mix things up a bit? After all, what we are about in our work is offering vegetarian and vegan food that’s free of any diet fundamentalism. And we are both about integrity in the foods we cook with, and the same is true of Tom Delehanty, who is the man behind Pollo Real and the owner of the newly opened Real Butcher Shop in Santa Fe.So really, it just made sense.
We all all be there so come join us!
Collected Works will have copies of “The NEW Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” and “Pure Vegan” and there will be tastes from our books to sample.
Sunday, 5-8, May 25, at the Real Butcher Shop in Casa Solana, between the co-op and A Better Day coffee shop.
The NEW Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is coming out on March 11, and since people are asking how it’s different from the older book, I thought I’d tell you.
For the most part it is the same book you already know. The point wasn’t to write an entirely new book, but to bring its contents up to date. There are 150 new recipes, but there is also a greater emphasis on tempeh (and other fermented soy foods) than tofu, which we now see as being more beneficial than we once thought. There is a designation of those recipes that are vegan and more vegan options as well. Recipes that were especially rich or challenging for other reasons were either eliminated or adapted to reflect today’s tastes. A section on vegetable sautés replaces some of the more complicated stir-fries, and among the breads is now a no-knead recipe with some great variations.
That foods have changed along with our tastes is reflected in this new volume. Ingredients like smoked paprika and smoked salt, shichimi togorashi, rau ram (Vietnamese coriander) and curry leaves are more familiar and available than they once were. We now have coconut oil and a coconut beverage along with almond, rice, hemp and other dairy substitutes. Shishito, fushimi and padron peppers are as familiar to some as jalapeno and serrano peppers once were. Kale was not eaten as salad when VCFE first appeared. Now it is. We may have cooked wheat berries before, but we didn’t cook “farro” until recently, and so it goes. Forbidden rice, frikeh, cracked, pearled and whole farro, unhomogenized dairy have all arrived and today we know about “tartines” as well as sandwiches. Another thing that has changed are the countless authors who are truly expert in a single area, be it bread, curries, Asian vegetables, which means that this volume doesn’t really have to contain everything—for there are many other books to choose from when our expertise in a particular culinary culture grows.
So while there are many changes (plus a new design within and without), it’s also true that many things have remained the same. You’ll find your old friends here and hopefully discover some new ones. (I’ll get that cover up as soon as I figure out how to.) Continue reading What’s New about The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
A Gilfeather rutabaga (above) and regular rutabaga (below).
I first heard of this vegetable as the Gilfeather Turnip, but it’s actually a rutabaga. Like other members of the rutabaga group (Brassica napobrassica) it has a long tap root and rootlets issuing forth in two bands that run down the opposite sides of the tuber. Unlike other rutabagas we know it is white skinned and white fleshed whereas the usual rutabaga has a purple band of skin on the outside and inside the color is a delectable creamy yellow. (Also, a turnip is round and doesn’t have those rootlets or taproot.) The flavor of the Gilfeather is rooty sweet with a bit of a peppery twang, much like any rutabaga, but many say, so much better.
When the Slow Food’s Ark of Taste first got going in the USA, this was one of the earliest members to board. Seeds were scarce since the Vermont farmer, John Gilfeather, who grew this vegetable, was so protective of his favorite vegetable that he cut off both the tops and the long roots so that they couldn’t be cultivated. Seed of course, was out of the question, but it’s hard to possess anything in full and a few seeds did get away. Thanks to the Ark of Taste and a few intrepid farmers, you can buy the Gilfeather turnips/rutabaga not exactly everywhere, but in a few select farms. (Find them by going to slowfoodusa/arkoftaste. Look up Gilfeather turnip then go to Local Harvest to find who is growing them. There are a few farmers.)
John McClendon, a farmer in the Phoenix area, is one who grows Gilfeather rutabagas. He placed a hefty specimum in my hand before we each packed up our books and vegetables at the Scottsdale Eileen Fisher store. (We were both showing our wares in this clothing store, but that’s another story.) I was thrilled with the gift and a tucked it carefully into my suitcase to take home.
But the next day I was lucky enough to taste one at FnB Restaurant, also in Scottsdale, grown by Mr. McClendon and prepared by the talented chef Charlene Badman. I can’t give away her secret, but I can say that it was a delectable dish—golden, caramelized, and oddly enough, heart shaped, but not through any contrivances on Charleen’s part. Cut a rutabaga lengthwise and you might just get a big heart. And if you turnout to be a real fan of the Gilfeather rutabaga, this might just be your Valentine’s special. And keep your eyes open for this special heirloom vegetable.
It’s been a long, hard, hot, dry summer and I’ve tried many times to write about it, but it always gets too moany-groany. So here’s the abbreviated version of what I learned from this summer’s drought, which is actually year 3 of a longer dry period.
When it’s dry, plants die. The world is brown instead of green. It’s easy to become depressed.
When it’s dry, there are no mosquitoes, so it’s a pleasure to sit outdoor in the evening.
During the drought the lilac buds just dried up without opening.
There are very few larkspur, although their blooms are welcome.Usually there are hundreds of them.
Leaves on the fruit trees yellow and fall early.
Those plants that do come up seem feeble. They’re shorter. They don’t feel robust, even when watered.
One carries a lot of water from the kitchen to the garden. Where will a gallon of water be most effective?
Plants don’t thrive under hose-water, even if it is drip and is from a well. It’s just not like rain.
There are no weeds during the drought. No sprouting elms, no native sunflowers, no buckwheat or mountain spinach (orach), amaranths, pigweed, and tumbleweeds. There are however lamb’s quarters and purslane. A lot of each.
The first monsoon rain drenching the garden.
When it finally does rain, which, miraculously it did, we are ecstatic. Strangers talk with one another with hope and happiness in their voices.
I actually think for the moment that the crisis is over, that our weather world will be normal again.
The world turns greens. Or at least greenish.
There are mosquitoes. Lots of them.
And there are weeds. Hundreds and thousands of them. They were just waiting for that moisture to fall from the sky. I tug at this grassy carpet pulling up elms, sunflowers and amaranths especially, by the handful. If these little green plants were insects or mice, their sheer number would be alarming. Even as plants, go, it’s alarming. The fecundity of annual plants is such that one year when I didn’t weed then went into the far back yard, I was frightened by their sheer density. (The next year is when I started a garden.)
And now that the mosquitoes have driven me inside, I check my e-mail, and there’s notice for a conference —next February, which is six months hence—whose topic is “Drought, Opportunity for Change.” And that’s the same conclusion I’ve come to this summer. Despite the puddles in the driveway, drier times will continue and I’ve come to believe that the most important thing to cultivate is not this plant or that, but a rising mind, one that looks for and finds those opportunities that must be met if we wish to continue gardening for pleasure, growing food, and finding joy in our drying world. The conclusion?
I’m not moving to a rainier clime (at least for now). And I’m going to tackle gardening in hard times with gusto.
One question people ask me when we’re talking about ‘Vegetable Literacy’ is, “What is your favorite plant family?”
“Do you mean to grow or to eat?” I ask.
“To admire for its flowers or for its curvaceous membership?” I wonder.
“Or for its eccentricity, or colorful stories?” I hope.
These botanical families are all quite wonderful and also, quite different, and it’s hard for me to choose a favorite. They’re all favorites.
Some are large, others small. Some common and trustworthy, others strange and eccentric. But the family that is now captivating me most right now is the aster (daisy, or sunflower) family. The word Asteraceae, the name for the family, comes from the Greek word for little star. Think of an asterisk (*), another little star, or an asteroid, a somewhat larger one yet quite little in comparison to our big star, the sun. Jerusalem artichokes are in this family and I once wrote a piece in which I referred to them as “star flowers.” I didn’t know about the word Asteraceae meaning little star, or even what family they were in. They produced sunflowers, but lean and articulated ones, and they struck me somehow as stars, especially those on the ends of eight-food branches, nodding against the sky. How curious that they belonged in the family known by the same name. We know without knowing.
This family intrigues me. Its members are prickly, spiny, hairy, bitter, but with innocent looking daisy-like flowers along with variations on the composite flower theme, such as the tufted purple artichoke and thistle blossoms.
Consider cardoons, artichokes, salsify, burdock, chicories and endives, lettuce grown in too warm a spot. These are plants that in many cases emit a thick, latex like liquid which, if you taste it, and I have, is bitter indeed. You can tear your fingers along the edge of cardoon spine or prick them on an artichoke leaf, and you’ll astonished at all the roots that sprout off a long root called salsify, which give it its other name, “goats beard.” Sometimes my radicchio is almost too bitter to eat. And those strange subterranean creatures, sun chokes, will take over your garden. They might have flowers like little stars, but they’re aggressive in their march towards dominance. Burdock dwells here, too. It was long considered a medicinal plant before it was regarded as a vegetable. Its root grows to such length that harvesting is the challenge. I was once sent a burdock root that was three feet long which said as much about the harvester as about the soil. It was like having a large snake it the kitchen.
The culinary herb in this family is tarragon, which also goes bys the name dragonwort. Or dragon’s mugwort. Artemisia dracunculus. Why dragon? The name dates back to a time when the idea of the Doctrine of Signatures, a system that looks for correlations between a plant and its possible uses. As the roots of tarragon are snaky in appearance, it was thought they were useful for treating snakebites, which were thought of as small dragons.
The Milky Way seems especially well peppered with little stars against the desert night sky, my asters are already up though many months away from making their galaxy of lavender blooms, and there’s enough tarragon to use in an egg salad made with my neighbor’s perfect eggs. Spring is creeping, however slowly, towards its own lush moment.
Egg Salad with Tarragon, Parsley and Chives Makes about 2 cups
I had somehow forgotten about egg salad, but with the tarragon and chives emerging in the garden, eggs becoming more numerous with the lengthening days, and some very good bread in the house, egg salad suddenly came sharply into view. I also add a small, finely diced pickled shallot to egg salad just to insert a little zing into the creamy richness of real farm (or backyard) eggs.
6 farm eggs (likely to be on the small to medium size)
1 tablespoon minced tarragon leaves
1 tablespoon finely snipped chives
1 tablespoon minced parsley or lovage
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 small shallot, finely diced and tossed with a little vinegar
chive blossoms, if available
Cover the eggs with cold water in a saucepan, bring them to a boil and boil for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let stand for 7 minutes. Pour off the hot water, rinse with cool, then peel and chop the eggs.
Put them in a bowl with the herbs, and mayonnaise. (If you used commercial mayonnaise you might not need much salt.) Taste, add ¼ teaspoon, then taste again. Season with pepper.
If you want the zesty hit of the shallot, toss it, once diced, with just a few drops of vinegar and let stand for a few minutes. The color will change right away to a soft pink. If there is excess vinegar, drain it off and add the shallots to the mix. Pile the egg salad into a serving bowl and garnish with chive blossoms, if you have some.
‘Vegetable Literacy’ is centered on 12 plant families and how they meet in the kitchen. It’s also a cookbook (some 300 recipe). Mostly it’s about connecting the dots between botany and the garden and the cook. People ask me what inspired this exploration and I have to say that I don’t recall a single moment in which that intention suddenly leaped to the fore. It was more like the idea of botanical families and the relationship between them and the kitchen had been there for a long time. Maybe it’s in my genes—my father was a botanist and gardener and farmer among other things. And even though it didn’t occur to me plant anything until I was in my mid-thirties, something must have rubbed off. And it rubbed off from my botanist brother, Michael, my many farmer friends and the gardeners I have known. Most of all, though, it was starting to garden that made plants and their families come into view with increasing clarity. Once I started to grow vegetables, I saw them in different ways: how much space they need, how large and many their leaves, how similar the blossoms within a family, the possibilities of eating more of them then what we see in the store or even the farmers market—hence the many little pointers about eating the whole plant—and more. The garden reveals the big and sometimes gnarly world that lies behind the pretty vegetable.
I’m the last person to write a book about gardening, and this isn’t a garden book. I’m still a beginning gardener; a fumbler in the garden. Here it is March and I haven’t even planted my peas. Expert or not, it’s amazing what a garden can teach one. It gets you to open your eyes and all of the sudden plants connect to one another, to you, and your cooking like never before. It’s a deep thrill that also be a cheap thrill. You don’t need an acre. Grow a pot of cilantro and use those little green balls before they become dried coriander and you have a really special treat. Or try a larger pot of chard, and an even larger container of potatoes. One caveat is that you do have to be there for your garden and this is the one thing I really had to work to make possible. No traveling in summer. No more teaching or going off here and there. It worked. But ironically, it looks like this summer I’m going to be away from my garden too much to take proper care of it doing what? Walking around the country with ‘Vegetable Literacy’ in tow.
Presenting a book to the world is always a thrill and something of surprise. Here I am hunkered down in my office or out in the garden, and suddenly ‘Vegetable Literacy’ is out there, no longer my near secret activity of the past two years. As my artist husband says about his paintings, he wants them to “grow up and go to college” – that is, get out there in the world, and it’s the same with a book. Although this first foray into the world feels tender and vulnerable; a bit of shock, really, I’m thrilled to have had the chance to write ‘Vegetable Literacy’. I hope it inspires those who read it as it did me while writing it.
And tell me if you wish, what plant families are you drawn to? In the garden or in the kitchen.
Kale, chard, and other greens from the greenhouse.
A neighbor in my village built an amazing greenhouse last year. Cold air comes up from the bottom and cools it in the summer. In the winter it’s 80 degrees and climbing inside when it’s freezing outside. No wonder he put a bed in there – who wouldn’t want to be warmed by the sun heated room when the night digits plummet to 6 degrees? The problem is that the greenhouse has been so successful that Scott, who built it, has far more greens than he can possibly eat. This means that I, along with other people and two goats, have been the happy recipient of big bags of kale, chard, beet greens, spinach, arugula, and Romaine lettuce. These leaves glisten. They glimmer. They glow. And they are all as soft as flower petals. We enjoy them in soups, salads, braised, even in smoothies. Then I get to go back for more. To have fresh produce in winter is an unexpected joy and I am now seriously bent on putting up a greenhouse of my own.
When it comes to delicacy and cole crops, I have never really put the two together. It’s almost as if they wanted a blast of cold air to toughen up a little. I plunged them in cold water, then dried and refrigerated them thinking that would give them a little more backbone, but it didn’t. Not that there’s anything wrong with these greens just the way they are. They’re surprising, but I’m thrilled to have something from as close as down the road and picked as recently as this morning. This is food that’s alive!
Two weeks ago in Davis, California, I came across their opposites, you might say, while shopping at the farmers market. I bought a pound of mixed greens: kale (four different kinds), savoy cabbage (that January cabbage again), some chard and other brassicas. No protection had been offered these babies. They’d been outside growing through the California rain and chill, growing thick and tough and strong. Unlike the greenhouse leaves, these were so tough and bouncy that for a moment I actually wondered if they’d become tender in the pan? I took them back to my sister-in-law’s house and braised them with garlic and my brother’s olive oil and in fifteen minutes they were tender and succulent and so, so, very good. The greenhouse greens, cooked the same way, were also very good, but it was interesting to see the difference that actual weather makes in strength. The greenhouse greens collapsed to a soft, tender little mound. The field greens did too, but not nearly as much, and you could certainly discern one leaf type from another. If you were from another planet, you might think that you were looking at two entirely different mixes of vegetables. And in a way, you would be.
I gave the field grown greens another try and used them in a salad of cabbage and kale, finely slivered and tossed with the same good olive oil I had been using with the greenhouse greens. They started out tough, but ended up toothy-tender, and because they were strong leaves from the get go, they were good the next day, too. The greenhouse salad was soft, the leaves didn’t need to be slivered at all, it was best eaten as soon as it was tossed, and it wanted a softer oil and less acidic vinegar than those from the out-of-doors. But was one better than the other? They were different, and I’d be happy with either.
If you like kale salads, make your favorite and include some of that crinkly cabbage in it. And don’t shun those greens that are as thick as soft cardboard. They’ll be fine.
Kale and cabbage salad in a bowl by Robert Brady.
Radicchio in the Garden
At the store we just see the red heart in the center, but in the field we see the other leafy material that is part radicchio, too. The outer leaves, which are green, often lie open, the purple ones next tier in that are also somewhat opened, then finally there’s the tighter purple-red head in the center, looking something like a cabbage, only smaller. Radicchio, however, is not a cabbage, but a chicory, closer kin to lettuce, Jerusalem artichokes, and salsify —all members of the daisy, or aster family, Asteraceae. All of the plants in this family produce flowers that are daisy like in form. During the summer radicchio doesn’t look so interesting in my garden, but the minute the weather turns cool, it starts to turn that seductive dark purple red that makes it irresistible. As dramatic as radicchio is in a salad, I adore it when it’s seared in a skillet and covered with Gorgonzola or another blue cheese. As it’s color fades to brown, its flavor swells and sweetens. I add the cheese once the wedges have been turned then let it soften and ooze into the leaves. Freshly cracked pepper finishes the dish and maybe a little splash of aged red wine vinegar. It’s the winter food I eat often and adore each time I do.
Seared Radicchio with Blue Cheese for 2, or even 1
1 head of radicchio di Chioggia (about the size of a grapefruit)
Slices or small chunks of blue cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Cut the radicchio into 6 or 8 wedges, keeping them joined at the base so they don’t fall apart. But even if they do, don’t hesitate to use them.
Coat a cast iron skillet or grill pan with olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the wedges of radicchio and season with them with salt. With the pan being hot but the heat only medium-high, cook until the wedges are browned on the bottom, then turn, adding a little more oil if needed and another few pinches of salt. Lay the cheese over the top, season with freshly ground pepper, and cover the pan. Cook until the leaves are browned all the way through and the cheese has softened, a matter of a few minutes. Remove to a plate and eat as is, or with a dash of vinegar. You can eat this over polenta, too, or with pasta, and it’s delicious paired with roasted winter squash.