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A Cookbook You Can Use

The Vegetable Butcher

I receive new cookbooks weekly, I leaf through them at the bookstore, and scour the Internet for new recipes.  There are lots of good ones but also repetition, and each month I have to choose one to write about.  I am looking for fresh ideas, recipes that I couldn’t think of myself, or teach me something new.  Interesting, but not too interesting – books that I want to use.  The Vegetable Butcher is one of those books.

Despite its cutesy name, author Cara Mangini has cooking chops. She comes from a family of butchers, but fell in love with vegetables.  She started her cooking career as a “vegetable butcher” at Eataly in New York where she would prep vegetables for customers, handing out tips to cook them at home. After stints in California, she opened a restaurant and produce stand in Ohio and produced this cookbook, the culmination of years of working exclusively with produce.  

Rather than being organized into meals, the book is organized by produce type, from artichokes to eggplant to winter squash.  The size is manageable and I found it easy to make my way through the recipes.  Each section starts with notes and favourite cooking methods, plus a step-by-step tutorial on “butchering” the vegetable.  It’s clear that the produce is the star.  

The recipes are not complicated and would be of interest to both novice and more experienced cooks.  It’s vegetarian but not diet food and that’s a good thing.  How about parsnip-ginger cake with browned butter-cream frosting?  “Spring Fritto Misto” with a yogurt dipping sauce?  Tomato tarte tatin? Yum.  The recipes are new twists on classics and old favourites.  

I tried three recipes and would recommend all of them.  They would have worked as written, but I tweaked them, as I always do.  Tuscan kale and soffritto (sautéed onions, carrots and celery) with cannellini beans and polenta cakes was a hearty main course.  Instant polenta reduced the cooking time and I boosted the flavour with rosemary and parmesan cheese.  Spaghetti squash with sage brown butter, lemon and hazelnuts was a perfect accompaniment for fish and I already made it again.  (Brown butter = deliciousness).  Smashed and seared beets with chimichurri and goat cheese crema was a fresh take on the dated beet and goat cheese salad.  Loved the bright, bold flavours.  My boys ate both the spaghetti squash and the beet salad, which is a critical litmus test. (Not the kale, alas but they ate the polenta).

I liked this book, it was fresh and current, and inspired me to eat more vegetables.  This one was worth writing about.