“What in the heck do I do with (insert name of unfamiliar vegetable)?”
That was the question that sparked two Southern chefs to come out with vegetable-focused cookbooks this year: “Root to Leaf,” by Steven Satterfield of Miller Union in Atlanta, and “The Broad Fork,” by Hugh Acheson, who co-owns four restaurants in Athens, Ga., and is well-known as the snarky judge on Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
Add to those the recent title, “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables,” by the grand dame of Southern food writing, Nathalie Dupree, and her longtime collaborator, Cynthia Graubert, and you have a new crop of Southern vegetable-focused cookbooks.
That doesn’t surprise Dupree, despite the South’s reputation for its unhealthy attention-getting foods, such as fried chicken and barbecue.
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“Vegetables are the essence of Southern cooking. We were an agrarian society,” said Dupree, noting the region’s longer growing seasons. “We were a poor society. We used meat in our vegetables because they didn’t have meat otherwise in the meal.”
Despite that history, today’s Southern home cooks were often asking both Satterfield and Acheson how to cook vegetables. Satterfield said he would be doing a cooking demonstration with carrots at Atlanta-area farmers markets and people would ask him about kohlrabi and rutabagas. Acheson found himself fielding questions from neighbors on Tuesdays when they picked up their CSA boxes, or shares of produce from a local farm at a drop-off spot in his neighborhood.
“Everybody asked me questions all the time,” said Acheson, who also subscribed to the CSA. “You don’t have a choice what you are getting. It can be a conundrum.”
That three such experts in Southern cooking have offered up their advice in these new cookbooks is good news for home cooks. The timing also couldn’t be better since there is so much delicious fresh produce coming out of home gardens and for sale at the farmers market and roadside stands.
Acheson and Satterfield’s books are similarly organized: divided by season, then ingredient.
Acheson’s 200-page book dives right into the 200 recipes, from the simple (slow cooker chicken stock, smoky eggplant puree) to those worthy of his restaurants’ tables (duck breast with indian eggplant pickle; griddled asparagus, piperade, poached eggs and grits.) The headnotes are packed with good cooking advice and offer glimpses of the wit that makes him a perfect “Top Chef” judge.
What Acheson hopes readers will take away from the book is this: “You have to look at cooking as an array of Lego blocks. Each block is a little skill.” Once home cooks learn each skill and get into “skill set mode,” Acheson said, they may not be so intimidated by recipes.
Satterfield’s almost 500-page “Root to Leaf” offers more on the agricultural and cultural history of each ingredient. Its title is a play on “nose-to-tail” cooking of whole animals and shares recipes for fennel fronds and radish greens. “Who thinks about eating radish greens? And they’re really good,” he said.
Its 200 recipes also range from easy (fig, country ham and goat cheese sandwich; grilled peach salsa) to complicated (quail with muscadines, grits and redeye gravy.) It is a beautiful book that allows cooks to be inspired by whatever enticing ingredient they see at the market, knowing they can find a worthy recipe in Satterfield’s tome.
Dupree and Graubert’s book is in some ways the opposite of these chefs’ books: the recipes are simple and accessible for the most beginner cooks. They are not concerned with plating and rarely feature a recipe with more than 10 ingredients.
The 200-page book is full of helpful advice; each chapter opens with an introduction to the vegetables, explanation of varieties and particular advice for each ingredient, such as freezing peas, trimming and preparing artichokes and caramelizing onions. The 120 recipes include mashed potatoes, summer succotash and wilted coleslaw for a crowd.
“It’s really good, tasty food that people will remember when they lie in bed at night,” Dupree said. “Don’t you think that’s the trick?”
“Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons,” by Steven Satterfield (Harper Wave, $45, 496 pages).
“The Broad Fork: Recipes from the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits,” by Hugh Acheson (Clarkson Potter, $35, 336 pages).
“Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables,” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubert (Gibbs Smith, $25, 208 pages).
Tomato, watermelon and bacon salad
From “Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables,” by Nathalie Dupree and Cynthia Graubert.
3 cups tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes or wedges
3 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 ounces soft goat cheese, or crumbled blue or feta cheese
Gently mix tomatoes and watermelon in a medium bowl and salt to taste. Plate individually or in a serving bowl, then sprinkle with bacon and cheese.
This dish is best enjoyed the day it is prepared. No further salad dressing is needed, as the tomato and melon make a tantalizing dressing on their own.
Serves 6 to 8
Grilled corn salad with chilies, basil and lime
From “The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits,” by Hugh Acheson.
4 ears fresh corn, shucked
2 red jalapeños
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn to small pieces
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Light the grill and get it really hot. If you are using a charcoal grill, make sure the coals have cooked down to a fiery-hot gray.
Brush the corn and jalapenos with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt. Place them directly on the grill and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, turning halfway through, until well charred. Set aside to cool.
Cut the corn kernels from the cobs and place them in a bowl. Discard jalapeno stems; finely chop the chiles (I leave it up to you if want the seeds in there). Add the jalapenos, basil and lime juice to the corn. Taste and add more sea salt, if needed. Toss well, then add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and stir. Let salad sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
Zucchini with garlic, red pepper and mint
From “Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons,” by Steven Satterfield.
8 small or 4 medium zucchini (green or yellow varieties), washed
1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey, local if possible
1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large handful fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
Cut zucchini lengthwise into 1/2-inch wide spears, then trim them to approximately 3 inches in length. Place zucchini on a platter in a single layer and season well with kosher salt on all sides. Transfer to a wire rack or a paper towel-lined surface to drain. Allow to sit for 1 hour. This will draw some of the water out of the squash and also serve as seasoning for the dish.
In a small nonreactive bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lemon, honey and 1/3 cup olive oil to make the vinaigrette; add salt to taste.
Warm a cast iron skillet over low heat. Pat the zucchini dry. In a small skillet over low heat, warm the remaining 1 / 4 cup olive oil with the red pepper flakes and the garlic until the garlic is lightly browned. Strain the oil into the warm cast iron skillet and reserve the solids. Increase the heat to medium and sear the zucchini in the flavored oil until lightly browned on all sides. Turn the heat off and transfer the cooked zucchini to a plate. Add the reserved garlic and red pepper flakes to the dressing. When the squash has cooled, spoon the vinaigrette over it and top with fresh mint. Serve at room temperature.
Serves 4 to 6