Food for Thought: A Cookbook for Cooking and for Thinking

I have been  vegetable gardening all of my adult life, and own several shelves full of vegetable cookbooks, and I have a very high bar when it comes to buying new ones.  Actually, that’s not true. I buy new ones in a fairly promiscuous fashion because that is my addiction, but I have a very high bar indeed for recommending that other people spend their hard-earned money on them.

So  here’s what I have to say about  Six Seasons: A New Way With Vegetables by Joshua McFadden: go buy it.  Now. Read it. Think about it.  It really will bring you to think in a new way about how to handle familiar vegetables.  Take salads, for instance. I like salads well enough but am almost never really excited by them.  They always seem a little predictable to me, and just throwing some meat, cheese, or eggy thing of some kind on top does not make them interesting in my view. McFadden’s  way of putting a substantial “pad” of seasoned nut butter sauce, savory seasoned whipped cream, whipped seasoned ricotta cheese, or other interesting  possibilities underneath the salad does make them seem new and like a real meal that I am happy to eat.

As good as the recipes are, I put this one in the “thinking cookbook” category,  i.e. an idea-rich cookbook that will affect the food you put on the table whether you were actually following a recipe from the cookbook or not.  Take the salad shown above, for example.  I had a lot of lettuce in the garden, including some dark red lettuce that still looked beautiful but had grown the slightest bit bitter  in hot weather.  I kept tasting bits of the leaves, thinking about what would make them taste good.  Ultimately, I whipped and seasoned some homegrown goat ricotta  with olive oil and salt, and smeared the plates with it, then arranged the red lettuce and some sweet green lettuce on top.  Then I put some of the ricotta mixture in the blender with an egg yolk and two cloves of roasted garlic, blended in more olive oil and some salt, and acidified it with lemon juice and white wine vinegar until it tasted just right, added some chopped marjoram because it seemed to fit in well, and used that as the dressing. I slivered shallot greens, soaked them in cold water briefly as McFadden recommends, pressed dry, and scattered them all over, and finished with warm leftover steak and bright sweet crunchy slivers of kumquat rind. The earthy rich ricotta dressing made the faintly bitter lettuce just right and complemented the steak beautifully, and dripped down to the whipped ricotta beneath to season it, while the kumquat rind added an electric zing.   Delicious and interesting to eat. It isn’t a McFadden recipe per se  but was entirely inspired by his methods and I would not have come up with it without reading his book.

The cooked vegetable recipes are very good too, as are the techniques. Just to name one, McFadden recommends grilling your vegetables “dry,” i.e. without oil, and then drizzling them with olive oil afterwards on the grounds that the burnt oil produces strange chemical flavors.   Even if you like the ones grilled in oil, I think you’ll like his method better. Try it and see.  I am also a fan of his section on pickles. These are not pickles that you can put on your shelf and keep forever. They are quick, delicate refrigerator pickles that serve as seasoning and garnish and add wonderful nuances to the flavor of vegetables.

This is a useful and excellent book at any price,  but I do wish to point out that the Kindle version is a special bargain and I highly recommend it.

6 responses to this post.

  1. This is one of those situations where I would love to double like posts. Thanks!

    Reply

    • Posted by wooddogs3 on May 6, 2017 at 5:27 pm

      Thanks! You would love this one. Speaking of flavors, I am growing sweet Cicily for the first time and I’m getting really interested in how best to use it. So far my plants are just a few inches tall and I have not filled with them much, but within a month or two I think I will be able to cut some leaves. Have you experimented with this plant at all? I know that the green seed casings are the part everybody thinks is delicious, but I have wondered about chopping some leaves to sprinkle over a smoked trout salad or something like that.

      Reply

      • I have not experimented extensively, no. The leaves are a tad fuzzy I find, so prefer the biennial chervil (Anthriscus) which can self-seed willingly. I may experiment more as I get more shady beds established. It’s about like mitsuba (Cryptotaenia) for me: it likes windless, very shady, very moist conditions and have killed many. Glad your conditions have allowed the plant to succeed for you, and definitely look forward to your findings.

  2. Cheers from over in Rio Rancho! I’ve learned to trust your advice, and I greatly appreciate all you write on this blog. Despite having several shelves full of cookbooks I enjoy, I bought Six Seasons and was very glad I did. Wow! His approach to veg and salads opens a new world of combinations and flavors. The book was worth the price just for the sauces and vinaigrettes which are all amazing. Thanks so much for all you do. Please keep it up.

    Reply

    • Posted by wooddogs3 on May 11, 2017 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks for your very kind words!I’m delighted to hear your response to Six Seasons. Are you a gardener as well as a cook?

      Reply

      • Yes, my wife and I garden, and we’ve learned a lot from you about what is possible in this climate. We also raise ducks for the eggs and recycle the pond water to irrigate and feed the garden.

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