Who’s your favorite expert on cooking vegetables? For so many of us, it has long been Deborah Madison, she of “The Greens Cookbook,” “Local Flavors,” the landmark “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” and more.
As a gardener, former farmers market manager and chef (with cooking chops honed at Chez Panisse and Greens), Madison knows her produce and what to do with it.
In her latest book, “Vegetable Literacy” (Ten Speed Press; $40), she aims to bring us closer to her level of knowledge by helping us think about the subject in a new way.
It’s a must-have book for anyone interested in plant-based cooking.
The book’s subtitle is “Cooking and Gardening With Twelve Families From the Edible Plant Kingdom, With Over 300 Deliciously Simple Recipes.”
Indeed, her mission is to illuminate the connections among vegetables from the same family, to show how they can be treated in similar ways in the kitchen, used interchangeably and sometimes together.
Success awaits. To spoon into Peas With Baked Ricotta and Bread Crumbs is to marvel at a match made in heaven. To bite into Carrot Almond Cake is to wonder: Why didn’t I think of that?
Peas With Baked Ricotta and Bread Crumbs
To add a little heft but keep things meatless, cook a cup of small pasta shells in boiling salted water, then drain them and add to peas.
1 cup top-quality ricotta cheese, such as hand-dipped whole-milk ricotta
2 to 3 tablespoons plain fresh bread crumbs
4 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 large shallots or 1/2 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
5 small sage leaves, minced (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 1/2 pounds peas in their pods, shucked (about 1 cup; may substitute 1 cup freshly shucked peas)
1/2 cup water
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
Chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for a grated garnish
Preheat oven to 375 F. Grease small baking dish with oil. If ricotta is wet and milky, drain in a colander; press out any excess liquid. Pack ricotta into baking dish and drizzle a little oil over surface; bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until cheese has begun to set and brown on top.
Cover surface with bread crumbs and bake for 10 minutes, until bread crumbs are browned and crisp and cheese has set. When cheese has set, melt butter in small skillet over medium heat until butter foams. Add shallots and sage and cook for about 3 minutes, until softened, then stir in peas, water and lemon zest. Cook until peas are bright green and tender; about 3 to 5 minutes. Do not overcook. Season with salt and a little pepper.
Divide ricotta between individual plates, then spoon peas over baked cheese. Grate Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over top. Serve warm.
Per serving: 450 calories, 24 g protein, 36 g carbohydrates, 25 g fat, 15 g saturated fat, 85 mg cholesterol, 270 mg sodium, 9 g dietary fiber, 14 g sugar
Carrot Almond Cake With Ricotta Cream
This carrot cake is redolent of almonds and lemon, without the usual cup or so of oil that many American carrot cake recipes call for. If you use yellow carrots, it’s exceptionally pretty.
MAKE AHEAD: You’ll have leftover ricotta cream, which goes great on pancakes, pound cake or cut-up fruit. The cake tends to gain moisture as it sits, well wrapped, at room temperature.
Makes one 9-inch cake (8 to 10 servings)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more as needed
1 1/2 cups finely ground blanched almonds or slivered almonds (skinned) (may substitute almond flour)
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups unbleached cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Scant 2 cups grated carrots, preferably yellow
For ricotta cream:
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 cup regular or low-fat sour cream
2 tablespoons honey
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
For cake: Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 375 F. Melt 4 tablespoons butter; cool. Combine ground almonds, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar in food processor. Pulse until well incorporated. Grease 9-inch springform pan with a little butter, then dust sides with some almond-zest mixture, shaking out excess.
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Combine eggs and remaining 3/4 cup of granulated sugar in bowl with stand- or hand-held mixer. Beat on low, then high speed until pale, foamy and thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low; add remaining almond-zest mixture, almond extract and flour mixture, beating until well incorporated. Pour cooled butter over batter and quickly fold it in, followed by carrots.
Scrape batter into pan, smoothing surface. Reduce heat to 350 F; bake cake until springy to touch in center, lightly browned and beginning to pull away from pan sides, about 40 minutes. Let cool completely in pan, then release springform and slide cake onto a platter.
For ricotta cream: Work together ricotta, sour cream, honey and zest by hand or with a mixer on low speed, until smooth. Taste, and add more of any ingredients as needed. Cream will thin out as it sits, forming sauce for the cake.
Just before serving, dust cake with confectioners’ sugar. Serve the sauce alongside.
Per serving (based on 10, using low-fat sour cream and half the ricotta cream): 350 calories, 10 g protein, 40 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 6 g saturated fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 220 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 22 g sugar
Rice With Spinach, Lemon, Feta and Pistachios
Green and white, sprightly and clean, this is a rustic dish that can practically be a meal. Reserve the spinach crowns to use in another dish; or steam them, dress them with olive oil and pile them over the rice. If you prefer brown rice, try brown basmati. Forbidden black rice is another delicious alternative.
MAKE AHEAD: The rice tastes best when served right away, but it can be cooled, covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 large bunches (2 pounds) spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large clove garlic, cut into slivers
Grated zest of 2 lemons (2 tablespoons)
1 heaping tablespoon chopped dill or marjoram
2 ounces or more feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup raw unsalted pistachio nuts, lightly toasted (see NOTE)
Freshly ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes
Bring 2 cups water to boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Add rice and 1/2 teaspoon salt; stir well. When water returns to boil, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, discard any tough spinach stems. Plunge leaves into cold water and wash well — twice if need be — then dry.
Combine oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat; once garlic begins to turn pale gold and flavor the oil, discard garlic, then add spinach and a few pinches of salt. Cook until spinach has wilted, which will happen quickly; then turn off heat. When spinach is cool enough to handle, chop it and transfer it a mixing bowl, along with lemon zest and dill. Toss to incorporate.
Uncover rice and use a fork to fluff it, then transfer rice to mixing bowl and toss to incorporate. Taste, and add salt as needed. Add feta and pistachios and toss again. Season with black pepper and a few pinches of crushed red pepper flakes. Serve immediately, or let cool a bit.
NOTE: Toast pistachio nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking pan to avoid scorching. Cool completely.
Per serving: 350 calories, 12g fat, 4g saturated fat, 15mg cholesterol, 410mg sodium, 49g carbohydrates, 7g dietary fiber, 3g sugar, 14g protein.
Kale and Potato Mash With Romesco Sauce
Serve with lightly fried fish fillets or on its own, with plenty of the sauce.
MAKE AHEAD: Leftover sauce can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
Makes about 3 cups potato-kale mash; 2 cups sauce (4 to 6 servings)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish
1 thin but sturdy slice of country bread
1/2 cup almonds or hazelnuts, or a mixture, toasted, the hazelnuts peeled
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons New Mexican or other ground red chili pepper
4 (about 12 ounces total) roma tomatoes, fresh, grilled or pan-roasted
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (may substitute a few pinches of dried thyme)
1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
2 jarred roasted red bell peppers, seeded
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
For the mash
2 large (a scant pound) russet potatoes, peeled
8 ounces yellow-fleshed potatoes (such as German Butterball or Yukon Gold), scrubbed
1 large bunch (10 to 12 ounces) kale, any variety, stemmed, leaves chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
For sauce: Warm 2 tablespoons oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add bread, turning it to coat both sides. Toast just until golden and crisp, then tear into chunks and transfer to food processor, along with nuts; puree until fairly smooth. Add garlic, chili powder, tomatoes, parsley, thyme, a scant teaspoon of sea salt, paprika and roasted peppers; puree until fairly smooth.
With machine running, gradually add vinegar, then remaining 1/2 cup oil. Taste for piquancy and salt. Transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
For mash: Cut potatoes into similar-size chunks; place in saucepan and cover with cold water. Boil over medium heat; add generous pinch of salt; reduce heat to medium or medium-low (barely bubbling); cook uncovered until potatoes are firm-tender when pierced with a knife. Add kale and cook for about 8 minutes or untile potatoes are tender enough to mash and kale has wilted.
Drain, reserving 1/3 cup of the cooking water, then transfer potatoes and kale to a mixing bowl. Add reserved cooking water and the oil; mash to a chunky texture. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
Transfer to a warmed serving bowl, with sauce spooned over the top or served alongside. Sprinkle generously with parsley, if desired, and serve.
Cauliflower With Saffron, Pepper Flakes, Plenty of Parsley and Pasta
When sweet gulf shrimp are in season, you’ll want to add them to the recipe and omit the cheese; see the VARIATION below.
1 head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), broken into small florets, the core diced (about 6 cups)
8 ounces dried small pasta shells, snails or other shapes
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for tossing the pasta
1 small onion, finely diced
2 pinches saffron threads
1 large clove garlic, minced
Scant 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup finely chopped, lightly packed flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup water
Grated aged cheese or crumbled feta cheese (optional)
Bring a wide pot of water to boil over high heat. (The pot should be large enough and deep enough for cooking the pasta.) Place cauliflower florets and diced core in a heatproof colander and place it over pot; cover and steam for about 3 minutes. To test for doneness, taste a piece; it should be on the verge of tenderness but not quite fully cooked. Uncover and transfer colander to sink to drain.
If needed, let water return to a boil; add a generous pinch of salt and pasta. Cook just until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saffron; cook for about 6 minutes, stirring frequently, until onion has softened. Heat will activate the saffron so that it colors and flavors onion. Stir in garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and a few pinches of the parsley, then add steamed cauliflower. Toss to coat it evenly, then add water and cook (over medium heat) until cauliflower is tender, just a few minutes.
Season with salt, toss with half remaining parsley, and keep warm.
While cauliflower is cooking, draine pasta and transfer to a warmed bowl. Toss with a few tablespoons oil and remaining parsley. Taste for salt, then spoon cauliflower over pasta, wiggle some of it into the pasta crevices, sprinkle cheese on top (to taste) and serve.
VARIATION: Peel and devein 1 pound of gulf shrimp, then saute them over high heat in olive oil until pink and firm, after 5 minutes or so. Toss them with chopped garlic and parsley, then divide them among the individual pasta plates or heap them over the top of the communal dish. Omit the cheese.
Per serving: 310 calories, 8g fat, 1g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 115mg sodium, 51g carbohydrates, 6g dietary fiber, 5g sugar, 9g protein.