Andrea Chesman‘s Garden-Fresh Vegetable Cookbook is unlike any I have ever encountered. The chapters are grouped according to harvest season, then further broken down by vegetable, making it fantastic for our CSA basket. This means that early in the season, when I’m anticipating a mountain of spinach in our basket, I can turn to the chapter on spinach in the Spring section for ideas.
A short discussion about the idiosyncrasies of the featured vegetable appears on the first page of each chapter. The yellow-bordered page facing it runs down how to grow, sow, cultivate and harvest your veg. You’ll also find some conversion math: for instance, 1 pound of raw spinach equals 2-3 cups of cooked spinach or between 12 and 24 cups (12 mature or 24 baby leaf) of loosely packed, washed and trimmed leaves. Other handy info like basic cooking rules, times for various cooking methods and nutritional information is included as well.
This is followed by anywhere from four to ten recipes featuring that chapter’s vegetable. The list of vegetables includes asparagus, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, zucchini, artichokes, corn, eggplant, fennel, sweet potatoes, cabbage, carrots, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, rutabagas and pumpkins.
At the end of each section, you’ll find a “Height of the Season” selection in which Ms. Chesman provides a sort of “who’s who” of the seasonal fare. The summer Height of the Season section offers recipes for ratatouille, tomato-vegetable soup, summer vegetable bread pudding, and summer seafood stew. Side dishes are recommended for the mains and pairings are suggested for the sides.
Also included are “Basic Recipes” and “Master Recipes.” The Basics are recipes like Herbes de Provence, Pesto, Broth, Pie Pastry, Cheese Sauce via a roux and how to Toast Nuts. In my opinion, these basic cooking skills distinguish beginners from experienced cooks. The “Master Recipes” are recipes like quiche that can be made with any vegetable. Quiche made with broccoli follows the same process as quiche made with spinach. This section includes how-tos on roasting summer and root vegetables, grilling veggies, vegetable gratin, pasta recipes, stir-fry, and the best quiche I have ever made. These two sections alone would make the book a worthwhile purchase for a beyond-beginner cook.
Added to all this are interesting tidbits of information that pop up in an among the recipes. You night read about the origins of vegetables and their names or human interest stories featuring CSAers, gardeners, farmers and cooks. These stories made me feel like I was part of a community. If you don’t like to mix reading in with your cooking, this feature might put you off.
The cookbook is very attractive, even though the pages are only black, white and a couple of shades of yellow. These few colours were used very artistically. Now understand this is not a quick cook cookbook, nor is it a vegetarian cookbook, but as omnivores who eat a lot of local vegetables, we really loved it. I will be asking for a copy for birthday/Christmas!