The full title of her fabulous book is The Vegetable Butcher – How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini. And it is a title well earned. If you would like to add more fresh and seasonal vegetables to your daily menu, The Vegetable Butcher can show you how to slice, dice, julienne, steam, stir-fry and roast just about anything.
When I read a new cookbook, there are a few things I want to know. First, what personal experience makes this author the best one to write this particular book? Author Cara Mangini, one of the first vegetable butchers at Eataly, is the owner and chef at Little Eater, her veggie-centric restaurant, produce stand, and artisanal foods boutique in Columbus, Ohio. Her respect for vegetables and her delicious treatment of them shines through on every page. After earning a culinary arts degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute, Cara’s time at Eataly preparing produce for customers convinced her that vegetable education would be her mission. She took herself back to her native California to learn more about how produce best travels from farm to plate. Along with Little Eater, The Vegetable Butcher is another way she fulfills that mission.
My second question is about layout. Does the book flow in a well-organized way, allowing me to find recipes and their accompanying photos easily. The Vegetable Butcher starts as any good butchery book should, with the choosing of the proper knife, how to care for your knives and essential knife skills. This is followed by some suggested pantry staples. Then recipes are organized alphabetically by vegetable, with information on butchery methods, selecting and storing each. Even more helpful, the end of the cookbook has an index with every recipe by season, listed alphabetically under the vegetable it features.
And finally, are the photographs helpful and/or appealing? The Vegetable Butcher succeeds on both counts, from the step-by-step instructions of how to break down and prepare more than 50 vegetables to the gorgeous photographs of many of the finished dishes. I love that sweet recipes are featured, along with the savory.
Now it is my pleasure to introduce The Vegetable Butcher, Cara Mangini, who was kind enough to answer some questions about her lovely book for Sunday Supper. You won’t find her on the usual book signing tours since her book and her first child both had delivery dates of April 19th. We wish her the very best!
First, I have to ask: Is the release date of your cookbook being the same as your due date just a coincidence?
Yes! Life is crazy and amazing. I’ve been working on this project for over three years and somehow, whether serendipitously or coincidentally, I am bringing two babies into the world at once!
Describe your cookbook to us. What do you most hope readers will gain from it?
At its core, the book is a celebration of vegetables! It’s both a guide that will help readers break down vegetables with knife lessons, insider tips, and approachable preparations as well as a comprehensive collection of produce-inspired recipes. I hope The Vegetable Butcher will give readers the confidence, encouragement, and motivation to cook and eat vegetables every day.
When did your passion for cooking vegetables begin?
The ritual of sitting down to share a meal has always been extremely important to me. Since I was a kid, I enjoyed the daily celebration of food and my family, and how those moments marked the year. I also thought a lot about what I ate and the connection between food and health—how certain foods made me feel beyond sheer enjoyment.
I started to gravitate specifically toward vegetables when living in Paris and traveling around Europe in college. I continued to travel, cook, and eat my way through France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, and Turkey in my 20s. Those food experiences had a profound affect on my perspective and path. It became very clear to me that I wanted to contribute to making vegetables second nature in our culture—the way they were there. At the same time, I lived in Brooklyn for 10 years while a vibrant farm-to-table movement was making big waves around me. It completely inspired me. I realized that vegetables have always been the most exciting and delicious part of the plate for me.
There are so many great recipes in the book. Which one is your favorite or perhaps the one you cook most often?
I can’t pick favorites, but I do have go-to recipes in every season.
Spring: Asparagus, Hazelnuts, and Mint with Quinoa and Lemon Vinaigrette, Snap Pea, Asparagus, and Avocado Salad with Radish Vinaigrette, Artichoke Torta, Swiss Chard Crostata with Fennel Seed Crust, and Ramp (or Leek) and Asparagus Risotto.
Summer: Zucchini, Sweet Corn, and Basil Penne with Pine Nuts and Mozzarella, Corn Fritters with Summer Bean Ragout, and Seaside Gazpacho
Fall: Fall Farmers Market Tacos, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Chard and Coconut Black Rice
Winter: Celery Root Pot Pie
What hearty recipe would you recommend to someone putting vegetables center table for the first time?Again, it depends on the season (sorry)! I would recommend all of my go-to recipes plus:
In the spring, Potato Gnocchi with Sweet Peas and Gorgonzola Sauce
In the summer, Late-Summer Ratatouille with Parmesan Oat Crumble.
In the fall, Broccoli and Radicchio Rigatoni with Creamy Walnut Pesto
In the winter, Spaghetti Squash with Sage Brown Butter, Lemon, Hazelnuts, and Parmesan
What did you enjoy most about writing your cookbook?
I loved the whole process and appreciated the opportunity to study vegetables and focus on them in a way that is different from my work with vegetables in my restaurant. Shopping for the ingredients that I love so much, talking to farmers about them, and getting to cook and test them over and over again was a thrill. I continued to learn so much about vegetables and how they behave under different conditions and with different accompaniments.
What would be your dream place to live, where you could eat, cook and grow locally?
The Ligurian coast of Italy or the Napa Valley.
If I invited you to a barbecue, what would you bring?
I’d bring Eggplant, Tomato, and Mozzarella Stacks with Pesto (p. 145) and Turkish Potato Salad (p. 248) or Heirloom Tomato Panzanella (p. 301). If you gave me access to the grill, I’d bring salsa verde and halved eggplant to grill into garlicky steaks (p. 147), fresh okra to grill with smoked paprika and lime (page 216) and corn on the cob. We would grill the corn, then slather it with an herb butter and sea salt. With the latter option, I’d probably bring Seaside Gazpacho (p. 299), too!
Any vegetable you aren’t a fan of?
I can’t say that I have found a vegetable that I didn’t like! However, there are preparations that I can’t stand. I have a serious aversion to steamed carrots because of frozen then microwaved peas and carrots I ate as a small child. Roast carrots until caramelized and I’ll eat them for days.
And, finally, thinking ahead, what vegetable will have the honor of the first one you feed your baby when the time for solid food comes?
That’s so funny and also exciting to consider! I have a feeling her first bite of produce will come in the early fall—at that moment when the sun is at its golden angle, there’s a hint of cold in the air, and winter squashes and sweet potatoes start to appear in the markets. If the timing is right, it will be one or the other for sure. Someday, I hope she discovers all the joy in that anticipation of each season and the pleasure and nourishment that comes with the ingredients that nature (and our hard-working farmers) provide.
The Vegetable Butcher – How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini was released by Workman on April 19, 2016. I am delighted to tell you that Workman is one of our partners for Food Wine Conference 2016 and every full attendee will receive a copy of this wonderful book.
Not only that but for the next two weeks, our Sunday Supper tastemakers will be sharing Weekday Supper recipes from The Vegetable Butcher and each will also have a copy to give away. More details on our preview post!