With 'V Is for Vegetables,' Michael Anthony Lures Cooks to the Kitchen
Chef/author Michael Anthony
We have piles of cookbooks around the office (at home, too), but when a review copy of Michael Anthony's hefty new tome, V Is for Vegetables: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks, From Artichokes to Zucchini, landed on the desk, we picked it up and commuted home with all five pounds of it. It's big and beautiful, chock-full of glossy color photography, but unlike other chef-authored cookbooks crowding the bookstore shelves these days, destined for dusty lives on coffee tables, Vegetables is one to put right on the kitchen counter, ready to get splashed with the swiss chard shakshouka and coconut-carrot soup recipes you'll be tempted to cook.
Organized as an alphabetical guide, listing 60 vegetables from A through Z, the book's pages are interspersed with recipes and step-by-step photos. Full-color illustrations reproduced from historical lithographs start each new chapter. The recipes — including ones for baked sweet potato fries, beet tartare, and “kale cooked quickly” — have short ingredient lists and are very approachable for beginning cooks. At the same time, cooks who know their way around a mandoline will be just as intrigued by
preparations such as glazed Hakurei turnips with mustard greens and Japanese-style salt-cured cucumbers.
Anthony is the executive chef and partner at Gramercy Tavern and Untitled at the Whitney. His first cookbook, The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook, shared the recipes and philosophy of the restaurant, but during a phone conversation he tells the Voice that the process of creating the new book grew to be more of a personal project, a “wholehearted attempt to get people to cook. Of course it makes reference to everything we do and believe in the restaurant, but it's really and truly a book about cooking at home.”
That perspective might seem like a departure for a seasoned professional chef with the renown of the Union Square Hospitality group behind him, but Anthony emphasizes his mission in writing the book was to get people back into the kitchen.
“It seems obvious, but as chefs we have to remind ourselves that our urge is to impress. Writing a book is really writing a note to your mom, a message to your spouse — it's all about proving cooking is not a spectator sport. People eat out more than ever, they're detached from their kitchens. How can we provide that encouragement?”
The book may be all about vegetables, but it's not vegetarian — many of the recipes include meat and fish. Rather than coming off as a lifestyle manifesto, its message reads more like a paean to vegetables. As Anthony writes in the introduction, “for me cooking with vegetables is not a political act, it's an enlightened way of thinking.”
He elaborates, “It's not a mantra, like 'if you don't eat this way you're a loser'; I wanted to offer people the notion of the pleasure of cooking with vegetables and local ingredients, rather than warn them that the world is coming to an end if they don't.
“In our restaurants, we're searching for ingredients that are distinctive to this place — this region — and vegetables are the perfect way to tell that story. We do that through the menu at Gramercy Tavern, and now even more than ever at Untitled. Even at home I find a lot of inspiration dreaming up the way we cook based on vegetables leading the story.”
Anthony wrote the book along with a creative team led by Dorothy Kalins, the founding editor of Saveur and co-producer with Anthony on the Gramercy Tavern book; the two are good friends and live in the same apartment building.
Anthony writes that producing the book was very much a hands-on process for him: “I cooked every dish in a home kitchen, not in a photography studio.” For many pro chefs and would-be authors, that sort of process may not be the norm — many are simply too busy and/or not well versed in home-cooking language, so they will often hire outside recipe developers to translate their vision.
“We got together in Dorothy's apartment,” Anthony says. “It challenged me to write the recipes so that they were practical. I don't cook that way [like a chef] at home — if it can't be done in two pots, and it doesn't happen in a short time frame, my kids are ready to erupt. From a restaurant perspective, when we channel the inspiration behind the way we cook at home, our creations are more straightforward and soulful.”
While his main goal was to share with home cooks realistic, usable recipes, Anthony says that the other idea for the book was much more idealistic: “If only we were able to reimagine the iconic American dinner. What if it were served, instead of on a plate — with a big hunk of chicken, beef, or whatever in the center of the plate and a few scraps of vegetables on the outside — what if instead it was a large bowl, using grains, beans, and legumes as a foundation, like so many styles of cooking from around the world?
“If we re-envision the proportions in which we serve protein to vegetables, it would have such a profound effect on the way we eat.”
Michael Anthony will be talking vegetables and signing copies of his book (along with food historian John T. Edge) at the 92nd Street Y on Tuesday, October 27, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $32, available here.
Roasted parsnips with hazelnut pesto from V Is for Vegetables
V IS FOR VEGETABLES recipes courtesy Little, Brown and Company
Copyright © 2015 by Michael Anthony and Dorothy Kalins Ink, LLC
ROASTED PARSNIPS WITH HAZELNUT PESTO
Parsnips, like carrots, get sweeter as they roast. In this recipe, I raise the heat to char
the outside (grilling does that, too), heightening the experience of eating the soft, creamy
parsnips inside. I feel strongly that parsnips (and other root vegetables, for that matter)
should be roasted in a heavy skillet, not on a thin baking sheet.
Skillets are designed to transfer heat properly; their flat surface browns vegetables evenly on
contact. They won’t bend or warp under the heat, and they won’t throw off odors as baking sheets might. This is good cooking! It’s why grandma’s frying pans were so heavy and why enameled cast-iron, stainless-steel-clad, or copper cookware is worth investing in. It’s what
makes food taste good.
The Hazelnut Pesto is a great partner for these rustic parsnips, but I also like it drizzled over
Escarole Salad with Fennel & Pears (page 120), on Sliced Raw Jerusalem Artichoke Salad (page 158), and with Roasted Whole Leeks (page 179). To maximize the pesto’s fresh flavor, make it in small quantities in a mortar and pestle.
6 tablespoons olive oil
4 parsnips, peeled
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup toasted and skinned hazelnuts, halved
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the parsnips, salt, and pepper and cook, turning them a few times, until they start to brown, about 3 minutes. Pop the skillet into the oven and roast until the parsnips are tender, about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a mortar, combine the parsley, cilantro, garlic, and salt. Smash into a coarse paste
while drizzling in the remaining 4 tablespoons oil, then stir in the nuts. Cut the roasted parsnips in half lengthwise and spoon on the pesto.
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