The Vegetable Butcher by Cara Mangini is a must-have cookbook for all of us. After playing with it for the past two weeks, I can firmly state that its flavorful recipes pull me into the kitchen and deliver on their promise. But this cookbook is much more than that. It’s a love letter to vegetables, instructing us how to welcome them into our homes, and treat them with the respect they deserve.
Cara opens the book with a flourish of Butchery Basics, focused on knife care, equipment, and various ways of slicing and dicing different shapes of vegetables – and yes, there are lots of photos to guide you. This intro section is intended to be somewhat general, as the meat (so to speak) of the book is an alphabetized abundance of vegetables, packed with oodles of information specific to each vegetable, such as:
- Selection and storage tips
- Best flavor partners
- Butchery essentials with loads of photos with occasional butcher notes
- Favorite cooking methods
- More than 150 inviting recipes that praise vegetables
The book is very well organized and thorough, with every recipe made accessible to cooks of all levels. As a bonus, along with all the familiar veggies, it includes ones you don’t see used as much, like fava beans and kohlrabi, and some vegetables I haven’t had in years but now I’ve GOT to find, like salsify and cardoons. At least one, corsnes, I’ve never even heard of, and I live in the middle of one of the most varied farm areas in the country. You can be sure I’ll be looking for them at my farmer’s markets now.
A few of the recipes that caught my eye were Carrot Coconut Muffins, Provençal-Style Braised Artichokes with Creamy Parmesan Polenta (this one is fantastic!), and a Tomato Tart Tartin. I’m buying kohlrabi today to make the Kohlrabi Carpaccio with Collard Ribbons, Pears, and Pistachios with a Lime-Balsamic Vinaigrette. Oh my.
And Cara makes it all easy for you to make. She comes to her place in the sun honestly, as the latest in a long line of butchers of the more traditional sort, and sharpened her skills at the Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC. She has taught and cooked from Eataly to Napa, learning tips from top chefs along the way. As a note – for any of you living around (or traveling through) Columbus, Ohio, Cara is the owner/executive chef of the produce-inspired restaurant Little Eater, and Little Eater Produce and Provisions, a local and artisanal foods boutique in Columbus’s North Market.
Another way to use fava beans is in pasta, like this fava bean and pasta recipe that uses cheese tortellini, herbed ricotta cheese, and sautéed tomatoes, scallions and garlic.
Mashed Fava Beans and Mint Crostini
- Fine Sea Salt
- 2 ½ cups shelled fresh fava beans from 2 pounds pods
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced shallot
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Your best extra-virgin olive oil
- 5 large fresh mint leaves finely sliced
- Crostini or crackers for serving
- Slices Pecorino (optional)
- Bring a medium-size pot of salted water to a boil. Set up an ice-water bath next to the stove.
- Drop the fava beans into the boiling water and cook until very tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain the beans and immediately drop them into the ice bath to cool; drain them again and peel off their skins.
- Heat the oil in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring often, until it just begins to soften and become translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the fava beans and season them with a couple of pinches of salt and grinds of black pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the fava beans are completely soft, about 8 minutes. Add ¼ cup of water (if the beans start to stick to the bottom of the pan, add the water sooner) and continue to cook until the water is mostly absorbed, about 1 minute.
- Transfer the mixture to a medium-size bowl and mash the fava beans with the back of a fork or a potato masher until they make a creamy but textured mash. Stir in 2 tablespoons of your best extra-virgin olive oil and half of the sliced mint, reserving the rest for garnish. The mash should be creamy and spreadable; if it seems dry, add up to 1 more tablespoon of olive oil and/or 1 tablespoon of water until it reaches the desired consistency. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. (If you are making the mash ahead of time, add the mint just before serving. The spread will keep, in an airtight container, for several days in the refrigerator; you may need to stir in a splash of water and olive oil if it dries out, as well as additional fresh mint.)
- To serve, spread the mashed fava beans on crostini or crackers, or serve it in a bowl with the crostini alongside. Top with a slice of young Percorino or freshly grated aged Percorino, if you wish, and garnish with the remaining mint.
Recipe used with permission from Workman Publishing Company.
This post is sponsored by Workman Publishing Company. All opinions are my own.