Behind Vegetable Literacy

Per la versione in italiano, cliccare qui.

Cooking is learning.
Learning is a never ending job. I become a learner as soon as I born being daugher of two teacher. Then I was a student and soon an avid reader. After that the World Wide Web transformed all. Being a curious person I’m now quite ready to capture web stimulus such as the recent work of Deborah Madison.

Vegetable Literacy.
Millions of cookbooks explore the use of vegetables in our daily menus. Vegetale Literacy is more than that.
The title is not only intriguing, it’s a great way to sum up the work and the idea in Deborah mind.
Families are about similarities and relationships” and families exists also among vegetable.  And each family has its own history, habits, good and bad tempered members.
To provide you with the best possible ever introduction to  Vegetale Literacy, I wrote to Deborah Madison.

Twelve plant families, 300 recipes need a guide otherwise you can get lost given my novice enthusiasm. As a novice I’m too pround to use weeds and leaves in my kitchen to make you understand the power of Vegetable Literacy. Despite my “garden” is a without dimension reality ( equal to 1 x 0.5 meter balcony), despite I’m a regular visitor of the farmer marker, Deborah Madison’s book is for me a huge, useful, and pratical source of recipes and new things to learn and know.

So please, an applause to Deborah Madison before to start with questions.

deborah-madison carrot When you see a book for the first time, you’ve capture by its title. Why do you choose ” Vegetable Literacy” ? Which is the literacy behind a vegetable lunch?

I chose Vegetable Literacy for a title because the book is about vegetables, their families, and how and why they relate to one another in the garden—and the kitchen. if you get to know this side of the vegetable world, a vegetable lunch might look very different to you than if it’a just “vegetables as usual”.

Vegetables in the store are a little like the meat counter —all parts and pieces. Unless you grow them, you never see the whole plant and how often huge it is, nor do you get to eat parts of the plant if they’re thrown away before they get to the store. And you don’t know how members of the same families can stand in for each other in a dish—there’s just so much more than meets the eye.

I must admit that I adore the way in which you describe different vegetable families. I’ve never thought to the Nightshade family or The Morning Glory Family. Actually, has each vegetable family so strong personality?

Each family definitely has it’s own personality. I love the members of the sunflower or “asteraceae” family.  The flowers look so innocent (asters, daisies, sunflowers) but the vegetables are often rough and difficult—cardoons, artichokes, scorzanera and salsify, burdock —all challenging vegetables to work with.
Also very strong plants, able to grow in hard scrappy places, or ones that return year after year no matter what you do – like Jerusalem artichokes.

Why  vegetable families are important for your readers?

I think the goosefoots and amaranths are especially important for  the American southwest because so many plants in these groups grow wild here, such as lamb’s quarters (wild spinach) which is still eaten by older New Mexicans. Amaranths do very well here, and there are lots of native plants, such as four wing saltbush, which do well in dry, alkaline and even somewhat saline soils. Their seeds used to be ground and eaten by native peoples because they were so nutritious. Chard, spinach, beets, orach (mountain spinach), lamb’s quarters all grow well here and are all goosefoots.

deborah-madisonI give you the opportunity to become a mentor for a vegetable family at your choice. Which family deserves more attention and respect?

Interesting question!  I think the cabbage family, or the crucifers, could use more respect and understanding. They are so good for us but not well understood in the kitchen. For example, cabbage is often overcooked, or it’s seen only as a winter vegetables when there are more delicate summer varieties that are absolutely lovely to eat. There’s a fear that the greens in this group will be strong and bitter when they’re usually not. We tend to discard the more nutritious parts of the plant, like the leaves of radishes and turnips and eat just the roots instead. We don’t seem to know how delicate the flavor of cauliflower is or broccoli from the garden that is really fresh and sweet. The list goes on and on.  But I’m also rather fond of those difficult members of the sunflower or daisy family because they are so challenging, but they’re also, it turns out, largely very good for the liver. And they’re the only plants that survive in my garden over the winter and even into the neglect of this summer when I haven’t been here to really garden.

And now it’s time to motivate Italian reader to take a deep look to ” Vegetable Literacy”. For us now it’s the right season for tomatoes, peppers, basil. What can your book teach to us?

Well, the nightshades members that you’ve mentioned have the most difficult history when it comes to their being introduced to European gardens. (I write about some of this in the book.)  Eggplants were first planted as ornamentals because the fruits were just too bitter to eat.  The potato was full of problems and challenges; no one would eat it at first.  Tomatoes, too, though calling them “love apples” helped them to gain introduction.
The alkaloids were probably the reason for their difficult introduction, along with the fact that there were so many poisonous plants and parts of plants in this group. But now we know what parts we can eat and enjoy, and we can’t imagine summer without them.
I’ve always maintained that foods in season together go well together and that’s certainly true of tomatoes and peppers (and eggplant and potatoes.) One of my favorite recipes in the book is a dish of grilled peppers, small tomatoes, and seared Halloumi cheese—lots of good flavors and textures here. Halloumi is great for searing, but you could use another cheese as well. Jimmy Nardello frying peppers (originally from Sicily) are not as thick-fleshed as our big bell peppers and so  nice grilled or sauteed.

Basil is in the mint family, but it just happens to be the best herb with all these vegetables. Especially the Italian varieties.

Thanks Deborah.
And now have I to do before Deborah’s carrot almond cake with ricotta cheese or a Caraway Seed Cake?
Hard choices of life 🙂