A look inside the ‘Beetlebung Farm Cookbook’

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Take advantage of asparagus season with this Leek and Asparagus Soup recipe. – Photo by Gabriela Herman

Chef Chris Fischer (most recently of the Beach Plum Inn) has penned a new cookbook, The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook: A Year of Cooking on Martha’s Vineyard, that was released earlier this month. In celebration of the local chef’s book, we sat down with him and picked his brain on his love of cooking, his experience as a cookbook author, and what he’s currently cooking. Make sure to keep reading for his Leek and Asparagus Soup recipe, and serve up a batch while asparagus is still in season.

MVT: After cooking for so many years, what inspired you to write a cookbook? Was there a specific moment where it hit you, or have you always wanted to write one?

CF: I love cookbooks; they provide infinite inspiration, and have become such beautiful pieces of art over the years. The opportunity to contribute to this world has been a dream for a long time, and being able to share the story of my family, our farm, and of the Island was one that I could not pass up.

MVT: What’s the best part of writing a cookbook — and what’s the worst part?

CF: The best part of writing a cookbook is being able to test all the recipes! I was able to basically cook and eat all day long, and best of all, call it “work”! There were no worst parts to writing the book. It took a very long time and was challenging at times, but I enjoyed every step in the process.

MVT: Tell me a little about the team that helped you write/photograph/edit this book, and why and how you choose them to be part of this team.

CF: The team was really made up of four main collaborators, with many others there to support us. Gabriela Herman is a lifelong friend who began photographing the farm years ago. She is a fantastic lifestyle and documentarian photographer who brought the farm to life with her colorful and beautiful work.

Emma Young is a letterpress artist, farmer, and poet based out of West Tisbury. She designed the entire book, and created original recipes and art for the project. I am continually impressed with her restrained, elegant work.

And finally Catherine Young, who also lives part-time on Martha’s Vineyard, became the soul of the project, taking the three of us under her tutelage to keep us on track. She did everything, literally everything, to support the process of bringing this book to print.

MVT: For readers that don’t know your style of cooking and want to cook from your book, what recipe do you recommend they start with?

CF: That depends on the season they pick the book up in. Right now I would recommend starting with the asparagus toast recipe. The asparagus is fantastic right now, and this is a simple, flavorful dish that anyone can make. My grandmother, who turns 100 next week, inspired this recipe. She loves asparagus!

MVT: Now that the cookbook is done, any projects in the making you’d like to share with us?

CF: I traveled a bit this winter, working my way around the West Coast, and then found myself on an island in Japan. It was a small island, not unlike Martha’s Vineyard in many ways. The food was the best I have had anywhere in my life, and I researched in all ways (mostly by eating), interviewed island chefs and photographed the experience. This will be published in some form, though I haven’t figured out what yet. Also I am getting ready for my grandmother’s 100th birthday party, which involves roasting a small pig my family raised.

Leek and Asparagus Soup, recipe courtesy Chris Fischer

Serves 4

The weather in June can swing from summery to rainy and quite chilly. It’s been chilly this year. This soup, made with gently cooked leeks, pea leaves, young asparagus, and a little potato, is the perfect thing to fight the damp. It is quietly tangy. I bring that out by finishing the soup with yogurt. If you like, add a soft sweet herb. I like chervil.

4 small new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
Kosher salt
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 small cloves garlic, sliced
3 medium leeks
1 lb. very thin young asparagus spears, trimmed
2 cups loosely packed young pea leaves
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
About 3 Tbsp. yogurt
Freshly ground black pepper
About ½ tsp. lemon juice

Put the potatoes in a saucepan with salted water to cover by about an inch, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and reserve.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and toast until it is fragrant and golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and reserve.

Trim off the leek greens and roots. Slice the leek whites in half lengthwise and then slice. Wash the sliced leeks thoroughly in several changes of water. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the saucepan over medium heat. Add the damp leeks and cook for a minute or two, then reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until they soften slightly, about 3 minutes. Add 6 cups of water, season with salt, and bring to a boil.

Reserve a quarter of the asparagus to finish the soup. Slice the rest and add to the pan. Allow the asparagus to simmer until they are bright green, about a minute, then add the pea leaves and ½ teaspoon of the lemon zest. Pull the pot off the heat, and season the soup with salt and pepper. Purée the soup in batches, using a blender or food processor. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

To finish the soup, thinly slice the reserved asparagus (the tips will crumble some; that’s OK). Cut the potatoes into small pieces. Combine the asparagus and potatoes in a bowl. Add the toasted garlic, remaining ½ teaspoon lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons of the yogurt. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and mix well. Meanwhile, warm the soup over low heat.

Divide the potato and asparagus mixture among 4 bowls. Ladle soup into each, reserving about 2 tablespoons in the pot. Mix that with the remaining 1 tablespoon yogurt, drizzle over the soup in each bowl, and serve.

The Beetlebung Farm Cookbook: A Year of Cooking on Martha’s Vineyard, Little, Brown and Co. Copyright 2015 by Chris Fischer, photographs by Gabriela Herman. Hardcover, 320 pages, $35.