New veggie cookbook by Susie Middleton


“Fast, Fresh and Green” by Susie Middleton, photographs by Ben Fink, Chronicle Books, April 2010, 224 ppg. $24.95.

Susie Middleton has put together a new cookbook that is visually beautiful, clearly written, and filled with more than 90 delicious vegetable recipes. “Fast, Fresh and Green” is headed for the small set of cookbooks on my shelf that are stained and well worn from constant use. It’s a keeper.

Ms. Middleton, the former food editor of Fine Cooking Magazine, is now a fulltime resident of West Tisbury. She lives in a small apartment above Alley’s along with “two adults, one lovebird, an occasional seven-year-old, and 465 seedlings.” When asked about her move she said, “I wanted to return to my first love — writing, and I wanted to be better connected to where my food comes from and have the time to do more cooking.” Lucky for us, since “Fast, Fresh and Green” is the result.

While waiting to put your own veggie seedlings in the garden or for the produce section to offer something a little livelier, sit back and savor this book. It’s an easy job. The photographs by Ben Fink are luscious and the recipes mouthwatering. The hard part is choosing what to make.

Today I’m torn between speedy stir-fried asparagus with toasted garlic or smoky Spanish carrots and fennel with toasted hazelnuts. I’ll probably compromise by making both. The title is a bit misleading as not all the vegetables are green, thank goodness. There are plenty of recipes for potatoes, carrots, squashes, and corn.

Ms. Middleton is a good teacher. She loves every aspect of food and she keeps it fun. Her directions are always clear and descriptions are precise. The tone is personal and inviting, never dogmatic. She always adds alternatives and leaves plenty of room open for innovation. “Fast, Fresh and Green” is versatile enough to guide a beginner and satisfy an experienced cook.

Part I is all about prep. Here are helpful suggestions on what to have on hand in your pantry. These include condiments, sugars, nuts and seeds, aromatics, oils, vinegars, and spices. There are recommendations for what’s handy to have on hand in the fridge and freezer. The suggestions are sensible, not fussy.

Next are tips on how to choose the best vegetables possible and then to store them properly so they will retain their freshness until you cook them.

Part II is all about cooking. The structure of the cookbook is innovative. Instead of lumping recipes by vegetable, Ms. Middleton’s book is organized by nine different methods of cooking. These range from burner cooking to oven cooking to grilling to no cooking at all.

Each chapter is organized around a cooking technique and begins with a foundation recipe. This general recipe describes the particular cooking process, like stir-frying, and walks you through it step-by-step, from the proper utensils and pans, to the kinds of vegetables it is best suited for, and how to cut them to maximize flavor.

The idea is to get a technique under your belt so you can move on and experiment with other scrumptious recipes cooked in that same way. You can decide what to make based on what kind of cooking you are in the mood for, what kind of taste you want, and how much time you have.

So far, I’ve tried the foundation recipes for quick roasting using carrots and parsnips, hands-on sautéing using spinach and onion, and walk-away sautéing using broccoli, garlic, and thyme. In each case the directions were easy to follow and the results were delicious. My goal is to take one vegetable, carrots maybe, and cook them using each of the nine techniques so I can compare how each way of cooking impacts the flavor, texture, aroma, and taste of the vegetable.

In my house, I have the feeling that these recipes will easily slip from side dish to main dish. They are that adaptable and enticing.

“Fast, Fresh and Green” makes it easy to embrace food writer Michael Pollan’s advice, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Ms. Middleton is also the author of a food blog: Here you can follow her on her foraging adventures cutting watercress or working in her garden, and try out more mouthwatering recipes.

Author’s talk with Susie Middleton, 7:30 pm, Friday, May 7, Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven. Refreshments made with recipes in the book. 508-693-2291. The book is available at Bunch of Grapes, Edgartown Books, and Alley’s General Store.

Laura Wainwright, a West Tisbury resident, is a regular contributor to The Times.