Vegetable Harvest: Vegetables at the Center of the Plate Hardcover – Apr 10 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Wells, the author of several cookbooks including The Provence Cookbook, puts vegetables center stage in this appetizing and innovative collection. After surveying the bounty of her backyard garden, Wells became inspired to build meals around vegetables rather than starting with meat, fish or poultry. She tripled the number she served at each meal and tried different cooking methods, looking for the best-tasting, most wholesome ways of cooking each type. She includes nutritional information and an equipment list for each recipe, and selectively offers wine suggestions, translations of French food idioms, and nuggets of folklore connected to the dish or main ingredient. Recipes are plentiful and tantalizing, all with a slightly unusual approach. She moves from appetizers and salads through meats and side dishes to breads and desserts. The section on pasta, rice, beans, and grains is especially appealing, with such offerings as Pumpkin and Sage Risotto, and Roasted Chickpeas, Mushrooms, Artichokes and Tomatoes. Unusually titled chapters such as "The Pantry" and "Eggs, Cheese, and Friends" provide more than a few gems: Parmesan, Pine Nut, and Truffle Gratins, Fresh Figs on Rosemary Skewers, and Zesty Lemon Salt. Wells offers a fresh perspective and wealth of options for making vegetables the centerpiece of every meal. This collection is highly recommended for cooks and gardeners alike. (Apr.)
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About the Author
Patricia Wells is a journalist, author, and teacher who runs the popular cooking school At Home with Patricia Wells in Paris and Provence. She has won four James Beard Awards and the French government has honored her as a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, recognizing her contribution to French culture. A former New York Times reporter, she is the only foreigner and the only woman to serve as restaurant critic for a major French publication, L'Express. She served as the global restaurant critic for the International Herald Tribune for more than twenty-five years. She lives in Paris and Provence with her husband, Walter Wells.
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Patricia Wells, an American living in Paris, started her cookbook series in the traditional way --- with a book about bistro cookery. She moved up the food chain to fine Paris restaurants, then wandered south to Provence and the Trattoria cooking of Italy.
And now this book on vegetables.
Perfect timing. American cooks ---and eaters --- have come to understand what the French always knew: The way to slimness is portion size. That is, smaller helpings of fatty protein, larger servings of vegetables.
This is also the way to health. If you've read "The Omnivore's Dilemma"--- or any recent headline about food inspection and food safety --- you know you're taking a chance every time you shop at the supermarket. They say you'd never eat sausage if you saw how it's made; ditto for most beef, chicken or pork.
The secret --- saieth my wife, the one-time food professional --- is to spend more money to buy smaller quantities of the highest-quality meat and poultry. How do you fill your plate and satisfy your hunger? With vegetables, which are, at their worst, much less toxic than run-of-the-mill supermarket meat and poultry.
"Vegetable Harvest" establishes Patricia Wells as Julia Child for the new millennium. She's not a frothing New Ager, telling you to heap your plate with vegetables because meat is sinful --- she's just a close observer of traditional French cooking. That is, meat/fish/poultry prominent on the plate, just cooked with vegetables or surrounded by them.
To that good sense, she's added some welcome information: nutritional data about the dish: Tomato and Strawberry Gazpacho, for example, is 27 calories per serving, with 1 gram of protein and 6 grams of carbohydrates. And she's not above serving up the odd fact about her subjects (did you know that, in the 16th century, Europeans considered the tomato as an aphrodisiac?).
"Vegetable Harvest" is an encyclopedia of recipes --- it's 300 pages, with almost no commentary. Most are simple, requiring few exotic ingredients or advanced techniques. I'm particularly excited about the soups, but judging from the recipes I've tried and the pages I've turned down, there's a lot here to love in every category.
And I certainly look forward to loving the healthier, trimmer me.
This is NOT a book all about vegetable recipes! Rather, it is a book which, like all her other books, celebrates everyday French cooking, and in doing so, underlining the fact that vegetables are central to much of what is great about French cooking, and shows us how this is so. Overall, the book covers all the bases that any typical cookbook does. It has some recipes with no vegetables in it at all, and some where the only vegetable is an herb or some garlic. But what Madame Wells does with vegetables is really a joy. The book is something like a movie where a traditionally great supporting actor such as Harvey Keitel or Joe Panteleone (Joe Pants!) steps into the leading role, with Jack Nicholson or John Travolta playing the supporting role.
The part about hiding her virtues under a basket refer to the fact that there are two facts given for almost every recipe which are enormously useful for using the recipes for good nutrition or entertaining. The amazing thing is that these features show up with no fanfare in the introduction. The first is a nutritional analysis of each dish by serving. For example, the Roasted Chickpeas, Mushrooms, Artichokes, and Tomatoes on page 146 has 235 calories, 3 g fat, 12 g protein and 47 g carbohydrates. Thus, if you are limiting your intake of total calories, fats, or carbs, you know where you stand! This eminently useful feature did not appear in her previous book, `The Provence Cookbook' or in any earlier work. The second feature is a wine suggestion for each of the more substantial dishes (Some appetizers and some desserts have no suggestion.) This feature does appear in Ms. Wells' earlier books, and like her earlier books, it is aimed at the dedicated wine connoisseur. The recommendations are extremely specific, citing particular vintners such as the Mas de la Dame from Les Baux de Provence for Guy Savoy's Tomato Coulis with Asparagus and Mint.
These wine choices are consistent with the tone of the entire book, which is clearly written for the foodie, especially the dedicated Francophile foodie. A second symptom of this targeting is the fact that Ms. Wells does an excellent job of specifying the kinds of special equipment one will need to prepare a dish, and a survey across all recipes reveals that one will be limited if you do not have a food processor, a blender, a 12 inch saute pan with lid, a good sized pasta pot with colander, a fine mesh sieve (chinoise), a food mill, an ice cream maker, and a very sharp knife (with excellent knife skills) or a good mandoline. This book is so engaging that it may even convince me to go out and buy an ice cream maker in order to try the recipes which require it (In truth, it's only a small minority of them, but they are enticing).
Since the book is all about FRENCH vegetable cooking, the stars of the show are artichokes, asparagus, eggplant (aubergines), avocado (I know, not a vegetable, but Ms. Wells treats it and tomatoes as veggies) basil, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celeriac, chickpeas, cucumber, potatoes, Jerusalem artichokes, mint, olives, potatoes, pumpkins, radishes, rosemary, spinach, tomatoes, and truffles. In fact, the recipes for Brussels sprouts, radishes, and spinach are so interesting that if, like me, you are a fan of one or more of these vegetables.
Not only are the ingredients classically French, but the methods also are truly French, including braising, sautéing, and pureeing. In fact, so many dishes are pureed (hence the importance of the food mill and blender) that it reminds me of the observation that French cooking was developed to accommodate the French aristocracy's bad teeth. But, there are other valuable hints as well. My favorites are the dish where Brussels sprouts are broken down to their individual leaves before cooking, the beef pot roast with carrots (another of my favorite veggies), and the tomato sorbet (ice cream maker!). I was also very pleased to find some excellent bread recipes, most of which feature a vegetable ingredient such as pumpkin, dates, walnuts, artichokes, capers, tomatoes, and lemon. The only breads which do not incorporate vegetables within the doughs are the flatbreads coming to Paris by way of former French colonies in the Madgreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) and the Levant (Lebanon).
A cursory check confirms for me that there is practically no overlap of recipes with her previous `The Provence Cookbook'. The current work appears to take its material from all over France, however it is no surprise that the most common sources are Provence and Paris.
Like `The Provence Cookbook', there are many little stories, proverbs, and `bon mots' sprinkled about the text. My favorite concerns Ms. Wells' purchase of Julia Child's oven from the Childs' Provence cottage (with the understanding that Wells' replace the appliance with a brand new unit.) This was comparable to a psychiatrist's obtaining Sigmund Freud's couch!
I must note also that not only are the photographs in the book exceptionally good and appropriate, but that the author took them all herself! All in all, this is both an excellent foodie read, education, and cooking resource.