06 September 2013

Vegetable Literacy

After a football induced weekend of ribs and wings, my friend, Ann, called to say she was eating a salad of quinoa, chickpeas, kale and other vegetables too numerous to mention.  Then she said she thought she might be becoming a vegetarian.  I scoffed.  But I did start to think about the vegetable.

So everyone is foaming about Deborah Madison's new book, Vegetable Literacy.  Saying something bad about a Deborah Madison book is like saying Virgina Woolf can't write.  Don't get me wrong, I have nothing bad to say about the book.  If there is anything bad to say about the book it is that the book is a bit overwhelming.  It is not so much a cookbook as the Encyclopedia Britannica (Wikipedia for you folks under 25!) of Vegetable knowledge. 

There are recipes for onions but not before a thorough plant taxonomy.  Can one have their knotweed and nightshades too?  Carrots yes, but one really should eat the tops, too.  How the hell does one cook a cardoon?  What is a cardoon?  Why would one eat it?  Well, Madison has a recipe for that.

We tend to judge vegetable related works by the rutabaga recipes.  Madison doesn't disappoint with three.  Though she does seem to have a thing for peas.  The recipes in the book do, indeed, make the vegetables shine. Speaking of peas...  Don't go to the freezer.  If you want some mushy peas to slap next to fries, be my guest.  Want to cook peas with Deborah Madison you will need the real deal.   Even Madison's peas are a thing of beauty.

 Peas with Baked Ricotta 
and Bread Crumbs

Olive oil
1 cup high-quality ricotta cheese, such as hand-dipped 
full-fat ricotta
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
4 teaspoons butter
2 large shallots or 1/2 small onion, finely diced (about 1/3 cup)
5 small sage leaves, minced (about 1-1/2 teaspoons)
1-1/2 pounds pod peas, shucked (about 1 cup)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Chunk of Parmesan cheese, for grating

Heat the oven to 375 degree F. Lightly oil a small baking dish; a round Spanish earthenware dish about 6 inches across is perfect for this amount.

 If your ricotta is wet and milky, drain it first by putting it in a colander and pressing out the excess liquid. Pack the ricotta into the dish, drizzle a little olive oil over the surface, and bake 20 minutes or until the cheese has begun to set and brown on top. Cover the surface with the bread crumbs and continue to bake until the bread crumbs are browned and crisp, another 10 minutes. (The amount of time it takes for ricotta cheese to bake until set can vary tremendously, so it may well take longer than the times given here, especially if it wasn’t drained.)

When the cheese is finished baking, heat the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the shallots and sage and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, 1/2 cup water, and the lemon zest. Simmer until the peas are bright green and tender; the time will vary, but it should be 3 to 5 minutes. Whatever you do, don’t let them turn gray. Season with salt and a little freshly ground pepper, not too much.
 Divide the ricotta between 2 plates. Spoon the peas over the cheese. Grate some Parmesan over all and enjoy while warm.

We might just improve this recipe with a rib eye on the side.

While we might eat our Peas with Baked Ricotta 
and Bread Crumbs with a rib eye, as a gardener, Vegetable Literacy is a joy.  The more ideas for garden produce, the better.  We are already anticipating our spring seed catalogues.

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