I’ve been happily reading this book all week, written by a woman several years younger than myself but before I learned that, I felt its advice grandmotherly and homey; wise I supposed, from all the years gathered in a kitchen brimming with rowdy hungry kids, scraping by on wartime rations and cultivating the kind of creativity born only from constraint. It was written in homage to this book, whose author was a pioneer in literary food writing and indeed created against the backdrop of wartime scarcity.
Tamar dispenses more conceptual cooking advice in her pithy little essays than detailed recipes, many of which are embedded in musing prose. She speaks about using every part of our ingredients including bread tails and vegetable stalks and stems, and why not? Of course it makes total sense. In the burgeoning awareness of our national food climate there is more and more emphasis on wholeness: farm to plate, nose to tail, stem to root. The book is also an ode to the passionate amateur cook. She writes, “..we don’t need to be professionals to cook well, anymore than we need to be doctors to treat bruises and scrapes…we need to shop and cook like what we are- people who are hungry.”
“When we cook things, we transform them. Any small acts of transformation are among the most human things we do. Whether it’s nudging dried leaves around a patch of cement, or salting a tomato, we feel, when we exert tiny bits of our human preference in the universe, more alive.”
In a chapter entitled, How to Stride Ahead, Tamar recommends roasting a whole bunch of different vegetables at the beginning of the week to have them as building blocks for a host of different meals throughout the week. I’d never thought of this, and as time is precious and limited and I want to eat delicious healthy food at every meal, the concept is appealing. Often, when I realize I’m hungry, it’s too late to cook something because I want to eat right now, so I’m trying to do a better job at planning ahead. I used to eat a lot of canned tuna and chips and salsa because I wasn’t planning well, but the idea here is to have readily available raw materials with which to compose a salad, side, frittata or soup.
Preheat the oven to 350-400•. Roast everything in its own pan or roasting dish as each item will cook differently. Toss broccoli spears, cauliflower (sliced and core removed) carrots/parsnips/turnips/rutabagas/celery root/kohlrabi (peeled and
chopped) with a little olive oil and kosher salt and cook until tender (check in about 30 minutes). Roasted fennel root, thickly sliced and cored is also a great roasting vegetable. Delicata squash is my favorite squash- no need to peel, very sweet- simple half, seed, slice into half moons and bake. Beets can be washed and cooked whole in a glass roasting dish covered with aluminum foil and peeled easily when cool. You can also roast garlic (whole head, bottom sliced so it lays flat and drizzled with olive oil) and thickly sliced onions. While the oven is hot, toast dry (raw) walnuts, hazelnuts and any other favorite nuts and seeds spread out on a cookie sheet. Cook whole sweet potatoes, potatoes and/or butternut squash on some foil and then peel/slice/deal with later once cooled. Tamar includes two enticing sweet potato preparations I will experiment with and share here very soon. Slice shallots and/or any color onion into thin half moons and quick pickle in red wine or cider vinegar (or any combo).
Roasted Vegetable Salad (lightly adapted from An Everlasting Meal)
- Place two cups of any combination of cooked vegetables in a large bowl
- Add 1/4 of chopped toasted nuts/seeds of your choice
- Add 1/4 cup of quick pickled (in vinegar of your choice) shallots or onions
- Pinch salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse mustard
- Drizzle olive oil
- 1/4 roughly chopped fresh (or dried) herbs of choice (mint and parsley are my favorites)
- Squeeze of lemon
- Handful of peppery greens such as arugula, radish tops, baby mustard greens…
Chop with kitchen scissors and toss together. Add anything else you like, such as capers, olives, sprouts or sliced radish. Salads which combine both cooked and raw ingredients are lovely combinations of texture and taste. This one is best eaten at room temperature. Adjust oil, vinegar and seasonings to taste.