Farmer Clare & the Best Seasonal Cookbooks

Clare Vergobbi, Orchard Gardens Manager, outside of the Orchard Gardens greenhouse (where almost all of the veggies at 3 of our 4 farms are born).

Clare Vergobbi, Orchard Gardens Manager, outside of the Orchard Gardens greenhouse (where almost all of the veggies at 3 of our 4 farms are born).

If you haven’t met her yet, Clare Vergobbi is the manager of Orchard Gardens Farm. Here’s her story about learning to cook seasonally, and who guided her along the way. While she was writing this, she found so many people around Garden City Harvest saying things like “I love that book!” Or “have you tried the beet cake in that one?” etc. In other words, she’s got great taste and a solid go-to list.

When I first started farming, I barely knew how to cook anything, let alone vegetables. My staples were pasta, mac and cheese out of a box, hummus, and stir fry.

That changed my first season of farming—I had to get it together quick because I had a fridge full of vegetables, many of them unfamiliar, and you can only eat so many salads in a row before you decide that maybe you don’t like vegetables after all.

Google was my friend that first season, and it still is today. The internet is full of cooking sites and blogs with endlessly creative options for vegetable cooking.

But as I cooked more regularly and more creatively, my interest in cooking also grew, and I started to amass cookbooks. If you are drowning under piles of fresh produce and ready to throw your salad bowl out a window, check out these vegetable-centric cookbooks. These are just a small selection of the hundreds of great books out there, but they’re my favorites, with recipes I return to again and again.


Dishing Up the Dirt—Andrea Bemis

This was the first real farm-centric cookbook I got my hands on. Andrea Bemis is the co-owner of Tumbleweed Farm, an eight-acre organic vegetable farm in Oregon, and all of her recipes are simple, home cook friendly, and make exquisite use of vegetables. She writes a blog also titled Dishing Up the Dirt, which has many more recipes than the book alone, all categorized conveniently by vegetable.

This book, aside from having wonderful, creative, vegetable recipes organized by seasonality, is a work of art. The photographs of the food and the farm are gorgeous and it’s interspersed with essays which vividly illustrate the struggles and triumphs of small scale farming.

Tumbleweed Farm is a CSA model farm like Garden City Harvest’s farms, so this book is especially good for CSA members who might be wondering what to do with that kohlrabi or celeriac that’s been piling up in the bottom drawer of the fridge. I come back to her kohlrabi fritters, beet butter, and cauliflower soup recipes time and time again.

 

The Art of Simple Food—Alice Waters

Say what you will about Alice Waters, but she’s considered a trailblazer in farm to table cooking for a reason, and the food in this book reflects that.

This is the first cookbook I ever bought and it (along with Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, another great cookbook everyone should own) essentially taught me how to cook.

The book is organized into a section of lessons and foundational recipes for different cooking methods, followed by sections of recipes organized by food type. The salad, soup, and vegetable sections are great and offer a lot of basic recipes you can adapt to use with other veggies or veggie combinations.

The book really is what the title advertises—most of the recipes are simple and come together in very little time, but it’s also a great place to start if you want to try a soufflé or a French-style braise for the first time.

 

Six Seasons—Joshua McFadden

Speaking of cookbooks as works of art—this one definitely is. Studded with vivid photographs and beautiful watercolors, this cookbook is divided into six sections based on season—spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, autumn, and winter.

If you’ve had a CSA for a few years or gardened in western Montana, you know that those classic “summer” vegetables—peppers, tomatoes, corn, beans, cucumbers—often don’t show up till late summer here, if not early fall. This book celebrates the produce available in the earlier seasons—the greens and baby root vegetables of spring and early summer, the buckets of zucchini that start piling up right about now—and also offers creative ideas for autumn and winter vegetables available in cold climates like our own.

I make the vignole, kale sauce, and braised eggplant several times a month when the respective veggies are in season. McFadden spent time working at Eliot Coleman’s farm in Maine (a Big Deal, if you know anything about organic farming) while writing this book, and his love of farming and reverence for the vegetables shines through on every page.

 

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Tender—Nigel Slater

Caroline at the PEAS Farm laughingly called this book the “sexy vegetable” book because of its almost sensual descriptions of vegetables and the processes of growing and cooking them.

This book is a love letter to both gardening and cooking—it’s as much a chronicle of Nigel Slater’s vegetable patch, battles with pests and preferred cultivars included, as it is a cookbook. The recipes themselves, though not all necessarily vegetable based, always rely heavily on vegetables and run the gamut from simple post-work meals to complicated dishes for your next dinner party.

This book is organized by vegetable, which makes it very simple to take stock of your fridge, decide which vegetables need to be eaten, and flip to that section of the book to find a recipe. Helpfully, it also functions as a decent guide to home gardening.

An important note about this book—any chocolate beet cake is good; his is the best I’ve ever made. 

Plenty and Plenty More—Yotam Ottolenghi

You’ve probably heard of these. Ottolenghi is a powerhouse of a chef and author, well known for delicious but complicated recipes that often require ingredients you’ve never heard of. I avoided his cookbooks for a long time because I figured I wouldn’t be able to make anything in them, but I eventually got over my fear and checked out Plenty from the library.

Contrary to what you might expect, these books are fairly accessible. Though some recipes are long and complicated, just as many are easy to make, and they might expose you to some new cooking techniques or ingredients you’ve never tried before. Ottolenghi is also good about acknowledging his more obscure ingredients and offering decent substitutes that will maintain the integrity of the dish.

This is a good book for experimenting, for weekend afternoons when it’s okay to make a mess in the kitchen and you feel like playing around a little, or for impressing your friends or family when they come over for dinner.

I was so impressed with myself (and the food) the first time I made the cauliflower cake from Plenty More I made it again two days later. I also find myself daydreaming about the caramelized garlic tart from Plenty fairly frequently. Ottolenghi recently came out with Simple, another vegetable focused cookbook that promises simpler, faster recipes—I haven’t gotten my hands on that one, yet, but I’m looking forward to the kitchen adventures I’ll have when I do.

Thug Kitchen

This is an extremely accessible vegan cookbook—if you’re new to vegan cooking or just trying to making more plant based meals, this is a great book to start with.

While many of the recipes rely on vegan meat substitutes such as tofu or tempeh, it also has many veggie-based recipes. Their breakfast greens recipe converted me into a greens in the morning person (though I add eggs), and I wait for the first ripe Jimmy Nardello peppers every year so I can make the red pepper pasta sauce.

And hey, if you haven’t figured out how to cook tempeh in a way you can stomach yet, this book will whip you into shape on that front, too.

A warning—it’s completely irreverent and contains a lot of berating and swearing, which makes it fun to read, but probably not the best choice to cook through with your kids.