I recently saw a meme that said, "I'm not a vegan because I want to save animals. I'm vegan because I can't stand vegetables. Kill them all!" The sarcasm made me snicker, but it also reminded me of a new cookbook sitting in a stack on my desk. The cover was eye-catching. The title, The Vegetable Butcher, even more so. I have a fondness for butchering vegetables. Slicing peppers and cutting carrots has become my relaxing Sunday evening ritual, as I prep ingredients for meals in the week to come. So this book already wins for topic appeal.
The author, Cara Mangini, comes from a long line of butchers. Her Italian grandfather and great-grandfather cut tenderloins and butterflied chickens for a living. Mangini also wields a knife, but hers is used against the curves of butternut squash and the leaves of freshly-picked artichokes.
Let's get chopping …
The author: Cara Mangini was one of the first “vegetable butchers” at Eataly in New York City, which is a small team of in-store produce experts who can peel, chop, slice, carve and prep your fresh veggies any way you desire—and share tips and recipes with you for how to eat them best. Mangini is also author of the “Vegetable Butcher” column for thekitchn.com and Executive Chef and owner of the vegetable-centric Little Eater (loosely named after the meaning of her Italian surname), a restaurant, produce stand and artisanal foods boutique in Columbus, Ohio.
While researching and writing this book, Mangini moved to Napa Valley to gain a better understanding of vegetables and farming. While there, she worked at the organic farms of Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena and in the kitchen of its associated restaurant, Farmstead. Mangini served as a liaison between farm and restaurant, selecting produce for the executive chef and working nights on the line prepping, cooking and plating the very same veggies, fruits and herbs she had picked that morning. Mangini relocated to Ohio after meeting her future husband at a food industry convention in San Francisco. Now in the Midwest—a region rooted in agriculture—Mangini takes every opportunity to partner with local farmers to access a bounty of fresh produce to craft her recipes, develop her produce-inspired business and inspire everyone to focus on placing vegetables at the center of their plates.
Initial impressions: At first glance, I'm impressed with the generous amount of how-to photography in this book. Snapshots of Mangini's hands prepping dozens of types of produce give you confidence to attack the stems, stalks and peels of everything from jicama and kohlrabi to fennel and broccoli rabe. There are also a ton of gorgeous finished recipe photos—each one exuding a fine mix of vibrancy and simplicity. The pages are broken up into small nuggets of copy, so everything is a quick read and easy to digest, just like those enticing veggies. Also, a fact about this book that I'm absolutely loving is that the Vegetable Butcher is a woman. Mangini, herself, holds a large cleaver on the cover.
What’s cool: Since knife skills are essential to butchers of all ilk, the front of book goes over knife selection and knife care in detail, as well as the equipment you'll need to prep all the veg your heart desires. After that, Mangini digs into the produce, spending a few pages describing eat one, from its seasonality and varieties right down to foods it pairs well with and storage instructions. Next, you get a series of how-to photography to guide you through veggie prep, as well as Mangini's favorite cooking methods and one to three recipes for each type of produce. It's in these meaty (pun intended) sections that I learned that younger eggplants are sweeter, but larger ones are better for grilling; and that fiddlehead ferns taste like a mix of asparagus, green beans and artichokes.
Though all the recipes in this book are veggie forward (obviously), they are not vegan and use plenty of butter, cheese and breadcrumbs that—let's face it—help make veggies taste fantastic. I didn't spot any recipes that call for meat, poultry or chicken, but the book does include a handful of desserts in addition to numerous vegetable main dishes, soups, sides and even a few baked goods.
Perfect for: Veggie lovers / Vegetarians / Couples and families who want to eat more veggies / Beginner cooks
When/Where to get it: The Vegetable Butcher was just released this spring (March 2016) and is available now on Amazon for $18.
Sneak-peek recipe: Take advantage of in-season rhubarb and strawberries and serve up this Rhubarb & Strawberry Crumble with Lime Yogurt & Pistachios (pictured below, and reprinted with permission from Workman Publishing).