I bought this book a few years ago, when I discovered the wonderful world of vegetable boxes delivered to your door and was trying to work out what to do with all those brassicas (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli and brussels sprouts are fine in moderation, but when you get all of them in the same box, it’s another matter).
(By the way, isn’t the cover gorgeous? So colourful and cheerful! Lovely!)
Anyway, this book did not entirely solve my vegetable box problems, but it did make a good start on the problem… while being instrumental in creating a new one…
Chesman’s target audience is, I think, the kitchen gardener. The one who put too many zucchini plants in the ground last year and couldn’t give them away. Or maybe the one who never realised just how much silverbeet you get from one plant. And let’s not forget the one who didn’t know that Jerusalem artichokes were that prolific (she says with feeling). Her recipes therefore assume that you have a lot of a particular ingredient and are trying to figure out what to do with it all.
Of course, one of the results of reading this book for me was to become the gardener mentioned in the preceding paragraph. Except for the zucchini. I have been promised a zucchini apocalypse year after year, and it has yet to eventuate. Frankly, I’m disappointed. I really like zucchini. But I digress…
The book is organised first by season. At the start of the book, Chesman provides a number of basic recipes for which you can use pretty much any mix of vegetables you like – roasted vegetables, vegetable quiche, vegetable crepes, pasta with pesto and vegetables, basic stir-fry, and many more. Lots of good stuff here for the beginning cook, incidentally. At the end of each season, she gives you another set of recipes, this time using multiple vegetables from the previous section. These are all extremely useful and functional, and showcase the vegetables nicely.
Within seasons, the book is organised into chapters by vegetable. For each one, you get a brief introduction, information on both sowing and harvesting, storage and preparation tips, and a little table showing you things like what weight of a vegetable equates to a cup, how many cups of raw vegetable you need to make a cup of cooked, or the difference between weight in the pod and weight out of it. Frankly, the book would be worth buying for those tables alone. You then get several pages of recipes, along with anecdotes and historical, nutritional and folkloric notes on the vegetable in question.
The recipes themselves are tasty and work very reliably, but I would call them practical rather than inspiring. This is not a bad thing; Chesman is spectacularly good at introducing you to a vegetable, showing you what to do with it both practically and in terms of flavour (and she’s very good at the sort of recipe which gets out of the way and lets the vegetable speak for itself), and pointing the way towards other ideas. I have found that this is my go-to book when I have a vegetable I don’t know what to do with, but that I use it a lot less once I’ve started developing my own ideas about vegetables.
I feel like I’m damning this book with faint praise, which is not fair at all. It’s an incredibly useful book, full of the sort of recipes which work nicely for supper on a weeknight – they don’t take much time or effort to make, they taste good but don’t push culinary boundaries (and let’s face it, you don’t want your culinary boundaries pushed every evening anyway). I suspect the recipes would also be very child-friendly. But it’s also true that I find it really difficult to think of a single recipe that stands out here as the one to introduce you to. I have made and enjoyed her cheese and vegetable quiche, her broccoli and chicken mornay, her pasta primavera, her roasted jerusalem artichokes, her rice with chicken and peas, and many more, and I’ve enjoyed them all and gone back to many of them. And I’ll undoubtedly be going back to this book next time I see kale at the market – I keep forgetting that she has a whole collection of great recipes using it.
Incidentally, the majority of recipes in this book (perhaps three quarters?) are vegetarian, and there are a pretty good number which are gluten-free or vegan.
Perhaps the best way to describe this book is as an extremely useful and practical kitchen-garden encyclopedia, with an unusually large number of good, everyday recipes. I highly recommend it if you are looking to expand your repertoire of vegetable dishes, or if you just want to try a new ingredient. I also recommend it if you are simply looking for something nice and straightforward for dinner tonight. It’s a very good book.