In the thick of summer, just before it mercifully cusps to fall, you can't walk through the doors of a grocery store, much less pop into a farmer's market, without confronting a spread of produce that is almost overwhelming in its potential. Corn, tomatoes, beans, greens, herbs, the list goes on and on. Every season has its harvest, even lean winter, and every cook has recipes that they turn to again and again to make the most of their garden/CSA box/farmers market finds. These well-trod recipes are usually wonderful, comforting, and produced quickly and lovingly from memory. But sometimes you find yourself in a rut, and you want something as easy, as soothing, as well-loved, not new but new to you. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, better known as those Fabulous Beekman Boys, deliver just that in the newest addition to their Heirloom cookbook series, The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook, filled with their favorite ways of maximizing all that vegetal potential.
You know the story: A couple of country boys pack up their meager belongings and strike out for the great metropolis, looking to make it big, to trade their overalls for 3-piece suits and clean the dirt from their fingernails once and for all. Equal parts hilarity and calamity ensue. Now flip the premise and you have the gist of the Beekman Boys' narrative. Kilmer-Purcell, a New York Times best-selling author, and Ridge, a physician and former Vice President of Health and Wellness at Martha Stewart Omnimedia, started their life together as dyed-in-the-wool Manhattanites. In 2008, the couple bought the 200-year-old Beekman Farm in upstate New York as a weekend escape from urban living. Shortly after, however, they were both laid off, and the farm faced foreclosure. They had a choice: lose the farm or learn how to turn a profit. They started raising animals and making soap, and now 6 years later, they've pretty much nailed the farm-for-profit thing. They've starred in their own reality show' penned a successful memoir and 2 previous cookbooks; produced wait-listed cheese; sold their beauty, home, and food products at chichi retailers nationwide as well as at their own Mercantile; coined "Beekman 1802" as a trademark lifestyle brand; and, oh yeah, scored a MILLION dollars winning The Amazing Race. Not bad for a couple kids from the backwoods of the Upper East Side.
They say they drew inspiration for the book from the seed catalogs that inundate their mailbox every winter, tempting them with the "little illustrated packets of hope." For those of us without a garden, these hopeful moments can come when we're faced with a fridge full of veggies and a lovely book full of good ideas. Arranged by season (which seems to be the new black of cookbook organization), the "vegetable-forward" recipes tend to be homey and simple, but with a whiff of sophistication that the quaint design of the book belies. There are illustrations straight from those seed packets, photos of the farm and flourishing veggies, lined spaces to make notes and to record your family's own cherished recipes, and quotes about farm life from the likes of Abraham Lincoln and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some of the recipes are likewise down-home, like Refrigerator Dilly Beans and Bacon-Popped Popcorn. But these are outnumbered by ones that reveal the city-slicker sensibility that the Beekman Boys can't shake, like Summer Vegetable Flans and Pea Shoots Asian-Style with Garlic, Ginger, and Sesame. This is no small-town church cookbook.
Neither man is a trained cook, and that means the recipes are entirely accessible to home cooks, like themselves. The four recipes I tested were really simple and turned out beautifully. We'll start the week with the elegant and smart Fish Wrapped in Lettuce, like en papilliot, but with tender greens in place of the usual parchment or foil. Then we'll make their fabulous, creamy Tomato Tart, using bought puff pastry for easy decadence. We'll follow that with Smoky Roasted Corn Soup with Chipotle Chile, sweet and rich and a terrific use for late summer corn. And at the end of the week, we'll go full bore luxurious with their Savory Vegetable Bread Pudding, which is like a custardy ode to French onion soup. I'd happily make any of them over and over again.
Win a Copy!
Thanks to our good folks at Rodale, we have 5 copies of The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook to give away this week. In the comments below, share with us the veggie-centric dish that's been handed down to you and/or that you'll pass on to the next generation.