Hugh Acheson's latest book project began at a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pickup. A neighbor stopped him and asked for help: what the heck do you do with kohlrabi, anyway?
I feel that neighbor's pain, and I'm guessing some of you are with me. A box full of fresh local vegetables at the height of their season can feel like the best gift you've ever received, or it can cause some pretty real anxiety. How are you going to use up all this stuff before it wilts? What if you can't convince your picky-eater wife to eat any more greens?
Acheson's The Broad Fork is a handy resource, full of inspiration for the CSA-stressed or folks who are just looking for ways to cook well from the farmers market. There are recipes for those problem vegetables—a celery root salad with buttermilk dressing, directions for braising turnips in soy and sautéing radishes with lemon brown butter—as well as suggestions for more familiar produce. (There's a silky eggplant dish baked with torn bread and topped with a tahini yogurt sauce that I've got my eye on, and I'll definitely be trying his recipe for high-heat cooked broccoli with olive, caper, and anchovy dressing.)
I asked Acheson—who owns about 1,000 cookbooks ("Too many!" he says)—about his tips for tackling a CSA box, and his favorite books for inspiring all of your cooking.
Do you ever feel CSA anxiety—a fear that not everything from the box will get used, or that none of it goes together? Has cooking in restaurants (and writing this book) taught you any lessons that are helpful when dealing with a CSA box? I think that we get the vegetables with the best intentions but some things fall into the crisper drawer only to be found three weeks later. You need to lay everything out when you get a CSA box and make some plans. We need to fully embrace and respect the vegetables and that doesn't happen when we let them become compost. Cooking in restaurants has made me much more agile in figuring out how to use things quickly and effectively: you need to think the same way. No one wants to waste, and menus should often be created not out of the dream of what you want but of the reality of what's on hand.
Any other advice for people who are first time CSA subscribers facing a variety of unfamiliar vegetables? (especially those with picky-eater kids or spouses.) Americans, for the most part, cook in their comfort zone and to break free of that you need to try new things. As for picky eaters, mostly kids, two things come to mind: if dinner is at 6 p.m., then the 5 p.m. snack has GOT TO GO. It just leaves kids in a non-hungry state and more prone to pushing the peas around the plate. Hungry kids eats those peas. Also, kids need to be introduced to vegetables at a very, very young age so vegetables really are part of a meal, not the required part of the plate that gives access to dessert.
What's your advice for CSA subscribers facing the same veg over and over? Purees, soups, roasted vegetable salads... think outside the box. Grilled lettuce is fantastic. Lettuce soups can be beautiful.
In addition to The Broad Fork, what cookbooks do you recommend for those looking to cook more with vegetables?
The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. A beautiful primer on true Southern food. The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. SO GOOD. The salads are awesome and it has the best roasted chicken ever. Ottolenghi's Plenty is a seminal cookbook that makes Middle Eastern food as craveworthy as it should be. Moro: the Cookbook. Stunning simplicity from a London icon of a restaurant.
What was the first cookbook that really inspired you and why? The first River Café Cookbook was such and inspiration. So simple. So good. Two chefs colluding together to make simply great food. The restaurant has churned out superstar talent ever since.
What other older cookbooks and lesser-known cookbooks do you treasure?
Charleston Receipts. It is such a standby. La Varenne Pratique. It's technique illustrated; a wonderful teaching text. Southern Food by John Egerton. Such an important wander through Southern food. Hoppin' John's Lowcountry Cooking by John Taylor. This book is so ragged from use. The man is a genius of a writer and recipe interpreter. From these books I learn where I am from and where I live now. I learn that there is a crossover in French food and Southern food that needs constant inquiry.
Any other books you consider essentials when it comes to Southern cookbooks? Are there Southern cookbooks we should have heard of but haven't? The Hoppin' John Taylor books are amazing. Southern Provisions by John Shields. An academic look at the Southern larder. Heritage from Sean Brock. The man is a nerd. A wonderful chef's chef who shows us something new about Southern food everyday. Hints & Pinches by Eugene Walther. Smart short book from a beautiful human. Bill Neal's Southern Cooking. Before all celebrity chefs there was Bill. Every chef in the South owes the man a high five.