Many, many years ago, I worked at an Ivy League university where one of my responsibilities was to organize the Political-Economy Lecture Series. Quite possibly one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, I would work with faculty and graduate students to bring in world-renowned economists to give small, intimate talks and then arrange for a dinner at the Faculty Club. As there were a few vegetarians in the group (including myself), I would arrange for both a meat dish and a vegetarian dish which was always steamed vegetables on bland pasta. After a little prodding from me, they finally branched out to stir-fried veggies on bland rice. Vegetarian cooking at that time (late 80’s-early 90’s) really was not viewed at haute cuisine. Though we were making fabulous meals at home, when we went out for dinner, the options were generally pretty slim and often very uninventive unless you were at certain ethnic-based restaurants.
Things have certainly changed now! And part of that change can be attributed to restaurants like The Greens in San Francisco. The Greens began in 1979 with chef, cookbook author and local-food pioneer, Deborah Madison. Annie Sommerville joined the restaurant a few years later and has been at the helm ever since. The menu changes as the availability of seasonal foods change and the dishes made in that kitchen turned vegetarian cuisine on its head!
Chef Sommerville has authored a few cookbooks, one of which – Fields of Greens: New Vegetarian Recipes from the Celebrated Greens Restaurant – was my choice for August. Though I usually map out which recipes I will cook ahead of time, this time I decided to go with whatever was available from my CSA or farmers markets because I avoid shopping in stores as much as possible. We had a big spike in Covid-19 infections this summer and I was lying low again. My garden is producing records crops of cukes, peppers and eggplant so that was another factor in deciding what to make.
This cookbook is an old favorite often turned to over the years when a dear friend was coming to dinner or we were celebrating an achievement or milestone. The recipes are rich and varied, using ingredients usually found in the house and easily accessible in most markets. Here are some of dishes I made.
- Grilled New Potato Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Summer Beans and Basil. This was the perfect dish for late July because each of the ingredients was in my CSA bag and took minimal cooking. It was crisp, cool and very filling. The recipe makes a lot, meaning we had wonderful lunches for a few days.
- Sicilian Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Peppers and Garlic. Be still my Sicilian heart! Sometimes when you try new recipes, they become incorporated into your general repertoire. Well, this is one of those recipes. Grilled peppers, grilled eggplant and grilled garlic and all stripped and brought together with a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar. We discovered this is an amazing mixture equally good on top of pasta, a bed of lettuce, a couple of sliced tomatoes, or in a baguette for a sandwich.
- Baguette Sandwich with Roasted Eggplant, Tomatoes and Basil. Best. Sandwich. EVER! Slabs of eggplant were roasted and then slathered with reduced balsamic vinegar. A baguette was hollowed out and spread with homemade basil pesto. Then the eggplant was layered with beefy tomatoes and crispy lettuce. We ate it two nights in a row!
- Roasted Peppers Filled with Eggplant, Summer Squash and Basil. Bell peppers were stuffed with a garlicy mixture of eggplant and summer squash. This was topped with cheeses and then roasted. We did it on the grill and enjoyed the smoky charred taste. A great meal!
- Open-Face Sandwich with Gorgonzola Cheese, Tomatoes and Basil. The tomatoes this time of year are show-stoppers and this recipe is the perfect way to eat them. Simple and sublime! Hearty slices of bread are toasted, and then slathered with cheeses, topped with thick slices of juice tomatoes and then sprinkled with shredded basil and the good salt used only on fresh tomatoes. We did not speak a word during dinner as we slowly enjoyed every bite of these sandwiches.
- Sauteed Summer Beans and Cherry Tomatoes. Green beans are blanched and then sautéed to a crisp before cherry tomatoes are added, along with lemon juice and white wine, and everything cooks together. I’ve always loved the combination of green beans and tomatoes, so this is right up my alley!
This is a great cookbook for all seasons!