More people are used to this idea today, and of course many chefs work this way, but it was sort of a shock when I first started thinking this way. You know, “What do you mean, you don’t have tomatoes? The recipe says that I have to have tomatoes” [laughs]. For a gal from New Jersey who is used to being in charge, that was a big change.
Q: When you travel, you must visit other markets. How do Minnesota markets compare nationally?
A: Minnesota is so very, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [laughs]. I mean, we just don’t value what we have, and what we have is astounding. Our markets are doing a phenomenal job; they can certainly rival the markets in any big city in the country. OK, Madison, Wisconsin, might be better than ours. Maybe we can get some Badger-Gopher rivalry going, to up our game a little bit [laughs].
Q: It’s a fairly radical statement for a cookbook author to write, “I don’t like recipes. Period.” Or not?
A: That’s making myself pretty clear, isn’t it? [laughs]. I’m hoping that people will use my recipes as a guide, so when they get home from the farmers market with their bundles of stuff, they’ll look through the book for ideas.
The great thing about cooking is that the more you do it, the easier it becomes to fly on your own. I’ve really learned about this from my kids. They’re pretty good cooks, but they’re constantly asking for concrete directions. I say to them, “What does it smell like? What are the colors like?”
When Lucia [Watson, owner of Lucia’s Restaurant in Minneapolis and Dooley’s co-author of “Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland”] and I were working with Judith Jones, a legendary editor at Knopf, she said, “You have to tell me what the bread is going to smell like, or how the bread is going to sound if you tap it.”
Cooking is really about engaging in the process with all of your full senses, and trusting what you already know.
Q: The book’s recipes all seem disarmingly approachable. Is that the way you cook?
A: I tried to keep things simple and quick; I didn’t want to put people off. When I go to the market, I spend the morning there, so I don’t want to come home and do anything too complicated.
So yes, this is simple, intentionally so. I like to tell people that you don’t have to do too much to this food. I’m not that good of a cook, but I’m a very good chopper.
Q: Beth Dooley, not a good cook? I don’t believe that for a second. Do you have a favorite month during the Minnesota growing season?
A: I’ve got to say that it’s tomato season. It astounds me that you can get so many flavors out of a single plant. I’m blown away by that.
I also have to say that I like the capstones of the season. It’s always thrilling in the spring, the asparagus and the peas and everything else are all so wonderful. Then we get a little jaded, and then at the end of the season we get nostalgic. You get the kales, the chards, even the late-season corn, and you begin to know that it’s over, and there’s this longing for it, because you know it’s not going to be around for much longer.