From farm to fork

  • Article by: LEE SVITAK DEAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 16, 2010 - 9:21 PM

This time of year, it's like preaching to the choir to suggest that local food tastes good. Now, in the key of C ... (as in "season").

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It’s a field of plenty with the crop of new books featuring the seasons and local produce. “Eating Local,” from Sur la Table, is clearly one of the top picks for the kitchen.

Whether it's a farmers market, a back-yard garden, or a share in produce from Community Supported Agriculture delivered weekly, you don't have to go far to find fresh fruits and vegetables. ¶ That's good for cooks. Today many of us are surrounded by an abundance of produce, in all its fragrant and flavorful glory. Not surprisingly, publishers have taken note and brought to harvest a crop of books that tap our interest in all things fresh. Here's a taste of some of them.

"Eating Local, the Cookbook Inspired by America's Farmers," by Sur la Table and Janet Fletcher (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 304 pages, $35). You can't help but be hungry as you page through this volume of delight, with color photos of farmers and their crops and of stunning food from around the country. These recipes are all doable, and make the most of local produce, often as simple twists on favorites (Grilled Tomatoes With Pesto, anyone?).

Of course, local differs by locale for the cook, but no matter for those looking for good flavor. As for me, I'm hankering for a taste of Baby Greens with Persimmons, Fennel and Walnuts. Or maybe dinner will be Grilled Fingerling Potatoes With Crème Fraîche and Chile Powder. Good ideas, good taste. I'd like to cook from this book every night. It's definitely one of the best new volumes this season, and includes engaging text and interviews with farmers around the country, including the Nitty Gritty Dirt Farm in Harris, Minn. It makes me want to eat, eat, eat.

• "Edible, A Celebration of Local Foods," by Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian (Wiley, 324 pages, $29.95). Perhaps you've seen the magazine "Edible Twin Cities," in racks around town. It's part of a national network of magazines that promote local foods, each offering the perspective of their own locale, along with stories and recipes about those who provide us with sustenance.

This book is a compilation of the best of those magazines, including a tale of Golden Fig Fine Foods in St. Paul and of Lucia Watson and her restaurant in Uptown Minneapolis. The book is text-heavy and a bit earnest, as you might expect from a volume so focused on being Earth-friendly. And there are far fewer recipes than a book called "Edible" should have. Among them are Herb-Roasted Duck Breast With Carrot-Potato Mash and Chive Butter, and Poblanos Stuffed With Goat Cheese and Shrimp, and Persimmon Rum Cake.

• "The Minnesota Table," by Shelley N.C. Holl, with recipes by B.J. Carpenter (Voyageur Press, 176 pages, $25). Holl takes us on a tour of the state through the seasons as she visits the flavors and people intrinsic to the food of Minnesota. She talks with Sister Anne, who stamps out communion wafers, and those at Forest Mushrooms of St. Joseph, among others. Her watercolors dot the pages and the recipes of B.J. Carpenter make us hungry (Asparagus Vinaigrette, Spicy Vietnamese Long Beans, Shortcut Cassoulet Exotica).

• "Farm to Fork: Cooking Local, Cooking Fresh," by Emeril Lagasse (HarperStudio, 312 pages, $24.99). Emeril (who can call him by his last name?) knows how to write a cookbook. And he should, given that this is his 15th. What has made him so popular over the years is that his recipes can be made easily by the home cook. He's not doing anything wild and crazy in this book -- just recipes that sound good for dinner.

That would be Emeril's Roasted Beet Salad With Walnut Dressing and Cheese Crisps, or New Orleans-style Stuffed Artichokes (remember, he's from New Orleans, where he has several restaurants), or Roasted Tomato Tapenade. Nothing too flashy, but dressy enough that you could serve these for guests. The book offers enough color photos to entice you to the kitchen.

• "Melissa's Everyday Cooking With Organic Produce," by Cathy Thomas (Wiley, 336 pages, $29.95). In her first book, "Melissa's Great Book of Produce," Thomas offered a guide to buying and cooking fruits and vegetables. Now she focuses on the recipes, organized by the individual produce (Brussels sprouts, mangos, peas and turnips).

The Melissa in the title is Melissa's World Variety Produce, which you probably see in your supermarket produce aisle if you're paying attention to where things are coming from. Among the recipes: Rosemary Spaghetti with Roasted Asparagus, Carrot and Farro Soup, Fennel Salad With Citrus Vinaigrette. Thomas' focus is on simplicity. She lets the fruits and vegetables shine.

• "Farmers' Market Desserts," by Jennie Schacht (Chronicle Books, 208 pages, $24.95). What would a meal be without dessert? There are those who will argue that there's nothing better than fresh fruit at its peak and on its own. But Schacht begs to differ (and I happen to agree with her): Think Mojito Melon Balls, Tangerine-Sicle Ice Cream or Grilled Fig Sundaes. Mmm. Yes, dessert is the perfect end to a meal full of fresh produce.

Even more books

Other notables include:

"Cooking From the Garden: Best Recipes From Kitchen Gardener," by the editors of Kitchen Gardener (Taunton Press, 304 pages, $29.95).

"Cooking Light Cooking Through the Seasons: An Everyday Guide to Enjoying the Freshest Food," by the editors of Cooking Light (Oxmoor House, 400 pages, $29.95).

"In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart," by Alice Waters (Clarkson Potter, 160 pages, $28).

"Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook: A Fresh Look at Local Flavor," by the editors of Southern Living (Oxmoor House, 288 pages, $29.95).

"Sustainably Delicious: Making the World a Better Place, One Recipe at a Time," by Michel Nischan (Rodale Books, 256 pages, $35).

Lee Svitak Dean • 612-673-1749

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