Cauliflower isnХt just another veggie relegated to the side of a plate as more Americans turned to more vegetable-driven dining. One example is cauliflower with saffron, pepper flakes, parsley and pasta, a recipe found in ФVegetable Literacy,Х a new cookbook by Deborah Madison.
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Cauliflower isnХt just another veggie relegated to the side of a plate as more Americans turned to more vegetable-driven dining. One example is cauliflower with saffron, pepper flakes, parsley and pasta, a recipe found in ФVegetable Literacy,Х a new cookbook by Deborah Madison.

Vegetarian isn’t what it once was

By Michele Kayal
The Associated Press

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Not so long ago, there was a certain image associated with being vegetarian. It usually involved Birkenstocks, lentil loaf and an agenda.

There still are plenty of all three in the meatless movement, but a growing number of Americans are finding they can have cauliflower and kale at the center of the plate without a side of ideology.

That’s because at the same time people are eating less meat, vegetables have gained respect as worthy ingredients in their own right, not just as the garnish for a steak. There even are celebrity vegetables. (Brussels sprouts and ramps, anyone?) And perhaps most telling, the word “vegetarian” has moved from the center of cookbook covers to the margins, if it’s seen at all.

“I’ve always struggled with the ‘vegetarian’ label,” said Deborah Madison, whose cookbook “Vegetable Literacy” (Ten Speed Press, 2013) is the most recent in her 30-year career of writing about vegetables. “When I began writing it was so much about a lifestyle. You were or you weren’t and people didn’t cross that line.”

Today that line is fluid. Movements such as “meatless Monday” and concerns about food quality and a tighter economy have more Americans treating meat as the side dish.

That shows in how we shop. The number of farmers markets has more than doubled during the last 10 years, and meat consumption is down 12 percent since 2007.

Shifting attitudes regarding what and how we eat also come into play. Americans today eat more casually than previous generations. The idea of a “center of the plate” – a large piece of meat surrounded by a starch and a vegetable – has loosened.

As chefs have changed, so have their audiences. The culinary revolution of the 1980s introduced Americans to a greater range of flavors and to the idea of fresh produce artfully deployed. A greater awareness of international cuisines also has opened doors to a new kind of vegetable-oriented cooking.

“We’ve brought so many cultural influences into the conversation,” said Diane Morgan, author most recently of “Roots” (Chronicle Books, 2012), which celebrates turnips, sunchokes and other underground vegetables. “Now the volume of ethnic cookbooks coming into the conversation changes that.”

Many of these ethnic cookbooks are vegetable-centered. “The Duke’s Table” (Melville House, 2013) offers a comprehensive collection of Italian vegetarian recipes first published in the 1930s. “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy,” also offering vegetarian Italian recipes, is due out this summer from Chronicle Books. “The French Market Cookbook” (Clarkson Potter, 2013) seizes on the idea that while classic, Escoffier-style cooking is meat-oriented, the poorer food of the French countryside is vegetable-focused.

But perhaps the biggest change is that eating vegetables is no longer about avoiding meat. While early chefs tried to reconfigure vegetables and grains to resemble meat in taste and texture as closely as possible, today’s vegetable cooking focuses on the best qualities of the produce. And yes, sometimes meat is even involved.

“Vegetables Please” by Carolyn Humphries (DK Publishing, 2013) bills itself as “The more vegetables, less meat cookbook.” “Eat Your Vegetables” by Arthur Potts Dawson (Octopus Publishing, 2012) extolls the virtues of chilled pea soup, but also offers recipes such as lamb tagine with sugar snap peas. Morgan’s “Roots” mixes purely vegetarian recipes such as raw beet salad with beef-wrapped burdock root.

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MAIN DISH

Cauliflower With Saffron, Pepper Flakes, Parsley And Pasta

1 cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), broken into small florets, the core diced

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for tossing the pasta

1 onion, finely diced

2 pinches of saffron threads

1 large clove garlic, minced

Scant 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Sea salt

8 ounces pasta shells

Grated aged cheese or crumbled feta cheese (optional)

Steam the cauliflower florets and core over boiling water for about 3 minutes. Taste a piece. It should be on the verge of tenderness and not quite fully cooked. Set it aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.

Heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saffron and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, about 6 minutes. The steam will activate the saffron so that it stains and flavors the onion. Add the garlic, pepper flakes and a few pinches of the parsley, stir and then add the cauliflower. Toss the cauliflower to coat it with the seasonings, add 1/2 cup water and cook over medium heat until the cauliflower is tender, just a few minutes. Season with salt, toss with half of the remaining parsley, and keep warm.

While the cauliflower is cooking, cook the pasta in the boiling water seasoned with salt until al dente. Drain, transfer to a warmed bowl, and toss with a few tablespoons of oil and the remaining parsley. Taste for salt, then spoon the cauliflower over the pasta, wiggle some of it into the pasta crevices, grate the cheese on top and serve.

Makes four servings.

From “Vegetable Literacy” by Deborah Madison (2013, Ten Speed Press)

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MAIN DISH

Wilted Red Cabbage With Mint And Goat Feta

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, quartered through the stem end and thinly sliced crosswise

1 garlic clove, finely minced

4 cups packed very finely sliced red cabbage (a scant pound)

Sea salt

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons chopped mint

2 tablespoons chopped dill

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Freshly ground pepper

Crumbled goat feta plus whole mint leaves, to finish

Heat the oil in a large skillet or wok. When hot, add the onion, turn to coat it with the oil and cook for a minute to sear and soften. Add the garlic and then the cabbage, and season with 1 teaspoon salt. Immediately begin turning it in the pan to wilt it evenly. You don’t want to fully cook it, just wilt it; two minutes should be enough time.

Remove the pan from the heat, toss the cabbage with 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice, then taste and add more if sharpness is desired. Toss with the herbs. Season with more salt, if needed, and plenty of pepper.

Transfer the cabbage to a platter, mounding it in a heap, then shower with the crumbled goat feta. Finish with the extra mint leaves and serve.

From “Vegetable Literacy” by Deborah Madison (2013, Ten Speed Press)

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SIDE DISH

Springtime Minestre

1 pound (before shelling) green peas

1 pound (before shelling) fresh fava beans

1/2 cup rice

4 carrots, chopped

1 stalk onion, chopped

Handful of parsley, chopped

3 tablespoons butter

In a stock pot, saute the chopped onion in butter and add the peas, fava beans (removing both shells and skins), carrots and 8 cups water. Add salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the rice. When the rice is cooked, serve immediately with or without grated cheese.

From “The Duke’s Table” by Enrico Alliata (2013, Melville House)

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MAIN DISH

Ratatouille Tian

1 1/3 pounds small eggplants

Fine sea salt

3 teaspoons herbes de Provence (or a mix of dried thyme, rosemary, basil and oregano), divided

1 1/3 pounds medium zucchini

1 3/4 pounds plum tomatoes

Olive oil

2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced

8 fresh sage leaves, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

An hour before you plan to cook, cut the eggplants crosswise into rounds about 1/8-inch thick. Set the rounds in a colander, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt. Toss to coat, then allow to rest in the sink for an hour to allow some of the moisture to be drawn out of the slices.

With kitchen or paper towels, pat the eggplant slices dry. Set the slices in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of herbes de Provence.

Cut the zucchini and tomatoes crosswise into 1/8-inch rounds. Place in two bowls and sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon of herbes de Provence.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Use the olive oil to lightly coat an 8-by-10-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Scatter the sliced onions evenly over the bottom. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a touch of olive oil.

Arrange a row of overlapping tomato slices along one side of the dish. Pack them in tightly so that they are almost upright. Sprinkle with a little sage and garlic. Follow with a row of overlapping eggplant slices alongside it, then a row of zucchini slices, sprinkling each with a little sage and garlic as you go. Repeat the pattern until you’ve filled the dish and used up all the vegetables, packing the rows of vegetables together very tightly. If you have vegetables remaining at the end, slip them among their peers to flesh out rows that seem to need it.

Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, cover loosely with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Increase the heat to 425 degrees and bake for another 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the vegetables are tender and the tips of the slices are appealingly browned, about another 30 minutes. Serve hot, at room temperature, or chilled.

Makes six servings.

Adapted from “The French Market Cookbook” by Clotilde Dusoulier (2013, Clarkson Potter)

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SIDE DISH

Ivory Carrot Soup With A Fine Dice Of Orange Carrots

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 pound white carrots, scrubbed and thinly sliced

1 tablespoon raw white rice

Sea salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 thyme sprig

4 cups water or light chicken stock

Few tablespoons finely diced orange carrots, other colored carrots or both

Freshly ground pepper

About 1 tablespoon minced fine green carrot tops

Warm the butter and oil in a soup pot and add the onion, white carrots, rice, 1 teaspoon salt, sugar and thyme. Cook over medium heat for several minutes, turning everything occasionally. Add 1 cup of the water, cover, turn down the heat, and cook while you heat the remaining 3 cups water. When the water is hot, add it to the pot, cover and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.

While the soup is cooking, cook the diced carrots in salted boiling water for about 3 minutes and then drain.

When ready, let cool slightly, then remove and discard the thyme sprig. Puree the soup until smooth in a blender. Taste for salt and season with the pepper. Reheat if it has cooled.

Ladle the soup into bowls, scatter the diced carrots and carrot tops over each serving and serve.

Makes four to six servings.

From “Vegetable Literacy” by Deborah Madison (2013, Ten Speed Press)

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SIDE DISH

Sicilian Risotto With Peas And Artichokes

In a large saucepan on medium heat, brown a chopped onion in olive oil and add:

1 lb peas

4 artichokes, cleaned and cut into quarters

Add salt and pepper. When the artichokes are almost soft, pour in 1lb rice – about 2 cups – and add hot water until a thick soupy consistency has been reached. Stir continually. When rice is almost cooked, add a sharp dry cheese (such as Sicilian caciocavallo, or, if it can’t be found, Italian provolone). Total cooking time is between 20 and 30 minutes. Some cooks like to add a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce while the risotto is cooking.

From “The Duke’s Table” by Enrico Alliata (2013, Melville House)