Even we professionals can get into a cooking rut from time to time. This time of the year we’ve got the best of summer and fall produce converging — and yet still I find myself relying on the same old dishes. The stir-fries, the pastas, the chopped salads.
Just when I was scratching my head, wondering what the next creative thing to do with vegetables might be, along comes Mollie Katzen with a 450-plus-page set of answers.
Katzen, of course, is the woman who gave us “The Moosewood Cookbook,” which has sold millions since its debut in the 1970s. She has written 11 more cookbooks since. Spend time talking to Katzen, as I’ve had the pleasure of doing, and it’s obvious she delights in cooking — and in vegetarian cooking, of course (even though she’s not a strict vegetarian). Actually, that delight is just as obvious when you read her cookbooks, all of them illustrated by her.
The newest is “The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), and in it Katzen encourages improvisation, offers optional “enhancements” galore and proclaims the glories of a lighter, sharper style of cooking no longer so dependent on cheesy, rich additions. As a newbie vegetarian cook wanting my own cooking to glorify, not hide, vegetables, I see her more clarified approach as a godsend.
Take the Mushroom Popover Pie I made for an easy dinner (and again for lunch) last week. It comes together in little more time than it takes to cook down mushrooms in butter and to whirl together a three-ingredient batter in the blender. The batter is poured over the mushrooms in the skillet, and the thing bakes up almost like a clafoutis, that French dessert of cherries suspended in a custardy pancake. In this case, the edges get crisp and puffy like a popover’s, and the interior stays creamy. The mushrooms, deepened with thyme and a heavy dose of black pepper, infuse the whole thing with an earthiness.
As with other favorite recipes, I immediately thought of the next several ways I’ll try it: maybe adding arugula to those mushrooms or subbing in some butternut squash, don’t you think?
Katzen didn't suggest any such “enhancements” here, but it didn't matter. I was inspired enough.