I’m sure this has happened to you: You spy some piece of produce that looks great and interesting at the market (farmers, super or otherwise), and then you get home and think, “What the heck do I do now?”
Cara Mangini knows you well, because you’re just the customer she was hired to help as one of the first “vegetable butchers” at New York City’s Eataly. “Customers walked right up to me with their produce for purchase and I would clean it, peel it, slice it, and prime it,” she writes in her new cookbook, “The Vegetable Butcher.” “I shredded cabbage, shelled fava beans, shaved celery root, and prepped case after case of baby artichokes. . . . I discovered that even the most sophisticated foodies didn’t always know the best way to cut and prepare vegetables, and needed some inspiration and encouragement.”
These days, Mangini is the owner of a produce-focused restaurant, Little Eater, in Columbus, Ohio, along with a produce stand and store in the city’s North Market. And her book is an encyclopedic guide to vegetables, featuring her favorite techniques for breaking them down and recipes for enticing ways to cook them. Along the way, she includes tips on seasonality, selection, storage and more.
The book is full of revelations: that the redder stalks of rhubarb aren’t quite as sour as the greener ones; that standing fresh corn on a kitchen towel before cutting helps you easily contain the falling kernels; that scoring eggplant halves helps the seasonings penetrate the flesh while roasting.
Those with advanced knife skills and lots of experience cooking vegetables might not need some of the directions on cutting and basic cooking, but even they might be pleasantly surprised by some of the thoughtful, yet simple recipes. The next time I spy beautiful beets at the farmers market, I’ll be boiling, smashing and searing them (the way I have for years loved to treat small potatoes) and combining them with chimichurri and crema, as Mangini instructs.
For now, I’ve been happy to have her take on eggplant steaks: You cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, roast with garlicky oil and serve with salsa verde and yogurt. Any recipe that includes a green sauce like this one catches my fancy. (It’s the Italian variety that’s heavy on herbs, not the Mexican one based on tomatillos, although I love that one, too.) As Mangini knows, not only can a salsa verde perk up any dish you slather it on, it’s also a fantastic way to use up herbs that are starting to wilt.
Every market shopper who cares about produce can appreciate that.
Mangini will join the Free Range chat with readers on Wednesday at noon: live.washingtonpost.com.
These thick, juicy “steaks” get much of their flavor from the garlicky oil that works its way into slits in the flesh during roasting. The salsa verde gives them zip.
Serve with couscous or another grain of your choice.
MAKE AHEAD: The salsa verde needs to be refrigerated for at least 1 hour and preferably overnight.
Adapted from “The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables From Artichokes to Zucchini,” by Cara Mangini (Workman, 2016).
For the salsa verde
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves and tender stems
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or more as needed
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the eggplant
2 Italian, globe or heirloom eggplants (12 ounces to 1 pound each)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cooked couscous, for serving (optional)
1 cup low-fat or full-fat plain Greek yogurt, for serving
For the salsa verde: Finely chop the garlic in a food processor. Add the parsley, cilantro, mint and the capers, if using. Pulse to form a coarse mixture. Transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the lemon juice, salt and pepper, then stream in the oil, whisking constantly. Taste, and add salt and/or pepper as needed. The yield is about 1 cup. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.
For the eggplant: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, keeping the stems on. Make several slashes diagonally across the flesh, 1/2 inch apart, scoring two-thirds of the way through the flesh without puncturing the underside skin.
Combine the garlic and oil in a small bowl, then spoon about a tablespoon over each eggplant half, working the mixture into the cuts. Brush it lightly on the skin side, too.
Arrange the eggplant halves cut sides up on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the flesh lightly with salt and pepper, then drizzle with the remaining garlic-and-oil mixture to coat. Roast until the flesh is golden brown and tender, about 40 minutes.
Allow the eggplants to cool slightly. Serve the steaks warm with couscous, if desired, the salsa verde and a dollop or drizzle of Greek yogurt.
Nutrition | Per serving (using half the salsa verde and low-fat yogurt): 380 calories, 8 g protein, 14 g carbohydrates, 34 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 160 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar
Recipe tested by Joe Yonan; e-mail questions to email@example.com
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