Summer! So Where Do Really Interesting Vegetables Belong? At the Center of the Plate!

Buy it on Amazon.

How much water does it take to grow your favorite foods? Beef: 3 million gallons of water per ton. (Slaughtering and processing beef requires another 132 gallons of water per animal.) In contrast, vegetables need 85,000 gallons per ton. (Put another way, that’s 5.4 gallons of water for a head of broccoli, 3.3 gallons for one tomato.)

What can one person do to save the most precious resource on the planet? If you change your diet to replace 50 percent of animal products with plants, that reduces your food-related water footprint by 30%. Go vegetarian and you reduce your water footprint by almost 60%.

Most people like animal protein; if you’re like me, you don’t want to become a vegetarian. We all know — we hear it incessantly — that a smart serving of animal protein looks like a deck of cards or your closed fist. That represents a change of diet for many of us. Not a radical change, but a change that leaves a vast area of your plate to be filled by vegetables — which, if you’re like me, you cook in unimaginative ways.

Three cookbooks I use often do right by vegetables. At Home with May and Axel Vervoordt: Recipes for Every Season is gorgeous and inspiring about a lot more than cooking. But above it is sensible — it includes recipes for meat. The second is V Is for Vegetables: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks — from Artichokes to Zucchini, which is also beautifully written and photographed. The other is this book. Don’t be fooled by the title — it’s also dotted with recipes for meat. Just not a lot. (If you have a favorite vegetable cookbook, I’d like to hear about it.)

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Patricia Wells, an American living in Paris, started her cookbook series in the traditional way — with a book about bistros. She moved up the food chain to fine Paris restaurants, then wandered south to Provence and the Trattoria cooking of Italy.

And now this book on vegetables.

“Vegetable Harvest” establishes Patricia Wells as Julia Child for the new millennium. She’s not a frothing New Ager, telling you to heap your plate with vegetables because meat is sinful — she’s just a close observer of traditional French cooking. That is, meat/fish/poultry prominent on the plate, just cooked with vegetables or surrounded by them. [To buy “Vegetable Harvest” from Amazon, click here.]

To that good sense, she’s added some welcome information: nutritional data about the dish — Tomato and Strawberry Gazpacho (below) is 27 calories per serving, with 1 gram of protein and 6 grams of carbohydrates, and a suggestion of a smart wine. And she’s not above serving up the odd fact about her subjects (did you know that, in the 16th century, Europeans considered the tomato as an aphrodisiac?).

“Vegetable Harvest” is an encyclopedia of recipes — it’s 300 pages, with almost no commentary. Most are simple, requiring few exotic ingredients or advanced techniques. I’m particularly excited about the soups, but judging from the recipes I’ve tried and the pages I’ve turned down, there’s a lot here to love in every category — including meat and fish.

TOMATO AND STRAWBERRY GAZPACHO
Serves 8

1 pound fresh tomatoes, NOT peeled, but rinsed, cored and quartered
1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed and stemmed
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

In a food processor or blender, puree tomatoes and strawberries. Add vinegar and blend. Taste for seasoning. Chill thoroughly. Serve in small, clear glasses.

ASPARAGUS BRAISED WITH FRESH ROSEMARY AND BAY LEAVES
Serves 4

16 plump spears white or green asparagus
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
several sprigs fresh rosemary
several bay leaves, preferably fresh

Rinse the asparagus and trim the rough ends. In a skillet large enough to hold all the asparagus in a single layer, combine the asparagus, oil, salt, rosemary and bay leaves.  Sprinkle with several tablespoons of cold water. Cover. Cook over high heat until the oil-water mixture starts to sizzle. Reduce the heat to medium and braise the asparagus, turning from time to time, just until the asparagus starts to brown in spots — 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Serve immediately.

This article originally appeared on The Head Butler.

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