Michael Anthony wants vegetables to be pigs. OK, not exactly. But as he writes in his new cookbook, he wants home cooks to be able to look at a box of produce and envision a delicious meal just as easily as they could see a pig and envision bacon. With “V is for Vegetables,” the New York City chef aims to help home cooks easily capture the seasonal bounty of markets in their kitchens.
This is not a cheffy tome or a vanity project. Anthony created the recipes in a home kitchen, not at Untitled or Gramercy Tavern. They’re short and mostly quick, but he adds a smart technique here and a surprising ingredient there in the hopes of creating a unique but accessible result.
Q. How do you get cooks who are unfamiliar with vegetables to the point where they can look at that basket of produce, as you write, and imagine all the things they can do with it?
I think it’s about trying to drive home the story that when you eat something that’s grown close to home and is connected to you culturally and seasonally, there’s an added appeal. Buy high-quality food from someone you know who grows it close by, get it to the kitchen, and eat it quickly. That’s what makes it delicious. I don’t know why we would look at that as some kind of luxury. It’s the essence of what any good eating is about.
Q. I find your recipes’ breezy approach to be so refreshing. I just made the caramelized cauliflower, which I loved, and was struck by how you call for the cauliflower to be just “chopped,” not “cut into ½-inch pieces” or the florets separated just so.
I am really enamored with the idea that people would read the book, feel a sense of inspiration, gather some essential ingredients, and then close the book and cook from their own intuition. I realize that’s a little scary for some people, and maybe it doesn’t happen on the first time, but I would hope that in time, people would feel that sense of confidence.
Whether you cut the cauliflower three-quarters of an inch, or you decide that it tastes better in bigger pieces, that’s a very personal decision and it’s not up to me. It’s up to the person making the recipe. People get hung up on those fine details, but that’s not the essence of the dish. The essence is that you brown that cauliflower, throw in some colorful, fresh peppers of your choice, and then eat it quickly while it’s still warm.
Q. Besides cauliflower, what are some other vegetables you find particularly inspiring this time of year?
Jerusalem artichokes are so underestimated and this underrecognized vegetable that grows so well, especially on the East Coast. I love their versatility and sweet flavor. The fact that we can keep them either in the ground in a root cellar for so long makes them really practical. There’s Hakurei turnips, sometimes called Tokyo turnips. They’re sweet, crunchy and really amazing.
Cabbage fits into the same category for me.
Q. What are your favorite techniques for getting the most out of vegetables?
I like the simple techniques of canning, infusing in oils, salting and pickling in vinegar. All of those basic natural methods of preservation were inherent to our culture. If you dial back the clock before World War II, it was common knowledge in any American home how to put up vegetables from the garden. Everyone did it.
Here’s another simple one. I know that not everyone has super-duper appliances at home, but most everybody has a bar blender or some means of pureeing soups. I think that you can really take things like beans and most vegetables for a ride by offering them in a couple of different forms.