Pros: Wonderful combination of flavors, techniques, and creativity
Cons: Might be a bit fancier than some will be expecting from the title
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Review book (published 2010) provided courtesy of Chronicle Books.
Susie Middleton’s Fast, Fresh & Green is all about quick, delicious ways to prepare vegetables you will want to eat! (Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean vegetarian, although many of these recipes would qualify.) My only reservation is that the title of the book might be mildly misleading; I doubt people will quite be expecting dishes that start with “silky braised fennel” and the like in a cookbook with a title that starts with “fast.” As long as you’re expecting it, though, it’s wonderful—so now you’ve been forewarned.
There are a couple of chapters up front to help you load up your pantry with useful items and figure out how best to buy and store fresh vegetables. Most of the recipes do qualify as fairly quick—they’re designed to be ready in 20-45 minutes for the most part.
The first recipe chapter covers “quick-roasting,” or roasting for a short period of time at high heat. I particularly like the Sweet Potato “Mini-Fries” with Limey Dipping Sauce and Spiced Salt; they came out remarkably well for oven-roasted fries. Susie also provides a foundation recipe that you can use for quick-roasting nearly any vegetable; together with the chart of roasting times for various vegetables, I think you’ll find it very handy. It also comes with a basic set of instructions for creating flavored butters to go with your roasted vegetables. Lest you think that everything in this chapter is hearty fare, however, it also covers things like Roasted Beet, Orange, and Mache Salad with Goat Cheese and Toasted Walnuts. It even goes sweet with Vanilla and Cardamom Glazed Acorn Squash Rings.
Quick-Braising comes next. It involves a quick searing for flavor, followed by a simmer in a small amount of liquid for tenderness. Again, Ms. Middleton provides a foundation recipe that can be adapted to many vegetables, followed by more specific ideas. You might try Quick-Braised Green Beans with Pomegranate-Balsamic Pan Sauce, or Creole Vegetable Ragout with Corn, Okra, and Cherry Tomatoes. The Braised Fingerlings with Rosemary and Mellow Garlic, however, are to-die-for!
Next is a Hands-On Sauteeing chapter. As usual it includes a foundation recipe with a chart of cooking times. I was rather partial to the Mahogany Mushrooms, which were surprisingly flavorful; I still want to get around to making the Corn Saute with Chile and Lime, and the Brown Butter Summer Squash “Linguine.” The following Walk-Away Sauteeing chapter deals with lower, slower heat, and introduces recipes like Gingery Sweet Potatoes and Apple Saute with Toasted Almonds, or Dark and Crispy Pan-Fried Red Potatoes.
The Two-Stepping chapter covers recipes in which you first boil the vegetable, then use another technique such as sauteeing to finish off the recipe. Mmmm, Brown-Butter Asparagus with Pine Nuts. Or Tuscan Kale with Maple, Ginger, and Pancetta. This is followed by a No Cooking chapter, with items such as slaws and salads (Double-Lemon Ginger Carrot Salad, anyone?). And of course, who could resist including a Stir-Frying chapter when we’re talking vegetables (Speedy Stir-Fried Asparagus; Stir-Fried Carrots with Ginger, Lime, and Cilantro)?
Don’t worry, Middleton didn’t leave out Grilling! She still includes a foundation recipe, a cooking time chart, and some tips on grilling vegetables in general. Then she gets into specifics with Grilled Green Beans with Thyme-Dijon Butter, Grilled Baby Potatoes with Creamy Lemon Dressing, and more. Now, you’d think that would be enough for a book like this, but there’s a bit more: Baking Gratins. There are still tips and a foundation recipe, as well as delicious specifics like Slow-Roasted Heirloom Tomato Gratin, and Harvest Gratin of Butternut Squash, Corn, and Leeks.
Finally, there’s a nice index that (thankfully!) does a great job of listing potential recipes by ingredient, not just technique.
Anyone who thinks that fresh vegetables are bland or boring owes it to themselves to get a copy of Fast, Fresh and Green. It does use some not-so-cheap ingredients in places, but there are still plenty of recipes for anyone to enjoy, and the foundation recipes themselves are very handy to have.