When I was offered a copy of The Farmers Market Cookbook by Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal in exchange for this review, I jumped at the opportunity.
I love cookbooks, and I especially love farm-to-table-type cookbooks that give me new ideas for using the fresh produce from my garden. Billed “the ultimate guide to enjoying fresh, local, seasonal produce,” The Farmers Market Cookbook joins such similar titles as The CSA Cookbook by Linda Ly and Local Flavors by Deborah Madison on my kitchen bookshelf.
I tend to read cookbooks cover to cover like I would read a novel. And then I start cooking, using what I have in the garden. Now that I’ve had a chance to read through The Farmers Market Cookbook and try out several recipes with my own fresh produce, I can say that it’s a welcome addition to my collection. And if you love cooking with fresh ingredients from the garden, farmers market, or CSA, you will enjoy it, too.
The Farmers Market Cookbook: A Review
When you are harvesting copious amounts of kale from the garden or your CSA box is filled with turnips, The Farmers Market Cookbook will answer the question, “What do I do with all this stuff?”
Cookbook authors Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal offer an easy and lighthearted approach to seasonal eating. They are professional chefs who once cooked together at Restaurant Nora in Washington, D.C. Both grow food – Shanks in her small urban garden and Grohsgal on an organic farm in Maryland. As they say in the introduction, their recipes follow the Italian tradition of simple preparations of exceptional ingredients.
True to their word, The Farmers Market Cookbook is full of recipes that feature flexible ingredient lists and simple instructions. Even better, the authors suggest plenty of substitutions and alternative preparations that make it easy to adapt the recipes to the ingredients you have on hand or to accommodate dietary preferences. Take Brussels Sprouts “Carbonara,” for example. The traditional Italian version of the dish uses bacon or pancetta. You don’t eat pork? Use chicken thighs instead. You don’t eat meat? Just use olive oil. Shanks and Grohsgal make it easy for you to make the recipe your own.
A spirit of good fun pervades the recipes, emphasizing that these are foods that are meant to be enjoyed and not taken too seriously. For example, the ingredient list for Classic Italian Greens and Garlic Soup includes one bottle of “good to very good wine, red or white.” But the wine isn’t meant for cooking, as the recipe directions make clear: “The wine is for you to drink, especially if you needn’t return to work.”
Along with inspired recipes, The Farmers Market Cookbook offers some basic resources that will be helpful to those new to seasonal cooking. The book’s first few chapters include culinary profiles of the various produce one is likely to find at the farmers market or in a CSA box, guides for storing fresh produce, and instructions for techniques like washing leafy greens, blanching, and shocking.
Also helpful to newcomers is the format. In contrast to other farm- or garden-to-table cookbooks that are organized by type of produce or season, the Farmers Market Cookbook is organized by course – breakfast, appetizers, soups and salads, etc. This traditional format may be more user-friendly than a seasonally-organized format for those who are unsure of when a particular kind of produce is in season. And for those seeking ideas for using a specific type of produce, The Farmers Market Cookbook is indexed by ingredient as well as course.
While the format and front matter of the cookbook seem to be geared toward beginners, other aspects make it less well-suited for the inexperienced cook. Unfamiliar ingredients (medjool dates, gumbo file powder, Provencal herb mix) or imprecise measurements (a “bunch” of greens, “plenty” of tomatoes) may confuse. Recipes do not include the number of servings. (A note at the beginning of Chapter 4 states that recipes generally yield four to six servings depending on whom you’re serving and what you are serving with the dish.) And beyond the beautiful cover photographs, the only images are a few black and white illustrations of ingredients. The book has no photographs to show what the finished dish is supposed to look like.
Of course, confident cooks will barely notice those downsides. For those who love to cook with fresh, seasonal ingredients, The Farmers Market Cookbook is likely to become an enduring source of culinary inspiration.
The Farmers Market Cookbook: Two Recipes
To give you just a taste (yes, pun intended) of the easy yet delicious recipes you will find in The Farmers Market Cookbook, I am sharing two that I have enjoyed using fresh produce from my kitchen garden. Note that I am not reprinting the recipes in the standard recipe format in which they appear in the book; rather, I am using an active format reflecting how I actually prepared them. Both recipes yielded two generous servings.
Roasted Radishes with Butter and Soy
I had never eaten cooked radishes before trying this recipe. However, roasting the radishes in butter seemed to tame some of the excess heat that large, late season radishes tend to take on.
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Wash, trim, and quarter:
- 7 large scarlet globe radishes
Heat an an ovenproof skillet on medium-high. Add:
- 1 T butter
When butter has melted, add the radishes and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in:
- 1 T soy sauce
Put the pan in the oven and roast radishes for 5 minutes. Just before serving, squeeze a little lemon juice over the top, to taste. Serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices.
Classic Italian Greens and Garlic Soup
This recipe calls for any type of prewashed cooking greens, such as kale, collards, arugula, or bok choy. I used some beautiful Swiss chard from my garden, chopping up a few of the chard stalks to saute with the garlic. The recipes suggest several different types of pasta that can be used; I chose three-cheese tortellini. The soup was delicious served with crusty bread and, yes, a good bottle of white wine.
In a large soup pot, heat:
- 1 T olive oil
Add to the pot and saute:
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup chopped Swiss chard stems
When vegetables are soft, add:
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1 quart chicken broth
Bring liquid to a boil. Add:
- 1/4 pound cheese tortellini
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
Continue boiling until pasta is just cooked. Remove pot from heat and stir in:
- 10 ounces prewashed Swiss chard leaves, stems removed and greens coarsely chopped
Ladle soup into bowls and top each bowl with:
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh basil
Purchase The Farmers Market Cookbook
To purchase your own copy of The Farmers Market Cookbook from Amazon.com, click on the image below.
I received a copy of The Farmers Market Cookbook in exchange for this review; however, all opinions expressed herein are my own.