Susie Middleton's New Cookbook Puts Vegetables In Starring Role
This month, Susie Middleton of SixBurnerSue.com released her second book, The Fresh & Green Table, a cookbook that sets vegetables at the center of the table. The clearly-written recipes help cookbook readers build a meal around vegetable-based main dishes.
Middleton, who lives and writes on Martha's Vineyard, answered some questions about the new cookbook, how she balances blogging and all the other demands of her busy life, and why it's so important to learn all we can about how to feast on healthy, seasonal produce.
Genie Gratto: In your first cookbook, you focused on vegetable side dishes, but this time around, vegetables are the star of the show. Why did you shift your focus?
Susie Middleton: I think side dishes are a great entry point for people who want to eat and cook more vegetables, so in Fast, Fresh & Green I offered nine different techniques for cooking delicious side dishes. I hoped (and it seems to have come true!) the book would offer people a whole new repertoire of vegetable sides—dishes that are fun and interesting to cook, but that everyone in the family will love to eat.
In my new book, The Fresh & Green Table, I invite people to take an even bolder step—to incorporate more vegetables into main dishes, too. Since I’m not a vegetarian—just a vegetable lover—and I’m very sensitive to what people really like to eat after my years as editor of Fine Cooking magazine—I thought the best way to do this was by offering familiar types of dishes, like salads, pastas, soups, egg dishes, and even pizza. Main dishes that just happen to feature vegetables!
I think everyone wants to eat more vegetables, so there’s no need to relegate them to the side. When you can make a Fresh Corn, Zucchini, Onion & Basil Frittata or Spaghetti with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes & Spicy Garlic Oil for supper, why not? But I’m not actually suggesting that every meal be just about the vegetables. I love the idea of making a veggie “main dish” and having a little meat on the side. By learning different ways to incorporate veggies into main dishes, you can go either way—all veggies on Meatless Monday, and a little bit less meat (best for all of us and the planet) the rest of the week.
It may be a little bit of a shift to think of veggies at the center of the plate, but if you just think of adjusting portion sizes, you can wrap your head around a big serving of Mediterranean Zucchini, Tomato & Bell Pepper Tian with a little bit of grilled fish or steak on the side.
GG: What has surprised you most about developing vegetable-based main dish recipes?
SM: The possibilities for vegetable main dishes are endless once you start to think about it! I had to narrow the types of dishes for this book—so maybe I’ll write another! To keep veggie main dishes interesting and filling, it helps to lean towards including at least one vegetable with deeply satisfying flavor (the “umami” factor), like mushrooms, onions, eggplant, sweet potatoes; or to include a bit of grains or pasta. I even occasionally use a small amount of meat as a flavor booster. For instance, most of the soups in the book, including the delicious Fall Farmers’ Market Minestrone, are completely vegetarian. But for one soup, the Tuscan Kale and White Bean Soup, I added a little bit of pancetta to make a quick, flavorful weeknight broth.