Two years ago, when Susie Middleton, former editor and current editor-at-large for Fine Cooking, published “Fresh, Fast, and Green,” I thought of it as a sleeper hit. With its understated design and powerfully flavor-packed vegetable recipes, it was the underdog that dominated an increasingly packed category of summer vegetable books.
In her new “The Fresh & Green Table,” Middleton, a resident of Martha’s Vineyard, emphasizes vegetables at the center of the plate. Though her recipes call for more effort than you may customarily apply to vegetables, they’re also self-sufficient. There is something immensely satisfying about being able to make a meal out of nothing more than what you brought home from a farmers’ market.
Asparagus abounded the week we tested this book. A salad of grilled asparagus and portobello makes the most of them. With a flavorful sesame-ginger marinade and their own meaty heft, the mushrooms stand up to the fierce kiss of the grill and set off the natural sweetness of the green stalks. Asparagus and leek bisque coaxes the buttery, springlike character out of the same vegetable. While the stated yield is four, it would be more accurate to say “Serves 4 who would happily help themselves to thirds, if there were any.”
Middleton has a sure hand with pasta, which provides an easy route to turning vegetables into a main dish. There are a couple of surprise visitors in her gemelli with buttery leeks, baby spinach, and tender mushrooms: orange juice and ginger. They’re enough to lift the dish right out of its bland predictability. In the same way, she adds golden, skillet-melted fennel and a modified vodka sauce to a baked pasta dish, providing just enough moisture so that it comes out bubbling and crisp in all the right places. And her version of peanut noodles explodes with crunchy textures — snow peas, sugar snaps, red cabbage, and peanuts.
The Fresh & Green Table
Savory bread pudding with Tuscan kale, bacon, scallions, and maple bakes into a surprisingly light, eggy custard. It’s a filling dish for cool nights, if a bit on the bready side. Individual Swiss chard gratins are about as fussy as this book gets (I count two prep bowls, three pots, four ramekins), but they make a delicate, dressed-up vegetable.
Warm wheat berries with roasted Brussels sprouts, toasted walnuts, and dried cranberries may dramatically improve your opinion of wheat berries, though it’s really the orange-maple-
balsamic dressing that will catch your attention. Quinoa with apricots, toasted pine nuts, and sugar snaps does not manage to revise my household’s feelings about quinoa (that would be a miracle), but it’s a good effort that will charm more redeemed souls.
Crispy red potato patties with warm Asian slaw and limey sauce are an absolute showstopper. By the end of dinner, everyone is pressing fingers on the baking tray to pick up stray potato crumbs. Both the kid who hates mayonnaise and the kid who thinks she hates garlic are licking the sauce bowl, faces covered in their least favorite ingredients.
Middleton’s techniques are detailed and sometimes exacting enough that I find myself making deals and asking questions. Can I use four thick instead of eight thin asparagus stalks? Can I do this faster with a stick blender? Can I strain the pasta water right into the measuring cup? The answers are usually yes. But the point is that these recipes work beautifully as written. That they can tolerate a bit of variation and common sense is a feature rather than a fault.