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cookbook review

Susie Middleton’s farm fresh recipes work every time

Susie Middleton’s third book is peppered with stories from her West Tisbury farm.

Susie Middleton’s third book is peppered with stories from her West Tisbury farm.

Former Fine Cooking magazine editor Susie Middleton knows a thing or two about second acts. Since the magazine, she has written a cookbook every other year. The last one, “The Fresh and Green Table,” was an ode to vegetables. Now that she started Green Island Farm, with chickens, in West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard, she has a third book, “Fresh From the Farm,” which chronicles these changes in images and text. Even if it isn’t a vegetarian book, it’s a vegetable romance.

Mini spinach and shallot quiches are party food, puff pastry tartlets baked in mini-muffin cups, which are rich, custardy, and gone almost as soon as you’ve popped them in your mouth. “Pink and green” radish and arugula salad with honey, almonds, and mint is a revelation. I never realized that peppery radish and arugula could benefit so much from a touch of sweetness.

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Angel hair pasta can be dull, mostly because there never seems to be enough other ingredients, and they get lost in the Rapunzel-like heap on the plate. Here, showers of caramelized shallots, favas, peas, mint, and crumbled pancetta make this the exception. I couldn’t get fresh angel hair, so I made it; even with my daughter’s help shelling beans and rolling pasta sheets, what I thought would be a 45-minute dinner turned into a 2-hour project. But it was worth it.

Roasted Parmesan-crusted cod comes with a trick that permanently solves the “no bread crumbs in the house” problem. Just blitz an English muffin in the food processor. The flavorful, crisp crust tastes subtly of mustard, while roasted vegetables tossed with balsamic vinegar and honey prove an adage I’ve long subscribed to: Salad dressing belongs not just on greens but also in the oven. A similar combination of dressing ingredients forms the marinade for a roast chicken, marrying with sweet orange slices to produce a fragrant, herb-kissed pan sauce.

I’m a great fan of over-the-top meatloafs, and it was hard for me to believe that if you subtract the bacon and add a pound of vegetables, you’ll still get something worth gobbling down. The meatloaf that results is not only recognizable but also comfortingly familiar, pumped up with Worcestershire and soy for umami allure.

A version of squash risotto pulls out all the stops. Deeply roasted little butternut chunks, cascades of Parmesan and thyme, and toasted pine nuts underscore the crisp corners of the roast squash, and just a little sweetness from apple cider. I thought I’d had every variation on stir-fried green beans known to humankind, but Middleton’s recipe has a couple of added attractions: inch-long pieces of scallions, blackened right in the pan along with the beans, and a little bit of brown sugar, which somehow brings home that trusty combination of ginger-garlic-soy.

Little pear crostatas with hazelnut crisp tops are rustic in appearance, if a little fussy to prepare in three parts. Making two parts in advance, as Middleton suggests, would easily remedy that. They’re sized to split, but the filling is a bit dense, and I would have preferred them half the size (to yield more crisp-per-person ratio).

Farm stories run in miniature through the margins of the entire book, jumping from one page to the next mid-sentence. This may be more distracting than helpful. Also, Middleton’s style has never been frugal with steps or equipment, and here and there I found myself cutting corners, tossing ingredients in a used but compatibly seasoned bowl, mixing in a measuring cup for easier pouring later, tossing salad greens in the serving dish instead of in a prep bowl. And I refuse to measure teaspoon (unless it’s a leavener or gelatin). Still, I recognize Middleton’s aim is exactness rather than fussiness. Indeed, every recipe came in spot-on, whether for time, temperature, or volume.

So my discomforts are just quibbles. The book has everything, and is artfully constructed and written with heart. The recipes are so attentive to flavor that they break right through two of my kids’ current phobias (fish is one, squash another). With her small farm thriving, I can only hope that Middleton’s next book will be an “egg romance,” a popular new genre among backyard chicken enthusiasts. I’ll expect it in two years.

T. Susan Chang can be reached at admin@tsusanchang.com.
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