A British-born chef’s top-to-tail vegetables
Fans of April Bloomfield’s nose-to-tail cooking might be surprised to hear the British-born chef enthusiastically announce, “Produce is amazing!” But before Bloomfield, 40, launched her West Village gastropub, The Spotted Pig, for which she has received a Michelin star, or wrote her successful cookbook “A Girl and Her Pig,” she honed her skills in restaurant kitchens, where vegetables were the stars of the menu.
In London, Bloomfield worked with Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray at the River Cafe and recalls being “swept up by all of their obsessions” with vegetables. In California, she joined the kitchen at Chez Panisse to work under Alice Waters, the longtime evangelist for local, organic produce.
Bloomfield has collected 80 recipes that showcase the flavors she loves from seasonal vegetables in “A Girl and Her Greens.” Says the chef, “I want to show how to let the vegetables speak for themselves. But it’s the details that take it to another level.”
Q. When you’re creating a menu, do you start with vegetables or meat?
A. It really depends where I am. If I’m at home and looking through cookbooks and see a recipe for leg of lamb and I can taste the lamb and it’s all salty and delicious, I would start with the protein. But I could be walking through a market and see some amazing vegetable that speaks to me. I love vegetables equally as much as meat. I get to cook a lot of meat and am known for that. A lot of people don’t think of me as a vegetable person, but I do have a real passion for cooking and eating them.
Q. What about as a child?
A. I loved vegetables growing up, things like peas and broccoli. I loved sprouts, hot buttered cabbage with a little black pepper. I enjoyed the things that were a bit more floral and feminine. Things like celery root and parsnips were a bit more difficult. But I now love how versatile they are. I love that when you cook them well, you’re not missing the meat.
Q. You cook vegetables with pork or anchovies, so you’re not making vegetarian sides.
A. They work well together, especially if they’re used in a way that you’re fortifying the vegetable a little bit, taking it up a level. When you use a little bacon fat or anchovy, you’re adding to the vegetables, but you never get to the point that they’re heavy. It just needs to be a tiny amount to add some umami. You’re just giving it a nudge, elevating this humble vegetable into something more elegant and beautiful.
Q. How do you bring your top-to-tail approach to the subject of vegetables?
A. We waste a lot don’t we? As a chef you’re trained not to waste anything. It’s respect for the thing that you’re eating or growing. Economy-wise, you don’t want to waste food. It’s also a soulful thing. Using all the stalks and leaves lets the vegetables shine. It’s about leaving the skin on when it’s tender and taking it off when it’s tough.
Q. What are we likely throwing away, but shouldn’t?
A. Any kind of stalk. A lot of people throw away broccoli stalks and they can be the sweetest part of the broccoli. Just peel them a bit and they add a lot. At the restaurant, we don’t throw away the leaves of cauliflower. We use the whole thing in our pot-roasted cauliflower. If we’re breaking it up, we just toss the leaves in. It’s so good and it’s tasty.
Q. What makes you a fan of “the humble potato,” as you call it in the book?
A. They’re kind of like a vessel. You can add butter or cream and make a lovely mashed potato or add some lardo like we do at the restaurants. They’re really good at absorbing flavors. I like putting potatoes in curries. If I was put on a desert island and the only things I could take were potatoes and some pork fat, I would be happy. Look for fresh-dug potatoes — they normally come out in the summer and fall. Look for the ones that are a little dirty, but have thin skins. Throw them in some heavily salted water then top them with butter and some lovely mint from the farmers’ market. These humble things can be earth moving.
Q. What other things are you looking forward to at the farmers’ market?
A. I’d love anything green. Green galore. Peas, favas, fiddleheads, ramps. What’s particularly enjoyable is when you have them at the same time and can have this medley. I love the seasons. It really gives you something to look forward to. It’s worth going through a long winter to have this tiny morsel of pea or ramp and be able to cook with it. If you can have everything in life all the time, it’s kind of boring, isn’t it?
April Bloomfield will talk about “A Girl and Her Greens” and cook recipes from the book on May 12 at noon at Northeastern University’s Xhibition Kitchen, Stetson West Eatery, 11 Speare Place, Boston, 617-373-2472. Also on May 12 at 5:30 p.m., Bloomfield and Townsman chef-owner Matt Jennings will prepare a dinner inspired by the book. Townsman, 120 Kingston St., Boston, 617-993-0750.