Market Ready: Cookbooks For Summer

It’s summer, and although most of use don’t want to heat up the kitchen with long-cooking dinners on a hot stove, it’s also the best time to get fresh local ingredients. What’s a hungry bachelor to do?

Well, the first step is to learn what to do with all that great, fresh food. NPR’s Susan Chang has been exploring summer cookbooks.

Whenever I’m in a farmers market, I always find myself wishing I were one of those cooks who buy ‘what looks good’ and then go home and … improvise. Alas, the fount of my invention does not run so deep. For years, I’ve thought there ought to be a farmers market cookbook organized by ingredient — a portable index you could take with you so you’re not scared to buy the Japanese eggplant when it’s sitting there, looking like a movie star — so perfect, so glamorous, but so unapproachable.”

As many of you know, there has been an explosion in interest in food. There are so many food blogs there’s even a blog about food blogs! And have you seen the cookbook section of the local bookstore? Or the library? There are books about every possible type of cooking, cuisine, style, diet, age, personality and region. That’s why I didn’t want to have a cooking blog, because I know there are better sources than anything I can come up with.

The wonderful thing about cookbooks, ‘though, is that they offer all kinds of ideas, things you might not have thought of doing. This is especially important for the budding bachelor cook. There are more ways to fix vegetables than just boiling, steaming, burying in sauce or eating raw with fattening dip. That’s where Chang’s wish comes in.

“Well, guess what? After literally years of anticipation, the eat-local revolution has hit the mainstream. You can’t turn around in the cookbook section without being photographically bombarded by wheelbarrows and market carts of zaftig, color-saturated summer produce. There are books that look at produce by the season. There are books organized by the techniques you use to cook them. And needless to say, there are books organized by ingredient — just as I wished for once upon a time. We could have used these books years ago, but now that we have them it’s dang near impossible to choose.”

Throughout the coming days and weeks, we’ll be looking at some of the latest crop of summer cookbooks, with the help of Susan Chang.

I think the place to start is a general book about general food. That would be:

Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce: A Guide to Easy-to-Make Dishes with Fresh Organic Fruits & Vegetables, by Cathy Thomas, hardcover, 336 pages, list price: $29.95. Chang describes this as a book that won’t help you with exotic ingredients, but will give you some good ideas for the foods that are in season now.

The eat-local revolution is about eating the best of what there is, when you can get it. And Melissa’s, the California-based international specialty produce distributor, does its best to push the limits of season and geography so you can have your kumquats and your Valencia oranges just when they’re available. But for this book, Melissa’s concentrated on more commonly available fruits and vegetables. It’s more like an alphabetical, quick-reference greatest hits of produce than a complete works. If you’re browsing a spring market, you won’t find any help here for your ramps and fiddleheads, but you’ll do fine with A for Asparagus (Rosemary Spaghetti with Roasted Asparagus.) There are a few protein recipes, such as Grilled Pork tenderloin with Fresh Cherry Relish, each designed to highlight a fruit or vegetable. In general, the book lives up to its promise of “everyday” food; these are homey, easygoing recipes of the sort that you might see in a community cookbook. You might see a sorbet or stir-fry or fruit salsa, but you won’t find a tagine, gravlax or anything cooked sous-vide.

Some of these recipes might seem a bit over your head. I know some of them are over mine. But it’s an idea, especially if you’re looking for a gift for your favorite bachelor.

We’ll have more books later.

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