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Local Flavors

Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets
by Deborah Madison

Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets

Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets is nearly two years old, but Spring (or any season, really) is a good time to take another look at it. While not completely meatless like her previous cookbooks (award-winners including The Greens Cookbook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, The Savory Way; and This Can’t Be Tofu!) it’s compulsory for the vegetarian kitchen, and a must-have for everyone else. True, you can respect fad-diet limitations with many of her recipes, but forget about it. Do you really want to deprive yourself of a Giant Popover with Chanterelles? Potato and Onion Salad with Smoked Albacore? Would you be happy knowing that you passed up Braised Root Vegetables with Black Lentils and Red Wine Sauce? And you haven’t even heard about the desserts.

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Eating is easy, but reading, writing or talking about it is fundamentally challenged by the absence of taste buds. Stick with the food writer that sets off hunger pangs, makes your mouth water and drives you into the kitchen. In Madison’s case, Local Flavors will also send you to the farmers’ market.

Local Flavors is both farmers market primer and cookbook. Read the passionate introduction, which includes important market tips, especially if you’re a market neophyte. From there, Madison travels across the country and across the seasons with 350 recipes, local-market-inspired menus, and plenty of authoritative information about seasonal produce. Her market vignettes are engaging and far-flung, from Hawaii and Santa Fe (Madison’s home) to the Arctic Circle and Birmingham, Alabama.

And what, exactly, makes Local Flavors so fabulous? Maybe it’s that Chez Panisse sensibility Madison infuses into every recipe. Great, fresh produce needs little inspiration and she knows that. So, while Sweet Potato Flan with Warm Molasses and Sesame Tuiles may sound and taste indulgent, it is simple. Sweet potatoes are the star, undistracted. Golden Pepper and Yellow Tomato Soup reminds that Fall is arriving. It’s bold and full-flavored, yet soft. Her rustic dishes are irresistible—Priest Stranglers (Strozzapreti) with Black Kale, Sage, and Potatoes is altogether garlicky and hearty. Winter Squash Risotto with Seared Radicchio is a rich meal by itself, but wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy it with a side of Grilled Sugar Loaf Chicories, hot from the coals.

The fifteen chapters of Local Flavors consider the total harvest: greens, herbs, vine produce, root and tubers, stone fruits, corn, crucifers like cabbages and kale, even eggs and cheese. There’s a lot more. Corn and beans get their own glorious chapter that includes a flawless Corn Pudding, an easy and meat-free Summer Posole, and sparkling Yellow Wax Beans with Lemon Thyme and Yellow Tomatoes—with just a splash of champagne vinegar.

The handful of meat, poultry and seafood dishes are consistent with the book’s vegetarian paradise—they are simple and superb. Chicken Thighs Braised with Dried Fruits, Shallots, and Bay; Red Snapper Baked in Parchment with Pummelo and Rosemary; and Lamb Shanks Braised with Onions and Rosemary are the likes of what you’ll find. Shrimp gets the Asian treatment: stir-fried with baby bok choy, snow peas and peas greens, and served with scallion crepes. Or leave out the shrimp and it’s still a vibrant dish.

Listen to one of Madison’s menus included in Local Flavors. She calls it A Simple Winter Supper in Southern California. It’s Date and Orange Salad with Feta Cheese and Pistachios, Pasta with Golden Fennel, and Feijoa Bavarian Cream. In case you are wondering, feijoas are also known as pineapple guavas. And, in case you have any more questions about this particular dessert—just know that it was delicious.

Reviewed by Kevin Schoeler

(Updated: 12/02/08 SB)

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