By Sabina Mollot
The executive chef as well as a partner at three Danny Meyer-owned restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern, has just released a cookbook devoted to the art of cooking vegetable-based dishes.
For Michael Anthony, this book, V is for Vegetables: Inspired Recipes & Techniques for Home Cooks from Artichokes to Zucchini ($25 at bn.com, hardcover), is his second. The first, published in 2012, was The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook.
This time, Anthony said he wanted to focus on dishes that, while not necessarily vegetarian, are cooked around vegetables, instead of relegating them to sides. Both he and Meyer will be discussing the so-called “vegetable forward” concept, now a norm at two of Meyer’s restaurants, at an event at Barnes & Noble on November 30.
Anthony also discussed the concept with Town & Village this week, saying the idea of the book was to make veggies enticing — and easy — for anyone to cook at home.
“V is for Vegetables is not about restaurant cooking,” said Anthony. “We all lead busy lives. It’s hard to work a full schedule and then have to get to a cutting board and cook for a hungry family. I have three kids and if it’s not done in 25 minutes, everyone’s upset.”
Additionally, he said, “Cleanup shouldn’t take more time than it took to cook the dinner.”
V is for Vegetables is not however, a vegetarian cookbook.
“Meat and fish are in some of the recipes to show it’s not a style of cooking that involves any deprivation,” he said. “It’s about pleasure, but vegetables dominate the idea.”
For Anthony, the effort to highlight vegetables came from wanting to prepare foods that were distinctly New York.
“For the last nine years at Gramercy Tavern we’ve been challenging ourselves to cook vegetables, which we consider a direct gateway to looking at how distinct eating can be in New York and in our region,” he said. “What’s different about eating in this city compared to all the other wonderful places we’ve eaten? How do we create lasting memories? At Gramercy Tavern, we do this in the main dining room menu using vegetables that are seasonal, not necessarily vegetarian but expressing our feelings of what it is distinct of here at this time and in this place. It’s not just an option out for people who don’t eat other stuff. If we talk about vegetarian, we’re talking about excluding some things we love to eat.”
In keeping with eating locally, shopping for groceries at greenmarkets or through a CSA is something Anthony recommends, adding that this can be done affordably with some planning.
“For less money than it takes to go to the supermarket, you can actually cook for your family using fresh food from the greenmarket,” he said. “People leave (the greenmarket) with a big heavy bag of vegetables. How do you then turn it into three meals instead of one recipe from a cookbook? We need to look at food not as a collection of recipes, but a continuation, a constant. That allows us to eat economically and healthily. There should be a continuation from the last meal. Re-purposing and preparing foods that make the next meal easier and faster.”
Anthony also delved into the subject of organic vs. inorganic vegetables and whether it really makes a difference.
“It’s a question I get all the time,” he said, adding that while “it is a big deal,” he feels buying locally grown produce is more important than whether an item is organic.
“The organic movement historically has always deserved our attention,” he said. “But we’ve been cheated as consumers. The American organic label has been so watered down, so twisted, it’s no longer a source of confidence. What I tend to do is encourage people to eat real food from close to home. If you buy at a farmer’s market you can ask questions and decide for yourself if you like how it’s grown without pesticides. It’s very expensive (for farmers to get organic certification) so I do not use the organic label as a reference point for making my decisions. The story of what it is to eat in the northeast is much more important to me than what its carbon footprint is or what its label is.”
Anthony is also a fan of CSAs (Community Sponsored Agriculture) and gets a box of produce from a CSA he belongs to every Friday.
In V is for Vegetables, he included recipes based on some of those items.
“People pull vegetables out of their CSA box and say what is this?,” he said. “I’m not sure everyone’s familiar with a Jerusalem artichoke or a kohlrabi.”
As for the latter vegetable, “Not only is it grown all over the northeast, it’s one of the most delicious things you can eat because it’s super crunchy and mouth watering, kind of like water chestnuts,” said Anthony. “You can throw it into a stir fry or cut it into wedges and roast it. Just the way a potato is irresistible when you take it out of the oven, kohlrabi is, and it’s not as starchy.”
He hasn’t forgotten about more traditional foods though. The book includes a recipe for coleslaw, which is actually inspired by a recipe from his wife’s grandmother.
“I make big batches of coleslaw so it’s easy to pull out for a quick lunch or a side dish with dinner. It’s a very practical dish.”
He couldn’t choose a favorite recipe but noted that in cookbooks the recipes that tend to get duplicated the most are soups. His favorite in that category is a soup made from carrots “with coconut and radish to make it zippy and exciting.”
Anthony is hoping that the ease of the recipes will help home cooks resist the urge to cater to picky eaters by making different things for different members of the family, or just giving up and ordering out.
He cited statistics that show Americans today eat more out of their kitchen than they do in their kitchen.
“We go to restaurants or order out more than we cook our own meals.” The veteran chef added that he recognizes that for many, himself included, “It takes courage to cook.
“If you’re the one to cook and put your ideas out there for your friends and family, you’re up for all kinds of criticism. I have three daughters and my white chef’s hat doesn’t mean a thing to them. We need people to be encouraged and confident so they’ll do it more often.”
In V is for Vegetables, over 140 recipes are laid out from A to Z, and also include colorful illustrations painted by Anthony’s wife, Mindy Dubin.
Dubin, Anthony and their children live in midtown Manhattan. When not there or at Gramercy Tavern, Anthony can also be found at Untitled, a new Danny Meyer restaurant at the Whitney Museum, as well as another less formal eatery in the same building, Studio Café.
Anthony will be discussing and signing copies of his book and speaking with Meyer at the Union Square Barnes & Noble, 33 East 17th Street, on Monday, November 30 at 7 p.m.