My absolute favorite cookbook ever is Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. I credit her with teaching me to cook. It’s not just a vegetarian cookbook— it’s a guide to anything you’d ever want to cook that happens to be meatless. Wondering how to make mayonnaise? Or the best way to cook zucchini? Just consult Deborah Madison and her impeccable sense of flavor. After you master those simple recipes, move on to much more complicated dishes like butternut squash ravioli with toasted pecans and sage— one of the best meals of my life, right up there with Uchi. This huge book has 1400 recipes that appeal to every skill level, so you’ll never get bored.
No one venerates seasonal produce as much as Deborah Madison, clear in her delightful writing. First published in 1997 before farmers’ markets were fashionable, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone was ahead of its time. I’ve returned to it again and again now that I subscribe to a CSA. The useful index lists recipes for every vegetable imaginable, and D.M. always knows the best way to prepare them.
Of course this book isn’t without faults. D.M. learned to cook while a student at the San Francisco Zen Center, so the book is quite California-centric. I can’t always turn to her for new ways to prepare the black-eyed peas, okra, collards, and green tomatoes that seem omnipresent at Austin farmers’ markets. Her soup recipes are occasionally disappointing, and I don’t depend on her for desserts.
Her other books, like Local Flavors, are also outstanding, but Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone will always have a special place in my heart. I followed those recipes word for word when I was learning to cook, but now they’re more like a source of inspiration. Some of the recipes, like roast potatoes with garlic, have become so second nature to me that I forgot where I learned them.
This fresh tomato sauce is another example of a dead simple recipe that I’ve integrated seamlessly into my repertoire. By the way, D.M. taught me NEVER to put tomatoes in the fridge because it “cold kills everything about them that’s good.” You can actually find me saying that word for word on occasion. After growing up on Prego and it’s ilk, this sauce was a revelation. Fresh summer tomatoes simmered with basil and finished with a glug of olive oil tastes like sunshine in a bowl.
Fresh Tomato Sauce from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
- 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, quartered
- 3 tablespoons chopped basil or 1 tablespoon chopped marjoram
- Salt and freshly milled pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or butter
Put the tomatoes in a heavy pan with the basil. Cover and cook over medium-high heat. The tomatoes should yield their juices right away, but keep an eye on the pot to make sure the pan isn’t dry. You don’t want the tomatoes to scorch. When the tomatoes have broken down after 10 minutes, pass them through a food mill. If you want the final sauce to be thicker, return it to the pot and cook over low heat, stirring frequently, until it’s as thick as you want. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in the oil.