What Is This Vegetable and What Do I Do With It?
This time of year, I become obsessed with produce. I have a CSA share, and I like to get out to farmer's markets and to spend afternoons in fields and orchards picking whatever the owners are allowing me to pick. Once I have all this wonderful, fresh food, I have to figure out what to do with it, and so I also spend many happy summer hours sitting on my front porch reading cookbooks.
I have some favorites.
The most useful cookbook I have for summer is Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind, because sometimes I get things in my farm share and have no idea what they are. The beginning of Lind's book solves this problem with a handy guide that identifies various items and tells the basics of how to select, store, and prepare them. It answers such burning questions as Can I eat kholrabi raw? (Answer: Yes!)
One of my other basic favorites is How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. I am a total Mark Bittman fangirl. I read his columns in the NYT, I own a few of his cookbooks, and I even saw him speak live once. This book includes recipes for a lot of less well-known vegetables and will expand your reporitoire considerably.
When I'm feeling ready for a recipe that's a bit more of a project, the books I turn to most often are The food52 Cookbook by Amanda Hesser and The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Katzen. Food52 was a project Hesser started to collect the best recipes of home cooks. (It has a web site, too, if you want to lose a few hours of your life.) The recipes in here are uniformly excellent and organized seasonally. This is where I learned my favorite recipe for kale, though right now you should be substituting swiss chard or spinach in that recipe, which also works beautifully. Katzen's book has more complicated but very delicious recipes, like Farfalle with Arugula Gremolata, Gorgonzola, Raisins, and Walnuts, which I make almost every time I find fresh arugula.
You can borrow these and many more books like them at the library. Sometimes I just like to sit and read a cookbook the way other people read novels. It's like a great story about things I might someday eat, and that's my favorite kind of story.