Vegetables From Amaranth to Zucchiniby Elizabeth Schneider
William Morrow, 804 pp., $60
I usually eschew statements like, "If you only have one book about [kumquats, race cars, cocker spaniels, etc.], this should be the one, blah blah." However, I'm so taken by Elizabeth Schneider's magnum opus that I'm tempted to make such a pronouncement myself. This is indeed the mother lode of vegetable knowledge, covering all you ever dreamed about wanting to know. Not only is it an invaluable and serious reference, it is darned entertaining reading. When describing how to select squash, Schneider begins with, "Like blond and bosomy starlets, squashes that are merely colorful and shapely can be tasteless." And maybe you knew (I didn't) that Americans have been eating broccoli only since 1927, when two enterprising immigrants began importing it from Italy.
Schneider, winner of multiple James Beard Awards, has been writing about vegetables for 30 years in Gourmet, Eating Well, The New York Times, Cooking Light, and Food Arts, and in her precursor book, Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables. In addition to her own expertise and scholarship, Schneider incorporates contributions from a small army of scientists, food historians, and chefs from around the globe. This encyclopedic tome provides photographs, cultural history, and common names in multiple languages. Schneider then provides several recipes for each vegetable, followed by a section called "Pros Propose," where different chefs describe their own methods and recipes.
The publisher is to be commended for not cutting any corners in this beautifully produced work. As well as the main vegetable entries, the book includes several useful finding aids that gladden my librarian's soul, including a categorized list of the 500 recipes; an immense bibliography; a thorough index of recipes, chefs, and cooks; and another index of common and botanical vegetable names. Get this book for a friend. Get it for yourself. If we all learned a fraction of what Schneider provides about understanding and preparing vegetables, the world would be a better place.
Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter
If you want to submit a recipe, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org