So, itâ€™s possible that I went to Paris as a pescetarian (fish plus vegetables, check) and came back a bit of flexitarian (meat isnâ€™t a main part of my diet, but if I have to eat it occasionally, Iâ€™ll put it under consideration). The truth is, in Paris they arenâ€™t friendly to us vegetable-loving types; there are too many baguettes and croissants that need eating. We spent our days looking for salads only to find some lettuce and a rare tomato poking around on the plate like it was meant to go on top of a burger.
I rushed home and bowed before my vegetarian bible, Mark Bittmanâ€™s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” This book is part of Bittmanâ€™s James Beard award-winning series on How to Cook Everything, and it ainâ€™t for the faint of heart â€”Â this hefty tome is 996 pages of meatless recipes with great flavor.
You may remember Bittman from his New York Times column, â€śThe Minimalist,â€ť where he wrote brilliantly easy guides such as this and this. Last year, however, Mark Bittman retired from â€śThe Minimalistâ€ť to pursue a more active commentary on the state of food and American nutrition. Today he writes thoughtful op-eds on our appetite for soda, and global warming by way of meat consumption.
“How to Cook Everything Vegetarian” is a staple for two reasons: first, itâ€™s about real food that vegetarians eat every day and it offers suggestions on how to spice up a sandwich (the most difficult vegetarian meal, in my opinion) or create a complete dinner. Second, the book is scattered with excellent tips for preparing vegetables correctly and in a way that maximizes both flavor and nutrition.
One of my favorite things about Bittmanâ€™s style is the offer of variations for every base dish; his suggestions for adding a sauce to spice up plain rice or a gravy that will make leftovers seem like a second meal. He offers careful instructions on preparing meat substitutes like tofu and tempeh. Further, the thing I love most is that the book is indexed by ingredient â€” extra raspberries in my fridge? Tell me what I can make with them, Mark.
Not vegetarian? You can’t go wrong with Bittman’s original “How to Cook Everything,” which includes beautiful descriptions of food preparations including meat; his explanation of dish origins and his personal tips make this a cookbook series youâ€™ll come back to again and again.
Bittman wrote â€śthis is a beauty,â€ť about the recipe below. Enjoy.
- Makes: 6 to 8 servings
- Time: About 1 hour
- Oil or butter for the baking dish
- 3 lbs ripe tomatoes (8 to 10 medium) and cut into wedges
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 Â˝ tsp baking powder
- ÂĽ tsp baking power
- 4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter, cut into large pieces and refrigerated until very cold
- 1 egg, beaten
- Âľ cup buttermilk, plus more if needed
- Grease a square baking dish or a deep pie plate with butter or oil. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
- Put the tomato wedges in a large bowl and sprinkle with the cornstarch and some salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine.
- Put the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda in a food processor along with a teaspoon of salt. Add the butter and pulse a few times until the mixture looks like coarse bread crumbs. Add the egg and buttermilk and pulse a few times more, until the mixture comes together in a ball. If the mixture doesnâ€™t come together, add a spoonful or two of flour.
- Gently toss the tomato mixture again and spread it in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Droop spoonfuls of the batter on the top and smooth a bit with a knife. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until golden on top and bubbly underneath. Cool to just barley warm or room temperature.
Bittman offers seven additional variations â€” from adding a cheesy Asiago topping to a leek version, to a cobbler with a piecrust topping, but youâ€™ll have to get the book to check them out!