Malcolm Jolley is impressed with a big brand cookbook.
Martha Stewart is “America’s most trusted lifestyle expert and teacher” says the press release that accompanied the launch this week of the author’s 87th book, Martha Stewart’s Vegetables. 87 is a prodigious number book-writing-wise and, as one might suspect, it appears Ms. Stewart had some help with this one, on the inside cover page authorship is also credited as “From the Editors of Martha Stewart Living”. To be fair, this collaboration is more formally acknowledged in Ms. Stewart’s forward to the book, and anyway we guessed that because Martha Stewart is a really big brand, straddling all forms of media and retail opportunity. And she’ been one for a long time. Before there was Jamie, or Nigella, or Rachael there was Martha. So, when an admittedly snobby gastronome of a cookbook reviewer, was presented with the Big Brand’s 87th cookbook, from the Editors of her magazine, or TV channel, or website, or social media channel, or God-knows-what, what was his reaction? It was this is a really beautiful, inspiring and well thought book that presents riffs on the sort of dishes my foodist friends and family would and do cook. Well done Ms. Stewart et al.
In Martha Stewart’s Vegetables are recipes that are vegetable driven. Some are vegetarian, but many include a protein, like Broccoli Rabe and Ham Croque Monsieurs, or even a whole roast chicken. The book reflects the current desire among foodists to emphasize the green (or purple, red or yellow) parts of the plate. Never mind fat, now it’s vegetables are where the flavour is. This intensifying interest in vegetable cookery also reflects the longer term trend of locavorism and seasonal shopping. A chicken breast is a chicken breast, but what comes home from the farmers market or the green grocer changes throughout.
The fine caliber of the photography, and the elegant black on white layout, are also big draws for Martha Stewart’s Vegetables. Ms. Stewart and her team are pros. Every recipe comes with a picture, brightly lit, and mostly full of shimmering green.
The book is organized by a kind of taxonomy: the chapters are organized comprehensively by vegetable type: “Bulbs, Roots, Tubers, Greens, Stalks & Stems, Pods, Shoots, Leaves, Flowers & Buds, Fruits, Kernels. Under each chapter heading, sub-headings, so ‘Stalks & Stems’ includes Asparagus, Celery, Fennel, Kohlrabi, and Rhubarb (‘Kernel’ is reserved solely for corn). In this way Martha Stewart’s Vegetables is a kind of reference book too. Go to the market, buy what looks good and fesh, then come home and look-up what in your basket. That’s the kind of book that gets used for a long time, and while the concept is right on trend the recipes in Vegetables aren’t particularly of the moment. Caldo Verde, Swiss Chard Lasagne and Baby Bok Choi with Chile, Garlic and Ginger (to pick three from ‘Greens’) are hardly likely to go out of style.