Every Fall, It’s “Moosewood Time” In Many Home Kitchens
On the cover, a simple painting of only five ingredients magically catches your eye: a slice of lemon with an odd green rind, an orange slice, a radish, a kale leaf, and what appears to be a leaf of arugula. What else? Only the words “Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen.”
Inside, the fare is just as simple, but as inspiring as it was 40 years ago. Vegetarianism had been around since time immemorial, but in 1974 the Boomers were “getting back to the land and setting their souls free,” and a plant-based diet dovetailed with a nascent environmental movement.
Katzen shared favorite recipes of vegetarian dishes she and other cooks were dishing up at a restaurant co-op in Ithaca, New York. The food was good, inexpensive, and good for you.
Today she’s still sharing the plant-diet ethic in a way that’s achievable for all home cooks.
In a recent CivilEats interview with Naomi Starkman, who asked Katzen, "What do you make of the so-called Good Food Movement," she leap-frogged about 40 years from her first cookbook to the state of food today, and Katzen is as relevant, radical, and in her own gentle way, as combative as ever:
"It depends on who you talk to. It does seem that young people in their 20s mostly have food awareness, but you can’t generalize. I have a daughter in college and she’s a conscious eater, but her friends think she’s weird for eating healthy. So there’s still a stigma that eating healthy is weird, it’s not American. Back then, I was considered a “health food nut” because I broke away from the meat and potatoes that my mom served. And here, a generation later, my daughter is getting the same reputation.
What’s encouraging and exciting is that there are more farmers’ markets and there’s a growing awareness around food. For example, the campaign against transfats has been very effective. I’m also seeing a lot of encouraging food activism—but there’s a lot of work to do. And healthy food consciousness should not to be confused with our new food celebrity culture—TV shows like Top Chef, Iron Chef—have created a gap in what people are seeing on TV and the reality of what they’re eating."
It will come as a surprise to many that Katzen is not a strict vegetarian. Once again, she told CivilEats:
"I’ve never said I was a vegetarian, or that anyone else should be one. What I have said is, here are some ways that you can go meatless if you want to. I’ve said, here is my cuisine—it doesn’t include meat. And somehow, it’s been interpreted by some that I am a leader of a movement, which I never saw myself as. I will always eat vegetables and grain. I’m a vegetablist, a pro-vegetable person. But, I’m very tired of people who define themselves by what they don’t eat. For some, being vegetarian is more about the absence of meat and not about the presence of vegetables. I know plenty of vegetarians who don’t eat vegetables. I’m more interested in getting people to eat healthy food. I want to know: “What’s your attitude towards food, do you cook your own food, do you like it?”
Recently there has been a spate of cookbooks that pare down the mystery of cooking into a few simple techniques and dishes. Take Cal Peternell's "Twelve Recipes," for example. It may seem absurd at first glance, but the entire first chapter of this book (which we love) is devoted to how to make toast.
Toast! But if you're like this author, you watched your mother make bread from scratch, and toasting it carefully was an art form. Peternell, chef at Chez Panisse, does NOT tell you how to use a toaster. Instead he teaches the art of oven-toasting, which of course leads to delicious (and essential) variations of crumbs for sprinkling or breading.
The idea seems to be catching hold, especially as Boomers try to pass down whatever knowledge they have about cooking to their grown children, who are all in their 20s or 30s. Boomers can remember a time when freezers were DEEP freezers, full of meat (and located in the garage), while refrigerators clinked when you opened them because milk bottles were glass (and delivered to the home). The majority of mothers—especially in the suburbs and out on farms—cooked, and cooked well. Fast food restaurants were limited to one Dairy Queen down at the end of town. You KNEW how to cook, you knew how to sew, you knew how to knit.
Katzen doesn't dwell on nostalgia:
"The very basic act of cooking is becoming a radical necessity. That’s why I wrote Get Cooking, because people asked me to lay out the simple basics of how to cook. I wanted to give people the tools they need to make easy recipes, four to five things you can cook well. It sounds simple, but that’s the key to people digging their way out of bad food. They need to know how to shop and how to make food in their busy day and in a small kitchen. I wish cooking was required in school, but until then, we’ve got to teach simple lessons."
In the end, simple still means good. Take this cauliflower recipe, for example, from “The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation”— one of her many books.
Again, if part of your childhood landed you in the 1950s and ‘60s, your experience with cauliflower was probably watching your mother spoon out some soft, steamed florettes covered with melted Velveeta cheese.
You hated it.
And then along comes Katzen, and co-ops, and hippies, and all the new cooks who believed (still do!) in the honesty of fresh food cooked in simple, savory ways.
Today all of the Moosewood cookbooks are indispensable kitchen mainstays, but you can still get the original, now in a 40th anniversary edition (1974-2014). Or look for a recycled version—you’ll find it in one of those increasingly rare places called a “used book store.” Meanwhile, Katzen has written many more, including one of the latest “The Heart of the Plate.”
Cheese-Crusted Roasted Cauliflower
from “The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation” c. 2013 by Mollie Katzen.
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
A 2-pound cauliflower, trimmed and broken or cut into small (3/4-inch) pieces (about 8 cups)
2 cups minced onion
¼ cup (possibly more) grated fontina or sharp cheddar—or shredded parmesan
¼ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
• Sprinkle some toasted breadcrumbs over the cauliflower after them come out of the oven.
• Include a thickly sliced carrot
• Swap in some broccoli—solo, or in combination with the cauliflower.
1. Heat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking tray with parchment or foil, and slick it with a tablespoon or two of olive oil. (You can use a chunk of cauliflower to spread the oil.)
2. Arrange the cauliflower pieces on the tray, sprinkle them with the minced onion, and place the tray in the center of the preheated oven. After 15 minutes, shake the tray –and/or use tongs— to loosen and redistribute the pieces —gently, so they won’t pop off the tray.
3. Roast for another 5 to 10 minutes—until the cauliflower is becoming uniformly golden—then push everything together in the center of the tray, keeping it a single layer. Sprinkle evenly with your chosen cheese.
4. Roast for 10 or so minutes longer, or until the cheese is thoroughly melted, forming an irresistible golden crust. Remove the tray from the oven, and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
PHOTO of Mollie Katzen by Lisa Keating
Cheese-Crusted Roasted Cauliflower via Millie Katzen
The New Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen via Amazon
- The Radical Necessity of Cooking: Mollie Katzen, Vegetablist by Naomi Starkman, 2010 via Civil Eats