Full of easy, creative recipes and vibrant photography, Alana Chernila’s newest cookbook – Eating from the Ground Up – is a lovely way to celebrate the bounty of vegetables you’ll find at the farm market this year.
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I’m so excited – it’s finally farm market season! Fresh berries, local veggies, excuses to eat homemade baked goods and be able to truthfully say I’m supporting local commerce.
It happens to me every year – In addition to my usual fare of summer corn, pickling cucumbers, and piles of fresh berries, I end up charmed by some beautiful heirloom vegetable I have no idea what to do with. They look so picture perfect, full of vibrant color you don’t see in the supermarket. I can’t help but bring a pound home, plans or no.
This can’t be just me. You’ve been seduced by fresh produce too, right?
I can at least take comfort in knowing that Alana Chernila is there for me. Her newest publication, Eating from the Ground Up: Recipes for Simple, Perfect Vegetables, unlocks the secrets of all sorts of common and unique vegetables, giving the reader a toolbox of new skills and recipes for making them shine. And, despite its focus on techniques and recipes that showcase a variety of vegetables, it’s not strictly vegetarian. Read on to find out how this book will help you get creative and add more veggies to your diet, no matter your preferences!
Eating from the Ground Up: Recipes for Simple, Perfect Vegetables
Named after the long running website she started in 2008 of the same name, Eating from the Ground Up is Chernila’s third cookbook. Mother of two daughters, Chernila lives with her husband in Western Massachusetts, writing about food and teaching others how to make things like cheese and yogurt for themselves. Her second book, Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking with Pleasure, was nominated for an IACP award in 2016. Personally, it’s one of my all-time favorite cookbooks.
This being said, I ecstatically awaited Chernila’s newest cookbook, Eating from the Ground Up. While different from her previous works, focusing specifically on vegetables rather than a wide range of home-cooked meals and snacks, the comforting tone of the writing brings to mind a simpler age, where making time to cook isn’t a chore, but an honor and an experience. Despite her expansive expertise and growing success, Chernila’s writing reveals a humble, generous woman looking to inspire others to cook with whole foods. She offers no judgement for those days when stress, money, or time get in the way – only encouragement to do the best that you can, when you can. That’s the kind of advice we all need.
Cover to Cover
As an object, Eating from the Ground Up is a beautiful publication full of vibrant photography and warm prose. The understated photographs highlight the natural hues of the vegetable subjects. I even love the font, which manages to pull off looking classy and homespun at the same time.
In addition to a few short introductory chapters full of tips on picking, washing, storing, and using vegetables, the recipes are laid out into five chapters: Barely Recipes (easy ways to prepare vegetables true to the chapter title); A Pot of Soup (self-explanatory I think); Too Hot To Cook (simple recipes with little oven time, stove-top recipes, and cold dishes); Warmth and Comfort (hearty dishes, like pastas, curries, casseroles); and Celebrations And Other Excuses to Eat With Your Hands (appetizers, shared dishes, and desserts).
Conveniently, Chernila not only provides a standard index at the end of the cookbook, but a breakdown of the recipes by vegetable type as well. Whatever veggie you might end up with in your CSA box (or as a result of a market impulse buy), Eating from the Ground Up will help you find a way to use it.
Reviewing the Recipes
While the majority of these recipes will become most useful in the coming months, when fresh vegetables flood the stores and local farm markets, I did my best to test a few so I could give an accurate review.
I’ll be honest – I skipped over the “Barely Recipes” chapter for now. Mostly containing sides and accompaniments, I have full faith in Chernila’s ability to teach me how to cook a vegetable simply and deliciously. It’s the perfect place to turn to when you need something easy to make with that random kohlrabi or turnip you end up with in your basket.
The first recipe I made was the Swiss Chard Stem, Fennel, and Salmon Fried Rice (p. 131). While it was meant to be a way to use up your swiss chard stems and other leftovers, I had a real craving for fried rice and the salmon fillets were on sale at the time, so it seemed like a perfect choice. It was tasty, it was simple, and it reheated well the next day. I ended up adding a bit of pineapple for sweetness – I love a bit of fruit in my fried rice. While the recipe wasn’t ground-breaking by any means, the process is a wonderful template recipe for whatever you might have on hand in the kitchen.
The next one I tried was the Salty, Spicy Broccoli Rabe Pasta (p.187). Now I need to confess: I really tried to use the anchovies called for in this recipe. I bought a nice can. I opened them up. I smelled them. And on that night, I just had to take a pass. I usually love seafood and I absolutely believe (as many chefs claim) that anchovies add a nice salty layer of flavor to a lot of dishes. Sadly, they just didn’t appeal to me the evening I made the recipe. Maybe next time, right? Instead, I added some prosciutto for protein and salt, which I know changes the overall flavor but can’t get ever go wrong in a pasta recipe I think. Again, this wasn’t a bad template recipe (I love that the broccoli rabe cooks with the pasta in the same pot), but I don’t know that I would make the recipe again.
Wanting to give another one of Chernila’s pastas a try, I made the Asparagus and Bacon Pasta (p. 182). I used orecchiette pasta, which may have been a little dense for the light sauce of the recipe, but otherwise the dish was truly phenomenal. I rarely use fresh tarragon, but it lent such a nice aromatic flavor to the dish. I’ll definitely find ways to use it my recipes more often now. It’s an herby essence similar to mint, but not quite as astringent. The recipe also suggests roasting the bacon in the oven alongside the asparagus, which drastically cut down the mess and worked out beautifully timing wise. I truly adored this recipe and plan to add it to my repertoire.
As the seasons change, I’m looking forward to trying a number of other recipes I didn’t have the chance to yet, including the Carrot Celebration Cake (p. 257), Cauliflower Hot Wings with Blue Cheese Dressing (p. 236), and Butternut Squash Lasagna (p. 191). Not the most ideal selections for my current diet, but definitely crave worthy recipes for a special occasion.
When I found myself transitioning to food writing full time, Alana Chernila’s second book, Homemade Kitchen, brought me comfort. Reading her descriptions of what homemade food meant to her and her family felt like a conversation she and I would have around a kitchen counter. Eating from the Ground Up carries the same encouraging tone and sage advice, helping the reader to cook whole foods simply at home.
While A Homemade Kitchen remains my favorite of Alana Chernila’s publications, I’ve found many inspiring recipes in her latest cookbook. As you wander the stalls this farm market season, I dare you to try some of those beautiful new vegetables you’ve never cooked before. And if you need a little help, Eating from the Ground Up will help you find the way.
Previous Cookbook Reviews:
- Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark
- Cherry Bombe: The Cookbook by Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu
- Half Baked Harvest Cookbook by Tieghan Gerard
- Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South by Vivian Howard
- Peppers of the Americas by Maricel E. Presilla
- The Dumpling Galaxy by Helen You