These are good times to be a vegetable-lover. Not because it's springtime, though that certainly doesn't hurt, but because everywhere you look these days, vegetables are getting all the attention. New cookbooks on vegetables are coming out of every corner, from the River Cottage, from Clotilde's Parisian kitchen, from vegetable goddess Deborah Madison, all the while giving "nose-to-tail" cookbooks the boot.
Deborah Madison's publisher sent me a copy of her latest book, Vegetable Literacy, a few months ago and the reason I'm just posting about it now, honest to goodness, is because I was too busy reading it to cook from it. It's just fascinating. Deborah has structured the book around 12 different groups of vegetable families (the sunflower family, for example, includes artichokes, endives, tarragon and chamomile, just to name a few) and has outdone herself with recipes that feel fresh and new and exciting (beet salad with star anise, sweet potato soup with asafoetida, chard with sesame and yogurt, broccoli paired with tomatoes - though I'm still wrapping my head around that one). And a word of warning: if you, like me, are not in possession of a garden of your own to plant things in, reading this book will give you a bad, bad case of vegetable envy.
(Also, it will make you want to leave olive oil behind forever and become a full-time convert to ghee. How does she do it?!)
The funny thing is, I'm not even all that good with plants. My mother has the greenest thumb of anyone I know, but me, well, I can barely keep alive the hardy old palm that Max left here when he took the job in Kassel. But still, there's little that I enjoy more than reading the Seed Saver's Exchange catalogue (don't know it? Welcome to your new obsession). And Vegetable Literacy is sort of like that catalogue, but with delicious recipes and gorgeous photos and nice stories to boot.
When my friend Dervla started raving about Vegetable Literacy's recipe for braised fennel with saffron and tomatoes, I thought I'd make that from the book first. (I was feeling awfully torn - there are so many things I'd like to make from the book right now.) But when I opened the book to that page, something else caught my eye: a little salad of shaved fennel and celery with a sieved egg on top.
Doesn't the phrase "sieved egg" make your heart sing a little? It does mine. The papery crunch of the thinly sliced vegetables paired with that creamy egg is just lovely. And Deborah has you add a bit of lemon zest and a sprinkle of truffle salt, if you've got it, to the salad for a little special zip, turning what is usually a winter standby in this house into something celebration-worthy.
Much like everything else in the book.
Deborah Madison's Shaved Fennel Salad with Celery and Egg
Adapted from Vegetable Literacy
1 large egg
1 fennel bulb
4 inner celery stalks
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Small handful of finely chopped herbs (fennel fronds, celery leaves and/or parsley)
Fennel pollen or toasted fennel seeds, optional
Truffle salt, optional
1. Boil the egg. Trim the top of the fennel bulb and slice off the thick bottom. If the outer leaf of fennel is bruised, remove it and use it for something else. Using a very sharp knife or mandoline, slice the fennel paper-thin. Do the same with the celery stalks. Toss the vegetables together with the lemon zest, salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil. Arrange on a serving plate.
2. Peel the egg and finely dice the white. Toss the chopped herbs and white together and scatter over the fennel salad. Rub the egg yolk through a sieve over the top of the salad. If using, sprinkle the fennel pollen or seeds and truffle salt over the top and serve immediately.