So many wonderful cookbooks have been crossing my desk lately that I decided to dedicate a week to (mostly) cookbook reviews. So sit back and enjoy! Since it’s Meatless Monday, we start the week with a vegetarian cookbook by Mary McCartney, the daughter of Paul and Linda McCartney.
Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking
I was excited to receive a review copy of the Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking because I’ve been a fan of Mary’s father’s music since I was a kid, and loved her mother’s photography for almost as long. Paul and Linda were the first people I ever knew in the public spotlight who were vegetarians, too. Indeed, Linda was the author of several very popular and still well thought of vegetarian cookbooks like Linda's Kitchen: Simple and Inspiring Recipes for Meat-Less Meals. So with an upbringing like that, I had high expectations for Mary’s cookbook, especially since she was doing both the recipe development as well as the photography.
Food features lovely vegetarian recipes that even non-vegetarians will like such as Corn Fritters, Super Quinoa Salad, Lip-Smacking Minestrone, and several desserts. These are straight forward, simple meals that are perfect for novice cooks or those who are new to vegetarian cooking. She doesn’t use crazy, hard to find ingredients – quinoa is as exotic as she gets. All in all Mary’s recipes in Food are very accessible to anyone who’d like to include more vegetarians meals in their culinary routine.
The only downside to Food is Mary’s food photography since I feel her food shots are too close up, overly blurry, and sometimes not very appetizing. I find that Mary’s a better photographer of people, spaces and gardens than food, and love her pictures of the signs at a farmer’s market and scenes from her home. That’s where her photographic talent and artistic personality come through in this book.
Can’t decide if Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking is right for you? Check out Mary’s recipe for Cheese and Eggplant Oven Bake, something you can easily make most weeknights. Even better, it’s gluten free if you use gluten free soy or tamari sauce.
Cheese and Eggplant Oven Bake
From Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking by Mary McCartney
This dish is wonderful just as it is, but sometimes I like to vary the recipe for a change. A pinch of chili flakes added to the tomato sauce provides a great kick, and 3 ounces of vegetarian ground meat substitute cooked into the tomato sauce adds substantial “bite” to the meal. Feel free to play around with it, too. This is good served with sautéed leeks and a leafy salad or steamed green beans.
- 4 tablespoons light olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 14.5 ounce can chopped tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon dried mixed herbs, plus a pinch set aside for the olive oil mixture
- sea salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 medium eggplants, sliced crosswise into discs 1⁄3 inch thick
- 3 ounces soft goat cheese or chopped mozzarella
- 4 ounces goat Cheddar or sharp Cheddar, grated
- handful fresh basil leaves (if available), roughly chopped
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- First make the tomato sauce. In a medium heavy bottomed saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and gently sauté the chopped onion until softened and slightly golden brown, about 8 minutes. Then stir in the garlic, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, mixed herbs, a small pinch of sea salt, and some black pepper. Simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened. Set aside.
- In a small bowl combine the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the soy sauce, and the pinch of mixed herbs. Lightly brush both sides of each eggplant slice with the olive oil mixture. Sauté the slices in batches in a large non-stick frying pan over medium heat, cooking for 3–4 minutes on each side, until golden brown.
- Spread a third of the tomato sauce over the bottom of a medium baking dish. Arrange a layer of eggplant slices over the sauce and then spoon 1 teaspoon of tomato sauce over each eggplant disc. Scatter crumbled pieces of the soft goat cheese over the disc, followed by a layer of eggplant. Spoon the remaining tomato sauce over the eggplant slices and, finally, scatter the basil leaves and grated Cheddar over the top.
- Bake for 15–20 minutes, until the tomato sauce is bubbling and the cheese is lightly brown on top.
A short interview with Mary McCartney
Q. When did you first start cooking?
A. I was involved in the experience of cooking from a very early age. The kitchen was the center of the universe and Mum got us involved, helping cook and tasting…lots of tasting.
Q. Who influenced you most in the kitchen?
A. My main cooking influence was my mother, Linda. She described herself as a peasant cook and had the ability to transform whatever she found in the pantry into delicious meals.
Q. How did she influence your own perspective on cooking then?
A. Her love of food was infectious, but never precious. She never seemed to write anything down, a trick I inherited, but which made the creation of this book particularly testing!
Q. How would you define your style of cooking?
A. I favor uncomplicated cooking, I enjoy meals that are bright, tasty and satisfying and not too time consuming to make.
Q. What’s your recipe of choice?
A. When we were young, Mum let us choose our favorite meal on our birthday. I often chose her cream of tomato soup and fluffy quiche with a large mixed salad.
Q. If you chose just one thing you loved most about cooking, what would that be?
A. I love cooking for friends and family, getting everyone around the table together to enjoy the banter around informal meals, and for me, the satisfaction of wiped-clean plates is worth the effort.
Recipe and photographs used with permission.