Cara Mangini’s Italian grandfather and great-grandfather were butchers, carving tenderloins and butterflying chicken for a living. Mangini is a butcher too, but her trade is in vegetables.
She carves up curvy butternut squash and cuts up kale into a chiffonade. She’s also a chef. In her hands, kohlrabi turns into carpaccio, and eggplant into steak.
Mangini, whose last name means little eater in Italian, is the executive chef and owner of Little Eater, a produce-inspired restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. She was also one of the first “vegetable butchers” at Eataly in New York. That position has found its way into the title of her new book, “The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini” (Workman Publishing, 2016, $29.95).
It’s a great reference for those who aspire to cook vegetables, as it covers diverse vegetables (including obscure ones like cardoons), various cooking techniques, and simple recipes.
Take summer squash, for example. Mangini breaks the category down into different varieties, describes how to best select and store them, and lists some ingredients that go well with them. A section called Butchery Essentials shows how to cut a cylindrical squash into ribbons—both wide and thin—and how to prep squash blossoms.
Mangini lists her favorite cooking methods for zucchini, each just about a paragraph or two long. They are all simple but very different: brushed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper and then grilled; served raw as ribbons with Parmesan, almonds, and herbs; or sautéed with cumin, basil, mint, and ricotta.
A few longer recipes follow, including a refreshing, summery dish of zucchini, sweet corn, and basil penne with pine nuts and mozzarella.
Whether you face the dilemma of what to do with vast quantities of zucchini, or how on earth to even cut up, let alone eat, kohlrabi, “The Vegetable Butcher” is a useful companion.
Following are just a few of the summertime recipes from “The Vegetable Butcher”:
Zucchini, Sweet Corn, and Basil Penne With Pine Nuts and Mozzarella
Zucchini, corn, and basil are quite a trio—one that I turn to over and over again. Here, they come together in a bright summer pasta showered with lemon juice and studded with pine nuts and mozzarella. I am sure you will want to enjoy it all season long.
Salting the pasta water is imperative here. It is responsible for much of the flavor in the simple sauce.
Serves: 4 to 6
- Fine sea salt
- 3/4 pound good-quality dried penne
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small red or yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch by 3-inch sticks
- Kernels from 2 ears fresh corn
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- 2 ounces mozzarella cheese, torn into bite-size pieces
- 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Freshly shaved parmesan cheese, for garnish
- Your best extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish
- Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it generously (add 1 tablespoon of salt for every 4 quarts). Cook the penne according to package instructions until just shy of al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving at least 2 cups pasta water for the sauce.
Heat the oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown lightly, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until it becomes fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the zucchini, turn the heat up to high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini softens, 6 to 8 minutes. (You will need to add up to 1 cup of the reserved pasta water, a little at a time, as the zucchini cooks and becomes dry and sticks to the pan.)
Adjust the heat to medium and add the corn, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the red pepper flakes, and the butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes more. Add the penne and 1/2 cup of the pasta water, and stir well to incorporate. Cook, stirring often, until the pasta is well coated and the sauce has thickened, about 2 minutes.
Turn off the heat and add half of the basil, the pine nuts, and the mozzarella. Add the lemon juice to taste and stir well to incorporate it. Scoop the penne into individual shallow bowls, making sure to evenly distribute the zucchini and corn. Top with the remaining basil, a fresh shaving of parmesan, and a drizzle of your best extra-virgin olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges if you wish.
Heirloom Tomato Panzanella
There’s a point in the summer when heirloom tomatoes are full of sunshine and bursting off the vine. A farmer friend once described it best. “They don’t require much from us right now. Just slice and plate.” I use his “recipe” to inspire all different versions of tomato salad from the first Brandywine to the last Green Zebra. I dress the heirlooms with a drizzle of my very best olive oil, flaked sea salt, and torn basil. Sometimes they get a splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar—or maybe a spoonful of pesto. Many days the simple salads feature torn mozzarella or freshly shaved parmesan and almost always, toasted day-old bread. Often I throw in sliced cucumbers and shaved red onions, too. The amount of salt always varies. You have to taste and adjust, taste and adjust (never a problem).
I’m sharing my favorite version, but I encourage you to experiment and find your own combinations. As long as you use premium local tomatoes, you can’t go wrong.
Serves: 4 to 6
- 1/2 small red onion, halved through the root end and sliced into paper-thin half-moons on a mandoline
- 1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded (if needed), and thinly sliced on a mandoline
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 1/2 pounds heirloom tomatoes (preferably a mix of varieties and colors)
- 1/2 cup mixed cherry tomatoes
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup of your best extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus extra for finishing
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves, plus extra for finishing
- About 2 cups Hand-Torn Toasted Bread (recipe follows)
- 1 cup freshly torn fresh mozzarella (about 4 ounces) or 1 cup shaved parmesan cheese (3 to 4 ounces)
- Flaked sea salt, for serving
Place the onion and cucumber slices in 2 separate piles at the bottom of a large bowl. Pour 1 tablespoon of the vinegar over the onion and let sit while you assemble the rest of the salad.
Slice the heirloom tomatoes into large, bite-size pieces, cutting around the core. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half or leave tiny ones whole. Combine the tomatoes with the onion and cucumber, toss together, and season well with salt and pepper to taste.
Drizzle the tomato mixture with the remaining tablespoon of vinegar and then drizzle evenly with the oil. Add the parsley, basil, toasted bread, and cheese and toss gently to combine. Top with a generous pinch of flaked sea salt and more chopped parsley and basil. Serve immediately or let stand briefly so the bread can soak up the juices.
Note: Do not salt and dress the tomatoes until just before you serve them or they will become watery. If you must, you can slice them up to an hour beforehand. Wrap a baking sheet with plastic wrap and spread them out in a single layer to sit, propped up, on top of the plastic wrap.
Variation: Omit the parsley and reduce the red wine vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Drizzle Balsamic Reduction (page 147) over the salad after you add the cheese.
Hand-Torn Toasted Bread
2 1/2 cups
- 4 slices (3/4 to 1 inch thick) Italian or ciabatta bread (day-old bread is fine)
- About 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Fine sea salt
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Meanwhile, using a serrated knife, cut away the crust of the bread. Tear the bread into bite-size pieces and place it on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the bread with olive oil and season with salt to taste (the bread should not become overly soggy with oil, but you should be able to taste the olive oil and salt). Toss the bread to coat evenly, then spread it in a single layer, being careful not to overcrowd it.
Toast until the croutons just turn golden and crispy on the edges, 10 to 15 minutes. Let cool completely. Store in a zip-top bag or airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
(Recipes from “The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slide, Dice and Masterfully Cook Vegetables From Artichokes to Zucchini” by Cara Mangini, Workman Publishing, 2016)