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Susie Middleton is a woman of many words. She has been a published writer since the sixth grade!  Her years of experience have taken her down many food paths (culinary school, restaurant work, magazine writer, blogger – to name a few) and have even led her to the growing and selling of her own fruits and vegetables.  Her views on food are right in line with our beliefs here at Oldways and we love her positive pro-veggie approach to cooking.  Her books cast vegetables in a starring role, and the newest title The Fresh & Green Table, enthusiastically presents vegetables as the main dish in any meal.  As we digested page after delicious page of her newest book we could not resist asking her to tell us more about her vegetable-friendly viewpoint.


OLDWAYS:  Your cookbook title kind of points to the fact that you ‘like’ vegetables.  Can you tell us how you got so hooked on vegetables? When did this love affair begin?
SUSIE:  I grew up in a food-obsessed family, though I was a picky eater and we ate what most suburban folks ate during the winters (well, maybe a little

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better than that, since my mom was channeling Julia Child!). But come summertime, when we were on the coast of Delaware, we picked wild beach plums, grew beans and beefsteak tomatoes in our back yard, and headed out to Knapp’s farmstand every afternoon for fresh picked ‘Silver Queen’ corn, the most amazingly juicy white peaches, ripe cantaloupe, and pole lima beans. Those fresh veggies really resonated with me and planted the seed. But it wasn’t until much later, after I went to culinary school, that I started to play around with veggies. I realized they offered me an incredible amount of creativity as a cook.

During my time at Fine Cooking magazine, I began to write vegetable technique articles that turned out to be really popular, so I realized that people were hungry for great ways to make veggies tasty for everyone at the table. So I knew when I wrote my first book, Fast, Fresh & Green, that it would have to be a collection of great ways to cook veggies. Since I concentrated on side dishes in that book, it seemed only natural to scooch veggies to the center of the plate for my next book!

OLDWAYS:  Your perspective that meat and other animal-based proteins need to play more of a supporting role at dinner is one that is becoming more widely recognized. (This is something that truly excites us here at Oldways.)  For those who may be a bit resistant to this idea, what might you tell them, from your own experience, that could influence their thinking?
SUSIE:  Since I am not a vegetarian (and I have a meat-and-potatoes man on my hands!) I am very sensitive to the fact that folks are used to having a good portion of meat on the plate. My idea is, why not just make that meat portion a bit smaller and let the veggies star? So I think the first way to wrap your head around this idea is to think of it as a slight portion switch.

Secondly, for veggie-centered main dishes, I focus on familiar and delicious types of dishes that everyone loves (carnivores and vegetarians alike) as a great way to introduce the veggies. In The Fresh and Green Table, I have main-dish salads, soups, chili, pasta, pizzas, tarts, grain dishes, sautés—all the kinds of things that folks love, just with more veggies in them.

Thirdly, if you’re the cook in the family, you’ll be thrilled to know that veggies actually offer you a lot more creativity than meat. There are dozens of different types of veggies to choose from, but only a few basic meats we all eat. I take those veggies and show you how to cook and flavor them and how to incorporate them into a satisfying meal.

OLDWAYS:  Your detailed approach to cooking offers readers a foolproof guide to delicious dinners.  If you could suggest a few key tips to get people cooking more vegetables, what would be your best advice to create veggie-tastic dishes?
SUSIE:  It’s true that my recipes are very detailed—I’ve been told that the secrets to success lie there (and that my recipes work well)! I give you all kinds of hints and tips—what to look for when something is properly cooked, how something smells…I want to hand over the keys to success, because I have so much fun cooking veggies and want you to as well. So be sure to read the recipes all the way through before you start to cook!

Also, in addition to the simple techniques I show you in every recipe, I use a basic flavor pantry that I call on to boost a dish out of the ordinary: fresh lemons and limes for zest and juice; a few different vinegars; aromatics like garlic, ginger, and shallots; good Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, extra-virgin olive oil, and Dijon mustard; plenty of fresh herbs, and a few Asian condiments that are available at the grocery store. Often I’ll just combine two of these things, like fresh mint and ginger, lemon zest and garlic, or balsamic vinegar and orange juice, to give veggies a lift.

OLDWAYS:  We know you must have some great tricks of the trade that made you think, “Oh my gosh, how did I ever live without knowing this?!”  Can you share one or two of your favorite tips with our readers?
SUSIE:  I love tips! When I do book signings I always do a tip demo as well. Things like: I use an ordinary tablespoon to peel the skin off fresh ginger; I make cheese “shavings” with a vegetable peeler; I slice a tiny bit off the bottom of a potato to stabilize it before slicing it across; I crack an egg against the side of the bowl—not on the rim; I use a bread knife to slice tomatoes cleanly; I always toast nuts before using them in recipes for a much deeper flavor.

OLDWAYS:  We would kick ourselves if we missed this opportunity. Can you give us permission to include one of your recipes in this blog post and on our website?
SUSIE:  Yes of course! Since it is so hot out right now in most of the country, here’s a lovely update on a pasta ‘salad’ (I prefer to call them “cool pastas”!) that incorporates the flavors of a Greek salad. “Greek Spinach-Salad Pasta with Feta, Olives, Artichokes, Tomatoes & Pepperoncini” is perfect for summer potlucks or simple suppers.

Recipe Copyright Susie Middleton, from The Fresh & Green Table, Chronicle Books, 2012

Greek Spinach-Salad Pasta with Feta, Olives, Artichokes, Tomatoes & Pepperoncini

I once watched a couple hundred pounds of Greek pasta salad fly out the door of a take-out market one Fourth of July weekend. It was a popular dish we made, and it always sold well, but that blew me away! These days, I make a quick and colorful Greek pasta that isn’t exactly a salad: I like to toss the warm pasta with the marinated vegetables and fresh spinach to make a more sophisticated room-temperature pasta dish. But it does have all the bright flavors of a great Greek salad, including lemon, olives, garlic, fresh oregano, red onions, artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, and feta cheese.

Everything goes in raw except the pasta, so the timing is easy: Prep ahead, then cook the pasta when you’re ready to eat. For fun, add a few tangy pepperoncini. You don’t have to include them but they add a nice spark. (Buy them whole, not sliced.)This pasta is perfect for a summer supper and is plenty filling for vegetarians. But it would be lovely with grilled swordfish or shrimp skewers, too.

Serves 6

Ingredients:

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¼ cup/60 ml mild extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon black olive tapenade
1 teaspoon honey
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 small red onion (about 4 ounces/115 g), cut lengthwise into very thin slices
One 14-ounce/400-g can artichoke hearts, drained and each heart cut lengthwise into 4 or 6 pieces
8 ounces/225 g small grape tomatoes, halved (about 1-¾ cups)
½ cup/85 g pitted kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise
4 ounces/115 g good-quality creamy feta cheese(I like French Valbreso), crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
8 ounces/225 g dried gemelli or other curly pasta
4 ounces/115 g baby spinach leaves (about 5 cups)
⅓ cup/35 g chopped toasted walnuts
12 to 16 small whole pepperoncini, drained (about 2 ounces/55 g

Directions:
In a large, wide mixing bowl, whisk or stir together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, lemon zest, tapenade, honey, ½ teaspoon salt, and several grinds of pepper. Add the red onion, artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, olives, feta, and 1 tablespoon of the oregano and toss well. Let the mixture sit for 15 to 20 minutes.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the gemelli and cook until al dente, about 12 minutes, or according to the package instructions. Drain well in a colander but do not rinse. Transfer the warm pasta to the mixing bowl with the dressing and vegetables and season with ¼ teaspoon salt. Add the spinach leaves, the remaining 1 tablespoon of oregano, the toasted walnuts, and the pepperoncini and toss well. (The feta will loosen up and coat the pasta.) Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if desired. (You can also let the tossed pasta sit for a few minutes, stir again, and taste.)

Serve right away.

 

 

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