New cookbook: Alana Chernila wants you to eat your vegetables

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Do you eat your vegetables? If you don't because you don't like them, it might just be because you've never cooked them right.

"Vegetables, when they have the right balance of acid, fats and salt, transform into something super magical," says Alana Chernila, cookbook author and Berkshire native. "But you don't know that balance is right unless you taste it."

Chernila is an authority on vegetables — her third cookbook, "Eating From The Ground Up: Recipes for Simple, Perfect Vegetables," was published last month by Clarkson Potter. The book, which shares a name with Chernila's long-running blog, features more than 100 recipes, all focused on getting the best possible taste via simple methods.

The book's inspiration (and the blog's) comes from Chernila's long-term work at the Great Barrington Farmers Market. As director, she found herself fielding questions from confounded market-goers over and over again: how to cook radishes? What to do with butternut squash?

"I found the process of figuring out with people what they wanted to do with vegetables was really exciting for me. I was really super charged by that process," Chernila says. In 2008, a friend advised her to start a blog, and the idea took off. Since then she's gone in many other directions; "this book is about what got me into it in the first place."

While the book and blog share a name, these recipes are all-new. Putting together everything in "Eating From The Ground Up," took three years. "I wanted to give a simple prep for every vegetable, because there are people who just don't know what to do with a head of cauliflower," she says. "I've never seen that book, and I felt like it needed to happen."

What's a real head-scratcher vegetable? "I find that rutabaga typically confounds everyone," Chernila says. People also struggle with bitter flavor — broccoli raab can be intimidating because it gets bitter if you cook it too long.

Simple tips and techniques can help — just tasting as you cook will take you a long way. Chernila advises cooks to taste a salad dressing alone, then on the leaf you're planning to use with it; taste so you can get a beautiful, tasty balance of the elements you're putting together. "Often we think things need more salt and more acid than we think they do," Chernila says. "We have to learn how to trust our own taste buds."

Now in marketing at Guido's Fresh Marketplace (you can see her explain bulk foods, share recipes and more at Guido's blog), Chernila is taking a break from book development. She says the book has been well received, with many people cooking from it and sending her photos of the results. "And I'm pulling the books out again and cooking from them, which is fun."

ROASTED RADISHES WITH FETA MINT SAUCE

Roasted radishes are surprising — they get very juicy in the middle and sweet on the outside. Cooking radishes brings out an entirely different side of the vegetable, much mellower than the punchy bite of a raw radish. This is wonderful with standard cherry belles or French breakfast radishes, but it's also a great way to work with mixed bunches of all different colors. Amethyst, a bright purple variety, is especially beautiful roasted. This recipe makes more sauce than you need, but you'll be happy for the extra. Use it as a salad dressing, on other roasted vegetables, or on grilled beef or lamb.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

Radishes:

1 tablespoons olive oil

3 bunches radishes (about 1 pounds), greens removed, halved lengthwise

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teaspoon kosher salt

Sauce:

6 ounces cubed or crumbled feta

cup olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

cup (packed) fresh mint leaves

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Freshly ground black pepper

Chicken or vegetable stock or water

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Roast the radishes: Pour the oil onto a rimmed baking sheet, tilting the sheet to spread it evenly. Place the radishes in the oil, turning to coat them, and then arrange each radish, cut-side down, on the sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Roast until the radishes are deeply golden on the cut side, 25 to 30 minutes.

While the radishes roast, make the sauce: Combine the feta, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, mint, and several grinds of pepper in a blender. Blend until smooth, adding up to 3 tablespoons stock to make the sauce pourable.

To serve, puddle the sauce on a platter or four individual plates. Top with the radishes.

BIG SKILLET CAULIFLOWER PASTA

This is my favorite kind of skillet cooking. I roast the cauliflower and sausage right in my big cast-iron skillet in the oven while the pasta and spinach cook together on the stove top. A little pasta water, a little goat cheese, and this all comes together in an incredibly satisfying one-bowl meal. I love the spice andouille brings to this, but you can make it milder by using a sweeter sausage. This dish is also great cold, so leftovers make a stellar lunch. You really need to use a large pan here; anything smaller than a 12-inch skillet just won't cut it. If you don't have a skillet big enough, use a large roasting pan.

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Serves 4, with leftovers

INGREDIENTS:

1 large head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds), cored and cut into small florets

6 ounces cooked andouille sausage, quartered lengthwise and sliced inch thick

2 tablespoons olive oil

teaspoon whole cumin seeds

Kosher salt

12 ounces bow-tie pasta or orecchiette

12 ounces spinach, large stems removed, roughly chopped

4 ounces ch vre

Freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Spread the cauliflower florets and sausage over the bottom of your largest ovenproof skillet. It's okay if they overlap. Drizzle with the olive oil, and sprinkle with the cumin seeds and teaspoon salt. Roast until the cauliflower is golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the spinach during the last 20 seconds of cooking. Scoop out about a cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and spinach in a colander. Do not rinse.


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