Abra Berens' Ruffage is a friendly guide to all the ways you can make vegetables glamorous. 

By Margaret Eby
Updated: June 03, 2019
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Courtesy Chronicle Books

Summer, we all know, is the best time for fruits and vegetables. It's when farmers' markets are overflowing with eggplants, tomatoes, corn, and so much more. Even if you can't make the markets, the supermarket produce looks perkier and the possibilites much wider than during the bleaker, colder winter months. But in this season of abundance, you can easily run into the problem of too much bounty and too few ideas of what to do with it. Eating berries and making rhubarb tarts is great, but at a certain point, I always find I hit a wall. I've been making the same variations on eggplant or tomatoes for a few weeks, and I'd like to vary my routine without spending way too much time on a finicky recipe, or way too much money on 12 kinds of spices that will end up slowly going stale in the back of my cupboard. This year, I know what I'm going to do when it gets to be that time of year: Turn to Ruffage, a gorgeous new vegetable-centric cookbook by chef and farmer Abra Berens. 

Berens' book is a compendium of recipes, techniques, and suggestions that's organized by vegetable, rather than by course, a clever structural idea that allows you to flip right to, say, the summer squash section when your CSA, backyard, or grocery shopping trip has lead you to an abundance of produce with a paucity of ideas. Berens offers several preparations of each vegetable, usually including one that's raw for those days when turning on the oven feels impossible. She veers more towards fresh herbs than spices, and helpfully advises you to take the ingredients as suggestions, rather that dictating your shopping list. "Find the ingredients you already like and have on hand," Berens writes. "Start there, then add more items as you go...buy only what you are excited about, use it up, and if you can't remember if you have it on hand, don't buy more—you probably have something you can use in its place."

 

The dishes aren't just interesting and tasty-looking, they offer that kind of looseness of spirit that's ideal during the months where you just want to get something on the table so you can enjoy the long evenings, and beyond. Meat appears here and there in the book, but it's often as a kind of seasoning rather than the main event, making it an excellent book for cooking vegetarian-friendly meals or sides. And after each recipe, Berens' offers up a few variations on the dish that you can use to adjust to your tastes, or what you have on hand—a shaved cauliflower salad with smoked whitefish mayonnaise, lemon, radicchio, and herbs can also be made with dates, chili oil, and parsley, or with curry yogurt and almonds, or with kale, tomato, sherry vinaigrette, and garlic bread crumbs. 

One that particularly grabbed me as a perfect summer side is this corn kernel salad—fresh corn stripped from the cob and thrown in a pan with a spash of oil, salt and pepper, for it to get lightly browned, added to sweated garlic and onion, soybeans, reduced white wine, and cherry tomatoes. If that intrigues you, you'll probably want to give Ruffage a try, and get amped about the forthcoming summer bounty. 

Get the recipe for Corn Salad With Soybeans, Cherry Tomatoes, and Basil.

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