Fettuccine Gorgonzola, Cauliflower with Romesco Sauce, Roasted Figs – Orange County Register

Famous for bringing vegetarian cooking into the mainstream, Deborah Madison began her career at acclaimed Bay Area dining room Chez Panisse before opening her groundbreaking vegetarian restaurant, Greens, in 1979. Her 14th book, “In My Kitchen: A Collection of New and Favorite Vegetarian Recipes,” is her most personal, presenting Madison’s own favorites, honed and perfected, some of them pared down, reflecting how she actually cooks in her own kitchen.

In a recent appearance at  Melissa’s Produce in Vernon, she presented a demonstration that included a lunch of delicious dishes with recipes drawn from the book (Ten Speed Press, $32.50). “I began cooking when vegetarian food was weird – sincere, but stodgy – and when there were few resources available to help one learn about how to put vegetables in the center of the plate,” she writes in her introduction.

But over her long career much has changed, she told us. “We have a host of new ingredients, things we didn’t have when I started cooking, like coconut oil, coconut milk, better dairy and better bread. We have more Asian ingredients, more greens. There are so many farmers’ markets now with such diversity. It’s easier than ever to make good vegetarian meals.”

Some recipes, like Fettuccine with Gorgonzola, were lightened and updated for modern tastes. “I lived in Rome for a year, and my neighbor made it for me with fresh pasta for lunch. I thought, it’s so fattening. Then I tasted it, and I thought, I’m not giving this up.” Although she cut down the proportions of the creamy ingredients in this version, it is still rich and makes a satisfying lunch along with a green salad, she said.

“You don’t have to make your own pasta. For this book I looked at my body of work and chose my favorites. But it’s not a rehash. That’s not what the book is about. Some recipes are really recent. If you cook a lot you’re always making variations. I find it darn hard to follow a recipe, even my own.”

Recipes that she thought complicated were simplified. “It’s more how I cook today,” she said. Others, like the Mission Figs Roasted with Olive Oil, Honey and Thyme, rely on good quality natural ingredients and need barely any instruction beyond the title. For this easy recipe allow three to four figs per person. For a small group you can even prepare it in your toaster oven, she suggests.

By far my favorite dish was the Romesco Sauce served that day with her Potato and Chickpea Stew and paired here with roasted cauliflower. Madison first tasted the sauce in Spain, eagerly brought it back to her home in New Mexico, and has been making it often ever since. You can use it in so many ways that you’ll want to multiply the recipe.

“Romesco is great on potatoes or on grilled meat,” she noted. Or spread it on toast rubbed with garlic or over grilled leeks or onions. “Really it’s good on just about everything. It simply makes everything taste infinitely better.”

The biggest surprise of the day was learning that Madison, who is on the board of the Grassfed Beef Ranchers, is not a strict vegetarian. “Because we started Greens and I was the chef, I’ve always been slotted as a vegetarian. I do prefer to eat that way, but my generation would never go to someone’s home and say, ‘I can’t eat that.’ I can’t do that. I just couldn’t ask people to jump through those hoops for me.”

Roasted Cauliflower with Romesco Sauce and a Shower of Parsley

Yield: 2 to 4 servings


1 large cauliflower (the larger it is the more slabs you’ll get)
Olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Romesco Sauce (recipe follows)
Italian parsley leaves


1. Heat oven to 375 degrees and line sheet pan with parchment. Halve cauliflower, keeping core intact, making as many slices as you can, each 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick, cutting from the center out, ideally achieving 3 or 4 slabs joined at the core. If cauliflower is uncooperative or simply isn’t very large, just cut large florets so that each has a flat side.
2. Brush cauliflower with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.
3. Warm cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat, add cauliflower, and cook until golden brown on bottom, then carefully turn and cook second side, about 12 minutes altogether. Transfer finished slabs and any remaining florets to prepared sheet pan. Bake until cauliflower is tender when pierced with knife in core, about 10 minutes.
4. Arrange pieces on plates; add generous spoonful of sauce either on top of or next to cauliflower. Shower all with parsley leaves and serve.

Romesco Sauce
Yield: 1 1/2 cups

1 slice country-style white bread
Olive oil, to fry bread
Sea salt
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skins rubbed off as much as  possible
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons ground red chili or pepper flakes
1 tablespoon tomato paste, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon regular or smoked paprika
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded (may be jarred)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup best olive oil


1. Fry bread in olive oil until golden and crisp. When cool, grind with hazelnuts and garlic in food processor until fairly fine.

2. Add ground chili, tomato paste, parsley, paprika, and bell peppers, and process until smooth. With machine running, gradually pour in vinegar, then olive oil. Taste for piquancy and salt. Add tomato paste as needed, no more than a teaspoon at a time.

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Romesco Sauce

Here’s a good little accompaniment to the Romesco Sauce. If you are serving them as an appetizer, two or three small fingerling potatoes per guest should be enough. If you’re serving them for dinner, make more.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes, halve those that are especially large, and toss in olive oil with a few pinches of sea salt to coat lightly. If you wish, add sprigs of rosemary and/or bay leaves as well. Put them in single layer in lightly oiled baking dish or sheet pan, and bake until tender when pierced with a knife, about 25 minutes, depending on size.

Pasta with Gorgonzola

Yield: 2 servings


6 ounces dried pasta, whatever shape you like best, or fettuccine
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
4 ounces Gorgonzola, crumbled into large pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in pieces
2 to 4 tablespoons cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmigiano-Reggiano, to grate over all


1. Bring large pot of water to a boil for pasta. Meanwhile set a bowl large enough to hold cooked pasta over the pot, and add garlic, Gorgonzola, butter and cream. As water heats, everything will become warm and soft.
2. Remove bowl when water comes to a boil. Add plenty of salt to pot, then pasta, and stir. Cook until pasta is as done as you like it, then scoop it out and add directly to bowl. Heat of pasta will melt any lumps of cheese that haven’t melted yet. Toss everything together with freshly cracked pepper and transfer to warm pasta plates. Grate a little Parmigiano-Reggiano over each plate and serve.

Mission Figs Roasted with Olive Oil, Honey, and Thyme

Yield: 4 to 6 servings


12 to 16 plump figs
2 tablespoons rich olive oil or butter
2 tablespoons honey
A few pinches sugar
Tiny pinch salt
3 whole cloves
A few whole pieces of star anise
5 sprigs thyme (lemon thyme would be especially good)
Crème fraîche, yogurt, or mascarpone, for serving


1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Rinse figs and pat dry, then cut off stems and slice them in half while leaving others whole. Set figs in dish that will leave a little room between fruits. Pour over olive oil, drizzle over honey, and scatter a little sugar over figs along with salt. Tuck in cloves, star anise and thyme.
2. Bake until sauce is bubbling and fruit is heated through, about 15 minutes. Serve warm with drizzle of crème fraîche, spoonful of good yogurt, or mascarpone.


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