Vegetable Butchery: Ari’s Interview with Cara Mangini

Cara Mangini will be our honored guest at our Tomato Dinner #214 on September 12th! We will be tasting delicious recipes from her new book, “The Vegetable Butcher”, and watching a live demo of her butchering vegetables for the guests!

I love that you focus so much on vegetables.  How did that happen?  Did you grow up a vegetarian?

The ritual of sitting down to share a meal has always been extremely important to me. Since I was a kid, I enjoyed the daily celebration of food and my family, and how those moments marked the year. I knew there was a special kind of magic that was created at the table. I also thought a lot about what I ate and the connection between food and health—how certain foods made me feel beyond sheer enjoyment.

I started to gravitate specifically toward vegetables when living in Paris and traveling around Europe in college. I continued to travel, cook, and eat my way through France, Spain, Italy, Croatia, and Turkey in my 20’s. Those food experiences had a profound effect on my perspective and path. It became very clear to me that I wanted to contribute to making vegetables second nature in our culture—the way they were in so many other places. At the same time, I lived in Brooklyn for 10 years while a vibrant farm-to-table movement was making big waves around me. It completely inspired me. I realized that vegetables have always been the most exciting and delicious part of the plate for me.

I’m sure you get asked this all the time but, what’s a vegetable butcher?

A vegetable butcher is a trusted professional who demystifies produce with tips, tricks, and practical, how-to information (the stuff that somehow no one ever taught you). We have professionals that we turn to for advice in so many areas of our life—traditional butchers, cheesemongers, doctors, hairdressers, attorneys. A vegetable butcher is that person you can count on and who will help take the guesswork out of breaking down and cooking with vegetables—an artisan who has dedicated her life to getting to know the ingredients so that you can benefit from her knowledge, lessons and recipes.

As someone who’s not a vegetarian but who eats a lot of vegetables, I’m excited to see them being put front and center in a cookbook like yours.  Can you talk about that a bit?

At it’s core The Vegetable Butcher is a celebration of vegetables! It’s both a guide that will help readers break down vegetables with knife lessons, insider tips, and approachable preparations as well as a comprehensive collection of produce-inspired recipes (over 150). My hope is that The Vegetable Butcher will give readers the confidence, encouragement, and motivation to cook and eat vegetables every day—and ultimately, find the joy in cooking with seasonal ingredients that connect you to nature and to each moment of the year.

Tell us about your restaurant in Columbus?  You also have a new place opening up soon? And how did you get to Columbus anyways? 

Little Eater is a produce-inspired restaurant and farm stand in Columbus’s historic North Market. And, yes, we are in the middle of opening our second location which is our first real home where we will be able to welcome guests for a full experience. Everything on the menu in our restaurants is inspired by local ingredients and is designed to bring everyone to the table with focus on flavor and abundance (never sacrifice or obligation which can too often be the case or perception with vegetable-driven food). It is our mission to honor the work of our farm partners and to support the health of our community.

I am from the San Francisco Bay Area, went to school just outside of downtown Chicago, and spent most of my adult life in New York. Columbus was not on my radar! I met my husband at the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams booth at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. I was living and working at a farm and associated farm to table restaurant in Napa Valley at the time. I moved to Columbus six month later and started actively working on my business and book. I always say (and it’s the absolute truth), Columbus was the missing link in my business plan. We are surrounded by inspiring entrepreneurs, incredible farmers and farmland, and a community that is just as invested in our success as we are. I am so grateful for it.

What are some of your favorite dishes in the book?

I can’t pick favorites, but I do have go-to recipes in every season!

Spring: Asparagus, Hazelnuts, and Mint with Quinoa and Lemon Vinaigrette, Snap Pea, Asparagus, and Avocado Salad with Radish Vinaigrette, Artichoke Torta, Swiss Chard Crostata with Fennel Seed Crust, and Ramp (or Leek) and Asparagus Risotto.

Summer: Corn Fritters with Summer Bean Ragout, Marinated Peppers with Goat Cheese Tartines, Seaside Gazpacho Zucchini, Sweet Corn, and Basil Penne with Pine Nuts and Mozzarella, Eggplant Polenta Cake.

Fall: Fall Farmers Market Tacos, and Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Chard and Coconut Black Rice, Turkish Carrot Yogurt.

Winter: Celery Root Pot Pie, Broccoli and Radicchio Rigatoni with Creamy Walnut Pesto, Parsnip Ginger Cake with Browned Buttercream Frosting.

What do you think are some of the biggest misunderstandings about vegetables amongst Americans?

Vegetables don’t have to equate to sacrifice. They can produce over-the-top flavor and craveable, deeply satisfying food. Vegetable-based food isn’t about what isn’t on the plate, it’s about everything that is.

Given that you’ll be here for the dinner in mid September what are some of the dishes you’re thinking about for this special menu?

We’re going to highlight the tomato harvest and all of those late summer ingredients that we’ll be missing a few months later. For sure we’ll do an heirloom tomato panzanella to highlight all of the different colors, textures and varieties of tomatoes grown at Roadhouse Farms. It’s going to be a beautiful celebration of that specific and fleeting moment of the year when the sun is that golden angle, and the food coming out of the ground and the people who grew it deserve to be honored.

Have you been to Ann Arbor before?  Are you excited about coming?

I have never been to Ann Arbor and cannot wait! I have heard about what a special place it is and I’m excited to experience the food scene, most especially Zingerman’s that, honestly, I have admired from afar for so long!

What else should I ask? 

I think you asked good questions, nothing to add. I always ask people that by the way:)! Always the best question… sorry, I don’t have a better answer:)

Purchase tickets today for our Tomato Special Dinner #214: Featuring Vegetable Butcher, Cara Mangini!

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