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Cara Mangini Wants to Put Vegetables in the Center of Your Plate

Cara Mangini has been chopping vegetables for a long time.

You may know her as the genius behind local staple Little Eater. But Cara has traveled and worked all over the world, including her training as a vegetable butcher at Mario Batali’s Eataly. Now you can add author to her list of accolades… and a pretty good one at that.

Just recently, Southern Living magazine listed her cookbook “The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables from Artichokes to Zucchini”  as number 2 on their list of the 100 best cookbooks of all time.

We asked her some questions about this recent honor and for some pro tips for eating in this zip code.

You’re on there with some serious legends… we’re talking Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Fannie Farmer and Alice Waters. How does it feel to be listed amongst culinary royalty?

I am honored and so grateful! This particular list is really special because so many of the cookbooks are classics and I look up to many of the chefs and authors as my culinary heroes. To be in their company and receive recognition as an all-time best, hopefully will get The Vegetable Butcher into more hands and ultimately, help people celebrate vegetables and cook more intuitively with them every day. That’s my goal always. 

Photo by Rachel Joy Barehl

What do you think your book adds to the cannon of food lit?

I designed The Vegetable Butcher to be the ultimate guide to cooking with vegetables—how to select, store, prep, slice, dice, and masterfully cook vegetables throughout every season. It’s a resource that demystifies produce with my tips, tricks, techniques, and how-to information that somehow no one ever taught you. It’s also a traditional cookbook, with over 150 recipes, that makes vegetables less intimidating, and more exciting and practical for everyday cooking.  I think it gives vegetables well-deserved recognition for flavor and abundance, not sacrifice or obligation. My hope is that my cookbook will prove to be timeless and inspire readers to put vegetables in the center of the plate and most importantly, find the joy and beauty in cooking with seasonal ingredients.

What is your favorite cookbook? Is it on the list?

I could never choose a favorite cookbook! There are so many books on the list that have influenced my cooking and that I admire including, but certainly not limited to The Silver Palate, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, The Art of Simple Food, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, The New York Times Cookbook, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, The Victory Garden Cookbook and The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. Dorie’s Cookies and Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home (instant classics) have become more recent favorites.

Why write a cookbook these days when you can have a YouTube cooking channel or a food blog?

There is nothing like a cookbook to have and to hold! Cookbooks, good ones, have been tested thoroughly and designed to teach, inspire, and to get messy and to use. Most people, myself included, find inspiration and culinary education in so many different ways and certainly different media channels, but a thoughtful and well-curated and researched cookbook (the kind you know was a labor of love for the author) will always be my number one.  

Can you talk a little about the difference between inventing food and cooking it for people (like you do at Little Eater) and teaching people to cook your food (like you do in the book)?  Do you prefer one or the other? How do you feel about releasing that level of control over the outcome?

When I was in the recipe-testing phase of writing The Vegetable Butcher I didn’t sleep much! I would test and retest a recipe even if it was the middle of the night. I felt the pressure of getting it exactly right to ensure that my science experiments could be repeated over and over by anyone who picked up the book. At a certain point, I had to recognize that most cooks will make a recipe their own and not follow the recipe exactly… and that’s okay. There are so many different variables in the kitchen. I have had to get comfortable with giving up control. Knowing that I put in the work to write recipes that work gives me some peace of mind.

Cooking for people at a restaurant is equally terrifying to me, but I appreciate being able to control the outcome and the whole experience. I always want people to be happy with the food on their plate whether I taught them how to make it or whether it was a dish I created for them in my restaurants or at home.

Parsnip-Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Butter Frosting Photo from Matthew Benson

Thanksgiving is coming up, what recipe from the book do you recommend for the holiday table?

I have a ton of favorite Thanksgiving recipes from the book. It is the end of harvest season—one of the most exciting times to cook with vegetables. Some of my favorites are Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter and Parmesan, Celery Root Pot Pie,  Sweet Potato Latkes with Cranberry-Chipotle Jam, Parsnip-Ginger Layer Cake with Browned Butter Frosting, and Spiced Winter Squash Chèvre Cheesecake with Graham Cracker Crust.

Where do you grocery shop in Columbus (besides Little Eater of course)?

Honestly, I really only shop at Little Eater Produce & Provisions at North Market for local produce, pantry basics and all of my favorite food items from artisan makers in Ohio and beyond. (It’s all the stuff I can’t get anywhere else!)  I buy cheese at the Black Radish at the North Market. I buy Dan the Baker bread at the farmers’ market.  Right now, with our new restaurant opening in Clintonville I am not cooking much (at all) at home so there isn’t a need for a lot of groceries.

Feature photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

Staff writer, editor, and producer for 1812 Columbus. Creative Community Director for SEEN Digital Media and Snapfluence.com