An interview with New England cookbook author Susie Middleton
Susie Middleton, is the former Chief Editor of Fine Cooking Magazine. She made the bold decision to uproot her life and move to Martha’s Vineyard, where she rediscovered her passion for gardening and growing vegetables. She settled in and dedicated her time to cookbook writing and it is her writing that brings her here with us today. Join me, as I talk to Susie about her latest cookbook, Simple Green Suppers.
You’ve written four successful cookbooks since 2010. What was your goal in creating your most recent cookbook, Simple Green Suppers (published in 2017 by Roost Books), and how is this cookbook different from your previous books?
I love this book so much! All my books have been vegetable-centric, but Simple Green Suppers is my first vegetarian book, and I think it is incredibly useful in addition to being full of delicious recipes. I set out to show people how to stock their pantries and fridge—and to learn a few techniques—so that making veggie suppers every night can be a reality. Since I don’t really come from a vegetarian perspective, but a veggie-forward one,
I’m not big on meat substitutes. So I show people how to create satisfying flavors and textures with vegetables plus whole foods like grains, eggs, and greens, as well as staples like tortillas and toast. I also include a lot of flavor and texture boosters—quick sauces, toasted nuts, fresh herbs, etc.
What lessons did you learn working at a cooking magazine that have helped you grow as a home cook and writer?
I was very fortunate at Fine Cooking to work with some of the best chefs and cookbook authors in the country. Our goal as editors was to translate chef techniques and flavors into recipes that were doable for home cooks—but that were still outstanding. I learned how much of a difference little tips and tricks can make in home cooking, and I gained a huge appreciation for technique. As a result, I’ve always focused on teaching good technique in my cookbooks—and on including the kinds of details that really make a recipe sing.
For instance, one thing we included in every Fine Cooking recipe was a doneness test. How does something look or smell or feel when it is done? You can give an estimated time for cooking in a recipe, but every oven or grill or stovetop will cook slightly differently, so you become a more empowered and intuitive cook when you learn to look at the clues.
We appreciate your philosophy of creating vegetable dishes that are satisfying and refreshing. When did your love of cooking vegetables begin?
I have fond memories of eating fresh corn, pole beans, and juicy ripe tomatoes during the summers when I was a little girl, so I think I always associated vegetables with that lovely feeling of being outdoors and relaxed. Then when I got to culinary school, I discovered that with vegetables, you could be endlessly creative. And I think, for my brain (which is overactive!), being creative with vegetables has given me a huge outlet. I never get bored with creating new vegetable dishes.
When you come home at the end of a busy day and just want to cook an easy, comfort-food meal, what comes to mind?
One of my favorite and most comforting weeknight meals is a crispy “smashed” potato sauté that has baby greens, garlic, and chickpeas added to the pan. I like to sauté chickpeas until they are golden because it gives them a slightly nutty flavor and crisper texture. I boil baby new potatoes, crush them and then brown them in the sauté pan, add the garlic and greens and just ever so slightly crush everything together so it is a bit like a hash, but not that broken up! (There’s a version of this in Simple Green Suppers—very tasty!) This time of year, I also love to grill bread and top it with a mix of cherry tomatoes, fresh corn, basil, and white beans.
You grow and sell a wide variety of your own vegetables. Do you have any tips or tricks for those of us working on our green thumbs?
I’d say keep things as simple as you can at first until you find out if you like it. Growing veggies can be a lot of work and people often get frustrated and lose interest. To guard against that, go the extra mile when preparing your growing sight. Make sure you have a good water source nearby, as watering becomes a daily task in high summer. Drip hoses are wonderful! Erect some sort of fence around the garden or you’ll be continually frustrated by pests. And prepare and amend your soil well before planting. Of course, locate your garden in a sunny spot, too. If you do all that ahead of time, your garden will thrive and you’ll be able to enjoy it much more.
Do you have a favorite cooking tool or utensil?
Well, I love high heat cooking and I think vegetables really benefit from being cooked with high heat so I love my grill, and I love my cast iron pan. But I think the pan I use the most is my non-stick stir-fry pan. (Mine is a Circulon and I love it.) Because of the bowl shape (and the flat bottom) the vegetables both brown (for flavor) and steam a bit to cook through.
What do you enjoy most about living on Martha’s Vineyard? What is a favorite local meal you’ve eaten and loved recently?
My absolute favorite thing about living on Martha’s Vineyard (other than the great community of people) is the ability to get outside in nature so easily. I live in a rural part of the Island, surrounding by farm fields, and close to dozens of nature trails, so it is truly bucolic. I had a delicious meal of fresh clam linguine (not vegetarian) at some good friends’ house last weekend. I brought along a salad of arugula, goat cheese, roasted beet crisps, and strawberries. It was the perfect meal.
What is your favorite local ingredient to cook with?
During the summer, I use the little orange Sungold tomatoes I grow in just about everything. They are super sweet and very versatile. I also grow Fairy Tale eggplants (tiny with creamy white flesh), Shisito peppers, and patty pan squash, so salads and pizzas with grilled summer vegetables and local cheeses (we have a great local blue cheese, Grey Barn and Farm’s Bluebird) are some of my favorites. I learned to make grilled pizza at my first restaurant job and it is fun to do for a party. (My cookbook, The Fresh and Green Table, has grilled pizzas in it).
Which of your recipes do you keep on rotation during the warmer months?
I love root vegetables and I love to use a technique for cooking them on the stovetop called a “slow” sauté. I use sweet potatoes, butternut squash, carrots, and turnips, enhanced with onions or shallots, and finished with fresh herbs and often a little balsamic-maple sauce. The veggies slowly caramelized and cook through, and they can be eaten alone, used in a burrito, made into a warm salad or used in many ways.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, Susie. I have no doubt our Fresh New England readers enjoyed hearing about your beautiful new book, Simple Green Suppers! If you’d like to follow Susie, check out her website here. Please note, all images in this article were taken by Randi Baird.