There are few things that can make you feel connected to the earth quite like eating and cooking with fresh, seasonal produce. Chopping up tomatoes still warm from the sun, eating a plum straight off the tree, letting the farmers market stand decide what you’ll make for dinner tonight… this feels like what our relationship with food should be. As Southern-native Steven Satterfield writes in the introduction for his cookbook, Root To Leaf:
Americans have been conditioned to believe that more is better. It is a first-world problem to have everything you want, anytime you want, and this type of thinking has done some serious damage to our food systems and collective health. Unlimited options clutter our minds and stifle our imagination. We are out of touch with the earth’s rhythms and we do not allow ourselves to appreciate the anticipation of the natural cycles of the seasons. I use these seasonal variables as guidelines, rather than limitations, when I buy fresh produce… Allowing the fresh produce to guide you is true seasonal cooking.
The chef of award-winning Atlanta restaurant Miller Union, Satterfield has created a true homage to the fruits and vegetables of each season. The book is organized first by season, then by ingredient, and at almost 500 pages, it covers many items that may rarely make it on to your grocery list, like rhubarb and celeriac, with an infusion of southern classics (think okra, green tomatoes, and spring peas). Each chapter is opened with a generous amount of information on each fruit or vegetable; its history, varietals, best uses, and tips on when and how to buy the best. Satterfield then provides simple, beautiful recipes for each ingredient, covering everything from dips and sides to entrees and desserts, that allow it to shine.
Candidly and honestly, he offers peeks into is home kitchen; we get the sense that this is how he personally likes to shop, cook, and eat — a rare peek into a James Beard-award winning chef’s habits outside their restaurant. And, to top it off, the photography by John Kernick is gorgeous: full-bleed images with soft colors, printed on luscious matte paper, blurring the lines between a cookbook and coffee table art book. And yet each dish looks completely doable, with few requiring more than 10 ingredients, and all ensuring that the star is still front and center, fully recognizable, and has its best qualities taken full advantage of.
As summer comes to a close, before the market offerings begin to reflect the fall season, we are drawing inspiration from Satterfield’s Southern Summer Vegetable Feast for a celebration of long days and warm evenings. Pictured above is Satterfield’s spread: Slow-Simmered Field Peas, sliced tomatoes, Skillet Cornbread, Crispy Cornmeal-Fried Okra, Blackberry Shrub, Eggplant Caponata, and blanched green beans.