The Heart and Soul of Alice Waters

Chez Panisse Vegetables is Alice Waters. Thirty years ago she started a quiet revolution in Berkeley, California. The cause was introducing America to organically grown fresh vegetables. Her philosophy has always been "let the vegetables lead me around."

Quality vegetables were much harder to come by in the early days of her restaurant, Chez Panisse, which led to her campaign: demand it and they will plant it. She was right. Farmers eventually did plant what chefs and good cooks wanted. Now, gone are the days of cardboard tomatoes in January and tough stringy asparagus in October.

This is more than a cookbook with 250 recipes written by a culinary legend. It's a primer on 40 vegetables from amaranth greens to zucchini. Ms. Waters' exuberance for all things fresh comes across loud and clear. There is a narrative on each vegetable that discusses where it's grown, and in what season, how to shop for it, how to prepare it and even how to care for it in your garden.

After reading this book, you'll want to double the size of your herb garden, grab a basket and run out to the farmers' market and then plant a carrot and radish farm. Seriously, there's a lot of practical information about how to create great vegetable dishes. Alice Waters believes fresh vegetables give your palate a very rewarding experience.

The recipes are simple - another Alice Waters trademark. Most are vegan, but they are not intended to be your main course. These are soups, salads, vegetable sides, and pasta dishes. By the way, dinners at Chez Panisse are a five course prix-fixe menu.

And yes, the recipes are clear and easy to make. There are no complicated cooking terms or fancy equipment requirements. Just be sure to use fresh ingredients, of course! My favorites include Penne with Eggplant and Tomato and the Pistou Soup.

It's fair to say, however, that in order to love this book, either you have a serious commitment to vegetables, or be among the most inquisitive cooks.

Don't fall into either of those categories? Take
Chez Panisse Vegetables home from the library anyway. Try a recipe for your favorite vegetable, and then, try another. You'll notice the difference. All of a sudden, fresh produce will assume an entirely new place in your kitchen.