The famous Chicago restaurant, Charlie Trot-ter's, was one of the first to reflect her philosophy, offering a dual menu, one regular, one vegetarian. Charlie Trotter can produce her two books, dog-eared and stained (The Vegetarian Epicure and The New Vegetarian Epicure). "I own thousands of cook books, but these are the only two I can say I have cooked every single recipe from."
Anna Thomas is Californian. But she was born in Poland, married an American of Mexican and Spanish descent and, from a gastronomic point of view, counts the world as her oyster.
It was as a film student at UCLA in California she realised there wasn't a book which reflected her enthusiasms. She set out to write one herself.
She sent the manuscript to Alfred E Knopf, publisher of many of the American greats, such as James Beard and Julia Child. To her surprise, it was taken up by Judith Jones, generally considered the best of all American cookery book editors.
The book touched a nerve and became an overnight best seller (and it's never been out of print). She not only managed to pay her way through film school in Los Angeles, but a second book then set her up in films.
She married her college boyfriend Gregory Nava and, in 1974, they went to Spain and used the advance to make a picaresque film, The Confes-sions of Amans, about a medieval monk. The film was made on a minimal budget of pounds 16,000. They made their own costumes and asked actors to work for nothing. It went on to be voted top film at the Chicago Film Festival the following year.
Anna Thomas has been scriptwriter and producer of four films ("it is only as a producer you can protect your own script," she says) and director of a fifth. Her most successful was El Norte, which she produced and wrote, the moving story of a Mexican family struggling to start life in the US. It was nominated for an Oscar.
Anna, as a film-maker, has become a world traveller and her journeys have given her the opportunity to extend her cooking repertoire. Her new book, From Anna's Kitchen, echoes the delicious foods she has eaten working, and holidaying, in the Far East, Central America, Spain and Italy. In Italy especially. "Three weeks in Italy," she de-clares, "is the cure for every known illness. Except in certain cases when you might need four weeks."
Anna Thomas lives an enviable life in the lovely Ojai valley in California, once chosen as the setting for the Garden of Eden in a Hollywood film. She has two sons, one a vegetarian, the other not.
She is not herself a vegetarian (she enjoys fish and white meat), though her preference has always been for staple foods based on grains, green vegetables and salads, and fresh fruit. "I just find red meat rather indigestible, and I'm uncomfortable eating a lot of cream and butter."
For her, therefore, it's not difficult to honour government health guidelines, eating masses of green veg and fruit and filling up on starchy foods (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, couscous, polenta, buckwheat crepes); holding back on fats, cream, butter and cheese. "Actually, I love cheese but these days I choose to eat it in smaller amounts."
She wants to change the subject. She is no evangelist for healthy eating or vegetarianism. "I have never espoused vegetarianism or any other -isms." Unless you count epicureanism.
PUMPKIN, POTATO AND LEEK SOUP
In general, smaller, denser-fleshed varieties of pumpkins have better flavour than the large ones that are used for Hallowe'en lanterns. If you cannot get a good, fresh pumpkin, you can use canned pumpkin, or substitute one of the nice winter squashes, such as butternut, Kabocha, or acorn.
500ml/16fl oz water
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
120ml/4fl oz fruity white wine
700g/1lb 8oz peeled, cubed pumpkin, or 750ml/11/4 pints cooked pumpkin puree
3 large leeks, white part only
11/2 tablespoons butter
500ml/16fl oz vegetable stock
2 tablespoons lemon juice
about 2 tablespoons sugar
white pepper to taste
1/4-1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
pinch of ground cinnamon
120ml/4fl oz cream
fresh parsley, coriander or chives, coarsely chopped
Peel and dice the potatoes and put them in a large soup pot with the water, salt, and wine. If you are using fresh, cubed pumpkin add it now. If using puree, wait. Simmer until the vegetables are tender.
Meanwhile, trim, clean, and slice the leeks, and cook them in the butter over a medium flame, stirring often, until they are soft and beginning to colour. Add the leeks to the potato mixture, and continue simmering until the vegetables are all very soft - about 45 minutes total cooking time.
Add the vegetable stock, and the pumpkin puree if that's what you're using, and puree the mixture in batches in a blender or food processor until perfectly smooth. Return the puree to the soup pot and season to taste with the lemon juice, sugar, additional salt, and white pepper. You may need no sugar at all, so taste first, then adjust. When the sweet-sour balance is correct, add a touch of nutmeg and cinnamon, and stir in the cream. Heat thoroughly and serve, sprinkled with some chopped parsley, coriander, or chives.
WILD MUSHROOM AND CHARRED TOMATO SOUP
50g/2oz dried porcini
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
3 large onions, quartered and sliced
4 garlic cloves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried whole thyme, or 1-2 teaspoons fresh
1.4kg/3lb ripe tomatoes
125g/4oz fresh shiitake, or other wild mushrooms
250ml/8fl oz dry red wine
750ml/11/4 pints vegetable stock
120ml/4fl oz cream
Cover the porcini with boiling water and set aside to soak for 30 minutes or longer, until soft.
Heat half the olive oil and half the butter in a large non-stick saute pan, and add the sliced onions, three-quarters of the garlic, the bayleaf, some salt, and the thyme. Regulate the heat and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown - as long as an hour if needed.
Meanwhile, scald and peel the tomatoes, cut them in halves or quarters, and mix them in a large bowl with the remaining olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and the remaining chopped garlic. Spread them on a baking sheet with edges, and roast in a very hot oven (220C/425F/Gas 7) turning once or twice, until charred spots appear around their edges.
Check the tomatoes every 10 minutes or so, and then more frequently when they begin to colour. Remember, you want them subtly charred, not burnt. When they're ready, allow them to cool a little on the baking sheet, then scrape them into a blender and process for a few seconds only; they should be roughly chopped.
When the porcini feel soft and flexible, drain them, reserving the liquid. Rinse them very carefully to get rid of all the sand, and chop any large pieces. Strain the liquid through a paper filter, adding water if needed to make 750ml (11/4 pints). Wash the shiitakes, cut off the stems, and slice them.
Melt the remaining butter in a non-stick pan and saute all the mushrooms in it until the shiitakes begin to colour. Deglaze the pan with the wine, then combine the mushrooms and wine with the caramelized onions in a soup pot.
Add the soaking liquid from the porcini, the vegetable stock, and the tomatoes, and simmer everything together for about 10 minutes to marry the flavours. Taste, and correct the seasoning with salt or pepper if desired. Stir in the cream.
WINTER VEGETABLE STEW
1 medium to large Kabocha squash 1.4-1.6kg/3lb-3lb 8oz (or acorn squash if you can't get Kabocha)
2 large onions
2 fennel bulbs
21/2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper to taste
2 medium red-skinned potatoes
500ml/16fl oz light vegetable stock or chicken stock
250ml/8fl oz white wine
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
450g/1lb mushrooms, preferably wild, thickly sliced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 medium tomatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
1 bunch kale
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1-2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Cut the squash in half, scrape out all the seeds, and, using your biggest, sharpest knife, cut it into slices 2.5cm (1in) thick. Pointing your knife always away from you, cut away the thick green peel, and cut the orange flesh into 2.5 x 5cm (1 x 2in) chunks.
Peel the onions and cut them into thin wedges. Wash and trim the fennel, halve the bulbs lengthwise and cut them in thick slices.
Heat one and a half tablespoons of olive oil in a large non-stick saute pan and add the squash, onions, fennel, about half a teaspoon of salt, and black pepper to taste. Cook the vegetables over a medium heat, stirring and turning them often, until the onions and fennel are limp and all the vegetables are beginning to colour in spots - this should take about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel and cut the potatoes into 2.5cm (1in) chunks. Put them in a small pot with the stock and white wine, bring the liquid to an easy boil, and cook them for about 10 minutes.
In a non-stick pan, heat half a tablespoon of olive oil, add one chopped garlic clove, and stir it in the hot oil for a minute. Add the sliced mushrooms, a dash of salt, and the cayenne pepper, and saute the mushrooms, stirring often, until they release their juice, it cooks away, and the mushrooms are beginning to brown.
Add the mushrooms, the tomatoes, and the potatoes in their stock to the squash mixture. Lower the heat, cover tightly, and let the stew simmer for about 30 minutes. The vegetables should be tender, and the potatoes and squash will fall apart around the edges just enough to thicken the juices slightly. If the mixture seems dry, add a drop of water or white wine.
Wash the kale thoroughly, slice off its stems, and cut the leaves into big pieces. Heat the remaining olive oil in the same pan you used for the mushrooms, and stir the rest of the garlic in it for a minute. Add the kale and toss it with the garlic and oil and a little salt just until it wilts, then stir this mixture into the stew.
Add the cider vinegar, honey, and soy sauce to the stew and turn up the flame. Stir everything together for a few minutes as the juices cook down a little and form a glaze. Taste, correct the seasoning with more salt or pepper if needed, and serve on big, deep plates, with couscous or rice.
RAGOUT OF WILD MUSHROOMS
The success of this dish will depend mainly on the flavour and quality of the mushrooms used. It pays to go our of your way to find good wild mushrooms, or the more interesting cultivated varieties, and a combination of a few is more satisfying than all of a kind. You can use porcini, morels, field mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, shiitakes, or other varieties if you live in a good area for mushrooms. Add champignons, the ubiquitous white buttons, if you need to, but try not to use more than half champignons in your mix, as they tend to have the blandest flavour.
800g/1lb 12oz fresh wild mushrooms, or a combination of wild and cultivated
1 large onion
1 large red onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 teaspoons butter
3 garlic cloves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
250ml/8fl oz dry red wine
1/2 teaspoon thyme leaves
2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon flour
500ml/16fl oz heated vegetable stock
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Clean the mushrooms thoroughly, trim off tough or woody stems, and slice the mushrooms or cut them in generous pieces.
Cut the onions in very thin wedges or wide slices. Heat one teaspoon of olive oil and two teaspoons of butter in a non-stick saute pan and saute the onions in it, stirring often, until they begin to soften. Add the chopped garlic and some salt and pepper, and continue cooking until the onions and garlic begin to brown. Add half the red wine, the bayleaf and thyme, and the celery. Turn down the heat and simmer gently until the wine cooks away.
Meanwhile, in another non-stick pan, heat two teaspoons of the olive oil with two teaspoons of the butter. Saute the mushrooms in it with a sprinkle of salt and the cayenne pepper until their excess liquid cooks away and they begin to colour. Add the remaining wine, lower the heat, and allow the wine to simmer down. Add the onions to the mushrooms.
Add the remaining butter to the pan in which you've sauteed the onions and let it melt. Stir in a tablespoon of flour and keep stirring over a medium heat for a few minutes as it turns golden. Whisk in the hot stock and continue whisking as it thickens. Add this sauce to the mushrooms and onions, along with the parsley. Simmer everything together gently for about 10 more minutes. Serve with rice.
If you can't find any fresh wild mushrooms at all, you could use 700g/1lb 8oz of fresh cultivated mushrooms, and about 50g/2oz of dried porcini. Cover the porcini with hot water and let them soak until they are soft and pliable, at least 30 minutes, then drain, reserving the water. Clean the mushrooms well and slice them. Proceed as above, combining the soaked porcini with the sliced fresh mushrooms. Filter the soaking liquid and then add it to the broth.
RED CABBAGE STEWED WITH APPLES AND WINE
1 medium head red cabbage (about 900g/2lb)
1 large onion
2 stalks celery
11/2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves
1 small bayleaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste
2 tart green apples, peeled, cored, and grated
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
300ml/10fl oz dry red wine
11/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2-3 teaspoons brown sugar
Wash the cabbage, cut into large sections, trim away the core, and shred it by hand or in a food processor with a slicing disc. Blanch in boiling, salted water for two minutes, drain, and set aside.
Peel and chop the onion. Trim the celery, de-rib it and dice finely. Saute the onions and celery in the olive oil, along with the garlic, until all the vegetables have softened. Add the bayleaf, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste, and continue cooking over medium heat until the onion begins to colour.
Stir in the blanched cabbage, grated apple, parsley and wine. Cover the pan and simmer the mixture over a low heat for about 20 minutes. Remove the lid, stir in the wine vinegar and sugar, correct the salt and pepper if needed, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes. The liquid will reduce to a light glaze.
My favourite way to cook vegetables at the moment is to roast them. I love grilling things, but roasting is much easier. Nothing touches water, so nothing can get soggy or lose taste. I get very satisfying results using very little fat; flavours are subtly enriched as juices caramelize and edges crisp up.
Almost any vegetable that has a solid, as opposed to leafy, texture can be successfully roasted. Of course, everyone's been roasting potatoes for ever, but roasted green beans have become a staple in my house, and have you ever tasted roasted asparagus? Or a pasta sauce made from oven- roasted tomatoes? Or a combination of roasted onions, peppers, squashes, and aubergine? It's like a ratatouille done entirely in the oven, with just a little oil. Wonderful.
I like to find sympathetic combinations of vegetables, depending on what's in season, and roast them all together, and serve them alongside polenta with a dab of tomato sauce or maybe a few slivers of cheese. The denser vegetables roasted to an almost crispy finish make a great finger food with drinks. And almost any combination can make the taco of your life, wrapped up in a warm corn tortilla with beans and some salsa.
Preparation time is minimal, and you only have to stir the vegetables once or twice while they're in the oven. What's more, they're good cold the next day. I love them in salad - I toss them with some crisp greens, a splash of oil and vinegar, chopped herbs, maybe some big gratings of Parmesan or slices of fresh mozzarella, and there's lunch.
Serves 8-10 generously
2-3 large aubergines
salt as needed
1 medium Kabocha squash (900g-1.4kg/2-3lb) (if Kabocha is not available, use a dense orange or dark yellow squash, such as acorn or pumpkin)
700g/1lb 8oz small potatoes, preferably red-skinned, or about 15-20 new potatoes
2 large onions
3-4 medium red, green or yellow peppers
8-10 whole garlic cloves
3 tablespoons fruity green olive oil
2-3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon dried crushed whole oregano leaves
freshly ground pepper to taste
The whole idea here is to scrub and trim the vegetables and cut them in fairly large pieces of a more or less uniform size so that they roast evenly.
Trim the aubergines, quarter them lengthwise, then slice about 1cm (1/2in) thick. Toss in a bowl with a couple of teaspoons of salt and transfer to a colander to drain while preparing the other veg.
Cut the squash in half, scoop out and discard the seeds, and cut each half into 2.5cm (1in) wedges. Trim off the skin with a sharp knife, leaving only the firm, dark yellow flesh, and cut it in 2.5cm (1in) squares. Scrub the potatoes and cut them into 1.5cm (3/4in) dice. Peel the garlic cloves.
Put all the vegetables except the aubergines into your largest bowl, add the olive oil, rosemary, oregano, one and a half teaspoons of salt, and as much fresh pepper as you think you might like. Mix everything together thoroughly. All the vegetables should be lightly coated with oil and herbs. Now rinse and drain the aubergine pieces, and mix them into the other vegetables.
Spread the vegetables out on two medium- sized baking sheets, and roast them in a 200C/ 400F/Gas 6 oven for about one and a half hours. After the first 30 minutes, turn them about with a spatula, stir them around a bit, and reverse their positions in the oven so the ones that were underneath have a turn on top. Move them around again after 30 minutes, and after that check them every 15 minutes.
They're done when the biggest chunk of squash is tender, when golden brown patches appear here and there, when the peppers look soft and the potatoes have crisp edges.
Variation: Substitute seven to eight medium-sized courgettes for the aubergine.
ROASTED WHOLE GARLIC
8-10 heads of garlic
approximately 2 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
There are two ideas about roasting garlic; one is to separate the cloves, and the other to leave the head whole. To roast whole heads of garlic, first slice off about 1cm (1/2in) from the sprouting ends with a very sharp knife. This will help you to separate the cloves later, when the garlic is soft.
If you're keeping up with kitchen fashion, you can put the trimmed garlic heads into clay garlic roasters, or into the larger onion roaster, or you can arrange them snugly in any casserole or baking dish that is the right size for them. Drizzle a few drops of olive oil over the cut top of each head, and sprinkle lightly with salt. Put two or three tablespoons of water in the bottom of the dish.
This is the important part: cover the dish tightly, or the garlic will dry out and become hard. Ideally, the dish should be well sealed up. The best method is to use a casserole with a close-fitting cover, or to cover the dish with aluminium foil first and then fit the lid over that to hold it down tightly. Roast the garlic at 200C/400F/Gas 6 for 45 minutes. When cooked you should be able to squeeze the soft garlic easily out of the clove.
Serve one head of garlic per person, with plenty of good country bread to spread it on, and be ready for the fact that everyone within a mile of your house will know what you're having for dinner.
ROAST BEETROOT, ASPARAGUS AND GARLIC SALAD
This is a beautiful salad - red and bright green, arranged together at the last minute. The flavour is superb as the sweetness of the garlic- infused beetroot plays against the freshness of asparagus.
500g/2lb beetroots (small if possible)
1 head garlic
450g/1lb slender green asparagus
60ml/2fl oz plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
60ml/2fl oz fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon minced onion
Trim the beetroots, leaving 2.5cm (1in) of stem, and scrub them well. Break the garlic up into individual cloves, but don't peel. Put the beetroots in a glass baking dish, and scatter the garlic cloves evenly over them. Add about 120ml (4fl oz) of water to the dish, cover tightly with a lid or with foil, and cook in a 200C/400F/Gas 6 oven for about one hour, until perfectly tender. The time will vary a bit depending on the size of the beetroot.
Meanwhile, wash the asparagus stalks and trim off any tough ends. Drizzle them with a tablespoon of olive oil, roll them around on a baking sheet until they are evenly coated, spread them out, and sprinkle them with salt. Set the stalks aside until the beetroots are cooked.
When the beetroots are tender, allow them to cool slightly so you can handle them, then peel and cut them into wedges or slices.
At the same time, raise the oven temperature to 230C/450F/Gas 8 and roast the prepared asparagus stalks for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on their thickness, until tender but not browned.
Squeeze about 10 cloves of the soft, cooked garlic into a bowl and mash well with a fork. Add the remaining 60ml (2fl oz) of olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, orange juice, minced onion, salt, and pepper, and whisk together thoroughly.
In separate bowls, add four tablespoons of the dressing to the beetroots and two tablespoons to the asparagus. Toss gently to coat, and leave the vegetables to marinate for a few hours.
Just before serving, arrange the beetroot and asparagus on individual plates in an alternative pattern. Don't toss them together or the beetroot will stain everything. Serve at room temperature.
REVISED CAESAR SALAD
The original Caesar salad is an abiding favourite, having survived time, changing fashion, numerous weird and perverse variations, and the certain knowledge that too much oil just isn't good for us. It's a delicious salad.
But nothing's sacred, so here's a delicious variation. It calls for a lighter hand with the olive oil, and replaces the nearly raw egg with a spoonful of mayonnaise. These are minor changes - the essential flavours of olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Parmesan cheese remain clear and true, and the crunchy, home-made garlic croutons are there. It's just a little less of a production to make and easier on your health so now, if you like, you can have it every day.
2 garlic cloves
5 tablespoons fruity green olive oil
12-16 slices from a baguette (sourdough if possible)
salt to taste
3-4 heads romaine lettuce, hearts only
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1-2 tablespoons reduced-fat mayonnaise
50-75g/2-3oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper
Crush the garlic cloves a little with the flat of a knife, then peel and chop them coarsely. Combine the garlic in a dish with two tablespoons of olive oil and let steep for about 15 minutes.
Cut 12 to 16 thick slices from a baguette. (You can use ordinary French bread, but I prefer sourdough.) Using a pastry brush, very lightly brush a little garlic oil on both sides of each slice, then sprinkle with salt. Cut the slices into thirds or quarters, spread them on a baking sheet, and toast them in a 200C/400F/Gas 6 oven for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are crisp and golden brown around the edges.
Wash the lettuce, set aside the large, dark green outer leaves for another use, and tear up the crisp, lighter green inner leaves. Spin them dry in a salad spinner and put them in a big, wide salad bowl.
In the container of a blender, combine the remaining three tablespoons of olive oil, the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, a pinch of salt, and one to two tablespoons of mayonnaise, depending on how "creamy" you like your dressing. For a more assertive garlic taste, add a bit of the chopped garlic you used for the crouton oil. Give all this a brief spin, drizzle it over the lettuce, and toss. Add the grated Parmesan cheese and a few turns of the pepper mill, and toss again. Scatter the croutons over the top, or toss them in with the lettuce, and serve.
SALAD OF BITTER LEAVES WITH GORGONZOLA CHEESE AND WALNUTS
1 medium head radicchio
1/2 head curly endive
12 large fresh basil leaves
1/4 red onion, cut in slivers
175g/6oz Gorgonzola cheese
125-150g/4-5oz walnut pieces, lightly toasted
2 tablespoons fruity green olive oil
1 tablespoon walnut oil
sprinkle of balsamic vinegar
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper
Wash and trim all the salad leaves, spin them dry in a salad spinner, and tear into manageable pieces. Combine the leaves in a large bowl with the onion.
Break the cheese into pea-sized nuggets and scatter over the greens. If the walnut pieces are very large, chop them just a little before adding them to the salad. Drizzle on the olive oil and walnut oil and toss everything together gently. Add a few drops of balsamic vinegar and some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and toss again.
WATERCRESS AND FRISEE SALAD
This is another of those excellent salads that can be served with wine. The peppery tastes of good watercress and radishes provide bite without acid, and contrast with the sweetness of fennel and raisins. Only a few drops of a fruity vinegar are used, letting the olive oil and walnuts dominate.
Make this salad only when you can get really fresh, dark-green watercress. Watercress is great when just picked, but loses its flavour and character after a few days in the refrigerator.
Serves 8 as a side salad
2 bunches fresh watercress
1-2 heads young frisee
small handful of fresh basil leaves
small handful of fresh coriander
1 fennel bulb
5-6 red radishes
fruity green olive oil to taste
2-3 teaspoons raspberry vinegar
75g/3oz chopped walnuts
Wash the watercress well to remove any mud, and break off and discard heavy stems. Wash the frisee and tear it into bite-sized pieces. Spin the leaves in a salad spinner to remove excess water.
Cut the larger basil leaves in to wide strips and leave the smaller ones whole. Snip the coriander leaves off their stems. Clean and trim the fennel bulb, quarter it lengthwise, and cut it in to paper-thin slices. Trim and thinly slice the radishes.
Toss together the leaves, herbs, fennel, radishes, and raisins. Drizzle on a very small amount of fruity green olive oil and the raspberry vinegar, then add a dash of salt and pepper and toss again until the leaves are all lightly touched with dressing. I use only a couple of tablespoons of oil for this salad, as the walnuts add richness.
Sprinkle the chopped walnuts over the salad in the serving bowl or over each serving.
In the following two parts of our healthy eating series, we'll have more recipes from Anna Thomas' new book From Anna's Kitchen and, in the final week, we will be giving details of how readers can obtain a copy for the special price of pounds 9.99 (usually pounds 14.99).
Next week we will turn to nourishing dishes based on starchy foods; bread and potatoes, pasta and grains. Then, in the last of the series, we will offer inspiring suggestions for relishes and dips, and healthy puddings.