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Mario Batali's 'America Farm To Table' Celebrates Farmers With Delightful Recipes

By Erika Kubick in Food on Jan 27, 2015 8:00PM

America Farm to Table

A couple months ago, I received a sample copy of Iron Chef Mario Batali’s cookbook, written in collaboration along with journalist Jim Webster. At first I was suspicious that I’d be reading a book filled with Eataly endorsements or maybe an insider’s look at an upcoming reality TV series about farmers. In spite of my apprehensions, America Farm to Table proved an approachable and resourceful cookbook with soul. In each of the book’s eight sections, alongside a slew of accessible and delightful recipes, Batali brings into focus a farmer that supplies some of America’s most outstanding farm-to-table restaurants.

Moroccan Carrot Salad. Photo by Danielle Fink.

The book maintains a classic organization: the first section contains recipes for appetizers and the last contains desserts and sweets. Each course features one of Batali’s chef friends and a farmer whom they adore. At first I thought this was going to be another overly romanticized tale of the American farmer, and it is indeed a little fanciful: the farmers are cast in a narrative that details their passion for their craft. But there is more to these stories than sensationalism. These farmers are creating spectacular products and their stories are inspiring. The collaboration between farmer and chef is the most alluring aspect, their shared passion fueling the dialogue between earth and plate, nature and culture. This intimate alliance is the core of the farm-to table-movement and that’s what Batali captures. The oyster section is my favorite, appropriately following the profile of Jeff “Smokey” McKeen, an oyster farmer in Maine. Smokey also plays in an oyster-themed band called Old Grey Goose. I’d appreciate the recipes more If I didn’t live in an oyster desert, but I was still fascinated by Smokey and his work.

Spanish Chicken with Saffron. Photo by Danielle Fink.

Cooking through the book, I found the recipes I tried both approachable and rewarding. Some recipes are simple enough for the home cook, while others require a little kitchen competence. Not surprisingly, the recipe portion of the book is best utilized when the farmer’s markets open back up in the spring. Most of the recipes revolve around vegetables, but not all. My favorite recipe that I tried is a pork loin roasted on a bed of easy sauerkraut. There is a lot of sage and cider involved in the recipe, so I made it for a dinner party. The pork turned out tender, slipping of the bone in fatty chunks. I also loved a remarkably simple Moroccan carrot salad generously spiked with cumin and lemon. It’s one of those salads you could eat all winter long. A final highlight was the Spanish chicken featuring a wealth of onions, olives and saffron.

America Farm to Table is a loose, cross-country itinerary in support of small-scale farmers all over. In his introduction, Mario himself shudders at the slogan “farm to table,” but recognizes the power of this phrase. Investing in our local farmers is important for the health of our earth and community. Though many people consider chefs the new rock stars, Batali argues that it is indeed the farmer who deserves the praise and awe. While his recipes are simple and delicious, it’s the stories that make this cookbook a keeper.