Gardenista in Residence: A Spring Dinner with Six Seasons
Filled with delicious and approachable vegetable recipes, Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables is our latest source of inspiration for cooking with fresh produce year-round. Author and chef Joshua McFadden cultivated a love of vegetables while managing Four Seasons Farm, a pioneering organic farm in coastal Maine. Today, he's the chef and owner of Portland, Oregon trattoria Ava Gene's. Joshua will visit terrain later this month to host a pair of events that spotlight Six Seasons: a spring dinner on April 20 at Styers with Michelle Slatalla of Gardenista, and a cocktail hour and signing on April 29 in Westport with Julie Carlson of Remodelista. In preparation, he joined Michelle for a conversation on getting the garden started, his favorite recipes from Six Seasons, and what we'll see on his spring menu.
Michelle: Joshua, we are so excited about your book! It feels like you channeled the dream cookbook for Gardenista, then wrote it!
Joshua: Wow, thank you! Throughout the writing of Six Seasons, I often thought about my dad, who doesn’t really know how to cook. So I was guided by the idea of this book helping someone learn to cook.
Michelle: Have you always loved vegetables, or is that something you grew into while becoming a chef?
Joshua: I think everyone likes vegetables, and just doesn’t want to admit it! People love pickles and those are a vegetable. The key is just giving things a try! As for me, I was always into vegetables but didn’t know why – I didn’t have a vegetable mission statement. Their diversity in texture, color, and seasonality is just more compelling than using the same cuts of meat over and over. I’m not saying I prefer vegetables over meat, but their seasonality is so exciting.
Michelle: Do you have a favorite vegetable?
Joshua: Hmm…I’d probably say tomatoes. Tomato season is great, and tomato is one of my first flavor memories. I grew up in a beautiful area of Wisconsin, and I remember standing outside with my dad eating a warm tomato. That was so awesome.
Michelle: I’ve been thinking about the links between what you do and what Gardenista does. It would be amazing if our readers could grow their own vegetables to use in your recipes! We’ll be together at the terrain dinner in April, and Six Seasons comes out on May 2. In April, what could our readers be planting to harvest and cook with using the book?
Joshua: That would be wonderful, but it’s a tough question! I don’t have a lot of experience gardening, but I do have a lot of experience farming—they’re quite different things. On the farm, we started our plants in the greenhouse in February. Everyone’s garden situation is different, but one key element is using starts, either ones you’ve grown at home or bought, then bringing them outside to the garden. You can’t start a tomato seed in the ground in May and hope to grow tomatoes this summer; you need an older plant to succeed. Getting some help from starts is the way to go.
Something else I learned from the farm is the importance of succession planting, so you can spread out your harvest. By planting things in waves, you’ll get a more manageable amount of each crop spread over a few weeks. That’s key for the way I cook, too. A single week of tomatoes is no fun for anyone.
Michelle: You live in Portland, where there’s a mild climate, and I’m in northern California. I’ve already got my spring lettuces and strawberries planted. By June, those lettuces will be ready to harvest and a succession planting of tomatoes will go in.
Joshua: Speaking of climate, one other thing I learned from the farm is that plant protection of some kind is key. You can put little ball jars or cloches over your starts to create a micro-greenhouse, and trick your plants into being a month or two ahead.
Michelle: That’s brilliant! There’s a similar idea of placing glass cloches in ornamental gardens across Europe. When can you put starts under jars and have them survive?
Joshua: They say that every layer you add is like 10 degrees of latitude – so 3 layers would help to make the Portland climate more like northern California. And when it’s hot, you can take off all the layers. It might seem like cheating, but it’s just smart!
Michelle: Do you have a garden of your own, or one at the restaurant?
Joshua: Sadly no, but one might be coming! If all goes well, I’m hoping to buy a 55-acre farm this summer. However, I do grow a lot of herbs, including 8 types of mint. They’re all so different, and it’s fun to mix up the textures, flavors, and pungencies.
Michelle: Would you recommend that readers who want to start an herb garden begin with mint?
Joshua: No, because it would take over the whole garden! I grow my herbs in pots for that reason. I also love to grow all types of basil in summer – really, get them all. You can make whole salads out of basil.
Michelle: Let’s talk a bit more about Six Seasons – I’m intrigued by the title, what are the six seasons?
Joshua: The title serves as a talking point, and a way to get people interested in seasonal eating. The six seasons take shape because we divided summer into three seasons: early, middle, and late. There’s so much diversity in what’s ripe at those times that each one feels like a distinct season in itself.
Michelle: For home cooks and gardeners, what’s the best way to approach the book? Do you recommend working page by page, through sections, or through seasons?
Joshua: It really depends on your own cooking skills; Six Seasons is intended for people who don’t cook very much. That’s why I structured it as a scrapbook-style guide, rather than a glossy restaurant book. I also created 3 or 4 stories throughout, and you can engage with the one that interests you most. Overall, I wanted to emphasize seasonality. Once you think seasonally, everything becomes easier.
Michelle: Can you pick just one favorite recipe from the book, or is that cruel to the other recipes?
Joshua: Pickles are one of my favorites, especially pickled carrots. I also really love the caper-raisin vinaigrette, which I use over and over throughout the book. The recipe is adapted from Australian chef Matt Wilkinson, and it’s delicious! Surprisingly, a combination of Italian ingredients ends up creating an Asian flavor. I use it in a recipe for a Chinese takeout-style beef and broccoli, which you can make in 15 minutes once the vinaigrette is done. It’s also delicious drizzled on raw zucchini and tomatoes.
Another recipe I love is the tonnato. It makes a great substitute for mayonnaise, because it’s really stable and not bad for you. Tonnato goes with everything; I think I could have used it even more throughout the book. During the book tour, I’m planning to use it to dress salads, including some recipes that aren’t featured in the book. That’s the whole idea of Six Seasons – to offer adaptable recipes with lots of flexibility.
Michelle: I’ve already read some rave reviews for the book, including one from Bon Appetit that said, “You’ll never look at cabbage the same way again!” What are you doing with cabbage?
Joshua: All the things! There are five cabbage recipes in the book, from raw to battered and fried with tonnato.
Michelle: I might have to go make that right after this! Battered and fried cabbage, what could be better? You’re a big advocate of cooking seasonally—what do you have planned for the terrain menu in April?
Joshua: Part of the fun in this book is picking it up and getting inspired by what’s inside, so the terrain cafe team chose the menu based on things they’re excited about. I did suggest a family style menu, because that’s the type of cooking I believe in. The menu will include toasts with fava beans and onions, a fava bean entrée with new potatoes and baked eggs, and lots more.
Michelle: For me and for so many Gardenista readers, the great thing about Six Seasons is that we’ve devoted our lives to vegetables, and this book gives us new ways to indulge our vegetable fantasies!
Joshua: Such a compliment!
Joshua will host two events spotlighting Six Seasons at terrain this April: a spring dinner with Michelle Slatalla in Glen Mills, and a cocktail hour with Remodelista editor Julie Carlson in Westport. Michelle and the Gardenista team will also be joining us for special events throughout the year. Learn more about each event & RSVP:
Photography excerpted from Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2017. Photographs by Laura Dart and A.J. Meeker.