Mangini, known as "The Vegetable Butcher," has based her career on glorifying vegetables, first at Eataly in New York, then at the Farmstead in St. Helena and now at her produce-centric restaurant Little Eater in Columbus, Ohio, where she also has a produce and provisions boutique.
"Parsnips add wonderful moisture, sweetness, great texture and earthiness," Mangini said during an appearance at Melissa's Produce. A browned buttercream frosting makes the cake even better, "but it is so delicious on its own," she said.
Parsnips aside, Mangini (above) talked about her calling in life. "Vegetable education is at the core of what I do," she said. "In many other cultures vegetables are a natural part of the plate, not because of any obligation or political agenda." And that's what she wants to promote here, where there's a history of vegetables as overcooked flavorless side dishes.
There's nothing flavorless about her Mediterranean heirloom tomato panzanella, a tomato and torn bread salad that fits with her Italian heritage (above). Behind it in the photo is a Turkish potato salad with dill and mint. Yogurt based, "it's not that heavy, traditional potato salad," she said.
And here is corn chowder with double corn flavor--Mangini uses the corn kernels in the chowder and the shaved cobs to make the stock. The topping adds many more layers of flavor--cilantro, feta cheese, freshly ground pepper, olive oil and spiced, sweet pepitas.
From cooking classes in Kaş on Turkey's Mediterranean coast Mangini took away this carrot and yogurt dip, "a really unique way to use carrots," she said, "good on baked potatoes, with crudités or with pita chips."
"Butcher" is exactly what Mangini is, an expert in cutting up vegetables, just as her ancestors were meat butchers. Watching her do this is eye-opening. I've awkwardly cut up cauliflower for years, then saw her effortlessly quarter a cauliflower and slice off the core, letting the florets fall free.
Need to peel a bunch of garlic cloves? Put them in a bowl, invert another bowl of the same size over it, then shake the two bowls together until the skins come loose.
In her book, Mangini gives butchery techniques such as these for each vegetable, accompanied by photos. She discusses equipment, because you need the proper tools to butcher vegetables; storage, and cooking procedures.
Then comes the fun part, the recipes. Not the same old steamed broccoli but caramelized broccoli with chile oil and Parmesan. And seared beets with chimichurri and goat cheese crema, which she picked up during her stint cooking at Farmstead. And baked eggs and braised collards with slow-roasted tomatoes and shiitake cream.
There are other vegetable cakes too, one with eggplant and polenta and another with zucchini, olive oil and lemon drizzle, plus an avocado dessert, an Italian chocolate avocado budino, all showing that vegetables can be used in many ways, not just on the side of a main dish.
PARSNIP-GINGER LAYER CAKE
WITH BROWNED BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
From "The Vegetable Butcher" by Cara Mangini
Unsalted butter for greasing
2 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting the pans
1 cup grapeseed or canola oil
3 cups peeled and shredded parsnips (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated on a Microplane
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 large eggs
3/4 cup low-fat or whole milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped
Browned Buttercream Frosting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the bottoms and sides of two (9-inch) layer cake pans. Line the bottom of each with a round of parchment paper.
Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the parsnips and fresh ginger and stir to coat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the parsnips are fragrant and tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the parsnip mixture cool.
Meanwhile, whisk together the ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice in a large bowl. Add the 2 cups of flour, the sugar, baking powder and salt, and whisk until incorporated.
In a smaller bowl whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of oil, the eggs, milk and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Stir in the parsnip mixture and toasted pecans until just combined.
Divide the batter between the 2 cake pans. Bake until the tops begin to turn golden, or a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.
Transfer the cakes to wire cooling racks and let cool in the pans for 10 minutes. Then run a knife around the inside edge of each cake pan. Invert onto the the cooling racks, leaving the pans in place until the cakes release. Remove the pans and parchment and allow the cakes to cool completely.
Place one cake top side up on a cake plate. Scoop about 1/3 of the frosting onto the center of the cake and spread evenly. Place the second cake top side down onto the frosted cake top. Scoop the remaining frosting onto the center of the second layer and spread it again an even layer all the way to the edge, leaving the sides bare.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
BROWNED BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 to 4 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 to 6 tablespoons milk or warm water, plus extra if needed.
Heat the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.
Sift 4 cups of the sugar into a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer.
Add the browned butter to the sugar along with the vanilla and beat together with an electric hand mixer or or stand mixer on medium-low speed until just incorporated.
Add 3 tablespoons milk or more to reach the desired consistency and beat on medium-low until the frosting is light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. If the frosting seems too thin, add more sugar, a little at a time, to reach the desired consistency. Let the frosting cool before spreading on the cake.