Restaurants focusing on farm-to-table fare may be a dime a dozen these days, but as Paul Virant
notes in the introduction to his Preservation Kitchen
cookbook, the idea was much more radical when he opened Vie in Western Springs eight years ago. There weren't as many farmers supplying Chicago-area restaurants as there are now, he says, and the area's relatively short growing season presented some challenges. He turned to preserving summer fruits and vegetables in order to have something besides beets to serve during the winter, with mixed success: a baby leek and carrot aigre-doux, for example, wasn't a winner. Plenty of other experiments were, though, and became staples at Vie—and now many are recorded for posterity in Virant's first cookbook.
The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking With Pickles, Preserves, and Aigre-doux is divided into two sections: "In the Jar" and "At the Table." The first is dedicated to instructions and recipes for making pickles, relishes, jams, mostardas, aigre-doux, pressure-canned preserves, and even sauerkraut and a couple cured meats. The second uses those recipes in seasonal menus, like a summer meal including preserved gazpacho, grilled skirt steak with fennel panzanella salad, and mixed-berry crisp with goat cheese mousse and mulberry aigre-doux. The recipes in both halves, while not exactly quick and easy, seem doable for nonprofessional cooks. They're clearly written and beautifully photographed (by Jeff Kauck)—and, while I haven't had a chance to test any of them yet, sound delicious.
My favorite part, though, is the array of suggestions for what to do with the preserves. Each recipe in the front half of the book is matched with at least one suggestion for how to use it, sometimes several. Virant also discusses what he calls the "creme fraiche effect," positing that mixing creme fraiche with pickled vegetables can transform them into a sauce or dip. At the end of the introduction, Virant quotes the adage "I eat what I can and what I can't, I can"—and the book is testament to his dedication to that idea.
Virant signs The Preservation Kitchen
Tuesday, May 8, at 6 PM at the Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln, 773-293-2665; he'll also provide snacks.