You all know Alice Waters, Dan Barber and Rene Redzepi, right? These are the elevators of the humble beet, disciples of the heirloom tomato, pioneers of the potato pedigree. Each is a master chef, overseeing wildly successful restaurants and molding industry practices in the process. These top toques and the hordes of “slow food movement” followers they’ve inspired seem to be gaining ground in one of the most prolific trends in restaurants today: meat in moderation, veggies in abundance. These are the non-vegetarian vegetable eaters. But, like that pair of bell bottoms you picked up in the vintage store, everything old is new again, and vegetable forward cuisine is no exception.
If we trace this trend back…way back…we might find ourselves on the fertile hilltop estate of Monticello, in the rolling piedmont of Virginia. Here, at the home of founding father and devout culinarian Thomas Jefferson, we would have seen some of the most spectacular vegetable gardens in the new world (and still do, in fact, as the property’s gardens are maintained to exacting historical accuracy). The numbers alone are staggering, as Jefferson, who kept extensive records, grew 170 varieties of fruit trees, 330 varieties of 89 different species of vegetables and 15 types of English peas. He grew broccoli imported from Italy, fiery Mexican chilis, French globe artichokes, Native American lima beans and African okra. His garden, pantry and kitchen were a worldly melting pot that came to define American culture and the country’s cuisine.
Keep reading to learn about the history of veggie-centric dishes and get Chef Robert’s recipe for a delicious cold pea soup.