Thursday, August 8, 2013

Coming out of the closet and into the garden

In early March, Joe Yonan felt a need for confession. The season was turning from winter to spring. He wanted to face the greening season with a clean conscience.

He had something to say and he knew it wouldn’t be easy. The long-time food editor of The Washington Post had a reputation to uphold – a brand, even – that might be at risk if he were to be entirely honest.
After all, what would people think if one of the nation’s top food writers was to step out of the closet and admit that he had wholeheartedly embraced a vegetarian lifestyle?

“For a variety of reasons, I felt the pull to change the way I eat, and to tell people about it,” says Yonan, who declared his vegetarianism in a much-lauded column. “There was so much going on. We were going through some budget cuts at the Post. Then my dog died very suddenly. And the community garden I had been growing food in was closing down. All three things drove me to want a change of scenery and pace.”

Yonan took leave from the Post and spent a year living with his sister and brother-in-law at their Maine homestead. The term is not quaint code for a fashionable farm house. They worked the land and ate almost exclusively from it. The result was Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook. The book is the featured topic for this month's posting from #LetsLunch, a global food community of which Yonan is a member.
“After all the nose-to-tail, bacon-stuffed foie gras I’d been eating, I found that I was being more drawn to the vegetable dishes in restaurants,” he says. “The more I learned about growing vegetables, the more I became enamored of them. And I felt better, too.”

Like those before him, who not only managed to eat beets and Brussel sprouts but happily admitted they like them, Yonan wanted to share his message. Eat Your Vegetables became his second book patterned after his popular Cooking for One column, which he retired this year. The first was Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One (2011).
Yonan was amused when told of Twitter chatter that mocked the concept as sad or depressing. While a new study finds that most solo restaurant diners bring their social network-loaded smartphone along for company, Yonan says that the single cook – whether alone by choice or circumstance – need not feel that they are not worth the pleasure of a great meal.

“I get tired of people saying, why should I got to all that trouble if it’s just me? Because you’re worth it,” he says. “Your standards should not change if you’re not cooking for a crowd. The idea that it’s sad or depressing reflects our society’s insistence that the only way to be happy is to be in a relationship.”
Yonan says the Cooking for One column originally was planned to feature different voices each month. The first post was written in 2008 by food editor Judith Jones, who was learning to cook for one again after the death of her husband. She published The Pleasures of Cooking for One in 2009.

“She wrote about setting a proper place setting, lighting a candle, having a glass of wine,” says Yonan, who replaced Cooking for One with the weekly Weeknight Vegetarian. “That’s the way to look at this. I think it you can think of nothing sadder than being along and cooking yourself a nice dinner, you have deeper problems than what’s in your fridge.”
Yonan says he often demonstrates his recipe for Fusilli with Corn Sauce at book events to prove how quick and simple it can be to prepare a delicious meal for one. It scales well, too. I actually made it as a side dish for three.

Fusilli with Corn Sauce
Reprinted by permission of Joe Yonan from “Eat Your Vegetables” (© Ten Speed Press, 2013).
3 ounces whole wheat fusilli, farfalle, or other curly pasta
2 ears fresh corn
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ large onion, chopped (about ¾ cup)
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 fresh basil leaves, stacked, rolled and thinly sliced

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until it is al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, shuck the corn and rinse it under running water, removing as many of the silks as you can with your hands. Rub one of the ears of corn over a coarse grater set over a bowl to catch the milk and pulp. Cut the kernels off the other cob with a knife; keep the whole kernels separate from the milk and pulp.
Pour the oil into a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion and garlic and sauté until tender. And the corn kernels and sauté for just a few minutes, until the corn softens slightly and brightens in color. Stir in the corn milk and pulp and turn off the heat. Cover to keep warm.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it (reserving ½ cup of the pasta water) and add it to the skillet with the corn sauce. Toss to combine, adding a little pasta water if the sauce needs loosening. Stir in the cheese, then taste and add salt as needed and grind in plenty of fresh black pepper. Stir in the basil, scoop everything into a bowl, and eat.


Joe Yonan's Fusilli with Corn Sauce
from "Eat Your Vegetables"


  1. Great post. Thanks so much, Jill! So glad you liked the dish.

  2. Well done! I had no idea anyone mocked the idea of cooking for one. Haters gotta hate. Anyway, I loved this post!

  3. Nice post, Jill! I love the cooking for one concept and in some ways it's even more difficult with vegetable-focused cooking. I may be married but when it comes to dinner time I'm as good as single; while my wife dines on meat I cook a good vegetarian meal for myself pretty much every night.

  4. So agree with Joe and Judith that it's worth cooking for yourself! It is a common complaint. Thx for revealing why Joe 'came out of the closet!'

  5. Such a lovely pasta dish and interview with the author. Looking forward to the cookbook!