Vivian Howard’s first cookbook chronicling the food of Eastern North Carolina, Deep Run Roots, was named one of the best of the year by 18 national publications, including the New York Times, USA Today, Bon Appetit, and Eater, and won an unprecedented four IACP awards, including Cookbook of the Year. Now, Vivian returns with an essential work of home-cooking genius that makes simple food exciting and accessible, no matter your skill level in the kitchen.
Each chapter of This Will Make It Taste Good is built on a flavour hero—a simple but powerful recipe like her briny green sauce, spiced nuts, fruit preserves, deeply caramelized onions, and spicy pickled tomatoes. Like a belt that lends you a waist when you’re feeling baggy, these flavour heroes brighten, deepen, and define your food.
Many of these recipes are kitchen crutches, dead-easy, super-quick meals to lean on when you’re limping toward dinner. There are also kitchen projects, adventures to bring some more joy into your life. Vivian’s mission is not to protect you from time in your kitchen, but to help you make the most of the time you’ve got.
Nothing is complicated, and more than half the dishes are vegetarian, gluten-free, or both. These recipes use ingredients that are easy to find, keep around, and cook with—lots of chicken, prepared in a bevy of ways to keep it interesting, and common vegetables like broccoli, kale, squash, and sweet potatoes that look good no matter where you shop.
And because food is the language Vivian uses to talk about her life, that’s what these recipes do, next to stories that offer a glimpse at the people, challenges, and lessons learned that stock the pantry of her life.
Serves 3 (2 cups each)
Every fall, butternut squash soup has a moment. And for years I did my cheffy best to seize it. I stewed butternut with mirepoix, added white potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, garlic, and every ingredient I could conjure to make butternut squash soup taste more nuanced, less boring, more exciting. What I ended up with over and over was a muddled bowl of orange that tasted like nothing in particular.
After more than a decade of cooking professionally, my focus shifted from fancified techniques employed to grab the attention of other chefs to simple paths toward resolute deliciousness. I started cooking for myself and for my guests, and dishes like butternut squash soup that should be simple became just that.
Here I’ve leaned into the ingredients we all agree taste, smell, and feel like fall. Ginger, pecans, apples, brown butter, nutmeg, and sage all say Thanksgiving is on the horizon, and butternut squash is an orange vegetable that will take us there.
The soup itself is bare-bones butternut because I’ve learned that’s the only way butternut really shines. The pyrotechnics come in the relish. Its crunchy, warm, and sweet notes are the foil that makes butternut exciting.
1 large butternut squash
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, halved and sliced thin
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup (½-inch-thick) sliced leek rounds, white and light green parts only
¼ cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 large crisp eating apple, cut off the core and sliced thin
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
½ cup roughly chopped V’s Nuts (page 266)
- Preheat your oven to 375°F. Split the butternut squash lengthwise. Remove the seeds and score the flesh with a knife. Place it flesh side up on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Slide that onto the middle rack of your oven. Roast for 1 hour, or until the flesh has started to brown and is easily pierced with a knife. Once the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and discard the skin.
- In a 4- to 6-quart saucepan or Dutch oven, sweat the onion, ginger, nutmeg, and ½ teaspoon salt in 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and limp. Add the cooked squash, another ½ teaspoon salt, and the broth. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat and cook at an energetic simmer for about 20 minutes.
- While the soup simmers, in a small saucepan or 10-inch sauté pan, cook the remaining 3 tablespoons butter with the leeks and remaining ½ teaspoon salt over medium heat until the butter begins to brown. Add the vinegar and maple syrup and let that bubble for about 10 seconds before removing it from the heat.
- Once the soup has simmered for 20 minutes, transfer it to your blender and let it rip (carefully) until the soup is totally smooth. As that’s happening, reheat the maple, butter, vinegar mixture and stir the apples, sage, and V’s Nuts into it. Serve the soup with a mound of the apple-nut relish in the center.
A note about apples
You’ll notice I use a lot of them. There are at least ten recipes in this book that grab apples by the stem and make the most of their unique qualities. My rabid use of the OG forbidden fruit is not a product of oversight, lack of imagination (obviously), or laziness. Rather I want to drive home the apple’s undervalued versatility in savoury food, which is coupled with year-round availability and generally consistent quality. Apples add unmatched texture, cherry-red and lime-green pops of colour, and a natural fresh sweetness I want you to remember on your quest to make food taste good.
Excerpted from THIS WILL MAKE IT TASTE GOOD by Vivian Howard. Copyright © 2020 by Vivian Howard. Photographs by Baxter Miller. Used with permission of Voracious, an imprint of Little, Brown and Company. New York, NY. All rights reserved.