Fresh Food Fast: Delicious, Seasonal Vegetarian Meals in Under an Hour

Book Review by Norene Gilletz

Fresh Food Fast – Year Round!

Cookbooks are piled up in my office, my kitchen, my bedroom – wherever there is a spare corner. When I have a few moments, I sift through the tottering files, looking for inspiration for my food column. I’m extremely busy, but I like preparing quick, healthy meals that celebrate summer’s bounty.

When I opened award-winning author Peter Berley’s book Fresh Food Fast (Regan Books, $49.95 Cdn), I was hooked. Here was an incredibly busy chef, teacher and family man who spoke my language. Berley understands how little free time most people have these days to cook healthy, hearty dinners made from fresh, flavour-packed ingredients.

Berley, together with Melissa Clark, offers recipes for 48 delicious, seasonal vegetarian meals that can be prepared with ease in under an hour. There are 12 mouth-watering menus for each season, including recipes, a shopping list organized by grocery aisles and an equipment list. There are delectable dessert recipes for each season. The recipes will bring pleasure to vegetarians and omnivores alike.

Berley offers speed tips that reveal the tricks of the restaurant trade. He believes that knowing the right tools and techniques to use is essential for getting dinner on the table amid the high-speed life most of us lead. He suggests using a food processor to help cut and shred vegetables if you are not skilled with a knife. Use a single pot of boiling water to blanch vegetables before cooking pasta. If you need to cut onions for two different dishes in the same menu, cut them at the same time. He suggests trying to cook seasonally, buying produce at its peak – when it will definitely taste best.

Unlike like most other cookbooks, which give only recipes, Berley’s book of menus gives the reader a peek into the kitchen of a committed and professional fast, fresh cook. Each menu has a step-by-step game plan that shows you how to orchestrate the whole meal, including tips on how to combine the prepping steps so the recipes are quicker and easier to put together than they would be if made separately.

Berley offers the following game plan for this scrumptious summertime menu:

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Meanwhile, prepare the squash salad, then prepare the vegetables and vinaigrette for the chopped salad. Make the pizzas, then finish the salad. Shave some parmesan cheese over the pizzas and serve immediately, accompanied by the squash. Enjoy!


Pan-searing the squash caramelizes it and produces a nice crust. The sugars become concentrated and the juices are locked in. You can use the same technique with eggplant slices and onion rings.

2 pounds summer squash, sliced 1/2-inch thick
2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbsp. fresh mint, torn into pieces
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. coarse sea salt or kosher salt, plus additional salt to taste
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
freshly milled black pepper

Warm a large heavy skillet, griddle or grill pan over medium heat. Arrange the squash in a single layer and sear until speckled with brown and beginning to blacken, about 5 minutes. Flip the squash and cook for 4 to 5 minutes more. Repeat with remaining squash.

In a serving bowl, combine the lemon juice, mint, garlic, salt and red pepper flakes and let marinate for 5 minutes. Whisk in the oil.

Transfer the seared squash to the bowl, toss to coat with the dressing, and let rest for about 5 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper and serve.

Yields 4 servings.


Pocketless pita bread makes a convenient pizza base. You could also use any other tender, chewy flatbread, such as lavash.

For the chopped salad:

1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 small red onion, halved and very thinly sliced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt or kosher salt and freshly milled black pepper
3 hearts of romaine, coarsely chopped (about 8 cups)
4 medium Kirby (pickling) cucumbers, quartered lengthwise and cut into
bite-sized pieces
2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeds and diced (about 1 cup)
1 ripe avocado, diced
5 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
8 to 10 fresh mint leaves, torn into pieces

For the pizzas:

4 (7-inch) rounds of pocketless pita bread
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, coarsely grated
1/2 cup pitted and roughly chopped green olives
2 jalapeno peppers, minced, or 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
freshly milled black pepper
shaved parmesan cheese for garnish

Place a pizza stone or an inverted rimmed baking sheet in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F. To prepare the salad, vigorously rub the inside of a large bowl with the garlic. Add the vinegar and red onion and set aside for 5 minutes. Whisk in the oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the lettuce, cucumber, tomato, avocado, basil, and mint and toss well.

Bake the pitas, in batches if necessary, on the heated pizza stone or pan for 3 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine the cheese, olives, jalapenos and black pepper. Divide this mixture among the 4 pitas.

Return the pitas to the oven, 2 at a time, and bake until the cheese is bubbling and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Mound the salad on top of the pizzas, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve.

Yields 4 servings.

Fresh Food Fast: Delicious, Seasonal Vegetarian Meals in Under an Hour
by Peter Berley

Regan Books
Cdn. $49.95

Order Now from or