Miller Union’s Steven Satterfield on writing a cookbook in a pandemic and what inspired Vegetable Revelations

The James Beard Award-winner chef shares his experience—and one of his favorite recipes

Steven Satterfield

Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee

Miller Union owner and executive chef Steven Satterfield is renowned for his vegetable-forward dishes. He released his first cookbook, entitled Root to Leaf in 2015 and was named the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Southeast two years later. In the last few years, he’s been exploring putting a multicultural spin on vegetables, while evolving his cooking style to include different textures and flavors. Co-authored by food stylist and recipe developer Andrea Slonecker, Satterfield’s new cookbook—Vegetable Revelations: Inspiration for Produce-Forward Cookingfeatures recipes that help people experience vegetables in a new light. From kale French toast to fava bean primavera with hazelnut pesto, every recipe is unique. Below, he shares what he learned while writing the book. 

How was the cookbook writing process different this time around?

The first time, I had too many ideas and had to edit it down a lot. This one, by the time we got the proposal approved, it was June 2020. I was trying to save Miller Union and all the other restaurants working with the Independent Restaurant Coalition. It was really challenging to work on the book simultaneously. I shot with [local photographer] Andrew Thomas Lee in his studio in his backyard. There were many times we were keeping social distance, leaving doors open for ventilation, and wearing masks. Some of the dishes I was making I didn’t have time to do the R&D and made live. I would retrofit the recipe through the testing process to make sure we had the same desired outcome.

What was your inspiration?

A lot of things I’ve been working on have been inspired by things I tasted while traveling or how a different cultural food experience could be applied to a vegetable. Atlanta is such a multicultural city. It’s about applying the global pantry to the vegetable world and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone a bit.

I’m always thinking about how vegetables can be expressed in different ways. There’s a lot of uncharted territory—vegetables can be cooked in different ways or cut into different shapes to have a different outcome.

How has your cooking style evolved from Root to Leaf to Vegetable Revelations?

Root to Leaf was still deeply rooted in Southern cooking and seasonality. Seasonality is always in the forefront for me. A lot [of Vegetable Revelations] is playing with flavor profiles from other cultural experiences and understanding how technique can affect the outcome of texture and flavor. It’s really nuanced, but it does make a big difference.

What did you learn while writing the book?

One of my biggest discoveries for this book—I didn’t know about it until I read about it—is a Japanese style of grilling where you push the coals to one side before cooking. I did it with turnips and the greens get a tender cook, while the roots get a char that brings out the juiciness. That simple technique is such a brilliant idea!

In Vegetable Revelations, you write about how texture affects eating.

It’s major. Some people are more tuned into it than others. Some people love crunchy stuff; others think it feels weird on their teeth. The mouth feel of a velvety, creamy puree can be very euphoric and give you these neuro responses.

Texture contrast and temperature contrast are interesting. There are multiple outcomes for every single ingredient and so many ways to juxtapose different vegetable together. Even how ingredients in a salad are cut makes them different.

What are you up to now that the book is out?

We’re launching the book in different markets. On May 13, we’re doing a pop-up at Bella Cucina. On May 21, I’ll be at the Cook’s Warehouse doing a demonstration of some book recipes and signing. On June 4, I’m hosting a benefit for Slow Food Atlanta chefs like Bruce Logue and Jarrett Stieber coming to cook their version of one of my recipes from the book. If you can’t make it to the events, you can always come to Miller Union to get a signed copy. We’re keeping it stocked.

Make this recipe from Vegetable Revelations

Peas and ramps with mushroom gnocchi

Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee

Peas and Ramps with Mushrooms and Semolina Gnocchi 

Makes 4-6 servings 

4 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing 

4 cups whole milk 

1 cup semolina flour, plus more for dusting 

1 tablespoon kosher salt 

1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 

1 teaspoon freshly ground   

black pepper 

1 egg yolk 

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 

8 ounces oyster mushrooms, torn into large bite-size pieces 

2 1/2 cups shelled English peas 

1 bunch ramps or green onions, sliced  

Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with butter and line the bottom with a sheet of parchment paper that hangs over each of the two longer sides of the dish like wings; set aside. 

In a medium saucepan, warm the milk over medium heat. When the milk just begins to steam, whisk in the measured semolina, 2 teaspoons of the salt, and the butter until smooth. Cook, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to subtly pull away from the sides of the pan, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 cup of the cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper. Continue stirring until the cheese is melted, then add the egg yolk and stir until it is fully incorporated. Tip the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread it in an even layer, about 1/2 inch thick. Cover tightly with plastic film and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours. (The dough can be made up to 2 days ahead.) 

Heat the oven to 375ºF with a rack in the top position. Lift the chilled gnocchi dough from the baking dish using the parchment wings and transfer it to a cutting board. Clean out the baking dish and grease it with more butter (no parchment this time). 

Using a cookie or biscuit cutter, or the rim of a drinking glass, cut the dough into 2-inch disks, dusting the cutter in a little semolina flour between cuts to pre-vent the dough from sticking. Arrange the disks in the greased baking dish in an overlapping single layer, like fish scales. After cutting as many disks as you can, wet your hands and gather the dough scraps back together. Pat and press them into a smooth 1/2-inch layer to cut more disks. Continue to gather the scraps of dough and reshape them to cut as many disks as possible, arranging them in the baking dish as you go. 

Bake on the top rack of the oven until the gnocchi are hot, about 20 minutes. Switch to broil and continue cooking until the tops of the gnocchi are nicely browned at the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and immediately sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup cheese. 

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add the mushrooms and season them with 1/2 teaspoon each of the remaining salt and pepper. Cook without disturbing the mushrooms until they are lightly browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes, then turn them over with tongs and brown on the other side, 1 to 2 minutes more. Stir in the peas and ramps and season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add a splash of water and scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, shaking the pan while holding the lid from time to time, until the peas are warmed through and the ramps are wilted. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking. Spoon the peas and ramps over the baked gnocchi at the table.  

From the book Vegetable Revelations. Copyright ©2023 by Steven Satterfield. Published by Harper Wave an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission. Photos credited to Andrew Thomas Lee.