IF WE THINK OF THE WORD SAVORY, we think first of meat -- roasted with potatoes in a rich stew or sizzling atop tomatoes in a fresh-from-the-oven pizza. But think again. It's those tomatoes and garlic that make the pizza so savory, not just the pepperoni. And it's the potatoes and herbs and onions that make that stew, not the beef.
Without the flavorful ingredients -- the vegetables, the herbs, the grains -- our meats would taste bland and almost totally unappealing.
Savory, to author Deborah Madison, is "the place where flavor and fragrance meet . . . in foods with deep, full tastes that are exciting to the palate." And this kind of complexity comes primarily from vegetables.
Ms. Madison brought us elegant vegetable cookery in her landmark book, "The Greens Cookbook," based on the food served at San Francisco's Greens restaurant, where she was the founding chef.
" 'The Greens Cookbook' was really written from the point of view of trying to translate restaurant cooking into a cookbook that people could use at home," she says. "It was company cooking."
With her new cookbook, "The Savory Way" (Bantam, hardcover, $22.95), she wanted to share the sort of cooking she does at home -- but home cooking with a strong emphasis on rich flavor.
"I think a lot of people -- especially people who are busy and just cooking for themselves -- tend to make very simple meals."
Her book includes main dish salads, stove-top vegetables, omelets, sandwiches and toasts, spreads, stews, pastas, grilled vegetables, rice and bean dishes, sauces and condiments, but one of the most interesting sections is the one on baked and roasted vegetables. And maybe this is true because we rarely take the time to bake vegetables.
But the extra time used is time worth waiting -- when you consider the savory results.
Unlike steaming or sauteing, baking vegetables in the oven causes complete transformation of the vegetables, she says. "The flavors will have deepened and merged, cream or cheese will have been transformed to a golden crust, and the juices of the vegetables will have reduced to a syrup."
She fills a baking pan with slices of zucchini, fresh tomato and onion, seasoned with salty Kalamata olives, garlic, thyme, rosemary, sage and herbs de Provence.
Miniature pumpkins or Sweet Dumpling squash are filled with cream or mascarpone cheese, a sage leaf and grated Fontina before baking.
She makes a gratin of leeks, bakes winter squash with a spicy Moroccan butter and roasts onions with sage. In another dish, tomato rounds are topped with feta cheese, oregano, olive oil before broiling.
And in yet another recipe, potatoes, garlic and herbs are baked in a clay pot. "The clay gives a smoky taste almost and it keeps the moisture in the pot so that the potatoes are really moist."
Her recipes are simple but have the feel of the classic.
"My source of inspiration in cooking -- aside from the produce itself -- has always been the classic cooks and classic cuisines. If I look at a French cookbook or an Italian or Greek cookbook or whatever it is, my eye is always able to put together, sort out and find combinations. They may, in the context, be used with fish or with meat, but I can see an element I think would translate."
Ms. Madison was a member of a group who founded Greens in 1979. Before that she had frequently cooked at Alice Waters' restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley.
She left Greens in 1983 and traveled to Italy, then wrote "The Greens Cookbook." She now lives in Flagstaff, Ariz., where she teaches cooking, and "The Savory Way" evolved from her renewed interest in home cooking -- both her own and that of her students.
Although she primarily eats vegetables at home, she is not a strict vegetarian. And she does not use the word vegetarian to describe her book because she didn't want to limit its readership.
"There is this feeling sometimes that vegetarianism is exclusive. But everybody eats vegetables. And a lot of what I hear people telling me these days are things like this, 'Oh, I'm not a vegetarian and I don't plan to be a vegetarian, but my husband and I don't want to eat as much meat' or, 'We would like to include more vegetables in our diet.'
"So there seems to be a lot more openness right now toward eating more produce and vegetables, whether or not people are calling themselves vegetarians."
For her, the secret of simple, delicious cooking is having fresh produce of the best quality.
She often uses aromatic oils -- walnut, sesame, or sunflower oils -- in the recipes. "Fats carry the flavor in cooking," she explains. "When you have an oil with its own flavor, a little goes a long way."
For the same reason, she makes a lot of use of herbed butters -- using fresh herbs when possible.
Here are some recipes for baked vegetables from "The Savory Way":
Baked miniature pumpkins
Makes 1 serving.
1 miniature pumpkin
freshly ground pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons cream, milk or mascarpone cheese
1 fresh or dried sage leaf
grated Gruyere or Fontina cheese