“You have no excuse not to be cooking with beautiful vegetables right now because they’re everywhere,” Heather Sperling says by phone from Los Angeles. The West Coast transplant might be living in the land of year-round plenty, but she has a point: Produce across the country is at its most gloriously abundant. For Sperling, the push to shop local is more than an ultimatum: At Botanica, the all-day restaurant in Silver Lake that she and fellow chef-owner Emily Fiffer opened in May, the menu mainlines the farmers’ market: The march of spring peas and asparagus has given way to summer squash, stone fruit, and, soon, peak-season tomatoes. Where vegetables shine, health benefits follow—but here, the only prescription is for full-force flavor.
“We don’t have any rules,” Sperling explains of Botanica’s inclusive approach to food, which relies on culinary pillars like fresh herbs, bracing citrus, and good olive oil—along with “gorgeous dairy,” a generous dusting of sea salt, and, more often than not, a glass of natural wine. After all, the modern wellness movement is more about a way of life than short-lived willpower: “If it’s not fun and delicious and satisfying, it’s not sustainable,” she adds.
That philosophy is clear in the three recipes that she and Fiffer have created here for Vogue, where the kaleidoscopic colors are just as vibrant as the layered Mediterranean influences. A tartine topped with apricots, peaches, and tomatoes riffs on the Italian bread salad, panzanella. Bright, za’atar-flecked greens reimagine classic fattoush, a Lebanese salad that plays to Sperling’s roots. And a smear of basil-arugula pesto underpins a mélange of squash, snap peas, and tomatoes roasted to candylike intensity. The fact that Botanica is drawing a crowd for its global twist on the California bounty is “validating,” confirms Sperling. “People are excited to encounter a serious, creative, ambitious restaurant that also cares about healthfulness in a nonaggressive, nonobnoxious way.”
But what sets Botanica apart runs deeper than the menu itself. The founders, who have backgrounds in food journalism, approached the business with an intent to shape the culture for the better. To help counter the pay inequity between servers and back-of-house—“a huge conversation that’s happening in the restaurant world right now,” says Sperling—Botanica is giving back three percent of sales to the kitchen staff as a de facto tip. Health insurance, a rare benefit in the industry, is offered to all employees working more than 20 hours a week. And the café will soon host events for the Freya Project, a fundraising series for undersung nonprofits in the women’s health sector.
The palpable good vibes extend to the former liquor-store space, which retains the original wood-beamed ceiling, natural light, and even its brown-bag inventory: A cache of natural and biodynamic wines on Botanica’s list is available for sale in the adjoining market, along with housemade granola and romesco sauce, spice blends from New York’s La Boîte, and a cross-section of market produce. It’s all to inspire good living beyond Botanica’s walls, helped along by the handsomely photographed recipes at botanicamag.com. The goal is “not at all aspirational” at the expense of practicality, says Sperling. Instead, the founders hope that people will walk in and think, “This is what I want to eat every day”—and then get to work.
Roasted Tiny Tomatoes with Snap Peas, Seared Summer Squash, and Basil-Arugula Pesto
Makes 4 hearty servings
It’s rare to find something insanely delicious that’s also insanely easy to make. Fortunately, roasted tiny tomatoes are just that. Early (or late) in tomato season, roasting concentrates the flavors and makes sub-par tomatoes exciting. Peak-season roasting creates an addictive tomato flavor bomb. This dish exists as a method for getting roasted tomatoes into people’s mouths (we think they’re that good). Pro tip: Double the batch of roasted tomatoes and stir the extra into soft-scrambled eggs, or toss with shaved raw zucchini, pappardelle, and loads of basil.
3 cups tiny tomatoes (sungolds, sweet 100s or the like)
1 3/4 cups olive oil, 1/4 cup reserved
8 small garlic cloves, lightly smashed and peeled
Few sprigs of thyme
Sea salt and black pepper
2 to 3 summer squash, cut in irregular 1-inch jewels (about 3 cups total)
3 cups sugar snap peas, thinly sliced on the bias
1 cup mint leaves, thinly sliced
Zest from 2 large lemons
2 cups arugula pesto (recipe below)
A wedge of ricotta salata
Preheat your oven to 350°F. Place the tomatoes in a single layer on a pan and pour 1 1/2 cups of the olive oil over top. You don’t want them swimming, but you want them ankle-deep in an olive oil pool. Shake the pan so each tomato is solidly covered, tuck in the garlic cloves and sprigs of thyme, and shower the pan with sea salt and fresh black pepper. Roast for as long as it takes the tomatoes to balloon and just begin to burst (this should take around 20 minutes, give or take, depending on size and ripeness). Remove from the oven and let cool. Discard the thyme sprigs, but leave the garlic cloves in there (so tasty!).
Toss the cut summer squash with the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and season with salt. Cook the pieces on a grill or in a hot pan (with more olive oil)—place them with one cut side down, and don’t touch for 30 seconds. You want to get a nice sear on one side while still leaving the squash al dente. Turn the pieces and cook for another 15 to 30 seconds, then remove from the heat and let cool.
In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, 1/2 cup of their roasting oil, the seared summer squash, sliced snap peas, and 3/4 cup of the mint leaves, and shower with a good bit of lemon zest. Toss gently and taste; add salt, black pepper, more roasting oil, and more zest as desired. You want the vegetables to be draped in the luscious tomato roasting oil, with a tiny bit of it pooling at the bottom of the bowl.
To serve, spread the pesto across one half and up the side of a shallow serving bowl. Mound the tomato-summer squash-snap pea mixture in the center of the bowl. Shave ricotta salata over top (if you don’t have a mandolin, use a vegetable peeler) until the tomato pile is nicely blanketed. Finish with the rest of the mint, more lemon zest, more freshly ground black pepper, and a shower of chive blossoms.
Makes about 2 cups pesto
1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/2 cup toasted pistachios
Heaping 2 1/2 cups basil (loosely packed)
Heaping 1 1/2 cup arugula*, roughly chopped (loosely packed)
1/4 cup lemon juice, plus more to taste
2 garlic cloves, smashed
Delicious olive oil
Lots of sea salt
Fresh black pepper
Add everything to a food processor except the olive oil. Whizz, scraping down the sides as necessary, until well incorporated. With the motor running, slowly stream in olive oil until you reach your desired consistency (keep in mind it’ll thicken a bit as it cools). Season well with salt and pepper, whizz again, and taste. Add more salt, pepper, or lemon to taste.
*We love using alternative greens for pesto, especially if it means eliminating waste. Carrot tops and fennel fronds are in constant rotation in our kitchen. We use them in addition to/instead of arugula!
Stone Fruit & Tomato Tartine
Makes 4 hearty servings
This recipe is a take on panzanella. We’ve reimagined the classic Tuscan bread salad as a tartine piled with vibrant, summery flavors, meant to be served al fresco, with a steak knife and ample rosé. Basil oil-marinated beans make it hearty enough to serve as a main course (and are one of our favorite things to keep on hand to throw in summer salads). As for the garlic-rubbed, olive oil-drizzled toast that serves as a base: We think this is how crusty bread should always be treated! We use Bub & Grandma’s intensely delicious 30% rye levain bread, and we serve it at the restaurant morning through night.
2 firm but flavorful peaches (or nectarines), quartered
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
3 ripe apricots, sliced
2 cups tiny tomatoes (sungolds, sweet 100s or the like), halved
2 cups basil oil-marinated beans (recipe below), with plenty of basil oil
Delicious olive oil
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens
1/2 cup thinly sliced opal basil leaves
1/2 cup torn Italian basil leaves
4 thick slices of the most delicious levain bread you can find
2 big garlic cloves, halved
Hunks of manouri or fresh mozzarella cheese (optional)
Brush the cut side of the peaches with olive oil and grill (or sear in a hot cast-iron pan), cut side down, for 30 seconds or so on each side, until caramelized. Slice each quarter in half, and season with a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. In a bowl, combine the seared peaches, sliced apricots, tomatoes, marinated beans and basil oil, and a splash of some delicious olive oil (though the bean-marinating oil is the main event here). Add the sherry vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Stir gently, and taste for seasoning. Reserve some of the scallion greens and basil leaves for garnish, and stir the rest into the peach-tomato-bean mixture.
Brush the the bread with olive oil and grill (or broil) on both sides until nicely toasted. Starting with the crust (because it roughs up the garlic and gets the juices flowing), rub the cut side of a garlic clove all over every inch of the bread. (Be sure to do this while the bread is still warm!) Really get the garlic in there; if the scent of garlic isn’t wafting, you’re not pressing hard enough!
Once thoroughly garlicked, arrange the toast on a serving platter. Drizzle with delicious olive oil and give it a good sprinkle of sea salt. Spoon the tomato-peach-bean salad over the bread and stud with hunks of cheese, if using. Garnish with a shower of the remaining scallion greens and basil, plus another sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper. Serve with steak knives!
Basil Oil-Marinated Beans
Makes about 2 cups marinated beans
2/3 cup dried gigante beans
2 bay leaves
4 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds
Lots of sea salt
1 1/2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
2 cups delicious olive oil
A good pinch of sea salt
2 cups cooked gigante beans
2 cups basil oil
3 tablespoons toasted coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1 1/2 tablespoon toasted cumin seeds, lightly crushed
4 cloves garlic, lightly crushed and peeled
3 large shallots, peeled and thinly sliced or shaved (1/8-inch thick)
1/3 cup lemon juice, plus more to taste
To cook the beans: Place beans in a large pot, cover with water, and leave to soak overnight. The next day, drain the beans, refresh the water, and add the rest of the ingredients, along with a small handful of salt. Stir well and taste—you want the water to be salty! Bring the pot to a simmer and leave the beans to cook, gently stirring every 20 minutes or so (to ensure even cooking), until they’re cooked through but not falling apart. Strain the beans (but save that delicious bean-cooking liquid! So savory and delicious). Remove the bay leaves, leaving the rest of the aromatics intact.
To make the basil oil: Bring a pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Toss in the basil leaves, and stir to submerge for 10 seconds; then immediately remove, drain, and shock the leaves in ice water for 10 seconds (the blanching ensures the leaves stay bright green). Squeeze the water entirely from the leaves, put the basil in a blender, add the oil and sea salt, and puree until smooth. Taste and add salt as needed (the salt helps the flavor really pop).
To make the marinated beans: Add everything to a large bowl, add a healthy sprinkle of sea salt, and stir well. Give it a taste and tweak as needed; the beans should be brightly flavored, with a nice hint of salt and lemon.
Fattoush-y Salad with Labne and Za’atar Vinaigrette
Makes 4 servings
This has all the bright, crunchy freshness of a traditional fattoush, plus a little something more (thanks to the kiss of smoke on half the vegetables, along with a smear of salty, tangy labne). It’s an elegant centerpiece for a summer night, ideally served with a chilled gamay by its side. The za’atar vinaigrette is a staple of ours; it really is delicious on everything. Note: All za’atar is not created equal! We swear by the za’atar from La Boîte; it’s beautifully vibrant. Ditto for sumac!
1 3/4 cups sheep’s milk yogurt
2 medium cloves garlic, grated or minced
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Drizzle of olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon runny honey
2 tablespoons za’atar
2 teaspoons sumac
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Persian cucumbers, 1 whole and 1 cut into uneven jewels
12 asparagus spears, woody ends trimmed off
1 red onion, quartered length-wise with some of the root left on each piece
1 to 2 summer squash, quartered lengthwise
24 snap peas, 16 whole and 8 sliced on the bias
1 thick slice delicious bread (we use a cornmeal focaccia), enough for 2 cups of croutons
2 tablespoons sumac
1/2 head fennel, shaved thinly on mandolin
2 scallions, sliced thinly on the bias
2 firm but flavorful peaches or nectarines, cut in eighths
1 cup dill leaves (torn or chopped so 1/2-inch sprigs remain)
1 cup mint leaves
1 cup parsley leaves
A big handful of pea tendrils
A big handful of purslane
To make the labne: Line a strainer with cheesecloth, and place it over a bowl. Stir a good pinch of salt into the yogurt, stir well, transfer it to the strainer, cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and strain for at least 6 hours (or overnight). Once strained, the labne will measure about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups and be thick and creamy. (Reserve the leftover whey, or strained liquid, for smoothies, soups, and vinaigrettes!) Combine the labne with the garlic, lemon juice, a nice drizzle of olive oil, and another pinch of sea salt, and stir well. Adjust seasoning as needed. (Every yogurt is different, so tweak the lemon and salt until the labne tastes delicious!)
To make the vinaigrette: Add everything except the olive oil to a bowl and stir well, then whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. The dressing should taste bright and zippy with a gentle sweetness, without being too tangy from vinegar. Add more olive oil to balance if need be, and more za’atar if the flavor isn’t jumping out.
To make the salad: Halve the whole Persian cucumber. Toss it and the asparagus, red onion quarters, summer squash, and whole snap peas in olive oil and lots of salt. Grill (cut side down for the cucumber and the summer squash) until there’s some char on the vegetables, but they still have a nice bite to them. Trim the root end of the onion and separate the petals; halve the asparagus on the bias, cut the cucumber and summer squash into 1 1/2-inch pieces, and leave the snap peas whole.
Brush the bread with olive oil and grill until it’s toasty, then cut it into medium (1 to 2-inch) crouton-y hunks. Warm a hearty splash of olive oil in a pan, add the bread pieces, and toast for another minute or two, until nice and olive oil-y golden. Shower the bread with sumac and sea salt, and toss well to thoroughly coat. Transfer to a bowl and reserve.
To compose the salad, combine the grilled vegetables, raw cucumber and snap peas, shaved fennel, scallions, peaches, herbs, tendrils, and purslane in a bowl, and gently toss with the dressing (start with 1/2 cup of dressing and add more from there, if needed). Taste and season with another squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of salt, or a sprinkle of za’atar, as desired. Add the sumac croutons and toss again.
Spread the labne across one side of a serving plate and, using your hands, gently pile the salad over it (a partial yogurt moat, sticking out on one side, is what you’re going for here). Give everything a final sprinkle of za’atar and sea salt and garnish with borage (tastes like cucumber!).