• October 24, 2014

Celebrate veggies

New cookbook showcases best of Italian garden

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Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 4:30 am

As the daughter of an American father and an Italian mother, Domenica Marchetti enjoyed a charmed childhood.

Her family lived in the United States during the school year, but spent summers in Italy, where Marchetti picked up an appreciation for Italian food through, as she says, “osmosis.”

“As I got older, I began to appreciate how my culinary heritage is such an incredible gift,” she said.

That gratitude shows in her work. With her just-released “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy” (Chronicle, $30), Marchetti enthusiastically explores a fundamental element — in her opinion, the fundamental element — of her favorite cuisine.

It’s her fifth Italian cookbook (a sixth, on biscotti, is heading to a 2015 release date), and Marchetti recently discussed the omnipresent Italian garden, the joys that come from squishing a ripe tomato into a slice of bread and why her recipes always start with a story.

So it’s not pasta or pizza, it’s vegetables that we should be concentrating on when we think about Italian cuisine?

We’ve really come a long way in our appreciation and understanding of Italian cooking in this country. The majority of Americans have this perception that Italian food is heavy, carb-ey, starchy.

But it’s a very vegetable-driven cuisine, because the peninsula is essentially one big garden. Everything grows well there.

And wherever you go, you’ll eat what was picked that day. If you’re at a restaurant, it’s all from right around you, it’s as local as you can get.

Is there a vegetable that you couldn’t live without?

Tomatoes, of course, which aren’t even really Italian, and they’re not vegetables (laughs).

I have to say that it would probably be leafy greens. You know, rapini, kale. Oh, and zucchini. I love zucchini.

Your book focuses on vegetables, but it’s not strictly vegetarian. Was that intentional?

I’m not a vegetarian, but I have found myself tending toward eating less meat. Factory meat bothers me. I’m buying it at the farmers market, where the beef is grass-fed, and I know where it’s coming from. I’m also paying more, but I’d rather eat less meat and better meat.

But I’ve always loved vegetables, and I’m always looking for ways to make vegetables the star of the show, so that you don’t even miss the meat. I’m not in any way espousing or advancing a doctrine. To each his own. I’m definitely a carnivore.

Each one of your recipes starts with a short story. Is that your cookbook modus operandi?

It’s something I’ve done from my very first book. I like to tell stories. I like to know where recipes come from, and I feel that it’s important to the reader to know why I chose the recipe, and why I wanted to share it.

CAPRICCI WITH SLOW-ROASTED CHERRY TOMATOES AND CREAM

Serves 4.

NOTE: “Capricci is one of the many whimsical pasta shapes now on the market,” writes Domenica Marchetti in “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy.” “It isn’t always easy to find, and I’ve seen a couple of different variations. They are either tight coils or tight ruffles, and in either case are excellent at trapping sauce. If you are unable to find them, substitute another short, coiled pasta shape, such as fusilli or gemelli.”

  • 1½ pounds cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 shallot
  • 2 to 3 fresh thyme sprigs
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped basil
  • 1 pound dried capricci (see Note)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Arrange cherry tomatoes cut-side up on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle olive oil over tomatoes and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt and a grinding of pepper. Roast tomatoes until they are somewhat puckered and shriveled but still juicy, about 90 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and salt generously. In a large, deep sauté pan over medium-low heat, melt butter. When butter has just begun to foam, stir in shallot. Cook, stirring frequently, until shallot is softened but not browned, about 7 minutes. Scrape in tomatoes and any juices that have collected on the baking sheet. Add thyme sprigs and pour in cream. Heat gently to a simmer over low to medium-low heat. Right before dressing the pasta, turn off heat and stir in basil.

Meanwhile, add pasta to boiling water and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions until al dente. Drain pasta in a colander, reserving about 1 cup of pasta water. Return pasta to pot and spoon two-thirds of sauce over it.

Add ½ cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Toss gently to combine. Add 1 tablespoon of reserved pasta water, if necessary, to loosen sauce, and toss again.

Spoon dressed pasta into a warm serving bowl or individual bowls. Sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top and serve immediately, with remaining sauce passed at the table.

Nutrition per serving: Calories, 880; fat 37 g; saturated fat 18 g; sodium 865 mg; carbohydrates, 106 g; protein 31 g; cholesterol 84 mg; dietary fiber 8 g.

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