“Wherever there is a plot of land in Italy, there is something growing, whether it’s row upon row of staked tomatoes or a hardy mound of rosemary. Even the most modest city balcony holds pots of geraniums and basil. Italians love to be outside, and who can blame them? The entire peninsula is, essentially, a beautiful garden, filled with a profusion of glorious vegetables, from artichokes to zucchini.”
Verdure (green things) are not merely ingredients used in la cucina italiana. They are quite literally the soul of Italian cooking. Food writer Domenica Marchetti proves the point in her fresh new cookbook The Glorious Vegetables of Italy.
Marchetti shares recipes for traditional dishes, such as Ribollita, and innovative interpretations, such as Carrot-Ricotta Ravioli with Herbed Butter. Her taste memory guides her.
Her mother was born in Chieti, Abruzzo, and her father’s parents were also born in Italy. Marchetti, who lives in Viriginia, has spent plenty of time in her forebears’ homeland absorbing the flavors and techniques that make vegetables sing.
This is a book of vegetable, not vegetarian, dishes. Meats, cheeses, and seafood are the condiments here rather than the main event. The recipe chapters are organized by the courses in a meal: “Appetizers,” “Garden Soups and Salads,” “Pasta, Risotto, Gnocchi, and Polenta,” “Pizza, Calzoni, and Panini,” “Main Courses,” and “Side Dishes.”
She has desserts, too. . . Sweet Potato Frittelle, Chocolate Zucchini Cake, and Winter Squash Panna Cotta among them. . . also a chapter of Preserves and Condiments.
The volume leads off with a primer of Italian vegetables. From asparagus to zucchini blossoms and all the verdure in between: beans, cauliflower, cavolo (kale), eggplant, peppers, rucola (rocket), tomatoes, and on down the garden row. She includes seasonal availability, description, cleaning method, and basic preparation.
Along the way, she corrects common misconceptions about Italian vegetables. For instance, Marchetti explains that fennel (so often mislabeled in American markets) and anise and not one and the same. The two plants come from the same family, but anise is grown primarily for its seeds, and Florence fennel is a bulbous vegetable with lacy dark green leaves.
Throughout are scattered brilliant tips like her mom’s secret of adding a splash of grappa to potato gnocchi dough (the alcohol adds a touch of moisture without promoting the formation of gluten which can make the gnocchi gluey).
The Glorious Vegetables of Italy joins the other titles in Marchetti’s series The Glorious Pasta of Italy and The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco.
Eggplant “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce is a southern Italian dish that makes a satisfying dinner or, in smaller portions, an antipasto. In the book, Marchetti includes a Fresh Tomato Sauce to use when making this dish in the summer. In the recipe that follows, we include only her Simple Tomato Sauce made from canned tomatoes.
|Eggplant “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce
- 1 large (1 lb/455 g) shiny purple or lavender eggplant
- 3 rounded cups/170 g fresh bread crumbs
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed
- ½ tsp fine sea salt
- 2 oz/60 g Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated
- 1 Tbsp minced fresh basil
- 1 Tbsp minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
- unbleached all-purpose flour for dredging
- vegetable oil for frying
- 3 cups/720 ml Simple Tomato Sauce (recipe follows), heated to a simmer in a saucepan big enough to hold all the eggplant “meatballs”
- freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese for serving
- Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C/gas 4.
- Using the tines of a fork, prick the eggplant here and there a few times. Set on a small rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour, or until the skin is crinkled and collapsed and the interior is completely tender. Remove from the oven and let sit briefly to cool. Slice the eggplant open lengthwise and scoop the flesh onto a cutting board. Discard the skin.
- Mash the eggplant with a potato masher, or chop it coarsely with a chef’s knife. Scoop the flesh into a large bowl and add the bread crumbs, eggs, garlic, salt, Pecorino Romano, basil, and parsley. Fold everything together gently but thoroughly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula.
- Spoon about 1 cup/115 g of flour into a shallow bowl. Have ready a platter lined with waxed paper. Using your hands, form the eggplant mixture into golf ball-size balls. Dredge the balls in the flour and place them on the prepared platter. Press down on them gently to flatten them just a bit. You should end up with about fifteen 2-in/5-cm eggplant meatballs.
- Pour enough vegetable oil into a deep frying pan or cast-iron skillet to reach a depth of at least 1 in/2.5 cm. Place over medium-high heat and heat the oil to about 375°F/190°C on a deep-frying thermometer. If you do not have a thermometer, drop a tiny ball of the eggplant mixture into the oil; if it sizzles immediately, the oil is hot enough.
- Working in two batches, add the eggplant meatballs to the hot oil and fry until golden-brown on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn with a spatula and fry the other side until golden-brown, 2 minutes more.
- Transfer the eggplant meatballs from the frying pan directly to the pan of sauce that is simmering on the stove over medium-low heat. Cook, turning the eggplant meatballs once or twice, until heated through, about 10 minutes. If the sauce seems too thick—the eggplant meatballs will absorb some of it—add 1 or 2 Tbsp of water and gently stir it into the sauce.
- Serve the eggplant meatballs hot, with a little tomato sauce spooned over them and a sprinkle of Parmigiano cheese on top.
|Simple Tomato Sauce
- 2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
- ¼ cup/60 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- two 28-oz/800-g cans diced tomatoes, with their juice
- fine sea salt
- 5 large fresh basil leaves, shredded or torn
- Warm the garlic in the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Use a wooden spoon to press down on the garlic to release its flavor. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the garlic begins to sizzle. Don’t let it brown. Carefully pour in the tomatoes and their juice (the oil will spatter) and stir to coat with the oil. Season with 1 tsp salt and raise the heat to medium-high. Bring the sauce to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently, stirring from time to time, for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the oil is pooling on the surface.
- Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Taste and add more salt if you like. If not using immediately, transfer the sauce to a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.