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.”
“But 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 cookbook “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy” (Chronicle, $30, 272 pages), Marchetti enthusiastically explores a fundamental element – in her opinion, the fundamental element – of her favorite cuisine. It’s her fifth Italian cookbook.
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-y, 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.
Pardon my lousy Italian. Can you translate “andiamo in giardino“?
(Laughs). It’s “Let’s go into the garden,” and that phrase confounded me when I was a kid. I never understood what people meant, because there’s no word for “yard” in Italian, and this is specifically the word “garden.”
It makes so much more sense to me now. Because wherever Italians live, whether it’s a house, or it’s an apartment, there is always something edible growing. You know, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, herbs. It finally dawned on me after all these years: If there is a workable plot of land – even if it’s pots on a balcony – it’s a garden.
A way of life we should all live, right?
The food revolution in this country has brought us such a long way toward that. Look at the farmers market revolution. Just here in the (Washington) D.C. area, there are three or four markets every week that are just a few minutes from my house.
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.
Capricci with slow-roasted cherry tomatoes and cream
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes, plus 90 minutes to roast tomatoes
“Capricci is one of the many whimsical pasta shapes now on the market,” writes Domenica Marchetti in “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy.” “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.”
1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 to 3 fresh thyme sprigs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons coarsely chopped basil
1 pound dried capricci (see note above)
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 1/2 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 1/2 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 and serve immediately. Pass remaining sauce at the table.
Per serving: 880 calories; 37 g fat (18 g sat.); 865 mg sodium; 106 g carb.; 410 mg calcium; 31 g protein; 84 mg chol.; 8g fiber.
Fresh basil pesto
Makes about 1 cup
Recipe from “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy.”
2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove, cut into pieces
2 tablespoon pine nuts or blanched slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino cheese, or a mix
Put basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped.
With the motor running, dribble in olive oil through the feed tube until mixture forms a loose paste.
Using a spatula, scrape pesto into a small bowl and stir in cheese. If not using immediately, transfer pesto to a small container with a tight-fitting lid and press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface on the pesto to prevent discoloration.
Cover the container with the lid and store pesto in the refrigerator for up to 1 day.
To freeze pesto, omit cheese and freeze in a plastic container for up to 6 months.
To use, let pesto thaw to room temperature and stir in cheese.
Per serving of 1 tablespoon: 82 calories; 8 g fat (2 g sat.); 112 mg sodium; 0 g carb.; 52 mg calcium; 2 g protein; 2 mg chol.; 0g fiber
Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Serves 6 to 8
Recipe from “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy.”
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1 ounce pancetta, diced, optional
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts, thoroughly washed, halved lengthwise, and sliced thinly, crosswise (about 2 cups)
2 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and then cut crosswise into small wedge-shaped pieces
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 to 7 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups tubettini, ditalini or other small soup pasta
2 cups fresh or frozen peas, thawed if frozen
4 handfuls (about 4 ounces) fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, optional
3 to 4 tablespoon fresh basil pesto (see recipe at left)
Put olive oil, pancetta (if using) and leeks in a large heavy-bottomed pot and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until olive oil and pancetta begin to sizzle, then lower heat to medium-low and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until leeks are softened and pancetta is just beginning to turn crisp.
Stir in zucchini. Season with salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes, or until zucchini is tender but still holds its shape. Pour in 6 cups of broth and raise the heat to medium-high. Bring broth to a boil and slowly pour in pasta, taking care not to let the broth boil over. Reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a gentle simmer and cook the pasta for 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir in peas and spinach and cook until pasta is al dente or even a little more tender; time will depend on the shape and brand of pasta you use. Add more broth to thin the soup, if you like.
Remove from heat and stir in cheese, if using. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls, top with no more than 1/2 tablespoon of pesto and drizzle a little olive oil over each bowl.
Per serving: 290 calories; 11 g fat (2g sat.); 865 mg sodium; 40 g carb.; 72 mg calcium; 9 g protein; 3 mg chol.; 5 g fiber.