Eat & Drink

June 3, 2014

Vegetables take center stage in new Italian cookbooks

Ask an Italian cook about tomatoes, and talk may turn to the importance of using Romas rather than beefsteaks when making a sauce. Or which tomatoes are salad appropriate. Or how they should be stored. Sometimes those cooks agree. Sometimes not. At least that’s what we found when we looked at three recent Italian cookbooks focused on vegetables.

Ask an Italian cook about tomatoes, and talk may turn to the importance of using Romas (maybe you call them plums) rather than beefsteaks when making a sauce. Or which tomatoes are salad appropriate. Or how they should be stored.

Sometimes those cooks agree. Sometimes not. At least that’s what we found when we looked at three recent Italian cookbooks focused on vegetables.

“I can be obsessive about tomatoes,” writes Italian cooking maestra Michele Scicolone in her new book. “Fresh tomatoes should always be kept at room temperature. Refrigerated, they become mealy and lose their flavor. Keep them stem side up on a countertop, out of the sun, and use them as soon as they are fully ripe.”

Domenica Marchetti confesses in her latest book: “One area where I am at odds with Italians on the subject of tomatoes concerns salad tomatoes. Italians prefer barely ripe tomatoes — still quite firm and mostly green with a soft pink blush — in their salads. Like the majority of Americans, I prefer my salad tomatoes to be ripe and juicy.”

Christopher Boswell understands. “In southern Italy, insalata caprese is almost always served with semi-green tomatoes,” he writes in his new volume. “Buffalo milk mozzarella is quite rich and if served with a ripe sweet tomato and with sweet basil, the dish can fall flat.”

Verdure by Christopher Boswell (The Little Bookroom, $22)

Boswell, an American, is executive chef at the Rome Sustainable Food Project, at the American Academy in the Italian capital. His small book of recipes served at the academy is arranged by seasons and includes prep techniques, history and a bit on seasonality (i.e. a vegetable’s place in its growing season determines how to cook it).

The Italian Vegetable Cookbook by Michele Scicolone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30)

New Yorker Scicolone, who has written more than a dozen cookbooks, fills her antipasto-to-dessert book with recipes from her grandmother and others culled from her travel around Italy. Her tips on vegetable shopping, cleaning and storage are especially helpful.

The Glorious Vegetables of Italy by Domenica Marchetti (Chronicle Books, $30)

Spend time with the Vegetable Essentials chapter (36-plus explained, plus some images as well as info on herbs, ingredients and equipment), then dig into the recipes including a few preserves and condiments.

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