The beautiful purple eggplant is one of Italy’s most popular vegetables. Next to endless varieties of tomatoes, eggplants are to be found piled high on market stalls from Parma to Palermo. I often make “melanzane alla parmigiana” for dinner and dream of Italy.
Cupboard essentials are made up of the tried and true combinations that may or may not be written in a diary or cooking journal. They are the constant factors that stock the pantry, making it possible to prepare a wholesome meal. Cupboard essentials often go unnoticed because of their apparent simplicity. Yet these are often the recipes that define the personality of a cook. Slowly stewed tomato sauce is a main ingredient in my kitchen.
Some dishes are not made up of exactly measured ingredients because the recipe is an intuitive part of family history. Certain foods define a mood or trace memories shared. In my family zucchini soup is the definitive comfort food. It is not just a simple, thick Italian vegetable soup. It is the soup served at family get togethers. It’s fragrance serves as an unconscious reminder of the good life in Italy, of camping trips and of the entire family talking at the dinner table. It is one of the foods we always asked my Mom to make.
The following recipe is a guideline and is more about proportions than exact quantities. The key to its comfort lies in the balance between the vegetables and potatoes. The soup can be modified as long as the ingredients stay simple and fresh. It is also interesting to note that even the vegetable peels are used to flavor the soup. Choose vegetables fresh from your own garden or from a local organic farmer if at all possible.
A frittata is like a pancake filled with vegetables or a quiche without the crust. I make frittata when pressed for time on a busy weeknight, using up the vegetables available in my kitchen at the same time. On just one of those kinds of days, I discovered that oven-baked fennel frittata topped with wild spinach salad makes a straightforward and satisfying dinner
In the Veneto, a bowl of risotto for lunch is more common than a plate of pasta. I learned how to make it inadvertently, sitting at the kitchen table reading books as a teenager, while my mother and her best friend Melia prepared Sunday “pranzo”. The preparation of a good risotto is intuitive in this part of Italy. It comes with the territory, like Palladian villas and purple mountains framing the northern horizon.
In the dark days of January the earthy appeal of mushrooms is undeniable. Mushrooms provide form, color and texture in the kitchen, supplying much-needed inspiration in the months of scant sunlight. When combined with aromatic herbs, mushrooms yield the most interesting compositions of the season.
The following recipe takes just a few minutes to prepare. However, the ingredients simply must marinate a day to achieve the perfect match between sautéed mushroom juices, truffle olive oil, fresh parsley and pine-like rosemary.
The persimmon is to winter what the peach is to summer. The bright orange “kaki” keeps company to the faithful apple in fruit bowl arrangements throughout the northern regions of Italy. Peeled and cut into wedges after many a lunch and dinner, they are symbolic of the Christmas season and the misty months that follow.
In this comfort inspired recipe, persimmons are stewed in freshly squeezed orange juice and subsequently wrapped in a crumbly pastry for a crostata tart. As the tart bakes the aroma of nutmeg, vanilla and star anise fill the kitchen like a warm pudding.