Last week, the respected food and cooking website Serious Eats named The Glorious Vegetables of Italy one of five essential Italian cookbooks. It was a completely unexpected and entirely welcome accolade for one of my favorite “babies” (as I tend to think of my books), this one so beautifully photographed by Sang An.
Coincidentally, right around the same time, the book was chosen by my publisher, Chronicle Books, as part of its May Eye Candy e-book promotion. This means that until the end of the month, the electronic version of The Glorious Vegetables of Italy is on sale for $1.99. A total steal. Six platforms are available: Kindle, Nook, Apple iBookstore, Google Play, Kobo, and Bookshout.
Seemingly unrelated, the other day I found myself craving tomatoes. I guess the thought that tomato season is around the corner prompted it. We are still a couple of months away from good ripe summer tomatoes here in Virginia, so I caved and bought some cherry tomatoes at the supermarket. They were local to Maryland and organic, but still a bit of a splurge and a cheat. To improve their flavor, I roasted them.
I decided to use them to make one of my favorite weeknight recipes from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, Capricci with Slow-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes and Cream. There’s a synchronicity* to this recipe that I like, the way that both the caramelized tomatoes and the cream contribute a bit of luxury to a simple weeknight pasta dish. It’s celebratory, in an accidental sort of way.
The other titles in the Serious Eats roundup are: Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking; Cooking by Hand, by Paul Bertolli; and two collections: La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy, curated by the Italian Academy of Cuisine; and The Silver Spoon, published in the U.S. by Rizzoli. I had all of them except the Bertolli book, a situation I quickly remedied.
Anyhow, the short list got me to thinking about my personal favorite Italian cookbooks. There are quite a few I admire and love paging through, but the ones I reach for when I’m researching or when I’m looking for inspiration, the ones I rely on, are my mother’s copy of Ada Boni’s Il Talismano della Felicita’ (in Italian); Kyle M. Phillips’s translation of Pellegrino Artusi’s La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene; Naples at Table, by Arthur Schwartz; The Heart of Sicily, by Anna Tasca Lanza; My Calabria, by Rosetta Costantino; and Unplugged Kitchen, by Viana La Place.
Which Italian cookbooks are your favorites?
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* synchronicity: /ˌsɪnkrəˈnɪsɪtɪ/
an apparently meaningful coincidence in time of two or more similar or identical events that are causally unrelated
C20: coined by Carl Jung from synchronic + -ity
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Who says you can't have luxury on a weeknight? Caramelized cherry tomatoes enriched with cream turn this simple pasta dish into something celebratory. Use a short, sturdy noodle such as capricci, casarecce, or penne, and serve with a mixed green salad. Recipe slightly adapted from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy.
- 1 1/2 pounds cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 shallot, minced
- 2 or 3 fresh thyme sprigs
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh basil
- 1 pound dried capricci, casarecce, or other short, sturdy pasta
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Heat the oven to 300 degrees F.
Arrange the cherry tomatoes, cut-side-up on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the oil over them and sprinkle with a large pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper. Roast the tomatoes for about 1 hour, until they are somewhat shriveled but still juicy.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and salt generously.
Heat the butter in a large, deep sauté pan set over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted and just beginning to foam, stir in the shallot. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened but not browned, about 7 minutes. Scrape in the tomatoes and any juices that have collected on the baking sheet. Add the thyme sprigs and pour in the cream. Heat gently to a simmer over low to medium-low heat. Turn off the heat, stir in the basil, and cover to keep warm.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the manufacturer's instructions until al dente. Drain in a colander, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot and spoon 2/3 of the sauce over it. Add half the Parmigiano and toss gently to combine. Add a splash or two of pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Spoon into pasta bowls and top with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle a little more Parmigiano on top and serve.