Review: Italian Soups, Stews Capture the Mood Of Fall
By Theresa Curry
Just as the weather turns brisk and the evenings dark and dreary, Domenica Marchetti has published a cookbook capturing the essence of Italian comfort food. Evidently, the sunny Mediterranean can be chilly and gloomy in the winter months, must like the American South. In “The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy,” Marchetti’s first cookbook, the Virginia writer includes all the elements of Italian cuisine.
There’s pasta, homemade and simmered at the last minute in flavorful vegetable and meat-based soups. There are tomatoes, lentils, pancetta, pumpkin, shellfish, garlic, rice and fennel. They’re presented not as you would have them at a four-star restaurant, but as an Italian housewife might serve them, putting together leftovers in the refrigerator or today’s pick from the garden or market, ready to transform into a one-pot meal that will satisfy and comfort the whole family.
Some of the combinations are traditional regional specialties Marchetti picked up while traveling to Italy in her work as a food writer for The Washington Post, Cooking Light, and Fine Cooking. Others are treasured family recipes passed down through generations. Some have a more contemporary taste, showing the influence of a lighter touch and brighter tastes. All use techniques and tastes that are accessible to the home cook; most use food you can buy anywhere and tools that most of us have on hand. For more obscure ingredients, Marchetti gives good sources.
In “Soups and Stews,” Marchetti has collected 60 wonderful recipes and there’s not one that doesn’t sound delicious. It would be a wonderful winter project to work your way through the cookbook, starting with the stew of mussels, clams and tomatoes; or Crema di Ceci con Matlagliatia, a puree of chickpeas enriched with pasta and fresh olive oil. There are some Christmas favorites from Marchetti’s family, most notably the Christmas calamari stew and the soup with Christmas limas, so named because of their distinctive red markings. Marchetti’s narrative explains the traditions surrounding each dish, whether it comes from her Italian family or a family she discovered in her travels.
Italian cuisine as we often see it is heavy on the pasta, cheese and sausage; light on the vegetables, but the best Italian dishes make expert use of the subtle flavors and textures of seasonal vegetables, greens and legumes. There are many vegetable-based dishes in this book, like the soup of asparagus, fennel and barley; or the “Spring Cleaning Soup,” which combines many kinds of dried beans with kale, onions and garlic. Marchetti tells us that this soup allowed the thrifty Neapolitan housewife to clean out her pantry in preparation for the spring.
For beginners, Marchetti has clear instructions on how to make a basic vegetable, fish, beef or chicken stock and some basics on homemade pasta. The book is helped enormously by the photos of William Meppen, a New York based photographer who also contributes to Martha Stewart Living, Food and Wine and Vogue.
“The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy” is available at chroniclebooks.com; at The Seasonal Cook in Charlottesville, at local bookstores and at amazon.com
Contact Theresa Curry at firstname.lastname@example.org