Cookbook Review: Vegetables from an Italian Garden
Vegetables from an Italian Garden, the latest offshoot from The Silver Spoon cookbook (a book often described as the bible of Italian home cooking), is as straightforward as the original. There are no attempts to make vegetables something that they are not. There is no single-visionary preaching their personal cooking style. This is seasonal, fresh, and straight-to-the-point Italian cooking, plain and simple.
The book, organized by seasons and subsequently vegetables, appears on first glance best suited for the beginning cook. Each chapter begins with an introductory primer on specific ingredients -- arugula, bell peppers, herbs, green beans, eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, fennel and corn in the "Summer" chapter. The focused bell pepper discussion, for instance, offers tips on how to select peppers and how to peel and roast them, as well as how to plant them in your garden.
As for the recipes, if you already have a handle on kitchen basics such as how to grill corn and make pesto, and you instinctively (rather than via a recipe) put together Buffalo mozzarella and caprese salads (p. 211) and oven-roast tomatoes with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar (p. 214), some of these Vegetables from an Italian Garden will likely be on the elementary side for you. But like so many of The Silver Spoon cookbooks, keep turning the pages, and you'll find there is always more to discover.
Just Add Moscato
Recipes such as a fennel "pie" (really more strata-like with its layers of fennel, Taleggio cheese, and milk-soaked bread), stinging nettle soup, linguini with zucchini-almond-mint pesto, and dozens of salads that go beyond the traditional caprese (think fennel and pink grapefruit salad, or zucchini with white beans and shrimp). The ingredients for the herb "sandwich" (pictured above) that is neither a classic sandwich nor herb-filled (it is a round, homemade loaf of bread stuffed with dandelion or other greens) are already on our next farmers' market shopping list. We could go on.
Though this is a vegetable book -- "Vegetables are at the heart of Italian cooking," as we are reminded in the Introduction -- occasional vegetable-like fruits like avocados and tomatoes also make featured recipe appearances. On that note, those lucky enough to have an avocado tree in their backyard (or a friend who brings over bags full of ripe avocados) will get a kick out of the Italian authors' perspective on the fruit: "Not a common garden plant, avocados can only be grown outdoors in frost-free areas. However, some avid gardeners have had success growing them in containers." Ha. Clearly the authors haven't visited Southern California.
You will also find a half dozen dessert recipes scattered about. In the "Fall" chapter, there is a crostata filled with fresh pumpkin, in the "Summer" chapter, a dark chocolate-mint ice cream. Yeah, we're hoping Desserts From an Italian Kitchen is up next in The Silver Spoon series, too. Until then, it's nothing that a few scoops of basil "sherbet" (p.167) and a bottle of a lightly fizzy Italian Moscato can't resolve.
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