cover vegetarian

Vegetarian, 400 Regional Italian Recipes by Slow Food Editor, Rizzoli 2018, hardback $39.95, 448 pages

What was paradise, but a garden full of vegetables and herbs and pleasure? Nothing there but delights.

William Lawson

The Slow Food editors who compiled this book agree in their very first sentence, “Italy is an earthly paradise for vegetarians.”

And then they go on to make their case. Distinct regions developed a multitude of flavors. An agricultural population had excellent seasonal produce. And, both seasonal abundance and poverty developed the cook’s creativity.

This collection of home cooking and restaurant recipes begins by listing “Slow Food Presidia” vegetarian products by region–a particular wheat that grows in Abruzzo, Vesuvian Apricots from Campania, or the High Mountain Honeys from Lombardia and Valle d’Aosta. Every region has one or more distinct cheeses, some have wines and breads. Others have unique items like Trapani Sea Salt from Sicily and Rose Syrup from Liguria. Some of these (really very few) you may be able to hunt up on line or in an import store, but they should inspire you to find your own local produce. You may not be able to find a Sicilian Peach in a Bag, but your local orchard might have its own unique cultivar.

The book lists recipes by menu items starting with soups, salads, and crostini and pasta. Any competent cook can make a pasta sauce out of almost anything, but these recipes might spark surprise, like ‘O sicchio d’a munnezza, a Campanian sauce of nuts and dried fruits. Or a pasta itself made with cocoa powder, as in the historic Umbrian dish, finished with lemon, sugar, and cinnamon. Otherwise do some foraging and farm marketing to find cardoons, bryony, squash leaves, wild thistle and oyster mushrooms for your sauce. The recipes continues with rice, polenta, beans, eggs and custards, fritters, pizzas, casseroles, and sauces to finish with desserts.

The index divides the recipes by region, but not by ingredient, which makes it hard when the CSA sweet potatoes are piling up on the kitchen counter. But, it will also force you to really go through the book page by page, and you’ll likely discover something new from humble braised chard stems to an Easter Pie with Greens and Herbs that can command the table.

With this book, you’ll never again think of a vegetarian diet as limited, but instead as a celebration of the garden’s generous bounty.

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United Tastes, The Making of the First American Cookbook

American Cookery is known as the first American cookbook, often because of it’s recipes for “pompkins,” “cramberries,” and cornmeal (used in the estimable Indian Pudding). But it is American for so many more reasons–how it was written, published, distributed, and used. Keith Stavely and Kathleen Fitzgerald use this book as a starting point into insights on American history.

This review appeared in the March issue of CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC. Join us online or at a meeting!

chowline review

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Corsica: The Recipes

Corsica, The Recipes by Nicolas Stromboni, Smith Street Books 2017, hardcover $40.00, 320 pages

Bisogna fa di forza legge

Make a virtue out of necessity

Corsican proverb

And what a virtuous collection this is! Corsica is a mountainous island contested through history primarily  by the French and Italians. Today is is a French department but its foodways remain stubbornly of this place.

But the Corsican necessity that created distinctive ingredients is our luxury. To cook from this book you’ll have to create plausible substitutes for brocciu cheese (a rennet-set ricotta), seasonal honey varietals, and arba barona (a wild caraway thyme). Unless you lived a blessed climate, you won’t be able to leave your tomato paste to dry outside and you’re unlikely to find fresh myrtle berries to make liqueur. Exquisite torture!

But, your farm market will supply what you need for Vegetable Tartare, Ratatouille, or Murtoli Tart. Or you could make a citrus salad dressed with saffron and lemon liqueur. While you may not be able to exactly replicate these dishes (and exactly replicating any dish is a whole other discussion), the recipes will refocus your cooking on simplicity. An Omelet with Brocciu Cheese, made with your own homemade ricotta and flavored with a generous amount of mint relies on good cheese, farm eggs, and fresh mint. Likewise, Finuchjetti, a type of pretzel, is nothing more than yeast, flour, water, salt, and aniseed. They’re a fundamental flavor–resist the temptation to doll them up–or at least make them plain first.

Along with the unique ingredients and recipes, Stromboni, the owner of the island’s largest wine cellar that was voted best wine shop in France, profiles the people who keep these foodways alive. Stromboni’s descriptions are…poetic. So we meet Jean-Louis Guaitella, a fisherman who is a missionary for the ocean, Bastienne Corazzini, “who could be the grandmother of every Corsican,” and Paul Salini, the meticulous modern cattle farmer.

He also profiles the Corsican knife (because, be honest, what you know about Corsica is Napoleon and bandits), it’s elegant wood or antler haft and its fire-honed blade. It is a tool, not for vendetta (which doesn’t exist on the island), but for hunting, fishing, gathering,  a reminder of traditional life on the island.

The Mediterranean continually throws up culinary riches. There are repeated basics–an  herb pie of fresh greens or stuffed zucchini to deal with summer’s glut–but each dish is really a technique adapted to local produce, which is really the best way to cook. So call on this book to inspire your farm-market finds.

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Historical Notes on Montgomery County Foodways

I’ve been working on a cookbook titled Bread & Beauty, A Year in Montgomery County’s Agricultural Reserve. Along with interviewing farmers and agricultural advocates, attending events, and developing recipes based on Ag Reserve produce, I’ve had the great pleasure of researching in the Library of Congress. I’ve found some interesting bits of Montgomery’s food history, some of which is not appropriate for the book, but is too good to leave in the stacks.

From A Grateful Remembrance, the Story of Montgomery County, Maryland, Ray Eldon Hiebert and Richard K. MacMaster, 1976

In the mid-1800s, the County’s population was often ideologically and economically divided—urban/rural, conservative/liberal, tobacco growers/farmers. Slavery was another division. In 1860, slaves made up one third of the County’s population.

Josiah Henson became famous as the model for Uncle Tom in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. He was owned by Isaac Riley and held on land just off of Old Georgetown Road. In one of his three memoirs, Henson described his life. The “principal food of those upon my master’s plantation consisted of cornmeal, and salt herrings to which was added in summer a little buttermilk, and the few vegetables which each might raise for himself and his family, on the little piece of ground which was assigned to him for the purpose, called a truckpatch.”

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Osteria by Slow Food Editore, Rizzoli 2017, cloth $45.00, 505 pages

They eat the dainty food of famous chefs with the same pleasure with which they devour gross peasant dishes, mostly composed of garlic and tomatoes, or fisherman’s octopus and shrimps, fried in heavily scented olive oil on a little deserted beach.

Luigi Barzini

Sounds like heaven–the kind of heaven that is miraculously captured in this book. Slow Food went back to the cooks who run the restaurants in their first guide and asked for the recipes.

What they got is more than 500 pages and 1,000 recipes for dishes that are iconic, little known, and even some that might otherwise have been lost. Region by region, sometimes village by village, they gathered regional foods–Baked Barley and Cheese from the Val d’Aosta, Radicchio Tart from Venice, and Rice Balls with Fish from Sicily. When they couldn’t find an iconic dish at a restaurant, they found a home cook to make it for them. This is a cookbook, but also a cultural record.

And these are osteria recipes. Nancy Danforth, the book’s sensitive and sensible translator, describes osterias as “the home-away-from-home place” that serves “simple, soulful, regional cooking,” and described by me as the kind of place you wish you had around the corner.

Restaurant recipes doesn’t mean they are complicated–the hallmarks of Italian cooking, simplicity and generosity, make these recipes easy to cook. And they have an appealing frugality–not being miserly, but appreciating what every ingredient can bring to a dish, as in Crostata di Cipolle Biondi–a savory onion bread pudding, which sounds like it was first made from culled pantry scrapings and turned into an classic Piedmontese dish.

The recipes are organized the way they are served at the Italian table–antipasti, primi piatti, secondi piatti, contorni, and dolci. You can follow that traditional path when choosing what to cook,  but there’s nothing to stop you from making a meal of just antipasti. The way my family used to say, “next time, lets just have antipasti,” before my grandmother brought out the pasta, then the chicken, then the cake, which we all ate.

Or you could cook by ingredient, depending on the season; for overwhelmed gardeners that are more than 40 recipes for zucchini and squash, from simply grilled to Sweet Couscous with Chocolate, Pistachios, Almonds and Candied Squash. Other ingredients are unattainable. Ligurian Quarantina potatoes are striped yellow and white, and grow in the Apennine hills. You will not find them, but Danford suggest substituting the non-starchy potato of your local hills.

Or you could cook dinner by region, composing a muscular Tuscan feast of Toasted Bread with Black Kale, an Onion Frittata, Polenta with Beef and Dried Porcini, and Almond Cookies. Or perhaps a more obscure Puglian meal of Boar and Onion Calzone, Baked Pasta with Artichokes, Pork Ribs with Mint, and Sweet Noodles in Wine Syrup.

What you can really do is spend a lifetime cooking from this book.

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Food on Foot

This article appeared in CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, D.C. Join us anytime!

This book combines two of my favorites things–travel and food!

chowline review


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The Vermont non-GMO Cookbook


The Vermont non-GMO Cookbook by Tracey Madeiros, Skyhorse Publishing 2017, hardback $29.99, 380 pages

No Vermont town ever let anybody in it starve.

Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Everyone seems to have a food thing these days–vegan, gluten-free, paleo. And while it might be easy to dismiss GMO as another thing you don’t have time to worry about, it has implications for the larger food system.

GMO stands for genetically modified organism. That is, organisms whose genetic makeup has been altered with or without the addition of genetic material from an unrelated organism. It’s often used for medical research and food production. But beyond traditional cross-breeding for new strains and hardiness, Alisa Gravitz of Green America, writes in the book’s introduction, the modifications “show up in every cell of the plant, from its roots and flowers to the fruit and grains we eat.” GMOs are found in corn syrup and soy, animal feed, and seeds designed to resist pesticides or even to act as insecticides; not for beauty, flavor, or health.

The world needs an industrial food system, but we also need to know what goes into it, what our alternatives are, and to be aware of potential environmental damage–the loss of biodiversity, and the rights of farmers who can’t save seeds and whose fields have been overtaken by GMO plants.

The impact of food on human health problems is constantly under debate, and you’re going to die from something; if you want it to be a fast food burger, that’s your choice. But there are nicer ways to eat–for your palate and the planet. This book is a call to attention–watch what you eat.

Tracey Medeiros steps in with recipes like Smoky Lamb Bolognese, Buckwheat Crackers with Black Walnuts, Spring Breakfast Tacos, and Strawberry Basil Shrub that draw you to the kitchen and the table. But it’s her farmer and producer profiles that will remind you good food comes from people not factories.

And while you may not be able to get Jon Satz’s bio-dynamic tomatoes and berries, there’s a market near you with a farmer growing good local food that will support local jobs and the local environment. Or you can use the recipes from area inns and cafes–Honey-Glazed Pork Bellies from Woodbelly Pizza or Chèvre Gnocchi with Mushroom, Garlic, and Sunchoke Cream Sauce from chef Doug Paine at the Juniper Restaurant. There are drinks, desserts, breakfasts, mains and sides, some with traditional Vermont flavors (yes, maple) and all inspired by the profusion of local food and flavors that will inspire your own farm market cooking.

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