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