Book Review: The Glorious Vegetables of Italy

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

The Glorious Vegetables of Italy delivers what it promises . . . but do you need what it promises?

If you’re a novice cook or a meat-eater looking to add more vegetables to your diet, Domenica Marchetti’s book may open your eyes to new ideas. This attractive book, its recipes explained with both thoughtfulness and brevity, offers good ways to bring Italian techniques and ingredients to vegetables.

But while the recipes are solid, they feel like a missed opportunity to offer many inspirations to experienced cooks.

In 1996 when Faith Willinger published Red, White & Greens the vegetable cookery of Italy still seemed a bit exotic. Eggplant beyond eggplant parmesan! Capers as the star of a recipe! Kale that tasted like more than rabbit food!

But today, little in Ms. Marchetti’s list of vegetables, with the possible exception of cardoons, seems truly unusual. Readers looking for something different in the preparation of those vegetables may be disheartened by the first recipe of the appetizer chapter: Italian toasts rubbed with garlic and tomato and drizzled with olive oil. Many recipes for crostini and bruschetta follow, but without offering up much new in toppings.

Ms. Marchetti’s recipes do offer solid standards. Batter-dipped vegetable fritto misto, for example, easily produced light, crisp fried squashes, zucchini blossoms, and addictive sage leaves. Slow-roasted tomatoes turn up in multiple recipes, offering luscious flavor and texture.

And not every recipe feels completely familiar: Cooks may appreciate trying a white pizza with roasted fennel and pancetta, or a calzone stuffed with sautéed rapini and smoked mozzarella. Diners eager to reduce the meat in their main courses will appreciate frittatas, carrot-ricotta ravioli, and eggplant “meatballs.” (A few recipes do include larger quantities of meat—clams, chicken, and lamb—but meat usually acts just as a flavoring or condiment.)

And lovers of the classic eggplant parmesan will enjoy an updated casserole with grilled eggplant, peppers, and zucchini, plus smoked mozzarella. Some cooking tips also prove useful, such as adding a touch of alcohol to gnocchi dough to keep it light.

Broken down into appetizers, soups and salads, pastas, risotto, gnocchi, polenta, pizza, main courses, and side dishes, the book ends with a few sweets (chocolate zucchini cake, carrot polenta cake, and pumpkin gelato), and a few preserved vegetables, including a thick, lemony tomato marmalade spiced with cloves, bay leaves, and hot peppers. As Ms. Marchetti notes, versatile tomato jams go well with cheese as an appetizer, on a sandwich, or even, she suggests, on a ham biscuit—an inspired way to end this book.

The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, by Domenica Marchetti (Released August 20, 2013, by Chronicle Books; 272 pages)

This review first appeared online at the New York Journal of Books.


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