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In Good Taste
located in the Pearl District, Portland, Oregon.
The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy
By Domenica Marchetti, Photographs by William Meppem
I can’t do a cookbook review in February on chocolate or desserts. Every newspaper, magazine, and website is covering this angle. February is still winter and my Le Crueset pot is waiting to hold some comfort food. This semester my daughter is in Florence, Italy and I can’t seem to get Italian cookbooks out of my mind! From Joyce Goldstein’s new book Antipasti, to Fabio Trabocchi’s Cucina of Le Marche, I am producing La Cucina Italiana at a fast rate. Domenica Marchetti has written a new cookbook that is perfect for the February doldrums. The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy is divided into seasonal chapters starting with autumn. Each chapter has recipes on broth-based soups, smooth and creamy soups, hearty soups, fish and shellfish stews, poultry and meat stews, and vegetable stews. The final chapter, Accompaniments, has recipes for risotto, polenta, bruschetta, and crostini to go with a meal.
Her introduction sums up not only where soups and stews fit into the Italian culinary fabric but upon moving to a new house, what soups and stews mean to Marchetti. “…the first thing I did was unpack the kitchen. The second was to put on a big pot of lentil soup….Looking back, it’s easy to see what I was trying to accomplish: I was looking for a quick way to turn an unfamiliar place…into a home for my family.” In each recipe Marchetti reacquaints us with the joys and comfort that soup and stews can have in the home.
Marchetti covers general equipment, techniques, ingredients, broths, tomato sauces, and pasta dough in the first chapter; Essentials. I found the ingredient section useful because she discussed which ingredients she particularly likes and why she feels them necessary to successfully replicate her recipes. In the beginning we are taught how to make perfect soup broths. There are some recipes such as Gnocchi di Semolina in Brodo di Carne (Semolina Gnocchi in Homemade Meat Broth), and Crespelle in Brodo (Crepes in Broth) that should be made with good homemade broth but there are many other recipes where best quality canned low-sodium broth can be substituted. Marchetti makes this distinction in each recipe.
In my first restaurant job I was responsible for making French onion soup. That recipe started with a fifty pound bag of onions… Zuppa di Cipolle al Picorino (Onion Soup with Pecorino) only uses three pounds and a mixture of yellow and red onion for the base. It was fun to make and compare the difference in taste between the French and Italian versions. Marchetti’s soup is almost like a thick onion stew with layers of sweet ingredients. After the onions have turned golden, Marsala is added. The Marsala is reduced and chopped marjoram added along with tomato paste and beef broth. To garnish, crostini are topped with sharp Pecorino Romano to counter-balance the soup. I served a simple watercress salad with pears, toasted walnuts, and a splash of maple balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The sweetness of the soup was cut nicely by the salad.
Another standby that I like in winter is lentil soup. In my recipe I make it like split pea with ham and mirepoix. Marchetti has an Italian version: Salsicce e Lenticchie all’Umbria (Sausages and Lentils in the Style of Umbria). This easy recipe precooks the lentils to al dente. After cooking sweet Italian sausage, onions, garlic, tomato sauce, beef broth and lentils are combined and cooked about thirty minutes. In total it took about an hour to make. This version has a lighter quality with the tomato sauce, and the sausage flavor really stands out both in texture and taste. In the future I will try different sausages to find my perfect “link”. The recipe was a breeze to make and a tasty meal with red wine, cut apples and a basketball game.
Calamari in Umido per La Gigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve Calamari) caught my eye. I love calamari and this is a simple dish easy to make in small portions or for a crowd. The secret to cooking calamari is either a quick sauté or longer cooking time. In this recipe the calamari is sautéed with onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Wine and stewed tomatoes are added then the heat is reduced and the pan is covered so the calamari can cook for 30 minutes. It’s finished with red wine vinegar and chopped parsley and served with bruschetta.
So far I’ve been spending my time in the autumn and winter chapters but I’ve already turned down the corners on some spring and summer recipes. Vellutata di Asparagi con Orzo Perlato (Cream of Asparagus Soup with Pearled Barley) has a hint of fennel and uses the barley as a thickener. For the adventuresome cook there is Stufato di Pollo con Scarola Porri (Smothered Chicken with Escarole and Leeks) in which leeks and escarole are finely shredded and cooked down into a thick sauce and finished with lemon. I’m always looking for recipes for zucchini blossoms in the summer and Marchetti’s Fiori di Zucca in Brodo Estiva (Zucchini Blossoms in Summer Broth) is on my list.
Each of the recipes conveys Marchetti’s interpretation of Italian nurturing and love through food. Some are vanishing recipes. Others are regional specialties and treasured family recipes all waiting to warm your family table. When asked what was her favorite soup or stew Marchetti answered “a bowl of pastina cooked in broth and finished with Parmigiano-Reggiano”. The recipe is almost too simple but what better dish to help insulate a person from the world?
Read! Eat! Enjoy!
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