Valentina solfrini runs the famous Italian food blog Hortus Cuisine, which celebrates seasonal food and natural living. His new book, Naturally Vegetarian, further explores these themes through delicious recipes like this Broccoli Strascinati.
A few days ago, as I was cycling through the countryside towards the local market, I saw an elderly man pulling a large basket of straw from his Apetto car: It was full of big, beautiful heads of cauliflower and broccoli, their bumpy heads of bright cream and green color still dirty with dirt.
For a second, time froze. The sight of this man and his vegetables took me back to my childhood, when my mother and grandmother prepared their casseroles with garlic and sizzling onions in an olive oil bath while waiting for my grandfather comes home with a basket full of the daily produce from the market. Here in the present, I wondered what the future home cook, eagerly awaiting these beautiful vegetables, would do to turn cauliflower into something delicious for her family.
This, to me, captures the essence of true Italian cuisine – local, nutritious ingredients turned into hearty meals cooked with a loving hand. So I often asked myself: why does Italian cuisine have such a bad reputation abroad? Of course, I come from a country that produces over 400 kinds of cheese and goes a little too far with Christmas lasagna and Easter parmigiana. But it is also true that Italy has one of the most impressive biodiversity of any country, with hundreds of varieties of indigenous products, ancient unmodified grains and animal breeds. Italian food producers have learned very well to take advantage of this dietary diversity. In fact, most traditional Italian comfort foods, unlike those in most developed countries, are unprocessed, and understand it.herbal.
Take fettunta, for example: a slice of Tuscan sourdough bread (traditionally made with local unrefined flour and no salt) topped with kale sautéed in garlic, usually made in November when extra virgin olive oil is freshly squeezed : green, thick, succulent and so full of antioxidants it burns your throat. Or a vegetable gratin, made with large slices of summer vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants and zucchini topped with a mixture of garlic breadcrumbs sprinkled with parsley and drizzled with olive oil, then cooked until ‘so that the outside develops a nice crunch. This is one of the few dishes that Italians will light the oven for in July.
However, perhaps the greatest Italian comfort food is the simplest of the tomato pasta, a recipe so deeply rooted in our childhood memories that the average Italian can differentiate the smell of the tomato sauce recipe from its own. own family of any other. Tomato pasta is the dish I always wanted to find when I came home from a long day at school. This is the dish many chefs will tell you they want to eat after an unbelievably long day at work, when their feet are aching like crazy and sweat is pouring down their backs. The smell alone can transport me. It’s the smell of basil and garlic or sweet tomato infused with onion. It’s the smell of the house. It’s a smell I dreamed of as I wandered the streets of New York in my early twenties, glancing at every unfamiliar dollar slice store that smelled too strongly of garlic powder.
But back to man and his cruciferous vegetables. If my mother had been the recipient of such a beautiful package of broccoli, she would have lightly blanched the florets, then cooked them in lots of olive oil with a dash of vinegar, long and slow, until ‘they are incredibly tender and caramelized and concentrated with Mediterranean flavor. It is impossible not to fall in love with them.
What I’m trying to say is that for every square of fried lasagna or bombolone eaten on a special occasion, there are dozens of recipes using fresh, local, mostly green ingredients. The beauty of Italian cuisine usually lies in the less traveled roads.