Pros: Fresh new vegetarian recipes, lots of color photos, inspirational
Cons: A bit technical for the beginning home cook
I love Italian cooking. I’m not talking the overly heavy “Italian” one finds in many restaurants in America. I’m talking the genuine Italian cuisine that is based on a plethora of fresh, seasonal ingredients combined in delicious flavors and mouth-watering presentations. Vegeterranean: Italian Vegetarian Cooking presents just such an assortment.
This is a lovely book with plenty of inspiration for beautiful presentations. The layout of the book is set up in an easy to use format interspersed with plenty of eye catching color photographs. Every recipe has been categorized as easy, medium or difficult to execute, which is very helpful when preparing your daily meals. Please keep in mind that easy does not mean fast. This is a large cookbook with sturdy pages that you just may be tempted to leave out on your coffee table. The emphasis is on actually taking all the time you need to make your presentation pop. In each section of the book you will also find stories about the local area and a little look into the lives of the people that helped to bring this cookbook, Vegeterranean: Italian Vegetarian Cooking, to fruition. The cookbook is based off of Malu Simões Da Cunha and Alberto Musacchio’s restaurant, Country House Montalai, whose focus is on showcasing fresh local produce in beautiful and unique ways. While we are not in Italy these ingredients are easily available at your local grocery or specialty store.
I made several of the recipes and they were all fairly easy to execute following their directions. As I read in the beginning there is a bit of a language barrier, but you won’t be able to tell reading the book. The only trouble I ran into was on the Cappuccino di Asparagi recipe where it called for soft peaks on the whipped cream. You need to have firm peaks or the cream melts right into the hot broth. While this cookbook is intended for all cooks, I feel that some of the more technical recipes may be a bit daunting for the beginning home cook. If you are looking for some inspiration to liven up your vegetarian dishes then I think you will be happy with this book. I am pleased with this cookbook because it really did what it intended to do. It brought new life to ordinary seasonal ingredients. I hope you enjoy the recipes I have included.
Cappuccino di Asparagi
Serves 4 (easy)
“Whenever this dish is presented to unsuspecting guests, it is guaranteed to be a showstopper. Be sure to serve in champagne glasses and let your guests know it needs to be stirred. Great with a chilled prosecco wine.”
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1 shallot, finely chopped
½ cup heavy cream
Freshly ground nutmeg to taste
Break off the asparagus stems at the natural breaking point (each end will snap approximately 2 inches from the bottom when gently bent). Using a peeler, remove the fibrous outer layer of the stems. Leave the tips unpeeled. Reserve all the trimmings. In a pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook the asparagus for 2 to 3 minutes or until al dente. Transfer with a slotted spoon into an ice bath. Place the reserved trimmings in 2 cups of the cooking water, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes or until the stock has a full asparagus flavor. Set aside 1 ¼ cups of the stock and keep warm.
Drain the cooled asparagus from the ice bath. Cut off the tips and set aside. Coarsely chop the stems. In a sauté pan, sauté the tips in half of the butter and season. In a separate pan, sauté the chopped stems and the shallots in the remaining butter. Season and set aside.
Reheat the tips and stems in separate sauté pans. Whip the cream with a handheld mixer until soft peaks form (Soft peaks didn’t work out well for me, the cream melted right away, but stiff peaks worked nicely) and transfer to a piping bag. Warm the stock if necessary. Place 1 ½ tablespoons of the chopped asparagus stems in the bottom of each champagne flute. Fill with approximately ¼ cup warm stock. Add three asparagus tips and top with a dollop of whipped cream and another asparagus tip. Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve immediately.
Serves 6, (medium difficulty)
“Spring vegetable skews. An intriguing combination of grilled vegetables and seitan with an herb topping. This colorful dish is great for a buffet.”
1 eggplant, thinly sliced lengthwise
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus 1 whole sprig (the recipe doesn’t specify so I used Italian parsley)
4 garlic cloves thinly sliced
2 zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon chopped celery leaves
6 small Belgian endives, halved lengthwise
3 ½ carrots, peeled
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 ½ tablespoons chopped celery
½ quantity Seitan, cut into 1-inch squares (recipe to follow)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white wine
Two 1-inch-thick slices pineapple
Eggplant: Grill the slices, burning once, until tender. Transfer to a bowl. Drizzle with oil and season with salt, pepper, 1 tablespoon of the chopped parsley, and a bit of the sliced garlic. Set aside.
Zucchini: Follow the same procedure as the eggplant.
Bell Pepper: Blacken and peel the pepper, cut into 1-inch squares, and fold in the celery leaves, a bit of the sliced garlic, a little oil, and salt. (Directions below)
Orange: Use a serrated knife to remove the peel and pith, leaving the pulp exposed. Slice into ½-inch pieces and quarter into wedges. Remove any seeds, if needed.
Endive: Grill the halves and season with oil, salt, and pepper. Cut crosswise into thick slices.
Carrots: Cut three into ½-inch-wide pieces. Steam until al dente, transfer to a bowl, and season with salt, pepper, the remaining 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, a bit of the sliced garlic, olive oil, and the white wine vinegar.
Seitan: Sauté the shallot, remaining garlic, celery, and ½ carrot in the ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil for 2 minutes. Add the seitan and parsley sprig and cook over high heat until the seitan begins to brown. Sprinkle with the flour and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until evaporated. Taste for seasoning.
Pineapple: Peel, core, and cut each slice into eight wedges
3 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1 ½ teaspoons chopped parsley
1 ½ teaspoons chopped basil
1 small garlic clove, crushed through a press
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients together in a bowl.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. On 12 skewers, arrange one piece of each component in this order: Zucchini, eggplant, endive, carrot, pepper, seitan, orange, zucchini, eggplant, carrot, pepper, seitan and pineapple. Arrange the skewers on a baking sheet, sprinkle with the Toping, and bake for 10 minutes. Serve hot.
Blackening Bell Peppers
Place a bell pepper on a baking sheet and cook at 350°F for 40 minutes or until the pepper has blackened. Remove from the oven, place the pepper in a plastic bag, seal, and leave for at least 30 minutes or until cooled. Remove from the bag and peel. Cut off the stem, open, and cut into desired pieces.
1 quantity (1 ¾ pounds)
11 cups Manitoba flour
3 ¼ cups water
12 cups water
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup soy sauce
3 garlic cloves
1 celery stalk
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig parsley
Combine the flour and water in a large bowl and work very well until smooth. Place the bowl in the sink. Squeeze and rinse the dough under running water continuously until the starchiness is washed away. This will be achieved once the rinsing water runs clear and the dough feels elastic. Drain in a colander and set aside. Prepare tow large pots for the cooking liquid. In one pot, combine 8 cups of the water with the sea salt and bring to a simmer. In the other pot., combine the remaining water and ingredients and bring to a simmer. Remove the dough from the colander and place on a work surface. Using your hands, roll the dough into a 4-inch-diameter log and slice into ½-inch-wide rounds. In batches, place the rounds in the pot of salted water. As soon as they come to the surface, transfer with a slotted spoon into the second pot. Cook the seitan for an additional 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the seitan to cool in its liquid Remove the seitan with a slotted spoon and delicately squeeze out the excess liquid. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.