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Celebrating Vegetables With the “Godfather of Italian Gastronomy”

Enjoy the sheer delight of fresh, flavorful, seasonal produce with these recipes from Antonio Carluccio.

Celebrating Vegetables

Growing up in Italy during wartime, my siblings and I never had to be cajoled into eating our vegetables. We did so with pleasure.

Not only was it somewhat difficult to find enough to eat then — so we were grateful for what we had — but vegetables have always had a special place in Italian culture. They’re much more central to our traditional cuisine than they are in other countries, where they are often side dishes that accompany meat. So I grew up with great affection for vegetables and their flavors — especially those we could find locally, which were, of course, fresh and in season.

We lived in a little village surrounded by farmers, so we didn’t lack for options. But we also loved to go foraging. Some of my best memories are of hunting for dandelion greens, wild brassicas, mushrooms, and asparagus. Even though I’ve been living in London for more than 40 years now, I still go out and forage sometimes because I love the adventure and the freshness of just-picked finds.

I think that’s part of what people miss sometimes with canned or frozen produce: the experience of freshness and the sheer delight you can get from working with vegetables. That’s why I focus so much on them in my cooking. For a minimum of fuss, you get maximum flavor.

Celebrating vegetables isn’t just for vegetarians. It’s for anyone who wants to truly embrace the love of food.

Asparagus and Onion Frittata

Frittata Con Asparagi e Cipolle 

Eggs aren’t only for breakfast. This is an ideal dish to take to a picnic, as it’s good cold. It can also be served as an appetizer before dinner.

Photography by Laura Edwards
Makes four to six servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 bunch green asparagus, each spear peeled, trimmed, and cut into three pieces
  • 6 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups finely sliced white onions
  • 10 medium eggs
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 tbs. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

•  Cook the asparagus chunks in boiling salted water until soft, 10 to 12 minutes (or less, if you prefer a firmer texture). Drain well.

•  Warm half the olive oil over medium heat in a 10-inch ovensafe pan and cook the onions until soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the cooked and drained asparagus.

•  Beat the eggs in a bowl and mix with the cheese, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste.

•  Add a little more oil to the pan, then pour the egg mixture over the onions and asparagus. Cook gently until it solidifies on the bottom, about 10 minutes. Use a spatula to gently loosen the base of the frittata from the sides, which allows some of the liquid mixture to hit the base of the pan and set.

•  When there is no more liquid left, put a plate over the top of the pan and invert the frittata onto the plate. Add the remaining oil, then slide the frittata back into the pan, uncooked side down. Brown the other side, about five to six minutes.

•  Serve hot or cold.

Tip: If flipping the frittata is too tricky, you can finish it under a broiler.

Tip: Salting the water will prevent nutrients from leaching out of the asparagus while it’s boiling.

Grilled Pepper Salad

Insalata di Peperoni Arrostiti

This recipe is a staple of southern Italian cuisine, but it’s simple to create it in your own home with summer’s ripest peppers.

Photography by Laura Edwards
Makes four servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Rest time: a few hours

Ingredients 

  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 yellow peppers
  • 1 garlic clove, coarsely sliced, or 1 tsp. garlic oil
  • Sea salt
  • 1 tbs. coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 4 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

•  Blacken the peppers over a charcoal grill or in a very hot oven (425 degrees F). When the skin has blackened, remove the peppers and allow to cool.

•  After the peppers have cooled, remove the skin and seeds, retaining any juices, then slice into strips approximately 1 inch wide.

•  To the peppers and their juices, add the garlic or garlic oil, salt, parsley, and olive oil; mix well. Leave for a few hours to allow the flavors to develop, and eat as part of an antipasto.

Tip: To make this dish even more flavorful, add other fresh herbs, such as basil or thyme.

Polenta Cake With Rapini and Chicory

Cime di Rapa e Cicoria Belga Con Crosta di Polenta

Cime di rapa, also known as rapini, isn’t a broccoli but actually a member of the brassica family of vegetables, which includes Chinese cabbage and turnips. For this recipe, though, broccoli or broccolini are good substitutes if you can’t find rapini in your area.

Photography by Laura Edwards
Makes four to six servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 5 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely sliced
  • 3 cups rapini, broccoli-like tops only
  • 1 lb. (about 2 cups) Belgian chicory, heads cut in half
  • A few salted capers, soaked for five minutes and then rinsed thoroughly
  • 1 small chili, finely sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Polenta Crust

  • 2 cups fine instant polenta (instant cornmeal)
  • Salt
  • 6 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

•  To start cooking the vegetables, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan and lightly sauté the garlic. Add the rapini tops, chicory, capers, and 1/4 cup water, then cover with a lid and cook until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chili and salt and pepper to taste, and gently simmer for 10 minutes.

•  To make the polenta cake, place the instant polenta in a bowl and add 1 cup hot water, along with some salt and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix well. Flatten with your hand into one large cake about the thickness of a hamburger.

•  Fry in a suitably sized frying pan over medium heat in the remaining oil until both sides are darkish brown and form a crust (about eight minutes per side).

•  Cut the polenta cake into wedges and serve topped with the vegetables.

Tip: Can’t find chicory? Try endive, escarole, or frisée lettuce, which all offer a slightly bitter flavor and a nice crunch.

Edamame Beans With Tuna and Onion

Fagioli di Soia Con Tonno e Cipolla

This classic recipe is usually made with borlotti beans, but it’s also nice with soybeans. Soybeans are not typically available fresh, but you can find immature soybeans frozen and labeled as edamame.

Photography by Laura Edwards
Makes four servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: eight minutes

Ingredients 

  • 2 1/2 cups shelled edamame beans
  • 7 oz. good-quality canned tuna in olive oil, drained
  • 4 to 6 finely sliced scallions or large spring onions
  • 6 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon, plus extra wedges
  • Celery greens for garnish (optional)

Directions

•  Boil the beans in water for eight minutes, or according to package instructions if frozen. Drain well.

•  Break the tuna into smaller chunks and put in a serving bowl, then add the onions and drained beans. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

•  Mix together the olive oil and lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Use this to dress the salad, garnish with celery greens, and serve.

Recipes excerpted with permission from Vegetables by Antonio Carlucci, published by Quadrille. Copyright © 2016 by Antonio Carluccio.

Why No Numbers? Readers sometimes ask us why we don’t publish nutrition information with our recipes. We believe that (barring specific medical advice to the contrary) if you’re eating primarily whole, healthy foods — an array of sustainably raised vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, meats, fish, eggs, whole-kernel grains, and healthy fats and oils — you probably don’t need to stress about the numbers. We prefer to focus on food quality and trust our bodies to tell us what we need. — The Editors

This appeared as “Celebrating Vegetables” in the June 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

WEB EXTRA!

Summer Cucumber and Tomato Soup

Zuppa Estiva di Cetriolo e Pomodoro

This cold and refreshing soup is actually two simple soups artfully presented together. Enjoy on a warm summer’s day.

Photography by Laura Edwards

Makes four servings
Prep time: 15 minutes plus time to chill

 Ingredients

  • 2 large cucumbers, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 tbs. finely chopped fresh dill
  • 3 tbs. heavy whipping cream
  • 2 large beefsteak tomatoes, stem removed, skinned* and chopped
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 small white onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  • Put the cucumber, dill, and some salt and pepper into a blender and purée. Mix in the cream. Pour into a small pitcher and refrigerate until chilled.
  • Clean the blender, and then blend the skinned tomatoes with the basil, onion, olive oil, and some salt and pepper to obtain a smooth mixture. Refrigerate until chilled.
  • To serve, pour a little of the cucumber soup into a deep soup plate and carefully pour the tomato soup into the center. Drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil over the top, then decorate with a few basil leaves.

Tip: To skin the tomatoes, place in boiling water for 30 seconds, then move to a bowl of ice water and allow to rest 5 minutes. The skin will slide off easily.

has written 23 books on ­Italian cuisine, earning him the title “godfather of Italian gastronomy.” His latest cookbook, Vegetables, is his second that focuses exclusively on how to buy, prepare, and celebrate a broad array of fresh veggies.

Photography by Laura Edwards

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