A few days ago, I received a book in the mail. It was a book from Phaidon –consistently original and beautiful with appetizing photographs.
I was not disappointed.
Recipes from Vegetables from an Italian Garden (Phaidon 2011) written by the editors of Phaidon, are wonderful. As I flitted through the pages, the only thing more I wanted to do was to run to the market buy vegetables and start cooking.
This thick book is divided into four chapters, following the four seasons. Each chapter has its own colored ribbon, which makes it easy to go to the season you want to cook from. Spring ribbon is light green like the new grass now growing on the lawn.
Each season starts with an explanation of the vegetables available that season. There is a short history of the vegetable, then an explanation of how to select and buy them, along with stunning photos by Andy Sewell. Following this is a description of how and when to plant these vegetables in your own garden. The scrumptious recipes are taken from all parts of Italy. Well written and clear, they let you jump in and start cooking. There is no question that they will work: they all do.
It is spring, so I decided to try several spring vegetables recipes. I went to the market and bought fresh asparagus, artichokes (the small Italian kind), spinach, and fresh fava beans. (Spinach, the book informs us, was very popular in Persia.) I called four friends and invited them to a vegetable dinner.
Nettles were also on the list of spring vegetables. I never knew you could cook them. I found young nettles in my garden, made Nettle Soup (p. 63), and put it the freezer for an impromptu dinner.
I started with an Artichoke Lasagnette (p. 79) — such an inviting name! — a pasta dish with small strip of lasagna and layers of artichoke, ham, and Parmesan. Next came fava beans with cheese wafers and prosciutto (Broad Beans with Ham, p. 97). Simply divine. Then came a Spinach and Tomato Risotto (p. 48), which was wonderfu. The masterpiece of the dinner was fresh young asparagus salad with quail eggs on a bed of lettuce (p. 89). Each dish was beautiful, simple, and delicious.
We ended the dinner with a bowl of cherries. My friends still talk about this dinner!
I cannot wait for summer and try a cold cucumber soup with cream (p. 201) or zucchini and black olive frittata (p. 189) for a lunch in the garden.
Vegetables from an Italian Garden will stay in my kitchen all year!
Quail Eggs and Asparagus (Ovetti Nel Nido)
Preparation time: 20 min
Cooking time: 25 min
1 hardboiled egg
150 ml/1/4 pint olive oil
10 green olives, minced
1 tablespoon white whine
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped marjoram
1 kg/2 ¼ lb asparagus, trimmed
16 quail eggs
1 lettuce heart, shredded
Salt and pepper
Shell the hardboiled egg, then halve and scoop out the yolk into a bowl. Add the olive oil, olives, wine, and vinegar, season with salt and pepper, pour in 3 tablespoons water and blend with a fork until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle over the parsley and marjoram and set the sauce aside. Trim the asparagus spears to the same length and tie in a bundle with kitchen string. Bring a tall pan of lightly salted water to the boil. Add the asparagus, standing it upright with the tips protruding above the water level. Cove and simmer for 15 minutes, or until tender. Lift out the asparagus and drain on kitchen paper. Put the quail eggs into a pan of cold water, bring to the boil and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat. Drain off the hot water and cover with cold water and leave to cool. When cold, carefully shell and cut them into half. Make a bed of lettuce in the centre of a serving plate. Place the halved quail eggs on top. Slice the asparagus spears lengthways and arrange them around the side to resemble a nest. Pour over the sauce and serve.