Italian Vegetable Cooking
Don't Be Fooled
"The biggest misconception about Italian food is that it's all cheese, pasta, pizza, and gelato. It's actually all about the vegetables," says Domenica Marchetti, chef instructor and author of six cookbooks, including The Glorious Vegetables of Italy. She takes inspiration from her yearly travels across the country, nodding to regional cuisines while adding a modern twist—a garlicky gremolata showers fresh shaved mushrooms; a poached egg sits atop a rustic bean stew. Above all, her approach is simple: "I let the vegetables speak for themselves," she says.
See More: Italian Pantry Essentials
Fennel and Radicchio Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette
There's something about the sweet anise flavor of fresh fennel and bright citrus that go so well together. Citrus grows all over Italy, from blood oranges to grapefruit to lemons. It is a dominant flavor in the cuisine. Let the salad stand at room temperature at least 30 minutes before serving. This allows the dressing to penetrate the vegetables and tenderize them a bit for a less aggressive crunch.
Mushroom Carpaccio with Gremolata and Shaved Parmigiano
Fresh button mushrooms don't have loads of flavor, but they have a wonderfully meaty, dense texture. A sprinkle of garlicky gremolata, typically served with osso buco (braised veal), punches up the dish and makes it special.
This salad is the perfect antidote to the winter blues, and it pairs beautifully with foods of the season—roasts, stews, and braises. You could use a mandoline to slice the mushrooms, but a sharp knife will do.
Ribollita with Poached Eggs
This Tuscan dish is classic cucina povera, or poor man's cuisine. Meat was expensive, so Italians stretched vegetables and beans as much as possible. Day-old bread wouldn't be thrown away but would be added to the pot.
Thick and enriched with a drizzle of good olive oil, ribollita hovers somewhere between a soup and a vegetable stew. One night I topped each serving with a runny poached egg, and a new one-dish meal was born in our house. Serve as a satisfying main, or skip the egg and get up to 10 servings for a first course.
Roasted Balsamic Radicchio with Pancetta and Walnuts
There are so many types of radicchio at the market, such as Castelfranco with its scarlet speckled leaves and Verona with its long, curled fingers. Round Chioggia is delicious roasted and topped with crispy pancetta and a drizzle of honey.
Radicchio—that bitter, crunchy, scarlet and white vegetable Italians adore, becomes entirely different when roasted. Its color deepens and the flavor turns mellow and nutty, with just a hint of bitterness remaining. Serve it alongside roast pork, chicken, or beef. Or, to turn it into a main course, chop and toss with hot cooked pasta.
Roasted Cauliflower with Anchovy Sauce
Nutty, tender roasted cauliflower pairs perfectly with the assertive flavor of anchovy. If you are an anchovy lover, use the oil from the tin or jar in place of extra-virgin olive oil to make the anchovy sauce.
Wilted Escarole with Lemon and Garlic
Escarole can be intimidating when raw—it's a big head of tough, curly leaves. Just wilting and sautéing transforms this inhospitable vegetable into something completely delicious. Could anything be simpler?
Escarole is transformed by heat, turning soft and mellow, with only a slight edge of bitterness. Swiss chard and mature spinach are also delicious cooked this way.