Monday, June 6, 2016

Domenica Marchetti's "Preserving Italy"

I was predisposed to love this book as soon as I heard the title. "Preserving Italy" speaks not only to the time-honored methods of putting foods by that Italians have done for centuries -- but to holding on to traditions that face extinction if it weren't for people like Domenica Marchetti.
I grew up in a family that foraged for wild asparagus and broccoli rabe in the spring, that canned summer's bounty of peaches and tomatoes, that made its own wine in the fall and that mixed its own spicy sausages to hang and cure during the winter. Those, and other traditions to preserve food are deeply engrained in my genes and I try to not only maintain those traditions, but to enrich them with newfound ways of preserving my heritage and passing it onto younger family members and friends. So I was thrilled when Domenica's book arrived, (including my family's recipe for salt-preserved green tomatoes) bringing these old customs to a whole new audience.
photo from "Preserving Italy"
Aside from her wonderful recipes, Domenica leaves her imprint with her beautiful writing. Her first sentence grabbed me right away:
"When my grandmother passed away in 1971, she left behind four grieving daughters and a large jar of her liquor-soaked cherries."
photo from "Preserving Italy"
That sentence evoked my own memories of loved ones passed on, who had left behind their own culinary mementos: the foods my father ate for weeks after my mother died -- peppers and tomatoes she had prepared and stored in the freezer and cupboards; and the grappa-soaked cherries and salted green tomatoes my late husband had made - another bittersweet and tangible reminder of his absence in the months following his death.
With every bite of those cherries, roasted peppers, or canned tomatoes, we bring back past memories and at the same time, expose a younger generation to a taste they might pass onto future generations.
"We're seeing more and more of these traditional methods being used today," Domenica said. "Some people are putting modern spins on it and putting in new flavors."
Italy has long been a country where people, especially those living in the country with substantial gardens, put up their own food for the leaner winter months, but there are a lot more artisanal items on store shelves in Italy now too, she said.
"It's a way for regions to stand out in terms of culinary trends and I feel like we are in some ways going back. You see it not just with preserves, but in interest in old traditional recipes, like the sour dough bread baking movement, for example. These techniques that were in danger of being lost, are finding a new audience. I also try to find recipes that are in danger of being lost. I don't want these traditional recipes to fall by the wayside."
photo from "Preserving Italy"
The book contains instructions not only on the techniques of making and preserving vegetables, meats and fruits, jams and liqueurs, but also many ideas on how to use those items in various recipes.
From foods preserved in oil, like eggplants, zucchini and butternut squash; to foods preserved in vinegar, like cauliflower, carrots and fennel; to sweet jams and jellies; to tomatoes and sauce; to cheeses, cured meats; liqueurs and syrups, the book provides a step-by-step guide to creating a bountiful pantry.
photo from "Preserving Italy"
After you've finished seasoning and curing that guanciale, you can use it to flavor the pasta alla gricia recipe from the book; or try your hand at making mint syrup, then incorporate it in the book's recipe for mint chocolate chip cake.
photo from "Preserving Italy"
There's something for even the busiest working man or woman, including easy-to-make porchetta salt that will elevate your next pork shoulder to new heights. Domenica also includes the recipe for making a simplified home version of porchetta that anyone can make.
"The porchetta is simple because it's just a matter of making the salt, rubbing it into the meat and then it's hands off while the roast is in the oven.
from "Preserving Italy"
Most of the recipes in the book are "small batch" and just enough for a small family, she said.
 "They don't produce quarts and quarts of food - just enough for you to have something on hand. I like the feeling of having a larder with jars of food stocked in it. If you do a little bit of work on the front end, then you can just open a jar of tomato sauce and have a quick and easy great pasta dinner for example," she said.
Although Domenica has been making limoncello and other liqueurs for years, as well as jams, fresh cheeses and yogurt, many of the techniques in the book were new to her. "There was definitely a learning curve, which made the book all the more fun," she said.
photo from "Preserving Italy"

Writing a cookbook where you are first preserving the raw ingredients does takes a bit longer than just creating a recipe alone, but it was a labor of love, Domenica said.
"I thoroughly enjoyed the process," she said, although the tight deadline imposed by Houghton Mifflin presented a challenge. The original six months stretched to a year in order to include ingredients from all four seasons of the year.
"I had a lot of fun sourcing the different things," she said including finding wine grapes she could use to create the syrupy liquid called mosto cotto in her kitchen in Virginia.
photo from "Preserving Italy"
"I put out a tweet asking winemakers to share some fresh grape must and I got a reply from one of Virginia's oldest winemakers - Horton Vineyards - who gave me a few jars."
Winemakers in general are the most generous people, she said, but "As I started working on this book, it became clear to me that there are so many talented and hard-working food artisans in Italy."
As a result, the book includes essays on many of the people she met while conducting research for the book.
photo from "Preserving Italy"
"They do what they do because it's their livelihood and they love it and maybe they're doing it to bring back those traditions. I really wanted to showcase the work they are doing. But it doesn't even scratch the surface when it comes to the whole country and the number of food artisans there."
photo from "Preserving Italy"
Domenica will be promoting "Preserving Italy" in the next few months, starting with a book launch and dinner at Le Virtù restaurant in Philadelphia on June 15. She continues through the summer with appearances at bookstores, cooking schools and other sites throughout Virginia, Washington, D.C., Maine and North Carolina. For more details, click here.

Below is a recipe from Domenica's book - a beautiful and delicious crostata using homemade jam:
photo from "Preserving Italy"

Favorite Jam Crostata
from Domenica Marchetti's "Preserving Italy"

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
1 cup confectioner's sugar, plus more for dusting the crostata
finely grated zest of 1 orange
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
1 1/2 to 2 cups rustic grape Jam, strawberry-apricot preserves, green tomato preserves (recipes in the book); or any favorite jam.

-Measure the flour, sugar, zests and salt into the bowl of a food processor fitted with at the metal blade. Process briefly to combine. Distribute the butter pieces around the bowl and process until the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg and egg yolks and process just until the dough begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it into a disk. Wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 1 hour.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut it into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Rewrap the smaller piece and set it aside. Roll the larger piece into an 11-or 12-inch circle. Carefully wrap the dough around the rolling pin and drape it over a 9- or 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Gently press the dough into the bottom and up the sides of the pan.
-Spoon the jam into the prepared hell and smooth it out with the back of your spoon. Roll out the remaining dough and cut it into 3/4-inch thick strips or use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes such as flowers or stars. Place the strips in a lattice pattern on top of the jam or arrange the cutouts on top. (Save any excess dough to roll out later; you can cut out shapes and bake cookies) Fold the edge of the crust over the jam and lattice.
-Bake until the crust is lightly browned, about 35 minutes. Let the crostata cool in the pan on a wire rack to room temperature. To serve, remove the rim of the pan, transfer the crostata to a decorative serving platter, and dust lightly with confectioner's sugar.

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Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

An interesting book! I love Domenica's work.



Frank Fariello said...

I hardly ever buy cookbooks these days, especially Italian cookbooks, but Domenica always seems to come out with ones I don't want to live without.

Proud Italian Cook said...

I loved this post, it made me recall my own memories of family foraging for dandelion greens always off the beaten path where no dogs were allowed, of the many jars of eggplant and other vegetables being put up. Homemade hot giardiniera, there's nothing better. What a great book to have as a reference and guide to keeping those traditions alive for us and future generations, I love Domenica's books!

AdriBarr said...

Oh my! Wut what a wonderful article, Linda, and congratulations on your inclusion in Doomenica's latest book. What an honbor and a thrill. I have come to rely on Domenica for so much, not the least of which her tremendous contribution to keeping the past alive through her writing, recipe collections, and thorough research. Preserving, above all, speaks of the past - of a time when people did with what they had and learned to put it by, filling their larders and pantries with all manner of foods. For so long the idea of preserving foods, whether it be produce or meat, was a quaint notion rooted in the past with almost no place in the busy lives of today's cooks. I am so glad to see that the art of preserving food is undergoing a resurgence, and I will wager that Domenica's book will further fuel today's cooks. Of all my activities in the kitchen preserving is by far my favorite. There is absolutely nothing that can compare to opening my pantry in late December and being greeted by row upon row of glisstening jars filled almost to the brim with fruits and vegetables. They beckon to me to open each and every one.

Kudos to you on an inspiring and lovingly written post and to Domenica for keeping it all alive. I am off to Amazon now to purchase a copy for myself.

Helen said...

Thanks for preview, Linda. I am jazzed to own this myself and can think of three people to gift.

Marisa Franca @ Allourway said...

Your credit in the book alone makes me plan on purchasing this book. I wasn't going to purchase any more cookbooks for a while but this one is a MUST!! I can't wait to order it and I just wish I could get you and Domenica to autograph it.I thought my days of preserving was over but you have put me in the mood! Thank you for the preview!

Chiara Giglio said...

la tua presentazione mi ha messo una "Voglia Matta" di comperarlo !

Claudia said...

This is one gorgeous review that made me a bit teary-eyed. I do not come from a family that ever "preserved." My method of preserving has always been freezer stuff. I have been daunted by canning. I am trying to pare down cookbooks, "things" but am considering this book - especially if there are some non-fussy recipes. There is a lot of nostalgia here and I do admit that using Minnesota bounty in the winter is especially appealing.

Paola said...

You did just a splendid job of weaving together your own history with what Domenica has done in writing her current book. Memories through food reflect our history and maintaining it in this way could not be more special.

Lucia said...

I get my nieces and nephew a cookbook every Christmas, usually Italian. This sounds perfect!

domenicacooks said...

I just got around to reading this. What a lovely post, my friend. Thank you for your kind words. I'm happy that the book resonates with you and brings back good memories. And thank you for sharing your wonderful green tomato recipe, one of my favorites. Un abbraccio forte!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

I am definitely buying this book, Linda. As soon as I saw Domenica write about it on facebook I knew I needed it . These recipes are gems!