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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Italian Without the Pasta

Recently, I’ve discovered that Costco sells some great cookbooks. And nearly every time I go there to stock up on my two-years’ supply of toilet paper and four-gallon tubs of pub mix, I invariably find a one. As a result, I almost own Ina Garten’s complete Barefoot Contessa oeuvre. 

©2014 Chris Terrell
But during my most recent trip, I discovered something new and surprising: an Italian cookbook published by Phaidon titled, Vegetables from an Italian Garden. As you can gather from the title, it is dedicated entirely to Italian vegetable recipes. It is divided into four sections, one for each of the four seasons and the vegetables that are prominent during those seasons. And not a pasta recipe in sight.

For you see, “authentic” Italian food is not as pasta-heavy as its Italian-American cousin. In fact, in Italy pasta is not the main meal, as is typical in America, but a small preliminary course. So after I purchased this book, I decided I would make an Italian meal without any pasta. The only carbs on the plate would come from the garden, or at least someone else’s garden.

The Saturday morning of my pasta-less “experiment,” I headed out to the farmers market with nothing particular in mind. I find a farmer’s market a lot more fun when you go there without an agenda. After a few minutes, I grabbed a big, beautiful, fleshy eggplant. And, a few minutes after that, some cherry tomatoes. I find eggplant to be the most intriguing vegetable out there, though I rarely know what to do with it. Sometimes I buy one, only to watch it wither on my kitchen counter. This time, however, would be different. Because eggplant is so popular in Italian cookery, I was sure to find an interesting dish in my new cook book. I wasn’t disappointed.

What I found was a recipe for marinated eggplant, not marinated in vinegar or lemon juice, but rather olive oil, It turned out to be a flavorful summer dish. Here’s the recipe:

© 2014 Chris Terrell
Melanzane Marinate
(Marinated Eggplant)


1 large eggplant, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3/4 cup olive oil
1 chile, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained, rinsed, and chopped
10 mint leaves
salt and pepper


Put the eggplant slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and let drain for about 30 minutes. Heat a heavy, nonstick skillet. Rinse the eggplant, pat dry, and brush with some of the oil. Add the eggplant slices to the skillet, in batches if necessary, and cook over high heat until golden brown on both sides. Combine the chile, garlic, capers, and mint in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Make a layer of eggplant slices in a salad bowl, sprinkle with a tablespoon of the chili dressing, and continue making layers until all the ingredients are used. Pour in the remaining olive oil and let marinate in a cool place for at least 6 hours.

Next, it was time to turn to the tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes may be one of my favorite kinds of tomatoes. You can pop them right in your mouth; put them in a salad; or roast them, which is probably the best way to serve them. I found an excellent recipe for roasted tomatoes using balsamic vinegar! And while the recipe calls for regular tomatoes, cherry tomatoes work just as well, don’t require any cutting (put them in the roasting pan whole) and they cook faster. Here’s the recipe.

© 2014 Chris Terrell
Pomodori All'Aceto Balsamico in Forno
(Baked Tomatoes with Balsamic Vinegar)


4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing
1 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
8 tomatoes halved (or pint and a half of cherry tomatoes)
1 sprig of thyme
salt and pepper


Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Brush an ovenproof dish with oil. Whisk together the oil and vinegar in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Put the tomatoes into the prepared dish in a single layer, brush with the oil and vinegar mixture over them, and sprinkle with the thyme. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 225 degrees and bake for at least another 1 hour. (If using cherry tomatoes, you can bake at the higher temperature for about 30 minutes.) Remove from the oven, transfer the tomatoes to a serving dish, and serve either hot or cold. 

Finally, I needed a little protein to go with this meal. I didn’t want to make a trip to the store, so I pulled out some frozen chicken breasts (also from Costco!) and grabbed my copy of The Silver Spoon. As I’ve written in this blog before, this is the only Italian cookbook you will ever need. Here’s what I found:

Involtini di Pollo alle Acciughe E Capperi
(Chicken, Anchovy, and Caper Roulades)


4 salted anchovies, soaked in water and drained
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons drained and rinsed capers
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup white wine
salt and pepper


Lightly pound the chicken with a mallet. Divide the anchovies and capers among the chicken portions, roll up, and secure with toothpicks. Heat the butter and oil in a large skillet, add the onion, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add the chicken roulades and cook, turning frequently, until browned all over. Season with salt and pepper, increase the heat to high, pour in the wine, and cook until it has reduced slightly. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Transfer to a warm serving dish.

Now I was all set. And after it was all ready, I invited a neighbor over to share my non-pasta, Italian meal. And while one can have a great Italian meal without the pasta, you wouldn’t want to have an Italian meal without good company and good conversation. After all, it just wouldn’t be “Italian.”

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