Italian Salad and Vegetable Recipes
As with many other European countries, Italian cooks select fresh, local ingredients and use them in simple recipes that highlight their quality. Vegetables may be lightly dressed and served as salads. They are also widely used in soups and served alongside meat in the secondo, or second course of a traditional meal.
Antipasti, appetizers served before dinner, often contain vegetables. Squash blossoms are stuffed and deep fried and served hot. Olives are filled with cheese, meat and bread and deep fried. Cold antipasti include marinated olives, peppers, olives and artichoke hearts.
The pre-mixed salad dressing known as “Italian dressing” is virtually unheard of in Italy. Even when a vinaigrette is served over salad, a tiny amount is tossed with the vegetables to lightly coat them. Salad is never served drowning in dressing. Italian salad recipes often consist of a small selection of raw vegetables and sometimes a few shavings of a local hard cheese that are tossed with olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper at the table. A garnish enjoyed in Sardinia is bottarga, a salt cured fish roe that is served shaved thinly over greens. Many Italian salad recipes include fresh herbs with the vegetables.
The climate of Italy varies widely depending on the region, helping to create the wide variety found across the country. In Piemonte, Italian salad recipes often contain wild mushrooms and greens, and tender young green asparagus. Raw, tender baby artichokes seasoned with garlic and mint are a special treat from Lazio. Endive and arugula are also enjoyed in cold salads. Pomodori ripieni is a cold dish made from baked tomatoes stuffed with garlic and basil seasoned rice and potatoes.
Panzanella is a fabulous Tuscan salad recipe made with seasoned tomatoes, red onions and fresh basil with cubed stale bread. After gently moistening the dry bread, it is tossed with the vegetables and dressed with good olive oil and vinegar. The salad should be made in advance to give the bread time to absorb the dressing and flavorful juices from the vegetables.
Many Italian recipes were created as a way to fill hungry, poor families. Broth from meat bones is a nutritious and economical way to add flavor to other dishes. The soup recipes often utilize leftovers or scraps that would otherwise be unusable. Minestrone is made from meat or bean broth and uses beans, pasta and leftovers to create a filling meal. When minestrone soup is left, it can be further recycled into the Tuscan ribollita. Minestrone soup is cooked a second time, adding bread and more vegetables to thicken the broth.
While most Italian vegetable recipes for soups contain some meat broth or other animal products, they usually contain a generous amount of produce in them. Herds of animals are kept in Molise, but the meat is generally reserved for sale. Staple foods for Italians in this region include cheese and vegetables. Nettle sprouts and tomatoes are cooked into a soup called zippa di ortiche.
Cardoons, a relative of the artichoke, are cooked with wild fennel and fava beans to make an Italian vegetable soup recipe from Sardinia called favata. In Apulia, fava beans are mashed with chicory to make another thick soup known as ’ncapriata.
Vegetables are often served with pasta for the primo or first course. Spinach, onions, pork and veal fill the pasta known as offelle. Italian squash recipes are common, using both winter and summer squash varieties. Cappellacci, or big hats, are pasta dough filled with squash. Risotto, a creamy rice dish, may be prepared with peas, tomatoes, winter squash or broccoli raab.
After the primo, the secondo or second course is served. A hearty meat dish is featured with accompanying Italian vegetable side dishes. Many of the Italian vegetable recipes, such as radicchio rosso, are grilled and served simply without sauces. Recipes with vegetables in the brassica and nightshade families are enjoyed in the Apulia region.
Another unusual Italian vegetable recipe uses the hyacinth bulb. The lampaschiuoli, as it is called, has a pleasantly bitter flavor reminiscent of onions. These small bulbs are served with red wine vinegar and olive oil or cooked slowly in a tart vinegar sauce until caramelized and tender. Globe artichokes are commonly eaten in this region as well.
Veneto is known for their high quality white asparagus. These are kept carefully under soil until harvesting to prevent the development of chlorophyll in the stalks. They are mildly flavored and tender. In Emilia Romagna, the asparagus is permitted to develop the traditional green color and served with Parmigiano Reggiano and melted butter.
Italian vegetable recipes often include giant white celery. This variety of celery is flavorful and crisp. It is often cooked with carrots and onions as seasoning, but also is used for cooked Italian vegetable casserole dishes such as Sicily’s artichoke and celery caponata. Another delicious Italian vegetable dish is peperonata, sauteed sweet peppers, onions and tomatoes flavored with plenty of olive oil. garlic and basil. Variations of this range from crispy to caramelized and soft.