Introduction

Introduction

By
Antonio Carluccio
Contains
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849497527
Photographer
Laura Edwards

I have written twenty-four books on the subject of Italian food, and one was specifically about Italian vegetables. You may wonder why I am tackling the subject again, but there are always fresh discoveries to be made in the world of food.

I learned about vegetables very early in my life. My parents did not have much money, and we were many children, so foraging in the countryside for vegetables ‘for free’ was very much part of our weekly, probably daily, pattern. I soon learned, possibly before I was six years old, to identify wild rocket, dandelion, asparagus, mustard, rape . . . and my ability to contribute to the family’s food ingredients made me very proud indeed. The significance of that early foraging – which led to a lifelong passion for wild food in general – was brought back to me recently. In late 2015, I was in Australia making a TV series about the cultural aspects of Aboriginal food. Working with Richard Walley, the Elder of the Noongar tribe, I experienced pangs of nostalgia as I watched him and others gather and prepare food from the wild, food upon which their very lives depended. A nomadic people, they took only what they needed from nature then and there, ensuring that there would be food again when they returned to the same place – rather as I cut wild mushrooms, very carefully so that new growth is guaranteed the following season.

During the centuries, Italy has developed from a country that produced food for survival to a country whose food represents pleasure to many throughout the world. Its vegetable dishes are renowned, and indeed Italian botanists have been responsible for the actual development of many of our best-known vegetables: think of calabrese (the broccoli from Calabria), edible peas and pods, cavolo nero, celery, fennel and globe artichokes. As these new ingredients were developed, so chefs and cooks were presented with the challenge of how best to cook them. Vegetable cooking in Italy is basically simple, relying on the flavour of each individual item to sing through, and the influences are varied, reflecting the cultures of those peoples who have lived in, conquered and influenced Italy throughout the centuries – the Romans and Greeks, the Arabs, the French.

Vegetables are very important in Italian food culture, and often, as in countries further to the east, will be at the heart of a dish, rather than an expensive protein such as meat. Many of the vegetables that we eat today have undergone an adventurous destiny, coming from the other side of the world, discovered by enterprising explorers. They encompass the fruits, seeds, roots, flower buds, leaves and stalks of plants, all of them with individual flavours, textures, colours, cooking qualities, and health benefits. Centuries ago, in 1611, an Italian called Giacomo Castelvetro lived in England and wrote a book, The Fruit, Herbs and Vegetables of Italy. He wanted to persuade the British to eat more fruit and vegetables. I like to think that I am doing much the same, introducing people to the joys of vegetables and the numerous ways of exploiting their delicacy and deliciousness. I hope I have succeeded. Buon appetito!

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