The Italian Table: Creating festive meals for family and friends
by Elizabeth Minchilli
Author Elizabeth Minchilli divides her time between Rome and Umbria, blogs about eating in Rome, and manages a phone app called Eat Italy. She also organizes and leads local food tours in Italy.
The author of many books about Italian life, Minchilli describes in her most recent how to create traditional Italian meals and celebrations at home. She focuses on the way meals in Italy are not just about the food, wonderful as it is, but rather about the gatherings and social occasions the food accompanies. Her book covers all the elements of a great meal, including the linens, utensils, serving dishes, and other supporting items that combine to make an Italian meal special and memorable.
The book’s 240 pages are filled with photographs of dishes and settings, recipes, personal anecdotes, and cultural and historical references. The recipes, which Minchilli describes as some of her “greatest hits,” are simple (typically no more than six ingredients). Look for Ricotta and Swiss Chard Tortelli, Fava Pesto, Pork Fillet with Hazelnuts, Mozzarella on Grilled Lemon Leaves, and Squid and Walnut Salad.
The book is organized by type of gathering, like a Table by the Sea in Positano, Dinner on a Roman Terrace, and Late Summer Dinner under a Pergola. In addition to a menu for each setting, Minchilli includes a detailed list describing how to plan for the gathering, including what to drink, how to prep in the days beforehand, and how to set the table.
An engaging guide that will be of interest for home cooks who enjoy preparing Italian foods and entertaining.
Meet Elizabeth Minchilli in the Bay Area:
The Italian Table: Creating festive meals for family and friends
Book Signing, Tastings, and Conversations
Saturday May 4, 1–3pm
Market Hall Foods at Rockridge Market Hall
5655 College Avenue, Oakland
Info: 510 250 6005 or rockridgemarkethall.com
No charge except for purchases
Free author event with Elizabeth Minchilli
Monday May 6, 6:30–7:30pm
Omnivore Books on Food
3885a Cesar Chavez St, San Francisco
THE ITALIAN TABLE: Creating Festive Meals for Family and Friends
Written and photographed by Elizabeth Minchilli
© The Italian Table: Creating Festive Meals for Family and Friends, by Elizabeth Minchilli, Rizzoli, 2019. All images by © Elizabeth Minchilli. No images or text may be reproduced in any way, published or transmitted digitally without written permission from the publisher.
Crostini di Olive (Tapenade Toast)
This olive spread on bread is more of an antipasto than a panino. And while Nancy Silverton calls it by its French name, tapenade—pate di olive is also common in Italy—she puts her own California spin on things with the addition of both orange and lemon zest, which definitely make the taste brighter (not to mention irresistible).
Use a small baguette-type loaf for this, something that will give you a higher crust-to-crumb ratio, a ciabatta, or even a whole wheat baguette.
MAKES 16 CROSTINI
2 tablespoons capers
1 1/2 cups pitted taggiasche or similar intense black olives
1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 or 5 anchovy fillets
Grated zest of 1 organic, unsprayed orange (if using a conventional orange, scrub it well and dry it)
Grated zest of 1 organic, unsprayed lemon (if using a conventional lemon, scrub it well and dry it)
1 or more tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 baguette or ciabatta loaf
1/4 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
If using capers packed in salt, place them in a small bowl and cover with water to soak for 15 minutes before rinsing and draining.
To make the tapenade, place 1 cup of the olives in a food processor and process until roughly chopped. Add the olive oil, anchovies, capers, half of the orange and lemon zests, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Grate in the garlic clove using a Microplane, or use a garlic press, and process until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl.
Roughly chop the rest of the olives and add them to the mixture. Stir well and taste. Add more lemon juice if desired. (If making ahead, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and let come to room temperature before serving.)
Cut the bread into sixteen 1/4-inch-thick slices and toast it. Spread a thin layer of the tapenade on each slice. Top each with some of the rest of the orange and lemon zest and some parsley.
Caponata Positano (Positano Bread Salad)
You’re probably thinking, What’s this typical Sicilian eggplant dish—caponata— doing in the chapter on Positano? That’s what I thought, too, the first time I saw it on a beachside menu. But it turns out that caponata in Positano is a completely different animal. First of all, there is no eggplant in sight. It is more like a brilliant mash-up between a caprese salad and panzanella—with some tuna thrown in.
While I’ve now had caponata almost everywhere in Positano, one of the best was at the restaurant Pupetto, located at the farthest end of Fornillo Beach.
You may have trouble finding rusks or twice-baked breads called friselle that form the basis for this dish. Made all over the south of Italy, the friselle in Positano have an extra crunch thanks to corn flour. These days, friselle are pretty widely available from Italian specialty food stores.
4 Friselle or 4 slices of stale bread
4 large ripe tomatoes
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
12 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed (about 2 cups)
One 8-ounce jar of tuna packed in olive oil, drained
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup black or green olives, pitted [if desired]
2 small bunches of arugula, rinsed and dried
10 fresh basil leaves, torn
Soak the friselle in cold water for about 3 minutes to slightly soften them.
Remove them from the water, letting the excess water drain away. Break them up roughly and place them in a large shallow bowl. (If using stale bread, just crumble the bread into the bowl.)
Chop the tomatoes into 1-inch chunks, place them in a separate bowl, and dress them with the olive oil and salt. Stir them and let them sit for about 10 minutes, to let the juices seep out.
Using a spoon, place the tomatoes and any juices on top of the friselle. Toss them. Add the mozzarella, tuna, celery, olives, arugula, and basil and toss again. Drizzle with more olive oil and let sit another half hour to let the bread soften and absorb the rest of the tomato juices and olive oil.
Pile the salad onto a platter with a slightly raised edge. Serve at room temperature.