Cookbook author Domenica Marchetti always has something delicious on her Instagram feed. Domenica's recipes embody the easy but respectful manner of Italian cooking though she also has the soul of a scholar. Her thoughtful cookbooks always satisfy my intellectual cravings and are truly feasts for the eyes.
Q: Growing up Italian, I never thought of Italian food as something different than what other people were eating, I just thought of it as food. (Until of course my classmates thought zucchini frittatas on crusty bread was a very strange lunch to bring to school.) What did you think of Italian food when you were a child?
I think I had a notion, early on, that what I ate was “different” than what a lot of other kids ate (I did not grow up in an Italian neighborhood). Not just different, but also better. My mom disliked most American food (this was the 70s) and never missed an opportunity to poke fun at it. She was also pretty critical of Italian-American cooking, which she saw as distinct and inferior to Italian cooking. I have always loved Italian food, though when I was little I liked American desserts (cakes, pies, and cookies) better. I have since seen the light on that front and I now adore the more understated Italian desserts, like fruit crostata and cakes such as torta di nocciole simply dusted with confectioners’ sugar.
Q: What's your favorite part of Italian cooking?
The regionality and the seasonality. The food is so local that not only does it differ from region to region, but also from province to province and even within the provinces themselves. You can still find sauces, or soups, or pasta shapes, or herb combinations that you will only see in one village or in one valley. Ingredients, too. The radicchio in Treviso is different from the radicchio from Verona is different from the radicchio in Castelfranco, and so on. Also, when something is out of season, that’s it. You won’t find it in a restaurant or in the market. You have to wait until next year. That’s what makes Italian cooking so fascinating and appealing.
Q: Do you feel that your blog and books have brought you closer to your culture? What have you learned about Italian culture and history as a result of your research?
Yes, definitely, especially my books. My background is not culinary; my master’s degree is in journalism and I was a reporter for years. I use my reporting skills all the time in researching my books. History is evident everywhere in the food of Italy. You see the Swiss, Viennese, and Middle Eastern influences in the pastries of Naples, Sicily and elsewhere. In Abruzzo, take the example of saffron, a spice that flourishes in the Navelli plain. A Dominican friar from a well-to-do Navelli family first planted it in the 13th Century after bringing it back from Andalucia. The spice did particularly well in the microclimate of the plain and it is still an integral part of the cuisine of Abruzzo.
Q: Are there any favorite family recipes in your books? If so, what was it like to turn them into formal recipes?
All of my books contain some family recipes. It’s hard to pick a favorite. I guess I’ll go with my mother’s pasta recipe. It’s such a great all-purpose pasta dough. You can use it for making sturdy pasta such as maccheroni alla chitarra and also for delicate ravioli or lasagne sheets. Turning my family recipes into formal recipes was pretty easy. These are the recipes of home cooks, so it’s not like translating fussy restaurant recipes. Also, my mom used to give cooking classes and she and I had written up a bunch of her recipes years ago, so that of course helped.
Q: Are there any dishes you haven't been able to master as well as someone in your family?
My mother’s cannoli, which are awesome, even though she is not Sicilian. She hasn’t made them in years and until recently I did not have her recipe. I’m happy to say, though, that I found her typed up recipe on a recent trip back home. As soon as I have some free time I plan to take a crack at them.
Q: What's your second favorite cuisine to Italian and why?
I really enjoy Lebanese cuisine. I love the bright flavors and spices, and the focus on vegetables and legumes. Even though it is quite different than Italian cuisine, I think it shares the Italian philosophy that fresh ingredients don’t require too much manipulation to be turned into great dishes.
Q: What advice can you give to readers who are trying to capture and carry on their family or culture's recipes and traditions?
Write the recipes down. Back when I was growing up and my mom was teaching cooking classes, she and I typed up several dozen of her recipes on her Corona electric typewriter. At the time it was just a fun chore. I had no idea just how precious those recipes were and are and how grateful I am to have them.
Q: Tell us about the Abruzzo. Who should be traveling there and what will they find there that is unique?
Abruzzo is a place for people who want to get off the beaten path, for those who have already done the tourist version of Italy, which is to say Rome, Florence, Venice, the Amalfi Coast. Abruzzo has beautiful sandy beaches along the Adriatic Coast. These do fill up in summer, but beyond that, there is very little tourist traffic in Abruzzo. The region is filled with magical mountain villages and medieval hilltop towns, castles and fortresses. The countryside is spectacular, ranging from the rugged foothills of the Gran Sasso mountain range to the rolling hills out towards the coast. Abruzzo also has some of the best food in Italy. Even Italians travel there to eat regional specialties such as maccheroni alla chitarra, arrosticini (grilled lamb skewers), and brodetto (fish stew).
Q: Finally, what's next for you?
My most recent book, Ciao Biscotti, was published earlier this spring. I am currently working on a new book project focusing on the preserving traditions of Italy. And I also lead culinary tours to Abruzzo. Our next trip is this September. I love introducing our guests to this incredible region and its people and food.