You may walk in for the pasta, the fresh fish, the braised beef or even the pizza, but the thing that will likely stop you in your tracks in a restaurant in Italy will be the "contorni" -- the vegetable side dishes. Nearly any restaurant more upscale than a fast-food joint will feature a table overflowing with gorgeous sides: pan-fried baby artichokes, wilted spinach, roasted red peppers, grilled eggplant or fennel, garlicky green beans, fresh tomatoes and more. Forget the pasta, you think; let me at those veggies!
A new book highlighting the cooking of Italy's Amalfi Coast, a stunning area south of Naples, offers a mouthwatering array of fresh pasta recipes, delicious cakes, alluring fish dishes and roasted meats. But I have been treasuring my copy of "Wild Rosemary & Lemon Cake" for the contorni. Potatoes, fennel, zucchini, chard, spinach, Brussels sprouts and green beans -- they all get what I think of as the "Italian treatment": simple preparation highlighting the deliciousness of fresh, ripe produce.
Authors Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi embody the phrase "opposites attract." Ms. Caldesi, described by the London Telegraph as having a "cool English manner," could not "be less Italian." Her husband, the "charming and combustible" Giancarlo, "could not be more so." They run two Italian restaurants and a cooking school in London's West End, and have recently foraged the Amalfi region to produce their captivating book.
Readers may gravitate to the chicken cacciatore, the mini pizzettas, the homemade ravioli or the chocolate and almond cake, but here's a plea to give contorni their due. These four recipes cook up quickly and allow you to offer the vegetable accompaniments that are the hallmark of an Italian meal.