The Vegetarian Italian Kitchen cookbook has only one thing about it that annoys me – Veronica Lavenia uses a few cheeses that are NEVER vegetarian and not once does she suggest a vegetarian alternative*. I don’t know what will happen when/if we leave the EU and whether we can happily sod their laws and make our own cheese and call it what we want but, at the moment, as any self-respecting vegetarian can (and will) tell you, Parmesan/Parmigiano-Reggiano is an EU Protected Designation of Origin product and has to be made using calf rennet, therefore making it unsuitable for vegetarians. And if you don’t believe me, you can read The Vegetarian Society’s cheese fact sheet which also points out that Gorgonzola (also used in the book) is never vegetarian either.
[*The author, Veronica Lavenia, has seen this post and here’s her reply:
Of course all PDO cheeses are not vegetarian but times change and, although some cheeses such as Parmigiano, are made with animal rennet it is equally true that some Italian producers of Grana Padano and Parmigiano Reggiano also offer versions with vegetable rennet (this dairy, for example, http://www.ilverdiano.it/english.php, holds the patent for the vegetarian version of Parmigiano). They export abroad, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries, but of course, I can’t mention in the book the name of cheese makers. Probably, I should have emphasized the vegetarian version of Parmigiano. I assumed that it was as easy to find also in the UK as it is in the US but it appears not.]
Now my gripe is out of the way (I don’t know what I’ll get to gripe about if leaving the EU does mean Parmesan can be veggie), I’ll get on with telling you the good points of the book, of which there are many (and I’m sure you’re all capable of finding a vegetarian alternative to Parmesan anyway [hint: Tesco and Sainsbury’s both do one]).
This book is set out into seasons, and then again into sweet and savoury. The dishes are simple, with affordable ingredients you can find in the supermarket, which means you won’t be thinking ‘what the hell is that?’ and only being able to find a certain ingredient on Amazon and then wondering if it’s worth spending all that money on something you might only use once. As you’d expect from an Italian cookbook, there’s the usual salads, pizza, pasta and polenta and a few dishes that take a look at meat substitutes such as tofu and seitan.
I’ve made the Baked Eggplant (Aubergine) which I loved, even if The Meat Eater did call it a ‘meal for octogenarians’ when I placed a plate containing the gooey bake, soft sweet potato wedges and tender green beans in front of him. The next night, I made the Wholewheat Spaghetti Pie which consists of mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and spaghetti placed on a sheet of puff pastry but, at the last minute and after consulting my bathroom scales, I decided spaghetti was overkill and had a simple – but tasty – mozzarella and cherry tomato tart instead. The next recipe I’ve got my eye on is the Baked Oven Anellini, purely because it looks like aubergine on spaghetti hoops, as you can see in the pic below (although, now I’ve said that, I can’t see anellini pasta in any of the major supermarkets online, dammit).
I’ll give you the recipe for the Baked Eggplant as it appears in the book (the recipe, that is – the photo’s my own) but don’t disappear just yet as, underneath that, you can find details of how to win a copy of The Vegetarian Italian Kitchen.
- 3 spring onions (scallions)
- 4 eggplants (aubergines)
- Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
- 100g breadcrumbs to taste
- 100g pecorino cheese, grated, to taste
- A handful of sun-dried tomatoes
- Wash and dry the spring onions, cut into thin slices and set aside.
- Peel the eggplants and let them soak in salted water 20 minutes.
- Mix the breadcrumbs and pecorino cheese together in a bowl.
- Cut the eggplants into thick slices and dip them first in oil, then in the breadcrumb and pecorino cheese mixture.
- Oil a baking dish and arrange the eggplant in layers, overlapping with the diced spring onions.
- Cover with a handful of sun-dried tomatoes.
- Bake at 180C/350F/Gas mark 4 for 30 minutes.
Giveaway – Win a copy of The Vegetarian Italian Kitchen by Veronica Lavenia
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Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Vegetarian Italian Kitchen to review and a copy to give away but I was not required to give a positive review (I don’t suppose they’re best pleased I moaned about the cheese though).