In an effort to explore her Italian roots, Saveur magazine Editor-in-Chief Stacy Adimando took a life-changing trip to Italy in 2012 – one that helped inspire her cookbook, Piatti: Plates and Platters for Sharing Inspired by Italy. The book focuses on Italian antipasti — the small plates that usually greet you before a meal.
When she got to Italy, Adimando was greeted with her big family and a staggering antipasti course – which she mistook for the whole meal. She writes:
"My great aunt said they wanted to cook me a 'little lunch,' which I also wrote to my mother about in an email: They brought out a spread of salami and cheeses, olives, some oil preserved eggplant, marinated mushrooms, a dish of spicy beans and mountain of fried pork and veal meatballs with bread. Because I was navigating the experience with only my mediocre Italian, I thought that was the end of the meal. So I ate A LOT."
Antipasti don't just have to be an opening act, and Adimando says she wanted to write a book of recipes that encouraged people to graze over many different dishes for many hours. Still, she clearly found inspiration in the beginning of the meal, when everyone is gathering.
"It's the best moment of a party," she tells Morning Edition host David Greene. "Everyone is hugging and kissing and there's catching up and clinking of wine glasses and it's just the best moment and I think when those first platters of food start to roll out of the kitchen, it's just a celebration."
These aren't the antipasti you might be familiar with – those traditional plates of salami and vegetables drowned in olive oil.
"The word itself translates to 'before the meal.' So this is anything that you could put out before the meal but usually what the plates have in common is that they're abundant, they're simple, they're rustic, they're family style," she says. "Occasionally there's a really inventive thing – something stuffed with bread crumbs or some seafood with a little bit of a marinade on it. So I think it's a little more complex and diverse than people think."
The cookbook includes dishes like eggplant parmesan and one dear to her family called veal braciolini, which is one that her great grandmother – whom she called Nanny – used to make by pounding veal cutlets very thin.
"She'd fill them with a tiny bit of provolone cheese, a little bit of prosciutto and then a few breadcrumbs with some herbs and garlic in them. [She would] roll them up into little spirals and then griddle them on this little griddle, and oh my gosh, it just melts in your mouth," she says.
Adimando says her Italian American relatives were excited for her to share her family's recipes in the cookbook – they're not closely guarded secrets. But in hers, like in other families, there was no written recipe.
"You have to stand around the kitchen a lot to watch what happens and that's how you learn," she says. "Life happened in the kitchen. That's where we all were – holidays, but also every day."
To hear Adimando's conversation with David Greene, click the audio button at the top of this story.
Kelli Wessinger and Dalia Mortada produced and edited this story for broadcast. Heidi Glenn adapted it for the Web.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
One of the highlights of our recent reporting trip to New York City was a stop at Saveur magazine's test kitchen. They're usually experimenting there with recipes from outside chefs. But this time, the recipes belong to their own Editor-in-Chief Stacy Adimando.
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GREENE: She was preparing this dish with fresh clams and broccoli raab, all swimming in olive oil and tomato puree.
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STACY ADIMANDO: So I'm adding a little bit of finely chopped garlic because, you know, what dish from Italy would be complete without some of this?
GREENE: This recipe is in her new cookbook, "Piatti: Plates And Platters For Sharing, Inspired By Italy." Piatti, we should say, means plates. And I definitely wanted a plate of what she was making.
ADIMANDO: The clams have such fresh, sweet flavor. These are really good.
GREENE: That's delicious. Can I have one more?
ADIMANDO: Please. (Laughter).
GREENE: Her new book is a celebration of antipasti, those small plates that usually greet you before a meal. Now, Stacy wants us all to know that antipasti doesn't just have to be the opening act. People should feel totally free to graze over these dishes for hours. Growing up, Stacy learned a lot about her heritage, but she knew there was a whole lot more.
ADIMANDO: My family is very proud of our Italian side, but also, you know, they named me Stacy. My parents don't speak Italian. We're very much Italian American, I would say.
GREENE: Really finding her roots meant going to Italy.
ADIMANDO: My grandfather on my mother's side, he had always had this one line he said, like, we have relatives in Reggio Calabria. And that was all he ever said about his family. And I said, you know what, Grandpa? I think I want to go and find our remaining family in Italy. And I thought that this was going to take, like, months of poring through old family records and trying to call, you know, the government in Southern Italy to find them. And 24 hours later, my grandpa called me on the phone and said, you got a pen? I got all their phone numbers and addresses.
GREENE: And what greeted her when she arrived? Food. Her book was right on the counter next to the bubbling clams she was making, and I asked her to read a bit from it.
ADIMANDO: (Reading) The next day, my great aunt said they wanted to cook me, quote, "a little lunch," which I also wrote about to my mother in an email. They brought out a spread of salami and cheeses, olives, some oil-preserved eggplant, marinated mushrooms, a dish of spicy beans and a mountain of fried pork and veal meatballs with bread. Because I was navigating the experience with only my mediocre Italian, I thought that was the end of the meal so I ate a lot.
GREENE: There's something magical about that part of a meal that really seems to have inspired the book. Like, the beginning, when everyone is, like, just arriving and gathering and, like, what you want to serve in a moment like that.
ADIMANDO: Yeah. I mean, even just hearing you describe it that way, it's the best moment of a party. So, you know, everyone's hugging and kissing, and there's catching up and clinking of wine glasses. And it's just the best moment. And I think when those first platters of food start to roll out of the kitchen, it's just a celebration.
GREENE: Do you ever really sit down, or is it constant movement, like, more plates coming out and just kind of wandering around and eating and talking?
ADIMANDO: What I love about antipasti is that even in a restaurant, oftentimes they'll have sort of a big communal table in the center of the restaurant, and they'll allow you to come up with, you know, your plate and a big spoon and just kind of point to or pick through and serve yourself whatever you want from the antipasti spread. So that's kind of the most interactive moment of the meal, which is maybe also why it's one of my favorites.
GREENE: And you're using the term antipasti. I feel like when some people think of that, they think of that really traditional, like, salami, vegetables drowned in olive oil. Does antipasti mean something much broader than I might think?
ADIMANDO: Yeah. Well, basically, the word itself just translates to sort of before the meal. So this is anything that you could put out before the meal. But usually what the plates have in common is that they're abundant, they're simple, they're rustic. They're family-style. You know, occasionally, there's a really inventive thing - something stuffed with breadcrumbs or some seafood with a little bit of a marinade on it. So I think it's a lot more complex and diverse than people think, and that definitely is inspired by the region that you're in in Italy.
GREENE: Because you have eggplant parmesan just in the book.
GREENE: You can do that as an antipasto?
ADIMANDO: Every time someone turns to that page, they're like, this is an appetizer?
ADIMANDO: But yeah. So you'll see it a lot, actually, in Southern Italy. I had it both at my relative's house in Calabria, and also in Palermo and Sicily when I was visiting there. They'll serve a big portion of it, and they'll cut it into small bites - sort of, you know, little squares. And they'll serve it at room temperature. So it can sit out. It's the perfect thing to make ahead. I love to do that and just stick it in the fridge, and when people come over, kind of let it come out to room temp. And that, I mean, that'll lure people in.
ADIMANDO: Like, now it's a party if you're serving...
GREENE: You've got me.
ADIMANDO: ...Squares of eggplant parmesan.
GREENE: There was one moment in the book where you said, I'm almost reluctant to even publish this recipe because it's so important to my family. Do you have any aunts, or cousins or anyone who's like, Stacy, what are you doing?
GREENE: Like, these are our secrets?
ADIMANDO: So this is from my great-grandmother, who we called Nanny (ph). And, you know, the way that everybody remembers and we still tell the story is, Nanny had this little griddle, and she would roll up and pound these really thin veal cutlets into what we call braciolini. And she'd fill them with a tiny bit of provolone cheese, a little bit of prosciutto and then a few bread crumbs with some herbs and garlic in them, roll them up into little spirals and then griddle them on this little griddle. And, oh, my gosh. It just melts in your mouth. I mean, literally, people would just stand around and wait for their turn for Nanny to, you know, take one off the griddle and hand it to you. And that was, like, the best moment of the day.
GREENE: You're not in trouble with the family for putting that out there?
ADIMANDO: No. They're actually so excited, and I'm so honored to be one of the first people to ever write down family recipes. Because, you know, for my family, and I think a lot of Italian families, or just families that have different backgrounds, in general, there's not really a written recipe. You know, you have to stand around the kitchen a lot to watch what happens, and that's how you learn.
GREENE: Is there one more recipe that you would say, if you get my book, just don't miss making this one?
ADIMANDO: That's hard, but I think the one that springs to mind first is a dish from Northern Italy. It's a marinated cheese. So I cut rounds of goat cheese and just simply place them on a plate. And then I make a marinade with the good extra virgin olive oil and some sort of mountain herbs - so sage, rosemary, a little bit of fresh thyme - and chop up really, really thin slices of celery and stir that into the marinade. And then just spoon that over the top of the cheese, and it sits for about a half hour. And the olive oil and the cheese sort of blend into one. And then you eat that with warm, crusty bread, and it is sensational.
GREENE: Thank you so much, Stacy.
ADIMANDO: Thank you. Thanks for being here.
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GREENE: Stacy Adimando. She's editor-in-chief of Saveur magazine, and her new cookbook is "Piatti: Plates And Platters For Sharing, Inspired By Italy." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.