Q: Is there a vegetable that you couldn’t live without?
A: Tomatoes, of course, which aren’t even really Italian, and they’re not vegetables [laughs]. I have to say that it would probably be leafy greens. You know, rapini, kale. Oh, and zucchini. I love zucchini.
Q: I want to test-drive that chocolate-zucchini cake right now. What are its origins?
A: I’ve always ended my books on a sweet note. The dessert recipes aren’t always authentically or literally Italian, but at least they are in spirit.
When I was growing up in the ’70s and early ’80s, zucchini bread was popular, and I always loved it. We used to put chocolate chips in it. This is a very plain, simple cake, but chocolate and zucchini goes well together, and the zucchini makes the cake so moist. I think of it as a tribute to simple Italian desserts and 1970s America.
Q: What’s the story behind that beautiful green minestrone soup?
A: It was a leftover from my first book, “The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy,” which had a recipe for a farmers market minestrone. I put a cook’s note at the end of it and it said something like, ‘Have fun and make a green minestrone, or an orange minestrone.’
So I’ve been toying around with that for a while, and I took some time to develop this green recipe. But since the entire rainbow is represented when it comes to the colors of vegetables, there are plenty of choices.
Q: Your book focuses on vegetables, but it’s not strictly vegetarian. Was that intentional?
A: I’m not a vegetarian, but I have found myself tending toward eating less meat. Factory meat bothers me. I’m buying it at the farmers market, where the beef is grass-fed, and I know where it’s coming from. I’m also paying more, but I’d rather eat less meat and better meat.
But I’ve always loved vegetables, and I’m always looking for ways to make vegetables the star of the show, so that you don’t even miss the meat. I’m not in any way espousing or advancing a doctrine. To each his own. I’m definitely a carnivore.
Q: Right now, when I’m at the farmers market, my eyes immediately go to the tomatoes. What do you like to do with them?
A: With slicing tomatoes, I just like to eat them plain, with salt. Or put them with mozzarella into a caprese. Or you can slow-roast them, the Romas or the cherry tomatoes.
Or you can make a pane pomodoro. It’s easy. You take a slice of good bread, and you squish half a tomato on top of it — like squeezing a lemon — squeezing out the pulp and spreading it around. Then you drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle on some salt. It’s barely a recipe, but it’s the best snack.