Piatti | Stacy Adimando
Piatti: Plates and Platters for Sharing, Inspired by Italy
By Stacy Adimando
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book podcast with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City, sitting at her dining room table talking the cookbook authors.
Stacy: I'm Stacy Adimando. My latest cookbook is Piatti: Plates and Platters for Sharing, Inspired by Italy.
Suzy Chase: You are a James Beard award-winning cookbook author, and you're also the editor in chief of SAVEUR. Now, last week in SAVEUR Magazine, you wrote a piece entitled Antipasti is One of the Best Parts of Italian Food, But No One Talks About It. Why do you think people don't talk about it?
Stacy: Well, maybe that was a [inaudible 00:00:46] of an overstatement, but I think that Italian food, it's almost like you say that phrase and the first thing that comes to mind is pasta, right? I think, people are talking about the [inaudible 00:00:59], or there's these iconic dishes that you seek out and you know that you're going to get when you go and travel in Italy, but I think that antipasti might just be a little bit overlooked. Even that word, we had this big debate about putting it on the cover of the cookbook or not because I think that word conjures up certain dishes not in a good way, maybe just limited things like crostini or maybe a caprese salad or something like that.
I think since the book has so much more in it than that and there are so many different antipasti as you travel around the regions of Italy, that word I don't think quite... Maybe in the states, we don't really associate it with all that. It actually packs in Italy. I think it's just a course and almost what I consider like a lifestyle. It's a chosen way of eating at anytime for me that I wanted to bring more attention to and cast more light on.
Suzy Chase: What does antipasti translate to and what are the pillars of it?
Stacy: The word antipasti, its Latin roots literally just mean before the meal. If you think of it like that, I think it's wide open to interpretation, but classically, I think a lot of the things that you'll find in common as you travel around Italy are that antipasti is very simple. Italians make a big deal about a formal meal, so there are many courses, and you can't really spend all your time on the first course. It's meant to be simple, more rustic, often family style food that's often lead out on big platters that can just rest at room temperature.
When you walk into someone's house, the antipasti might already be on the table, or sometimes at restaurants, there's an antipasti buffet that you can approach and just bring a plate or point to what you want. It's very much like a help yourself ordeal, and then I think a lot of it because of the rustic attitude and the regionality and that inexpensiveness of it, it often has a focus on breads and vegetables. You'll see some cheese and charcuterie in there of course, but it's a lot of things that are readily available, easy to access, and inexpensive.
Suzy Chase: I think the takeaway from this cookbook is that we center a whole meal around it.
Stacy: I think so. I tell a story in the introduction to the book that was one of many times that this happened to me, but I took a solo journey to southern Italy. It's actually the tip of Italy. It's the so-called boot on the map called Reggio Calabria. I have some removed family members who live there. They're cousins of my grandparents. I'm in my, my relative's house in Reggio Calabria, and they said they just wanted to cook me a little meal, and so I thought, "Great, here's the meal," when they put all the food on the table.
I ate as if it were the end of the meal. I stuffed myself. Everything was delicious. There were big platters of vegetables and beans and sausages and all kinds of things. I just ate and ate and ate. Then after that, they said, "Well, here's lunch." I thought, "Oh my God."
Suzy Chase: Oh no.
Stacy: I don't know how much more I can fit in, and lunch had course after course after course, including this huge cake for dessert. They made a huge deal out of it. It was beautiful, and every course was as delicious as the one before, but it had me at the antipasti. I felt like that would have been plenty and that would have sufficed. I often feel that way in Italian restaurants. You look at the antipasti menu, and there's these beautiful platters of things. Everything of has the ingredients that are characteristic of the region. Essentially, you could really get a taste for that region through just the antipasti course and eat to your heart's content.
Piatti is a celebration of these platters as whatever way you want to serve them. You can serve them as an appetizer or just something to graze on when guests come over or if it's just you and your family hanging out on the weekends, or you can just transfer your way of cooking and serving to this and just put out these big platters. Let people help themselves and think of things as more of a family style of grazing affair.
Suzy Chase: What does the word Piatti mean?
Stacy: Piatti is the Italian word for plates. It just broadly characterizes dishes.
Suzy Chase: I read that your lifelong culinary idol is Lidia Bastianich. She wrote that this book is a tribute to the Italian culinary culture of using the freshest of ingredients when in season. What impact has she had on your life?
Stacy: Well, what I love about Lidia, and this I think speaks to her Italian spirit, but also, she's just a very warm and generous person who is all about abundance, but it's for the sake of abundance for others. She likes to treat people specially. She's a wonderful teacher. She's a patient teacher. She says the word in Italian and then she tells you what it means. She talks about the dish in Italian that might have been something that's second nature to her, but then she really takes the time to deep dive into dishes in her shows and in her cookbooks.
That's just really special to me. I think a lot of my book is very family-oriented. I'm Italian-American. Many of these recipes came from my grandmother and my great grandmother, and I'm sure probably her mother before that. To me, they're second nature, and they're things that were at my dinner table weekly when I was growing up, but to others, maybe they're not as familiar or maybe they had a version of their family that was different than mine. I really wanted to just keep things very Italian focused and have each recipe have a little lesson about what inspired me about Italian culture that led to this one dish in the book.
For that reason, I take inspiration from Lidia and her wonderful teachings and just overall warmth and generosity in that way.
Suzy Chase: Talk about Italian-American. Your dad grew up on Mulberry Street.
Stacy: To him, it was just growing up in this crazy part of the city in Manhattan. Mulberry Street is the heart of Manhattan's little Italy, and it still is to this day, but my dad grew up... He was there from the '40s to the '60s. At that time, it was all Italians living there. Everybody had these huge thick New York, Italian-American accents. My dad's name was Carmine. I mean, everyone around him had those Italian names and traditions and rituals. They really didn't veer much from that neighborhood, I think, according to the way my dad describes it.
For him, he wanted to broaden his horizons. He was sort of like, "Well, this is great, but what else is there? I don't think we need to be contained to just a pocket of people who are exactly like us." He ended up traveling the world and teaching us all about different kinds of foods and cultures from the world. That was super special, but I think when I got older and started to really realize what a wonderful privilege it is to have this beautiful story about my roots and to have a culture that we associate with and traditions that we pass down through generations, I started to nag him about it and say like, "Wait a minute, dad. You don't talk about this enough or what was it like?"
Like, "Can go walk down Mulberry Street sometime and you tell me what used to be there and what it was like back then, because it's really important and it's something I would love to continue in our family, even though my siblings and I don't all have very Italian names?" Pretty much, I'm the only one in my immediate family that even speaks some Italian. We're very much Italian-American I would say, but I really don't want to lose contact with our Italian roots, because I think that's very, very special and part of what defines us.
Suzy Chase: Little Italy keeps shrinking and shrinking, and it's really upsetting. Every time I go there, I'm like, "Oh, it's now... It's half a block." Not really, but it's gotten so small.
Stacy: It's difficult to find sort that "authentic" experience in little Italy today. It is, but there are a few staples like shops and groceries and delis down there that I think are wonderful. I do think New York City as a whole offers some really great authentic Italian. You just can't always find it on Mulberry Street anymore.
Suzy Chase: How did you update the caprese salad?
Stacy: Nothing against the caprese salad. I understand why people love it. It's colorful. It reminds you of summer. I mean, Mozzarella is delicious, but I'm just so tired of seeing it. I think it's one of those dishes that become cliche in American restaurants or in touristy restaurants in Italy even. It's not always good every time of year, which meals are out of season or [inaudible 00:10:32] not in season. It's just not as good as it could be. I wanted to take that concept and that room temperature salad with vegetables and Mozzarella that people love, and update it and turn it into something that works in every season.
Also, this is a little bit fresh and freshened up. I did a version in Piatti that you can either grill multicolored bell peppers or you can put them under the broiler and soften them and blacken their skins and gives them that nice smoky flavor. Then I jus peel those into strips and put them with this delicious room temperature, high-quality, good Italian Mozzarella, but I also shave or you can thinly slice fresh hot chilies over the top. The caprese salad lacks anything crunchy. For me, that's the faux pas.
I love all my dishes to have good crunchy texture to them of some kind, and so this has this crispy fresh peppers on top for a little bit of extra texture and some heat, and it just wakes up your mouth a little bit more than the caprese does, I think.
Suzy Chase: Another concept I learned in this cookbook was marinated cheese. Describe this.
Stacy: I have been talking about this recipe so much. There's so many amazing ones in the book, but I keep coming back to this one as again another eye opening dish that I think most people first of all wouldn't really even associate as Italian, and then second of all wouldn't really think of when it comes to what to put out when you're entertaining. This is the addition inspired by the Valle d'Aosta, which is in northern Italy in the mountains. Basically, there's a very specific cheese that's used in the region, but I adapted the recipe use goat cheese, which everyone can fined.
It's soft. It's tangy. It has a lot in common with the cheese they use there. You slice it, and just simply lay these arounds the goat cheese on the plate. Then the marinade comes in, and that's where the magic happens. I use really good quality extra virgin olive oil, and really thinly slice some celery, which is totally unexpected, almost to the point where it's transparent and it's like a little garnish instead of a big crispy vegetable. Then we use what we call mountain herbs in the book. It's some fresh time rosemary and sage, really finely chopped, and just stir that all into this olive oil, a lot of olive oil, and then drizzle it with a spoon over the top of this goat cheese platter.
The oil and the marinade start to flavor and seep into the cheese. The cheese takes on this meltier texture as it mingles with the olive oil. Then you eat that, scooped up with crusty, warm bread, and it's so wonderful. It's so good. I think there are some sea salt in there that really pops in your mouth. Again, it's got that crispiness, and, again, it's no more difficult than putting out any old cheese board, but it's so much more unexpected and so special and people just keep coming back to it and just with oohs and ahs.
Suzy Chase: I have to bring up the physical book cover. I was trying to think of a way to describe it. The outside of the spine isn't attached to the inside of the spine of the cookbook, which makes for a super unique design. It sits flat on the counter. When I was cooking out of it, I was like, "Oh my gosh, it's so flat and I don't have to put anything on it to hold it open." I've never seen this. Did you come up with the design?
Stacy: My wonderful team at chronicle books had the idea for the design. I think it's super special too. I think you described it well, but basically, when you open up the book, the back cover stays attached to the book, but the front cover falls all the way open. It's this beautiful almost second cover that you see when you open the book on the inside, and since the spine isn't attached, the whole spine lays flat against the kitchen counter. Every page that you comb through will lay flat against that front cover.
You don't have to keep turning back and say, "Oh, I lost my page," or would put something on the book to weigh it down. The pages just naturally stay open to where you left them. I think it's more functional for cooking, but I think it's beautiful too, gives the book this wow factor. When people open it, they always say, "Oh my gosh, that's so great." It's something a little bit special.
Suzy Chase: When I first got it, I was like, "Oh my God, I broke it," but then I realized.
Stacy: Well, it's tricky because I have actually have... There's one or two people who left some comments when they purchased the book on Amazon that were like, "This book's broken. Mine came damaged." We had to respond to them and be like, "No, actually, that's the design." It's different, and it takes some getting used to when you first open it. You're like, "Wait, is this supposed to be this way?" I hope that people will go get it and love it.
Suzy Chase: Talk a bit about how the beginning moments of a meal are the best moments.
Stacy: This part, I think, plays into the nostalgia from family events and holidays, and then also just when you're traveling and you have that moment where you know you're in a great place, you've met some new people or maybe the table next to you at the restaurant leans in to give you a cheers when you all sit down or something. I just love that feeling of when you have friends over or you're out to dinner, and the first moment you sit down, you're so excited for the meal. Maybe you're still standing around having your first glass of wine, and the alcohol flush is just beginning to hit your cheeks.
Everybody's so excited to be together and you're not yet stuffed, so your appetite's going, and those first platters of food roll out of the kitchen. That is just the best moment in the party. The platters look gorgeous and you're so excited to discover what the cook is treating you to. I just think that's my favorite part of the meal or it's become my favorite part. That is what I was trying to celebrate in Piatti, and extend so that that moment can feel like it's blasting through the gathering.
Suzy Chase: In my opinion, your black lentils with burrata on page 67 is a super luxurious comfort food. Describe this dish.
Stacy: Well, this actually plays into what I mentioned before, which is my love for texture and dishes. Burrata is so wonderful. It's a style of Mozzarella that has a very creamy center. It almost spills open a little bit when you spoon into the ball of burrata. That's so delicious, and it's perfect for spooning atop a piece of bread or just laying it atop some vegetables, but I always feel like when you're eating burrata, again, I want a little bit of texture, a little bit of variety, and bite after bite, burrata can be redundant, so I put a ball of burrata on top of what was a very simple black lentil salad.
Lentils are very much an Italian ingredient, especially in the central and northern part, I think, of the country. You can simply boil some black lentils in some salted water. You can do that a day ahead. You can do that three days ahead. That can sit and just be served at room temperature. Then right before you're going to serve this dish, you wilt a little bit of red onion, a little splash of vinegar and some baby spinach in a pan, and you end up spooning that into the black lentils. Then flip the ball of burrata on top when you serve it to your guests.
When they're digging in with their spoons or with a big piece of bread, they get a little bite of that onion for a little bit of that heat that onion gives off. There's some green in there, so the plate looks just more festive, and g that sweetness of the vegetable. Then you also have this texture of the lentil, which is that nice al dente beans. I just think it's a way to sort fancy up just a plain old ball of burrata, but it takes less than 10 minutes to get to the table.
Suzy Chase: The other evening, I made your recipe for warm artichokes with aioli on page 93. Talk about how artichokes are a celebratory food for you.
Stacy: Artichokes are so beautiful. First of all, they just command a lot of attention at the table, and I think they're not a vegetable that you see that much because they take some work. To me, they feel a little bit more special occasion. They're a little bit on the pricier side when it comes to vegetables. Cutting into them, and peeling out the choke, which you have to do if you're going to serve them whole is a lot of work. You gotta put a little muscle into it, and then they take a decent amount of time to cook until tender.
For me, I think they just bring that special occasion feeling to a table. They're also something that I reserve for when I have time to do it and when I want to bring that something a little bit extra special to the table. There's actually a beautiful artichoke dish on the cover of the book, which I thought just captured the spirit of this simplicity but also the Italianism of Piatti very well. Then inside, the recipe that you're speaking about is actually even easier because you can braise and boil the artichokes ahead of time, get them tender, and then serve them either fresh out of the pot like that or chill them and allow them to just be ready when your guests come over.
Put out these chilled artichokes, and then you've got this really simple, garlic aoili that's got a little bit of citrus peel in it and some olive oil. Together, the artichokes are so mild and vegetal, and this aioli's got that spice from the garlic and it's really creamy and rich. It becomes a really fancy seeming dish, but it's a vegetable with a dip and that's it.
Suzy Chase: With my artichokes, I cut off the stem, but I see on the front here, you have the stems intact. Do you eat the stem?
Stacy: I do. Actually, in my family... I mean, the stem is almost an extension of the artichoke's heart. The difficult part about it is it's got a fibrous skin on the outside. If you're going to use the stem, I just take a vegetable peeler and just peel the outside of the stems so that you're only exposing and reserving the tender part in the center. One of those wonderful treats that you'll see in a fancy Italian market is long-stem artichokes. If the stem has that consistency of the heart, it gets really tender. It stores the heart of the flavor of the artichoke.
In my family, sometimes when we make stuffed artichokes, we actually cut off the stem and cut it into really fine diced, and then put that into our artichoke stuffing. It's like you're stuffing the artichoke with its own most delicious part.
Suzy Chase: Oh my gosh.
Stacy: If you can find the artichokes with the stems on, you should always buy the stem.
Suzy Chase: That sounds amazing because my favorite part is the heart. Now, I know the heart goes a little more into the stem, so that's exciting. I also made your mini prosciutto and pecorino panini on strawberry buttermilk biscuits on page 106. Now, when I think about Panini, I think about ciabatta or a baguette but never about buttermilk biscuits. Talk a little bit about this.
Stacy: Well, this is part of the reason that I called the book Inspired by Italy and not just 100% straight word Italian, because I do allow myself to take some liberties and infuse some better textures and flavors and just some different updates to some of the recipes that I love from traveling around Italy, but a panino in Italy is often very simple. You see them everywhere from restaurants in the center of Rome to airport as you're passing through. I think you can find a good quality one anywhere.
Usually, they just contain a couple of slices of cured meat of some kind and then maybe a slice of cheese. At the most, you might find something like a giardiniera or a couple of handful of arugula on top, but they're very, very straightforward normally. With that in mind, I wanted to do a riff on a Panino that you can put out for guests when they first arrive, again, something very simple that doesn't take you much effort in the kitchen, but fills them up a little bit, something to serve with that first glass of wine. I find out, "What if I did it with a really flaky biscuit?"
I used almost more of like a southern American style buttermilk biscuit recipe. I wanted to even go a little step further and make it fancy and special, so I put spring strawberries into the dough. You've got your flaky biscuit, and if you're serving this fresh out of the oven, that's still warm in the center and it's got a crusty exterior, and then you have these little pockets where you'd get like a burst of fresh rate strawberry flavor. With the salty prosciutto and pecorino cheese that goes inside, it is the best little snack.
That is a good breakfast. That's a good meal in and of itself if you make a bigger version, but I love it as a first bite, and so do the people who come over..
Suzy Chase: Now, to my segment called My Last Meal, what would you have for your last supper?
Stacy: Off the top of my head, I know that it would have to be something that reminded me of my happy place in life. That was around my grandmother's kitchen table. Again, she learned to cook from her mother and probably her mother before that. Also, my grandfather's mother was a wonderful cook, so everything that they served just could melt you with its deliciousness. Something that we served that maybe I could definitely have this as my last meal actually was we made our meatballs in the morning on Sunday mornings. We never served them in red sauce and spaghetti or anything.
We served them straight out of the pan. We'd fry them in a big pool of olive oil. Then they were filled with garlic and fresh herbs and all this delicious warm and crispy beef on the outside. We would take them straight from the pan with a fork and just put them onto a nice fresh roll, and eat a meatball sandwich with nothing else but a meatball and its own olive oil that it was fried in. That was breakfast every Sunday morning at grandma's house. I would definitely take that as my last meal.
Suzy Chase: Is that recipe in Piatti?
Stacy: It is. I don't serve it on the roll because I thought that might be a little bit much for a quick bite before your meal, but it's one of the last recipes in the book, My Grandmother's Fried Beef Meatballs.
Suzy Chase: Oh, I can't wait to try that. Where can we find you on the web and social media?
Stacy: Well, I kept it simple. Mostly if you search my name in any of those mediums, you can find me. On Instagram, I'm at Stacy Adimando. My website is just stacyadimando.com. You can find links to purchasing the book there, and you follow along to see where I'll be having events with Piatti coming up.
Suzy Chase: This is the crowd-pleasing cookbook you want to bring with you on your trip to the beach house, lake house or cabin this summer. Thanks so much Stacy for coming on Cookery by the Book podcast.
Stacy: Thank you so much. It was a real pleasure.
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