What I'm Reading & Eating: La Cucina

I'm having one of those overwhelmed moments - inlaws moving, garden growing, full house, big trip in August, and a little travel for work. Moments like this call for a good book. A good cookbook.

Right now I'm pouring through La Cucina by The Italian Academy of Cuisine published by Rizzoli Publications, Inc. It's a 927 page treasure trove of cooking inspiration. The book is divided up by type of food and region. Right now my focus is on Chapter 6, Vegetables.

Good rains and warm temperatures made for a large bounty this spring. We've got lettuce, green beans, early tomatoes, herbs, eggplant, greens, and zucchini. This bounty adds to the overwhelmed feeling, and I need some direction. Here's what's on the menu:

    1. Oregano Tomatoes 2. Spring Stew w/ kale, bacon, potatoes, pecorino & canelini beans 3. Baked Polenta w/ Fontina & Asiago 4. Stuffed Zucchini 5. Caponata

1. Oregano Tomatoes Ingredients: - however many tomatoes you have, 4 for me, sliced in half, seeds removed & reserved - 2 cups of dried bread crumbs - 1/4 or so cup olive oil - 1/4 cup grated parm - 1-2 tsp dried oregano - salt & pepper

Method: - place the seeded & sliced tomatoes on a paper towel lined baking sheet. Allow them to sit for about 30 minutes. - combine the bread crumbs with: olive oil, reserved tomato seeds, salt, parm, pepper and oregano. - preheat the oven to 350, remove the paper towel - loosely fill the tomato with the bread crumb mixture (reserved breadcrumbs will be used in the stuffed zucchini), drizzle with olive oil and bake for 20/25 mins until the breadcrumbs are golden brown - if you're in the mood, steal a bit of the fontina or asiago and drizzle on top, broil for a few mins then serve.

2. Spring Stew Ingredients: - 1 bunch of kale - washed & stem removed & composted - 5 slices of bacon - 2 red potatoes, washed & sliced into 1/2" thick half moons - 1/2 cup of fresh pecorino romano - olive oil - 1 cup of frozen or canned cannelini beans - 2 cloves of garlic, smashed - 1 onion, sliced into half moons - 6 cups of homemade chicken stock - salt & pepper to taste

Method: - In a large pan, cook the bacon over low heat. Once the fat has been rendered and the bacon is crisp, remove the bacon from the pan and let drain over paper towels. - in a soup pot, bring the stock up to a simmer - Over medium-high heat cook the potatoes In the bacon fat, add olive oil if needed. Cook for 5-8 mins per side until the skin is crisp and the inside is cooked through. Remove the potatoes from the pan, add olive oil to the pan. - add greens, onions, and garlic to the pan. Sauté over medium heat until just cooked through - carefully add everything to the pot of stock, as well as beans. Simmer on low for 5-10 mins and taste for seasonings. Finish with cheese, chopped bacon & drizzle of olive oil.

3. Baked Polenta w/ Fontina & Asiago Ingredients: - 3 cups of polenta (corn meal, not quick cooking) - 1/2 pound grated fontina cheese - 1/2 pound grated asiago - 9 cups of lightly salted water

Method: - preheat oven to 400 - grease an 8x8 baking pan - bring the pot of water to a boil, reduce heat and slowly whisk in the polenta. Cook for 30-40 mins, stirring constantly. The polenta is cooked through When it is no longer crunchy. Stir in the cheese. Taste for seasoning and pour into baking pan and cook until a golden crust forms, 20-30 mins.

4. Stuffed Zucchini Ingredients: - 2 zucchini, washed & halved, seeds removed and reserved - left over bread crumbs from the oregano tomato dish - 1/2 cup dried mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water & puréed in a food processor - 1 garlic clove - 1 tsp dried thyme - 1 egg, beaten - olive oil - salt & pepper

Method: - preheat oven to 350 - in a food processor, chop the mushrooms, zucchini seeds, garlic & thyme - combine bread crumbs, reserved & chopped zucchini seeds, mushrooms, garlic, thyme, olive oil, salt & pepper, and egg - gently stuff inside the zucchini halves, drizzle with olive oil & bake for 20-25 minutes - if you're in the mood, steal a bit of the fontina or asiago and drizzle on top, broil for a few mins then serve.

5. Caponata Ingredients: - 2-3 eggplants, peeled, sliced and sprinkled with salt. Let them sit and weep to drain the bitterness. - 1 cup of cherry tomatoes - 1 yellow pepper, cubed - 1 shallot, chopped - 2 cloves of garlic, smashed - 10 olives, pitted - 1/2 tsp sugar - olive oil - red wine vinegar - salt to taste

Method: - combine all of the veg into a large pan and sauté over low heat for 15 mins. Add a few dashes of red wine vinegar and cook over medium heat until the vinegar evaporates. Either serve as is, or put ingredients into a food processor and pulse until just combined. Serve warm with bread or pita chips.

Well that was a marathon in the kitchen. Sometimes I just need a day of cooking and reading to set me straight. This meal will feed the gang for a few days, as well as empty the fridge before the next CSA pick up!