Beppe Severgnini, marvellously witty author of ‘La Bella Figura: An Insider’s Guide to the Italian Mind’, wrote;
Your Italy and our Italia are not the same thing. Italy is a soft drug peddled in predictable packages…
One of these predictable packages is, of course, Italian food as it is known outside of Italy. More exotic products like burrata or ‘nduja may now be emerging abroad (and becoming rather ironic symbols of extravagance) but something integral to traditional Italian cooking that is nearly always overlooked is that it is wholly interlinked with the seasons. Now that it’s autumn, ingredients like asparagus, peas and green beans are off the menu, while restaurants are having special pumpkin nights to take advantage of its abundance in this period.
I recently bought an Italian vegan cookbook (as a vague attempt at dieting, which went downhill when I realised vegan food can be extremely delicious). At first I though that ‘vegan Italian’ food was a complete contradition in terms – what about all the cheese, the cured meats, lasagne?! But actually traditional home cooked Italian food is naturally surprisingly vegan. In autumn, for example, common ingredients are beans, cabbage, leeks, pumpkin and mushrooms, which can sometimes be eaten on their own with some garnishing, or combined with bread or pasta. Here are some seasonal vegan antipasti recipes, which are quick, simple and impressively tasty.
Vegan Antipasti Recipes
Crostini with bean and sage pureé
Drain a tin of pre-cooked white beans, then crush the beans until you have a pureé. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a pan and add some sage leaves. Add the bean pureé, mix well, and season with salt and pepper. Toast the bread and cut into small pieces. Spread the warm bean pureé over the bread and garnish with sage, a drizzle of olive oil and some black pepper.
Grilled polenta with mushrooms
The polenta required for this recipe should come in a block or slices. If you can only find the dried polenta that is cooked by adding water you can make this the day before, then leave it in the pan to cool overnight and the next day it should have solidified. In a pan with a little oil cook 200g of mixed mushrooms, one garlic clove crushed, and some parsley. Let it cook for 15 minutes and then season with salt and pepper. Grill the polenta, cut into pieces, then top the slices with the mushroom mixture and sprinkle with fresh parsley.
For this you need a cooking pumpkin, i.e not the ones we use for Halloween! Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Cut very thin slices of pumpkin and arrange them in a roasting dish. Cover generously with oil, and throw in lots of herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme. Season with salt and pepper. Cook in the oven until crispy and golden.
Crostini with caramelised onion and radicchio
Chop the onion into slices and fry in a little oil for a few minutes. Then add the chopped radicchio. Cook for another 10 minutes. Then add a tsp of brown sugar and 2 tbsp of red wine vinegar. Stir and let it cook until the liquid has evaporated and the vegetables have caramelised. Spread over toasted bread.
These vegan antipasti can be enjoyed as finger food with a pre-dinner drink, or as an easy starter. Remember they are best served warm!
Buy the book here now!