I don't know about you, but I would have thought that a cookbook that was spun off from a foul-mouthed primetime premium cable drama series should be nothing more than a schlocky gimmick, a way to squeeze a few extra bucks out of a fawning audience. So imagine my surprise when my great aunt back in Schenectady said that the recipes in The Sopranos Family Cookbook were nearly identical to our family's repertory. Knowing I have an interest in documenting our Italian-American culinary heritage, she sent me a copy of the book, with hand-written notes slotted in alongside certain recipes, with an introductory note:
Hope you enjoy this cookbook. I never watched The Sopranos. The recipes are the closest I've ever seen to the peasant meals my mother cooked. She did not use a lot of hot stuff like red pepper or pepperoncini. The red pepper would be on the table along with the grated cheese for all meals.
Love as always,
The cookbook is meant to be a compendium of real Italian-American recipes gathered by a fictional chef from the other fictional characters in the eponymous television show. "Chef" Artie Bucco (played by John Ventimiglia) references his own family's roots in Avellino, near Napoli, and other Napolitani who emigrated to the neck of northern New Jersey where The Sopranos takes place. Considering Aunt Anne's progenitors hailed from Benevento, close to both Napoli and Avellino, and adjacent Abruzzo, and that they emigrated to Upstate New York, it comes as little surprise that there are broad similarities between the recipes of our families, fictional or otherwise.
One of the annotated recipes is for giambotta, a rather simple stew of fresh summer vegetables. Aunt Anne notes that her mother would use zucchini rather than eggplant. That's fine by us, since DPaul doesn't care for eggplant, and anyway one can never have enough zucchini recipes during the summer.
Not that it isn't always the case, but this is one dish where ingredients really matter. Giambotta is nothing but vegetables and heat, so use only the freshest, ripest vegetables you can get your hands on; if they come from your own garden, so much the better. And never mind the blemishes. "Ugly" vegetables are still delicious.
Just 30 minutes of cooking is all it takes to turn a pot full of raw vegetables into an amazingly fragrant, flavorful and summery stew. Paired with a slice of Italian bread, it is at once light and satisfying. Those peasants knew how to eat right.
Adapted from The Sopranos Family Cookbook
2 medium red peppers, cored, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 large tomatoes, cored and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium waxy potatoes (like Yukon gold), peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 small carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 small zucchini, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large onion, diced
1/4 c. water or stock
2 Tbsp olive oil
Several fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Layer the cut vegetables, starting with the hardier ones such as potato and carrot, into a large Dutch oven or stockpot; sprinkle each layer gently with salt. Add water and oil and put over medium heat. In very little time, the vegetables will begin to break down and release their juices, and what started out as a pot of dry veggies will become a juicy stew. Cook for about 30 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender.
Remove from heat, and stir in the freshly torn basil. (Don't tear the basil too far ahead as it may discolor.) Serve hot or room temperature, with Italian bread. Optional: Drizzle with very fresh, fruity olive oil.
Kitty from My Husband Hates Veggies honors her grandmother by staying true to her recipe.