Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Fairfield & Southern Litchfield Counties

An Italian Garden Feast

Aug 03, 2014 03:50AM ● By Sally Maraventano

The beauty of Italian cooking is its simplicity and reliance on the few ingredients each recipe requires, usually no more than five. For delicious pasta sauces, vegetable soups, frittatas, contorni (vegetable side dishes) and even secondi  piatti (main courses), only the freshest produce (local organic if available), good quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), fresh garlic and onion and especially fresh herbs are necessary.

Abondanza, the abundance of ripe garden tomatoes of all varieties and all sizes, is the backbone of many summer vegetable recipes. You can use your garden’s plum tomatoes to make batches of leek and tomato sauce; after simmering the tomatoes for 15 to 20 minutes, freeze the batches to enjoy during the cold winter months. The most divine and simple sauce for pasta can be made from a quick sauté of yellow and red cherry tomatoes, very good quality EVOO and garlic.  Serve it over thin spaghetti and garnish with lots of fresh basil and parsley.

Tomatoes are a stand-alone fruit when made into a Sicilian salad, along with diced red onion, fresh basil, a sprinkle of dried oregano and EVOO. Caprese salad-stacked beefsteak and fresh mozzarella slices garnished with fresh basil and EVOO are a must at picnics. Another favorite can be zucchini boats stuffed with chopped tomatoes, sautéed onion and the zucchini pulp bound with breadcrumbs, topped with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and baked in the oven.

In August, combine beautiful ripe tomatoes and fried eggplant for a host of fabulous Sicilian recipes such as Caponata (sweet and sour eggplant and tomato relish); eggplant rollatini, eggplant Parmigiano and timballo of eggplant stuffed with bucatini pasta combined with fresh plum tomato sauce, Romano cheese, mozzarella and fresh basil.

All summer meals seem to start with bruschetta, grilled or toasted slices of crusty bread topped with diced garden tomatoes, red onion, basil and EVOO. Combine sautéed tomatoes with onion and add fresh peas or zucchini for a first course soupy pasta dish with small shells or ditali pasta.  Swiss chard and plum tomato soup with broken pieces of cooked linguini is also savory. Try chick peas and tomatoes with shell pasta for a great complex carbohydrate dish. You can also try string bean, diced potatoes and plum tomato soup, served with crusty Italian bread for dipping.

At summer’s end, Tuscans love Pappa al Pomodoro, a soup made of skinned and seeded tomatoes, sautéed onions and vegetable broth, served with crusty slices of Italian bread.  Although you will love the Pizza Bianca, the pomodoro can be another favorite when baked in a brick oven. The classic Margherita is made up of sliced plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil while the more complex Sfincione is a thick-crusted rectangular pizza with uncooked plum tomatoes, caramelized onions, anchovies and toasted breadcrumbs. Tomatoes rule the pizza world!

The joy of picking your own homegrown tomatoes and cooking up one of these dishes is indescribable. If you cannot plant a vegetable garden yourself, visit one of Fairfield County’s many farmers’ markets or farm stands for your produce.

Buona Cucina! 

Sally Maraventano is the founder of Cucina Casalinga, a homestyle, hands-on Italian cooking school in Wilton, where she has been teaching adults and children for 32 years. Sally’s Kids Cook Italian Camp for children ages 10-15 will be held from August 18-22.  Recipes can be found in Maraventano’s cookbook “Festa del Giardino: A harvest of recipes and family memories” and on her website at

Rigatoni alla Norma

Rigatoni with Fried Eggplant and Ricotta Salata

Recipe from Festa del Giardino by Sally Maraventano


Ingredients: Tomato Sauce (can be made ahead of time)
¼ cup of olive oil
½ onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
*2 pounds of very ripe garden plum   tomatoes, diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 basil leaves torn and more for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onion and garlic, and sauté until translucent. Add the tomatoes salt, pepper and basil and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.
Sauce can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for six months.

*If you wish to skin and seed the tomatoes, make a cross cut on each tomato bottom and plunge them into boiling water for about 60 seconds. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon or Chinese strainer and put into a bowl of ice water to cool. The skin will slip off easily with your fingers. Cut the skinned tomatoes in half and remove the seeds with a small paring knife.

Ingredients: Pasta and Eggplant
2 small eggplants, thinly sliced
2 cups or more of olive oil or
vegetable oil
1 pound of rigatoni pasta
1 cup of grated Ricotta Salata or 1 cup of freshly grated Romano cheese

In a large bowl, sprinkle the eggplant with salt, cover it with water and weigh it down with a heavy pan. Let it stand for 30 to 45 minutes. Drain and pat dry thoroughly.
Pour the oil into a large, deep, heavy skillet and deep-fry the eggplant until it is golden on both sides. Drain well on paper towels and set aside.

Cook the pasta in 6 quarts of boiling water, to which 2 tablespoons of salt has been added, until al dente (about 7 to 10 minutes). Drain and toss with the tomato sauce. Top each serving with eggplant slices and some of the Ricotta Salata or Romano cheese and additional torn basil, if desired.  Pass additional grated cheese at the table.

Yield:  5 to 6 servings