My love letter to food | Kitchen to Kitchen

Sidonie Maroon
Posted 6/7/23

I’m cooking Italian all summer, and planned a staycation to coincide. I’m calling it la mia cucina estiva, my summer kitchen.

Why Italian?

I fell in love with the history and …

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My love letter to food | Kitchen to Kitchen


I’m cooking Italian all summer, and planned a staycation to coincide. I’m calling it la mia cucina estiva, my summer kitchen.

Why Italian?

I fell in love with the history and culture of Italian regional cuisines when I taught a class exploring it. It brought me out of my pizza and spaghetti limitations and opened up a world of diverse ingredients, techniques, and ways of approaching the table.

Italian Attitude 

Cultivate qualities like appreciation, delightful conversation, lively passion and wholehearted graciousness.

In Season 

Whatever is in season will turn up as appetizers, soup, risotto, pasta, polenta, side dishes, salads, or the main course. Abundance will dictate what vegetables appear in what dishes and how often.

Takeaway: Build meals around seasonal vegetables and fruits, and vary how you present them.


Every Italian pantry stocks a few essential ingredients that, with fresh produce, create meals.

Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is the most important ingredient in an Italian kitchen. It sets the stage for flavor and is foundational for many cooking techniques. Good olive oil is a shortcut to success and transforms raw or cooked vegetables. Educate yourself about olive oil and buy the best you can afford.

Pasta, rice, and polenta will always give you a stable base to build meals from. I use an assortment of gluten-free pastas, and for the adventurous, wheat pastas come in every imaginable shape. Use the right pasta for the sauce, and if you’re not in the know, add ½ cup of the starchy boiling water to your sauce to give it gloss.

Tip: Use a rice cooker for easy no-stir polenta and risotto. I recommend “The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook” by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.

Tomatoes are an important part of Italian cooking, used brilliantly fresh and ripe during summer. Sometimes, people peel them, but they always chop and seed tomatoes. For the rest of the year, Italians use canned tomatoes, preferring peeled whole plum tomatoes.

Parmigiano-Reggiano: Italian cuisine is full of flavorful cheeses to explore, but Parmigiano-Reggiano is unique and in a class of its own — complex, nutty and versatile. If you haven’t tried the real deal, please buy a small piece and experience. Tip: Don’t throw your rinds away! Throw them with garlic and white beans into a slow cooker and let the magic happen.

Vinegars: A white and red wine vinegar plus a balsamic will be all you need, besides some fresh lemons for the acid element.

Other essentials: Olives, capers, mozzarella, ricotta, cooking wines both red and white, black peppercorns, dried chili peppers, sardines, and tuna. White beans, chickpeas, and lentils.

Fresh produce and herbs: Vegetables; artichokes, asparagus, beans (fresh and dried), brassicas, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, mustards, broccoli, celery, eggplant, fennel, garlic, all greens wild and domesticated, mushrooms, onions, leeks, peppers sweet and hot, potatoes, radicchio, tomatoes, all squashes. Herbs: parsley, basil, oregano, bay leaves, sage, rosemary, oregano, marjoram, fennel.

(Each quarter, the Food Coop invites us to Community Cook from recipes I’ve developed inspired by world cuisines. So far, we’ve cooked Greek, Vegetarian, Indian, and Vietnamese. You can access all the recipe pamphlets and instructional videos on the Co-op’s website under “Community Cook.”)

Tuscan Kale Pesto

Makes 1 ½ cups


This cavolo nero, black Italian kale pesto is handy to have in the refrigerator to dress pasta, white beans, or to spread on toast. It’s a delightful dark green and sumptuous. Remember to save your blanching water to boil pasta, or as a base for broth making. This technique will also work with cabbage, and other sturdy greens with variations in the blanching times. It’s a must-have recipe for kale raab and its cousins.


4 cups black Italian kale, chopped with tender stems included

2  cups parsley including stems, chopped

1 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped

1 tablespoon sea salt, for blanching water

1 teaspoon anchovy fish sauce

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

¼ teaspoon red chili flakes

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt to taste


Before preparing the ingredients, fill a pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the salt once it’s boiling.

Once the water is boiling, add the kale, parsley and sage and bring it back to a boil before timing 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, or when the kale is tender, use a skimmer/strainer to remove the greens from the water. Save the water for pasta or broth.

Shake the excess water off of the greens and add to a blender or food processor with the other ingredients. Blend until smooth. Taste and add salt if needed. I use a Vitamix to make it ultra smooth, but it’s not needed.

Serve or refrigerate and use within a few days. 

(This recipe and more are available at Sidonie Maroon is culinary educator at The Food Co-op; Follow Sidonie on The Food Co-op’s Facebook group, Cooking with the Co-op.)