The Wall Street Journal
Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?
By Lisa Caponigri
Sterling Epicure, 322 pages, $24.95
At Table, With Family by ARAM BAKSHIAN JR.
Original text from The Wall Street Journal online.
The title of Lisa Caponigri’s delightful guide to Italian family dining takes the form of a question, one that many Americans with no Italian blood but with fond childhood memories of food and fellowship around the family table must often ask themselves: “Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?” Its subtitle—”A Year of Italian Menus With 250 Recipes That Celebrate Family”—succinctly describes the purpose of this well-written and beautifully presented collection of recipes organized into 52 tempting five-course menus for a year of Sunday dinners. Each menu appears with a different appetizer (antipasto), a usually pasta-based first course (occasionally varied with a soup, polenta or risotto selection), a main course of meat, seafood or poultry accompanied by a carefully matched vegetable side dish, and finally an elegant but easy-to-prepare dessert.
Although Ms. Caponigri acquired some of her more sophisticated recipes while living and working in Italy as an adult, her core inspiration came from her Sicilian maternal grandmother. Thus many of the book’s best recipes are Sicilian in origin, reflecting that island’s exposure to Greek, Phoenician, Roman, Arab, Norman and African culinary influences in the course of its long and convoluted history. A good example is Menu 36, an ideal meal for cool-weather months: verdure marinate (marinated vegetables), linguine con vongole alla nonna (grandma’s linguine with clam sauce), gamberi marinati alla Siciliana(Sicilian marinated shrimp), caprese al forno (baked tomato and mozzarella salad), andcastanaccio (chestnut cake).
While most readers will find this elegant, nicely balanced meal tempting enough, they may wonder about their own ability to prepare it. They needn’t. Ms. Caponigri’s recipes are concise and easy to follow—and, as with so much truly good food, the best dishes are not always the showiest or most elaborate. In the case of Menu 36, the appetizer is simple to assemble and can be prepared well in advance. The pasta sauce consists of a few basic, quick-cooking ingredients (clams, olive oil, clam juice, garlic, Italian parsley, sea salt and red pepper flakes). The same is true of the shrimp entree and the baked salad.
As for the dessert cake, although the chestnut flour (available in Italian food and specialty shops), fresh rosemary, pine nuts and raisins lend it an exotic appeal, the ingredients can be combined in a few minutes, baked in 45 minutes and set aside for serving later. The same is true of most of the other 51 menus. Even an imposing “display” dessert likecrostata di gelato (an impressive-looking ice-cream-based “bombe”) can be created with only three ingredients: a gallon of good-quality spumoni ice cream, eight ounces of chopped biscotti and some whipped cream for topping.
Recalling the Sunday dinners of her childhood, Ms. Caponigri writes: “Some of my happiest memories are of sitting around my [grandmother’s] big dining room table with my immediate family, my cousins, aunts, uncles, family friends, and whoever else happened to be visiting. Every Sunday was a time to disconnect from the rest of the world and reconnect with family and friends.” Even if you can only manage a few such gatherings per year, “Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?” will give you all the inspiration and practical information you need to make those family meals memorable and delicious.
—Mr. Bakshian writes regularly about food books for the Journal.