About two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting distinguished cookbook author Toni Lydecker and her husband while visiting at the lovely Il Poggiolo, the country home and vacation rental of a common friend in the Valdarno area. She was working on a new cookbook, she announced, and the topic was “piatto unico” – single servings that make a meal. Toni asked us for suggestions, but never did I think that our suggestion of friselle, a simple, southern italian summer food, would make it into the book.

The concept of the multi-course Italian meal, as my readers surely know, is reserved for special occasions (like Sunday lunch at my in-laws, or for Christmas Eve menus). More often we’ll just eat a “primo” (often rice or pasta based). The “piatto unico” actually has a historic role in Italian cooking, and is well suited to our current busy lifestyle. As the book summary explains:

The traditional, classic peasant style of cooking known as cucina povera features dishes that are well-balanced with ingredients emphasizing grains, legumes, and vegetables and smaller amounts of costly meat, seafood, and cheese. Piatti unici are also often associated with religious festivals or funerals, times when regular meal-making is interrupted and people rely instead on dishes that can be made in advance and reheated.

Tommaso and I suggested friselle as something we often make for a fast lunch in the summer – in fact, we bring it for picnics at the beach! Friselle are like dried out bagels cut in half, that you dip in water to soften, and then top with oil, tomatoes, and if you want also mozza or tuna. Toni has developed this into an actual recipe, check it out! In my version, the mini tomatoes are cut into 2-3 pieces and touch the bread first, which allows the bread to absorb the flavour and water of the tomato. Mozza I then add in cubes, though I prefer tuna.

The book is one worth having if you’re looking for simple dinner ideas: it includes a substantial number of vegetarian options presented in eight chapters: Prime-Time Pastas; Minestroni and other Big, Bountiful Soups; Mostly Grains and Vegetables; Braises and Stews; Roasted, Grilled, or Sautéed; Insalatone and other Cold Plates; Eggs and Cheese; and Pizza and Panini.

Interested? buy Piatto Unico on amazon.com

Taglionlini with arugula pesto and cherry tomatoes, Photo: Tina Rupp

Sign up to receive future blog posts by email