A Missoni Family Mothers Day

Well, they finally did it! The brilliantly artistic, high-fashion rolling Missoni family at last produced a cookbook worthy of their own tradition of hospitality and joy of food shared with friends.

When I say finally, it is because on one wonderful summer evening in 1983, after a glorious dinner at the home of Ottavio “Tai” and Rosita Missoni, I suggested they write a cookbook. It took only two more generations for their grandson, Francesco Maccapani Missoni to get it all together deliciously in this stunning collection of photos and memoirs with helpfully explicit recipes for just the sort of elegantly casual, seasonal dishes the Italians do best. The Missoni Family Cookbook in many ways is a tribute to Rosita Missoni, Francesco’s grandmother who is now in her 80s, which seems especially pertinent on this Mothers’ Day.

During my dinner, Rosita and her late husband and business partner, the lanky, movie-star-handsome Tai, guided me around the grounds of their home in Varese just north of Milan. They pointed out growing herbs, trees and the stream they kept filled with crayfish as I nibbled on lightly fried zucchini blossoms puffed with mozzarella, the same blossoms that added gold and green pointilliste flecks to the first course risotto. Seated around a long table with about a dozen other friends and family members, we enjoyed braised veal shank that is stinco di vitello along with a sort of ratatouille baked on a bed of sliced potatoes (a dish Tai devised for the limitations of their yacht’s galley) and finishing with a course of dueling gelati—one made with white peaches, the other with yellow. Wine, laughter, talk and the golden rays of sunset, and for that short amount of time I felt as if I was a Missoni. All of this took place just off a living room full of cushy chairs and sofas, most topped with pillows and throws of the fractured rainbow color schemes that are a signature of the family’s fashion.

In this delectable book, Francesco, who looks startlingly and delightfully like his grandfather, captures the recipes of not only his grandmother but of all his aunts and grandparents who prepared some special food for some special occasion. The collection serves as a Proustian madeleine for the family-proud, food-loving grandson.

Divided by seasons, the book presents beguiling dishes. Among spring choices there is Asparagi alla Milanese, parmesan-sprinkled asparagus topped with fried eggs (recipe below) and also pasta with shrimp scampi and fresh tomatoes. For summer the family serves among others things, green bean salad with pesto dressing and a supple warm stew of peppers, onions and tomatoes along with a great grandmother’s cold minestrone and one of my most favorites summer treats, the classic cold vitello tonnato. For autumn try polenta with wild mushrooms, roasted rabbit with olives and end with, roasted apples and oranges with cinnamon. Survive winter with orecchiette and broccoli rabe, stinco al forno (this one with beef) and a masterpiece of cotecchino sausage with lentils. Francsco’s aunt Angela’s secret chocolate tart, fruit sorbets, an autumn pear-and-chocolate tart, summertime baked peaches with Amaretti and for Christmas panettone Milanese with mascarpone cream are among gently sweet endings Francesco offers.

Please do not eat the pictures.

Asparagi alla Milanese

INGREDIENTS:

30 stalks Asparagus

1 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated

7 Tbsp Unsalted butter

6–12 Large eggs (6 for a starter or 12 for a main dish)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS:

If the asparagus stalks are thick, peel them lightly with a peeler to halfway down their length.

Bring a large lidded pot fitted with a steamer insert containing about 1 inch of water over medium-high heat to a boil. Add the asparagus and steam for 8–10 minutes, depending on their thickness, or until the stalks cook through but remain al dente. Remove from the heat.

Drain and individually plate the asparagus, counting 5 stalks per person. Generously cover the lower half of the asparagus with the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

In a small pan over medium heat, melt 5 tablespoons of the butter until very hot. Pour it over the Parmigiano-Reggiano and asparagus, melting the cheese.

In a pan over medium-high heat, melt the remaining butter. As soon as the butter starts bubbling, add the eggs in batches, taking care not to crowd them, and fry them. Repeat until all of the eggs have been fried. Remove from the heat.

Place the cooked eggs on top of the asparagus, season with sea salt and black pepper, and serve hot.

Note: This dish is the Milanese variation of asparagi alla parmigiana, which is prepared without the eggs.

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