This brand new VATICAN COOKBOOK offers more than just mouthwatering recipes… its 200+ pages tell stories about recent popes; share tidbits about the Pontifical Swiss Guard’s role, rituals and real life; describe Vatican holiday traditions; and showcase the beautiful museums and other special places within the Vatican. Over 30 photographers contributed stunning images that along with these insights make this a BOOK, not simply a cookbook… and a treasure!
The VATICAN COOKBOOK was written by two members of the Swiss Guard, David Geisser and Erwin Niederberger, and American Thomas Kelly, with an inspiring forward by the Guard’s Commander, Colonel Christoph Graf. Vatican photographer Katarzyna Artymiak, rounds out the creative team.
Chapter One is devoted to tales, photos and recipes associated with the Sixth of May, one of the most important dates on the Vatican calendar. This day memorializes the Sacco di Roma, the sacking of Rome in 1527, during which all 147 brave Guardsman gave their lives to successfully protect Pope Clement VII from an invading German army. It is also the day new Guards are sworn in each year and feted at a celebratory dinner in a Vatican museum in the midst of works by Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Rafael. The recipes are almost as beautiful as the fine art, my favorite being the Filet of Beef Tagliata, Italian for sliced steak, that is topped with seasoned chanterelle mushrooms and served over a lime-laced oil and vinegar-dressed bed of arugula.
Next come recipes inspired by the three most recent popes – John Paul II, from Poland, Benedict XVI, from Germany, and Francis, from Argentina. I strongly recommend the Apple Kuchen courtesy of the nuns who were summoned from Polish monasteries to care and cook for now Saint Pope John Paul II when he resided in the Vatican. It is four layers of lusciousness – cake made with sour cream, egg yolks, and LOTS of butter, spiced-and-simmered sliced apples, and egg white “foam” that is truly saintly! I also enjoyed the Latin American dessert, Dulce de Leche, with its wonderful notes of vanilla bean and cognac. We are then introduced to other senior church leaders such as the president of the Papal Advisory Council and the Pope’s Private Secretary, as well as officers of the Swiss Guard and even the Vatican’s Patron Saints. Each shares a favorite recipe, the highlight of which for me was the Gnocchi al Vaticano favored by the Vatican’s #2 leader, the northern Italian Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin. His fresh gnocchi is served with a rich pesto and a sauce made of pancetta, onions, garlic, fennel, mushrooms, tomatoes, wine, butter and parmesan cheese.
Subsequent chapters present similarly elegant and flavorful recipes, almost all appropriate for a special occasion. Some ingredients I would consider somewhat inaccessible, for example, whole suckling pig, rabbit, goose, smoked eel and truffles. And advanced technique is required in many cases, so the cookbook may appeal more to an advanced cook. But for the average meal maker, such recipes as Conchiglioni al Forno (giant shells stuffed with cheesy creamed spinach) and Saffron Risotto, can be tackled quite easily while still offering a dramatic presentation. In the holiday section, there is also an easy and sensational recipe for Chocolate Gingerbread that is served to all members of the “Vatican family” during Advent. I’m definitely adding it to my Christmas cookie repertoire!
The final chapter is dedicated to favorite Roman eating spots where the Guardsmen eat when they are off duty. A very approachable Spaghetti alla Carbonara from L’Isola della Pizza is offered… and recommended!
Last but not least, the book concludes with several lovely table prayers and an invitation to “Join the Swiss Guard!” The Guard is one of 100+ humanitarian organizations participating in “One Human Family, Food For All,” a global campaign to eradicate hunger by 2025 and Vatican Cookbook readers are encouraged to offer donations.
The VATICAN COOKBOOK costs over $35 and will definitely test readers’ culinary skills, but it is so beautiful and rich in information, that it’s absolutely worth a read. I got my copy at the public library and having tried several recipes, I will be buying it to keep!