Cook Your Way Through Lent
Recipes for soul and body, for these 40 days and beyond
Lent is a time for focusing even more on our spiritual journey, as we head toward Easter, traveling to our destination with our eyes fixed on, as my wife would say, a spiritual GPS system: God’s Precious Son.
As humans, we need two kinds of food — one to fuel the soul and one to feed the body.
To help with both, there’s A Lenten Cookbook for Catholics by Angelo Stagnaro, wherein he gives us recipes for both body and soul in a palatable way.
This is no ordinary cookbook. With Lenten ingredients and detailed recipes for the spiritual part of our journey, this is the only cookbook that has actually received an imprimatur. You read correctly — an imprimatur: from Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
And for the dozens of recipes for the body — all Italian fare — the cookbook has endorsements from TV chef Lidia Bastianich and from the chef-director of the Culinary Institute of Bologna in Italy. It also serves up a foreword by none other than Catholic priest-chef Father Leo Patalinghug, who reminds readers of the spiritualty of food, something the author also brings out.
He tells us in his introduction, “This book is not merely a cookbook. Its primary focus is Lent — that wonderful, glorious, mysterious season in which Christians pause to consider the central mysteries of our faith.”
Stagnaro serves up all this food for soul and body in a most readable way. In fact, he has a style that’s pleasantly conversational and should make a reader feel like he or she is sitting around the kitchen table with him, as he gives friendly guidance for both living Lent and preparing Lenten meals.
All 40 meals are Italian dishes and are meatless. Many of them recall generations of Stagnaro's own family in Italy, especially his mother and grandmothers. Which adds yet another dimension to this whole book — the obvious love for family and tradition that we all should savor and, if we have forgotten with the rush of activity around us, we need to regain to spice and flavor our own lives and families with.
As Stagnaro explains, “Cooking and serving is an art, an act of love, a humble example of sacrifice and giving, and it fulfills a vital, life-giving need.”
He chooses dishes that “are simple fare eaten by simple people who were close to God’s earth. We could all do with the extra humility.”
But before the recipes, he begins by explaining things like the whys and wherefores of Lent. Moving to the second section, he sets before us courses of spiritual transformation during Lent.
The ingredients for spiritual transformation include conversion of heart, forgiveness, fasting and its spirituality, giving things up for Lent (all the suggestions are direct verses from Scripture), almsgiving and prayer.
Throughout them, Stagnaro goes beyond sprinkling the spiritual food with a here-and-there quote: He infuses sections with many highly flavored verses from the Bible and quotes from major saints like Therese of Lisieux, John Paul II and Francis of Assisi, as well as Fathers of the Church and popes like Leo XIII and Benedict XVI.
Now, back to the food: The recipes become lessons in simple Italian cookery, with directions to the point and equally simple to follow.
The author has a homey style that gives a bit of a history with a recipe or connects a meal to his family and past in a way that can stir our own memories.
For Pasta E Broccoli, he begins, “Italians have used broccoli, which is derived from a wild cabbage plant, since at least the time of Christ. In fact, it was brought to the U.S. by Italian immigrants.”
For Pasta Fagioli (Pasta and Beans) he says, “Some of my fondest childhood memories are being in my grandmother’s kitchen, listening to her sing while I sat at her table eating Pasta Fagioli. Every Italian grandmother is judged by how well she can make this dish.”
Naturally, Stagnaro has a section on special food for St. Joseph’s feast day on March 19, because of the big way Italians celebrate the day in honor of this saint.
For one, there’s Pasta Di San Giuseppe, in which he advises that, just before serving, “you should sprinkle it with bread crumbs to symbolize the sawdust that was strewn across his carpentry shop.”
And what would that day be without Sfinge De San Giuseppe (St. Joseph Cream Puffs). “You haven’t lived until you’ve had a sfinge,” he declares.
Add a few side dishes and desserts, and this Lenten Cookbook for Catholics will be one that will serve families well, not just for Lent, but throughout the year, with spiritual reminders as well as tasty dishes for the table.