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Swiss Guards’ ‘Vatican Cookbook’ a delicious revelation

Vatican Swiss Guard and chef David Geisser in Novenber 2013 at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. He is the chef behind "The Vatican Cookbook." | Photo copyright Katarzyna Artymiak. Used with permission of Archangel Productions.

From Rome, with love.

Glancing through the pages of “Pontifical Swiss Guard Presents The Vatican Cookbook: 500 Years of Classic Recipes, Papal Tributes, & Exclusive Images,” one could indeed consider it a big, beautiful postcard from the Eternal City.

It is a big, beautiful cookbook, with a collection of recipes for dishes served at the Vatican’s tables for centuries, as compiled by members of the Swiss Guard, those colorfully clad, elite protectors of popes for 500 years.

Originally published in Switzerland in 2014 as “Buon Appetito,” the book has made it to our shores as “The Vatican Cookbook” (Sophia Institute Press, $34.99).

It features recipes for some of the favorite dishes of popes Francis, Benedict XVI and John Paul II, as well as dishes featured at Swiss Guard meals. It also includes recipes for an array of popular Roman dishes served in the cafes and restaurants that surround Vatican City.

Sprinkled in among them are essays and anecdotes about the Swiss Guard (which famous artist designed their uniforms? what do those vibrant colors signify?), the popes they serve and protect, the Italian way of life and stunning photographs taken inside Vatican City and its museums, including some never-before photographed areas and events.

The book was a collaborative effort by numerous Guardsmen, led by David Geisser, who had worked as a chef in his native Switzerland and already had two cookbooks published before joining the elite force of expertly trained soldiers; Erwin Neiderberger, a Guardsman who’s also a pastry chef; and Ohio author Thomas Kelly.

“A lot of people don’t know who the Swiss Guard is,” says Michael J. Dunigan, the co-founder of Archangel Productions, the company responsible for the cookbook’s global publication. “I didn’t even know until I got involved in the book.

“To be a Swiss guard, you have to be in the Swiss army, be Catholic and [at least] 5-foot-11,” Dunigan says from Switzerland, where he lives and works. “The original book was geared toward the Swiss market. It was originally going to be an annual promotional release for the Swiss people.”

Michael J. Dunnigan. | Photo by Katarzyna Artymiak
Michael J. Dunnigan. | Photo by Katarzyna Artymiak

Dunigan’s road to “The Vatican Cookbook” began in Oak Park, where he was born and raised. (His grandfather was head of the legendary Sears catalog in the 1940s and ’50s.) Dunigan graduated from Fenwick High School in the Chicago suburb, attended John Carroll University in Ohio and did post-graduate work at Chicago’s Loyola University.

Dunigan’s work and his wife (who was working for a Swiss publishing company) took him to Switzerland, where, in late 2014, he attended a book-launch party for a new cookbook written by the Pontifical Swiss Guard.

“Shortly after the event, the publisher asked if I could help bring the book to a more global stage,” Dunigan says.

Three months later, he started Archangel Productions with an old university colleague, author and Cleveland radio personality Thomas Kelly.

“We discussed the book’s potential and determined that with appropriate changes/translations, it could be very well received in the U.S., particularly with the popularity of Pope Francis and his [then-] upcoming visits to the U.S. and Mexico,” Dunigan says.

They raised capital, largely from 10 Chicago businessmen, and put together a small team to make the necessary changes to the book. The reconfiguration included a new title, additional photos of Vatican art, places to visit in Rome, the history of the Guard and a selection of the favorite regional dishes of the three most recent popes from their native countries.

“A third of the recipes have these fascinating little stories behind them,” Dunigan says. “Such as when John Paul II was shot, he had a very long recovery ahead of him. He was on a very strict diet, but he insisted that he had to have his favorite pierogi. And so the nuns” — whom he’d brought with him from Polish monasteries to cook for him and who still remain at the Vatican — “made him his favorite dish. That recipe is in the book.”

Readers also learn of Pope Francis’ secret wish to slip out of the Vatican incognito to grab a pizza at a Rome pizzeria. Pope Benedict’s favorite Rome restaurant was Cantina Tirolese, which he frequented during the time he was a cardinal at the Vatican.

“There’s a mystique associated with the Vatican,” Dunigan says. “There’s secrecy, ancient language, history, power.”

And there are wonderful meals served up fresh and locally sourced each day.

‘THE VATICAN COOKBOOK ‘ RECIPES

The suckling pig pork loin and dumplings, one of the favorite dishes of Pope Benedict XVI,  featured in “The Vatican Cookbook.” | Photo copyright Katarzyna Artymiak. Used with  permission of Archangel Productions.
The suckling pig pork loin and dumplings, one of the favorite dishes of Pope Benedict XVI, featured in “The Vatican Cookbook.” | Photo copyright Katarzyna Artymiak. Used with permission of Archangel Productions.

SUCKLING PIG AND DUMPLINGS (as prepared for Pope Benedict XVI)

Ingredients

Suckling Pig:

2 tbsps. Lard

4 ½ lbs. Suckling pork tenderloin

1 tbsp. Sea salt

1 tsp. Fresh ground black pepper

1 tsp. Paprika

1 tsp. Caraway seeds, crushed

1 Large Spanish onion, diced ½ inch

1 Carrot, diced ½ inch

3 Celery stalks, diced ½ inch

1 Small leek, thinly sliced

12 oz. Dark beer

Roll Dumpling:

6 Day-old rolls or thick bread slices

½ cup Milk

1 Small onion, minced

2 Tbs. Flat-leaf parsley, minced

4 Eggs

Sea Salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 480 degrees. Melt lard in frying pan over low heat. Use a carving knife to score the surface of the pork with shallow, diagonal cuts about one inch apart, first in one direction and then the other to create a diamond pattern.

Mix the salt, pepper, paprika and caraway seeds, and massage the mix into the meat. Put the pork in a roasting pan, cover with hot lard and place in the oven.

Meanwhile, dice the onion, carrot and celery, and slice the leek. After the meat has cooked for 30 minutes, add the vegetables and beer to the roasting pan. Reduce temperature of the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the meat for an additional two hours, basting occasionally with the juices.

For the dumplings, set a large pot of salted water onto boil. Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cut the bread into small pieces, place in a bowl, and pour the heated milk over it. Peel and mince the onion. In another pan over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the onion until translucent, about five minutes.

Mince the parsley, and add the parsley, onion and eggs to the bread and milk mixture. Add salt and pepper, and knead the dumpling dough well. Shape dough into small, round dumplings. Gently drop the dumplings into boiling water. Simmer about 20 minutes. Remove and drain dry.

Slice the pork, and serve with pan gravy and dumplings.

Serves 6 to 8


The Argentine Empanadas on Pepper Salad, one of the favorite dishes of Pope Francis, featured in “The Vatican Cookbook.” | Photo copyright Katarzyna Artymiak. Used with permission of Archangel Productions.
The Argentine Empanadas on Pepper Salad, one of the favorite dishes of Pope Francis, featured in “The Vatican Cookbook.” | Photo copyright Katarzyna Artymiak. Used with permission of Archangel Productions.

ARGENTINE EMPANADAS ON PEPPER SALAD (as prepared for Pope Francis)

Hot Pepper Salad

1 Hot red pepper, thinly sliced

1 Hot yellow pepper, thinly sliced

1/2 Shallot, thinly sliced

10 Cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tbsp. Capers, minced

1 tbsp. Flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine

2 tbsps. Olive oil

1 tbsp. White balsamic vinegar

Sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Empanadas

1/2 lb. Ground beef sirloin

¼ cup Pine nuts

¼ cup Black olives

¼ cup Raisins

2 Eggs, beaten

1 Sheet of puff pastry dough, unrolled

1 Egg yolk, beaten

Sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Directions

Wash the peppers, remove the seeds and the white core, and cut into thins slices. Cut the shallot into thin slices. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, and mince the capers.

For the dressing, whisk the chopped parsley, olive oil and white balsamic vinegar together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Then, add peppers, shallots, tomatoes and capers to the dressing.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. For the empanadas, brown the ground beef and drain. Put the cooked ground beef into a bowl and set it aside. In a clean pan, toast the pine nuts on low heat with no oil for about two to three minutes, stirring often and watching carefully so they don’t burn. Chop the black olives. Add the toasted pine nuts, the olives, the raisins and the two whole eggs to the bowl with the cooked beef. Mix to combine all ingredients, and season to taste.

With a round cookie cutter (about three-inch diameter), cut out 12 shapes from the puff pastry. Place about a tablespoon of the beef mix on the center of each dough round, then fold over, and press the edges together neatly with a fork. Coat the empanadas with the egg yolk to help them brown, and bake for 10 minutes until golden brown.

Serve the empanadas over top of the hot pepper salad.

Serves 2 to 4


The pierogi as served to Pope John Paul II, featured in “The Vatican Cookbook.” | Photo copyright Katarzyna Artymiak. Used with permission of Archangel Productions.
The pierogi as served to Pope John Paul II, featured in “The Vatican Cookbook.” | Photo copyright Katarzyna Artymiak. Used with permission of Archangel Productions.

PIEROGI (as served to Pope John Paul II)

Filling

1 Carrot

1 Parsnip

1/2 Celery stalk

1/2 Shallot bulb

2 Bay leaves

1/2 lb. Pork tenderloin

1/2 lb. Chicken breast

2 Small onions, finely diced

2 Garlic cloves

3 tbsps. Butter

Sea salt

Fresh ground black pepper

Dough

1 1/2 cups All-purpose flour

1/4 cup Water

2 tbsps. Olive oil

1 tsp. Sea salt

Directions

Filling:

Cut all vegetables except onions into large chunks. Place the cut vegetables and bay leaves in a pot with eight cups of water and bring to a simmer. Add the pork and chicken. Cook until tender, about 30 minutes.

Drain meat and vegetables, but reserve cooking liquid. Set the meat and liquid aside, and allow it to cool. Discard the vegetables. Remove the meat and use a food processor to pulse until the meat is smooth, or chop very finely by hand. If the filling is too dry, add some of the cooking liquid. Season the meat filling with salt and pepper.

Pierogi dough:

Set a large pot of salted water onto boil. Mix flour, water, olive oil and salt in a bowl, and knead for 10 minutes until a thick, smooth dough forms. Add more water if needed, one teaspoon at a time. Roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch.

Use a cookie cutter with about a three-inch diameter to cut out circles of the dough. Add one teaspoon of filling to the dough rounds and carefully fold over into half-moon shapes, pressing the edges together with your fingertips, firmly but gently. Boil the pierogi for two to three minutes, until soft.

Meanwhile, finely chop the onions and garlic, then sauté them in butter over medium heat until soft — about four minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the cooked pierogi gently with the sautéed onions and serve.

Serves 4