Swiss Guard cookbook to hit bookshelves by this summer

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VATICAN CITY - A cookbook featuring favorite dishes of the three most-recent popes and their elite military corps will be available this summer in English.

"Buon Appetito, Swiss Guard" was written by 24-year-old David Geisser, who had worked as a chef and published two popular cookbooks in his native Switzerland before joining the Swiss Guard nearly two years ago.

"Many people do not know about the Swiss Guard," said Geisser, whose commander conceived of the coffee-table-size book as a means to make the Guard better known.

The book serves as a fascinating and unlikely point of entry into the daily life, history and tradition of one of the world's most enigmatic military corps. Sgt. Erwin Niederberger, 36, wrote the accompanying account of this history and tradition. He, too, was a pastry chef before joining the Guard 15 years ago.

The book's more than 70 recipes are organized into nine main sections, including everyday meals, holiday dishes and desserts, recipes from the guards' two favorite Roman restaurants, and dishes from three towns on the outskirts of Rome where the guards often go on days off. A section on the traditional menu served at swearing-in ceremonies lets readers into a key moment of a guard's life.

The truth of the old adage, when in Rome do as the Romans do, comes to life in the section on everyday meals. The soldiers are all Swiss, but the Polish sisters who run the kitchen cook mostly Italian cuisine, said Geisser. Daily meals tend to the richer side, with lots of cheese, creams and butter, and include pastas, soups, meat and fish. While the Swiss Guard keeps the traditional practice of Friday abstinence from meat, soldiers are not required to fast, even during Lent.

"Fasting is optional because of the needs of the work," Geisser said.

None of the guards, mostly young men in their 20s, worry about calories, the author said, and there are no restrictions on their diet, as they burn lots of energy in training and on the job.

The Guard is a military corps that shares a life of faith, and the book includes guards' mealtime prayers. Another section features recipes that pay tribute to the Swiss Guards' three patron saints, all of whom were soldiers.

The roasted goose dish in honor of St. Martin of Tours is the traditional dish for his feast day in Switzerland. With no set traditional meal for St. Sebastian, Geisser chose a breaded veal and saffron risotto, typical of the saint's native Milan. Swiss patron St. Nicholas von Flue, who spent the last years of his life in a mountain cave, where he consumed only the Eucharist, posed more of a challenge, the young chef admitted. Geisser settled on a simple herb omelet to honor the hermit.

Perhaps the book's biggest draw is the section of regional menus based on the tastes of the three most-recent pontiffs. The menu inspired by Pope Francis consists of Argentine classics: "empanadas" (dough pockets stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables), a beef dish called "colita de cuadril" and the milk-based "dulce de leche" for dessert. German sausage salad, a roast pork dish called "schweinsbraten" and baked cherries with whipped cream are on the menu inspired by retired Pope Benedict XVI. And Polish "pierogi" (stuffed potato dumplings), a stuffed beef roll and beets, and apple tart are included as having been among St. John Paul II's favorites.

The book also includes foods that please the palates of three of the pope's closest collaborators. The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, likes "gnocchi" (Italian potato dumplings). A favorite for Swiss-born Cardinal Kurt Koch, who heads the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, is the traditional German "wiener schnitzel" (deep-fried breaded veal) with fries. And German-born Archbishop Georg Ganswein, prefect of the papal household, is the only one to veer from his native cuisine to tag "saltimbocca" (veal cooked with cured Italian ham in a wine sauce) as his preferred dish.

The Swiss Guard's commanding officers get a section to themselves, with their favorite recipes, a portrait photo and a short biography.

A cookbook would not be complete without full-color and glossy images, and Vatican photographer Katarzyna Artymiak delivers with larger-than-life, mouth-watering photos. Geisser cautioned, however, that the elegant presentation of the dishes should not mislead readers into thinking the guards enjoy fine dining. Meals are self-served cafeteria style in their refectory, which is only accessible to guards; no outside guests are allowed.

"Good food is important" for an army to stay "motivated and ready," said Geisser, whose term with the Swiss Guard was due to end at the end of February. He will return to Switzerland, where he said he has a few projects simmering, including plans for a new cookbook.

An extensive book tour for "Buon Appetito, Swiss Guard" will take him to Philadelphia during the World Meeting of Families in September.

The original German hardcover edition was released in October. French and Italian translations are expected by Easter.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015