Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Turn Thanksgiving Leftovers Into Breakfast


Need  some new ideas for using your Thanksgiving leftovers? Think breakfast.

I had apple cider leftover from basting the turkey on Thanksgiving, so one way to use up some leftover cider, is to make pancakes or muffins. I also had plenty of sweet potatoes, vegetables, Italian sausage stuffing, turkey and cranberry sauce leftover, despite giving my guests take home containers. I don’t mind repeating Thanksgiving dinner one night, but not two. So the remaining leftovers need to become something else. Here are a few suggestions.


Apple Cider Pancakes

Yield: 6 to 8 pancakes. This recipe is easily doubled.


  • 1 1/2 cups Self-Rising flour
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ cup chopped pecans or peeled and chopped apple


Whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and pecans.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, cider and oil until foamy. Add to the flour mixture and mix until blended

Let the batter rest while the griddle or frying pan heats up. Brush the griddle lightly with vegetable oil.

Drop 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake onto the hot surface. Turn the pancakes over once bubbles have risen to the surface and cook the second side until golden brown.


Sweet Potato Whole Wheat Muffins

Cooked butternut squash would also work well in this recipe.

Makes 12-15 muffins depending on the size of your muffin cups.


  • 1/2 cup leftover mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar


Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a muffin pan with 12-15 baking cups or spray the muffin pan well with non-stick cooking spray.

In a small bowl combine the chopped hazelnuts with the granulated sugar.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, lemon zest, cinnamon and ginger.

In another bowl, whisk together eggs, mashed sweet potatoes, brown sugar, oil, applesauce and vanilla.

Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients until well incorporated, then fold in apple. Spoon batter into baking cups and sprinkle with hazelnuts and granulated sugar.

Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.


Cranberry Sauce Scones

I use orange zest in my cranberry sauce. If your recipe does not, then add a teaspoon of grated orange zest with the cranberry sauce.

12 scones


  • 2 ¾ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling on the scones
  • ½ cup unsalted, cold butter, diced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half, plus more for glazing
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 cup leftover homemade cranberry sauce
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two baking pans with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.

Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender. Fold in the chopped walnuts.

In a small bowl, combine the 1/2 cup half-and-half and the eggs, beating well. Add the cranberry sauce and almond extract. Stir well.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir gently just to combine. Use your hands to press the dough into a rough ball.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board or counter top. Press and knead the dough just until it comes together. Do not overwork the dough or the scones won’t be tender.

Divide the dough in half. Round each half into a 6″ circle. The circles should be about 3/4″ thick. Cut each circle into 6 wedges.

Transfer the scones with a metal spatula to the baking pans.

Pour a small amount of  half-and-half into a dish or measuring cup. Use a pastry brush to gently brush some half-and-half on the top of each scone and sprinkle with a little granulated sugar.

Bake for 12 – 25 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a rack to cool slightly.


Thanksgiving Stuffing Hash and Eggs

2 servings



In a medium skillet with a cover, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the butter. Add the stuffing, flatten with a spatula and cook until light golden brown and crispy on the bottom. Gently turn the stuffing over and cook for 3-4 minutes more.

With a large spoon make four round holes in the stuffing mixture. Crack eggs one at a time into a small bowl and gently pour into each hole in the stuffing.

Cover the pan and cook the eggs to your likeness or until the whites are completely set and the yolks begin to thicken but are not hard. Serve immediately.


Turkey Breakfast Sandwich

1 sandwich


  • 1 bagel thin, lightly toasted
  • 2 eggs
  • Dash of water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 thin slices leftover turkey
  • 1 slice white American Cheese or your favorite cheese


Beat eggs with a dash of water, add chives, salt and pepper to taste and mix well.

Heat oil in a small skillet and pour in egg mixture. Cook until set and turn the egg over with a wide spatula to finish cooking.

Fold the egg in half and in half again. Place the turkey slices on top to heat for a minute or two. Place the cheese slice on top and let it warm.

Transfer to the toasted bagel.

'Oh, she's not a witch or anything -- she just served leftover turkey five days in a row.'

‘Oh, she’s not a witch or anything — she just served leftover turkey five days in a row.’

Helen was determined to get rid of her leftovers.

Helen was determined to get rid of her leftovers.


Happy Thanksgiving


To all my followers, readers, fellow bloggers, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter friends, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful for your friendship and support.



Cooking The Italian Provinces – Bari


The Province of Bari is in the Puglia region of Italy. It is attractive to tourists and has a large commercial harbor and airport and an excellent university. It is also the second most important economic center in Southern Italy after Naples.

Piazza del Ferrarese, Bari

Piazza del Ferrarese, Bari

The large, fertile plains of Bari stretch inland from the coast where olives, grapes and almonds are grown. Bari is among the largest and most populated province in Italy. Apart from the plains area around the city of Bari, the territory is mainly high hills, called “murge” that is partly occupied by the recently established National Park of Alta Murgia.


The old houses in this region are interesting, ranging from the ancient masserie (old fortified farmhouses) and the very popular, much photographed conical houses called trulli.

The area is famous for its olive oil. Italy is the second biggest producer, after Spain, and Puglia provides around 40 percent of the country’s extra virgin olive oil.

Durum wheat grows in abundance here and is used for making pasta and bread. The pasta from Puglia is made without eggs as they were once considered to be a luxury. The most famous pasta made in Puglia is ‘orecchiette’ (meaning little ears). The bread in Puglia, which accompanies all meals, is more diverse than many other regions in Italy and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. It is cooked in a traditional wood burning.

Vegetables grow well in the warm climate and are used frequently in Bari’s cuisine. Tomatoes are used for making sauces to go with the local pasta and eggplant, peppers and squash are roasted and grilled as an accompaniment to meat.

The province is a good area to raise sheep and goats. They are bred for their meat, as well as their milk, which is used for a variety of cheeses. Lamb is the most popular meat, followed by pork.

Local cheeses include, Burrata which is made from mozzarella and cream, Cacioricotta – a seasonal ricotta cheese made from unpasteurized ewes’ milk and Canestrato – a hard cheese which is a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk.

Fish plays a large part in the cuisine because the long coastline offers a large array of fresh fish on a daily basis. Sea bass, red mullet, anchovies, mussels and cuttlefish are among the favorites.

The daily cuisine, as in the other southern regions of Italy, tends to be simple, fresh and unprocessed with most locals growing, rearing and making enough food for their individual needs.

Eggplant Rollatini



  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 8 lengthwise slices (You may also choose to leave the skin on)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped fresh oregano, thyme and basil ( or ¼ teaspoon each of dried herbs)
  • ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups Marinara (tomato) sauce


Combine the ricotta, mozzarella cheese, herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl and refrigerate while you prepare the eggplant.


Heat a grill pan or the broiler. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil. Grill or broil eggplant slices three minutes on each side or until lightly brown.

Spread about 3 tablespoons of the filling on each eggplant slice.  Roll up tightly, jelly roll style. Place the eggplant rolls in an oiled baking dish and cover with the marinara sauce.

Bake in a 400-degree F oven for about 20 minutes.  Makes 8 appetizer or 4 main dish servings.

Focaccia Bari Style



  • 2 cups (500 grams) 00-type flour {substitute all-purpose if you don’t have the Italian flour}
  • 2 large baking potatoes, peeled and quartered, boiled until fork tender, drained and cooled.
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast (1/2 oz.)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup (250 ml) lukewarm water
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 10 kalamata olives, halves
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese


Place flour in a large mixing bowl and whisk in the yeast. Using a ricer, add the cooked potatoes.

Add the water and a small pinch of salt to the flour and begin kneading to obtain a sticky, firm ball.

You can also make the dough in an electric mixer or a food processor.

Place the dough in a bowl sprayed with olive oil. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until double in a warm, dry place. About 1 hour — depending on the warmth of your kitchen it may take longer.

Preheat oven to 430 degrees F.

Use olive oil to generously grease a large baking pan (about 12 inches). Don’t use anything smaller or the dough will creep over the edge. Stretch the dough to evenly fill the pan.

Press the halved tomatoes into the dough, cut side down and do the same with the olives. Sprinkle with oregano and sea salt.

Drizzle the surface with more olive oil and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the surface appears evenly browned and the tomatoes are caramelized.

Lightly dust with Parmesan cheese when the focaccia is finished baking. Let cool on a cooling rack before cutting.

Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage


Serves 4

  • 1 lb (500 grams) spicy Italian sausage links
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe (sometimes called turnip greens in Italy)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 oz.(100 ml) white wine
  • 1 hot pepper, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


To prepare the broccoli rabe:

Wash the broccoli rabe well and cut off the bottom tough part of the stem. Cut the stalks into one inch pieces.

Blanch the broccoli rabe for 5 minutes in boiling salted water and drain well.

Place the garlic, oil, chopped chili and bay leaves in a large skillet with a cover; heat and saute for a few minutes.

Add the sausage links and cook until brown, about 5 minutes, add the white wine and allow it to evaporate. Add the blanched broccoli and season with salt and pepper, cover the pan and continue cooking over medium heat for about 30 minutes . Uncover and cook for 5 minutes to allow the liquids to evaporate. Remove the bay leaves and serve hot.

Cartellate (Honey Pinwheels)



  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup water
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup honey or fig syrup


In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the flour, oil, salt and cinnamon.

Slowly add the water and beat until the dough comes together.

Add additional water, if necessary, so the dough holds together.

Shape the dough into a ball.

Wrap in plastic and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces. Dust each piece with flour.

Pass the dough through a pasta machine set at the widest opening.

Pass each piece through successive settings until thin.

On a manual pasta machine, stop at setting #6.

Place each pasta strip on a lightly floured surface.

With a fluted pastry cutter, cut the dough into strips 10 x 1-1/4 inches.

Fold each strip in half lengthwise but do not press it together.


With the wavy edges pointing up, roll the strips into loose spirals about 2 inches wide.

Pinch the edges to seal. Place on an oiled baking sheet.

Let the pinwheels dry at room temperature for 2 hours.

Heat oil in a deep fryer or Dutch Oven to 370 degrees F.

Carefully add a few pinwheels at a time to the oil.

Fry until evenly golden, about 1 minute.

Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel lined plate.

Heat honey in a small saucepan until it thins.

Arrange the cartellate on a large platter. Drizzle with the warm honey.

Best served immediately or within a few hours.


Making Risotto


Risotto is a hearty, warming rice dish, rich in flavor, of which any of a hundred different ingredients can be added to it. Risotto is not only versatile, but easy to make.

Rice was first introduced into Italy and Spain by the Arabs during the Middle Ages. The humidity of the Mediterranean was found to be perfect for growing shorter-grained rice. The popularity of rice grew throughout Italy and then the outside world discovered it.

It was in Milan where the rice met its future destiny. Milan had been under Spanish rule for almost two centuries where rice was a staple. The technique for making risotto probably evolved from trying to cook the rice as porridge—boiling it in milk, water or broth until soft. A fourteenth-century manuscript known as the “Libro per cuoco” by an anonymous Venetian contains the recipe, “rixo in bona manera” or rice cooked in sweet milk.

Antonio Nebbia in “Cuoco Maceratese” introduces a revolutionary method where he suggests letting the rice soak in cold water for two hours, then frying the rice in a little butter and adding cabbage broth.

A more complete preparation appears in the early 19th century, in the anonymous “Cuoco Moderno”, printed in Milan in 1809, where the recipe “Yellow Rice in a Pan” says to cook the rice in a sauté of butter, cervellata (an Italian pork sausage), marrow, onion and gradually adding hot broth in whicj saffron had been dissolved.

And finally” the” classic recipe as described by Felice Luraschi, a celebrated chef from Milan, in his “Nuovo cuoco milanese economico” manuscript of 1829, a recipe titled “Risotto alla Milanese”.

Today the dish is served extensively, almost unchanged, in the kitchens and restaurants of the world. Ingredients as varied as scallops, lobster, truffles, veal, mushrooms, squid ink, snails, asparagus, duck, sausage, pumpkin and almost anything else you can think of are paired with this classic dish.

risotto rice

All rice is a member of the grass family. What makes Risotto special is it’s high amount of starch. This starch is what makes Risotto “creamy” without any cream. Risotto rice is a round medium- or short- grain white rice with the ability to absorb liquids and to release starch, so they are stickier than the long grain varieties. The principal varieties used in Italy are Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Maratelli, Padano, Roma and Vialone Nano. They all have slightly different properties. For example, Carnaroli is less likely than Vialone Nano to get overcooked, but the latter, being smaller, cooks faster and absorbs condiments better. Other varieties like Roma, Baldo, Ribe and Originario may be used but will not have the creaminess of the traditional dish. These varieties are considered better for soups and other non-risotto rice dishes and for making sweet rice desserts. Rice designations of Superfino, Semifino and Fino refer to the size and shape (specifically the length and the narrowness) of the grains, and not the quality.

Basic Technique for Making Risotto

Risotto recipes recommended not washing the rice prior to cooking as that will make it lose its starch which is an essential ingredient of the dish. The rice and vegetables are toasted lightly in butter. Herbs, spices and a little wine are added. The rice is cooked gradually over a low flame and broth is added to the rice and stirred until absorbed. More broth is added in several steps until the rice is tender.

Popular Italian Risottos

• Risotto alla Milanese – is cooked in beef stock and beef bone marrow with lard in Italy. Cheese and saffron are added. This dish is popularly served with osso buco (a dish consisting of braised veal shanks).

• Risotto al barolo – is made with borlotti beans and sausage meat and is cooked with red wine.

• Risotto al nero de seppia (black risotto) – is a specialty from Veneto and is made with cuttlefish.


This is probably the best tasting risotto I have ever made, with much of the credit going to the Meyer lemons from my tree. You may recall that we planted the tree last April and it has rewarded us with about 20 large lemons in its first year.

Meyer Lemon Risotto with Basil and Grilled Shrimp

6 servings



  • 6 cups chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice (10 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup white vermouth or dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated Meyer lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Meyer lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup julienned basil leaves

Grilled Shrimp

  • 18 large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • A pinch of kosher salt or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons julienned basil leaves



For the risotto:

Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan, cover and keep hot. Melt the butter in a second large saucepan. Add the onion and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook over low heat, stirring, until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the rice and cook, stirring until glossy, about 1 minute.


Add the wine to the rice and simmer over moderate heat until almost absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add the hot stock, 1 cup at a time, and cook, stirring constantly between additions, until most of the stock has been absorbed before adding more. The rice is done when it’s tender and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes total. The best way to see if the rice is cooked, is to taste it.  Risotto should be creamy and thick. It’s best al dente, which means it should be fully cooked, yet still retain some firmness when you chew it. If it is mushy, it has cooked too long.

Stir in the Parmesan cheese, the lemon zest and juice, the salt and pepper and the basil. Mix well but gently.


For the grilled shrimp:

Mix the shrimp with the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Refrigerate until cooking time.

Heat a stovetop grill until very hot. Place the shrimp on the grill and cook for about 3 minutes on each side.

Spoon the risotto into individual bowls, top each with grilled shrimp and serve, passing additional Parmesan at the table.


Italian Recipes for Thanksgiving



The following are some of the favorite side dishes my family has come to enjoy on Thanksgiving. I don’t make all these dishes at one time but tend to rotate them each year to keep things interesting.

Italian Bread & Sausage Stuffing


Yields enough to fill a 12- to 14- pound turkey and a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.


  • 14 cups Italian bread, like ciabatta, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes (about 3 loaves)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 lb sweet Italian fennel sausage (casings removed)
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 large ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried)
  • 1 tablespoons dried sage
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chicken broth, plus extra for the baking dish


Pile the bread cubes into a very large bowl and set aside. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat and add the olive oil and sausage. Cook, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula into 1-inch pieces, until light brown, about 5 minutes With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the bowl with the cubed bread.

In the fat left in the pan, sauté the onions, celery and garlic until the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes Stir in the thyme, sage, salt and pepper, cook 1 minute and then add the mixture to the cubed bread. Add the broth to the bread mixture; stir until well combined.

Put some of the stuffing in the turkey just before roasting. Pack the stuffing loosely, leaving enough room to fit your whole extended hand into the bird’s cavity. Cook the stuffing in the turkey in a 325 degree F oven to 165ºF, checking with an instant-read thermometer.

Place the remaining stuffing in a casserole dish or large baking pan, pour a cup or two of extra stock over the stuffing to replace the juices the stuffing would have absorbed from the turkey. Bake it covered until heated through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. For a crunchy top, uncover it for the last 15 minutes of baking.

Polenta-Stuffed Squash


Makes 6 servings


  • 3 acorn squash, each about one pound
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage, minced, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 cup fine to medium ground polenta or cornmeal
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 6 ounces Italian fontina cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 400°F.

Using a sharp knife cut the squash in half; discard the seeds. Place squash cut side up in two 13-in. x 9-in. baking dishes coated with cooking spray. Rub the flesh and skin of each squash with 1 tablespoon oil. Scatter garlic inside.

Roast the squash in a baking pan until the flesh is tender but the sides are not yet collapsing, about 25 – 30 minutes.

Heat butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions, the sage and thyme; cook, stirring often, until the onions are just starting to brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add polenta or cornmeal, then whisk in broth. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, whisking frequently, until the polenta is tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

When cool enough to handle, scrape about 1 cup of flesh out of each squash, leaving a layer in the shell so it retains its shape. Mash the flesh into a coarse puree and add to the polenta along with the Fontina cheese; stir well. Spoon into the squash shells. Sprinkle the top of each with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake the stuffed squash until the cheese is melted and the polenta is steaming hot, about 20 minutes. Serve garnished with additional sage, if desired.

Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes


6 servings


  • 6 medium tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper


Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato. Scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/2-inch thick shell. Invert tomatoes onto paper towels to drain.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Add spinach and garlic; cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes.

In a bowl, combine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning. Add the spinach and cheese to the crumb mixture. Sprinkle tomato shells with salt and pepper and stuff with the spinach mixture. Place in a greased 13-inch x 9-inch baking dish. Bake, uncovered, at 375° F for 20-25 minutes.

Italian Baked Macaroni and Cheese


8 servings


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound small shell macaroni
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 cups shredded Italian Fontina cheese
  • Salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.

Dice the butter and place in a large bowl. Warm the half & half in the microwave, about 1 minute. Cover to keep warm. Shred the Fontina cheese and add to the bowl with the butter. Set aside.

When the water comes to a boil, add salt and the shells and cook until they are 1 to 2 minutes shy of al dente. Drain.

Add the warm half & half to the Fontina and butter. Stir until the cheese starts to melt. Season with salt to taste and the nutmeg.

Stir the shells into the bowl with the cheese. Toss to coat well. Pour the mixture into the baking dish.

Combine the bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; sprinkle over the pasta.

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Glazed Cipollini Onions



Cipollini means little onion in Italian.

Serves 4


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 16 cipollini onions, trimmed and peeled
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stem side down, and cook, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and continue browning on opposite side, about 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Add vinegar and honey; cook, until slightly syrupy, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, thyme, and garlic; bring to a boil. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until onions are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes.

Olive Oil and Spinach Mashed Potatoes



  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 package frozen spinach, defrosted
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 rosemary sprig, leaves removed and chopped
  • 1 thyme sprig, leaves removed and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with cold water by 2 inches and add 1 tablespoon coarse salt and the garlic cloves. Bring to a boil; cook until the potatoes are very tender and easily pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup potato cooking water. Drain; transfer to a large bowl.

Heat together the milk, spinach, chopped rosemary leaves and chopped thyme leaves then remove from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse flavors.

Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes with the olive oil and some of the reserved cooking water as needed to moisten. Add the milk and spinach mixture.  Stir until well combined and season with salt and pepper.

Potluck Pastas


A potluck dinner is a gathering of people where each person in the group contributes a dish of prepared food to be shared among everyone in the group. Presentation is key, so think about how you’re going to serve it. Don’t cook anything that spoils when made in advance or where cooking times are vital.

The main thing to consider about a potluck dish is that the food is:

  • Easy to transport.
  • Easy to make.
  • Ok to eat warm or at room temperature, unless there are hot plates or refrigeration available.
  • Group-friendly; no super spicy dishes or  ingredients that have a high allergy risk.
  • Good even if not fresh. For example, a dressed Caesar salad will end up soggy and limp after a half hour.

I belong to a community group and we meet every month for a potluck dinner. Pasta dishes are popular with our group and here are some of the favorites.


Pasta Roll-Ups

16 servings


  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs ground  turkey or beef
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • Two 28-oz can whole tomatoes in juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 16-20 dried lasagna noodles
  • Two 10-oz box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • Two 15-oz container ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese


In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute.

Turn heat to medium-high and add ground meat, breaking it up with a spatula until the meat shows no sign of pink. Stir in the Italian seasoning, then add tomatoes and salt.

Reduce heat to medium-low, stir, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, occasionally stirring and breaking up tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain, rinse and allow to cool in a colander.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Squeeze all remaining moisture from thawed spinach and place in large bowl. Add ricotta cheese, eggs and a 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese to the bowl. Stir until combined

Spread 2 cups of tomato sauce in the bottom of a large baking dish. Lay a cooked lasagna noodle flat in front of you. Spread a tablespoon of ricotta mixture across the noodle and roll it up. Place the rolled pasta seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining noodles. Spread remaining tomato sauce over roll-ups, then top with remaining mozzarella cheese.

Bake, covered with foil, for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 10 minutes.

Cover with heavy-duty foil and transport in an insulated carrier.


Orzo Salad

16 servings


  • 2 1/2 cups orzo pasta
  • 1 lb feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
  • 2 cups chopped Roma tomatoes
  • 1 cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh oregano
  • Salt and ground black pepper


In a jar with a screw-top lid, place olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano. Shake vigorously to combine.

Cook orzo according to package directions; drain. Transfer pasta to a large bowl. Pour dressing over pasta and mix well. Cover; chill in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.

Add feta, tomatoes, olives, basil, and parsley to the chilled pasta; stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper. Cover; chill in the refrigerator for 2 to 24 hours.


Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage

12 servings


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 2 pound lean Italian sausage, a combination of hot and sweet according to your taste, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 pounds orecchiette
  • 2 bunches broccoli rabe
  • 1 ½ cups pasta water
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese


Wash broccoli rabe in several changes of cold water. Cut off the bottom tips on the stalks and cut each stalk into one inch lengths.

Heat oil and stir in garlic in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and saute until meat is brown.

Boil a large pot of water, add salt and pasta. Add the broccoli rabe during the last two minutes of the pasta cooking time. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of pasta cooking water.

Add the pasta water  to the cooked sausage and raise heat and cook until the sauce is hot.

Drain orecchiette and broccoli rabe and add to the sausage sauce in the skillet.

Using a wooden spoon, toss together for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and pour into a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese.

Cover with heavy-duty foil and transport in an insulated carrier.


Tortellini and Vegetable Bake

12 servings


  • Two 9-ounce packages refrigerated tortellini
  • 1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ cups sugar snap peas, halved crosswise or green beans
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon each salt and  pepper
  • 1 cup milk
  • One 8 ounce package cream cheese or light cream cheese (Neufchatel), cubed and softened
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 cup quartered cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small red or green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese


Cook tortellini in boiling salted water according to package directions, adding the carrot during the last 5 minutes of cooking and the sugar snap peas or green beans during the last 1 minute of cooking; drain.

Heat butter in a 12-inch skillet. Add chicken, garlic and mushrooms, and cook about 5 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink. Remove from the skillet.

Whisk together chicken broth, oregano, flour, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl. Add to the skillet  with the milk. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly; add cream cheese.

Cook and stir until cream cheese is smooth. Remove from the heat. Stir in lemon juice. Add pasta mixture, chicken mixture, tomatoes and sweet pepper. Toss to coat.

Turn into an ungreased 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish or shallow 3-quart casserole.

Bake, covered, in a 350 degrees F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through. Stir mixture and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Cover with heavy-duty foil and transport in an insulated carrier.


Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

12 servings


  • 2 pounds rigatoni pasta
  • 3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
  • 7 cups milk, divided
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pound Italian Fontina cheese, shredded (about 4 cups)
  • 2 large sweet onions, diced
  • 6 ounces sourdough bread
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted plus 1 tablespoon
  • Fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Lightly butter a large baking pan; set aside.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain; transfer to a large bowl.

In a large saucepan combine the squash and 6 cups of the milk over medium-high heat. Bring to boiling; reduce heat to medium and simmer until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork, 18 to 20 minutes.

Stir together remaining 1 cup milk and flour; stir into squash mixture. Bring to boiling; cook until thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 2 cups of the Fontina cheese until melted; keep warm.

In a very large skillet or Dutch Oven heat the 1 tablespoon of butter. Add onions to the skillet; cover and cook over low heat 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and increase heat to high. Cook 4 to 6 minutes more, stirring, until onions are golden. Add to the pasta in the bowl along with the squash-cheese mixture. Toss well to combine, then transfer to the prepared baking dish.

Place bread in a food processor and pulse with two or three on/off turns to form large coarse crumbs. Transfer to a small bowl; mix with the 3 tablespoons of melted butter. Sprinkle remaining cheese and the bread crumbs over the pasta mixture.

Bake until the top is browned, about 14 to 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Cover with heavy-duty foil and transport in an insulated carrier.


Make A Turin Inspired Dinner



Turin is in the northwest section of the Piedmont region between the Po River and the foothills of the Alps. The city is famous for the Shroud of Turin, Fiat auto plants, Baroque cafes and architecture and its shopping arcades, promenades and museums. Turin hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics because the nearby mountains and valleys are ideal for winter sports.


The Piedmont region has some of the best food in Italy. Over 160 types of cheese and famous wines like Barolo and Barbaresco come from here as do truffles. The hilly region bordering France and Switzerland is perfect for growing grapes. Turin has some outstanding pastries, especially chocolate ones. Chocolate bars originated in Turin. The chocolate-hazelnut sauce, gianduja, is a specialty of Turin. In addition, an enormous array of artisanal cheeses, the white truffle of Alba, cured meats and a vast assortment of herb products are all part of the Piedmont table.


The cuisine of Turin is unlike the food you expect to find in Italy. Local dishes incorporate a much larger variety of savory sauces which are more traditional in French cuisine than in Italian. Chefs tend to cook with butter and lard rather than olive oil, which is also more French than Italian. Another difference is that appetizers play a much larger role on the menu in Turin than in other parts of Italy. The city’s signature dish is bollito misto, a mix of boiled meats served with three sauces: bagnet verd, a green sauce made from parsley, anchovies, garlic and olive oil; bagnet ross, a red sauce of crushed tomatoes, garlic and hot peppers and sausa d’avije, a yellow mustard sauce sweetened with honey and crushed nuts. Other classic dishes include brasato al Barolo, locally raised beef slowly braised in Barolo wine and finanziera, a stew of cock’s crests, chicken livers, veal, peas and porcini mushrooms. In the fall and winter you’ll find slices of reindeer meat, on some menus along with beef and veal, free range poultry and freshly caught fish.


The dinner menu below serves 4-6 and is inspired by the cuisine and regional foods of Turin, Italy.

Bagna Cauda


Serves 6

Bagna Cauda is the Italian version of fondue. The dish is eaten by dipping raw, boiled or roasted vegetables, especially cardoons, carrots, peppers, fennel, celery, cauliflower, artichokes and onions in the hot sauce. It is traditionally eaten during the autumn and winter months and must be served hot, as the name suggests. Originally, the Bagna Càuda was placed in a big pan (peila) in the center of the table for communal sharing. Now, it is usually served in individual pots, called a fojòt, a type of fondue pot traditionally made of terra-cotta.

It helps to have a Bagna Cauda “pot”, but a fondue dish with the Sterno flame underneath works — as does an electric wok on low.


  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 olive oil packed anchovy fillets, minced
  • 6 large garlic cloves – peeled and minced
  • Cubed raw vegetables for dipping: sweet peppers, fennel, cauliflower, endive and zucchini
  • Italian bread – sliced


Place the olive oil, garlic and anchovies in a skillet over low heat. Stir until the anchovies have “melted” and the mixture looks thickened. Whisk in the butter until melted, then remove the skillet from the heat and whisk again until creamy looking. Pour into a dish that can stay heated at the table — like a fondue pot, Bagna Cauda pot, an electric skillet or a wok.

To serve: Dip vegetable pieces into the hot oil for a few minutes and use a bread slice to absorb the dripping oil on the way to your mouth.

Brasato Al Barolo


“Braised in Barolo”, a classic Italian beef dish from this region uses a simple slow cooking technique to tenderize the meat. In Italy, Piedmontese is a dual-purpose breed of cattle that are raised for their milk, which is used in the production of several traditional cheeses of the region, including Castelmagno, Bra, Raschera and Toma Piemontese; and are also raised for meat. Beef from Piedmontese cattle is seen as a premium product. The unique genetics of the breed combine to create cattle that is more muscled than conventional cattle, so the yield of lean meat is greater than with other breeds. All cuts of beef are lean because as they grow, the cattle add more muscle but less fat. In addition, Piedmontese cattle produce shorter muscle fibers and less connective tissue, so the meat remains tender in spite of its minimal fat.

Serve this dish the traditional way, with polenta, or if you prefer, mashed potatoes.

Serves 4-6


  • 3 lb Piedmontese brisket flat
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 to 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4 to 5 juniper berries
  • 1 bottle Barolo red wine
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup dry Marsala wine
  • 2 tablespoons flour


Put all the vegetables and spices in a bowl, add the beef and cover with the wine. Refrigerate overnight, or a minimum of 10 hours.

Heat a heavy-bottom pot, large enough to hold the beef and wine, over medium-high heat. Melt half of the butter with all of the oil. Take the beef out of the marinade, season it with salt and pepper, and brown it in the hot-pot on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, take out all the vegetables from the wine and add them to the beef, stirring until they color a bit.

Add the wine to the pan, turn the heat down and cover with a lid. Simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and turning the beef.

Pour the Marsala into the stew and let cook a few more minutes. Take the beef out of the pan and set it on a carving board.

Remove and discard the bay leaves and juniper berries.

To make the sauce:

Put the wine and vegetables in a food mill or pour through a fine mesh sieve, applying pressure to the vegetables to extract all the juice. Reserve the juice and the vegetable puree.

In a saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Add the flour and cook for a few minutes, being careful not to brown the mixture. Add the wine and vegetable puree and cook for a bit longer, until the sauce thickens slightly.

Slice the meat against the grain, arrange it on a serving plate and pour the very hot wine sauce on top.

Cardoon Gratin


Cardoons are closely related to the artichoke. They look like very large hearts of celery and have thorns in the stalks. The stalks are not solid like celery, but are semi-hollow and stringy.

4-6 servings


  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 lb. cardoons
  • 1 cup grated Italian fontina cheese


Place cream, stock and bay leaf in a large saucepan and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Wash cardoons, then remove and discard tough outer stalks. Cut away thorns and pull off stringy fibers. Cut cardoons into 1½”–2″ pieces, placing them immediately into the cream mixture as you go, to prevent them from discoloring.

Bring cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cardoons are tender, about 1 hour. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cardoon pieces to a 1-quart baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Reduce cream mixture to about ¾ cup over medium heat, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and pour the sauce over the cardoons in the baking dish, sprinkle cheese on top and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Tart



  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325°F.

In a saucepan, melt butter. Remove from the heat and add sugar and vanilla, stirring until most of the sugar has dissolved. Add flour and mix together using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Press the dough into an ungreased, 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Freeze crust for 15 minutes, then bake for 25 minutes. Set crust aside to cool.

Toasted Hazelnuts

  • ½ cup hazelnuts (also called filberts)
  • 3 tablespoons baking soda

Boil 2 cups water; add baking soda. The water will foam up a bit. Add the nuts to the boiling soda water and boil for 3 minutes. Strain the nuts and rinse with cold water. Peel the skins away from the nuts and place on a kitchen towel to dry.

When the  nuts are dry, toast them on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for about 7 to 10 minutes.


  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 7 1/2 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread such as Nutella

Place chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan, bring cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate pieces, whisking until chocolate is melted and smooth. Add the chocolate-hazelnut spread and whisk until smooth.

Pour filling into the cooled crust and sprinkle toasted hazelnuts on top. Refrigerate for 2 hours to set. When ready to serve, cut into small wedges and garnish with fresh fruit.


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