Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cauliflower, which literally means cabbage flower –  is not the flower of the cabbage. The history of cauliflower is traced to the origin of wild cabbage. This wild plant used to have a similar look to kale and is believed to have originated in the ancient times in Asia Minor. After a lot of transformations, the vegetable, as we know it, developed in the Mediterranean region around 600 BC.  It has been widely accepted in Turkish and Italian cuisines.

Described by Arab botanists and known to the Romans, the cauliflower originally came from Cyprus, and was introduced to France from Italy in the middle of the 16th century. Today, food writers are extremely fond of quoting Mark Twain’s contention that  “Training is everything,” he wrote, “A peach was once a bitter almond; a cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.”  Twain could be saying that a cauliflower is just a cabbage that resembles a brain (which, indeed, it does); the absence of many other quotes about this vegetable, however, speak clearly to the cauliflower’s humble status in the food world.

Though cauliflower has a bland taste of its own, it is highly regarded by vegetarians, however, in Italian cuisine, cauliflower is often paired with sausage in pasta dishes or other meats. Cauliflower tends to absorb flavor from the spices and sauces used in preparing cauliflower recipes. As a vegetable, it is often used in stews, casseroles and even in salads. Usually, cauliflower is eaten as a cooked vegetable that can be boiled, steamed or fried before adding to any dish. Baked cauliflower dishes are quite popular in Western cuisine. Cauliflower, like broccoli and cabbage, belongs to the cruciferous family of vegetables which has been shown to be effective in fighting certain forms of cancer, however, these vegetables also contain sulfur compounds that can smell unpleasant. 

PREPARATION:

Remove the green leaves. Core out the stem. Then cut the cauliflower in florets.

The florets can be steamed, which takes between 12 and 15 minutes, or microwaved, which takes 8 to 10 minutes. Remember, shorter cooking is better for retaining nutrients and reducing the smell in your kitchen.

The best way to prevent these compounds from turning your kitchen into a chemistry lab is to minimally cook the cauliflower. For stir-frys and in salads, cook the cauliflower about halfway, then refresh in cold water.

A majority of recipes cover cauliflower in cheese sauces. A healthier option is lemon butter with chives. In addition to putting florets in omelets, try them in quiches.

In addition to the smell, overcooking also diminishes the nutrients significantly. In fact, you can reduce the levels of some vitamins in vegetables by cooking them with one method over another. A while back, food writer Mark Bittman quoted a Cornell University study in a New York Times article, that stated that 100 grams of cauliflower had 55 mg of vitamin C after boiling, 70 after steaming, and 82 after being cooked in the microwave oven.

Unfried Cauliflower Italian Style

This recipe is an adaption of my mother’s Italian Breaded Parmesan Cauliflower  recipe which she fried. The trick with baking them is to make sure they don’t overcook or undercook. The recipe  features an egg dipped cauliflower with a simple coating of flour, spices and cheese. No breadcrumbs needed, and while being lower in fat than the fried version, it tastes just as good.


Ingredients

  • 1 whole cauliflower broken into small pieces

  • 3 eggs or ¾ cups egg substitute

  • 2 cups flour

  • 3 teaspoons salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder

  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese


Directions

Cut apart the Cauliflower into small pieces.

Rinse them off and drain them.

Grease 2 large 13×9 inch glass baking dishes with olive oil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl beat the eggs with a fork or fill with egg substitute, and then fill another bowl with the flour, cheese, and spices that will be used for the coating.

Dip each piece of cauliflower first into the egg, and then into the flour mixture, making sure they are coated evenly on all sides.

Put them on the greased baking dish, and bake for a half hour, flipping them over with a fork halfway through the cooking time. You can also add more oil to the baking dish if it gets too dry.

Cauliflower  Fritatta

Serves 4

5 whole eggs plus 3/4 cups egg substitute

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper taste

3 cups steamed  or microwaved cauliflower florets

2 teaspoons butter

Combine eggs, cheese and seasonings in a mixing bowl. Mix well and stir in cauliflower. Turn oven to broil.

Put butter in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat until hot – when it stops sizzling. Add egg mixture and reduce heat to as low as possible. When the eggs are set on the bottom but the top is still slightly runny, put the pan under the broiler at least six inches from the flame. Cook 1 to 2 minutes or until just set. Be careful not to overcook. Turn the pan to cook evenly. When done, remove from the broiler and slide onto a plate. Let cool until warm or room temperature and cut into 4 wedges.


Roasted Cauliflower with Chickpeas

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 1 – 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed or 2 cups cooked dried beans
  • 1 cup Progresso Italian bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss cauliflower, garlic and chickpeas with the olive oil along with the salt and red pepper, and spread on a baking sheet. Roast in a single layer, turning once during cooking, until chickpeas are golden and starting to turn crunchy, 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with bread crumbs and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

Roasted Peppers and Cauliflower

Directions
Place the cauliflower, red peppers and onions in a shallow roasting pan. Add the oil, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Bake, uncovered, at 425° for 20 minutes. Stir; bake 10 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender and lightly browned. Transfer to a serving bowl; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley. Yield: 6 servings.

Penne with Italian Sausage, Cauliflower and Rosemary

Serves 4
2 teaspoons salt
1 pound whole wheat penne
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 links Italian sausage, cut into bite-size pieces
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
½ to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1-28oz. container Pomi chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

1. Bring a large pot of water and the salt to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot and shimmering, add the onions and sausage and stir briefly. Leave the sausage alone to brown for 2 minutes. Stir it again then add the rosemary. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions turn soft, another 2 minutes.

3. Add the cauliflower and season it with a sprinkling of salt and pepper and the red pepper flakes. Add the tomatoes and a splash of the pasta water and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender, 6 minutes.

4. Drain the pasta and toss it with sauce, adding more pasta water if it looks too dry. (There should be just enough liquid in the pan to coat the pasta.) Stir in the parmesan.

 

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower and Red Onions

Serves 4

  • 1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1⁄2 lb), cored and sliced 1⁄2-in. thick
  • 1 red onion, cut into 1⁄2-in.-thick wedges
  • cup fresh sage, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • ½  cup golden raisins
  • 12 ounces whole-grain penne
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  1. Heat oven to 425ºF. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower, onion, sage, oil, and 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper; roast for 15 minutes. Add the raisins and toss to incorporate. Continue roasting until the vegetables are golden brown and tender, 8 to 10 minutes more.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup pasta water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
  3. Add the vegetable mixture, pasta water and Parmesan to the pasta and toss to combine. Serve with additional Parmesan, if desired.


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Although no one really knows when the first bread was baked, bread has been around for thousands of years, as evidenced by the stone tools and ovens found in archaeological sites of men long ago. In ancient Rome, for instance, bakers were highly regarded. Baking was not only important, but also a ritual. Ovens were even built in temples. Romans were the first bakers to produce the flour to bake what is known today as “white bread”.  Romans were also responsible for tweaking the wheat’s milling techniques. Around 100 BC, it is believed that Rome contained more than 200 commercial shops that baked and sold bread. They also established a school of baking around 100 AD.

The roots of bread in Italy go far back in time. The average Italian will consume half a pound of bread a day. All Italian bread is not the same, however. This is a common misconception – that Italian bread is only one type of bread. If you travel to various cities in Italy, you’ll discover that each area has its own distinct recipe for making bread.  The vast popularity of brick ovens throughout the years has contributed a great deal to the abundance of bread in Italy. Round ovens built from brick or local stone have been around in Italy for a very long time. Unlike other nations, where individuals rarely owned full rights to use an oven, ovens in Italy were typically owned by families and were smaller in size.

Italians have high standards for their bread. They are known to allow the yeast to fully rise over the course of several hours, leaving a thin crust. Italians value the size of their loaves of bread and prefer their bread to have a soft and moist interior, which is ideal for absorbing olive oil, vinegar, tomatoes, and other select toppings.

When I think of Italian bread, ciabatta comes to mind immediately, with its hard crust and soft interior filled with holes. It is not difficult to make, but you need to follow all the steps in the process to achieve that well know result. It is a two day baking process (but not all day) to the completion of the bread. Ciabatta, or “slipper bread” can be found throughout Italy. One way to create the best texture is to use a biga, or starter, made the day before, a long rising time, and maintaining a loose, moist dough through the mixing and shaping process. This is the secret to good, crusty bread filled with holes.
According to Peter Reinhart, (a baking instructor at Johnson & Wales University and author of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice),  “This bread hails from an age-old tradition of rustic, slack dough breads, however, the name ciabatta was not applied to the loaf until the mid-twentieth century by an enterprising baker in the Lake Como region of northern Italy. He observed that the bread resembled a slipper worn by dancers of the region and thus dubbed his loaf ciabatta di Como (slipper bread of the Como).”

Ciabatta

For Sponge (Biga)

  • 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons water (105-115 F)
  • 1/3 cup room-temp water
  • 1 cup King Arthur bread flour

For Bread

  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons warm milk (105-115 F)
  • 2/3 cup room-temp water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups King Arthur bread flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Directions:

Make sponge: Stir together, 2 tablespoons warm water and yeast.

Let stand 5 minutes, until creamy.

Add room temperature water and flour. Stir for 4 minutes.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature at least 12 hours and up to 1 day.

Make bread:

Stir together yeast and milk in small bowl and let stand 5 minutes, until creamy.

In bowl of a standing electric mixer, with dough hook, blend together milk mixture, sponge, water, oil and flour at low speed until flour is moistened.

Because this dough is so soft, it’s virtually impossible to knead it by hand, so you will need an electric mixer to knead the dough.

Beat on medium for 3 minutes. Add salt and beat for 4 more minutes.

The dough will be VERY sticky and full of bubbles. Scrape dough into oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap, until doubled- about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Lightly grease a half-sheet baking pan (18″ x 13″) or similar large baking sheet and sprinkle with coarse cornmeal to prevent sticking.
Grease your hands, as well.

Very gently turn the dough out of the bowl onto your work surface; you don’t want to deflate it. It’ll lose a bit of volume, but don’t actively punch it down. Use a well-floured surface and a bowl scraper, bench knife, or your fingers to divide the dough in half. You should have two fat logs, each about 10″ long x 4″ wide.

Handling the dough gently, transfer each piece to the baking sheet, laying them down crosswise on the sheet. Position them about 2 1/2″ from the edge of the pan, leaving about 4″ between each log.

Dip your fingers in flour and dimple loaves and dust tops with flour.

Lightly cover the dough with heavily oiled plastic wrap and let rise 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until almost doubled.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.

You’ll see that the dimples have filled in somewhat, but haven’t entirely disappeared. Spritz the risen loaves with lukewarm water and put the pan in the oven on a center rack. Before you close the oven door, spray water on the hot oven floor to make a nice crust on the bread. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.

For extra-crispy loaves: 

  • When they’re done baking, turn off the oven. Remove the loaves from the baking sheet, and place them on the oven rack, propping the oven door open a couple of inches with a folded-over potholder. Allow the loaves to cool completely in the oven. Remove to cooling racks.


but it is not. With the exception of Polenta, which is ground cornmeal, corn, as we know it, is fed to the animals.

Ari Weinzweig, of the famed Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, Michigan has an excellent blog about the history of how polenta came to Italy. He writes that since corn arrived in Europe, after Columbus’ first visit to the Western Hemisphere, it would be reasonable to assume that the history of polenta would have seemed to have started in the Americas. However, grinding corn meal was a natural next step for people who were already making similar porridges from chickpea flour, chestnut flour, millet, barley and other grains.

Corn came to Italy long after this tradition of porridge eating was well established. In Italian it is referred to as granoturco (“Turkish grain”) which would indicate that, despite its North American origins, it arrived from the Ottoman east, most likely via Venetian traders. One old Italian name for corn is meliga, or melica, derived the even older word for millet.

Polenta remained a staple of the poor, primarily in the north, right into the early years of the 20th century.  The Italian peasants who relied on the ground cornmeal they were cooking, were not aware, that it was noticeably different from the cornmeal Americans were eating.  What had happened was that the Italians skipped a step from the traditional Native American preparation, leaving people vulnerable to a previously unheard of disease.

In the Western Hemisphere the dried corn kernels were soaked in water that had an added alkaline substance, such as wood ash, lye or quicklime and this step loosened the husk and released the natural niacin in the enzymes of the corn kernel. Humans need niacin; without it, our tissues start to degenerate. The Native American discovery of this process permitted them to make a cuisine that relied heavily on corn—supplemented by beans and squash—nutritionally viable. Polenta makers skipped this stage of the process. The corn was simply grown, dried and then ground.  Convenience, it seems, was the reason Europeans skipped this step. 

Early in the 18th century, some Italians began to fall victim to a new disease, called pellagra. (The name means, literally, “rough skin.”) The symptoms also included nervousness, sore joints, mental illness and left people looking pallid and unhealthy. At first corn was blamed, and actually banned, as the cause of pellagra. With little else to eat though, many peasants continued cooking polenta just as they had. Finally, early in the 20th century scientific advancement made it clear that nutrient-deficient diets, not corn itself, was the cause of pellagra. Of course, it is no longer a health problem that people have to worry about and polenta is one of the most important dishes in the northern Italian cuisine.
http://www.zingermansfoodtours.com/2011/08/why-did-polenta-become-italian/

What made me think so much about corn today, is that it is corn season where I live. I received my first share on Saturday from the CSA. I belong to near my home. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. When you join a CSA, you are essentially buying a farm share. Members pay in advance for a growing season so farmers have operating capital. During the growing season, members receive a box of produce from the CSA on a regular schedule. The produce is superior to anything you will find in a supermarket. Most likely the produce from  the CSA was picked the morning you received it. Taste and freshness are the stand out qualities of locally grown produce.  If you have an opportunity to belong to a CSA or shop at a Farmer’s market, I would urge you to do so.  After I had this big bag of corn on the cob sitting on my kitchen counter, I began to think about how corn would fit into the Italian cuisine, that is, if they had it.

Mario Batali, in his book, The Italian Grill, says that Italians do not grill corn, but if they did, this is what they might do.

A sprinkling of fresh mint and red pepper flakes makes a nice finish.

Corn As Italians Would Eat It

Ingredients

6 ears corn, shucked
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 to 1 1/2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano (freshly grated)
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
Hot red pepper flakes

 Directions

Preheat a gas grill or prepare a fire in a gas grill.
Place the corn on the hottest part of the grill and cook for 3 minutes, or until grill marks appear on the first side. Roll each ear over a quarter turn and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then repeat two more times.
Meanwhile, mix the oil and vinegar on a large flat plate. Spread the Parmigiano on another flat plate.
When the corn is cooked, roll each ear in the oil and vinegar mixture, shake off the extra oil, and dredge in the Parmigiano to coat lightly. Place on a platter, sprinkle with the mint and pepper flakes, and serve immediately.

Sweet Corn and Zucchini Gratin With Fresh Basil
Serves 6

Ingredients

  •  1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  •  1 medium onion, finely chopped
  •  1 medium red bell pepper, diced
  •  1 large garlic clove, minced
  •  3/4 pound zucchini, thinly sliced or diced
  •  Kernels from 2 ears sweet corn (about 2 cups)
  •  3 large eggs or 3/4 cup egg substitute
  •  1/2 cup skim milk
  •  1/2 cup fresh basil, washed, dried and coarsely chopped
  •  1/4 cup fresh parsley, washed, dried and coarsely chopped
  •  3/4 cup Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat Italian 4 Cheese Mix, shredded
  •  Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 2-quart gratin or baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
Set aside the kernels from one of the ears of corn.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until it begins to soften, about three minutes; add the red pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the onions and peppers are tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic and the zucchini, stir together and add another generous pinch of salt and some pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the zucchini is just beginning to look bright green and some of the slices are translucent. Stir in the kernels from one of the ears of corn. Stir together for a minute or two, and remove from the heat. Pour into a mixing bowl.

Place the remaining corn kernels in a blender jar, and add the eggs, milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Blend until smooth. Pour into the bowl with the vegetables. Add the basil, parsley and the cheese, and stir everything together. Pour into the gratin dish.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is browned and the gratin is firm to the touch. Serve hot or warm.

Corn, Cherry Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Salad

  • 1-1/2 cups red cherry tomatoes (about 8 oz.)
  • 1-1/2 cups yellow cherry tomatoes (about 8 oz.)
  • 3/4 lb. fresh mozzarella (use bocconcini or cut large balls into cubes)
  • Kernels cut from 1 ear raw fresh corn (about 2/3 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon. kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup julienned fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil

Directions
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place them in a serving bowl. Add the mozzarella cubes and the corn kernels, season with the salt and pepper. Drizzle with the vinegar and then with the olive oil. Toss gently. Top with basil.

Fresh Corn Risotto

  • 6 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice (12 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup corn kernels (from 2 ears)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
Directions
  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a boil with the bay leaf. Keep the stock warm over very low heat.
  2. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring until opaque, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine and cook, stirring, until completely absorbed, about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the stock 1 cup at a time and stirring until it is absorbed between additions. After about half of the stock has been added, stir in the corn, then add the remaining stock. The rice is done when it is al dente and creamy, about 25 minutes. Stir in the cheese and butter; season with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaf and serve.

Did you know that there are gluten free pastas made of corn in the market?

Rustichella Organic Gluten Free Fusilli Pasta - 100% Corn

Pasta with Fresh Corn Pesto

Pesto is traditionally made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil. Here, the classic Italian sauce is reformed with corn in place of the basil. The finished dish has a creamy richness that is reminiscent of carbonara.

Ingredients

  • 4 bacon slices, cut lengthwise in half, then crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 large ears)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving
  • 1/3 cup Pignoli (pine nuts), toasted
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces penne or fusilli
  • 3/4 cup coarsely torn fresh basil leaves, divided

Directions

  • Cook bacon in large non-stick skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown, stirring often. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon drippings from the skillet. Add corn, garlic, 1 1/4 teaspoons coarse salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper to drippings in skillet. Sauté over medium-high heat until corn is just tender but not brown, about 4 minutes.
  • Transfer 1 1/2 cups corn kernels to small bowl and reserve. Pour remaining corn mixture into processor. Add 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and pine nuts. With machine running, add olive oil through the feed tube and blend until pesto is almost smooth. Set pesto aside.
  • Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot. Add corn pesto, reserved corn kernels, and 1/2 cup basil leaves. Toss pasta mixture over medium heat until warmed through, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to thin to a desired consistency, 2 to 3 minutes. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Transfer pasta to a large shallow bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup basil leaves and reserved bacon. Serve pasta, passing additional grated Parmesan alongside.

Pasta With Italian Sausage,Tomatoes and Corn

Serves: 4

  • 2 ears of corn, grilled for 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally to grill evenly on all sides. Set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut off kernels.
  • 8 ounces ziti
  • 6 oz. green beans, cut into 1 inch lengths
  • 1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 links of sweet or spicy Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh basil, hand torn
  • 4 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Directions

Bring a pot of water to boil and add salt. Add pasta and cook for 7-10 minutes, until al dente. During the last 4 minutes of cooking add the green beans. When pasta is done, drain pasta and beans, and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium sauté pan, cook sausage and garlic over medium heat until browned, 5-7 minutes, breaking up into bite-sized pieces. Add pasta, beans, grilled corn, tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Gently stir in basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.  

Italian Vegetable Soup

  • 4 ears corn, husks and silks removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1-32 oz container reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 large zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
  • 8 ounces green beans (stem ends removed), cut into fourths
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) no salt added, diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup orzo
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Basil Pesto
  1. Stand ears in a wide bowl. With a sharp knife, carefully slice downward to release kernels. Discard cobs; set kernels aside.
  2. In a Dutch oven or 5-quart pot, heat oil over medium. Add onion; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add broth and 2 cups water; bring to a boil. Add zucchini, green beans, pepper, corn, tomatoes and orzo; cook, uncovered, until orzo is tender, 8 to 11 minutes. Add herbs, crushed red pepper, cheese and salt to taste. Top each serving with a tablespoon of basil pesto.

                                                                                                              



outdoor grilling entertaining

The keys to good Italian grilling are the use of olive oil and fresh herbs.  The fresh herbs play a large role because they help bring out the full flavor of the dish.  The Italian grill also uses a lot of skewered meatsl, which is great for parties. So, if you’re looking for something a little different when planning your next cookout, you might want to try it Italian-style. Spiedini, which means “skewers”—are one of the many ways Italians enjoy grilled food. Basically, spiedini are the equivalent of “shish kebab.”  The skewers can be made of metal or wood—though, sometimes, simply rosemary sprigs are used. (If using wooden skewers, first soak them in cold water for about 30 minutes to prevent them from burning.)

The preparation for spiedini is simple: Small chunks of meat or fish are placed on skewers (each one an individual serving)—sometimes including vegetables—which are then cooked over a grill. In addition to being versatile—really any combination of meat, vegetable or fruit that can be cut and skewered may be used—spiedini are a great time saver. They may be served as an appetizer, accompaniment (contorno), entrée, or dessert. In fact, using the suggestions here, you can prepare an entire meal outside on the grill—from start to finish—without the need for any indoor cooking at all.
As appetizers, vegetables work well. First, brush the grill with vegetable oil and then grill long slices of eggplant and/or zucchini—cut the vegetables on a diagonal or longitudinally so the slices will be long enough not to fall through the grill grate.. Before serving, drizzle the grilled vegetables with olive oil and garnish with herbs, such as parsley and thyme, and chopped (or roasted) garlic.
If you like anchovies, another great antipasto idea is “Spiedini di alici pomodoro e olive”—grilled fresh anchovies (which are then rolled) and sliced zucchini, with raw tomato wedges and pitted black olives. These spiedini can be served on a bed of lettuce-heart leaves, drizzled with olive oil and garnished with basil.

As a main course, meat spiedini are the most popular in Italy. For these, it’s important to choose tender cuts of meat—such as chicken breast, lamb, pork, and sausages—evenly cut into approximately one-inch pieces. If you want to use beef, select tender cuts, but they don’t have to be particularly lean. To make Spiedini misti di carne (mixed meats), alternate onions, peppers slices, and cubes of various meats, and then grill. A leaf of fresh sage and/or a bay leaf between the pieces of meat will add flavor. To enhance the taste, try marinating the meat—already cut and ready to be skewered—for a few hours prior to grilling, mixing now and then. To make the marinade, simply coat the pieces of meat with olive oil (not too much), and add rosemary leaves (finely chopped), sage, bay leaves, salt and pepper.
Fish spiedini (spiedini di mare) are also popular in Italy. For these, the most commonly used seafood are shrimp, scallops, tuna, swordfish, cuttlefish or calamari. The fish is usually lightly marinated or else brushed before grilling with olive oil, herbs (parsley or thyme), sometimes garlic, and salt and pepper. Spiedini di mare are usually served with lemon and a fresh green salad.

Grilled fruit can provide a sweet, healthy finale to your outdoor feast. The grilling process caramelizes the fruits’ natural sugars and concentrates the flavors. Peaches, pears, and apples—simply cut in half and pitted—are great for grilling. Adding just a little lemon juice will preserve the fruit’s color and a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon will enhance the natural flavors. Be sure to brush the grill with vegetable oil so the fruit doesn’t stick. You can then serve the fruit alone or with scoop of ice cream. It’s delicious with yogurt too. Or, try a fresh fruit spiedini using cubes of fresh pecorino and raw pears; or you can serve spiedini di frutta (mixed fresh fruits)—using slices of uncooked peaches, apples, pears, and whole strawberries. Squeeze lemon juice over the fruit to prevent it from oxidizing and turning brown.

The following is a list of essential ingredients for the Italian Grill pantry:

  • Anchovies (cured): Salted anchovies are a key ingredient in Italian grilling, any recipe that calls for them.
  • Bread Crumbs: A strange ingredient for the grill, but a lot of meats have a light coating of breadcrumbs..
  • Bread  Cubes: The bread cubes are used in a lot of skewered recipes in Italy, generally they are cut up in 1-inch cubes.
  • Caciocavallo: A cheese made from cow’s milk and is a firm cheese.  The cheese is usually in the shape of a spindle and can  be found in Italian stores or very well stocked grocery stores.  If you are unable to find it, you may substitute with provolone cheese
  • Lemons: The juice of lemons are used a lot in grilling, and only fresh lemon juice should be used.
  • Pancetta: An Italian-style that is cured, but not smoked like American bacon.
  • Flat-leaf parsley, Oregano, Rosemary, Fennel or Sage are the most common types of herbs used.
  • Pecorino: A hard cheese made in Italy that is made from sheep’s milk.   This cheese can be found at most grocery stores,
  • Prosciutto: Domestic prosciutto is good for cooking with, but imported from Italy is far superior.
  • Olive Oil: Use inexpensive extra-virgin olive oil, unless a recipe calls for something else.

Appetizers

Grilled Summer Squash with Pesto and Balsamic Syrup

Ingredients                                                                        

  • 1-1/2 lb. assorted summer squash, trimmed and sliced diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick ovals
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Directions

Prepare a high gas or charcoal grill fire. In a colander, toss the squash with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and let drain in a colander for 30 minutes; transfer to a large bowl.
Meanwhile, put the  the basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a food processor and purée until smooth.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, boil the balsamic vinegar until syrupy and reduced to about 2 tablespoons, 8 to 10 minutes.
Toss the squash with the remaining 2 tablespoons. extra-virgin olive oil and a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper. Grill, flipping once, until golden and tender, 8 to 12 minutes. Arrange on a platter, dot with the pesto, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and the balsamic syrup to taste. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Grilled Bread Salad With Basil and Cherry Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium loaf (about 1/2 pound) rustic Italian bread (like ciabatta), cut lengthwise into 1-inch-thick slices
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 clove garlic, halved lengthwise
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 bunch scallions (about 8), trimmed and thinly sliced (both white and green parts)
  • 12 large basil leaves, torn into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
  • 8 oz bocconcini (small fresh mozzarella balls), halved or substitute a large fresh mozzarella cut into 1-inch pieces.

Directions

Prepare a medium-high fire on a gas or charcoal grill. Clean and oil the grates to prevent sticking. Using a pastry brush, dab both sides of the bread slices with 2 tablespoons oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Grill the bread until it browns and gets good grill marks, about 2 minutes. Grill the other side until browned, about 2 minutes, and transfer to a large cutting board to cool. Rub the cut sides of the garlic over the bread and discard the garlic. Put the cherry tomatoes and scallions in a large serving bowl with the basil. Cut the bread into 1-inch pieces and add to the bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk the remaining oil with the red-wine vinegar, pour over the bread mixture, and toss well. Let the salad sit for up to 2 hours before serving. Just before serving, fold in the bocconcini and season with salt to taste.

Main Dishes

Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken  

Ingredients                                                                                                                                                          

  • 4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1. lb.)
  • Garlic salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 large basil leaves
  • 1/4 lb. Italian fontina cheese, thinly sliced
  • 4 thin slices prosciutto (preferably imported)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Prepare a medium charcoal fire or light a gas grill to medium high.
Meanwhile, prepare the chicken breasts. Cut through each one horizontally almost all the way through and open it like a book. Sprinkle the chicken all over with 1/2 teaspoon each garlic salt and pepper. Layer the basil leaves and fontina evenly on half of each breast and then fold it closed. Wrap a slice of prosciutto around each breast to hold it closed and then brush lightly on both sides with the olive oil.
Reduce the heat on the gas grill to medium. Grill the chicken breasts, covered, until they are well marked, about 4 minutes. Flip and cook, turning every few minutes, until the chicken is just firm to the touch and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the breast registers 165°F, 10 to 12 minutes more. Let cool for a couple of minutes and then serve.

Grilled Rosemary-Salmon Skewers

Ingredients             

  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Red Onion, cut into 1 inch squares and/or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 pound center-cut salmon fillet, skinned or tuna, cut into 1-inch cubes

Directions

Preheat grill to medium-high. Combine rosemary, oil, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add salmon; toss to coat. Alternating the salmon and tomatoes/red onion squares, divide them among eight 12-inch skewers.  Oil the grill rack. Grill the skewers, carefully turning once, until the salmon is cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes total. 

Grilled Sicilian-style Sirloin Steak

In this recipe the steaks are marinated for about 12 hours before breading and grilling.  

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, and more for drizzling
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 sirloin steaks (about 3 3/4 pounds total)
  • 1 1/2 cups dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Salt to taste

Directions

In a bowl, mix together 1 cup of the olive oil, the vinegar, garlic, basil, and pepper to taste in a 9 x 12-inch ceramic or glass baking pan.  Dip both sides of the steaks in this mixture and then leave to marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 12 hours, turning several times.  Remove the steaks from the refrigerator 15 minutes before grilling.
Remove the steaks from the marinade and discard the marinade.
Spread the bread crumbs on a large plate and mix in the cheese and oregano.  Salt the steaks to taste and dredge in the bread crumbs, patting the steaks to coat them thoroughly.
Place the steaks on the grill and cook, turning only once, to desired doneness, 12 to 15 minutes in all for rare.

Grilled Skewered Meatballs

This Sicilian recipe is an example of cucina arabo-sicula, Sicilian cuisine influenced by the medieval Arab era. The Arab influence is evident in the molding of the ground meat around the skewer.

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
  • 1/4 egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • About 1/2 loaf French or Italian bread, cut into eighteen 1-inch cubes or you can substitute vegetables, such as sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts.
  • Twelve 8- to 10-inch wooden skewers
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for basting or drizzling

Serve with the Grilled Pepper Recipe, below.

Directions

In a medium-size bowl, mix the ground beef, egg substitute, pecorino, bread crumbs, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper to taste.  Form the meat with wet hands to prevent sticking into 18 walnut-sized balls.  Leave the meat to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on medium.
Double skewer all the ingredients: place a meatball on a cutting board and skewer the meat balls alternately with the  bread cubes, keeping the 2 skewers parallel to each other about 1/2 inch apart.
Place the skewers on the grill and cook, turning occasionally and basting with olive oil, until the meat and bread are golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Grilled Red, Yellow and Green Peppers

Grilling bell peppers of different colors is common in Sicily and Sardinia and makes a very attractive presentation.  Their flavor is a natural accompaniment to grilled meats.  The charred skin of the peppers is peeled off before serving, leaving the smoky flavor.  You don’t have to core or halve the peppers before grilling.
Yield:  4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 2 green bell peppers
  • 2 yellow bell peppers
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on high.
Place the peppers on the grill and cook, turning, until they have blackened on all sides.  When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and remove the core and seeds.  Cut into strips and arrange attractively on a platter.
Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, basil, and season with salt and pepper.  Pour over the peppers at the last moment and serve.

Dessert

Grilled Fruit Skewers

Spiedini alla frutta

Ingredients

  • 2 golden delicious or gala apples, cored and cut into 8 wedges
  • 2 bananas, peeled and cut crosswise into 8 pieces
  • 2 ripe but fairly firm peaches, pitted and cut into 8 wedges
  • 1/3 ripe pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 24 fresh mint leaves
  • Sugar

Directions

Prepare a grill for direct-heat cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium-high heat for gas).

Arrange apple, banana, peach and pineapple on a platter.  Squeeze lemon over apple and banana.  Alternately thread fruit and mint leaves onto 8 skewers.

Sprinkle fruit with sugar.  Let stand until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes.

Lightly brush grill rack with oil.  Grill fruit, turning once, until lightly browned and softened, about 5 minutes.


Children can be picky about their food choices. Today they might like a particular food and tomorrow, they hate it!  Sometimes a new presentation or a new ingredient can spark their interest.  While french fries for breakfast, lunch and dinner might be what they want, getting children to select healthy options might not be that difficult. Kids are very proud of their accomplishments, so if they’ve helped make the dinner, they are more likely to eat it. Hopefully some of these recipes will work in your house.

Chicken Pasta Primavera

Number of Servings: 8

If broccoli isn’t a family favorite, you can substitute a 10 oz. package of defrosted frozen peas.

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or turkey breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 1/2 cups carrots, 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups broccoli florets
  • 3 small cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (Wondra works well for sauces)
  • 2 2/3 cups nonfat milk
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat cream cheese, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 package ( 12-14 oz.) cooked whole grain rotini or penne pasta

Directions

In a large, deep skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and add chicken breast cubes. Saute until cooked through and lightly browned. Move chicken to pasta serving bowl; set aside. In the same skillet, heat remaining olive oil and add garlic, Italian seasoning and vegetables. Saute until cooked, but not limp. Add vegetables to bowl with chicken.  Stir milk and Wondra flour together and pour into skillet. Cook 8 minutes or until thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly. Stir in cream cheese, cook 2 minutes. Add 1 cup Parmesan cheese, stirring constantly until it melts.

Add hot cooked pasta, chicken and vegetables and toss well to coat. Pour into pasta serving bowl and top with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
Serve with a green salad.

Parmesan Zucchini Cakes

4 servings

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup egg substitute
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini (2-3 medium, about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cups Progresso Italian bread crumbs, divided
  • Marinara Sauce, warmed, see post for recipe, http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray.
  2. Use the large-holed side of a box grater to shred the zucchini. Place shredded squash in the center of a clean kitchen towel; gather up the ends and twist to squeeze out any liquid
  3. Mix together the egg substitute, onion, parsley, zucchini, cheese, ¼ cup bread crumbs, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl..
  4. With floured hands, shape zucchini mixture into smallish balls (about two tablespoons each) and roll in remaining bread crumbs and flatten slightly on the baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn each cake over and bake for another 10-15 minutes until browned.

Serve with warm marinara sauce.

For Snack Time

Rosemary-Lemon White Bean Dip

  • 1 -15-ounce can cannellini beans (no salt added), drained or 2 cups cooked dried beans
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper
  • Carrot and Celery Sticks

Puree first 5 ingredients in processor until almost smooth. Add salt and pepper. Transfer dip to serving  bowl with carrot and celery sticks.

(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Turkey Pizza Burger Sliders

Makes 8 sliders

  • 1 1/4 pound lean ground turkey breast
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Olive oil, for brushing sliders
  • 8 small slices fresh mozzarella
  • Marinara Sauce
  • Whole Wheat Potato Rolls

Directions

Place turkey, scallions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, lemon zest, oregano, basil 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Gently combine, without over mixing, until evenly incorporated.

Mix all the burger ingredients well and form into 2.5 ounce balls. Flatten into patties, about 3 inches in diameter. Brush with olive oil.
To grill the turkey burgers, preheat a grill to medium-high. Oil the grill rack. Grill the patties, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 165°F, 8 to 10 minutes total.

Place burgers on a whole wheat potato roll. Top sliders with a tablespoon of marinara sauce and a slice of mozzarella cheese.

Martin’s makes the best tasting whole wheat rolls. Your kids will love them.

Codfish Cakes

Codfish cakes are made in many countries throughout the world. In Italy the recipe calls for dried salt cod,  Baccala, but you can use any leftover (or even fresh) white-fleshed fish. Salt cod is often found in stores around the winter holidays because it’s almost a sacred food in many cultures — definitely so in Italian and Portuguese cuisines, for example.

My mother made these fish cakes when she had leftover baccala during the Christmas season but you have to soak the baccala overnight and it is still salty. Here’s a variation using fresh cod instead and children love them (its the mashed potatoes part that does that).

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of cod fillets
  • 2 medium-sized baking potatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine 
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute 
  • 3 slices whole wheat bread, crusts removed and processed into crumbs (about 1 cup)

Directions

Boil and mash the potatoes, set them aside.
Poach the codfish until it flakes easily. Drain and add the fish to the potatoes. Mash together. Mix the fish, the potatoes and the next 7 ingredients together.

Form the mixture into 3 inch patties and lightly dredge in bread crumbs.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking sheet well with olive oil cooking spray.

Place patties on prepared baking pan and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then flip patties, carefully, and bake an additional 15-20 minutes.
Makes 12 fish cakes. Serves 4-6.

Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

Oven baked sweet potatoes are a healthy choice, but there is a problem, they don’t get crispy.  They get brown, but not crisp.
I have found a method that really works.

Cut 2 large sweet potatoes into finger size thicknesses.

Let potatoes soak in cold water for an hour.  Drain but don’t dry on towels.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Place two tablespoons of cornstarch into a plastic bag.

Add sweet potatoes to the bag with the cornstarch.  Twist the top of the bag so it forms a balloon with some air inside and shake the fries around until they’re lightly coated with the cornstarch.

Put the coated fries on a non stick baking sheet. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the fries.
Using your hands, toss the potatoes to make sure the fries are well coated. Rearrange them on the sheet again, so that they have space between each fry.

The less fries on the pan the better because, if the potatoes are crowded, they will not get crispy.  They’ll just steam.  You might want to use 2 baking sheets. if you do not have a large enough pan.

Bake the fries in a preheated oven for 15 minutes.


Potatoes originally came from South America specifically from the Andes mountains and they were brought to Europe by early Spanish explorers.  In 1565, Spain’s King Philip II is said to have sen a gift of potato tubers for Pope Pius IV in Rome, who passed samples on to a cardinal in Belgium.  Along with the tubers went their Italian name – tartufoli- and the samples were disseminated throughout Europe.   Wherever the potato was introduced, it was considered weird, poisonous, and downright evil.

European immigrants introduced potatoes to North America several times throughout the 1600s, but they were not widely grown for almost a century. Not until 1719, when Irish immigrants brought the potato to Londonderry, New Hampshire, were potatoes grown on a large scale. Again, potatoes were slow to gain popularity. Even when they became the second largest food crop in America, they were still used primarily as animal fodder.

Although the potato – called patata by modern Italians – was a staple food for generations of rural families, potato growing in Italy has been declining since the 1960’s. Large areas of land are unsuitable for potato growing and have since been abandoned.  Pasta-loving Italy has one of the lowest levels of potato consumption in Europe.  They do not use sweet potatoes in Italy, but pumpkin is a favorite ingredient for a number of dishes, including ravioli and soups.  Marcella Hazan notes in her book that she could not get the right textured pumpkin here in America, but found that the orange-fleshed sweet potato came the closest.

In Italian cuisine, potatoes are used as a complement to other ingredients in a dish, such as  soups, frittatas, stews or salads or baked alongside fish or chicken.They are a nutrient filled vegetable despite their carbohydrate level.

It is a misconception, though, that they only contain carbohydrates and calories!  Potatoes are also a  rich source of  vitamin C, potassium, manganese, copper, vitamin B6 and dietary fiber.  If consumed in the right form and with moderation, potatoes can make for a very healthy, high fiber vegetable choice.

Artichoke and Potato Salad

You can substitute 1 pound green beans for the artichokes as an alternative.

Dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1/4 cup green onion or red onion (thinly sliced) 
  • 1/2 cup italian parsley (fresh, chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons capers (drained)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • Salt  to taste
  • black pepper (fresh cracked, to taste)
  • 2 lbs red potato (scrubbed, unpeeled and cut in half)
  • 1-10 oz package frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted
  • Garnish with olives, optional

Directions

In a large bowl combine the first 9 ingredients and set aside.

In a large pot simmer potatoes in salted water to cover until tender when pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes.  Drain in a large colander and move to the bowl with the dressing.

In the same saucepan cook artichokes (or green beans) in 3 inches salted boiling water over high heat until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and add to potatoes.
Mix well, let marinate and serve at room temperature.

Sicilian Potatoes Gratin

Ingredients

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 28-ounce container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 baking potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Topping:

  • 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

Directions

Preheat oven 350 degrees F.

In a skillet, saute onions in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft and slightly caramelized. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste and oregano. Cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.

In a gratin dish, ladle enough sauce to cover bottom of dish. Layer potatoes over sauce. Continue layering tomato sauce and potatoes, ending with a layer of potatoes.
In a bowl, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, olive oil and garlic. Sprinkle bread crumb topping over potatoes.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender.

Braised Fingerlings with Crispy Sage & Tender Garlic

For this dish, choose fingerlings that are all about the same thickness (length doesn’t matter), so that they will all cook in about the same amount of time.
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 25 large sage leaves
  • 8 garlic cloves, lightly smashed and peeled
  • 1 pound  fingerling potatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon sherry

Directions

In a large (10-inch) straight-sided skillet with a lid, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and is foaming, add the sage leaves and cook, stirring a bit, until the sage leaves have turned color and are crispy and the butter is golden brown, about 2 minutes. (Watch carefully so that they don’t burn; they will stiffen and curl and turn grey as they crisp up.) Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the sage leaves with a fork or tongs to a plate.

Put the pan back over medium to medium-high heat and immediately add the garlic and potatoes. Season them with the 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss them in the butter/oil mixture. Arrange the potatoes cut side down, partially cover the pan and cook until the bottoms of the potatoes are nicely browned, 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the chicken broth and partially cover the pan again. Bring the broth to a gentle simmer and cook until the broth has reduced to just a few tablespoons,  about 10 to 12 minutes.

Remove the lid, turn the heat off, and transfer the potatoes and garlic to a serving dish. Add the sherry to the pan and stir and scrape with a wooden spoon to get up any browned bits. Immediately pour the pan drippings over the potatoes and garlic and garnish with the crispy sage leaves. Sprinkle a little kosher salt over all.


Butternut Squash & Potato Gnocchi

When making gnocchi, I always like to mix the potato with another vegetable to reduce the calorie level.  You could also substitute sweet potatoes for the russet potatoes or use all sweet potatoes in the recipe below.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound russet potatoes (about 2 medium potatoes)
  • 1 pound butternut squash
  • 1 /3 cup egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting board and dough
  • Sage Pesto, recipe below

Directions

Peel and quarter the potatoes. Boil until very fork tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and return the cooked potatoes to the hot pan. Let them dry out over medium heat for about 30 seconds.  Let cool a bit and then pass the potatoes through a potato ricer.

Cut the squash in half and roast in the oven, see post http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/05/08/make-dinner-sunday-for-your-mom/

After the squash cools, scoop out the flesh and mash it. Add the squash to the potatoes and add the egg substitute, the cheese, nutmeg, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix well.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the flour over the potatoes and  press it into the potatoes. Fold the mass over on itself and press down again. Sprinkle on more flour, little by little, folding and pressing the dough until it just holds together and seems a bit sticky.

Keeping your work surface and the dough lightly floured, cut the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece on a generously floured board, into a rope about 1/2-inch in diameter. Cut into 1/2-inch-long pieces. You can cook these as is or form them into the classic gnocchi shape with the tines of a fork.  Roll the gnocchi along the times of the fork making light indentations and curving the gnocchi just a bit.

MegaGnocchi1

When ready to cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. Drop in the gnocchi and cook for about 90 seconds from the time they rise to the surface. Remove the cooked gnocchi with a skimmer, shake off the excess water, and place in a serving bowl.
Gently mix with the Sage Pesto

Walnut and Sage Pesto Recipe
(makes 1 cup pesto)

  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup Parmaggiano- Reggiano cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh packed sage
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons water

Put the food processor on and add garlic, pulse until the garlic is minced. Remove lid and add walnuts, cheese and sage. Add a big pinch of salt and of freshly ground pepper.

Close the food processor and pulse until minced. Open it back up and scrape down the sides. Combine lemon juice and water. With the processor running stream in lemon juice and olive oil. Stop and scrape down the sides.


The arrival of rice in Italy was introduced by the Arabs during their invasion of Sicily, along with oranges, lemons, sugar cane and pistachio nuts. Some historians, also, claim that saffron made its appearance around the same time.  Urban legend tells of a young apprentice, called Valerius, who was supposed to have invented the yellow risotto recipe that Milan is so famous for, now called, “Risotto  alla Milanese”. He was put in charge of making the stained-glass window that was to adorn the Cathedral Duomo Di Milano. While he worked, many of the townspeople made fun of him, giving credit to the herb saffron for the beautiful colors showcased in his artwork. As a result, Valerius became angry and devised a plan of retaliation. During his master’s wedding, he added an excessive amount of saffron to the rice being served at the affair.  He hoped his action would ruin the festivities, but instead the rice received great reviews and so the yellow risotto recipe of Milan became famous.

Italy is the leading producer of rice in Europe, with the majority of it being grown in the Po River Valley. Lombardy is home to the best rice growing area, Lomellina, while Piedmont and Veneto also have bountiful rice harvests. Rice thrives so well in these areas that first courses of risotto are more common than pasta. That is not to say that other regions of Italy do not eat rice, as there are wonderful rice recipes throughout Italy..

Italy grows mostly short, barrel shaped rice that is different than the long-grain rice that is usually boiled or steamed in other parts of the world. Among this type of rice are four categories based on grain size: comune, semifino, fino, and superfino. The superfino rice is the type most used for risotto, with Arborio being the most recognized outside of Italy. However, Venetian cooks prefer the Carnaroli variety, which was invented in the 1950’s. Baldo is another variety well-known for making excellent risotto.

Risotto is made with great care, braising the rice and allowing it to absorb the cooking liquid, usually broth. The special rice used in the preparation lends its starches to the cooking liquid, giving the risotto a rich consistency that in some ways, resembles a heavy cream sauce. The actual braising of the rice is a standard procedure starting with the rice being toasted in a soffrito (chopped vegetables such as onion, garlic, carrots and celery), before broth is ladled in slowly. What makes each risotto unique is the local ingredients that give the dish its character.

In Piedmont it is not unusual to find risotto with truffles or made with red Barolo wine. In Venice, seafood risotto is a mainstay and risotto with sauteed eels is a Christmas tradition. Risotto is completely versatile, and goes just as well with cuttlefish ink (Nero di Sepia) as with Prosciutto di San Danielle or with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano (added just before serving – Risotto Mantecato) or with wildfowl like quail (Risotto con la Quaglie).

Italian rice is not just limited to risotto.   One of the more famous of the non-risotto rice dishes is Minestrone alla Milanese, a hearty vegetable soup, which makes use of Lombardy’s abundant rice. In Venice,  Peas and Rice (Risi e Bisi) is a popular dish that is like a soup made with rice and peas, but thick enough to eat with a fork. Riso al Salto is a great way to use up leftover risotto – pressed into patties and fried in butter. Another delicious way to eat leftovers is to add the rice to eggs for an Omelette di Riso.  Arancini (little oranges) are fried rice balls with a filling, usually of cheese, and they are a popular snack found in Italian cafes and bars. Rice stuffed tomatoes are a traditional antipasti  around Naples. Rice is also useful in desserts, such as Sicily’s Dolce di Castagne e Riso – a rice pudding flavored with chestnuts.

http://www.lifeinitaly.com/food/risotto.asp

It is a common belief that risotto must be stirred constantly while you’re making it. Outrage rippled through the masterclass on rice when Gabriele Ferron, a well known chef from Verona,  first presented his ‘no-stir’ method of cooking risotto many years ago. How could anyone call a dish a risotto, if you haven’t slaved over the pot, stirring constantly as you add stock? Never mind the fact that his “revolutionary” method freed the cook from the stove and produced an excellent rendition of this famous dish.

Wonder if all that work is really necessary!
The editors of bon Appetit sampled recipes for stirred risotto and “quick n’ easy” no-stir risotto and compared the results. The verdict? It depends on what you like!
Risotto made in the traditional way, adding the broth one cup at a time and waiting for it to be absorbed so that the starch from the rice dissolves into the sauce, turns it silky and creamy.
No-stir recipes where all the broth is added at once do not wind up with the same sauce-like consistency. The editors of Bon Appetit say they turn out more like pilaf.  It’s still full of flavor and definitely a fine method to use if you don’t want to be tied to the stove, but the results aren’t nearly the same.
Both methods are definitely edible and have their own merits, so it comes down to what you have time for and what you like.

Chef Simon Humble, who won a silver medal in an international rice competition in Italy, employs the ‘no stir” method at his Melbourne restaurant, Tutto Bene.
His basic principles of the ‘no stir’ method are summarised as follows:

  • use minimal oil,
  • never allow the onion to brown as bitterness will pervade the rice,
  • “toast” (toss in oil and heat) the rice over moderate heat
  • ensure all liquid used is hot
  • DO NOT STIR the risotto again after an initial stir when adding the liquid – if you start stirring at the beginning, then you must stir right through to the end.  After adding the liquid, the dish is cooked over low heat.
Why don’t you give this method a try.  I don’t agree with Bon Appetit about the outcome of the no stir method, because whenever I have used this method, the dish is creamy and rich tasting.

The Almost No Stir Method For Risotto

Yield: Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 5 1/2 cups chicken broth, low sodium
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2  large shallots, peeled & finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1 cup dry white wine                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

To Finish:

  • 1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 Teaspoon Lemon Juice
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon Butter

Directions

Heat the broth and water in a pot and keep warm.
In a heavy-bottomed Dutch Oven pan with a lid, heat the oil and cook the shallots and garlic over medium heat until it is translucent. 
Add the rice and stir to coat well.
Add the wine, and cook over medium heat until the wine is almost absorbed.
Reduce the heat to medium low, and add 5 cups of the hot liquid. cover the pot.
Cook for about 18 minutes stirring just twice during this period or until the rice is just al dente and most of the liquid is absorbed.
Add 1/2 cup of broth and stir constantly for 3 minutes until the rice is creamy, add the remaining ½ cup of broth if the risotto isn’t loose enough.
Add the finishing ingredients and mix well.
Serve immediately offering additional grated cheese at the table.
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
Stir in any one of the following ingredients to the almost finished dish:

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat in skillet. Sear the asparagus just until beginning to brown, about three minutes.

1 butternut squash (medium, about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 1/2 cups).  Place the squash on a baking pan and toss it with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, tossing once, until very tender. Set aside.

2 cups shrimp and/or scallops cut in half  and sauteed  in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 minced garlic clove.

2 cups mushrooms such as shiitake, chanterelle, or oyster mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, and cut into half inch pieces and sauteed in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

8 ounces sweet pork, turkey or chicken Italian sausage, browned.

10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach cooked according to package instructions and drained well. Cool spinach completely and squeeze dry.

10 oz pkg frozen peas, defrosted

2 cups chopped leftover roasted or grilled chicken

2 cups broccoli florets, cooked

1 medium zucchini diced and sauteed in 1 tablespoon olive oil for 2-3 minutes

When You Have Leftover Risotto, Make Risotto Cakes

Risotto Cakes
Makes 6-8 cakes

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees F and spray a baking pan with olive oil cooking spray.

Combine the egg substitute, the risotto and 1/2 cup panko crumbs and mix well.
Pour the remaining breadcrumbs onto a  shallow dish.
Form the risotto mixture into 6 to 8 patties (depending on how large you want to make them) and coat lightly with the remaining panko crumbs.
Place the risotto cakes on the prepared pan. Bake 30 minutes, turning the cakes over half way through the baking time.
Serve each with a tablespoon of pesto.



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