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National Archeology Museum of Naples

National Archeology Museum of Naples

The National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, has one of the world’s best collections of Greek and Roman artifacts, including mosaics, sculptures, gems, glass and silver and a collection of Roman erotica from Pompeii. Many of the objects come from excavations at Pompeii, Herculaneum and nearby archaeological sites. The collection includes works of the highest quality produced in Greek, Roman and Renaissance times. It is the most important archaeological museum in Italy. Charles III of Spain founded the museum in the 1750s. The building he used for it had been erected as a cavalry barracks and later was the seat of the University of Naples until it became the site of the museum.

Some of the highlights include:

A major collection of ancient Roman bronzes from the Villa of the Papyri is housed at the museum and includes the Seated Hermes, a sprawling Drunken Satyr and a bust of Thespis.

Mosaics covering the period from two centuries BC until the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD and mosaics that were parts of floors and walls in Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae are displayed. Many of the mosaics include figures from Greek paintings. The most well-known are the mosaics from the House of the Faun in Pompeii. The museum’s collection also includes a number of important mosaics recovered from the ruins of  several Vesuvian cities. This includes the Alexander Mosaic, dating circa 100 BC, and depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia. Another important mosaic is of the gladiatorial fighter depicted in the mosaic found at the Villa of the Figured Capitals.

mosaic

Dog Mosaic

Secret Cabinet – This room was created in the early 1800′s to house the museum’s many sexual items. It was closed for many years but reopened in 2000. The Secret Cabinet (Gabbinete) or Secret Room is the name the Bourbon Monarchy gave the private rooms in which they held their fairly extensive collection, mostly derived from excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Access was limited to only persons of a mature age. After the revolution of 1848, the government of the monarchy proposed the destruction of these objects, fearful of the implications of their ownership, which would tarnish the monarchy’s reputation. The, then, director of the Royal Bourbon Museum had access to the collection terminated and the entrance door was sealed with three different locks, whose keys were held respectively by the Director of the Museum, the Museum Controller and the Palace Butler. This censorship occurred in 1851 when even nude Venus statues were locked up. The entrance was eventually walled up in the hope that the collection would vanish from memory.

In September 1860, when the forces of Garibaldi occupied Naples, he ordered that the collection be made available for the general public to view. Since the Royal Butler was no longer available, they broke into the collection and restored viewership.  Censorship was again imposed during the era of the Kingdom of Italy and continued into the Fascist period, when visitors to the rooms needed the permission of the Minister of National Education in Rome. Censorship persisted through the postwar period up to 1967, abating only after 1971 when the Ministry was given new rules to regulate requests for visits and access to the section. Completely rebuilt a few years ago with all of the new criteria, the collection was finally opened to the public in April 2000. Visitors under the age of 14 can tour the exhibit only with an adult.

Frescoes come from the walls in Pompeii. Covering a period of about two centuries, the frescoes are excellent examples of Roman painting. They cover a variety of themes, including mythology, landscapes and scenes of daily life.

Temple of Isis  is a special exhibit that holds wall paintings removed from the temple in Pompeii, as well as artifacts from the temple.

Pompeii Model

Pompeii Model

Pompeii Model was made in the 19th century and is a model of the city that helps the visitor visualize what it looked like before the eruption.

Sculptures of Greeks and Romans are housed in a large collection at the museum.

Coins and Metals  are displayed in six  rooms containing more than 200,000 coins and medals from Ancient Greece, Rome, medieval times and the Bourbon era.

Prehistory and Early History rooms cover objects related to the Bay of Naples from paleolithic times to Greek colonization in the 8th century BC. There’s a section on Etruscan occupation of the area.

The museum has the third largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in Italy, after the Vatican Museum and the Museo Egizio in Turin. It is made up primarily of works from two private collections, assembled by Cardinal Borgia in the second half of the 18th century and Picchianti in the first years of the 19th. In the recent rearrangement of the galleries the two collections have been exhibited separately, while in a connecting room other items are on display, including Egyptian artifacts from Pompeii and other Campanian sites. In its new layout the collection provides both an important record of Egyptian civilization from the Old Kingdom (2700-2200 B.C.) up to the Ptolemaic-Roman era.

Museo di Capodimonte

Museo di Capodimonte

Museo di Capodimonte is located in the Palace of Capodimonte, a grand Bourbon palazzo in Naples, Italy. The museum is the prime repository of Neapolitan painting and decorative art, with several important works from other Italian schools of painting and some important ancient Roman sculptures This museum has the largest collection in Italy aside from the Uffizi — and yet you don’t have to vie for space in front of its masterpieces. The Capodimonte contains pieces by Caravaggio, Raphael, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Titian, Bellini, El Greco, Artemisia Gentileschi, even an Andy Warhol painting of Mt. Vesuvius erupting… among others.

Napoli_-_Museo_di_Capodimonte_(salone_da_ballo)

The collection can trace its origins back to 1738, when King Charles VII of Naples and Sicily (later Charles III, king of Spain) decided to build a hunting lodge on the Capodimonte hill, but then decided that he would instead build a grand palace, partly because his existing residence, the Palace of Portici, was too small to accommodate his court and partly because he needed somewhere to house his Farnese art collection, which he had inherited from his mother, Elisabetta Farnese, the last descendant of the sovereign ducal family of Parma.

Over the years the palace was enlarged and filled with more art. In 1787, on the advice of Jacob Philipp Hackert, a laboratory for the restoration of paintings was created. After the palace passed in 1861 to the House of Savoy, further pieces were added to the art collections, appointing Domenico Morelli as consultant for new acquisitions. They also added an extensive collection of historic firearms and other weapons. In 1866, the boudoir of Maria Amalia of Saxony was transferred to Capodimonte from the Palace of Portici and in 1877 a Roman era marble floor was brought in from a Roman villa on Capri. After the end of the monarchy, the palace became a national museum in 1950.

Naples museum

Cappella Sansevero

The Cappella Sansevero (also known as the Capella Sansevero de’ Sangri or Pietatella) is a chapel north of the church of San Domenico Maggiore, in the historic center of Naples, Italy. Its origin dates to 1590 when John Francesco di Sangro, Duke of Torremaggiore, after recovering from a serious illness, had a private chapel built in what were then the gardens of the nearby Sansevero family residence, the Palazzo Sansevero. The building was converted into a family burial chapel by Alessandro di Sangro in 1613 (as inscribed on the marble plinth over the entrance to the chapel). The Prince of Sansevero also included Masonic symbols in its reconstruction. Until 1888 a passageway connected the Sansevero palace with the chapel.

Cappella Sansevero Interni Cristo Velato

Christ Veiled under a Shroud

Christ Veiled under a Shroud

The museum contains works of art by some of the leading Italian artists of the 18th century including sculptures of the late Baroque period. The chapel houses almost thirty works of art, among them sculptures made of a marble-like substance that, in whole or in part, was invented by Raimondo, who also participated in the design of the works of art in the chapel. The Veiled Truth was completed by Antonio Corradini in 1750 as a tomb monument dedicated to Cecilia Gaetani dell’Aquila d’Aragona, mother of Raimondo. A Christ Veiled under a Shroud (also called Veiled Christ) was completed in 1753 by Giuseppe Sanmartino. It is a masterpiece of expression — even though there is a veil covering the face.

The ceiling, the Glory of Paradise, was painted by Francesco Maria Russo in 1749. The original floor (most of the present one dates from 1901) was in black and white (said to symbolize good/evil) in the design of a labyrinth.

In the basement there is a painting by the Roman artist, Giuseppe Pesce, Madonna con Bambino, dating from around 1750. It was painted using wax-based paints of Raimondo di Sangro’s own invention. The prince presented this painting to his friend Charles Bourbon, King of Naples.

macchine-anatomiche-cappella-sansevero

There are also “anatomic models” of 18th century people whose skeletons, arteries and veins have all been preserved to this day. However, analysis of the “blood vessels” indicate they are constructed of beeswax, iron wire and silk.

 

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The Bay of Naples

Neapolitan Cuisine

Ask any Italian where the best pizza in Italy comes from and the answer will be — begrudgingly — the same: “Napoli.” Here’s where pizza was invented and, since the 19th century, the Neapolitans have raised it to a fine art.

Pizza is far from the only food Naples does well. Its fritti (fried offerings), seafood and pastas are top-notch, too. But the one thing you can’t miss are the baked goods. Thanks to Naples’ mixed heritage — from the 12th to 19th centuries, the French, Spanish, Austrians and Bourbons all claimed control at some point — its pastries have picked up the best of all foreign influences, such as baba, zeppola, sfogliatelle or around Easter time – the pastiera.

Neapolitan pizza

 Naples-Style Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons sugar (⅞ oz.)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (½ oz.)
  • ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 5½ cups “00″ flour, (1 lb. 12 oz.)
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt (¾ oz.)

Directions

Combine sugar, oil, yeast and 2 cups cold water in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook; let sit until foamy, 8-10 minutes. Mix flour and salt in a separate bowl.

With motor running, slowly add flour mixture; mix until a smooth dough forms, 8-10 minutes. Transfer dough to a greased baking sheet; cover with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature 1 hour.

Divide dough into 4 balls; transfer to a greased 9″ x 13″ dish; brush tops with oil. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for 48 hours.

Salsa di Pomodoro Fresco

Ingredients

  • 2 (28-oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes, packed in purée
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Directions

Remove each whole tomato from the can and reserve 3 cups of the purée. Cut the tomatoes in half and, using your fingers, remove and discard the seeds (don’t rinse).

Place the tomatoes in a food processor and pulse until just crushed but not puréed. (Alternatively, crush the tomatoes by hand or pass them through a food mill.)

Transfer the tomato sauce to a bowl and stir in the reserved 3 cups of purée and salt.

Pizza Margherita

4 pizzas

Ingredients

  • 1 recipe Naples-style pizza dough
  • Fine semolina, for dusting
  • 1 recipe Naples-style pizza sauce
  • 1 lb. fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 16 fresh basil leaves
  • Olive oil

Directions

Place a pizza stone under the broiler; heat for 30 minutes.

Working with the 4 batches of dough, dust 1 ball dough with semolina. Using your fingertips, press dough into a 10″ circle about ¼” thick, leaving a 1″ crust around the edges.

Hold dough straight up, and with fingertips circling crust, slide fingers around crust in a circular motion as you would turn a steering wheel until dough in the center is stretched to about ⅛” thick; transfer to a semolina-dusted pizza peel.

Spread ½ cup sauce over dough and distribute a quarter each of the cheese and basil leaves; drizzle with oil. Slide pizza onto the stone; broil until the  cheese melts and the crust is puffed and charred in spots, 3-4 minutes.

easy-lasagna

Lasagne alla Napoletena

Also known as carnival lasagna, a traditional southern recipe from Naples.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 6 oz. (gr.170) lasagne (fresh homemade lasagne pasta, if possible)
  • 8 oz. (gr.225) Italian sausage
  • 4 oz. (gr.115) mozzarella cheese
  • 8 oz. (gr.225) ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 10 oz. (gr.300) ripe tomatoes or whole canned, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons (gr.30) butter
  • 4 tablespoons (ml.60) extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Small bunch of basil, minced
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

In a saucepan heat the olive oil and brown the onion. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes at low heat. Add the minced basil.

Brown the Italian sausages in a skillet on all sides. Set aside to cool. After cooling, remove the casing and thinly slice the sausage.

Dice  the mozzarella cheese. Slice the hard-boiled eggs.

In a mixing slightly beat the egg together with the Parmesan cheese and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Heat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

Oil the bottom of a lasagna pan and lay 3 noodles crosswise. Spread with some of the tomato sauce, some diced mozzarella, some ricotta, a few tablespoons of the eggs and cheese mixture, some slices of the hard-boiled eggs and some pieces of the Italian sausages. Repeat the layering procedure until all ingredients are used.

For the last layer cover with just the noodles and spread the top with softened butter. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and bake the lasagna for 20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let lasagna rest for 5 minutes. Cut and serve.

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Neapolitan Zuppa di Pesce 

The Neapolitan version will almost always include one or more kinds of mollusks such as squid, baby cuttlefish or octopus, clams or mussels or both, and a variety fish with fins. The fish was usually the local catch, so many local varieties of fish, most of them small and some quite bony but flavorful, can be added to the pot. Larger fish can be cut into serving or even bite-sized pieces. The most typical fish of all is scorfano, called ‘scorpion fish’ in English. (Scorfano is also typical of the Tuscan cacciucco and some of the Adriatic brodetti.) Triglie—red mullet—is also a common addition. But any firm-fleshed fish that lends itself to simmering will do: monkfish, snapper, catfish, sole. Less typical of this kind of fish soup are sea scallops and shellfish but they are nice additions.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

For the tomato base:

  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 peperoncino (or a pinch of red pepper flakes)
  • Olive oil
  • A can of San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
  • Salt and pepper
  • A splash of white wine
  • 1 bunch of Italian parsley, chopped

For the seafood (in the order they should be added to the pot):

  • An assortment of mollusks, such as squid, baby cuttlefish or octopus, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • An assortment of firm-fleshed fish of your choice, such as monkfish cut into large chunks
  • Shrimp, crayfish and/or sea scallops
  • Clams and/or mussels

Directions

Sauté the garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil and add the peperoncino.  When the garlic is just barely beginning to brown; add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper (going light on the salt since the shellfish will be salty) and add some of the chopped parsley. Simmer for 10 minutes or so, or until the  sauce begins to reduce. Add a splash of white wine.

Add the seafood starting with the varieties that take the longest to cook, then progressing to those that take less time. Begin with the mollusks, since they will take some time to cook. With baby cuttlefish, let them simmer about 10 minutes before adding any other fish. Octopus or mature squid (cut up into bite-sized pieces) will take much longer, usually about 30 minutes. Then add the fish and let that cook for another five minutes. Finally, add the clams and mussels and simmer them just until they open. Sprinkle with a bit more finely chopped parsley and serve immediately with crusty bread.

pasteria

Ricotta Neapolitan Easter Pie (Pasteria)

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 qt whole milk
  • 3/4 cup Arborio rice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1¼ cups granulated sugar
  • Unsalted butter, for the pan
  • All-purpose flour, for pan
  • 3 lbs fresh ricotta cheese, drained 3 hours or preferably overnight
  • 3 large whole eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Directions

Boil milk in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in rice, cinnamon, salt and the vanilla bean. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, for about 30 minutes or until rice is very tender and has absorbed all the liquid.

Remove pan from the heat. Stir in ¾ cups granulated sugar. Cover. Let cool, stirring occasionally. Discard vanilla bean.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour an 8-inch springform  pan.

In a large bowl, mix the rice mixture, ricotta, whole eggs, egg yolks and remaining ½ cup sugar. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until golden on top and almost set in the center. Cover with foil if starting to brown too much.

Transfer pan to a cooling rack. When cake has completely cooled, run a knife around edge to loosen. Gently remove ring.

Transfer cake to a serving platter. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

 

 

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ravanelligal

Although the radish was a well-established crop in Greek and Roman times, one might assume that it was brought into cultivation at an earlier time, however, there are almost no archeological records available to help determine the radish’s history and domestication. Wild forms of the radish and its relatives, mustard greens and turnips, can be found over western Asia and Europe, suggesting that their domestication took place somewhere in that area. They are certainly revered and highly appreciated in Asia, particularly in Japan where the long, white daikon radish is a major food. The ancient Greeks prized radishes above all root crops, even making replicas of them in gold. The radish was a common food in Egypt long before the pyramids were built and was popular in ancient Rome as well. Columbus and the early settlers brought radishes to America where they are a favorite spring crop for home gardeners because they’re so easy to plant and they grow quickly.

Radish_3371103037_4ab07db0bf_o

There are two basic types of radishes- spring and winter. The crunchy spring varieties are ‘Cherry Bomb’, ‘Champion’, ‘Burpee White’ and ‘Crimson Giant’. Winter radishes such as ‘China Rose’ and ‘Long Black Spanish’ store better and have a more distinctive flavor than the spring varieties. The Bunny Tail is an Italian radish that is slightly oblong in shape. It is mostly red and has a white tip. The Sicily Giant radish is a large heirloom variety originating from Sicily. It has a smooth, bright red skin and tastes hotter than some other radishes. It can grow up to 2 inches across the widest part. White Icicle radishes are completely white and are carrot-shaped. These radishes come from an Italian heirloom variety. Sometimes, they are simply called Icicle radishes.

Radishes are more versatile in the kitchen than many cooks realize. Besides adding crisp radishes to salads, try them sliced into stir-fries, stews and soups. Sauté them in butter for a minute and then serve with salt, pepper and herbs (especially chervil) for a different and unusual side dish. Long radishes are particularly good for sautéing. Slice them diagonally to obtain larger pieces and cook quickly to retain crispness. Grate radishes into your favorite slaws or dice them for egg and potato salads. Radishes can even be pickled!

 Appetizers

prosiutto

Prosciutto-Wrapped Radishes

Serves 2

ingredients

  • 6 long, red Italian radishes (or any radish)
  • 6 thin slices prosciutto
  • Olive oil

Directions

Wash and peel radishes, leaving stems intact.
Carefully wrap each radish in a slice of prosciutto.
Drizzle with olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper.

dip

Fresh Radish Dip

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces large radishes (about 12), cut into very thin bite-size strips, chopped or grated
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese (2 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh dill
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Fresh dill sprigs
  • Carrot sticks, celery sticks, Belgian endive leaves and/or fresh snow pea pods for dipping

Directions

In a large bowl stir together radish strips, sour cream, feta cheese, dill, lemon peel and lemon juice. Garnish with dill sprigs. Serve with fresh vegetables for dipping.

Salads

RavanelliOlive

Radish and Olive Salad Recipe – Ravanelli con Insalata di Olive

While radishes are not the most common salad vegetable in Italy, you will find them in well stocked markets. Valeriana (Valerian) is a popular salad green belonging to the Valerianella family. It has a number of local names in Italy, including soncino and is also called lamb’s lettuce or corn salad in the English speaking world. Substitute mache, arugula or wild baby lettuce for the valeriana.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 pound (100 g) medium red radishes
  • 2/3 pound (300 g) valeriana or other spring lettuce
  • 10 pitted black olives
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Wash the radishes, pat them dry, remove the leaves and roots and thinly slice them. Put them in a bowl with the lemon juice and let them steep for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, wash and drain the valeriana. Drain the olives and slice them. Add the valeriana and olives to the radishes.

Drizzle lightly with olive oil, season to taste with salt (Italians rarely add pepper to salads) and toss. Let the salad rest for a minute or two before serving it.

bresaola-Mottram-515x438

Bresaola with Radishes, White Asparagus and Baby Greens

Bresaola is air-dried, salted beef that has been aged two or three months until it becomes hard and turns a dark red color. It is made from top round and is lean and tender with a sweet, musty smell. It originated in Valtellina, a valley in the Alps of northern Italy’s Lombardy region.
6 servings

Ingredients

  • 25 white asparagus stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup Champagne vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated or high quality jarred horseradish
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped oregano
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 42 slices bresaola, sliced paper thin
  • 2 cups baby greens
  • 1/2 cup baby frisée
  • 1/2 cup shaved radishes
  • Sea salt for garnish
  • Marcona almonds for garnish

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the asparagus and Champagne vinegar. Cook until very tender, about 12-15 minutes, dependign on thickness. Prepare an ice bath while the asparagus cooks. When the asparagus are cooked, transfer to the ice bath. Drain the asparagus and purée in a food processor. Add the horseradish. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Prepare a second ice bath. Add the basil, oregano and parsley to the water. Boil for 20 seconds, then transfer to the ice bath. Drain the herbs and squeeze out excess water. Combine the herbs and olive oil in a blender and blend on high. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

To serve, lay 7 slices of bresaola on each plate, overlapping the slices slightly. Spoon some asparagus purée on the bresaola slices. Toss the greens, frisée and radishes with the herb oil. Top each serving of bresaola with some salad and almonds. Season with sea salt and serve.

Side Dishes

roasted radishes

Roasted Radishes

If you want a more substantial side dish add 12 baby carrots to the radishes in the recipe below and increase the cooking time to 20 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches fresh radishes, washed, dried, stems and tails removed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 4 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place a baking pan in the oven until hot.
In a bowl, mix the radishes with the oil, salt, pepper and thyme.
Place the radishes on the hot pan and put the pan back in the oven.
Every 5 minutes stir the radishes. Total cooking time should be 15 minutes, depending on the size of the radishes.
When ready, they’ll be blistered and pink with just a little bite left to the texture.
Serve as a side dish with a drizzle of fresh olive oil.

pan-roasted_radishes_with_italian-style_greens-458x326

Pan-Roasted Radishes with Italian-Style Greens

Cooked radishes taste a lot like turnips, their Brassicaceae cousins, but with a milder flavor.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced dried Mission figs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 cups trimmed radishes, halved or quartered (10 oz.)
  • 8 cups baby spinach
  • 4 cups radish greens or arugula
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped black oil-cured olives
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, plus more to taste

Directions

Place figs in small bowl and cover with boiling water. Plump 5 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add radishes, cover, and cook 3 minutes or until browned on one side (do not stir). Shake pan and cook, uncovered, 3 to 4 minutes more or until radishes are just tender. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt. Set aside.

Return skillet to heat and add remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Add spinach and radish greens and cook 2 minutes or until barely wilted, turning with tongs. Add pine nuts, figs, olives and radishes. Cover and cook 3 minutes more or until greens are tender and radishes are heated through. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

snap peas

Sugar Snap Peas and Radishes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sugar snap peas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 medium radishes, washed, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • Freshly cracked pepper

Directions

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add snap peas; cook 1 to 2 minutes, until crisp-tender. Drain snap peas; run under cold water until cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, tarragon and salt until well combined. Toss snap peas and radishes in the dressing. Season with freshly cracked pepper.

Serve at room temperature or chilled.

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crostini-mistakes-646

Crostini is just another name for slices of bread that have been brushed with oil and baked until golden brown. Crostini make for an endless variety of near-instant hors d’oeuvres. Just spoon on your pick of toppings and watch the crostini disappear!

Crostini is the Italian word for “little toasts”. Crostini are believed to be a kind of Italian peasant food that originated in medieval times. The Italians, too poor to possess ceramic plates, preferred to eat their food by keeping it on the surface of slices of bread. The Italians, not a group to waste anything, often ate stale bread which had to be soaked in juices or wine in order to chew it properly.

Bruschetta and crostini are both bread preparations used in antipasti – but what is the difference?

The difference between bruschettas and crostini is the type of bread used. Bruschetta, from the Italian word “bruscare” meaning “to roast over coals”, is made by toasting whole, wide slices of a rustic Italian or sourdough type bread. Crostini are sliced from a smaller, round, finer-textured bread, more like a white bread baguette. In Italy you might find yourself offered an antipasto of four or five different crostini, no more than a couple of mouthfuls each, accompanied by some olives, but only one or two of the larger bruschetta would be plenty.

crostini_vert

Some do’s and don’t I picked up from the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen to ensure successful crostini.

Not starting with good bread

The bread you use should be high quality; look for fresh baguettes, boules and hearty country bread, preferably from a local bakery (as opposed to supermarket brands). Texture is very important–it shouldn’t be too dense.

Slicing the bread too thick or thin

The bread needs to be thin enough to bite, but thick enough to support toppings -1/2-inch thick is just right.

Skipping the oil

Brush olive oil on each piece before toasting it. Why? It makes the surface of the bread less dry. And it just tastes better.

Over-toasting the bread

If the crostini are too hard, they will hurt your guests’ mouths and flake all over their clothes. The ideal texture: crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. To achieve it, bake, grill or broil bread over high heat, making sure to toast both sides. (If you cook on too low a heat, the bread will dehydrate and crumble upon first bite.) You’ll know it’s finished when the edges are browned but the center is lighter in color and still has a little spring to it.

Forgetting the flavor

Flavor your crostini right after toasting. Things you can rub on the bread: a raw garlic clove, a tomato half – cut side-down or a whole lemon or orange–rind. The crispy bread will pick up the fruit’s essential oils.

Going overboard with your topping

If you pile on the topping, it’s going to fall off when you bite into the crostini. You should be able to take bites without worrying about staining your shirt or dress.

Overdressing your topping

Wet topping = soggy bread. Use a slotted spoon when working with a wet topping (tomatoes, etc.) so that extra liquid is left behind. If using greens, dress them lightly.

How To Make Crostini Toasts

Using a serrated knife, cut one 8 ounce baguette diagonally into ½ inch slices. Makes about 20 slices.

Baked Crostini

Baked Crostini

Bake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the bread on 2 large baking sheets and brush each slice on both sides with olive oil. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, or until the edges of the bread are golden brown. Turn the slices over half way through the baking time. Let cool completely. Store at room temperature.

toast_on_the_grill

Grilled Crostini

Broiled Crostini

Broiled Crostini

Grill or Broil

Brush bread slices lightly on both sides with olive oil.

Grill for 15 to 20 seconds on each side, until lightly brown, then remove with tongs and set aside.

For broiling, position the rack so the slices are 2 inches from the flame and turn them over when the crostini start to brown at the edges.

Here are some of my favorite combinations. They are easy to prepare and are always a big hit when I entertain. The recipes are based on 20 slices of crostini.

Shrimp and Pesto

Cut 10 medium peeled and deveined shrimp in half lengthwise.

In a skillet saute 1 minced garlic clove and the shrimp in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until the shrimp turn pink.

Spread each crostini with homemade or store bought basil pesto. Place one shrimp half on each crostini and sprinkle each with shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Mediterranean Spread

Drain two 6 ounce jars of marinated artichoke hearts, reserving 2 tablespoons of the marinade.

Finely chop the artichokes and place in a mixing bowl with the reserved marinade.

Stir in ½ cup finely chopped sun dried tomatoes packed in oil and drained, 2 tablespoons pitted and chopped Kalamata olives and 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley.

Mix well and spread mixture on the crostini slices and sprinkle the top with feta cheese.

Caprese

Rub crostini with a garlic clove or two as soon as they come out of the oven. Sprinkle each with a little balsamic vinegar.

Top each with the following

  • 1 slice of plum (Roma) tomato
  • 1 thin slice of fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 1 fresh basil leaf

Grind fresh black pepper over each crostini.

Olive Orange Spread

In a food processor combine:

  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped italian parsley
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

Pulse until coarsely chopped.

Spread on the crostini, top each with an orange segment and a small piece of arugula.

Roasted Red Pepper and Prosciutto

In a food processor combine one 12 oz jar of roasted red peppers, drained, with a large pinch of cayenne pepper. Process until almost smooth.

Spread pepper mixture on the crostini.

Top with a piece of prosciutto and shredded mozzarella cheese.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake crostini until the cheese melts. Serve warm.

Cannellini Bean Spread

In a food processor coarsely process one drained 15 oz. can cannellini beans. Remove to a mixing bowl.

Stir in ¼ cup shredded zucchini, 2 tablespoons chopped green onions, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar and ½ teaspoon coarse grained mustard.

Spread on crostini slices. Top each with a half of a grape tomato and sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves.

Cremini Mushroom Spread

Thinly slice 12 oz cremini mushrooms. In a skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and cook 3 minced garlic cloves for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and cook for 8-10 minutes until the mushrooms are tender.

Stir in 1/3 cup white wine. Simmer uncovered for 5 minutes or until wine evaporates. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread crostini with a thin layer of mascarpone cheese. Top with mushrooms and sprinkle with chopped fresh chives.

Caramelized Sweet Onions and Gorgonzola

Halve and thinly slice 3 sweet onions. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons butter. Add onions and cook, covered, on medium low for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook for 5 more minutes, or until the onions turn golden. Season with salt and pepper.

Spoon onions on the crostini and sprinkle with crumbled gorgonzola cheese.

Lemon Ricotta with Fruit and Honey

Stir together 1 cup of whole milk ricotta cheese, 1 teaspoon shredded lemon peel and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Spread mixture on crostini.

Top each with thinly sliced fresh strawberries or figs.

Drizzle with honey and top each with a mint leaf.

What Are Your Favorite Toppings For Crostini?

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                           La Lingua Della Cucina

The passion that Italians bring to the kitchen is reflected in the language that they use to describe techniques and individual ingredients or recipes. Since Americans first started cooking spaghetti and tomato sauce in their homes in the early part of the twentieth century, they have expanded their preparation of Italian foods within the home. Lasagna, risotto, chicken cacciatore, minestrone, tiramisu –  just to name a few; all came to be commonly prepared in the homes of Americans over the last century.

At the time when Julia Child caused a sensation by convincing American cooks that they could create the wonders of classic French cuisine in their own kitchens, Italian food was already a loved and accepted mainstay of the American diet. Today, it seems more popular than ever. America’s steady love of Italian food, in recent years fueled by a host of cookbooks and television shows, has thrust Italian home cooking once again into the spotlight. Attracted to “authentic” Italian food’s simplicity and affordability, Americans have taken to cooking Italian food at home.

Here are some of the culinary terms, you will most often come in contact with in your Italian cooking.

Aioli – A garlic mayonnaise is a delicious accompaniment to cold or hot grilled vegetables, steamed or boiled artichokes, boiled potatoes and grilled or baked fish and shellfish.

Al dente – “To the teeth.” The expression is used to describe pasta that is still firm and chewy when bitten into. When pasta is al dente, it is considered fully cooked and ready to eat.

Al forno - an expression used for baked or roasted in the forno (oven). Pasta al forno is a layered pasta, much like lasagna, but made with a shorter shaped pasta, such as penne or ziti.

Antipasto – Translates as before the meal, i.e. pasto, and not before the pasta, as some mistakenly believe. A selection of antipasti can be modest or extravagant, but in all aspects of Italian food, quality is always more important than quantity.

Arancine – ‘little oranges” are rice croquettes, perhaps stuffed with veal or a soft cheese such as caciocavallo or a cow’s milk mozzarella. Their orange hue originates from the addition of saffron to the rice and the subsequent frying in vegetable oil.

Arrabbiata – “Angry.” A tomato-based pasta sauce spiced with chilis and Amatriciano is a similar spicy sauce with the addition of pancetta.

Bagna Cauda - a warm anchovy–olive oil sauce served as a dip for vegetables.

Battuto – The action of the knife striking ingredients against the cutting board, in short, the first stage of the preparation of any dish, which requires basic and efficient skills with a sharp blade.

Besciamella - More commonly referred to in the French form, béchamel, this cooked sauce of butter, flour, milk and some nutmeg is often used in baked pasta dishes and as a sauce for vegetable side dishes, such as cauliflower.

Bolognese – A pasta sauce native to the Bologna area of Italy. It traditionally features finely chopped meats and a soffrito of onions, celery and carrots with a small amount of tomato paste.

Bufala – The water buffalo of the southern region of Campania produce the milk for the softest, creamiest form of mozzarella cheese. So very delicate in flavor that it is better used in a salad (Caprese Salad) instead of on a cooked dish, such as pizza.

Burro – Butter is traditionally viewed as the favored fat in northern italy where it is used for sautéing.

Capelli d’agelo – “Angel hair.” Long, thin strands of pasta that are thinner than capellini.

Carbonara – a spaghetti sauce based on eggs, cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta) and black pepper.

Contorni - Accompaniment to the meat or fish course of the meal, usually consisting of prepared vegetables such, as green beans, spinach or braised fennel.

Crostini – toasted bread, but usually topped with chopped tomatoes or porcini mushrooms or roasted peppers or chicken livers – called crostini in Tuscany and bruschetta in Rome.

Dolce -or the plural form, i dolci, on restaurant menus, refers to the sweet or dessert course of the meal, such as zabaglione, tiramisu and gelato (ice cream).

Fiorentina -a substantial slab of meat roughly equating to an American T bone steak. Not to be tackled without a hearty appetite.

Formaggio - cheese.

Insalata – The salad course, usually positioned between the main (meat or fish) course and the dessert, can consist of a simple bowl of greens or something more elaborate. Olive oil combined with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little seasoning, or perhaps balsamic vinegar used sparingly, is all that is required to make the perfect dressing.

Polpette – meatballs.

Pomodoro – a meatless tomato sauce. The name means “golden apple” and refers to tomatoes that are yellow in color. Yes, I know – tomatoes are red. Here is the story:

David Gentilcore, professor of early modern history at the University of Leicester, writes, “ When explorers first brought tomatoes to Europe from the New World, they also brought over tomatillos. Tomatoes and tomatillos were considered interchangeable (they are botanical and culinary cousins) and many tomatillos are yellow. Italy and most of the rest of Europe soon took a pass on the tomatillo, but the name stuck. “Pomodoro” it was.”

Primavera – “Spring.” A pasta sauce traditionally made in the spring that features fresh vegetables as the main ingredient.

Primo - The first course (after the antipasto), hence the name, it usually involves a risotto or pasta dish.

Puttanesca - (literally “a la whore” in Italian) is a tangy, somewhat salty pasta sauce containing tomatoes, olive oil, olives, capers and garlic.

Saltimbocca -( literally “jump into the mouth”). In Rome this dish is prepared with veal and prosciutto crudo, or cured meat, and sage, all held together by a skewer in a sauce of  white wine or marsala. Chicken and pork cutlets work just as well.

Secondo – the main dish of the menu that usually consists of meat or fish.

Semolina – A coarse flour made from durum wheat: a hard wheat with a high protein/low moisture content and a long shelf life.

Soffritto – the foundation of many Italian recipes, especially a pasta sauce or a braise of beef or lamb. It consists of finely diced carrots, onion, garlic and celery, or any combination of them depending on the recipe.

Below are a few sample courses to get you started.

Antipasto

Flatbreads w/Onion Raita, Grilled Pumpernickel w/Avocado, Charred Corn & Tomato Salad & Bruschetta w/Straccitatella, favas, mint & Lemon. A110526 Food & Wine Fast Sept 2011

Bruschetta with Mozzarella and Favas Beans

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups canned fava beans (Progresso is a good brand), rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 16 grilled baguette slices
  • 1/4 pound buffalo mozzarella, torn into thin strips
  • Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves

Directions

Transfer the favas to a food processor and add the oil, lemon juice and zest and pulse to a coarse puree. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread the fava-bean puree on the toasts and top with the mozzarella strips. Drizzle the toasts with the balsamic vinegar and scatter the basil on top.

Primo

primavera

Pasta Primavera

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 red or orange bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 pound thin spaghetti or linguine
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Shaved Parmesan

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and green beans; cook 4 minutes. Add peppers and cook 1 more minute. Scoop out vegetables with a large slotted spoon and place in a colander.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook to the al dente stage, about 7-8 minutes. Drain; return to the pot.

In a mixing bowl, combine half-and-half, chicken broth, cornstarch, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the half-and-half mixture and simmer for a few minutes, stirring until slightly thickened.

Add cooked vegetables and tomatoes. Cook, stirring a few times, for about 2 minutes.

Pour into the pot with the pasta and stir gently. Add grated Parmesan and parsley. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Serve in pasta bowls with shaved Parmesan on top.

Secondo

chicken-scarpariello

Chicken Scarpariello

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 small skinless, boneless chicken thighs (2 pounds)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise and lightly smashed
  • 4 large rosemary sprigs, broken into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup spicy Italian pickled peppers, sliced

Directions

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the chicken and cook over high heat, turning once, until browned and crusty on both sides, about 8-10 minutes.

Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for 2-3 more minutes, until the garlic is lightly browned. Transfer the chicken to a platter, leaving the rosemary and garlic in the skillet.

Add the stock to the skillet and cook over high heat, scraping up any browned bits, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and butter and swirl until emulsified.

Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet. Add the peppers and cook, turning the chicken until coated in the sauce, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the chicken and sauce to a platter and serve.

Food & Wine, American Express Publishing

Spinach Salad with Bagna Cauda Dressing

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup coarse dry bread crumbs (see tip below)
  • 10 ounces baby spinach
  • Freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish

Directions

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat until foaming. Add the anchovies and cook until dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice. Add the thyme sprigs and let steep for 20 minutes. Discard the thyme and season the dressing with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a small dry skillet, toast the bread crumbs over moderate heat, tossing, until golden, about 4 minutes. Let the bread crumbs cool.

In a large bowl, toss the spinach with half of the dressing and half of the bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the salad to plates or a platter and top with the remaining bread crumbs and the shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Pass the remaining dressing at the table and serve with lemon wedges.

MAKE AHEAD

The bagna cauda dressing can be refrigerated overnight. Warm gently before using.

To make bread crumbs, tear 2 slices of day-old white bread into pieces, spread on a baking sheet and toast in a 300°F oven until dried but not browned, about 10 minutes.

Transfer to a food processor and pulse a few times until coarse crumbs form.

Dolce

cake

Almond Crusted Limoncello Pound Cake

16 servings

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 3/4 cups sliced almonds
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • Grated zest & juice of 2 large lemons, divided
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons Limoncello
  • Oil for coating the pan

Glaze:

  • 1/4 cup Limoncello
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Use a pastry brush to thoroughly oil a 12 cup bundt pan, then sprinkle almonds evenly in the pan and set aside.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest, reserving the lemon juice for later use, with the mixer on low speed until creamy, about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.

Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add 1 cup of cake flour, blending well, then add the salt and remaining eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Add the remaining flour with 3 tablespoons Limoncello, beating just until mixture is well blended.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, gently tapping the filled pan on the counter a few times.

Bake in the preheated oven until a wooden skewer inserted near the center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

Just before the cake is done, prepare the glaze. In a small saucepan, blend Limoncello, reserved lemon juice, sugar and butter. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 2 minutes.

Remove cake from oven after it tests done, then pour the glaze mixture over the top of the hot cake while still in the pan.

Let cake cool in the pan, placed on a wire rack. The glaze will be absorbed into the cake as it cools.

When the cake is cooled, invert it onto a serving plate and serve.

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Dinner For Two by Patrick J. Murphy

When you’re cooking just for two, learning what portion sizes to cook will make shopping easier and help you manage the food you buy. You’ll minimize waste and end up with only the leftovers you want.

Most recipes are written for four to six servings. So, how do you get to amounts for two servings? Divide the ingredients by four? By six? In half and hope that the leftover portions are good reheated?

This is where knowing your portion sizes can be extremely helpful. If you’re looking at a recipe for pasta and you know that a healthful portion is two ounces, then cook four ounces for two servings . Sometimes there are two or more main ingredients to a recipe – pasta and a sauce, or meat and vegetables – in which case you want to think about portion sizes for all the elements. A food scale is also helpful to have in your kitchen.

Keep in mind, though, that reducing some ingredients depends not on portion size, but on pan size. If a recipe calls for one tablespoons of oil to coat a pan, and you’re dividing the recipe by six, that doesn’t mean you should use half a tablespoon of oil. You need enough to coat the pan that you use. If you’re deglazing with wine or another liquid, you need enough to coat the pan and dissolve the drippings. Likewise, if you’re topping a gratin with breadcrumbs or cheese, the amount you need will depend on the size of your gratin dish.

Sauces are particularly difficult to make in small amounts, especially if you’re not familiar with the techniques and ingredients. Sometimes, it is better to just cut the sauce for a dish in half. It may be more than you need, but it’s an easier reduction and the extra can be frozen or used later in the week for another dish.

Whether you’re looking for an easy weekend dinner or planning a special romantic Valentine’s Day meal, these healthy recipes for two will help you get dinner on the table without figuring portion sizes.

Dinner Menu 1

Golden Squash Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon of canola oil
  • 1/4 cup of chopped onion
  • 10 ounce package frozen pureed winter squash, thawed, or 2 cups cooked winter squash, mashed 
  • 1/2 cup of reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 3/4 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1/2 cup of plain fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of snipped fresh thyme
  • Plain fat-free Greek yogurt (optional)
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Whole Grain Crackers

Directions

In a medium saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add onion; cook until tender. Stir in squash, broth and turmeric. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer for 2 minutes. Whisk in yogurt and thyme; heat through – do not boil.

Ladle soup into warm bowls. If desired, top with additional yogurt. Sprinkle with pepper and serve with crackers.

Beef Tenderloin with Marinated Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped, seeded plum tomato
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 beef tenderloin steaks, cut 3/4 inch thick (about 4-5 ounces each)
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh thyme

Directions

In a small saucepan bring vinegar to boiling. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes or until reduced to 1/4 cup. Stir tomatoes into the hot vinegar reduction. Set aside.

Trim fat from steaks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet heat oil over medium-high heat. Add steaks; reduce heat to medium. Cook to desired doneness, turning once. Allow 7 to 9 minutes for medium-rare (145 degrees F) to medium (160 degrees F).

To serve, spoon tomato vinegar mixture over steaks. Sprinkle with thyme.

Romaine Hearts with Blue Cheese

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 of a heart of romaine lettuce (3 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup of very thinly sliced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
  • Ground black pepper

Dressing

  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 6 oz fat free yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt to taste

Directions

Dressing

In a small bowl, mash blue cheese and yogurt together with a fork. Stir in mayonnaise, vinegar and garlic powder until well blended. Season to taste with salt. Makes 1 cup.

Salad

Halve heart of romaine lengthwise. Trim core at ends. Place 1 half on each salad plate. Top with red onion and walnuts. Drizzle with blue cheese salad dressing and crushed black pepper.

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Tiramisu Cookies

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon of hot water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sugar or sugar substitute equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon sugar (such as, Domino Light or Truvia for Baking)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of instant espresso coffee powder or 1 teaspoon instant coffee crystals
  • 1/4 cup of light tub-style cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup of frozen light whipped dessert topping, thawed
  • 6 chocolate wafer cookies
  • White chocolate curls and/or fresh raspberries (optional)

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine the water, sugar and espresso powder; stir until sugar and espresso powder are dissolved. Add cream cheese; whisk until smooth. Fold in whipped topping.

Spoon cream cheese mixture equally on top of each cookies. Chill for up to 4 hours.

To serve: top with white chocolate curls and/or raspberries, if desired.

Dinner Menu 2

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4 Bibb or Boston lettuce leaves
  • 1 medium grapefruit, peeled
  • 1 medium ripe avocado, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

Divide lettuce leaves between two salad plates. Section the grapefruit over a bowl to reserve juice. Arrange grapefruit sections and avocado slices on lettuce.

In a small bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, honey, salt and 1-½ teaspoons reserved grapefruit juice. Drizzle over salads.

Baked Almond Fish with Crispy Potatoes

Put the potatoes in the oven about 15 minutes before you put the fish in the oven.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 8 ounces fresh or frozen (thawed) skinless cod fish fillets or any white fish fillets of choice
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon fat-free milk
  • 2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon snipped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 large baking potato or two small
  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter or margarine

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly coat a 9x9x2-inch baking pan with nonstick coating; set aside.

Rinse fish; pat dry with paper towels. Cut into two serving-sized pieces. Measure thickness of fish.

Place flour in one shallow dish. In a second shallow dish whisk together egg white and milk together. In a third shallow dish combine bread crumbs, almonds and thyme. Coat both sides of fillets with flour. Dip fillets in the egg mixture and then in the bread crumb mixture to coat.

Place fish in prepared pan. Drizzle with oil. Bake until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork (allow 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of fish).

For the potatoes:

Thinly slice 1 large russet potato about 1/8 inch thick. If you have one, use a mandoline or vegetable slicer to slice the potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Arrange potatoes in a single layer on a greased 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Melt margarine or butter; drizzle over potatoes. Bake about 25 minutes or until browned.

Creamed Spinach

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced shallot or red onion
  • 10 ounces fresh spinach, tough stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

Heat oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shallot (or onion); cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook, stirring, until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove to a bowl.

Heat butter in the skillet over medium-high heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a whisk, until smooth and bubbling, about 30 seconds. Add milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper; cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 1 minute. Stir the spinach into the sauce. Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve.

Mocha Cream Shake

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups of low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt
  • 1/2 cup of strong brewed coffee, chilled
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar-free chocolate-flavor syrup
  • 1/2 cup of ice cubes
  • Grated dark chocolate

Directions

In a blender combine frozen yogurt, coffee and chocolate syrup. Add ice cubes. Cover and blend until smooth. Divide mixture between 2 parfait glasses. Top each serving with grated chocolate, if desired.

Vegetarian Dinner Menu 3

Pesto Pita Crackers

Here is my post for homemade pesto: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/21/two-sauces-for-everyday-meals/

This sauce freezes wel,l so divide it into portion sizes and freeze for future use.

2 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 whole pita bread (6 inches)
  • 3 tablespoons prepared pesto
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Split pita bread into two rounds. Spread with pesto and sprinkle with cheese. Cut each into six wedges.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until crisp. Serve warm.

Creamy Broccoli Soup

2 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups cubed peeled potatoes
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced
  • 2 cups frozen chopped broccoli
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 cups low-fat milk, divided
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Dash ground nutmeg
  • Dash pepper
  • Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs

Directions

Place potatoes and carrot in a saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain potato mixture; cool slightly.

Cook broccoli according to package directions; drain and set aside.

In the saucepan, melt butter. Stir in flour until smooth; gradually add 1/2 cup milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1 minute or until thickened. Add the salt, thyme, nutmeg and pepper.

In a blender, combine the potato mixture, broccoli and remaining milk; cover and process until smooth. Add to the thickened milk mixture in the saucwpan. Return to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally. Garnish with thyme.

Pasta with Garbanzo Bean Sauce

Makes: 2 Serving size: 1 1/2 cups

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (about 2 large tomatoes)
  • 3/4 cup garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces dried whole wheat linguine, fettuccine or rigatoni
  • 1/3 cup chopped tomato (1 small)
  • 1 tablespoon crumbled feta cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs 

Directions

For sauce:

In a large saucepan or skillet, cook onion, garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper in hot oil about 5 minutes or until onion is tender. Stir in the 2 cups chopped tomatoes, half of the garbanzo beans, the salt and black pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat until mixture is boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Carefully transfer the tomato mixture to a blender or food processor. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Return to saucepan. You can also use an immersion blender right in the pot if you have one. Stir in the remaining garbanzo beans. Cook and stir over low heat until the sauce is heated through.

Pasta

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta.

To serve, toss cooked pasta with the sauce in the skillet. Divide mixture between two serving plates. Top with the 1/3 cup fresh chopped tomato and the feta cheese. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and garnish with rosemary sprigs.

Sorbet and Melon Parfaits

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup of seeded watermelon balls
  • 2/3 cup of cantaloupe balls
  • 2/3 cup of honeydew melon balls
  • 1/2 cup of mango or lemon sorbet
  • 1/4 cup of champagne or sparkling grape juice, chilled
  • Fresh mint sprigs (optional)

Directions

Arrange the watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew balls in 2 wine glasses or goblets. Place scoops of sorbet on top of the melon. Pour about 2 tablespoons of the champagne over the sorbet and melon in each glass. Garnish with mint sprigs and serve immediately.

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Fish has a high level of protein, is easy to digest and is considered an important part of a healthy diet. Some fish have an added bonus because they contain omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids – docosahexaeonic acid (DHA) – occur mostly in fatty fish like herring, salmon and mackerel. They are thought to lower blood pressure, to strengthen the immune system and to have positive effects on the development of the nervous system and the cardiovascular system.

Two newly published articles in the March 2013 science journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describe how the researchers analyzed the impact of omega-3 fatty acids at a systemic level and they also described their underlying molecular mechanisms for the first time. The teams working at Jena University Hospital in Germany and at the University of Pennsylvania examined the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the cardiovascular system and were able to show, for the first time, that DHA directly influences blood pressure.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, boost immunity and improve arthritis symptoms and, in children, may improve learning ability. Eating two servings a week of fish, particularly fish that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac death.

Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring and tuna, contain the most omega-3 fatty acids and, therefore, offer the most benefit, but many types of seafood contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Most freshwater fish have less omega-3 fatty acids than do fatty saltwater fish. However, some varieties of freshwater trout have relatively high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

Look for seafood rich in omega-3s, such as:

  • Halibut
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Swordfish
  • Trout
  • Tuna (fresh)

Only buy fish that is refrigerated or properly iced. Fresh fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like. Whole fish and fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from slime. When buying frozen fish, avoid packages placed above the frost line or top of the freezer case. If the package is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. These could mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen — in which case, choose another package.

Healthy Ways to Cook Fish

Baked Fish

Baking fish allows you to get the satisfying crunch of fried fish without all the fat. Just because it’s baked, though, doesn’t mean it’s healthy: Watch the amount of butter, oil, mayonnaise, or cheese called for in the recipe.

It’s easy and delicious to cook fish fillets in packets of parchment paper, a technique called “en papillote”. The fish is cooked by the trapped steam. If you don’t have parchment paper on hand, use aluminum foil to make the packets. The fish needs to bake for only 10 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees F.

Broiled Fish

When the weather’s not right for grilling, try broiling instead. Broiling is great when you want a fast, simple, hassle-free preparation with delicious results.

It gives fish a nicely browned exterior with the convenience of a temperature-controlled heat source.  For easy cleanup, line the broiler pan with a piece of greased foil.

Poached Fish

This gentle cooking method is perfect for seafood. Poaching keeps fish moist and won’t mask the delicate flavor of the fish.

To poach fish: use vegetable or chicken stock or a homemade broth of aromatic herbs and spices.

Use a pan big enough to lay each piece of fish down flat.

Pour in enough liquid to just barely cover the fish.

Bring the liquid to a simmer and keep it there.

If you see any bubbles coming up from the bottom of the pan, it’s too hot–the liquid should “shimmer” rather than bubble. The ideal poaching liquid temperature is between 165 and 180 degrees F (74 to 82 degrees C).

Steamed Fish

Steaming is another gentle cooking method. It produces a mild-tasting fish that is often paired with a flavorful sauce.

Rub the fish with spices, chopped herbs, ginger, garlic and chile peppers to infuse flavor while it cooks.

Use a bamboo steamer or a folding steamer basket with enough room for each piece of fish to lie flat.

Pour about 1½ inches of water into the pan.

Place the steamer over the water, cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil.

Begin checking the fish for doneness after 10 minutes.

Grilled Fish

When you’re grilling fish, keep a close watch. Fish only takes a few minutes per side to cook. If the fillets are an even thickness, they may not even require turning–they can be cooked through by grilling on one side only.

Brush the fish lightly with oil and spray the grill with nonstick cooking spray.

Place fish near the edge of the grill, away from the hottest part of the fire. (Don’t try to lift up the fish right away; it will be stuck to the grill).

Start checking for color and doneness after a few minutes once the fish starts to release some of its juices.

Turn the fish over when you see light grill marks forming.

Fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. If you don’t have a food thermometer, you can determine whether fish is properly cooked by slipping the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pulling it aside. The flesh should be opaque and separate easily.

White Wine and Garlic Steamed Clams

This dish makes a great appetizer.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds manila or littleneck clams
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1½ cups dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 large slices sourdough or country bread, each about ½-inch thick

Directions

Scrub the clams and rinse them in four rounds of cold water to remove any sand and grit.

Heat a 12-inch skillet with a cover over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté until fragrant and tender, about 1 minute.

Add the wine and cook for about 1 minute more. Add the clams and cook covered until the clams open wide, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.

Add the 2 tablespoons butter, the parsley and season with pepper. Toast the bread on a stovetop grill or in the broiler about 1 minute, turning once.

Discard any unopened clams and serve right away in bowls with the bread and pan juices.

 

Shrimp with Oregano and Lemon

This is another great appetizer. You can turn it into an main dish by serving the shrimp and sauce over rice or pasta.

The sauce is also delicious spooned over grilled swordfish or any other meaty fish.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup salted capers—rinsed, soaked for 1 hour and drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh oregano
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 1/2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined

Directions

On a cutting board, finely chop the drained capers with the oregano and garlic. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, along with the lemon zest and lemon juice. Season the sauce with pepper.

Heat a stove top grill.

In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Grill shrimp, turning once, until the shrimp show grill marks and are cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the shrimp to a platter.

Spoon some the sauce on top and serve. Pass the remaining sauce with the shrimp platter.

MAKE AHEAD The sauce can be refrigerated overnight. Bring it to room temperature before serving. Serve with crusty bread.

Red Snapper Livornese

Serve with rice or couscous and a salad or steamed broccoli.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup homemade or store bought marinara sauce
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives, drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 pound red snapper fillets

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and saute onion until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Stir in marinara sauce, wine, capers, black olives, red pepper flakes and parsley. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in an 11×7 inch baking dish and arrange the snapper fillets in a single layer in the dish. Pour the remaining sauce over all.

Bake for 15 minutes for 1/2 inch thick fillets or 30 minutes for 1 inch thick fillets. Baste once with the sauce while baking. Snapper is done when it flakes easily with a fork.

Salmon Rolls

4 servings

Ingredients

1 ¼ pounds center-cut salmon fillet, skinned and cut lengthwise into 4 strips

Stuffing

  • 1/2 cup plain panko crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped herbs (basil, parsley, oregano)
  • 1 garlic, minced
  • 1 small shallot, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt & pepper
  • 1 tablespoon truffle oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Mix the stuffing ingredients together in a medium bowl. Working with one piece of salmon at a time, spread about 3 tablespoons of the breadcrumb mixture over the salmon.

Starting at one end, roll the salmon up tightly, tucking in any loose filling as you go. Insert a toothpick through the end to keep the rolls from unrolling.

Place in the prepared dish and repeat with the remaining salmon strips.

Bake the rolls until just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the toothpicks before serving.

Italian Style Paella

Fregola, the pearl-sized pasta that is similar to couscous, makes an excellent substitute for rice in this paella-style dish; it soaks up a lot of the cooking liquid from the dish and still stays chewy.

12 Servings

Ingredients

  • Large pinch of saffron threads
  • 6 ½ cups warm water
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound fregola (2 1/4 cups)
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 2 pounds red snapper, cod or monkfish, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions

In a small bowl, crumble the saffron in 1/2 cup of the warm water and let stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a very large, deep sauté pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook over high heat, stirring, until lightly browned, 2 minutes. Add the fregola and sausage and cook, stirring, until the sausage starts to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, white wine, saffron and its soaking liquid and the remaining 6 cups of warm water to the sauté pan and bring to a boil.

Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, cover and cook over low heat until the fregola is very chewy and soupy, about 10 minutes.

Season the shrimp and red snapper with salt and pepper and add them to the pan along with the mussels, nestling them into the fregola. Bring to a boil. Cover the pan and cook over low heat until the fregola is al dente, the fish is just cooked through and the mussels have opened, about 12 minutes longer.

Remove the pan from the heat and let the paella stand for 5 minutes; the fregola will absorb a bit more of the liquid, but the dish should still be brothy. Discard any mussels that do not open. Sprinkle the fregola with the chopped parsley and serve.

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In many countries, new year celebrations begin on the evening of December 31—New Year’s Eve—and continue into the early hours of January 1. On this day revelers often enjoy foods that are thought to bestow good luck for the coming year. In Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people eat a dozen grapes right before midnight-symbolizing their hopes for the months ahead. In many parts of the world, traditional New Year’s dishes feature legumes, which are thought to resemble coins and insure future financial success, as in Italy where lentils are eaten and in the southern United States where black-eyed peas are served for dinner. Because pigs represent progress and prosperity in some cultures, pork appears on the New Year’s Eve table in Cuba, Austria, Hungary and Portugal. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries, a sign that the year has come full circle, are found on the table in the Netherlands, Mexico and Greece. In Sweden and Norway rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year’s Eve. It is said that whoever finds the almond can expect 12 months of good fortune.

Other customs that are common worldwide include watching fireworks and singing songs to welcome the new year, including the ever-popular, “Auld Lang Syne”. The practice of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians, who made promises in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot.

Times Square

In the United States, the most well known New Year’s Eve tradition is the dropping of a giant ball in New York City’s Times Square at midnight. Millions of people around the world watch the event, which has taken place almost every year since 1907. Over time, the ball itself has ballooned from a 700-pound iron-and-wood orb to a brightly patterned sphere, 12 feet in diameter and weighing in at nearly 12,000 pounds. Various towns and cities across America have developed their own versions of the Times Square ritual, organizing public drops of symbolic items ranging from pickles to pelicans to possums at midnight.

New Year’s Eve is a perfect opportunity to show your softer side by planning a romantic dinner for the special person in your life. Enjoying delicious food in a romantic setting with someone you care about is the perfect way to help make sure your New Year’s Eve is special. Here is a suggested festive dinner menu for two, that is intended to inspire your planning for a special evening.  The cooking of this dinner comes together quickly, if you do most of the preparation ahead of time, so that you have plenty of time to enjoy the evening with your loved one.

Italian Rice Balls

Rice symbolizes prosperity and wealth, so rice balls are good for New Year’s and wedding celebrations in many cultures. Another nice touch you can use with these is to put a small cube of mozzarella cheese in the middle of each rice ball. The rice balls can be prepared ahead of time and reheated in a moderate oven.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 1/2 cups dried bread crumbs
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, in cubes (optional)
  • Marinara Sauce

Directions

In a bowl whisk together the eggs, Parmesan cheese, basil, pepper and salt; cover and refrigerate.

Pour the chicken broth and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a large saucepan and bring to a boil; stir in the rice, cover and reduce the heat to low.

Cook the rice until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 to 17 minutes.

Remove the pan the from heat and gradually pour in egg mixture, continually stirring rapidly to coat the surface of the rice and prevent the egg from scrambling; allow rice mixture to cool in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Pour bread crumbs into a shallow dish.

Dampen your hands with water and roll 1-inch balls from the rice mixture. If using the mozzarella, insert a cube in the center of the rice ball. Be sure the rice completely covers the mozzarella.

Coat each rice ball with bread crumbs.

In a small, deep skillet, heat enough oil to an adequately brown the rice balls. Fry the balls 4 to 6 at a time, turning as needed to ensure even browning. Drain on paper towels.

Serve warm with heated marinara sauce.

Arugula and Tomato Salad 

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups arugula
  • 1 tomato, cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 ounce blue cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

Champagne Vinaigrette

  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Dash ground black pepper

Directions

Champagne Vinaigrette

In a jar with a screw top lid, combine shallots, oil, champagne vinegar, lemon peel, salt and ground black pepper. Cover and shake well.  Makes about 1/2 cup.

Salad

Arrange greens, tomatoes, cheese and hazelnuts on two serving plates. Dress with some of the salad dressing.

Lemony Chicken Saltimbocca

Ingredients

  • 2 (4-ounce) chicken cutlets
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 ounces very thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 4 thin strips
  • 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 tablespoons lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Lemon wedges (optional)
  • ½ bunch asparagus

Directions

Sprinkle the chicken evenly with salt. Place 3 sage leaves on each cutlet; wrap 2 prosciutto slices around each cutlet, securing sage leaves in place.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place asparagus on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven to roast until desired tenderness, usually 15 minutes.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Add chicken to the pan; cook for 2 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove chicken from pan and keep warm.

Combine broth, lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture and the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil to the skillet; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 minute or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly with a whisk.

Place chicken and asparagus on serving plates and spoon sauce over chicken. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Chocolate Truffles With Liqueur

The truffle yield will depend on how small you roll the truffles; You should get at least 15.

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature ( do not use margarine)
  • 2 tablespoons Frangelico liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted through a sieve to remove lumps
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder, for coating or rolling

Directions

In a microwave using medium-low power, melt chocolate in a medium-sized bowl– about 1 minute.

Whisk in butter and egg yolk until blended; then whisk in liqueur and powdered sugar until smooth.

Cover and refrigerate until firm enough to shape, about 1 hour.

Shape mixture into small balls, roll balls in cocoa, then place in tiny foil or paper cups.

The rolling process can be a bit of a messy job; if mixture gets too soft, return it to the refrigerator to stiffen up again.

Keep truffles refrigerated in a covered container; remove about 30 minutes before serving to take the chill off them.


It is tradition that the Sicilians (and many Italians) have a seven fish dinner on Christmas Eve. Some think that each fish represents a day of the week, but most traditions come from the observance of the Cena della Vigilia (the dinner of the vigil), the wait for the birth of Christ in which early Christians fasted on Christmas Eve. Other theories include: the number represents the three Wise Men or the Holy Trinity, or in some areas, there may be as many as thirteen fishes, one for each of the apostles plus one for Jesus. Each family and each region in Italy are different and it also depends on what kind of fish is available. In most of the southern coastal regions in Italy and Sicily, seafood is abundant and so it makes sense to include fish in the menu for this festive day. The dishes and the types of fish served for La Vigilia are ultimately dictated by geography. In Naples, for instance, the devout leave certain treats on the table overnight for the angel who heralds Christ’s birth; for this reason, many dishes are vinegar-based to preserve them. Around Lake Como in the north, large trout, which are only fished during the holiday season, are common.

In America, one can find a variety of fish to celebrate the feast according to his or her tradition. Just before Christmas, markets in New York’s Italian neighborhoods, for instance, stock up on a variety of Mediterranean and Adriatic products, such as triglia or red mullet; seppie called cuttlefish or inkfish in English (similar to squid but with a rounder body and thicker flesh); cicale a relative of shrimp; langostino a small, spiny lobster; tiny vongole or clams; baby eels for frying; fresh sardines and fresh anchovies. In my fish market located in Florida, Italian fish varieties are abundant this time of year.

While this Italian American Christmas Eve dinner menu does not include seven fishes, it is a menu in the spirit of the Sicilian Christmas Eve tradition.

Appetizers

Serve with Garlic Bread

Roasted Peppers and Anchovies

Ingredients

  • 12 oil-packed anchovy filets
  • 6 jarred roasted red bell peppers, skins, stems and seeds removed, cut into large strips
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

Alternately, lay anchovy filets and strips of roasted pepper on a serving platter in one layer. Combine parsley and garlic on a cutting board and finely chop together; sprinkle parsley-garlic mixture evenly over anchovies and peppers. Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper; let sit 10 minutes before serving to allow flavors to blend.

Sicilian Eggplant Caponata

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant, unpeeled, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 6 ripe plum tomatoes, chopped (or 1 large can crushed tomatoes)
  • 1/2 cup chopped green olives
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon capers, chopped

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a large enameled or stainless steel pot and mix well. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. You can cook this over low heat uncovered for about an hour, or cover it and cook over very low heat for several hours. The slow stewing method blends the flavors and the caponata is great reheated. This is an easy dish to make ahead of time.

First Course

Linguine with Clams and Chiles

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. pasta, preferably linguine
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 hot chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced crosswise
  • Littleneck clams (about 30-36), scrubbed clean
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until just al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water and set aside.

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet with a cover over medium heat and add garlic and half the chiles; cook, stirring often, until garlic is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add clams and wine, increase heat to high and cook, covered, swirling pan occasionally, until clams open and release their juices, 5–10 minutes. Using tongs, transfer clams to a bowl; set aside.

Bring sauce to a boil over high heat and add reserved cooked pasta and 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing pasta occasionally, until sauce clings to the pasta, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle in some more of the pasta cooking water, if the pasta seems dry. Add 2 tablespoons parsley, season with salt and toss to combine.

Transfer pasta to a serving bowl, arrange clams over pasta and pour any clam juices from the plate over pasta. Drizzle pasta with more olive oil and garnish with remaining chiles and parsley.

Second Course

Serve with Broccoli Rabe or other green vegetable.

Swordfish with Tomatoes and Fennel

Ingredients

  • 2 ( 3/4 – to 1-pound) swordfish steaks
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 pound whole cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons slivered basil leaves

Directions

Pat the swordfish steaks dry with a paper towel on both sides. Season each side with a pinch each of salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat the olive oil, garlic and fennel seeds in a skillet with a cover over medium heat until the garlic softens and becomes fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Lay the swordfish steaks on top of the garlic and fennel seeds and cook until they turn white on the cooked side, 5 minutes. Turn the steaks over and cook another 5 minutes.

Add the white wine and tomatoes, cover the pan tightly and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until the swordfish is easily penetrated with a skewer or paring knife. Timing will vary depending on the thickness of the steaks — thin steaks may take less than 5 minutes while very thick steaks may take as long as 15 minutes.

Remove the lid and transfer the swordfish to a heated platter. Increase the heat under the skillet to high and cook until the liquid in the pan reduces to a syrupy sauce, about 5 minutes. Stir in the basil leaves and pour the sauce over the swordfish steaks.

Dessert

Struffoli

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup honey
  • Rainbow (multi-colored) sprinkles
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Directions

Heat 2″ of cooking oil in a deep pan until its very hot.

Place flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well (indentation) in the center of the flour and add the eggs one at a time, mixing slightly after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix well to make a soft dough. Turn dough on to a lightly floured surface and knead until soft and elastic.

Divide dough into halves and lightly roll each half 1/4 inch thick to form a rectangle. Cut dough with a pastry cutter into strips 1/4″ wide. Use the palm of your hand to roll strips to pencil thickness. Cut into pieces about 1/4″ to 1/2″ long.

In the heated oil, fry only as many pieces of dough as will float one layer deep for 3 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned, turning occasionally. Scoop out with a slotted spoon or spider and let the oil drain before removing and then place fried dough pieces on several paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

In a different pan heat the honey until it is hot. Add in the drained fried dough pieces. Stir constantly and carefully until all the pieces are coated. Remove, place in a bowl and keep it in the refrigerator to cool slightly. Remove and decorate with the sprinkles.


 

Presenting fine cheeses to your family and guests over the holidays is a special treat. It is elegant, sophisticated and festive, yet can be the most effortless of all your holiday food preparations.

Try to include a variety of textures and flavors on a cheese board. Most cheeses belong to one of four basic categories: aged, soft, firm or blue. For a good variety, choose at least one from each group. Here are some examples:

1. Blue: The most intense.

Gorgonzola, Cashel Blue, Fourme d’Ambert, Roquefort, Stilton.

Blue Cheese Combination: Oat cracker + Roquefort + honey

2. Semi-firm: Subtle but rich.

Manchego, Cave-Aged Cheddar, Fontina, Garrotxa, Saint-Nectaire.

Combinations: Baguette + Manchego + quince paste

Dried nectarine + Cave-Aged Cheddar

3. Super-aged: Sharp and nutty.

Parmigiano-Reggiano, Asiago, Comté, Aged Gouda, Aged Gruyère.

Combinations: Sea salt cracker + pear + Aged Gouda

Parmigiano-Reggiano + dried sausage

4. Pungent: Strong smelling.

Taleggio, Èpoisses, Langres, Livarot, Pont l’Évêque.

Combinations: Raisin-walnut bread + Livarot

Flat bread + Taleggio + chutney

5. Mild: Soft and creamy.

Fresh Chèvre, Brie, Camembert, French Chaource, Robiola.

Combinations: Wafer cracker + piquillo pepper + fresh chèvre

Wheat cracker + sun-dried tomato + Chaource

Tips

  • You can also select cheeses by the type of milk used (cow, goat, sheep). This will ensure a range of different flavors on the plate.
  • Serve at least one familiar cheese.
  • For a party in which cheese is the main event, plan on buying 3 pounds for 8 people, 6 pounds for 16 or 9 pounds for 24. If cheese is one of many items being served, plan on buying 3 to 4 ounces per person.
  • Offer a selection of breads, including sliced baguette, bread sticks and crackers in all different shapes and sizes. It’s a good idea to vary taste and texture among the breads as well as the cheeses.
  • Jarred condiments and vegetables are quick and fuss-free. Try sweet preserves or honey, tart chutneys and spicy mustards. You can also add artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and caponata. If you have a bit more time, prepare caramelized onions, which complement most cheese plates.
  • Various other sweet and salty items can work as well. Try cured meats such as prosciutto and salami or candied nuts and pistachios. Assorted seasonal and dried fruits can include figs, cherries, apples and pears.
  • Separate strong-smelling cheeses. If you want to serve a pungent cheese, place it on a separate plate, so it doesn’t overpower more delicate ones. 
  • Set out a separate knife for each cheese, especially the soft varieties. Soft cheese spreads well with a butter knife, firm cheese might require a paring knife and aged cheese often requires a cheese plane.
  • Remove the cheese from the refrigerator an hour before serving―cold mutes the flavor.
  • If you’re serving cheese before dinner, choose lighter cheeses, such as an herb-coated goat cheese or fresh mozzarella.
  • If you’re serving cheese after dinner, then you can go one of two ways — serve just one rich and creamy cheese, such as the easy-to-find triple-crème cheese called St. Andre — or go for full-flavored cheeses like Manchego, Cheddar, Aged Gouda and/or Blue cheeses.
  • Arranging the cheese platter: Never crowd cheeses on the platter or they will be difficult to slice for your guests.

Wine and cheese are a classic combination.

  • Blue cheeses, such as Stilton or Gorgonzola, go well with dessert wines like Sauternes and Ports.
  • To accompany fresh cheeses like a goat or feta, choose a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir.
  • Soft-ripened cheeses, like Teleme or Brillat-Savarin, go well with Chardonnay.
  • For aged cheeses, like Cheddar, aged Gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano, serve Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Burgundy.

Cheese Appetizers

Focaccia with Pears and Blue Cheese

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 large Bosc pear, cored and sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast and honey and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of the flour and 1/4 cup of the oil; let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining flour and the salt and knead until smooth. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and let stand for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion, cover and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the sugar, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Oil a 9-by-13 inch rimmed baking dish.

Transfer the dough to the dish and press it down to fit. Dimple the dough all over with your fingers and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Let the dough rise until puffed, about 20 minutes.

Scatter the cooked onions over the dough. Arrange the pear slices over the onions and sprinkle with the blue cheese. Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil over the focaccia and bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Cut into small squares for serving as an appetizer.

Smoked Salmon Toasts

Servings: 16

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, plus 16 small fronds for garnish
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 medium fennel bulb (about 8 ounces), cored
  • Toast, recipe below
  • 4 ounces sliced cold-smoked salmon, cut into 16 even pieces

Toast

  • 4 slices (about 4-1/2×3-1/2 inches) firm, country bread
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Mix the mascarpone, dill, 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 2 teaspoons lemon juice in a medium bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel the fennel into long, thin strips by pressing firmly against it; season the strips with salt.

To assemble:  spread the toasts with some of the mascarpone and then cut each toast into four even squares.

Top each square with a couple of pieces of the fennel, a curl of the salmon, a dill frond and a few grinds of black pepper. Drizzle with remaining lemon juice.

Make Ahead Tips: You can make the mascarpone spread and cut the fennel several hours in advance. Keep both refrigerated; bring to room temperature before assembling.

Toast

Adjust an oven rack to 6 inches from the broiler and turn the broiler on to high. Set the bread on a baking sheet, brush one side with the melted butter. Toast the bread until it’s golden brown and crisp on top, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and cook the other side until golden, about 1 minute. While the bread is still hot, slice off the edges. Let cool slightly. Spread with the toppings before cutting into squares or triangles.

Make Ahead: Toasts can be made up to a day ahead; store them in an airtight container.

Spinach-Cheese Swirls

Ingredients

  • 1 sheet frozen Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 green onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

Directions

Thaw pastry sheet at room temperature 40 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Mix egg and water. Set aside. Mix Monterey Jack cheese, Parmesan cheese, onion and garlic powder.

Unfold pastry on lightly floured surface. Brush with egg mixture. Top with cheese mixture and then spinach.

Starting at short side, roll up like a jelly roll. Cut into 20 (1/2 inch) slices. Place on baking sheet. Brush with egg mixture.

Bake 15 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Makes 20 appetizers.

Mozzarella Sandwiches with Two Sauces

Makes 12 (antipasto) servings

Ingredients

For anchovy sauce:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 flat anchovy fillets, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

For the marinara sauce:

Makes about 3 cups

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
  • Pinch sugar
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

For mozzarella in carozza:

  • 1 (1-pound) Italian bread loaf, such as pane di casa (5 inches wide)
  • 1 (1-pound) ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into 6 (1/4-inch-thick) slices
  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoon milk, divided
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • Olive oil

Directions

Make anchovy sauce:

Melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat. Discard any foam from top, then remove from heat. Stir in anchovies, capers and lemon juice. Keep warm and covered. Stir in parsley just before serving.

Make marinara sauce:

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and sugar and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Keep warm. Stir in the basil and parsley just before serving.

Make mozzarella in carrozza:

Cut bread loaf in half. Starting from the middle halves of the loaf, cut bread into 12 (1/4-inch-thick) slices. Sandwich each slice of mozzarella between 2 slices bread, then cut off crusts, forming 4-inch squares (mozzarella slices should be smaller than bread slices).

Put 1 cup milk in a shallow dish and spread flour on a plate. Dip both sides of each sandwich in milk, pressing edges lightly to seal sandwich. Coat with flour, making sure edges are coated well. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill 2 hours.

Whisk eggs in a large shallow bowl, then whisk in 3/4 teaspoons of salt and remaining 3 tablespoons milk.

Heat 1/4 inch of olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Dip sandwiches, 1 at a time, in egg mixture, letting excess drip off, and fry 2- 3 at a time, turning once with a slotted spatula, until golden, about 6 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels. Keep warm in the oven set at the lowest temperature.

Cut in half diagonally and serve with anchovy sauce and marinara sauce.

Provolone Pesto Terrine

This recipe comes from my sister, who made it for us many years ago. I don’t know the origin of the recipe but It was a big hit and everyone in the family has the recipe. It is perfect for this season with its Christmas color combination.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup prepared Basil Pesto: see post for a homemade version: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/21/two-sauces-for-everyday-meals/
  • 1 8 oz package cream cheese
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 cup toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained, blotted dry and coarsely chopped
  • 1 lb thin sliced provolone cheese
  • Thin Italian bread slices
  • Cheesecloth, cut large enough to line a loaf pan

Directions

In a food processor combine cream cheese, garlic and white pepper. When smooth and creamy, place in small bowl and fold in pistachios.

Wet cheesecloth and ring dry. Completely line a loaf pan (8×4 inches), letting excess hang over edges.

Cut provolone slices in half. Slightly overlapping slices, line bottom and sides of the pan, extending halfway up. Divide remaining provolone cheese into 3 equal stacks and set aside.

Spread 1/2 of the pesto mixture over the provolone in bottom of the loaf pan. Cover pesto with 1 of the stacks of provolone, overlapping as you go.

Sprinkle cheese with 1/2 of the sun dried tomatoes. On top of that, evenly spread all of the cream cheese mixture, then sprinkle on the remaining 1/2 of the tomatoes.

Cover that with another stack of provolone cheese.

Cover with the remaining pesto, and then cover that with remaining stack of cheese. Fold the cloth over the top of cheese, compact slightly, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To serve, invert onto a serving dish, remove cheesecloth, and garnish with basil and pistachios. Serve with slices of crusty bread.


Wine has a long, rich history as a cooking liquid. One of the early “cookbooks,” compiled in the first century, “De re Coquinaria” (“On Cooking”), included dozens of recipes that used wine. Since the beginning of recorded history, wine has been considered one of the essential ingredients in cooking. The ancient Greeks used wine and there are numerous references to its use in their meal preparation. When the Romans came along, they spread the practice of cooking with wine throughout Europe and developed special varietals, such as Marsala. The Romans also prepared a concentrate of grape must (unfermented grape juice) called defrutum, which was kept around the hearth and used both to color and sweeten foods. In the East, centuries of Japanese and Chinese cooks have made wine from fruits or rice and used these liquids in cooking.

Italians take wine very seriously and, just as they eat regionally, Italians drink regionally. Go to Tuscany where you will find Chianti, Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Brunello di Montalcino. Head to Abruzzo and you will find Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo or Trebbiano d’Abruzzo on the table. The characteristics of a given wine are reflective of the culture in which it is made. Each of Italy’s 20 wine-producing regions proudly claim their own sub-cultures and cuisines, leading to many variations of wine. Piedmont and Tuscany are the Italian leaders in quality wines. Italy is respected as a wine-producing country and no other country can boast as many varieties. They use their 350+ varieties of domestic grapes, along with international varieties to produce wines in a class of their own. Approximately one-fifth of the world’s wine comes directly from Italy’s vineyards and there are over one million throughout the entire country.

The Major Types of Italian Red Wines

Amarone is made from air-dried Corvina grapes and is produced in the northern Veneto region near Venice, using the “recioto” method. This technique involves picking the grapes that grow on the outside of a cluster and have the most exposure to the sun. The result is a full-bodied wine in a style more common to warm growing areas. Amarones are aged for five years or more before bottling. Some, but not all, are aged in oak barrels. Amarone (the name means big, bitter one) has a powerful, concentrated, almost Port-like texture with hints of mocha. Amarone is ideal with roasted beef or pork and also with cheese.

Barolo is a powerful and full-bodied wine with a complex mixture of tastes and textures – wild strawberry, tobacco, chocolate and vanilla. Barolo gets better with age and is frequently referred to as “the king of wines”. Barolo requires many years (three years minimum by law) of aging to soften it and it is improved by decanting. Barolo is made in the Langhe Hills region of Piedmont, entirely of Nebbiolo grapes. Nebbiolo is a difficult grape to grow well. It thrives in the region’s clay, limestone and sandy soil, preferring to be planted on sunny, south-facing hillsides. Barolo is a perfect accompaniment to meat, rich pastas and creamy risottos.

Chianti has come a long way from its image of wicker-wrapped bottles with candle drippings alongside a plate of spaghetti. Today’s Chiantis are produced in Tuscany, in central Italy near Florence and Chianti has a government-controlled wine designation. That means all of the wine called Chianti has to be made within the Chianti area. Chianti is produced from primarily Sangiovese grapes, sometimes combined with Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. It has high acidity with hints of plum and wild cherry. Chianti and any tomato-based sauce are a classic wine and food pairing, but Chianti also goes well with steak or other grilled meat.

Barbaresco is also produced from Nebbiolo grapes, but tends to be a more softer wine than Barolo. There are just three, small growing regions for Barbaresco compared to Barolo’s eleven regions, so there is less Barbaresco available each year. Barbaresco, too, requires aging – a minimum of two years and up to twenty years – to meet its full potential. It also pairs well with red meat and the rich food of Piedmont.

Bardolino is a light, fruit-filled wine made in the Veneto region of Italy. Named after the town of Bardolino on Lake Garda, this wine has faint cherry flavors with a hint of spiciness. Like Amarone, Bardolino is crafted, primarily from Corvina grapes. Sometimes made into a dry, rose or sparkling wine called “chiaretto,” Bardolino is best served chilled and goes nicely with fish, seafood, light meat entrees, pasta and pizza.

Montalcino is Tuscany’s second most famous wine zone, after Chianti. Montalcino is a small, medieval town just outside of Siena. The wine district there is a warm, sunny, hilly area with few extremes in temperature. The cool evenings  insure high acidity. Brunello di Montalcino is created entirely from Sangiovese grapes. By Italian wine law, Brunello must be aged longer than any other wine – a minimum of four years. Brunello is subtle with overtones of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate and sweet vanilla. Drink it with the hearty dishes of Tuscany.

Cooking with Wine

Using wine in cooking is so natural, it probably would have occurred anywhere grapes could be grown and turned into wine. Wine can accent, enhance and intensify the flavors and aromas of food. The ways of using wine in cooking are numerous: marinate, saute, poach, boil, braise, stew or deglaze. Some cooks use wine for stir-fries, steaming or blanching. A splash of it straight out of the bottle is an added flavor in vinaigrettes or sauces.

Cooks use wine instead of water because wine adds flavor. But just as the four vinegars made from cider, sherry, red wine or white wine differ from each other, so do wines differ in what they add to a recipe. “Wine adds acidity to sauces,” says Jeff Mosher, chef for the Robert Mondavi Winery. “Food that has a level of acidity goes better with wine than food that is flat.” A careful cook, however, needs to consider the cooking preparation when utilizing wine. For example, wine could concentrate and become too tart after boiling down a marinade into a sauce. So, likewise, would any sweetness in wine; too much can be cloying. “It’s best to use red wines that don’t have huge tannins,” says Mosher. “When reduced, they leave a bitter flavor. I usually cook with merlot or pinot noir … never all cabernet sauvignon. Avoid wines labeled “cooking wine.” Not only are such wines often oxidized, but they are also packed with salt.

Finally, it isn’t necessary, as the old adage has it, to cook with the same wine that you will serve. According to Mosher, the flavor compounds and nuances of a very fine wine simply don’t survive the heat of most cooking. For example, preparing boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin doesn’t require an expensive red Burgundy. For these dishes, any of well-made, balanced, medium- to full-bodied red wine will do.

Red Wine Bagna Cauda

Ingredients

  • One 750-milliliter bottle Italian dry red wine, such as Nebbiolo
  • 1/4 cup marinated anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
  • 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Assorted crudités, such as carrots, radishes, fennel and bell peppers, for serving

Directions

In a large saucepan, boil the wine over high heat until reduced to 1 cup, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

In a blender, combine the reduced wine with the anchovies, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice and blend until smooth. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the bagna cauda to a medium saucepan and rewarm over low heat. Pour into a serving bowl and serve with the crudités.

Red Wine Glazed Meatloaf

Ingredients

  • 2 slices of sandwich bread, torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped sage
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • Chopped basil for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush a medium oval baking dish with oil.

In a large bowl, combine the bread pieces with the milk and mash to a paste. Add the egg, chopped parsley, sage, thyme, salt, black pepper and cayenne and stir until smooth. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and dry bread crumbs and stir until thoroughly combined.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, 1 minute longer. Let cool, then transfer to the bowl with the bread mixture. Add the meat and knead in until evenly combined.

Transfer the meat loaf mixture to the prepared baking dish and pat it into a 4-by-12-inch oval loaf. Bake for about 50 minutes or until firm but not quite cooked through.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the red wine with the honey, chopped tomato and molasses and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the all the ingredients. Boil until the glaze is thick and syrupy, about 10-12 minutes.

Brush half of the glaze over the parially cooked meat loaf. Continue baking for about 20 minutes longer until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 150°F; brush once more with the remaining glaze. Let the meatloaf rest for 15 minutes, garnish with chopped basil, slice and serve.

Red Wine Risotto with Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 pound fresh porcini or cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup arborio rice (6 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, such as Amarone
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • One 2-ounce piece Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for shaving
  • 2 teaspoons chopped mixed herbs, such as basil, chives, parsley, etc.

Directions

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, until browned. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate.

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer; cover and keep warm over low heat.

In the skillet, heat the remaining olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until almost evaporated.

Pour in 1 cup of the hot stock, or enough to cover the rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until the stock has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Repeat, adding 1 cup of stock at a time and stirring until all of the stock has been absorbed.

The risotto is done when the rice is cooked al dente, about 25 minutes. Stir in the butter and mushrooms and heat until the butter is melted and the mushrooms are heated. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Spoon the risotto into serving bowls and shred Parmigiano-Reggiano over the risotto, sprinkle with herbs and serve.

Chicken Parmesan with Red-Wine Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces uncooked linguine
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Large pich of crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups homemade or store bought pasta sauce
  • 4 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • Chopped Basil, optional

Directions

Sprinkle chicken breasts with 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and the salt. Combine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning in a shallow dish. Dip chicken in egg and dredge in breadcrumbs.

Heat oil in a large skillet with a cover over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.

Add wine to the pan and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and red pepper, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 1 minute. Add pasta sauce; cook 1 minute or until bubbly.

Combine the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Arrange chicken over sauce; top each breast with a portion of the cheese and a spoonful of sauce.

Cover the pan, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked and cheese has melted.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Serve chicken and sauce over pasta. Garnish with basil, if desired.

Chocolate-Red Wine Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter or butter alternative, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar or the equivalent of a sugar alternative
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups Italian dry red wine
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat for 2 minutes longer.

Working in two batches, alternately fold in the dry ingredients and the wine, just until incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack; let cool completely. Dust the cake with confectioner’s sugar and serve.



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