Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Appetizer

Bologna's Piazza Maggiore

Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore

This Italian region comprises the historical areas of Emilia and Romagna. Half the territory is formed by the Apennines and the other half is a large plain, which reaches east to the Adriatic Sea. The coastline is flat and sandy with lagoons and marshy areas.

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Emilia-Romagna is one of the wealthiest and most developed regions in Europe, with the third highest GDP per capita in Italy. Bologna, its capital, has one of Italy’s highest quality of life standards. Emilia-Romagna is also a cultural and tourist center, being the home of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the world. Its cuisine is renowned and it is home to the automotive companies of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Pagani, De Tomaso and Ducati.

 Lamborghini Gallardo

Lamborghini Gallardo

Popular coastal resorts such as Rimini and Riccione are located in this region. Other important cities include Parma, Ferrara, Modena, Piacenza, Ravenna, Forlì and Reggio Emilia.

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Despite being an industrial power, Emilia-Romagna is also a leading region in agriculture, with farming contributing 5.8% of the region’s agricultural products. Cereals, potatoes, corn, tomatoes and onions are the most important products, along with fruit and grapes for the production of wine (of which the best known are Emilia’s Lambrusco, Bologna’s Pignoletto, Romagna’s Sangiovese and white Albana). Cattle and hog breeding are also highly developed.

Castell’Arquato

Castell’Arquato

Tourism is increasingly important, especially along the Adriatic coastline and the art museum cities. Since 187 B.C., when the Romans built the 125-Mile Roman Road/Via Emilia, this thoroughfare has taken travelers throughout the region and connected them with the major trading centers of Venice, Genoa and central/northern Europe. This main roadway crosses the region from north-west (Piacenza) to the south-east (Adriatic coast), connecting the main cities of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and the Adriatic coast.

Emilia-Romagna gave birth to two great musicians, one of the most important composers of music, Giuseppe Verdi and Toscanini, the famous conductor. Marcella Hazan, one of the foremost authorities on Italian cuisine, was born in 1924 in the village of Cesenatico in Emilia-Romagna. She earned a doctorate in natural sciences and biology from the University of Ferrara.  Her cookbooks are credited with introducing the public in the United States and Britain to the techniques of traditional Italian cooking. She moved to New York City following her marriage to Victor Hazan and published her first book, The Classic Italian Cook Book, in 1973.

 Verdi Theater in Busseto


Verdi Theater in Busseto

Cesena

Cesena

The most popular sport in Emilia-Romagna is football. Several famous clubs from Emilia-Romagna compete at a high level on the national stage: Cesena, Parma and Sassuolo. With 13 professional clubs in 2013, the region is only bettered in terms of a number of professional clubs by Lombardy. It also has 747 amateur clubs, 1,522 football pitches and 75,328 registered players. Another sport which is very popular in this region is basketball and teams from Emilia-Romagna compete in the Lega Basket Serie A. Zebre rugby club competes professionally in the Guinness Pro 12 league. The club’s home ground is located in Parma.

Take a tour of Emilia-Romagna with the video below.

The Cuisine of Emilia-Romagna

The celebrated balsamic vinegar is made in the Emilian cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia, following legally binding traditional procedures. Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan Cheese) is produced in Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena and Bologna, while Grana Padano is produced in the rest of the region. Prosciutto di Parma is Italy’s most popular ham, especially beyond Italy where it’s widely exported. With its roots going back to 100 BC, when a salt-cured ham was mentioned in the writings of Cato, Prosciutto has a long and hallowed history in the Parma province.

Prosciutto di Parma

Prosciutto di Parma

Antipasto is optional before the first course of a traditional meal and may feature anything from greens with prosciutto and balsamic vinegar to pears with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar. Pasta is often the first course and Emilia-Romagna is known for its egg and filled pastas, such as tortellini, lasagna and tagliatelle. In some areas of Romagna rice is eaten, with risotto taking the place of pasta. Polenta, a cornmeal-based dish, is common both in Emilia and Romagna.

Seafood, poultry and meats comprise the second course. Although the Adriatic coast is a major fishing area (well-known for its eels and clams), the region is more famous for its meat products, especially pork-based, that include: Parma’s prosciutto, culatello and Felino salami, Piacenza’s pancetta, coppa and salami, Bologna’s mortadella and salame rosa, Modena’s zampone, cotechino and cappello del prete and Ferrara’s salama da sugo. Reggio Emilia is famous for erbazzone, a spinach and Parmigiano Reggiano pie and Gnocco Fritto, flour strips fried in boiling oil and eaten in combination with ham or salami.

GNOCCO FRITTO WITH PARMA HAM

Gnocco Fritto with Parma Ham

From grilled asparagus with Parma ham to basil/onion mashed potatoes or roasted beets and onions, vegetables play a major role in Emilia-Romagna side dishes. Residents boil, sauté, braise, bake or grill radicchio and other tart greens. They also serve a cornucopia of other vegetables, including sweet fennel, wild mushrooms, zucchini, cauliflower, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, onions, chard, sweet squashes, cabbage, eggplant, green beans and asparagus.

Sweet pastas may be a dessert or a side dish. Rich tortes, almond and apple cream tarts, sweet ravioli with winter fruit and strawberries & red wine often find their way to the table. Regional desserts include zuppa inglese (custard-based dessert made with sponge cake and Alchermes liqueur) and panpepato (Christmas cake made with pepper, chocolate, spices, and almonds).

Barrels of  Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

Barrels of traditional Balsamic Vinegar

Some differences do exist in the cuisines of Emilia and Romagna. Located between Florence and Venice and south of Milan, Emilia has lush plains, gentle hills and a cuisine that demonstrates more Northern Italian influences and capitalizes on the region’s ample supply of butter, cream and meat that is usually poached or braised. The Romagna area includes the Adriatic coast, part of the Ferrara province and the rugged mountain ranges. Food preferences follow those found in central Italy, with olive oil used as a base for many dishes, plenty of herbs and a preference for spit roasting and griddle baking.

TRADITIONAL RECIPES OF EMILIA-ROMAGNA

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PUMPKIN RAVIOLI (CAPPELLACCI)

4 servings

FOR THE PASTA

  • 10 oz all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • Pinch of salt

FOR THE FILLING

  • 2 lbs pumpkin, baked and the flesh scooped out
  • 7 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Nutmeg to taste
  • 2 oz butter
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 egg

For the pasta:

Mix the eggs, flour and a pinch of salt until thoroughly combined.

Roll out into thin sheets on a pasta machine and cut into squares, about 2.5 inches a side.

For the filling:

Mix the baked pumpkin pulp with the egg, the grated cheese and the nutmeg.

Put the filling on half the squares of pasta and top with another square. Press the edges with a fork to seal.

Cook them in abundant salted water and season with melted butter, sage and grated cheese.

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BEEF FILLET WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR SAUCE

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ lb beef fillet
  • 1 ½ oounces all-purpose flour, plus extra for coating the meat
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup beef broth
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

Cut the fillet into four equal slices and flatten slightly with a meat pounder. Coat the meat in flour and shake to remove any excess. Put the fillets on a greased plate, then salt them.

Heat a large skillet and cook the fillets on both sides over very high heat, sprinkling each with some of the balsamic vinegar.

In a separate saucepan, combine the remaining vinegar, the beef broth and the flour. Heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.

When the fillets are cooked, cover them with the sauce and garnish with parsley.

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ERBAZZONE (SAVORY GREENS PIE)

This pie is often served with slices of prosciutto.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs spinach
  • 7 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1 oz olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 oz pancetta, chopped fine
  • 1 ¾ oz butter
  • 3 ½ oz lard
  •  1/2 onion, about 2/3 cup
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Box frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), defrosted overnight in the refrigerator

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cook the spinach in boiling salted water until tender. Drain well and chop the spinach. Squeeze well to dry.

Sauté butter, lard and onion in a skillet. Add the spinach and garlic and cook for five minutes. Cool. Then, mix with some grated Parmesan, the olive oil, pepper and salt.

Lay one sheet of pastry in a rectangular oven-dish (about the size of the pastry sheet; cut to fit, if needed). Spread the filling over the dough. Dot the top of the filling with the pancetta. Cover with the second pastry sheet. Press down lightly.

Bake at 350°F until the pastry is golden, about 30 minutes.

Serve hot or warm.

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CIAMBELLA (RING CAKE)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
  • Grated zest of 1/2 a medium orange
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • Powdered sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch ring mold or a springform pan and set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt to thoroughly combine them and set aside.

Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly in both directions for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning.

The cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.


 

groceryFrom the 1940s on, the children of Italian immigrants could be found in all regions of the U.S., in almost every career and in nearly every walk of life. My parents were born in Elizabeth, NJ and my father lived in the Italian section of the city, called Peterstown. This section of the city was home to Italian grocery stores, produce stands, meat markets, fresh fish markets and poultry stores. When he married my mother, they moved to another part of the city.

As a child, I remember my father taking me shopping with him on Saturday mornings, where we would go to many of the Italian shops in Peterstown. He would purchase meat, chicken, cheese, bread and Italian cold cuts. I remember being overwhelmed by all the products that were crowded on to the shelves in those tiny stores. My father would stop and talk to many of his friends along the way and visit his relatives who still lived in Peterstown. On these excursions, he always bought me an Italian Ice at Di Cosmos’ store, a landmark in the area.

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Grocery stores were among the first businesses opened in the early Italian immigrant settlements, providing the staples of Italian cuisine: e.g., olive oil, pasta and canned tomatoes. But traditional Italian markets and delis served more than just the shopping needs for the Italian immigrants. They were also community centers, substitutes for the piazza, that is, places where Italians could meet friends and paesani (fellow townspeople), exchange news and speak some Italian.

Traditional markets were more likely to sell local and Italian American products than imported (cold cuts, cheese, oil) and more likely to sell reasonably priced products than the more exclusive labels at the upscale markets.

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However, in the 1980s Italian brands such as, De Cecco pasta from Abruzzo, bottles of Coltibuono Olive Oil from Tuscany and Chianti Ruffino wines began appearing in the Italian markets. Many older markets also diversified their inventories by carrying other ethnic foods as well. “A1″ in San Pedro, for instance, carried many products for Croatians as well as for Italians; “Bay Cities” in Santa Monica carried many Greek and Middle Eastern foods; “Sorrento” also served Italian Argentines and other Latin Americans.

The memorabilia on the walls: family photos, posters of World Cup Italian Teams, Italian or regional maps, a portrait of the Pope and tourist posters of Italy, would often identify a market as a more established Italian immigrant locale.

New York

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Successive waves of Italian immigration beginning a century and a half ago have blessed New Yorkers with the country’s best collection of Italian markets. While many of these shops can be found right in Manhattan, others are located in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. If you need to find an obscure pasta shape, this is your place. Choose among two dozen types of canned Italian tomatoes to make the sauce. A rainbow of Italian olive oils can also be found, as do seasonal items, like fresh black truffles and fresh porcini mushrooms. Additionally, a cured meat department, usually in the back of the store, offers hard-to-find cold cuts like culatello, a cured ham and other types of salamis.

In 1940, when Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia wanted to get pushcarts off the streets, he created a string of indoor markets, of which the Arthur Avenue Retail Market was one and is one of the few remaining today. Some stalls specialized in veal and variety meats, such as tripe and calf’s liver, while other stalls sold dried pastas and southern Italian prepared foods,that included pizzas, pastas and seafood salads.

Philadelphia

groceryphiladephia

The Italian Market is the popular name for the South 9th Street Curb Market, an area of South Philadelphia featuring many Italian grocery shops, cafes, restaurants, bakeries, cheese shops, butcher shops, etc. The Italian Market, frequently referred to simply as 9th Street, had its origins as a marketplace in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This area, outside the original boundaries of Philadelphia, was an area where the immigrants settled. Italian immigrants began to move into the area around 1884, when Antonio Palumbo began receiving Italian immigrants into his boardinghouse. Shops along 9th Street opened up shortly afterward to cater to the new Italian community and they have remained in the area to this day, with many of the present vendors tracing the founding of their businesses back to the first decade of the 20th century.

Cleveland

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In its earliest days, Gallucci’s was as much a neighborhood grocer as it was an “Italian” store. Starting with a wooden cart, founder Gust Gallucci first opened a shop on Cleveland’s West Side — then, during the mid-1920s, the family moved to Cleveland’s Haymarket District. Close to the city’s produce district, Gallucci’s also served the sprawling immigrant neighborhood on Cleveland’s Near East Side, once called Big Italy.

Gallucci’s grew into a gathering place for newcomers from Italy. There, shoppers and clerks spoke the language of the old country, even though the Italian spoken was broken into scores of regional dialects. More importantly, they could find familiar products unavailable in most other stores — fresh or dried pastas, fat links of sausage, imported cheeses, olive oils and vinegars and familiar table wines.

Chicago

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The Graziano grocery business dates back, approximately, to the same year the Italian Superior Bakery opened on Western Avenue, about 1933, but it was part of the Italian community on Grand Avenue. The business was founded by Jim Graziano, who immigrated to the States in 1905 from Bagheria, a town on the northern coast of Sicily.

The first Jim Graziano left the business to his sons, Fred and Paul, and now Fred’s son and grandson, both named Jim, are keeping the business alive and well. J.P. Graziano Grocery Co. has for some time been a wholesaler and an importer specialising in Italian foods and, as such, is well-known in local food industry circles. Specialties include olives, cheese, large sausages and baccalà (dried codfish).

Indianapolis

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Italian immigrants, John Bova Conti and his wife Josie, operated the J. Bova Conti Grocery at 960 S. East Street. According to, Indianapolis Italians, by James J. Divita (Arcadia Publishing, 2006), Josephine Mascari, a widow, and her son, Tommaso, were experiencing hardships in operating their grocery on Virginia Avenue. John Bova Conti moved in to run the store and ended up marrying the widow. It was not until the 1920s that they rented a small, wood-frame grocery with an adjacent residence. Signs on the store and visible goods, included Wonder and Yum Yum bread, fruit, macaroni, olives, cheese, Coca-Cola and East End Dairy products.

The store’s business ledger for 1924 through 1927 (housed at the Indiana Historical Society) indicates that many products were imported from Italy and distributed to other stores around the state. According to author Divita “After visiting relatives in Indianapolis, customers from smaller towns would stop at Bova Conti’s to buy 20 pounds of dry pasta to last them for a month. Among the store’s attractive prices were one gallon Berio olive oil, $3; one bottle, Florio Marsala, $2.25; five pounds, Sicilian caciocavallo cheese, $3.75 and one case Brioschi, 75 cents.”

Hibbing

groceryhibbing

Guilio Forti was one of thousands of Italians who immigrated to Minnesota’s Iron Range in the early 1900s hoping for a better life. But Guilio, already 50, was too old to work in the mines as others did. So he put the skills he’d learned as a baker in Rome to work and started Sunrise Bakery in 1913. From their North Hibbing location, the Forti family distributed Italian and Vienna bread by horse-drawn carriages to the mines.

Each generation contributed new ideas and products to the business. Guilio’s son, Vincent, added mechanization and a line of pastries, donuts and cakes. Vincent’s son, Thomas, together with his wife, Mary, created a deli that featured imported delicacies and foods long cherished by the Iron Range’s diverse immigrant population. And now their son, Tom—the fourth generation Forti—is helping Sunrise bring its Italian entrees, pastas, sauces and other ethnic specialties to locations throughout Minnesota.

New Orleans

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Not only had Sicilians established roots in the French Quarter, but those seeking to farm the land moved upriver from the city, to Kenner. These men were called “truck farmers,” because their land was far enough away from the city that they had to haul their crops in by wagon, later trucks. They would sell their produce in the Farmer’s Market, stopping for lunch at one of the groceries along Decatur Street. The groceries would lay out cold antipasti spreads during the day to sell for lunch.

In 1906, Salvatore Lupo opened the Central Grocery at 923 Decatur Street. He began to combine some of the antipasti items, such as mortadella, cheese, ham and olive salad, on loaves of round Italian bread, creating the now-famous Muffuletta sandwich. The truck farmers could pick up a muffuletta and, essentially, eat their antipasti as a sandwich on the return drive to Kenner. Other groceries and restaurants picked up on the muffuletta, which became a New Orleans institution, second only to the po-boy.

Colorado

grocerycolorado

in the 1880s, at twenty years of age, Carl L. Stranges immigrated to the United States from Italy. After his arrival in the United States, he moved to Grand Junction and resided there his whole life. Carl Stranges opened his grocery store in the southwestern portion of the downtown area, often referred to as “Little Italy”, due to the concentration of Italian residents and Italian-owned businesses in the area.

Three other grocery stores and an icehouse were located within a two-block area of the Stranges store. Carl Stranges owned and managed the grocery until shortly before his death in 1942. He willed the store to his niece and her husband who continued to operate the store until 1963.

Stockton

grocerystockton

Italian immigrants owned and operated groceries and delis in Stockton, CA just as they did across the country. Genovese immigrants, Joseph & Emilio Silva, operated a grocery store on Main and East Streets from 1890-1925 and a number of their wholesale providers were also Italian. Caesar Gaia, born in 1892 near Torino, left home at the age of seventeen to follow his brother Frank who left for California years earlier.

Gaia first worked on a ranch in Gilroy before moving to Stockton in 1914. He, along with Louis Delucchi, bought E. Fontana’s Ravioli Factory which later became the site of Gaia & Delucchi at 320 East Market St. The grocery featured ravioli, salami and other Italian specialities for their customers in San Joaquin county.

Los Angeles

grocerylosangeles3

The first Italian to arrive in Los Angeles was known to be Sardinian-born, Giovanni Leandri, in the 1820s. He operated a shop on Calle de los Negros, an alley situated near Old Chinatown. Many of the first wave of Italian immigrants lived in boarding houses in the area around what is now part of the Arts District and Civic Center. In the 1890s, Italian-Americans bought homes and opened businesses in El Pueblo, Sonora Town, Dogtown, Lincoln Heights, Solano Canyon and Victor Heights.

The corner of College Street and Broadway has been home to Little Joe’s since 1927.  Little Joe’s began as the Italian-American Grocery Company, established at Fifth and Hewitt, by Charley Viotto in 1897. The deli counter evolved into a full-fledged restaurant, named after, then, co-owner Joe Vivalda.

Cooking From The Italian Deli

The hero sandwich is one of the standout achievements of Italian-American cuisine. Taking a French baguette — which became faddish in Italian-American bakeries around 1920 — and loading it up with cold-cuts, produced a final product that was as American as it was Italian, though nothing like it had ever been seen in the Old Country before.

There were also hot versions that often included fried meat cutlets, fried calamari, eggplant parm and the great Italian-American invention –  meatballs. The heroes were aimed at working men who needed thousands of calories to fuel their back-breaking work. The hero/sub/grinder/hoagie is here to stay and will be a main feature at parties on Super Bowl Sunday, next month.

Italian Hero

Sal, Kris, & Charlie's Deli 33-12 23rd Avenue Astoria, NY

Ingredients

  • 1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
  • One 12-inch loaf soft Italian bread
  • 5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 pound deli-sliced provolone cheese
  • 1/4 pound deli-sliced Genoa salami
  • 1/4 pound deli-sliced boiled ham
  • 1/4 pound deli-sliced mortadella
  • 1/4 pound deli-sliced capicola
  • 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sliced pickled pepperoncini
  • 3 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

Directions

Soak the onion slices in a large bowl of cold water for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, split the bread lengthwise, then pull out some of the bread from the inside. Drizzle 2 tablespoons each vinegar and olive oil on the bottom half.  Season with salt and pepper.

Layer the cheese and meat on the bottom half of the bread. Drain the onion and pat dry. Top the meat with the onion, lettuce, pepperoncini and tomatoes. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons each vinegar and olive oil and sprinkle with the oregano. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Drizzle the cut side of the bread top with the remaining 1 tablespoon each vinegar and olive oil, then place on top of the sandwich. Cut into 4 pieces.

Antipasto Salad

grocerysalad

Ingredients

  • 1 large head iceberg lettuce, coarsely chopped
  • 1 (1-inch) slice (about 1/2 pound) deli ham, cut into cubes
  • 1 (1-inch) slice (about 1/2 pound) turkey breast, cut into cubes
  • 1 (1-inch) slice (about 1/2 pound) deli hard salami, cut into cubes
  • 1 (1/2-inch) slice (about 1/2 pound) provolone cheese, cut into cubes
  • 1 (16-ounce) jar peperoncini, drained
  • 1 (6-ounce) can pitted black olives, drained
  • 1 (7-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 cup Italian dressing

Directions

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the dressing; mix well. Add dressing and toss until well coated. Serve immediately.

Chicago Italian Beef Sandwiches

grocerybeef

Ingredients

The beef
1 boneless beef roast (sirloin or round), about 3 pounds with most of the fat trimmed off

The rub

  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

The juice

  • 6 cups of hot water
  • 4 cubes of beef bouillon 

The sandwich

  • 10 soft, hoagie rolls, sliced lengthwise but hinged on one side or a loaf of Italian bread 
  • 3 medium-sized green bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup hot giardiniera

Directions

Mix the rub in a bowl. Coat the meat lightly with vegetable oil, sprinkle the rub generously on the meat and massage it in. There will be some left over. Do not discard it; it will be used in the juice.

Put a rack just below the center of the oven and heat the oven to 325°F.

Pour the 6 cups of water into a pan and heat it to a boil on the stove top. Dissolve the bouillon in the water. Add the remaining rub to the pan.

Pour the water mixture into a 9 x 13″ baking pan. Place a meat rack in the pan. Place the roast on top of the rack above the juice. Roast until the interior temperature is about 130°F for medium rare, about 40 minutes per pound.

While the meat is roasting, cut the bell peppers in half and remove the stems and seeds. Rinse and cut into 1/4″ strips. Cook the peppers in a frying pan over a medium high heat with enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, about 1 tablespoon. When they are getting limp and the skins begin to brown, in about 15 minutes, they are done. Set aside at room temperature.

Remove the roast from the oven. Take the meat off the rack and remove the rack. Pour off the juice, put the meat back in the pan, and place it in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Let it cool for a few hours or long enough for the meat to firm up. This will make slicing easier. Chill the juice, too, in a separate container. Slice the meat against the grain as thin as possible.

Taste the juice. If you want, you can thin it with more water or make it richer by cooking it down on top of the stove. In Chicago beef stands, it is rich, but not too concentrated. Then turn the heat to a gentle simmer. Soak the sliced meat in the juice for about 1 minute at a low simmer.

To assemble the sandwich:

Start by spooning some juice directly onto the bun. Then layer on the beef, generously. Spoon on more juice. Top it with bell peppers and giardiniera. Serve with plenty of napkins.

Deli Style Italian Meatball Subs with Peppers

grocerymeatball

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 large meatballs, cooked (recipe below)
  • 1 1/2 cups Marinara Sauce
  • 3/4 cup shredded provolone
  • 1 (6.7-ounce) jar Italian Sliced Sweet Peppers, drained
  • Loaf of Italian bread or 2 hoagie rolls

Directions

Heat meatballs in the marinara sauce in a large saucepan over medium heat.

Fill rolls with meatballs (3 per sandwich). Top with shredded provolone and peppers. Serve immediately.

Italian Deli Meatballs

Ingredients

  • 2 loaves stale Italian bread (at least 2 days old), cubed
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 pounds ground veal
  • 2 pounds ground pork

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.

In a large bowl, combine cubed bread, milk and beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly until the bread absorbs the liquid. Add garlic, salt, pepper, parsley, basil and Romano cheese.

Add beef, veal and pork. Mix until fully combined. Roll into balls and place on parchment paper lined baking sheets. Bake for 30 minutes.

Makes about 40 meatballs.

Italian Cheese Cake

grocerycake

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ cups of ricotta cheese, drained overnight
  • 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 lemon zested
  • 1 orange zested
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup of sugar

Directions

Mix all ingredients thoroughly in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Pour in a 9 inch spring form pan.

Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour until firm. Refrigerate overnight. Remove cake from the pan and cut into serving pieces.


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Veneto includes the eastern part of the Po Valley and, to the north, a part of the Dolomites. Venice ruled for centuries over one of the largest and richest maritime republics and trade empires in the world. After the Napoleonic Wars and the Congress of Vienna, the Republic was annexed by the Austrian Empire, until it was ceded to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866, as a result of the Third Italian War of Independence. Besides Italian, most inhabitants also speak Venetian. Veneto is, today, one of the greatest immigrant-receiving regions in the country, the most recent of whom are Romanian, Moroccan and Albanian.

The regional capital is Venice. Other important cities are: Verona, Padua, Vicenza, Treviso, Rovigo and Belluno.

Treviso Piazza

Treviso Piazza

Numerous and important Roman traces can be found in this region: the best known example is the Arena of Verona. In the area around Venice, Byzantine influences are visible (St. Mark and the Cathedral of Torcello) and there are many outstanding examples of Romanesque and Gothic art. The Renaissance palaces are still numerous. In Venice, the Academy Galleries house the major collections of Venetian paintings from the years 1300 to 1700; while the Guggenheim collection exhibits international works of contemporary art, as does the National Gallery of Modern Art.  The Correr Museum is reserved for the Renaissance masterpieces.

Venice Canals

Venice Canals

In Verona, the Civic Museum of Art, is devoted to Verona painters. Padua has the famous Scrovegni Chapel with its Giotto’s frescoes, the Civic Museum and the Botanic Garden, the oldest in Europe. In Treviso, there is the Museum of the Casa Trevigiana with its modern furniture and sculptures.

Take a tour of Veneto via the video below.

Cuisine is a very integral part of the culture of Veneto and the region is home to some of the most recognizable dishes, desserts and wines in Italian, European and World cuisine.

Veneto is an important wine-growing area and produces: Soave, Bardolino, Recioto, Amarone, Torcolato, Prosecco, Tocai Rosso, Garganega, Valpolicella, Verduzzo, Raboso, Moscato, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Nero, Pinot Grigio, and Merlot varietals. Homemade wine making is widespread. After making wine, the alcohol of the pressed grapes is distilled to produce grappa or graspa, as it is called in the local language.

Veneto Vineyards

Veneto Vineyards

Prosecco is a dry sparkling wine. It is made from a variety of white grapes of the same name, which is traditionally grown in an area near Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, in the hills north of Treviso. The name, Prosecco, is derived from the northern Italian village of Prosecco, where this grape variety is believed to have originated. Around the holidays, I like to make pre-dinner drinks with Prosecco and different fruit flavors. My family looks forward to this special drink.

Spritz, in the Venetian language also called “spriss” or “spriseto” depending on the area, usually consists of 1/3 sparkling wine and 2/3 Aperol. Campari or gin may also be used.

The cheeses of Veneto include: Asiago (PDO), Piave (PDO), Monte Veronese (PDO), Morlacco and Grana Padano (PDO). The sopressa vicentina (PDO) is an aged salami, cylindrical in shape and prepared with raw, quality pork meat. It may or may not include garlic in its ingredients and comes in medium and large sizes. Prosciutto Veneto Berico-Euganeo (PDO) is obtained from the fresh meat of a top breed of adult hogs. The aroma is delicate, sweet and fragrant.

Treviso Radicchio

Treviso Radicchio

Radicchio rosso di Treviso (PGI) is a vegetable with a faintly bitter taste and a crunchy texture. The production area encompasses many town districts in the provinces of Treviso, Padua and Venice. The radicchio, Variegata di Castelfranco (PGI, has a delicate and slightly sweet taste and a crunchy texture. Veronese Vialone Nano Rice from Verona (PGI) is a type of rice with short, plump grains, which have a creamy consistency when cooked. They are commonly used in risotto dishes and have a high starch content. The Bean of Lamon (PGI) is particularly prized for its delicate flavor and extremely tender skin. The White Asparagus of Cimadolmo (PGI) has a characteristic scent and a very delicate taste. The White Asparagus of Bassano is a typical product of the northern part of the province of Vicenza. The San Zeno di Montagna (Verona) chestnut has Protected Geographical Status.

Tiramisù (a dessert made from mascarpone, coffee, Marsala wine, savoiardi and chocolate) originates from Veneto. Veneto is also home to a golden sweet bread, called Pandoro. This bread is produced in and around Verona according to an ancient recipe. Scalete, Pàndolo and Baicoli are all traditional sweets of the city.

Venetian Specialties

Veneto

Fritto Misto di Mare

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The Italian phrase “fritto misto” roughly translates as “mixed fry,” and it encompasses all sorts of fried foods: meats such as sweetbreads, vegetables and even desserts. But in Venice the term almost always applies to the city’s famous frutti di mare—fruits of the sea. The chefs of Venice’s restaurants and cafés feel that frying is one of the best ways to showcase the impeccably fresh fish and seafood from the Adriatic Sea.

In Italy, fritto misto is nearly always served as a first course. In Veneto, bite-size pieces of fish, fried and served with a squirt of lemon juice are a very popular antipasto. A  Venetian fritto is rarely vegetarian, given the city’s available fish. Consequently, you can sample all manner of fresh tiny fish, miniature soft-shell crabs, shrimp and many more. Natives stop by a trattoria at sunset for a plateful; then stroll for a while before dinner.

To serve 6, you will need about 4 pounds of fish. Here are some suggestions: fresh sardines, anchovies, baby squid, baby cuttlefish, small crabs, shrimp and other assorted shellfish, tiny whiting, sole or whatever else you would like to include.

For the Batter:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1/4 cup seltzer or club soda

For Dredging:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the Fritto Misto:

  • 4 cups vegetable oil, or a mixture of olive oil and vegetable oil
  • 1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled
  • 1 pound cleaned squid, cut in 1/2 ­inch pieces
  • 1/2 pound bay scallops
  • 1 pound mussels, steamed and shucked
  • 1 pound smelts or sardines
  • Sea salt
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper for garnish, optional
  • Chopped parsley for garnish
  • Lemon wedges

Directions

Make the batter: Put the flour and salt in a small bowl and gradually whisk in the wine to obtain a smooth, lump free mixture. Rest 30 minutes. Add seltzer just before frying.

Near the stove, put the seasoned dredging flour in a shallow bowl. Place the finished batter next to it and an empty plate next to that. Put fish and other ingredients for frying and a paper towel lined baking sheet nearby.

Put oil in a large wide, deep pot and fasten a candy thermometer to the side. Heat oil to 375 degrees F.

Working in small batches, dip a few pieces of fish, first into the seasoned flour to coat lightly, then into the batter. Put battered pieces on the empty plate.

Slip a few pieces into the hot oil and fry 3 to 4 minutes, until golden. Remove with tongs or a wire spider and drain on the paper towel ­lined baking sheet. Hold the fried food in a warm oven while continuing to fry additional fish. Make sure to regulate the heat below the pan to keep oil at the correct temperature (adding too many pieces to the oil will cause it to cool.)

Remove pieces of batter from the oil between batches with a fine meshed skimmer.

As soon as you have enough to serve, pile it onto a warmed platter. Sprinkle with sea salt (and crushed red pepper, if desired). Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges. Continue to fry in small batches until all the fish is used. (Recipe adapted from the New York Times.)

Crespelle with Treviso Radicchio

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The delicate flavor of the béchamel contrasts with the bitter taste of the radicchio, making a balanced and delicious dish.

4 Servings

Ingredients

Crepes

  • 4 ½ oz all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 oz butter, plus 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 pinch salt

Filling

  • 1 ¾ lb radicchio from Treviso
  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • White wine
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 7 oz diced Italian Fontina cheese
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

For the Bechamel Sauce

  • 4 cups milk, room temperature
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 oz butter
  • 3 oz all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Prepare the crepes:

In a small saucepan, melt the butter without letting it brown. Then remove it from the heat and let cool. Reserve 2 tablespoons for brushing the pan and add the remainder to the bowl where you will mix the crepe batter.

Add the flour, eggs and a pinch of salt in  the bowl with the melted butter. Whisk together until you have a smooth, fairly dense batter. Add the milk, slowly, while whisking. You should have a smooth batter without lumps. Let rest for 20 minutes.

Heat a nonstick pan or crepe griddle. Once hot, brush the pan with the reserved melted butter. Use a ladle to add enough batter to cover the entire pan. Try to make the thickness even across the pan.

When the crepe begins to separate itself from the pan, flip the crepe quickly using a spatula and cook the other side. Once you have cooked both sides, place the crepe on a kitchen towel or on paper towels. Continue making crepes until you have finished the batter. Let cool slightly before filling.

Prepare the béchamel sauce:

Put a fairly large pot over low heat. Add the butter and let it melt. Be careful not to burn or brown it.

Sift the flour and add it to the butter with the salt. Mix using a whisk to make a smooth, uniform mixture, known as a roux. Continue cooking the roux until it is slightly golden, while whisking.

Add the milk and broth to the roux, a little at a time, and mix with a whisk. Be careful not to let any lumps form. Bring the sauce to a boil and continue cooking to thicken it. Remove the pot from the heat.

Prepare the filling:

In the meantime, wash and cut the radicchio into very small pieces. Add the oil to a sauté pan and heat.

Once hot, add the radicchio, salt, pepper, garlic and a little bit of white wine. Sauté for a couple of minutes.

Then add the egg yolks, Fontina cheese and the sautéed radicchio.

Assemble for baking:

Place a layer of crepes in a baking dish and cover with some of the radicchio sauce; repeat the layers ending with a layer of crepes. Sprinkle the top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Bake in a 425°F oven for 15 minutes.

Marinated Grilled Tuna with Anchovy Sauce

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This is an old Venetian recipe for grilled tuna.

Tuna Ingredients

  • 6 slices fresh tuna steaks, about 3/8 inch thick (about 2 pounds total)
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for basting
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 onion, very thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf, crumbled
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Lemon wedges

Anchovy Sauce Ingredients – Makes 1/4 cup

  • 4 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions for the tuna:

Place the tuna steaks in a 9 x 12-inch ceramic or glass baking pan and add the olive oil, white wine, onion, parsley, thyme, bay leaf and season with salt and pepper. Marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 2 hours, turning once. Remove the fish from the refrigerator 15 minutes before grilling.

Prepare a hot charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill for 15 minutes on high. You may also use a stovetop grill pan.

Remove the tuna from the marinade and place on the grill. Cook, basting with olive oil and turning only once, until deep black grid marks appear, about 3 1/2 minutes on each side.

Directions for the anchovy sauce:

In a mortar, pound the anchovy fillets, garlic and parsley with a pestle until a pest . Slowly pound in the olive oil and lemon juice.

Pour the sauce over the grilled tuna and serve with additional lemon wedges.

Zalti (Cornmeal, Pine Nut and Raisin Cookies)

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Zaleti” means “little yellow things” in the Veneto dialect. Zaleti are a traditional cookie from the Veneto region. They are often enjoyed together with a glass of sparkling, aromatic wine like Prosecco della Valdobbiadene.

Zaleti, a rustic type of cookie once served only during the Carnival season, are now available year round. Like all rustic, farmhouse recipes, zaleti can be prepared in many ways. Each home cook had her own recipe and would prepare the cookies using the ingredients she had available. The peculiar characteristic of these cookies is their yellow color, which comes from the corn flour – an ingredient present in all of the farmhouses in centuries past – that is used in the batter. Carlo Goldoni mentions the cookies in his 1749 book “La Buona Moglie”.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb cornmeal
  • 1/2 lb all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 ½ oz sugar
    5 oz butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 oz raisins, soaked in warm water
  • 2 ½ oz pine nuts
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Lemon zest, grated

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix the cornmeal, flour, salt and baking powder together.

With an electric mixer beat the butter and sugar together. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.

Add the flour mixture and beat until smooth. Add the drained raisins, pine nuts, milk, grated lemon zest and vanilla and mix well.

With your hands, shape the mixture into small oval cakes about 3.2 inches long. Place them onto a lightly buttered baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minute. The baking time can vary according to the size of the “zaleti”.


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Like all the northern regions on Italy’s border that I have written about so far in this series, the regions are heavily influenced by the countries they touch.

Friuli

Friuli–Venezia Giulia is Italy’s most North-Eastern region and is the fifth smallest region of the country. It borders Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east. To the south it faces the Adriatic Sea and to the west. The region spans a wide variety of climates and landscapes from the mild Mediterranean climate in the south to Alpine continental in the north. The total area is subdivided into mountainous-alpine terrain in the north, hilly areas in the south-east and in the imterior the coastal plains area.

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The regional capital is Trieste; the other important cities are Udine, Gorizia and Pordenone.

The ancient Romans left many remarkable traces, mainly at Aquileia, which is a famous archaeological center. In Grado and Cividale, there are important architecture examples of the Byzantine style. The Basilica of Aquileia, which is in the Romanesque Gothic style, houses splendid mosaics.

In Trieste, the Revoltella Civic Museum, holds an important collection of sculptural and pictorial works from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; the Civic Museum of the Sea, shows the history of navigation from its origins to the end of the last century, with models, instruments and projects. The Civic Museum of Risorgimento is an interesting review of Trieste’s struggle for freedom; the Civic Museum of Art History holds a remarkable collection of archaeological relics, from the Paleolithic to the Roman Age with collections of archaeology, sculpture, painting, ceramics, coins and jewelry.

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Italian is the official national language. Friulian language is also spoken in most of the region — with a few exceptions, most notably Trieste and the area around Monfalcone and Grado, where a version of the Venetian language and Triestine dialect is spoken instead. The local languages are more common in the countryside, while in the larger towns (Udine, Pordenone, Gorizia), standard Italian is the predominant language.

Take a visit to the Friuli Venezia Giulia region via the video below:

Friuli Venezia Giulia Cuisine

The food culture has been enriched by the historical melting pot of peoples, languages and traditions, with influences from the Mediterranean and Slavic countries detectable in a range of flavors and recipes.

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The legendary San Daniele ham and wines from Friuli vineyards have become the ambassadors of Friuli Venezia Giulia food production. There are 8 D.O.C. zones where D.O.C.G. wines are produced, including robust reds such as Ramandolo, Picolit and Rosazzo, the strangely-named Tazzelenghe (do you know how it got this name?). Tazzelenghe, in English, means literally “tongue-cutting or stinging,” which refers to a great combination of acidity and tannins, born from a long, cool growing season. Tazzelenghe is an indigenous varietal that disappeared and only saw cultivation and production as recently as the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

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The foremost white wine produced in this region is the Tocai Friulano, as it is called now. Because of a confusion between a Hungarian grape called Tokaj and a French one called Tokay, the European Community had demanded a name change of the French and Friuli grapes allowing Hungary to keep the original Tokaj name.

Seafood dishes include crostacei e conchiglie (a crustacean and shellfish dish), specialities such as boreto from Grado, “scampi a la busara” from Istria, sardoni from the Gulf of Trieste and ribalta vapor from the Marano lagoon.

Montasio, smoked ricotta cheese with the taste of Alpine meadows is the best known cheese of the region and cheeses that are little known but much-loved, are formadi frant and Asìno. Dis

Delicacies such as Sauris cured ham, cured ham from Cormòns, salami, speck (smoked ham), local bacon, brusaola and pitina, smoked meatball of sheep, goat or wild animal are all characteristic foods of the region.

Specialties of the region include frico (a kind of cheese fritter, either soft or crunchy), with musèt and brovade (sausage with soured turnip). Other specialities include cjarsòns (ravioli with a sweet or herb-flavored filling) and gnocchi di susine (plum gnocchi) from Goriziano. You will also find trout (especially the Regina smoked trout from San Daniele), honey, Julia Dop apples, grappas, oils and Slavic desserts such as gubana and presnitz.

If you want to taste and buy typical Friuli products, go to the Farmers’ Market in San Daniele: it’s an open air market organised in collaboration between the San Daniele Agro-food Park and the Slow Food Movement.

Recipes from Friuli Venezia Giulia

friuli9 Frico with Potatoes and Cheese

Asiago is a good replacement for Montasio cheese.

Ingredients for 1 frico ( 4 people):

  • 8 oz (250 grams) of potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 9 oz (260 grams) of Montasio cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Grated Grana Padano cheese

Directions

Place potatoes in a pot of cold water; when it begins to boil cook them for 20 minutes. Drain and mash with a fork.

In the meantime chopped the onion. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet and add the onion. cook until lightly brown. Add the mashed potatoes to the pan with the cheese cubes. Flatten the mixture with a wide spatula and cook until the underside is brown.

Slip the spatula under the mixture and flip it over. Cook until brown on the bottom.

Sprinkle with the grated grana padano cheese, cut into four and serve as an appetizer.

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Fresh Pasta with Poppy Seeds and Sugar

This is an unusual sweet sauce not usually found in Italy.

For the pasta:

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 pound fresh egg tagliatelle or reginette pasta

For the sauce:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 ounces poppy seeds
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Directions

Make the pasta:

Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt and the pasta. Cook until al dente; then drain, reserving about 2 cups of the pasta cooking water.

Make the sauce:

Warm the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the poppy seeds and warm through until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Keep warm.

Transfer the drained pasta to a large serving platter and toss with the warm poppy-seed butter. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking water, as needed to thin out the sauce; it should coat the pasta nicely. Sprinkle with the sugar and toss again. Serve hot.

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Cevapcici with Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Sauce

Serves: 4

Ingredients

Cevapcici:

  • 8 ounces ground beef
  • 8 ounces lean ground pork
  • 1 onion plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Dash cayenne pepper

Sauce:

  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 1 small eggplant
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Dash cayenne pepper

Directions

To prepare the Cevapcici:

In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, garlic, paprika, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Roll the mixture into sausage shapes about 3 inches long and ¾ inch in diameter.

Preheat a grill (or heat a large skillet over medium-high heat). Place the sausages on the grill; cook until done, about 5–6 minutes, turning to brown each side.

Serve with the sauce and the onion, chopped.

To prepare the Sauce:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the bell pepper and eggplant on a baking sheet; bake until the eggplant is tender and the bell pepper skin begins to brown, about 30–40 minutes. When the bell pepper is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin, stem and seeds.

Slice open the eggplant and scoop out the flesh. Place the bell pepper and eggplant in a food processor, along with the olive oil, vinegar, sugar and cayenne pepper; purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt.

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Friuli Chocolate Fondue

Ingredients

  • 2 bananas
  • 12 fresh, ripe strawberries
  • 2 pears
  • 1 lemon, cut in half
  • 1 ¼ lbs (500 gr) dark melting chocolate of excellent quality, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream, slightly scalded
  • 2 tablespoons rum

Directions

Wash all the fruit. Slice the bananas and pears into wedges and rub with the sliced lemon to keep them from turning brown. Take care not to use too much lemon as it will alter the flavor of the fruit.

Melt the chocolate pieces in a double boiler.

Remove from the heat and add the rum and the heavy cream.

Serve the chocolate sauce in a warmed ceramic (or clay) bowl and arrange the fruit around it.


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Christmas is by far the most important holiday of the year in Italy—the festivities lasting from December 24th through January 6th. Family gatherings are the most important part of Natale. This is the time of year when families reunite from whatever corners of the world they may have scattered and, it is around the table or a tavola, that Italian families come together. As we all know, these holidays can sometimes be anything but serene; nonetheless, Natale allows parents and children, siblings and in-laws, friends and sweethearts—and sometimes a grandfather (nonno) or grandmother (nonna), or an old beloved aunt (zia)—the opportunity to see one another after long separations, spending significant time together over festive food and drink.

Natale is one of the few occasions of the year in which family traditions are revered above all else; skills, memories and team work all come together to create very elaborate banquets and fabulous dishes. What will be eaten during the festa is a kind of ritual; very often each single course is prepared in the same way it has been for generations. Days are spent in the kitchen—everyone pitching in—with lots of long, languorous hours between meals, spent relaxing and digesting and chatting—the long-awaited family conversations punctuated by the sound of walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts being cracked open and the shells tossed into the fireplace.

Antipasto

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The first course is often preceded by a classic antipasto with slices of cured meat, garnished with olives, cheese and, of course, hearty bread.

First Course

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Classic Lasagna

Tomato Sauce

  • 2 cans (28 oz. each) Italian tomatoes
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (6 oz.) tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Lasagna

  • 1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage, cooked and drained
  • 4 cups Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan Cheese, divided
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 pound lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
  • 3 cups shredded Mozzarella Cheese

For Classic Tomato Sauce:

Drain tomatoes, reserve juice. Finely chop the tomatoes and set aside. In a large saucepan, cook carrot and onion in olive oil until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add reserved juice, tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine, parsley, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

In a medium bowl, combine tomato sauce and cooked beef or sausage.

In a separate medium bowl, combine Ricotta cheese, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Pour 3/4 cup tomato mixture in the bottom of 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Layer one-third of the noodles, half the Ricotta mixture, one-third of the remaining tomato sauce and 1 cup Mozzarella cheese in the baking pan. Repeat layers. Top with remaining noodles, tomato sauce and 1 cup Mozzarella and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Cover with foil and bake at 350°F for 50 minutes; uncover and bake 15 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Second Course

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Italian Roast Chicken with Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs chicken pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
  • 20 fresh sage leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 cloves garlic
  • 5 potatoes (1 ½ lb), peeled and quartered
  • 1 cup dry white wine

Directions

Season chicken with 1/2 each of the salt and pepper; set aside. Finely chop 4 of the sage leaves; set aside.

In a large ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; saute garlic cloves and remaining whole sage leaves until garlic is lightly browned, 1 minute. With a slotted spoon, set sage aside for garnish. Remove garlic and set aside. Brown chicken, in batches, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add potatoes to the pan; sauté until browned, about 7 minutes. Pour off fat. Return chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan. Add wine, remaining salt and pepper, garlic cloves and chopped sage; bring to boil.

Place pan in the oven preheated to in 425°F (220°C) and roast, basting 2 or 3 times, until the sauce is thickened and juices run clear when chicken is pierced, about 30 minutes. Serve garnished with reserved fried sage leaves.

Italian Tossed Green Salad with Olive Oil Vinaigrette

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Dessert

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Struffoli

Ingredients

For the Dough:

  • 3 1/3 cups (400 g) flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon anise liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • The zest of half a lemon, grated
  • The zest of half an orange, grated
  • 1 pinch salt

For the struffoli:

  • Olive oil for frying
  • 3/4 pound (300 g) honey
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • Colored sprinkles
  • 4 candied cherries, halved

Directions

Combine the ingredients for the dough, knead it well and let rest for at least an hour, covered. It does take a while for the dough to absorb the eggs.

Pluck off a piece, roll it out under your fingers to form a snake about as thin as your pinkie and cut the dough into quarter-inch long pieces. Fry the pieces a few at a time in hot oil until brown and drain them on absorbent paper. Repeat with remaining dough.

In another pot, preferably round-bottomed, put the honey, sugar and water in it. Boil the mixture until the foam dies down and it begins to turn yellow. At this point reduce the heat as much as possible and add the struffoli. Stir to distribute everything evenly through the honey and turn the mixture out onto a plate. Using your fingers shape the mixture into a wreath with a hole in the middle or in a dome shape, dipping your hands frequently into cold water so you don’t burn yourself.

Sprinkle with colored sprinkles and arrange the cherry halves evenly. Struffoli will keep a week or more, if covered, and the dessert improves with age.


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We are in the midst of the holiday season and I love this time of year with all the fun things there are to do. You only need a few really good ingredients to create festive and delicious holiday food. Go for a mix of shapes and colors and your guests will love how beautiful everything looks.

While overindulgence is often the hallmark of holiday celebrations, your guests will appreciate party food that is nourishing and healthful as well as appealing. I like to arrange an appetizer tray with a mix of foods that can meet different dietary choices: vegetarian, gluten-free, low-calorie, etc.

Whether you want to host a few friends or have a big, open-to-all affair, the best way to make sure your guests enjoy themselves is to enjoy the party yourself—a relaxed, unruffled host makes guests feel welcome and at ease. With this in mind, do a little preparation ahead of time.

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At a recent get-together at my home, I arranged appetizer trays filled with Castello Aged Havarti Cheese cubes at room temperature, homemade crackers, Prosciutto di Parma wrapped pears, mixed green olives, Mission figs/roasted red peppers/Castello cheese kabobs and homemade cranberry sauce for topping Castello cheese squares. What remained after the party were just a few crackers – everything else – gone. I had many compliments on the food and my friends loved the Castello cheese and asked where they could buy it.

Here are my recipes for you to recreate for your next party. I guarantee they will be a big hit.

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Visit the Castello® website by clicking the photo above.

Sweet Potato Crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup of sweet potato puree (from 1 cooked sweet potato)
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped

Directions

Roast the sweet potato in a 400 degree F oven for about 45-50 minutes; then let it cool, remove the skin and purée using a hand blender until smooth. You will need 1 cup of sweet potato purée for this recipe; use any leftover potato for another use. Set the purée aside.

Place the flour, baking powder, rosemary, paprika and salt in the bowl of a processor. Pulse a few times to mix.  Add the butter and pulse until is the size of small peas. Add the sweet potato puree and honey. Pulse until a dough forms.

Roll the dough into a ball and divide it into 4 pieces. For easier rolling, wrap each in plastic wrap and chill for a 1/2 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut parchment paper to fit two jelly roll pans or cookie sheets. Use the paper to roll out the dough.

Roll the dough 1/4″ thick and cut into 2″ squares, using a pizza, pastry wheel, a bench knife or a plain knife. Prick each cracker with a fork.

Lift the parchment onto the baking sheet. Separate the crackers a bit, leaving about 1/4″ between them, so they crisp evenly. If you’re not using parchment, transfer the crackers to the baking sheet, leaving about 1/4″ between them.

Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. You will need to bake a second batch after the first finishes baking.

Bake the crackers for 12 to 16 minutes, until their edges are starting to brown. Switch pans after 10 minutes.

Remove the pans from the oven and slide the parchment onto the kitchen counter. Repeat baking with the second batch of crackers.

Store cooled crackers in an airtight container or tightly wrapped in plastic.

100_0864

Sweet Potato Crackers, Castello Aged Havarti Kabobs and Prosciutto Wrapped Pears

Castello Aged Havarti Cheese/Mission Figs/Roasted Red Pepper Kabobs

Ingredients

  • 7 oz block of Castello Aged Havarti Cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Mission figs, cut in half
  • Roasted Red Peppers, jarred, drained and cut into one inch cubes
  • Toothpicks

Directions

Drain the peppers on paper towels. On each toothpick skewer one piece of cheese, one fig half and one piece of red pepper. Repeat until all the cheese cubes are used.

Arrange the kabobs on an attractive serving platter.

Prosciutto di Parma Wrapped Pears

Ingredients

  • 2 pears, each cut into 8 wedges and cored
  • 8 thin slices (4 oz.) prosciutto di parma, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Directions

Wrap each pear wedge with a half slice of prosciutto and set on a serving plate. Combine the oil, vinegar and salt. Drizzle over the pears.

100_0865

Mixed Green Olives, Gluten-Free Almond Crackers and Castello Aged Havarti Cheese

Gluten-Free Almond Poppy Seed Crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups Almond Meal Flour (Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur are brands I use)
  • 2 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Sea Salt
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • Cracked pepper
  • Dried Italian seasoning

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Cut parchment paper to fit two jelly roll pans or cookie sheets. Use the paper to roll out the dough.

Mix together the almond meal flour, olive oil and beaten egg whites. This will make a crumbly mix that shapes quickly into a ball.

Divide the dough into two pieces and shape each into a rough square.

Roll out one piece of dough at a time, keeping the piece you’re not working with covered to prevent drying.

Roll out on the parchment cut for the pan.

Roll the dough 1/4″ thick and cut into 2″ squares with a pizza, pastry wheel, a bench knife or a plain knife. Prick each cracker with a fork.

If you’ve rolled out the dough on parchment, simply lift the parchment onto the baking sheet. Separate the crackers a bit, leaving about 1/4″ between them, so they crisp evenly.

If you’re not using parchment, transfer the crackers to a baking sheet, leaving about 1/4″ between them.

Repeat with the remaining piece of dough.

Bake the crackers for 12 to 16 minutes, until their edges begin to brown. Switch pans after 10 minutes.

Remove them from the oven, cool right on the pan and then move to an airtight container to keep crisp and fresh.

100_0870

Port Wine Cranberry Sauced Havarti

This appetizer is great with the Almond Crackers.

Makes about 1 3/4 cups

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups port wine
  • 2 packages fresh cranberries
  • 4 long strips orange zest
  • 7 oz block of Castello Aged Havarti Cheese, room temperature

Directions

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and port wine and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the wine has reduced slightly, about 4 minutes.

Add the cranberries and the orange zest. Simmer until the cranberries soften and the sauce thickens, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat; remove and discard the zest.

Set aside to cool for a few several minutes. Place the cheese in an attractive serving dish and spoon the warm sauce over the cheese.

Find more pairing ideas and uses for Castello Aged Havarti by following the #CastelloArt hashtag and @CastelloUSA on twitter!


winterproduce
Just because the farmers’ markets are closed for winter doesn’t mean you have to do without fresh veggies at the dinner table. Unfortunately, in the winter months, we often retreat from fresh produce, thinking it’s not as available or as tasty. From hearty root vegetables to bright, sweet citrus, winter produce delivers a surprising range of flavorful fruits and vegetables for you to cook. You may be surprised by how many locally grown root vegetables and cabbages are available from cold storage and how many greens are coming out of local cold frames and greenhouses at this time of year. Here are some recipes from appetizers through dessert that use winter fruits and vegetables.

winterproduce5

Winter Vegetable Soup

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 leeks, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup pearled barley
  • 8 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 10 thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 pounds celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Directions

In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the onion, leeks and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the barley. Add the vegetable broth, water, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a boil.

Add the celery root and parsnips and season with salt and pepper. Simmer over moderately low heat until the barley and root vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes.

Stir in the spinach and nutmeg and simmer for 5 minutes. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste and serve in deep bowls.

winterproduce3

Seafood with Grapefruit-Onion Salad

8 First Course Servings

Ingredients

  • 4 small ruby red grapefruits (about 2 pounds total)
  • 3 tablespoons pickled cocktail onions
  • 2 tablespoons packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 24 sea scallops or medium shrimp (about 2 pounds) or a combination of both
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Directions

Using a very sharp paring knife to peel the grapefruits, carefully removing all of the bitter white pith. Over a mixing bowl, carefully cut in between the membranes of the  grapefruit sections and let them drop into the bowl. Stir in the pickled cocktail onions and parsley leaves and season with pepper.

Pat the sea scallops or shrimp dry and season them all over with salt. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil until it is shimmering. Cook the scallops over moderately high heat, turning once, until they are browned and just cooked through, about 4 minutes total. Spoon the pickled onion and grapefruit salad onto small serving plates and arrange the scallops around the salad. Drizzle with additional olive oil and serve at once.

winterproduce2

Stuffed and Baked Acorn Squash

Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 4 acorn squash (about 1 pound each), halved lengthwise and seeded
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups diced celery
  • 2 leeks, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
  • 10 ounces day-old rustic bread—crusts removed, bread cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 6 cups)
  • 7 ounces vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup vegetable stock or chicken broth

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the cut sides of the squash with olive oil and season the cavities with salt and pepper. Place the squash cut side down on two baking sheets covered with parchment paper and roast for about 25 minutes, until just tender.

In a large skillet, melt the butter in the 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the celery, leeks and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes.

Add the apples and thyme and cook over moderately high heat until the apples just start to soften, about 5 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. Add the bread, chestnuts, parsley, cream and stock and toss well. Season with salt and pepper.

Turn the squash cut side up. Spoon the stuffing into the cavities and bake until the squash are tender and the stuffing is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve.

winterproduce1

Braised Beef over Butternut Squash Polenta

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds boneless beef chuck shoulder pot roast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3 medium parsnips (about 12 ounces), peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion (1 medium)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 teaspoons browning and seasoning sauce, such as Kitchen Bouquet
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 3/4 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup butternut squash, fresh cooked or frozen and thawed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • Fresh parsley leaves

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Trim fat from beef. Cut meat into 1 1/2-inch pieces.

In an ovenproof 4-quart Dutch oven heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Cook meat, half at a time, until browned, stirring frequently. Remove meat from the Dutch oven.

In the same Dutch oven cook celery, carrots, parsnips and onion in the remaining oil for 5 to 7 minutes or until the vegetables start to brown. Stir in wine and rosemary.

Add the 1 1/2 cups water, beef broth and Kitchen Bouquet; cook and stir over medium heat until boiling, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the Dutch oven.

Place pan, covered, in the oven and bake about 2 hours or until the meat is very tender.

For the polenta:

In a medium saucepan combine milk and 1/4 cup water; bring to boiling. In a medium bowl stir together the 1 cup cold water and polenta or cornmeal. Slowly add the polenta mixture to the boiling milk mixture. Reduce heat to medium low. Stir in squash, salt and pepper.

Cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until mixture is very thick, stirring frequently, and adjusting heat as needed to maintain a slow boil.

To finish the stew:

Stir together the 1/4 cup cold water and flour. Add to the meat mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly; cook and stir for 1 minute more.

Spoon soft polenta into shallow serving bowls. Top with braised meat and vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley leaves.

winterproduce6

Upside-Down Cranberry-Ginger Cake

Ingredients

Topping:

  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350° F.

For the topping:

Heat a 9-inch round cake pan over medium heat and coat the pan with cooking spray. Add brown sugar and the 2 tablespoons butter to pan, stirring until melted. Stir in ginger; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; arrange cranberries on top of the brown sugar mixture.

For the cake:

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder and salt.

Combine 1/4 cup butter and granulated sugar in an electric mixer bowl; beat at high speed until fluffy. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture; mix well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar with a mixer at medium speed until stiff peaks form in another bowl. Fold egg whites into batter; pour batter over cranberries in the prepared cake pan.

Bake for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan 15 minutes; run a knife around outside edge. Place a plate upside down on top of the cake pan; invert cake onto plate.



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