Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Cheese

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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gnocchi headerIt seems that nearly every nation has some form of dumpling and it’s easy to see why. They are tasty, versatile and make excellent use of leftover ingredients. In Italy, dumplings are collectively known as gnocchi and are made in several different styles. In the family run trattorias of Rome, you can sample some of the best gnocchi every Thursday night in a citywide tradition. Just like most Italian cooking, these delicious lumps do not just vary from region to region, but from household to household as well, depending upon what is available. The most common way to prepare gnocchi is to combine potatoes (boiled, peeled or mashed) with flour to form soft bite-size lumps of dough. Each gnocco is then ridged along one side like a seashell. Gnocchi also come in different sizes, with gnocchetti being the smallest version.

Other types of gnocchi are made with semolina flour, milk and cheese – also known as Gnocchi alla Romana. Some versions are made with regular flour and other kinds can be made with leftover bread. Florence’s strozzapreti are gnocchi made from a combination of spinach and ricotta. Another spinach/ricotta gnocchi is from Lombardy called malfatti, meaning “malformed”, since these gnocchi are made from leftover ravioli filling and do not have a uniform shape. What makes gnocchi so popular is its versatility – simple ingredients like potatoes and semolina flour, vegetables, mushrooms and cheeses can be combined to make endless variations.

See two of my previous posts on the different types of gnocchi and how to make them:

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/10/16/how-to-make-homemade-gnocchi/

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/05/23/need-some-new-potato-recipes/

Woodcut from Maccaronee, by Merlin Cocai, 1521. Revelers eating gnocchi. From Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, 1986)

Woodcut from Maccaronee, by Merlin Cocai, 1521. Revelers eating gnocchi. From Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, 1986)

In early writings, gnocco (singular for gnocchi) is sometimes replaced by maccherone, a generic term for pasta. The Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini De Vita tells us that gnocchi is one of the earliest pastas and is originally a Germanic word describing the distinctive shape of gnocchi. Gnocchi was originally from the Middle East, but when the Romans explored the area, they took back with them the recipe for gnocchi. Thus, it was brought with them when they settled European land, in particular, Italy. Here, gnocchi most strongly rooted itself. Various regions began to invent their own form of the dish and introduce them to other neighboring countries. When Italians immigrated into South America by way of Argentina and North America, the recipe for gnocchi went with them.

Recipes for gnocchi have been documented back to the 1300’s. In some parts of Italy, gnocchi was made of fine durum wheat. Elsewhere, it was chestnut, rye, rice or barley flour. When poverty struck, gnocchi might mean leftovers bound with breadcrumbs. We do know that potatoes came in very late as an ingredient and were slow to gain a following. An early recipe for potato gnocchi, circa 1834, calls for just one part potato to three parts flour. It takes another century for modern gnocchi to emerge—where the potato is the main ingredient, with only enough flour to bind it into a workable dough.

Commercial gnocchi is readily available, but it’s worth the effort to make your own. Essentially, you mix cooked, riced potatoes with egg, then knead in some flour. There’s no special equipment required; the familiar grooved pattern is made with a table fork. Gnocchi’s delicate flavor pairs well with robust sauces, from tomato to pesto to gorgonzola. Because they cook more quickly than traditional pasta, gnocchi are a great meal idea for weeknights. Just keep an eye on them, because as soon as they float to the top, they’re ready to sauce and serve!

CrispyGnocchi_04_mini

While gnocchi are simple enough to make from scratch, there are several varieties that can be found pre-made in supermarkets or in Italian specialty stores. Pre-packaged gnocchi, depending upon ingredients, can be found fresh (refrigerated) or frozen. Pre-packaged gnocchi should not be avoided since there are several very good brands. When buying gnocchi in the store, look for the “fresh” looking kind in the refrigerated section (usually next to the fresh pasta), preferably in a well-sealed or vacuum container. The package should be heavy for its size, as dense gnocchi will be less likely to fall apart when cooking. There are also several brands of frozen gnocchi that cook up well, so long as they remain frozen before dropping them in the boiling water, otherwise they will turn into soggy mashed potatoes if allowed to thaw.

Gnocchi in the dried pasta section is usually of the semolina variety, but you may also find vacuum-sealed potato gnocchi as well. Dried semolina gnocchi are convenient and can be tasty, but its taste and texture resembles more of a pasta than fresh semolina gnocchi. With dried potato gnocchi, there just does not seem to be enough moisture left in the dumplings, making them lighter than other varieties. Because of this lack of moisture, the gnocchi tend to fall apart somewhat and often loose their shape. The rule of thumb for buying gnocchi is: get the closest thing to making it yourself – fresh/refrigerated or frozen.

Making Homemade Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs potatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup or more for the work surface
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

A General Rule of Thumb: 1 medium-sized potato per serving or person. For every potato, you want to use approximately 1/2 cup of flour.

Directions

First, clean and peel potatoes. Remove any brown spots. Cut potatoes into 1” cubes; be sure to cut them into cubes consistent in size so that they cook evenly. Place cut potatoes in a medium-sized pot; fill with water just to cover. Add salt and cover with a lid. Stirring occasionally, boil potatoes for about 20 minutes or until fork tender. Over-boiling will cause potatoes to become mushy and too wet.

Drain the potatoes well. Allow them to cool in a colander. Rice potatoes using a potato ricer into a kitchen towel to remove excess water.

Combine potatoes, 2 ½ cups flour, egg and salt in the work bowl of a processor. Pulse just until the dough comes together.

Once the dough come together, turn out onto a floured board (using as much of the ½ cup flour as needed) and knead into a wide rectangle shape.

Gnocchi step 1

Cut the dough into about 8 pieces, 4 inches long.

Gnocchi-step 2

For shorter, heavy gnocchi, roll dough into thick ropes and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Gnocchi-step 4

Use a fork to make ridges on the side of each gnocchi.

Gnocchi-step 5

For thinner gnocchi, roll long ropes. Cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces and place on a floured tray. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Gnocchi-step 3

Note: While you are shaping gnocchi, finished gnocchi should be kept on a heavily floured tray as to prevent sticking together. Also, keep them in a cool place until ready to cook for no longer than 45 minutes or else place them in the freezer.

Cooking Gnocchi:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add salt and then gnocchi. Gnocchi are finished once they float to the top, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and toss in a saucepan with your favorite sauce.

For best taste and texture, allow gnocchi to “sit” in their sauce once cooked for about 5 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

gnocchi and peas

Fresh Peas with Lettuce and Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen potato gnocchi or homemade
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1 head Boston or other loose-leaf lettuce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 4 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook gnocchi until they float to the top; drain and keep warm.

Place butter in a large, heavy pan; heat over medium heat until melted. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

Wash lettuce and trim away the stalk end. Shake water off lettuce (it’s OK if some water remains) and add to the pan. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the peas. Cook about 3 minutes or until the peas are warm.

Remove pea mixture from the pan and keep warm. Add cream to the pan and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Return pea mixture to the pan, add gnocchi and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

gnocchi and sausage

Gnocchi with Italian Sausage 

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 teaspoon loose saffron threads
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
  • 26-28 oz container of Italian diced tomatoes
  • 1 (1-pound) package potato gnocchi  or homemade
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add the garlic and sausage. Saute, stirring frequently, until the sausage is cooked through. Add the saffron threads, basil and diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and continue simmering for about 15-20 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi to the boiling water and cook gnocchi until they float to the top. Once finished, drain and toss with the sauce in the saucepan for about 2 minutes to coat. Serve topped with Pecorino Romano cheese.

Serves 4

olivegardenchickengnocci

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced celery
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 (14-ounce) can low sodium chicken broth
  • Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup finely shredded carrots
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 cup diced cooked chicken breast
  • 1 (16-ounce) package gnocchi or homemade

Directions

Melt the butter into the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth followed by the milk. Simmer until thickened.

Stir in a 1/2 teaspoon salt, the thyme, nutmeg, carrots, spinach, chicken and gnocchi. Simmer until the soup is heated through.

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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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Cliff_at_Tropea,_Italy,_Sep_2005

Calabria is at the toe of the boot, the extreme south of Italy – lapped by the crystal blue Ionian and Tyrrhenian Seas and separated from Sicily by the Strait of Messina. The warm climate, the beautiful colors of the sea, rocky coasts that alternate with sandy beaches, the classic flavors of local foods and the vestiges of its ancient origins make Calabria a unique place in both winter and summer. The provinces of Calabria are: Catanzaro (regional capital), Reggio Calabria, Cosenza, Crotone and Vibo Valentia.

With farmland sparse in Calabria, every viable plot is cultivated to its greatest advantage. Tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, artichokes, beans, onions, peppers, asparagus, melons, citrus fruits, grapes, olives, almonds, figs and mountain-loving herbs grow well in the area. Calabrians tend to focus on the high quality of their ingredients, so that virtually everything picked from a garden is useable and worthy of praise.

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Calabrians use the mountainous area covering most of the region to raise pigs, goats and sheep and comb the woods for chestnuts, acorns and wild mushrooms to add rustic flavors to their cooking.

Fishermen have little trouble finding swordfish, cod and sardines and shrimp and lobster are common on their tables. The inland freshwater lakes and streams offer trout in abundance.

Due to the humid climate and the high risk of rapid molding and spoilage, food preservation has become a fine art in Calabria. Oiling, salting, curing, smoking – almost all of the area’s food products can be found preserved in some form or another. Calabria’s many varieties of cured meats and sausages are served alongside fresh produce and the local pancetta pairs perfectly with plump melons in summer.

Calabrians do their best to utilize the entire animal, so the fact that the organ meats are so prized by locals comes as no great surprise. The spicy-hot tang of nduja (also known as ‘ndugghi) is both a complex and singularly unusual flavor. Made from pig’s fat and organ meats mixed with liberal local pepperoncinis, this salami-style delicacy is a testament to the Calabrian patience in waiting until foods have reached their perfection. In this case, waiting for the salami to cure for an entire year. Other salamis such as capicola calabrese and soppressata di calabria also come from the region and are served alongside local breads, cheeses and Calabrian wines.

Spelinga_Nduja

Nduja

Breads, cheeses and pastas are all important to Calabrian cooking. Cheeses lean toward the goat and/or sheep milk varieties, though cow’s milk cheeses are becoming more common. Pane del pescatore (“fisherman’s bread”) is a local specialty rich with eggs and dried fruits. Focaccia and pita breads are popular in the region, due to Greek and Arabic influences. Greek influence still pervades in eggplant, swordfish and sweets by incorporating figs, almonds and honey into the preparations. Similarly, special pastries and desserts take on a Greek flavor with many being fried and dipped in honey.

Calabrian pastas are hearty and varied, with the names of some of the more creative cuts, like ricci di donna (or “curls of the lady”) and capieddi ‘e prieviti (or “hairs of the priest”), belying a whimsical spirit of the region’s people. Fusilli is a common pasta component in Calabrian dishes, as are scilateddri, lagane, cavateddri and maccheroni.

Wine is not produced in huge quantities in the region, though the small batches are excellent in flavor and heavily influenced by Greek varieties. Ciró wines are produced using the same ancient varieties of grapes, as wines produced in antiquity for local heroes of the Olympic games. The grapes are still grown primarily in the Cosenza province of Calabria and Ciró wines often take up to four years to reach maturity. Calabria also turns out sweet whites, such as Greco di Bianco.

hot peppers

Calabrian hot pepper is found in many Calabrian dishes – toasted bread with n’duja sausage or sardines, pork sausages, pasta sauces and fish dishes will have hot pepper added.  A fondness for spicy food shows in the popularity of all types of peppers and, unusual for Italy, the use of ginger (zenzero), which is added to spice up sauces (along with hot pepper). Some Calabrian chicken and fish recipes also include ginger.

Antipasto

stuffedmush1

Ricotta Stuffed Mushrooms

  • One dozen mushroom caps
  • 1 cup well-drained skim milk ricotta
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
  • 2 teaspoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • Fresh parsley or basil, chopped, for garnishing

Directions

Preheat the oven at 400 degrees F.

Remove stems from mushrooms and set the caps side. Use the stems for soup or other recipes.

Thoroughly combine the next five ingredients -ricotta through pepper- in a mixing bowl.

Coat a baking dish just large enough to hold the 12 mushrooms with olive oil cooking spray.

Stuff each cap with ricotta filling. Sprinkle the tops lightly with breadcrumbs.

Place the stuffed mushroom caps in the baking dish and drizzle with olive oil.

Bake at 400 degrees F  20 minutes for large caps, 15 minutes for small caps. Garnish with chopped parsley before serving.

First Course

pasta_alla_calabrese

Calabrian Sugo – Tomato Sauce

Makes 2 ½ cups

This is a basic Calabrian sauce that is the foundation of many dishes. It can be served on its own with any pasta shape. It can also be the starting point for the addition of many other ingredients. You can use fresh tomatoes or canned.

Ingredients:

  • 28-ounce can of peeled tomatoes in their juice or 3 ½ cups of peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 large basil leaves
  • Salt
  • 1 fresh or dried hot red pepper or a large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound rigatoni

Directions:

If you are using canned tomatoes, break them up by hand. If you prefer a smoother sauce, puree them in a food processor or blender.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until golden, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, basil, salt and hot pepper.

Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Combine pasta with sauce and serve.

Second Course

tuna

Trance di Tonno alla Calabrese (Tuna Steaks Calabrese Style)

Ingredients

  • 4 tuna steaks (about 2 pounds and 1 inch thick)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Directions

Place the tuna in a large large dish in a single layer, sprinkle with three tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and freshly ground pepper.

Add bay leaves and garlic cloves and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the tuna to marinate in the refrigerator for at least six hours, occasionally turning the tuna.

Remove the tuna from the marinade.

Heat a large skillet until very hot and cook the tuna together with the lemon wedges, for approximately six minutes depending on thickness of the fillets or until the fish done to your likeness.

Sprinkle with black pepper and extra virgin olive oil before serving.

sauteed-escarole-with-raisins-pine-nuts-and-capers-104912-ss

Sautéed Escarole

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

  • One head of fresh escarole, washed thoroughly
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Directions

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the escarole and cook until the stem pieces start to soften, about 2 minutes (the water needn’t return to a boil). Drain.

In a 12-inch skillet, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic browns slightly, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the garlic with tongs and discard.

Add the pine nuts, raisins, capers and crushed red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until the pine nuts are golden and the raisins puff, about 1 minute.

Add the escarole, increase the heat to medium high, and cook, tossing often, until heated through and tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and season to taste with salt or more hot pepper.

Dessert

crostata light marmellata

Devil’s Tart (Crostata del Diavolo)

Sweet and hot are popular combinations in southern Italy, as evidenced by this tart. Chile jam is readily available from mail order sources. You can also roll the top crust out and fit it over the filling instead of making a lattice top.

Ingredients

  • 5 ounces soft butter
  • 5 ounces sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 11 ounces flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 5 ounces orange marmalade or apricot jam
  • 4 ounces red chile jam (Marmellata di Peperoncino)
  • 4 ounces almonds, blanched and chopped
  • Confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar and mix well. Add the egg yolks, egg and lemon peel.

In another bowl, combine the flour and baking powder and slowly add to the butter-sugar-egg-mixture.

Divide the dough in half. Roll one half of the dough on a floured surface to fit a tart or pie pan and fit the dough into the pan.

Spread the fruit jam evenly over the dough in the pie dish and, then, spread the chile jam evenly on top of the orange jam. Sprinkle with the almonds.

Roll the other half of the dough to the size of the top of the tart pan on a floured surface. Cut the dough into one inch strips and lay the strips on top of the filling in a lattice pattern.

Bake the tart for about 30 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool on a rack and dust with confectioner’s sugar before serving.

marmellata-di-peperoncino

Eggs poached with n’duja, peppers and tomatoes (frombootlewithlove.wordpress.com)
Mangia! Mangia! (mylifelivedfull.wordpress.com)
Calabria: An Ideal Holiday Spot (gateawayblog.wordpress.com)
A Sicilian Style Christmas Eve Dinner (jovinacooksitalian.com)
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/11/11/plan-a-venetian-style-dinner/
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/09/23/a-fall-neapolitan-style-dinner/
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/10/22/a-fall-bolognese-style-dinner/
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2014/01/09/make-a-roman-inspired-winter-dinner/

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pantry

THE ITALIAN PANTRY

A well-stocked pantry makes cooking delicious Italian meals a snap. Countless dishes can be made from ingredients on hand, especially on snowy days.

High-quality ingredients are essential to Italian cooking: the better your olive oil, tomatoes and cheese, the better your meals will be. In most Italian kitchens, you will find the following items in the pantry:

OLIVE OIL – One of the essential ingredients of Italian cooking, olive oil is used not simply as a cooking oil but for the flavor it adds to a dish. For this reason, it’s important to use only extra-virgin olive oil for garnishing dishes and salads– it has the most flavor. If you splurge on any one item, I would suggest you buy the best you can find.

DRIED PASTA – Use pasta imported from Italy such as Barilla and De Cecco. Generally, any imported pasta products made from semolina flour are good choices. For egg pasta, avoid the “fresh” pasta sold in refrigerated cases. Either use homemade or buy the dried noodles packaged in nests.

TOMATOES – Use good canned tomatoes (unless the recipe specifically calls for fresh). Tomatoes come whole, peeled, chopped, crushed or strained. Use imported Italian tomatoes if you can find them; they’re the best. Tomato paste in a tube is very handy when you only need a tablespoon or two.

ONIONS AND GARLIC – Generally, white onions for cooking and red onions for salads and dishes that do not require cooking because they are milder. Garlic is a must have.

SUN-DRIED TOMATOES – Buy tomatoes packed in olive oil – they have more flavor than the dried. You can even use the oil to add flavor to delicate dishes.

ARTICHOKES – Jarred artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers add delicate flavor when tossed with pasta, salads or as a topping for pizza.

LEGUMES – Keep dried cannellini beans, borlotti beans, ceci and lentils on hand to use in soups, stews or as a side dish. Farro and barley are good for soups, salads and risotto-like dishes.

CORNMEAL – Use a medium textured cornmeal to make polenta. Keep it in a tightly closed container and it will last for months. I also use cornmeal to dust my pan when making pizza.

RICE – Arborio is the most common rice used in making risotto, but other varieties, such as Carnaroli or Vialone Nano, which are just now becoming available in America, are perhaps even better. One characteristic they all share is a translucent, starchy exterior that melts away in cooking to give risotto its distinctive creamy consistency.

BALSAMIC VINEGAR – There are a variety of different balsamic vinegars. Depending on its age, it can be extremely expensive. You can use an inexpensive one for salads, as long as the quality is good. Red wine vinegar is also essential for a good salad dressing.

ANCHOVIES – Keep a jar or can packed in oil to add a zip to certain dishes. You can also find anchovy paste in a tube, which is milder in taste and is quite convenient.

DRIED PORCINI MUSHROOMS – Look for packages that have large slices of mushrooms. They add a wonderful rich flavor to risottos, pasta sauces and stews, and can infuse cultivated white mushrooms with their robust flavor. Although they can be an expensive item, a little goes a long way and, if kept in an airtight container, they’ll keep for a long time. Keep the water used to rehydrate them. Strained, it will add a depth of flavor to many soups, sauces and stews.

CAPERS – You can find two types of capers. The smaller ones that are pickled in vinegar and the larger ones that come packed in salt. The larger ones are very flavorful, require rinsing of the salt before using and tend to be a little more difficult to locate. A few chopped capers can add a punch of flavor to dishes that seem to need just a little something.

OLIVES – Both the black and green varieties are good, if packed in brine and imported from Italy even better. They can be added to pastas and salads for great flavor.

HERBS AND SEASONINGS – Generally fresh herbs are preferred in everyday cooking, but it is also important to keep dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil and sage available. Whole black pepper, sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes are also important seasonings to have on hand.

FLOUR – All-purpose flour, bread flour and white whole wheat are needed for pizzas and breads. Semolina flour is also very useful for some bread and pizza doughs.

BREAD CRUMBS – Italian seasoned crumbs come in handy for quick toppings.

TUNA IN OLIVE OIL – a must have for a quick pasta dinner. Canned sardines in olive oil are another good addition.

Although these are the bare basics to have in an Italian kitchen, stocking these basic staples in your pantry will ensure that you can create authentic tasting Italian recipes. All you’ll need to add are a few fresh ingredients and you’ll be all set.

ceci_pasta

Tomato Soup with Chickpeas and Pasta

Canned tomatoes provide the flavor here, so you can make this warming soup any time of year. If you’d like to use an herb other than sage, either rosemary or marjoram would be a good choice.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 7 cups canned tomatoes with their juice (two 28-ounce cans)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup ditalini or other small pasta
  • 2 cups drained and rinsed canned chickpeas (one 19-ounce can)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

Directions

In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatoes with their juice. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic.

Add the pureed tomatoes, the sage, broth, water and salt to the pot. Bring to a boil. Stir in the pasta and chickpeas. Bring the soup back to a boil, then reduce the heat. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the parsley, pepper and the 1/3 cup grated Parmesan. Serve topped with additional Parmesan.

Note: Look for high-quality canned tomatoes for this soup, such as plum tomatoes from the San Marzano region of Italy.

easy-polenta-with-tomato-sauce

Easy Polenta with Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups store bought spaghetti sauce, or your favorite recipe

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch square baking dish.

In a large pot, combine the milk and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When it is at a rolling boil, gradually whisk in the cornmeal, making sure there are no lumps. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly until thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.

Pour the polenta into the prepared baking dish and spread the spaghetti sauce over the top.

Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven or until the sauce is bubbling.

Note: This dish can be topped with mozzarella cheese or sauteed peppers or sausage or any topping you like. It also makes an excellent side to meatloaf.

Pasta with rosemary

Pasta in Rosemary Garlic Sauce

This dish is also good with the addition of sauteed mushrooms or canned tuna in olive oil.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 (16 ounce) package bucatini or thick spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions; cook and stir until they turn a light brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Mix in the chicken stock and rosemary and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until reduced by a third, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, add 3 quarts of water and about 2 tablespoons salt and bring to a full rolling boil. Add the spaghetti, return to a boil and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a colander and add the pasta to the sauce in the skillet.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the cheese; mix well until the butter is incorporated. Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Serve in a big bowl or on 4 individual plates.

17recipehealth risotto

Herb Risotto

Use dried herbs if fresh are not available. When substituting dried herbs for fresh the ratio is 1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons butter
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Heat oil and butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons basil, 1 1/2 tablespoons parsley, 1 tablespoon rosemary and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Saute, stirring, until onion is slightly softened (about 2 to 3 minutes).

Stir in rice and saute while stirring until rice grains are oil-coated (about 3 minutes). Pour in wine and stock and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, or until liquid is almost absorbed and rice is tender but firm. (Note: Stir once or twice while simmering.)

Remove the pan from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in remaining herbs and lemon zest, then add lemon juice and cheese. Cover saucepan with waxed paper and let stand 8 to 10 minutes before serving.

Omelet Open 2

Mediterranean Omelet

Makes 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 canned, drained, water-packed artichoke hearts, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 ounce (about 2 pieces) roasted, drained red bell peppers, diced

Directions

In a small bowl, beat eggs well. Add cheese, stirring to mix. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 10-inch, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add artichokes; cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until artichokes begins to brown. Add roasted red peppers and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes more, until liquid has evaporated. Add garlic and stir about 30 seconds. With a rubber spatula, transfer artichoke pepper mixture to a small plate; keep warm.

Return the skillet to the heat. When the pan is hot, add egg-Parmesan mixture, tilting pan and lifting eggs as they begin to set with a spatula to allow uncooked portions to flow underneath the omelet. Cook 1 or 2 minutes, until omelet is almost set. Spoon reserved artichoke-pepper mixture onto half of the omelet. With a spatula, carefully fold omelet in half to cover filling. Let cook 2 minutes more or until set.

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When you are looking for “true” Italian recipes of any kind, you may become very perplexed over numerous versions of the same recipe. Which one is the right one? Which is the “classic?” Let me try to shed some light on this quandary: In Italy, each person or restaurant, puts a personal spin on a recipe. The variations depend on personal taste, family background, specific area of Italy and what is easily available and very fresh in that area. Italians are notorious for being fiercely independent, even when it comes to recipes.

Using a musical analogy: Many musicians can play the same piece of music but it is the interpretation that makes one stand apart from another. Each recipe has a personal interpretation. To make it even more complicated, Italians will hardly ever be able to give you a precise recipe: It’s “A handful of this, a pinch of that” as cooking is often learned from watching other family members and done “a occhio” (by eye-balling) quantities. Cooking is not a chemistry formula, it is an artistic experience; it is a way to express your creativity, enjoy all the steps of the process and render a wonderful result. (http://toscanamia.biz/blog/)

Itaiian Chefs – Modern Yet Classical

Anna Dente Ferracci is preserving Roman cooking traditions at her cozy family restaurant, serving perfect versions of well known Lazio pastas like carbonara.

The small town of San Cesareo sits on rich farmlands on the Via Labicana, an ancient road connecting Tusculum and Praeneste –  two important towns of the Roman period. The chef at Osteria di San Cesario, Anna Dente, is known as the “Queen of Matriciana”. She not only makes the pasta and sauce herself, she draws on her family’s four decades in the butchering business to make her own guanciale (cured hog jowl).

Anna was born in 1943 in the small rural hamlet of San Cesareo near Zagarolo in the province of Rome (Lazio), a rich agricultural zone. Her mother and father ran a local butcher shop or ‘norcineria’, as well as, a few hectares of land producing grain, fruit and grapes, while her grandfather worked as a young man in the slaughterhouse of Monte Compatri. Her grandmother was a ciambellaia or biscuit maker and introduced Anna to the use of wild country herbs for use in bread, cakes and liqueurs. From an early age she would also frequent the kitchen of her Aunt Ada’s osteria. Not surprisingly, a passion for traditional Roman dishes and cooking soon took hold of young Anna.

Anna grew up helping her mother and father run their butcher shop and garden in San Cesareo, where she learned about fresh meats and vegetables. At a young age, she began cooking alongside her aunt in their family-run osteria in Rome. An osteria (Italian pronunciation: osteˈria) in Italy was originally a place serving wine and simple food. Lately, the emphasis has shifted to the food, but menus tend to be short, with an emphasis on local specialities such as pasta, grilled meat or fish and often served at shared tables. Ideal for a cheap lunch, osterie (the plural in Italian) also serves meals for after work or evening refreshment.

She learned to cook quality food with generations-old recipes that included fresh herbs and ingredients. Today, her family’s osteria guarantees the same quality of home-produced meats and vegetables with the aim of preserving traditions from generations past.

The lifetime culinary experience of the family was consolidated in 1995 with the opening of a restaurant in San Cesareo with emphasis on preserving the preparation of traditional dishes and, in particular, those originating from a zone between the Castelli Romani or Roman Hills and Prenestina. The restaurant was named after an osteria in the town dating from Roman times called ‘Lavicanum Caesaris’ when it was an important stop along the Via Labicana connecting Rome to Capua. It was also the site of the country villa of Julius Caesar.

Anna’s cuisine soon gained national and, then, international recognition from publications, such as, Gambero Rosso, Il Corriere Della Sera, L’Espresso in Italy, The Michelin Guide, Travel and Leisure and Italian Cooking and Living Abroad. Heinz Beck, three star Michelin Chef of La Pergola in Rome, even describes ‘Sora Anna’ as the ‘Queen of Roman cooking’.

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Chef Ferracci”s recipe for Rustic Vegetable Soup with Salt Cod

Ingredients

  • One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes—tomatoes chopped, juices reserved
  • One 3/4-pound salt cod fillet
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and drizzling
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced crosswise 1 inch thick
  • 2 pounds fresh cranberry beans, shelled (2 cups), or canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 pound kale—stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped (3 cups)
  • 1/2 pound escarole—large stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped (3 cups)
  • One 1/2-pound baking potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Salt
  • Four 1/2-inch-thick slices of country-style bread

Directions

In a large bowl, cover the salt cod with cold water. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours or up to 2 days. Change the water three times a day.

In a large, enameled casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderately high heat until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the zucchini, beans, onion, kale, escarole, potato and tomatoes with their juices. Add the water and crushed red pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 50 minutes. Season lightly with salt.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°. Set the bread on a rimmed baking sheet. Generously brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Bake for about 12 minutes, until browned and crisp.

Add the cod to the casserole and simmer over moderately low heat until the cod is heated through, about 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, gently break the cod into 2-inch pieces. Set the toasted bread in shallow bowls. Ladle the soup over the bread. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Gennaro Esposito, chef at Torre del Saracino, where local Amalfi Coast favorites, such as, ricotta soup with red mullet and sea urchin are served.

“I was truly fortunate to have a mother who taught me all about genuine food products and our traditional regional cuisine. She and her father were tenant farmers, so in our house I grew up knowing the importance of organic foods. It was our way of life to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, those cultivated without pesticides. These experiences are still of the utmost importance to me when I’m inventing a menu, because I always put these concepts and flavors in my new dishes. One of my uncles, the husband of one of my mother’s sisters, is a pastry chef. I began working in his shop when I was nine years old. It was thanks to this experience that I chose to remain in the kitchen.”

Gennaro Esposito was born at Vico Equense on the beautiful Amalfi Coast. There were two determining moments in his professional development, as Esposito explains: “an internship with Gianfranco Vissani, one of Italy’s top chefs and a coincidental encounter with Alain Ducasse during one of the many times “il maestro” had come to Positano on vacation.” Before he knew it, Esposito found himself in Ducasse’s kitchens at the Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo and at the Plaza Athénée Hotel in Paris. “In both,” he likes to tell, “I learned the exact meaning of perfectionism and of fanatic attention to detail. What’s particularly special about Ducasse is that he’s like a teacher during the Renaissance in that he brings out the aptitudes of his interns. He doesn’t impose his style; he proposes it very subtly but incisively. He encourages and supports his interns’ abilities through his wide experience. I was especially moved by his love for Mediterranean cuisine which he enriches with the grand tradition and competence of French cuisine.”

“From Vissani, I learned to use many unconventional ingredients. He broadened my awareness of ingredients and my skills. He also taught me that creativity combined with familiarity and skillfulness knows no limits in the kitchen and that I could create combinations unthought-of until then which would give my future guests unique experiences. That was my goal then and it still is.”

Back in his beloved home region in 1992, with his wife Vittoria, who is the pastry chef and in-charge of the dining room, he opened the restaurant, La Torre del Saracino.” I think that today top chefs must be cultured. They have to have time to expand their general knowledge, to learn more about local cuisine and food products and to invent their very own style. Secondly, they have to be creative, but must also have a solid base in traditional cuisine on which to build this creativity. Thirdly, they must know how to motivate and stimulate their staff, their team and must be able to transmit their passion for this profession.”

gennaro-esposito

Chef Esposito’s recipe: Risotto with tomato sauce, candied lemon and squids stuffed with smoked buffalo provola cheese

Ingredients for 2 people

For the squid

  • - 4 squid
  • - 60 g (about 2 oz. or ½ cup) DOP smoked buffalo provola cheese from Campania

For the risotto

  • - 200 g (about 1 cup) Carnaroli rice
  • - 200 g (about 1 cup)“cuore di bue” (Italian heart shaped) tomatoes (cut into big cubes)
  • - 6 squid, finely chopped
  • - 20 g (about 2-3 tablespoons) DOP smoked buffalo provola cheese from Campania
  • - 30 g (1/4 cup) candied lemon
  • - 2 litre (8 cups) of seafood and vegetable light broth
  • - 100 g (7/8 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • - 10 g (3/4 tablespoon) butter
  • - 10 basil leaves
  • - 1 teaspoon of chopped onion
  • - the juice of half a lemon
  • - a clove of garlic
  • - salt and pepper to taste
  • - Garnish with tomatoes cubes and basil

Directions

Stuff four squid with the smoked provola cheese cut into pieces, close with a toothpick and bake at 100°C (210 F) for about 2 minutes.

Heat the broth to boiling.

Toast the rice with about half the oil and add the onion in a large saucepan. Finish toasting and add the boiling broth.

In the meantime brown a clove of garlic in half the olive oil in another saucepan. Add the tomatoes, the basil and the salt and cook for about 3 minutes. Add to the rice.

Cook the risotto until slightly underdone, stirring often, and add the finely cut squid. Continue to cook until rice is cooked to your taste and add the candied lemon.

Turn the heat off, add pepper, butter and the lemon juice to balance the sweet and sour taste.

Put the risotto in the center of the plate and place the cheese stuffed squid without toothpicks on it. Garnish with pieces of blanched tomatoes and basil leaves.

Paolo Lopriore, chef of Tuscany’s Il Canto Tuscany’s, reinvents classics, like cacio e pepe (pasta with pepper and cheese) as twisted rigatoni filled with black-pepper gelée.

Lopriore was born in Como in 1973 and his earliest inspiration was in his mother’s kitchen – a woman who was a self-taught and passionate home cook and one who instilled a strong sense for cooking with local, quality, seasonal ingredients. Chef Lopriore at a very young age, had discovered that he had a passion for food and cooking, so he approached Italian Chef, Luciano Tona, who taught him the basics in cooking. However, it was in 1990 that his real culinary training occurred. He went on to work at the Sole di Ranco under Chef Gualtiero Marchesi (a renowned Italian chef, considered to be the founder of modern Italian cuisine), and he stayed there for two years, learning the techniques and perfecting his own style, before leaving the restaurant to complete his military obligations.

Once his duty to his country was fulfilled, he went to work in Florence’s Enoteca Pinchiorri and eventually returned to work at Sole di Ranco. There, he completed his training under Chef Marchesi and went off once more to search for work in some of the finest restaurants in Italy. He found work at the Ledoyen and La Maison Troisgros. In 1998, Chef Lopriore met Norwegian Chef, Eyvind Hellström, and he went to work with him at the Bagatelle in Oslo for three years. However, something seemed to be calling him back home and, whether it was a challenge or a sense of nostalgia, he really cannot tell, but he found himself returning to his first teacher, Chef Marchesi. The relationship they had blossomed into more than just your typical master-and-apprentice relationship. What was developed was a friendship that has ample space for dialogues and debates, which inspires and promotes personal growth. Today, the two remain good friends. Chef Marchesi considers Chef Lopriore his brightest pupil and Chef Lopriore considers Chef Marchesi as a great influence in his culinary career.

In 2002, Chef Lopriore came to Certosa di Maggiano and became the executive chef of Il Canto, where he finally had the freedom to show his culinary style and ingenious way of presenting his dishes. Although he experiments with new ingredients, he always makes it a point to only use the freshest and finest ingredients and produce from his land’s very fertile countryside. in Il Canto can you enjoy exemplary non-native dishes made with wasabi or curry. Not long after he became the head chef, he began receiving awards and titles for his culinary accomplishments: 2011 Chef of the Year and The S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011.

Lopriore

Chef Lopriore’s recipe for Elicoidale (Tube Pasta) with Black Pepper and Pecorino Romano

Ingredients:

  • 40 large rigatoni (tube pasta)
  • 40 g (1/3 cup) pecorino romano
  • 300 g (1 ¼ cups) water
  • 30 g fresh chili pepper, cut in half
  • 5 g agar agar
  • 25 g (1/4 cup+2 tbsp) olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper

Directions:

In a large pot, combine the water with half the chili pepper, bring to a boil; remove from heat and leave to infuse for approximately 30 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Return the infusion to the heat and bring it back to a boil; thicken with the agar agar and, after bringing it to a third and final boil over very high heat, cool it while stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove the pepper half.

Once cool, add the oil and whisk the mixture as if it were mayonnaise. Finally chop the remaining half pepper and incorporate into the preparation. Blend at the highest speed possible in a blender for 5 minutes. Refrigerate overnight.

Separately, cook the pasta in an abundant amount of salted water; drain, lightly dress with remaining oil.

Using a pastry bag, fill pasta tubes with the black pepper “mayonnaise”.

Heat the elicoidali in the microwave a few minutes and distribute onto 4 plates. Top with grated pecorino romano.

Serves 4.

Nadia Santini has been named the Best Female Chef 2013 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

The Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef award was presented by the British magazine, Restaurant, to Nadia Santini.  It celebrates the work of an exceptional female chef whose cooking excites the toughest of critics. Santini is the head chef at the Dal Pescatore Restaurant located in the small village near Mantua in Lombardy. The family-run restaurant opened as a trattoria in 1925 and Santini took over the running of the restaurant with her husband in 1974. She made history in 1996, when she became the first Italian woman to gain three Michelin stars for a restaurant and Dal Pescatore has retained the rating ever since. It is famous for its mix of traditional cuisine and modern influences.

Born in San Pietro Mussolino in the Veneto region, Santini was an extremely bright student, studying food chemistry and political science with sociology at the prestigious University of Milan, where she met future husband Antonio Santini. The couple married in 1974, soon returning to Antonio’s parents’ simple osteria alongside the river Oglio in Mantova, Lombardy, just south of Verona. Under the careful tutelage of Teresa and Bruna, Antonio’s grandmother and mother respectively, Santini learnt to cook traditional Mantuan cuisine: delicate handmade pasta dishes and home-cured meats and fish.

Signature dishes include tortellini stuffed with pumpkin, amaretto, Parmesan and mostarda, as well as turbot with a garnish of parsley, anchovies and capers in olive oil. Santini told Restaurant Magazine: “The cuisine is refined but not changed. Dal Pescatore is an expression of the evolution of the food on our table and the surrounding environment.”

In 2010, German filmmaker, Lutz Hachmeister created a television documentary called, “Three Stars”, in which Santini appeared with other chefs from Michelin starred restaurants. Her appearance in the documentary stood out, being described by critics as a “radiant personality and gentle, Old World approach to the nurturing of recipes, colleagues and clientele that provides the counterpoint to frenetic, confrontational kitchens run by scientist-chefs”

santini

Pasta à la Nadia Santini

The ingredients you will need for this is are:

  • 500 grams (about 1 ¼ pounds) spaghetti or pasta of choice
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 700 grams (7 cups) of tomato sauce
  • Non-refined salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Water
  • Fresh basil, finely chopped

Directions

Boil water in a large pan.

Chop the onion and the garlic finely.

Once the water is boiling, add salt and the spaghetti and cook for half of the time as described on the package.

Simultaneously heat another pan.

Add in four tablespoons of olive oil.

To the hot oil add the chopped onions and sauté them at medium heat.

Once the onions are translucent add in half of the garlic, then the tomato sauce.

Add a cup of the pasta water and, then, add salt to taste and cover the pan and bring to boil.

Once the spaghetti has cooked for half  the time, drain and add to the tomato sauce. Cook it for the remaining time listed on the package in the tomato sauce.

Once the pasta is cooked add in the rest of the garlic, black pepper and fresh basil.

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Frankie Avalon was born Francis Thomas Avallone on September 18, 1940, in South Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to parents of Italian heritage. His song “Venus” became his first No. 1 single in 1959 and he released six more Top 40 records in that year alone. Avalon was on U.S. television playing his trumpet by the time he was 11. Two singles showcasing Avalon’s trumpet playing were issued on RCA Victor’s “X” sublabel in 1954 and, as a teenager, he played with Bobby Rydell in Rocco and the Saints.

His father, Nicholas Avallone, a multi-instrumentalist, nurtured Frankie’s artistic ambitions. Avalon broke into show business as a child prodigy, earning an appearance on The Jackie Gleason Show and making records for RCA Victor Records. He had an authentic music background to go with his good looks and it was that talent that allowed him to succeed. By 1962, the singer’s four-year domination of the music charts was coming to an end, but his career wasn’t. He teamed up with Annette Funicello and reinvented himself as a clean-cut surfer in the very successful Beach Party surfer film series.

Avalon also had straight dramatic parts. He acted in the John Wayne historical western film, The Alamo, as well as the science-fiction story, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, (1961) with Barbara Eden. His performance of “Beauty School Dropout” in the hit 1978 film of the musical, Grease, introduced Avalon to a new generation of viewers. Avalon appeared in nearly two dozen TV show episodes, including ABC’s The Bing Crosby Show and The Patty Duke Show.

Later, he became a national television spokesperson for Sonic Drive-In. He created a line of health and beauty care line called Frankie Avalon Products and has marketed his products on the Home Shopping Network. Avalon married Kathryn “Kay” Diebel on January 19, 1963. Still together, they have eight children and 10 grandchildren.

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Joni James (born Giovanna Carmella Babbo) on September 22, 1930. James was born into an Italian family in Chicago. As an adolescent, she studied drama and ballet and after graduating from high school went with a local dance group on a tour of Canada. She then took a job as a chorus girl in the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. However, she decided to pursue a singing career. Some executives at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) spotted her in a television commercial and she was signed by MGM in 1952. Her first hit, “Why Don’t You Believe Me?” sold over two million copies. She had a number of hits following that one, including “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, “Have You Heard?”,”Almost Always” (#9 in 1953), “My Love, My Love” (#8 in 1953,) “How Important Can It Be?” (#2 in 1955) and “You Are My Love” (#6 in 1955), as well as, sixteen other Top 40 hits from 1952 to 1961.

James married composer-conductor Tony Acquaviva at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York in 1956. In 1964 she retired from the music industry because Acquaviva was in bad health. She cared for him until his death in 1986. In 1997, she married retired Air Force General Bernard Adolph Schriever, 20 years her senior, the leader of the program that developed U.S. ballistic missiles. For many years, she was out of the public eye, but began touring again in the mid 1990s, performing memorable concerts at New York’s Town Hall, Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall. In October, 2001, just a few weeks after 9/11, she appeared at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, accompanied by the Count Basie orchestra. The streets of the city were still lined with armed soldiers and she was a guest of honor at the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Tribute to Barbra Streisand. With her renewed popularity, nearly her entire body of work was released on the Capitol-EMI, DRG and Tarragon labels under her personal supervision and in 2000 she released a brand-new recording, “Latest and Greatest”. For her contributions to the entertainment industry, James has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Bobby Darin (born Walden Robert Cassotto; May 14, 1936 – December 20, 1973) was an American singer, songwriter and actor of film and television. He performed in a range of music genres, including pop, rock’n’roll, jazz, folk and country.

Darin was born in the Bronx borough of New York City and was reared by his grandparents. His maternal grandfather, Saverio Antonio Cassotto, was of Italian descent and his maternal grandmother, Vivian Fern (Walden), was of English and Danish ancestry. By the time he was a teenager, he could play several instruments, including piano, drums and guitar. He later added harmonica and xylophone. Darin graduated from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science and he matriculated at Hunter College, but soon dropped out in order to play nightclubs around the city with a musical combo. Darin’s career took off with a songwriting partnership, formed in 1955 with fellow Bronx High School of Science student, Don Kirshner. In 1956 his agent negotiated a contract with Decca Records but the songs recorded at Decca had very little success.  Other songs he recorded such as, “I Found a Million Dollar Baby”, were sung in an Elvis style and did not suit his personality. It was during this period in his career that Darin was introduced to singer Connie Francis, for whom he helped write several songs. They developed a romantic interest of which her father did not approve and the couple soon split up. Francis has said that not marrying Darin was the biggest mistake of her life.

Darin left Decca to sign with Atlantic Records, where he wrote and arranged music for himself and others. Darin’s career finally took off in 1958 when he recorded “Splish Splash.” The single sold more than a million copies In 1959. Next, Darin recorded the self-penned, “Dream Lover”, a ballad that became a multi-million seller. With it came financial success and the ability to demand more creative control of his career. His next single, “Mack the Knife”, the standard from Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera, was given a jazz-pop interpretation. Although Darin initially was opposed to releasing it as a single, the song went to No. 1 on the charts for nine weeks, sold two million copies and won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1960. Darin was also voted the Grammy Award for Best New Artist that year and “Mack The Knife” has since been honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Darin followed “Mack” with “Beyond the Sea”.

In 1959, he was the only actor ever to have been signed to five major Hollywood film studios. He wrote music for several films in which he appeared. His first major film, Come September (1960), was a teenage-oriented romantic comedy and Darin won the Golden Globe Award for “New Star Of The Year – Actor” for his role in the film. The following year he was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for “Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama” (Best actor) in the film, Pressure Point. In 1963, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a shell-shocked soldier in Captain Newman, M.D and at the Cannes Film Festival he won the French Film Critics Award for best actor for his performance in that film.

Darin suffered from poor health his entire life. In 1973, after failing to take antibiotics to protect his heart before a dental visit, Darin developed a systemic infection (sepsis). This further weakened his body and affected one of his heart valves. He checked himself into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for another round of open-heart surgery to repair the two artificial heart valves he had received in January 1971. On the evening of December 19, a five-man surgical team worked for over six hours to repair his damaged heart. Darin died shortly after the surgery ended in the recovery room in the early morning hours of December 20, 1973, at the age of 37, without regaining consciousness.

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Sonny Bono, born Salvatore Phillip Bono, (February 16, 1935 – January 5, 1998) was an American recording artist, record producer, actor and politician whose career spanned over three decades. Bono was born in Detroit, MI to Italian immigrants, Santo Bono (born in Montelepre, Palermo, Italy) and Zena La Valle. Sonny was the youngest of three siblings and he had two older sisters, Fran and Betty. Bono began his music career working at Specialty Records where his song, “Things You Do to Me”, was recorded by Sam Cooke and went on to work for the record producer Phil Spector in the early 1960s as a promotion man, percussionist and “gofer”. One of his earliest songwriting efforts was “Needles and Pins” which he co-wrote with Jack Nitzsche, another member of Spector’s production team. Later in the same decade, he achieved commercial success, along with his wife, Cher, as part of the singing duo Sonny and Cher. Bono wrote, arranged and produced a number of hit records with singles like, “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On”. He also played a major part in Cher’s early solo career with recordings such as “Bang Bang” and “You Better Sit Down Kids”.

Bono co-wrote the song “She Said Yeah”, which was sung by The Rolling Stones on their 1965 LP, “December’s Children”. Bono also recorded as a solo artist under the name of Sonny. He had only one hit single as a solo artist, “Laugh at Me”. “Laugh at Me” was released in 1965 and peaked at number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. In live concerts, Bono would sing the song with an introduction of, “I’d like to sing a medley of my hit.” His only other single as a solo artist was, “The Revolution Kind”, which reached number 70 on the Billboard Hot 100 later that same year. Sonny continued to work with Cher through the early and mid-1970s starring in a popular television variety show, The Sonny and Cher Show, which ran on CBS from 1971 to 1974. From 1976 to 1977, the couple returned to performing together on The Sonny and Cher Show despite being divorced.

Bono entered politics after experiencing great frustration with local government bureaucracy in trying to open a restaurant in Palm Springs, California. Bono placed a successful bid to become the new mayor of Palm Springs. He served four years (1988 to 1992). He was instrumental in spearheading the creation of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, which is held each year in Bono’s memory. Bono was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1994 to represent California’s 44th congressional district. He was one of twelve co-sponsors of a House bill concerning copyright laws. Although that bill was never voted on in the Senate, a similar Senate bill was passed after his death and named the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act in his memory. He championed the restoration of the Salton Sea, bringing the giant lake’s plight to national attention. Bono died on January 5, 1998, of injuries sustained when he hit a tree while skiing at Lake Tahoe, California.

Jon Bon Jovi was born John Francis Bongiovi, Jr. in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the son of two former Marines, John Francis Bongiovi, Sr. and Carol Sharkey. He has two brothers, Anthony and Matthew. His father is of Italian descent (from Sciacca, Sicily) and and his mother is of German and Russian descent. John spent most of his adolescence skipping school to opt for music activities and ended up playing in local bands with friends and his cousin Tony Bongiovi, who owned the New York recording studio, The Power Station. By the time he was 16, John Bongiovi was playing clubs. It was not long before he joined up with keyboardist, David Bryan, who played with him in a ten-piece rhythm and blues band called, Atlantic City Expressway. John also performed with bands called The Rest, The Lechers and John Bongiovi and the Wild Ones.

Jon Bon Jovi was working sweeping floors at his cousin Tony Bongiovi’s recording studio, when Meco was there recording “Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album”. Tony recommended Bongiovi for the song, “R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and this became his first professional recording. In June 1982, Jon Bon Jovi recorded a song called “Runaway”. He went to several record companies, including Atlantic Records and Mercury (PolyGram), but they all turned him down. Jon Bon Jovi visited the major rock station, WAPP 103.5FM “The Apple,” in New York City. He spoke directly to the promotion directo,r John Lassman, who accepted the song “Runaway” for inclusion on the station’s compilation album of local homegrown talent. “Runaway” became a local hit. Shortly after, Mercury Records gave Jon Bon Jovi a recording contract and he formed his band. The band released their first album on January 21, 1984 and became an international act in the late 1980s, when they released their breakthrough album “Slippery When Wet”. Their fourth album, “New Jersey”, which was released in 1988, became as successful as its predecessor. Following the group’s success, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, his lead guitarist, were asked to assist in producing Cher’s self-titled album. Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora co-wrote and sang backup vocals on Cher’s single, “We All Sleep Alone”, and also produced several other tracks on the album. They also co-produced Cher’s multi-platinum album, “Heart of Stone” in 1989 and co-wrote the song, “Does Anybody Really Fall In Love Anymore?”.

In 1990, Jon Bon Jovi recorded a soundtrack to the movie Young Guns II more commonly known as, Blaze of Glory. Having been originally approached by his friend, Emilio Estevez, to assist on the theme song,”Wanted Dead Or Alive”, for the upcoming Billy the Kid sequel, Jon Bon Jovi ended up composing an all-new theme song for the film’s soundtrack and producing his first solo album. The album featured high profile guests such as Elton John, Little Richard and Jeff Beck. The title track, “Blaze of Glory”, peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1991, “Blaze of Glory” won an award for Favorite Pop/Rock Single at the American Music Awards and won a Golden Globe, as well. The song also earned Jon Bon Jovi an Academy Award nomination and a Grammy. Jon Bon Jovi has worked on behalf of the Special Olympics, the American Red Cross, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, Covenant House, Project H.O.M.E., The Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation and other groups.

Madonna was born Madonna Louise Ciccone in Bay City, Michigan, on August 16, 1958. Her father, Silvio Anthony Ciccone, is a first-generation Italian American (with roots in Pacentro, Italy), while her mother, Madonna Louise (née Fortin), was of French Canadian descent. Her father worked as a design engineer for Chrysler and General Motors. As Madonna had the same name as her mother, family members called her “Little Nonni”. Her mother died of breast cancer at the age of 30, in 1963. Madonna turned to her grandmother in the hope of finding some solace. The Ciccone siblings resented housekeepers and invariably rebelled against anyone brought into their home ostensibly to take the place of their beloved mother. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Madonna commented that she saw herself in her youth as a “lonely girl who was searching for something”.

Madonna later attended Rochester Adams High School, where she became a straight-A student and a member of the cheerleading squad. After graduating, she received a dance scholarship to the University of Michigan. She convinced her father to allow her to take ballet lessons and was persuaded by Christopher Flynn, her ballet teacher, to pursue a career in dance. In 1978, she dropped out of college and relocated to New York City. She had little money and worked as a waitress at Dunkin’ Donuts and with modern dance troupes.

After her success as a dance club singer, Madonna developed her debut album, Madonna, which was primarily produced by Reggie Lucas, a Warner Bros. producer. However, she was not happy with the completed tracks and disagreed with Lucas’ production techniques, so she decided to seek additional help. Madonna asked her, then, boyfriend John “Jellybean” Benitez, for help in finishing the album’s production. Benitez remixed most of the tracks and produced “Holiday”, which was her third single and her first global hit. The overall sound of Madonna was dissonant and in the form of upbeat synthetic disco, utilizing some of the new technology of the time, like the Linn drum machine, Moog bass and the OB-X synthesizer. The album was released in July 1983 and peaked at number eight on the Billboard 200, six months later and in 1984. It yielded two more hit singles, “Borderline” and “Lucky Star”.

Madonna’s look and style of dressing, her performances and her music videos influenced young girls and women and her style became one of the female fashion trends of the 1980s. It was created by stylist and jewelry designer, Maripol, and the look consisted of lace tops, skirts over capri pants, fishnet stockings, jewelry bearing the crucifix, bracelets and bleached hair. Madonna achieved global recognition after the release of her second studio album, “Like a Virgin”, in November 1984. It topped the charts in several countries and became her first number one album on the Billboard 200. The title track, “Like a Virgin”, topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart for six consecutive weeks. Beginning in April 1985, Madonna embarked on her first concert tour in North America, The Virgin Tour, with the Beastie Boys as her opening act. She progressed from playing the dance clubs to playing sporting arenas. At that time she released two more hit singles from the album, “Angel” and “Dress You Up”.

In June 1986, Madonna released her third studio album, “True Blue”, which was inspired by and dedicated to Sean Penn (to whom she was married to at the time). Rolling Stone Magazine was generally impressed with the album and It spawned three number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100: “Live to Tell”, “Papa Don’t Preach” and “Open Your Heart”, and two more top-five singles: “True Blue” and “La Isla Bonita”. The album topped the charts in over 28 countries worldwide, an unprecedented achievement at the time, and became the best-selling studio album of her career to this date with sales of 25 million. In 2008, Billboard magazine ranked Madonna at number two, behind only, The Beatles, on the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists, making her the most successful solo artist in the history of the American singles chart. Throughout her career, Madonna has repeatedly reinvented herself through a series of visual and musical personae. In 1990, with earnings of more than $125 million since 1986 and as the highest-grossing woman in entertainment, Forbes Magazine “suggested that she was one of the smartest businesswomen in the United States”.

First Course Italian Pasta Dishes

eggplant pasta

Pasta with Eggplant and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti or other long pasta
  • 2 thin eggplants, trimmed and cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes In olive oil, reserve 3 tablespoons oil from the sun-dried tomato jar
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 cups canned Italian tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 bay leaf

Directions

For the sauce:

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and add the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrot and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Sauté until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaf and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour. Remove and discard the bay leaf.

For the pasta:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of the oil from the sun-dried tomato jar in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the diced eggplant and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and the marinara sauce and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked pasta to the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and add the mozzarella cheese, basil and the remaining salt and pepper. Transfer to shallow pasta bowls, top with parmesan cheese and serve.

chard pasta

Orecchiette with Ricotta and Chard

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch green or red Swiss chard
  • 3/4 pound dried Orecchiette or other short pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 ounces Asiago or Pecorino cheese, freshly grated
  • Freshly ground black pepper and/or nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, divided
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
  • Freshly grated Asiago or Pecorino cheese, for serving

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling. Separate chard stems from leaves; cut both in bite-sized pieces. Add orecchiette to boiling water. Set timer for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, add chard leaves to the pasta and cook for 2 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup of cooking liquid. Return pasta and chard to pot.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chard stems; cook 3 to 5 minutes, until crisp-tender.

Place the pot with the pasta over lowest heat setting. Add sauteed chard stems and any residual oil to pasta, along with the butter, crushed red pepper and reserved cooking liquid.

Add grated cheese; toss. Season with pepper and nutmeg.

Divide among pasta bowls. Top each serving with 1 tablespoon ricotta. Add sea salt, pepper and additional grated cheese to taste.

walnut pasta

Penne with Walnuts and Peppers

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces whole wheat or multigrain penne
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium green and/or red and/or yellow sweet peppers, seeded and cut lengthwise into bite-size strips
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thin
  • 1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add walnuts and garlic. Cook about 2 minutes or until light brown, stirring frequently.

Add sweet peppers and red onion. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until vegetables are crisp tender, stirring frequently. Add tomatoes; cook and stir until heated through.

Stir in parsley, rosemary and black pepper. Put pasta in a large shallow bowl. Top with walnut-pepper mixture; toss gently to coat. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

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