Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Desserts

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Abruzzi is located in the mountains along the Adriatic region of Italy and the cuisine is known for simple but hearty meals. A typical meal prepared in Abruzzi will feature diavolicchio, a combination of olive oil, tomatoes and chili peppers. Chili peppers are used often to spice up recipes, typical for much of Southern Italy. Rosemary, garlic and wine are also used extensively in Abruzzi cooking. Despite being more expensive per gram than truffles or caviar, saffron is used in many recipes and most of Italy’s saffron is produced in Abruzzi.

abruzzi

Abruzz’si cuisine is famous for artichokes and cardoons, legumes and potatoes and they are often enjoyed in soups. Cacio e Uova is a soup made from vegetables and salt pork and sometimes lamb, in a chicken base that relies on grated pecorino and eggs for a thick, creamy texture. Zuppa di cardi combines cardoons, relatives of the artichoke, with tomatoes and salt pork. The tiny mountain lentils are cooked with fresh chestnuts, pork and tomatoes with herbs to make zuppla di lenticchie. The traditional Christmas lunch begins with chicken broth, cardoons, tiny lamb meatballs and raw egg scrambled into the broth or fried chopped organ meats added to the soup just prior to serving.

Atessa-Abruzzo-Italy

Abruzzi recipes feature fresh seafood from the Adriatic, such as, Brodetto, a peppered seafood soup. Port cities also prepare fresh fish in a salty vinegar based dressing. Octopus is cooked in tomatoes and hot peppers and called “polpi in purgatorio”. Garlic, peppers and rosemary are used to season an anchovy and monkfish dish, called coda di rospo alla cacciatora. Fish and crayfish also come from inland freshwater ways.

The countryside of Abruzzi is dotted with herds of sheep and goats, making the preferred meats, lamb and kid. These meats are simmered slowly in sauces to serve over platters of polenta or pasta and served family style. Large pieces of spit roasted lamb are frequently eaten in Abruzzi, especially on special occasions. Another lamb dish of the region, agnello alle olive, is slowly cooked in a sealed clay casserole dish along with olives, lemons, hot peppers and oregano.

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While beef is not as popular as in other areas of Italy, many households have their own herds of free ranging pigs. This yields meat for curing. Mortadellina, ventricina and salsicce di fegato pazzo are locally made table ready sausages that are enjoyed with bread. Abruzzi recipes such as ‘Ndocca ‘ndocca make use of the ribs and other parts of the pig that might otherwise be wasted, such as skin, ears and feet. This stew is flavored with vinegar, rosemary, bay leaf and peppers. Pork sausage is also enjoyed baked into the savory pizza rustica along with cheese and eggs.

guitar pasta

Abruzzi cuisine begins many meals with a pasta course. Maccheroni alla chitarra, or guitar pasta, is a classic Abruzzi dish. This egg dough is cut into the classic quadrangular shape with an instrument resembling an acoustic guitar. This is traditionally served with a lamb and tomato sauce seasoned with tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic and bay leaves. Lasagne Abruzzese layers sheets of pasta with spicy meat and tomato sauce.

Abruzzi cooking often calls for a crepe called scrippelle. These crepes are filled with flavorful ingredients and then used in other dishes. With scrippelle ‘mbusse, the crepes are served in chicken stock with grated pecorino cheese. In timballo di crespe, the crepes are placed in elegant molds with vegetables, cheese and meat and baked.

Spaghetti with Garlic, Olive Oil and Hot Pepper

spaghetti with oil

Spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino is a traditional recipe from the Abruzzi region of Italy.

Ingredients for 4 people

  • 14 oz (400 grams) spaghetti
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 peperoncino ( hot peppers)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt

Directions

Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water.
A few minutes before draining the pasta, heat 1/4 cup of oil, add the garlic and the peperoncino and cook slowly until the garlic turns golden. Add the sauce to the drained spaghetti, toss well and serve immediately.

Chicken and Peppers Abruzzi-Style

Chicken-cacciatore

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2 lb chicken; cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh hot chili peppers; chopped
  • 4 whole cloves garlic; peeled
  • 2 teaspoons rosemary leaves; chopped
  • Salt
  • 24 cherry tomatoes
  • 12 small black olives

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a deep ovenproof skillet with a lid that is large enough to contain all the chicken pieces in one layer without crowding, add oil, garlic and rosemary to the pan – turn the heat to high. Add the chicken and arrange the pieces with the skin side facing down in one layer. When well browned, turn the pieces and brown on the other side. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and chili peppers and transfer the chicken to a large plate, skin side up.

Add the onion and the bell peppers to the skillet and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the olives and cherry tomatoes and, once the tomatoes are hot, pour in the wine and simmer over moderately high heat for 1 minute. Return the chicken to the skillet, skin side up. Cover the pan and braise in the oven for about 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Transfer dish to a large warm platter and serve at once with crusty Italian bread.

Timballo di Patate

potatoes

Ingredients

  • 5 pounds potatoes 
  • 1 pound shredded mozzarella
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese
  • Chopped parsley 
  • Salt, pepper to taste

Directions

Cook potatoes whole, in water, peel them. Mash potatoes mixing in mozzarella, eggs, grated cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper to taste.
Place mixture in a 12x9x2 inch (or 9 inch round) pan, of which the inside surfaces have been oiled (or buttered) and sprinkled with flour to prevent sticking. Heat at 425 degrees F. in a pre-heated oven for 20 minutes or until the top begins to brown. Serves 12.

Easter Ricotta Tarts with Saffron

soffioni

During Easter time the Abruzzi people celebrate the holiday with traditional sweets called soffioni or “big puffs”. The name refers to the look these mini tarts get while baking. Their filling is made with fresh ricotta and flavored with citrus zest and saffron. The expensive spice is a local ingredient from the fields around the small town of Navelli. It takes the inner part of 150 flowers (called crocus) to yield 1 gram of dry saffron and the brief harvest occurs once a year, when the flowers bloom around mid October.

12 pastries

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus some extra for the work surface
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium eggs plus 1 egg yolk

For the filling:

  • 1 pinch of saffron threads
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 2 cups of sheep’s milk ricotta or cow’s milk ricotta, well-drained
  • Zest of 1 small lemon, finely grated
  • Vegetable oil or butter for coating
  • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Prepare the dough:

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, olive oil, eggs plus the egg yolk and salt. Work the dough just until it comes together in a smooth and firm ball. Wrap it with plastic and let rest for about 30 minutes at room temperature while making the filling.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Prepare the filling:

If you have an electric mixer with the whisk attachment, use it to make the filling. Remember to clean the bowl and the beater before beating the egg whites.

In a small bowl, crush the saffron threads with the back of a teaspoon.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Beat the yolks in an electric mixer with the sugar until light and pale colored. Add the saffron, ricotta and lemon zest. Continue to beat until the mixture is fluffy. Set aside.

In another bowl or in a clean electric mixer bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until light and fluffy. Gently fold the egg whites into the yolk and ricotta mixture.

Take the dough out of the wrap and roll it on a lightly floured surface into a square, about 1/8 inch thick. Using a fluted pastry cutter (or a knife), slightly trim the edges and then cut the pastry evenly into 12 squares.

Coat a 12 cup muffin baking pan with vegetable oil or butter and lightly dust with flour. Press the pastry squares into the muffin cups, making sure to leave the four corners hanging over the edges. With a spoon divide the ricotta filling among the 12 pastry cups without overfilling and then fold the corners over the center of the filling. They should not seal but remain partially separated from each other.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 320 degrees F and continue baking for another 15 minutes until the tarts are golden.

Let cool at room temperature and then carefully remove the tarts from the muffin pan. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

 

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Easter

The traditional Italian-American Easter meal is rich, festive, elaborate and labor-intensive. The array of dishes might include a big antipasto, a thick pizza rustica, homemade pasta, lamb accompanied by several vegetables and numerous pastries. Does this sound like a lot of work? So this year why not try a brunch, instead. Much of the work and preparation can be done ahead of time.

The word “brunch” obviously stands for “breakfast” and “lunch.” It’s served midday and combines the best sweet and savory elements of both of these meals. It’s the most common way to celebrate Easter and Mother’s Day and has even become a way of dining at weddings and family celebrations.

How did this type of meal evolve? It was common among Christians to have a large post-church meal on Sundays. Catholics used to require fasting from midnight on before receiving communion, so after leaving their place of worship, many people ate a large meal combining breakfast and lunch. Some churches even hosted the meals on the premises. We also know that during much of Western history, the Sunday midday meal was the largest meal of the day, followed by an early evening smaller supper.

A British writer named Guy Beringer first used the word brunch in 1895. In his essay, “Brunch: A Plea,” he advocated for a meal that was lighter than what was traditional at the time. The midday post-church meal in turn-of-the-century Britain consisted of heavy meat pies and filling foods, but Beringer proposed a lighter meal, which started with breakfast food before moving onto dinnertime fare. He wrote, “[Brunch] It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

bloody mary

Beringer also noted that a later meal on Sunday would make it easier for those who liked to drink on Saturday nights. He wrote, “By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers.” He even suggested that instead of coffee and tea, perhaps this new meal could start with an alcoholic beverage.

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Although brunch originally conjured up images of idle ladies of leisure, Americans became very taken with brunch after World War I. During the Roaring Twenties, partygoers created a mini-brunch that took place in the early morning hours between dinner and breakfast, to refresh and sustain people who were dancing and drinking all night long. One women’s magazine recommended that in constructing a brunch menu, “a delicate hash, light fish balls, liver and bacon were all appropriate.” Tastes have changed … the menus of today’s best brunch establishments feature such creations as lemon-ricotta pancakes, frittatas and Eggs Benedict. According to one legend about the invention of Eggs Benedict, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict in 1893 asked for something new and different during her regular meal at Delmonico’s and she and the maître d’ came up with Eggs Benedict. Others say that in 1894, Mr. Lemuel Benedict requested the combination of poached eggs, Canadian bacon, English muffins and Hollandaise sauce in order to recover from a hangover. Either way, the chef recognized the dish’s potential and it’s been a brunch classic ever since.

One thing that hasn’t changed from Beringer’s original vision of a brunch is its association with alcohol. Most brunch menus serve drinks. A Bloody Mary in particular was developed specifically to be drunk in the morning to quell the pain of a hangover. The Bellini, a cocktail of sparkling wine and peach juice or puree, was invented in the 1930s by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy and named after one of Cipriani’s favorite Renaissance painters, Giovanni Bellini. Along with its sister, the Mimosa, these cocktails became associated with brunch because their light, drinkable flavor made it seem acceptable to drink them in the morning. Also, brunch is usually a leisurely meal, not rushed, and lounging with eggs and pastries does seem to lend itself to enjoying a cocktail or two.

Easter Brunch Menu

Prosecco Strawberry Cocktail
Italian Easter Bread
Cold Poached Salmon with Mustard Sauce
Asparagus, Orange and Lentil Salad
Caramelized Mushroom and Onion Frittata
Homemade Sausage Patties
Italian Easter Cookies

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Prosecco Strawberry Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 cups hulled strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 bottle chilled Prosecco 
  • 1 orange, sliced into rounds
  • Mint sprigs, for garnish

Directions

In a blender, puree 2 cups hulled strawberries and 2 tablespoons water until smooth. In a pitcher combine strawberry puree,orange juice, sparkling wine and orange slices. Stir gently. Serve garnished in tall glasses with mint sprigs.

Italian Easter Cheese Bread

Italian Easter Cheese Bread

Crescia al Formaggio or Italian Easter cheese bread is still mostly unknown in this country. This light-textured, golden egg bread containing Parmesan cheese makes a wonderful, savory aroma as it bakes. Be aware that this isn’t a soft, moist loaf. It’s very light, crusty and dry inside. Serve it in thin slices with butter or use the leftovers for grilled sandwiches or paninis.

Dough

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, white reserved
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper (black if you don’t mind the specks, white if you do)
  • 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese, or a combination

Glaze

  • Reserved egg white (from above)
  • 2 teaspoons cold water

Directions

Combine all of the dough ingredients except the cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough becomes shiny and satiny. It’ll be very sticky; stop the mixer to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple of times during the mixing process.

Add the cheese and beat until well combined.

Scrape the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and set it aside to rise for 1 hour; it rise much. Gently deflate the dough, turn it over, return it to the bowl and allow it to rise for an additional hour; again, it may not seem to rise much — that’s OK.

Oil or flour your hands. To make a traditional round loaf, form the dough into a ball and place it in a large souffle dish or another round, deep pan. The pan should be about 6″ to 7″ wide, and 3″ to 4″ deep.

To make a braid:

Divide the dough into three pieces; roll each piece into a 12″ log and braid the logs. Nestle the braid into a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.
Cover the loaf lightly with a thin kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 2 hours (or longer, depending on the warmth of your kitchen); the dough should become noticeably puffy, but it won’t double in size.

To bake the bread:

Put the oven rack in a lower position, just below the middle and preheat the oven to 425°F.

Whisk the reserved egg white with the water and brush the top of the loaf.

Place the bread in the oven and bake it for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, tent the bread lightly with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s a deep, golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F. The braided loaf will require less time than the round loaf.

Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the edges, if necessary, and turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Store airtight, at room temperature, for several days. Freeze, tightly wrapped, for longer storage. Yield: 1 loaf.

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Asparagus, Orange, and Lentil Salad

Red or Pink lentils cook quickly and become mushy if overcooked.

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 1 medium-size fennel bulb
  • 2 large oranges, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 2 pounds fresh asparagus
  • 1 1/2 cups dried pink/red lentils, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Baby arugula leaves for garnish

For the dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Rinse fennel thoroughly and trim the root end of the bulb. Trim stalks from the bulb and chop fronds to equal 1/4 cup. Thinly slice bulb and mix with oranges, black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and let stand until ready to complete the dish.

Cut asparagus tips into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Cut stalks diagonally into thin slices, discarding tough ends.

Bring 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and cook 1 to 2 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain. Pat dry with paper towels.

To make the dressing:

Whisk together vinegar, shallots, honey, Dijon mustard, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil until blended.

For the lentils:

Bring 3 cups water and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add lentils; return to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often, 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain well and rinse with cold water. Toss lentils with 1/4 cup of the dressing.

Combine parsley, asparagus, fennel mixture and fennel fronds in a large bowl; toss with remaining vinaigrette according to taste. Spoon lentils onto a serving platter; top with the asparagus mixture and garnish with arugula.

poached salmon

Cold Poached Salmon with Mustard Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 salmon fillets (6 ounces each)
  • Sea salt and finely ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock, or low-sodium canned broth

Mustard Sauce

  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Place in a large, ovenproof sauté pan with the chicken stock and heat over medium heat just to a simmer. Place the pan in the oven and poach the salmon until the flesh is opaque, but still medium rare, 12 to 15 minutes.

Make the Mustard Sauce. Combine the mustards, honey and vinegar in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil and stir in the chopped dill.

Transfer the fillets to a platter and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Slice the salmon into thin slices and serve with Mustard Sauce on the side.

frittata

Caramelized Mushroom and Onion Frittata

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 8 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream or half & half
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Preheat the broiler.

In a 10-in. ovenproof skillet, saute mushrooms and onion in butter and oil until softened. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook for 30 minutes or until deep golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add shallot and garlic; cook 1 minute longer.

Reduce heat; sprinkle with cheeses. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper; pour over the mushroom mixture. Cover and cook for 4-6 minutes or until eggs are nearly set.

Uncover skillet. Place pan under the broiler. Broil 3-4 inches from the heat for 2-3 minutes or until the eggs are completely set. Let stand for 5 minutes. Cut into wedges. Yield: 4 servings.

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Homemade Sausage Patties

Makes 8 small patties

Ingredients

  • 1 poundlean ground pork or ground turkey
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage, crumbled
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried fennel, crushed
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Mix together the ground meat, garlic, sage, thyme, fennel, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the egg white and combine thoroughly. Cover and chill for at least 15 minutes

To easily form the sausage patties, rinse your hands in cold water. Divide the mixture into eighths and shape each portion into a 2 1/2-inch disk. Patties can be made to this point and refrigerated or frozen until ready to use.

Heat a skillet over high heat and then add the oil. Once the oil is heated, swirl it around the pan. Cook the sausages on both sides until completely cooked through and golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Drain and serve immediately.

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Italian Easter Cookies

Dough

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seed
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Icing

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Multicolored nonpareils

Directions

Beat together the oil, butter, eggs, vanilla, salt, baking powder, anise and sugar until smooth. Add the flour, beating until smooth. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Pinch off the dough into 2-teaspoon-size (1/2-ounce) balls; a teaspoon cookie scoop works perfectly here. Roll the balls into logs about 4 inches long and about 1/2-inch in diameter. Coil into doughnut shapes, leaving a small hole in the middle.

Place the shaped cookies on lightly greased baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake for about 18 minutes. They may have the merest hint of golden color on top, but they definitely won’t be brown. Do not overcook or they will get too hard to eat.

Remove them from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely before icing.

To ice the cookies:

Combine all icing ingredients in a saucepan and heat on low until the mixture is lukewarm, stirring often. Hold one of the cooled cookies by the bottom and dip the top of the cookie into the glaze, letting the excess icing drip back into the pan. Immediately sprinkle with the nonpareils and place on a wire rack to let the icing set.

Allow the frosting to harden before storing the cookies. Yield: 3-3 1/2 dozen cookies.

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National Archeology Museum of Naples

National Archeology Museum of Naples

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

Some of the highlights include:

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

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

mosaic

Dog Mosaic

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

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

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

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

Pompeii Model

Pompeii Model

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

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

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

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

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

Museo di Capodimonte

Museo di Capodimonte

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

Napoli_-_Museo_di_Capodimonte_(salone_da_ballo)

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

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

Naples museum

Cappella Sansevero

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

Cappella Sansevero Interni Cristo Velato

Christ Veiled under a Shroud

Christ Veiled under a Shroud

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

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

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

macchine-anatomiche-cappella-sansevero

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

 

naples_1742999c

The Bay of Naples

Neapolitan Cuisine

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

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

Neapolitan pizza

 Naples-Style Pizza Dough

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

Salsa di Pomodoro Fresco

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

Pizza Margherita

4 pizzas

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

easy-lasagna

Lasagne alla Napoletena

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

Serves 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

Heat the oven to 375°F (190°C).

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

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

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

zuppapesce28plated29_edited-11

Neapolitan Zuppa di Pesce 

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

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

For the tomato base:

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

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

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

Directions

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

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

pasteria

Ricotta Neapolitan Easter Pie (Pasteria)

Serves 8

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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passover

The Jewish community of Ferrara is the only one in Emilia-Romagna with a continuous presence from the Middle Ages to the present day. It played an important role while the Duke Ercole I d’Este was in power. The situation of the Jews deteriorated in 1598, after the Este dynasty moved to Modena and the city came under papal control. The Jewish settlement, located on three city streets, formed a triangle near the cathedral and became a ghetto in 1627. Between 1627 and 1859, the Ferrara Jews were restricted to the ghetto, a self-sufficient small town within the larger one. With a population of about 1,800, the ghetto had its own synagogues, schools and old age homes. In 1848, King Carlo Alberto proclaimed the emancipation of the Italian Jews, granting them equal rights. Today, the old ghetto area, with its small attractive stores and refurbished colorful houses, is an essential part of the itinerary of all guided tours.

In 1799, the city was taken over by the Republic of France, which established a small garrison there. Shortly after, Lieutenant Field Marshal Johann von Klenau approached the fortress with his military forces consisting of Austrian cavalry, artillery and infantry men, augmented by Italian peasant rebels, and demanded its capitulation. The commander refused. Klenau blockaded the city. For the next three days, Klenau patrolled the countryside, capturing the surrounding strategic points. The French attempted two rescues of the beleaguered fortress and, finally, a column led by Pierre-Augustin Hulin reached and relieved the fortress. Klenau took possession of the town, though, and garrisoned it with a light battalion. The Jewish residents of Ferrara paid 30,000 ducats to prevent the pillage of the city by Klenau’s forces, thus, saving the city from being sacked.

Although Jews lived in several towns of Emilia-Romagna, including Modena, Bologna, Parma, Reggio and Emilia, the Jewish cuisine that seems to have survived or prevailed is the one from the city of Ferrara. Their influence in the region’s cooking is mainly Sephardi, with dishes such as buricchi, which is reminiscent of Spanish and Portuguese empanadas and can have both sweet and savory fillings.

Jewish Museum

Jewish Museum

An old saying from Ferrara goes, “Dell’oca non si butta via niente”, which translates as “Nothing gets thrown away from a goose”. Inspired by the Italian pork cold cuts, the Ferrara Jews recreated similar cuts using goose. All the parts of the goose were eaten: its fat was widely used in cooking as it was full of protein and calories and was cheap to buy. Its meat was used to make ‘prosciutti’ and goose sausages or salami. For centuries the word ‘sallame’, spelt with two ‘l’s instead of ‘salame’ was used within the Jewish community in order to distinguish the goose salami from the forbidden pork one. Foie gras was made from the goose liver and it was very expensive. Sometimes it was even used for payment in illegal betting and smuggling.

Goose was widely used in Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Piedmont until modern times, when it was replaced by turkey, as turkey is more tender, less fatty and cheaper. Many recipes from the Jewish community of Ferrara have goose and turkey as their main dish entree and turkey meatloaf is still a popular dish. A well-known and interesting goose dish is the ruota del faraone or Pharaoh’s wheel. It is made with fresh tagliatelle, goose salami, pine nuts and raisins. It’s ingredients represent the Egyptian soldiers and chariots being caught up in the waves of the closing Red Sea, while chasing the Jews who were escaping from Egypt. This dish and many other old traditional recipes are laborious and few people make them today, if at all. Testine di spinaci – the stems of spinach – and guscetti – the husks of green peas were dishes created at the time of the ghettos, when living conditions were particularly poor and creativity was a necessity in the kitchen.

During Passover, foods containing chametz, that is leavened bread or anything else made with wheat, barley, oats, spelt or rye are not allowed. The Ashkenazic tradition also places kitniyot in the list of prohibited Passover foods: rice, corn, soy, millet, beans, peas, any other legume or anything derived from those products, such as corn syrup, tofu or soy oil fall under this category. Similarly, seeds, mustard, sesame and fennel are also avoided during Passover. This restriction includes peanuts, even though we think of them as nuts, they really are classified as legumes. People from a Sephardi or Mizrahi background do not have the kitniyot restriction.

Look on products like matzah flour, juices, wine, oil, candy and soda for the “Kosher for Passover” certification. That can help you be sure.

matzah gnocchi

Matzah Gnocchi

Serves 4 to 6 as appetizer

Ingredients

  • 11 matzahs, broken into small pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced parsley
  • A pinch of nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons of matzah meal, plus more to dust the gnocchi
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon kosher approved extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 leeks
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes
  • Pinch of sugar

Directions

Soak the matzah in cold water or broth for at least 1 hour or until soft. Drain, squeeze well and place into a clean bowl; add the eggs, salt and pepper, parsley, nutmeg and matzah meal. Mix all the ingredients together.

In a second bowl, place some more matzah meal. With a wet tablespoon or a small scoop, take some of the mixture and place it on top of the matzah meal. Using your hands, roll the mixture evenly over the matzah meal and shape it into a ping-pong size ball. Proceed with the rest of the mix and place the rolled gnocchi on a piece of wax paper.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; drop in the gnocchi and scoop them out as they rise to the surface using a slotted skimmer. Place them in with the tomato sauce and serve.

Prepare the sauce:

Heat olive oil and add thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts) and a whole clove of garlic. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring, and discard the garlic.

Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon . Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar. Cook for about 10-15 minutes uncovered, allowing the sauce to thicken.

passoverrolledturkeys-01

Passover Rolled Turkey Breast With Mushroom-Spinach Stuffing

FOR THE STUFFING:

  • 2 tablespoons kosher-for-Passover olive oil
  • 2 leeks, white part only, chopped
  • 1 pound mushrooms, chopped fine
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 6 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 cups matzah meal
  • Salt and pepper to taste

FOR THE TURKEY:

  • 1 Kosher whole turkey breast, boned, with skin (4-5 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher-for-Passover olive oil
  • 3 cups reduced-sodium Kosher chicken or vegetable broth, divided
  • 1 cup kosher-for-Passover dry white wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

TO PREPARE THE STUFFING:

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add oil. Saute leeks and mushrooms until leeks are tender and mushrooms are browned, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, Italian seasoning and spinach and stir until spinach wilts. Remove to a large bowl to cool slightly. Sprinkle with lemon juice and stir in matzah meal. Add salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

TO PREPARE THE TURKEY:

Lay turkey breast skin side down on a cutting board or wax paper. Trim any excess skin. Holding a knife parallel to the meat, make lengthwise cuts on both breast halves, cutting away from the center, so meat is of a consistent thickness (creating a rectangular shape). Cover with wax paper and pound to 3/4-inch thickness. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread with the spinach stuffing mixture, leaving about a 1/2-inch border. Starting from the left side, roll into a cylinder. Tie at 1-inch intervals with kitchen string and secure open edges with toothpicks.

Place turkey on a rack, seam side down, in a roasting pan. Brush with oil. Combine 2 cups chicken broth with the wine and pour over the turkey. Roast for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, basting with stock mixture every 15 minutes (add broth if evaporating too quickly) or until temperature registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and juices run clear.

Remove from roast the oven and let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Skim fat from the roasting pan and pour pan juices into a small saucepan with the remaining stock and season with salt and pepper. Cook until slightly thickened. Remove toothpicks and string, and slice turkey into 1-inch-thick slices. Serve with sauce.

Latkes
Easy Latkes

These latkes are oven fried.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds baking potatoes, about 3 medium potatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons Matzah meal
  • Kosher approved vegetable oil for the baking sheets

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly spray two large cookie sheets with rims with cooking spray.

Grate or shred the potatoes. You can use the fine shredding attachment on a processor or mixer. Wrap the grated potatoes in a cotton dish towel (a flour sack towel works well), and twist the towel closed at the top. Bring the potatoes to the sink and squeeze them, wringing as much liquid as possible from them.

Shred or grate the onion. Don’t use the finest shredding disk of your food processor, as it will turn the onion to mush; the medium shredding disk is preferable.

Combine the drained potatoes, onion, egg, salt and matzah in a bowl, stirring until everything is thoroughly mixed.

Pour a thin layer of oil into each baking pan. It should be deep enough that when you tilt the pan, you can see it move. For easier-to-clean pans and slightly less greasy latkes, heat the pans in the oven briefly, to warm the oil.

Drop the pancake batter onto the sheets by the 1/4 to 1/3-cupful. Space them far enough apart so that you can easily get a spatula between them to flip them over when the time comes.

Bake the pancakes for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the bottoms are golden brown. Remove the pans from the oven, turn the pancakes over and bake for an additional 10 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom.

Remove from the oven and drain the pancakes on paper towels. Serve with applesauce and sour cream, if desired.

rootveg

Roasted Root Vegetables

Ingredients

  • About 3-4 pounds, in any combination: turnips, parsnips, carrots, celery root, shallots, golden beets, butternut or kabocha squash
  • 1/3 cup kosher approved olive oil
  • 3 sprigs rosemary
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Peel all the vegetables and dice into 1 inch pieces.
Combine al lthe ingredients in a mixing bowl and transfer to two rimmed cookie sheets lined with foil or parchment paper.
Roast about 20-30 minutes, until very tender.
Discard the thyme and rosemary sprigs. Serve with the turkey roast.

Passover basic_sponge

Italian Almond Passover Cake

Servings: 12

Dress this simple cake up by dusting the top with confectioners’ sugar and topping it with fresh fruit.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons matzah meal, plus more for coating the cake pan
  • 2 cups whole blanched almonds or 2 cups packaged finely ground almonds
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup kosher approved extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C). Grease a 10-inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment or wax paper and grease the paper. Evenly coat the bottom and sides with matzah meal, tapping out any excess.

If you are using whole blanched almonds, pulse the whole blanched almonds in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of matzah meal and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar until very finely ground. If using packaged finely ground almonds, mix by hand: packaged ground almonds with the matzah meal and the 1/4 cup sugar.

In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the brown sugar and the remaining granulated sugar at high-speed until very light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. At low-speed, gradually add the ground almond mixture, the extracts, the olive oil and the lemon zest.

In a medium bowl, using clean beaters, whip the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. Beat 1/4 of the whites into the yolk mixture to lighten it; then quickly fold in the remaining whites.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Bake the cake for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Run a small, sharp knife around the side of the cake, transfer it to a rack and let cool completely in the pan. Remove the side of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Remove the base of the pan, then carefully peel off the paper. Garnish according to taste.

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cellini

The self-portrait of master goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini was a Florentine sculptor, goldsmith, soldier and writer. He was born in 1500 in Florence, Italy and his parents were Giovanni Cellini and Maria Lisabetta Granacci. They were married for eighteen years before the birth of their first child. Benvenuto was the second child of the family. The son of a musician and builder of musical instruments, Cellini was pushed towards music,but when he was fifteen his father reluctantly agreed to apprentice him to the goldsmith, Antonio di Sandro. However, at the age of sixteen, Benvenuto attracted attention in Florence by taking part in an altercation with his companions. He was banished for six months by the magistrates and went to live in Siena, where he worked for a goldsmith named Fracastoro. From Siena he moved to Bologna, where he became a more accomplished flute player and made progress as a goldsmith. After a visit to Pisa and a period of studying sculpture in Florence, he moved to Rome.

His first artistic works were a silver casket, silver candlesticks and a vase for the bishop of Salamanca, which won him the approval of Pope Clement VII. Another celebrated work from his time in Rome is the gold medallion, “Leda and the Swan”, created for Gonfaloniere Gabbriello Cesarino that is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence. He also took up the flute again and was appointed one of the pope’s court musicians.

In the attack on Rome by Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, Cellini gained fame as a soldier. According to his own accounts, he shot and injured Philibert of Châlon, Prince of Orange. His bravery led to a reconciliation with the Florentine magistrates and he soon returned to his hometown of Florence. Here, he devoted himself to crafting medals in gold, the most famous of which are “Hercules and the Nemean Lion” and “Atlas Supporting the Sphere”, the latter eventually falling into the possession of Francis I of France.

He returned to Rome and this time he was employed in the craft of making jewelery and in casting dies for medals and the papal mint. In 1529 his brother, Cecchino, killed a Corporal of the Roman Watch and, in turn, was wounded. He later died. Soon afterward Benvenuto killed his brother’s killer – an act of blood revenge, but not justice, as Cellini admits that his brother’s killer had acted in self-defense. Cellini fled to Naples to escape the consequences. Through the influence of several cardinals, he later obtained a pardon. Cellini next went to Venice, where he was restored with greater honor than before.

At the age of 37, after returning from a visit to the French court, he was imprisoned on a charge (apparently false) of having embezzled the gems of the pope’s tiara during the war. He was confined to the Castel Sant’Angelo, escaped, was recaptured and treated severely. The intercession Cardinal d’Este of Ferrara, eventually secured Cellini’s release, in gratitude for which he crafted d’Este a gold cup.

Bust of Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Bust of Benvenuto Cellini on the Ponte Vecchio, Florence

Besides his works in gold and silver, Cellini created sculptures of a grander scale. One of the main projects of his French period is probably the “Golden Gate” for the Château de Fontainebleau. Only the bronze tympanum of this unfinished work, which represents the Nymph of Fontainebleau (Paris, Louvre), still exists, but the complete spectrum of his work can be known through archives,his preparatory drawings and reproduced casts. His most distinguished sculpture, the bronze group of “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” now in the Loggia dei Lanzi at Florence, was his attempt to surpass Michelangelo’s, “David” and Donatello’s, “Judith and Holofernes”. The casting of this work caused Cellini much trouble and anxiety, but it was called a masterpiece as soon as it was completed. By 1996, centuries of environmental pollution exposure had damaged the statue. In December 1996 it was removed from the Loggia and transferred to the Uffizi for cleaning and restoration. It was a slow, years-long process and the restored statue was returned to its home in June 2000.

The autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini was started when he was 58 and ended just before his last trip to Pisa around the year 1563, when Cellini was approximately 63 years old. The memoirs give a detailed account of his career, as well as his loves, hatreds, passions and enjoyments, that is written in an energetic, direct and racy style. They show a great self-regard and self-assertion, sometimes running into extravagances which are impossible to credit. Despite its exaggerations and its often boastful tone, it is a document of surprising frankness and incomparable authenticity and, thanks to it Cellini’s character, is more intimately known than that of any other figure of his time.

He died in Florence in 1571 at the age of 71 leaving behind a magnificent legacy of work. For all his exploits, Benvenuto Cellini remains a hero of Florence, in the Piazzale Degli Uffizi, outside the famous Uffizi Gallery, a life-size sculptor of him stands alongside the great masters of renaissance art, Da Vinci, Raphael and, of course, Michelangelo.

Still in the news today, Cellini’s gold and enamel masterpiece the “Saltcellar of Francis I” executed in 1540 for the King of France and valued today at $60,000,000, was recovered recently after being stolen from a museum in Vienna. Being chosen as a member of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno shows the respect he commanded: not just as an artist but as a patron of Florence.

florence

Some Florentine Specialties

Much of the simplicity of Tuscan cuisine was born out of necessity. Wild herbs and greens were used in simple soups. Every part of the animal was used–cibreo is a popular Florentine chicken stew that features cockscombs. Tuscan bread, a rustic sourdough baked in a wood-fired oven, traditionally was made without expensive salt. That meant it quickly went stale and so ribollita was born, a vegetable soup thickened with bread. Panzanella is a summer salad made from stale bread cubes, fresh tomatoes, basil and Tuscany’s famed olive oil. Wheat flour was another expensive ingredient and so Tuscans created dishes like castagnaccio, a cake made with chestnut flour, raisins, pine nuts, orange zest and olive oil.
Dishes here have hearty, rustic flavors, well-matched to the area’s famous wines, and Florentines enjoy eating their regional cuisine in friendly, warm, informal settings.

Typically, Florentine people never start a meal from the main course but always have a starter first. Whether eating in a restaurant or at home with friends, you will always find liver crostini (thin sliced toasted bread with liver patè) on the table. Alongside liver crostini the usual antipasto also offers different types of sliced salamis and hams.

Pappardelle (similar to spaghetti, but a thicker pasta made with egg) with boar or hare sauce. It can be seasoned with other classic ingredients: porcini mushrooms, meat sauces, artichokes and sausages, etc. Other first course dishes are the soups: pappa al pomodoro, ribollita, carabaccia and black cabbage. These are all variations of a single base made from vegetables, bread and tomato.

The hills around Florence abound with game, including wild boar which is used in locally made salamis and air-dried hams. Duck and rabbit appear on the table grilled. Fish from the region’s lakes and seafood from the coastal areas appear on the table. Porcini, wild mushrooms, are another favorite served in the fall after foragers have combed the woods around the city.

Bistecca alla fiorentina (a T-bone steak) is served rare with a drizzle of Tuscan olive oil and often accompanied by white beans, roasted potatoes or a green salad. Porchetta is a suckling pig, stuffed with garlic and herbs and brushed with a rosemary branch while its roasts. Trippa alla fiorentina, tripe cooked with wine, tomatoes and herbs, is another signature dish.

Florentine desserts: cantucci (small almond biscuits) to eat at the end of a meal dipped in Vinsanto or in the colder seasons the castagnaccio, that takes its name from the nearby mountains , is a thin cake made of chestnut flour and pine nuts. During Carnival or after the Epiphany, you can find schiacciata alla fiorentina, a soft sweet, sponge cake which can be filled with cream or chocolate and covered with powdered sugar.

Sometimes Florentines like eating a sandwich in the street for lunch. In addition to steak, Florence offers other meat specialties such as tripe and lampredotto. These are foods that are eaten in kiosks on the street, even in winter.They can be seasoned with green sauce and enriched with other vegetables, such as leeks.

chicken-liver-crostini-Bourgeois

Chicken Liver Crostini

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 2 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 pound chicken livers, rinsed
  • 1 cup Marsala wine
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • Salt, pepper and red chili flakes to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter at room temperature
  • Baguette, sliced thinly and toasted
  • Sea salt, optional

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions, capers and garlic and sauté just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the thyme, Marsala, anchovies and chicken livers. Season with salt, pepper and chili and cook until the chicken livers are just cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and discard the thyme. Transfer the contents of the skillet to a food processor. Add the butter and purée until smooth. 

To serve, spread the chicken liver on toasted baguette slices and garnish with sea salt, if desired.

pappa

Pappa al Pomodoro

Many Florentine recipes make use of leftover ingredients. Pappa al Pomodoro, a thick, hearty soup made with dry bread, is one of the city’s classic dishes.

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 4–8 cloves of garlic, according to taste
  • 1 14-ounce can of plum tomatoes
  • 1 pound of dry, stale (preferably unsalted Tuscan) bread, broken into small pieces
  • 4–6 cups of water or warmed vegetable broth
  • 1 bunch (20 leaves) of basil, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Half teaspoon of crushed and dried chili pepper
  • 1 leek (white flesh only), finely chopped

Directions

Place the bread in a bowl and add water or broth. Cover and put aside for at least an hour.

Sauté the garlic and leek in oil. Add dried chili pepper, the tomatoes, half the basil and a dash of salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Squeeze excess broth from the soaked bread and add to the oil and tomatoes. Cook for at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot with remaining basil and a swirl of olive oil.

Minestra

Ribollita

Ribollita means “reboiled,” because to make this rich, thick vegetable soup correctly, it must be cooked and recooked. Ribollita appears with many variations, but the key ingredient is cavolo nero ( winter black cabbage), though kale, chard, or green and Savoy cabbage can also be used. Add zucchini, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and other vegetables according to taste.

Ingredients

  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 leek (white flesh) finely chopped
  • 3 chopped carrots
  • 3 fresh or canned peeled plum tomatoes
  • 2 cups canned white cannellini beans
  • 1 quarter cavolo nero or equivalent
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard and/or spinach
  • 1 finely chopped celery stalk and leaves
  • 4 chopped zucchini 
  • 2 peeled and cubed potatoes 
  • 1 pound stale Italian bread 
  • 4 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • Water
  • Olive oil
  • Oregano, rosemary and hot chili pepper as desired

Directions

Sauté the onion, leek, and garlic in a Dutch Oven in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add carrots, celery, chili pepper and cook for ten minutes. Add tomatoes, cabbage, beans, herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes.

Add tomato paste, zucchini, potatoes or other vegetables of choice and water to cover the ingredients. Cook gently for 90 minutes, adding water as necessary,

Chill the soup overnight. The next day purée half the mixture, return to the pot. Bring to a boil and reheat.

Ladling the soup over a thick slice of toasted dry bread and add a swirl of olive oil to each serving.

ganugi-pappardelle-gross

Pappardelle with Duck

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound duck breast, skin removed
  • Zest of 2 oranges
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 bay leaf, broken into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • Fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 pound dried pappardelle pasta

Directions

Rub the meat with the orange zest, lemon zest, rosemary and bay leaf. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove the duck breast from the herbs and dice the meat.

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Sauté the onion, carrot and celery until soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the diced duck meat. Cook until the meat has changed color, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the red wine; cook until the alcohol has reduced and evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the sauce is rich and thick.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain pasta and mix with the sauce to serve.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Traditionally, a T-bone from local Chianina beef cattle is preferred, but an ordinary T-bone (or porterhouse) can also be used.

Serves at least four

Ingredients

  • 2-pound T-bone steak, three fingers thick
  • Sea salt (coarse)

Directions

Florentines grill the meat over a very hot wood or coal, but it can also be cooked on a hot skillet or griddle.

Grill the steak, without seasoning, for three to five minutes. Florentines often grill the steak standing up on the bone for a few minutes at the end to cook around the T-bone.

The meat should be seared and crispy on the outside and red, almost raw at its heart. Allow to rest for ten minutes then cut the meat off the bone into large chunks.

Season with coarse sea salt and serve.

cake

Schiacciata Alla Fiorentina

Serves: 12 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup warm whole milk
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Powdered sugar, for topping

Directions

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.

Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and orange zest in a mixing bowl.

In another bowl mix orange juice, eggs, milk and oil and pour into bowl with flour.

Beat with a hand mixer until thoroughly mixed together, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Pour the batter to the greased pan and bake for about 25 minutes.

Test the cake with a toothpick inserted into the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.

Let cool for about 30 minutes on the counter, then turn the cake out of the baking pan. Slice and serve sprinkled with powdered sugar.

 

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005

San Sperate has a very ancient history. Recent archaeological excavations have dated the first settlements to the Bronze Age. Following the period of Punic rule in Sardinia, the villages in the San Sperate basin came under Carthaginian rule and four cemeteries from this period have been found. Roman occupation in 238 BC can be documented and the parish church dates to the XVI century. This small village in Sardinia, not far from Cagliari, is known for the “Paese Museo” (Museum Village) and its artistic features. It is a village of murals with more than 300 large wall paintings. Painting the walls of its houses was begun by a local artist, Pinuccio Sciola. In 1968, in the wake of a youth protest movement, Sciola had the idea of turning the village into an open-air “museum village”.  The idea was taken up by other artists such as Foiso Fois, Liliana Canu, Primo Pantoli, Giorgio Princivalle, Gaetano Brundu, Nando Pintus, Giovanni Thermes and Franco Putzolu. They came to San Sperate to add their own different styles and techniques. The result ranged from trompe l’oeil windows, balconies and lines of washing hung out to dry to historic scenes and copies of famous works of art.

Pino-Sciola-in-his-open-air-museum-CU

Pinuccio Sciola

Sciola is also Sardinia’s best known sculptor and there are examples of his work carved from the local stone. His stone sculptures are the living testimony of the art of San Sperate. Limestones and basalts are the materials mainly used by Sciola. He makes a “kind of wound” in each stone, so that the energy of the stone is taken out. His large sculptures resonate when rubbed by human hands or small rocks. However, you can’t image how amazing it is listening to Sciola’s stones, so instead of imagining, you can hear these stones in a documentary about this fascinating artist and his work by playing the video link below:

The murals depict how life was in San Sperate one hundred years ago. They are creations of a changing farming culture with themes of rural life (work in the fields and scenes from the village) in an urban space made more significant by the display of traditional implements, such as olive oil mills, wheat grinding mills, stone tubs, basins and by rows of orange and lemon trees. A Picasso-esque house wall of colorful images and a wall painted to resemble a space for hanging agricultural tools (painted so realistically with shadows that they look ready to be unhooked and used) are just two of the vivid images depicted in the town. There are also curiosities, like a house which appears to be wrapped in paper with a corner torn off or painted groups of people chatting in front of arcades or abstract patterns. Here are a few photos of the murals:

004 Living art gallery san_sperate (21) san_sperate (49) sansperate sansperate1 sansperate2 sansperate3 Sardinia_SanSperate_Murales2-736009

One artist from the Renaissance period, Piero della Francesca, must have been popular because there are several copies of his most famous paintings scattered throughout the village, including one next to a bakery that has an image of a single oven on its wall.

The murals covering the brick walls of the village houses brought this small village into the limelight, attracting Italian and foreign artists wishing to experiment with mural painting and other forms of art expression. This attraction also created a platform for local artists: in sculpture – Sergio Caddeo, Giuseppe Lasio, Gianfranco Pinna, Romano Porcu, Eva Schirru and Lucio Schirru; in painting –  Monica Corda, Erminluca Maccioni and Raffaele Muscas; in miniature art –  Ignazio Casti; in ceramics –  Giampaolo Mameli; in murals –  Angelo Pilloni and in street art –  Manu Invisible. (Source: Italy Magazine)

Sardinian Recipes

xSardinia

Sardinian food ranges from soups and stews, seafood, freshly baked breads, olives and wine to roasted lamb, sheep’s milk cheeses and pastries.

BEAN-FENNEL-AND-POTATOES-SOUPM-RECIPE

Bean, Fennel and Potato Soup

Ingredients

  • 2/3 pound (300 g) fresh fava beans or dried cannellini beans
  • 2 fennel bulbs, fronds (feathery tops) only
  • 1/2 pound (250 g) potatoes
  • 1/2 pound (225 g) plum tomatoes or canned italian tomatoes
  • 1/3 pound (150 g) dry short pasta (ditalini)
  • A ham bone
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Freshly grated Pecorino Sardo (in its absence use Pecorino Toscano or a mixture of Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano.)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Rinse the fennel fronds, pat them dry and chop them. Save the fennel bulbs for another recipe. Peel and dice the potatoes. Blanch, peel, seed, chop and drain the tomatoes.

Heat the oil in a soup pot, sauté the tomatoes for a minute and as soon as they begin to wilt add the beans, fennel, potatoes and ham. Add 2 1/2 quarts (2.5 l) of water, cover, and simmer for at least two hours.

Remove the ham bone and stir in the pasta. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked. Serve with grated pecorino on the side.bonelessleglamb

Sardinian Stuffed Leg of Lamb

Ingredients:

  • A boneless leg of lamb, weighing about 4 1/2 pounds (2 k)
  • 3/4 pound (110 g) Italian mild sausage, casing removed and crumbled
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup (50 g) dry bread crumbs
  • 1 2/3 pounds (750 g) plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and chopped — canned tomatoes will also work
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • A large bunch parsley, minced
  • A medium onion, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Butcher’s twine

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan or Dutch oven large enough to contain the leg of lamb and sauté the minced garlic, parsley and onion until the onion is translucent. Remove the mixture from the saucepan to a bowl with a slotted spoon, leaving the pan drippings behind. When the onion mixture has cooled, mix it with the sausage, eggs and bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture over the inside of the leg of lamb. Roll the leg up tightly and tie it with twine.

Reheat the pan drippings in the saucepan and brown the meat, turning it to brown all sides. Add the tomatoes, crumbling them between your fingers, add enough water to reach part-way up the sides of the pot and simmer gently for an hour or until the meat is quite tender.

When the meat is done, remove it from the pot. Remove and discard the string, slice the meat and arrange the pieces on a warmed platter. Spoon the sauce over the meat and serve at once.

ciambellone-ok

Saffron Ring Cake

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces (300 g) ricotta
  • 2 1/2 cups (300 g) flour
  • 1 1/4 cups (250 g) sugar, plus extra for the top of the cake
  • 3 eggs
  • The grated zest of an orange
  • The grated zest of a lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • A big pinch of saffron

Directions

Preheat the oven to 380 degrees F (190 C).

Squeeze the orange, warm the juice slightly and dissolve the saffron in it.

Mash the ricotta with the tines of a fork, mixing until it is creamy in texture and combine it with the sugar, grated orange and lemon zest, eggs and half the orange juice mixed with saffron. Mix well, fold in the flour and baking powder and then pour the batter into a floured ring mold baking pan.

Brush the surface of the cake with the remaining orange juice, sprinkle with sugar and bake until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry, about 40 minutes, but check before then.

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Michelango_Portrait_by_Volterra

Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra

Michelangelo was born March 6, 1475 in Caprese near Arezzo, Tuscany. For several generations, Michelangelo’s family were bankers in Florence but, when their bank failed, his father, Lodovico di Leonardo Buonarroti Simoni, took a government post in Caprese, where Michelangelo was born. Several months after Michelangelo’s birth, the family moved back to Florence. After his mother’s death in 1481, when he was just six years old, Michelangelo was sent to live with a stonecutter and his family in the town of Settignano. A few years later Michelangelo went to Florence to study grammar, however, he showed no interest in schooling, preferring to copy paintings and seek the company of painters. His friend, Granacci, encouraged him to take a place as an apprentice with the Ghirlandaio brothers at their workshop in Florence. Here he learned the art of drawing but his desire to be a sculptor became stronger and he was noticed by Lorenzo de Medici, who took him in to live at the palace in Via Larga, where he was treated like a son. The Medici garden became a school for Michelangelo because it was filled with statues that he could use for inspiration.

One of Michelangelo's very early drawings - John the Baptist.

One of Michelangelo’s very early drawings – John the Baptist.

The death of Lorenzo de’ Medici, however, brought a reversal of Michelangelo’s circumstances. Michelangelo left the security of the Medici court and returned to his father’s house. In the following months he carved a polychrome wooden Crucifix (1493), as a gift to the prior at the Florentine church, Santo Spirito, who had permitted him to study the corpses in the church’s hospital. Between 1493 and 1494, Michelangelo carved a larger than life statue of Hercules from a block of marble, which was sent to France. Unfortunately, this piece of art disappeared sometime in the 18th century. In January 1494 after heavy snowfalls, Lorenzo’s heir, Piero de Medici, commissioned a snow statue and Michelangelo again entered the court of the Medici. Later that same year, the Medici were expelled from Florence due to the political rise of Savonarola, so Michelangelo left the city before the upheaval was resolved, moving to Venice, then to Bologna and, later, to Rome.

In November 1497, the French ambassador to the Holy See, Cardinal Jean de Bilhères-Lagraulas, commissioned Michelangelo to carve a Pietà, a sculpture showing the Virgin Mary grieving over the body of Jesus. The contract was agreed upon in August of the following year. Michelangelo was 24 when the statue was completed. The Pietà was soon to be regarded as one of the world’s great masterpieces of sculpture. Contemporary opinion was summarized by Michelangelo’s biographer, Vasari: “It is certainly a miracle that a formless block of stone could ever have been reduced to a perfection that nature is scarcely able to create in the flesh.” The Pietà is now located in St Peter’s Basilica.

Michelangelo's_Pieta

Michelangelo’s Pietà, St Peter’s Basilica

He spent the next four years in Florence developing technical mastery in his art forms. Some of the works produced during this time were the famous, David, in marble, representing the hero in youth; The Virgin and Child (Pille Tondo) (housed at Bargello, Florence), The Bruges Madonna and The Holy Family.

In 1505, Michelangelo was invited back to Rome by the newly elected Pope Julius II. He was commissioned to build the Pope’s tomb over the next five years and carve forty statues for the tomb during that time period. Michelangelo experienced constant interruptions to his work on the tomb in order to complete numerous other tasks for the Pope. Although Michelangelo worked on the tomb for 40 years, it was never finished to his satisfaction. It is located in the Church of S. Pietro in Vincoli, Rome and it is most famous for the central figure of Moses, completed in 1516. Of the other statues intended for the tomb, two known as the Heroic Captive and the Dying Captive, are now in the Louvre.

CAPPELLA_SISTINA_Ceiling

During the same period, Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. This was a massive task that took approximately four years to complete (1508–1512). Working in uncomfortable conditions, cramped and often alone, it caused him to become reclusive. The situation also affected his health, body and mind. He complained about his eyesight and body aches. The work, though, was fantastic and the biblical fresco was filled with originality.

The composition stretches over 5382 square feet (500 square metres) of ceiling and contains over 300 figures. In the center are nine episodes from the Book of Genesis, divided into three groups: God’s Creation of the Earth; God’s Creation of Humans and their fall from God’s grace and, lastly, the state of Humanity as represented by Noah and his family. Among the most famous paintings on the ceiling are The Creation of Adam, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, The Deluge, The Prophet Jeremiah and The Cumaean Sibyl. The Sistine Chapel ceiling was a work of unprecedented grandeur, both for its architectural forms and for the details in the formation of human figures. Vasari wrote: “The work has proved a veritable beacon to our art, of inestimable benefit to all painters, restoring light to a world that for centuries had been plunged into darkness. Indeed, painters no longer need to seek for new inventions, novel attitudes, clothed figures, fresh ways of expression, different arrangements or sublime subjects, for this work contains every perfection possible under those heading.”

Vatican-ChapelleSixtine-Plafond

Michelangelo was considered the greatest living artist in his lifetime and, ever since then, he has been held to be one of the greatest artists of all time. A number of his works in painting, sculpture and architecture rank among the most famous in existence. His output in every field during his long life was prodigious. When the sheer volume of correspondence, sketches and reminiscences that survive are also taken into account, he is the best-documented artist of the 16th century.

Two of his best-known works, the Pietà and the David, were sculpted before he turned thirty. Despite his low opinion of his painting, Michelangelo also created two of the most influential works in fresco in the history of Western art: The Scenes from Genesis on the ceiling and The Last Judgment on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. As an architect, Michelangelo pioneered in using architectural forms to emphasize both solid and spatial relationships in art. At the age of 74, he succeeded Antonio da Sangallo the Younger as the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica, however, Michelangelo died before this work was completed. On December 7, 2007, a red chalk sketch for the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, possibly the last made by Michelangelo before his death, was discovered in the Vatican archives. It is extremely rare, since he destroyed his designs later in life. The sketch is a partial plan for one of the radial columns of the cupola drum of Saint Peter’s.

The amount of work that he did surpasses many modern artists even in this age of mass production. Starting from initial sketches, moving to oils and then graduating from frescoes to sculptures, even the most prolific artist who came after him, would appear short of this genius. Among all of his artworks, there is none, which can be rated as less than “perfect.”

Caprese

Caprese Michelangelo, Italy

Caprese, Italy is located in the Province of Arezzo in eastern Tuscany, bordered by the Apennines, and encompasses the areas of Casentino, Valdarno, Valtiberina and Val di Chiana. Each of these areas comprise unique landscapes where natural beauty blends harmoniously with its historic heritage and masterpieces of art. Today, Caprese has been renamed, Caprese Michelangelo.

Its cuisine is tied to agriculture and many recipes originated from the religious and convent life. One will find bean soups, meat stews, crostini topped with woodcock and bread made with hare (pan di lepre) as typical foods of the region. Some products are cultivated only in this area and are dedicated to specific recipes. Black cabbage, present in few parts of the world, is an important ingredient in minestra di pane (bread soup). The Chianina breed of cattle, raised according to Protected Geographical Indication (IGP) standards, is the base for historical dishes, like peposo alla fornacina – a slow cooking beef stew, a dish attributed to those workers who produced the terracotta construction materials for Florence’s Brunelleschi Chapel.

The free-range “grey” pig in this area is the source for one of the world’s best prosciutti, Prosciutto del Casentino. Sheep and goat’s milk (pasture-raised, naturally) cheese products, such as, raviggiolo, ricotta and raw-milk pecorino are important locally. The finest dishes center around the highly prized Valtiberina truffle, present year-round (alternating between black and the more costly white). Another product frequently used to make sweets and snacks is the chestnut that is ground into a flour. Not to be left out are classic Tuscan products that complete the table: oil and wine. The region possesess first-class wines according to the best national and international standards, such as Chianti, Cortona and Valdichiana and no meal is finished without Vinsanto.

beef stew

Il Peposo alla Fornicina (Kiln Worker’s Stew)

This slow-cooked stew needs about 3 hours for the flavors to blend. (You may want to find your crock pot for this recipe!) The story goes that in order to get more work done, the employer of the kiln workers had the dish sent up to the workers instead of allowing them to come down for lunch. It wasn’t long before the workers realized that they were losing their lunch break and a chance to meet friends, play cards and relax. The first strike in Florence resulted!

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds beef stew meat
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 2 onions, chopped fine
  • 3 or 4 cups red wine or tomato sauce
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons ground pepper, fresh and coarsely ground
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • Country bread

Directions

Cut the stew meat into small pieces. Put the meat in a stew pot that will fit in your oven. Add the garlic, onion, wine, rosemary and pepper. Cover and cook in a moderate oven (350 degrees F.) until the meat falls apart. Stir occasionally.

Serve the stew in deep dishes on slices of toasted country-style bread rubbed with garlic.

For a thicker sauce, substitute tomato sauce for wine.

A great dish to cook ahead and reheat.

onion soup

Onion Soup in the Arezzo Style

8 Servings

Ingredients

  • 6 Yellow onions, sliced
  • 2 oz butter
  • 20 slices Tuscan-style bread
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 8 slices Fontina cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmigiano, grated to taste
  • Chopped parsley

Directions

Saute the sliced onions in butter until soft in a large soup pot. Add the broth and simmer for about 10 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Butter 2 loaf pans or a ovenproof casserole dish. Line the bottoms of the pans with bread slices and spoon in a layer of onions and broth. Add 4 Fontina slices to each pan, then another layer of bread and broth. Sprinkle generously with Parmigiano. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. Sprinkle the top with chopped parsley.

Sausage and mushrooms

Homemade Pasta with Sausage and Mushrooms

In the style of Arezzo, with its Etruscan roots, this pasta is thicker than Bolognese fettuccine and is made with fewer eggs.

Makes 4 servings

For the pasta:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups semolina, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons of water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the toppings:

  • 12 ounces chicken or pork Italian sausage links
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 ounces shallots, finely sliced
  • 2 cups hot vegetable or beef broth
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Freshly grated parmesan

To make the pasta dough:

Mix the flour, salt and 1 cup of semolina together in a bowl. Make a well in the center and break in the eggs. Whisk the eggs with a fork, gradually gathering the dry mix into the egg and then, as the mixture thickens, add water and oil. Pull in all the dry mix and knead for a few minutes in the bowl. If absolutely necessary, add 1 teaspoon at a time of extra water to make the dough soft enough to work. Put the dough onto on a counter sprinkled with semolina, cover with the inverted bowl and let rest for 30 minutes. (You can also make the dough in a food processor.)

To roll out and cut the pasta:

Secure the pasta machine to a work surface. Flatten the dough and send it through the rollers on setting ‘1’. Fold in half and send it through again; turn the long edges over toward the middle; send through a third time. Repeat until your pasta is smooth and supple. Cut the pasta into 3 pieces and let them rest on semolina for a few minutes before continuing. Send each piece of dough through the rollers on setting ‘3’. Let rest. Finally, send the pasta through on setting ‘5’. Sprinkle with semolina and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Cut each piece of pasta into long strips 3/16” wide using a sharp knife. Place the strips of cut pasta on a wide platter or tray sprinkled with semolina until ready to boil.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.

To cook the sausage and mushrooms:

Clean the mushrooms and cut in half. Peel and slice the shallots. Heat a cast iron frying pan in the oven for a few minutes and then add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and the shallot and return the pan to the oven. After 2 or 3 minutes, once the shallots is beginning to brown, add the mushrooms and 1/2 cup of broth to the frying pan. Return to the oven and cook 5 minutes, turning halfway through. Once the mushrooms are lightly cooked, pour them into a serving bowl and pour any broth from the frying pan over them. Set aside and keep warm.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the frying pan, add the sausages and return the pan to the oven. Turn the sausages after 5 minutes and bake for a further 7 minutes until lightly brown on two sides. Pour in the rest of the broth and add back the mushrooms. Let simmer in the oven while you cook the pasta.

To cook the pasta:

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt and the pasta and, once back at the boil, cook for 3 minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander and drizzle with olive oil.

To assemble the dish:

Distribute the pasta among 4 bowls. Sprinkle on half the parsley and half the red pepper. Spoon the mushrooms and the broth over the noodles. Slice the sausages and add to the pasta. Sprinkle the rest of the parsley and red pepper over the dishes and bring to the table piping hot. It’s traditional to serve this dish with grated parmesan.

vin santo tiramisu

Tiramisu al Vin Santo

Ingredients

  • 1 pound/500 g cantuccini (biscotti) cookies, chopped
  • 1 cup/250 ml Vin Santo
  • 1 pound/500 g mascarpone cheese
  • 3.5 ounces/100 g chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons/30 ml sugar

Directions

Place the cookies on the bottom of a cake pan, creating a base for the tiramisu. Drizzle 1/2 cup Vin Santo over the cookies and set aside. The exterior of the cookie should be wet while the interior should remain somewhat dry.

In a bowl, add the mascarpone, chocolate, sugar and remaining 1/2 cup Vin Santo. Whisk the ingredients together until creamy and thoroughly mixed.

Spread the cream mixture evenly over the cookies, making sure all the cookies are completely covered. You may also sprinkle the top of the tiramisu with additional chopped chocolate and cookies. Unlike traditional tiramisu, this version can be served immediately.

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natural_sweetnersLooking for alternatives to refined sugars?

Natural sweeteners like unrefined brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, barley malt syrup, rice syrup, honey and agave nectar are common these days and for good reason. Each has a unique flavor and set of uses that’ll satisfy any craving for sweetness in everything from your salad dressings to your roasted pork loin.

Today, the main sources of commercial sugar are sugar cane and sugar beets, from which a variety of sugar products are made:

Granulated white sugar is common, highly-refined all-purpose sugar. Look for organic varieties for a more natural choice.

Confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar) is granulated white sugar that’s been crushed to a fine powder that is used for icing and decorations.

Unrefined brown sugar (raw sugar) is slightly purified, crystallized evaporated cane juice. This caramel-flavored sugar comes in a variety of flavors, including demerara, dark muscovado and turbinado.

Unrefined dehydrated cane juice is generally made by extracting and then dehydrating cane juice with minimal loss of the original flavor, color or nutrients.

Turbinado sugar is a sugar cane-based, minimally refined sugar. It is medium brown in color and has large crystals. It’s often mistaken for traditional brown sugar because of its light brown color, but it’s made in a different way. Many people consider it to be healthier than both white and brown sugars, since it is generally less processed and less refined. Recipes that call for turbinado sugar tend to use it as a replacement for traditional brown sugar. It contains more moisture than regular white or brown sugars, which can be beneficial in things like cookies or muffins.

natural

Honey: – the world’s oldest-known unrefined sweetener. Honey’s flavor and color are derived from the flower nectar collected by bees. This accounts for the wide range of honey available around the world. Note that dark honey generally have a stronger flavor than lighter ones. Since bees can forage up to a mile from their hive and are indiscriminate in their nectar choices, so when a particular flower is named on the label of a honey container, it simply means that flower was the predominant one in bloom in the harvest area.

Here are a few of the most popular varieties:

Clover: mild flavored and readily available in colors ranging from white to light amber

Wildflower: generally dark with a range of flavors and aromas depending on the flowers that provided the nectar

Alfalfa: light in color with a delicate flavor

Orange Blossom:  distinctive citrus flavor and aroma and light in color

Blueberry: slightly dark with a robust, full flavor

Tupelo: fragrant, light and mild

Chestnut: dark, tangy and slightly bitter with a high mineral content

Storage tip: Keep honey in an airtight container and, if used infrequently, at temperatures below 50°F. Liquid honey will eventually crystallize but can be returned easily to a liquid state by placing the container in warm water for a few minutes.

Maple syrup is simply the boiled down tree sap of the sugar maple tree. As for maple sugar, it’s twice as sweet as white sugar and has a caramel flavor. Until the arrival of the honeybee (introduced from Italy in 1630) maple sugar was the only form of concentrated sweetener in North America. Both maple syrup and maple sugar are among the least refined sweeteners.

Storage tip: Refrigerate maple syrup to help it retain flavor, prevent slow fermentation and mold formation. When you store it right, maple syrup will keep for a year or more. If your syrup develops sugar crystals, simply warm the syrup to dissolve them.

Molasses: With its strong, fragrant dark caramel flavor, it is about 65% as sweet as sugar and is actually produced during the refining of sugar. (The syrup remains after the available sucrose has been crystallized from sugar cane juice.) Light molasses is from the first boiling of the cane, dark molasses is from the second and blackstrap, the third. Though molasses can be sulfured or unsulfured, unsulfured molasses is preferred because the fumes used in manufacturing sugar aren’t retained as sulfur in the molasses.

Date sugar is not extracted from anything. It’s just dried dates, pulverized into a powder. Date sugar is very sweet. It clumps and doesn’t melt, so it can’t be used in all the ways we use white sugar. Still you can usually substitute it in recipes that call for brown sugar. Some cooks suggest that you use only two-thirds the amount of date sugar in place of brown or white sugar called for in your recipe, otherwise, the end result may taste too sweet.

Barley Malt Syrup: Made from soaked and sprouted barley, which is dried and cooked down to make a thick syrup. Barley malt is a sweetener that’s slowly digested and gentler on blood sugar levels than other sweeteners.

Storage tip: I keep this sweetener in the refrigerator, so it does not develop mold.

Rice Syrup: Made in almost the same way as barley syrup and it is usually a combination of rice and barley. Some of the best Chai teas are sweetened with rice syrup.

Agave: Nectar is a multi-purpose sweetener obtained from the core of the Mexican Agave cactus, the same plant whose sap is a source of tequila. Agave nectar may resemble honey — its color ranges from pale to dark amber — but it’s slightly less viscous and dissolves more easily in liquids. Keep in mind that agave nectar is about 25% sweeter than sugar and that darker agave nectar has a more robust flavor with a hint of molasses.

So which one is the best?

The truth is that no sugar, regardless of where it comes from, will ever be optimal for regular consumption. From the above natural sweeteners, blackstrap molasses and pure maple syrup are the most nutritious. But whatever sweetener you choose, make sure that you get the least processed, pure version of it! In other words, if you are going to consume a sweetener, it is best if it comes from the fruit, herb or vegetable kingdom and be as raw/living as possible (not overheated and not overly processed) for optimum health.

Want to substitute natural sweeteners for refined sugar in recipes, keep this guide handy.

Sweetener

Substitution Ratio

Reduce Liquid?

Confectioners’ sugar

1 3/4 cups for each 1 cup sugar

No

Brown sugar

1 cup firmly packed for each 1 cup sugar

No

Turbinado sugar

1 cup for each 1 cup sugar

No

Maple syrup

3/4 cup for each 1 cup sugar

Reduce by 3 tablespoons

Honey

3/4 cup for each 1 cup sugar

Reduce by 1/4 cup

Barley malt or rice syrup

3/4 cup for each 1 cup sugar

Reduce by 1/4 cup

Molasses

1 1/4 cups for each 1 cup sugar

Reduce by 5 tablespoons for each cup used

wafflesOld-Fashioned Waffles (Barley Malt Syrup)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups almond milk or 2 cups low-fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 3 tablespoons barley malt syrup (room temperature)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

Directions

Preheat a waffle iron.

In a large bowl, use a fork or whisk to vigorously mix the milk, vinegar, oil and barley malt syrup.

Add remaining dry ingredients and mix together until the  batter is smooth.

Coat the waffle irons with non-stick cooking spray and cook waffles according to waffle iron instructions.

carrotmuff

Carrot Spice Muffins (Agave Nectar)

Dry ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour (or a mixture of 3/4 cups whole wheat and 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flours)
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax-seed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup agave nectar
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup low-fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (about 3)
  • 1/4 cup raisins

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a 12 cup muffin pan with non-stick spray or use muffin liners.

Mix together all dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the liquid ingredients. Add the liquid to the dry and mix just long enough to combine. Add the carrots and raisins and stir to combine.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups–it will be very thick.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

ham

Ham with Maple Syrup and Orange Marmalade Glaze

Ingredients:

  • 1 (7-pound) pre-cooked spiral-sliced ham
  • 1 cup grade B maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 oranges, sliced
  • 4-6 cinnamon sticks

Directions

Preheat oven to 325°F. Using a sharp paring knife, make shallow crosshatch cuts all over the outside of the ham. Arrange ham in a large roasting pan and bake for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine syrup, marmalade, juice, ground cinnamon, pepper and cloves in a small bowl to make a glaze. After the ham has baked for 30 minutes, remove it from oven and increase the oven temperature to 425°F.

Arrange oranges and cinnamon sticks around ham in the roasting pan, then brush ham and oranges liberally all over with the glaze, pouring remaining glaze over the ham. Return to the oven and bake, basting about every 10 minutes, until ham is hot throughout and caramelized on the outside, about 45 minute more.

Transfer ham to a platter and set aside to let rest for 15 minutes. Arrange oranges and cinnamon sticks around the ham and serve.

honey-dressing-sl-1886379-x

Broccoli with Honey-Lemon Dressing

Serve this salad dressing over fresh garden greens, steamed green beans, asparagus or broccoli.

Makes about 3/4 cup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 head of broccoli, steamed

Directions

Whisk together chopped fresh parsley and next 7 ingredients in a small bowl. Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. If chilled, let stand at room temperature 15 minutes. Whisk before serving. Pour over cooked broccoli before serving.

gingerbread

Gingerbread Squares (Molasses)

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup reduced-fat (1% or 2%) milk
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger
  • Cooking spray for the pan

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9×13 inch baking pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment paper, letting paper extend about 1 inch over the short ends of the pan. Spray the paper and flour the pan.

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and set aside. With an electric mixer, beat oil and brown sugar together until light. Beat in molasses. Beat in eggs one at a time. In 3 additions, stir in flour mixture, alternating with additions of milk, beginning and ending with flour. Stir in 2 tablespoons of crystallized ginger.

Scrape batter into the prepared pan and level the top. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons crystallized ginger. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Lift gingerbread out with the edges of the paper and cut into 12 squares.

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Liguria can be found on the Italian Riviera, along the northwestern coast of Italy, and it is a landscape that will impress people on their journey through this historically rich and popular region. The capital Genoa, one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean and home to Christopher Columbus, was a powerful maritime state during the Middle Ages. Today, one can find architecturally impressive buildings, elegant mansions and historic churches — all of which bear witness to Liguria’s glorious past, yet blend in perfectly with modern times. Luxuriant Mediterranean vegetation exists in the mountain regions of Portofino and Cinque Terre and the climate in this mountainous region is mild, perfect for growing vegetables, olives and grapes. Sanremo is one of Italy’s most famous bathing resorts and the place where the annual Italian pop music festival takes place.

olivengrosshimmel

On Saturday, March 29, 2014 the Pesto Championship will take place in Genoa. In the Hall of the Great Council in the Doge’s Palace, 100 competitors from around the world will compete in the preparation of Pesto Genovese using traditional ingredients and a pestle and mortar.

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Ligurian cooking is known for the simple flavors of fresh produce, especially the Pesto alla Genovese mentioned above. Liguria basil is blended with extra virgin olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano to make this famous sauce. It is not only used for pasta, but can also be added to soups, vegetables or rice dishes.

Liguria is a region of vineyards and olive groves that produce excellent extra-virgin olive oils and quality wines, like Ormeasco and Rossese from Dolceacqua, Vermentino, Ciliegiolo and Bianchetta from Genoa, Albarola, and Pollera Nera from the Riviera di Levante and Pigato from Salea d’Albenga.

Seafood and fish dishes are typically fish soups like ciuppin and buridda made with stockfish, as well as stuffed and fried sardines.

Among the meat dishes to choose from are cima alla genovese (cold stuffed breast of veal) made ​​from the leftovers of slaughter such as brains and sweetbreads, etc. along with eggs, cheese, peas and greens or a stewed hare with taggiasche olives, pine nuts and rosemary. The famous stuffed pie of the region is Torta Pasqualina (Easter pie), a thin pastry stuffed with greens, cheese and eggs.

Cima alla Genovese

Cima alla Genovese

Fugassa, a soft and thick focaccia covered with onion slices and olive oil, and the thin farinata, a baked savory pancake made with chickpea flour, are very popular. The traditional desserts of this region are pandolce genovese, amaretti and cubeli (tiny butter cookies).

Antipasto

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La Focaccia Col Formaggio Di Recco – Focaccia with Cheese

The traditional version calls for locally made stracchino cheese–a soft, fresh, creamy cow’s milk cheese. You can substitute crescenza cheese, which is basically stracchino under a different regional name or even a burrata, which is made from fresh mozzarella cheese with a creamy cheese filling in the middle. It bakes down to a stracchino-like texture. All of these are now available in the United States from Bel Gioioso Cheese. You will want something mild and creamy (soft enough to be spreadable, but not liquid) that will also melt. I also like the taste of creamy Italian fontina in this recipe. The King Arthur Flour Company sells 00 Italian flour.

Ingredients

Dough (will make two “14″ pans)

  • 2 1/4 cups (10 ounces/ 284 g) unbleached all-purpose flour or 00 grade flour (this has slightly more gluten than American flour)
  • 1/2 teaspoon (0.125 ounce (3.5 g) salt
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces/170 g) water, room temperature

Filling

  • Stracchino or similar cheese, 8 ounces for each 14-inch pan
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Topping

  • Olive oil, about 1 tablespoon per pan
  • Sea salt, to taste

Directions

In a mixing bowl stir all the dough ingredients together and continue stirring until they form a ball of dough. Add more water if needed, a few drops at a time, to hydrate all the flour. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour. Dust the counter with a little flour and transfer the dough to the counter. Knead it for about four minutes, adding flour or water as needed to make a smooth, supple dough. It should not be sticky, but soft and only slightly tacky, almost satiny to the touch. You can also do this in an electric mixer or a food processor.

Cover the dough and let it rest for five minutes, then knead it again for about two minutes. This can also be done in an electric mixer using a dough hook.

Divide the dough into 4 balls of approximately 4 ounces each. Cover them and let them rest for about fifteen minutes before rolling and stretching them.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Lightly mist the baking pan or pans with olive oil spray.

Rub a small amount of olive oil on a smooth counter or work surface to make a circular lightly oiled spot of about the diameter of your baking pan. Take one of the dough balls and place it in the center of the oiled spot and flatten it with your hand. Flip it over so that both sides have touched the oiled surface. Use a rolling-pin to roll out the dough, from the center to the outer edges, to the size of your pan. If the dough springs back, let it rest for a few minutes and then continue rolling it (you can start on a second piece in the meantime–it will take 2 pieces per pan).

When the dough is the diameter of the pan, carefully lift it and gently stretch it with your hands, as if stretching pizza dough, to make it larger than the pan and as thin as you can get it without tearing it–it should look like fillo (phyllo) or strudel dough–nearly paper-thin. Lay one piece of stretched dough over the pan and tuck it into the corners to cover the whole surface as well as the inner walls of the pan, with some dough overhanging the pan.

Fill the dough-covered pan with pieces of cheese, spaced about 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. Sprinkle the cheese with a small amount of pepper and salt. Repeat the rolling and stretching of a second piece of dough and cover the pan with the dough, overhanging the outside of the pan so that the top and bottom crusts connect along the rim of the pan. Pinch the two doughs together and tuck the dough into the pan, crimping it with your fingers all around the circumference to make a pie-like edge. Crimp this edge with your fingers to seal the two doughs together to fully enclose the cheese filling. If necessary, trim off any excess dough with a paring knife.

focaccia-al-formaggio1

Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the top of the dough and sprinkle a small amount of sea salt. Use a scissors or sharp paring knife to cut vent holes into the top crust. Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the top crust is covered with deep golden brown streaks and sections. Remove the focaccia from the oven and allow it to cool for about three minutes. Cut the focaccia into large or medium size squares (not wedges) and remove the sections with a flexible spatula. Serve while still hot.

First Course

zuppa-di-riso-e-verdure-L-K_HkNj

Rice Minestrone with Pesto – Minestrone di Riso al Pesto

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (200 g) rice (use medium-grained, if possible, not parboiled)
  • 1 – 15 oz can borlotti beans or similar beans
  • 12 ounces (300 g) mixed greens (e.g. spinach, chard, cabbage)
  • 2 potatoes
  • 1 leek
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 rib celery
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 quarts (2 liters) boiling water
  • 2 tablespoons pesto sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Directions

Peel and dice the potatoes. Peel and slice the carrots, coarsely chop the mixed greens and dice the green part of the leek. Mince the celery, onion and white part of the leek. In a soup pot heat the olive oil and saute the onion, celery and white part of the leek until the onion is translucent. Add the remaining chopped and diced vegetables and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Add the beans, season the mixture with salt and pepper and carefully add the boiling water. Simmer the soup for one hour.

After an hour, stir in the rice and let it cook for 15 minutes more or until the rice is tender. Remove a ladle of just the broth to a mixing bowl. Stir the pesto sauce into the broth and, when the rice is done, stir the pesto mixture into the soup. Simmer for a minute more and serve it topped with grated cheese.

Second Course

fish and potatoes

Sea Bass Filets, Ligurian Style — Filetti di Orata Alla Ligure

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) sea bass fillets, bream or similar fish
  • 1/2 pound (200 g) potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 teaspoons (20 g) capers, rinsed
  • 1/2 pound (240 gr) green zucchini, sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram or dill
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided

Directions

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

Sauté the potatoes until lightly browned in half the olive oil and then place them with the zucchini slices in the bottom of a baking dish. Lay the fish filets over them, sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the fish and season everything to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the fish for 15-20 minutes and serve each portion of fish with the vegetables beneath it.

Dessert Course

Olive_Oil_Cake-2

Ligurian Olive Oil Cake

Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons or oranges

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour a 10-inch round cake pan.

Into a medium bowl, sift together the 1 3/4 cups of flour, baking powder and salt. In another medium bowl, whisk the melted butter with the olive oil and milk.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar and citrus zest until pale and thickened, about 3 minutes. Alternately, beat in the dry and wet ingredients, starting and ending with the dry ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and the side pulls away from the pan. Transfer the cake to a rack and let cool before serving.

MAKE AHEAD The cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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Carnevale, also known as Mardi Gras, is celebrated in Italy and many places around the world 40 days before Easter, a final party before Ash Wednesday and the restrictions of Lent.

The Carnival of Venice was for a long time the most famous celebration. From Italy, carnival traditions spread to the Catholic nations of Spain, Portugal and France. From France, they spread to the Rhineland of Germany and to New France in North America. From Spain and Portugal, they spread with Catholic colonization to the Caribbean and Latin America.

The most widely known, most elaborate and most popular events are in New Orleans, Louisiana. Carnival celebrations, usually referred to as Mardi Gras, were first celebrated in the Gulf Coast area of the United States, but now occur in many other states. Customs originated in the onetime French colonial capitals of Mobile (now in Alabama), New Orleans (Louisiana) and Biloxi (Mississippi), all of which have been celebrated for many years with street parades and masked balls. Other major U.S. cities with celebrations include Miami, Florida; Tampa, Florida; St. Louis, Missouri; Pensacola, Florida; San Diego, California; Galveston, Texas and Orlando, Florida.

For information on how Mardi Gras is celebrated in New Orleans read my post: Mardi Gras Time !

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/02/04/mardi-gras-time/

Carnevale in Italy is a huge winter festival celebrated with parades, masquerade balls, entertainment, music and parties. Children throw confetti at each other. Mischief and pranks are also common during Carnevale, hence the saying, “A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale”, or anything goes at carnival.

Carnevale has roots in pagan festivals and traditions and, as is often the case with traditional festivals, was adapted to fit into Catholic rituals. Although Mardi Gras, sometimes called “Fat Tuesday” or “Shove Tuesday”,  is actually one date – the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday – but in Venice and New Orleans and in some other places, the carnival celebrations and parties may begin a couple of weeks before.

Carnevale Di Venezia was first recorded in 1268 with mention of masks, parties and rich food. In the height of the masquerade, mascherari (maskmakers) enjoyed a special position in society, with their own laws and guild. Masks made the Venetian carnival unique, as it took away social status and inhibition. In this way, the social order was temporarily non-existent. However, when Venice fell under Austrian rule after Napoleon’s Treaty of Campo Formio in 1798, the city and all its culture went into decline. This pre-Lent celebration didn’t enjoy a revival until almost 200 years later when, in the 1970’s, a group of Venetians decided to revive the tradition.

carnival_venice_italy_424759

Masks or maschere are an important part of the carnevale festival and Venice is the best city for traditional carnival masks. Carnival masks are sold year round and can be found in many Venetian shops, ranging from cheap to elaborate and expensive. Walking through the streets of Venice, one can view a variety of masks on display in shop windows. People also wear elaborate costumes for the festival and there are numerous costume or masquerade balls, both private and public.

What foods are popular in Italy during Carnevale?

Almost every Italian town and region has some specialty in recognition of Carnevale, though in Venice, the specialty is frittelle. These fritters are fried golden brown and filled or topped with a variety of treats, bursting with sweet or savory flavors, like chocolate, jelly, fruit or meat. The enticing smells drift through the city and can be found in the cichéti stalls along the streets, where it is easy to pick up these “small bites”.  In the other regions, similar fare can be found under different names, like the Lombard chiacchere, Tuscan cenci and Roman frappe. But under any name, they are all the highlight of the season for Italians and visitors alike. Other Venetian carnevale foods include “Pasticcio di Maccheroni” (a baked pasta, ricotta, meat pie), “Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia e Pancetta” (filled, rolled baked dough), “Migliaccio di Polenta” (polenta and sausage) and steaming plates of lasagnas and pastas, filled with pancetta, prosciutto, salami and sopressata.

Naples has the sumptuous Lasagne di Carnevale. In the past poorer families could only afford to make this dish once a year, therefore, it became very special and every family had their own secret recipe. There was a great deal of competiton in the local towns over whose lasagna was best. Throughout much of Italy, however, Carnevale is an occasion for eating pastries, fritters of one kind or another that are quick to make and fun to eat. During the weeks of Carnevale, it is a tradition to eat a lot of sweets because they will not be able to eat them during Lent.

Traditional Carnevale Recipes

lasagne-di-carnevale_1

Grande Lasagna di Carnevale

Some versions of this recipe add sliced hard-boiled eggs to the layers along with the meat.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried Lasagna noodles
  • 1/4 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 12 oz. drained canned plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 4 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced parsley
  • 2/3 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • Flour
  • Olive oil
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/3 pound mozzarella
  • 1/4 pound prosciutto

Directions

Cook the lasagna noodles in abundant, slightly salted water until they’re al dente, run them under cold water and lay the sheets out on a kitchen cloth, covering them with a second cloth.

For the sauce:

Sauté the onion in the oil until soft. Add the Italian sausage and after it has browned add the tomatoes. Simmer over moderate heat for about an hour, adding the beef broth a little at a time. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

For the meatballs:

Combine the ground beef with the bread crumbs, egg, parsley, ricotta and half the grated Parmigiano cheese. Make 1-inch diameter meatballs from the mixture and dredge them in the flour. Heat a little oil in a skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides, about 10 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon, place them on paper towels and keep them warm.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).

Dice the prosciutto and mozzarella. Oil a baking pan about the length of the pasta noodles. Place a layer of pasta in the bottom of the pan, then a few meatballs, some of the sauce, some of the diced ingredients and a sprinkling of Parmigiano. Continue until all the ingredients are used; then bake the lasagna for 15-20 minutes until bubbling. Let the lasagna rest for ten minutes before serving.

carnavale pizza

Pizza Sfogliata con Salsiccia

Rolled up pizza with sausages and pancetta is a specialty for Carnevale.

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/5 cups (500 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • 10 ounces (250 g) mild Italian sausage
  • 6 ounces (150 g) thinly sliced pancetta
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • A pinch of powdered cinnamon
  • Black pepper 

Directions

Make a mound of the flour on your work surface, form a well in the middle of it, crack the eggs into the well, add a pinch of salt and mix together with your hands; knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, then cover it and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet. Remove the sausages from their casings and crumble them into the skillet, together with the pancetta. Brown the meat for 4-5 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

Roll the dough out about 1/8 of an inch thick (3 mm). Spread the remaining oil over the dough, then distribute the sausage and pancetta evenly over the dough as well.

Sprinkle the meat with black pepper to taste, dust very lightly with cinnamon and roll the dough up to make a snake.

Coil the snake, pressing gently in the center section of the snake to give the pizza a uniform width, put the snake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake it for 30-40 minutes, or until the pizza is evenly browned.

frittelle

Frittelle di Riso

There are many types of Carnival (Mardi Gras) pastries in Italy. Traditional rice fritters, frittelle di riso, are also popular on March 19th, to celebrate San Giuseppe.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup (350 g) rice — not parboiled
  • 1 quart (1 liter) milk
  • The zest of one lemon
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 jigger of rum or vinsanto
  • 3/4 cup plus 1½ tablespoons (100 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Oil for frying
  • Confectioner’s sugar

Directions

Simmer the rice in the milk until it’s quite soft and begins to give off its starch, then stir in the sugar, lemon zest and butter. Let the mixture cool.

Separate the eggs and whip the whites to soft peaks. Combine the yolks and the rum or wine and stir into the rice mixture, then fold in the egg whites, flour and baking powder.

Heat about 3 inches of oil to 375° F in a 4 to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat. Drop the batter, a teaspoon at a time, into hot oil and fry the frittelle until they are golden brown.

Drain them on absorbent paper and, when they have cooled, dust them with confectioner’s sugar.

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Castagnole

In Umbria these little fried pastries are called castagnole and, in some places, zeppole. In Milan they are tortelli. They are called castagnole because their shape resembles a chestnut. They are best eaten while still warm.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon anise extract
  • 1-1/2 cups cake or italian flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 small eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 pkg yeast (lievito, in Italy)
  • Oil for frying
  • Powdered sugar to dust them

Directions

Mix flour, eggs, sugar, butter (cut into small cubes), vanilla, anise, salt, lemon zest and yeast. Combine the ingredients and transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead until

soft and very smooth. Rest the dough for 20 minutes. Then form long and thick noodles of dough an inch thick, rolling the dough with your fingers.

Cut into pieces the size of a chestnut. Roll into balls.

Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a deep-frying pan and drop about six balls in at a time, frying over low heat and turning them as they brown. Use a spider or large slotted spoon to turn them until they are puffed up, golden and begin to float. Scoop them out and place them on layers of paper towels. Repeat with remaining balls and then sift powdered sugar over them.

chiacchiere (1)

Carnival Chiacchiere

Depending on where you are in Italy, you might find these chiacchiere under the name of crostoli (or grostoli), sfrappole, galani, frappe or cenci with different regions substituting the white wine with marsala, acquavite or anisette.

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups (500 g) all-purpose flour
  • 2 heaping tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 glass white wine
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • ¼ cup (50 g) powdered sugar

Directions

Place flour in a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar. Slowly work in the butter and the eggs followed by the white wine. Knead until the dough becomes soft and pliable. If it feels too sticky to the touch add a little more flour. Dust a work surface with a little flour. Roll dough out thin and cut it into triangles about 4 inches (10cm) long.

Heat about 3 inches of oil to 375°F in a 4 to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat and when hot, fry the chiacchiere in small batches. When they are golden brown all over, remove them from the oil and drain well on paper towels. Before serving, dredge with powdered sugar.

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