Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

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Cuneo (Italian) or Coni (French) is a province in the southwest section of the Piedmont region of Italy. The province has an interesting history. Nicknamed the town of seven sieges, it still retains the organization plan of a military town. It was once surrounded by massive walls, had large squares and contained magnificent palaces for wealthy aristocrats.

Originating in the 12th century, it was first built as a fortified town. Its location, in a naturally strategic position protecting the roads to France through the Tenda and Maddalena passes, made it a natural choice to be used as a military location. The French eventually demolished the walls and you can tell where the old walls were, as they are now the main streets in the province. During World War II, Cuneo was one of the main sites in the country of partisan resistance against the German occupation of Italy.

Pedestrian crossing and big plaza at city center under cloudy sky at rainy day in Cuneo, Italy.

Pedestrian crossing and big plaza at city center in Cuneo, Italy.

Sections of this province were part of France until 1947. Cuneo borders the French region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur on the west, the province of Turin on the north, the province of Asti to the east and Liguria to the south. It is also known as the Provincia Granda (the big province) because it is the third largest province in Italy and the largest one in the Piedmont region. It is also the capital of the province. This has created problems in the past for inhabitants in the eastern sections of the province, who are frustrated by the long trip to Cuneo every time they have business with the provincial government. The issue of dividing the province into two has been brought up several times.

Chianale (Cuneo, Val Varaita, Piedmont, Italy), old typical mountain village in the Italian ALps at summer

Chianale (Cuneo, Val Varaita, Piedmont, Italy), an old mountain village in the Italian ALps at summer

The province’s beautiful landscapes offer great variety that include valleys, hills and wildlife reserves. Some 75% of the area is mountainous. The Maritime Alps Natural Park with its high-altitude lakes and the Rio Martino Cave with its spectacular waterfall are distinctive sites in the province. Italy’s first forestry commission was established by the local government of Cuneo.

The economy is primarily based on the agricultural produce of the area, especially the wine industry.  Engineering, paper products, metallurgy, rubber and cattle also play an integral role in its local financial system.

The Tour de France travels through here, as well.  The Italian leg of the Tour often goes from Digne-les-Bains in France to Prato Nevoso in Piedmont, followed by a rest day in Cuneo.  From there, bikers head on to Jausiers in France.

The majority of the region’s winemaking (about 90%) takes place in the southern part of the Piedmont region in Cuneo, Asti and Alessandria. The best-known wines from the area include Barolo and Barbaresco. They are made from the Nebbiolo grape. The Piedmont region is located in the foothills of the Alps forming its border with France and Switzerland. In addition to the vast mountainous terrain, the Po Valley consumes a large area of the region. The valley and the mountains contribute to the area’s noted fog cover which aides in the ripening of the Nebbiolo grape (which gets it name from the word nebbia meaning “fog”).

Although the winemaking regions of Piedmont and Bordeaux (France) are very close in latitude, only the summertime temperatures are similar: the Piedmont wine region has a colder, continental winter climate and significantly lower rainfall due to the rain shadow effect of the Alps. Vineyards are typically planted on hillsides with warmer south-facing slopes.

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One of the most commonly used meat in the local cuisine is veal. It is the main feature of festivals, such as the Fiera del Bue Grasso, which attracts thousands of visitors in December each year. The province of Cuneo also produces Italy’s only pork-free sausage. Pig farming, however, provides the ingredient for the famous Cuneo raw ham, which also has a well-known cooked variety.

Il Grande Fritto Misto” (the Great Mixed Fry), one of the most characteristic dishes of the Cuneo region, is made with veal and pork, to which vegetables, semolina and fruit are added. Provincial meat products also include: Morozzo capon, Sambuco lamb and Langa lamb; Piedmontese blond chicken and Saluzzo white chicken. Famous products include the Alba White Truffle, Castelmagno, Raschera, Bra and Murazzano, Toma Piemontese, Grana Padano and Gorgonzola Are cheeses, which are all produced in the province.

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The cultivation and processing of chestnuts, both brown and white varieties, is a heritage of the area’s mountain tradition. They are used in pastry making and as an ingredient in other dishes. Hazelnuts are grown in the hills and form the main ingredient of Torrone di Alba and the region’s very famous glacè chestnuts and hazelnut cakes. “Alba torrone” (nougat); “paste di meliga” (cornflour cookies), which are also known as “Batiaje” because they are often made for baptisms and “baci di Cherasco” (hazelnut chocolates) are well-known desserts.

If you have a sweet tooth, Cuneo can help satisfy your cravings. The town’s specialty is Cuneesi al rhum, chocolates with a rum-based filling. The most widely known brand is Arione, a favorite of Ernest Hemingway.

Risotto with Hazelnuts and Castelmagno Cheese

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Ingredients for 4 people:

  • 14 oz (400g) risotto rice  (carnaroli)
  • 3 ½ oz (100g) hazelnuts
  • 3 ⅛ oz (90g) Castelmagno cheese, diced
  • 1 ¾ oz (50g) butter
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 ¼ cups (1 liter) hot broth (vegetable or meat)
  • 1 sprig of rosemary
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Toast the hazelnuts in a 350 degree F oven for about ten minutes. Cool and rub the skins off with a kitchen towel. Set aside.

Heat the butter in a deep saucepan and cook the onion until tender.

Add the rice and rosemary. Toast the rice for a minute then add the white wine.

When the wine has evaporated completely add a ladle of hot broth and stir gently with a wooden spoon until the broth is absorbed.

Continue adding the broth until it is all absorbed. Halfway through cooking add half of Castelmagno cheese and half of the hazelnuts.

When the rice is cooked, add salt and pepper to taste and the remaining the remaining cheese.

Garnish the dish with the remaining hazelnuts and serve.

Meatballs Cuneo Style

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Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 1 apple, peeled and grated
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup red wine

Directions

In a bowl combine the veal, grated apple, egg and salt. With wet hands form small meatballs. Coat each one in flour and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan and brown the meatballs evenly, then add the wine. Cover the pan and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Peperonata

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 cup chopped canned Italian tomatoes
  • 6 bell peppers (3 red and 3 yellow) seeded and cut into ½ inch size strips
  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • Salt
  • 1/2 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it softens, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomatoes, jalapeno and bell peppers and cook briefly. Add the red wine and salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Remove the lid and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, another 10 to 15 minutes. Check frequently toward the end of the cooking time, so the peppers do not stick to the bottom of the pan.

Stir in the herbs and taste for salt and heat through, about 2 minutes. Serve warm as a side dish.

Bunet di Cuneo (Baked Chocolate Pudding)

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Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup (70 g) sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup (250 g) sugar
  • 2/3 cup (50 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup (100 g) Amaretti cookie crumbs
  • 3 cups (750 ml) milk

Directions

Put the 1/3 cup sugar and water in a heavy skillet over a low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon and cook until the mixture is a syrup and the color of honey.

Remove from the heat and pour the syrup into a 9 inch loaf pan. Swirl the liquid in the pan around to coat all the edges.

Beat together the eggs and 1 cup sugar.

Add the cocoa and Amaretti cookie crumbs. Stir well.

Add the milk, stirring gently but thoroughly.

Pour into the loaf pan and set in a larger baking pan with at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) of boiling water.

Bake at 400° F (200° C) for 1 hour.

Cool to room temperature before chilling overnight.

To serve, slide a knife around the outer edges and invert onto a platter. Cut into thick slices to serve.

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Italian village with mountains in the background

The province of Catanzaro is one of the four provinces in the region of Calabria in southern Italy.  Catanzaro occupies both sides of the Calabrian Apennines and in the central part of the province is the isthmus of Catanzaro, a long narrow valley connecting the north and south parts of the coastline that feature beautiful white sandy beaches. Other parts of the province are mostly mountainous with steep-sided valleys formed along short rivers. There are large numbers of lakes surrounded by dense coniferous forests. The province includes much of the Sila National Park, a wild area with rough grassland and forests of pine, oak, beech and fir. The area is a main route to Naples and is a major terminal for goods traffic.

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Typical cuisine is similar to the Mediterranean diet, simple, local and healthy but also characterized by strong flavors. Extra virgin olive oil is the main condiment and is rarely replaced by lard. Hot pepper, introduced by the Saracens, is a basic ingredient in most dishes and in regional salamis.

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Pasta is mostly homemade and usually served with a simple fresh basil tomato sauce or with a ragu sauce. A traditional dish prepared for religious holidays is “pasta chijna”, layers of homemade pasta (lasagne) topped with small fried meatballs, slices of hard-boiled eggs, slices of spicy salami, caciocavallo cheese and grated pecorino cheese. You will also find pasta or bread combined in minestrone along with vegetables and herbs. Legumes are also common and replace meat in many recipes. The most used are fava beans served as a puree with tripe or with peas, lentils or chickpeas and pasta.

Among the meats, the pig is undoubtedly the most used meat, especially in winter as a second course dish.  However, most pork is used to make salami. The inland villages and towns utilize goat and sheep, of which every part of the animal is used, including the animal’s entrails, which are usually cooked with tomato, hot pepper and served inside pita bread, called “morzeddu” (the small bite).

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Along the coast fresh fish is cooked in different ways. Swordfish is usually grilled and served with a sauce called “salmoriglio” made with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar or lemon, garlic and spices. Tuna is topped with “ la cipolla” (onions), the famous red sweet onions of Tropea. Dried codfish is soaked before cooking and baby fish called “neonata ” are used to make small fritters.

Calabria is a region that produces a great variety of cheeses made with cow, sheep and goat milk. Caciocavallo cheese produced  in the Sila mountains and awarded  the DOP quality brand (protected origin designation); scamorza cheese; provola cheese and the “butirro” which is a caciocavallo with butter inside are among the most well-known cheeses. Cheeses most often made with sheep milk are fresh ricotta cheese and pecorino cheese,

The vegetables that  are commonly served are eggplant, parmigiana style or as balls; fried pumpkin and zucchini; pumpkin stem fritters; potatoes and green peppers; boiled wild vegetables (chicory, asparagus), mushrooms and dried tomatoes that can be stored in oil.

Clementines of Calabria IGP, chestnuts, figs covered with chocolate or spices are common fruits.

Typical regional sweets that are usually linked to specific days and holidays, are mostly made with ricotta sweetened with honey and flavored either by a figs or dried fruit or candied fruit. The best known are the multi-shaped “mostaccioli”, covered with honey.

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Anchovies al Cetrarese

Cetraro, an important port in the Tirreno sea, where anchovies are caught in abundance.

Ingredients for 6

  • 1 ¾ lbs. (720 gr) anchovies, bones removed
  • 8 ½ oz (240 g.) stale bread
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 oz (60 gr) grated Pecorino cheese
  • 1/3 cup white wine
  • Chopped fresh wild fennel fronds
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Make a stuffing with the stale bread soaked in water and hand squeezed, wild fennel, eggs, salt, black pepper and grated Pecorino cheese.

Put anchovies in an oiled baking dish and stuff each with some of the bread mixture. Bake for 10 minutes.

Add wine and bake for another 5 minutes. Serve drizzled with the cooking juices and garnish with a handful of fennel fronds.

catanzaropasta

Bucatini Pasta with Anchovy and Bread Sauce

Ingredients for 4

  • 12 ½ oz (350 gr) Bucatini pasta
  • 2 finely chopped garlic cloves
  • 8 salt cured anchovies
  • 1 fresh chili pepper
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Oven toasted bread crumbs
  • 2 oz (60 gr) grated Pecorino cheese
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Heat the oil in a skillet and brown the garlic; add finely chopped chili pepper. Add the anchovies and breadcrumbs.

Cook the pasta in a large pan of lightly salted water. Drain when the pasta is al dente. Add the pasta to the pan with the anchovies, season with pecorino cheese and serve.

catanzaropork

Arrotolata Pork with Citrus Fruit

Ingredients for 6

  • 2 ¼ lbs (1 kg) boneless pork
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fennel seeds, rosemary, pistachio nuts, parsley and 2 garlic cloves
  • Olive oil

Salsa:

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cedro (citron/ugly looking Italian citrus fruit – use an orange in its place)
  • 1 grapefruit
  • Salt and pepper to taste, extra virgin olive oil and green onions

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Butterfly the meat and season the inside with salt and pepper. Finely chop some parsley and the garlic. Spread on the meat and add fennel seeds and pistachios to cover. Moisten with olive oil.

Roll up the meat and close with cooking string. Season the outside with salt and pepper. Place in a baking dish.

Cook for about an hour and a half. Remove from the oven and cool for a couple of hours.

For the salsa:

Squeeze the lemon and grapefruit and finely chop the cedro peel. Season with salt and mix with enough oil to make a sauce. Add finely chopped onions.

Slice the pork when cool and serve on a plate dressed with the salsa.

catanzarofish

Sea Bream Stuffed with Ricotta

Sea Bream is a popular European fish that is a mild ocean fish similar to sea bass

Ingredients for 4

  • 4 small sea beam
  • 5 ½ oz (16og) ricotta cheese
  • ¾ tablespoon (16g) honey
  • 2 tablespoons chopped almonds
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 3 oz arugula
  • Salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Ground red chilli pepper to taste
  • Mashed potatoes for serving
  • Almonds and parsley for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Remove the center bone from the fish. Lightly salt the fish.

Mix the ricotta cheese with the pine nuts, almonds, chopped mint, parsley, garlic, arugula, honey and a pinch of salt. Add enough lemon juice and oil to make a smooth filling.

Stuff each fish with some of the filling, cover the filling with foil and put the fish in an oiled baking dish.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Serve each fish on a bed of mashed potatoes. Garnish with almonds, parsley and ground chili pepper.

catanzarodessert

Aubergine and Chocolate Mousse

This is a sweet but unusual dessert.

Ingredients for 6

  • 10 ½ oz (300g) aubergine (eggplant)
  • 10 ½ oz (300g) chocolate, plus extra for serving
  • 1/1/2 oz (50g) citron
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) brandy
  • 1 tablespoon sultanas (raisins)
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 1 tablespoon (10g) candied fruit
  • ¼ cup (30g) sugar
  • 2 egg whites

Directions

Peel and boil the aubergine in water along with the brandy and citron. Drain.

Beat the egg whites until stiff.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler saucepan.

Mix the aubergine and melted chocolate together adding mint, pine nuts, candied fruit, sugar. Fold in the beaten egg whites.

Fill small pots or bowls with the mixture and cool. Serve drizzled with additional melted chocolate.

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Christmas cake is an English tradition that began as plum-porridge. People ate the porridge on Christmas Eve, using it to line their stomachs after a day of fasting. Soon dried fruit, spices and honey were added to the porridge mixture and, eventually, it turned into Christmas pudding. In the 16th century, oatmeal was removed from the original recipe and butter, wheat flour and eggs were added. These ingredients helped hold the mixture together, resulting in a boiled plum-cake. Richer families with ovens began making fruit cakes with marzipan, an almond paste, for Easter. For Christmas, they made a similar cake using seasonal dried fruit and spices. The spices came from the eastern countries and this cake became known as Christmas cake.

Christmas cakes are made many different ways, but generally they are variations on the classic fruitcake. They can be light, dark, moist, dry, heavy, spongy, leavened, unleavened and more. They are made in many different shapes, with frosting, glazing, a dusting of confectioner’s sugar or  just left plain. The traditional Scottish Christmas cake, also known as the Whisky Dundee, is very popular. It is a light crumbly cake with currants, raisins, cherries and Scotch whisky. Other types of Christmas cakes include apples and mincemeat.

In Japan, Christmas cake is a frosted sponge cake with strawberries, chocolates or seasonal fruit. In the Philippines, Christmas cake is a yellow pound cake with nuts. Don’t forget the traditional British fruitcake that is soaked in brandy or rum, sugar syrup and water. Italy has a long culinary tradition of serving cakes and sweets during the Christmas season. The tradition of “dolci di Natale” is long and varied with hundreds of types of cakes, cookies and sweets on the Christmas table. Every table for sure has Panettone and Pandoro –  the symbols of Christmas in Italy.

Following are some modern day fruit style cakes.

Jam Filled Coffee Cake

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Ingredients

  • One 8 ounce package reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup seedless red raspberry jam or your favorite jam
  • Powdered sugar
  • Fresh fruit for garnish

Directions

Grease a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan or a 3-quart rectangular baking dish; set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl combine cream cheese, granulated sugar and butter; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth. Add 3/4 cup of the flour, the eggs, milk, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla and salt. Beat about 1 minute more or until combined. Add the remaining 1 cup flour, beating on low-speed just until combined.

Spread batter evenly in the prepared baking pan. In a small bowl stir jam with a spoon until nearly smooth. Spoon jam in eight to ten mounds on top of the batter in the baking pan.

Using a thin spatula or knife, swirl jam into the batter.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the cake portion near the center comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and, if desired, serve with raspberries or other fruit. Serve warm.

Date Coffee Cake with Orange Sauce

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup orange or lemon yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup pitted whole dates, chopped

Orange Sauce

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger (or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger)
  • 1/4 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

To make the Orange Sauce:

Stir sugar, cornstarch, ginger and finely shredded orange peel in a small saucepan. Stir in orange juice. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly; cook and stir 2 minutes more. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in butter until melted. Cover pan and cool slightly. Serve warm. Makes about 1 cup.

To make the cake:

Grease and flour an 8 x 8 x 2-inch baking pan; set aside.

Stir together the 1 cup flour, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F oven.

Place softened butter and ginger in a medium mixing bowl; beat with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar; beat until fluffy. Add egg; beat well. Stir in yogurt and milk.

Add flour mixture, beating on low to medium speed until combined. Toss dates with 2 tablespoons flour and fold into the batter. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool slightly (about 30 minutes) in the pan on a wire rack.

Cut into squares. Serve with warm Orange Sauce.

Cherry Crumb Cake

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Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 ¼ cups cherry, raspberry or strawberry preserves

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan with foil, extending the foil over the edges of the pan; set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, oats, brown sugar, pecans, lemon peel and baking soda. Stir in applesauce and oil; mix well. If necessary, use your hands to combine.

Measure 1 cup of the oat mixture; set aside.

Press the remaining oat mixture into the bottom of the prepared baking pan. Bake for 20 minutes.

Carefully spread the preserves evenly over the hot crust. Sprinkle with the reserved 1 cup oat mixture; pat gently into preserves.

Bake about 30 minutes more or until top is lightly browned. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Using the edges of the foil, lift the cake out of the pan. Serve warm.

Prune Bread

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Ingredients

  • 2 ½ cups bread flour
  • 1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup pitted prunes, snipped
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Two 6 inch wooden skewers

Directions

With the paddle attachment, combine all the ingredients in the large bowl of an electric mixer. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough until soft and shiny.

Place in a greased bowl and let rise, covered with plastic wrap, until double.

For the filling:

In a small bowl, stir together chocolate and dried plums; set aside.

Remove dough from the bowl to a lightly floured surface; punch down dough. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

Roll dough into a 15 x 10-inch rectangle. Along the short side (10 inch) of the dough sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the prune mixture over a 3-inch-wide section of the dough.

Starting from the opposite side, fold dough over filling, allowing dough to extend beyond the prune-topped dough.

Sprinkle another 1/2 cup of the prune mixture on top of the filled layer, pressing filling down lightly. Fold dough back over prune mixture, accordion-style.

Repeat filling and folding dough, accordion-style, twice more.

Fold remaining dough over the top, pressing lightly. (You will have five layers of dough and four layers of filling.) Gently pat the sides of the dough to form a rectangle.

Lightly coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Place loaf on the prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double in size (about 30 minutes).

You can use this dough and filling to make any shape coffee cake – horseshoe, ring, etc.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Using a sharp knife, make a shallow lengthwise cut down the center of the top layer, then make several crosswise cuts at 1-inch intervals.

To keep bread layers from slipping while baking, insert wooden skewers (one close to each end of the loaf, inserting each skewer at a slight angle) from top through the bottom layer.

Bake about 35 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when lightly tapped. If necessary to prevent over browning, cover with foil for the last 10 minutes of baking.

Remove from the baking sheet; cool on a wire rack. Remove wooden skewers. Slice thinly to serve.

Christmas Biscotti

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These are especially good with coffee.

Makes: 48 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs plus 1 egg for the wash
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons anise seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup pistachios, shelled
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, snipped
  • Powdered sugar glaze

Directions

Beat butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium to high-speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; beat until combined.

Beat in the 3 eggs, vanilla and almond extract until combined. Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Stir in any remaining flour, anise, fennel seeds, cranberries, pistachios, and apricots with a wooden spoon.

Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or until the dough is easy to handle.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a 12-inch-long log 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Place logs at least 3 inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet.

Flatten each log slightly to 3/4-inch thickness. Combine egg and 1 tablespoon water. Brush over logs.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes or until light brown. Cool logs on cookie sheet 1 hour or till completely cool.

When logs are cool, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Transfer logs to a cutting board. Cut each log diagonally into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Lay slices down on the cookie sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. Turn slices over and bake 5 minutes more or until dry and crisp.

Remove and cool on wire racks. Drizzle with powdered sugar glaze, if desired.


 

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Turin is in the northwest section of the Piedmont region between the Po River and the foothills of the Alps. The city is famous for the Shroud of Turin, Fiat auto plants, Baroque cafes and architecture and its shopping arcades, promenades and museums. Turin hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics because the nearby mountains and valleys are ideal for winter sports.

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The Piedmont region has some of the best food in Italy. Over 160 types of cheese and famous wines like Barolo and Barbaresco come from here as do truffles. The hilly region bordering France and Switzerland is perfect for growing grapes. Turin has some outstanding pastries, especially chocolate ones. Chocolate bars originated in Turin. The chocolate-hazelnut sauce, gianduja, is a specialty of Turin. In addition, an enormous array of artisanal cheeses, the white truffle of Alba, cured meats and a vast assortment of herb products are all part of the Piedmont table.

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The cuisine of Turin is unlike the food you expect to find in Italy. Local dishes incorporate a much larger variety of savory sauces which are more traditional in French cuisine than in Italian. Chefs tend to cook with butter and lard rather than olive oil, which is also more French than Italian. Another difference is that appetizers play a much larger role on the menu in Turin than in other parts of Italy. The city’s signature dish is bollito misto, a mix of boiled meats served with three sauces: bagnet verd, a green sauce made from parsley, anchovies, garlic and olive oil; bagnet ross, a red sauce of crushed tomatoes, garlic and hot peppers and sausa d’avije, a yellow mustard sauce sweetened with honey and crushed nuts. Other classic dishes include brasato al Barolo, locally raised beef slowly braised in Barolo wine and finanziera, a stew of cock’s crests, chicken livers, veal, peas and porcini mushrooms. In the fall and winter you’ll find slices of reindeer meat, on some menus along with beef and veal, free range poultry and freshly caught fish.

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The dinner menu below serves 4-6 and is inspired by the cuisine and regional foods of Turin, Italy.

Bagna Cauda

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Serves 6

Bagna Cauda is the Italian version of fondue. The dish is eaten by dipping raw, boiled or roasted vegetables, especially cardoons, carrots, peppers, fennel, celery, cauliflower, artichokes and onions in the hot sauce. It is traditionally eaten during the autumn and winter months and must be served hot, as the name suggests. Originally, the Bagna Càuda was placed in a big pan (peila) in the center of the table for communal sharing. Now, it is usually served in individual pots, called a fojòt, a type of fondue pot traditionally made of terra-cotta.

It helps to have a Bagna Cauda “pot”, but a fondue dish with the Sterno flame underneath works — as does an electric wok on low.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 12 olive oil packed anchovy fillets, minced
  • 6 large garlic cloves – peeled and minced
  • Cubed raw vegetables for dipping: sweet peppers, fennel, cauliflower, endive and zucchini
  • Italian bread – sliced

Directions

Place the olive oil, garlic and anchovies in a skillet over low heat. Stir until the anchovies have “melted” and the mixture looks thickened. Whisk in the butter until melted, then remove the skillet from the heat and whisk again until creamy looking. Pour into a dish that can stay heated at the table — like a fondue pot, Bagna Cauda pot, an electric skillet or a wok.

To serve: Dip vegetable pieces into the hot oil for a few minutes and use a bread slice to absorb the dripping oil on the way to your mouth.

Brasato Al Barolo

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“Braised in Barolo”, a classic Italian beef dish from this region uses a simple slow cooking technique to tenderize the meat. In Italy, Piedmontese is a dual-purpose breed of cattle that are raised for their milk, which is used in the production of several traditional cheeses of the region, including Castelmagno, Bra, Raschera and Toma Piemontese; and are also raised for meat. Beef from Piedmontese cattle is seen as a premium product. The unique genetics of the breed combine to create cattle that is more muscled than conventional cattle, so the yield of lean meat is greater than with other breeds. All cuts of beef are lean because as they grow, the cattle add more muscle but less fat. In addition, Piedmontese cattle produce shorter muscle fibers and less connective tissue, so the meat remains tender in spite of its minimal fat.

Serve this dish the traditional way, with polenta, or if you prefer, mashed potatoes.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 3 lb Piedmontese brisket flat
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 to 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 4 to 5 juniper berries
  • 1 bottle Barolo red wine
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup dry Marsala wine
  • 2 tablespoons flour

Directions

Put all the vegetables and spices in a bowl, add the beef and cover with the wine. Refrigerate overnight, or a minimum of 10 hours.

Heat a heavy-bottom pot, large enough to hold the beef and wine, over medium-high heat. Melt half of the butter with all of the oil. Take the beef out of the marinade, season it with salt and pepper, and brown it in the hot-pot on all sides. Using a slotted spoon, take out all the vegetables from the wine and add them to the beef, stirring until they color a bit.

Add the wine to the pan, turn the heat down and cover with a lid. Simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally and turning the beef.

Pour the Marsala into the stew and let cook a few more minutes. Take the beef out of the pan and set it on a carving board.

Remove and discard the bay leaves and juniper berries.

To make the sauce:

Put the wine and vegetables in a food mill or pour through a fine mesh sieve, applying pressure to the vegetables to extract all the juice. Reserve the juice and the vegetable puree.

In a saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Add the flour and cook for a few minutes, being careful not to brown the mixture. Add the wine and vegetable puree and cook for a bit longer, until the sauce thickens slightly.

Slice the meat against the grain, arrange it on a serving plate and pour the very hot wine sauce on top.

Cardoon Gratin

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Cardoons are closely related to the artichoke. They look like very large hearts of celery and have thorns in the stalks. The stalks are not solid like celery, but are semi-hollow and stringy.

4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 lb. cardoons
  • 1 cup grated Italian fontina cheese

Directions

Place cream, stock and bay leaf in a large saucepan and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Wash cardoons, then remove and discard tough outer stalks. Cut away thorns and pull off stringy fibers. Cut cardoons into 1½”–2″ pieces, placing them immediately into the cream mixture as you go, to prevent them from discoloring.

Bring cream mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cardoons are tender, about 1 hour. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cardoon pieces to a 1-quart baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Reduce cream mixture to about ¾ cup over medium heat, about 30 minutes. Discard bay leaf and pour the sauce over the cardoons in the baking dish, sprinkle cheese on top and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Tart

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Crust

  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 325°F.

In a saucepan, melt butter. Remove from the heat and add sugar and vanilla, stirring until most of the sugar has dissolved. Add flour and mix together using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Press the dough into an ungreased, 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Freeze crust for 15 minutes, then bake for 25 minutes. Set crust aside to cool.

Toasted Hazelnuts

  • ½ cup hazelnuts (also called filberts)
  • 3 tablespoons baking soda

Boil 2 cups water; add baking soda. The water will foam up a bit. Add the nuts to the boiling soda water and boil for 3 minutes. Strain the nuts and rinse with cold water. Peel the skins away from the nuts and place on a kitchen towel to dry.

When the  nuts are dry, toast them on a baking sheet in a 350°F oven for about 7 to 10 minutes.

Filling

  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 7 1/2 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 3/4 cup chocolate-hazelnut spread such as Nutella

Place chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan, bring cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate pieces, whisking until chocolate is melted and smooth. Add the chocolate-hazelnut spread and whisk until smooth.

Pour filling into the cooled crust and sprinkle toasted hazelnuts on top. Refrigerate for 2 hours to set. When ready to serve, cut into small wedges and garnish with fresh fruit.

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The Province of Perugia is the larger of the two provinces in the Umbria region of Italy. The eastern part of the province is a hilly region while the rest is covered by forests. Perugia is home to the largest lake in central Italy, Lake Trasimeno. The southern regions are less hilly. Silk, corn and grass are some of the most important agricultural products of the province.

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Over the centuries, Perugia has been ruled by numerous different peoples, evidence of which can be found in the many archaeological remains. Artifacts from the Roman period include paved roads, the forum, the cisterns, a Roman amphitheatre and the thermal baths.

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The Province of Perugia hosts events, such as Eurochocolate where chocolate in all its varied forms is on display and Umbria Jazz, a music festival that every year gathers together important artists of the jazz world.

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The cuisine consists of rustic cooking traditions with many recipes still influenced by ancient rituals and rules. Black truffles, a local product, are used in many dishes. Easter Pizza and a salted panettone (Christmas cake) flavored with pecorino (made from sheep’s milk cheese) are regional classics. The lentils from Castelluccio are known for their tiny size and their soft hull. Salami and cold cuts from Norcia are well-known throughout the world.

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Strangozzi, or Strozzapreti pasta made with water and flour is served with meat sauce. The types of meat that are used for second courses are pork made from nut-fed black pigs, boar and lamb.

Fish from Lake Trasimeno are the basis for many dishes, such as Tegamaccio, a seafood soup, made with different types of lake fish such as perch, trout, carp and pike.

Another local favorite is Parmigiana di Gobbi, a dish that dates back to ancient times made with cardoons (the gobbi), served with sauce, mozzarella and Parmigiano.

Popular desserts include pinacate, a pine nut-based sweet, torciglione made with raisins, walnuts and dried figs and torcolo, essentially a large donut with raisins and candied fruit.

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And of course, Italy’s version of the chocolate kiss, Baci Perugina, chocolate and hazelnut truffles in their famous silver and blue wrapping, with a romantic message tucked inside, were invented here. Also Stacchetti (a mix of almond, cacao and sugar covered with meringue) and Struffoli (small balls of dough fried and sweetened with honey) are additional well-known desserts.

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Torta Umbra al Formaggio

(Easter Cheese Bread from Umbria)

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In the past, Torta Umbra al Formaggio, a savory cheese bread from the Umbrian region, was traditionally enjoyed on Pasqua (Easter) morning with boiled eggs, prosciutto and other cold cuts. Today, it can usually be found as an accompaniment to any meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons dried yeast (2 packages)
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 cups flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 6 ounces Pecorino Romano, cut into ½ inch dice
  • 5 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, cut into ½ inch dice

Directions

Grease a 9-inch cake pan with olive oil. Using a strip of parchment paper, line the top of the pan to add an additional 2 to 3 inches of height.

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water (110°F) in a large stand mixer bowl; let stand until foamy (about 5 minutes). Add sugar and 1/3 cup of the flour without stirring. Let it rest (covered with plastic wrap) for 20 minutes. Add the rest of the flour, the eggs, butter and oil. With the paddle attachment mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Switch to the dough hook attachment. Add the salt and continue mixing at medium speed until the dough is soft, shiny and elastic (7-10 minutes). Add the pepper and cheeses and knead the dough until thoroughly combined. Let it rest in an oiled bowl, covered, until it doubles in size (about 2 hours).

Punch down the dough. Form the dough into a round loaf. Place into the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let it proof until it doubles in size (about 1 hour).

Bake for 45 minutes at 400° F. Let it sit for 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

Crostini with Garlic and Black Truffles

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Ingredients for each serving

  • 2 slices bread (Torta Umbra al Formaggio would be excellent for this appetizer)
  • 1 winter black truffle
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 ¼ tablespoons (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt – to taste
  • Pepper – to taste

Directions

Shave half the truffle and set aside. Pound the remaining truffle in a mortar together with the garlic, adding the lemon juice and olive oil until the mixture becomes thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

Tear the bread slices into smaller pieces, toast and spread the truffle and garlic paste on top. Garnish with the shaved truffle slices and serve.

Minestra Di Ceci (Umbrian Chickpea Soup)

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb (500g) dry chickpeas
  • 1 twig fresh rosemary
  • 10 leaves fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 rib celery, diced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Grated Pecorino cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Soak chickpeas overnight in a bowl of cold water. Drain.

Place chickpeas in large soup pot. Cover with water to 1 inch above the chickpeas. Add rosemary and half the sage leaves. Cover and cook on low 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

In a skillet placed over medium heat, heat  2 tablespoons olive oil and sauté garlic, carrot, onion and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables are tender. Set aside.

Remove and discard the sage leaves and rosemary from the cooked chickpeas. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking liquid.

In a blender or with a hand immersion blender, purée half the chickpeas, along with 2  cups of the chickpea cooking liquid.

Return puréed chickpeas and sautéed vegetables to the soup pot.

Cover and cook 60 minutes.

Serve the soup in warmed bowls with a drizzle of oil, remaining sage leaves, black pepper and grated cheese.

Pasta alla Norcina

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Ingredients for 4 people

  • 14 oz (400g) Penne pasta
  • 4 sausages of Norcia
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ onion
  • 1 cup heavy (cooking) cream
  • Salt and black pepper
  • ½ cup white wine
  • Grated parmesan cheese or pecorino cheese of Norcia.

Directions

Finely chop the onion and saute in extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet. Remove the casings from the sausages and add it to the onion and cook until brown and crumbled. Lower the heat and add the white wine. Cook until it evaporates. Add the cream and as soon as it’s hot remove the pan from the heat.

Cook the penne pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and mix the pasta with the sauce. Add black pepper and grated cheese. Serve immediately.

Porchetta (Roast Pork Loin)

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by CHEF BIKESKI (Culinary Director and Owner of Italia Outdoors Food and Wine)

This is best started the day before you wish to serve it.

Ingredients

  • One 2 1/2 – 3 pound piece fresh pork belly, skin on
  • One 2 1/2 – 3 pound boneless pork loin roast
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 bulb fresh fennel, tough outer layer and inner core removed, chopped into 1/4 inch dice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 cup fennel fronds, finely chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Place the pork belly skin side up. Using a sharp knife, score the skin on the diagonal making a diamond-shaped pattern. Try to cut only the skin itself.

Turn the belly so the skin side is down. Score the belly flesh in the same diagonal diamond-shaped pattern.

Salt both sides of the belly, as well as the pork loin roast. Set aside while you make the seasoning mixture.

Place the fennel seeds in a hot sauté pan and toast just until they start to brown. Add the olive oil, chopped fresh fennel, garlic and rosemary and saute until the fennel is soft, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped fennel fronds and remove from the heat.

Cover the entire loin and the flesh side of the pork belly with the seasoning mixture. Roll the belly around the loin so the short ends of the belly meet or come as close to meeting as possible. If there is a bit of loin still exposed along the bottom, put this side down in the pan. If the loin is longer than the pork belly or the belly longer than the loin and one sticks out, trim the longer piece so the ends are flush.

Tie the roast with kitchen twine at about 1/2” intervals. Place the roast on a wire rack set in a sheet pan, with any gap where the pork belly may not cover the loin at the bottom. Place the roast, uncovered, in your refrigerator for 1-2 days to allow the seasonings to penetrate the roast and the skin to air-dry.

When ready to cook, remove the roast from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Roast for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to 300°F and continue to roast until the porchetta reaches an internal temperature of 140°F, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours more. If the skin is not as brown and crispy as you’d like, turn on the broiler and finish browning the skin, keeping a careful eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

Slice into 1/2 inch rounds for serving as a roast or into very thin slices for porchetta sandwiches.

Chocolate Tart

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by Baci Perugina

Ingredients

10” tart pan

For the crust:

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 pound (5 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, plus extra for garnish

For the filling:

  • 1 bar Perugina Dark (51%) chocolate
  • 8 Baci candies
  • 1 1/2 cups cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Directions

Combine the sugar, salt, butter,egg  yolk and vanilla in the mixer bowl and start on medium.

Sift the flour and cocoa together. Pour the flour and cocoa into the mixer bowl. Turn up the speed until the mixture comes together into crumbs. Press into a ball, wrap tightly and let rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Roughly chop the chocolate bar and the Baci and melt them in a double boiler. Heat the cream in a saucepan until almost boiling and pour over the melted chocolate.

Stir until the color is uniform and mix in the sugar until it dissolves completely. Let cool slightly.

Lightly beat the eggs and set aside.

Line the bottom of the tart mold with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven at 350°F.

Roll out the crust to about 1/2” thick and place in the mold. Press it down gently and eliminate any overhanging pieces.

Quickly whisk the beaten eggs into the chocolate cream and pour the filling into the tart shell. The filling will appear quite liquid.

Place the tart on a sheet pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until soft but set and not jiggly and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out slightly damp but otherwise clean.

Let cool and dust lightly with cocoa powder before serving.

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Packing lunches can be a rushed chore for parents and unhealthy items might get mixed in. Children have particular tastes and often balk at new, healthy foods, so the key is to keep the foods interesting and not too different from what they usually get. If your child returns home with half of their lunch uneaten because they don’t like something then use a few ”tricks” in creating their lunches.

Chips are crunchy and a fun snack, but lack nutritional value. The beginning of the school year is also the start of apple season, so substitute apple chips.

Use Greek yogurt that is full of protein and sweeten it lightly with honey to make a parfait. Layer fruit and granola with the yogurt to make something delicious that your children will love.

Unless your child is training for the Olympics, chances are they don’t need a sports drink every day. Curb their cravings for this sugary beverage with colorful flavored water.

Chocolate treats are very tempting for lunches. They’re individually wrapped and easy to throw in a backpack. Instead of the high sugar option, try healthy chocolate cookies. They pack the same great chocolate taste, but also have fiber and fewer calories.

Stop older kids from wanting to eat out by packing them a delicious wrap. They hold up well without refrigeration and you can tuck in some vegetables without them knowing. Drizzle Caesar dressing (or your child’s favorite dressing) over chicken inside a wrap for a tasty lunch that won’t have your children heading off for fast food.

If kids help pack their lunch, they’re more likely to eat it! On nights you have a bit more time, have them choose which piece of fruit or what type of bread they want and let them assemble their lunch.

Here are some ideas for healthy lunchbox snacks that most children like:

  • Single portion-sized cups of unsweetened applesauce or fruit without added sugar.
  • Trail mix made with cereals, nuts, pretzels, dried fruit or raisins, and a few chocolate chips.
  • Reduced-fat cream cheese spread on whole wheat crackers.
  • Individual serving-sized packages of low-fat yogurt, cottage cheese or yogurt smoothies.
  • Carrots and celery sticks with dips made from yogurt or low-fat sour cream.
  • Whole grain bagels topped with cream cheese-vegetable spread.
  • Air-popped popcorn flavored with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.
  • Cheese cubes or sticks and seedless grapes make a delicious side dish for sandwiches or wraps.
  • Cold strips of grilled chicken with a honey mustard dip.
  • Dried cranberries or cherries are a sweet alternative for kids bored with raisins.

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Baked Apple Chips

Makes about 50 chips

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 large apples or 3 small ones (such as gala, braeburn or fuji)
  • Cinnamon, optional

You will also need:

baking sheets lined with parchment paper

a saucepan to make the simple syrup in

a mandoline or a sharp knife and a cutting board

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the oven set to 250 degrees F

Directions

Make the simple syrup:

Pour the two cups of water and sugar into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Stir it once it comes to a boil to make sure there’s no sugar stuck to the bottom of the pan and it’s all dissolved.

Once the liquid is clear, turn off the heat and let it sit.

Set the oven to 250 degrees F.

Use a mandoline or a sharp knife. Start from the side of the apple and slice off the rounded side of the apple. Then cut the apples into 1/16 inch slices.

Keep going right through the center of the apple. At this stage don’t worry about coring them or the seeds.

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Use a paring knife or your fingernails to remove any seed fragments, stems or fuzzy bits from the apple. The core will soften in the warm syrup.

Place the apples in the simple syrup and soak for 10 minutes. Stir a few times during the soaking period.

Using tongs, lift the apples, one by one from the syrup, shake off the excess and place them on the parchment lined baking sheets.

Don’t overlap them, but try to get as many on the baking sheets as you can. Flatten them as you go  Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon is using.

Place one baking sheet in the middle of the oven and the other right below that.

Cook them for a half hour and then rotate the trays so the top one is on bottom. Cook for another half hour and check. Depending on your oven, both sheets might be done. If they’re done, they should be golden brown and crisp.

If they’re not, give them 10 or 15 more minutes and check again, continuing to do so until they’re done. Keep in mind that they will harden up a bit once you take them out of the oven.

Apple chips will last a few months, it they are around that long.

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Italian Focaccia Sandwiches

4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 5 slices bacon
  • 1 (8-ounce) round loaf of focaccia bread (6-8-inches in diameter)
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced turkey
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced provolone cheese
  • Thinly sliced tomato

Directions

Cook the bacon in a heavy large frying pan until crisp. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.

Cut the focaccia bread in half and spread the pesto over both sides of the bread.

Cover the bottom halves of the focaccia with turkey, provolone, tomatoes and bacon, spreading equally.

Cover with the top half of the focaccia, pesto side down.

Cut the sandwich into 3-4 inch squares. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap.

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Chicken-Broccoli Cups

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup light ranch salad dressing
  • 1 ½ cups coarsely chopped cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh broccoli
  • 1/4 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Directions

In a small bowl combine yogurt and salad dressing.

In a medium bowl combine chicken, broccoli, carrot and, if desired, nuts. Pour yogurt mixture over the chicken mixture; toss to coat.

For individual lunches, divide chicken mixture among four plastic cups. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours.

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Caprese Salad Pita Pockets

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped cucumber
  • 3/4 cup mixed tender salad greens
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 large whole wheat pita bread rounds, halved crosswise

Directions

In a medium bowl toss together tomatoes, cheese cubes, cucumber, salad greens, basil, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.

Spoon tomato mixture into pitas. Wrap each pita half in plastic wrap and chill.

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Chocolate Cookie Thins

Makes about 48 cookies.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups chopped semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (about 6 ounces)
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, American-style or Dutch-process
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup white whole-wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup sweetened dried cranberries, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped slivered almonds

Directions

Line 3 large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Grind chocolate in a food processor using on/off pulses until coarsely ground. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer and add cocoa, ½ cup granulated sugar, baking powder and salt; stir until blended on a low setting.

Add eggs, honey, oil and vanilla and beat on medium speed until combined.

Beat in all-purpose and whole-wheat flours; then fold in cranberries and nuts until thoroughly incorporated. The dough will be stiff.

Divide the dough into quarters. Roll each quarter into a 9-inch-long “log.” Divide the log into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.

Place on prepared cookie sheets and refrigerate until very cold, about 1 hour.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

Place remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar on a small plate. One at a time, dip the top of each ball of dough into the sugar; place, sugar-side up, about 2 1/2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Coat the bottom of a wide glass with cooking spray, then dip it into the sugar. Flatten the balls with the glass to make cookies about 2 1/4 inches in diameter, dipping the glass into the sugar between each cookie and spraying it as needed.

Bake the cookies on the center rack, one pan at a time, until just firm to the touch, 8 to 13 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool. Repeat with remaining pans.

These cookies store well in the freezer.


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In my area of the world, it is often too hot at this time of year to spend a great deal of time baking when guests are coming for dinner. So during the cooler months, I like to make a few simple sponge cakes to keep in the freezer. That way I can make a refreshing dessert for company in the summer without a lot of fuss.

During the summer months, ice cream desserts can really “hit the spot”. It is easy to pull together a really great tasting dessert when it is hot with just a few simple ingredients. Here are a few ideas.

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Simple Sponge Cake

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup cake flour

Directions

Cut parchment or wax paper to fit two 9″ round cake pans.

Separate eggs, putting whites in large mixer bowl and yolks in small mixer bowl.

Add 1/2 cup sugar and a pinch of salt to the whites and beat until very stiff.

Add 1/2 cup sugar to the yolks and beat until very thick and light yellow in color.

Fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites.

Fold flour in using 1//3 cup each time until well mixed.

Do not over-mix.

Divide the cake batter and pour into the prepared pans.

Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.

Cool for a few minutes, remove from pan and remove paper.

Cool completely.

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Tiramisu Ice Cream Parfaits

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups brewed coffee, cooled
  • 4 cups (1-inch) cubed sponge cake (you could also use angel food cake or pound cake)
  • 2 cups vanilla ice cream, softened
  • 1 (3-ounce) dark chocolate bar, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and cut in half

Directions

In a bowl mix the cake cubes with 2/3 of the coffee until well soaked.

Stir ice cream in a second bowl until spoonable, then layer cake cubes and ice cream in parfait glasses. Top each with a drizzle of coffee, a generous amount of chocolate shavings and a few cherries. Serve immediately.

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Pineapple Ice Cream Sandwiches

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 (1/4-inch thick) fresh pineapple slices, cut in circles
  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream, softened
  • Toasted flaked sweetened coconut

Directions

Grill pineapple slices over low to medium heat for 90 seconds on each side. Allow to cool briefly.

Sandwich the softened ice cream between the 2 grilled slices of pineapple. Coat sides in toasted coconut. Slice in half and serve immediately.

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Vanilla Affogato

Affogato is an Italian drink that makes a wonderful alternative to iced coffee on a hot summer day.  Affogato literally means “drowned”.  It generally consists of  gelato (Italian ice cream) that is topped with hot espresso or a liqueur. You can use freshly brewed espresso or instant or decaffeinated espresso, if you prefer. You may also top your drink with a liqueur such as Kahlua, Grand Marnier or Frangelico.  You can also add a little powdered chocolate milk mix to the coffee for a mocha flavor. Traditionally, affogato is served with a biscotti on the side.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 pint vanilla gelato or ice cream
  • Shaved chocolate

Directions

Beat the cream until stiff peaks form.

Cover and refrigerate.

Stir the espresso powder into the boiling water until dissolved.

Place one scoop of gelato into 4 tall glasses or large coffee mugs.

Pour 2 to 4 tablespoons hot espresso over each.

Top each with a dollop of whipped cream and shaved chocolate. Serve immediately.

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Sicilian Granita

Tip: If you don’t have an espresso maker, use instant espresso powder and water; store the powder in your freezer after opening. Instant coffee will also work in a pinch, it just won’t be as full-flavored.

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups freshly brewed espresso
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Directions

Stir hot espresso and sugar in a medium bowl until the sugar dissolves. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then pour into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

Place on a level surface in your freezer and freeze for 2 hours, stirring and scraping with a fork every 20 minutes to break up the ice crystals. Cover and freeze for at least 1 hour more.

Beat cream and powdered sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high-speed until medium peaks form, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Scrape the frozen granita into ice crystals using a sturdy fork.

To serve, layer the granita in dessert goblets and top each with a tablespoon of whipped cream.

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Italian Coconut-Coffee Bites

24 bites

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ teaspoons instant espresso powder or 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 ½ tablespoons boiling water
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
  • 1 ¼ cups finely crushed biscotti crumbs
  • 5 ounces mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

Line twenty-four mini muffin cups with paper baking cups; set aside.

Dissolve espresso powder in the boiling water; set aside.

For the crust:

In a medium nonstick skillet melt butter over medium-low heat. When butter is bubbling, add coconut. Cook and stir until coconut is toasted and golden brown. Stir in finely crushed biscotti crumbs. Remove pan from heat.

Spoon 1 teaspoon of the crumb mixture into each prepared muffin cup; press firmly to pack down. Place the muffin cup pan in the freezer. Keep remaining crumb mixture at room temperature to use for topping.

For the filling:

In a medium bowl beat mascarpone cheese with a wooden spoon until smooth and creamy, Beat in the sugar, cinnamon and salt until smooth and well mixed. Beat in vanilla and espresso.

Divide filling among the crumb-lined muffin cups. Top each cup with the reserved crumb mixture. With a fingertip, gently press topping into filling.

Freeze until firm, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.



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