Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Italian Cuisine

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Puglia is a little more rustic than other parts of Italy. Its major cities are a lot smaller and less well-known by tourists than Florence or Rome. For the Italians, Puglia is where they go for sunny beaches, good seafood fished from nearby waters, vegetables grown in local pastures and to sample the region’s local wines: negroamaro, primitivo di Manduria and Salice Salentino.

Puglia

Puglia is a region in southern Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. It is bordered by the Italian regions of Molise to the north, Campania to the west and Basilicata to the southwest. Puglia’s neighbors are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece and Montenegro. Its capital city is Bari.

The southernmost portion of Puglia forms a high heel on the “boot” of Italy and its population is about 4.1 million. Foggia is by far the least densely populated province, whereas Bari is the most densely populated province. Emigration from the region’s depressed areas to northern Italy and the rest of Europe was very intense in the years between 1956 and 1971. Later the trend declined as economic conditions improved after 1982.

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As with the other regions of Italy, the national language (since 1861) is Italian. However, as a consequence of its long and varied history, other historical languages have been spoken in this region for centuries. In the northern and central sections, some dialects of the Neapolitan language are spoken. In the southern part of the region, the Tarantino and Salentino dialects of Sicily are spoken. In isolated pockets of the southern part of Salento, a dialect of modern Greek, called Griko, is spoken by just a few thousand people. A rare dialect of the Franco-Provençal language called Faetar is spoken in two isolated towns, Faeto and Celle Di San Vito. In a couple of villages, the Arbëreshë dialect of the Albanian language has been spoken by a very small community since a wave of refugees settled there in the 15th century.

In the last 20 years the industrial base of the region’s economy has changed radically. Alongside large-scale plants, such as ILVA (steel-making) in Taranto and Eni (petrochemicals) in Brindisi and Manfredonia, a network of small and medium-sized firms has gradually expanded and they provide approximately 70% of the jobs in the region. The majority of such firms are financed by local capital. As a result, highly specialized areas have developed in food processing, vehicle production, footwear, textiles, clothing, wood and furniture, rubber and computer software. A major contribution to the competitiveness of the region’s economy stems from the existence of important research and development centers such as Tecnopolis-CSATA near Bari, the Cittadella della ricerca (Center for research and new materials) near Brindisi and the new software development centers, also near Bari.

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The region has a good network of roads but the railway network is somewhat inadequate, particularly in the south. Puglia’s long coastline, more than 500 miles of coast on two seas, is dotted with ports, which make this region an important terminal for transport and tourism to Greece and the eastern Mediterranean.

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No other image says Puglia better than the trulli, a rural home that’s essentially a whitewashed teepee of small limestone slabs stacked without mortar, with a cone surmounted by ancient symbols. They are scattered among olive groves and prickly pear cacti in the Valle d’Itria, inland in a triangle between Bari, Taranto and Brindisi. Of unknown origin and unique to Puglia, the trulli date at least back to the Middle Ages.

Puglian cuisine is balanced by equal use the land and the sea. A typical local antipasti will often contain a number of seafood dishes, such as mussels, oysters, octopus, red mullet and swordfish. Popular vegetables are fava beans, artichokes, chicory and various greens including rucola (“rocket”). Eggplant, peppers, lampasciuoli (a bitter type of onion), cauliflower, olives and olive oil are all Puglian staples.

Taralli are breadsticks typical of Puglia

Taralli are breadsticks typical of Puglia

The region produces half of all Italian olive oils and olive oil is used almost exclusively in local cooking. The most famous pasta is orecchiette, but bucatini is also popular and both are usually served with tomato sauce or with olive oil, garlic and cauliflower. Regional cheeses include Canestrato Puglisi, Caciocavallo Silano (both PDO), Ricotta and Mozzarella. The meat of choice is either lamb or kid that may be roasted, baked or grilled on skewers. Pork is popular for local salami with rabbit and beef also being available. Breads and sweets include focaccia and pizza to fritters filled with sweetened ricotta, sweet ravioli, honey covered dates and Zeppole di San Giuseppe, served on the saint’s day in March.

Vineyards

Vineyards

Puglia is now producing wines of quality over quantity, yet they are reasonably priced. Castel del Monte (DOC) is well-known as a full-bodied red wine, Primitivo di Manduria is now more refined and. Salice Salentino (DOC) is used to make sweeter reds and dessert wines. White wines are undergoing modernization and international grape varieties are being introduced, however there are some traditional varietals. Locorotondo (DOC) is straw yellow and fruity. Martina Franca (DOC) is a dry white. Besides the dessert wines and Grappa, Puglia also is home to a number of herbal and citrus infused spirits making use of local walnuts, flowers, rhubarb, myrtle, anise, lemons and oranges.

 

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Chickpea Soup

Like most bean soups in the Puglia region, this one may be served over slices of stale country-style bread, lightly toasted and brushed with a little garlic.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (1 cup) dried chickpeas
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut in half
  • 3 or 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded, or 2 cups drained canned tomatoes
  • 1 stalk celery, including the top green leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small dried hot red chili pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Finely minced flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Put the chick-peas in a bowl, cover with cool water and set aside to soak for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Then drain and place in a soup pot with fresh cold water to cover to a depth of one inch.

Put the pot on medium-low heat and when the water boils, lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer until the chickpeas are partially cooked-about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the age of the beans. Add simmering water from time to time to keep the beans covered, if needed.

Add the garlic, onion halves, tomatoes and celery to the pot, along with the bay leaf, chili pepper, salt and pepper.

Continue cooking, adding boiling water as necessary, until the chickpeas are tender. Remove the bay leaf and chili pepper.

Serve garnished with olive oil and parsley.

Orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and red pepper

Orecchiette with Turnip Tops

Ingredients

  • 1.8 lbs (800 g) young and tender leaves from turnips
  • 6 fillets of anchovy in oil
  • 1 fresh chili pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 14 oz (400 g) of orecchiette pasta

Directions

Once you’ve collected the most tender leaves, wash them several times in cold water and boil them in plenty salted water in a large pot for at least 7-8 minutes.

Drain the turnip tops into a large bowl saving all the cooking water, since you’ll need it to boil the pasta.

Return the salted cooking water to the pot, bring to a boil and add the orecchiette.

In a saucepan heat the oil, the garlic, the anchovies and the chopped chili pepper.  Once the garlic is golden brown, add the turnip tops and sauté them for a few minutes to coat in the oil.

When the orecchiette are cooked to the al dente stage, drain, return them to the pasta pot and add the turnip tops and sauce. Sauté everything together for a few moments, season with salt, if needed, and serve.

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Pizza di Patate Pugliese (Tomato-and-Cheese-Topped Potato Pizza)

A classic Puglian pizza recipe adapted from RUSTICO COOKING.

Serves 2 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound boiling potatoes, peeled
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for the baking pan
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Place the potatoes in a saucepan. Add water to cover by 2 inches and bring to a boil. Cook until tender about 30 minutes over medium heat.

Drain, pass through a ricer and cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven with a baking stone in it to 450°F.

Mix the potatoes, flour and ¼ teaspoon salt together on a floured board until a smooth dough forms.

Add a little water, if needed, to help the dough come together or add a little flour, if the dough is sticky,. The dough should be soft but not sticky.

Flatten into a disk and roll out into a 12-inch circle.

Generously grease a 12-inch pizza pan with olive oil and line it with the dough.

Drizzle the top of the dough with olive oil; top with the tomatoes, cut side down. Season with oregano, the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and the pepper.

Place the pizza pan on the baking stone in the preheated oven and bake 15 minutes or until golden around the edges.

Remove the pan from the oven, top with the Mozzarella and Parmigiano cheeses and return to the oven for 10 more minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Serve hot.

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Stuffed Eggplant Puglian Style

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 Italian eggplants (about 1 pound), preferably short and plumb
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon (20) small capers, rinsed and drained
  • 8 anchovy fillets, rinsed, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 packed cup (1 ounce) finely grated Pecorino cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 small cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled just before using
  • 2 teaspoons dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Directions

Halve the eggplants lengthwise and make two or three deep slits in the eggplant flesh but do not pierce the skin on the bottom. Sprinkle with salt and place cut side down in a colander. Put a heavy plate on top and let stand at least 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.

In a mixing bowl, combine the capers, anchovies, cheese and pepper and crush to make a paste. You should have about 3 tablespoons. Divide mixture into 8 equal parts and fill the slits in the eggplant halves with garlic slivers and a portion of the paste. Reshape the eggplant.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat olive oil to hot but not smoking. Add the eggplant, cut side down, and reduce the heat to moderate. Cover and cook until the eggplant flesh turns golden brown, about 10 minutes. Turn each eggplant and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 5 minutes. Place eggplant, flesh side up, on a serving plate; sprinkle with the crumbled oregano, white wine and vinegar and let stand at least 20 minutes before serving.


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As immigrants from the different regions of Italy settled throughout the various regions of the United States, many brought with them a distinct regional Italian culinary tradition. Many of these foods and recipes developed into new favorites for the townspeople and later for Americans nationwide.

Heading West

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Bloomfield is a neighborhood in Pittsburgh that is referred to as Pittsburgh’s Little Italy. In the decades following 1868, Bloomfield was settled by German Catholic immigrants. Beginning around 1900, they were joined by Italians from five towns in the Abruzzi region. Descendants from both groups, with the Italians outnumbering the Germans, still give the neighborhood its character today.

The residents are diverse, as the neighborhood has a combination of working class Italian-Americans, various other European populations, African-Americans and a substantial population of college students. It is a decidedly urban neighborhood, with narrow streets and alleys packed with row houses. Liberty Avenue is the neighborhood’s main business thoroughfare.

Ciao Pittsburgh is western Pennsylvania’s longest-running online magazine covering all things Italian. They write about Italian cuisine, culture and traditions that have been passed from generation to generation. The magazine advocates for Italian-Americans and provides readers a platform to connect and unite with other Italian-Americans. Each month, they highlight the people, places, traditions and events among the Italian community with in-depth features and articles. Visit the magazine site. Here is a local recipe from a recent edition.

Nicky D Cooks: Pesci Pizzaiola

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Copyright 2011  Check out Nancy’s blog.

“White Fish in herbed tomato sauce – a simple peasant dish that goes perfectly over rice pilaf, couscous or lightly dressed orzo in olive oil.”

Ingredients

  • 1 ½  lbs cod fillets or white fish fillets
  • 1 -2 cans small tomato sauce
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup (about) olive oil
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • Coarse salt and fresh cracked pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. Place the sliced onions on the bottom of the pan, then put fish on top of the onions. Pour a thin coat of the tomato sauce over the fish. Sprinkle oregano, garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil and cheese over the fish. Cover and bake fish in the oven about ½ hr (approximately) or until the fish is done. The fish will become white and flaky – this is when it is done.

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Marion County West Virginia

Italian heritage is especially strong in Mountaineer Country, where at least 11% of the population of the Mountaineer Country has Italian ancestry. Many Italians originally immigrated to West Virginia in the early twentieth century to work in the coal mines throughout the state. Specialty glass factories in this region were largely an Italian immigrant industry with factories in Fairmont, Mannington and Clarksburg. Italian stonemasons were also common in the early communities.

Today Fairmont, Clarksburg and Morgantown form a tri-city area with a strong Italian American network, where community members maintain strong family ties which often include distant relatives, godparents and family friends. Families keep in contact by gathering at significant life events, such as weddings, anniversaries and funerals.

Local organizations, like the Sons of Italy in Morgantown, provide an important meeting place for the Italian American community. These organizations promote various cultural programs. The Sons of Italy, for example, organizes an Italian language course at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Morgantown. Morgantown is also home to the recently formed Committee for the Preservation of Italian History and Culture. This group raises money for local cultural events and sponsors historical programs of special interest to the Italian community.

One important event of the year in the region is the West Virginia Italian Heritage Festival in Clarksburg. Held in September each year, this event features traditional and contemporary Italian music and dance, bocce tournaments, homemade wine contests and plenty of Italian food. The event is a focal point statewide for the Italian American community.

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Writer, filmmaker, Robert Tinnell, grew up in the small town of Rivesville, (Marion County) West Virginia, in an extended, Italian-American family.  His comic strips are based on his experiences. Robert Tinnell’s Feast of the Seven Fishes has taken on a life of its own. It began as his family’s story of Christmas Eve and became a ‘graphic novel’ or strip, telling an engaging story. Check out Robert’s blog.

Stuffed Calamari

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Here’s a recipe for one of Robert’s favorite Feast of the Seven Fishes dishes as described on his blog.

You Will Need:  2-4 pounds of calamari (squid), bread crumbs, salt, pepper, fresh grated Parmesan and/or romano cheese, eggs, garlic, basil, water, milk and additional chopped up portions of  various seafood. He recommends serving them in Tomato Sauce.

How You Do It:

Remove the tentacles from the calamari, leaving only the body cavity.
Prepare a homemade tomato sauce and allow it to simmer while preparing the stuffing.

The Stuffing – In a large bowl, combine two 15 oz. cans of bread crumbs (or four cups fresh bread crumbs), one head of minced garlic, cup of milk and an egg. Add cheese to preference and chopped seafood. Mix by hand until you get a thick moist mixture; add more milk if necessary.

Now, take the stuffing and fill each calamari tube (tight but not too tight) and place in an olive oiled casserole dish. Lay the stuffed calamari in rows.
Drizzle the stuffed calamari with olive oil and cheese, then pour your sauce over top the entire dish.
Cover with foil and place in an oven that’s been pre-heated to 450 degrees F for about an hour.

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Brier Hill is a neighborhood in Youngstown, Ohio, that was once viewed as the city’s “Little Italy” district. The neighborhood, which was the site of the city’s first Italian settlement, stretches along the western edge of Youngstown’s lower north side and encircles St. Anthony’s Church, an Italian-American Roman Catholic parish. Each year, at the end of August, the Brier Hill Fest attracts thousands of visitors from Northeast Ohio and Western Pennsylvania.

The neighborhood was the birthplace of “Brier Hill pizza”, a home-style recipe with origins in the Basilicata region of Italy. Brier Hill pizza is prepared with a generous amount of thick “Sunday sauce”, bell peppers and romano cheese, as opposed to the more typical mozzarella topping. It is one of several dishes the Youngstown area prides itself upon, in much the same way New Yorkers value their distinctive thin-crusted New York-style pizza.

According to Tony Trolio, the organizer of the Brier Hill Memorial Tribute Plaque project, most of the Italians that lived in Brier Hill all came from the same area in Italy; Colobraro, Provincia, Matera and Basilicata. “My parents, Antonio and Nicolette Trolio, came to America in 1922,” said Trolio, who added that they lived on Pershing Street, near St. Anthony’s. Sharing that his father, who was a plumber, continued all of the traditional Italian customs, including having a huge garden and making homemade wine and sausage. Trolio added, “My mother, like all the mothers, made pizza.” He added however, that his mother made and sold about 300 pizzas every week. “We bought boxes for her and called it Mama Mia’s Pizza.”

“I wrote two books about Brier Hill and, in fact, I claimed to be the first one to come up with the name Brier Hill Pizza,” said Trolio, adding that he also led the move to have four road signs installed claiming Brier Hill as the first Italian settlement in Youngstown. “This exciting event brings our tribute to our parents and neighborhood full cycle with two books written, four historic road signs installed honoring Youngstown’s first Italian immigrants and, finally, the memorial plaque,” said Trolio. The plaque is installed next to the parish’s cornerstone on the outside of the church where Trolio said he received his first communion, was confirmed, married and from where many of his family members funeral masses were held. (http://www.towncrieronline.com/)

 Steve and Marian DeGenaro in the kitchen at St Anthony Church in Youngstown Friday 4-24-09. They and about 25 volunteers make and sell several hundred pizza's/week as a church fundraiser. See more at: http://www.vindy.com/photos


Steve and Marian DeGenaro in the kitchen at St Anthony Church in Youngstown Friday 4-24-09. They and about 25 volunteers make and sell several hundred pizza’s/week as a church fundraiser. See more at: http://www.vindy.com/photos

St. Anthony’s Church still sells its Brier Hill pizza by the pie on most Friday mornings. It is a simple recipe consisting of red sauce, red/green peppers and romano cheese. It was a pizza that many early southern Italian immigrants could make from ingredients grown in their own backyards. Many years later, it has become a source of pride for a city that takes food very seriously. There are lots of great places in Youngstown that sell their own version of this style of pizza. However, for the real deal, you need to get a pie at St. Anthony’s church.

Modarelli Baking Company posted a recipe for the Brier Hill sauce on their Facebook page and writes:

“For those of you who aren’t familiar with Brier Hill Pizza… It’s a ‘style’ of pizza that originated in a Youngstown, Ohio neighborhood called Brier Hill just uphill from Youngstown Sheet and Tube. It was a neighborhood of Italian immigrants including my grandparents. From this neighborhood emerged a unique style of pizza that is Now called Brierhill. It was made from their gardens with tomatoes, peppers and garlic and had only pecorino romano cheese on top.”

This will make 2 – 12” or 4 – 6” pizzas

Sauce

  • 2 large cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large can tomato puree
  • Dried Basil, .about 1-2  teaspoons
  • Dried Oregano, about 1/4 teaspoon
  • Dried Parsley, about 1/2 teaspoon
  • 4 Bell peppers (2 red & 2 green) chopped 1/2”- 1” chunks
  • 2- 4 large cloves garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Romano cheese
  • …and MY secret ingredient 2-3 in. chunk pepperoni
  • Favorite pizza dough crust/shell, see recipe below

Directions

Slowly brown garlic in olive oil in a saucepan…when it starts getting soft and slightly yellow-i crush it with the back of a spoon and let it get a darker yellow.
Add peppers and let it cool slightly before putting sauce in or it will ”sizzles” at you.
Add tomatoes, herbs and pepperoni chunk and bring to boil then simmer on low heat for at least 45 min. You can pull out garlic when done.
“Sometimes I add 1 hot pepper sliced in half or put in hot pepper seeds while cooking. Sometimes I will add some onion powder and garlic powder (1 teaspoon each and some seasoned salt ¼ teaspoon).”

Spread sauce/peppers on pizza dough, sprinkle on a generous amount of grated pecorino romano cheese and bake.

Pizza Dough

  • 1-1/2 cup warm water (100* to 105* F)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1-1/4 oz Active Dry Yeast Packet
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons Salt
  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 4 Cups of bread flour

(BY HAND) Pour the warm water into a mixing bowl, Add the sugar and packet of yeast. Stir the mixture slowly until yeast and sugar are dissolved. Let sit to allow the mixture to “mature” about 10 minutes or so, The mixture will begin to react: clouding and forming a foamy froth on the surface of the mixture.

Add the salt and olive oil and stir again to combine and dissolve the ingredients. Add one cup of flour and whisk in until dissolved. Add the second cup of flour and whisk it in. Add the third cup of flour and combine. The dough mixture should be fairly thick. Add the last cup of floor and with your hands begin to combine and knead the dough.

Remove the dough ball to the tabletop to knead it. You may need to add a dusting of flour from time to time to reduce the stickiness of the dough. Be patient, folding the dough ball in half, then quarters over and over again for about 8 minutes. You’ll know you’ve done well when the dough no longer sticks to your hands. Coat the dough ball with a thin layer of olive oil and place at the bottom of a large mixing bowl which has been coated on the inside with some olive oil and cover with a stretched piece of kitchen film or kitchen towel.

MIXER OR FOOD PROCESSOR: put all dry ingredients in as listed above and run the machine for about a minute on low-speed to mix the ingredients dry. Add the water slowly and mix/knead until a ball is formed (not usually more than a couple of minutes of machine running time).

Set in a warm place. Allow the dough to rise undisturbed for an hour or so until the dough ball grows at least twice its original size. Punch down lightly and let sit for another hour of rising before spreading in a pizza pan.

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The Hill is a neighborhood within St. Louis, Missouri, located south of Forest Park. Its name is due to its proximity to the highest point of the city, formerly named St. Louis Hill. The first Italians to move to St. Louis were Lombard villagers from the region around Milan. Fleeing poverty and overpopulation, they arrived in the 1880s to work in St. Louis’s clay mines and brick factories. At the turn of the century, Sicilians came to work in the same factories and were soon sharing the Hill with their northern cousins.

The first restaurants on the Hill began as taverns catering to workers and evolved over the years into Italian American restaurants. On their menus you’ll find the standards: spaghetti carbonara, cannelloni, scampi, plenty of veal dishes and, usually, ”toasted” ravioli—a definitive St. Louis Italian specialty, said to have been born by accident about fifty years ago at a restaurant on the Hill when a piece of the stuffed pasta fell into a pot of hot fat.

Tony Catarinicchia, who left Palermo more than 25 years ago, says, ”Good Italian food doesn’t need too many ingredients and should never be over sauced,”. Catarinicchia draws crowds of locals to his restaurant with his  long list of dishes including fried artichokes, pennette all’arrabbiata and seafood ravioli. His eggplant parmesan is made in the summertime with ingredients picked from the restaurant’s garden.

The Hill is one of St. Louis’s least changed and most stable neighborhoods. Currently, about three-quarters of the residents are Italian-Americans. The neighborhood is home to a large number of locally renowned Italian-American restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores, salons and two bocce gardens.

Tony’s Eggplant Parmesan

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(http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Eggplant-Parmesan)

Serves 4

This southern Italian classic might be named after the cheese that tops it—but some Sicilians think the title comes from palmigiana , meaning ”shutter”, describing the way the eggplant slices are often overlapped.

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 28-oz. can crushed Italian tomatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups dried plain bread crumbs, sifted
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 12 fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • 3/4 cup grated provolone cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°f. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil and garlic in a medium saucepan over medium heat until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, season to taste with salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place flour in a shallow dish. Beat eggs together in another shallow dish. Mix bread crumbs with a generous pinch of salt and pepper in a third shallow dish. Set dishes aside.

Peel and trim eggplant and slice lengthwise into 1/2” pieces. Dredge each slice first in the flour, then in the egg, then in the seasoned bread crumbs.

Heat remaining ⅛ cup oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until oil is hot but not smoking. Add breaded eggplant slices to the hot oil (working in batches, if needed) and cook until golden on both sides and dark brown on the edges, 2-3 minutes per side.

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a large shallow ovenproof dish. Arrange eggplant in a single layer on top of tomato sauce. Spoon remaining sauce over eggplant. Scatter basil on top of sauce and sprinkle with parmigiano-reggiano, then provolone. Bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, about 20 minutes.

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Molise is a region of Southern Italy. Until 1963, it formed part of the region of Abruzzi. The split, which did not become effective until 1970, makes Molise the newest region in Italy. The region covers 4,438 square kilometres/1,714 sq mi making it the second smallest region in Italy with a population of about 300,000. The region is split into two provinces, named after their respective capitals, Isernia and Campobasso. Campobasso also serves as the regional capital.

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Molise is also one of Italy’s less developed and poorest areas. In Molise, one can see two different centuries existing side by side when, on one side of the street grandmothers all in black are purchasing produce in the market and on the other side of the street there are young girls dressed in Benetton carrying mobile phones. Outside the cities are underdeveloped villages that seem to have been forgotten in time, while in the big cities progress is pushing ahead. However, one does not travel to Molise to explore the big cities but to enjoy the region’s natural beauty, the unspoiled beaches and the archaeological excavations.

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More than 40% of Molise is covered by mountains. In the Matese area, located on the border of Campania, you will find magnificent mountain ranges. The region is also home to eagles, bears and wolves in the deep forests and it is one of the best locations to harvest mushrooms.

Though there is a large Fiat plant in Termoli, the industrial sector is dominated by the construction industry. With small and medium-sized farms spread widely throughout the region, food processing is another important industry. Pasta, meat, milk products, oil and wine are the traditional regional products. In the service sector the most important industries are distribution, hotels, catering, transport, communications, banking and insurance.

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After the earthquake of 2002, some of the communities in Molise adopted a policy which contributed state money to individuals willing to make their homes more resistant to seismic activity. Larino, near Termoli, was a particular beneficiary of this policy and the town, already one of the most beautiful in the province, was transformed. The policy included returning the houses to their historical colors and, based on careful research, the structures were painted in a range of soft pastel tones. As a result, Larino has become an important center for tourism and scores of expatriates from all over the world are returning to live in the revived center. Larino is also famous for the Festa di San Pardo (Larino’s patron saint) and you will witness more than one hundred cattle drawn carts completely covered in flowers made by local families during the three days of festivities.

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International tourism is becoming more prevalent as a result of the international flights from other European countries, Great Britain and North America which enter Pescara, not far to the north in Abruzzo. The tourists are attracted by large expanses of natural beaches, a relative lack of congestion and a gentle pace of life.

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The cuisine of Molise is similar to the cuisine of Abruzzo, though there are a few differences in the dishes and ingredients. The flavors of Molise are dominated by the many herbs that grow there. Some of Molise’s typical foods include spicy salami, locally produced cheeses, lamb or goat, pasta dishes with hearty sauces and regional vegetables. In addition to bruschetta, a typical antipasto will consist of several meat dishes, such as sausage, ham and smoked prosciutto.

Main dishes of the region include:

  • Calcioni di ricotta, a specialty of Campobasso, made of fried pasta stuffed with ricotta, provolone, prosciutto and parsley and usually served with fried artichokes, cauliflower, brains, sweetbreads, potato croquette and scamorza cheese
  • Cavatiegl e Patane, gnocchi served in a meat sauce of rabbit and pork
  • Pasta e fagioli, pasta-and-white-bean soup cooked with pig’s feet and pork rinds
  • Polenta d’iragn, a polenta-like dish made of wheat and potatoes, sauced with tomatoes and pecorino
  • Risotto alla marinara, a risotto with seafood
  • Spaghetti with diavolillo, a chili pepper sauce
  • Zuppa di cardi, a soup of cardoons, tomatoes, onions, pancetta and olive oil
  • Zuppa di ortiche, a soup of nettle stems, tomatoes, onions, pancetta and olive oil

Typical vegetable dishes may include:

  • Carciofi ripieni, artichokes stuffed with anchovies and capers
  • Peeled sweet peppers stuffed with bread crumbs, anchovies, parsley, basil and peperoncino, sautéed in a frying pan and cooked with chopped tomatoes
  • Cipollacci con pecorino, fried onions and pecorino cheese
  • Frittata con basilico e cipolle, omelette with basil and onions

Fish dishes include red mullet soup and spaghetti with cuttlefish. Trout from the Biferno river is notable for its flavor and is cooked with a simple sauce of aromatic herbs and olive oil. Zuppa di pesce, a fish stew,is  a specialty of Termoli.

The cheeses produced in Molise are not very different from those produced in Abruzzo. The more common ones are Burrino and Manteca – soft, buttery cow’s-milk cheeses, Pecorino – sheep’s-milk cheese, served young and soft or aged and hard, Scamorza – a bland cow’s-milk cheese, often served grilled and Caciocavallo – a sheep’s-milk cheese.

Sweets and desserts have an ancient tradition here and are linked to the history of the territory and to religious and family festivities. Most common are:

  • Calciumi (also called Caucioni or cauciuni), sweet ravioli filled with chestnuts, almonds, chocolate, vanilla, cooked wine musts and cinnamon and then fried
  • Ciambelline, ring-shaped cakes made with olive oil and red wine
  • Ferratelle all’anice, anise cakes made in metal molds and stamped with special patterns
  • Ricotta pizza, a cake pan filled with a blend of ricotta cheese, sugar, flour, butter, maraschino liqueur and chocolate chips

Traditional Molise Recipes

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Polpi in Purgatorio

Spicy Octopus, Molise Style

Serves 4

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 sprigs Italian parsley, minced
  • 2 teaspoons peperoncini, or more to taste
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds young octopus
  • Salt

Directions

Clean the octopus in salted water and rinse well.

Heat half the oil in a medium skillet with a cover over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, parsley and peperoncini and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, 6 to 8 minutes.

Add the octopus to the onion mixture with the remaining oil. Season lightly with salt.

Cover the pan with a lid and cook over very low heat for 2 hours, stirring the octopus from time to time with a wooden spoon. Serve as an appetizer.

molise7

Baked Fettuccine with Tomato and Mozzarella

Fettucine con salsa d’aromi

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, finely shredded
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1-15 oz can Italian tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 peperoncino or 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes, more or less to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (or other pecorino)
  • 1/4 lb scamorza (you can substitute mozzarella)
  • 1 lb fettuccine

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté garlic until golden.

Add basil, parsley, mint and peperoncino. Sauté a minute or two more.

Stir in the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat (a fast bubble) stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile bring pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta al dente. Do not overcook.

Preheat oven (while pasta cooks) to 425 degrees F.

Drain the pasta very well and mix with the sauce in the pan.

Transfer all to a greased ovenproof dish.

Sprinkle on the cheese and lay the slices of scamorza or mozzarella on top.

Bake for a few minutes until the cheese melts and bubbles. Serve hot.

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Molise Style Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 6 medium green bell peppers
  • 5 cups day old bread, cut into small cubes
  • 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 small can anchovies, chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the filling
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Wash the peppers. Cut a hole around the stem. Remove the stem.  Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and ribs.

In a bowl, combine the bread, parsley, garlic and anchovies.  Mix together. Sprinkle with olive oil and toss to coat; do not saturate the bread with oil. Fill the peppers evenly with the stuffing.

Put 1/2 cup of olive oil in a baking pan.  Lay the peppers on their sides in the pan.  Bake for 20 minutes, turning occasionally to cook evenly.

Sprinkle each pepper fresh Parmigiano Reggiano at the end of the cooking time and allow it to melt over the pepper.

molise01

Isernian Calzones

Calzoni d’Isernia are named after the town of Isernia in Molise

Makes 12 Calzones

Ingredients

Dough

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1/4-1/2 cup water

Filling

  • 4 ounces pancetta
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup mozzarella, grated or diced into small cubes
  • 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of pepper

Oil for frying

Marinara sauce for serving

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the whole eggs and mix into the flour. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water slowly until all the flour is incorporated. Don’t add too much water or the dough will become sticky. Once the dough is formed, knead for about 5 minutes.

Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness.  Cut the dough into squares that are 4 inches by 4 inches. You should be able to get about 12 squares.

For the filling:

Cook the pancetta in a skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes until well browned. Cool.

Combine the ricotta, egg yolks, mozzarella, pancetta, parsley, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl.

Place some of the filling in the center of each square of dough.  Fold the dough over to form a triangle.  Use the tines of a fork to pinch together the seams of the dough.  Be careful not to over-stuff the dough or the filling will come out during frying.

Fill a heavy-bottomed pot with about 3 inches of oil.  Heat oil to 350 degrees F. Once the oil is hot, drop the calzones in (1 at a time if using a smaller pot, or just a few at a time using a larger pot).

Remove the calzones with a slotted spoon or spider when they have gotten a golden brown color on both sides.  Let them drain on a paper towel.

Serve warm with marinara sauce, if desired.

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Calciuni del Molise

Chestnut Fritters

Adapted from Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni, published 1969, Dutton (New York) (Note: this was the first cookbook I owned.)

Makes 15 fritters

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine
  • 1/4 pound fresh chestnuts

Filling

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons semi-sweet chocolate
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Oil for frying

Powdered sugar for garnish

Cinnamon for garnish

Directions

Put the flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, water, wine and olive oil. Mix the components slowly until a dough has formed. Once the dough is formed, put it on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth.  Cover the dough and set aside. (You can also do this in an electric mixer.)

Using a paring knife make an X on one side of each chestnut. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chestnuts and let boil for about 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and remove the shell and  the skin from the chestnuts.

In a food processor, chop the toasted almonds until finely ground.  Add the chestnuts and continue to grind until no large pieces remain.

Put the ground chestnuts and almonds in a bowl. Grind the chocolate in the food processor until no large pieces remain. Add to the chestnuts and almonds.

Add the honey, Amaretto, cinnamon and vanilla to the nut/chocolate mixture.  Stir well.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3-4 inch circle cookie cutter or drinking glass, cut out circles from the dough. You should be able to get 15 rounds.

Place about 1 tablespoon in the center of each circle. Do not overfill the pastries. Fold one end over and pinch tightly around the edges to close. Seal edges completely so the filling does not come out while frying.

Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Fry the fritters, a few at a time, until golden brown on each side.  Remove with a slotted spoon or spider and place on a paper towels to drain.

Arrange on a plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon.


eggsandcover

It can be challenging to serve eggs when you are entertaining house guests. A simple solution is to bake them. Eggs baked in the oven are delicious and offer an alternative to your usual sunny side up or over-easy preparations. You can bake them in individual dishes or in a baking dish and you can add whatever ingredients you like. Additions well suited to eggs are spinach, tomatoes, asparagus, cheese, prosciutto or ham and lots of herbs.

I like baking them in a tomato sauce to make a hardier, meatless entrée and, then, serve them with some delicious sides to make a satisfying lunch or dinner. Serve this meal with some really good crusty Italian bread.

eggsand1

Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 8 large eggs

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Set four 12-ounce ovenproof bowls or ramekins on a large rimmed baking sheet.

In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add garlic and rosemary; cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes (with juice), crushed tomatoes and Italian seasoning; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 2 to 4 minutes. Season tomato sauce with salt and pepper.

Divide tomato sauce among the bowls, reserving 1 cup. Crack 2 eggs into each bowl.

Dividing evenly, top each dish with ¼ cup reserved sauce and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.

Bake until egg whites are just opaque (yolks should still be soft), 24 to 28 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through.

eggsand2

Potato-Leek Hash

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
  • 3 medium leeks–white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Directions

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook until a paring knife easily slips into the center of a potato, 15 – 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them cool. Dice the potatoes and place in a bowl.

In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the butter, the black pepper and red pepper flakes, swirling the pan until the butter is melted. Stir in the leeks and cook, stirring often, until the leeks are browned and crisp around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the leek mixture to the bowl with the potatoes. Add the oregano and use a fork to stir the mixture until combined, (don’t overmix).

In the same skillet, add 2 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter is melted, let it brown, swirling often, about 1 minute. Add the potato mixture and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, spreading it out into an even layer in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the bottoms of the potatoes are crisp and browned, about 4 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with the chives. Serve alongside the baked eggs.

eggsand3

Spinach Florentine

Besciamella Sauce

Makes 2 cups of sauce

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hot whole milk
  • Fine sea salt to taste
  • Grinding coarse black pepper

Spinach

  • 2 one pound packages fresh spinach, washed and stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese

Directions

For the sauce

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to make a smooth paste. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook the mixture over medium heat until it thickens on the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degree F.

Cook the spinach in a large pot without any additional water. When it is wilted, drain it and squeeze it dry. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, add the garlic and the spinach and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the besciamella sauce and transfer the mixture to a baking dish.

Spoon the remaining sauce over the top of the spinach and sprinkle the top with the cheese.

Bake about 15 minutes or until the mixture is hot. Serve as a side to the baked eggs.

eggsand5

Pasta with Sautéed Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 pound tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta
  • Splash white wine
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

Directions

Submerge the mushrooms in cold water, swish around to wash thoroughly and drain. Trim the ends, slice and place in a large bowl. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the mushrooms and mix.

Place the garlic and olive oil in a large skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until the garlic begins to sizzle but not brown, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, stir and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes.

Remove the lid, add the salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until all moisture is evaporated and the mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley.

While mushrooms are cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil for the tagliatelle pasta. When the water has come to a boil, add salt and the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, add a splash of white wine to the mushrooms and let simmer for 1 minute. Add cream and grated cheese and bring to a simmer. Remove pan from the heat.

When pasta is al dente, add to the pan of mushrooms and stir. Serve with the baked eggs.

eggsand4

Garlic-Roasted Asparagus

When making this recipe to go with the baked eggs, cook the asparagus first. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and cover the pan with heavy-duty foil. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake the eggs.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds fresh asparagus spears
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Snap off and discard woody bases from asparagus. Place asparagus and garlic in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.

Roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until asparagus are crisp-tender, stirring once halfway through roasting. Serve with the baked eggs.

eggsand6

Italian Green Bean Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1-1/2 pounds (675 grams) flat Italian-style green beans or regular green beans, ends trimmed
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
  • 6 garlic cloves, each cut into 3 or 4 pieces
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the beans and 1 tablespoon salt. Boil until the beans are tender, with no crunch, 8 minutes. Drain in a colander but do not rinse. Let the beans cool and air dry in the colander.

Transfer the beans to a serving bowl and toss with the olive oil, vinegar and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes to allow the beans to absorb the flavors. Serve at room temperature.


porkand1

Cotoletta Alla Milanese

Cotoletta is most likely an adaptation of the southern Italian word costoletta, meaning ribs or cutlet, or it may come from the French côtelette. Though the origin and the spelling of the name are uncertain, the dish itself is not. It is a portion of meat, usually veal, fried in breadcrumbs and in its most famous form, it is called cotoletta alla milanese. Today, the technique extends to chicken, turkey and even vegetables. In dishes like these, the name describes the manner of preparation and simply means that the food has been fried with bread crumbs.

The origin of the dish is as obscure as that of the name and its spelling, with both Austrians and the Italians claiming to have invented it. Proof that cotoletta alla milanese is a Milanese invention is in fact provided by two historical documents. The first is a “menu” from 1134, for a meal given by an abbot to the choristers of Sant’ Ambrogio. The list of dishes includes “lumbulos con panito”, sliced loin in breadcrumbs.

This evidence of a Lombard specialty is quoted in Pietro Verri’s, Storia di Milano. A second item of proof is a letter written by the Austrian general, Field Marshal Radetzky, to the Imperial Staff Officer, Baron Attems. After various comments and pieces of information, the general writes of the cotoletta and describes the method of preparation, speaking of it as a new discovery. Perhaps it was the Austrians who learned the dish from south of the Alps – the Milanese certainly believe so. You probably do not want to get into the middle of that argument.

In any case this is a delicious dish to make and the only decision you need to make is what to serve with the pork. I have given you a number of choices that I think go well with a milanese recipe. Choose one.

Pork Chops Milanese

(Adapted from chef, Jonathan Waxman)

4 servings

Ingredients

  • Four 10-ounce bone-in pork rib chops
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus extra for drizzling over the pork
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 loaf fresh Italian country bread, crust removed and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 lemons, juiced (about ¼ cup)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Place each pork chop in a separate large resealable plastic bag and, using a rolling-pin, gently pound each chop until it is about 8 inches in diameter and about 3/4-inch thick.

Remove each chop from the bag and coat with a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

In a food processor, pulse the bread cubes into fine crumbs (you should end up with about 3 cups of crumbs). Place the crumbs into a large paper bag.

Place the flour in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

In another large bowl, beat the eggs with 1 teaspoon of sea salt and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Place the pork chops in the flour, coat them well and then dip each one into the egg mixture. Transfer the chops to a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with the remaining egg mixture, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Transfer the chops, one at a time, to the bag with the bread crumbs. Close the bag and shake well to coat each chop thoroughly.

Preheat a skillet large enough to hold 2 chops in a single layer. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter and heat over medium heat until the butter is golden brown. Place two chops in the pan and cook for 4 to 5 minutes on one side. Using a spatula, gently turn each chop. Cook for 3-4 minutes longer.

Remove from the heat and transfer the chops to a platter. Add 2 tablespoons lemon juice to the pan, stir to deglaze and pour the juices over the cooked chops.

Wipe out the pan and repeat this process with the remaining chops, oil, butter and lemon juice. Sprinkle the chops with the Parmesan cheese. serve with one of the side dishes below

Contorno (Side Dishes)

porkand2

Mascarpone Polenta with Wild Mushrooms

(Adapted from the Cuoco Pazzo Restaurant, Scottsdale, AZ)

Polenta comes in three types of grinds: fine (which has a consistency similar to wheat flour), semi coarse and coarse.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups polenta or ground cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen sweet corn kernels
  • 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
  • Kosher salt
  • White pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 cups thinly sliced mixed mushrooms
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • ½ tablespoon finely chopped chives, plus additional for garnish
  • ½ tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • White truffle oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan

Directions

In a large saucepan, bring 5 cups of salted water to a boil. Slowly add the polenta and whisk constantly until tender, about 7 to 10 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the butter, corn and mascarpone cheese. Season with salt and white pepper. Set aside.

In a large skillet set over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add the mushrooms. Cook until they soften slightly, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until translucent. Season with salt to taste.

Stir the herbs and Parmesan cheese into the polenta and spread the polenta onto a serving platter. Spoon the mushrooms onto the center of the polenta and drizzle lightly with truffle oil. Sprinkle with chives and serve as a side to the grilled pork chops.

porkand3

Olive-Oil-Braised Broccoli Rabe

Look for broccoli rabe with vibrant green leaves and plump stems. Small-leaved plants are young and therefore mild-tasting.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • 1 bunch (1 1/4 pounds) broccoli rabe, trimmed and cut crosswise into 3-inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons julienned lemon zest, plus fresh lemon juice for serving
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock

Directions

Heat the oil and garlic in a large straight-sided skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until garlic is sizzling and aromatic, but not browned, about 2 minutes.

Add the broccoli rabe, zest and 3/4 teaspoon salt, then use tongs to toss and coat in oil. Add the stock and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook until broccoli rabe is tender, 7 to 10 minutes.

Transfer contents of pan (including liquid) to a serving bowl. Grind pepper over top and drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. Serve immediately.

porkand4

Spinach Salad with Roasted Fennel and Grapefruit

(Adapted from A Good Food Day: Reboot Your Health with Food That Tastes Great.)

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 large fennel bulb, halved lengthwise, then sliced lengthwise ½ inch thick
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • One 5-ounce container or bag of baby spinach
  • ½ cup pitted oil-cured black olives, halved

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.

Place the fennel on the prepared baking sheet and toss the wedges with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and roast until tender and the edges are browned and crispy, 30 to 35 minutes.

Grate the zest of the grapefruit into a bowl. Using a sharp knife, trim ¼ inch to ½ inch off the top and bottom of the grapefruit so it stand flat on a cutting board. Following the curve of the fruit, remove the white pith and the membrane covering the fruit. Cut in between the membranes to remove the fruit and place them in the bowl with the zest. Squeeze what remains of the grapefruit over a small bowl or measuring cup to release any juice still left in the grapefruit.

In a large salad bowl, combine the spinach, olives and grapefruit segments. Add the roasted fennel along with 2 tablespoons of the reserved grapefruit juice and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and toss to combine. Serve as a side to the pork.

porkand5

Greens and Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 4 quarts water
  • Salt for the water
  • 3 baking potatoes, peeled and quartered crosswise
  • 2 pounds Swiss chard or spinach or kale, cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch strips
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a large stock pot over high heat, add the water and salt; bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and boil for 10 minutes. Add the Swiss chard. Boil until the potatoes and chard stems are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain in a colander.

In a large sauté pan or skillet over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, divided. Add the garlic and cook until brown. Add the chard and potatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Sauté, stirring and mashing the potatoes, until the liquid has evaporated and the potatoes are coarsely mashed. If the potatoes begin to brown, reduce the heat.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix well. Serve as a side with the pork.


springsoupcover

Soup for lunch, soup for dinner or soup as a starter… it’s just great to have on hand!

Soup is good for you and it tastes good. A great soup starts with a stock. What is stock? It’s just the liquid you get when you simmer meat, bones or vegetables together with aromatic vegetables and seasonings. This is what forms the major flavor base for a soup.

A homemade vegetable soup is just so much better than anything you’d get in a can. For one thing, only ingredients that you like end up in the soup. Plus, you have the opportunity to make it much healthier. Vegetable soup is also a great way to empty your refrigerator before the next trip to the grocery store — you can put almost any vegetable in a good old-fashioned vegetable soup.

You can add any vegetable you like but it’s a good idea to pick vegetables that go well together. If you add some bitter vegetables, like broccoli, brussel sprouts or turnips, try to balance it with sweeter vegetables like potatoes, carrots or peas.

If you want to avoid overcooking vegetables, add the veggies that need to cook longest first, letting them cook a bit before adding the vegetables that take the least amount of time to cook.

A soup is all about blended flavors. If you use smaller vegetable chunks, you can fit a few different kinds on a spoon and get a better taste. Smaller vegetable pieces also cook faster. The only rule to how much to add is that you should have enough broth to cover all the vegetables.

The last thing that makes up a homemade vegetable soup is the seasoning you add. The broth will tend to reduce the longer the soup cooks. That means that any seasonings added will get more intense as the soup cooks. You can avoid getting an overwhelmingly seasoned soup by adding the seasonings toward the end of the cooking time. There are plenty of seasonings that are suited to soup. Some popular seasonings are: ginger, rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, parsley, onion powder, garlic powder and cayenne pepper.

How to Make Vegetable Stock

springsoup4

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cups chopped onion, onion skins reserved
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 cups chopped carrot
  • 1 cup chopped parsnips
  • 1 cup chopped fennel bulb
  • Salt
  • 2 large garlic cloves, smashed (leave skins on)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoons fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

Directions

Place the dried mushrooms in a large bowl and pour 1 quart of boiling water over them. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil over high heat in a large stockpot. Add the chopped onions, celery, carrots and fennel and stir to coat. Sprinkle with salt. Cook over high heat for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Given that there are so many vegetables and they have a high moisture content, it may take more heat and longer time to brown than you would expect. Cook until the vegetables begin to brown.

Add the garlic and tomato paste and stir to combine. Cook, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes, or until the tomato paste begins to turn a rusty color. Add the mushrooms and their soaking water, the rosemary, thyme, onion skins, peppercorns, bay leaves, parsley and 4 additional quarts of water. Bring to a simmer and then turn the heat down to a simmer. The surface of the stock should just barely be bubbling. Cook for 1 1/2 hours.

Using a spider skimmer or slotted spoon, remove all the big pieces of vegetables. Discard.

Set up a large bowl or pot with a sieve set over it. Line the sieve with a plain paper towel and pour the stock through it. When you have about half the stock poured through, stop, let what’s in the strainer filter through and change the paper towels. Filter the rest of the stock.

To store, pour into glass containers and refrigerate for up to a week.

If you freeze in glass jars, leave at least an inch and a half of headroom, so the stock can expand without breaking the glass of the jar or use freezer ziplock bags.

Makes 5 quarts.

springsoup1

Spring Vegetable Soup

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 7 cups vegetable stock
  • 10 small red potatoes, quartered
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 celery ribs, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large leek, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • Freshly ground pepper

Directions

In a large pot, combine the stock with the red potatoes, carrots, celery, onion and leek. Bring to a boil. Add the salt and simmer over moderately low heat for 30 minutes.

Add the green beans and Italian seasoning and simmer until tender, 3 minutes. Stir in the parsley and season with pepper. Serve.

springsoup3

Creamy Asparagus Soup

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh asparagus
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes, diced
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup light cream
  • Fresh chopped chives for garnish

Directions

Cut the bottom half of the asparagus spears into 2-inch lengths and place in them in a soup pot with the vegetable stock. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove asparagus ends with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander over a bowl, pressing on the stalks to get as much juice from them as possible, then discarding the fibrous stalks. Add the extracted juice back into the soup pot and return the stock to a simmer.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter and add the onion, stirring while cooking for 5 minutes. Cut the top half of the asparagus stalks into 1-inch pieces. Add the asparagus pieces, celery and potato to the onion and butter. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover the saucepan and allow vegetables to cook for 5 minutes. Add the simmering stock and cover saucepan again, cooking another 7 or 8 minutes, until the potato is tender.

Process these cooked vegetables with a hand blender or in a food processor until smooth, then add this puree back into the soup pot, adding the cream. Simmer for 5 minutes, taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary.

Served warm or chilled, garnished with fresh chives.

springsoup2

Vegetable, Fennel Soup

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 2 celery ribs, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 2 leeks, white parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 fennel bulb—halved, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium tomato, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • One 3-inch square Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, leeks and fennel and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomato and bay leaves and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add the stock and the cheese rind and bring to a simmer. Cover partially and cook over moderately low heat until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Discard the cheese rind and bay leaves. Stir in the parsley and basil and season the soup with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle with the grated cheese and serve.

springsoup5

Italian Vegetable Soup with Orzo and Pesto

6 servings.

Pesto Ingredients

  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach, packed
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed, plus extra leaves for garnish
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes, drained (fresh may be substituted)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Soup Ingredients

  • 2 leeks, white parts only, chopped (1 bunch of green onions may be substituted)
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 medium white potato, peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup orzo
  • 1 cup green beans, cut into 1/2-inch slices (can also use frozen)
  • 1 (15-oz.) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

Directions

Puree all pesto ingredients in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

In large pot combine leeks, carrots, potato, stock and Italian seasoning. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until vegetables are almost tender, 8-10 minutes.

Add orzo and boil uncovered until orzo is almost tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add green beans, cannellini beans and red pepper, cover and simmer 5-7 minutes.

Ladle soup into serving bowls. Divide pesto among the servings and swirl in to blend. Sprinkle with cheese, garnish with fresh basil leaves and serve.


campaniacover

Campania  faces the Tyrrhenian Sea and includes one of the finest coastlines in Italy. Naples is the regional capital. Other important cities are Caserta, Benevento, Salerno and Avellino. The region has a population of around 5.8 million people, making it the second-most-populous region in Italy. Campania is rich in culture, music, architecture and archaeological sites such as Pompeii, Herculaneum and Vesuvius.

Campania

Campania, mainly, produces fruit and vegetables, but has also expanded its production of flowers grown in greenhouses to become one of the leading producers in Italy. Campania produces over 50% of Italy’s nuts and is also a leader in the production of tomatoes. Animal breeding is widespread and the milk produced is used to make dairy products, such as mozzarella cheese. Olive and fruit trees cover a good portion of the agricultural land and wine production has increased, as well as, the quality of the wine.

The region has a dense network of roads and motorways, a system of maritime connections and an airport (Naples Airport), which connect the region to the rest of the country. The port connects the region with the entire Mediterranean basin and brings tourists to the archaeological sites, the cities, the beautiful coastal areas and the well-known islands.

campania4

Capri

Campania is home to several national football, water polo, volleyball, basketball and tennis clubs. The fencing school in Naples is the oldest in the country and the only school in Italy in which a swordsman can acquire the title, “master of swords”, which allows a graduate to teach the art of fencing. The “Circolo Savoia” and “Canottieri Napoli” sailing clubs are among the oldest in Italy and are famous for their regattas. The region is also home to water polo teams. Many sailors from Naples and Campania participate as crew in the America’s Cup sailing competition.

Campanian cuisine varies within the region. While Neapolitan dishes center on seafood, Casertan and Aversan dishes rely more on fresh vegetables and cheeses. The cuisine from Sorrento combines the culinary traditions from both Naples and Salerno.

Neapolitan Pizza

Neapolitan Pizza

Pizza was conceived in Naples. Historical and original pizzas from Naples are pizza fritta (fried pizza); calzone (literally “trouser leg”), which is pizza  stuffed with ricotta cheese; pizza marinara, with just olive oil, tomato sauce and garlic and pizza Margherita, with olive oil, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil leaves. Neapolitans were among the first Europeans to use tomatoes not only as an ornamental plant but also as a food ingredient.

The cheeses of Campania consist of Mozzarella di Bufala (buffalo mozzarella) a mozzarella made from buffalo milk, fiordilatte (“flower of milk”) a mozzarella made from cow’s milk, ricotta from sheep or buffalo milk, provolone made from cow milk and caciotta made from goat milk. Buffalo are bred in Salerno and Caserta.

Spaghetti Puttanesca

Spaghetti Puttanesca

Spaghetti alla puttanesca, a spicy pasta dish made with a sauce of tomatoes, olives, anchovies and capers is a dish that originated in Campania. Ravioli di ricotta di pecora, also called “ravaiuoli” or “slim ravioloni”, are an ancient traditional specialty of Campania: handmade ravioli filled with fresh sheep ricotta.

Campania is home to seafood-based dishes, such as “insalata di mare” (seafood salad), “zuppa di polpo” (octopus soup) and “zuppa di cozze” (mussel soup), that are very popular. Other regional seafood dishes include “frittelle di mare” (fritters with seaweed), made with edible algae, “triglie al cartoccio” (red mullet) and “alici marinate” (fresh anchovies in olive oil). The island of Ischia is famous for its fish dishes, as well as, for cooked rabbit.

Campania is also home to the lemons of Sorrento. Rapini (or broccoli rabe), known locally as friarielli, are often used in the regional cooking.

Sfogliatella

Sfogliatella

Several different cakes and pies are made in Campania. Pastiera pie is made during Easter. Casatiello and tortano are Easter breads made by adding oil and various types of cheese to the bread dough and garnishing them with slices of salami. Babà cake is a Neapolitan delicacy, best served with rum or limoncello (a liqueur invented in the Sorrento peninsula). Sfogliatella is another cake from the Amalfi Coast, as is zeppole, traditionally eaten on Saint Joseph’s day. Struffoli, little balls of fried dough, are dipped in honey and enjoyed during the Christmas holidays.

Traditional Recipes From Campania

campania3

Dried Red Peppers and Lemons

Mozzarella in Carrozza (Mozzarella in a “Carriage”)

campania5

This is a classic recipe from Naples served as an appetizer.

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 8 slices white bread, crusts removed
  • 1 pound fresh Mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Marinara Sauce

Directions

Place 4 slices of bread on the counter. Top with the mozzarella, trimmed to fit the bread.  Cover with the 4 remaining slices of bread, making 4 sandwiches in all.

Spread the flour on a plate. Dip the four edges of each sandwich in the flour. Then coat the sides lightly in the flour. Place them in a baking dish or on a plate with sides..

In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the salt. Pour the mixture over the sandwiches and set aside for 10 minutes.

Delicately flip the sandwiches over and set aside for another 10 minutes. The purpose is to allow the bread to soak in the egg as much as possible.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and pour enough olive oil in to cover the bottom of the pan.

Add the sandwiches and cook until brown; turn and brown the second side. Remove the sandwiches to serving plates, cut in half and serve with hot marinara sauce.

Paccheri con Ricotta e Salsa di Pomodoro (Macaroni with Ricotta and Tomato Sauce)

campania6

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Marinara Sauce
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino or a combination of both, plus extra for serving
  • 1 pound paccheri or other large tubular pasta, such as rigatoni
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • A few leaves of finely cut or torn fresh basil

Directions

Heat the marinara  sauce.

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted, boiling water until al dente. Before draining it, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve it.

In a pasta serving bowl, combine the ricotta and the grated cheese. Mix them together with a spoon or fork until well blended.

Pour about half of the hot tomato sauce into the cheese mixture in the bowl. Stir well.

Add the drained, hot pasta to the sauce, then add black pepper to taste. Toss well, adding hot pasta cooking water by the tablespoon if a looser, creamier texture is desired. The sauce tends to thicken as it cools in the plate, so 2 or 3 tablespoons are usually a good idea.

Serve immediately, preferably in hot bowls, each portion topped with a little more tomato sauce and with additional finely cut basil, if desired. Pass grated cheese and the peppermill.

Braciole Alla Napoletana (Pork Loin Braciole)

campania7

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. boneless pork loin
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 oz. capers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or one 14-1/2-ounce can of Italian tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Slice the pork loin into ¼ inch thick slices and flatten slightly with a wooden mallet.

Chop 2 cloves of garlic very finely and mix with the sundried tomatoes, pine nuts and capers. Place a small amount of this mix on each slice of pork and roll up the slices of pork. Tie with kitchen string.

Brown the remaining garlic in the olive oil and then remove it. Add the pork braciola, brown on all sides and add the tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste, cover the pan and cook for 25 minutes over a low flame. Sprinkle with parsley, remove from heat and serve.

Casatiello (Neapolitan Stuffed Bread)

campania9

This version is made without the whole eggs added to the dough prior to baking. At Easter time, whole eggs are added to the dough and baked.

Dough Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Filling Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound chunk provolone or scamorza cheese, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 pound chunk mortadella, salami or boiled ham cut into cubes
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Grease a 10 inch tube pan with a removable bottom and set aside.

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and let rest until foamy.

Place the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast, olive oil, salt and pepper and mix it into the flour with the paddle attachment; add the cheese and enough additional warm water to make a soft ball of dough. Cover and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours in a warm place or until it doubles in size.

Knead the dough on a floured surface and roll out into a large 18 by 14-inch rectangle. Scatter the cheese and mortadella over the surface to within an inch of the edges. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Starting at the longest side, roll the dough up as for a jellyroll, making sure to tuck in the ends and place it in the tube pan. Tuck the two ends together.

Cover and allow to rise for about 1 hour or until the dough is 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pan.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until golden brown. Let cool on a rack then run a butter knife along the inside edges of the pan, loosen the bottom and remove it.

Turn the bread out. Serve warm; cut into wedges.



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