Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Italian Cuisine


Most Italian Americans, I know, grew up on spaghetti and meatballs. However, meatballs can sometimes be difficult to make because it is tough to get the texture and the seasonings just  right. Often, they come out spongy or dry or dense.

Here are some of my tips for making good meatballs.

Some recipes call for beef and others call for pork. Some call for a mixture of beef and pork. Others call for beef, pork and veal. Then, there are the decisions about how much cheese, breadcrumbs and herbs to add or whether the meatballs should be cooked in the sauce or separately.

Meatballs need seasoning.  As a rule, about 1 teaspoon of salt per pound will make for perfectly seasoned meat. Herbs are also important. Without them, your meatballs will end up tasting like a burger. Change the flavor a bit with herbs like mint, oregano and marjoram.

When using all beef to make meatballs, the meat should not be too lean. You need some fat for flavor, so buy ground beef that is labeled 75% lean. Another way to add flavor is to use part ground beef and part ground pork in the meatball mixture.

Eggs are not used for moisture. They are in the meatball mix to bind the meat, breadcrumbs, cheese and herbs together. For one to two pounds of meat, you won’t need more than one egg.

Be sure not to add too many bread crumbs–about a half cup per pound of meat will be enough.

Put all the ingredients into a bowl at once and use your hands to mix them. The light touch of your hands incorporates all of the ingredients without crushing the meat.

Depending on how you’ll serve the meatballs, you should roll them to the size appropriate for the dish. In soup, for instance, you’ll want small, bite-sized meatballs. If they’re on top of spaghetti, make them medium. If they are the main course, make them 2 inches in diameter.

If you roll meatballs with dry hands, the meat mixture will stick to your skin. To remedy this, wet your hands with water.

I never fry meatballs to keep them healthy. Baking or broiling work just fine.


Here is my basic formula for meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground meat (pork, beef, veal, chicken, turkey or a combination)
  • 1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 finely minced garlic clove
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Olive oil

Preheat the broiler or heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a rimmed cookie sheet.

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. With wet hands form into 12 equal sized meatballs. (Use an ice cream scoop to make them uniform in size.)

Place the meatballs on the prepared pan and broil 5 minutes each side or until completely brown. Or bake the meatballs in the oven for about 25 minutes.

If I am making the meatballs to go with spaghetti, then I simmer them in the sauce for the last hour of cooking.


Meatball Soup



  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 leeks, white and pale green parts, chopped
  • 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups pearl barley
  • 8 cups chicken broth


  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup plain dried bread crumbs
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed fennel seed
  • 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley, plus 1/2 cup chopped parsley for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper


To make the soup:

In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the leeks and garlic and saute until very soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and wine, stir to combine and cook for 4 minutes.  Add the barley and the chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the barley is tender, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.  Oil a rimmed cookie sheet.

To make the meatballs:

In a mixing bowl, combine the chicken, Parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, the 2 tablespoons parsley and tomato paste.  Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and mix with your hands. The mixture will be very sticky.

To form the meatballs:

Use two small spoons or a small ice cream/melon scoop to form small (1 inch) meatballs. Place on the prepared baking sheet.  Bake until the meatballs are cooked through and no longer pink in the center, about 10-12 minutes.

Add the meatballs to the soup and stir in gently. Serve the soup garnished with the 1/2 cup parsley.


Italian Meatball Stew

My mother made this often when I was growing up and I made it for my children when they were young. This dish is popular with kids if you find the right combination of vegetables that appeal to them.


  • Basic Meatball recipe above, cooked
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Large baking potato, peeled and diced
  • 4 ounces green beans, trimmed, cut into 1-inch-long pieces or the equivalent frozen
  • 26-28 oz. container crushed Italian tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Heat the oil in a large saucepan and saute the onion, carrot and garlic until softened. Add the potato, green beans, tomatoes and seasonings.

Bring to a low boil, reduce heat and cook mixture until the potatoes and beans are tender.

Gently stir in meatballs and heat until the meatballs are hot and the mixture has thickened slightly.


Meatballs Stuffed With Mozzarella Cheese

This makes a great entrée with a salad and Italian bread. If you make them smaller, they are very good as an appetizer.


  • Double batch of the Basic Meatball recipe, above
  • 1/2 lb fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes or mini fresh mozzarella cheese balls called pearls
  • 3 cups store-bought marinara sauce or homemade spaghetti sauce


Heat the oven to 450°F. Line a 15 x 10 inch baking pan with parchment paper; set aside.

Form meatball mixture into 2″ balls.

Press a cheese cube or ball in the middle and seal the meat around it.

Bake 12-15 minutes or until lightly brown all over. Place in a large serving bowl.

Heat marinara sauce and pour over the meatballs in the serving bowl.


Italian-American Meatball Lasagna

This is another favorite from my childhood days that my children and husband are also crazy about.


  • One recipe of basic meatballs from above
  • 12 traditional lasagna noodles
  • 4 cups homemade or store-bought marinara sauce
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • Two 15 ounce containers ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 lb  mozzarella cheese, sliced thin


Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a rimmed cookie sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the meatball mixture. With wet hands, shape into mini meatballs, using 2 teaspoons of mixture for each. Place the meatballs on the prepared cookie sheet and bake until brown all over, about 15 minutes.

To make the lasagna:

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boiling. Add noodles to the boiling water one at a time and cook for 10 minutes. Drain and place the noodles on kitchen towels.

Stir the chopped basil into the marinara sauce. Reserve 1 cup of the sauce for the top layer.

In a medium bowl, blend ricotta, egg, parsley and ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese.

To assemble the lasagna:

Spread 1 cup marinara sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish. Top with 4 noodles, overlapping. Layer half of the mozzarella slices on top of the noodles, followed by half the ricotta cheese. Spread the ricotta with a spatula. Scatter half the meatballs over the noodles. Pour half 1 cup of the marinara sauce over the meatballs.

Top with 4 more noodles and layer with the remaining mozzarella and ricotta cheese. Scatter remaining meatballs over the cheese. Pour 1 cup marinara sauce over meatballs.

Top with the final 4 lasagna noodles. Spread with the reserved 1 cup of sauce. Top with the remaining Parmesan. Cover the dish with foil.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for 15 minutes until bubbly and slightly browned. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.


Fall is the time when we feel we can get back to spending some time cooking. Luckily, the cooler weather also brings a whole new group of seasonal produce to cook with, from apples and pears to hearty greens, root vegetables and squash. Make the most of what you find at the markets this autumn and try some new recipes to get you excited again about cooking.


Nothing says autumn more than a sweet tart apple. Apples can be used in dishes that are both sweet and savory. From stuffed turkey and pork to salads to applesauce and apple pie.


Pork Tenderloin with Sautéed Apples

Serve with a spinach salad.

4 servings


Spice Mix

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg


  • 1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups thinly sliced, peeled or unpeeled apples
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or white wine
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves


Cut pork tenderloin into 8 slices and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand.

Combine the spice ingredients and sprinkle the mixture evenly over all sides of the pork slices. Let rest for about 10 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter. Add the  pork slices to the pan; cook 4 minutes on each side. Remove pork from the pan to a platter and keep warm. If all the pork does not fit in the pan at one time, you will need to brown the pork in two batches.

Melt the remaining butter in the pan; swirl to coat. Add the apple slices, shallots, brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt; sauté 4 minutes or until the apples start to brown. Add apple cider or wine to the pan and cook for 2 minutes or until the apples are crisp-tender. Stir in thyme leaves. Serve.


Pears are great for adding a touch of sweetness to savory dishes. Try serving a roasted pork roast or leg of lamb with caramelized pears. Not only does it add flavor, but the enzymes in the pears actually tenderize the meat.


Roasted Pears and Red Onions

Excellent as a side dish for roasted pork or turkey.

6 servings


  • 4 semi-ripe medium pears, quartered and cored
  • 1 large red onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, plus extra leaves for garnish


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, toss pears and onion with butter and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange pears and onion in a single layer (they should fit snugly in the dish) and top with rosemary.

Cover dish tightly with foil and bake until the pears begin to soften, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the pears are golden brown on the bottom and tender when pierced with a knife, 15 to 20 minutes more. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary leaves before serving.


Hard-skinned squash varieties are usually yellow to deep-orange, with a flesh that turns creamy and sweet when cooked. Out of the hundreds of varieties, each has its own unique flavor and ideal uses. Dark green and orange-skinned acorn squash has a tender golden interior that makes a sweet, creamy purée; butternut squash makes a great filling for pasta;  delicata, with its thin, edible skin, is delicious sliced and sautéed in a little butter and roasted spaghetti squash has a light flavor and texture that’s perfect topped with pesto.


Stuffed Acorn Squash

4 servings


  • 2 medium acorn squashes (about 2 pounds), halved and seeded
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 pound lean ground beef or turkey
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup bulgur wheat
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place squash halves, cut sides down, in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bake until tender, 35 to 40 minutes.

Heat oil in a 4-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add ground beef, a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer beef to a bowl using a slotted spoon, keeping as much cooking liquid in the pot as possible.

Add onion and cook until slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining salt and the bulgur and stir to combine. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and stir in the reserved beef, the raisins, parsley and pine nuts.

Scrape out the baked squashes, forming 1/4-inch-thick bowls and fold flesh into the bulgur mixture. Divide mixture among squash halves and return to the oven. Bake until warmed through and tops are browned, 12 to 14 minutes.

Parsnips and Carrots

Carrots and parsnips are earthy root vegetables. They’re especially good for roasting, but they also have a place in salads and soups. While similar in taste parsnips are sweeter than carrots, especially when roasted. Heirloom carrots come in a rainbow of colors, from white to yellow to purple. They are delicious grated raw with a honey dressing, roasted with orange zest and maple syrup or shredded and baked into cakes and breads.


Root Vegetable Gratin

6-8 servings


  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Italian Fontina cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick half moons
  • 1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick half moons
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound red potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick half moons
  • 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil


Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, thyme, nutmeg and cayenne.

In another bowl, combine cheese and garlic.

Layer half the butternut squash in the baking dish; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon seasoning mix and 1/2 cup cheese mixture. Layer parsnips and carrots over the squash and season with 1/2 teaspoon seasoning mix and 1/2 cup cheese, followed by the onion and 1/2 teaspoon seasoning mix and 1/2 cup cheese. Top with potatoes, remaining butternut squash and seasoning mix.

Pour chicken broth over top. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees F for 60 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

Combine panko and olive oil. Sprinkle evenly over vegetables. Broil 45 seconds or until lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.


Fennel seed is perhaps best known for its licorice-scented seeds, used to flavor Italian sausage. But the crunchy vegetable bulb itself has a delicious, delicate anise flavor and the feathery fronds add flavor to salads and soups. It is delicious roasted and blends well with root vegetables and potatoes.


Italian Crab and Fennel Stew

6 servings


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 large bulb fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoons finely chopped thyme
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups fish or chicken stock
  • 1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand
  • 2 lbs. pre-cooked king or snow crab legs, defrosted if frozen and cut into 3″ pieces
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped basil
  • 2 bunches roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Italian Country bread, for serving


Heat oil in an 8 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, celery, shallots, fennel, salt, and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes.

Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, 1–2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, thyme, paprika and bay leaves; cook, stirring, until slightly caramelized, about 3 minutes.

Add stock and tomatoes; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, 15–20 minutes.

Stir in crab; cook until shells are bright red and the crab meat is tender, 2–3 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Stir in basil and parsley and serve with the bread.



falldinnerscoverCrisp autumn days have us looking forward to soups, pot pies, roasts and casseroles. Pick from any number of fall ingredients to add flavor and color to your main dishes, sides and desserts.

This is also the perfect time of year to roast vegetables. Fall root vegetables and squash take to roasting and taste so much better for it.

How to Roast Any Vegetable

Pre-heat the oven to 425°F.

Roast vegetables either whole or chopped. The larger the piece, the longer it will take to cook. Whole beets can take an hour or more, while asparagus will be cooked in about 10 minutes.

Place the vegetables in an oven-safe pan.

Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, just enough to very lightly coat the vegetables when tossed.

To see if the vegetables are cooked, prick with the tip of a paring knife. The knife should pull out easily.

Serve with a light sprinkle of sea salt and chopped or whole toasted nuts, breadcrumbs or grated cheese on top.


Squash Carbonara

Serve with a green salad.

6 Servings


  • 1 ½ pounds fall squash, such as butternut, delicata, acorn, etc
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 ounces pancetta, unsliced; about a 1 inch thick piece
  • 12 ounces bucatini or spaghetti
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • Pecorino (for serving)


Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and slice crosswise into ¼”-thick half-moons. Toss with oil in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the squash slices on a large rimmed baking sheet; place pancetta next to the squash. Roast until the squash is tender but hasn’t changed color and the pancetta is brown, about 30–35 minutes. Transfer the squash to a plate and set aside.

Let pancetta cool slightly, then cut into ¼” pieces. Pour any rendered fat on the baking sheet into a large skillet. Add the pancetta and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a small bowl. Reserve skillet with the drippings in the pan.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Add pasta to the reserved skillet along with a ½ cup pasta cooking water and toss to coat, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon.

Lightly beat egg yolks and lemon zest in a large bowl just to combine. Working quickly, add the egg mixture to the hot pasta in the skillet and toss vigorously with tongs until a thick, glossy sauce forms, about 4 minutes. (If sauce still looks watery, keep tossing.)

Add pancetta and reserved squash to the pasta, season with salt and pepper and toss everything together in a large serving bowl. Shave Pecorino over pasta and top with more pepper just before serving.


Italian Bean Soup

Serve with crusty bread.

4 servings


  • 1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Two 15 ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • One 32 ounce box reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, crushed
  • One 5 ounce package fresh baby spinach
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • Grated Parmesan cheese


In a 4-quart Dutch oven cook and stir carrots and onion in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add beans, broth and seasoning. Bring to boiling and slightly mash some of the beans. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a large skillet heat remaining oil over medium-high heat. Add spinach; toss with tongs 1 to 2 minutes, just until wilted. Remove from the heat. Ladle soup into serving bowls; top with spinach, grated cheese and sprinkle with pepper.


Sea Scallops with Peppers and Corn

6 servings


  • 3 ears corn (about 2 1/2 lb. total), husked, silks removed
  • 1 1/4 pounds sea scallops
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 red bell peppers, rinsed, stemmed, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves


Holding each ear of corn upright in a deep bowl, cut kernels from the cobs.

Rinse scallops, remove side muscle and pat dry; sprinkle lightly all over with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch nonstick frying pan over high heat. Add the corn, bell peppers, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper to taste; cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Remove to a wide, shallow serving bowl.

Add remaining oil, butter and scallops to the skillet. Cook until the scallops are browned on the outside and barely opaque in the center (cut to test), about 5 minutes.

Top the vegetables with scallops and any pan juices. Sprinkle with basil and serve.


Broiled Turkey Breast with Orange Spinach

4 servings


  • Two 8 ounce boneless turkey breast tenderloins, halved horizontally
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 oz. pancetta, cut into thin strips
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • Two 9 ounce packages fresh spinach
  • 1 orange, cut into wedges


Lightly sprinkle turkey with salt and pepper. Place on an unheated broiler pan. Broil 4 inches from the heat for 5 minutes. Turn turkey pieces over; broil for 4 minutes more.

In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, the Parmesan cheese and the bread crumbs. Spread over turkey. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes more or until topping is golden and turkey is no longer pink (170 degrees F).

Heat butter in a large skillet and cook pancetta until crisp. Add spinach, half at a time and cook 1 minute or just until wilted. Add orange wedges and orange juice with the second batch of spinach and cook until wilted. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Using tongs, remove the spinach to a serving platter. Top with turkey and orange wedges. Drizzle with remaining juices from the skillet and serve.


Pork with Squash Barley Risotto

4 servings


  • ½ cup regular barley
  • One 32 ounce container vegetable stock or broth
  • 1/2 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into small cubes (2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
  • 12 ounces pork tenderloin
  • Snipped fresh basil, oregano and thyme for garnish


Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add barley; cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until toasted. Stir in broth and squash; bring to boiling. Reduce heat. Cover; simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover; boil 15 minutes more or until the squash and barley are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed (mixture should still appear creamy). Remove from heat. Stir in basil and oregano.

Place garlic, salt and pepper on a cutting board. Using the flat side of a large knife, smash the garlic. Drag the flat side of the knife across the garlic in one direction then the opposite direction until a smooth paste forms. Place paste in a small bowl with 1 teaspoon of the oil; set aside.

Slice pork into 1/2-inch thick slices and flatten the slices with the palm of your hand. Rub garlic mixture over the pork slices.

In a 12-inch skillet heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add pork and cook 2-3 minutes per side or until browned and cooked through. Serve pork with barley mixture and sprinkle with additional fresh herbs.


Flatbreads are breads made with flour, water and salt that are rolled into a flattened dough and baked. Many flatbreads are unleavened—made without yeast—although some are slightly leavened, such as pita bread. Flatbread became known in Ancient Egypt and Sumer in ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq), when the Sumerians discovered that edible grains could be mashed into a paste and then baked/hardened into a flatbread. Unleavened breads (such as matzoh which is not prepared with leavening) are usually flatbreads that hold special religious significance in Judaism and Christianity.


Flatbreads may contain such ingredients as curry powder, diced jalapenos, chili powder or black pepper. Olive oil or sesame oil may be added, as well, and flatbreads are usually thin. Cheese and  tomato sauce are not usually added to flatbread.


Pizza, on the other hand, is usually made from dough containing yeast that is topped with cheese, tomato sauce, meats and vegetables. The crust is usually thin and most of the surface is covered with the toppings.


Focaccia is popular in Italy and is usually seasoned with olive oil, salt, sometimes herbs and may at times be topped with onion, Focaccia can be used as the bread to accompany a meal. The primary difference between conventional pizza and focaccia is that pizza dough uses very little leavening (baker’s yeast), resulting in a very thin, flat and flexible crust, while focaccia dough uses more leavening, causing the dough to rise significantly higher. The added leavening firms the crust and gives focaccia the capacity to absorb large amounts of olive oil.

Easy Flatbread


Makes two 12-inch breads

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra as needed
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the parchment paper
  • 1/3 cup cool water, plus extra as needed


Mix the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix well. Pour in the water and mix until the ingredients come together to form a dough. Add a little more water if the dough is dry and a little more flour if the dough is sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a counter and knead for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Place the dough on a lightly floured counter, dust with flour and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest 30 minutes at room temperature.

To shape the dough:

Cut 2 sheets of parchment paper into 14-inch lengths. Lightly brush the parchment paper with olive oil. Cut the dough into 2 pieces.

Place a piece of dough on each piece of parchment paper. Brush the top of each piece of dough with 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Using your hands, flatten and stretch the dough until it thins out to about 10 inches. If it shrinks back, just wait 10 minutes for the gluten  to relax.

Turn the dough over and brush the top of each with 1 teaspoon olive oil. Turn again and stretch into a 12-inch circle, or until the dough is very thin but not yet transparent, about 1/8-inch thick and even in thickness if possible. Season each dough circle with the remaining salt.

Heat a large nonstick 12-inch skillet over medium high heat for 2 minutes and carefully transfer one dough circle to the skillet and cook 3 minutes, or until browned lightly on the bottom. Turn and cook the second side until it also begins to brown in spots, about 2 minutes. Remove to a plate and repeat with the second dough circle.

Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature with salami,  cheese, peppery extra-virgin olive oil and ripe tomatoes.

Neapolitan Pizza

For 1 pizza


  • 1/2 of the recipe for All-Purpose Dough, recipe below
  • 1/2 of the recipe for All-Purpose Pizza Sauce, recipe below
  • 1 cup sliced or shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Olive Oil


Prepare pizza dough as directed in the recipe below. About 2 hours before baking, remove chilled dough from refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature to proof.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.

Oil a 14-16 inch pizza pan.

Place one ball of dough in the pan and stretch the dough to fit the pan. Top the dough with All-Purpose Pizza Sauce, mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese and several basil leaves brushed with olive oil.

Place the pizza on the bottom rack of the oven and bake for about 15 minutes or until toppings are bubbly, cheese is turning golden, and edges of pizza are golden brown.

All-Purpose Pizza Dough


  • 5 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt or 2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fast-rising active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 ¾ cups plus 1 tablespoon water, at room temperature
  • Olive oil cooking spray


In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook or in a large bowl using a large spoon, combine all ingredients except olive oil cooking spray. Mix on low or by hand about 3 minutes, until ingredients are combined and all the flour is moistened. Dough will be soft.

If using an electric mixer, increase speed to medium; mix 2 minutes longer. If working by hand, continue mixing with the spoon; or turn dough out onto a counter and knead.

Mix long enough to form a smooth, supple dough, about 3 minutes. If dough seems very stiff, incorporate more water, 1 teaspoon at a time, as you mix. If dough is wet and sticky, sprinkle in more flour as you mix. Dough should be tacky but not sticky.

Lightly coat an 8-quart bowl with cooking spray or oil. Form dough in a smooth ball and place in the bowl, turning once to coat surface with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, without letting wrap touch surface of dough. Let dough stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Then refrigerate dough overnight or up to 3 days. (Dough will continue to rise in the bowl until nearly doubled, then will go dormant from the cold.)

Two hours before assembling the pizzas, remove chilled dough from refrigerator. Mist a large baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray or lightly rub with olive oil. Cut dough in three portions. Form each portion in a smooth round ball.

Place each ball of dough on prepared baking sheet. Lightly mist with cooking spray, then lightly cover with plastic wrap. Let dough stand to come to room temperature.

All-Purpose Pizza Sauce


  • One 28 ounce crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


In a medium bowl whisk together all ingredients. Taste and adjust the salt, if needed.

Onion Focaccia

onion foccacia bread bites


  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoon salt , divided
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 pounds sweet yellow onions , cut into eighths and thickly sliced


In a large bowl, mix 1/2 cup warm (105 to 115°F) water with honey. Sprinkle with yeast and set aside to let stand for 5 minutes, or until foamy.

Stir in flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, 1/4 cup of the oil and 1 cup warm water, then transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic.

Transfer dough to a lightly oiled large bowl, turning the dough to coat. Cover and let stand in a warm draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onions and remaining 1 teaspoon salt and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring frequently, for 1 hour or until onions are very soft and golden brown. Set aside to let cool.

Punch down dough, then transfer to a lightly oiled 15-inch x 11-inch jelly roll pan or large baking sheet and pat dough out to the edges of the pan. Cover and let stand 45 minutes, or until puffed and well risen. Spread onions over the dough, then cover and let rise again for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Uncover dough and bake on the lowest oven rack for 25 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and crisp. Cut into pieces and serve.


As immigrants from the different regions of Italy settled throughout 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 local communities and later for Americans nationwide.


Italians were some of the first European explorers and settlers of California. Italians first came to the state in large numbers with the Gold Rush. While most found little gold, they did find success in farming, fishing, commerce and making wine. Though we often associate Italians in California with San Francisco, the initial Italian settlers established themselves in such diverse communities as Monterey, Stockton and San Diego. Italian fishermen established themselves in fishing villages along the coast.


Across the state, the Italians also settled the farmlands and played a prominent role in developing today’s fruit, vegetable and dairy industries. By the 1880’s, Italians dominated the industry in the great Central Valley of California. Italian immigrants also left their mark on the California food processing industry. Marco Fontana arrived in the United States in 1859 and along with another Ligurian, Antonio Cerruti, established a chain of canneries under the “Del Monte” label. Most of their workers were Italian and their cannery soon became the largest in the world.

Another enterprising Italian was Domenico Ghirardelli, who traveled through the gold mines in the 1850’s, selling chocolates and hard candies. He settled in San Francisco after the Goldrush and founded the Ghirardelli chocolate empire.


One of the most inspiring of California’s Italians was Amadeo Pietro Giannini who was born in 1870 to immigrant Italian parents from Genoa. He started the first statewide system of branch banks in the nation by opening branches of his Bank of Italy, in the Italian neighborhoods, across the state. He later changed the name of his bank to Bank of America.


Many Italian families have made their living from cattle ranching in the Mother Lode foothills at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. One can still find many Italian family ranches in the region.

The Italians also played an important role in developing the olive oil industry in the foothills. The rolling hills of the Gold Country, which resemble the Mediterranean hills of Liguria, are dotted with the remnants of early Italian olive tree orchards and with newly planted trees similar to those found in Italy.


The California wine industry also owes much to its Italian founders. Italians have been planting vineyards and making wine in America since the early colonial days when Filippo Mazzei planted vineyards with Thomas Jefferson.

Drive down the California vineyard roads and you may think you are in Italy. The Italian winery names that are seen throughout the area stand as a reminder of the contribution of Italian-Americans in the growth of the California wine industry. Some of the most famous names in American wine got their start during the four decades leading up to Prohibition in 1919. Seghesio, Simi, Sebastiani and Foppiano all started in the late 1800s and are still operating today. Giuseppe Magliavacca’s Napa winery was by then a thriving business, Secondo Guasti had established the Italian Vineyard Company and Andrea Sbarbaro had founded Italian Swiss Colony.

Italian-Americans in California kept their vines in the ground and healthy throughout the Prohibition era. When Prohibition ended, they were rewarded but, more importantly, the families that had struggled to maintain their vineyards gave America a jump start in resuming the wine industry. Without the vineyards and the fully equipped wineries, America would have had to rebuild the industry from scratch, an industry that is synonymous with longevity and tradition.

Today, the California wine industry is dotted with Italian names. The Trinchero family name is hidden behind its non-Italian winery name: Sutter Home. Robert Mondavi, Ferrari-Carano, Geyser Peak (owned by the Trione family), Viansa, Cosentino, Atlas Peak (owned by Antinori), Dalla Valle, Delicato, Valley of the Moon, Parducci, Signorello, Sattui, Rochioli, Rafanelli and Mazzocco are all thriving wineries in America.

Recipes From California’s Wineries


Chilled California Garden Gazpacho

Recipe by Vicki Sebastiani from Viansa Winery.

Serve this course with Barbera, a wine flavored with plum, black cherry, wild berry and oak spice.


  • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced
  • 1 large zucchini, diced
  • 6 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced (about 6 cups)
  • 1/4 cup Italian white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
  • 2 cups tomato juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • Dash Tabasco sauce


  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh chives
  • 1/2 cup croutons, preferably homemade


Set aside 1/2 cup each of the chopped cucumber, red onion, red pepper and zucchini. In a blender or food processor combine the rest of the vegetables with the remaining ingredients. Puree slightly, so the vegetables are left a little chunky.

Combine soup with the reserved vegetables, cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill 2 to 3 hours. To serve, top with a dollop of sour cream, a sprinkle of minced chives and several croutons.

Makes 8 cups.


Risotto Milanese

From the kitchen of Ed Seghesio.

Serve this course with Arneis, which is both the name of the wine and the grape from which it is made. The name means “little rascal” in the Piedmontese dialect, so named because it can be difficult to grow. Arneis has a delicate aroma and flavor of pears, with a hint of almonds. The grape seems to have more acidity in California than in Italy, yielding a crisper wine.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup Seghesio Arneis
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms, rehydrated in 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste


Simmer chicken stock in a separate pan.

Sauté onions in olive oil and butter until onions are clear in a large saucepan. Add the rice to the onions and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add the wine and garlic to the mixture and allow the liquid to cook down. Then add 1/2 cup of warm stock and the rehydrated porcini mushrooms with their liquid. Allow the liquid to cook down, stirring constantly.

As the liquid simmers, continue adding 1/2 cup of the warm stock. Repeat this process until the rice is tender, approximately 30 minutes.

With the last 1/2 cup of stock, add the saffron. When the rice is tender, stir in the Parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Serves 2 as a main dish and 4 as a side dish.


Grilled Chicken with Tapenade

Recipe courtesy of Louis M. Martini Winery.

Serve with Sangiovese, a Chianti-style wine.


  • 1 chicken, about 3-1/2 pounds
  • 1/4 cup tapenade, store-bought or homemade (recipe below)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
  • Salt and pepper


Remove the chicken’s backbone (or have the butcher do it). Lay the chicken out flat. With your fingers, gently separate the chicken skin from the breast and thighs but do not detach it completely.

Rub oil all over chicken skin. Spread the tapenade evenly over the breast and thighs and underneath the skin. Season with rosemary, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours. Bring to room temperature before grilling.

Prepare a medium-hot charcoal fire. Arrange coals in a ring around the perimeter of the grill and set an aluminum foil drip pan in the center. Grill the chicken over the drip pan for about 20 minutes skin side down, with the grill covered; then turn, cover again and cook until done, about another 10 minutes. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes before cutting into serving pieces. Serves 4.


  • 1/2 pound Greek or Italian black olives, pitted
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons brandy


Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until nearly but not completely smooth. Tapenade should have a slightly coarse texture.


Hazelnut Biscotti

Recipe courtesy of the Mosby Winery.

Serve with Tocai Friulano, a slightly sweet wine with aromas of honeysuckle and orange blossom along with the flavors of citrus and tropical fruit.


  • 1-1/2 cups whole hazelnuts, toasted, and coarsely chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup of hazelnut flour (finely ground hazelnuts, measured  after grinding)
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 2 teaspoons anise seed


Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease 2 baking sheets.  

Combine flour, baking powder, hazelnut flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to blend the ingredients.

In another bowl, cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer. Add the eggs to the butter and sugar and beat well.  

Stir in the flour mixture, the coarsely chopped hazelnuts, espresso powder, vanilla and anise seed.  Cover the dough and chill for 1 hour.

Divide the dough into four pieces and shape each into a 9-inch log. Place the logs on the baking sheets and bake in the oven for 35 minutes.

Remove the loaves to a cutting board, cool and cut the pieces crosswise into 3/4” thick slices.

Return the slices, cut side down, to the baking sheets and bake an additional 20 minutes, or until dry and firm. Let the biscotti cool before serving. Store in airtight container for up to two weeks.

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Tuscany is known for its landscapes, traditions, history, artistic legacy and its influence on culture, yet, simplicity is central to the Tuscan cuisine. Legumes, bread, cheese, vegetables, mushrooms and fresh fruit are used. Olive oil is made from Moraiolo, Leccino and Frantoio olives. White truffles from San Miniato appear in October and November. Beef of the highest quality comes from the Chiana Valley, specifically a breed known as Chianina used for Florentine steak. Pork is also produced for the region’s many excellent cured meats. Tuscany’s climate provides the ideal soil for the grapes grown to create the region’s world-renowned Chianti wine.

A soffritto can be considered the Italian version of a mirepoix and is a combination of olive oil and minced browned vegetables (usually onion, carrot and celery) that are used to create a base for a variety of slow-cooked dishes. Herbs (sage and rosemary) are used in many Tuscan dishes and seasonings can be added to the soffritto, as needed, to bring out the unique flavors of each different recipe.

Stracotto (braised beef) is a well-known favorite of the area, as are finocchiona (a rustic salami with fennel seeds), cacciucco (a delicate fish stew), pollo al mattone (chicken roasted under heated bricks) and biscotti di prato (hard almond cookies made for dipping in the local dessert wine, vin santo). Borlotti beans provide a savory flavor to meatless dishes and cannellini beans form the basis for many a pot of slowly simmered soup. Breads are many and varied in the Tuscan cuisine, with varieties including, donzelle (a bread fried in olive oil), filone (an unsalted traditional Tuscan bread) and the sweet schiacciata con l’uva  with grapes and sugar on top. Pastas are not heavily relied upon in Tuscan cooking but pappardelle (a wide egg noodle) is one of the region’s few traditional cuts.



Italian Bread



Marinated Olives and Mushrooms


  • 1 cup mixed Italian olives
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs, (flat-leaf parsley basil, and oregano)
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest


  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. whole cremini mushrooms, stemmed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh fennel stalk (with some chopped fronds)
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


To prepare olives:

Combine ingredients in a bowl and let sit for 1 hour. Serve at room temperature or store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

To prepare mushrooms:

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are just soft, 6–8 minutes.

Transfer mushrooms to a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Mushrooms will keep in refrigerator for 1 week. Serve at room temperature.


Tuscan White Bean Salad


  • 1 pound cannellini beans
  • 4 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


Soak the beans in water to cover overnight.

Drain the beans and simmer in water to cover until tender (about 45-60 minutes).

Combine the remaining ingredients and toss with the warm beans.

Correct seasoning to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Main Course

Stracotto translates literally from the Italian as “overcooked,” but the term has come to refer to beef stews and braises – especially in northern Italy. There are as many versions of this dish as there are cooks. The important part of the recipe is the slow cooking of the meat at a very low temperature to tenderize even the toughest cut of beef. The recipe starts with a soffritto and continues with the addition of red wine, beef broth, tomatoes and tomato paste.

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Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto)


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 lb chuck roast
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • One 26-28 oz. container Italian crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Polenta, recipe below


Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven. Salt and pepper the roast, then brown it on both sides. Put the roast on a plate and set aside.

Sauté the vegetables in the oil that remains until they’re soft and a little browned.

Add the wine to stir up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan and bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes.

Add the herbs, tomato paste, tomatoes and beef stock. Put the roast back in the pot and bring the mixture to a simmer and keep at just a simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours. If the liquid begins to boil, you may need to place the lid ajar. You don’t want a rapid boil, just a few lazy bubbles or the meat will get tough.

When the meat is tender, remove it from the sauce and cut into thin slices. To thicken the sauce, boil for a few minutes to reduce it. Remove the bay leaf.

Serve the sliced beef with the creamy polenta. An Italian red wine, like Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or Chianti, will be great to use in the recipe and to drink with dinner.


Quick Creamy Polenta


  • 3 cups beef broth or water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, if using water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup quick cooking polenta


Bring the broth to a boil. Add salt and butter, then while stirring, slowly pour in the polenta. Stir until there are no lumps, then turn the heat down to a bare simmer. After 5 minutes, turn off the heat and cover the pan until ready to serve.

Dessert Course


Fresh Fall Fruit


Amaretto Biscotti


  • 3½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks and reserve one egg white
  • 2 cups granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for topping
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon anise seed
  • 6 cups whole almonds, coarsely chopped


Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease two heavy cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light, about 2 minutes; the mixture will look somewhat curdled.

Beat in the vanilla, amaretto and anise seed. Beat in the dry ingredients, then the chopped nuts.

Divide the dough into four portions. On a lightly floured board, shape each portion into a flat log, just about the length the cookie sheet. Place two rolls on each cookie sheet.

In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze each log with some egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the logs are lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.

Allow the logs to cool on the cookie sheet about 20 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F.  With a serrated knife slice the biscotti on the bias into ½-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheets in a single layer; Return the biscotti to the oven and cook for 20 more minutes, turning over halfway through the baking time or until the biscotti are toasted and crisp

Store the biscotti in an airtight container. They will keep for 2-3 weeks.


There are three categories of symbolic foods for Rosh Hashanah and each has its own meaning. The first is sweet tasting foods, such as apple and honey, which are symbolic of the wish for a sweet year. The second, which includes pomegranates and fish, are foods that allude to abundance and to the wish to be fruitful and multiply. The third category, which includes foods such as carrots, beets, leeks and cabbage, allude to the destruction and eradication of sin. The combination of sweet and sour is also prominent in Jewish cooking because it correlates with times that are hopeful and happy while also remembering the challenges of Jewish history.

What makes these basic food categories particularly fascinating is how their preparations can vary as we move from country to country and culture to culture.

Since 1442, when the Kingdom of Naples came under Spanish rule, considerable numbers of Sephardi Jews came to live in Southern Italy. Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, from Portugal in 1495 and from the Kingdom of Naples in 1533, many moved to central and northern Italy. In addition to Spanish and Portuguese Jews, Italy has been host to many Sephardi Jews from the eastern Mediterranean, Dalmatia and many of the Greek islands, where there were large Jewish communities and for several centuries they were part of the Venetian Republic. As such, they have greatly influenced the cuisine of Italy.

Italian Jewish cuisine for Rosh Hashanah often includes chestnut turnovers, goose or veal, spinach or swiss chard, artichokes, caponata and fennel. The seder often begins with figs (fichi). Figs are in season in Italy in the fall and they represent renewal for a good and sweet year (Shanah Tovah Umetukah). It is also full of tiny seeds (like the pomegranate) representing abundance and rebirth.

First Course


Fish in Tomato Garlic Sauce


  • 1 ½ lbs. fish fillets, such as halibut, grouper, cod or tilapia
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons dry white wine, vegetable broth or water
  • 4 medium-size tomatoes, diced small
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 3 tablespoons. chopped fresh herbs (dill, parsley, basil)


Check fish carefully and remove any bones. Rinse fish and thoroughly pat dry. Cut it in 8 pieces.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick. Add fish, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper and sauté over medium to medium-high heat 1 minute per side. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Added remaining oil to the pan and add the garlic. Sauté for about 30 seconds or until fragrant, then add the wine and bring to a boil, stirring. Add tomatoes and heat for about 1 minute. Returned fish to the pan, cover and cook over medium-low heat for 2 or 3 minutes or until its color has changed from translucent to opaque. Add pepper flakes and herbs. Serve fish in the sauce.


Sephardic Challah

Sephardic Jews of the Mediterranean favor their challah seasoned with caraway and anise. Many challahs are braided, but this one is twisted into a round, turban-shaped loaf.


  • 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons anise seeds
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 2 cups lukewarm water
  • 5 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • Cornmeal for dusting
  • 2 large egg yolks


In a skillet, toast the sesame, caraway and anise seeds over moderate heat until fragrant, 2 minutes; transfer to a plate and let cool.

In a small bowl, combine the yeast with 2 tablespoons of the water and let stand until thoroughly moistened, about 5 minutes.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour with the olive oil, the honey and the remaining water and mix at low-speed until a very soft dough forms. Add the kosher salt, yeast mixture and all but 1 tablespoon of the seeds and mix at medium-low speed until the dough is supple and smooth, 10 minutes. Using oiled hands, transfer the dough to a large oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a draft-free spot until the dough is risen, 1 hour.

Lightly oil 2 small cookie sheets and dust them with cornmeal. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and press to deflate. Cut the dough in half and let rest for 5 minutes. Roll each piece into an 18-inch-long rope and let rest for 5 minutes longer, then roll each rope into a 32-inch rope. Beginning at the center and working outwards, form each rope into a coil and tuck the ends under the coils.

Transfer each coil to a baking sheet and cover each loaf with a large, inverted bowl. Let stand for 1 hour, until the loaves have nearly doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the egg wash over the loaves and let stand uncovered for 30 minutes. Brush with the egg wash once more and sprinkle with the reserved 1 tablespoon of seeds.

Bake the loaves side-by-side in the center of the oven for 30 minutes, until they’re golden and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Transfer the loaves to racks and let cool completely before slicing.

Second Coursejewishnewyear3

Chicken with Pomegranate Sauce

Serves 4

  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 2/3 cup bottled pomegranate juice (100% pure juice)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • About ½ cup white flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • About ½ cup pomegranate seeds


Add the honey to the pomegranate juice and stir to combine; set aside.

If using chicken breasts cut each in half and remove any fat; pat dry with paper towels.

Pour the flour into a shallow bowl and lightly dust each piece of chicken with the flour.

Heat the olive oil over low heat in a large nonstick frying pan. When hot, add the chicken and sprinkle  with salt. Turn the heat up and let them cook for 1-2 minutes on each side until golden.

Add the pomegranate and honey mixture and reduce the flame. Let cook for another few minutes, adding more salt and turning each piece so it absorbs the sauce well.

Arrange on a large serving platter, pouring the sauce on top and sprinkling with the fresh pomegranate seeds to garnish.


Saffron Rice


  • Pinch of saffron
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts or pistachios
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste


Stir the saffron into 2 tablespoons hot water in a bowl, and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed ovenproof pan. Add the onion and nuts; cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and the nuts are fragrant and beginning to change color.

Lower the heat, and stir in the rice. Add the saffron water, the bay leaf, the salt, freshly ground pepper to taste and 2 cups water.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover, and cook for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender. Fluff the rice with a fork and  remove the bay leaf.


Sephardic Spinach Patties


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for cooking
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach, stemmed, cooked, chopped, and squeezed dry, or 20 ounces thawed frozen chopped spinach, squeezed dry
  • About 1 cup matzo meal
  • About 3/4 teaspoon table salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • Lemon wedges for serving


In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the spinach, matzo meal, salt and cayenne. Stir in the eggs. If the mixture is too loose, add a little more matzo meal. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for a day.

Shape the spinach mixture into 3 inch patties. In a large skillet, heat a thin layer of oil over medium heat. In batches, saute the patties, turning, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm, accompanied with lemon wedges.

Dessert Course


Honey Cake

The cake can be made a day ahead; just wrap it tightly in plastic, store it at room temperature, and glaze it just before serving.

Serves 10-12


  • 2 3⁄4 cups flour, plus more for the pan
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup vegetable oil, plus for greasing the pan
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1⁄4 cup fresh orange juice, divided
  • 2 tablespoons orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur
  • 1 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar


Heat oven to 325°F. Oil and flour a 4-qt. Bundt pan; set aside.

Whisk together flour, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, baking powder and soda and salt in a bowl; set aside.

Beat 3⁄4 cup sugar and egg yolks in a bowl on medium-high speed of a mixer until tripled in volume, about 4 minutes. Stir in oil, honey, 2 tablespoons orange juice, zest and liqueur.

Add dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Beat egg whites in a bowl on high-speed of a mixer until soft peaks form. Add remaining sugar; beat until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into batter.

Pour into the prepared pan; smooth top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of cake comes out clean, about 60 minutes.

Let cool and invert onto a serving plate. Whisk remaining juice with confectioners’ sugar; drizzle over cake.

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Something Sweet Something Savoury

Family friendly recipes from a chaotic kitchen


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