Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Italian Cuisine

Umbrian Olive Orchards

Umbrian Olive Orchards

The only landlocked region in Italy, Umbria is located in the center of the country. Wheat and spelt, pearl barley, grapes, olives, lentils, red potatoes, sunflowers and fruits and vegetables of all kinds grow well in the fertile lands of Umbria and provide the basis for hearty Umbrian cooking. Abundant, as well, are forest animals like deer, wild pigs and venison that provide hearty proteins for the Umbrian table.

Some of the best lentils come from Umbria, in particular from Castelluccio, therefore a hearty lentil soup is a typical regional dish served as a first course or for lunch. With such a strong meaty tradition where meats are often cooked whole on a spit, Umbrian second courses appeal to meat lovers.  Late summer is fig season in Umbria and they are often baked into sweet breads and pastries.

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The wines of Umbria include: Sagrantino di Montefalco (DOCG) and Montefalco Rosso (DOC), but the most prestigious Umbrian wine is Torgiano Rosso “riserva” (DOCG). Orvieto produces one of Italy’s best-selling DOC whites.

The dinner menu below is inspired by the cuisine and regional foods of Umbria, Italy

First Course

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Umbrian Vegetable and Sausage Lentil Soup

Ingredients

  • 2  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Italian sausage links, sliced thin and each slice cut in half
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, peeled and chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large red potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup lentils
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 28 oz. container finely chopped Italian tomatoes
  • Half of a 16 oz. package of frozen broccoli florets
  • 6 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water

Directions

Heat the oil in a large Dutch Oven or soup pot. Add the sausage and brown; remove to a plate.

Add all the vegetables and garlic to the pot and saute until softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the broth, water, tomato and seasonings. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook the vegetables for 15 minutes.

Stir in the lentils and bring back to a boil, lower the heat to medium low and simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf. Serve with crusty Italian bread

Second Course

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Pork Scaloppine with Peppers and Onions

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless pork loin chops, about 1 lb.
  • 1/2 cup refrigerated egg substitute or 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 an onion, sliced
  • 3-4 Italian frying peppers, depending on their size
  • 1/2 cup pureed Italian tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

Trim and cut the pork chops in half lengthwise to make 6 pieces. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the countertop. Put one pork piece on top of the plastic and cover with a second piece of plastic wrap.

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With a meat mallet (or heavy skillet), pound the meat into 1/4-inch thick scaloppine.

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Repeat with the other 5 pieces.

Dip the scaloppini in the egg and then coat in the bread crumbs. Place breaded meat on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to cook.

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Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Add the 3 scaloppini slices and brown on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining oil and breaded cutlets.

Add the garlic, peppers and onions to the skillet and cook until tender. Stir in the tomatoes and Italian seasoning. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until heated through.

Serve the scaloppini with the pepper and onion sauce.

Contorno

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Roasted Cauliflower Parmesan

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 whole cauliflower, broken into large florets
  • 3 eggs or 3/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour mixed with ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Grease a large baking sheet with olive oil.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the flour and seasonings in a large plastic bag. add the cauliflower florets, close the bag and shake until the cauliflower pieces are covered in flour.

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In a deep bowl beat the eggs with a fork and add the Parmesan cheese.

Dip each piece of floured cauliflower into the egg and cheese mixture, making sure they are coated evenly on all sides.

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Put them on the greased baking pan and bake for 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through the cooking time. Sprinkle lightly with salt and serve.

Dessert Course

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Fresh Fig and Almond Tart

Ingredients

  • 1 refrigerated single 9 inch pie crust dough, at room temperature
  • 15 Mission figs, tips cut off and halved
  • 1/2 cup fig jam (or another jam)
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla granulated sugar or regular granulated sugar

Directions.

Unroll pastry and place in a buttered 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Flute edges.

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Spread the fig jam over the bottom of the crust. Arrange the figs in a decorative pattern on top.

Sprinkle with sliced almonds and sugar.

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Place the tart pan on a foil lined cookie sheet and bake at 375°F for 45-50 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool on a wire rack until serving time.


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The lazy days of summer have disappeared. Those days have gone by so quickly and here we are back into the busy after school activities routine!  Soccer, tee ball, baseball, dance, gymnastics, violin…no matter what we or our children are involved in, the usual time for these activities seems to fall right in the middle of dinner time.

Dinner doesn’t have to be eaten between 5-6 p.m., though. An early dinner, right after school, can work better on busy nights. Instead of eating an after school snack, serve dinner.  Or make smoothies which are quick to drink and easy to digest and have dinner after the activity. Bottom line, eat when it makes sense and don’t be ruled by tradition.

Many recipes can be doubled and freeze well. Making dinner for one night with a spare to freeze will save you time not only because you won’t have to cook on a busy night, but you also won’t have many dishes to wash late in the evening.

Slow Cookers can not only be used for cooking but also for keeping foods warm, so when you walk in the door, dinner is ready.

Here are some of my favorite ideas for quick and healthy meals for busy evenings.

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Shrimp and Tomato Piccata

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh or frozen medium shrimp
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 ounces fresh thin string beans, trimmed
  • 3 medium tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 4 oz. dried linguine

Directions

Cook the pasta al dente. Drain.

Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Peel shrimp if they have shells and devein, leaving tails intact, if desired. Rinse shrimp; pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.

In a 12-inch skillet heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and green beans to the skillet; cook and stir for 3 minutes.

Add shrimp; cook and stir about 3 minutes or until shrimp are opaque. Add tomatoes; cook for 1 minute more.

For the sauce:

In a small bowl whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon peel, lemon juice and capers. Pour shrimp mixture over the hot cooked pasta. Drizzle sauce over the shrimp and vegetables. Serve.

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Beef Sirloin Tips with Pepper Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds beef sirloin tip steak
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika or regular paprika
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • One 12 ounce jar red and yellow sweet peppers and onions
  • 1/2 cup homemade or store-bought spaghetti sauce
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • Quick cooking polenta or couscous

Directions

Trim meat and cut into 1- to 1-1/2-inch chunks; sprinkle with paprika.

In a 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add meat and brown on all sides. Remove from skillet; keep warm.

Add the jar of peppers and onions with the liquid and the tomato sauce to the skillet. Cook, uncovered, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently until sauce is slightly thickened.

Return meat to the skillet; heat through. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve with quick cooking polenta or couscous or mashed potatoes.

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Greens, Cannellini Beans and Italian Sausage

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 12 ounces Italian sausage links, cut lengthwise into long slices
  • 1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges (1/2 cup)
  • One 15 ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • One 14 1/2 ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 12 cups chopped kale or your favorite greens
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Directions

In a very large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add sausage and  cook and until browned. Add onion and cook for 6-8 minutes until the onions are tender.

Remove mixture from the skillet to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.

Add beans, thyme and garlic to the skillet. Stir and heat through. Add broth. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, 3 to 4 minutes.

Gradually add kale, stirring until wilted before adding more. Cook and stir for 8 to 10 minutes or until all of the greens are slightly wilted and tender.

Add sausage mixture and vinegar to the skillet; heat through. Serve with crusty Italian bread.

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Crispy Fish Fillets with Apple-Celery Slaw

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons, halved
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1 pound of your favorite fish fillets
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Directions

Cut one lemon half into 4 wedges; set aside. Juice the remaining lemon half into a large bowl. Add the mayonnaise and honey and mix well. Remove 2 tablespoons of the mixture and set aside.

For the slaw:

Stir celery, apple and cabbage into the remaining mayonnaise mixture in the bowl and refrigerate while you prepare the fish.

For the fish:

Sprinkle fish fillets with salt and brush with the reserved 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise mixture. In a shallow dish combine cornmeal and chili powder; coat fish in the cornmeal mixture.

In a 12-inch skillet heat oil over medium heat. Cook fish in hot oil 3 to 4 minutes per side or until golden and fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.

Serve fish with slaw and the lemon wedges.

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Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Simple Wine Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, (about 1 lb total)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh chives
  • Sautéed Seasonal Vegetables

Directions

Sprinkle the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper. Place flour in a shallow dish; dip chicken in flour, turning and pressing to coat all sides of the chicken.

Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the skillet; swirl to lightly coat the skillet. Add chicken breasts, smooth sides down and cook about 5 minutes or until the chicken is golden brown.

Turn chicken over; cook for 4 to 5 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink (165 degrees F). Transfer chicken to a warm serving platter; set aside.

For the sauce:

Add the shallots to the hot skillet; cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Carefully add wine; cook about 1 minute stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of skillet.

Add chicken broth to the skillet; bring to a boil and cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in chives. Return chicken to the skillet; heat through.

Serve the chicken and wine sauce with the veggies on the side.

For the veggies:

In a second skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 minced garlic clove. Add about 2 cups of sliced seasonal vegetables (zucchini, peppers, asparagus, etc.). Saute just until barely tender and sprinkle with your favorite herb, salt and pepper to taste.


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Like burgers and hot dogs or a rack of ribs, grilled chicken is a regular during the summer months. Whether skewered, flattened, brined, spiced or upended on a beer can, there are lots and lots of ways to cook it. However, just putting a breast or leg on the grill and serving it with a couple of sides can get pretty boring. Having a few recipes for how to make that grilled chicken look like a special dish are good to have in your file. When it is hot or you are busy, you don’t want to have to do a lot of preparation, either. You can even grill extra chicken on the weekend and use it up in a number of different recipes during the week – and it won’t even look like the same grilled chicken.

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Panzanella Salad with Grilled Chicken

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • One quarter of an Italian loaf of bread, cut in 1’2 inch slices
  • 2 medium red peppers, sliced
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced
  • 1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 2 lb. plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup small fresh basil leaves

Directions

Prepare outdoor gas or charcoal grill for covered, direct grilling on medium. Oil the grill grates.

Prepare vinaigrette:

In a large serving bowl, whisk together wine vinegar, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil until blended; set aside.

Place bread slices, sliced peppers and sliced onions on a baking pan, brush bread slices, red pepper and onion slices with 2 tablespoons olive oil to lightly coat both sides; sprinkle vegetables with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper.

Brush chicken breasts with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and sprinkle chicken with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper.

With tongs, place bread slices, red peppers, onion slices and chicken on the hot grill. Cover grill and cook bread about 3 minutes or until lightly toasted, turning over once. Cook peppers and onion about 8 minutes or until lightly browned and tender, turning over once. Cook chicken about 12 minutes or until chicken loses its pink color throughout, turning them over once. As the bread, vegetables and chicken finish cooking, transfer them to a cutting board. Cut bread slices, chicken, peppers, and onions into 1/2-inch pieces.

Add the diced tomatoes, basil, bread, peppers, onion and chicken to the bowl with the vinaigrette; toss to combine. Let rest about 10-15 minutes to allow flavors to blend and serve.

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Chicken, Sausage and Pepper Skewers

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 sprig of rosemary, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into 2” pieces
  • 2 bell peppers (red and green), cut into 1 1/2″-wide strips
  • 1 1/2 lbs. fresh Italian sausage cut into 2” pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Heat an outdoor grill to medium and oil the grates.

On low heat in a small saucepan, heat oil and the chopped rosemary leaves. Once oil and rosemary start to sizzle, remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. This can be done in advance.

Whisk together 1/4 cup of the rosemary oil and the vinegar; add the chicken pieces and marinate for 30 minutes. Reserve balance of oil for grilling.

Remove chicken pieces from the marinade and lightly season with salt and pepper. Alternate the chicken, peppers and sausage on the skewers. Discard the marinade.

Reduce grill temperature to low and cook the skewers over low heat, turning frequently to avoid burning, about 5 minutes on each side.  Brush with the remaining rosemary oil during cooking.

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Pizza with Grilled Chicken, Kalamata Olives and Fresh Mozzarella

Ingredients

  • 1 portion pizza dough
  • 1/2 cup quick tomato basil sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives , thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces leftover grilled chicken breast, cut in julienne strips
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced

Quick Tomato Sauce

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh garlic minced
  • 8 Roma (plum) tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons basil , chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Directions

Press pizza dough out in a pizza pan. Lightly spread some of the tomato sauce over the dough. Arrange mozzarella slices, olives and chicken on top.

Bake at 450°F for 15 – 20  minutes or until the dough is crispy.

Quick Tomato Basil Sauce

(Makes about 3 cups)

Heat a medium saucepan and the oil over medium-high heat and sauté onion with garlic until the onion is golden, 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer for about 15 minutes.

Carefully ladle tomato mixture in a blender or use a hand blender and process until smooth. Season sauce with basil, salt, pepper and sugar.

Store any remaining sauce in an airtight container for up to 1 week in the refrigerator or freeze for about 1 month.

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Pasta with Grilled Chicken and Spinach

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. chicken breasts, skin removed
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 8 ounces uncooked linguine
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for grilling
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh garlic
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 3/4 cup)
  • 4 cups fresh baby (small) spinach leaves

Directions

Prepare an outdoor grill for medium-high heat. Oil the grill grates.

Brush the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Place the chicken on the grill and cook for 8 minutes on each side or until done. Let stand 10 minutes and thinly slice.

Cook the pasta al dente. Drain well; keep warm.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add flour and garlic; cook until garlic is browned (about 2 minutes), stirring constantly.

Slowly, add milk and broth, stirring with a whisk; bring to a simmer, and cook 2 minutes or until thickened. Add cheese, stirring until cheese melts.

Add remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper and spinach; stir until spinach is barely wilted. Add pasta and chicken; toss to combine. Serve immediately.

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Warm Chicken Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 8 cups salad greens
  • 4 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered

Directions

Prepare an outdoor gas or charcoal grill for covered, direct grilling on medium. Oil the grill grates.

In a serving bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, salt and black pepper. Remove 2 tablespoons of the dressing and set aside.

Break off the woody ends of the asparagus but leave the rest of the stalk whole for grilling.

Brush the chicken and asparagus with the reserved 2 tablespoons of dressing.

Grill the chicken about 12 minutes and the asparagus for 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and the asparagus are tender.

Cut the chicken into ½ inch slices. cut the asparagus into thirds.

Add dill and honey to the remaining lemon dressing in the serving bowl..Add the tomatoes, sliced chicken and asparagus. Mix well.

To serve:

Line each plate with 2 cups of salad greens. Equally divide the chicken mixture over the greens. Top with quartered hard-cooked eggs and serve.


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

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

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Simple Sponge Cake

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

Fold egg yolk mixture into egg whites.

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

Do not over-mix.

Divide the cake batter and pour into the prepared pans.

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

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

Cool completely.

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Tiramisu Ice Cream Parfaits

Serves 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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Pineapple Ice Cream Sandwiches

2 servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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Vanilla Affogato

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

Serves 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

Beat the cream until stiff peaks form.

Cover and refrigerate.

Stir the espresso powder into the boiling water until dissolved.

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

Pour 2 to 4 tablespoons hot espresso over each.

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

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Sicilian Granita

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

8 servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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Italian Coconut-Coffee Bites

24 bites

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Dissolve espresso powder in the boiling water; set aside.

For the crust:

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

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

For the filling:

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

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

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


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In Italian, the word “biscotto” means “biscuit” or “cookie.” More specifically, biscotti are named according to their original method of baking. The root words “bis” and “cotto” literally mean “twice” and “baked.” When Italians first created biscotti in the region of Tuscany many centuries ago, they were careful to bake the cookies twice, in order to allow the cookies to develop their signature crisp texture. Over the years, these methods became standard practice. Bakers shape the dough into a log, bake it, evenly slice it into cookies and then bake the cookies again.

The first biscotti were made as a portable and durable food for Roman soldiers and travelers. They were made with traditional almond flavoring during the Renaissance and, at the time, it was also popular to dip them in an Italian dessert wine called Vin Santo, a practice that remains common in Italy today. Many people outside of Italy prefer to dip biscotti in coffee or hot chocolate to soften them before eating them. The range of flavors that these cookies come in has also expanded hugely since their creation and can include walnuts, orange zest and anise. Some types are coated with icing or glazed with chocolate, but the most traditional ones do not have a frosting or coating.

It’s relatively easy to bake these cookies. The basic recipe includes flour, sugar, eggs and sometimes butter or olive oil, along with nuts, spices or fruits. There is no one perfect way to make biscotti. Some recipes call for eggs only, which is the traditional method, while others include butter or oil. The choice is yours; just keep in mind that those made with butter or oil will have both a softer texture and a shorter shelf life.

Here are my two favorite recipes.

Cherry Pistachio Biscotti

Makes about 36 biscotti

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted pistachio nuts
  • 1 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 large eggs, plus 1 egg, lightly beaten, for brushing the tops of the dough
  • 2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Reserve one baking sheet for later when you bake the biscotti slices.

Place pistachios in a single layer on a third baking sheet and toast the nuts in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just golden. Remove the nuts from the pan and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix toasted pistachios, cherries, sugars, baking powder and flour.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs and vanilla extract until well blended. Add to the flour mixture. Stir a few times.

Work the batter together with lightly floured hands. The mixture will be sticky, but persevere. Keep squeezing the batter with your hands, until a dough starts to form. Once the dough is firm, form a ball. Divide the ball into 2 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, place one piece of dough and, using your hands, roll into a log shape that is approximately 8 inches long and 2 inches wide. If it’s sticky, simply dust your palms with more flour. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough. Place the two logs on one baking sheet. Brush the loaves all over with 1 lightly beaten egg.

Bake for 40 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through, or until the tops of the loaves are shiny and deep golden. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes before slicing.

Place a loaf on a cutting board. Using a large serrated knife, cut 1/2-inch-thick slices, either straight or on the diagonal. Use a sawing motion to prevent crumbling. If the cookie is crumbling, then let it cool a few more minutes. Don’t let it rest too long, however, or it could become too hard to slice.

Place slices on their sides on the baking sheets. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees F and bake the biscotti for 20 minutes, until toasted and crisp. Turn the biscotti slices over and rotate the pans after ten minutes.

If you desire, you can turn off the oven and let the biscotti stay for up to an hour. The longer they stay in the oven, the harder they will become. Remove the pans from the oven and cool the biscotti completely before storing in an airtight container, preferably a tin, which helps keep them crisp. Stored properly, biscotti will last up to a month.

Toast the Nuts

Lightly Toast the Nuts

batter

Form the Batter

Shape into Loaves

Shape into Logs

Brush with Egg

Brush with Egg

Bake the Logs

Bake the Logs

Cool and Slice Logs

Cool and Slice Logs

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Bake Slices

Bake Slices

Cool Twice Baked Slices and Store

Cool Twice Baked Slices and Store

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

Makes about 36 biscotti (3/4-inch-wide cookies)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups toasted hazelnuts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons espresso powder
  • 4 large eggs, plus 1 egg, lightly beaten, for brushing the tops of the dough
  • 2 tablespoons coffee liqueur

Directions

Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Reserve one baking sheet for later when you bake the biscotti slices.

Place hazelnuts in a single layer on a third baking sheet and toast the nuts in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, or until just golden. Remove the nuts from the pan and set aside to cool. Chop the nuts into large pieces.

In a large bowl, mix toasted hazelnuts, chocolate chips, sugars, baking powder, cocoa, flour, cinnamon and espresso powder.

In a small bowl, whisk eggs and coffee liqueur. Add to the flour mixture. Stir a few times.

Work the batter together with lightly floured hands. The mixture will be sticky, but persevere. Keep squeezing the batter with your hands, until a dough starts to form. Once the dough is firm, form a ball. Divide the ball into 2 equal pieces.

On a lightly floured surface, place one piece of dough and, using your hands, roll into a log shape that is approximately 8 inches long and 2 inches wide. If it’s sticky, simply dust your palms with more flour. Repeat with the remaining piece of dough. Place the two logs on one baking sheet. Brush loaves all over with 1 lightly beaten egg.

Bake for 40 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through, or until the tops of the loaves are shiny and deep golden. Cool on a rack for about 20 minutes before slicing.

Place a loaf on a cutting board. Using a large serrated knife, cut 1/2-inch-thick slices, either straight or on the diagonal. Use a sawing motion to prevent crumbling. If the cookie is crumbling, then let it cool a few more minutes. Don’t let it rest too long, however, or it could become too hard to slice.

Place slices on their sides on the baking sheets. Reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees F and bake the biscotti for 20 minutes, until toasted and crisp. Turn the biscotti slices over and rotate the pans after ten minutes.

If you desire, you can turn off the oven and let the biscotti stay for up to an hour. The longer they stay in the oven, the harder they will become. Remove the pans from the oven and cool the biscotti completely before storing in an airtight container, preferably a tin, which helps keep them crisp. Stored properly, biscotti will last up to a month.

 


eggplantcover

Eggplant comes in a range of shapes and colors. Globe eggplants are the largest and most common type. Different varieties of the plant produce fruit (yes, eggplant is a fruit) of different sizes, shapes and color. A much wider range of shapes, sizes and colors are grown in India and elsewhere in Asia. Colors vary from white to yellow or green, as well as reddish-purple and dark purple. Some eggplant have a color gradient, from white at the stem to bright pink to deep purple or even black. Green or purple eggplant in white striping also exist.

Traditional, white-skinned, egg-shaped eggplant include ‘Casper’ and ‘Easter Egg’. Bi-colored cultivars with color gradient include ‘Rosa Bianca’, ‘Violetta di Firenze’, ‘Bianca Sfumata di Rosa’ (heirloom) and ‘Prosperosa’ (heirloom). I prefer the smaller version of the larger purple skinned eggplant that is often called Italian or baby eggplant, especially the Rosa Bianca variety. These have a somewhat more intense flavor, few seeds and the flesh is much more tender.

eggplantrosa

Eggplant is at its best in the summer. The flesh of an eggplant should give a bit when gently pressed; it should have no hard spots. The skin should be shiny and smooth, not mottled. Stems should be green. Avoid any with brown or soft spots.

Whole eggplant will keep up to a few days in a cool place. Avoid storing in the refrigerator, as this will damage the eggplant’s texture. It is best to use eggplant as soon as you can because the flesh turns bitter quickly, even when they are not overripe. There are as many variations on the reasons for using salt on eggplant as there are celebrity chefs. The main reason to use salt on eggplant is because the fruit has a very high moisture content. When eggplant is broiled or sautéed in a pan, it will usually steam and end up being mushy. The solution is to draw the moisture out before cooking. By sprinkling salt on the eggplant, water is drawn to the surface. Crystals of salt (no matter what the size) dissolve in the moisture on the surface of the eggplant and form a concentrated salt solution. The high concentration of salt then pulls moisture from inside the fruit. Rinsing and patting dry the eggplant won’t result in it absorbing a significant amount of water (it is porous but not a sponge). The more salt you use or the longer it is on the eggplant, the more effective this technique will be.

The other reason given for salting eggplant is to remove bitterness. This is a bit of an old wives tale. Eggplant becomes bitter as it ages. All of the salt in the world can’t change that. The key is to buy fresh eggplant and use it quickly.

Eggplant has a great deal of flavor and it is good for you. There have virtually no calories (about 20 calories in a cup of raw fruit). There’s very little fat or carbohydrates but it has a fair amount of fiber (2 grams in a cup). Eggplant makes the perfect base for a variety of delicious entrees, side dishes and snacks.

eggplant5

Eggplant Appetizer

For the grilled eggplant:

  • 8 – 1/2 inch slices eggplant
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Brush eggplant slices with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Grill directly over medium coals or medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender, turning once. Cool slightly.

For the dip:

  • 1 cup canned garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup grilled eggplant
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Garnishes:

  • Olive oil and fresh mint
  • Walnuts, toasted
  • Grilled pita wedges or focaccia

Directions

In a food processor finely chop chickpeas, mint and garlic. Add lemon juice, salt and grilled eggplant. With the processor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream and process until smooth. Transfer to a serving dish; drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle fresh mint and walnuts on top. Serve with grilled pita or focaccia.

eggplant1

Pasta with Grilled Eggplant and Burrata Cheese

Burrata cheese is a creamier cousin of mozzarella. Pennoni pasta come from the Campania region and belong to the short, smooth diagonal pasta cuts.

8 servings

Ingredients

  • 5 medium eggplants, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 fresh red chili, thinly sliced
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 pound pennoni, rigatoni or orecchiette, cooked until al dente (1 cup pasta cooking water reserved)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 8 ounces burrata or mozzarella cheese, torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup small basil leaves

Directions

Heat an outdoor or indoor grill to medium. Brush eggplants with oil. Grill, turning occasionally, until soft and cooked through, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board; let cool. Coarsely chop eggplant.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook garlic until golden, about 3 minutes. Add eggplant and chili; toss to coat. Season with salt.

Toss in pasta, reserved cooking water,  lemon zest and juice. Remove from heat. Stir in burrata and mint. Serve immediately.

eggplant2

Grilled Vegetable Muffaletta

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • Coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup pitted mixed olives, such as Kalamata and Cerignola
  • 2 pepperoncini (peppers), stemmed and seeded
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for grilling
  • 4 plum tomatoes (1 pound), sliced into 1/2-inch thick rounds
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise 1/4-inch-thick
  • 1 jar (12 ounces) roasted red peppers, patted dry
  • 1 (8-inch) round loaf rustic bread, split horizontally and hollowed out

Directions

In a colander, toss eggplant with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Let stand 30 minutes. Rinse and dry eggplant.

In a food processor, pulse olives, pepperoncini and parsley until very finely chopped. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in yogurt.

Heat a grill or grill pan to medium. Lightly oil the hot grill.

Mix eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini with oil and season with salt. Grill, turning frequently, until tender and slightly charred, about 4 minutes for tomatoes and about 7 minutes each for eggplant and zucchini.

Spread bread with olive mixture. Assemble sandwich with peppers, eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes. Serve immediately or wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

eggplant3

Roasted Eggplant Wrap

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • Vegetable oil, cooking spray
  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 small onion, peeled, root end left intact, halved lengthwise, cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 cup drained canned chickpeas, rinsed
  • 6 ounces cherry tomatoes (about 11 tomatoes), halved (quartered if large)
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 4 whole-wheat wraps ( 8 inches each)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Whisk vinegar, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon each thyme and oregano in a small bowl; set vinaigrette aside.

Lightly coat a large rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Mix eggplant, zucchini, onion and remaining 2 teaspoons each thyme and oregano in a large bowl. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Roast, tossing occasionally, until golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Transfer vegetable mixture to a large bowl. Add chickpeas, tomatoes and salt; season with pepper. Drizzle with vinaigrette; toss to coat.

Arrange mozzarella in the center of each wrap. Top each with 1 1/4 cups of the vegetable salad. Roll up and cut in half.

eggplant4

Baked Eggplant Fries

Serves 3

Ingredients

  • 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 1 1/2 cups panko crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup Marinara (tomato) sauce

Directions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Stir together the panko, rosemary, thyme, paprika and salt in a shallow dish.

Cut each slice of eggplant into three somewhat equal pieces

In a separate dish, whisk the egg and olive oil together.

Dip an eggplant slice into the egg mixture and then dredge in the panko mixture. Place on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining eggplant.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning once, until the fries are crispy and golden brown. Serve immediately with heated marinara sauce.


 

FullSizeRender

This is definitely pie baking for those who are intimidated by making traditional pies. Think rustic tarts — they don’t even require a pie plate. First, you roll out just one sheet of dough (since there’s no top) as perfectly or imperfectly as you like. Then you add the fruit filling in the center and fold over the edges of the dough. There you are – ready to bake.

A crostata is an Italian baked tart or pie, also known as coppi in Naples and sfogliate in Lombardy. The earliest known use of crostata in its modern sense can be traced to the cookbooks Libro de Arte Coquinaria (Art of Cooking) by Martino da Como, published circa 1465, and Cuoco napoletano (Neapolitan recipes), published in the late 1400s containing a recipe (number 94) titled “Crostata de Caso, Pane,” etc. The French version is called a Galette.

A modern crostata is a “rustic free-form version of an open fruit tart that may also be baked in a pie plate. Crostatas have a status as being one of the premiere Italian pastries. A crostata can be made with just about any type of fruit filling, the pastry can be prepared with fruit that is in season, as well as any range of home canned preserves and even with canned fruits and jams that are purchased in the supermarket. The fact that the crostata may be prepared as an open-faced dessert or be covered with a top crust allow this Italian pastry to easily adapt to all sorts of occasions.

Since peaches looked absolutely beautiful this week, I bought some for eating and some for baking. So I am making a peach crostata for you here and recipes for other types of fruit fillings follow. Just follow the directions for the peach crostata for the other fruit fillings. Take your pick. Not only is this dessert easy to prepare but if you serve it to guests, they will think you are a pastry chef.

The traditional pastry in Italy is pasta frolla but you can also use 1 large sheet of defrosted puff pastry or 1 refrigerated round pie crust dough. The traditional pastry recipe is below, if you would like to use it. I keep it simple and use the refrigerated store-bought pastry crust. I don’t peel the peaches either.

IMG_0133

Peach Crostata

I like to brush the bottom of the crust with a little jam or marmalade to keep the crust from getting soggy and to add an additional layer of flavor. Traditional recipes do not call for this step.

Ingredients

  • One refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons apricot or peach preserves or orange marmalade
  • 3 large peaches, sliced ½ inch thick
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons flour, cornstarch or tapioca flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • Water or cream
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar

Directions

Heat the oven to 425°F. Remove the pie crust dough from the paper pouch and place flat on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the crust with the preserves.

IMG_0127

IMG_0136

In medium bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar and salt. Add the peaches and vanilla. Mix well.

IMG_0137

Rather than spooning the fruit mixture onto the center of the crust, I prefer to arrange the fruit in a decorative pattern to within 1 1/2 inches of the edge. Use tongs to arrange the fruit and pour any juice left in the bowl over the arranged fruit. If there are any slices that don’t fit just arrange them in the center on top of the first layer, as I did for this crostata. Dot with the butter.

IMG_0139

Fold the crust edge over the filling to form a border, pleating the crust as necessary. Refrigerate the tart until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Brush the crust edge with water or cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the fruit is tender. Serve warm. This dessert is sometimes served with sweetened mascarpone cheese or whipped cream.

FullSizeRender

Pasta Frolla (Italian Sweet Pastry Dough)

Ingredients

  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
  • 1 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Finely grated zest of 1 small orange
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks

Directions

Put the flour, sugar, salt, lemon and orange zest in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse briefly to combine the ingredients. Distribute the butter around the bowl and pulse until the mixture is crumbly. Add the egg and egg yolks and process until the dough just begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather it together. Knead it briefly and shape it into a disk. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until well chilled (overnight is fine). Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes, or until it is just pliable enough to roll, but not too soft to work with. Roll out into an 11 inch circle.

Blueberry Crostata

  • 18 oz blueberries
  • 1 heaping tablespoon flour
  • 1 heaping tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Blackberry Crostata

  • 12 ounces blackberries
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Plum Crostata

Note: For this recipe you want firm but slightly ripe plums, and preferably freestone, such as the Italian prune plums.

  • 2 pounds firm ripe Italian prune plums, cut into sixths or eighths
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac or other flavored liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon potato starch
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt

Fig Crostata

Use fig jam for the crust, if you can.

  • 1/2 lb of ripe figs
  • 4 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Apricot Crostata

  • 1 1/2 lbs of fresh ripe apricots
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • Coarse sugar

Cinnamon Apple Crostata

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups thinly sliced, peeled cooking apples or 3 large apples
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pecans or walnuts

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