Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Pasta

Pumpkin1

Except for a Halloween display and its use in Thanksgiving pies, pumpkin is rarely served in the US. On the other hand, Italians, who grow a great deal of pumpkins, serve it in a number of ways. Cucurbitaceae, the genus that includes pumpkins, squashes and edible gourds, has nourished people for centuries.

Of all of Italy’s gastronomically diverse 20 regions, none utilizes the pumpkin the way the city of Venice does. Pumpkin, what the Venetians call zucca  or”suca”, lasts through the cold weather and keeps until spring.

Marina di Chioggia (pronounced kee-oh’-jah),  is Italy’s best known pumpkin. Dense, flavorful and silky, this pumpkin weighs about 4 lbs.  Called “suca baruca” (warty pumpkin) in Venetian dialect, this slightly squashed sphere with gnarled, dark green skin and vibrant orange flesh is rich and sweet after cooking. Once, vendors walked around the streets of Venice balancing wooden planks piled high with roasted pumpkin on their shoulders, hawking, “suca baruc”, to eager schoolchildren or anyone else wanting a sugary snack.

The “suca” criers are gone, replaced by souvenir peddlers, but Chioggia pumpkins have become universally loved in Italy and beyond, and vendors with their big golden wedges of pumpkin still sell in the markets from the Rialto to Sicily. There are other types of pumpkins that are long, such as the Violina from Ferrara (a variety of Butternut squash) with rugged skin. Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. This is the reason why Butternut squash is called “pumpkin” in Italy.

pumpkin

pumpkin3The Chioggia’s ancient signature dish, suca in saor, is sweet-and-sour pumpkin. Slices of pumpkin are salted in a colander, as for eggplant, to remove excess moisture. Next they are dredged in flour and fried in olive oil until crisp. Then they are layered with sautéed onions, raisins, toasted pine nuts and white wine vinegar. The dish is chilled for several days before serving it as an appetizer.

The US could grow Marina di Chioggia pumpkin, if there was a demand for it, though its sheer size would discourage shipping it to different markets. Widely available, however, are pie pumpkins, butternut squash and Calabaza that can be used in for Italian sweet and savory dishes or pies.

Overall, the Cucurbitaceae family’s bland and its compact flesh makes these squash an ideal canvas for the savory and sweet recipes the Italians cook. The blossoms are prepared in a variety of unusual ways, while the pulp is made into soup, risotto, pasta and gnocchi, to name just a few dishes.

They can also be used for savory pumpkin tarts with prosciutto and sweet versions made with pumpkin-honey-orange filling in a walnut-flour crust.

Pumpkin2

Italian Squash Stew

The combination of fresh pumpkin, black dry-cured olives, garlic and tomatoes may sound unusual, but it is a very aromatic dish. Pumpkin or squash alone is bland, but the dry-cured olives and garlic give it great flavor.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 cup canned tomato purée, or ½ cup tomato paste mixed with ½ cup water
  • 1 medium-sized butternut or Hubbard squash or 1 small pumpkin (about 1½ pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 20 black dry-cured olives, pitted and halved
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil and garlic together until the garlic is fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, stir and bring slowly to a simmer, about 4 minutes. Add the squash, olives, thyme and 3/4 cup water. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until tender, about 40 minutes.

Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or chill and reheat gently before serving.

This dish can be made up to 3 days in advance.

Pumpkin5

Italian Sausage and Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2  onions, chopped
  • 1 leek, washed and sliced into half rounds
  • 1 29-ounce can of pumpkin or 3 pounds of fresh pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into half-inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 sprig sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • Pinch of cayenne to taste
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed and crumbled
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Heat butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and leeks. Cook and stir until soft and lightly golden, about 10 minutes.

Add pumpkin, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Mix well. If using fresh pumpkin, cook until it softens slightly.

Add chicken broth , sage and thyme. Stir to mix. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until the pumpkin is tender and the broth thickens.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.

Brown the sausage in a medium sauté pan. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Stir the sausage into the soup and heat.

Serve the soup with Parmesan-Reggiano cheese on top.

pumpkin4

Pumpkin Pasta

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces rigatoni pasta
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus extra for pasta water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup half & half or whole milk
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a simmer. Add salt and the rigatoni and boil until al dente.

Dice the onion and garlic.

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat; add the onions and garlic and sauté for about five minutes, until the onion and garlic are translucent and just starting to brown.

Combine the salt, Italian seasoning and flour. Add to the onions and garlic and carefully stir to incorporate. Next, add the pumpkin puree to the pan, stirring it together. Add the half & half or milk to the mixture. Give it a gentle stir until incorporated and remove the pan from the heat.

Drain the pasta and place it in a large baking dish. Add the pumpkin sauce and stir until the pasta is coated. Sprinkle the shredded Parmesan cheese over the pasta and place the dish in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the pasta is hot in the center of the baking dish and the cheese has melted.

pumpkin6

Pumpkin Bread Stuffing for Roast Chicken or Pork

Ingredients

  • 1 cup diced pumpkin (from 1 whole small pumpkin)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups diced sweet onions
  • 1 1/2 cups diced celery
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sage leaves
  • Salt and cracked black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups day old country bread
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • Parsley for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F

Cut pumpkin in half and then cut each half into several pieces. Place the pumpkin on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Let cool, peel away skin and dice. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, thyme and sage, and saute for 5 minutes or until tender. Season to taste with salt and cracked black pepper.

Meanwhile, crumble the bread into a large bowl and add the sautéed vegetables. Stir in the beaten egg and roasted pumpkin and mix well. Then add the chicken stock and mix well.

Transfer stuffing into a medium-sized casserole dish and dot with the remaining butter. Bake for 45 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley.

To serve, cut stuffing into squares and serve with roasted meat.

Pumpkin7

Pumpkin Ricotta Cheese Pie

Ingredients

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/3 cup of honey
  • 1 cup of pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice

Crust

  • 2 whole graham crackers, enough to make a scant 1/3 cup crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup almonds, pecans or hazelnuts
  • Pinch of salt
  • Butter

Directions

For the crust:

Place the crust ingredients, except the butter, in a food processor or blender and process until totally ground, but not powdery:

Rub a little soft butter on the inside of a 9″ pie pan at least 1 1/2″ deep; use a deep-dish pan, if you have one. If your pie pan isn’t at least 1 1/2″ deep, substitute a 9″ square pan.

Pour the crumbs into the pan, tilting and shaking the pan to distribute the crumbs across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet, to make it easy to handle once you’ve added the filling.

For the filling

Beat together with a mixer the ricotta, mascarpone, pumpkin, honey, eggs and pumpkin pie spice. Continue to beat until creamy.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Bake at 350degrees F for 50-60 minutes or until the top of the center of the cheese pie springs back to the touch. Chill in the refrigerator prior to serving

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There are five islands in the Ligurian Sea and all are protected nature reserves or part of the collection of Italian national parks. The Ligurian Islands are characterised by their small or even tiny size and by their vicinity to the coast. These islands share two common features: their well-preserved Mediterranean vegetation with rare surviving species and the presence of ruined abbeys and monasteries dating back to the late Roman times.

Palmaria

islandspalmaria

A ferry service takes visitors to the island of Palmaria, which is a regional park: a protected area which is rich in natural beaches, cliffs, vegetation and caves that can only be reached by boat. From a tourist point of view, the island of Palmaria is the biggest and the most popular of the La Spezia Archipelago and every year thousands of tourists choose to visit its beautiful, uncontaminated beaches and crystalline waters.

It is close to the town of Portovenere, separated only by a narrow strait called Le bocche. The Palmaria island probably takes its name from the term “balma” which means cave, rather than from the presence of dwarf palms. The island offers many different landscapes: the eastern part is densely covered with Mediterranean scrub and the western side is characterized by steep sea cliffs that reach (188 m) over 600 feet high.The island also contains many interesting sights, such as the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Cave) in the western side which can be reached only by boat and the Grotta dei Colombi (Cave of Pigeons) accessible only with climbing ropes. Another noteworthy site is an abandoned quarry situated in the southern part of the island called Pozzale, which was used for mining black marble with gold streaks.

Tino

islandstino

The island of Tino lies beyond Palmaria. It is a military zone and is only open to visitors once a year on the occasion of the feast of San Venerio, the hermit who lived on the island in the tenth century.The area measures about 127,000 square meters and presents a triangular and rocky shape, with dense vegetation made up of maritime pines, live oaks, myrtles, mastics and strawberry trees.

A military lighthouse is located on a 400 foot (122 m) high cliff and has been a guide for thousands of boats, ships and vessels. On the eastern side there’s also a small port, the only landing-place for visitors. Nearby, there’s an archaeological area with ruins dating back to the Roman Age which prove the presence of ancient monastic settlements. In addition, on the northern coast, are the ruins of a monastery, whose construction probably dates back to 11th century.

Although the island is a military area, every year on September 13th the day of the patron St. Venerio, the island can be visited by tourists and, in addition, it is also possible to visit it with excursions organized by the Park. On the other days of the year it is strictly forbidden to land there.

Tinetto

islandstinetto

The island of Tinetto is the smallest one in the La Spezia Archipelago and is separated from Tino by just a few submerged rocks. The area is about half a hectare and doesn’t exceed 55 feet (17 meters) in height. Tino island lacks vegetation, with the exception of some Mediterranean shrubs and it hosts a rare subspecies of wall lizard, which is not present in any other corner of the world.

Tinetto had the first monastic settlement that was built in the 6th century. but it was destroyed by the Saracens. On the southern side, a small oratory remains intact along with a church with two naves to which a second oratory and the monks’ cells were linked.

Gallinara

islandsgallinara

The island of Gallinara takes its name from the wild hens (Gallina = hen in Italian) which once lived there.The island has a surface of 0.23 sq. miles and lies less than a mile from the coast, near Albenga. It is a small Island and sheltered St. Martin of Tours between 356 and 360, who was escaping from Milan in order to avoid the Aryan persecutions. It became a center for monks and subsequently, the Benedictines. The monastery extended its influence into the Riviera di Ponente in 11th century but, during the 13th and 14th centuries, the abbey gradually fell into decay. Today, the island preserves the monastery ruins, the 16th century tower and the little neo-gothic church.

The Island, with its rare Mediterranean vegetation and its uncontaminated environment has become a Regional Natural Park. The Herring Gulls chose this place to nest without being disturbed, creating one of the largest colonies in the northern Tyrrhenian Sea. The less steep northern coast used to be a landing-place for the Roman ships, whose important discoveries are safeguarded in the Albenga Museum. Visitors can find Mediterranean Paleolithic flower species, rare reptiles and an unpolluted sea environment. Sea beds host several interesting and, in some cases, rare species of animal and vegetative life. The island’s vertical rock is characterized by formations of Coralligeno, whereas the northern area shows a wide area of oceanic Posidonia, a genus of flowering plants. The area surrounding the whole island is a marine conservation area. The only mooring place is on the north-western side. Its 1.86 miles coastline is steep, but the seabed is beautiful and famous for the presence of very rare black coral.

Bergeggi

islandsbergeggi

The little island of Bergeggi is a mile from the small promontory of Punta Predani. It is part of a regional protected area and it has a medium high rocky coast which is a little over 170 feet (53 meters) high. The natural environment includes the Mediterranean scrub and other species named campanula sabatia and euphorbia dendroides.The surrounding marine area was included among the conservation areas for the presence of important biological species in its sea beds.

The island has several signs which prove human settlement occurred on the island during the Roman age. One can find a very ancient circular sighting tower and the ruins of a Roman church dedicated to St. Eugenio, which dates back to the fourth century. In 992, the bishop of Savona ordered the construction of a monastery on the island to pay homage to the saint and it was given as a gift to the Colombian monks of Lérins. Today, the ruins of the monastery remain intact. Recently, a private villa was built on the island, but now it is empty and abandoned.

On the western part of the island, a pifferaio (Pied piper), a metal statue which represents a sitting human figure playing a wind instrument can be seen. According to reports, the statue represents a shepherd who’s calling a little goat from the gardens of the promontory, Torre del mare.

In all the areas, it is strictly forbidden to do any activity that might disturb the animal and plant life, such as bathing, navigation, anchorage, mooring, use of water motors, water skiing, underwater fishing, fishing or aquaculture.

The Cuisine of Liguria

The Mediterranean diet combines certain ingredients with the climate, traditions and cultures of the Mediterranean countries. Olive oil, pasta, fruit, vegetables, fish, some meat, legumes and wine are the basis of the Mediterranean diet. The word “diet” come from the Greek “diaita” that means “way of living”. Since the 1960’s, scientific research has proved that the Mediterranean people enjoy better health conditions than much of the western world.

Italy is one of the major consumers of olive oil and pasta in the world. Moreover every region can boast different types of pasta produced locally and olive oil is produced throughout much of the country. Liguria produces extra virgin olive oil that bears the certification of “origine protetta” (i.e., protected origin) and is characterised by precise qualities according to its production areas. Extra virgin olive oil that is produced in Western Liguria is characterised by a fruity aroma with hints of almond and apple and a low acidity. The oil of Western Liguria is extracted from the Taggiasca olives that are small and dark whose cultivation was introduced into Liguria by the Benedictine monks many centuries ago.

Typical foods of the Ligurian cuisine include stuffed vegetables, salads and home-made pasta (e.g., ravioli and trofie) with pesto sauce. One can also find “rabbit with Vermentino”, “dried cod brand de cujun”, “torta verde” (rice and vegetables cooked in a thin sheet of pastry) or pizzas – such as “Sardenara” with tomatoes, anchovies, olives and extra virgin olive oil.

islandtart

Leek and Smoked Mozzarella Tart

This Ligurian tart is prepared by chef Fausto Oneto at Ristorante U’ Giancu in Rapallo.

For the dough:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra if needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, plus extra if needed

For the filling:

  • 2 tablespoons (1/4 stick)unsalted butter
  • 3 pounds leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 4 ounces smoked Mozzarella or smoked Scamorza, coarsely grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a round 16-inch pizza pan with low sides with olive oil.

Make the dough: Combine the flour, salt, milk, and olive oil on a counter. Add a little more milk if the dough is dry, or a little more flour if the dough is sticky. Knead 30 seconds, or until smooth, and wrap in plastic. Let rest at room temperature 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over a medium flame. Add the leeks and milk, and cook for 15 minutes, or until the leeks are soft and the milk has evaporated. Add the Parmigiano, smoked Mozzarella and salt, and cool to room temperature. Adjust the salt, if needed.

Roll out the dough until it is very thin on a lightly floured counter (it should measure about 22 inches in diameter) and line the prepared pan with it, letting excess dough hang over the sides of the pan. Spoon in the leek filling. Use the overhanging dough to create a pretty border around the tart.

Bake the tart in the preheated oven until the crust is golden, about 40 minutes. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

islandpasta

Pasta with Mediterranean Herbs

Maria Rosa Costa owns the renowned Ristorante Rosa overlooking the fishing town of Camogli. Here is her recipe for pasta with Mediterranean herbs.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 rosemary sprigs, leaves only, minced
  • 4 sage leaves, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound shell pasta
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a deep saute pan over a high heat. Add the rosemary, sage and garlic and saute 30 seconds.

Stir in the tomatoes, season with ½ teaspoon of the salt and the pepper and cook 10 minutes, adding a little water, if needed.

Meanwhile, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the shells and the remaining 2 tablespoons of salt. Cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Stir the pasta into the rosemary sauce and add the Parmigiano. Add as much of the reserved pasta cooking water as needed to dilute the sauce and saute until the sauce thickens and coats the pasta. Adjust the salt, drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and serve hot.

islandfish

Ligurian Style Snapper with Tomatoes and Olives

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 (6-ounce) pieces snapper fillet
  • Fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lightly toasted and ground fennel seeds
  • 1 cup black olives, pitted
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 3/4 pounds ripe but firm tomatoes, seeded and cut into 3/8-inch dice
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed torn fresh basil leaves

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Put 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in each of 2 baking dishes, each large enough to hold 4 pieces of fish with space in between. Put the dishes in the oven to heat the oil, but don’t let it get to the smoking point.

With a sharp utility or boning knife, make a few shallow slices through the skin of each snapper fillet to keep them from curling in the hot oil. Season each piece on both sides with salt, pepper and fennel. Place the fish in the hot oil, skin side down, to coat with the oil, then immediately turn with a fish spatula so that the skin side is up. The oil is the correct temperature, if you hear a light sizzle when the fish is added.

Divide the olives between the dishes, scattering them around the fish, then splash equal amounts of wine into each dish.

Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until the fish is slightly firm and starts to flake when the tip of a knife is inserted into the flesh. The cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the fillets. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper, then divide them between the baking dishes, making sure they fall between the pieces of fish and into the hot pan juices. The tomatoes just need to get slightly wilted in the hot pans.

With a fish spatula, transfer the fish to warmed plates or a serving platter. Toss the basil in the olives and tomatoes and when the leaves are coated with the pan juices, spoon the mixture over the fish.

Italian-hazelnuislandcake

Hazelnut Olive Oil Cake

10 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/4 cups hazelnuts
  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

Directions

Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 9-inch springform pan with oil.

Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake until lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly then rub in a clean dish towel to remove the skins. Set aside to cool completely.

Grind cooled nuts in a food processor until finely ground but not powdery. Transfer to a bowl. Add flour and baking powder; whisk to combine.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until frothy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar, beating until light, thick and pale yellow, about 4 minutes. Gradually add hazelnut-flour mixture; then add olive oil, milk and lemon zest, beating 1 minute more to combine.

Transfer batter to the prepared pan. Place pan on rimmed baking sheet and bake cake until golden and a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool cake completely in pan on a wire rack. Release cake from pan and serve.

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fallsoup

Autumn officially arrived on Tuesday. What better way to welcome the season than making a delicious soup using ingredients that are hitting the farmers markets now? Soup is perfect in any season, but Autumn is especially a perfect time to make soup. When the temperatures drop and the days get shorter, nothing hits the spot like a bowl of warm soup. Store-bought varieties are convenient, but they can be salty and taste overcooked. Homemade is better.

The fall season aligns well with some interesting seasonal ingredients. For example you can add any of the fall ingredients to your standard soup recipes:

Squash, acorn, delicata, kabocha or butternut squash
Apples
Kale
Cabbage
Kohlrabi
Parsnips
Turnips
Parsnips
Swiss Chard
Sweet Potatoes

Orzo, Squash and Chicken Soup

fallsoup1

Make it vegetarian by omitting the chicken, substituting vegetable broth and serving with shaved Parmesan. You can also substitute a different type of squash or sweet potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 4 delicata squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 small skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 sage leaves, torn into pieces
  • 4 cups chicken broth

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F and line two baking pans with parchment paper.

Mix the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper and spread on one prepared baking pan.

Place the chicken on the other baking pan, brush with 1 tablespoon oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place the squash on the top rack in the oven and the chicken on the lower rack. Roast until the chicken is cooked through and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part reaches 160°F, about 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the oven and continue to roast the squash until it is tender and caramelized, about 10 minutes longer.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut it into bite-sized pieces.

Put 6 cups water in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Add salt and the orzo and cook for 7 minutes. Drain the pasta and set aside.

Return the pot to medium-high heat and add the remaining oil  Add the onion, garlic and sage and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the chickenbroth and bring to a boil. Add the cooked orzo, chicken and squash and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, then season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Vegetable Farro Soup

fallsoup2

Omit the Parmesan cheese for a vegan dish.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup farro or wheat berries
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 quarts water
  • One 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil
  • Grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Directions

In a large soup pot, heat the oil and add the celery, onion and leek. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring a few times, until softened, 5 minutes.

Add the farro and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the grains are coated and shiny, 30 seconds.

Add 1 quart of the water, sweet potato and the beans and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

Add the carrots and the remaining 1 quart of water. Cover and cook over low heat until the carrots are tender, 30 minutes.

Add the peas, cover and cook until tender, at the most 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, top with basil and Parmesan cheese, if using. Serve with bread sticks.

Pea Soup with Ham and Sherry

fallsoup3

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion (1 large)
  • 1 cup sliced celery (2 stalks)
  • 1 cup sliced carrots (2 medium)
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 – 14 ounce cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup dried green split peas
  • 3 ounces reduced-sodium ham, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry
  • Whole wheat croutons* (optional)
  • Plain Greek yogurt (optional)

Directions

In a Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, carrots, garlic and thyme. Reduce heat to medium; cook about 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender, stirring frequently.

Stir in the chicken broth, the water, split peas, ham, crushed red pepper, black pepper and nutmeg. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 1 to 1-1/4 hours or the until split peas are soft.

Stir in frozen peas and parsley; cook about 5 minutes more or until the peas are heated through. Stir in sherry and remove from the heat.

Top the soup with croutons and/or yogurt.

*For homemade croutons, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a baking pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Cut up whole wheat bread slices into 3/4- to 1-inch pieces; place on the prepared baking pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are golden, turning or stirring once halfway through the baking time.

Hearty Greens, Bowtie Pasta and Tomato Soup

fallsoup4

Use any hearty greens that are in season in this filling soup. I save the rinds from wedges of Parmesan cheese in the freezer for making this type of soup.

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 8 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 4 plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard including chard stalks or kale (about 3/4 pound)
  • One Parmigiano-Reggiano rind, plus grated Parmigiano Reggiano for garnish
  • 1/2 pound baby spinach
  • 1/2 pound bowtie (farfalle) pasta, cooked al dente

Directions

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and bay leaf and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add crushed red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning and tomatoes and cook until most of the tomato liquid is released and absorbed, about 5 minutes more.

Add carrots, celery, salt, pepper and broth. Bring to a boil, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

Stir in chard and Parmigiano-Reggiano rind. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer one hour.

Stir in spinach, cooked pasta and season. Simmer 15 minutes.

Remove and discard bay leaf and cheese rind from the soup. Add salt and pepper, if needed, and ladle into bowls, Garnish with grated cheese.

Pork, Rosemary, Chianti Wine and Pasta Soup

fallsoup5

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound Ditalini pasta
  • Two 16-oz cans Italian diced tomatoes
  • 2 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 whole sprig of rosemary
  • 2 slivers lemon zest
  • 4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 1/3 cup Chianti wine
  • 1½ pounds pork shoulder fat trimmed, diced ½ inch pieces
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil, optional
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shredded, optional

Directions using a slow cooker:

In a slow cooker, combine all the ingredients except for the pasta and parsley. Set to low and cook for 8 hours.

Once the soup is cooked, remove the rosemary sprig, garlic and lemon zest.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta to the al dente stage, drain and add to the soup. Heat until all the ingredients are hot.

Garnish with fresh parsley, drizzle with olive oil and top with cheese, if desired, before serving.

Stove top directions:

Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot and brown the pork cubes.

Mince the garlic and add to the pot with the rosemary leaves and lemon zest. Saute for one minute. Add the wine and stir, scraping the bottom of the pan.

Add the carrots, parsnips, tomatoes and beef broth; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 2 hours.

The meat should be very tender. If not, simmer for another 30 – 45 minutes.

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and add to the soup along with the parsley. Heat for a few minutes and serve with the optional ingredients.

A green salad goes nicely with this soup.


Frasassi

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The Frasassi Caves are a remarkable cave system in the province of Ancona, Marche. They are one of the largest known cave systems in Europe and they have an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites spread along 19 miles of accessible caverns. Inside the caves, natural sculptures have formed for over 190 million years. The water flowing on the limestone dissolved small quantities of limestone that fell to the ground. Over time, these deposits form stalagmites (columns that grow upward from the lower part) and stalactites (columns that grow down from the ceiling). They are among the most famous show caves in Italy. Show caves are caves that are managed by a government or commercial organization and made accessible to the general public, usually for an entrance fee. Unlike wild caves, they typically possess such features, as constructed trails, guided tours, lighting and regular touring hours.

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In 1948, Mario Marchetti, Paolo Beer and Carlo Pegorari, members of a speleological group (scientists who study caves) discovered the entry of the Cave of the River. In 1966, a member of the Fabriano Speleological Group, Maurizio Borioni, discovered an extension that was one kilometer long inside the River Cave. Five years later, in July 1971, a new discovery took place. This time a group of young men found a narrow opening in the River Cave where a strong air stream came out. The men were Armando Antonucci, Mauro Coltorti, Mauro Brecciaroli, Mario Cotticelli, Massimo Mancinelli, Giampiero Rocchetti and Roberto Toccaceli. They worked for about one month to widen the narrow path and, the following  August, they passed through what would be later called “Strettoia del Tarlo” (Worm’s narrow path). The young men discovered a series of new caves, burrows, wells and striking tunnels, that also contained animal prints that had been preserved for thousands of years.

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The next discovery, the Cave of the Wind, took place on September 25, 1971, when Rolando Silvestri discovered a small entrance in the north slope of the mountain, Valley Montagna. Helped by some friends, he was able to open a passage from a small opening. His initial disappointment caused by the small discovery was followed by the hope for something bigger. He found success and in the small opening there were many openings and, after further excavation, they discovered a cave about 100 meters deep. Their problem, then, was how to get into the cave and reach the bottom. Eventually, with the right equipment, they lowered themselves into the cave, later called “Abyss Ancona”. Their lights illuminated the splendour and beauty of this discovery. The explorations of the speleological group increased and their goal was to find a connection between the two caves, which they believed existed. Two months later, on December 8th, speleologists found a path between the Cave of the River and the Cave of the Wind and named it, Fabriano Conduit.

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Frasassi1The two huge caves were a labyrinth of underground rooms that followed one another for more than thirteen kilometers. At the time, only speleologists with the right equipment could explore this wonderful underground world. Late in 1972, the local government built an artificial tunnel 200 meters long between the two caves. The opening took place on September 1st, 1974 and since then many tourists have been able to visit these caves and appreciate the beauty of nature.

There are several possible routes inside the caves. The first one is the tourist route where you will be accompanied by professional guides. It is an organized underground route, easily accessible by everyone. It covers 1.5 kms and it lasts over 70 minutes. The second route, called the adventure route, is more difficult than the tourist route. The Frasassi Authority provides for two adventure routes of different difficulty levels: the blue route (lasting about two hours) and the red one route (about 3 hours long). Equipment is provided by the Authority and you navigate the paths on your own.

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The Cave of the Wind, also the largest cave in Europe, became well-known to the Italian public after being used in an unusual TV reality program, which involved seeing how well people got on when shut in a cave together for a long time. The region around the Frasassi Caves is a mix of quiet hill villages and very attractive scenery, including the Gola della Rossa Nature Park, which is also well worth exploring.

The Cuisine of Anacona, Marche Region

The influence of the neighboring regions, can be seen in the popularity of fresh egg pasta and oven-baked pasta dishes in Marche. Vincisgrassi is a regional favorite, a baked-lasagna stuffed with chicken livers.

You will also find a variety of soups, such as Minestra di lumachelle made with eggs, cheese and bread crumb pasta, similar to Passatelli. Tripe soup, or minestra di trippa, is also a regional specialty and is served with a battuto topping (lard pounded together with herbs). Along the coast, soup consumption continues but it takes the form of brodetto or fish soup. Brodetti are prepared with all types of fish and various other ingredients like vinegar, flour, garlic and saffron.

There are also a number of special, regional preparations such as porchetta, a combination of spices and cured pork and called potacchio, if cooked with white wine, tomato, lemon juice and spices, alla marinara, if stewed in tomato sauce or, if baked, gratinati al forno.

People from Marche are also meat-lovers and will eat everything from pigeon to lamb. Piolotto is a way to prepare meat by wrapping it in paper with a piece of lard, which melts into the meat during cooking. Another local favorite is a spit-roasted whole, boneless pig that has been stuffed with herbs. Milk-fed veal, on the other hand, is often cooked in Chianti wine.

Among the regional salumi is Prosciutto di Carpegna DOP seasoned with juniper, is well-known. There are also soppresse, salsicce, sausages and a particular salume called Ciauscolo, which has the consistency of a pate seasoned with garlic, thyme and fennel.

Some of the best cheeses made in Marche are Casciotta d’Urbino DOP, Raviggiolo del Montefeltro, Slattato and herb-flavored sheep’s milk cheeses. For a special treat, look for Olive Ascolane (plump olives are stuffed with meat, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and then fried).

Desserts in Marche are generally made using popular ingredients. Cicerchiata is a dessert made from yeast dough, shaped into balls, fried and covered with honey. Becciate are made with raisins and pine nuts. Adventurous eaters could try Migliaccio, a dessert made with pig’s blood, sugar and citrus peel. If Migliaccio is not your cup of tea, try Frusteri, a simple pastry made with sapa di mosto or cooked grape must.

One of the most well-known wines produced in Marche is Verdicchio, a white wine that pairs well with fish. The region is also famous for its Anisetta, aromatic liquor that smells and tastes like anise.

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Cozze al limone (Mussels with lemon)

The area is an ideal growing environment for mussels. As a result, mussels here are big and pulpy with a mellow sea flavor.

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs mussels
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lemons, cut into thin slices
  • Several sprigs of parsley;
  • 1 dried red chili pepper
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Clean and scrape the mussels under running water. Place them into a big, deep bowl filled with cold water and throw away any mussels that float.

10 minutes before serving, pour the olive oil into a large pan with a high rim. Add the garlic and the sprigs of parsley roughly chopped, the chili pepper broken into pieces and a little salt and pepper.

Drain the mussels and put them in the pan alternating with the slices of lemon.

Cook over a high heat until all the mussels open. Shake the pan from time to time.

Serve the mussels with their cooking liquid and some slices of toasted crusty Italian bread.

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Vincisgrassi – Special Lasagna

A dish from the Marches with an odd name. Vincisgrassi is the Italianization of the name of the Austrian general, Prince Windischgratz, who was commander of the Austrian Forces stationed in the Marches. The dish was allegedly created for the prince by a local chef.

For the lasagna sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 oz prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 9 oz fresh chicken livers, cleaned and cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 cup warm beef or chicken stock
  • 9 oz calf’s brain and sweetbreads, cleaned
  • 1 thick slice of lemon
  • Salt
  • 2/3 oz dried porcini
  • 4 oz cultivated mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, squashed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Lasagna

  • 1 lb lasagna noodles
  • Salt
  • Béchamel Sauce made with 1/4 cup butter, 1/3 cup flour, 4 cups whole milk, salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium heat and saute the chicken livers and the prosciutto for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the onion and carrot and brown the vegetables.Pour the white wine over the mixture and cook until it has evaporated. Add the tomato paste dissolved in the stock, mix well and bring the sauce to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer very gently for 1 hour.

Simmer the brain and sweetbreads in water with the lemon for 5 minutes. Drain and refresh. Meanwhile, soak the dried porcini in 1/4 cup warm water for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Clean and slice the fresh mushrooms. Sauté them with the garlic in the olive oil for 5 minutes. Remove the garlic and discard.

Strain the porcini liquid through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. Slice the porcini and put them, together with the fresh mushrooms and the porcini liquid, into the chicken liver sauce after the sauce has been cooking for 1 hour. Cut the brain and sweetbreads into small pieces and add to the chicken liver sauce with the milk, nutmeg and cinnamon. cook for another 30 minutes.

Make the béchamel sauce and cover it with plastic wrap to prevent a skin forming.

Butter a lasagna pan 11 x 8 inches. Cook 3 or 4 lasagna noodles at a time in plenty of salted boiling water  Place on kitchen towels until ready to make the lasagna

Spread 3 tablespoons béchamel over the bottom of the pan and then cover with a layer of noodles. Cover with 4 tablespoons of the chicken liver and mushroom sauce and the same amount of béchamel. Cover with another layer of noodles and repeat until all the ingredients are used up, finishing with a layer of lasagna noodles and béchamel.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, so that all the flavors will combine. Remove from the refrigerator and allow the lasagna to return to room temperature.Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until hot in the center.

Melt the butter and pour over the vincisgrassi as soon as it is removed from the oven. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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Fried Sweet Ravioli with Ricotta

For the Dough:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 stick (8 oz) butter (softened)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten (reserve the white for sealing)
  • Oil for frying

For the Filling:

  • 2 cups ricotta
  • 2 ounces mini dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (plus more to garnish)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar (plus more to garnish)

Directions

In a sieve lined with cheesecloth, strain the liquids from ricotta for a few hours in the refrigerator.

In a measuring cup, mix the milk, vanilla and egg yolk and set aside

Prepare the dough by mixing flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl, add the soft butter in pieces. Start working in the butter with your hands, then slowly add the milk mixture. Knead dough for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for 1 to 2 hours to rest in a cool place (though not in the refrigerator.)

Prepare the filling by mixing all ingredients with a spoon in medium bowl.Refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat the oil about 4 to 5 inches deep in a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch Oven to 350-370 degrees F.

Cut the dough into 4 equal sized pieces. Flour the work surface and roll out each section 1/8 th inch thick and large enough to cut out four ravioli with a 5 inch round pastry/biscuit cutter.

Place 1 tablespoon filling, on each ravioli circle and use the egg white to brush the edges of the circle. Fold ravioli in half; press with a fork to seal.

Place 2 to 3 ravioli in hot oil at a time and fry until golden brown. Place on paper towels to cool and sprinkle powder sugar on both sides once cooled slightly. Serve slightly warm garnished with additional powdered sugar and cinnamon.


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A health food for some, a gourmet food to others and a scary little fish for still others.

This tiny little fish swims in schools throughout most of the world’s oceans. Most become food for bigger fish, but sea-going cultures all over the world consume these tiny creatures and have incorporated them into their respective cuisines. This fish is a small, warm water relative of the herring, a Northern European staple, and just as the peoples of the north salted their herring to preserve them, the anchovy has long been salted by fishermen and packers in the Mediterranean where it is a staple. While they were usually consumed fresh and either grilled or marinated, they always preserved some of their catch for later use. Before the advent of canning and refrigeration, salt was the predominant way to preserve them. Salting anchovies changes both their taste and texture. Although Europeans seem to prefer buying whole salted anchovies from their local market, salted anchovies show up in the US mainly in the form of small flat or rolled fillets packed with olive oil – like sardines. Salt-packed anchovies are sold as whole fish with heads removed; while oil packed anchovies are sold de-boned or in pieces. Oil packed fillets are ready to use, while salt packed anchovies must be de-boned and soaked to remove the excess salt.

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After rinsing, salt-packed anchovies have a deep flavor with less saltiness; while oil packed anchovies are saltier due to being preserved in olive oil. In most cases they can be used interchangeably in recipes. Salt-packed anchovies can be stored covered in the refrigerator, where they will keep almost indefinitely. Salt-packed anchovies must be soaked prior for use in a recipe. There are three commonly used soaking liquids: cold water, milk or a combination of cold water and dry white wine. Whatever liquid you choose, use enough to completely cover the anchovies and soak them for approximately 30 minutes. (Many people will change the liquid after about 15 minutes.) You can soak the salt-packed anchovies before or after removing the backbone.

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Anchovy paste can make an acceptable substitute for anchovies in some recipes. (Use ½ teaspoon for every anchovy called for.) Anchovies can be used in recipes as a seasoning ingredient rather than as the main ingredient. Many recipes call for one or two mashed or minced fillets that disappear into the sauce as it is cooked. There are well-known recipes where the anchovy is the main ingredient For example, in an anchovy and garlic paste that is used to spread on slices of crostini or in Bagna Cauda, an anchovy and garlic dip, that is traditional in Northern Italy. The Italian cuisines of Campania, Calabria, and Sicily often rely on anchovies for pasta dishes, such as, Spaghetti con Acciughe that includes anchovies, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and bread crumbs. Anchovies are often minced or mashed into vinaigrettes to season vegetables and salads.

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Bagna Cauda Pot

Consider the health benefits of anchovies:

  • Anchovies are high in Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which can help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Anchovies are also a good source of essential vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamin E, Vitamin D, Calcium and Selenium.
  • Anchovies are an excellent source of protein – delivering 9 grams of protein for only five anchovies.
  • Due to their size and short life span, Anchovies contain lower levels of heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic,) and other environmental toxins – especially when compared to tuna and other larger fish.

Equivalents:

2 oz Anchovy paste = 4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup

2 oz Anchovy fillets in oil = 50g = 8 to 12 Anchovies in oil = 12 drained

1 ½ oz Anchovies, drained = 40g = 8 to 10 Anchovies

1/2 teaspoon Anchovy paste = 1 Anchovy fillet

Once a tin or jar of anchovies is opened, you can store the anchovies in the refrigerator (discard the tin and store them in a sealed container) for up to two months: just make sure the fillets are covered in oil during that time to keep them fresh.

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Here are some recipes where you can incorporate this tiny fish into your cooking. I prefer to purchase anchovy fillets packed in extra-virgin olive oil.

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Bagna Cauda

Serves 6

Bagna Cauda is the Italian version of fondue. Raw vegetable pieces are dipped into the hot, garlicky, anchovy-flavored oil until warm – and then eaten, catching every little garlicky drip on a fresh piece of Italian bread. It helps to have a Bagna Cauda “pot”, but a fondue dish with the Sterno flame underneath works — as does an electric wok on low.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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Tuna Stuffed Roasted Peppers

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • One 12 oz jar of roasted peppers, drained
  • Two 6-ounce cans Italian tuna packed in olive oil, undrained
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, optional
  • Chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

Directions

Cut the peppers into 2-inches wide strips.

Combine tuna, lemon juice, capers and anchovies in a medium bowl.

Lay the pepper strip flat, inside facing up, and put a tablespoon of the tuna stuffing at one end.

Tightly roll up the pepper strip. Place the pepper roll-ups on a serving platter.

Grind some black pepper over the stuffed peppers and drizzle with balsamic vinegar, if using. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

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Spaghetti con Acciughe

A classic Neapolitan dish.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Spaghetti or Bucatini Pasta
  • 12 anchovies
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • Big pinch of hot, red pepper flakes or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • 3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs, toasted

Directions

Mince 6 of the anchovies and chop the remaining six coarsely. Set aside.

Cook pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until “al dente” – about 10 minutes.

While pasta is boiling, put olive oil, garlic, minced anchovies and chili flakes in a deep-sided frying pan or pot and saute over low heat until the anchovies are “dissolved.” Stir in the parsley and remaining anchovies and turn off the heat.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Transfer pasta into the pan containing the anchovy sauce and toss until pasta is well coated. Add some reserved cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Put 2 tablespoons of bread crumbs aside. Add remaining bread crumbs to the pasta and toss again.

Sprinkle remaining breadcrumbs on top ot the pasta before serving.

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Tomato Salad with Anchovy & Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1 head garlic
  • 4 anchovies, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Tomatoes, sliced

Directions

Halve the head of garlic crosswise and wrap them in foil, cut side up. Roast in a 450°F oven until tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool, then squeeze the cloves into a medium bowl. Add the anchovies and mash them with a fork into a paste.

Whisk in chopped parsley, vinegar, fresh lemon juice, Dijon mustard, sugar and crushed red pepper flakes. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and whisk until combined. Season with salt and pepper. Serve over tomato slices.

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Italian Fish Stew with Anchovy Pesto

Stew

  • 1 lb cod fillets or other firm white fish fillets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, sliced thin
  • 1 28 oz container Italian plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 mussels
  • 8 shrimp

Pesto

  • 6 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Mix the chopped plum tomatoes, tomato paste and herbs together in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Rinse and dry the fish on paper towels and cut into 1 inch chunks.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil and saute the onion, garlic and celery until soft.  Reduce the temperature to low and add the fish and the tomato mixture to the saucepan.  Add salt and pepper to taste and the wine.

Cook uncovered for 30 minutes or until the fish is just cooked and the liquid has reduced to a thick soupy consistency.

Add the mussels and shrimp and cook until the mussels open. Discard any that do not open.

Pound together the pesto ingredients with a pestle & mortar or process in a food processor to make a rough paste.

Remove the bay leaf and serve the fish stew in shallow bowls, topped with a tablespoon of the pesto.

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Lamb Chops With Anchovies, Capers and Sage

3 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 rib lamb chops (1 1/2 pounds)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 3 tablespoons drained capers
  • 15 sage leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Lemon wedges, for serving.

Directions

Pat the lamb chops dry with paper towels. Season them with salt and pepper and let rest for 15 minutes.

Over medium-high heat, warm a skillet large enough to hold all the chops in one layer. Add the oil and when it shimmers, add the anchovies and capers. Cook, stirring, until the anchovies break down, about 3 minutes.

Arrange the lamb chops in the skillet and cook, without moving them, until brown, about 3 minutes. Turn them over, and add the sage leaves and red pepper flakes into the pan. Cook until the lamb reaches the desired doneness, about 2 minutes for medium-rare.

Arrange the chops on serving plates. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for 1 minute, then spoon the sauce over the lamb. Serve with the lemon wedges.

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Figs Stuffed with Anchovy Tapenade

Ingredients

  • 15 oil-cured black olives, pitted
  • 2 teaspoons capers
  • 1 anchovy fillet
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 12 ripe, small Mission figs

Directions

Puree olives, capers, anchovy, thyme, and olive oil together in a food processor or chop by hand.

Make a slit in the side of each fig and spoon about 1/2 teaspoon of tapenade into the fig. Pinch opening closed. Allow 3 figs per person.

 


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Garlic cloves come in a wide variety of sizes, so the numbers given in a recipe should be treated as a rough guide only. There are hundreds of named varieties of garlic, but all of them can be categorized into two major types: softnecked and hardnecked.

Hardneck garlic gets its name from the stiff stalks, or neck, of the garlic plants and prefer cold winter climates. Hardneck garlic bulbs are impressive with much larger cloves.

As they grow, they produce a stalk that coils from the top called a “scape” or garlic flower. When the scapes appear they curl and wind their way up and around the plants. Garlic scapes are completely edible and make for a true gourmet cooking experience.

Hardneck garlic include three varieties: Porcelain, Purple Stripe and Rocambole.

Almost all supermarket garlic is a softneck variety. This is because softneck garlic is easier to grow and can be mechanically planted. Softnecks are known by the white papery skin and an abundance of cloves, often forming several layers around the central core. The flexible stalk also allows softneck garlic to be formed into garlic braids (plaits).

There are two main types of softneck garlic: silverskin and artichoke.

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garlic4Buy firm, plump, heavy heads with tight, unbroken papery skins. The heavier the garlic, the fresher and better tasting it is. Avoid bulbs that are dried out or have soft spots or mold.

Store unpeeled heads of garlic in an open container in a cool, dry place away from other foods. Do not refrigerate or freeze unpeeled garlic. Properly stored garlic can keep up to three months.

As garlic ages, it will begin to produce green sprouts in the center of each clove. These thin green sprouts can be bitter, so discard them before chopping the garlic for your recipe.

You can buy a variety of garlic presses and other gadgets to help crush the cloves. If you’d rather avoid gadgets then it’s easy to crush garlic with only a knife and a little salt.

In general the finer the chop the stronger the taste. Crushed garlic has the strongest taste of all. When cooked whole, garlic has a much milder, rather sweet taste. Garlic also mellows the longer it is cooked. Garlic added at the end of cooking will give a stronger taste than garlic prepared the same way but added earlier.

To make garlic chips, use a paring knife to cut the clove into thin, vertical slices.

To make garlic flavored oil: heat the garlic chips in ½ cup extra virgin olive oil on medium-high heat. Stir chips several minutes or until lightly golden. Remove garlic from the oil in the pan.

It’s easy to overcook garlic, which results in hard, bitter pieces. Pour the oil over the drained pasta and serve. Or use the garlic flavored oil to brush on chicken or seafood before grilling.

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Warm Olives with Rosemary, Garlic and Lemon

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Strips of zest from 1 small lemon
  • 1 small rosemary sprig
  • 2 small garlic cloves, thickly sliced
  • 1 pound mixed oil-brined-cured olives, such as Kalamata, Niçoise, Moroccan, cracked green Sicilian and Cerignola (3 cups)

Directions

In a medium saucepan, combine the oil with the lemon zest, rosemary and garlic and cook over moderate heat until the garlic just begins to brown, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the olives and let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving.

MAKE AHEAD: The olives can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated; warm gently before serving.

Tortellini and Spinach in Garlic Broth

Tortellini and Spinach in Garlic Broth

Don’t be tempted to cook the tortellini in the soup; they will soak up too much of the garlicky broth. Cook the pasta separately while the soup is simmering and stir them into the soup at the last moment.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups water
  • 3 cups homemade or canned low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
  • 1 pound spinach, stems removed, leaves washed well (about 2 1/4 quarts)
  • Grated Parmesan, for garnish

Directions

In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the water, broth, and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the tortellini until just done, about 4 minutes for fresh or 12 minutes for frozen. Drain.

Add the spinach to the soup and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Stir in the tortellini. Serve the soup sprinkled with grated Parmesan and pass more of the grated cheese at the table.

Variations: Substitute one quart of shredded escarole for the spinach. Use meat-or cheese-filled ravioli instead of the tortellini.

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Garlic-Herb Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Generous pinch of sea salt and black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, chives, and thyme)
  • 1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 oz. mixed greens

Directions

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a jar. Stir well with a fork.

Add olive oil, cover tightly, and shake well until combined. You can also use a blender and drizzle the oil in slowly while it is running.

Serve over mixed greens.

Rustic Garlic Chicken

Garlic Chicken

Yes, three heads of garlic. They soften during cooking and take on a subtle sweetness.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 chicken (about 3 to 3 1/2 pounds), cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 3 heads garlic, cloves peeled but left whole
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Heat the oven to 400°. In a Dutch oven, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Sprinkle the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Saute the chicken until well browned, turning, about 8 minutes in all, and remove from the pot. Reduce the heat to moderate, add the garlic and sauté for 3 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the garlic and stir until combined. Return the chicken to the pot, cover, and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the oven and put it on a burner. Remove the chicken pieces from the pot and keep warm. Over moderately high heat, whisk in the wine and simmer for 1 minute. Whisk in the broth and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until the sauce starts to thicken, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat off, whisk in the butter, and pour the sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle with the parsley.

Serve with mashed potatoes, egg noodles or rice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Gelato al Aglio Cioccolato

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Directions

Chop the chocolate and place in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan just to the point of boiling and add the garlic.  Remove the pan from the heat and steep, covered, for 15 minutes.  Remove the garlic, add the sugar to the milk mixture and reheat.

Whisk the egg and yolks until well-combined in a mixing bowl. Once the milk mixture is almost boiling, gradually whisk it into the eggs, constantly beating so that the eggs do not curdle. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and gently return to a boil over low heat and cook until the custard thickens and coats the back of a spoon.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour the mixture over the chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts. Cover the bowl and refrigerate to cool completely before churning. Overnight is best. Freeze according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.


Boats on the island of rabbits- Lampedusa, Sicily

Lampedusa is the largest island of the Italian Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The community of Lampedusa e Linosa is part of the Sicilian province of Agrigento which also includes the smaller islands of Linosa and Lampione. It is in the southernmost part of Italy and is Italy’s southernmost island. Tunisia, which is about 113 kilometres (70 miles) away, is the closest land to the islands. Sicily is farther at 176 kilometres (109 miles); Malta is a similar distance to the east.

Politically and administratively, Lampedusa is part of Italy, but geologically belongs to Africa, since the sea between the two is no more than 400 feet. It has no sources of water other than irregular rainfall. The fauna and flora of Lampedusa are similar to those of North Africa. The south-western side is dominated by deep gorges, while the southeastern part is mostly shallow valleys and sandy beaches. The entire northern coast contains cliffs: gently sloping on the east coast and steep cliffs on the west coast. Lampedusa’s sea bed features a wealth of fish, coral, sea sponges and oysters in a myriad of shapes and colors.

lampedusa

Lampedusa, which has an area of 20.2 square kilometres (7.8 sq mi), has a population of approximately 4,500 people. Its main industries are fishing and tourism. A ferry service links the island with Porto Empedocle, near Agrigento, Sicily. Lampedusa has a semi-arid climate. It has very mild winters with moderate rainfall and hot, dry summers. The sea surrounding the island is relatively shallow. Water temperatures stay warm most of the year, with the warmest being in August when the sea typically reaches 27 to 28 °C (81 to 82 °F). The water stays warm until November, when temperatures range from 20 to 23 °C (68 to 73 °F). It is coolest in February and March, when it averages around 16 °C (61 °F).

Lampedusa1

Over the last century much of Lampedusa has suffered from deforestation where, previously, it was home to numerous plants and trees. Several measures have been taken to improve the situation and although there is still very little agriculture, some parts of the island are full of beautiful and exotic plants and flowers such as palms, figs, olives, prickly pear cactuses and yuccas.

lampedusa0

The main attractions on the island are all centrally located and concentrated in one area which makes it easier to visit them on foot or by renting a scooter or a moped. Mopeds and scooters are available in several places on the island, however, visitors must be careful with their use of fuel, since there are only a few gas stations on the island. There are several hotels and restaurants located here and a number of stores that sell locally made pottery, wooden items, souvenirs and Italian wines.

The most magnificent beach on the island is the Spiaggia dei Conigli (Rabbit Beach) and a vast area around this beach has been declared a nature reserve encompassing both the land and sea areas. There are hardly any structures in the area and fishermen are not allowed to fish nearby, which means snorkelling is excellent. This is a protected area because the beach is one of the last remaining places where sea turtles regularly come to lay their eggs. There is a rescue center and hospital located here where the islanders care for the sea turtles, should they get accidentally injured. In 2013 Rabbit Beach, located in the southern part of the island, was voted the world’s best beach by the travel site TripAdvisor. The island got its name since it was once filled with rabbits, however, now only a few rabbits can be spotted here.

Lampedusa2

Since the early 2000s, the island has become a primary European entry point for migrants, mainly coming from Africa. In 2011, many immigrants moved to Lampedusa during the rebellions in Tunisia and Libya. By May 2011, more than 35,000 immigrants had arrived on the island from Tunisia and Libya and by the end of August, 48,000 more had arrived. Most were young males in their 20s and 30s. The situation has caused division within the EU, the French government regarding most of the arrivals as economic migrants rather than refugees in fear of persecution. Italy has repeatedly requested aid from the EU in managing refugees, but has been turned down.

Historically, Lampedusa was a landing-place and a maritime base for the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. In 1553 Barbary pirates from North Africa raided Lampedusa and carried off 1,000 captives into slavery. As a result of pirate attacks, the island became uninhabited. The first prince of Lampedusa and Linosa was Ferdinand Tommasi, ancestor of the writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, who received the title from Charles II of Spain in 1667. A century later, the Tomassi family began a program of resettlement.

In the late 18th century, the Prince of Lampedusa leased the island to Salvatore Gatt, a Maltese entrepreneur, who settled on the island with a few Maltese workers. After Malta fell under British protection in 1800, they considered taking over Lampedusa as a naval base instead of Malta, but the idea was dropped as the island did not have deep harbors and was not well-developed. In the 1840s, the Tomassi family sold the island to the Kingdom of Naples. In 1860, the island became part of the new Kingdom of Italy, but the Italian government limited its activities there to building a penal colony. In June 1943, during the Second World War, as a precursor to the Allied invasion of Sicily, the island was secured without resistance in Operation Corkscrew by the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Lookout.

The first telephone connection with Sicily was installed only in the 1960s. In the same decade an electric power station was built. In 1972, part of the western side of the island became a United States Coast Guard LORAN-C transmitter station. In 1979, Lt. Kay Hartzell took command of the Coast Guard base, becoming “the first female commanding officer of an isolated duty station”.

In the late 1980s, an increase in tensions developed and the area around the island was the scene of multiple attacks. On April 15, 1986, Libya fired two Scud missiles at the Lampedusa navigation station on the island in retaliation for the American bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi and the alleged death of Colonel Gaddafi’s adopted daughter. However, the missiles passed over the island, landed in the sea without causing damage. On 4 January 1989, U.S. Navy aircraft from the carrier USS John F. Kennedy shot down two Libyan fighters approximately 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the island. The base commander was advised by the U.S. Sixth Fleet Intelligence at La Maddalena that the Libyan president, Muammar al-Gaddafi, had threatened reprisals against the American commanders at Sigonella and Lampedusa. An Italian media frenzy followed that event which put Lampedusa in the spotlight. The NATO base was decommissioned in 1994 and transferred to Italian military control.

Seafood in Tomato Sauce

Seafood in Tomato Sauce

Pickled Seafood

Pickled Seafood

The Cuisine of Lampedusa

Until recently, the cuisine was distinguished in three ways. The first one was called the cuisine of the Monsù and it was prepared for the rich and noble people. A second type was the popular cuisine, basically dishes that the poor people, who were in the majority, cooked daily. They were trying to imitate the Monsù Cuisine by simply changing the main ingredient. If the Nobles had meat they had eggplant/aubergine instead. The third type was and is street food. Even today, you can find stands along the streets that sell chickpea fritters, potato croquettes or grilled lamb offal.

Fish and seafood are the specialities, however, and, even if you are not a big fish fan, you cannot fail to be impressed by the exquisite way the Lampedusans cook their fresh catch-of-the-day, often in a sauce of tomatoes, capers, potatoes and olives.

Here are recipes for some of their specialties:

lampedusa5

Caciocavallo all’Argentiera or Fried Cheese

1 serving

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 slices of Caciocavallo cheese
  • Oregano
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of vinegar

Directions

In a frying pan heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the garlic and after a minute add the slices of cheese. Let them cooked covered for a couple of minute,turn and cook until the slices become golden.

Add the vinegar, the pepper and sprinkle with oregano. Place on a serving dish with fennel and radicchio.

lampedusa3

Rigatoni Con Pesce Spada e Melanzane (Rigatoni with Swordfish and Eggplant)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. rigatoni pasta
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 lb. swordfish, into 1 inch squares
  • 1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves diced garlic
  • Fresh basil or mint
  • Sea salt
  • Chili flakes

Directions

Keeping the skin on, dice the eggplant into half-inch squares.

Heat a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan on medium heat.

Add eggplant squares and cook until brown.

Remove eggplant and place on a white paper towel. Set aside.

Add 2 cloves of diced garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and add 4 torn basil or mint leaves to the sauté pan. Saute until garlic is light brown. Add the swordfish and saute until slightly browned. Add the cherry tomatoes and salt to taste. Continue to sauté for 2 minutes.

Add tomato sauce and eggplant. Continue to sauté for 3 minutes.

Boil water in an 8-quart pot adding 1 tablespoon of salt. When water comes to a boil, add the rigatoni and cook until al dente.

Add quartered cherry tomatoes and salt to taste. Continue to sauté for 2 minutes.

Add tomato sauce and then previously fried eggplant squares. Continue to sauté for 3 minutes.

Drain rigatoni and add directly to the sauté pan. Saute for 1 minute mixing well. Pour onto a serving platter and add remaining basil or mint and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

lampedusa6

Polpette di Sarde al Sugo (Sardine Balls in Tomato Sauce)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) fresh sardines
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) crustless day-old bread, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano here
  • 1 tablespoon raisins, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • A small bunch parsley, chopped
  • 2 cups (500 ml) marinara sauce, simmering in a pot
  • Flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Dry white wine
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Clean the sardines, removing their heads and boning them; chop them and put them in a bowl. Soak the bread in warm water for a few minutes, squeeze it to remove the excess moisture, and add it to the bowl, together with the parsley, the cheese, the raisins, the pine nuts, the egg, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

Moisten your hands and shape the mixture into small fish balls; roll them in flour, and sauté them in a large skillet with the olive oil to cover the bottom og the pan and the bay leaf. Once they are browned, sprinkle some white wine over them. When the wine has evaporated, use a slotted spoon to transfer the fish balls into the pot of simmering tomato sauce. Cover and cook over a low flame for 40 minutes.

lampedusa7

Zucca Rossa in Agrodolce (Sweet and Sour Pumpkin)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sugar pumpkin or acorn squash
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint

Directions

Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Cut the flesh lengthwise into wedges, each about the length of your hand from fingertip to wrist. Remove the rind. In a large skillet, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan over medium heat. Add the pumpkin wedges. Cook until soft and deep golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Turn the wedges over and add the garlic. Drizzle the pumpkin first with the honey and then with the vinegar over the pumpkin, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until the liquids reduce to a glaze, turning the pumpkin pieces, if necessary. Add mint and transfer pumpkin wedges to a platter and drizzle pan juices on top. Serve room temperature or hot.

lampedusa8

Biancomangiare (Sicilian White Pudding)

Ingredients

  • 4-1/4 cups whole cold milk
  • 4 oz corn starch
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Peel of 1 orange, cut into wide strips
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
  • Garnishes: cinnamon, chocolate or almonds

Directions

In a saucepan add the milk,  sugar and cornstarch in the cold milk. Stir until the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Add the orange peels and cinnamon, if using. Place over medium heat and let it boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon making sure you stir the bottom of the pan or it will burn. When it gets thick take the pan off the heat and remove the orange peels. Pour the mixture into a mold or in single-portion cups and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 to 8 hours. Add garnishes, if desired.



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