Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Risotto

pantry

THE ITALIAN PANTRY

A well-stocked pantry makes cooking delicious Italian meals a snap. Countless dishes can be made from ingredients on hand, especially on snowy days.

High-quality ingredients are essential to Italian cooking: the better your olive oil, tomatoes and cheese, the better your meals will be. In most Italian kitchens, you will find the following items in the pantry:

OLIVE OIL – One of the essential ingredients of Italian cooking, olive oil is used not simply as a cooking oil but for the flavor it adds to a dish. For this reason, it’s important to use only extra-virgin olive oil for garnishing dishes and salads– it has the most flavor. If you splurge on any one item, I would suggest you buy the best you can find.

DRIED PASTA – Use pasta imported from Italy such as Barilla and De Cecco. Generally, any imported pasta products made from semolina flour are good choices. For egg pasta, avoid the “fresh” pasta sold in refrigerated cases. Either use homemade or buy the dried noodles packaged in nests.

TOMATOES – Use good canned tomatoes (unless the recipe specifically calls for fresh). Tomatoes come whole, peeled, chopped, crushed or strained. Use imported Italian tomatoes if you can find them; they’re the best. Tomato paste in a tube is very handy when you only need a tablespoon or two.

ONIONS AND GARLIC – Generally, white onions for cooking and red onions for salads and dishes that do not require cooking because they are milder. Garlic is a must have.

SUN-DRIED TOMATOES – Buy tomatoes packed in olive oil – they have more flavor than the dried. You can even use the oil to add flavor to delicate dishes.

ARTICHOKES – Jarred artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers add delicate flavor when tossed with pasta, salads or as a topping for pizza.

LEGUMES – Keep dried cannellini beans, borlotti beans, ceci and lentils on hand to use in soups, stews or as a side dish. Farro and barley are good for soups, salads and risotto-like dishes.

CORNMEAL – Use a medium textured cornmeal to make polenta. Keep it in a tightly closed container and it will last for months. I also use cornmeal to dust my pan when making pizza.

RICE – Arborio is the most common rice used in making risotto, but other varieties, such as Carnaroli or Vialone Nano, which are just now becoming available in America, are perhaps even better. One characteristic they all share is a translucent, starchy exterior that melts away in cooking to give risotto its distinctive creamy consistency.

BALSAMIC VINEGAR – There are a variety of different balsamic vinegars. Depending on its age, it can be extremely expensive. You can use an inexpensive one for salads, as long as the quality is good. Red wine vinegar is also essential for a good salad dressing.

ANCHOVIES – Keep a jar or can packed in oil to add a zip to certain dishes. You can also find anchovy paste in a tube, which is milder in taste and is quite convenient.

DRIED PORCINI MUSHROOMS – Look for packages that have large slices of mushrooms. They add a wonderful rich flavor to risottos, pasta sauces and stews, and can infuse cultivated white mushrooms with their robust flavor. Although they can be an expensive item, a little goes a long way and, if kept in an airtight container, they’ll keep for a long time. Keep the water used to rehydrate them. Strained, it will add a depth of flavor to many soups, sauces and stews.

CAPERS – You can find two types of capers. The smaller ones that are pickled in vinegar and the larger ones that come packed in salt. The larger ones are very flavorful, require rinsing of the salt before using and tend to be a little more difficult to locate. A few chopped capers can add a punch of flavor to dishes that seem to need just a little something.

OLIVES – Both the black and green varieties are good, if packed in brine and imported from Italy even better. They can be added to pastas and salads for great flavor.

HERBS AND SEASONINGS – Generally fresh herbs are preferred in everyday cooking, but it is also important to keep dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, basil and sage available. Whole black pepper, sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes are also important seasonings to have on hand.

FLOUR – All-purpose flour, bread flour and white whole wheat are needed for pizzas and breads. Semolina flour is also very useful for some bread and pizza doughs.

BREAD CRUMBS – Italian seasoned crumbs come in handy for quick toppings.

TUNA IN OLIVE OIL – a must have for a quick pasta dinner. Canned sardines in olive oil are another good addition.

Although these are the bare basics to have in an Italian kitchen, stocking these basic staples in your pantry will ensure that you can create authentic tasting Italian recipes. All you’ll need to add are a few fresh ingredients and you’ll be all set.

ceci_pasta

Tomato Soup with Chickpeas and Pasta

Canned tomatoes provide the flavor here, so you can make this warming soup any time of year. If you’d like to use an herb other than sage, either rosemary or marjoram would be a good choice.

Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 7 cups canned tomatoes with their juice (two 28-ounce cans)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup ditalini or other small pasta
  • 2 cups drained and rinsed canned chickpeas (one 19-ounce can)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving

Directions

In a food processor or blender, puree the tomatoes with their juice. Set aside.

In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic.

Add the pureed tomatoes, the sage, broth, water and salt to the pot. Bring to a boil. Stir in the pasta and chickpeas. Bring the soup back to a boil, then reduce the heat. Cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the parsley, pepper and the 1/3 cup grated Parmesan. Serve topped with additional Parmesan.

Note: Look for high-quality canned tomatoes for this soup, such as plum tomatoes from the San Marzano region of Italy.

easy-polenta-with-tomato-sauce

Easy Polenta with Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups store bought spaghetti sauce, or your favorite recipe

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9 inch square baking dish.

In a large pot, combine the milk and chicken stock. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When it is at a rolling boil, gradually whisk in the cornmeal, making sure there are no lumps. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly until thick, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese.

Pour the polenta into the prepared baking dish and spread the spaghetti sauce over the top.

Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven or until the sauce is bubbling.

Note: This dish can be topped with mozzarella cheese or sauteed peppers or sausage or any topping you like. It also makes an excellent side to meatloaf.

Pasta with rosemary

Pasta in Rosemary Garlic Sauce

This dish is also good with the addition of sauteed mushrooms or canned tuna in olive oil.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 (16 ounce) package bucatini or thick spaghetti
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the onions; cook and stir until they turn a light brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Mix in the chicken stock and rosemary and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until reduced by a third, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, add 3 quarts of water and about 2 tablespoons salt and bring to a full rolling boil. Add the spaghetti, return to a boil and cook for 10 minutes or until al dente. Drain in a colander and add the pasta to the sauce in the skillet.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the cheese; mix well until the butter is incorporated. Adjust seasoning with salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Serve in a big bowl or on 4 individual plates.

17recipehealth risotto

Herb Risotto

Use dried herbs if fresh are not available. When substituting dried herbs for fresh the ratio is 1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons butter
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Heat oil and butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, 1 1/2 tablespoons basil, 1 1/2 tablespoons parsley, 1 tablespoon rosemary and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Saute, stirring, until onion is slightly softened (about 2 to 3 minutes).

Stir in rice and saute while stirring until rice grains are oil-coated (about 3 minutes). Pour in wine and stock and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes, or until liquid is almost absorbed and rice is tender but firm. (Note: Stir once or twice while simmering.)

Remove the pan from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in remaining herbs and lemon zest, then add lemon juice and cheese. Cover saucepan with waxed paper and let stand 8 to 10 minutes before serving.

Omelet Open 2

Mediterranean Omelet

Makes 1 serving

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 canned, drained, water-packed artichoke hearts, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 ounce (about 2 pieces) roasted, drained red bell peppers, diced

Directions

In a small bowl, beat eggs well. Add cheese, stirring to mix. Set aside.

Heat oil in a 10-inch, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add artichokes; cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until artichokes begins to brown. Add roasted red peppers and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes more, until liquid has evaporated. Add garlic and stir about 30 seconds. With a rubber spatula, transfer artichoke pepper mixture to a small plate; keep warm.

Return the skillet to the heat. When the pan is hot, add egg-Parmesan mixture, tilting pan and lifting eggs as they begin to set with a spatula to allow uncooked portions to flow underneath the omelet. Cook 1 or 2 minutes, until omelet is almost set. Spoon reserved artichoke-pepper mixture onto half of the omelet. With a spatula, carefully fold omelet in half to cover filling. Let cook 2 minutes more or until set.

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When you are looking for “true” Italian recipes of any kind, you may become very perplexed over numerous versions of the same recipe. Which one is the right one? Which is the “classic?” Let me try to shed some light on this quandary: In Italy, each person or restaurant, puts a personal spin on a recipe. The variations depend on personal taste, family background, specific area of Italy and what is easily available and very fresh in that area. Italians are notorious for being fiercely independent, even when it comes to recipes.

Using a musical analogy: Many musicians can play the same piece of music but it is the interpretation that makes one stand apart from another. Each recipe has a personal interpretation. To make it even more complicated, Italians will hardly ever be able to give you a precise recipe: It’s “A handful of this, a pinch of that” as cooking is often learned from watching other family members and done “a occhio” (by eye-balling) quantities. Cooking is not a chemistry formula, it is an artistic experience; it is a way to express your creativity, enjoy all the steps of the process and render a wonderful result. (http://toscanamia.biz/blog/)

Itaiian Chefs – Modern Yet Classical

Anna Dente Ferracci is preserving Roman cooking traditions at her cozy family restaurant, serving perfect versions of well known Lazio pastas like carbonara.

The small town of San Cesareo sits on rich farmlands on the Via Labicana, an ancient road connecting Tusculum and Praeneste –  two important towns of the Roman period. The chef at Osteria di San Cesario, Anna Dente, is known as the “Queen of Matriciana”. She not only makes the pasta and sauce herself, she draws on her family’s four decades in the butchering business to make her own guanciale (cured hog jowl).

Anna was born in 1943 in the small rural hamlet of San Cesareo near Zagarolo in the province of Rome (Lazio), a rich agricultural zone. Her mother and father ran a local butcher shop or ‘norcineria’, as well as, a few hectares of land producing grain, fruit and grapes, while her grandfather worked as a young man in the slaughterhouse of Monte Compatri. Her grandmother was a ciambellaia or biscuit maker and introduced Anna to the use of wild country herbs for use in bread, cakes and liqueurs. From an early age she would also frequent the kitchen of her Aunt Ada’s osteria. Not surprisingly, a passion for traditional Roman dishes and cooking soon took hold of young Anna.

Anna grew up helping her mother and father run their butcher shop and garden in San Cesareo, where she learned about fresh meats and vegetables. At a young age, she began cooking alongside her aunt in their family-run osteria in Rome. An osteria (Italian pronunciation: osteˈria) in Italy was originally a place serving wine and simple food. Lately, the emphasis has shifted to the food, but menus tend to be short, with an emphasis on local specialities such as pasta, grilled meat or fish and often served at shared tables. Ideal for a cheap lunch, osterie (the plural in Italian) also serves meals for after work or evening refreshment.

She learned to cook quality food with generations-old recipes that included fresh herbs and ingredients. Today, her family’s osteria guarantees the same quality of home-produced meats and vegetables with the aim of preserving traditions from generations past.

The lifetime culinary experience of the family was consolidated in 1995 with the opening of a restaurant in San Cesareo with emphasis on preserving the preparation of traditional dishes and, in particular, those originating from a zone between the Castelli Romani or Roman Hills and Prenestina. The restaurant was named after an osteria in the town dating from Roman times called ‘Lavicanum Caesaris’ when it was an important stop along the Via Labicana connecting Rome to Capua. It was also the site of the country villa of Julius Caesar.

Anna’s cuisine soon gained national and, then, international recognition from publications, such as, Gambero Rosso, Il Corriere Della Sera, L’Espresso in Italy, The Michelin Guide, Travel and Leisure and Italian Cooking and Living Abroad. Heinz Beck, three star Michelin Chef of La Pergola in Rome, even describes ‘Sora Anna’ as the ‘Queen of Roman cooking’.

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Chef Ferracci”s recipe for Rustic Vegetable Soup with Salt Cod

Ingredients

  • One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes—tomatoes chopped, juices reserved
  • One 3/4-pound salt cod fillet
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and drizzling
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced crosswise 1 inch thick
  • 2 pounds fresh cranberry beans, shelled (2 cups), or canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 pound kale—stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped (3 cups)
  • 1/2 pound escarole—large stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped (3 cups)
  • One 1/2-pound baking potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Salt
  • Four 1/2-inch-thick slices of country-style bread

Directions

In a large bowl, cover the salt cod with cold water. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours or up to 2 days. Change the water three times a day.

In a large, enameled casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderately high heat until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the zucchini, beans, onion, kale, escarole, potato and tomatoes with their juices. Add the water and crushed red pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 50 minutes. Season lightly with salt.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°. Set the bread on a rimmed baking sheet. Generously brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Bake for about 12 minutes, until browned and crisp.

Add the cod to the casserole and simmer over moderately low heat until the cod is heated through, about 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, gently break the cod into 2-inch pieces. Set the toasted bread in shallow bowls. Ladle the soup over the bread. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Gennaro Esposito, chef at Torre del Saracino, where local Amalfi Coast favorites, such as, ricotta soup with red mullet and sea urchin are served.

“I was truly fortunate to have a mother who taught me all about genuine food products and our traditional regional cuisine. She and her father were tenant farmers, so in our house I grew up knowing the importance of organic foods. It was our way of life to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, those cultivated without pesticides. These experiences are still of the utmost importance to me when I’m inventing a menu, because I always put these concepts and flavors in my new dishes. One of my uncles, the husband of one of my mother’s sisters, is a pastry chef. I began working in his shop when I was nine years old. It was thanks to this experience that I chose to remain in the kitchen.”

Gennaro Esposito was born at Vico Equense on the beautiful Amalfi Coast. There were two determining moments in his professional development, as Esposito explains: “an internship with Gianfranco Vissani, one of Italy’s top chefs and a coincidental encounter with Alain Ducasse during one of the many times “il maestro” had come to Positano on vacation.” Before he knew it, Esposito found himself in Ducasse’s kitchens at the Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo and at the Plaza Athénée Hotel in Paris. “In both,” he likes to tell, “I learned the exact meaning of perfectionism and of fanatic attention to detail. What’s particularly special about Ducasse is that he’s like a teacher during the Renaissance in that he brings out the aptitudes of his interns. He doesn’t impose his style; he proposes it very subtly but incisively. He encourages and supports his interns’ abilities through his wide experience. I was especially moved by his love for Mediterranean cuisine which he enriches with the grand tradition and competence of French cuisine.”

“From Vissani, I learned to use many unconventional ingredients. He broadened my awareness of ingredients and my skills. He also taught me that creativity combined with familiarity and skillfulness knows no limits in the kitchen and that I could create combinations unthought-of until then which would give my future guests unique experiences. That was my goal then and it still is.”

Back in his beloved home region in 1992, with his wife Vittoria, who is the pastry chef and in-charge of the dining room, he opened the restaurant, La Torre del Saracino.” I think that today top chefs must be cultured. They have to have time to expand their general knowledge, to learn more about local cuisine and food products and to invent their very own style. Secondly, they have to be creative, but must also have a solid base in traditional cuisine on which to build this creativity. Thirdly, they must know how to motivate and stimulate their staff, their team and must be able to transmit their passion for this profession.”

gennaro-esposito

Chef Esposito’s recipe: Risotto with tomato sauce, candied lemon and squids stuffed with smoked buffalo provola cheese

Ingredients for 2 people

For the squid

  • - 4 squid
  • - 60 g (about 2 oz. or ½ cup) DOP smoked buffalo provola cheese from Campania

For the risotto

  • - 200 g (about 1 cup) Carnaroli rice
  • - 200 g (about 1 cup)“cuore di bue” (Italian heart shaped) tomatoes (cut into big cubes)
  • - 6 squid, finely chopped
  • - 20 g (about 2-3 tablespoons) DOP smoked buffalo provola cheese from Campania
  • - 30 g (1/4 cup) candied lemon
  • - 2 litre (8 cups) of seafood and vegetable light broth
  • - 100 g (7/8 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • - 10 g (3/4 tablespoon) butter
  • - 10 basil leaves
  • - 1 teaspoon of chopped onion
  • - the juice of half a lemon
  • - a clove of garlic
  • - salt and pepper to taste
  • - Garnish with tomatoes cubes and basil

Directions

Stuff four squid with the smoked provola cheese cut into pieces, close with a toothpick and bake at 100°C (210 F) for about 2 minutes.

Heat the broth to boiling.

Toast the rice with about half the oil and add the onion in a large saucepan. Finish toasting and add the boiling broth.

In the meantime brown a clove of garlic in half the olive oil in another saucepan. Add the tomatoes, the basil and the salt and cook for about 3 minutes. Add to the rice.

Cook the risotto until slightly underdone, stirring often, and add the finely cut squid. Continue to cook until rice is cooked to your taste and add the candied lemon.

Turn the heat off, add pepper, butter and the lemon juice to balance the sweet and sour taste.

Put the risotto in the center of the plate and place the cheese stuffed squid without toothpicks on it. Garnish with pieces of blanched tomatoes and basil leaves.

Paolo Lopriore, chef of Tuscany’s Il Canto Tuscany’s, reinvents classics, like cacio e pepe (pasta with pepper and cheese) as twisted rigatoni filled with black-pepper gelée.

Lopriore was born in Como in 1973 and his earliest inspiration was in his mother’s kitchen – a woman who was a self-taught and passionate home cook and one who instilled a strong sense for cooking with local, quality, seasonal ingredients. Chef Lopriore at a very young age, had discovered that he had a passion for food and cooking, so he approached Italian Chef, Luciano Tona, who taught him the basics in cooking. However, it was in 1990 that his real culinary training occurred. He went on to work at the Sole di Ranco under Chef Gualtiero Marchesi (a renowned Italian chef, considered to be the founder of modern Italian cuisine), and he stayed there for two years, learning the techniques and perfecting his own style, before leaving the restaurant to complete his military obligations.

Once his duty to his country was fulfilled, he went to work in Florence’s Enoteca Pinchiorri and eventually returned to work at Sole di Ranco. There, he completed his training under Chef Marchesi and went off once more to search for work in some of the finest restaurants in Italy. He found work at the Ledoyen and La Maison Troisgros. In 1998, Chef Lopriore met Norwegian Chef, Eyvind Hellström, and he went to work with him at the Bagatelle in Oslo for three years. However, something seemed to be calling him back home and, whether it was a challenge or a sense of nostalgia, he really cannot tell, but he found himself returning to his first teacher, Chef Marchesi. The relationship they had blossomed into more than just your typical master-and-apprentice relationship. What was developed was a friendship that has ample space for dialogues and debates, which inspires and promotes personal growth. Today, the two remain good friends. Chef Marchesi considers Chef Lopriore his brightest pupil and Chef Lopriore considers Chef Marchesi as a great influence in his culinary career.

In 2002, Chef Lopriore came to Certosa di Maggiano and became the executive chef of Il Canto, where he finally had the freedom to show his culinary style and ingenious way of presenting his dishes. Although he experiments with new ingredients, he always makes it a point to only use the freshest and finest ingredients and produce from his land’s very fertile countryside. in Il Canto can you enjoy exemplary non-native dishes made with wasabi or curry. Not long after he became the head chef, he began receiving awards and titles for his culinary accomplishments: 2011 Chef of the Year and The S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011.

Lopriore

Chef Lopriore’s recipe for Elicoidale (Tube Pasta) with Black Pepper and Pecorino Romano

Ingredients:

  • 40 large rigatoni (tube pasta)
  • 40 g (1/3 cup) pecorino romano
  • 300 g (1 ¼ cups) water
  • 30 g fresh chili pepper, cut in half
  • 5 g agar agar
  • 25 g (1/4 cup+2 tbsp) olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper

Directions:

In a large pot, combine the water with half the chili pepper, bring to a boil; remove from heat and leave to infuse for approximately 30 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Return the infusion to the heat and bring it back to a boil; thicken with the agar agar and, after bringing it to a third and final boil over very high heat, cool it while stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove the pepper half.

Once cool, add the oil and whisk the mixture as if it were mayonnaise. Finally chop the remaining half pepper and incorporate into the preparation. Blend at the highest speed possible in a blender for 5 minutes. Refrigerate overnight.

Separately, cook the pasta in an abundant amount of salted water; drain, lightly dress with remaining oil.

Using a pastry bag, fill pasta tubes with the black pepper “mayonnaise”.

Heat the elicoidali in the microwave a few minutes and distribute onto 4 plates. Top with grated pecorino romano.

Serves 4.

Nadia Santini has been named the Best Female Chef 2013 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

The Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef award was presented by the British magazine, Restaurant, to Nadia Santini.  It celebrates the work of an exceptional female chef whose cooking excites the toughest of critics. Santini is the head chef at the Dal Pescatore Restaurant located in the small village near Mantua in Lombardy. The family-run restaurant opened as a trattoria in 1925 and Santini took over the running of the restaurant with her husband in 1974. She made history in 1996, when she became the first Italian woman to gain three Michelin stars for a restaurant and Dal Pescatore has retained the rating ever since. It is famous for its mix of traditional cuisine and modern influences.

Born in San Pietro Mussolino in the Veneto region, Santini was an extremely bright student, studying food chemistry and political science with sociology at the prestigious University of Milan, where she met future husband Antonio Santini. The couple married in 1974, soon returning to Antonio’s parents’ simple osteria alongside the river Oglio in Mantova, Lombardy, just south of Verona. Under the careful tutelage of Teresa and Bruna, Antonio’s grandmother and mother respectively, Santini learnt to cook traditional Mantuan cuisine: delicate handmade pasta dishes and home-cured meats and fish.

Signature dishes include tortellini stuffed with pumpkin, amaretto, Parmesan and mostarda, as well as turbot with a garnish of parsley, anchovies and capers in olive oil. Santini told Restaurant Magazine: “The cuisine is refined but not changed. Dal Pescatore is an expression of the evolution of the food on our table and the surrounding environment.”

In 2010, German filmmaker, Lutz Hachmeister created a television documentary called, “Three Stars”, in which Santini appeared with other chefs from Michelin starred restaurants. Her appearance in the documentary stood out, being described by critics as a “radiant personality and gentle, Old World approach to the nurturing of recipes, colleagues and clientele that provides the counterpoint to frenetic, confrontational kitchens run by scientist-chefs”

santini

Pasta à la Nadia Santini

The ingredients you will need for this is are:

  • 500 grams (about 1 ¼ pounds) spaghetti or pasta of choice
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 700 grams (7 cups) of tomato sauce
  • Non-refined salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Water
  • Fresh basil, finely chopped

Directions

Boil water in a large pan.

Chop the onion and the garlic finely.

Once the water is boiling, add salt and the spaghetti and cook for half of the time as described on the package.

Simultaneously heat another pan.

Add in four tablespoons of olive oil.

To the hot oil add the chopped onions and sauté them at medium heat.

Once the onions are translucent add in half of the garlic, then the tomato sauce.

Add a cup of the pasta water and, then, add salt to taste and cover the pan and bring to boil.

Once the spaghetti has cooked for half  the time, drain and add to the tomato sauce. Cook it for the remaining time listed on the package in the tomato sauce.

Once the pasta is cooked add in the rest of the garlic, black pepper and fresh basil.

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Attilio Piccirilli

(1866 -1945) was an Italian American sculptor. Born in the province of Massa-Carrara, Italy, he was educated at the Accademia di San Luca of Rome. Piccirilli came to the United States in 1888 and worked for his father and then with his brothers as a sculptor, modeler and stone carver at their studio in the Bronx, NY. As an artist in his own right, he is the author of the Maine Memorial in Columbus Circle, at the entrance to Central Park. He created a monument for his mother’s memorial in Woodlawn Cemetery. Also in New York he created sculptural details for the Frick Mansion on 5th Avenue and the Firemen’s Memorial, a group of figures in Riverside Park.

Before Piccirilli and his family arrived in America, many American artists were forced to travel to Italy to have their models carved into stone. if an artist presented Allilio with small plaster model, Attilio could create a marble replica to any size. Fragilina is one of the works that was designed and sculpted in marble by Attilio. Piccirilli’s most famous work is the creation of the Lincoln statue for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, which was designed by Daniel Chester French. Attilio’s works that he both designed and sculpted are the Maine Monument in Central Park, New York and the Firemen’s Monument on Riverside Drive, New York. Piccirilli became a member of the National Academy of Design and the Architectural League. He won numerous prizes including a Gold Medal at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. Attilio also helped create the Leonardo da Vinci Art School in New York City, New York. Its purpose was to give affordable training in sculpture.

Piccirilli is represented in the sculpture collection at Brookgreen Gardens. His work is also found in museums around the United States. His white marble “Fragilina” now stands in the newly rearranged American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. “Fragilina” in Italian means “the little delicate one.” Fragilina is part of a series of female nudes that Attilio sculptured, beginning with “A Soul” in 1909. Piccirilli’s style is distinctly personal and highly selective. Simplicity and restraint are his creed. Fragilina was part of an exhibit at the National Sculpture Society in New York in 1923. It was also exhibited at the National Academy of Design commemorative exhibition in 1925. Piccirilli also made smaller versions of Fragilina, including two bronze casts. One of which is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Maine Memorial at Central Park

Enrico Causici

Born in Verona in 1790 and Italian trained, Enrico Causici emigrated to the United States in 1816, after he was recommended as an artist to President James Madison and Secretary of State James Monroe by the US consul in Genoa , Edward Caffarena. The United States, then a new country, still lacked national artists and looked for talent in Europe. Causici was hired between 1817 and 1827 to complete the sculptural decoration of the US Capitol building, where he worked alongside many of his compatriots ( Luigi Persico , Antonio Capellano, Giuseppe Valaperti Carlo Franzoni.) They were the first to introduce American mythology into their sculptures.

Placed high above the cornice in the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol is a colossal sculptural group consisting of three figures, created by Causici. The over-13-foot-high, classically draped female figure, called Liberty, looks straight out over the room, her left hand on her hip and her right holding a scroll representing the Constitution of the United States. Causici called her, “The Genius of the Constitution.” An American eagle stands to her right and on her left a snake, the symbol of wisdom, is entwined around a bundle of rods that symbolize governmental authority.

When the House of Representatives met in this hall between 1819 and 1857, this sculpture stood above the Speaker’s desk. Enrico intended to carve the figures in marble but was never hired to do so; his plaster model was lifted into place in 1819 and has been painted and repainted over the years. Causici also designed and carved two of the reliefs in the Rotunda, “The Landing of the Pilgrims”, “Daniel Boone and the Indians” and sculpted the statue on the Washington Monument.

The Landing of the Pilgrims

The Landing of the Pilgrims

John Rapetti

(1862-1936), worked in Paris with Frederic Bartholdi on the “Statue of Liberty” and his name in engraved in the crown as one of its creators.

The sculptor of the “Soldier & Sailor Memorial” was also Giovanni (John) Rapetti. He was born in Como, Italy in 1862 and studied in Milan, Italy and Paris. While in Paris, Rapetti worked as an assistant to Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. Bartholdi was the man behind the “Statue of Liberty” and Rapetti worked on the statue with him.

In 1889, William Ordway Partridge persuaded Rapetti to accept employment in his studio. He came to the United States and worked on the Colombian Exposition and the Alexander Hamilton Memorial.

Rapetti created Weehawken’s “World War One Memorial” in bronze. The Memorial is located at Boulevard East and Hudson Pace. It sits silently guarding the the cliffs of Weehawken, with the island of Manhattan as a backdrop. The memorial consists of a pair of bronze eagles, a “doughboy” and a sailor. “Doughboy” was a popular nickname for the American soldiers and Marines during World War I. The Weehawken “World War One Memorial” is dedicated to the twenty-one sons who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War One.

Rapetti was a long time resident of Weehawken N.J. and died in his home on June 23, 1936.

World War One Memorial

Frank Stella

(1936 -) achieved fame as a painter and sculptor in the 1960′s. His art evolved through several stages and his works range from minimalist paintings to abstract expressionism to sculpture. His paintings hang in America’s most prestigious museums, including New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Chicago’s Art Institute and San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art, as well as, in museums in Europe.

Born in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of a Sicilian American physician, Stella attended Phillips Academy and Princeton University, where he majored in history. Early visits to New York art galleries influenced his artistic interest and development.

Stella’s art was recognized for its innovations before he was twenty-five. In 1959, several of his paintings were included in “Three Young Americans” at the Allen Memorial Art Museum at Oberlin College, as well as in “Sixteen Americans” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Stella joined dealer Leo Castelli’s group of artists in 1959. He, then, began to produce paintings in aluminum and copper paint with regular lines of color separated by pinstripes. They used a wide range of colors and are his first works using shaped canvases (canvases in a shape other than the traditional rectangle or square), often being in L, N, U or T-shapes

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, Stella’s paintings gave way to full three-dimensionality on canvas, with sculptural forms derived from cones, pillars, curves, waves and decorative architectural elements. To create these works, the artist used collages or maquettes that were then enlarged and re-created with the aids of industrial metal cutters and digital technologies.

In the 1990s, Stella began making free-standing sculpture for public spaces. In 1993 he created the entire decorative scheme for Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre, which includes a 10,000-square-foot mural. He painted and oversaw the installation of the 5,000-square-foot “Stella Project” which serves as the centerpiece of the theater and lobby in the Moores Opera House located at the Rebecca and John J. Moores School of Music on the campus of the University of Houston, in Houston, TX. His aluminum bandshell, inspired by a folding hat from Brazil, was built in downtown Miami in 2001; a monumental Stella sculpture was installed outside the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

His art has been the subject of several retrospectives in the United States, Europe and Japan. Among the many honors he has received was an invitation from Harvard University to give the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in 1984. These talks were published by Harvard University Press in 1986 under the title “Working Space”.

Stella continues to live and work in New York. He also remains active in protecting the rights for his fellow artists. In 2009, Frank Stella was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama. In 2011, Frank Stella was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in Contemporary Sculpture by the International Sculpture Center.

Stella’s Memantra in the Metropolitan Museum of Art Roof Garden

Mark di Suvero

is an American abstract expressionist sculptor. He was born Marco Polo Levi-Schiff di Suvero in Shanghai, China in 1933 to Italian expatriates. He immigrated to San Francisco, California in 1941 with his family. From 1953 to 1957, he attended the University of California, Santa Barbara to study Philosophy. He later moved to New York City, where surrounded by an explosion of Abstract Expressionism, he focused all his attention on sculpture. While working, he was critically injured in an elevator accident and was in a wheelchair for years.

While in rehabilitation, he learned to walk again and then to work with an arc welder. His early works were large outdoor pieces that incorporated wooden timbers from demolition buildings, tires, scrap metal and structural steel. This exploration transformed over time into a focus on H-beams and heavy steel plates. Many of the pieces contain sections that are allowed to swing and rotate giving the overall forms a considerable degree of motion. He prides himself on his hands-on approach to the fabrication and installation of his work. Di Suvero pioneered the use of a crane as a sculptor’s working tool.

His distinctive, large bold pieces can be found all over the world. He continues to exhibit and his commitment to emerging artists is undeniable through the Athena Foundation and the Socrates Sculpture Park. Di Suvero has received the Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award from the International Sculpture Center and, in 2005, the 11th Annual Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities for his commitment to aspiring artists. Di Suvero currently lives in New York City with his wife and daughter. He has two working studios, an open air fabrication facility in Petaluma California and a former brickyard on the edge of the East River in Long Island City, Queens, New York.

Northern Italian Cuisine

Creamy Risotto with Fontina Val d’Aosta

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups (300 g) short-grained rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)
  • 1/2 an onion, finely chopped
  • Simmering beef broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine, warmed
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) fontina val d’aosta,(Fontina cheese from northern Italy) finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • Salt & pepper

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon butter in a large saucepan, add the onion and cook until it becomes translucent. Add the rice and sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring all the while. Add the warmed wine (if it’s cold you’ll shock the grains). Begin adding the beef broth, a ladle at a time, stirring gently. When the rice is almost at the al dente stage stir in the cheese and cook a minute or two more. Add the remaining butter. Cover and let sit for a couple of minutes before serving.

Central Italian Cuisine

Roast Chicken with Garlic, Lemon and Parsley

Serve with roasted potatoes and onions.

Marinade:

  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning

Chicken:

  • 1 whole chicken (3-pound)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 Garlic head (unpeeled)
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions

To prepare marinade: combine all ingredients in a food processor; process to a paste.

Coat the chicken with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Season chicken with salt and pepper; place on rack in roasting pan. Wrap garlic in foil and place alongside the chicken. Roast 1 1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer inserted in a thigh registers 165 degrees F. Remove from the oven and let rest 20 minutes.

Reserve pan juices in the roasting pan. Add broth and lemon juice. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves into broth mixture. Whisk, stirring to loosen brown bits and simmer until slightly thickened. Serve with chicken.

Southern Italian Cuisine

Ricotta Cake with Pear and Grappa Sauce

Ingredients

Cake

  • 3 pounds fresh ricotta cheese
  • 8 large eggs
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 large lemon, juiced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon plus more for dusting

Sauce

  • 4 large firm-ripe pears, such as Comice, peeled, cored, cut into ¼ inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup grappa
  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Directions

For the cake:

Heat oven to 350º F with a rack in middle. Grease a 9- x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk, combine cheese, eggs, sugar and lemon juice. Beat, starting on low speed and gradually increasing to medium, until smooth, about 1 minute. Pour batter into prepared baking dish. Place cinnamon in fine sieve; evenly dust over the batter. Bake until cake is set and edges are lightly golden, about 1 hour. Let cool completely on wire rack, then chill at least 4 hours or up to 1 day. Dust the top of the cake with additional cinnamon before serving.

For the sauce:

In a medium saucepan, combine pears, sugar, grappa, cinnamon stick and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring once or twice, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the fruit is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Remove and discard cinnamon stick. Serve cake with sauce.

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When the cold weather comes around and the holiday season appears, mint can provide some warmth and comfort to your holiday meals. Mint can adapt itself to the coming season and instead of adding it to iced tea, use it to garnish pork roasts, vegetables, sauces and desserts. My supermarket has fresh mint bunches available all year.

Whichever way one eats it, drinks it or prepares it, mint is an herb with many beneficial uses for good health. In fact, the reason most of our ancestors grew this pungent herb was for its many health benefits. Naturalists still employ peppermint to treat gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome and the common cold.

This herb, belongs to a large family with over 30 species, the most common being peppermint and spearmint. Native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia, mints interbreed often, making it difficult for even an expert to distinguish all the varieties. All mints contain the oil menthol, which gives them that characteristic cooling, cleansing feeling.

The Greeks believed mint could clear the voice and cure hiccups. In fact, mint is part of Greek mythology and according to legend – Menthe, originally a nymph and Pluto’s lover, angered Pluto’s wife, Persephone, who in a fit of rage turned Menthe into a lowly plant, to be trod upon. Pluto, unable to undo the spell, was able to soften it by giving Menthe a sweet scent, which would perfume the air when her leaves were stepped on.

Mint is a perennial and its seeds can be sowed in flats or in the ground. Once the tenacious herb takes hold in your garden, it is very easy to propagate it by cuttings and transplanting once the root system is well established. Mint needs humid soil and only moderate sunshine. It will grow in, out and around all garden plants, not unlike a weed, this herb is dedicated to spreading throughout the garden. The trick is to continuously cut them back and restrict their growth, otherwise, this herb will take over your garden. Mint can be grown in large garden pots, which is how I grow it, so I can contain it. I learned not to put in a pot with other herbs because it strangles the other herbs and they quickly die.

According to legend this is a good herb for keeping ants away from doors and combating mice and fleas. Keep mint leaves near food, beds and wardrobes. Use it to freshen the house like an air freshener and it can be simmered in a pot of water with rosemary and lemongrass to create a unique potpourri.

The mint varieties come in a number of useful flavors. There is chocolate mint perfect for desserts, spearmint and peppermint for drinks and garden mint for general cooking. Pineapple mint is delicious in salads. To reduce the effects of tannin and caffeine in your favorite tea, brew fresh mint sprigs in your teapot with your favorite tea. Steep for 2-3 minutes. Longer for a more potent flavor.

Many cooks like to add chopped mint leaves to scrambled eggs and omelets, for a change of pace flavor. Add the mint at the end of cooking the eggs. Too much heat will turn the mint bitter. Fresh mint leaves are good addition in salads. Mint is commonly paired with peas. carrots, potatoes, eggplant, beans and corn to pep up the flavor.

Mint Gelato

In Italy, mint grows everywhere and is used widely in cooking. Here are some examples of how mint fits in the Italian cuisine.

  • Fresh mint is used in combination with anchovy, red onion and peperoncino for Roman-style artichokes.
  • Mint is simmered in a veal with porcini mushroom braise.
  • Polenta is served with snails cooked in tomato, onions, wine and mint
  • A mint verde is mixed into fresh cheese and spread on crostini or tossed into hot pasta.
  • Minced mint is added along with parsley and basil to caponata and salads with fennel, olive and blood oranges.
  • Chopped mint is added to charred eggplant salad, pickled eggplant and marinated mushrooms.
  • Mint is sometimes used in the Tuscan tomato and bread salad called panzanella.
  • It is also used in tripe dishes and ragus made from wild rabbit or boar.
  • Mint is used to flavor cold seafood dishes, especially octopus salad, and rice dishes.
  • In some areas mint enhances trout and other mild fish that are simply sautéed and dressed with olive oil, sweet onion, fresh mint and lemon.
  • Mint is added to meatballs in Sicily.
  • Melons are tossed with fresh mint and balsamic vinegar.
  • After dinner, it is tossed with sugar and berries.

Mint-Almond Pesto

This pesto can be used on everything from a mozzarella salad, to a plate of fresh pasta and even as a topping for grilled rack of lamb. I like to serve it over cooked green beans.

Ingredients

  • 2 big bunches of mint
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup toasted almonds
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Wash the mint very well and pick off all the leaves on the woody stems. Put the mint, garlic, parmesan and almonds into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Squeeze in the juice of the lemon and add the olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Pulse to mix.

This pesto can be frozen. If you want to make some ahead of time– just omit the parmesan cheese until you’re ready to eat the pesto.

Risotto with Peas and Mint

Ingredients

Servings 4

  • 3/4 lb arborio rice
  • 10 oz. package frozen peas (do not thaw)
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3 ½ oz pancetta, diced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium onion, divided
  • 4 sprigs mint
  • 4 tablespoons white wine

Directions

Divide onion in half. Chop one half and add it to a medium saucepan with 1 tablespoon of butter. Cook until onion is soft. Add the frozen peas, pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to lowest setting and keep warm.

Chop remaining onion. In another large saucepan heat olive oil and saute the onion; pour in the rice and toast it, then add the diced pancetta. Add the wine and allow to evaporate.

Add the broth with the peas, 1 cup at a time, until all the liquid is all absorbed by the rice. (Takes about 20 minutes.)

When the rice is cooked, remove pan from the heat and add the remaining butter and cheese.

Serve garnished with mint leaves.

Fresh Shrimp with Oranges and Mint

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 sweet navel oranges, divided
  • 8 plum tomatoes, divided
  • 1 bunch fresh mint, divided
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 16 fresh jumbo shrimp

Directions

Prepare 16 orange garnish slices using 1 orange: slice off ¼ inch from the top and bottom of the orange and remove the rind. Segment the orange, using a knife to discard the tough inner membrane on each segment. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Make an x with a knife on the bottom of each tomato. Place the tomatoes in the boiling water for 1 minute. Remove from water and let cool. Peel the skin from the tomatoes. Remove seeds. Cut 1 tomato into thin strips (julienne) and set aside.

Slice the remaining 3 oranges in half. Remove the orange pulp from each half using a grapefruit knife, carefully removing the orange pulp without any rind or outer membrane attached.

Julienne several mint leaves and set aside.

Chop the remaining tomatoes and place them in a skillet with the orange pulp. Simmer for two minutes with salt, pepper and one mint leaf.

Process the tomato and orange mixture in a blender with 3 tablespoons of olive oil to make the sauce. Store in the refrigerator to chill.

Sauté the shrimp in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until opaque in the middle. Add the julienne tomato, 4 orange segments and julienne mint leaves.

Place the orange sauce on eachof 4 platse. Place equal amounts of the shrimp mixture in the middle and garnish with a mint leaf, three orange segments and drizzle with remaining olive oil over the top.

Tuscan-Style Cauliflower

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. whole grain rotini or other short pasta
  • 1/2 small onion chopped
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 whole jarred roasted red bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 5 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper flakes or to taste
  • 1 1/4 pound cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or half & half
  • 1/2 cup pecorino cheese, grated
  • Black pepper freshly ground to taste
  • Toasted fresh bread crumbs

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Cook pasta according to package instructions and drain.

Heat oil in a 14 to 18 inch skillet. Add onion and mint. Cook until soft, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the leaves and core the cauliflower. Break the florets away from the central core and cut into small pieces.

Add cauliflower to skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly for about 12 to 15 minutes, until cauliflower is softened and light brown but not mushy. Stir in sliced roasted red pepper and cream. Toss hot pasta into the skillet with the cauliflower.

Add the grated cheese, black pepper and red chili pepper flakes. Toss to coat; top with toasted bread crumbs and serve immediately.

Lamb Chops with Mint Gremolata

Ingredients:

For the lamb

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 rib or loin lamb chops
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 mint sprigs, stems included and cut in pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the gremolata

  • 1 cup raw walnut halves
  • Leaves from 1 bunch of mint, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

For the lamb:

Place lamb chops, olive oil, torn mint, garlic and pepper in a large, sealable plastic bag. Toss to coat lamb chops and marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Remove chops, wipe off excess marinade and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Position the top oven rack 4 to 6 inches from the broiler element. Have a broiler pan or baking sheet lined with greased aluminum foil ready. Place chops on pan.

Broil for 5 to 7 minutes on each side (medium-rare to medium) until nicely browned.

Make the gremolata:

Place the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground (about the consistency of very coarse sand).

Transfer to a medium bowl, then add the mint, lemon zest, garlic, salt, black pepper to taste and the oil; mix well. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed.

Serve the lamb chops with equal portions of the gremolata.


Wine has a long, rich history as a cooking liquid. One of the early “cookbooks,” compiled in the first century, “De re Coquinaria” (“On Cooking”), included dozens of recipes that used wine. Since the beginning of recorded history, wine has been considered one of the essential ingredients in cooking. The ancient Greeks used wine and there are numerous references to its use in their meal preparation. When the Romans came along, they spread the practice of cooking with wine throughout Europe and developed special varietals, such as Marsala. The Romans also prepared a concentrate of grape must (unfermented grape juice) called defrutum, which was kept around the hearth and used both to color and sweeten foods. In the East, centuries of Japanese and Chinese cooks have made wine from fruits or rice and used these liquids in cooking.

Italians take wine very seriously and, just as they eat regionally, Italians drink regionally. Go to Tuscany where you will find Chianti, Vernaccia di San Gimignano and Brunello di Montalcino. Head to Abruzzo and you will find Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo or Trebbiano d’Abruzzo on the table. The characteristics of a given wine are reflective of the culture in which it is made. Each of Italy’s 20 wine-producing regions proudly claim their own sub-cultures and cuisines, leading to many variations of wine. Piedmont and Tuscany are the Italian leaders in quality wines. Italy is respected as a wine-producing country and no other country can boast as many varieties. They use their 350+ varieties of domestic grapes, along with international varieties to produce wines in a class of their own. Approximately one-fifth of the world’s wine comes directly from Italy’s vineyards and there are over one million throughout the entire country.

The Major Types of Italian Red Wines

Amarone is made from air-dried Corvina grapes and is produced in the northern Veneto region near Venice, using the “recioto” method. This technique involves picking the grapes that grow on the outside of a cluster and have the most exposure to the sun. The result is a full-bodied wine in a style more common to warm growing areas. Amarones are aged for five years or more before bottling. Some, but not all, are aged in oak barrels. Amarone (the name means big, bitter one) has a powerful, concentrated, almost Port-like texture with hints of mocha. Amarone is ideal with roasted beef or pork and also with cheese.

Barolo is a powerful and full-bodied wine with a complex mixture of tastes and textures – wild strawberry, tobacco, chocolate and vanilla. Barolo gets better with age and is frequently referred to as “the king of wines”. Barolo requires many years (three years minimum by law) of aging to soften it and it is improved by decanting. Barolo is made in the Langhe Hills region of Piedmont, entirely of Nebbiolo grapes. Nebbiolo is a difficult grape to grow well. It thrives in the region’s clay, limestone and sandy soil, preferring to be planted on sunny, south-facing hillsides. Barolo is a perfect accompaniment to meat, rich pastas and creamy risottos.

Chianti has come a long way from its image of wicker-wrapped bottles with candle drippings alongside a plate of spaghetti. Today’s Chiantis are produced in Tuscany, in central Italy near Florence and Chianti has a government-controlled wine designation. That means all of the wine called Chianti has to be made within the Chianti area. Chianti is produced from primarily Sangiovese grapes, sometimes combined with Cabernet Franc, Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. It has high acidity with hints of plum and wild cherry. Chianti and any tomato-based sauce are a classic wine and food pairing, but Chianti also goes well with steak or other grilled meat.

Barbaresco is also produced from Nebbiolo grapes, but tends to be a more softer wine than Barolo. There are just three, small growing regions for Barbaresco compared to Barolo’s eleven regions, so there is less Barbaresco available each year. Barbaresco, too, requires aging – a minimum of two years and up to twenty years – to meet its full potential. It also pairs well with red meat and the rich food of Piedmont.

Bardolino is a light, fruit-filled wine made in the Veneto region of Italy. Named after the town of Bardolino on Lake Garda, this wine has faint cherry flavors with a hint of spiciness. Like Amarone, Bardolino is crafted, primarily from Corvina grapes. Sometimes made into a dry, rose or sparkling wine called “chiaretto,” Bardolino is best served chilled and goes nicely with fish, seafood, light meat entrees, pasta and pizza.

Montalcino is Tuscany’s second most famous wine zone, after Chianti. Montalcino is a small, medieval town just outside of Siena. The wine district there is a warm, sunny, hilly area with few extremes in temperature. The cool evenings  insure high acidity. Brunello di Montalcino is created entirely from Sangiovese grapes. By Italian wine law, Brunello must be aged longer than any other wine – a minimum of four years. Brunello is subtle with overtones of blackberry, black cherry, chocolate and sweet vanilla. Drink it with the hearty dishes of Tuscany.

Cooking with Wine

Using wine in cooking is so natural, it probably would have occurred anywhere grapes could be grown and turned into wine. Wine can accent, enhance and intensify the flavors and aromas of food. The ways of using wine in cooking are numerous: marinate, saute, poach, boil, braise, stew or deglaze. Some cooks use wine for stir-fries, steaming or blanching. A splash of it straight out of the bottle is an added flavor in vinaigrettes or sauces.

Cooks use wine instead of water because wine adds flavor. But just as the four vinegars made from cider, sherry, red wine or white wine differ from each other, so do wines differ in what they add to a recipe. “Wine adds acidity to sauces,” says Jeff Mosher, chef for the Robert Mondavi Winery. “Food that has a level of acidity goes better with wine than food that is flat.” A careful cook, however, needs to consider the cooking preparation when utilizing wine. For example, wine could concentrate and become too tart after boiling down a marinade into a sauce. So, likewise, would any sweetness in wine; too much can be cloying. “It’s best to use red wines that don’t have huge tannins,” says Mosher. “When reduced, they leave a bitter flavor. I usually cook with merlot or pinot noir … never all cabernet sauvignon. Avoid wines labeled “cooking wine.” Not only are such wines often oxidized, but they are also packed with salt.

Finally, it isn’t necessary, as the old adage has it, to cook with the same wine that you will serve. According to Mosher, the flavor compounds and nuances of a very fine wine simply don’t survive the heat of most cooking. For example, preparing boeuf bourguignon or coq au vin doesn’t require an expensive red Burgundy. For these dishes, any of well-made, balanced, medium- to full-bodied red wine will do.

Red Wine Bagna Cauda

Ingredients

  • One 750-milliliter bottle Italian dry red wine, such as Nebbiolo
  • 1/4 cup marinated anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
  • 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups good quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Assorted crudités, such as carrots, radishes, fennel and bell peppers, for serving

Directions

In a large saucepan, boil the wine over high heat until reduced to 1 cup, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

In a blender, combine the reduced wine with the anchovies, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice and blend until smooth. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the bagna cauda to a medium saucepan and rewarm over low heat. Pour into a serving bowl and serve with the crudités.

Red Wine Glazed Meatloaf

Ingredients

  • 2 slices of sandwich bread, torn into pieces
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped sage
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped thyme
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound lean ground pork
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tomato, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • Chopped basil for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush a medium oval baking dish with oil.

In a large bowl, combine the bread pieces with the milk and mash to a paste. Add the egg, chopped parsley, sage, thyme, salt, black pepper and cayenne and stir until smooth. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and dry bread crumbs and stir until thoroughly combined.

In a medium skillet, heat the oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, 1 minute longer. Let cool, then transfer to the bowl with the bread mixture. Add the meat and knead in until evenly combined.

Transfer the meat loaf mixture to the prepared baking dish and pat it into a 4-by-12-inch oval loaf. Bake for about 50 minutes or until firm but not quite cooked through.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the red wine with the honey, chopped tomato and molasses and bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the all the ingredients. Boil until the glaze is thick and syrupy, about 10-12 minutes.

Brush half of the glaze over the parially cooked meat loaf. Continue baking for about 20 minutes longer until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 150°F; brush once more with the remaining glaze. Let the meatloaf rest for 15 minutes, garnish with chopped basil, slice and serve.

Red Wine Risotto with Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 pound fresh porcini or cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup arborio rice (6 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, such as Amarone
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • One 2-ounce piece Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for shaving
  • 2 teaspoons chopped mixed herbs, such as basil, chives, parsley, etc.

Directions

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the mushrooms; season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring, until browned. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate.

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer; cover and keep warm over low heat.

In the skillet, heat the remaining olive oil. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until almost evaporated.

Pour in 1 cup of the hot stock, or enough to cover the rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until the stock has been absorbed, about 5 minutes. Repeat, adding 1 cup of stock at a time and stirring until all of the stock has been absorbed.

The risotto is done when the rice is cooked al dente, about 25 minutes. Stir in the butter and mushrooms and heat until the butter is melted and the mushrooms are heated. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Spoon the risotto into serving bowls and shred Parmigiano-Reggiano over the risotto, sprinkle with herbs and serve.

Chicken Parmesan with Red-Wine Pasta Sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces uncooked linguine
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 4 (6-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Large pich of crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 2 cups homemade or store bought pasta sauce
  • 4 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • Chopped Basil, optional

Directions

Sprinkle chicken breasts with 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and the salt. Combine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning in a shallow dish. Dip chicken in egg and dredge in breadcrumbs.

Heat oil in a large skillet with a cover over medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan; keep warm.

Add wine to the pan and remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and red pepper, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 1 minute. Add pasta sauce; cook 1 minute or until bubbly.

Combine the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Arrange chicken over sauce; top each breast with a portion of the cheese and a spoonful of sauce.

Cover the pan, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked and cheese has melted.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain. Serve chicken and sauce over pasta. Garnish with basil, if desired.

Chocolate-Red Wine Cake

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter or butter alternative, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar or the equivalent of a sugar alternative
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups Italian dry red wine
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the vanilla and beat for 2 minutes longer.

Working in two batches, alternately fold in the dry ingredients and the wine, just until incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack; let cool completely. Dust the cake with confectioner’s sugar and serve.


In Italy, fashion is almost a national passion and to see the latest trends, one need only glance around the various piazze, restaurants and streets. Interestingly, these are trends worn to show off the best of the wearer and limit the flaws: individual Italians for the most part follow trends that suit them. Besides, few fashion conscious Italians would go for something trendy that is not also durable, classic and genuine. An Italian woman striding down the cobbled streets in the latest ultra-high wedges without missing a step and with hair flying in the breeze, epitomizes an attitude almost all Italians have: of dressing with care and confidence. For Italians, fashion is not about the clothes but about an attitude; an attitude of sophistication.

Giorgio Armani

Giorgio Armani (born 11 July 1934) is an Italian fashion designer, particularly noted for his menswear. He is known for his clean, tailored lines. He formed his company, Armani, in 1975 and by 2001 was acclaimed as the most successful designer in Italy.

Armani was born in the northern Italian town of Piacenza, where he was raised with his older brother, Sergio and his younger sister, Rosanna by his mother, Maria Raimondi and father, Ugo Armani. Armani aspired to a career in medicine and enrolled in the Department of Medicine at the University of Milan. However, after three years, he left the university and joined the army. Because of his medical studies, he was transferred to an infirmary in Verona. It was, then, he decided to find a different career.

After his discharge from the military, Armani found a job as a window dresser at La Rinascente, a department store in Milan. He went on to become a salesman for the menswear department, where he gained valuable experience in the marketing area of the fashion industry. In the mid-1960s, Armani moved to the Nino Cerruti company and designed menswear. His skills were in demand and for the next decade while continuing to work for Cerutti, Armani freelanced, contributing designs to as many as ten manufacturers at a time. In the late 1960s, Armani met Sergio Galeotti, an architectural draftsman, which marked the beginning of a personal and professional relationship that lasted for many years.

Galeotti persuaded Armani to open a design office in Milan and this led to a period of collaboration with a number of fashion houses, including Allegri, Bagutta, Hilton, Sicons, Gibò, Montedoro and Tendresse. The international press was quick to acknowledge Armani’s importance following the runway shows at the Sala Bianca in the Pitti Palace in Florence. The experience provided Armani with an opportunity to develop his own style. He devoted his energy to his own label and in 1975 he founded Giorgio Armani S.p.A. in Milan, with his friend Galeotti. In October of that same year, he presented his first collection of men’s ready-to-wear for Spring and Summer 1976 under his own name. He also produced a women’s line for the same season.

In 1979, after founding the Giorgio Armani Corporation, Armani introduced and produced the Mani line for men and women in the United States. The label became one of the leading names in international fashion with the introduction of several new product lines, including G. A. Le Collezioni, Giorgio Armani Underwear and Swimwear and Giorgio Armani Accessories. Giorgio Armani has a keen interest in sports. He is the president of the Olimpia Milano basketball team and an Inter Milan fan. He has twice designed suits for England’s national football team and he designed suits worn by players of the London club, Chelsea. Armani designed the Italian flag bearers’ outfits at the opening ceremony at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin and also designed Italy’s Olympic uniforms for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Armani’s place of birth, Lombardy, is bordered by the region of Piedmont to the west, Emilia-Romagna to the south, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige to the east and Switzerland to the north. Lombardy is surrounded on all sides by very distinctive local cultures. Culinary influences are equally diverse owing to Lombardy’s varied terrain, cooking styles and long history of influence from nearby nations. With such a heritage, cooking traditions are ingrained and recipes have not changed for centuries. Rice grows very well here, so it’s no surprise that risotto dishes find their way onto almost every table. The cattle industry is booming, providing beef for a variety of well known dishes. Cattle also provides for an equally thriving dairy industry, so much so, that butter and cream are used much more liberally than the traditional olive oil. Agri d’ Valtorta, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Provolone Valpadana are just a few of the many excellent cheeses crafted in Lombardy. Peppers, greens and lettuces, pumpkins, potatoes, onions and tomatoes are all abundant. Stews, soups, heavily-sauced polentas, hearty filled raviolis and slow-braised meat dishes are all favorites.

Risotto with Fresh Figs and Taleggio

Ingredients

  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 8 ounces fresh figs, about 10-12 figs
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio Rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups chicken stock, heated
  • 1/4 cup diced Taleggio, about 1/8 pound
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Heat a third of the butter in a small saucepan. Dice the figs and add to the heated butter and sauté for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat another 1/3 of the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and cook until translucent and softened, about 8 minutes. Do not let the onions brown. Add the rice and stir to coat each grain and saute until they are opaque, about 4 minutes.

Add the white wine and cook until all the liquid is absorbed, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed. Continue cooking the rice by adding the broth one ladle at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to be absorbed before adding the next.

Continue this process until the rice is tender and creamy, yet still firm to the bite (al dente), about 22 minutes total.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the grated Parmigiano, diced Taleggio and the remaining butter. This last touch of butter gives extra shine and creaminess to the dish. Gently fold in the figs. Ladle into flat soup bowls. Serve with additional Parmigiano. Serves 4

Roberto Cavalli

Born in Florence, Italy on November 15, 1940, Roberto Cavalli was very much destined for an artistic career. As the son of a tailor, he was exposed to the fundamentals of design and sewing; skills he would carry from childhood to that of designer. Cavalli’s grandfather, Giuseppe Rossi, was an impressionist painter whose works can be found in the halls of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Acquiring a significant creative sense from his family and fueled by an already existent artistic ability, Cavalli realized he had ability as a painter. Eventually uniting his painting talent with his ability for working in fabric, Cavalli became a talented fashion designer. He was captivated with the connection between fabrics, painting and art that he experimented with unusual fabrics and designs while continuing his studies at the Academy of Arts.

Through detailed and thorough research, coupled with modern technology, Cavalli invented the process of printing onto lightweight leather; a process he went on to patent later. As he said in one of his interviews, “I had this idea to print on leather. I used glove skin from a French tannery and when I started to print, I saw it was possible to make evening gowns in leather in pink—unbelievable.” Cavalli is most widely known throughout the art and fashion worlds as a gifted leather designer. Through the combination of lightweight leather and paints, Cavalli created a new frontier of fashion, known at patchworks, and he created pieces that would later become revered as pure classics. Cavalli’s work realized more international fame and success when Brigitte Bardot made the world aware of his talent by wearing several of his designs on her vacations in St. Tropez on the Cote d’Azur.

In 1972 Roberto Cavalli unveiled his first fashion line in his hometown of Florence at the Palazzo Pitti. Unfortunately for Cavalli, his first public presentation was not received with appreciation and praise. Florentines considered his use of denim less than fashionable, since the fabric had not been previously part of the high fashion world. However, Cavalli continued his perseverance of using unusual fabrics and went on to became one of fashion’s elite designers.

In 1980, he incorporated the support and assistance of his wife, Eva Duringer, a former Miss Universe, to catapult his work onto the world stage. She is today an able partner in his business empire. Through her encouragement, he maintained his unconventional style to create some of fashion’s most coveted designs, using the same fabrics, animal prints and designs that he used in his earlier days. The first Cavalli show that opened the way for real success was held in Milan in 1994. Staying true to his artisan roots and tying it to new technology, Cavalli’s career took off. His expansive fashion house includes menswear and womenswear, childrenswear, underwear and casual lines, as well as eyewear and timepieces.

Today, Cavalli’s unique creations adorn the likes of Anthony Hopkins, the Spice Girls, Shakira, Sting, David Beckham, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys and many other style-conscious celebrities and couture aficionados. Cavalli has explained how significant the celebrity endorsements are to him: “The celebrity connection is very important. It’s more important to me personally than to anyone else because it makes me feel important.”

Cavalli’s place of birth, Tuscany, provides the ideal soil for the grapes grown to create the region’s world-renowned Chianti wine. Cattle are also featured heavily in the region’s food production. Chianina cattle is one of the oldest breeds of cattle in the world, as well as one of the largest, producing prized Fiorentina beef for bistecca alla fiorentina (a T-bone steak brushed with olive oil and grilled).

Game meats and fowl, fish, pork, beans, figs, pomegranates, rice, chestnuts and cheese are all staples on the Tuscan table. The coveted white truffle abounds in the region. Osso bucco is a well-known favorite, as are finocchiona (a rustic salami with fennel seeds), cacciucco (a delicate fish stew), pollo al mattone (chicken roasted under heated bricks), and biscotti di prato (hard almond cookies made for dipping in the local dessert wine, vin santo). Borlotti beans, kidney-shaped and pink-speckled, provide a savory flavor to meatless dishes and cannellini beans form the basis for many a pot of slowly simmered soup. Breads are many and varied in Tuscan baking, with varieties including donzelle (a bread fried in olive oil), filone (an unsalted traditional Tuscan bread) and the sweet schiacciata con l’uva (a rolled dough with grapes and sugar on top). Pastas are not heavily relied upon in Tuscan cooking but pappardelle (a wide egg noodle) is one of the region’s few traditional cuts. Pecorino Toscano cheese is native to Tuscany.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

As is true for all steak, to ensure a juicy, flavorful steak that cooks quickly, have the meat at room temperature before starting. Use a grill or thick cast iron pan and make sure that they are very hot. Always let the meat rest, at least 5 minutes, before carving and a sharp knife will glide right through.

Ingredients

  • 2 (2-pound) Porterhouse steaks, about 2 inches thick
  • Sea salt
  • Coarse grind black pepper
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar

Directions

Let the steak rest outside the refrigerator for 30 minutes before cooking. Use a hot, clean, oiled grill. If pan roasting, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Liberally season the steak with the salt and pepper, coat with olive oil and press the seasoning into the meat. Grill the steaks for about 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare. The fillet will cook a little faster than the strip loin. Move the steaks every 2 minutes or so for even cooking and a crispy exterior.

For pan roasting, heat a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil until smoking hot. Turn on the fan, open the window and stand back to avoid getting splattered! Using tongs, place the steaks in the center of the pan. Cook until the first side is seared brown, about 4 minutes. Turn the steaks and place the pan in the oven until the steaks are done, about 6 minutes for medium rare. Remove the steaks to a carving board and let rest for at least 5 minutes before carving.

Cut the meat away from the bone and carve into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the meat on warmed plates and drizzle a little bit of balsamic vinegar over the slices. Serve with some extra sea salt on the side.

 Laura Biagiotti

Born in Rome in 1943, Laura Biagiotti got her start in the fashion industry by helping out at her mother, Delia Soldaini, in her dressmaking business. Laura enjoyed her job for a while but soon grew restless doing work for other designers and wanted to create fashions in her own name. Her big break came in 1965 when a deal was made between herself and experienced designer, Angelo Tarlazzi, to produce a line of ready-to-wear clothes for women.

First shown in 1972, Biagiotti’s fashion line was successful immediately. Soon after she took over a cashmere company and created new garments from the yarn. This earned her the name “Queen of Cashmere” in the fashion world.

Biagiotti’s designs were well received because she was very conscientious about producing clothes that not only flattered women’s individual figures but were comfortable and fun to wear. Her trademark soon became soft tailoring and loose fitting dresses complete with topstitching and tiny pleats. She was one of the first to introduce the idea of coordinates and of wearing the same garment from morning to evening. Her first collection had such limited garments that she had to use the same white jacket for three ensembles and this gave birth to the concept of wearable co-ordinates in a Biagiotti wardrobe.

The Laura Biagiotti woman’s look is all about youthfulness of spirit combined with distinction and luxury. She has learned from the Italian tradition and said, “Elegance, taste and creativity have belonged to the Italian tradition and character for centuries and I share this privilege with all other Italian designers.” The Laura Biagiotti look is tasteful and conservative, yet creative in its details. Biagiotti is known for trying on her own creations and not being satisfied until she knows every single piece of clothing is practical and comfortable for the women who will be buying her clothes. She often instructs the people who work on her team to try them on as well. This also goes for her men’s line- Laura Biagiotti Uomo which was launched in 1987. However, her clothing lines don’t stop there. Biagiotti has a line for women’s sizes larger than 14 called Laura-Piu and a children’s line as well, Laura Biagiotti Junior. It is interesting to note that every Biagiotti woman’s collection features a series of comfortable, relaxed “baby doll” dresses and pants that have elastic waistbands.

Laura has won recognition and a number of awards from Italy and abroad: the New York Woman of the Year award in 1992, the Marco Polo award from Beijing in 1993, the Knight of Labour award from the Italian President in 1995 and several more. Laura Biagiotti was married to Gianni Cigna, President of the Biagiotti Export S.p.A., who passed away in 1996.

Biagiotti’s place of birth, the region of Lazio, is bordered on one side by the Tyrrhenian Sea and sits in almost the very center of Italy. This region has long been important for its food, wine, politics, architecture and art. With the provinces of Viterbo and Rieti to the north of Rome and Latina and Frosinone to its south, the mountain-to-sea terrain offers a rich variety of landscapes. Oxtail, veal, pork, lamb, spaghetti, gnocchi, bucatini, garlic, tomatoes, truffles, potatoes, artichokes, olives, grapes, buffalo mozzarella and pizza are all abundant here. Add to this a heavy influence of Jewish culture and unique flavor combinations emerge: pork with potato dumplings; artichokes stuffed with mint. The process has been evolutionary, fusing the basic with the indulgent, the readily available with the rare, the common with the Kosher. Very little is wasted in Lazian cooking and the results are nothing less than extraordinary.

Bucatini with Amatriciana Sauce

The Amatriciana sauce takes its name from Amatrice, a small town of the Lazio region in the municipality of Rieti. The use of tomato for the preparation distinguishes it from gricia, another sauce based on pork cheek (guanciale) and pepper. The addition of tomato, linked to the use of long pasta such as bucatini (long, hollow tubular pasta) or spaghetti, is  traditionally Italian. Amatriciana sauce is normally served in Rome with bucatini pasta and sprinkled with Pecorino Romano sheep’s milk cheese, while in Amatrice it traditionally accompanies spaghetti.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb bucatini
  • 5 oz guanciale (or pancetta), or bacon
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 chili pepper, red
  • 1 ½ oz Pecorino cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Slice the bacon and cut it into small rectangles, put into a skillet with a little water and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the tomatoes to the fat in the skillet along with the crumbled chili and salt and pepper to taste.

Cook for 10 minutes. Then put the bacon back into the sauce, to warm it slightly.

Cook the bucatini pasta in salted water until “al dente”, drain and dress with the Pecorino and the tomato sauce. Mix well and serve hot.


La Scala Opera House – Milan

Italian opera is a musical art form that had its beginnings in Florence in the late 1500s. It was based on a number of performance genres that preceded it, including Greek drama, poems sung by a solo vocalist with single instrument backing and madrigals (a capella singing by 3-6 harmonizing vocalists).

The earliest known opera composition is Dafne, written by Jacopo Peri (1561–1633) in 1597. Peri was born in Rome but relocated to Florence to study music. In the 1590s, he met Jacopo Corsi, the leading patron of music in Florence and they invited the poet, Ottavio Rinuccini, to write a text for a new composition. Dafne was the result. Peri’s later composition, Euridice, written in 1600 with Giulio Caccini, is the earliest surviving opera and was initially performed as part of a celebration for a Medici wedding, thereby propelling opera into the mainstream of court entertainment.

Claudio Monteverdi was a native of Mantua, Lombardy, who wrote his first opera, La Favola d’Orfeo (The Fable of Orpheus), in 1607 for the court. Moving to Venice in 1613, Monteverdi subsequently enriched the performance of opera by adding an orchestra, more lavish costumes and sets and a more dramatic vocal style. Several decades later, opera had spread throughout the Italian peninsula, the result of touring companies who performed in all the major cities. The first public opera house, the Teatro di San Cassiano, opened in Venice in 1637. Opera was no longer a court entertainment but a commercial enterprise open to the paying public. Additional opera houses soon opened throughout the city, performing a variety of works during Venice’s Carnivale season.

In the early 19th century composer, Gioacchino Rossini’s (1792–1868) first success was a comic opera, La Cambiale di Matrimonio (1810), followed by The Barber of Seville and La Cenerentola (Cinderella). Vincenzo Bellini (1801–35) born in Catania, Sicily, was known for his long-flowing melodies. Bellini is considered the first composer to develop bel canto (a style of singing) opera. Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) was born in Bergamo, Lombardy, but wrote in Rome, Milan and Naples. Donizetti achieved some popular success in the 1820s but became famous throughout Europe when his Anna Bolena premiered in Milan. L’Elisir d’Amore, produced in 1832, is considered one of the masterpieces of 19th-century opera buffa (comic opera), as is his Don Pasquale (1843). Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), is his most famous opera and one that best represents the bel canto style of singing.

Giuseppe Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi

(1813–1901) was one of the most influential composers of the 19th century. Verdi produced many successful operas, including La Traviata, Falstaff and Aida, and became known for his skill in creating melody and his use of theatrical effect. Verdi experimented with musical and dramatic forms and transformed the whole nature of operatic writing during his career. In 1877, he created Otello which is described by critics as one of the best romantic operas.

Risotto Giuseppe Verdi

The great opera composer was humble when it came to his music, but not so when the subject was cooking. In Ira Braus’ book, Classical Cooks, he includes a letter from Verdi’s wife regarding a possible Iron Chef-style cook off between Verdi and an actress by the name of Ristori. This recipe is said to be one he created for the challenge.

Ingredients

  • ¾ lb Carnaroli rice
  • 2 oz butter
  • 3 oz mushrooms
  • 3 oz asparagus tips
  • 3 oz Prosciutto di Parma
  • 3 oz canned tomatoes
  • 3 ½ tablespoons light cream
  • 4 cups meat broth
  • grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to taste
  • ½ onion, thinly sliced

Directions

Clean and finely mince the onion.

Clean and thinly slice the mushrooms.

Clean and blanch the asparagus in salted water: cool them in water and ice.

Finely mince the Prosciutto.

Blanch the tomatoes, peel, seed and cut them into cubes.

In a pot melt ¼ of the butter, add the onion and slowly cook it until soft and golden.

Add the rice and toast it for about 1 minutes.

Add the stock, 1 ladle at the time, waiting until it has been absorbed before adding the next one.

After 10 minutes add mushrooms, Prosciutto, asparagus and tomatoes.

Stir well, cook for another 2 minutes and add the cream.

When the rice is “al dente” (about 18 minutes) add butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, stir well and cover with a lid. Let it rest for 2 minutes before serving.

Giacomo Puccini

Giacomo Puccini

(1858–1924) wrote some of the greatest Italian operas of the 20th century, including Manon Lescaut, La Bohème, Tosca and Madame Butterfly. Born in Lucca, Tuscany, he enrolled in the Milan Conservatory in 1880. Manon Lescaut (1893), his third opera, was his first great success. La Bohème (1896) is considered one of his best works, as well as, one of the most romantic operas ever.

Italian opera remains a popular form of entertainment throughout the world. In the 1960s and ’70s, opera’s popularity in the United States grew. As a result, opera companies were established in cities of all sizes and fans no longer needed to travel to a major metropolis to see a performance. With the increased number of opera houses and with growing audiences, companies began commissioning new works, a trend that continues to this day.

There is a legend that Puccini was a ladies man and when his wife suspected that he was about to stray, she would prepare his favorite dishes and use plenty of garlic. Here is a dish that Mrs. Puccini may have prepared.

Fettuccine in Garlic Cream Sauce

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pasta
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
  • 1 ½ cups of cream
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan type cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and fresh, coarse ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions.

Melt the butter over moderate heat and cook the garlic until it is golden.

Add the cream and simmer over a low heat for 5 minutes.

Place the cooked pasta in a serving bowl and pour the hot cream over it.

Sprinkle on the grated cheese, chives and parsley and gently toss.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Adelina Patti

(1843 –1919) was a highly acclaimed 19th century opera singer, earning huge fees at the height of her career in the music capitals of Europe and America. She first sang in public as a child in 1851 and gave her last performance before an audience in 1914. Along with her near contemporaries Jenny Lind and Thérèse Tietjens, Patti remains one of the most famous sopranos in history, owing to the purity and beauty of her lyrical voice and the unmatched quality of her bel canto technique. The composer, Giuseppe Verdi, writing in 1877, described her as being the finest singer who had ever lived and a “stupendous artist”. Verdi’s admiration for Patti’s talent was shared by numerous music critics and social commentators of her era.

Portrait by Franz Winterhalter (1862)

She was born Adela Juana Maria Patti in Madrid, the last child of Sicilian born tenor, Salvatore Patti and soprano, Caterina Barilli. She made her operatic debut at the age of 16 on 24 November 1859 in the title role of Donizetti’s, Lucia di Lammermoor, at the Academy of Music in New York. In 1862, during an American tour, she sang John Howard Payne’s “Home, Sweet Home” at the White House for the President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary. The Lincolns were mourning their son Willie, who had died of typhoid. Moved to tears, the Lincolns requested she sing the song again. After that, it became associated with Adelina Patti and she performed it many times as an encore at the end of recitals and concerts. Patti’s career was one of success after success. She sang not only in England and the United States, but also in Europe, Russia and South America, inspiring audience frenzy and critical superlatives, wherever she went. Her beauty gave her an appealing stage presence, which added to her celebrity status.

A dish that includes her name is “Poularde Adelina Patti”, a recipe created by the famous chef, Auguste Escoffier, who created many other dishes named after opera singers. This recipe is particularly difficult to find and one must buy his cookbook to gain access to it. Briefly described, however, “Poularde Adelina Patti” is a chicken dish covered with a cream sauce, flavored with paprika, surrounded by artichokes, garnished with truffles and coated with a meat glaze. If any readers desire to find the full recipe, I would recommend searching for The Escoffier Cookbook and Guide to the Fine Art of Cookery.

Enrico Caruso

(1873 –1921), born in Naples, was an Italian tenor, who sang to great acclaim at the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas, appearing in a wide variety of roles on stage. Caruso also made approximately 290 commercially released recordings from 1902 to 1920. All of these recordings, which span most of his stage career, are available today on CDs and as digital downloads. Caruso’s 1904 recording of “Vesti la giubba” from Leoncavallo’s opera, Pagliacci, was the first sound recording to sell a million copies. Caruso’s 25-year career included 863 appearances at the New York Metropolitan Opera before he died at the age of 48. He was married to socialite, Dorothy Park Benjamin, the daughter of a wealthy New York patent lawyer. Dorothy lived until 1955 and wrote a biography about Caruso (Enrico Caruso: His Life and Death).

A fastidious dresser, Caruso took two baths a day and liked good Italian food and convivial company. Caruso was superstitious and habitually carried good-luck charms with him when he sang. He played cards for relaxation and sketched friends, other singers and musicians. His favorite hobby was compiling scrapbooks. He also amassed a valuable collection of rare postage stamps, coins, watches and antique snuff boxes. Caruso was a heavy smoker of strong Egyptian cigarettes. This habit, combined with a lack of exercise and the punishing schedule of performances that Caruso willingly undertook season after season at the Met, may have contributed to the persistent ill-health which afflicted the last 12 months of his life

Bucatini Caruso

The recipe was created by the tenor, who loved pasta and loved to cook. This dish is typical of his native Naples. A story that circulates is that he was given a cold reception in his early singing days by his fellow-citizens and Caruso swore he would never sing in Naples again, but he would return there only to enjoy his favorite macaroni dishes.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 lb bucatini pasta
  • 3 or 4 San Marzano tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 zucchini
  • flour
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 chili pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • oregano
  • basil
  • parsley

Directions

Stir-fry the garlic cloves, cut in quarters in oil.  When they start to turn golden, remove them and add the chopped tomatoes and the pepper, cut in chunks. Turn up the heat and add the oregano, crushed chili and a generous amount of basil to the sauce.

Meanwhile, cut the zucchini into rounds, coat them with flour and deep-fry in a skillet.

Cook the pasta al dente in salted boiling water, drain and dress with the tomato sauce, the deep-fried zucchini and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.

Mario Lanza

(1921-1959) born Alfredo Arnold Cocozza in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was exposed to classical singing at an early age by his Abruzzese-Molisan Italian parents, Maria and Antonio Cocozza. By the age of 16, his vocal talent had become apparent. Starting out in local operatic productions in Philadelphia for the YMCA Opera Company while still in his teens, he later came to the attention of Boston Symphony conductor, Serge Koussevitzky, who in 1942 provided young Cocozza with a full student scholarship to the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood, Massachusetts. Reportedly, Koussevitzky told him, “Yours is a voice such as is heard once in a hundred years”. His performances at Tanglewood won him critical acclaim, with Noel Strauss of “The New York Times” hailing the 21-year-old tenor as having “few equals among tenors of the day in terms of quality, warmth and power”.

His budding operatic career was interrupted by World War II, when he was assigned to Special Services in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He resumed his singing career with a concert in Atlantic City with the NBC Symphony Orchestra in September 1945 under Peter Herman Adler, subsequently his mentor. The following month, he replaced tenor Jan Peerce on the live CBS radio program “Great Moments in Music” on which he made six appearances in four months, singing extracts from various operas and other works. In April 1948, Lanza sang two performances as Pinkerton in Puccini’s, Madama Butterfly, for the New Orleans Opera Association.

A concert at the Hollywood Bowl in August 1947 brought Lanza to the attention of Louis B. Mayer, who signed Lanza to a seven-year film contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. This proved to be a turning point in the young singer’s career. The contract required him to commit to the studio for six months and, at first, Lanza believed he would be able to combine his film career with his operatic and concert career, but this proved to be a difficult goal. In May 1949, he made his first commercial recordings with RCA Victor. His rendition of the aria “Che gelida manina” (from La Bohème) from that session was subsequently awarded the prize of Operatic Recording of the Year by the (United States) National Record Critics Association.

In 1951, Lanza portrayed Enrico Caruso in “The Great Caruso”, which proved an astonishing success. Some of his other famous films were:

  • Because You’re Mine, MGM 1952
  • The Student Prince, MGM 1954
  • Serenade, Warner Bros. 1956
  • Seven Hills of Rome, MGM 1958
  • For the First Time, MGM 1959

Pizzelle

Lanza was reportedly partial to Italian waffle cookies called pizzelle (which literally means small pizzas), that are quite popular in the Abruzzo region of Italy.

Makes about 36 pizzelle

Ingredients

  • 1¾ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons anise (or other extract)

Directions

Pre-heat a pizzelle maker. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, combine the butter and sugar and mix until smooth. Add anise and then the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Pour in the dry ingredients and mix well. Lightly spray the pizzelle maker with vegetable oil (unless you have a non-stick version).

Drop the batter by the tablespoon onto the pizzelle iron, and cook, gauging the timing (usually less than a minute) according to the manufacturer’s instructions or until golden. Serve with your favorite toppings.

Anna Moffo

(1932 – 2006) was an Italian-American opera singer, television personality and award-winning dramatic actress. One of the leading lyric-coloratura sopranos of her generation, she possessed an accomplished voice of considerable range and agility. In the early 1960s, she hosted her own show on Italian television, was acclaimed for her beauty and appeared in several operatic films and in other dramatic non-singing roles. In the early 1970s she extended her international popularity to Germany through operatic performances, TV appearances and several films, all while continuing her American operatic performances. Due to an extremely heavy workload, Moffo suffered a serious vocal-breakdown in 1974, from which she never fully recovered. In later years, she gave several master classes through the Met. Her death at age 73 was preceded by a decade-long battle with cancer.

Anna Moffo was born in Wayne, Pennsylvania to Italian parents, Nicola Moffo (a shoemaker) and his wife Regina Cinti. After graduating from Radnor High School, she turned down an offer to go to Hollywood and went instead to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In 1954, on a Fulbright Program scholarship, she left for Italy to complete her studies at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome. She became very popular there after performing leading operatic roles on three RAI television productions in 1956. Moffo made her official operatic debut in 1955 in Spoleto as Norina in Don Pasquale. Shortly after, still virtually unknown and with little experience, she was offered the challenging role of Cio-Cio-San in an Italian television (RAI) production of Madama Butterfly. The telecast aired on January 24, 1956, and made Moffo an overnight sensation throughout Italy. Offers quickly followed and she appeared in two other television productions that same year.

Moffo returned to America for her debut as Mimì in La Bohème next to Jussi Björling’s, Rodolfo, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on October 16, 1957. Her Metropolitan Opera of New York debut took place on November 14, 1959 as Violetta in La Traviata, a part that would quickly become her signature role. She performed numerous soprano roles at The Metropolitan Opera for seventeen seasons before her retirement.

Anna was quoted in the press saying, she enjoyed cooking and especially liked to prepare Italian style chicken livers for herself and her husband. Here is a similar recipe to the one she liked to prepare.

Sicilian Sautéed Chicken Livers

Sicily is the inspiration for chicken livers in a wine sauce redolent of garlic and studded with raisins and pine nuts. The livers are delicious over polenta—better yet, crisp fried polenta. Or serve them on a bed of buttered noodles or on toas

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3/4 cups dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds chicken livers, each cut in half
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons flour
  • 3 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Polenta

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Toast pine nuts in the oven until golden brown, about 8 minutes.

In a small stainless-steel saucepan, combine raisins, broth and vermouth. Bring to boil and simmer until reduced to about 3/4 cup, about 8 minutes. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil over moderately high heat. Season livers with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook, in two batches if necessary, until almost done, about 3 minutes. The livers should still be quite pink inside. Remove from pan.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and reduce heat to moderately low. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring, 15 seconds longer. Stir in raisin-and-vermouth mixture and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer, scraping bottom of pan to dislodge any brown bits. Add livers and any accumulated juices, pine nuts and parsley and simmer until livers are just done, about 1 minute longer. Serve mixture over polenta.


California’s Mediterranean climate is similar to Italy’s, so the Italian immigrants felt at home and were able to bring their food and culture to this new land. The California soil was ideal for planting crops Italians were used to growing, such as eggplant, artichokes, broccoli and Sicilian lemons. Italians also brought with them a love of wine as well as a history of making it.

Nearly 200 members of the Sacramento Italian Cultural Society and the Folsom Historical Society attended the opening reception for the exhibit “Nostra Storia” on January 28, 2000. This is a unique story about that wave of people from Italy, primarily from the area around Genoa in the region of Liguria, who settled in the foothills of the Mother Lode region (Sierra Nevada Mountains) of Northern California in the Mid-19th century. This is the first time that an exhibit has been created to tell the story of these enterprising people who contributed so much to the economic and cultural fabric of California. The history of the Italian Americans is often relegated to the margins of American history despite the fact that the Italians are the 4th largest ancestry group in America with more than 25 million Americans and two million Californians of Italian descent (based on the 2000 Census).This exhibit is part of the determination of this current generation of Italians, to see that the Italian immigrant story is told and included in the history of the nation.

California’s gold country has been profoundly influenced by Italian culture for the last 160 years. Immigrants from Italy’s northern provinces were drawn here by the lure of gold, but it was the allure of the California foothills where they found the terrain and climate similar to that of Italy, that convinced them to stay. California’s fledgling economy provided unparalleled opportunities for Italian businessmen and unclaimed land was available for agriculturalists. Settlement soon brought women and children and, within a decade, Italians represented a significant portion of the population in the region, numbering among the gold country’s leading farmers, merchants and tradesmen. The Mother Lode also offered women unique advantages and Italian women proved wonderfully resourceful when necessity demanded. The 1870s saw a second wave of immigration, as Italian laborers arrived to work in the large, corporate-owned gold mines. Descendents of many of these Italian pioneers remain in the gold country to this day.

Del Monte

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

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

The California wine industry also owes much to the Italian founders of the industry. Italians have been planting vineyards and making wine in America since the early colonial days when Filippo Mazzei, planted vineyards with Thomas Jefferson. The founding of the Italian Swiss Colony at Asti in 1881 as a cooperative of Italian immigrants from the wine growing regions of Italy, promoted the widespread participation and success of the Italians in the California wine industry and the vineyards in Napa and Sonoma.

Largest wine vat in the world, Asti, about 1900. The vat is still there, but today it contains water for fire protection instead of wine. (Cloverdale Historical Society collection)

Oakland, the other city by the bay, was a magnet for Italian immigrants in the early decades of the 20th century. Some relocated from San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake and fire; many more came to Oakland predominantly from Italy’s northern regions. As they established new roots and adopted new ways, they congregated largely in north Oakland’s bustling Temescal neighborhood and these Italian Americans nurtured their old country customs and traditions for generations–giving us a rare glimpse of bygone days.

Los Angeles’, “Little Italy”, presents a history of the city’s vibrant Italian enclave during the 100-year period following the arrival of the city’s first Italian pioneers in 1827. While Los Angeles possesses the nation’s fifth-largest Italian population today, little is known about its Italian history which has been examined by only a handful of historians over the past 50 years. Much of LA’s historic Little Italy has been masked by subsequent ethnic settlements, however, the community’s memory lives on. From pioneer agriculturalists and winemakers to philanthropists and entertainment personalities, Italian Americans left a lasting impression on the city’s social, economic and cultural fabric and contributed to Los Angeles’ development as one of the world’s major metropolises.

San Pedro Port

While the downtown cluster (St. Peter’s Italian Church, Casa Italiana and the Italian Hall) may loosely be construed a Little Italy, San Pedro today represents one of the few visible local nuclei of Italians. This clustering on the Los Angeles landscape has arisen for a unique reason. Until recently, San Pedro was geographically and occupationally compact due to its function as Los Angeles’ port and due to what was, formerly, a significant fishing industry. San Pedro Italians came from two Italian island fishing communities: Ischia and Sicily. Although they arrived with the migrations of the early 20th. century (the Sicilians later), the independent nature of this group’s trade and the relative geographic compactness of San Pedro, fostered the preservation of ethnic loyalty.

Attracted by the mild climate and abundance of fertile land, Italians came to the Santa Clara Valley from all regions of Italy. Beginning in the 1880s, Italian men, women and children filled the numerous canneries and packing houses, supplying the rest of the nation with fresh produce. Once the largest ethnic group in the valley, the Italians’ impact on the region has been profound. Here are some of their stories:

Rodolfo Mussi was born in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania in 1914 to an Italian immigrant father, who worked in the coalmines. Rodolfo’s mother died at a young age forcing the family to return to Italy. The village of Riccione in Northern Italy did not offer much hope to young Rodolfo, who at age sixteen returned with his father’s permission to the United States. His father let him leave Italy on one condition: that he head to California not Pennsylvania. At sixteen with little money, no family or friends or command of the English language, Rodolfo went to work in the mud baths in Calistoga. He later moved to Stockton and went to work on a farm. He noticed a plot of land that was not being farmed and inquired about the property. He had no money to purchase the land or equipment to farm it, but his determination impressed the landowner, Mr. Lucas, who leased the land to Mussi. After thirty years, Mussi secured a twenty-five year lease and his sons still lease and farm the same land today

Joseph Solari II’s great grandfather arrived in Stockton in 1877 and his family was among the first to grow cherries in the area. Four generations of the Solari family farmed in Stockton and their products are sold around the country through the California Fruit Exchange, founded in 1901. The cherries and plums are packed on the Solari Ranch and then sent to the east coast. The Solari family was also involved with the founding of two additional organizations: the San Joaquin Marketing Association (1922) and the San Joaquin Cherry Growers (1935).

In addition to cherries, Stockton was also known for its tomatoes. Two families cornered the market for quality tomatoes and tomato products. The Cortopassi family business began in 1942 with fresh-packed canned tomato products. Today, their products are available only through food service distributors in the United States and Canada. George Lagorio began farming in 1945 on thirty acres. Today the Lagorio family farms over 10,000 acres. The ACE Tomato Company founded in 1968 ships worldwide today. Their Specialty Products include olive oil, walnuts, cherries and wine grapes. George’s daughter, Kathleen Lagorio Janssen and her husband Dean expanded the family business a few years ago with the purchase of olive orchards. Now the company also produces extra virgin olive oil.

Italian immigrants to San Jose, located south of San Francisco in the Silicon Valley, came from many Italian regions, but a majority of them arrived from villages in southern Italy and Sicily. There were two primary Italian neighborhoods in San Jose,  as its population grew in the early to mid twentieth century. The Goosetown neighborhood included Auzarias Avenue and North 1st. Street. This neighborhood bordered Willow Glen, where many Italian Americans still reside. The second neighborhood was around North 13th. Street and it included Holy Cross Church and Backesto Park. One Italian immigrant who eventually made his home in San Jose was Mario Marchese, who was born in 1878 in Palermo Sicily. He left home for New York in 1903 with other family members and, when he arrived in NY, he took a job moving furniture. In 1907 he married his boss’s daughter, Domenica Pavia. Shortly after the birth of their first child, they took the train west to California in search of a better opportunity. Mario and Domenica had ten children and lived in the Italian neighborhood known as Goosetown. Mario initially worked as a prune picker and was eventually hired by Navelete’s Nursery to oversee the orchards.

 

Brothers Andrea and Stefano D’Arrigo were born in Messina, Sicily and emigrated to the U.S. in 1904 and 1911 respectfully. They eventually settled in Boston, went to college and fought for the U.S. in World War I. They started D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of Massachusetts in 1923. Stefano travelled to California in 1925 on a wine grape buying trip. He observed the fertile farmland in San Jose and, soon after, D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California was launched and they were growing vegetables in San Jose. The broccoli seeds arrived from Italy and were planted over twenty-eight acres, making them the first to introduce broccoli to the public under their brand, Andy Boy, trademarked in 1927. They remain one of the largest fresh produce growers in the country and the company is still family run.

Women Cannery Workers 

The Bisceglia Brother’s Canning Company employed many Italian immigrant women and was located on South First Street close to the Goosetown neighborhood. They earned less pay than the men but worked less hours. The women worked on the assembly line peeling, cutting, pitting and slicing by hand. By the 1930s and 1940s women were promoted to supervisors, better known to the employees as floor ladies. These women supervised thirty-five to forty-five women on the production line and they typically supervised their own ethnic group.

More than most people realize, the Italian Americans helped to shape the cultural landscape of California and the modern West. The enterprise and success of these Italian pioneers is a unique legacy – one shared by all of us. 

(Sources: We Are California: Stories of Immigration and Change A California Stories Project of the California Council for the Humanities.  www.weareca.org  The California Italian American Project is designed to make available to students and researchers basic information and resources about California’s original Italian communities.)                       

California is where pizza became “boutique” food, starting in the 1980s, as part of a larger attraction to the Mediterranean cuisine. Alice Waters put a wood-burning oven into her café at Chéz Panisse and Wolfgang Puck became famous by feeding Hollywood stars $100 caviar pies. Puck’s pizza man, Ed LaDou, went on to found the California Pizza Kitchen chain. The chain is widely known for its innovative and non traditional pizzas, such as the “Original BBQ Chicken Pizza”, BLT, Thai Chicken and Jamaican Jerk Chicken pizzas. They also serve various kinds of pasta, salads, soups, sandwiches and desserts. The chain has over 230 locations in 32 US states and eleven other countries, including 26 California Pizza Kitchen ASAP kiosks designed to serve passengers at airports and shopping malls. The company licensed its name to Kraft Foods to distribute a line of premium frozen pizzas in 2000 and Nestlé purchased Kraft’s pizza lines in 2010.

Chéz Panisse’s wood-burning oven

Italian Recipes That Make Use of California’s Bounties

Sweet Pepper Martini

Makes 2 Drinks

Giuseppe Luigi Mezzetta, founder of G. L. Mezzetta, immigrated to America from Italy to start a new life. He eventually saved enough money to bring his new wife, Columba, to California where their son, Daniel, was born in 1918. Giuseppe continued to work hard and was soon able to earn a better wage as a janitor for two large import/export firms. In 1935, father and son decided to open a small storefront business and the new company began importing Italian peppers, olives and other staples of the Mediterranean table.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup Mezzetta Roasted Bell Pepper Strips, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup simple syrup or agave syrup
  • 2 strawberries, thinly sliced
  • 2 basil leaves, cut into strips
  • 1 dash hot sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup vodka or gin
  • 4 Mezzetta Sweet Cherry Peppers, to garnish

Directions:

In a mixing glass or cocktail shaker add and mix all of the ingredients except the vodka. Fill the skaker with ice and add the vodka. Shake vigorously.

Strain the drink, using a fine mesh strainer, and pour into two martini glasses. Garnish with sweet cherry peppers.

(Note: to prepare simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water. Boil until the sugar has dissolved. Cool the syrup before using.)

Pesto Arancini Stuffed with Mozzarella

During his 25 years as a chef/restaurateur, Michael Chiarello has been acknowledged by the Culinary Institute of America, IACP, Food & Wine Magazine and many more for his success as both a Chef and restaurant professional. He has developed over 10 restaurants, including his hugely popular Bottega Restaurant in Yountville, California (Napa Valley), his new Spanish restaurant Coqueta on Pier 5 in San Francisco and his first in California, Tra Vigne, of which he was executive chef/partner until 2000. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park, NY.

I visited Michael Chiarello’s restaurant, Bottega, two years ago when I was in California, and the food was outstanding. Restaurants don’t come any better than this one.

Recipe from Bottega by Michael Chiarello (Chronicle Books, 2010)

Makes 16 arancini; serves 4

Arancini, or rice-balls filled with a melting cheese, are for leftover-risotto days. I never make the rice from scratch when I’m making arancini at home. If you don’t have leftover risotto, you can make these balls from cooked Arborio rice but be sure to add a teaspoon or two of salt while the rice cooks. (Honestly, you’re better off making a big pot of risotto and then making arancini the next day.)

Arancini always remind me of my friend Mariano Orlando. He always made arancini the Sicilian way, his rice balls the size of oranges. We talked once about arancini and he kept saying in Italian, “telephone wire,” making a motion with his hands as if to stretch a length of cord. “What are you saying?” I asked him. “Why are you talking about telephone wire?” The cheese, Mariano said, should stretch like a telephone wire when you take a bite from a perfect arancini and pull it away from your lips.

Our arancini don’t have that same telephone wire of cheese; we use a little less cheese in the middle and a lot more cheese in the risotto. You can add more cheese to the middle if you want to go for the telefono filo effect. If you want to make these a few hours ahead, pour panko crumbs into a baking dish and rest the arancini on the panko before covering the dish in plastic wrap and refrigerating.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups leftover risotto or cooked Arborio rice, cooled
  • 1 1/2 cups Blanched Basil Pesto, double recipe below
  • 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, preferably bocconcini
  • Peanut oil, corn oil, or canola oil for frying
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

Directions:

Line a platter with parchment paper. In a large bowl, stir the risotto and pesto together until blended. Divide the rice into 16 more-or-less-equal portions.

Cut off about 1/2 teaspoon of mozzarella and then with your hands ball up one serving of rice around the cheese so it’s completely encased in rice. Gently place on the prepared platter. Repeat to form 16 arancini. Slide the platter into the freezer for 30 minutes to allow the balls to firm up.

Before you take the rice balls from the freezer, set up your dredging station. Pour the flour into a shallow bowl; the eggs into another shallow bowl; and the panko into a third shallow bowl.

In a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, heat 3 inches oil over medium-high heat until it registers 375°F on a deep-fat thermometer. While the oil heats, dredge each rice ball in flour and lightly shake off the excess. Dip in the egg and then in the panko. Gently drop 4 to 6 balls into the oil and cook until lightly browned, 60 to 90 seconds. Don’t overcook them or the cheese will leak out into your oil. Using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, transfer to paper towels to drain. Repeat to cook the remaining arancini. Serve at once.

Blanched-Basil Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

Powdered vitamin C- also called ascorbic acid-is my secret for keeping pesto a fresh, appetizing green. The herbs go in boiling water and then straight into an ice bath, so I like to use a large sieve or colander to transfer all the herbs in one smooth move.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt, preferably ground sea or gray salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon powdered ascorbic acid
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Set up a large bowl of ice water. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Place the basil and parsley leaves in a sieve or colander that fits inside the pan. Lower the sieve full of herbs into the boiling water, and use a spoon to push the leaves under so the herbs cook evenly. Blanch for 15 seconds, and then transfer the sieve to the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Let the herbs cool in the ice bath for 10 seconds. Remove the sieve, let drain, and then squeeze any water that you can from the herbs. Transfer to a cutting board and coarsely chop.

In a blender, puree the herbs with the oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, pepper, and ascorbic acid until well blended and somewhat smooth. Add the cheese and whir for a second or two to mix. Transfer the pesto to a bowl; taste and adjust the seasoning.

Press plastic wrap directly top of the pesto to keep it from turning brown and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or freeze it for up to 1 month.

Chef’s Note: Toast pine nuts in a small dry skillet over low heat, shaking the pan frequently. Heat for just a minute or two; as soon as you smell the fragrance of the pine nuts, slide the nuts out of the pan and onto a plate so they don’t burn.

Chicken in Tomato & Olive Braise

Chef David Katz, owner of Panevino, and faculty member at the Culinary Institute of America created this recipe to specifically pair with Mirassou wine. Chef Katz has spent nine years in the Napa Valley as a working chef and instructor at CIA Greystone focusing on the business of cooking and on food and wine education.

Serves 6.

Ingredients:

  • 6 chicken thighs, 5-6 ounces each
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced about 1/8th inch thick
  • 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 pinch hot pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • 1/4 cup Mirassou Pinot Noir
  • 1 large can (1 pound 12 ounces) excellent quality diced tomatoes in juice
  • 2 teaspoons brine-packed capers, rinsed
  • 1 cup whole pitted green olives, rinsed
  • 1 ounce Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 loose cup whole parsley leaves, plucked from the stem

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 325 degrees F.  Select a 3 to 4 quart oven-safe baking dish, and set it aside. Heat a large, heavy skillet over a medium-high burner. While the pan is heating, season the chicken with the salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the olive oil to the skillet, allow it to heat through, then add the chicken pieces skin-side down. Cook until crisp and golden, about 5 minutes, then turn and brown equally on the other side, about 4 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate.

Pour off all but about 2 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet, and return it to the stovetop over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion, and stir often for 3 minutes, or until it smells sweet. Stir in the pepper flakes and fennel. Deglaze with the wine, stirring against the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release the browned juices. Add the tomatoes, capers and olives, and bring the skillet to a simmer. Cook for five minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust the seasoning to taste, then pour the tomato mixture into the oven-safe baking dish. Arrange the chicken pieces over the tomato mixture, skin-side up, and sprinkle the shaved cheese over the chicken. Place the baking dish on the center rack of the oven and cook for 10 minutes, or until a thermometer reads 160 degrees in the center of the largest piece of chicken.

Garnish the dish with parsley leaves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve with soft polenta or your favorite short pasta and a crisp green salad.

Italian Padella

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

“Padella” is Italian for skillet, as “paella” is in Spanish.

Ingredients:

  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 peppercorns
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage
  • 1/4 pound sliced ham
  • 1/4 pound salt pork
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green or red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon capers
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 2 cups long-grain rice
  • 3 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 1-1/2 pounds medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1-1/2 pounds squid, cleaned and sliced
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon saffron
  • 2 cups cooked peas
  • 24 mussels, scrubbed
  • 24 clams, scrubbed
  • 8 large prawns, shelled, deveined and cooked
  • 2 tablespoons pimientos

Directions:

Combine 2 tablespoons oil, oregano, peppercorns, garlic, salt and vinegar; mix with mortar and pestle to make a paste. Rub chicken with oregano paste.

Heat 1/2 cup oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add chicken; brown. Add sausage, ham, salt pork, onion, green pepper, capers and coriander. Reduce heat to low; cook 10 minutes.

Add rice and tomato sauce; cook 5 minutes. Add medium shrimp, squid, broth and saffron; mix well and cook, covered, until liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Stir in peas.

Steam mussels and clams in water until open; add large prawns and pimientos. Transfer rice mixture to large serving platter; top with mussel mixture.


Just about every dish tastes better with fresh herbs — and there’s no better way to get fresh herbs than to grow them yourself. One of the more flexible ways to grow herbs is in containers; get inspiration for growing yours in clever vessels (including a strawberry jar). Most herbs are naturals to start from seed. Once your herbs are established, they’ll need regular care, including dividing, pruning and harvesting.

Making the most of your herb garden:

Cut herbs regularly to encourage growth.

1. Throughout summer, snip plants often to encourage branching and new growth. Harvest successive cuttings whenever you need fresh herbs. Generally, cut no more than one-third of the stem’s length. Exceptions include chives and lavender. When they bloom, harvest the flowering stems at ground level. Use some of the herbs in cooking and use some of the herbs to make bouquets and teas or in a refreshing  herbal bath.

2. Gather herbs early in the day, after the dew has dried but before the sun bakes the plants’ essential oils. If you’re harvesting an herb’s leaves, cut the stems at their peak, when the flowers start to form. If you like, gather the blooms of herbs when they develop fully. If you’re after an herb’s seeds, wait until they mature and begin to turn brown before harvesting the seeds heads.

3. To prepare leafy stems for use in cooking, strip the leaves off the stems by sliding your thumb and forefinger from top to bottom. Snip off thicker leaves, such as those of parsley, bay, or rosemary, which don’t strip off readily. If you plan to remove the herbs before serving the food, skip stripping and use the whole stems. Tie them together for easier removal from whatever you are cooking.

Dry herbs to store leaves and seeds.

1. The traditional way to preserve herbs involves gathering small bunches of 10 to 15 stems and hanging them in a warm, airy place to dry. Wrap stems tightly with a rubber band or tie them with twine. Hang the bunches on a drying rack, on the rung of a hanger or from a nail.

2. Drying can take up to three weeks, depending on the plant and its moisture content. Strip crisp-dry leaves off stems before storing them. Dry seed heads by placing a paper bag over them and tying it shut around the stems. Place only one type of herb in each bag and label it.

3. The seeds will drop into the bag as they dry. Let seeds dry for several weeks before storing them according to the directions below.

Store herbs away from light and heat.

1. Proper storage. Store dried herbs in airtight glass or ceramic containers away from light and heat (never on or near the stove) to protect their flavor and fragrance. Keep the leaves whole until used (crushing leaves releases their flavor).

2. Use dried herbs within a year of harvesting.

Five Herb Pesto

This pesto would be great to serve as an appetizer on bruschetta.

Makes about 2/3 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • A handful of sliced almonds, toasted (cooled)
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 50 medium basil leaves
  • a handful of arugula leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/4 cup minced chives
  • 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

Toast the coriander seeds in a dry skillet until fragrant and grind finely in a coffee grinder (kept for grinding spices). Pour into a food processor or blender and add the salt and garlic and process into a paste. Add the almonds and lemon zest and process. Start working the basil in, a few leaves at a time, then the arugula and the oregano. Blend until smooth. Stir the chives and cheese together with a fork and add to the processor. Pulse a few times. Gradually work in the olive oil by pouring in slowly from the top of the processor. Process. Taste  for salt and pepperand adjust to your liking.

Green Herb-Potato Soup

Dill’s fresh, mild flavors of licorice and parsley are a delicious accent for eggs, cheese, soup, vegetables and fish. Adding cauliflower to a potato soup not only reduces the calories, but adds flavor and nutrients.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into bits
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped cauliflower florets
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup each fresh finely chopped dill and parsley leaves (no stems)
  • 3 tablespoons finely snipped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half or evaporated milk
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

In a 4-quart saucepan or similar-size soup pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cauliflower and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes, until the onion softens but does not begin to brown. Add 1 1/2 cups broth; adjust heat so the mixture simmers and cook for 5 minutes.

Stir the cornstarch into the remaining 2 1/2 cups broth and add to the soup pot. Bring back to a boil, and cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 3 to 4 minutes. Puree soup in the pot with an immersion blender.

Whisk in the half-and-half and 1 1/2 cups mashed potatoes until smoothly and evenly incorporated. For a thicker soup, whisk in more potatoes as needed. Add herbs and add salt and pepper to taste. Return the soup to the stove and heat, stirring until piping hot.

Serve garnished with chopped chives and sprigs of dill, if desired.

Makes 1 1/2 quarts of soup, 4 or 5 main dish servings.

Spinach and Orzo Salad

Bright, refreshing mint makes so many dishes come to life.

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 oz baby spinach leaves
  • 1 lb cooked orzo
  • 1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
  • 4 oz chopped feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Directions:

In a small pan, warm oil over medium-low heat. Sauté garlic until lightly golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer garlic and whatever oil remains in the pan to a bowl. Add 3 tablespoons juice, 2 teaspoons zest, salt and pepper; whisk to combine. Add spinach and toss lightly. Add orzo, olives, cheese, onion and mint. Toss to combine and serve with Pita Bread.

Potato Salad with Olives & Garden Herbs

When you want to add the flavor of onion without it being overpowering, chives are very useful in cooking. 

This potato salad is best made several hours ahead so that the flavors have time to meld. Delicious served alongside grilled chicken.

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs small to medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped Kalamata olives
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped chives
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves

Directions:

Put the potatoes in a 6-quart Dutch oven or similar pot and cover with cold water by at least one inch. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons salt, bring to a boil over high heat and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until the potatoes are just tender, 6 to 8 minutes from when the water comes to a boil (stir gently and don’t overcook, or the potatoes will fall apart).

Meanwhile, in a bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk the vinegar and mustard. Whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Drain the potatoes in a colander and spread them on a rimmed baking sheet covered with parchment paper. While they’re still hot, drizzle them evenly with 3 tablespoons. of the dressing. Let cool completely

Transfer the cooled potatoes to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with the olives, chives, parsley and mint. Pour about 1/2 cup of the remaining vinaigrette over the salad. With a large spoon or rubber spatula, gently toss. Take care to break as few of the potato slices as possible. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let sit at room temperature for at least an hour so the flavors can blend.

Just before serving, season to taste again with salt and pepper and add more dressing if the salad seems dry—you may not need all of the dressing.

Make Ahead Tip

You can make this salad up to 12 hours ahead; just cover and refrigerate and return to room temperature before serving.

Risotto with Pesto and Shrimp

4 servings

Basil lends a sweet-spicy flavor with hints of clove and anise to Italian-style sauces, pesto and pasta. It’s tomatoes’ best partner,

Ingredients:

  • 1 packed cup basil leaves, and a few leaves for garnish
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Fine sea salt
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 3/4 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

In a blender, combine basil, 1/3 cup oil, nuts and garlic; purée until smooth. Transfer to a bowl; stir in cheese. Set aside pesto.

In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups water and generous pinch salt to a boil. Add green beans; cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.Drain and set aside.

Using the same pan add the vegetable broth and bring just to a simmer, then remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add rice; cook, stirring frequently, until rice is translucent, about 4 minutes. Add 1 cup broth mixture, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until liquid is mostly evaporated.

Add 1/2 cup broth. Cook, stirring constantly, until broth is mostly absorbed. Continue adding broth in 1/2 cupfuls, stirring constantly and allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next, until the rice is tender yet firm to the bite (you may have broth left over).

Remove risotto from heat. Stir in green beans, then cover saucepan and let risotto rest 
5 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut shrimp crosswise into 1-inch pieces. 
In a medium nonstick skillet, heat remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add shrimp; season with a pinch salt. Cook, turning pieces once, until opaque and just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat.

Stir pesto and shrimp pieces into risotto, Sprinkle with pepper and garnish with a few basil leaves.

Oregano Chicken and Vegetables

When you’re looking for an intense herb flavor, fresh oregano is a great choice to pair with meats, vegetables and pasta dishes.

Makes: 4 servings

ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 – 2 pounds meaty chicken pieces, skinned
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 large tomato, peeled and chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup pitted ripe olives
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon snipped fresh oregano plus extra for garnish
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine or chicken broth
  • 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 medium green sweet bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1 medium red sweet bell pepper, cut into strips

Directions:

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Lightly coat a nonstick skillet with a little olive oil. Cook chicken over medium heat about 15 minutes or until light brown, turning once. Reduce heat.

Place the garlic, half of the lemon slices, half of the tomato, the olives, onion, parsley,and oregano over chicken pieces in skillet. Sprinkle with ground red pepper.

Add the wine and the 3/4 cup broth. Simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Add the remaining tomato and the bell peppers. Cook, covered, for 5 to 10 minutes more or until sweet peppers are crisp-tender and chicken is tender and no longer pink.

Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a platter. If desired, garnish with remaining lemon slices and oregano.

Grilled Steak with Fresh Garden Herbs

 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup minced shallots (about 2)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus additional for brushing
  • 3/4 cup assorted chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, tarragon, mint, basil or whatever is growing in your garden)
  • 4 – 8-ounce rib-eye or skirt or NY strip steaks

Directions:

Whisk first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Gradually whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil, then herbs.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Sprinkle steaks generously with salt and pepper; brush lightly with olive oil. Grill steaks until cooked to desired doneness, about 6 minutes per side for medium-rare rib-eye  and NY strip or 3 minutes per side for medium-rare skirt steak. Transfer steaks to platter; let rest 5 minutes. Slice steak and spoon herb mixture over steaks and serve.


Milwaukee’s Italian families have a distinguished heritage, one that began in a great rush to the city shortly before the turn of the 19th century, when Italian immigrants poured into Milwaukee and quickly formed two distinct communities. The Bayview settlement was dominated by newcomers from northern and central Italy, many of whom took jobs in the sprawling iron mill on the south lakeshore. The second Italian community, and by far the largest, was in the Third Ward, just west of today’s Summerfest grounds. The vast majority of Third Warders, whose numbers swelled to 5,000 by 1910, traced their roots to Sicily.

third ward

Mario Carini, an Italian-American historian and author of the book, “Milwaukee’s Italians: The Early Years,” said nearly every region of Italy was represented in Milwaukee. He noted, “Some came from the northern regions of Liguria or Lombardy and some from the more central regions like Lazio.” However, the greatest number of Italians who emigrated to the U.S. came from the depressed and impoverished regions of il Mezzogiorno, the southern regions of the Italy, the ones left behind culturally, economically and socially after the unification of Italy in 1870.

According to Carini, many of the Italian immigrants from il Mezzogiorno came from the regions of Puglia, Campania, Abruzzo and Calabria. They were once part of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and the transition to Italian unification was a difficult journey. The southern economy was mostly agrarian-based, in contrast to the industrial north, and the peasants of the countryside had to work non-stop to provide the simplest means of survival. The island and people of Sicily suffered most. Sicily thought of itself as an entirely different country. It was there that peasants faced the toughest of circumstances. A few very wealthy men owned nearly all of the workable land on the sun-baked island. The impoverished laborers hired to work the land toiled long and hard and received scant returns. Life in il Mezzogiorno soon became unbearable and the lure of America became more and more desirable. By 1910, four out of every five immigrants came from southern Italy.

The quest for the American dream started soon after the immigrants passed through the doors of Ellis Island and stepped upon the real America. Carini said, “as the old axiom ‘go West, young man’  holds, so did the immigrants listen. A good number did stay and seek their fortune in the bustling metro of New York City, but others, intrigued by tales of a gold rush and general curiosity, embarked on their trek westward. But as they made their way, economic necessity forced the Italians to halt their journey to sunny California”, Carini said. With the huge metropolis that is Chicago and its some 16,000 Italians, so close, many sought their fortune just 90 miles north in Milwaukee. According to Carini, there was an Italian presence in Milwaukee as early as the Civil War, but the real influx of immigrants began in 1880 and, by 1910, records show 3,528 Italian-born immigrants lived in Milwaukee.

Some natives of northern Italy chose the south side and suburbs, while others lived where work was found. But no neighborhood could compare to the Sicilian community of the Third Ward, where 2,759 Sicilians settled. Dubbed the Little Italy of Milwaukee, the Third Ward afforded a place to live and a place to work for the immigrants, which is really what they all came looking for in America.

Catalano Square

Most of Milwaukee’s early Italian population consisted of working adult males, Carini said. However, as women joined their husbands in America, their primary duty was to the family. They cared for the children in the morning, walked to the factory and put in a full day’s work and, then, went back home to prepare meals. As soon as children could have a job they did, some even worked on the coal docks next to their fathers. Though many found work and a place to live, the Italian immigrants were hardly living the luxurious life. Many men took up a second job and working conditions were very harsh. Rosario Spella, born in Milwaukee to Italian immigrants, knew the hardships of immigrant life. “Our economic situation was dire,” Spella said. “I was the primary source of income at 18 years old, since my father had gone job-to-job. There was very little money to support all of us, so we had to do whatever we could possibly do to help out.”

Brady Street

Living quarters were described as “sub standard” and immigrants were charged relatively high rents. Families were often crammed into small houses or apartments. “Housing was a big issue,” Carini said. “We used to move around a lot, but it used to always be within the Third Ward. We’d go from corner to corner or block to block. ” That was until the railroads started to take away housing property and the family was forced to leave the area, Carini said. However, Italian-Americans prevailed and fought through the arduous task that was immigrant life.

The diet of the Italian immigrants in Milwaukee was apparently not better than what they were accustomed to Italy. In America they had meat more frequently, but less fruits and vegetables. Generally the families in Sicily had meat on Sunday, eggs daily (almost every family had chickens) and fruit of every kind grew abundantly in Sicily. Fruit was cheap, especially in the villages, and almost every family owned a little piece of land on which fruit trees and greens were cultivated for family use. This simple diet, accompanied by life in the open air and vigorous work in the fields, made the Sicilian peasants healthy and strong. In Milwaukee, instead of having fruit and greens, which were too expensive in America, they learned to substitute meat and stretch it with potatoes, which were more filling than nutritious. While macaroni was preferred to any other dish, the cost was too high and with the addition of tomatoes and oil, pasta became even more expensive. Since these were luxuries for the Italian laborers in Milwaukee, they learned to prepare cheaper food.

Peter Sciortino’s Bakery, Milwaukee’s Brady Street

Like the immigrants who preceded them, most Sicilians worked as laborers and factory hands, but a sizable number entered the produce business, selling fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the city. The most successful merchants graduated to their own wholesale houses on a stretch of Broadway long known as Commission Row. Others moved into the Brady Street area. Not afraid to work, the Italians were railroad employees, fruit peddlers, refuse collectors, shopkeepers, tavern owners or skilled craft workers in the masonry and stone trades.

Cialdini Grocery Store

At the time there were in Milwaukee 45 groceries owned by Italians and 38 of them crowded into three or four streets in the Third Ward. Many of the stores were one small, unsanitary room with stock consisting of a few boxes of macaroni, a small quantity of canned tomatoes and some oranges and bananas displayed in the window. Generally women attended the shop, while their husbands were at work on the tracks or in the foundries. Only three or four groceries had a large stock and did a good amount of business, but the system of giving credit to their customers, especially during periods of joblessness, made development of their trade on a large scale impossible. 

Better conditions were found among saloon keepers, who did not give credit. In the Third Ward there were 29 Italian saloons, 12 of which were located on just 4 blocks on Huron Street. The immigrants engaged in other businesses, but on a smaller scale. Although almost every line of business was represented, Italian bakeries, meat markets, shoe repair shops, tailor shops and barber shops were typical of the businesses operated by Italians in the Third Ward.

Pabst Saloon Milwaukee 1900

One of the many Third Ward saloons.

In 1905, the Sicilian immigrants adopted the Blessed Virgin of Pompeii Church on Jackson Street. The “little pink church” quickly became the neighborhood’s hub, both for worship and for the annual round of summer festivals that featured Italian bands, tug-of-war contests, food stands and fireworks. By 1939 many of the younger families had moved to the Brady Street area and they founded a new church, St. Rita’s, on Cass and Pleasant Streets, which then became the new center of their community. The descendants of those first arrivals, today, make up an extraordinary share of Milwaukee’s business leaders, politicians, clergy, restaurateurs, educators, police officers and military personnel.

The warm and welcoming spirit that the Italian immigrants spread is still very much alive today. One need only take a trip to the modern-day Third Ward to find the epicenter of Italian culture in Milwaukee at the Italian Community Center. Paul Iannelli, a long-time Milwaukee resident and an Italian-American advocate, as well as a historian on the ICC’s history and executive director of Festa Italiana, said the Italians deserved their spot in Milwaukee. “We, Italian-Americans, have long entrenched ourselves in Milwaukee. We decided to build a sort of base for ourselves, as well as being a memorial to all those who came before us and laid the way for Italian-Americans in Milwaukee” Iannelli said.

So after a challenging decade in the 1960s, when the city razed several blocks of the Third Ward including the local church, the Italian-Americans of Milwaukee began a revival of Italian heritage and culture. “Our first Festa was in 1977,” Iannelli says. “It was, initially, just a way to jumpstart the feeling of Italian-American heritage and pride.” Festa Italiana, an annual event now and in its 34th year, is an Italian-American festival featuring music, guests and authentic Italian food. Since the Festa became so popular a new headquarters was needed and in 1990 the Italian Community Center of Milwaukee opened its doors.

“The ICC was built to house the organization and offices for Festa,” Iannelli said. “But it also was built to be a hub for Italian-Americans, which it became, and a place where old friends could connect.” A block-long building with a sandstone brick exterior, the ICC stands as an emblem of the Italian-American tradition. Three flags — the Italian flag, the American flag and Wisconsin’s state flag — fly high atop silver poles next to a black granite monument commemorating notable Italian-Americans associated with the ICC’s birth.

The Milwaukee Italian American Community Center

Italian Recipes From  A Few Milwaukee Chefs

Vicenza Barley Soup

Bartolotta Ristorante, Milwaukee

Chef Miles Borghgraef

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 4 quarts of broth (either chicken or beef broth will work)
  • 6 oz. pearled barley (rinsed well)
  • 1 cup white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
  • 1 head radicchio (shredded)
  • 1 cup salumi* chopped fine 
  • 1 /2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
  • 1 piece Parmigiano or Grana Padano rind
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 egg yolk

Directions:

In large heavy bottom stock pot, on medium heat, saute the chopped salumi in 4 tablespoons of olive oil (reserve remaining 2 tablespoons of oil for plating) for 3-4 minutes or until lightly browned. Add onion, carrots and celery. Cook until the vegetables become translucent. Add rinsed barley. Mix ingredients well.

Pour in broth, stir, bring to a light simmer and add cheese rind. After 30 minutes add shredded radicchio. Continue to simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

When barley is tender (after about 45 minutes), remove two cups of broth.

In separate bowl, temper** egg yolk with the two cups of broth. Mix in 1 cup of parmigiano or grana padano, reserve the other 1/2 cup for plating.

While mixing vigorously, return the tempered egg/broth/cheese mixture to the soup. Melt in cold butter stirring continuously until incorporated.

To serve, ladle soup into a serving bowl and top with some reserved extra virgin olive oil and cheese. 

 Notes:

*Salumi is Italian cured meat ,such as prosciutto, pancetta, coppa and sopressata. 

**Temper is to add hot liquid slowly so eggs don’t cook.

Venetian Risotto with Peas and Bacon

LoDuca Brothers Wine

Chef Lou Bruno & Assistant Jim LoDuca

Serves 8 or more. Can be used as a side dish or main course.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. Carnaroli or Arborio Rice
  • 1½ quarts chicken stock
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 8 oz. frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 lb. cooked crisp bacon (cut into 2” pieces)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1½ cups Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 Bottle (750 ml) Pinot Grigio for stock

Directions:

In 2 quart stock pot, bring chicken stock and Pinot Grigio to boil. Then reduce to a simmer. In a 6 qt stockpot, heat olive oil, add onion and saute until golden. Add rice and cook for several minutes, stirring constantly to coat rice.

Add hot stock mixture to rice, a cup at a time, stirring constantly until the stock is almost absorbed. The rice should be never dry.

When rice is still a little firm (after 15 minutes) add peas.

When rice is cooked, add all the parmigiano cheese and mix well. Add more hot stock if necessary to keep rice wet and custard-like. Distribute bacon over top and warm.

[Chef's Hint: overly wet rice is best].

Sausage Rigatoni Rustica

Bravo Cucina Italiana, Milwaukee

Chef Tony Evans

3-4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 oz. olive oil
  • 3 oz. Italian sausage
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic, chopped
  • 3 oz. eggplant
  • 2 oz. tomatoes 
  • 2 oz. Bercy sauce *
  • 4 oz. Alfredo sauce
  • 1 oz. each of Parmesan and Romano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon herb butter
  • 7 oz. rigatoni, cooked al dente
  • 1 oz. fresh mozzarella cheese
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions:

Preheat a  grill or grill pan and oil the grill.  Thickly slice eggplant and tomato. Leave sausage in one piece. 

Grill sausage and eggplant slices until brown and tomatoes until slightly charred.

Sausage should be cut on the bias into 1/4” thick slices and then cut in half.

Cook rigatoni according to package directions.

In a saute pan, heat oil and add garlic. Stir for  30 seconds. Add sausage and eggplant and saute. Add charred tomatoes and saute. Add bercy sauce, alfredo sauce and salt & pepper to taste.

Mix to combine and heat through. Add parmesan/romano cheeses and herb butter. Mix to incorporate. Add hot rigatoni to saute pan. Add mozzarella, toss to combine and heat through.

Place in a serving dish and garnish with parsley.

NOTE:

*Bercy sauce is a white sauce made with white wine and sauteed shallots.

 

Strawberry Tiramisu

The Pasta Tree Restaurant & Wine Bar, Milwaukee

Chef Suzette Metcalfe

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups strawberry preserves
  • 1/3 cup + 4 tablespoons Cointreau or other orange liqueur, divided
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 lb. Mascarpone cheese (room temperature)
  • 1 1/3 cups chilled whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups espresso
  • 1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 ½ pounds strawberries, divided
  • About 52 crisp ladyfingers (Boudoirs or Savoiardi)

Directions:

Whisk preserves, the 1/3 cup Cointreau and orange juice in a 2-cup measuring cup. Set aside.

Place mascarpone cheese and 2 tablespoons Cointreau in large bowl; fold just to blend.

Using an electric mixer, beat cream, sugar, vanilla and remaining 2 tablespoons Cointreau to soft peaks.

Fold 1/4 of the whipped cream mixture into mascarpone mixture. Then fold in the remaining whipped cream.

Hull and slice half of strawberries. Spread 1/2 cup of the preserve mixture over the bottom of an oblong serving dish or a 13x9x2 inch glass baking dish.

Arrange enough ladyfingers, dipped in espresso, over strawberry preserve mixture covering the bottom of the dish.

Spoon 3/4 cups strawberry preserve mixture over ladyfingers, then spread 2 1/2 cups mascarpone mixture on top.

Arrange 2 cups sliced strawberries over mascarpone mixture. Repeat layering with remaining ladyfingers, dipped in espresso, strawberry preserve mixture and mascarpone mixture.

Cover with plastic and chill at least 8 hours or overnight.

Slice remaining strawberries. Arrange over the top of the tiramisu and sprinkle with chocolate.

The Italians In Texas (jovinacooksitalian.com)
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/06/14/little-italy-new-orleans-style/Birmingham, Alabama’s “Little Italy” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
West Virginia’s Little Italy Communities (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Baltimore’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Western Pennsylvania’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Philadelphia’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Chicago’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Cleveland’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
New England’s “Little Italies” (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Italian American Neighborhoods – Boston (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Ybor City – Florida’s Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
Little Italy – Manhattan (jovinacooksitalian.com)
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/03/08/new-yorks-other-little-italies/
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/03/15/little-italy-new-jersey-style/
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/04/12/delawares-little-italy/
The “Little Italies” of Michigan (jovinacooksitalian.com)
The Hill” St. Louis’ Little Italy (jovinacooksitalian.com)
http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2013/05/24/indianas-little-italy-communities/



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