Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Sauces

Frasassi

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Cuisine of Anacona, Marche Region

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cozze al limone (Mussels with lemon)

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

4 Servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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Vincisgrassi – Special Lasagna

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

For the lasagna sauce

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

For the Lasagna

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fried Sweet Ravioli with Ricotta

For the Dough:

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

For the Filling:

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bagna Cauda Pot

Consider the health benefits of anchovies:

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

Equivalents:

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

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

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

1/2 teaspoon Anchovy paste = 1 Anchovy fillet

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

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

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Bagna Cauda

Serves 6

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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Tuna Stuffed Roasted Peppers

Serves 6

Ingredients

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

Directions

Cut the peppers into 2-inches wide strips.

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

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

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

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

Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

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Spaghetti con Acciughe

A classic Neapolitan dish.

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

Sprinkle remaining breadcrumbs on top ot the pasta before serving.

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Tomato Salad with Anchovy & Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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Italian Fish Stew with Anchovy Pesto

Stew

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

Pesto

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lamb Chops With Anchovies, Capers and Sage

3 servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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Figs Stuffed with Anchovy Tapenade

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

 


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Molise is the youngest and second smallest region in Italy and is located in central-southern Italy. The region has only been recognized since 1963. Before this, Molise was an isolated province of Abruzzo. It now borders Abruzzo to the north, Latium to the west and Campania to the south with Puglia (Apulia) to the south-east. Its capital is Campobasso and the city is famous for the exceptional skill of its knife craftsmen, as well as, its delicious pears and scamorza cheese. Molise is home to beautiful abbeys, churches and castles, as well as, impressive ancient ruins far off the tourist track. Though beautiful, many of the buildings in the Molise region have been rebuilt over time due to damage by invading forces, as well as, by significant earthquakes which shook the area in 1456, 1805 and again in 2002.

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Rain is very frequent and it is heavy during the autumn and spring months. Molise is mostly mountainous with rocky and steep hills, so sheep farming is a major industry. Only the coastline has roads/railways. Because of its mountainous terrain, the economy of the region has for centuries been highly dependent on the transit of shepherds and their flocks from Abruzzo to Puglia.

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Living off the land is a vital aspect of Molisani tradition and much of its agriculture is on a small-scale, reflecting the region’s sparse population. Most people live in rural areas where subsistence farming is both traditional and necessary to keep families fed and healthy. Sheep, goats, pigs and cattle have been cultivated for centuries in Molise, but have historically been raised as a form of currency rather than food, giving rise to the tradition of traveling with one’s livestock to Abruzzo for sale at the markets. Because animals have been generally raised for sale, Molisani recipes are often vegetarian or use very small amounts of meat just for flavoring. Most dishes are prepared simply and with few ingredients.

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Beans, potatoes, grapes and olives are primary crops of the region and the culinary tradition makes use of olive oil, chilies and garlic. Durum wheat is also important to the region, so pastas are both hearty and abundant. Of the few distinct dishes native to Molise is a polenta variation that is made from potatoes and wheat and is topped with a tomato sauce. Other traditional polenta dishes are common throughout the region and many recipes reflect the influence from surrounding regions. Even the flavors of nearby Croatia have made their way into the Molisani cuisine.

Typical desserts include a jam made with grapes grown in the Molise countryside, pastries filled with chickpeas, wafers made with walnuts and almonds and baked ravioli filled with sour black cherries.

Antipasto Course

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Baked Caciocavallo Cheese

Serves 8

  • 1 pound caciocavallo, wax removed, cut into ½ inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 sprigs each fresh rosemary or oregano, sage, thyme, and parsley, chopped fine

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a 10-inch ovenproof baking dish. Arrange the cheese in an even layer in the dish and scatter the herbs on top.

Bake until the cheese is soft and gooey, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately from the oven with plenty of crusty Italian bread.

First Course

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Spaghetti with Fresh Anchovies

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 7 ounces anchovies
  • 14 oz container diced Italian tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Hot pepper to taste
  • 4 basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Dice the anchovies. Peel garlic and chop together with the hot pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add chopped garlic and pepper and sauté until the garlic is lightly browned.

Add tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes. Add anchovies and cook for about 5 more minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add torn basil leaves, mix well and remove pan from heat.

Meanwhile, boil pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente.

Drain, toss with prepared sauce, adding the rest of the oil and chopped parsley. Serve.

Second Course

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Breaded  Rib Lamb Chops

Ingredients

  • 8 rib lamb chops
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 ½ oz Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup prepared marinara sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Season the lamb chops with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Place the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.

Dip the lamb chops in the beaten eggs and then in the bread crumbs.

Heat oil in a frying pan and brown the ribs on both sides.

Place the browned chops in a baking dish. Cover each chop with a one tablespoon of marinara sauce.

Sprinkle each chop with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes and serve.

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Braised Peas with Onion

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 4 cups fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

In a heavy 1 to 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat and cook the onions for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are soft and golden brown.

Stir in the green peas and chicken stock, cover, and cook on low heat for 15 minutes.

When the peas are tender, uncover and stir frequently, for 2 minutes more, or until all the liquid is absorbed.

Taste for seasoning, Add the cheese and serve the peas in a heated bowl.

Dessert Course

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Italian Almond Orange Cake 

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs, at  room temperature, whites and yolks separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons potato starch
  • 2 1/3 cups almond flour, packed
  • 1 orange, room temperature, zested and juiced
  • Pinch of salt
  • Powdered sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Measure all the ingredients and separate eggs.

In a bowl, combine the potato starch with the almond flour until thoroughly mixed.

Put the egg whites into a medium mixing bowl and the yolks into a large mixing bowl.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt with very clean and dry beaters.  Beat until they reach a firm peak.  Put aside.

Beat the sugar into the egg yolks. Beat on high until the mixture is pale yellow and creamy.  Slowly fold in the potato starch/almond flour in three additions, slowly adding in the orange juice in between additions.  Then carefully fold in the orange zest. Followed by folding in the whipped egg whites, again in three additions to ensure a fluffy batter.

Turn into a parchment lined and greased 9 inch cake pan or springform pan.  Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.  Dust with sifted powdered/icing sugar before serving.


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Stracotto  translates literally from the Italian as “overcooked,” but the term has come to refer to beef stews and braises – especially in the northern Italy.The important part of the recipe is the slow cooking of the meat at a very low temperature to tenderize even the toughest cut of beef. The recipe starts with a soffritto of onion, carrot, celery and, sometimes, finely diced pancetta or the fat from prosciutto and continues with the addition of red wine, beef broth, tomatoes and tomato paste.

There are as many versions of this dish as there are cooks. In much of Tuscany, the meat to be roasted in the pot is seasoned with a minced mixture of celery, carrot, onion and parsley, but never garlic, whereas the cooks of Arezzo use garlic and juniper berries to season the meat.

In Lombardy, the meat is marinated overnight  in the red wine. In northern Italy, especially the Parma area, leftover stracotto becomes a filling for ravioli.

In Florence, before the discovery of America and the importation of tomatoes, stracotto was cooked with agresto – a sauce made from crushed, tart grapes, boiled and flavored with cloves, cinnamon and the juice of a squeezed onion. Chianti is the wine of choice in preparing this dish in Florence and porcini mushrooms are often an important ingredient.

In Bologna, a veal roast is used for this dish. In Sicily, the meat is cut into chunks, stew like, before braising.

Italian Jews also make stracotto with wine and tomatoes that is eaten both as a shabbos lunch and as a Friday night dinner. Rome resident, Celeste Pavoncello Pipenro, recalls eating stracotto throughout her life, “I remember Grandmother Celeste cooking stracotto in a special crock pot that she used just for this dish. It was very important to her to cook the stracotto in the crockpot. Also, my father, Marco, cooks the stracotto quite often and he puts some chocolate in with the meat just to add a different flavor.”

The dish originated in the Piedmont area of italy and here is an early recipe translated from Italian to English.

Piedmontese Pot Roast of Beef with Barolo Wine

Ingredients for 6 persons
1 Kg of lean beef, Italian parsley, sage, garlic, onion, carrot, celery, a
little flour, one bottle of Barolo wine, olive oil, butter, nutmeg, salt
and pepper.

You place in a casserole dish some spoonfuls of butter, olive oil
and sliced onions. Saute these ingredients, then brown the meat
after dredging it in the flour. Cover with the parsley, garlic, the
herbs and the rest of the chopped vegetables. Brown the meat on
all sides to seal it, then add the Barolo wine. Simmer a while to
reduce the liquid & evaporate the wine, then add salt and pepper.
Cover and place in a preheated oven(150C/300F/Gas 2). Continue
cooking for approximately three hours in the covered casserole.
Slice the meat and serve the dish with its gravy, straining the gravy if
you prefer smooth gravy.

Barolo wine is traditionally used for this dish in Italy and in Italy it is possible to find inexpensive Barolo wines that are perfect to cook with. Unfortunately, that is not the case in America. Because you don’t want to pour a fifteen or twenty-dollar bottle of wine over a four-dollar piece of meat, I recommend cooking with a flavorful inexpensive red wine and reserving the Barolo to serve with dinner. For tender, flavorful meat, it is best to prepare this dish several hours or, even better, a full day ahead of time. Reheat it in the oven before serving.

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Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto)

I also include slow cooker directions for those who prefer that method for this recipe.

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

If using a slow cooker, put the roast in the cooker. If you’re using a Dutch oven, put the roast on a plate.

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

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

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Add the herbs, tomato paste, tomatoes and beef stock.

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For the Dutch oven put the roast back in the pot and bring the mixture to a simmer and keep at just a simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours.

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If the liquid begins to boil, you may need to place the lid ajar. You don’t want a rapid boil, just a few lazy bubbles or the meat will get tough.

If you’re using a slow cooker, add the vegetables, wine, stock, herbs, tomato paste and tomatoes to the cooker and turn on low for 6-8 hours.

When the meat is tender, remove and cut into thin slices. To thicken the sauce, especially if made in the slow cooker, boil for a few minutes. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

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

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Quick Creamy Polenta

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

Directions

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


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In Italy, there are sugo and salsa. Sugo derives from succo (juices) and refers to pan drippings that come from cooking meat or from a rich meat-based sauce, such as, sugo alla Bolognese and thick vegetable sauces (which often go over pasta). A salsa is a semi-liquid raw or cooked sauce that’s used as a condiment. It can go over pasta or used to season other dishes, for example, pesto alla genovese or salsa verde that is served over boiled meats or potatoes. If a sauce is especially delicate, it may be called “salsina.”

The passage from sugo/salsa to sauce/gravy must have occurred when immigrant families settled into new neighborhoods in the U.S. and became an Italian-American family/neighborhood tradition more than anything else. Some immigrants translated the Italian for what they put on their pasta as gravy, while others translated it as sauce and the translations have been passed down through the generations, becoming the definitive lable in the process. People get amazingly passionate over things like this.

The aroma of a garlic-laden tomato sauce spiked with sausage, meatballs and rolled-up braciole can bring tears to the eyes of many Italian-Americans. Sunday gravy, evokes memories of weekend family gatherings in which mom or grandma presided over the constantly stirred pot of sauce and meat, and various relatives were tasked with procuring the essential provisions to round out the dinner—the cannoli and sesame bread from the bakery or the wine from the cellar.

Sunday gravy was more than just a big meal. In close-knit Italian-American homes, it was a virtual religion. The best Sunday gravy simmered on the stove for hours and the meats in the sauce became a symbol of plenty. Meat had been a rarity in the old country and, if there was any of it at all in a meal, it was usually pork. But in the U.S., immigrant women bought beef because they could. The long, slow cooking time was also a time for families to spend with each other, reinforcing ties that could withstand the harsh realities of the outside world.

When I was young, my mother would make Italian gravy every Sunday. She would start at dawn and work in the kitchen pretty much until dinner time, which was around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Not only did she prepare this sauce with meatballs, sausage, etc. for pasta, but she would also cook a pork roast or an eye of the round roast, vegetables and salad. In those days, my grandfather would come to dinner and bring Hershey chocolate bars, ice cream and a jug of homemade wine.

This tradition is time-consuming and quite a lot of work. Not the healthiest of meals, either, with all the meat and oil used in its preparation. I make tomato sauce with meatballs and sausage quite often but on a much smaller scale with a lot less fat and with healthier meat for the meatballs and I do the same for Sunday gravy. Just for the fun of it, I make Italian gravy once or twice a year. This time it is for the blog, so you can see just exactly what Sunday Gravy is all about.

Italian Gravy

The Meat

The Meat

The Sauce Ingredients

The Sauce Ingredients

Ingredients

Gravy

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound sweet Italian fennel sausage, cut into links
  • 11 to 12 ounces boneless pork ribs
  • Meatballs, recipe below
  • Braciole, recipe below
  • 3 (26-ounce) containers of Italian chopped tomatoes, without salt or sugar added
  • 2 (26-ounce) containers of Italian crushed tomatoes, without salt or sugar added
  • 2-6 ounce cans tomato paste
  • Water
  • 3 whole garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon each salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

Meatballs

  • 1 pound grass-fed ground beef
  • 1 pound pasture-raised ground pork
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup dried Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper

Braciole

  • 1 pound beef top round, flank steak or strip steak, pounded thin
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped shallots
  • 1/2 cup dried Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 large clove garlic chopped finely
  • 1/4 cup pignolis – toasted and chopped, optional
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • String (butcher’s twine) to secure the rolls

Pasta

  • 1 pound of pasta
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 7-8 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

To make the braciole:

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Lay the meat out on a board. Pound with a mallet to thin the meat. Cut the meat into 5-6” slices.

In a small bowl combine the olive oil, chopped parsley, shallots, bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, pignolis, if using, and salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the beef rolls. Fold in the sides over the filling of each roll. Roll up each slice and secure with kitchen string.

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To make the gravy:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil (for easy clean up) and coat them with olive oil cooking spray. Place the sausage links on one baking sheet. The second baking pan is for the meatballs.

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In a large, heavy pot over medium-low heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil and add the boneless pork ribs. Cook 4 to 5 minutes on each side or until browned all over. Place on a clean plate.

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Add the braciole rolls and brown them on all sides. Transfer to the plate with the pork and cover with foil to keep warm.

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Add the onion and garlic to the pot and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until softened. Add the tomato paste. Fill the empty paste cans with water and add to the pot. Stir into the onions and let cook for 2 or 3 minutes.

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Pour in all the tomatoes and fill one tomato container with water and add it to the pot. Add the seasonings (crushed red pepper – parsley), the pork ribs and the sausage. Bring to a boil; reduce to a low simmer and cook for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Add the cooked meatballs and braciole to the gravy after it has simmered for one hour. Simmer for an additional 3 to 4 hours (if you want it thick and rich). Stir in the fresh basil just before adding the gravy to the pasta.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in salted water until al dente. Once cooked, drain and add the gravy. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Serve the meat on a big platter, so diners can choose what they want.

To make the meatballs and sausage:

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Add the water to the bread crumbs, mix well and let sit for a few minutes. Place the meat in a large bowl. Add the onion, garlic, cheese and parsley to the meat. In a small bowl, beat the egg with the salt and pepper and add to the meat mixture. Add the moistened bread crumbs. Mix the ingredients with your hands until the consistency is moist and the meat holds together well. Using your hands, roll the meatballs into 1 1/2-inch balls.Two pounds of meat should make about 18 to 20 meatballs. Place the meatballs on the foil lined baking sheet.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until browned, turning them over after 10 minutes. Cover and keep warm.

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Place the pan of sausage links in the oven at the same time and bake the sausage until browned. Turn over halfway through baking. Add the sausage to the gravy when the pork ribs are added.

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park

Away from the rolling hills, sweeping vineyards and expanses of the sunflower fields inland, on the Tuscany coast facing Elba Island where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his time in exile, perched high above the Baratti Gulf is the walled town of Populonia. The Populonia Bay is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Italy, a perfect fusion of nature and history. The Baratti Gulf and the Populonia cape have always attracted inhabitants. Today this area is the site of the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia (close to Piombino, in the Livorno Province). The town sits next to the archeological park which contains the remains of a huge Etruscan settlement. The park tells the story of the Etruscans, a group of people who had an important impact on this territory.

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Populonia is especially known for the wealth of Etruscan archaeology in the area and an impressive collection of artifacts unearthed from the surrounding area, from tools to helmets, weapons, casks and jewellery. Positioned on the summit of a hill for safety reasons, the Etruscans constructed a necropolis at the base to house their dead dating from the late Iron Age (600 BC). Populonia, the only Etruscan town built over the sea, was composed of two different parts: Populonia Akron, the acropolis, the upper part, where there were the temples and the public buildings. Populonia Polis, the lower part, situated close to the Baratti Gulf contained the port, where the main economic and artisanal activities took place.

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The Etruscans were very enterprising and traded with many people from the East. Iron-work was the main economic activity of the Etruscan and Roman civilizations. This region also contained other precious metals, like copper. The Etruscans would sail from the Baratti Gulf to Elba Island, where they would transform the hematite into iron. Because of the region’s economic prosperity immigration increased: people from Spain, Sardinia, Campania and Corsica came to Populonia hoping for a new life. The Etruscans also created a mint: they needed coin for their commercial exchanges and to pay the soldiers who were protecting the area. The coins were made in silver and bronze.

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Many archaeologists tried to discover the remnants of the Etruscan civilization, but they couldn’t succeed due to the terrain The first discoveries were objects found in fishermen nets and at grave sites The Archaeological Park stretches over almost 200 acres between the slopes of the Piombino Mountains and the Gulf of Baratti. The Park includes a significant part of the ancient town of Populonia and is spread over a vast area, which enables visitors to appreciate the transformation that has taken place over the centuries.

The wooded coast overlooks the archipelago and the silhouettes of the islands, including Elba and Corsica, create a picturesque scenes. This is the landscape of the 8th-9th Century B.C., when important houses were built on the Acropolis to accommodate the aristocracies of Populonia. These houses are the remains of the summit of the acropolis and from the beach area on the Gulf of Baratti, one can view the remains of Populonia.

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A network of roads join the houses and temples to the industrial city and the cemeteries which lie on the first hills surrounding the inlet. As in ancient times, the routes follow the original roads, crossing the woods and the scrub areas and opening up to unexpected views over the Gulf of Baratti and the open sea. The deep wooded areas contain the remains of the Benedictine monastery of San Quirico that tell of a lost city and the natural resources and minerals that were once part of the region.

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Inside the park one can walk along three paths: the “Iron Route”, the “Quarries Route” and a naturalistic path. The “Iron Route” goes through the areas where the Etruscan ovens used to be. Then, going up the hills, the ruins of the industrial district can be seen. The “Quarries Route” is a path where the Etruscans used to extract the “panchina stone”, that was used to build Populonia.

Inside the park is an experimental archeological laboratory and a museum that includes vases, precious jewels, bronzes, coins and graphic reconstructions of Etruscan landscapes and activities.

The Etruscans

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The Italians in Central Italy today are descendants of the Etruscans. Not only that, but the Italian language has its roots in the Etruscan language. The Etruscans revered women, so women and men were on an equal footing. The men were clean-shaven and were primarily sailors and merchants. They were also good sportsmen, warriors and skilled farmers.

The Etruscan hillsides were abundant with olive groves and modern potters continue the practice of decorating their ceramics with olives and olive leaves.

The Etruscans grew crops beside the grapes and olives and grew barley, millet, broad beans, lentils, chickpeas and spelt. They also grew beans, peas, garlic and onions, figs, melons, apples and berries.

They kept livestock, especially pigs, chickens, ducks and goats and hunted game from the surrounding forests, such as rabbits, deer and boar. Fish were taken from the rivers and the seas and they were making pasta with the use of a rolling pin.

The Etruscans ate two meals a day, enjoyed holding banquets and made good wine. Their culture and civilization was influenced by the Greek culture and they, in turn, influenced the Roman culture and, in turn, the Tuscan culture, as we know it today.

Etruscan food traced from archaeological findings and frescoes depicts food that is still eaten today. They used herbs like rosemary to flavor their meats, honey to sweeten desserts and they had utensils such as saucepans, pans, graters, pots, colanders, goblets and pitchers and beautiful dining plates. They baked and cooked over open fires and produced a variety of breads, one of which is still eaten today – flat grape bread. Wine was plentiful and stored in terracotta jars underground. It was strong and often drunk watered down. Today you will still Italians who drink wine diluted in this way.

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Grape Flat Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds seedless black grapes

Directions

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of warm water. When the mixture foams, after 5 minutes, stir in a pinch of salt, 4 tablespoons of the sugar and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough that is not sticky.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 5-8 minutes until firm, smooth and elastic. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover it. Set the dough aside for about an hour to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a 9×13 baking pan. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and roll it out into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Enough dough should hang over the edge of the pan to completely cover the top when folded.

Transfer the dough to the baking pan. Spread 3/4 of the grapes over it, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Fold the overhanging dough up over the grapes, covering them completely. Press lightly to seal. Scatter the remaining grapes over the dough, drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Bake the bread until golden brown and the grapes are soft for about 45-60 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Green Sauce (Salsa Verde)

This Etruscans served this sauce over what is called bollito misto or mixed boiled meats.

Ingredients

  • 1 bundle of parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 1 tablespoons capers (in vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons of mixed pickled vegetables (in italy you will find carrots-cauliflower in the jar)
  • 2 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Directions

Boil the egg and mash it together with the other ingredients – the mixture you will obtain should be smooth and fine. (Use a processor)

Place it in a bowl – add salt, pepper and start pouring in  olive oil until you obtain a creamy sauce.

Before using the sauce, let it rest for some time so that all flavors can blend in.

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Peasant Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb italian sweet sausage, links
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, cleaned, rough chopped
  • 1 (14 1/2 ounce) cans chicken broth
  • 1 (14 1/2 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with basil oregano and garlic, undrained
  • 1 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Heat olive oil in heavy 4 quart sauce pan.

Cut sausage into 1/2 inch pieces.

Brown sausage in pan until no longer pink.

Add onion and garlic and stir until softened.

Add spinach, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, beans and red pepper.

Heat to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

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Etruscan Pici

Ingredients

For the pasta

  • 1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour, preferably Italian type 00
  • A generous 1 cup semolina  
  • Salt

For the sauce

  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 6 mint leaves
  • 1⁄2 – 2/3 cup olive oil
  • Grated pecorino cheese, for sprinkling
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

To make the pasta, mix together the flour, semolina and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Gradually mix in enough water to make a firm, elastic dough. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in a clean dish towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Chop the hard-boiled egg with the garlic, parsley, basil and mint, then transfer the mixture to a bowl. Gradually drizzle in enough oil to make a fairly liquid sauce.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Unwrap the pasta.Taking a small piece at a time, rub it back and forth on the work surface (counter) with your fingertips until it resembles thick spaghetti.

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil and cook and for 2–3 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain, add to the sauce and toss well.

Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with grated pecorino and serve immediately.

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Guinea Fowl in Porcini

Ingredients

  • 1 guinea fowl, cut into 4 pieces
  • 8 small sprigs sage
  • 8 small sprigs mint
  • 4 slices pancetta
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 5 1⁄2 cups porcini mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 mint leaves
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F

Stud the pieces of guinea fowl with the sage and mint sprigs and arrange a pancetta slice over each.

Pour 4 tablespoons of the olive oil into a casserole and add the guinea fowl. Roast in the oven for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a shallow pan with the garlic cloves.When the garlic begins to brown, remove with a slotted spoon and discard.

Add the mushrooms, mint leaves and tomatoes to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Remove the guinea fowl from the oven, add the pieces to the pan with the mushrooms and cook for 15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper and remove the pan from the heat.

Transfer the guinea fowl and mushrooms to a serving dish and serve immediately


lunchtime

The healthiest meals you can make are ones that you prepare from scratch using unprocessed foods. If you don’t have time to home-cook all of your meals, try to make healthy choices about the processed and prepared foods you do consume. Choosing baked or grilled foods over fried, drinking water instead of soda and sharing a dessert are just a few ways you can eat healthy while still eating well.

Choose ingredients located in the perimeter aisles of your grocery store, where the produce, fresh meats and unprocessed foods are typically located. Make healthy meals by forgoing prepared meals that come in boxes or frozen meals in bags, which all contain high amounts of preservatives and unhealthy salt that can contribute to high blood pressure. Refined grains lack the outer husk of the grain, which contains the health benefits of fiber that cleanses the intestines and creates a full feeling sensation during a meal. Choose brown rice instead of white and cook with whole oats, not instant.

Bake, braise, broil or grill meats, fish and poultry. These are healthier cooking methods because fats drain away from the foods while they are cooking. Low fat dairy products help decrease your risk of high cholesterol and weight gain because you will consume less animal fat.

Consume less food when eating out by splitting your entrée with a friend or taking a portion of the dinner home and look for foods that haven’t been fried. Choose lower fat options when available. Lunchtime is probably one of the least healthiest meals, if you buy your lunch. Fast food is an expensive but convenient option that often comes with a side of guilt. One in every four Americans eats fast food at least once a day. Unfortunately, many fast food meals contain a whole day’s worth of calories and fat all in one meal. When you consider the benefits that come from taking your lunch to work or preparing lunch at home with fresh ingredients, the prospect of making your own lunch quickly becomes more appetizing. Here are some ideas for appealing and healthy lunches that can be made ahead and warmed at work or at home in the microwave. Add your favorite seasonal fruit, a bottle of water and you are all set.

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Focaccia Pizza Sandwiches

This sandwich can also be layered with sliced fresh tomatoes and pesto instead of marinara sauce and pepperoni.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup prepared or homemade marinara sauce
  • 2 (4-inch) squares focaccia, halved horizontally
  • 2 tablespoons sliced pitted black olives
  • 1 ounce sliced uncured (such as Applegate Farms) pepperoni, ham or prosciutto
  • 4 slices part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 6 small leaves basil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place focaccia bottoms on a baking pan. Spread marinara sauce on one side of each of the 2 bottom pieces of focaccia. Top the sauce with olives, pepperoni or other meats and the mozzarella cheese. Arrange the focaccia tops next to the bottoms on the baking sheet.

Bake until cheese is just melted, pepperoni is warmed through and focaccia is crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to plates, top bottom halves with basil, add focaccia tops and serve.

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Meatball Pitas

Serves 4

Savory beef meatballs makes this a satisfying sandwich for lunch or a light dinner. Adding bread soaked in milk to the meat mixture keeps meatballs moist and tender. This recipe uses some of the pita tops for just that purpose.

Ingredients

  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 4 whole grain pita breads
  • 1/2 cup low-fat milk
  • 3/4 pound lean ground beef or your favorite ground meat
  • 3 tablespoons finely minced onion
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1 cup finely sliced romaine lettuce

Yogurt Sauce

  • 3/4 (6-ounce) cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Spray olive oil on a medium baking sheet.

Cut the top third off the pitas. Tear 2 of the tops into pieces with your fingers and place the pieces in a small bowl; save the remaining 2 pita tops for another use. Add milk to the bowl and let the bread soak until very soft, about 15 minutes.

Combine beef, onion, oregano, cayenne, pepper and the 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. With your hands, gently squeeze excess milk from pita tops; add the bread to the bowl with the meat; discard milk. Mix with your hands or a rubber spatula until well combined. Form the mixture into 16 balls, each about the size of a ping-pong ball. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake, shaking the pan once or twice, until the meatballs are browned and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine yogurt, cucumber and lemon juice in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill each pita with tomato, lettuce and 4 meatballs. Spoon yogurt sauce on top.

lunchtime2

Quick Italian Spinach and Pasta Soup

Serves 4

This soup is simply made from pantry staples including vegetable or chicken broth, diced tomatoes, canned beans and dried pasta. Look in the freezer section of your store for some frozen spinach or other favorite vegetables to add.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic, minced
  • 2 cups dried pasta (any shape), cooked according to package instructions
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 (15-ounce) can no-salt-added kidney or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced Italian tomatoes
  • Salt, pepper and Italian seasoning, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces frozen or 4 cups fresh spinach
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Directions

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add olive oil and saute garlic for a minute.

Add broth and bring to a boil. Add beans, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and lower to a simmer. Add spinach and cook until softened and bright green.

Place pasta (about 1 cup per serving) into soup bowls, ladle soup over the top and garnish with Parmesan cheese..

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Leftover Frittata

A frittata is the savvy cook’s solution for leftovers.

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups chopped cooked vegetables and/or meat (asparagus, onion, ham, potatoes, spinach, sausage, chopped bell pepper etc.)
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese – any kind you like
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil or chives
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, beat eggs and stir in vegetables and/or meat, herbs and salt and pepper, if needed. Reserve the cheese.

Heat a 10-inch ovenproof skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add oil and carefully swirl around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the skillet.

Add egg mixture, spread out evenly and cook, without stirring, until the edges and bottom are set and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. (Carefully loosen an edge to peek.)

Sprinkle the cheese on top and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the eggs are completely set and the frittata is deep golden brown on the bottom, about 15 minutes more.

Remove the skillet from the oven. (The handle will be hot!)

Loosenthe  edges and bottom of the frittata with a table knife and spatula; carefully slide onto a large plate. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold, cut into wedges.

lunchtime5

Italian Tuna Salad

Servings: 2

Ingredients

Salad

  • 1 can (5 oz) Tonno (tuna) in 0live oil, drained and oil reserved for use in the vinaigrette
  • 3 tablespoons canned garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons canned white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup cooked cut fresh green beans
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • 2 cups mixed salad greens
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil leaves

White Balsamic Vinaigrette

  • 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (or vinegar of choice)
  • 3 tablespoons oil (combine tuna oil and olive oil to make 3 tablespoons)
  • Juice of half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Prepare Balsamic Vinaigrette:

In a small bowl, combine vinegar, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Set aside. (Stir vinaigrette mixture later before pouring on the salad.)

Prepare the Salad:

In a medium bowl, combine garbanzo beans, white beans, green beans, tomatoes, salt, pepper and half of the vinaigrette, stir gently.

In a separate bowl, toss salad greens with the remainder of the vinaigrette.  Divide the tossed salad greens between two salad plates and top each plate with an equal portion of the bean mixture. Divide the tuna in half and add to the top of the bean mixture. Garnish with fresh basil leaves. Serve with your favorite bread.



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