Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are versatile, easy to prepare and naturally lower in fat and calories than many other meat options. By itself, though, chicken can be quite boring. Baked, grilled or roasted chicken is probably a regular part of your dinner rotation. So you’ll need some great side dishes for that chicken to bring some excitement to your plate.
Chicken Breasts with Herbs
Using a variety of herbs brings great flavor to chicken breasts.
- 2/3 cup chopped Italian (flat leaf) parsley
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
- 3 tablespoons finely shredded lemon peel
- 3 large cloves finely chopped garlic
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
In small bowl stir together parsley, oregano, lemon peel and garlic. Set aside. Season chicken with salt and pepper.
In a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat cook chicken in butter for 6 minutes or until browned, turning once. Transfer to plate.
Remove skillet from the heat; stir in half the herb mixture. Return to the heat. Add broth; bring to boiling, stirring to scrape up browned bits.
Return chicken to the skillet; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, 8 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink.
Pour the pan sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with the remaining herb mixture.
Make a new dish by changing the sauce:
In place of the chicken broth above add 1/2 cup white wine and 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard. Continue with the recipe above.
Mushrooms and Sage
Brown 8 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms in the pan after the chicken is removed. Add the chicken broth and 3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage instead of the oregano. Continue with the recipe above.
Turn the heat up after removing the chicken and add 2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes (about 12 oz.). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to burst, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients to the pan. Crush the tomatoes slightly to release their juices and continue with the recipe above.
Baked Onions with Fennel Crumbs
- 3 medium red or sweet onions, peeled and cut in half, root ends left intact but trimmed so they lay flat
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
- Kosher salt
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 cup panko crumbs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh minced sage
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush the onion halves with olive oil, season with salt and arrange cut side down in an ovenproof medium skillet. Add the chicken stock and scatter the bay leaves around the onions. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 1 1/2 hours, until the onions are very tender.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the fennel seeds over moderate heat, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and let cool, then coarsely crush the seeds. Transfer to a small bowl, add the panko crumbs, sage and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss and season with salt.
Carefully turn the onions cut side up in the skillet. Spoon the bread crumb mixture on top and bake for about 15 minutes longer, until the crumbs are lightly browned and crisp. Discard the bay leaves and serve the onions hot or warm.
Fresh Corn and Squash Saute
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 small white onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 3 small zucchini, diced
- 3 ears corn, husks and silk removed
- Sea salt to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Shredded fresh basil leaves, for garnish
- Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic and onion and stir onion until translucent, about 5 minutes. Cut kernels from the ears of corn. Add zucchini and corn; cook and stir until the vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add shredded basil and grated cheese to taste.
Green Bean and Vegetable Medley
- 1/2 pound fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
- 2 carrots, cut into thick strips
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 onion, sliced
- 1 pound fresh cremini mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Place green beans and carrots in 1 inch of boiling water. Cover and cook until tender but still firm. Drain.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Saute garlic, onions and mushrooms until almost tender.
Reduce heat, cover and simmer 3 minutes. Stir in green beans, carrots, salt, herbs and white pepper. Cover and cook for 5 minutes over medium heat.
Au Gratin Potatoes
- 4 large russet potatoes, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups milk
- 1 1/2 cups good quality shredded white or yellow cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Butter a 2 quart casserole dish.
Layer 1/2 of the potatoes into the bottom of the prepared casserole dish. sprinkle with salt and pepper. Top with the onion and add the remaining potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
In a medium-size saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Mix in the flour and salt and stir constantly with a whisk for one minute. Stir in milk very slowly. Cook until the mixture has thickened.
Stir in cheese all at once and continue stirring until melted, about 30 to 60 seconds. Pour cheese sauce over the potatoes. Cover the dish with aluminum foil with the side facing the potatoes sprayed with cooking spray.
Bake 1 hour and 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Remove foil and bake for 20 minutes more.
Penne with Broccoli and Ricotta
- 8 oz penne or other short pasta
- 4 cups broccoli florets
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup ricotta cheese, room temperature
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add penne and cook 2 minutes less than the package instructions for al dente; add broccoli. Cook 2 minutes or until penne is al dente and broccoli is bright green.
Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, drain pasta and broccoli; set aside.
In the same pan, heat oil over medium. Add onion and garlic; cook, stirring constantly, until onion is tender and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved pasta water to help loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
Add penne and broccoli and cook until warmed through; season with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta mixture to a serving dish and mix in the ricotta cheese. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.
It can be challenging to serve eggs when you are entertaining house guests. A simple solution is to bake them. Eggs baked in the oven are delicious and offer an alternative to your usual sunny side up or over-easy preparations. You can bake them in individual dishes or in a baking dish and you can add whatever ingredients you like. Additions well suited to eggs are spinach, tomatoes, asparagus, cheese, prosciutto or ham and lots of herbs.
I like baking them in a tomato sauce to make a hardier, meatless entrée and, then, serve them with some delicious sides to make a satisfying lunch or dinner. Serve this meal with some really good crusty Italian bread.
Baked Eggs in Tomato Sauce
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon crushed dried rosemary
- 2 cans (15 ounces each) diced tomatoes in juice
- 1 can (15 ounces) crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- Coarse salt and ground pepper
- 8 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Set four 12-ounce ovenproof bowls or ramekins on a large rimmed baking sheet.
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium. Add garlic and rosemary; cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes (with juice), crushed tomatoes and Italian seasoning; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 2 to 4 minutes. Season tomato sauce with salt and pepper.
Divide tomato sauce among the bowls, reserving 1 cup. Crack 2 eggs into each bowl.
Dividing evenly, top each dish with ¼ cup reserved sauce and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.
Bake until egg whites are just opaque (yolks should still be soft), 24 to 28 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through.
- 3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- 3 medium leeks–white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
- 3 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the potatoes and 1 teaspoon of the salt and cook until a paring knife easily slips into the center of a potato, 15 – 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them cool. Dice the potatoes and place in a bowl.
In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the butter, the black pepper and red pepper flakes, swirling the pan until the butter is melted. Stir in the leeks and cook, stirring often, until the leeks are browned and crisp around the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer the leek mixture to the bowl with the potatoes. Add the oregano and use a fork to stir the mixture until combined, (don’t overmix).
In the same skillet, add 2 tablespoons of butter. Once the butter is melted, let it brown, swirling often, about 1 minute. Add the potato mixture and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, spreading it out into an even layer in the pan. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the bottoms of the potatoes are crisp and browned, about 4 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and sprinkle with the chives. Serve alongside the baked eggs.
Makes 2 cups of sauce
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour
- 2 cups hot whole milk
- Fine sea salt to taste
- Grinding coarse black pepper
- 2 one pound packages fresh spinach, washed and stemmed
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
For the sauce
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour to make a smooth paste. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook the mixture over medium heat until it thickens on the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 degree F.
Cook the spinach in a large pot without any additional water. When it is wilted, drain it and squeeze it dry. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, add the garlic and the spinach and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup of the besciamella sauce and transfer the mixture to a baking dish.
Spoon the remaining sauce over the top of the spinach and sprinkle the top with the cheese.
Bake about 15 minutes or until the mixture is hot. Serve as a side to the baked eggs.
Pasta with Sautéed Mushrooms
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms
- 1/2 lemon
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 pound tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta
- Splash white wine
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Submerge the mushrooms in cold water, swish around to wash thoroughly and drain. Trim the ends, slice and place in a large bowl. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the mushrooms and mix.
Place the garlic and olive oil in a large skillet. Heat over medium-high heat until the garlic begins to sizzle but not brown, about 30 seconds. Add the mushrooms, stir and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes.
Remove the lid, add the salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until all moisture is evaporated and the mushrooms begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the parsley.
While mushrooms are cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil for the tagliatelle pasta. When the water has come to a boil, add salt and the pasta.
While the pasta is cooking, add a splash of white wine to the mushrooms and let simmer for 1 minute. Add cream and grated cheese and bring to a simmer. Remove pan from the heat.
When pasta is al dente, add to the pan of mushrooms and stir. Serve with the baked eggs.
When making this recipe to go with the baked eggs, cook the asparagus first. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from the oven and cover the pan with heavy-duty foil. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees F and bake the eggs.
- 1 ½ pounds fresh asparagus spears
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Snap off and discard woody bases from asparagus. Place asparagus and garlic in a 15x10x1-inch baking pan. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat.
Roast for 10 to 15 minutes or until asparagus are crisp-tender, stirring once halfway through roasting. Serve with the baked eggs.
Italian Green Bean Salad
- 1-1/2 pounds (675 grams) flat Italian-style green beans or regular green beans, ends trimmed
- Kosher salt
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste
- 6 garlic cloves, each cut into 3 or 4 pieces
- Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the beans and 1 tablespoon salt. Boil until the beans are tender, with no crunch, 8 minutes. Drain in a colander but do not rinse. Let the beans cool and air dry in the colander.
Transfer the beans to a serving bowl and toss with the olive oil, vinegar and garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes to allow the beans to absorb the flavors. Serve at room temperature.
For an easy and economical alternative to fresh fish, consider canned fish. There are advantages in using canned fish: safety, hygiene, nutrition and flavor. Moreover, in the kitchen, canned fish is ideal for making salads, pasta and rice dishes and appetizers
Skipjack and albacore are good varieties to buy. Wild Planet brand is sustainably pole-and-line-caught. Mix it into a salad with fresh chard and white beans; use it for fish tacos; stuff it in tomatoes.
Look for sockeye or the milder pink variety. The small pin bones are often cooked with the fish, adding extra calcium. Make salmon burgers or fish cakes; put it in a creamy chowder; try it smoked—Patagonia sells pouches that are perfect for hiking and camping.
These tiny fish have a bold taste and are dense with omega-3 oils. Bela brand offers them smoked in different flavors. Add to an antipasto platter; top crostini; delicious grilled.
Small and salty, they’re not just for Caesar dressing—toss on Puttanesca pasta sauce; stir into fish stew; wrap around olives.
While there are many subcategories and fine distinctions in the area of canned crabmeat, there are a few main categories. Knowing these will help you save money when deciding what type of crab meat to purchase for the meal you’re planning.
Lump crabmeat is best for fancy, impressive-looking dishes where appearance matters, like Butter-poached Crab, Crab Cakes or Crab Louis, where you want big chunks that will hold together with minimal binders.
Backfin grade is made up of smaller, broken chunks of lump crabmeat mixed in with flakes of white body meat. It’s less expensive than lump crab meat. Good for salads and pasta dishes.
Claw Crabmeat is the least expensive and most flavorful grade. It is pinkish-brown rather than white and has a hearty crab flavor that doesn’t get lost under seasonings. Great for soups, crab meat stuffing, tacos, stir-frys, etc.
While overfishing has been an issue for some species that find their way to the market, that’s not the case with clams. Harvesting of both the Atlantic surf clam, also called the sea clam, and the ocean quahog have been well within the quotas, according to statistics from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Minced and chopped clams are good in chowders and pasta dishes.
Crabmeat Artichoke Appetizer
- 1 can(6 oz) Lump Crabmeat, drained
- 1 can (13.75 oz.) artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
- 1/3 cup light mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup nonfat plain yogurt
- ½ teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
- ½ cup shredded Italian Fontina cheese
Place the drained crabmeat in a glass bowl and cover with cold milk. Set aside for 10 minutes. Drain well. (This technique gives canned fish a fresh taste.)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a 1 1/2 quart baking dish, combine crab, artichoke, mayonnaise, yogurt and seasoning. Sprinkle with cheese.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until hot. Serve with crackers or sliced baguette.
Artichokes with Bagna Cauda
Makes 6 servings
- 3 heads of garlic, cloves separated, papery skin removed (but cloves left unpeeled)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 2-ounce tin anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 large artichokes, stems trimmed, top 3/4 inch removed, tips of remaining leaves trimmed
Place unpeeled garlic cloves in small saucepan. Add enough water to cover garlic cloves by 1 inch. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until garlic is tender, about 25 minutes. Drain; transfer to plate. Chill garlic cloves until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Squeeze garlic cloves from their peels and place cloves in a small bowl. Using fork, mash garlic cloves until smooth.
Melt butter in heavy small saucepan over medium heat. Add anchovies and sauté 1 minute. Add mashed garlic and olive oil. Simmer over low heat 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 hour ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm before serving, stirring occasionally (bagna cauda will separate when served).
Add artichokes to large pot of boiling salted water. Cover and cook until just tender when pierced through stem with fork, turning occasionally, 30 to 40 minutes, depending on their size. Drain.
Place 1 hot artichoke on each of 6 plates. Divide bagna cauda among small bowls or ramekins. Serve artichokes with warm bagna cauda. Pull a leaf off the artichoke and dip it into the sauce.
To separate garlic cloves quickly, place the head of garlic on a work surface, then push against the top or bottom of the head of garlic with the palm of your hand.
Use kitchen scissors to cut off the tips of pointed artichoke leaves.
Spinach Salad with Sardines and Crispy Prosciutto
- 1 lemon, zested, plus 3 tablespoons juice
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, torn into 3-inch pieces
- 8 cups baby spinach (6 oz)
- 1 can (4.25 ounces) sardines, packed in olive oil, drained
- 2 tablespoons freshly minced chives
Whisk the lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of the oil in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and stir in raisins.
Heat oven to 400 degrees F. On a rimmed baking sheet, arrange prosciutto in a single layer and brush with remaining tablespoon of oil. Bake, rotating halfway through, until crisp and deep golden brown, about 9 minutes.
Arrange spinach on a platter and top with sardines, prosciutto, lemon zest and chives. Drizzle with dressing and adjust seasoning as necessary.
- 3 cans or pouches (5 oz) tuna, drained and flaked
- 2 cans (14-1/2 oz. each) chicken broth plus water to equal 4 cups
- 1 can (14-1/2 oz.) ready-cut Italian-style tomatoes, undrained
- 1 can (15-1/4 oz.) kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon Italian dried herb seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
- 1/2 cup dry small shell pasta
- 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables (zucchini, carrots, cauliflower, Italian green beans, etc.)
- 3 cups fresh romaine lettuce cut crosswise in 1-inch strips
- ½ cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
In a 4-quart saucepan, combine chicken broth mixture, tomatoes with liquid, kidney beans, tomato paste, herb seasoning, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and frozen vegetables; simmer 8 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in tuna and romaine. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.
Salmon and Potato Gratin
- 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cleaned and unpeeled
- 1 cup parmesan cheese
- 1 pound canned salmon, boneless, drained
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the baking dish
- 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 375° F.
Grease a 12 inch oval baking dish or a 9 x 13 inch rectangular baking dish with butter.
Cut the potatoes crosswise in 1/4 inch slices.
Layer 1/2 of the potatoes on the bottom of the dish in concentric circles. Sprinkle with 1/2 the cheese. Sprinkle with salmon and thyme. Layer remaining potatoes on top. Season potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle remaining cheese.
In a medium bowl combine cornstarch, milk, Dijon mustard and cayenne pepper. Pour the mixture evenly over the potatoes.
Cut butter into pieces and dot over the top.
Bake until potatoes are tender and the top is golden, about 1 hour. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.
Linguine with Clam Sauce
- 1 pound linguine
- 2 cans (6.5 oz) minced clams with liquid drained – reserve the liquid. I like the Bar Harbor brand.
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley, divided
- Freshly ground black pepper and Kosher salt to taste
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
Cook linguine in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain.
In a large deep skillet add the oil, garlic, crushed red pepper and the drained clams. Cook on low about 2 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil.
Turn the heat down to very low and stir in the reserved clam liquid and the parsley.
Remove from heat and add the cooked pasta. Mix well and serve.
In 1882 a group of 11 Italians came to the United States from Roseto, Italy and found work in an area of Pennsylvania that later become known as the town of Roseto. Relatives of these immigrants followed and settled in the same area. By the early 1900s the town was flourishing and a near exact replica of the Roseto, Italy they had left behind. And that was how it remained for years.
By the 1950s the town was bustling with activity. The residents kept to themselves creating an Italian village similar to one in the “Old Country”. However, they didn’t necessarily stick to the “old world” style of cooking and eating. The light flatbread pizza of their homeland was exchanged for heavy bread and cheese. Sausage, meatballs and pasta were a normal dinner, biscotti and other sweets became daily treats and there was always wine.
A physician and University Professor named Stewart Wolf discovered Roseto. Wolf became interested in the townsfolk when he noticed that despite their diets and struggles with obesity, no one really seemed to get sick. He conducted a study of the residents and looked at the incidence of heart disease and heart attack fatalities. He and his team took EKGs of everyone, did blood tests, collected death certificates from decades into the past and conducted exhaustive interviews with the residents.
What he found was astounding. Virtually no one in the town of Rosetto died under the age of 55 from heart disease or heart attack. And the incidences of death from heart disease in men older than 65 was nearly half that of the national averages. In fact, deaths of all causes were 30%-35% lower than expected. There was virtually no alcoholism, no suicide, no drug addiction, no one on welfare and crime was practically nonexistent. There were also no occurrences of peptic ulcers or other stress related problems. The only real consistent cause of death appeared to be old age.
Researchers were baffled. How did this town of sausage eating, wine drinking, overweight and happy Italians manage to escape the ill-health fate of the rest of the country? The researchers came to realize that the people of Roseto were not only very social, but very kind. They stopped in the streets and talked. They had each other over for dinner. Three generations of family lived under the same roof. They laughed a lot. Everyone knew and respected each other, especially their elders. Thus, the town of Roseto illustrated the importance of feeling good about life.
Italian American Lasagna
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 1/2 cups Italian tomatoes, crushed
- 12 whole fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 16 oz ricotta cheese
- 5 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano shredded
- 4 oz Italian style dried bread crumbs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 sprigs Italian parsley finely chopped
For the lasagna
- 1 lb ground beef
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- Olive oil
- 12 whole lasagna either oven-ready or parboiled
- 10 oz mozzarella, shredded
- 5 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, shredded
For the sauce:
Combine the garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, basil leaves, salt and pepper in a medium saucepan and simmer until the sauce thickens, 20 to 30 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering, mix the ricotta, Parmigiano, bread crumbs, salt and parsley for the filling and set aside.
Brown the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Coat a large roasting pan or lasagna pan with olive oil.
Assemble the lasagna as follows (bottom to top): mozzarella, thin layer of sauce, layer of pasta, Parmigiano, ricotta cheese filling, mozzarella, meat, thin layer of sauce and layer of pasta.
Bake for one hour, covered with foil. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Slice into squares and serve.
Newark, New Jersey
In its heyday, Seventh Avenue in Newark was one of the largest “Little Italies” in the U.S. with a population of 30,000, in an area of less than a square mile. The center of life in the neighborhood was St. Lucy’s Church, founded by Italian immigrants in 1891. Throughout the year, St. Lucy’s and other churches sponsored processions in honor of saints that became community events. The most famous procession was the Feast of St. Gerard, but there were also great feasts for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, Our Lady of Snow, the Assumption and St. Rocco.
Joe DiMaggio loved the restaurants of Seventh Avenue so much that he would take the New York Yankees to Newark to show them “real Italian food”. Frank Sinatra had bread from Giordano’s Bakery sent to him every week until his death, no matter where in the world he was. New York Yankees catcher, Rick Cerone, also grew up in the First Ward. One of the nation’s largest Italian newspapers, The Italian Tribune, was founded on Seventh Avenue. Seventh Avenue produced stars, such as Joe Pesci and Frankie Valli of the Four Seasons. Congressman Peter Rodino, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment proceedings against Richard Nixon, was a native of the First Ward as well.
Seventh Avenue was devastated by urban renewal efforts during the 1950s. Eighth Avenue was obliterated by the city council, scattering the Italian American residents. Most businesses never recovered. The construction of Interstate 280 also served to cut the neighborhood off from the rest of the city. Following these events some of the First Ward’s Italians stayed in the neighborhood, while others migrated to other Newark neighborhoods, such as Broadway, Roseville and the Ironbound section.
The Belmont, founded in the 1920s, moved to its current location on Bloomfield Ave. in 1965. Chef Stretch has passed away, but his Chicken Savoy recipe is still a popular menu item. Celebrity spottings are not uncommon. Clint Eastwood bought the cast of his movie, Jersey Boys there while they were filming in NJ.
Stretch’s Chicken Savoy
Serves 3 or 4
This is a restaurant recipe and you must keep the chicken pieces well-separated in the pan. If the pan is crowded, the chicken will not brown because too much liquid will accumulate. In a restaurant kitchen, the oven goes to 700 degrees F or more, which means the juices evaporate before they have a chance to accumulate. For years the recipe was a family secret and Stretch’s daughter Annette, pulled the old, “If I tell you, then we’d have to kill you” line when Saveur Magazine came calling for the recipe.
- 2 1/2- to 3-pound chicken, cut into 6 pieces (two drumsticks, two thighs, two breasts with wings)
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 6 to 8 teaspoons grated Locatelli or other Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar (preferably 7% acidity)
In a 10 1/2-inch cast iron skillet or other heavy, oven-proof pan, arrange the chicken pieces so that they do not touch each other, skin side down.
Sprinkle the chicken with garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and grated cheese, in that order.
Place chicken in a preheated 500-degree F oven for 35 minutes.
Remove from the oven and pour on all the vinegar at once. It should sizzle.
Return the chicken to the oven for another minute or so.
Arrange chicken on a platter and pour the vinegar sauce over the chicken. Serve immediately.
The “Little Italy” of Baltimore is located close to the Inner Harbor area and Fells Point, newly renovated and very popular for its great restaurants. This neighborhood has been occupied by Italians since the 1890’s and still retains a large Italian community. During the warm months, the neighborhood is home to bocce games and open-air film festivals. “Little Italy” is the end point for the nation’s oldest Columbus Day parade, celebrated since 1890 and hosted by the Italian American community. In June, Baltimore’s “Little Italy” celebrates the Feast of Saint Anthony and the Feast of Saint Gabriel in August.
In 1953, Giovanna Aquia, along with her father Pasquale, her mother Rosa and her little brother Salvatore (Sammy) embarked on a journey that would forever change their lives. The family boarded the famous Italian luxury liner the “Andrea Doria” and made their way to America from Cefalu, Sicily. They entered the U.S. via NYC and arrived to their final destination in Baltimore on June 23, 1953. Giovanna likes to say, “At a time when no one liked to move around, our family traveled 3500 miles and we haven’t moved 200 feet since.”
Giovanna goes on to say that ” family life always revolved around the dinner table. It was there that a great appreciation of simple Sicilian cuisine became rooted in them. Their house was always open to friends and family. On Sundays and holidays, Nonna Rosa, would cook up a feast. We all just sat together, enjoyed each other and talked and laughed while we were feeding their faces. Our family is the only family with 4 generations still living in Little Italy.”
It was the desire to share their Sicilian heritage and Sicilian cuisine that prompted the family to buy an older neighborhood diner and create a warm, comfortable family ristoranté in “Little Italy”, called Café Gia Ristoranté. “We strived very hard to recreate a Sicilian bistro, a place where one feels like they are in Sicily while dining,” she said. “Our walls are embraced with hand painted colorful murals, our tables are also topped off with great hand painted murals. The exterior echoes an old Sicilian bistro and we have created a little bit of Italy with fresh, delicious Italian food and friendly, family service.”
Insalata di Mare Calda
Chef Gia Daniella
“Growing up, Christmas Eve was a big deal at my house,” says Chef Gia Daniella, the owner of Cafe Gia Ristorante in Little Italy. That night, her family hosted the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a grand seafood meal with Italian roots. “We always entertained and had a spread of seafood and side dishes — all Italian and Italian-American,” she recalls. “My mother is from Italy — Sicily,” she explains. “The Seven Seafoods is actually a regional tradition in the south.” The mixed seafood salad was always one of Gia’s favorite Christmas Eve dishes. The recipe below is served warm but is equally appealing when chilled, she says. And best enjoyed when surrounded by loved ones.
For the salad:
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 lemons
- 1 pound medium shrimp, peeled, cleaned and deveined
- 1 pound calamari, cleaned and cut into rings
- 1 pound clams, cleaned
- 1 pound mussels, cleaned and debearded
- 1 ½ cups celery, finely chopped
- 4 cups arugula
- Chopped roasted red peppers for garnish
For the dressing:
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup chopped Italian parsley
- ½ cup capers
- Salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, combine 3 cups of water, bay leaves and crushed garlic.
Slice the lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the pot, then place the lemon rind in the pot.
Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low.
Add the shrimp to the pot for two minutes, then remove with a strainer and set aside in a bowl.
Add the calamari to the water for 1 ½ minutes. Remove with a strainer and add to the bowl with the shrimp.
Add the clams and mussels to the pot and cook until their shells open, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a strainer and combine with the shrimp and calamari.
Add the chopped celery. Add a dash of salt and pepper to taste and gently fold.
To make the dressing:
In a processor combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and capers and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Gently toss the seafood with the dressing. Add another dash or two of salt and pepper. Garnish with roasted red peppers.
For an attractive presentation, serve over fresh arugula.
Around the turn of the 20th century, the eastern side of Judiciary Square became an enclave of Italian immigrants in Washington; the equivalent of a Little Italy. The Italian neighborhood rested on the eastern edge of the square, stretching eastward to about 2nd Street NW. The heart of the community was Holy Rosary Church, a chapel built at 3rd and F Streets NW. It was a government town without mills, factories or a commercial port and there were fewer opportunities for unskilled laborers without language skills to support themselves. Instead, the area drew smaller numbers of skilled immigrants, such as the construction workers, artists and tradesmen, who labored on the government buildings erected in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The neighborhood grew throughout the 20th century, with an increased surge of Italian immigrants in the 1950s and 60s. However, the construction of Interstate 395 through the city in the 1970s razed about half of the neighborhood and forced its remaining residents to move away. Today, the former Italian enclave is dominated by Federal office buildings and law offices. The Holy Rosary Church remains standing, though, and continues to draw a heavily Italian congregation, along with its “Casa Italia” cultural center next door. Casa Italiana offers classes on cinema, literature, cuisine, wine tasting and majolica, the ancient Italian art of ceramic pottery, Visitors can still hear a Catholic Mass in Italian every Sunday at Holy Rosary.
Campono Meatball Subs
What sets a great meatball sub apart from all the others is the quality of its ingredients. Campono’s popular sandwich is made with ricotta cheese in the meatball mixture and made in-house mozzarella and marinara sauce for the sandwich. The meatballs are neither too firm nor so tender that they fall apart.
FOR THE MEATBALLS
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for your hands
- 1 small onion, cut into small dice
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 8 slices white/country bread, crusts removed, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 pounds ground veal
- 2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork shoulder (butt)
- 8 ounces finely chopped or ground prosciutto
- 1 cup freshly grated pecorino-Romano cheese
- 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 6 large eggs
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 cups “00” flour, for dusting
FOR THE SAUCE
- 28 ounces canned whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Kosher or sea salt to taste
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- A few fresh basil leaves
- 6 sub rolls, partially split
- 12 thin slices good-quality mozzarella cheese
- 6 slices deli provolone cheese
For the meatballs:
Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion, garlic, dried oregano and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook just until the onion and garlic have softened but not browned; transfer to a very large mixing bowl.
Combine the bread pieces and milk in a medium bowl; let the mixture sit for a few minutes so the milk is completely absorbed.
Add to the large bowl with the onions, the ground veal, ground beef, ground pork shoulder, prosciutto, pecorino-Romano, ricotta, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper and the soaked bread pieces; use clean hands to blend the mixture until well incorporated.
Position oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 450 degrees F. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the “00” flour in a wide, shallow bowl.
Grease your hands with a little oil. Form the meatball mixture into 65 meatballs of equal size (the size of shell-on walnuts). Coat each one lightly with “00” flour, dividing them between two parchment-paper-lined rimmed baking sheets. Roast on the upper and lower racks for 10 to 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until the meatballs are browned and cooked through. Discard any remaining flour.
For the sauce:
Use a food mill to puree the tomatoes. Discard the seeds; reserve the drained juices for another use, if desired.
Heat the extra-virgin olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the garlic, dried oregano, crushed red pepper flakes and dried oregano. Cook just until the garlic starts to brown, then stir in the tomato puree. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes then taste, and season lightly with kosher or sea salt and cracked black pepper. Stir in 6 to 8 basil leaves. Turn off the heat. Transfer 30 of the meatballs to the saucepan, turning them until coated. Cool and freeze the remaining meatballs for another time.
When ready to assemble, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Open the sub rolls, keeping the halves partially attached and laying them on two rimmed baking sheets. Tear out some of the inside bread to create room for the meatballs. Spread a tablespoon or two of the marinara sauce over both halves of each open-faced roll; toast in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes; keep the oven on.
Line each sub roll with the mozzarella and provolone slices, overlapping and/or tearing the slices so the inside roll surfaces are covered. Place 5 sauced meatballs at the center of each sub roll; return to the oven just until the cheese melts.
Close each sandwich and cut crosswise in half. Serve hot.
*View Recipes From America’s Italian Communities: Part 1 here .
The region of Abruzzo is hilly and mountainous and stretches from the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea. In this part of the Adriatic, the long sandy beaches are replaced by steep and rocky coasts. L’Aquila is the regional capital. Pescara, Chieti and Teramo are other important cities.
Abruzzo boasts the title of “Greenest Region in Europe” thanks to one third of its territory, the largest in Europe, being set aside as national parks and protected nature reserves. In the region there are three national parks, one regional park and 38 protected nature reserves. These ensure the survival of 75% of all of Europe’s living species and are also home to some rare species, such as the small wading dotterel, golden eagle, Abruzzo chamois, Apennine wolf and Marsican brown bear. Abruzzo is also home to Calderone, Europe’s southernmost glacier.
The Abruzzo region has two types of climate: the first is strongly influenced by the presence of Abruzzo’s Apennines range. Coastal areas have a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and mild winters, rainy hills and a climate where temperatures progressively decrease with increasing altitude. Precipitation is also strongly affected by the presence of the Apennines mountain ridges with increased rain on the slopes of the mountains in the region.
Until a few decades ago, Abruzzo was a region of poverty in Southern Italy. Since the 1950s, Abruzzo has had steady economic growth. In 1951, the Abruzzo per capita income or GDP was 53% of that of Northern Italy, the nation’s richest region. By 1971, Abruzzo was at 65% and, by 1994, the per capita income was at 76% of Northern Italy’s per capita income, giving Abruzzo the highest per capita GDP of Southern Italy and surpassing the growth of every other region in Italy. The construction of superhighways from Rome to Teramo (A24) and Rome to Pescara (A25) opened Abruzzo to easy access. Abruzzo also attained higher per capita education levels and greater productivity growth than the rest of the South.
The 2009 L’Aquila earthquake led to a sharp economic slowdown. However, according to statistics at the end of 2010, it seems that the economy of Abruzzo is recovering, despite the negative data regarding employment. At the end of 2010, Abruzzo’s growth was placed fourth among the Italian regions with the highest annual growth rates after Lazio, Lombardy and Calabria.
Abruzzo’s industrial sector expanded rapidly, especially in mechanical engineering, transportation equipment and telecommunications. Both pure and applied research are carried out in the region where there are major institutes and factories involved in research, especially, in the fields of pharmaceuticals, biomedicine, electronics, aerospace and nuclear physics. The industrial infrastructure is spread throughout the region in industrial zones, the most important of which are Val Pescara, Val Sangro, Val Trigno, Val Vibrata and Conca del Fucino.
A further activity worthy of note is seaside and mountain tourism, which is of considerable importance to the economy of the region. In the past decade, tourism has increased due to Abruzzo’s wealth of castles and medieval towns, especially around L’Aquila. Beach-goers also flock to places like Tortoreto, Giulianova, Silvi Marina, Roseto and, further south, Ortona, Vasto and San Salvo. Ski resorts are equally popular.
Agriculture has succeeded in modernizing and offering higher-quality products. The mostly small, agricultural properties produce wine, cereals, sugar beet, potatoes, olives, vegetables, fruit and dairy products. Traditional products are saffron and liquorice. Most famous in the wine world is Abruzzo’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has earned a reputation as being one of the most widely exported DOC classed wine in Italy.
Abruzzo has a rich culinary tradition, with various traditions attached to each province.
Battered and fried zucchini blooms, spit-roasted scamorza cheese, vinegar-poached lobster, salame di pecora (a rare sheep’s meat salami), crepes loaded with cheese and vegetables in a rich mutton broth, hearty ragus, ricotta cheese drizzled with honey and dusted with saffron powder .… are just a few of the complex and elegant flavors to be found on Abruzzi tables.
Ragus are a generalized term for any type of meat-based sauce. Ragus are heavily associated with the cooking of Southern Italy, as well, and seem to have begun their migration southward from the Abruzzi region.
This is a cheese-loving region and mozzarella and scamorza take center stage on the dairy scene. Both cow’s milk cheeses are young, mild, creamy and sweet with smooth textures and a stringiness that allows them to hold up equally well in baked dishes or on their own as table cheeses.
The maccheroni alla chitarra are highly renowned (homemade pasta cut on a machine with thin steel blades) and scrippelle are thin strips of pasta eaten in soup. On the coast, most first courses are fish-based, often made with tomato to enhance the taste of “poor man’s fish,” that are caught off the shores of ancient fishing villages.
As for second courses, a typical recipe is scapece, which is pickled fried fish. Guazzetto or fish broth is also popular in coastal towns. Other than sea fare, one will find plenty of lamb, kid and mutton on the dinner table, while pork is used for prosciutto, lonza, ventricina and other typical salamis that are produced locally. Abruzzi lamb, in general, is considered superior in flavor to other lamb found elsewhere because of the animals’ mountain-grazed diets rich in herbs.
Among the desserts, often made with almonds and honey, you will find nougat or torrone; confetti (typical sugared almonds) and cicerchiata, small balls of fried dough covered in honey.
Traditional Recipes from Abuzzo
Potato Soup with Saffron
- 1 ¼ lb potatoes
- 10 oz cannarozzi – spaghetti cut into small pieces
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1 teaspoon Saffron threads
- 2 ½ oz extra virgin olive oil
- Celery leaves for garnish
Lightly sauté the onion, carrot and celery in the olive oil. As soon as the mixture has cooled, add the saffron, mix well and then let rest to dissolve the saffron.
Boil and peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks.
Add 8 ¼ cups of water to the pot containing the saffron mixture and then salt to taste. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, add the potatoes. Heat and serve garnished with celery leaves.
Timballo di Crespelle
This recipe is often served at wedding lunches, where it generally follows the soup course.
For the crespelle (crepes):
- 50g [2 oz] all-purpose flour
- Olive oil, for the pan
- 3 eggs
- 6 tablespoons water
For the filling:
- 125g [4 oz] ground meat
- 100g [3 1/2 oz] spinach
- 75g [2 1/2 oz] mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 20g [1 scant oz] butter
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 artichokes
- 2 tablespoons grated Grana or Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 chicken liver
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
To make the filling.
Mince the chicken liver and combine it with the ground meat.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a saucepan and gently brown the ingredients over moderate heat for 3 minutes. Set aside.
Clean the spinach, blanch in a little salted water for 5 minutes; drain, squeeze out any excess water and lightly cook it with the butter for 4 minutes. Set aside.
Clean and trim the artichokes, discard the tough outer leaves and trim off the tips; cut in half, discard the inner fuzz and slice them. Sprinkle with the parsley and a dash of salt and cook in a saucepan with 3 tablespoons olive oil for 20 minutes, moistening with a little water, if need be. Set aside.
Break the egg into a mixing bowl, add the milk and egg yolk and whisk with a fork. Set aside
To make the crespelle.
Put the flour, eggs and 6 tablespoons water into a mixing bowl and beat with a fork. Take a small frying pan, the bottom should be as wide as the ovenproof dish to be used for the timballo, and heat a little olive oil in it over a moderate to low heat.
Place 2 tablespoons batter into the pan, tilting to make sure it spreads out to cover the bottom; let it set and then flip. When the crespelle is ready, remove it from the pan and continue until all the batter has been used, greasing the pan each time with a little oil.
To assemble the timballo.
Butter an ovenproof dish and lay a crespelle on the bottom.
Make separate layers of sliced mozzarella, meat, spinach and artichokes, separating each with a crepe, adding a sprinkling of Grana cheese each time and a couple of tablespoons of the egg and milk mixture.
Make sure there are at least 2 layers of each ingredient, cover with another crespelle and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and egg-milk mixture.
Place the dish in the oven and bake at 220°C/425°F for 30 minutes.
Penne with Abruzzi-Style Lamb Ragu
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped onion
- 2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
- 1/2 pound boneless lamb, cut into very fine dice
- Coarse salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juices
- 1 pound penne pasta
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
Put the oil and onion in a large skillet and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is pale gold. Add the pancetta and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta fat is rendered; the pancetta should remain soft.
Add the lamb and cook until browned, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Add the wine and simmer until evaporated, 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer gently, stirring from time to time, until the fat begins to separate from the sauce, 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of coarse salt, cover and return to a boil.
Add the pasta to the pot and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon. Cover and bring back to a boil. Uncover and cook the pasta, stirring frequently, until it is al dente.
Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it to a warmed bowl. Toss with the lamb sauce and the 1/3 cup of grated cheese. Serve at once, passing additional cheese at the table.
But among Abruzzo’s desserts, Parrozzo is the most remarkable. In ancient times, Abruzzo peasants made cornmeal bread in the shape of a dome and baked it in a wood-fired oven. They called this “pan rozzo” meaning ‘unrefined bread,’ as opposed to the regular and more expensive white flour bread eaten at the time only by higher classes. At the turn of the 19th century, pastry chef Luigi D’Amico re-invented that recipe by using eggs instead of cornmeal to obtain the bread’s golden hue. He kept the dome shape and topped it with a dark chocolate coating to reproduce the bread’s charred crust.
- 2 cups 70% dark chocolate
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup sweet almonds
- 10 bitter almonds
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 5 eggs, separated
Blanch almonds in boiling water and peel off the husk, and grind them with 2 tablespoons of sugar in a processor. Work butter with a fork, add the remaining sugar and the egg yolks and whisk well. Fold in the ground almonds and then the flour and cornstarch. Beat the egg whites in a mixer until soft peaks form and then and fold into the almond mixture.
Pour mixture in a buttered Bundt pan or dome-shaped cake mold and bake at 450° F for 45 minutes.
Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and once the parrozzo has cooled, spread the chocolate sauce over the entire surface. Allow the chocolate to set before cutting.
How to make your Italian meals healthier:
- The satisfaction you’ll get from your food will be much greater if you manage to cook a couple of meals from scratch each week. You’ll also know exactly what’s going into your food. Make your own sauces and meatballs from scratch and, on the weekend, when you have more time make your own bread.
- Wherever possible, buy ingredients that are in season. The typical Italian diet uses fresh produce and this helps to give dishes a great deal of flavor. It also means you don’t have to add fat, salt or sugar to improve the taste. Italians love to wander around local markets to select their ingredients – it’s part of enjoying food and cooking.
- When you are preparing to cook pasta you shouldn’t allocate more than 2-3 oz of dried pasta per person. I find a kitchen scale helpful in determining the right portions. Often people make the mistake of cooking the whole package of pasta and eating far too much. Also take care not to overcook pasta. Al dente (firm to the bite) pasta is better for you than soft, overcooked pasta. Italians lightly coat their pasta instead of drowning it with sauce. Excessive sauce just adds on the calories and fat content without adding any extra flavor.
- Olive oil is much better for you than many regular cooking oils and definitely better than cooking with butter or margarine, if you are trying to eat healthy. Olive oil is high in good fats, like monounsaturated and omega 3, as well as containing anti-oxidants.
- Try to eat fish twice a week. Fish is a very important part of the Italian diet and you will find many healthy Italian recipes for shellfish, seafood stews and fish.
- Swap high calorie desserts for a fruit salad or fresh sliced fruit, as the Italians do, instead of cake after dinner. If you buy fruit when it is in season, you’ll find the taste rewarding and it will tame the sugar cravings.
- Use beans more often and replace some of the meat in your recipes with beans.
- When dressing your salads use a good quality balsamic vinegar so that you can reduce the amount of oil you mix with it. Balsamic vinegar is low in calories and to make a healthy dressing just mix it with a little extra virgin olive oil as a replacement for creamy salad dressings or mayonnaise.
- Add plenty of flavor to grilled steak or grilled fish with a gremolata instead of a cream sauce. A gremolata is an Italian garnish of raw, finely chopped garlic, fresh chopped flat leaf parsley and lemon zest and, when it is sprinkled on top of your fish or meat at the end of cooking, it adds flavor without a lot calories or fat.
- Every mealtime in an Italian home is important and, as a result, we are very aware of and appreciate the food we consume. Avoid having the TV on and other distractions and concentrate on what and how much you’re eating and who you are eating with to make dinner an enjoyable occasion.
Tenderloin with Tuscan Beans
Serve with a green vegetable, such as sautéed spinach or kale.
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 oz thinly sliced prosciutto, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried garlic/herb seasoning
- 1 beef or pork tenderloin (1 1/4–1 1/2 lb)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 (15-oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth or stock
- 1/3 cup sun-dried, julienne-cut tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Chop shallot, prosciutto (you will need about 1/3 cup) and basil. Set aside.
Preheat a large skillet on medium-high 2–3 minutes. Sprinkle seasoning over meat. Place oil in the pan, then add meat; cook 6–8 minutes, turning as needed, until browned on all sides.
Transfer meat to a baking sheet and bake 10–12 minutes or until meat reaches an internal temperature of 145°F. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.
Return the skillet to heat on medium. Place prosciutto in the pan; cook and stir 2 minutes (until lightly crisp). Add remaining ingredients (except basil);simmer 2–3 minutes or until hot.
Stir in basil. Slice meat thinly and serve alongside the beans.
Easy Cassoulet and Olive Bread
This dish can be made over the weekend and heated for a quick weeknight dinner.
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1 large yellow onion, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 3 large carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces
- 2 slices bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 cans cannellini beans (15-16 oz), drained
- 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 (14 oz) can (2 cups) crushed Italian tomatoes
Preheat a Dutch Oven on medium 1-2 minutes. Place oil and bacon in the pan; cook and stir 2-3 minutes or until bacon starts to brown.
Add garlic; cook and stir 1 minute. Season chicken with salt and pepper, then add to the pan; cook 2-3 minutes on each side or until browned.
Add remaining ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover pan.
Simmer 1 1/2 hours or until chicken pulls apart easily with a fork.
Remove cover and cook 7-8 minutes (without stirring) so mixture can thicken slightly. Serve with Olive Bread. (Recipe below.)
Easy Olive Bread
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 1 lb prepared pizza dough, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 1 (4.25-oz) can sliced black olives, drained
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- All-purpose flour, for rolling dough
Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Chop basil.
Pat pizza dough out on a floured board. Sprinkle the surface with the olives, cheese and basil and fold dough over several times until well blended.
Knead 3–4 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Place dough on baking sheet, forming it into a 15-inch loaf. Make two 1/4-inch slits diagonally across the top. Let stand 10 minutes to rest.
Bake the bread 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375°F. Bake 8–10 more minutes or until golden. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing.
Creamy Sausage Mushroom Pasta
Serve with oven-roasted asparagus.
Lighter Alfredo Style Sauce
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 1/3 cups low-fat milk
- 2 tablespoons reduced fat cream cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 oz shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
- 1 large leek, coarsely chopped
- 2 links mild Italian pork or turkey or chicken sausage (8 oz)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 8 oz rigatoni pasta
- 8 oz fresh sliced cremini mushrooms
- 1/2 cup white wine (or chicken broth)
- 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, chopped
To make the sauce:
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in flour. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk. Cook 6 minutes or until mixture thickens, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, cream cheese and salt, stirring with a whisk until the cheeses melt.
To make the pasta:
Bring salted water to a boil for the pasta.
Chop leek (white part only; 1 cup) and chop parsley.
Remove sausage casing.
Preheat a large sauté pan on medium-high 2-3 minutes. Add sausage; brown 3-4 minutes, stirring to crumble the meat, or until no pink remains.
Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente following package instructions.
Remove sausage from the pan and set aside in a bowl.
Add oil, then add mushrooms and leeks; cook and stir 3-4 minutes or until tender.
Reduce heat to medium-low and stir in wine; simmer 2-3 minutes or until reduced by about one-half.
Stir in Alfredo sauce; bring to a simmer. Stir in pasta and sausage; cook and stir 1 minute. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and parsley. Serve.
Sautéed Balsamic Fish With Vegetable Orzo
Serve with steamed broccoli.
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup orzo pasta
- 1 teaspoon zested lemon peel
- 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 5 tablespoons homemade or store-bought basil pesto, divided
- 1/3 cup finely diced plum tomatoes,
- 1/3 cup finely diced onions
- 1/3 cup finely diced bell peppers
- 4 white fish fillets, (tilapia, haddock or flounder, etc.) 5-6 oz each
- 2 teaspoons dried salt-free garlic/herb seasoning
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup reduced-sodium vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Bring the 2 cups of water to a boil and stir in the orzo; cook and stir 4 minutes.
Reduce heat to low; simmer and stir often for 3-4 more minutes or until the orzo is tender and most of liquid has been absorbed. It is important to stir the orzo to prevent sticking. No draining will be needed.
Stir in 3 tablespoons pesto, tomato, onion and bell pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice. Remove pan from the heat and cover; set aside.
Preheat a large skillet on medium-high 2-3 minutes. Season fish on both sides with the garlic/herb seasoning. Place the oil in the pan, then add the fish; cook 1-2 minutes or until fish is lightly browned. Turn fish over.
Combine broth, vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons pesto. Add to fish; cook 2-3 minutes or until mixture reduces by about one-half and fish flakes easily.
Divide orzo.among four dinner plates, top with fish and some of the sauce.
Eggs over Spinach and Polenta
Look for the polenta in the refrigerated produce section of your supermarket. Serve crusty Italian bread and a mixed green salad with this quick meal.
- 1 (16-ounce) tube of prepared polenta
- Olive oil cooking spray and olive oil
- 2 cups homemade marinara sauce
- 1 (6-ounce) package fresh baby spinach
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Asiago cheese
Cut 8 polenta slices off the log, each about ½ inch thick
Arrange polenta slices on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Lightly brush the tops of the polenta with olive oil. Broil 3 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
Bring the sauce to a simmer in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in spinach; cover and cook for 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Stir to combine. Make 4 indentations in the spinach mixture using the back of a wooden spoon. Break 1 egg into each indentation.
Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until eggs are the desired degree of doneness. Sprinkle with cheese. Place 2 polenta slices on each of 4 plates; top each with one-fourth of the spinach mixture and 1 egg.
As immigrants from the different regions of Italy settled throughout the various regions of the United States, many brought with them a distinct regional Italian culinary tradition. Many of these foods and recipes developed into new favorites for the townspeople and later for Americans nationwide. No one has contributed more foods to the American dinner table than the Italian immigrants. Strong Italian-American enclaves in New York City, Boston’s North End, Providence’s Federal Hill and South Philly have helped shape a new American hybrid cuisine. Based on Old World traditions, Italian-American cuisine is marked by an appreciation for the New World’s abundance.
Boston’s Pan Pizza
Boston’s Italian neighborhood is called the North End. It has a strong Italian flair and numerous Italian restaurants. The North End is also Boston’s oldest neighborhood and it still possesses an old-world charm kept alive by its mostly Italian-American population. The neighborhood also is a major attraction for tourists and Bostonians alike, who come seeking the best in Italian cuisine and to enjoy the Italian feel of the region. Hanover and Salem Streets, the two main streets of this bustling historic neighborhood, are lined with restaurants, cafes and shops, selling a variety of incredible foods. A trip to Boston would not be complete without including a meal at one of North End’s over one hundred fine Italian restaurants.
You’ll need a rimmed baking sheet, preferably non-stick, about 11 1/2-by-17 or a 16-inch pizza pan and a plastic dough scraper.
- 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup warm water, or more if necessary
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Olive oil (for the pans)
- Extra flour (for sprinkling)
- Extra salt (for sprinkling)
In a bowl, sprinkle yeast into water; set aside for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Stir to blend.
With a wooden spoon, stir in the yeast mixture. Add enough additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to make a dough that holds together, but is sticky and too moist to knead.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap so the wrap does not touch the dough. Lay a dish towel on top. Set aside for 2 hours.
Rub a large rimmed baking sheet or pizza pan with olive oil. Rub the center of 1 long sheet of foil with oil and set it aside.
Sprinkle the dough with a little flour. Use a dough scraper to transfer the dough to the baking sheet or pizza pan. Pat the dough with a little flour to within 2 inches of the edge of the pans.
Cover with foil, oiled side down. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes (or as long as overnight).
Remove pan from the refrigerator. Dip your hand in flour and pat the dough with your hand, adding as little flour as necessary, until it reaches the edges of the sheets.
Brush the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
- 12 slices provolone cheese or 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) shredded mozzarella
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced, or 4 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 4 slices good-quality ham, cut into matchsticks (optional)
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
Arrange racks on the lowest and center parts of the oven. Set the oven at 500 degrees.
If using provolone, arrange it on the dough, spacing out the slices. Add the cherry or plum tomatoes, spacing them out. Sprinkle with mozzarella.
Sprinkle with ham, if using, then Parmesan.
Bake the pizza on the lowest rack of the oven for about 10 minutes (check after 8 minutes to make sure edges are not burning).
Transfer the pizza to the center rack and continue baking for 5 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, the dough is golden and crisp at the edges, and the bottom is firm.
With a wide metal spatula, lift the pizza from the pan and transfer to large wooden board. Cut into rectangles, wedges, or strips.
Federal Hill’s Zuppa Di Polpette (Meatball Soup)
Federal Hill is the Italian neighborhood of Providence with many restaurants, bakeries, cafes, art galleries, cigar shops and markets. DePasquale Square is the center of the neighborhood. Historic Federal Hill is the “Heartbeat of Providence” and begins at Atwells Avenue, the street that flows under the arch. The gateway arch over Atwells with the La Pigna (pinecone) sculpture hanging from its center is a traditional Italian symbol of abundance and quality and the symbol of Federal Hill. It is a place dedicated to the Italian immigrants who gathered here as a community and is still a place of charm, warmth and hospitality to all. Numerous Italian restaurants and businesses line the main thoroughfare and its surrounding area. Garibaldi Square, with a bust of the “Hero of Two Worlds”, and DePasquale Plaza, with outdoor dining and two bocce courts, all contribute to the Italian atmosphere.
In a large 8 quart stock pot prepare the following:
- 1 small chicken broken up in pieces
- 1 large onion cut in quarters
- 2 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
- 1 medium ripe tomato cut in half
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- Pinch of turmeric, for a little color
Add enough water to cover 4-5 inches above the ingredients and cook for about one and one half hours. Remove the chicken and vegetables separately and cool.
Puree the vegetables through a food mill or processor and add back to the stock.
Cool the chicken and use it for chicken salad. If you like you can add some of the chicken cut into pieces back into the soup.
For the meatballs:
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoons fresh parsley
- 1/3 cup Romano cheese
- 1 large egg
In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Scoop out by tablespoons and form into small meatballs. Add them to the soup and simmer them for about 30 minutes.
- 2 tablespoons uncooked soup (small) pasta, per person, optional
- Lots of freshly grated Romano cheese
Cook the pasta and distribute it between the bowls. Ladle in the soup and meatballs and serve with the cheese.
Capellini Alla Positano from Philadelphia’s Bellini Grill
Philadelphia’s Italian American community is the second-largest in the United States. Named after its view of the Center City skyline, Bella Vista, Italian for “Beautiful View,” is one of Philadelphia’s oldest and authentic Italian neighborhoods. Bella Vista is home to many Italian-American treasures, such as the city’s first Italian American bathhouse, the Fante-Leone Pool, built in 1905 and the Philadelphia Ninth Street Italian Market, claimed to be the oldest open-air market still in operation in the country. More than 100 years old, the Italian Market was originally a business association of local vendors who banded together to compete with larger stores that were moving into the area. Today, the market houses an assortment of shops, bakeries and restaurants.
Makes 4 Servings
- 5 oz uncooked Angel Hair Pasta
- 4 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 teaspoon Chopped Fresh Chili
- 3 Garlic Cloves; minced
- 2 tablespoons Shallots; chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
- 1/2 cup Fish Broth
- 2 ups Dry White Wine
- 3 cups Marinara Sauce (see recipe below)
- 8 oz Lump Crab Meat
- 1 bunch Fresh Basil; chopped
- 2 cups Grape Tomatoes
- 24 oz Canned Tomato Sauce
- 1/4 Yellow Onion, chopped
- 1 ¼ teaspoon Olive Oil
- 1 Garlic Clove; minced
- 1/2 tablespoon Fresh Basil, chopped
- Pinch Sea Salt
- Pinch White Pepper
For the marinara sauce: sauté chopped onion in olive oil until translucent. Add tomato sauce and remaining ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes; stirring occasionally.
For the pasta: Cook pasta according to directions on package.
Sauté shallots, chili and garlic in olive oil for 1 minute; season with salt and pepper. Add fish stock and white wine, cook until slightly reduced. Add marinara sauce, stirring until combined.
Gently fold in lump crab meat, fresh basil and tomatoes – cook for 5 minutes. Serve sauce over cooked pasta.
Bakeries in New York’s Little Italy
Most of the Italian immigrants who made their home in America first landed in New York City. Many then traveled to other parts of the country; but by the early 1900’s, hundreds of thousands had settled in lower Manhattan, living in row houses and tenements in an area of about one square mile. For the unskilled, it was a hard life of cleaning city streets and ash barrels and, for the skilled, it was a hard life of working their trade in constructing buildings and roads. Others became fruit peddlers, bread bakers, shoemakers and tailors. Some opened grocery stores and restaurants or worked in factories. Most of the people who lived on Mulberry came from Naples; those from Elizabeth Street were from Sicily; Mott Street from Calabria; and most of the people north of Mott, came from Bari.
Sweets would have been a rare indulgence for most in the Old Country, however, in America they were a frequent treat. One of the earliest New York ice cream parlors to open, in the 1820s, was Palmo’s Garden, whose immigrant owner, Ferdinand Palmo, fitted it out with gilded columns, huge mirrors and an Italian band. In 1892, opera impresario Antonio Ferrara opened a confections parlor under his name on Grand Street, where he could entertain his musician friends. Veniero’s on East 11th Street began as a billiard parlor in 1894 that sold candy and coffee, eventually, evolving into an enormously successful pastry shop that created the cake for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration.
Arguably the most famous bakery and cafe in Little Italy is Ferrara, the two-floor dessert mecca with flashing lights and an outdoor summer-season gelato stand. Constantly packed with tourists and locals (on a recent Friday at 11 a.m., the takeout line was out the door), Ferrara has some of the most delicious cannoli this side of the Atlantic. Open since 1892, the cafe serves the dessert with a side of dark chocolate pieces and mixes small chocolate chips into the sweet ricotta-based filling.
Ferrara’s Bakery Tiramisu
Enrico Scoppa and Antonio Ferrara, opera impresario and showman, opened the cafe in New York City called Caffé A. Ferrara. Enrico Caruso, the great opera singer, thought the coffee marvelous but loved the cookies and cakes.
- 1 box (7 oz.) Savoiardi or Lady Fingers
- 6 eggs, separated
- 1/2 pint heavy cream
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup strong warm coffee
- 1/4 cup coffee liqueur
Arrange Savoiardi in rectangular serving dish, (approximately 11″ x 13″).
Lightly soak Savoiardi with a mixture of coffee and coffee liqueur.
While gradually adding sugar, beat egg yolks (approximately 5-10 minutes) until very stiff and egg yolks appear pale in color.
Beat heavy cream until very stiff and fold into egg yolks.
In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with a wire whisk or electric beater until very stiff and gently fold egg whites into the cream mixture. Add vanilla and fold gently.
Cover Savoiardi with this cream mixture. Cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap.
Refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Sprinkle with cocoa or chocolate flakes before serving.
Tiramisu may be frozen and should be defrosted in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.
Di Palo’s Ricotta Cheesecake
Di Palo’s in New York’s Little Italy is the iconic Italian deli, the stuff of dreams for anybody who cooks Italian. Lou Di Palo, whose family has owned the store for 104 years, is still working behind the counter. He is the great-grandson of the founder, is the fourth generation, along with his brother, Sal and his sister, Marie. When you stop in, you’ll almost always find two or more of them there, offering tastes of cheeses, slicing speck or prosciutto or dishing out orders of Eggplant Parmigiana. They make their own ricotta and mozzarella and have for decades.
Lou Di Palo shared his grandmother’s recipe for a true Italian-style cheesecake.
- Unsalted butter, for greasing
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup crushed Zwieback cookies or graham crackers, plus extra for garnish
- 3 pounds fresh ricotta
- 6 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 4 teaspoons orange-blossom water
- 3/4 cup cream
Butter a 9-inch springform pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix 1/2 cup sugar and the crushed cookies in a small bowl and evenly coat the bottom and sides of the buttered pan with the mixture.
In a large bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups sugar and the ricotta, eggs, vanilla, orange-blossom water and the cream. Pour into the cookie-coated pan.
Sprinkle the top with additional crushed cookies and place the springform pan on the center oven rack on a cookie sheet to catch any leaks.
Bake for 1 hour or until the center no longer jiggles; it may crack slightly. Let cool, remove from pan and serve at room temperature.
Cassateddi Di Ricotta (Ricotta Turnovers)
This traditional Sicilian recipe for sweet ricotta turnovers is adapted from “The Little Italy Cookbook: Recipes from North America’s Italian Communities” (out of print) by Maria Pace and Louisa Scaini-Jojic. The authors suggest using a pasta machine to get the dough thin enough to make the pastries.
- 1 pound ricotta, drained, see note at the bottom
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 4 eggs plus 1 egg white
- 1/4 cup shortening, melted
- 1/3 cup milk
- 4 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- Oil for deep frying (about 2 cups)
- Confectioners’ sugar
For the filling, combine the ricotta, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and egg white in a large bowl; set aside.
Combine the 4 eggs, melted shortening, remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and milk in a small bowl.
Mound 3 1/2 cups flour on a board; make a well. Pour the egg mixture into the well; sprinkle on the baking powder. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the flour to form a dough; add a little more milk, if needed. Knead briefly until the dough is smooth. (Add flour, if needed.)
Divide the dough into four pieces. Take one of the pieces and flatten; dust with flour and roll until it is 1/16th-inch thick and shaped into a 4-inch-wide rectangle.
Place 1 rounded teaspoon of filling along one side of the dough at 3 1/2-inch intervals. Fold the top half of the strip over the filling and press edges together to enclose completely.
Cut with a pastry cutter or knife into individual squares or half moons. Lay each piece on a lightly floured baking sheet; repeat with remaining pieces and filling.
Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Fry several turnovers at a time until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon; drain on a rack placed over paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.
Draining ricotta: Place ricotta in a wire sieve in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight to remove excess water. For faster results, cover the ricotta with a small plate that fits in the sieve and weight that with a heavy can. If you can, use fresh whole milk ricotta from a specialty market for the richest flavor.