The Province of Perugia is the larger of the two provinces in the Umbria region of Italy. The eastern part of the province is a hilly region while the rest is covered by forests. Perugia is home to the largest lake in central Italy, Lake Trasimeno. The southern regions are less hilly. Silk, corn and grass are some of the most important agricultural products of the province.
Over the centuries, Perugia has been ruled by numerous different peoples, evidence of which can be found in the many archaeological remains. Artifacts from the Roman period include paved roads, the forum, the cisterns, a Roman amphitheatre and the thermal baths.
The Province of Perugia hosts events, such as Eurochocolate where chocolate in all its varied forms is on display and Umbria Jazz, a music festival that every year gathers together important artists of the jazz world.
The cuisine consists of rustic cooking traditions with many recipes still influenced by ancient rituals and rules. Black truffles, a local product, are used in many dishes. Easter Pizza and a salted panettone (Christmas cake) flavored with pecorino (made from sheep’s milk cheese) are regional classics. The lentils from Castelluccio are known for their tiny size and their soft hull. Salami and cold cuts from Norcia are well-known throughout the world.
Strangozzi, or Strozzapreti pasta made with water and flour is served with meat sauce. The types of meat that are used for second courses are pork made from nut-fed black pigs, boar and lamb.
Fish from Lake Trasimeno are the basis for many dishes, such as Tegamaccio, a seafood soup, made with different types of lake fish such as perch, trout, carp and pike.
Another local favorite is Parmigiana di Gobbi, a dish that dates back to ancient times made with cardoons (the gobbi), served with sauce, mozzarella and Parmigiano.
Popular desserts include pinacate, a pine nut-based sweet, torciglione made with raisins, walnuts and dried figs and torcolo, essentially a large donut with raisins and candied fruit.
And of course, Italy’s version of the chocolate kiss, Baci Perugina, chocolate and hazelnut truffles in their famous silver and blue wrapping, with a romantic message tucked inside, were invented here. Also Stacchetti (a mix of almond, cacao and sugar covered with meringue) and Struffoli (small balls of dough fried and sweetened with honey) are additional well-known desserts.
Torta Umbra al Formaggio
(Easter Cheese Bread from Umbria)
In the past, Torta Umbra al Formaggio, a savory cheese bread from the Umbrian region, was traditionally enjoyed on Pasqua (Easter) morning with boiled eggs, prosciutto and other cold cuts. Today, it can usually be found as an accompaniment to any meal.
- 2 tablespoons dried yeast (2 packages)
- 1/3 cup warm water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 4 cups flour
- 5 eggs
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 6 ounces Pecorino Romano, cut into ½ inch dice
- 5 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, cut into ½ inch dice
Grease a 9-inch cake pan with olive oil. Using a strip of parchment paper, line the top of the pan to add an additional 2 to 3 inches of height.
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water (110°F) in a large stand mixer bowl; let stand until foamy (about 5 minutes). Add sugar and 1/3 cup of the flour without stirring. Let it rest (covered with plastic wrap) for 20 minutes. Add the rest of the flour, the eggs, butter and oil. With the paddle attachment mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Switch to the dough hook attachment. Add the salt and continue mixing at medium speed until the dough is soft, shiny and elastic (7-10 minutes). Add the pepper and cheeses and knead the dough until thoroughly combined. Let it rest in an oiled bowl, covered, until it doubles in size (about 2 hours).
Punch down the dough. Form the dough into a round loaf. Place into the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let it proof until it doubles in size (about 1 hour).
Bake for 45 minutes at 400° F. Let it sit for 20 minutes before cutting and serving.
Crostini with Garlic and Black Truffles
Ingredients for each serving
- 2 slices bread (Torta Umbra al Formaggio would be excellent for this appetizer)
- 1 winter black truffle
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 lemon
- 2 ¼ tablespoons (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- Salt – to taste
- Pepper – to taste
Shave half the truffle and set aside. Pound the remaining truffle in a mortar together with the garlic, adding the lemon juice and olive oil until the mixture becomes thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper.
Tear the bread slices into smaller pieces, toast and spread the truffle and garlic paste on top. Garnish with the shaved truffle slices and serve.
Minestra Di Ceci (Umbrian Chickpea Soup)
- 1 lb (500g) dry chickpeas
- 1 twig fresh rosemary
- 10 leaves fresh sage
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 small carrot, diced
- 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
- 1 rib celery, diced
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- Salt & Pepper
- Grated Pecorino cheese
- Extra virgin olive oil
Soak chickpeas overnight in a bowl of cold water. Drain.
Place chickpeas in large soup pot. Cover with water to 1 inch above the chickpeas. Add rosemary and half the sage leaves. Cover and cook on low 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
In a skillet placed over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and sauté garlic, carrot, onion and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables are tender. Set aside.
Remove and discard the sage leaves and rosemary from the cooked chickpeas. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking liquid.
In a blender or with a hand immersion blender, purée half the chickpeas, along with 2 cups of the chickpea cooking liquid.
Return puréed chickpeas and sautéed vegetables to the soup pot.
Cover and cook 60 minutes.
Serve the soup in warmed bowls with a drizzle of oil, remaining sage leaves, black pepper and grated cheese.
Pasta alla Norcina
Ingredients for 4 people
- 14 oz (400g) Penne pasta
- 4 sausages of Norcia
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ onion
- 1 cup heavy (cooking) cream
- Salt and black pepper
- ½ cup white wine
- Grated parmesan cheese or pecorino cheese of Norcia.
Finely chop the onion and saute in extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet. Remove the casings from the sausages and add it to the onion and cook until brown and crumbled. Lower the heat and add the white wine. Cook until it evaporates. Add the cream and as soon as it’s hot remove the pan from the heat.
Cook the penne pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and mix the pasta with the sauce. Add black pepper and grated cheese. Serve immediately.
Porchetta (Roast Pork Loin)
by CHEF BIKESKI (Culinary Director and Owner of Italia Outdoors Food and Wine)
This is best started the day before you wish to serve it.
- One 2 1/2 – 3 pound piece fresh pork belly, skin on
- One 2 1/2 – 3 pound boneless pork loin roast
- Kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 bulb fresh fennel, tough outer layer and inner core removed, chopped into 1/4 inch dice
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1/4 cup fennel fronds, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 500°F.
Place the pork belly skin side up. Using a sharp knife, score the skin on the diagonal making a diamond-shaped pattern. Try to cut only the skin itself.
Turn the belly so the skin side is down. Score the belly flesh in the same diagonal diamond-shaped pattern.
Salt both sides of the belly, as well as the pork loin roast. Set aside while you make the seasoning mixture.
Place the fennel seeds in a hot sauté pan and toast just until they start to brown. Add the olive oil, chopped fresh fennel, garlic and rosemary and saute until the fennel is soft, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped fennel fronds and remove from the heat.
Cover the entire loin and the flesh side of the pork belly with the seasoning mixture. Roll the belly around the loin so the short ends of the belly meet or come as close to meeting as possible. If there is a bit of loin still exposed along the bottom, put this side down in the pan. If the loin is longer than the pork belly or the belly longer than the loin and one sticks out, trim the longer piece so the ends are flush.
Tie the roast with kitchen twine at about 1/2” intervals. Place the roast on a wire rack set in a sheet pan, with any gap where the pork belly may not cover the loin at the bottom. Place the roast, uncovered, in your refrigerator for 1-2 days to allow the seasonings to penetrate the roast and the skin to air-dry.
When ready to cook, remove the roast from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 500°F.
Roast for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to 300°F and continue to roast until the porchetta reaches an internal temperature of 140°F, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours more. If the skin is not as brown and crispy as you’d like, turn on the broiler and finish browning the skin, keeping a careful eye on it so it doesn’t burn.
Slice into 1/2 inch rounds for serving as a roast or into very thin slices for porchetta sandwiches.
by Baci Perugina
10” tart pan
For the crust:
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 stick softened butter
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 pound (5 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, plus extra for garnish
For the filling:
- 1 bar Perugina Dark (51%) chocolate
- 8 Baci candies
- 1 1/2 cups cream
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 large eggs
Combine the sugar, salt, butter,egg yolk and vanilla in the mixer bowl and start on medium.
Sift the flour and cocoa together. Pour the flour and cocoa into the mixer bowl. Turn up the speed until the mixture comes together into crumbs. Press into a ball, wrap tightly and let rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
Roughly chop the chocolate bar and the Baci and melt them in a double boiler. Heat the cream in a saucepan until almost boiling and pour over the melted chocolate.
Stir until the color is uniform and mix in the sugar until it dissolves completely. Let cool slightly.
Lightly beat the eggs and set aside.
Line the bottom of the tart mold with parchment paper.
Preheat the oven at 350°F.
Roll out the crust to about 1/2” thick and place in the mold. Press it down gently and eliminate any overhanging pieces.
Quickly whisk the beaten eggs into the chocolate cream and pour the filling into the tart shell. The filling will appear quite liquid.
Place the tart on a sheet pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until soft but set and not jiggly and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out slightly damp but otherwise clean.
Let cool and dust lightly with cocoa powder before serving.
Some days are so busy that there doesn’t seem to be much time left at the end of the day to prepare dinner. If you keep the ingredients for some quick cooking recipes on hand, you will be able to put a healthy meal on the table without a lot of preparation or long cooking times. So much better for the family than fast food. Stock your pantry with quick cooking rice, couscous, thin spaghetti and orzo. Broths and canned tomatoes are very useful, as are dried seasonings. Keep packages of thin chicken cutlets, lean ground beef, salmon and pizza dough in the freezer and you have the ingredients for an easy meal.
Chicken Cutlets in Lemon Sauce
Serve with Zucchini and Quick Cooking Brown Rice. This is an easy meal for two and the recipe can easily be doubled.
- Two 6 ounce skinless, boneless chicken breasts, pounded thin
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 lemon, juiced
- 1 cup chicken broth
- Salt and fresh pepper
- 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a bowl and the beaten in another bowl.
Heat the oil and one tablespoon of butter in a large non stick pan over medium heat.
Lightly flour chicken, then dip in the egg and add to the hot pan. Saute chicken 2-3 minutes on each side. When cooked, transfer onto a plate.
Place the chicken broth in the bowl with the remaining flour and whisk. Add to the pan along with the lemon juice, parsley and remaining butter and simmer on low heat for about 2 minutes so it reduces slightly and thickens. Turn off the heat. Return the chicken to the pan to combine with the sauce and serve.
Salmon & Broccoli with Herb Sauce
- Two 8-oz thick-cut boneless, skinless wild salmon fillets
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus additional, to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup clam broth or fish stock, divided
- 1 leek, thinly sliced crosswise, white and pale green parts only
- 1 head broccoli, cut into thin spears
- Juice of 1 lemon, divided
- 6 oz plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
- Sea salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Pat salmon dry with paper towels and season with pepper. In a large ovenproof sauté pan with a cover, heat oil on medium-high. Add salmon and sear for 3 minutes per side, until lightly golden. Transfer salmon to a plate and keep warm.
Reduce the heat to medium and add 1/4 cup clam broth to the pan. Add leek and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until liquid evaporates and leeks soften. Add remaining 3/4 cup broth and broccoli; mix well.
Return salmon to center of the pan, nestling the fish between leeks and broccoli. Drizzle half of the lemon juice over salmon; cover the pan and transfer to the oven. Cook for 12 to 14 minutes, until salmon and broccoli are tender. Remove pan from the oven and, using a slotted spoon, transfer salmon and vegetables to a platter; cover with foil to keep warm. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pan juices.
Prepare lemon-herb sauce:
In a small bowl, combine yogurt, tarragon, mint, remaining half of lemon juice and reserved 1/2 cup pan juices; mix well. (Add more lemon juice or pan juices as needed to reach desired consistency.) Season with salt and additional pepper.
To serve, cut the salmon fillets in half and plate each with lemon-herb sauce and leek-broccoli mixture.
Spaghetti with Italian Sausage & Spinach
- 2 links fresh Italian sausage (about 8 oz), casings removed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 8 oz thin spaghetti
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper (chili) flakes, or to taste
- 6 oz spinach leaves (about 6 packed cups)
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
Mist a large pot or saucepan with olive oil cooking spray and heat to medium-high. Add sausage and cook, stirring and crumbling with a spatula, until no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
To the same pot, add 2 cups water and the milk and bring to a boil on medium-high. (TIP: Watch carefully and stir from time to time, as milk has a tendency to boil over.)
Add spaghetti and pepper flakes. When the liquid returns to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, stirring frequently, until the spaghetti is just short of al dente, 11 to 14 minutes.
Stir in spinach and simmer, uncovered, until spinach is wilted, most of the liquid is absorbed and the spaghetti is al dente, 2 to 4 minutes.
Add lemon zest, black pepper and sausage and stir until heated through, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Divide among plates and top evenly with cheese.
Beef Kebabs with Tahini Sauce
- 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons tahini paste
- Olive oil cooking spray
- 8 oz lean ground sirloin
- 1 small clove garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons very finely minced white onion
- 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, divided
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon salt-free garlic and herb seasoning blend
- 1/2 cup couscous
- 1/4 cup packed chopped fresh parsley
- 1 large Roma tomato, cut into 8 wedges
Two 12-inch skewers (If using wooden skewers, soak in warm water for at least 20 minutes before using.)
Line a baking sheet with foil and arrange an ovenproof wire rack over the top. Mist rack with cooking spray.
(NOTE: If you don’t have an ovenproof wire rack, simply bake your kebabs directly on a baking sheet.)
Prepare tahini sauce:
In a small bowl, stir yogurt, lemon juice and tahini until well combined. (If the tahini is hard or lumpy, microwave for 20 to 30 seconds, or until smooth.) Set aside while the kebabs cook.
Arrange an oven rack 5 to 6 inches from the top heat source and preheat the broiler to high. Line a baking sheet with foil and arrange an ovenproof wire rack over the top. Mist rack with cooking spray.
In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water to a boil. Stir in seasoning blend, remaining black pepper, salt and couscous. Cover and remove from the heat. Let sit, covered, for 5 to 7 minutes. Fluff with a fork and stir in parsley
Arrange an oven rack 5 to 6 inches from the top heat source and preheat the broiler to high.
In a large bowl combine sirloin, garlic, onion, cumin, coriander, ¼ teaspoon each black pepper, salt and cayenne. Stir gently until thoroughly combined.
Divide mixture into 4 equal portions. Shape each portion into a narrow, oblong 2- to 3-inch-long patty. Mold 2 patties around 1 skewer about 1 inch apart (see photo). Repeat with remaining 2 patties and skewer.
Transfer to the prepared rack and broil until tops are lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and broil until lightly browned and cooked through, 3 to 4 more minutes.
Divide couscous between two serving plates and top each serving with 1 beef skewer. Serve with tahini sauce and tomato wedges, dividing evenly.
Quick Tomato Soup
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 medium onion, chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- One 28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
- One 14-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, with juice
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper to taste
Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat and add onion and celery; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and thyme cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
Stir in canned tomatoes and broth; bring to a low boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Puree the soup in the pot using an immersion blender or in batches in a blender. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.)
Stir in half-and-half, salt and pepper. Serve with the wrap or a grilled cheese sandwich.
Spinach and Feta Cheese Wraps
- 4 eggs
- 2 teaspoons.prepared basil pesto
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1-1/2 cups chopped fresh baby spinach leaves
- 1/2 cup crumbled Feta Cheese
- 2 (2 oz.) whole-wheat flat breads
- 1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, drained and thinly sliced
In a 10-inch skillet heat olive oil over medium heat. Beat eggs and pesto together with a fork in a medium bowl. Pour into the skillet. As eggs start to set, lift the edges with a spatula, allowing uncooked eggs to flow to the bottom of the skillet. Cook until the eggs are set but still moist. Sprinkle with feta; cover the pan and heat 1 minute longer. Cut omelet in half.
Immediately, place half of the omelet on one flat bread. Top with half the spinach leaves and half the roasted red peppers and roll up tightly. Wrap in parchment and let rest about 10 minutes so the vegetables can warm up. Repeat with the second flat bread and the remaining ingredients. Serve with a bowl of soup.
On these busy nights before the holidays, I like that I have a few homemade soups and homemade rolls or bread in my freezer. They are easy to defrost and heat and can be on the table in no time at all. This may be a quick dinner, but it is both nutritious and delicious.
Italian Escarole Bean Soup
This is one of our family’s favorite soups. I can remember my grandparents making this often and it seemed to be my grandfather’s favorite lunch. If you would like to make this soup vegetarian, it is easy to do. Swap out the chicken broth for vegetable broth and 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (chili) for the dried sausage.
- ½ onion, diced
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 cups dried white beans (cannellini), soaked overnight in water to cover and drained
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 16 cups no salt added chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
- 2 heads of escarole, washed and cut into small pieces
- 1 cup chopped dried spicy sausage/salami
- 1 cup short pasta
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- Parmesan cheese for serving
Heat oil in a large Dutch Oven and add the onions, celery and garlic. Cook until tender. Add the Italian seasoning and soaked and drained beans. Heat for a minute or two and add the broth.
Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cooked the beans for 30 minutes. Add the pasta, re-boil, lower the heat and cook for 15 minutes more.
Add the dried sausage, salt and escarole. Let simmer until the escarole wilts. Ladle into soup bowls and top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Sourdough Ciabatta Bread
I always have sourdough starter in my refrigerator that I keep in a crock, so it always available for baking. You will find that this bread will not puff up much in the oven. It will stay quite flat, like a slipper, hence its name (ciabatta means slipper in Italian). Ciabatta is one of Italy’s most delicious breads and it goes so well with soup. I like to make Ciabatta with a sourdough starter because it adds a nice tang to the bread.
- 1 cup sourdough starter removed from the refrigerator the night before baking and placed in a covered bowl
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 1/4 cups warm water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 4 cups Italian 00 flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
In the bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment combine the water, olive oil, yeast, sourdough starter, 1 cup of the flour and the salt. Stir in the remaining flour, a cup at a time, until the dough is the consistency of drop-cookie batter. Transfer to the dough hook attachment and knead the dough until it is smooth and satiny. The dough should be on the slack side, but not oozy; it needs to be able to hold its shape.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Place the bowl in a warm spot and let the dough rise, undisturbed, about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Punch the dough down and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough gently and divide it into two pieces. Form the loaves into torpedo shapes, and place the loaves on a baking sheets dusted with flour and cornmeal. Cover with a damp towel.
Let the loaves rise until they look puffy. This should take approximately an hour. While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Brush or spray the loaves with water; a plant mister is good for this job. Bake for 10 minutes, spraying the loaves with water two more times.
Lower the oven to 375°F and bake for an additional 20 minutes.
Como is a province in the northern part of the Lombardy region of Italy that borders Switzerland. Its proximity to Lake Como and to the Alps has made Como a popular tourist destination and the area contains numerous works of art, churches, gardens, museums, theaters, parks and palaces. Como’s climate is humid and subtropical. Winters are not long, but foggy, damp and chilly with occasional periods of frost; spring and autumn are pleasant while summer can be quite oppressive and hot.
The most famous area within the province is Bellagio, a historic town surrounded by ancient city walls with narrow roads that run through the hills. The town’s ancient origins are visible in its Romanesque Cathedral dedicated to San Giacomo, the interior of which seems unchanged from the 12th Century. Another interesting town is Laglio that lies near the “Bear Cave” (buco dell’orso), where fossils of prehistoric bears and other remains found in the cave are displayed in the Town Hall. The annual Medieval Palio takes place at the beginning of September and is a knightly jousting contest between various province districts that is reenacted in the town of Cernobbio.
Lake Como (Lago di Como in Italian) is located in this province and is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe. The lake is shaped like the letter “Y” and has been a popular retreat for aristocrats and wealthy people since Roman times. Many famous people have or have had homes on the lake’s shores. The lake’s deep-blue waters, set against the foothills of the Alps, makes for a stunning view.
The Cuisine of Como Province
Lake Como’s cuisine is shaped by the three geographic areas that make up the Como area – the lake, the mountains with their valleys and the hills of Brianza (the area between Milan and Como). The province’s cuisine is closely tied to its primary natural resource, the lake, that provides an abundance of freshwater fish. Lavarello , a popular local lake fish, is usually served fried with a squeeze of lemon. Misultitt (a type of Shad) is usually dried and preserved with bay leaves in special tin containers. Another traditional dish is Risotto al Pesce Persico (European Perch filet Risotto), a fish grown in Lake Como, that is prepared with white wine, onion and butter.
Polenta is popular especially in the mountain valleys. In this area, it is common to make polenta by mixing corn flour and buckwheat flour together. It is usually served with meat, game, cheese or fish.
South of Como, the food becomes more Milanese. Popular in this region are polenta e osei (polenta served with poultry), cassoela (a stew with pork ribs and cabbage), cotechino sausage with beans and many different kinds of salami and cheese.
As far as traditional sweets and cakes are concerned, in Lake Como, you can find fritters often filled with apple and, Resca de Comm, a panettone made with raisins, citron, pine nuts and anise, that is baked in a cylindrical tube.
Among the red and white wines produced in the province are Rosso di Bellagio and Vespertò di Canzo. The best liqueurs are made by the Piona friars using local herbs.
Pizzoccheri is one of Lake Como’s typical winter pasta dishes. It usually consists of flat short tagliatelle noodles, made from buckwheat flour that is common in the area of Valtellina in Northern Italy (on the east shore of Lake Como). The buckwheat flour gives the noodles a grayish color and they are easy to make at home. However, most supermarkets now sell boxes of dried pizzoccheri, which has helped to spread the word of this delicious recipe throughout the country and, of course, cuts down on preparation time.
The noodles are served with a mixture of greens and diced potatoes and dressed with butter, sautéed garlic, sage and Swiss Casera and Parmesan cheeses (or grana padano). There are several variations to the recipe, including substituting the cabbage with Swiss chard, spinach or green beans depending on what you have on hand. The amount of butter can also be altered to your own preference although the original recipe states that the pizzoccheri should be practically drowning in the sage and garlic-infused butter. Vatellina Casera cheese can be difficult to find outside of Lombardy, so a good alternative is Italian Fontina, which is more widely available.
For the pasta:
- 2 cups (200 grams) fine buckwheat flour
- 1/2 cup (50 grams) plain flour
- About 1/2 cup (125 milliliters) water
- Pinch salt
For the pizzoccheri:
- 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) savoy cabbage
- 4 1/2 ounces (125 grams) potatoes (2 to 3 small potatoes)
- 1/3 cup (70 grams) unsalted butter
- 8-10 sage leaves
- 4 1/2 ounces (125 grams) Valtellina Casera DOP or Bitto (Gruyere or Fontina can be substituted), thinly sliced or shaved
- 2 ounces (about 60 grams) Grana Padano, grated
- 1 clove of garlic
- Freshly ground pepper
For the pasta:
Combine the two flours in a bowl and gradually add the water, mixing until well incorporated. Work the dough for a few minutes. It should be smooth and compact, but not dry or crumbly and it shouldn’t stick to your hands. If it’s dry, add a little more water until it becomes smooth. Rest the dough for at least 30 minutes.
Roll the dough out with a rolling-pin to a thickness of 2-3 millimeters (1/10 of an inch). With a sharp knife, cut the dough into large strips about 7-8 cm (2.5 to 3 inches) wide then cut these into short pasta strips about ¼ inch thick. (If you have a pasta machine, I would use it)
For the pizzoccheri:
Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Discard the outer leaves of the cabbage and chop roughly.
Boil a large saucepan of salted water, cook the potatoes for 20 minutes and then add the cabbage and pasta and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
Melt the butter in a separate pan and saute the garlic and sage.
Drain the potatoes, cabbage and pasta and layer in a dish with the melted butter, slices of cheese and black pepper.
Serve with Grana Padano cheese.
Risotto with Perch Fillets
This recipe is the national dish of Lake Como and one that is used in most of the area’s restaurants. Perch is one of the most valuable species of freshwater fish because of its tender and delicate meat and the fish can be found in all the lakes of Northern Italy.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups risotto rice
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup dry white wine
- Salt and black pepper for seasoning
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano cheese
- 4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable stock)
- 4 perch fillets (per person) – about 18 total
- Flour for coating
- Butter or oil for frying
In a heavy saucepan, heat the 4 tablespoons butter until it melts.
Add the chopped onion and cook until tender. Add the rice and mix it well. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until the liquid evaporates. Add the broth, a small amount at a time, stirring it constantly until all the liquid is absorbed.
When the rice is just about tender, add the salt, pepper and Parmigiano cheese.
Dredge the fillets in the flour and cook in a hot skillet in butter or oil, turning them over once, until each side is golden brown.
Spoon the rice onto a serving dish and top with the fish fillets.
Parmesan Barley Soup
Barley is a healthy high-fiber, high-protein whole grain containing numerous health benefits. When cooked, barley has a chewy texture and nutty flavor, similar to brown rice. Although soup is the most popular way to eat barley, you can use it like any other grain, such as couscous or rice. Hulless barley is unprocessed and takes longer to cook than pearl or pearled barley, which is more common. Quick cooking barley is just as healthy and takes only 10 minutes to cook. Try adding a handful of quick cooking barley to a simmering pot of soup.
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup minced onion
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 carrot, diced
- 2 ribs celery, sliced thin
- 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 2/3 cup barley
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 Parmesan rinds
- 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- 2 tablespoons milk or cream
- 1/4 cup white wine
- Sea or kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Pre-soak the barley in water to cover for one hour. Drain well and set aside.
Saute onions and garlic in olive oil for a minute or two, then add the diced carrots and celery. Reduce the heat and cook for another two to three minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add the red wine vinegar, stirring to coat the vegetables well.
Reduce heat to medium low and add the barley and vegetable broth, stirring to combine.
Heat for ten minutes, then add the Parmesan rinds and simmer for fifteen minutes, or until the barley is almost cooked.
Stir in the grated Parmesan cheese, milk, white wine and season lightly with salt and pepper. Heat another five minutes or until the barley is fully cooked.
Remove the Parmesan rinds and serve with additional Parmesan cheese.
Lake Como’s sweets are mainly cakes, tarts and pies that are eaten for breakfast and afternoon snacks. Among them you can find the cutizza, a homemade focaccia made of flour, milk, sugar and lemon peel. The cutizza is a sweet bread known as the poor man’s cake because it uses only a small amount of flour. This is a very old and rustic recipe.
- ½ lb white flour
- 6-7 oz whole milk
- Oil for frying
- 3 eggs
- Lemon rind
- Vanilla sugar
Break the eggs in a bowl, add the flour and mix well. Add the grated lemon and milk and mix until smooth. Add the smaller amount of milk at first and then more, if needed, to make a smooth dough.
Heat enough oil in a frying pan to just cover the bottom and pour in the mixture. Cook on one side and then turn over to cook the other side. Sprinkle with sugar and serve warm.
Variation: add some chopped apple to the mixture before cooking.
The cutizza can be eaten as a snack or as a dessert accompanied by a glass of Moscato.
Beans are a great source of fiber, antioxidants and protein. Many people choose the simplicity of canned beans over cooking dried beans. However, canned beans are more expensive per serving and often have other added ingredients. Cooking dried beans is not difficult. Here is some basic information.
Soaking the Beans
Always sort through beans to remove tiny stones or debris
Rinse well with water before adding beans to a large bowl
Add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches
Beans will be fully hydrated within 4 hours, but can soak for up to 24 hours
In hot weather, refrigerate beans while they soak
Quick Soak Technique
Combine beans and water in a pot and heat to boiling
Cook for 3 minutes
Remove from the heat, cover tightly, and set aside for an hour
Dry beans should always be cooked in soft water or they will be tough
You can add a pinch of baking soda to the pot if you have hard water
Adding salt to beans at the beginning of cooking toughens the skins and increases cooking time
Dry beans have a shelf life of one year
Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place
Always store leftover beans in their cooking liquid and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months
Dried Bean Guide
1/3 cup dry beans = 1 cup cooked beans
1/2 cup dry beans = 1 1/2 cups cooked beans
2/3 cup dry beans = 2 cup cooked beans
1 cup dry beans = 3 cups cooked beans
Basic Recipe for Cooking Dried Beans
- 1 pound dried beans
- Pinch baking soda
- 1 carrot, cut in half
- 1 celery stalk, cut in half
- 1/2 onion, cut in half
- 1 sprig rosemary or 1 bay leaf
The night before serving, rinse the beans, picking out any bad ones and place in a large bowl. Cover with water, add a pinch of baking soda and let soak at least 12 hours.
The next day, drain well. Place the beans in a heavy stock pot with the vegetables and rosemary and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the beans are tender.
Check them after 30 and 45 minutes because they may be done, depending on how fresh the beans are.
Remove the vegetables and rosemary sprig. Refrigerate until ready to use the beans. Drain and use the beans in the recipes below.
Clams and White Beans
- 2 cups cooked white beans
- 2 tablespoons cubed pancetta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 white or yellow onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 2 pounds clams
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- Salt and freshly grated black pepper
In a large frying pan, add the pancetta and the olive oil and cook on medium heat until the pancetta has rendered its fat and is beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.
Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate, reserving the fat in the pan. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and saute until soft, about 7 minutes.
Add the oregano, crumbling it with your hands to release the flavors, and then add the clams.
Continue cooking the clams, shaking and tossing them, until they all open. Discard any clams that do not open. Add the wine and beans, stir and return the pancetta to the pan. Heat until the beans are hot. Test for seasoning and add salt if needed.
In each bowl, ladle a portion of beans, some of the clams and their sauce, and a sprinkling of parsley. Serve with plenty of freshly grated black pepper.
Large White Beans with Vinaigrette
These giant beans and vegetables go well together. Serve with sandwiches, over greens or as part of an antipasto platter.
- 1/2 pound dried gigante beans or lima beans
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets (about 2 cups)
- 3 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped pepperoncini
Place beans in a large bowl and cover with 2 inches cold water. Let soak overnight.
Drain beans and place in a large sauce pot. Cover with 4 inches water and add the onion. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the beans are tender. Drain well.
Steam cauliflower and carrots until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well.
In a large bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt and chili flakes. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in oil until blended. Add beans, pepperoncini and vegetables, mix well and let marinate at least 4 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally.
Sautéed Spinach with Cannellini Beans
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (chili)
- 1 1/2 pounds spinach, trimmed and roughly chopped, (or escarole, curly endive, mustard greens, kale or broccoli rabe)
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 cans no-salt-added cannellini or other white beans, rinsed and drained or 4 cups dried beans as cooked above
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until the garlic is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the broth to the skillet and deglaze, scraping up any browned bits. Add beans and simmer until hot throughout, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add greens (in batches, if needed) and cook, tossing often, until wilted and bright green, 3 to 4 minutes. Mix well and season with salt and pepper. Serve piping hot with the cheese as a garnish.
Tomato Soup with Beans
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 6 cups chopped fresh tomatoes or canned Italian chopped tomatoes with juice
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 cups pinto, cannellini, kidney or black beans, canned and drained, or cooked, as directed above
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the chopped onion and cook on medium heat until soft. Add the minced garlic and cook a minute more.
Add the tomatoes and broth. Cook about 20 minutes
Stir in the brown sugar. Add half of the beans to the mixture. Use an immersion blender to blend the beans into the soup. Add the rest of the beans and salt and pepper to taste. Heat until hot.
Beef and Bean Burger
My favorite steak seasoning is Penzey’s Chicago Steak Seasoning that contains salt, Tellicherry black pepper, sugar, garlic, onion, lemon zest, citric acid and natural hickory smoke flavor. You will need to add salt to the recipe below if your favorite steak seasoning does not have it.
- 1/2 cup home cooked or canned (black or pinto) beans, rinsed and drained well
- 3/4 lb lean ground beef
- 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
- Olive oil for brushing on the burgers
- 1 teaspoon steak seasoning
- 4 thin slices Cheddar cheese
- 4 hamburger buns, lightly toasted
- Thinly sliced tomatoes, sliced red onion and lettuce leaves
Preheat an outdoor grill to medium. Oil the grill grates.
Place the beans on a cutting board and mash with the back of a fork or large spoon until smooth, but still a bit chunky. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Add the beef, bread crumbs and steak seasoning; mix until well combined.
Divide the beef mixture evenly and shape into 4 patties, each a bit larger in diameter than the hamburger buns. Create a small dimple in the center of the burger patty by pressing down with your fingers.
Brush both sides of the burgers lightly with olive oil.
Place the patties on the grill and cook until no longer pink inside and an instant-read thermometer registers about 160°F, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Place cheese slices on top of the patties one minutes before they are done. Transfer the burgers to the toasted buns. Serve with tomatoes, sliced onion and lettuce leaves.
Some Bread Baking Tips:
For the best bread, use the freshest ingredients that are at room temperature.
Measure your ingredients correctly. Use a dry measuring cup to measure the dry ingredients and use a glass or plastic liquid measuring cup to measure the liquids.
Do not scoop the flour with the measuring cup. You will end up using too much flour and the loaf will be heavy. Instead, use a spoon to lift the flour out of the container and into the measuring cup. Do not tap or shake the cup to put more flour into it. Simply level the top with a knife.
Don’t try to cut the loaf of bread right away, wait at least 15 minutes, so that you don’t tear the crust.
Quick breads will taste better if you wait until the next day to cut them.
Place the pans several inches apart on the center oven rack when baking the breads.
Oven temperatures may vary, so check your loaves about 10 minutes before the recipe says they should be done.
If the loaves are browning excessively, remove them from the oven, make an aluminum foil ‘tent’ to shield them and then return them to the oven.
Internal temperature should be between 190°F-205°F for completely baked loaves.
This is a great time of year to bake up some of these breads to have on hand for breakfast or for entertaining.
Whole Wheat Walnut Bread
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cups water (start with the smaller amount)
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 1/2 cups white whole-wheat flour
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped
In the large bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, combine all the ingredients and mix until dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl.
Switch to the dough hook attachment and knead 6 to 8 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and supple.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise until puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface and shape into 8-inch log. Tuck ends under as you place the log in a lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan.
Cover the pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap and allow the bread to rise for about 90 minutes until domed about 1-inch above edge of pan.
Bake the bread in preheated oven at 350 degrees F for about 35 to 40 minutes until golden brown and an instant read thermometer registers 190 degrees F at the center of the loaf.
When done, remove bread from the pan and cool on wire rack.
Almond Yellow Squash Bread
- 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup shredded yellow squash
- 1 cup sliced almonds, toasted
- Cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Spray an 8″ x 4″ loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.
Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
In a smaller bowl combine eggs, oil and vanilla. Add to the flour mixture and mix well.
Fold in the squash and almonds.
Spread the mixture in the baking pan.
Bake until deep golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean or an instant read thermometer registers 190 degrees F at the center of the loaf, about 50-70 minutes.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes; then remove the bread from the pan and continue cooling on the wire rack.
Cranberry Pecan Bread
- 3/4 cup white whole-wheat flour
- 3/4 cup spelt or quinoa flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
- 1/2 cup quick cooking oats, uncooked
- 1/2 cup sweetened applesauce
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2/3 cup dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
- Cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C).
Coat an 8″ x 4″ loaf pan with cooking spray. Set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together the flours, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder and baking soda.
In a separate bowl, mix the buttermilk, oats, applesauce and vanilla.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and thoroughly combine them. Mix in the cranberries and pecans. It should have a consistency a little thicker than pancake batter.
Pour the dough into the loaf pan.
Bake in the oven for 50 minutes, until a knife inserted into the loaf’s center comes out dry or an instant read thermometer registers 190 degrees F at the center of the loaf.
Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit for 20 minutes. Then remove the bread from the pan and let it cool before slicing.
Gluten-Free Pumpkin Bread
Brown Rice Flour Blend:
Whisk together 6 cups (28 1/2 ounces) brown rice flour; 2 cups (10 3/4 ounces) potato starch and 1 cup (4 ounces) tapioca flour or tapioca starch. Store airtight at room temperature.
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons honey or pure maple syrup
- 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix)
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1 3/4 cups brown rice flour blend, recipe above
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup chopped nuts
- 1/2 cup raisins, otional
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9″x 5″ loaf pan.
Whisk together the eggs, honey, pumpkin purée and oil. Set aside.
Whisk together the brown rice flour blend, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt and spices.
Add the egg mixture about half at a time, whisking until combined after each addition. Stir in nuts and raisins, if using.
Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and let it rest for 10 minutes.
Bake the bread for 50 to 60 minutes, until the middle springs back when lightly touched.
Remove the pan from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and cool completely for easy slicing.
Store, well-wrapped, at room temperature for several days; freeze for longer storage.
Italian Hazelnut Bread
- 9 ounces lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup toasted and coarsely chopped hazelnuts
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 1/4 cups bread flour
- 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
- 3 teaspoons instant active dry yeast
In the bowl of a stand mixer, place all the ingredients. Using the paddle attachment mix until a rough dough forms and all the flour is moistened.
Switch to the dough hook. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic; it should clear the sides of the bowl.
Add the hazelnuts and mix just until integrated into the dough.
Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, about 60 minutes.
Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment. Preheat the oven to 475º F.
Remove the plastic wrap from the bowl and turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Fold the dough over itself, as though you were folding a letter: 1/3 over the center, then the opposite 1/3 over that.
Lastly, fold dough in half again, perpendicular to the first folds (like you’re folding the letter in half) and shape into a round ball. Transfer to the prepared pan.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 10 minutes. Using a sharp serrated knife with as little pressure as possible, make a slash lengthwise along the top of the loaf.
Spray or sprinkle dough with water and transfer to the hot oven.
Bake at 475º F for 10 minutes and spray with water again. Reduce the oven temperature to 425º F, and continue to bake for about 30 minutes more, or until deep golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 200º F. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.