Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Springtime Desserts

SICILY — SPRING MORNING by Leonid Afremov

SICILY — SPRING MORNING by Leonid Afremov

Make some healthy, delicious spring desserts with in-season ingredients like lemon, berries, rhubarb, cherries and herbs. A great way to celebrate spring.

These desserts can fit any occasion, whether you are entertaining guests or as a delicious ending to a family dinner.

Olive Oil Cornmeal Cake with Strawberry Sauce

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Ingredients

  • 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely snipped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar or sparkling sugar
  • Strawberry Sauce, (recipe below)
  • Fresh basil leaves and/or fresh strawberries

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour an 8 x 1-1/2-inch round cake pan; set aside.

In a medium bowl stir together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together eggs, granulated sugar, milk and olive oil. Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture and snipped basil until combined.

Pour batter into prepared cake pan, spreading evenly. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Bake about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Remove cake from the pan. Turn cake, sugar side up. Cool completely on a wire rack.

To serve, cut cake into wedges. Serve with Strawberry Sauce and garnish with fresh basil leaves and/or fresh strawberries.

Strawberry Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of fresh strawberries, hulled
  • 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar

Directions

In a blender or food processor, combine strawberries, sugar and 1 tablespoon of the white balsamic vinegar. Cover and blend or process until smooth.

If desired, stir in additional white balsamic vinegar to taste. Cover and chill for up to 24 hours. Stir before serving.

Rosemary and Lemon Cupcakes

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Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ¾ cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons lemon extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Lemon Glaze (recipe below)

Directions

Let butter and eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Line fifteen 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with paper bake cups; set aside.

In a medium bowl combine cake flour, rosemary, baking powder and salt; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter on medium-high for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, lemon extract and vanilla. Beat on medium-high for 2 minutes until light and fluffy, scraping bowl.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately add flour mixture and milk to the butter mixture; beat on low after each addition, just until combined. Stir in the lemon peel and lemon juice.

Spoon batter into prepared cups to three-fourths full.

Bake 22 to 25 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean.

(Bake 36 mini cakes 15 to 18 minutes; 6 jumbo cakes 25 to 30 minutes.) Cool in the muffin pan on a rack 5 minutes. Remove muffins from the pan; cool completely.

Spoon Lemon Glaze on cupcakes. Let stand 10 minutes. Makes 15 (2-1/2-inch) cupcakes.

Lemon Glaze

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of powdered sugar
  • 5 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of finely shredded lemon peel

Directions

In a small bowl combine powdered sugar and enough of the lemon juice to reach spreading consistency. Stir in lemon peel.

Cherries Poached in Red Wine with Mascarpone Cream

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups red wine
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1-by-3-inch strip orange zest
  • 2 pounds sweet cherries, halved and pitted
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons honey

Directions

In a medium stainless-steel saucepan, combine the wine, sugar and orange zest. Bring to a simmer over moderately high heat. Add the cherries and bring back to a simmer. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the cherries are just tender, about 5 minutes. Pour into a glass or stainless-steel serving bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the mascarpone with the honey. Remove the strip of orange zest from the cherries. Serve the warm cherries and syrup in bowls or stemmed glasses, topped with a large dollop of the mascarpone cream.

Blueberry-Lemon Shortcakes

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter, cut up
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons fat-free milk
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons plain fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1 recipe Honey-Yogurt Cream (below)
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large bowl stir together flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Make a well in center of the flour mixture; set aside.

In a small bowl beat egg lightly with a fork. Stir in milk, 2 tablespoons of the honey, 2 tablespoons yogurt and the lemon peel. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened.

Using a large spoon, drop dough into 8 mounds onto a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden. Transfer shortcakes to a wire rack; let cool.

To serve, split the shortcakes in half horizontally. Place bottom halves on serving plates. Evenly top bottom halves with the Honey-Yogurt Cream and blueberries.

Top with shortcake tops and drizzle evenly with the remaining 1 tablespoon honey. Serve immediately.

Honey-Yogurt Cream

Ingredients

  • 1 ounce of plain fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • 1/2 cup of whipped cream

Directions

In a medium bowl stir together yogurt and honey. Fold in whipped cream.

Rhubarb Buckle

Buckle Is a type of cake made in a single layer with fresh fruit added to the batter. The topping is similar to a streusel, which gives it a buckled or crumpled appearance.

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For the cake

  • Vegetable-oil cooking spray, for cake pans
  • 1 pound plus 10 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

For the crumb topping

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup light-brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

Directions

Make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with the oven rack in the center position.

Coat two 9-inch square cake pans with cooking spray and line them with parchment, leaving an overhang on 2 sides.

Stir together rhubarb and 1 cup sugar; set aside to macerate.

Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt.

Beat together butter, remaining 1 cup of sugar and the lemon zest until light and fluffy.

Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then beat in vanilla. Beat in flour mixture in 2 additions, alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture.

Make the crumb topping:

Stir together flour, brown sugar and salt. Add melted butter; stir to combine.

Divide batter between the pans. Top with rhubarb mixture and sprinkle with crumb topping.

Bake until golden on top and cooked through, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Let cool completely in the pans on wire racks, then lift cakes from the pans using the parchment overhangs.

Remove parchment. Before serving, cut buckle into 2-inch squares.

Recipes From America’s Italian Communities – Part 4

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The Upper Midwest

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.

Detroit

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The growth of the automobile industry resulted in the increase of the Italian population in Detroit during the 20th Century. By 1925 the number of Italians in the city had increased to 42,000. The historical center of Detroit’s Italian-American community was in an area along Gratiot Avenue, east of Downtown Detroit. There were larger numbers of southern Italians than those from the north. However, Armando Delicato, author of Italians in Detroit, wrote that “Unlike many other American cities, no region of Italy was totally dominant in this area”.

The Roma Cafe In downtown Detroit’s historic Eastern Market, is the oldest Italian restaurant in Detroit, dating back to 1890. The restaurant offers a classic Italian-American menu with hearty pastas, seafood, steak and vegetable options.

The Marazza family operated a boarding house with a warm meal included for Eastern Market vendors and farmers. Mrs. Marazza’s reputation as a fine cook spread quickly throughout the Eastern Market area.  At the urging of her diners, she opened her restaurant in February of 1890, called the Roma Café.

In 1918, the business was sold to John Battaglia and Morris Sossi.  During their partnership, an addition was put on the building and the same building is still standing there today. The following year, John Battaglia died and Morris Sossi bought out his widow to become the sole owner of Roma Café.

Morris Sossi’s nephew, Hector Sossi, began working as a busboy for his uncle in 1940. Hector Sossi carried on the family tradition and bought out Morris in 1965 to become the next  owner of the Roma Café. Mr. Sossi remains the owner with a third generation family member at the helm.  His daughter, Janet Sossi Belcoure, currently manages this historic Italian eatery.

A specialty of the house, the tomato meat sauce is excellent — a little sweet, but without any acidity. And its recipe is a closely guarded secret. The recipe below is a classic version of this favorite Italian American dish.

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Cheese Ravioli with Old-Fashioned Meat Sauce

Ingredients

Meat Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3/4 pound extra-lean ground beef
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1 16-ounce can tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • Salt and pepper

Ravioli

  • 3/4 pound purchased fresh cheese ravioli
  • Freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Directions
Heat the olive oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add ground beef and garlic and sauté until meat is no longer pink, breaking it up with a fork, about 5 minutes.

Puree tomatoes with juices in a processor. Add to the saucepan. Add canned tomato puree, herbs and dried crushed red pepper. Simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

Cook ravioli in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to the bite. Drain well. Arrange ravioli on a large platter or in a large pasta bowl. Add just enough sauce to coat the ravioli;. Serve, passing cheese separately.

 

Milwaukee

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Italians first came to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in the late 19th century. In the early part of the 20th century, large numbers of Italian immigrants came from Sicily and southern Italy. Brady Street, the historic Third Ward, is considered the heart of Italian immigration in the city, where as many as 20 Italian grocery stores once existed on the street.

Most  of the Italian immigrants found jobs working along the railroad, in factory positions and doing general municipal work for the city. Thanks to the city’s close proximity to Chicago and Lake Michigan, Milwaukee’s economy grew and decent paying jobs were available to the immigrants. The city also has an Italian newspaper called The Italian Times printed by the Italian Community Center (ICC).

Every year the largest Italian American festival in the United States, Festa Italiana, takes place in Milwaukee. Italian Americans still number at around 16,992 in the city, but in Milwaukee County they number at 38,286. Festa Italiana is held annually at the Henry Maier Festival Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is the largest Italian-American festival in America and features Italian music, food and entertainment. Sponsored by the Italian Community Center, the festival is also known for its large fireworks show and a cannoli eating contest.

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Capellini alla Caprese

by Milwaukee Italian chef/owner, Gino Fazzari

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces capellini or angel hair pasta
  • 2 ounces prosciutto, small dice
  • 2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon onion, small dice
  • ½ teaspoon garlic, small dice
  • ½ tablespoon Italian parsley, rough chop
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of red pepper
  • 2 ounces Roma tomatoes, small dice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh basil, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces chardonnay
  • 4 ounces heavy cream
  • 1 ounce Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, grated
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Put a large pot with plenty of water on the stove to boil. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add 2 tablespoons of salt.

In a medium sauté pan, heat extra virgin olive oil 2 minutes over medium heat. Add prosciutto, onion, bay leaf, red pepper flakes and parsley. Sauté until onion is translucent and prosciutto softens but is not crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute.

Deglaze the pan with the chardonnay and cook out the alcohol for about 1 minute. Add tomato, heavy cream and basil and cook for 2-3 minutes.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and add to the sauce. Lower heat to low, add half of the Parmigiano cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. Serve immediately garnished with remaining Parmigiano cheese.

Elmwood Park

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Elmwood Park, a village on the northwest side of Chicago, Illinois, has long maintained a large Italian-American population. The population was 24,883 at the 2010 census. One of Elmwood Park’s most notable establishments is Johnnie’s Beef, which is known for its Italian-style beef sandwiches.

In 1977 George Randazzo created the Italian American Boxing Hall of Fame as a way to raise money for local youth programs. After a successful year and a dinner honoring 23 former Italian American boxing champions, Randazzo created the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame. The original location was in Elmwood Park, Illinois. The first induction ceremony honored Lou Ambers, Eddie Arcaro, Charley Trippi, Gino Marchetti, Dom DiMaggio, Joe DiMaggio and Vince Lombardi. Since its founding in 1978, over 230 Italian Americans have been inducted into this hall of fame. It is now located in Chicago.

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Johnnie’s Beef Recipe

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Yield: Makes about 10 sandwiches with about 1/4 pounds of meat each.

In Johnnie’s words:

Allow about 2 hours to cook and another 3 hours to firm the meat for slicing in the refrigerator, if you don’t have a meat slicer. You need 90 minutes to cook a 3 pound roast, or about 30 minutes per pound. You can cook this well in advance and refrigerate the meat and juice and heat it up as needed. You can even freeze it. This is a great Sunday dish because the smell of the roasting beef and herbs fills the house. After you cook it, you need another 30 minutes to chill it before slicing.

Ingredients

The beef

1 boneless beef sirloin butt roast, about 3 pounds with most of the fat trimmed off

The rub

  • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

The juice

  • 6 cups of hot water
  • 4 cubes of beef bouillon

The sandwich

  • 10 soft, fluffy, high gluten rolls, sliced lengthwise but hinged on one side or Italian bread loaves cut width-wise into 10 portions
  • 3 medium sized green bell peppers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, approximately
  • 1 cup hot giardiniera

Directions

About the beef.

Top sirloin, top round or bottom round are preferred in that order for tenderness.

About the garlic. If you wish, omit the garlic powder and stud the roast with fresh garlic.

About the bouillon.

I have encountered lively debate on the makeup of the juice as I developed this recipe. Some insist you must use bouillon to be authentic, while others use beef stock, veal stock, or a soup base, and simmer real onions and garlic in it. The bouillon advocates have won me over on the authenticity argument, although I must confess, soup base is my favorite.

Do this

1) If you wish, you can cut small slits in the surface of the meat every inch or so and stick slivers of fresh garlic into the meat. If you do this, leave the garlic out of the rub. Otherwise, mix the rub in a bowl. Sprinkle it generously on the meat and massage it in. There will be some left over. Do not discard it, we will use it in the juice. Let the meat sit at room temp for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the grill or oven to 400° F. If you are cooking indoors, put a rack just below the center of the oven.

2) Pour the water into a 9 x 13″ baking pan and heat it to a boil on the stovetop. Dissolve the bouillon in the water. It may look thin, but it will cook down and concentrate during the roasting. Pour the remaining rub into the pan. Place a rack on top of the pan. Place the roast on top of the rack above the juice. Roast at 400°F until interior temperature is 140°F for medium rare, about 30 minutes per pound. This may seem long, but you are cooking over water and that slows things down. The temp will rise about 5°F more as it rests. Don’t worry if there are people who won’t eat medium-rare meat. The meat will cook further in step 5, and you can just leave theirs in the juice until it turns to leather if that’s what they want. If you use a rotisserie on your grill, you can cut the cooking time in half because the spear and the forks holding it in place will conduct heat into the interior.

Be aware.

This recipe is designed for a 9 x 13″ baking pan. If you use a larger pan, the water may evaporate and the juice will burn. If you have to use a larger pan, add more water. Regardless of pan size, keep an eye on the pan to make sure it doesn’t dry out during cooking. Add more water if necessary.

3) While the meat is roasting (mmmmm, smells sooooo good), cut the bell peppers in half and remove the stems and seeds. Rinse, and cut into 1/4″ strips. Cook the peppers in a frying pan over a medium high heat with enough olive oil to coat the bottom, about 1 tablespoon. When they are getting limp and the skins begin to brown, about 15 minutes, they are done. Set aside at room temp.

4) Remove the roast and the juice pan. Let the meat sit for about 30 minutes for the juices to be reabsorbed into the meat fibers, and then place it in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Let it cool for about a few hours, long enough for the meat to firm up. This will make slicing easier. Slice the meat against the grain as thin as humanly possible, preferably with a meat slicer. My wife remembers that her family would cook the roast and take it to the butcher to slice on his machine. That’s a good strategy if you don’t have a meat slicer. This, of course, is against health codes today. If you don’t have a slicer, use a thin blade and draw it along the red part of the meat. If you try to cut down through the crust you will be cutting it too thick.

5) Taste the juice. If you want you can thin it with more water, or make it richer by cooking it down on top of the stove. In Chicago beef stands it is rich, but not too concentrated. Then turn the heat to a gentle simmer. Soak the meat in the juice for about 1 minute at a low simmer. That’s all. That warms the meat and makes it very wet. You can’t leave the meat in the juice for more than 10 minutes or else it starts to curl up, squeezes out its natural moisture, and toughens. If you go to a beef stand and the meat is really curly, they have committed a mortal sin. At Mr. Beef, for example, I watched them take a handful of cooked beef and dump it into the juice every time they took out enough for a sandwich. This also enriches the juice with meat protein and seasoning from the crust.

6) To assemble the sandwich, start by spooning some juice directly onto the bun. Get it wet. Then lay on the beef generously. Spoon on more juice (don’t burn your hand). Top it with bell pepper and, if you wish, giardiniera. If you want it “wet”, dip the whole shootin’ match in juice. Be sure to have plenty of napkins on hand.

Des Moines

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Anthony “Tony” L.  Sarcone once joked that when he came to Des Moines in 1905, the only English he knew was “522 Elm Street” – his brother’s address. The feeling he experienced being a stranger in a new land led him to a life dedicated to organizing and encouraging the Americanization of the Italian immigrants in Iowa. Tony Sarcone was born in Crucoli, Italy on March 1, 1884.  He worked on the railroad when he first came to Des Moines.  From 1910 – 1914, he managed a shoe store.  He then went to work for the city’s health department, where he served through World War I and until 1928.

Sarcone is best known as the founder of the Sarcone Publishing Company.  He published the weekly Italian language newspaper, Il Risveglio (The Awakening). in 1922.  In 1925, he changed the name of newspaper to the American Citizen.  During the late 1920’s the newspaper gradually converted from Italian to English, reflecting the Italian immigrants’ own language transition.

Though extremely proud of his Italian heritage, Sarcone was also very passionate about the ideals of his adopted country.  He dedicated a significant portion of his newspaper to encouraging his readers to pursue American citizenship.  He published preparatory materials for those studying for their citizenship, provided information on naturalization classes and reported on those who recently became Americans.  Source: The Italians in Iowa · A documentary about the history of Italians in Iowa.

Graziano Brothers makes only about 3,000 pounds of sausage a week and most of it remains in the greater Des Moines area, says Frances Graziano, president of the company. It was her grandfather, Francis, and his brother, Louis, who opened Graziano Brothers in 1912 at the current location on Des Moines’ South Side. For decades, their sausage was made using a meat grinder with a hand crank. Today, the grinding and mixing is done on a larger scale, but it’s nowhere near the point of being mass-produced. Whenever Frances Graziano allows herself to toy with the notion of making more sausage, she comes back to one thing: To sell more, some production would have to be moved off-premise.

The hot sausage recipe dates back to a time when Italian was spoken regularly on the South Side of Des Moines and sausage was made at home. Hot Italian sausages “were usually made in Italian homes during the winter time and hung up to dry. Pieces were cut from the sausages, cooked and eaten,” newspaper writer Kenneth Land observed in 1962 on the occasion of Graziano Brothers’ 50th anniversary. Mike Graziano, the father of Frances, spoke with pride in that newspaper article about pure pork used in the sausage. The same is true today. “We even use real hog casings,” Frances says. “That makes a big difference. We don’t use anything synthetic or fillers.” Source: Des Moines Register.

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Graziano’s on the Grill

In a large skillet, place sausage links and water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Remove sausage and transfer to prepared grill. Grill 6 inches from the heat source for 10 to 13 minutes, turning occasionally, until no pink color remains. To grill bulk sausage, pat sausage meat as you would a hamburger and grill.

Read Part 1

Read Part 2

Read Part 3

Italian Regional Cooking – Basilicata

 

BasilicatacoverThe region of Basilicata in Italy forms the instep of the Italian “boot.” This small region is mountainous arid has two coastlines, one in the center of the Gulf of Taranto in the Ionian Sea and the other on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Potenza is the regional capital.

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The population is rather small at about 611,000 people.  Although Basilicata has never had a large population, there have been considerable fluctuations in the demographic pattern of the region. In 1881, there were 539,258 inhabitants but by 1911 the population had decreased by 11% to 485,911, mainly as a result of emigration overseas.

Basilicata has been victim to many devastating earthquakes over the centuries making it hard for the region to develop into an industrialized area. The effects of such earthquakes can be seen in the local landscape and are fascinating from a geological standpoint.

What little industry there is centers around chemicals and natural gas. About 55% of the population is employed in the service related fields (though many of these positions could also be considered agricultural), about 32% are employed in industry and about 13% of the work force is in agriculture. Industrial development is low, though there are some flourishing craft sectors, such as ceramic, woodwork and textile industries in the region.

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Agriculture plays a major role in the region’s economy despite the fact that dry weather and limited underground water supplies make farming difficult. Olives, plums and cereals are grown and sheep and goats are raised. There is also some fishing.

The charm of Basilicata lies in the numerous small ancient villages decorating the region. There is little in the way of highways and railways because of the mountainous nature of the region. Visitors will be attracted to the ancient architecture and historical art of the region’s numerous small churches and medieval castles. The coastline is covered in some of Italy’s finest archaeological ruins. The outdoor markets of Basilicata offer an array of unique handmade items that one would not normally find in other regions.

The cuisine of Basilicata is based on simple, local products used efficiently to minimize waste.

Minimal amounts of meat are used in Basilicata recipes, however, pig farming plays a major role in the food culture. Pork from this region is noticeably leaner than in other parts of Italy, due in large part to the mountainous terrain. Many of the pigs graze in the hills alongside goats and sheep, so they tend to have less fat, more lean muscle mass and a different flavor than one would expect from most pork products. Sausage making is a primary use of pork in the region and the sausage often includes spicy peperoncini. Local favorites include lucanica (a spicy sausage), pezzente (“beggar’s” salami) and pancetta.

Basilicata Sausages

Basilicata Sausages

Other pork dishes include a popular stew called peperonata con carne di porco, which cooks several cuts of pork in a tomato and pepper sauce. Pork rind is filled with a mixture of salt pork, peppers and garlic and simmered in tomato sauce until tender. Poultry is also used in Basilicata cooking. A specialty of the region is pollo alla potentina, a chicken, onion and pepper dish gently cooked in a basil flavored wine and tomato sauce.

Basilicata produce include regional specialties, the Sarconi bean and Senise peppers. The peppers are usually fried with potatoes and eggplant and then stewed with tomatoes to make ciammotta. Another commonly eaten vegetable dish combines artichokes and potatoes and braises them with salt pork, fava beans and onions. Chickpeas, fava beans, lentils, durum wheat, artichokes, broccoli, rapini, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, carrots, olives and wine grapes are all staple crops and provide the hearty basis for countless dishes made in the Basilicata tradition. Acquasale is a tomato soup that is seasoned with onions, garlic and oil and thickened with bread. Minestra maritata has a blend of meat and vegetables simmered with pasta that sometimes contains breadcrumb dumplings. Other times, the soup may contain filling beans.

Anchovies and salt cod are usually preserved for later use, while tuna and sardines are often eaten fresh. Zuppa di pesce alla Santavenere contains a selection of local seafood in a savory soup.

Local wheat is used to make pasta and rustic bread. The bread is often incorporated into soups when stale. Basilicata is home to countless types of durum wheat pastas, some incorporating lentil flour or other bean flours. Orecchiette (“little ears”), lagane (lasagna), minuich (hand rolled tubes), firricieddi (twists), manate (tagliatelle), minuiddi (shaped like small quills), tapparelle (like orechiette but larger), rascatielli (corkscrew shaped) and lacane chiappute (a wide tagliatelle) are just a few of the pasta cuts popular in Basilicata. Most are served with a simply prepared tomato sauce that contains chili peppers, olive oil and garlic.

Traditional Kitchen in Basilicata

Traditional Kitchen in Basilicata

Equally as diverse are the different types of breads made in the region, rounding out the rustic country fare that seems to pair so well with dishes made from fresh vegetables and the cheeses of the area.

Lamb dishes are popular and sheep and goat’s milk are used to make cheese, such as canestrato. Lamb and potatoes are placed in a terracotta casserole dish with onions, peppers and bay leaves to make spezzatino di agnello.

Local cheeses also include, cacioricotta Lucano (a sheep and goat milk cheese that is particularly good grated over orecchiette pasta), Lucania mozzarella, Casieddu di Moliterno (a sheep’s milk cheese wrapped in leaves) and pecorino Lucano.

Easter festival

Easter festival

A popular treat in Basilicata is mostacciolo, an almond cookie flavored with cooked wine and sweetened with honey. Cuccia is another local favorite. It is an orange zest and honey flavored walnut pudding made with grano cheese.

It is on the upper slopes of Basilicata’s mountainous region that the finest wines are made. Basilicata boasts 4 DOC identified wines, of which Aglianico del Vulture is the most prolific. The grapes were first introduced to Basilicata by the Greeks in the 6th – 7th century. These wines have gained a significant following in the international market.

Traditional Recipes From Basilicata

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Canestrato Cheese

Broccoli Rabe Soup Over Bread

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Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound broccoli rabe or other greens
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ¾ ounces pancetta
  • 1 large onion
  • 2/3 cup Pecorino cheese grated
  • Salt to taste
  • Bread slices

Directions

Dice the pancetta and thinly slice the onion.

Wash broccoli rabe very well, chop coarsely and boil in salted water until tender.

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat, add pancetta and onion and sauté for about 5 minutes or until the onion is tender.

Stir in cooked broccoli rabe and saute for 2 minutes

Pour in hot broth. Cook for an additional 5 minutes and season with salt and pepper

Toast slices of bread in a preheated 400°F oven for 5 – 10 minutes.

Place a slice or two of bread in individual soup bowls and ladle hot soup over the bread. Serve with grated Pecorino cheese.

Pasta with Red Pepper Sauce

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Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound thick spaghetti (bucatini) or fettuccine
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 of a large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 hot red pepper
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 5 basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup shaved Pecorino cheese

Directions

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat and add the onion, chili pepper and garlic.

Once the onion and the garlic have browned, add the bell peppers, salt and black pepper and cook until the peppers are very soft.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water for the time indicated on the package for al dente. Save some of the pasta water for the sauce.

Drain the pasta and mix it with the peppers and onions and some of the pasta water to make a sauce. Mix well.

Garnish the dish with Pecorino cheese, basil and a drizzle of olive oil.

Basilicata Style Chicken

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Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 3 pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 2/3 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 small bunch parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 ½ tablespoons dry white wine
  • Chili pepper flakes to taste
  • Garnish with basil leaves or rosemary
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Heat the olive oil and butter together in a large skillet over medium heat.

Add pieces of chicken and thinly sliced onion and cook until golden.

Deglaze the pan with the white wine and add the hot pepper. Add tomatoes, parsley, basil or rosemary and salt.

Cover and cook over medium heat for 1 hour until the chicken, adding spoonfuls of water if the sauce becomes too thick.

Remove from the heat and garnish with basil or rosemary leaves. This dish is often served with wedges of roasted potatoes.

Chocolate-Almond Cookies (Strazzate)

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Makes about 34 Cookies

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, for greasing the pans
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ¾ cups finely ground, plus 2 tablespoons roughly chopped, almonds
  • 1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup Strega or Galliano liqueur
  • 1/3 cup coffee, at room temperature

Directions

Heat oven to 325°F. Grease 2 parchment-lined baking sheets with butter and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the baking powder and 1 tablespoon lukewarm water until dissolved, 20 seconds.

Combine ground and chopped almonds, flour, sugar, chocolate chips, cocoa powder, oil and salt in a large bowl. With a wooden spoon, vigorously stir in the baking powder mixture, liqueur and coffee to form a wet dough.

Divide the dough into 1-oz. portions. Using your hands, roll the dough into balls and transfer to prepared baking sheets spaced about 1-inch apart.

Bake until set, about 25 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool to firm before serving.

Steak and …..

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For conscious carnivores who like beef, the best option — for your health and for the environment — is meat from pastured cattle raised on grass from start to finish. They’re rich in good fats and managed in a sustainable way. And if you use the meat as a supporting player, rather than the main attraction, you can serve more people while spending less.

For good tasting grass-fed beef, the key is to limit the exposure to high heat so that the meat juices, in limited supply, do not escape, which is what happens over extended cooking times. Keep the steak over the hottest part of the grill for no more than 3½ minutes per side.

While your grill preheats, or about 30 minutes in advance, take the steaks out the refrigerator to take off some of the chill. Use a paper towel to pat them dry on both sides and season them well with kosher salt.

Oil the grill and place the steaks on the hottest part of the grill. Set your timer for 3 minutes for rare or 3½ minutes if you like medium-rare. Use tongs to turn the steak and reset the timer for 3 to 3½ minutes. If you have a digital instant-read thermometer, check the temperature during the last 30 seconds of cooking. For rare, remove the meat at 125 degrees, for medium-rare 130 degrees. Let the steak rest for five minutes before serving.

Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup minced shallots
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more for steaks and grill
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 4 3/4-inch-thick grass-fed rib-eye steaks
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • 4 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Simmer vinegar in small pan over medium heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Add shallots, 1/4 cup oil, and crushed red pepper; return to simmer. Remove from heat; whisk in parsley, capers, and thyme. Season vinaigrette with salt and pepper.

Rub both sides of steaks with oil and garlic. Mix paprika, 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper in small bowl. Sprinkle on both sides of steaks. Let stand at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Brush grill rack with oil to coat. Grill steaks until cooked to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer steaks to plates. Spoon vinaigrette over each steak.

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Stuffed Grilled Zucchini

Ingredients

  • 4 medium zucchini
  • 5 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 2 T chopped celery
  • 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 chopped plum tomato
  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Cut zucchini in half lengthwise; scoop out the pulp, leaving 1/4-inch in the shells. Brush with 2 teaspoons oil; set aside. Chop the zucchini pulp.

In a large skillet, saute pulp, celery and onion in remaining oil. Add garlic and tomato; cook 1 minute longer. Add panko crumbs; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the mozzarella cheese, basil and salt. Spoon mixture into the zucchini shells. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Grill, covered, over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until zucchini is tender.

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Basil Potatoes

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs new potatoes, halved
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, plus 2 teaspoons
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions

Place the potatoes, chicken stock, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Drain the potatoes and place them in a serving bowl. Drizzle with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add the lemon zest and 3 tablespoons of basil. Toss well and garnish with the remaining chopped basil.

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Creamy Spinach

Ingredients

  • 2-10 oz packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons ⅓ less fat cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat oil  in small saucepan and add garlic; cook 1 minute.

Add spinach and heat.

Make a well in the center of the spinach and add the milk and cream cheese.

Heat and stir until cheese is dissolved throughout spinach.  Season with salt & pepper to taste.

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Carrot, Olive and Feta Salad

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds medium carrots, trimmed, peeled and chopped
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for roasting
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (about ½ a lemon)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
  • 1 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted and halved
  • 6 ounces feta cheese, chopped

Directions

Mix carrots with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Spread onto a cookie sheet and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Roast for 30-35 minutes in a 350°F oven until tender. The cooking time will vary according to the thickness of the carrots. Be careful not to overcook.

In a small bowl whisk together the 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and herbs.

Once the roasted carrots are cooled to room temperature, mix together the carrots, olives, feta, and olive oil mixture and place on a serving platter.

Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to two days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

 

Italian Passover

AN ITALIAN MAJOLICA PASSOVER PLATE The center with the Kiddush and the order of the Seder, surrounded by wide molded rim with scenes of Joseph Greeting his Brothers and the Passover Meal in Egypt, four heroes (Moses, Aaron, Solomon, David), and two floral plaques in molded borders, late 19th century.

AN ITALIAN MAJOLICA PASSOVER PLATE
The center with the Kiddush and the order of the Seder, surrounded by wide molded rim with scenes of Joseph Greeting his Brothers and the Passover Meal in Egypt, four heroes (Moses, Aaron, Solomon, David), and two floral plaques in molded borders, late 19th century.

The Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation over 3,300 years ago from slavery in ancient Egypt. When the Pharaoh freed the Israelites, it is said that they left in such a hurry that they could not wait for bread dough to rise. For the duration of Passover no leavened bread is eaten and that is why Passover is also called “The Festival of the Unleavened Bread”. Matzo (flat unleavened bread) is a symbol of the holiday. Other scholars teach that in the time of the Exodus, matzo was commonly baked for the purpose of traveling because it did not spoil and was light to carry, suggesting that matzo was baked intentionally for the long journey ahead.

It is traditional for Jewish families to gather on the first night of Passover for a special dinner called a seder. The table is set with the finest china and silverware to reflect the importance of the meal. During this meal, the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special text called the Haggadah. The Passover seder is one of the great traditions of the Jewish faith. Following the pre-meal chants, the charoset is passed around. “With unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it,” is recited while biting into the Passover matzo, horseradish and charoset. One of the most revered of Jewish dishes, it closes the ceremony and begins the feast. Charoset is a dense fruit paste that represents the mortar used by the ancient Hebrew slaves in Egypt to make bricks.

S.A.Hart, Festa della Legge in Livorno's Antica Sinagoga, 1850

S.A.Hart, Festa della Legge in Livorno’s Antica Sinagoga, 1850

People rarely associate Judaism with Italy, probably because Rome has hosted the seat of the Catholic Church for close to 2000 years. Jews arrived long before the Christians, however. Jewish traders built one of the first synagogues in Ostia Antica (an area just outside of present day Rome) during the second century BC. With time the Jewish population grew and swelled and historians have calculated that by the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD), there were more than 50,000 Jews living in Rome and dozens of Jewish communities scattered throughout the Roman territory.

Telemaco Signorini, Il Ghetto di Firenze, 1882

Telemaco Signorini, Il Ghetto di Firenze, 1882

Like their fellow countrymen, Italian Jews suffered through thousands of years of invasions that followed the fall of the Roman Empire, but they managed to live fairly peacefully in Italy almost everywhere — from Venice, where the Isola della Giudecca (across the canal from Piazza San Marco) is so named because it was the home of many Jews, to the Arab lands of southern Italy. At least until 1492, when the Spaniards drove the Arabs back across the Mediterranean Sea into Africa and turned the liberated territories of Sicily and Southern Italy over to the Inquisition. Southern Italian Jews fled north to more tolerant regions, where they were joined by Jews from other parts of Europe as well. Florence, Torino, Mantova and Bologna all had strong Jewish communities during the renaissance.

Because Passover celebrates freedom, a small amount of charoset is placed on the seder plate as a reminder to Jews that they were once slaves and they should not take their freedom for granted.

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Italian Charoset

(adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden)

In Italy there are various regional versions of haroset. The haroset of Padua has prunes, raisins, dates, walnuts, apples and chestnuts. In Milan they make it with apples, pears, dates, almonds, bananas and orange juice. Other possible additions include: chopped lemon or candied orange peel, walnuts, pistachios, dried figs, orange or lemon juice, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.

Ingredients

  • 3 apples, sweet or tart
  • 2 pears
  • 2 cups sweet wine
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cups ground almonds
  • 1/2 lb. dates, pitted and chopped
  • 3/4 cup yellow raisins or sultanas
  • 4 oz. prunes, pitted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup honey or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Directions

Peel and core the apple and pears and cut them in small pieces. Put all the ingredients into a pan together and cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, until the fruits are very soft, adding a little water, if it becomes too thick.

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Sweet-And-Sour Celery (Sephardic Passover Apio)

Servings 8

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons mild honey
  • 4 lbs celery, cut into 2-inch pieces, reserving about 1 cup of celery leaves (2 to 3 bunches)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley

Directions

Cut a round of parchment paper to fit just inside a wide heavy 6-to 8-quart pan, then set the paper round aside.

Simmer water, lemon juice, oil, honey, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in the pan, stirring, until the honey has dissolved.

Stir in celery (but not leaves) and cover with the parchment round. Simmer until tender and liquid is reduced to about 1/4 cup, 35 to 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, coarsely chop reserved leaves. Serve celery sprinkled with celery leaves and parsley.

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Chicken with Lemon and Olives

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breast halves (about 1 1/2 pounds), skin removed
  • 4 thighs (about 1 pound), skin removed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup pitted whole green olives
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander 
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Directions

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Add chicken; cook 3 minutes on each side or until browned. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Add onion and garlic to the pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Add browned chicken, broth, olives, cinnamon, ginger and coriander; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes.

Turn chicken over; cook, uncovered for 15 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the pan with a slotted spoon; place 1 chicken piece on each of 4 plates. Add lemon zest, juice, and parsley to the pan; cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Spoon sauce over chicken.

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Vegetable Farfel Kugel

Farfel is small pellet or flake shaped pasta used in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine. It is made from an egg noodle dough and is frequently toasted before being cooked. It can be served in soups or as a side dish. In the United States, it can also be found pre-packaged as egg barley. During the Jewish holiday of Passover, when dietary laws pertaining to grains are observed, “matzah farfel” takes the place of the egg noodle version. Matzah farfel is simply matzah broken into small pieces

Serves 12

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 cups coarsely grated carrots
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 10 ounce package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 6 ounces matzah farfel
  • 7 large eggs, whites only
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • Dash pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • Dash paprika

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease 9 x 13 inch oven proof dish.

In a large, nonstick skillet, sauté the fresh vegetables in oil 3-5 minutes. Add drained spinach. Pour boiling water over farfel (in a strainer) to moisten. Add farfel, vegetables, salt, pepper and nuts. Cool.

Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into the farfel mixture. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake 45 minutes or longer until browned.

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Passover Honey Nut Cake

(adapted from A TREASURY OF JEWISH HOLIDAY BAKING By Marcy Goldman)

Cake

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely minced orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup matzoh cake meal
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped hazelnuts or almonds
  • 1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Soaking Syrup

  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease a 7-inch round layer cake pan. (If you do not have one that size, you can use a round foil pan of the same or similar size available in the supermarket baking aisle).

Cake:

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, using a wire whisk, beat the granulated and brown sugars with the oil and eggs until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. Stir in the remaining batter ingredients. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is light brown and set. Cool for at least 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the Soaking Syrup.

Soaking Syrup:

In a medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Heat to dissolve the sugar and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, until the mixture becomes syrupy. Cool well.

Pour the cooled syrup over the cooled cake, poking holes in the cake with a fork, to permit the syrup to penetrate. Allow it to stand for 2 to 4 hours to absorb the syrup.

Refrigerating this cake while it is absorbing the liquid helps the cake to firm up, which makes it easier to cut.

Make Good Use of Spring Produce

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Soft, woodsy flavors and aromas are the hallmarks of spring’s earliest produce that include an assortment of mushrooms, bright green asparagus and artichokes.

Savor the peak of asparagus season by roasting fresh, green spears to enhance their flavor and provide for a more tender texture.

Step away from the strong flavors of winter, like garlic and onions, and explore some milder flavoring ingredients, such as shallots and green onions (spring onions).

Leafy herbs become widely available in spring and are great on everything.

Radishes are root vegetables with a distinctive flavor that range from mild to sharp, depending on the variety. To choose the best, pick radishes that are deep in color with solid roots.

All types of leafy greens and lettuces begin to bloom in the spring. With temperatures warming, it is time to replace stews and casseroles with salads at the dinner table.

Although rhubarb is often used as a fruit in sweet pies and jams, rhubarb is actually a vegetable. You can find rhubarb in a range of colors, from green to bright pink and everything in between (color doesn’t indicate ripeness) in the market until June.

Strawberries are at their peak in the spring. Be sure to purchase firm red berries with no soft or mushy spots. Store in the refrigerator, but keep them dry. Don’t wash until ready to eat and serve at room temperature.

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Grilled Artichokes with Dipping Sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 medium artichokes
  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce or chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1  teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions

Cut 1/2 inch off the top of each artichoke. Cut each in half vertically and, using scissors, trim the pointy ends off the leaves. Carefully cut out the fuzzy choke in the center and discard.

Rub the artichokes all over with lemon. Fill a large pot with water and fit with a steaming rack. Place the artichokes on a rack and steam until they are tender and easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.

Preheat an outdoor or indoor grill to high heat.

For the sauce: In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, hot sauce and  honey. Sir well. Set aside.

Brush the cut side of each artichoke with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Grill artichokes, cut side down, until evenly charred, 4 to 5 minutes.

Serve hot with the dipping sauce.

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Vegetable and Fruit Spring Salad

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh tarragon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 8 ounces fresh green beans, trimmed
  • 8 ounces fresh sugar snap peas, trimmed
  • 4 ounces radishes, sliced in thin rounds (about 1 cup)
  • 1 cup sliced or quartered strawberries

Directions

For the dressing: Combine vinegar, oil, chopped strawberries, sugar, tarragon, salt and pepper in a screw top jar. Cover; shake until combined. Set aside.

In a large pot cook green beans and peas in boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain; rinse with cold water. In a large bowl toss cooked beans and peas with dressing. Cover; chill for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. Stir in radishes and sliced strawberries before serving.

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Roasted Asparagus and Wild Mushrooms

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms (such as crimini, oyster, chanterelles, morels, stemmed shiitakes), sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 1/2 pounds medium thick asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 475°F.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and garlic, sauté until mushrooms are brown and just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Add lemon juice and parsley, toss to coat. Set aside.

Arrange asparagus on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast asparagus until just tender, about 10 minutes. Arrange asparagus on a serving platter and top with mushrooms.

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Penne Primavera with Salmon

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces salmon, cut into 2 portions
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt or coarse sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 12 ounces whole wheat penne
  • 1 bunch thin asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 cup halved grape tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup crème fraîche
  • 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F. Brush both sides of the salmon with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place skin-side down on a small baking sheet and roast until salmon is just lightly pink in the center, 8 to 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add penne and cook until al dente, about 13 minutes, adding asparagus and peas in the last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain pasta and vegetables and return them to the pot. Place over low heat and stir in tomatoes, crème fraîche, Parmesan and shallot. Remove and discard salmon skin; flake salmon into chunks with a fork and toss into pasta along with dill.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

For the filling:

  • 6 to 8 stalks rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups sliced strawberries

For the topping:

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons salted butter, chilled
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest

To make filling: 

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the rhubarb, sugar and orange zest until the rhubarb begins to soften and exude juices, about 2 minutes. Add the butter and flour and bring to a boil while stirring. Cook for about 1 minute. Add the sliced strawberries. Remove from heat and pour the fruit mixture into a deep 10-inch pie dish.

To make topping: 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces. With a fork or pastry cutter, cut the chilled butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and blend. Slowly add the half-and-half with a fork. Spoon the dough over the fruit mixture in the pie dish. Mix together the 2 tablespoons sugar and the orange zest, and sprinkle it over the top. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool slightly and serve with or without whipped cream. Serves 6.

Italian Regional Cooking – Puglia

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Puglia is a little more rustic than other parts of Italy. Its major cities are a lot smaller and less well-known by tourists than Florence or Rome. For the Italians, Puglia is where they go for sunny beaches, good seafood fished from nearby waters, vegetables grown in local pastures and to sample the region’s local wines: negroamaro, primitivo di Manduria and Salice Salentino.

Puglia

Puglia is a region in southern Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. It is bordered by the Italian regions of Molise to the north, Campania to the west and Basilicata to the southwest. Puglia’s neighbors are Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece and Montenegro. Its capital city is Bari.

The southernmost portion of Puglia forms a high heel on the “boot” of Italy and its population is about 4.1 million. Foggia is by far the least densely populated province, whereas Bari is the most densely populated province. Emigration from the region’s depressed areas to northern Italy and the rest of Europe was very intense in the years between 1956 and 1971. Later the trend declined as economic conditions improved after 1982.

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As with the other regions of Italy, the national language (since 1861) is Italian. However, as a consequence of its long and varied history, other historical languages have been spoken in this region for centuries. In the northern and central sections, some dialects of the Neapolitan language are spoken. In the southern part of the region, the Tarantino and Salentino dialects of Sicily are spoken. In isolated pockets of the southern part of Salento, a dialect of modern Greek, called Griko, is spoken by just a few thousand people. A rare dialect of the Franco-Provençal language called Faetar is spoken in two isolated towns, Faeto and Celle Di San Vito. In a couple of villages, the Arbëreshë dialect of the Albanian language has been spoken by a very small community since a wave of refugees settled there in the 15th century.

In the last 20 years the industrial base of the region’s economy has changed radically. Alongside large-scale plants, such as ILVA (steel-making) in Taranto and Eni (petrochemicals) in Brindisi and Manfredonia, a network of small and medium-sized firms has gradually expanded and they provide approximately 70% of the jobs in the region. The majority of such firms are financed by local capital. As a result, highly specialized areas have developed in food processing, vehicle production, footwear, textiles, clothing, wood and furniture, rubber and computer software. A major contribution to the competitiveness of the region’s economy stems from the existence of important research and development centers such as Tecnopolis-CSATA near Bari, the Cittadella della ricerca (Center for research and new materials) near Brindisi and the new software development centers, also near Bari.

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The region has a good network of roads but the railway network is somewhat inadequate, particularly in the south. Puglia’s long coastline, more than 500 miles of coast on two seas, is dotted with ports, which make this region an important terminal for transport and tourism to Greece and the eastern Mediterranean.

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No other image says Puglia better than the trulli, a rural home that’s essentially a whitewashed teepee of small limestone slabs stacked without mortar, with a cone surmounted by ancient symbols. They are scattered among olive groves and prickly pear cacti in the Valle d’Itria, inland in a triangle between Bari, Taranto and Brindisi. Of unknown origin and unique to Puglia, the trulli date at least back to the Middle Ages.

Puglian cuisine is balanced by equal use the land and the sea. A typical local antipasti will often contain a number of seafood dishes, such as mussels, oysters, octopus, red mullet and swordfish. Popular vegetables are fava beans, artichokes, chicory and various greens including rucola (“rocket”). Eggplant, peppers, lampasciuoli (a bitter type of onion), cauliflower, olives and olive oil are all Puglian staples.

Taralli are breadsticks typical of Puglia

Taralli are breadsticks typical of Puglia

The region produces half of all Italian olive oils and olive oil is used almost exclusively in local cooking. The most famous pasta is orecchiette, but bucatini is also popular and both are usually served with tomato sauce or with olive oil, garlic and cauliflower. Regional cheeses include Canestrato Puglisi, Caciocavallo Silano (both PDO), Ricotta and Mozzarella. The meat of choice is either lamb or kid that may be roasted, baked or grilled on skewers. Pork is popular for local salami with rabbit and beef also being available. Breads and sweets include focaccia and pizza to fritters filled with sweetened ricotta, sweet ravioli, honey covered dates and Zeppole di San Giuseppe, served on the saint’s day in March.

Vineyards

Vineyards

Puglia is now producing wines of quality over quantity, yet they are reasonably priced. Castel del Monte (DOC) is well-known as a full-bodied red wine, Primitivo di Manduria is now more refined and. Salice Salentino (DOC) is used to make sweeter reds and dessert wines. White wines are undergoing modernization and international grape varieties are being introduced, however there are some traditional varietals. Locorotondo (DOC) is straw yellow and fruity. Martina Franca (DOC) is a dry white. Besides the dessert wines and Grappa, Puglia also is home to a number of herbal and citrus infused spirits making use of local walnuts, flowers, rhubarb, myrtle, anise, lemons and oranges.

 

pugliabeans

Chickpea Soup

Like most bean soups in the Puglia region, this one may be served over slices of stale country-style bread, lightly toasted and brushed with a little garlic.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 8 oz (1 cup) dried chickpeas
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut in half
  • 3 or 4 ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded, or 2 cups drained canned tomatoes
  • 1 stalk celery, including the top green leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 small dried hot red chili pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Finely minced flat-leaf parsley

Directions

Put the chick-peas in a bowl, cover with cool water and set aside to soak for 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Then drain and place in a soup pot with fresh cold water to cover to a depth of one inch.

Put the pot on medium-low heat and when the water boils, lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer until the chickpeas are partially cooked-about 45 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the age of the beans. Add simmering water from time to time to keep the beans covered, if needed.

Add the garlic, onion halves, tomatoes and celery to the pot, along with the bay leaf, chili pepper, salt and pepper.

Continue cooking, adding boiling water as necessary, until the chickpeas are tender. Remove the bay leaf and chili pepper.

Serve garnished with olive oil and parsley.

Orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and red pepper

Orecchiette with Turnip Tops

Ingredients

  • 1.8 lbs (800 g) young and tender leaves from turnips
  • 6 fillets of anchovy in oil
  • 1 fresh chili pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 14 oz (400 g) of orecchiette pasta

Directions

Once you’ve collected the most tender leaves, wash them several times in cold water and boil them in plenty salted water in a large pot for at least 7-8 minutes.

Drain the turnip tops into a large bowl saving all the cooking water, since you’ll need it to boil the pasta.

Return the salted cooking water to the pot, bring to a boil and add the orecchiette.

In a saucepan heat the oil, the garlic, the anchovies and the chopped chili pepper.  Once the garlic is golden brown, add the turnip tops and sauté them for a few minutes to coat in the oil.

When the orecchiette are cooked to the al dente stage, drain, return them to the pasta pot and add the turnip tops and sauce. Sauté everything together for a few moments, season with salt, if needed, and serve.

pugliapizza

Pizza di Patate Pugliese (Tomato-and-Cheese-Topped Potato Pizza)

A classic Puglian pizza recipe adapted from RUSTICO COOKING.

Serves 2 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound boiling potatoes, peeled
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for the baking pan
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Place the potatoes in a saucepan. Add water to cover by 2 inches and bring to a boil. Cook until tender about 30 minutes over medium heat.

Drain, pass through a ricer and cool to room temperature.

Preheat the oven with a baking stone in it to 450°F.

Mix the potatoes, flour and ¼ teaspoon salt together on a floured board until a smooth dough forms.

Add a little water, if needed, to help the dough come together or add a little flour, if the dough is sticky,. The dough should be soft but not sticky.

Flatten into a disk and roll out into a 12-inch circle.

Generously grease a 12-inch pizza pan with olive oil and line it with the dough.

Drizzle the top of the dough with olive oil; top with the tomatoes, cut side down. Season with oregano, the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and the pepper.

Place the pizza pan on the baking stone in the preheated oven and bake 15 minutes or until golden around the edges.

Remove the pan from the oven, top with the Mozzarella and Parmigiano cheeses and return to the oven for 10 more minutes or until golden brown around the edges. Serve hot.

puglia4

Stuffed Eggplant Puglian Style

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 Italian eggplants (about 1 pound), preferably short and plumb
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon (20) small capers, rinsed and drained
  • 8 anchovy fillets, rinsed, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1/4 packed cup (1 ounce) finely grated Pecorino cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 small cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled just before using
  • 2 teaspoons dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

Directions

Halve the eggplants lengthwise and make two or three deep slits in the eggplant flesh but do not pierce the skin on the bottom. Sprinkle with salt and place cut side down in a colander. Put a heavy plate on top and let stand at least 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels.

In a mixing bowl, combine the capers, anchovies, cheese and pepper and crush to make a paste. You should have about 3 tablespoons. Divide mixture into 8 equal parts and fill the slits in the eggplant halves with garlic slivers and a portion of the paste. Reshape the eggplant.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat olive oil to hot but not smoking. Add the eggplant, cut side down, and reduce the heat to moderate. Cover and cook until the eggplant flesh turns golden brown, about 10 minutes. Turn each eggplant and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 5 minutes. Place eggplant, flesh side up, on a serving plate; sprinkle with the crumbled oregano, white wine and vinegar and let stand at least 20 minutes before serving.


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