Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Italian cuisine


Tuscany is known for its landscapes, traditions, history, artistic legacy and its influence on culture, yet, simplicity is central to the Tuscan cuisine. Legumes, bread, cheese, vegetables, mushrooms and fresh fruit are used. Olive oil is made from Moraiolo, Leccino and Frantoio olives. White truffles from San Miniato appear in October and November. Beef of the highest quality comes from the Chiana Valley, specifically a breed known as Chianina used for Florentine steak. Pork is also produced for the region’s many excellent cured meats. Tuscany’s climate provides the ideal soil for the grapes grown to create the region’s world-renowned Chianti wine.

A soffritto can be considered the Italian version of a mirepoix and is a combination of olive oil and minced browned vegetables (usually onion, carrot and celery) that are used to create a base for a variety of slow-cooked dishes. Herbs (sage and rosemary) are used in many Tuscan dishes and seasonings can be added to the soffritto, as needed, to bring out the unique flavors of each different recipe.

Stracotto (braised beef) is a well-known favorite of the area, as are finocchiona (a rustic salami with fennel seeds), cacciucco (a delicate fish stew), pollo al mattone (chicken roasted under heated bricks) and biscotti di prato (hard almond cookies made for dipping in the local dessert wine, vin santo). Borlotti beans provide a savory flavor to meatless dishes and cannellini beans form the basis for many a pot of slowly simmered soup. Breads are many and varied in the Tuscan cuisine, with varieties including, donzelle (a bread fried in olive oil), filone (an unsalted traditional Tuscan bread) and the sweet schiacciata con l’uva  with grapes and sugar on top. Pastas are not heavily relied upon in Tuscan cooking but pappardelle (a wide egg noodle) is one of the region’s few traditional cuts.



Italian Bread



Marinated Olives and Mushrooms


  • 1 cup mixed Italian olives
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped mixed fresh herbs, (flat-leaf parsley basil, and oregano)
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest


  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. whole cremini mushrooms, stemmed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh fennel stalk (with some chopped fronds)
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


To prepare olives:

Combine ingredients in a bowl and let sit for 1 hour. Serve at room temperature or store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

To prepare mushrooms:

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Add remaining ingredients and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are just soft, 6–8 minutes.

Transfer mushrooms to a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Mushrooms will keep in refrigerator for 1 week. Serve at room temperature.


Tuscan White Bean Salad


  • 1 pound cannellini beans
  • 4 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


Soak the beans in water to cover overnight.

Drain the beans and simmer in water to cover until tender (about 45-60 minutes).

Combine the remaining ingredients and toss with the warm beans.

Correct seasoning to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Main Course

Stracotto translates literally from the Italian as “overcooked,” but the term has come to refer to beef stews and braises – especially in northern Italy. There are as many versions of this dish as there are cooks. The important part of the recipe is the slow cooking of the meat at a very low temperature to tenderize even the toughest cut of beef. The recipe starts with a soffritto and continues with the addition of red wine, beef broth, tomatoes and tomato paste.

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Italian Pot Roast (Stracotto)


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


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

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

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

Add the herbs, tomato paste, tomatoes and beef stock. Put the roast back in the pot and bring the mixture to a simmer and keep at just a simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours. If the liquid begins to boil, you may need to place the lid ajar. You don’t want a rapid boil, just a few lazy bubbles or the meat will get tough.

When the meat is tender, remove it from the sauce and cut into thin slices. To thicken the sauce, boil for a few minutes to reduce it. Remove the bay leaf.

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


Quick Creamy Polenta


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


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

Dessert Course


Fresh Fall Fruit


Amaretto Biscotti


  • 3½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks and reserve one egg white
  • 2 cups granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for topping
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur
  • 1 tablespoon anise seed
  • 6 cups whole almonds, coarsely chopped


Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease two heavy cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light, about 2 minutes; the mixture will look somewhat curdled.

Beat in the vanilla, amaretto and anise seed. Beat in the dry ingredients, then the chopped nuts.

Divide the dough into four portions. On a lightly floured board, shape each portion into a flat log, just about the length the cookie sheet. Place two rolls on each cookie sheet.

In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze each log with some egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the logs are lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.

Allow the logs to cool on the cookie sheet about 20 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F.  With a serrated knife slice the biscotti on the bias into ½-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheets in a single layer; Return the biscotti to the oven and cook for 20 more minutes, turning over halfway through the baking time or until the biscotti are toasted and crisp

Store the biscotti in an airtight container. They will keep for 2-3 weeks.



The Amalfi Coast is a stretch of coastline considered to be Italy’s most scenic on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula in the Province of Salerno in Southern Italy. The Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination for the region and Italy as a whole, attracting thousands of tourists annually. The Amalfi Coast has a Mediterranean climate, featuring warm summers and mild winters.

The roads along the Amalfi Coast are famously winding, narrow and challenging to drive. All the towns of the Amalfi coast are connected by the scenic SS163 road built in the first half of the 19th century. Following the natural course of the coastline, the route is full of curves, nestled between the rock and the sea cliffs, giving spectacular views at the exit of every tunnel or hairpin bend. Before the construction of the coastal road, locals reached the region’s 13 towns via mules on footpaths that still exist.


Caprese salad made with the area’s mozzarella di bufala.

Caprese salad made with the area’s mozzarella di bufala.

The cuisine, abundant in fish, seafood, fruit and vegetables ripened to perfection in the Mediterranean sun; will also appeal to meat eaters and cheese lovers, thanks to the protein-packed delicacies produced in the Lattari mountains. Not only is the world’s undisputed best pizza made in Naples but the region is also home to gelato, paccheri pasta, eggplant and sfogliatelle pastries and each village in the region has its traditional cuisine and specialized recipes.


The Amalfi Coast is known for its production of Limoncello liqueur, as the area is a major producer of lemons, known as sfusato amalfitano in Italian, which are grown in terraced gardens along the entire coast between February and October. Amalfi is also known for making a hand-made thick paper which is called bambagina. Other local products are a particular kind of anchovies (alici) from Cetara and colorful handmade ceramics from Vietri sul Mare


An Amalfi Inspired Dinner For Four

Appetizer: Stuffed Calamari


4 servings


  • 8 small squid with tentacles
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 eggplant, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 balls fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 15 green olives


Rinse the squid inside and out and set aside.

Heat half of the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and saute the eggplant, bell pepper and zucchini. Season with salt and black pepper and remove the pan from the heat. Cool slightly. Stir in the mozzarella cheese, making sure it doesn’t melt.

Gently stuff the vegetable cheese mixture into each calamari. Don’t overstuff the calamari because when they cook, they will shrink, and the stuffing will pop out. Seal the opening by threading the tentacles through the body with a toothpick a few times.

Heat the remaining olive oil with the garlic in the frying pan. Add the stuffed calamari, cook about 1 minute and then add in the capers, tomatoes and olives.

Remove the garlic and add a pinch of salt. Cook about 3 minutes longer and serve immediately.

First Course: Spaghetti Mare e Monte

Spaghetti from the Sea and the Mountains


4-6 servings


  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • 16 small fresh shrimp, cut in half
  • Fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped


Cook the pasta al dente. Drain.

Pour the olive oil into a large skillet placed over medium-high heat and add the chili pepper flakes. Heat and add the garlic and zucchini. Saute 1 minute and do not let the zucchini get brown.

Add the cherry tomatoes and salt to taste. Cook until the zucchini and tomatoes soften. Add the shrimp and cook for 1 minute.

Add the cooked spaghetti and toss with the ingredients in the pan. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

Second Course: Lamb in Tomato and Red Wine Sauce


4 servings


  • 4 tablespoons (56 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • One whole bulb of garlic, cut in half
  • 3 lbs (1.35 kg) lamb rib chops
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 lb (450 g) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 cups (450 ml) red wine
  • Salt
  • Pepper


Season the lamb chops generously on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat until very hot and put the garlic halves face down, so that the cut sides are in the oil.

Add the lamb and rosemary sprigs and sear the lamb on all sides.

Add in the wine and let that cook until the wine has evaporated. Add the cherry tomatoes, lower the heat to medium and let the mixture simmer for half an hour.

Transfer the chops to dinner plates and serve with the sauce.

Green Bean Salad

Green Beans with Lemon and Garlic; The Neelys

4 servings


  • 2 lbs (900 g) green beans, cleaned and trimmed
  • 5 tablespoons (75 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons (28 ml) red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest


Boil the green beans for three to five minutes until tender crisp — slightly soft but still with a bit of crunch.

Drain them well, pat dry with a clean towel and put them in a mixing bowl with a cover.

Add the olive oil, mint, red pepper, garlic, salt, pepper and red wine vinegar.

Gently toss the beans in the dressing. Cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight. Bring the salad to room temperature, sprinkle on the lemon zest and serve.

Dessert: Lemon Granita


4 servings


  • 2/3 cup superfine sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Juice of 6 large lemons, plus the zest of 2 of the lemon, minced
  • Mint garnish, optional


Heat 2 cups water in a saucepan and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Let cool, and then add in the lemon juice and zest.

Freeze the lemon mixture in a metal bowl, stirring every 20 minutes, until the liquid has become granular but is still slightly slushy, 3 to 4 hours.

Serve the granita in dessert bowls with a sprig of mint.


Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. The coasts of Sardinia are generally high and rocky with long, relatively straight stretches of coastline that contain a few deep bays, many inlets and smaller islands off the coast. The Strait of Bonifacio is directly north of Sardinia and separates Sardinia from the French island of Corsica. The region’s capital is Cagliari.


The island has a Mediterranean climate along the coasts, plains and low hills and a continental climate on the interior plateaus, valleys and mountain ranges. During the year there are approximately 135 days of sunshine, with a major concentration of rainfall in the autumn and winter.

Traditional Dress

Traditional Dress

During the Second World War, Sardinia was an important air and naval base and was heavily bombed by the Allies. In the early 1960s, an industrialization effort was begun with the initiation of major infrastructure projects on the island. These included the construction of new dams and roads, reforestation, agricultural zones on reclaimed marshland and large industrial complexes (primarily oil refineries and related petrochemical operations). With the creation of these industries, thousands of ex-farmers became industrial workers.

The Sardinian economy is constrained due to the high cost of importing goods, transportation and generating electricity, which is twice that of the continental Italian regions and triple that of the EU average. The once prosperous mining industry is still active, though restricted to coal, gold, bauxite, lead and zinc. Granite extraction represents one of the most flourishing industries in the northern part of the island. Principal industries include chemicals, petrochemicals, metalworking, cement, pharmaceutical, shipbuilding, oil rig construction, rail and food.


Cork Trees

Agriculture has played a very important role in the economic history of the island, especially in the great plain of Campidano, where it is particularly suitable for wheat farming. Water scarcity was a major problem that was overcome with the construction of a great barrier system of dams. Now, the Campidano plain is a major Italian producer of oats, barley and durum wheat. Sardinian agriculture is linked to specific products: cheese, wine, olive oil, artichokes and tomatoes that contribute to a growing export business. Sardinia produces about 80% of Italian cork and ranks 5th among the Italian regions in rice production. The main paddy fields are located in the Arborea Plain.

Sardinia is home to one of the oldest forms of vocal music, generally known as cantu a tenore. The guttural sounds produced in this form make a remarkable sound, similar to Tuvan throat singing. Sardinia is home to professional soccer and basketball teams and auto racing. Cagliari hosted a Formula 3000 race in 2002 and 2003 around its Sant’Elia stadium.


Sardinia boasts the highest consumption of beer per capita in Italy. The discovery of jars containing hops in some archaeological sites are evidence that beer was produced in the region since the Copper Age.

The Cuisine of Sardinia

Thousands of rare species of plants and animals grow and live on the island, some entirely unique to Sardinia. An excellent example of the longevity of Sardinia’s heirloom produce is the Grenache wine grape which dates back to about 1,200 BC. The Grenache grapes grown on the island today are genetically indistinguishable from their ancestors grown thousands of years ago in the same areas.

Wild boar, lamb, pork, eggplant, artichokes, tomatoes, lobsters, sea urchins, octopus, clams, mussels and squid are plentiful. Salty flavors are preferred by Sardinians, such as, bottarga (a pressed and salted mullet roe) and salt preserved sardines.


Traditional hearty Italian pastas like culingiones (spinach and cheese ravioli) share center stage with Arabic-inspired couscous dishes. Many first-time visitors are surprised by the Sardinians’ liberal use of saffron, which grows well on the island. Saffron is a particular favorite in gnocchi dishes.

A wide variety of herbs, including myrtle (berries, flowers, leaves and stems), flourish on Sardinia and flavor the local dishes. Whether savory, sweet, used for wood smoking or instilled into digestive liqueurs, myrtle is a major part of the Sardinian palate.


Cheeses are especially important and the island’s most exported food product. Pecorino sardo, Fiore sardo, ricotta, caprino, pecorino romano and the famous casu marzu are all made within the region. Casu marzu is illegal now in Italy due to its bizarre culturing and aging process involving the introduction of live cheese fly larvae into the process to bring about a poisonous stage akin to decomposition. Though obviously a risky gastronomic health adventure and definitely not for the timid, casu marzu is nonetheless a very popular black market commodity and is considered a distinctive delicacy by many locals.

For more traditional tastes, you will find local rock lobsters topped with seasoned breadcrumbs and roasted in the oven and cassòla, a flavorful seafood soup, that can have as many as a dozen types of seafood cooked with spices and tomatoes.

Fava beans are cooked with cardoons, wild fennel, tomatoes, salt pork and sausage to create the thick stew known as favata.  Farro, a locally grown grain, is simmered slowly in beef broth with cheese and mint to make su farro.

Chickens are marinated with myrtle leaves and berries, boiled and eaten chilled.  Other Sardinian recipes for meat are agnello con finocchietti, a stew of lamb with wild fennel, tomatoes and onion.  Not people to waste food, Sardinians stew lamb or kid intestines with peas, onions and tomatoes.

Sardinians love pasta in all forms and their cuisine features specialties found nowhere else.  Plump culingiones are shaped like ravioli and stuffed with chard and pecorino cheese and served with tomato sauce. The regional dish, malloreddus, are tiny semolina gnocchi topped with a garlic, basil, pecorino and saffron flavored sausage and tomato sauce.


Every village has a unique shaped bread, either a round loaf, a long cylindrical loaf or a donut shaped loaf.  Sardinian recipes also include a sweet focaccia flavored with pecorino cheese and a local bitter honey. The entire island loves flatbread and crisp carta de musica or “sheet of music”,  a paper-thin crisp bread. One popular way to serve this cracker style bread is to soften it in warm water, then spread it with tomato sauce, grated cheese and poached eggs.

Sardinian cooking also offers a wide selection of cookies, pastries and cakes. These desserts are usually flavored with spices, almonds, raisins and ricotta cheese.  Pabassinas are pastries filled with a raisin walnut paste.


Mirto is a liqueur unique to the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. It is made from the berries of the flowering Mirto (or Myrtle) plant, a distinctive plant that grows throughout the Mediterranean basin but is most prolific on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. The berries are dark blue in color and look somewhat like blueberries but bear no relationship to blueberries in taste or other properties.

Sardinia’s wines have little in common with those produced in the rest of Italy. The Island’s remote Mediterranean location, as well as the historic influence from other cultures, gives the wines a unique character that might be considered to have more in common with Spanish wines rather than Italian wines. Production is extensive around the port of Cagliari in the Campidano area, where the little known Girò, Monica, Nasco and Nuragus varietals grow alongside Malvasia and Moscato, all bearing town names: Girò di Cagliari, Monica di Cagliari, Nasco di Cagliari, Nuragus di Cagliari, Malvasia di Cagliari and Moscato di Cagliari DOCs.


Sardinian Minestrone

Traditionally, it is made with whatever is growing in the garden, but it always includes beans and fregula (or fregola) a toasted pebble-size semolina pasta that is popular in Sardinia.


  • 1/2 cup dried peeled fava beans
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberry beans or cannellini beans
  • 1/3 cup dried chickpeas
  • 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 2⁄3 cup)
  • 2 medium celery stalks, chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (about 3½ cups)
  • 3 medium yellow potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1½ cups)
  • 1½ cups chopped fennel bulb
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2⁄3 cup of Sardinian fregula, Israeli couscous, or acini di pepe pasta
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely grated pecorino Romano (about 2 ounces)


Soak the fava beans, cranberry beans and chickpeas in a large bowl of water for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain in a colander and rinse well.

Warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven set over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots and celery; cook, stirring often, until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 20 seconds.

Stir in the tomatoes, potatoes, fennel, parsley and basil, as well as the drained beans and chickpeas. Add enough water (6 to 8 cups) so that everything is submerged by 1 inch.

Raise the heat to high and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer slowly, uncovered, until the beans are tender, adding more water as necessary if the mixture gets too thick, about 1½ hours.

Stir in the fregula, salt and pepper. Add up to 2 cups water if necessary. Continue simmering, uncovered, until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes.

Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into each of four serving bowls. Divide the soup among them and top each with 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese.

Notes: You can vary the beans in the minestrone: pinto beans make a good substitute for cranberry beans; great northern or cannellini beans, for the favas. Use the stalks and fronds that come off a fennel bulb for the most intense flavor. Add other fresh vegetables from the garden or market, such as zucchini, cabbage, green beans, and cauliflower or broccoli florets.


Cavatelli with Sardinian Sausage Sauce

Cavatelli pasta is shaped like a small hot dog bun with a long, rolled edge that is good for holding thick sauces.

4 servings


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (one 28-ounce can)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 large pinches saffron
  • 1 pound fresh or frozen cavatelli pasta
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan, plus more for serving


In a large deep frying pan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over moderate heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a fork, until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to moderately low and add the remaining oil to the pan. Stir in the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, mint, parsley, water, salt and 1 pinch of the saffron. Simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the cavatelli with the remaining pinch saffron until just done, 10 to 15 minutes. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Drain the cavatelli and toss with the meat sauce, the basil, the reserved pasta water and the cheese. Serve with additional Pecorino Romano.


Sardinian Lamb Kabobs over Couscous

Serves 4


  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless leg of lamb, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • 8 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice, divided
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into small florets
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper, divided
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
  • 1 3/4 cups canned chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups couscous
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

In a small frying pan, toast the pine nuts over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until golden brown, about 5 minutes.

Light an outdoor grill or heat the broiler.

In a glass dish or stainless steel pan, combine the lamb, 6 tablespoons of the oil, the thyme and 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice.

In a large frying pan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the cauliflower, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is golden, about 10 minutes. Add the saffron, 1 1/4 teaspoons of the salt, 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, the tomatoes, broth and raisins.

Simmer until the cauliflower is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the couscous and parsley. Bring back to a simmer. Cover, remove from the heat, and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in the pine nuts and the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Put the lamb on skewers. Sprinkle the kabobs with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Grill or broil the kabobs, turning and basting with the marinade, until the lamb is cooked to your taste, 6 to 8 minutes for medium rare. Serve the skewers on the couscous.


“Torta de arrosu”  Saffron rice cake


  • 200 gr / 7 oz rice
  • 150 gr/ 5 oz  sugar
  • 750 ml /  1 ½ pints of milk
  • 1/2 oz butter
  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 100 gr/ 3 1/2 oz skinned almonds
  • Grated rind of a lemon
  • A pinch of saffron
  • A pinch of salt
  • Powdered sugar for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350 degree F (180 C).  Grease a 9 inch (24 cm) cake pan.

Put the milk, butter, saffron, sugar, salt and lemon rind in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until all the milk has been absorbed. Let cool and then add the eggs and the almonds.

Spoon mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake in the preheated oven for one hour.  Cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.


Festival Days



As immigrants from the different regions of Italy settled throughout the various regions of the United States, many brought with them a distinct regional Italian culinary tradition. Many of these foods and recipes developed into new favorites for the townspeople and later for Americans nationwide. No one has contributed more foods to the American dinner table than the Italian immigrants. Strong Italian-American enclaves in New York City, Boston’s North End, Providence’s Federal Hill and South Philly have helped shape a new American hybrid cuisine. Based on Old World traditions, Italian-American cuisine is marked by an appreciation for the New World’s abundance.


Boston’s Pan Pizza

Boston’s Italian neighborhood is called the North End. It has a strong Italian flair and numerous Italian restaurants. The North End is also Boston’s oldest neighborhood and it still possesses an old-world charm kept alive by its mostly Italian-American population. The neighborhood also is a major attraction for tourists and Bostonians alike, who come seeking the best in Italian cuisine and to enjoy the Italian feel of the region. Hanover and Salem Streets, the two main streets of this bustling historic neighborhood, are lined with restaurants, cafes and shops, selling a variety of incredible foods. A trip to Boston would not be complete without including a meal at one of North End’s over one hundred fine Italian restaurants.


You’ll need a rimmed baking sheet, preferably non-stick, about 11 1/2-by-17 or a 16-inch pizza pan and a plastic dough scraper.


  • 1 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water, or more if necessary
  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Olive oil (for the pans)
  • Extra flour (for sprinkling)
  • Extra salt (for sprinkling)


In a bowl, sprinkle yeast into water; set aside for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and sugar. Stir to blend.

With a wooden spoon, stir in the yeast mixture. Add enough additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to make a dough that holds together, but is sticky and too moist to knead.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap so the wrap does not touch the dough. Lay a dish towel on top. Set aside for 2 hours.

Rub a large rimmed baking sheet or pizza pan with olive oil. Rub the center of 1 long sheet of foil with oil and set it aside.

Sprinkle the dough with a little flour. Use a dough scraper to transfer the dough to the baking sheet or pizza pan. Pat the dough with a little flour to within 2 inches of the edge of the pans.

Cover with foil, oiled side down. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes (or as long as overnight).

Remove pan from the refrigerator. Dip your hand in flour and pat the dough with your hand, adding as little flour as necessary, until it reaches the edges of the sheets.

Brush the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.


  • 12 slices provolone cheese or 1 1/2 cups (12 ounces) shredded mozzarella
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced, or 4 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 4 slices good-quality ham, cut into matchsticks (optional)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan


Arrange racks on the lowest and center parts of the oven. Set the oven at 500 degrees.

If using provolone, arrange it on the dough, spacing out the slices. Add the cherry or plum tomatoes, spacing them out. Sprinkle with mozzarella.

Sprinkle with ham, if using, then Parmesan.

Bake the pizza on the lowest rack of the oven for about 10 minutes (check after 8 minutes to make sure edges are not burning).

Transfer the pizza to the center rack and continue baking for 5 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, the dough is golden and crisp at the edges, and the bottom is firm.

With a wide metal spatula, lift the pizza from the pan and transfer to large wooden board. Cut into rectangles, wedges, or strips.


Federal Hill’s Zuppa Di Polpette (Meatball Soup)

Federal Hill is the Italian neighborhood of Providence with many restaurants, bakeries, cafes, art galleries, cigar shops and markets. DePasquale Square is the center of the neighborhood. Historic Federal Hill is the “Heartbeat of Providence” and begins at Atwells Avenue, the street that flows under the arch. The gateway arch over Atwells with the La Pigna (pinecone) sculpture hanging from its center is a traditional Italian symbol of abundance and quality and the symbol of Federal Hill. It is a place dedicated to the Italian immigrants who gathered here as a community and is still a place of charm, warmth and hospitality to all. Numerous Italian restaurants and businesses line the main thoroughfare and its surrounding area. Garibaldi Square, with a bust of the “Hero of Two Worlds”, and DePasquale Plaza, with outdoor dining and two bocce courts, all contribute to the Italian atmosphere.


In a large 8 quart stock pot prepare the following:

  • 1 small chicken broken up in pieces
  • 1 large onion cut in quarters
  • 2 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 medium ripe tomato cut in half
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • Pinch of turmeric, for a little color


Add enough water to cover 4-5 inches above the ingredients and cook for about one and one half hours. Remove the chicken and vegetables separately and cool.

Puree the vegetables through a food mill or processor and add back to the stock.

Cool the chicken and use it for chicken salad. If you like you can add some of the chicken cut into pieces back into the soup.

For the meatballs:

  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup Romano cheese
  • 1 large egg

In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Scoop out by tablespoons and form into small meatballs. Add them to the soup and simmer them for about 30 minutes.

To serve:

  • 2 tablespoons uncooked soup (small) pasta, per person, optional
  • Lots of freshly grated Romano cheese

Cook the pasta and distribute it between the bowls. Ladle in the soup and meatballs and serve with the cheese.

Serves 6-8


Capellini Alla Positano from Philadelphia’s Bellini Grill

Philadelphia’s Italian American community is the second-largest in the United States. Named after its view of the Center City skyline, Bella Vista, Italian for “Beautiful View,” is one of Philadelphia’s oldest and authentic Italian neighborhoods. Bella Vista is home to many Italian-American treasures, such as the city’s first Italian American bathhouse, the Fante-Leone Pool, built in 1905 and the Philadelphia Ninth Street Italian Market, claimed to be the oldest open-air market still in operation in the country. More than 100 years old, the Italian Market was originally a business association of local vendors who banded together to compete with larger stores that were moving into the area. Today, the market houses an assortment of shops, bakeries and restaurants.

Makes  4 Servings


  • 5 oz uncooked Angel Hair Pasta
  • 4 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Chopped Fresh Chili
  • 3 Garlic Cloves; minced
  • 2 tablespoons Shallots; chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon Sea Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1/2 cup Fish Broth
  • 2 ups Dry White Wine
  • 3 cups Marinara Sauce (see recipe below)
  • 8 oz Lump Crab Meat
  • 1 bunch Fresh Basil; chopped
  • 2 cups Grape Tomatoes

Marinara Sauce

  • 24 oz Canned Tomato Sauce
  • 1/4 Yellow Onion, chopped
  • 1 ¼ teaspoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Garlic Clove; minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon Fresh Basil, chopped
  • Pinch Sea Salt
  • Pinch White Pepper


For the marinara sauce: sauté chopped onion in olive oil until translucent. Add tomato sauce and remaining ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes; stirring occasionally.

For the pasta: Cook pasta according to directions on package.

Sauté shallots, chili and garlic in olive oil for 1 minute; season with salt and pepper. Add fish stock and white wine, cook until slightly reduced. Add marinara sauce, stirring until combined.

Gently fold in lump crab meat, fresh basil and tomatoes – cook for 5 minutes. Serve sauce over cooked pasta.


Bakeries in New York’s Little Italy

Most of the Italian immigrants who made their home in America first landed in New York City. Many then traveled to other parts of the country; but by the early 1900’s, hundreds of thousands had settled in lower Manhattan, living in row houses and tenements in an area of about one square mile. For the unskilled, it was a hard life of cleaning city streets and ash barrels and, for the skilled, it was a hard life of working their trade in constructing buildings and roads. Others became fruit peddlers, bread bakers, shoemakers and tailors. Some opened grocery stores and restaurants or worked in factories. Most of the people who lived on Mulberry came from Naples; those from Elizabeth Street were from Sicily; Mott Street from Calabria; and most of the people north of Mott, came from Bari.

Sweets would have been a rare indulgence for most in the Old Country, however, in America they were a frequent treat. One of the earliest New York ice cream parlors to open, in the 1820s, was Palmo’s Garden, whose immigrant owner, Ferdinand Palmo, fitted it out with gilded columns, huge mirrors and an Italian band. In 1892, opera impresario Antonio Ferrara opened a confections parlor under his name on Grand Street, where he could entertain his musician friends. Veniero’s on East 11th Street began as a billiard parlor in 1894 that sold candy and coffee, eventually, evolving into an enormously successful pastry shop that created the cake for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inauguration.

Arguably the most famous bakery and cafe in Little Italy is Ferrara, the two-floor dessert mecca with flashing lights and an outdoor summer-season gelato stand. Constantly packed with tourists and locals (on a recent Friday at 11 a.m., the takeout line was out the door), Ferrara has some of the most delicious cannoli this side of the Atlantic. Open since 1892, the cafe serves the dessert with a side of dark chocolate pieces and mixes small chocolate chips into the sweet ricotta-based filling.


Ferrara’s Bakery Tiramisu

Enrico Scoppa and Antonio Ferrara, opera impresario and showman, opened the cafe in New York City called Caffé A. Ferrara. Enrico Caruso, the great opera singer, thought the coffee marvelous but loved the cookies and cakes.

Servings: 12


  • 1 box (7 oz.) Savoiardi or Lady Fingers
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 pint heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup strong warm coffee
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur


Arrange Savoiardi in rectangular serving dish, (approximately 11″ x 13″).

Lightly soak Savoiardi with a mixture of coffee and coffee liqueur.

While gradually adding sugar, beat egg yolks (approximately 5-10 minutes) until very stiff and egg yolks appear pale in color.

Beat heavy cream until very stiff and fold into egg yolks.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites with a wire whisk or electric beater until very stiff and gently fold egg whites into the cream mixture. Add vanilla and fold gently.

Cover Savoiardi with this cream mixture. Cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap.

Refrigerate at least one hour before serving. Sprinkle with cocoa or chocolate flakes before serving.

Tiramisu may be frozen and should be defrosted in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours before serving.


Di Palo’s Ricotta Cheesecake

Di Palo’s in New York’s Little Italy is the iconic Italian deli, the stuff of dreams for anybody who cooks Italian. Lou Di Palo, whose family has owned the store for 104 years, is still working behind the counter. He is the great-grandson of the founder, is the fourth generation, along with his brother, Sal and his sister, Marie. When you stop in, you’ll almost always find two or more of them there, offering tastes of cheeses, slicing speck or prosciutto or dishing out orders of Eggplant Parmigiana. They make their own ricotta and mozzarella and have for decades.

Lou Di Palo shared his grandmother’s recipe for a true Italian-style cheesecake.

Serves 12


  • Unsalted butter, for greasing
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup crushed Zwieback cookies or graham crackers, plus extra for garnish
  • 3 pounds fresh ricotta
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 teaspoons orange-blossom water
  • 3/4 cup cream


Butter a 9-inch springform pan and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix 1/2 cup sugar and the crushed cookies in a small bowl and evenly coat the bottom and sides of the buttered pan with the mixture.

In a large bowl, mix 1 1/2 cups sugar and the ricotta, eggs, vanilla, orange-blossom water and the cream. Pour into the cookie-coated pan.

Sprinkle the top with additional crushed cookies and place the springform pan on the center oven rack on a cookie sheet to catch any leaks.

Bake for 1 hour or until the center no longer jiggles; it may crack slightly. Let cool, remove from pan and serve at room temperature.


Cassateddi Di Ricotta (Ricotta Turnovers)

This traditional Sicilian recipe for sweet ricotta turnovers is adapted from “The Little Italy Cookbook: Recipes from North America’s Italian Communities” (out of print) by Maria Pace and Louisa Scaini-Jojic. The authors suggest using a pasta machine to get the dough thin enough to make the pastries.


  • 1 pound ricotta, drained, see note at the bottom
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 eggs plus 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup shortening, melted
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Oil for deep frying (about 2 cups)
  • Confectioners’ sugar


For the filling, combine the ricotta, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and egg white in a large bowl; set aside.

Combine the 4 eggs, melted shortening, remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar and milk in a small bowl.

Mound 3 1/2 cups flour on a board; make a well. Pour the egg mixture into the well; sprinkle on the baking powder. Use a fork to incorporate the liquid into the flour to form a dough; add a little more milk, if needed. Knead briefly until the dough is smooth. (Add flour, if needed.)

Divide the dough into four pieces. Take one of the pieces and flatten; dust with flour and roll until it is 1/16th-inch thick and shaped into a 4-inch-wide rectangle.

Place 1 rounded teaspoon of filling along one side of the dough at 3 1/2-inch intervals. Fold the top half of the strip over the filling and press edges together to enclose completely.

Cut with a pastry cutter or knife into individual squares or half moons. Lay each piece on a lightly floured baking sheet; repeat with remaining pieces and filling.

Heat the oil in a deep skillet. Fry several turnovers at a time until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon; drain on a rack placed over paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

Draining ricotta: Place ricotta in a wire sieve in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight to remove excess water. For faster results, cover the ricotta with a small plate that fits in the sieve and weight that with a heavy can. If you can, use fresh whole milk ricotta from a specialty market for the richest flavor.


I recently read the article, “Parmigiana Dishes to Warm Weary Souls” in the New York Times that got me to thinking about how many different kinds of Parmigiana exists in our cuisine.

Parmigiana or parmesan, also parmigiana di melanzane or melanzane alla parmigiana is an Italian dish made with a fried, sliced filling, layered with cheese and tomato sauce, then baked. Parmigiana made with a filling of eggplant (also called aubergine) is the earliest and still unique Italian version. Other variations may include chicken, veal, or another type of meat cutlet or vegetable filling. The origin of the dish is unclear; it is claimed by both the Southern regions of Campania and Sicily and by the Northern province of Parma.

While the true meaning of the word Parmigiana is “in the style of Parma,” the term often gets confused with the cheese that we know—Parmigiano-Reggiano; however, there is no correlation. Though Eggplant Parmesan began in Italy—Northern or Southern—this dish is not commonly found in current Italian cuisine; the concept of Parmigiana, in this sense (breaded veggies or protein baked with layers of cheese and sauce), is considered more of an Italian American classic. But Eggplant Parmesan was just the beginning for the U.S. Since its first appearance “parms” have shown up on every menu, involving such ingredients as: chicken breasts, veal cutlets, zucchini and even, pork.

The dish consists of sliced ingredients, pan-fried in oil, layered with tomato sauce and cheese and baked in an oven. In some versions, the sliced filling is first dipped in beaten eggs and dredged in flour or bread crumbs before frying. Some recipes use hard grated cheeses such as Parmigiano, while others use softer melting cheeses like mozzarella, or a combination of these.

Variations made with breaded meat cutlets, such as veal and chicken, have been popularized in other countries, usually in areas of Italian immigration. In the United States and Canada, veal parmigiana or chicken parmigiana is often served as an entrée and, sometimes, is served as a submarine sandwich. It is also popular with a side of or on top of pasta. Diced onions or green bell peppers are sometimes added. The veal dish is known in Italian as Cotolette alla Bolognese.

Veal or chicken parmigiana is a common dish in Australia and Argentina and in both countries often served with a side of chips or a salad. In Australia, it may also contain a variety of toppings, including sliced ham or fried eggplant (aubergine) slices. This dish is often referred to as a parmy or parma. In Argentina and in other neighboring South American countries, veal or chicken parmigiana is topped with ham and served with french fries. It is known as milanesa a la napolitana. If the dish is topped with a fried egg, then it is known as a súper milanesa or suprema napolitana. The origin of the dish was the Napoli restaurant in Buenos Aires during the 1940s. A similar dish, the parmo, which uses either pork or chicken, is found in England.

To make any “parm” dish well, you need a good marinara sauce. I have included the recipe in this post along with some of my family’s favorite parm dishes.

Homemade Marinara Sauce


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can Italian Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 large basil leaves


In a large saucepan, sauté the onion in olive oil, until soft and translucent, on medium to low heat. Add garlic and sauté until golden, careful not to overcook.

Add tomatoes, oregano and crushed red pepper to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and cover with a lid. Cook for about 20 minutes on medium heat. Stir in parsley. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and mix in the fresh basil.

Makes about 3 1/2 cups of sauce.



Eggplant Parmesan

This is not a dish that can be prepared quickly, but with some of my make ahead tips, you can enjoy this entrée for dinner and have several leftovers for future use without spending all day in the kitchen. Eggplant freezes very well in all stages of its preparation. Additionally, I do not fry the eggplant, but bake it in the oven to reduce the calories.

First Stage

I usually prepare 4-1 pound eggplants at once and freeze them, individually, for future use.

For each one pound of eggplant, you will need:

  • 1 pound eggplant, peeled
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters) or egg whites
  • 1 cup Italian style bread crumbs
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick olive oil cooking spray.

Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (no thicker).  You want them to be thin.

Place the egg substitute in one shallow dish and the bread crumbs mixed with the cheese in another.

Dip the eggplant slices into the egg substitute, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and bake until crisp and golden, about 10-15 minutes longer.

If you are not going to assemble the eggplant dish at this time, wrap each batch of eggplant in aluminum foil with foil sheets between the layers and place it in a ziplock freezer bag.  Store in the freezer until you need it. Defrost a package overnight in the refrigerator, when you want to make the casserole.

Second Stage

To assemble the casserole, you will need:

Spray an  8 inch or 9 inch or 8-by-11 1/2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

Preheat the oven to 375 °F.

  • 2 ½ cups Marinara sauce (see recipe above)
  • 1-8 ounce package shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 package of breaded and baked eggplant


Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange half of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly. Spoon 1 cup of the remaining sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the package of cheese. Add a layer of the remaining eggplant slices and top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce bubbles, about 25 to 30 minutes.


Chicken or Veal or Fish Parmigiana


  • 2 cups plain bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs, beaten lightly or egg whites or egg substitute
  • 2 chicken breasts, halved or about 1 pound veal cutlets or firm white fish fillets
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups Homemade Marinara, recipe above
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 4-8 slices of mozzarella cheese


Combine bread crumbs, parsley, 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Place bread crumb mixture, flour and eggs in three separate dishes. First, dredge chicken breast halves (or veal/fish cutlets) in flour, making sure to shake off any excess. Dip in beaten eggs and, like the flour, making sure to let any excess drip off. Finally, dredge in breadcrumb mixture to coat well. Allow breaded cutlets to rest for a few minutes on a plate before frying.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Fry chicken or veal until golden. Be sure to turn for even cooking, about 4-5 minutes per side. Remove from hot oil and onto a baking sheet lined with paper towels.

To bake, preheat oven to 375˚F. Spread about 1 cup of Marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch casserole dish. Arrange a layer of breaded cutlets on top of the sauce. Top with 1 cup of Marinara, covering each piece. Sprinkle with Parmigiano. Place 1 to 2 slices of mozzarella on each cutlet.

Cover dish with foil and bake, 15 to 20 minutes, or until bubbling. Uncover, then bake to fully melt cheese for another 5 minutes.

Serves 4


Shrimp  Parmigiana

For 2 servings you will need the following:


  • 12 large shrimp (16-20 per pound), peeled and deveined
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1/3 cup Italian Style Panko Bread Crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup homemade marinara sauce, warmed
  • 1 cup (4 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese


Preheat oven to 450°F. Spray a baking dish that fits the portion of shrimp you are making with cooking spray.

Place the egg beaters in a shallow bowl and the Panko bread crumbs mixed with the Parmigiano cheese in another.

Wash and dry the shrimp. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. Put the shrimp in the bowl with the egg beaters to coat and then into the breadcrumb mixture. Place in the baking dish.

The shrimp can be prepared ahead up to this point.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.

Drizzle the top of the shrimp with the olive oil and bake on the middle oven rack for 10 minutes. Turn shrimp over then cook another 5  minutes.  Pour sauce evenly over the shrimp and then sprinkle with shredded mozzarella cheese. Return to the oven and heat just until the cheese melts.


Meatball Parmesan Subs

These are especially popular with children for a birthday party.


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/4 lbs lean ground beef or turkey
  • 1/4 cup dried Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 1 egg or 1/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 bunch of parsley leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 recipe Marinara sauce, recipe above
  • 12 small hoagie buns or firm hot dog rolls, split and warmed
  • 12 slices (one ounce each) mozzarella cheese, cut in half


Heat the oil in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for five minutes, or until softened. Add the garlic and spices and cook for a further two minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and cool to room temperature.

Once the onion mixture has cooled, add the beef or turkey, bread crumbs, egg, salt and parsley and mix thoroughly. Using wet hands, shape tablespoons of the meatball mixture into 1 ½ inch balls and then transfer to a baking pan sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.

Preheat the oven to 400 degree F. Bake the meatballs in the oven for 20 minutes, until cooked through and golden brown. Turn over halfway through baking.

Add the baked meatballs to the marinara sauce and heat.

To make the sandwiches:

Spoon the hot meatballs with some sauce over the bottoms of the rolls. Place a slice of mozzarella, cut in half, over the meatballs. Spread a little more sauce over the meatballs, then fold the tops of the rolls over and serve.

The sandwiches can be assembled and wrapped individually in foil. Rewarm the sandwiches in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes before serving.


Cauliflower Parmesan

The New York Times article contained a recipe for Cauliflower Parmesan and it inspired me to create this healthy version. I made this dish over the Christmas holidays for family and they loved it.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups homemade  marinara sauce, recipe above
  • 1 head of fresh cauliflower, cut into florets
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup Italian flavored bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella cheese


Heat a large, deep oven proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to the  pan and heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes. Add garlic; sauté for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in sauce and cauliflower and cook until cauliflower is just tender.

Preheat the broiler

Mix the bread crumbs with the Parmigiano cheese. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the cauliflower. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over the bread crumbs and broil until the cheese melts..



Italian cuisine includes many different varieties of vegetables and they are cooked in every conceivable way.  Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are popular in southern Italy and cabbage, asparagus and potatoes are more popular in the north. Recipes for savory pies appear in the oldest Italian cookbooks, often with the popular ingredients of the day.

Vegetable pies are great to make for lunch and light dinners. They are also good for entertaining, either as an appetizer or as a lunch entre with salads and other finger foods. These pies also make a perfect vegetarian main dish for a dinner party and the leftovers are terrific lunchbox fare, hot or cold.

These pies can also be economical because, you can use ingredients, you have on hand that you want to use before they spoil. These recipes are easy to make and can be even easier if you make the pastry in advance and keep several in the freezer for when you need them .

I like to keep these recipes healthy by using whole wheat flour and olive oil in the pastry dough and lower calorie ingredients in the tart fillings.


Whole Wheat Tart Pastry

Yeasted crusts are more rustic than buttery short crusts. They’re also easier to manipulate — they don’t crack or tear. Remember to roll this out thinly, so that it doesn’t become too bready.

Makes two 10-inch tarts.


  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature, beaten
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup unbleached flour (more as needed)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt


Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup lukewarm water, add the sugar and allow to sit until the mixture is creamy, about 5 minutes. Beat in the egg and the olive oil. Combine the flours and salt and stir into the yeast mixture.

You can use a bowl and wooden spoon for this, or a processor or a mixer by combining the ingredients using the paddle attachment. Work the dough until it comes together, adding flour as necessary. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for a few minutes or use the mixer’s dough hook, adding flour as necessary, just until the dough is smooth — do not overwork it. Shape into a ball.

Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in size, about one hour.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, gently knead a couple of times and cut into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball without kneading it. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for five minutes. Then roll out into a thin round to fit a 10 inch pas, as directed in each recipe.

You can make the dough a day ahead and refrigerate it. If not using right away, freeze the dough to prevent it from rising and becoming too bready. The dough will keep for a month in the freezer, if it’s well wrapped.


Spinach and Onion Tart

Serves 6


  • 1 whole wheat tart pastry (1/2 recipe), recipe above
  • 1 ½ pounds fresh spinach, stems removed or 3/4 pound baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, coarsely chopped or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup low-fat milk
  • 2 ounces Italian Fontina cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
  • 1 ounce freshly grated Parmesan (1/4 cup)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 10-inch tart pan and line it with the pastry. Keep it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until it is tender and beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Add the spinach, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Stir together just until spinach begins to wilt. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and whisk in the milk. Stir in the onion and spinach mixture and the cheeses. Pour into the pastry-lined tart pan and place the tart pan on a baking sheet.

Place in the oven and bake 40 to 45 minutes, until the tart is set and beginning to color on the top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make Ahead: You can make the filling through Step 3 a day ahead and the crust can be made weeks ahead and frozen.


Zucchini and Feta Tart


  • 1/2 of the recipe for the whole wheat tart pastry, recipe above
  • 2 ½ pounds zucchini, ends trimmed
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dill
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint or parsley
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 10-inch tart pan and line it with the pastry. Keep it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Grate the zucchini using a food processor or a hand grater. Place in a large colander, salt generously and let drain for 1 hour, pressing down on it occasionally to squeeze out the liquid. After an hour, take up handfuls and squeeze out moisture (or wrap in a kitchen towel and twist the towel to squeeze out the moisture). Place in a bowl.

Heat oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the onion. Cook, stirring, until tender, about five minutes; then add the garlic. Cook, stirring, for one minute. Transfer to the bowl with the zucchini. Stir in the herbs, feta, eggs and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the pastry-lined tart pan and place the tart pan on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and bake 40 to 45 minutes, until the tart is set and beginning to color on the top.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before cutting. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Cabbage and Caramelized Onion Tart


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, cut in half root to stem, then thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small cabbage, shredded or chopped (about 6 cups)
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 eggs
  • ¾ cup low-fat milk
  • ½ cup, tightly packed (2 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 whole wheat tart pastry (1/2 recipe), recipe above


Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large, heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they begin to sizzle and soften, about three minutes. Add a generous pinch of salt and the garlic. Stir everything together, turn the heat to low, cover and cook slowly for 45 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are very soft, sweet and light brown. Remove to a bowl and cover.

Heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat in the skillet. Add the cabbage. Cook, stirring often, until it begins to wilt, then add salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, stirring often, until the cabbage is tender. Stir in the onions, simmer together uncovered for about five minutes or until there is no longer any liquid in the pan and remove the pan from the heat.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil a 10-inch tart pan and line with the dough.

Beat the eggs and milk in a bowl and season with salt (about 1/2 teaspoon) and pepper to taste. Stir in the onions, cabbage and cheese. Combine well. Pour into the tart pan and place the tar pan on a baking sheet. Bake 40 to 45 minutes until the top is lightly browned.


Mushroom Tart


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the crust
  • 2 shallots or 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 oz white or cremini mushrooms, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 8 oz shiitake or wild mushrooms, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • Salt 
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 whole wheat tart pastry (1/2 recipe), recipe above
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup low-fat milk
  • 2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
  • 1 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup)


Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a 9- or 10-inch tart pan with the dough. Using a fork, pierce at regular intervals to allow for even baking. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to prebake and fill. Set the tart pan on a baking sheet to allow for easy handling. Using a pastry brush, lightly brush the bottom of the crust with olive oil and place in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside on the baking sheet.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet or a wide saucepan and add the shallots or onion. Cook, stirring often, until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir together for about 30 seconds. Add the fresh mushrooms, rosemary and thyme and turn up the heat, slightly. Cook until the mushrooms begin to sweat, then add a generous pinch of salt. Stir for about 5 minutes over medium-high heat as the mushrooms continue to soften. Continue to cook until the liquid evaporates. Remove from the heat, stir in freshly ground pepper to taste and the parsley.

Beat together the eggs in a medium bowl. Whisk the milk into the eggs. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in the mushrooms and cheeses. Mix together well and pour into the crust.

Place in the oven and bake 35 to 45 minutes, until set and lightly browned.


Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat (durum, emmer, spelt, farina, farro, KAMUT® khorasan wheat and einkorn), rye, barley and triticale. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together.

When people with celiac disease eat foods or use products containing gluten, the response from their immune system damages the tiny, fingerlike protrusions lining the small intestine, called villi. Properly working villi allow nutrients from food to be absorbed into the bloodstream. When villi are damaged, vital nutrients go unabsorbed. When people first get diagnosed with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity, one of the things they mourn most is having to give up “regular” wheat-based pasta.

Gluten -free Flours

Gluten-free Flours

Gluten-free pastas are made from corn, brown rice, quinoa and some brands offer a mixture of gluten-free ingredients. Barilla and Ronzoni offer gluten-free products. An Italian made brand, Jovial, was rated best by America’s Test Kitchen and Food & Wine magazine. You might want to see if it is available in your area.

Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones that you would not expect to find it in, for example:

  • Energy bars/granola bars – some bars may contain wheat as an ingredient, and most use oats that are not gluten-free
  • French fries – be careful of batter containing wheat flour or cross-contamination from fryers
  • Potato chips – some potato chip seasonings may contain malt vinegar or wheat starch
  • Processed lunch meats
  • Candy and candy bars
  • Soup – pay special attention to cream-based soups, which have flour as a thickener. Many soups also contain barley
  • Multi-grain or “artisan” tortilla chips or tortillas that are not entirely corn-based may contain a wheat-based ingredient
  • Salad dressings and marinades – may contain malt vinegar, soy sauce, flour
  • Starch or dextrin, if found in meat or a poultry product, could be from any grain, including wheat
  • Brown rice syrup – may be made with barley enzymes
  • Meat substitutes made with seitan (wheat gluten) such as vegetarian burgers, vegetarian sausage, imitation bacon, imitation seafood (Note: tofu is gluten-free, but be cautious of soy sauce marinades and cross-contamination when eating out, especially when the tofu is fried)
  • Soy sauce (however, tamari made without wheat is gluten-free)
  • Self-basting poultry
  • Pre-seasoned meats
  • Cheesecake filling – some recipes include wheat flour
  • Eggs served at restaurants – some restaurants put pancake batter in their scrambled eggs and omelets, but on their own, eggs are naturally gluten-free
  • Beer, ales, lagers, malt beverages and malt vinegars that are made from gluten-containing grains are not distilled and therefore are not gluten-free. There are gluten-free products available.


Gluten-free Italian Meatballs


  • 1/2 pound lean ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 dash red (hot) pepper sauce, as desired, to taste
  • 1½ tablespoons gluten-free Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/3 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely crushed Rice Chex or gluten-free bread crumbs


Heat the oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

In a mixing bowl, combine ground meat, salt, onion, garlic, onion powder, basil, thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes, hot pepper sauce and Worcestershire sauce and mix well.

Add the ricotta, Parmesan cheese and crushed Rice Chex. Mix until evenly blended, then form into 1½-inch meatballs and place on a baking sheet.

Bake until no longer pink in the center, 20 to 25 minutes. Add them to your favorite pasta sauce.


Gluten-free Chicken Parmesan


  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved horizontally
  • 3/4 cup of potato flour, rice flour, cornstarch or general all-purpose gluten-free flour
  • 3/4 cup crushed Rice Chex or gluten-free breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups homemade or storebought marinara sauce
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh, cut into 6 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


Combine breadcrumbs and grated cheese in a shallow bowl.

Combine the spices (salt to thyme) in a small bowl and mix.

Heat the broiler.

On the stove, warm the tomato sauce in a saucepan.

Over another burner, heat the oil in large skillet over medium heat. Don’t let it get smoky.

Season both sides of the cutlets with the spice mix.

Dredge cutlets in gluten-free flour of choice.

Then dip cutlets in the beaten egg and then dredge in the breadcrumb and cheese mixture, turning to coat both sides. Place cutlets on a plate.

Place 3 cutlets in the heated skillet; cook until golden, 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Using a spatula, transfer browned cutlets to a baking pan.

Cook the remaining cutlets and place them in the baking pan.

Top each cutlet with a slice of mozzarella. Broil the cutlets about 4 inches from the heat source until the cheese is melted and lightly browned in spots, 4 to 5 minutes.

To serve: put some warm sauce on each serving plate and top each with a cutlet. If you prefer, you can pour the sauce over the chicken.


Gluten-free Lasagna

Makes 1 – 9×13 inch pan


  • 1 package gluten-free lasagna noodles (8 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 pound Italian pork sausage, casing removed
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can diced Italian tomatoes (28 ounces)
  • 1 can tomato paste (6 ounce)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 16 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1¼ pounds shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


Heat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

In boiling salted water, cook lasagna noodles to a firm al dente, according to instructions. Remember that the noodles will cook more in the oven later, so do not overcook them.

Place the cooked noodles on clean kitchen towels to prevent them from sticking to each other.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, ricotta, Romano cheese, salt, black pepper and half of the mozzarella cheese. Refrigerate until needed.

To make the sauce:

Heat a large skillet to medium-high, add oil and cook the onions until soft.

Add sausage, ground beef and garlic and cook until the meat is crumbly and evenly browned. Drain off excess fat.

Stir in the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, basil and oregano.

Increase the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened.

To assemble the lasagna:

Spread a thin layer of the cooked sauce evenly over the bottom of a greased 9×13 inch baking pan. layer 1/3 of the lasagna noodles, 1/3 of the remaining cooked sauce and 1/3 of the ricotta mixture. Repeat this layering 2 more times.

Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese evenly over the top of the lasagna.

Bake about 30 minutes at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted and golden brown.


Cheese Stuffed Polenta with Sausage


  • Olive Oil
  • 1 cup quick cooking Polenta
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cup shredded provolone cheese
  • 3 cups Marinara Sauce
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil leaves


Coat a 9″ x 13″ baking dish with olive oil.

Bring the chicken broth to a rapid boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat. Add the polenta, pouring slowly and stirring until mixture is thickened, about 1 minute. Mix in butter and Parmesan cheese until fully incorporated.

Pour 1/2 of the cooked polenta into the greased baking dish. Gently spread the polenta to the edges of the pan. Sprinkle evenly with the shredded cheeses. Pour the remaining polenta over the cheese and spread to the edges of the pan. Allow polenta to cool, then cover and chill for about 2 hours or up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

In a skillet brown the sausage and add the marinara sauce. Cover the pan and simmer for about 20 minutes.

Once ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350˚F.

Bake the chilled polenta uncovered for about 30 minutes, until it begins to brown. Remove from the oven. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Cut into squares and serve warm topped with the sausage sauce, grated Parmesan and fresh chopped basil leaves.


Shrimp Scampi Over Linguine

Yield:4 servings


  • 1 1/2 pounds jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup dry white vermouth
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 pound gluten-free linguine (quinoa pasta works very well in this recipe)


Cook the gluten-free linguine according to package instructions. Drain and place in a large pasta serving bowl.

Put the shrimp on a large plate and pat them completely dry with a paper towel. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and olive oil to the skillet. When the foaming subsides, raise the heat and add the shrimp. Cook the shrimp, without moving them, for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Turn the shrimp over and cook for 2 minutes more. Transfer the shrimp to the bowl with the pasta.

Return the skillet to the heat and pour in the vermouth and lemon juice. Boil the liquid until slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir the zest and parsley into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the shrimp and toss to combine with the pasta.

"The gluten is free. The pizza, however, cost $12.95."

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