Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Italian cuisine

seafood

As the seasons change, so do our appetites and nutritional needs. Between the spring and summer, our food habits undergo a gradual metamorphosis. By the time the hottest months have arrived, most of us are naturally inclined to avoid heavy foods and the long cooking preparations required for them. Leggero (light) or restare leggeri (staying light) is the Italian credo in the summer—fresh, light, colorful and simple foods are what everyone craves on hot days.

Italians tend to eat lukewarm or cold food in the summer; tables are often laden with all kinds of variations of salad—from lettuce-based and raw vegetable salads, to insalata di pasta (pasta salads), insalata di riso (rice salads) and insalata di mare or polpo (seafood or octopus salad).

Insalata di mare (Seafood salad) is a delicate preparation usually made with boiled fresh octopus, clams and mussels; the shellfish open when cooked in a covered pan. Sometimes this salad includes shrimp—previously boiled and cleaned—and baby calamari. Crabmeat or other fresh seafood can also be added. The freshness of the fish, the quality of the extra virgin olive oil and the addition of good-quality lemon make all the difference. The dressing for this salad is made simply with two essential ingredients of the Italian cuisine—lemon and olive oil, along with a bit of garlic, parsley, salt and white pepper. Insalata di polpo (octopus salad) is another favorite in Italy, especially along the coasts. It consists of just boiled fresh octopus and tiny slices of celery, seasoned with the same dressing as in the seafood salad. Sometimes it’s served cold or at room temperature, but it can also be served warm with potatoes.

seafood 1

Crab Risotto

Servings: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 fennel bulbs with tops
  • 1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms, such as shiitake, porcini, or button
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 3 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth, heated
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups fresh crabmeat
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions

Directions

Trim fennel bulbs, reserving tops. Quarter bulbs lengthwise and slice. Measure 1 cup sliced fennel. Snip enough of the fennel tops to measure 1 tablespoon; set aside.

In a large saucepan heat olive oil and cook the 1 cup fennel, the mushrooms, pepper and fennel seed in until tender. Stir in rice. Cook and stir over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the 1/4 broth and bring to a boil.

Gradually add the remaining warm chicken broth, one cup at a time, until all the broth is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Remove saucepan from the heat. Stir in crabmeat and green onions. Let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in the snipped fennel tops and serve. This dish can also be served at room temperature.

seafood 2

Shrimp Pizzettas

Ingredients

  • 1 pound homemade or refrigerated pizza dough
  • 4 medium plum tomatoes, sliced
  • 8-10 oz cooked shrimp (cut in half lengthwise)
  • 3 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
  • Fresh basil leaves

Directions

Lightly grease a baking sheet; set aside. Unroll the pizza dough onto a lightly floured surface. Roll into a 16 inch rectangle. Cut dough into eight squares.

Place squares about 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. If desired, fold over about 1/4 inch of the dough on each edge; press with a fork.

Bake in a 425 degrees F oven for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.

Divide tomato slices among the squares. Divide shrimp among the squares. Sprinkle with snipped oregano and crushed red pepper. Sprinkle with cheese.

Bake for 5 to 6 minutes more or until cheese melts. If desired, garnish with basil.

seafood 3

Fettuccine and Scallops in Wine Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh scallops
  • 6 ounces fettuccine or linguine
  • 3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 4 medium carrots, thinly sliced (2 cups)
  • 8 green onions, sliced (1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Juice and zest of half a lemon 
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Directions

Cut any large scallops in half.

In a 4 to 5-quart Dutch Oven, bring 3 quarts of water to boiling. Add pasta; return to boiling. Cook for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, carrots and green onions. Return to boiling.

Cook, uncovered, for 5 to 7 minutes more or until pasta is tender but al dente and vegetables are crisp-tender. Drain pasta and vegetables; keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl stir together wine, lemon juice and cornstarch; set aside.

In the empty pasta pot melt butter. Add garlic; cook over medium-high heat about 1 minute. Add scallops, wine mixture, lemon zest, Italian seasoning, parsley and pepper to the pan.

Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes more or until the scallops turn opaque.

Arrange pasta mixture on a large platter. Spoon the scallop mixture over the pasta mixture. Makes 4 main-dish servings.

seafood 4

Seafood al Cartoccio (Grilled Red Snapper and Shellfish)

Ingredients

Seafood

  • 4 red snapper fillets, 6 ounces each, skin on, scaled and bones removed
  • 6 ounces shrimp, peeled and deveined or clams or mussels or a combination of all
  • 1/2 cup fresh cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 bunch scallions, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Herb Butter

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chives, chopped
  • 2 basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 oregano sprigs, chopped
  • Juice of 3 fresh lemons
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Foil Packets

  • Aluminum foil, heavy strength
  • Olive oil cooking spray

Directions

To make the herb butter

1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until butter is blended evenly.
2. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To make the foil packets

1. Cut 4 sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil, approximately 14 x 18 inches in size.
2. Place sheet of foil shiny side down, narrow edge toward you, on the work surface.
3. Spray the foil with cooking spray. Arrange 1 fish fillet skin side down, 3 to 4 shrimp, a few scattered cherry tomatoes and scallions on each foil sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Using a teaspoon, place several small dollops of the herb butter on the fish and shrimp.
4. Fold the foil over the seafood and bring the top and bottom edges together. Fold the edges over several times to make a tight seal and turn edges up.

Grilling

1. Preheat grill to highest setting.
2. When ready to cook, place the foil cartoccio(skin side down) in the center of the hot grate. Cover the grill and cook until foil pouches are dramatically puffed, approximately 7 to 9 minutes.
3. Remove the packets directly from the grill to a plate. Using a sharp knife, cut the center of the foil pouch lengthwise and open. Be careful of the hot steam.

seafood 5

Marinated Seafood Salad

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound fish fillets of choice
  • Poaching liquid
  • 1/4 pound small bay scallops
  • 1/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 1/4 cup sliced celery
  • 3/4 cup black olives, halved
  • 1/2 cup green onions, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper

Directions

Gently poach fillets, scallops and shrimp in liquid of your choice: water, broth, white wine or a mixture of the liquids.

When fish and shellfish are firm to the touch and cooked through, remove from poaching liquid and cool.

Cut fillets into 1-inch chunks.

Combine fish, scallops, shrimp, celery, olives and green onions in a large mixing bowl. Season with olive oil, lime juice, parsley, salt and cayenne.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

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puglia-italy

Puglia is a flat, fertile, sun soaked region in southern Italy which, together with its iron rich soil makes it one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. It is famous for its olive oil and produces between 250,000 and 300,000 tons each year. Puglia provides around 40 percent of the country’s extra virgin olive oil.

Durum wheat grows in abundance and is used for making pasta and bread. The pasta from Puglia is made without eggs as they were once considered to be a luxury. The most famous pasta made in Puglia is ‘oricchiette’ (meaning little ears) which is still made daily by the elder women in most of the small villages.

The bread in Puglia, which accompanies all meals, is more diverse than many other regions in Italy and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. It is cooked in traditional wood burning bread ovens and some of the villages still have a communal bread oven where the locals go to bake their bread every day.

Vegetables obviously grow well in the warm climate and are used in abundance, always fresh and always seasonal. Tomatoes are used for making sauces to go with the local pasta and aubergines, peppers and courgettes are roasted and grilled as an accompaniment to meat.

The interior of Puglia is rocky and many sheep and goats are bred there for their meat as well as their milk which is used for a variety of cheeses. Lamb is the most popular meat, followed by pork.

Puglia has many delicious local cheeses, perhaps the most famous being Burrata which is made from mozzarella and cream. Others include Cacioricotta – a seasonal Ricotta cheese made from unpasteurized ewes’ milk, Canestrato – a hard cheese which is a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk, Fallone di Gravina and Caciofiore.

Fish plays a large part in the cuisine of Puglia and the long coastline offers a large array of fresh fish on a daily basis. Sea bass, red mullet, anchovies, mussels and cuttlefish are among the favorites.

In spite of this excess of food, the daily cuisine in Puglia, as in the other southern regions of Italy, tends to be simple, fresh and wholesome with most locals growing, rearing and making enough for their individual needs.

Puglia 6

Dinner Party Menu For Six

Antipasto

Puglia 1

Pepperoni al Forno (Baked Peppers)

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 6 sweet bell peppers (green and red)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 8 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 10 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Place the peppers in a hot oven (400 degrees F) for about half an hour or under the broiler until the skins start to blacken. Take them out of the oven, cool and then peel off the skins.
Cut the peppers into strips, about 2 inches wide.

Grease the bottom of a baking pan with olive oil and place a layer of peppers. Sprinkle a few capers, a few slices of garlic, some of the chopped anchovy fillets, a sprinkle of bread crumbs and a little salt and pepper on the peppers. Repeat the layers until all the ingredients are used.

When the top layer is finished, drizzle with olive oil. Then place the pan in a 400 degree F oven for about 15-20 minutes or until the peppers are tender and the bread crumbs are brown.

puglia 5

Taralli Scaldati (Dry Bread)

Ingredients

  • 7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 14 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 tablespoons fennel seed
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Warm water

Directions

Combine the all the ingredients in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix until thoroughly combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead the dough for a few minutes. Soften the dough by adding a little warm water, if it seems too dry.

Turn the dough out onto a bread board and roll pieces of the dough into long thin stripes about 4-5 inches long. Loop the ends around to form circles or pretzel shapes and space them out on wax paper to rest for to rise for 15 minutes covered with a clean kitchen cloth.

Heat the oven to 400° F.

Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan and drop a few of the taralli in the boiling water for a minute, turn with and cook another minute. Remove the boiled taralli with a slotted spoon to a wire rack to dry for a minute or two.

Place them on an oiled baking sheet and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until brown and crispy. Cool completely.

First Course

Puglia 2

Tubettini con le Cozze

(Small Pasta Tubes with Mussels)

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs mussels
  • 15 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • A handful of chopped parsley
  • 1 lb tubettini pasta (little tubes)

Directions

Wash the mussels well under running water and pull out the beards (the stringy bits hanging out of the shell) and place them in a bowl of cold water.

Heat a large pot of water for the pasta and when it comes to the boil add salt and the pasta tubes.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet with a cover and add the chopped garlic. Cook for a minute and add the cherry tomatoes. Once they soften, add the white wine and bring to a boil so the alcohol evaporates. Season with salt and the crushed red pepper and add the mussels. Cover with the lid and cook until all the mussels open.

Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid and drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the mussels in the skillet, along with the chopped parsley and reserves pasta cooking liquid. Mix well on a low heat for a minute and serve.

Second Course

Puglia 3

Roasted Striped Bass

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 4-6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large fresh fennel bulbs with fronds attached, trimmed; bulbs quartered lengthwise, then thinly sliced; fronds chopped and reserved for garnish
  • 1 large red onion, halved lengthwise through root end, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
  • 3 – 1 1/2-pounds whole striped bass or fish that is available in your area, cleaned, gutted, scaled 
  • 1/4 cup (about) all-purpose flour
  • 6 large garlic cloves, peeled, crushed, divided
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley, divided
  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted, halved

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400°F.

Boil wine in a medium saucepan until reduced to 1 cup, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and reserve.

Generously brush an 18 x 12 x 1 inch baking sheet with olive oil. Arrange fennel slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Top with onion slices in single layer. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Drizzle 3 tablespoons oil over the vegetables.

Rinse fish inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle fish inside and out with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Lightly dust outside of fish with flour. Pour enough olive oil into extra-large skillet to cover the bottom of the pan; heat over medium-high heat until pan is very hot.

Working with one fish at a time, add fish to the skillet and cook until a golden crust forms on the skin, about 3 minutes per side. Repeat with remaining fish. Add more oil, only if necessary.Carefully place fish on top of the vegetables on the baking sheet. Gently stuff the cavity of each fish with 2 crushed garlic cloves and then 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Pour reserved wine over vegetables on the baking sheet.

Roast fish uncovered until vegetables begin to soften, 35 to 40 minutes. Scatter tomato halves and olives around the fish; bake until fish is just cooked through, about 15 minutes longer. Transfer fish to large platter; cover with foil to keep warm.

Increase oven temperature to 475°F. Continue to bake vegetables uncovered until tender and tomatoes are very soft and beginning to color in spots, about 15 minutes more.
Arrange vegetable mixture around the fish on a serving platter. Sprinkle chopped fennel fronds and serve.

Dessert

puglia 4

Baked Zeppole

Ingredients for the pastry dough

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 2 cups of water
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 6 large eggs

Ingredients for the custard filling

  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Jam

To make the pastry:

In a heavy saucepan, heat the water. Add the butter and the salt and remove from the stove once the butter has melted. Add the flour all at once. Beat with a wooden spoon. Return the pan to medium heat and beat the mixture until it forms a ball. Remove the pan from the heat again. Add the eggs in one at a time, beating the dough with a wooden spoon or hand mixer.

Note – make sure to blend in each egg well before proceeding to add in the next one.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Drop 1 1/4-inch portions of dough about 1/2 inch apart on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake the puffs about 15 minutes at 400 degrees F and then for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Transfer the pastries to cooling racks.

To make the custard:

In a medium bowl, mix the cornstarch and sugar for the filing. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high heat until it’s almost boiling. Add the 6 eggs to the sugar and the cornstarch and gradually add a couple of large spoonfuls of the warm milk. When it’s well-blended, pour it into the pot with the rest of the milk and continue to cook until the mixture thickens.

To serve:

Use a small knife to cut each zeppole in half. Fill each zeppole with some custard, replace the top half and put the zeppole on a serving dish. Add a teaspoon of jam to each zeppole and dust them with confectioner’s sugar.


Italian couscous

Couscous is a traditional Berber (North African) dish of semolina (granules of durum wheat) which is cooked by steaming. It is traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Couscous is made from two different sizes of husked, crushed and unground semolina. Semolina is the hard part of the grain that resists grinding. When hard wheat is ground, the endosperm—the floury part of the grain—is cracked into two parts, the surrounding part with its proteins, minerals and central floury mass, also called the endosperm, contains the gluten protein that gives hard wheat its unique properties for making couscous and pasta.

In the province of Tra­pani, Sicily, it’s prac­ti­cally a sta­ple and if you take a look at a map you’ll see why. Tra­pani is actu­ally closer to Tunisia than it is to the Italian peninsula. Centuries ago, Sicily, North Africa and the Mid­dle East were just one big gra­nary sup­ply­ing ancient Rome. Bartolomeo Scappi’s culinary guide of 1570 describes a Moorish dish, succussu, that is made in Tuscany to illustrate how far north the grain traveled. Traditional Italian couscous is the result of the country’s unique geographic position at the center of the Mediterranean, an ideal place for cultural and culinary exchange dating back to the dawn of civilisation in the area. There is even a festival dedicated to the local specialty in the Sicilian town of San Vito Lo Capo. Couscous was introduced to the Italian palate long ago but its popularity is currently booming due to its easy preparation, versatility in the kitchen and reputation as a healthy alternative to other traditional pastas.

Italian couscous 2
Couscous is a staple food throughout the North African cuisines of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania and Libya. In many Italian regions couscous is served with fish. It is featured as a traditional Italian food product that is officially recognized by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. Use of couscous has become so widespread that some Italian food companies have even begun to launch cook and serve product lines to satisfy consumer demand. Chewy Italian couscous, also called freula, is a Sardinian-style toasted semolina pasta. It comes in small, medium and large grains and is available at specialty food stores.

Italian Couscous with Parmesan and Herbs

pearl couscous

Use this recipe as a basis for some of the recipes below.

Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound medium-grain Italian couscous (about 2 1/2 cups) (Or any medium to large-grained couscous)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the Italian couscous and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but still chewy, about 20 minutes. Drain well and return the Italian couscous to the pot. Add the butter and Parmesan cheese and stir over low heat until melted. Add the parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Pesto Chicken Over Italian Couscous

pesto chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 pound bone on chicken thighs, skin and fat removed
  • 1/2 cup homemade or store-bought pesto sauce
  • 2 cups hot prepared Italian Couscous with Parmesan and Herbs, recipe above
  • 1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

Place chicken thighs and pesto into a large ziplock bag, seal and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, longer if possible.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place chicken thighs into a large baking dish that has been sprayed with olive oil cooking spray.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. (Meat thermometer should read 165 degrees F)

To serve, place couscous onto a serving plate and top with chicken and any drippings from the baking dish. Makes 4 servings.

Italian Vegetable Stew

mediterranean_vegetable_stew_use_this

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium zucchini, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 cups homemade or store-bought Marinara Sauce
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 recipe from above for prepared Italian Couscous with Parmesan and Herbs

Directions

Heat olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat and cook garlic, zucchini, eggplant, onion, salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in Marinara sauce and cheese. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare couscous according to directions above. Serve vegetable mixture over hot couscous.

Italian Seafood Kabobs

Seafood Kabobs200x118

Ingredients

Marinade

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chili pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Seafood

  • 1 lb raw shrimp (25 count)
  • 1 lb monkfish, grouper or other solid fish fillets (without bones)
  • 1 lb squid, cleaned
  • 1 lemon for garnish
  • 1 recipe prepared Italian Couscous with Parmesan and Herbs from above

Directions

This recipe makes 12 skewers, each approximately 10 inches long. If using bamboo skewers, be sure to soak them in water for 30 minutes to prevent burning.

Peel and devein shrimp. Cut monkfish into cubes. Cut squid into wide rings.

In a large bowl combine the garlic with the next six ingredients. Add the fish and mix until evenly coated. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Thread shrimp, fish and squid rings onto the skewers. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Heat an outdoor grill or a stove top grill to medium high. Oil the grill. Place the skewers on the grill. Grill kabobs directly over the heat source for about 10 minutes, turning 1/4 rotation every 2 to 3 minutes or until the fish is fully cooked.

Serve skewers over the prepared couscous with lemon quarters on the side.

Savory Baked Couscous

baked couscous

Serve this recipe as a side dish with grilled meat.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup medium Italian couscous
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Stir couscous into boiling salted water and return water to a boil. Add the Italian couscous and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but still chewy, about 20 minutes. Drain.

While the couscous is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Stir in garlic, green onions and peppers; saute briefly; then stir in tomatoes, basil, cooked couscous, salt and pepper.

Mix together and transfer to an oiled 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Splash the balsamic vinegar on top.

Bake for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese while still warm.

Italian Couscous, Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

couscous salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh cherry tomatoes
  • 1 (8 ounce) container small fresh mozzarella cheese balls
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed and minced
  • 8 ounces medium Italian couscous
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Arugula or whole basil leaves for garnish

Directions

Halve cherry tomatoes.

In a large bowl combine the tomato, mozzarella, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and garlic, toss well then refrigerate, covered, to marinate for 30 minutes.

Cook couscous according to the directions above. Drain. Cool.

Toss couscous and basil with tomato and mozzarella mixture. Garnish with arugula or whole basil leaves and serve.

 

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Easter

The traditional Italian-American Easter meal is rich, festive, elaborate and labor-intensive. The array of dishes might include a big antipasto, a thick pizza rustica, homemade pasta, lamb accompanied by several vegetables and numerous pastries. Does this sound like a lot of work? So this year why not try a brunch, instead. Much of the work and preparation can be done ahead of time.

The word “brunch” obviously stands for “breakfast” and “lunch.” It’s served midday and combines the best sweet and savory elements of both of these meals. It’s the most common way to celebrate Easter and Mother’s Day and has even become a way of dining at weddings and family celebrations.

How did this type of meal evolve? It was common among Christians to have a large post-church meal on Sundays. Catholics used to require fasting from midnight on before receiving communion, so after leaving their place of worship, many people ate a large meal combining breakfast and lunch. Some churches even hosted the meals on the premises. We also know that during much of Western history, the Sunday midday meal was the largest meal of the day, followed by an early evening smaller supper.

A British writer named Guy Beringer first used the word brunch in 1895. In his essay, “Brunch: A Plea,” he advocated for a meal that was lighter than what was traditional at the time. The midday post-church meal in turn-of-the-century Britain consisted of heavy meat pies and filling foods, but Beringer proposed a lighter meal, which started with breakfast food before moving onto dinnertime fare. He wrote, “[Brunch] It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

bloody mary

Beringer also noted that a later meal on Sunday would make it easier for those who liked to drink on Saturday nights. He wrote, “By eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch would make life brighter for Saturday night carousers.” He even suggested that instead of coffee and tea, perhaps this new meal could start with an alcoholic beverage.

Eggs-1

Although brunch originally conjured up images of idle ladies of leisure, Americans became very taken with brunch after World War I. During the Roaring Twenties, partygoers created a mini-brunch that took place in the early morning hours between dinner and breakfast, to refresh and sustain people who were dancing and drinking all night long. One women’s magazine recommended that in constructing a brunch menu, “a delicate hash, light fish balls, liver and bacon were all appropriate.” Tastes have changed … the menus of today’s best brunch establishments feature such creations as lemon-ricotta pancakes, frittatas and Eggs Benedict. According to one legend about the invention of Eggs Benedict, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict in 1893 asked for something new and different during her regular meal at Delmonico’s and she and the maître d’ came up with Eggs Benedict. Others say that in 1894, Mr. Lemuel Benedict requested the combination of poached eggs, Canadian bacon, English muffins and Hollandaise sauce in order to recover from a hangover. Either way, the chef recognized the dish’s potential and it’s been a brunch classic ever since.

One thing that hasn’t changed from Beringer’s original vision of a brunch is its association with alcohol. Most brunch menus serve drinks. A Bloody Mary in particular was developed specifically to be drunk in the morning to quell the pain of a hangover. The Bellini, a cocktail of sparkling wine and peach juice or puree, was invented in the 1930s by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in Venice, Italy and named after one of Cipriani’s favorite Renaissance painters, Giovanni Bellini. Along with its sister, the Mimosa, these cocktails became associated with brunch because their light, drinkable flavor made it seem acceptable to drink them in the morning. Also, brunch is usually a leisurely meal, not rushed, and lounging with eggs and pastries does seem to lend itself to enjoying a cocktail or two.

Easter Brunch Menu

Prosecco Strawberry Cocktail
Italian Easter Bread
Cold Poached Salmon with Mustard Sauce
Asparagus, Orange and Lentil Salad
Caramelized Mushroom and Onion Frittata
Homemade Sausage Patties
Italian Easter Cookies

strawberry_drink_vert

Prosecco Strawberry Cocktail

Ingredients

  • 2 cups hulled strawberries
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 bottle chilled Prosecco 
  • 1 orange, sliced into rounds
  • Mint sprigs, for garnish

Directions

In a blender, puree 2 cups hulled strawberries and 2 tablespoons water until smooth. In a pitcher combine strawberry puree,orange juice, sparkling wine and orange slices. Stir gently. Serve garnished in tall glasses with mint sprigs.

Italian Easter Cheese Bread

Italian Easter Cheese Bread

Crescia al Formaggio or Italian Easter cheese bread is still mostly unknown in this country. This light-textured, golden egg bread containing Parmesan cheese makes a wonderful, savory aroma as it bakes. Be aware that this isn’t a soft, moist loaf. It’s very light, crusty and dry inside. Serve it in thin slices with butter or use the leftovers for grilled sandwiches or paninis.

Dough

  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk, white reserved
  • 1/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground pepper (black if you don’t mind the specks, white if you do)
  • 1 1/4 cups freshly grated Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese, or a combination

Glaze

  • Reserved egg white (from above)
  • 2 teaspoons cold water

Directions

Combine all of the dough ingredients except the cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough becomes shiny and satiny. It’ll be very sticky; stop the mixer to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple of times during the mixing process.

Add the cheese and beat until well combined.

Scrape the dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl, and set it aside to rise for 1 hour; it rise much. Gently deflate the dough, turn it over, return it to the bowl and allow it to rise for an additional hour; again, it may not seem to rise much — that’s OK.

Oil or flour your hands. To make a traditional round loaf, form the dough into a ball and place it in a large souffle dish or another round, deep pan. The pan should be about 6″ to 7″ wide, and 3″ to 4″ deep.

To make a braid:

Divide the dough into three pieces; roll each piece into a 12″ log and braid the logs. Nestle the braid into a lightly greased 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.
Cover the loaf lightly with a thin kitchen towel and allow it to rise for 2 hours (or longer, depending on the warmth of your kitchen); the dough should become noticeably puffy, but it won’t double in size.

To bake the bread:

Put the oven rack in a lower position, just below the middle and preheat the oven to 425°F.

Whisk the reserved egg white with the water and brush the top of the loaf.

Place the bread in the oven and bake it for 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F, tent the bread lightly with aluminum foil and bake for an additional 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s a deep, golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F. The braided loaf will require less time than the round loaf.

Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Use a knife to loosen the edges, if necessary, and turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Store airtight, at room temperature, for several days. Freeze, tightly wrapped, for longer storage. Yield: 1 loaf.

asparagus-orange-lentil-salad-sl-x

Asparagus, Orange, and Lentil Salad

Red or Pink lentils cook quickly and become mushy if overcooked.

Ingredients

For the salad:

  • 1 medium-size fennel bulb
  • 2 large oranges, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 2 pounds fresh asparagus
  • 1 1/2 cups dried pink/red lentils, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • Baby arugula leaves for garnish

For the dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Rinse fennel thoroughly and trim the root end of the bulb. Trim stalks from the bulb and chop fronds to equal 1/4 cup. Thinly slice bulb and mix with oranges, black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cover and let stand until ready to complete the dish.

Cut asparagus tips into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Cut stalks diagonally into thin slices, discarding tough ends.

Bring 3 cups water and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and cook 1 to 2 minutes or until crisp-tender; drain. Plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process; drain. Pat dry with paper towels.

To make the dressing:

Whisk together vinegar, shallots, honey, Dijon mustard, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in olive oil until blended.

For the lentils:

Bring 3 cups water and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add lentils; return to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring often, 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain well and rinse with cold water. Toss lentils with 1/4 cup of the dressing.

Combine parsley, asparagus, fennel mixture and fennel fronds in a large bowl; toss with remaining vinaigrette according to taste. Spoon lentils onto a serving platter; top with the asparagus mixture and garnish with arugula.

poached salmon

Cold Poached Salmon with Mustard Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 salmon fillets (6 ounces each)
  • Sea salt and finely ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock, or low-sodium canned broth

Mustard Sauce

  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Place in a large, ovenproof sauté pan with the chicken stock and heat over medium heat just to a simmer. Place the pan in the oven and poach the salmon until the flesh is opaque, but still medium rare, 12 to 15 minutes.

Make the Mustard Sauce. Combine the mustards, honey and vinegar in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil and stir in the chopped dill.

Transfer the fillets to a platter and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Slice the salmon into thin slices and serve with Mustard Sauce on the side.

frittata

Caramelized Mushroom and Onion Frittata

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 8 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons heavy whipping cream or half & half
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Preheat the broiler.

In a 10-in. ovenproof skillet, saute mushrooms and onion in butter and oil until softened. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook for 30 minutes or until deep golden brown, stirring occasionally. Add shallot and garlic; cook 1 minute longer.

Reduce heat; sprinkle with cheeses. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper; pour over the mushroom mixture. Cover and cook for 4-6 minutes or until eggs are nearly set.

Uncover skillet. Place pan under the broiler. Broil 3-4 inches from the heat for 2-3 minutes or until the eggs are completely set. Let stand for 5 minutes. Cut into wedges. Yield: 4 servings.

sausages_hd

Homemade Sausage Patties

Makes 8 small patties

Ingredients

  • 1 poundlean ground pork or ground turkey
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried sage, crumbled
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried fennel, crushed
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Mix together the ground meat, garlic, sage, thyme, fennel, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add the egg white and combine thoroughly. Cover and chill for at least 15 minutes

To easily form the sausage patties, rinse your hands in cold water. Divide the mixture into eighths and shape each portion into a 2 1/2-inch disk. Patties can be made to this point and refrigerated or frozen until ready to use.

Heat a skillet over high heat and then add the oil. Once the oil is heated, swirl it around the pan. Cook the sausages on both sides until completely cooked through and golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. Drain and serve immediately.

easter_cookies-175x175

Italian Easter Cookies

Dough

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seed
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Icing

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Multicolored nonpareils

Directions

Beat together the oil, butter, eggs, vanilla, salt, baking powder, anise and sugar until smooth. Add the flour, beating until smooth. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Pinch off the dough into 2-teaspoon-size (1/2-ounce) balls; a teaspoon cookie scoop works perfectly here. Roll the balls into logs about 4 inches long and about 1/2-inch in diameter. Coil into doughnut shapes, leaving a small hole in the middle.

Place the shaped cookies on lightly greased baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.

Bake for about 18 minutes. They may have the merest hint of golden color on top, but they definitely won’t be brown. Do not overcook or they will get too hard to eat.

Remove them from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool completely before icing.

To ice the cookies:

Combine all icing ingredients in a saucepan and heat on low until the mixture is lukewarm, stirring often. Hold one of the cooled cookies by the bottom and dip the top of the cookie into the glaze, letting the excess icing drip back into the pan. Immediately sprinkle with the nonpareils and place on a wire rack to let the icing set.

Allow the frosting to harden before storing the cookies. Yield: 3-3 1/2 dozen cookies.

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gnocchi headerIt seems that nearly every nation has some form of dumpling and it’s easy to see why. They are tasty, versatile and make excellent use of leftover ingredients. In Italy, dumplings are collectively known as gnocchi and are made in several different styles. In the family run trattorias of Rome, you can sample some of the best gnocchi every Thursday night in a citywide tradition. Just like most Italian cooking, these delicious lumps do not just vary from region to region, but from household to household as well, depending upon what is available. The most common way to prepare gnocchi is to combine potatoes (boiled, peeled or mashed) with flour to form soft bite-size lumps of dough. Each gnocco is then ridged along one side like a seashell. Gnocchi also come in different sizes, with gnocchetti being the smallest version.

Other types of gnocchi are made with semolina flour, milk and cheese – also known as Gnocchi alla Romana. Some versions are made with regular flour and other kinds can be made with leftover bread. Florence’s strozzapreti are gnocchi made from a combination of spinach and ricotta. Another spinach/ricotta gnocchi is from Lombardy called malfatti, meaning “malformed”, since these gnocchi are made from leftover ravioli filling and do not have a uniform shape. What makes gnocchi so popular is its versatility – simple ingredients like potatoes and semolina flour, vegetables, mushrooms and cheeses can be combined to make endless variations.

See two of my previous posts on the different types of gnocchi and how to make them:

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/10/16/how-to-make-homemade-gnocchi/

http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/05/23/need-some-new-potato-recipes/

Woodcut from Maccaronee, by Merlin Cocai, 1521. Revelers eating gnocchi. From Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, 1986)

Woodcut from Maccaronee, by Merlin Cocai, 1521. Revelers eating gnocchi. From Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books, 1986)

In early writings, gnocco (singular for gnocchi) is sometimes replaced by maccherone, a generic term for pasta. The Encyclopedia of Pasta by Oretta Zanini De Vita tells us that gnocchi is one of the earliest pastas and is originally a Germanic word describing the distinctive shape of gnocchi. Gnocchi was originally from the Middle East, but when the Romans explored the area, they took back with them the recipe for gnocchi. Thus, it was brought with them when they settled European land, in particular, Italy. Here, gnocchi most strongly rooted itself. Various regions began to invent their own form of the dish and introduce them to other neighboring countries. When Italians immigrated into South America by way of Argentina and North America, the recipe for gnocchi went with them.

Recipes for gnocchi have been documented back to the 1300’s. In some parts of Italy, gnocchi was made of fine durum wheat. Elsewhere, it was chestnut, rye, rice or barley flour. When poverty struck, gnocchi might mean leftovers bound with breadcrumbs. We do know that potatoes came in very late as an ingredient and were slow to gain a following. An early recipe for potato gnocchi, circa 1834, calls for just one part potato to three parts flour. It takes another century for modern gnocchi to emerge—where the potato is the main ingredient, with only enough flour to bind it into a workable dough.

Commercial gnocchi is readily available, but it’s worth the effort to make your own. Essentially, you mix cooked, riced potatoes with egg, then knead in some flour. There’s no special equipment required; the familiar grooved pattern is made with a table fork. Gnocchi’s delicate flavor pairs well with robust sauces, from tomato to pesto to gorgonzola. Because they cook more quickly than traditional pasta, gnocchi are a great meal idea for weeknights. Just keep an eye on them, because as soon as they float to the top, they’re ready to sauce and serve!

CrispyGnocchi_04_mini

While gnocchi are simple enough to make from scratch, there are several varieties that can be found pre-made in supermarkets or in Italian specialty stores. Pre-packaged gnocchi, depending upon ingredients, can be found fresh (refrigerated) or frozen. Pre-packaged gnocchi should not be avoided since there are several very good brands. When buying gnocchi in the store, look for the “fresh” looking kind in the refrigerated section (usually next to the fresh pasta), preferably in a well-sealed or vacuum container. The package should be heavy for its size, as dense gnocchi will be less likely to fall apart when cooking. There are also several brands of frozen gnocchi that cook up well, so long as they remain frozen before dropping them in the boiling water, otherwise they will turn into soggy mashed potatoes if allowed to thaw.

Gnocchi in the dried pasta section is usually of the semolina variety, but you may also find vacuum-sealed potato gnocchi as well. Dried semolina gnocchi are convenient and can be tasty, but its taste and texture resembles more of a pasta than fresh semolina gnocchi. With dried potato gnocchi, there just does not seem to be enough moisture left in the dumplings, making them lighter than other varieties. Because of this lack of moisture, the gnocchi tend to fall apart somewhat and often loose their shape. The rule of thumb for buying gnocchi is: get the closest thing to making it yourself – fresh/refrigerated or frozen.

Making Homemade Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 lbs potatoes
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup or more for the work surface
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

A General Rule of Thumb: 1 medium-sized potato per serving or person. For every potato, you want to use approximately 1/2 cup of flour.

Directions

First, clean and peel potatoes. Remove any brown spots. Cut potatoes into 1” cubes; be sure to cut them into cubes consistent in size so that they cook evenly. Place cut potatoes in a medium-sized pot; fill with water just to cover. Add salt and cover with a lid. Stirring occasionally, boil potatoes for about 20 minutes or until fork tender. Over-boiling will cause potatoes to become mushy and too wet.

Drain the potatoes well. Allow them to cool in a colander. Rice potatoes using a potato ricer into a kitchen towel to remove excess water.

Combine potatoes, 2 ½ cups flour, egg and salt in the work bowl of a processor. Pulse just until the dough comes together.

Once the dough come together, turn out onto a floured board (using as much of the ½ cup flour as needed) and knead into a wide rectangle shape.

Gnocchi step 1

Cut the dough into about 8 pieces, 4 inches long.

Gnocchi-step 2

For shorter, heavy gnocchi, roll dough into thick ropes and cut into 1-inch pieces.

Gnocchi-step 4

Use a fork to make ridges on the side of each gnocchi.

Gnocchi-step 5

For thinner gnocchi, roll long ropes. Cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces and place on a floured tray. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

Gnocchi-step 3

Note: While you are shaping gnocchi, finished gnocchi should be kept on a heavily floured tray as to prevent sticking together. Also, keep them in a cool place until ready to cook for no longer than 45 minutes or else place them in the freezer.

Cooking Gnocchi:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add salt and then gnocchi. Gnocchi are finished once they float to the top, approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and toss in a saucepan with your favorite sauce.

For best taste and texture, allow gnocchi to “sit” in their sauce once cooked for about 5 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

gnocchi and peas

Fresh Peas with Lettuce and Gnocchi

Ingredients

  • 1 (16-ounce) package frozen potato gnocchi or homemade
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1 head Boston or other loose-leaf lettuce
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 4 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook gnocchi until they float to the top; drain and keep warm.

Place butter in a large, heavy pan; heat over medium heat until melted. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

Wash lettuce and trim away the stalk end. Shake water off lettuce (it’s OK if some water remains) and add to the pan. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and the peas. Cook about 3 minutes or until the peas are warm.

Remove pea mixture from the pan and keep warm. Add cream to the pan and cook over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Return pea mixture to the pan, add gnocchi and cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot, 2 to 3 minutes. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.

gnocchi and sausage

Gnocchi with Italian Sausage 

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 teaspoon loose saffron threads
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
  • 26-28 oz container of Italian diced tomatoes
  • 1 (1-pound) package potato gnocchi  or homemade
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add the garlic and sausage. Saute, stirring frequently, until the sausage is cooked through. Add the saffron threads, basil and diced tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and continue simmering for about 15-20 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi to the boiling water and cook gnocchi until they float to the top. Once finished, drain and toss with the sauce in the saucepan for about 2 minutes to coat. Serve topped with Pecorino Romano cheese.

Serves 4

olivegardenchickengnocci

Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced celery
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 (14-ounce) can low sodium chicken broth
  • Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup finely shredded carrots
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 cup diced cooked chicken breast
  • 1 (16-ounce) package gnocchi or homemade

Directions

Melt the butter into the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion becomes translucent. Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the chicken broth followed by the milk. Simmer until thickened.

Stir in a 1/2 teaspoon salt, the thyme, nutmeg, carrots, spinach, chicken and gnocchi. Simmer until the soup is heated through.

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Whole_wheat_penne,_

Penne

There are approximately 350 different dried pastas produced in Italy that are made from durum wheat and semolina flour. Penne is a tube-shaped pasta that originated in Campania, a region in Southern Italy, and comes in two main varieties: penne lisce and penne rigate, with the rigate having ridges on each noodle. The name “penne” comes from the Italian word for “pen” (penna), a reference to the angled ends of the tube, which resemble the tip of a quill pen.

This pasta can be used in a wide assortment of dishes, from casseroles to soups. The tubes are relatively short, around the length and width of a pinkie finger. Cooks may also hear penne pasta referred to as mostaccioli, in a reference to an Italian dish that traditionally features this pasta.

ziti

Ziti

And, there is also ziti, which are hollow long wands, with a smooth texture and square-cut edges. When they are cut into shorter tubes, they are called cut ziti. Telling the difference between penne variants can be difficult, especially in countries outside of Italy, because there is a tendency to name ridged and smooth penne subtypes the same. Basically, the difference is penne is cut on the diagonal and is longer and thinner than ziti.

Penne is probably one of the more well-known pasta shapes, available in most markets and grocery stores that stock pasta. Dishes made with it are frequently on the menu at Italian restaurants, especially in the United States, where consumers have a fondness for this shape.

Whole wheat and multigrain versions are available, along with gluten-free pastas made from rice, corn or other ingredients. Many producers also make flavored varieties by adding ingredients, such as spinach or sun dried tomatoes. The best tasting penne is made with durum wheat because it will remain chewy and resilient throughout the cooking process.

baked penne

Ridged penne pasta pairs very well with many pasta sauces, because the ridges can be used to hold thin sauces or to support thick, chunky sauces. Its hollow nature also helps distribute the sauce, ensuring that pasta dishes are evenly and appealingly sauced.

Penne is traditionally cooked al dente and served with pasta sauces such as pesto, marinara or arrabbiata. In addition to being plated with sauce, penne holds up well when baked in a casserole. You will also find penne used cold in salads, added to soups or used as a side dish.

Dried pasta is essentially indestructible as long as it is stored in a cool, dry place. This makes it a useful staple to keep around the house, because as long as the pasta is not exposed to moisture, it will be perfectly usable.

Healthy Penne Dinners

penne-walnuts-su-1575584-x

Whole-grain Penne with Onions and Walnuts

Ricotta salata (also called “hard ricotta”) is a firm white Italian cheese made by salting, pressing and drying sheep’s-milk ricotta. In flavor, it’s like a very mild, less tangy feta, which makes it a good addition to pastas and salads (it can be grated). Look for ricotta salata in specialty stores, Italian markets or any supermarket with a good cheese department.

Ingredients

  • 7 medium onions (about 4 lbs.), peeled and thinly sliced
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 3/4 cups walnuts
  • 10 ounces whole-grain penne pasta
  • 1 pound ricotta salata, crumbled
  • 2/3 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a large skillet over high heat, cook onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil with the sugar and 2 teaspoons salt, stirring and turning often, until onions begin to release their juices and turn golden, 10 to 13 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn a caramel color and become quite sweet, 35 to 40 minutes more. If onions begin to stick to the pan or char during cooking, reduce heat.

Meanwhile, in a dry small frying pan over medium-low heat, toast walnuts, stirring frequently, until golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pour walnuts into a zip-lock plastic bag and lightly crush with a rolling pin. Set aside.

When onions are nearly done, cook pasta in boiling salted water until tender to the bite, 9 to 12 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water.

Mix caramelized onions with pasta, walnuts, ricotta salata, parsley, reserved cooking water, lemon juice, pepper and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season to taste with salt.

steak-salad-ck-554716-x

Sirloin Steak Over Penne and Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked penne 
  • 1/4 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 3/4-pound boneless sirloin steak, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon salt-free garlic-pepper blend
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled blue cheese, optional

Directions

Preheat broiler.

While the broiler preheats, bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large Dutch oven. Add pasta; cook 5 1/2 minutes. Add beans and cook 3 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Drain well.

Sprinkle steak with the garlic-pepper blend. Place on a broiler pan; broil 3 inches from heat for 10 minutes, turning after 5 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut steak diagonally across the grain into thin slices.

Combine onion and next 8 ingredients (onion through black pepper) in a large bowl. Add pasta mixture; toss well to coat. Place steak slices on top. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

shrimp-pasta-ck-554668-x

Penne with Spinach and Shrimp

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces uncooked penne pasta
  • 1 (10-ounce) package fresh spinach
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped Vidalia or other sweet onions
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and sauté 2 minutes or until the shrimp are pink. Remove shrimp from the pan and set aside.

While you make the pasta sauce, cook penne according to package directions. Drain well; return to pan. Stir in spinach; toss well until spinach wilts.

Melt the remaining butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook 10 minutes or until tender, stirring often. Stir in broth, vermouth and lemon zest. Increase heat to medium-high; cook 8 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Reduce heat to medium. Add cream cheese; stir until well blended. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, nutmeg and pepper; remove from heat. Stir in shrimp to rewarm. Add mixture to pasta and spinach; toss to combine.

sausage-penne-ck-1041902-x

Penne with Sausage and Eggplant

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups cubed, peeled eggplant (about 1 pound)
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 6 cups hot cooked penne (about 10 ounces uncooked)
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely diced mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Cook eggplant, sausage and garlic in olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until sausage is browned and eggplant is tender. Be sure to stir often to keep eggplant from sticking to the pan.

Add tomato paste and the next 3 ingredients (through tomatoes); cook over medium heat 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place cooked pasta in a large bowl. Add tomato mixture, cheese and parsley; toss well.

raisin-pasta-ck-780432-x

Penne with Greens, Almonds and Raisins

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces uncooked penne
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped, trimmed greens of choice (kale, swiss chard, escarole, etc.)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cracked black pepper

Directions

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Retain 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain.

While pasta cooks, place raisins in a small bowl; cover with hot water. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain.

While pasta cooks and raisins soak, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add greens and garlic; sauté 3 minutes or until greens are tender.

Stir in pasta, raisins, almonds, salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper; toss to combine. Moisten with pasta cooking water. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper according to taste.

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                           La Lingua Della Cucina

The passion that Italians bring to the kitchen is reflected in the language that they use to describe techniques and individual ingredients or recipes. Since Americans first started cooking spaghetti and tomato sauce in their homes in the early part of the twentieth century, they have expanded their preparation of Italian foods within the home. Lasagna, risotto, chicken cacciatore, minestrone, tiramisu –  just to name a few; all came to be commonly prepared in the homes of Americans over the last century.

At the time when Julia Child caused a sensation by convincing American cooks that they could create the wonders of classic French cuisine in their own kitchens, Italian food was already a loved and accepted mainstay of the American diet. Today, it seems more popular than ever. America’s steady love of Italian food, in recent years fueled by a host of cookbooks and television shows, has thrust Italian home cooking once again into the spotlight. Attracted to “authentic” Italian food’s simplicity and affordability, Americans have taken to cooking Italian food at home.

Here are some of the culinary terms, you will most often come in contact with in your Italian cooking.

Aioli – A garlic mayonnaise is a delicious accompaniment to cold or hot grilled vegetables, steamed or boiled artichokes, boiled potatoes and grilled or baked fish and shellfish.

Al dente – “To the teeth.” The expression is used to describe pasta that is still firm and chewy when bitten into. When pasta is al dente, it is considered fully cooked and ready to eat.

Al forno - an expression used for baked or roasted in the forno (oven). Pasta al forno is a layered pasta, much like lasagna, but made with a shorter shaped pasta, such as penne or ziti.

Antipasto – Translates as before the meal, i.e. pasto, and not before the pasta, as some mistakenly believe. A selection of antipasti can be modest or extravagant, but in all aspects of Italian food, quality is always more important than quantity.

Arancine – ‘little oranges” are rice croquettes, perhaps stuffed with veal or a soft cheese such as caciocavallo or a cow’s milk mozzarella. Their orange hue originates from the addition of saffron to the rice and the subsequent frying in vegetable oil.

Arrabbiata – “Angry.” A tomato-based pasta sauce spiced with chilis and Amatriciano is a similar spicy sauce with the addition of pancetta.

Bagna Cauda - a warm anchovy–olive oil sauce served as a dip for vegetables.

Battuto – The action of the knife striking ingredients against the cutting board, in short, the first stage of the preparation of any dish, which requires basic and efficient skills with a sharp blade.

Besciamella - More commonly referred to in the French form, béchamel, this cooked sauce of butter, flour, milk and some nutmeg is often used in baked pasta dishes and as a sauce for vegetable side dishes, such as cauliflower.

Bolognese – A pasta sauce native to the Bologna area of Italy. It traditionally features finely chopped meats and a soffrito of onions, celery and carrots with a small amount of tomato paste.

Bufala – The water buffalo of the southern region of Campania produce the milk for the softest, creamiest form of mozzarella cheese. So very delicate in flavor that it is better used in a salad (Caprese Salad) instead of on a cooked dish, such as pizza.

Burro – Butter is traditionally viewed as the favored fat in northern italy where it is used for sautéing.

Capelli d’agelo – “Angel hair.” Long, thin strands of pasta that are thinner than capellini.

Carbonara – a spaghetti sauce based on eggs, cheese (Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano), bacon (guanciale or pancetta) and black pepper.

Contorni - Accompaniment to the meat or fish course of the meal, usually consisting of prepared vegetables such, as green beans, spinach or braised fennel.

Crostini – toasted bread, but usually topped with chopped tomatoes or porcini mushrooms or roasted peppers or chicken livers – called crostini in Tuscany and bruschetta in Rome.

Dolce -or the plural form, i dolci, on restaurant menus, refers to the sweet or dessert course of the meal, such as zabaglione, tiramisu and gelato (ice cream).

Fiorentina -a substantial slab of meat roughly equating to an American T bone steak. Not to be tackled without a hearty appetite.

Formaggio - cheese.

Insalata – The salad course, usually positioned between the main (meat or fish) course and the dessert, can consist of a simple bowl of greens or something more elaborate. Olive oil combined with freshly squeezed lemon juice and a little seasoning, or perhaps balsamic vinegar used sparingly, is all that is required to make the perfect dressing.

Polpette – meatballs.

Pomodoro – a meatless tomato sauce. The name means “golden apple” and refers to tomatoes that are yellow in color. Yes, I know – tomatoes are red. Here is the story:

David Gentilcore, professor of early modern history at the University of Leicester, writes, “ When explorers first brought tomatoes to Europe from the New World, they also brought over tomatillos. Tomatoes and tomatillos were considered interchangeable (they are botanical and culinary cousins) and many tomatillos are yellow. Italy and most of the rest of Europe soon took a pass on the tomatillo, but the name stuck. “Pomodoro” it was.”

Primavera – “Spring.” A pasta sauce traditionally made in the spring that features fresh vegetables as the main ingredient.

Primo - The first course (after the antipasto), hence the name, it usually involves a risotto or pasta dish.

Puttanesca - (literally “a la whore” in Italian) is a tangy, somewhat salty pasta sauce containing tomatoes, olive oil, olives, capers and garlic.

Saltimbocca -( literally “jump into the mouth”). In Rome this dish is prepared with veal and prosciutto crudo, or cured meat, and sage, all held together by a skewer in a sauce of  white wine or marsala. Chicken and pork cutlets work just as well.

Secondo – the main dish of the menu that usually consists of meat or fish.

Semolina – A coarse flour made from durum wheat: a hard wheat with a high protein/low moisture content and a long shelf life.

Soffritto – the foundation of many Italian recipes, especially a pasta sauce or a braise of beef or lamb. It consists of finely diced carrots, onion, garlic and celery, or any combination of them depending on the recipe.

Below are a few sample courses to get you started.

Antipasto

Flatbreads w/Onion Raita, Grilled Pumpernickel w/Avocado, Charred Corn & Tomato Salad & Bruschetta w/Straccitatella, favas, mint & Lemon. A110526 Food & Wine Fast Sept 2011

Bruschetta with Mozzarella and Favas Beans

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 cups canned fava beans (Progresso is a good brand), rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 16 grilled baguette slices
  • 1/4 pound buffalo mozzarella, torn into thin strips
  • Aged balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves

Directions

Transfer the favas to a food processor and add the oil, lemon juice and zest and pulse to a coarse puree. Season with salt and pepper.

Spread the fava-bean puree on the toasts and top with the mozzarella strips. Drizzle the toasts with the balsamic vinegar and scatter the basil on top.

Primo

primavera

Pasta Primavera

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 red or orange bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 pound thin spaghetti or linguine
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Shaved Parmesan

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and green beans; cook 4 minutes. Add peppers and cook 1 more minute. Scoop out vegetables with a large slotted spoon and place in a colander.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook to the al dente stage, about 7-8 minutes. Drain; return to the pot.

In a mixing bowl, combine half-and-half, chicken broth, cornstarch, salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and garlic and cook 30 seconds. Add the half-and-half mixture and simmer for a few minutes, stirring until slightly thickened.

Add cooked vegetables and tomatoes. Cook, stirring a few times, for about 2 minutes.

Pour into the pot with the pasta and stir gently. Add grated Parmesan and parsley. Allow to stand for 5 minutes. Serve in pasta bowls with shaved Parmesan on top.

Secondo

chicken-scarpariello

Chicken Scarpariello

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 small skinless, boneless chicken thighs (2 pounds)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • All-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, halved lengthwise and lightly smashed
  • 4 large rosemary sprigs, broken into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup spicy Italian pickled peppers, sliced

Directions

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the chicken and cook over high heat, turning once, until browned and crusty on both sides, about 8-10 minutes.

Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for 2-3 more minutes, until the garlic is lightly browned. Transfer the chicken to a platter, leaving the rosemary and garlic in the skillet.

Add the stock to the skillet and cook over high heat, scraping up any browned bits, until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the lemon juice and butter and swirl until emulsified.

Return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the skillet. Add the peppers and cook, turning the chicken until coated in the sauce, about 3 minutes.

Transfer the chicken and sauce to a platter and serve.

Food & Wine, American Express Publishing

Spinach Salad with Bagna Cauda Dressing

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup coarse dry bread crumbs (see tip below)
  • 10 ounces baby spinach
  • Freshly shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish

Directions

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat until foaming. Add the anchovies and cook until dissolved, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice. Add the thyme sprigs and let steep for 20 minutes. Discard the thyme and season the dressing with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a small dry skillet, toast the bread crumbs over moderate heat, tossing, until golden, about 4 minutes. Let the bread crumbs cool.

In a large bowl, toss the spinach with half of the dressing and half of the bread crumbs and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the salad to plates or a platter and top with the remaining bread crumbs and the shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Pass the remaining dressing at the table and serve with lemon wedges.

MAKE AHEAD

The bagna cauda dressing can be refrigerated overnight. Warm gently before using.

To make bread crumbs, tear 2 slices of day-old white bread into pieces, spread on a baking sheet and toast in a 300°F oven until dried but not browned, about 10 minutes.

Transfer to a food processor and pulse a few times until coarse crumbs form.

Dolce

cake

Almond Crusted Limoncello Pound Cake

16 servings

Ingredients

Cake:

  • 3/4 cups sliced almonds
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • Grated zest & juice of 2 large lemons, divided
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons Limoncello
  • Oil for coating the pan

Glaze:

  • 1/4 cup Limoncello
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Use a pastry brush to thoroughly oil a 12 cup bundt pan, then sprinkle almonds evenly in the pan and set aside.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest, reserving the lemon juice for later use, with the mixer on low speed until creamy, about 5 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally.

Add 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add 1 cup of cake flour, blending well, then add the salt and remaining eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.

Add the remaining flour with 3 tablespoons Limoncello, beating just until mixture is well blended.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, gently tapping the filled pan on the counter a few times.

Bake in the preheated oven until a wooden skewer inserted near the center comes out clean, 50-55 minutes.

Just before the cake is done, prepare the glaze. In a small saucepan, blend Limoncello, reserved lemon juice, sugar and butter. Place over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 2 minutes.

Remove cake from oven after it tests done, then pour the glaze mixture over the top of the hot cake while still in the pan.

Let cake cool in the pan, placed on a wire rack. The glaze will be absorbed into the cake as it cools.

When the cake is cooled, invert it onto a serving plate and serve.

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When you are looking for “true” Italian recipes of any kind, you may become very perplexed over numerous versions of the same recipe. Which one is the right one? Which is the “classic?” Let me try to shed some light on this quandary: In Italy, each person or restaurant, puts a personal spin on a recipe. The variations depend on personal taste, family background, specific area of Italy and what is easily available and very fresh in that area. Italians are notorious for being fiercely independent, even when it comes to recipes.

Using a musical analogy: Many musicians can play the same piece of music but it is the interpretation that makes one stand apart from another. Each recipe has a personal interpretation. To make it even more complicated, Italians will hardly ever be able to give you a precise recipe: It’s “A handful of this, a pinch of that” as cooking is often learned from watching other family members and done “a occhio” (by eye-balling) quantities. Cooking is not a chemistry formula, it is an artistic experience; it is a way to express your creativity, enjoy all the steps of the process and render a wonderful result. (http://toscanamia.biz/blog/)

Itaiian Chefs – Modern Yet Classical

Anna Dente Ferracci is preserving Roman cooking traditions at her cozy family restaurant, serving perfect versions of well known Lazio pastas like carbonara.

The small town of San Cesareo sits on rich farmlands on the Via Labicana, an ancient road connecting Tusculum and Praeneste –  two important towns of the Roman period. The chef at Osteria di San Cesario, Anna Dente, is known as the “Queen of Matriciana”. She not only makes the pasta and sauce herself, she draws on her family’s four decades in the butchering business to make her own guanciale (cured hog jowl).

Anna was born in 1943 in the small rural hamlet of San Cesareo near Zagarolo in the province of Rome (Lazio), a rich agricultural zone. Her mother and father ran a local butcher shop or ‘norcineria’, as well as, a few hectares of land producing grain, fruit and grapes, while her grandfather worked as a young man in the slaughterhouse of Monte Compatri. Her grandmother was a ciambellaia or biscuit maker and introduced Anna to the use of wild country herbs for use in bread, cakes and liqueurs. From an early age she would also frequent the kitchen of her Aunt Ada’s osteria. Not surprisingly, a passion for traditional Roman dishes and cooking soon took hold of young Anna.

Anna grew up helping her mother and father run their butcher shop and garden in San Cesareo, where she learned about fresh meats and vegetables. At a young age, she began cooking alongside her aunt in their family-run osteria in Rome. An osteria (Italian pronunciation: osteˈria) in Italy was originally a place serving wine and simple food. Lately, the emphasis has shifted to the food, but menus tend to be short, with an emphasis on local specialities such as pasta, grilled meat or fish and often served at shared tables. Ideal for a cheap lunch, osterie (the plural in Italian) also serves meals for after work or evening refreshment.

She learned to cook quality food with generations-old recipes that included fresh herbs and ingredients. Today, her family’s osteria guarantees the same quality of home-produced meats and vegetables with the aim of preserving traditions from generations past.

The lifetime culinary experience of the family was consolidated in 1995 with the opening of a restaurant in San Cesareo with emphasis on preserving the preparation of traditional dishes and, in particular, those originating from a zone between the Castelli Romani or Roman Hills and Prenestina. The restaurant was named after an osteria in the town dating from Roman times called ‘Lavicanum Caesaris’ when it was an important stop along the Via Labicana connecting Rome to Capua. It was also the site of the country villa of Julius Caesar.

Anna’s cuisine soon gained national and, then, international recognition from publications, such as, Gambero Rosso, Il Corriere Della Sera, L’Espresso in Italy, The Michelin Guide, Travel and Leisure and Italian Cooking and Living Abroad. Heinz Beck, three star Michelin Chef of La Pergola in Rome, even describes ‘Sora Anna’ as the ‘Queen of Roman cooking’.

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Chef Ferracci”s recipe for Rustic Vegetable Soup with Salt Cod

Ingredients

  • One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes—tomatoes chopped, juices reserved
  • One 3/4-pound salt cod fillet
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing and drizzling
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced crosswise 1 inch thick
  • 2 pounds fresh cranberry beans, shelled (2 cups), or canned pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 pound kale—stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped (3 cups)
  • 1/2 pound escarole—large stems discarded, leaves coarsely chopped (3 cups)
  • One 1/2-pound baking potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Salt
  • Four 1/2-inch-thick slices of country-style bread

Directions

In a large bowl, cover the salt cod with cold water. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours or up to 2 days. Change the water three times a day.

In a large, enameled casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderately high heat until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the zucchini, beans, onion, kale, escarole, potato and tomatoes with their juices. Add the water and crushed red pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 50 minutes. Season lightly with salt.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400°. Set the bread on a rimmed baking sheet. Generously brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Bake for about 12 minutes, until browned and crisp.

Add the cod to the casserole and simmer over moderately low heat until the cod is heated through, about 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, gently break the cod into 2-inch pieces. Set the toasted bread in shallow bowls. Ladle the soup over the bread. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Gennaro Esposito, chef at Torre del Saracino, where local Amalfi Coast favorites, such as, ricotta soup with red mullet and sea urchin are served.

“I was truly fortunate to have a mother who taught me all about genuine food products and our traditional regional cuisine. She and her father were tenant farmers, so in our house I grew up knowing the importance of organic foods. It was our way of life to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables, those cultivated without pesticides. These experiences are still of the utmost importance to me when I’m inventing a menu, because I always put these concepts and flavors in my new dishes. One of my uncles, the husband of one of my mother’s sisters, is a pastry chef. I began working in his shop when I was nine years old. It was thanks to this experience that I chose to remain in the kitchen.”

Gennaro Esposito was born at Vico Equense on the beautiful Amalfi Coast. There were two determining moments in his professional development, as Esposito explains: “an internship with Gianfranco Vissani, one of Italy’s top chefs and a coincidental encounter with Alain Ducasse during one of the many times “il maestro” had come to Positano on vacation.” Before he knew it, Esposito found himself in Ducasse’s kitchens at the Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo and at the Plaza Athénée Hotel in Paris. “In both,” he likes to tell, “I learned the exact meaning of perfectionism and of fanatic attention to detail. What’s particularly special about Ducasse is that he’s like a teacher during the Renaissance in that he brings out the aptitudes of his interns. He doesn’t impose his style; he proposes it very subtly but incisively. He encourages and supports his interns’ abilities through his wide experience. I was especially moved by his love for Mediterranean cuisine which he enriches with the grand tradition and competence of French cuisine.”

“From Vissani, I learned to use many unconventional ingredients. He broadened my awareness of ingredients and my skills. He also taught me that creativity combined with familiarity and skillfulness knows no limits in the kitchen and that I could create combinations unthought-of until then which would give my future guests unique experiences. That was my goal then and it still is.”

Back in his beloved home region in 1992, with his wife Vittoria, who is the pastry chef and in-charge of the dining room, he opened the restaurant, La Torre del Saracino.” I think that today top chefs must be cultured. They have to have time to expand their general knowledge, to learn more about local cuisine and food products and to invent their very own style. Secondly, they have to be creative, but must also have a solid base in traditional cuisine on which to build this creativity. Thirdly, they must know how to motivate and stimulate their staff, their team and must be able to transmit their passion for this profession.”

gennaro-esposito

Chef Esposito’s recipe: Risotto with tomato sauce, candied lemon and squids stuffed with smoked buffalo provola cheese

Ingredients for 2 people

For the squid

  • - 4 squid
  • - 60 g (about 2 oz. or ½ cup) DOP smoked buffalo provola cheese from Campania

For the risotto

  • - 200 g (about 1 cup) Carnaroli rice
  • - 200 g (about 1 cup)“cuore di bue” (Italian heart shaped) tomatoes (cut into big cubes)
  • - 6 squid, finely chopped
  • - 20 g (about 2-3 tablespoons) DOP smoked buffalo provola cheese from Campania
  • - 30 g (1/4 cup) candied lemon
  • - 2 litre (8 cups) of seafood and vegetable light broth
  • - 100 g (7/8 cup) extra virgin olive oil
  • - 10 g (3/4 tablespoon) butter
  • - 10 basil leaves
  • - 1 teaspoon of chopped onion
  • - the juice of half a lemon
  • - a clove of garlic
  • - salt and pepper to taste
  • - Garnish with tomatoes cubes and basil

Directions

Stuff four squid with the smoked provola cheese cut into pieces, close with a toothpick and bake at 100°C (210 F) for about 2 minutes.

Heat the broth to boiling.

Toast the rice with about half the oil and add the onion in a large saucepan. Finish toasting and add the boiling broth.

In the meantime brown a clove of garlic in half the olive oil in another saucepan. Add the tomatoes, the basil and the salt and cook for about 3 minutes. Add to the rice.

Cook the risotto until slightly underdone, stirring often, and add the finely cut squid. Continue to cook until rice is cooked to your taste and add the candied lemon.

Turn the heat off, add pepper, butter and the lemon juice to balance the sweet and sour taste.

Put the risotto in the center of the plate and place the cheese stuffed squid without toothpicks on it. Garnish with pieces of blanched tomatoes and basil leaves.

Paolo Lopriore, chef of Tuscany’s Il Canto Tuscany’s, reinvents classics, like cacio e pepe (pasta with pepper and cheese) as twisted rigatoni filled with black-pepper gelée.

Lopriore was born in Como in 1973 and his earliest inspiration was in his mother’s kitchen – a woman who was a self-taught and passionate home cook and one who instilled a strong sense for cooking with local, quality, seasonal ingredients. Chef Lopriore at a very young age, had discovered that he had a passion for food and cooking, so he approached Italian Chef, Luciano Tona, who taught him the basics in cooking. However, it was in 1990 that his real culinary training occurred. He went on to work at the Sole di Ranco under Chef Gualtiero Marchesi (a renowned Italian chef, considered to be the founder of modern Italian cuisine), and he stayed there for two years, learning the techniques and perfecting his own style, before leaving the restaurant to complete his military obligations.

Once his duty to his country was fulfilled, he went to work in Florence’s Enoteca Pinchiorri and eventually returned to work at Sole di Ranco. There, he completed his training under Chef Marchesi and went off once more to search for work in some of the finest restaurants in Italy. He found work at the Ledoyen and La Maison Troisgros. In 1998, Chef Lopriore met Norwegian Chef, Eyvind Hellström, and he went to work with him at the Bagatelle in Oslo for three years. However, something seemed to be calling him back home and, whether it was a challenge or a sense of nostalgia, he really cannot tell, but he found himself returning to his first teacher, Chef Marchesi. The relationship they had blossomed into more than just your typical master-and-apprentice relationship. What was developed was a friendship that has ample space for dialogues and debates, which inspires and promotes personal growth. Today, the two remain good friends. Chef Marchesi considers Chef Lopriore his brightest pupil and Chef Lopriore considers Chef Marchesi as a great influence in his culinary career.

In 2002, Chef Lopriore came to Certosa di Maggiano and became the executive chef of Il Canto, where he finally had the freedom to show his culinary style and ingenious way of presenting his dishes. Although he experiments with new ingredients, he always makes it a point to only use the freshest and finest ingredients and produce from his land’s very fertile countryside. in Il Canto can you enjoy exemplary non-native dishes made with wasabi or curry. Not long after he became the head chef, he began receiving awards and titles for his culinary accomplishments: 2011 Chef of the Year and The S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2011.

Lopriore

Chef Lopriore’s recipe for Elicoidale (Tube Pasta) with Black Pepper and Pecorino Romano

Ingredients:

  • 40 large rigatoni (tube pasta)
  • 40 g (1/3 cup) pecorino romano
  • 300 g (1 ¼ cups) water
  • 30 g fresh chili pepper, cut in half
  • 5 g agar agar
  • 25 g (1/4 cup+2 tbsp) olive oil
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper

Directions:

In a large pot, combine the water with half the chili pepper, bring to a boil; remove from heat and leave to infuse for approximately 30 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Return the infusion to the heat and bring it back to a boil; thicken with the agar agar and, after bringing it to a third and final boil over very high heat, cool it while stirring constantly with a whisk. Remove the pepper half.

Once cool, add the oil and whisk the mixture as if it were mayonnaise. Finally chop the remaining half pepper and incorporate into the preparation. Blend at the highest speed possible in a blender for 5 minutes. Refrigerate overnight.

Separately, cook the pasta in an abundant amount of salted water; drain, lightly dress with remaining oil.

Using a pastry bag, fill pasta tubes with the black pepper “mayonnaise”.

Heat the elicoidali in the microwave a few minutes and distribute onto 4 plates. Top with grated pecorino romano.

Serves 4.

Nadia Santini has been named the Best Female Chef 2013 by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

The Veuve Clicquot World’s Best Female Chef award was presented by the British magazine, Restaurant, to Nadia Santini.  It celebrates the work of an exceptional female chef whose cooking excites the toughest of critics. Santini is the head chef at the Dal Pescatore Restaurant located in the small village near Mantua in Lombardy. The family-run restaurant opened as a trattoria in 1925 and Santini took over the running of the restaurant with her husband in 1974. She made history in 1996, when she became the first Italian woman to gain three Michelin stars for a restaurant and Dal Pescatore has retained the rating ever since. It is famous for its mix of traditional cuisine and modern influences.

Born in San Pietro Mussolino in the Veneto region, Santini was an extremely bright student, studying food chemistry and political science with sociology at the prestigious University of Milan, where she met future husband Antonio Santini. The couple married in 1974, soon returning to Antonio’s parents’ simple osteria alongside the river Oglio in Mantova, Lombardy, just south of Verona. Under the careful tutelage of Teresa and Bruna, Antonio’s grandmother and mother respectively, Santini learnt to cook traditional Mantuan cuisine: delicate handmade pasta dishes and home-cured meats and fish.

Signature dishes include tortellini stuffed with pumpkin, amaretto, Parmesan and mostarda, as well as turbot with a garnish of parsley, anchovies and capers in olive oil. Santini told Restaurant Magazine: “The cuisine is refined but not changed. Dal Pescatore is an expression of the evolution of the food on our table and the surrounding environment.”

In 2010, German filmmaker, Lutz Hachmeister created a television documentary called, “Three Stars”, in which Santini appeared with other chefs from Michelin starred restaurants. Her appearance in the documentary stood out, being described by critics as a “radiant personality and gentle, Old World approach to the nurturing of recipes, colleagues and clientele that provides the counterpoint to frenetic, confrontational kitchens run by scientist-chefs”

santini

Pasta à la Nadia Santini

The ingredients you will need for this is are:

  • 500 grams (about 1 ¼ pounds) spaghetti or pasta of choice
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 700 grams (7 cups) of tomato sauce
  • Non-refined salt
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Water
  • Fresh basil, finely chopped

Directions

Boil water in a large pan.

Chop the onion and the garlic finely.

Once the water is boiling, add salt and the spaghetti and cook for half of the time as described on the package.

Simultaneously heat another pan.

Add in four tablespoons of olive oil.

To the hot oil add the chopped onions and sauté them at medium heat.

Once the onions are translucent add in half of the garlic, then the tomato sauce.

Add a cup of the pasta water and, then, add salt to taste and cover the pan and bring to boil.

Once the spaghetti has cooked for half  the time, drain and add to the tomato sauce. Cook it for the remaining time listed on the package in the tomato sauce.

Once the pasta is cooked add in the rest of the garlic, black pepper and fresh basil.

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basketAlmost every Italian city and town has its specialties and there are regional specialties also; the end result is a huge number of local cuisines rather than a single national cuisine. However, there are some dishes that you will find almost everywhere and that are now standards among the many Italian communities scattered across the globe.

Vegetables play a large part in Italian cuisine because the fertile soil, especially in the south, provides bountiful amounts of vegetables and herbs. A typical cold salad might include raw or cooked vegetables tossed with herbs and cheese. Other popular dishes are cianfotta, a stewed dish of eggplants, peppers, zucchini and onions with basil and olive oil that is served cold. Pepperoni imbottiti stuffs red and yellow bell peppers with breadcrumbs seasoned with black olives, capers, garlic and anchovies and, of course, the famous parmigiana di melanzane or eggplant parmigiana.

There’s an old saying that “good cooking begins in the market” and never is this more true than with Italian cuisine which relies heavily on fresh produce. The most commonly used vegetables include tomatoes, garlic, onions, bell peppers (capsicum), eggplants (aubergine), cabbage, zucchini (courgettes), artichokes, fennel, mushrooms, celery, asparagus, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower and lettuce. These vegetables are traditionally chopped and added to baked pasta dishes, risottos and pizza or turned into salads, soups, appetizers and side dishes.

Vegetables can easily be the highlight of a meal. For example, a grilled mushroom cap filled with arugula bean salad, roasted vegetables paired with creamy polenta or a vegetable laced risotto offer substance as a main meal. With a little crusty bread and some aged cheese on the table, you also have a healthful meal. Here are some vegetable main dishes you might find on the Italian table.

1111_1fd5wy_FarroPilaf

Warm Farro Pilaf with Dried Cranberries

Serves 6

An Italian wheat grain, farro is chewy and tender, like barley but with a milder flavor. Pearled or cracked farro cooks much faster than whole regular farro and it doesn’t require soaking before it’s made. The farro in this recipe can be made a few days ahead or even frozen.

Ingredients

For the Farro

  • 1 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium carrot, cut in half
  • 1 celery rib, cut in half
  • 1/2 small onion in one piece
  • 1 ¼ cups pearled farro
  • 4 cups vegetable broth

For the Pilaf

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced (2/3 cup)
  • 1/2 lb kale, center stem removed, chopped (4 packed cups)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

To make Farro:

Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat. Add carrot, celery and onion. Cook 3 to 5 minutes or until vegetables start to brown. Add farro and stir well. Pour in broth, and bring mixture to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook 20 minutes or until just tender; drain. Discard carrot, celery and onion. Cool Farro.

To make Pilaf:

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté diced onion 5 to 7 minutes. Add kale and cook 5 to 7 minutes or just until wilted. Reduce heat to medium and stir in garlic and Aleppo pepper. Cook 1 minute, then add farro, and sauté 3 to 5 minutes or until warmed through. Remove from heat and stir in dried cranberries and pine nuts. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve warm.

butternut squash

Parmesan-Butternut Squash Gratin

Ingredients

  • 1 butternut squash (2 1/2 lb)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Heat oven to 375°F. Spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. Peel, halve lengthwise and seed squash; cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange with slices overlapping slightly in the bottom of baking dish.

In a 2-quart saucepan melt butter over medium heat. Reduce heat to low. Add garlic; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until garlic is soft and butter is infused with garlic flavor. Do not let butter brown.

In a small bowl mix bread crumbs, cheese and 1 tablespoon of the butter-garlic mixture.

Brush squash slices with remaining butter-garlic mixture. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and bread crumb mixture.

Bake uncovered 30 to 40 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with fork. Increase oven temperature to 425°F; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until the squash is lightly browned. Before serving, sprinkle parsley over top.

vegetable casserole

Roasted Vegetable and Bean Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 pounds cipolline onions, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, trimmed and peeled
  • 1 bulb fennel, cored and cut lengthwise into 2-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cups cooked dried cannellini beans or equivalent canned, rinsed and drained
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the potatoes, onions and fennel in a roasting pan. Add the olive oil and toss well to coat.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Roast, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and beans and roast another 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes and cipolline are fork-tender and golden brown. Garnish with thyme.

spinach pizza

Deep Dish Spinach Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 pound fresh spinach, thoroughly washed and stemmed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • Cornmeal
  • 1/2 recipe quick whole-wheat pizza dough (recipe below)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup freshly shredded Provolone cheese
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/4 cup thick tomato sauce (recipe below)

Directions

Heat oil in a large skillet and add garlic; saute for 30 seconds. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from heat. Chop spinach.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly oil a 9-inch round baking pan 1 1/2 inches deep and sprinkle the bottom of the pan lightly with cornmeal. Roll dough into a 12-inch circle and fit into pan. Dough should just cover the bottom and sides of the pan with no overhang.

Mix cheeses together and spread 1 cup of the cheese mixture over the bottom of the dough in the pan. Spread the spinach over the cheese, covering the cheese completely. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of cheese over the spinach layer. Spread the tomato sauce over the spinach.

Bake in the preheated oven 20 minutes. Take the pizza out of the oven and sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the pizza. Return the pizza to the oven and bake 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and the filling is bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before cutting.

Yield: one 9-inch deep-dish pizza, serving 6 to 8.

Quick Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough

Ingredients

  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt

Directions

Dissolve yeast in 1 cup of water, stir in olive oil and set aside until bubbly.

Combine the all-purpose flour with the whole-wheat flour and salt in a food processor bowl. Process for a few seconds to blend. With processor running, slowly pour yeast mixture through the feed tube and continue to process until a firm, smooth and elastic ball of dough forms. If the mixture is too dry, you may have to add another tablespoon or so of warm water. If it is too soft, add a little more all-purpose flour, one tablespoon at a time.

Remove dough from the processor bowl, divide in half and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate half the dough for this recipe for at least 10 minutes or up to one day. Freeze the other half of the dough for another use.

Yield: dough for two 9-inch deep-dish pizzas or two 12-inch flat pizzas

Thick Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 16-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Pinch crushed red pepper

Directions

Heat olive oil in a large skillet, add onion and garlic and cook over medium low heat, stirring, until the onion is soft but not brown. Add remaining ingredients including liquid from the tomatoes. Crush tomatoes with the back of a spoon.

Adjust heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce is very thick and no longer liquid, about 30 minutes. Stir sauce from time to time to prevent sticking.

Yield: 1 1/4 cups

stuffed peppers

Slow Cooked Vegetarian Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 6 large sweet bell peppers
  • 2 cups cooked brown rice
  • 3 small tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 small sweet onion, chopped
  • 1/3 cup canned red beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/3 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 cup cubed Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 can (4-1/4 ounces) chopped ripe olives
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 cup meatless spaghetti sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Directions

Cut tops off peppers and remove seeds; set aside. In a large bowl, combine the rice, tomatoes, corn, onion and beans. Stir in the Monterey Jack cheese, olives, basil, garlic, salt and pepper. Spoon into peppers.

Combine spaghetti sauce and water; pour half into an oval 5-qt. slow cooker. Add the stuffed peppers. Top with remaining sauce. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese.

Cover and cook on low for 3-1/2 to 4 hours or until peppers are tender and filling is heated through. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.

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Generally, authentic Italian stews have similar ingredients to vegetable soup, but they tend to have larger chunks of meat and vegetables and sometimes have a thicker sauce. Some Italian stews are simply meat simmered in broth or wine. In Italy stew is usually a main dish and is often served in a bowl or on a plate alongside bread, polenta or rice. Some stews are served over polenta.

Stews are generally easy to prepare, store well in the refrigerator and taste better reheated. A perfect make ahead dish. In countries other than Italy, particularly in the United States, some dishes labeled as Italian stew are simply pasta dishes with Italian seaoning that have been converted into stews by reducing the broth or thickening the sauce in the mixture. Usually, this type of stew contains small, hollow noodles like macaroni or shell pasta.

Many Italian stew recipes that are the most popular in Italy did not actually come from there. Since the cuisine of Italy has been influenced by other nearby cultures, some common Italian stews may have originated in border areas, like Hungary and Croatia. The Italian stew called jota, which contains beans and bacon and is often cooked with garlic, potatoes and meat, originally came from Croatia.

In general, Italian stews are cooked using similar, low-heat methods, but they can contain a variety of meats and vegetables. They can be made on the stove, in the oven or in a slow cooker. Vegetables cooked in this type of stew can vary, but usually include carrots, celery and fennel. Potatoes, onion and garlic are also common. The typical Italian stew contains beef, but it can also contain other meats like chicken, pork or veal. Rabbit is a highly popular stew meat in Northern Italy. Sausage is also a common meat, especially in the south.

pork stew

Italian Pork Stew

My adaption of Marcella Hazan’s recipe.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups low sodium beef or chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound Cipollini onions, peeled
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds boneless Boston butt pork roast, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, divided
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried rubbed sage
  • 1 1/2 cups (1-inch) slices carrot
  • 1 cup potatoes diced

Directions

Bring broth and mushrooms to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat; cover and let stand 20 minutes or until tender. Drain mushrooms in a colander over a bowl, reserving broth.

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté 6 minutes or until lightly browned. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Spoon onion mixture into a large bowl.

Place flour in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Dredge pork in flour, shaking off excess. Heat remaining oil in pan over medium-high heat. Add half of pork mixture; sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Cook 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Add pork to onion mixture. Repeat procedure with remaining pork mixture, 1/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

Add wine to the pan, scraping the pan to loosen browned bits. Stir in reserved broth, pork-onion mixture and sage; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 40 minutes or until pork is almost tender.

Stir in carrot and potato. Simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Stir in mushrooms, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and simmer 10 minutes.

128-oxtail-stew400

Roman Oxtail Stew

In Italy and elsewhere in Europe, the custom of raising beef for meat, as opposed to raising oxen for plowing and transportation, is relatively recent. That’s why, in English, we still refer to the tail of a steer as “oxtails” and not to “beef tails”. There are few true oxen left anywhere in the Western world and modern farming techniques have replaced their work. Most butcher shops and supermarkets in America actually sell the tail cut as “beef oxtails.” Oxtail stew tastes best, if made a day ahead and then reheated. This is a popular stewing cut in Italy and is often served over pasta.

Ingredients

  • 1 beef oxtail (2 1/2-3 pounds)
  • 6 celery stalks, divided
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 medium-sized white onion
  • 4 ounces pancetta
  • 2 heaping tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt or coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup Italian dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 6 to 8 cups boiling water
  • 5 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf

Directions

Rinse the oxtail under warm running water and eliminate any fat or gristle with a paring knife. Chop it into sections along the vertebrae. Pat them dry with paper towels.

Mince 1 celery stalk and reserve the rest. Mince the garlic with the carrot and onion. Mince the pancetta; you should have 3/4 cup. Combine the minced vegetables and pancetta with 1 heaping tablespoon of the parsley.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high. Add the minced vegetable-and-pancetta mixture and sauté, stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula until the onion becomes translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add the oxtail pieces, a generous pinch of salt and several turns of the peppermill. Brown thoroughly, stirring, for about 15 minutes.

Pour in the wine and boil to evaporate it, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and tomatoes, crushing and stirring. Add just enough of the water to completely submerge the oxtail meat.

Wrap the cloves in cheesecloth and tie it closed with kitchen string, leaving about one foot of the string attached. Lower the purse into the stew and secure the string to a pot handle. Drop in the bay leaf and stir.

Lower the heat to minimum and simmer, partially covered, for 2 hours.

Slice the remaining 5 celery stalks into 2 inch sticks. Add them to the stew and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes.

Remove and discard the cloves and the bay leaf. Stir in the remaining 1 heaping tablespoon of parsley. Serve in soup bowls.

sausage-beans-and-greens-24066-ss

Sausage, Escarole & White Bean Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 12 oz. hot Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 15-oz. cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 small head escarole, chopped into 1- to 2-inch pieces, washed and lightly dried
  • 1 cup low-salt chicken broth
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons red-wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Heat the oil in a heavy 5- to 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the sausage, raise the heat to medium high and cook, stirring and breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula until lightly browned and broken into small (1-inch) pieces, 5 to 6 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the escarole to the pot in batches; using tongs, toss with the sausage mixture to wilt the escarole and make room for more. When all the escarole is in, add the beans and chicken broth, cover the pot, and cook until the beans are heated through and the escarole is tender, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with the vinegar and salt.

Transfer to bowls and sprinkle each portion with some of the Parmigiano. Serve with toasted Italian country bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

vegetable stew

Italian Vegetable Stew

Ingredients

  • 1 eggplant (about 12 oz), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 (26-ounce) container POMI chopped tomatoes
  • 2 zucchini (8 ounces each), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 red or yellow bell peppers or a combination, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup shredded fresh basil

Directions

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over high heat until shimmering. Add eggplant, onion and potatoes and sprinkle the vegetables lightly with salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant and potatoes begin to brown, about 2 minutes. Push vegetables to one side of the pot; add 1 tablespoon oil and tomato paste. Cook paste, stirring frequently, until brown, about 2 minutes.

Add the broth and the chopped tomatoes, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and gently simmer until the eggplant is soft and the potatoes are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Add zucchini, bell peppers and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove pot from the heat and cover the pot. Let stand for 20 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper to taste; serve. Add crushed red pepper to taste, if desired.

Tuscan chicken

Tuscan Chicken Stew

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium onion, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 can (15 ounces) cannellini or other white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 4 ounces baby spinach leaves

Directions

Heat oil in large deep skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken; cook and stir until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove chicken from skillet. Add onion, garlic and fennel seed; cook and stir on medium heat about 5 minutes or until tender.

Stir in beans, tomatoes, red wine, basil, rosemary, salt, oregano and pepper. Bring to boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 3 minutes. Return chicken to the skillet  and cook for about 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Stir in spinach. Cover and cook 5 minutes longer or until spinach is wilted.

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