In this series on Italian regional cooking, I have been working my way around the Italian peninsula. The series started with the northern regions and now it is moving into the central areas. Todays post is on Umbria, the only Italian region having neither a coastline nor a border with another country. The region is mostly mountainous and hilly and presents a landscape rich in forests, water resources and valleys. Lake Trasimeno is located here.
In literature, Umbria is referred to as il cuore verde d’Italia (the green heart of Italy). The phrase is taken from the poem, Barbarian Odes, by Giosuè Carducci, an italian Nobel prize-winning poet. The poem is one most familiar to Italian school children and is entitled “Le fonti del Clitumno” (“The Head-waters of the Clitumnus”), a description of that spot in the hills of Umbria where the Clitunno River had its beginning. Carducci wrote the ode between July and October 1876. It is generally considered one of Carducci’s best poems combining pastoral beauty with nostalgia for the glories of ancient Italy.
The flocks still come down to you, o Clitumnus, from the far mountains that move with the murmur of breeze-swept ash groves and fresh scent of sage and thyme in the damps of evening.
The young Umbrian shepherd immerses his reluctant sheep in your waters.
By a farmhouse a barefoot mother sits and sings, nursing her child, who looks to the shepherd and smiles.
The pensive father with goatish hair, at his painted cart, turns on his hips like the beasts of old, with the strength of a young bull, like those square of breast, erect and crowned by crescent horns, sweet in their eyes and snow-white, much beloved by gentle Virgil.
The darkening clouds hang like smoke on the Apennines: grand, austere and green from the spreading mountains, Umbria watches. Hail, green Umbria, and you the fount of god Clitumnus.
I feel in my heart the ancient home, my fevered brow touched by the olden gods of Italy.
The region is named for the Umbri tribe, one of the many tribes who were absorbed by the expansion of the Romans. The Umbri probably sprang from neighboring tribes in northern and central Italy, at the beginning of the Bronze Age. The Etruscans were the chief enemies of the Umbri. The Etruscan invasion came from the western coast towards the north and east, eventually driving the Umbrians inland. Nevertheless, the Umbrian population does not seem to have been eradicated by the conquerors. After the downfall of the Etruscans, Umbrians aided the Samnites in their struggle against Rome (308 BC). However, the Romans defeated the Samnites and their allies. The Roman victory started a period of integration under the Roman rulers, who established colonies in the region.
The modern region of Umbria is different from the Umbria of Roman times. Roman Umbria extended through most of what is now the northern Marche region. After the collapse of the Roman empire, Ostrogoths and Byzantines struggled for supremacy in the region. The Lombards founded the duchy of Spoleto, covering much of today’s Umbria and when Charlemagne conquered the Lombard region, some Umbrian territories were given to the Pope. After the French Revolution and the French conquest of Italy, Umbria became part of the Roman Republic (1798–1799) and later, part of the Napoleonic Empire. After Napoleon’s defeat, the Pope regained Umbria and ruled it until 1860.
Following Italian unification in 1861, Umbria was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. The present borders of Umbria were fixed in 1927 and in 1946 Umbria became part of the Italian Republic.
The charm of Umbria derives from its fusion of art, nature, peacefulness and the inspirations behind its artistic masterpieces and small Medieval towns. Umbrians have a deep appreciation of art and, throughout history, the region has produced its share of talented artists. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Umbria was home to a well-respected art school (known as the “Umbrian School”) that taught venerated artists such as Raphael, della Francesca and Perugino. Old paintings and frescos can still be found all over Umbria, not just in famous museums (such as the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia) but on the walls of tiny churches in the quiet hilltop towns. Romanesque architecture thrived in this region at the beginning of the twelfth century and some beautiful examples that have survived the years are the Cathedrals of Spoleto and Assisi, St. Silvestro and St. Michele in Bevagna. The Gothic styles are also present in almost every city. The Renaissance movement can be seen in the region’s magnificent monuments.
When it comes to music, Umbria steps away from its traditions and embraces contemporary music. Each July, the region hosts the Umbria Jazz Festival, one of the most renowned international music festivals in the world. Famed musicians such as Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis and Dizzy Gillespie have played at the festival and every year it attracts new talented artists.
The food industry in Umbria produces processed pork-meats, pasta, lentils, truffles and cheese. The other main industries are textiles, clothing, sportswear, iron and steel, chemicals and ornamental ceramics. Umbrian agriculture is noted for its tobacco, olive oil and vineyards that produce fine wines. Regional varietals include white Orvieto, Torgiano and Rosso di Montefalco. Another typical Umbrian product is the black truffle found in Valnerina, an area that produces 45% of this product for Italy.
The most renowned Umbrian pork comes from the black pigs of Norcia, an ancient town in southeast Umbria. Norcia has been the center of sausage-making and other pork dishes for so many centuries that pork butcher shops in Umbria are called “Norcineria.” Traditional Umbrian pork dishes include salame mazzafegati (a pork liver sausage made with orange peel, pine nuts and raisins) and porchetta, an herb-stuffed pork roast.
Greens are a very popular vegetable found across Umbria and commonly include rapini (broccoli rabe), bietola (swiss chard) and chicoria (chicory). Greens are usually blanched, drained and sautéed with olive oil, chili pepper and garlic. These sautéed greens are then enjoyed as a vegetable side dish or are used as fillings in sandwiches, to top pizza, stirred into eggs or tossed with pasta. Rustic tortas are made with blanched greens and eggs, flavored with onions, pancetta and garlic. The tiny lentils from the Umbrian town of Castelluccio are prized across Italy for their earthy, sweet taste and their ability to maintain their shape even after long simmering.
Umbrians are masters at grilling and it is not uncommon to find indoor grills in their kitchens. Bakers in Umbria use wood ovens to make giant saltless loaves of pane casereccio. Pecorino or pork rind flavored breads are made from an egg enriched wheat flour dough. Pan nociato are sweet rolls with pecorino, walnuts and grapes flavored with cloves. A similar bun, called pan pepato, is filled with almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts with raisins and candied fruit. Other desserts include torcolo, a sponge cake brimming with raisins and candied fruit, or ciaramicola. This meringue covered round cake is made with a rich egg batter flavored with lemon rind and a spicy liqueur called Alchermes.
Insalata Di Farro (Farro Salad)
- 2 medium shallots, minced or 1/4 clove garlic and 1/4 medium red onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar or 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard or 1/2 teaspoon minced anchovy or both
- 1 tablespoon minced capers or finely chopped, pitted black olives
- 1 cup (total) chopped fresh parsley, chives, thyme or basil (or any combination)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- 2 cups farro
- 1 bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 1/2 cup grated ricotta salata or other firm or semi-firm cheese
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cut into 1/4-inch dice
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Squeeze of lemon juice
Combine shallots, olive oil, vinegar, mustard, capers and herbs in a bowl.
In a large saucepan, bring chicken stock to a boil.
Add the farro to the stock, lower heat to a strong simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the farro is tender but somewhat chewy.
Drain and let cool until no more than warm.
Add cooked farro to the ingredients in the bowl and mix. Add vegetables, tomato and cheese and mix.
Salt and pepper to taste. Add more olive oil to taste. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and serve at room temperature.
White Lasagna with Besciamella (Lasagna in Bianco )
Makes 6 servings
- 3/4 cup minced shallots (about 6)
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 3 3/4 cups whole milk
- 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/4 pound grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup), divided
- 12 (7 by 3 inch) no-boil lasagna sheets
Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.
Cook shallots in butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4 minutes. Add flour and cook over low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, 3 minutes. Add nutmeg, then slowly whisk in milk and stock. Bring to a boil, whisking, then simmer, stirring occasionally, just until sauce lightly coats the back of a spoon, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool to warm, stirring occasionally. Stir in eggs, Marsala, sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/2 cup cheese.
Spread about 1 1/4 cups sauce over the bottom of an 11 by 8 inch baking dish. Cover with a layer of 3 lasagna sheets. Repeat layering 3 more times, then top with remaining sauce and remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake, uncovered, until browned, 45 to 55 minutes.
Umbrian Mixed Grill
This dish is often served with the region’s classic lentils.
- 1 pound boneless pork loin
- 1 pound boneless beef loin
- 1 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts
- 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, cut into chunks
- 4 thick slices pancetta or prosciutto, cut in 1-inch squares
- Coarse salt to taste
- Coarsely ground black pepper to taste
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 medium bell peppers, seeded and cut into 2-inch squares
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- Small bunch of fresh sage, leaves only
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Cut the meat, sausage and chicken into 1-inch cubes. Season the pork with coarse salt and pepper and rub with the garlic; season the beef with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the sage; season the chicken with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the rosemary. Set aside.
In a skillet, heat the olive oil and sauté the peppers until just crisp-tender. Add the wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by about half.
Thread the skewers in this order: Pork, bell pepper, chicken, pancetta, sage leaf, beef, bell pepper and sausage. Do not crowd the pieces. Place the skewers in a nonmetal dish large enough to hold them in a single layer and drizzle the lemon juice and olive oil over them. Let them marinate for several hours in the refrigerator, basting and turning them often.
Heat the grill and lightly oil the grill rack. Remove the skewers from the marinade, place them on the grill, and baste with the marinade. Grill, turning and basting the skewers, until done to taste, about 8 to 12 minutes.
Apricots with Amaretto Syrup
- 10 firm-ripe large apricots
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2/3 cup Amaretto liqueur
- 6 amaretti (Italian almond macaroons; if paper-wrapped, use 3 packets), crumbled (1/3 cup)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pine nuts for sprinkling
Peel apricots with a vegetable peeler, then halve and pit. Finely chop 2 halves and set aside.
Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook sugar, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Stir in Amaretto (be careful; syrup will spatter) and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes.
Working in 2 batches, poach apricot halves in syrup at a low simmer, turning, until almost tender, 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer apricots, hollow sides up, to a platter.
Add crumbled amaretti to syrup and cook over low heat, crushing cookies with back of a wooden spoon, until melted into a coarse purée.
Stir in reserved chopped apricot and gently simmer, stirring, until syrup is deep brown and slightly thickened. Cool syrup slightly.
Spoon syrup over apricots and sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Liguria is where pesto is originally from, one of the most popular sauces in Italian cuisine. Seafood is a major staple of Liguria, as the sea has been part of the region’s culture since its beginning. Another important aspect of the culture is the beach. Tourists have been flocking to the Italian Riviera for decades to experience its calm, deep blue water.
Liguria is the coastal region of north-western Italy, where Genoa is the capital. Liguria is bordered by France to the west, Piedmont to the north and Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany to the east. It lies on the Ligurian Sea. This narrow strip of land is bordered by the sea, the Alps and the Apennines mountains. Mountains and steep cliffs that rise loftily out of the Ligurian Sea in the most northerly part of the Western Mediterranean.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the region’s economic growth was remarkable: steel mills and shipyards flourished along the coast from Imperia to La Spezia, while the port of Genoa became the main commercial hub of industrializing Northern Italy. During the tragic period of World War II, Liguria experienced heavy bombings, hunger and two years of occupation by the German troops, against whom a liberation struggle was led. When Allied troops eventually entered Genoa, they were welcomed by Italian partisans who, in a successful insurrection, had freed the city and accepted the surrender of the local German command.
Steel, once a major industry during the booming 1950s and 1960s, phased out after the late 1980s, as Italy moved away from heavy industry to pursue more technologically advanced and less polluting productions. Ligurian businesses turned towards a widely diversified range of high-quality and high-tech products (food, electrical engineering, electronics, petrochemicals, aerospace etc.). Despite this new direction, the region still maintains a flourishing shipbuilding industry (yacht construction and maintenance, cruise liners and military shipyards).
A good motorways network (376 km, 234 mi) makes communications with the border regions relatively easy. The main motorway is located along the coastline, connecting the main ports of Nice (in France), Savona, Genoa and La Spezia.
The capital, Genoa, one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean and home to Christopher Columbus, was a powerful maritime state in the Middle Ages. Today, one can find impressive buildings, elegant mansions and churches — all of which bear witness to Liguria’s glorious past and which blend in perfectly with the modern city. Numerous historical treasures and be found throughout Liguria. Sanremo is one of Italy’s most famous bathing resorts and the place where the annual Italian pop music festival takes place. Other important cities in Liguria are: Imperia, Savona and La Spezia.
Visit Liguria in the video below:
The forests are covered with pine trees, providing the fresh pine nuts (pignoli) for Ligurian dishes. Mushrooms and chestnuts abound in the hills, as do rabbits and other wild game, making the region ideal for producing hearty and rustic country dishes. The warm Mediterranean air helps create good conditions for growing olives, wine grapes, corn, herbs (particularly basil), garlic, chickpeas, zucchini, potatoes, onions and artichokes. Because of its wide coastline, fish and shellfish are the predominant proteins used in Ligurian cooking, though the region shares its love of pork and pork products with both its Italian and French neighbors.
Pasta is important to the region’s cuisine. A small lasagna noodle originated here, made from chestnut flour, is still popular today. The innovative Ligurians were skilled in making do with locally grown ingredients, like chestnuts and chickpeas, to produce flours to use in pasta, polenta and bread. Today, wheat is fairly easy to import to the region, so it is now the primary ingredient in pastas and breads.
Pesto sauce is popular as a topping for pastas and is widely consumed, since basil and pine nuts are so readily available. Fidelini, a local favorite pasta, cut long and thin, is the perfect base for light sauces. Other favorites include, trenette a form of flat, thin pasta similar to linguine and hearty gnocchi, both of which can be found on almost every menu.
High on the list of Ligurian specialties is the bread known as focaccia. This flatbread is not meant to be stored for any length of time, but rather is best eaten straight from the oven. Though usually baked plain, the region’s abundance of herbs are often combined and sprinkled on top. Cheeses, meats and fresh vegetables are other regional additions to focaccia. Ligurian focaccias have a dense texture, perfect for sopping up rich sauces or simply a great tasting olive oil.
Regional Favorites To Make At Home
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing and brushing
- 1 cup warm water
- One ¼-ounce packet active dry yeast
- 3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons rosemary or thyme leaves
Oil a large bowl and set it aside. Pour the water into a medium-sized bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oil.
Mix together the flour and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Pour the yeast mixture into the well, then stir the yeast mixture into the flour with a wooden spoon until a slightly sticky dough forms.
Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Coat your hands with flour, then knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, 2-3 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball, put it into the oiled bowl and roll it in the bowl to coat it lightly with oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and set it in a warm spot until the dough roughly doubles in size, about 2 hours.
Lightly oil a 7-by-11-inch baking pan. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and shape it into a rectangle to fit the baking pan. Put it in the oiled pan and pat the top down gently so it is even. Using the handle end of a wooden spoon, make regular rows of slight indentations across the entire surface, spacing the indentations about 2 inches apart. Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and allow the dough to rise for another hour at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Brush the top of the dough lightly with oil, then sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden brown, 20-25 minutes. (If desired, sprinkle 2 tablespoons rosemary or thyme leaves over the top of the focaccia after it has been in the oven for about 10 minutes.)
Serve warm or at room temperature and cut into wedges or squares.
Cozze alla Maggiorana ed Aglio alla Ligure (Steamed Mussels with Marjoram and Garlic Ligurian-Style)
Mussels are plentiful along the rugged Ligurian coastline. Marjoram, a favorite herb in Liguria, is usually added to seafood dishes. Toss the mussels with 1 pound of cooked linguine for a first course.
- 2 pounds mussels, scrubbed, beards removed
- 1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced marjoram
- 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons dry white wine
Soak the mussels in cool water to cover with 1 tablespoon of the salt for 30 minutes, then drain and rinse thoroughly a few times. This step is essential for ridding the mussels of any dirt or sediment.
Place the garlic, marjoram, parsley and olive oil in a 4-quart pot. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the wine, mussels and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
Cover and cook until the mussels open, about 8 minutes. Discard any mussels that remain closed and serve hot, with the cooking juices.
Ligurian Style Pesto Lasagna
- Pesto, recipe follows
- Besciamella, recipe follows
- Butter, for baking dish, plus 2 tablespoons cut into small pieces for the topping
- 1 1/2 (9-ounce) boxes no boil lasagna noodles
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup of butter
- 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
- 4 cups of milk
- Salt and pepper
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 cups of fresh basil leaves (about 4 oz)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup of pignoli
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Sardo or Romano Cheese
- Salt and pepper
Melt the 1/2 cup butter in a pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour.
Pour in the milk, whisking constantly, while bringing the mixture to a boil; simmer for about 15 minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Rinse the basil and separate the leaves from the stems.
Grate the cheeses and peel the garlic.
Combine the basil, the garlic, the pignoli and the olive oil in a blender and process until a paste forms. Add the cheeses, salt and pepper and blend until smooth.
MAKING THE LASAGNA
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a 13″ × 9″ x 4″ pan layer the ingredients as follows:
– a thin layer of besciamella
– cover with a layer of pasta
– a thin layer of besciamella
– 4 tablespoons of pesto, gently spread across the surface
– sprinkle the layer with 2 tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan
– cover with a layer of pasta
– repeat the layering until you use all the pasta
– top with a very thin layer of besciamella and remaining pesto, parmesan cheese and dot with the 2 tablespoons of butter
Bake the lasagna for 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes and serve with extra parmesan cheese.
Italian Plum Cake
- 1 cup unblanched almonds
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for topping
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 pounds Italian plums, pitted and sliced thickly
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 10-inch tart pan or springform pan.
Put the almonds and the 1/2 cup sugar in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely ground. Add the flour and salt and pulse once more. Transfer the mixture to a bowl.
Beat the eggs with the milk in another bowl and stir in the melted butter. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and whisk for a minute or two until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the pan and smooth with a spatula. Arrange the plum slices on top on a circular pattern. Sprinkle the 1/ 3 cup sugar over the plums.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a paring knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
This Italian region comprises the historical areas of Emilia and Romagna. Half the territory is formed by the Apennines and the other half is a large plain, which reaches east to the Adriatic Sea. The coastline is flat and sandy with lagoons and marshy areas.
Emilia-Romagna is one of the wealthiest and most developed regions in Europe, with the third highest GDP per capita in Italy. Bologna, its capital, has one of Italy’s highest quality of life standards. Emilia-Romagna is also a cultural and tourist center, being the home of the University of Bologna, the oldest university in the world. Its cuisine is renowned and it is home to the automotive companies of Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Pagani, De Tomaso and Ducati.
Popular coastal resorts such as Rimini and Riccione are located in this region. Other important cities include Parma, Ferrara, Modena, Piacenza, Ravenna, Forlì and Reggio Emilia.
Despite being an industrial power, Emilia-Romagna is also a leading region in agriculture, with farming contributing 5.8% of the region’s agricultural products. Cereals, potatoes, corn, tomatoes and onions are the most important products, along with fruit and grapes for the production of wine (of which the best known are Emilia’s Lambrusco, Bologna’s Pignoletto, Romagna’s Sangiovese and white Albana). Cattle and hog breeding are also highly developed.
Tourism is increasingly important, especially along the Adriatic coastline and the art museum cities. Since 187 B.C., when the Romans built the 125-Mile Roman Road/Via Emilia, this thoroughfare has taken travelers throughout the region and connected them with the major trading centers of Venice, Genoa and central/northern Europe. This main roadway crosses the region from north-west (Piacenza) to the south-east (Adriatic coast), connecting the main cities of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and the Adriatic coast.
Emilia-Romagna gave birth to two great musicians, one of the most important composers of music, Giuseppe Verdi and Toscanini, the famous conductor. Marcella Hazan, one of the foremost authorities on Italian cuisine, was born in 1924 in the village of Cesenatico in Emilia-Romagna. She earned a doctorate in natural sciences and biology from the University of Ferrara. Her cookbooks are credited with introducing the public in the United States and Britain to the techniques of traditional Italian cooking. She moved to New York City following her marriage to Victor Hazan and published her first book, The Classic Italian Cook Book, in 1973.
The most popular sport in Emilia-Romagna is football. Several famous clubs from Emilia-Romagna compete at a high level on the national stage: Cesena, Parma and Sassuolo. With 13 professional clubs in 2013, the region is only bettered in terms of a number of professional clubs by Lombardy. It also has 747 amateur clubs, 1,522 football pitches and 75,328 registered players. Another sport which is very popular in this region is basketball and teams from Emilia-Romagna compete in the Lega Basket Serie A. Zebre rugby club competes professionally in the Guinness Pro 12 league. The club’s home ground is located in Parma.
Take a tour of Emilia-Romagna with the video below.
The Cuisine of Emilia-Romagna
The celebrated balsamic vinegar is made in the Emilian cities of Modena and Reggio Emilia, following legally binding traditional procedures. Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan Cheese) is produced in Reggio Emilia, Parma, Modena and Bologna, while Grana Padano is produced in the rest of the region. Prosciutto di Parma is Italy’s most popular ham, especially beyond Italy where it’s widely exported. With its roots going back to 100 BC, when a salt-cured ham was mentioned in the writings of Cato, Prosciutto has a long and hallowed history in the Parma province.
Antipasto is optional before the first course of a traditional meal and may feature anything from greens with prosciutto and balsamic vinegar to pears with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar. Pasta is often the first course and Emilia-Romagna is known for its egg and filled pastas, such as tortellini, lasagna and tagliatelle. In some areas of Romagna rice is eaten, with risotto taking the place of pasta. Polenta, a cornmeal-based dish, is common both in Emilia and Romagna.
Seafood, poultry and meats comprise the second course. Although the Adriatic coast is a major fishing area (well-known for its eels and clams), the region is more famous for its meat products, especially pork-based, that include: Parma’s prosciutto, culatello and Felino salami, Piacenza’s pancetta, coppa and salami, Bologna’s mortadella and salame rosa, Modena’s zampone, cotechino and cappello del prete and Ferrara’s salama da sugo. Reggio Emilia is famous for erbazzone, a spinach and Parmigiano Reggiano pie and Gnocco Fritto, flour strips fried in boiling oil and eaten in combination with ham or salami.
From grilled asparagus with Parma ham to basil/onion mashed potatoes or roasted beets and onions, vegetables play a major role in Emilia-Romagna side dishes. Residents boil, sauté, braise, bake or grill radicchio and other tart greens. They also serve a cornucopia of other vegetables, including sweet fennel, wild mushrooms, zucchini, cauliflower, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, onions, chard, sweet squashes, cabbage, eggplant, green beans and asparagus.
Sweet pastas may be a dessert or a side dish. Rich tortes, almond and apple cream tarts, sweet ravioli with winter fruit and strawberries & red wine often find their way to the table. Regional desserts include zuppa inglese (custard-based dessert made with sponge cake and Alchermes liqueur) and panpepato (Christmas cake made with pepper, chocolate, spices, and almonds).
Some differences do exist in the cuisines of Emilia and Romagna. Located between Florence and Venice and south of Milan, Emilia has lush plains, gentle hills and a cuisine that demonstrates more Northern Italian influences and capitalizes on the region’s ample supply of butter, cream and meat that is usually poached or braised. The Romagna area includes the Adriatic coast, part of the Ferrara province and the rugged mountain ranges. Food preferences follow those found in central Italy, with olive oil used as a base for many dishes, plenty of herbs and a preference for spit roasting and griddle baking.
TRADITIONAL RECIPES OF EMILIA-ROMAGNA
PUMPKIN RAVIOLI (CAPPELLACCI)
FOR THE PASTA
- 10 oz all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- Pinch of salt
FOR THE FILLING
- 2 lbs pumpkin, baked and the flesh scooped out
- 7 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Nutmeg to taste
- 2 oz butter
- Salt to taste
- 1 egg
For the pasta:
Mix the eggs, flour and a pinch of salt until thoroughly combined.
Roll out into thin sheets on a pasta machine and cut into squares, about 2.5 inches a side.
For the filling:
Mix the baked pumpkin pulp with the egg, the grated cheese and the nutmeg.
Put the filling on half the squares of pasta and top with another square. Press the edges with a fork to seal.
Cook them in abundant salted water and season with melted butter, sage and grated cheese.
BEEF FILLET WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR SAUCE
- 1 ¾ lb beef fillet
- 1 ½ oounces all-purpose flour, plus extra for coating the meat
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- Salt to taste
- Chopped parsley for garnish
Cut the fillet into four equal slices and flatten slightly with a meat pounder. Coat the meat in flour and shake to remove any excess. Put the fillets on a greased plate, then salt them.
Heat a large skillet and cook the fillets on both sides over very high heat, sprinkling each with some of the balsamic vinegar.
In a separate saucepan, combine the remaining vinegar, the beef broth and the flour. Heat, stirring constantly, until thickened.
When the fillets are cooked, cover them with the sauce and garnish with parsley.
ERBAZZONE (SAVORY GREENS PIE)
This pie is often served with slices of prosciutto.
- 2 lbs spinach
- 7 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 1 oz olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 oz pancetta, chopped fine
- 1 ¾ oz butter
- 3 ½ oz lard
- 1/2 onion, about 2/3 cup
- 1 clove of garlic
- Box frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), defrosted overnight in the refrigerator
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cook the spinach in boiling salted water until tender. Drain well and chop the spinach. Squeeze well to dry.
Sauté butter, lard and onion in a skillet. Add the spinach and garlic and cook for five minutes. Cool. Then, mix with some grated Parmesan, the olive oil, pepper and salt.
Lay one sheet of pastry in a rectangular oven-dish (about the size of the pastry sheet; cut to fit, if needed). Spread the filling over the dough. Dot the top of the filling with the pancetta. Cover with the second pastry sheet. Press down lightly.
Bake at 350°F until the pastry is golden, about 30 minutes.
Serve hot or warm.
CIAMBELLA (RING CAKE)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 large eggs
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
- Grated zest of 1/2 a medium orange
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- Powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9-inch ring mold or a springform pan and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder and salt to thoroughly combine them and set aside.
Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and whisk them lightly to break up the yolks. Add the sugar to the bowl and whisk it in thoroughly in both directions for about 30 seconds. Add the olive oil and whisk until the mixture is a bit lighter in color and has thickened slightly, about 45 seconds. Whisk in the extracts and zest, followed by the orange juice.
Add the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk until they are thoroughly combined; continue whisking until you have a smooth, emulsified batter, about 30 more seconds.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake the cake for 30 to 45 minutes, rotating the cake pan halfway through the cooking time to ensure even browning.
The cake is done when it has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back lightly when touched and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Allow the cake to cool for ten minutes in the pan, then gently remove it from the pan and allow it cool completely on a rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Like all the northern regions on Italy’s border that I have written about so far in this series, the regions are heavily influenced by the countries they touch.
Friuli–Venezia Giulia is Italy’s most North-Eastern region and is the fifth smallest region of the country. It borders Austria to the north and Slovenia to the east. To the south it faces the Adriatic Sea and to the west. The region spans a wide variety of climates and landscapes from the mild Mediterranean climate in the south to Alpine continental in the north. The total area is subdivided into mountainous-alpine terrain in the north, hilly areas in the south-east and in the imterior the coastal plains area.
The regional capital is Trieste; the other important cities are Udine, Gorizia and Pordenone.
The ancient Romans left many remarkable traces, mainly at Aquileia, which is a famous archaeological center. In Grado and Cividale, there are important architecture examples of the Byzantine style. The Basilica of Aquileia, which is in the Romanesque Gothic style, houses splendid mosaics.
In Trieste, the Revoltella Civic Museum, holds an important collection of sculptural and pictorial works from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; the Civic Museum of the Sea, shows the history of navigation from its origins to the end of the last century, with models, instruments and projects. The Civic Museum of Risorgimento is an interesting review of Trieste’s struggle for freedom; the Civic Museum of Art History holds a remarkable collection of archaeological relics, from the Paleolithic to the Roman Age with collections of archaeology, sculpture, painting, ceramics, coins and jewelry.
Italian is the official national language. Friulian language is also spoken in most of the region — with a few exceptions, most notably Trieste and the area around Monfalcone and Grado, where a version of the Venetian language and Triestine dialect is spoken instead. The local languages are more common in the countryside, while in the larger towns (Udine, Pordenone, Gorizia), standard Italian is the predominant language.
Take a visit to the Friuli Venezia Giulia region via the video below:
Friuli Venezia Giulia Cuisine
The food culture has been enriched by the historical melting pot of peoples, languages and traditions, with influences from the Mediterranean and Slavic countries detectable in a range of flavors and recipes.
The legendary San Daniele ham and wines from Friuli vineyards have become the ambassadors of Friuli Venezia Giulia food production. There are 8 D.O.C. zones where D.O.C.G. wines are produced, including robust reds such as Ramandolo, Picolit and Rosazzo, the strangely-named Tazzelenghe (do you know how it got this name?). Tazzelenghe, in English, means literally “tongue-cutting or stinging,” which refers to a great combination of acidity and tannins, born from a long, cool growing season. Tazzelenghe is an indigenous varietal that disappeared and only saw cultivation and production as recently as the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
The foremost white wine produced in this region is the Tocai Friulano, as it is called now. Because of a confusion between a Hungarian grape called Tokaj and a French one called Tokay, the European Community had demanded a name change of the French and Friuli grapes allowing Hungary to keep the original Tokaj name.
Seafood dishes include crostacei e conchiglie (a crustacean and shellfish dish), specialities such as boreto from Grado, “scampi a la busara” from Istria, sardoni from the Gulf of Trieste and ribalta vapor from the Marano lagoon.
Montasio, smoked ricotta cheese with the taste of Alpine meadows is the best known cheese of the region and cheeses that are little known but much-loved, are formadi frant and Asìno. Dis
Delicacies such as Sauris cured ham, cured ham from Cormòns, salami, speck (smoked ham), local bacon, brusaola and pitina, smoked meatball of sheep, goat or wild animal are all characteristic foods of the region.
Specialties of the region include frico (a kind of cheese fritter, either soft or crunchy), with musèt and brovade (sausage with soured turnip). Other specialities include cjarsòns (ravioli with a sweet or herb-flavored filling) and gnocchi di susine (plum gnocchi) from Goriziano. You will also find trout (especially the Regina smoked trout from San Daniele), honey, Julia Dop apples, grappas, oils and Slavic desserts such as gubana and presnitz.
If you want to taste and buy typical Friuli products, go to the Farmers’ Market in San Daniele: it’s an open air market organised in collaboration between the San Daniele Agro-food Park and the Slow Food Movement.
Recipes from Friuli Venezia Giulia
Asiago is a good replacement for Montasio cheese.
Ingredients for 1 frico ( 4 people):
- 8 oz (250 grams) of potatoes
- 1 onion
- 9 oz (260 grams) of Montasio cheese, cut into small cubes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Grated Grana Padano cheese
Place potatoes in a pot of cold water; when it begins to boil cook them for 20 minutes. Drain and mash with a fork.
In the meantime chopped the onion. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet and add the onion. cook until lightly brown. Add the mashed potatoes to the pan with the cheese cubes. Flatten the mixture with a wide spatula and cook until the underside is brown.
Slip the spatula under the mixture and flip it over. Cook until brown on the bottom.
Sprinkle with the grated grana padano cheese, cut into four and serve as an appetizer.
Fresh Pasta with Poppy Seeds and Sugar
This is an unusual sweet sauce not usually found in Italy.
For the pasta:
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 pound fresh egg tagliatelle or reginette pasta
For the sauce:
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 ounces poppy seeds
- 1/4 cup sugar
Make the pasta:
Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt and the pasta. Cook until al dente; then drain, reserving about 2 cups of the pasta cooking water.
Make the sauce:
Warm the butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the poppy seeds and warm through until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Keep warm.
Transfer the drained pasta to a large serving platter and toss with the warm poppy-seed butter. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking water, as needed to thin out the sauce; it should coat the pasta nicely. Sprinkle with the sugar and toss again. Serve hot.
Cevapcici with Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Sauce
- 8 ounces ground beef
- 8 ounces lean ground pork
- 1 onion plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion, divided
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Dash cayenne pepper
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 small eggplant
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Dash cayenne pepper
To prepare the Cevapcici:
In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, garlic, paprika, salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Roll the mixture into sausage shapes about 3 inches long and ¾ inch in diameter.
Preheat a grill (or heat a large skillet over medium-high heat). Place the sausages on the grill; cook until done, about 5–6 minutes, turning to brown each side.
Serve with the sauce and the onion, chopped.
To prepare the Sauce:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the bell pepper and eggplant on a baking sheet; bake until the eggplant is tender and the bell pepper skin begins to brown, about 30–40 minutes. When the bell pepper is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin, stem and seeds.
Slice open the eggplant and scoop out the flesh. Place the bell pepper and eggplant in a food processor, along with the olive oil, vinegar, sugar and cayenne pepper; purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt.
Friuli Chocolate Fondue
- 2 bananas
- 12 fresh, ripe strawberries
- 2 pears
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 1 ¼ lbs (500 gr) dark melting chocolate of excellent quality, chopped
- 3 tablespoons heavy cream, slightly scalded
- 2 tablespoons rum
Wash all the fruit. Slice the bananas and pears into wedges and rub with the sliced lemon to keep them from turning brown. Take care not to use too much lemon as it will alter the flavor of the fruit.
Melt the chocolate pieces in a double boiler.
Remove from the heat and add the rum and the heavy cream.
Serve the chocolate sauce in a warmed ceramic (or clay) bowl and arrange the fruit around it.
Romano beans are a form of flat snap bean which originated in Italy. Specialty grocers and farmers’ markets sometimes carry them and they can also be grown at home, assuming you live in an area with a Mediterranean climate. They are usually available in late summer and fall. They are also readily available frozen in most markets.
Like other snap beans, Romano beans are supposed to be eaten whole. They are considered ripe when they make a crisp “snap” if they are broken in half, and they have a very mild flavor and a tender texture. These beans are often braised with other vegetables and eaten as a side dish. They can also be added to soups, stews, stir fries and an assortment of other dishes. These beans can also be pickled.
You may also hear these legumes referred to as Italian flat beans or Italian snap beans, but don’t confuse them with fava beans, which are sometimes labeled as “Italian broad beans.” These snap beans are flattened, rather than rounded, as one might expect. To use Romano beans, snap or trim off the ends and rinse the pods to remove any dirt from the field. These beans can be lightly cooked to retain their crunchy texture or cooked until they are extremely tender. However, overcooking will cause the beans to turn into a tasteless mush, so take care when preparing them in braised and other long-cooked dishes.
In addition to being available in classic green, Romanos also come in yellow and purple, for cooks who like to play around with different colors in their cooking. When selecting Romano beans in the market, look for crisp specimens with even coloration and no soft spots or signs of mold. Limp, listless beans should be avoided and the beans should be stored in paper bags and used within a few days for best results.
How to Steam
Rinse Romano beans under running water to wash away any debris. Drain the beans in a colander.
Set a steamer basket in a large cooking pot with 1 inch of water in the bottom. Turn the heat to high, and bring the water to a boil.
Chop the stem and tips of the beans off with a sharp paring knife while the water is heating. Cut the beans into 1- to 1 1/2-inch sections. For an attractive visual effect, hold the knife at a 45-degree angle to the beans, to cut sections on the diagonal.
Place the bean pieces in the steamer basket. Set the lid on the pot, and cook for three to four minutes.
Remove the lid, and test the beans tenderness with the tip of a sharp knife. If the beans are not yet soft, use a spoon to rotate the pieces at the top of the steamer basket to the bottom, nearer the water. Cover with the lid, and cook for another two to three minutes.
Drain the beans in a colander and serve immediately, seasoned with salt or salt substitute and fresh-ground black pepper to taste.
How to Boil
Fill a large pot half full of water, add 1 to 2 tsp. salt, and cover the pot with a lid. Bring the water to a full, rolling boil over high heat.
Add washed Romano beans that have been cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces to the pot of boiling water.
Boil bean pieces until tender. Remove the bean pieces from the pot with a slotted spoon, and serve promptly.
How to Braise
Cook onions, celery, carrots or any other garnish or vegetable you prefer, in olive oil over medium heat until golden.
Add additional flavorings such as tomatoes or minced garlic, then add cut Romano beans. Add seasonings of your choice to taste.
Simmer over medium-low heat for 40 to 50 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the beans are soft and most of the moisture has evaporated. Cool your braised Romano beans for five to 10 minutes before serving.
- If you are using the steamed beans in a cold salad recipe, place the drained beans in a large bowl filled with cold water and ice. Allow the beans to cool completely before draining in a colander.
- If you have both small and large beans to cook, separate them into two batches for cooking because the thicker ones take longer to become tender.
- Add cooked garbanzo beans or potatoes to braised Romano beans to make a hearty entrée.
Sautéed Romano Beans
- 1 pound Romano beans
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons minced shallots
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh oregano leaves
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Rinse the beans under cold running water. Drain, leaving any water clinging to the beans. Trim the ends and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the shallots and sauté over medium heat about 1 minute. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for 30 to 45 seconds, until tender and fragrant but not browned. Remove the sautéed shallots and garlic from the pan with a slotted spoon, pressing any excess oil back into the skillet. Set aside.
Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet. Once the oil is hot, add the beans, oregano leaves, salt and pepper to taste. Sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently until the beans are browned in spots and tender but retain some crispness, about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cook 2 minutes. Stir in the sautéed shallots and garlic. Cook just until aromatic, about 30 seconds.
Remove the pan from heat and let the beans cool slightly. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and allow contents to cool to room temperature. Remove the salad from the pan to a serving platter.
Braised Romano Beans
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup minced celery
- 1/2 cup minced carrot
- 1 cup minced red onion
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste
- 1 cup canned crushed Italian tomatoes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds romano beans (flat green beans), ends trimmed
Heat oil in a deep skillet or a shallow three-quart saucepan. Add celery, carrot and onion and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables barely begin to brown, about 25 minutes. Add garlic and rosemary and cook until fragrant, a few minutes. Stir in tomato paste and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer until mixture is well combined, about 5 minutes.
Add beans, setting them in pan all in one direction. Add 1/2 cup water. Bring to a simmer. Baste beans, season with salt, reduce heat to low. Cook gently, partly covered, turning beans in sauce from time to time, until beans are very tender, about 40 minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve hot or at room temperature.
Yield: 6 servings.
Romano Bean Vegetable Soup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 chopped onion
- 2 minced cloves of garlic
- 2 chopped celery stalks
- 2 chopped carrots
- 5 cups chicken stock
- 1 cup water
- 1 can (28 oz) diced plum tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- 3/4 cup small pasta, cooked
- 16 oz frozen romano beans, partially defrosted
- 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
- Grated Parmesan cheese
In large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat; cook onion, garlic, celery and carrots, stirring often, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
Stir in stock, water, oregano and tomatoes bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain. Add pasta, chickpeas, romano beans, salt and pepper to the soup and cook until the beans are heated.
Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
Braised Chicken With Romano Beans
- 4 chicken thighs, trimmed
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/3 cup dry red wine
- 1/2 lb romano beans (You can also use frozen)
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 (14 1/2 ounce) cans chopped tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
- 1/3 cup kalamata olive, sliced in quarters
- Salt and pepper
Heat olive oil in a pan that has a cover. Trim the chicken thighs of extra fat, cut in half if possible, and season with salt and pepper.
Lightly dust the chicken with flour and fry over medium high heat until well browned, but not too much. Any burning is very apparent in the dish, so keep it brown, not black. Turn and finish browning.
Deglaze pan with the wine until most of the liquid is gone.
Trim Romano beans and cut on the diagonal into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Toss into pan and stir to get the cooking going. After a couple of minutes, toss in the peeled and crushed garlic. Stir another 2 minutes being careful not to burn the garlic.
Add the tomatoes and juices to the pan along with the rosemary, garlic, and additional salt and pepper as desired.
Bring to a simmer and reduce heat. Cover the pan, but leave the lid slightly ajar. Allow to cook on low heat (keep a simmer going) for 20 minutes.
Add the olives and cook an additional five minutes.
Italian Green Bean and Meatball Stew
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 pounds ground beef or turkey
- 1 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for topping
- 1 bunch parsley, stemmed and finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 3 cans (28 ounces each) Italian peeled tomatoes, crushed
- 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 4 pounds small red potatoes, skin on, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 pounds Italian green beans, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
Heat oven to 400 degrees F
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the meat with the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley and eggs. With clean hands, work the mixture well. Shape it into 1 inch meatballs and place on greased baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes or until brown and cooked through.
In a soup pot, heat the oil and cook the onion, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until it begins to brown. Add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Stir well. Cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a simmer. Add salt and red pepper. Add the potatoes and simmer for 10 minutes or until tender.
Add the green beans and the meatballs. With the back of a ladle, gently press the meatballs into the liquid so they’re just submerged. Try not to break the potatoes or meatballs. Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour. Serve with shaved parmesan cheese over the top.
In 1630 the Barbarigo family, a powerful noble family from the Republic of Venice, owned most of the land in Valsanzibio. They took refuge in this location to escape the black plague outbreak that was spreading throughout Venice and the rest of Europe and that had already killed the wife of Zuane Francesco Barbarigo. Soon after, Zuane Francesco made a solemn vow that, if the rest of his family would be spared from this terrible disease, he would create a spiritual masterwork.
This vow was completed by his son, Gregorio and his grandsons. The garden plans were drawn by Luigi Bernini, a distinguished Vatican architect, and the sculptures were completed by Enrico Merengo (1628 – 1723), who was a well-known sculptor in Venice. The garden contains seventy statues all of which have engraved inscriptions. Symbolism abounds around every corner and down every path, as the gardens were designed to serve as an allegory of man’s progress towards perfection.
Diane’s Pavilion or ‘Diane’s Doorway’ was the main entrance by water to the Barbarigo estate in the 17th and 18th century and was one of the first works in Bernini’s project. This impressive doorway represents one of the most important areas of the complex, in fact, it was not only the entrance to the Barbarigo estate, but it represented, as it does still today, the beginning of one’s salvation’s itinerary, desired by Gregorio Barbarigo in the plans. Just in front of the doorway, on its outside, on two solid pillars, are the Barbarigo shields held up by two statues representing angels with a peaceful attitude. Thirteen other statues adorn the area.
The sculptures depict a world of buildings, streams, waterfalls, fountains, small ponds, game and fish ponds and hundreds of different trees and plants all over an area of more than 10 hectares (over 24 acres).
The labyrinth paths were created with six thousand boxwood plants, many of which are almost 400 years old, since they were planted between 1664-1669. The pruning work takes fifteen hundred hours of work, with the help of manual and mechanical cutters, ladders, levels and plumbed lines. The maze of labyrinths represent the complex voyage toward achieving human perfectibility. The paths are designed to disorient the visitor by the high boxwood walls, The right path to arrive at the exit is never the shorter one. Every promising shortcut considerably lengthens the walk or ends up in a dead-end. Symbolically teaching: whoever mends his way and finds the right path, will have to avoid repeating errors.
This symbolic garden was awarded the first prize, as ‘the most beautiful garden in Italy’ in 2003 and as the third most beautiful garden in Europe in 2007.
The gardens are near Padua (Italian: Padova) Italy. The city is sometimes included with Venice and Treviso, in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area, The city is the home of the University of Padua, almost 800 years old and famous, among other things, for having had Galileo Galilei among its lecturers. Padua is also the setting for most of the action in Shakespeare’s, The Taming of the Shrew.
The culinary tradition of Padua has its roots in the simple produce of the vegetable garden, the farmyard and the vineyard. Farmland products are represented by the well-known Paduan hen. Paduan hens are an ancient breed (a favorite subject of 16th-century European painters) of small crested and bearded chickens from the surrounding province of Padova, in the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy, The Paduan hen is distinguished by the splendor of its plumage and elegant form. The crest is replaced by a tuft of long feathers on the head, which gives the appearance of a chrysanthemum flower in the male or of a hydrangea in the female.
DOC wines are produced in five areas and Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes exclusively from the area of the Euganean Hills. All varieties of chicory (a bitter green) are cultivated in the countryside of Padua. Prosciutto crudo dolce di Montagnana, a specialty of the area, has a festival designated in its honor on the third Sunday of May.
Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms
- One-ounce packet dried porcini (25 g, about a packed half cup)
- 1/2 of a small onion, finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups (300 g) short-grained rice, for example Arborio or Vialone Nano
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- The water the mushrooms were soaked in, strained and added to chicken broth to equal 4 cups
- One bunch parsley, minced
- 1 cup (50 g) grated Parmigiano
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
Steep the porcini in one cup of boiling water for fifteen minutes. Drain and reserve the mushroom water. Chop the mushrooms and set aside.
Strain the mushroom water and add chicken broth to equal 4 cups. Place in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Slice the onion finely and sauté it in oil in another large saucepan. Stir in the rice and cook for several minutes, until it becomes translucent, stirring constantly.
Add the wine and continue stirring until it has evaporated completely. Then stir in the first ladle of the chicken broth.
Add the mushrooms, 3/4 teaspoon salt and continue adding broth, a ladle at a time, stirring occasionally.
About five minutes before the rice is done, check seasoning and add more salt if needed.
As soon as the rice is al dente, turn off the heat, stir in the butter, a little ground pepper, the parsley and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
Cover the risotto for two minutes. Serve with the remaining grated cheese.
Hens with Garlic and Rosemary
Since Padua hens are not available everywhere, I offer an alternative.
- 4 Cornish game hens, about 1 lb each
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 24 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
Rub hens with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Lightly season hens with salt and pepper. Place 1 lemon wedge and 1 sprig rosemary in the cavity of each hen. Place in a large, heavy roasting pan and arrange garlic cloves around hens. Roast in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a mixing bowl, whisk together wine, chicken broth and remaining 2 tablespoons of oil; pour over the hens. Continue roasting about 25 minutes longer or until hens are golden brown and juices run clear. Baste with the pan juices every 10 minutes.
Transfer hens to a platter, pouring any cavity juices into the roasting pan. Tent hens with aluminum foil to keep warm.
Transfer pan juices and garlic cloves to a medium saucepan and boil until liquids reduce to a sauce consistency, about 6 minutes. Cut hens in half lengthwise and arrange on plates. Spoon sauce and garlic around hens. Garnish with rosemary sprigs and serve.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons limoncello
- 3 packages (3 ounces each) ladyfingers, split
LEMON CURD: or 1 (10-12 ounce) Jar Lemon Curd
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1-1/2 cups cold water
- 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons butter, cubed
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel, plus extra for garnish
- 1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 carton (8 ounces) Mascarpone cheese
For the syrup: In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat. Stir in limoncello; set aside.
For lemon curd: in another saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Stir in water until smooth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from the heat.
Stir a small amount of hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks; return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Return to the heat and bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 2 minutes longer.
Remove from the heat. Stir in butter. Gently stir in lemon juice and peel. Cool to room temperature without stirring.
For the filling: In a large bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken. Add sugar; beat until stiff peaks form. Fold cheese and whipped cream into lemon curd.
Arrange a third of the ladyfingers on the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Drizzle with a third of the syrup; spread with a third of the filling. Repeat layers twice.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Carefully run a knife around edge of the pan to loosen. Remove the sides of the pan. Garnish the top with lemon zest and mint, if desired. Yield: 16 servings.
Milan is the home of Italy’s stock exchange, the Gothic cathedral – the Duomo, one of Europe’s biggest trade-fair complexes, famous nightclubs, the prestigious opera house, La Scala, A.C. Milan (football) and endless opportunities to eat the best of Lombard’s Italian food. Milan is also the fashion icon of Italy and houses millions of residents in this northern city located south of the Italian Alps. Milan is very close to several other cities, such as Venice and Florence, and attractions, such as the Alpine ski slopes or the seashore villages of Liguria and Cinque Terre. The fashion quarter is not only known for major designers in the industry, such as, Valentino, Gucci, Kenzo and Yves Saint Laurent but, also, for many small boutique stores and fashionable shops.
Milan’s cuisine features many specialties. Pasta dishes, such as “tortelli di zucca”, which is ravioli stuffed with pumpkin, “zuppa pavese” (broth with bread and eggs) and “zuppa di porri e bietole” (soup made with leeks and swiss chard). Polenta topped with mushrooms or meat sauce is typically served during the winter. Risotto alla Milanese, Osso Buco, breaded veal cutlet, pork chops or roast beef are typical main dishes. Cheese is a must on the Milanese table at the end of the meal. The cheeses that are eaten in Milan come from the surrounding countryside and alpine valleys. Among the most popular are Bagoss, Brescia cheese, Caprini, Crescenza or Stracchino, soft cheeses flavored with mountain herbs and, of course, Gorgonzola, eaten alone or served over risotto and polenta. You will notice that the dishes in Milan are based on more high calorie ingredients such as butter and sausages, supposedly due to the fact that the winters are long.
Polenta e Gorgonzola
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1 cup gorgonzola blue cheese
- Chopped herbs, such as rosemary or sage
- Coarse ground black pepper
For the polenta:
- 13 oz polenta (not quick cooking)
- 7 cups water or milk or a combination
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons salt
Boil the water and/or the milk, add salt and butter.
Pour the polenta into the boiling water, slowly and mixing well with a whisk.
Cover and let simmer over low heat for 60 minutes.
Grease a large baking tray and pour the polenta onto the pan, spreading it with a spatula: it should be around 1/4 inch thick, let it cool.
With a decorative 2 inch cookie or biscuit cutter make 24 circles.
Spread the gorgonzola cheese over half of the circles, cover with the other half and decorate with a walnut on the top, herbs and black pepper.
Serve warm, heating for 5 minutes in the oven
Leek and Swiss Chard Soup – Zuppa Di Porri E Bietole
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 8 ounces swiss chard, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 6 cups stock ( vegetable or chicken)
- 1/2 cup Arborio rice
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
In a large saucepan over low heat, cook the leeks in the butter and oil until tender and golden.
Add the Swiss chard and stock and bring to a simmer.
Cook until the chard wilts, about 10 minutes.
Add the rice, salt and pepper.
Cover and cook over low heat about 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
Stir in cheese and serve.
Italian Roast Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing
During the autumn season in Italy, turkey is often made with a stuffing of chestnuts and sausage. The wild turkey was brought to Europe from the New World and, once domesticated, became one of the large courtyard fowl animals in Lombardy. With Italy being one of the largest producers of chestnuts, it was natural to use them in a stuffing.
- Chestnut Stuffing, (recipe below)
- 1 12-to-14-pound turkey
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 4 slices bacon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Make Chestnut Stuffing.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat a large roasting pan and a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.
Remove the giblets, neck and any visible fat from the turkey. Rub the cavity with lemon halves, squeezing them as you go. Make a few tiny slits in the skin under the wings, where the legs join the body and in the thickest part of the breast. Stuff each slit with a piece of rosemary and sage.
Stuff the cavity and neck pouch with about 5 cups of the stuffing, securing the neck cavity with a skewer. Place remaining stuffing in the prepared baking dish; cover and refrigerate until needed.
Sprinkle the turkey with salt and pepper. Place bacon slices across the breast. Tie the drumsticks together.
Place the turkey, breast-side up, in the prepared roasting pan. Roast for 1 hour. Pour the wine over the turkey and baste a few times. Continue to roast for 2 hours more, basting with the pan juices several times and roast until the turkey is done, an additional 30 to 60 minutes. (An instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh should register 180°F and 165°F in the stuffing.) Total cooking time will be 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
About 40 minutes before the turkey is ready, cover the reserved stuffing with a lid or foil and bake until heated through, 35 to 45 minutes. If you like a crisp top, uncover for the last 15 minutes of baking.
When the turkey is ready, place it on a carving board or platter. Scoop stuffing into a serving bowl, cover and keep warm. Tent the turkey with foil.
Place the roasting pan over medium heat and pour in the broth; bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. Cook for 5 minutes and transfer to a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Mix water and cornstarch in a small bowl; add to the simmering sauce, whisking until lightly thickened.
Remove string from the drumsticks and carve the turkey. Serve with stuffing and gravy.
- Two 7 1/2-ounce jars vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts
- 8 cups cubed country bread, (1 pound)
- 12 oz sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 pound mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed and sliced
- 1 small fennel bulb, diced
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 1-1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
Break the chestnut meat into chunks. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Spread bread on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, 15 to 25 minutes. Set aside.
Cook sausage in a large skillet over medium heat, crumbling with a wooden spoon, until browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Wipe out the skillet.
Add oil to the skillet and heat over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add mushrooms and fennel and increase heat to medium-high; cook, stirring, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Combine the reserved chestnuts, toasted bread, sausage, onion-mushroom mixture, parsley, thyme, sage, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss until well mixed.
Whisk eggs and 1 cup broth in a small bowl. Drizzle the egg mixture over the bread mixture and toss until evenly moistened. If you like a moist stuffing, add remaining 1/2 cup broth.
Use as directed in Roast Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing or place in a 3-quart baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray, cover with a lid or foil and bake at 325°F until heated through, 35 to 45 minutes. If you like a crisp top, uncover for the last 15 minutes of baking.
Broccoli with Orange Sauce
- 1 1/4 pounds fresh broccoli, cut into serving pieces
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- Juice of 1 medium orange
- 1 teaspoon orange peel, grated
- 1 medium navel orange, peeled and thinly sliced
Cook the broccoli in a saucepan in a small amount of salted water for about eight minutes. Drain the broccoli in a colander and place it in a serving bowl.
In the empty saucepan combine the cornstarch, chicken broth, orange juice and orange peel and stir until mixture is blended. Then bring to a boil and stir for two minutes or until it thickens. Drizzle the sauce over the broccoli. Garnish with orange slices before serving.
Fresh Pear Crostata
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 cups chopped peeled ripe pears (about 8 medium)
- One 9 inch refrigerated pie crust, or your favorite pie crust
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
Heat the oven to 450°F. In medium bowl, mix the 1/2 cup sugar and the flour. Gently stir in the pears to coat.
Place the pie crust on a parchment lined 15×10 inch pan with sides.
Spoon the pear mixture onto center of the crust to within 2 inches of the edge. Carefully fold the 2-inch edge of crust up over pear mixture, pleating crust slightly as you go along the circle. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over the crust edge.
Bake 15 minutes and sprinkle almonds over the pear mixture. Continue to bake 5 more minutes until the pears are tender and the crust is golden. Cool 15 minutes. Cut into wedges; serve warm.