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

Sardinia

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

Traditional Dress

Traditional Dress

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

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

Cork

Cork Trees

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

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

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

The Cuisine of Sardinia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sardinian Minestrone

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Cavatelli with Sardinian Sausage Sauce

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

4 servings

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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Sardinian Lamb Kabobs over Couscous

Serves 4

Ingredients

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

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

Light an outdoor grill or heat the broiler.

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

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

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

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

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

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“Torta de arrosu”  Saffron rice cake

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

Spoon mixture into the prepared pan.

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

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Festival Days

 


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Calabria is a region in southern Italy, forming the “toe” of the Italian Peninsula. Calabria is one of the oldest regions of Italy with the first evidence of human presence dating as far back as 700,000 BC. It was the Greeks who occupied the shores of Calabria and Eastern Sicily forming Magna Grecia or Great Greece. The area was home to the poet Theocritus and mathematician and inventor Archimedes, and it remained part of the Greek Empire until the Romans annexed it in the 3rd century B.C.

The capital city of Calabria is Catanzaro. The most populated city and the seat of the Calabrian Regional Council, however, is Reggio. It is bordered to the north by the region of Basilicata, to the west by the Tyrrhenian Sea and to the east by the Ionian Sea. The region covers 5,822 sq mi and has a population of just under 2 million. The area is seismically and volcanically active.

Calabria

The Pollino Mountains in the north of the region are rugged and form a natural barrier separating Calabria from the rest of Italy. Parts of the area are heavily wooded, while others are vast plateaus with little vegetation. These mountains are home to a rare Bosnian Pine and are included in the Pollino National Park. The area boasts numerous lakes and dense coniferous forests.

In general, most of the lower terrain in Calabria has been agricultural for centuries and exhibits natural scrub land as well as introduced plants such as the prickly pear cactus. The lowest slopes are rich in vineyards, citrus fruit orchards and olive and chestnut trees. The region boasts the second highest number of organic farmers only after Sicily. The region is the second-highest for olive oil production   The Bergamot orange is intensively cultivated, since the 18th century, exclusively the in coastal area of Reggio, where it found its optimal geological and weather conditions.

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Along the coastlines, the climate is Mediterranean with average low temperatures of 8 °C (46 °F) in the winter months and average high temperatures of 30 °C (86 °F) in the summer months. Along the Apennines and in the inland areas, the climate is mountainous (continental) with cold, snowy winters and warm, dry summers with occasional thunderstorms.

Calabria is one of the least developed regions in Italy. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Calabria is represented by service industries (28.94%), financial activities and real estate (21.09%), trade, tourism, transportation and communication (19.39%), taxation (11.49%), manufacturing (8.77%), construction (6.19%) and agriculture (4.13%).

The 485 miles of its coast make Calabria a popular tourist destination during the summer. The low industrial development and the lack of large cities in much of its territory have allowed maintaining low levels of marine pollution. In fact, the region is considered by many a natural paradise, which attracts a number of tourists from all over Italy. The most popular seaside destinations are: Tropea, Capo Vaticano, Pizzo, Scilla, Diamante, Amantea and Soverato.

The interior of Calabria is rich in history, traditions, art and culture that attract a number of tourists. Fortresses, castles, churches, historic centers and cemeteries are common elements in the interior of Calabria.

Some mountain locations attract tourists even in winter. Sila and Aspromonte are two national parks that offer facilities for winter sports, especially in the towns of Camigliatello, Lorica and Gambarie.

The cuisine is a typical southern Italian Mediterranean cuisine with a balance between meat-based dishes (pork, lamb, goat), vegetables (especially eggplant) and fish.

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Pasta  is also very important in Calabria. Pasta dishes that include peppers, onions and sausage sauteed with or without sauce are very common. Frittatas made with pasta and sausage mixed into the eggs are also prevalent.

Calabrians have traditionally placed an emphasis on the preservation of their food, in part because of the climate and potential crop failures. As a result, there is a tradition of packing vegetables and meats in olive oil, making sausages and cold cuts (Sopressata, ‘Nduja), and, along the coast, curing fish- especially swordfish, sardines (sardelle rosamarina) and cod (Baccalà). Tomatoes are sun-dried, octopi are pickled, anchovies salted and peppers and aubergines packed into jars of oil and vinegar.

The chilli pepper is popular here and is crushed in oil and placed on the table with every meal to sprinkle over your food. The chilli was once considered to be a cure for malaria which probably accounts for its extensive use in this region.

Local desserts are typically fried, honey-sweetened pastries (Cudduraci, scalille or scalidde) or baked biscotti-type treats (such as ‘nzudda) served during holidays. Ice cream or fresh fruit is mainly served for dessert and melons,particularly watermelons, are abundant in Calabria

Some local specialties include Caciocavallo Cheese, Cipolla rossa di Tropea (red onion), Frìttuli and Curcùci (fried pork), Liquorice (liquirizia), Lagane e Cicciari (a pasta dish with chickpeas), Pecorino Crotonese (Cheese of Sheep), and Pignolata.

Some vineyards have origins dating back to the ancient Greek colonists. The best known DOC wines are Cirò (Province of Crotone) and Donnici (Province of Cosenza). 3% of the total annual production qualifies as DOC. Important grape varieties are the red Gaglioppo and white Greco. Many producers are resurrecting local, ancient grape varieties which have been around for as long as 3000 years.

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Sun Dried Tomatoes

This particular recipe is Calabrian; before you begin check the weather forecast because you’ll need several days of hot dry weather with intense sunlight.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (1 k) ripe plum tomatoes, as many as you want
  • Oregano
  • Freshly shredded mild or hot pepper to taste
  • Basil
  • Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt

Directions

Wash the tomatoes and pat them dry.

Slice the tomatoes lengthwise, set them on a rack, dust them with salt, put them out where the sun will shine on them all day (if where you live has a lively insect population cover them with fine netting).

Leave them in the sun until dusk and then bring them inside.

Continue putting them out in the morning until they are dry. Depending upon the humidity where you live this could take 2 or more days.

When they have dried, rinse them with water and vinegar. Mince the herbs in the proportion that suits your taste, and then layer the dried tomatoes in a jar, sprinkling the herbs and some salt over each layer. Press down well, then fill the jar with olive oil, shaking repeatedly and tapping the sides of the jar to make sure no air pockets remain. Seal, and let the tomatoes sit in a cool dark place for a few months, at which point they’ll make a fine antipasto, over slices of crusty bread or sliced and served as a garnish for main dishes and vegetables.

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Linguine with Sun Dried Tomatoes

At times, Calabrians add seafood to this dish.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (450 g) spaghetti or linguine
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup basil leaves, cut thin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano, chopped
  • 1 hot pepper
  • A bunch of parsley,finely  chopped
  • 3-4 tablespoons of oil the tomatoes were packed in
  • Salt

Directions

Chop the tomatoes and heat them for 3-5 minutes in a skillet with the oil, the garlic, the basil, the hot pepper and a pinch of salt. Don’t overcook or the tomatoes will dry and toughen. Turn off the heat and keep warm.

Cook the pasta in abundant salted water. Drain it’s al dente, transfer it to a bowl, pour the tomato mixture over it. Mix well. Garnish with the minced parsley and oregano.

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Calabrian Marinated Tuna

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) fresh tuna, cut into 3/4-inch thick slices
  • 8 ounces (200 g) pitted black olives
  • One lemon
  • Garlic (2 cloves)
  • Fresh hot pepper (chili flakes)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt

Directions

Pat the fish dry and grill it, basting it lightly with olive oil; turning it once. Figure a total cooking time of 5-7 minutes.

In the mean time blend the remaining ingredients with more oil to make a sauce. Marinate the fish in the sauce for at least an hour before serving it.

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Spicy Calabrian Grilled Pork Chops

Ingredients

  • 6 pork chops with bone
  • Crushed or powdered hot pepper to taste (Calabrians like things hot)
  • Fennel seeds
  • Salt

Directions

Lightly pound the chops to flatten them out, sprinkle them with salt and then rub fennel seeds and hot pepper into them.

Grill them over medium hot coals or medium high on a gas grill, turning once, until the internal temperature is 145 degrees F, about 15 minutes.

Transfer chops to a platter. Loosely tent with foil to keep warm; let stand 5 minutes before serving.

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basilicata Sausages

Basilicata Sausages

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

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

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

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

Traditional Kitchen in Basilicata

Traditional Kitchen in Basilicata

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

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

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

Easter festival

Easter festival

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

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

Traditional Recipes From Basilicata

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Canestrato Cheese

Broccoli Rabe Soup Over Bread

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Serves 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

Dice the pancetta and thinly slice the onion.

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

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

Stir in cooked broccoli rabe and saute for 2 minutes

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

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

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

Pasta with Red Pepper Sauce

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Serves 8

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

Basilicata Style Chicken

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Servings 4

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

Chocolate-Almond Cookies (Strazzate)

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Makes about 34 Cookies

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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


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Campania  faces the Tyrrhenian Sea and includes one of the finest coastlines in Italy. Naples is the regional capital. Other important cities are Caserta, Benevento, Salerno and Avellino. The region has a population of around 5.8 million people, making it the second-most-populous region in Italy. Campania is rich in culture, music, architecture and archaeological sites such as Pompeii, Herculaneum and Vesuvius.

Campania

Campania, mainly, produces fruit and vegetables, but has also expanded its production of flowers grown in greenhouses to become one of the leading producers in Italy. Campania produces over 50% of Italy’s nuts and is also a leader in the production of tomatoes. Animal breeding is widespread and the milk produced is used to make dairy products, such as mozzarella cheese. Olive and fruit trees cover a good portion of the agricultural land and wine production has increased, as well as, the quality of the wine.

The region has a dense network of roads and motorways, a system of maritime connections and an airport (Naples Airport), which connect the region to the rest of the country. The port connects the region with the entire Mediterranean basin and brings tourists to the archaeological sites, the cities, the beautiful coastal areas and the well-known islands.

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Capri

Campania is home to several national football, water polo, volleyball, basketball and tennis clubs. The fencing school in Naples is the oldest in the country and the only school in Italy in which a swordsman can acquire the title, “master of swords”, which allows a graduate to teach the art of fencing. The “Circolo Savoia” and “Canottieri Napoli” sailing clubs are among the oldest in Italy and are famous for their regattas. The region is also home to water polo teams. Many sailors from Naples and Campania participate as crew in the America’s Cup sailing competition.

Campanian cuisine varies within the region. While Neapolitan dishes center on seafood, Casertan and Aversan dishes rely more on fresh vegetables and cheeses. The cuisine from Sorrento combines the culinary traditions from both Naples and Salerno.

Neapolitan Pizza

Neapolitan Pizza

Pizza was conceived in Naples. Historical and original pizzas from Naples are pizza fritta (fried pizza); calzone (literally “trouser leg”), which is pizza  stuffed with ricotta cheese; pizza marinara, with just olive oil, tomato sauce and garlic and pizza Margherita, with olive oil, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and basil leaves. Neapolitans were among the first Europeans to use tomatoes not only as an ornamental plant but also as a food ingredient.

The cheeses of Campania consist of Mozzarella di Bufala (buffalo mozzarella) a mozzarella made from buffalo milk, fiordilatte (“flower of milk”) a mozzarella made from cow’s milk, ricotta from sheep or buffalo milk, provolone made from cow milk and caciotta made from goat milk. Buffalo are bred in Salerno and Caserta.

Spaghetti Puttanesca

Spaghetti Puttanesca

Spaghetti alla puttanesca, a spicy pasta dish made with a sauce of tomatoes, olives, anchovies and capers is a dish that originated in Campania. Ravioli di ricotta di pecora, also called “ravaiuoli” or “slim ravioloni”, are an ancient traditional specialty of Campania: handmade ravioli filled with fresh sheep ricotta.

Campania is home to seafood-based dishes, such as “insalata di mare” (seafood salad), “zuppa di polpo” (octopus soup) and “zuppa di cozze” (mussel soup), that are very popular. Other regional seafood dishes include “frittelle di mare” (fritters with seaweed), made with edible algae, “triglie al cartoccio” (red mullet) and “alici marinate” (fresh anchovies in olive oil). The island of Ischia is famous for its fish dishes, as well as, for cooked rabbit.

Campania is also home to the lemons of Sorrento. Rapini (or broccoli rabe), known locally as friarielli, are often used in the regional cooking.

Sfogliatella

Sfogliatella

Several different cakes and pies are made in Campania. Pastiera pie is made during Easter. Casatiello and tortano are Easter breads made by adding oil and various types of cheese to the bread dough and garnishing them with slices of salami. Babà cake is a Neapolitan delicacy, best served with rum or limoncello (a liqueur invented in the Sorrento peninsula). Sfogliatella is another cake from the Amalfi Coast, as is zeppole, traditionally eaten on Saint Joseph’s day. Struffoli, little balls of fried dough, are dipped in honey and enjoyed during the Christmas holidays.

Traditional Recipes From Campania

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Dried Red Peppers and Lemons

Mozzarella in Carrozza (Mozzarella in a “Carriage”)

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This is a classic recipe from Naples served as an appetizer.

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 8 slices white bread, crusts removed
  • 1 pound fresh Mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Marinara Sauce

Directions

Place 4 slices of bread on the counter. Top with the mozzarella, trimmed to fit the bread.  Cover with the 4 remaining slices of bread, making 4 sandwiches in all.

Spread the flour on a plate. Dip the four edges of each sandwich in the flour. Then coat the sides lightly in the flour. Place them in a baking dish or on a plate with sides..

In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the salt. Pour the mixture over the sandwiches and set aside for 10 minutes.

Delicately flip the sandwiches over and set aside for another 10 minutes. The purpose is to allow the bread to soak in the egg as much as possible.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and pour enough olive oil in to cover the bottom of the pan.

Add the sandwiches and cook until brown; turn and brown the second side. Remove the sandwiches to serving plates, cut in half and serve with hot marinara sauce.

Paccheri con Ricotta e Salsa di Pomodoro (Macaroni with Ricotta and Tomato Sauce)

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Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Marinara Sauce
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino or a combination of both, plus extra for serving
  • 1 pound paccheri or other large tubular pasta, such as rigatoni
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • A few leaves of finely cut or torn fresh basil

Directions

Heat the marinara  sauce.

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted, boiling water until al dente. Before draining it, scoop out about 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water and reserve it.

In a pasta serving bowl, combine the ricotta and the grated cheese. Mix them together with a spoon or fork until well blended.

Pour about half of the hot tomato sauce into the cheese mixture in the bowl. Stir well.

Add the drained, hot pasta to the sauce, then add black pepper to taste. Toss well, adding hot pasta cooking water by the tablespoon if a looser, creamier texture is desired. The sauce tends to thicken as it cools in the plate, so 2 or 3 tablespoons are usually a good idea.

Serve immediately, preferably in hot bowls, each portion topped with a little more tomato sauce and with additional finely cut basil, if desired. Pass grated cheese and the peppermill.

Braciole Alla Napoletana (Pork Loin Braciole)

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb. boneless pork loin
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1 oz. capers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 lb. tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped or one 14-1/2-ounce can of Italian tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Slice the pork loin into ¼ inch thick slices and flatten slightly with a wooden mallet.

Chop 2 cloves of garlic very finely and mix with the sundried tomatoes, pine nuts and capers. Place a small amount of this mix on each slice of pork and roll up the slices of pork. Tie with kitchen string.

Brown the remaining garlic in the olive oil and then remove it. Add the pork braciola, brown on all sides and add the tomatoes. Add salt and pepper to taste, cover the pan and cook for 25 minutes over a low flame. Sprinkle with parsley, remove from heat and serve.

Casatiello (Neapolitan Stuffed Bread)

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This version is made without the whole eggs added to the dough prior to baking. At Easter time, whole eggs are added to the dough and baked.

Dough Ingredients

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper
  • 1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Filling Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound chunk provolone or scamorza cheese, cut into cubes
  • 1/2 pound chunk mortadella, salami or boiled ham cut into cubes
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Grease a 10 inch tube pan with a removable bottom and set aside.

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and let rest until foamy.

Place the flour in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast, olive oil, salt and pepper and mix it into the flour with the paddle attachment; add the cheese and enough additional warm water to make a soft ball of dough. Cover and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours in a warm place or until it doubles in size.

Knead the dough on a floured surface and roll out into a large 18 by 14-inch rectangle. Scatter the cheese and mortadella over the surface to within an inch of the edges. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Starting at the longest side, roll the dough up as for a jellyroll, making sure to tuck in the ends and place it in the tube pan. Tuck the two ends together.

Cover and allow to rise for about 1 hour or until the dough is 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pan.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour or until golden brown. Let cool on a rack then run a butter knife along the inside edges of the pan, loosen the bottom and remove it.

Turn the bread out. Serve warm; cut into wedges.


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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.

English Translation

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.

Perugia, the Capital

Perugia, the Capital

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.

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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.

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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.

Roman Theater

Roman Theater

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.

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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.

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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.

Regional Cuisine

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Truffle Festival

Insalata Di Farro (Farro Salad)

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4 servings

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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 )

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Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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

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This dish is often served with the region’s classic lentils.

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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

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6 servings

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

 

 


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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.

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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).

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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.

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San Remo

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.

Genoa Port

Genoa Port

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.

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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

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Ligurian-Style Focaccia

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

liguria3

Cozze alla Maggiorana ed Aglio alla Ligure (Steamed Mussels with Marjoram and Garlic Ligurian-Style)

Serves 4

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

liguria5

Ligurian Style Pesto Lasagna

Ingredients

  • 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

BESCIAMELLA

  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups of milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

PESTO

  • 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

BESCIAMELLA

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.

PESTO

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.

liguria6

Italian Plum Cake

10-inch cake

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.


Bologna's Piazza Maggiore

Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore

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.

emilia2

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.

 Lamborghini Gallardo

Lamborghini Gallardo

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.

emilia1

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.

Castell’Arquato

Castell’Arquato

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.

 Verdi Theater in Busseto


Verdi Theater in Busseto

Cesena

Cesena

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.

Prosciutto di Parma

Prosciutto di Parma

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.

GNOCCO FRITTO WITH PARMA HAM

Gnocco Fritto with Parma Ham

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).

Barrels of  Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

Barrels of traditional Balsamic Vinegar

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

emilia3

PUMPKIN RAVIOLI (CAPPELLACCI)

4 servings

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.

emilia9

BEEF FILLET WITH BALSAMIC VINEGAR SAUCE

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

emilia0

ERBAZZONE (SAVORY GREENS PIE)

This pie is often served with slices of prosciutto.

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

emilia01

CIAMBELLA (RING CAKE)

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.



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