Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Italy

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

Padua Hens

Paduan Hens

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.

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Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

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Hens with Garlic and Rosemary

Since Padua hens are not available everywhere, I offer an alternative.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

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Limoncello Tiramisu

Ingredients

SYRUP:

  • 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

FILLING:

  • 1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2  cup sugar
  • 1 carton (8 ounces) Mascarpone cheese

Directions

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.

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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.

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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.

Milanese Dinner

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Appetizer Course

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Polenta e Gorgonzola

Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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

First Course

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Leek and Swiss Chard Soup – Zuppa Di Porri E Bietole

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

Main Course

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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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

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Chestnut Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

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Broccoli with Orange Sauce

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

Dessert Course

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Fresh Pear Crostata

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.

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Except for a Halloween display and its use in Thanksgiving pies, pumpkin is rarely served in the US. On the other hand, Italians, who grow a great deal of pumpkins, serve it in a number of ways. Cucurbitaceae, the genus that includes pumpkins, squashes and edible gourds, has nourished people for centuries.

Of all of Italy’s gastronomically diverse 20 regions, none utilizes the pumpkin the way the city of Venice does. Pumpkin, what the Venetians call zucca  or”suca”, lasts through the cold weather and keeps until spring.

Marina di Chioggia (pronounced kee-oh’-jah),  is Italy’s best known pumpkin. Dense, flavorful and silky, this pumpkin weighs about 4 lbs.  Called “suca baruca” (warty pumpkin) in Venetian dialect, this slightly squashed sphere with gnarled, dark green skin and vibrant orange flesh is rich and sweet after cooking. Once, vendors walked around the streets of Venice balancing wooden planks piled high with roasted pumpkin on their shoulders, hawking, “suca baruc”, to eager schoolchildren or anyone else wanting a sugary snack.

The “suca” criers are gone, replaced by souvenir peddlers, but Chioggia pumpkins have become universally loved in Italy and beyond, and vendors with their big golden wedges of pumpkin still sell in the markets from the Rialto to Sicily. There are other types of pumpkins that are long, such as the Violina from Ferrara (a variety of Butternut squash) with rugged skin. Since some squash share the same botanical classifications as pumpkins, the names are frequently used interchangeably. This is the reason why Butternut squash is called “pumpkin” in Italy.

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pumpkin3The Chioggia’s ancient signature dish, suca in saor, is sweet-and-sour pumpkin. Slices of pumpkin are salted in a colander, as for eggplant, to remove excess moisture. Next they are dredged in flour and fried in olive oil until crisp. Then they are layered with sautéed onions, raisins, toasted pine nuts and white wine vinegar. The dish is chilled for several days before serving it as an appetizer.

The US could grow Marina di Chioggia pumpkin, if there was a demand for it, though its sheer size would discourage shipping it to different markets. Widely available, however, are pie pumpkins, butternut squash and Calabaza that can be used in for Italian sweet and savory dishes or pies.

Overall, the Cucurbitaceae family’s bland and its compact flesh makes these squash an ideal canvas for the savory and sweet recipes the Italians cook. The blossoms are prepared in a variety of unusual ways, while the pulp is made into soup, risotto, pasta and gnocchi, to name just a few dishes.

They can also be used for savory pumpkin tarts with prosciutto and sweet versions made with pumpkin-honey-orange filling in a walnut-flour crust.

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Italian Squash Stew

The combination of fresh pumpkin, black dry-cured olives, garlic and tomatoes may sound unusual, but it is a very aromatic dish. Pumpkin or squash alone is bland, but the dry-cured olives and garlic give it great flavor.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 cup canned tomato purée, or ½ cup tomato paste mixed with ½ cup water
  • 1 medium-sized butternut or Hubbard squash or 1 small pumpkin (about 1½ pounds), peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 20 black dry-cured olives, pitted and halved
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil and garlic together until the garlic is fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, stir and bring slowly to a simmer, about 4 minutes. Add the squash, olives, thyme and 3/4 cup water. Cover partially and simmer over low heat until tender, about 40 minutes.

Season with the salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or chill and reheat gently before serving.

This dish can be made up to 3 days in advance.

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Italian Sausage and Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2  onions, chopped
  • 1 leek, washed and sliced into half rounds
  • 1 29-ounce can of pumpkin or 3 pounds of fresh pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into half-inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 sprig sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • Pinch of cayenne to taste
  • 1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed and crumbled
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Heat butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven or heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and leeks. Cook and stir until soft and lightly golden, about 10 minutes.

Add pumpkin, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Mix well. If using fresh pumpkin, cook until it softens slightly.

Add chicken broth , sage and thyme. Stir to mix. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for 20 to 25 minutes until the pumpkin is tender and the broth thickens.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.

Brown the sausage in a medium sauté pan. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Stir the sausage into the soup and heat.

Serve the soup with Parmesan-Reggiano cheese on top.

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Pumpkin Pasta

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces rigatoni pasta
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, plus extra for pasta water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup half & half or whole milk
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a simmer. Add salt and the rigatoni and boil until al dente.

Dice the onion and garlic.

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat; add the onions and garlic and sauté for about five minutes, until the onion and garlic are translucent and just starting to brown.

Combine the salt, Italian seasoning and flour. Add to the onions and garlic and carefully stir to incorporate. Next, add the pumpkin puree to the pan, stirring it together. Add the half & half or milk to the mixture. Give it a gentle stir until incorporated and remove the pan from the heat.

Drain the pasta and place it in a large baking dish. Add the pumpkin sauce and stir until the pasta is coated. Sprinkle the shredded Parmesan cheese over the pasta and place the dish in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the pasta is hot in the center of the baking dish and the cheese has melted.

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Pumpkin Bread Stuffing for Roast Chicken or Pork

Ingredients

  • 1 cup diced pumpkin (from 1 whole small pumpkin)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups diced sweet onions
  • 1 1/2 cups diced celery
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped sage leaves
  • Salt and cracked black pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups day old country bread
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • Parsley for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F

Cut pumpkin in half and then cut each half into several pieces. Place the pumpkin on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 30 minutes. Let cool, peel away skin and dice. Lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, thyme and sage, and saute for 5 minutes or until tender. Season to taste with salt and cracked black pepper.

Meanwhile, crumble the bread into a large bowl and add the sautéed vegetables. Stir in the beaten egg and roasted pumpkin and mix well. Then add the chicken stock and mix well.

Transfer stuffing into a medium-sized casserole dish and dot with the remaining butter. Bake for 45 minutes. Garnish with chopped parsley.

To serve, cut stuffing into squares and serve with roasted meat.

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Pumpkin Ricotta Cheese Pie

Ingredients

Filling

  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/3 cup of honey
  • 1 cup of pumpkin
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice

Crust

  • 2 whole graham crackers, enough to make a scant 1/3 cup crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup almonds, pecans or hazelnuts
  • Pinch of salt
  • Butter

Directions

For the crust:

Place the crust ingredients, except the butter, in a food processor or blender and process until totally ground, but not powdery:

Rub a little soft butter on the inside of a 9″ pie pan at least 1 1/2″ deep; use a deep-dish pan, if you have one. If your pie pan isn’t at least 1 1/2″ deep, substitute a 9″ square pan.

Pour the crumbs into the pan, tilting and shaking the pan to distribute the crumbs across the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet, to make it easy to handle once you’ve added the filling.

For the filling

Beat together with a mixer the ricotta, mascarpone, pumpkin, honey, eggs and pumpkin pie spice. Continue to beat until creamy.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust. Bake at 350degrees F for 50-60 minutes or until the top of the center of the cheese pie springs back to the touch. Chill in the refrigerator prior to serving


Frasassi

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The Frasassi Caves are a remarkable cave system in the province of Ancona, Marche. They are one of the largest known cave systems in Europe and they have an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites spread along 19 miles of accessible caverns. Inside the caves, natural sculptures have formed for over 190 million years. The water flowing on the limestone dissolved small quantities of limestone that fell to the ground. Over time, these deposits form stalagmites (columns that grow upward from the lower part) and stalactites (columns that grow down from the ceiling). They are among the most famous show caves in Italy. Show caves are caves that are managed by a government or commercial organization and made accessible to the general public, usually for an entrance fee. Unlike wild caves, they typically possess such features, as constructed trails, guided tours, lighting and regular touring hours.

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In 1948, Mario Marchetti, Paolo Beer and Carlo Pegorari, members of a speleological group (scientists who study caves) discovered the entry of the Cave of the River. In 1966, a member of the Fabriano Speleological Group, Maurizio Borioni, discovered an extension that was one kilometer long inside the River Cave. Five years later, in July 1971, a new discovery took place. This time a group of young men found a narrow opening in the River Cave where a strong air stream came out. The men were Armando Antonucci, Mauro Coltorti, Mauro Brecciaroli, Mario Cotticelli, Massimo Mancinelli, Giampiero Rocchetti and Roberto Toccaceli. They worked for about one month to widen the narrow path and, the following  August, they passed through what would be later called “Strettoia del Tarlo” (Worm’s narrow path). The young men discovered a series of new caves, burrows, wells and striking tunnels, that also contained animal prints that had been preserved for thousands of years.

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The next discovery, the Cave of the Wind, took place on September 25, 1971, when Rolando Silvestri discovered a small entrance in the north slope of the mountain, Valley Montagna. Helped by some friends, he was able to open a passage from a small opening. His initial disappointment caused by the small discovery was followed by the hope for something bigger. He found success and in the small opening there were many openings and, after further excavation, they discovered a cave about 100 meters deep. Their problem, then, was how to get into the cave and reach the bottom. Eventually, with the right equipment, they lowered themselves into the cave, later called “Abyss Ancona”. Their lights illuminated the splendour and beauty of this discovery. The explorations of the speleological group increased and their goal was to find a connection between the two caves, which they believed existed. Two months later, on December 8th, speleologists found a path between the Cave of the River and the Cave of the Wind and named it, Fabriano Conduit.

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Frasassi1The two huge caves were a labyrinth of underground rooms that followed one another for more than thirteen kilometers. At the time, only speleologists with the right equipment could explore this wonderful underground world. Late in 1972, the local government built an artificial tunnel 200 meters long between the two caves. The opening took place on September 1st, 1974 and since then many tourists have been able to visit these caves and appreciate the beauty of nature.

There are several possible routes inside the caves. The first one is the tourist route where you will be accompanied by professional guides. It is an organized underground route, easily accessible by everyone. It covers 1.5 kms and it lasts over 70 minutes. The second route, called the adventure route, is more difficult than the tourist route. The Frasassi Authority provides for two adventure routes of different difficulty levels: the blue route (lasting about two hours) and the red one route (about 3 hours long). Equipment is provided by the Authority and you navigate the paths on your own.

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The Cave of the Wind, also the largest cave in Europe, became well-known to the Italian public after being used in an unusual TV reality program, which involved seeing how well people got on when shut in a cave together for a long time. The region around the Frasassi Caves is a mix of quiet hill villages and very attractive scenery, including the Gola della Rossa Nature Park, which is also well worth exploring.

The Cuisine of Anacona, Marche Region

The influence of the neighboring regions, can be seen in the popularity of fresh egg pasta and oven-baked pasta dishes in Marche. Vincisgrassi is a regional favorite, a baked-lasagna stuffed with chicken livers.

You will also find a variety of soups, such as Minestra di lumachelle made with eggs, cheese and bread crumb pasta, similar to Passatelli. Tripe soup, or minestra di trippa, is also a regional specialty and is served with a battuto topping (lard pounded together with herbs). Along the coast, soup consumption continues but it takes the form of brodetto or fish soup. Brodetti are prepared with all types of fish and various other ingredients like vinegar, flour, garlic and saffron.

There are also a number of special, regional preparations such as porchetta, a combination of spices and cured pork and called potacchio, if cooked with white wine, tomato, lemon juice and spices, alla marinara, if stewed in tomato sauce or, if baked, gratinati al forno.

People from Marche are also meat-lovers and will eat everything from pigeon to lamb. Piolotto is a way to prepare meat by wrapping it in paper with a piece of lard, which melts into the meat during cooking. Another local favorite is a spit-roasted whole, boneless pig that has been stuffed with herbs. Milk-fed veal, on the other hand, is often cooked in Chianti wine.

Among the regional salumi is Prosciutto di Carpegna DOP seasoned with juniper, is well-known. There are also soppresse, salsicce, sausages and a particular salume called Ciauscolo, which has the consistency of a pate seasoned with garlic, thyme and fennel.

Some of the best cheeses made in Marche are Casciotta d’Urbino DOP, Raviggiolo del Montefeltro, Slattato and herb-flavored sheep’s milk cheeses. For a special treat, look for Olive Ascolane (plump olives are stuffed with meat, dipped in egg and breadcrumbs and then fried).

Desserts in Marche are generally made using popular ingredients. Cicerchiata is a dessert made from yeast dough, shaped into balls, fried and covered with honey. Becciate are made with raisins and pine nuts. Adventurous eaters could try Migliaccio, a dessert made with pig’s blood, sugar and citrus peel. If Migliaccio is not your cup of tea, try Frusteri, a simple pastry made with sapa di mosto or cooked grape must.

One of the most well-known wines produced in Marche is Verdicchio, a white wine that pairs well with fish. The region is also famous for its Anisetta, aromatic liquor that smells and tastes like anise.

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Cozze al limone (Mussels with lemon)

The area is an ideal growing environment for mussels. As a result, mussels here are big and pulpy with a mellow sea flavor.

4 Servings

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs mussels
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 lemons, cut into thin slices
  • Several sprigs of parsley;
  • 1 dried red chili pepper
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Clean and scrape the mussels under running water. Place them into a big, deep bowl filled with cold water and throw away any mussels that float.

10 minutes before serving, pour the olive oil into a large pan with a high rim. Add the garlic and the sprigs of parsley roughly chopped, the chili pepper broken into pieces and a little salt and pepper.

Drain the mussels and put them in the pan alternating with the slices of lemon.

Cook over a high heat until all the mussels open. Shake the pan from time to time.

Serve the mussels with their cooking liquid and some slices of toasted crusty Italian bread.

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Vincisgrassi – Special Lasagna

A dish from the Marches with an odd name. Vincisgrassi is the Italianization of the name of the Austrian general, Prince Windischgratz, who was commander of the Austrian Forces stationed in the Marches. The dish was allegedly created for the prince by a local chef.

For the lasagna sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 oz prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 9 oz fresh chicken livers, cleaned and cut into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 cup warm beef or chicken stock
  • 9 oz calf’s brain and sweetbreads, cleaned
  • 1 thick slice of lemon
  • Salt
  • 2/3 oz dried porcini
  • 4 oz cultivated mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove, squashed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the Lasagna

  • 1 lb lasagna noodles
  • Salt
  • Béchamel Sauce made with 1/4 cup butter, 1/3 cup flour, 4 cups whole milk, salt and freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Melt the 1 tablespoon of butter in a saucepan over medium heat and saute the chicken livers and the prosciutto for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the onion and carrot and brown the vegetables.Pour the white wine over the mixture and cook until it has evaporated. Add the tomato paste dissolved in the stock, mix well and bring the sauce to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer very gently for 1 hour.

Simmer the brain and sweetbreads in water with the lemon for 5 minutes. Drain and refresh. Meanwhile, soak the dried porcini in 1/4 cup warm water for 20 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Clean and slice the fresh mushrooms. Sauté them with the garlic in the olive oil for 5 minutes. Remove the garlic and discard.

Strain the porcini liquid through a sieve lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. Slice the porcini and put them, together with the fresh mushrooms and the porcini liquid, into the chicken liver sauce after the sauce has been cooking for 1 hour. Cut the brain and sweetbreads into small pieces and add to the chicken liver sauce with the milk, nutmeg and cinnamon. cook for another 30 minutes.

Make the béchamel sauce and cover it with plastic wrap to prevent a skin forming.

Butter a lasagna pan 11 x 8 inches. Cook 3 or 4 lasagna noodles at a time in plenty of salted boiling water  Place on kitchen towels until ready to make the lasagna

Spread 3 tablespoons béchamel over the bottom of the pan and then cover with a layer of noodles. Cover with 4 tablespoons of the chicken liver and mushroom sauce and the same amount of béchamel. Cover with another layer of noodles and repeat until all the ingredients are used up, finishing with a layer of lasagna noodles and béchamel.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, so that all the flavors will combine. Remove from the refrigerator and allow the lasagna to return to room temperature.Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until hot in the center.

Melt the butter and pour over the vincisgrassi as soon as it is removed from the oven. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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Fried Sweet Ravioli with Ricotta

For the Dough:

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 stick (8 oz) butter (softened)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten (reserve the white for sealing)
  • Oil for frying

For the Filling:

  • 2 cups ricotta
  • 2 ounces mini dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (plus more to garnish)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar (plus more to garnish)

Directions

In a sieve lined with cheesecloth, strain the liquids from ricotta for a few hours in the refrigerator.

In a measuring cup, mix the milk, vanilla and egg yolk and set aside

Prepare the dough by mixing flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl, add the soft butter in pieces. Start working in the butter with your hands, then slowly add the milk mixture. Knead dough for 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface. Wrap in plastic wrap and set aside for 1 to 2 hours to rest in a cool place (though not in the refrigerator.)

Prepare the filling by mixing all ingredients with a spoon in medium bowl.Refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat the oil about 4 to 5 inches deep in a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch Oven to 350-370 degrees F.

Cut the dough into 4 equal sized pieces. Flour the work surface and roll out each section 1/8 th inch thick and large enough to cut out four ravioli with a 5 inch round pastry/biscuit cutter.

Place 1 tablespoon filling, on each ravioli circle and use the egg white to brush the edges of the circle. Fold ravioli in half; press with a fork to seal.

Place 2 to 3 ravioli in hot oil at a time and fry until golden brown. Place on paper towels to cool and sprinkle powder sugar on both sides once cooled slightly. Serve slightly warm garnished with additional powdered sugar and cinnamon.


Boats on the island of rabbits- Lampedusa, Sicily

Lampedusa is the largest island of the Italian Pelagie Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The community of Lampedusa e Linosa is part of the Sicilian province of Agrigento which also includes the smaller islands of Linosa and Lampione. It is in the southernmost part of Italy and is Italy’s southernmost island. Tunisia, which is about 113 kilometres (70 miles) away, is the closest land to the islands. Sicily is farther at 176 kilometres (109 miles); Malta is a similar distance to the east.

Politically and administratively, Lampedusa is part of Italy, but geologically belongs to Africa, since the sea between the two is no more than 400 feet. It has no sources of water other than irregular rainfall. The fauna and flora of Lampedusa are similar to those of North Africa. The south-western side is dominated by deep gorges, while the southeastern part is mostly shallow valleys and sandy beaches. The entire northern coast contains cliffs: gently sloping on the east coast and steep cliffs on the west coast. Lampedusa’s sea bed features a wealth of fish, coral, sea sponges and oysters in a myriad of shapes and colors.

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Lampedusa, which has an area of 20.2 square kilometres (7.8 sq mi), has a population of approximately 4,500 people. Its main industries are fishing and tourism. A ferry service links the island with Porto Empedocle, near Agrigento, Sicily. Lampedusa has a semi-arid climate. It has very mild winters with moderate rainfall and hot, dry summers. The sea surrounding the island is relatively shallow. Water temperatures stay warm most of the year, with the warmest being in August when the sea typically reaches 27 to 28 °C (81 to 82 °F). The water stays warm until November, when temperatures range from 20 to 23 °C (68 to 73 °F). It is coolest in February and March, when it averages around 16 °C (61 °F).

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Over the last century much of Lampedusa has suffered from deforestation where, previously, it was home to numerous plants and trees. Several measures have been taken to improve the situation and although there is still very little agriculture, some parts of the island are full of beautiful and exotic plants and flowers such as palms, figs, olives, prickly pear cactuses and yuccas.

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The main attractions on the island are all centrally located and concentrated in one area which makes it easier to visit them on foot or by renting a scooter or a moped. Mopeds and scooters are available in several places on the island, however, visitors must be careful with their use of fuel, since there are only a few gas stations on the island. There are several hotels and restaurants located here and a number of stores that sell locally made pottery, wooden items, souvenirs and Italian wines.

The most magnificent beach on the island is the Spiaggia dei Conigli (Rabbit Beach) and a vast area around this beach has been declared a nature reserve encompassing both the land and sea areas. There are hardly any structures in the area and fishermen are not allowed to fish nearby, which means snorkelling is excellent. This is a protected area because the beach is one of the last remaining places where sea turtles regularly come to lay their eggs. There is a rescue center and hospital located here where the islanders care for the sea turtles, should they get accidentally injured. In 2013 Rabbit Beach, located in the southern part of the island, was voted the world’s best beach by the travel site TripAdvisor. The island got its name since it was once filled with rabbits, however, now only a few rabbits can be spotted here.

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Since the early 2000s, the island has become a primary European entry point for migrants, mainly coming from Africa. In 2011, many immigrants moved to Lampedusa during the rebellions in Tunisia and Libya. By May 2011, more than 35,000 immigrants had arrived on the island from Tunisia and Libya and by the end of August, 48,000 more had arrived. Most were young males in their 20s and 30s. The situation has caused division within the EU, the French government regarding most of the arrivals as economic migrants rather than refugees in fear of persecution. Italy has repeatedly requested aid from the EU in managing refugees, but has been turned down.

Historically, Lampedusa was a landing-place and a maritime base for the ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans and Arabs. In 1553 Barbary pirates from North Africa raided Lampedusa and carried off 1,000 captives into slavery. As a result of pirate attacks, the island became uninhabited. The first prince of Lampedusa and Linosa was Ferdinand Tommasi, ancestor of the writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, who received the title from Charles II of Spain in 1667. A century later, the Tomassi family began a program of resettlement.

In the late 18th century, the Prince of Lampedusa leased the island to Salvatore Gatt, a Maltese entrepreneur, who settled on the island with a few Maltese workers. After Malta fell under British protection in 1800, they considered taking over Lampedusa as a naval base instead of Malta, but the idea was dropped as the island did not have deep harbors and was not well-developed. In the 1840s, the Tomassi family sold the island to the Kingdom of Naples. In 1860, the island became part of the new Kingdom of Italy, but the Italian government limited its activities there to building a penal colony. In June 1943, during the Second World War, as a precursor to the Allied invasion of Sicily, the island was secured without resistance in Operation Corkscrew by the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Lookout.

The first telephone connection with Sicily was installed only in the 1960s. In the same decade an electric power station was built. In 1972, part of the western side of the island became a United States Coast Guard LORAN-C transmitter station. In 1979, Lt. Kay Hartzell took command of the Coast Guard base, becoming “the first female commanding officer of an isolated duty station”.

In the late 1980s, an increase in tensions developed and the area around the island was the scene of multiple attacks. On April 15, 1986, Libya fired two Scud missiles at the Lampedusa navigation station on the island in retaliation for the American bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi and the alleged death of Colonel Gaddafi’s adopted daughter. However, the missiles passed over the island, landed in the sea without causing damage. On 4 January 1989, U.S. Navy aircraft from the carrier USS John F. Kennedy shot down two Libyan fighters approximately 200 kilometres (124 miles) from the island. The base commander was advised by the U.S. Sixth Fleet Intelligence at La Maddalena that the Libyan president, Muammar al-Gaddafi, had threatened reprisals against the American commanders at Sigonella and Lampedusa. An Italian media frenzy followed that event which put Lampedusa in the spotlight. The NATO base was decommissioned in 1994 and transferred to Italian military control.

Seafood in Tomato Sauce

Seafood in Tomato Sauce

Pickled Seafood

Pickled Seafood

The Cuisine of Lampedusa

Until recently, the cuisine was distinguished in three ways. The first one was called the cuisine of the Monsù and it was prepared for the rich and noble people. A second type was the popular cuisine, basically dishes that the poor people, who were in the majority, cooked daily. They were trying to imitate the Monsù Cuisine by simply changing the main ingredient. If the Nobles had meat they had eggplant/aubergine instead. The third type was and is street food. Even today, you can find stands along the streets that sell chickpea fritters, potato croquettes or grilled lamb offal.

Fish and seafood are the specialities, however, and, even if you are not a big fish fan, you cannot fail to be impressed by the exquisite way the Lampedusans cook their fresh catch-of-the-day, often in a sauce of tomatoes, capers, potatoes and olives.

Here are recipes for some of their specialties:

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Caciocavallo all’Argentiera or Fried Cheese

1 serving

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 slices of Caciocavallo cheese
  • Oregano
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of vinegar

Directions

In a frying pan heat the olive oil over medium heat, add the garlic and after a minute add the slices of cheese. Let them cooked covered for a couple of minute,turn and cook until the slices become golden.

Add the vinegar, the pepper and sprinkle with oregano. Place on a serving dish with fennel and radicchio.

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Rigatoni Con Pesce Spada e Melanzane (Rigatoni with Swordfish and Eggplant)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. rigatoni pasta
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 lb. swordfish, into 1 inch squares
  • 1 pint fresh cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 cups marinara sauce
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves diced garlic
  • Fresh basil or mint
  • Sea salt
  • Chili flakes

Directions

Keeping the skin on, dice the eggplant into half-inch squares.

Heat a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan on medium heat.

Add eggplant squares and cook until brown.

Remove eggplant and place on a white paper towel. Set aside.

Add 2 cloves of diced garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and add 4 torn basil or mint leaves to the sauté pan. Saute until garlic is light brown. Add the swordfish and saute until slightly browned. Add the cherry tomatoes and salt to taste. Continue to sauté for 2 minutes.

Add tomato sauce and eggplant. Continue to sauté for 3 minutes.

Boil water in an 8-quart pot adding 1 tablespoon of salt. When water comes to a boil, add the rigatoni and cook until al dente.

Add quartered cherry tomatoes and salt to taste. Continue to sauté for 2 minutes.

Add tomato sauce and then previously fried eggplant squares. Continue to sauté for 3 minutes.

Drain rigatoni and add directly to the sauté pan. Saute for 1 minute mixing well. Pour onto a serving platter and add remaining basil or mint and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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Polpette di Sarde al Sugo (Sardine Balls in Tomato Sauce)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 pounds (1 k) fresh sardines
  • 1/4 pound (100 g) crustless day-old bread, crumbled
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano here
  • 1 tablespoon raisins, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • A small bunch parsley, chopped
  • 2 cups (500 ml) marinara sauce, simmering in a pot
  • Flour
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Dry white wine
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Clean the sardines, removing their heads and boning them; chop them and put them in a bowl. Soak the bread in warm water for a few minutes, squeeze it to remove the excess moisture, and add it to the bowl, together with the parsley, the cheese, the raisins, the pine nuts, the egg, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

Moisten your hands and shape the mixture into small fish balls; roll them in flour, and sauté them in a large skillet with the olive oil to cover the bottom og the pan and the bay leaf. Once they are browned, sprinkle some white wine over them. When the wine has evaporated, use a slotted spoon to transfer the fish balls into the pot of simmering tomato sauce. Cover and cook over a low flame for 40 minutes.

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Zucca Rossa in Agrodolce (Sweet and Sour Pumpkin)

Ingredients

  • 1 pound sugar pumpkin or acorn squash
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped mint

Directions

Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Cut the flesh lengthwise into wedges, each about the length of your hand from fingertip to wrist. Remove the rind. In a large skillet, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan over medium heat. Add the pumpkin wedges. Cook until soft and deep golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Turn the wedges over and add the garlic. Drizzle the pumpkin first with the honey and then with the vinegar over the pumpkin, and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook until the liquids reduce to a glaze, turning the pumpkin pieces, if necessary. Add mint and transfer pumpkin wedges to a platter and drizzle pan juices on top. Serve room temperature or hot.

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Biancomangiare (Sicilian White Pudding)

Ingredients

  • 4-1/4 cups whole cold milk
  • 4 oz corn starch
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Peel of 1 orange, cut into wide strips
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon, optional
  • Garnishes: cinnamon, chocolate or almonds

Directions

In a saucepan add the milk,  sugar and cornstarch in the cold milk. Stir until the sugar and cornstarch dissolve. Add the orange peels and cinnamon, if using. Place over medium heat and let it boil, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon making sure you stir the bottom of the pan or it will burn. When it gets thick take the pan off the heat and remove the orange peels. Pour the mixture into a mold or in single-portion cups and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 to 8 hours. Add garnishes, if desired.


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Molise is the youngest and second smallest region in Italy and is located in central-southern Italy. The region has only been recognized since 1963. Before this, Molise was an isolated province of Abruzzo. It now borders Abruzzo to the north, Latium to the west and Campania to the south with Puglia (Apulia) to the south-east. Its capital is Campobasso and the city is famous for the exceptional skill of its knife craftsmen, as well as, its delicious pears and scamorza cheese. Molise is home to beautiful abbeys, churches and castles, as well as, impressive ancient ruins far off the tourist track. Though beautiful, many of the buildings in the Molise region have been rebuilt over time due to damage by invading forces, as well as, by significant earthquakes which shook the area in 1456, 1805 and again in 2002.

Campobasso

Campobasso

Rain is very frequent and it is heavy during the autumn and spring months. Molise is mostly mountainous with rocky and steep hills, so sheep farming is a major industry. Only the coastline has roads/railways. Because of its mountainous terrain, the economy of the region has for centuries been highly dependent on the transit of shepherds and their flocks from Abruzzo to Puglia.

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Living off the land is a vital aspect of Molisani tradition and much of its agriculture is on a small-scale, reflecting the region’s sparse population. Most people live in rural areas where subsistence farming is both traditional and necessary to keep families fed and healthy. Sheep, goats, pigs and cattle have been cultivated for centuries in Molise, but have historically been raised as a form of currency rather than food, giving rise to the tradition of traveling with one’s livestock to Abruzzo for sale at the markets. Because animals have been generally raised for sale, Molisani recipes are often vegetarian or use very small amounts of meat just for flavoring. Most dishes are prepared simply and with few ingredients.

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Beans, potatoes, grapes and olives are primary crops of the region and the culinary tradition makes use of olive oil, chilies and garlic. Durum wheat is also important to the region, so pastas are both hearty and abundant. Of the few distinct dishes native to Molise is a polenta variation that is made from potatoes and wheat and is topped with a tomato sauce. Other traditional polenta dishes are common throughout the region and many recipes reflect the influence from surrounding regions. Even the flavors of nearby Croatia have made their way into the Molisani cuisine.

Typical desserts include a jam made with grapes grown in the Molise countryside, pastries filled with chickpeas, wafers made with walnuts and almonds and baked ravioli filled with sour black cherries.

Antipasto Course

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Baked Caciocavallo Cheese

Serves 8

  • 1 pound caciocavallo, wax removed, cut into ½ inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 sprigs each fresh rosemary or oregano, sage, thyme, and parsley, chopped fine

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a 10-inch ovenproof baking dish. Arrange the cheese in an even layer in the dish and scatter the herbs on top.

Bake until the cheese is soft and gooey, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately from the oven with plenty of crusty Italian bread.

First Course

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Spaghetti with Fresh Anchovies

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 7 ounces anchovies
  • 14 oz container diced Italian tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Hot pepper to taste
  • 4 basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Dice the anchovies. Peel garlic and chop together with the hot pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add chopped garlic and pepper and sauté until the garlic is lightly browned.

Add tomatoes and cook for about 10 minutes. Add anchovies and cook for about 5 more minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add torn basil leaves, mix well and remove pan from heat.

Meanwhile, boil pasta in a large pot of salted water until al dente.

Drain, toss with prepared sauce, adding the rest of the oil and chopped parsley. Serve.

Second Course

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Breaded  Rib Lamb Chops

Ingredients

  • 8 rib lamb chops
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 ½ oz Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup prepared marinara sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Season the lamb chops with salt and pepper. Beat the eggs in a shallow bowl. Place the bread crumbs in another shallow bowl.

Dip the lamb chops in the beaten eggs and then in the bread crumbs.

Heat oil in a frying pan and brown the ribs on both sides.

Place the browned chops in a baking dish. Cover each chop with a one tablespoon of marinara sauce.

Sprinkle each chop with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes and serve.

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Braised Peas with Onion

Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 4 cups fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

In a heavy 1 to 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter over moderate heat and cook the onions for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are soft and golden brown.

Stir in the green peas and chicken stock, cover, and cook on low heat for 15 minutes.

When the peas are tender, uncover and stir frequently, for 2 minutes more, or until all the liquid is absorbed.

Taste for seasoning, Add the cheese and serve the peas in a heated bowl.

Dessert Course

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Italian Almond Orange Cake 

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs, at  room temperature, whites and yolks separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tablespoons potato starch
  • 2 1/3 cups almond flour, packed
  • 1 orange, room temperature, zested and juiced
  • Pinch of salt
  • Powdered sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Measure all the ingredients and separate eggs.

In a bowl, combine the potato starch with the almond flour until thoroughly mixed.

Put the egg whites into a medium mixing bowl and the yolks into a large mixing bowl.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt with very clean and dry beaters.  Beat until they reach a firm peak.  Put aside.

Beat the sugar into the egg yolks. Beat on high until the mixture is pale yellow and creamy.  Slowly fold in the potato starch/almond flour in three additions, slowly adding in the orange juice in between additions.  Then carefully fold in the orange zest. Followed by folding in the whipped egg whites, again in three additions to ensure a fluffy batter.

Turn into a parchment lined and greased 9 inch cake pan or springform pan.  Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.  Dust with sifted powdered/icing sugar before serving.


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Away from the rolling hills, sweeping vineyards and expanses of the sunflower fields inland, on the Tuscany coast facing Elba Island where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his time in exile, perched high above the Baratti Gulf is the walled town of Populonia. The Populonia Bay is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Italy, a perfect fusion of nature and history. The Baratti Gulf and the Populonia cape have always attracted inhabitants. Today this area is the site of the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia (close to Piombino, in the Livorno Province). The town sits next to the archeological park which contains the remains of a huge Etruscan settlement. The park tells the story of the Etruscans, a group of people who had an important impact on this territory.

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Populonia is especially known for the wealth of Etruscan archaeology in the area and an impressive collection of artifacts unearthed from the surrounding area, from tools to helmets, weapons, casks and jewellery. Positioned on the summit of a hill for safety reasons, the Etruscans constructed a necropolis at the base to house their dead dating from the late Iron Age (600 BC). Populonia, the only Etruscan town built over the sea, was composed of two different parts: Populonia Akron, the acropolis, the upper part, where there were the temples and the public buildings. Populonia Polis, the lower part, situated close to the Baratti Gulf contained the port, where the main economic and artisanal activities took place.

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The Etruscans were very enterprising and traded with many people from the East. Iron-work was the main economic activity of the Etruscan and Roman civilizations. This region also contained other precious metals, like copper. The Etruscans would sail from the Baratti Gulf to Elba Island, where they would transform the hematite into iron. Because of the region’s economic prosperity immigration increased: people from Spain, Sardinia, Campania and Corsica came to Populonia hoping for a new life. The Etruscans also created a mint: they needed coin for their commercial exchanges and to pay the soldiers who were protecting the area. The coins were made in silver and bronze.

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Many archaeologists tried to discover the remnants of the Etruscan civilization, but they couldn’t succeed due to the terrain The first discoveries were objects found in fishermen nets and at grave sites The Archaeological Park stretches over almost 200 acres between the slopes of the Piombino Mountains and the Gulf of Baratti. The Park includes a significant part of the ancient town of Populonia and is spread over a vast area, which enables visitors to appreciate the transformation that has taken place over the centuries.

The wooded coast overlooks the archipelago and the silhouettes of the islands, including Elba and Corsica, create a picturesque scenes. This is the landscape of the 8th-9th Century B.C., when important houses were built on the Acropolis to accommodate the aristocracies of Populonia. These houses are the remains of the summit of the acropolis and from the beach area on the Gulf of Baratti, one can view the remains of Populonia.

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A network of roads join the houses and temples to the industrial city and the cemeteries which lie on the first hills surrounding the inlet. As in ancient times, the routes follow the original roads, crossing the woods and the scrub areas and opening up to unexpected views over the Gulf of Baratti and the open sea. The deep wooded areas contain the remains of the Benedictine monastery of San Quirico that tell of a lost city and the natural resources and minerals that were once part of the region.

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Inside the park one can walk along three paths: the “Iron Route”, the “Quarries Route” and a naturalistic path. The “Iron Route” goes through the areas where the Etruscan ovens used to be. Then, going up the hills, the ruins of the industrial district can be seen. The “Quarries Route” is a path where the Etruscans used to extract the “panchina stone”, that was used to build Populonia.

Inside the park is an experimental archeological laboratory and a museum that includes vases, precious jewels, bronzes, coins and graphic reconstructions of Etruscan landscapes and activities.

The Etruscans

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The Italians in Central Italy today are descendants of the Etruscans. Not only that, but the Italian language has its roots in the Etruscan language. The Etruscans revered women, so women and men were on an equal footing. The men were clean-shaven and were primarily sailors and merchants. They were also good sportsmen, warriors and skilled farmers.

The Etruscan hillsides were abundant with olive groves and modern potters continue the practice of decorating their ceramics with olives and olive leaves.

The Etruscans grew crops beside the grapes and olives and grew barley, millet, broad beans, lentils, chickpeas and spelt. They also grew beans, peas, garlic and onions, figs, melons, apples and berries.

They kept livestock, especially pigs, chickens, ducks and goats and hunted game from the surrounding forests, such as rabbits, deer and boar. Fish were taken from the rivers and the seas and they were making pasta with the use of a rolling pin.

The Etruscans ate two meals a day, enjoyed holding banquets and made good wine. Their culture and civilization was influenced by the Greek culture and they, in turn, influenced the Roman culture and, in turn, the Tuscan culture, as we know it today.

Etruscan food traced from archaeological findings and frescoes depicts food that is still eaten today. They used herbs like rosemary to flavor their meats, honey to sweeten desserts and they had utensils such as saucepans, pans, graters, pots, colanders, goblets and pitchers and beautiful dining plates. They baked and cooked over open fires and produced a variety of breads, one of which is still eaten today – flat grape bread. Wine was plentiful and stored in terracotta jars underground. It was strong and often drunk watered down. Today you will still Italians who drink wine diluted in this way.

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Grape Flat Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds seedless black grapes

Directions

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of warm water. When the mixture foams, after 5 minutes, stir in a pinch of salt, 4 tablespoons of the sugar and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough that is not sticky.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 5-8 minutes until firm, smooth and elastic. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover it. Set the dough aside for about an hour to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a 9×13 baking pan. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and roll it out into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Enough dough should hang over the edge of the pan to completely cover the top when folded.

Transfer the dough to the baking pan. Spread 3/4 of the grapes over it, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Fold the overhanging dough up over the grapes, covering them completely. Press lightly to seal. Scatter the remaining grapes over the dough, drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

Bake the bread until golden brown and the grapes are soft for about 45-60 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Green Sauce (Salsa Verde)

This Etruscans served this sauce over what is called bollito misto or mixed boiled meats.

Ingredients

  • 1 bundle of parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 1 tablespoons capers (in vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoons of mixed pickled vegetables (in italy you will find carrots-cauliflower in the jar)
  • 2 tablespoons of pine nuts
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper

Directions

Boil the egg and mash it together with the other ingredients – the mixture you will obtain should be smooth and fine. (Use a processor)

Place it in a bowl – add salt, pepper and start pouring in  olive oil until you obtain a creamy sauce.

Before using the sauce, let it rest for some time so that all flavors can blend in.

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Peasant Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb italian sweet sausage, links
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, cleaned, rough chopped
  • 1 (14 1/2 ounce) cans chicken broth
  • 1 (14 1/2 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with basil oregano and garlic, undrained
  • 1 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

Directions

Heat olive oil in heavy 4 quart sauce pan.

Cut sausage into 1/2 inch pieces.

Brown sausage in pan until no longer pink.

Add onion and garlic and stir until softened.

Add spinach, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, beans and red pepper.

Heat to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

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Etruscan Pici

Ingredients

For the pasta

  • 1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour, preferably Italian type 00
  • A generous 1 cup semolina  
  • Salt

For the sauce

  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 6 mint leaves
  • 1⁄2 – 2/3 cup olive oil
  • Grated pecorino cheese, for sprinkling
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

To make the pasta, mix together the flour, semolina and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Gradually mix in enough water to make a firm, elastic dough. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in a clean dish towel and let rest for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Chop the hard-boiled egg with the garlic, parsley, basil and mint, then transfer the mixture to a bowl. Gradually drizzle in enough oil to make a fairly liquid sauce.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Unwrap the pasta.Taking a small piece at a time, rub it back and forth on the work surface (counter) with your fingertips until it resembles thick spaghetti.

Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil and cook and for 2–3 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain, add to the sauce and toss well.

Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with grated pecorino and serve immediately.

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Guinea Fowl in Porcini

Ingredients

  • 1 guinea fowl, cut into 4 pieces
  • 8 small sprigs sage
  • 8 small sprigs mint
  • 4 slices pancetta
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 5 1⁄2 cups porcini mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 mint leaves
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F

Stud the pieces of guinea fowl with the sage and mint sprigs and arrange a pancetta slice over each.

Pour 4 tablespoons of the olive oil into a casserole and add the guinea fowl. Roast in the oven for 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a shallow pan with the garlic cloves.When the garlic begins to brown, remove with a slotted spoon and discard.

Add the mushrooms, mint leaves and tomatoes to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Remove the guinea fowl from the oven, add the pieces to the pan with the mushrooms and cook for 15 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper and remove the pan from the heat.

Transfer the guinea fowl and mushrooms to a serving dish and serve immediately



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