Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

What To Cook In January

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I live in a climate that is hot about nine months out of the year, so winter time, especially January, is a great time of the year to bake. I can get some extra baking in and save the baked goods in the freezer for when it gets hotter. The recipe for one of our favorite breakfast scones is below.

Soup is another favorite and while tomatoes are not in season, Roma Tomatoes are plentiful and are great for cooking. Salads are hearty at this time of year and chicken salad is a great option. Stuffed vegetables or stuffed meat entrees are very comforting when there is a chill in the air. Try some of the recipes below to warm you up.

Breakfast

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Almond Scones

Makes 8 scones

Ingredients

2 cups self-rising flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon salt)
2 tablespoons sugar
One 7 oz tube almond paste
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup half-and-half (cream and milk)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
½ cup slivered almonds
Sugar for sprinkling

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar. With a pastry cutter, cut the almond paste and the butter into the dry ingredients until a few pea-sized lumps remain. Stir in the almonds.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the heavy cream, egg and almond extract and add to the flour mixture. With a fork gradually stir the dough until the mixture comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and very gently pat into an 8-inch round about 1 1/2 inches high. Sprinkle the top of the dough with sugar.

Using a chef’s knife or bench scraper, cut the dough round into 8 wedges. Transfer the wedges to the prepared baking sheet, spacing the scones at least 1 inch apart.

Bake in the top third of the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the tops are golden. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool.

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Roasted Red Pepper and Egg Wrap

2 servings

Ingredients

1 large, jarred roasted red pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons shredded mozzarella cheese
2 medium tortilla wraps

Directions

Cut the pepper into one inch pieces.

In a measuring cup beat the eggs with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and the Italian seasoning. Add the peppers and mix.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Stir and cook until the eggs are set.

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Warm the tortillas in the microwave. Divide the cheese in half and sprinkle over each tortilla. Divide the egg mixture in half and place on top of the cheese. Let stand for a few minutes to allow the cheese to melt.

Roll up each tortilla tightly, cut in half and serve.

Lunch

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Winter Tomato Soup

If you don’t like peeling tomatoes as much as I do, here is a technique I use to get around it. I usually purchase fresh Roma tomatoes for cooking and put them in the freezer when I get home from shopping. One day before I am going to cook with them, I place the amount I need in the refrigerator to defrost. The next day, the skins slip right off and are ready for the pot.

Ingredients

6 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
Two 26 oz containers finely chopped Italian tomatoes (Pomi)
1 teaspoon honey
4 cups organic broth (chicken or vegetable)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Optional: add ½ cup half & half to make a creamy version
Basil for garnish

Directions

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Heat the olive oil in a soup pot. Add the onions, cover and cook until they are soft and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, honey, salt and pepper to taste and the broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour and 30 minutes with the cover ajar. Remove the pot from the heat.

With an immersion blender or in a processor, puree the soup. If adding cream, add it here and warm the soup. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and serve hot garnished with basil.

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Open-Faced Chicken Salad Sandwiches

Slow-poaching the chicken breasts keeps them extra moist.

6 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 scallions, minced
2 medium celery stalks, finely chopped
¼ of a green bell pepper finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
6 slices whole wheat or rye bread, lightly toasted

Directions

In a large saucepan, cover the chicken breasts with water. Bring to a very slow simmer and cook over low heat until white throughout, about 18-20 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a plate and let stand until cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes. Cut the chicken into 1/2-inch dice.

In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise with the mustard and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the onion, celery, bell pepper, parsley and chicken until evenly coated.

Cover and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Spread some of the chicken salad onto the toasted bread slices and top with tomato slices to serve.

Dinner

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Crab-Stuffed Flounder

This is a hearty entree and only needs one vegetable as a side. flounder comes in large sizes here on the gulf and mine weighed 14 oz. Substitute an equal amount of smaller fillets.

For 2-3

Ingredients

Crab Filling

1 tablespoon each of minced onion, celery and bell pepper
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon seafood seasoning (Old Bay)
1/2 pound lump crab meat

Flounder

12-14 oz flounder fillet or fillets
Paprika
Chopped fresh parsley

Directions

In a small bowl, combine all the filling ingredients, except the crab. Then, gently fold in the crab. Place the flounder in a baking dish coated with olive oil.

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Spoon the crab mixture evenly over the fillet or fillets. Sprinkle with paprika and parsley.

Bake at 400°F for 20-24 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.

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Southwest Stuffed Peppers

January is a good time to try different ethnic cuisines. They can spice up some typical winter produce. While I find an occasional taco or quesadilla tasty, I am generally not a fan of Southwest recipes. This recipe turned out quite well, though, and is a nice change from regular stuffed peppers. It is also good served with a green salad with ranch dressing.

2 servings

Ingredients

1 large green bell pepper
¼ lb lean ground beef or turkey
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 scallion, chopped
½ cup of corn kernels
¼ cup salsa
½ cup Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds. Place the pepper halves in a small baking dish.

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat and cook the ground beef until brown.

Turn off the heat and add the scallion, corn and salsa; stir to combine. Spoon this mixture into the pepper shells. Add water to cover the bottom of the dish.

Bake for 45 minutes, until the peppers are fork tender. Drain the water from the baking dish. Sprinkle the peppers evenly with the shredded cheese. Return the baking pan to the oven and bake just until the cheese melts.

Italian Comfort

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According to the food historian, Clifford Wright, the origin of pasta carbonara is not really known. There are several competing theories, but all are anecdotal.

The first theory is said to come from a dish made in the Apennine mountains of Abruzzo by woodcutters who made charcoal for fuel. They would cook the dish over a hardwood charcoal fire and use penne rather than spaghetti because it was easier to toss with the eggs and cheese.

The second theory is the one that gives the meaning to the dish’s name – alla carbonara or coal worker’s style. This name implies that the dish was eaten by coal workers or that because of the abundant use of coarsely ground black pepper the dish resembled coal flakes.

Another story is that due to the food shortages after the liberation of Rome in 1944, the Allied troops distributed military rations consisting of powdered egg and bacon which the locals used with water to season the easily stored dried pasta.

There is also a theory that in the province of Ciociaria, in the region of Lazio near Rome, pasta was seasoned with eggs, lard and Pecorino cheese. During the World War II German occupation of Rome, many middle class families escaped the occupation and fled to Ciociaria, where they learned about this dish. After the war, Roman cuisine became very popular throughout Italy and this dish became a prime example.

Another story suggests that the famous restaurant in the Campo de Fiori in Rome, La Carbonara, was named after its speciality. Although the restaurant has been open since the early part of the twentieth century and does have carbonara on its menu, the restaurant denies any such connection.

The simplest story, and therefore the most likely, is that the dish had always existed at the family level and in local trattorias. Cheese, pork, olive oil, salt, pepper and pasta were all kept fresh without refrigeration and eggs were readily available at local farms. All that was needed was a pot and a fire. An eyewitness account supporting this theory can be found in a cookbook titled, Sophia Loren’s Recipes & Memories. The actress described how during the filming of Two Women in the late 1950s, in the mountains near Rome, the crew came upon a group of carbonai who offered to prepare food for them. They prepared carbonara. The director, Vittorio De Sica, and Loren had second helpings.  Loren returned the next day to learn how to make the dish. (An accomplished home cook, Loren claimed the recipe was exactly as the carbonai made it but her rendition calls for cream—an addition most carbonara connoisseurs would not agree with. The dish was also popular among the American troops stationed in Italy; and when they returned home, they made “spaghetti alla carbonara” popular in Italian cuisine.

And, the debate goes on….

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Pasta Carbonara

Serves 6

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup minced guanciale, pancetta or bacon (about 1/4 pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound spaghetti, linguine, fettuccine or other long, thin pasta
4 large eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano, or more to taste

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.

In a medium skillet, combine the olive oil and pork/bacon and turn heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.

Add salt to the boiling water and cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of water before the draining pasta.

Beat eggs in a large warmed pasta serving bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan and the bacon and its juices. When the pasta is done, drain and toss with egg mixture.

Add a little of the pasta cooking water to moisten. Season with plenty of black pepper, and serve.

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What Is In Season In January?

 

january-blog-background-004Think there isn’t much? Not so – there is plenty.

Root Vegetables, Citrus Fruit, Leeks and Onions, Greens, such as kale, Potatoes and Beets are all available in January and make great tasting meals.

Purchasing seasonal foods is a healthy and cost-effective way to approach food shopping. Grocery stores tend to stock up on these items in bulk because they are plentiful, making them less expensive for you—especially when they go on sale or offer buy one; get one free.

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Celery Bisque

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 head of celery, diced including leaves
1 large onion, diced
1 bunch scallions (green onions) or use a leek, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups vegetable stock
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ cup half & half (cream and milk)
Garnish with chopped chives and sour cream

Directions

Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch Oven over medium heat. Add the vegetables, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 30 minutes.

Add the broth, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and puree with an immersion blender.

Return the pot to the heat. Stir in the cream and heat on low. Garnish individual servings with chopped fresh chives and sour cream, if desired.

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Lemon Basil Roasted Chicken Breasts

Use any herb you like. When cold nights come in, I bring my herb pots indoors, so I always have fresh herbs on hand.

2 servings

Ingredients

1/2 teaspoon lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 whole fresh basil stalk, leaves removed and sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for the baking dish
2 bone-in, medium chicken breast halves, skinned
Salt and ground black pepper
6 very small potatoes
2 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
¼ of a fennel bulb, sliced

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a shallow baking pan with olive oil.

Place the chicken breasts in the prepared pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle with the lemon zest and juice.

Scatter the potatoes, fennel, carrots and garlic around the chicken.

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Bake, uncovered, spooning the pan juices over the chicken once or twice, for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the chicken with the basil and return the pan to the oven.

Bake 10-15 minutes more or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken registers 170°F and the juices are clear.

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Beets, Red Onion & Orange Salad

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
4 small, cooked beets, sliced
1 navel orange
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
Pinch of sugar
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cup washed, dried, whole Bibb lettuce leaves

Directions

Soak onion slices in cold water for 10 minutes; drain.

With a sharp knife, peel the orange, removing white pith. Slice the orange between the membranes over a mixing bowl to catch the oranges and any juice.

Pour any juice in the bowl into a measuring cup. Add more orange juice to equal ¼ cup.

Whisk together the orange juice, oil, mustard, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in the measuring cup.

Place lettuce leaves on individual salad plates. Arrange beets, onions and orange slices on top. Drizzle with some of the dressing and serve.

Comfort Breads for Wintery Days

 

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WINTER MOOD — Oil Painting On Canvas By Leonid Afremov

It’s January and cold outside with temperatures that will be that way for a few days, even here in the South. To give the house a warm feeling, I bake bread. And, of course, the smell is so enticing.

Below are three bread recipes that are sure to warm you up.

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Cranberry Sweet Potato Muffins

12-15 muffins

Ingredients

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cold mashed sweet potatoes (without added butter or milk)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
Chopped pecans
Cinnamon-sugar

Directions

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.

In a small bowl, combine the egg, milk, sweet potatoes and butter; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in the cranberries.

Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups half full. Sprinkle each with 1 tablespoon of chopped pecans and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar.

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Bake at 375°F for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in muffins comes out clean.

Cool in the pan 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Serve warm.

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Swirled Pumpkin Yeast Bread

This is a large volume dough and if you do not have a heavy-duty large capacity mixer, you will have to make the dough by hand or cut the ingredients in half to make one loaf.

2 loaves

Ingredients

4-1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups quick-cooking oats
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
1-1/2 cups warm water (120° to 130°)
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, the whole wheat flour, oats, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, salt, sugar and yeast.

Beat in the warm water, pumpkin, applesauce and oil just until moistened.

Add eggs; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining all-purpose flour to form a firm dough.

Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic,about 6-8 minutes or knead in your mixer.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Roll each portion into an 12-inch x 9-inch rectangle and brush with the softened butter to within 1/2 in. of edges.

Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over both doughs. Roll up jelly roll style, starting with the short side and pinch seam to seal.

Place seam side down in two greased 9-in. x 5-in. loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes.

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Bake at 350°F for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks.

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Sourdough Ciabatta

This is a great bread to serve with your favorite soup.

2 large loaves

Ingredients

2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
6 cups unbleached All-Purpose flour

Directions

Mix the yeast with the flour.

In an electric mixer bowl combine the milk, olive oil and salt with the paddle attachment. Stir in the flour, a cup at a time, until you have a dough the consistency of drop-cookie batter.

Switch to the dough hook and knead, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and satiny.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Place the bowl in a warm spot and let the dough rise, undisturbed, about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

Punch the dough down and turn it onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough gently and divide it into two pieces.

Form the loaves into torpedo shapes, and place each loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet. With a serrated knife, make three slashes in the tops of the loaves, each 1/2-inch deep.

Cover with a damp towel.

Let the loaves rise until they look puffy. This should take approximately 30 minutes. While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 425°F.

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Brush or spray the loaves with water; a plant mister is good for this job. Bake for 10 minutes, spraying the loaves with water two more times.

Lower the oven to 375°F and bake for an additional 25 minutes.

Cooking The Italian Provinces – Venezia

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Venice (Italian: Venezia) is a metropolitan city in the Veneto region of Italy. It is situated across a group of 117 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by bridges. These are located in the shallow Venetian Lagoon, an enclosed bay that lies between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. Parts of Venice are renowned for the beauty of their settings, their architecture and artwork. The lagoon and a part of the city are listed as a World Heritage Site

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The name, Venezia, is derived from the ancient Veneti people who inhabited the region in 10th century BC. The Republic of Venice was a major financial and maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance and a staging area for the Crusades, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially for silk, grain and spices) and art. Venice is considered to have been the first real international financial center and this made it a wealthy city throughout most of its history.

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In the 14th century, many young Venetian men began wearing tight-fitting multicolored hose, the designs indicated the Compagnie della Calza (“Trouser Club”) to which they belonged. The Venetian Senate passed laws banning colorful clothing, but this merely resulted in changes in fashion in order to circumvent the law. Dull garments were worn over colorful ones, which then were cut to show the hidden colors that resulted in the wide-spread use of men’s “slashed” fashions in the 15th century.

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Today, Venice is a major fashion and shopping center, not as important as Milan, Florence, and Rome, but on a par with other fashion centers. Roberta di Camerino is a major Italian fashion brand to be based in Venice. Founded in 1945, it is renowned for its innovative handbags featuring adornments by Venetian artisans. Many of the fashion boutiques and jewelry shops in the city are located on or near the Rialto Bridge and in the Piazza San Marco. There are Louis Vuitton and Ermenegildo Zegna flagship stores in the city.

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Venice is known for its ornate glass-work, known as Venetian glass. It is world-renowned for being colorful, elaborate and skilfully made. However, by the 14th century, the center of the Venetian glass industry moved to Murano, an offshore island in Venice. The glass made there is known as Murano glass. Despite efforts to keep Venetian glass-making techniques within Venice, they became known elsewhere and Venetian-style glassware is produced in other Italian cities and other countries of Europe. Some of the most important brands of glass in the world are still produced in the historical glass factories on Murano. They are: Venini, Barovier & Toso, Pauly, Millemetri, Seguso. Barovier & Toso is considered one of the 100 oldest companies in the world, formed in 1295.

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Festivals

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The Carnival of Venice is held annually in the city and It lasts for around two weeks and ends on Shrove Tuesday. Venetian masks are popular during the festival.

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The Venice Biennale is one of the most important events in the arts calendar. In 1895 an Esposizione biennale artistica nazionale (biennial exhibition of Italian art) was inaugurated.

The Festa del Redentore that is held in mid July began as a feast to give thanks for the end of the plague of 1576. A bridge of barges is built connecting Giudecca to the rest of Venice and fireworks play an important role.

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The Venice Film Festival is the oldest film festival in the world founded by Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata in 1932 as the Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica. The festival takes place every year in late August or early September on the island of the Lido. Screenings take place in the historic Palazzo del Cinema on the Lungomare Marconi. It is one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals and is part of the Venice Biennale.

Cuisine

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Venice cuisine has a centuries-long history and it is significantly different from the other cuisines of northern Italy. Venetian cuisine is characterized by seafood, but also includes vegetables from the islands of the lagoon, rice from the mainland, game and polenta. Venice combines local traditions with influences stemming from age-old practices. These include: sardines marinated to preserve them for long voyages; bacalà mantecato (a recipe based on Norwegian stockfish and extra-virgin olive oil); bisàto (marinated eel); risi e bisi,( rice, peas and pancetta); fegato alla veneziana, Venetian-style veal liver; risòto col néro de sépe (risotto with cuttlefish, blackened by their ink); cicchétti (tapas); antipasti (appetizers); and Prosecco, an effervescent, mildly sweet wine.

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The most common dish is polenta, which is cooked in various ways within the local cuisines of Veneto. It is very popular to serve grilled meat (often by a barbecue that includes a mix of pork, beef and chicken meat) together with grilled polenta, potatoes or vegetables. Other popular dishes include risotto, rice cooked with many different kinds of food, from vegetables, mushrooms, pumpkin or radicchio to seafood, pork meat or chicken livers. Bigoli (a typical Venetian fresh pasta, similar to Udon), fettuccine (hand-made noodles), ravioli and the similar tortelli (filled with meat, cheese, vegetables or pumpkin) and gnocchi (potatoes-made fresh pasta), are fresh and often hand-made pasta dishes (made of eggs and wheat flour), served together with a meat sauce (ragù) often made with duck meat, sometimes together with mushrooms or peas, or simply with melted butter.

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In addition, Venice is known for the golden, oval-shaped cookies called baìcoli, and for other types of sweets, such as: pan del pescatore (bread of the fisherman); cookies with almonds and pistachio nuts; cookies with fried Venetian cream, or the bussolài (butter biscuits and shortbread made in the shape of a ring or of an “S”) from the island of Burano; the galàni or cróstoli (angel wings); the frìtole (spherical doughnuts); the fregolòtta (a crumbly cake with almonds); a milk pudding called rosada; and cookies called zaléti, whose ingredients include yellow maize flour.
The dessert tiramisù is thought to have been invented in Treviso in the late 1960s and is popular in the Veneto area.

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Venetian-style Capesante

Scallops are popular as a hot fish appetizer.

Ingredients

4 servings

8 sea scallops
⅛ oz garlic
½ oz parsley
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Large scallop shells for serving

Directions

Heat the oil in a pan, add the finely chopped garlic and the scallops. On high heat, add parsley and dill. Season with salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes.

Rearrange each shell by placing two scallops inside and pouring a little of the cooking liquid over each one. This dish can also be served with hot croutons brushed with garlic.

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Bigoli With Duck Sauce

This is a typical first course. The “bigolo” is a hard wheat pasta, which had made its appearance in the area in the eighteenth century. It was produced using the special “bigolaro”, a press featuring a brass drawplate which permitted the pasta to be formed into a rough-textured “bigolo” shape. In the Veneto region, the name “bigoli” is also given to large spaghetti or “bucatini” because of their slender elongated shape, also a kind of “bigolo”.

Ingredients

4 servings
1 lb bigoli-a hard wheat pasta
3 ½ oz liver
3 ½ oz duck meat
1 oz butter
¾ oz extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chicken broth
2 oz ripe tomatoes
2 oz onion
3 ½ oz red wine
Thyme to taste
Marjoram to taste
1 bay leaf
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese to taste
Parsley to taste

Directions

In a pan combine the oil and butter and brown the onions, add the liver and duck meat and brown that also. Mix thoroughly.

Pour the red wine over the mixture, allow to evaporate, and then salt to taste. Add the broth and cook until the broth has reduced to only a few tablespoons. Add the herbs, the bay leaf and the tomato.

Cook the pasta in abundant boiling and salted water. When the pasta is cooked, when it is still “al dente”, drain it, put it in the pan with the sauce and toss it. Remove from the heat and sprinkle with freshly grated cheese, finely chopped parsley and arrange on a serving dish.

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Torresani allo Spiedo (pigeons on the spit)

Ingredients

Serves 4

4 terraioli pigeons (also known as toresani)
120 g bacon, in large slices
Extra virgin olive oil
10 Juniper berries
2 Bay leaves
Rosemary – a large sprig
Salt and pepper

Directions

Preparation for plucking pigeons: flame it to remove the hair, clean the entrails, wash well and dry them.

Grind in a mortar the juniper berries and two bay leaves, put the mixture into a shallow dish, sprinkle with salt and pepper and add plenty of extra virgin olive oil.

Dip the sprig of rosemary into the mixture and use the rosemary to brush the seasoning on the pigeons.Then wrap them in slices of bacon, with a kitchen string to tie them, putting them on the spit and after ½ hour of cooking brush with the remaining mixture prepared with oil.

After 40 total minutes of cooking, remove the pigeons, remove the string and served with grilled polenta.

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Zaleti

This is a traditional cookie from the Venice area. They are often enjoyed together with a glass of sparkling wine like Prosecco.

Ingredients

¾ lb cornmeal
3 ½ oz sugar
½ lb all-purpose flour
5 oz butter
3 oz raisins
2 ½ oz pine nuts
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup milk, fresh
1 pinch vanilla
Lemon zest, grated

Directions

Mix the flours with the baking powder in a separate bowl. Combine the butter and sugar. Add the flour mixture, raisins, previously soaked in warm water, the pine nuts, milk, grated lemon zest and vanilla, to form a dough mixture.

With your hands, shape the mixture into small oval cakes about 3.2 inches long. Place them onto a lightly buttered baking sheet and bake in a hot oven. Cooking time is generally 20-25 minutes, but it can vary according to the size of the “zaleti”.

Small Plate Entertaining

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During the holidays or for game events, I like to serve small plate foods. Guests can serve themselves and take what they like, when they want it. These plates look attractive and can often be prepared in advance. I set up a few hot plates and place the dishes on there so they stay warm for several hours. I often make Eggplant Parmesan and Greek spinach and Feta Pie and cut them into small squares as an option.

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For Christmas, I received a Himalayan Salt block for a gift. As the name suggests, a Himalayan Salt Block is a large block of pink salt and mine came with a tray with handles that holds the block securely. The block can be frozen to keep foods cold and it can also be used on the grill. I used mine for a get together of friends on New Year’s Day and served smoked salmon and whitefish on the block. It looked very attractive and gave the fish a little salt flavor.

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Other dishes that work well for small plates are Italian Sausage and Peppers, small sandwiches, celery stuffed with flavored cream cheese, shrimp salad and, of course, a cheese board.

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Here are some recipes for small plates that I like to serve.

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Mozzarella-Stuffed Arancini

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for cooking
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
16-20 small fresh mozzarella balls (about 6 ounces)
2-3 cups cold risotto
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups panko or traditional bread crumbs
Marinara Sauce, for serving

Directions

In a medium saute pan, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add in the shallots and cook for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add in the oregano and basil and stir until the herbs are wilted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the herb mixture to the mozzarella balls and stir to mix.

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Take approximately 2 tablespoons of cold risotto in your palm and flatten slightly. Add one mozzarella ball covered in the herb mix to the center. Cover the cheese with the rice and roll into a ball form. Dip the ball into flour, shaking lightly to remove any clumps, then into the beaten eggs, and finally, roll the ball in the bread crumbs. Place the coated balls on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining risotto until all of the risotto and/or cheese balls are used.

Pour enough olive oil in a deep skillet to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil and add the arancini. Cook on all sides until lightly brown all over. Drain on paper towels.

Note: I usually make them in advance and then reheat before serving in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

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Sautéed Calamari

Ingredients

For the bread crumb topping:

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning

For the calamari:

1/2 pound cleaned squid cut into rings, dry on paper towels, air dry and then move to a plate
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 tablespoon butter
1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Directions

Make the bread crumb topping:

Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet and add the garlic and Italian seasoning. Saute for a minute. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until lightly brown. Set aside

For the calamari:

Heat a medium skillet and add the olive oil. Then garlic, butter and chili flakes. Add calamari, salt and pepper and parsley and cook 1-2 minutes Squeeze lemon over the fish and sprinkle lightly with the toasted bread crumbs.

Note: It is important not to overcook calamari or it will become tough. A minute or two is all it needs to cook.

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Roast Beef Rolls

Ingredients

½ lb deli sliced roast beef, cut very thin
1 jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into squares
3 cups baby arugula
Italian salad dressing
Fresh ground black pepper

Directions

Pour a little salad dressing over the arugula and mix well. You just want the leaves moistened not drowning in dressing.

Place the roast beef slices on a work surface.

Place a piece of roasted pepper on top. Then add a spoonful of arugula salad.

Roll each slice up tightly and arrange on a serving platter. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.

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Chicken Pesto Sliders

Ingredients

12 small dinner rolls or slider rolls
½ lb deli sliced roast chicken, sliced very thin
2-3 plum tomatoes sliced thin
8 oz.fresh mozzarella, sliced
Basil Pesto

Directions

Spread a little pesto on both sides of the rolls.

On each roll place 2 slices of chicken, a slice of tomato and a slice of mozzarella.

Close the rolls and place them on a baking sheet.

Heat in a 325 degree F oven for 10-12 minutes, just until the cheese starts to melt.

Remove the sliders from the oven and place on a serving tray.

Cooking The Italian Provinces – Rome

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Rome covers almost one-third of the Lazio region and is the capital of Italy. Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years. While Roman mythology dates the founding of Rome around 753 BC, the area has been inhabited for much longer according to historians, making it one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe.

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Rome covers almost one-third of the Lazio region and is the capital of Italy. Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years. While Roman mythology dates the founding of Rome around 753 BC, however, the area has been inhabited for much longer, making it one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe.

After the fall of the Western Empire, which marked the beginning of the Middle Ages, Rome gradually came under the political control of the Papacy and continued under their rule until 1870.

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Rome was a major world center of the Renaissance, second only to Florence, and was profoundly affected by the movement. A masterpiece of Renaissance architecture in Rome is the Piazza del Campidoglio by Michelangelo. During this period, the great aristocratic families of Rome used to build opulent dwellings like the Palazzo del Quirinale (now seat of the President of the Italian Republic), the Palazzo Venezia, the Palazzo Farnese, the Palazzo Barberini, the Palazzo Chigi (now seat of the Italian Prime Minister), the Palazzo Spada, the Palazzo della Cancelleria, and the Villa Farnesina.

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Many of the famous city’s squares – some huge, majestic and often adorned with obelisks, got their present design during the Renaissance and Baroque. The principal ones are Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna, Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Venezia, Piazza Farnese, Piazza della Rotonda and Piazza della Minerva. One of the most best examples of Baroque art is the Fontana di Trevi by Nicola Salvi. Other notable 17th-century baroque palaces are the Palazzo Madama, now the seat of the Italian Senate and the Palazzo Montecitorio, now the seat of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy.

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Public parks and nature reserves cover a large area in Rome, and the city has one of the largest areas of green space among European capitals. The most notable part of this green space is represented by the large number of villas and landscaped gardens created by the Italian aristocracy. While most of the parks surrounding the villas were destroyed during the building boom of the late 19th century, some of them remain. The most notable of these are the Villa Borghese, Villa Ada, and Villa Doria Pamphili. In the area of Trastevere the Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden) is a cool and shady green space. The old Roman hippodrome (Circus Maximus) is another large green space: it has few trees, but is overlooked by the Palatine and the Rose Garden (‘roseto comunale’). The Villa Borghese garden is the best known large green space in Rome, with famous art galleries among its shaded walks. Overlooking Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps are the gardens of Pincio and Villa Medici.

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Rome is a city famous for its numerous fountains, built in all different styles, from Classical and Medieval, to Baroque and Neoclassical. The city has had fountains for more than two thousand years, and they have provided drinking water in the past.

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Rome has an extensive amount of ancient catacombs, or underground burial places under or near the city, of which there are at least forty, some discovered only in recent decades.

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Experience Rome via this entertaining video from Travel & Leisure: ROMA

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Much of Rome’s cuisine comes from traditions that were based on poverty: people ate what they could get their hands on, the stuff the wealthy considered inedible and tossed away. In fact, many of the foods Romans today consider “Roman” are in fact based on old Jewish Roman cuisine.

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Artichokes – are thistles and were not considered a very edible plant long ago. Ox-tail stew – is the leftover from a larger, meatier animal. Zucchini flowers – are the part of the vegetable you threw away. Today, you find zucchini flowers everywhere in Roman cuisine, and it’s considered a delicacy: pizza topped with zucchini flowers, stuffed zucchini flowers and spaghetti and clams with zucchini flowers are some classic examples of typical Roman foods.

The quinto quarto refers to all the parts of an animal that are not considered “meat”: tripe, intestines, brains etc. This is also called “offal” and for those who love it, know where to get the best of it in Rome.

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Fried appetizers are popular and include stuffed zucchini flowers (fiori di zucca), stuffed fried olives (olive ascolane), potato croquettes, other fried vegetables and battered and fried salted cod (baccalà.)

Bruschetta, topped with either tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil, with some garlic or basil, or topped with a spread, such as artichokes, olives or truffles.

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Pasta in Rome is typically long, such as spaghetti, fettucine, tagliatelle or tagliolini; or short dried pasta such as farfalle (little bow ties), rigatoni or penne. Typical Roman pastas are amatriciana, cacio e pepe, gricia and carbonara.

Soups (minestre), often of legumes and grains. For example “zuppa di farro” is a vegetarian soup made with spelt, a thick chewy grain. Another classic is “minestra di ceci e vongole”, which is a soup of chickpeas and clams (other shellfish are used as well.)

Meat dishes in Rome are mostly beef, pork and lamb. But especially beef. One classic Rome dish is beef straccetti, which are thin strips of beef, slowly cooked in their own juices, and then served alone on a plate, served with parmesan cheese, arugula (rocket) or artichokes. You will also typically find beef served as a simple grilled steak, or as a “tagliata”, which means, a steak that gets sliced just as it comes off the grill.
A classic Roman meat dish is lamb “scottaditto”, which means, lamb chops served so hot and crispy, they burn your fingers.

There is a lot of pork in Roman cuisine and, very often, in pasta sauces such as amatriciana, gricia and carbonara. Two very common pork dishes in Rome are “porchetta”, a baby pig stuffed with herbs and slowly cooked; and “maialino”, which is very tender, slowly baked baby pig.

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Stracciatella (Egg Drop Soup)

Ingredients

  • 1.5 quarts chicken broth
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • Nutmeg

Directions

Heat the broth to boiling and set aside 3 tablespoons of the hot broth in a mixing bowl.

Beat 3 eggs in a separate bowl. Add the grated cheese and the bread crumbs.

Add the reserved 3 tablespoons of broth and beat until creamy.

Return the broth to boiling.

Pour the egg mixture into the boiling broth. Whisk vigorously with a fork to break up the egg into small strips.

Cook for about 3 more minutes, stirring continuously.

Remove the pot from the heat and immediately pour into serving bowls. Sprinkle with more parmesan and freshly grated nutmeg.

 

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Beef Tagliata Salad

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tender steak, such as rib-eye or T-bone
  • Sea Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 handfuls arugula
  • Small block of Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Lemon cut in half

Directions

Lightly season the beef with salt and then place on the grill and cook for five minutes on each side, Remove the steak to a plate and allow it to rest for another five minutes.

Once rested slice the meat diagonally with a sharp knife into thin slices, drizzle a little olive oil over the meat and sprinkle with sea salt.

Arrange the beef between two plates. Place the arugula into a bowl and dress with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the leaves around and over the beef.

Shave the Parmesan into thin strips and sprinkle over the beef. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with a half lemon.

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Bucatini all’amatriciana

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. bucatini or spaghetti pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 100 g or 3.5 oz. guanciale or pancetta (about ¾ cup diced)
  • 100 g grated pecorino romano (about ½ cup)
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • One 14 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes
  • ½ tsp. hot pepper flakes, or more to taste

Directions

Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Put in a small handful of large-grain salt.

Dice the guanciale into medium cubes, about 1/2 inch.

Saute the guanciale and hot pepper in the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. As soon as the fat becomes translucent, remove the meat and place on a paper towel to drain.

Add onions to the rendered fat and saute, stirring constantly, until translucent.

Add the tomatoes and the guanciale. Simmer on low heat about 5 minutes.

When the salted water comes to a boil, add the pasta. Cook the pasta 1 minute less than the package states.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the sauce. Toss in the sauce and add the pecorino romano, stirring constantly so that the melted cheese coats the pasta.

Remove from heat and serve immediately with additional grated pecorino for sprinkling on top.

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Roman-Style Braised Oxtail

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds oxtail, cut into 2-inch sections
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 carrot, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 28 ounces Italian tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • About 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cloves

Directions

In a heavy-bottom saucepot, heat the olive oil.

Season the oxtail pieces with salt, browning each side of the pieces. Remove; set aside.

Add the onions and a pinch of salt to the pan. Sweat the onions until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.

Add the carrots, cooking until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and garlic. Cook 3 minutes more.

Add the oxtail pieces back to the pot. Deglaze with the wine over high heat, cooking about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes; bring to a boil. Continue boiling to cook off some of the tomato water.

Add the beef stock just to cover the meat, then the pepper and cloves.

Bring to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat to a simmer, cover with a circle of parchment paper, and cook for 4 hours (stirring occasionally).

Once the oxtail is tender, remove the pieces to a serving dish. Cover with aluminum foil; set aside.

Strain the sauce, pressing down on the vegetables to extract all the juices.

Skim all the fat off the top, and pour into a smaller saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, reducing by 1/4.

Taste for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the oxtail and serve

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