Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: October 2012

The Campo dei Miracoli from above. The leaning tower is on the left, the Duomo is in the center and the Baptistery is on the right.

Legend says it was mythic Trojan refugees from Greece who founded Pisa. The City of Pisa was first settled in a region of Italy that was relatively uninhabited at the time. Of course, ” Italy ” wasn’t around then, and Pisa was a Roman settlement. As a coastal town, Pisa was an important Roman port and merchant center. Pisa existed long before the Roman empire though, and in ancient Roman texts, Pisa is called an old city.

River Arno in Pisa

A city of Etruscan origin, Pisa reached its highest splendor in the 11th century, when it became one of the four influential Italian Maritime Republics along with Genoa, Venice and Amalfi. During most of the Middle Ages, it dominated the western Mediterranean Sea. The construction of what would become the city’s most famous monuments: the Duomo of Pisa, the Leaning Tower and the Monumental Cemetery began during that time.

The Tower of Pisa leans sideways because it was built on unstable soil. In 1173 construction started on the 180-foot bell tower and the building began to lean as soon as the first three floors were completed. Nevertheless, building continued and the seven-story structure was finished between 1360 and 1370. The tower continued to lean a little bit more each year and was closed for repairs in 1990, when it was leaning fourteen and one-half feet to one side. Engineers worked to stabilize the foundation, straightening the tower only slightly to help prevent irreparable damage without taking away the uniqueness of the structure.

Most often Pisa acted as a commercial center for the region but, during times of war, Pisa was able to maintain control of the Mediterranean Sea with its formidable fleet of warships. The Romans used the port of Pisa to launch naval attacks against the Gauls, Ligurians and Carthagenians.

Pisa was a wealthy city with colonies in northern Africa, in southern Spain and along the southern coasts of Asia Minor. The 1284 war with Genoa marked the beginning of Pisa’s decline. Florence conquered Pisa in 1406, however, under Medici rule, the city flourished and commissioned the new construction, such as, the University that later attracted Galileo Galilei, the famous astronomer, physicist, mathematician as department chair.

The City of Pisa, as we know it today, is the result of many global influences that affected the entire world, not just Italy and the surrounding areas. World War II took its toll on the city, damaging many of the famous buildings and historic areas. However, both residents of the City of Pisa and Italy itself have beautifully restored Pisa to a state that is modern and functional, as well as historic.

http://www.leaningtowerofpisa.net/

Pisa Duomo Angel Silhouette (www.free-city-guides.com)

The interior of the Duomo in Pisa

The Cuisine of Pisa

The cuisine in Pisa offers lots of variety and taste, as diverse as the lands around it. From the sea to the farmland and on to the hilly landscape dominated by grain, olives and grape vines to the rugged, wooded landscape.The many restaurants in the historic center offer typical dishes from Pisa, as well as fine, protected products, such as Monte Pisano olive oil, Pecorino cheese, Parco di Migliarino lamb, Pisan beef, San Miniato truffle, pine nuts, mushrooms, Pisanello tomatoes and much more. Tuscan bread, made without salt, is an essential element of Pisan cuisine and the base of many canapés which are served as appetizers.

Pisa’s cuisine varies from fish and seafood specialties to game dishes. A typical dish of the area is a simple soup called “Sullo Scio” prepared by frying some garlic, rosemary and peeled tomatoes in oil, adding water, broken up tagliatelle (wide pasta noodles) and served with Parmesan cheese. Mushrooms are an important feature in Pisa’s cuisine and they can be eaten simply sliced and dressed in a salad or in more elaborate pasta sauces.

As far as desserts, a particular mention goes to “Torta con i Bischeri”, a pastry based tart filled with rice cooked in milk and flavored with lemon, vanilla and nutmeg with the addition of chocolate pieces, candy fruit, raisins and maraschino liqueur. Desserts are based on the traditions of the poor and are made with dried fruit, chestnuts, pine nuts, chocolate and wine.

The Popular Eels

Fruit Market in Pisa

In the past, one of the great traditional specialties was “Cee alla Pisana” or baby eels, caught in the River Arno. According to this recipe, the eels were sautéed with garlic, olive oil, sage and Parmesan cheese, but they are no longer allowed because“cee” fishing is now prohibited. Local fish dishes usually include leeks or chickpeas and are served with a sweet-and-sour sauce or an onion and tomato sauce. Chickpeas are widely used, especially to make cecina, a flat bread snack, very similar to the Genovese farinata ( a thin, crisp, pizza-like pancake) made with chickpea meal cooked in copper baking-tins in a wood-burning oven.

Cecina

Vegetables grow in abundance here, given the mild climate of this part of Tuscany, and are used mostly to make quiche and frittatas. Beans are widely used. Bordatino, a soup made of red beans, black cabbage and corn meal, octopus and beans and  tuna bean salad are some of the dishes in which they feature beans. Fresh pasta dishes seasoned with sauces made from game and poultry such as boar, hare and duck are also popular.

From the local peasant heritage come recipes like Maggese, made with diced pig shoulder and Pecorino cheese, pig’s cheek mousse to spread on warm toast, and Testicciola alla Pisana, the head of a calf or lamb cooked in water with spices and herbs, boned and seasoned with capers, anchovies, pickles, salt, pepper and olive oil.

Finally, the province of Pisa also includes among its varied resources a flourishing wine-making industry that produces DOC and IGT wines (meaning a wine produced and guaranteed to be from a specific area). Typical local wines include the Chianti Colline Pisane (protected by the DOC label), Bianco Pisano di San Torpé, Colli dell’Etruria Centrale, Montescudaio and and Vin Santo.

Pisa Inspired Recipes For You To Make At Home

Antipasto Course

Broiled Clams

Ingredients:

For the Clams:

  • 24 fresh Littleneck clams
  • Salt
  • Cornmeal or all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white wine

For the Topping:

  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fine bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped roasted red sweet pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped pancetta
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Directions:

Scrub the clams to remove exterior dirt and place them in a large bowl along with cold water and the cornmeal or flour. Let soak 10 minutes. Scrub each clam clean under cold running water to remove remaining softened dirt from the shells and return to soak in fresh cold water. If necessary, repeat the scrubbing process a couple of times until the clams are completely clean and the soaking water is free of sand. Drain and chill until ready to cook.

In a deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid, bring the wine to a boil. Add the cleaned clams, cover immediately, and steam until the clams are open, 3 to 5 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open. Using tongs, remove the shellfish from the pan to a bowl. Reserve the cooking liquid in the pan.

Preheat a broiler. In a mixing bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, bread crumbs, roasted red pepper, parsley, and pancetta. Mix well.

Leave the whole clam meat in one of its shells and discard the other shell half.

Spoon equal amounts of topping on each clam. Drizzle reserved clam liquid over the topping and  place the clams in a flameproof baking dish, 9 inches from the broiler.

Broil for about 6 minutes, watching carefully to be sure the topping does not burn. If it browns too quickly, move farther from the flame and add a little more clam liquid or wine before returning them to the broiler. Serve hot with lemon wedges.

Yield: 4 servings

 

Primo Course

Pisan Style Chickpeas

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 12 oz. beet greens or other greens, such as mustard or chard, tough ribs removed, blanched
  • 1 cup diced Italian plum tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Toasted Tuscan-style bread
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Drain the chickpeas from their soaking water and place in a medium-size saucepan with several inches of water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-high heat until soft but not breaking apart, about 2 hours, uncovered or partially covered. Drain, reserving 1/ 2 cup of the chickpea cooking water.

In a large nonreactive skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onion and celery and cook until softened, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic, tomato paste and tomatoes with their juices, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Add the chickpeas and their reserved liquid and cook another 10 minutes. Add the beet or mustard greens and cook until heated through, an additional 10 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Gently turn several times to mix the ingredients.

Toast the bread, set it in soup bowls, and ladle the chickpeas and their broth over it.

Secondi Course

Pisan Braised Beef Skillet

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound beef round steak
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1  14-1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed or 1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed or 1-1/2 teaspoons snipped fresh oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Trim fat from round steak and cut meat into 4 serving-size pieces. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add meat pieces to skillet and brown both sides of each piece. Remove meat from skillet.

Add mushrooms, onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic to the skillet. Cook until vegetables are nearly tender. Then, stir in undrained tomatoes, herbs, and red pepper. Add meat to skillet, spooning vegetable mixture over the meat. Cover and simmer about 1-1/4 hours or until meat is tender, stirring occasionally. 

Transfer meat to a serving platter. Spoon vegetable mixture over meat and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Makes 4 servings.


gnocchi_wideweb__470x383

Gnocchi (pronounced NYOK-ee) pasta is basically a thick, soft, dumpling type of pasta. You can make gnocchi from many different things. Semolina flour or unbleached flour makes a great gnocchi while potatoes, ricotta, spinach and even sweet potatoes make other kinds of delicious gnocchi. The most common way to prepare gnocchi is to combine mashed potatoes with flour, forming bite-sized balls of dough and serve them in a light butter sauce with fresh sage.

The word gnocchi is derived from the Italian word “nocchio” meaning a “knot of wood” or from “nocca” meaning knuckle. It was introduced by the Roman Legions during the expansion of the empire into the countries of the European continent. In the past 2000 years each country developed its own specific type of small dumplings, with the ancient Gnocchi as their common ancestor. In Roman times, gnocchi were made from a semolina porridge-like dough and are still found in similar forms today, particularly in Sardinia, where they are known as malloreddus.

These small dumplings are one of the oldest preparations in the history of food, recorded as far back as the cookbooks of the thirteenth century. In a fragment of a book from the 1300’s there is a recipe for gnocchi written in the Tuscan dialect of the time.

If you want gnocchi take some cheese and mash it, then take some flour and mix it with egg yolks as if you are making dough. Place a pot of water over a fire. When it starts boiling, place the mixture on a board and slide it in the pot with a spoon. When they are cooked, place them on plates and top them with a lot of grated cheese.”

Since Gnocchi simply consist of dough shaped in small dumplings and don’t need any special skill or technique to flatten or cut the dough, they are probably even older than pasta. In fact, Gnocchi has a very close link to pasta, and sometimes it is difficult to tell if a dish should be considered pasta or gnocchi. For example, orecchiette from the Apulia region are formed from a small dumpling of pasta pressed into an “ear” shape. Troffie from Liguria are made by rolling a piece of dough around a stick and served with pesto sauce.

Ricotta Gnocchi

My favorite way to prepare gnocchi is with ricotta cheese instead of potatoes. This is just as authentic as its potato relative, but lighter in texture and much easier to make.

Unlike potato gnocchi, ricotta gnocchi require no precooking (opening a container of ricotta cheese is much easier and faster than boiling, peeling and mashing a pound of potatoes) Just stir together ricotta, eggs, grated Parmesan and a little flour — just enough to bring everything together. I like to serve these with a light sauce since they are delicate in flavor, usually a little marinara or a light pesto. Choose a sauce that leaves room for to the ricotta flavor to come through and, since they are also delicate in texture, toss them lightly.

You can make the gnocchi up to 12 hours ahead, spread them out in a single layer on a floured tray, cover them with a towel, and refrigerate until needed. Handmade gnocchi cook very quickly. They should be boiled in salted water and removed with a slotted spoon just as soon as they rise to the top of the pot.

For perfect gnocchi, don’t work the dough too much and add as little flour as possible. It’s okay if the dough is a little sticky.

Ingredients for the gnocchi:

1- 15 oz. container skim milk ricotta cheese

Drain excess water from the ricotta by placing it in a colander lined with cheesecloth over a bowl and leaving it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes (overnight is even better) before using.

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

1 cup unbleached all purpose flour

To make the gnocchi:

Mix together in a large bowl, the drained ricotta cheese with 1 slightly beaten egg, Parmesan cheese and salt. Add flour and work mixture in with your hands until a soft dough is formed. If your fingers are sticky, add some more flour to your hands.

Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead lightly until the dough becomes smooth and firm. Be careful not to overwork it. Divide the dough into fist size pieces, and roll into long logs as thick as your thumb.

Then cut it into small 1 inch pieces.

Roll each piece under the flat part of a fork in order to create the ridges.

Place on a floured board.

To cook the gnocchi:

2 tablespoons salt

When you are ready to cook the gnocchi, bring 8 quarts of water to a boil. Add the 2 tablespoons of salt. Drop in the gnocchi and cook until they float to the surface, about 1-2 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Fold in the sauce with a rubber spatula, dilute with as much of the gnocchi water as needed to create a light sauce.

Tomato Basil Sauce                                                                                                                                                                     

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28 oz. container Pomi chopped Italian tomatoes
  • Coarse salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, season and let simmer until thickened. Stir in basil and add additional salt to taste.

Serve gnocchi with the sauce and extra grated Parmesan.

Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi Variation

  • 3 ounces frozen spinach, squeezed dry
  • 1- 15 oz. container skim milk ricotta cheese, drained overnight
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1  1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour

Follow directions above for making and cooking the gnocchi.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi Variation

Sweet potatoes make these gnocchi a bit sweet and full of antioxidants. Serve them as you would other gnocchi. Sweet Potato Gnocchi are particularly good simply dressed in brown butter and sage. The heartier texture of sweet potatoes means these gnocchi can be made using whole wheat pastry flour for extra fiber and nutrients.

This recipe makes a lot of gnocchi. Any extras can be laid on a baking sheet, frozen, and transferred to a resealable plastic bag and kept frozen for up to six months.

Ingredients

  • 2 one pound sweet potatoes, rinsed, patted dry, pierced all over with fork
  • 1  15-ounce container fresh ricotta cheese, drained in sieve 2 hours
  • 2 – 2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling and shaping
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place sweet potatoes on plate; microwave on high until tender, about 5 minutes per side. Cut in half and cool. Scrape sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash; transfer 3 cups to large bowl. Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add Parmesan cheese and 2 teaspoons salt; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long ropes (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces. Roll each piece over tines of fork to indent. Transfer to prepared baking sheet.

Bring large pot of water to boil; add 2 tablespoons salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer gnocchi to a clean rimmed baking sheet or a serving bowl. Mix with your favorite sauce.

For another variation, I refer you to my recipe for Butternut Squash & Potato Gnocchi on the post cited below.

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

Marinara Sauce

Pesto Sauce


The saying, “As American as apple pie,” is referred to as the symbol of America. The word “apple” comes from the Old English word “aeppel.” Apples probably have more symbolic value than any other fruit on earth, from the forbidden fruit of Adam and Eve to the offering of the Evil Queen to Snow White, the apple has always represented beauty, love and good and evil.

Carbonized remains of apples have been found by archeologists in prehistoric lake dwellings in Switzerland, dating back to the Iron Age. There is also evidence to show that apples were eaten and preserved by slicing and sun drying during the Stone Age in Europe. In China, Egypt, and Babylon records were found that mentioned man understood the art of budding and grafting fruit trees as long as twenty centuries ago.

When the English colonists arrived in North America they found only crab apples. Crab apple trees are the only native apples in the United States. European settlers arrived and brought with them their English customs and favorite fruits.

Johnny Appleseed

One of America’s fondest legends is that of Johnny Appleseed, a folk hero and pioneer apple farmer in the 1800s. There really was a Johnny Appleseed, however, his actual name was John Chapmen (1774-1845) and he was born in Leominster, Massachusetts. His dream was for the land to produce so many apples that no one would ever go hungry. Most historians today classify him as an eccentric but very smart businessman, who traveled about the new territories of his time, leasing land and developing nurseries of apple trees.

When covered wagons traveled over the Oregon Trail westward, they carried apple trees and “scion wood” for grafting as part of their cargo. Often the family orchard was planted before the ground was broken for their log cabin home. Josiah Red Wolf, a Nez Perce leader, planted apple trees at Alpowa Creek near the Snake River in southeast Washington. He is probably the first Native American to have had a European-style garden and orchard. Red Wolf’s trees lived for decades. America’s longest living apple tree was reportedly planted in 1647 by Governor Peter Stuyvesant in his Manhattan orchard on the corner of Third Avenue and 13th Street. The tree was still bearing fruit when a derailed train struck it in 1866.

There are approximately 10,000 different kinds of varieties of apples grown in the world with more than 7,000 of these varieties grown in the United States. Apples are a member of the rose family of plants and the blossoms are much like wild-rose blossoms. There are between 25 to 30 kinds of wild apples grown throughout the world with seven kinds in the U.S. Most wild apples are crab apples with small, sour, hard fruit. 

Resource Information: Apples: History, Folklore, Horticulture and Gastronomy, by Peter Wynne, Hawthorn Books, New York, N.Y., 1975.

How To Care For Apples                                                                                                                                                        

Short Term Storage

Apples do best in the fruit drawer of the refrigerator, where they keep for up to 3 weeks. At room temperature, they ripen too quickly and become mealy after 2 days. Storing apples next to broccoli, cabbage, cucumbers, greens or cauliflower could cause these vegetables to spoil faster, since apples give off ethylene gas, which causes faster ripening.

Long Term Storage

Almost any kind of apple will keep for three or four months, or even longer, if stored properly. It’s cheap and easy to do. All you need is newspaper, a box or basket, and apples. A root cellar is optional, but not necessary.

The main causes of apple spoilage are time, bruises, and contact with a rotten spot on another apple. Only perfect apples should be used for long-term storage. Even minor imperfections speed spoilage , so scan them and set aside any with bruises for immediate use.

Prevent contact between apples stored for the winter by wrapping them individually in sheets of newspaper. The easiest way to do this is to unfold a section of newspaper all the way and tear it into quarters. Then stack the quarters.

Place an apple on top of the stack and fold the top sheet of paper up around the apple, wrapping it in paper. Give the corners a slight twist—just enough to make them stay wrapped. If you twist them too hard, the paper will tear. It’s not necessary to exclude air. Just twist hard enough so the paper does not come unwrapped before the apples are boxed. The paper prevents contact between apples, so just one rotten apple won’t spoil the whole bunch. 

Boxed apples need to be kept in a cool, dark spot where they won’t freeze. Freezing ruptures all of an apple’s cells, turning it into one large bruise overnight. Keep wrapped apples in a cardboard box. It need not be airtight, just tight enough to impede air circulation. Store the boxed apples in an unheated basement, a pantry, an enclosed porch, an unheated attic or a root cellar

Apple Equivalents:

1 large apple = 2 cups sliced or chopped = 1 1/2 cups finely chopped =1 1/4 cups grated.

1 medium apple = 1 1/3 cups sliced or chopped = 1 cup finely chopped = 3/4 cup grated.

1 small apple = 3/4 cup sliced or chopped = 3/4 cup finely chopped = 1/2 cup grated.

1 pound apples = 4 small apples or 3 medium apples or about 2 large apples

1 (9″ or 10″) pie = 2-1/2 pounds (4 to 5 large or 6 to 7 medium or 8 to 9 small apples)

Peck = 10-1/2 pounds

Bushel = 42 pounds (yields 20-24 quarts of applesauce)

Below is a chart with some of the best baking and cooking apples in North America.

Name Best Uses Flavor Characteristic, Appearance
Braeburn Sauce Tart, sweet, aromatic, tall shape, bright color
Cortland Pies, Sauces, Fruit Salad Tart, crisp, larger than McIntosh
Fuji Baking Sweet and juicy, firm, red skin
Gala Dried, Cider Mild, sweet, juicy, crisp, yellow-orange skin with red striping (resembles a peach)
Granny Smith Baking Moderately sweet, crisp flesh, green skin
Jonagold Pie, Sauce Tangy-sweet, Yellow top, red bottom
Jonathan Sauce Tart flesh, crisp, juicy, bright red on yellow skin
McIntosh Sauce Juicy, sweet, pinkish-white flesh, red skin
Newtown Pippin Pie, Sauce, Cider Sweet-tart flesh, crisp, greenish-yellow skin
Rhode Island Greening Pie Very tart, distinctively flavored, grass-green skin, tending toward yellow/orange
Rome Beauty Baking, Cider Mildly tart, crisp, greenish-white flesh, thick skin
Winesap Sauce, Pie, Cider Very juicy, sweet-sour flavor, winey, aromatic, sturdy, red skin

 

Italian Apple Desserts

Italy is a major apple producer, one of the top five worldwide. The region most Italians associate with apples is the Val di Non, in Trentino. It’s not alone, however. Apples are also grown in Emilia-Romagna, the Veneto, Piemonte, and Campagna areas. The crop begins in August and continues on through spring. As is the case elsewhere, most of the commercial production concentrates on a tiny fraction of the roughly 7,000 known strains of apples, and if you visit an Italian market, you will likely find (depending on season) Granny Smiths, Goldens, Golden Delicious, Starks, Renettes, Gravensteins, or Galas.

In modern Italian cooking, apples generally appear at the end of the meal, either in a bowl of fresh fruit or in a cake prepared for a special occasion. Golden Delicious apples are favored eating apples, while the Red Galas are a more recent addition in Italy and have become extremely popular.

When one thinks of Italian fruit desserts, it is usually a dessert made with pears, figs, or nuts. Apples are not usually associated with Italy. Apples are typically American! However, I learned in doing research for this post that apples are plentiful all year round in Italy and apples are used in a variety of dishes.  A very common dessert in Rome, and other parts of Italy, is the torta di mele, meaning a simple apple cake.

Granny Smith Apple Sorbet With Muscat Wine and Grappa

Marcella Hazan writes in her book, Marcella Cucina, about this recipe:

This is the most deliciously fresh sorbet, I know, she says. What makes it so is the felicity with which the ingredients act upon each other. The Granny Smith apples and the grappa both have bite, but the grappa isn’t all bite. It is packed with the aromatic esters of the pomace, the grape skins left over after making wine, from which it is distilled. The honey is all suavity with its characteristically musky aftertaste. The Muscat brings its own soft touch and the scent of peaches and apricots. These qualities don’t stand apart, but coalesce to produce this sorbet’s unique, zephyr-like refreshment. If you have all the choices in the world, use the low-alcohol Moscato naturale d’Asti, a shyly sweet Muscat from Piedmont. Only slightly less desirable, but far more available, is Asti Spumante, which you must beat lightly with a fork to drive away some of the bubbles.

Grappa is one of Italy’s most popular alcoholic drinks, with somewhere in the region of forty million bottles of grappa being produced every year. It’s also a very Italian drink; since 1989 the name has been protected by the EU, meaning that the drink can only be called grappa if it’s sourced and produced in Italy. The main ingredient of grappa is pomace, which consists of the grape skins, seeds and stalks that are left over from the wine making process. These are taken through a second process of distillation, which extracts the remaining flavors from the pomace before the waste is discarded. The grappa is then either bottled at once, which creates white grappa (grappa bianca), or aged in wooden casks to create the yellow or brown-hued grappa known as riserva.

Muscat is the only grape to produce wine with the same aroma as the grape itself. Sweet Muscats have a rich nose of dried fruits, raisins and oranges. Muscat grapes range from white to almost black in color. Muscat vines and wines are found throughout Italy usually producing light wines with distinct aromas. The basic wine styles made are spumante (sparkling), frizzante (half-sparkling), and sweet dessert wines, some of which are fortified. (Fortified wine is wine to which a distilled beverage (usually brandy) has been added).  This unique wine is often labeled simply as “Moscato” or if it’s grown and produced in Italy’s Northwest region of Piedmont, it’s labeled with its full name of Moscato d’Asti (named after the grape, Moscato, and the Italian town of Asti). A close relative of Piedmont’s Asti Spumante, Moscato d’Asti is generally produced in smaller quantities than Spumante.

Marcella Hazan’s Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 Granny Smith apples
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • Freshly squeezed juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 1 cup muscat wine or other sweet wine
  • 2 tablespoons grappa.

Directions:

1. Peel and core the apples and cut them into pieces about the size of a walnut.

2. Put the honey, sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a slow boil over low heat. Cook down to a syrup half its original volume.

3. Put the apples, the honey and sugar syrup, the juice from the lemon, the muscat wine and the grappa in a food processor and puree to a creamy consistency.

4. Freeze to a very firm consistency in your ice-cream maker. Serve when done or transfer to suitable containers and store in the freezer.

Yield: About 2 pints sorbet.

The following recipe is a typical method of preparing fruit for the end of an Italian meal. 

Apples Simmered in Wine

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 pounds Golden Delicious apples
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup white wine, not too dry
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • The juice of a half a lemon

Directions:

Add the lemon juice to a bowl of cool water. Peel, core, and slice the apples, slipping the pieces into the bowl of water to keep them from discoloring. When you are done, drain the apples and transfer them to a pot with the wine, sugar, and butter. Cook them over medium high heat, stirring them occasionally, until they are just tender. Don’t overcook them or they will be mushy. Transfer them to a heated serving bowl, arranging the slices so they don’t appear jumbled, pour the cooking liquid over them and serve. A scoop of frozen yogurt is a nice addition when you serve this for guests.

How Did Strudel Get To Be Italian?

People generally think that strudel is an Austrian dish, however, this sweet is originally Turkish. In fact, the precursor to the strudel is baklava, a Turkish dessert stuffed with dried fruit and spices. The Hungarians and Austrians were introduced to baklava during the invasion of Eastern Europe by the Ottoman Empire during the 16th century. From 1526 to 1699, the Turks controlled Hungary and, during these two centuries, the Hungarians adopted many different aspects of the Ottoman culture, including various Turkish recipes.

In 1699, when the Turks lost their power over Hungary to the Hapsburgs, the recipe for baklava spread throughout Austria and became known as strudel. Unlike traditional baklava, strudel was made with the apples that grew across Europe. Then, during the Congress of Vienna in 1816, Austria gained control of Venice and the surrounding region and strudel spread throughout Northeastern Italy.

Italian Apple Strudel

Make the pastry and the filling the day before you want to serve it.

Ingredients for the pastry:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

Directions for the pastry:

Place all the ingredients in the work bowl of the processor. Mix until the dough forms a ball

If the mixture is too dry, add more water, one tablespoon at a time.

Turn the dough out on a floured board and knead a few times.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature 2 to 3 hours or in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. (Remove refrigerated dough to room temperature at least 1 hour before rolling the dough.)

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 2 lb. firm apples, such as Granny Smith
  • 1/2 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (pignoli)
  • 1/4 cup raisins, golden is preferred
  • The zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 teaspoons Rum
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • Powdered sugar

Directions for filling:

Melt the 2 tablespoons butter in a pan, add the bread crumbs and brown well. Set aside until you roll out the pastry.

Peel the apples and cut them into quarters. Cut away the seeds and cores and cut the apple quarters into 1/2-inch-thick wedges.

Mix the apples with the pine nuts, raisins, grated lemon zest, sugar, cinnamon and the rum.

For best flavor, refrigerate the apple filling at least overnight. Filling will last in the refrigerator for up to a week in an airtight container.

Assemble and Bake the Strudel:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Pastry dough at room temperature.

  1. Flour the rolling surface and pin lightly as you work to prevent the dough from sticking.
  2. Roll out the dough from the center to the edges into a very thin rectangle that measures about 36 x 24 inches. The dough will relax more as you roll it. As it gets thinner, you should be able to pull and stretch it gently with your hands to coax it into the shape you want; it doesn’t have to form a perfect rectangle.
  3. Place the dough on a clean, dry kitchen towel. Arrange the dough with one of the longer sides facing you. (This will help you move the strudel to the baking sheet once it is formed.)
  4. Spread the bread crumb mixture evenly over the dough leaving a 1 1/2-inch-wide border on all sides of the rectangle.
  5. Arrange the apple mixture in a long mound along the side closest to you. The mound of apples should measure about 4 inches wide and as long as the bread crumb mixture, remembering to leave the 1 1/2-inch-wide border.
  6. Using the towel for assistance, fold the pastry closest to you over the apples. Begin rolling the strudel into a fairly tight roll, starting at one end of the apple mound, giving it a half-roll and gradually working your way down the roll. Repeat as necessary, working your way down gradually down the roll each time.
  7. You should end up with a fairly even, lumpy looking roll that is centered, seam side down, on the kitchen towel.
  8. Use the towel to transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet, bending the strudel into a crescent shape, if necessary to fit it on the pan. Brush the top of the pastry with the remaining half tablespoon of butter.
  9. Seal the ends of the strudel by folding the ends of the roll underneath and pressing them firmly with your fingers. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 375º F. Bake 30 minutes. Check the strudel: the top should be a light golden brown. If deeper in color than that, reduce the temperature to 350º F.
  10. Rotate the baking pan in the oven so the strudel cooks evenly. Continue baking until the strudel is deep golden brown and the crust is firm, about 30 minutes. Remove the strudel from the oven and cool 30 minutes. With two metal spatulas, carefully lift the strudel to a wire cooling rack and let stand until completely cooled. Dust with powdered sugar.
The Second Fold

Use a kitchen towel to help roll the strudel.

Apple-Ricotta Coffee Cake

This coffee cake is perfect for a brunch and will keep for a couple of days, so it can even be made the day before you plan to serve it.

Cake Ingredients:

  • 2 firm cooking apples; peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1 lemon                                                                                                                                                                   
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus more to dust cake pan
  • 3/4 teaspoon. baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon. salt
  • 1/2 cup Smart Balance butter blend sticks for baking; at room temperature
  • 3/4 cups granulated sugar or light sugar alternative
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1 cup skim milk ricotta cheese

Streusel Ingredients:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons Smart Balance butter blend sticks for baking; cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans 

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray and dust with flour.

Sprinkle the apple slices with lemon juice to keep them from turning brown, while you prepare the cake mix.

Streusel Directions:

Combine all the dry streusel ingredients (except butter and pecans) in a food processor.

Add butter in pieces. Pulse about 10 times then process for 5 to 10 seconds until there are no visible lumps of butter.

Cake Directions:

Mix together 1 and 3/4 cups flour, baking powder, soda and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer beat the butter for about 30 seconds, then beat in granulated sugar and vanilla.

Add eggs, one at a time or 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.

Alternately add flour mixture and ricotta cheese to batter. Mix on low speed after each addition until combined. Note: this batter will be rather thick and stiff.

Assemble and Bake:

Spread 1/2 of the batter into the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 of the filling mixture and half the pecans: then the diced apples. Spoon remaining batter over apples. It will not spread smoothly, so drop dollops of batter over the apples. Sprinkle with remaining topping and nuts.

Bake 45-50 minutes more or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool at least 1 hour on a wire rack.


Swordfish Marinara

When many of us think of swordfish, we think..well, isn’t it endangered? The answer — at least for American swordfish — is no!

It is true that swordfish stocks were low in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, but, now, North Atlantic stocks are on the rebound and environmental watchdog groups list them as a “good alternative.” 

Under an international rebuilding plan for swordfish, the United States implemented a number of management measures to reduce the amount of fishing, to protect undersized swordfish and to allow the swordfish population to grow and rebuild. Fishermen, managers and scientists worked together to develop new management measures that reduced the impact U.S. fishery had on marine animals, making it one of the most environmentally responsible industries in the world. The North Atlantic swordfish rebuilding program is one of the great success stories in fishery management.

As for Pacific swordfish, they were never in trouble — especially in the waters around Hawaii. They get an “A” rating as a sustainable seafood choice by groups like the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You should buy swordfish that has been caught off the coasts of America because the technique used for catching imported swordfish is controversial and unregulated.

The swordfish is found in oceanic regions worldwide, including the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. It is found in tropical, temperate, and sometimes in cold waters. The swordfish is a highly migratory species, generally moving to warmer waters in the winter and cooler waters in the summer. Swordfish have been prized since men first set to sea and Sicilian fishermen still put to sea on open boats, calling out in an Ancient Greek dialect, they believe capable of drawing the fish within range of their hand-thrown harpoons. Swordfish is very popular in Italy, especially in the southern regions.

Swordfish is one of the most powerful fish in the ocean. Elusive and combative, the swordfish is prized by recreational anglers. Its name comes from its long, flat, sword-like bill, which is larger than those of other billfish species. When hooked and brought near the boat, the swordfish aggressively wields its bill, forcing anglers to use extreme caution to avoid being injured.

Like other billfish, females grow larger than males. Swordfish feed near the surface at night on squid and other small fish and, during the day, they move into deeper water to feed on larger fish that they stun with their slashing bill. Swordfish generally live about nine years, although, some have lived to 15 years. Fully grown, they can exceed 14 feet in length. Sexual maturity occurs between five and six years. In the Gulf of Mexico, spawning takes place year-round, and peaks from late April to July near the Gulf’s Loop Current.

Because of their size — the average swordfish weighs about 110 pounds — they’re sold as steaks, and while this makes cleaning and boning quite easy, it also means that an unscrupulous fishmonger may be tempted to pass off other steaks, in particular dogfish, as swordfish. For this reason fishmongers usually put the head on display when they set out swordfish steaks. How to be certain it’s swordfish? The spine is true bone, not the cartilage of a dogfish, and there will be an X of darker flesh bracketing the vertebra. Swordfish is popular because of its mildly sweet flavor, moist, meaty texture and moderately high fat content. It is an excellent source of selenium, niacin and vitamin B12.

Swordfish is made for the grill. The meat is so firm it that appeals to many who do not like fish. The texture, also, helps prevent the steaks from falling apart on the grill.

A typical swordfish meal is prepared with a simple olive oil-based marinade, grilled and served simply with lemon, salt and herbs. Good swordfish needs nothing more than this.

Cook swordfish like you would a rare steak: Use high heat to sear the outside and let it stay a little rare in the middle.

Make sure to leave the skin on when you grill, but take it off to serve: The skin is rubbery, but helps to keep the fish moist.

Swordfish is also an excellent stewing fish because it won’t fall apart. Use it for a fish chowder, or as a component in Cioppino or another fish stew or slowly simmer it in tomato sauce.

Swordfish is also good in a salad such as a Nicoise or even a classic tuna salad. 

When choosing swordfish, look for the little strip of dark meat to be red, not brown. If it’s brown, the meat is old. Know that East Coast swordfish tends to be a little rosier than Pacific swordfish due to their diet. Tightly wrapped swordfish freezes well for about 3-4 months; beyond that goes downhill fast.

A few of my favorite ways to prepare swordfish are included here for you to try. The recipe for the dish pictured at the top of the post, Swordfish Marinara, is just below.

 

Swordfish Marinara

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-28 ounce container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons pine  (pignoli) nuts
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 4 (6-ounce) swordfish fillets, about 1 inch thick

Directions:

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in an oven-proof skillet. Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes until the sauce thickens. Stir in olives, crushed red pepper flakes, pine nuts, basil, oregano, wine and salt to taste.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Combine bread crumbs, parsley, remaining olive oil, salt and pepper.

Sprinkle swordfish with sea salt and pepper. Place fish in the tomato sauce and top each with 1/4 cup of the breadcrumb mixture. Place skillet in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until swordfish is cooked to your liking..

Serve with pasta or crusty Italian bread and a salad.

Swordfish Piccata                                                                                                                                                       

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour for dredging
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 1/2 fresh boneless swordfish, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
  • Lemon garnish

Directions:

Combine the flour, pepper, and salt in a shallow dish such as a pie plate. Dredge the swordfish slices in the flour mixture and shake off any excess.

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil with the butter. When hot, add the fish and cook until browned on the underside, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn fish over and cook until well browned on the other side. Transfer to a platter and keep warm.

To make the sauce:

Add the garlic to the skillet and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the lemon juice and wine to the pan and deglaze, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low and add the capers. Adjust the salt seasoning to taste. Return the swordfish to the skillet and let the fish cook for a few minutes so that it can absorb the flavors of the sauce. Sprinkle with the parsley and serve at once, garnished with lemon.

Swordfish in Orange Sauce                                                                                                                                  

Serves 4

Serve with orzo tossed with chopped fresh basil and toasted pine nuts.

Ingredients:

  • 4 (6-ounce) swordfish steaks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons raisins
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons pitted, chopped kalamata olives
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped bottled roasted red bell peppers
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped red onion

Directions:

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add olive oil. Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and black pepper. Add fish to the pan and sauté about 5 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Remove fish from pan; cover and keep warm.

Add garlic and crushed red pepper to the pan and sauté for 30 seconds. Add raisins, orange juice, olives, roasted pepper and onion to pan and cook for 1 minute. Top fish with sauce and serve.

Baked Swordfish Fillets

Serve with green beans.                                                                                                                    

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 swordfish steaks about 6 oz each, skin removed
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • 4 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped oregano
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Season the swordfish with salt and pepper. Coat a large baking dish with olive oil cooking spray. Spread the fennel in the baking dish and season with salt and pepper.

Place the swordfish on top of the fennel in a single layer. Top with the tomato and lemon slices. Mix the parsley, oregano, rosemary, and thyme together and sprinkle over the fish. Pour the wine and the oil over the fish. Cover with aluminum foil.

Bake for 15–20 minutes, or until the fish is cooked and flakes with a knife. Serve with the pan juices poured over the fish.


 

While no recorded history appears to exist on the origins of pancetta, there are shipping records from as early as the 15th. century that note the purchase of cured meats for long voyages. Most likely, cured meats were developed for just such a purpose. Two well known pancette (plural form) are the Piacentina (D.O.P.) from Emilia-Romagna and pancetta Calabrese (D.O.P.), although very good pancette are made in many other regions as well. The Calabria and Piacentina producers enjoy “Protected Designation of Origin Status” from the European Union, which consists of regulations made to protect local products from competition from unauthentic products made by foreign producers. 

Simply, pancetta is dry salted, cured pork belly. There are two basic forms of pancetta that can be found in Italy: pancetta stesa, a flat shaped meat similar to American bacon. The other is pancetta arrotolata, a rolled version. Variations of these two basic forms of pancetta can also be found regionally throughout Italy, each influenced by climate, breed of pig, seasonings and the tradition of local production. Pancetta stesa is made by curing pork belly with salt and additional spices/seasonings. Curing time is between 5-7 days, then an additional 14–21 days, so the product can be hung in a cool / humid environment to dry and develop its unique flavor. Pancetta arrotolata is produced in the same fashion as stesa. Once the pancetta has cured, additional seasonings are added before rolling the meat into a log shape. It is tied and hung up to dry. The texture is softer, more delicate and has more moisture than pancetta stesa.

Regional Favorites:

Piacentina is a regional pancetta and the pigs that are used must be from Emilia-Romagna or Lombardia and the processing can only take place in the province of Piacenza, specifically in Colli Piacentini. The curing process will last from 10-15 days with black pepper and cloves added for a unique flavor. Once cured, it is tightly rolled into a cylinder, tied and hung to dry for up to 3 months. One obscure fact about pancetta piacentina is that its manufacturing can not take place in an altitude any higher than 3,281.5 feet. Stagionata is another pancetta from the Emilia-Romagna region, located northeast of Bologna, situated near a branch of the Po River. The unique combination of salt, garlic, black pepper and rosemary intensify during the 6 month curing process. From the province of Trento (Trentino), which is part of the Alto-Adige region on the Switzerland/Austrian border, one can find smoked pancetta. The curing process takes place in a saline bath that includes garlic, white wine, cinnamon, cloves, juniper and lemon. The curing process lasts about 3 weeks before rolling the meat into a cylinder and smoking it over juniper wood.

Rolled Pancetta

Proscuitto

What is the Difference Between Pancetta and Prosciutto?

The difference between pancetta and prosciutto is similar to the difference between American bacon and ham, in that they are both preparations of different cuts of pork.  For most food lovers to understand the difference between pancetta and prosciutto, it is typically easiest to compare how each type of meat is prepared.

Pancetta is essentially Italian bacon, which comes from the belly of the pig and is cured.  Pancetta is the same cut of meat used to make American bacon and the two foods are somewhat similar. The pork belly is typically cured using a combination of salt and curing salts that often contain sodium nitrate. This curing process changes the meat so that it becomes an inhospitable environment for harmful bacteria.  After the pork belly has been cured for about a week or so, it is hung in a cool, damp room for several weeks, so that it can dry sufficiently. This gives the pancetta a signature flavor, which is somewhat similar to American bacon. Unlike bacon, however, the pancetta is not smoked after it is cured and dried, which gives it a different flavor from American bacon.

Prosciutto is Italian ham taken from the pork leg, cured and dried for a period of time, typically between several months and up to two years. Prosciutto is prepared in a similar way to the one used for pancetta, though there are noteworthy differences. The cut of pork used to make prosciutto is typically a hip and the curing process takes several weeks longer than pancetta, due to proscuitto being a thicker cut of meat. Once cured, the prosciutto is hung and allowed to dry and age like pancetta, but this process often goes for years.

This means that the major difference between pancetta and prosciutto is that each comes from different portion of  a pig and they each require different curing and drying times. While both pancetta and prosciutto are cured and aged, the process is much longer for prosciutto and that produces two pieces of meat with substantially different flavors. The pork belly used to make pancetta is also much fattier than the leg used in prosciutto, which results in different flavor and texture. Another major difference between pancetta and prosciutto is the way in which they must be handled prior to eating. Pancetta needs to be cooked before it can be safely eaten, while prosciutto is frequently eaten uncooked, it can also be an added ingredient to a cooked entree.

Pancetta is an alternative to bacon, in any recipe where the meaty flavor of bacon is desired, without the smokiness. An almost indispensable ingredient in the Italian kitchen, pancetta is used to add flavor to vegetables and pasta. Roast it with potatoes, Brussels sprouts, squash or radicchio. Add it to any pasta dish for extra flavor. Wrap it around scallops or drape it over fish before grilling. Mince it into stuffings, or fry it crisp and sprinkle over soups.

Pizza prepared with sliced rolled pancetta

Pancetta’s calories are high and, since it is made from pig meat, also high in cholesterol. ( 2 ounces of pancetta add up to 200 calories.) If you wish to use a substitute, I would suggest turkey bacon. However, there are many Italian recipes that are made with pancetta and the flavor of the dish is based on this ingredient. Again, moderation is the key. I always use the least amount I think a dish needs of an ingredient that requires moderation. Start by cutting the amount in half, as I have done in the recipes below. You can always add more if the taste requires it.

Antipasto Course

Pancetta Wrapped Asparagus with Orange Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound medium asparagus
  • 1/4 pound very thinly sliced pancetta
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

Directions:

1. Tightly wrap each asparagus spear in a slice of pancetta and refrigerate until chilled, about 20 minutes.

2. Light a grill or preheat a grill pan. In a small bowl, stir the orange zest and juice with the mustard and olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus over moderate heat, turning often, until they are just tender and the pancetta is crisp, about 5 minutes total. Transfer the asparagus to a platter and drizzle with some of the dressing. Sprinkle with the thyme and serve.

 

First Course (Primo)

Pasta With Onion and Pancetta

Yield: 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. rigatoni or any other tubular pasta
  • 4 oz pancetta, diced
  • 2 onions, sliced very thin
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
  • Black pepper and salt to taste

Directions:

In a large, deep skillet, sauté the pancetta in the olive oil, and after a minute or two, add the onion. Cook until golden. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions.  When the pasta has a minute or two left to cook, drain it, retaining 1 cup of the pasta cooking liquid. Add the drained pasta to the pancetta and onion in the skillet and mix well. Add reserved pasta water and cook for a minute. Place pasta into a serving bowl and add the cheese and a generous amount of black pepper. Salt only after you’ve tasted it, since the salt may not be necessary due to the saltiness of the pancetta.

Second Course (Secondi)

Trout Wrapped with Pancetta

Ingredients:

  • 4 thin slices of pancetta
  • Lemon juice
  • 4 small trout
  • 2 tablespoons garlic paste
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Cut half the lemon into 4 thin slices and reserve the half. Place the fish in a greased baking dish, squeeze the remaining lemon over each side of the trout and brush each with a 1/2 tablespoon of garlic paste. Season the fish with cracked black pepper. Top each fish with thyme and a lemon slice. Wrap the pancetta around the fish holding the slice of lemon and thyme in place. Bake the fish for about 20 minutes, making sure the fish is cooked through. Serve the fish with herbed Italian cannellini beans or green beans.


View of Genoa on a painting from 1482.

Genova (Italian for Genoa) is the capital of the province of Liguria located in northwest Italy. Genova or Genoa  is Italy’s principal seaport. The city makes a good base or starting point for exploring the villages on the Italian Riviera. It a popular destination for tourists due to the area’s mild climate, the charm of its old fishing ports and the beauty of its landscapes. Many villages and towns in the area are internationally known, such as Portofino, Bordighera, Lerici, and the Cinque Terre.

Genoa was founded in the 6th century B.C. by Phoenician and Etruscan sailors due to its good location and naturally formed port. It remained a very important port throughout its history. In 209 B.C. Genoa was destroyed by the Carthaginians and was rebuilt by the Romans. During the Roman Empire era, Genoa was a major shipping  port for goods made locally. After the downfall of the Roman Empire, Genoa became an independent city. In the 11th century, a short-lived alliance between Genoa and Pisa took control over Sicily and Corsica. Later, the two cities waged war against each other for the control of the two islands and Genoa defeated Pisa. After this, the merchants governing Genoa had power comparable only to the Pope and the kings of the European states. During the Crusades, Genoa’s wealth and strength continued to grow and expand and. as a result, they were able to acquire more possessions and trading privileges. In 1408, a group of merchants, who were providing much of Genoa’s defense and expansion funds, formed the Banco San Giorgio (a powerful bank.)

The expansion of Genoa caused regional wars for control of the city.  As a result, the Genovese fleet was destroyed by the Venetians and this lead to the weakening of Genoa. The wars ended in 1528 and Genoa became a ship building port and bank center. A symbol of the city, the Lanterna, was rebuilt in 1543 and the yellow light beamed to 36 nautical miles in clear weather. Though Genoa was dominated by nearby countries, like France, it kept its independence until 1797. At that time, Napoleon Bonaparte organized the Republic of Liguria and unified it to France in 1805.  Ten years later, Genoa was united with the Kingdom of Sardinia and this country played a very important role in the unification of Italy, since the king of the Kingdom of Sardinia, Victor Emanuel II, became the king of Italy.

The port of Genoa was heavily damaged during WW II and, again, by heavy storms in 1954-55.  Soon after, the port was rebuilt and modernized. Although Genoa is a chief seaport, it is also a center for commercialization and industry. Among its leading industries are chemicals, motor vehicles, textiles, locomotives, ships, petroleum, airplanes and steel. These industries have declined somewhat in recent years and the city is relying more on service-oriented businesses and tourism for revenue.

Some great places to see in Genoa are the Palace of the Doges, the medieval Church of San Donato, the Carlo Felice Opera House (dating back to the 19th century), the 16th century churches of St. Ambrose and the Annunciation, as well as, other Renaissance palaces and buildings. Walls and forts are abundant throughout the city and the narrow streets of the harbor area are intriguing. One popular attraction is the lighthouse called Lanterna, mentioned above. This lighthouse is an important “landmark” for Genoa. In 1992, Renzo Piano was credited for redesigning the Old Port. A modern aquarium and a tropical greenhouse are located there. Genoa has a university, which was founded in 1243, and a few museums. Genoa’s maritime presence is still very strong, which can be sensed throughout the entire area. “The Regatta of the Ancient Sea Republics”, involves Genoa, Pisa, Venice and Amalfi in a yearly navigational competition. The regatta rotates among the four areas and occurs every fourth year in Genoa.  

Every two years Genoa hosts the Pesto World Championship in the city’s historic Palazzo Ducale, where one hundred competitors from all over the world meet to make their pesto recipe in order to gain the title of Pesto World Champion. The participants are both professional cooks and amateurs who compete by preparing pesto sauces using only authentic ingredients and traditional recipes. The pesto sauces are then judged by tasters ranging from restaurant owners and expert cooks to food and wine journalists.

Sergio Muto is the 2012 winner of the Genoa Pesto World Championship. He’s 58 years old, born in Cosenza (Calabria, Italy) and living in Germany since 1976, where he manages a delicatessen.

Click on this Photo Gallery of Genova for more views of the city.
http://www.genova-italia.com/gallery01_en.php

The Food Of Genova

The first recipe identified in print as Genovese was for Torta alla Genovese (a sort of pie filled with apples, dates, raisins, and pulverized almonds, hazelnuts, and pine nuts) appearing in 1520, not in an Italian book, but in a Catalan-language cookbook by Robert Mestre, chef to the king of Naples. In the centuries that followed, Genoa’s culinary sophistication grew. Local cooks developed some of Europe’s most savory preparations for tripe, stockfish (which is dried cod) and stuffed vegetables. They refined such Italian specialties as minestrone, ravioli, focaccia, and, of course, basil pesto. However, with the possible exception of ravioli (whose filling can include a dozen or more ingredients, some as exotic as calf’s spinal marrow and heifer’s udder), these recipes utilize common ingredients . Genoa developed a number of more complicated local dishes, primarily because it could afford to, and because it had access, through its widespread trade, to ingredients from many parts of the world. (One example: The Genovese are the only Italians who regularly use walnuts in savory dishes—a habit they might well have imported from their Black Sea outposts.

The cuisine of Genoa is based on traditional Mediterranean cooking and very rich in ingredients and flavors. The Ligurians use very simple ingredients, which by themselves may seem insignificant, but when combined together, they accentuate and bring out each ingredient’s individual qualities to produce superb flavor and  harmony. At the base of all recipes is Ligurian olive oil, delicately flavored and perfect for preparing sauces. The most famous of these is pesto, a sauce made of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. Some other well-known sauces from this region are salsa verde, a green sauce made of parsley and pine nuts for grilled meat, and salsa di noci, a walnut sauce that goes perfectly over pasta and ravioli.

Different kinds of focaccia and torte salate (a vegetable and cheese pie) are characteristically Genovese. These dishes are eaten as main entrees, appetizers or snacks. Among the Primi Piatti (first courses), there are different kinds of pasta, for example, trenette and taglierini  flavored with Genoa’s very famous sauce, basil pesto or pansotti, a huge ravioli stuffed with vegetables and herbs topped with walnut sauce.

Fish Market in Genoa Italy

Among the various meat dishes are veal roulades filled with mushrooms, eggs, bread and aromatic herbs, lamb stew with carciofi (artichokes) and a stuffed pocket of pancetta sliced and served cold. Mushrooms are featured in the cuisine of Liguria, flavoring meat dishes and complementing fish dishes as well. Fish occupies an honored place on the menus of Genovese restaurants. Some typical second courses include: Cappon Magro, an elaborate dish made of fish and boiled vegetables and seasoned with a sauce of herbs and pine nuts. Other popular dishes are Fritto Misto (mixed deep-fried seafood), L’insalata di Pesce (seafood salad), Triglie (mullet) alle Genovese, Stoccafisso in Agrodolce, cod in sweet and sour sauce with pine nuts and raisins, Mussels alla Marinara and Stuffed Anchovies.

Among the desserts, one of the most distinctive is Pandolce, a treat found on every table at Christmastime. Genoa is famous for its pastries: Canestrelli, Amaretti, Baci di Dama (little walnut pastries), and Gobeletti, little short breads filled with quince jam.

Genova Inspired Recipes For You To Make At Home

Basil Pesto

Traditionalists would use a pestle and mortar to make this sauce. Since a food processor is available in our modern world, I prefer to save time and use it whenever I can.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (pignoli)
  • 1 and 1/4 cups tightly packed young basil leaves
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Directions:

In the work bowl of a food processor, pulse the basil, garlic, pignoli and the salt together. Gradually pour in the olive oil with the motor running; the mixture will emulsify.

Transfer the pesto to a serving bowl and stir in the Parmigiano and Pecorino with a fork.

Pesto keeps in the refrigerator up to 1 week as long as it is topped with a thin layer of olive oil; it can also be frozen for up to 1 month if the Parmigiano and Pecorino have not been added.

Make a double batch and you can use it for the following recipes.


Linguine with Basil Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 pound linguine
  • 1 recipe for basil pesto, from above
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Fresh cracked black pepper

Directions

Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add salt and linguine into the boiling water. When the pasta is almost cooked to your liking, scoop out 3/4 cups of the pasta cooking liquid and add it to a pasta serving bowl. Drain the pasta in a colander, shaking it to remove excess water. Transfer the pasta to the bowl containing the pasta cooking liquid and toss. The cooking liquid will be absorbed by the pasta. Add the prepared pesto, mix well, and taste for seasonings. It should be well seasoned and the pasta should be quite moist. Serve immediately in hot deep plates, sprinkled with the shredded Parmesan cheese and freshly grated black pepper.

Focaccia with Pesto and Tomatoes

If you would like more of a whole wheat flavor in the dough, substitute 1 cup of white whole wheat flour for 1 cup of the all-purpose flour.

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 3 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra if needed.
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • Warm water
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl and pizza pan
  • Half of the basil pesto recipe from above
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 10 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions:

Mix the flour, yeast, and the salt in a food processor. With the motor running, add 3/4 cup of warm (110°F) water, then pour in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and add enough warm water (about 1/2 cup) to make a soft dough that forms a ball. If the dough is dry, add a little more water; if it is sticky, add a little more flour.

Process 45 seconds, or until smooth and satiny; transfer to an oiled bowl and shape into a ball. Cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about 1 hour.

Transfer the dough to a generously oiled 13″ x 18″ rimmed baking sheet and push it with your fingers until it extends to the sides of the pan (you might need to wait 5 minutes for the dough to relax and stretch more easily).

Spread a very thin layer of pesto evenly over the dough, and then scatter olives, tomatoes, and onions over the pesto. Sprinkle cheese over the top of dough and, using your fingertips, press dough all over to form dimples; let sit, uncovered until puffed, about 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 400°F. Bake the focaccia on the bottom rack of the oven until the edges are golden brown and dough is cooked through, about 20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes and cut into squares and serve.

You can also place the focaccia pan on a baking stone in the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden on the top and bottom and lightly crisp. 

 

Pesto Chicken Roulade

Ingredients:

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
  • 1/2 cup basil pesto, from recipe above
  • 4 thick slices fresh mozzarella cheese
  • Olive Oil

Directions;

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking dish with cooking spray.

Spread 2 tablespoons of the pesto sauce onto each flattened chicken breast. Place one slice of cheese over the pesto. Roll up tightly, and secure with toothpicks. Place in a lightly greased baking dish. Brush the tops of the chicken rolls with olive oil.

Bake uncovered for 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until chicken is nicely browned and juices run clear.


The eggplant has been celebrated as an aphrodisiac and feared as the cause of insanity. Today it is appreciated for both its inspiring beauty and multiple uses. An essential ingredient in cuisines around the world, it is the basis of Greek moussaka, Middle Eastern baba ganoush, Italian eggplant parmigiana, and French ratatouille. In addition, the emergence of Asian cuisine has introduced a whole new range of eggplants used in stir-fries and curries. Gardens and markets are filled with eggplants in a variety of sizes from small and pea-like, to egg-shaped, to long and slender. Their offerings are a vast color palette from the traditional royal purple to shades of rose, violet, green, yellow and white, that are often enhanced with stripes in a contrasting color.

Eggplant is known around the world by a variety of common names. In its native India eggplant is known as brinjal. In Britain, France and other parts of Europe, it is called aubergine. Italians call it melanzana, while the Greeks know it as melitzana. Australians refer to it as eggfruit and in Africa the eggplant is called a garden egg. These many names reflect the rich diversity and uses of eggplant around the world.

Eggplants are generally classified by the shape of their fruit. There are five basic groups—globe, elongated or cylindrical, egg-shaped, specialty and pea eggplants. Each category offers a choice of eggplants in varying colors, sizes and days to harvest. The most common type in North America is the Western or oval eggplant that has large, deep purple, pear-shaped fruits. These types are most commonly used for stuffing, baking, sautéing and grilling. Japanese varieties are typically small fruited with a variety of shapes, and thin-skinned in deep purple or light violet colors, sometimes blended with white or green. The skin is tender so fruits don’t need to be peeled. These varieties are ideal for stir-frying, grilling, sautéing and pickling. Round, egg-shaped eggplants come in a variety of colors. Easter Egg is a fast maturing variety with highly ornamental, egg-shaped white fruits. While it is commonly sold as a novelty plant, the fruits are edible. Casper is an elongated white eggplant with 6-inch fruits on compact plants. Rosa Bianca is the classic Italian heirloom variety prized for the extremely creamy interior flesh and beautiful skin in shades of rose, lavender and white.

Eggplant is a versatile vegetable that can be prepared in a variety of ways. It is excellent grilled, stuffed, roasted, sautéed, puréed or served in soups or stews. It can also be used to make curries, stir-fries and kabobs. Eggplant is not usually eaten raw as it contains chemicals that can cause digestive upset.

Naturally low in calories, fat and sodium, eggplant is also high in fiber and an excellent source of potassium, as well as folic acid, copper, vitamin B6, vitamin A, and magnesium. If you want to keep calories and fat low, avoid cooking eggplant in oil. Instead use a broth, wine, or vegetable juice for flavoring.

The flesh discolors quickly after being cut, so it should be used right away. If needed, cut slices can be lightly sprinkled with lemon juice to help prevent browning. Also, slice eggplant with a stainless steel knife to avoid blackening. Carbon steel knives will cause discoloration, as does cooking eggplant in an aluminum pan.

Orzo-stuffed Eggplant

Ingredients:                                                                                                               

  • 4 small eggplants (approximately 7 ounces each)
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 cup orzo pasta, uncooked
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-28 container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 ounces part-skim mozzarella, diced
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 4 tablespoons bread crumbs

Directions:

Heat oven to 400°F. Wash and pat dry the eggplants, cut off their stems, and cut them in half vertically. Place them with the cut side down on a baking pan coated with nonstick cooking spray or parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove eggplants from the pan and let cool. Using a spoon, carve out and chop the pulp, leaving just a thin shell (about 1/4 inch). Place pulp in a bowl and set aside.

Cook the orzo according to package instructions, but keep it slightly undercooked (1–2 minutes less than directed). While the orzo is cooking, heat the olive oil in a medium-size skillet over moderate heat. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Add the chopped eggplant pulp and sauté for 4–5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes, dried herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat.

When the orzo is ready, drain and add to the eggplant mixture. Toss in both cheeses and mix well. Divide eggplant–cheese mixture into 8 equal portions and fill the eggplant shells. Sprinkle the top of each eggplant with a half tablespoon of the breadcrumbs. Spray the top of each with cooking spray. Place stuffed eggplant halves on a baking pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings  Serving size: 2 halves

Pasta with Eggplant Sauce                                                                                                                                                      

Because the small Italian eggplants generally used in this dish can be hard to find in this country, use Asian eggplants as a substitute.

Serves 6 as a main course

Ingredients

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 pound small eggplants, unpeeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Two 28 oz. containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 pound ridged ziti or rigatoni
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 ounces freshly grated ricotta salata cheese (about 3/4 cup)
  • Garnish: fresh basil leaves

Directions:

Peel garlic. Trim stem ends of eggplants. Halve eggplants lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices.

In a 12-inch heavy skillet heat 1 tablespoon oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Saute half the eggplant turning until golden brown on both sides. Transfer eggplant with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, arranging it in one layer. Season eggplant with salt and pepper. Add remaining oil to the skillet and cook eggplant as above. Remove to a paper towel.

In the same skillet cook garlic over low heat, stirring, until golden. Stir in tomatoes stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.

In a 6-quart kettle bring 5 quarts water to a boil for pasta. Add salt and  cook pasta until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water and drain pasta in a colander.

Transfer half the tomato sauce with half  the ricotta salata cheese to a large bowl and toss with pasta and half the eggplant, adding some reserved pasta cooking water if sauce becomes too thick. Transfer pasta to a serving bowl and top with remaining sauce and eggplant and some of the remaining cheese. Garnish pasta with basil and serve remaining cheese on the side.

Ricotta Salata is one of Italy’s most unusual sheep’s milk cheeses. The milk curds and whey, used to make this cheese, are pressed and dried even before the cheese is aged, giving this pure white cheese a dense but slightly spongy texture and a salty, milky flavor — like a dry feta. Despite its name, this is not ricotta as Americans have come to know ricotta. In Italian, ricotta simply means re-cooked.  It is a cheese-making process rather than a specific cheese. This ricotta is also a salata, or salted, cheese.

Make this entrée for a special occasion or for special vegetarian friends. There is a bit of work involved in preparing this dish that can be made in stages or prepared ahead, but it makes for a spectacular presentation.

Terrine of Roasted Eggplant      

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggplants,about 1 1/2 pounds each
  • 3/4 tablespoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 1/4 cups Italian Bread Crumbs
  • 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Tomato Sauce, see below
  • Roasted Eggplant Sauce, see below

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

1. Cut the stem ends off all the eggplants. Cut 3 eggplants in half lengthwise and score the flesh with a sharp knife, making sure you don’t cut through the skin. Rub the cut surface of the eggplants well with 1/2 tablespoon of the salt. Set the eggplant halves aside on paper towels, cut-side-down, and let them drain for 20 minutes.

2. Cut the fourth eggplant (peel or don’t peel according to taste) in half lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices, also lengthwise. Sprinkle with the remaining salt. Lay the slices on top of one another in a colander. Place a dish on top and weigh it down with about 1 1/2 pounds (a can of tomatoes will do). Drain for 20 minutes.

3. Line the bottoms of two (18 x 13-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Dry the cut surfaces of the eggplant halves and brush the parchment and eggplant with 3 tablespoons of the oil. Place them on the baking sheets, cut-side-down and bake in the preheated oven 45-55 minutes. The eggplants are completely cooked when they dent easily as you poke the skin. Do not cook them more than 1 hour as they burn easily, once they are tender. Remove them from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.

4. Dry the eggplant slices with a paper towel. Line another sheet pan with parchment paper. Brush the paper and the eggplant with the remaining olive oil and cook for 25-35 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside.

5. Using a large spoon, scoop the cooked flesh out of the roasted eggplant halves. Discard the skin and place the flesh in a colander with a bowl underneath to catch the juices. Drain for 40 minutes, stirring once. Save 1 cup of the juices that have drained from the eggplant to use in the sauce. Discard the rest or save it for other uses.

Assemble the Terrine

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

1. Separate the 4 eggs. Mix the yolks, Pecorino Romano cheese and 1 cup of the bread crumbs with the roasted eggplant flesh. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then fold them gently into the eggplant mixture.

2. Spray a loaf pan (8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2-inches) with olive oil cooking spray and coat with the remaining bread crumbs.

3. Line the bottom of the loaf pan with the largest slices of eggplant; place the remaining slices around the edges, standing up and overlapping slightly. They should extend above the rim by about 1/3 of their length so that you can fold them over the roasted filling.

4. Put half the eggplant mixture into the pan as the first layer and top it with the mozzarella cheese as the middle layer. Cover with the remaining eggplant mixture and fold over the overlapping eggplant slices. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes.

This dish can be served right away by inverting it on a serving tray and cutting it at the table, but I strongly recommend that you let it rest at least overnight in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, invert into onto a cutting board, cut into serving slices and reheat in a preheated 350 degrees F. oven on a parchment lined sheet pan for 25 minutes. It can be prepared up to 4 days in advance.

Tomato Sauce

Yields 7 ½ cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped onion
  • 3 (28 ounce) containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  • 8 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dry oregano

Directions:

Pour the olive oil in a stock pot ( at least 3 quart) , add the olive oil garlic, onion, red pepper flakes,and garlic, cook over medium heat for 15 minutes stirring often until the onions are starting to brown. Add the chopped tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar ,salt, pepper, basil, and oregano cook stirring well for 5 more minutes. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-35 minutes stirring occasionally. Use the sauce right away or store in the refrigerator up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

Before you refrigerate or freeze it, let the sauce come to room temperature.

Roasted Eggplant Sauce    

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Tomato Sauce, recipe above
  • 1 cup reserved roasted eggplant juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons finely diced celery

 Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a nonstick saucepan set on over high heat until sizzling. Add the celery and saute until brown. Add the tomato sauce, the reserved eggplant juices, the sugar and basil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes, stirring twice.

Liquefy the sauce in a food processor. Strain through a wire mesh strainer and return to the saucepan. Heat through before serving. Pour a pool of the hot sauce on each dinner plate and place a slice of the eggplant terrine on top.

The sauce can be made up to 4 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.

 


Somehow one never tires of pasta. So many possibilities!  There are as many pasta dishes as there are cooks. Spicy, subtle, herb-laced, or creamy sauced pastas that, also, vary from city to city, region to region and country to country. The pasta shapes also change: from long pastas, stout pastas, tubular pastas, pastas with pronounced ridges, others with nooks and crannies to fresh lasagna, homemade cannelloni, and ravioli.

When buying either fresh or dried pasta, look for a well made brand that uses the best ingredients, such as, semolina flour for dried pasta. The pasta should have a rough surface and not be too smooth, as smooth pasta will not hold onto the sauce. The noodles should be compact and heavy for their size in order to stay together when cooking. Remember to stay away from very inexpensive pasta, you will just be disappointed come dinnertime. The extra pennies for good pasta are worth it.

For fresh pasta look for the expiration date on the package and take a good look at the pasta. If the pasta feels heavy in the package and has good color and texture it is worth buying. Many Italian bakeries and and some higher end supermarkets also make fresh pasta. However, most importantly, remember not to overcook your pasta, the worlds greatest sauce or pasta cannot save mushy pasta.

Some Tips

Do Not Rinse:  One of the cardinal rules of pasta cooking is to never rinse cooked pasta once you’ve drained it. Why? Because rinsing pasta would strip it of some of its starchy outer coat, which in turn, would lessen its ability to cling to sauce. The starch on the pasta is essential for the proper binding of sauce to pasta. If your recipe says to rinse pasta after draining, skip this step.

To cool drained pasta for use in cold dishes, toss it with a touch of olive oil and spread it out on a large tray until it reaches room temperature–about 15 minutes.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when cooking pasta:

Start with a big pot.

Bring 1 quart of water to a boil for every 3 oz. of pasta you intend to cook. The water should be at a full boil when you add the pasta.

Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water when the water comes to a boil (if you add it earlier, the water will take longer to boil).

Don’t add oil! The pasta won’t stick together unless you don’t stir it often enough as it cooks. (Adding oil to the water will create a slippery surface on the pasta and the sauce will not adhere very well)

Add the pasta all at once, stir with a long-handled spoon and keep stirring until it becomes supple and is entirely submerged in the water.

Keep the water boiling the whole time as the pasta cooks. (If the pasta water is not boiling, the outside of the pasta will be overcooked by the time the inside is al dente.)

To prevent sticking stir the pasta every minute or so.

As it gets close to the amount of time the package says the pasta should cook, check the the pasta by tasting a small piece and drain it when it’s al dente.  It should offer a little bite when tasted-there should still be a thin white dot at the center.

Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before you drain the pasta. Use as much of this reserved water as needed to thin out your sauce (this allows you to cut down on olive oil or butter). Also, because the pasta cooking water is rich in starch, it helps the sauce bind to the pasta and the heat in the reserved pasta cooking water will help your pasta stay hot longer.

Add a little sauce to the pasta cooking pot over very low heat. Return the drained pasta to the pot and while stirring add more sauce and some of the pasta cooking water. Cook for about a minute. Serve in warm pasta bowls with cheese or herbs for garnish.

Some Of My Family’s Favorite Pastas

Well, the number one, hands down, overall favorite is Linguine with Basil Pesto. However this recipe won’t be included here. For that recipe come back to this blog on Wednesday for the next installment on the Cuisine of Italy.

Orecchiette With Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

6 servings

Ingredients:Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 pound lean Italian sausage, a combination of hot and sweet according to your taste, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound orecchiette
  • 1 bunch broccoli rabe
  • 1 cup pasta water
  • Freshly-grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Wash broccoli rabe in several changes of cold water. Cut off the bottom tips on the stalks and cut each stalk into one inch lengths.

Heat oil and stir in garlic in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the sausages and saute until meat is brown. 

Boil a large pot of water, add salt and pasta. Add the broccoli rabe during the last two minutes of the pasta cooking time. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water.

Add the pasta water  to the cooked sausage and raise heat and cook until sauce is hot.

Drain orecchiette. Return the drained pasta to the sausage sauce in the skillet.

Using a wooden spoon, toss together for 1 minute. Remove from heat and pour into a large serving bowl. Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese.

Linguine with Clams

 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, 2 smashed and peeled, and 2 thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3 dozen littleneck clams
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal or flour
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1 pound linguine pasta
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

 Directions:

1 hour in advance of cooking, combine the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Cover and let stand at room temperature. Rinse the clams and place them in a large bowl with cold water and the cornmeal or flour. The live clams open to ingest the cornmeal, thereby releasing any remaining sand. Let soak 10 minutes. Scrub each clam clean under cold running water to remove remaining softened dirt from the shells and return to soak in fresh cold water. If necessary, repeat the scrubbing process a couple of times until the clams are completely clean and the soaking water is free of sand. Drain and chill until ready to cook.

In a deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid, bring the wine to a boil. Add the cleaned clams, cover immediately, and steam until the clams are open, 3 to 5 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open. Using tongs, remove the shellfish from the pan to a bowl. Reserve the cooking liquid in the pan.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and the linguine, and cook until tender but still firm. Set the timer for 2 minutes less than the package instructions specify. Drain the pasta and return the empty pasta pot to the stove. Add the seasoned oil and shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the clam cooking liquid. Add the drained pasta to the pan and heat for a minute. Toss well and pour into a large pasta serving bowl, add clams and sprinkle the parsley over the top.

Rigatoni with Marinara Sauce and Ricotta

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 (28-oz) container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red-pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 fresh basil leaves, torn into bits
  • 1 lb rigatoni pasta
  • 1 cup skim milk ricotta cheese, warmed in the microwave
  • Grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions:

Cook garlic and red-pepper flakes in the olive oil in a 4-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring for a minute. Add tomatoes and salt and simmer, uncovered, until sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in basil.

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of well salted boiling water, uncovered, until al dente, then drain in a colander.

Return pasta to the pot and add marinara sauce. Cook for a minute. Pour pasta into a large serving bowl, dollop with tablespoons of the warmed ricotta with and serve with the grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Note: Sauce can be made ahead.  Cool completely, cover and refrigerate up to 5 days or freeze in an airtight container for 2 months.

Chicken_Cacciatore

Chicken Cacciatore

The chicken can be cooked the day before or early in the day of serving. Reheat while the pasta cooks.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (3-1/2-lb.) chicken, cut into eighths or use all chicken thighs
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
  • 1-1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 1/2 lb.mushrooms, halved and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (2 cups)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cups)
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups dry red wine
  • 1 (28-oz.) container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1 lb. spaghetti

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or plate. Season with 2 teaspoons of the salt and 1 teaspoon of the pepper. Place the flour in a shallow dish. Dip the chicken in the flour, making sure to coat it on all sides, then return it to the baking sheet.

Place a large (12- to 14-inch), straight-sided sauté pan (one that can hold all the chicken pieces in one layer) or a Dutch oven over high heat and add the olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the chicken, skin side down in a single layer and sauté over high heat without moving it for about 4 minutes, or until browned on the first side. (If the pieces stick, that means they haven’t browned long enough. Let them cook a bit longer.) Turn the chicken over and repeat, lowering the heat to medium-low. Transfer the browned chicken to a clean baking sheet, trying to leave as much oil as possible in the pan.

Let the pan heat up for a minute over high heat. Add the vegetables and season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, reduce the heat to medium and sauté until the vegetables are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the wine and the tomatoes and heat until simmering.  Add the chicken to the pan and cover the pan tightly with foil or a lid.  Place in the oven and cook or about 40 minutes, or until the chicken is very tender.

Cook the spaghetti according to package instructions. Serve the chicken over the cooked pasta.

Fusilli Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Spinach

Picture of Fusilli with Spinach and Asiago Cheese Recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 pint container of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion or 2 shallots, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 pound whole wheat fusilli pasta
  • 1 (9-ounce) bag fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange tomatoes on a large parchment-lined sheet tray, cut-sides up. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Scatter 2 tablespoons Parmesan and 2 tablespoons basil evenly over top. Roast until bubbling, about 20 minutes; set aside.

In a skillet heat remaining olive oil and saute garlic, red pepper flakes and onion for 4 minutes. Add spinach and cook on low just until wilted. Remove from heat and stir in roasted tomatoes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and fusilli and cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

Add spinach tomato mixture, lemon juice, remaining 6 tablespoons Parmesan and remaining basil. Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Few foods have enjoyed the widespread fame of balsamic vinegar, not only as a condiment, but as a form of medicine, since the turn of the second millennium. This luxurious liquid has been produced in and around the city of Modena in Emilia-Romagna since the year 1000, and myths and legends have long attested to its medicinal properties. In 1046, a Benedictine monk pronounced balsamic vinegar beneficial; Lucrezia Borgia sipped it to fight childbirth pains; Francesco IV, Duke of Modena, used it to soothe his ulcer; and composer Gioacchino Rossini drank it to calm his nerves.

Tradizionale and Condimento balsamics are made in Modena and Reggio-Emilia using artisan methods established in the Renaissance and dating back to the Middle Ages.  Balsamic vinegar is one of Emilia Romagna’s oldest and proudest products. To make this vinegar, the must  (grape juice before fermentation) of Trebbiano and other grapes grown in the Emilian countryside is slowly cooked over an open fire and reduced to as little as one-third of its original volume (the exact amount of reduction depends on the vintage, the sugar content of the grapes, and the producer’s preference). The cooked must is filtered and poured into oak barrels, where it matures over the winter. In the spring, the aging process begins, and lasts a minimum of 12 years: the vinegar is poured into smaller casks made of different kinds of wood (oak, chestnut, cherry, ash, and mulberry), each of which imparts a particular aroma and color to the final product.

The barrels, held in an attic environment where the sun’s rays are allowed to filter in and play their part in the vinegar’s evolution, are topped with vinegar from the next larger barrel so that they are always two-thirds full. It takes 770 pounds of grapes to produce 15 quarts of vinegar, which explains the high cost of genuine balsamic vinegar.

The longer the balsamic vinegar ages, the more complex, and expensive, it becomes: 2 months of aging in wooden barrels is the minimum required by the Consorzio Aceto Balsamico di Modena (known as CABM), but a special version is aged 3 years or longer to yield a rich, deep vinegar with a fuller body and a sweeter, mellower flavor with hints of wood. Even better than Aceto Balsamico di Modena is Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, which is aged a minimum of 12 years and up to 25 years or longer… even 100 years is not unheard of! One word–Tradizionale–makes all the difference, and means that the vinegar was aged longer than other balsamic vinegars.

Authentic balsamic vinegar, not the typical commercial product, is more of a glaze than a vinegar; rich, thick, sweet, and aromatic, its acidity is perfectly balanced by its sweetness. To ensure that consumers are able to differentiate between authentic balsamic vinegar from Modena and lesser imitation vinegars, the Consorzio Aceto Balsamico di Modena has created a special seal that can only be placed around bottles that pass their stringent tests. If a bottle of vinegar is wearing the CAMB seal, the vinegar is guaranteed to have been made from indigenous grape varietals and produced and bottled in its area of origin, in or around Modena.

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is markedly different from other wine vinegars, whose pronounced acidity and pungent taste can oftentimes be jolting. Its deeper, mellower flavor makes it an ideal choice for much more than just dressing salads. Try a drop of it in pan sauces for meat or fish, where it lends a pleasant yet subdued note of acidity. Rather delicate, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena is best suited to subtle preparations: sprinkled over steamed vegetables or a platter of thinly sliced Prosciutto di Parma, drizzled on fresh field strawberries and vanilla-bean gelato, or whisked into warm zabaglione.

Which Balsamic Vinegar Should I Buy?

Choosing a good imported balsamic vinegar is like buying a fine wine: You need to sample several until you find one you love. Although all varieties have a 6 percent acidity level, they vary in flavor depending on the proportion of cooked-down crushed grape to wine vinegar, the type and size of wooden casks they were aged in, and the length of time they were aged. Better varieties are aged for at least three years in wooden barrels, which produces an intense, woody flavor.

In an effort to boost sales, some companies may make false aging claims on their labels; others don’t follow production specifications governed by Italian law (the United States doesn’t oversee label claims on imported balsamic vinegar). But there is one way to know you’re purchasing a quality product: Look for a seal from the Consortium for the Protection of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (CABM). A burgundy-colored seal (you’ll find it on the neck-band of the bottle) guarantees product authenticity and indicates an aging period of less than three years, making these vinegars a good choice for salad dressings and pan sauces. The gold and white “Invecchiato” (aged) CABM seal guarantees that the product has been aged more than three years in a wooden cask, creating a more delicate (and more expensive) vinegar suitable for drizzling over vegetables, fruit, and prosciutto.

True aceto balsamic vinegar comes in 3.4 ounce bottles and sells from $50.00 to $500.00 per bottle. It must be aged a minimum of 10 years. The better balsamic vinegars are aged 25 to 50 years (these are not to be poured, but used by the drop). Dark in color and syrup in consistency, they have a flavor that is a balance of sweet and sour. Tradizionale has a mellow acidity and a sharp aroma.

Balsamic Vinegar, due to its acidity level, has a very long shelf life. Unopened, Balsamic vinegar can be stored indefinitely. Once opened, you want to store it in a cool dark place. After several years, the opened bottle may start to mellow in taste, but it will not go “bad.”

Recipes to use your balsamic vinegar:

Arugula with Steak, Lemon and Parmesan Cheese

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • Dash kosher salt
  • Dash freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef tri-tip steak or sirloin steak
  • 1 bunch (about 5 1/2 cups) arugula
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shaved

Directions:

To make the dressing, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Grill the beef to medium rare, let cool 10 minutes. Slice thin.

Toss the arugula with the dressing and add beef and shaved Parmesan.

vinegar6

Chicken with Balsamic Tomato Sauce

Balsamic vinegar and tomatoes make a delicious sauce to serve over chicken breast and pasta.

4 servings

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 lb)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1 sliced onion
  • One  14.5 oz can Italian diced tomatoes with, undrained
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Basil leaves for garnish

Directions

Heat oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with garlic salt and pepper; cook chicken 5 to 7 minutes or until browned, turning once. Remove from the skillet; set aside. Add onion to the skillet; cook 1 to 2 minutes over medium heat or until crisp-tender.

Add tomatoes, Italian seasoning and vinegar to the skillet; bring to a simmer. Return chicken to the skillet; cook 10 to 12 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink (165°F).

Serve chicken with the sauce and pasta, if desired. Garnish with basil.

Root Vegetables Roasted with Honey and Balsamic Vinegar

Servings: 12

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon whole fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon whole dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 2 parsnips
  • 2 large carrots
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 2 cups additional vegetables, such as shallots, sweet potatoes or yams, red onions, turnips
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the fennel seed and toast, shaking constantly, until the seeds are fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour onto a plate to cool. Stir in the remaining spices.

Peel the vegetables and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks. In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with 1 tablespoon of the spice mixture and oil.

Spread the seasoned vegetables on a baking sheet in a single layer — do not crowd them together or they won’t roast properly.

Roast for 45 minutes, or until the vegetables are brown and soft. Loosen the vegetables from the pan with a thin spatula and drizzle with the vinegar and honey.

 

 

Fruit with Balsamic Vinegar Syrup

Balsamic vinegar with its sweet-yet-tart flavor is a wonderful complement to grilled fruit.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 1 small pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into wedges
  • 2 large mangoes, cored and cut in half
  • 2 large peaches, cored and cut in half
  • Nonstick, butter-flavored cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Mint or basil leaves, for garnish

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine the pineapple, mangoes and peaches. Spray generously with cooking spray. Toss and spray again to ensure the fruit is well-coated. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Toss to coat evenly. Set aside.

Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill or heat a gas grill or broiler. Away from the heat source, lightly coat the grill rack or broiler pan with cooking spray. Position the cooking rack 4 to 6 inches from the heat source.

Place the fruit on the grill racks or broiler pan. Grill or broil over medium heat until the sugar caramelizes, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Remove the fruit from the grill and arrange on a serving plate. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and garnish with mint or basil. 


HOW LONG HAS PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE BEEN AROUND?

When it is said that Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese has been “a great cheese for at least nine centuries”, it is not only highlighting its ancient origin but also pointing out that this cheese is still identical to how it was made eight centuries ago, having the same appearance, the same extraordinary taste, made in the same way, in the same places, and with the same expertise.

The cheese was prized during the Roman Empire and Roman authors, Columella, Varrone and Marziale, wrote about the production and fame of a cheese from Parma with characteristics similar to the Parmigiano-Reggiano we know today. In the mid-14th century, Giovanni Boccaccio mentions Parmigiano in his description of the Paese di Bengodi, or the mythical land of plenty. He suggests tossing the cheese with macaroni and ravioli, guaranteeing the cheese’s fame for centuries to come.

Like so many of the authentic treasures of Italian cuisine, the history of this cheese goes back almost a thousand years, beginning with the laborious drainage of the vast marshy and woody areas of the central Po River valley, which had not been cultivated for centuries. This massive undertaking was implemented by the local rural populations of Lombardy and Emilia, with the help and supervision of the Cistercian and Benedictine monks. The impressive feat was accomplished in a few decades, and soon the fields became fertile. As hay and grass became available in larger quantities, cattle farming improved and spread throughout the region. Soon, there was an overabundance of milk, and the need to find ways to avoid wasting it. Cheese might seem obvious today, but that great food was yet to be invented. It required a sort of miraculous coalescing of different factors for the first cheese to originate.

Otri

Milk in ancient times was often transported in leather pouches called otri, made from the stomachs of goats and cows, which were hung from the saddles of horses and donkeys. The inner lining of these bags naturally contained residual rennet (an important enzyme in making cheese), which combined with the movement and the heat of the animals is believed to have provided the conditions that led to the discovery of cheese. It wasn’t long, before people wanted to find a way to make a harder cheese—one that could keep for longer periods without perishing.

The first cow cheese that was aged for many months was called caseus vetus, literally “old cheese.” The ultimate recipe for this was most likely the result of a great deal of labor, trial and error, and the cumulative experience and creativity of many. Eventually, the “perfect” recipe evolved. Major improvements came with the mastering of various techniques in heating, brining and drying, as well as the expert usage of whey and calf rennet in the cheese production. Except for the addition of some simple mechanization and the refinement of various instruments, in the more than 800 years since its invention little has changed in the way this cheese is made.

WHAT IS THE CONSORTIUM OF PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO?

The Consortium of Parmigiano-Reggiano, was founded in 1934, and is comprised of Parmigiano cheese producers from the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Mantova and Bologna. The quality of their cheese is based on a balance of many factors, including the quality of the pastures and of the milk, the artisanal production methods that have remained unchanged for seven centuries, the natural aging process, the complete absence of preservatives, additives or coloring agents, and strict control by the Consortium.

The Consortium defends and protects the production of Parmigiano-Reggiano. They also oversee where it is being produced. They work to educate consumers about where and how Parmigiano is traditionally made. The Consortium is a non-profit organization and, according to a decree made on June 17, 1957, is responsible for building the brand and monitoring the standards of production.  Parmigiano-Reggiano has been recognized by the European Union as a DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin) product.

HOW IS PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE MADE?

If you have ever seen a whole wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano—an impressive 18 inches in diameter, about 8 inches high and weighing about 85 pounds—it’s hard to imagine how such an unwieldy creation could have been made. It all starts with the morning’s fresh raw cow’s milk combined with skimmed milk from the previous evening poured into huge copper cauldrons.

Each copper cauldron contains 290 gallons of milk, which yields two large wheels of cheese. The milk mixture is slightly warmed and then a “starter” whey, derived from the previous day’s cheese production—is added to the cauldrons. The starter is an essential aspect of the art of the master cheese maker, because the quantity used must be sensitively adjusted according to the acidity of the milk and other factors.

Next, calf rennet, which contains a coagulant enzyme, is added to the milk mixture. After about ten minutes, when the curds start to form at the bottom of the vat, the cheesemaker begins to break them up with a long instrument called an aspino, a thick wooden stick with a sort of huge kitchen whisk at the end. Then the temperature of the mixture is raised to 130 degrees—a very delicate moment because the mixing and breaking of the curds requires the expert skill and physical strength of a master cheese maker.

The Master Casaro Cutting the Parmigiano Reggiano Curd

After this step, the cheese is left to rest in the vats—for about one hour—until it is sufficiently compacted and has attained the required consistency. Then, the heavy mass of cheese is pulled out with a large muslin cloth and cut into two parts, which are each placed in circular molds, wrapped in muslin with a numbered label. A few hours later, each cheese wheel is branded with distinctive marks around the circumference of each whee ( the famous dotted name), as well as, the month and year of production, are embossed and each will have their own distinctive branding.

Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano Exterior

There are three main varieties of grana cheese—Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano and Grana Trentino. Grana means “grainy” and refers to the flaky and granular texture of all these cheesesThe aging process varies for the three types of grana according to each cheese’s method, but for Parmigiano-Reggiano, the regulations are the most demanding.

After a few days, the wheels are immersed for about four weeks in large baths of salt and water, in which they are repeatedly turned. Then, they are laid to rest on wooden shelves in huge rooms with a constant humidity of 85 to 90% and carefully controlled temperatures. They are periodically inspected and turned, and the natural outer rind brushed manually or mechanically. After 12 months, each wheel is inspected with special tools—such as a tiny hammer for testing the sound of each wheel to reveal any faults in consistency, and a long needle to check its aroma. If a wheel doesn’t meet the DPO standards, part of the rind will be scraped in a particular way that signals to vendors and consumers that it must be sold as a mezzano, which is a good second-tier Parmigiano. Only the top-quality cheeses that pass the tests will be fire branded with the consortium logo and left to age 18 months; these are called “extra” or “export” and will carry a red seal. Parmigiano-Reggiano that carries a silver seal has matured for 24 months; the gold seal is reserved for the very best, called stravecchio, which is aged 30 months or more.

HOW TO USE PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO CHEESE.

The use of this cheese in the kitchen and on the table is vast. In Italy, Parmigiano is mainly grated over pasta, soups and risotto. When to use Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano is obvious to most Italians because the choice is based on long-standing recipes and traditions—but for the rest of us, a good rule of thumb, is use Parmigiano for more delicate flavors. Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano and Grana Trentino are important ingredients in countless recipes—from filled pastas and crepes to gnocchi or meatloaf.  Balsamic vinegar is the perfect complement for a grana cheese, as a simple dipping glaze or in salads. As a dessert, it can be enjoyed with various fruits, particularly with pears. Parmigiano is also eaten just as it is, at the end of a meal or during the day as a snack.

HOW TO STORE IT

When Parmigiano Reggiano is vacuum-sealed it can be stored for long periods of time in a 32-40°F refrigerator. If you purchase a slice of Parmigiano-Reggiano or if you open the vacuum-sealed package, the cheese should be stored in the refrigerator in special glass or plastic containers. The cheese can also be wrapped in plastic wrap, placed in a sealable plastic bag and put in a cheese drawer or a fitting compartment of the refrigerator. The cheese is best consumed at room temperature. Do not store cheese in the freezer.

Remove and discard the plastic wrap when you want to use the cheese again. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, you can cut off any mold on the cheese and continue to use Parmigiano Reggiano. Cover the Parmigiano Reggiano wedge with new plastic wrap each time cheese is used. Place the rind, the light brown waxy top portion of wedge, into a plastic storage bag and keep in the freezer once the rest of the Parmigiano Reggiano wedge is gone. Use the leftover rind to add flavor to soups by letting it cook with other ingredients and removing it before serving.

References:

http://www.parmigianoreggiano.com/

http://www.parmigiano-reggiano.it/

http://www.parmesan.com/history/

Antipasto

Prosciutto & Parmigiano Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 24 large white button mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 8 thin slices Applegate Farms Prosciutto or other nitrate free proscuitto, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • 3/4 cup finely grated imported Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 large egg, beaten or 1/4 cup egg substiute
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove stems from mushrooms. Discard tips of stems, then chop remaining stems.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped mushroom stems, garlic and onion. Stirring often, sauté until the mushroom stems are tender, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add prosciutto, bread crumbs, parsley, 1/2 cup Parmigiano, egg, salt and pepper to the cooked mushrooms. Mix well to combine.

Divide filling among mushroom caps, heaping slightly. Arrange mushrooms in one layer on baking sheet. Sprinkle stuffed mushrooms with remaining cheese and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Bake until tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Makes 2 dozen

First Course (Primo)

Risotto with Parmigiano-Reggiano

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cups Arborio Rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 8 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving

Directions:

Place chicken broth in a saucepan and heat to a simmer.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and cook until translucent and softened, about 8 minutes. Make sure not to brown the onions. Add the rice and stir to coat each grain. Cook until they are opaque, about 4 minutes.

Add the white wine and cook for 3 minutes, or until the liquid has absorbed. Add 1/2 cup of simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed. Continue cooking the rice by adding the broth one ladle at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition of broth to be absorbed before adding the next.

Continue this process until the rice is tender and creamy, yet still firm to the bite (al dente), about 22 minutes total.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the grated Parmigiano and the butter. This last touch of butter gives extra shine and creaminess to the dish.

Ladle into flat soup bowls. Serve with additional Parmigiano.

Serves 4

Second Course (Secondi)

Parmesan Chicken

Serve with a salad of fresh spinach.

Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken breasts, about 6 oz. each trimmed & pounded evenly 
  • 3 egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.

Place the chicken breasts between pieces of plastic wrap and pound to about 1/2-inch thickness. Do not pound too thin, just even out the thickness.

In a shallow bowl, coat chicken with egg whites. In another shallow dish, press chicken breasts into Parmesan cheese. Arrange chicken on a greased baking sheet.

Bake until crisp and golden, about 20 minutes.

Serves 4

 



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