Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: November 2012

Ancona is Italy’s largest ferry port on the mid-Adriatic

The Marche region (also known as the Marches in English) forms the eastern seaboard of central Italy with the regions of Emilia-Romagna to the north and Abruzzo to the south. From the narrow coastal plains the land rises sharply to the peaks of the Appennines, which form a natural boundary with Umbria and Tuscany to the west. While the coastal areas are heavily populated, the beautiful inland countryside is sparsely inhabited . The inland mountainous zones are mostly limestone and are noted for bare peaks, rushing torrents, dramatic gorges and many caves. In contrast, the areas nearer the coastal plain are known for their fertile rounded hills topped by ancient fortified towns. The highest point is Monte Vettore in the Sibillini mountains. The coast itself boasts long sandy areas and, apart from the limestone Conero peninsula, the land is virtually all flat. Economically, the region is mostly reliant on medium and small scale industries, often family run. Shoes, clothing and furniture manufacturing are some of the most successful businesses. The relatively poor soil and the general movement away from the land has meant that agriculture now plays a minor role, apart from the production of Verdicchio, the Marche’s famous white wine. By the coast, fishing remains an important activity.

Ancona is on the top of a cliff and has a city center rich in history, monuments and well preserved semi-urban parks. The historical districts overlook the port arch, as if they were surrounding a stage. From its port every year, about one million travelers sail to Greece and Croatia. The weather in Ancona is typically mild throughout the year, with summer temperatures in the high seventies and winters that rarely dip below thirty-five. The city of Ancona stands on an elbow shaped promontory, protecting the widest natural port of the middle Adriatic Sea. The name of the town means its geographical position: Αγκων, in Greek means “elbow”, and this is what the Greek people called it when they settled in the area in 387 B.C.

In Roman times it kept its own coinage and continued the use of the Greek language. When it became a Roman colony is not exactly known but Ancona was occupied as a naval station during the Illyrian War. Julius Caesar took possession of it immediately after crossing the Rubicon and the harbor was considered an important defensive location for the Romans. After the fall of the Roman empire, Ancona was attacked by the Goths, Lombards and Saracens. In 1532 it lost its freedom and came under the control of Pope Clement VII. After the French took over in 1797, Ancona’s harbor frequently appears in history as an important fortress.

The Italian Jewish Community

The Jewish community of Ancona dates back to around 1300. In 1427 the Franciscan friars tried to force the Jews of Ancona to wear a badge and live on a single street, but apparently this attempt was unsuccessful. After the expulsion of the Jews from the Spanish dominions in 1492, refugees began to arrive in Ancona, to be joined later by others from the Kingdom of Naples.

As Ancona was about to be declared a free port, Pope Paul III invited merchants from the Levant to settle in Ancona regardless of their religion. (The Levant includes most of modern Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Cyprus, Turkey’s Hatay Province and some regions of Iraq or the Sinai Peninsula.) Promising protection against the Inquisition, he encouraged the settlement of Jews. Many Jewish merchants took advantage of the harbor facilities and settled in town to trade with the Levant. The size of the community and its widespread connections attracted many noted rabbis and scholars throughout the centuries, including Judah Messer Leon (15th century), Amatus Lusitanus, Moses Basola (16th century), Mahalalel Hallelyja of Civitanova, Hezekiah Manoach Provenzal, Joseph Fermi (17th century), Samson Morpurgo, Joseph Fiammetta (18th century), Jacob Shabbetai Sinigaglia, Isaiah Raphael Azulai, David Abraham Vivanti, Isaac Raphael Tedeschi (19th century), and H. Rosenberg who published several monographs on local history.

During World War II, the Germans and the Italian Fascists demanded tributes to allow the Jews to live there. After the war, 400 Jews were left in town, and by 1969 the number dropped to 300. There are two synagogues, a Mikveh and two Jewish cemeteries: Monte Cardeto, the old one, and Tavernelle, the new cemetery.

In his book, La Cucina Veneziana, Giuseppe Maffioli writes that Jewish cooking had a great impact on the local cuisine and, despite their forbidden foods, the Jews had a more varied diet than the Christians. He cites that among the Jewish dishes adopted in Italy there were many vegetables ‘alla giudia’, meaning Jewish style, salt cod dishes, almond pastries, and puff pastry.

Precipizi, an Italian Jewish Hanukkah treat

Precipizi, an Italian Jewish Hanukkah treat

Today, most Italian Jews live in the large cities of Rome, Milan, and Turin. Many of the old historic communities that were once scattered throughout Italy have disappeared or have lost their identity, but the old Jewish recipes remain as a testimony to their existence. Looking at the alphabetical index of recipes in a book entitled, La Cucina Nella Tradizione Ebraica, a collection of recipes from members of the Jewish women’s ADEI WIZO organization: there are arancini canditi di Padova, baccald e spinaci all’uso fiorentino, biscotti di Ancona, biscotti senza burro; brassadel di Purim; buricchi di pasta frolla, budino di zucca gialla Veneto; cacciucco alla livornese and cuscusszi livornese; cefali in umido di Modena. Such recipes are a witness to once famous and thriving Jewish communities in Italy.

Carciofa alla Romana at Ba"Ghetto

Artichoke Hearts, Jewish style

What was it that made a dish Jewish?

Adaptations of local produce and recipes to comply with religious dietary laws meant that oil or goose fat were used instead of butter or pork fat for cooking. For the same reason, many dairy and vegetable dishes were developed to provide substantial meatless meals. The need to find substitutes for forbidden foods like pork and seafood resulted in the creation of such specialties as, goose prosciutto and salami and a white-fish soup. In the days when cooking revolved around the Sabbath and religious holidays, dishes that were chosen to celebrate these occasions acquired embellishments, such as coloring with saffron or sprinkling with raisins and pine nuts. The laws of the Sabbath, which prohibit any work on that day, gave rise to complex meals in one-pot to be prepared on Friday afternoon and left to cook overnight for Saturday. An example is the hamin toscano or polpettone difagioli—a veal loaf cooked with white beans, beef sausages, hard boiled eggs, and tomatoes. Centuries before Americans popularized pasta salads, Jews were the only Italians to eat cold pasta.

For Passover, ground almonds, potato flour, matzo meal, and matzos were used to make all kinds of pizzas, cakes, pies, dumplings, pancakes, and fritters. Numerous desserts are found in the Jewish Italian cuisine, like amaretti, marzapane, moscardini, mucchietti, scodelline, zuccherini, ciambellette, mustaccioni—to name a few. Certain foods became symbolic dishes to celebrate festivals, like Pollo Fritto, chicken dipped in batter and fried in oil, for Hanukkah.

Some of the Sites in Ancona

The marble Arch of Trajan, at the entrance to the causeway atop the harbor wall, in honor of the emperor who had built the harbor, is one of the finest Roman historical monuments in the Marche. However, most of its original bronze decorations have disappeared. It stands on a high podium with wide, steep steps and is flanked by pairs of fluted Corinthian columns on pedestals. It is a replica of the Arch of Titus in Rome, but taller, so that the bronze figures, Trajan, his wife Plotina and his sister Marciana, stand out as a landmark for ships approaching this Adriatic port.

The Lazzaretto (Laemocomium or “Mole Vanvitelliana”), planned by architect Luigi Vanvitelli in 1732, is a pentagonal building, built to protect the military defensive authorities from the risk of contagious diseases by incoming ships. Later it was used as a military hospital, then as a barracks. It is currently used for cultural exhibits.

The Food of Ancona

lts style of cooking is defined by fish and seafood along the coast, and vegetables, chicken, rabbit, snails, and truffles and other wild fungi in the hills and mountains. The coastal brodetto, or seafood stew, is seasoned with saffron and traditionally made with thirteen kinds of fish. 

Ancona is one of the biggest stockfish (dried salt cod) importers and Stoccafisso all’ Anconetana has a special place in the heart of Ancona people and in the history and tradition of this town.

This traditional Le Marche recipe involves soaking the fish for at least 24 hours and cooking it over bamboo canes to prevent the fish from sticking to the pan.

Seafood dishes are prominent in Ancona cuisine.

Creamy sauces made from chicken giblets are used liberally in Marche cooking. Pork recipes rely on generous chunks instead of the traditional thin prosciutto style servings. Since pork is so readily available, there are many types of sausages made in the Marche region. A hearty favorite local smoked sausage is ciauscolo, made with half pork, half pork fat and well seasoned with salt, pepper, orange peel and fennel seed. Olives grow well in this region and are served both on their own or stuffed with savory meat fillings. Grapes, grains, mushrooms and a wide variety of vegetables are found throughout the region.

Cheese-wise, Marche holds its own in the steep competition for great Italian dairy products. Casciotta d’Urbino is a sheep and cow milk cheese, hand-pressed into rounds that are then salted and cured in a moist environment, producing a velvety texture. Ambra di Talamello is made from goat or sheep or cow’s milk and is cured in a pit lined with straw, resulting in an earthy flavor. Cacio La Forma di Limone is a sheep’s milk cheese made with lemons, then formed into small balls (that look a bit like lemons). It is rubbed with a salt and lemon mixture and has a light lemon tang. Some excellent Pecorino cheeses can be found in the region as well.

Pasta in the Marche region is rich with eggs, with wide noodles being the most popular, such as, lasagna and pappardelle. The region’s signature dish, a pasta casserole with meat sauce, showcases flat pastas and savory meats. Other pastas like spaghetti alla chitarra, spaghettini, tagliatelle and maccheroncini have also found their way into Marche dishes.

Brodetto all’anconetana (Fish Soup Ancona Style)

Regional Specialties

Olive all’ascolana, green olives stuffed with ground meat, breaded, and fried until golden and crisp.

Ciauscolo, a rich, soft smoked salami, meant to be spread, not sliced.

Vincisgrassi, lasagna layered with prosciutto, chicken livers, sweetbreads, and white sauce.

Rabbit, cooked porchetta style (roasted in the style of porchetta) with fennel and salt.

Frustingolo, a dense fruit cake made with nuts and dried figs.

One of the most famous dishes from the La Marche region of Italy, Vincisgrassi, a type of lasagna, is very rich – some versions being even richer with the addition of sweetbreads and a pasta dough made with vin santo or marsala.

Make Some Ancona Inspired Recipes At Home

First Course

Tagliatelle with Shrimp

Servings 4

 Ingredients:

  • 3/4 lb fresh tagliatelle
  • 1/2 onion, finely choped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • 1 lb. medium shrimp
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt

Directions:

Soften the onion over low heat in the olive oil and then add the finely chopped garlic without letting it brown.

Pour in the white wine and allow to evaporate. Blend in the marinara sauce.

Add the shrimp and cook until pink, about 3 minutes.

Cook the tagliatelle al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water. Drain pasta and add to the shrimp mixture. Stir in pasta water and combine. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Second Course

Wine & Tomato Braised Italian Chicken

Serves 4

 Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • One 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 4 pieces
  • 2 cups diced white onion
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups peeled, seeded, diced plum tomatoes or equivalent canned
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Directions:

In a heavy ovenproof pan with a lid, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat until hot.

Pat the chicken dry and add 2 pieces to the pan. Do not crowd the chicken. Cook until the chicken has browned on all sides, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Repeat with another tablespoon of olive oil and the remainder of the chicken.

Add the onions to the same pan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, marjoram, and sage and stir. Add the wine and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, stir to combine, and cook for 2 minutes.

Return the chicken to the pan and season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the chicken is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. When tender, transfer the chicken to a warm platter, cover with foil, and set aside.

Skim off the excess fat from the braising liquid and reduce the sauce over high heat to a sauce-like consistency.

Taste and correct the seasoning, if necessary. Serve the sauce over the chicken and garnish with the parsley.

Dessert Course

Orange Cake, Ancona Style

Ouzo is an anise-flavored aperitif that is widely consumed in Greece and Cyprus and a symbol of Greek culture.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups and 2 tablespoons flour, plus flour for dusting the pan
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 oranges and the peels, grated (no pith)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ouzo
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 cups orange juice mixed with 3 tablespoons sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a tube pan with cooking spray and dust with flour.

Put flour, eggs, grated orange peel, butter, sugar and ouzo in a food processor and process until all ingredients are incorporated.

Add milk and baking powder and process again to incorporate.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and place in upper, middle level of the preheated oven.

Bake for at least 45 minutes and the top of cake is golden.

Place pan over a wine bottle or other receptacle to cool slightly.

Loosen the edges of the cake with a sharp knife.

Invert onto a plate.

While cake is still warm, poke holes into it, using the end of a wooden spoon or similar implement.

Pour the sweetened orange juice into the holes, filling them to the brim.

Within an hour, the cake will have absorbed the juice.

Serve at room temperature.

Note: The cake will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator, fully covered by plastic wrap.


Winter salads can’t rely on ripe tomatoes and delicate butter lettuce to make them shine. Instead hearty greens, salty cheese, dried fruit, and crunchy nuts are the flavorful ingredients that make winter salads delicious. Use the ideas below as a springboard to create your own winter salads.

Avoid the wilted lettuce mixes flown in from faraway places. Instead, select hearty greens, crunchy chicories, or crisp cabbage that flourish in winter. Many greens you may be used to cooking, chard and  kale in particular, are perfectly good for salads.

Hearty greens and chicories can handle a lot of flavor, Feta, goat, and blue cheeses are all great matches for winter salads—just crumble them on top. Olives—either whole pitted, or pitted and chopped—are also good additions.

 

Hearty greens and chicories have a lot of body and texture of their own, so feel free to add crunch to the dish. Nuts, croutons, slices of radish, pieces of fennel, slim coins of carrots—anything that will work your teeth and jaws just a little bit.

 

The slightly bitter taste of winter greens and chicories can be altered with a little bit of sweetness. Roasted beets are good to use, as are winter fruits like pears, oranges, kumquats or dates. Dried fruit like raisins, cranberries, or blueberries add texture and sweetness.

Like a Caprese Salad or Marinated Green Beans, summer salads don’t always involve leaves. Good winter salads don’t have to involve greens. Roasted beet salads, celery and red onion salads or lemony lentil salads are all examples of leafless salads.

Lunch or First Courses

Winter Citrus Salad with Honey Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 2 tangerines
  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • 1 navel orange
  • Salt
  • 1/2 small red onion or 1 shallot, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • Lime or lemon juice to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly chopped tarragon or a pinch dried.
  • Arugula

Directions:

Peel citrus, removing as much pith as possible, and cut into segments. Remove any pits, layer fruit on a serving dish, sprinkle with salt and garnish with chopped onion.

Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, honey, lime juice and tarragon until well combined; taste, adjust seasoning as needed and drizzle over salad.

Yield: 4 servings.

 

Apple-And-Zucchini Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 large Red Delicious apples, diced
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled and thinly sliced (if not available substitute another vegetable)
  • Lettuce (whatever is in season)

Directions:

Combine oil and next 6 ingredients in a jar; cover tightly, and shake vigorously.

Combine apple and next 3 ingredients; toss with dressing. Serve on individual lettuce-lined serving plates.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Roasted Beet Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds beets (gold beets are attractive if you can find them), stems removed and washed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Serrano chile, seeded and thinly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced ginger
  • 2 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • pinch of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt and pepper
  • walnuts

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Sprinkle the beets with salt and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Wrap in aluminum foil, leaving a little hole in the top facing up, and set in a roasting pan. Cook until easily pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes or until very tender.

Meanwhile, mix together the rest of the olive oil, red onion, Serrano, ginger, sugar, and red wine vinegar.

When beets are done and cool enough to handle, peel and chop into 1/2 inch pieces.

Mix with the rest of the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper and add the parsley.

Dinner Salads or Second Courses

Potato Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 pound small uncooked red potatoes
  • Salt
  • 2 pounds uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 3/4 pound green beans
  • 2 medium celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 4 oz seedless grapes, halved (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat; add salt and potatoes and cook until tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove potatoes from water with a slotted spoon or strainer; set potatoes aside but maintain water’s boil.  Add green beans to boiling water and blanch until crisp-tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes; drain in a colander.

Meanwhile, coat broiler rack with cooking spray; preheat broiler. Broil chicken five inches from heat, turning occasionally, until cooked through, about 10 minutes; set aside. ( You can also use a stove top grill pan.

When chicken has cooled, slice into bite-size chunks; place in a large serving bowl. Slice potatoes into 1-inch chunks and cut green beans into 1-inch pieces; gently toss with chicken. Add celery and grapes.

To make dressing:

In a small bowl whisk lemon juice, broth and mustard; then, whisk in tarragon, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Drizzle in oil in a slow stream, whisking all the while, until dressing turns creamy, about 1 minute. Toss salad with dressing, taking care not to break up potatoes. If desired, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Yields about 1 1/2 cups per serving.

 

Tuscan-Styled Tuna Salad

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. Italian tuna in olive oil, drained and oil reserved
  • 15-oz can small white beans, (cannellini or great northern, rinsed)
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons reserved tuna oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions:

Combine tuna, beans, tomatoes, scallions, tuna oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Stir gently. Refrigerate before serving. Garnish with parsley.

What’s in the Refrigerator Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound Rotini or Penne pasta
  • 4 cups mix-ins (see below)
  • Dressing: Herbed Vinaigrette (recipe follows) or
  • Homemade Buttermilk Dressing (recipe follows)

Directions:

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain. Add desired mix-ins and half of dressing. Toss to coat. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate up to 8 hours; toss again before serving. Add additional dressing, as desired.

Makes 8 servings.

Suggested Mix-Ins:

Crisp-tender cooked vegetables: green beans, broccoli, asparagus, sugar snap peas, green peas, edamame, zucchini, yellow squash

Raw vegetables: shredded or sliced carrots, tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, celery, avocado, spinach, radish, onions

Other: olives, cheese – shredded, crumbled or cubed, herbs

Meats: Salami strips, cooked chicken, cooked tuna and shrimp, crab, cooked salmon, grilled ham, leftover beef steak slices, prosciutto

Dressings:

Herbed Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, basil, rosemary, parsley

Directions:

In small bowl, whisk together vinegar and oil. Whisk in mustard and garlic. Add herbs.

Makes 3/4 cup.

Homemade Buttermilk Dressing

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup light mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon no-salt garlic and herb seasoning blend (Mrs. Dash)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Coarse-ground black pepper

Directions:

In small bowl, stir together buttermilk and mayonnaise. Add remaining ingredients; stir to mix well. Add additional buttermilk if needed for consistency. Let stand about 10 minutes to thicken or chill until needed.

Makes 1 cup.

 

 

 


I still remember the first time I cooked Thanksgiving Day dinner. It was four years after my husband and I had married. Up until that year, my mother-in-law always made Thanksgiving Day dinner. It was her specialty and that was fine with me. I was never really a fan of turkey and all the trimmings and, since I spent Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I got to spend Christmas with my family. This arrangement was fine with my husband because my mother always made lasagna on Christmas.

How I came to make Thanksgiving Day dinner was not for a joyous reason. My father-in-law passed away at a young age about a month earlier and the family was devastated. I offered to make dinner in place of my mother-in-law, who wasn’t up to the job and didn’t even want to celebrate the holiday. We didn’t want her to be alone and convinced her to have dinner with us. The rest of my husband’s family was also invited.

This was a big deal for me because I had never cooked a turkey before, but I welcomed the creative challenge. It was fun planning the menu and I came up with recipes that reflected my Italian heritage. Unfortunately my creative endeavors were not met with rave reviews (other than my husband’s) because I did not make the traditional side dishes that my in-laws were used to having with their turkey dinner.

Nevertheless, I continued to try my hand at different side dishes through the next few years and as my children grew, their likes and dislikes played a great part in how these side dishes evolved. My mother-in-law continued to have dinner with us on Thanksgiving and actually looked forward to my new approach to developing our own traditional meal.

The following are the favorites my family have come to enjoy on Thanksgiving. I don’t make all these dishes at one time (with the exception of the cranberry sauce) but tend to rotate them each year to keep things interesting. All you need is a turkey or a turkey breast,  a stuffing of your choice (see post for recipes: http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/11/09/choose-your-stuffing-or-is-it-dressing/) and 3 or 4 of the side dishes below and your feast menu is ready to go.

thanksgiving5

Cranberry Sauce

Fresh and frozen cranberries work equally well. If you are using frozen, add one to two minutes to the cooking time.

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cups orange juice
  • 1/2 cup Truvia for Baking or Domino Light sugar or 1 cup regular sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, picked through
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

 Directions:

Bring orange juice, sugar, and salt to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add cranberries and simmer until slightly thickened and two-thirds of berries have burst, about 5 minutes. Stir in orange zest Transfer to serving bowl and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Serve. (Sauce can be refrigerated for 1 week.)

 

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.

Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.

Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Just before serving, reheat at 350°F until hot, about 15 minutes.

Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes

Sometimes I cook chopped kale with the potatoes and mix it all together.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

 In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with cold water by 2 inches and add 1 tablespoon coarse salt. Bring to a boil; cook until potatoes are very tender and easily pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain; transfer to a large bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup potato cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat together the milk, garlic, rosemary, and thyme then remove from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse flavors.

Strain the flavored milk through a fine sieve, add the olive oil and gently reheat. Using a potato masher or fork, mash potatoes with olive oil and milk until smooth. Add some of the reserved cooking water as needed to moisten. Season with salt and pepper.

Celery Bake

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole bunch celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons Wondra all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoons Italian bread crumbs

Directions:

Separate celery stalks and leaves. Reserve leaves and cut stalks into 1/2 inch pieces. Put celery in a medium saucepan and fill halfway with water. Add salt, bay leaves and place celery leaves on top.Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook 5 minutes uncovered. Discard celery and bay leaves. Drain and set aside; reserving a 1/2 cup of the celery cooking water.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In the same saucepan add evaporated milk and flour; whisk. Add butter and turn heat to medium and cook sauce, whisking constantly, until it starts to bubble. Remove from heat and whisk in celery cooking water.

Spray a medium baking dish with cooking spray and add half the celery, half the sauce and sprinkle with the almonds. Next, add remaining celery and sauce. Sprinkle top with breadcrumbs.

Bake casserole 30 minutes.

 

Italian Baked Macaroni with Fontina

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound small shell macaroni
  • 1 cup half and half (fat free works just as well)
  • 2 cups Italian Fontina cheese
  • Salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray set aside.

Dice the butter and place in a large bowl. Warm the half & half in the microwave, about 1 minute. Cover to keep warm. Shred the Fontina cheese and add to the bowl with the butter. Set aside.

When the water comes to a boil, add salt and the shells and cook until they are 1 to 2 minutes shy of al dente. Drain.

Add the warm half & half to the Fontina and butter. Stir until the cheese starts to melt. Season with salt to taste and the nutmeg.

Stir the shells into the bowl with the cheese. Toss to coat well. Pour the mixture into the baking dish.

Combine the bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; sprinkle over the pasta. 

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Number of servings-6

 

Balsamic-Glazed Cipollini Onions

Cipollini originated in Italy and the word means little onion in Italian.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 16 cipollini onions, trimmed and peeled
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth 
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stem side down, and cook, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and continue browning on opposite side, about 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Add vinegar and sugar; cook, until slightly syrupy, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, thyme, and garlic; bring to a boil. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until onions are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes.

 

Creamed Spinach

Ingredients:

  • 2 pkgs. frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons 1/3 less fat cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons skim milk
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Heat oil in small saucepan and add garlic; cook 1 minute

Add spinach and heat.

Make a well in center of spinach and add milk and cheese.

Heat and stir until cheese is dissolved throughout spinach. Season with salt & pepper.

Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 6 medium tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato. Scoop out pulp, leaving a 1/2-in. thick shell. Invert tomatoes onto paper towels to drain.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Add spinach; cook and stir 7 minutes. In a bowl, combine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning. Set aside 1/4 cup for topping. Add spinach and cheese to remaining crumb mixture. Sprinkle tomato shells with garlic salt and pepper; stuff with spinach mixture. Place in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Toss remaining oil with reserved crumbs. Sprinkle over tomatoes. Bake, uncovered, at 375° F for 20-25 minutes or until crumbs are lightly browned. Yield: 6 servings.

 

Cherry-Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ingredients

  • 3 medium acorn squash
  • 2/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Directions:

Cut squash in half; discard seeds. Place squash cut side up in two 13-in. x 9-in. baking dishes coated with cooking spray.

Combine the cherries, brown sugar, lemon peel, nutmeg and salt; spoon into squash halves. Sprinkle with lemon juice; dot with butter.

Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 45-55 minutes or until squash is tender. Yield: 6 servings.


Thanksgiving Day Stuffing – Or Any Day

Stuffing, also called dressing depending on where you live, is a seasoned mix of vegetables and starches and sometimes eggs that are cooked within or alongside a meat entree. Some stuffing recipes utilize other meats, such as sausage (especially popular in Italian dishes) or oysters in their mix and vegetarian stuffing is usually based on bread, rice or potatoes.

Various kinds of stuffing go as far back as the Roman Empire , where recipes appear in De re Coquinaria , a collection found within a kitchen anthology called Apicius that chronicles thousands of Roman dishes. In De re Coquinaria , chicken, rabbit, pork and dormouse stuffing are included and there are long traditions and other historical references that corroborate the wide use of stuffing in Ancient Italy.

The First Thanksgiving

The First Thanksgiving

Since humans were thought to be stuffing small animals long before the days of the Roman Empire, it seems natural that the pilgrims might think to stuff a turkey. However, there is no historical evidence that stuffing was served at the first Thanksgiving, but the tradition has been long standing in America.

Stuffing is not uncommon, but is not regularly utilized in most households, other than during the Thanksgiving holiday. Turkey stuffing is the most widely used, and while many buy pre-packaged stuffing such as Stove Top, there are yet many varying family recipes that have endured over the years. Stove Top introduced boxed stuffing in 1972. It was home economist Ruth Siems who discovered how to manipulate bread crumbs in such a way that made reconstitution practical, and Stove Top, now owned by Kraft Foods, sells almost 60 million boxes of stuffing every Thanksgiving.

In Victorian England, “stuffing” became “dressing” and remained so in its emigration to America.  Now “stuffing” and “dressing” are used interchangeably in America, although some places, especially in the Midwest, still refer to the dish as dressing. The famous cookbook, “The Joy of Cooking”, says that a mixture is considered stuffing if you cook it inside the bird, and dressing if you cook it in a pan.

Other differences are in the ingredient choices which vary according to regional locations. The base is usually a crumbled bread product such as cornbread, biscuits or bread. Most call for chopped onion and celery. Some recipes call for sauteing the onions and celery until they are tender. Another key ingredient in almost every recipe is poultry seasoning.There are recipe variations that can include sausage, walnuts, cranberries and in coastal areas, oysters.

There is a health risk involved with placing stuffing inside the turkey cavity while it is cooked. The stuffing can develop bacteria if it is not cooked to 165 degrees. The problem is that it is possible for the thigh of the turkey (where you insert the thermometer) to register an internal temperature of 180 degrees while the stuffing may not be the same temperature. If the turkey stuffing has not reached 165 degrees it must be cooked longer, which can result in the turkey being overcooked.

When it comes to the texture of stuffing, there is no right or wrong way to make it. Some people like it dry and crisp; some like it moist and dense. Soft breads produce a dense, spongy stuffing; toasted breads produce a drier stuffing because the bread crumbs can absorb more juices without becoming soggy.

To get the consistency your family prefers, follow these simple suggestions:

  • For a drier stuffing, use prepackaged dry bread crumbs or cubes and limit the amount of liquid.
  • For moist stuffing, add broth or juice until the mixture is just moist enough that it sticks together when pinched. But keep in mind that stuffing baked in poultry or in a tightly covered dish will not dry out as it bakes.
  • For fluffier stuffing, add a beaten egg or egg substitute, such as Egg Beaters. It will allow the stuffing to bake to a lighter, more airy consistency. For food safety reasons, use an egg substitute in dressing that is stuffed into poultry.
  • Ensure stuffing is done by using a meat thermometer. The temperature at the center of the stuffing inside the bird should reach 165°.
  • For stuffing baked in a separate dish, either egg or egg substitute can be used. Refrigerate leftover stuffing promptly.

If you like stuffing, you don’t have to limit it to holiday dinners. It bakes up just as well on its own as an accompaniment to chicken or other meats. Simply place stuffing in a greased shallow baking dish, cover with foil and bake at 325°F. to 350°F. for 1 hour or until heated through. For a crisper crust, uncover stuffing during the final 15-20 minutes of baking.

My Family’s Favorite

Italian Bread & Sausage Stuffing

Yields about 18 cups, enough to fill a 12- to 14- pound turkey and a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Ingredients:

  • 14 cups Italian bread, like ciabatta, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes (about 3 loaves)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 pounds bulk hot or sweet Italian sausage (or sausage links, casings removed)
  • 2 large yellow onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 5 large ribs celery, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 5 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (or 1-1/2 tsp. dried)
  • 1 tablespoon. dried sage
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 cups chicken broth

Directions

Pile the bread cubes into a very large bowl and set aside.

Spray a large sauté pan with cooking spray and set over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the sausage with a wooden spoon or spatula until light brown, about 5 min. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the bowl of cubed bread. Wipe out the pan and add the olive oil, onions, celery, and garlic  and saute until the onions are translucent and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 min. Stir in the thyme, sage, salt, and peppers, cook 1 minute, and add the mixture to the cubed bread. Add some of the broth to the bread mixture; stir until well combined. The stuffing should just hold together when pressed together, if not add more broth.

If cooking in a turkey, put the stuffing in the bird just before roasting. Pack the stuffing loosely, leaving enough room to fit your whole extended hand into the bird’s cavity. Cook the stuffing in the bird to 160º to 165ºF, checking with an instant-read thermometer. If the bird is done before the stuffing is, take the bird out of the oven, spoon the stuffing into a casserole dish, and continue to bake it while the turkey rests.

My preferred method:

If baking some or all of the stuffing in a casserole, pour a cup or two of broth over the stuffing to replace the juices the stuffing would have absorbed from the bird. Bake it covered until heated through, 45 minutes to 1 hour. For a crunchy top, uncover it for the last 15 minutes of baking.

 

Fennel, Pecan and Caramelized Apple Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces sourdough bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Cooking spray
  • 5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups sliced fennel bulb
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped carrot
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
  • 3 cups chopped Golden Delicious apple
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Arrange bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for 16 minutes or until golden, stirring after 8 minutes. Place in a large bowl. On a separate baking sheet place pecans and bake for 6-8 minutes and add to bread cubes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion and next 5 ingredients (through garlic). Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper; sauté 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add vegetables to bread mixture.

Return pan to medium-high heat. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add apples and sugar; sauté 5 minutes or until apples caramelize, stirring occasionally. Add to the bread mixture.

Combine broth and eggs in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add broth mixture and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper to bread mixture; toss well to combine.

Spoon bread mixture into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover with foil. Bake at 400°F. for 20 minutes. Uncover dish; bake for 20 minutes or until browned and crisp.

You can adjust oven temperature and baking time, if you are baking the stuffing alongside a turkey or you can stuff the turkey.

 

Wild Rice Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans (13 3/4 to 14 1/2 ounces each) chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 2/3 cup wild rice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 medium celery stalks, diced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
  • 1 1/2 cups regular long-grain rice
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Directions:

In a 4-quart saucepan over high heat, heat chicken broth, wild rice, salt, thyme, and 1 1/2 cups water to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, in nonstick 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Add carrots, celery, and onion and cook until tender-crisp, stirring occasionally. Remove carrot mixture to bowl.

In same skillet in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, cook mushrooms until golden brown and all liquid evaporates.

Stir long-grain rice, carrot mixture, and mushrooms into wild rice; over high heat, heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 20 minutes longer or until all liquid is absorbed and rice is tender. Stir in chopped parsley. Use to stuff 12- to 16-pound turkey or, spoon into serving bowl; keep warm.

Cherry Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 5 cups country bread cubes
  • 3/4 cup dried cherries
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 can (14-1/2 ounces) or frozen (defrosted) pitted tart cherries, drained
  • 1 turkey (10 to 12 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

In a saucepan, saute celery and onion in butter until tender. Stir in thyme and poultry seasoning. In a large bowl, combine bread, dried cherries and celery mixture. Add broth and canned cherries; toss to mix.

Loosely stuff turkey just before baking. Skewer openings; tie drumsticks together. Place the turkey, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. Brush with the olive oil.

Bake, uncovered, at 325°F. for 4 to 4-1/2 hours or until a meat thermometer reads 180° for the turkey and 165° for the stuffing. Baste occasionally with pan drippings. Cover loosely with foil if turkey browns too quickly.

Cover and let stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the turkey. If desired, thicken pan drippings for gravy. Yield: 10-12 servings (6 cups stuffing).

Note: The stuffing may be prepared as directed and baked separately in a greased 2-qt baking dish. Cover and bake at 325°F.for 50 minutes. Uncover and bake 10 minutes longer or until lightly browned.

 


The history of fennel goes back to ancient times as it was easily accessible throughout the Mediterranean Basin. Roman warriors are said to have consumed fennel to make them strong. It was also thought to have the power to help people keep thin. Its Greek name marathon, which means “grow thin”, reflects the belief in its ability to suppress appetite. Greek myths also hold that knowledge was delivered to man by the gods at Olympus in a fennel stalk filled with coal. Fennel was revered by the Greeks and the Romans for its medicinal and culinary properties.

Today, the United States, France, India and Russia are among the leading cultivators of fennel. Most fennel available in American markets is grown in California. The type you’ll find, Florence or bulb fennel (sometimes labeled “fresh anise”), has a bulbous base, stalks like celery, and feathery leaves that resemble Queen Anne’s lace. Like celery, the entire plant is edible. The crisp and slightly sweet bulb is especially delicious served raw in salads. Whether braised, sautéed, roasted, or grilled, the bulb mellows and softens with cooking.

Look for small, heavy, white bulbs that are firm and free of cracks, browning, or moist areas. The stalks should be crisp, with feathery, bright-green fronds. Wrapped in plastic, fennel keeps for just a few days in the refrigerator; the flavor fades as it dries out.

• Fennel seeds don’t come from bulb fennel but from common, or wild, fennel. The seeds are slightly nutty, with the expected licorice flavor, and are widely used in sausages, stews, soups, and curries.

• Fennel stalks can take the place of celery in soups and stews, and can be used as a “bed” for roasted chicken and meats.

• Use fronds as a garnish, or chop them and use as you would other herbs, like dill or parsley. Chopped fennel works especially well in Italian tomato sauces, but add it late in the cooking process so the flavor isn’t diluted.

Cooking fennel can be somewhat similar to cooking an onion. When fennel is roasted or sauteed, the sugar in it caramelizes. When sugar is heated until it browns, that is called caramelization. Caramelized fennel has a sweeter flavor with a lighter, more tempered flavor than raw fennel.

What Flavors Go With Fennel?

Fresh fennel accents the natural flavors of fish and goes particularly well with fatty fish such as salmon and sardines. Braise or roast a whole fennel bulb and slice or chop it as a side dish for a grilled salmon dinner.

Italians enjoy fresh slices of fennel bulb simply dressed with lemon juice, salt and olive oil as the first course of a meal. Add an interesting taste to a mixed green salad with chunks of fresh fennel, which has a hint of celery flavor and has a crunchy. Fresh chunks of fennel taste good with a variety of cheeses, and you can decorate the cheese platter with aromatic, feathery fennel fronds.

The best-tasting Italian sausages contain fennel seeds. The slightly sweet anise flavor of the seeds complements the hot spices in the sausage, mellows out their pungency and brings out the best tastes of the garlic in the meat mixture. Small amounts of fennel seeds give savory breads a slight anise flavor and delicate aroma.

Instead of adding a lemon halves or garlic to the cavity of a roast chicken to give it added flavor, cut a fennel bulb into chunks and stuff it into the bird along with the fronds and stems of the plant to season the poultry.

 

Pan-roasted Fennel with Grana Padano Cheese

Ingredients:

  • 3 medium bulbs fennel, trimmed, leaving root end intact
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter or Smart Balance Blend, cut into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 1/2 ounces Grana Padano, grated on the large holes of a box grater (1/2 cup)

Directions:

Cut fennel lengthwise into eighths and arrange in a single layer in a wide heavy pot with lid. Add butter, olive oil, shallot, parsley and salt. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, turning fennel occasionally, until tender, about 30 minutes.

Sprinkle fennel with cheese and continue cooking, covered, until cheese is melted, 2 to 3 minutes more. Serve warm, garnished with parsley.

Slow Roasted Salmon With Fennel Orange Salsa

  • 4 – 6-to 8-ounce boneless salmon fillets, skin on
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh herbs (chives, rosemary, or thyme).

For the salsa:

  • 1 fennel bulb finely diced, plus 1 tablespoon minced fennel leaves
  • 1/2 cup finely diced oranges
  • 10 green olives pitted and minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste

 Directions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. 

In a medium bowl, stir together the fennel bulb and leaves, the diced orange, the olives, the citrus juices, and salt and pepper to taste.

Place salmon skin side down on a baking sheet sprayed with olive oil. Brush fish lightly with olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper, and press the herbs into the top of the salmon. Set aside.

When the oven is hot, “slow-roast” the salmon for 25-30 minutes.

HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN IT’S DONE?

The fat between the layers of fish will just begin to turn opaque, a small amount of liquid will collect under the fillets, and the fish will flake slightly when nudged with your finger. Pick up a piece and it should easily break apart between the layers rather than holding firmly together. It might appear to be underdone because the color will be vivid, but it will be fully cooked.

Serve salmon with the salsa on the side.

Pizza with Caramelized Fennel, Onion, and Olives

Dough:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 2/3 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 teaspoons yellow cornmeal

Topping:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups thinly sliced fennel bulb (about 4 small bulbs)
  • 2 cups thinly sliced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Remaining ingredients:

  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped pitted kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup shredded basil leaves, optional

To Prepare Dough

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl, and let stand 5 minutes. Lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add flour and salt, and beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Switch to the dough hook and knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes or until doubled in size. (Press two fingers into the dough. If an indentation remains, dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; knead 5 times, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Roll dough into a 12-inch circle on a floured surface. Place dough on a (12-inch) pizza pan or baking sheet coated with cooking spray and sprinkled with cornmeal. Crimp edges of dough with fingers to form a rim.

To Prepare the Topping

Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and the next 5 ingredients (fennel through black pepper), and cook for 20 minutes or until golden, stirring frequently.

Preheat oven to 450°F.

Spread marinara sauce over crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border; sprinkle with fennel mixture, cheese and olives. Bake at 450° F for 18 minutes or until browned. Sprinkle with basil leaves just before serving, if desired.


Perugia is the capital city of the region of Umbria in central Italy, near the River Tiber. The city is located about 102 miles north of Rome. It covers a high hilltop and part of the valleys surrounding the area.

Skyline of Perugia hilltop city and valley

The history of Perugia goes back to the Etruscan period. Perugia was an Umbrian settlement but first appears in written history as Perusia, one of the 12 confederate cities of Etruria. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Perugia was destroyed by Totila in 547; then it belonged to the Byzantine conquerors, and finally it became a powerful independent city allied to the Papal State.

The 14th century was characterised by violent struggles between Nobles (Beccherini) and Populars (Raspanti) and by the war against the Pope who wanted the Umbrian cities to be under his rule. The war ended with the Peace of Bologna in 1370, when Perugia was forced to recognize the Papal authority.  However, the city continued to be divided by rival factions fighting for power for many years after. In 1540 Perugia was placed under the direct control of the Papal State. The papal rule continued until the formation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Perugia today is a modern and cosmopolitan city known all over the world because of its cultural events and the universities.

Collegio della Mercanzia

The piazza is surrounded by splendid buildings, and in the center stands the FONTANA MAGGIORE: a beautiful medieval fountain that was erected in the second half of the 12th century.

Perugia is a well-known artistic center of Italy. The famous painter Pietro Vannucci was a native of Città della Pieve near Perugia. He decorated the local Sala del Cambio with a beautiful series of frescoes; eight of his pictures can also be admired in the National Gallery of Umbria. Perugino was the teacher of Raphael, the great Renaissance artist who produced five paintings in Perugia and one fresco. Another famous painter, Pinturicchio, lived in Perugia. Galeazzo Alessi is a famous architect from Perugia. The city symbol is the griffin, which can be seen in the form of plaques and statues on buildings around the city.

city symbol is the griffin

The city is also known as a university town, with the University of Perugia (about 34,000 students), the University for Foreigners (5,000 students), and some smaller colleges, located there.

Annual festivals and events include: the Eurochocolate Festival (October), the Umbria Jazz Festival, and the International Journalism Festival (in April).

Collegio del Cambio

 

The Food Of Umbria

Often called the green heart of Italy and home to many of the country’s most famous hill towns, Umbria is a rolling patchwork of olive groves, vineyards, fields, and forests. Food here is hearty and simple, and meat reigns supreme, especially pork and game, such as boar and hare. The pork butchers of Norcia are famous for their sausages and salumi. Umbrian food is a cuisine of the hearth, with meats and sausage slowly roasted or grilled over a wood fire. Black truffles appear in autumn, contributing flavor to pastas and other dishes. Like the Tuscans, Umbrians like their bread sciapo, or “unsalted” a fitting complement to the often highly salted food of the region. Notable Umbrian wines include Orvieto Classico, a renowned white, and Sagrantino di Montefalco, a lush, full-bodied red.

Some Perugian Specialties

Porchetta, a regional specialty that is now found throughout central Italy, is made from a whole pig that is boned, stuffed with garlic and herbs—usually fennel and rosemary—salted liberally, and slowly roasted until the skin is golden and crisp and the meat tender and juicy. Because home ovens are not large enough to hold a whole pig, the job is left to professionals, who sell porchetta by the slice in freshly made sandwiches at local markets and along roadsides.

Boiling and roasting with olive oil and herbs are common culinary methods of this region. Vegetable dishes are popular in summer and spring, while meat dishes are traditional winter cuisine. Umbrian grown flour-and-water pasta hand rolled into individual strands like thick spaghetti, often served with meat ragù or tomato sauce. Torta al testo, a flatbread cooked on rustic griddles, then split and stuffed with pork sausage, cooked greens, prosciutto, or other savory fillings. Bruschetta and crostini, toasted bread. topped with olive oil and garlic, tomatoes, or savory spreads, such as liver Ote, fava bean puree, or truffle paste.

Porcini mushrooms with a meaty consistency, are roasted or sauteéd and tossed with pasta. Lentils, Italy’s most famous tiny legumes, are grown in the high plains of Castelluccio. 

Chocolate

The Perugina candy company takes its name from its hometown, Perugia, the region’s capital.

In November 1907, a group of four men in Perugia (including the son of the man who started the Buitoni pasta company) founded the “Perugina Confectionary Society” (Società Perugina per la Fabbricazione dei Confetti) and opened their doors in the historic center of town. The Perugina chocolate company, as it’s known today, grew steadily, but it wasn’t until 1922 that Perugina started producing the treat that is now known as – Baci.

Baci, those bite-sized chocolates with a whole hazelnut at their center, were the brainchild of the wife of one of the Perugina founders, a woman who had been instrumental in the company’s recipes and product line since the beginning. She first called her new candy “cazzotto,” or sock, but one of the other founders decided “baci,” or kisses, sounded more delicious. And those little love notes included in every Baci wrapper? They were there from the very beginning. (As a side note, purists may be dismayed to learn that Perugina was acquired by Nestlè in 1988.

Perugia was the obvious location for a chocolate festival and the EuroChocolate has grown into one of the biggest chocolate festivals in all of Europe, attracting almost one million visitors to Perugia every October. The 9-day festival includes chocolate vendors from Italy and elsewhere, classes on various chocolate-related topics, chocolate sculpture displays and live chocolate sculpting demonstrations.

Walking down the main street- Corso Vanucc

Make Some Perugia Inspired Recipes At Home

First Course

Chickpea, Mushroom and Farro Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or 3-15 oz cans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small fresh rosemary sprig
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable stock or water
  • 1/3 cup farro

 Mushroom Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Ib. fresh cremini mushrooms, brushed clean
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unsalted butter

Directions:

If using canned beans skip step 1.

1. Pick over the chickpeas and discard any misshapen beans or stones. Rinse the chickpeas under cold running water and drain. Place in a large bowl with cold water to cover generously and let soak for at least 4 hours or for up to overnight. Drain the chickpeas, rinse well, and transfer to a large saucepan. Add 8 cups cold water and bring to a boil over high heat, skimming off the foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the chickpeas are tender, about 2 hours. Remove from the heat. Drain.

2. In a soup pot over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic, and rosemary and sauté until the onion is softened and translucent but not browned, about 6 minutes. In a small bowl, dissolve the tomato paste in 1 cup warm water and add to the pot. Stir in the chickpeas and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for 3 minutes. Add the stock, return to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, until the flavors have melded, about 30 minutes longer. Remove and discard the rosemary sprig.

3. Process the soup in the pot with an immersion blender. Return the soup to a simmer over medium heat, add the farro, and cook until the farro is tender yet still slightly firm and chewy, about 25 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, to prepare the mushrooms, cut away the tips of the mushroom stems. Thinly slice the mushrooms lengthwise. In a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until they begin to soften, 3-4 minutes. (They might stick to the pan for a moment before beginning to release their juices, but it is not necessary to add more oil.) Raise the heat to high, add the wine and thyme, and cook, stirring constantly, to cook off the alcohol from the wine, about 3 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and continue to cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are cooked and their juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and discard the thyme sprig. Stir in the butter.

5. Add the mushrooms to the soup and stir to combine. Ladle the soup into warmed soup bowls, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper.

Second Course

Squab in the Umbrian Style

I substitute Cornish Game Hens for the Squab. A side of sauteed mushrooms goes very well with this entree.

Serves 4-8, depending on whether you cut the hens in half.

Ingredients

  • 4 Cornish Game hens
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, bruised
  • 6 fresh sage sprigs, 3 inches long
  • 6 fresh rosemary sprigs, 3 inches long
  • 6 whole cloves
  • Zest of ½ lemon, in large strips
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4-8 slices coarse country bread

Directions

Rinse the hens and dry well inside and out. Use kitchen string to tie the legs of each hen loosely together.

In a heavy-bottomed, wide, deep skillet or Dutch oven large enough to accommodate the 4 birds, warm the oil and garlic together over medium-low heat. Sauté until the garlic is golden, about 4 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Tie the sage and rosemary sprigs together with kitchen string and add to the pan along with the cloves and lemon zest. 

Raise the heat to medium and add the birds; brown them evenly, about 15 minutes. Add the wine, vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the hens are tender, about 15 minutes longer, adding a few tablespoons of water, when necessary, to keep the birds moist. Be sure not to overcook them, or the meat will dry out.

Scoop out and discard the bundled herbs, cloves, and lemon zest from the pan juices and check for seasoning. Remove the pan from the heat and let the birds rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, toast the bread. Remove the strings from the birds. Serve each hen on a plate alongside a slice of bread. De-fat the pan juices and pour over each serving.

Dessert Course

Chocolate Fondue

Ingredients:

  • 2 bananas
  • 12 fresh, ripe strawberries
  • 2 pears
  • 1 lemon,
  • 1 ½ pound dark melting chocolate, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream, heated
  • 2 tablespoons rum

Directions:

Slice the bananas and pears into wedges and rub with sliced lemon to keep them from turning brown. Take care not to use too much lemon as it will alter the flavor of the fruit.

Melt the chocolate pieces in a double boiler. Remove from heat and add the rum and the warmed heavy cream.

Serve the chocolate sauce in a ceramic (or clay) bowl and arrange the fruit around it.

 


Thought to be the sweetest fruit, figs are also one of the oldest fruits recognized by man. Ficus carica, known to us, as the common fig, originated in northern Asia Minor. Spaniards brought the fig to America in 1520.

The fig tree was mentioned prominently in the Bible and some scholars believe the forbidden fruit picked by Eve was a fig rather than an apple, but it has been around much, much longer than the stories depict. Sumerian stone tablets dating back to 2500 B.C. record the usage of figs. The fig tree can live as long as 100 years and grow to 100 feet tall, although domestic trees are kept pruned to a height of about 16 feet. The fig actually bears its flowers inside the fruit and relies upon wasps to crawl inside to pollinate them. This unique fertilization process is called parthenocarpy.

There are hundreds of varieties of figs, ranging in color from nearly black to almost white, and only the female fruits are edible. The green varieties are normally reserved for drying. Cooked figs were used as sweeteners in lieu of sugar in historical times, and this usage continues today in North Africa and the Middle East. High in potassium, iron, fiber and plant calcium, figs are also used for medicinal purposes as a diuretic and laxative.

Italians have been eating figs for a very long time — figs, together with cheese, bread, and olives, were among the staple foods of the Roman Legions — and many of the immigrants who came to America from southern Italy, where fig trees grow very well, planted trees where they settled, harvesting the bounty in the summer and covering the trees in the winter if it got cold.

Times have changed and most of us have to make do with what we can find in the markets. Figs range from pale green to blackish burgundy red, and should look firm, with a rather voluptuous roundness to them. There should be no whitish sap emerging from the stems, though a drop or two of nectar from the depression at the base of the fig and slight splits in the skin are acceptable. If they’re overripe they become very sweet, but can also begin to ferment.

California is the largest fig producer in the United States, with most of the harvest ending up dried. It takes over six pounds of fresh figs to produce two pounds of dried figs.

Here are the more popular varieties:

• Adriatic: light green or yellowish-green in color with pale pink or dark red flesh. Not as sweet as other varieties. Noted for its pronounced flavor, especially when dried.

• Brown Turkey: medium to large, maroon-brown skin with sweet, juicy pulp. All purpose usage.

 

 

• Calimyrna (Smyrna grown in California): large, green skin with white flesh. Less moist and not as sweet as the Mission. Most popular in its dried form. Having thick skin, they are usually peeled when eaten fresh.

• Celeste: small to medium, violet skin with extremely sweet, juicy white pulp. Good fresh or dried. A favorite for container gardening.

 

Kadota: medium size, yellowish-green in color, thick-skinned with sweet white to amber-pink pulp. It has only a few small seeds. All purpose usage.

 

• Mission: purplish-black in color with red flesh, full-flavored, moist and chewy texture. Best for eating fresh, but also good dried. They are named for the California Franciscan missions where they have been cultivated since 1770.

It’s important to keep fresh figs cold to slow deterioration. Use them immediately or store in a plastic bag in the coldest part of your refrigerator for up to two days. Figs can be frozen whole, sliced or peeled in a sealed container for ten to twelve months.

Canned figs will be good for a year in your pantry. Opened canned remainders can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for a week.

Though serving them at the end of the meal obviously comes to mind — they are, after all, fruit — they also go very well with thinly sliced prosciutto as an antipasto.

Figs produce protein-digesting enzymes that break down muscle and connective tissue in meat, making them an excellent tenderizer as well as flavor-enhancer.

Fig Equivalents – How to Measure Figs

• 1 pound fresh figs = 9 medium

• 1 pound fresh figs = 12 small

• 1 pound fresh figs = 2-2/3 cups chopped

• 1 pound canned figs = 12 to 16 whole figs

• 1 pound dried figs = 44 whole figs

• 1 pound dried = 3 cups chopped

Dried Figs

Not to worry if you don’t have access to fresh figs. Dried figs are readily available.

Dried figs can be stored in the original sealed package at room temperature for a month. For longer storage, keep them in the refrigerator, six months to a year. Opened dried figs should be transferred to a sealable plastic bag and stored in the refrigerator.

 • Dried figs can be used interchangeably with prunes, dried apricots, and dates in most recipes.

• When chopping dried figs by hand with knife or scissors, dip cutting implement into warm water occasionally to prevent sticking.

• When chopping in a food processor, add some of the sugar called for in the recipe to prevent the figs from sticking.

• If dried figs seem hard or too dry, they can be soaked, steamed or poached to restore moisture.

• To separate dried figs that are stuck together, pop them in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds.

Cooking with Figs

You have probably had figs wrapped in prosciutto or stuffed with gorgonzola cheese as an appetizer. You may have had figs sliced over a salad or cookies with a fig filling. Have you tried figs as an accompaniment to your meat entree?

Fig and Rosemary Pork Pot Roast

6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 8-ounce package dried Calimyrna figs, stemmed, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 6-rib blade-end or center-cut pork loin roast, chine bone removed, ribs cracked
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 14-ounce can low-salt chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°F. Bring wine and figs to boil in small saucepan. Remove from heat and let stand until figs soften, about 15 minutes. Drain figs, reserving wine and figs separately.

Meanwhile, heat oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Add pork to pot and cook until browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Transfer pork to platter.

Add onion and carrot to the same pot. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Stir in rosemary and garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add broth and reserved wine.

Return pork to pot, meat side down. Bring to boil. Cover and transfer to oven. Bake until a thermometer inserted into center of roast registers 150°F, about 1 1/2 hours. Add figs during the last 10 minutes of roasting,

Transfer pork to cutting board. Using slotted spoon, transfer figs to small bowl. Tent pork and figs with foil to keep warm. Spoon fat from surface of sauce. Bring sauce to boil. Stir butter and flour in medium bowl to blend. Whisk 1 cup sauce and mustard into butter mixture. Whisk mustard-butter mixture into sauce in pot. Boil sauce until thickened and slightly reduced, about 8 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer pork to platter, surround with figs, and pour sauce over. Carve pork between rib bones.

Note: You can use a center-cut pork loin roast (the most commonly available cut), but for a more moist roast ask your butcher for a six-rib blade-end pork loin roast. This cut isn’t stocked by many markets, so be sure to order it in advance.

 

Lamb Chops with Fresh Herbs and Roasted Figs

6 servings

Ingredients:

Lamb Chops

  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 4 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 2-pound racks of lamb, trimmed of fat and sinew
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil

Directions:

Combine herbs in small bowl. Rub lamb with olive oil, half of chopped herbs, and garlic; cover and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat grapeseed oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper; sear until brown on both sides, 5 minutes total. Transfer lamb to large rimmed baking sheet; roast to desired temperature, about 20 minutes for medium-rare. Transfer lamb to cutting board; let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Maintain oven temperature; reserve baking sheet for figs.

Roasted Figs

  • 12 ripe Kadota figs, halved lengthwise
  • 16 sprigs lemon thyme or regular thyme
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

Place figs and thyme sprigs on baking sheet. Sprinkle with remaining herbs and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Roast in oven at 425°F for 10 minutes.

Cut lamb racks into individual chops; arrange on plates and place figs alongside.

Chicken with Figs and Port Sauce

The figs for the sauce need to marinate overnight, so start one day ahead.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 12 ripe black Mission figs
  • 1 1/4 cups ruby Port
  • 3 bay leaves, divided
  • 1 3 1/2-pound chicken, cut into 2 legs, 2 thighs, and 2 breasts with wings attached
  • 18 slices prosciutto (about 12 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance blend, divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 2 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth

Directions:

Place figs, Port, and 1 bay leaf in medium bowl. Cover and let figs marinate at room temperature overnight.

Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Wrap 3 pieces of prosciutto around each piece of chicken, securing with metal lacing pins or toothpicks. Melt 1 tablespoon butter and the olive oil in a large pot. Add chicken and cook until browned on all sides, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to plate. Add shallots and garlic to pot. Sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add 2 bay leaves, tomatoes, celery, and coriander; sauté 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup Port from fig marinade. Return chicken to pot. Add 2 cups chicken broth. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through, adding more broth if too dry and turning chicken occasionally, about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, transfer remaining Port from fig marinade to small saucepan. Boil until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add figs; cover and set aside.

Transfer chicken to platter. Boil sauce until reduced slightly, about 4 minutes. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Pour sauce over chicken. Serve with figs in Port sauce.

 Roast Beef with Mushroom-Fig Sauce

Roast Beef with Mushroom-Fig Sauce

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 pound beef eye round roast
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces fresh cremini, stemmed shiitake, or button mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot or sweet onion
  • ½ cup dry red wine or port wine
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 teaspoon snipped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • ¾ cup lower-sodium beef broth
  • ½ cup chopped, stemmed dried figs
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Trim fat from meat. Sprinkle meat with the salt and pepper, rubbing in with your fingers.

2. Place meat on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert an oven-proof meat thermometer into center of roast. Roast, uncovered, for 1-1/2 to 1-3/4 hours or until thermometer registers 135 degrees F (it is not recommended to roast an eye round roast past medium-rare). Cover meat with foil and let stand for 15 minutes before slicing. Temperature of the meat after standing should be 145 degrees F.

3. Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallot to skillet. Cook over medium heat for 5 to 8 minutes or until mushrooms are just tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add wine to the skillet. Return to the heat and bring to boiling; boil gently, uncovered, for 3 minutes or until wine is reduced by about half. Whisk in mustard and 1 teaspoon rosemary. Add broth and figs. Bring to boiling; boil gently, uncovered, about 10 minutes or until liquid is slightly thickened and reduced by about one-third.

4. Thinly slice meat and serve with mushroom-fig sauce. Garnish with rosemary sprigs.

Still Life with Figs and Bread by Luis Melendez

Luis Meléndez, Still Life with Figs and Bread, 1760s, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington,


As the beloved “Christmas Song” reminds us, the chestnut is a traditional holiday treat. Yet in Europe, Asia and Africa, chestnuts are often used as an everyday potato substitute. Although they are wonderful straight from the oven or fireplace, you can make use of the winter chestnut crop in many ways, both sweet and savory.

Probably one of the first foods eaten by man, the chestnut dates back to prehistoric times. The chestnut tree was first introduced to Europe via Greece. Legend has it that the Greek army survived on their stores of chestnuts during their retreat from Asia Minor in 401-399 B.C.

In 1904, diseased Asian chestnut trees planted on Long Island, New York carried a fungus that nearly wiped out the American chestnut population, leaving only a few groves in California and the Pacific Northwest to escape the blight.

Chestnut timber resembles its cousin, the oak, in both color and texture and is highly-valued. The trees can live up to five hundred years and usually do not begin to produce fruit until they are forty years old.

Today, most of the chestnut food crop is imported from Japan, China, Spain, and Italy.

Italy and the Chestnut

Over 2000 years ago the Apennine woodlands, which stretch the entire length of Italy’s peninsula along the east coast, were once thick with chestnut trees and villagers survived long winters on the trees’ bounty. The fallen nuts were picked from the forest floor and dried in two-story stone drying shacks, the remains of which can still be found throughout the region.

The nut also played a role in the Roman Empire: On their lengthy campaigns, Roman legions planted chestnut trees to help provide food for their vast armies. Polenta was made with chestnut meal until corn arrived in the 16th century. Castagnaccio or flatbread of chestnut flour baked on an oiled stone, was a common staple. The gluten-free flour was used to bake heavy, dense loaves of bread, and was prized for its resistance to spoilage. The chestnut was a staple during hard times, as well as, nutritious—the starchy nut is high in carbohydrates and has nearly as much vitamin C as a lemon. Chestnuts contain twice as much starch as potatoes. It is no wonder that they are still an important food crop in Asia and southern Europe where they are often ground into chestnut flour for baking.

The chestnut was a part of many traditional recipes and even became a delicacy by the 16th century. A famous Italian chef of the 16th century, Bartolomeo Scappi, included chestnuts in a banquet menu. After roasting and peeling them, Scappi wrapped the hot chestnuts in towels with rose petals, sugar, salt and pepper so that they absorbed all the flavors before being plated.

Yet despite their prevalence in Italian recipes, by the 19th century the chestnut had become equated with cucina povera, peasant food, and was excluded from aristocratic tables. Combined with deforestation and the shift away from agrarian practices, the chestnut was nearly wiped out. Now,it has returned to favor both in Italy and here in the U.S. Its resurgence began with the hybridized Italian marron chestnut. Juicier and sweeter than its old world cousin, the marron is now the most common chestnut used in cuisine. Outwardly it resembles the original chestnut: heavily armored with prickly spines, a dark brown, hard outer shell and a bitter inner skin. Inside, however, where the original chestnut contained two small, flat nuts to a burr, the marron has a single, larger heart-shaped one.

The chestnut is again turning up in top Italian kitchens. They garnish ice cream and fill tarts. They accompany meats and are made into pastas. Chestnut flour is used in breads, cakes and pastries for its nutty taste and sweet smell.

While chestnut vendors line Manhattan city streets around the winter holidays and pedestrians fight the snowy chill with a paper cone of hot, roasted nuts, the chestnut in Italy is still associated with times of hardship. They are given to the poor every November on Saint Martin’s day as a symbol of the sustenance they provided throughout Italy’s history.

Using Chestnuts

Roasting is a particularly popular preparation of the chestnut. Boiled or puréed, they can be served with wild game and they are also a main ingredient in stuffing for poultry. The chestnut’s versatility extends to sweets, also. The flour is used for chocolate cake or cookies and they can be puréed with honey and cream for a rich dessert.

Although, they are harvested from October through March, December is the prime month for fresh chestnuts.  The freshest will have glossy, unwrinkled shells and feel heavy in the hand. Choose fresh nuts that are smooth and free of blemishes. Avoid any that are shriveled, cracked, or rattle in their shell. Shake the shell. If you hear movement, you know they are drying out.

Out of season, or for less work, you can find them already peeled, and dried or frozen. ( See buying options at the bottom of this post.) Soak dried nuts for an hour before use. They come candied, puréed or prepared like jam. You can also buy coffee beans roasted with chestnuts and honey made from chestnut pollen.

Fresh chestnuts will dry out easily, so keep them in a cool, dry place, free of drafts, and use within 1 week. Fresh nuts in the shell can be placed in a perforated plastic bag and stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator up to 1 month, depending on the freshness factor when you purchase them. Fresh chestnuts can be frozen whole in their shells up to 4 months.

Although we refer to them as nuts, the meat inside is soft and starchy, more akin to grains rather than crunchy like traditional nuts. It is the only nut primarily treated as a vegetable due to its starch content.

Raw Chestnuts

If you are tempted to eat chestnuts raw, think again. These nuts must be boiled or roasted before eating due to the high levels of tannic acid. The nuts are cured for about a week to permit their starch to develop into sugar, thus sweetening the meat. They must be cooked completely in order to avoid digestive discomfort.

The outer thin shell, as well as, the inner bitter brown skin is removed before eating. Removing the skin in its raw state is virtually impossible, but with patience, the outer shell can be removed from the raw nuts.

Chestnut Measurements

• 1 pound in the shell = about 35 to 40 chestnuts

• 1 pound shelled, peeled = about 2-1/2 cups

• 1 cup cooked dried = 1 cup cooked fresh

• 1-1/2 pounds in shell = 1 pound shelled

• 8.25 ounce canned puree = 1 cup

• 1 pound shelled, peeled, cooked = 1 cup puree

• 3 ounces dried = 1 cup fresh

Chestnut Cooking Tips

To facilitate removal of the shell, you’ll need to use a sharp pointed knife to slice either a horizontal slash or a large X along the flat side before roasting or boiling.

To roast chestnuts, make cuts as described above. They can potentially explode from internal pressure if not pierced. Place on a baking sheet in a 400 degree F. oven for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.

To boil, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer for three minutes. Remove from heat. Scoop out a few at a time and peel off the shell and skin with a sharp knife. As they cool, they become more difficult to peel, so keep them in hot water until you are ready to peel. Proceed with your recipe using the peeled nuts, making sure you finish cooking them completely within your recipe.

To boil and cook them completely in their skins, simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, then peel and use, but don’t be disappointed if they fall apart as you peel them. This boiling method for chestnuts is best used when you will be mashing the chestnuts for a puree.

To roast in a fire, take an aluminum pie plate and punch rows of holes. Make cuts in chestnuts or puncture them to release steam and place on a grill over white hot coals.

Chestnuts work well in savory dishes as well as sweet ones. Mashed or whole braised chestnuts are good partners with sweet potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. However, most Americans use them in stuffing and desserts.

First Course

Chestnut Soup

Ingredients:

  • 6 1/2 cups water
  • 1 large leek, halved lengthwise and quartered; rinsed well
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 2 celery stalks, cut in thirds
  • 1 medium carrot, cut in thirds
  • 2 cups roasted, shelled and skinned chestnuts (1 pound in shell or a 7½-ounce jar, whole peeled)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 (½-inch-thick) slices rustic Italian bread, crusts discarded, cut into ¼-inch cubes

Directions:

Combine water, leek, onion, celery and carrot in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 35 minutes. Add chestnuts and cook until chestnuts are tender, about 25 minutes more. Remove from heat.

Using tongs and/or skimmer, remove vegetables from broth and discard. (Be sure to remove all traces of the vegetables.) Remove 4 chestnuts and set aside for garnish.

Purée soup in 3 batches in a blender until smooth, transferring to a bowl or use an immersion blender and blend the soup in the cooking pot. Return soup to the pot if a blender was used. Bring to a simmer and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bread cubes and cook, tossing occasionally, until lightly golden, about 4 minutes. You can also bake them in a 400 degree F oven for about 10 minutes or until lightly brown. Cut reserved chestnuts into small pieces. Ladle soup into bowls. Top with bread cubes and reserved chestnut pieces and serve.

Second Course

Glazed Turkey Breasts with Chestnut Stuffing

Ingredients:

  • 4 turkey breast fillets, 6-8 ounces each
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1-1/4 cups cranberry juice
  • 1/4 cup cranberries, defrosted, if frozen
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 sprig of thyme, leaves removed
  • Chestnut & Apple Stuffing, recipe below

Directions:

Season the turkey fillets on both sides and then lightly brown in the oil. Add the sugar and cranberry juice to the pan, cover, and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add the cranberries and cook for  5 minutes, or until the turkey has cooked through and the berries have slightly softened. Sprinkle with thyme leaves. Slice turkey thinly, place over stuffing and pour cranberry sauce over all.

Yield: 6-8 servings

Chestnut & Apple Stuffing 

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds chestnuts
  • 12 cups day-old Italian bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about one 16-ounce loaf)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance blend
  • 2 large celery stalks, sliced
  • 1 medium-size onion, diced
  • 3 large Rome Beauty or Crispin apples (about 1 3/4 pounds), peeled, cored, and diced
  • 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
  • 1 (14-1/2-ounce) can low sodium chicken broth (1-3/4 cups)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

In 3-quart saucepan over high heat, heat chestnuts and enough water to cover to boiling. Reduce heat to medium; cover and cook 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat. With slotted spoon, remove 3 or 4 chestnuts at a time from the water to a cutting board. Cut each chestnut in half. With a spoon or tip of small knife (a grapefruit spoon also works well), scrape out chestnut meat from its shell (skin will stay in shell). Chop any large pieces of chestnut meat and place in large bowl. Discard cooking water. Toss bread cubes with chestnuts.

In the same saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add celery and onion and cook until vegetables are golden brown and tender, about 10 minutes. Add diced apples and poultry seasoning; cook 2 minutes longer, stirring occasionally. Stir in chicken broth, salt, and 1 cup water; over high heat, heat to boiling.

Pour hot mixture over chestnut/bread mixture; toss to mix well. Use to stuff a 12- to 16-pound turkey or spoon stuffing into a greased 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish; cover with foil and bake in preheated 325 degree F. oven 45 minutes. Serve under Glazed Turkey (recipe above).

Yield: 12 cups or 24 1/2-cup servings

Chocolate Chestnut Cake

12 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup roasted, shelled and skinned chestnuts (½ pound in shell or 1 (7½-ounce) jar whole peeled) See directions for roasting below.
  • 1½ cups sugar or a sugar alternative
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
  • Salt
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter or Smart Balance Blend, softened at room temperature
  • 5 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
  • 11.25 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

Directions:

Place chestnuts, ¾ cup sugar, vanilla bean (seeds and pod) and pinch salt in a large saucepan and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and simmer for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let chestnuts cool in syrup, then drain.

Put oven rack in center position and heat oven to 350° F. Butter a 9½-inch springform pan with a removable bottom.

Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate with remaining 3/4 cup sugar, applesauce and butter, stirring, until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and whisk mixture until cooled to lukewarm, then whisk in egg yolks and flour.

In a clean, dry bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Gently fold whites into batter in 2 additions.

Pour batter into prepared pan; gently press chestnuts into top. Bake until top of cake has formed a thin crust, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack for 5 minutes, then release from pan and let cool completely.

Roasted Chestnut Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. With sharp knife, slash shell of each chestnut. Place in jelly-roll pan and roast until shells burst open, about 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle,  peel chestnuts.

Jarred Chestnuts


Feast /  by Charlotte Thodey

The English name cabbage comes from the French caboche, meaning head, referring to its round form.

Cabbage has been cultivated for more than 4,000 years and, although cabbage is often connected to the Irish, the Celts brought cabbage to Europe from Asia around 600 B.C. Since cabbage grows well in cool climates, yields large harvests, and stores well during winter, it soon became a major crop in Europe.

Early cabbage was not the round head form that we know today, but rather a more loose-leaf variety. It was developed from wild cabbage, a vegetable that was closer in appearance to collards and kale since it was composed of leaves that did not form a head. The head variety was developed during the Middle Ages by northern European farmers.

Taking only three months growing time, one acre of cabbage yields more edible vegetables than any other plant. Other related cabbage cousins include brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, and cauliflower.

It was French explorer, Jacques Cartier, who brought cabbage to the Americas in 1536. The explorers of the 17th and 18th centuries carried cabbage in their ship’s stores for their crews to eat and the high Vitamin C content helped stave off the scurvy that was so common among sailors. A pickled form of the vegetable was popular in Europe and the French from the Alsace area gave it the name of “Choucroute” (sauerkraut). It has even been noted that on one of Captain Cook’s voyages, sailors who were injured in a storm had their wounds bound with cabbage to help prevent gangrene.

This is a very humble vegetable, eaten by hungry peasants when very little else was available, but frowned upon by the higher classes who were suspicious of any vegetable. Cabbage was rumored to be the cause of the Plague and should be avoided at all costs. All the while, hungry Irish, Scandinavians, Germans and French lived upon cabbage, and little else.

A single serving of cabbage contains nearly half of the daily Vitamin C requirement and has significant levels of manganese, iron, and vitamin B6. Cabbage also is high in dietary fiber and low in calories, which makes it an ideal food for those watching their weight.

Types of Cabbage

There are over four hundred different varieties of cabbage to choose from these days, from round to conical in shape, with flat or curly, tight or loose leaves in green, white, red, and purple colors. The most common is the round, light green or white head variety.

Savoy Cabbage

Savoy cabbage is generally said to have originated and gotten its name from the Savoy region of the Alps that encompasses parts of modern day France and Italy. Today, it is grown not only in this region, but around the world. It is particularly suited to being grown in temperate and colder climates, such as the United Kingdom and the northeastern United States.

When purchasing savoy cabbage, it’s generally recommended to look for a head that weighs more than would be expected based on its size. Choosing a head with crisp, undamaged leaves, as opposed to wilted and/or torn ones, is also generally recommended. Due to its delicate nature, savoy cabbages do not always ship well, so finding one that is in good shape in a typical grocery store can be difficult. Local stands and farmers’ markets can sometimes yield better results, as the heads generally do not have to travel as far.

Unlike green cabbage, a smooth-leafed variety that is one of the more familiar forms found in many areas, savoy cabbage has a mild flavor and is less prone to putting off sulfurous odors. The leaves are also more tender, making them quicker and easier to cook. For example, when making cabbage rolls out of green cabbage, the leaves often need to be boiled before being stuffed and baked. Leaves from a savoy cabbage, on the other hand, can usually be stuffed raw and will cook to the desired consistency during baking alone.

Savoy cabbage is suited to a variety of recipes beyond cabbage rolls. It may also be used in salad, or as a topping for tacos in place of lettuce. Cooked recipes that incorporate savoy cabbage may include chicken stir-fry, savoy cabbage soup and pasta with braised savoy cabbage. In general, it may be used in place of most other types of cabbage.

The firmer texture of standard green, red, and purple cabbages is better for slaw. Red and purple cabbages take longer to mature, so these types are generally not as tender as green or white varieties. Most often pickled, raw shredded red cabbage also makes a striking addition to traditional green salads. Red cabbage can be used interchangeably in most standard cabbage recipes but be aware that the color will leach into any other ingredients.

Italian Black Cabbage

If the tomato is Italy’s summer vegetable, especially in the south, Cabbage is probably the winter vegetable. Cavolo Nero or black leaf kale, which Italians generally associate with Tuscany: It’s a leafy cabbage that doesn’t form heads, but rather resembles palm fronds, with deep greenish black leaves, have pronounced ribs and whose surfaces have a distinctive bubbly appearance.

My choice of cabbage is the Savoy.  It is tender, mild tasting and versatile in any number of recipes. Here are a few of my recipes to try in your kitchen.

Savoy Cabbage with Sausage

Savoy Cabbage with Sausages, or Verze e Luganega, is a classic Italian winter dish. Luganega are slim sausages. The casing is filled, as with any sausage, but then they’re not twisted into links. Rather, the butcher coils the sausage up in a tight spiral, the way sailors coil lines on the decks of boats, and removes a length from the spiral when one asks for it. It’s always fresh, not cured. Though there are north Italians who claim the Luganega as a signature northern sausage, it actually originated in southern Italy, deriving its name from Lucania, the Ancient term for what is now Basilicata, on the instep of the boot. Roman legionaries stationed in Lucania greatly enjoyed it, and took it with them when they were ordered north. Found in all Italian meat markets and many American, as well, though in Italy, it’s often referred to as salsiccia al metro – because it’s sold by length, rather than weight. Luganega sausage goes nicely with soft polenta or on top of risotto dishes. Regular mild link sausages will work fine if you don’t have Luganega sausage.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/3 pounds Savoy cabbage (a head)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 cup beef or chicken broth
  • 1 pound fresh Luganega sausage, cut into two inch lengths
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • Polenta, recipe below
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Wash the cabbage, quarter it, discarding the outermost leaves if they are damaged, and remove the tough inner core. Coarsely shred the leaves.

In a large deep skillet brown the sausage links over medium low heat. Remove from pan and drain on a paper towel lined dish. Set aside.

Heat the oil in the empty skillet, add the onion and cabbage when the oil is hot, pour the broth over it, cover the pan, and simmer it for 30 minutes. Add the browned sausage, rosemary and the wine, season to taste with salt and pepper, and continue simmering for 30 minutes. Serve steaming hot over polenta.

Soft Polenta

8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup polenta or yellow stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme (optional)
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Place broth and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add polenta, whisking to prevent clumping. Reduce heat to low. Add thyme, if using, and cook, stirring constantly, until liquid is absorbed and polenta is creamy and thoroughly cooked, 5 to 10 minutes. Add cheese, butter and salt, stirring gently until incorporated.

For Firm Polenta:

Once thick and smooth, transfer polenta to a lightly oiled 9 x 13-inch dish, smoothing until flat. Chill in refrigerator 30 minutes or until firm. Cut into squares and grill, pan-fry, or broil until golden brown on the outside and heated through.

Pasta with Savoy Cabbage, Peas, and Lemon Cream

 Ingredients:

  • 1 pound whole wheat penne or pasta shells
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of hot pepper flakes
  • 3/4 pound Savoy cabbage, quartered lengthwise, core discarded, and leaves very thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 cup leeks, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup half & half
  • 1 cup thawed frozen peas
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3/4 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed in a mortar or spice grinder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing at the table

Directions:

Heat oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, then sauté garlic and red pepper. Add cabbage, leeks and crushed fennel, stirring, until pale golden, about 6 minutes. Add chicken broth and half & half; bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender, about 2 minutes.Remove from heat and stir in peas, zest, salt, and pepper.

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain. Combine pasta with cabbage mixture and Parmesan cheese in a large bowl.

Cabbage-and-White-Bean Soup with Prosciutto

Prosciutto complements the cabbage and beans, but if you toss it into the soup pot its flavor cooks away to nothing. Sprinkle some over the top of each serving instead.

 Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 fresh or canned plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 small head Savoy cabbage (about 3/4 pound), cut into 1-inch squares (about 5 cups)
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 cups canned low-sodium chicken broth or homemade stock
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups drained and rinsed canned white beans, preferably cannellini (from one 19-ounce can)
  • 1/4 pound sliced prosciutto, chopped

Directions:

In a large pot, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the garlic and tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.

Add the cabbage, water, broth, rosemary, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the beans and simmer until just warmed through, about 3 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle the prosciutto over the top.

Risotto with Savoy Cabbage and Sausage

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 pound Savoy cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings
  • 2 cups carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups lower-sodium chicken broth, heated to a simmer
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add cabbage and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 8 minutes. Add sausage and stir to combine. Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.

Add wine and 1 cup broth; cook, stirring, until liquid is mostly absorbed, about 7 minutes. Add 1/2 cup more broth and cook, stirring, until mostly absorbed. Repeat, adding liquid in 1/2 cupfuls, until rice is tender yet still slightly firm to the bite (you may not use all the broth). Stir in remaining tablespoon of butter and the cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

I love cabbage !


pumpkintreats

The word “pumpkin” arrived in the English language in the 17th century, derived from the French, pompon, which came from the Latin, pepon, denoting a large, ripe melon. Melons were known to the ancients, but not pumpkins, which were New World vegetables. However, such facts did not deter modern writers translating Apocolocyntosis, Seneca’s satire of Claudius, as the “pumpkinification” of the late emperor. In the 19th century, the pumpkin connoted folly and empty-headedness, as gourd and colocynth did in ancient Roman times. Colocynth, the fruit of a trailing vine, is native to the Mediterranean region and Asia and is sometimes referred to as a bitter apple or a bitter cucumber.

Marina di Chioggia

Northern Italian and Sicilian cuisines feature numerous pumpkin dishes. The most highly prized pumpkin is Marina di Chioggia. This heirloom pumpkin from Chioggia, near Venice, weighs around 3-4 pounds and has a grey-green warty ribbed exterior and bright orange flesh.

The Italian word “zucca” is used to describe both pumpkins and gourds and “Fiori di zucca” is what we call zucchini flowers. The varieties of pumpkin grown in Italy are typically the big orange Halloween pumpkins as well as dark green ones. The quality and flavor of the pumpkin depends largely on the quality and nature of the terrain and soil. Two fruits from the same plant can be remarkably dissimilar in taste. Recipes and seasonings vary according to regions. During its winter season, pumpkin is used for the filling of tortelli, a stuffed pasta, and to flavor risotto. Pumpkin gnocchi are also popular.

Some popular Italian dishes made with pumpkin:

Tortelli Mantovani di zucca – fresh pasta pillows filled with roasted pumpkin puree seasoned with diced Mostarda di Cremona (candied fruits in mustard seed oil), crushed amaretti and a touch of nutmeg (or mace or cinnamon), and dressed with sage and butter sauce.

Tortelli

Risotto di zucca, made by gently sautéing tiny cubes of pumpkin with onions before adding the rice, for a quick no-fuss meal. Especially if you use the no-stir method for making risotto!

Zucca al Forno

Zucca alla Veneta , lightly floured pumpkin slices are sautéed in olive oil and then arranged in layers, with a torn basil leaves and raisins scattered over each layer. A dressing made by boiling white wine vinegar with a clove of garlic, salt and pepper is poured over the layered pumpkin slices and left to marinate, covered, overnight.

Sicilian Zucca Agrodolce is made by pan-frying pumpkin slices and marinating them in a sweet and sour sauce. The sauce is made by frying cloves of garlic in olive oil until golden. Sugar is then added to the pan and cooked to a golden caramel. White wine vinegar is then added to the pan and the sauce is boiled until it becomes syrupy. Roughly chopped mentuccia leaves are scattered over the fried pumpkin before pouring the hot syrup over. While this dish can be eaten hot, it is much better left overnight and eaten the following day at room temperature. Note: The term “mentuccia “is usually translated as wild Italian mint.

Zucca al Forno , comprising a slow-roasted whole pumpkin filled with mascarpone, Emmenthal cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, sautéed onions, wild mushrooms and nutmeg, is spectacular both visually and gastronomically. The natural sugars of the pumpkin caramelize and meld with the cheeses as it cooks.

There are numerous Italian regional variations of pumpkin preserves and pumpkins can be used on their own for preserves or in combination with other autumnal fruits, such as figs and quinces.

Italian Spiced Pumpkin Butter                                                                                                

Makes 4-1/2 cups

Ingredients:

  • Two 15-oz. cans pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/4 cups pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Chopped hazelnuts (optional)

Directions:

In a 5-quart Dutch oven combine all the ingredients except the nuts. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Cook, uncovered, over medium heat, stirring frequently, 25 minutes or until thick. (If mixture spatters, reduce heat to medium-low). Remove from heat; cool.

Ladle into jars or freezer containers, leaving 1/2-inch head space. Cover; store in the refrigerator up to 1 week or freezer up to 6 months.

To serve, top with chopped nuts.

Pumpkin Cookies

Makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or coat with cooking spray.

Whisk together pumpkin, sugar, yogurt, oil and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in cranberries. Stir together flour, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, salt, allspice and nutmeg in a medium bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet with a wooden spoon, mixing just until just blended.

Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls onto a prepared baking sheet, spacing cookies about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack and let cool.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Scones                                                                                                                                                        

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups white whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 2 eggs, divided
  • 1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter or reduced fat butter, such as Smart Balance, cubed 
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling on top of the scones

Directions:

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

In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the pumpkin, milk, vanilla and one egg until combined. 

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

Using a pastry blender, two forks or your fingers, quickly work the cold butter cubes into the dry ingredients. Work until the mixture resembles a crumbly, sandy mixture.

Add the wet ingredients to the crumbly mixture using a rubber spatula. Only stir until combined.

Carefully add 1/2 cup of the chopped pecans. Reserve the remaining 1/4 cup chopped pecans to sprinkle on the top of the scones.

Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Quickly knead dough by folding and pressing gently for 10 to 12 strokes or until nearly smooth. Pat dough into an 8-inch circle. Cut into 12 wedges. Place wedges 1-inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.

In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with a fork. Using a pastry brush, brush each scone lightly with the egg. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and the remaining pecans.

Bake for 15-18 minutes. Be careful not to over bake or the scones will dry out. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or store in an airtight. Scones also freeze well.

Pumpkin Cake with Rum Sauce                            

 Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 4 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon each ground allspice, cloves, and ginger

 Directions:

Combine the pumpkin, brown sugar, butter, molasses, and egg and beat until light and fluffy in an electric mixer. Add the remaining ingredients and beat slowly just until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Pour into a greased 8-inch square baking dish and bake in a preheated 350 degrees F. oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and serve with rum sauce (recipe below).

Serves 8 to 12.

Rum Sauce

 Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • A pinch of nutmeg

 Directions:

Combine the sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Add the milk and rum. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring constantly.

Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Serve warm. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

 



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