Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Monthly Archives: October 2013

While strolling through Citta’ Della Pieve, a northern Umbrian town during the Festa dello Zafferano held each fall, you will pass shops with baskets of lilac colored crocus petals and zafferano packets. During this festival, sprays of crocus flowers decorate textile shop windows, toy shop entrances and the Gelaterie which features ice-creams and yogurts made with saffron. In the Piazza Matteotti, a young chef teaches a cooking class with saffron starring in every dish: yellow risotto, saffron bread and a dessert. Just around the corner in the Palazzo della Corgna, you’ll find the embroidery work of the local women, including textiles of yellow hues, dyed with saffron. In the covered market area, you’ll see saffron-dyed candles and even creams and soaps made with saffron.

Citta’ Della Pieve in Umbria – http://www.annesitaly.com/

Saffron, the red-orange stigmas from the center of the fall flowering crocus plant (Crocus sativus), is the world’s most expensive spice. That’s because each flower provides only three stigmas. One ounce of saffron = approximately 14,000 of these tiny saffron threads. The tiny threads of saffron must be handpicked from the flower. The yellow stamens which have no taste are left behind. This spice comes either powdered or in threads.

The ancient Greeks and Romans prized saffron for its use as a perfume. They scattered it about public spaces such as royal halls, courts and amphitheaters. When Emperor Nero entered Rome, they spread saffron along the streets and wealthy Romans made daily use of saffron baths. They also used saffron as mascara, stirred saffron threads into their wines, strewn it in the halls and streets as a potpourri and offered it to their deities. Roman colonists took saffron with them when they settled in southern Gaul, where it was extensively cultivated until the AD 271. Saffron cultivation in Europe declined following the fall of the Roman Empire. For several centuries thereafter, saffron cultivation was rare or non-existent throughout Europe. This was reversed when the Moors came from North Africa to settle most of Spain, as well as parts of France and southern Italy. Two centuries after their conquest of Spain, the Moors planted saffron throughout the southern provinces of Andalucia, Castile, La Mancha and Valencia.

During the Renaissance, Venice stood out as the most important commercial center for saffron. In that period saffron was worth its weight in gold and, even today, it is still the most expensive spice in the world. Unfortunately, its high price led to its adulteration which, in those times, was severely punished. Henry VIII, who cherished the aroma of saffron, condemned adulterers to death.

Saffron grows on the Navelli Plain in the Province of L’Aquila and is considered by many to be a major product of the Italian Abruzzo region. How a flower of Middle Eastern origin found a home in Italy can be attributed to a priest by the name of Santucci, who introduced it to his native home over 450 years ago. Following his return from Spain at the height of the Inquisition, Santucci was convinced that the cultivation of saffron was possible in the plains of Abruzzo. Nevertheless, even today, the harvesting of saffron is difficult work and great skill is needed to handle the stems without damaging the product or allowing contamination from other parts of the plant.

Italian saffron is also produced on family owned farms in Sardara, a town located in the center of Sardinia, Italy. The production of saffron on the island of Sardinia and especially in Sardara has been a tradition for centuries with more than 60% of Italian saffron being produced in this region

An essential ingredient in Risotto Milanese, saffron is also used in many other dishes across Italy. For example, the fish soup found in Marche region, uses saffron for its red coloring in place of the more traditional tomato in the recipe. This coloring property is also widely appreciated in the production of cakes and liqueurs and, for centuries, by painters in the preparation of dyes. Its additional curative powers have long been believed to help digestion, rheumatism and colds.

Copycats

American saffron or Mexican saffron is actually safflower, a member of the Daisy family and the same plant from which we get safflower oil. Although its dried, edible flowers do yield the characteristic yellow color, it has no flavor and is not suitable as a saffron substitute. Turmeric, also known as Indian saffron, is an honest substitute for saffron, but it is a member of the ginger family. Use turmeric sparingly as a saffron substitute, since its acrid flavor can easily overwhelm the food. Turmeric is also used to stretch powdered saffron by unscrupulous retailers. Unfortunately, there is no truly acceptable substitute for saffron. Its distinctive flavor is a must for classic dishes such as paella, bouillabaisse and risotto. If your recipe calls for saffron, do yourself a favor and use the real thing to fully appreciate the intended result.

Beyond Risotto

Eggs Stuffed with Saffron

A classic Italian appetizer that is often served with olives.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 6 hard boiled eggs
  • ¼ cup bechamel sauce
  • 18 strands of saffron
  • ground saffron for garnish

Bechamel Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • pinch of nutmeg

To make the sauce:

In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden color, about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate saucepan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture, a little at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from the heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside until ready to use.

To make the stuffed eggs:

Peel the eggs, cut them in half and remove the yolks. Set the white halves aside on a serving platter.

Mash the yolks in a small bowl.

Add the saffron to the bechamel sauce and mix well. Add the mashed yolk and stir until the egg yolks are completely dissolved.

Fill eggs halves with a little of the sauce and garnish with ground saffron.

Italian Seafood Stew

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
  • 1 cup no-salt-added diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup clam broth
  • 4 ounces green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 6 ounces bay scallops or sea scallops quartered, tough muscle removed
  • 6 ounces medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

Directions

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery; cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, fennel seed, salt, pepper and saffron; cook for 20 seconds.

Stir in tomatoes, clam broth and green beans. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes.

Increase heat to medium, stir in scallops and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add shrimp and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes more.

Serve with crusty Italian bread.

Homemade Saffron-Flavored Pasta Dough

Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons hot water
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lukewarm water

Directions

Put the crushed saffron threads in a cup. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons hot water and let stand 30 minutes.

Place the saffron water in a food processor with the 3 eggs and puree.

Add remaining ingredients and process until the dough forms a ball.

Cover kneaded dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least ½ hour.

Preparing the dough with a hand crank pasta machine: Divide dough into 3″ x 2″ pieces. Dust the dough lightly with flour on both sides. Start with the first thickness on the machine and gradually crank in steps to the desired thinness.

After the first pass through the machine, fold the dough in half to help develop the gluten. To make good straight edges, fold the ends of the pasta sheet to the center and then rotate it 90º so that the folded edges are on the sides. Place rolled pasta sheets on floured kitchen towels.

After all the pasta sheets are formed, cut the pasta into spaghetti or fettuccine on the pasta machine.

As soon as you cut the pasta, either place on a floured flat surface or hang on a pasta drying rack. Homemade pasta will stay fresh in the refrigerator for a few days, or it can be air dried on your pasta rack and then stored in an airtight container. Fresh pasta can also be frozen in a vacuum bag. Do not keep dried fresh pasta unrefrigerated because it contains eggs in the mixture.

Cooking Hand Made Pasta: Drop the pasta into a large pot of salted boiling water and boil until tender or “al dente” for about two to three minutes. Do not over-cook the pasta. Drain well and serve with your favorite sauce. Saffron flavored pasta is especially good with butter and parmesan cheese. It also makes a delicious side dish to Chicken Marsala.

Chicken Breasts with Saffron Gravy

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken breasts, (flattened with a meat pounder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
  • Chives, chopped for garnish

Directions

Season chicken with salt, pepper and dredge in flour.

Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the chicken and saute until lightly browned on both sides. Then transfer to another plate; cover with foil to keep warm.

Add butter to the same skillet and heat until its starts to sizzle. Add the shallots and saute for about 5 minutes..

Add the wine to the pan. After a minute, slowly whisk in the cream, blending completely. Add the saffron and simmer for a minute.

Add the chicken back into the pan, lower heat, cover and cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is done. Plate chicken, pour sauce over the top and garnish with chopped chives.

Gluten Free Orange Saffron Cake

Ingrdients

  • 2 whole sweet oranges with thin peels
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 large pinch saffron strands
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 cups finely ground almonds (almond meal)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped candied orange peel

Directions

Place the oranges in a large saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 hours over medium heat. Check occasionally to make sure they stay covered with water. Allow the oranges to cool, then cut them open and remove as much white pith as possible and the seeds. Process in a blender or food processor into a coarse pulp.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (190 degrees C) Thoroughly grease a 10-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the eggs and sugar together until thick and pale, at least 10 minutes. Mix in baking powder and saffron. Stir in the pureed oranges.

Gently fold in almond meal and candied orange peel; pour batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a small knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Allow the cake to cool in the pan. Tap out onto a serving plate when cool.


Pumpkin Decorations in a Piazza in Rome.

Just a few decades ago Halloween in Italy was merely the name of an American holiday. Little by little Halloween’s popularity has grown, probably due to the influence of American movies and American fast food chains. It has become a real celebrated holiday, even though it doesn’t have any real connection to Italy. All Saints Day (November 1st) is celebrated there as a national holiday and November 2nd, a day dedicated to the remembrance of the dead, is a holy day during which people visit cemeteries and bring flowers and candles to remember relatives and friends who have passed away.

In some parts of Italy children find presents brought during the night by the dead. The general practice of leaving food out for spirits on Hallows’ Eve seems to have spawned the tradition of distributing candy or other food. For many Italians, the origin of Halloween matters less than the chance to celebrate another festa (party). Much like in America, children in Italy enjoy dressing up and walking from store to store through town asking, “Dolcetto o scherzetto?” (Trick or treat?)

In Italy, Halloween involves costume parties for young adults and shops are beginning to sell decorations and even a variety of Halloween costumes (although the selection is still mostly limited to bats, ghosts or witches). While many of Italy’s Halloween traditions are similar to America, there are some that are uniquely Italian. To experience a distinctly Italian Halloween, visit the small hill town of Corinaldo in the Marche region for La Notte delle Streghe – The Night of the Witches.

Throughout Italy you will often see carved pumpkins, children in costumes running through the piazza and signs for Halloween parties at local restaurants or clubs. Some areas offer Halloween tours of medieval towers, castles and catacombs that are lined with mummies and bones. Celebrations are now widespread enough that it’s safe to say Halloween has been adopted into the Italian culture. The concern of traditionalists is that it has replaced the more traditional religious practices.

Halloween in Florence

The tradition of the pumpkin is not exclusively Anglo-Saxon, in fact, it can also be found in the Italian tradition. In Veneto, for example, pumpkins are emptied, painted and a candle symbolizing resurrection is placed inside them. In Friuli, especially in the area near Pordenone, the pumpkins, prepared in this way, are put along the roads to light the path for the dead. In Puglia every family adorns their own pumpkin and puts it on display in the window of their house. In Lombardia pumpkins are filled with wine, so that the dead can drink it during the night between the 31st October and the 1st of November, before returning to the kingdom of “afterlife”.

The traditions also include typical dishes prepared during this time and handed down from generation to generation. In Romagna, a region well known for its cuisine, the “piada dei morti”, a round flatbread filled with nuts, almonds, raisins and the red wine of Romagna, Sangiovese, is prepared. Another sweet prepared during this time is the “fava dei morti”, a little biscuit made of almonds. In Sicily the typical dishes for this time of year are the “pupi ‘i zuccuru”, a sweet bread shaped like little dolls, and the “dead bones” biscuits having the shape of bones that are particularly hard to bite.

Favorite Halloween Foods In Italy 

Pumpkin Soup

Servings 6

Ingredients

  • 4 lb pumpkin
  • 2 oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
  • 4 basil leaves
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 clove of garlic, left whole
  • Vegetable broth
  • 1 oz butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Directions

Cut off the top cap of the pumpkin, remove all the seeds and filaments keeping the pumpkin whole. You will form a sort of soup tureen complete with its lid.

Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat. Add chopped celery, parsley, basil and thyme. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Fill the pumpkin 3/4th of the way up with vegetable broth, the sautéed vegetables, peeled garlic and the grated cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir well and cover the pumpkin with its top and place on a baking sheet.

Bake at 450° F for two hours. Remove the pumpkin from the oven, remove the top and let cool. Remove the garlic and, with a serving spoon scrape the pumpkin off the sides and bottom, mixing it slowly into the soup, to make a puree.

Should the puree be too thick, add some more hot stock to it. Serve in soup bowls with a couple of drops of balsamic vinegar and large pieces of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano.

 

Veal and Pumpkin Rolls

You can use turkey or chicken scaloppine in place of the veal.

Servings 4

Ingredients

  • 16 veal scaloppine, about 1.5 oz each, pounded thin
  • 1 lb pumpkin, peeled and sliced
  • 1 lb chicory
  • 1 ¼ oz almonds, sliced
  • ½ an onion
  • All-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • White wine to taste
  • Butter
  • Extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Gently saute the onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until lightly golden and then add the pumpkin slices.

Salt and pepper the pumpkin and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, covered. Mash the pumpkin into a puree and add the grated Parmesan. Set aside.

Place the pounded slices of veal on a work surface and spread each one with pumpkin puree. Roll them up tightly and roll in flour.

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a skillet and brown veal rolls, about 6 minutes. You may need more butter.

Add enough wine to cover the bottom of the pan and allow it to evaporate. Cover the pan and cook the veal rolls for 6-8 minutes more.

Finely chop the chicory and add it to a skillet containing 1 tablespoon of olive oil; add the almonds and salt and pepper. Cook until the chicory wilts.

Serve the veal rolls over the chicory mixture.

Bonz of the Dead

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • 3/4 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Pinch ground cloves
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F and toast the hazelnuts on a sheet pan until lightly golden-brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool

Lightly toast the anise seeds either in the oven or on the stove in a saute pan over medium heat constantly shaking the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the seeds from the pan, allow to cool, and set aside.

Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor pulsing until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Pour into a bowl and set aside. Grind the anise seeds in a small spice grinder until the seeds are half their size and place in the bowl with the nuts.

In the bowl of a electric stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the sugar, butter and lemon zest until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg whites and vanilla and mix on low speed until incorporated, 1 to 2 minutes.

In the bowl with the ground hazelnuts and anise, add the flour, cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and salt and mix with your hands until combined. Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture in the mixer on low speed until a smooth ball of dough forms, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, flatten slightly and wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Chill for 30 minutes.

Divide the cold dough into 8 even pieces. Roll each piece into a rope approximately 18-inches long by about 1/2-inch thick. Cut the ropes into 5 cookies. For super long bonz, roll each log 8-inches long.

Place the bonz on parchment lined baking sheets and allow to sit uncovered in a dry place, 1 to 2 hours or up to overnight. This helps them become super dry and ready for baking.

Place the baking sheets in a preheated 350 degree F oven and bake until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Pan Dei Morti

or Bread of the Dead

Said to be based on an ancient Etruscan recipe, this particular recipe is a specialty of the Lombardia region of Italy. These cookies are best eaten the day they are baked, although they keep well for several days. They are dense, chewy, moist cookies with the crackle of the ground cookies and the crunch of the pine nuts to remind us of dead men’s bones.

Ingredients

  • 14 oz (400 g) dry, sweet cookies, such as crunchy ladyfingers
  • 3 ½ oz (100 g) dry amaretti cookies
  • 4 ¼ oz (120 g) blanched whole almonds
  • 4 ¼ oz (120 g) dried figs
  • 2 cups (250 g) flour
  • 1 ½ cups (300 g) sugar
  • ½ cup (50 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • pinch salt
  • 4 ¼ oz (125 g) whole pine nuts
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 3/8 cup (100 ml) Vin Santo or other sweet dessert wine 
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Directions

In a processor finely grind the cookies and amaretti and place in a very large mixing bowl. Finely grind both the almonds and the figs and add to the cookie crumbs in the bowl.

(The damp figs may clump together, just rub the clumps into the dry ingredients to break it up.)

Add the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and whole pine nuts to the ground ingredients and toss until completely blended.

Pour the egg whites and the vin santo or dessert wine over the dry ingredients and blend until all of the dry ingredients are moistened.

Scrape out onto a floured work surface and knead quickly until it you have a smooth, well-blended ball of cookie dough.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper.

Slice the ball of dough in half and then each half into about a dozen even pieces, each weighing about 3-3 ½ oz (90-100 g).

Form each piece into an oblong shape –  long and flat, approximately 4 ½ – 5 ½ inches (12-14 cm) long and approximately 2 ½ inches (6 cm) wide, (wider in the middle and narrowing to a point at each end).

Place the cookies on the baking sheet leaving a little space between each. Bake for 35-30 minutes until slightly puffed, a dull brown color and set to the touch. Lift one up carefully and check that the bottom side looks cooked. Do not overbake or the cookies will be too hard.

Remove the cookies to cooling racks and allow the cookies to cool completely. Once cooled, sift powdered sugar generously to cover the cookies.

 

Fave dei Morti

Fave dei Morti, beans of the dead, are little bean-shaped cakes that Italians eat on Il Giorno dei Morti (All Souls’ Day) on November 2. These small cakes are traditionally eaten throughout Italy on the day that everyone decorates the graves with flowers and prays for departed souls.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup finely ground almonds (unblanched)
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

Directions

Combine sugar, butter and ground almonds. Beat egg and add to the butter ingredients, mixing thoroughly. Add flour and lemon rind.

Work dough until smooth and form into a roll about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate 2-3 hours.

Cut off bits of dough and mold into kidney-shaped pieces about as big as large lima beans.

Bake on greased cookie sheets in a moderate oven (350° F.) about 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool 5 minutes before removing from the pan with spatula to a cooling rack.


The two most common major species of walnuts are the English Walnut and the Black Walnut. The English Walnut originated in Persia and the Black Walnut is native to eastern North America. The Black Walnut is full of flavor, but due to its hard shell and poor hulling characteristics, it is not grown commercially for nut production. The commercially produced walnut varieties are nearly all hybrids of the English Walnut. The United States is the world’s largest exporter of walnuts. The Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys of California produce 99 percent of the nation’s commercial English Walnuts.

The walnut harvest season in California typically runs from late August through late November. Once the outer green hull of the walnut begins to dry and split, the nuts are ready for harvest. Thanks to their sturdy shells and leathery outer husk, walnuts are exceptionally well-protected from pests and rot. If stored and handled properly, they can be consumed up to one year after harvest.

The orchard floor is swept for debris and then a mechanical shaker is employed to vigorously shake each tree trunk, knocking the ripe walnuts off their branches and onto the cleared orchard floor. A separate machine is used to sweep the walnuts into neat rows so that mechanical harvesters can pick them up off the ground efficiently.

Shaking the walnuts out of the tree.

When consumed fresh from the tree, walnuts have a softer texture and a creamy, slightly bitter flavor. At this stage, they typically have a 20 to 25 percent moisture level. After the walnuts are cleaned and the leathery outer husk is removed, one of the first processing steps these walnuts will undergo is mechanical drying. Even those walnuts sold in the shell will be dried to achieve an 8-percent moisture level, which results in a taste familiar to consumers’ palates and also protects the nuts from rot.

While a little less than half of exported walnuts are sold in the shell, only about 5 percent remain in the shell stateside. The other 95 percent are cracked to order, as storing the nuts in their shells extends their shelf life.

After being initially screened for any debris, the nuts are air-separated from the cracked shells and sorted into a variety of sizes and colors. Generally speaking, lighter-colored intact halves sell at a premium price, while smaller darker pieces are sold at a lower price.

Workers inspect the processed nuts to ensure that they are clean, properly dried and of the correct size and color for the particular order at hand. After this step, the nuts are packaged and shipped. Additionally, a small sample is removed from each batch and sent for laboratory tests to ensure that they meet all food safety regulations set forth by the California Walnut Board, the USDA and the FDA.

When shopping, look for unblemished, clean-looking, creamy colored walnuts. If you are buying shelled walnuts, choose walnut halves for eating and decoration and broken nuts for garnishing or baking. Bags should have little or no “dust” which occurs with handling. To avoid rancidity, refrigerate or freeze shelled walnuts in an airtight container and store nuts in the shell in a cool dark cupboard up to six months or refrigerate.

One quarter cup of walnuts provides 90 percent of omega 3s known to benefit heart health and cognitive function. Walnuts also contain ellagic acid which supports the immune system and may fight cancer. Just 4 walnuts a day can be beneficial.

Walnuts are good in pasta, cereal, cooked vegetables, fruit or green salads or baked goods. They can be pureed into a walnut butter.

Walnut Crostini

For the caramelized onions

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper

For the walnut spread

  • One 3-inch chunk of carrot
  • One 3-inch chunk of celery
  • 1 shallot, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 ½ cups (8 ounces) toasted walnuts

For the crostini and serving

  • Half a sourdough baguette, cut diagonally into slices about ¼-inch thick (for 24 – 30 slices)
  • 1/4 olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 ½ cups, lightly packed, small (baby) arugula leaves (about 1 ounce)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

To prepare the caramelized onions:

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the olive oil and onion, season lightly with salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Cook for 20 – 30 minutes, stirring frequently— until the onions are lightly brown. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

To prepare the walnut spread:

Wrap the carrot, celery, shallot and bay leaf in a double thickness of cheesecloth and tie the bundle securely with twine. Place in a medium saucepan, pour in the milk and season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the walnuts, reduce the heat, and poach in the simmering milk for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice.

Strain the mixture, reserving the milk and walnuts separately. Discard the cheesecloth bundle. While the walnuts are still warm, put them in a food processor. Add 1/3 cup of the reserved milk and puree. Add additional milk by tablespoons, until the mixture is smooth and spreadable. Season to taste with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Any remaining milk may be used in a soup or sauce.

To prepare the crostini:

Brush the baguette slices lightly with olive oil, put them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and place in a preheated 350ºF oven for about 5 minutes, to dry and crisp the bread. Remove from the oven and gently rub each slice with garlic.

Spread about 1 tablespoon of the walnut mixture on each crostini.

In a small bowl toss the arugula with 1 tablespoon olive oil, then season lightly with salt and pepper. Place a few leaves of arugula over each crostini and top with about 1/2 teaspoon of caramelized onions.

Pasta with Broccoli and Walnut Pesto

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces tri-color fusilli or any short pasta
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • 1 1/4 cups frozen broccoli florets, thawed
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Garnish with herbs of choice

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes; transfer to a food processor and let cool.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, use a vegetable peeler to remove 3 strips of zest from the lemon. Thinly slice the zest; add it to the food processor with the walnuts along with the garlic and pulse until finely chopped. Add the Parmesan, 1/4 cup broccoli florets, 2 tablespoons oil and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper and purée until smooth

Add the wine to the onions and simmer for 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1 cup broccoli florets and cook, tossing, until heated through.

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, and return it to the pot. Add the walnut pesto and the reserved pasta cooking water and mix. Add the onion mixture and toss to combine. Serve with a squeeze of lemon juice, additional Parmesan and herbs.

Bulgur Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients

  • 4 medium (6-ounce) red bell peppers
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for brushing peppers
  • 1 cup uncooked bulgur
  • 3/4 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup finely minced chives or scallions
  • 1 tablespoons minced fresh dill
  • 3 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup (packed) crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped dried apricots

Directions

Place a medium-small skillet (one that has a tight-fitting lid) over medium heat and wait about 1 minute. Pour in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the uncooked bulgur and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Keep stirring during this process to be sure it doesn’t burn. Pour in the water, place the lid on the pan, and turn off the heat. Let stand 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, fluff with a fork as you add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the lemon juice. Stir in the chives, dill, parsley and feta and then add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the walnuts and apricots.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a baking dish large enough to fit the peppers.

Slice the top off each pepper; reserve the top. Reach inside the peppers with a spoon to scrape out the pith and seeds.

Spoon a 1/2 cup of stuffing into each pepper. Place the tops back on the peppers.

Brush the outside surface of each pepper with a little additional olive oil and place them standing upright in the prepared dish.

Bake for 35 minutes in the center of the oven. Let sit for at least 5 minutes; serve hot or warm.

Fish Fillets with Walnut Brown Butter Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or any herb of choice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 (6-oz each) boneless white fish fillets (cod, bass, tilapia, halibut, sole, grouper, etc)

Directions

Place the butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat. Cook for 5-10 minutes, until the butter begins to take on a light-brown color and gets a nutty aroma. Add the walnuts and cook for one minute. Pour in the lemon juice, turn up to high heat, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, and add the basil, salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste; reserve.

Season the fish filets with salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. Sauté the fish in the olive oil over medium-high heat until done. Serve hot with the butter sauce spooned over.

Beef Sliders Stuffed with Walnuts and Gorgonzola

Serves 16

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 slices bacon, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 2 cups finely chopped button mushrooms
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 4 oz Gorgonzola (or blue cheese), divided into 16 portions
  • 32 walnut halves
  • 16 small dinner rolls (or 2, 24-inch baguettes, sliced into 8 equal portions, then sliced horizontally)

Directions

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and sauté bacon until just cooked but not crisp.

Add shallots and cook until translucent. Add mushrooms and continue cooking until water evaporates, about 5 minutes.

Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and let cool. Add salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and egg to mixture.

Add beef and gently mix by hand until all ingredients are incorporated, without overmixing.

Divide mixture into 16 equal portions. Form into thick patties, about 1-1/2 inches thick and 2-1/2 inches in diameter, tuck a piece of cheese and 2 walnut halves into the center of each patty.

Grill patties on medium-high heat until cooked to preferred doneness. Serve in small dinner rolls or between baguette slices with desired condiments. (Especially good with sauteed onions as a topper.)

Chocolate Walnut Gelato

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup Dutch processed, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 ounce bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Kahlua
  • 1 cup very finely chopped walnuts, toasted

Directions

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring water, sugar and cocoa powder to a boil, whisking constantly.

Reduce heat and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved and cocoa is well blended, about 1 minute.

Remove from heat and stir in bittersweet chocolate until melted. Let cool completely.

Stir in Kahlua and walnuts. Cover and refrigerate until completely cold, about 4 hours.

Without an ice cream maker:

Spoon chilled chocolate mixture into a shallow metal pan; freeze until almost firm, about 3 hours.

Break into chunks; purée in a food processor. Pack into an airtight container and freeze until firm, about 1 hour.

With an ice cream maker: transfer chilled mixture to ice cream maker and prepare according to manufacturer’s instructions.

 


In Italy, fashion is almost a national passion and to see the latest trends, one need only glance around the various piazze, restaurants and streets. Interestingly, these are trends worn to show off the best of the wearer and limit the flaws: individual Italians for the most part follow trends that suit them. Besides, few fashion conscious Italians would go for something trendy that is not also durable, classic and genuine. An Italian woman striding down the cobbled streets in the latest ultra-high wedges without missing a step and with hair flying in the breeze, epitomizes an attitude almost all Italians have: of dressing with care and confidence. For Italians, fashion is not about the clothes but about an attitude; an attitude of sophistication.

Giorgio Armani

Giorgio Armani (born 11 July 1934) is an Italian fashion designer, particularly noted for his menswear. He is known for his clean, tailored lines. He formed his company, Armani, in 1975 and by 2001 was acclaimed as the most successful designer in Italy.

Armani was born in the northern Italian town of Piacenza, where he was raised with his older brother, Sergio and his younger sister, Rosanna by his mother, Maria Raimondi and father, Ugo Armani. Armani aspired to a career in medicine and enrolled in the Department of Medicine at the University of Milan. However, after three years, he left the university and joined the army. Because of his medical studies, he was transferred to an infirmary in Verona. It was, then, he decided to find a different career.

After his discharge from the military, Armani found a job as a window dresser at La Rinascente, a department store in Milan. He went on to become a salesman for the menswear department, where he gained valuable experience in the marketing area of the fashion industry. In the mid-1960s, Armani moved to the Nino Cerruti company and designed menswear. His skills were in demand and for the next decade while continuing to work for Cerutti, Armani freelanced, contributing designs to as many as ten manufacturers at a time. In the late 1960s, Armani met Sergio Galeotti, an architectural draftsman, which marked the beginning of a personal and professional relationship that lasted for many years.

Galeotti persuaded Armani to open a design office in Milan and this led to a period of collaboration with a number of fashion houses, including Allegri, Bagutta, Hilton, Sicons, Gibò, Montedoro and Tendresse. The international press was quick to acknowledge Armani’s importance following the runway shows at the Sala Bianca in the Pitti Palace in Florence. The experience provided Armani with an opportunity to develop his own style. He devoted his energy to his own label and in 1975 he founded Giorgio Armani S.p.A. in Milan, with his friend Galeotti. In October of that same year, he presented his first collection of men’s ready-to-wear for Spring and Summer 1976 under his own name. He also produced a women’s line for the same season.

In 1979, after founding the Giorgio Armani Corporation, Armani introduced and produced the Mani line for men and women in the United States. The label became one of the leading names in international fashion with the introduction of several new product lines, including G. A. Le Collezioni, Giorgio Armani Underwear and Swimwear and Giorgio Armani Accessories. Giorgio Armani has a keen interest in sports. He is the president of the Olimpia Milano basketball team and an Inter Milan fan. He has twice designed suits for England’s national football team and he designed suits worn by players of the London club, Chelsea. Armani designed the Italian flag bearers’ outfits at the opening ceremony at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin and also designed Italy’s Olympic uniforms for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

Armani’s place of birth, Lombardy, is bordered by the region of Piedmont to the west, Emilia-Romagna to the south, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige to the east and Switzerland to the north. Lombardy is surrounded on all sides by very distinctive local cultures. Culinary influences are equally diverse owing to Lombardy’s varied terrain, cooking styles and long history of influence from nearby nations. With such a heritage, cooking traditions are ingrained and recipes have not changed for centuries. Rice grows very well here, so it’s no surprise that risotto dishes find their way onto almost every table. The cattle industry is booming, providing beef for a variety of well known dishes. Cattle also provides for an equally thriving dairy industry, so much so, that butter and cream are used much more liberally than the traditional olive oil. Agri d’ Valtorta, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Provolone Valpadana are just a few of the many excellent cheeses crafted in Lombardy. Peppers, greens and lettuces, pumpkins, potatoes, onions and tomatoes are all abundant. Stews, soups, heavily-sauced polentas, hearty filled raviolis and slow-braised meat dishes are all favorites.

Risotto with Fresh Figs and Taleggio

Ingredients

  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 8 ounces fresh figs, about 10-12 figs
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio Rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups chicken stock, heated
  • 1/4 cup diced Taleggio, about 1/8 pound
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Heat a third of the butter in a small saucepan. Dice the figs and add to the heated butter and sauté for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat another 1/3 of the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and cook until translucent and softened, about 8 minutes. Do not let the onions brown. Add the rice and stir to coat each grain and saute until they are opaque, about 4 minutes.

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

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

Remove from the heat. Stir in the grated Parmigiano, diced Taleggio and the remaining butter. This last touch of butter gives extra shine and creaminess to the dish. Gently fold in the figs. Ladle into flat soup bowls. Serve with additional Parmigiano. Serves 4

Roberto Cavalli

Born in Florence, Italy on November 15, 1940, Roberto Cavalli was very much destined for an artistic career. As the son of a tailor, he was exposed to the fundamentals of design and sewing; skills he would carry from childhood to that of designer. Cavalli’s grandfather, Giuseppe Rossi, was an impressionist painter whose works can be found in the halls of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Acquiring a significant creative sense from his family and fueled by an already existent artistic ability, Cavalli realized he had ability as a painter. Eventually uniting his painting talent with his ability for working in fabric, Cavalli became a talented fashion designer. He was captivated with the connection between fabrics, painting and art that he experimented with unusual fabrics and designs while continuing his studies at the Academy of Arts.

Through detailed and thorough research, coupled with modern technology, Cavalli invented the process of printing onto lightweight leather; a process he went on to patent later. As he said in one of his interviews, “I had this idea to print on leather. I used glove skin from a French tannery and when I started to print, I saw it was possible to make evening gowns in leather in pink—unbelievable.” Cavalli is most widely known throughout the art and fashion worlds as a gifted leather designer. Through the combination of lightweight leather and paints, Cavalli created a new frontier of fashion, known at patchworks, and he created pieces that would later become revered as pure classics. Cavalli’s work realized more international fame and success when Brigitte Bardot made the world aware of his talent by wearing several of his designs on her vacations in St. Tropez on the Cote d’Azur.

In 1972 Roberto Cavalli unveiled his first fashion line in his hometown of Florence at the Palazzo Pitti. Unfortunately for Cavalli, his first public presentation was not received with appreciation and praise. Florentines considered his use of denim less than fashionable, since the fabric had not been previously part of the high fashion world. However, Cavalli continued his perseverance of using unusual fabrics and went on to became one of fashion’s elite designers.

In 1980, he incorporated the support and assistance of his wife, Eva Duringer, a former Miss Universe, to catapult his work onto the world stage. She is today an able partner in his business empire. Through her encouragement, he maintained his unconventional style to create some of fashion’s most coveted designs, using the same fabrics, animal prints and designs that he used in his earlier days. The first Cavalli show that opened the way for real success was held in Milan in 1994. Staying true to his artisan roots and tying it to new technology, Cavalli’s career took off. His expansive fashion house includes menswear and womenswear, childrenswear, underwear and casual lines, as well as eyewear and timepieces.

Today, Cavalli’s unique creations adorn the likes of Anthony Hopkins, the Spice Girls, Shakira, Sting, David Beckham, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys and many other style-conscious celebrities and couture aficionados. Cavalli has explained how significant the celebrity endorsements are to him: “The celebrity connection is very important. It’s more important to me personally than to anyone else because it makes me feel important.”

Cavalli’s place of birth, Tuscany, provides the ideal soil for the grapes grown to create the region’s world-renowned Chianti wine. Cattle are also featured heavily in the region’s food production. Chianina cattle is one of the oldest breeds of cattle in the world, as well as one of the largest, producing prized Fiorentina beef for bistecca alla fiorentina (a T-bone steak brushed with olive oil and grilled).

Game meats and fowl, fish, pork, beans, figs, pomegranates, rice, chestnuts and cheese are all staples on the Tuscan table. The coveted white truffle abounds in the region. Osso bucco is a well-known favorite, as are finocchiona (a rustic salami with fennel seeds), cacciucco (a delicate fish stew), pollo al mattone (chicken roasted under heated bricks), and biscotti di prato (hard almond cookies made for dipping in the local dessert wine, vin santo). Borlotti beans, kidney-shaped and pink-speckled, provide a savory flavor to meatless dishes and cannellini beans form the basis for many a pot of slowly simmered soup. Breads are many and varied in Tuscan baking, with varieties including donzelle (a bread fried in olive oil), filone (an unsalted traditional Tuscan bread) and the sweet schiacciata con l’uva (a rolled dough with grapes and sugar on top). Pastas are not heavily relied upon in Tuscan cooking but pappardelle (a wide egg noodle) is one of the region’s few traditional cuts. Pecorino Toscano cheese is native to Tuscany.

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

As is true for all steak, to ensure a juicy, flavorful steak that cooks quickly, have the meat at room temperature before starting. Use a grill or thick cast iron pan and make sure that they are very hot. Always let the meat rest, at least 5 minutes, before carving and a sharp knife will glide right through.

Ingredients

  • 2 (2-pound) Porterhouse steaks, about 2 inches thick
  • Sea salt
  • Coarse grind black pepper
  • Extra Virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar

Directions

Let the steak rest outside the refrigerator for 30 minutes before cooking. Use a hot, clean, oiled grill. If pan roasting, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Liberally season the steak with the salt and pepper, coat with olive oil and press the seasoning into the meat. Grill the steaks for about 5 to 6 minutes on each side for medium rare. The fillet will cook a little faster than the strip loin. Move the steaks every 2 minutes or so for even cooking and a crispy exterior.

For pan roasting, heat a cast iron skillet with a little olive oil until smoking hot. Turn on the fan, open the window and stand back to avoid getting splattered! Using tongs, place the steaks in the center of the pan. Cook until the first side is seared brown, about 4 minutes. Turn the steaks and place the pan in the oven until the steaks are done, about 6 minutes for medium rare. Remove the steaks to a carving board and let rest for at least 5 minutes before carving.

Cut the meat away from the bone and carve into 1/2-inch slices. Arrange the meat on warmed plates and drizzle a little bit of balsamic vinegar over the slices. Serve with some extra sea salt on the side.

 Laura Biagiotti

Born in Rome in 1943, Laura Biagiotti got her start in the fashion industry by helping out at her mother, Delia Soldaini, in her dressmaking business. Laura enjoyed her job for a while but soon grew restless doing work for other designers and wanted to create fashions in her own name. Her big break came in 1965 when a deal was made between herself and experienced designer, Angelo Tarlazzi, to produce a line of ready-to-wear clothes for women.

First shown in 1972, Biagiotti’s fashion line was successful immediately. Soon after she took over a cashmere company and created new garments from the yarn. This earned her the name “Queen of Cashmere” in the fashion world.

Biagiotti’s designs were well received because she was very conscientious about producing clothes that not only flattered women’s individual figures but were comfortable and fun to wear. Her trademark soon became soft tailoring and loose fitting dresses complete with topstitching and tiny pleats. She was one of the first to introduce the idea of coordinates and of wearing the same garment from morning to evening. Her first collection had such limited garments that she had to use the same white jacket for three ensembles and this gave birth to the concept of wearable co-ordinates in a Biagiotti wardrobe.

The Laura Biagiotti woman’s look is all about youthfulness of spirit combined with distinction and luxury. She has learned from the Italian tradition and said, “Elegance, taste and creativity have belonged to the Italian tradition and character for centuries and I share this privilege with all other Italian designers.” The Laura Biagiotti look is tasteful and conservative, yet creative in its details. Biagiotti is known for trying on her own creations and not being satisfied until she knows every single piece of clothing is practical and comfortable for the women who will be buying her clothes. She often instructs the people who work on her team to try them on as well. This also goes for her men’s line- Laura Biagiotti Uomo which was launched in 1987. However, her clothing lines don’t stop there. Biagiotti has a line for women’s sizes larger than 14 called Laura-Piu and a children’s line as well, Laura Biagiotti Junior. It is interesting to note that every Biagiotti woman’s collection features a series of comfortable, relaxed “baby doll” dresses and pants that have elastic waistbands.

Laura has won recognition and a number of awards from Italy and abroad: the New York Woman of the Year award in 1992, the Marco Polo award from Beijing in 1993, the Knight of Labour award from the Italian President in 1995 and several more. Laura Biagiotti was married to Gianni Cigna, President of the Biagiotti Export S.p.A., who passed away in 1996.

Biagiotti’s place of birth, the region of Lazio, is bordered on one side by the Tyrrhenian Sea and sits in almost the very center of Italy. This region has long been important for its food, wine, politics, architecture and art. With the provinces of Viterbo and Rieti to the north of Rome and Latina and Frosinone to its south, the mountain-to-sea terrain offers a rich variety of landscapes. Oxtail, veal, pork, lamb, spaghetti, gnocchi, bucatini, garlic, tomatoes, truffles, potatoes, artichokes, olives, grapes, buffalo mozzarella and pizza are all abundant here. Add to this a heavy influence of Jewish culture and unique flavor combinations emerge: pork with potato dumplings; artichokes stuffed with mint. The process has been evolutionary, fusing the basic with the indulgent, the readily available with the rare, the common with the Kosher. Very little is wasted in Lazian cooking and the results are nothing less than extraordinary.

Bucatini with Amatriciana Sauce

The Amatriciana sauce takes its name from Amatrice, a small town of the Lazio region in the municipality of Rieti. The use of tomato for the preparation distinguishes it from gricia, another sauce based on pork cheek (guanciale) and pepper. The addition of tomato, linked to the use of long pasta such as bucatini (long, hollow tubular pasta) or spaghetti, is  traditionally Italian. Amatriciana sauce is normally served in Rome with bucatini pasta and sprinkled with Pecorino Romano sheep’s milk cheese, while in Amatrice it traditionally accompanies spaghetti.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb bucatini
  • 5 oz guanciale (or pancetta), or bacon
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1 chili pepper, red
  • 1 ½ oz Pecorino cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Slice the bacon and cut it into small rectangles, put into a skillet with a little water and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the tomatoes to the fat in the skillet along with the crumbled chili and salt and pepper to taste.

Cook for 10 minutes. Then put the bacon back into the sauce, to warm it slightly.

Cook the bucatini pasta in salted water until “al dente”, drain and dress with the Pecorino and the tomato sauce. Mix well and serve hot.


The leaves of the anise plant can be used as an herb. The seeds of the anise plant, called aniseed or anise seeds, are used as a spice, either ground or whole. Despite its similar name, anise is not related to star anise, which is another spice from a different family of plants. Anise is used in a variety of baked goods and desserts, for example, Italian biscotti. Anise seeds are, also, the basis for a number of alcoholic beverages, including absinthe, anisette, ouzo and sambuca.

Anise has been used for centuries and has been mentioned in ancient herbal mixtures, as well as in texts on medicine, folklore, cookery, confectionery, perfumery and witchcraft. Pliny, in his treatise on natural history, mentions anise and states that the best was grown on the Greek Island of Crete. He also tells us that anise was used to alleviate headaches, soothe the stomach, clear the eyes and treat colics and coughs. Pliny, as well as Pythagoras, also strongly recommended anise steeped in wine as a remedy against scorpions. The ancient Romans used anise to flavor cakes. They often served these spiced cakes, called mustaceoe at the end of feasts, as a digestive. This tradition of serving cake at the end of festivities is the basis for the tradition of serving cake at weddings.

Some other historical facts, include: Democritus noted that anise was a cure for melancholy. In England, under King Edward I, anise was used to pay taxes and in Italy anise was helpful for nursing mothers. In old astrology treatises, anise was associated with the planet, Mercury, and according to old plant-lore it protected the lungs. Apparently, anise was also used to ward off evil and was kept in a small pouch under the pillow to avoid nightmares.

Anise seed has a faint licorice taste that is common in Mediterranean cooking. Its formal name is pimpinella anisum and it is in the biological family, Apiaceae — the same family as parsley, dill, coriander and cumin. Both seed and leaves carry the plant’s distinctive licorice taste, but the seeds are usually the only part that humans consume. The anise plant is an annual plant, which means that it typically survives for just one season — it sprouts in the early spring, is at the height of its seed production in the midsummer and dies back in the fall. The seeds it drops on the surrounding ground are its primary means of reproduction.

Anise is a bushy plant that commonly grows to at least 3 feet (about 1m) in height and has feathery, dense leaves. In the early summer, these leaves give way to white flowers that will ultimately produce the sought-after seeds. The plant is native to the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, including France, Italy, Greece and Turkey; it is also commonly seen in parts of North Africa. So long as the plant has good soil, regular sun and a generally constant climate, it can thrive in a range of places and is grown pretty much everywhere in the world today. Many growers even have good luck cultivating it indoors. It is a non-toxic plant, which makes it attractive for gardeners with young children or pets. Dog owners should use a bit of caution, though — dogs often respond to aniseed the way cats do to catnip, that is, by becoming hyperactive.

Despite its near worldwide cultivation, anise remains most popular in recipes from the Mediterranean region. It is very common in baked goods such as breads, cakes and cookies; its slight sweetness adds a complexity and an interesting dimension to otherwise  “ordinary” recipes. Many cooks will also add it to soups, stews and savory sauces for similar reasons. The seeds tend to open up when simmered, which can release many of its essential oils.

The fragrant Italian cookies made with anise seeds, often called angelonies or angelettis, are pillow-like and rich with eggs and either crushed anise seeds, anise extract or both. They are usually iced with an icing and dotted with tiny nonpareils. These cookies are traditionally served at both Easter and Christmas and at Italian weddings. A bite of an angellotti cookie will bring back any Italian American’s memories of childhood.

Pizelle are another Italian cookie flavored with anise seed. Pizzelle are light crispy cookies which are baked on a cooking surface similar to a waffle iron. They should be stored in airtight containers to keep them crisp. Anise seed are also often found in crisp Italian biscotti and the combination of anise and almond is especially delicious!

Italian Anise Toast

Servings: 16

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. (190 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x5x3 inch greased loaf pan.

Beat the eggs and sugar thoroughly add the anise seed then mix in the flour. Scrape dough into the prepared pan (pan will only be about 1/2 full).

Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Do not turn off the oven.

Remove bread from the pan and slice into 16 slices about 1/2 inch thick each. Place slices on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes until bottom is browned, turn and bake for another 5 minutes until the other side is browned.

Anise Rye Bread

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seed
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon shortening
  • 2 teaspoons yeast
  • 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups rye flour

Directions

Boil the water, caraway and anise seeds for 5 minutes. Pour into a large mixing bowl. Cool to warm.

Then add the molasses, brown sugar and shortening. Add yeast.

Mix in all purpose flour and salt.

Let rise, covered, for 1-1/2 hours in a warm place.

Add the rye flour gradually. If sticky add a bit more flour, but not too much, since rye flour soaks up water more slowly than regular flour.

Let rise again.

Form into 2 equal round loaves; let rise until doubled on parchment covered baking sheets.

Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.

Anisette Biscotti

Ingredients

  • 3 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks; one egg white, reserved
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons anisette
  • 1 tablespoon anise seed
  • 6 cups coarsely chopped whole almonds
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar for glaze

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease two heavy cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light, about 2 minutes; the mixture will look somewhat curdled. Beat in the vanilla, anisette and anise seed. Beat in the dry ingredients, then the chopped nuts.

Divide the dough into four equal portions. On a lightly floured board, shape each portion into a flat log, just about the length the cookie sheet. Place two rolls on each cookie sheet.

In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze each log with some egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the logs are lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.

Allow the logs to cool on the cookie sheet until cool to the touch, about 40 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 200°. With a serrated knife, slice the biscotti, slightly on the bias, into ½-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheets in single layer; Return the biscotti to the oven and cook for 20 more minutes, or until the biscotti are toasted and crisp

Store in an airtight container. They will keep up to about 2 weeks.

Italian Anise Cookies

3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon anise seeds
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg

Glaze Ingredients

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • milk
  • colored sprinkles

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat together butter and sugar until creamy. Stir in anise and lemon extract. Add dry ingredients – blend together. Add egg. Blend.

Form dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes.

Cool and glaze. Mix powdered sugar with enough milk (2-3 teaspoons) to make a thick glaze. Top with sprinkles.

Anise Cake (Torta di Fioretto)

Ingredients

  • 3 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 5 1/4 cups all purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 cup sugar, plus extra
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons anise seeds (fioretto)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

Dissolve the yeast in warm water and add 1 2/3 cups of the flour and knead until a soft dough is obtained. Set aside to rest for 2 hours.

Combine the remaining flour with the 1/2 cup sugar, egg yolks, 3/4 cups butter and salt. Work until a soft and homogenous dough mixture is obtained. Add the dough made earlier and continue to work it in until the dough is smooth and soft.

Butter and dust a medium-sized round baking pan with flour. Roll out the dough to the size of the pan and place the dough in the baking pan. Cover with a cotton kitchen towel and let the dough rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Sprinkle with additional sugar to taste, the anise seeds and pour the melted butter on top. Transfer to the oven to bake for 20 minutes. Let it cool before serving. Serves 4


Parmigiano Reggiano, Tortellini, Bolognese Sauce and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena are all famous foods of this region. A vast, wealthy region located in northern Italy, Emilia-Romagna is rich in meats and pastas. The craft of curing meat is held in high esteem here — Italy’s best known meat product, Prosciutto di Parma, is created in Emilia, as is the “king of cheeses,” Parmigiano Reggiano.

The richness and complexity of first and second courses served in this region balance each other out, with one being richer and having more complex flavors than the other. Emilia-Romagna meals layer flavors, with pastas that range from tagliatelle (golden egg pasta) to tortelli (stuffed pasta), to tortelloni (larger) and spinach pasta. Antipasto is optional before the first course of a traditional meal and may feature anything from greens with prosciutto and balsamic vinegar or pears with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and balsamic vinegar.

Pasta is often the first course, including lasagna and cannelloni. Risotto dishes or soups – such as tomato & cauliflower or fresh spinach are popular. Sauces based on prosciutto,  or fresh mushrooms may dress tagliatelle, however, tomato sauces are the favorite pasta topper in this region. The famous meat sauce typical of the Bologna area, known in Italy as Ragu, is usually referred to as, Bolognese Sauce. On restaurant menus, one can usually  this sauce served over spaghetti, linguine or fettuccine.

Seafood, poultry and meats comprise the second course. Chicken is the most popular meat: from pan–crispy chicken with rosemary, to chicken cacciatore over polenta or potatoes and capon at Christmas. Residents throughout the region eat rabbit and serve more pork than beef, such as pork tenderloin with marsala sauce. Along the Adriatic coast, in Romagna, seafood appears frequently in dishes, such as, clams with balsamic vinegar.

From grilled asparagus and Parma ham salad to basil and onion mashed potatoes to roasted beets and onions, vegetables play a major role in Emilia-Romagna side dishes. Residents boil, sauté, braise, bake or grill radicchio and other tart greens. They also serve a variety of other vegetables, including sweet fennel, wild mushrooms, zucchini, cauliflower, beets, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, onions, chard, sweet squashes, cabbage, eggplant, green beans and asparagus.

Sweet pastas may be a dessert or a side dish. Rich, decadent tortes, almond and apple cream tarts, sweet ravioli with winter fruit and strawberries in red wine, often find their way to the table. More contemporary offerings include semifreddos, with a texture somewhere between soft serve ice cream and frozen mousse and a sorbet made with Muscat wine. Fresh chestnuts also appear in many desserts, especially at Christmastime.

Some differences do exist in the cuisine between Emilia and Romagna. Located between Florence and Venice and south of Milan, Emilia’s cuisine demonstrates more northern Italian influences and capitalizes on the region’s supply of butter, cream and meat that is usually poached or braised. The Romagna area includes the Adriatic coast, part of Ferrara province and rugged mountain ranges. Food preferences follow those found in central Italy, more closely, with olive oil used as a base for many dishes with plenty of herbs and a preference for spit roasting and griddle baking.

First Course

Homemade Pappardelle with Bolognese Sauce

10 Servings

Ingredients

Bolognese Sauce

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 1 1/4 cups finely chopped celery
  • 3/4 cups finely chopped carrot
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 1/2 pounds spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/2 cups dry white wine
  • 3/4 cups tomato paste (about 7 1/2 ounces)
  • Homemade Pappardelle (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for passing

Directions

Melt butter with oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the next 4 ingredients. Sauté until vegetables are soft but not brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Add beef, sausage, pork and pancetta. Increase heat to high. Cook until meat is brown, breaking into small pieces with back of spoon, about 15 minutes. Stir in milk, wine and tomato paste. Reduce heat to low. Simmer until sauce is thick and juices are reduced, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in very large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, but still firm to bite, stirring often, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. Return pasta to the same pot. Add enough warm Bolognese sauce to coat pasta and 1 cup cheese. Toss over medium heat until heated through, adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls, if dry. Adjust seasoning.

Homemade Pappardelle

Makes about 2 1/2 Pounds

Ingredients

  • 5 cups all purpose flour, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 6 large eggs, divided
  • 6 large egg yolks, divided
  • 6 tablespoons (or more) water, divided

Directions

Make pasta in two batches. Place 2 1/2 cups flour and 3/4 teaspoon salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Whisk 3 eggs, 3 yolks and 3 tablespoons water in a bowl. With machine running, pour egg mixture through the feed tube. Blend until a sticky dough forms, adding additional water by teaspoonfuls, if dry.

Scrape dough out onto floured work surface. Knead dough until smooth and no longer sticky, sprinkling lightly with flour, as needed, if sticky, about 8 minutes. Shape into ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 45 minutes. Repeat with remaining flour, salt, eggs, yolks and water.

Divide each dough ball into 4 pieces. Cover dough with plastic wrap.

Set pasta machine to widest setting. Flatten 1 dough piece into a 3-inch-wide rectangle. Run through the pasta machine 5 times, dusting lightly with flour, if sticking. Continue to run dough piece through machine, adjusting to the next-narrower setting after every 5 passes, until dough is about 26 inches long. Cut crosswise into 3 equal pieces. Run each piece through the machine, adjusting to the next-narrower setting, until strip is a scant 1/16 inch thick and 14 to 16 inches long. Return machine to the original setting for each piece. Arrange strips in a single layer on sheets of parchment.

Repeat with remaining dough. Let strips stand until slightly dry to touch, 20 to 30 minutes. Fold strips in half so short ends meet, then fold in half again. Cut strips into 2/3-inch-wide pappardelle.

Second Course

Pork Loin with Balsamic Vinegar

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pound boneless pork loin
  • Butcher’s twine
  • A medium onion
  • Sprig of rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • A sprig of fresh marjoram
  • A small bunch of parsley
  • A small bunch of chives
  • A sprig of thyme
  • 1/2 cup beef broth or unsalted bouillon
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Tie the pork loin with butcher’s twine, so it will keep its shape as it cooks.

Peel the onion and chop it with the rosemary, marjoram, parsley, chives and thyme.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in an ovenproof pot and brown the meat on all sides. Turn the burner off.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and the butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the onion mixture, sauté for a minute or two and then let the mixture cool. Distribute it over the pork loin and add the broth..

Place the pork in the oven and roast the meat for an hour, spooning the pan drippings over it occasionally. Remove it to a cutting board and cover with foil.

Stir the cream and the vinegar into the roasting pan drippings and reduce the sauce briefly. Slice the meat, putting the slices on a warmed serving platter.

Spoon the sauce over the meat and serve.

Spinach Parmigiano

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, washed thoroughly, water still clinging to the leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Directions

Melt the butter in a deep 14-inch sauté pan over a medium-high heat. Add the spinach by the handful to the hot pan and cook until it is wilted and there is no liquid left in the pan, about 5 minutes, stirring often. It may seem like all the spinach won’t fit at first, but as it wilts, it will shrink to fit.

Season the spinach with the salt, pepper and nutmeg, lower the heat to medium-low, and cook 15 more minutes, stirring once in a while. Add the Parmigiano and stir until it is melted through. Cook 5 minutes more and serve hot.

Dessert

Chocolate Almond Torte

Ingredients

  • 3 oz. butter
  • 5 oz. sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1/2 lb dark chocolate
  • 3 ½ oz. almonds, skinned and toasted
  • 3 tablespoons espresso coffee powder
  • 1/2 cup dark rum

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9 x 2-inch springform pan with cooking spray, dust with cocoa, tapping out the excess and fit a sheet of parchment paper in the base of the pan. Butter the paper. Set the pan aside.

Melt the dark chocolate with the butter in a double boiler pan.

Whisk the egg yolks with sugar until creamy.

Finely chop the toasted almonds and add them to the egg mixture; add the coffee, rum, melted butter and chocolate. Mix well.

Whip the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the chocolate mixture. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center is slightly damp.

Remove the pan from the oven and set on a cooling rack. Cool completely.

Carefully run a butter knife along the inside edges of the pan and release the spring. Remove the pan sides.

Place the cake on a serving dish. Put the confectioners’ sugar in a small sieve and dust the top of the cake.

Cut into thin wedges to serve.


The Ricotta Eaters
Vincenzo Campi ( Cremona , ca. 1536 ). Renaissance Italian painter

Technically, ricotta is not a cheese at all, but a cheese by-product. Its name, ricotta, means cooked again, an obvious reference to the production method used to make it.

Ricotta is made from the whey drained from such cheeses as mozzarella, provolone and other cheeses. American ricotta is generally made with a combination of whey and whole, low-fat or skim cow’s milk.

Ricotta is a fresh, soft, snowy white cheese with a rich but mild, slightly sweet flavor. The texture is much like a grainy, thick sour cream. Ricotta is naturally low in fat, with a fat content ranging from 4 to 10 percent. It is also low in salt, even lower than cottage cheese. Since ricotta is made primarily from lactose-rich whey, it should be avoided by those who are lactose-intolerant.

Ricotta cheese, which is generally recognized as having been invented in Sicily, is known in the language of the island by another name: zammatàru, a word in Sicilian meaning “dairy farmer.” This word is derived from the Arabic za’ama, meaning “cow,” leading to the supposition that ricotta might have its origins in the Arab-Sicilian era.

Professor Santi Correnti, chairman of the history department of the University of Catania and a well known historian in Sicily, writes that during the reign of the Sicilian king, Frederick II, in the early thirteenth century, the king and his hunting party came across the hut of a dairy farmer making ricotta and asked for some. Frederick pulled out a loaf of bread, poured the hot ricotta on top and advised his party that “cu’ non mancia ccu’ so’ cucchiaru lassa tutto ‘o zammataru” (Those who don’t eat with a spoon will leave all their ricotta behind).

Fresh Homemade Ricotta

There are many recipes for homemade ricotta. Here is an easy one.

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Special equipment: large sieve, fine-mesh cheesecloth

Directions

Line a large sieve with a layer of heavy-duty (fine-mesh) cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl.

Slowly bring milk, cream and salt to a rolling boil in a 6-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching. Add lemon juice, then reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until the mixture curdles, about 2 minutes.

Pour the mixture into the lined sieve and let it drain 1 hour. After discarding the liquid, chill the ricotta, covered; it will keep in the refrigerator 2 days.

Ricotta Appetizer

This recipe for baked ricotta cheese is easy and is delicious spread on a baguette. Serve alone or with olives and salami on the side.

Buying high-quality fresh ricotta can make a huge difference in texture and flavor. If possible, buy your ricotta from a cheese shop rather than pre-packaged ricotta at the grocery store. You’ll notice a difference in flavor and texture.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs – parsley, thyme and basil are all tasty
  • a pinch of salt, or more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Mix the fresh herbs and salt into the ricotta. Fill a small baking dish with the misture. A small ramekin or mini-tart pan works well.

Drizzle the olive oil on top. Bake for twenty minutes. If the top doesn’t brown, finish the dish by placing it under a broiler for a few minutes until it’s browned and bubbly.

Chocolate Ricotta Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute
  • 1 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, (or butter alternative) melted and cooled
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated white sugar (or sugar alternative)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 cup semisweet mini chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place rack in the middle of the oven. Line 16 muffin pans with paper liners or spray with a non stick vegetable spray.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk the ricotta cheese and then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the milk, vanilla extract and cooled, melted butter, mixing well. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cocoa powder.Add the ricotta mixture to the flour mixture. Stir just until combined and then fold in the chocolate chips.

Fill the muffin cups.

Place in the oven and bake about 20 minutes or until lightly browned and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

Makes 16 regular-sized muffins.

Broccoli-Ricotta Pizza

Thin-Crust Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough

  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon lukewarm water (105-115°F)
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour 
  • 1 cup bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fine cornmeal
  • All-purpose flour for dusting

Toppings

  • 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 cups chopped broccoli florets
  • 1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Directions

To prepare dough: Stir water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl; let stand until the yeast has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir in whole-wheat flour, bread flour (or all-purpose flour) and salt until the dough begins to come together.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (Alternatively, mix the dough in a food processor or in a stand mixer with a dough hook. Process or mix until it forms a ball. Continue to process until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 1 minute more in a food processor or 4 to 5 minutes more on low speed in a stand mixer.)

Place the dough in an oiled bowl and turn to coat.

Cover with a clean kitchen towel; set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Position rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 450°F. Brush oil over a large pizza pan and sprinkle with cornmeal to coat evenly.

Combine ricotta, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Stretch dough to the edges of the pan or roll out the dough to the size of the pan and transfer the dough to the pizza pan. Cover the dough with the ricotta mixture.

Scatter with broccoli and sprinkle with Cheddar cheese.

Bake until the crust is crispy and the cheese is melted and starting to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

Ricotta Cheesecake

Ingredients

  • 2 15-oz. containers whole-milk ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons finely ground biscotti crumbs
  • 2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature, cut into cubes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions

Put ricotta in a large fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Drain for 30 minutes.

Arrange rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease an 8″ springform pan with 2 1/2″-high sides with butter. Sprinkle crumbs over buttered pan to coat. Tap out excess crumbs.

Place drained ricotta in the bowl of a food processor. Purée for 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the processor; purée until smooth. Add cream cheese; purée until smooth. Add the sugar and all other ingredients; purée, scraping down sides occasionally, until smooth, about 30 seconds. Scrape batter into prepared pan.

Bake cheesecake until golden brown and just set, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool in pan (cake will fall slightly). Refrigerate uncovered until cool, about 3 hours. Then cover and chill overnight.

To serve, remove pan sides. Dust with powdered sugar. Cut into wedges.

Ricotta Pie

Crust

  • 2 whole graham crackers, enough to make 1/3 cup crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup almonds — whole, slivered, or blanched
  • pinch of salt

Filling

  • 3 cups ricotta cheese, whole-milk or part-skim
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/3 sugar
  • 1/4 cup Amaretto liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Rub a generous amount of soft butter on the inside of a 9″ pie pan at least 1 1/2″ deep; use a deep-dish pan, if you have one. If your pie pan isn’t at least 1 1/2″ deep, substitute a 9″ square pan.

To make the crust: Place the graham crackers, sugar, almonds and salt in a food processor or blender and process until ground.

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

To make the filling: Mix together all the filling ingredients in an electric mixer and beat slowly until well combined.

Pour the filling into the pan; it will come nearly to the lip of the pan.

Bake the pie for 45 to 50 minutes, until brown around the very outside edge and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 160°F. The pie will still look quite unset in the center.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool it to room temperature. Once it’s cool, refrigerate until chilled. Serve with your favorite fruit topping, if desired.


The true spirit and recognition of sports at the international level took place with the introduction of the Olympic games in Greece. Written records point to the first Olympic games being held in 776 BC. Historians believe that games were held much earlier than the recorded times. Ancient Olympics had two major events—the Equestrian and the Pentathlon events and it later added events like jumping, running, wrestling, javelin and disc throwing. The Equestrian events introduced chariot racing and riding.

Olympic games were held every four years for around 1200 years. The Roman Emperor Theodosius banned Olympic events in 393 CE owing to the game’s pagan origin. Some 1500 years later, the Olympic games found revival through Pierre de Coubertin’s efforts. It was in 1890 that he established an organization called USFSA (Union des Sociétés Francaises de Sports Athlétiques). In a meeting of the USFSA in Paris on November 25, 1892, Coubertin voiced his desire to revive the Olympic games. His speech did not invoke any serious interest at the time, but, two years later, in a meeting attended by 79 delegates from nine countries, he again proposed the idea and it was met with success. The delegates at the conference unanimously voted for hosting Olympic games and Athens was chosen to host the events.

Sports play an important part in daily life in Italy. Some of the most popular Italian sports include soccer, cycling, Formula One racing and basketball. When you analyze the track record of Italian sports, you will realize that they have made history in various different fields of sport. But nothing compares to the success that the Italians have achieved in the sport of football over the many years that it has been participating in the game. This is definitely the most important game in the country in terms of participation and spectatorship and the Italians have a formidable track record in football history. The national team has managed to bring home the World Cup four times in its history of its participation. The Italians became world champions in 1934 for the first time. Success followed in 1938, 1982 and the Italians are the proud winners of the 2006 world cup tournament.

Some famous Italian athletes include Alessandro Del Piro, Valentino Rossi, Alberto Tomba, Roberto Baggio, Christian Vieri, Alex Zanardi, Antonio Rossi, Carlton Myers, Alberto Ascari, Gino Bartali, Primo Cantera and Valentino Mazzola. Italy has produced many well known and talented athletes and, as of 2013, many of these athletes compete throughout the world in various sporting events as well as in the Winter and Summer Olympics.

Auto Racing is another sport in which the Italians have made their mark in more than one way. The Italians are not only credited with having top class racing car drivers rather some of the world’s best sporting cars are built in the country. One of the major achievements in the world of Auto Racing is by an Italian car manufacturer, Ferrari, which has managed to win more Formula One races than any other sports car manufacturer in the world.

The Italians have also been world renowned motorcycle racers. The all time leader in terms of victories of the motorcycle Grand Prix is a proud Italian by the name of Giacomo Agostini. Even the second all time best performer in the Grand Prix is an Italian, who is famous in and outside of the country, Valentino Rossi.

Cycling is another sport that has been well represented by the Italians over the years. Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali are two of the most well renowned Italian cyclists that have won many championships throughout the years.

File:Alberto Tomba Zagreb 2009.jpg

Alberto Tomba

born in Bologna in 1966 and raised in Castel de Britti, a village in the municipality of San Lazzaro di Savena, is a former World Cup alpine ski racer from Italy. He was the dominant skier (slalom and giant slalom) in the late 1980s and 1990s. Tomba won three Olympic gold medals, two World Championships and nine World Cup season titles; four in slalom, four in giant slalom and one overall title. He was popularly called Tomba la Bomba (“Tomba the Bomb”).  As a child, he participated in sports like tennis, soccer and dirt biking, but he found that his greatest passion was for skiing.

In 1984 he took part in the Junior World Championships, where a fourth-place finish won him a position on the national B team. That year, in a parallel slalom exhibition in San Siro, Milan, he surprised everyone by beating every member of the A team. After three wins on the Europa Cup circuit, Tomba made his World Cup debut in December 1985 at Madonna di Campiglio, Italy, three days before his nineteenth birthday. Two months later, in Åre, Sweden, he surprised the skiing world by finishing sixth from the 62nd starting position. He won a bronze medal in the giant slalom at the 1987 World Championships in Crans-Montana, Switzerland and in November 1987, Tomba scored his first World Cup victory, in a slalom at Sestriere, Italy. Two days later he won the giant slalom, beating his idol, Ingemar Stenmark.

From December 1994 to March 1995, he amassed an impressive 11 victories in the technical events including seven in a row in slalom to capture the overall World Cup title that had eluded him in years past and bringing the Crystal Globe back to Italy, twenty years after Gustav Thöni’s last title in 1975. At the 1996 World Championships, Tomba finally added the final missing pieces to his trophy case, winning two gold medals at Sierra Nevada, Spain.

Alberto Tomba retired at the end of the 1998 season, but not before winning a last World Cup race at the Finals at Crans-Montana where he won the slalom, becoming the only alpine male skier to have won at least one World Cup race per year for 11 consecutive seasons.

Torta di Riso

A regional dessert from Bologna, Emilia-Romagna.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups milk
  • Strips of zest from 1/2 orange
  • Strips of zest from 1/2 lemon
  • 2/3 cup Arborio rice
  • Unsalted butter and plain dry bread crumbs, for the baking dish
  • 1 1/3 cups fresh ricotta cheese (about 10 1/2 ounces)
  • 3 large whole eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons Sambuca
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the milk with 1 2/3 cups of water and the strips of orange and lemon zest. Bring to a boil over moderate heat.

Stir in the rice and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 30 minutes. Let cool and remove the citrus zests.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375°F. Generously butter a 12-by-8-inch glass baking dish and coat it with bread crumbs.

In a medium bowl, gently whisk together all of the remaining ingredients except the confectioners’ sugar.

Stir in the cooled rice mixture and transfer to the prepared baking dish; spread it evenly.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown and set. Let cool for 1 hour. Dust the cake lightly with confectioners sugar.

Stefania Belmondo 

(born in 1969) is an Italian former cross-country skier, two time olympic champion and four time world champion in her career. Belmondo was born in Vinadio, in the province of Cuneo (Piedmont), the daughter of a housewife and an electric company employee.

She started to ski at the age of three in the Piedmontese mountains of her native city. She made her debut at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in 1987. The next season she joined the main national team of Italy and then participated at the 1988 Winter Olympics, held in Calgary, Canada. In 1989, she won a World Cup event for her first time in Salt Lake City and ended that season second overall.

At the 1991 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, she won a bronze medal in the 15 km trial and a silver in the 4 × 5 km. The 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville brought the first gold medal for Belmondo. At the 1993 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships, she won golds in the 5 km + 10 km combined pursuit and in the 30 km and a silver in the 4 × 5 km before an injury to her right hallux required surgery and caused a 4 month absence from competition.

After a second operation, Belmondo participated in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, gaining two bronze medals; after this disappointing performance she decided to continue skiing, against the advice of her physician. The 1996–97 season was one of her best since the surgeries, when she won three silver medals (5 km, 15 km, 30 km). In the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, she won third place with the 4 × 5 km and an individual silver in the 30 km. The bronze medal in the relay was a remarkable win because the Italian team was 9th as Belmondo started her anchor leg. The 1999 FIS Nordic World Ski Championships saw Stefania win two gold medals (5 km + 10 km combined pursuit, 15 km) and a silver (4 × 5 km).

In her final year of competition, 2002, she won a gold medal, as well as a silver and a bronze, in the Winter Olympics. She ended the year as a third place winner at the World Cup. At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, in her native region of Piedmont, she lit the Olympic Flame at the opening ceremony.

Bagna Cauda

Bagna Càuda is a warm dip typical of Piedmont, Italy, but with numerous local variations. The dish, which is served and consumed in a manner similar to fondue, is made with garlic, anchovies, olive oil, butter and, in some areas of the region, cream. In the past walnut or hazelnut oil would have been used. Sometimes, truffles are used in versions around Alba. The dish is eaten by dipping raw, boiled or roasted vegetables, especially cardoon, carrot, peppers, fennel, celery, cauliflower, artichokes and onions in the hot sauce. It is traditionally eaten during the autumn and winter months and must be served hot, as the name suggests. Originally, the Bagna càuda was placed in a big pan (peila) in the center of the table for communal sharing. Now, it is usually served in individual pots, called a fojòt, a type of fondue pot traditionally made of terra cotta.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 12 anchovies preserved in olive oil, drained and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks

For dipping:

A variety of raw vegetables, including fennel, cauliflower, Belgian endive, sweet peppers, zucchini and Italian bread.

Directions:

Put the olive oil in a pan with the garlic and anchovies and cook over a low heat, stirring, until the anchovies melt or break apart. Whisk in butter and, as soon as it has melted, remove the pot from the heat and whisk for a few more turns to blend everything together. Pour into a heatproof dish that fits over a flame or Bunsen burner, so that it does not get cold at the table. Serve with the crudities.

Franco Harris

played American football for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A record-breaking rusher, he led his team to its first divisional title in 40 years and then won two league championships in 1974 and 1975. He held the record for the most yards gained in a Super Bowl — 158 against the Minnesota Vikings in 1975.

Harris was born in Fort Dix, New Jersey. His African-American father served in World War II; his mother was a “war bride” from Lucca, Italy. Harris graduated from Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly Township, New Jersey and then attended Penn State University where he played for Penn State’s Nittany Lions.

It all began in Pisa, Italy, where Sergeant Cad Harris of Jackson, Mississippi met Gina Parenti, whose village had been destroyed and whose brother, an Italian soldier, had been killed by the Nazis. She married Cad and went with him to Mount Holly, N.J. Harris is the third in a family of nine children—Daniella, Mario, Franco, Marisa, Alvara, Luana, Piero and Giuseppe. Franco’s father stayed in the Army, at Fort Dix, N.J. after World War II and Franco grew up in a firmly disciplined family.

In his first season with the Steelers (1972), Harris was named the league’s Rookie of the Year by both The Sporting News and United Press International. In that season he gained 1,055 yards on 188 carries, withan average of 5.6 yards per carry. He also rushed for 10 touchdowns and caught 3 touchdown passes. He was popular with Pittsburgh’s large Italian-American population: his fans dubbed themselves, “Franco’s Italian Army” and wore army helmets with his number on them. In his 13 professional seasons, Harris gained 12,120 yards on 2,949 carries, a 4.1 yards per carry average and scored 91 rushing touchdown.

Franco is perhaps best known for the “Immaculate Reception”, a 60 yard reception in the final five seconds of the game that gave Pittsburgh a victory over the Oakland Raiders in a first-round playoff game in 1972. Franco states, “Going into the huddle, my thought was ‘this is going to be the last play of my rookie year.’ I was going to play hard to the end, savor every moment. A pass play was called and my job was to stay in the backfield and help block. When the pass protection broke down and Brad (quarterback Terry Bradshaw) started to scramble, I decided to go out on a pattern as a safety measure. Brad threw downfield to Frenchy Fuqua. Seeing this, I headed in the direction of the pass, thinking I could throw a block, recover a fumble or do something to help out. Before I knew it, the ball was coming back to me.” Franco was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1990.

Pici

Pici is a thick, hand-rolled pasta, much like a fat spaghetti that originated in Tuscany.  The dough is typically made from flour and water only. The addition of egg is optional, being determined by family traditions. The dough is rolled out in a thick flat sheet, then cut into strips. In some families, the strip of dough is rolled between one palm and the table, while the other hand is wrapped with the rest of the strip. It can also be formed by rolling the strip between the palms. Either method forms a thick pasta, slightly thinner than a common pencil. Unlike spaghetti or macaroni, this pasta is not uniform in size and has variations of thickness along its length. Serve with a butter and cheese sauce or a tomato garlic sauce.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups semolina flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 to 1 1/4 cups tepid water

Directions

Place both types of flour in a large mixing bowl and stir to mix well. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the water a little at a time, stirring with your hands until a dough is formed. You may need more or less water, depending on the humidity in your kitchen.

Place the dough on a floured work surface and knead it like bread until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cover the dough and let it stand for 10 minutes at room temperature.

Roll the doughout and cut it into long dowels about 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick. Place the pasta strands between 2 hands and lightly roll back and forth to create a lightly spiraled, snake-like noodle. Place the pici on a sheet tray that has been dusted with semolina flour, cover the pasta with a clean dish towel, and set aside until ready to use. At this point, the pasta can be frozen for several months.

Lawrence Peter Berra

was born in the Italian neighborhood of St. Louis called “The Hill”, to Italian immigrants Pietro and Paolina (née Longoni) Berra. Pietro, originally from Milan in northern Italy, arrived at Ellis Island on October 18, 1909, at the age of 23. In a 2005 interview for the Baseball Hall of Fame, Yogi said, “My father came over first. He came from the old country. And he didn’t know what baseball was. He was ready to go to work. And then I had three other brothers and a sister. My brother and my mother came over later on. My two oldest brothers, they were born there— Mike and Tony. John and I and my sister, Josie, were born in St. Louis. Yogi’s parents originally nicknamed him “Lawdie”, derived from his mother’s difficulty pronouncing “Lawrence” or “Larry” correctly. He grew up on Elizabeth Avenue, across the street from boyhood friend and later competitor, Joe Garagiola; that block, also home to Jack Buck early in his Cardinals broadcasting career, was later renamed “Hall of Fame Place”.

He began playing baseball in local American Legion leagues, where he learned the basics of catching, while playing outfield and infield positions as well. While playing in American Legion baseball, he received his famous nickname from his friend Bobby Hofman, who said he resembled a Hindu yogi whenever he sat around with arms and legs crossed waiting to bat or while looking sad after a losing game.

Following his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II where he served as a gunner’s mate on the USS Bayfield during the D-Day invasion, Berra played minor league baseball with the Newark Bears. While playing for the Bears, Berra was called up to the major leagues and came under the mentorship of Hall of Famer, Bill Dickey, whose number Berra took. The following season he played 83 games for the Yankees. Berra was a fifteen-time All-Star and won the league’s MVP award three times, in 1951, 1954 and 1955.

As a catcher, Berra was truly outstanding. Quick, mobile and a great handler of pitchers, Berra led all American League catchers eight times in games caught, six times in double plays (a major league record), eight times in putouts, three times in assists and once in fielding percentage. He was also one of only four catchers to ever field 1.000 for a season, playing 88 errorless games in 1958. He was the first catcher to leave a finger outside his glove, a style most other catchers eventually emulated. Later in his career, he became a good defensive outfielder in Yankee Stadium’s notoriously difficult left field. In June 1962, at the age of 37, Berra showed his superb physical endurance by catching an entire 22-inning, seven-hour game against the Tigers. Casey Stengel, Berra’s manager during most of his playing career with the Yankees and with the Mets in 1965, once said, “I never play a game without my man.” After Berra’s Yankee playing career ended with the 1963 World Series, he was hired as the manager of the New York Yankees and later, as manager for the Mets. In 1972, Berra was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Cassoeula

Sometimes called Cazzuola, a typical winter dish popular in the Lombardy region in Northern Italy. The meat used in the dish includes mostly pork meat (usually less valuable parts like ribs, rind, head, trotters, ears, nose and tail), Verzino sausage and sometimes other meats like chicken and goose. These are cooked in a casserole with ingredients, such as, onion, carrot, celery, cabbage and black pepper for a few hours. Usually, cassoeula is served with polenta and a strong red wine. It is tradition for this dish to be eaten starting after the first frost of the season, to let the cabbage be softer and tastier

Ingredients

  • 3 carrots chopped
  • 2 celery ribs chopped
  • 1 / 2 onion chopped
  • 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 spare ribs
  • 8 sausages
  • 8 pieces of pork rind
  • 1 head of Savoy cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce

Directions

Place the extra virgin olive oil, the carrots, the celery and the onion in a large pan and let them cook for about 5 minutes.

Add the spare ribs and let them brown, then add the pork rind and after 5 minutes the sausages.

Cook for about 10 minutes and then add the Savoy cabbage.

When the cabbage wilts add the tomato sauce, mix all together, sprinkle with some salt and continue to cook for about 1 hour and 30 minutes.


Botanically known as Myristica fragrans, the nutmeg tree originated in Banda, the largest of the Molucca Spice Islands of Indonesia. In the first century A.D., Roman author Pliny speaks of a tree bearing nuts with two flavors. Emperor Henry VI had the streets of Rome fumigated with nutmeg before his coronation. In the the sixth century, nutmeg was brought to Constantinople by Arab merchants. In the fourteenth century, half a kilogram ( a little over a pound) of nutmeg cost as much as three sheep or a cow.

Since the 1500s, several European countries sent people to retrieve this precious spice. The trip was so difficult that two out of three fleets of ships did not make it back and, those that did, often returned damaged. Despite the travel conditions, Holland, England and Portugal fought to dominate the nutmeg market. It was thought to be an aphrodisiac and have curative effects; people believed that it could cure the plague. The three European powers fought for a long time, until the Portuguese withdrew from the fight to concentrate their efforts in the South American colonies. The Dutch and British finally came to an agreement: the Dutch would have the exclusive rights to the sale of nutmeg and in exchange the English would be given a small island in North America, now known as Manhattan.

The Dutch waged a bloody war, including the massacre and enslavement of the inhabitants of the island of Banda, just to control nutmeg production in the East Indies. In 1760, the price of nutmeg in London was 85 to 90 shillings per pound, a price kept artificially high by the Dutch, who voluntarily burned full warehouses of nutmeg in Amsterdam. The Dutch held control of the Spice Islands until World War II. The British East India Company brought the nutmeg tree to Penang, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, the West Indies and most notably Grenada, where it is the national symbol and is emblazoned on the country’s red, yellow and green flag.

The nutmeg tree is a tropical evergreen that grows to about 12 m (40 ft) and can reach as high as 20 m (66 ft)., with oblong egg-shaped leaves and small, bell-like light yellow flowers that give off a distinct aroma when in bloom. The fruit is light yellow with red and green markings, resembling an apricot or a large plum. As the fruit matures, the outer fleshy covering bursts to reveal the seed. The seed is covered with red membranes called aril, the mace portion of the nutmeg. The nut is then dried for 2 months, until the inner nut rattles inside the shell. It is then shelled to reveal the egg-shaped nutmeat which is the edible portion of the nutmeg. Second-rate nuts are pressed for the oil, which is used in perfume and in the food industry.

The bark of the tree is a dark grey-green which produces a yellow juice which oxidizes to red. It is thickly branched with dense foliage and tough, dark green leaves about 10 cm (4 in) long. It prefers the rich volcanic soil and hot, humid conditions of the tropics. Nutmeg is propagated by seeds in nursery beds and, after about six months, they are transplanted to the fields. It takes five years for the trees to flower. Fruit bearing occurs after 15 years and the trees continue to bear fruit for about fifty years. A single mature tree produces up to 2,000 nuts per year. The fruit is often collected with a long pole with a basket attached (resembling a lacrosse stick), to pick the fruit from the trees. In Indonesia this is called a gai gai. When the fruit is harvested the seed is removed, then the mace from the seed. The mace is flattened between boards and the seeds dried until they rattle, when they are shelled. Nutmeg is not one spice, but two. Mace is also derived from the nutmeg fruit.

In Western cuisine, nutmeg and mace are more popular for cakes, crackers and stewed fruits; nutmeg is sometimes used to flavor cheese sauces (fondue or Béchamel sauce). The combination of spinach with nutmeg is a classic and nutmeg is often found in Italian stuffed pastas, e. g., ravioli and lasagna.

nutmeg_1

Whole nuts are preferable to ground nutmeg, as flavor deteriorates quickly. Whole nuts will keep indefinitely and can be grated as needed with a nutmeg grater. Store both ground and whole nutmeg away from sunlight in airtight containers.

Tortellini en Brodo

(Traditional Filled Pasta in Broth)

Servings 4

6 cups homemade or store bought low sodium chicken broth

For filling

  • 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus additional for serving
  • 7 oz ground lean pork
  • 7 oz finely chopped prosciutto
  • 3 ½ oz ground turkey breast
  • 2 oz butter
  • 1 egg
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • nutmeg

For pasta

  • 1 lb all-purpose flour
  • 4 eggs
  • salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For the tortellini filling:

In a pan, melt the butter then add ground pork and turkey breast. Cook for about 15 minutes, then add chopped prosciutto and continue cooking for a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.

Once cool, add the grated cheese and one egg. Mix until soft and smooth. Add a pinch of salt and nutmeg.

This is the classic tortellini filling, but there are many variations: you can use Mortadella instead of prosciutto, beef instead of pork or chicken instead of turkey.

For the pasta:

Prepare the pasta dough by thoroughly combining the eggs, flour, salt and olive oil. Let rest under a kitchen towel for about 30 minutes. Then roll out into a thin sheet on a pasta machine.

To shape the tortellini, cut the sheet of dough into horizontal slices and then cut them vertically, so that you have ¼ in squares. Place a tiny amount of filling at the center of each square and fold into a triangle, sealing the edges. (If the pasta is too dry, brush the edges with water.)

Squeeze the ends of the triangle together with the point facing upwards and place the corners on top of one another and press until they are sealed. Place them on a lightly floured kitchen towel. Repeat with the rest of the pasta. After the tortellini are shaped, let them rest for a couple of hours before cooking, so they harden.

In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil. Season the stock with salt and pepper, add the tortellini and cook until tender, about 2-3 minutes. Ladle the tortellini and some stock into soup bowls and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Ricotta & Spinach Malfatti

Ingredients

Sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onions, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can Italian whole, peeled tomatoes
  • Handful of fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Malfatti:

  • 4 pounds spinach
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

For Sauce:

In a large saucepan, the heat olive oil, then add the garlic and onions. Cook, about 3 to 4 minutes,. Next, stir in the celery and carrots. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook for about 3 more minutes, then add the canned tomatoes. Bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, lower the flame and simmer until the carrots are tender. Mix the sauce with a hand (immersion)  blender or any appliance that can easily purée vegetables. Finish with chopped basil and season to taste. Keep the sauce warm while you prepare the malfatti.

For Malfatti:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, stir in spinach and cook for about 2 minutes, until leaves turn bright green. Drain quickly and cool them in an ice water bath to preserve the color. Drain well. Spread over paper towels to dry. Once dried, finely chop and set aside.

Drain the ricotta in a sieve if liquid is present. In a large bowl, mash ricotta with a fork. Stir in the eggs, 3/4 cup of Parmigiano, grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add chopped spinach to the mixture. Stir well.

Boil a large pot of salted water.

With a sieve or flour sifter, sprinkle the flour on a large cutting board. Form some roundish, walnut-sized or larger ovals of the spinach mixture and roll them briefly over the flour. Prepare the remaining malfatti. in the same manner.

Gently place the malfatti in the salted boiling water and as soon as they float to the surface, remove them with a slotted spoon to a warm buttered baking dish. If the first batch of malfatti are lukewarm by the time you are done boiling all of them, put the baking dish in a hot oven for just a couple of minutes.

Pour a plentiful amount of the warm tomato sauce on top of the malfatti, add some Parmigiano and basil to garnish and serve them on warm individual plates.

Serves 4 to 6

Roasted Butternut Squash in Butter and Nutmeg

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs butternut squash, peeled and seeded (about 1 large one)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg, grated

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut peeled and seeded squash into 1-inch cubes.

Spray a baking sheet or dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Place squash on baking pan and drizzle with olive oil.

Toss to coat and arrange in a single layer.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until very tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally.

Transfer to a serving dish or bowl.

Melt butter ina  small saucepan over medium-low heat, until butter turns a nut-colored brown, about 4 minutes– don’t burn it!

Pour over squash, toss to coat and sprinkle with nutmeg.

Chicken Tetrazzini

A traditional Italian baked pasta, with chicken, cheese, sherry and nutmeg.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 (8-ounce) package sliced mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 (14-ounce) can low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/3 cups half-and-half
  • 3 tablespoons dry sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3 cups (1 pound) cooked boneless, skinless chicken, cut into strips
  • 1/2 pound spaghetti, broken in half and cooked according to package directions
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté 4 minutes or until browned. Sprinkle with flour and toss to combine. Add broth and half-and-half; cook, stirring often, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in sherry, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Remove from heat and stir in chicken.

Combine cooked spaghetti and chicken mixture; toss gently and spoon into a greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish or shallow 3-quart baking dish; sprinkle with cheese. Bake 20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Baked Italian Donuts

Recipe photo

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup soft butter
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup drained ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups flour
  • Powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar

Directions

Beat butter, egg and sugar together in an electric mixer. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a separate bowl. Add the flour mixture to the butter ingredients alternating with the milk and ricotta. Fill two greased donut pans, about 2/3 full (my pans were purchased from King Arthur). Bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes depending on size.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar before serving.


 

At present, approximately 150,000 – 200,000 households in the U.S. are estimated to raise small numbers of chickens on their family property. Dozens of cities across the country have recently updated or passed new laws or ordinances for “urban chickens,” with many cities setting a cap at five or six chickens per family and their residing a minimum distance of 25-50 feet away from neighboring houses.

Commercial production of chicken in the U.S. has grown continuously and dramatically over the past 30 years. In 2010, production of broiler chickens surpassed 35 billion pounds and is expected to surpass 40 billion pounds by 2020. Per capita chicken consumption was approximately 50 pounds per year in 1985 but grew to nearly 85 pounds per year in 2005. Consumption of chicken presently exceeds consumption of beef by approximately 35%.

The United States is the world’s largest producer of broiler chickens and the U.S. states, Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and North Carolina produce the most chicken for meat purposes. (In terms of egg-laying flocks: Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Texas are states with the most production.)

Chicken (not deep-fried) is a great alternative to red meat. It’s low in fat — without the skin — and it’s very tasty, if it’s prepared correctly. Chicken is a great source of protein and, as an added bonus, it’s less expensive than beef. But remember, there’s always the risk of E. coli infection when you’re dealing with chicken. Be sure to cook it to an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. to avoid any problems.

Many diet plans recommend dieters choose white meat instead of dark meat chicken, because dark meat usually contains more calories than white meat. But dark meat chicken isn’t quite as unhealthy as you may have been led to believe. Dark meat chicken is rich in myoglobin, a compound packed with iron found in muscle cells. The dark meat parts of the chicken, like the chicken’s legs, are rich in myoglobin, whereas white meat chicken contains no myoglobin at all. In addition, dark meat chicken contains more zinc and B vitamins than white meat chicken.

The bottom line is dark meat chicken still contains more calories and fat than white meat, although dark meat does pack greater nutritional value. Occasional consumption of dark meat chicken is also a healthy option.

On average, a 6 oz. piece of white meat chicken breast with skin has approximately 340 calories. If you remove the skin from that same piece of chicken breast, it will contain only 240 calories. Chicken skin mostly consists of fat, so by removing it, you’ll be able to save at least 100 calories per 6 oz. serving. A 6 oz. skinless piece of chicken breast contains 3 g of fat, but that same piece of chicken with skin contains 14 g of fat.

Chicken is a great source of protein. One 6 oz. serving of chicken contains 48 g of protein. Chicken is also rich in potassium, calcium and contains no carbohydrates. The nutritional makeup of chicken makes it a healthy, filling food option. By eating healthy cuts of chicken, you’ll consume only a small amount of calories and your stomach will stay full for hours. This decreases your likelihood of snacking on unhealthy foods later in the day.

Although chicken is a naturally healthy food, it’s easy to make it unhealthy. The best preparations for chicken are grilling (broiling) and baking. You should avoid deep frying and use healthy marinades.

When purchasing whole chickens, look for ones that have a solid and plump shape with a rounded breast. Whether purchasing a whole chicken or chicken parts, the chicken should feel pliable when gently pressed and it should not have an “off” smell. Do not buy chicken if the sell-by date on the label has already expired or the packaging is broken. The color of the chicken’s skin, white or yellow, does not have any bearing on its nutritional value. Regardless of color, the skin should be opaque and not spotted.

If purchasing frozen chicken, make sure that it is frozen solid and does not have any ice deposits or freezer burn. Additionally, avoid frozen chicken that has frozen liquid in the package as this may indicate that it has been defrosted and refrozen.

Shopping for Chicken

Buy organic. Organic standards help lower risk of contaminated feed and organic chicken usually has higher quality and taste. However, remember that organic by itself does not guarantee a natural lifestyle for the chickens.

Ask for Pasture-Raised

Go beyond organic by asking for pasture-raised. Don’t get sidetracked by the confusing array of labeling terms. You are likely to find phrases like “pasture-raised,” “pastured,” free-range” and “cage-free” on chicken meat packaging, but labeling laws allow products to display these terms even if the chickens spend little or no time outdoors in a pasture setting. Talk to your grocer or the chicken farmer and find out how the animals were actually raised.

Consider Local Farms

Organic, pasture-raised chicken may be available from local farms with small flocks and a natural lifestyle for their chickens. Two websites that can help you find small local farms in your area are http://www.localharvest.org and http://www.eatwild.com. Both sites are searchable by zip code.

Chicken should be stored in the coldest section of your refrigerator. If the store packaging is intact and secure, store it this way since this will reduce the amount of handling. Yet, if the packaging is not secure and it seems as if the chicken liquids will leak, rewrap it securely before storing. This is very important to make sure that the chicken does not contaminate other foods in the refrigerator. Refrigerated raw chicken can keep for two to three days.

To freeze chicken: remove it from its packaging and pat it dry with paper towels. Using either aluminum foil or freezer paper, wrap the chicken parts carefully so that they are as airtight as possible. Well-wrapped frozen chicken can keep for about one year.

Wash hands, tools and counters completely after working with chicken.

Lemon Chicken Breasts with Capers

Serves 4

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 oz. each)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/4 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
  • 4 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, patted dry, and chopped
  • 1 lemon, zest finely grated, and juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup lower-salt chicken broth

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 425°F. Make a lengthwise horizontal slice almost all the way through each chicken breast and open each up like a book.

Flatten the chicken with a meat mallet until it is 1/4 inch thick. Put the Parmigiano, bread crumbs, 3 tablespoons capers, lemon zest and 1 tablespoons parsley in a mini chopper or food processor and pulse a few times to combine.

Sprinkle the mixture on top of the chicken breasts. Fold each breast closed and secure with toothpicks. Sprinkle the breasts with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon butter and the oil in a large (12-inch), heavy-duty, oven-proof skillet with a cover over medium-high heat until the butter melts and starts to foam, about 2 minutes.

Add the chicken and cook, without moving it, until it browns and easily releases from the pan, about 2 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook the other side until browned, about 2 more minutes.

Add the garlic and the remaining 1 tablespoon capers to the skillet, transfer the pan to the oven and roast uncovered until the chicken cooks through (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part should register 165°F), about 8 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and tent with foil.

Set the skillet over medium-high heat; add the chicken broth and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits, until it reduces by about half, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Adjust seasoning, if needed.

Serve the chicken drizzled with the butter sauce and sprinkled with the remaining 1 tablespoon parsley.

Chicken Cacciatore

The secret to really great tasting cacciatore is to make it a day ahead, refrigerate overnight and reheat the next day.

Ingredients:

  • 4 lbs chicken cut up or use all thighs, skin removed
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (divided)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (divided)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
  • 1 large onion, diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced (about 3/4 cups)
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1-1/2 cups)
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 (26-oz.) container Pomi brand crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lb. spaghetti

Directions

Arrange the chicken in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or plate. Season with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a ziplock bag. Place a few pieces of chicken in the flour and shake until the chicken is coated. Return to the baking sheet and flour all the chicken.

Place a large Dutch oven over high heat for several minutes. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and heat until shimmering. Add a layer of chicken and brown on both sides. Remove to a large plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil and brown the remainder of the chicken.

Add the remaining oil and vegetables; reduce the heat to medium and sauté until the vegetables are very soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the tomatoes and the chicken to the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for about 1 ½ hours or until the chicken is very tender.

Remove pot from heat and cool. Remove chicken to a large baking dish and pour the sauce from the Dutch Oven over the chicken. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight.

The next day heat oven to 350 degrees F. and heat chicken covered for one hour.

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

Roasted Chicken with Apples and Sage

Servings 6

Ingredients

  • One 4-pound roasting chicken
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 medium apples, cored and quartered
  • 3 small onions
  • 2 ribs celery 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cracked white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup fruity white wine, such as Riesling
  • 3/4 cup apple juice or cider

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Rub the inside of the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Chop 1 apple, 1 onion and the celery into 2-inch pieces. Toss the apple mixture with the garlic and 1 tablespoon sage and place it all in the chicken cavity. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and tuck the wings securely under the chicken.

Mix the butter and mustard to a smooth paste and rub half of the mixture over the chicken and sprinkle with the remaining salt and white pepper. Place the chicken in a medium roasting pan. Roast in the lower third of the oven for 30 minutes.

Brush the remaining mustard-butter over the chicken and continue to roast for 1 hour. Baste the chicken with the pan drippings and sprinkle with remaining sage and thyme.

Scatter the remaining apples and onions around the chicken, tossing lightly to coat with the drippings. Add the white wine and roast the chicken 20 minutes more.

Baste the chicken and toss the apples and onions again for even browning. Continue to roast until juices run clear and the meat between the leg and thigh reaches 165° F.

Remove from the oven and transfer the chicken to a serving platter with the apples and onions.

Prepare the au jus: Tip the roasting pan so the liquid pools to one end and use a large spoon to remove any excess fat from the pan juices. Add the apple cider and place the pan over medium-high heat. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan and then pour the au jus over the chicken, apples and onions.

Slow Cooker Rosemary Chicken with Artichokes

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
  • 2 teaspoons finely shredded lemon peel
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary 
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3 pounds chicken thighs, skinned
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • Snipped fresh parsley
  • Fresh rosemary sprigs

Directions

In a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker, combine onion, garlic, broth, tapioca, 1 teaspoon of the lemon peel, the snipped rosemary and 1/2 teaspoon of the black pepper. Add chicken.

Sprinkle chicken with the salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon black pepper.

Cover and cook on a low-heat setting for 5 to 5-1/2 hours or on high-heat setting for 2-1/2 to 3 hours.

If using the low-heat setting, turn cooker to high heat. Add thawed artichokes and pepper strips. Cover and cook for 30 minutes more. To serve, sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon of lemon peel. If desired, serve with hot cooked rice. If desired, garnish with rosemary sprigs. Makes 6 servings.

Spinach Stuffed Chicken Breasts 

Ingredients

  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (1 1/2 pounds)
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Half a 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, toasted
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (3 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Place 1 chicken breast half between 2 pieces of plastic wrap. Pound lightly with the flat side of a meat mallet into a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Remove plastic wrap. Season with salt and pepper. Repeat with all the chicken breasts.

For the filling: in a medium skillet cook shallots and garlic in the 2 teaspoons hot oil until tender. Remove from heat; stir in spinach, nuts and mozzarella. In a shallow bowl combine bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of filling on each chicken breast. Fold in the bottom and sides; then roll up. Secure with wooden toothpicks.

Lightly brush each roll with the 1 tablespoon olive oil; coat with bread crumb mixture. Place rolls seam side down in a shallow baking pan.

Bake, uncovered, in a 400 degrees F. oven about 25 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink and registers 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer.

Let rolls rest, covered with foil, for 5 minutes. Remove toothpicks before serving. Makes 6 chicken rolls.



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