No reservations needed for this dinner! Sometimes it is just nice to have a special dinner with your partner in your own home. I try to have this special kind of evening every once in a while. Come up with a menu that is elegant but easy to make and the evening will be memorable. The salad and main dish recipes below are easy and come together quickly. The dessert takes a bit longer but eclairs and cream puffs are not difficult to make. You can certainly make anything you like for dessert, as long as it is special to you. Keep romance alive.
Blue Cheese and Dried Cranberry Tossed Salad
1 hearts of romaine lettuce, chopped
1/4 of a cucumber, sliced
1/4 of a red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup crumbled bleu cheese
3 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the dressing: Whisk vinegar and honey in a small bowl until blended. Whisking continuously, slowly add oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Layer the romaine lettuce with the cucumber, onion, almonds, cranberries and bleu cheese on two individual salad plates. Dress the salad with the vinaigrette just before serving.
Filet Mignon with Leek Sauce
2 Filet Mignon steaks, about 7 oz each and 2 inches thick
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, finely chopped white and light green sections of the leek
1/4 cup red wine (such as Cabernet)
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Preheat the grill or broiler. Lightly oil the grill rack or broiler pan. Rub the steaks with the salt, then press the pepper into both sides of the steaks.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and cook the leeks for 6 minutes, or until very soft. Add the wine, capers and tarragon.
Simmer for 3 minutes, or until well blended and heated through. Keep warm.
Grill or broil the steaks about 5-6 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center registers 135°F for medium-rare. Place the steaks on individual serving plates.
Top with the leek sauce and sprinkle with parsley.
Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes
1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1/4 – 1/2 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and place in a large bowl.
Mash the potatoes, adding the buttermilk until moist. Add the chives, cover and keep warm.
Chocolate Filled Eclairs
Makes 12 medium-sized eclairs
3/4 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F; line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use an eclair pan.
Put the butter in a saucepan with the salt and water; bring it to a boil over medium-high heat and stir until the butter is melted.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour; continue to cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture pulls away from sides of the pan and forms a ball, about 30 seconds.
Remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the eggs to the slightly cooled flour mixture one at a time, beating well with the wooden spoon after each addition — the batter will come apart after each egg is added but will reunite as you stir.
Mound dough about 1 inch high and 1 to 2 inches in diameter on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about an inch of space between each one. If using an eclair pan simply fill the indentations.
Bake until puffed and golden, about 25 minutes. Remove the puffs from the oven and pierce the bottom of each puff once with a skewer, to keep them from getting soggy.
Return to the oven; prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon and let the puffs crisp up for about 5 minutes. Cool on a rack.
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Place cream, vanilla extract, sugar and cocoa powder into a large bowl. Stir to combine the ingredients. Cover and chill the bowl and the beaters for at least 30 minutes.
When chilled, beat until stiff peaks form.
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a double boiler over hot, but not boiling water, combine the chocolate chips, butter and corn syrup. Stir until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth; then add the vanilla.
To assemble the éclairs:
Cut the eclairs in half lengthwise. Pipe or spoon the filling into the pastries, then dip the tops of each one into the glaze.
For best results, serve immediately or refrigerate and serve within several hours.
Note: Puffs can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days; freeze unfilled eclairs for longer storage. If the eclairs soften in storage, they can be crisped up in the oven before filling and serving. To re-crisp; bake uncovered in a 300°F for about 5 to 8 minutes. Cool completely before filling.
The Province of L’Aquila is the largest, most mountainous and least densely populated province of the Abruzzo region of southern Italy. The outstanding feature of the Abruzzo region, one that distinguishes it from Tuscany, is its three national parks and 30 nature reserves. It is why the area is known as the “green heart of Italy”. However, the province has been badly affected over the years by earthquakes, particularly the capital city of L’Aquila and its surrounding areas.
The province is also known for its many castles, fortresses and medieval hill towns. The province’s two major cities, L’Aquila and Avezzano, have had rapid economic expansion since the late 20th century, with growth in the areas of transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications and the computer industry.
Throughout most of the 20th century, there were serious population declines in the rural areas, with the near collapse of the province’s agricultural economy, as people moved to cities for work. Since the founding of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga and Majella national parks and the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, tourists have been attracted to the mountainous landscapes. Tourism and associated services have boosted the economy and begun to reverse its decline.
The province of L’Aquila is dotted with ruins of ancient pagan temples and Roman settlements. A well-known city landmark (below) is the Fontana Luminosa (“Luminous Fountain”), a sculpture of two women bearing large jars, that was built in the 1930s.
L’Aquila is a good base for skiing in the Apennines. The two most popular resorts are Campo Felice and Campo Imperator. Both resorts offer routes for downhill skiing, as well as for cross country. Ski season usually lasts from December to April.
The Province of L’Aquila often organizes open-air celebrations and folk festivals that recall the old traditions and offer the chance to taste traditional local products. Abruzzi’s cuisine is rich in local specialties, such as red garlic, sugar-coated almonds, goat cheese, lentils from Santo Stefano di Sessanio, mortadella from Campotosto and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines.
The famous “Maccheroni all chitarra” is amongst the best known in the Abruzzi cuisine. The pasta dough, made of eggs and durum wheat, is cut into strips using a “chitarra” (translated literally as “guitar”). This equipment is made up of a wooden frame, strung with parallel steel strands, and by pushing the sheets of pasta dough through with a rolling-pin, the characteristic shape of chitarra is obtained. Chitarra is served with various Abruzzo sauces that include: pork, goose or lamb ragout.
Abruzzo side dishes include, “sagne e faggioli”, bean soup with traditional thin pasta noodles made from flour and water, flavored with a thin sauce made from fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and spicy peppers. Other well-known Abruzzo dishes, include “gnocchi carrati”, flavored with bacon, egg and ewes-milk cheese. “Scripelli” crepes are served in a soup or used to form a soufflé dish and are served with a little ragout or stuffed with chicken liver, meat balls, hard-boiled eggs or a fresh ewe’s-milk cheese.
Ravioli can also be stuffed with sugar and cinnamon and served with a thick pork ragout. The “Pastuccia” is a stew of polenta that is served with sausage, egg and grated ewe’s-milk cheese and “pappicci” are thin pasta noodles in a tomato sauce.
Roast lamb has several variations, such as “arrosticini”, thin wooden skewers with pieces of lamb, cooked over an open fire and often served with bruschetta – which is roasted bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil. Pecora al cotturo is lamb stuffed with herbs and cooked in a copper pot and “agnello cacio e oro” is a rustic fricassee.
Pizzas, from the Easter Pizza, above, (a cake with cheese and pepper) to “fiadoni” that is often enriched by a casing of pastry and filled with everything imaginable: eggs, fresh cheeses, ricotta and vegetables with all the flavorings and spices that the mind can only imagine.
The spreadable sausage from Teramano flavored with nutmeg, liver sausage from the mountains, ewe’s-milk cheeses and mozzarella cheese are all local favorites.
Traditional homemade desserts include “Ferrarelle”, aniseed wafers, “cicerchiata”, balls of fried dough joined into ring shapes with heated honey, “croccante” a type of nougat made with almonds and caramelized sugar, flavored with lemon, “mostaccioli” biscuits sweetened with cooked must; “pepatelli” biscuits of ground almonds and honey; macarons and the airy “Sise delle monache”, triangular pieces of sponge cake filled with confectioners cream; almonds and chocolate.
Prosciutto and Fichi
The prosciutto from near L’Aquila is a bit saltier and less sweet than the prosciutto from Parma or San Daniele.
Slices of prosciutto crudo
Fresh, ripe figs
Large basil leaves
Slice the figs in half (if they are the smaller ones or in quarters if they are the larger variety). Wrap the ham and basil around the figs. Arrange on a serving platter and drizzle with balsamic vinegar..
Swiss Chard with Borlotti Beans (Verdure con Fagioli)
2 cups dried borlotti or cranberry beans, soaked overnight and drained
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
7 lbs Swiss chard, trimmed, leaves and tender stems roughly chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon. crushed red chili flakes
12 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4 stalks celery, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
3 carrots, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1⁄4″ pieces
2 cups chicken stock
Boil beans and 6 cups water in a 6-qt. saucepan. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. Drain beans; set aside.
Fill a saucepan with salted water and bring to a boil. Add the chard and cook until wilted and the stems are tender, 4–6 minutes; drain and squeeze dry.
Add 1⁄4 cup oil and the chili flakes to the same saucepan and heat over medium. Cook garlic, celery, carrots and onion until golden, 8–10 minutes.
Add the reserved beans and chard, the stock, salt and pepper and simmer until the stock is slightly reduced, 6–8 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and drizzle with the remaining oil.
Ragu’ all’Abruzzese (Abruzzese-style meat sauce)
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1/2 lb boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1/2 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
1/2 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 3 or 4 large pieces
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 pounds chopped canned tomatoes, with their juices (about 7 1/2 cups)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves finely chopped
Warm the cooking oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Season the pieces of meat with a little salt and pepper and add them to the pot.
Brown for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the pieces over to brown the other side, another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pieces to a deep plate or bowl.
Press the tomatoes through a food mill. Discard the solids. Set the tomatoes aside.
Return the Dutch oven to medium heat and add the extra virgin olive oil. Stir in the onion and garlic, reduce the heat to medium-low, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is shiny and beginning to soften.
Pour in the tomatoes, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer.
Return the meat to the pot and reduce the heat to medium low or low to maintain a gentle simmer.
Cover partially and let the sauce cook, stirring it from time to time, for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender and the sauce is thickened.
Add a splash or two of water, if the sauce thickens too much before the meat is done. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Turn off the heat. Remove the meat from the pot, shred it and return it to the sauce.
Note: The ragu may be stored in a tightly lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.
This sauce is traditionally served over pappardelle or chitarra pasta.
Italian waffle cookies, or pizzelle (which literally means small pizzas), are quite popular in the Abruzzo region of Italy. You can add cocoa with the sugar and make a chocolate version, or spread some hazelnut cream on one and top with another.
Makes about 36 pizzelle
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons anise (or other extract)
Preheat the pizzelle maker. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl, combine the butter and sugar and mix until smooth. Add the anise and then the eggs, one at a time, until well blended. Pour in the dry ingredients and mix well.
Lightly spray the pizzelle maker with vegetable oil (unless you have a non-stick version).
Drop the batter by the tablespoon onto the hot pizzelle iron and cook, gauging the timing (usually less than a minute) according to the manufacturer’s instructions or until golden.
Serve with your favorite toppings.
Looking for some ideas to make your veggie dishes more appealing? Try stuffing them. These recipes can serve as a main course or a side dish. I wanted to use vegetables that you do not see stuffed very often and that are in season at this time of year, instead of cooking the usual peppers and tomatoes. Try these recipes for an interesting change.
Swiss Chard Rolls
2 bunches Swiss chard, about 10 leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
2/3 cup quick cooking barley
1/4 cup diced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup diced Swiss chard stems
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/13 plus 2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Place the Swiss chard leaves in boiling water for 5 minutes to soften. Drain and place on paper towels.
Remove the ribs/stems from each leaf and set the leaves aside. Chop enough of the stems to measure ¼ cup.
In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, bring the 1 ⅓ cups vegetable broth to a boil and add a pinch of salt.
Add the barley, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan and cook the barley for ten minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let the barley rest covered for five minutes.
In a small skillet heat the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and Swiss chard stems. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until they soften. Add salt, pepper and the Italian seasoning.
Add the chopped tomatoes, basil and cheese. Cook until the tomatoes soften. Adjust seasoning if necessary. Add this mixture to the cooked barley and stir well.
Set aside until the mixture is cool enough to handle.
Divide the stuffing equally among the leaves, about 2-3 tablespoons for each leaf.
Bring the edges of the leaves, about 1/2 inch, toward the center and roll and tuck into a ball or a cigar shape.
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Arrange the Swiss chard rolls in a 13 x 9 inch baking dish and pour the 2 cups of stock over the rolls. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour.
Spinach Stuffed Squash
2 large yellow squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup onion, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 cup panko crumbs
2.5 oz fresh baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut a thin slice off the top of each squash. With a spoon carefully remove the flesh of the squash without cutting into the outer shell. I use a grapefruit spoon to remove the flesh.
Finely chop the squash flesh.
In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and chopped squash; cook 5 minutes or until transparent. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the panko crumbs and cheese.
Spoon mixture evenly into the squash shells. Place in a greased baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes; remove the foil and bake for 15 minutes more.
Cheeseburger Stuffed Onions
If you would like to make this dish vegetarian, substitute a grain, such as quinoa or rice for the meat in the recipe.
2 medium sweet onions
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons bell pepper, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon chili (red) pepper flakes
1/4 lb lean ground beef or turkey
1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Topping: 2 slices of American cheese, each folded into quarters
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut a 1/4-inch-thick slice from the top of each onion and reserve. Trim just enough from the bottom of the onions so they can stand upright.
Remove the dry skin and the outermost layer of each onion. Use a spoon or an ice cream scoop to remove the inner layers of the onion, forming a bowl with about 3-4 layers thick.
Dice the removed inner section of one of the onions and set aside. Save remaining sections for another use.
Prepare the stuffing:
Heat oil in a medium skillet. Add reserved diced onion and bell pepper and saute just until tender, about 4 to 6 minutes.
Add garlic, fennel seeds and chili flakes and saute for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add meat, stirring to crumble the meat and saute until browned, about 6 to 8 minutes.
Stir in the basil, salt and pepper.
Divide the stuffing evenly into each onion bowl, mounding it up. Wrap each onion in two layers of aluminum foil and bake in the oven about 45 minutes, or until tender.
Unwrap onions and top each with a slice of folded cheese. Return to the oven unwrapped and heat until the cheese begins to melt.
Transfer to a serving plate. Serve hot.
During the holidays or for game events, I like to serve small plate foods. Guests can serve themselves and take what they like, when they want it. These plates look attractive and can often be prepared in advance. I set up a few hot plates and place the dishes on there so they stay warm for several hours. I often make Eggplant Parmesan and Greek spinach and Feta Pie and cut them into small squares as an option.
For Christmas, I received a Himalayan Salt block for a gift. As the name suggests, a Himalayan Salt Block is a large block of pink salt and mine came with a tray with handles that holds the block securely. The block can be frozen to keep foods cold and it can also be used on the grill. I used mine for a get together of friends on New Year’s Day and served smoked salmon and whitefish on the block. It looked very attractive and gave the fish a little salt flavor.
Other dishes that work well for small plates are Italian Sausage and Peppers, small sandwiches, celery stuffed with flavored cream cheese, shrimp salad and, of course, a cheese board.
Here are some recipes for small plates that I like to serve.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for cooking
2 shallots, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh oregano
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
16-20 small fresh mozzarella balls (about 6 ounces)
2-3 cups cold risotto
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups panko or traditional bread crumbs
Marinara Sauce, for serving
In a medium saute pan, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add in the shallots and cook for 3-5 minutes until softened. Add in the oregano and basil and stir until the herbs are wilted. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add the herb mixture to the mozzarella balls and stir to mix.
Take approximately 2 tablespoons of cold risotto in your palm and flatten slightly. Add one mozzarella ball covered in the herb mix to the center. Cover the cheese with the rice and roll into a ball form. Dip the ball into flour, shaking lightly to remove any clumps, then into the beaten eggs, and finally, roll the ball in the bread crumbs. Place the coated balls on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining risotto until all of the risotto and/or cheese balls are used.
Pour enough olive oil in a deep skillet to just cover the bottom of the pan. Heat the oil and add the arancini. Cook on all sides until lightly brown all over. Drain on paper towels.
Note: I usually make them in advance and then reheat before serving in a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.
For the bread crumb topping:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
For the calamari:
1/2 pound cleaned squid cut into rings, dry on paper towels, air dry and then move to a plate
2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil plus 1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Make the bread crumb topping:
Heat the 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet and add the garlic and Italian seasoning. Saute for a minute. Add the breadcrumbs and stir until lightly brown. Set aside
For the calamari:
Heat a medium skillet and add the olive oil. Then garlic, butter and chili flakes. Add calamari, salt and pepper and parsley and cook 1-2 minutes Squeeze lemon over the fish and sprinkle lightly with the toasted bread crumbs.
Note: It is important not to overcook calamari or it will become tough. A minute or two is all it needs to cook.
Roast Beef Rolls
½ lb deli sliced roast beef, cut very thin
1 jar roasted red peppers, drained and cut into squares
3 cups baby arugula
Italian salad dressing
Fresh ground black pepper
Pour a little salad dressing over the arugula and mix well. You just want the leaves moistened not drowning in dressing.
Place the roast beef slices on a work surface.
Place a piece of roasted pepper on top. Then add a spoonful of arugula salad.
Roll each slice up tightly and arrange on a serving platter. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
Chicken Pesto Sliders
12 small dinner rolls or slider rolls
½ lb deli sliced roast chicken, sliced very thin
2-3 plum tomatoes sliced thin
8 oz.fresh mozzarella, sliced
Spread a little pesto on both sides of the rolls.
On each roll place 2 slices of chicken, a slice of tomato and a slice of mozzarella.
Close the rolls and place them on a baking sheet.
Heat in a 325 degree F oven for 10-12 minutes, just until the cheese starts to melt.
Remove the sliders from the oven and place on a serving tray.
Rome covers almost one-third of the Lazio region and is the capital of Italy. Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years. While Roman mythology dates the founding of Rome around 753 BC, the area has been inhabited for much longer according to historians, making it one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe.
Rome covers almost one-third of the Lazio region and is the capital of Italy. Rome’s history spans more than two and a half thousand years. While Roman mythology dates the founding of Rome around 753 BC, however, the area has been inhabited for much longer, making it one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe.
After the fall of the Western Empire, which marked the beginning of the Middle Ages, Rome gradually came under the political control of the Papacy and continued under their rule until 1870.
Rome was a major world center of the Renaissance, second only to Florence, and was profoundly affected by the movement. A masterpiece of Renaissance architecture in Rome is the Piazza del Campidoglio by Michelangelo. During this period, the great aristocratic families of Rome used to build opulent dwellings like the Palazzo del Quirinale (now seat of the President of the Italian Republic), the Palazzo Venezia, the Palazzo Farnese, the Palazzo Barberini, the Palazzo Chigi (now seat of the Italian Prime Minister), the Palazzo Spada, the Palazzo della Cancelleria, and the Villa Farnesina.
Many of the famous city’s squares – some huge, majestic and often adorned with obelisks, got their present design during the Renaissance and Baroque. The principal ones are Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna, Campo de’ Fiori, Piazza Venezia, Piazza Farnese, Piazza della Rotonda and Piazza della Minerva. One of the most best examples of Baroque art is the Fontana di Trevi by Nicola Salvi. Other notable 17th-century baroque palaces are the Palazzo Madama, now the seat of the Italian Senate and the Palazzo Montecitorio, now the seat of the Chamber of Deputies of Italy.
Public parks and nature reserves cover a large area in Rome, and the city has one of the largest areas of green space among European capitals. The most notable part of this green space is represented by the large number of villas and landscaped gardens created by the Italian aristocracy. While most of the parks surrounding the villas were destroyed during the building boom of the late 19th century, some of them remain. The most notable of these are the Villa Borghese, Villa Ada, and Villa Doria Pamphili. In the area of Trastevere the Orto Botanico (Botanical Garden) is a cool and shady green space. The old Roman hippodrome (Circus Maximus) is another large green space: it has few trees, but is overlooked by the Palatine and the Rose Garden (‘roseto comunale’). The Villa Borghese garden is the best known large green space in Rome, with famous art galleries among its shaded walks. Overlooking Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish Steps are the gardens of Pincio and Villa Medici.
Rome is a city famous for its numerous fountains, built in all different styles, from Classical and Medieval, to Baroque and Neoclassical. The city has had fountains for more than two thousand years, and they have provided drinking water in the past.
Rome has an extensive amount of ancient catacombs, or underground burial places under or near the city, of which there are at least forty, some discovered only in recent decades.
Experience Rome via this entertaining video from Travel & Leisure: ROMA
Much of Rome’s cuisine comes from traditions that were based on poverty: people ate what they could get their hands on, the stuff the wealthy considered inedible and tossed away. In fact, many of the foods Romans today consider “Roman” are in fact based on old Jewish Roman cuisine.
Artichokes – are thistles and were not considered a very edible plant long ago. Ox-tail stew – is the leftover from a larger, meatier animal. Zucchini flowers – are the part of the vegetable you threw away. Today, you find zucchini flowers everywhere in Roman cuisine, and it’s considered a delicacy: pizza topped with zucchini flowers, stuffed zucchini flowers and spaghetti and clams with zucchini flowers are some classic examples of typical Roman foods.
The quinto quarto refers to all the parts of an animal that are not considered “meat”: tripe, intestines, brains etc. This is also called “offal” and for those who love it, know where to get the best of it in Rome.
Fried appetizers are popular and include stuffed zucchini flowers (fiori di zucca), stuffed fried olives (olive ascolane), potato croquettes, other fried vegetables and battered and fried salted cod (baccalà.)
Bruschetta, topped with either tomatoes and a drizzle of olive oil, with some garlic or basil, or topped with a spread, such as artichokes, olives or truffles.
Pasta in Rome is typically long, such as spaghetti, fettucine, tagliatelle or tagliolini; or short dried pasta such as farfalle (little bow ties), rigatoni or penne. Typical Roman pastas are amatriciana, cacio e pepe, gricia and carbonara.
Soups (minestre), often of legumes and grains. For example “zuppa di farro” is a vegetarian soup made with spelt, a thick chewy grain. Another classic is “minestra di ceci e vongole”, which is a soup of chickpeas and clams (other shellfish are used as well.)
Meat dishes in Rome are mostly beef, pork and lamb. But especially beef. One classic Rome dish is beef straccetti, which are thin strips of beef, slowly cooked in their own juices, and then served alone on a plate, served with parmesan cheese, arugula (rocket) or artichokes. You will also typically find beef served as a simple grilled steak, or as a “tagliata”, which means, a steak that gets sliced just as it comes off the grill.
A classic Roman meat dish is lamb “scottaditto”, which means, lamb chops served so hot and crispy, they burn your fingers.
There is a lot of pork in Roman cuisine and, very often, in pasta sauces such as amatriciana, gricia and carbonara. Two very common pork dishes in Rome are “porchetta”, a baby pig stuffed with herbs and slowly cooked; and “maialino”, which is very tender, slowly baked baby pig.
Stracciatella (Egg Drop Soup)
- 1.5 quarts chicken broth
- 3 eggs
- 3 tablespoons grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
- 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Heat the broth to boiling and set aside 3 tablespoons of the hot broth in a mixing bowl.
Beat 3 eggs in a separate bowl. Add the grated cheese and the bread crumbs.
Add the reserved 3 tablespoons of broth and beat until creamy.
Return the broth to boiling.
Pour the egg mixture into the boiling broth. Whisk vigorously with a fork to break up the egg into small strips.
Cook for about 3 more minutes, stirring continuously.
Remove the pot from the heat and immediately pour into serving bowls. Sprinkle with more parmesan and freshly grated nutmeg.
Beef Tagliata Salad
- 1 tender steak, such as rib-eye or T-bone
- Sea Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- 2 handfuls arugula
- Small block of Parmigiano Reggiano
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Lemon cut in half
Lightly season the beef with salt and then place on the grill and cook for five minutes on each side, Remove the steak to a plate and allow it to rest for another five minutes.
Once rested slice the meat diagonally with a sharp knife into thin slices, drizzle a little olive oil over the meat and sprinkle with sea salt.
Arrange the beef between two plates. Place the arugula into a bowl and dress with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the leaves around and over the beef.
Shave the Parmesan into thin strips and sprinkle over the beef. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with a half lemon.
- 8 oz. bucatini or spaghetti pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 100 g or 3.5 oz. guanciale or pancetta (about ¾ cup diced)
- 100 g grated pecorino romano (about ½ cup)
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- One 14 oz. can Italian plum tomatoes
- ½ tsp. hot pepper flakes, or more to taste
Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Put in a small handful of large-grain salt.
Dice the guanciale into medium cubes, about 1/2 inch.
Saute the guanciale and hot pepper in the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. As soon as the fat becomes translucent, remove the meat and place on a paper towel to drain.
Add onions to the rendered fat and saute, stirring constantly, until translucent.
Add the tomatoes and the guanciale. Simmer on low heat about 5 minutes.
When the salted water comes to a boil, add the pasta. Cook the pasta 1 minute less than the package states.
Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the sauce. Toss in the sauce and add the pecorino romano, stirring constantly so that the melted cheese coats the pasta.
Remove from heat and serve immediately with additional grated pecorino for sprinkling on top.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 pounds oxtail, cut into 2-inch sections
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 small onion, roughly chopped
- 1/2 carrot, diced
- 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 28 ounces Italian tomatoes, peeled and chopped
- About 3 cups beef stock
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cloves
In a heavy-bottom saucepot, heat the olive oil.
Season the oxtail pieces with salt, browning each side of the pieces. Remove; set aside.
Add the onions and a pinch of salt to the pan. Sweat the onions until they are translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add the carrots, cooking until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the celery and garlic. Cook 3 minutes more.
Add the oxtail pieces back to the pot. Deglaze with the wine over high heat, cooking about 2 minutes.
Add the tomatoes; bring to a boil. Continue boiling to cook off some of the tomato water.
Add the beef stock just to cover the meat, then the pepper and cloves.
Bring to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat to a simmer, cover with a circle of parchment paper, and cook for 4 hours (stirring occasionally).
Once the oxtail is tender, remove the pieces to a serving dish. Cover with aluminum foil; set aside.
Strain the sauce, pressing down on the vegetables to extract all the juices.
Skim all the fat off the top, and pour into a smaller saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook, reducing by 1/4.
Taste for seasoning. Pour the sauce over the oxtail and serve
This is the time of year for parties and getting together with friends and relatives to celebrate the New Year. It is also a time for festive foods. If you are asked to bring a dish to the party, you may be thinking about what you can bring. Below you will find the recipes for some of my favorite take along dishes.
2 (one pound) pizza dough balls, at room temperature
1/4 pound thinly sliced Genoa salami
1/4 pound thinly sliced capicola
12 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup marinara sauce
1 egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and line two baking sheets with parchment.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the dough balls to a 15 x 10 inch rectangle.
Spread half the marinara sauce over the dough.
Sprinkle with half the shredded cheese.
Layer half the meat over the cheese on the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch border.
Roll the dough up into a log and brush the seam edges with beaten egg.
Leaving the seam at the bottom and pinching the ends closed, place the roll on one of the baking sheets. Cut five small slits in the top of the log.
Complete the other roll in the same manner.
Brush the rolls with the beaten egg mixture and bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool 10 minutes before slicing.
I usually prepare 4-1 pound eggplants at once and freeze them, individually, for future use.
For each one pound of eggplant, you will need:
1 pound eggplant, peeled
1/2 to 3/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters)
1 cup Italian style bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick olive oil cooking spray.
Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (no thicker). You want them to be thin.
Place the egg substitute in one shallow dish and the bread crumbs in another.
Dip the eggplant slices into the egg substitute mixture, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.
Bake for 15 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and bake until crisp and golden, about 10-15 minutes longer.
If you are not going to assemble the eggplant dish at this time, wrap each batch of eggplant in aluminum foil with foil sheets between the layers and place it in a ziplock freezer bag.
Store in the freezer until you need it. Defrost a package overnight in the refrigerator, when you want to make the casserole.
To assemble the casserole, you will need:
Spray an 8 inch or 9 inch or 8-by-11 1/2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.
Preheat the oven to 375 °F.
2 ½ cups Marinara sauce (see recipe below)
1-8 ounce package shredded mozzarella cheese
1 package of breaded and baked eggplant
Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange half of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly.
Spoon 1 cup of the remaining sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the package of cheese.
Add a layer of the remaining eggplant slices and top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce bubbles, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Here is the recipe for Marinara Sauce.
3 garlic gloves, minced
1/2 large onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
1 celery stalk, chopped fine
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven and saute vegetables
Add 1-6 oz. can tomato paste
Fill the empty can with water and add it to the pot
Add 4-26 to 28 oz. containers of chopped Italian tomatoes
Simmer for 1 hour.
Add 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon each black pepper and dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper and dried thyme.
Simmer for another hour or until the sauce has thickened.
Taste the sauce to see if it is very acidic. If it is, add a teaspoon of honey or agave syrup.
Measure out 2 ½ cups of sauce for the recipe above and freeze the remaining sauce.
Oven Barbecued Brisket
Time: About 4 hours
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 whole beef brisket, about 5 pounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 or 2 large onions, finely chopped
2 cups ketchup
1/2 cup dry red wine or beef broth
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
1 tablespoon chili powder, or to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Heat a large pot or Dutch oven that can later be covered over medium-high heat for 2 or 3 minutes.
When it is hot, add the oil, swirl it around, then add the beef.
Sear the meat for about 5 minutes on each side, seasoning with salt and pepper; when nicely browned, remove from pot to a plate.
Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring, over medium-low heat until softened, about 5 minutes (if the meat is very lean you might need to add a little oil).
Add all remaining ingredients, stir and cook for about a minute. Return the meat to pot, nestling it in sauce.
Cover the pan, put it in oven, and cook until the meat is tender, at least 3 hours and probably closer to 4. Turn the meat over several times during the baking process.
When the brisket is done, you can refrigerate it in its liquid for 1 to 2 days and reheat before serving.
Yield: 10 or more servings.
This is a busy time with all the holiday preparations and the refrigerator has lots of leftovers from last week. As you know, I am not a fan of just heating up the leftovers. I have to do something different with them. Nothing too involved though at this time – just a few different additions. The leftovers include Beef Cacciatore, Cheese Stuffed Meatloaf and Spaghetti Squash. Here are some recipes to change them a bit.
Beef Pasta Bake
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 6 cups leftover Beef Cacciatore and noodles: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2016/12/05/what-to-cook-this-week-beef-cacciatore/
- 2 cups marinara sauce: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2016/12/09/what-to-cook-in-december-cabbage/
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix together the ricotta cheese, mozzarella and salt.
Oil an 11×8 baking dish. Spread ½ cup marinara sauce in the baking dish
Layer half of the beef cacciatore and noodles in the dish.
Spread the ricotta mixture over the pasta and cover with the remaining beef and noodle mixture.
Pour the remaining marinara sauce over the top of the pasta and beef.
Cover the dish with foil and bake the casserole for 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Make extra sauce because it is delicious on pizza.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 small bell pepper, diced
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 2 cups Marinara Sauce
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Slices of Cheese Filled Meatloaf: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2016/12/07/what-to-cook-in-december-meatloaf-dinner/
Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the garlic, onion and bell pepper to the skillet and cook until tender.
Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the marinara sauce and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the sauce cook for about 15 minutes. Add parsley and remove the pan from the heat.
Warm slices of meatloaf in the microwave and pour some hot pizzaiola sauce over each slice to serve.
Spaghetti Squash Cakes
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/3 cup self rising flour (if you use regular flour the cakes won’t be as puffy)
- 3 cups leftover cooked spaghetti squash: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2016/12/12/what-to-cook-in-december-spaghetti-squash-dinner/
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Half an onion, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
In a large bowl, combine the flour and beaten eggs with a whisk. Add the spaghetti squash, cheese, onions and ¼ teaspoon salt. Mix very well, until all the mixture has a uniform consistency.
Heat a large skillet on high-medium heat until very hot. Then add the olive oil. Add ¼ cup of the batter to the hot skillet. Repeat with as many ¼ cups as will fit in your skillet.
Cook until the bottom side of each cake is golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Using a spatula, turn the cakes over and cook 1-2 more minutes.
Repeat with any remaining batter and add more oil if needed.
Serve as is or with sour cream or Greek yogurt.