Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Cheese

Lemon tree we planted for Earth Day 2015.

Lemon tree we planted for Earth Day 2015.

Maple tree we planted for Earth Day 2016

Maple tree we planted for Earth Day 2016

The Earth Day movement, that was started in the 1970′s by John McConnell, has since seen billions take part in planting trees, cleaning up local neighborhoods and pushing government officials to enact more progressive environmental laws. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was instrumental in raising awareness about protecting the environment. On April 22, 1970, rallies were held in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, DC and Los Angeles, as well as, on numerous college campuses across the country.

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The mission of Earth Day was formally established by the Earth Society Foundation in 1976. Its mission was:

“Conduct educational programs and seminars and promote research and investigation throughout the world for the purpose of providing data to all individuals and institutions who are joining in the movement to promote and implement the Earth care ethic: namely, that the stewardship and care of earth requires action to produce and use materials and services that help nurture, conserve and recycle, without destructive pollution, the organisms and nutrients of Earth’s web of life. Coordinate or assist the work of like-minded organizations for the purposes of minimizing unnecessary duplication of energies and maximizing the impact and effectiveness of the earth care movement.”

Triggered by Earth Day awareness, the United States government has enacted many environmental programs, such as the Clean Air Act, Water Quality Improvement Act, Endangered Species Act, Toxic Substance Control and the Surface Mine and Reclamation Act.

Botanic gardens are natural resources for Earth Day events and their focus varies from being educational to just enjoying nature. Master gardening and children’s programs are a wonderful way to get families involved in gardening. There are bird watching and identification programs at gardens, since the birds are naturally attracted to the large variety of plants and flowers. Zoos also offer educational programs for patrons as a way to connect with nature through the animal world.

Earth Day is the perfect time to reflect on our food footprint (the environmental impact related to the production of food). The less processing your food sees the better. Eat locally and fill your market basket with in season produce. Eat local, sustainable fish. Eat less meat but, when you do, eat locally raised, grass-fed meat. Don’t waste food. Look for products that have minimal packaging or packaging and are made from recycled materials or with materials that can be recycled after use.

Eco-Friendly Menu

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Grilled Redfish with Spinach Pesto

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 oz redfish fillet, cut in half or any fish fillets available in your area
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Spinach Pesto, recipe below

Directions

Prepare an outdoor grill for medium-high heat, lighting fresh coals if you are using a charcoal grill. If you are using a gas grill, preheat the grill by turning all burners on to high for about 10 to 15 minutes, then reduce one burner to a medium-high temperature. You may also cook the fish on a greased indoor grill.

Brush the redfish fillets with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.

Cut a sheet of heavy duty foil large enough to hold the fish and poke a few holes in it. Spray the foil with cooking spray and place the fish on top of the foil. Place the foil on a tray or plate to carry it out to the grill.

Slide the redfish fillets on the foil onto the grill and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes. Top the fish, while on the grill, with Spinach Pesto after 4 minutes of cooking time and continue to grill until the fish is cooked to your liking. My redfish fillets only took 6 minutes to cook, so watch the cooking time carefully.

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Spinach Pesto

This sauce is also delicious over grilled chicken.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves (about 2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1’2 teaspoon salt and
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions

Combine the spinach leaves, pine nuts, lemon juice and lemon peel in a processor. Lightly pulse.

With the machine running, gradually add the oil, blending until the mixture is creamy. Add the salt and pepper. Pulse.

Pour into a serving bowl and stir in the Parmesan. Adjust the seasoning according to your taste.

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Green Beans with Toasted Pecans

Pecans are locally grown in my area and fresh thin green beans are now in season where I live.

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces blanched green beans, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the pecans and toast them. Set aside on a plate.

Heat the oil in the same pan and add the red onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is tender.

Add the green beans and salt and pepper to taste. Saute the beans until hot. Add the pecans and serve.

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Fennel and Potato Casserole

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs new or red potatoes, peeled
  • 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed
  • 1 cup firmly packed fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible and put them in a large bowl of cold water to keep them from browning.

Cut the fennel in half lengthwise. Slice the fennel crosswise as thinly as possible.

In a mixing bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, grated cheese, parsley and garlic.

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400ºF. Lightly oil the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Without draining the potatoes, use your hands to lift out about one-third of the slices and arrange them in the bottom of the baking dish, overlapping them slightly. (The water clinging to them will generate steam as they bake.)

Season with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Sprinkle the potatoes evenly with 1/4 cup of the breadcrumb mixture. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil.

Top the potatoes with half of the sliced fennel, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle the fennel with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup of the breadcrumb mixture and 1 tablespoon of the oil.

Repeat this layering process, ending with a top layer of potatoes. Season the top layer with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and some more pepper.

Top with the remaining breadcrumb mixture and the final 2 tablespoons oil.

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Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes.

Uncover and continue baking until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork and the top is golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Let rest at least 10 minutes before serving.

Earth Day - No Year


Palermo by Alexey Petrovich Bogolyubov, 1850

Palermo by Alexey Petrovich Bogolyubov, 1850

Palermo’s history has been anything but stable as the area passed from one dominating power to another with frequency. Its strategic position in the middle of the Mediterranean brought invaders including the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Saracen Arabs, the Normans, the Swabians, the French and the Spanish Bourbons, just to name a few. The result of this history is evident in the vast range of architectural styles, the names of places in the region that are obviously not Italian and the fusion of ingredients used in many local dishes.

Palermo,_Sicily

Human settlement in the Palermo area goes back to prehistoric times. It is one of the most ancient sites in Sicily. Interesting graffiti and prehistoric paintings were discovered in the Addaura grottoes in 1953 by archaeologist Jole Bovio Marconi. They portray dancing figures performing a rite with shamans. In 734 BC Phoenicians from Tyre (Lebanon) established a flourishing merchant colony in the Palermo area. The relationship of the new colony with the Siculi, the people living in the Eastern part of the Island, involved both commerce and war.

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Piazza Pretoria

Between the 8th and the 7th centuries BC, the Greeks colonized Sicily. They called the area Panormus (“All port”) and traded with the Carthaginians, Phoenician descendants who were from what is now Tunisia. The two civilizations lived together in Sicily until the Roman conquest.

Streets-of-Palermo-Sicily-Italy

Situated on one of the most beautiful promontories of the Mediterranean, Palermo is an important trading and business center and the seat of a university. Palermo is connected to the mainland by an international airport and an increasing number of maritime links. The city of Palermo is vibrant and modern and its large harbor and international airport makes it a popular tourist destination. There are many events and festivals that take place throughout the year in Palermo, the most important of which is the feast day of the city’s patron saint, Saint Rosalia. There is a sanctuary dedicated to her at the top of Monte Pellegrino, just outside the city, and the mountain dominates the backdrop to the city. The surrounding area is a green and pleasant nature park and is a favorite picnic area for locals. Also in Palermo are the Catacombs of the Capuchins, a tourist attraction.

palermo-ballard sicily-8

Palermo Cuisine

In the Sicilian food culture there is no such thing as a “main course”, but rather a series of courses of varying number, depending on the occasion, usually a (primo) first course of pasta, soup, rice, etc. and a (secondo) second course of meat, fish or vegetable, often served with a (contorno) side dish of vegetables. Fresh fruit is usually served as dessert. For a more formal occasion an (antipasto) appetizer comes before the primo.

A number of popular foods are typically served as side dishes or “starters.” Arancini are rice balls stuffed with meat or cheese encrusted in a crispy coating. Caponata is a mixture made with eggplant, olives, capers and celery, and served as an appetizer. Sfincione is a thick form of pizza made with tomatoes, onions and anchovies, usually made in bakeries rather than pizzerias. Panella is a thin paste made of crushed or powdered ceci (garbanzo) beans and served fried. Maccu is a creamy soup made from the same bean, usually served in winter. Crocché (croquet) are fried potato dumplings made with cheese, parsley and eggs. Fritedda is a springtime vegetable dish or pasta sauce made with fresh green fava beans, peas and artichoke hearts.

Ricotta is a soft cheese made from sheep’s milk and Ricotta Salata is an aged, salty version. Caciocavallo is aged cow’s cheese used for cooking. Canestrato is similar but made from sheep’s or goat’s milk. Tuma and Primo Sale are sweeter and softer, aged only briefly. Gattò is similar to quiche and made with potatoes, ham and cheese.

Sicily is renowned for its seafood. Grilled swordfish (pesce spada) is popular. Smaller fish, especially triglie (red snapper), are sometimes prepared in a vinegar and sugar sauce. Seppia (cuttlefish) is served in its own black sauce with pasta. Another Sicilian seafood dish made with pasta is finocchio con sarde (fennel with herring). Ricci (urchins) are popular in spring. Beccafico are stuffed roasted sardines.

Meat dishes are traditionally made with lamb or goat.  Chicken is usually served on skewers and spiedini are small meat rolls (involtini), also, on a skewer similar to shish kebab. Salsiccia alla pizzaiola is a port sausage filled with onions, tomatoes and other vegetables. Couscous is usually served with meat or seafood.

palermobakery

Sicilian desserts are outstanding and popular. Cannoli are tubular crusts filled with creamy sheep’s milk ricotta. Cassata is a rich cake filled with the same ricotta filling. Frutta di Martorana are almond marzipan pastries colored and shaped to resemble real fruit. Sicilian gelato (ice cream) is popular with flavors ranging from pistachio and hazelnut (nocciola) to jasmine (gelsomino) to mulberry (gelsi) to strawberry (fragala) and rum (zuppa inglese).

palermocake

Not many people outside of Sicily are familiar with Torta Setteveli. The cake of the seven veils, named after the dance of Salome. The Torta Setteveli is the typical birthday cake in Palermo. It’s a combination of alternating chocolate and hazelnut layers, with a crunchy layer that combines both those flavors. There are many stories about who actually created the cake. You can find the cake throughout Sicily, but it is in every pasticceria in Palermo. The Palermitani see it as the ultimate dessert to enjoy on special occasions, especially for birthdays.

Primo Course

ANEL-4T

Baked Anelletti

This dish is a popular “pasta bake” in Palermo and it is made with a very specific pasta shape called anelletti (little rings). In Sicily it is often sold in cafés as timbaletti, which are single portions that are shaped like a cone. When eaten at home, however, it is often made like a “pasta cake” to be portioned and shared by the whole family.

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb anelletti pasta
  • 2 large, long eggplants
  • 1/2 lb mortadella, cubed
  • 1 lb mozzarella, cubed
  • Grated pecorino cheese

For the Ragu

  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 28 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 lb peas
  • 1 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 2 basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt

Directions

Wash the eggplant, peel and slice them lengthwise about 1/4″ thick.

Coat each slice with olive oil, put them on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F.  Set them aside. Turn the oven to 375 degrees F.

Make the ragu:

In a saucepan, add a 1 tablespoon of olive oil and brown the ground pork and beef.  Discard any fat that is produced. Set aside in a separate bowl.

In the saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the onion. Once the onion is translucent add the browned ground meat.

Saute the meat and onion for a few minutes and add the peas followed by the crushed tomatoes and the basil. Add salt to taste.

Cover and let the ragu cook for 20 minutes over medium heat.

In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta al dente and drain well. Place in a mixing bowl. Add a few tablespoons of the sauce to the pasta so that it does not stick together and set aside.

In a 10″ x 5″ bundt, tube or springform pan line the bottom and sides with the slices of baked eggplant so that part of the slices hang outside the top of the pan. Add a layer of pasta followed by a layer of the meat sauce, some grated cheese, a layer of mortadella and then a layer of mozzarella.

Repeat the layering process again.

Once finished, turn the eggplant slices hanging from the pan onto the top of the pasta.

Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes. Let rest before cutting. Garnish with grated cheese and parsley or basil.

Second Course

palermocod

Merluzzo alla Siciliana (Cod Sicilian Style)

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ lbs (800 g) cod fillets
  • 2 ½ cups (500 g) chopped fresh tomato pulp (seeds removed)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoon capers
  • 15 pitted green olives
  • 2 pinches of dried oregano
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup of white wine
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

Directions

Heat a skillet and add the olive oil and crushed garlic.

When the garlic is browned, add the tomato, salt and pepper.

Add the wine and bring the sauce to boil, add the cod fillets and cook for 6-7 minutes, turning them over once.

Add some more salt and pepper (if needed), the olives and capers.

Sprinkle with oregano and continue cooking for another 4-5 minutes.

Serve with a sprinkle of chopped parsley on top.

palermofennel

Pisci di Terra – Sicilian Fried Fennel

Ingredients

  • 6 fennel bulbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups (150 g) flour
  • 1/2 cup fine, dry homemade breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • Oil for frying
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Clean the fennel bulbs and cut them in half. Boil them until al dente (fork tender) in lightly salted water. Drain them well and quarter the halves.

Mix the breadcrumbs together with the cheese. Lightly beat the eggs with salt and pepper. Dredge the fennel slices in the flour to coat well, then dip the slices in the egg and then the breadcrumbs.

Fry them in abundant hot oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

palermocassata-siciliana

Cassata alla Siciliana

This is a classic Sicilian cake. The word Cassata derives from the Latin Caseus, which means cheese. Cassata is one of the world’s first cheesecakes. It comes as no surprise that there are a great many variations throughout Sicily.

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 1/3 cups (280 g) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/4 cups (150 g) flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Half a lemon, zested
  • Butter and flour for the cake pan
  • Marsala wine
  • 1 1/8 pounds (500 g) fresh sheep’s milk ricotta (you can use cow’s milk ricotta)
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 ounces (50 g) finely diced candied fruit
  • 2 ounces (50 g) bitter chocolate, shaved
  • 9 ounces (250 g) blanched peeled almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract diluted in ¼ cup of water
  • Green food coloring
  • Potato starch
  • 5 cups (500 g) powdered sugar, divided
  • 2 egg whites
  • Strips of candied fruit

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

Whip 6 egg whites to firm peaks with a pinch of salt. In another bowl, beat the 6 yolks with 3/4 cup of the granulated sugar until the mixture is frothy and pale yellow.

Sift the flour with the baking powder and slowly add it to the beaten yolks, together with a couple of tablespoons of whipped egg whites and the lemon zest and then fold in the remaining beaten egg whites

Turn the batter into a buttered and floured pan (9 inch square) and bake it for a half hour; remove the cake from the oven and let it cool before removing it from the pan.

To make the almond paste:

Grind the almonds in a food processor, using short bursts until finely ground. Add 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar and the almond water; blend until the mixture is homogenous.

Dust a work surface with the potato starch before turning the paste out onto it (you can also turn it out onto a sheet of wax paper) and incorporate a few drops of green food coloring diluted in a few drops of water. Work the paste until the color is uniform and then wrap the paste in plastic wrap and chill it in the refrigerator.

Press the ricotta through a fairly fine wire mesh strainer and combine it with 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, the vanilla, the shaved chocolate and the diced candied fruit.

To make the cassata:

Line a 10-inch (25 cm) diameter springform pan with plastic wrap,

Roll the almond paste out to 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) thick and wide enough to cover the cake pan bottom and sides. Fit the almond paste into the pan.

Next, line the bottom and sides of the pan with half-inch thick pieces of the baked cake.

Make a syrup by diluting some Marsala with a little water and a little sugar, and sprinkle it over the cake. Fill the empty space with the ricotta mixture and cover it with more of the cake, sprinkling again with the Marsala syrup.

Lay a dish on the cassata, press down gently, and chill the cassata for several hours in the refrigerator. Turn the cassata over onto the serving dish and remove the pan and the plastic wrap.

Beat the remaining two egg whites and sift the remaining powdered sugar into them, beating continuously until thick. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and spread it over the cassata. Let the glaze set for a few minutes, then decorate the cassata with candied fruit. Chill the cake for several more hours before serving.

palermomap


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Pizza isn’t just for winter. Spring is full of amazing ingredients coming into the market that are perfect to top your pizza crust. So before you put away your pizza stone, try pizza with some of spring’s seasonal vegetables. Fennel, artichoke hearts, asparagus, spring greens, onions and broccoli are all delicious on pizza. Fresh herbs are available in spring and they add a lot of flavor to pizza.

Sauteing the vegetables in olive oil with flavored salts, garlic and onion also adds flavor to vegetables before they go on a pizza. Pre-cooking them also eliminates the water in vegetables that can make a pizza soggy. Use a thin layer of vegetables and cheese so that the crust cooks through and gets crispy. Sauces do not always have to be tomato to make a good pizza. Basil Pesto  or a layer of ricotta cheese make an excellent base for veggies on a pizza.

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Pizza Dough

See the link below for my Easy No Knead Pizza Dough recipe.

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Spinach Feta Pizza

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pizza dough at room temperature: Easy No Knead Pizza Dough recipe here.
  • 1 lb. spinach, stems trimmed
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 16 oz mozzarella, sliced
  • 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled

Directions

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Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the lowest position in the oven.

Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the onion until soft. Add the garlic and spinach leaves.Cook until the spinach wilts. Add the lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the pizza dough to the edges in a greased pizza pan.

Top the dough with the mozzarella slices.

Spread the spinach onion mixture over the cheese. Sprinkle with feta cheese and then with the oregano.

Place the pizza on the bottom oven rack and bake 15-20 minutes.

Red Onion Tomato Salad

This salad is so delicious with the Spinach Feta Pizza.

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Serves 2

  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1/2 pound small tomatoes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Kalamata olives

Directions

Finely slice the red onion and put the slices in a bowl of cold water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Quarter the tomatoes. Drain the onion and pat dry.

Place the garlic, a pinch of salt, and the vinegar into a serving bowl. Drizzle in the olive oil while whisking.

Add the red onion and thyme and let marinate for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and toss gently to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.

 


modena5

Modena is a province in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy and it has been inhabited since the prehistoric era by various ethnic groups, whose traces are in the archaeological finds. According to some Roman historians and to archaeological finds, the area was once occupied by the Etruscans and the Celts. It was the period of the great Roman expansion and in 187 BC, the route, via Emilia, from Rimini to Piacenza, was built. Four years later, in 183 BC, the Roman colony of Mutina was founded. Like all the Roman towns of the period, it was square, with two perpendicular main streets. In 78 BC, Modena was besieged during the civil wars and just six years later, in 72 BC, Spartacus won a battle against Cassio Longino there. However, the most important historical event that occurred in Roman Modena was the battle of Modena. After Caesar’s assassination, Brutus decided to take refuge in the city but he could do nothing against the army sent from Rome.

A really dark age began for Modena in the centuries after Christ’s birth, suffering like many other Italian cities after the fall of the Roman Empire. At the end of the IV century, the bishop and Patron Saint of Milan, Ambrogio, passing through the area near Modena, could not help noticing the decay of the previous thriving community. In the VIII century conditions improved by the foundation of Nonantola Abbey and the building of city walls around the cathedral.

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The Renaissance was for Modena, as for the rest of Italy, a period of great cultural development. Modena became a European capital and the center for the Emilia region. For this reason, when after the French Revolution Napoleon conquered Italy, he chose Modena as his headquarters. It was also a period of great upheaval and the Congress of the Cispadane Republic was held in Modena, followed by the approval of the Constitution and by elections. Also, at this time, the Italian flag as we know it today (green, white and red) was raised.

When this Republic fell, in 1799, Modena was conquered by the Austrians and then re-occupied by the French. Napoleon returned in the city as Emperor in 1805. When the Napoleonic era ended, in 1814 the Austro Duke Francesco IV entered Modena to govern during the period called the Restoration. Those years were a good time for Modena, though the conservatism of the Duke repressed cultural life. During that era, many edifices were built that are still standing in Modena today.

Province of Modena - road to the Italian farmer household

Following the Unification of Italy, Modena was downgraded to a city and a less interesting period began for the area. Modena, Italy, is a study in contrasts. The inner city is a perfectly preserved medieval town with cobblestone streets and one of Italy’s most striking cathedrals, while the outer city is a modern industrial business park of factories and industry.

Modena is also one of northern Italy’s culinary capitals and is famous for not only its high quality balsamic vinegar, which is exported all over the world, but for its Vignola cherries, Modenese Ham and Nocino, a bitter liqueur made from the husks of walnuts.

Modena is known for its stuffed pastas, like cannelloni and tortellini, which are usually stuffed with pork and Parmesan cheese, and for its heavily spiced pork sausages. The local Lambrusco red wine is inexpensive and goes with most Modenese dishes.

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Balsamic Vinegar has been made and used in Modena for centuries. While no one seems to know quite how many, the first documentation about this product can be found in 1046. It appears to have been used for just about everything, from a disinfectant to an aid for digestion. In the archives of Modena, on public view, is a wine list from a secret Ducal cellar dated 1747 and balsamic vinegar is listed alongside the wine. There are writings from 1508, recalling balsamic vinegar and talking about it in the court of the Duke of Modena, who was Lucrezia Borgia’s husband. Small casks were given to new brides in Modena and the tradition continues today.

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Balsamic vinegar is not made from wine, like regular vinegar, but from the must (cooked liquid from grapes) of the Trebbiano or Lambrusco grapes. The grapes are slowly cooked to create a concentrate, which is then aged for a minimum of 12 years in wooden barrels. The barrels vary in size and are made from different woods, from the largest to the smallest usually oak, cherry, chestnut, mulberry, ash and juniper. The newly reduced must is placed in the largest barrel and as the evaporation process each year reduces the content in the barrels, each is topped off with content from the next largest one. It is a long and laborious process that yields a syrupy product, whose taste is a perfect balance of acidity and sweetness. Only balsamic vinegar that has gone through this process can be labeled” tradizionale”.

To find the best product, look closely at the ingredient list. The first ingredient should be the must of grapes and not vinegar. Caramel should not be listed as an ingredient, nor should there be added flavorings either natural or artificial. Also, look for a bottle that says that it has been aged in wooden barrels, as sometimes “aged in wood” simply means that wooden chips were added as the vinegar ages. The price tag will be revealing: aceto balsamico tradizionale is sold for many hundred dollars per liter. Some traditional producers will put on the market a diluted version of balsamic for a much more reasonable price tag that will not carry the word tradizionale on the label.

Meat dishes are delicious with aceto balsamico, but one of the best pairings for it is with slices of Parmigiano Reggiano- as well as other aged cheeses. It is also good drizzled over strawberries or ice cream.

Cannelloni Modena Style

modenapasta

4 servings

For the pasta

  • 7 oz all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs

For the sauce

  • 3/4 lb lean ground pork
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion, small
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • 2 oz prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 oz dried porcini mushrooms
  • 4 tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 oz all-purpose flour
  • Nutmeg to taste
  • 3 oz butter, plus extra for the baking dish
  • ½ cup tomato (pasta) sauce
  • 3 ½ oz grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl of warm water. Let soak for 20 minutes

To make the cannelloni pasta 

Place the flour on a flat work surface and shape it into a well. Add the eggs in the center and incorporate the flour into the eggs by hand. Alternatively, you can use a food processor. Work the dough until it is smooth and even, then let it rest for 20 minutes covered with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap.

Use a rolling-pin or pasta machine to roll out the dough into very thin sheets. Cut them into 4-inch squares. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once boiling, add 2 or 3 pasta squares at a time and cook for about 30 seconds.

Once the squares have been cooked, remove them from the water and place them on a damp cloth to cool. Repeat with all the squares.

To make the sauce

Finely chop the carrot, onion and celery. Place a pan over medium heat and add the butter to the pan. Once the butter has melted, add the chopped vegetables and chopped parsley. Cook until the onion becomes translucent. Next add the ground pork to the pan. Stir and let brown for a couple of minutes, then add the chopped prosciutto and previously soaked mushrooms. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg.

Cook for a couple of minutes, then add the wine and cook for 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened. Stir the sauce while adding the flour. Also add chopped tomatoes and the tomato sauce. Cook for over medium heat for an additional 40 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Place a tablespoon of the sauce in the center of each pasta square. Roll the squares (jelly roll style to make the cannelloni.

Place the cannelloni in a single layer in a baking dish greased with butter. Cover the cannelloni with the remaining sauce, top with the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and small pieces of butter.

Bake the cannelloni in a 350°F for about 20 minutes or until they are brown and the filling is hot.

Pollo di Modena

for white29 - photo by Evan Sung. Pollo al lambrusco

4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken, cut into serving pieces
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, shredded
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions

In a large, non-reactive bowl, mix together the chicken, vinegar, garlic and sage. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade. Pat the chicken dry and season with the salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Saute the chicken in batches until browned on all sides.

Reduce heat to medium-low and return all the chicken to the pot. Pour in the reserved marinade and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally. Add a little water if necessary to keep the marinade from drying out.

Remove the chicken to a serving platter. Adjust the seasoning of the sauce and pour it over chicken. Serve with good crusty bread and a salad.

Asparagi alla Parmigiana

modenaasparagus

Asparagi alla parmigiana is a springtime favorite in northern Italy.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • Asparagus, trimmed — 2 pounds
  • Butter, cut into pieces —  3 tablespoons
  • Parmesan cheese, grated — 2/3 cup
  • Salt and pepper — to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter a shallow gratin or baking dish that is just large enough to hold the asparagus. Place a layer of asparagus in the dish, with the tips all facing the same direction. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and some of the cheese. Keep adding layers until all asparagus and all cheese is used, finishing with the cheese.

Dot the top of the dish with the pieces of butter and place the dish on the top rack of the oven. Bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until the asparagus is cooked through and beginning to brown and the cheese is melted.

 

Torta Barozzi

modenacake

Serve with cherries, as they do in Modena.

Serves 8 to 10

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sliced almonds, toasted on a cookie sheet for 4 minutes in a 350 degree F oven
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (not commercial balsamic vinegar used for salads, but the much more expensive, artisanal version.)
  • 1/4 cup coffee
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Coat a 9 x 2-inch springform pan with butter, or 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.

Grind the almonds to a powder in a food processor. Set aside.

Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl set over hot water.

Beat the yolks and sugar until lemon colored and very fluffy; stir in the almonds, chocolate mixture, rum and coffee. Set aside.

Beat the whites in a separate bowl until soft peaks form. Fold into the chocolate mixture.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the center is slightly damp. Do not over bake the cake. It should remain moist.

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.

250px-Modena_in_Italy.svg


april-2

The chart shows what is in season where I live in the south on the Gulf Coast area of the US. We are about two months ahead of the northern states in when crops mature. For example, strawberries are in season here from February until the beginning of May, while in the north, the peak season is June.

This week I am cooking what is in season and sharing the recipes with you for stuffed artichokes, spring peas, golden beets, leftover spring vegetables from the holiday week and strawberry pie. Rhubarb is available mid-April here. The veggie dishes are a little different – time to make a change in flavoring these traditional spring vegetables. We enjoyed the changes.

april1

Pasta with Spring Vegetables

I grow so much basil during the summer that I have pesto sauce in the freezer all winter long. I had small amounts of vegetables left from the meals I served during the holiday. As a frugal cook, I do not throw anything away. These leftover vegetables can add much flavor to a simple pasta dish without a lot of preparation. I served this pasta with grilled shrimp.

Ingredients

  • 8 oz pasta
  • 1/4 cup homemade or store-bought  basil pesto
  • 2-3 tablespoons cream or half & half
  • 1 cup cooked leftover spring vegetables (carrots, zucchini, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, peas, broccoli)
  • 1 /2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

Directions

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain.

In a medium skillet, combine the pesto with enough cream to thin out the sauce. Add the leftover vegetables and warm over low heat.

Add the cooked pasta and stir until combined. Cover the skillet and heat on low until the mixture is hot. Add cheese and black pepper. Toss and serve.

peasalad

Spring Pea Salad

This salad goes well with BBQ meat or roasted salmon.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 an orange, peeled and fruit segments diced
  • 1/4 of a fennel bulb, chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pound green peas, blanched (if fresh) or thawed (if frozen)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Directions

In a medium serving bowl, combine the orange juice, oil, oregano, salt and pepper.

Add the red onion, peas, fennel and oranges and toss gently. Let marinate for an hour and serve at room temperature.

artichokes

Stuffed Artichokes

Ingredients

  • 2 large artichokes, cleaned
  • 1 lemon, cut in half
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 Italian sausage link, casing removed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (chili)
  • 1/4 cup marinara (tomato) sauce
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Directions

Place cleaned artichokes, cut sides down, in a bowl with the water. Squeeze one half of the lemon over the artichokes and place the squeezed lemon half in the bowl.

Thinly slice the other half of the lemon and set aside.

While the artichokes are soaking, prepare the stuffing:

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet. Add the sausage and cook until brown, breaking up the sausage meat with a wooden spoon until crumbly.

Add the minced garlic and marinara sauce and saute for about 30 seconds. Add the bread crumbs and red pepper flakes. Stir for 1 minute while the bread crumbs absorb the sauce.

Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese and parsley.

Take the artichokes out of the water bath and drain.

Spread the leaves of the artichokes open and fill each with the stuffing mixture.

Place the artichokes in a deep pot with water 1/4 of the way up the side of the pot. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt to the water and drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over the artichokes.

Place the lemon slices on top of the artichokes.

Cover the pot and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook on low for 45 minutes or until tender. (The size of the artichoke will vary the cooking time).

Remove from the heat and serve hot or at room temperature.

goldenbeets

Golden Beets in Walnut Sauce

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 golden beets, trimmed of greens
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash beets well. While still wet, wrap them individually in foil and place the packages on a cookie sheet or roasting pan. Bake the beets, undisturbed, for 60 to 90 minutes, or until a thin-bladed knife pierces each with little resistance. (They may cook at different rates; remove each one when it is done.)

Place oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. When it is warm, add the garlic and cook until it begins to soften. Add walnuts and continue to cook until they begin to color, about another 2 minutes. Add the orange juice and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

After the beets have cooled, peel off the skins. Thinly slice the beets and arrange them in a serving dish. Pour the walnut sauce over the sliced beets and garnish with parsley.

strawberry rhubarb

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Until rhubarb is in season where you live, you can make the pie with all strawberries.

My family’s favorite pie.

  • Two 9 inch refrigerated pie crusts or you favorite pie crust, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • Granulated sugar for the topping

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

In large bowl combine:

  • 2 1/2 cups hulled, sliced strawberries
  • 2 1/2 cups of rhubarb cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour or other thickener
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest

Fit one pastry sheet into a 9 inch pie pan and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Add the fruit mixture and dot with the butter.

Cut the top crust into 10 even strips on a floured board. Place the strips on top of the fruit and weave them to form a lattice top.

Brush the top crust with 1 tablespoon of milk and sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until golden and the pie juice begins to bubble through the slits.

Let the pie cool on the baking sheet (to catch drips).


hamcover

So do I. There are many possibilities for using up this holiday classic. I rarely make baked ham – only when I have company and I know they like it. This year, I made Italian Baked Ham for Easter dinner. You can see the recipe here. I had plenty of leftovers to make sandwiches during the week before my visitors went home. My grandson also likes to just snack on ham. I also had plenty of leftover ham to make the following three meals that we will have in the upcoming week.

hamgratin

Ham and Potato Gratin

I served this with a green vegetable.

Ingredients

  • 3 large potatoes or 1 lb, peeled and sliced very thin
  • 2 cups chopped ham
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 3 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon pepper sauce (Tabasco)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups evaporated milk
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium saucepan heat 1 tablespoon butter and saute the onion and garlic until they are golden. Remove to a small bowl.

In the same saucepan melt the remaining butter on medium heat. Add the flour to it and stir constantly with a whisk for about 2-3 mins until the roux is well toasted.

Slowly add the milk, whisking until smooth. Add the salt, black pepper and pepper sauce. Continue mixing until bubbly and thickened.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the grated cheese. Whisk until the cheese is completely melted.

Coat a 2 quart baking dish with cooking spray. Layer 1/3 of the sliced potatoes on the bottom of the dish; top with 1/2 the ham, then 1/2 the onion mixture and half the parsley. Drizzle on 1/3 of the cheese sauce, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of paprika.

Make another layer with 1/3 of the sliced potatoes, the remaining onion mixture, parsley and ham. Drizzle on 1/3 of the cheese sauce, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon paprika.

Top with the rest of the potato, cheese sauce and the remaining paprika.

Bake covered with foil for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes. Allow the gratin to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

hamsoup

Split Pea Soup

This soup is hearty enough for dinner with some good bread, especially pumpernickel.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups dried split peas
  • 2 quarts good quality vegetable broth or water
  • Leftover ham bone
  • 2 onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 potatoes, diced

Directions

In a large stock pot, cover peas with 2 quarts cold water and soak overnight. Drain and rinse. Return the peas to the stock pot and add the broth, ham bone, onions, garlic, pepper, thyme and bay leaves. Cover, bring to boil and then simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove the bone; cut off the meat, dice and return the meat to the soup. Add the salt, celery, carrots and potatoes. Cook slowly, uncovered for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender Remove the bay leaves before serving.

hamreuben

Ham Reuben Panini

Adding a salad makes this a complete meal.

For each sandwich you will need:

  • 2 thick slices sourdough bread
  • 4 oz leftover, thinly sliced baked ham
  • 2 oz sauerkraut, drained
  • 2 slices swiss or provolone cheese
  • Russian Dressing, recipe below
  • Pickles, optional

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sprinkle the ham with a little water, wrap it tightly in aluminum foil and steam it in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Take the ham out of the oven and unwrap it. Spread each slice of bread with Russian dressing. Layer one slice of bread of the slices of ham, sauerkraut and slices of cheese, then top the sandwich with the remaining slice of bread (dressing-side down).

Brush the bread with a little olive oil.  Place the sandwiches in a panini press and cook according to directions

Or cook on a stove top pan

Put the sandwiches in the pans and weight them with a lid or heat proof bowl topped with something heavy. Cook until the first sides are crisp and golden about 7 minutes then turn the sandwiches. Cook until the second sides are also well toasted and the cheese is melted. Lift the sandwich onto a cutting board. Cut each in half diagonally and serve with pickles.

Russian Dressing

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups light mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chili sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced sweet onion
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced dill pickle
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated horseradish
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Mix well and refrigerate until needed.


potenza3

Potenza is a province in the Basilicata region of Italy. In 272 B.C. the province was conquered by the Greek army. Later in the 11th century, the area became part of the Duchy of Apulia, which was at the time ruled by the Normans. In the 13th century it became part of the Kingdom of Naples In 1861 the province was unified with the rest of Italy in the newly formed Kingdom of Italy.

Potenza1

The region has suffered from innumerable earthquakes and is still a seismically active area. Although Potenza was mostly rebuilt after having being destroyed by several earthquakes in its history, the city still bears many of the signs that it existed in ancient times. The Cathedral, built in the 12th Century and renovated during the Neoclassical age, houses interesting works of art, while the Torre Guevara is an example of a Medieval castle. The Roman Villa of Mal Vaccaro is characterized by beautiful mosaics and the Edicola of San Gerardo is a temple that was built in the 19th Century to exhibit the saint’s statue. The National Archaeological Museum and the Provincial Archaeological Museum contain numerous finds that document the city’s history, as does the Archivio di Stato, with documents dating back to the 14th Century.

potenza6

The rich history of the region can also be seen in its architecture, ranging from the exquisite rock churches of the Byzantine monks to Romanesque architecture. Frescoes, paintings and sculpted objects throughout the region represent a long and beautiful artistic heritage. The historic center of Potenza is located in the upper part of the city and is accessible via escalators. The square of Mario Pagano provides the  perfect central point from which to  for explore the city. Across the square is the Via Pretoria, the famous street of Potenza, that goes from the east side to the west side of the city. Packed with bars, shops and restaurants, Via Pretoria is a vibrant hub during the day and evening.

potenza5

potenza4

potenza7

Along the Via Pretoria there are many major cultural, architectural and art historical buildings, which include the “Palazzo del Governo”, the recently restored ‘Stabile’ theater and the church of San Francesco of Assisi which was founded in 1274. The church houses the De Grasis sepulchre and a 13th century Madonna in the Byzantine style that is worth visiting. The Romanesque church of San Michele Arcangelo dating back to the 11th century has many beautiful artworks including over 500 ancient frescos, one of which depicts St. Michele slaying the dragon.

potenza8

The Lake of Pantano di Pignola spreads out into a valley surrounded by mountains. The lake was formed by an artificial dam in an area of meadows and cultivated fields. The nature reserve is home to a variety of wildlife including foxes, weasels, beach martens, hedgehogs and shrews. The habitat also provides the perfect environment for birds and the reserve is home to many beautiful species including Grey Herons, Moorhens, Egrets, Widgeons, Teals and many other species of duck, Great-Crested Grebes, Kingfishers and Lapwings.

Foods and Products of Potenza

The foundation of the local cuisine is pork: locals are expert producers of ham, sausages, capocollo, salami and pancetta. Typical dishes include cotechinata, fried pork, peperonata with pork or sanguinaccio.

Sheep and lamb are also very common and fish dishes include eel, trout and baked codfish. The first course is always a handmade pasta, such as orecchiette, cavatelli, strozzapreti, strascinate or fusilli.

Sheep’s milk cheeses include pecorino burrata, provola, manteca and cacioricotta.

The three most famous wines from the area are the red Aglianico D.O.C., the white and sparkling Moscato and the dessert wine Malvasia.

The pepperoncino pepper, known by locals as, diavlicchio (little devil) is a hot pepper that is a true symbol of the area’s cuisine. It is most often used, added to red sauces.

Some of the regional dishes:

Lucanica is a versatile sausage made with lean pork meat that can be prepared many different ways.

Ciammotta is made with fried potatoes, peppers and eggplant in tomato sauce

Piatto d’Erbe alla Lucana is similar to a vegetable stir-fry. The dish is made up of onions, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, basil and parsley that are cooked together and seasoned with olive oil.

Recipes from Potenza

potenza9

Ciammotta

Ingredients

  • 2 bell peppers
  • 1 eggplant
  • 4 potatoes
  • 5 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 onions
  • 1 garlic clove. chopped
  • 10 olives, pitted and chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil to taste

Directions

Slice the peppers, eggplant, potatoes and onions and sauté them separately.

Mix the vegetables together in one large pot with some of the oil used to sauté them and add the chopped garlic clove, the olives and the diced tomatoes.

Season with salt and cook over a low heat for 20 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.

potenza10

Spezzatino Di Agnello (Stewed Lamb)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb of lamb, cut into cubes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A sprig of rosemary
  • A slice of bacon or pancetta
  • A few leaves of sage, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • White wine
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Heat a little olive oil with the chopped bacon, the garlic, the sage leaves and the rosemary in a large skillet with a cover.

Add the meat and season with salt and pepper. Add a little wine to just cover the bottom of the pan. Cook over low heat, covered until the meat is tender.add more wine if needed to keep the meat from sticking to the pan.

potenza11

Vegetable Calzone

Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ lbs (800 grams) pizza dough
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1 ¼ oz (40 g) raisins
  • 2 ¼ lbs (1 kg) Swiss chard, cut into strips
  • 1 dried chili pepper

Directions
Soften the raisins in warm water, drain and squeeze.

Mix the chard, raisins, chopped chili pepper, salt and pepper with a little olive oil to moisten.

Roll the dough out into a thin round about the size of a pizza. Place the dough on a large greased pizza pan.

Spread the greens over one half of the dough. Moisten the edges of the dough with water and fold the uncovered half of the dough up and over the greens. Seal the edges.

Bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees F (200 ° C) for 25 minutes.

potenza12

Sweet Lasagna

From  Erica De Mane, a chef, food writer and teacher who specializes in southern Italian cooking.

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 pounds whole-milk ricotta
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • A large handful of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped

For the sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • A generous pinch of ground nutmeg
  • A splash of brandy or cognac
  • Two 28-ounce cans plum tomatoes, chopped, one can drained
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • A few basil leaves, lightly chopped

Lasagna

  • 3/4 pound homemade or very thin store-bought, sheets of fresh lasagna
  • Salt
  • 1 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • A large handful of basil leaves, lightly chopped
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

Directions

In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the filling. It should be slightly sweet but with a salty edge from the cheese. Be liberal with the black pepper; it serves to balance out the sweet spices.

In a large skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and the nutmeg, and sauté until the shallots are softened, about 4 minutes. Add the splash of brandy or cognac, letting it boil away. Add the tomatoes, and season with salt and black pepper. Let the sauce bubble, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. It will have thickened slightly but still have a fresh taste and bright color. Add the basil.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Set up a large pot of pasta-cooking water and bring it to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Boil the lasagna sheets, a few at a time, until just tender. Scoop them from the water with a large strainer spoon and into a colander. Run cold water over them to stop the cooking and lay them out on kitchen towels.

Lightly oil an approximately 9-by-12-inch baking dish (you’ll want it 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep). Put down a layer of tomato sauce and then a layer of pasta. Add a layer of the ricotta mix and then sprinkle on some almonds, some parmigiano cheese and then some of the basil.

Put down another layer of pasta and cover it with tomato sauce. Make another pasta layer and repeat the ricotta, almond, parmigiano and basil pattern. Repeat this pattern (you’ll probably get four layers of pasta), finishing with a layer of pasta, a layer of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of parmigiano cheese.

Drizzle the top with olive oil and bake, uncovered, until bubbling and crisp around the edges, about 30 minutes. Let sit about 5 minutes before serving.

potenzamap

 



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