The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel on the east; the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco on the south and the Mediterranean Island Countries of Cyprus and Malta. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same healthy ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the cuisine in the countries of Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. This series continues with the country of Libya.
Food in Libya is a very important part of family life. A well-known Libyan saying is “one must eat well”. Libyan cuisine is based on the traditions of the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Berber cuisines. Tripoli is Libya’s capital, and the cuisine in this city is especially influenced by the Italian cuisine. Pasta is common, as are many seafood dishes. Fruits, most often served, include figs, dates, oranges, apricots, and olives.
The sand in Libya gets so hot in the summer that walking on it with bare feet becomes unbearable. As a result, the Tuareg way of baking bread is to bury it in the hot sand, which is as effective as baking in an oven. The technique can also be used to bake potatoes and eggs by burying them whole in the sand and leaving them there for several hours.
Olive oil is the main ingredient of nearly all Libyan dishes. Its use in North Africa goes back thousands of years, and its life-prolonging properties were well-known to the ancient Libyans and Egyptians.
There are four main ingredients in the traditional Libyan cuisine: olives (and olive oil), palm dates, grains, and milk. These are very ancient foods and they have been in the Libyan cuisine since Neolithic times when humans first began to make use of their natural surroundings. Grains are roasted, ground, sieved and used for making bread, cakes, soups, Bazin, and other dough-based dishes. Dates are harvested, dried and stored for the rest of the year. They can be eaten as they are, made into syrup, fried or eaten with milk for breakfast.
Garlic is also one of the most important Libyan foods, as it is usually added to most dishes that involve sauces or stews, especially those served with couscous and pasta.
One of the most important social occasions in Libya is getting together for tea drinking. This activity brings families together, to chat, laugh, discuss and gossip about the highlights of the day and about life in general. Talking in Libya is a very important social activity and it firmly bonds the family. Libyan tea is a very strong, thick, syrup-like black tea. After boiling water in a traditional teapot, a handful of red tea leaves are added, and the leaves are boiled for a long time (about twenty minutes).
Bazin is the most well-known Libyan dish. It is made by boiling barley flour in salted water to make a hard dough and then forming it into a rounded, smooth dome that is placed in the middle of a serving dish. The sauce around the dough is made by frying chopped onions with ground lamb, turmeric, salt, cayenne pepper, black pepper, fenugreek, sweet paprika and tomato paste. Potatoes may also be added. Hard-boiled eggs are arranged around the dome. The dish is then served with lemon and fresh or pickled chili peppers, known as amsyar. Batata mubattana (filled potato) is another popular dish that consists of fried potato pieces filled with spiced ground meat and covered with egg and breadcrumbs.
Make A Libyan-style Dinner In Your Kitchen
Recipes adapted from http://libyanfood.blogspot.com/
Lentil Soup With Fried Onions
2 cups lentils
5 cups water
2 garlic cloves
1 medium carrot
1 large tomato
1/2 -1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon salt
2 medium onions
Oil for frying
For the Topping
Toasted bread, cut into cubes or triangles
Wash and drain the lentils; wash and cut the carrot; chop the tomatoes and onion. Put the onion, tomatoes, carrot, lentils, garlic cloves, salt and cumin in a soup pot.
Add 5 cups of boiling water. Cook, until the lentils, become mushy. Let cool, puree, and add more boiling water if a thinner soup is desired, stir well.
For the topping: Cut the 2 onions into thin slices and fry in a little olive oil stirring constantly until dark brown.
To serve: Place a handful of toasted bread in the soup bowl before ladling on the soup. Then add a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of cumin to each bowl. Top with a tablespoon of fried onions.
Libyan Couscous with Fish
500g couscous (ready-cooked variety can also be steamed)
1 cup of hot water + 3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 fish heads (washed, gills removed)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper, ground cumin
Salt, to taste
1 1/2-2 liter boiling water
1 medium onion
1 medium size potato
1 medium size aubergine (eggplant)
1 medium size squash
1 medium-size red bell pepper
1 cup cooked/canned chickpeas (or fresh/frozen peas)
1 can of chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 chili peppers
3-4 garlic cloves
For the Fish and Marinade
4-6 portions of firm-fleshed fish, grouper is the Libyan favorite
4 large cloves garlic
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 chili pepper chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon of each salt and pepper
2 teaspoons cumin
Olive oil to brush the fish before grilling
In Libya, steamed dishes are cooked in a kaskas, but any pot with a steamer insert is fine. When steaming couscous you can place a square of cheese-cloth between the pot and steamer if its holes are larger than the couscous.
Put all the ingredients for the stock in the steamer pot. Bring to boil then reduce the heat and cook over medium heat.
Pour 1 cup of hot water and the 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the couscous, mix well. Put the couscous in the steamer, then place it above the stock pot. Lightly rake over the top layer only with a spatula a few times during the first steaming, so it gets steamed properly.
After 45 minutes, remove the steamer and put the couscous in a deep plat; pour about 5 ladles of hot stock onto the couscous.
Mix well, then return the couscous to the steamer for another 45 minutes. Stir lightly but thoroughly 2-3 times during the second steaming to break up lumps.
Put all the ingredients for the fish marinade in the food processor, then use this paste to coat the fish on both sides. Cover the fish with cling film (plastic wrap) and set aside.
Cut the onion, eggplant, potato and bell pepper into thick slices.
Prepare the vegetable sauce by putting olive oil, chopped onion, chopped chili and whole garlic cloves in a pot, then stir until they have softened. Add tomato paste and chopped tomatoes, cover and cook on low heat. Add the peas or cooked chickpeas and about 3 ladles of strained fish stock, so the liquid is just about covering the vegetables and cook for 15 minutes more.
Brush the cut vegetables generously with olive oil and grill until almost cooked. Remove the vegetables from the grill and cut them into cubes. Add the grilled vegetables to the sauce pot.
Grill the fish and keep warm to serve with the couscous.
Remove the couscous from the steamer and place in a serving dish, arrange the vegetables from the sauce on the couscous, spoon some of the remaining sauce around the vegetables. Serve with the grilled fish and lemon wedges.
Date Filled Semolina Cookies
3 cups semolina
1 cup flour
1 cup oil
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon orange blossom water added to a ½ liter of warm water
750g date paste
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoons grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup sesame seeds (lightly toasted)
4 cups boiling water
3 cups sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 lemon slice
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
1/2 cup sesame seeds (lightly toasted)
Prepare the syrup by simmering all the ingredients except the orange blossom water over moderate heat for 30 minutes or until a syrupy consistency is reached. Add the 2 tablespoons of orange blossom water and set aside to cool. For a richer taste, add 1 tablespoon of honey while the syrup is still warm. Set aside.
For the dough: Mix the semolina, flour, and baking powder together in a mixing bowl. Add the oil and mix. Cover and let rest for at least one hour.
For the filling: Cut the date paste into small pieces and knead. Add some olive oil if the paste is not soft enough to be kneaded. Add cinnamon, grated nutmeg, sesame seeds and knead them in. Roll out the sesame date paste with your palm into 4 long ropes or sticks.
Divide the dough into 4 portions, take one portion of the dough and add the orange blossom flavored warm water a little at a time. Knead well until the dough becomes smooth and easy to shape. The dough will also become lighter in color. Form the dough into a furrow or trench shape and place one of the date rolls in the dough. Pinch closed and smooth the dough over the date roll.
Cut the roll into small pieces and arrange on a baking sheet. Place in a preheated oven at 425 degrees F/220°C until golden, for about 12 minutes. Place the cookies in a single layer in a deep dish. Pour the sugar syrup over the warm cookies.
Turn the cookies every 15 minutes, so they soak in the syrup on all sides. Remove the cookies from the syrup and place in a sieve to remove the excess syrup. Place the drained cookies on a platter and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Let rest overnight before serving.
I was lucky enough to receive a beautiful bunch of Swiss chard from my friend, who is a gardener and grows wonderful vegetables and beautiful flowers. The freshly picked Swiss chard made a wonderful tasting tart.
You may use a store-bought refrigerated pie crust dough in this recipe. However, the whole wheat pastry is easy to make and the whole wheat flavor compliments the Swiss chard filling.
Single pie crust dough
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons ice water
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 shallot, minced
1 bunch large Swiss chard, ribs and stems removed, leaves cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Sea salt and black pepper
Crispy Prosciutto Crisps, optional, see recipe below
Whole Wheat Pastry Dough
Combine the ice water and vinegar in a small bowl.
Pulse flour and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining.
Drizzle with the vinegar and ice water, pulsing just a few times until the dough comes together. Place the dough on a bread board and pat into a disk.
Wrap the pastry in plastic wrap and chill at least 2 hours. Dough can be made 2 days ahead.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Season the ricotta cheese with kosher salt and pepper and, then, add the Parmesan cheese; set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the garlic and shallots, stirring, until softened, about 60 seconds.
Add half of the chard and cook, tossing, until slightly wilted. Add the remaining chard and season with sea salt and pepper.
Cook, tossing occasionally, until completely wilted, about 4 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the chopped chives, parsley and lemon zest; set aside.
To prepare the pastry:
Roll out the dough on a floured sheet of parchment into a 12” round about ⅛” thick. Add flour on top and bottom as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the paper or rolling-pin.
Transfer the rolled out dough while on the parchment to a baking sheet. Spread half of the ricotta over the dough, leaving a 1” border.
Top with the sautéed chard and spread the remaining ricotta over the chard.
Crimp the edges of the dough up around the filling as you might do with a pie; brush the dough and ricotta topping with the egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water.
Bake for 40-45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is firm in the center.
Slide the tart (still on the parchment) onto a wire rack and sprinkle with the prosciutto crisps, if using; cool for 15 minutes before cutting.
Serve warm or at room temperature. (Leftovers are good cold or reheated on a baking sheet at 375°F for about 10 minutes.)
While the tart is baking: Place 4 slices of very thin prosciutto flat on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Bake about 12-15 minutes, or until fairly crisp. Remove the pan from the oven and let the prosciutto cool slightly.
The prosciutto will get even more crispy – like bacon – as it cools.
Break the prosciutto up into pieces and set aside.
The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. This series continues with the country of Greece.
Before it became known as a “Blue Zone”—a region of the world where people tend to live unusually long and healthy lives—the island of Ikaria, Greece, was unknown to most Americans. Ikaria is where the majority of the people live to be well into their 90’s.
In the past few years, Ikaria has received considerable attention from scientists and journalists who want to learn the secrets of its long-living residents. Food clearly plays a large role in the Ikarians’ longevity: The Mediterranean diet they follow has been linked to lower rates of cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and—most recently—heart disease. Although, we, Americans, can’t adopt all aspects of the Greek-island lifestyle, we can incorporate some of the eating patterns and dietary traditions practiced there. And, the best part of “eating like a Greek” is that the food is delicious.
Ikarians regularly dine on potatoes, greens, olives and seasonal vegetables. Vegetables are a big part of every meal and they are prepared in a healthy way—served raw in a salad or roasted with olive oil, rather than fried.
The majority of people in Greece eat a salad as an appetizer before the main course. This way, their appetite is significantly reduced by healthy ingredients.
Shellfish and fish are abundant in their cuisine, all of which tastes great over pasta with lemon and olive oil or in a souvlaki-style flatbread wrap with vegetables. Ikarians also eat smarter snacks—like raw vegetables and protein-rich dips made from Greek yogurt, beans or lentils.
Ikarians typically have a late morning breakfast comprised of goat’s milk, yogurt and or cheese, fruit, herbal tea or coffee, whole grain bread and local honey. At lunch, salads made of beans, legumes and potatoes, along with cooked fresh garden vegetables are standard fare and prepared with generous amounts of olive oil. Locally-caught fish may also be served and Ikarian red wine typically accompanies the meal. Meat is eaten just a few times per month. Ikarians eat a late lunch and it is usually followed by an afternoon nap, a practice that many Ikarians still follow and which results in a restful and stress free rest of the day. Quiet leisurely late afternoons and a heart-healthy routine greatly reduces the risk for heart disease. A light dinner of bread, olives, vegetables and wine is followed by evening visits with neighbors before bedtime.
Ikaria is the Mediterranean Diet in all its aspects, including the ways in which locally produced fresh, seasonal, home-cooked food and community are all integrated in ways that support physical, emotional/ mental health, relationships and the environment.
“Eat Like a Greek”
Greek Lentil Soup
Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas
- 2 large red onions, coarsely chopped, about 2 cups (500 mL)
- Salt, to taste
- 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 1 pound (500 g) small brown lentils
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped or pureed tomatoes
- 4 fresh sage leaves
- 2 sprigs dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 fresh or dried whole chile pepper or crushed red pepper flakes to taste
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra virgin Greek olive oil
- 1/4 cup (60 mL) red wine vinegar
- Raw red or white onion for serving
Coarsely chop one of the onions. Place in a large, heavy pot, sprinkle with a little salt and cook, covered, over very low heat until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the minced garlic and stir.
Rinse the lentils in a colander. Add the lentils, tomatoes, sage, oregano, bay leaf and chile pepper to the pot, and toss all together for a few minutes over low heat.
Pour in enough water to cover the contents of the pot by 3 inches. Raise heat to medium, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for one hour, or until very tender.
Season to taste with salt. Pour in the olive oil and vinegar just before serving.
To serve: Remove the bay leaf, oregano and sage leaves and discard. Slice the remaining onion. Sprinkle a few onion slices over the top of each soup portion. Drizzle in additional olive oil and vinegar if desired.
Briam – Baked Vegetables in Olive Oil (Island of Ikaria-Greece)
FOODS OF CRETE COOKBOOK, recipe and photo by Chef Bill Bradley, R.D.
Briam is an oven baked dish of fresh vegetables, herbs, olive oil, and an optional feta cheese. It is one of the most classic dishes of Greece.
- 2 small or 1 large eggplant, cut into large, thick strips
- 4 small or 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
- 3-4 small zucchini, ends cut off and cut into large pieces
- 2 onions, cut in half
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into large pieces
- 1 orange bell pepper, cut into large pieces
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 bunch dill, stems removed and chopped
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup feta, crumbled
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a large Dutch oven or baking dish, mix together all the ingredients except the feta cheese. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil.
Bake for 1 hour and stir. Re-cover and bake for another hour. Remove the baking dish from the oven, stir in the feta cheese and serve immediately.
Rosemary and Olive Focaccia
FOODS OF CRETE COOKBOOK, recipe and photo by Koula Barydakis
- 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups warm water
- 2/3 cups Kalamata olives, pitted
- 2 tablespoons dried or fresh rosemary, chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Mix flour, yeast, oregano, sugar, salt, olive oil and water in a bowl. Knead until the dough is soft (at least 5 minutes).
Cover with a warm, moist towel and put in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (about an hour).
Spread dough on a baking (cookie) tray, pressing lightly so that it is flat and even.
Oil the dough. Make little cavities throughout the top of the dough by pressing down with your fingers.
Place olives and rosemary in the cavities.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour. Serve hot.
Chicken Salad Greek Style
Recipe and photo from GAEA.
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup bite-sized broccoli ﬂorets
- 2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
- 1 orange, segmented
- 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1 avocado, sliced
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon chopped chives
Using a rolling pin, glass jar or mallet, pound and ﬂatten the chicken breasts to an even thickness. Season all sides with salt and pepper.
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once heated, sauté the chicken breasts until golden brown, about 1 minute each side.
Reduce heat to low and cover for 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the chicken rest, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli ﬂorets and cook until slightly softened, about 1 minute.
Place the fennel, oranges, cherry tomatoes and avocado to a large salad bowl.
Mix all of the dressing ingredients together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Add the chicken slices to the salad bowl. Drizzle dressing on top and gently toss all of the ingredients together. Serve.
Baked Seafood Orzo with Kalamata Olives
Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas
Orzo is one of the most popular Greek pasta shapes. In Greek, it’s called kritharaki.
- 1 pound orzo
- 1/2 cup extra virgin Greek olive oil
- 1 large red onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 3 cups chopped tomatoes (good quality canned are also fine)
- Pinch of hot sauce or hot pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup white wine, plus one cup if using whole, unshelled mussels
- 2/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
- 2 pounds mussels in their shell, or 2 ½ cups shelled, frozen mussels, defrosted
- 2 cups cleaned, shelled small fresh or frozen and defrosted shrimp
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh oregano
- 1/2 chop chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 350F / 175C.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the orzo and simmer until al dente. It should be a little underdone.
Drain, transfer back to the hot pot and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil.
While the orzo is boiling start the sauce:
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, wide pot or deep skillet and cook the onion over medium heat until wilted and translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Add 3 of the 4 chopped garlic cloves and stir.
Pour in the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add the wine. Simmer until the alcohol has cooked off.
Add 1 cup of hot water, the star anise and hot sauce or hot pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.
Cook the sauce over medium heat for 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Add the olives to the sauce five minutes before removing the pan from the heat.
While the sauce is simmering, prepare the seafood:
If using mussels in the shell, make sure they are cleaned and well-washed.
Steam them in two inches of wine in a wide pot with the lid closed, over high heat, until they open.
You can add herbs or garlic if you want to the steaming liquid, before adding the mussels.
Remove and strain in a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the liquid.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same pot and add the shrimp and remaining garlic.
If you are using shelled mussels that have been defrosted, drain them and add them to the shrimp.
Stir over medium heat until the shrimp start to turn pink. Remove.
Toss the mussels and shrimp, the reserved steaming liquid, and the pan juices from lightly sautéeing the shrimp into the tomato sauce.
Stir in the oregano and parsley. Remove the star anise.
Oil a large baking dish, preferably ovenproof glass or ceramic. Place the orzo in the baking dish and mix in the sauce thoroughly.
Pour in any remaining olive oil.
Bake, covered, for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the orzo is fully cooked. Remove, cool slightly and serve.
Tahini-Walnut Phyllo Flutes
Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas
- 2 cups tahini
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 to 1 ½ cups water
- 3 cups finely ground walnuts
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 pound phyllo dough, thawed and at room temperature
- 1/2 cup extra virgin Greek olive oil
- Greek honey for serving
Whip together the tahini and sugar at high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until creamy, about 5 minutes.
As you whip the mixture, drizzle in the water. It should end up being the consistency of peanut butter.
Using a wooden spoon or whisk, stir in the cinnamon and walnuts.
Preheat the oven to 350F/170C. Lightly oil two sheet pans.
Open the phyllo and place horizontally in front of you.
Cut three stacks of three-inch strips and keep them covered with a kitchen towel and a damp towel on top.
Take the first strip, oil lightly. Place a second strip on top and oil that, too.
Place a tablespoon of the filling on the bottom center of the strip, fold in the sides, and then roll up to form a tight cylinder.
Place seam-side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining ingredients until everything is used up.
Bake the flutes for 8 – 12 minutes, until golden. Remove and cool slightly.
To serve: Drizzle with honey.
You can store the cooled pastries in tins in a cool dry place for up to 5 days.
Florence is in the Tuscany region of Italy. Much of its area lies in the plain of the Arno River and it has become a suburban sprawl around the city of Florence. The northeastern part of the city, located in the Apennines, remains less developed.
Florence is a well-known cultural and tourist center and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Major tourist attractions include the Piazza del Duomo, Duomo of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Baptistery of San Giovanni, Giotto’s Bell Tower, the Loggia del Bigallo and Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, Ponte Vecchio and many others.
Sights in Barberino di Mugello include Cattani Castle and Palazzo Pretorio. The Certosa del Galluzzo houses artworks by Pontormo. Giovanni Boccaccio’s hometown, Certaldo, is home to the Palazzo Pretorio and Boccaccio’s House, while Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, houses a museum dedicated to his work.
Florence’s cobblestone streets are best navigated in relation to two landmarks: the Arno River, which splits the city in half from west to east and the old city doors, or porte, the remains of which mark the center of Florence, or centro storico. North of the Arno is where you’ll find the majority of famous sites and most of the tourists. The south side of the Arno is called the Oltrarno. It is similar to Paris’s Left Bank and is Florence’s bohemian quarter that is made up of art schools, artists’ studios and casual cafes. Florence is also a great base from which to take day trips into surrounding Tuscany or even nearby Emilia-Romagna, Liguria and Umbria. The best time to visit is late spring, early summer or early fall, when the streets are filled with locals and the weather is pleasant.
Corn, wine and silk are the chief products in the valley regions. Silk manufacturing was an important industry in the medieval times. Industrial complexes in the suburbs produce goods from furniture, to rubber goods, to chemicals and food. However, traditional and local products, such as antiques, handicrafts, glassware, leather work, art reproductions, jewelry, souvenirs, elaborate metal and iron-work, shoes, accessories and high fashion clothes also dominate a fair sector of Florence’s economy. The city’s income relies partially on services and cultural interests, such as annual fairs, theatrical and lyrical productions, art exhibitions, festivals and fashion shows.
Food and wine have long been an important staple of the economy. The Chianti region is just south of the city and its Sangiovese grapes figure prominently, not only in its Chianti Classico wines but also in many of the more recently developed Tuscan blends. The celebrated Chianti Rufina district, geographically and historically separated from the main Chianti region, is also a few kilometers east of Florence.
Florentine food grows out of a tradition of peasant eating. The majority of dishes are based on meat. The whole animal was traditionally eaten; tripe (trippa) and stomach (lampredotto) were once regularly on the menu and still are sold at the food carts stationed throughout the city.
Antipasti include crostini toscani (sliced bread rounds topped with a chicken liver spread) and sliced meats (mainly prosciutto and salami) that are often served with melon when in season. The typically saltless Tuscan bread, made with natural leavening, is frequently featured in Florentine courses, especially in its soups: ribollita and pappa al pomodoro or in a salad of bread and fresh vegetables called panzanella that is served in summer.
While meat is a staple of Florentine cuisine, pasta is important in the cuisine. For example, pappardelle sulla lepre. which is pappardelle (a long, wide and flat pasta) served with a sauce made from hare or other meats, such as goose.
Bistecca alla fiorentina is a large, 1.2 to 1.5 kg [40 to 50 oz] Chianina beef steak that is cooked over hot charcoal and served very rare over a bed of arugula with slices of Parmesan cheese on top. Most of these courses are served with local olive oil, also a local product that enjoys a worldwide reputation.
It Is Almost Carnival Time In Florence
The first day of Carnival is called “berlingaccio” in Florence and it comes from an old word describing a day spent around the table eating, drinking and being happy.
The parades draw thousands of visitors of all ages, who come to see both the spectacular floats and the parade, as well as participate in the festive masquerade processions.
The following photos were taken by friends and depict their favorite costumes:
The “Carnevale di Viareggio” actually takes place over an entire month with 5 days of processions each year. These are held on 4 Sundays and on Fat Tuesday. The parades take in the fours weeks that precede Lent (which is the forty day period before Easter).
The Burlamacco is the character shown above and is the official symbol for the Carnival in Viareggio. It is inspired by characters of Italian “commedia dell’arte” including Harlequin, Balanzone, Pierrot and Rugantino. Burlamacco is dressed in a long red and white checkered suit with a cocked hat and a long black cape at his shoulders.
In each of the parades, the Burlamacco is accompanied by a float composed of female participants called the “Ondina” in honor of Viareggio’s association with the sea (onda means wave in Italian).
Recipes For Carnival Time
The three most common, must-eat foods in Florence during Carnival are:
Cenci or Chiacchiere – Cenci meaning “rugs” are slices of fried dough that are drenched in powdered sugar and sometimes dark chocolate.
240 gr or 2 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs, large
20 gr or 1 oz butter, softened
20 gr or 1 oz sugar, granulated
1 espresso cup of Vin Santo, Marsala or milk
Pinch of salt
Zest of one lemon
Oil for frying ( I use extra virgin olive oil, but corn oil is fine)
Powdered sugar (icing sugar) for dusting.
Beat the softened butter with the sugar. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring until incorporated. Add the lemon zest and the liquid (Vin Santo). Add the flour. Mix well. The dough will be hard.
Knead and when smooth, cover and let rest for one hour. Heat oil for frying. Roll out the dough as thin as possible or use a pasta machine. Cut into 3 inch wide strips.
Frittelle di riso (Rice Fritters)
Frittelle di Riso – Imagine rice pudding that is rolled up, fried and immersed in sugar. That is what a frittelle di riso is. Sometimes, the bakers inject custard cream or chocolate nutella into the center of the pastries. These sweets are also bite-size, so they are easy to pop in your mouth.
400 gr or 2 cups short grain rice, Arborio
1 litre or 4 cups milk
4 tablespoons sugar
Peel of one lemon, grated (zest, only the yellow part)
1 ounce liqueur (sherry, brandy or amaretto)
80 gr or 3/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder (lievito in polvere)
Pinch of salt
3 eggs, separated
Bring the rice to a slow boil in the milk with sugar and lemon zest. Stir occasionally to avoid the rice sticking. When the rice is cooked, it will have absorbed all the milk.
Place the rice in large bowl, add the liqueur, egg yolks, flour, baking powder and salt. Mix well and let cool. DO NOT REFRIGERATE.
Whip the egg whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the rice mixture.
In a heavy pan, heat 3 inches of oil for frying. Drop the fritters by teaspoons into the hot oil. Fry quickly and remove them when they are golden. Do not brown.
Drain on paper towels and serve sprinkled with granulated sugar. They are best hot but can also be served cold or reheated.
Schiacciata alla Fiorentina is a sweet flatcake, traditional to Florence, made with citrus flavors and sometimes spread with chantilly cream in the middle. It is also coated in powdered sugar and in Florence, you find the fleur de lis “giglio” crest of Florence etched in with powdered cacao.
2 1/2 cups (300 grams) plain flour
3/4 ounce (20 grams) fresh yeast dissolved in some warm water
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) lard (or, less traditional, butter)
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks
Zest of 1 orange
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
Powdered sugar and powdered bittersweet cocoa for dusting (optional)
In a bowl, combine the flour and fresh yeast (along with the water) until a dough forms. Cover with a tea towel and place in a warm, dry spot to rise for about one hour or until it has doubled in size.
Beat in the lard, sugar, eggs, orange zest, vanilla and salt until well combined. Place the dough in a buttered rectangular tin. It should be about 2 cm or 2/3 inch in height.
Cover with a tea towel and let the schiacciata rise for 2 more hours. Bake at 350 ºF (180ºC) for 30 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Turn onto a wire rack to cool and when cooled completely, dust liberally with powdered sugar. If you like, cut out a mask of the Florentine lily and dust with cocoa powder.
If desired, cut through the middle of the cake and fill with some slightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream or pastry cream before dusting with powdered sugar.
This very simple Tuscan peasant soup is commonly called ribollita because it is served the day after its preparation when it is warmed up in a pot with extra-virgin olive oil and reboiled. Ribollita is simple, inexpensive and its base is made with stale unsalted Tuscan bread and a variety of winter vegetables including Tuscan kale.
It is good to have on hand to make a quick supper on Carnival days.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 celery stalks, chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1- 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, no salt added
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound cavolo nero (lacinato kale, Tuscan kale), stems trimmed off and leaves well chopped
4 cups cooked white beans, such as cannellini
1/2 pound Italian bread (such as ciabatta), crusts removed
1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
Zest of one lemon
In a thick-bottomed soup pot over medium heat combine the olive oil, celery, garlic, carrot, and onion. Cook for 10-15 minutes sweating the vegetables, but avoid browning them.
Stir in the tomatoes and red pepper flakes, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, long enough for the tomatoes to thicken up a bit. Stir in the kale, 3 cups of the beans, and 8 cups water.
Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes.
In the meantime, mash or puree the remaining beans with a small amount of water until smooth. Tear the bread into bite-sized chunks. Stir both the beans and bread into the soup.
Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the bread breaks down and the soup thickens, 20 – 30 minutes. Stir in the salt, taste and add more if needed. Stir in the lemon zest.
Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate overnight. Serve reheated the next day and finish each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese.
Panini di Lampredotto
The lampredotto sandwich is real Italian street food! The Florentines eat it at any time: breakfast, lunch with a glass of wine or dinner with friends.
The tradition of eating tripe and entrails in Florence is very old and probably arises from the need to combine simple bread with something inexpensive but nourishing.
Typically, tripe wagons offer a couple of options for their sandwiches: salt and pepper, salsa verde (a green sauce commonly made with parsley, capers, garlic and anchovies, among other ingredients); and salsa piccante (basically, chili oil). Also, you can opt to have the roll briefly dipped ( bagnato ) in the cooking broth.
1 – 1.5 kg will make about 8 hearty panini or about 20 mini ones. You don’t often find lampredotto in small portions, as it is generally sold whole, so if you have leftovers, you can freeze it.
For the lampredotto:
1 kg lampredotto (abomasum tripe or stomach)
3 litres of water
1 stalk of celery
1 brown onion
5 whole black peppercorns
For the salsa verde:
2 anchovy fillets
¼ of an onion
1 garlic clove
Bunch of parsley
Handful of basil leaves
2 tablespoons of capers, rinsed
Extra virgin olive oil
For the lampredotto:
Prepare a broth by roughly chopping the vegetables and adding them to the water in a large pot with a generous amount of salt and the peppercorns. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes.
Add the lampredotto, whole, and cook until soft, covered with a lid. The cooking time is really a case of checking and testing, it may take about one hour.
Make sure the lampredotto is always submerged under the broth, you can add more water as necessary. Keep the lampredotto warm, in the broth, until you are ready to use it.
For the salsa verde:
Chop the anchovies, onion, garlic, capers and herbs together finely (with a knife or a food processor) and add olive oil and lemon juice to bind it into a paste-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
To assemble the panini:
Roughly slice the tripe and chop enough to generously heap onto the panino roll. The bread rolls are normally, split open in half and a bit of the bread in the middle is taken out to have more space for the filling.
Add a heaping spoonful of salsa verde on top and season with extra salt and pepper. Dip the top half of the roll into the broth if desired.
Looking forward to fall? One of the nice things about early fall is that the weather is still warm but not too hot and there are plenty of fruits and vegetables to choose from at the markets. This dinner menu I planned for you takes advantage of the season’s delicious offerings, like mushrooms, squash, spinach. pears and pork. This dinner serves four but can easily be doubled for a company dinner.
Pork Tenderloin in Mushroom Wine Sauce
- 1 pork tenderloin (about 1 lb)
- 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
- ¼ cup porcini dried mushrooms
- ¾ cup boiling water
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup dry red wine
- Porcini broth
- 1 tablespoon butter
Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.
Combine the porcini and boiling water in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large oven proof skillet. Add the chopped onion and saute until the onion is soft.
Add the garlic and fresh mushrooms and continue cooking for another 3 minutes.
Strain the porcini in a fine mesh colander and reserve the drained mushroom water. Add the porcini to the skillet with the fresh mushrooms.
Season with salt and pepper and stir in the oregano and thyme. Set aside.
Butterfly the pork, by cutting the pork down the center, without completely cutting through, so when the two halves are opened they resemble a butterfly.
Use a meat mallet to flatten the meat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Spread the mushroom filling down the center of the pork and bring the 2 sides up. Use butcher string to tie around the roll at 1 inch intervals.
Season the stuffed pork with salt and pepper and in the same ovenproof skillet heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
Sear the pork on all sides and place the skillet in the preheated oven.
Roast uncovered for about 20 minutes or until done to your preference.
Remove the skillet from the oven and place the pork on a platter.
Place the skillet back on the stovetop. Add the red wine and the strained porcini water and bring to a boil. Cook the sauce until it is reduced by half.
Remove the pan from the from the heat and stir in the butter.
Cut the strings off the pork and slice into thin rounds. Arrange the pork on a serving platter and pour the wine sauce over the slices.
Italian Style Spaghetti Squash
Cook the squash a few hours earlier, so it will be cool enough to handle.
- 1 spaghetti squash, about 1 1/2 pounds
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Pierce the squash in several places with a sharp knife. Cover a baking sheet with foil and place the squash on top.
Bake for one hour or until the squash is soft and easy to cut with a knife. Remove from the heat and allow to cool until you can handle it.
Cut in half lengthwise and allow to cool some more. Remove the seeds and discard. Scoop out the flesh from the squash and place in a bowl.
Run a fork through the flesh to separate the spaghetti like strands.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat and add the garlic and breadcrumbs.
When the breadcrumbs begin to sizzle and turn crisp, stir in the squash strands and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss all together over medium heat until the squash is infused with the breadcrumbs, garlic and oil and heated through, about 5 minutes.
Remove to a warm serving dish, top with freshly grated Parmesan and serve.
Sautéed Spinach and Garlic
- Two 10 oz packages of fresh spinach
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, sliced thin
- Salt and Pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Heat the olive oil and garlic in a skillet. Add the spinach and salt and pepper to taste. Cook just until the spinach is wilted. Stir in the lemon juice. Serve immediately.
- 1 sheet of frozen prepared puff pastry, thawed
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/3 cups chopped peeled pears (about 3 medium pears)
- 1 egg beaten
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Combine the honey, cornstarch, ginger and vanilla in a mixing bowl. Stir in the chopped pears.
Roll the pastry into a 12 inch square on a floured board. Cut the pastry sheet into four equal squares.
Spoon 1/3 cup of the pear mixture into the center of each square and brush the edges with beaten egg. Fold diagonally in half and press the edges with a fork to seal.
With a wide spatula, place the turnovers on a parchment covered baking pan. Brush the turnovers with beaten egg.
Place the baking pan in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the turnovers are puffy and golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.
The province of Chieti is a located in the Abruzzo region on the eastern coast of Italy. The province is hilly and mountainous with many valleys that run along the rivers and creeks. The northern part of the province is pretty desolate, while the southern part is dotted with numerous tiny villages.
The province has quite a history.
It was first settled by the Osci people around 1000 BCE. The area was also lived in by the Greeks, who named it Teate. The province and surrounding areas were conquered by the Romans in 305 BCE, but after the fall of Rome in 476 CE, it became a Lombard fortress. The area had been occupied by the Franks, the Normans, the Swabians, the Angevins and Aragonese rulers until it was taken over by Charles V of France. Later, it was ruled by the House of Bourbon.
The Caracciolo nobility rebuilt the area of Chieti in Medieval times. Ferrante Caracciolo began teaching his house staff his cooking techniques, a tradition that continued within the noble family’s household for centuries. Many of the well-trained cooks were sent all over Italy and to other countries to work for royalty and heads of state. This training led to the creation of Villa Santa Maria’s culinary and hotel management school. Every year in October the province is host to La Festa dei Cuochi (the Cook’s Festival) in which locals and visitors from the world over gather to celebrate the local cuisine.
During World War II, the area was the place of a battle between German and predominantly British and Canadian forces where over 2,000 civilians died and many of the towns were destroyed.
The area is well-known for growing saffron but it has a different flavor from the saffron used in Spain. The first saffron bulbs were brought to Italy in 1400 by a Dominican friar named Santucci, who brought them from his birthplace in Spain. He successfully planted the bulbs in his monastery garden and the spice was used to flavor sauces and as a curative herb.
During the autumn harvest, the first presses from the olives are often infused with chili. This is known locally as olio santo or holy oil and used on the table during meals. To experience the significance of this spicy ingredient in the region’s cuisine, visit their famous chili festival held in late August in the small town of Filetto in the province of Chieti.
Lamb is the predominate meat in cooking, vegetables are abundant and there are a large variety of herbs and the use of hot pepper called Peperoncino. Seafood dishes include fish stews, fried fish and fish sauces served over pasta, as well as fresh-water fish, mountain trout and river shrimp.
This is a cheese loving land and they produce a number of cheeses, many of them flavored with the local herbs. Among the most famous cheeses are provolone, both mild and strong, ricotta and pecorino (made with sheep’s milk).
Desserts tend to be simple and include torroncini (a hard candy), pies and cookies often flavored with amaretto, dried figs, cinnamon, chocolate and pine-nuts.
And not to be forgotten are the fine regional wines, such as the red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and the whites Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Local liqueurs are also very famous, particularly the Amaro Abruzzese.
Italian Seafood Salad
- 2 cups extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup lemon juice
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons red chili pepper
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 1/2 lbs calamari rings
- 1 1/2 lbs small fresh shrimp, peeled
- 1 1/2 lbs bay (small) scallops
- 4 bay leaves
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 3 cups dry white wine
- 3 lemons
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup chopped yellow and red bell peppers
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
- 2 lemons, cut into wedges
- Freshly ground black pepper for garnish
Combine the dressing ingredients and set aside.
In a large pot combine 10 cups water, the wine, bay leaves and crushed garlic. Cut the 3 lemons in half and squeeze the juice into the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium and add the shrimp. Cook 2 minutes, then remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon or spider and place in a serving bowl.
Repeat the procedure with the calamari, cook 2 minutes and remove to the bowl with the shrimp.
Repeat the procedure with the scallops, cook 2 minutes and remove the scallops to the bowl with the shrimp and calamari.
Be sure to drain off any water that has collected in the bowl and return the fish to the bowl.
Add the celery and the peppers to the seafood, season with salt and pepper and pour the dressing over the mixture. Mix well, cover the bowl and refrigerate the salad for at least six hours.
Just before serving, toss the salad and add the parsley and basil. Garnish with black pepper and serve with the lemon wedges.
Crepes in Broth (Crespelle-en-brodo)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 lb chicken wings
- 1 lb beef bones
- 2 carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 large yellow onions, roughly chopped
- 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 sprigs parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 plum tomato, cored and halved
- 1/4 cup minced parsley, plus more for garnish
- 5 tablespoons flour
- 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 5 eggs
- Freshly ground black pepper, for serving
Make the broth:
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Working in batches, cook chicken wings and beef bones until browned, 35–40 minutes; transfer to a bowl.
Add the carrots, onions, celery and garlic to pan; cook until golden, 6–8 minutes. Return wings and bones to pan. Add parsley, bay leaf, tomato and 20 cups water; simmer, skimming as needed, for 4 hours.
Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean saucepan; keep warm.
Make the crepes:
Whisk the parsley, flour, cheese, oil, nutmeg, eggs and 1 cup water in a bowl until smooth.
Heat an 8″ nonstick skillet over medium-high. Working in batches, pour 2 tablespoons of the batter into the skillet while tilting the skillet to let the batter cover the bottom completely.
Cook until the crepe is golden on the bottom, 1–2 minutes. Turn and cook 1 minute more; transfer to a plate. Roll each crepe into a cigar shape.
Divide the rolled crepes among soup bowls and ladle reserved broth over the top; garnish with parsley, Parmesan cheese and black pepper.
Spaghetti alla Chitarra with Lamb Ragu
This type of sauce is usually served over spaghetti alla chitarra, a regional pasta that is shaped on a tool that resembles a guitar. Since most of us do not have such a tool, bucatini or perciatelli pasta is just fine.
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 3 bay leaves
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1 (15 oz.) can whole peeled Italian tomatoes, crushed by hand
- 2 large red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and sliced
- 1 large yellow bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced
- 1 lb spaghetti alla chitarra or thick spaghetti
- Grated Pecorino Romano, for garnish
Heat oil in a 6-quartt saucepan over medium-high. Cook lamb, stirring and breaking up the meat into small pieces, until browned, 6–8 minutes.
Add bay leaves and garlic; cook until garlic is golden, 2 minutes.
Stir in wine; cook until reduced by half, 2–3 minutes. Add stock, tomatoes, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is slightly thickened, 35–40 minutes. Stir in peppers; cook until peppers are tender but not falling apart, about 4 minutes. Discard bay leaves.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente, 10–12 minutes. Drain pasta and transfer to the pan with the sauce. Using tongs, toss the pasta in the sauce. Divide pasta among serving bowls and garnish with pecorino cheese.
- 4 whole eggs
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 egg white
- 1 to 1 1/2 cups flour
- 8 ounces (200 g) fresh ricotta
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup candied fruit
- Zest of a lemon
- 2 shots rum
- 2 tablespoons anise seed
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon lard or vegetable shortening
- 1 tablespoon sugar, plus extra for the topping
Combine the 4 whole eggs, half the rum, half the anise, vanilla, lemon zest, the 1 tablespoon of sugar, the baking powder, and sufficient flour to make a homogeneous dough.
Combine the egg yolks, remaining rum and anise, raisins and candied fruit in a bowl, stirring well to mix thoroughly.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 C).
Roll out the dough slightly less than 1/4-inch thick and cut out rounds with a round cutter or a glass. Place a tablespoon of filling on each round and fold them over to make half-moons. Seal edges with a fork.
Lightly beat the remaining egg white, brush the half-moons with it, sprinkle with sugar and transfer them to an oiled baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minute until golden brown.