My friend, Andy, recently gave me a cookbook titled, Adventures of an Italian Food Lover by Faith Heller Willinger. The author’s name was familiar to me because I have been cooking from her book, Red, White, and Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables, for a long time. You can also check out a column she wrote for The Atlantic Monthly by visiting this site: http://www.theatlantic.com/author/faith-willinger/
In the Adventures book, Faith takes readers to country markets and busy city shops, to wineries in rural villages, to kitchens in restaurants and into private homes where her friends share their recipes – real Italian recipes.
Additionally, Willinger introduces the reader to the people of Italy: the grocers who stock homemade artisan cheeses and salumi, winemakers, Tuscan bakers, butchers and chocolatiers. Each entry is followed by a recipe. The recipes include some classic Italian dishes that will be familiar, but most are as authentic and original as the people Ms. Willinger profiles in the book. Actually these profiles are one of the best features in the book.
Even if you’re practiced in making Italian food, there’s still much to learn from Ms. Willinger. She includes information on the most important ingredients, explaining such things as why certain dry pastas are superior to others, what goes into making Italy’s best cheeses, how to select the best olive oils and what distinguishes an artisanal ricotta from another more ordinary one.
The book can also function as a guidebook for travelers because she includes web sites, hours of operation and contact information that make arranging a personal visit easy.
Here are a few recipes from the book for you to try. The book is divided into three major areas of Italy: Northern and Central Italy; Tuscany and Southern Italy and the Islands.
From Chapter 1 – Northern and Central Italy
Willinger adapted this recipe from Walter Bolzonella’s recipe, a barman of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice.
For the peach puree:
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/2 to 3/4 pound ripe white peaches
- 2 teaspoons sugar
For the drinks:
- A few raspberries, if desired, for color
- 1 bottle Prosecco sparkling wine
Put the water and lemon juice in a bowl. Peel, pit and slice the peaches. Immerse them in the acidulated water, so they don’t discolor and macerate for at least 10 minutes or up to 6 hours.
Drain the peaches, reserving 2 to 3 tablespoons of the liquid. In a food processor or blender, puree the peaches with the sugar and reserved liquid. Use more sugar if the peaches are very tart
but this is not a sweet drink. If the peaches don’t have pink veins (which lend a Bellini its rosy hue), add a few raspberries to the mixture before pureeing.
Transfer the mixture to a jar or bottle and chill thoroughly.
Pour cold peach puree into a pitcher. Add one bottle of chilled Prosecco sparkling wine and stir gently. Pour into glasses and drink at once.
- 3 egg yolks at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons Moscato d’Asti wine
- Butter or hazelnut cookies or fresh fruit or berries
Place the ingredients in a 1 ½-2 quart pot (use a copper or stainless steel bowl with a rounded bottom, holding the bowl with a pot holder)
Begin beating at high-speed with a mixer until foamy. Place the pot over medium heat and continue beating. Mixture will grow greatly in volume and thicken. Remove the pot from the heat when the mixture feels warm and continue beating.
Place back over the heat, beating the whole time, removing the pot from the heat when it seems to be heating up too much. Practice makes perfect.
The zabaione will be thick and foamy, warm but not hot to the touch. Serve in individual glass serving bowls with butter or hazelnut cookies on the side. Or over berries or sliced fresh soft ripe fruit like peaches or mango.
Chapter 2 – Tuscany
Ricotta-Stuffed Zucchini Flowers
- 1 cup ricotta, fresh, if possible, or sheep’s milk ricotta
- 12-16 fresh zucchini flowers
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
If your ricotta is watery, drain it in a sieve to remove excess whey. Soak the zucchini flowers in cool water, then gently spin-dry in a salad spinner. Removing the stamens is unnecessary.
Pack the ricotta into a pastry bag — I use a disposable one and simply cut the tip off the end. Insert the end of the pastry bag into the zucchini flowers and pipe one or two spoonfuls of ricotta into each.
Drizzle one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a large non-stick skillet. Place the stuffed flowers in the skillet in a single layer and the place pan over the highest heat.
When the pan heats and the oil begins to sizzle, cover and cook for four to six minutes or until the flowers are hot, steamed by the moisture of the ricotta.
Transfer to a serving dish and top with pepper and salt, minced basil, and the remaining extra virgin olive oil.
Etruscan Grape Tart
Serves 6 to 8
- 1 package active dry yeast (2 ½ teaspoons)
- ¾ cups warm water
- 3 tablespoons Chianti — drink the rest with dinner
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 ½ – 2 ¾ cups soft wheat flour (Italian “00” or White Lily flour)
- ¼ cup Tuscan extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Around 1 ¾ pounds wine, Concord, or red Grace grapes
- 6 tablespoons sugar
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, wine and honey in a large bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes or until bubbles form. Stir in ¾ cup flour — it doesn’t have to be smooth because lumps will dissolve. Cover and let rise for 1 hour.
Add the olive oil, salt and 1 ½ cups flour. Knead dough until smooth and elastic. Add up to ½ cup additional flour if necessary so it isn’t sticky. Shape into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 ½ hours.
Punch the dough down and divide into two pieces. Roll each piece out to a rough 10 by 16-inch rectangle. Place one rectangle on parchment paper on a cookie sheet (or use a nonstick cookie sheet), scatter the dough with half the grapes and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar.
Use the second rectangle of dough to cover the bottom layer. Sprinkle the remaining grapes on the dough, gently press the grapes into the dough, and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and a dishtowel and let rise for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until dark brown. Remove from the pan while still warm and spoon excess juice over the tart. Serve at room temperature.
From Chapter 3 – Southern Italy
Spaghetti with Walnuts and Anchovies
Serves 4 to 6
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2 whole salt-cured anchovies, filleted, or 4–6 canned anchovy fillets
- 3–4 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts
- Chili pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- Coarse sea salt
- 14–16 ounces spaghetti
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the garlic over low heat until it barely begins to color. Add the anchovy fillets and, with a wooden spoon, mash them until they dissolve into the oil. Add the walnuts, chili pepper and parsley; stir to combine and remove from heat.
Bring 5 to 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add about 3 tablespoons of sea salt, then add the spaghetti and cook until it offers considerable resistance to the tooth, approximately three-quarters of the package-recommended cooking time. Drain the pasta, reserving 2 cups of the starchy pasta cooking water.
Add the spaghetti to the sauce in the skillet along with 1/2 cup reserved pasta-cooking water, and cook over high heat, stirring with a wooden fork, until the pasta is cooked al dente, adding a little more pasta water as the sauce dries.
Sweet & Sour Lemon Sauce
Use as a sauce for fish.
For the candied zest:
- 2 Meyer lemons
- 1 orange
- 6 tablespoons coarse sea salt
- 1/2 cup wildflower honey
- 1 cup sugar
Peel the zest from the lemons in strips, leaving 1/4-inch pulp attached to the zest. Peel the orange the same way.
Put the zests in a bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons salt; add 1 cup water and weight down with a small plate to keep zests submerged for 1 to 2 hours. Rinse and drain.
Bring 10 cups of water to a rolling boil, Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of salt and the zests and when the water returns to a rolling boil, remove from heat and let zests cool completely in the salted water. Drain zests.
Combine the honey, sugar and 2 1/4 cups of fresh water in a small pot and bring to a simmer. Add the drained zest and cook over lowest heat, less than a simmer, for 40 minutes.
Remove from the heat and let zest cool in the syrup overnight. The next day, bring the syrup back to a simmer, lower the heat and cook for 1 hour. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
Repeat the process one more time, cooking zest on the lowest heat for 30 minutes. Store zest in its syrup in a jar.
For the sauce:
- 3 1/2 Meyer lemons
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 1 tablespoon minced celery
- Fine sea salt
- White pepper
- 3 tablespoons chopped candied lemon zest
Trim three lemons with a knife, cutting the rind away down to the pulp. Section the lemon into wedges, cutting between the white connective membranes.
Squeeze the juice from the remains of the lemons into a measuring cup and add the wedges. You should have about 1/2 cup.
Squeeze the juice from the remaining 1/2 lemon and add it to the wedges. In a small saucepan, add the oil and saute the garlic and celery over medium heat until the celery barely begins to color.
Add the lemon wedges and juice and cook, mashing the mixture with a wooden spoon, until the mixture is pulpy. Remove the garlic. Season the lemon mixture with salt and white pepper.
If the sauce is too tart, add a spoonful or two of syrup from the candied zest. Transfer lemon mixture to a blender and add candied zest. Blend until smooth.
Florence’s hot temperatures, al fresco dining and a busy open-air arts and concert season make it one of Italy’s most vibrant cities in the summer.
The classic Italian dinner, or “cena”, has a very specific structure. Traditional dinners begin with “apertivo,” which is usually a drink with snacks to get ready for the large meal to come. “Antipasta,” the appetizer, comes next, followed by the “primo”, which can be a pasta, a soup, polenta or a rice dish. The “secondo” follows the primo, which is the major protein of the meal, consisting of meat, eggs or fish and often accompanied by “contorno,” or a side dish of vegetables. The meal is then topped off by “dolce,” dessert and a “café,” coffee.
At the heart of Florentine cuisine, you will find bread (plain, unsalted, well-baked with a crispy crust and light and airy inside); without any doubt the best extra-virgin olive oil, Florentine steaks of beef, roasted or wine-braised game such as boar, deer and rabbit and wine.
There is a reason that Italians live long lives and everyone looks healthy and happy: they eat really, really well with a focus on seasonal vegetables, simple cooking techniques and lots of olive oil. The bean and chickpea salads we serve at backyard barbecues, marinated vegetable salads and the cooling end to a meal with panna cotta and gelato, all have their roots in Italian summer recipes. There is even a minestrone designated for summer and it is one of the best because of all the fresh tomatoes and squash available at this time of year.
Italian cocktails… are delicious year-round. But in summer, when the temperature rises and the humidity sets in, there’s nothing more refreshing than—a Bellini, spritz or limoncello.
Eat the Italian way: slowly and moderately, while enjoying the food and each other’s company.
This classic was first created for Count Camillo Negroni in 1919 at Florence’s Café Casoni.
For each cocktail:
- 1 oz. Campari
- 1 oz. gin
- 1 oz. sweet vermouth
Stir Campari, gin and vermouth in an ice-filled tumbler; pour into a glass and garnish with an orange slice.
Pesto Caprese Salad
Serve with Italian bread.
- 6-8 fresh tomatoes, depending on their size
- 8 ounces fresh Mozzarella cheese
- A handful of fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons basil pesto
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
- High quality balsamic vinegar
Slice the tomatoes about 1/4 inch thick and place on a serving platter. Slice the mozzarella cheese about 1/4 inch thick. Place cheese slices between the tomato slices. Tuck fresh basil leaves in between the tomatoes and the cheese.
For the dressing:
Stir together the basil pesto and olive oil to make a thin dressing. Drizzle over the salad and season with salt and pepper. Splash a little balsamic vinegar over the salad. Serve.
Pasta zucchine e ricotta
- 8 medium-sized zucchini
- 20 leaves of basil
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 3 oz. ricotta cheese
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 12 oz. short pasta, such as penne
- Grated parmesan cheese for serving
Slice the zucchini into rounds and cut each round in half.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the zucchini on a high heat until they turn lightly brown.
Add the garlic, cook for 5 seconds and turn off the heat, continuing to stir so that the garlic infuses the zucchini but does not burn. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente (a good minute or two less than the package instructions; until it is cooked but still firm to the bite).
Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.
In a warmed bowl, combine the pasta with the ricotta, remaining olive oil and the pasta cooking water.
Tear the basil leaves into small pieces and stir into the pasta. Serve with grated cheese.
Tuscan Pork with Spinach and Chickpeas
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 1 1/4 pounds pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2″-thick slices
- 1 can (15 ounces) low sodium chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 can (15 ounces) chopped Italian tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 bags (10 ounces each; 15 ounces total) baby spinach leaves (15 cups)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes until the onion softens. Push the onions to one side of the pan.
Add the pork. Cook for about 4 minutes, turning once, until well browned on both sides. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, Italian seasoning and salt. Stir. Adjust the heat so the sauce is at a moderate simmer. Cover and cook for 5 minutes.
Add the spinach, a large handful at a time, covering the pan between each addition. Cook until all the spinach wilts. Remove the pork to a serving plate.
Add the lemon juice to the pan. Stir to combine. Spoon the spinach mixture over the pork slices. Serve.
Zabaglione & Orange Liqueur
Use any fruit that is in season in this recipe.
- 3 cups peaches, peeled and cut into thin slices
- 3 tablespoons crumbled amaretti cookies
- 1 pound fresh strawberries, cut into quarters
- 7 tablespoons orange liqueur (Grand Marnier)
- 6 egg yolks
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Fresh mint for garnish
In the top half of a double boiler, whisk the egg yolks and sugar to a creamy consistency. Place the egg mixture over the hot water in the bottom of the double boiler, making sure that the pot containing the eggs doesn’t touch the water. Beat the mixture well with a whisk until it starts to thicken. It should take about 5 minutes. Be careful not to beat too long or you will cook the eggs.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of the orange liqueur, whisking until it is well incorporated. Return the pan to the double boiler and whisk until the mixture is thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Divide the strawberries and peaches among 6 wine glasses or dessert bowls, Sprinkle each with the amaretti crumbs and spoon 1 tablespoon of orange liqueur over each. Top with some of the custard and decorate each with a mint sprig, if you wish.
This dessert can be eaten warm or it can be refrigerated and eaten later.
Italian cuisine prides itself on simple delicious combinations of the finest, freshest ingredients available. For example, fresh ricotta, mozzarella di bufala and prosciutto. Each Italian region and town is proud to have its trademark dishes and ingredients. It is important to be aware that the ingredients used by Italians are location specific. Everyone in Italy knows to get their balsamic vinegar from Modena, their mozzarella di bufala from Campania, their truffles from Piedmont or Umbria, their cannoli from Sicily, their artichokes from Rome, their pizza from Naples, their bolognese meat sauce from Bologna, their saffron risotto from Milan and their pecorino cheese from Pienza.
Italy has adopted strict country-of-origin labelling laws.
Italian food products are special. The Italian national government recognizes this, so, they’ve taken some steps to ensure that all traditional products are held to a strict standard for quality, excellence and originality. This means that only real Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is labeled and sold as such and that no “imposter” cheeses can be labeled Parmigiano. This form of branding actually helps promote the product worldwide and ensures that each wheel of Parmigiano is as good and authentic as the rest.
The heart and soul of Italian cuisine are found in the quality of its ingredients and that quality has long been assured by tightly controlled and regulated production standards. These standards fall within the jurisdiction of European Union law under the auspices of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). In Italy, these terms translate to Denominazione di Origine Protetta or DOP and Indicazione Geografica Protetta or IGP. Another system, known as the Denominazione di Origine Controllata or DOC is Italy’s system for ensuring quality wines.
D.O.P – Denominazione di Origine Protetta
Literally translated “Protected Designation of Origin”, this label applies to various cheeses, meats, breads and pastas from the regions throughout Italy. Examples of such products are Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma, regional Extra-Virgin Olive Oils and the famous Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.
In the case of IGP, at least one stage of production or processing of the product takes place within the designated area. In addition, the product has a certain reputation. IGP designates a native product of the region/country whose qualities/reputation/features can be attributed to its geographic origin and whose production and/or processing take place within that area.
D.O.C. and D.O.C.G
Denominazione di Origine Controllata (e Garantita) means that the wine is from a “Controlled Designation of Origin” and officially guaranteed by the Italian government. These two labels are the highest quality certifications given to Italian wines. Each designation means that the wine is grown in select quantities that the government mandates and is produced under traditional or government-specified standards. D.O.C.G. is the ultimate Italian wine standard, being given currently to little over 30 wines from Italy. Each D.O.C.G. wine is produced in very small quantities and is given an official numbered government seal for each bottle.
While this title is reserved for olive oils, it is not exclusive to Italy (though, some Italian olive oils can also be given the D.O.P. designation, which is exclusive to Italy). Extra Virgin is a grade of olive oil that comes from the first pressing of olives and contains no more than 0.8% acidity – a key for determining quality and usability of olive oil.
Protecting these products is not easy. See the following news story:
ROME, Dec. 6, 2013 (UPI) — The counterfeit food business is doing well in Italy, with peddlers selling items from watered-down olive oil to imitation cheese, a report indicated.
The annual report, issued Thursday by the Citizen’s Defense Movement and environment non-profit Legambiente, documented 500,000 government inspections that led to the seizure of 28,000 tons of counterfeit or adulterated products worth more than a half-billion dollars in 2012, the ANSA news agency reported. The highest rate of seizures, about 47 percent, occurred within Italy’s wine sector.
Authorities also seized 4.6 tons of tomatoes — another mainstay of Italian cuisine — that were fraudulently sold as organic or falsely labeled as a “Protected Designation of Origin” product, an EU designation for products whose claim to quality depends on the territory in which they were produced.
ANSA reported that Chinese tomato sauce was repackaged with a “Made in Italy” label.
“Consumers are still the unwitting victims of food fraud,” Citizens’ Defense Movement President Antonio Longo said. “We need severe penalties to be a real deterrent.”
“Guaranteeing food safety is not just healthy, but also crucial to safeguarding our gastronomic heritage,” Legambiente President Vittorio Cogliati Dezza said.
The agriculture association, Coldiretti, said unfair competition from foreign produce branded to look as if it were from Italy contributed to the failure of 136,351 farms and agricultural companies since the global economic crisis began in 2007.
© 2013 United Press International, Inc.
Consumers need to look for the DOP or IGP seals on authentic Italian products. In use since 2006, the new regulations introduced in May, 2010 utilize a color scheme. A red and gold seal denotes a DOP product while a blue and gold seal is found on IGP products.
You can buy authentic Italian food products in the United States. Much more so than in the not too distant past, when you had to seek out an Italian specialty shop in an Italian neighborhood in order to buy a bottle of olive oil. Italian grocery stores and delis are still thriving and one can easily find authentic Italian ingredients in most high-end supermarkets these days. You just have to know what to look for.
First stop, the cheese section. How can you even consider Italian food without Parmesan cheese, right? What Americans refer to as “Parmesan cheese” is produced only in a specific area of Italy; the area around Parma. The word “Parmesan” is actually the French word for that area. It is also the generic term under which cheap imitation cheeses may legally be sold in the United States. This often means reaching for the grated stuff in the green cans.
The only true, authentic, Italian “Parmesan cheese” is Parmigiano-Reggiano and it comes in a wedge. It is a DOP designated product produced only in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and certain restricted areas of Bologna and Lombardia. It is made from raw, whole cow’s milk, not the “pasteurized part-skim” product found in cheap imitations. The only additive permitted in Parmigiano-Reggiano is salt. There are no chemical preservatives employed to protect flavor or prevent caking. It must be aged for a minimum of 12 months. The really good cheese is aged from 24 to 36 months. Look for the seals and, more importantly, since some stores hand cut wedges from whole wheels look for some part of the words “Parmigiano-Reggiano” on the rind. They have to be there in order for the cheese to be the real thing.
Besides Parmigiano-Reggiano, several other authentic Italian cheeses are available in supermarkets including Asiago, Gorgonzola, Pecorino Romano, Provolone, Fontina, Taleggio and Grana Padano. These are all DOP cheeses and should be identified as such. Many are domestically produced, so examine the labels carefully and remember that Pecorino cheese comes from sheep’s milk not cow’s milk.
All mozzarella cheese is not created equal. And it’s not all created Italian. If you want real, authentic Italian mozzarella, look for Mozzarella di Bufala Campana. Good luck. It’s not impossible to find, but since there are not a lot of herds of water buffalo grazing in American pastures, most of what passes for mozzarella in this country comes from cows. Technically, this makes it a fiore di latte, but it falls under the general category of mozzarella. There are some good fresh cow’s milk mozzarellas in supermarkets, but they are not authentic Italian. A good substitute for Americans is fresh cow’s milk mozzarella that comes packaged in moist balls.
Ricotta is literally the “recooked” by-product of mozzarella production, so what you’ll find on store shelves is closely related to mozzarella. There are DOP ricottas – i.e. Ricotta di Bufala Campana – but you will not find it in your supermarket.
Another staple of Italian cuisine is the tomato. If you want an authentic Italian taste from an authentic Italian product, look for canned tomatoes that are specifically labeled as “San Marzano” tomatoes. San Marzano tomatoes are a delicate, thin skinned variety of plum tomato grown in an area near the Italian village of San Marzano sul Sarno, which is located southeast of Naples in the fertile valley of Mt. Vesuvius. The DOP certification area actually involves 39,540 acres in three of the provinces of the Campania region, including a rough triangle formed by Salerno, Naples and a small part of Avellino. It is said that San Marzano tomatoes owe their unique flavor to the rich volcanic soil in which they are grown. They have a deep red color and an unmatchable sweet taste. They are sought after and preferred by cooks and chefs around the world as the absolute best tomato for use in a tomato sauce.
There are dozens of brands of San Marzano tomatoes. The tomatoes packed by Cento are the ones mostly found in America. I’ve used several other brands as well, depending on availability. Authentic San Marzano tomatoes will bear the DOP seal on the label. Most will also carry authentication from the Consorzio di Tutela del Pomodoro San Marzano – Agro Nocerino Sarnese , a consortium dedicated to the protection of San Marzano tomatoes.
While in the tomato aisle take a look at the tomato paste. Some sound really Italian. Check the label ingredient list and many say: Tomato puree (tomato paste, water), high fructose corn syrup, salt, dried onions, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean and/or cottonseed), spices, hydrolyzed corn gluten, soy & wheat gluten proteins, grated Romano cheese made from cow’s milk (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), garlic, citric acid, yeast, soy flour.”
Instead choose tomato paste in a tube rather than a can. Easier to use and easier to store. Most common is Amore Italian Tomato Paste brand. Amore is not DOP or IGP and is labeled as a “product of Italy.” What this means is that some component of the overall product comes from Italy. It may be the cap on the tube but the company’s literature says the tube contains “fresh Italian ingredients,” and the ingredients listed are tomato paste and salt. So is it better than the can.
Next, is the pasta. Can you find authentic Italian pasta on American grocery store shelves? If you go to the Italian specialty stores, you can. Supermarkets, maybe. De Cecco and Barilla are both noted Italian pasta makers. Both are headquartered in Italy; De Cecco in San Martino, Barilla in Parma. Each has a corporate presence in the United States. The difference is that while Barilla bills itself as “Italy’s #1 Brand of Pasta,” its products are produced all over the world from local ingredients grown all over the world. In the US that means central Iowa or western New York. De Cecco, on the other hand, generates more than one-third of its total revenue through export. Pasta is not a DOP or IGP product. De Cecco is probably the closest to authentic Italian pasta available to the average supermarket shopper.
There are dozens of protected Italian olive oils. You won’t find many (if any) in your neighborhood supermarket, but they are available in specialty shops and online. Italy is the largest exporter of olive oil to the United States. So if you want real Italian olive oil, check the label for country of origin and the government seals.
Balsamic vinegar is a DOP product. Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale is DOP and consortium regulated and sealed. It is produced in either Modena or Reggio Emilia. Only balsamic vinegar from these regions may legally be described as Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale. The real vinegar comes in very small bottles and is portioned out by the drop because it is very expensive. The balsamic vinegar found on most supermarket shelves is condimento grade and is a blend of various commercially produced vinegars. There are no official production standards or labeling requirements to designate condimento balsamic vinegars, although many of them are produced in the same area as the tradizionale varieties. Unless you see the seal, you do not have the real balsamic vinegar.
There are about 22 DOP meats and another 10 that are IGP. Here are a few of the protected Italian meat varieties you’ll want to look for at the supermarket: bresaola, sopressa and sopressata, capicola, cotechino and mortadella. You won’t have to look for real authentic Italian pepperoni; there is no such thing. Pepperoni is an entirely Italian-American creation.
In addition to the mentioned meats, the two you’ll probably encounter most frequently are pancetta and prosciutto. Pancetta is an Italian dry cured meat similar to bacon, except that it is not smoked. There are a few DOP pancetta products in America, but you are unlikely to find them outside of Italian specialty shops. Boar’s Head makes a decent pancetta. It’s not authentic, but it is good.
Prosciutto comes two ways, cotto and crudo, (cooked and uncooked). Prosciutto crudo is the most commonly used and there are two basic prosciutti of this type familiar to most Americans; prosciutto di Parma and prosciutto di San Daniele. Each reflects the specific area where it is produced. The pigs in Parma dine on the leftover whey from the processing of Parmigiano-Reggiano, so the meat produced there tends to have a little nuttier flavor than that which comes from San Daniele, where the meat is a little darker in color and sweeter in taste. Just look for the seal to guarantee authenticity when you purchase these products.
In general, your best source for authentic Italian meats is a salumeria but they are found in the big cities where there are large Italian populations. If you live in small town America, just try to find the freshest and best quality available.
Cooking with the D.O.P. Brands
Fettuccine with Prosciutto & Asparagus
- 1 lb fresh egg fettuccine
- 1/2 lb asparagus
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
- 4 oz prosciutto, cut into thin strips from an ⅛ inch thick slice
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Trim and peel the lower green portions of the asparagus. Cook whole in salted boiling water in a large skillet until tender. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Cut the asparagus, when cool enough to handle, into ¼ inch lengths.
Pour 4 quarts of water into a large saucepan and place over a high heat.
Melt the butter in the empty skillet over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it softens and turns a golden color. Stir in the prosciutto and saute’ until it has lost its raw color. Add the asparagus, raise the heat to medium-high and cook until it is lightly colored. Pour the reserved water in and cook until it has evaporated. Stir in the cream and cook, stirring frequently, until it has reduced by half. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.
When the water for the pasta is boiling and the sauce is off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and drop in the pasta all at once, stirring well. When the pasta is cooked “al dente”, drain it and toss it with the sauce in the skillet, adding the grated cheese.
Mozzarella, Celery and Fennel Salad
Ingredients for 6 people:
- 10 ounces celery, use center stalks
- 10 ounces mozzarella di bufala
- 3 fennel bulbs
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice from 2 lemons
- Salt to taste
Thoroughly wash the celery and fennel, cut them in thin strips (julienne), place in a salad bowl and add the mozzarella which has been cut into strips about the size of the vegetables.
Prepare the lemon dressing by slowly adding the lemon juice to the olive oil in a small bowl, add salt to taste, add to the salad and toss lightly.
Italian-American Meat Sauce
Sugo di Carne
Makes about 8 cups
- 2 35-ounce cans San Marzano tomatoes
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 4 bay leaves
- 1½ teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
- 4 cups hot water
Pass the tomatoes and their liquid through a food mill fitted with the fine blade. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes.
Add the ground beef and pork and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the meat changes color and the water it gives off is boiled away, about 10 minutes. Continue cooking until the meat is browned about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and oregano then pour in the wine. Bring to a boil and cook, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the pot, until the wine is almost completely evaporated.
Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the tomato paste until it dissolves. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce takes on a deep, brick-red color, 2 to 3 hours. Add the hot water, about 1/2 cup at a time, as necessary to maintain the level of liquid for the length of time the sauce cooks.
Skim off any fat floating on top and adjust the seasoning as necessary. The sauce can be prepared entirely in advance and refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months.
Strawberries in Balsamic Syrup with Zabaglione
- 5 egg whites, at room temperature
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5 egg yolks, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup dry sparkling white wine or champagne (Prosecco)
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled and cut into small pieces
- 1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar of Modena
Preheat the oven to 250˚F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Continue beating, adding confectioners’ sugar gradually, until stiff and shiny. Beat in vinegar and vanilla. Spread meringue about 1/2 inch thick on parchment. Bake 2 hours, then turn the oven off and allow to cool 1 hour until crisp. Break into pieces. Keep in a dry place.
While the meringue is baking, combine strawberries, sugar and balsamic vinegar and toss to coat. Set aside at room temperature.
Set up double boiler or a pot of simmering water. Have a bowl of ice water ready to cool the custard bowl. Away from the flame, add egg yolks to the double boiler top or bowl and whisk withthe sugar to combine. Place back on the stove and whisk continuously over the simmering water, adding the sparkling wine gradually. Cook until the zabaglione is thick and the whisk leaves a trace on the bottom of the bowl. Place the double boiler top or custard bowl in ice water to cool, whisking twice for even cooling.
Beat the cream to the soft peak stage. Fold into the cooled custard. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Assemble the desserts by dividing the berries and syrup among 4 glasses or bowls. Add a layer of meringue pieces, then a dollop of zabaglione. Garnish with more meringue.
- Italian American Culture – The Art Of Writing(jovinacooksitalian.com)
The vanilla bean is actually the fruit of an orchid. The vanilla orchid is the only one among over 20,000 varieties of orchids that produces something edible. The plant is a climbing vine that must have some type of support and partial shade. The vanilla orchid produces waxy greenish-yellow flowers that grow in clusters.
In the 14th century, the Spanish conquistadors under Cortez, watched Montezuma, Emperor of the Aztecs, pulverize vanilla beans, combine them with chocolate and serve it as a drink to his guests. By the middle of the 15th century, the Spanish were importing it to Europe to use as a flavor in the manufacturing of chocolate. When chocolate was first introduced to Europe in the sixteenth century, it was cinnamon that was usually used as a flavoring ingredient. It was not until the eighteenth century that vanilla took over that role, however, vanilla really came into its own as an ingredient in ice cream.
As European explorers traveled the forests of Central and South America, vanilla became more common in Europe. Europeans followed the example of the tribes in the New World and used vanilla as a nerve stimulant and as an aphrodisiac. The Spanish were responsible not only for importing the vanilla pod to Europe, but also for supplying Europe’s languages with a name for it. In Spanish it is vainilla, a diminutive of vaina, sheath, a reference to its long narrow pods.
By the early 1800’s vanilla plants were growing in botanical collections in Germany and France. Horticulturists were experimenting with conditions for its growth. From Europe, it was transported to Reunion, Mauritius and the Malagasy Republic. It there that workers discovered that hand pollination of the flowers was necessary to produce vanilla beans.
Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron, because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor, which author Frederic Rosengarten, Jr. described in The Book of Spices, as “pure, spicy and delicate” and its complex floral aroma depicted as a “peculiar bouquet”. As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking and in the manufacture of perfumes.
Interestingly, fresh vanilla beans have no taste or aroma. They must undergo an extensive curing process that results in the release of vanilla with its distinct aroma and flavor. In Mexico the traditional curing process involved spreading the beans on dark blankets in the sun wilting. More commonly today, oven wilting is used for the initial dehydration. Then the vanilla is placed in special boxes wrapped in blankets or mats, to sweat. Next, the vanilla is alternately sunned and sweated for several days until the beans turn a deep chocolate-brown. Afterward, they are placed in sweating boxes or in beds covered with waxed paper to dry slowly at a moderate temperature for 45 days. Then they are kept for about three months in closed containers to develop their full aroma.
Vanilla Extract is the most popular and the easiest way that vanilla can be used. Here are a few tips for when to use the extract:
- When baking and cooking, where the vanilla will be exposed to heat for long periods of time. Heat weakens vanilla bean’s fruit like flavor, so there isn’t much point in using the more expensive bean pod.
- Extract can be used to flavor sweet and savory egg batters, for example, waffle and pancake batters.
- When you need vanilla’s flavor quickly and don’t have time to steep a bean in the recipe’s liquid.
- A small amount of extract can be used to cut the acidity in some sauces.
- Do not add vanilla extract to hot liquids as the alcohol evaporates, along with some of the vanilla flavor.
Vanilla beans not only impart flavor to dishes, but add a special visual element. Here are a few tips for when to use the vanilla bean:
- In lightly cooked sauces and syrups. By using the vanilla bean, you get all of the flavor elements of the vanilla bean in your cooking.
- When the presentation calls for the actual bean. Adding vanilla beans to Crème Brulee is worth the extra expense.
- If you object to the alcohol used in the extract but still want vanilla’s rich complexity.
- To flavor coffee and other hot drinks. Drop a small piece of the dried bean in with the coffee beans before you grind them.
How To Use Vanilla Beans
The first thing you need to do is split the bean lengthwise, using a paring knife. Then scrape the seeds free from both sides of the bean pod with the edge of the knife and add to whatever it is you are cooking. If you are cooking a sauce, add the pod to the mixture as well. After the mixture has steeped, remove the pod, but DON’T THROW IT AWAY! Rinse the pod and allow it to dry at room temperature. Bury the used, dry vanilla pods in your sugar for a wonderful vanilla flavored sugar.
Vanilla can also be produced synthetically from wood-pulp by-products. Reading the labels of products supposedly made from vanilla may surprise you. In the United States, for example, while ice cream labeled “vanilla” is made from pure vanilla extract and/or vanilla beans, ice cream labeled “vanilla flavored” may contain up to 42 percent artificial flavorings and ice cream labeled “artificially flavored” contains imitation flavorings only. But as good cooks will attest, there is no substitute for the flavor of pure vanilla.
Cooking With Vanilla
You can also use all whole milk, no cream in this recipe
(Makes 1 quart)
- 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1-1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk and sugar. Cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the milk, add the bean pod and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain into a clean bowl removing the vanilla bean pod. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.
Without an ice cream maker: Spoon chilled mixture into a shallow metal pan; freeze until almost firm, about 3 hours. Break into chunks; purée in a food processor. Pack into an airtight container and freeze until firm, about 1 hour.
Vanilla Zabaglione with Raspberries
Steeping the vanilla seeds in the Marsala adds flavor to this classic Italian dessert.
- 1 cup Marsala
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
- 1 dozen large egg yolks
- 5 cups raspberries
In a small saucepan, whisk the Marsala with the sugar and vanilla bean seeds and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and cool.
Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to a simmer; turn the heat to moderately low.
Fill a large bowl with ice water.
In a large stainless steel bowl, whisk or beat the egg yolks at low speed to break them up. Gradually add the Marsala mixture and beat until smooth.
Set the bowl over the simmering water in the saucepan. Beat the egg yolk mixture until it is hot and foamy and leaves a ribbon trail when the beaters are lifted, about 10 minutes.
Don’t cook the zabaglione for too long, or it will curdle. Transfer the bowl to the ice water bath and let stand, whisking the zabaglione occasionally, until cooled.
Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour or until thoroughly chilled.
Spoon the chilled zabaglione into small serving dishes and garnish with the raspberries.
Vanilla Almond Biscotti
- 1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/4 cups blanched slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Position rack in center of oven.
With a small knife, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and place in a small bowl. Add the sugar and use your fingers to mix the vanilla evenly into the sugar. Set aside.
With an electric mixer, cream the butter until light. Add the vanilla sugar and mix until fluffy. Add the eggs and the vanilla extract and mix until smooth. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and almonds and stir into the butter mixture.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, shape each piece of dough into a log that is about 1 1/4 inches in diameter.
Place the logs on the baking sheet, spacing them as far apart as possible. Bake in the center of the oven until lightly browned, about 30 minutes.
Place the logs on a cutting board and let them cool slightly. With a serrated knife, cut the logs on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick pieces. Place on the baking sheet, cut side down.
Bake until lightly browned, about 15 minutes, turning them once. Transfer the cookies to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.
YIELD About two dozen
Light Mascarpone Panna Cotta
This lighter version of a classic dessert delicacy is the perfect ending to a rich meal.
- 6 panna cotta molds
- 3 teaspoons gelatin
- 3 tablespoons nonfat milk
- 2/3 cup nonfat milk
- 2 1/2 cups fat-free half-and-half
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 vanilla beans
- 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
- 1/2 cup lowfat sour cream
Sprinkle the gelatin over the 3 tablespoons milk and let sit for 15 minutes to soften.
In a saucepan, stir the milk, half and half, sugar, and vanilla bean over medium heat until it just starts to boil. Remove from heat.
In a large bowl, whisk together the mascarpone and the sour cream until smooth.
Stir the gelatin mixture into the heated milk mixture and stir well for at least 2 minutes or until bits of gelatin are no longer visible.
Pour the mixture through a strainer into the mascarpone mixture to remove any bits of hard gelatin.
Spray six 1/2 cup custard molds with cooking spray and pour the panna cotta into each mold. Chill overnight. Serve inverted onto a plate with a fruit or chocolate garnish.
Vanilla Ricotta Cheesecake
- 6 large fresh figs, stems removed and cut into quarters
- 2 tablespoons Marsala wine
- 1/2 cup liquid egg substitute
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon tapioca starch
- 4 cups ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 6 tablespoons light agave nectar
- 2 packets stevia, such as, Stevia In The Raw, or ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 lemon, zested
- Olive oil cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk the egg substitute with the tapioca starch in a large bowl until fully incorporated. Add the ricotta, yogurt, agave nectar, stevia, vanilla and lemon zest.
Whisk together until the ingredients are fully combined.
Coat a 9-inch springform cake pan with cooking spray and place the pan in a deep baking dish — one that’s a little larger than the cake pan.
Pour hot water in the baking dish until it reaches halfway up the sides of the cake pan.
Pour batter into the pan.
Place in the oven and bake until the cheesecake is cooked through and set, about 60 minutes. Remove the cake pan from the water bath and cool completely on a wire rack.
Cover and refrigerate until fully chilled. Combine the figs and Marsala in a small bowl and set aside at room temperature until the cake is ready.
To serve: remove the cheesecake from the pan. Place slices of cake on serving plates and spoon the figs alongside, topping them with any Marsala remaining in the bowl.
- Vanilla Spice Poached Plums (Pressure Cooker) (mylittlejarofspices.com)
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In 1892 Ellis Island, located at the mouth of the Hudson River in New York Harbor, was established as the chief immigration center. Between 1892 and its closing in 1956, over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island.
For centuries since the collapse of the Roman Empire, Italy had not existed as a single unified entity. Instead, it was a series of principalities each ruled by a different prince, duke or ruling family. The Italian Unification of 1861 changed all that, but it was not a smooth transition. The new government favored the areas in the north part of Italy, leaving the south with heavy taxes. This largely rural area had many tenant farmers who were no longer able to make a living, especially as the area was heavily populated.
Instead, millions of Italians decided to head to America. Most intended to make a new home for themselves there, while others intended to stay long enough to make their fortune and then return to Italy. Either way, life was not easy once they arrived in the “Land of Opportunity”. Not only did they not know the language, but they were usually without any education or training.
By 1910, there were 340,765 Italians living in New York.
To cope with this transition to a strange land with a different language, Italian immigrants, like many other immigrant groups, tended to live very close together in the cities to which they came. These pockets of Italian population were called “Little Italies.” Within these communities they helped each other, fed each other, practiced their religion and kept up many of the familiar customs of their homeland.
These “Little Italies” became important cultural areas of the cities. Often the Italians would establish restaurants, thus introducing Italian cuisine to America. Pope Leo XIII even sent missionaries to the “Little Italies” in the U.S. to serve the people there. As immigrants were able to establish themselves, the next generation was able to stay in school and learn trades. Thus, they were able to raise themselves to the level of skilled workman and eventually to professional jobs. In fact, an Italian entrepreneur, Amadeo Giannini, established a bank in San Francisco for the Italian population there, which eventually became Bank of America, one of the largest banks in the country today.
Most of the Italian immigrants who made their home in America first landed in New York City. Many then traveled to other parts of the country; but by the early 1900’s, hundreds of thousands had settled in lower Manhattan, living in row houses and tenements in an area of about one square mile. For the unskilled, it was a hard life of cleaning city streets and ash barrels and, for the skilled, it was a hard life of working their trade in constructing buildings and roads. Others became fruit peddlers, bread bakers, shoemakers and tailors. Some opened grocery stores and restaurants or worked in factories; all giving their children the option to stay with the family trade or enter a professional field.
Even within Little Italy, still more insular enclaves formed. Most of the people who lived on Mulberry came from Naples; those from Elizabeth Street were from Sicily; Mott Street, from Calabria; and most of the people north of Mott, came from Bari. Back then if a boy from Mulberry Street married a girl from Elizabeth Street it was considered a mixed marriage.
Today, just several thousand Italian Americans live in New York City’s Little Italy in an area six by three blocks: Mulberry Street and Mott Streets between Canal and Spring Streets, then spreading to the northwest along Bleecker Street from 6th to 7th Avenues. Still, it’s the location of the largest Italian festival in the United States — The Feast of San Gennaro — an 11-day event that attracts over one million people. Held since 1927, the Festival has live music, games and rides, more than 300 vendors selling food and merchandise, indoor and outdoor restaurant and café dining, live radio broadcasts and a street procession of the San Gennaro statue.
Other events include Summer in Little Italy and Christmas in Little Italy, both held over several consecutive weekends. A recent addition located in the heart of Little Italy, The Italian American Museum, opened in the renovated Banca Stabile building.
To Experience Manhattan’s Little Italy
Start off the day at the Italian American Museum (155 Mulberry St.) located at the site of the former Banca Stabile, a bank established in 1885, to serve as a link back to Italy for the new Italian immigrants.
Follow Mulberry north to the oldest espresso bar in the country, Ferrara (195 Grand St. between Mott and Mulberry) established in 1892, for a coffee and dessert.
Continue on through the remaining area of Little Italy, mostly crowded restaurants and souvenir shops, and turn right onto Spring St. to try a slice of pie from Lombardi’s (32 Spring St.), the first pizzeria in America, dating back to 1905 when Sicilian, Gennaro Lombardi, peddled his first slice. Then head northwest to Ottomanelli & Sons Meat Market (285 Bleecker St.), one of the oldest butchers in New York City.
For a sweet finish, head next door to Pasticceria Rocco (243 Bleecker St.) for cannoli. It’s an old neighborhood favorite: the former Joe Zema’s Pastry, turned over to Rocco ( Joe’s southern Italian apprentice) in 1974.
Manhattan Italian American Cuisine
Neapolitan baker, Lombardi, opened the nation’s first pizzeria in New York City in 1905 and, to this day, Lombardi’s pies stand up as stellar examples of Italian-America’s take on the Neapolitan original: Larger in size, they’re topped with fresh tomato sauce, milky mozzarella, grated Romano cheese, olive oil and basil leaves and cooked in a coal oven.
Soon enough, red sauce became the standard for Italian food in the United States and was embraced by Americans from every ethnic group. The epitome of this style of dining was Mamma Leone’s on 48th. Street in Manhattan, where blocks of mozzarella and provolone cheese were on every table. The restaurant opened in 1906 and was operated by the same family until it was sold to a restaurant group in 1959, eventually closing in 1994.
It wasn’t until the arrival of first-rate Italian ingredients—many of which had been kept out of the U.S. by trade laws—in the 1970’s and ’80’s that Italian-American cooks were able to reproduce the regional flavors that travelers to Italy complained they could never find in the States. Such foods included: prosciutto di Parma, extra-virgin olive oil, parmigiano-reggiano cheese, arborio rice, porcini, balsamic vinegar and outstanding Italian wines from producers, like Angelo Gaja and Giovanni di Piero Antinori.
By that time, many Italian-American restaurants had become tired of traditional entrees and turned to northern Italy for inspiration. In New York there were Romeo Salta (opened in 1953), Nanni (1968), and Il Nido (1979). They downplayed the red sauce and substituted butter and cream sauces in pasta, risotto and polenta dishes. Instead of lasagna with meatballs and meat sauce, lasagne alla Bolognese with besciamella and spinach pasta became the favorite. Italian-American cheesecake and cannoli were replaced by tiramisù and panna cotta. The old Chianti bottles in straw baskets were abandoned in favor of expensive barolos, barbarescos and “super-Tuscans.” Now, the new restaurants in the U.S., proclaimed they were Tuscan-style trattorias or grills. Among the first to promote their Tuscan origins were Da Silvano, opened in 1975, and Il Cantinori (1983). Before long, their menus were copied across the country and extra-virgin olive oil became the new red sauce.
Manhattan”s Little Italy Inspired Recipes:
Mozzarella in Carrozza
- 12 slices firm white sandwich bread
- 1/4 cup drained bottled capers, chopped
- 6 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Divide capers among 12 bread slices and spread evenly. Divide mozzarella among 6 slices and sprinkle with pepper to taste. Make into 6 sandwiches, then cut off and discard crusts to form 3-inch squares.
Coat sandwiches with flour, knocking off excess. Beat together eggs, milk and a pinch each of salt and pepper in another small shallow bowl.
Heat 1/2 tablespoon butter with 1 tablespoon oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Meanwhile, coat 3 sandwiches, 1 at a time, with egg mixture. Cook, turning over once, until golden brown, about 5 minutes, then drain on paper towels. Coat and cook remaining 3 sandwiches in same manner.
Cut sandwiches into halves.
Classic Shrimp Scampi
- 1 pound large shrimp (about 20), shelled and deveined
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 baguette, sliced
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the wine. In a small bowl, mash the butter with the garlic, cheese, parsley, lemon juice and crushed red pepper. Season the butter with the salt and pepper.
Arrange the shrimp side by side in a single layer in a ceramic baking dish and drizzle any accumulated juices on top. Spread a scant teaspoon of the seasoned butter over each shrimp.
Bake the shrimp for about 7 minutes, until almost cooked through.
Remove the shrimp from the oven and turn on the broiler. Broil the shrimp about 6 inches from the heat for 2 minutes, or until browned and bubbling.
Serve immediately with the baguette slices and lemon wedges.
MAKE AHEAD The shrimp can be prepared through Step 2 and refrigerated overnight. Add another minute or so to the cooking time.
Baked Penne with Sausage and Ricotta
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 pound hot or sweet Italian fennel sausage, casings removed
- One 28-ounce can tomato puree
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound penne
- 3 cups ricotta cheese
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup freshly grated
- Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 400°F. In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat, until browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato puree, water, sugar, bay leaf and fennel. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat until thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove the garlic, mash it to a paste and stir it back into the sauce; discard the bay leaf.
Meanwhile, cook the penne in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Using a slotted spoon, add the cooked sausage to the pasta, then add 1 cup of the tomato sauce and toss to coat the penne.
Spoon the pasta into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the pasta and dollop large spoonfuls of the ricotta on top. Gently fold some of the ricotta into the pasta; don’t overmix—you should have pockets of ricotta. Scatter the mozzarella on top and sprinkle with the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake the pasta for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling and golden on top. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.
MAKE AHEAD The baked penne can be refrigerated, covered, overnight.
Reheat before serving.
Zabaglione with Strawberries
- 8 large egg yolks, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup dry Marsala wine
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 pint strawberries, sliced
Put the egg yolks, the marsala and the sugar into a large stainless steel bowl. Set the bowl over a large saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water. Using a whisk or hand-held electric mixer on low speed beat the egg-yolk mixture until it is hot and the mixture forms a ribbon when the beaters are lifted, 5 to 8 minutes. Don’t cook the zabaglione for too long or it will curdle.
Beat the heavy cream just until it holds firm peaks.
When the zabaglione is done, remove the bowl from the heat and continue beating until it cools down. Fold the cooled zabaglione into the whipped cream. Put the strawberries in serving bowls, top with the zabaglione, and refrigerate.
Substitute blueberries, raspberries or sliced peaches for the strawberries.
- Little Italy, The Story of London’s Italian Quarter, Holborn Library (busyellebee.wordpress.com)