Besides a wide selection of spring vegetables, my market had American raised grass-fed, organic lamb on sale. Lamb is traditional for spring and it is tender at this time of year. I think lamb benefits from a simple marinade with lots of fresh herbs added. Grass-fed lamb has a sweet, clean taste with the flavor of herbs and grasses eaten on the pasture. It is never greasy and the texture is firm and tender.
One of the best ways to cook lamb chops is to grill them. They cook quickly — just a few minutes per side — and are best cooked to medium-rare, with an internal temperature of 120 degrees. Once you take the chops off the grill, let them rest a few minutes. They’ll continue to cook and the temperature will rise a few degrees.
Grilled Lamb Chops
4 loin lamb chops, about 1 ½ inches thick, as much fat as possible removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 lemon, cut in half
Place the lamb chops in a glass dish with a cover. Add the oil, garlic, rosemary, oregano and black pepper. Toss the lamb in this mixture.
Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least four hours.
Remove the dish from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before grilling.
Prepare an outdoor grill and oil the grill grates.
Add the salt to the lamb chops and place them on the grill. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side or to taste.
Remove the meat from the grill to a serving plate and squeeze the lemon juice over the lamb. Let rest five minutes before serving.
Cucumber Yogurt Salad
2 large cucumbers
4 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt
1 garlic clove, minced
Half a sweet onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
½ teaspoon agave syrup
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
Peel the cucumbers and cut them in half. Remove the seeds with a spoon and slice the cucumbers.
In a medium bowl combine yogurt, minced onion, garlic, dill, vinegar, agave, salt and black pepper.
Add cucumber and feta cheese to the yogurt mixture and toss until combined well.
Add salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Refrigerate several hours before serving.
Roasted Beets and Carrots
3 large beets, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 sprig fresh rosemary
kosher salt and black pepper
Balsamic Glaze with Figs
Heat the oven to 375° F. Toss the beets, carrots, oil, honey, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper together in a one quart baking dish. Cover the dish with foil.
Roast for about 45 minutes or until tender. Drizzle with the balsamic glaze before serving.
February is not quite spring and the market selections still look like winter in most areas of the US, unless you like to buy produce from South America. However, that is not eating what is is season. So still plentiful are winter squashes, celery, leeks, fennel, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, citrus fruit and apples. Since I live in the south, spring vegetables are starting to appear but I try to keep in mind what most readers can find seasonally at this time of the year. Here are some recipes for what you can cook with these seasonal ingredients.
Stuffed Acorn Squash
To make this dish into a main entrée add a 1/2 cup cooked rice or quinoa to the filling ingredients before the second baking. This makes a great side dish for pork chops.
1 large acorn squash, halved and seeds removed
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup fresh or frozen and thawed cranberries
1/4 cup pecans
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Coat a shallow baking dish with olive oil and place the squash halves in the baking dish, cut side down. Place the squash in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and turn the squash halves upright and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.
Drizzle the maple syrup over the squash and divide the cranberries and pecans equally and fill the squash. Add 1/2 an inch of water to the baking dish and cover tightly with foil
Return the squash to the oven and bake for 50 minutes more or until tender.
Easy Skillet Potatoes
This side dish goes well with just about everything. I like to make extra because I can use the leftover potatoes in an omelet.
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb small new potatoes, unpeeled and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fried Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Arrange the potato slices across the bottom of the skillet.
Cook without stirring for 5 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to brown on the bottom. Turn the potatoes over with a wide spatula and spread them out in the skillet.
Sprinkle potato slices with the garlic, dried Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking about 5 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and lightly brown on the bottom.
Marinated Greek Vegetable Salad
This salad is very refreshing, especially in the winter. It has great flavor and we like it served with fish.
2 celery stalks, cut on the bias
Half a cucumber, peeled, sliced into quarters and cut on the bias
Quarter of a red onion, diced
Half a green bell pepper, sliced and cut on the bias
2 plum (Roma) tomatoes, cut on the bias
8-10 Kalamata olives
¼ cup crumbled Feta cheese
2-3 tablespoons of your favorite Greek or Italian salad dressing
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
Combine all the vegetables in a serving bowl and mix. Add the olives, feta cheese and salad dressing; mix well.
Sprinkle the top of the salad with the oregano and refrigerate for several hours or until serving time.
Agrodolce is a traditional sweet and sour sauce in Italian cuisine. Its name comes from “agro” (sour) and “dolce” (sweet) and the recipe comes from the Venetian-Jewish culinary tradition. Agrodolce is made by using sour and sweet elements, traditionally vinegar and sugar. Sometimes, additional flavorings are added, such as wine, fruit (raisins) or even chocolate.
This dish goes well with grilled meats.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
10-12 oz carrots, peeled
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh herbs (optional)
Cut the carrots in half crosswise, then slice into lengthwise sticks, stack the carrots on top of each other and finely slice into matchsticks or shred on the large holes of a grater.
Place the carrots, olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/3 cup water in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the water has evaporated, about 7 minutes.
Stir in the onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the honey and mix. Add the vinegar, pepper and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and stir until there is a glaze coating the carrots, about 30 seconds.
Remove from the heat and stir in the herbs, if desired. Place in a serving dish and serve at room temperature.
Sautéed Fennel and Leek
This side dish goes well with oven roasted chicken, grilled fish or sausage.
If you want a heartier side dish, add one peeled baking potato, sliced thin, to the fennel in the skillet and cook along with the fennel before adding the remaining ingredients.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 fennel bulb, top removed cored and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 large leek, tough greens removed cleaned and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon butter
Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat; add the fennel (and potato slices if using), cook, stirring occasionally until translucent, about 10 minutes.
Add leeks and Italian seasoning. Season with salt and pepper to taste; cook 10 minutes more.
Stir in lemon zest and butter; adjust seasonings and serve.
I often plan my meals by what looks good in the market each week. This week fresh spinach and plum (Roma) tomatoes were a good buy. I had fish in the freezer and thought the spinach would make a good stuffing to give the flounder some interest. A simple side of pasta, lightly sauced made a good addition to this meal – all the while keeping this dinner healthy.
Spinach Stuffed Flounder
1 lb flounder fillets
1 pkg (10 oz) fresh spinach or a 10 oz package frozen, thawed and drained
1/4 cup Feta cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for baking
1/4 cup diced scallions
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper to season
Heat oil in skillet. Add garlic and scallions and saute for a minute or two.
Add spinach to the pan and saute for about 3 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and add the feta and Parmesan cheese. Season with black pepper to taste. Set aside to cool.
Season the fish with salt and pepper. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling onto the center of each piece of fish.
Roll fish around stuffing. Place fish seam side down into an oiled baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil Sprinkle fish with oregano and paprika.
Bake at 400 degrees F uncovered for 30 minutes.
Spaghetti with Lemon Sauce
1 pound/457 g spaghetti or fettuccine
1 clove garlic, grated
2 lemons (zest of 1 lemon, juice of 2 lemons)
5 tablespoons/74 ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup/235 ml finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
Place the spaghetti in a pot of boiling salted water and cook the spaghetti al dente.
Place the grated garlic in a warm pasta serving bowl. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice and slowly drizzle in the extra-virgin olive oil while whisking.
Whisk until the ingredients have emulsified and add the cheese. Drain the spaghetti and add to the serving bowl. Mix the pasta with the lemon sauce to coat evenly.
Sprinkle the pasta dish with fresh parsley and lemon zest. Serve immediately.
Baked Plum Tomatoes
The tomatoes can bake in the oven with the flounder.
4 plum tomatoes, halved horizontally
¼ cup dried Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
¼ teaspoon salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Place tomatoes cut-side up in an oiled baking dish. Top with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and drizzle with oil.
After the fish has baked for 15 minutes, place the tomatoes in the oven. Bake until the tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Often overshadowed by its proximity to Naples and by the beauty of the Amalfi coast, Salerno is often overlooked. The province has a Mediterranean climate, with a hot and relatively dry summer (30 °C (86 °F) in August) and a rainy fall and winter (8 °C (46 °F) in January). The strong winds that come from the mountains toward the Gulf of Salerno make the area very windy but also one of the sunniest areas in Italy.
The province is one of the largest in Italy and the Port of Salerno is one of the most active on the Tyrrhenian Sea. It handles about 10 million tons of cargo per year.
Today, Salerno is an important cultural center and is divided into three zones: the medieval sector, the 19th century sector and the more densely populated post-war area, with its numerous apartment complexes.
Salerno is located at the geographical center of a triangle nicknamed the “Tourist Triangle of the 3 P” (namely a triangle touching the corners of the towns of Pompei, Paestum and Positano). The characteristics of this area make Salerno attractive to tourists.
Some of these sites include:
- Lungomare Trieste (Trieste Seafront Promenade). This promenade was created from the sea during the 1950s and it is one of the best in Italy, similar to those in the French Riviera.
- Castello di Arechi is a massive castle created by Arechis II during the Roman-Byzantine era.. Today, it houses rooms for exhibitions and meetings. The Castle offers a spectacular view of the city and the Gulf of Salerno.
- Centro storico di Salerno. The “Historical Downtown of Salerno” is believed to be one of the best maintained in the Italian peninsula. Its Merchant Street is one of the main shopping streets in the city.
- Giardino della Minerva, “Minerva’s Garden,” was the first European “orto botanico” (botanical garden).
Salerno’s cuisine is rich in vegetables, legumes, olive oil, cheese and fish which are the foundation of the Mediterranean diet. The star of Salerno’s cuisine is without any doubt the Campana DOP Buffalo Mozzarella and their San Marzano Tomatoes that are exported around the world. Some other culinary specialties include the White Fig, the Giffoni Hazelnut and the Amalfi Coast Lemon.
Fruity Tomato Sauce (Pummarola) Salerno Style
Makes approximately 2 cups, enough for 1 pound of pasta
- 2½ cups (28 ounces) canned, peeled plum tomatoes in juice. (D.O.P San Marzanos are preferred.)
- 4 tablespoons high quality extra virgin olive oil, or more, to taste
- 2 large cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 small red or yellow onion, minced
- 1 medium celery stalk, including leaves, minced
- 1 small carrot minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- Small handful of chopped fresh basil
- Scant ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
- Freshly milled black or white pepper
Drain the tomatoes in a colander, reserving their juice; chop and set aside.
In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Stir in the garlic, onion, celery, carrot, parsley and sauté the vegetables until they are completely soft, about 12 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and stir until it’s coppery-colored, about 3 minutes. Then add the tomatoes and their juice, cover partially and simmer, stirring occasionally and gently, until thickened about 45 minutes.
Stir in the basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and blend in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil, or more to taste.
If a smooth sauce is desired, take the pan off the stove and allow it to cool somewhat. Position a food mill over a clean saucepan and pass the sauce through it, being sure to press out as much of the pulp as possible. Place over medium heat just long enough to heat through, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining tablespoon olive oil.
The sauce can be made 4 to 5 days in advance and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen for up to 3 months. Whether storing it in the refrigerator or the freezer, leave out the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Stir it into the sauce after reheating.
Linguine or Spaghetti with Anchovies
- 400g linguine or spaghetti
- Salt and pepper
- 12 tablespoons olive oil
- 60g pitted black olives, chopped
- 2 small red chilies, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon salted capers, rinsed
- 6 anchovy fillets
- 60g fresh breadcrumbs
Add the linguine to a large pan of boiling salted water and boil until al dente.
Heat half of the olive oil in a pan, add the olives, chilies, capers and anchovies and heat, stirring to dissolve the anchovies.
Drain the pasta as soon as it is ready and toss with the sauce.
At the same time, heat the rest of the olive oil in a large non-stick pan and fry the breadcrumbs until slightly brown.
Mix the dressed pasta into the breadcrumbs.
Fry for a few minutes, until a crust forms underneath. Invert onto a warm plate, so the crushed side is on top.
Cut into portions with a knife and serve.
Saddle of Pork with Milk and Giffoni Hazelnut
- 1 kg saddle of pork
- ½ liter of warm milk
- 1 cup white wine
- 100 gr of chopped hazelnuts
- 1 tablespoon of potato starch
- Sage and rosemary
- ½ cup chopped onion
- Olive oil and salt as needed
Brown the onion with some sage and rosemary in warm olive oil. Add the pork and brown on all sides; add the wine and let the pork steam in it for a few minutes.
Then add the warm milk and let it cook for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the potato starch, stirring until thickened; then mix in the hazelnuts. Let the meat cool.
Slice the pork and place it into a baking dish. Pour the sauce over the meat and warm it into preheated moderate oven for 5 minutes. Serve it warm with mashed potatoes as a side dish.
- 200 ml (7 fl oz/ 7/8 cup) lemon juice
- 350 ml (generous 12 1/4 fl oz/ 1 1/2 cups) milk
- 150 ml (5 1/4 fl oz/ 3/4 cup) single cream
- 170 g (6 oz/ 7/8 cup) sugar
Bring the milk almost to a boil, then add the sugar and, off the heat, stir it until it dissolves.
Pour in the cream and lemon juice. Place the pan in a bowl of ice and, when the mixture is cold, transfer it to the ice cream maker. Follow directions for your ice cream maker.
Pour into a freezer container and freeze overnight. Serve with a sprig of fresh mint.
It may seem like “slim pickens”, when you look at what fruit is available in the winter in your market. With a second look, however, there are plenty of choices and they great choices for cooking or baking. Look for citrus fruit, apples, bananas, pears and dates. These are all good choices for salads, pancakes and muffins or to garnish main dish meats and fish.
Meyer Lemon Bread
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 lightly beaten egg
1 cup milk
¼ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons finely shredded Meyer lemon peel
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon lemon zest
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom and sides of an 8 x 4 x 2-inch loaf pan; set aside.
In a medium bowl stir together flour, 3/4 cup sugar, the baking powder and salt. Make a well in center of the flour mixture; set aside.
In another medium bowl or measuring cup combine the egg, milk, oil, lemon peel and the 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Add egg mixture all at once to the flour mixture.
Stir just until moistened (batter should be lumpy). Spoon batter into prepared pan.
Bake for 45 to 55 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean.
Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pan. Cool completely on a wire rack.
To make a glaze: Combine the glaze ingredients until smooth and spread over the cooled cake. Let harden before wrapping the ;oaf.
Turn this salad into a main course by adding cooked shrimp or chicken. I especially like shrimp in this salad.
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
2 shallots, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
Grated zest of 1 orange,
1 bulb fennel, halved, cored, and thinly sliced
1⁄2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
To make the vinaigrette:
Whisk the shallots, raspberry vinegar, honey and salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil in while whisking. Add the orange zest. Set aside
Peel the fruit and cut into segments.
In a large bowl, cover the fennel and onion with ice water and let stand for 10 minutes. Drain and transfer to paper towels to dry thoroughly.
Transfer the fennel and onion to the bowl with the vinaigrette and toss to combine. Lift the fennel and onion from the dressing and transfer to a serving platter.
Arrange the citrus segments evenly over the fennel and onion. (If adding shrimp, arrange it on top of the salad.) Drizzle the remaining vinaigrette over the top, sprinkle with parsley and serve.
Baked Apple Sauce
Applesauce can be flavored with maple syrup or cinnamon. You can also add cranberries to the cooking apples to make a cran-applesauce. It makes wonderful tasting pancakes and muffins and is a great side to roasted pork.
Makes 12 servings.
4 lbs. (about 10 medium) assorted apples, such as Macoun, McIntosh, Golden Delicious, Jonathan, Jonagold and Honey Crisp, peeled, cored, and quartered
1/3 cup fresh apple cider or apple juice
4 lemon slices, cut paper-thin
2 tablespoons honey, optional
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Place apples, cider or juice and lemon slices in a large heavy, ovenproof casserole with a cover and mix well.. If using honey add it in and toss again.
Bake apples, covered, for 60 to 75 minutes, until very soft and moist. Stir to combine. If it is too wet, bake applesauce, uncovered, for 15 minutes longer.
Cool to room temperature before serving; applesauce thickens as it cools. The applesauce keeps, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 5 days or 6 months in the freezer.
Coconut Banana Pudding
1 ripe banana, mashed
1 teaspoon butter
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs, beaten
1 dash salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter
1 banana, sliced into ¼ inch slices
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon hot water
In a large sauce pan, melt the butter and stir in the mashed banana.
In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, mix the sugar and cornstarch together. Add the salt, eggs and coconut milk. Stir well and add to the banana in the saucepan.
Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly; cook until thickened.
Remove from the heat; add vanilla and mix well. Pour into a storage bowl or 4 individual dessert dishes.
To make the honey bananas:
Melt the butter in a small skillet.
Arrange the banana slices in the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, until lightly brown.
Whisk together the honey and 1 tablespoon of water.
Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the honey mixture over the bananas. Shake the pan to distribute.
Divide the bananas and syrup over the top of the pudding. Chill for several hours before serving.
Root Vegetables, Citrus Fruit, Leeks and Onions, Greens, such as kale, Potatoes and Beets are all available in January and make great tasting meals.
Purchasing seasonal foods is a healthy and cost-effective way to approach food shopping. Grocery stores tend to stock up on these items in bulk because they are plentiful, making them less expensive for you—especially when they go on sale or offer buy one; get one free.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 head of celery, diced including leaves
1 large onion, diced
1 bunch scallions (green onions) or use a leek, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups vegetable stock
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ cup half & half (cream and milk)
Garnish with chopped chives and sour cream
Heat the oil in a soup pot or Dutch Oven over medium heat. Add the vegetables, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan and cook until the vegetables are softened, about 30 minutes.
Add the broth, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and puree with an immersion blender.
Return the pot to the heat. Stir in the cream and heat on low. Garnish individual servings with chopped fresh chives and sour cream, if desired.
Lemon Basil Roasted Chicken Breasts
Use any herb you like. When cold nights come in, I bring my herb pots indoors, so I always have fresh herbs on hand.
1/2 teaspoon lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 whole fresh basil stalk, leaves removed and sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for the baking dish
2 bone-in, medium chicken breast halves, skinned
Salt and ground black pepper
6 very small potatoes
2 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
¼ of a fennel bulb, sliced
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a shallow baking pan with olive oil.
Place the chicken breasts in the prepared pan. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle with the lemon zest and juice.
Scatter the potatoes, fennel, carrots and garlic around the chicken.
Bake, uncovered, spooning the pan juices over the chicken once or twice, for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the chicken with the basil and return the pan to the oven.
Bake 10-15 minutes more or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the chicken registers 170°F and the juices are clear.
Beets, Red Onion & Orange Salad
Makes 2 servings
1/4 of a red onion, thinly sliced
4 small, cooked beets, sliced
1 navel orange
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
Pinch of sugar
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
2 cup washed, dried, whole Bibb lettuce leaves
Soak onion slices in cold water for 10 minutes; drain.
With a sharp knife, peel the orange, removing white pith. Slice the orange between the membranes over a mixing bowl to catch the oranges and any juice.
Pour any juice in the bowl into a measuring cup. Add more orange juice to equal ¼ cup.
Whisk together the orange juice, oil, mustard, garlic, sugar, salt and pepper in the measuring cup.
Place lettuce leaves on individual salad plates. Arrange beets, onions and orange slices on top. Drizzle with some of the dressing and serve.
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.