The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and in the countries of Portugal, Spain and France. This series continues with the country of Italy.
The Mediterranean Diet is more than just a way of eating. It is a way of thinking about food. It embraces the concept of eating together and sharing food with others. Modern populations are pressed for time, so food is often prepared and consumed in a hurry and in isolation. However, for the Mediterranean peoples, preparing food and eating together is very important and it is an important key in why the Mediterranean Diet is successful. For Italians, food is not simply sustenance and nutrition. It is community.
The Italian cuisine is typically Mediterranean which means eating a lot of vegetables, fruit, grains, fish and some chicken. In addition, the Italians use olive oil for cooking in large amounts instead of animal fat. Olive oil combined with a high volume of vegetables prevents disease. The Italians also follow nature and only eat what is in season. If you eat according to the seasons, you will be eating a variation of different colored vegetables. Each different color has a different antioxidant, which helps prevent disease, including cancer.
There are big differences between the Italian food in the North and in the South. Italy’s Alpine and sub-alpine regions in the North produce more livestock (cows) and fewer olives. That means more butter and lard and less olive oil. Corn (maize) and rice (such as arborio) are more popular in the northern regions than pasta. In the inland cities (Milan, Turin, Bologna), fish is more expensive than it is in the coastal cities (Genoa, Venice), and therefore consumed in lesser quantities. Fish and fresh fruit cost much less in Naples and Palermo than they do in Turin and Milan.
Southern Italians eat 40% more fruit and 80% more grains than Northern Europeans do. Southern Italians eat approximately 490 grams (17 ounces) of pasta and bread a day and research studies have found that eating a lot of grains was clearly NOT harmful to the Italians. The next largest proportion of their fiber comes from tomatoes, onions, artichokes eggplants, peas, lentils and chickpeas.
The Typical Italian Daily Menu:
Breakfast: Yogurt topped with berries and walnuts, coffee or tea
Lunch: Lentil soup with Swiss chard and bread on the side
Snack: cheese, bread
Dinner: Roasted cod paired with a wheat berry salad (cooked wheat berries with olive oil vinaigrette, feta, parsley, and tomatoes) and a glass of red wine
Dessert: Fresh fruit drizzled with honey
The Typical Italian Diet:
Snacks: In Italy, snacks are usually a very light: an espresso, a pizzetta, cheese and fresh fruit are popular options.
Lunch: In Italy lunch is usually a single dish, either pasta, frittata, fish with vegetables or salad.
Dinner: A soup with fish and vegetables is typical for a first course, followed by pasta with meat or fish and salad or vegetables. Fruit is usual for dessert.
Bring the Italian Mediterranean to your table with these recipes:
Saffron Orzo Pasta Salad
- 10 oz Orzo pasta
- 6 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon saffron
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 1 medium red onion, finely diced
- 1/2 cup black oil-cured olives, sliced
- 1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, diced
- One 8 oz can Italian chickpeas
- 1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, under oil, drained and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
- 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
- 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Bring 6 cups of chicken stock to a boil.
In a small bowl combine 1 teaspoon of saffron and 2 tablespoons of the hot chicken stock and stir to dissolve.
Add the saffron to the chicken stock and stir.
Add the orzo to the boiling chicken stock and let it cook for 7 minutes.
Drain the orzo, transfer to a bowl, drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.
Dice red bell pepper, red onion and mozzarella; set aside.
Slice the sun-dried tomatoes into 1/2-inch piece and set aside.
Slice the olives and drain and rinse the canned chickpeas.
In a medium bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Add the diced onion to the vinaigrette and let it marinate for 5 minutes.
Transfer all of the ingredients into the orzo and mix well, add the vinaigrette and toss well to coat.
Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh parsley just before serving.
Serve at room temperature or refrigerate for later use.
Warm Farro Salad
From TN&M Magazine
- 10 ounces dried chickpeas
- 10 ounces farro
- Truffle oil to taste
- 1 Garlic clove
- 1 Tomato chopped fine
- Chili flakes
Soak the chickpeas in cold water for 12 hours, changing the water 3 times. (If you use canned chickpeas, rinse them thoroughly!)
Cook the chickpeas in water to cover for about 1 hour.
Cook the farro in lightly salted water until tender.
Finely chop the garlic, basil, sage, rosemary, chili flakes and oregano.
Lightly sauté the herbs in olive oil, then add the tomato.
Add the drained chickpeas and farro, drizzling with a bit of broth.
Off the flame, stir in truffle oil to taste.
Courgettes with Sultanas and Pine Nuts
From TN&M Magazine
Serves one, as a main course.
- 1 210g tin of sardines, drained, oil reserved
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon sultanas (raisins)
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 1.5 courgettes (zucchini), julienned
- ½ tablespoon chopped chives
- Zest and juice of half a lemon
- Black pepper to serve
Tip a little of the oil drained from the sardines into a frying pan and sauté the garlic for a few minutes until softened.
Add the julienned courgettes to another pan, and sauté over low heat in a little of the sardine oil until softened – approximately 4 minutes.
Add the sardines to the garlic pan, and break them up with the back of your wooden spoon as you stir them around the pan. Next add the sultanas, pine nuts and capers and stir well. Cook for a few minutes until the sardines are warmed through.
When the courgettes are ready add them to the saucepan and toss all the ingredients together, distributing the sauce evenly through the courgettes. Scatter in the chives, lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add a little extra salt if necessary, but likely not as the capers are salty.
Transfer to a serving dish and add liberal amounts of black pepper.
White Fish Fillets With Cherry Tomatoes
By Bon Appétit Test Kitchen
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes (about 12 ounces)
- 1/2 cup chopped green olives
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
- Four 6-ounce white fish fillets
- 1/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil
Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the broiler. Combine the shallot, garlic, tomatoes, olives and oil in a medium bowl, season with salt and pepper, and toss well. Set aside.
Place the fish in a 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the tomato mixture over the fish and broil until fish is opaque throughout and tomatoes have started to burst, 10–13 minutes. Serve with basil scattered over top.
Spaghetti With Clams
by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers
- 6 1/2 pounds clams
- 6 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1/2 cup dry white wine, divided
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced, divided
- 3 small dried chiles, crumbled, divided
- 1 pound spaghetti or linguine
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Place clams in a sink filled with cold water. Scrub shells well with a coarse brush to remove any sand. Drain water and soak clams in clean water, repeating until the water remains clean.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot with a lid over medium heat. Add ¼ cup wine, 1 garlic clove, and 1 chile. Add half of the clams, cover, and cook over high heat, shaking pan frequently, until clams open (keep lid on pot so heat is not released, making cooking time longer).
As soon as the clams open, transfer the clams and their juices to a large bowl (discard any clams that do not open). Repeat the process with 2 tablespoons oil, remaining ¼ cup wine, 1 garlic clove, 1 chile, and remaining clams.
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until tender but al dente; drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in pot with lid over medium heat. Add remaining 1 garlic clove and remaining 1 chile; stir until garlic is fragrant and light golden, 1–2 minutes. Return clams and their juices to the pot; toss to coat and remove from the heat.
Add pasta and toss to coat evenly with juices, adding pasta cooking liquid by ¼-cupfuls if pasta is dry. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle parsley over and serve.
Gnocchi are Italian dumplings and they should be light and fluffy when you serve them. Store bought gnocchi can be a little dense and heavy. How do you get the lightness in the dough? By not using too much flour and using flavor ingredients that are not heavy. I never just use just flour and potato in the dough. I like to add ricotta cheese and alternate the potato with other vegetables, such as butternut squash, pureed carrots, sweet potatoes or spinach. They are not difficult to make at home, so give gnocchi a try.
2 medium baking potatoes, cooked and peeled
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 cups 00 (Italian) flour or all-purpose flour
Dice the cooked potatoes and place them in an electric mixer bowl. With the paddle attachment mash the potatoes.
Add the salt and pepper.
Mix the egg and ricotta together in a small mixing bowl. Add to the potatoes in the mixer along with the flour.
Mix until thoroughly combined and the dough comes together.
Place the dough on a floured board and knead a few minutes until smooth.
Divide in half. This recipe usually comes out to weigh about 2 lbs.
Wrap one half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is time to cut the gnocchi.
Wrap the other half in plastic and place in a freezer zip-lock beg. Freeze the dough for another time.
This dough freezes well. Defrost overnight in the refrigerator when you want to use it.
To shape the gnocchi:
Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before making the gnocchi.
Spread some flour on a large work surface and cut the dough into four equal pieces.Take one piece and cut it in half.
Roll the piece of dough into a snake about 1/2 inch thick, then cut it into 1 inch pieces.
Dust the gnocchi with a little flour and push the tines of a fork into one side of the dumpling.
Place the gnocchi on a waxed paper tray dusted with flour and cover with a dry kitchen towel.
To cook the gnocchi
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add enough salt to it so that the water tastes salty.
Place a pasta bowl close to the stove.
Add the gnocchi to the boiling water and cook until they rise to the top of the boiling water.
You may have to do this in batches, so as not to crowd the pan.
Remove the gnocchi with a spider, allowing the water to drain and place the gnocchi in the bowl.
Continue until all the gnocchi are cooked.
Sauces for Gnocchi
Tomato and Fresh Basil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 medium onion, diced (about 3 tablespoons)
4 cloves garlic, sliced
3 (28-ounce) cans whole, peeled, tomatoes, roughly chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 small bunch fresh basil, leaves chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, the herb sprigs and basil and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for about 15 minutes or until thickened. Remove and discard the herb sprigs. Stir in the salt and season with pepper, to taste.
2 cups fresh basil leaves (about 1 large bunch)
3 cloves garlic
½ cup pine nuts (or walnuts)
3/4 cup freshly grated hard cheese such as Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano cheese, or a combo of the two
½ cup olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients except the oil and cheeses in a food processor. Pulse until the pesto is blended into a slightly coarse paste.
Transfer to a bowl and stir in the oil and cheeses.
To serve with pasta, you can toss the cooked pasta directly with the pesto. Or, if you want to thin out the pesto sauce a little, add a spoonful or two of the hot pasta water to the pesto, then toss with the cooked pasta and serve right away.
1 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup white wine
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped
1/2 cup half & half
1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese, grated (or Parmesan)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper, to desired taste
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add oil and butter, swirl to coat the skillet.
Add the onion, mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper; sauté 20 minutes until mushrooms are browned and have released their liquid.
Add wine and thyme and cook for a few minutes until liquid has evaporated. Remove pan from heat.
Add hot cooked pasta another sprinkling of salt, half & half and Grana Padano to the skillet, tossing to combine.
Add cooking pasta cooking liquid until desired moistness and continue to toss. Sprinkle with parsley.
1 cup heavy whipping cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper, or to taste
6 ounces dry miniature ravioli
3 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 apple, diced
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 teaspoon chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
Place a heavy skillet over medium heat. Pour cream into skillet, bring to a simmer, and cook cream until it reduces by half, about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Season with salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Pour dried ravioli into boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender, 16 to 18 minutes.
Drain pasta, reserving a cup of pasta water.
Gently fold cooked ravioli into cream sauce and turn heat to low. Mix in Gorgonzola cheese, stirring gently until melted. If sauce is too thick, thin it with a little pasta cooking water.
Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley and Parmesan cheese. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with diced apple, walnuts, and 1 teaspoon parsley.
2 cups penne pasta
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 carrots, cut into strips
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, minced, or more to taste
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil; add penne and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender yet firm to the bite, about 11 minutes. Drain.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat-high heat; saute asparagus and carrots until tender yet firm to the bite, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and garlic; saute until garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute.
Stir Parmesan cheese, cream, and black pepper into vegetable mixture until cheese melts and sauce is smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Add pasta to sauce and toss to coat.
And Our Favorite
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
Black pepper to taste
12 sage leaves, sliced
To make the sauce:
Heat the butter and sage together in a small skillet. Pour the melted butter over the cooked gnocchi, add the cheese and mix well. Garnish with black pepper and serve immediately.
Not only are there seasons for fruits and vegetables but fish and shellfish have seasons also. It is good to know that you can buy locally caught seafood that is in season near where you live or close to it. My local market is located right on the Gulf and the boats come in every day with fresh, seasonal fish. It is a pleasure to shop in such a fine market.
Here is a chart to help you buy in season fish locally.
In my area, the Gulf waters warm up in April. Along with the warm water, a host of fish appear with the temperature increase, such as Cobia, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, Redfish, Scallops, Flounder, Speckled Trout, Tuna, Mahi-Mahi, Wahoo, Amberjack and Hard-Shell Crabs. Here are a few of our favorite fish dinners.
Spinach Pesto is delicious with this fish.
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 fresh redfish fillets (or any white fish fillets), ounces each
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Combine the flour, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper in a large shallow plate.
Pat the fish fillets dry with paper towels.
Heat the butter in a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium heat until melted.
Dredge the fish fillets in the seasoned flour on both sides and place them in the hot butter.
Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 2 minutes.
Turn carefully with a metal spatula and cook for 2 minutes on the other side.
While the second side cooks, sprinkle the fish with the lemon juice and chopped parsley.
Carefully put the fish fillets on warm plates.
Serve the fish topped with Spinach Pesto, recipe below.
2 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves (about 2 ounces)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Combine the spinach, pine nuts, lemon juice and lemon peel in a processor. Lightly pulse.
With the machine running, gradually add the oil, blending until the mixture is creamy.
Stir in the Parmesan. Season the pesto with salt and pepper to taste. This sauce freezes well.
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces fresh baby spinach
6 large sea scallops
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian Seasoning
1/4 cup heavy cream or half & half
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano or thyme leaves
In medium skillet, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat.
Season the scallops with the Italian seasoning.
Sauté the scallops 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and keep warm by covering with a piece of foil.
Heat the remaining teaspoon of olive oil in the skillet and add the garlic
When the garlic has softened, add the spinach.
Sauté the spinach until wilted.
Add the grated Parmesan, cream, salt and pepper, mix and heat until the cheese and cream are hot.
Divide the spinach mixture between two serving dishes and top each plate with 3 scallops.
Garnish the scallops with the chopped herbs.
I like to serve the kabobs over linguine dressed with olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and chopped basil.
4 metal, bamboo or wooden skewers
1 lb fresh tuna fillet (1 inch thick)—cut into 16 even-sized cubes
1 small zucchini—cut into diagonal slices
Onion slices—cut into 16 even-sized squares
2 bell peppers—cut into 16 even-sized squares
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice (plus lemon wedges for serving)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 cloves garlic—grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Place the tuna cubes, zucchini, onion and bell pepper in a glass baking dish.
Mix together the remaining ingredients in a small measuring cup until well combined.
Pour over the tuna and vegetables in the baking dish.
Marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 hour, turning the mixture halfway through marinating.
Divide the mixture evenly among 4 skewers and reserve the marinade.
Cook the skewers on a hot grill for about 10 minutes until cooked through, turning and brushing regularly with the marinade.
Serve the skewers with lemon wedges.
I often see photos of pizza with salad on top and I had been wanting to try something similar. So, keeping with what is in season, my pizza is made with onions, mushrooms and arugula salad. Serve this pizza with marinated olives and sliced tomatoes. And, don’t forget dessert!
1 lb pizza dough, at room temperature
Half a large red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz mozzarella, sliced thin
½ cup feta cheese
1 cup arugula
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Heat the oven to 500 degrees F.
Spread the pizza dough in a greased pizza pan.
Heat the oil in a skillet and add the shallots and garlic. Cook for a minute and add the mushrooms.
Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook until all the mushroom liquid is absorbed.
Spread the sliced mozzarella on top of the pizza dough. Spread the mushrooms over the cheese.
Sprinkle the feta on top of the mushrooms.
Bake the pizza until crispy and brown on the edges.
Mix the arugula with the lemon juice.
As soon as the pizza comes out of the oven, top it with the arugula salad and freshly ground black pepper.
Cut and serve.
Italian Almond Carrot Cake (Torta di Carote)
This cake is gluten-free and made with olive oil. It is not your traditional American carrot cake.
You can also buy the carrots shredded from the supermarket.
1/2 cup regular olive oil, not extra-virgin
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups almond meal/flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 lemon, zest finely grated and juiced
1 cup mascarpone
2 teaspoons confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons rum
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the base of a 9 inch springform pan with a parchment paper cut to fit the bottom. Coat with olive oil spray.
Add the pine nuts to a small dry pan and toast them over low heat.
Grate the carrots in a food processor or with a coarse grater, and put them on a double layer of paper towels. Wrap the towels around the carrots to soak up the excess liquid.
Using the whisk attachment in an electric mixer, combine the sugar and olive oil until creamy.
Whisk in the vanilla and eggs. Fold in the almond meal/flour, nutmeg, grated carrots, toasted pine nuts the lemon zest and lemon juice.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared cake pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. The batter will be not be very high in the pan.
Bake the cake until the top is risen and golden and a cake tester comes almost clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.
Remove the cake from the oven and let it rest on a rack for 10 minutes before removing the sides. Let cool until ready to serve. Transfer the cake to a serving platter.
Combine the mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar and rum in a small bowl. Slice the cake and serve with the mascarpone cream.
We must give credit to Sicily for giving us some delicious desserts made with ricotta cheese. Ricotta is not a cheese but a creamy curd. The curd is cooked twice, so the name “ricotta means” re-cooked. The leftover hot whey of milk used for cheese making has milk solids and a protein called albumin, which solidifies under high heat. When the whey is reheated (re-cooked) the solid milk parts are skimmed off to drain, and this is called ricotta cheese.The foam of the whey when it is being recooked is called zabbina in Sicilian.
According to the food historian, Clifford Wright, Professor Santi Correnti, chairman of the history department of the University of Catania and a preeminent historian of Sicily, wrote that during the reign of the Sicilian King Frederick II, in the early thirteenth century, the king and his hunting party came across the hut of a dairy farmer making ricotta and, being ravenous, asked for some. The first depiction of the making of ricotta is found in an illustration in the medical treatise known as the Tacuinum sanitatis, from the eleventh century. (Pictured above.)
Ricotta is used in many Italian desserts, especially for the holidays. Here is one that we like quite a bit.
Amaretto Ricotta Cheesecake
1 cup almond flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 pounds whole milk ricotta cheese
2/3 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Set a rack in the middle of the oven.
Combine the crust ingredients. Press evenly over the bottom and 1-1/2-inches up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.
Place the ricotta in a large mixing bowl and stir it as smooth as possible with a rubber spatula.
Stir the sugar and flour together and then add to the ricotta. Mix thoroughly into the ricotta.
Stir in the eggs 1 at a time. Blend in the amaretto and salt. Pour batter into the prepared pan.
Bake in the center of the oven for about 1 1/2 hours tor 1 3/4 hours, until a light golden color.
Make sure the center is fairly firm and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack. It will sink slightly as it cools. Cover, and chill until serving time.
People rarely associate Judaism with Italy, however, Jewish traders built one of the first synagogues outside of the Middle East in Ostia Antica (near Rome) during the second century BC. With time the Jewish population grew and historians have calculated that by the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD) there were more than 50,000 Jews living in Rome and dozens of Jewish communities scattered throughout Italy.
There are differences in what is considered Kosher in various Jewish traditions. For example, the Ashkenazim consider rice to be chametz, or leavened, and therefore forbid it, while allowing chocolate, cheese and other dairy products. The Italkim and Sephardim instead allow rice, but consider chocolate and dairy products to be chametz, and thus forbidden.
Jewish cuisine through the centuries influenced modern-day Italian cuisine. Wild radicchio flavored with garlic, herb salads, omelettes, pies made with chard, spinach, leeks, marinated cabbage, turnips, eggplant, artichokes, fava beans, polenta chestnuts and raisins are just some of the ingredients contributed by the Jewish immigrants.
Here are some recipes suitable for Passover with Italian Jewish influences.
Tomato Soup with Rice
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 medium carrot, slice
1 tablespoon olive oil
26 oz container Italian chopped tomatoes (such as Pomi- no salt or sugar added)
8 cups chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons uncooked long-grain rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
In a Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté onion, celery and carrots in oil until softened but not browned.
Add the chopped tomatoes and 1 cup of the chicken broth. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the remaining chicken broth and rice. Season with salt, thyme and pepper.
Simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Serve garnished with parsley.
Honey Lemon Artichokes
1 large lemon, cut in quarters, plus the freshly squeezed juice from 2 or 3 lemons to equal 1/2 cup
4 large globe artichokes (12 to 14 ounces each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 medium roasted red bell pepper, cut into small dice
Fill a very large bowl with cold water; squeeze a few of the lemon quarters into the water, then place them in the bowl.
Rinse the artichokes. Snap off or use kitchen shears to trim all the pointed outer leaves and then slice off the center leaves at the top.
Leave 1 to 2 inches of stem attached to each artichoke; cut off the rest and discard.
Use a vegetable peeler to remove a thin layer from the remaining stems.
Working quickly so the artichokes don’t discolor, use a grapefruit spoon or a melon-ball scoop to remove the choke, or thistle part, in the center of each artichoke, making sure to remove all fibers.
Quickly transfer each trimmed artichoke to the bowl of lemon water.
Once all the artichokes are trimmed, work with them one at a time, cutting them in half and then again, so each artichoke is quartered.
Preheat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat.
Add the artichokes cut side down, fitting them snugly into the pan.
Cook for 8 to 12 minutes, re-positioning the artichokes in the pan as needed so each one picks up golden color.
Season lightly with salt.
Stir in the lemon juice, honey and water; cover partially, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
The liquid should thicken slightly and the artichokes will be tender.
Transfer to a platter. Spoon some of the sauce over the artichokes.
Garnish with the parsley and red bell pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Braised Chicken and Eggplant
3 lbs chicken pieces; skinned/fat removed
Salt and pepper; to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large Vidalia or sweet onion; halved, sliced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1½ lbs eggplant; unpeeled, cubed
½ lb. fresh Roma tomatoes; cored, cubed
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
In a large deep skillet, heat the oil and brown the chicken on each side.
Remove the chicken from the skillet to a bowl or platter. Don’t clean the skillet.
Add the onion, garlic and eggplant. Cook the vegetables and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, vinegar and chicken broth. Bring to a boil.
Add bay leaf and hot pepper flakes. Return the chicken pieces to the skillet. Baste with the sauce.
Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until cooked. Discard the bay leaf before serving and sprinkle with basil.
Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic
2 pounds fingerling or small potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Wash and pat dry the potatoes and place them in a large bowl.
Add the olive oil, minced garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper.
Toss the potatoes making sure to coat them well with the herbs and oil.
Put them onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, gently moving them around on the pan halfway through cooking.
Serve at once garnished with more fresh rosemary and a drizzle of olive oil.
Almond Cake with Lemon Syrup
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons matzo meal
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup ground almonds (4 ounces)
1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped (2 3/4 ounces)
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
8 large eggs, separated
In a small nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest with 1/2 cup of water.
Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer over moderately low heat for 2 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat; let steep.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Oil the bottom and sides of a 9-by-3-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper; oil the paper.
Evenly coat the bottom and sides with the matzo meal, tapping out any excess. Refrigerate the pan.
In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix together the granulated sugar, almonds, lemon zest and egg yolks.
Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Stir one-quarter of the egg whites into the almond mixture to lighten it.
Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the remaining egg whites in 3 additions.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for about 1 hour, or until golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out dry.
Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake.
Remove the pan sides and invert the cake onto a wire rack.
Peel off the parchment and let the cake cool to room temperature.
Reheat and strain the syrup. Transfer the cake to a plate and prick all over with a fork.
Pour the syrup evenly over the cake and set aside at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight.
Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cake and serve.
With company coming for the holidays, I like to make some traditional Italian dishes. My children always ask for Italian and have ever since they were little. A favorite is ravioli and homemade ravioli is so delicious. Store-bought doesn’t compare. Since I am making it, I thought I would share the “how to” with you.
How To Make Homemade Ravioli
Combine 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 3 large eggs, beaten, 1 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Process until the dough comes together; shape into a ball.
Place dough on a lightly floured surface; flatten slightly. Cut dough into 4 pieces. Wrap 3 dough pieces in plastic wrap; set aside.
Knead dough with a pasta machine. Set the rollers of the pasta machine at the widest setting (position 1). Feed one unwrapped dough piece through the flat rollers by turning the handle. (Dough may crumble slightly at first but will hold together after two to three rollings.)
Lightly flour the dough strip; fold strip into thirds. Feed through rollers again. Continue this process 5-6 times more, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Roll the dough out with the machine keeping the sheets as wide as the pasta maker roller. Reduce the setting to position 3. Feed the dough strip through the rollers. Without folding strip into thirds, repeat on positions 5 and 6.
Place the rolled out dough on a floured kitchen towel. Repeat kneading and rolling with the reserved dough pieces.
1 cup ricotta cheese, well-drained
6 ounces shredded mozzarella
1 cup fresh herbs (basil, parsley, thyme, marjoram), chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine all the filling ingredients. Chill in the refrigerator to firm up the filling.
To Shape Ravioli
In a small bowl, combine 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water; set aside.
Place the rolled dough on a cutting board and brush strips lightly with the egg mixture.
Leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges, place about 1 teaspoon of filling at 1-inch intervals on one strip of dough.
Lay a second strip of dough, brushed side down, over the first.
Using your fingers, press the dough around each mound of filling so that the two moistened strips stick together.
Cut into squares or rounds. Place cut out ravioli on cookie sheets sprinkled with semolina flour.
I usually cook some and freeze the rest for a quick dinner at a later date.
To Cook Ravioli
Bring a large amount of salted water to boiling in a large pot. Gently drop about one-fourth of the ravioli, one at a time, into the boiling water and stir to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Simmer gently for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender. They will float to the top of the water when cooked. Using a slotted spoon, transfer ravioli to a serving dish and add the sauce and grated Parmesan cheese.
6-8 thin slices top-round or sirloin steak
Pasta Sauce, recipe below
2 large cloves garlic, grated
1/4 cup finely minced onion
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
In a medium mixing bowl combine the filling ingredients.
Between pieces of plastic wrap, pound the meat thin, scaloppine style.
Lay the meat slices out side by side on a clean workspace. Divide the filling equally on the meat slices, leaving a 1/4-inch border.
Drizzle with olive oil and roll each piece up jelly roll style. Tie each piece in three places with the string.
Brown in olive oil and add to the sauce.
Cover the pan, reduce the heat so that the sauce just simmers, and cook the braciole in the sauce, stirring occasionally, for about 2 hours or until the meat is very tender.
Makes about 2 quarts of sauce.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (26-ounce) Italian chopped tomatoes (I use Pomi brand tomatoes)
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook for about 2 minutes.
Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, and crushed red pepper, reduce the heat to a simmer, and place the cover on the pan but leave it ajar so the sauce can reduce.
Cook for 2-3 hours until reduced and thickened and then add meatballs, sausage or braciole. Cook for 30 minutes more.
Add the basil at the end of the cooking time.