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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: penne

World Pasta Day was brought into existence as part of the World Pasta Congress on the 25th of October in 1995. Experts from all over the world came together to promote the importance of spreading knowledge of the world’s numerous types of pasta. This organization uses World Pasta Day to promote the eating of pasta, along with its cultural and culinary importance.

Everything from encouraging consumers to try new pastas to providing important health information is part of their mission. Every country is encouraged to celebrate the day in their own way, while sharing the logo of the official organization and participating in the global strategy of World Pasta Day. One of the best ways to celebrate World Pasta Day is by preparing your favorite pasta at home. Here are a few of mine.

Stuffed Shells

3-4 stuffed shells per serving.

Ingredients

6 ounces jumbo pasta shells (21-22 shells)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 leek, white and light green portion, finely chopped
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided, plus more for salting the water
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 pound (2 bunches) fresh spinach or Swiss chard, stems removed
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese (about 16 ounces)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg
2 cups Marinara or Basic Tomato Sauce

Directions

Wash the spinach or chard well, drain and spin in a salad spinner to remove most of the water. Cut the leaves into thin strips.

Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the leek and garlic and cook, stirring often, until the leek is softened.

Add the greens, oregano, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Cook, tossing with tongs, until completely wilted.

Cover the pan and simmer until the leaves are very tender, about ten minutes. Pour into a mixing bowl to cool to room temperature.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta shells, stir, and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes.

Place a colander in the sink and drain the shells. Transfer the shells to a kitchen towels on the counter and set aside to cool.

Mix the ricotta, mozzarella cheese, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese, the egg, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper together in a mixing bowl. Stir in the cooled, cooked greens.

Heat the oven to 375°F and arrange a rack in the middle.

Evenly spread 1 cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of an oiled 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

Fill the shells with about 2 tablespoons of the ricotta mixture and place in a single layer, open side up, in the baking dish.

Pour the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the shells and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.

Cover the dish with foil.

Tip: I always spray the side of the foil that will touch the food with cooking spray to keep the food from sticking to the foil during baking.

Bake the shells until the sauce just starts to bubble around the edges, about 20 minutes.

Remove the foil and continue baking until the sauce is bubbling vigorously and the edges of the pan have started to brown, about 10 minutes more.

Remove from the oven and let cool 5 minutes before serving.

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe and Italian Sausage

8 servings

Ingredients

1 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 pound lean Italian sausage, a combination of hot and sweet according to your taste, cut into bite-size pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound orecchiette pasta
1 bunch broccoli rabe
½ cups pasta water
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

Wash broccoli rabe in several changes of cold water. Cut off the bottom tips on the stalks and cut each stalk into one inch lengths.

Heat oil and stir in garlic in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the sausage and saute until meat is brown.

Boil a large pot of water, add salt and pasta. Add the broccoli rabe during the last two minutes of the pasta cooking time.

Reserve 1/2 cups of pasta cooking water.

Add the pasta water to the cooked sausage and raise the heat and cook until the sauce is hot.

Drain orecchiette and broccoli rabe and add to the sausage sauce in the skillet.

Using a wooden spoon, toss together for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and pour into a large serving bowl.

Sprinkle with Pecorino Romano cheese.

Creamy Zucchini Pasta

Serves 2-3

Salt to taste
8 ounces penne or other short pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small sweet onion
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
1 large zucchini, about one pound
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or a combination of herbs you like

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta al dente. Drain.

Slice the zucchini into ½ inch circles and then cut each circle into little logs.

Cut the onion in the same manner, so that the pieces are about the same size as the zucchini.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes.

Add the garlic, stir and, then, add the zucchini.

Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and tender. Do not let it brown.

Add the chile flakes and stir. Add the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Let cook on low heat until thickened a bit.

Stir the basil into the sauce, add the cooked pasta and let the pasta cook in the sauce for a minute or two.

Turn off the heat. Toss with the Parmesan cheese and serve.

Eggplant Sauce Over Pasta

Serves 8

Ingredients

2 medium eggplants, peeled and cut into 3⁄4″ cubes
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 small onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled Italian tomatoes, undrained and crushed by hand
1 lb. bucatini or spaghetti pasta
1/2 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
Fresh Burrata or Ricotta cheese

Directions

Heat the oven to 500º F.

Place the eggplant into a bowl and drizzle with 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss to combine and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the eggplant to 2 baking sheets and bake, turning occasionally, until soft and caramelized, about 20 minutes.

Transfer to a rack; set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the chile flakes and garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic softens, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, season with salt and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until just al dente, about 9 minutes.

Drain the pasta and transfer to the pan with the tomato sauce. Stir in the roasted eggplant and basil. Toss to combine.

To serve, transfer pasta to a serving platter and garnish with the Burrata cheese.

Pasta Roll-Ups

8 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs lean ground turkey, beef or pork
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
Two 28-oz containers whole tomatoes in juice
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
16 dried lasagna noodles
Two 10-oz boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed
Two 15-oz containers ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic and cook another minute.

Turn heat to medium-high and add the ground meat, breaking it up with a spatula until the meat shows no sign of pink.

Stir in the Italian seasoning, then add tomatoes and salt.

Reduce heat to medium-low, stir, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes, occasionally stirring and breaking up tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta al dente according to package directions, drain and place the noodles on kitchen towels to cool.

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Squeeze all remaining moisture from the thawed spinach and place in large bowl.

Add ricotta cheese, eggs and a 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese to the bowl. Stir until combined

Spread 2 cups of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a large baking dish.

Lay a cooked lasagna noodle flat in front of you. Spread a tablespoon of ricotta mixture across the noodle and roll it up.

Place the rolled pasta seam side down in the baking dish. Repeat with remaining noodles.

Spread remaining tomato sauce over roll-ups, then top with remaining mozzarella cheese.

Bake, covered with foil, for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 10 minutes.

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aostafontina

The Aosta Valley is a mountainous area in northwestern Italy. It is bordered by the Rhône-Alpes in France to the west and Switzerland to the north. it is the smallest, least populous and least densely populated region of Italy. It is the only Italian region that no longer has any provinces. The province of Aosta was dissolved in 1945. However, the region is divided into 74 comuni (communes) and Italian and French are the official languages. The population density of Aosta Valley is by far the lowest of all the Italian regions.

aostamountains

The region is very cold in the winter, especially when compared with other places in the Western Alps. This is probably due to the mountains blocking the mild winds from the Atlantic Ocean. Places on the same altitude in France or western Switzerland are not as cold as the Aosta Valley. In this climate the snow season is very long, as long as 8 or 9 months at the highest points. During the summer, mist occurs almost every day. These areas are the wettest in the western Alps. Temperatures are low, between −7 °C (19 °F) and −3 °C (27 °F) in January and in July between 10 °C (50 °F) and 13 °C (55 °F).

Roman Theater Remains

Roman Theater Remains

The first inhabitants of the Aosta Valley were Celts. Rome conquered the area around 25 BC to secure the strategic mountain passes, and they went on to build bridges and roads through the mountains.

hydroelectric dam

Hydroelectric Dam

The Aosta Valley remained agricultural until the construction of hydroelectric dams that brought the metalworking industry to the region. Agriculture has become increasingly specialized, retaining only a small output of cereals, potatoes and fruit. Animal feed crops supply the region’s dairy herds which are pastured in the high Alps during the summer period.

The region’s cheeses are renowned throughout the world. Fontina cheese has been made in the Aosta Valley, in the Alps since the 12th century. It has a milk fat content around 45% and can be identified by a Consorzio (Consortium) stamp of the Matterhorn including the label, “FONTINA”.

As with many other varieties, the name “Fontina” is also known as “Fontinella”, “Fontal” and “Fontella”. Although the version from Aosta Valley is the only original and the most famous, a derivative production occurs in other parts of Italy, as well as Denmark, Sweden, Quebec, France, Argentina and the United States. The original Fontina cheese from Aosta Valley is fairly pungent and has an intense flavor. The Swedish and Danish versions are often found in US grocery stores and can be distinguished from Aostan Fontina by their red wax rind (also prevalent in Argentine Fontina).

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aostacheesemaking

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Aostan Fontina has a natural rind due to aging, which is usually tan to orange-brown. It is noted for its earthy and woody taste and it pairs well with roast meats and truffles. Its rich and creamy flavor gets nuttier with aging. The interior of the cheese is pale cream in color and riddled with holes known as “eyes”.  Fontina produced in the Aosta Valley must be made from unpasteurized milk from a single milking, with two batches being made per day. Young Fontina has a softer texture (and can be suitable for fondue or for a table cheese board). Fonduta alla valdostana (in Italian) or Fondue à la valdôtaine (in French) is a traditional dish of Fontina whipped with milk, eggs and truffles. Mature Fontina is a hard cheese used for grating.

To make Fontina Cheese, cow’s milk is heated to 36 C (97 F.) Calf’s rennet is then added to curdle the milk. The milk is left to sit for 1 hour as is, then it is heated to 47 to 48 C (116 to 118 F) and left to sit for another two hours held at that temperature. This is why you’ll sometimes see this cheese called “semi-cooked” (or “semi-cotta”, drawing on the Italian phrase.)

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aostafontinacave

The curd that forms is cut and drained in nets, then put into round molds for 12 hours. When the cheese is taken out of the molds, it is salted and, then, rested for two months in a cool place. At the end of two months, the cheese is taken to caves where it is aged for a further 3 months (The aging apparently still happens in caves or grottoes, on pine shelves.) During this period in the caves, the rind is washed with brine every other day and, on the alternating days, it is brushed to take away any mold that forms on it.

aostavineyard

Wines of high quality are produced in small quantities in the Aosta Valley. All are entitled to the Denominazione di origine controllata (Valle d’Aosta DOC / Vallée d’Aoste DOC) label. The wine making region is generally divided into three areas. In the northwest, the Valdigne area south of the commune of Courmayeur is home to the highest elevated vineyards in Europe at 3,937 feet above sea level. The white grape Prié Blanc (also known as Blanc de Morgex) is the main production grape in the area and is used to produce the wine, Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle in both a still and sparkling wine style.

The Central Valley is the region’s most productive area and is further sub-divided into four areas: Enfer d’Arvier, Torrette, Nus and Chambave. The Enfer d’Arvier is a red wine producing area around the village of Arvier. The wines from this area are blends made primarily from the Petit Rouge grape with lesser amounts of Dolcetto, Gamay, Neyret, Pinot noir, and/or Vien de Nus. Previously Enfer d’Arvier had its own DOC designation but was subsequently incorporated into the Valle d’Aosta DOC.

aostawine

White wines are made in this area from a Pinot Gris clone known as Malvoisie including a sweet passito straw wine.The red wines made here are composed of at least 60% Petit Rouge with some Dolcetto, Gamay and/or Pinot Noir. The white wines made here are from the Moscato Bianco grape. The Lower Valley is known primarily for two styles of wine: a medium-bodied dry red wine made from at least 70% Nebbiolo with some Dolcetto, Freisa, Neyret, Pinot Noir, and/or Vien de Nus and a wine made from at least 85% Nebbiolo with some Freisa, Neyret, Pinot Noir and Vien de Nus.

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Church in the village of Saint-Jacques. Aosta Valley, Italy.

Church in the village of Saint-Jacques. Aosta Valley, Italy.

The cuisine of Aosta Valley is characterized by simplicity that includes “robust” ingredients, such as potatoes, polenta; cheese, meat and rye bread. Many of the dishes are made with Fontina cheese. It is found in dishes, such as the soup à la vâpeuleunèntse (Valpelline Soup). Other cheeses made in the region are Toma, Seras and Fromadzo (which  have been produced locally since the 15th century and also have PDO statu).

Regional specialities are Motzetta (dried chamois meat, prepared like prosciutto), Vallée d’Aoste Lard d’Arnad (a cured and brined fatback product with PDO designation), Vallée d’Aoste Jambon de Bosses (a type of ham, likewise with the PDO designation) and a black bread. Notable dishes include Carbonnade, salt-cured beef cooked with onions and red wine and served with polenta; breaded veal cutlets called costolette; teuteuns, salt-cured cow’s udder that is cooked and sliced; and steak à la valdôtaine, a steak with croûtons, ham and melted cheese.

Grolla Coffee

aostacoffee

Grappa is an Italian brandy distilled from the fermented residue of grapes after they have been pressed in wine making.

Ingredients

For 4 people:

  • 4 cups Italian brewed coffee
  • 2 small glasses grappa
  • Zest of one lemon zest
  • 4 teaspoons sugar plus extra for the pot

Directions

Pour the coffee into a small saucepan. Add the grappa, half of the lemon peel and the 4 teaspoons of sugar.

Stir the mixture over the heat and bring to a low boil. Turn the heat off and remove the lemon zest.

Pour the coffee into the grolla pot or friendship cup having sweetened the openings or mouths of the cup with extra sugar. Then light the mixture with a match or lighter and you will see a blue flame. After a short time, put out the flame and add the remaining lemon zest. Drink from the grolla, together with the other diners passing the cup around.

If you don’t have a grolla or friendship cup, use a fondue set. Place the coffee ingredients in the fondue pot and bring it to a boil. Boil and light the liquid with a flame. Serve the coffee in individual cups sweetened with sugar.

Pasticcio di Penne alla Valdostana (Baked Penne Aosta Style)

aostapasta

Ingredients

  • 1 lb mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 whole garlic clove, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons butter, plus extra for the baking dish
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 10 oz penne (about 2 1/2 cups dry pasta)
  • 3 oz Italian Fontina cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream or half and half

Directions

Saute’ the mushrooms with the whole garlic clove in 2 tablespoons of the butter over a high heat. Add salt and pepper, lower the heat and cook for 3 minutes. Discard the garlic.

Cook the pasta al dente according to package directions. Drain and dress with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter.

Butter an ovenproof dish and cover the bottom with a layer of penne. Distribute about a quarter of the mushrooms and the sliced cheese evenly over the pasta and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese. Add another layer of pasta and cover with mushrooms and cheese as before.

Repeat until you have used all the ingredients, finishing with a layer of sliced cheese. Pour the cream over the pasta layers, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake, covered with foil, in a preheated oven at 400° F for 10 minutes.

Bake uncovered for a further 10 minutes, or until a light crust has formed on the top. Remove the pasta from oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Fontina-Stuffed Breaded Veal or Pork Chops (Costolette alla Valdostana)

aostameat

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 4 veal or pork chops, bone in (1/2 inch thick)
  • 1/4 pound Fontina from Val d’Aosta, rind removed, cut into 4 slices
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter

Directions

Cut a horizontal slit in each chop, leaving the meat attached at the bone end. Open the two flaps of each chop and place 1 slice of Fontina over the bottom flap; lay the top flap over the cheese to close. Using a meat mallet, pound each chop gently to seal the pocket. Season both sides with the salt and pepper.

Place the flour on one plate, the beaten egg in another and the breadcrumbs on a third. Dredge the veal chops in the flour and shake off the excess; dip into the beaten egg, coating both sides well; finally, dip into the breadcrumbs, pressing on both sides to help them adhere.

Melt the butter in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until foaming. Add the chops and cook until golden on both sides, turning once; it should take about 5 minutes per side. Serve hot.

Twisted Cookies from Val d’Aosta

aostacookies

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup warm water, about 110 F
  • 2 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into tablespoons
  • About 2/3 cup granulated sugar for rolling out the cookies

Directions

Combine the water and yeast in a small bowl, stir to dissolve the yeast. Cover and set aside while you get the other ingredients ready..

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, pulse the flour and salt a couple of times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is finely mixed in but the mixture is still powdery.

Add the yeast mixture all at once, and pulse until the ingredients form a ball.

Put the dough into a greased bowl, turning the dough over so that the top is greased as well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it is doubled in bulk, about an hour.

After the dough has risen, press it down to deflate it. Chill for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.

Cover two large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. Set aside.

When you are ready to form the cookies, remove the dough from the refrigerator and press it into 8-inch square. Scatter some of the 2/3 cup of sugar on the work surface.

Cut the square of dough into eight 1-inch stripes, adding more sugar as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Cut each strip into 6 equal pieces, to make 48 pieces total.

Roll a piece of the dough on the sugared surface under the palms of your hands to make a pencil-thick strand about 5 inches long. Form a loop by crossing over the ends about 1 inch up from the ends of the dough.

As the cookies are formed, place them on the prepared pans, leaving about 1 ½ inches space around the cookies. Let the cookies stand at room temperature until they puff slightly, about 20 minutes.

Center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 325 F. Bake the cookies, in batches, until they are light and the sugar has caramelized to a light golden crust, about 25 minutes.

Turn the cookies from back to front after the first 15 minutes of baking. Cool the cookies on a rack. Store in an air-tight container at room temperature.

aostamap


pastadinnercover

It’s the holidays and you want to invite friends over but don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen, then pasta is just right for such an occasion. Most people like pasta and it can become an elegant company meal with the right ingredients.

The menu can come together quickly by adding a simple appetizer, such as cheese and crackers or a light soup. Add a salad, some bread and cookies and the meal is done. Don’t forget the wine.

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Sausage Stuffed Shells

This dish can be assembled early in the day and refrigerated. Take the dish out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 24 dried jumbo shell macaroni
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cremini mushrooms
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 large red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 12 ounces Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 ½ cups ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 3 1/2 cups homemade or store-bought tomato pasta sauce
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Minced fennel leaves for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain and place the shells on clean kitchen towels.

In a large mixing bowl combine eggs, ricotta cheese and Parmesan cheese.

In a large skillet cook mushrooms, chopped fennel and bell pepper in hot oil over medium heat about 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add the vegetables to the ricotta mixture.

Add sausage to the skillet and cook until browned, using a wooden spoon to break up meat as it cooks. Drain off fat and add the cooked sausage to the vegetable ricotta mixture. Stir well.

Fill the cooked macaroni shells with the ricotta, vegetable and sausage mixture.

Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 3-quart rectangular baking dish, spreading evenly. Arrange shells on top of the sauce. Drizzle shells with remaining sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake, covered about 30 minutes or until heated through. Garnish with fennel leaves.

pastadinner2

Shrimp and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds fresh peeled and deveined medium shrimp
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • One 12 ounce jar roasted red sweet peppers, drained and chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ¼ cup snipped fresh basil
  • 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb penne or ziti pasta

Directions

Rinse shrimp and pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and place in a large pasta serving bowl.

In a large skillet, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat until butter is melted. Add onion and garlic. Cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes or just until onion is tender.

Add shrimp and crushed red pepper; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add roasted peppers and wine. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 2 minutes or until shrimp are opaque, stirring occasionally.

Stir in cream. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, for 1 minute. Stir in basil. Add shrimp mixture and cheese to hot cooked pasta; toss gently to combine.

pastadinner3

Meat Stuffed Manicotti

6 servings

Marinara Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion (1 large)
  • ½ cup finely chopped carrot (1 medium)
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery (1 stalk)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Two 26 to 28 oz containers of Italian crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 tablespoons snipped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Manicotti

Ingredients

  • 12 dried manicotti shells
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 3 cups Marinara Sauce
  • Fresh basil for garnish

Directions

For the Marinara Sauce:

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender but not brown, stirring occasionally.

Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, water, wine, parsley, basil, Italian seasoning, sugar, crushed red pepper, bay leaves, salt and black pepper.

Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 45 minutes or until sauce thickens stirring occasionally. Remove and discard bay leaves.

For the Manicotti:

Cook manicotti for 2 minutes less than the package directs; drain. Place manicotti in a single layer on a sheet of greased foil.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl combine 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese, the onion, bell pepper, egg and pesto. Add ground meat; mix well.

Divide mixture into 12 portions. Shape each portion into a 5-inch log. Push a log into each cooked manicotti shell; arrange the shells in an ungreased 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Pour Marinara Sauce over filled manicotti.

Bake, covered, for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella cheese and the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, about 10 minutes more or until the cheeses are melted. Garnish with fresh basil.

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Artichoke Lasagna

8 servings

Ingredients

  • One 9 oz package of frozen and thawed artichoke hearts or 15 cooked baby artichokes
  • 9 dried lasagna noodles
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • ½ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • One 15 ounce carton ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups half-and-half or light cream
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook lasagna noodles al dente; drain and place the noodles on clean kitchen towels.

Place the defrosted artichoke hearts on paper towels and cut each in half.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add artichokes, pine nuts and half of the garlic. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until the artichokes are tender, stirring frequently. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Do not clean out the pan.

Stir in ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the basil, the egg and salt into the mixing bowl with the artichokes..

In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, combine broth and flour.

In the large saucepan used to cook the artichokes, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic; cook and stir until garlic is tender but not brown. Stir in flour mixture and half-and-half. Cook and stir until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup basil.

In a small bowl, combine mozzarella cheese and the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

To assemble the lasagna:

Spread about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of an ungreased 3-quart shallow baking dish. Layer three of the cooked noodles in the dish. Spread with one-third of the artichoke mixture and one-third of the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the mozzarella mixture. Repeat layering noodles, artichoke mixture, sauce and mozzarella mixture two more times.

Bake, uncovered, for 35 to 40 minutes until edges are bubbly and top is lightly browned. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

pastadinner5

Seafood Linguine

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces linguine or spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped shallot
  • 1 28-ounce can diced Italian tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 18 littleneck or small cherrystone clams, scrubbed
  • 12 ounces sea scallops, muscle removed
  • 12 ounces grouper, tilapia or other flaky white fish, cut into 1-inch strips
  • 6 ounces calamari, cut into thin rings
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram, plus more for garnish

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and place in a large pasta serving bowl.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and shallot and cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 1 minute.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Add tomatoes, wine,chili flakes, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Add clams, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in scallops, calamari, fish and marjoram. Cover and cook until the scallops and fish are cooked through and the clams have opened, 3 to 5 minutes more. (Discard any clams that don’t open.)

Spoon the sauce and clams over the pasta and sprinkle with additional marjoram.


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The Province of Perugia is the larger of the two provinces in the Umbria region of Italy. The eastern part of the province is a hilly region while the rest is covered by forests. Perugia is home to the largest lake in central Italy, Lake Trasimeno. The southern regions are less hilly. Silk, corn and grass are some of the most important agricultural products of the province.

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Over the centuries, Perugia has been ruled by numerous different peoples, evidence of which can be found in the many archaeological remains. Artifacts from the Roman period include paved roads, the forum, the cisterns, a Roman amphitheatre and the thermal baths.

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The Province of Perugia hosts events, such as Eurochocolate where chocolate in all its varied forms is on display and Umbria Jazz, a music festival that every year gathers together important artists of the jazz world.

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The cuisine consists of rustic cooking traditions with many recipes still influenced by ancient rituals and rules. Black truffles, a local product, are used in many dishes. Easter Pizza and a salted panettone (Christmas cake) flavored with pecorino (made from sheep’s milk cheese) are regional classics. The lentils from Castelluccio are known for their tiny size and their soft hull. Salami and cold cuts from Norcia are well-known throughout the world.

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Strangozzi, or Strozzapreti pasta made with water and flour is served with meat sauce. The types of meat that are used for second courses are pork made from nut-fed black pigs, boar and lamb.

Fish from Lake Trasimeno are the basis for many dishes, such as Tegamaccio, a seafood soup, made with different types of lake fish such as perch, trout, carp and pike.

Another local favorite is Parmigiana di Gobbi, a dish that dates back to ancient times made with cardoons (the gobbi), served with sauce, mozzarella and Parmigiano.

Popular desserts include pinacate, a pine nut-based sweet, torciglione made with raisins, walnuts and dried figs and torcolo, essentially a large donut with raisins and candied fruit.

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And of course, Italy’s version of the chocolate kiss, Baci Perugina, chocolate and hazelnut truffles in their famous silver and blue wrapping, with a romantic message tucked inside, were invented here. Also Stacchetti (a mix of almond, cacao and sugar covered with meringue) and Struffoli (small balls of dough fried and sweetened with honey) are additional well-known desserts.

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Torta Umbra al Formaggio

(Easter Cheese Bread from Umbria)

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In the past, Torta Umbra al Formaggio, a savory cheese bread from the Umbrian region, was traditionally enjoyed on Pasqua (Easter) morning with boiled eggs, prosciutto and other cold cuts. Today, it can usually be found as an accompaniment to any meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons dried yeast (2 packages)
  • 1/3 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 4 cups flour
  • 5 eggs
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 6 ounces Pecorino Romano, cut into ½ inch dice
  • 5 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, cut into ½ inch dice

Directions

Grease a 9-inch cake pan with olive oil. Using a strip of parchment paper, line the top of the pan to add an additional 2 to 3 inches of height.

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water (110°F) in a large stand mixer bowl; let stand until foamy (about 5 minutes). Add sugar and 1/3 cup of the flour without stirring. Let it rest (covered with plastic wrap) for 20 minutes. Add the rest of the flour, the eggs, butter and oil. With the paddle attachment mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Switch to the dough hook attachment. Add the salt and continue mixing at medium speed until the dough is soft, shiny and elastic (7-10 minutes). Add the pepper and cheeses and knead the dough until thoroughly combined. Let it rest in an oiled bowl, covered, until it doubles in size (about 2 hours).

Punch down the dough. Form the dough into a round loaf. Place into the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let it proof until it doubles in size (about 1 hour).

Bake for 45 minutes at 400° F. Let it sit for 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

Crostini with Garlic and Black Truffles

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Ingredients for each serving

  • 2 slices bread (Torta Umbra al Formaggio would be excellent for this appetizer)
  • 1 winter black truffle
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 ¼ tablespoons (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt – to taste
  • Pepper – to taste

Directions

Shave half the truffle and set aside. Pound the remaining truffle in a mortar together with the garlic, adding the lemon juice and olive oil until the mixture becomes thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper.

Tear the bread slices into smaller pieces, toast and spread the truffle and garlic paste on top. Garnish with the shaved truffle slices and serve.

Minestra Di Ceci (Umbrian Chickpea Soup)

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Ingredients

  • 1 lb (500g) dry chickpeas
  • 1 twig fresh rosemary
  • 10 leaves fresh sage
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • 1 rib celery, diced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Grated Pecorino cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

Soak chickpeas overnight in a bowl of cold water. Drain.

Place chickpeas in large soup pot. Cover with water to 1 inch above the chickpeas. Add rosemary and half the sage leaves. Cover and cook on low 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

In a skillet placed over medium heat, heat  2 tablespoons olive oil and sauté garlic, carrot, onion and celery. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the vegetables are tender. Set aside.

Remove and discard the sage leaves and rosemary from the cooked chickpeas. Drain the chickpeas, reserving the cooking liquid.

In a blender or with a hand immersion blender, purée half the chickpeas, along with 2  cups of the chickpea cooking liquid.

Return puréed chickpeas and sautéed vegetables to the soup pot.

Cover and cook 60 minutes.

Serve the soup in warmed bowls with a drizzle of oil, remaining sage leaves, black pepper and grated cheese.

Pasta alla Norcina

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Ingredients for 4 people

  • 14 oz (400g) Penne pasta
  • 4 sausages of Norcia
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ onion
  • 1 cup heavy (cooking) cream
  • Salt and black pepper
  • ½ cup white wine
  • Grated parmesan cheese or pecorino cheese of Norcia.

Directions

Finely chop the onion and saute in extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet. Remove the casings from the sausages and add it to the onion and cook until brown and crumbled. Lower the heat and add the white wine. Cook until it evaporates. Add the cream and as soon as it’s hot remove the pan from the heat.

Cook the penne pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and mix the pasta with the sauce. Add black pepper and grated cheese. Serve immediately.

Porchetta (Roast Pork Loin)

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by CHEF BIKESKI (Culinary Director and Owner of Italia Outdoors Food and Wine)

This is best started the day before you wish to serve it.

Ingredients

  • One 2 1/2 – 3 pound piece fresh pork belly, skin on
  • One 2 1/2 – 3 pound boneless pork loin roast
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 bulb fresh fennel, tough outer layer and inner core removed, chopped into 1/4 inch dice
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1/4 cup fennel fronds, finely chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Place the pork belly skin side up. Using a sharp knife, score the skin on the diagonal making a diamond-shaped pattern. Try to cut only the skin itself.

Turn the belly so the skin side is down. Score the belly flesh in the same diagonal diamond-shaped pattern.

Salt both sides of the belly, as well as the pork loin roast. Set aside while you make the seasoning mixture.

Place the fennel seeds in a hot sauté pan and toast just until they start to brown. Add the olive oil, chopped fresh fennel, garlic and rosemary and saute until the fennel is soft, about 4 minutes. Add the chopped fennel fronds and remove from the heat.

Cover the entire loin and the flesh side of the pork belly with the seasoning mixture. Roll the belly around the loin so the short ends of the belly meet or come as close to meeting as possible. If there is a bit of loin still exposed along the bottom, put this side down in the pan. If the loin is longer than the pork belly or the belly longer than the loin and one sticks out, trim the longer piece so the ends are flush.

Tie the roast with kitchen twine at about 1/2” intervals. Place the roast on a wire rack set in a sheet pan, with any gap where the pork belly may not cover the loin at the bottom. Place the roast, uncovered, in your refrigerator for 1-2 days to allow the seasonings to penetrate the roast and the skin to air-dry.

When ready to cook, remove the roast from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

Roast for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to 300°F and continue to roast until the porchetta reaches an internal temperature of 140°F, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours more. If the skin is not as brown and crispy as you’d like, turn on the broiler and finish browning the skin, keeping a careful eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

Slice into 1/2 inch rounds for serving as a roast or into very thin slices for porchetta sandwiches.

Chocolate Tart

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by Baci Perugina

Ingredients

10” tart pan

For the crust:

  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 stick softened butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 pound (5 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, plus extra for garnish

For the filling:

  • 1 bar Perugina Dark (51%) chocolate
  • 8 Baci candies
  • 1 1/2 cups cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 large eggs

Directions

Combine the sugar, salt, butter,egg  yolk and vanilla in the mixer bowl and start on medium.

Sift the flour and cocoa together. Pour the flour and cocoa into the mixer bowl. Turn up the speed until the mixture comes together into crumbs. Press into a ball, wrap tightly and let rest in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.

Roughly chop the chocolate bar and the Baci and melt them in a double boiler. Heat the cream in a saucepan until almost boiling and pour over the melted chocolate.

Stir until the color is uniform and mix in the sugar until it dissolves completely. Let cool slightly.

Lightly beat the eggs and set aside.

Line the bottom of the tart mold with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven at 350°F.

Roll out the crust to about 1/2” thick and place in the mold. Press it down gently and eliminate any overhanging pieces.

Quickly whisk the beaten eggs into the chocolate cream and pour the filling into the tart shell. The filling will appear quite liquid.

Place the tart on a sheet pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, until soft but set and not jiggly and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out slightly damp but otherwise clean.

Let cool and dust lightly with cocoa powder before serving.

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Pumpkins haven’t always been popular. In fact, pumpkins were hardly eaten by people for a considerable part of the 19th century. Now, we have pumpkin flavored yogurt, coffee, candies, muffins and more. While the round orange pumpkin is the most recognizable pumpkin, pumpkins come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors. Pumpkins are native to Mexico, but are grown on every continent except Antarctica. Americans love pumpkin, but so do the people on the other 6 continents who choose to grow them. America’s love is usually concentrated around Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Today, more pumpkins are grown in Italy than in America. In all of Italy’s diverse 20 regions, it is the people of Veneto, who give the pumpkin its highest esteem. The pumpkin — marina di Chioggia, also known as sea pumpkin, after its native town in the lagoon, is the most popular. The pumpkin’s bland and compact flesh make them an ideal canvas for the savory and sweet creations of Italians cooking, such as pumpkin risotto, pumpkin tortelli, cappelletti and gnocchi.

Italian Pumpkin

Italian Pumpkin

Smaller is Better

Choose sugar pie pumpkins or other flavorful varieties. Small and sweet with dark orange-colored flesh, they’re perfect for pies, soups, muffins, and breads.

A medium-sized (4-pound) sugar pumpkin should yield around 1½ cups of mashed pumpkin. This puree can be used in all your recipes calling for canned pumpkin.

Field pumpkins, which are bred for jack-o’-lanterns, tend to be too large and stringy for baking.

Choose A Cooking Method

There are three ways to transform an uncooked pumpkin into the puree used in baking:

Baking Method

Cut the pumpkin in half and discard the stem section and stringy pulp. Save the seeds to dry and roast.
In a shallow baking dish, place the two halves face down and cover with foil.
Bake in a preheated 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) oven for about 1½ hours for a medium-sized sugar pumpkin, or until tender.
Once the baked pumpkin has cooled, scoop out the flesh and puree or mash it.
For silky smooth custards or soups, press the pumpkin puree through a sieve.

Boiling Method

Cut the pumpkin in half, discarding the stringy insides.
Peel the pumpkin and cut it into chunks.
Place in a saucepan and cover with water.
Bring to a boil and cook until the pumpkin chunks are tender.
Let the chunks cool, then puree the flesh in a food processor or mash it with a potato masher or food mill.

Microwave Method

Cut the pumpkin in half, discarding the stringy insides.
Microwave on high power for seven minutes per pound, turning pieces every few minutes to promote even cooking. Process as above.
You can refrigerate your fresh pumpkin puree for up to three days, or store it in the freezer up to six months, so you can enjoy fall pumpkins for months to come.

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Pumpkin and Leek Risotto

Ingredients

  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 leek
  • 2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups pumpkin, peeled and diced
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus additional for serving

Directions

Cook the pumpkin:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

Toss the pumpkin with a tablespoon of olive oil and one, small minced garlic clove  in a large bowl. Season with salt and black pepper. Arrange the pumpkin in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Roast until tender and lightly browned, 25 to 30 minutes.

Wash the leek well and dice the white and light green parts.

In a saucepan, bring 6 cups stock to a simmer.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the diced eek. Stir for 4-5 minutes or until soft. Reduce heat to low. Add 2 cups Arborio rice and stir to coat in the butter.

Add 1/2 cup dry white wine and cook, stirring, until liquid is absorbed. Add stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring after each addition until all liquid is absorbed.

When rice is almost cooked, add the pumpkin. Continue cooking,.until the pumpkin is hot and the rice is tender.

Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper, then stir in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Serve topped with extra Parmesan cheese.

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Pumpkin Gnocchi

3-4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée (not pie filling)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt (plus more as needed)
  • 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Ground white pepper
  • 11/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus more as needed)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts,toasted and coarsely chopped (optional)

Directions

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust it with flour; set aside.

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat. (Do not heat the water if you plan to freeze the gnocchi.)

Drain the ricotta in a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl for a few minutes. Place in a mixing bowl and add the pumpkin, egg yolks, salt, brown sugar, nutmeg and a few pinches of white pepper. Stir to combine. Add the flour and mix until the dough just comes together. (It will be very soft and slightly sticky, but don’t overwork the dough or it will become tough and heavy.)

Generously flour the work surface and turn out the dough. Pat it into a rough rectangle and cut it into 4 equal pieces. Gently roll 1 piece into an even rope about 3/4 inch in diameter, flouring the surface as needed.

Cut the rope into 3/4-inch pieces. Lightly flour your forefinger, your thumb and the tines of a salad fork. Using your thumb, lightly press the cut side of the gnocchi into the back of the fork tines, then roll it off with your forefinger; your thumb will leave a concave impression in the gnocchi that’s handy for holding sauce.

Place the gnocchi on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat rolling and cutting the remaining 3 dough pieces.

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat.

Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Add a third of the gnocchi to the boiling water and cook until they float, about 2 to 3 minutes, then let them cook about 30 seconds to 1 minute more so they’re just cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the second prepared baking sheet. Repeat cooking the remaining gnocchi in 2 more batches.

Set aside a large serving bowl.

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until foaming. Add 1 teaspoon of the sage. a pinch of black pepper and half of the gnocchi and cook, shaking the pan often, until the gnocchi are browned, about 3 minutes. Transfer with the slotted spoon to the reserved large bowl. Repeat with the remaining butter, sage, gnocchi and more black pepper..

Gently toss the gnocchi with the Parmesan cheese and sprinkle with the hazelnuts, if using. Serve immediately.

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Penne Pasta with Pumpkin & Italian Sausage

Ingredients

  • 1 lb hot or sweet Italian Sausage
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 (14 ½-ounce) can pumpkin puree, not pie mix
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound penne pasta or any short pasta
  • Grated Parmesan cheese and sage leaves for garnish

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the penne al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and cook the sausages until well-done, 165°F as measured by a meat thermometer. Slice into ¼-inch slices and set aside.

Add the garlic and onion to the skillet and sauté 3 to 5 minutes or until the onion is tender. Add the bay leaf and wine. Cook until the wine reduces by half; about 2 minutes. Add the chicken broth and pumpkin; cook, stirring, until sauce bubbles. Add sliced sausage and reduce heat and stir in cream. Season with nutmeg, salt and black pepper. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes to thicken the sauce.

Remove the bay leaf from sauce and add the cooked pasta. Toss together over low heat 1 minute. Garnish with grated cheese and sage leaves.

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Italian Pumpkin Strata

A strata is a  brunch dish, similar to a quiche or frittata, made from a mixture of bread, eggs and cheese. It may also include meat or vegetables. The bread is layered with the filling in order to produce layers (strata) and baked.

Servings: 10

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb Italian bread, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3 cups half & half (fat-free works fine)
  • 1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree, not pie mix
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions

In a large skillet cook sausage, onion, peppers and garlic in oil until the sausage is no longer pink; drain.

Combine bread, cheese and sausage mixture in a large bowl.

Mix together the half & half, pumpkin, eggs, salt, pepper and seasonings.

Pour over the bread mixture and stir gently until bread is moistened.

Pour into a greased 13×9 inch baking dish.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 30-35 minutes or until set.

Serve warm.

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Pumpkin Tiramisu

Serves 9

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups whipping cream, chilled
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 (8-ounce) container mascarpone cheese
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 cup Amaretto liqueur
  • 25 Savoiardi Ladyfingers
  • 6 ounces Amaretti cookies, crumbled

Directions:

In an electric mixer beat cream and sugar together until stiff peaks form. Fold in the mascarpone cheese, pumpkin and spices and beat until smooth.

Pour the Amaretto liqueur into a shallow bowl. Dip each ladyfinger in the liqueur before arranging them along the bottom of a 13- by 9-inch baking dish, overlapping to fit.

Spread one-third of the filling over the ladyfingers, sprinkle evenly with one-third of the Amaretti cookie crumbs and repeat with two more layers.

Smooth the top of dessert and wrap tightly in plastic and foil. Refrigerate. Best when chilled overnight.


The region of Abruzzo is hilly and mountainous and stretches from the Apennines to the Adriatic Sea. In this part of the Adriatic, the long sandy beaches are replaced by steep and rocky coasts. L’Aquila is the regional capital. Pescara, Chieti and Teramo are other important cities.

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Abruzzo boasts the title of “Greenest Region in Europe” thanks to one third of its territory, the largest in Europe, being set aside as national parks and protected nature reserves. In the region there are three national parks, one regional park and 38 protected nature reserves. These ensure the survival of 75% of all of Europe’s living species and are also home to some rare species, such as the small wading dotterel, golden eagle, Abruzzo chamois, Apennine wolf and Marsican brown bear. Abruzzo is also home to Calderone, Europe’s southernmost glacier.

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The Abruzzo region has two types of climate: the first is strongly influenced by the presence of Abruzzo’s Apennines range. Coastal areas have a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and mild winters, rainy hills and a climate where temperatures progressively decrease with increasing altitude. Precipitation is also strongly affected by the presence of the Apennines mountain ridges with increased rain on the slopes of the mountains in the region.

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Until a few decades ago, Abruzzo was a region of poverty in Southern Italy. Since the 1950s, Abruzzo has had steady economic growth. In 1951, the Abruzzo per capita income or GDP was 53% of that of Northern Italy, the nation’s richest region. By 1971, Abruzzo was at 65% and, by 1994, the per capita income was at 76% of Northern Italy’s per capita income, giving Abruzzo the highest per capita GDP of Southern Italy and surpassing the growth of every other region in Italy. The construction of superhighways from Rome to Teramo (A24) and Rome to Pescara (A25) opened Abruzzo to easy access. Abruzzo also attained higher per capita education levels and greater productivity growth than the rest of the South.

The 2009 L’Aquila earthquake led to a sharp economic slowdown. However, according to statistics at the end of 2010, it seems that the economy of Abruzzo is recovering, despite the negative data regarding employment. At the end of 2010, Abruzzo’s growth was placed fourth among the Italian regions with the highest annual growth rates after Lazio, Lombardy and Calabria.

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Abruzzo’s industrial sector expanded rapidly, especially in mechanical engineering, transportation equipment and telecommunications. Both pure and applied research are carried out in the region where there are major institutes and factories involved in research, especially, in the fields of pharmaceuticals, biomedicine, electronics, aerospace and nuclear physics. The industrial infrastructure is spread throughout the region in industrial zones, the most important of which are Val Pescara, Val Sangro, Val Trigno, Val Vibrata and Conca del Fucino.

A further activity worthy of note is seaside and mountain tourism, which is of considerable importance to the economy of the region. In the past decade, tourism has increased due to Abruzzo’s wealth of castles and medieval towns, especially around L’Aquila. Beach-goers also flock to places like Tortoreto, Giulianova, Silvi Marina, Roseto and, further south, Ortona, Vasto and San Salvo. Ski resorts are equally popular.

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Abruzzo Beach tourism destinations

Agriculture has succeeded in modernizing and offering higher-quality products. The mostly small, agricultural properties produce wine, cereals, sugar beet, potatoes, olives, vegetables, fruit and dairy products. Traditional products are saffron and liquorice. Most famous in the wine world is Abruzzo’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has earned a reputation as being one of the most widely exported DOC classed wine in Italy.

Abruzzo has a rich culinary tradition, with various traditions attached to each province.

Battered and fried zucchini blooms, spit-roasted scamorza cheese, vinegar-poached lobster, salame di pecora (a rare sheep’s meat salami), crepes loaded with cheese and vegetables in a rich mutton broth, hearty ragus, ricotta cheese drizzled with honey and dusted with saffron powder .… are just a few of the complex and elegant flavors to be found on Abruzzi tables.

Ragus are a generalized term for any type of meat-based sauce. Ragus are heavily associated with the cooking of Southern Italy, as well, and seem to have begun their migration southward from the Abruzzi region.

This is a cheese-loving region and mozzarella and scamorza take center stage on the dairy scene. Both cow’s milk cheeses are young, mild, creamy and sweet with smooth textures and a stringiness that allows them to hold up equally well in baked dishes or on their own as table cheeses.

The maccheroni alla chitarra are highly renowned (homemade pasta cut on a machine with thin steel blades) and scrippelle are thin strips of pasta eaten in soup. On the coast, most first courses are fish-based, often made with tomato to enhance the taste of “poor man’s fish,” that are caught off the shores of ancient fishing villages.

As for second courses, a typical recipe is scapece, which is pickled fried fish. Guazzetto or fish broth is also popular in coastal towns. Other than sea fare, one will find plenty of lamb, kid and mutton on the dinner table, while pork is used for prosciutto, lonza, ventricina and other typical salamis that are produced locally. Abruzzi lamb, in general, is considered superior in flavor to other lamb found elsewhere because of the animals’ mountain-grazed diets rich in herbs.

Among the desserts, often made with almonds and honey, you will find nougat or torrone; confetti (typical sugared almonds) and cicerchiata, small balls of fried dough covered in honey.

Traditional Recipes from Abuzzo

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Potato Soup with Saffron

Ingredients

6 servings

  • 1 ¼ lb potatoes
  • 10 oz cannarozzi – spaghetti cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 1 teaspoon Saffron threads
  • 2 ½ oz extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Celery leaves for garnish

Directions

Lightly sauté the onion, carrot and celery in the olive oil. As soon as the mixture has cooled, add the saffron, mix well and then let rest to dissolve the saffron.

Boil and peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks.

Add 8 ¼ cups of water to the pot containing the saffron mixture and then salt to taste. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, add the potatoes. Heat and serve garnished with celery leaves.

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Timballo di Crespelle

This recipe is often served at wedding lunches, where it generally follows the soup course.

Ingredients

For the crespelle (crepes):

  • 50g [2 oz] all-purpose flour
  • Olive oil, for the pan
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 tablespoons water

For the filling:

  • 125g [4 oz] ground meat
  • 100g [3 1/2 oz] spinach
  • 75g [2 1/2 oz] mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • 20g [1 scant oz] butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 artichokes
  • 2 tablespoons grated Grana or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 chicken liver
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt

Directions

To make the filling.

Mince the chicken liver and combine it with the ground meat.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a saucepan and gently brown the ingredients over moderate heat for 3 minutes. Set aside.

Clean the spinach, blanch in a little salted water for 5 minutes; drain, squeeze out any excess water and lightly cook it with the butter for 4 minutes. Set aside.

Clean and trim the artichokes, discard the tough outer leaves and trim off the tips; cut in half, discard the inner fuzz and slice them. Sprinkle with the parsley and a dash of salt and cook in a saucepan with 3 tablespoons olive oil for 20 minutes, moistening with a little water, if need be.  Set aside.

Break the egg into a mixing bowl, add the milk and egg yolk and whisk with a fork. Set aside

To make the crespelle.

Put the flour, eggs and 6 tablespoons water into a mixing bowl and beat with a fork. Take a small frying pan, the bottom should be as wide as the ovenproof dish to be used for the timballo, and heat a little olive oil in it over a moderate to low heat.

Place 2 tablespoons batter into the pan, tilting to make sure it spreads out to cover the bottom; let it set and then flip. When the crespelle is ready, remove it from the pan and continue until all the batter has been used, greasing the pan each time with a little oil.

To assemble the timballo.

Butter an ovenproof dish and lay a crespelle on the bottom.

Make separate layers of sliced mozzarella, meat, spinach and artichokes, separating each with a crepe, adding a sprinkling of Grana cheese each time and a couple of tablespoons of the egg and milk mixture.

Make sure there are at least 2 layers of each ingredient, cover with another crespelle and sprinkle with the remaining cheese and egg-milk mixture.

Place the dish in the oven and bake at 220°C/425°F for 30 minutes.

abruzzi-pasta.2

Penne with Abruzzi-Style Lamb Ragu

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced pancetta, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • 1/2 pound boneless lamb, cut into very fine dice
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • One 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juices
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving

Directions

Put the oil and onion in a large skillet and cook over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until the onion is pale gold. Add the pancetta and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta fat is rendered; the pancetta should remain soft.

Add the lamb and cook until browned, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Add the wine and simmer until evaporated, 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer gently, stirring from time to time, until the fat begins to separate from the sauce, 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of coarse salt, cover and return to a boil.

Add the pasta to the pot and stir rapidly with a wooden spoon. Cover and bring back to a boil. Uncover and cook the pasta, stirring frequently, until it is al dente.

Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it to a warmed bowl. Toss with the lamb sauce and the 1/3 cup of grated cheese. Serve at once, passing additional cheese at the table.

parrozzo3.JPG9

Parrozzo

But among Abruzzo’s desserts, Parrozzo is the most remarkable. In ancient times, Abruzzo peasants made cornmeal bread in the shape of a dome and baked it in a wood-fired oven. They called this “pan rozzo” meaning ‘unrefined bread,’ as opposed to the regular and more expensive white flour bread eaten at the time only by higher classes. At the turn of the 19th century, pastry chef Luigi D’Amico re-invented that recipe by using eggs instead of cornmeal to obtain the bread’s golden hue. He kept the dome shape and topped it with a dark chocolate coating to reproduce the bread’s charred crust.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups 70% dark chocolate  
  • 1/2 cup sugar  
  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature  
  • 1/4 cup sweet almonds
  • 10 bitter almonds
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch  
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour  
  • 5 eggs, separated  

Directions

Blanch almonds in boiling water and peel off the husk, and grind them with 2 tablespoons of sugar in a processor. Work butter with a fork, add the remaining sugar and the egg yolks and whisk well. Fold in the ground almonds and then the flour and cornstarch. Beat the egg whites in a mixer until soft peaks form and then and fold into the almond mixture.

Pour mixture in a buttered Bundt pan or dome-shaped cake mold and bake at 450° F for 45 minutes.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and once the parrozzo has cooled, spread the chocolate sauce over the entire surface. Allow the chocolate to set before cutting.


Whole_wheat_penne,_

Penne

There are approximately 350 different dried pastas produced in Italy that are made from durum wheat and semolina flour. Penne is a tube-shaped pasta that originated in Campania, a region in Southern Italy, and comes in two main varieties: penne lisce and penne rigate, with the rigate having ridges on each noodle. The name “penne” comes from the Italian word for “pen” (penna), a reference to the angled ends of the tube, which resemble the tip of a quill pen.

This pasta can be used in a wide assortment of dishes, from casseroles to soups. The tubes are relatively short, around the length and width of a pinkie finger. Cooks may also hear penne pasta referred to as mostaccioli, in a reference to an Italian dish that traditionally features this pasta.

ziti

Ziti

And, there is also ziti, which are hollow long wands, with a smooth texture and square-cut edges. When they are cut into shorter tubes, they are called cut ziti. Telling the difference between penne variants can be difficult, especially in countries outside of Italy, because there is a tendency to name ridged and smooth penne subtypes the same. Basically, the difference is penne is cut on the diagonal and is longer and thinner than ziti.

Penne is probably one of the more well-known pasta shapes, available in most markets and grocery stores that stock pasta. Dishes made with it are frequently on the menu at Italian restaurants, especially in the United States, where consumers have a fondness for this shape.

Whole wheat and multigrain versions are available, along with gluten-free pastas made from rice, corn or other ingredients. Many producers also make flavored varieties by adding ingredients, such as spinach or sun dried tomatoes. The best tasting penne is made with durum wheat because it will remain chewy and resilient throughout the cooking process.

baked penne

Ridged penne pasta pairs very well with many pasta sauces, because the ridges can be used to hold thin sauces or to support thick, chunky sauces. Its hollow nature also helps distribute the sauce, ensuring that pasta dishes are evenly and appealingly sauced.

Penne is traditionally cooked al dente and served with pasta sauces such as pesto, marinara or arrabbiata. In addition to being plated with sauce, penne holds up well when baked in a casserole. You will also find penne used cold in salads, added to soups or used as a side dish.

Dried pasta is essentially indestructible as long as it is stored in a cool, dry place. This makes it a useful staple to keep around the house, because as long as the pasta is not exposed to moisture, it will be perfectly usable.

Healthy Penne Dinners

penne-walnuts-su-1575584-x

Whole-grain Penne with Onions and Walnuts

Ricotta salata (also called “hard ricotta”) is a firm white Italian cheese made by salting, pressing and drying sheep’s-milk ricotta. In flavor, it’s like a very mild, less tangy feta, which makes it a good addition to pastas and salads (it can be grated). Look for ricotta salata in specialty stores, Italian markets or any supermarket with a good cheese department.

Ingredients

  • 7 medium onions (about 4 lbs.), peeled and thinly sliced
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 3/4 cups walnuts
  • 10 ounces whole-grain penne pasta
  • 1 pound ricotta salata, crumbled
  • 2/3 cup loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a large skillet over high heat, cook onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil with the sugar and 2 teaspoons salt, stirring and turning often, until onions begin to release their juices and turn golden, 10 to 13 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn a caramel color and become quite sweet, 35 to 40 minutes more. If onions begin to stick to the pan or char during cooking, reduce heat.

Meanwhile, in a dry small frying pan over medium-low heat, toast walnuts, stirring frequently, until golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pour walnuts into a zip-lock plastic bag and lightly crush with a rolling pin. Set aside.

When onions are nearly done, cook pasta in boiling salted water until tender to the bite, 9 to 12 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water.

Mix caramelized onions with pasta, walnuts, ricotta salata, parsley, reserved cooking water, lemon juice, pepper and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season to taste with salt.

steak-salad-ck-554716-x

Sirloin Steak Over Penne and Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked penne 
  • 1/4 pound green beans, trimmed
  • 3/4-pound boneless sirloin steak, trimmed
  • 1 tablespoon salt-free garlic-pepper blend
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced red onion
  • 1 1/2 cups thinly sliced red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) crumbled blue cheese, optional

Directions

Preheat broiler.

While the broiler preheats, bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large Dutch oven. Add pasta; cook 5 1/2 minutes. Add beans and cook 3 minutes or until pasta is al dente. Drain well.

Sprinkle steak with the garlic-pepper blend. Place on a broiler pan; broil 3 inches from heat for 10 minutes, turning after 5 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes. Cut steak diagonally across the grain into thin slices.

Combine onion and next 8 ingredients (onion through black pepper) in a large bowl. Add pasta mixture; toss well to coat. Place steak slices on top. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

shrimp-pasta-ck-554668-x

Penne with Spinach and Shrimp

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces uncooked penne pasta
  • 1 (10-ounce) package fresh spinach
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped Vidalia or other sweet onions
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) 1/3-less-fat cream cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and sauté 2 minutes or until the shrimp are pink. Remove shrimp from the pan and set aside.

While you make the pasta sauce, cook penne according to package directions. Drain well; return to pan. Stir in spinach; toss well until spinach wilts.

Melt the remaining butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook 10 minutes or until tender, stirring often. Stir in broth, vermouth and lemon zest. Increase heat to medium-high; cook 8 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Reduce heat to medium. Add cream cheese; stir until well blended. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt, nutmeg and pepper; remove from heat. Stir in shrimp to rewarm. Add mixture to pasta and spinach; toss to combine.

sausage-penne-ck-1041902-x

Penne with Sausage and Eggplant

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups cubed, peeled eggplant (about 1 pound)
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 6 cups hot cooked penne (about 10 ounces uncooked)
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) finely diced mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Cook eggplant, sausage and garlic in olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until sausage is browned and eggplant is tender. Be sure to stir often to keep eggplant from sticking to the pan.

Add tomato paste and the next 3 ingredients (through tomatoes); cook over medium heat 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place cooked pasta in a large bowl. Add tomato mixture, cheese and parsley; toss well.

raisin-pasta-ck-780432-x

Penne with Greens, Almonds and Raisins

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces uncooked penne
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped, trimmed greens of choice (kale, swiss chard, escarole, etc.)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • Cracked black pepper

Directions

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Retain 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain.

While pasta cooks, place raisins in a small bowl; cover with hot water. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain.

While pasta cooks and raisins soak, heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add greens and garlic; sauté 3 minutes or until greens are tender.

Stir in pasta, raisins, almonds, salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper; toss to combine. Moisten with pasta cooking water. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper according to taste.

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