Tomatoes were yellow and orange-colored at the beginning of the tomato’s cultivation, with the color red becoming more prevalent through many years of breeding. Today, there are hundreds of different types of tomatoes in colored varieties that include red, orange, yellow, white, green, purple and black. Some tomatoes, like Heirloom and cherry, come in many varieties, as well.
Most people consider the red tomato varieties the most popular, especially the Beefsteak and Roma varieties. Pink tomatoes have similar flavors to the red ones, that include the Pink Girl and Brandywine varieties. Orange tomato varieties include Persimmon and Mountain Gold and they are usually sweeter than red tomatoes, due to a higher sugar content. Yellow varieties, such as Golden Boy and Garden Peach, are similar to the orange type, but are usually less tangy than red tomatoes. There are green tomato varieties (not just unripened tomatoes) that ripen green and usually have a lower acidic taste than red tomatoes.
- 4-5 pounds of fresh Roma tomatoes, quartered and seeded retaining as much pulp as possible
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large sweet onion, finely diced
- 2 celery stalks, finely diced
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 2 large cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (chili)
- 1-2 teaspoons honey, if needed
Place the following herbs in a piece of cheesecloth and tie the cheesecloth closed.
- 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 sprig of fresh oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs of parsley
Pour the olive oil into a large stockpot over medium heat.
Add the onions, celery, garlic and carrots.
Saute for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
Add the tomatoes and sea salt.
Simmer on low heat, covered, for about an hour until the tomatoes cook down.
Remove the pot from the heat and using an immersion blender, process the mixture until smooth.
Return the pot to the heat and add the herb cheesecloth package.
Taste the sauce to see if the tomatoes were too bitter. Add the honey, if needed.
Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook until reduced and thick, an hour to an hour and a half more. Remove the cheesecloth package and discard.
Pour the sauce into a refrigerator container and store the sauce up to 1 week, or freeze in batches.
This sauce is especially good served over gnocchi.
- 1 lb of your favorite pizza dough, at room temperature
- 1 lb mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
- 2 cups fresh tomato sauce, see recipe above
- 1 ½ cups leftover sautéed peppers and onions, see recipe here
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 4 slices of prosciutto, cut into strips
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Move an oven rack to lowest position in the oven.
Press the dough out on a greased pizza pan. Top the dough with the sliced mozzarella.
Spread the sauce over the cheese. Place the peppers and onions evenly over the sauce. Sprinkle with the hot pepper.
Place the pizza in the oven and bake until crisp, about 20 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven and place the prosciutto slices evenly on top.
Return the pizza to the oven for about a minute or two to warm the prosciutto. Set the pizza on the counter on top of a wire rack to cool for about 5 minutes before cutting.
Tomato Jam is great on burgers in place of ketchup or served alongside grilled meat or fish. It also pairs exceptionally well with cheeses and cured meats. I like to serve it as an appetizer, as part of a cheese board selection.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
- 3 pounds Roma tomatoes), cored and quartered
- ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 ¼ and ¼ teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoons good quality red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium shallots, minced (about ½ cup)
- 2½ teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 3/4 cup dry red wine
In a food processor, pulse the tomatoes, sugar, 1¼ teaspoons salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and red wine vinegar until the tomatoes are finely chopped but not completely pureed and the sugar is dissolved, about 6 2-second pulses.
In a 12 inch skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the shallots, thyme and the ¼ teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the red wine, adjust the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Continue to boil, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced to a loose glaze, about 4-5 minutes. Add the processed tomato mixture.
Adjust heat to medium-high and simmer vigorously, stirring more often as the mixture reduces, until it is glossy and has a jam like consistency, somewhere between a sauce and a paste, about 60-90 minutes (depending on how watery your tomatoes are).
Set the pan aside, off heat, to cool to room temperature.
Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper and store. The jam can be refrigerated for 1-2 weeks or frozen for six months.
The province and metropolitan city of Messina are located in the northeast corner of Sicily on the Strait of Messina and sits on two different seas. It is also the 3rd largest city on the island of Sicily and the 13th largest city in Italy. Messina was originally founded by Greek colonists in the 8th century BC. In 1908, a devastating earthquake hit Messina, along with a tsunami, which destroyed much of the historical architecture of the city. One of the major landmarks lost to the earthquake was the 12th century Cathedral of the City, which was rebuilt in 1919. The city was also victim to significant damage from bombing raids during the Second World War.
Among the top attractions of Messina are the Cathedral of Messina, the Orologio Astronomico (the Bell Tower with an Astronomical Clock) and the Annunziata dei Catalani Church. The cathedral has largely been rebuilt following the earthquake damage and the bomb damage but some of the original building still remains, including a 15th century Gothic doorway and some 14th century mosaics. The attractive Bell Tower is home to one of the world’s largest astronomical clocks and its motorized figures emerge every day at noon to depict scenes of local history. Also, in the Piazza Duomo is the 16th century Fontaine de Orione.
The province’s main resources are its seaports (commercial and military shipyards), cruise tourism, commerce and agriculture (wine production and cultivating lemons, oranges, mandarin oranges and olives).
Just off the coast are the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Tyrrhenian Sea, and they are a popular tourist destination in the summer, attracting up to 200,000 visitors annually. There are beaches and coves with black sand, pumice stone and tiny pebbles, steaming craters, bubbling mud baths, sulfur springs, strange-shaped grottoes, crystal-clear turquoise waters, craggy cliffs, and archaeological sites on the coastline and the adjacent islands.
Fish: fried, baked or grilled, is the province’s most popular food. The preparation can vary, but what matters most is its freshness. Swordfish from the Messina Strait is cooked in multiple ways. Crustaceans and mussels make a popular soup and are often used as a topping for rice and spaghetti.
Vegetables and fruits are important components of Messinese cooking. Caponata, eggplant with cheese and potato fries are three of the best known local vegetable dishes.
Dairy products include canestrato cheese in sweet or spicy versions, sheep pecorino cheese and provola cheese, all made according to ancient traditions.
Olive oil, honey, hazelnuts and pistachios are all part of the cuisine.
Local pastries are well-known classics: cannoli, cassate, almond paste, martorana fruit and pignolata.
The D.O.C. wines of Etna, the Malvasia di Lipari and citrus liqueurs are all produced here.
Sciusceddu ( Meatball and Egg Soup)
“Sciusceddu” is a dish that comes from the city of Messina in Sicily, where it is traditionally served at Easter. There are two theories for where the name “sciusceddu” comes from. One suggests that it derives from the Latin word “juscelleum,” meaning soup, and the other is from the Sicilian verb “sciusciare,” meaning to blow.
4 cups meat broth
7 oz veal or beef meat, chopped
2 oz breadcrumbs
3 ½ oz caciocavallo cheese, grated
3 eggs, divided
3 ½ oz ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper
Combine the minced meat, one egg, breadcrumbs, half of the grated Caciocavallo cheese (or Parmesan), chopped parsley and a little water; then form meatballs about the size of a small egg.
In another bowl, beat the remaining 2 eggs with the ricotta cheese, the remaining Caciocavallo cheese and a dash of salt and pepper.
Bring the broth to the boil in a saucepan and drop the meatballs into the broth.
Cook for about twenty minutes, then add the egg/ricotta mixture, stirring vigorously for a few moments. Remove from the heat and serve the “sciusceddu” piping hot.
Pesce Spada alla Messinese (Swordfish Messina style)
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 lb (600 gr) swordfish cut into palm-sized pieces slices
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 spring onions, chopped
20 capers (if salted, rinse well first)
10 black olives, chopped
4 anchovy fillets
1 cup white wine
2 cups tomato passata (sauce)
15 oz can chopped tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
A pinch of crushed dried chili pepper
Brush the swordfish slices with olive oil and set aside.
In a skillet heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the spring onions, garlic, capers, olives, chili pepper and anchovy fillets and cook until the anchovies melt into the oil and the onion is soft.
Put the slices of swordfish in the skillet and add the white wine. Burn off the alcohol and then add the tomatoes. Mix well, cover and cook for 30 minutes on very low heat.
When ready to serve, sprinkle with parsley.
Pidoni, a popular dish from Messina. are pieces of pizza-like dough, stuffed with curly endive, mozzarella and anchovy, similar to a calzone but fried.
For the dough:
400 gr (3 cups) Italian 00 or pastry flour
200 gr ( 2 cups) bread flour
300 ml (1 and 1/3 cups) water
2 gr ( 1/2 teaspoon) active dry yeast
40 gr (6 tablespoons) olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
For the filling:
500 gr (1 lb, about 2 bunches) curly endive which is also named chicory or frisee
600 gr /18 oz diced, canned tomato
400 gr (14 oz) fresh mozzarella
6-8 anchovy fillets
Salt and black pepper to taste
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Twenty-four hours before you need it, make the dough. Mix the dough ingredients, oil the dough, cover it and let it rise in a draft-free area.
About half way through the proofing time, knead the dough briefly and cover again.
Make the filling.
Wash the curly endive thoroughly and chop it finely or pulse it in a food processor. Mix the chopped salad with the tomatoes, salt lightly and transfer in a colander for at least one hour.
It’s important to remove as much liquid as possible from the vegetable mixture, so squeeze it in a cotton towel if necessary.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add one tablespoon olive oil and season the filling with a sprinkle of black pepper.
Divide the risen dough into 16 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball. Place each ball on a lightly floured work surface and roll out into a thin disk of about 20 cm ( 8 inches) in diameter.
Divide the filling among the 16 disks leaving a 2.5cm ( 1 inch) margin around the edge.
Place 1 slice of mozzarella and 1/2 anchovy fillet broken in 2-3 pieces over the filling and fold the disk of dough to form a small calzone.
Preheat the oil in a deep saucepan, until a cube of bread dropped into the oil turns golden in about 25 seconds.
Seal the edges of the pidoni with a fork, drop them carefully into the hot oil and fry for 3-4 minutes per batch until golden.
Drain on kitchen towssl and set aside. Continue until all are finished. Serves 6-8
4 cups whole milk, divided
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 cup superfine sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup Pistachio Cream, recipe below
In a small bowl combine 1 cup milk, cornstarch, and sugar. Using a wire whisk, combine the ingredients to form a slurry so that all the cornstarch is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.
In a medium-size saucepan over medium heat, combine the remaining 3 cups milk and the vanilla extract.
Stirring occasionally, heat the mixture to almost a boil; stir in the cornstarch mixture and let simmer from 5 to 12 minutes to thicken, stirring constantly.
Another important tip is to stir slowly, (do not whisk) which will prevent too much air from being incorporated into the custard that will produce ice crystals.
Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the mixture to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, preferably overnight.
Prior to using the custard mixture, pour the chilled custard through a strainer into a mixing bowl to clear out any clumps that may have formed. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
Whisk the prepared chilled Pistachio Cream into the strained and chilled custard. The gelato mixture is now ready for the freezing process.
Transfer the mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
With Gelato, it is best to not process it until it is hard. Instead, stop the ice cream maker at soft serve consistency, then put it in a container in your freezer until stiff for a delicate flavor and texture that differentiates it from ice cream.
When the gelato is done, either serve (best if eaten and enjoyed immediately, as gelato has a shorter storage life than ice cream) or transfer to freezer containers and freeze until firmer.
Makes approximately 1 quart of pistachio gelato.
1 cup hot water
8 ounces raw unsalted shelled and hulled pistachio nuts
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
2 teaspoons olive oil
In a medium-size saucepan, bring water to a boil.
Place the pistachio nuts, sugar and olive oil in a food processor. Blend/process, adding the hot water (1 tablespoon at a time to control the consistency of the cream) until the pistachios are a smooth, creamy consistency that spreads freely in the blender (It usually takes about 9 tablespoons of hot water).
NOTE: Stop the processor and scrape down the sides of the bowl several times during this process. When done, cover and refrigerate until ready to use in making the gelato.
Makes approximately 1 cup.
The Province of Naples is a mixture of colors, culture and history. The beautiful islands that dot the blue waters of the Mediterranean are like jewels in a necklace. In a sea so blue that it blends with the sky, three islands can be found: Capri, Ischia and Procida. Mt. Vesuvius overlooks the city and the beautiful bay. The sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum are of great archaeological value and are famous worldwide. The entire area is interspersed with finds from a long-ago past, especially those that saw the presence of the Roman emperors that first recognized the beauty of this terrain.
Naples is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Bronze Age Greek settlements were established in the area in the second millennium BC and Naples played a key role in the merging of Greek culture into Roman society. Naples remained influential after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, serving as the capital city of the Kingdom of Naples between 1282 and 1816. Later, in union with Sicily, it became the capital of the Two Sicilies until the unification of Italy in 1861.
Naples has the fourth-largest urban economy in Italy, after Milan, Rome and Turin. It is the world’s 103rd richest city by purchasing power and the port of Naples is one of the most important in Europe with the world’s second-highest level of passenger flow, after the port of Hong Kong. Numerous major Italian companies are headquartered in Naples. The city also hosts NATO’s Allied Joint Force Command Naples, the SRM Institution for Economic Research and the OPE Company and Study Center.
Neapolitan cuisine took much from the culinary traditions of the Campania region, reaching a balance between dishes based on rural ingredients and seafood. A vast variety of recipes are influenced by a local, more affluent cuisine, like timballi and the sartù di riso, pasta or rice dishes with very elaborate preparation, while some dishes come from the traditions of the poor, like pasta e fagioli (pasta with beans) and other pasta dishes with vegetables. Neapolitan cuisine emerged as a distinct cuisine in the 18th century with ingredients that are typically rich in taste, but remain affordable.
The majority of Italian immigrants who went to the United States during the great migration were from southern Italy. They brought with them their culinary traditions and much of what Americans call Italian food originated in Naples and Sicily.
Naples is traditionally credited as the home of pizza. Pizza was originally a meal of the poor, but under Ferdinand IV it became popular among the upper classes. The famous Margherita pizza was named after Queen Margherita of Savoy after her visit to the city. Cooked traditionally in a wood-burning oven, the ingredients of Neapolitan pizza have been strictly regulated by law since 2004, and must include wheat flour type “00” with the addition of flour type “0” yeast, natural mineral water, peeled tomatoes or fresh cherry tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, sea salt and extra virgin olive oil.
Spaghetti is also associated with the city and is commonly eaten with a sauce called ragù. There are a great variety of Neapolitan pastas. The most popular variety of pasta, besides the classic spaghetti and linguine, are paccheri and ziti, long pipe-shaped pasta usually topped with Neapolitan ragù. Pasta with vegetables is also characteristic of the cuisine. Hand-made gnocchi, prepared with flour and potatoes are also popular.
Other dishes popular in Naples include Parmigiana di melanzane, spaghetti alle vongole and casatiello. As a coastal city, Naples is also known for its numerous seafood dishes, including impepata di cozze (peppered mussels), purpetiello affogato (octopus poached in broth), alici marinate (marinated anchovies), baccalà alla napoletana (salt cod) and baccalà fritto (fried cod), a dish commonly eaten during the Christmas period.
Popular Neapolitan pastries include zeppole, babà, sfogliatelle and pastiera, the latter of which is prepared for Easter celebrations. Another seasonal dessert is struffoli, a sweet-tasting honey dough decorated and eaten around Christmas.
The traditional Neapolitan flip coffee pot, known as the cuccuma or cuccumella, was the basis for the invention of the espresso machine and also inspired the Moka pot.
Naples is also the home of limoncello, a popular lemon liqueur. Limoncello is produced in southern Italy, especially in the region around the Gulf of Naples, the Sorrentine Peninsula and the coast of Amalfi, and islands of Procida, Ischia, and Capri. Traditionally, limoncello is made from the zest of Femminello St. Teresa lemons, also known as Sorrento or Sfusato lemons. The lemon liquid is then mixed with simple syrup. Varying the sugar-to-water ratio and the temperature affects the clarity, viscosity and flavor.
Tomatoes entered Neapolitan cuisine during the 18th century. The industry of preserving tomatoes originated in 19th century Naples, resulting in the export to all parts of the world of the famous “pelati”(peeled tomatoes) and the “concentrato” (tomato paste). There are traditionally several ways of preparing tomato preserves, bottled tomato juice and chopped tomatoes. The famous “conserva” (sun-dried concentrated juice) tomato is cooked for a long time and becomes a dark red cream with a velvety texture.
Buffalo mozzarella is mozzarella made from the milk of the domestic Italian water buffalo. It is a product traditionally produced in the region. The term mozzarella derives from the procedure called mozzare which means “cutting by hand”, that is, the process of the separation of the curd into small balls. It is appreciated for its versatility and elastic texture. The buffalo mozzarella sold as Mozzarella di Bufala Campana has been granted the status of Denominazione di origine controllata (DOC – “Controlled designation of origin”) since 1993. Since 1996 it is also protected under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin and Protected Geographical Indication labels.
Neapolitan ragù is one of the two most famous varieties of Italian meat sauces called ragù. It is a specialty of Naples, as its name indicates. The other variety originated in Bologna. The Neapolitan type is made with onions, meat and tomato sauce. A major difference is how the meat is used, as well as the amount of tomato in the sauce. Bolognese versions use very finely chopped meat, while the Neapolitan versions use large pieces of meat, taking it from the pot when cooked and served it as a second course. Ingredients also differ. In Naples, white wine is replaced by red wine, butter is replaced with olive oil and lots of basil leaves are added. Bolognese ragù has no herbs. Milk or cream are not used in Naples. Neapolitan ragù is very similar to and may be ancestral to the Italian-American “Sunday Gravy”; the primary difference being the addition of a greater variety of meat in the American version, including meatballs, sausage and pork chops.
- 1 pound rump roast
- 1 large slice of brisket (not too thick)
- 1 pound veal stew meat
- 1 pound pork ribs
- 2 large onions, sliced
- 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 cup of red wine
- 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes, pureed
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh basil leaves
Season the meat with salt and pepper. Tie the large pieces with cooking twine to help them keep their shape. In a large pot heat the oil and butter. Add the sliced onions and the meat at the same time.
On medium heat let the meat brown and the onion soften. During this first step you must be vigilant, don’t let the onion dry, stir with a wooden spoon and start adding wine if necessary to keep them moist.
Once the meat has browned, add the tomato paste and a little wine to dissolve it. Stir and combine the ingredients. Let cook slowly for 10 minutes.
Add the pureed tomatoes, season with salt and black pepper and stir. Cover the pot but leave the lid ajar. (You can place a wooden spoon under the lid.)
The sauce must cook very slowly for at least 3-4 hours. After 2 hours add few leaves of basil and continue cooking.
During these 3-4 hours you must keep tending to the ragú, stirring once in a while and making sure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Serve with your favorite pasta.
Pizza Dough Ingredients
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups (350 cc) warm water
- 3 1/2 cups (500 g) flour (Italian OO flour)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Pinch of salt
Topping for 1 pizza
- 1 cup (250 g) tomatoes, puréed in a blender
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- Salt and pepper
- 5 fresh basil leaves
- 2 oz (60 g) fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
For the pizza dough:
In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and stir to dissolve it. Set aside until the yeast starts forming bubbles, about 5 minutes.
Sift the flour. Pour the flour into a large bowl or on a work surface. Form the flour in a mound shape with a hole in the center. Pour the yeast mix in the center, then the olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Using a spatula, draw the ingredients together. Then mix with your hands to form a dough. Sprinkle some flour on the work surface. Place the pizza dough on the floured surface.
Knead the pizza dough briefly with your hands pushing and folding. Knead just long enough for the dough to take in a little more flour and until it no longer sticks to your hands.
With your hand, spread a little olive oil inside a bowl. Transfer the dough into the bowl.
On the top of the pizza dough, make two incisions that cross, and spread with a very small amount of olive oil. This last step will prevent the surface of the dough from breaking too much while rising.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth, and set the bowl aside for approximately 1½ – 2 hours or until the dough doubles in volume. The time required for rising will depend on the strength of the yeast and the temperature of the room.
When the dough is about double its original size, punch it down to eliminate the air bubbles.
On a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough into three equal pieces. On the work surface, using a rolling-pin and your hands, shape one piece of dough into a thin 12 inch round layer.
Transfer the dough to a pizza pan. Using your fingertips, push from the center to the sides to cover the entire surface of the pan.
For the pizza
Preheat the oven to 500 F (260 C). In a mixing bowl place the tomatoes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the tomato mixture evenly over the pizza.
With your hands, break the basil leaves into small pieces. Distribute the basil uniformly over the pizza. Spread the rest of the olive oil on the pizza. Add salt to taste.
Bake the pizza for approximately 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and add the mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 10 more minutes. Lift one side to check for readiness. Pizza is ready when the bottom surface is light brown. Top with few more fresh basil leaves, if desired, and serve immediately.
Pasta con i Calamari
Small clams and other fish are sometimes added with the calamari.
- 2 whole fresh squid
- 1 ½ cups cherry tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 peperoncino
- Fresh parsley
- Fresh basil
- 1 cup white wine
- Olive oil
- 8 oz paccheri pasta
Cut the squid body into slices and halve the tentacles if they are large.
Clean, remove the seeds and finely chop the tomatoes. Rinse and chop the parsley. Peel and slice the garlic.
Heat a generous amount of oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the peperoncino. Stir in the calamari and cook 3 to 5 minutes.
Add the wine and cook until the liquid is reduced by half.
Add the tomatoes and parsley and stir through. Salt to taste.
Cover and cook on medium for 15 minutes.
While the calamari is cooking, cook the pasta al dente. Remove some of the pasta cooking water.
Stir a bit of the pasta water into the sauce and cook a few minutes longer.
Drain the pasta, add it to the sauce and stir through.
Garnish with a few basil leaves.
Parma is a province in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Parma is famous for its Prosciutto di Parma. The whole area is renowned for its sausage production, as well as for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and some kinds of pasta like gnocchi di patate, cappelletti (or anolini) in brodo and tortelli with different stuffings (potatoes, pumpkin, mushrooms or chestnuts). Prosciutto or Italian ham is an Italian dry-cured ham that is thinly sliced and served uncooked. This style is called prosciutto crudo in Italian and is distinguished from cooked ham, prosciutto cotto.
There’s a reason why these foods developed in the Emilia region. It’s one of the few areas of Italy that isn’t mountainous, so there are plains and pasture. The farmers of the region were able to raise cows and therefore produce milk and with milk came butter, cream and cheese. Add ham to the dairy ingredients and you have the central core of the region’s cuisine.
Parma is also home to one of Italy’s longest established pasta factories, Barilla. The Barilla Center for the Propagation of Gastronomy has several state-of-the-art kitchens for demonstrations and a large auditorium for lectures, as well as a huge library of books on food and cooking, some as early as the 15th Century.
Prosciutto is made from either a pig’s or a wild boar’s hind leg or thigh. Prosciutto may also be made using the hind leg of other animals, in which case the name of the animal is included in the name of the product, for example “prosciutto cotto d’agnello” (“lamb prosciutto”).
The process of making prosciutto can take from nine months to two years, depending on the size of the ham. First, the ham is cleaned, salted and set aside for about two months. During this time, the ham is pressed, gradually and carefully, so as to avoid breaking the bone and to drain it of all liquid. Next, it is washed several times to remove the salt and is hung in a dark, well-ventilated area. The surrounding air is important to the final quality of the ham and the best results are obtained in a cold climate. The ham is then left until thoroughly dry. The time this takes varies, depending on the local climate and size of the ham. When the ham is completely dry, it is hung to air, either at room temperature or in a controlled environment, for up to 18 months.
Prosciutto is sometimes cured with nitrites (either sodium or potassium), which are generally used in other hams to produce the desired rosy color and unique flavor, but only sea salt is allowed in Protected Designation of Origin hams.
Under the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union (EU), certain well-established meat products are covered by a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). The two famous types of Italian prosciutto are: prosciutto crudo di Parma, from Parma and prosciutto crudo di San Daniele, from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Prosciutto di Parma has a slightly nutty flavor from the Parmigiano Reggiano whey that is sometimes added to the pigs’ diet. The prosciutto di San Daniele is darker in color and sweeter in flavor.
Sliced prosciutto crudo in Italian cuisine is often served as an antipasto, wrapped around grissini or melon. It is also eaten as accompaniment to cooked spring vegetables, such as asparagus or peas. It may be included in a simple pasta sauce made with cream or in a dish of tagliatelle with vegetables. It is used in stuffings for meats, as a wrap around veal or chicken, in a filled bread or as a pizza topping. Saltimbocca is an Italian veal dish, where thin slices of veal are topped with a sage leaf before being wrapped in prosciutto and then pan-fried. Prosciutto is often served in sandwiches and sometimes in a variation of the Caprese salad with basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella.
Parmigiano-Reggiano is a hard, granular cheese. The name “Parmesan” is often used generically for various versions of this cheese. It is named after the producing areas, which comprise the Provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Bologna, Modena (all in Emilia-Romagna) and Mantua (in Lombardy). Under Italian law, only cheese produced in these provinces may be labelled “Parmigiano-Reggiano”, and European law classifies the name as a protected designation of origin. According to legend, Parmigiano-Reggiano was created during the Middle Ages in Bibbiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia. Its production soon spread to the Parma and Modena areas. Historical documents show that in the 13th and 14th centuries, Parmigiano was already very similar to the product produced today, which suggests its origins can be traced to an even earlier time.
Traditionally, cows have to be fed only on grass or hay, producing grass-fed milk. Only natural whey culture is allowed as a starter, together with calf rennet. The only additive allowed is salt, which the cheese absorbs while being submerged for 20 days in brine tanks saturated with Mediterranean sea salt. The product is aged an average of two years and cheese is produced daily. Parmigiano-Reggiano is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk. Whole milk from the morning milking is mixed with naturally skimmed milk (which is made by keeping milk in large shallow tanks to allow the cream to separate) of the previous evening’s milking, resulting in a part skim mixture. This mixture is pumped into copper-lined vats.
Starter whey is added and the temperature is raised to 33–35 °C (91–95 °F). Calf rennet is then added and the mixture is left to curdle for 10–12 minutes. The curd is then broken up mechanically into small pieces and the temperature is raised to 55 °C (131 °F) with careful control by the cheese-maker. The curd is left to settle for 45–60 minutes. The compacted curd is collected in a piece of muslin before being divided in two and placed in molds. The remaining whey in the vat is traditionally used to feed the pigs from which “Prosciutto di Parma” is produced.
The cheese is put into a stainless steel, round form that is pulled tight with a spring-powered buckle so the cheese retains its wheel shape. After a day or two, the buckle is released and a plastic belt, imprinted numerous times with the Parmigiano-Reggiano name, the plant’s number and the month and year of production is put around the cheese and the metal form is buckled tight again. The imprints take hold on the rind of the cheese in about a day and the wheel is then put into a brine bath to absorb salt for 20–25 days. After brining, the wheels are then transferred to the aging rooms in the plant for 12 months. Each cheese is placed on wooden shelves and the cheese and the shelves are cleaned manually or robotically every seven days. The cheese is also turned at this time.
At 12 months, the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano inspects every wheel. The cheese is tested by a master grader who taps each wheel to identify undesirable cracks and voids within the wheel. Wheels that pass the test are then heat branded on the rind with the Consorzio’s logo. Those that do not pass the test used to have their rinds marked with lines or crosses all the way around to inform consumers that they are not getting top-quality Parmigiano-Reggiano; more recent practices simply have these lesser rinds stripped of all markings. The average Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel is about 18–24 cm (7–9 in) high, 40–45 cm (16–18 in) in diameter and weighs 38 kg (84 lb).
Parmigiano-Reggiano is commonly grated over pasta dishes, stirred into soups and risottos or eaten sliced as an appetizer. It is often shaved over other dishes like salads. Slivers and chunks of the hardest parts of the crust are sometimes simmered in soup.
Prosciutto Parmesan Pasta
- 8 ounces fresh fettuccine pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 pound prosciutto, sliced thin
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente; drain.
Heat the oil in a large skillet and cook the prosciutto in the skillet over medium heat until just brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the prosciutto from the skillet and set the prosciutto aside on paper towels. Drain the skillet of any remaining fat.
Add the cream the skillet and heat on low. Slowly stir in 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese in small amounts. When all the cheese has been melted, stir in the peas and prosciutto.
Allow to heat for 2 minutes more. Add the drained pasta and toss lightly. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
Cheese and Prosciutto Panini
- 4 whole slices Italian bread
- 1 1/2 cups finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 4 thin slices Prosciutto di Parma
- Coarsely ground black pepper
- Unsalted butter
Cover two slices of the bread with a layer of grated cheese. Generously grind black pepper over the top. Place two slices of Prosciutto di Parma over the cheese. Place the remaining slices of bread on top.
Cook in a panini maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions or:
In a large frying, add enough butter to provide a generous covering, about 2 tablespoons. Heat the butter over medium-low heat until foamy.
Add the cheese sandwiches, pressing them onto the pan; slowly fry, regulating the heat so the butter does not burn.
Once light brown, turn the sandwiches over and press down with a spatula to compress slightly. Brown the other side.
When done, transfer the sandwiches to a paper towel to drain. Cut in half diagonally and serve.
- 1 pound prepared pizza dough, at room temperature
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
- Cornmeal, for dusting
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 4 cups baby arugula
- 1 small shallot, thinly sliced
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
- Shaved Parmesan cheese, for topping
Place a pizza stone or an upside-down baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch round.
Transfer the round to a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel or another upside-down baking sheet; slide the dough onto the hot pizza stone or baking sheet. Bake 8 minutes.
Combine 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl with the garlic, rosemary and salt and pepper to taste.
Remove the pizza from the oven, brush with the olive oil mixture and top with the ricotta and mozzarella.
Return the pizza to the oven; bake until the cheese is golden and bubbly, about 6 more minutes. Remove from the oven.
Toss the arugula and shallot in a large bowl with the lemon juice, the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.
Top the baked pizza with the arugula salad, prosciutto and shaved parmesan cheese. Cut into slices and serve.
Belluno is a province in the Veneto region of Italy and is almost entirely occupied by mountain areas. The climate is among the most severe in the Alps. The Belluno area is representative of a typical alpine environment and a people who are proud of their traditions passed down from generation to generation through experience and oral narrative.
Belluno is one of the most important industrial sectors of northern Italy. The production of eyeglasses (Luxottica), home appliances (Zanussi and others) and bathroom fixtures (Ceramica Dolomite, Ideal Standard) are major industries.
Luxottica Group S.p.A., an Italian company, is the world’s largest eye wear company and is a designer, manufacturer, distributor and retailer of eye wear. Leonardo Del Vecchio and two financial partners launched Luxottica in Agordo, Italy in 1961.
Luxottica is the owner of Lenscrafters, Sunglass Hut, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical and Target Optical. Its best known brands are Ray-Ban, Persol and Oakley. Luxottica also makes sunglasses and prescription frames for designer brands such as Chanel, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Burberry, Versace, Dolce and Gabbana, Miu Miu, Donna Karan, Stella McCartney and Tory Burch. Luxottica produces more than 130,000 eyeglass frames each day from six factory sites.
The cultivation of beans in the Lamon highlands and the production of Piave cheese in the Dolomites are important to Belluno’s economy. Large scale dairy cattle breeding in Belluno, began centuries ago by small mountain owners and valley sharecroppers. In more recent times, the Belluno area, like many other mountain areas in Italy, was hit with a serious economic crisis. In order to deal with the socio-economic downfall, a local parish priest, suggested a new form of joint management and the first social cooperative dairy was organized.
Piave is an Italian cow’s milk cheese, that is named after the Piave river. As Piave has a Protected Designation of Origin (Denominazione di Origine Protetta or DOP), the only “official” Piave is produced in the Dolomites area in the province of Belluno.
Piave is a hard, cooked curd cheese, offered at 5 different ages:
Piave Fresco (20 to 60 days aging – blue label)
Piave Mezzano (61 to 180 days aging – blue label)
Piave Vecchio (more than 6 months aging – blue label)
Piave Vecchio Selezione Oro (more than 12 months aging – red label)
Piave Vecchio Riserva (more than 18 months aging – black label).
Piave cheese has a dense texture, without holes, and is straw-yellow in hue. It has a slightly sweet flavor. Once fully aged, it becomes hard enough for grating and it develops an intense, full-bodied flavor.
Piave’s rind is impressed repeatedly in a vertical direction with the name of the cheese. Piave is sold throughout Europe and even in the US as a hard cheese. Its taste resembles that of a young Parmigiano Reggiano. The red label is aged at least 1 year and is called Vecchio (Piave Vecchio Selezione Oro), while the blue label is softer.
Piave Broiled Tomatoes
Makes 2 – 4 servings
- 3 medium tomatoes, sliced into 1/4” slices
- 3/4 cup | 175 mL panko breadcrumbs
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon | 15 mL fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
- 2/3 cup | 150 mL Piave cheese, finely grated
- 1/4 cup | 60 mL olive oil
- 1 teaspoon each | 5 mL each fresh herbs like sage, basil and parsley, finely chopped
Place tomato slices on paper towels to drain. In a medium bowl combine panko breadcrumbs, garlic, sage and Piave Cheese; stir to combine.
Preheat the oven to broil.
Arrange tomato slices on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Equally sprinkle breadcrumb mixture onto each tomato; drizzle with olive oil and place under broiler.
Broil for approximately 3 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from the oven, top with fresh herbs and serve.
Makes 2 rounds
- 1 pound Pizza Dough, divided in half
- 6 ounces Piave cheese, shaved, divided in half
- 12 very thin slices lemon, seeds removed, divided in half
- 1/2 red onion, very thinly sliced, divided in half
- 2 tablespoons small sprigs fresh rosemary, divided in half
- Freshly ground pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Place a pizza stone on the floor of a gas oven (remove racks) or the bottom rack of electric oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F for 1 hour.
Stretch half the dough into a large round on a wooden pizza peel.
Arrange half the cheese evenly over the dough, leaving a 1-inch border. Top with half the lemon and onion slices. Sprinkle with half the rosemary and season with pepper. Drizzle with oil.
Turn the oven to broil. Align the edge of the peel with the edge of the stone. Tilt the peel, jerking it gently to move pizza onto the stone. When the edge of the pizza touches the stone, quickly pull back the peel to transfer the pizza to the stone. (Do not move the pizza once it is on the stone.)
Broil until bubbles begin to form in the crust, 3 to 4 minutes. Return the oven temperature to 500 degrees F and bake until the crust is crisp and golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes more. (If not using the broiler, bake pizza for 10 to 15 minutes total.) Remove the pizza from the oven with the peel. Repeat with the second pizza. Slice and serve.
Piave Orzo with Peas and Asparagus
- ½ cup | 125 mL heavy cream
- 1 cup | 250 mL chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon | 5 mL lemon juice
- 2 teaspoon | 10 mL lemon zest, grated
- 1 ½ cups | 375 mL Piave Cheese, shredded
- 1 lb fresh asparagus, trimmed into 2” lengths
- 1 ½ cups | 375 mL fresh or frozen peas
- 2 cups | 500 mL orzo | rice shaped pasta
- ¼ cup | 50 mL Italian parsley, chopped
- Additional shredded Piave cheese for garnishing
In a medium saucepan over medium heat bring cream, chicken or vegetable broth to a slow boil. Add lemon juice, lemon zest and Piave cheese, reduce heat to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring often, until the cheese is melted.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, add orzo and cook for approximately 5 minutes; add asparagus and fresh peas (add frozen peas the last two minutes of cooking), continue cooking until the pasta is al dente and the vegetables are tender – approximately 4 additional minutes.
Drain pasta and vegetables and return to pasta pot; stir in cream cheese sauce and parsley. Garnish with additional Piave cheese and serve.
Figs, Piave Cheese & Honey
- Wedge of Piave cheese
- 4 large figs
- Honey to drizzle, about 4 teaspoons
- 1 sprig of fresh mint leaves, optional
- Fresh cracked pepper
Cut the cheese in half and slice off the rind on both sides. Cut into 12-15 thin triangle slices.
Cut the top of the figs off and then into quarters. Place the Piave slices on a plate with the figs.
Sprinkle the cheese and figs with cracked pepper. Then, drizzle with honey – about a teaspoon on each fig – and garnish with fresh mint leaves, if using.
Serve on individual plates with a dessert fork and knife.
In the US, we waste roughly 40 percent of all the food we produce. Food production is a resource-intensive process, requiring water, energy, land, soil, human labor and an elaborate web of production, processing and distribution. When we throw away food, all these resources are squandered.
Fortunately, the food waste dilemma is solvable. While the problem must be addressed at every sector of the food system, as individual food consumers, there are plenty of ways we can all help reduce waste – especially since there’s so much room for improvement. If you are interested in embracing a more sustainable lifestyle, eliminating food waste is an important and easy way to start. Reducing your food waste is actually very simple; all you need to do is buy what you need and eat what you buy.
If you buy more food than you can eat, you’ll eventually have to throw some away. Avoid waste by shopping smarter. Make a plan of what to cook for the next week based on what is available seasonally. Write a shopping list based on that plan.
Make a conscious effort to keep track of the food you have – and then remember to eat it.
Learn to store foods properly to keep them fresh as long as possible. Use this chart to learn this information: http://www.savethefood.com/food-storage
The dinners this week will highlight my frugal nature. If you recall last week, I made several toppings for grilled steak and those leftover toppings can become the star in a new dish.
The leftover topping recipes can be found here.
Pizza with Peppers and Onions
- 1 lb pizza dough, at room temperature
- 1 cup leftover Tomatoes, Red Onion and Balsamic Sauce (see link above)
- 2 cups leftover Peppers and Onion Topping (see link above)
- 1 lb mozzarella cheese, sliced thin
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the lowest position in the oven.
Spread the pizza dough to the edges in a greased pizza pan.
Top the dough with the mozzarella slices.
Spread the tomato sauce over the cheese. Top with the peppers and onions and then with the oregano. Sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese.
Place the pizza on the bottom oven rack and bake 15-20 minutes.
Chicken Cutlets with Mediterranean Salad
- 2 thin chicken cutlets
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- Olive oil
- 1/2 cup leftover olive topping (see link above)
- 1 small head of romaine lettuce, sliced
- Half a cucumber, sliced
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 1/4 of a red onion, sliced
- 1 cup crumbled Feta cheese
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 medium lemon)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh oregano leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the chicken
Add enough oil to cover the bottom of a large skillet and heat over medium-high heat.
Set up the dredging stations: one rimmed plate for the beaten egg, one plate for the flour and one plate for the bread crumbs.
Using a fork, coat the chicken first in the flour (shaking off any excess), then in the egg, then in the crumbs, pressing the chicken into the crumbs to thoroughly coat.
Saute each breast in the oil for about 2 minutes on each side. The cutlets are cooked when chicken is firm to the touch but not rock hard.
Remove and drain the chicken on a paper-towel-lined dinner plate.
For the salad:
In a large salad bowl, combine the Romaine with the other salad ingredients.
Whisk together the olive oil, oregano, lemon juice and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the salad, toss and serve alongside the chicken cutlet.
Extra sausage may also be used for pizza or as an addition to pasta. See recipe below.
- 1 lb Italian pork sausage
- 1 cup leftover cooked peppers and onions (see link above)
Prepare an outdoor grill for cooking over medium-hot charcoal (moderate heat for gas). If using a charcoal grill, open vents on the bottom of the grill, then light the charcoal.
When the charcoal turns grayish white about 15 minutes after lighting, the grill is ready. If using a gas grill, preheat the burners on high, covered for 10 minutes.
On a charcoal grill, spread the coals over the rear two-thirds of the firebox and leaving the front third coal-free. On a gas grill, turn off all but one burner. Sausages should be grilled over indirect heat.
There’s no need to prick sausages with toothpicks or a fork before grilling. Perforating the casing only releases flammable fats, juices and flavor.
Lightly brush or rub the casings with olive oil. This prevents sticking and makes them extra crisp.
Handle with care. The key to a juicy sausage is to keep the casing intact. Use tongs and don’t break the sausage skin when turning.
Grill the sausages over the indirect part of the grill until crusty and golden brown on the outside and cooked through, about 30 minutes, turning them over after 15 minutes.
Rotini Pasta with Creamy Pesto and Zucchini
We planted basil last week and within a few days I had enough leaves to make pesto for this recipe.
- 12 oz rotini pasta
- 1/2 cup homemade or store-bought basil pesto
- 1/4 cup half & half
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- Pinch of salt and black pepper
- 2 grilled Italian sausage links, diced, if using
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Boil a pot of water and add salt and rotini. Cook the pasta al dente. Drain.
In the same pot, heat the olive oil and add the diced zucchini and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook about 2 minutes and add the diced sausage. Cook another 2 minutes.
Turn off the heat and add the pesto and half & half. Stir well. Add the grated Parmesan cheese and cooked pasta. Mix well and serve.
Pizza isn’t just for winter. Spring is full of amazing ingredients coming into the market that are perfect to top your pizza crust. So before you put away your pizza stone, try pizza with some of spring’s seasonal vegetables. Fennel, artichoke hearts, asparagus, spring greens, onions and broccoli are all delicious on pizza. Fresh herbs are available in spring and they add a lot of flavor to pizza.
Sauteing the vegetables in olive oil with flavored salts, garlic and onion also adds flavor to vegetables before they go on a pizza. Pre-cooking them also eliminates the water in vegetables that can make a pizza soggy. Use a thin layer of vegetables and cheese so that the crust cooks through and gets crispy. Sauces do not always have to be tomato to make a good pizza. Basil Pesto or a layer of ricotta cheese make an excellent base for veggies on a pizza.
See the link below for my Easy No Knead Pizza Dough recipe.
Spinach Feta Pizza
- 1 lb pizza dough at room temperature: Easy No Knead Pizza Dough recipe here.
- 1 lb. spinach, stems trimmed
- 1 small onion, chopped fine
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 16 oz mozzarella, sliced
- 4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the lowest position in the oven.
Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the onion until soft. Add the garlic and spinach leaves.Cook until the spinach wilts. Add the lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.
Spread the pizza dough to the edges in a greased pizza pan.
Top the dough with the mozzarella slices.
Spread the spinach onion mixture over the cheese. Sprinkle with feta cheese and then with the oregano.
Place the pizza on the bottom oven rack and bake 15-20 minutes.
Red Onion Tomato Salad
This salad is so delicious with the Spinach Feta Pizza.
- 1/2 red onion
- 1/2 pound small tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
- Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup Kalamata olives
Finely slice the red onion and put the slices in a bowl of cold water for 10 to 15 minutes.
Quarter the tomatoes. Drain the onion and pat dry.
Place the garlic, a pinch of salt, and the vinegar into a serving bowl. Drizzle in the olive oil while whisking.
Add the red onion and thyme and let marinate for 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and toss gently to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.