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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: onion

I enjoy inviting friends over and usually prepare a meal for them. It can be brunch, or a casual meal by the pool, a BBQ or a more formal meal. The menu below was for a special occasion with some special friends. I wanted to make something different for the main course and came up with Chicken “Wellington”. This turned out to be a delicious meal that my friends loved.

First Course

Italian Onion Soup

Ingredient

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 pounds of Tropea onions or red sweet onions – halved or quartered and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sea salt
6 cups beef broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
Croutons
Shaved Parmesan cheese for the topping

Directions

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and set on the pan over medium heat.

When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let sizzle for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn.

Add the onion slices and sprinkle with the salt. Stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon.

Reduce the heat to low and slowly cook the onions for about 15 minutes – stirring frequently.

The onions will reduce in size and begin to develop a light browned color.

Add the wine to the pot and cook until the liquid reduces. Add the beef broth and bring the liquid to a boil.

Cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low and cook for 45 minutes.

Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes, letting the soup thicken a bit.

When ready to serve, pour soup into individual soup bowls, top with croutons and shaved cheese.

Second Course

Stuffed Chicken Breasts In Pastry

Ingredients

One 17.3-ounce package Puff Pastry Sheets, thawed
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts halves
6 heaping tablespoons chive/onion cream cheese, divided
3/4 cup spinach pesto, divided, Recipe Link

Directions

Pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness between sheets of plastic wrap.

Place one heaping tablespoon of cream cheese on one end of each breast and flatten the cheese to make an even layer.

Fold the opposite end of the breast over the cheese and press down. Do the same with the rest of the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Unfold one pastry sheet on a lightly floured work surface. Roll the pastry sheet into a 16-inch square.

Cut into 4 squares. Do the same with the second sheet of pastry and set 2 squares aside.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons of spinach pesto on each square.

Top each with a folded chicken breast. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg mixture.

Fold the corners of the pastries up over the chicken and press to seal. Place the pastries on an oiled baking sheet.

Use a small decorative cookie cutter to cut out 6 flowers or other shapes.

Place a cutout on top of each pastry.Brush with the egg mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes. Pastry should be golden brown and flaky and the chicken should register 165 on an instant read meat thermometer.

While the chicken is baking make the wine sauce.

Mushroom Wine Sauce

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves minced garlic
1 shallot, minced
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream

Directions

In a medium skillet heat the butter over medium heat. Saute the mushrooms, shallot and garlic for 5 minutes.

Add the freshly chopped parsley, salt and pepper and continue to saute for about 8-10 minutes.

Add the wine, bring to a boil and reduce by about 1/2 over medium heat.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the cream. Heat over low and serve with the cooked chicken breasts.

Rapini with Garlic and Oregano

4 Servings

Ingredients

1 bunch broccoli rabe (rapini), ends trimmed and rinsed
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 large garlic cloves minced
1/2 dried oregano, crushed
1/4 teaspoon red pepper, crushed
Salt to taste

Directions

Cook broccoli in boiling, salted water in a large saucepan 2 to 3 minutes or until just tender; drain.

Rinse with cold water; coarsely chop and drain again.

Heat oil in the same saucepan. Add broccoli, garlic, crushed red pepper and oregano; cook stirring 3 to 4 minutes.

Season with salt, to taste.

Corn Custard

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter
5 cups fresh yellow corn kernels cut off the cob (6 to 8 ears)
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
4 eggs
2 cups prepared Bechamel sauce, see recipe below
1/2 cup finely ground yellow cornmeal flour (Masa Harina)
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease the inside of a 2 quart baking dish.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan and saute the corn and onion over medium-high heat for 4 minutes. Cool slightly.

Whisk together the eggs and Bechamel sauce in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal and then the ricotta.

Add the honey, salt, pepper and the cooked corn mixture. Process until smooth with a stick blender.

Stir in the chopped chives and the grated cheddar cheese. Pour into the baking dish.

Place the dish in a larger pan and fill the pan 1/2 way up the sides of the dish with hot tap water.

Bake the pudding for 40 to 45 minutes until the top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.

This dish can be prepared one day ahead and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator one hour before baking.

Béchamel Sauce

Ingredients

3 cups whole milk
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
Pinch of salt

To make the béchamel:

Melt the butter over medium heat. When foaming, add the flour and stir briskly with a whisk.

Cook for about 2 minutes, then slowly add the milk, whisking continuously.

Cook for about 3-4 minutes more, until it is of medium-thick consistency, similar to a runny pudding or yogurt.

Remove from the heat and set aside. Makes about 3 cups.

Dessert Course

Vanilla Ice Cream with Berry Sauce and Shortbread Cookies

Slice-and-Bake Shortbread Cookies

Makes about 4 dozen

Ingredients

1 cup salted butter, softened
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Directions

Beat 1 cup softened butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy.

Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract and almond extract until blended.

Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Gradually add flour mixture to the butter mixture, beating at low-speed until blended.

Shape the shortbread dough into 2 (7-inch) logs.

Wrap each log in plastic wrap and chill 4 hours, or freeze logs in zip-top plastic freezer bags up to 1 month.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

If frozen, let logs stand at room temperature 10 minutes.

Cut each log into 1/4 inch t slices. Place shortbread slices 1 inch apart on lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheets.

Bake the shortbread slices for 10 to 12 minutes or until the edges of slices are golden.

Remove shortbread from the baking sheets and place on wire racks; let cool completely (about 20 minutes).

Store in airtight containers or in the freezer.

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This past weekend, I had friends visiting us from Switzerland. I wanted to make a special Italian dinner for them. One that was not a typical Italian-American dinner but a dinner with dishes that are particular to Tuscany; one of their favorite places to visit. Dinner was big hit.

First Course

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Italian Red Onion Soup with Parmesan Crisps

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • Parmesan crisps, recipe below
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 red onions, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 8 cups vegetable broth

Directions

Melt the butter in a soup kettle and cook the onions, covered, for 10 minutes.

Stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Add the salt, pepper, honey and wine and heat until the wine reduces a bit.

Add the broth, bring to a boil, lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer for 2 hours. Serve in individual bowls garnished with the crisps.

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Parmesan Crisps

Makes 6 crisps

.Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 °F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. (Do not use cooking spray.)

Mound 3 level tablespoonfuls of cheese in 5 inch long strips about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.

Bake until the cheese is melted, soft and a very light golden color, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the oven and place the baking pan on a cooling rack. Do not disturb the crisps until completely cooled and firm to the touch, about 20 minutes.

Using a thin spatula or knife, lift the crackers from the baking sheet.

Make Ahead Tip: Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

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Sourdough Cheese Rolls

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sourdough starter (at room temperature)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup grated Italian cheese (half grated parmesan and half shredded mozzarella)
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Directions

Combine 2 cups of all-purpose flour, yeast, sourdough starter, sugar, butter, egg and salt in an electric mixer bowl. Beat 3 to 4 minutes.

Add baking soda to the whole wheat flour and blend into the flour-yeast mixture. Add cheese and remaining flour to  make a soft dough.

Switch to the dough hook and knead until smooth (5 to 8 minutes).

Place in a greased bowl; turn once. Cover; let rise until double (1 ½ to 2 hours). Punch the dough down. Cover; let rest 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil 2 baking sheets.

Divide the dough into 24 pieces and shape into balls. Place on the oiled baking sheets. Cover; let rise until double (25 to 30 minutes).

Bake at 375 degrees F about 20 minutes.

Second Course

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Grilled Italian Sausage with Grapes

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage grilled and cut into 2 inch serving pieces
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound seedless red grapes, halved lengthwise
  • 4 shallots sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons excellent quality balsamic vinegar

Directions

Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the grapes, shallots and broth and heat.

Stir pepper and salt into the grape-onion mixture and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the grapes are soft but still retain their shape, 3 to 5 minutes longer.

Reduce heat to medium, stir in the grilled sausages, wine and oregano and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until the wine is reduced and the sausages are hot.

Arrange the sausages on a serving platter and spoon the grape mixture over the top. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and serve.

Quick Creamy Polenta

Ingredients

  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, if using water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup quick cooking polenta
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Bring the broth and cream to a boil. Add salt and butter, then while stirring, slowly pour in the polenta.

Stir until there are no lumps, then turn the heat down to a bare simmer. After 5 minutes, stir in the Parmesan and turn off the heat. Cover the pan until ready to serve.

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Italian Style Peas

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 16 ounces frozen green peas
  • 1 tablespoon chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion and garlic; cook about 5 minutes. Add frozen peas, and stir in stock. Season with salt and pepper.

Cover, cook until the peas are tender, about 5 minutes and serve.

Dessert Course

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Ricotta Cheesecake with Cherry Sauce

Cheesecake

  • Soft butter for the pan
  • ½ cup crushed Amaretti cookies
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 pounds ricotta cheese, drained
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Cherry Sauce

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur 
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen dark sweet cherries, pitted

Directions

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Set an oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Butter a 9 inch springform pan. Sprinkle the pan with amaretti cookie crumbles to cover the bottom and sides of the pan.

Place the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

In a large bowl of an electric mixer, combine the ricotta, orange zest and sugar. Mix to combine. Beat in the flour.

Add eggs, 1 at a time, and beat until incorporated. Add the amaretto liqueur and salt.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of the oven for about 75 minutes, until a light golden color.

Make sure the center is firm and the point of a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator until chilled, overnight or at least for 2 hours.

Remove the sides of the pan and serve with fruit sauce.

For the sauce:

Combine the water, lemon juice, amaretto, sugar, salt and cornstarch in a small pot. Whisk until smooth.

Add the cherries and stir. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let cool.

If you want to serve it warm, you may do so; simply let it cool until it is warm, not hot or cover and refrigerate to store.

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The Piedmont region stretches across the great Alpine arc: that includes the Pennine Alps and a portion of the Lepontine Alps. It includes two large hilly areas, the Langhe and the Monferrato. The Po River has its source in Piedmont and the region is crossed by several Alpine streams flowing into the Po. Many Alpine lakes dot the region. In the eastern section one can find two larger lakes: Lago Maggiore and Lago d’Orta. The regional capital is Turin. Other important cities are: Asti, Alessandria, Cuneo, Novara, Vercelli, Biella and Verbania.

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In Turin and in Susa interesting traces of the Roman era can be found. The religious Romanesque-Gothic architecture is remarkable: examples are the Abbey of Vezzolano, the Sacra di San Michele, the Abbey of Staffarda, St. Antonio di Ranverso, St. Andrea in Vercelli and other churches in Saluzzo, Chieri and Ciriè. The Baroque style has greatly influenced the appearance of most Piedmontese cities, especially in Turin.

Some of the major sites in Turin, include the Royal Armory, the Egyptian Museum, the second most important in the world after the one in Cairo, with historical remains of the ancient civilization. The Sabauda Gallery houses pictorial works of the Piedmontese, Dutch and Flemish schools, as well as some valuable Tuscan works, such as the Beato Angelico and the Pollaiolo. The Borgogna Museum houses the works of the local Renaissance painters and the Civic Museum is dedicated to local history and art.

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This northwestern region of Italy, is famous for egg pastas, vitello tonnato, the boiled-meat dish, bollito misto—plus well known red wines like Barolo, Barbera and Barbaresco. Torino (Turin) is a city of interesting contrasts between old the world and the new. The name of Torino is widely recognized as home to the famous Shroud of Torino, housed in the Cattedrale di San Giovanni Battista (“Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist”), but it is also the center of operations for the automobile manufacturers, Lancia and Fiat. Torino’s appeal is heightened even more by the city’s excellent artisan chocolates, no doubt influenced heavily by their proximity to Switzerland.

The valleys and pasture lands, protected in large part by the Alps, offer the ideal locations for growing grains like wheat, corn and rice. The terraced hills lend themselves well to growing grapes and, subsequently, wine production. Freshwater fish and eels are popular in Piedmontese cooking. Pork and pork products are on the table, as is good beef. Cattle thrive in Piedmont, and the dairy industry is strong, creating a love of cheeses, cream, milk and butter. Locals also have a fondness for game meats hunted in the forests. White truffles grow wild there and their distinctive flavor adds earthiness to many recipes.

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The preferred pasta is a narrow handmade noodle called tajarin. They are often simmered in beef broth and topped with butter, grated Grana Padano cheese and shaved truffles. Agnolotti Piemontesi, similar to ravioli, are also popular. These meat and herb filled dumplings are generally served with fresh sage fried in butter and topped with Parmigiano Reggiano.

The flatlands of Piemonte are Europe’s prominent supplier of Carnaroli rice and they are known for their creamy risotto dishes. It is cooked with butter and shaved truffles or made into panissa, a risotto flavored with red borlotti beans, Salam d’la Duja and pork rind. Frogs, meat or vegetables may also be used in rice dishes.

Piemonte produces large numbers of hazelnuts and they are put to good use in cakes and pastries, as well as torrone nougat and chocolates. Candied chestnuts, known as marron glacés, are famous worldwide. Other outstanding desserts include bonèt, a custard cake flavored with coffee or chocolate, panna cotta, a silky custard made with cream and caramel thickened with gelatin and torta gianduia, a decadent hazelnut and chocolate cake made with ground nuts instead of flour. Zabaione is a light custard made with Marsala wine and sweetened egg yolks.

Take a trip through the Piedmont region via the video below.

Piedmont Recipes To Make At Home

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Zuppa di Cipolla al Vino Rosso

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 8 medium red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • 16 thin slices baguette
  • 1 cup freshly grated Fontina cheese

Directions

Melt the butter in a heavy, wide pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 25 minutes, or until they are very soft and caramelized; stirring every few minutes to ensure they cook evenly.

Season with the salt and pepper, deglaze with the wine and cook for 5 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate all the liquid into the onions.

Pour in the broth and bring to a boil, uncovered. Cook for 30 minutes, uncovered, stirring once in a while.

Preheat the broiler.

Place 4 slices of baguette in each of 4 oven-proof soup bowls (preferably the sort with a handle). Scatter the Fontina over the bread.

Ladle the soup over the bread and place the dishes under the broiler. Broil the soup for 5 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. Serve hot. Serves 4.

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Maltagliati with Leek Sauce

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 lb all-purpose flour
  • 6 whole eggs
  • 6 leeks, trimmed, cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup light cream (half & half)
  • ½ cup or more of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • Salt to taste

Directions

Mix the flour and eggs in a mixing bowl or a food processor.

Roll the dough thin by hand or with a pasta machine. Cut the pasta into medium-size diamonds.

In a deep skillet, brown the leeks in the butter.

Cook the pasta in abundant boiling salted water. Fresh pasta cooks quickly in about 2-3 minutes.

Drain and add it to the pan with the  browned leeks.

Add the cream, mix well and finish with a handful of grated Parmesan cheese.

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Pan Roasted Meat with Hazelnuts

Ingredients

  • Pork or veal tenderloin about 2 lbs.(800 grams)
  • 3 ½ oz (100 grams) hazelnuts, chopped plus extra for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons (50 grams) butter
  • 2 cups (1 pint) milk
  • Half an onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons Marsala wine
  • Salt
  • 5 tablespoons (80 grams) Flour
  • Water

Directions

In a large pot, brown the onion in the butter. Push the onions aside and add the meat and let it brown on all sides.

Add the Marsala wine and let it completely evaporate. Season the meat with salt and add the milk and chopped hazelnuts .

Cover the pan and cook the tenderloin for at least 120 minutes. Remove the meat and set aside.

Prepare a roux by mixing the flour with enough water to make a paste, mix well.

Bring the sauce in the pan to a boil, then whisk in the roux and cook until the sauce thickens, whisking the entire time.

Cut the meat into slices and serve coated with the sauce. Garnish with hazelnuts.

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Salad of Roasted Peppers, Olives and Fontina

Ingredients

  • 3 large yellow bell peppers
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • Salt
  • White pepper
  • 2 tablespoons sliced, Italian green olives
  • ¼ pound fontina, cut into long strip

Directions

Arrange the peppers on a grill rack above a charcoal fire, on wire racks positioned over the burners of a gas or electric stove, 2 to 3 inches under a preheated broiler, or in an oven preheated to 400 degrees F. Roast them until they are charred all over and tender inside, turning them frequently to insure they blacken evenly, about 30 minutes in the oven, but less time by the other methods. Set aside to cool.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, using your fingertips, peel off the skins. Cut the peppers in half and remove and discard the stems, ribs, and seeds (Do not do this under running water; it will wash away some of the delicious taste.) Cut the peppers lengthwise into ½-inch-wide strips and place in a bowl. Add the oil, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, olives and cheese and toss gently to mix well. Serve at room temperature.

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Baci di Dama (Lady Kisses) Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup hazelnut flour (finely ground hazelnuts)
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 11 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • Nutella (or any chocolate hazelnut spread)

Directions

In a mixing bowl combine the flours and the sugar. Cut the butter into small chunks and incorporate it into the flour mixture. It is best to use a wooden spoon or your fingers to completely mix the butter with the flour mixture to make the dough.

Place the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Then take it out and form small balls the size of a quarter. When placing them on the cookie sheet, press down slightly so that they are flattened on one side. They will form a dome shape: flat on one side, rounded on the other.

Bake at 350 degrees F, for about 20 minutes, or until they just start to brown. Remove to wire racks to cool.

After the cookies have cooled spread a thin layer of Nutella on the flat side of the cookie and place another cookie on top, making a sandwich.


Christmas Lights in Saint Mark’s Square

Christmas is by far the most important holiday of the year in Italy—the festivities last from December 24th. through January 6th. Family gatherings are the most important part of the holiday. This is the time of year when families reunite from whatever corners of the world they may have scattered and it is around the table or, a tavola, that Italian families come together. These holidays allow parents and children, siblings and in-laws, friends and sweethearts—and sometimes a grandfather (nonno) or grandmother (nonna), or an old beloved aunt (zia)—the opportunity to see one another after long separations, spending significant time together over splendid food and drink.

Italian children write letters to Santa Claus or Father Christmas asking for presents and in Italy the main day for gift giving is the Epiphany. These presents are brought by La Befana, a kindly old witch, who fill children’s stockings in the night with sweets, “i dolciumi” if they have been good or with coal, “il carbone” if they have been bad. Santa Lucia brings the gifts in Venice and Mantova, while in other regions, it is the Baby Jesus or Gesu’ Bambino who brings the presents. The children also write to their parents to let know how much they love them. This letter is placed under their father’s plate and he reads it at the end of dinner.

Christmas Time, Little Italy, New York City

Among the traditions, customs and other rituals typical of the Christmas season are:

  • The main focus of decorations is the presepe, Nativity scene or creche. The churches have a presepe outdoors and traditional bonfires are assembled in the main square of town.
  • Ceppo known, as The Tree of Light, is a wooden frame with a pyramid shape; it is several feet high and supports many shelves or tiers. The ceppo has on the bottom a manger scene and on the shelves above are placed small gifts of fruit, candy and presents. It is also decorated with gilt pine cones, colored paper, little candles and pennants. At the top is placed a star or a small doll.
  • Urn of Fate: they are wrapped presents for each family member. If you get a present with your name on it, you keep it; otherwise, you try again.
  • Zampognari and Pifferai: Bagpipers and flute players dressed with traditional costumes entertain the people at religious shrines.
  • In the Vatican City, the people go to the square at noon on Christmas day to receive the Pope’s blessing; he appears at his balcony.
  • Another tradition is the burning of the Yule log, which must stay lit until New Year’s Day.
  • The cribs are usually handed down from generation to generation.

Christmas Dinner In Italy

Again it will almost certainly start with a selection of antipasti – perhaps including salami and Parma ham, and a glass or two of sparkling Prosecco. Then there will be a hearty filled pasta dish, such as agnolotti, ravioli or tortellini. Most families will follow this with a roast – often poultry, served with vegetables; others might have a local meaty speciality, such as a stuffed pig’s trotter. Although Italians don’t usually indulge much in desserts, at Christmas, most people will make an exception and follow the meat course with some panettone – a light but buttery sponge cake or other sweets. In some regions people might also have some pandolce, a heavy fruit cake with pine nuts.

The most significant meal of the Christmas Day is the lunch or il pranzo. In Italy the following  dishes are often served:

  • Lo zampone – the skin of the lower pig leg, including the toe little bones, filled with minced meat and sausages                                                                 
  • Il cotechino – pig’s foot stuffed with spiced minced meat 
  • Sausages
  • Turkey stuffed with chestnuts
  • Lamb is also enjoyed with mashed potatoes and lentils
  • Tortellini in chicken stock
  • Crostini with liver pâté

Desserts such as:

  • Torrone – Nougat
  • Il panettone – the Milanese fruit cake filled with candied fruit
  • Gold bread – the traditional cake
  • Il pandoro – similar to il panettone, only without fruits or raisins
  • Il panforte – Gingerbread with hazelnuts, honey and almonds

The traditional drinks are:                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

  • Vin brule – mulled wine
  • Bombardino – Italian version of eggnog
  • Punch of rum, mandarin and orange flavors

 Christmas Dinner Memories

When I was a child, Christmas was a very special time in our house. We all looked forward to this season: my parents, my grandparents, my maternal aunts and my siblings. It was a busy time shopping, wrapping presents, baking and decorating the house and the tree.

When Christmas arrived, we were up by 5 A.M. to open presents. After we had time with our new gifts, my father would take us to visit his relatives in Little Italy, while my mother started dinner preparations. My father had a large family so this took awhile. By the time we had wished my grandmother and all my father’s brothers and sisters, a Merry Christmas, it was time to head home. My mother never needed to make dessert for Christmas dinner, because after the rounds of visiting the relatives, we went home with a number of special homemade Christmas treats.

Struffoli

Zeppole

Anise Cookies

In fact, before the day was done we had more sweets than we could eat in a week. My mother’s father would come for dinner and he would always bring Italian pastries, ice cream and Hershey bars. What a day!

Dinner was held early in the afternoon and began with a typical antipasto of Italian meats, cheeses, olives and vegetables.

The next course was always Lasagna with little meatballs in the sauce. This was followed by a pork roast with roasted potatoes and a green salad. Lots to eat – and don’t forget those desserts!

Christmas Dinner At My House

Because several members of my family are vegetarians, I often serve vegetarian dishes alongside the non-vegetarian dishes.

Onion Soup

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 pounds sweet onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1-26-ounce container Pomi tomatoes
  • 4 cups of beef broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 6 slices of thick crusty bread
  • 6 slices of provolone cheese

 Directions:

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, add the olive oil and set on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and let sizzle for about 1 minute. Be careful not to burn. Add the onion slices and sprinkle with the salt. Stir into the olive oil with a wooden spoon. Reduce heat to low and slowly cook them for about 15 minutes – stirring frequently. The onions will reduce in size and begin to develop a light browned color.

Add the tomatoes to the pot and 4 cups of water. Stir in the onions. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with a lid and reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes, letting the soup thicken a bit.

When ready to serve, toast or grill the bread and immediately top with the provolone cheese to melt a bit. Alternatively, you could toast the bread quickly under the broiler, then add the cheese and brown and melt the a bit. Add bread with cheese to the bottom of a serving bowl. Ladle the soup mixture over the bread

 

Beef Tenderloin

  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed and tied
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:

Combine garlic, mustard and pepper in the bowl of a food processor or blender. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in oil and process until the ingrdients are very finely chopped. Rub mixture over beef and refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray.

Transfer beef to baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Bake about 40 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the center registers 135 F. for medium-rare. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

 

 

Gnocchi with Creamy Pesto

(dilute pesto sauce with a little half and half)

See recipe: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/10/16/how-to-make-homemade-gnocchi/

 

 

Spinach Casserole

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 16 ounces organic baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
  • Grated zest of 1 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 cups Sargento Italian six cheese blend

 Directions:

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8 x 11-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the spinach (it may be necessary to do this in batches) and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the spinach wilts. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the eggs and milk together in a large bowl. Stir in the bread crumbs, parsley, dill, lemon zest, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Add the spinach mixture and the Italian cheese, and stir to combine. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan and bake until the top has browned and set, about 30 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into squares.

Roasted Squash and Cauliflower

Dessert

Italian Cookies see post: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/12/14/my-childrens-favorite-christmas-cookies-part-2/


When I was growing up, my maternal grandparents lived in the same city as I did in New Jersey.  They had a large house ( because they needed it for 7 daughters) and a large yard. My grandfather was a great gardener and he loved it.  He could make anything grow and was eager to share his bounties with you.  He had row after row of stunning roses, gladioli and lilies of the valley. Whenever I went to his house, he would send me home with a big bunch of whatever flowers were in season or a bag of zucchini and tomatoes.  I loved that my grandfather had such a gift. After my husband and I bought our first house that was not too far from his house, he would come over and spruce up my yard for me. He saved a great, little magnolia tree in the center of my yard and, boy, did my tomato plants thrive. Wish I could remember, now, what he did to those tomatoes to make them so fine.

Italians have had a very close relationship with food throughout history, but the famine endured by most Italians during World War II, shaped their cuisine into a more simple and inexpensive one. The hardship of war meant that Italians grew vegetables in their own backyard gardens, even if the garden was only 10 yards across. Owning land and the cultivation of a vegetable garden have always been popular for Italians and a right they have taken full advantage of in Italy and in the US.

My grandfather certainly espoused that philosophy and most of his yard was dedicated to growing fruits and vegetables. He even grew grapes – for wine, of course. The grapes, he grew, were white and light red, but I don’t recall what kind of grapes they were. He would cut off a bunch, usually the white ones, with his pocket pen knife and hand them to me for a snack.  I would eat a couple but they tasted awful – tart and full of seeds. I would eat a few because I did not want to hurt his feelings.  He was very proud of those grapes.

The grapes were grown on a trellis that overlooked a large bench he had for sitting in his yard. The trellis was impressive and I would sit there under all those grapes and feel quite cozy in what felt like another world.  My grandfather did make wine with those grapes and he would bring the wine to Sunday dinner, usually in a big jug. My father would put the jug on the floor near his feet and occasionally hoist the jug up and fill the glasses on the table – not mine, of course. You may have heard that European children drink wine with dinner, but not in our house. Wine was for grown-ups.  I remember my mother passing on my grandfather’s wine, saying, it was a bit too strong for her, but my father and grandfather enjoyed it.

Using Wine in Your Recipes

The function of wine in cooking is to intensify and enhance the flavor and aroma of food – not to mask the flavor of what you are cooking but rather to fortify it.  Use wines in your cooking that you would drink for dinner.   Wines, labeled cooking wines, are not quality wines and they often contain salt and food coloring.
When you take some of the fat out of dishes, you usually need to add another ingredient to replace the lost moisture. Here are some examples of how wine can do just that:

  • Instead of sauteing veggies in butter or oil, you can saute them in a smaller amount of oil plus some wine for flavor and moisture.
  • Instead of making a marinade with 1/2 cup of oil, decrease the oil to 1/4 cup and add 1/4 cup wine.
  • You can add wine to the pan while fish is cooking or drizzle fish with a tablespoon or two of wine and bake it in a foil package
  • For certain types of cakes, using wine or sherry in place of some of the fat not only lightens up the cake but adds flavor.
The following recipes use wine in their preparation and range from appetizers to desserts.

Appetizer course 

Italian Octopus Stewed in Wine and Tomatoes

This is a recipe for Southern Italian stewed octopus with white wine and tomatoes. Octopus requires long, slow simmering over low heat to keep it tender. Serve with crusty bread. This recipe serves 4.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb small octopus
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • 1 cup crushed tomatoes or peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the octopus to the boiling water, return to a boil and cook for 1-2 minutes, then remove. Discard water.
Cut the octopus into pieces and saute in olive oil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and saute for another minute or two.
Add the wine and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir well and let it cook down for 3-4 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and chili flakes and bring to a simmer.
Add the salt and the honey.  Mix well, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, add the capers and half the parsley.
Check the octopus — sometimes small ones will be tender in just 30 minutes.
If they are still super-chewy, cover the pot again and simmer for up to another 45 minutes.
When you think you are about 10 minutes away from being done, uncover the pot and turn the heat up a little to cook down the sauce.
To serve, add the remaining parsley, basil and black pepper.

Soup Course

Zuppa di Cipolle:  Italian Onion Soup

Ingredients:

  • 5 large yellow onions 
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced
  • 6 cups beef stock, low sodium
  • 3/4 cup dry red wine
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 slices country-style bread, about 1/2 inch thick
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated or shaved

Directions:
Peel the onions and cut in half.  Thinly slice the onions crosswise.
Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add in the diced pancetta and cook for about 3-5 minutes until some of the fat has been rendered.
Add in the sliced onions, stir. Cover the pot. Lower the heat to medium low and slowly cook the onions until tender, about 15 minutes.  Stir often.
Stir in the stock and wine. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Toast the bread slices.  Rub the toasted slices with garlic. Place the bread slices in individual soup bowls. Pour the soup over the bread.
Either sprinkle grated cheese or shave cheese over the soup. If your bowls are oven proof, you can then place them under the broiler until the cheese melts.

Second Course

Osso Buco is another traditional dish that uses veal, in this case, veal shanks. There are many recipes for Osso Buco that also use pork, beef or lamb shanks. Turkey thighs are not traditional but create the same effect and contain less fat than shanks.

Turkey Osso Bucco

Ingredients

  • 6 turkey thighs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 2 celery stalks, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 ½ cups dry white wine
  • 5-6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 large sprig fresh rosemary
  • 2 large sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Pat the turkey with paper towels to dry and ensure even browning. Season the turkey with salt and pepper and dredge the turkey in the flour to coat.

In a heavy roasting pan large enough to fit the turkey thighs in a single layer, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the turkey and cook until brown on both sides, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer the turkey to a plate and reserve.

In the same pan, add the onion, carrot, and celery. Season vegetables with salt. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the wine and simmer about 3 minutes.

Return the turkey to the pan. Add enough chicken broth to come 2/3 up the sides of the turkey. Add the herb sprigs, and bay leaf to the broth mixture. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove the pan from the heat. Cover the pan tightly with foil and transfer to the oven.

Braise until the turkey is fork-tender about 2 hours, turning the turkey after 1 hour. Serve this dish over risotto or polenta with a side of green peas.

Side Dish

Broccoli Sautéed in Wine and Garlic – Roman Style

Makes 6 servings

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 pounds broccoli, cut into spears
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Grated zest of 1 orange

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil with the garlic over medium-high heat until just sizzling. Add the broccoli and cook, tossing frequently and gradually adding the wine to keep the garlic from browning until the stalks are tender 8 to 10 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes lemon and orange zest and toss well.

Dessert Course

Biscotti, means twice-baked, and these cookies have grown to become an Italian classic.  As its name implies, the cookies are baked twice, first in the form of a log. They are then baked again after the log is sliced into diagonal strips. The crisp, crunchy cookie is perfect for dipping in coffee or dessert wine or even simply for snacking. Because they don’t need to be moist, biscotti are naturally low in fat.
It is said that biscotti were originally created as a provision for Venetian sailors and businessmen who went to sea for long periods of time and required foods that wouldn’t spoil. Many Italians eat the cookies as part of their breakfast with café latte. The varieties of biscotti differ throughout the many regions of Italy, but they are famous for their classic anise, almond or hazelnut flavor.

Vin Santo ( the wine of saints) is a late-harvest wine from Italy, generally Tuscany. It’s usually made from white grapes, namely Trebbiano or Malvasia, that are semi-dried before being pressed and fermented; then the wines are stored in small barrels for up to 10 years, usually in attics which turn hot and cold with the seasons. There is a wide diversity in styles, from sweet dessert versions to dry, sherry-like styles, and quality varies.

Biscotti al Vin Santo

Makes about 20 biscotti

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup (3 oz) sliced almonds
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz butter), cut in small pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3/4 cup sweet white wine, (substitute a sweet Madeira or sweet Marsala for Vin Santo, if unavailable in your area)

Directions
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Let them cool.

Mix the flour with the baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir in the sugar and lemon zest. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, then stir in the almonds. Make a well in the center and add the wine and almond extract. Stir gradually drawing in the flour to make a smooth soft dough that holds together. If it seems dry, add a little more wine.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board and shape the dough into a log about 1 inch thick, 4 inches across and 12 inches long. Wrap it in plastic wrap, then flatten it slightly. Chill until firm, at least 2 hours and longer if you wish. The dough can also be frozen.

For the first baking:

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Unwrap the log, set it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake until lightly browned and firm on the outside 35 to 40 minutes. A skewer inserted in the center should come out clean. Let the log cool on the baking sheet and lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

For the second baking:

When cool, cut the log with a serrated knife into 1/2-inch slices – they will be quite soft, almost cake-like in the center. Space the biscotti on the parchment lined baking sheet and bake, turning halfway through,  until they are dry and lightly browned on the cut surfaces, 20 to 25 minutes. Let them cool on a rack and store them in an airtight container.



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