Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Truffles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Torta Umbra al Formaggio

(Easter Cheese Bread from Umbria)

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

Crostini with Garlic and Black Truffles

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Ingredients for each serving

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

Directions

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

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

Minestra Di Ceci (Umbrian Chickpea Soup)

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Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

Return puréed chickpeas and sautéed vegetables to the soup pot.

Cover and cook 60 minutes.

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

Pasta alla Norcina

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Ingredients for 4 people

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

Directions

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

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

Porchetta (Roast Pork Loin)

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

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

Ingredients

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

Directions

Preheat oven to 500°F.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preheat the oven to 500°F.

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

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

Chocolate Tart

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by Baci Perugina

Ingredients

10” tart pan

For the crust:

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

For the filling:

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

Directions

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

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

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

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

Lightly beat the eggs and set aside.

Line the bottom of the tart mold with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven at 350°F.

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

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

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

Let cool and dust lightly with cocoa powder before serving.

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Fall is the time when we feel we can get back to spending some time cooking. Luckily, the cooler weather also brings a whole new group of seasonal produce to cook with, from apples and pears to hearty greens, root vegetables and squash. Make the most of what you find at the markets this autumn and try some new recipes to get you excited again about cooking.

Apples

Nothing says autumn more than a sweet tart apple. Apples can be used in dishes that are both sweet and savory. From stuffed turkey and pork to salads to applesauce and apple pie.

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Pork Tenderloin with Sautéed Apples

Serve with a spinach salad.

4 servings

Ingredients

Spice Mix

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Pork

  • 1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups thinly sliced, peeled or unpeeled apples
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup apple cider or white wine
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Directions

Cut pork tenderloin into 8 slices and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand.

Combine the spice ingredients and sprinkle the mixture evenly over all sides of the pork slices. Let rest for about 10 minutes.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter. Add the  pork slices to the pan; cook 4 minutes on each side. Remove pork from the pan to a platter and keep warm. If all the pork does not fit in the pan at one time, you will need to brown the pork in two batches.

Melt the remaining butter in the pan; swirl to coat. Add the apple slices, shallots, brown sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt; sauté 4 minutes or until the apples start to brown. Add apple cider or wine to the pan and cook for 2 minutes or until the apples are crisp-tender. Stir in thyme leaves. Serve.

Pears

Pears are great for adding a touch of sweetness to savory dishes. Try serving a roasted pork roast or leg of lamb with caramelized pears. Not only does it add flavor, but the enzymes in the pears actually tenderize the meat.

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Roasted Pears and Red Onions

Excellent as a side dish for roasted pork or turkey.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 semi-ripe medium pears, quartered and cored
  • 1 large red onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, plus extra leaves for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, toss pears and onion with butter and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange pears and onion in a single layer (they should fit snugly in the dish) and top with rosemary.

Cover dish tightly with foil and bake until the pears begin to soften, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the pears are golden brown on the bottom and tender when pierced with a knife, 15 to 20 minutes more. Sprinkle with fresh rosemary leaves before serving.

Squash

Hard-skinned squash varieties are usually yellow to deep-orange, with a flesh that turns creamy and sweet when cooked. Out of the hundreds of varieties, each has its own unique flavor and ideal uses. Dark green and orange-skinned acorn squash has a tender golden interior that makes a sweet, creamy purée; butternut squash makes a great filling for pasta;  delicata, with its thin, edible skin, is delicious sliced and sautéed in a little butter and roasted spaghetti squash has a light flavor and texture that’s perfect topped with pesto.

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Stuffed Acorn Squash

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 medium acorn squashes (about 2 pounds), halved and seeded
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 pound lean ground beef or turkey
  • Ground cinnamon
  • Ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup bulgur wheat
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place squash halves, cut sides down, in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bake until tender, 35 to 40 minutes.

Heat oil in a 4-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add ground beef, a pinch each of cinnamon and nutmeg and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until browned and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer beef to a bowl using a slotted spoon, keeping as much cooking liquid in the pot as possible.

Add onion and cook until slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining salt and the bulgur and stir to combine. Add water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and stir in the reserved beef, the raisins, parsley and pine nuts.

Scrape out the baked squashes, forming 1/4-inch-thick bowls and fold flesh into the bulgur mixture. Divide mixture among squash halves and return to the oven. Bake until warmed through and tops are browned, 12 to 14 minutes.

Parsnips and Carrots

Carrots and parsnips are earthy root vegetables. They’re especially good for roasting, but they also have a place in salads and soups. While similar in taste parsnips are sweeter than carrots, especially when roasted. Heirloom carrots come in a rainbow of colors, from white to yellow to purple. They are delicious grated raw with a honey dressing, roasted with orange zest and maple syrup or shredded and baked into cakes and breads.

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Root Vegetable Gratin

6-8 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Italian Fontina cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick half moons
  • 1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick half moons
  • 1/2 pound carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound red potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick half moons
  • 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Directions

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

In a small bowl, combine salt, pepper, thyme, nutmeg and cayenne.

In another bowl, combine cheese and garlic.

Layer half the butternut squash in the baking dish; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon seasoning mix and 1/2 cup cheese mixture. Layer parsnips and carrots over the squash and season with 1/2 teaspoon seasoning mix and 1/2 cup cheese, followed by the onion and 1/2 teaspoon seasoning mix and 1/2 cup cheese. Top with potatoes, remaining butternut squash and seasoning mix.

Pour chicken broth over top. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees F for 60 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes.

Combine panko and olive oil. Sprinkle evenly over vegetables. Broil 45 seconds or until lightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Fennel

Fennel seed is perhaps best known for its licorice-scented seeds, used to flavor Italian sausage. But the crunchy vegetable bulb itself has a delicious, delicate anise flavor and the feathery fronds add flavor to salads and soups. It is delicious roasted and blends well with root vegetables and potatoes.

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Italian Crab and Fennel Stew

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 ribs celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 large bulb fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoons finely chopped thyme
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 cups fish or chicken stock
  • 1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand
  • 2 lbs. pre-cooked king or snow crab legs, defrosted if frozen and cut into 3″ pieces
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped basil
  • 2 bunches roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • Italian Country bread, for serving

Directions

Heat oil in an 8 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic, celery, shallots, fennel, salt, and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes.

Add the wine and cook until reduced by half, 1–2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, thyme, paprika and bay leaves; cook, stirring, until slightly caramelized, about 3 minutes.

Add stock and tomatoes; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, 15–20 minutes.

Stir in crab; cook until shells are bright red and the crab meat is tender, 2–3 minutes. Discard bay leaves. Stir in basil and parsley and serve with the bread.

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In 1292 the rulers of Venice decreed that all glass blowing was to move to the island of Murano, as this was a way to protect the city from burning from the glass workshops. The artists became virtual prisoners to their craft as the Venetians attempted to keep a monopoly on glass making and the blowers, under pain of death, were kept permanently on the island.

However, aided by local monks, two craftsmen did manage to escape and traveled south to Piegaro, near the shores of Lake Trasimeno.  The sturdy walled town was an ideal place to establish their own furnaces and glass making business. The wood from the local forests and sand from the bed of the River Nestore gave the men all the natural resources they needed. They soon gained a reputation for producing quality glass and in 1312 their services were called upon to make the glass tiles used in the glass mosaics of the facade for Orvieto’s new duomo. The glass workers were famous for creating mosaics and stained glass windows for many cathedrals.  Over time the glass industry in Piegaro grew and, by the 15th century, there were a number of small glass studios within the walls of the town. As the town’s fame and popularity increased they saw the creation of a large industrial sized factory, that today is the Museo del Vetro, Glass Museum. Here mechanised presses and automated annealing ovens were built to produce bottles, goblets and flasks on an industrial scale.

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There was also a profitable industry in producing the classic wicker based bottles, famously used for Chianti wines. Many women were employed within the town to weave the bases giving the bottles their distinctive raffia style.

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This glass works continued until the beginning of WWII when it was occupied by German soldiers.  This was a sad time in the history of Piegaro, for when Germans left, the beautiful Comune Palazzo building was mined and destroyed. Glass work continued through the efforts of the Marchesa, who lived in the Palazzo Pallavicini Piegaro, by making the remaining glass factories into worker owned cooperatives.

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Despite modernisation in the 20th century, by the 1960s the factory was proving to be inadequate for the levels of production necessary and a new premises built in the valley. Finally in 1968 the 750 year history of glass making with in the town center came to an end as the furnaces were shut down and left to cool.

The Annual Sagra della Castagna, The Chestnut Festival.  Chestnuts are roasting in every piazza, food booths offer Torta al Testo, chestnut pastries and the first wine, Mosto, barely fermented.  Full course feasts, pizza, music every night with dancing and theater performances fill the ten days of celebration.  Traditional crafts booths of straw weaving, jewelry making and glass blowing offer shopping opportunities.

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In August, travel back time to medieval days for the il Giorni del Vetro: Days of Glass Festival.  Don a medieval costume, join in the Royal Corteo and follow the drummers in a procession through the narrow cobblestone streets. This day honors Piegaro’s heritage and fame as a glass making capital of Italy, that is just as important as Murano.  Three days of festival with music, food, glass artisans working their craft and booths of glass art and jewelry.

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The Cuisine of Piegaro (Umbria) Italy

Having no access to the oceans has limited Umbria cooking to land based food, but the variety of dishes is no less plentiful for it.  Many of dishes rely on vegetables.  Locally grown lentils, cardoons, porcini mushrooms and chestnuts are important staple foods. The region’s olive trees are responsible for making some of the best olive oil in Italy.

Fresh produce and fruity, local olive oil, wild greens, mushrooms and truffles create luscious dishes without the need for additional ingredients.  White truffles are a delicacy eaten fresh in this cuisine.  Norcia provides most of Italy’s black truffles.  Recipes use truffles to elevate the plainest egg, pasta or meat dishes to a gourmet meal.  They are also made into a paste with garlic and anchovies.

Shepherding is important to the local economy, so sheep’s milk cheese is an important staple food.  Unlike most of Italy where Pecorino cheeses are aged in salt, Umbrian cheeses may be rubbed with tomato paste or buried in ashes in terracotta urns to age.  Some cheeses are aged in cool natural caves.  Each of these aging methods gives a unique texture and flavor.  Generally cheese is eaten plain or with preserved vegetables or meats, fresh fruits or simply out of hand with a glass of wine.

The local lentils are of especially high quality.  Fava beans are used to make a hearty soup seasoned with pork rinds and rosemary.  Onion soup is flavored with tomatoes, salt preserved pork, fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese.

Freshwater fish are available and they are often made into a mixed stew called tegamaccio.   Anguille alle brace marinates freshwater eels in white wine seasoned with pepper and bay leaves before grilling.

Poultry, wild game and roasts are cooked over pans filled with herbs.  The drippings are collected and made into a sauce after the meat is finished cooking.  Chianina beef,  lamb, wood-pigeon and free range chickens are commonly eaten.  Boar and hare are especially enjoyed and Lepre alla cacciatora braises hare in red wine and is flavored with garlic, sage and bay leaves.

Norcia is well-known for the quality and variety of their cured pork products.  Over time, Norcia has come to be the general Italian term for butcher, due to the quality of the meats from this area.  In addition to the salame, they produce mazzafegati, a pungent sausage made from liver and flavored with pignolis, raisins and orange rind. Porchetta and Prosciutto di Norcia from Umbria are very highly prized.

Dried pasta and many handmade kinds of egg pasta are eaten in Umbrian cuisine.  Tagliatelle with meat sauces are popular.  Hand rolled ciriole and stringozzi look somewhat like the more familiar spaghetti.  These are often enjoyed with a fresh sauce of black olives, tomatoes and garlic.  Spaghetti alla norcina is served with black truffle sauce.

Bakers in Umbria use wood ovens to make giant saltless loaves of pane casereccio.  Tore, springy pecorino or pork rind flavored breads, are made from an egg enriched wheat flour dough. Pan nociato are sweet rolls with pecorino, walnuts and grapes flavored with cloves.  A similar bun, called pan pepato, is filled with almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts with raisins and candied fruit.

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Fettuccine With Black Truffle Sauce

Ingredients

12 oz fresh fettuccine or tagliatelle
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 anchovy fillet, mashed
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 medium Umbrian black truffles, (or any black truffle you can get), cleaned of soil, grated
6 quarts water

Directions

While pasta cooks, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over very low heat.
Sauté the crushed garlic for 2 minutes. Do not let it brown. Remove the garlic.
Add the anchovy, cooking gently, crushing it to a paste with a wooden spoon.
Add the truffles and heat through.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Immediately mix in the truffle sauce. If you prefer the sauce moister, or it seems too dry, add one tablespoon of the reserved liquid at a time till desired moistness is reached.

Serve on pre-heated plates.

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Pork Roast Braised with Milk

Ingredients

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (5-pound) boneless pork shoulder roast (without skin), tied
3 juniper berries (see note, below), crushed
2 large rosemary sprigs
2 large sage sprigs
4 dried bay leaves
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups whole milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F with the oven rack in the middle.

Heat oil in a wide 5 to 6 quart ovenproof heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers, then lightly brown roast on all sides with juniper berries and herbs, 8 to 10 minutes total. Add garlic and sprinkle roast with sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then cook until garlic is golden, about 1 minute. Pour wine over roast and briskly simmer until reduced by half. Pour milk over roast and bring to a bare simmer.

Cover pot and braise in oven, turning roast occasionally, until tender (milk will form curds), 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Transfer roast to a carving board and loosely cover. Strain juices through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl (discard solids), reserving pot, and skim off fat. Return juices to pot and boil until flavorful and reduced to about 2 cups. Season with sea salt and pepper. Slice roast and serve moistened with juices.

Notes:

Juniper berries can be found in the spice aisle at supermarkets.
Pork can be braised 1 day ahead and chilled in liquid, uncovered, until cool, then covered. Bring to room temperature, then reheat and proceed with recipe.

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Asparagus, Peas and Basil

Ingredients

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (about 2)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 pound shelled fresh peas (2 1/2 cups; 1 3/4 pound in pods) or 1 (10-ounce) package thawed frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
Handful of torn basil leaves (about 3/4 cup)

Directions

Cook shallots in butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 4 minutes.

Stir in asparagus, peas, sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, then seal skillet with foil. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender but still slightly al dente, about 8 minutes.

Stir in basil and sea salt to taste.

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Apricots with Amaretto Syrup

Ingredients

10 firm-ripe large apricots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
2/3 cup Amaretto liqueur
6 amaretti (Italian almond macaroons), crumbled (1/3 cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pine nuts for sprinkling

Directions

Peel apricots with a vegetable peeler, then halve and pit. Finely chop 2 halves and set aside.

Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium heat until foam subsides, then cook sugar, stirring constantly, until golden brown. Stir in Amaretto (be careful; syrup will spatter) and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes.

Working in 2 batches, poach apricot halves in syrup at a low simmer, turning, until almost tender, 5 to 10 minutes per batch. Using a slotted spoon, transfer apricots, hollow sides up, to a platter.

Add crumbled amaretti to syrup and cook over low heat, crushing cookies with back of a wooden spoon, until melted into a coarse purée.

Stir in reserved chopped apricot and gently simmer, stirring, until syrup is deep brown and slightly thickened. Cool syrup slightly.

Spoon syrup over apricots and sprinkle with pine nuts (if using). Serve warm or at room temperature.


In many countries, new year celebrations begin on the evening of December 31—New Year’s Eve—and continue into the early hours of January 1. On this day revelers often enjoy foods that are thought to bestow good luck for the coming year. In Spain and several other Spanish-speaking countries, people eat a dozen grapes right before midnight-symbolizing their hopes for the months ahead. In many parts of the world, traditional New Year’s dishes feature legumes, which are thought to resemble coins and insure future financial success, as in Italy where lentils are eaten and in the southern United States where black-eyed peas are served for dinner. Because pigs represent progress and prosperity in some cultures, pork appears on the New Year’s Eve table in Cuba, Austria, Hungary and Portugal. Ring-shaped cakes and pastries, a sign that the year has come full circle, are found on the table in the Netherlands, Mexico and Greece. In Sweden and Norway rice pudding with an almond hidden inside is served on New Year’s Eve. It is said that whoever finds the almond can expect 12 months of good fortune.

Other customs that are common worldwide include watching fireworks and singing songs to welcome the new year, including the ever-popular, “Auld Lang Syne”. The practice of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians, who made promises in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot.

Times Square

In the United States, the most well known New Year’s Eve tradition is the dropping of a giant ball in New York City’s Times Square at midnight. Millions of people around the world watch the event, which has taken place almost every year since 1907. Over time, the ball itself has ballooned from a 700-pound iron-and-wood orb to a brightly patterned sphere, 12 feet in diameter and weighing in at nearly 12,000 pounds. Various towns and cities across America have developed their own versions of the Times Square ritual, organizing public drops of symbolic items ranging from pickles to pelicans to possums at midnight.

New Year’s Eve is a perfect opportunity to show your softer side by planning a romantic dinner for the special person in your life. Enjoying delicious food in a romantic setting with someone you care about is the perfect way to help make sure your New Year’s Eve is special. Here is a suggested festive dinner menu for two, that is intended to inspire your planning for a special evening.  The cooking of this dinner comes together quickly, if you do most of the preparation ahead of time, so that you have plenty of time to enjoy the evening with your loved one.

Italian Rice Balls

Rice symbolizes prosperity and wealth, so rice balls are good for New Year’s and wedding celebrations in many cultures. Another nice touch you can use with these is to put a small cube of mozzarella cheese in the middle of each rice ball. The rice balls can be prepared ahead of time and reheated in a moderate oven.

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup uncooked white rice
  • 1 1/2 cups dried bread crumbs
  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, in cubes (optional)
  • Marinara Sauce

Directions

In a bowl whisk together the eggs, Parmesan cheese, basil, pepper and salt; cover and refrigerate.

Pour the chicken broth and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt into a large saucepan and bring to a boil; stir in the rice, cover and reduce the heat to low.

Cook the rice until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 to 17 minutes.

Remove the pan the from heat and gradually pour in egg mixture, continually stirring rapidly to coat the surface of the rice and prevent the egg from scrambling; allow rice mixture to cool in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Pour bread crumbs into a shallow dish.

Dampen your hands with water and roll 1-inch balls from the rice mixture. If using the mozzarella, insert a cube in the center of the rice ball. Be sure the rice completely covers the mozzarella.

Coat each rice ball with bread crumbs.

In a small, deep skillet, heat enough oil to an adequately brown the rice balls. Fry the balls 4 to 6 at a time, turning as needed to ensure even browning. Drain on paper towels.

Serve warm with heated marinara sauce.

Arugula and Tomato Salad 

2 servings

Ingredients

  • 3 cups arugula
  • 1 tomato, cored and cut into wedges
  • 1 ounce blue cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted and chopped

Champagne Vinaigrette

  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Dash ground black pepper

Directions

Champagne Vinaigrette

In a jar with a screw top lid, combine shallots, oil, champagne vinegar, lemon peel, salt and ground black pepper. Cover and shake well.  Makes about 1/2 cup.

Salad

Arrange greens, tomatoes, cheese and hazelnuts on two serving plates. Dress with some of the salad dressing.

Lemony Chicken Saltimbocca

Ingredients

  • 2 (4-ounce) chicken cutlets
  • Salt to taste
  • 6 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 ounces very thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into 4 thin strips
  • 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 tablespoons lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Lemon wedges (optional)
  • ½ bunch asparagus

Directions

Sprinkle the chicken evenly with salt. Place 3 sage leaves on each cutlet; wrap 2 prosciutto slices around each cutlet, securing sage leaves in place.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place asparagus on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven to roast until desired tenderness, usually 15 minutes.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add 2 teaspoons oil to the pan and swirl to coat. Add chicken to the pan; cook for 2 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove chicken from pan and keep warm.

Combine broth, lemon juice and cornstarch in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture and the remaining 1 teaspoon olive oil to the skillet; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook for 1 minute or until slightly thickened, stirring constantly with a whisk.

Place chicken and asparagus on serving plates and spoon sauce over chicken. Serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

Chocolate Truffles With Liqueur

The truffle yield will depend on how small you roll the truffles; You should get at least 15.

Ingredients

  • 3 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature ( do not use margarine)
  • 2 tablespoons Frangelico liqueur
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, sifted through a sieve to remove lumps
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder, for coating or rolling

Directions

In a microwave using medium-low power, melt chocolate in a medium-sized bowl– about 1 minute.

Whisk in butter and egg yolk until blended; then whisk in liqueur and powdered sugar until smooth.

Cover and refrigerate until firm enough to shape, about 1 hour.

Shape mixture into small balls, roll balls in cocoa, then place in tiny foil or paper cups.

The rolling process can be a bit of a messy job; if mixture gets too soft, return it to the refrigerator to stiffen up again.

Keep truffles refrigerated in a covered container; remove about 30 minutes before serving to take the chill off them.



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