Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Crab Stuffed Shrimp For Dinner Tonight


Stuffing fish or shrimp with crabmeat has always been one of my favorite combinations. Having fresh seafood is crucial to the success of the dish. You can add any number of ingredients to the stuffing but I like to keep it simple so the taste of the crab comes through.

Creamed spinach is also a favorite but it often is heavy in calories. My lightened up version has all the taste of the original but is much better for you. And, what is more natural than pasta to go with the shrimp. Rice is also a good option. Orzo gives you both.


Crab Stuffed Shrimp

Serves 4


  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, plus extra for the baking dish
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Two drops hot sauce
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 lb. backfin crabmeat, drained and picked over for shells
  • ¾ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 12 jumbo shrimp (16 to 20 per lb.), butterflied


Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Make the stuffing:

In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the minced shallot and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until softened, 3 minutes (don’t brown).

Take the pan off the heat and stir in the Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Cool to room temperature.

In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, panko breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, lemon juice,  lemon zest, mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Stir in the cooled shallot mixture. Add the crab and mix gently but thoroughly.

Stuff the shrimp:

Arrange the butterflied shrimp in the baking dish and mound a heaping tablespoon of the crab mixture onto each shrimp.

Bake until the shrimp are cooked through, the crabmeat is hot, and the top of the stuffing is golden brown, about 15 minutes.


Creamy Spinach

4 servings


  • 2-10 oz pkgs frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and drained or 2 lbs. fresh spinach
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons reduced fat cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons low-fat milk
  • Salt and pepper


Heat the oil in small saucepan and add the garlic; cook 1 minute. Add spinach and heat.

Make a well in the center of the spinach and add the milk and cheese.

Heat and stir until the cheese is dissolved throughout spinach. Season with salt & pepper.


Parmesan Orzo

4 servings


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup red onion, chopped
  • Pinch red chili flakes
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat orzo pasta
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/1/2 cups chicken broth
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley


In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions and chili flakes and cook until the onions soften, about 3 minutes.

Add the orzo and white wine and cook until the wine is absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth, salt and pepper to taste and 1 cup water and bring to a simmer.

Cook, stirring often, until the orzo is tender and cooked through, about 20 minutes.

Stir in the Parmesan, butter and parsley.


What Is In Season In October



Here in the south, October is still summer but the markets like to think it is fall. So lots of squash, greens, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, potatoes, apples and grapes are available. I have posted below several recipes that take advantage of the fall harvest.

One of the Farmers' Markets Nearby

Nearby Farmers’ Market

If you have freezer space, this is also a good time to freeze some of fall’s abundance to use in the winter. Only use fruits and veggies in excellent condition that have been thoroughly cleaned. Most vegetables you plan to freeze should be blanched for two to five minutes. Blanching — the process of heating vegetables with boiling water or steam for a set amount of time, then immediately plunging them into cold or iced water — stops enzyme activity that causes vegetables to lose nutrients and change texture. The cooled veggies can then be packed into plastic freezer bags, jars or other freezer-safe storage containers.

Fruits or blanched vegetables can also be patted dry with clean kitchen towels, frozen in a single layer on cookie sheets and then put into containers. Using cookie sheets for freezing ensures that the fruits and vegetables won’t all stick together, so that you can remove a portion at a time from the container. Using this method is best for freezing berries. Berries should not be blanched, just washed and dried before freezing. Chopped onion and chopped bell peppers for cooking can also be frozen without blanching.

Here is a handy chart on how to blanch vegetables for freezing.

Mediterranean Tomato Salad


Serve this salad with grilled steak.


  • 2-3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced thin
  • One large red onion slice, cut ¼ inch thick and quartered
  • ½ cup oil cured olives, pitted and halved
  • ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese


  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper


Whisk together the oil, vinegar, oregano and black pepper.

Arrange the tomatoes on a serving plate and distribute the onion, olives and cheese over the tomatoes. Drizzle with the dressing.

Let the salad sit at room temperature for an hour before serving.

Fall Vegetable Minestrone



  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 whole celery stalks with leaves, diced
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano or basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup whole-wheat orzo pasta
  • Two 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • One 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese


Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced celery, onion, carrot, garlic, oregano and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Add orzo and green beans. Cook, uncovered, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, chickpeas and paprika.  

Cook over medium heat until steaming-hot, 3 to 5 minutes.Taste and add salt to your liking.

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with cheese,

Lemon Leek Spaghetti


This recipe is a great side dish for grilled or baked fish.


  • 8 ounces spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 leek, trimmed, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
  • Salt & black pepper
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese


Cook pasta, al dente, according to package directions. Drain.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, leek, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper; sauté 4 minutes.

Add broth and juice; cook 2 minutes or until the liquid is reduced by half. Remove the skillet from the  heat; stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter.

Add the pasta and capers to the leek mixture; toss well to combine and sprinkle with parsley and cheese.

Butternut Squash Gratin


Serve this dish with ribs or pork chops.

Serves 6


  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
  • 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 large leek, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs


Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a 1 1/2-quart gratin dish or other shallow baking dish with 1 teaspoon of the oil.

Place the garlic and sliced leeks in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the squash and apple cubes on top of the leeks. Season with salt and pepper. With a rubber spatula toss the mixture until evenly combined.

Cover the tightly with foil and bake until the squash is very tender, about 1 hour.

Combine the breadcrumbs with the remaining oil, the lemon zest and parsley. Sprinkle over the squash and bake, uncovered, until the crumbs is golden, 15 minutes longer.

End of the Season Refrigerator Pickled Vegetables


The holidays will be here soon and these veggies will be just right for entertaining. Pickled vegetables are a great accompaniment to a cheeseboard. 

Just about any vegetable — and some fruits — can be pickled. All you need is vinegar, water, sugar, salt and some dry seasonings and herbs.

Don’t be afraid to get creative! Even unusual veggie choices — like Brussels sprouts, green beans, fennel, pearl onions and okra — are surprisingly good pickled.

You can enjoy them as an appetizer, a light snack or as a side to an entrée. But if you’re looking for different ways to use them, here are some suggestions:

  • In Bloody Marys
  • On pizza
  • As a bed for grilled fish
  • For an omelet side
  • On a sandwich
  • In a salad

What is your favorite way to serve pickles and relish?

Pickled Mixed Vegetables


I prefer to use firm vegetables for pickling.

  • Cauliflower, cut into florets
  • Bell Pepper (all colors), cut into chunks
  • Carrots, cut into diagonal slices
  • Celery, cut into diagonal slices
  • Fennel, cut into small chunks
  • Green Beans, trimmed but left whole
  • Radishes, cut into thick slices

To Make 2 Quarts

Fresh raw vegetables from the list above to fill 2 quart size mason jars (about 6-7 cups). For this batch, I used carrots, cauliflower, fennel, green beans and celery.

  • 4 cups vinegar (White Distilled or Apple Cider)
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 6 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons mustard seed
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 6 cloves garlic, sliced thickly


Prep the vegetables.

Bring the water, vinegar, salt and sugar to a boil in a small pot.

Divide the garlic and whole spices among the jars and then add the vegetables, packing them in. Leave about an inch of space at the top of the jar.

Using a funnel, carefully pour the hot liquid into the jars, making sure to submerge all the vegetables, pressing down on them with the end of a wooden spoon.


You may be able to add a few more veggies at this point, just make sure the liquid completely covers the vegetables by at least a half-inch.

Cover and turn the jars over on the counter covered with a kitchen towel for about 30 minutes to seal the lids. Turn the jars upright and let sit on the counter to cool for an hour or two.

Place the jars in the refrigerator. These will taste good after 6-8 hours, but much better after a couple of days. Keeps for several months.

Cucumber Pickle Relish


Makes 2 cups


  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • Pinch crushed red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 6 small cucumbers (about 2 pounds total), peeled, seeded and finely diced
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion


Combine the vinegar, sugar, mustard seeds, turmeric, chili flakes and salt in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the cucumbers and onion and return to a boil.


Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool. Transfer the relish to jars and refrigerate at least 2 hours to let the flavors blend. Will keep in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or freeze for future use.



Apples and Pears


That mound of apples and that mound of pears looked so beautiful at the market, so who could resist bringing them home. Now what to do with all this delicious fruit before it goes bad?

Here are a few ideas.

Apple Cinnamon Scones


Makes 12 scones


  • 2 3/4 cups Self-Rising Flour (flour that contains baking powder and salt)
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Apple Pie Spice or ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) cold butter
  • 2 apples, peeled, in 1/2″ pieces
  • 3/4 cup cinnamon chips
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup applesauce, unsweetened
  • Topping: milk and cinnamon sugar


In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and apple pie spice.

Work in the butter with your fingers or a pastry blender just until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the chopped apple and cinnamon chips.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and applesauce.

Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until all the mixture holds together.

Line two  baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sprinkle flour on the work surface.

Scrape the dough onto the floured surface and divide it in half. Gently pat and round each half into a 5″ to 5 1/2″ circle about 3/4″ thick.

Stir together the coarse sugar and cinnamon. Brush each circle with milk, and sprinkle with the topping.

Using a bench knife, slice each circle into 6 wedges.

Carefully place each wedge on the parchment lined pans, at least a 1 inch  apart.


Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Bake the scones for 20 minutes, or until they’re golden brown. Rotate the pans after 10 minutes.

Remove the scones from the oven, and cool briefly on the pan. Serve warm. When they’re completely cool, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for up to several days.

Apple Crunch Bagels




  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 1/4 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 6 cups bread flour  
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar  
  • 1 teaspoon salt  
  • 1 tablespoon apple pie spice  
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
  • 2 cups peeled and diced Granny Smith apples, about 2 medium apples


  • 1 egg 
  • 1/4 cup room temperature butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon apple pie spice
  • Pinch of salt


In a medium saucepan, warm cider and butter just until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine two cups of bread flour, the brown sugar, the cooled cider mixture, salt, apple pie spice, apples and yeast with the paddle attachment on medium speed.

Keeping the mixer on medium, add the remaining bread flour, 1 cup at a time, until the dough comes together and is just barely sticky.

Switch to the dough hook attachment and “knead” the dough for about 6 minutes or until the dough is elastic.


Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot. Allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

Cover 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Punch the dough down and separate into 12 equal sized balls. on a well floured surface.


Roll and stretch one ball into an 8 inch-long rope and don’t taper ends.

Wrap the rope around your fingers, overlapping the ends by 2 inches, to create a ring. Pinch the ends together.

Once the bagels are shaped, place them on a kitchen towel to rise for another 10 minutes.


Bring a large pot of water to a boil and heat the oven to 425 degrees F

To prepare the topping, combine the flour, brown sugar, spice mix, salt and butter in a small bowl and mix until it is crumbly. Beat the egg with one teaspoon of water.

When the water comes to a boil, drop 4 bagels in at a time and boil for about 30 seconds per side. Remove with a slotted spoon to a kitchen towel.

After boiling, place the bagels on the parchment covered pans and brush with the egg mixture. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the bagels.

Bake for 25 minutes or until the bagels are golden brown, rotating the pans after 12 minutes.

Pear & Celery Salad


Serves 4


  • 4 stalks celery, trimmed and cut in half crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons cider, pear, raspberry or other fruit vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ripe pears, diced
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 6 large leaves romaine lettuce, shredded


Soak celery in a bowl of ice water for 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

Whisk vinegar, honey and salt in a large bowl until blended. Add pears; gently stir to coat. Add the celery, cheese and pecans; stir to combine. Season with pepper.

Divide the lettuce leaves among 4 plates and top with a portion of salad. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Pork Chops with Pear & Ginger Sauce


2 servings


  • Two 4-ounce boneless pork chops, 1/2 inch thick, trimmed
  • Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 medium ripe pear, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 1 shallot, trimmed and sliced


Season the pork with salt and pepper and coat in the cornstarch. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat.

Add the pork and cook until browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

Add the sliced shallots and cook for about 2 minutes. Pour in the vinegar and honey; stir to dissolve. Add the wine and bring to a simmer, stirring.


Add the pears and ginger. Cook, uncovered, stirring the pears occasionally, for 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and return the pork and any accumulated juices to the pan; turn to coat with the sauce and heat through. Serve with a side of roasted acorn squash.


Italian Vegan Dinner Tonight


My blogger friend and artist, Wendie, asked me to consider creating some vegan dishes for my blog. I told her I would consider it, if I could come up with ideas that did not use processed vegan foods. To me a true vegan dish should be made from plants without the addition of meat substitutes or processed dairy substitutes and dressings.

Note: If you are making a vegan dessert then the sugar you use must not have been processed with animal products, as most regular sugar products are. Did you know that? Here is some information on how sugar is processed. Look for brands that say organic, fair trade or vegan on the label.

Of course, the recipes in my menu must be Italian and I did include some olive oil. I consider olive oil to be a healthy oil and part of the vegan diet, since it is a plant-based food.

If there are health issues, then leave it out and use vegetable broth for sautéing, but for most of us olive oil is needed to create a flavorful dish.

Here is my take on a great tasting vegan dinner using all natural, easy to find ingredients. Try it for your next Meatless Monday dinner.


Pureed Celery Soup


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 leeks, light green and white sections, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds celery (stalks & leaves), diced
  • 2 medium baking potatoes, peeled & diced
  • 8 cups vegetable broth (for homemade vegetable stock see my recipe here)
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice


In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil and cook the onion and celery until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Add the broth and potato and season with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the potato is fork tender, about 20 minutes.

Add the parsley leaves and cook another 4 to 5 minutes.

Use a regular blender to puree the soup until smooth (a hand immersion blender or a food processor does not get the soup really smooth).

Stir in the lemon juice and taste to adjust the seasoning, if needed.


Crusty Italian Bread


  • 3 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water


In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt and yeast. Add water and mix until a shaggy mixture forms.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12 – 18 hours. Overnight works great.

Cut a piece of parchment paper the size of the bottom of a round cloche baker or dutch oven with a lid and sprinkle with flour. Set aside.

Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. When the oven has reached 450 degrees F, place the baker pan in the oven and heat for 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured work surface and shape into a ball. Place the dough on the prepared parchment and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise while the baker is heating.

Remove the hot baker from the oven and transfer the dough with the parchment to the baker. With a sharp knife, make a few slashes in the top of the dough. Cover and return to the oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes.

Remove the bread from the oven and place on a rack to cool. Slice and serve with olive oil for dipping.


Eggplant Olive Pasta

Serve a mixed green salad with the pasta.


  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium eggplant, (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 8 ounces dried rigatoni pasta (Check the ingredient list to be sure the pasta is vegan. Good Italian dried pasta should never contain eggs.)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil


Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the eggplant and the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 5 minutes.

Add garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Add tomatoes, olives, vinegar, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes begin to break down, 5 to 7 minutes more.


Turn the heat down and simmer the sauce, while the pasta cooks.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Place the cooked pasta and pasta cooking water in the skillet with the eggplant sauce and heat for about 2 minutes.

Pour into a pasta serving bowl and garnish with basil.


Vanilla Almond Biscotti

After experimenting with different ingredients to create a vegan biscotti, I decided this recipe had the right combination to form an authentic tasting biscotti.

They are more fragile than traditional biscotti, so handle gently. And, believe me when I say, this is a great tasting biscotti.

Makes about 15 biscotti


  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 cup organic sugar
  • 3/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 3/4 cup almond flour/meal
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup sliced almonds


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the almond milk and sliced almonds. Once mixed, slowly add the milk and mix until thoroughly combined. Fold in the 1 cup sliced almonds.

Cover a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place the dough in the center. Form the dough into a log with wet hands, about 10 x 4 inches.

Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until the center is firm (about 30 minutes); remove from the oven and place the log on a cutting board to cool for about 20 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F.

Using a sharp knife, slice the log on the diagonal into 1-inch thick cookies and place them back on the baking sheet.


Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the biscotti over and bake for 15 minutes more. Move to a wire rack to cool completely. These go very well with coffee for dessert.

Note: If you would like to decorate the biscotti with a drizzle of frosting for a better presentation, then mix together 1 cup of organic powdered sugar with 2-3 teaspoons of almond milk.

Cooking the Italian Provinces – L’Aquila

Castel del Monte (AQ).

L’Aquila is the largest, most mountainous and least densely populated province of the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy. It comprises about half the landmass of Abruzzo and occupies the western part of the region. The Province of L’Aquila includes the highest mountains of the Apennines (Gran Sasso, Maiella and Velino-Sirente).


The province is known for its many castles, fortresses and medieval hill towns. The province’s two major cities, L’Aquila and Avezzano, have had rapid economic expansion since the late 20th century, with the growth of transportation, manufacturing, telecommunications and computer industries.


The province’s major rivers are the Aterno-Pescara, Sangro, Liri, Salto and the Turano; its major lakes are Lago Scanno and Lago Barrea. It once included the largest lake on the Italian peninsula, Lago Fucino, which was drained in one of the 19th century’s largest engineering projects. The lake basin is today a flourishing agricultural area and an important technological district.


The Romans knew the lake as Fusinus Lacus and founded settlements on its banks. While the lake provided fertile soil and a large quantity of fish, it was known to harbor malaria and, having no natural outflow, repeatedly flooded the surrounding land. The Emperor Claudius attempted to control the lake’s maximum level by digging a 5.6 km (3.5 mi) tunnel through Monte Salviano, requiring 30,000 workers and eleven years of work. They eventually dug 32 wells and 6 tunnels. The lake was drained but with the fall of the Roman Empire the tunnels were obstructed and the water returned to previous levels. Many centuries later, Prince Alessandro Torlonia completed the work of the final draining of Lake Fucino expanding the original project of the emperor Claudius, by turning the Fucino in a fertile plain. In 1977, the tunnels were inaugurated as an archaeological park.



Throughout most of the 20th century, there were serious population declines in the rural areas, with the near collapse of the province’s pastoral agricultural economy, as people moved to cities for work. Since the founding of the Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga and Majella national parks, and the Sirente-Velino Regional Park, tourists have been attracted to the mountainous landscapes. Tourism and associated services have boosted the economy of rural L’Aquila and begun to reverse its population decline.

Many of the small villages, locked away in the mountains for centuries, have always depended on local products for their cuisine, especially cheeses, pastas and spices. While many of the dishes bear similarities to recipes one might find throughout Italy, the locals usually provide a regional variation. For example, chili pepper and saffron can be found added to many dishes in L’Aquila. The best-known pasta for the area is “chitarra” (guitar) pasta, which derives its musical name not from its shape, but from the wire-stringed instrument on which it is made.

Much of the region’s cuisine revolves around fresh seasonal produce, roasted meats and cured pork. Santo Stefano di Sessanio Lentils are grown exclusively here. Typical Abruzzo main courses are broadly divided according to geography: lamb in the highlands and seafood on the coast.

Another local specialty is soppressata, which is pork salami whose typical flat section is obtained, after the initial curing period, by placing the sausage between two wooden planks or thick metal sheets. A product uniquely native to Abruzzo in Italy is saffron from the Navelli Plane in the Province of L’Aquila. Zafferano–its Italian name–are the dried stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower and it is the most expensive spice in the world. Why? Because the extraction process is labor-intensive. You can’t harvest the crocus flowers with machinery, only the human hand will do.

Lower costs and a longer shelf life made Pane con le Patate (bread made with potatoes) a staple. By adding potatoes to the bread dough, the leavening agents combined with the potato’s yeasts, yield a type of bread capable of keeping fresh for twice as long as any other type of bread.


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


Involtini di Prosciutto con Arugula e Pecorino

(Prosciutto Rolled with Arugula and Pecorino Cheese)

A local prosciutto from Abruzzo is used and it differs from Parma ham because it is a little more salty.


  • 8 to 10 thin slices of prosciutto
  • 8 to 10 shavings of pecorino cheese
  • 2 bunches of arugula (washed with hard stems removed)
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml.) of olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon (strained)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Cured black olives, pits removed


On parchment paper, arrange the prosciutto in a single layer.

Pour the strained lemon juice in a non-reactive bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking constantly. Drop in the arugula, add salt and pepper and toss thoroughly.

Starting at one end of the slice of prosciutto place a small bunch of arugula. Add 1 shaving of cheese. Roll into a roulade, making sure it remains intact.

Continue with the remaining slices of prosciutto. Arrange on a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh ground pepper to taste. Garnish with the black olives.


Pasta e Lenticchie (Pasta and Lentils)

Serves 6


  • 11/2 cups dry lentils (or canned, drained, and rinsed)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 ounces pancetta (cut in 1/4-inch pieces)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 pound spaghetti (or egg noodles)
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley


In a medium saucepan, bring salted water to a boil. Add the lentils, cover, and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until tender but not mushy, about  20 minutes.

Drain and set aside. (If you are using canned lentils, you can add them directly to the frying pan after you sauté the pancetta.)

Using a large pot, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until it is al dente.

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta, onions, and garlic. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the pancetta is golden, about 7 minutes.

Combine with the lentils and season with salt and pepper. Drain the pasta, but reserve 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss the lentils and gradually add water until creamy.  

Sprinkle with Parmigiano and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.




  • 4 cups lean lamb, cut into ½ inch cubes  
  • Extra virgin olive oil  
  • Salt and pepper  
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon


Skewer the cubes neatly on well-oiled metal skewers or tiny disposable wooden kebab sticks (pre-soaked briefly in water, so the heat won’t burn the wood).

Marinate the arrosticini in olive oil, salt and pepper. Dribble the skewered meat with lemon juice and roast on the barbecue quickly, 2-3 minutes, turning a couple of times for even cooking.  

Serve with slices of oiled bruschetta.




  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour  
  • 4 tablespoons sugar  
  • 2 eggs  
  • 1/2 cup olive oil  
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract  
  • A pinch of anise  
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter


Work together the eggs, flour, sugar and olive oil to obtain a firm dough. Add the vanilla and a pinch of anise for the aroma.

Heat the waffle pan thoroughly. Grease it with butter and spoon small dollops of dough onto the waffle pan. Close the waffle pan and cook for 20-30 seconds.

Lift the top and use a fork to work the waffle loose. As you bake the ferratelle, be sure to keep the pan heated and well-greased throughout the baking time. Serve with jam.


Company for Dinner


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


Italian Red Onion Soup with Parmesan Crisps

Serves 6


  • 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


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.


Parmesan Crisps

Makes 6 crisps


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


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.


Sourdough Cheese Rolls


  • 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


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


Grilled Italian Sausage with Grapes


  • 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


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


  • 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


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.


Italian Style Peas


  • 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


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


Ricotta Cheesecake with Cherry Sauce


  • 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


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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