Away from the rolling hills, sweeping vineyards and expanses of the sunflower fields inland, on the Tuscany coast facing Elba Island where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his time in exile, perched high above the Baratti Gulf is the walled town of Populonia. The Populonia Bay is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Italy, a perfect fusion of nature and history. The Baratti Gulf and the Populonia cape have always attracted inhabitants. Today this area is the site of the Archaeological Park of Baratti and Populonia (close to Piombino, in the Livorno Province). The town sits next to the archeological park which contains the remains of a huge Etruscan settlement. The park tells the story of the Etruscans, a group of people who had an important impact on this territory.
Populonia is especially known for the wealth of Etruscan archaeology in the area and an impressive collection of artifacts unearthed from the surrounding area, from tools to helmets, weapons, casks and jewellery. Positioned on the summit of a hill for safety reasons, the Etruscans constructed a necropolis at the base to house their dead dating from the late Iron Age (600 BC). Populonia, the only Etruscan town built over the sea, was composed of two different parts: Populonia Akron, the acropolis, the upper part, where there were the temples and the public buildings. Populonia Polis, the lower part, situated close to the Baratti Gulf contained the port, where the main economic and artisanal activities took place.
The Etruscans were very enterprising and traded with many people from the East. Iron-work was the main economic activity of the Etruscan and Roman civilizations. This region also contained other precious metals, like copper. The Etruscans would sail from the Baratti Gulf to Elba Island, where they would transform the hematite into iron. Because of the region’s economic prosperity immigration increased: people from Spain, Sardinia, Campania and Corsica came to Populonia hoping for a new life. The Etruscans also created a mint: they needed coin for their commercial exchanges and to pay the soldiers who were protecting the area. The coins were made in silver and bronze.
Many archaeologists tried to discover the remnants of the Etruscan civilization, but they couldn’t succeed due to the terrain. The first discoveries were objects found in fishermen nets and at grave sites The Archaeological Park stretches over almost 200 acres between the slopes of the Piombino Mountains and the Gulf of Baratti. The Park includes a significant part of the ancient town of Populonia and is spread over a vast area, which enables visitors to appreciate the transformation that has taken place over the centuries.
The wooded coast overlooks the archipelago and the silhouettes of the islands, including Elba and Corsica, create a picturesque scenes. This is the landscape of the 8th-9th Century B.C., when important houses were built on the Acropolis to accommodate the aristocracies of Populonia. These houses are the remains of the summit of the acropolis and from the beach area on the Gulf of Baratti, one can view the remains of Populonia.
A network of roads join the houses and temples to the industrial city and the cemeteries which lie on the first hills surrounding the inlet. As in ancient times, the routes follow the original roads, crossing the woods and the scrub areas and opening up to unexpected views over the Gulf of Baratti and the open sea. The deep wooded areas contain the remains of the Benedictine monastery of San Quirico that tell of a lost city and the natural resources and minerals that were once part of the region.
Inside the park one can walk along three paths: the “Iron Route”, the “Quarries Route” and a naturalistic path. The “Iron Route” goes through the areas where the Etruscan ovens used to be. Then, going up the hills, the ruins of the industrial district can be seen. The “Quarries Route” is a path where the Etruscans used to extract the “panchina stone”, that was used to build Populonia.
The park also contains an experimental archeological laboratory and a museum that includes vases, precious jewels, bronzes, coins and graphic reconstructions of Etruscan landscapes and activities.
The Italians in Central Italy today are descendants of the Etruscans. Not only that, but the Italian language has its roots in the Etruscan language. The Etruscans revered women, so women and men were on an equal footing. The men were clean-shaven and were primarily sailors and merchants. They were also good sportsmen, warriors and skilled farmers.
The Etruscan hillsides were abundant with olive groves and modern potters continue the practice of decorating their ceramics with olives and olive leaves.
The Etruscans grew crops beside the grapes and olives and grew barley, millet, broad beans, lentils, chickpeas and spelt. They also grew beans, peas, garlic and onions, figs, melons, apples and berries.
They kept livestock, especially pigs, chickens, ducks and goats and hunted game from the surrounding forests, such as rabbits, deer and boar. Fish were taken from the rivers and the seas and they were making pasta with the use of a rolling pin.
The Etruscans ate two meals a day, enjoyed holding banquets and made good wine. Their culture and civilization was influenced by the Greek culture and they, in turn, influenced the Roman culture and, in turn, the Tuscan culture, as we know it today.
Etruscan food traced from archaeological findings and frescoes depicts food that is still eaten today. They used herbs like rosemary to flavor their meats, honey to sweeten desserts and they had utensils such as saucepans, pans, graters, pots, colanders, goblets and pitchers and beautiful dining plates. They baked and cooked over open fires and produced a variety of breads, one of which is still eaten today – flat grape bread. Wine was plentiful and stored in terracotta jars underground. It was strong and often drunk watered down. Today you will still Italians who drink wine diluted in this way.
Grape Flat Bread
- 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 3/4 cup sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 pounds seedless black grapes
In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of warm water. When the mixture foams, after 5 minutes, stir in a pinch of salt, 4 tablespoons of the sugar and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough that is not sticky.
On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for 5-8 minutes until firm, smooth and elastic. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover it. Set the dough aside for about an hour to rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a 9×13 baking pan. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and roll it out into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Enough dough should hang over the edge of the pan to completely cover the top when folded.
Transfer the dough to the baking pan. Spread 3/4 of the grapes over it, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Fold the overhanging dough up over the grapes, covering them completely. Press lightly to seal. Scatter the remaining grapes over the dough, drizzle with the remaining olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.
Bake the bread until golden brown and the grapes are soft for about 45-60 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Green Sauce (Salsa Verde)
This Etruscans served this sauce over what is called bollito misto or mixed boiled meats.
- 1 bundle of parsley
- 1 egg
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 1 tablespoons capers (in vinegar)
- 2 tablespoons of mixed pickled vegetables (in italy you will find carrots-cauliflower in the jar)
- 2 tablespoons of pine nuts
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
Boil the egg and mash it together with the other ingredients – the mixture you will obtain should be smooth and fine. (Use a processor)
Place it in a bowl – add salt, pepper and start pouring in olive oil until you obtain a creamy sauce.
Before using the sauce, let it rest for some time so that all flavors can blend in.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 lb italian sweet sausage, links
- 3/4 cup chopped onion
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 cups fresh spinach, cleaned, rough chopped
- 1 (14 1/2 ounce) cans chicken broth
- 1 (14 1/2 ounce) cans diced tomatoes with basil oregano and garlic, undrained
- 1 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Heat olive oil in heavy 4 quart sauce pan.
Cut sausage into 1/2 inch pieces.
Brown sausage in pan until no longer pink.
Add onion and garlic and stir until softened.
Add spinach, chicken broth, diced tomatoes, beans and red pepper.
Heat to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.
For the pasta
- 1 3⁄4 cups all-purpose flour, preferably Italian type 00
- A generous 1 cup semolina
For the sauce
- 1 hard-boiled egg
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 sprig flat-leaf parsley
- 6 basil leaves
- 6 mint leaves
- 1⁄2 – 2/3 cup olive oil
- Grated pecorino cheese, for sprinkling
- Salt and pepper
To make the pasta, mix together the flour, semolina and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Gradually mix in enough water to make a firm, elastic dough. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in a clean dish towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Chop the hard-boiled egg with the garlic, parsley, basil and mint, then transfer the mixture to a bowl. Gradually drizzle in enough oil to make a fairly liquid sauce.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Unwrap the pasta.Taking a small piece at a time, rub it back and forth on the work surface (counter) with your fingertips until it resembles thick spaghetti.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, bring back to a boil and cook and for 2–3 minutes, until tender but still firm to the bite. Drain, add to the sauce and toss well.
Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with grated pecorino and serve immediately.
Guinea Fowl in Porcini
- 1 guinea fowl, cut into 4 pieces
- 8 small sprigs sage
- 8 small sprigs mint
- 4 slices pancetta
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 5 1⁄2 cups porcini mushrooms, sliced
- 4 mint leaves
- 3 ripe tomatoes, chopped
- Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F
Stud the pieces of guinea fowl with the sage and mint sprigs and arrange a pancetta slice over each.
Pour 4 tablespoons of the olive oil into a casserole and add the guinea fowl. Roast in the oven for 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a shallow pan with the garlic cloves.When the garlic begins to brown, remove with a slotted spoon and discard.
Add the mushrooms, mint leaves and tomatoes to the pan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Remove the guinea fowl from the oven, add the pieces to the pan with the mushrooms and cook for 15 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper and remove the pan from the heat.
Transfer the guinea fowl and mushrooms to a serving dish and serve immediately
- Why you should visit the Gulf of Baratti, Tuscany (girlinflorence.com)
Cécile Kyenge Kashetu, born in Kambove, Republic of the Congo (Léopoldville), is a Congolese-born Italian politician and ophthalmologist. She is the Minister for Integration in the current Italian government. Dr. Kyenge is married and the mother of two daughters, Maïsha and Giulia. After moving to Italy in 1983, she became a qualified ophthalmologist in Modena, Emilia-Romagna.
She founded an intercultural Association (DAWA) to promote mutual awareness, integration and cooperation between Italy and Africa, particularly in her country of birth, the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is also the spokesperson of the association “March First”, which works to promote the rights of migrants in Italy. She collaborates with many Italian magazines, including Combonifem and Corriere Immmigrazione, an online newspaper and a weekly journal on the culture of Italy of the present and future.
In February 2013 she was elected a member of the Chamber of Deputies for the Democratic Party in Emilia-Romagna. Two months later she was appointed Minister for Integration in the coalition government formed by Enrico Letta, becoming Italy’s first black cabinet minister. She supports the introduction of a “Jus soli” law to grant citizenship to children of immigrants born on Italian soil. Under the current legislation, Italian nationality is passed on most commonly by blood, meaning the grandchild of an Italian, who has never set foot in the country, has more rights to citizenship than someone who was born in Rome to foreign parents.
But even if Dr. Kyenge is unable to push a single piece of legislation through Parliament, she will have secured an important legacy. Her April 27 appointment as Minister for Integration in Italy’s newly formed government has kicked off a much-needed discussion on race and immigration in a country that still struggles to come to terms with its rapid transformation.
That discussion has taken some brutal turns. “Kyenge wants to impose her tribal traditions from the Congo,” said Mario Borghezio, a member of the European Parliament for Italy’s anti-immigration Northern League in an April 30 radio interview. “She seems like a great housekeeper,” he added. “But not a government minister.” Even in Italy, a country all too often permeated by casual bigotry, Borghezio’s words went way too far. An online petition calling for him to be sanctioned or evicted from his post has gathered more than 75,000 signatures and the Northern League’s leader, Roberto Maroni, a former Interior Minister, has come under pressure to denounce him.
While Italians don’t like to think of their country as racist, the experience of non-white Italians and resident immigrants illustrates a culture that has found it hard to welcome increasing diversity. Dr. Kyenge’s appointment gives cause for hope that things will get better for Italy’s immigrant population. Appearing on an Italian talk show in May, Dr. Kyenge said her proposal will be ready “in the coming weeks.” She’ll soon get a chance to discover what her fellow parliamentarians are made of.
On September 23 representatives of 17 European Union countries gathered in Rome to condemn the “unacceptable” stream of racist insults directed at Cécile Kyenge and called for a new pact to stamp out discrimination across the European bloc. (The Rome Declaration-Pact 2014-2020 for a Europe of diversity and fight against racism.) “The reality is, Europe is made up of people with different skin colors, who belong to different religions or were born elsewhere but have chosen to live here,” said Dr. Kyenge.
Pollo di Modena
Italian Balsamic-Marinated Chicken – A classic dish from Dr. Kyenge’s home region in Italy.
This simple recipe for balsamic chicken puts the rich flavor of balsamic vinegar to good use. The marinade not only flavors the chicken but tenderizes it as well. Balsamic vinegar was first made in the city of Modena. The region of Emilia-Romagna has a rich and diversified cuisine, often including meats, stuffed pastas and salamis.
4 to 6 servings
- 2 1/2 to 3 pound chicken, cut into serving pieces
- 1 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, shredded
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2-3 teaspoons olive oil
In a large, non-reactive bowl, mix together the chicken, vinegar, garlic and sage. Refrigerate and marinate for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours.
Remove the chicken from the marinade, reserving the marinade. Pat the chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a large pot on medium-high. Saute the chicken in batches until browned on all sides.
Reduce heat to medium-low and return all the chicken to the pot. Pour in the reserved marinade and bring to a low boil. Reduce heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 40 to 50 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally. Add a little water if necessary to keep the marinade from drying out.
Remove the chicken to a serving platter. Adjust the seasoning of the sauce and pour it over the chicken. Serve with crusty Italian bread and a salad.
Pollo di Modena Variations:
- Substitute rosemary for the sage.
- Add sliced mushrooms to simmer with the chicken.
- Topped with sauteed pancetta before serving.
Elisabetta Missoni is a member of the national association, Le Donne del Vino (The Women of Wine), launched in April 1988 and is made up of wine producers, restaurateurs, sommeliers, owners of wine shops and trade journalists. The association aims to promote the ever-increasing role of women, in what was once a male-dominated environment, and to play a major contribution in the development of women working with wine.
Not surprisingly, for someone who has a strong connection with the fashion industry, wine was never Elisabetta’s first interest. “Before I met Giovanni, I was very much focused on fashion,” explains Elisabetta, who is the niece of fashion designer, Ottavio Missoni. “But Giovanni was passionate about his wines and he knew how to instil that passion in me. The fine quality of our wines reflects our continuous search for distinction and simplicity. That is the part of our lifestyle that we most like to share with our clients and friends.” Elisabetta is behind the Foffani wine label that she produces with her husband, Giovanni Foffani. While Giovanni concentrates on the actual wine production, Elisabetta deals with public relations and customer service. She is also responsible for organising annual events and demonstrations.
The Azienda Agricola Foffani winery is located in Clauiano (Friuli region) which is east of Venice. It was built in the 16th century and is now protected by the Italian Ministry of Fine Arts. Wine production dates back to 1789 and the name, Clauiano, comes from Claudiano, meaning Claudian because the property was given to the emperor Claudius by the Patriarch of Aquileia around 1 AD. The winery produces a selected range of aged red wines and classical Friuli white wines made in steel barrels to preserve their original fragrances. The result is wine that is mentioned in the acclaimed guide “Gambero Rosso” year after year. Every year Elisabetta and her husband take part in the trade fair Colori dei Vini, the ‘Colours of Wine’ show. Emphasising the family fashion ties, the tablecloths are exclusive knitwear designs by Luca Missoni and match the colors of the wines available.
Agnolotti di Pontebba
(Ravioli with Sweet Filling)
The varied landscape and strong Austrian and Central European influences are evident in the Friuli Venezia Giulia regional cuisine that is based heavily on polenta, soups and salumi. The Friulian people aptly merge humble, local ingredients with exotic spices from foreign lands, resulting in a cuisine that, while often surprising in its blend of sweet and savory flavors, please the palate.
Ingredients for 4 people
For the dough
- 2 cups flour
- 1 egg
- Salt to taste
- 1/2 cup water
For the filling
- 9 ounces ricotta
- 3 1/2 ounces prunes
- 1 dried fig
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Salt to taste
- Cinnamon to taste
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 7 tablespoons butter
Place flour on a smooth surface and make a well in the flour, add eggs, water and salt and knead until smooth. (You can also do this in a processor or electric mixer.
Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 20 minutes.
In a pot with boiling water, cook prunes and dried fig for a few minutes until soft. Drain, chop and combine with ricotta and sugar.
With a rolling pin or a pasta machine, roll out dough in 1/8-inch thick sheets. Cut out 2-inch circles with a biscuit or ravioli cutter.
Place one spoonful of ricotta filling in the middle of each circle and close to form crescents.
Seal edges with your fingers. Cook in boiling salted water for 5 minutes. Carefully drain with a slotted spoon to avoid breaking the agnolotti.
Arrange in pasta bowls and serve with melted butter, sugar and cinnamon mixture.
Last November Catherine DeAngelis, M.D., M.P.H., received the Special Recognition Award of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) that is given to leaders in academic medicine for extraordinary achievements in the field. The award honors DeAngelis’ numerous lifetime accomplishments, her long-standing commitment to academic medicine and her decade-long tenure as editor-in-chief of “The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)”, one of the oldest and most revered medical journals in the world. DeAngelis became that publication’s first female editor-in-chief and the first pediatrician to hold that title.
In her role as the first woman editor, Catherine DeAngelis, M.D., has made a special effort to publish substantive scientific articles on women’s health issues. The journal plays an important role in bringing new research to light and featured articles can lead to fundamental changes in treatment. Under her editorship, the journal published a landmark study questioning the benefits of hormone replacement therapy in 2002. She also served as editor of the”Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine”, from 1993 to 2000.
The granddaughter of Italian immigrants, Catherine DeAngelis was born and raised in a coal-mining town in northeastern Pennsylvania. She grew up in Old Forge, the middle child of three in a poor family. Her mother, the late Mary DeAngelis, worked as a waitress and her father, the late Sandy DeAngelis, worked in a silk mill. Both her parents only had an eighth-grade education.”We were poor, but we were happy,” Dr. DeAngelis said during a recent telephone interview. “We had a big garden and my parents canned what was in the garden. My dad hunted and fished.”
At first medical school was not financially possible, so she went into a three-year program to become a registered nurse. Following her graduation in 1960, she was accepted into Wilkes University. During her undergraduate years she worked as a nurse and set up an infirmary at Wilkes. She also worked in a laboratory, gaining valuable experience in immunology research. She went on to the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, again doing lab work, teaching student nurses and working in the V.A. hospital medical library to help cover her expenses.
After medical school, DeAngelis began a pediatric residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Working four hours a week at a free clinic in Baltimore, she began thinking about scientific ways to address the general problems she saw there. She had heard about Harvard University’s program in health law and economics and realized that she could apply for a master’s degree in public health fellowship with a stipend from the National Institute of Health.
After DeAngelis earned herdegree, she worked at the Roxbury, Massachusetts Comprehensive Community Clinic. While there, she noticed that many patients were not receiving basic care, primarily because of access and financial problems. With a little more training for nurses, she thought, some of these problems could be addressed. To solve the problem, she wrote a textbook for nurse practitioner-medical resident teams, Basic Pediatrics for Primary Care Providers, published in 1973.
From 1973 to 1975 she worked as a faculty member at the Columbia College of Physicians on improving health care systems in Harlem and upper Manhattan in New York, using physician-nurse practitioner teams. She then took a position at the University of Wisconsin organizing a system for children’s health care for the next three years.
In 1978 DeAngelis decided to move back East, where she became chief of the new Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Hopkins Medical Center. She went on to become deputy chair of the department and was appointed vice-dean for academic affairs in 1994.
When she was made a full professor in 1984, Dr. DeAngelis was only the twelfth woman in Hopkins’s 94-year history to receive that rank. 68 percent of all women, who have been made professor since the founding of Hopkins, received their promotions while DeAngelis was vice-dean. Her success there is especially ironic, as her application to attend Hopkins’ medical school was rejected years earlier.
Old-Fashioned Italian-American Lasagna
Italian American food is based heavily on the traditional food of southern Italian immigrants, most of whom arrived in the United States from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For many Italian Americans, who identify their food with their locale and the home areas of their ancestors, the food is based on staples such as dry pasta, ricotta cheese, tomato sauce and olive oil.
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 large yellow onions, diced (about 3 cups)
- Three 28-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes, drained
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups whole-milk ricotta
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 18 sheets lasagna, each about 10 inches by 2 inches, parboiled
- 1 pound mozzarella, grated (about 3 cups)
Heat olive oil over moderate heat in large saucepan. Add onions, stir and cover. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent. Using a food mill, purée plum tomatoes directly into the pan. Add 2 teaspoons of the coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper and cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until sauce is reduced to about 41/2 cups.
In a small bowl mix ricotta, egg, 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, basil, remaining salt and pepper and nutmeg. Stir well to combine.
Butter generously the bottom and sides of a baking pan, 11 inches by 9 inches by 1 1/2 inches. Take 3/4 cup of tomato sauce and spread on the bottom of the pan.
Place 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan, overlapping them slightly. Spread a heaping 1/3 cup of ricotta mixture evenly over noodles. Spread 3/4 cup of tomato sauce on top of this layer. Sprinkle with a heaping 1/3 cup of mozzarella. Repeat this 4 times.
Then place the last 3 noodles on top and sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano. (The lasagna may be assembled up to this point 2 days in advance and stored in refrigerator, covered. Bring to room temperature before cooking.)
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until cheese is melted. Let sit for 5 minutes before cutting.
Afua works as Assistant Director for Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting Programs at NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies and she has a unique ancestry. She was born in Ghana, West Africa, to an Akan mother and an African-American father. She came to America when she was less than 1 year old and her Father re-married. Her stepmother is Italian-American whose family is Abruzzese from Sulmona and Roccacasale. Afua calls her stepmother, Mother, because she was raised by her, but Afua also keeps in contact with her birth Mother’s family.
The Italian side of her personality comes out, she says, “in my cooking, sense of style, love of art and devotion to my family. I’m fiercely protective. People say that I have a sort of casual reserve called “cool orsprezzatura” — depending on which side of my family is speaking. When I cook, I’m always mixing in more garlic in my paternal Grandmother’s recipes or taking an Italian dish and making it more southern. The music in my life also has cultural collisions. I am a big fan of Italian singer, Lorenzo Cherubini Jovanotti, who mixes sounds of Italy, black America and Africa.”
Afua can speak Italian. Listening to her Great-Grandmother Mamma Adele speak to her Grandmother Mamma Dina made Afua want to learn Italian and, eventually, she earned a B.A. in Italian Language and Culture. She studied in Florence and learned to speak Italian. “The sounds of the language are beautiful. Not to mention, it helps to know Italian when ordering Italian food”, she said in a recent interview.
Afua said she retains her Italian side, “through food, art and music. I cook Italian food often. My Nonna says that I am the best pizzelle maker in the family. I read “Cucina Italiana Magazine” all the time. Both my parents are art historians, so I was always a lover of art. But it was especially after my semester in Firenze, that I came back to New York and had a new appreciation of the beautiful architecture and the stone and marble work in buildings in Harlem and Washington Heights.”
She feels lucky to have grown up with two well-educated parents and two grandmothers who worked very hard in life to raise themselves up from their poor origins through education. Her paternal Grandmother Millie, especially, raised her to believe she could be anything she wanted to be. Afua said, “I never looked at color as an obstacle for me to do what I wanted in life. But many children of color do have real obstacles and, therefore, feel that they could “never” be what they want to be. I’m kind of a zuppa mista. I don’t identify with any one group. Although my skin is black, I can’t really define myself totally. I would like to explore my African roots more though. My face and name are Ghanaian, my voice is very NY American and my soul is black-Italian American.”
Zuppa Mista di Legumi
A dish Afua likes to prepare – bean soup. Simplicity is central to the Tuscan cuisine. Legumes, bread, cheese, vegetables, mushrooms and fresh fruit are used
- 8 oz mixed dried legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas)
- 7 oz spelt
- 4 cups vegetable broth, heated
- 1 onion
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk of celery
- Salt to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil
As a first step to prepare this soup you need to soak the dried beans in warm water overnight, then drain them and use them in the preparation according to the recipe.
Chop celery, carrot, garlic and onion and put them to fry in a pan with a little olive oil.
When the garlic is golden, add the dried beans and the farro, stir with a wooden spoon and start cooking the soup slowly adding the hot broth.
Continue cooking over low heat, stirring occasionally. The time required for cooking and to thicken the soup varies from 30 to 40 minutes depending on the quality of the beans.
Season with salt and add a little olive oil.
- EU ministers meet to condemn racism aimed at Italian minister Cécile Kyenge (theguardian.com)
Johns Hopkins Medicine
i-Italy Digital Magazine
We Say Biscotti, Italians Say Cantucci
As noted, Italians call biscotti cantucci and use the term biscotti to refer to any type of crunchy cookie, round, square or otherwise—as the British use the word biscuit. In North America, we use biscotti as the ancient Romans did, to describe a long, dry, hard, twice-baked cookie (in other words, cantucci).
Biscotti have been baked for centuries. It was the perfect food for sailors who were at sea for months at a time. The biscuits were thoroughly baked to draw out moisture, becoming a cracker-like food that was resistant to mold. Biscotti were a favorite of Christopher Columbus who relied on them on his long sea voyages.
Biscotti are eaten and enjoyed in many ways! Italians favor them as “dipping cookies” either in a cup of espresso or cappuccino or in a special Italian wine known as Vin Santo. They are enjoyed as a breakfast biscuit with coffee or as a dessert along side a dish of Gelato or Spumoni and, of course, biscotti can be savored as a subtly sweet crispy snack all by themselves!
Though modern biscotti are associated with the Tuscan region of Italy, the popular Italian cookie traces its origins to Roman times. The word biscotto derives from “bis,” Latin for twice, and “coctum” or baked (which became cotto or cooked). The Roman biscotti were more about convenience food for travelers rather than a pleasurable treat for leisurely dinners. Unleavened, finger-shaped wafers were first baked, then baked a second time to completely dry them out, making them durable for travel and nourishment for the long journeys—Pliny, a Roman philosopher and author, boasted that they would be edible for centuries. Biscotti were a staple of the diet of the Roman Legions.
After the fall of the Roman Empire in 455 C.E, the country was repeatedly sacked by the Visigoths, the Vandals and others. The people did their best to survive but there was no culinary development. With the progression of the Renaissance, cuisine also flowered. Biscotti re-emerged in Tuscany, credited to a Tuscan baker who served them with the local sweet wine. Their dry, crunchy texture was seen to be the perfect medium to soak up the wine. Centuries later, many still agree that dipping biscotti into Vin Santo is a perfect way to end a meal or to while away an hour at a café. Tuscan biscotti were flavored with almonds from the plentiful almond groves of Prato. Cantucci di Prato can be found in the window of every pasticceria in Tuscany.
Cantucci became a staple in the Tuscan cities of Florence and Prato, and spread throughout the Italian peninsula. As the Roman Legions had appreciated their long storage ability, so did the soldiers, sailors and fisherman of the Renaissance. But now, rather than pallid, dry staples for nourishment, Italian bakers put their culinary gifts to work. Biscotti became so popular that every province developed its own flavored version.
Not only are biscotti delicious to eat but they have inspired some artists to use them in their works of art. Barbara Melnick Carson recently visited Tuscany and wrote about her experiences on her blog. She discovered such art in her travels. You can read some of her creative posts at http://barbaramelnikcarson.com/
You can also view her photos of biscotti used as art in the post, The Art of Pastry.
She shared some of her photos with me and I am including them in this post, just below.
From the almond recipe of Tuscany, the recipe expanded to lemon-flavored dough and to other flavors and spices; to biscotti with raisins and other dried fruits; to biscotti studded with chocolate morsels and a variety of nuts. Today, the flavorings are only limited to the imagination of the baker and the palates of the customer.
Most European countries have adopted their own version of biscotti. the British have rusks; the French biscotte and croquets de carcassonne; Germans zwieback; Greeks biskota and paxemadia; Jews mandelbrot; and Russians sukhariki.
Biscotti range in texture from very hard to somewhat spongy and more cake-like. First, the sticky dough is shaped into a log and baked until firm. After a short cooling period, the log is sliced into diagonal pieces and baked again to cook out the moisture and produce the crisp, dry-textured cookie with a longer shelf life. The classic recipe has no butter or oil, using only eggs to bind the ingredients together. Recipes that do use butter or oil have a softer texture and a shorter shelf life.
Here is the Classic Biscotti Recipe:
Anisette or Amaretto Biscotti
- 3½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 4 large eggs
- 2 egg yolks and reserve one egg white
- 2 cups granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for topping
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons Anisette or Amaretto liqueur
- 1 tablespoon anise seed
- 6 cups whole almonds, coarsely chopped
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease two heavy cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light, about 2 minutes; the mixture will look somewhat curdled.
Beat in the vanilla, anisette or amaretto and anise seed. Beat in the dry ingredients, then the chopped nuts.
Divide the dough into four portions. On a lightly floured board, shape each portion into a flat log, just about the length the cookie sheet. Place two rolls on each cookie sheet.
In a small bowl, beat the egg white with a fork until frothy. With a pastry brush, glaze each log with some egg white and sprinkle with granulated sugar.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the logs are lightly golden brown, firm to the touch and just beginning to crack slightly.
Allow the logs to cool on the cookie sheet about 20 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 200°F. With a serrated knife slice the biscotti on the bias into ½-inch slices. Lay the slices on the cookie sheets in a single layer; Return the biscotti to the oven and cook for 20 more minutes, turning over halfway through the baking time or until the biscotti are toasted and crisp
Store the biscotti in an airtight container. They will keep for 2-3 weeks.
Double Chocolate Biscotti
This double chocolate biscotti recipe gets its chocolate flavor from cocoa powder in the dough and the addition of chocolate chips.
- 2/3 cup whole almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
- 1 2/3 cups flour
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 large eggs, divided
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Position one of your oven racks in the center of your oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking liner and set aside.
In a large bowl sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt and stir in the sugar. Make a well in the middle of the dry mix. Combine two of the whole eggs, the egg yolks, and vanilla in a small bowl and mix into the dry mixture until just combined. Add the nuts and chocolate chips and mix until incorporated.
After mixing, scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Briefly knead the dough, just until it comes together, and divide it in half. Shape each half into a 2 1/2 inch by 12 inch flat log. The dough will be sticky so you may need to add more flour to your hands as you go along to accomplish this.
Carefully transfer the logs onto your prepared baking sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart because they will spread as they bake.
Beat the remaining whole egg and brush it over the logs.
Place the baking sheet on the center rack of your oven and bake for about 35 minutes, or until the logs are firm to the touch.
Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and allow the logs to cool for 10-15 minutes.
Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Transfer the logs to a cutting board, discarding the parchment paper. Using a serrated knife, cut the logs on the diagonal into 1-inch thick slices. Place the slices on the baking sheet cut side down.
Bake the biscotti until they are crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes turning halfway thorough baking.
Remove the biscotti from baking sheet and place on a wire rack to allow cool completely.
Variations: Feel free to experiment with the recipe:
Darker Chocolate, use Dutch-Process Cocoa Powder instead of regular unsweetened cocoa powder.
Double Chocolate Biscotti with cherries, add 1/3 cup chopped dried cherries with the chocolate chips.
Chocolate Hazelnut, substitute hazelnuts for the almonds.
Double Chocolate Biscotti with Orange, add 1 teaspoon grated orange zest to the dough when you add the vanilla.
Double Chocolate Macadamia, substitute macadamia nuts for the almonds.
Double Chocolate Biscotti with Ginger, add 1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger when you add the chocolate chips.
Mexican Flair, add 1 teaspoon cinnamon to the flour mixture.
Mocha, add 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder to the flour mixture.
Triple Chocolate Dipped, melt 12 ounces of your favorite chopped dark or white chocolate. Place it in a narrow heatproof container then dip half of each biscotti slice into the chocolate.
Place them on a wax paper lined cookie sheet and place the sheet into the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to harden.
Vegan Chocolate Biscotti
*Adapted from Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich
- 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1/3 cup vegan chocolate chips
- 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons instant dried espresso coffee
- 4 1/2 teaspoons Ener-G Egg Replacer mixed with 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon canola oil
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a food processor, add the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and coffee crystals and pulse to combine. About six pulses.
Next, in a medium mixing bowl, combine the Egg Replacer with water, oil, then add the sugar and vanilla extract to this. Mix well.
Next, add the flour mixture and chocolate chips to this sugar mixture. Gently mix the dough. The dough will be wet and heavy with a few lumps. Just be careful to NOT overwork the dough.
Gently lift the dough up out of the bowl and turn it out onto the parchment lined cookie sheet. Divide the dough in half and shape into two long logs. About ten inches long and three inches wide.
Don’t bother flattening the logs out–they will flatten as they bake and take on the domed look of biscotti.
On lowest rack in the oven, bake biscotti logs for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about fifteen minutes.
Slice logs into 1/2 inch pieces with a serrated knife. Separate the pieces a bit so the air circulates around them on the baking sheet.
Bake for a second time for 20 minutes. (A bit longer if you want crunchy biscotti.) Remove from the oven. Allow to cool completely before storing. Can be stored in airtight container for several weeks.
Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Yield – About 16
- 1/4 cup olive oil, not extra virgin
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
- 2 eggs
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1 1/2 cups shelled pistachio nuts
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F
Mix together oil and sugar until well blended.
Mix in the almond extract, next beat in the eggs.
In another bowl combine flour, salt and baking powder – gradually stir this into the egg mixture.
Mix in cranberries and nuts by hand.
Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12 x 2 inches). Place logs on lightly greased cookie sheet.
Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven.
Remove from oven and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.
Reduce oven heat to 275 degrees F.
Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices. Lay the slices on their sides on the cookie sheet.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes turning halfway through the baking time.
Cool on cookie sheet for 5 minutes, then carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Store in an airtight container.
- Cooking with Karli: Biscotti or Cantucci di Prato (fox4kc.com)
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- White Chocolate Lemon Macadamia Nut Biscotti (lattesandleggings.com)
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Legend says it was mythic Trojan refugees from Greece who founded Pisa. The City of Pisa was first settled in a region of Italy that was relatively uninhabited at the time. Of course, ” Italy ” wasn’t around then, and Pisa was a Roman settlement. As a coastal town, Pisa was an important Roman port and merchant center. Pisa existed long before the Roman empire though, and in ancient Roman texts, Pisa is called an old city.
A city of Etruscan origin, Pisa reached its highest splendor in the 11th century, when it became one of the four influential Italian Maritime Republics along with Genoa, Venice and Amalfi. During most of the Middle Ages, it dominated the western Mediterranean Sea. The construction of what would become the city’s most famous monuments: the Duomo of Pisa, the Leaning Tower and the Monumental Cemetery began during that time.
The Tower of Pisa leans sideways because it was built on unstable soil. In 1173 construction started on the 180-foot bell tower and the building began to lean as soon as the first three floors were completed. Nevertheless, building continued and the seven-story structure was finished between 1360 and 1370. The tower continued to lean a little bit more each year and was closed for repairs in 1990, when it was leaning fourteen and one-half feet to one side. Engineers worked to stabilize the foundation, straightening the tower only slightly to help prevent irreparable damage without taking away the uniqueness of the structure.
Most often Pisa acted as a commercial center for the region but, during times of war, Pisa was able to maintain control of the Mediterranean Sea with its formidable fleet of warships. The Romans used the port of Pisa to launch naval attacks against the Gauls, Ligurians and Carthagenians.
Pisa was a wealthy city with colonies in northern Africa, in southern Spain and along the southern coasts of Asia Minor. The 1284 war with Genoa marked the beginning of Pisa’s decline. Florence conquered Pisa in 1406, however, under Medici rule, the city flourished and commissioned the new construction, such as, the University that later attracted Galileo Galilei, the famous astronomer, physicist, mathematician as department chair.
The City of Pisa, as we know it today, is the result of many global influences that affected the entire world, not just Italy and the surrounding areas. World War II took its toll on the city, damaging many of the famous buildings and historic areas. However, both residents of the City of Pisa and Italy itself have beautifully restored Pisa to a state that is modern and functional, as well as historic.
The Cuisine of Pisa
The cuisine in Pisa offers lots of variety and taste, as diverse as the lands around it. From the sea to the farmland and on to the hilly landscape dominated by grain, olives and grape vines to the rugged, wooded landscape.The many restaurants in the historic center offer typical dishes from Pisa, as well as fine, protected products, such as Monte Pisano olive oil, Pecorino cheese, Parco di Migliarino lamb, Pisan beef, San Miniato truffle, pine nuts, mushrooms, Pisanello tomatoes and much more. Tuscan bread, made without salt, is an essential element of Pisan cuisine and the base of many canapés which are served as appetizers.
Pisa’s cuisine varies from fish and seafood specialties to game dishes. A typical dish of the area is a simple soup called “Sullo Scio” prepared by frying some garlic, rosemary and peeled tomatoes in oil, adding water, broken up tagliatelle (wide pasta noodles) and served with Parmesan cheese. Mushrooms are an important feature in Pisa’s cuisine and they can be eaten simply sliced and dressed in a salad or in more elaborate pasta sauces.
As far as desserts, a particular mention goes to “Torta con i Bischeri”, a pastry based tart filled with rice cooked in milk and flavored with lemon, vanilla and nutmeg with the addition of chocolate pieces, candy fruit, raisins and maraschino liqueur. Desserts are based on the traditions of the poor and are made with dried fruit, chestnuts, pine nuts, chocolate and wine.
In the past, one of the great traditional specialties was “Cee alla Pisana” or baby eels, caught in the River Arno. According to this recipe, the eels were sautéed with garlic, olive oil, sage and Parmesan cheese, but they are no longer allowed because“cee” fishing is now prohibited. Local fish dishes usually include leeks or chickpeas and are served with a sweet-and-sour sauce or an onion and tomato sauce. Chickpeas are widely used, especially to make cecina, a flat bread snack, very similar to the Genovese farinata ( a thin, crisp, pizza-like pancake) made with chickpea meal cooked in copper baking-tins in a wood-burning oven.
Vegetables grow in abundance here, given the mild climate of this part of Tuscany, and are used mostly to make quiche and frittatas. Beans are widely used. Bordatino, a soup made of red beans, black cabbage and corn meal, octopus and beans and tuna bean salad are some of the dishes in which they feature beans. Fresh pasta dishes seasoned with sauces made from game and poultry such as boar, hare and duck are also popular.
From the local peasant heritage come recipes like Maggese, made with diced pig shoulder and Pecorino cheese, pig’s cheek mousse to spread on warm toast, and Testicciola alla Pisana, the head of a calf or lamb cooked in water with spices and herbs, boned and seasoned with capers, anchovies, pickles, salt, pepper and olive oil.
Finally, the province of Pisa also includes among its varied resources a flourishing wine-making industry that produces DOC and IGT wines (meaning a wine produced and guaranteed to be from a specific area). Typical local wines include the Chianti Colline Pisane (protected by the DOC label), Bianco Pisano di San Torpé, Colli dell’Etruria Centrale, Montescudaio and and Vin Santo.
Pisa Inspired Recipes For You To Make At Home
For the Clams:
- 24 fresh Littleneck clams
- Cornmeal or all-purpose flour
- 1 cup white wine
For the Topping:
- 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fine bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons chopped roasted red sweet pepper
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
- 4 tablespoons finely chopped pancetta
- 1 lemon, cut into wedges
Scrub the clams to remove exterior dirt and place them in a large bowl along with cold water and the cornmeal or flour. Let soak 10 minutes. Scrub each clam clean under cold running water to remove remaining softened dirt from the shells and return to soak in fresh cold water. If necessary, repeat the scrubbing process a couple of times until the clams are completely clean and the soaking water is free of sand. Drain and chill until ready to cook.
In a deep skillet with a tight-fitting lid, bring the wine to a boil. Add the cleaned clams, cover immediately, and steam until the clams are open, 3 to 5 minutes. Discard any clams that do not open. Using tongs, remove the shellfish from the pan to a bowl. Reserve the cooking liquid in the pan.
Preheat a broiler. In a mixing bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, bread crumbs, roasted red pepper, parsley, and pancetta. Mix well.
Leave the whole clam meat in one of its shells and discard the other shell half.
Spoon equal amounts of topping on each clam. Drizzle reserved clam liquid over the topping and place the clams in a flameproof baking dish, 9 inches from the broiler.
Broil for about 6 minutes, watching carefully to be sure the topping does not burn. If it browns too quickly, move farther from the flame and add a little more clam liquid or wine before returning them to the broiler. Serve hot with lemon wedges.
Yield: 4 servings
Pisan Style Chickpeas
- 1/2 lb. dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, minced
- 1 celery stalk, finely diced
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 12 oz. beet greens or other greens, such as mustard or chard, tough ribs removed, blanched
- 1 cup diced Italian plum tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- Toasted Tuscan-style bread
- Salt and pepper to taste
Drain the chickpeas from their soaking water and place in a medium-size saucepan with several inches of water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook over medium-high heat until soft but not breaking apart, about 2 hours, uncovered or partially covered. Drain, reserving 1/ 2 cup of the chickpea cooking water.
In a large nonreactive skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, add the onion and celery and cook until softened, about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic, tomato paste and tomatoes with their juices, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring a few times. Add the chickpeas and their reserved liquid and cook another 10 minutes. Add the beet or mustard greens and cook until heated through, an additional 10 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Gently turn several times to mix the ingredients.
Toast the bread, set it in soup bowls, and ladle the chickpeas and their broth over it.
Pisan Braised Beef Skillet
- 1 pound beef round steak
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
- 1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 14-1/2 ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed or 1 tablespoon snipped fresh basil
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed or 1-1/2 teaspoons snipped fresh oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Trim fat from round steak and cut meat into 4 serving-size pieces. Heat oil in a large skillet. Add meat pieces to skillet and brown both sides of each piece. Remove meat from skillet.
Add mushrooms, onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic to the skillet. Cook until vegetables are nearly tender. Then, stir in undrained tomatoes, herbs, and red pepper. Add meat to skillet, spooning vegetable mixture over the meat. Cover and simmer about 1-1/4 hours or until meat is tender, stirring occasionally.
Transfer meat to a serving platter. Spoon vegetable mixture over meat and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Makes 4 servings.
- Loving the coast: Pisa & Pesaro – Pesaro, Italy (travelpod.com)
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The cuisine of Italy changes as you move from region to region (even sometimes, from city to nearby city), with each area having unique recipes, specialties and culinary traditions. Most households in Italy reserve a meal or two for beans, just as they include specific days for meat, pasta or fish. Beans play an essential role in Italian cooking and, consequently, they are grown throughout the country. From Sicily in the south to Piedmont and Veneto in the north, various regions produce different kinds of beans, all of which are enjoyed by the Italian culture.
Beans contain a wealth of fiber both soluble and insoluble and contain more protein than any other vegetable; some beans even rival chicken or meat in protein content. Italy, also, boasts a rich tradition of bread soups, which was born out of necessity. In the past people were much too poor to throw away stale bread, therefore, they had to devise ways to make it edible, such as working it into a soup. Vegetables also play an important part in Italian soups. Soups are always made from scratch and include the freshest of ingredients, so the soup recipe can change, depending on what vegetables are in season. That is why you will often see recipes for Summer, Fall or Winter Minestrone. Pasta and rice are also common additions.
Soups in the Italian cuisine can be light, clear ones or thicker purees and even stews-like. Vegetable soups are usually served during spring and summer and somet are served cold. Hearty soups include minestrones, bean and sauerkraut soup, garlic bread soup, chickpeas and string-beans soups, Supa de Scigol, a specific Milanese onion soup, and Zuppa di Primavera, an Italian specialty made with vegetables, potatoes and bits of pasta. Meat is also used in Italian soups, especially pancetta. Beef, chicken and pork are used for thick hearty soups served with cream, while fish is used for lighter spicier soups served with pasta bits and onion rings. Most soups are accompanied by bread, and are seasoned with cheese and parsley, dill, basil or oregano. The soup recipes included in this post are classic, hearty, country soups that have been part of the Italian cuisine for centuries.
Italian Wedding Soup
The Italian Wedding Soup, is one of those Old World dishes that comes complete with a colorful story. Serve a bowl, fill your head with images of folks in colorful native dress, dancing in circles to celebrate wedding joy while somebody plays the accordion and grandfathers smoking cigars and clapping their hands.
Great story, great image. There’s just one little problem. It is not really true. This hearty soup is Italian all right, but at least historically, it has nothing to do with weddings. With regional variations from Rome to Abbruzzi to Naples, this peasant dish earned the Neapolitan name “Minestra Maritata” or “married soup,” not because of any connection with weddings but simply because it brings together meat and greens in a happy marriage.
But the old name stuck, and over time – more in Italian-American culture than in the Old Country – it became the custom to serve it at wedding feasts, simply because the name prompted the tradition. It’s certainly not restricted to wedding meals and is often served during the holidays, on cold winter days, or just about any time you’re in the mood for a hearty, healthy soup.
For the meatballs:
- 1 pound ground turkey breast
- 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the soup:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots)
- 3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks)
- 1 medium zucchini, diced
- 2-32 oz cartons low sodium chicken broth
- 1 cup small tubular pasta, such as ditalini
- 1/4 cup minced fresh basil
- 10 ounce package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
- Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Pour the milk over the bread crumbs and rest ten minutes. Add the ground turkey, garlic, parsley, Italian seasoning, Parmesan, egg substitute, ½ teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork.
With a teaspoon, form 1 inch meatballs and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, zucchini and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until the pasta is tender.
Add the fresh basil and meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook until the meatballs and spinach are hot. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan.
Most Tuscan food is rustic and hearty; nothing fancy. Grilled meats, brothy soups and beans are featured prominently, for example, the simple ribollita. While this is now a staple in restaurants in Tuscany and elsewhere, its roots are clearly in the home — or the farmhouse.
Classic ribollita is actually not one dish, but three. It started out as a minestra, a simple vegetable soup with greens and white beans. The next day, leftovers of of the minestra were extended with pieces of stale bread to make minestra di pane. On the third day, the soup was reheated (ribollita means “reboiled”). As is typical with most soups, the flavors meld and improve with time. No matter which phase of its life you are consuming, be sure to serve it with a drizzle of very good, fresh, fruity olive oil.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 4 celery stalks, chopped
- 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 medium carrots chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1- 14-ounce can diced tomatoes, no salt added
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 pound cavolo nero (lacinato kale, Tuscan kale), stems trimmed off and leaves well chopped
- 4 cups cooked white beans, such as cannellini, see post https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/23/how-to-use-beans-in-italian-cooking/
- 1/2 pound Italian bread (such as ciabatta), crusts removed
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
- zest of one lemon
- Parmesan Cheese
In a thick-bottomed soup pot over medium heat combine the olive oil, celery, garlic, carrot, and onion. Cook for 10-15 minutes sweating the vegetables, but avoid browning them. Stir in the tomatoes and red pepper flakes, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, long enough for the tomatoes to thicken up a bit. Stir in the kale, 3 cups of the beans, and 8 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes.
In the meantime, mash or puree the remaining beans with a small amount of water until smooth. Tear the bread into bite-sized chunks. Stir both the beans and bread into the soup. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the bread breaks down and the soup thickens, 20 – 30 minutes. Stir in the salt, taste and add more if needed. Stir in the lemon zest.
Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate overnight. Serve reheated the next day and finish each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese.
Makes 10 servings.
Pasta e Fagioli
Fagioli, also known as” pasta fazool”, is a typical dish of the Italian table. In nearly every region, province and village you will find a version of this pasta and bean soup.
Pasta e Fagioli originated as a peasant dish, due to the wide availability of pasta and beans. Italians, often, use legumes in their cooking, but they are most widely used in the regions of central Italy: Tuscany, Abruzzo, Umbria and Lazio. However, the Veneto region, located in the northeastern corner of the boot, is well known for their version of Pasta e Fagioli. The traditional bean variety used in Pasta e Fagioli is the borlotti bean (also known as the cranberry bean). Many specialty grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, sell cranberry beans. Cranberry beans have a white and deep pink marbled pattern on their skins, and when cooked, their taste is similar to that of chestnuts, however, any white bean will be good in this soup.
This Italian soup–which has as many variations as there are cooks—is chock full of pasta, beans, and vegetables, making it a hearty one-dish meal. Serves 8.
- 1 ½ cups dried white beans cooked
- see post for instructions: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/23/how-to-use-beans-in-italian-cooking/
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 medium onions, finely chopped
- 4 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
- 3 medium celery ribs, thinly sliced crosswise
- 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon. dried rosemary
- 1 quart lower-salt chicken broth
- 1-28 oz. container Italian chopped tomatoes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup ditalini (or other small pasta)
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Salt & Pepper
- Crushed red pepper, to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Shaved Parmesan Cheese
- Fresh chopped parsley
- Chopped basil
In a 6-quart (or larger) soup pot over medium heat oil and add the onions, carrots and celery to the pot and cook until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, beans, tomatoes, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat and simmer 30 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the ditalini according to the package directions and drain. Add to the soup with the parsley and crushed red pepper. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve with garnishes: olive oil, cheese, basil and parsley
Pappa al Pomodoro
Pappa al pomodoro is a traditional farmer recipe invented by peasant housewives in Tuscany to avoid wasting stale bread. The recipe was also made famous thanks to a hit song by Rita Pavone, “Viva la pappa col pomodoro” (1965)
Pappa al pomodoro – a rustic Tuscan tomato bread soup – is an excellent example of the Italian belief – “never throw anything away, especially bread!”
Most likely created in the Sienese hills, pappa al pomodoro can now be found throughout central Italy. Authentic pappa al pomodoro requires the unsalted Tuscan bread as a base, and the extra virgin olive oil of the region. Pappa al pomodoro is delicious cold or hot, and is never eaten with Parmesan or any other cheese in Italy, but in the US cheese has become customary.
The preparation varies from family to family, and some variations may include onion, leek, carrot, celery, chili or rosemary. This version is more of a basic ‘pappa al pomodoro,’ which can be modified to suit your preference.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
- 1 cup medium-diced carrots, (3 carrots)
- 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
- 4 minced garlic cloves
- 3 cups (1-inch) diced Italian bread cubes, crusts removed
- 2 (28-ounce) containers Pomi strained tomatoes
- 4 cups low sodium chicken stock
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
For the topping:
- Diced Italian bread cubes, toasted
- Whole fresh basil leaves
- Shaved Parmesan cheese
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper.
Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.
Puree the soup with a hand blender or in the processor. Reheat and serve with the soup sprinkled with the toppings and olive oil drizzled over the top.
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