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Tortelli di Carnevale (Carnival Fritters)

24 Feb

Let’s party! It is Carnival! Carnival, well-known in the USA for the Mardi Gras celebrations, is one of the most joyous holiday of the year. We cannot refrain from masked balls, parades and street parties. This festive event is also celebrated with special treats prepared only during this season, for example tortelli (or castagnole, bugie, zeppe… whatever you like to call them). There are a lot of names for the same delicious fritters, loved by children and adults. I remember my grandmother preparing tortelli as well as chiacchiere, another Carneval treat! This event was part of our annual Carnival celebration. Toertelli are typically of Lombardy (my region) and can be enjoyed plain or, if you want to make them even more delicious, with chocolate cream or custard. The dough is smooth but not liquid and, when dropped in hot oil, swells to form lovely little puffs.

Preparation time : 20 min. Cooking time: 20 min. Servings: 30 tortelli

Frittelle di Carnevale

250 ml ( about 1 cup) milk
60 g (2.15 oz) butter, cut into cubes
50 g (¼ cup) granulated sugar
1 lemon, grated zest
1 pinch of salt
160 g (1 cup) all-purpose flour
7 g (½ teaspoon ) baking powder
4 eggs
Peanut Oil
Chocolate cream (like Nutella)
Cocoa powder

1. Sift the flour with the baking powder. Set aside
2. Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and add the butter, sugar, lemon zest and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat after 1 minute
3. Add the flour and baking powder, stirring energetically until the mixture is compact. Put on heat (medium-low) and cook for about 2 minutes. The dough should be a compact ball
4. Pour it in a bowl and let cool
5. Add the eggs one at a time with an electric whisk until the batter is smooth but not liquid
6. In a pan heat the frying oil to 170°C-340°F. If you do not have a thermometer, use this simple method. Place a cube of bread in the oil (approximately 2.5 cm). If it turns brown after 60 seconds, the oil is ready for frying. Slide a spoonful of batter (size of walnut) in the oil with the aid of another spoon. Wait until it is puffy and golden brown, then turn it over. It will take 4-5 minutes to cook tortelli perfectly
7. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Allow to cool. Fill with chocolate cream using a patisserie syringe. Roll in granulated sugar and sprinkle with cocoa powder.

Note: Frying is a dry heat cooking method …read more in the Chiacchiere post. Paola


Zuppa del Contadino (Farmer’s Soup)

14 Jan

This is a dish that makes you rediscover the rural tradition and colors of the season! This soup is a great main dish, perfect for a cold, winter day. It ‘s simple but very nutritious, because it is made of legumes and vegetables. Legumes, in fact, are an excellent source of protein, fiber, minerals (calcium, potassium, iron) and B vitamins. In the past, legumes were considered the meat of poor people, and were commonly present on the peasants’ table. The recipe that I am proposing contains a mix of dried legumes such as beans, lentils, soybeans, chickpeas, peas and beans. And to make this dish even more tasty, I prepare a soffritto with onion, garlic, celery and carrot. The preparation is very simple, but it requires a bit of time, because legumes have to be soaked in water before cooking. To save time you can use a pressure cooker, which reduces the preparation time without sacrificing taste. You can top this soup with croutons or grated parmesan cheese or, if you prefer, you can put a few drops of hot chili olive oil before serving.

Preparation time: 5 hrs.    Cooking time: 40 min.      Servings: 6

Zuppa del contadino

450 g (1 pound) mix of dried legumes
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 carrots, cut into slices
1 leg of celery, sliced
1 potato, cut into cubes
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tomatoes, diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. In a large bowl soak the legumes for about 4 hours with bay leaf. Drain and place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil, cook over medium heat for about 20 min. Drain, remove the bay leaf and set aside.
2. In a saucepan over medium-low heat saute onion, garlic, carrot , celery and potato in the olive oil for a few minutes. Add the legumes mix and cook over high heat for a few minutes, stirring with a spoon. Add the tomatoes and cover with plenty of water. Cook covered for about 20-25 minutes until all the legumes are tender (the exact cooking time should be indicated on the package). Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Note: When cooking legumes, it is important to add salt only at the end, because the addition of salt at the beginning will make the legumes less tender. It is also important when cooking to maintain a constant temperature. Paola

Lenticchie in Umido (Lentil Stew)

30 Dec

This lentil stew is a tasty and comforting recipe that was always present on our dinner table on New Year’s Eve. Lentils are usually served on New Year’s Eve as they are thought to bring good luck and money, regardless if they do, they are delicious. Traditionally my mom made this recipe with bacon. Instead, I omit bacon, therefore it is a perfect vegetarian dish. Nutty and earthy flavor, lentils have nutritional value (see Insalata di Lenticchie). You can serve this dish with cotechino, the Italian sausage, that is traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve too.

Preparation time: 30 min. Cooking time: 20 min.  Servings: 4

Lenticchie in umido

310 g (11 oz) lentils
1 onion, finely sliced
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
1 carrot, sliced
1 celery stem, finely sliced
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
120 ml (1/2 cup) white wine
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
Vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Make “soffritto”. In a saucepan on medium-low heat sautee onion, garlic, carrot and celery in olive oil for a few minutes. Rinse lentils under running water. Add lentils to the “soffritto” and cook on high heat for a few minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add wine and let it evaporate. Add tomato sauce, bay leaves and cover with plenty of broth
2. Cover with a lid and cook for about 18-20 minutes until lentils are tender  (the exact cooking time will be indicated on the package ). Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. -Paola


Pandoro con Crema di Limoncello (Pandoro with Limoncello Cream)

22 Dec

This year Passion and Cooking will celebrate Christmas with Pandoro, the “golden cake”! Pandoro and panettone are the most popular sweets during the winter holidays. While panettone is a native of Milan, pandoro is from Verona. It is traditionally shaped like a frustum with an 8 pointed-star section and is served dusted with powdered sugar (my kids like to be the ones to put on the sugar). The dough is very soft and the taste is delicate and refined. Pandoro can be traced back to the 18th century to the rich Venetian aristocracy. Although some people recognize the similarity with the French brioche or with the ” Pan di Vienna”, pandoro seems to have been first produced on October 14, 1894, when Mr. Melegatti obtained the patent for a procedure to be applied in producing pandoro industrially. From this moment on, and considering the similarity with the Nadalin (a typical sweet from Verona), Verona is now universally recognized as the home of the original pandoro.The preparation technique is quite complex, so I suggest buying a good pandoro and enjoying it with a delicious homemade cream. I love the combination of citrus and soft sweets such as panettone and pandoro, so I propose this fresh and aromatic Limoncello cream, made with the legendary Limoncello of Sorrento, milk, cream, sugar and mascarpone cheese, the king of cream cheese!  In a few minutes you will have a delicious and rich cream to garnish your slice of pandoro. A helpful tip is to gently heat the cake for about 15-20 min. (for example on a steam radiator) and to sprinkle with powdered sugar to get the snow effect before serving. Wishing you all a delicious Christmas!

Preparation time: 10 minutes            Servings:  10

Pandoro con crema

500 g  (about 1 pound) fresh mascarpone
80 ml (1/3 cup) Limoncello liquor
40 ml  (1/8 cup + 2 tsp) milk
40 ml fresh  (1/8 cup + 2 tsp) cream
50 g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1. In a medium saucepan heat milk, cream and sugar for 1-2 minutes until sugar dissolves. Cool completely, add Limocello and lemon zest. Set aside the Limoncello cream .

2. In a medium bowl with an electric mixer whip the mascarpone, incorporate approximately 100-120 ml of Limoncello cream, adding one spoon at the times. Whisk for a few seconds until the mixture is creamy. -Paola


Torta di Zucca (Pumpkin Pie)

27 Nov

Pumpkin pie, or torta di zucca, is a typical American dessert, often prepared to celebrate Thanksgiving. When I first ate it in the US, I thought how I might add a bit of Italy to this recipe. The recipe I propose is my creation, with some additional, typically Italian ingredients in the filling, such as amaretti and amaretto di Saronno liquor, while the crust is prepared with pasta brisee instead of American pie dough. The taste of amaretti goes very well with that of the pumpkin making this dessert doubly delicious (I also use this combination of ingredients with pasta, in the pasta con zucca e amaretti recipe. Pumpkin pie is traditionally served with sweetened whipped cream, but I personally prefer to eat it plain, to fully enjoy the pumpkin’s distinctive flavor. Every time I serve it, it’s really a big success, something a bit different to savor.

Preparation time: 1h+15min.      Cooking time: 45 min.      Servings: 8

Pasta Briseè (Briseè crust)
250 g  (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
120 g (¼ cup) chilled butter
1 egg yolk
¼ teaspoon salt
60 ml cold water

450 g (1 heaping cup) mushed pumpkin
250 ml (1 heaping cup) fresh cream
50 g (¼ cup) brown sugar
100 g (½ cup) white sugar
10 amaretti cookies, finely crushed
100 ml  (½ cup) Amaretto di Saronno liquor
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1/8  teaspoon cloves
2 slightly beaten eggs

Preheat the oven to 190°C (425°F)
1. Pasta brisee (brisee crust). In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time.  Add the egg yolk until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes
2. Filling. To cook pumpkin see risotto di zucca. In a large bowl mix until well blended pumpkin, cream, brown sugar, white sugar, amaretti cookies, Amaretto liqueur, spices and eggs
3. Once the dough has rested, flatten it out on a lightly floured board, then transfer to a 25 cm (9 in) ceramic or glass pie or tart baking dish.  Gently pat the pastry dough in the pan to 4 mm (less than ¼ in) thickness, to line the bottom and sides.  The edge should have a slightly thicker layer of pastry than the bottom, about 5 mm. Prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork (four or five times is sufficient)
4. Pour the mixture into the pie shell. Bake for 15 min. at 190°C (425°F), then reduce the temperature to 170°C (350°F), bake about 30-35 min. longer until an inserted knife comes out clean
5. Cool on a racket and serve with sweetened whipped cream .  -Paola


Caponata (Eggplant Stew)

20 Aug

Caponata is a delicious dish, typical of the Sicilian cuisine made with sautéed vegetables (mostly eggplants) and seasoned with sweet and sour sauce.  Sicilians are very proud of it because it is made only native Sicilian ingredients. It can be served cold either as an appetizer or as a side dish, but you can also enjoy it as a main course with a thick slice of homemade bread. It makes a perfect dish for a summer picnic because it can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  Actually, it is a handy dish to have ready in your fridge for unexpected guests or nights when you don’t know what to prepare. Like for all recipes, there is a basic recipe and many variations. I learned this recipe which contains peppers from a dear friend from Palermo (Sicily). The origin of this dish is uncertain -: The etymology refers to the Spanish language “caponata” which means “similar”.  According to the Sicilian tradition, the term caponata comes from “capone” which is the name of an expensive fish, served with a sweet and sour sauce, typical of caponata.  Poor people could not afford this expensive fish, therefore they replaced it with the cheapest eggplants.  According to other sources, the name derives from “caupone“, the name of the taverns, in which this dish was served. Regardless this recipe’s origins, the fact is that it is really tasty, definitely something to try!

Preparation time: 2 ½ hours   Cooking time: 30 minutes    Servings: 8

Caponata (2)

900 g (2 pounds) eggplant
2 medium onions, finely chopped
450 g (1 pound) celery, finely chopped
110 g (⅔ cup) pine nuts
150 g (1 cup) green olives
3 tablespoons cucunci capers (preserved in salt)
450 g (1 pound) peppers
450 g (1 pound) tomatoes S. Marzano, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
110 ml (½ cup) white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
5-6 leaves of fresh basil
Extra Virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Cut eggplants into pieces about 2,5 cm (1 inch) long, put them in a large colander and sprinkle with coarse salt. Allow to stand for at least two hours under a weight to remove their bitter liquid. To aid the removal of the liquid, try putting the colander in a slightly inclined position. After two hours, remove salt from the eggplant with a kitchen brush and dry by patting them with paper towels. Fry in hot oil olive. Set aside
2. In a pan with high sides, sauté onions, celery, peppers, capers, olives and pine nuts in olive oil for about 7-8 min. Add tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes over low heat until celery is tender
3. Add eggplants, basil leaves and sugar dissolved in vinegar. Mix well and cook over medium-low heat for about 5-6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper
4. Let set for a few hours serve at room temperature.

Note: The caponata can be stored in the refrigerator for several days in a glass or ceramic container closed with a lid. Before consuming, leave it at room temperature.  -Paola






Crostata di Pesche Noci (Nectarin Tart)

14 Aug

The nectarine tart is a variation of a classic jam tart. It is a flavorful summertime dessert, prepared with pasta frolla and fresh nectarines (a type of peaches), which can be substituted with canned peaches during winter, but this will of course alter the tart’s taste and aroma! Peaches are, in fact, typical summer fruits, juicy and rich in water, therefore perfect for a summer diet! Peaches are highly satiating, keep hunger at bay for longer periods, so they are a good choice to incorporate into a weight-loss diet. The addition of a few crushed amaretti cookies gives a delicious flavor to this dessert. The almond taste of amaretti blends well with the sweet flavor and fragrant aroma of peaches. This peach tart is a perfect finale for any meal, from an casual picnic to a formal dinner.  It is delicious all by itself, but it can also be made even more enticing by adding a scoop of homemade gelato alla crema . In Italy we commonly enjoy these simple fruit tarts for breakfast or as a snack (with far fewer hydrogenated fats and processed sugars than industrially-produced breakfast foods and snacks), and they a true delight for kids and adults!

Preparation time: 1 ½ hrs   Baking time: 35-40 minutes  Servings: 6-8

Crostata di Pesche

Pasta frolla (see basic recipe pasta frolla )
3 large nectarines
100 g (1 cup) crushed amaretti
4 tablespoons sugar
Juice of half a lemon

Preheat oven to 170°C-180°C
Prepare the pastry according to the basic recipe
1.While the pasta frolla is resting, wash the peaches under running water. Cut into slices with a thickness of 5 mm (2 inch). In a large bowl mix peaches, sugar and lemon juice, taking care not to break the peaches. Set aside
2. Coarsely crush the amaretti cookies. Set aside
5. Once the dough has rested, roll the dough (4-5 mm thick, 2 inch) to cover the bottom of a ceramic baking dish, 25 cm (10 inch) in diameter. The dough around the edge should be slightly thicker, about 5-6 mm (2 inch). Prick bottom of dough with the tines of a fork (four or five times is enough). Sprinkle the crushed amaretti cookies evenly over the dough and cover with peaches in a circular pattern or as you prefer
6. Bake the tart until golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. Let cool on a rack.  It is good fresh, but you can also enjoy it next day if stored in a ventilated container for sweets.

Note: Nectarines are smooth-skinned peaches. When you buy them, make sure that they are ripe: soft to the touch (but not mushy), fragrant and with an intense color. Paola


Risotto ai Fiori di Zucca (Zucchini Flower Risotto)

17 May

Whenever I think of spring, I think of flowers.  In spring Italian markets are filled with bright yellow-almost orange edible zucchini flowers. There are two types of zucchini flowers: female and male flowers.  The female flower is a golden blossom on the end of each new zucchini, while the male one grows directly on the plant stem. Like zucchini, zucchini flowers are good source of vitamin C, potassium and folate.  Zucchini flowers can be sautéed, stuffed with cheese, battered and fried, or added to pasta and risotto. Risotto is one of my favorite ways of eating zucchini flowers. This is a healthy, delicate, colorful and elegant dish. The flowers add a sweet taste to the risotto.  This is a perfect vegetarian and gluten-free dish.

Preparation time: 25 minutes    Cooking time 16-18 minutes     Servings: 4

Risotto fiori di zucca

500 ml (approx. 2 cups) vegetable stock
450 g (1 pound) new zucchini with flowers
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
120 ml (½ cup) dry white wine
50 g ( ½  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

1. In a saucepan over medium low heat, warm up the stock2. Cut off the flowers from the zucchini and remove the pistil. Wash the zucchini and the flowers. Dice the zucchini and slice the flowers into thin strips
2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 T) of butter. Add the chopped shallot, and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and shallot. (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.).  Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed
3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 9 minutes. Add the diced zucchini and the flowers and one more ladle of stock.  Cook for another 6-7 minutes until the stock is nearly absorbed. If you prefer softer zucchini, add the diced zucchini at the beginning with the shallot. It depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package.
The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 30 g (2 T).
4. Remove your risotto from the heat. At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter. You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes. Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: When you buy the zucchini flowers, choose firm flowers that are mostly closed. They keep a few days in the refrigerator in tightly sealed containers.  – Paola


Torta di Fragole (Strawberry Tart)

4 May

This delicious and fresh strawberry tart is prepared with an almond-flavored dough (pasta frolla), filled with custard and then decorated with fresh strawberries for a tasty and colorful touch. It is a water-mouthing dessert to serve on a special occasion such as the Mother’s Day! But this is a classic for any other occasion too, such as a birthday party or a dinner with friends. The preparation of this tart is not difficult, but it requires a bit of patience and some creativity in decorating. The look and the taste are worth it! May  12th will be Mother’s Day in most countries, and we like to celebrate this special day by preparing something special. Mother’s Day actually has pagan origins and dates back to ancient times. Even the Greeks and the Romans dedicated one day each year to their parent. In Italy the first celebration was in Assisi in 1957, and since then it has been in our calendar on the second Sunday of May. This day is a very special day, all mothers should be surrounded by love, attention and gratitude, and of course delicious food!

Preparation time: 90 minutes           Crust cooking time: 40 minutes       Servings: 8

Torta fragole fetta

Pasta Frolla
250 g flour (200 g 1 ¼  cups all purpose flour  + 50 g ⅓ cup potato starch)
100 g (⅔ cup) roasted almonds
8 g  (1 heaping teaspoon) baking powder
130 g  (⅔ cup) sugar
140 g (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 whole egg + 1 egg yolk
The grated rind of half a lemon
dried beans or other dried legumes (about 1 ½ cups)

500 ml (2 cups) whole milk
1 whole vanilla bean
6 egg yolks `
150 g (¾ cup) sugar
50 g (⅓ cup) potato starch
500 g (18 oz) fresh strawberries

230 ml (1 cup) water
20 ml (1 heaping tablespoon) lemon
4 tablespoons of sugar
1 packet of cake gelatin (like Tortagel)

Preheat oven to 170 °C – 180 °C (350 °F)
1. Toast the almonds for a few minutes in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Cool them and pulverize them in a food processor until you reach the consistence of flour
2. To prepare the pasta frolla (pie dough), mix the flour, almond flour, baking powder, sugar and lemon zest a medium size bowl. Cream the butter with an electric mixer in a separate bowl. Stir into the butter, the eggs and all dry ingredients. Knead the dough by hand until it forms a homogeneous ball. Remember to manipulate the dough as little as possible. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and leave it to rest in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes
3. While the dough is resting in a refrigerator, prepare the custard. In a large saucepan, place the vanilla bean in the milk and bring to boil. Remove from heat and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes; remove the vanilla pod from the milk. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a whisk or an electric mixer until frothy. Mix in the starch a little bit at a time. Add 160 ml (⅔ cup) of the cooled milk stirring continuously with a whisk. Pour the egg mixture and the milk back into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Bring to boil, cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Lower the heat (medium-low) and continue to beat with a whisk for 3-4 minutes until the mixture thickens. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Pour the cream into a glass bowl. To avoid formation of a “film” while the cream is cooling, lay a disk of plastic wrap directly on the surface
4. Once the dough has rested, on a lightly floured board, roll (or gently pat the pastry dough directly into the pan) the pastry dough to 6 mm (about ¼ in) thickness, to line the bottom and sides of a 24-25 cm (10 in) spring form pan.  The edge should have a slightly thicker layer of pastry than the bottom.  Prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork (four or five times is sufficient). Cover with a disk of baking paper of diameter slightly larger than the tart, fill with dried beans and cook for approx. 25 minutes. Then remove the beans by lifting the edges of the paper. Continue cooking for  about 15 minutes so that the dough dries out. Cool on a wire rack
5. While the crust cools, clean the strawberries by removing the green leaves and washing them quickly under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and cut them in halves or into slices of about 2-3 mm (⅛ in). Transfer the crust onto a serving plate, fill it with custard and decorate with strawberries
6. For the gelatin, place 230 ml (about 1 cup) water in a sauce pan, add the filtered lemon juice,  the gelatin powder and sugar. Mix together all the ingredients with a whisk, bring to  boil and cook for 2 minutes. Allow the gelatin to cool, stirring a few times for about 2 minutes, then pour it over the entire cake
7. Put the strawberry tart to cool in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Note: Traditionally the pasta frolla crust is quite hard.  I prefer a tender, fluffy crust.  My recipe calls for starch,  baking powder (a leavening agent) and creaming the butter; all contribute to the dough’s lighter texture. -Paola


Insalata di Farro e Verdure (Farro and Vegetable Salad)

28 Apr

The fresh vegetables make this salad a perfect and colorful dish to celebrate the flavors of spring.  Farro is an ancient grain, a variety of wheat called emmer.  It was used by the Etruscans, Egyptians and the Romans. Nowadays it is cultivated especially in northern Tuscany, in the province of Lucca. Farro has a delicious nutty and earthy texture that makes it a wonderful choice for entrees, soups, side dishes and salads. It is a versatile ingredient, as well as being highly nutritious. Farro is rich in proteins, dietary fibers and magnesium; it is a good source of vitamin A, C, E and vitamin B complex, and it is low in fat. It has a very low glycemic index, making it also suitable for diabetics. I use farro perlato (pearled farro, from which a portion of the outer bran has been removed) instead of whole farro for my recipes, because it cooks faster and does not requiring soaking. In fact, farro perlato cooks in only 20 minutes. This is a quick, easy and tasty recipe to prepare, something you can eat either warm or cold. The sautéed and sweetly flavored vegetables combined with the nutty farro make an irresistible vegetarian dish.

Preparation time: 35 minutes                            Servings: 8

Insalata di Farro

320 g (1 ½ cups) farro perlato
8 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 red chili pepper, finely sliced
3 carrots, finely cubed
1 red pepper, finely cubed
1 fennel, finely cubed
3 zucchini, finely cubed
250 g (2 cups) fresh peas (or frozen)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Parsley, basil or mint for decoration

1. Rinse the farro in cold water and drain
2. Bring 4 cups of salted water (about 7 g,  1 ½  teaspoons of salt) to boil, add the farro, reduce heat and cook covered with a lid for 20 minutes (cook according to the directions on the package).  It should be firm and chewy
3. While the farro is cooking, in a non-stick pan sauté scallions, garlic and red chilli pepper in olive oil over medium heat for 4 minutes, stirring frequently
4. Add the carrots and pepper, toss for a few minutes
5. Add the fennel and zucchini, cook for 5 minutes. At this point add the peas and cook for additional 3-4 minutes stirring a few times to prevent burning. The cooking time for the vegetables can vary according to your taste: crispy versus soft and well cooked.  I go for crispy!
6. After 20 minutes drain the farro and add it to the vegetables. Toss to mix all the ingredients well! Add salt and pepper to taste.  You can serve it either warm or cold. Decorate with parsley, basil or mint.

Note: Instead of farro perlato you can use regular farro (cooking time is different) or any large grain. I would suggest brown rice for a gluten free version. -Paola


Frittata al Forno con Zucchine (Baked Zucchini Frittata)

8 Mar

Frittata is an Italian-style omelette made with beaten eggs and milk, and enriched with various ingredients such as vegetables, cheese, ham, pasta and herbs. For example in the Neapolitan tradition frittata is commonly made with left over pasta (spaghetti, angel-hair, etc.), ham and cheese. The word frittata comes from the Italian verb “friggere” to fry. In fact, the egg mixture is usually fried in a frying pan on the stove, but nowadays there is a baked version as well, like my recipe below. Actually, I prefer this method because makes the frittata lighter on the stomach (no frying) and therefore easier to digest. The addition of zucchini makes this recipe a tasty, dietetic and nutritious dish. Zucchini is a rich in water, vitamins (E, C and folic acid) and potassium, while the eggs are highly rich in proteins. With eggs being one of the most readily available and low cost ingredients, frittata has long been a humble dish. Frittata di cipolle (onion frittata) was a typical workers’ lunch. You can serve it warm as a complete meal, at room temperature or even enjoyed cold the next day for a quick lunch or picnic. There is a technical difference between frittata and omelette: the omelette’s ingredients are placed on the omelette while it is cooking, while when making a frittata you must mix the eggs and the other ingredients together before cooking. You may have heard the expression “hai fatto una frittata” … perhaps understandably, that means you made a mess! This expression comes the fact that frittata is usually made at the last minute with the ingredients available in the fridge, left overs, too!! So the result is not always guaranteed!!!

Preparation time: 35 minutes     Baking time: 15-20 minutes     Servings: 4

zucchine frittata small

200 g (2 medium) potatoes, boiled and diced
450 g (4 medium) zucchini, thinly sliced
½ medium onion, thinly sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
50 g (½ cup) Parmesan cheese
6 eggs, separate egg yolk from egg white

1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 160°C -170°C (325°F -350°F)
1. Wash potatoes under running water. Put potatoes in a pan and cover with cold water. Turn on the heat and bring to boil. Cook for about 6-8 minutes until potatoes are done but not soft. Cool, peel and dice them
2. While potatoes are cooling, wash zucchini under running water and trim ends and slice
3. In a large saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté onions and zucchini in olive oil, stirring frequently for about 10-15 minutes. Stir in parsley and potatoes
4. In a large bowl beat egg yolks, add the vegetable mixture, Parmesan, salt and pepper
5. In a medium bowl beat the egg whites
6. Combine egg whites with vegetable mix and pour it in a 24 cm (10 in) ceramic or glass pie or tart baking dish previously covered with baking paper (see note)
7. Bake for about 15 minutes or until custard is set and golden on top
8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack for about 7-8 minutes. Serve warm. You can enjoy the frittata cold too.

Note: Baking paper is very convenient to use. I will tell you a small trick. Cut the paper (bigger than the baking dish), wash under running water and wring the water out. Place the paper in the baking dish. Let the edges go partially up the side of the pan to keep any batter from slipping into the baking dish. This method allow a better adhesion of the paper to the dish wall. Frittata should be stored in an airtight container as water and humidity can alter the texture and taste. If you add greens or vegetables you should first sautee to enhance the flavor. Paola


Insalata di Finocchi e Arance Rosse (Fennel and Blood Orange salad)

2 Mar

This year’s citrus season is almost over, but we still have time to enjoy this delicious Sicilian salad made with fennel bulb, blood orange and olives. This is a simple and refreshing dish, perfect to serve either for a light lunch or as a side dish with dinner. The sweet and beautifully colored blood oranges complement the delicate anise taste of fennel, while the addition of olives makes this recipe a symphony of flavors for your palate. The brilliant red flesh color of Sicilian blood oranges is due to an antioxidant compound which – although found in many fruits but uncommon to citrus fruit – makes this citrus very special! Fennel is indigenous to the Mediterranean area, but it is now widely cultivated in many other parts of world as well. The fennel bulb, foliage and the seed are used in various culinary traditions and medicinal purposes. Fennel is very refreshing, purifying and diuretic. The bulb is a crisp vegetable that can be used in many ways: sautéed, braised, grilled, stewed, au gratin or just eaten raw in salads, seasoned with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. This salad is not only very beautiful, but it is also delightful and healthy. It is rich in vitamin C, antioxidants and nutrients, and it helps keep you healthy too!

Preparation time: 15 minutes                   Servings: 4

insalata di finocchi small

2 medium fennel bulbs, thinly shaved with a mandolin or meat slicer
2 blood oranges, peeled
12 green olives or black (pitted and sliced) + 4 whole pitted

4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Soak the unpeeled oranges in boiling water for about 5 minutes. This method facilitates removal of the white membrane when peeling
2. Using a sharp knife peel the oranges and remove membrane. Cut them into the shape you prefer. I like one in small pieces and the other one in slices
3. Coarsely slice the olives
4. Wash the fennel bulbs, slice off the stalk and any fronds, and thinly slice
5. In a large bowl combine the orange pieces, the fennel and the sliced olives. Toss with the dressing
6. Arrange the sliced orange on a serving plate. Place the salad mix in the middle and decorate with the whole olives. Serve immediately.

Note: When you purchase your vegetables choose fresh fennel; it is even better if you use male fennel without sprouts. Oranges should be firm and plump, and feel free to use either green or black olives, whichever you prefer. Fennel turns brown (oxidizes) quickly, so as soon as you slice it, quickly add the dressing to it. The presence of lemon juice will slow down the process. -Paola


Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta with Beans)

21 Jan

Pasta e fagioli, comfort food during cold winter days, is one of the most traditional, widespread and appreciated Italian recipes.  In fact in the Mediterranean diet, beans are commonly used to prepare nutritious and healthy dishes, and for this reason they are known as “the meat of the poor people”, rich in carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals, soluble fibers, as well as being low in fat.  Like many other Italian recipes, this one started out as a peasant meal made of easily available and inexpensive ingredients such as beans , garlic, onion, carrots, celery, potatoes and tomatoes.  Further, it was common to use spicy cured lard, prepared seasonally each autumn during pig-slaughtering season, to add some extra flavor.  Because of its popularity, there are many variations all over the country: for example some do not include tomatoes at all; some use vegetable stock and avoid lard (making this particular version a suitable dish for vegetarians); some recipes are more soupy while others are thicker.  The type of beans may vary as well, usually either borlotti beans or cannellini beans, fresh or dried.  I prefer borlotti beans because of their nutty sweet flavor and creamy texture.  These light brown beans with red marks are a variety of kidney beans commonly cultivated in Italy but originally from America.  Italians enjoy these types of beans in summer as well, preparing an excellent cold bean salad flavored with fresh sliced onions, ground pepper and tossed with olive oil.

Preparation time: 12 hrs.               Cooking time: 1 hr                 Servings:4

pasta e fagioli 2 small

300 g (1 ½ cups) dried borlotti beans
1 whole garlic clove + 1 sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 bay leaves
4 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
40 g (¼ cup) spicy cured lard or bacon, diced
1 medium size onion, finely sliced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, finely sliced
2 small potatoes, peeled and diced
1 ½ l (about 5 cups) vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
280 g (10 ounces) ditaloni or small pasta (artisanal pasta)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Day 1
You should start the day before you plan to serve the pasta e fagioli.
1.Rinse the beans under running water, then place in a large glass bowl with 1 garlic clove, 1 rosemary sprig and 2 bay leaves.  Fill bowl with plenty of water to cover generously (about 5 cm, 2 inches above the level of the beans).  Cover with a lid and soak overnight.
Day 2
1.In a large heavy pot with lid, sauté the lard (or bacon) on medium heat with the sliced garlic, onion, carrots, celery and potatoes in olive oil for about 7 minutes, stirring frequently
2.Remove the excess water (if there is any), discarding the garlic, rosemary and bay leaves as well, then add the beans, the fresh herbs (1 rosemary sprig and 2 bay leaves) and tomato sauce to the pot.  Cover with stock, bring to gentle simmer.  Cover pot and cook for about 35-40 minutes, until beans are tender
3.Add the pasta, stir and cook for 10 minutes until pasta is just al dente (follow the package cooking direction).  Season with salt and pepper.  Ladle soup in the serving bowl and drizzle with olive oil.

Note: Dried beans versus canned beans.  You can reduce preparation time by using canned beans  (one pound of dried beans = about 6 cups of cooked beans).  I personally prefer dried beans, although it is more time consuming, the results are worth the effort!!!  Dried beans come out being tender and flavorful, not at all mushy and dull as can be the case with canned ones.  Important tip:  Add salt only at the end when the beans are tender, because salt will prevent them from absorbing water, which will, of course, then slow down the cooking process.  -Paola


Panettone con Crema di Mascarpone (Panettone with Mascarpone Cheese Cream)

24 Dec

Panettone is Italy’s cake for the Holidays, a delicious dessert somewhere between a cake and a loaf of sweet bread. It’s this cake’s dome shape that makes it uniquely identifiable. The dough is very soft and the ingredients very simple: flour, eggs, yeast, butter, sugar, candied orange and lime, raisins … but the taste is mouth-watering. Panettone was first made in Milan but now is eaten all over Italy to celebrate Christmas and the New Year. Some legends say that panettone was a creation of love: A 15th-century legend attributes the invention to the nobleman Messer Ughetto degli Atellani, who was in love with the daughter of a poor baker named Toni. He disguised himself as a baker and prepared this sweet bread to conquer the lovely maiden. Instead, another, somewhat less-romantic legend says that during a Christmas lunch at the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan (15th century), the cook burned the Christmas cake he was supposed to serve. Seeing the cook’s despair, a scullion named Toni proposed to serve the sweet and simple bread loaf that he had prepared that morning. The dessert was enthusiastically received by all the guests present. The cook congratulated Toni and name the cake after him, Pan di Toni, Toni’s Bread. Since then panettone became the Christmas cake par-exellance, and nowadays many variations are available, such as with chocolate, flavored cream or dried berries. Panettone is served with sparkling sweet wine such as Moscato d’Asti and Passito of Sicily. You can enjoyed it with a cream of mascarpone cheese flavored with any one of a variety of liqueurs: fruity ones such as limoncello (lemon liqueur), mandarinetto (mandarin liqueur) and Gran Marnier, or perhaps Amaretto or rum. My favorite is Mandarinetto made of juicy Sicilian mandarins, exceptionally flavorful and refreshing.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Crema mascarpone small

Mascarpone cheese cream
225 g (½ pound) fresh mascarpone cheese
55 g (⅓ cup) powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons Mandarinetto or other liqueur


1. Place the mascarpone and sugar in a medium mixing bowl
2. Use an electric mixer to beat for 1 minute or until sugar dissolves. Stir in the liqueur. Depending on the type of mascarpone cheese, you might have to add 2-3 tablespoon of cream to make the mascarpone cream smoother. You can serve the mascarpone either on top of the Panettone slice or aside, decorating with some mandarin or orange zest.

Note: Panettone should be served warm. In Italy it is customary to set it on the radiator for half an hour or so before serving. Panettone is a simple cake but the preparation is laborious because the raising time occurs in different stages and the temperature of the room is very critical. It is very common and easier to buy the Panottone rather than make it at home, unless you are a pastry chef!!! Unfortunately I am not! There are so many good brands available on the market and each bakery produces its own panettone, called “Panettone Artigianale”, Artisan Panettone. -Paola



3 Dec

Pizzoccheri is a homey dish for the cold months, linked to the traditions of the Alpine farmers.  The original recipe comes from a small village named Teglio in Valtellina (Lombardy), a well known ski area in the heart of the Alps.  The name pizzoccheri seems to derive either from the root of the word, piz (pezzetto, piece of pasta) or from the word pinzare (to staple – to press) referring to the shape of the pasta (short and thin strips).  In fact, pizzocheri are a type of short tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta made of 80% buckwheat flour, a brownish-gray flour with a nutty flavor, and 20% wheat flour.  The rustic flavor of the pasta pairs well with the smooth taste of vegetables such as Savoy cabbage, potatoes and the intense flavor of the Valtellina’s cheeses, such as bitto and casera DOP (Protected Geographical Status).  Casera cheese is made from partially-skimmed cow milk, and its origins date back the sixteenth century.  It has a nutty and sweet taste; instead bitto cheese has a stronger and more intense taste due to the presence of goat milk (about 20%).  Pizzoccheri is by no means a light dish, but at the same it is a hearty and tasty treat, especially after a strenuous day on the ski slopes.  It is an excellent vegetarian dish (it does contain dairy products, though).  You can enjoy it as first course or as a main dish.


Preparation time: 30 minutes                     Servings: 4

Pizzoccheri 3 piccola

225 g(½ pound) Savoy cabbage, finely chopped
225 g (½pound) potatoes, peeled and chopped in small cubes
100 g (7 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 whole garlic cloves
5 fresh sage leaves
340 g (12 oz) pizzoccheri pasta
70 g (2.5 oz) bitto cheese, thin slices
130 g (4.5 oz) Valtellina casera cheese, thin slices
100 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


  1. In a large pan the boil 3 l salted water, add the cabbage and boil for 5 minutes.  Drain well and set aside.  Add the potatoes to the same pan of boiling water, cook for 5 minutes or until tender.  Drain well and set aside, reserving the water to cook the pasta
  2. Sauté one garlic clove in half the butter in a large skillet over a medium-low heat.  Add the cabbage, potatoes and sauté gently.  Cover to keep warm and moist
  3. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in the vegetable water, according to package cooking instructions (12-15 min.).  Drain well and add to the warm vegetable mix in the skillet.  Cook for less than 1 minute, stirring very gently
  4. Heat the remaining butter with the sage and the other garlic clove in a small pan over a medium flame.  Remove the garlic clove.  Put half the pasta and vegetable mix in a heat resistant serving dish.  Cover with half of the bitto and half of the casera cheese.  Pour half the butter and sage on top, then sprinkle with half of the parmesan cheese.  Season to taste with freshly ground pepper.  Repeat this step with the remaining products.  Serve hot!  It is important that the pasta and the vegetables are hot to melt the cheese.  To melt the cheese thoroughly you can also put the pizzocheri in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) for 4-5 minutes.

Note: You can substitute the cabbage with either Swiss chard or spinach.  If you cannot find either casera or bitto cheese , I recommend  to use fontina cheese, another mountain cheese from Valle d’Aoasta.  You can buy either dry pizzoccheri, but fresh pasta might be available in specialty stores, too. The cooking time is slightly different, check the directions on the packaging.  -Paola



Tortino al Cavolo Nero (Kale Pie)

19 Nov

Italian savory pies have been around since ancient times, even Pre-Christian, and are linked to the farmers’ traditions.  They are made with simple and fresh ingredients available during the growing season.  If tomato is Italy’s summer vegetable, cabbage is definitely the winter vegetable.  Kale pie is a true veggie lover’s delight.  Tuscan kale, also called black leaf kale, dinosaur kale, Lacinato kale, or cavolo nero, appears in the markets in November and continues through spring.  It is one of the oldest vegetables in the cabbage family.  It is a leafy cabbage that resembles palm fronds with deep greenish black leaves and pronounced ribs.  It has an intense cabbage-y flavor, but is generally sweeter than other varieties.  It is the basic of ingredient of many other tasty dishes such as soups (i.e Tuscan Ribollita), stews and omelets, and it is delicious on crostini di pane, too.  You can enjoy it also raw in salads.  Kale is highly nutritional vegetable, rich in vitamin A and vitamin C, folic acid (if consumed raw) and potassium.  Kale pie can be served either as an antipasto (starter) or a main course.


Preparation Time: 1 ½ hrs                  Baking Time: 40-45 min.                  Servings: 8

Pasta brisee (Brisee crust)
250 g (1 ½ cups)  flour 00
120 g (about ½ cup, 4 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
1 egg yolk
60 ml (¼ cup) ice-cold water
¼ teaspoon salt

700 g (about  1 ½ pounds) kale
6 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
2 medium onions, finely sliced
2 cups water
120 g (¾ cup) goat ricotta cheese
3 eggs
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 170°C (350 °F)

Pasta brisee (Brisee crust)

  1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt
  2. Cut in the butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs
  3. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time.  Add the egg yolk until mixture forms a ball
  4. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.


  1. Wash the kale, remove center ribs and stems, cut the leaves crosswise into ½-inch strips
  2. In a large skillet on medium heat sauté the onion with olive oil until onion is softened
  3. Add the kale, stir it to combine with the onion.  Season with salt and add 2 cups of water
  4. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally and adding some water if the pan begins to dry out.  Cook for about 35 minutes until kale leaves are tender.  Set aside and let cool
  5. In a large ball mix the eggs with the ricotta cheese.  Add the vegetable mix and season with freshly ground pepper.  Set aside.

Once the dough has rested, flatten it out on a lightly floured board, then transfer to a on a 24 cm (10 in) ceramic or glass pie or tart baking dish.  Gently pat the pastry dough in the pan to 4 mm (less than ¼ in) thickness, to line the bottom and sides.  The edge should have a slightly thicker layer of pastry than the bottom, about 5 mm. 

Prick the pastry bottom with the tines of a fork (four or five times is sufficient), then spread with the vegetable mix and bake until golden, about 40-45 minutes.  It is delicious when eaten freshly baked and a little bit warm. 

Note: When purchasing kale you want leaves that are not too long (no longer than 50 cm, 18 in), firm and fairly, evenly colored without brown or yellow spots.  The most tender kale are the ones harvested in late autumn and early winter after the first frosts.  –Paola


Brasato al Barolo con Polenta (Braised Beef in Barolo Wine with Polenta)

13 Nov

The name brasato derives from brace (BRA-chay), the hot coals over which the meat was traditionally cooked.  Braised beef marinated in a fine Barolo wine is one of the most representative and classic dishes of the Piedmont region, a savory delight for a cozy dinner on cold nights.  The Barolo’s intense flavor gives an extra aroma and unique taste to the meat.  Barolo is a rich, deeply concentrated full-bodied wine, with pronounced tannins and acidity (and therefore ideal for marinating).  The tannins contained in the wine bind to the food proteins and, when used as a marinade, come across as softer.  In addition to the wine flavor, the aroma of herbs such as bay leaf and rosemary gives a special touch to this dish.  Rosemary and bay leaf are also known for their invigorating properties.  For example, rosemary, the delicious herb associated with Aphrodite the goddess of love, boosts blood supply and helps increase sensitivity of the skin.  You can enjoy brasato with either mashed potatoes or, like we Italians do, with polenta – “the Italian grits”.  Polenta is made from cornmeal and ranges in color from golden yellow to the white polenta from Veneto.  In the Roman times, a polenta made of crushed-grains (pulmentum) was the staple of Roman Legions.  Maize, however, was not cultivated in Europe before Cristoforo Colombo brought it back in the 16th century.  Then for hundreds of years polenta, the traditional food of the Northern Italian peasants, was known as the poor-man’s food.  Now, defying its humble origin, polenta has also been discovered by a new, sophisticated audience and is frequently found in gourmet restaurants.


Preparation time: 12 hrs      Cooking time: 2 ½ hrs+40 min.        Serving: 4

900 g (2 pounds) cappello di prete, beef chuck roast
1 bottle Barolo wine
3 carrots
1 celery rib
1 yellow onion
3 garlic cloves
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 piece of cinnamon
3 pepper corns
3 cloves
40 g (3 tablespoons) butter
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)
Salt to taste

1.6 l water (about 1-½ qts)
1 tablespoons kosher salt
400 g (2 cups) cornmeal
2 tablespoon olive oil (Extra Virgin)


You should start the day before you plan to cook the meat.

  1. Tie the meat with a cotton string so it keeps its shape
  2. Cut the carrots, the celery and the onion into big pieces, and put them in a large glass bowl with the meat and bay leaf, rosemary, cinnamon, cloves and pepper.  Add the wine.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a cool place (I suggest the refrigerator) for 12 hours.  This is important to reduce the proliferation of bacteria
  3. After 12 hours remove the meat from the bowl and dry it with some paper towels
  4. In a large saucepan, over medium heat, sauté the meat in the butter and olive oil for 5 minutes on both sides
  5. Add the vegetables, the wine and some salt to taste
  6. Cover and cook on low heat for at least 2-½ hours.  The meat should be so tender that it could be carved with a spoon
  7. Remove the meat from the pan.  Discard the rosemary sprigs and the bay leaves
  8. Blend the vegetables and liquid with an electric blender, and then reduce the sauce for 2-3 minutes
  9. Slice the meat when it is no longer too hot; it will be easier to slice.  Pour the sauce on the meat and serve either with polenta or mashed potatoes.


  1. In a heavy sauce pan bring the water to boil.  Add the salt
  2. Reduce the heat to low and gradually whisk in the cornmeal to prevent lumps from forming
  3. Cover and cook for 5 minutes
  4. Remove the lid and stir constantly with a wooden spoon on high heat
  5. Continue to stir for about 40 minutes (according to package cooking time) until the polenta is thickened.  It should separate from the sides of the pan, and be able to support a spoon
  6. Add 2-3 T oil olive
  7. Pour the polenta onto a wooden cutting board, let it stand for a few minutes and cut it into slices using either a knife or, according to the peasant tradition, a cotton string.

Note: Barolo wine needs to be matched with food of similar weight such as meat dishes, heavy pasta and rich risotto, and it is excellent for marinating. In fact, marinades work their magic due to the acids in the wine which break down muscle tissue and soften the meat.  An appropriate Barolo substitute is Barbera or another full-bodied red wine.  Polenta is not difficult to make but needs a lot of attention and nearly constant stirring.  The best pan to use should be a copper pot surrounded by the cooking flame (a large gas-burner is ideal).  In the past – and indeed still today – farmers cooked polenta over an open fire, and this without doubt the tastiest version you can eat!!! -Paola


Risotto ai Funghi Porcini (Cep Mushroom Risotto)

7 Nov

The term rice refers to the seed of the Oryza sativa plant.  The Chinese were already cultivating this plant 12,000 years ago!  It spread slowly to North Africa and Europe.  This cereal arrived in the North America, first in South Carolina around 1700, probably from Madagascar.  In Italy the first rice farmers were monks in the Piedmont region, and this grain was initially used as a medicine for to maintain the normal digestive functions.  Rice is an excellent source of fuel for our body.  It is easily digested and so the energy it supplies quickly becomes available to our working muscles, brain and body organs, like the heart and liver.  In fact, rice is rich in starch (more than 75%), in vitamins (mainly B group) and some minerals (calcium and iron); instead, it contains few proteins (only 6-7%).  Much of the Italian harvest is used for making risotto, a starchy rice, in the northern regions of Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto.  Risotto is a versatile dish, and its character changes depending on what you add to it.  For example, zucchini flowers make a wonderful spring-time risotto.  Cook a champagne risotto, with passion!, for a special romantic encounter.  This recipe, with porcini mushrooms, is a classic Autumn dish, and it has a rich, aromatic and delicious flavor.  You prepare the mushrooms the same way for both this risotto and the roast filet.


Preparation Time: about 40 min
Cooking time:            10 min + 15-20 min.                         Servings: 4

450 g (approx. 1 pound) Porcini mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil (Extra Virgin)

1 liter (approx. 4 cups) chicken stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
25 g (¼  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground white ground pepper

Clean the porcini (see Tips, below), and slice the mushrooms vertically into 2 mm (⅛ in) strips.  In a large saucepan over medium-high heat sauté the olive oil and the garlic.  Stir in the mushrooms, salt to taste, cook approx. 7 minutes over medium heat.  Continue to cook for 1-2 min. over a high flame.  Add the parsley and set aside.

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
  2. In a large saucepan heat 4 T of butter.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.  Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions.  (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.)  Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed
  3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 12 minutes (it depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package)
  4. Set aside a few spoonfuls of mushrooms and add the rest.Cook for about 2 more minutes.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should still seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about 2 T.

Remove your risotto and mushrooms from the heat.  At this point, keep stirring the risotto to blend in the cheese and butter.  You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes.  Arrange the risotto on a serving dish, place the remaining mushrooms on top and serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: To clean the mushrooms, I suggest to wipe them off with a moist cloth and to use a knife, if necessary, to remove any remaining soil.  Many say not to wash them with water, but I prefer this. If you do so, do it immediately before slicing and cooking.  It is important to use either a non-stick or steel pan, because other metals in contact with the porcini can release toxic compounds.  Porcini are well suited to drying, and actually the flavor of dried mushrooms is more intense.  Before using, soak them in hot, but not boiling, water for about twenty minutes; the filtered water can also be used for cooking, enhancing the flavors of other recipes.  For more tips on cooking risotto and selecting the right rice, please also see the Pumpkin Risotto recipe  -Paola


Pan dei Morti (Bread of the Dead)

28 Oct

The Pan dei Morti are traditional Italian cookies prepared for the Day of Dead (Commemorazione dei Defunti) celebrated on November 2nd, the day following All Saint’s Day (Ognissanti).  On these two holy days Italians honor the souls of deceased relatives and loved ones, and many believe that the spirits return to Earth to visit those ones they have left behind.  In fact, the use of other cookies (amaretti and savoiardi) or left over sweets as ingredients clearly symbolizes the transmutation of the old into the new.  It is also interesting to note that dried fruit and figs, also fundamental in this recipe, were always present in pre-Christian offerings to dead people. Cacao is a modern acquisition to render these sweets as dark as the earth in a burial ground.  In ancient times, honey, browned on the stove with a little butter, was used to get the same result for color and sweetness.  The Pan dei Morti recipe has as many variations as there are regions in Italy, and this particular one is a specialty of my own region, Lombardia.

This version has the advantage of being easy to prepare, but at the same time it is delicious and fun to eat.  The cookies are dense, chewy and moist, with a little crunch from the ground cookies and toasted pine nuts to remind of dead people’s bones.  (My husband remarks that the ghoulish background to these cookies makes them perfect for Halloween, too.)


Preparation time: 40 min.               Baking time: 15-20 min.

150 g (5-6 oz) dry amaretti cookies
350 g (12 oz) ladyfingers (large Italian savoiardi are best)
130 g (1 cup) blanched whole almonds, toasted
130 g (1 cup) pine nuts, toasted
120 g (4 ¼ oz) dried figs
120 g (4 ¼ oz) raisins, soaked in Vin Santo
300 g (about 2 cups) all-purpose flour
300 g (about 1 ½ cups) sugar
10 g (2 teaspoon) baking powder
60 g (½ cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 large eggs (4 egg whites and 2 whole eggs)
100 ml (½ cup) Vin Santo
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 170°C (350°F)

  1. Toast the pine nuts and the almonds separately for about 5 to 6 minutes on a baking sheet in a preheated oven at 170°C (350°F) or stirring constantly in a non-stick skillet on the stove.  Keep separate and set aside
  2. Soak the raisins in Vin Santo
  3. Using a mixer, finely grind the ladyfingers and amaretti cookies, and place them in a very large mixing bowl
  4. Finely grind the almonds, and then separately grind the figs as well.  Add both to the cookie mix (the damp figs may clump together; just add the clumps into the dry ingredient mix). Add raisins.
  5. Sift together the flour and the baking powder, then add to the cookie-almond-fig mixture.  Stir in sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and pine nuts.  Toss until completely blended
  6. Pour the eggs and the Vin Santo over the dry ingredients and mix well until smooth and doughy
  7. Line the baking sheets with non-stick parchment paper
  8. To form the cookies, first flour your fingers.  Scoop out a ball of dough of a size somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball.  Using as little flour as possible flatten the ball into an oblong shape with pointed edges, about 4 ½ -5 ½ inches (12-14 cm) long and about 2 ½ inches (6 cm) wide.  Use just enough flour to work the dough and keep the cookies from sticking to the baking paper.
  9. Place the cookies on the baking sheet, leaving some space between each.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until slightly puffed, with a brown color and crisp look
  10. Dust with powdered sugar sprinkled on top
  11. Remove from the baking sheet and cool on a rack.

Note: This recipe makes about 48-50 cookies.  These butter-less cookies are light and pretty healthy, and they are rich in nuts and dried fruits.  Some recipes also call for candied orange peel, another good flavor for this time of year, so feel free to throw in a handful if you wish. This “dead man’s bread” is best eaten fresh, although the cookies keep well for several days, too.  -Paola


Risotto di Zucca (Winter Squash Risotto)

6 Oct


Fall has arrived, nature has changed its colors from green to yellow, red, brown and ochre, we have exchanged our summer wardrobes for the winter ones and changed the types of food on our tables. It’s pumpkin season!  Winter squash is a very nice vegetable, suitable for preparing a variety of recipes ranging from risotto to ravioli, soup to pasta sauce, cakes to croquettes – and even all by itself.  Fall’s famous vegetable, in addition to being a tasty part of many recipes, is a very good and healthy choice of food, an excellent source of beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), a good source of fiber, potassium, iron, folate, magnesium and manganese.  Pumpkin is low-calorie and contains lots of water, thus a perfect ingredient to use when slimming down.


Preparation Time: about 2 hrs       
Cooking time:            1 ½ hrs + 15-20 min.                   
Servings: 4

Squash or pumpkin risotto is extremely popular in northern Italy during the cold months. Little wonder, because a good winter squash has a delightful tangy sweetness to it, while the risotto has a splendid creamy texture, perfect on a cold, gray winter day with a nice glass of Italian wine!  There are several varieties  of winter squash you can use; the one I like the most is zucca di Mantova (Cucurbita maxima, Kabocha).  It takes its name from Mantova, a city in northern Italy, where it grows.  It has a very sweet, tender flesh, tasting like a cross between sweet potato and pumpkin.  It is large, round and squat, dark green and mottled, often with bumpy skin.  A good alternative is butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) that also has  sweet and nutty taste.  When you choose your pumpkin make sure it is firm all the way around. 

Zucca di Mantova (half) about 750 g (1 ½ lb)
1 liter vegetable or chicken stock
80 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
300 g (1 ½ cups) Italian Carnaroli or Arborio rice
240 ml (1 cup) dry white wine, at room temperature
25 g (¼  cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly white ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C (390-400°F).  Cut pumpkin in half crosswise and scoop out the seeds and stringy material.  Wash in plain cold water.  Place the pumpkin halves on a baking sheet and bake for about 1-1/2 hours or until the flesh is very tender when pierced with a fork.  Don’t worry if the edges are browned. The natural sugars actually caramelize and give it a richer more complex flavor.  When it is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh and mush it with a fork.  Set aside half of the puree. You can freeze the other half in a plastic bag or air-tight container for another risotto.

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm up the stock
  2. In a large saucepan heat 50 g (4 T) butter.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 2-3 minutes over medium heat.  Add the rice and stir thoroughly for about 3 minutes, in order to “coat” the rice well with the butter and onions.  (This helps regulate absorption of the wine.)  Add the wine and stir until is completely absorbed
  3. Add a soup ladle or two of the stock until the rice is just covered, and stir continuously with a wooden spoon. When the stock is almost completely absorbed, repeat this process for about 15 minutes (it depends on the rice’s cooking time, which should be clearly indicated on the package)
  4. Add the squash and cook for about 2 minutes.

The end of the cooking is critical for the final texture of the dish, so when the rice is nearly  tender to the bite, but with just a hint of resistance (al dente), and the liquid you have added up to this point has been mostly absorbed (the risotto should seem a bit “soupy”), add the Parmesan and butter to taste, about  30 g (2 T).

Remove your risotto from the heat.  At this point, stir the risotto vigorously to blend in the cheese and butter.  You can also add some salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  Let it stand for 1 or 2 minutes and serve immediately (plan your timing well – it is very easy to overcook risotto!).

Note: Cooking pumpkin is much easier than you think.  There are different methods: Boiling, Steaming and Roasting.  Roasting is my favorite one because it give a richer flavor.  You can roast the pumpkin some days in advance and freeze it until you are ready to use it. This process will speed up your risotto preparation time. 

It is important to know about rice when buying for risotto; choose short-grained round or semi-round rice, rich in starch; among the best rice for making risotto are Italian Arborio and  Carnaroli.  Don’t forget that risotto requires a great deal of attention and continuous stirring!  Risotto is a perfect gluten-free dish.  -Paola

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