Tag Archives: Cheese


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


Melanzane alla Parmigiana (Eggplant Parmesan)

23 Oct

Eggplant, also known by its French name aubergine, is a vegetable long prized for its beauty as well its unique, pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture.  It originates from Asia, and the first one imported in America was round and with a yellowish-white color (like an egg!).  The Italian name melanzana means” mela insana” (insanity-apple), because when it was first introduced in Italy (around 1500) people thought that this vegetable was noxious and could cause mental and intestinal disorders.  Notwithstanding this dubious start, eggplant is, in any case, a delicious vegetable that can be enjoyed grilled and marinated, stuffed, roasted or fried.  I like to cook and eat “insanity apples” in a wide assortment of recipes.  In addition being an important source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, eggplant also contains phytonutrients, many of which have antioxidant properties and protect us from a variety of diseases. 


Preparation time: 2 hrs.                  Baking Time: 40 min.                        Servings:4

Melanzane alla Parmigiana, a symphony of Italian flavors, is a appetizing main dish made of eggplants, tomato sauce, Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, and is flavored with fresh basil.  It is not know if the name Parmigiana means “melanzane all’uso di Parma” (eggplant from Parma, the city of Parmesan cheese), or if it comes from Parmiciana (par-mee-CHA-na), a Sicilian word referring to the louvered shutters made of overlapping wooden strips, recalling the arrangement of the eggplant slices in the pan.  As far as I know, Sicily is where you can enjoy the most delicious and authentic eggplant Parmesan.

900 g (2 pounds) eggplant
Kosher salt
½ small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Olive oil (Extra Virgin)
600 ml (about 2 cups) tomato sauce
1 sprig of basil
300 g (2 cups) diced Mozzarella cheese (see note, below)
100 g (1 cup) grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash the eggplants under cold water.  Cut off the ends and slice them vertically into thin (4 mm, ¼ in) slices.  Arrange one layer of slices in the bottom of a large colander and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Repeat this procedure until all the eggplants are in the colander.  Weigh down the slices with something heavy, (for example three plates) and let them drain for at least one hour.  This step helps release some of the moisture before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F)

  1. In a large sauce pan over a medium-high heat, sauté the onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the tomato sauce, salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.  (I personally do not add salt because my cooking is low in salt, but this depends on your taste).  Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes.  Set aside.  I recommend using a dense tomato sauce rather than a liquid one
  2. When the eggplants have drained, press down on the slices to remove the excess water, wipe off the excess salt, and dry with paper towels
  3. Heat about 1 cm (½ in) olive oil into a large, deep skillet.  When the oil is hot, fry the eggplants until light golden brown on both sides.  Drain well on paper towels
  4. In an 11-cup baking pan (23 cm x 18 cm; approx. 9 in x 7 in), spread a paper-thin layer of tomato sauce.  Arrange the eggplant slices side by side, covering the sauce in the bottom of the baking pan.  Spread some of the tomato sauce(about ⅓) evenly on top of the eggplants, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, some basil leaves and Parmesan cheese (about ⅓ cup) and some pepper to taste.  Repeat this process until you have a total of three layers of eggplants and finish with the remaining tomato sauce and parmesan (no mozzarella) 
  5. Bake covered with aluminum foil for about 30 minutes.  Remove the aluminum foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.  Let it rest at room temperature for about 10-15 minutes before serving.  Sprinkle some grated Parmesan cheese on top and serve.

Note: Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size.  Their skin should be smooth and shiny.  Eggplants are sensitive to both hot and cold temperatures.  You can leave eggplants at room temperature for a day or two with no ill effects.  After that, refrigerate them, but not for too long, at about 10°C (50°F).  Also, do not use fresh mozzarella cheese in this recipe, it has too much liquid in it.  I would suggest using a pizza mozzarella, if you can find it.  Caciocavallo cheese and Provolone cheese are good substitutes for pizza mozzarella.  Also, if you do not want to fry the eggplants, you can grill them (but I would recommend the fried ones, they are much tastier and more appetizing!).  -Paola

Pane con Pancetta e Formaggio (Bacon and Cheese Bread)

7 Oct

This delicious bread, soft and tasty, and flavored with bacon and cheese, originates from the regions of Tuscany and Umbria in central Italy.  The bread is simple and quick to prepare and is a suitable recipe to accompany a cocktail, a salad, or a picnic.

Preparation time: 55 min.               Baking time: 50 min.

Pane con Pancetta e Formaggio 

3 large eggs
370 g  (2 ¼ cups) all-purpose flour
15 g (3 teaspoons) baking powder
150 g (about 1 cup) diced Swiss cheese (Emmenthal)
150 g (1 ½ cups) grated Parmesan cheese
80 g (½ cup) diced bacon
60 ml olive oil (Extra Virgin)
150 ml milk

Preheat the oven to 170°C (350°F)
1. Mix the flour, baking powder and grated Parmesan cheese in a medium bowl
2. Add the eggs, olive oil and milk, mix until well blended
3. Add the Swiss cheese and the bacon
4. Stir well until the dough is smooth (you can add extra milk)
5. Pour the dough in a greased and floured bread pan (34 cm x 10 cm)
7. Bake for 50 min.

Let the bread cool in the pan for 5 min. on a rack, then remove it from the pan and let it cool on the rack or about 15 more minutes.  

My son can hardly wait for this bread to cool before cutting into it.  It’s excellent served at room temperature, but he says that it tastes best just out of the oven!  -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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