Category Archives: recipes

Another Way with Risotto

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I seem to be posting lots of recipes lately, but it seems like all of a sudden, I’m discovering all these new ways of cooking up old Italian favorites (and I feel the need to share them!).  This one is for Risotto with Kale and Pancetta!  Now, who can honestly resist anything with pancetta?  Not I, that’s for sure!  And this recipe was no exception to the deliciousness (sp?) that pancetta gives to anything it’s added to.

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Risotto with Kale & Pancetta

1 cup Arborio rice

Olive oil

White wine

1/2 cup diced pancetta

1 bunch kale, chiffonaded

4 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 T. mascarpone

Red pepper flakes

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1.  Warm some olive oil in a pot.

2.  Add the rice and stir it around a bit.

3.  Add a splash of white wine and stir the rice while the wine reduces.

4.  Once the wine has reduced, add one ladle-full of chicken broth, and stir the risotto until the broth reduces.

5.  Continue in this method, adding one ladle full of broth at a time, until the risotto is cooked.

6.  While the risotto is cooking, take another pan and warm some olive oil in it.

7.  Add the pancetta, kale, and a dash of red pepper flakes (to taste)  to the pan and fry it up until the pancetta is crispy and the kale has softened.  Set aside.

8.  When the risotto is cooked (al dente), add the parmesan cheese and mascarpone to it and stir until the cheeses have melted.

9. Add the kale/pancetta mixture and stir until it’s all combined.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Serve HOT and enjoy with a good bottle of hearty red wine! 

You will love it!

Italy at Costco?

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For those of you that don’t live here in the USA, you may not be familiar with the Costco warehouses. They are huge buildings where you can shop for all sorts of products (from electronics, to food, to garage doors…and everything in between!). They are a membership only place (meaning that you have to pay a yearly membership fee in order to shop there), but the savings outweigh the cost of the membership (as long as you buy a lot!). They sell mostly in bulk, so if you don’t have places to store the items, it’s probably better not to shop there! I’ve been guilty of buying things (because they are such a deal) and then having them sit around in my pantry for years!

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But every once in a while, Costco has some pretty unusual, and very good, food products from Italy! It’s always fun to see what new things they have on the shelves.

Meandering in the freezer section a few weeks ago, I came across this frozen medley of wild mushrooms and asparagus – imported from Italy. I’m always up for anything “wild mushroom”, and then to have it be from Italy, I knew I had to try it.

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A few more aisles over, in the sauce aisle, I found another treasure from Italy – this porcini and truffle butter.

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Voila! A meal was beginning to form in my head for a tasty wild mushroom pasta dish!

Last night, that pasta dish came to be! I took 2 Italian sausages (also purchased in bulk at Costco), sliced them up and cooked them over medium heat in a frying pan. At this point, I didn’t add any oil or butter – I just dry cooked the sausages until they were done. Once done, I took them out of the pan and put them aside. Then I added some olive oil to my pan and sauteed some sliced garlic until fragrant. Then I added the frozen mushroom/asparagus mixture and cooked it, slowly, until it was all melted and some of the water was released from the mushrooms. I seasoned with salt and pepper, and added back the cooked sausages. I sautéed it a bit over low heat. I then added my cooked pasta (I used about 1/2 lb of egg noodles, but really any kind of pasta you desire would be great) and mixed it all together. Once it was all combined, I added a spoonful of the truffle/porcini butter and melted it in. You can adjust the amount of butter to your taste…it’s very flavorful, so a little goes a long way.

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I served it hot with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top. It was a hit with the famiglia 🙂 I love it when experiments work out!  This served up about 5 healthy portions.

Cooking with Designer Mushrooms

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One can always find some new and interesting foods at Costco..and it’s good to grab them once you see them as they may not be available when you return. Therefore, when I saw the “specialty pack” of fresh mushrooms grown by Mycopia, I knew I had to get them for a new dining experiment! The mushrooms included in the pack were: Nebrodini Bianchi, Velvet Pioppini, and Forest Nameko.

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As in all my cooking experiments, I always retreat back to my comfort zone: Italian cooking!

So I heated some olive oil and sauteed some garlic. Once the garlic was golden, I added the mushrooms and continued to saute until they became tender. I added some cooked and sliced Italian sausage. Towards the end, I added some white wine and reduced it a bit, and finished it with some salt, pepper, and chopped fresh parsley.

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I served this concoction over some polenta and sprinkled the finished product with some grated Parmesan cheese. Voila!

Delicious Ricciarelli Cookies

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If you’re anything like me, you may love to cook but not care very much for baking.  I’m not exactly sure why I don’t like baking – maybe it’s the mess, or the rolling out of dough, or the lengthy time involved.  Whatever it is, I don’t do it very often, but at Christmastime, I try to make the effort.  That’s why I was so happy to find this recipe – super easy to make and absolutely DELICIOUS!  Ricciarelli are a very popular cookie in Tuscany and now can be popular at your house as well!  I know they were a hit at mine…in fact, they didn’t last very long at all.   I guess it’s time to make some more for Santa’s plate on Christmas Eve 🙂

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Ricciarelli

3 cups almond meal

1 1/3 cups sugar

1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

1 t. baking powder

2 egg whites, beaten to soft peaks

2 t. almond extract

Zest of an orange

Pinch of salt

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 275.

Combine the almond meal, sugar, 1 cup of the powdered sugar, baking powder, salt, and the orange zest in a bowl. 

Stir in the beaten egg whites and mix all together until it’s all combined (it will be sticky).  Stir in the almond extract.

Using a tablespoon, take a scoopful of dough and form it into an oval ball.  Roll the ball into some powdered sugar and place them on the cookie sheet.  Leave a little bit of spreading room in between cookies.  Press down slightly on the cookies to flatten them just a little.

Place the cookie sheets in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.  The cookies are done when they are slightly crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside.  Cool completely and store them in an airtight container.

These cookies are delicious served with some Asti Spumante or Prosecco!

Another Reason to Be Good – Santa Lucia ;)

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Kids, pay heed! It’s once again time to be good if you want to get candies and cookies and other goodies for the feast day of Santa Lucia on December 13th! With all these opportunities for getting gifts in exchange for being good (and avoiding that nasty gift of coal for being bad), it seems to me that December must be the most well-behaved month of the year! Perhaps some of these holidays should be spread out during the year so that the goodness can last a bit longer 🙂

The feast day of Santa Lucia is celebrated in various parts of Italy and in very different ways. In Sicily, where she was actually born and martyred, they celebrate her feast day with religious processions and special food. Legend has it that back in 1582, a severe famine miraculously ended on her feast day when ships loaded with grain entered the harbor. The people were so hungry that they didn’t take the time to grind the grain into flour, but boiled the grains immediately. Because of this, Sicilians, even to this day, will not eat anything made with flour on her feast day. No bread, no pasta! Instead, they make a traditional dish called cuccia. Everyone makes their cuccia a bit differently and the women have their kids bring their version to all the neighbors to sample. Here is one recipe, which sounds delicious and is tempting me to try it soon…

Cuccia

500 g. whole wheat (not ground)
500 g. ricotta
250 g sugar
salt
cinnamon
vanilla
candied fruits and/or chocolate chips

Soften the whole wheat for 2 days in water. After the 2 days, boil the wheat with a little bit of salt added to the water for at least an hour until it is cooked. Drain the wheat and let it settle for an hour before proceeding.
Meanwhile drain the ricotta until it is dry. Once dry, add the sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and mix well (an electric mixer works well for this.) Stir in the candied fruits and/or chocolate chips.
Add the wheat mixture and mix it all up. Portion the mixture into individual bowls and sprinkle with cinnamon.

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The feast day of Santa Lucia is also celebrated in North-Eastern Italy, but in a totally different way. The traditional food eaten here is goose, and she is the one that brings gifts to the good boys and girls. She brings sweets and candies to the good ones, and guess what she brings to those not so good? Yep, once again they get coal!

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According to tradition, she arrives during the night between Dec. 12th and Dec. 13th in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey, and a glass of wine for Castaldo. In exchange, she leaves candies and sweets for the children. But don’t get any ideas of catching a glimpse of her – if she sees you, she will throw ash in your eyes! Yikes!

When I asked my mom about her memories of Santa Lucia, the only thing she came up with was this little rhyme:
Santa Lucia – il giorno piu corto che ci sia! (Santa Lucia – the shortest day there is). I always thought the shortest day was December 21st…hmm…maybe I’ve been wrong all these years! Obviously, my mom didn’t grow up in one of the places where her feast day was heavily celebrated!

This very traditional Italian song, Santa Lucia, is always one that brings me back to my childhood when these songs were always sung at gatherings at the Italian Social Club my parents belonged to in San Francisco.  And of course, when Andrea Bocelli sings it, I can swoon!

Poor Man’s Spaghetti

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Last night, I made Spaghetti Poveri (or Poor Man’s Spaghetti) for dinner and it was DELICIOUS! I’m not sure why they actually named it “Poor Man’s Spaghetti” but probably because it is made up of ingredients that were always in the house and nothing special needed to be purchased! This is a simple pasta dish with tasty ingredients that isn’t heavy on the stomach! I love these kinds of pasta dishes as they don’t leave you feeling overly full after you’ve eaten them.

I got this recipe from the Giallo Zafferano website. It was in Italian, so I’m translating it here for you. The ingredients will still be in the metric units, so sorry to all my American readers out there 🙂

Spaghetti Poveri

1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
100 g of olives, finely chopped
3 sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
30 g of capers, drained and chopped
100 g. of anchovy fillets in oil
40 g. of fine breadcrumbs
Some red pepper flakes
400 g spaghetti
Olive oil

Cook the spaghetti until they are done, al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a pan (use enough to cover the bottom of the pan).

Add the onion and garlic and sauté until the onion begins to soften.

Add the capers and the anchovies and cook until the anchovies begin to melt (they actually dissolve – something I didn’t know would happen!).

Add the red pepper flakes and the olives. Cook for a little while and then add the parsley. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a separate small pan, heat some olive oil and add the breadcrumbs. Cook until they begin to toast.

Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the pan with the sauce. Add the toasted breadcrumbs and mix it all well (over low heat to blend the flavors).

Enjoy the pasta immediately, while it is hot. You can add some parmesan cheese if you’d like.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

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A few years ago, while visiting Tuscany and Umbria, I had a simple Italian pasta dish featuring Ragu al Cinghiale (wild boar). I remember it being so delicious and very similar to the ragu my mom makes. Pasta with ragu is one of my comfort foods and when the weather begins to chill, it calls to me! In Tuscany and other areas nearby, cooking with wild game is very popuar. There are lots of hunters in these parts, and their delicasies reflect the game that they catch. But I never thought that I, not a hunter, could ever cook with these meats. So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into a nearby organic market, Sprouts, and found ground wild boar meat in the meat department! I immediately picked it up and brought it home to try my luck at making the delicious ragu that I had tasted in Tuscany. But so many questions arose in my head, mostly those  wondering if I had to treat the meat in some way to remove the gaminess. After doing some research online, I decided that I would just go for it and treat it like any other ground meat I’ve used in the past when I’ve made ragu. I’m glad I followed my instincts, because it came out perfectly!

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Ragu al Cinghiale (Wild Boar Ragu)

1 lb. ground wild boar meat
2 to 2 1/2 cups of Marinara Sauce (here’s my homemade recipe)
1 cup finely chopped yellow onion
3 stalks finely chopped celery
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms (I found some online here) softened in hot water (save the liquid)
1 Porcini mushroom bouillon cube
1/4 cup red wine
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Saute the onions and celery in the olive oil until they are starting to brown.  (don’t add too much oil, only enough to coat the bottom of the pan).

Add the ground wild boar meat and brown it thoroughly all the while breaking up the larger chunks.

Add the red wine and cook for about 1 minute.

Add the marinara sauce and chopped, softened porcini mushrooms.  Stir and combine well.  Add the bouillon cube and some salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat and cover.  Simmer and cook for a couple of hours, making sure that the sauce doesn’t burn.  If needed, add a little of the porcini soaking water to keep it moist.

Serve with your favorite pasta (I like it with egg fettucine).  If you don’t use all the sauce and you want to keep it for future uses, it freezes perfectly.

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Dried porcini mushrooms

Dried porcini mushrooms

Porcini mushroom bouillon cubes

Porcini mushroom bouillon cubes

Fettuccine alla Papalina

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Affectionately known as the “Pope’s Fettuccine”, this delicious pasta recipe was the favorite of Pope Pius XII back in 1939.  It’s nice to know that we can still use the same fresh ingredients as they did back then.  Even though it’s probably not the most heart-healthy of pasta sauces, it’s genuine ingredients are the hallmark of true Italian dishes.  As long as we keep our portions small and don’t eat rich dishes like this every day, it’s OK to indulge every so often….especially when it’s SO good.

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Fettucine alla Papalina

1 white onion

3 1/2 oz. sliced prosciutto

5 1/2 T. butter

3 eggs

3 heaping T. grated parmesan cheese

2 T. heavy cream

14 oz. fresh egg fettucine or pappardelle

Salt and pepper

Finely chop the onion and cut the prosciutto into narrow strips.  Brown the onion and prosciutto in the butter until the prosciutto is golden brown and crispy.

Meanwhile, mix the eggs in a food processor.  Add 2 T. of the parmesan, the cream, and some salt and pulse until smooth.

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente.  While the pasta is cooking, melt the rest of the butter in a small pan and pour it into a bowl.  When it is a little cool, add the egg mixture – mixing all the while so that the egg does not cook.  Add this into the prosciutto mixture and mix all together.

When the pasta has cooked, drain it well.  Add it to the pan with the prosciutto mixture and turn the heat to low – mixing all the time to incorporate the sauce well without cooking the egg.

Remove from the heat and toss the pasta with the remaining Parmesan and some pepper.  Enjoy!

This recipe serves 4 people.

Pasta al Gratin con Funghi e Mozzarella

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I found this wonderful recipe on an Italian site and decided to try it for dinner….it was a giant hit!  I tried to reduce the calories with a very low-fat version of the beschamel sauce, but if you don’t mind the real thing, then by all means use it!  I didn’t think that using non-fat milk deterred from the taste of the final product 🙂

Pasta al Gratin con Funghi e Mozzarella

320 g. of short tubular pasta, like rigatoni

1 1/2 cups of beschamel sauce (recipe below)*

200 g of shredded mozzarella

20 g of dry porcini mushrooms

2 thinly sliced green onions or 1/2 thinly sliced  leek

40 g of grated parmesan cheese

3 fresh thyme stems

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1.  Soak the mushrooms in warm water until soft.  Once they have softened, rinse them in warm water and chop them.  Strain the soaking water and reserve for use later, if needed.

2.  Saute the mushrooms and sliced onions in some about 2 T. olive oil for about 5 minutes.  Season this with salt and pepper, and add a few thyme leaves.

3.  Turn off the heat and add the mushrooms to the beschamel sauce.  If the sauce is too dense, add a little of the mushroom soaking water.

4.  In the meantime, boil some salted water for the pasta and cook the pasta according to the directions, keeping them a bit on the al dente side.

5.  When the pasta is cooked, add it to the pan with the beschamel and mushroom mixture.  Mix it well.

6.  Lightly butter the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Add the pasta and spread it out evenly in the dish.

7.  Sprinkle the pasta with the grated mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Add the remaining thyme leaves.

8.  Broil the pasta dish until the cheese melts and turns golden brown.  Serve hot!

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Beschamel sauce

1 1/2 c. non fat milk

1 bay leaf

1 T. butter

1/8 c. flour

2 T. grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and white pepper to taste

Optional:  dash of ground nutmeg

Warm the milk with the bay leaves in a small saucepan. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When melted, stir in the flour to make a smooth paste. Cook, stirring with a wooden spoon until roux smells toasty but has not darkened in color, about 4 minutes. Pour in the hot milk, whisking to avoid lumps. Bring to a simmer, whisking until thickened, about 5 minutes. Season with the salt, nutmeg and pepper. Remove from heat, and whisk in the grated cheese.

Pizza? Parmigiana? What to Call It….

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I have created a similar version to this and called it Eggplant Parmigiana countless times.  Breaded eggplant, marinara sauce and cheese baked in the oven until the cheese melts and becomes a bit golden – that was the perfect parmigiana!  But this time, I added some toppings…and so, it was transformed into a pizza!  No toppings = parmigiana; toppings = pizza!

Eggplant Pizza

1 eggplant, sliced into rings

1 to 2 beaten eggs, with a bit of salt and pepper added

Breadcrumbs

Marinara Sauce (I used my “Ugly” tomato sauce)

Shredded Cheese, like mozzarella

Pizza toppings:  prosciutto, mushrooms, peppers, salami, whatever you like!

Take the eggplant slices and coat them first in the beaten egg, and then lightly in the breadcrumbs.  Shake off any excess breadcrumbs.

In a hot pan with sufficient olive oil to coat the bottom, brown the eggplant slices so that they are golden.  Once each slice has browned, blot them on some paper towels to remove any excess oil.

Place the eggplant slices on a cookie sheet.  Cover each slice with some marinara sauce and some shredded cheese.

At this point, you can get creative and put whichever other topping you’d like, as if you were topping a pizza!

Bake the pizza’s in a 425 degree oven until the cheese melts and turns golden.

Enjoy your individual pizzas!