Italy is art, history, stunning landscape, warm and welcoming people – and food. An integral part of lifestyles here, as varied as the terrain and the hill towns, the culinary wonders of Italy vary region to region – and even town to town. Italy hooked me as a student in Rome, junior-year-abroad. A couple years teaching in Rome followed later. The move to Umbria to work the land with Pino bound me forever to this land, these people, their lifestyles, traditions and lore. Our farm neighbors taught us about the land – and about life. My Umbrian farm woman friends – Peppa, Mandina, Chiarina, Olga, Gentile – and my beloved Sicilian mother-in-law, Vincenza – have patiently answered all my culinary curiosities over the years. Mandina showed me how to put up over 200 lbs of tomatoes (and not only!) every summer. Chiarina taught me to make pasta and gnocchi. Olga and Peppa are still adding to my Umbrian cookcing lore. A few favorite recipes follow:
Antipasti – Appetizers
- 1 – 1/2 c farro
- 1 mozzarella
- cherry tomatoes, 6 – 8
- bunch of fresh basil
- handful of olives
- olive oil (q. b. -“quanto basta” or “as much as is needed”)
- salt, kosher (for cooking) – q. b.
other possible ingredients:
- chickpeas, 1 can
- Italian fagioli borlotti (speckled beans) 1 can
- purple onion, finely-chopped
- fresh chives, finely-diced
- fresh mint, finely-diced
- fresh parsley, finely-diced
- 1 cup corn
- small can of tuna, packed in olive oil
- diced pickles – and/or other pickled vegetables, chopped
Cook `1 -1/2 c farro in same amount of water (salted). Bring to boil, then simmer til farro cooks to al dente (“to the tooth”). Set aside, after stirring in about 1`/2 c to 3/4 c olive oil. (Add olive oil after cooking so that farro does not remain sticky). Add diced mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, halved or in smaller piece, olives and diced fresh basil. Add salt as needed. (I would not add black pepper, though you might wish to do so….) Serve.
Add the above ingredients as well as all the other ingredients indicated as “other possible ingredients.”
Note: if mozzarella not available, add another cheese of your choice, diced. Optional addition to the above: slice of cooked ham, diced.
Ingredients: slices of good, crusty bread (best if a couple days old), garlic clove, salt, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil (ideally, just back from the mill!). Toast bread on both sides. Rub one side of each slice with garlic clove. Drizzle on olive oil. Be generous! Sprinkle with salt. Variations are endless: top with diced very ripe tomatoes, mixed with olive oil and finely-chopped basil or parsley or mixture of the two. You can also top with mushrooms sauteed in olive oil and garlic, parsley, dash of white wine. Try steamed cauliflower sauteed in garlic and olive oil. Another variation: add olive oil to steamed spinach or Swiss chard or broccoli and spoon on top of toast slices, topping with diced mozzarella or fontina or another cheese. Put under broiler until the cheese melts. You’ve now made crostini, the “cousin” of bruschetta – and a perfect way to lead reluctant vegetable-eaters to the goodness of greens!
Cook broccoli in salted boiling water, drain and then heat in hot olive oil (with garlic clove and chili pepper as above). Toast bread slices, then rub each one with a garlic clove. Spoon broccoli mixture on top. Drizzle more olive oil if needed. Buon appetito! (If desired, substitute, broccoli for cauliflower – or spinach – or Swiss chard – or turnip greens.)
Crostini with cooked greens
Toast bread slices. Steam broccoli (or turnip greens – or Swiss chard). Drain any water. Put olive oil in pan and drop in garlic clove (and a hot red pepper, if you wish). Heat a bit – until garlic is golden. Do not burn oil. Toss in greens. Add salt, pepper to taste. Put on bread slices. Serve as is (and you’ll have bruschetta all’erba) or top with slices of mozzarella or any cheese you prefer and return to oven on cookie sheet until cheese melts.
Crostini agli spinaci
Steam spinach. Drain. Toss with olive oil and a bit of lemon juice if desired. Add salt, pepper to taste. Mound on hot toasted bread – add cheese and proceed as above. (Alternative: toss spinach in hot olive oil with a handful of pinenuts – also currants, if desired… then proceed as above.)
Crostini al cavolfiore
Steam cauliflower. Warm in olive oil and garlic (hot red pepper, if desired). Mound on slices of hot toasted bread. Serve – or add some excellent Parmesan and warm briefly in oven.
Crostini al pomodoro e mozzarella
Toast bread. Chop finely mozzarella with very ripe tomato and basil or oregano or parsley (bits of black olive if desired). Other toppings for crostini: tuna and tomato (with capers, if desired – olives too), anchovies and mozzarella (a classic Roman crostino), sauteéd leeks and cheese varieties, etc, etc… buon appetito! (Invent a new crostino and let me know – happy to add to these recipes.)
When cool weather sets in, time to pick the green tomatoes still in the garden. They can be turned into a tasty topping for crostini, bruschette, sharp cheeses, boiled meats.
Click here to see how to make this tasty condiment.
Panzanella (“dried bread salad” – pane = “bread”)
Panzanella is a keynote dish of cucina genuina (“genuine cooking”, ie, traditional cuisine of homegrown ingredients), for bread is sacred in rural culture and never thrown out, always used in some way. Read about rural bread lore.
Here is how Peppa makes her panzanellapiatto dei poveri ( “poor man’s dish” – and variations on the theme are made throughout central Italy)
Ingredients for 4 persons:
- about 1 lb of nearly stale good homemade bread (or if purchasing, Italian or French-style breads)
- 4 ripe tomatopes
- 6 leaves of basil
- 1 large purple onion
- 1 stalk celery
- 1 medium-sized cucumber
- extra-virgin olive oil (accept no substitutes and get the BEST you can)
- salt, pepper
- wine vinegar
- optional: variety of salads (but not iceberg lettuce!)
Soak the bread in water til it softens, then squeeze all water out. Cut into small pieces, all vegetables. Season with olive oil, salt and pepper, vinegar and keep in cool place (though not refrigerator) til served.
Best NOT prepared ahead and refrigerated.
Variations: in the Lazio region, tomatoes and onions are omitted and capers, garlic, anchovies and parsley are pulverized together with mortar and pestle. Hot red pepper is added.
Sicilian Zucchini with Mint and Garlic
Pino’s wise and wonderful mother, Signora Vincenza, taught me much about Sicilian lifestyles and Sicilian cooking. She is no longer with us – but her culinary secrets live on! One of the first recipes she taught me to make was one with zucchini (one summer while visiting us when our zucchini crop was surplus!). Vinegar is often used in Sicilian cooking as years ago, people could not afford refrigeration. Cooking with vinegar helped preserve the food. When my husband Pino was small, there was no refrigerator in their home. Even in the intense heat of Sicilian summers, these zucchini need not be refrigerated. Ingredients: zucchini – 6 or 8 or….? (as many as you want – use more mint and garlic, olive oil and vinegar if making this dish with more zucchini) – small-to-medium-sized but NOT large (too much pulp inside – and less flavor), wine vinegar, red or white q.b = “quanto basta” or ” as much as is needed), extra-vrigin (ONLY!) olive oil – q. b., sunflower seed (or other seed oil) – q. b., bunch of fresh mint, garlic cloves, 4 or 5, salt – q.b. Rinse zucchini and then slice. Slice longtitudinally if zucchini are quite small; slice rounds if zucchini larger. Objective: you will be frying all the slices and therefore want to be turning as few slices as possible. Put all zucchini slices in deep bowl and cover with salt – a cup or more. Let sit about half an hour. (Zucchini will soften as water is leached – and are therefore prepared for frying). Rinse 2 or 3 times. Drain. Spread on cloth. Heat 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 sunflower seed oil in stainless steel frying pan. Oil should be deep for better frying. Begin to fry only when oil “spits”. Zucchini should be brown and crispy on both sides. As you remove one zucchini from pan, add another. Leave no “open” spaces in the pan or oil will smoke and burn. Finely-chop garlic cloves and generous bunch of mint. When all zucchini are fried, add olive oil and wine vinegar, then garlic and mint. Mix lightly. Add salt as needed. If making large quantities, the zucchini can be stored in the fridge in a jar for a couple weeks, if you add a bit of olive oil and vinegar. Zucchini should not be “exposed” to the air, ie, top level should be covered with olive oil. Serve cold as antipasto.
Zucca Gialla Agliata
(Garliced Orange Squash) – about 8 servings (recipe thanks to Signora Giovanna, Ristorante da Umberto, Ustica – province of Palermo) Use enough orange squash (I often use butternut) to slice into about 24 slices, approximately 4- 5? wide and approximately 1/2 – 3/4 inch thick (note: as is typical of any good cook, Giovanna has never used a recipe so her instructions to me were very “approximate” – do experiment, therefore!) Heat olive oil* – add garlic clove or two and lightly fry til golden. Remove garlic cloves from oil. Raise heat to “sizzling”. Be sure that there is at least 1/2 in. olive oil in the pan and that oil is “spitting”, though not smoking. Flip over, browning squash slices on both sides. Remove from heat and drain. Prepare agrodolce (“sweet/sour”) mixture: mix about 1 c. wine vinegar with 1 tsp sugar. (Giovanna points out that sugar/vinegar proportions will depend on personal taste.) Leave just a bit of olive oil and return squash to pan. Add shredded carrot, shredded garden fennel and wild fennel seeds (if not available, use dill), salt and pepper as desired. Pour agrodolcemixture over all and simmer uncovered until liquid evaporates. Then serve. *Hint: when frying, use part sunflower seed oil to reduce smoking tendency of olive oil. Wrap 2 medium-sized eggplants in foil and bake in oven til soft when pricked with a fork. Peel. Put pulp into blender. Add anchovies, black olives, capers, olive oil, Q.B. . Note: “Quanto basta” means “as much as you need”. Augusto Tocci – like any great rural cooks – does not create with recipes. Like him, experiment with ingredients and flavors. Nadia would say, “Communicate with the food!” Spread pate’ on a good, crusty bread. Buon appetito!
Melanzane al funghetto
- 8 medium-sized eggplants (or fewer if very large…..try for smaller ones!)
- 10-12 very ripe cherry tomatoes
- olive oil, q. b. (“quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
- garlic, 4- 5 cloves
- fresh basil (if possible) – or parsley
- salt, q.b.
Dice the eggplants and fry until brown in hot olive oil. Remove. Add garlic and brown, then tomatoes, briefly. Return eggplant, salt to taste and simmer all together. Add chopped fresh basil (or parsley) at the end.
Note: try this dish served with rigatoni or penne pasta! Add Parmesan cheese
Sweet and sour onions
- 3 lb small, flat yellow onions (or smallish white)
- 2 T good quality wine vinegar, approximately
- salt, q.b.
- freshly ground pepper
- 6-7 cloves
Boil 5 pts or so of water and drop in the onions, then drain af- ter counting to 15. As soon as they are cool enough to handle, pull off the outside skin and cut a cross into the end. Do not peel off any layer and don’t trim the tops. The less you handle, the better.
Put in baking pan and cover with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Add about 1/4 c. of wine vinegar, the sugar and cloves and bake in a medium hot oven. Turn the onions from time to time as they cook, adding a bit of water if needed.
Variations: A bay leave or two may be put in with the onions instead of the cloves. This dish may also be served with a main course as side dish. The onions may also be cooked with bal- samic vinegar; in such case, eliminate the sugar.
Caponata di Melanzane
Variations on this wonderful eggplant dish, la caponata, are enjoyed from Sicily north to Naples! Enjoy this version of a Neapolitan friend.
- 3 large eggplants
- 1 onion
- 1 stalk of celery
- handful of pitted black olives
- a handful of capers (under salt, if possible)
- 6 – 8 very ripe Roma tomatoes
- wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
Dice the eggplants and cover with salt so as to draw out the bitterness. After 1/2 hr, rinse well and dry. Heat olive oil in stainless steel pan til very hot. Fry eggplant and then remove from the oil, adding diced onion, diced celery, olives and the capers (rinsed, if they are preserved in salt) to the olive oil. Let simmer. Add tomatoes diced into small pieces. Salt as needed
and cook on low heat for about 15 mins. Return the eggplant to the mixture, adding a glass of wine vinegar in which you have dissolved 1 tsp sugar. Let vinegar evaporate. Serve la caponata at room temperature.
… and then we go to the PRIMO PIATTO (First Course)
Primi Piatti – First Courses
Penne with Zucchini and Zucchini Flowers
- 1 small-to-medium sized zucchini per person (big ones will not do – avoid any with seeds in them)
- 1 bunch zucchini flowers, if you can get them
- 1 scallion or half a small onion and a generous handful of fresh chives (the combination I used in my sauce)
- 2 medium-sized very ripe tomatoes (cut in half, seeds taken out) extra-virgin olive oil, Q.B. (“quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
- salt, Q.B.
- chives, Q.B.
- basil, Q.B.
- grated Parmesan cheese, Q.B.
- 1 chili pepper, cut into small pieces, seeds eliminated
Put the pasta water on to boil in large pot. Salt it. Slice the zucchini into thin rounds.
Cover bottom of medium-sized stainless steel frying pan with olive oil. Heat slightly, then add chili pepper tidbits, scallion or onion and chives, heating til golden. Add zucchini and simmer. Dice ripe seeded tomatoes into small pieces. Finely chop zucchini flowers and finely dice basil (I use my beloved “mezzaluna” or “half-moon” for the basil, given to Pino by an elderly woman in the early 1970”s!)
When zucchini are a bit tender but not soft, add diced tomatoes and basil and simmer a few minutes. Add zucchini flowers and simmer just a few minutes til tender.
Mix zucchini sauce into rigatoni or penne pasta. Add grated Parmesan cheese. Hint: when draining pasta, always save the water, i.e., il brodo so that you can add a touch to the pasta to make creamier, if needed. For this pasta, you can also add a touch of olive oil to make creamier.
Spaghetti alla Carbonara con Zucchine
Spagetti alla carbonara is usually made with the Italian salt-cured bacon,pancetta. Here is a lighter summer version (serves about 6): Use a bit more than 1 lb of spaghetti (a lb. serves about 5). As water boils for the pasta, finely dice a couple of medium-sized zucchini and one medium-sized onion. Cover saucepan with olive oil and add zucchini, onion, a garlic clove. Add about 1/2 c very hot water and let mixture simmer, covered, for a few minutes – or until zucchini are tender. Add a few sliced black olives, a small handful of capers (those under salt are best – rinse 2 or 3 times before using) and generous amounts of finely-chopped parsley, fresh mint and a bit of red chili pepper. Add a few diced zucchini flower if obtainable. Salt and pepper to taste. Dice a ripe Roma tomato or two and add just as you remove the zucchini mixture from the heat. Use one egg yolk for each person or one for every 2 persons for the creamy mixture you will make (adjust the egg yolks to taste). Beat egg yolks with a fork, adding 1 tsp of freshly-grated Parmesan and about 1 tbsp. of hot water to create a creamy mixture. Drain spaghetti as soon as al dente, setting aside some of the boiling pasta water. Immediately stir the creamy mixture into the spaghetti and then stir in zucchini mixture. If necessary, add spoonfuls of boiling pasta water and/or olive oil (extra-virgin, cold-pressed) to make the sauce creamier. Serve, offering additional Parmesan to those who wish. Buon appetito!
Pasta with Zucchini and Truffles
- penne pasta (use 1 lb for every 5 persons)
- 2 medium-sized zucchini
- generous bunch of zucchini flowers
- chili pepper
- salt, Q.B. (“quanto basta” or as much as you need – the most common annotation in Italian cookbooks!)
- extra-virgin olive oil (accept no substitutes!)
Put pasta water (salted) on to boil (this dish can be made almost in the time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta!) Finely-dice the onion and chop zucchini into small pieces. Cover medium-sizeed sauce pan with extra-virgin olive oil and when oil hot (but not spitting), add onion, chili pepper and then zucchini on top. Simmer about 10 mins until zucchini al dente but not soft. Add diced zucchini flowers and simmer a few more minutes. Salt to taste.
Add diced prosciutto or diced pancetta with onion and chili pepper. Or add shaved black truffle on top of this dish prior to serving. A sophisticated Umbrian kitchen might be equipped with a truffle-shaver….but ours is not: Pino used a carrot peeler to shave truffles on our pasta the other day!
Pasta al Vero Pesto alla Genovese (“Pasta with the TRUE Genovese Pesto Sauce”)
- 100 g of pasta (spaghetti) for every person (or about 1 lb for 5 people)
*The Genovese serve their pesto with trofiette (a flour and water-based pasta of curious twisted shape) but any form welcomes a buonissimo pesto, (in fact, Felicità makes a pesto lasagna as well!)
- a large, large bunch of basil
- a handful of pine nuts
- a handful of grated Parmesan cheese about 1/4 c excellent extra-virgin olive oil (feel free to contact me if you wish information on how to get the BEST absolutely!)
- garlic clove (can eliminate if desired)
- salt, Q.B. (“as much as you need”)
Pesto was originially made with mortar and pestle (“pestaio” – hence, the name “pesto”) but nowadays a blender does the job. Fill blender with all the basil it can hold and add other ingredients. Blend. If too thick, add a bit of water. Consistency should be that of heavy cream and pesto should come out of blender in dollops. Color will be light green. Mix in well with hot pasta. When draining pasta, be sure to save some of the water in which you cooked it. This water can be added to pesto if needed, to render it more creamy when mixing in with the pasta.
If freezing your pesto, do not use olive oil, nor cheese when blending (add later when serving). Use corn oil or a seed oil in blender as olive oil when defrosted has unpleasant odor. Before mixing the pesto in with the pasta, Felicità adds about 2 tablespoons of prescinseua (“buttermilk” in Genoese dialect) to the pesto, to add a more creamy flavor (as did her mother and grandmother when they made pesto).
I asked Felicità about the absence of pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese) – which is sometimes used along with the Parmesan – in her pesto. She rightly pointed out that the Ligurian coastal area has never been a sheep-herding area. Therefore, “niente pecorino!” she exclaimed.
Pasta with Pesto, Potatoes and Fresh String Beans
for 4 people
- 600 grams of pasta (about 1 1/4 lb)
- 50 leaves of basil
- 50 grams of pine nuts – about 1/4 c. (2 oz)
- 1 garlic glove
- 30 grams (about 4 T) of grated Parmesan cheese
- 30 grams of grated pecorino
- 1/2 glass of extravergine olio di oliva
- 2 small potatoes
- 100 grams (about 1/4 lb) of string beans salt
1) Clean the string beans and cook them in salted boiling water for 15 minutes. Peel the potatoes and boil them in another pot for 25 minutes. Cool the string beans and potatoes and cut them in small pieces (a little bigger than a dice).
2) Wash and dry the basil leaves and put them in a mixer with the pine nuts , garlic, 1 T of olive oil and 2 pinches of salt, mixing them until they become a creamy sauce.
3) Unite to the creamy pesto sauce the Parmesan e pecorino cheese (1 teaspoon at a time) and the rest of the olive oil until it becomes a creamy sauce.
4) Cook the pasta in salted water and when the pasta is cooked (don’t throw away the cooking water), unite the pasta to the creamy pesto sauce, adding 2 T of the pasta water.
Then add the potatoes and string beans and serve hot!!!
Signora Vincenza’s PENNE AL PISTACCHIO
Signora Vincenza of the Sicilian Nebrodi mountains of Sicily (an area famous for its cultivation of pistachios) shared her recipe with me for this squisito pasta dish (and see “Volcanic Adventures” for more on Signora Vincenza and the area where she lives):
Assuming you are not able to purchase pistacchio pesto at your local grocery store (!), try this alternative:
Pulverize about 6 oz. of unsalted pistachios. Mix with olive oil til a paste is formed.
Sauté finely-grated white onion (half of onion) til golden in olive oil. Add pistachio pesto and stir. Raise heat and add about 1/4 c of brandy. Add 1/2 c approximately – or more as needed – fresh cream. Add beef bouillon cube – start with just 1/2 (may be sufficient). Simmer. Add salt, pepper as needed.
Mix into hot pasta. Signora Vincenza does NOT add grated cheese.
N.B. Signora Vincenza makes a very laborious beef broth (I cheat with the bouillion cube but the resulting pistacchio pesto sauce is squisito the same). To make Signora’s beef broth: braise veal bones (from a butcher – but you won’t be able to get the same sort of bones that she does: those of the huge white Chianina oxen which graze in the Nebrodi mountains – what flavor!) in oven with onion, celery, carrot and then put the bones in a large pot, add water and fresh carrot, celery, onion and let simmer away on the stove all day! Signora Vincenza adds finely-chopped fresh parsley for about the last 15 minutes of simmering.
Pasta alla Primavera
Ingredients: (for 6)
- 1- 1/4 lbs pasta (or a bit less – use 1 lb of pasta for every 5 people) – use rigatoni or penne or bowtie pasta
- fresh peas (about 1- 1/2 c when shelled)
- fresh fava beans, if available (about 1 c. or more when shelled)
- 1 large onion, white or yellow olive oil – about 1 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese – sharper than Parmesan and better, I think, for this dish)
- salt, pepper
- olive oil, about 1/4 c -or q.b. (i,e, “quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
Finely-chop onion and sauté til golden (do not burn!) in olive oil. Add peas and fava beans and gently simmer, adding about 1 to 2 c. of hot water so that beans and peas start to cook down, though they should remain al dente (“to the tooth”, ie, chewy). Add asparagus tips if garden asparagus – and if wild asparagus, add all of the stalk (breaking into pieces of about 1/4 inch til not possible to break, ie, til you reach the “tough” part at base). Simmer all vegetables til tender, though NOT mushy! Serve over pasta which you have cooked in salted water til al dente, remembering to save the water when draining. If sauce needs more moisture, add a bit of the pasta water and or a bit of olive oil. Generously sprinkle with grated cheese, mix and serve.
Optional addition: zucchini, chopped into small pieces and sautéed in olive oil with beans, peas – but after the legumes have cooked a bit as zucchini will cook down much more quickly. You might wish to add some wild asparagus tips or about 6 – 8 stalks of garden asparagus cut into small pieces. Add to simmering fava beans and peas just before adding in the tomato sauce.
Tonnarelli alla Diavolata (“Diabolical” Pasta)
NB I treasure the family recipes – passed on from mother and grandmother -which Ischia hotel-owner Gabriela has so kindly shared with me. Here are a few (with Gabriela’s generous permission). Please read my article to know more about beautiful Ischia. Ingredients: (for 5) 1 lb pasta – shell-shaped or elbow macaroni 2 anchovies handful of oregano 6 black olives in pieces handful of pinenuts handful of fresh basil, shredded into small pieces by hand red hot pepper, small 1 – 1-1/4 c. canned tomatoes or of very ripe fresh tomatoes (Roma variety), cut into small pieces 3 T. pecorino cheese, freshly-grated 3 T Parmesan cheese, freshly-grated extra virgin olive oil, q.b. (q.b = quanto basta, ie, whatever is needed…a typical note in many an Italian cookbook as no good recipe can be truly precise!) Heat 2 garlic cloves in olive oil til golden, being careful not to burn the garlic nor to let olive oil smoke. Stir in the 2 anchovies (well-rinsed if they have been packed in salt), the oregano, olives, pinenuts and red peppers. Add tomatoes, in small pieces and salt (to taste). When tomato sauce is ristretta (that is, most of the water of the tomatoes has evaporated), add handful of fresh basil. Cook pasta until al dente (“to the tooth”, ie, NOT too soft!) and drain, saving some of the brodo or pasta water (always do this when making pasta so that you can dilute the sauce a bit, if necessary). Add a bit of the brodo if pasta not sufficiently liquid. Mix pasta with sauce, adding both cheeses. Serve.
Pasta e Patate all’Ischitana (Pasta with Potatoes, Ischia Style)
Ingredients: (for 5) 1/2 white or yellow onion 1 cup or so tomato pulp, canned or fresh (if fresh tomatoes, only very ripe ones – Roma variety) handful of parsley 1 stalk of celery, finely-chopped handful of fresh basil 6 medium-sized potatoes, cut into tiny cubes 1/2 pound (approx) small, tube-shaped pasta extra virgin olive oil (q.b.! – see recipe above) 1 T approx butter Parmesan cheese Cook finely-chopped onion in olive oil and butter til golden. Add tomatoes, finely-chopped parsley, celery and basil (torn into tiny pieces by hand). Add potatoes and salt and pepper to taste and simmer over low heat, adding hot water as needed. When potatoes are nearly cooked, add pasta (rice may be substituted, though to be added when potatoes are only half-cooked). Simmer til cooked and serve. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Farfalle alla Primavera (or “Springtime Bowtie Pasta”)
Here in Italy, bowtie pasta is called farfalle (“butterflies “- have a look at them again and you’ll see the name fits!) Many restaurants serve “alla primavera” dishes, which generally indicates the predominance of springtime vegetables, such as asparagus, peas – though not always. In fact, in this recipe served by the Hotel Sole in Assisi, the principal vegetables are a summer one (bell pepper) and a fall one (mushrooms). Ingredients: 1 yellow bell pepper 1 red bell pepper 1 small red chili pepper 2 T. or so of olive oil 1/2 large yellow or white onion 3 large mushrooms or 6 medium ones 1/2 c. cream 1-1/2 c. chopped tomatoes (canned ones – if you cannot get vine-ripened in season!) salt, pepper to taste Heat olive oil and add diced peppers, chili pepper and diced onion. Add about 1 cup water and simmer for about 10 minutes and then add tomatoes, finely-chopped mushrooms and salt (about 1/2 t) and cook about 10-15 minutes uncovered (so that the water of the tomatoes evaporates for the most part). When done, blend for a few seconds with an immersion blender. Add cream just before serving. Cook the farfalle pasta al dente, drain. Add pasta to sauce and stir. Serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan.
Tagliatelle agli Asparagi con Polpettine (Fettuccine Pasta with Wild Aspargus and Baby Meatball Sauce)
Late April/May is asparagus season here in Italy and the best of all are the wild asparagus (in fact, I will be heading for our woods today to hunt them). Now is the time to savor wild asparagus frittata (Italian omelette), risotto, soups and countless types of pasta dishes. If you are in Italy at this time of year, look for asparagi di bosco (“asparagus from the woods”) dishes on the menu! This is a delectable dish which I had rescently at Ristorante Cacciatore in Spello. The cook shared the recipe. This is how she told me to replicate her masterpiece:
- 4-6 oz ground veal
- 1 c. grated Parmesan cheese (and I recommend getting the best you can for this dish!)
- olive oil, q.b. (“quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
- 1 can of tomatoes, 1 lb 16 oz.
- 1 medium-sized carrot
- 1/2 stalk celery
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/2 small white or yellow onion
- a generous bunch of wild asparagus (well… you might have to buy the garden variety if you can’t find them in the nearest woods!)
- 1 lb fettuccine pasta (note: 1 lb serves 5 persons)
For the sauce: cover saucepan with olive oil and when oil is hot but not smoking, add finely-diced carrot, celery, onion, whole garlic (to be removed when serving sauce) and asparagus, washed and cut into pieces about 1 in. long. Simmer til onion is golden. Add tomatoes and cook uncovered about 15 mins til most of water (from tomatoes) has evaporated.
To make the polpettine (or “baby meatballs” – about marble-size): Mix ground veal with abundant amount of Parmesan and salt to taste (add salt after the Parmesan – which is salty). If you wish, add egg to bind, though you should not need it. Roll tiny meatballs in your hands which are coated with olive-oil. Add meatballs to sauce (after it has cooked as indicated above, ie, about 15 – 20 mins) and cook 5 more minutes… not longer as meatballs will be less tender if cooked too long.
Serve with fettuccine pasta (cooked al dente) and generous amount of Parmesan on top.
Hint: whenever you make pasta, drain the cooked pasta over a bowl so that you conserve come of the water pasta was cooked in. You can use this water to “allungare” (or “lengthen”, ie, render more liquid, creamy) the pasta sauce if needed.
Penne agli Asparagi
Ingredients: Large can whole Roma tomatoes or large can of sauce 2 or 3 garlic cloves 1/2 white or yellow onion Extra-virgin olive oil Aspargus, i bunch, cut into small pieces less than 1? each approximately (assuming you are not going out to your woods to hunt wild asparagus!) Parmesan Optional: chili pepper Optional: 2 strips of Italian bacon, pancetta Make a simple tomato sauce as follows: Add tomoates and cook about 10 mins., then add asparagus tips and cook just til tender.Serve over pasta. Add Parmesan cheese. (Hint: save water when draining pasta and add to sauce if a bit of liquid is needed)
Fettuccine con Lattuga e Piselli (fettuccine with lettuce and peas)
for about 6 persons Soon, peas will be ripe in the garden. Spring brings countless dishes offering peas as the culinary protagonist: risotto con piselli, pasta con piselli e prosciutto… and this is an interesting one. Ingredients: 1 head of lettuce… but NOT iceberg! Romaine or another sort, tender leaves About 2 1/2 cups of peas, baby ones and tender; if possible, fresh 2 Tbs. of butter 2 Tbs. of extra virgin olive oil salt and pepper Fettucine* (whenever you are cooking pasta, allow about 100 g per person… or count on about 1 lb. for every 5 persons) In a small pan, heat butter with olive oil and then cook peas, simmering gently. Boil water for pasta – and salt water. After about 15 min., add lettuce which has been carefully washed and sliced into julienne strips and add salt, pepper to taste. Cook a few min., adding a drop or two of hot water, if necessary to have sugo (sauce) right consistency. Serve steaming hot over fettucine, cooked al dente. Add ground pepper as desired. An added nice addition: freshly-chopped mint. This pasta is not generally served with Parmesan… but add if you wish to, give it a try. *Note: fettuccia = “ribbon”
Pasta al Sugo di Pancetta e Piselli
for about 6 persons Another one of our favorite Umbrian pasta recipes made with peas. Note: bacon is a poor substitue for pancetta, the Italian “bacon” which is salt-cured, not smoked (as is bacon)… so… for best flavor, splurge on pancetta. Ingredients: 1lb-12 oz. can of whole tomatoes 2 c. peas (fresh if possible… otherwise, use frozen) 2 slices of thickly-sliced pancetta 1/2 c. dry white wine Extra virgin olive oil Rigatoni or penne pasta Grated Romano cheese (as flavor is sharper than Parmesan) Sauté diced pancetta in hot olive oil. Add 1/2 c. white wine and simmer until most of wine evaporates. Add peas and tomatoes, chopped into small pieces and simmer about 15-20 min. or until most of water from tomatoes evaporates and sauce is right consistency. Do not over. Serve over pasta, adding amount of cheese desired. (Some people like to add a garlic clove to pancetta; others like to sauté finely-chopped white onion first, then add pancetta, then tomatoes.) Variation: in bianco (often made this way by my farm women neighbors here in Umbria) = “white”, ie, without tomato. Heat diced pancetta in olive oil and add 2 cups of peas, simmering and adding a drop or two of hot water as peas cook to right consistency. Serve over hot pasta, adding olive oil if needed (unheated). Sprinkle generously with Romano cheese.
Pasta ai Broccoli
Ingredients (for 5-6 persons):
- about 1 lb of rigatoni (or penne) pasta
- a head of broccoli
- 2 – 3 garlic cloves olive oil (1/2 c – or more)
- pecorino cheese (sharper than Parmesan)
- salt (q.b. i.e., “quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
- chili pepper
- (optional: anchovies)
Cut the broccoli into flowerets and wash. Cook in large pot (which will later be used to cook the pasta) of salted (about 1 T?… or to taste ), boiling water til “al dente” (firm – and just slightly undercooked). Drain the broccoli but save the water – and cook the pasta in it.
Cover bottom of medium-sized saucepan with olive oil and add garlic clove and chili pepper, heating til clove is golden. Add drained, cooked broccoli and simmer, adding a ladle or so of the broccoli water (now boiling again for the pasta) so that the pasta “sauce” is not too dry. Add more olive oil ( to taste) as well.
When pasta is cooked, serve broccoli over the pasta, adding olive oil if needed, a spoonful or so of the water from cooking (if needed). Add pepper and more salt if needed. Add pecorino cheese and serve. Optional: Calabrians might sauté a couple anchovies with the garlic before adding the broccoli.
Pasta alla Norcina
(NB Norcia, in the mountains of southeastern Umbria, is noted for its sausages – as well as for prosciutto, capocollo and other pork derivatives, see article.) Ingredients: (for 4) 1 lb penne or rigatoni pasta 3-4 Umbrian (and ONLY Umbrian!) sausages – (and if not attainable, use about 1/2 lb ground pork meat, adding to it, 1 finely-chopped garlic clove, salt and pepper to taste) 1 white onion white wine (about 1 c. or so) olive oil salt pepper small hot red pepper 1 – 1-1/2 c. cream Pamersan cheese, freshly-grated (or use pecorino, sheep’s milk cheese – and very Umbrian!) Finely slice white onion. Cover bottom of saucepan in olive oil and sauté onion til golden (do NOT burn – and if you do, start over…!). Take sausage meat out of casing and crumble into onion/olive oil mixture. Add chili pepper. Simmer a couple minutes till sausage (or pork meat) starts to brown. Add white wine, covering well the meat. Simmer uncovered a few minutes (wine will start to evaporate). Add cream and simmer briefly. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Stir into pasta which you have cooked and drained (always save a bit of the pasta water when draining pasta: can be used to dilute your sauce if needed). Pasta mixture should be creamy – if too dry, add a bit of olive oil (and next time, use more cream – or white wine – when preparing). Add Parmesan before serving – or pecorino.
Pasta con le Fave
Ingredients (for 4 persons):
- fava beans – about 3 c
- 1 white onion
- 2 slices of Italian pancetta or guanciale (pork cheek)
- olive oil , q. b. (“quanto pasta” or “as much as you need”)
- salt, q. b.
- tomato sauce – about 2 liters
- pecorino cheese, q. b.
- pasta, penne or rigatoni (Hint: use 1 lb of pasta for every 5 persons)
Cook fava beans til almost tender in salted boiling water. Drain, rinse in cold water. Set aside. Cover sauce pan with olive oil and when hot but not burning, add chopped pancetta or guanciale. Simmer til golden – remove from heat and pat dry. Set aside. Add diced onion to the oil and simmer til golden. Return pancetta or guanciale to sauce pan and add tomato sauce. Simmer about 15 mins. and then add fave beans and simmer til fave beans are soft and sauce is reduced. Optional: hot red pepper is a wonderful addition to this sauce. Cook penne or rigatoni pasta in salted boiling water. Drain when al dente, saving some of the pasta water in case needed to add to sauce to moisten. Stir in the sauce of fave, sprinkle with pecorino.
Bucatini ai Peperoni
for about 4 persons, abundant portions! Ingredients: 1 lb bucatini pasta (thick spaghettini with a tiny hole – “buco”) … or use penne or rigatoni 3 small bell peppers, one red, one yellow, one green olive oil 2 garlic cloves 2 anchovies under oil white wine 2 T of tomato sauce broth (fine to use a simple one made with a boullion cube… if possible, STAR brodo) a handful of black olives without pits, cut into small pieces salt 1 small red chili pepper (peperoncino) – optional grated pecorino cheese (romano… or other) Put on pasta water to boil in large pot and begin to prepare sauce. Singe the peppers – can be done over gas flame on stove if you are using gas – otherwise, put in hot oven til skin blisters. Rinse under water, eliminating blistered skin. Open peppers and eliminate seeds and “nerves”, then cut into strips. In sauce pan, brown til golden the 2 garlic cloves in about 4 T of olive oil. DO NOT BURN. Crush garlic with fork and then remove from oil (so oil has garlic flavor but no one will be eating garlic). Add anchovies to oil and crush with fork (and add chili pepper at this point if you like it a little piccante = hot). Add peppers and cook on lively heat about 2 mins, splashing with 1/2 c. of white wine. Reduce to medium heat and simmer so that wine evaporates. Add tomato sauce diluted in with 3-4 T. of broth (or just use water if you don’t want to bother with broth)… and cook sauce over medium heat for about 1/4 hr, having added olives at halfway point. When pasta is cooked al dente, drain and mix well into sauce. Add grated cheese and serve hot. Note regarding tomatoes: If very ripe Roma tomatoes are available, you may use those. Boil water – drop tomatoes into it – then remove skins of tomatoes. Use about 4-5 tomatoes.
Il Sugo del Contadino
In the years we worked the land in Umbria, the stamina of the farm women astounded me. Not only did they work the land with the men, before heading to the fields they rapidly prepared abundant multi-course meals for lunchtime for the farmhands. “Il sugo del contadino” (“the farmer’s sauce”, though it should be called “the farmwoman’s sauce”) was always a harvest-time favorite: lots of hands would join in on the haying, on wheat harvests, on the grape and olive harvests so a hardy meal needed and of course, a tasty one (you’re feeding Italians!). And this dish can be prepared rapidly, giving the farm woman hosting time to join the others in the farm task at hand. Here’s one way to make the sugo del contadino:
Ingredients Years ago, my farm woman friends would use whatever meats they had available to butcher: meats used were generally sausages (their own), chicken (even the heads, feet used to add flavor to the sauce), perhaps a bit of stew beef (though that was a “luxury” item), beef bones (which the butcher would give you for free). Nowadays, with il benessere (“well-being”, i.e., a better income), Peppa and other farm friends make the sauce like this (note, this will vary, house to house and quantities here – as in any Italian dish- are approximate). stewing beef in large chunks – about a pound a couple chicken wings, 2 thighs, a back or two, neck, head, if you wish beef bones Umbrian sausages, 5 to 6 optional – about 1 lb ground beef carrot celery stalk 1 onion 3 garlic cloves 2 qts tomato sauce or 2 large cans Roma tomaotes (or some sauce, some whole tomatoes) olive oil, q. b. (the most common annotation in Italian recipes, ” q.b” means “quanto basta” or ” as much as you need”) salt q.b. pepper q. b. olive oil q.b. white wine q.b. rigatoni or penne pasta (5 lbs for every 5 persons) Parmesan cheese, q. b.
As the stewing beef takes longer than the chicken, sausages, ground beef to cook, simmer with the beef bones in white white (covering beef with the wine) for about 15 – 20 mins or until meat starts to become tender. Start the sugo by covering a large saucepan with olive oil. Heat, adding 3 whole garlic cloves, the onion, a peeled carrot, a celery stalk (no need to chop up – the sauce will take on the flavors) and the chicken, sausages (and ground beef if you are using some). Add about 1 c. or so of white wine and let simmer til wine evaporates, then add tomato, salt q. b., pepper, q. b. After about 10 mins of cooking, add the beef and then let all simmer together for about 30 minutes, uncovered. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water and drain, setting aside the brodo (pasta cooking water) in case you need some to add to the sauce (if sauce is too thick). Set aside the meats in the sauce to serve as a second course and then stir sauce into the drained pasta. Serve with Parmesan, q. b. Serve the meats as a second course along with a side dish of your choice. Buon appetito!
Maccheroni in Rosso
for about 4-6 persons Ingredients: 1 lb maccheroni (or penne or rigatoni) 1 lb very ripe Roma tomatoes 4-5 leaves of fresh basil 1 bell pepper oregano grated pecorino cheese olive oil salt Cook whole tomatoes in pan with basil leaves, a small pugno of salt, about 1 T of olive oil – covered pan about 10 mins. Then pass through food mill. Prepare pepper as in above recipe. In saucepan, heat about 4 T olive oil (but do not burn) and add tomato sauce, pepper, about 1-2 t of origano, salt. Cook about 10 mins. Cook pasta in salted water til al dente and then mix in sauce, adding pecorino cheese.
Bucatini con Vino
Bucatini is very thick spaghetti – with a hole or buco – in the middle. Here in Umbria, we would use the strangozzi – thick spaghetti, made with just flour and water – also called in Umbrian dialect strozzapreti or “priest-chokers” – well, as Cardinal Ugo Poletti once lamented, “The Italians are Catholic but anti-clerical at one and the same time”! Ingredients: (for 8 persons) 1-1/4 lb or so of bucatini 2-1/2 lbs of canned Roma tomatoes 3- 4 oz (or more to taste) pancetta (Italian salt-cured bacon – if you use other bacon, will not have the same flavor!) or prosciutto 1 c Parmesan celery stalk carrot red wine q.b. (q.b. = “quanto basta” or “as needed”!) about 1/4 c extravergine olive oil salt, pepper q.b. (see above) In saucepan, add diced onion, celery, carrot to olive oil (enough to cover the pan) which is hot, though not burning. Stir til golden and add the diced pancetta (or prosciutto), stirring briefly. Cover with red wine and when it has evaporated, add the tomatoes, finely-chopped and season with salt, pepper to taste. Bring to a boil and cook at moderate heat about 1/2 hour. Cook pasta in abundant salted water. Drain when cooked al dente (“to the tooth” – ie, chewy). Put in serving bowl and add a few tablespoons of grated Parmesan, then cover with half of sauce and mix well. When putting into the individual pasta bowls, add the rest of the sauce and the remaining Parmesan. Serve very hot.
Squash and Sausage Risotto
for about 8 persons This dish was taught to me by Peppa. As we always have a Thanksgiving dinner in our home, I have added this “Italian touch” to our meal. Ingredients: for broth: chicken – various pcs (neck, wings, back) carrot celery onion parsely also, olive oil – about 1/4 c. arborio rice 2 – 2 1/2 c. squash (winter or butternut… or your choice) about 3 c. sausage or pork… (about 3/4 lb. or less) Parmesan cheese (to taste) peperoncino (tiny red chili pepper) Almost every good risotto needs a good chicken broth – here’s how we make a broth in Umbria: in about 2-3 qts. of water, cook chicken wings, neck, back (head, feet, too! …the farm people would not let anything go to waste – an old hen makes the best broth!) with a carrot, piece of celery, whole onion, lots of fresh parsley… pass broth in sieve when cooked. Sauté about 6 Umbrian sausages taken out of their casings in hot olive oil (covering the bottom of the saucepan) – substitute the sausages with pork if in U.S. (as Italian sausages there are of the southern Italy variety… and spicier). Add small hot red pepper, diced butternut or winter squash… about 3 c. or more (depending on the crowd). Add Arborio rice… about 2 c. or 2-1/2 stirring constantly as you add ladles of boiling hot broth – as broth is absorbed, add more… til risotto is al dente – slightly chewy… do not overcook. Serve with Parmesan cheese. (Vegetarians: use a vegetable broth, eliminating chicken and adding a potato… eliminate meat from risotto and just use squash – add finely-chopped fresh sage at end.)
for 6 people Ingredients: 450 grams of rice (about 1 lb) 1 pumpkin 80 grams of butter – nearly 1/4 c (slightly less than 3 oz) 1,5 liters of meat broth – about 1- 1/2 qts. 1 onion 4 T. of Parmesan chesse nutmeg 1 bunch of parsley salt and pepper Cutting the pumpkin Wash and dry the outside of the pumpkin with a cloth. Cut the top of the pumpkin off and with a spoon, empty the rest of the pumpkin into a bowl. Take about 500 grams (about 1lb) of the pumpkin and squash with a fork, after freeing it of the seeds. Preparing the “soffritto” Wash, dry and chop into small pieces 3/4 of the parsley (the other 1/4 will be used to decorate the rice). Melt 50 g. (4 T about) of butter in a saucepan (medium flame) and fry the onion (sliced) in the butter until blond. Add the 500 grams of pumpkin, salt and pepper and mix it all together for 5 minutes. Cooking the rice Add the rice to the saucepan (where you have fried the onions in the butter and added the pumpkin) and mix with a wooden spoon. Cook the rice with the meat broth (adding ladles of broth as it becomes absorbed) until the rice is cooked al dente (NOT overcooked!). Uniting it all After about 18 minutes of cooking the rice, add the remaining butter (30 grams) and the Parmesan cheese and continue mixing. Then add the sliced parsley and grated nutmeg. Pour the rice in the empty pumpkin and decorate the top of the rice with the whole parsley.
Porcini Mushrooms Risotto
Ingredients (for 5-6 persons):
- chicken for broth, various pieces (neck, wings, back)
- carrots (3-4)
- potatoes (3- 4)
- olive oil – about 1/4 c.
- arborio rice, 1/2 c per person
- about 1 lb of button mushrooms or other • porcini mushrooms (1 lg pkg, if possible)
- Parmesan cheese (to taste)
Almost every good risotto needs a good chicken broth – and “la gallina vecchia fa buon brodo” (“the old hen makes a good broth”).
Here’s how we make a broth in Umbria:
In about 2-3 qts. of water, cook chicken wings, neck, back (head, feet, too! – the farm people would not let anything go to waste!) with a carrot, piece of celery, whole onion, lots of fresh parsley, salt, pepper to taste. For this broth, fine to use about 1/2 chicken – cut into 2 pieces (do not use small pieces, it at all possible). If possible, also add a chunk of beef – stew beef fine – (about 1 lb) . For this recipe, we will also add about 1 potato for every 5 persons – and will use 1 each of carrot and onion for every 4 persons. They will be served after with the meat as a second course.
For risotto: Finely-slice white onion and saute? til golden in hot olive oil in large saucepan. Add mushrooms (dried porcini need to be soaked a bit in tepid water, then drained). But- ton mushrooms can be sliced – but porcinis should be added whole. Add arborio rice (about 1/2- c per person) and add boiling broth, stirring constantly til risotto is al dente.
DO NOT OVERCOOK.
Set aside meats, potatoes, carrots, onions. Serve hot porcini risotto with Parmesan cheese, preferably freshly-grated.
(“little shreds” – soup is a wonderful winter favorite: light yet nourishing.) Ingredients for about 6 persons: Make 2-3 qts of a good chicken broth (see below). Mix one beaten egg per person. Add about 2 T (a handful) per person of Parmesan to the beaten eggs, salt, pepper as needed – and if desired, lemon zest and/or a bit of grated nutmeg. Stir with fork, slowly pouring egg mixture into boiling broth, letting cook not more than 3 minutes. Serve… with additional grated Parmesan if desired. The secret of a good stracciatella depends on the freshness of the eggs, the good flavor of the Parmesan, the art of the cook in obtaining a homogenous and light and airy egg/cheese mixture. Broth According to an old Italian saying “gallina vecchia fa un buon brodo” – an old hen is needed to make a good chicken broth (as you can simmer it longer without all the meat sliding off the bones) – so get one if you can… and if you can’t, any chicken will do! In the “old days” when Pino and I farmed, he would kill the rabbits, ducks, geese, guinea fowl we ate… then it would be up to me to gut the animals, pluck the birds. When a hen was passed her laying heyday, into the broth. For chicken broth, we use about 2-3 qts. of water and then add the chicken wings, neck, back (head, feet, too! …nothing should be wasted), bringing it to a boil with a carrot, piece of celery, whole onion, lots of fresh parsley (our neighbor Peppa likes to add a potato to her broth). Salt, pepper to taste. Broth is done when meat is tender. Vegetables can be passed in sieve when broth is done, then returned to broth. Often, about 1 lb of stew beef is included in the broth… and the bones from the beef which the butcher gives us. * Vegetarian? Make a vegetable broth… just delete the meat.
Mirella’s Vellutata di Spinaci (“Velvety Spinach Soup”)
Ingredients – for about 6 persons about 3 c. of spinach 2 T. butter 2 T. flour 1 c. milk (possibly more) vegetable bouillon cube bread Parmesan cheese salt, pepper Make a white sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan and gradually add flour, stirring constantly in the same direction. Add about 1 tsp. salt and pepper to taste. Add hot milk gradually. Should be creamy. If necessary, add more milk. Pureé spinach in a blender. Add to creamy white sauce. Heat on low flame, constantly as you gradually add broth you have made with vegetabe bouillon cube (need about 1/2 -1 qt. of broth) – until you have a creamy soup. NB – the more broth you add, the more liquid the soup, so add broth to consistency you prefer (less broth if creamer soup desired). One of the favorite bouillon cubes here is “Star” brodo but use whatever you prefer. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Toast bread slices in oven and then cut into cubes. Pour soup over these crostini onto which you have generously sprinkled Parmesan cheese. Variation: I like to use fresh spinach and instead of using vegetable broth, I use the water (very little) in which I have cooked spinach… and then add just a bit of broth. You might also wish to add just a touch of grated nutmeg.
Silvana’s Zuppa di Carote e Patate (“Carrot and potato Soup”)
Ingredients – serves 6 extra virgin olive oil (about 1/4 c.) 1 white onion clove of garlic 7-8 medium-sized carrots 3-4 medium-sized potatoes (As all ingredients will be pureéd, fine to chop into smallish pieces of whatever size). Cover bottom of saucepan with olive oil, then add chopped white onion, garlic clove, chopped potatoes and carrots. Add very hot water bit by bit, until you have added about a litre (less if you like the soup creamier). Add bouillon cube (vegetable – not meat). Salt and pepper to taste. Cook in pressure cooker 1/2 hr. Pureé. Serve, drizzling a bit of extra virgin olive oil on top, then sprinkling (if desired) a bit of Parmesan cheese. Optional addition: for color, add finely-chopped fresh parsley.
Umbrian Lentil Soup
for about 6 persons Ingredients: 1 lb lentils 1 carrot, finely-chopped 1 medium-sized stalk of celery, finely-chopped 1 small white or yellow onion, finely-chopped 1 handful parsley, finely-chopped Extra-virgin olive oil – to taste, as needed Salt Optional additions: hot red pepper, sprig of fresh rosemary Soak the lentils overnight in cold water. (Try to buy small, tender lentils which do not require hours to cook. Here in Umbria, the lentils of Castelluccio are the best – cook very quickly and superb flavor. Sought after all over Italy. If you ever come to Umbria, be sure to pick some up!) Rural version: my farm neighbors would start with a soffrito (or “gentle fry”), that is, by putting in saucepan olive oil, enough to cover the bottom. Procedure: heat olive oil but do not burn and put all vegetables in oil, stirring with wooden spoon (only! never use stainless steel with legumes, I am told… though not sure why!). Stir til vegetables are golden – add lentils and about 1 qt water. Simmer til lentils tender. Drizzle with olive oil when serving, if desired. Anne’s version: to avoid any sort of frying (even if minimal) of olive oil, I put all ingredients in pot together (except olive oil) and simmer. Simmer til lentils tender and drizzle olive oil on the soup before serving. (My version is probably better for the health – but the rural version is best for the palate!). For both of above versions, small hot red pepper may be added during cooking – but watch out!. A sprig of fresh rosemary adds wonderful flavor to the soup. Miscellaneous lore: * The above soup is delicious if poured over hot bruschetta (bread toasted and rubbed with a garlic clove, then drizzled with olive oil). * Here in Umbria, lentils are eaten New Year’s Eve (along with many other dishes) as the more lentils you eat on New Year’s Eve the more coins (ie, greater wealth) you will have in the New Year! On New Year’s, the lentil soup is cooked with zampone (pig’s feet), though the farmers often used their homemade sausages if zampone not available. * Olive oil must be extra virgin and ideal if also cold-pressed. The best olive oil in the world (if you believe Europe’s top chef, Alain Ducasse) is that of the Spello area, here in Umbria! (…and happy to tell you how to get hold of it).
Spaghetti alla carbonara di asparagi
Ingredients (for 4 – 5 persons):
- spaghetti (1 lb for every 5 persons)
- Parmesan, grated (q. b. ie, “quanto basta” – or “as much as you need”)
- salt, pepper, q. b.
- Extra-vigin olive oil, q. b.
- eggs, organic if possible – 1 for every 2 persons (if small, one per person)
- prosciutto – 2 or 3 slices, diced
- garlic cloves – 3 – 4
Break asparagus talks into pieces about 1/2” long. Rinse in cold water. Set aside. Within a minute or so, add asparagus pieces and simmer a few minutes, until asparagus tenter. Add a ladleful of hot water if you wish to moisten… Beat eggs, adding a bit of salt, generous amount of black pepper. (Note: not too much salt as Parmesan is salty) When spaghetti are cooked al dente, drain immediately, saving some of the boiling pasta water in case you need to add to sauce to moisten… Immediately stir in the beaten eggs, then the asparagus mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan and add salt, pepper as needed. Serve.
Pasta ai Quattro Formaggi
Ingredients (for 4 – 5 persons):
- about 1/4 cup each of four cheeses: gorgonzola, groviera (gruyère – or Emmenthal, Swiss cheese), pecorino romano, a mild cheese
- milk, q. b. (“quanto basta” or “ as much as you need”) – roughly a glassful
- salt, pepper, q. b.
- penne or rigatoni pasta (1 lb for every 5 persons)
Put pasta water on to boil and then dice cheeses into small pieces. Simmer milk over low heat and gradually add cheeses, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Cook pasta when salted water at rolling boil. Drain when al dente. Mix in creamy quattro formaggi mixture, adding salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle with pecorino cheese and serve.
Secondi Piatti – Second Courses
Turkey Breasts alla Pizzaiola
turkey (or chicken) breast for each person
extra virgin olive oil (accept no substitutes!), q. b. (“quanto basta” or “as much as you need)
salt, q. b.
very ripe Roma tomatoes or other (enough to cover top of the meat)
garlic – 3 or 4 cloves
optional: a handful of black olives
Cover frying pan with olive oil and add garlic cloves when hot. When the cloves are golden, add the poultry, browning slices on both sides. Top with diced tomatoes, generous amounts of oregano and salt to taste. Simmer covered so that tomatoes cook down and then simmer uncovered so that the water of the tomatoes evaporates. Top with black olives, if you wish.
Quadrotti di Vitello al Daniele (“Daniele’s small cubes of veal”)
Ingredients for 8 persons: (Note / all ingredients approximate – as quantities in Italy are ofteh “q.b”., i,e quanto basta (“as much as you need”) about 2 1/2 llbs of tender, top quality veal , cut into – 2 -1/2 in. cubes, roughly (- these are the “quadrotti”) a handful of pinenuts a head of radicchio, sliced into julienne strips olive oil / q.b. salt, pepper, q.b. Parmesan / 1/4 lb or q.b …shaved into strips Roast Chicken – Umbrian farm style If possible, use a free range chicken – the closest you can get to the wonderful flavor of our chickens who hunted and pecked all day and were fed on the corn we grew (no herbicides in use in the mid- 70’s!). As the farm women advised me to do, I ground up the egg shells (theirs) and added them back to their feed (to increase their calcium, I was told). We used the lard from our own pigs in basting – along with some of our olive oil. But we no longer farm, no longer use lard – but still enjoy a roast chicken (the “umbro” way). Here’s how to prepare it (try this on your next Thanksgiving turkey – and use this basting method on lamb… or any roasts): Use about 1 to 1-1/2 c. of olive oil (depending on the amount of meat you are using). Add to it juice of a lemon (and/or some white wine), finely-chopped garlic (2-3 cloves), finely-chopped bunch of fresh rosemary and bunch of fresh sage. Add salt, pepper (quite a fair amount of salt, actually… 1- 2 T.?). Rub the chicken with this mixture, including inside the cavity. With sharp knife, poke holes here and there on the chicken and spoon the mixture into these holes. A special addition: slice potatoes longtidudinally (about 4- 5 slices for a medium potato… slices should be about 1 inch thick) and arrange in roasting pan around the chicken, adding more finely-chopped garlic and needles of 3 branches or so of fresh rosemary (we often use wild fennel seeds instead of the rosemary).
Polpettine all’Ischitana (Small Meatballs, Ischia-style)
Ingredients: (for 5) 1 lb. ground veal or mixture of ground veal, ground chicken, ground pork (use less proportionately of the chicken) 1 – 1/2 – 2 c of bread, taken from center of loaf of excellent bread (Italian-style or French, but coarse in texture) water 2 eggs 1 clove garlic, finely-chopped handful parsley and handful of basil, both finely-chopped grated lemon rind 1/2 t. sugar 1/2 c Parmesan cheese pinenuts currants Sauce: 1/2 onion, 1 – 1- 1/2 c. tomato pulp, canned or of very ripe tomatoes, Roma variety, 1/2 c. white wine, basil Soften bread in water, then squeeze out all water well. Mix ground meat, softened bread, beaten eggs, parsely, basil, garlic, handful pinenuts and same of currants, sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Form into small balls – about 2 in. in diameter – and fry in hot sunflower seed oil (or other seed oil, not olive oil). Drain on coarse paper or paper towel. Sauté til golden olive oil, onion. Add white wine – let wine evaporate. Add 1 c. of tomato pulp and finely-shredded basil. Add meatballs to tomato sauce and simmer briefly. Serve. N.B. Sugar is often added to meatballs and tomato sauces from Naples on South.
Pollo alla romana(“Chicken the Roman way”)
Ingredients – serves 4 a young chicken (free-range chicken is best!) 1 lbs of ripe red tomatoes, Roma variety if possible (contain less water) a couple slices of prosciutto 6-8 slices of a good Italian or French bread salt, pepper dry white wine – a cup or more fresh basil, parsley, maggioram olive oil – a bit of butter beef or chicken boullion cube (“Star” is the one preferred by Italians) Cut the chicken into pieces (or have your butcher do it!). Pieces should not be too large (amount of meat on each piece should be about that on a chicken leg). Put about 1 T of butter in pan with about 1 T (or more as needed to cover pan) of olive oil (the Roman way would prefer use of lard here). Add to pan (do not let fat burn!) finely-chopped prosciutto and parsley. Lightly simmer them in very hot oil/butter combination (or just use olive oil if preferred) and then place chicken pieces in the pan, turning til all pieces golden. Pour wine over chicken and also add 1/2 finely-chopped garlic clove and a pinch of majoram. Peel tomatoes (trick: drop them in boiling water and drain at once: skin will come off) and then add to chicken. Add a bouillon cube dissolved in hot water (for flavor) and let chicken cook for 20-30 mins. in the tomato/boullion sauce, uncovered, adding now and then T. or two of very hot water if sauce reduces too much. As chicken cooks, sugo (“sauce”) will reduce – and will not be watery. When sauce has reduced and chicken is fork-tender, remove from heat. Arrange chicken on a warm platter, pouring over the top the sauce remaining in pan. Arrange around the chicken toasted bread slices (wonderful to dip in sugo – and some of that sauce may be poured right over slices). Buon appetito!
Sausages with Grapes
I learned this recipe from an Assisi friend. Please see my article about our first grape harvest! Ingredients: 1 or 2 sausages for each person (best sausages: the Umbrian ones! If not available, use a good pork sausage which is not highly seasoned – lean, if possible) Bunches of grapes – about 1 bunch for every 4 sausages but best to simply experiment on quantity Olive oil q.b. (q. b. = quanto basta – or… as needed) White wine if green grapes and red wine if purple grapes (q.b) Cover skillet with olive oil and heat slightly but do not burn. Add washed grapes, crushing a bit with your hands as you put into skillet. Simmer til grapes start to cook down a bit. Add sausages and prick with fork (this releases the fat during cooking). Add wine to cover (q.b.!). Simmer til liquid evaporates. Serve. Buon appetito!
Contorni – Side Dishes
Fava Beans with Potatoes and Mint
- about 1- 1/2 lbs fresh fava beans
- salt, q.b. (“quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
- fresh mint
- olive oil
- wine vinegar
Slice a purple onion and sprinkle with about 2 tsp salt. Let sit about 20 mins. Bring about 2 qts of salted water to a boil and drop in about 1 -1/2 lbs of fresh fava beans, cooking til al dente but not soft. Drain. Boil 5 or 6 potatoes (skins on) in salted water. Peel when cool. Slice with a fork – or mash. Finely dice a generous handful of fresh mint. Mix potatoes, fava beans, onion and mint, adding olive oil and wine vinegar. Adjust salt as needed (some already on the onion!) How much olive oil (extra virgin only, please!), vinegar, salt? Q.B. (“quanto basta”, ie, “as much as you need”). *And if you don’t feel like cooking but have fresh fava beans? Just munch them with an aged pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese).
Broccoli e Patate
Ingredients (for 6 – 8 person):
- 3 or 4 potatoes
- head of broccoli
- olive oil, q.b. (“quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- chili pepper salt, pepper (q.b.)
Boil the potatoes in salted water and then peel. Cook the broccoli (also in salted water), including stems, not just the flowerettes. Cut the stem pieces in smaller pieces so that they will cook in the same amount of time as the floweriness.
Drain well. In frying pan, heat garlic cloves in olive oil til golden – along with a chili pepper. Add potatoes which have been mashed with a fork or sliced (your choice). Add broccoli, mixing in together. Heat. Serve. Umbrians love this dish along with a couple of our local grilled sausages! (If desired, substitute broccoli with cauliflower – or Swiss chard – or turnip greens – or cabbage).
Savory Green Beans and Potatoes
Ingredients (for 6 – 8 person):
- tender, young green beans – about 1 – 1/2 lbs or so
- salt, q.b. (“quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
- Extra-virgin olive oil, q. b.
- 4- 5 garlic cloves
- red wine vinegar, q. b. (about a cup)
- bunch of parsley
- bunch of fresh mint
After cooking green beans al dente (do not overcook!)in salted water and boiling potatoes in salted water (then peeling), combine the two together and season with fresh minced garlic, olive oil, vinegar.
You can either mash the potates with a fork or finely slice. Leave beans whole. Best served cold. You can boil the potatoes the day before and keep in fridge – beans, too.
Either beans or potoates may also be served on own with same seasoning. I like to add lots of minced fresh parsley to potatoes with olive oil and vinegar – and lots of fresh mint to beans dressed with olive oil, vinegar and crushed garlic.
In all cases, add salt and pepper to taste. (My Sicilian brother-in-law loves to add a minced anchovy to the above recipe).
*Hint: diced red onion can be used rather than garlic. If using, sprinkle with generous amount of salt and let diced onion sit about 10 mins., thus tenderizing it. Adjust salt needed in the green beans/potatoes dish after you’ve added the onion, olive oil and vinegar.
La Bandiera (Flag)
This is a typical Umbrian rural dish – of la cucina povera. I learned to make this simple but delicious dish from my farm neighbors, who often made it when the bell peppers abounded in their vegetable gardens. Note that the ingredients are green, red, white = the Italian flag.
- 4-5 green bell peppers
- 1 large white onion
- 5-6 very ripe Roma tomatoes
- extra-virgin olive oil (q.b. – “quanto basta” or “as much as you need”)
- salt q.b.
- zucchini, 1 or 2 small ones (optional addition)
Heat olive oil in frying pan. When you can tell that the oil is hot (put in one piece of white onion and watch to see when it starts to sizzle), add chopped onions, then peppers. Simmer a few minutes til peppers start to seem tender, then add tomatoes cut into small pieces. Add sliced zucchini, too, if you wish. Salt to taste. Simmer til cooked. Serve hot.
Bandiera con le Uova (with eggs)
When bandiera is ready, stir in 4 or 5 beaten eggs… and you have made dinner!
Cipolline in Agrodolce
- a dozen or more cipolline
- a few bay leaves
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- salt, pepper, q.b. (“quanto basta” or as much as you need)
- balsamic vinegar, q. b.
Wash the onions and then steam just a few minutes in a double boiler so that skins easily slip off. Peel steamed onions.
Saute’ gently peeled cipolline in olive oil with bay leaves.
Raise heat a bit so that onions will caramelize, adding balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, q. b.
When the cipolline in agrodolce are tender, serve…..and enjoy. Buon appetito! (Hint: a perfect complimentary side dish to a pork roast – but not only!)
Optional: rather than use balsamic vinegar, stir a bit of sugar into wine vinegar and use this for the agrodolce mixture.
Sughi – Sauces
Mandina’s Ragu (Umbrian Meat Sauce)
for pasta for 8 persons During the colder months, the woodstoves are burning in the farm kitchens and sugo is simmering away… here’s how we make meat sauce here in Umbria. Ingredients: olive oil – 1/4 c.? – 1/3 c.? piece of celery carrot onion tomatoes – about 2 lbs. veal, sausage – about 1 lb. white wine – about 1/3 c. Cover bottom of pan with olive oil… sauté finely-chopped onion (be sure that the onion does not burn!) in the hot olive oil and then add about 1 lb. of meat – ground veal and pork (Umbrians would use their homemade sausages, taken out of casing)… or use just veal if preferred. To meat mixture, add a piece of carrot and 1/2 celery stick, a pugno (classic addition to almost any Umbrian recipe for 8 persons =”little fistful”) of salt and about 1/3 c. of dry white wine. Simmer til wine has nearly evaporated… add 2 lbs. of whole tomatoes (the farm people would use their own, put up in jars in August), putting through sieve before – simmer til cooked, ie, til ristretto (most of liquid has evaporated) – about 30 mins. Serve with pasta – add Parmesan – or pecorino (which our rural neighbors would use… sheep’s milk cheese that they make themselves). (NB: Mandina does not use a garlic clove in her sauce… many do!)
Umbrian Harvest-time Beans
Ingredients: 1-1/2 lbs of dried beans, soaked overnight in abundant cold water 1 white onion celery – 1 or 2 stalks parsley (optional) 5 or 6 very ripe tomatoes or about 1 c. of canned tomatoes. olive oil. Boil the beans til tender in salted water.
Gianna’s Bechamel (from goat’s milk)
Here is how to make a creamy white sauce – bechamel – like Gianna’s: Bring to a boil about 2 quarts of milk (she would use goat’s milk, of course – you can use cow’s milk, if desired). Turn off.Put about 1/2 c. butter in a saucepan. Melt it slowly but do not allow it to burn. Stir in a couple handfuls of flour (“Judging quantities takes practice!”, Gianna says). Stir with wooden spoon to amalgamate or even better, use a whisk to stir. Add hot milk gradually, stirring continuously, always in the same direction! Add salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste as the mixture thickens. Use in any recipe calling for white sauce. (To learn to make lasagne like Gianna, stay with her at Casa Passerini! – and yes, she will teach you to make cheese as well if you ask her.)
Dolci – Desserts
Tiramisu with Strawberries
- about 1-1/2 c. (more or less) of fresh ricotta
- about same (more or less) of mascarpone
- 6 – 8 eggs
- 1 quart very ripe strawberries or about 6- 8 very ripe peaches
- sugar……about 1 cup?
- lady fingers (savoiardi) – 400 g package – you’ll need about 20 cookies or more
- 1/2 pkg of amaretti cookies
- 1/2 qt approximately of orange juice or apricot or pear juice..or juice of mixed fruits (your call)
- cherries, a few (for decoration)
- optional ingredients : dark chocolate (a bar – 8 oz?), grated coconut
Dish needed: oval or rectangular. This will be a layered refrigerator dish serving about 8 persons. Sides of dish need only be about 4- 5 ins.
Cream together mascarpone and ricotta. Separate egg yolks from whites and whip each. Add yolks to cream mixture, then whites. Add sugar to taste. Slice strawberries – or peaches – (if possible the night before) into a bowl, pouring fruit juice over the fruit (you will be dipping the savoyards into the juices as you make the tiramisu). If desired, sprinkle fruit with a bit of sugar but note that the savoyards are quite sweet.
Dip cookies into fruit mixture. Layer on bottom of dish, then cover with cream mixture and spoonfuls of the fruit (leaving juice behind). If using strawberries, you may wish to add shaved chocolate (I do that with a knife as I like bits and chunks of the chocolate in the tiramisu) – which ties nicely with strawberries.
Repeat with another layer (try for 3 layers) and on top layer, spirnkle with crushed amaretti cookies. Decorate with slices of fruit. Suggestion: add dollops here and there of mascarpone mixed with sugar and plop a strawberry (or peach slice) onto it. Optional: f you like coconut, sprinkle on top. I also like to add a few ripe cherries.
NB other fruits may be used: blueberries, raspberries – you might add a few kiwi to strawberries (if using those).
I’ve never tried with pineapple but……..why not?
Note: having trouble finding savoiardi? Try this recipe with Graham crackers! Tasty….
Ingredients: 8 eggs 8 T of milk 8 T of extra-virgin olive oil 8 T of sugar 16 T of flour 1 glass of mistral (an anise liqueur) or rum grated peel of one lemon 1 t. baking powder vanilla (optional) honey alchermes (a red liqueur of Persian origin of spices, rosewater, anice) – if you cannot find, try substituting with Marsala) Mix together all ingredients except honey and alchermes – con energia! – until forming a well-mixed batter. Add flour as needed of additional milk if needed. Let rest an hour. Put enough sunflower seed or other vegetable oil in saucepan for frying. Drop tablespoonfuls of the batter into boiling oil. Remove when each strufolo is golden, placing on paper towel so as to absorb the oil. When all the strufoli have been fried, drip honey over them or splash with alchermes. Note: Years ago, pig lard was used for frying, ie, an animal fat, thus making the strufoli not suitable for consumption after the begining of Lent. A tip for frying: keep flame low as frying starts, raising the heat gradually and reaching maximum heat just before removing the struoli from the oil.
Il Torcolo Di San Costanzo
The Torcolo di San Costanzo is a rich raisin, pinon, and citron-laden, sweet bread created in honor of San Costanzo, one of the patron saints of Perugia, Italy. Executed on January 29 during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, his memory is celebrated every year in Perugia with various festivities, one of them being a competition amongst the various bakeries of Perugia for the best Torcolo. It is also traditional for a man to give this bread to his lover, and if the statue of San Costanzo winks at you on the day the bread is presented, the couple will marry within a year. Always available in the Perugia bakeries, it is a delectable treat any day of the year, warmed for breakfast or as a spuntino (snack), spread with mascarpone. ½ cup golden raisins ½ cup warm water 1 cup warm milk (110°-115° F.) 1 tablespoon active dry yeast 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 2/3 cup sugar 3 large eggs, lightly beaten ½ teaspoon salt ½ cup finely chopped citron ½ cup finely chopped candied orange peel ½ cup toasted pine nuts 1 ½ tablespoons anise seed Finely grated zest of 2 lemons 5-6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour or high-gluten bread flour 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten, for glaze Place the raisins in a small bowl, cover with warm water, and let soak 30 minutes. In a small bowl, whisk the yeast into the warm milk and set aside about 10 minutes, until bubbles begin to rise to the surface. Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and on low speed, blend in the butter, olive oil. sugar, beaten eggs, salt, citron, orange peel, pine nuts, anise seed, lemon zest, and raisins along with their soaking liquid. Add the flour on low speed, one cup at a time, blending well after each addition. When a thick paste begins to form, switch to the dough hook and continue adding the flour until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. It will feel slightly tacky to the touch. Be careful not to add too much flour or it will be tough and dry. Continue to knead the dough 3 more minutes on medium speed. Remove the dough from the bowl to a lightly floured surface, and knead it with your hands several times until it is smooth and elastic. Form it into a ball, place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it well with plastic wrap. Let it rise until doubled, about 2 to 3 hours. * If mixing by hand, once all the ingredients have been incorporated knead the dough by hand on a lightly floured surface 10-12 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Form the dough into a ball, place it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it well with plastic wrap. Let it rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 to 3 hours. Punch the dough down with your fist. Transfer it to a work surface and roll it into a 24-inch-long rope. Set the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, connect the ends to make a circle, pinch them together tightly to seal, cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Thirty minutes before you plan to bake, set baking stones (if available) inside the oven on the lower shelf and preheat to 400° F. If not using baking stones, adjust the oven rack to the lower third of the oven. Just before baking, make 5 slashes along the top of the dough parallel to the outside edge, and open the cuts well. Brush the loaf with the beaten egg yolk to give it a shiny gloss. Bake 30 minutes, turn the heat down to 375° F. and bake 10 minutes longer. If the top gets too brown, cover it with aluminum foil. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when lightly tapped on the bottom. Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and allow to cool to room temperature before serving. May be frozen, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 1 month. Makes 1 large ring-shaped bread.
Mele cotte agli amaretti
*This is a dish I learnt from a Milanese friend and I find it a
pleasant finish to a filling Italian meal.
- 1 crisp cooking apple per person
- 1 package of amaretti cookies
- white wine
- Optional: crushed almonds (about 1/2 c)
Preheat oven to about 400 F. Wash and core apples, stopping just short of the bottom of the apple. With sharp knife, prick the apple all over in many places. Put amaretti (about 2 for every apple) into cloth and crush with rolling pin or a bottle. Mix crushed amaretti with about 2-3 T butter (depending on quantity of cookies). Add crushed almonds, if desired. Fill apples and sprinkle each with sugar. Place in baking dish. Mix about 1 glass of white wine with same amount of water and pour this liquid over the apples. Place on upper most shelf of pre-heated oven and bake for about 45 min. Remove apples to serving tray. Dip amaretti biscuits into juices remaining in baking pan and use them to cap opening of apples. In saucepan, heat juices from cooked apple pan until reduced to syrup and spoon over apples. Serve at room temperature. An optional addition: Mix about 1 c of ricotta with same amount of mascarpone, adding sugar as needed. Dollop onto tops
of apples before serving. Sprinkle with mixture of crushed amaretti and crushed almonds.
TORTA DI FORMAGGIO (or TORTA PASQUALE)
During the week before Easter, the Umbrian farmwomen bake the traditional Easter cheesebread in their outdoor stone bread ovens. Here is a recipe for la torta di formaggio – thanks to my friend Christine Hickman, top chef and cooking teacher – do see www.sonomarcella.com Note: In the country, the farmer’s wife would make a yeast “starter”, a firm mixture of yeast, flour and water, and have it blessed before using it to make the bread. The bread was then often decorated with a crucifix made of the dough. In years past when there were no home ovens, the bread was taken to the local forno (oven) for baking. 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour 1 ounce yeast 1 cup grated aged Pecorino cheese* ½ cup diced young Pecorino cheese* 3 large whole eggs 1 large egg yolk 2 tablespoons lard 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil ¼ cup butter ½ cup milk Salt and freshly ground black pepper Dissolve the yeast in ½ cup warm water and let rest 10 minutes. Put the flour in a heap on a pastry board, make a well in the center and add the eggs, lard, olive oil, butter,Pecorino cheeses, milk, salt and pepper, together with the yeast mixture. Knead thoroughly, at least 10 minutes, to obtain a soft, smooth, elastic dough. Form into a smooth ball and place in an oiled, deep, fired-clay or tin-plated copper casserole* in a warm place. It should rise two or three times its original volume. Bake the bread for about 1 hour in a preheated 350°F. oven. The crust should be golden brown, and the loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from the baking dish and allow to cool on a rack before serving. Makes a 1 pound loaf *You may substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano for the 2 types of Pecorino called for in the recipe. Young Pecorino (Pecorino fresco) is not readily available in the USA, and using all aged Pecorino will produce a bread with a very strong flavor. Gruyere or Emmanthaler can also be substituted for the young Pecorino only. *The baking container should be round and tall, much like a 2-pound coffee can, which will work in place of the container called for in the recipe. If using a coffee can, be sure to oil it well, and watch carefully as it may take up to 15 minutes less baking time.
Torta al Testo* (Italian flat bread)
Ingredients – serves 6 3 1/2 cups unbleached flour 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 to 1/3 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 2 teaspoon active dry yeast 1 3/4 cups warm water Dissolve yeast in warm water and let sit until creamy and bubbly-about 10 minutes. Mix all the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the yeast mixture and olive oil to the dry ingredients and stir until a soft dough is formed. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth and satiny, and not stick to the work surface. Alternately, you can put the dry ingredients into the bowl of a standing mixer, add the yeast and olive oil, and stir well. Using the dough hook, mix on medium speed for 5 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic, and pull away from the sides of the bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning to coat all surfaces. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise 45 minutes to 1 hour. Heat a large (15-inch) griddle over medium heat until a drop of water jumps and sizzles. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and divide dough in half. Keep remaining dough covered with plastic wrap. Roll into a large circle, about 1/4-1/3 inch thick and 14 inch in diameter. Carefully place the dough round on the hot griddle and poke it all over with a fork. Immediately turn heat to low and check after a minute or two to make sure it is just beginning to brown. After about 5 to 10 minutes, when the bottom is lightly browned, carefully turn it over and continue to cook until done, about 10-15 minutes more. Check every 5 minutes by lifting an edge, to make sure it is not browning too quickly. It should be lightly browned and crusty with a soft center, when it is done. Remove from heat and cool on a rack.Punch down the remaining dough, shaping and cooking the torta as before. Cut into 6 wedges. Split and fill with desired ingredients and eat slightly warm, or at room temperature. Cooled torta al testo can be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 3 days, or frozen up to a month. Reheat, wrapped in foil, in a 400° oven for 5 minutes. If a 15-inch griddle is unavailable, divide the dough into thirds and use an 8-10 inch griddle. * My friend, Christine Hickman, has very generously offered to share her torta recipe. My farmwomen neighbors all have learned to make torta from their mothers and grandmothers. So there is NO recipe. But Christine observed, learned and transcribed doses. This is her recipe, painstakingly calculated and based on her observations of donne umbre in cucina. The recipe was published in November 2003 in an article on her in The Sant Fe New Mexican. Chris lives 6 months of the year in Santa Fe and 6 month here in Perugia, teaching cooking lessons in both places. Look for her book-in-progress on gnocchi.
Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)