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When looking for a quick but elaborate and unexpected first dish or even a main course, you don’t have to spend hours at the stove. Most Italian pasta dishes are prepared within twenty minutes with available ingredients in season. Pasta is almost always served as a first dish in Italy (primo piatto).
I like to serve pasta as a primo piatto because it is easy to make and most of the time you can pre-prepare the ingredients even if you are making the pasta fresh. Although you don’t often find foie gras on the menu in Italy, this dish is elegant and compliments meats that might follow. The rosemary gives it a smoky flavor and the richness of the foie gras makes this dish that special event star of the meal.
It can be served with red of white wine as the flavors are strong enough for either or if you really want to impress your guests serve it with a glass of Champagne.
Time: 20 minutes
3 baby artichokes, cleaned and sliced thinly
3 1/2 oz foie gras cut in medium size chunks
1/2 lb of spaghetti, boxed or freshly made
1/4 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 sprigs fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 medium size clove garlic, chopped
10 oz celery, thinly sliced
1/2 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 pat unsalted butter
Freshly ground pepper
Salt to taste
Remove the leaves from the artichokes until you come to the white leaves. Cut them in half, if they are baby artichokes they won’t have any hay in the middle, but if they do, remove it. Slice them thinly.
Sauté the shallots, celery and garlic for a few minutes in the olive oil. Add the sliced artichokes, wine and chicken stock and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add salt and taste.
In another pan, sauté the foie gras and rosemary in the butter for 1 minute and set aside.
Boil the water for the pasta; salt when it come to a boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
Sprinkle the basil over the top and lightly toss the ingredients well. You don’t want to over cook the foes grass, keep it on the heat just long enough to mix the ingredients.
Plate the pasta and grind black pepper over the and then enjoy the rich flavors you are about to experience.
I search for the small hotels that are owner operated and the service is focused on your return. The place where you say, I would come back. Where the chef comes to your table to make sure that everything is to your satisfaction and they are willing to spend time talking with you as though you have gone there many times before.
In S. Mamete village in Valsolda, Italy is the small hotel of Stella d’Italia. On the Italian side of Lake Lugano, it is about 2 miles from the Swiss border, 6 miles from the city of Lugano and an hour from Como.
Mr. & Mrs. Ortelli have owned and run the family owned hotel for many years. It has been in their family for 4 generations. They are very welcoming and speak English fluently. There are 34 rooms tastefully decorated with French doors, balconies and beautiful views of Lake Lugano.
Guests can enjoy breakfast; lunch or dinner under the rose covered terraced garden boarding the lake. The gardens also have small tables where you can enjoy drinks or lounge and take up the sun and beauty of the lake. It has a very small beach and a dock where boats can pull up and moor until guests have finished their meal.
The restaurant is very good and stopping by just for a meal on our way back from Como is a must. I suggest if you decide to stay there, that you make a reservation for dinner as you won’t be disappointed in the food, and there are few other places to eat in the village.
The village is very small and does not offer much interest. There is a ferry that links the village to the city of Lugano and Porlezza, Switzerland where ferries can be taken to other points in the Lake Region. It is a fantastic location to visit Gandria, Monte Bre, Lugano and the Lake Region with rooms at a reasonable price compared to Lugano. If you are a golfer the Menaggio e Cadenabbia Golf Club is one of Eruope oldest and most prestiges clubs and is about 15 minutes away (http://www.menaggio.it/). If you want a small, friendly and well-appointed hotel while traveling from the Ticino, Switzerland to Italy it is a perfect place to stay. Be sure to make a reservation, the hotel is fully booked in the summer months. Spring and Autumn are beautiful in this region and the hotel opens on Easter weekend.
Salsa crema e zucchini was inspired by a dish I had at Stella d’Italia.
Zucchini Cream Sauce for pasta
Salsa crema e zucchini
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
2 cups water
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 large fresh zucchini
4 tablespoons cream (half & half or heavy cream)
1 small anchovy (optional)
Salt to taste
Peel one zucchini. Half both zucchini lengthwise and remove seeds. Put the peels and seeds into the broth. Cut both into 1/2” cubes. Put half of the peeled cubes and half of the unpeeled cubes into the broth. Reserve the 2 remaining halves for the steamer.
Add water, garlic (whole), peppercorn and anchovy into broth. Put the steamer with the remaining half of the cubes on top of the pan and cover. Boil down at medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove the steamer and reserve the steamed zucchini. Remove and put aside the zucchini cubes from the broth. Strain the broth and reduce to half, approximately 1 1/2 cups.
Put the reserved zucchini from the broth back into the broth. Puree with a hand emulsifier until smooth. Add the cream (heavy cream will make the sauce thicker; I prefer half & half). Just before serving the pasta add the reserved zucchini from the steamer to the cream sauce. Taste for salt and spoon it over the pasta.
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Cookouts are being planned for July 4th and summer outdoor celebrations. Tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil and pasta are all that is needed for this fresh pasta salad that you can prepare a day ahead.
I got this recipe from a small restaurant in Rome called Santo Padre many years ago. The key is to allow the aroma of basil, finely chopped garlic, olive oil and the pasta meld together overnight. The next day when you are ready to serve it, remove the basil and add freshly chopped basil and chopped tomatoes with the pasta and salt to taste.
Now of course I never do things the easy way, I like to make my own farfalle. A good store brand works well also. The fresh pasta flavor does make a difference and also it looks so much prettier when you make them a little larger then the store bought.
4 cups flour (all purpose, or half all purpose and half semolina flour)
Pinch of salt
4 medium eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Water (tepid) as required
Place the flour mixture on a pastry board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs, olive oil, salt and a small amount of water (if needed). Begin to stir the flour from the outside of the well into the wet ingredients. Continue this process until the dough holds together in a ball.
The dough should seem as if it is too dry, it should just stick together and the kneading should allow you to make a ball. Once it is rolled out in a pasta machine it will hold together. If the dough is too wet, rub a little flour on it, as it will be difficult to handle and too sticky to roll through the pasta machine.
Knead the dough for at least 10-15 minutes, and allow it to rest covered with a clean kitchen towel at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 7 minutes
Yield: 6–8 Servings
After allowing the dough to rest, cut a piece off large enough to roll out to about 1’ long and 6” wide (these measurements are only a guideline, you can make it larger, this size is easy to work with). Roll the dough out until the dough is thin. Try to get a feel for the dough as you are rolling it out. Rub just enough of flour to allow you to work with it if it is too sticky. If you are using a rolling pin get a sense of the thickness by feeling the dough. Repeat the same thickness with each section that you roll out. Because there is egg in this dough the pasta will swell when cooking.
A pasta machine works very well as the consistency will always be the same. The process of rolling the dough through the different thickness settings also kneads it.
Cut strips about 1 1/4” wide with a clean cut lengthwise (you can use a pizza cutter). Make vertical cuts about 1” wide with a cookie cutter which has a fluted edge. When you have all the cuts made, pinch the middle of each one forming a bow.
When ready to cook, place the farfalle directly into salted boiling water. Fresh pasta takes only a few minutes to cook check after 3-5 minutes. The time will depend on whether you cook them fresh or dried. Remove them when they are al dente. Drain them and run them under a little cold water if you are going to use them for pasta salad.
The first sign of spring in Europe is when asparagus begin to show up on restaurant menus. Asparagus are considered the king of vegetables and some restaurants open only during the season serving asparagus with hollandaise sauce (Spargel mit Sauce Hollandaise), slices of ham and fresh strawberries for dessert. Once the season is over, these restaurants close.
Having lived in Germany for several years, we would see fields of white asparagus packed in dirt with the tips peeking out of the ground during the spring. They are deprived of light, which keeps them from turning green.
White asparagus are thicker and juicer but I think more fibrous. Some restaurants in Germany serve them in their water, not my favorite. A chef friend of ours, Rolf Messmer, owner of the Au Major Davel Restaurant & Hotel in Cully Switzerland (www.hotelaumajordavel.ch/), tells us that when he started his apprenticeship he cleaned tons of asparagus. He is meticulous in making sure that the skin has been neatly removed from the stalk. Using a vegetable peeler, he turns the stalks slightly with every stroke removing all the skin. He adds sugar to the water to bring out the flavor and slightly undercooks them, wrapping them in a towel for the final cooking. His asparagus are perfect and his restaurant is filled with people enjoying the king of vegetables as they watch the steamboats pulling up to the dock on Lake Geneva.
There are special asparagus pans where you stand them in a rack in about 3” of water. But you can cook them lying down in water also. Don’t overcook them, as they will become soggy and uneatable. Prick them with a knife to judge if they are beginning to get tender after about five minutes. As soon as the knife starts to penetrate the stalk remove them to a clean kitchen towel as suggested by Chef Messmer.
Green and white asparagus are interchangeable in recipes, but I feel that due to the amount of water in the white variety, they are not as good if added to pizza for instance. I also prefer the green the variety in pasta or anything where the heat continues to cook the vegetable.
When choosing asparagus, make sure they are fresh and the ends are not dried out. When they are old, they will begin to show ridges along the stem – the stem should be smooth. Store them covered in the refrigerator for a few days only. When you are ready to cook them, snap the bottoms off – they will break where the tender part starts. Discard the hard bottom parts, as they are woody and fibrous.
Asparagus are a versatile vegetable and can be roasted, boiled, steamed, made into soup, tossed with pasta and so on. The white variety tends to be a little more expensive and are not as easily found in the US as they are in Europe. I prefer the green variety, as I think they have a more intense flavor but this is a matter of taste.
Place several on a warm plate and add some hollandaise sauce over the top or on the side. It is acceptable to eat them with your hands holding the ends and dipping them in the sauce. A good chardonnay, or a light burgundy goes well with this dish.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 8-12 minutes
Yield: 2 people
12 green or white asparagus (remove the outer skin with a peeler)
Salt & sugar
1 tablespoon of black peppercorns
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Chopped parsley
2 tablespoons ice cold water
1 stick of butter
2 egg yolks
Juice of one lemon
Boil the peppercorns, wine vinegar and chopped parsley until it is reduced to almost nothing, deglaze it with 2 tablespoons of water. Run it through a sieve and pour it into a cold double boiler. Add 2 egg yolks, whisking them into the pan. Add the juice of 1/4 of a lemon, at this point put the double boiler onto medium heat and begin whisking little pieces of butter until the it has melted and thicken. Wisk constantly – this is very important. If the sauce separates, put chilled water, and if necessary add another egg yolk.
Prepare the asparagus by peeling the outer skin with a vegetable peeler. This is not necessary if you are using green asparagus, but it has to be done with the white asparagus. Remove about 1 inch of the bottom of each steam. You can simply bend the stalks and they will break at the point where the hard stalk separates from soft stalk. However, if you want all the stalks to be the same size, cut them where you think the hard stalk ends. Boil them in salted water (add a little sugar, which brings out the taste of the asparagus), for about 4-5 minutes.
Remove from the water and wrap them in a kitchen towel to finish cooking.
Pour the sauce over the cooked asparagus.
Anchovies are used to flavor many dishes in Italy from pasta’s to meats and stews. Their pungent salty flavor gives a special twist to a dish that is sometimes hard to identify. It is that flavor that you search for that makes a dish different and you wonder why yours doesn’t taste the same.
Anchovies are in the herring family and are usually sold packed in olive oil or salted but in Italy they are also often found fresh marinated in olive oil and herbs. They are widely used throughout the Mediterranean.
If buying them packed in salt, remove some of the salt by running the felts under water. Put them in a zip lock bag with extra virgin olive oil. They will last a long time if you keep them topped with olive oil. I use the oil to flavor pasta dishes and also to make salsa di acciughe served over linguini or spaghetti.
Whether they are mashed with garlic and spread over crostini or a few felts mixed in with a stew, you will immediately taste the difference.
The recipe for Linguini con salsa di acciughe is found in many parts of Italy but often not on many restaurant menus’. It is the primo piatto of my family’s Christmas Eve dinner along with mixed fried fish or as the Italians say “Peci Fritti” and Biscotti for dessert.
In the South raisins are added giving the sauce a slightly sweet flavor. Olives, capers or toasted breadcrumbs and toasted pignoli can also be added.
Linguine con salsa di acciughe
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 6 Servings
1/2 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves chopped
10 flat anchovies, (salted dry anchovies are stronger)
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups water
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 small pepperoncino or red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1 1/2 lbs. Linguini
Salt to taste (before adding salt taste the sauce)
Run cold water over the salted anchovies and remove as much salt as possible. Place them in a container and cover them with olive oil. You can keep them in olive oil for a few weeks.
Cook the garlic and sauté it in the stored anchovy olive oil (if using canned anchovies in olive oil use this oil). Do not burn the garlic; cook on low heat for a minute. Chop the anchovies and add them to the pan, stir with a spoon. When the anchovies have dissolved, add the dried red pepper broken in half and wine. Grind black pepper to your taste. Do not add salt until you have tasted the sauce, usually it doesn’t need additional salt. The anchovies, even though washed still are very salty. Add 2 cups of water and allow it to cook on medium heat for 10 minutes. The anchovies will dissolve in the cooking process. You may have to add additional water to dilute the sauce if it is too salty.
Raisins are added in the South of Italy, and I find that they give the sauce a nice slightly sweet flavor. If you choose to add them, hydrate them in the wine and add them at the same time.
Cook the pasta in boiling unsalted water (check the sauce, it may have enough salt) until it still has a bite, strain it and add it to the sauce. Allow it to continue cooking in the sauce until al dente.
Add whatever ingredients listed below if desired. Allow the cooked pasta to absorb the sauce for several minutes before serving.
Note: Anchovies are used in Italy to flavor many dishes from sauces to roasts.
Note: Red pepper flakes can be sprinkled over the top by each person, if you prefer not to add pepperoncino into the sauce.
Note: The sauce can be strained or the anchovies can be left in the sauce. If you strain the anchovies, serve them in a small bowl so that your guests can add some back if desired. It is also very good spread on toasted bread (anchovy paste bruscchetta).
Note: Black olives and/or raisins can be added to the sauce if you desire a sweeter flavor; toasted pignoli nuts (pine nuts), toasted breadcrumbs and capers are often added to this dish in the south of Italy.
Although Linguini with anchovy sauce is served year round in Italy, it is always served in our family as part of our Christmas Eve dinner.
We often shop in 2 markets in Como, Italy; one is the main market in the center of Como and the other is the Ipera in Grandate. Very near to this market is a little local restaurant called Ristorante Arcade. There isn’t much about the curb view of this restaurant that would make you look twice and stop for a meal. However, this restaurant has some different dishes specializing in snails not often seen in Italy. On one of our shopping trips, it was lunch time, and we were very hungry with not too many restaurants around, we noticed Ristorante Arcade. Having had many wonderful meals in small local restaurants, we stopped in for lunch. I had Funghi lumache e salsiccia con polenta taragna. It was not like any dish I had eaten in Italy and I not only loved it but asked the chef for the recipe. He was good enough to give me the recipe and a bag of Teglio-Valtellina polenta. I have featured this dish on Foodbuzz.
Vieste Foggia is located in Puglia in the southeast of Italy. The old medieval town stands on the eastern coastline of the Gargano; a peninsula protruding towards Dalmatia, surrounded by the Adriatic Sea and separated from the Apennines by the Tavoliere plateau with a unique landscape of naturalistic beauty. It is a melting pot of foreign populations with influences of Greek, Arab, Norman and Pisan reflected in its architecture making it distinctly different from other Italian villages. There are the sea caves and grottos and long white sand beaches. Ride bikes along the hilly coastline visiting many small villages or the National Park. The region is famous for olives and olive oil light in color and flavor perfect for the typical seafood cuisine.
The old village is not reachable by car. Stone steps bring you back in time to a village with glorious views of the Adria. It is situated atop a cliff capped with white stucco flat roofed houses. Doorways framed with pepperoncini (red hot peppers), pomodori (cherry tomatoes), pepperoni (peppers) and aglio (garlic) line the old cobblestone streets. I remember once when I took my brother there for his first visit, as we were meandering through the village in the late afternoon saying all this needs to complete this picture is a mother calling out “Angeloooooo!”. To our absolute amazement that is exactly what happened as the words left out mouths.
Colorful and friendly proprietors welcome you into the small Enoteca and restaurants offering beautiful fresh grilled fish, troccoli chitarra, pastas with ripe tomatoes grown locally and zuppa di peche (fish soup).
Puglia is one of the largest wine-growing regions in Italy and you will be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wines. Deep in color and aroma, they compliment the flavors of the products grown in the region. Many can be bought in wine shops in the US and Europe. The following wines are some of the more popular available:
Aleatico di Puglia, Alezio, Brindisi, Cacc’è Mmitte di Lucera, Castel del Monte,Copertino, Galatina, Gioia del Colle, Gravina, Leverano, Lizzano, Locorotondo, Martina o Martina Franca, Matino, Moscato di Trani. Nardò, Ortanova, Ostuni, Primitivo di Manduria, Rosso di Barletta, Rosso di Canosa, Rosso di Cerignola, Salice Salentino, San Severo, Squinzano.
In the early nineteen hundreds many Italians emigrated from this region of Italy to America. They brought with them rich traditions, culture and wonderful recipes. Living in Europe for many years, I have traveled to Vieste often and took a cooking course to learn the local dishes of my heritage. My grandparents immigrated to the US between 1894-1912. The name was originally “Tura”, but as happened to many immigrants their name was misspelled at Ellis Island and the name became “Turo”. Also like many immigrants, they worked at what they knew and opened “Turo’s Market”, (originally a fish market) in Worcester Massachusetts. Later the family went into the restaurant business.
Orecciette con cimi di rape is a specialty in Apulia. As you sit down to eat your homemade oreccietti con cimi di rapa (shown below), given to me by a chef at the “Palace Hotel Pizzomunno”, you will feel as if you are experiencing a meal in a little restaurant situated on a cobble stone street overlooking the Adria in Vieste (Foggia) Italy.
4 cups flour (all purpose, or half all purpose and half semolina flour)
4 medium eggs
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt
Water (tepid) as required
Place the flour mixture on a pastry board and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs, olive oil, salt and a small amount of water (you can always add more water if the dough is too dry). Begin to stir the flour from the outside part of the well into the wet ingredients. Continue this process until the dough holds together in a ball. The dough should seem as if it is too dry continue kneading for at least 10-15 minutes, and allow it to stand covered with a clean kitchen towel at room temperature for at least 15 minutes.
Roll out a cylinder about 1/2” wide and 10” long. Cut into 1/2” pieces. Taking one piece at a time, turn the piece of dough with the cut side up. Press your thumb down on the dough and pull it slightly toward you. Turn the piece of dough inside out to form a little cap. The edges will be a little thicker so that is looks like a rim.
1 lb. Cime di rape (mustard greens)
4 small tomatoes
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
1 pepperoicnno (small dried hot pepper)
Salt to taste
Put the olive oil, chopped garlic, pepperoicnno and anchovies into a pan and cook for a few minutes. The anchovies will begin to break up and dissolve. Do not burn the garlic or the sauce will taste bitter. Add in the tomatoes that have been cut into cubes and deseeded.
Remove the leaves and flowerets from the mustard greens. The stems are fibrous and discarded. Cut the leaves roughly.
In a large pan of boiling salted water, put in the orecchiette and the rabe. Cook until the rabe and pasta are done. If the orrecchiette is fresh this will only take 3-5 minutes; if boxed follow the cooking direction on the box and put the rabe in for the last 5-6 minutes. Place the orecchiette and rabe into the sauce and grate the pecorino on the top.
My grandparents came from Vieste (FG) Italy. In my quest to learn more about my heritage I went to Vieste and took a cooking program. My husband and I had 4 chefs at a five star hotel to ourselves for a week and learned many traditional dishes made in the village and Gargano. I’ve had many people ask me how to make pizza dough at home. The recipe below was given to me by Chef Marco at the Pizzo Munno Vieste Palace Hotel.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: N/A
Yield: 1 large pizza, 2 medium size pizzas
3 1/2 cups flour 00, reserve 1/2 cup for working the dough
1 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup water, tepid
PREPARATION IN A FOOD PROCESSOR
Put the water in a bowl and mix in the yeast and sugar. Place it in a warm place such as the oven and allow it to activate for about 15-20 minutes or until it doubles in size.
Put 3 cups of flour and salt in a mixer with the dough element and pour in the yeast mixture. Process it until it forms a ball. If working it by hand, place it in a bowl and mix the flour and yeast mixture with a wooden spoon or your hands.
Knead the dough lightly and place it in a bowl brushed with the olive oil and cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Place it in a warm place and allow it to rise for at least 1 hour.
Punch the dough down and let it raise for another 1/2 hour covered. You can use as much of the dough as you might need and freeze the rest. When defrosting it, allow the dough to raise again.
Roll out the dough using the reserved flour and you are ready to prepare your pizza, calzone, cheese bread, stromboli etc.
When spreading the dough out, use your hands if you don’t want any air bubbles, use a rolling pin if for a flat crusty crust. I prefer stretching the dough with my thumb and the back of your hand. Use you finger tips to then rotate it on a board stretching it and turning it over a few times.
Most of us don’t have wood burning pizza ovens however; a pizza stone is the best solution for a home oven. You can also use terra cotta tiles, which can be bought in a home supply store. If you do this, purchasse 2 or 3 layers, they will keep the heat in really well and do the trick without spending a lot of money for a pizza stone. It is very important that you buy tiles that have not been made with chemicals.
Spread a medium grind semolina flour on the bottom of the pizza pallet, place the rolled out dough on the board and prepare your pizza. This will allow you to slide it off the board easily onto the tile or stone. flour will also do, but the dough slides off the wood palette more easily with semolina. You can also put parchment paper on the board and slide it onto the stone.
Cook the pizza in a very hot oven at least 500º F or as high as it will go. Put your pizza stone in the oven at least 1 hour until it is hot. If you are grilling it in a fireplace or on a grill, I have found that a metal grate works very well and makes it easy to turn it on the grill. I like this method because it also allows the heat to brown the bottom making it very crispy and gives it a smokey flavor. The coals should be red hot. The cooking time is about 15 to 20 minutes, but this depends on how high the heat is, so keep checking the bottom, it should be brown and crispy.
Don’t be afraid to use whatever you like. Goat cheese, Gorgonzola, Fete cheeses are great as are olives, most vegetables, meats and seafood. Be creative!
You can use fresh tomatoes, or Passate di Pomador0 or just pureed can tomatoes. An Italian home is not complete without a bottle of Passate de Pomadoro in the refrigerator. It is great for flavoring soups and vegetables as well. Some people like to use prepared tomato sauce that has already been flavored, but I really prefer the fresh taste of tomatoes adding the herbs that you prefer. Sprinkle with chopped garlic, oregano or basil, salt and pepper; add whatever you like on the top. Mozzarella is traditionally used layered on the top. Whatever cheese you use, add it a few minutes before the pizza is done. Just long enough so that it melts. This allows everything to cook on top without the crust getting soggy or the cheese overcooking.