Friday, December 21, 2007

Prosciutto Basil Pasta Shells

These jumbo pasta shells look fancy, but are really very easy, and fairly quick to make.

* 12 jumbo pasta shells
* 1 Tbl olive oil
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 3/4 cup sliced prosciutto (cooked ham may be substituted, by lessens the flavor)
* 1 cup ricotta cheese
* 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* 1/2 tsp dried basil
* 1 egg
* 14 oz of your favorite homemade or purchased tomato sauce

# Heat oven to 375F.
# Spray 2 qt. square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
# Cook pasta according to package directions. (I find it easier to lessen the recommended cooking time by about 2 minutes - the shells are firmer, less likely to fall apart, and they will finish cooking in the oven) Drain pasta, and rinse with cold water to cool.
# Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until hot. Add garlic and prosciutto and cook 2-3 minutes or until garlic is light golden brown.
# In medium bowl, combine 1/2 the prosciutto mixture with ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, basil, and egg and mix well. Stir spaghetti sauce into prosciutto mixture remaining in skillet.
# Spoon ricotta mixture into pasta shells and place in baking dish. Spoon spaghetti sauce mixture over shells. Cover with foil.
# Bake for 35 -40 minutes or until thoroughly heated.
# Serve immediately.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Pizza Popover Pie

This hearty fun twist on traditional pizza is really a treat for kids and adults alike.

* 1 and 1/2 lbs ground beef
* 1 cup chopped bell pepper
* 1 cup chopped onion
* 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
* 1 envelope spaghetti sauce mix
* 1/2 cup water
* 1/2 tsp garlic powder
* 1/2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
* 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (8 oz)
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 1 cup milk
* 2 LARGE eggs, slightly beaten
* 1 Tbl olive oil
* 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. In a 12 inch skillet, cook and stir ground beef, bell pepper, and onion, until beef is browned. Drain fat.
3. Add the tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce mix, water, garlic powder, and oregano to the meat mixture in skillet. Mix well. Bring mixture to a boil. Remove from heat.
4. Immediately spoon the sauce mixture into a 3 qt. round casserole dish. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.
5. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together flour, milk, eggs and olive oil. Mix well. Transfer this batter to a glass measuring cup. Carefully pour the batter over the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes or until light brown and set.
6. Variations:
7. Make it 'Mexican' by using a package of taco seasoning mix in place of the spaghetti sauce mix, and Cheddar or Monterey Jack (or both) cheeses in place of the Mozzarella and Parmesan.
8. Make it healthier by substituting ground turkey for the ground beef.

Clam Linguine

This delicious dish is easy enough to fix at the last minute, but will have everyone thinking you spent hours on it!

* 1 (8 oz) package dry linguine
* 1 (6 and 1/2 oz) can of minced clams
* 2 Tbl olive oil
* 2 Tbl margarine or butter
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/4 to 1/2 tsp pepper
* 1/4 tsp dried basil, crushed
* 1/4 tsp dried oregano, crushed
* salt to taste
* 2 Tbl fresh parsley, snipped
* Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Cook the linguine according to package directions, then drain and set aside.
2. Drain the clams, but reserve the liquid and set aside.
3. In a 2 qt saucepan over medium high heat, heat the olive oil and butter until the oil is hot, and butter is melted. Add the garlic, cook and stir for 2-3 minutes. Do not brown the garlic.
4. Carefully add the reserved clam liquid, pepper, basil, oregano, and salt to taste. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 3 minutes. Stir in the clams and simmer until heated through. Stir the parsley into the clam sauce.
5. Pour the clam sauce over the hot linguine and toss gently to mix. sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and serve immediately.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Avignon Tomato And Eggplant Casserole

A tasty and filling vegetarian main dish.

* 1 large eggplant
* salt to taste
* 1/2 cup flour
* 1/4 cup olive oil
* 4 medium sized tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and diced
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2 tsp sugar
* 1/2 cup bread crumbs
* black pepper to taste
* 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 and 1/2 Tbl melted butter

Preheat oven to 375F. Remove stem and skin eggplant, and cut it crosswise into 1/2" thick slices. Lay the round slices in a single layer on a plate, sprinkle liberally with salt, and set aside for about 30 minutes to allow the salt to draw out excess moisture. Wipe salt and excess moisture from eggplant, and dredge in flour. In wide skillet,heat all but 1 Tbl oil, and fry eggplant, turning once, until browned on both sides. remove from heat. In the same skillet, heat the remaining Tbl oil and add the tomatoes, garlic, and sugar. Cook for approximately five minutes. Add 1 Tbl bread crumbs with salt and black pepper. In a casserole dish, arrange eggplant and tomatoes, beginning with eggplant on the bottom, and ending with tomatoes on the top. combine the remaining bread crumbs with the Parmesan cheese and sprinkle on top. Dribble the melted butter over the casserole. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the bread crumb and cheese topping is browned. Serves 4.

Broiled Tomatoes With Black Olives And Romano Cheese

These tasty, cheesy tomatoes make a wonderful side dish with dinner, and can even be served as a light summertime lunch!

* 4 medium tomatoes
* 2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
* 2 cloves garlic, pressed
* salt to taste
* black pepper to taste
* 1/2 cup black olives, pitted and minced
* 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
* 1 tsp minced parsley

Preheat broiler. Slice tomatoes in half. Arrange cut side up, on a cookie sheet or broiler pan. Combine the olive oil and garlic. Dribble over tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with black olives and cheese. Place tomatoes under broiler for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and begins to brown. Remove from broiler, garnish with minced parsley, and serve. Serves 4

Thursday, December 6, 2007


These crisp, fried pastry puffs are an essential ending to the traditional Italian Christmas Day dinner.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup honey
Multicolored candy sprinkles

In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt.
Add the eggs and zest. Stir until well blended.
Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes.
Add a little more flour if dough seems sticky.
Shape the dough into a ball, cover with an overturned bowl. Let rest for 30 minutes.
Roll the dough into 1/2-inch thick ropes then cut into 1/2-inch nuggets.
Heat about 2 inches of oil to 370 degrees F. in a wide saucepan or deep fryer.
Begin adding struffoli in batches into the oil to fit without crowding.
Cook, stirring occasionally with a slotted spoon, until crisp and brown, about 1 minute.
Remove the struffoli with the slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain.
When all the struffoli are fried, gently heat the honey just to a simmer in a wide saucepan.
Remove the honey from the heat, add the struffoli and coat well.
Pile the struffoli into a mound on a large platter. Dust with the multicolored sprinkles.
Best served the day they are made.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Italian Cheese Bars

It's the holiday season, and business is booming, as evidenced by my lack of recent blog posts. My apologies to my readers...

Here's a wonderful dessert recipe for the holidays - perfect for a holiday gift, or as party food!

Italian Cheese Bars

* * 1/2 cup butter or margarine
* * 1-1/4 cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 18)
* * 1 15-ounce container fat-free ricotta cheese
* * 1 egg
* * 1/4 cup sugar
* * 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
* * 2 teaspoons finely shredded orange peel
* * 1 teaspoon almond extract
* * 1/2 cup sliced almonds or chopped hazelnuts
* * 1/3 cup chopped candied cherries
* * 1/3 cup golden raisins

1. Heat oven to 350 degree F. Melt butter or margarine in a 9x9x2-inch baking pan in the oven (about 6 minutes). Remove from oven. Stir crushed crackers into melted butter or margarine; press mixture firmly and evenly onto bottom of pan using a wooden spoon. Set aside.
2. Combine the ricotta cheese, egg, sugar, flour, orange peel, and almond extract in a blender container or food processor bowl; blend or process until smooth. Carefully spread cheese mixture over crumb mixture. Combine the almonds or hazelnuts, cherries, and raisins; sprinkle over cheese layer. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until edges are puffed and golden. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 1 hour; cover and chill for 2 hours. Cut into bars. Makes 20.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sicilian Meat Loaf

In this recipe, I add a little worcestershire sauce to this Sicilian style meatloaf. If you like your meatloaf with a little 'red', add your favorite homemade or prepared marinara sauce over the top of the loaf after it has been cooking for 30 minutes.

* 1 and 1/2 lbs ground chuck or ground sirloin
* 1/4 lb provolone cheese, cut into small chunks
* 1 yellow onion, cut into small dice
* 1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs
* 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
* 2 eggs
* 1 Tbl worcestershire sauce
* 1/2 tsp salt
* 2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil

# Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium sized bowl, combine beef, cheese, onion, bread crumbs, tomato sauce, eggs, worcestershire sauce, salt, and 1 Tbl olive oil.
# Lightly oil a medium sized loaf pan with remaining olive oil, and gently transfer meat mixture to pan, pressing meat mixture evenly into pan.
# Bake until an instant read thermometer reads 160F when inserted into center of loaf, approximately 40 minutes. If using marinara sauce, top loaf with sauce after 30 minutes of cooking.
# When done, remove from oven, and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing into 1 inch thick slices.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sausages and Peppers

Sausages and peppers are a staple of Italian street fairs. Originally, the sausages were only available in Italy in the winter months, as that was the only time that the family hog was slaughtered. In America, sausage was available year round, making the this meal all the more popular.

* 3 red bell peppers
* 3 green bell peppers
* 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
* 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
* 2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
* salt
* 8 Italian sausages, sweet or hot

# Wash peppers, remove stems, ribs and seeds. Cut into 1 inch wide strips.
# Heat oil in skillet large enough to hold peppers. Add garlic, and cook until browned. Discard garlic. Add onions to the oil and cook until softened but into browned. Add the peppers and salt to taste, cover the pan, and continue to cook over low heat until the peppers are soft. (about 30 minutes)
# Prick the sausages all over with the tip of a sharp knife. Put in one layer in a heavy frying pan with 2 Tbl water. Cook over medium heat heat, turning often. The water should evaporate and the fat should run so the sausage cooks in it's own juice. Cook until the sausage is browned, and cooked through (10 to 15 minutes).
# Add the peppers and onions to the sausages and heat together 5 minutes.
# *At most street fairs, sausages and peppers are served inside crusty Italian rolls, cut open to hold them.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Oven-Baked Macaroni with Eggplant

This meatless dish can be served as a side item, but is filling and tasty enough for a main dish!

* 2 medium eggplants, 2 lbs total weight
* salt
* Olive oil for frying eggplant
* 1/2 extra virgin olive oil
* 1 small onion, chopped
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 3 lbs fresh tomatoes. peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 3 lbs drained canned tomatoes (about 4 and 1/2 cups), chopped
* salt
* 3 Tbl chopped fresh basil
* Pinch of sugar
* 1 lb short macaroni, such as ziti or penne
* 2 oz butter (4 Tbl)
* 4 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup)
* 8 oz fresh mozzarella, finely chopped or grated

# Wash eggplant, but do not peel. Cut into 1/8 inch slices and place in colander, salting each layer. Place a plate and a weight (such as a can or two of vegetables) on top and drain for one hour. Pat dry and squeeze gently to remove excess liquid.
# Put 1/4 inch olive oil into a frying pan and heat to very hot. Fry one layer of eggplant at a time, turning to brown both sides. Drain on paper towels, layering the eggplant and towels as necessary.
# Put 1/4 cup olive oil, onion, and garlic in a 2 qt. pot Saute until softened until softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes and salt. Cook until water has evaporated, about 30 minutes. Add the basil 5 minutes before cooking is finished. Taste for seasonings and add a pinch of sugar.
# Cook the macaroni in 5 qts boiling salted water. Drain while macaroni is still quite firm, after about 7 minutes. Mix with the butter, and half of the Parmesan cheese and salt if necessary.
# Preheat oven to 350F. Spread a little of the tomato sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof dish. Layer the pasta, eggplant, mozzarella, and the sauce until all the ingredients are used up, ending with one thin layer of eggplant. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese and bake for 40 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Shepherd's Macaroni

It is said that this dish was created by the shepherds of the Calabria region of Italy. Very simple, and just as delicious!

* 1 lb short pasta, such as ziti or penne
* Salt
* 1/2 lb ricotta cheese
* 8 Tbl softened butter, cut in small pieces
* 2 tsp (or more) black pepper

# Cook pasta in 5 qts rapidly boiling salted water until al dente . (firm to the bite)
# While pasta is cooking, place ricotta in serving dish, and mix in softened butter. When pasta is almost done, remove 3 Tbl of the cooking water and stir into ricotta. Stir well to make a smooth sauce. Add salt and pepper.
# Drain the cooked pasta, leaving a bit of cooking water clinging to the pasta to help it blend with the sauce. Add to ricotta and toss well. Serve immediately.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Macaroni with Olives (Maccheroni Con Le Olive)

Fusilli (corkscrew) pasta is the best pasta to be served with this dish, although any short pasta may be used.

* 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
* 1 medium onion, minced
* 1 medium garlic clove, minced
* 1 lb fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1 lb drained canned tomatoes, chopped
* 1 cup black olives, or 1/3 cup each black and green olives, halved and pitted
* 2 Tbl capers, drained and rinsed
* 2 tsp red wine vinegar
* 2 Tbl fresh oregano, or 2 tsp dried
* Pinch of sugar
* salt and pepper to taste
* 1 lb fusilli pasta or other short macaroni
* 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

# Heat oil, onion, and garlic in a large skillet and cook over moderately low heat until softened but not browned, 6-8 minutes.
# Add the tomatoes, olives, capers, vinegar, oregano, sugar, salt and pepper, and simmer for 15 minutes over low heat. Be careful with the salt since olives and capers are salty.
# Cook the fusilli in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente (firm to the bite). Drain and mix with the sauce. Sprinkle on the cheese and serve immediately with additional cheese on the side if desired.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Appetizer Toasts Neopolitan Style

This is a wonderful cocktail party appetizer. If you (or your guests) aren't fond of anchovies, try the roasted pepper variation. Or make both - and everyone will be happy!

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
16 slices Italian bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick
16 slice mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick
32 anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry, chopped
1 lb fresh plum tomatoes, cut into 16 thin slices
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400F.
Brush oil on one side of bread slices and place oiled side up on flat baking sheet. Cover each slice of bread with a slice of mozzarella, sprinkle with chopped anchovy, and top with a slice of tomato. Brush with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 10 minutes.

Variation: In place of anchovies and plum tomatoes, use 1/4 cup black or green pureed olives, and 2 large roasted red peppers cut in 1/4 inch strips. Spread bread with olive puree, lay on Mozzarella cheese, and cover with two crossed strips of red pepper. Bake as above.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Baked Frittata with Mozzarella

This is one of the most simple, yet most well known, frittata recipes. It's perfect for brunch, or a light main course.

* 6 large eggs
* salt to taste
* pepper to taste
* ! sprig fresh italian flat-leaved parsley
* 6 fresh basil leaves
* 2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
* 8 oz mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
* 1 plum tomato, cut into thin rounds

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Beat the eggs until frothy, add the salt, and the pepper.
3. Chop together the parsley and basil and add to the eggs.
4. Heat the oil in a 9 inch ovenproof skillet, over medium heat. Pour the eggs in and cook briefly until the bottom has settled, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and add the mozzarella arranging it in one layer, and dot with slices of tomato.
5. Bake until the ggs are set and the cheese is melted, 20 to 25 minutes. Slice like a pie, in wedges, and serve.

Eggplant in Savory Sauce

This dish is best prepared the night before serving, to allow the eggplant to absorb the wonderful flavor of the sauce. To serve as a finger food with cocktails, roll up eggplant slices, and secure with toothpick.

* 6 small, or 3 medium eggplants
* Extra virgin olive oil
* 6-8 fresh oregano leaves, minced
* 2 cloves garlic. peeled
* 4 or 5 anchovy fillets, drained
* 1/4 tsp hot red chili pepper flakes
* 4 or 5 sprigs fresh parsley
* 3 Tbl balsamic vinegar
* Fresh basil leaves for garnish


1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Cut eggplant into 1/4 thick rounds. Brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with oregano. Bake, turning once, until soft, 10-20 minutes.
3. Place garlic, anchovies, hot red pepper, and parsley in a food processor or blender. Add 3 Tbl olive oil and the vinegar - puree.
4. Arrange eggplant slices on serving plate and pour sauce over them. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours. (overnight is even better)
5. Let dish come to room temperature before serving. Garnish with basil leaves.

Grande Antipasto All'Italiana

Antipasto is probably the most well-known of all Italian appetizers. This recipe is the 'grandaddy' of all antipastos!

* 12 thin slices of Proscuitto
* 12 thin slices of Genoa Salami
* 12 thin slices of baked or boiled ham
* 12 thin slices of Mortadella
* 24 slice Mozzarella, about 3 lbs.
* 1 (6 oz) jar of marinated artichoke hearts
* black pepper, to taste
* 1 (3 and 1/4 oz) can rolled anchovies, drained
* 4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into thin rounds
* 1/2 lb mixed Italian cured green and back olives
* ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, about 15-20
* Fresh Italian flat-leaved parsley, for garnish

1. Alternate the different meats, arranging them in a decorative pattern (I usually use a wagonwheel pattern) on a large round platter, leaving space in the center for the Mozzarella and artichokes. The meats may be rolled, or folded into quarters, creating a triangle shape, whichever you prefer.
2. Alternate the Mozzarella and artichoke hearts in a circular pattern in the center of the platter.
3. Place the eggs at various spots around the edge of the platter. Place the anchovies in the very center of the platter, and scatter the olives over all. Garnish with parsley.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cheese Stuffed Bread Round

This easy appetizer will make your guests think you're a gourmet cook!

* 1 round loaf of Italian bread, about 6 inches in diameter
* 1 cup coarsely shredded Mozzarella cheese
* 3/4 cup Ricotta cheese
* 1 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped fine
* 1 small red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped fine
* 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
* 1 tsp ground cumin
* 1/2 tsp garlic powder
* 1/4 tsp salt
* 1/4 tsp pepper


1. Place oven rack in middle position in oven, and place a second rack in next lowest position, preheat oven to 400F. Slice 1 inch off the top of the loaf, and set it aside. Scoop out the center of the bread, leaving a 1/2 inch shell, set aside. Cut the scooped out bread into 1 and 1/2 inch cubes.
2. Combine Mozzarella and Ricotta cheeses, green and red peppers, Parmesan, cumin, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Spoon the mixture into the bread shell and replace the top. Wrap bread snugly in foil, then place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for 1 hour on middle oven rack.
3. Spread the bread cubes on an ungreased baking sheet, place on lower rack, and bake, uncovered, until crisp and golden - about 10 minutes.
4. Carefully remove the foil, lift off the top, and stir the cheese mixture until creamy. Replace top, tilting it slightly to the side, and place loaf on serving platter. Surround with bread cubes for dipping. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Eggplant and Olive Pasta Sauce

This sauce is perfect for those times when you are in hurry, but still want to serve a tasty meal. Goes especially well when served over Penne or Ziti pastas.

* 6 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
* 1 small eggplant (about 1 lb) trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
* 1 small (6 oz) can tomato paste
* 1/4 cup chopped green olives
* 1 Tbl capers, rinsed and drained
* 1 Tbl fresh basil, chopped
* 1 Tbl fresh parsley, chopped
* 2 tsp red wine vinegar
* 1/2 tsp salt
* black pepper to taste
* pinch of sugar


1. Heat 4 Tbl olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat, add eggplant. Saute, stirring constantly, until eggplant is tender and browned, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
2. Add remaining 2 Tbl oil to skillet. Stir in eggplant, tomato paste, olives, capers, basil, parsley, vinegar, salt, pepper, and sugar. Cover and summer 5 minutes. Toss hot pasta with sauce and serve immediately.

Spaghetti Alla Carbonara

This quick and easy recipe makes the Italian classic simple enough for even beginner cooks.

* 2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
* 2 Tbl butter
* 4 oz pancetta, or 6 slices regular bacon, cut into 1/4" dice
* 1 lb spaghetti
* 5 eggs, well beaten
* 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
* black pepper, to taste


1. Heat oil and butter in skillet, add pancetta or bacon, saute until golden, lift from pan with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
2. Cook pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente (firm to the bite), about 10 minutes. Drian
3. Bet the eggs, 1/4 cup cheese, and pepper in a large bowl. Add pasta and toos well. Sprinkle pancetta or bacon on top with remaining 1/4 cup of cheese.

Elbows with Four Cheeses

This cheesy main dish is quick and easy - the kids will love it, too!

* 4 Tbl butter
* 1 garlic clove
* 15 oz Ricotta cheese
* 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
* 2 Tbl freshly grated Romano cheese
* 2 Tbl chopped fresh parsley
* 2 Tbl copped fresh basil
* 1/4 tsp nutmeg
* 2 cups elbow macaroni
* 1 cup Shredded Mozzarella cheese


1. Heat butter in medium skillet, add garlic, saute 1 minute. Stir in Ricotta, Parmesan, Romano, parsley,basil, and nutmeg. Cook, stirring, over low heat,, until heated through. Let stand on very low heat to keep warm. Cook elbows in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente (firm to the bite), about 12 minutes. Drain.
2. In large serving bowl, fold elbows with Ricotta mixture and Mozzarella cheese until well blended. Serve immediately.

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Ricotta

This quick and easy sauce goes especially well served over Rigatoni, Penne, or ridged Ziti pastas.

* 2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
* 1 garlic clove, crushed
* 1 and 1/2 cups chopped fresh ripe tomatoes (about 1 lb)
* 2 Tbl chopped fresh basil
* 1 Tbl chopped fresh parsley
* 1/4 tsp dried oregano
* 1/8 tsp dried thyme
* 1 cup Ricotta cheese
* salt and pepper to taste
* freshly grated Parmesan cheese


1. Heat oil in medium skillet over low heat, stir in garlic, saute ! minute. Add tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, until mixture boils and begins to thicken, about 10 minutes. Add basil, parsley, oregano, and thyme; whisk in Ricotta cheese until blended well. Heat, stirring, about ! minute. Add salt and pepper to taste,. Toss with hot pasta, serve with Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Beef and Spaghetti Surprise

This is a great way to use up that leftover cooked pasta.

  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing

  • 2 medium sized eggplants

  • 3/4 lb ground beef

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 2 Tbl tomato paste

  • 1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes

  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano

  • 1/2 cup sliced black olives

  • 1 bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped

  • 6-8 oz cooked spaghetti

  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan (or use Roman cheese for a little stronger flavor)

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • fresh parsley sprigs, for garnish

  1. Brush an 8 inch round cake pan with oil.

  2. Slice eggplants into 1/2 inch slices. Heat a little oil in skillet over medium heat, and fry eggplant slices for 3-4 minutes or until browned on both sides. Do this in batches, do not crowd slices. Drain on paper towels.

  3. Put ground beef, onion, and garlic in saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until beef is browned. Add tomato paste, tomatoes, Worcestershire, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add olives and bell pepper and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

  4. Add meat mixture to the cooked spaghetti, add cheese, and toss well.

  5. Arrange eggplant slices on the bottom, and around the sides of the cake pan. Add spaghetti, press down firmly, and cover the top with the rest of the eggplant. Bake in 400F oven for 40 minutes. Remove from oven, and let rest for 5 minutes, then invert onto a serving platter. Garnish with parsley sprigs and serve.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Pasta and mussels Sauce

  • 14 oz shell pasta

  • 1 Tbl extra virgin olive oil

  • Sauce

  • 6 pints mussels, scrubbed

  • 1 cup dry white wine

  • 1/2 cup butter

  • 6 large garlic cloves, chopped fine

  • 5 Tbl chopped fresh parsley

  • 1 and 1/4 cups heavy cream

  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Pull the beards off the mussels and rinse well in several changes of cold water. Discard any mussels that do not close when sharply tapped. Put mussels in large pan with the white wine. Cover pan, shake well, and cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until mussels open.

  2. Remove pan from heat, lift out mussels with slotted spoon, reserving liquid, and set aside until they are cool enough to handle. Discard any mussels that have not opened.

  3. Melt butter in pan over medium heat, stir in garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Gradually pour in reserved liquid, stirring to blend well. Stir in parsley and cream. Season to taste and bring to a simmer.

  4. Cook pasta in large pan of boiling salted water, with the oil, for 8-10 minutes, or until tender. Drain pasta, return to pan, cover, and keep warm.

  5. Remove mussels from shells. Stir mussels into cream sauce. Place pasta in warmed serving dish, pour in the sauce, and toss well to blend. Serve hot, with warm, crusty bread.

Vermicelli and Clam Sauce

Quick and easy, this makes a great light meal!

  • 14 oz vermicelli pasta

  • 1 Tbl extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 Tbl butter

  • 2 Tbl freshly grated Parmesan shavings, for garnish

  • sprig of basil, for garnish

  • Sauce

  • 1 Tbl extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped

  • 2 (7oz) jars clams in brine

  • 1/2 cup white wine

  • 4 Tbl chopped fresh parsley

  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano

  • pinch of nutmeg

  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook pasta in large pan of salted water, with 1 Tbl olive oil, for 8-10 minutes, or until tender. Drain the pasta and return to pan. Add butter, cover, and shake pan. Keep warm.

  2. For clam sauce, heat the oil in a pan over medium heat, stir in garlic and cook for one minute.

  3. Strain liquid from one jar of clams, pour liquid into pan with garlic,and add wine. Stir, bringing to a simmer, and simmer for 3 minutes. Drain brine from second jar of clams, and discard.

  4. Add clams and herbs to the pan, and season with pepper to taste and the nutmeg. Lower the heat and cook until the sauce is heated through.

  5. Transfer pasta to a warmed serving dish and pour sauce over pasta.

  6. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and garnish with a sprig of basil. Serve immediately.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Italian Soups

With the onset of cooler weather here, my mind has been on the wonderful, warming soups of my childhood. Here are a few of my favorites:

Creamy Italian Tomato Soup

  • 2 Tbl butter

  • 1 onion, thinly sliced

  • 2-1/4 lbs plum tomatoes, peeled. seeded, and sliced

  • 2 potatoes, diced

  • scant 1/2 cup heavy cream

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve at table

  • Croutons to serve at table

  1. Melt butter in pan, add onion and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until softened. Add tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, pour in 3 cups water, add the potatoes, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for one hour. Transfer to a food processor or blender, and process to a puree, then return to pan. Reheat, then stir in cream. Pour into soup tureen, and serve with Parmesan and croutons.

Ricotta Dumplings in Broth

  • For the Ricotta dumplings:

  • generous 1 cup Ricotta cheese

  • 1 egg

  • 2-1/2 ounces all-purpose flour, plus extra for coating

  • pinch of nutmeg

  • 4 cups Beef Stock (see below)

  • 3 Tbl olive oil

  • salt and pepper to taste

  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, to pass at table

  • For the Beef Stock:

  • 1-1/2 lbs lean beef, cut into cubes

  • 1 lb, 5 oz. veal, cut into cubes

  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped

  • 1 carrot, coarsely chopped

  • 1 leek, trimmed and coarsely chopped

  • 1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped

  • salt to taste

  1. Directions for Beef Stock: Place meat in large pan, and add cold water to cover, bring to a boil slowly over medium low heat. Skim off any fat that comes to the surface, and add onion, carrot, leek, and celery - season with salt to taste. Lower heat and simmer for about 3-1/2 hours. Remove from heat, strain into a bowl, let cool, then chill in refrigerator. When fat has solidified on the surface, carefully remove and discard.

  2. Directions for Ricotta Dumplings: Beat Ricotta with a wooden spoon until smooth, then stir in the egg, flour, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper to taste. Shape mixture into small dumplings the size of hazelnuts. Coat dumplings lightly in flour. Bring Beef Stock to a boil over low heat. Heat oil in skillet, add the dumplings, and cook until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Put dumplings in soup tureen and ladle the stock over them. Serve immediately, passing bowl of Parmesan at the table.

Chicken Passatelli (Chicken Soup with Italian Dumplings)

  • 2 slices white bread, torn into rough chunks

  • 2 large eggs

  • I cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I highly recommend Parmigiano-Reggiano), plus more to pass at table

  • Pinch of nutmeg

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • 2 quarts prepared chicken stock

  • 2 Tbl minced fresh parsley leaves

  1. Preheat oven to 300F. Grind bread in food processor. Measure 1/2 cup bread crumbs onto a small baking sheet. Toast until lightly dried, about 5 minutes. Cool completely. Combine bread crumbs, eggs, Parmesan, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Refrigerate mixture until firm, about 15 minutes. With moistened hands, roll tespoonfuls of bread mixture into grape-sized balls. Bring the stock to a boil in a large stockpot over medium heat, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Drop the dumplings into the gently simmering stock and cook until they float to the surface, and are cooked, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in parsley, and adjust seasonings if necessary. Ladle soup and dumplings into bowls and serve immediately, passing extra cheese at the table.

Chicken Straciatella (Italian Chicken and Egg Soup)

  • 2 quarts prepared chicken stock

  • 4 large eggs

  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil or fresh parsley leaves (your preference - either give wonderful flavor)

  • pinch of nutmeg

  • salt and pepper to taste

  1. Bring the stock to a simmer in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir the eggs, Parmesan cheese,basil or parsley, and nutmeg together with a fork in a medium bowl. Stir the stock with a FORK so it is moving in a circle. Be sure to use a fork, and no other utensil, so the egg 'rags' will be properly formed. Keep stirring as you pour the egg mixture into the stock in a slow, steady stream so that shreds of coagulated egg form, about 1 minute. Let the egg shreds stand in the stock without stirring until they set, less than one minute. Once they have set, break up the egg pieces with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Roasted Bell Peppers (Pepperoni Arrosto)

These roasted peppers are a great addition to a nice steak dinner, or roast.


* 4 bell peppers (use yellow, green, and red for nicer presentation, and flavor variation)
* 3 garlic cloves, halved
* 12 fresh basil leaves
* extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
* salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a roasting pan with foil. Prick bell peppers with a fork, place in pan, and roast for 1 hour. Remove from oven, wrap in foil, and let cool. Peel (skin will slip off easily) and halve the peepers and let drain cut side down on paper towels.
2. remove seeds and membranes, and cut into 1/4 inch strips. Arrange in layers in fairly deep serving dish, sprinkling each layer with garlic and basil and salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with olive oil and let stand in cool place for 1 hour before serving.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sausage Pizza Loaf

Here's a new recipe we tried tonight, courtesy of A Taste of Home Online It received a five-star review with us!

Sausage Pizza Loaf


* 1 pound bulk Italian sausage
* 1/4 cup each chopped onion, sweet red pepper and green pepper
* 2 packages (6-1/2 ounces each) pizza crust mix
* 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
* 1/2 cup chopped pepperoni
* 1 egg, lightly beaten
* 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 teaspoon dried oregano
* 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder


In a large skillet, cook the sausage, onion and peppers over medium heat until the meat is no longer pink; drain. Combine crust mixes; prepare according to package directions. With greased fingers, press onto the bottom of a greased 15-in. x 10-in. x 1-in. baking pan.
Combine the sausage mixture, mozzarella cheese, pepperoni and egg; spread over dough to within 1/2 in. of the edges. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese, oregano and garlic powder.
Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; pinch seams to seal. Arrange seam side down on pan and shape into a crescent. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Yield: 15 servings.


Calzone are best described as 'pizza turnovers'. This is just a basic Calzone recipe - you can adapt it to your taste, by using your favorite pizza toppings, or adding a little pizza sauce to the filling.

Serves 2

Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
1 quantity Pizza Dough (see recipe below)
all-purpose flour, for dusting
2 oz. diced Mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup Cotto Salami, diced
3 Tbl Proscuitto, diced
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbl Ricotta chesses, crumbled
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425F. Brush a cookie sheet with oil. Knead the dough for 1 minute. Roll out on a lightly floured board into 2 rounds. Combine the mozzarella, salami, ham, and egg, then season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the ricotta. Sprinkle the mixture on one side of each dough round and fold the round in half. Crimp the edges to seal. Place on prepared cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

**Pizza Dough

1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 oz fresh yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing

Sift the flour and salt into a mound on a counter and make a well in the center. Mash the yeast in the water with a fork until very smooth and pour into the well. Incorporate the flour with your fingers to make a soft dough. Knead well, pulling and stretching until it becomes smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball, cut a cross in the top, place in a bowl and cover. Let rise in a warm place for 3 hours, or until double in size. Follow above directions for Calzone.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Eggplant Sauce with Polenta

A hearty eggplant recipe for my vegetarian friend, Seasons (and any other vegetarians out there!)

Eggplant Sauce with Polenta
2 servings

2 cups boiling water
1/2 oz. dried mushrooms (I use portabellas, but other types work just as well)
6 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups polenta
1 red pepper, cut in strips
2 Tbl parsley
2 1/2 cups canned petite diced tomatoes
2 cups eggplant, cubed
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 Tbl olive oil

In a small bowl, combine the boiling water and mushrooms.
Let soak until soft.
Drain mushrooms, and reserve the soaking liquid.

In large skillet, heat oil over medium heat.

Add eggplant, cook for 5 minutes, or until browned and soft.

Stir in mushrooms, peppers, and onions; stir constantly for 5 minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes and reserved mushroom liquid and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, or until sauce is thickened.

Prepare the polenta - bring the 6 1/2 cups water to a boil in a 3-quart saucepan.
Slowly whisk in the polenta.
Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, for 30 to 35 minutes, or until thick and smooth.

Pour the polenta onto a large serving platter and keep warm until sauce is ready.
Spoon the eggplant sauce over the polenta, and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.

Savory Italian Fritatta

Frittatas are the Italian version of an omelete, but they aren't just for breakfast! A fritatta is often served as a light lunch or dinner, accompanied by a fresh Italian salad. Fritattas may be served piping hot, or at room temperature.


  • 8 eggs

  • 1/4 cup diced ham or proscuitto (about 2 oz)

  • 1 Tbl fresh basil, chopped (or 1/2 tsp dried)

  • 1 Tbl fresh sage, chopped (or 1/2 tsp dried)

  • 1 Tbl fresh mint, chopped, (or 1/2 tsp dried)

  • 1 Tbl freshly grated Parmesan cheese

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/8 tsp pepper

  • 1 Tbl butter

  1. Beat all ingredients except butter thoroughly.

  2. Melt butter in 10 inch nonstick skillet over medium high heat.

  3. Reduce heat to medium low.

  4. Pour egg mixture into skillet, cover and cook 9-11 minutes, or until eggs are set, and bottom is light brown.

Savory Italian Frittata @ Group Recipes

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gnocchi di Patate (Basic Potato Dumplings)

Another staple in Italian cuisine is Gnocchi. These tasty potato dumplings are very easy to prepare, and can be served in many ways, including topped with various melted Italian cheeses, or smothered with your favorite homemade tomato sauce.

Gnocchi di Patate
4 servings

4 medium white (Idaho or Russet) potatoes, about 2lbs.
1 Tbl salt
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 and 1/2 to 2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375F. Wash and dry potatoes. With a knife, make a long incision in the potatoes lengthwise, about 1/2 inch deep.
Bake potatoes till tender, 45-55 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel potatoes, and mash well. Add salt, egg yolk, and 1 and 1/2 cups flour. Mix with hands until dough begins to stick together.
Transfer the mixture to a wooden board and knead lightly, gradually adding remaining flour if dough sticks to board and hands. (The making of the dough should take no longer than 4-5 minutes.) Dough is ready when it is soft, pliable, and just a little bit sticky.
Cut dough in pieces the size of an orange. Flour hands lightly. Using both hands, roll out dough with a light back and forth motion into a roll about the thickness of your thumb. Cut each roll into 1 inch thick pieces.
Hold a fork with its tines against the board, curved part of fork facing away from you. Starting from outside of bottom curve, press each piece of dough with index finger firmly upward along the length of the tines. Let the gnocchi fall back onto the surface. Roll out the remaining dough, and repeat steps above.. Place gnocchi on lightly floured plate or baking sheet. They can be cooked immediately, or refrigerated (uncovered) several hours or overnight.
To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi, and cook, uncovered, over high heat, until gnocchi rise to surface, about 1-2 minutes. Serve piping hot, with your favorite melted cheese or tomato sauce.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Mozzarella-Stuffed Portabellas

We tried a wonderful new recipe last night, courtesy of (believe it or not) Progresso's website. I normally don't pay much attention to the recipes put out by these mass manufacturers, but this time, I'm glad I did. In the following recipe, I won't be adding brand names for some of the ingredients - use the brand names you like - I'm sure the end result will be just as satisfactory!

Mozzarella-Stuffed Portabellas
6 servings

6 large fresh portabella mushrooms, stems and gills removed
4 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
Dash of sea salt
Dash of freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup Italian style bread crumbs
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese (fyi - the recipe will be much improved by buying aged block Parmesan, and grating it yourself)
2 Tbl freshly chopped parsley
2 Tbl freshly chopped basil
1 and 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella (again, use block mozzarella, and grate it yourself, to improve flavor)

Heat oven to 425F. In medium bowl, toss mushroom caps, 2 Tbl olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper to coat. Arrange mushroom caps on ungreased baking sheet. Bake about 10 min, or until soft. Cool completely.

Meanwhile, mix bread crumbs, Parmesan, parsley, basil, and remaining 2 Tbl olive oil.

Divide mozzarella cheese equally among mushroom caps. Spoon bread crumb mixture evenly over cheese.

Roast 7 - 10 min, or until mozzarella is melted and bread crumb mixture is golden brown. Serve hot with Marinara sauce.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Aubergine (Eggplant)

Today, I'd like to share a great aubergine (eggplant) site I've found:
Ashbury's Aubergines

3116 Eggplant recipes and counting! For eggplant lovers, (like me) this is the only site you'll ever need - more eggplant recipes than I've ever seen, well organized, and in great detail!

Now, an eggplant recipe from my files...

Melanzane Al Forno
(Baked Eggplant with Garlic and Parsley)
Serves 6

1 and 1/2 lbs eggplant
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbl freshly chopped garlic
2 Tbl freshly chopped parsley
Black pepper

1) Trim eggplant tops and slice across widthwise into disks 1 and 1/2 inches thick. On one side of each disk, make crisscross incisions, spaced 1 inch apart; do not cutt all the way through.
2)Spread eggplant slices on inside wall of large colander; set over a bowl, and sprinkle with salt. Let stand 30-45 minutes.
3) Preheat oven to 450F
4) In baking pan large enough to accommodate eggplant slices in one layer, smear bottom lightly with olive oil. Place eggplant in pan in single layer, crosshatched side up.
5) Sprinkle garlic and parsley over eggplant evenly, and press into cuts. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour 1/2 of olive oil over eggplant, getting as much as you can into cuts.
6)Place pan on top shelf of oven. After 5 minutes, remove pan, pour the rest of olive oil over eggplant, and return to oven Bake for at least 15 minutes, untill eggplant is very tender.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Basic Ingredients in the Italian Pantry

Italian cooks always have several basic ingredients on hand in the kitchen. These staples, when added to recipe-specific ingredients, make almost any Italian recipe a snap!

Herbs and Spices

A small potted basil plant is common on the windowsill of many an Italian kitchen. While dried basil leaves can be used if no other alternative is available, the taste of fresh basil (regular basil, not the fancy 'hybrid' varieties) can't be beat for flavor.

Bay Leaves
Fresh bay leaves can be quite hard to obtain, (bay, or laurel, grows more in a tree form, not suited to the average windowsill) so dried bay leaves that retain their green color are an acceptable substitute.

Parsley is another herb that is perfectly suited to a pot on the windowsill, it is easily grown, and there is really no reason to use the prepackaged, dried, ground parsley flakes. Always grow the large-leaved, so-called Italian parsle, rather than the curly-leaved varieties, which are devoid of flavor.

Rosemary is yet another herb that is easily grown indoors, although the size of the plant may require more space than the average windowsill. Rosemary does most of its growing in the winter, so it should be placed near a window that can be opened slightly. Indoor Rosemary plant require plenty of circulated fresh air and light.

Most dried sage does not have a flavor that is appropriate for Italian cooking. It is best to try to find fresh sage, if possible. Fresh American sage is the same as Italian sage.

Olive Oil

The cult of olive oil and the critical refinement about it equals the fanaticism of wine expertise. Flavor varies according to climate and soil and the more than sixty varieties grown for oil production in Italy. Darker oils may or may not have a richer flavor,it depends on the region and production.
the best olive oilis extra-virgin, in which the olives are hand-gathered, and the acidity must not exceed 1%of the weight. The best extra-virgin oil is produced on farms, often connected with vineyards. In addition, in recent years, it has been documented that olive oil (especially extra-virgin) is extremely good for us.

Prosciutto, Salami, and Pancetta

'Prosciutto' is usually considered the uncooked, unsmoked ham, cured in salt. The proscuitto of Parma from Langhirano is the prosciutto that goes so well with fresh figs or melon as an antipasto.
Tuscan prosciutto, which is more salty, is used with salamio for antipasto.

Genoese and Milanese salamis are useful for regional dishes.
Tuscan salamis are also celebrated in Italy, and are usually made on farms connected to vineyards.

Pancetta, the same cut of pork as bacon but salted rather than smoked, is very important to Italian cooking. it can be found in better supermarkets, and Italian food specialty stores.


Porcini mushrooms are perhaps the best known in Italian cooking. They often grow to great size, and their caps are broiled and eaten as a main dish. The wonderful flavor of porcini is preserved, and even intensified, by drying. Dried porcini are available in Italian markets and specialty stores. Although they may seem expensive, a little goes a long way, and the flavor is worth the price.


Anchovies are preserved in two ways: dieid in oil, filleted and lightly salted; and in salt unfilleted. The first is much more readily available. The second is preferred by Italian cooks for their taste.

There are other items which are considered 'staples' in the Italian pantry, but these are the most basic. As you explore the Flavors of Italy, you will find your own staples to keep on hand, depending on your favorite recipes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Lesson on Cheeses

As many people know, cheeses are some of the most important ingredients in Italian recipes. In this post, we'll cover the characteristics of some of the most often used Italian cheeses.

**Before we begin, I must offer this tried-and-true advice: Please do not waste your time and money on the pre-processed, packaged 'supermarket' varieties of these cheeses. Always purchase your cheeses at Italian specialty stores if possible, as many specialty stores import their cheeses directly from Italy. If you can't find a specialty store in your area, there are several online Italian cheese sites. If nothing else, at least try to find Italian cheeses in the deli section of your supermarket, where they may be purchased by the pound, in block form. YOu will be amazed at the difference these fresh cheeses will make in your recipes, as opposed to the rubbery, bland, and over processed choices available in the dairy case. Not only will your recipes abound will flavor, your guests or family will thank you for the extra effort!

Now, on to our lesson...

Parmigiano - Reggiano
One of the most frequently used Italian cheeses, Parmigiano - Reggiano is produced under strict regulations in the provinces of Parma, Reggio, Modeno, Mantua, and Bologna. It is made with milk produced between the first of April and the elenth of November. Parmigiano - Reggiano is made by hand by artisan cheesemakers, following a tradition unchanged for seven centuries.
Parmigiano - Reggiano, served by the chunk and sliced, can begin or end a meal. Its gentle flavor enriches soups, pasta, and risotto. It is also a frequent ingredient in simple or complex salads. It is a low-fat, high-protien cheese, and is completly free of additives.
By law. Parmigian-Reggiano is aged at least one year. (aged 2 years, if you can find it, is even better!) Good Parmigiano has a straw yellow color, with a crumbly but moist texture.
Fresh Parmigiano is expensive, but a little goes a long way. It may be stored wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator, for up to three weeks without losing its freshness. If it begins to dry out, wrap it in a damp cloth and keep in refrigerator for a few hours, then remove the cloth and wrap in plastic wrap. Grate the cheese only as you need it.
Pre-grated domestic 'parmesan' (in the plastic bag) has absolutely no relation to Parmigiano - Reggiano, as you will see if you compare the taste of the two.


Mozzarella is very popular in Southern Italian recipes. The most favored Mozzarella in Italy is made from the curd of water buffalo milk. Unfortunately, what we find most often today is prepared with a percentage of buffalo milk and a percentage of cow's milk, due to the lack of domesticated water buffalo. Again, visit your local Italian specialty store for the best selection of imported mozzarella. If you are lucky enough to find a good imported mozzarella, buy extra, and freeze that which you won't use immediately. Good mozzarella freezes well, and freezing is universally approved by the cheesemakers of Italy. Thaw overnight in refirgetor before using.
Smoked mozzarella is also available. When using smoked mozzarella in recipes, remember that it is quite salty.


Ricotta is a cheese byproduct made from whey, the watery part of the cow's milk. This soft cheese is used in the filling of many pasta preparations and desserts of southern Italy. Fresh ricotta is often not available imported from Italy, as it is very perishable. However, good fresh ricotta can be found in Italian specialty stores. Unlike most italian cheeses, the whole milk ricotta found in supermarkets is an acceptable substitute.


Fontina is a wonderful table cheese. It is a tender, mild cow's milk chesse, produced in Val d'Aosta, dating back to the Middle Ages. Its soft, esy melting quality makes it a favorite for cooking also.


Pecorino cheese is made from sheep's milk. There are many varieties, but the most well-known in this country is pecorino romano, which is a sharp, stronlgy flavored hard cheese, mainly used as a grating cheese.


Mascarpone is a double creamed cheese. Heavy cream is coaguated by the additon of citric acid, which gives this cheese its slightly sour taste. It is high in fat content, and somewhat resembles sour cream, which its thick, heavy consistency. it is used primarily in delicate pasta dishes and desserts, and is the essential ingredient in one of the most well known Italian desserts, Tiramisu. Please, please, do not substitute cream cheesse for this wonderful Italian cheese - you will be doing your recipes a great injustice!

There are many other, less well known Italian cheeses, wonderful in their own rite. This is just a list of those most commonly used in cooking. If you are fortunate enough to have an Italian specialty food store nearby, it's definitely worth a visit, if only to learn more about the fine cheeses that Italy has to offer.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Mozzarella Impananta (Breaded and Fried Mozzarella)

These quick and yummy appetizers are perfect as a before dinner snack (in which case this recipe serves 4) or part of the game day buffet. If you make them for game day, be advised - you'll need to at least triple the recipe, or risk having some disappointed football fans!

Mozzarella Impanata

10 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut in four 1 inch thick slices
2 large eggs, lightly beaten with a pinch of salt
1 cup plain or seasoned bread crumbs, spread evenly over a sheet of foil
Vegetable oil for frying
8 leaves fresh basil, finely shredded by hand

Dip Mozzarella slices into egg, shake off excess, and dredge completely in bread crumbs, pressing crumbs in with the palms of your hands.
Heat one inch of oil in medium skillet over high heat.
When oil is very hot, lower slices of mozzarella into oilwith slotted spoon - do not crowd. When slices are golden brown, (less than one minute) turn and fry other side. W
With slotted spoon, transfer to paper towel - lined plate to drain.
Serve piping hot, topped with shredded basil.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Bread and Tomato Salad

Here's a light, simple recipe, for those times when you don't feel like cooking (like me, tonight).

Bread and Tomato Salad
serves 6

1/2 loaf Italian bread, cut in cubes
2 ripe tomatoes, cut in cubes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbl Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup chopped frsh basil
salt and black pepper to taste

In large bowl, combine bread and tomato cubes. In seperate bowl, mix oil, vinegar, basil, salt and pepper. Add this dressing to bread mixture, and toss lightly. Let stand 15-20 minutes, to allow flavors to intermingle, and toss lightly again. Serve with side dish of freshly grated Parmesan for sprinkling.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Spinach and Cheese Frittata

Definition of Frittata, courtesy of Wikipedia:
A frittata is a type of Italian omelette that frequently features fillings such as meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Like a normal omelette, a frittata is prepared in a skillet. However, whereas a normal omelette is cooked on a stovetop and served folded, a frittata is first partially cooked on a stovetop but then finished under the grill (broiler) and served open faced.

Here is the recipe for one of my favorite frittatas-

Spinach and Cheese Frittata
Serves 4-6

1/2 lb fresh spinach, chopped (or 10 oz pkg frozen, thawed and squeezed dry)
3 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbl butter
8 large eggs
1 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper to taste

In large skillet, saute spinach in olive oil and butter, about 4 minutes.
In medium bowl, beat eggs till frothy, then stir in cheese, nutmeg, thyme, salt and pepper. Pour mixture evenly into skillet and shake skillet to cover bottom evenly. Heat over medium heat.
When bottom is formed and browned, put large heatproof plate over skillet, flip, and slide frittata back into skillet to cook top, or leave in skillet, (make sure handle is heatproof!) and place under broiler to brown top.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Italian Food Forever!

Not only is that my motto, it's also the name of a great Italian food website!

Loaded with all sorts of information on Italian cooking, types of Italian food, and many, many great recipes, this is a site where you can easily spend an hour or two. I find myself visiting it almost daily for it's frequently updated new information.

Give it a look: Italian Food Forever!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Zucchini-Tomato Casserole

Many of us are at the end of the gardening season, when our fresh vegetables are ripening almost too fast. Here is a great, light dish that makes use of those bountiful fresh tomatoes and zucchini.

Zucchini-Tomato Casserole
Serves 6-8

6 medium zucchini squash
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbl extra-virgin olive oil
6 very ripe plum tomatoes, or 6 small regular ripe tomaotes, sliced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbl freshly Italian flat parsley, chopped
1 Tbl dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.
Cut zucchini in half horizontally, and then julienne.
In medium skillet, saute garlic in olive oil until golden brown.
Oil baking dish and cover bottom with a layer of julienned zucchini, then a layer of tomato slices, and 1/2 the garlic, 1/2 of the Parmesan cheese, 1/2 the parsley, 1/2 the oregano, salt and pepper. Repeat layers of zucchini and tomatoes until used up, then top with remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until tender.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

'Al Dente' Pasta

From the number of questions I get regarding the phrase 'al dente' concerning the cooking of pasta, it appears there may be quite a bit of confusion as to what the phrase actually means.

While 'al dente' literally translates to 'to the tooth', it does not mean that the pasta should stick to the teeth!

Pasta that is cooked 'al dente' will be tender, but still firm to the bite.

Here is the proper way to cook pasta al dente, according to the National Pasta Association:

1. Boil 4 to 6 quarts of water for one pound of dry pasta. (You can divide this recipe depending on how much pasta you are cooking.)

2. Add the pasta with a stir and return the water to a boil.

3. Stir the pasta occasionally during cooking.

4. Follow the package directions for cooking times. If the pasta is to be used as part of a dish that requires further cooking, undercook the pasta by 1/3 of the cooking time specified on the package.

5. Taste the pasta to determine if it is done. Perfectly cooked pasta should be "al dente," or firm to the bite, yet cooked through.

6. Drain pasta immediately and follow the rest of the recipe.

Here is the proper way to cook pasta al dente, according Nonna (and of course, my preferred way!)

1) Boil at least 4 quarts pasta (more is even better, it helps to prevent sticking) per each pound of pasta.

2) When water is at a full boil, add pasta (stir continuously while adding).

3) Cook pasta for the amount of time recommended on package, plus 1-2 minutes. (this extra time allows for the water to return to a full boil)

4) If pasta is to be used in a baked dish, reduce recommended cooking time by 4-5 minutes.

5) Stir pasta while cooking to prevent sticking.

6) You may taste pasta to determine if it is 'firm to the bite' (firm, but cooked through), but to follow Nonna's procedure exactly (don't laugh, I'm really serious here) remove pasta from pot and toss at the refrigerator. No, it's not a joke - it may sound crazy, but perfectly cooked pasta will stick to the fridge door, and Nonna swore by this method!

7) When the pasta is at that perfect stage, rinse with cold water (unless pasta is to be served immediately, and I mean immediately, in which case rinse with warm water), so that the cooking process stops.

Now, I'll explain what 'al dente' is not:

-Pasta that's so undercooked it sticks in the teeth when chewed.

-Pasta that's so overcooked that the starch is a gooey mess that's visible on the outside of the pasta, and has to be rinsed off.

Well, that's today's lesson in Italian cooking terminology, I hope it makes things a little clearer for someone.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Sunday Tomato Gravy

This recipe is an adapted version (with our family's slight variations) of the recipe from The Soprano's Family Cookbook. Nonna's actual recipe doesn't really have any exact measurements, and I'm just too lazy to figure them out.
This recipe is the closest I've ever tasted to Nonna's Sunday Gravy, a staple at our Sunday family dinners. Nonna would start cooking her gravy at about 7 am, in order to assure that the flavors had plenty of time to blend.
Definitely a time consuming recipe, but worth it! This 'gravy', known as tomato sauce to most Americans, has a slightly different flavor and texture than your run-of-the-mill tomato sauce, but is a wonderful complement to pasta dishes!

Sunday Tomato Gravy (makes 7-9 cups sauce)


2 tbl extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb pork neck bones or spareribs
1 lb veal chops
1 lb Italian Sausage
3 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup tomato paste
3 cans (28 oz. each) Italian peeled tomatoes, pureed
1 1/2 - 2 cups water
6 leaves basil, torn into small pieces (always tear fresh basil and parsley by hand - chopping causes it to lose it's flavor)

  1. Heat oil in large heavy saucepot over medium heat.
  2. Add pork, turning occasionally, and cook for about 15 min., till browned on all sides.
  3. Remove pork to a plate, add veal to pot, and brown the same way.
  4. Remove veal to same plate, then add Italian sausage to pot, and brown as above.
  5. Drain most of the fat from the pot (leave about 2 tbl) and add garlic, cooking about 2 min., or till golden brown.
  6. Remove garlic and discard. (fat will contain the garlic's flavor)
  7. Stir in tomato paste.
  8. Add pureed tomatoes (with juice) to pot.
  9. Add water.
  10. Salt and pepper to taste.
  11. Add meats and torn basil to pot, reduce heat to a simmer.
Partially cover pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 hours. (you may add a little water if the sauce gets too thick)


1 lb ground chuck
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (we use homemade seasoned bread crumbs, but packaged plain or Italian style would also do just as well)
2 lg. eggs
1 tsp. finely minced garlic
1/2 cup fresh Romano cheese, grated (for a less strongly flavored cheese, you may use freshly grated Parmesan)
1 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper
2 tbl extra-virgin olive oil, for browning meatballs

  1. Combine all ingredients, except oil in large bowl.
  2. Using your hands, mix together thoroughly.
  3. Shape mixture into 2 in. balls.
  4. Heat oil in large heavy skillet.
  5. Add meatballs, turning frequently, till browned on all sides.
  6. Remove meatballs to plate.
  7. When sauce has cooked for 2-3 hours, add meatballs. (they will finish cooking in sauce).
  8. Cook sauce for an additional 30 min. to 1 hr., stirring occasionally (be careful not to break up the meatballs) till the sauce is thick , and the meats are tender.
  9. Remove meats from sauce, to separate serving plate.
  10. Toss your choice of cooked pasta with the sauce, and serve meats on the side.
  11. Be sure to serve with a side dish of freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese, so you can add as much as you like!