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!