madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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creamy pumpkin lasagna

delicously creamy pumpkin and pork lasagna

deliciously creamy pumpkin and pork lasagna

I clearly remember the first time I have seen someone cooking pumpkin, it was in 1979. I was with my family visiting friends during a summer holiday on the magnificent Lipari island, off the coast of Sicily. A teenager girl, only a little older than myself, was frying those brilliant orange slices in olive oil. We ate no pumpkin in Umbria then, but Sicilians use the sweet “delica” pumpkin in all sort of fabulous dishes, including candy and preserves. I did not get to try those beauties, but I guess she was making  “zucca in agrodolce” (sweet and sour pumpkin) whereby the slices would have been finished in a sauce of vinegar, sugar, mint and garlic to serve – later in the day – as a side dish.

In contrast, I don’t remember when “zucca” arrived in Umbria. In our small rural region people used to be opposed to novelty, but it must have happened around the mid ’80s. Now we have pumpkin by the truckloads during the whole winter. We also have a clumsy version of Halloween when the kids don’t know what to do except dressing up and terrorize the bewildered village elders who have no idea what’s this new Carnival about. Only a few of them know you are supposed to give them candy when they turn up screaming at your door.

Of course we all think that pumpkin is for eating, not for those quaint porch lanterns. We are Italian after all, we have a fixation with food.

Recipe

  • 1 kg (2 lb) orange pumpkin or squash, cleaned and cut into cubes
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 1/2 kg (1 lb) fresh pork sausage
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 120 gr (4 oz) grated Parmesan
  • 250 gr (8 oz) fresh ricotta
  • 300 gr (11 oz)  young cow’s milk cheese like caciotta or provola, thinly sliced
  • 500 gr ( 1 lb)  fresh lasagna sheets

First of all organize your worktop so to have ample space to work. Please read my notes about making proper lasagna.

Prepare  condiments:

  1.  Stew pumpkin and onion in 2 tablespoon olive oil until soft and falling apart. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir and transfer into the bowl of a food processor together with the ricotta. Process until thick and creamy.
  2. Remove casing from sausages and saute in a heavy pan over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up large pieces with a fork, about 10 minutes. Add fennel seeds, stir for one minute, then deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine.  Switch off and set aside.

Umbrian fresh sausages are liberally seasoned with black pepper and garlic. If you can’t find a similar sausage, add 2 cloves of finely minced garlic and a good sprinkle of black pepper just before deglazing with wine.

Assemble lasagna:

  1. Preheat the oven at 200 °C (400 °F). Butter generously a 40 x 30 cm (16 x 12 inch) roasting pan.
  2. To blanch the pasta sheets, place a shallow pan, half full with water on the heat and bring to the boil. Using a slotted spoon, deep one or two lasagna sheets at the time in the boiling water until just soft, approx 30 sec, strain and place in one single layer in the buttered tin.
  3. Once the bottom of the tin is covered by lasagna sheets, pour 1/4 of the pumpkin/ricotta mixture over the pasta sheets and spread it in a thin layer. Top with 1/3 of the sliced cheese, 1/3 of the cooked sausage and 2 tablespoon of grated Parmesan. Repeat two more times using all the sausage and sliced cheese and 2/4 of  the pumpkin mixture reserving 1/4 for the top layer.
  4. Top with one last layer of pasta sheets, cover thinly with the rest of the pumpkin mixture, sprinkle with 2-3 additional tablespoon of Parmesan and bake for 25 min or until bubbly and golden around the sides.

    how to build up the lasagna layers

    building up the layers, a moderate amount of toppings is recommended!

Serve 6-8 as a main

For a vegetarian version substitute sausage with smoked cheese, gorgonzola or saute porcini mushrooms.

 

Lipari's main square during a festival

Lipari’s youth in their beautiful festival clothes

PS. If you want to visit and carve one of those beautiful lanterns for me I will make you lunch.


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chocolate hazelnut bacio gelato

my favorite ice crea:  gelato al bacio

my favorite ice crea: gelato al bacio

It’s 1901 and Luisa Spagnoli – the daughter of a fishmonger – opens  with her husband  a small confectionery business in the center of Perugia. She will become one of the most eminent business persons in Italy, founder of the Perugina chocolate factory. The women’s fashion clothing brand which has her name still, after almost 90 years, represents a standard of Italian elegance in the world.

In the 1920’s, with the purpose of reducing production costs, Luisa blended some leftover chopped hazelnuts with chocolate and the famous Bacio Perugina was born. Initially, due to its knobbed shape, she rather clumsily named her delicious creation “cazzotto” meaning “punch” – as in punch in the face. Because of the instant success of the confection however, the name was changed to Bacio meaning “kiss”. Each candy was enveloped in a love note and then in silver foil like we know it today.

It’s only too obvious that an ice cream inspired by the delectable – and let me say it – romantic combination of hazelnut and chocolate has become a classic in virtually every gelateria (ice cream shop) in the country.

Gelato al bacio – kiss flavored ice cream – there cannot possibly be a better name for a gelato.

  • 60 gr (2 oz) plain peeled hazelnuts, finely chopped
  • 100 gr (3 oz) dark 70 % chocolate
  • 2 heaped tablespoon dark cocoa powder
  • 120 gr (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 250 ml (1 cup) whipping cream plus additional for decoration (optional)
  • 200 ml (4/5 cup) full fat milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small skillet over low heat, dry toast the hazelnuts with 1 tablespoons sugar and a pinch of salt. Keep stirring to coat the hazelnuts with the melted sugar. Continue for a few more minutes until nuts caramelize to a golden brown color, about 5 minutes. Spread them out on a non-stick surface to cool. When cooled, pulverize in a food processor or chop again to obtain a praline.

Meanwhile, heat the milk with the chocolate and sugar. Add the cocoa powder and stir to dissolve. Remove from heat, stir in cream and and vanilla and refrigerate for at least one hour. This will shorten the churning time.

Process the gelato mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. When the mixture is set, sprinkle in the praline and process until it hardens further. Keep in the freezer until ready to serve.

Serve with whipped cream and absolutely no sauce.

Serves 6


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limoncello profiteroles

 

delicate limoncello profiteroles, a lovely summer dessert

delicate limoncello profiteroles, a lovely summer dessert

If you are under the opinion it might be difficult to make profiteroles, then just think you will be making very soft cookies.

Cookies are not intimidating aren’t they? Even the most inexperienced baker can make cookies. So. You can make profiteroles.

They are a breeze to whip up and you don’t necessarily need equipment such as a pastry bag or syringe. I usually shape my choux with the help of two teaspoons and when they are ready I split them open with a small serrated knife which I then use to fill them. It’s less messy and as beautiful.

I have developed this recipe as a way to use leftovers. After a few days of cooking classes, dinners with friends and my daughter’s birthday I found my fridge overflowing with all sorts of goodies. I had a bowl of chantilly, a jar of lemon curd and enough eggs for an army. I also was dying to try to make choux pastry with my gluten free cake mix. To my delight I found out that it works just as well as wheat flour.

Recipe

For the profiteroles:

  • 75g (2½oz) gluten-free cake mix or 00 wheat flour or pastry flour
  • 50 g (3.5 tabsp) butter
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) water
  • 2 medium eggs
  • grated zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • a pinch of salt

For the filling:

For the sauce:

  • 4 tablespoon lemon curd, bought or homemade, see recipe below
  • 2 teaspoon limoncello

Before you start, preheat the oven to 180°C/360°F/ and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Lemon curd:

Put 2 whole eggs, zest and juice of 2 lemons, 170 gr (3/4 cup) sugar and 30 gr ( 2 tabspoon)  butter, cut into cubes, into a pan over low heat. Bring slowly to low boil. Remove from heat and strain immediately into a jam jar. Let it cool and close. Keep refrigerated.

Choux pastry:

Place the butter and water in a pan and melt over a gentle heat, then bring to the boil.

Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the flour, salt and sugar. Beat well, until the mixture forms a ball in the pan.

Allow to cool slightly, then gradually add one egg at the time, beating well after each addition. I actually transfer the ball of dough in the food processor, start the blades on high then add the eggs one at the time.

The dough needs to be a stiff dropping consistency. GF flour tends to absorb more liquid than wheat flour. As a consequence, it may be necessary to adjust the amount of eggs depending on the type of flour used. If using wheat flour, you might not need the whole second egg so whisk it and add it by the tablespoon.

Place small spoonfuls of the mixture  onto the baking sheet, about the size of a small walnut. Bake in a pre-heated oven for 15 – 20 minutes.

When the profiteroles are well risen and golden brown remove from the oven. Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Assemble dessert:

Using a serrated knife, make a slit in the side of each profiterole, then fill with cream or custard. If you prefer, pierce a small hole in the bottom of the pastry and fill them using a pastry syringe.

To make the sauce, stir the limoncello into the lemon curd to obtain a smooth syrup.

Fill the profiteroles with whipped cream and arrange on a serving plate.  Any filling should not be added until the last possible moment because it will make the choux pastry soft. Just before serving, pour over the limoncello sauce.

Makes approx. 30 profiteroles. Serves 5-6

limoncello profiteroles1

gluten-free profiteroles, just as perfect as the “normal” ones

 

 

 

 

 


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vitello tonnato: veal in tuna sauce

Italian veal with tuna sauce

This recipe is the gastronomic demonstration of the Aristotelian pronouncement that “there is no great genius without a mixture of madness”.

Tuna on veal is pure genius. As crazy as it must sound to some of you, a fish based sauce on beef is a marriage made in heaven, it totally works.

In fact, it’s been working for a long time as this famous Piedmontese appetizer has been first published by no less than Pellegrino Artusi in 1891.

And if you think about it, the combination of fish and meat is not even too odd. Consider the widespread use of fish sauce and oyster sauce in South-East Asian cuisine. Consider the importance of garum in the cuisines of ancient Greece, Rome, and Byzantium and of Worcestershire sauce in modern Western cuisine. Did you ever realize it’s a fish sauce?

And how about paella, gumbo and fish wrapped in bacon? OK, bacon is no beef but they all are fantastic examples of fish and meat combinations.

For me vitello tonnato is a memory of summer which is the only time it makes sense to have cold roast. I don’t think my mum ever discovered the recipe was from Piemonte. I am also pretty sure she didn’t know that there are many versions of it, hot, cold, boiled, roasted, with fresh eggs, hard-boiled eggs or no eggs in the  tuna sauce.

My mum thought mayonnaise was an evil fattening food. As a consequence we adored the version with mayo because we were deprived and this was a treat. I still love it like this, with the meat roasted rather than boiled and slathered with rich, eggy softness.

Evil in disguise.

Recipe

  • 900 gr (2 lb) veal loin trimmed and tied in a cylindrical shape with kitchen string
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 160 gr (6 oz) Italian tuna packed in olive oil
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • 1 tabsp lemon juice
  • 1 tabsp capers, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoon chopped flat leaved parsley

 

Bring the beef at room temperature. Preheat oven at 150 °C/300 °F.

Heat a ovenproof  casserole pan over medium-high heat and when hot add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the meat and brown it evenly, turning every few minutes. This step will take about 5-10  minutes, depending on the size of the roast. Keep the pan covered  to avoid hot oil splatter.

Add onion, rosemary and wine, cover again and transfer into the oven. Bake for 30 min. turning every 10 minutes and adding more wine if necessary.

Remove roast from the oven and let it rest, still covered and in its cooking liquid, until completely cold.

For the sauce, filter the cooking liquid into a food processor and blend it with the tuna, anchovy, lemon juice, capers, mayonnaise until very smooth.

Cut the roast thinly and transfer it on a serving plate, coating every slice with the tuna sauce.

The veal benefits greatly from a resting time of at least half a day but it’s way better the next day.

At this stage, distribute the rest of the sauce over the slices, cover the plate until needed and refrigerate. When ready to serve sprinkle with fresh chopped flat leaf parsley.

Enjoy as an appetizer or a light summer main accompanied by crusty bread and a crispy green salad.

Serves 4-5

PS. for a traditional recipe see Frank’s perfect instructions here.


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roasted rosemary mushroom parcels

 

I made these parcels with a sheet of transparent oven paper

oyster mushrooms wrapped in parcels made with a sheet of transparent oven paper

After having been involved with teaching and thinking about food for over than 10 years,  I am completely convinced  that the art of Italian cooking is to extract flavor from food rather than adding flavor through elaboration. This is the ultimate discovery of modern Italian cuisine. Not the foams, not the rare ingredients, not the fancy presentations. That’s culinary school stuff and to me it rarely has something to do with real food.

With time I have realized that to take something very simple like a vegetable, or a piece of meat or fish or a package of flour and bring out its original flavor is difficult. It can only be done with excellent ingredients and to obtain that you need to constantly research and evaluate the quality of what you are using. Obtaining good ingredients for everything you cook is a form of inner discipline and not always obvious or easy.

But why is it so worth it? We humans love food not only as a form of sustenance but also because of its chemical complexity which stimulates the brain and induces pleasure. The more you have something fresh, grown in a natural way and not treated with chemicals or long refrigeration the more fragrant and complex the original taste of the food will be. As a consequence you hardly need to do anything to it except a minimal manipulation to bring out and enjoy its native flavor.

This recipe is an example of what I mentioned above. It will be heavenly if you have wild mushrooms. And even with the cultivated ones, it will only work with fresh mushrooms and herbs and really good olive oil.  There is not much else in it after all.

Recipe

  • 350 gr (12 oz) fresh whole mushrooms, cleaned.
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 small garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tablespoon dry white wine
  • 4 slices pancetta or guanciale (optional)

Preheat oven at 180°C (360°F).

For this recipe you need to have fairly large pieces to retain the meaty texture of the mushroom. Thin slices will basically boil in their own moisture and as a result will be gummy or stringy.  Whole oyster mushrooms and small chanterelle will need no slicing. If you use large portobello or porcini it’s better to slice them in half or quarter by the length.

Cut four 20×20 cm (8×8 inch)  pieces of parchment paper or prepare 4 small oven bags. Arrange 1/4 of the mushrooms on the paper together with a sprig of rosemary and one garlic clove. Add a slice of pancetta if using. Season mushrooms with salt and pepper, drizzle  with one teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon white wine, then  seal the paper parcel or oven bag and transfer in an oven tin.

Bake for 20 min and serve warm directly in the parcels. You can also serve them at room temperature in which case remove the parcels and transfer into a dish. Drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil just before serving.

Serves 4.

PS. I am not at all opposed to cooking the parcels on the BBQ. In this case I’d use foil, not plastic or paper.

baked oyster mushrooms

beautifully baked and fragrant, if you can ever call a mushroom “beautiful”

 

From Wikipedia:

“En papillote (French for “in parchment”), or al cartoccio in Italian, is a method of cooking  in which the food is put into a folded pouch or parcel and then baked. The parcel is typically made from folded parchement paper but other material, such as a paper bag or aluminum foil may be used. The parcel holds in moisture to steam the food. The pocket is created by overlapping circles of aluminum foil and parchment paper and then folding them tightly around the food to create a seal. A papillote should be opened at the table to allow people to smell the aroma when it opens.”


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how I got to be on TV

If you see where I live, atop a magical mountain in a rural area of Italy, you will find it quite surprising that anyone finds me at all.  And it’s probabaly even more surprising that myself and my family can make a living with our B&B and cooking classes. Mysteries of the internet, most likely.

Indeed, after having scrutinized my website statistics for years, I still have no idea how people ever gets to know about us.

Take last August, for example. I was in the car in front of a hardware shop waiting for my husband. He spends 50% of his time in the hardware shop. It was hot and I wanted to go home.

Then my cellphone rang. At the other side of the line someone with a velvety voice said “I am a TV film director”. And “we want to come next week to film one of your cooking classes for a BBC program”. Suddenly I did not feel that hot, but my head was spinning. No, I don’t often get phone calls from TV people.

A few days later I was walking in Santa Maria degli Angeli with a couple of newly wed Scottish people, Ruth and Stuart. Under the bright August sun, I was trying to tell them that I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, Umbria, and that I can have lots of great food here.

Right, easy peasy, this is my stuff, isn’t it?

In front of me a young crew of BBC TV people – headed by handsome John Bonny – was trying to convince me to stop hitting the microphone and to walk slowly without looking in the camera which was almost attached to my nose. Easily said than done: nr. 1 I am Italian and I talk with my hands, nr. 2 all the village people was looking at me walking with a TV crew. Try to concentrate on the camera when your butcher is watching.

escape to the continent Umbria01

Hot and clumsy and weird, my TV day went on. Do you know they put a furry microphone virtually in your bra? It did take me a while to get acquainted with the microphones.

We had to go into my friend’s Barbara shop to buy prosciutto and pecorino. That took about one hour because we never said the right thing about the pecorino and we had to repeat. Beautiful John had not given us a script.

escape to the continent1

Then we proceeded to my house to cook. We made stringozzi with a Norcina sauce. The original recipe only uses one egg, but we went through a whole box because we were not capable to break it in the right way. I was terrified we would run out of eggs. Until this very day I am not sure what’s the best way to break an egg for the camera.

escape to the continent Umbria07

Ruth and Stuart had moved house the day before, then they had jumped on a plane at 4:00 a.m. to come to Italy. We had been filming in the sun for several hours. No wonder we were starting to falter. Notwithstanding our clumsiness, John, his delightful assistant Bella and the rest of the crew stayed kind and smiling until the end. Only then I realized how difficult it must be to work with people who has no idea how to behave in front of a camera.escape to the continent Umbria11

Finally, we did manage. The pasta was cooked, stirred in the sauce, blanketed with truffle shavings. escape to the continent Umbria14

The best part – and it’s a pity it’s not on screen – was to see everybody’s eyes becoming soft because of the heavenly smell. It was way past dinner time. You could almost hear them salivating. Everybody relaxed. We shared a few forkfuls of pasta, they packed the cameras and left, leaving us with 5 failed pasta doughs and a few more stringozzi to cook.

escape to the continent Umbria17

Ruth and Stuart with my helper Maria who took care of the failed pasta doughs

And guess what? I asked John how he found out about me, and he said “on the internet”.

Of course. I shouldn’t have asked.

If one sits at the top of a mountain, someone, sometimes, will pass by.

 

PS. the program is named Escape to the Continent (Umbria), if you can’t access the link here, you might be able to  see it on BBC i-player or just google “Escape to the continent Umbria”. You can see me from approx min. 24

 

 

 

 

 

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