madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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green ravioli with zucchini, ricotta, lemon-butter and honey

oh, joy!

oh, joy!

I fell in love with colored pasta this summer. May be because I have had so many adorable children taking part at our cooking classes. They love surprises.

I have had giggling babies who obviously did not cook but seeemed to enjoy every minute of the action. One slept peacefully in a sling on the back of his mum while she was rolling the pasta. I have had 6 years old London from Los Angeles who screamed in delight at the sight of fettuccini being born out of the pasta machine.

For the 3rd time in 3 years, I have had S. who is Belgian, speaks fluently English and Spanish and will teach you how to greet in Arabic. He’s 7 and makes ravioli like a pro.

I have had a bunch of youngsters who can chop and stir like TV stars. Like Ian who equals flavors to colors because he’s a painter. And wolfs down cave-aged pecorino like it was a Mars bar.

I am in love with every one of them. They are so gentle, so competent, so intense when they cook. And note, I don’t do children classes, they do grown ups food.

I really am fortunate for sharing so many happy moments in my kitchen. So many smiles of families who come and go and bring away  a little piece of my heart with them. I treasure all my little (and no so little) friends.

Green pasta dough:

  • 60 gr cooked (3 tablespoon) spinach
  • 320 gr (1 and 3/4 cup) 00 flour
  • 3 large eggs

Ravioli filling

  • 2 medium zucchini (approx 400 gr) diced
  • 120 gr (4 oz) ricotta
  • 3-4 tablespoon grated Parmesan
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 2-3 leaves basil

Lemon butter sauce

  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon heavy cream
  • a 2 inch-long strip lemon zest chopped very finely
  • 2 tablespoon  lemon juice
  • 2  tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley to garnish
  • 2 teaspoon honey to drizzle

For the ravioli filling:

Sautè zucchini in 1 tablespoon olive oil until just starting to become golden. Take off the heat, add one finely minced garlic clove and a few thorn basil leaves. Set aside to infuse. When at room temperature,  pulse chop in a food processor together with the ricotta and two tablespoons Parmesan until creamy.

For the pasta dough:

Steam or boil spinach, drain and make sure to remove all excess moisture from the leaves by squeezing really hard in your hands. Whisk  eggs in a bowl and reserve.

In a food processor blend the flour and spinach at high speed until you have a light green powder. Add eggs to the mixture until it forms a ball. You might not need all the eggs. In fact, depending on the size of the eggs and moisture of the spinach it might be necessary to regulate the amount of liquid in order to obtain a firm dough.

Alternatively purè the spinach first in a blender, then mix all ingredients on a lightly floured surface,  knead the dough, incorporating additional flour as necessary, until smooth and flexible, minimum 20 minutes. The dough can be used immediately but may be made in advance and covered with a cotton tea towel. A resting period relaxes the gluten in the dough and makes it easier to roll it.

Make the ravioli:

Roll the pasta dough into rectangular strips as explained here

fascinating, isn't it?

Put teaspoons of the zucchini and cheese filling about 5 cm (2 inches) apart on the sheet so that you can make a “parcel” by folding over the pasta sheet. Using a ravioli wheel cutter seal each parcel by cutting on three sides (the fourth is the fold).  Carefully place the ravioli on a dry cotton towel taking care that they do not overlap otherwise they will stick to each other.

green ravioli2

Cook and sauce:

Heat the butter, zest and juice in a saucepan pan over low heat until the butter is melted. Add cream and remove from heat.

Cook the ravioli in salted boiling water for 3 minutes. Strain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water and transfer in the saucepan on medium heat.

Briefly stir to absorb the sauce. Add the Parmesan and a 1/2 ladle  of the reserved pasta water and stir some more on high heat until the liquid is absorbed. See also my video to know to cook and sauce pasta the Italian way.

Plate, sprinkle with chopped flat leaf parsley, a drizzle of your good olive oil and few drops of raw artisan honey.

Serves 4.

beautifully green and light whith just a touch of lemony sauce

beautifully green and light whith just a touch of lemony sauce


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Traditional Italian Easter dove bread

Colomba, the heavenly Easter sweet bread from Italy

Colomba, the heavenly Easter sweet bread from Italy

COLOMBA PASQUALE FATTA IN CASA.

You may not be the most beautiful dove but you have a sweet, buttery heart. You may not be not the softest but I have made you with stone-ground artisan flour, organic sugar and eggs, homemade candied orange peel and only 1/4 teaspoon yeast. I’ve made you with love and all the necessary time.

Actually, I did not have the time for you. Tomorrow we open our B&B. In the last few days I have laundered 30 blankets, cleaned, waxed and polished every object and piece of furniture and stocked the refrigerator and larder. I am tired and sleepless but I wanted to make something good for my family for Easter.

On second thought, there is always time for something good.

Recipe

Poolish (pre-ferment):

  • 60 gr flour (scant 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoon yogurt with live cultures (e.g. a probiotic)
  • enough water to make a very thick batter (1 and 1/2 to 2 tablespoon)
  • 1 gr ( 1/4 teaspoon) dry yeast

1st dough:

  • 260 gr ( 1 and 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoon) good-quality strong flour
  • 75 gr (1/4 cup) light brown sugar
  • 100 gr (4/5 stick) butter
  • 100 ml (2/5 cup) water at room temperature
  • 1 egg

2nd dough:

  • 60 gr flour (scant 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoon soft butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Glaze

  • 1/2 cup regular sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch

Decoration

  • 1/2 cup whole almonds
  • icing sugar
  • 4 tablespoon chopped candied orange peel

Colomba, the Easter dove shaped bread, was invented in 1930 by Angelo Motta to extend the success of industrially produced pandoro and panettone. All of them are descendents of the brioche-like sweet breads made for the Italian Renaissance courts some 500 years ago.

In our home, we stay away from mass-produced holidays breads. As I mentioned in my breadmaker Pandoro recipe, commercial Christmas breads that have a shelf life of a year, can’t possibly be healthy for you.

Making such a large brioche is work and time intensive. I simplified the method using the dough cycle of my bread-maker as follows:

Day 1, early afternoon

In a glass or ceramic bowl mix the poolish ingredients, cover with a tea towel and let it rest until evening. As I am using only a minimal amount of yeast you will see a very small increase of volume, don’t worry. This allows for flexibility in the preparation. The dough raises so slowly that if you do anything one hour later nothing gets spoiled. In addition the dough has the time to develop flavor with hardly any acidity.

Early evening

Assemble all ingredients for 1st Dough in the bread-maker and add the poolish. Start the shortest dough cycle (mine takes 2.2 hours). After 10 min or so open the lid quickly to check if the dough has formed, close and leave it there until the next day. You might need to add more water as not all flours absorb the same amount of moisture. You need to have a soft dough.

Day 2, morning

Open the bread-maker lid and add all ingredients for 2nd Dough to the previous one. Start the dough cycle once again. When finished leave it in the breadmaker with the lid closed.

Day 2, afternoon

Transfer the dough onto a floured worktop. The dough is very soft at this stage. Use a plastic flat spatula to handle it. Lightly knead in the candied orange peel.

Transfer the dough  into a generously buttered dove-shaped mold. The first time I made this recipe, I did not have the dove mold, so I cut it into 3 cylinders, a longer one for the body and two for the wings. I then shaped it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper as shown in the picture.

if you don't have a dove mold, use parchment paper and 4 ramekins to keep it in shape

if you don’t have a dove mold, use parchment paper and ramekins to keep it in shape.

If you find a mold you will need one that can hold a 750 gr cake (7- 8 cups, 11 x 8 inches).

Cover carefully with a light tea towel and let it raise for another hour or so in a draft-free area of your kitchen.

For the glaze: mix sugar, cornstarch and enough water to make a thick paste. Drizzle or pipe the glaze over the dove. Be gentle or it will deflate! Sprinkle the surface with whole almonds, a few additional slivers of candied peel and icing sugar or sugar pearls.

Bake in preheated oven at 170 °C (340 °F) for 40 min or until beautifully golden. Cool at room temperature and unmold several hours later or the next day.

HAPPY EASTER!

thsi is the Colomba in its proper dove shape mould

this is the Colomba in its proper dove shape mould


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broccoli meatloaf

broccoli meatloaf

oh-so-yummy and full of goodness

Every time I make meatloaf I have to think of my friend AnnMarie. A sophisticated American-Italian from New York, she told me that her mum would serve meatloaf only to family.

Apparently she did not consider it presentable to guests due to its lack of elegance. The remark caused a certain level of worry as the dish had been ruthlessly celebrated in my house – and with pride – as one of the best inventions to be placed on a dinner table.

This was a long time ago, more than 20 years. Meanwhile something must have happened as the meatloaf has been voted in 2007 the seventh-favorite dish in the US. Someone must have decided to stop keeping it to themselves.

This is our official family meatloaf, stuffed with fragrant broccoli which  are in season now. You can of course use other veggies like asparagus or green beans. It’s actually a fabulous dish for entertaining as you can prepare and cook it a day ahead.

Slice it one hour before serving and pop it in the microwave for a few minutes just to soften it. Don’t over-warm it though. It will fall apart and lose its good looks.

Recipe

  • 600 gr ( 1.3 lb) minced pork, beef or a mixture of both
  • 120 gr  (1/2 cup) seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 3-4 tablespoon milk
  • half a teaspoon salt
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • 100 gr (3.5 oz) mild cheese like caciotta or provola, diced
  • 60 gr (2 oz)  guanciale (sub. with pancetta if not available)
  • 300 gr broccoli (about 1 small head) cleaned and divided into florets
  • 1  garlic clove, finely minced

Blanch broccoli in plenty boiling water for 5 min. Drain and sauté in 1 tablespoon olive oil and garlic for 1 min or until just fragrant. Season lightly.

Preheat oven at 200 °C (390 °F).

Combine meat, egg, milk, black pepper and salt with bread crumbs. Mix with your hands until the mixture is cohesive.

Butter generously a 1.2 lt (5 cups) terrine or loaf mold. Reserve about 1/4 of the meat and use the rest to fill the bottom and sides of the mould, making a 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick compact layer.  Line the ground-meat case with slices of guanciale (or pancetta) overlapping edges slightly and leaving a 2 cm (1 inch) overhang on the sides.

Note: in a classic French terrine the fat is used to line the mould. In this recipe the fat is used inside the meat case to give flavor to the filling.

Now fill all the rest of the space with broccoli and diced cheese. Press down the filling to avoid gaps. Cover the filling with the overhanging pancetta followed by the rest of the ground-meat. Brush the top layer of meat with a small amount of melted butter and bake uncovered for 40 min or until starting to become golden around the sides.

Cool off completely. Slice and serve as explained above.

Serves 4-6

PS. Please don’t ask me a sauce. If you must have tomatoes, serve the meatloaf with a mound of cherry tomatoes dressed in fruity olive oil piled over toasted crusty bread. Or over mashed potatoes. I promise you, it’s enough for a glorious meal.

the beautiful slices

the beautiful slices


Google


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the chicken whisperer

view of my hometown Perugia from my parent's place (photo T. di Luca)

view of my hometown Perugia from my parents place (photo T. di Luca)

CHICKEN ALLA CACCIATORA a.k.a HUNTER STYLE or  CHICKEN CACCIATORE.

I spent my youth in a huge house overlooking my hometown Perugia. My parents where civil servants and in their free time took care of the large garden, the olive trees and the pets.

To be precise, my father took care of breeding the pets and my mother fought against the proliferation of pets. We had a dog and a cat and the occasional gold-fish of course. Even a guinea pig once.

That was fine with my mum.

The dog and the cat were actually treated to pasta al ragù just like us. Even with a sprinkle of Parmesan on top.

The problem was, my father had pet chickens. They were allowed to do anything they wanted. He talked to them.  They kept each other company. They – the chickens – ravaged the geraniums.

We never ate them. You don’t kill your pets do you? Occasionally he would deem one of the oldies suitable for a meal. They were so tough they were invariably only good for stock. For a roast or a stew like this one, she went to the market and bought a good freeranger from her favorite butcher.

And planted new geraniums.

Recipe

  • 1/2 free-ranging chicken cut into serving pieces
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon capers,
  • 4 tablespoon spoon good quality olives, not pitted
  • 1 sprig rosemary,
  • a handful sage leaves
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • zest of 1/4 lemon
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • extra virgin olive oil

Using a large thick bottom or non stick pan, sear chicken pieces in one tablespoon olive oil until golden on all sides. Good quality chicken should not produce any fat, but if it does drain it and wipe clean the pan before proceeding.

Turn heat to low, return chicken to the pan, add onion and stir frequently until caramelized.  Add minced garlic cloves, capers, olives, rosemary and sage leaves.

Please don’t use the inexpensive, pizza style, bland black olives. They are generally unripe green olives that have been dyed with iron salts (ferrous gluconate) after artificial ripening.

Season with just a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

When everything is fragrant add one cup of wine, cover and simmer very slowly until the chicken is tender. This might take 45 min to 1 and 1/2 hours depending on size and quality of the bird. Add some water if the sauce gets too dry while simmering.

When ready to serve add the lemon juice and zest and balsamic vinegar. Taste and add more lemon if desired as it brings out the flavor of all other ingredients.

This dish is lovely with a side of steamed greens dressed with a fruity extra virgin and a splash of lemon juice if you like. If you need your starch, accompany it with homemade potato puree or polenta. Italians would never serve it on pasta or rice.

Serves 3-4 depending on initial size of chicken.

 

add the wine at this stage, when all other ingredients are fragrant

add the wine at this stage, when all other ingredients are fragrant

 

This recipe is submitted to the #TuscanyNowCookOff  competition


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spaghetti with salmon and brandy

spaghetti in a light cream and tomato sauce with a dash of brandy

I am born in a time – early 60s if you are curious – when food was not too fashionable.

I still remember the arrival of cream in my life. My mum did not use cream, she was Sicilian. By her law, a sauce is red and must be made with tomato and olive oil. A stick of butter lasted easily a couple of months in our fridge as she had no use for it. Cake was for winter and gelato -4 or 5 flavors, not 30 like now – was for summer. A simple life.

Then the 70’s and ’80s exploded with all sorts of sophistication. Tortellini with cream and ham, crepes rolled with Bechamel and champignons, tiramisu, pannacotta. White was the new red and it was everywhere.

This recipes is oh so ’70 that is almost forbidden. Modern pasta is often naked, no tomato, no cream, a few extravagant ingredients scattered on top of some mysterious watery juice. Alchemic, interesting, but rarely suitable to real life.

This one is good for any day, my husband loves it. Please note the quality of the ingredients and the modest amounts of condiments which are necessary to achieve balance.

Recipe

  • 250 gr  good quality spaghetti (possibly bronze drawn)
  • 1 small onion, diced very finely
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil plus extra for finishing.
  •  300 gr (10 oz) canned diced tomato (about 2/3 of a can)
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2-3 tablespoon brandy
  • 100 gr (3 oz) smoked wild salmon, diced
  • 1 fresh red chili pepper, sliced (optional)
  • 2 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley

Using a shallow pan – a frying pan with high sides is ideal – saute the garlic and onion in 1 tablespoon olive oil over very low heat. If the onion starts browning deglaze with a little white wine. Add the diced tomato, cover and simmer until a little thicker, about 5 min. Add salmon and cream, bring back to simmering temperature and switch off, you don’t want to cook the flavor of the salmon away. The whole preparation should take no more than 7-8 min.

Meanwhile cook the spaghetti according to package instructions until al dente. When the pasta is cooked, turn the heat under the sauce pan to high. Drain the pasta and transfer into the sauce pan.  Add chili pepper now, if using.

Stir the pasta quickly into the sauce as explained here. Add some pasta water – up to one tablespoon per person – and stir some more until the excess liquid is absorbed. Add a generous dash of brandy  and stir again to incorporate. Sprinkle with parsley . Serve on warm plates with a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 2-3

voilà, one my favorite summer pasta


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spinach and pasta soup

emerald goodness

This is a healthy, refreshing and quite good-looking soup. It’s one of my desperation recipes, meaning that I make it when desperately needing a nutritious and light meal in hardly any time. I often keep a bag of pre-washed spinach in the fridge, but I would not snob some good quality frozen ones, possibly organic.

I often use fresh pasta leftovers which I dry on a towel for a day or two and then roughly crush them with my hands to give it a rustic look. Bought fresh egg-noodles of any shape you like will do just fine, no crushing needed.

What makes the dish is that drizzle of olive oil at the end. The fruity creaminess of the oil brings out the herby intensity of the spinach.

This is a perfect occasion to open that bottle of olive oil you bought during your last holidays in Umbria.

Please don’t be tempted to cook the pasta in the soup, it will be chewy, you want it silky. Fresh noodles cook in no time so it’s not an effort.

If you are gluten free, this is a good recipe to use boiled rice leftovers too. As a further alternative,  you could substitute the pasta with two tablespoon cooked cannellini beans per person. Just warmed them first in a pan with a little garlic and olive oil before gently float them on the soup.

Recipe

  • 1/2 kg (1 lb) spinach
  • 1 onion
  • 1 lt ( 1 quart) boiling water or stock
  • 1 teaspoon flour or corn starch
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) fresh pasta noodles per person
  • 2 teaspoon freshly grated Parmesan per person
  • a good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Dice the onion and soften it in two tablespoon olive oil in a  saucepan which must be large enough to hold the soup. Add the cleaned spinach leaves, cover and simmer slowly until the greens are wilted. Add flour or starch and stir. Add the boiling water or stock, simmer 3-4 more minutes, season and puree until smooth. Cover to keep warm.

In a separate pan cook the noodles in plenty salted boiling  water until al dente. Fresh tagliolini will take no more than one minute.  Drain and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil. Now quickly ladle the spinach puree into bowls, add the pasta, a sprinkle of grated Parmesan, drizzle with good EVO oil and serve immediately.

Serves 4

here, with your sprinkle of cheese


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white lasagna with zucchini

light summer lasagna filled with goodness. It almost counts for vegetables ;)

LASAGNA BIANCA ALLE ZUCCHINE.

You are looking for a zucchini recipe, are you? Are you getting weekly gifts of zucchini from your gardening friends? What should you do with it? Everybody is looking for a zucchini recipe at this time of the year.

Zucchini are exploding right now, growing at light speed, overflowing the market stalls.  I never tire of them though,  crispy and delicate, they can be used to add crunch and lightness to almost everything.

This is a fabulous recipe – and a very easy one – that can actually be adapted to all sort of greens like asparagus, artichokes, broccoli, whatever the season brings you.

Before starting however, please read my basic lasagna recipe. I will briefly remind you that to make good lasagna you need fresh lasagna noodles which must be blanched in boiling water before layering them with a modest, and I repeat modest, amount of condiments. Love yourself and don’t listen to Kraft telling you to take shortcuts.

Making a proper  lasagna might seem intimidating and time consuming, but it’s actually a breeze if one has good ingredients and follows a logical order in the preparation. In addition, lasagna freezes really well, so you can make it in advance and give some to your gardening friends as a gift :) .

Recipe

  • 450 gr / 1 lb zucchini sliced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 3-4 leaves fresh basil
  • 100 gr (3.5 oz) grated Parmesan cheese plus 2 tablespoon
  • 1 and 1/2 cup Bechamel sauce
  • 250 gr (1/2 lb)  young cows milk cheese like caciotta, thinly sliced
  • 250 gr ( 1/2 lb)  fresh lasagna noodles
  • 120 gr (1/4 lb) ham, finely sliced then shredded

First of all empty your worktop so to have ample space to work.

Prepare  condiments:

  1.  Sautee zucchini in 1 tablespoon olive oil until slices just start to become golden . Make sure to use a relatively large non-stick pan so the zucchini will cook quickly and don’t boil in their own water. Add a pinch of salt, one finely minced clove of garlic and a few torn basil leaves, stir quickly and as soon as it is fragrant transfer into the bowl of a food processor .
  2. Make 1 and 1/2 cup of fairly liquid Bechamel sauce, season with salt and a pinch of nutmeg.
  3. Pulse chop the cooked zucchini until finely diced, add 2/3 of the Bechamel and 100 gr (3.5  oz)  grated Parmesan.

Assemble lasagna:

  1. Preheat the oven at 200 °C (400 F). Butter generously a 30 x 22 cm (12 x 8 inch) roasting tin.
  2. To blanch the pasta sheets, place a shallow pan, half full with water on the heat and bring to the boil. Using thongs, deep one lasagna noodle 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 1/3 of the zucchini mixture over the pasta sheets and spread it in a 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) layer. Top with  1/3 of the sliced caciotta and 1/3 of the shredded ham. Repeat two more times using all of the zucchini mixture, ham and sliced cheese.
  4. Top with one last layer of pasta sheets, cover thinly with the rest of the Bechamel, sprinkle with two tablespoon of Parmesan and bake for 25 min or until bubbly and golden around the sides.

Serve 4 as a main 6 as a primo  ( first corse)

For a vegetarian version substitute ham with smoked cheese or gorgonzola.

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