madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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.


  • 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.


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.


  • 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



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)


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.


  • 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


“falsomagro” stuffed roast beef

how to arrange the stuffing

This is another recipe of the clever Italian mammas of the past. It’s called falsomagro or farsumagru a term referring to stuffed lean meat.

The stuffing was not meant to create fancy food. It was a way to stretch portions to feed the family using inexpensive ingredients such as inferior cut meats, bread, a little fat, a bit of cheese. My grandma, a young widow in postwar Sicily, fed her six children like kings by stuffing everything with bread.

Despite its modest background, the falsomagro is a splendid dish. It’s tasty in a very Southern, garlicky, herby, Italian way. It’s a great dish for a party as it can be prepared in advance and served at room temperature. And because of its inner surprises, it’s also somewhat healthy as the portion of red meat is relatively small.


  • 1 kg (2 lb) beef
  • 30 gr ( 1 oz) guanciale (subst. with pancetta or spicy salami), thinly sliced
  • 6 tablespoon seasoned bread crumbs
  • 250 gr ( 1/2 lb) mild cheese like caciotta (subst. with young provolone) sliced
  • 2 organic hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts
  • 1/2 tablespoon raisins
  • 2 medium onions quartered
  • dry white wine, extra virgin olive oil, salt and black pepper
  • special equipment: kitchen string and parchment paper or two oven bags

For this recipe I ask my butcher 2 large slices of beef, approx. 25 x 25 x 1 cm ( 10 x 10 x 1/2 inch). Honestly, I have no idea which cut he gives me as he always disappears in the back of the shop to prepare it. I do trust him blindly as he is the best butcher in town.

Each slice makes one roll which is more than enough for 4 people.  For about the same effort, I  always make 2 rolls and I freeze any leftover for another meal.

Before stuffing, place the meat on a cutting board and beat it flat with a meat pounder or other heavy object of your liking.

Arrange the slices of guanciale over the slices, sprinkle with bread crumbs, pine nuts and raisins, then top with the cheese, eggs and a twist or two of black pepper. Now roll it. Beginning with the side nearest you, roll up the slice, gently pressing on the filling and making sure it does not  slip out from ends.  Tie the roll crosswise with string at 1.5 cm (3/4-inch) intervals, then tie one time lengthwise.

Preheat oven at 220 °C/430 °F.

Heat a cast iron 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 rolls. I prefer to brown one roll at the time, but it’s up to you. Keep the pan covered to avoid messing up  your cooktop!

Using thongs or thick plastic gloves transfer each rolls on a sheet of parchment paper or inside an oven bag. Season rolls with salt and pepper, arrange a quartered onion along each roll, sprinkle with one tablespoon white wine then seal the paper parcel or oven bag and transfer in an oven tin.

the falsomagro rolls wrapped in oven paper. In Italy it's called Carta Fata, but you can use oven bags instead.

the falsomagro rolls wrapped in oven paper. In Italy it's called Carta Fata, but you can use oven bags instead.

Roast for 30 min turning once. Remove from the oven. The parcels will have puffed up with steam. Cover with a lid and let them rest 20 more minutes while indirect heat will cook the meat some more but keep it moist. This will also stabilize the rolls. Note that if you slice them when they are still hot, they will fall apart.

When cool enough to handle, cut the parcels open and pour the cooking juices and onion in the casserole which you have used to brown the rolls. Reduce over hight heat until creamy and liquidize with a blender. Pour onto a serving plate. Slice rolls and arrange on top of the sauce on the serving plate.  Cover with foil until ready to eat or briefly rewarm in the microwave.

Serves 8.

the falsomagro roast in all its rustic beauty


Gloria’s peposo stew

meltingly tender, the Tuscan peposo stew served with crispy roast potatoes

This is a guest blog post from my dear friend Gloria, an eclectic, ironic and multi-talented  Tuscan. She is a linguist pursuing an academic career, runs a popular travel blog, a couple of holiday rentals, collaborates to all sort of other projects I’ve lost track of, and she is – of course – an excellent cook.   I have tasted and loved this hearty stew at her country home in Southern Tuscany. It’s perfect for a chilly fall evening after a long walk in the woods.

Il Peposo, also known as Peposo del Chianti or Peposo alla Fornacina, is one of the most ancient dishes of the Tuscan cuisine. Despite the fact that it is a meat dish, it belongs in all respects to the “cucina povera”, that is, the culinary tradition of the humble households which resorted to simple, inexpensive and easily available ingredients.

Il Peposo was traditionally a hearty meal for the kiln workers of the Chianti (hence the name Peposo del Chianti). They spent long hours by the kiln making terracotta tiles and utensils and they took advantage of the heat from their ovens to slow cook the meat in pots placed just outside the kilns (hence the name Peposo alla Fornacina, as fornace is an Italian word for kiln).

In the area where my village is located, south of Siena, on the border with the Maremma, Peposo was usually eaten by wood charcoal burners. They would place their pots of Peposo on top of the turf piles under which the wood was slowly burning. In the woods which surround the village, some of the old wood charcoal burning sites are still visible in the growing underwood, and it is quite common to see pieces of broken terracotta pots scattered around the ground.

Peposo is a very easy dish to prepare. It can be prepared either  in a terracotta pot in the oven or in a pot with a heavy lid on the stove (that is what I do, which is also the traditional way around here). For this dish, you need a “poor” cut of meat rather than a tender, good quality cut, because, otherwise, the meat would melt in the slow cooking process. Traditionally, Peposo was made with scraps: the “worst” pieces of beef meat that were relatively cheap to buy. Stewing steak, better if with a bit of fat or callosity, is usually ideal. If you can only find a good cut of beef, then it’s necessary to reduce the cooking time. With the right type of meat, you will typically need 3 hours.


  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 handful of sage leaves
  • 450gr ( 1 lb) of beef meat, cut in approx.  1 inch x 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 lt (2 cups) red table wine (best if a modest Chianti)
  • 1 lt (4 cups) hot water

Preheat the olive oil in a Dutch oven and briefly sauté the garlic cloves. Add the peppercorns, the sage and the meat and sear for 5 minutes, until the meat has a nice brownish colour on all sides. Pour in the wine, cover and let it simmer on very low heat or in the oven at 150 °C (300 F°). 
When the wine starts to reduce, add 4 cups (1 lt) hot water and let simmer slowly for 2 hours, checking regularly to see that the liquid has not evaporated completely.

If the liquid dries up, add some more water to cover the meat. After 2 – 2 1/2 hours, remove the lid, and let the liquid evaporate until the meat is left in a thick brown juice. There is usually no need to add salt.

Some people add a few tomatoes to the meat, which results in a creamier dish.
 Il Peposo is best accompanied by a good, hearty red wine, and possibly a salad to compensate for the rich taste of the meat. Some people serve Peposo on stale or toasted Tuscan bread. If you choose to do that, don’t let the juices evaporate completely.

Buon appetito!
Serves 2-3

a country walk and a good dinner afterwards, what else do you need?


beef straccetti with asparagus and spring onions

Umbria Agricultural Fair: majestic Chianina bull, an ancient breed from Central Italy wheighing up to 1700 kg/ 3700 lb and up to 1.8 m / 6 feet tall


Spring, spring, spring! Quick, quick, quick! Who wants to be inside with this beautiful weather? Who wants a complicated dinner when there’s lavender to prune, petunias to plant, dry leaves to sweep?

I love this dish, it’s light and juicy, it has the crunch and aroma of my favorite vegetables and it’s ready in 10 min. The term “straccetti” means small rags, referring to the messy shape of the thin strips of beef. I use carpaccio from Chianina, the powerful cows raised by the Etruscans and Romans 2000 years ago and respected ever since for beauty and quality.

Serve the straccetti on a bed of boiled grains  and you will have a wholesome Italian stir fry. Here I buy a mixture of farro, barley and brown rice which is parboiled and cooks in only 12 min.


  • 200 gr. / 6 oz very thinly sliced beef
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 350 gr / 2/3 lb green asparagus, woody stalks removed
  • 3-4 spring onions sliced

I hope you are lucky and you have a gorgeous spring out there. Should you be able to tear yourself from all that beauty, cut the meat slices into strips, place them in a bowl, add the lemon juice, one crushed garlic clove, two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, toss to distribute the marinade and set aside. Refrigerate if you plan to marinade for more than one hour.

Clean the asparagus, toss them with one tablespoon of EVO oil and broil under a grill until just beginning to char but still bright green. Take out of the oven, add one finely minced clove of garlic and cover to infuse.

Now you can go outside and sit on your balcony or plant the petunias. When is almost time for dinner, bring the meat at room temperature and cut the asparagus in 5 cm / 2 inch long pieces. Slice the spring onions and soften them in a tiny bit of EVO oil, increase the heat to very high, add the beef strips  -marinade and all – and stir vigorously until just starting to color. Add the asparagus and their juices and stir some more until just warm. Serve immediately, it’s for 2-3 gardeners.

so good, so easy.


duck breast in a rosemary, balsamic and citrus-marinade

tender balsamic and citrus-marinated duck breast

I have to admit I am not a bird (eating) person. Not that  I don’t like fowl, but I find the conditions of intensive chicken farming appalling, health threatening and generally sad (for more enlightenment check also here). We only ever eat organic eggs and the occasional free-ranging chicken.

The second obstacle is that I don’t have a guinea pig. I mean, my better half –  who is the principal judge and victim of my gastronomic experiments –  does not like food with small bones. This excludes birds and fish on the bone from our family meals, unless I eat it all by myself. Not practical.

Duck breast is a perfect compromise, not only it’s virtually boneless, but it’s intensely flavorful and surprisingly easy to make. This is my foolproof recipe based on a classic French sweet and sour marinade. I have twisted it with Italian ingredients and herbs and I must say it is rather lovely.


  • one 1/2 kg (1 lb) duck breast with skin
  • 1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed


  • Juice of 1/2 lemon or of 1 orange
  • 3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon red wine
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • 3 tablespoon extra virgin live oil

In a bowl large enough to fit the breast snugly, mix the marinade ingredients, add the garlic cloves and whole rosemary sprigs. Place the duck breast in the marinade skin side up, cover and marinade in the refrigerator overnight.

Remove the duck breast from the marinade, pat dry and transfer skin side down into a heavy pan, better if cast iron. Reserve the marinade.

Cook the breast on low heat for at least 5 min. Be patient as the duck fat renders out slowly melting onto the bottom of the pan. This is the most important phase of the cooking by which you get lovely crispy skin. If the skin burns too soon the breast will taste fatty and rubbery.

When the skin turns golden, remove the breast, quickly drip away the fat and wipe the pan with kitchen paper. Now you need to be fast. Bring the heat to high, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sear the skinless side of the breast all over until slightly brown, about 2 min. Pour the marinade in the pan and reduce, it will take less than 1/2 min.

Remove the pan from heat but leave it on the stove, cover with a lid and 1 or 2 folded kitchen towels. You want to keep the pan as warm as possible. The breast will finish to cook with the indirect heat of the pan and will keep wonderfully moist. Wait for 5- 10 min, then slice thinly and serve.

1 breast with a side of vegetables and roast potatoes feeds 4 modest meat eaters.


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