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



“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?


asparagus 101


spring on the plate: soft scrambled eggs with fragrant wild asparagus

With all the running around, worries and excitement about the new house I forgot to post my April article in The American in Italia magazine featuring another of my favorite recipes, Parmesan and asparagus eggs.

Please remember that if you don’t have wild asparagus or the season is over, you need to choose fairly thin green asparagus and use them as soon as possible so they stay fresh and crunchy. Remove the woody part of the stem, toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil per 1/2 pound asparagus and broil them for 15-20 min until just cooked through and slightly charred.Remove from under the grill, add some crushed garlic, cover and let them infuse for at least 10 min.

I use this method of preparation as a lovely side dish and for most of my asparagus recipes like risotto, spaghetti, and beef. I also chop them, mix them with equal weight of fresh ricotta and a couple of tablespoon grated Parmesan to use as a filling for ravioli or as a spread on crostini.

The picture below has nothing to do with the recipe. Its an Apsara, a heavenly dancer I got to know about during our winter trip in Cambodia. It’s just that I have this crazy name association between their name and my favorite vegetable. It’s becoming an obsession, but I promise, no more asparagus until next year!

An Apsara, a heavenly dancer of Hindu Mithology


meat and spinach cannelloni

authentic Italian cannelloni, a feast

Warning: mistreated recipe! If you have any intention of using those chewy curly no-boil lasagna,  lumpia/wanton wrappers, manicotti tubes, tortilla, frozen crepes or other horrors please don’t even read this recipe. In fact, you might want to go out for dinner or make mac n’ cheese.

Like lasagna, this is a labor-intensive pasta recipe. It’s a dish of sublime goodness which deserves to be revered and prepared with loving care for the appropriate (grand) occasion. The effort will be totally worthy, I promise you.

The success of this dish is based on high-quality ingredients, a restrained amount of sauce, a relatively dry but wonderfully savory filling. By the time it is ready to eat, the pasta should remain al dente.


  • 700 gr (forty 6- by 4-inch) fresh pasta rectangles or thin dry lasagna noodles
  • for soffritto: 1 onion, 1  celery rib, 1 carrot, all finely chopped
  • 700 gr (1.5 lb) good quality ground red meat. I use a mixture of pork and beef.
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 200 gr (7 oz)  sliced ham, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 500 gr (1 lb.) fresh spinach, blanched, dried and chopped
  • 60 gr (2 oz) finely grated Pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano plus two tablespoon for sprinkling.
  • 350 gr mozzarella or mild cow’s-milk cheese, sliced
  • 2/3 cup Bechamel sauce
  • 1.5 lt (6 cups) basic tomato sauce flavored with a handful of basil leaves


  1. Make tomato sauce and Bechamel
  2. Blanch spinach
  3. Slice ham, cheese and soffritto vegetables
  4. Make filling
  5. Blanch pasta sheets
  6. Assemble the cannelloni (see the full process here)
  7. Bake

If you use your own pasta sheets you will need to triple my basic pasta dough recipe. Make them the day before, let them dry completely, covered with a thick kitchen towel so they will not curl up and break.  Storing at room temperature is OK for one day, otherwise freeze the individual sheets and keep in a freezer box until needed.

As an alternative buy the thinnest possible lasagna noodles. Preparing the tomato sauce and blanched spinach in advance also helps with time management.

To make filling:

In a shallow heavy-bottomed pan saute onion, carrot and celery with two tablespoons extra virgin olive oil. This is called a soffritto. When the vegetables are translucent, increase heat, add ground meat and saute quickly until just starting to brown. Deglaze with white wine, season with salt, nutmeg and black pepper and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse ham, spinach and grated Parmesan until finely ground. Add to cooked ground meat together with 2-3 tablespoon tomato sauce. Do not use frozen spinach, they tend to retain too much water. If the filling is too moist the cannelloni will fall apart during cooking.

To assemble the cannelloni:

Bring a large pot of salted water to rolling boil, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Boil pasta 10 pieces at a time in a large pot, stirring lightly to separate, until just tender, about 1/2 minute for fresh pasta or about 3 minutes for dry noodles. Drain in a colander. Using thick rubber gloves gently transfer the pasta sheets on a clean work-top and lay them flat to cool. Preheat oven to  200 °C (400°F).

Spread about 2 tablespoon filling in a line along the diagonal of 1 pasta rectangle, top with a slice of mozzarella…..

homemade lasagna sheets used for cannelloni ready to be rolled

……then roll up to enclose filling.

cannelloni rolled nice and tight, ready to be placed in a baking dish

Transfer them to a baking dish arranging snugly in 1 layer. Spread cannelloni with a thin layer of tomato sauce, drizzle with Bechamel and sprinkle with 2 tablespoon  grated cheese. Bake in the middle of the oven until the sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes.

Let them stand 5 minutes before serving. Cannelloni are  ideal to serve a crowd, each piece just lifts out of the baking dish in a perfectly sized portion. In addition they can be frozen uncooked. Just make sure to thaw them completely before baking.

Serves 12-15.

heaven in a roll


arrosto riposato al timo

a succulent roast flavored with thyme, lemon and garlic

a succulent roast flavored with thyme, lemon and garlic

“RESTED” THYME AND GARLIC ROAST BEEF. This is definitely not a traditional Italian recipe. However, the resulting flavor is deeply Mediterranean without the effort of the slow cooking and basting endured by our mothers. The concept of the roast is that you must cook the meat briefly on high heat.  Then cover and let it rest in a draft free area of your kitchen. This way the  indirect heat of the pan cooks it some more but keeps it wonderfully tender.


  • 1 kg/2 pounds topside or silver side lean beef
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 6 fresh thyme sprigs
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • white wine
  • extra virgin olive oil

Bring the beef at room temperature. Preheat oven at 220 °C/430 °F.

To prepare the dressing, remove leaves of 4 thyme sprigs and place them in a bowl with the lemon juice, 3 tablespoon olive oil, 1 clove of finely minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste.

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 roast. Keep the pan covered so you do not mess up the stove!

When the roast is well browned on all sides add 5 unpeeled garlic cloves, 2 thyme sprigs and 1/2 cup white wine. Cover with a heavy lid and transfer into the preheated oven.

Roast for 30 min turning every 10 min adding more white wine if necessary. Remove from the oven and cover the meat quite tightly with foil and again with the lid. Let it rest for at least 15 min in a warm place then slice thinly and place the slices back into the pan. Squeeze the cooked garlic cloves out of their papery husks into the dressing. Drizzle the dressing over the meat and leave to infuse for 5-10 min.  Transfer slices and juices on a pre-heated dish and serve. The meat will be only slightly warm.

This recipe can be made with either fresh rosemary or sage or dried oregano instead of thyme.

Serves 4-6


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