madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


cappelletti pasta with kamut

cappelletti, winter delight of every Umbrian home

I have been keeping this post for one of those rare days when I have enough time in my hands. I wanted quiet and concentration to explain in sufficient detail what might be one of the best pasta recipes in the world. To tell you that cappelletti, the Umbrian diminuitive version of tortellini, is pasta Nirvana.

Well. We are snowed in. We have no car because it has seriously broken down just before the storm. Most of Italy is under the snow so the replacement parts will not be arriving for a while. The rare phone call is of friends wanting to know if we are all right. The next shop is 8 km downhill on a windy road presently covered by ice and almost a foot of snow. We are not going anywhere.

The term cappelletti, means little hats. In Umbria they are generally made for Christmas. I know families who make a few thousands of them and keep them in the freezer to enjoy during the winter months. They are better served in a chicken or capon stock. However, I am not opposed to a dressing of truffle shavings in olive oil or a good porcini sauce.

In my quest of wheat free alternatives, I have made these cappelletti  with organic kamut flour also named khorasan. The recipe works as well, if not a little easier, with regular flour. To choose the right type of flour, please make sure to read my flour tips here.

To freeze, place them individually on floured plastic trays until hard, then transfer into sealed bags or tupperwares so you can scoop as many as you need. Boil in plenty stock or salted water for 3 min. slightly less if fresh.


For the filling

  • 120 gr / 4 oz. each of ground turkey breast, lean beef and pork
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 60 gr / 2 oz. each charcuterie boiled ham, mortadella, grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • a pinch nutmeg, salt, black pepper

Heat a shallow heavy-bottomed pan, add  two tablespoon olive oil and saute the ground meats on medium-high heat until just starting to brown. If you cook the meat too slowly it will release liquid, loose flavor and feel like sawdust.

Increase heat to maximum, deglaze with white wine, season with salt, nutmeg, a pinch of black pepper and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse the cooked meat, ham, mortadella and grated Parmesan until finely ground.

For the pasta dough:

  • 3 eggs
  • 300 gr kamut flour (khorasan)
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil

Using the ingredients above, make my food processor pasta dough and roll it into thin sheets using a pasta machine. Cover the sheets with a cotton tea towel. Kamut pasta sheets dry quickly and tend to break, so you need to work faster than when using regular flour.

Now follow the instructions in the photo captions below. Click on one of the picture to start the slideshow.

This recipe makes 350 cappelletti. You will need about 25 per person, so you either have a feast or freeze 3 heavenly family dinners for 4 and 1 tete a tete.

kamut cappelletti on the left, wheat cappelletti on the right


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


polpettine di maiale

tiny pork meatballs, a staple of our family

tiny pork meatballs, a staple of our family

PORK MEATBALLS. This is our family’s recipe beloved by old and young.  For parties, I make them small like a walnut and fry them in olive oil , they make great finger food. In any case, Italians tend to eat quite small meatballs, shaped in 2 inches wide by 1 inch thick disks. I use finely minced pork neck  which has just enough fat for flavor and texture.


  • 300 gr. minced pork
  • 2 tabsp parsley finely chopped
  • 2 tabsp bread crumbs
  • 2 tabsp freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 tabsp milk
  • 1  garlic clove minced through a garlic press
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Using wet hands, form mixture into small balls (1 inch diam).  Shallow fry or transfer on a baking dish lined with parchement paper and bake at 180 °C  (350° F) until golden. They are good like this in their garlicky crunchiness but you can simmer them 10 min in tomato sauce if you wish. Sprinkle with fresh basil leaves before serving.

Serves 2-3

crunchy yummy meatballs

crunchy yummy and so very Italian


black-rice and spelt minestrone

a vegetarian minestrone with farro and black rice

a healthy vegetarian minestrone with farro and black rice

MINESTRONE WITH FORBIDDEN RICE AND FARRO. Minestrone is a most democratic recipe, every region, town or family has their own which they will obviously consider as the best.  Regardless of the many variations however,  a good minestrone is  based on the combination of three elements: beans, vegetables and grains cooked in a vegetable or meat stock. In the past, the main ingredients were slow cooked until soft and virtually unrecognizable and reinforced with fatty meat trimmings like pork rind. Modern minestrone is more often made respecting the individual flavor, texture and cooking time of the ingredients and flavored with fresh herbs and peppery olive oil.

Here, instead of pasta, I use farro and black forbidden rice, an ancient Chinese variety of rice now cultivated in Italy with the alluring name of Venere rice. It has a high fiber content and a lovely nutty taste.


  • 1 large onion, thin
ly sliced
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 rib celery, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup flowerets of cauliflower (about 1/4 head)
  • ¼ head of cabbage, leaves julienned
  • 1  zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 cup  cooked borlotti beans, well rinsed and drained if canned
  • ½ cup peeled and diced tomato
  • ½ cup diced potato
  • 1/2 cup of any other vegetable available in season (e.g. peas or green beans)
  • ½ cup farro and 1/2 cup rice OR 1 cup farro
  • 4 cups water or stock
  • 2 tablespoon parsley and/or basil finely chopped
  • 1/2 slice toasted Italian bread/person
  • 1 large garlic clove, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan/person

In a large heavy saucepan make a soffritto by cooking onion, carrots and celery in olive oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until pale golden. Add all other ingredients and simmer until fragrant. Add hot water or stock, cover and continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until the soup is thickened and the grains are cooked, about 30 min. Season soup with salt and pepper.

NB. Spring vegetable, like asparagus, peas or other delicate beans, should be added only for the last 10 min of simmering, in order to avoid overcooking. Some brands of farro and wild rice might need to be soaked overnight in cold water and might have different cooking times.

At this stage the soup can be frozen in portions or cooled and reheated when needed.

When ready to serve, toast bread, rub generously with garlic and cut into small cubes. Ladle the soup into soup bowls, scatter the chopped herbs and bread cubes over it, drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil per bowl and a tablespoon Parmesan. Serve immediately.

Note that the picture above has no bread croutons and Parmesan to demonstrate the texture of the soup when ready.


classic lasagna

homemade lasagna, worlds apart from imitations

homemade lasagna, worlds apart from imitations

LASAGNA. In Italian a “lasagna” is one sheet of rectangular pasta used in the famous baked pasta recipe. The correct name of the dish refers to the plural  “lasagne” indicating the use of several sheets of pasta layered with delicious condiments and sauce.

This is one of those dishes that evokes dreamy eyes and remembrance of happy family Sundays. Of moments in life when everything is so good and so simple.

One the other hand this must be one of the most mistreated recipes in the kingdom of ugly culinary shortcuts. This is because making real lasagne involves work. If you are not prepared to devote some time and effort to it, please eat spaghetti!

Our cooking class guests are often surprised at how light is a good homemade lasagna. For best results it is essential  to precook the pasta sheets, to use fresh mozzarella and modest amounts of condiments on each layer. My friend Sandra explains it better than I do and has several pictures.


  • 1/2 kg (1 pound) fresh lasagna sheets
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) Parmesan cheese grated
  • 200 gr (7  ounces) good quality ham torn in small pieces
  • 400 gr (14 ounces) fresh mozzarella cubed
  • 200 ml/ ¾ cup Béchamel sauce (white sauce)
  • 4 to 6 cups ragu‘ sauce

Precook the lasagna sheets in boiling hot salted water for 1 minute if fresh, 3 min if dry. Drain and place individual sheets on the tabletop to cool.
Build up the lasagne layers starting with a ladleful of sauce on the bottom of a ovenproof pan. Alternate pasta sheets, mozzarella, ham, Béchamel, ragu’, Parmesan. Drizzle approx. 3 tablespoon of the red sauce and 1 and 1/2 tablespoon of the white sauce on each layer. You need just a sprinkle of cheese and ham. Spread the top layer evenly with the ragu’, add 1-2 tablespoon of Béchamel and finally sprinkle with 1-2 tablespoon Parmesan.

Lasagne can be made in advance and frozen. Make sure to defrost completely before cooking as otherwise they will become soggy.

Cook in moderate oven at 200 degrees C (400 F) for 1/2 hour. Serves 6.

PS. in the unlikely case you have leftovers, you can freeze them but make sure to heat it in the oven or microwave for the shortest possible time otherwise the lasagna will overcook.




crostata with homemade figs jam

CROSTATA, a pastry tart filled with jam, custard or ricotta is is found in all bakeries here in Umbria and prepared frequently at home. The home version is definitely better than the bought one. The secret is a high proportion of real butter in the dough – not margarine! – and homemade jam.

Umbrians love their crostata, their mums always make the best. Sometimes they might even acknowledge that their wife makes a decent one. Any garden party will display at least 4 or 5 of these tarts. The competition among the local ladies is ruthless. Opinions are vigorously split among those who prefer more crust and just a dab of jam, those who want hardly any crust and only eat the jam,  and everything in between.  My recipe has a thin crunchy base and a thin layer of jam. With this version I have won a few followers. I guess it’s a good sign.


For pastry dough:

  • 125 gr cold unsalted butter (1 stick)
  • 250 gr 00 flour or pastry flour (1 and 2/3 cup) not self-rising
  • 125 gr (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 whole large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups fruit preserves

To make the pastry dough, cut the butter into 6-8 cubes and place in the bowl of a food processor together with the flour, sugar, vanilla extract and  salt. Using the blade at high speed, blend until most of the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 2 minutes. Stir in the egg and blend until the mixture forms a dough, one more minute. It is important not to overheat the butter in the dough, so do not overwork.

Roll the dough into a 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thin disk and transfer into a 10 inch ( 25 cm) buttered tart pan so to make a case with shallow side. Spread a 1 cm (1/2 inch) layer of preserves over the pastry case. If you do not have homemade jam, make sure to find fine quality jam, with a high content of fruit.

With lightly floured hands roll the rest of dough into several 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick ropes.  Carefully arrange the dough ropes over the tart in an open lattice pattern. It is not necessary to weave the lattice. Transfer in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 an hour and up to half a day. Up to this point the crostata can be frozen. Before using, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and bake.

Preheat oven to 180° C/ 350° F. Bake the crostata in middle of the oven 45 minutes, or until the lattice is golden. Cool the crostata in the pan on a rack.

Serves 8


cime di rapa

healthy, aromatic and flavorful cime di rapa

healthy, aromatic and flavorful cime di rapa

BROCCOLI RABE, RAPINI, SPROUTING BROCCOLI. This s not a vegetable for the faint of heart. The taste is peppery, nutty, intensely green and slightly bitter. If overcooked it becomes unpleasantly bitter and mushy. Just like the world-famous rucola (or arugula or rocket) it needs a little attention in the preparation and pairing with other ingredients or dishes. Traditionally used with orecchiette pasta from Puglia, the rapini are wonderful also in combination with beans, roast meats and sausage.


  • 1/2 Kg (1 pound) cime di rapa
  • 1 large clove garlic chopped very finely or minced using a garlic press
  • 3 tablespoon EVO oil
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • chili pepper flakes to taste (optional)

Buy the cime di rapa when young and tender otherwise the stems will need a longer cooking time than the leaves. Cook the vegetables in boiling salted water until crisp-tender, 4 to 6 min. Drain and rinse quickly with cold water.


if perfectly cooked, the vegetables are still bright green and hold their shape

Using your hands,  squeeze lightly to remove excess water.  Chop roughly and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoon EVO oil in shallow skillet over low heat. Add garlic, chili pepper flakes and fennel seeds and sauté until fragrant, about 1/2 minute. Make sure that the garlic does not burn. Add the cime di rapa and sauté until heated through, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a warm serving dish.

Serves 2-3


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