madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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


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.


the red wine risotto and how life changes in one day

risotto, the ultimate Italian no-wheat marvel

There are days that change your life.

Have you ever wondered why so much of our lives is spent waiting for a situation to change?

Those days you wait so long for, they finally happen. This – in one or another way – is often a relief. In fact, for a few minutes, even hours if you are lucky, you don’t hang over the unknown. But then, after that fleeting moment, you are looking ahead again. The future with all its needs is calling you once more.

SO THE NEWS is that I have been diagnosed wheat and egg intolerance. I have known for years to be dairy intolerant. I don’t know if I am celiac, I will know it in a few weeks.

In any case for the moment I’ll have no eggs, no wheat pasta, no bread, no butter and cheese.I have been having bad digestion problems for so long that just knowing what I should eliminate from my diet is a relief.

Of course, it does feel like my world has gotten upside down. Me, that one who wanted to convince the world to make their own fresh pasta at least once a week. Me, that one who loves to cook for others, who basically exists on cooking for others.

The good news is that I can still cook for those I love. I’ll just need to make two menus now. And not even every day.


  • 500 gr. / 1 lb Italian fresh sausages, grilled
  • 250 ml / 1 cup good quality red wine
  • 1 lt / 5 cups low-salt chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon butter or EVO oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cups arborio, vialone nano or carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan or pecorino shavings
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Before starting please revise my risotto principles.

Grill the sausages, set aside and keep warm. I use our fantastic Umbrian sausages which are seasoned with garlic and black pepper but I would not be adverse to fennel seasoned sausages.

Make the risotto. In a large pan over low heat,  sauté the onion in butter, EVO oil or a mixture of the two until tender, about 8 minutes. Add rice and stir 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium/high and add 2 tablespoon wine. Cook until absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add the rest of the wine, one tablespoon at the time, stirring until it is absorbed.

Now lower the heat  and add 1/2 cup broth and simmer until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 4 minutes. After this initial stage you can continue to cook , adding more broth by ladlefuls and allowing liquid to be absorbed before adding more, stirring only after you have added the liquid.

When the rice is tender, but still has a bite, add more salt if necessary, 2 tablespoons Parmesan and once last ladleful of broth. For extra creaminess, add in 1 tablespoon cold diced butter which you need to stir vigorously. Cover and wait 5 min before serving. Serve topped with sliced sausages, a sprinkle of parsley ans shavings of Parmesan or pecorino.

For a dairy-free version omit the cheese and butter and serve with a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil. It will still be delicious!

Serves 3-4


summer and fall pasta

PORCINI AND SWEET PEPPER SAUCE. This is a variation of the basic tomato sauce using the last good summer peppers  and the first porcini available in the fall. Vegetables are added to the onion and slowly stewed for a long time like a creamy compote.

lumachine pasta in a sweet pepper and porcini sauce

lumachine pasta in a sweet pepper and porcini sauce


  • One 400 gr. (12 ounces)  can diced tomato
  • 15 gr. (1/2 ounce)  dried porcini soaked in 2/3 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 red or yellow sweet peppers cut into 1 cm. (1/2 inch) wide, 4 cm. (2 inch) long strips
  • 3 tabsp heavy whipping cream
  • 400 gr. short pasta like penne, rigatoni or lumache ( or gluten-free alternatives)

Use a shallow, thick bottomed pan with a lid over low heat. Soften onion and sweet peppers in 2 tablespoon EVO  oil until soft and falling apart, about 30-45 min. When the mixture starts to dry out, add the soaked porcini with their water.  Simmer until the soaking water is completely reduced. Add the tomato and cook for additional 10 min. until slightly thickened. Add cream, but do not cook it. Use with short pasta with a sprinkle of chopped fresh parsley or basil, if desired. This sauce can be prepared ahead and frozen. Serves 4.


fresh tomato sauce

There are two types of basic tomato sauce, one made with fresh tomatoes and one made with canned tomatoes. A fresh tomato sauce can only be made when tomatoes are at their best, juicy and sweet, in Italy generally July and August. Fully ripe San Marzano are the ideal tomatoes for a fresh sauce. Cherry tomatoes are a good alternative when large tomatoes are out of season.

cherry tomatoes quickly sautee with olive oil and garlic

cherry tomatoes quickly sautee with olive oil and garlic

Please do not use the  tasteless and watery glasshouse tomatoes for this sauce!


  • 500 gr/1 pound San Marzano or plum or cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped or mashed with a garlic press
  • 5 basil leaves
  • 300 gr/ 10 ounces spaghetti
  • pinch sugar, salt

Cherry tomatoes: chop each tomato in two or four pieces

Plum or San Marzano: pop in the microwave or in boiling hot water until the skin splits. Peel and chop roughly.

Using a shallow pan – a frying pan with high sides is ideal – sautee the garlic in olive oil over low fire. Do not brown the garlic, you only want to flavor the oil. You might add a some chile pepper if you want a spicy sauce. Increase fire, add tomatoes and sautee quickly until they are warmed through, they should not cook and loose their shape. Sprinkle with a pinch of sugar, no more than that you can hold between thumb and forefinger. Switch fire off, add basil leaves. The whole cooking should not take more than 5 min.

Meanwhile cook the spaghetti until al dente, strain and transfer the pasta in the pan that holds the sauce. Turn on the fire and quickly stir so that the juice of the sauce is partly absorbed by the pasta. Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons olive oil and serve with parmesan or pecorino cheese on the side.

Serves 2-3

a delicious pasta dish, ready in no time

a delicious pasta dish, ready in no time


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