madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


insalata di carciofi e limoni

tangy, buttery and crunchy, this is just a perfect salad

ARTICHOKES AND SALT-BOILED LEMON SALAD.    I am such a simple soul. There are things that make me happy over and over again. Like finding a new good recipe.

I have lots of “old ” family recipes which I always make, they are safe. Of course I collect new recipes too. Too many of them.

I happen to be one of those who read cookbooks like a novel. In some cases, I read them so many times that eventually I feel  I have made friends with the cooks (or may be their ghost writers).

I get lots of inspiration but most often I will bend the recipe to the mood of the day and to what’s in my refrigerator.

Years ago however, I found this artichoke and lemon salad on The River Cafè Cookbook by  Gray and Rogers, two ladies I wish would have been my neighbors. This salad is  so perfect that does not need any interpretation, it cannot be adapted or improved, it’s mine for life.

Admittedly, I have decreased the amounts of olive oil, but that’s it. This is one of the advantages of living in Umbria:  my olive oil tastes better, I don’t need so much.


  • 4 organic lemons
  • 6 small or 4 large artichokes
  • 150 gr (5 oz)  toasted almonds
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons soft raw honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a sprinkle fresh thyme or basil leaves (optional)

Wash the lemons thoroughly and put 3 of them whole into a small saucepan. Cover with water and 100 gr. (4 oz) salt. Cover and boil for 20 min until the skin can be easily pierced with a fork. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

Juice half of the remaining lemon, reserve.  Add the other half to a pan of water you will use to cook the artichokes. Bring the water to the boil, add 1/2 tablespoon of salt.

Drop the artichokes in the boiling water and cook for 20 min or until one of the central leaves comes away with a little give. Drain and cool. Pull away the outer tough leaves, trim stems, and cut away the choke if there is any. Quarter artichokes and then cut quarters in half again.

Cut the boiled lemons in half,  scoop out and discard the pulp and the inner segments. Cut the soft skins into strips and add to artichokes and almonds in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Mix the honey with the lemon juice, then add the olive oil. Pour over the artichokes, add a little fresh thyme or basil if desired

Serves 4 as an appetizer or side dish


the limoncello factory leftovers

if life gives you lemons….

My mom has always produced industrial quantities of limoncello.  A set of tiny crystal tumblers and a lovely bohemian bottle full of the golden liqueur  was a permanent installation in her living room. She did not make it for herself, she hardly ever consumed alcoholic drinks, but proudly offered it to all guests at all times of the day. Ok almost, a guest was allowed a cup of espresso if it was earlier than 11:00 a.m.

Of course I also make it for my own guests. This is the right time of the year as  the best quality lemons, juicy and aromatic are available. It’s an end-of winter tradition: every year I zest, infuse and bottle. Then, I am left with lots of peeled lemons  I don’t know what to do with. They sit there, naked in the fridge and eventually they go to waste.

There is only so much lemon juice one can use in March  in rural Umbria. It’ is not really granita time, we’ve had snow 3 days ago. After several experiments however, I have created this naked lemons jam which is delicious on toast but also on vanilla ice cream, crostata and pannacotta


  • Bring to the boil a pan of water large enough to hold all the lemons under water. Add 1 tablespoon salt per litre/quart
  • Drop the whole peeled lemons in the salted water and let them boil 15 min. This will remove the bitter taste from the pith
  • Strain and refresh under cold water.
  • [UPDATE] Another method to remove the bitter taste is to soak the lemons in water for three days like I do for oranges. However note that because the lemons have no peel, there is obviously no need to score it. This method is a bit more work than salt-boiling but the jam is a less sharp.
  • Place lemons over a cutting board and cut into small dice, pulp, pith and all. Discard seeds. Place a saucer in the freezer.
  • Transfer lemons and their juice in a tall pan, add equal weight of sugar and slowly bring to the boil stirring from time to time.
  • After about 30 min test for setting point. To do this, place 1/2 tsp jam on the cold saucer. If after half a minute a skin has formed, and it wrinkles, the jam is ready
  • Pour the boiling hot jam into warm, sterilized jars. Seal immediately with lids and place the jars upside down on a table until cold. You can actually eat it after a couple of days but it can be stored for a year.

…..make lemon jam


fettuccine al limone

ingredients for a lemon butter sauce

simple ingredients

FETTUCCINE IN A LEMON BUTTER SAUCE. There are days when having a good dinner it’s easy. Being a diligent cook, you will have  some homemade fettuccine stashed in the freezer. OK, store bought ones is fine but of the fresh type, please! Now open the fridge and look for the following:


  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon heavy cream
  • 1 inch-long strip lemon zest
  • 2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the butter, zest and juice in a little pan over low heat until the butter is melted. Add cream but do not cook it.

slowly melt the butter

slowly melt the butter

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Fresh fettuccine should cook no more than 1 min, 2 min if frozen.

Strain away the water using a colander and return the noodles quickly to the hot pan on medium heat. Add the sauce and briefly stir.

Add the Parmesan and a couple of tablespoon of pasta water and stir some more until the liquid is absorbed.  Serve  immediately, it must be eaten very hot.

so easy, so good

so easy, so good


homemade limoncello

how to make limoncello

infusing lemon zest in alcohol

LEMON LIQUEUR. Already for or a long time, liqueurs have been considered beneficial to one’s health, in moderate amounts of course.

Since the Middle Age medicines have been prepared by alchemists and monks by infusing fruits, flowers, herbs and even woods in alcohol and subsequently sweetened. Some of these preparations were believed to be not only invigorating but also aphrodisiac. By the Renaissance the recreational use of liqueurs had become widespread in Europe, a fashion apparently started by  Catherine de’ Medici and her court.

Making liqueurs with locally available fruits and herbs is still popular all over Italy, and not only by monks. Limoncello is traditionally made in the Amalfi area using the intensely aromatic zest of Sorrento lemons. However it can be made anywhere as long as one has access to fresh unwaxed organic lemons.


  • zest of 1 kg (2 pounds) organic lemons
  • 1 litre (1 quart) 95 % alcohol (you can use use grain alcohol)
  • 1 litre (1 quart) water
  • 800 gr.  (4 cups) sugar

Peel the lemons making sure to remove only the yellow part of the zest, transfer in a jar, add alcohol, close and keep in a cool dark place for 2 weeks. Filter and discard the zest. Transfer the infusion in a bottle.
Prepare the sugar syrup. Bring the water and sugar to a low boil until the sugar dissolves completely. Cool. Add syrup to the lemony alcohol. Stopper the bottle and keep in a cool dark place at least 2 months before using.


pears poached in Vin Santo

pears poached in sweet wine

pears poached in sweet wine

PERE AL VINSANTO.  Vin Santo, literally meaning “holy wine,” is a sweet dessert wine traditionally produced in Central Italy and some areas of the North using dried grapes. This is one of my favorite recipes  in Antonio Carluccio‘s book “Italian Feast”. It makes a perfect conclusion to a hearty Umbrian meal of lentil soup followed by  torta al testo with sausages and cime di rapa.


  • 4 pears, ripe but not too soft
  • 1/2 bottle of Vin Santo or other dessert wine like Malvasia or Passito
  • 100 gr sugar
  • rind of 1 lemon
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • optional: 1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese per person

Peel the pears, so they absorb the wine while cooking, but leave them whole or halved. Put them in a non-reactive saucepan and cover with wine. Add the sugar, lemon rind and spices and poach with the lid on until tender. Remove the pears from the liquid and place them into individual serving bowls. Simmer the remaining liquid until reduced to a golden syrup and just starting to foam. Pour the syrup over the pears, allow to cool and serve garnished with a dollop of mascarpone if desired.


carpaccio di zucchine

marinated zucchini

crunchy and lemony, marinated zucchini

This is actually a great summer dish. I could be investigated by the food police for preparing it out of season. Despite the risk however, I do make it throughout the year, because it is good, fresh, light and very very easy. I know my  Canadian friend Sandra will agree.


  • 1 medium zucchini
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 3 tablespoon EVO oil
  • 3 tablespoon pine nuts (pignoli) or toasted almonds
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed in not too small pieces

The zucchini used in this recipe are uncooked. Slice zucchini paper-thin using a cheese slicer or mandolin. Salt lightly  and place in a colander taking care not to break the slices.  After a while the slices will start loosing some liquid. Dry with kitchen paper and arrange the zucchini in a thin layer on a shallow serving dish. Top the slices with the  garlic and  nuts. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and let the zucchini marinate, covered and chilled for at least 30 min.

Serves 2-3 as a part of an antipasto misto, mixed appetizer.


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