madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


grilled lemon-and-garlic marinated eggplants

melt in the mouth, grilled eggplants marinated in garlic, lemon juice and olive oil

I think nobody who doesn’t know me already is ever going to find this recipe. There’s 1 million and 970 thousand hits for “grilled eggplants” on Google. With more than 2 million people out there who can grill eggplants this is probably going to be slightly redundant.

The thing is, I did not grow up with grilled eggplants. I have only learned how to make them in relatively recent times.

My mum – as every good Sicilian – only used fried eggplants. She put those juicy slabs on pasta and parmigiana , smothered in thick  tomato sauce and sprinkles of fragrant basil. Heavenly, but with the inconvenient characteristic of migrating directly to the hips to accentuate unwanted rotundity.

On the other hand, the world is full of badly grilled eggplants. Have you ever returned from the BBQ/grill with those stripey bitter shoe-soles trying to decide if they were suitable for human consumption?

Did you swear you’ll never make them again?

Try this. It’s foolproof, smoke-free :) and tastes lovely and light.


  • 1 eggplant / aubergine
  • 1 garlic clove, sliced
  • juice of 1/4 lemon
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

First of all, please make sure to use plump, fresh eggplants in season. Winter ghosts will not do.

As for cooking, best results are obviously obtained with a charcoal/wood BBQ, but a stove-top cast iron grill is a valid alternative and much faster.

While your cooking implement is heating up, peel and cut eggplants crosswise into 3-4 mm (1/10 inch) thick slices. Transfer in a plate making no more than two layers. Place the olive oil, garlic and lemon juice in shallow bowl to make a marinade. Add some chopped basil or parsley if you like.

Here comes the first surprise. Pop them in the microwave for 1-2 min until they just start getting moist and tender.

And the second surprise. Grill the slices without oiling them, you’ll have no smoke.

As soon as the slices are cooked through and slightly charred transfer them in the marinade and covered so they will infuse.

If you have time, prepare them a couple of hours in advance and serve at room temperature . You can also serve them sooner but let them cool off a little. Season with salt just before serving.

Serves 2-3 as a side dish.


pasta e fagioli for pasta lovers

When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool - That's amore -(Dean Martin, 1953)

Italians have always been bean eaters. The bean is cheap protein after all.

Greeks ate lentils. Romans consumed  garbanzo beans and black-eyed peas daily. Commons beans arrived in Italy from America with Colombo and returned to America with Italian emigrants and their “pasta fazool”.

As for myself, I have had some bad bean experiences. The nuns at kindergarten fed us industrial amounts of a mushy porridge of rice and beans. Fatty pork rinds and overcooked macaroni have been looming in my father’s dinners. He’s the most Etruscan of the family.

As a consequence, I have become a bean snob, I only eat perfect beans. For that, I need good quality beans either fresh or dry, not canned. I need fresh herbs and good extra virgin olive oil. Last but not least, I do not mistreat my pasta. I use fresh egg pasta not ditalini or broken spaghetti. I cook it separately so it’s al dente. This way I get a heart warming, flavorful, wholesome dish. Just like it should be.


  • 3 lt (3 quarts) cold water
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 medium whole onion, peeled
  • 1 medium carrot, scrubbed
  • 1 celery stalk, leaves removed
  • 1 sprig of rosemary and a few sage leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) fresh tagliolini (narrow fettuccine) per person
  • 250 gr (8 ounces) borlotti or cannellini beans

Soak beans overinight in cold water, rinse and transfer in in a tall  saucepan. Add onion,  carrot, tomato, celery, herbs and water. Cover and simmer slowly until beans are tender. Season with salt and black pepper.

Pure half of the beans and return to pan. Cover to keep warm. Cook pasta in plenty boiling hot water until al dente. Fresh tagliolini will take no more than one minute.  Just before serving, ladle beans into bowls, add pasta and drizzle with good EVO oil.

Variation:chop 1 clove garlic and 30 gr.  (one ounce) pancetta or guanciale. Cook the garlic and pancetta in 2 tablespoon olive oil  until fragrant and add to the beans.  Stir and serve. Decorate bowls with chopped cherry tomatoes.

This recipe is from my friend Roberta, owner of Trattoria degli Umbria a lovely restaurant in the centre of Assisi.


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.


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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