madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


risotto con asparagi e pancetta

risotto with saffron, pancetta and green asparagus

Ask 2 Italians what’s the correct way to prepare pasta. You will get the same story from both: al dente, toss with sauce, serve piping hot. Ask two Italians how to make a risotto. You will get 2 stories. Ask 4 of them, you will get 4 stories.  Stir, don’t stir. Use only butter, oil’s forbidden. No! olive oil’s  OK. Condiments at the beginning, no, at the end. Rest, don’t rest. Finish with cream? No cold butter! Vialone? Arborio? Carnaroli?

I am a “non native” risotto eater. They don’t make risotto in Umbria, so I can’t tell you how my grandma made it. Nor my mum who – being Sicilian and adverse to creamy dishes –  did not like it. I  also happen to be fond of dishes full of flavor, light in texture and calories and made with minimal attendance.

So if you like those stodgy concoctions obtained by beating the life out of the poor grains until they disintegrate and then cemented by extravagant amounts of cheese and butter, please read no further.

Here are my own fundamental rules:

1)  Good quality risotto rice. I prefer Carnaroli which has a nutty taste and does not overcook easily. Arborio and Vialone Nano are also good but I have never found a non-Italian rice that will work for a risotto.

2) Good quality stock, bought, canned, homemade, you choose but nothing with that MSG taste will do

3) I use a large heavy-bottomed pan over low heat. The rice has to be in a thin layer all the time so the grains cook slowly at the same temperature. This way I only stir when I add the liquid and then let it sweetly simmer until most of the stock is evaporated. Meanwhile I have a life.

4) I cook condiments – i.e. vegetables, meat or seafood – separately and add them when the rice is almost ready. Then I sprinkle some herbs if the recipe needs it.


  • 30 gr. / 1 ounce pancetta cut into tiny strips
  • 400 gr/ 1 pound green asparagus
  • 1 garlic clove
  • a few strands of saffron
  • 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 freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pancetta in small nonstick skillet until translucent. Add the saffron strands to 2 tablespoon of  broth and let it soak. Trim asparagus, toss with one tablespoon EVO oil and broil/grill until just tender. Add one garlic clove finely chopped and cover to infuse for at least  5 min. Chop the garlic infused asparagus in 2 cm /1 inch pieces, cover again and reserve.

Risotto will have a completely different taste is made with butter or olive oil. Butter gives a richer and creamier texture. Olive oil is more gentle with delicate condiments like spring vegetables and seafood.

Add rice and stir 1 minute. Add wine and cook until absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth and simmer until 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 the golden saffron liquid to the rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  For extra creaminess finish with cold diced butter stirring vigorously. Stir in the asparagus, the pancetta, 2 tablespoons  Parmesan and once last ladleful of broth. Cover and wait 5 min before serving. Serve, passing the remaining Parmesan separately.


saltimbocca di maiale al Vinsanto

saltimbocca revisited with Umbrian ingredients

PORK SALTIMBOCCA WITH VINSANTO.  The Italian word saltimbocca means “to jump in the mouth”. This is because the meat is cooked so quickly that it will be on  your plate after only a couple of pirouettes in the pan. To cook it with the right speed you will need very thin meat. The result is melt-in-the-mouth parcels that make what  must be the world’s easiest dinner.

There’s endless variations of this recipe. To keep to the deservedly famous original however, please do not overdo. Keep to a minimum of oil and butter.

Use no more than one  sage leaf per parcel, that’s more than enough flavor. You can substitute pork with veal but you’ll never get chicken thin enough. You can substitute Vinsanto with Marsala or white wine but not with lemon juice.

You can substitute guanciale with pancetta, but the guanciale is sublime. There’s no garlic and no tomato (for once). And please, please, please, don’t melt cheese over it!


  • 500 gr / 1 pound pork scaloppine, pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced guanciale
  • flour for dusting
  • 1 bunch fresh sage leaves
  • 1 tablespoon butter and 1 olive oil
  • 1/2 cup Vinsanto

Top each slice of meat with 1 slice of guanciale and 1 sage leaf. Fold in two, keeping the guanciale and sage inside, and secure with a small cocktail stick. Dust each parcel lightly with flour (can be also done with gluten-free flour or rice flour ).

Put a large cast iron  skillet over high heat until hot. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in it until foaming. Add oil and  pork parcels in single layer, turning once or twice until golden about 1 min per side. Season with salt and black pepper.

Add wine to pan and deglaze over high heat until liquid is reduced by 1/3, scraping up browned bits, about 2 minutes. Be careful as it might flambe’. Transfer pork to platter, pour the sauce over it, and serve with potatoes cooked in a salt crust and a green salad.

Serves 4-5.


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