madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


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.


the antimafia and other very good pasta

anelletti pasta

bronze drawn anelletti pasta from Palermo


This Italy here  is a crazy country and always will be, but important priorities are respected. A good bowl of pasta is  hardly ever refused. So easy,  so good, so comforting. It’s in our genes, in our blood, it’s the mother of foods. Pasta comes first, not for nothing we call it primo.

Eating store-bought dried pasta is so fundamental to Italian life that we have gotten organized. And I don’t mean grandma rolling fettuccine for the kids, I mean industrial amounts.

In Gragnano, South of Naples, artisan pasta makers have been producing high quality pasta for as long as 500 years. Until relatively recent times the whole town was decorated with kilometers of noodles hanging to dry outside the pasta workshops. In the late XIX century the town was even granted the right to open a train station to be able to “export” their product to Northern Italy.

From then on, industrially produced pasta became the cheap and convenient food that by now appears on the tables of a large portion of the world’s population.

If you look for good dried pasta make sure that what you buy  is made with 100% durum wheat semolina, not with tender wheat flour which is used for bread, fresh pasta and general cooking.

To make the pasta, semolina is first mixed in a dough and then extruded through a die -named trafila in Italian –  to obtain the desired shape. Dies are made of teflon or bronze.   Standard pasta is teflon drawn, it’s quite smooth and yellow. High quality pasta is bronze drawn – trafilata al bronzo – and has a lovely powdery surface like that one in the picture above.

The bronze extruder makes the surface of the pasta more porous so that the sauces clings to the uneven surface of it rather than slipping away.

Bronze drawn pasta is widely available in Italy. However, there is one brand, which in our house has been nicknamed the “antimafia”, that sums up all goodness of flavor and thinking.

The Libera organization produces organic bronze-drawn pasta using wheat that is cultivated on estates confiscated from the mafia lords. Volunteer work by young people who believes in future.

So next time you come on holidays you know one more thing about this country.

We have some really good pasta. Sometimes we have some real courage.

antimafia pasta

organic pasta made by the Libera organization


tagliolini with almond pesto and broad beans

tender broad beans, a spring delicacy

tender broad beans, a spring delicacy

TAGLIOLINI WITH PESTO AND BROAD BEANS. Umbrians love broad beans, fave. As soon as it’s spring, crates of the long green pods start to appear in markets and shops. Those who are lucky enough to have a vegetable garden will pick the young and tender ones and give bagfuls to their neighbors as a gift. The fave are eaten fresh, just out of the pod, often accompanied by a slice of young pecorino cheese.

Spring basil is tender and flavorful enough to make a pesto, either “alla genovese” with pine nuts (pignoli) or with almonds and ricotta like I do here. Summer basil would of course be much better for the pesto but then the fave are finished!


  • 200 gr (7 ounces) dry egg tagliolini (very narrow fettuccine)
  • 200 gr (1 cup) broad beans (yields 6 tablespoon shelled broad beans)
  • 1 garlic clove very finely minced
  • grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
  • 2 tablespoon ricotta (optional)

For pesto:

  • 1 bunch of fresh basil leaves, about 4 tablespoon
  • 2 tablespoon chopped almonds or pine nuts
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon EVO oil

If you buy fresh fava beans on the pod, you will need about  1/2 kg (1 lb) per person. Blanch broad beans in boiling hot water for 5 min or until some of the skins start to split. Drain and refresh under cold water. Remove shells. This will take some time but brings the dish from ordinary to quite amazing. Reserve.

To make the pesto I just blitz all ingredients in a bowl using an immersion blender. If you are a purist however, please make it with mortar and pestle. Make sure to make the pesto at the last possible moment before using it in the sauce. This way the pesto does not oxidize and as a consequence all flavor is retained. While making the pesto, cook the tagliolini in plenty salted boiling water according to package instructions.

In a pan large enough to hold all the pasta, saute 1 clove garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about 30 sec. Add broad beans and cook briefly to infuse them in the garlic oil. Take off the heat and add 2 tablespoon pesto and two tablespoon ricotta (if using).

Drain the pasta reserving 1/3 cup pasta water. Transfer the pasta in the pan that holds the sauce on high heat. Add some pasta water and quickly stir so that the sauce is partly absorbed by the pasta. Serve immediately with grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese.

Serves 2

the delciate texture of egg tagliolini is perfect for this light sauce

the delicate texture of egg tagliolini is perfect for this fragrant sauce


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



preparing a Norcia-style sauce

preparing a Norcia-style sauce

NORCIA is a marvelous medieval town in Southeastern Umbria, blessed by fresh mountain air and by the breeding of pigs. Already in the IX century the delicious animal represented a main source of income for the locals. One can modestly say that they have a long standing expertise in making the best sausages of the world. This simple and hearty sauce is available in most restaurants in Umbria and prepared regularly in Umbrian home kitchens.


  • 1/2 kg (1 pound) sweet Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 medium onion finely sliced
  • 4 tablespoon heavy or whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound short pasta like fusilli or penne
 or homemade stringozzi
  • 4 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • Optional:  1 teaspoon grated truffle or preserved truffle paste

Sauté onion and sausage in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until cooked through, breaking up large pieces with a fork, about 10 minutes. Deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine. Add cream and  set aside.

Umbrian fresh sausages are liberally seasoned with black pepper and garlic. If you can’t find a similar sausage, add 2 cloves of minced garlic and a good sprinkle of black pepper just before deglazing with wine.

Cook the pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite. Drain pasta reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Transfer into the saucepan pot with the sausage and cream mixture, stir quickly, then add the cooking water and  grated cheese and stir some more to coat and absorb the excess liquid.  Add truffle if using and serve immediately with additional grated cheese and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serves 4


fusilli with Norcina sauce

fusilli with Norcina sauce



egg noodles in chicken broth

tagliolini noodles in chicken broth

TAGLIOLINI IN BRODO, that is ITALIAN NOODLE SOUP. This is comfort food for those brutal winter days when you need to re-warm your soul.

To be honest, I love it so much that I can eat it throughout the year except the middle of the summer.

When I make  fresh pasta , I always have enough  left over dough for  some noodles. I generally make tagliolini, i.e.  very narrow fettuccine. When they are dry but still flexible, I  twirl the noodles into nice little nests (see picture in this post) and freeze them. After a while I have enough noodles for a meal.

I also often make a pot of chicken stock for which I use organic chicken wings. The resulting broth is light, so it is not necessary to remove  foam, fat or strain it. The secret of this dish is in the fresh ingredients. Poor quality stock or pasta will ruin it.


  • 1/2 kg (1 pound) organic chicken wings
  • 3 lt (3 quarts) cold water
  • 1 medium tomato
  • 1 medium whole onion, peeled
  • 1 medium carrot, scrubbed
  • 1 celery stalk, leaves removed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 60 gr (2 ounces) fresh tagliolini per person

Combine all ingredients in a stockpot and cover. Adding salt to the cold water prevents the formation of foam. Simmer gently for about one hour or until the chicken is cooked and the meat falls off the bones. Pour stock through a metal sieve to remove the chicken and vegetables.

Transfer the stock – about 1 cup per person – to a smaller pan and bring it to a high boil. Add noodles and cook briefly, no more than one min. if the noodles are fresh or two min. if frozen. The very thin noodles overcook quickly as they continue cooking in the hot stock.

Ladle broth and noodles into bowls and serve piping hot with grated Parmesan if desired.

Please do not cut the tagliolini with a knife. Eat with spoon and fork. The noodles should be rolled like spaghetti as shown in the picture above.


ministry of protection of mistreated foods

there is no limit to bad imitations

there is no limit to bad imitations

If Jamie Oliver has a ministry, I also want one.  I need it for Italian food.  For all those recipes of our wonderful cuisine that have been mistreated to the point of becoming unrecognizable, unhealthy and often unpalatable. My ministry will make laws so the following offense will be punished:

1) adding fruits, corn, nutella or anything sweet to a pizza topping

2) using oregano in a bolognese  sauce and virtually in any traditional pasta sauce. Oregano is used sparingly in Italian cooking and hardly ever in a pasta sauce.

3) using ketchup, curry, tandoori powder, coriander, ginger on a dish and calling it Italian

The Ministry will also promote a ban on canned ravioli, microwave lasagna, spagbol, thick cheese crusts and any starbucked elaborations of proper espresso and cappuccino.

Please note that most Italians, and surely those who do not travel abroad, have never heard of Alfredo or marinara  sauce, spaghetti and meatballs, veal Parmesan, butter garlic bread and even macaroni cheese.

Even though some of these recipes might be delicious when well prepared they are “Italian style”, not Italian.

The Ministry will take all measures to avoid confusion.


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