madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


duck breast in a rosemary, balsamic and citrus-marinade

tender balsamic and citrus-marinated duck breast

I have to admit I am not a bird (eating) person. Not that  I don’t like fowl, but I find the conditions of intensive chicken farming appalling, health threatening and generally sad (for more enlightenment check also here). We only ever eat organic eggs and the occasional free-ranging chicken.

The second obstacle is that I don’t have a guinea pig. I mean, my better half –  who is the principal judge and victim of my gastronomic experiments –  does not like food with small bones. This excludes birds and fish on the bone from our family meals, unless I eat it all by myself. Not practical.

Duck breast is a perfect compromise, not only it’s virtually boneless, but it’s intensely flavorful and surprisingly easy to make. This is my foolproof recipe based on a classic French sweet and sour marinade. I have twisted it with Italian ingredients and herbs and I must say it is rather lovely.


  • one 1/2 kg (1 lb) duck breast with skin
  • 1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed


  • Juice of 1/2 lemon or of 1 orange
  • 3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon red wine
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • 3 tablespoon extra virgin live oil

In a bowl large enough to fit the breast snugly, mix the marinade ingredients, add the garlic cloves and whole rosemary sprigs. Place the duck breast in the marinade skin side up, cover and marinade in the refrigerator overnight.

Remove the duck breast from the marinade, pat dry and transfer skin side down into a heavy pan, better if cast iron. Reserve the marinade.

Cook the breast on low heat for at least 5 min. Be patient as the duck fat renders out slowly melting onto the bottom of the pan. This is the most important phase of the cooking by which you get lovely crispy skin. If the skin burns too soon the breast will taste fatty and rubbery.

When the skin turns golden, remove the breast, quickly drip away the fat and wipe the pan with kitchen paper. Now you need to be fast. Bring the heat to high, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sear the skinless side of the breast all over until slightly brown, about 2 min. Pour the marinade in the pan and reduce, it will take less than 1/2 min.

Remove the pan from heat but leave it on the stove, cover with a lid and 1 or 2 folded kitchen towels. You want to keep the pan as warm as possible. The breast will finish to cook with the indirect heat of the pan and will keep wonderfully moist. Wait for 5- 10 min, then slice thinly and serve.

1 breast with a side of vegetables and roast potatoes feeds 4 modest meat eaters.


arrosto riposato al timo

a succulent roast flavored with thyme, lemon and garlic

a succulent roast flavored with thyme, lemon and garlic

“RESTED” THYME AND GARLIC ROAST BEEF. This is definitely not a traditional Italian recipe. However, the resulting flavor is deeply Mediterranean without the effort of the slow cooking and basting endured by our mothers. The concept of the roast is that you must cook the meat briefly on high heat.  Then cover and let it rest in a draft free area of your kitchen. This way the  indirect heat of the pan cooks it some more but keeps it wonderfully tender.


  • 1 kg/2 pounds topside or silver side lean beef
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 6 fresh thyme sprigs
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • white wine
  • extra virgin olive oil

Bring the beef at room temperature. Preheat oven at 220 °C/430 °F.

To prepare the dressing, remove leaves of 4 thyme sprigs and place them in a bowl with the lemon juice, 3 tablespoon olive oil, 1 clove of finely minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste.

Heat a cast iron casserole pan over medium-high heat and when hot add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the meat and brown it evenly, turning every few minutes. This step will take about 5-10  minutes, depending on the size of the roast. Keep the pan covered so you do not mess up the stove!

When the roast is well browned on all sides add 5 unpeeled garlic cloves, 2 thyme sprigs and 1/2 cup white wine. Cover with a heavy lid and transfer into the preheated oven.

Roast for 30 min turning every 10 min adding more white wine if necessary. Remove from the oven and cover the meat quite tightly with foil and again with the lid. Let it rest for at least 15 min in a warm place then slice thinly and place the slices back into the pan. Squeeze the cooked garlic cloves out of their papery husks into the dressing. Drizzle the dressing over the meat and leave to infuse for 5-10 min.  Transfer slices and juices on a pre-heated dish and serve. The meat will be only slightly warm.

This recipe can be made with either fresh rosemary or sage or dried oregano instead of thyme.

Serves 4-6


potatoes in a salt crust

PATATE AL SALE. This is a completely no fuss dish, perfect for a larger dinner party.  In fact, it needs hardly any time to prepare, it can wait if someone is late, it’s fat free for those on a diet, and – to the non initiated – it even looks fancy in its own rustic way.
how to make potatoes in a salt crust

how to make potatoes in a salt crust

  • 2 kg ( 4pounds) medium-small potatoes
  • a few sprigs of fresh rosemary or thyme
  • 2-3 pounds coarse salt
Preheat the oven at 200 C/400 F . Scrub the potatoes well in advance so they will be dry when you need to use them. Do not peel them. Place the rosemary over the bottom of an ovenproof dish and add the potatoes in a single layer. Pack the potatoes together closely and pour over just enough salt to cover them. Do not shake the dish, you do not want too much salt under the potatoes. Bake for about 45 min, or until they are tender (test with the prongs of a fork). Brush off the salt, split in two and serve immediately with a drizzle of real good EVO oil.
Slow cooking gives the best results, but the potatoes can be cooked at higher temperature (max  230 C/450 F ) for a shorter time. They keep warm for a long time under the salt crust, so you can prepare them up to one hour in advance
a simple potato dish enhanced by good extra virgin olive oil

a simple potato dish enhanced by good extra virgin olive oil


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