madonna del piatto

Italian family cooking


my newest comfort food: gluten free cake

my apple cake made with locally available and naturally gluten free ingredients

The’re is nothing more comforting that to be included after having been excluded from something, isn’t it? Like when your stomach stops digesting something you have loved all your life and you can’t have it anymore? And then you can have it again!

My favorite  – and very Italian – breakfast has always been a slice of cake with a caffe-latte. Then I discovered to be intolerant to wheat (not celiac) and life changed to boring rice crackers.

Shops are full of packaged gluten-free or wheat-free products, but I mostly don’t like them.  They are generally full of additives, emulsifiers and gums and also based on exotic ingredients from unknown corners of Earth. I fully respect the organic quinoa growers of the Andes but I’d rather support local food artisans if I can.

In my search for recipes based on naturally gluten or wheat free ingredients, I found an army of the most compelling, engaged and interesting bloggers out there. I like many of them, but my heroes are Shauna of  Gluten Free Girl, star of naturally gluten-free cuisine and Felix and Cappera, Italian masters of gluten-free bread making.

This cake tastes, looks and feels totally like cake. You don’t really know it’s not made with wheat flour. The method is the result of Shauna’s ideas about the use of ingredients, of a flour mixture by Felix and Cappera and of a recipe of Sandra of Un Tocco di Zenzero. The latter is not a gluten-free blog but fantastic all the same.

Flour mixture

  • 290 g (10 oz)  rice flour
  • 80 g (2.8. oz) potato starch
  • 50 g (1.8 oz) corn starch

The original recipe uses tapioca instead of corn, but I can’t buy it in rural Umbria, besides it’s not local. I use whole grain organic rice flour from North Italy. If you are celiac make sure to use certified gluten-free products. To cook gluten-free you need to weight your ingredients, sorry no cups for this recipe except the milk.

Cake recipe

  • 1 granny smith or other crispy apple
  •  gr 225 ( 8 oz) of the above flour mixture
  • gr 130 (4.5 oz) butter, cubed and fridge-cold
  • gr 100 (3.5) organic brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon dry ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla or lemon zest
  • approx 100 ml (scant 1/2 cup) milk

Pre-heat oven at 180° C (375°F).  Butter generously a 25 cm (10 inch) bundt pan

Here is my no-fuss, food processor method for fluffy cakes:

Add all dry ingredients and the butter, process briefly with the metal blade at high-speed until the butter is cut in minute crumbs. Add eggs and incorporate until the mixture turns golden yellow. Add milk until the mixture is spreadable but firm, you might not need all the milk. Transfer in the buttered pan.

Section the apple in very thin slices and decorate the top of the cake with it. Sprinkle a little brown sugar or confectioner sugar on the apple slices. Bake until set and golden, about 45 minutes.

My breakfast is back, thank you ladies.

Thanks also to the splendid Gloria  At Home in Tuscany Alexandra from ArtTrav,  Rebecca from Brigolante, Melanie from Italofile, and Jessica from Why Go Italy for inviting me to participate with this post to the 1st Italy Blogging Roundtable Anniversary event. Until May 1st, bloggers are invited to expand on their blogs on one of the topics the roundatablers have blogged about in the past year. You still have time to join!


cappelletti pasta with kamut

cappelletti, winter delight of every Umbrian home

I have been keeping this post for one of those rare days when I have enough time in my hands. I wanted quiet and concentration to explain in sufficient detail what might be one of the best pasta recipes in the world. To tell you that cappelletti, the Umbrian diminuitive version of tortellini, is pasta Nirvana.

Well. We are snowed in. We have no car because it has seriously broken down just before the storm. Most of Italy is under the snow so the replacement parts will not be arriving for a while. The rare phone call is of friends wanting to know if we are all right. The next shop is 8 km downhill on a windy road presently covered by ice and almost a foot of snow. We are not going anywhere.

The term cappelletti, means little hats. In Umbria they are generally made for Christmas. I know families who make a few thousands of them and keep them in the freezer to enjoy during the winter months. They are better served in a chicken or capon stock. However, I am not opposed to a dressing of truffle shavings in olive oil or a good porcini sauce.

In my quest of wheat free alternatives, I have made these cappelletti  with organic kamut flour also named khorasan. The recipe works as well, if not a little easier, with regular flour. To choose the right type of flour, please make sure to read my flour tips here.

To freeze, place them individually on floured plastic trays until hard, then transfer into sealed bags or tupperwares so you can scoop as many as you need. Boil in plenty stock or salted water for 3 min. slightly less if fresh.


For the filling

  • 120 gr / 4 oz. each of ground turkey breast, lean beef and pork
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 60 gr / 2 oz. each charcuterie boiled ham, mortadella, grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • a pinch nutmeg, salt, black pepper

Heat a shallow heavy-bottomed pan, add  two tablespoon olive oil and saute the ground meats on medium-high heat until just starting to brown. If you cook the meat too slowly it will release liquid, loose flavor and feel like sawdust.

Increase heat to maximum, deglaze with white wine, season with salt, nutmeg, a pinch of black pepper and set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse the cooked meat, ham, mortadella and grated Parmesan until finely ground.

For the pasta dough:

  • 3 eggs
  • 300 gr kamut flour (khorasan)
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil

Using the ingredients above, make my food processor pasta dough and roll it into thin sheets using a pasta machine. Cover the sheets with a cotton tea towel. Kamut pasta sheets dry quickly and tend to break, so you need to work faster than when using regular flour.

Now follow the instructions in the photo captions below. Click on one of the picture to start the slideshow.

This recipe makes 350 cappelletti. You will need about 25 per person, so you either have a feast or freeze 3 heavenly family dinners for 4 and 1 tete a tete.

kamut cappelletti on the left, wheat cappelletti on the right


orange scented custard with flambé berries

please throw away that custard powder and make this instead

There is always a point in the winter when I can’t eat one more apple. When I go to the market I longingly look at those petrified mangoes dreaming of their sexy flavor. Just for once, I tell them, could you please have some  flavor?

I hopefully examine those half-white strawberries. No hope. I don’t even look at the plastic plums. It’s February for heaven’s sake. Plums will be in season in September here. Where are you coming from little Frankesteins? I am a low-carbon-print girl, I am a seasonal girl, I really cannot bring myself to do it. Buy the out of season monsters. No, I don’t.

The Mind is strong however, but the Body is weak. The Body screams: PEACH! CHERRY! LOQUAT! FIGS!

So I go to the fridges, I get myself a bag of frozen berries, they are good for you, aren’t they, with all the antioxidants. I go home and I make myself some custard, it’s even wheat-free, dessert can hardly get any healthier. I make it in the microwave in two minutes. Then I can have some fruit. Sort of.



  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tabsp corn starch
  • 1 tabsp sugar
  • 250 ml (1 cup) milk
  • zest of 1/2 organic un-waxed orange or 1 tabsp orange marmalade

Using a tall glass container heat the milk and the orange zest until hot to the touch, about 2 min. Alternatively blend the orange marmalade in a few tablespoon of milk until smooth, add the rest of the milk and then heat it up.

Using electric whisks, in a different tall container, whisk egg yolk, sugar and starch until smooth. Remove the orange zest from the milk. While whisking the yolk, add the hot milk, first one tablespoon at the time until smooth and then all the rest. Transfer the mixture into the microwave and heat for one minute.  Quickly stir, then microwave for one more minute or until the mixture is almost at boiling point. Whisk again. At this point the custard should be thick and smooth. Set aside to cool and refrigerate if using later in the day.

Flambe berries:

  • 2 cups whole frozen red berries.
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons orange liqueur or limoncello
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • juice of half a lemon or orange

You need a heavy bottomed non-reactive pan which you need to make very hot before adding anything to it. Stainless steel  or copper is good.

As soon as the pan is very warm add the butter.  When it starts sizzling, add berries, lemon juice and sugar. The frozen berries will defrost instantly without loosing their shape. You want to glaze them with sugar, you don’t want to make jam! Add liqueur from a small glass. The mixture will flambé. If it doesn’t, your pan was not hot enough, but it’s not a problem. Just reduce the liqueur until syrupy, one more minute. Turn off the fire as soon as the flames subside and serve on the cold custard.

Serves 2-3


the red wine risotto and how life changes in one day

risotto, the ultimate Italian no-wheat marvel

There are days that change your life.

Have you ever wondered why so much of our lives is spent waiting for a situation to change?

Those days you wait so long for, they finally happen. This – in one or another way – is often a relief. In fact, for a few minutes, even hours if you are lucky, you don’t hang over the unknown. But then, after that fleeting moment, you are looking ahead again. The future with all its needs is calling you once more.

SO THE NEWS is that I have been diagnosed wheat and egg intolerance. I have known for years to be dairy intolerant. I don’t know if I am celiac, I will know it in a few weeks.

In any case for the moment I’ll have no eggs, no wheat pasta, no bread, no butter and cheese.I have been having bad digestion problems for so long that just knowing what I should eliminate from my diet is a relief.

Of course, it does feel like my world has gotten upside down. Me, that one who wanted to convince the world to make their own fresh pasta at least once a week. Me, that one who loves to cook for others, who basically exists on cooking for others.

The good news is that I can still cook for those I love. I’ll just need to make two menus now. And not even every day.


  • 500 gr. / 1 lb Italian fresh sausages, grilled
  • 250 ml / 1 cup good quality red wine
  • 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 Parmesan or pecorino shavings
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Before starting please revise my risotto principles.

Grill the sausages, set aside and keep warm. I use our fantastic Umbrian sausages which are seasoned with garlic and black pepper but I would not be adverse to fennel seasoned sausages.

Make the risotto. In a large pan over low heat,  sauté the onion in butter, EVO oil or a mixture of the two until tender, about 8 minutes. Add rice and stir 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium/high and add 2 tablespoon wine. Cook until absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add the rest of the wine, one tablespoon at the time, stirring until it is absorbed.

Now lower the heat  and add 1/2 cup broth and simmer until the 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 more salt if necessary, 2 tablespoons Parmesan and once last ladleful of broth. For extra creaminess, add in 1 tablespoon cold diced butter which you need to stir vigorously. Cover and wait 5 min before serving. Serve topped with sliced sausages, a sprinkle of parsley ans shavings of Parmesan or pecorino.

For a dairy-free version omit the cheese and butter and serve with a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil. It will still be delicious!

Serves 3-4


“priest chokers” made with farro flour

here they are, peasant beauties, the stranged named strozzapreti

STROZZAPRETI.  Priest stranglers? Isn’t this a crazy name? Sounds like a recipe of the Swedish Chef .

The origin of the name is unclear but it is surely evocative of our farmers’ long suffering under centuries of papal domination. Having to part with hard earned food as a tax, they wished the greedy clerics to choke on it.

The strozzapreti are short, eggless noodles, not dissimilar to the Umbrian stringozzi. They are simply made with flour and water and rolled by hand to obtain irregular pasta curls. This is a nicely rustic, wheat-free version I made today with farro flour. You could also use spelt, whole wheat or regular wheat flour or a mixture of any of the above.


  • 300 gr (3 ) farro flour plus additional for kneading
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pinch salt

To make the strozzapreti dough use the same food processor method which I have explained for egg pasta. The dough must be firm but pliable so you might need to adjust the amount of water depending on the type of flour you are using.  Roll the dough with a pasta machine until it’s thin, but not transparent, one setting before the last one. While the pasta is still soft, cut the dough into 1.5 cm (1/2 inch)  ribbons, then…

...take a pasta ribbon on the palm of your hand....

....roll the pasta ribbons to make it curl.... this.

With a sharp knife cut the ribbons into 5 cm (2 inch) long pieces and set them on a floured worktop or cotton towel to dry.

Cook in salted boiling water for one minute, they overcook fast! Toss with sauce and a little pasta water as as explained here. Serve immediately.

The strozzapreti need a robust sauce like ragù , a Norcina or a porcini mushroom sauce. In Romagna they serve them with seafood. YUM.

Serves 2-3 as a main.


farro and lentil soup

ZUPPA DI LENTICCHIE E FARRO. Castelluccio di Norcia, in the South-East of Umbria is a tiny village located on a lonely outcrop at the centre of one of the most spectacular areas of Central Italy, the Piano Grande . The fields of this magnificent plain produce farro wheat, and the most delicious, tiny, tender  lentils.

lentil fields in the Piano grande di Castelluccio

lentil fields in the Piano grande di Castelluccio

Farro is an ancestral wheat with a characteristic nutty flavor. The term “farro” is a collective name of 3 species of grains, i.e.  emmer, einkorn and spelt. It is considered a healthy food for its high protein and fiber  content.  Ginger was used in Italian cuisine centuries ago, but virtually disappeared after the Renaissance. For a more traditional Mediterranean flavor, ginger  can be  substituted with a  sprig of rosemary or a handful of sage leaves, not both together!


  • 1 large onion, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1 cup/250 gr.  small brown whole lentils
  • 1 cup/250 gr.  farro
  • parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 cups/ 1 lt. water or vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 large garlic clove, halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 slice toasted Italian crusty bread/person
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan/person

Some brands of farro might need to be soaked overnight in cold water. Most farro sold nowadays is pearled so does not need soaking.

In a 4-quart heavy saucepan make a “soffritto” by softening the  onion in olive oil over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until pale golden.  Add ginger and stir for 1 min. Add lentils and spelt, hot water or stock  and simmer, stirring occasionally, until soup is thickened and lentils are soft but still retaining their shape, about 30 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper only when cooked.

At this stage the cooled soup can be frozen. When ready to serve defrost, add some water –  it will be quite solid – and bring to a low boil.

Toast bread slices, rub generously with fresh garlic and then cut them into small cubes. Ladle the soup into soup bowls, scatter over each bowl the chopped parsley,  bread cubes , a  teaspoon of good extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan.  Serve immediately.

a light, healthy soup, almost a meal in itself

a light, healthy, nutritious soup, almost a meal in itself


Submitted to a Tasty Recipes and Cooking Station event


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