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Sicilian orange, black olives and fennel salad

Hello my friends, how have you been?

This month I was going to publish a risotto recipe, but winter is so mellow in Rome, and I was inspired to remind you of this classic and so well-balanced Sicilian salad.

The ingredients are in season right now and at their peak. Fennel is juicy and crunchy. Oranges are sweet and aromatic, especially the blonde Washington navels and the red Tarocco. Preserved black olives are always available, but make sure to find good ones, plump, not excessively salty and devoid of that medicinal undertone of cheap canned olives.

The fennel’s herbal aroma, reminiscent of aniseed and licorice, combines beautifully with tangy citrus and the umami power of olives.

cooking classes in Rome fennel orange salad

Over the years, I met several people at my cooking classes who don’t like fennel bulbs. However, I have often discovered they had never eaten them fresh and were delighted to enjoy this delightful concoction.

Italian fennel orange olive saladI suggest acquiring bulbs with the fronds, if possible, to sprinkle on top for decoration and to use the fennel as soon as possible as it tends to dry out in the refrigerator and loose texture and flavor. By the way, did you know that fennel is not a bulb? The edible part is actually made of enlarged leaf stems.

This is an exquisite and incredibly simple dish which does not need “improvement” by including salad leaves, herbs or fancy vinegars. Sorry NYT, but if we start adding oregano here, we’ll end up making pizza with pineapple. It’s a slippery slope!

In fact, as in almost everything in Italian cooking, the secret is to use fresh ingredients, your best extra virgin olive oil and to consume it as soon as it’s ready to serve to prevent wilting and release of juices

Recipe

Ingredients

• 2 large fennel bulbs, trimmed and sliced, fronds reserved
• 3 tablespoon black olives, best quality
• 1 large orange, peeled, halved and sliced
• juice of 1/2 lemon
• 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
• salt, black pepper

Method

Cut the orange into thin slices, saving any juice that is released during the process to incorporate into the dressing.

In a salad bowl, whisk the oil, lemon juice, the leftover juice of the orange, 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a twist of black pepper. Add the sliced fennel bulbs and olives and toss. Taste for seasoning.

Transfer the fennel to a serving plate and top with orange slices and fennel fronds. Drizzle the rest of the dressing from the bowl and a little more olive oil, if needed.

Serve at once.
Serves 4 as a side dish or light appetizer.

 

 

Vegetarian spinach cannelloni with porcini mushroom cream

vegetarian cannelloni with spinach and mushrooms

Hello my friends,

how have you been? I cooked too much during the holidays and, of course, I made myself quite tired. It was all worth it though. I so enjoyed the company of family and of the lovely friends who have visited from near and far. After at least a week of eating leftovers, I felt energized again and inspired to continue to create more delicious ways to include vegetables in my recipes.

Please meet the vegetarian cannelloni. This is a surprisingly light and delightful dish. It will also be appealing to meat-lovers thanks to the added umami from the porcini mushrooms. You can make a gluten-free version using crêpes instead of pasta sheets.

The recipe expands on my method of filing fresh lasagna sheets with a layer of creamy cheese and vegetables. Using very thin lasagna sheets soaked in salted water assures the best results in terms of flavor and texture.

how to make vegetarian cannelloniIn this case the soaked lasagna sheets are cut in a half, rolled up and topped with a striped drizzle of two sauces, a porcini mushroom flavored béchamel and a simple tomato sauce.

This is a dish that requires a little more time than the lasagna, as it involves soaking and cooking the mushrooms and making the béchamel. Should you be short on time, you could just use one of the two sauces and a sprinkle of Parmigiano. It will still taste fantastic and look very special.

Recipe

250 g (9 oz) fresh lasagna sheets (9 oz; mine are 22×18 cm -7×5 inches).

For the cannelloni filling:

  • 600 gr (1 1/2 lb, uncooked weight) blanched or steamed spinach or Swiss chard, excess moisture removed by squeezing, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 250 gr (1/2 lb) whole milk ricotta
  • 250 g (1/2 lb) fresh mozzarella
  • 4-6 tablespoon grated Parmigiano or Pecorino

For the béchamel:

  • 250 ml (1 cup) full fat milk
  • 30 g (1 oz) butter
  • 30 g (1 oz) corn starch

For the tomato sauce

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 400 g (14 oz) canned crushed tomatoes
  • a handful of basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano

For the porcini mushrooms

  • a handful of dried porcini mushrooms (about 10 g, 1/3 oz)
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • white wine

To make the filling:

  1. Heat the garlic briefly in a shallow pan with 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil and the fennel seeds. Add the cooked spinach, salt lightly and warm through to infuse with the garlicky oil. Transfer to a food processor together with the ricotta. Process briefly until smooth.
  2. Slice the mozzarella and cut it into potato chip-like pieces.
  3. To soak the pasta sheets, boil 4–6 cups of water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pour in a shallow bowl, which must be larger than your lasagna sheets. Using a slotted spoon, deep one or two lasagna sheets at a time in the hot water until just soft, approx. 20 sec, strain, then place in one single layer on your work top. Cut each sheet in two as shown in the photos.

make fresh manicotti vegetarian

Assemble the cannelloni:

Using a silicon spatula, spread the ricotta spinach mixture over the pasta sheets. Place the mozzarella pieces on the diagonal of the pasta sheets and sprinkle with Parmigiano. Roll tightly along the diagonal.

To cook the porcini mushrooms:

Soak the porcini mushrooms in 1/2 cup water until soft, about 15 minutes. Heat 1 finely minced clove of garlic in 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and add the porcini with their liquid. Add two tablespoons of white wine, cover, and poach the mushrooms over low heat until soft and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

cook dried porcini mushrooms

Make the porcini mushrooms cream:

The porcini cream is a béchamel blended with the cooked porcini:

I make the white sauce in the microwave using glass measuring jugs.

1. Heat the milk until near boiling point, about 2 min. In a different jug, melt the butter, whisk in the corn starch to create a roux. While whisking, add the hot milk, first one tablespoon at the time until smooth and then all the rest.

2. Transfer the mixture to 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 sauce should be thick and smooth. Let it cool for a few minutes.

3. Add the porcini mushrooms without their liquid to the béchamel and blend in the food processor. If the mixture is quite firm, use part of the cooking liquid to make the béchamel spreadable. Don’t discard the delicious cooking liquid. If you don’t need it for the béchamel, reduce it to a syrup and drizzle on the cannelloni.

Make a tomato sauce:

Heat the onion, very finely chopped, in a shallow pan with one tablespoon of olive oil. Add the crushed tomato and basil leaves. Cover and cook 10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Season with a pinch of salt a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.

Finish:

Preheat oven to 200 °C (392 °F).

Spread the bottom of an oven pan with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Place the cannelloni over the sauce layer and drizzle with additional tomato sauce.

vegetarian fresh manicotti with spinach recipeI like to drizzle the sauces in a striped pattern, but you can omit this step and just layer the béchamel on top of the tomato sauce.

cannelloni with porcini cream

Drizzle with the porcini cream and sprinkle with Parmigiano.

Bake until slightly golden on top, plate, drizzle lightly with your best olive oil, serve immediately.

Makes 18 cannelloni. Serves 4-6.

NB: Don’t spread the cannelloni out in a large pan, or they will dry out while cooking. I often cook for two, that’s why there is space around the cannelloni but not between the cannelloni. If you make the full recipe, your cannelloni will fit snugly in a 32×22 cm (approximately 12.5×8.5 inches).

 

 

 

 

 

Green broccoli sformato flan with parmesan cream sauce

Hello my friends,

what a fabulous time to cook this is, don’t you think? Ingredients are fabulous, days are short, and there is no better comfort than cooking up a storm in the kitchen. I spend every free moment cooking and fantasizing about menus for the holidays. Also, I’m very much looking forward to the lovely friend and family who will come to visit in the next few weeks.

Beautiful broccoli at my neighborhood market in Rome

 


As you know, all my recipes have been available for free on this website for many years, and they always will be. It takes many hours to create, test and publish a recipe. If you wish to support my work and take part in the Test Kitchen project, please consider pledging a paid subscription to my newsletters or gift one to someone else. Grazie mille!


 

In preparation for the holidays, I want to welcome you into the world of the “sformato” and the “sformatini”, a much beloved vegetable dish that appears in restaurant as well as family meal menus throughout the year but especially for a party.

A sformato is an Italian savory flan, somewhat firmer than a souffle and softer than a frittata. Sformato is often made with puréed vegetables mixed with béchamel and eggs, but I prefer to use ricotta instead of béchamel. It’s lighter and even simpler and faster to prepare.

A sformato made in an individual mold or ramekin is named “sformatino” or” tortino” (pl. sformatini or tortini) and it’s often served with a cheese sauce, for example “crema di Parmigiano” or “crema di Pecorino”. This is a heavenly combination and, if well executed, results in a really elegant appetizer or a light vegetarian main to combine with a substantial salad or just a slice of crusty bread.


N.B. This recipe contains anchovy, but you can easily make it vegetarian using smoked cheese or a teaspoon of very finely chopped sun-dried tomato in olive oil. If you are not vegetarian but don’t eat fish, you could use a teaspoon of very finely chopped prosciutto. If you have no restrictions, I highly recommend using the anchovy even if you are not familiar with it. It’s a tiny amount but that little extra umami really makes the dish.

Recipe

For the flan:

  • 400 g broccoli (about 1 lb)
  • 1 finely minced clove of garlic
  • 120 g (4 oz) fresh ricotta
  • 4 tablespoon grated Parmigiano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • a sprinkle black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 6 tablespoon milk

 

For the Parmesan cream sauce:

  • 90 grated Parmigiano Reggiano o Grana Padano
  • 250 ml (1 cup) full fat milk
  • 30 g (1 oz) butter
  • 30 g (1 oz) corn starch

To finish:

  • 3 anchovy fillets (if vegetarian, see note above)
  • 6 cubes of semi-soft mild cheese like mozzarella, young Asiago or Taleggio, with 2 cm (2/3 inch) sides
  • 1 zucchini

Equipment:

  • food processor
  • microwave
  • parchment paper

To make the sformatini:

1. Prepare the broccoli

Clean the broccoli, cut into florets and peel the thickest part of the stem, then dice. Blanch in boiling hot water for 5–6 minutes, until fork tender but not overcooked. Drain and cool immediately in cold water. The broccoli must be tender enough to blend to a smooth mixture while still retaining a lovely green color.

Using a shallow large pan, heat the garlic until lightly sizzling, then stir-in the cooked broccoli and simmer for 5 min, stirring occasionally to absorb the garlicky flavor. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

broccoli saute with garlic

Cool to room temperature or refrigerate in a covered container if using later. The broccoli can be prepared up to one day ahead.

2. Blend the sformato ingredients

Transfer the broccoli into a food processor, add the ricotta cheese, egg, cornstarch, grated Parmigiano, salt and blend until smooth. Add the milk, 2 tablespoons at the time, to soften the mixture. Blend again to achieve a pudding-like consistency.

3. Assemble the sformatini

Mise en place

Using a cheese or potato peeler, slice the zucchini into 6 long, paper-thin strips.

Cut 6 pieces of parchment paper into squares which must big large enough to cover the top and side ramekins, with about 15 cm (5 inches) sides. Press the parchment paper squares on one of the ramekins to shape them like a capsule, which will be used to cover the sformato while cooking.

Oil six 3/4 cup (140-150 ml) ramekins. Brush the zucchini slices with olive oil on both sides and use them to line the ramekins.

Spoon half mixture into the molds, press the soft cheese in the middle and top with 1/3 anchovy fillet.

Spoon the rest of the broccoli mixture into the ramekins, level it and drizzle lightly with olive oil.

4. Cook the sformatini

Cover with the parchment paper “capsules” and microwave 3 ramekins at the time at 450W for 6 minutes.

You can serve the sformatini with no sauce, just drizzled with olive oil or unmold them directly atop the sauce, see below.

If you don’t have a microwave, place the sformatini in an ovenproof pan, fill with boiling water until half the sides of the ramekins and bake in a preheated oven at 180 °C (350 °F) for 15 min or until set but still soft. If using the oven, cover the sformatini tightly with aluminum foil.

To make the Parmesan cream:

The easiest way to make a Parmesan cream, or crema di Parmigiano, is to prepare a slightly liquid béchamel and add a generous amount of Parmigiano in it.

I make the white sauce very quickly and efficiently in the microwave using glass measuring jugs.

1. Heat the milk until near boiling point, about 2 min. In a different jug, melt the butter then whisk in the corn starch to create a roux. While whisking add the hot milk, first one tablespoon at the time until smooth and then all the rest.

2. Transfer the mixture to 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 sauce should be thick and smooth.

3. Add the grated cheese. Note that Parmigiano melts beautifully at 80°C (175 °F) and becomes stringy at higher temperatures. For this reason, allow the sauce to cool until quite warm but not boiling hot, then add the Parmigiano and whisk again to incorporate.

To assemble the dish:

Allow the sformato to cool just enough to handle. Meanwhile, distribute the Parmesan cream in the center of 6 dishes, invert the ramekins in the center of each plate to unmold. Serve immediately.

Serves 6.

 

 

 

Vegetarian roasted squash lasagna with pecorino cheese

homemade lasagna with squash and ricotta cheese

Hello my friends, how have you been?

All is generally fine here in Rome, temperatures are nice and mild and the markets have exploded with squashes and edible pumpkins of all colors and shapes.

As I mentioned in the past, Halloween is now fully imported in Italy. In our very traditional neighborhood, the feast has slipped away quite unnoticed. The local butchers however have done a great job with pumpkin meatballs (sorry not vegetarian!) and
these adorable ghost meatballs wrapped in pastry. I bet the butcher does not know he is supposed to make something spooky. These are more on the cute side than on the scary side 🙂

For me, the real feast is the arrival of squashes. I look forward to making some of my favorite recipes with this great vegetable. In my experience, butternut squash works well in Italian recipes but be adventurous and try new varieties when available.

I like to roast the squashes cut in half or in large wedges, sprinkled with salt and pepper and with a few sage leaves, 1/4 onion, and 2 teaspoons olive oil in the cavity. The flesh scoops out easily and freezes very well for soups, pasta, and risotto.

This month’s recipe might be unorthodox for some of you. It’s a very light, delicate, and thin lasagna. There is no tomato, just a thin layer of pureed squash enriched with ricotta.

For this reason, the recipe only works out with fresh pasta sheets. This lasagna is built with a balance of vegetables, sliced cheese, soft cheese as well as grated cheese. Feel free to double the layers if you like a thicker lasagna, but please exercise restraint with the sauce and cheeses as the whole point is to keep it light.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg (2 lb) orange pumpkin or squash, cleaned and cut in half or large wedges.
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 3-4 sage leaves
  • 300 gr (10 1/2 oz) thinly sliced, sharp – but not hard – cheese. A young pecorino is perfect but you could use fontina, smoked cheese, or a mixture made with 1/2 gorgonzola and 1/2 mozzarella.
  • 120 gr (4 oz) grated Parmigiano or Pecorino
  • 250 gr (8 oz) fresh ricotta
  • 500 gr ( 1 lb)  fresh lasagna sheets ( mine are 22×18 cm -7×5 inches)

For the sauce:

Preheat oven to 200 °C (390°F). Prepare squash as in the photo above and roast until fork tender.

Let it cool enough to handle, then spoon the flesh and the onion into the bowl of a food processor together with the ricotta. Discard the sage leaves as they might be bitter. Process until thick and creamy. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.

Assemble lasagna:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 °C (400 °F). Butter a 40 x 30 cm (16 x 12 inch) roasting pan.
  2. To soak the pasta sheets, boil 4-6 cups of water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Pour in a shallow bowl which must be larger than your lasagna sheets. Using a slotted spoon, deep one or two lasagna sheets at a time in the hot water until just soft, approx. 30 sec, strain and place in one single layer in the buttered tin.
  3.  Once the bottom of the pan is covered by lasagna sheets, pour 1/4 of the pumpkin/ricotta mixture over the pasta sheets and spread it in a thin layer. Top with 1/3 of the sliced cheese and 2 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano.

    how to make vegetarian lasagna
    In this photo I was making lasagna for two, that’s why the pasta sheets don’t get all the way to the side of the pan. They cook beautifully anyway.
  4. Repeat two more times using each time 1/3 of the sliced cheese, 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano, and 1/4 of the pumpkin mixture reserving 1/4 for the top layer.
  5. Top with one last layer of pasta sheets, cover thinly with the rest of the pumpkin mixture, sprinkle with 2-3 additional tablespoons of Parmesan, and bake for 25 min or until golden-brown around the sides and lightly crunchy on top. Enjoy!

Serves 8

light vegetarian lasagna with squash recipe

NB. This recipe marks the beginning of my new project, a virtual Test Kitchen which I run through my newsletter platform. You are invited to participate in the project, there is an entire month to make the recipe and join the community to show your results and discuss problems and ideas. Please subscribe to read all about it, thanks!

Cacio e pepe pasta sauce

secrets to a creamy cacio e pepe

I know it’s hardly news, but I must be one of the few who had not realised that “cacio e pepe”, a simple pasta sauce made with Pecorino Romano and black pepper, has taken over the world. From Singapore to Los Angeles, to Lima and Cape Town there is cacio e pepe to be had in all corners of the world.

Such a level popularity is actually baffling to Italians of my generation. I have grown up in the 1960s, when a bowl of spaghetti tossed with cheese and pepper appeared on the table when you were out of luck with dinner.simple recipe for cacio e pepe pasta in Rome It was a rare event, because my mum *always* cooked a proper meal, but if in a hurry, we would have spaghetti with butter and Parmigiano or with oil, garlic and chili pepper or with Pecorino Romano and black pepper.

Quick and easy doesn’t mean insipid. As a matter of fact, I am convinced that any traditional Italian pasta recipe can be heavenly when made with good quality ingredients. However, until 7-8 years ago, I would never have expected that one of our last minute meals would acquire world-level notoriety.

make the best cacio e pepe recipe with Pecorino Romano

In Rome, cacio e pepe is everywhere. I have seen it served with potato chips, on pizza, as a filling of arancini, as a sauce for risotto, poured over all sort of meats and vegetables among which – a mortal sin – deep fried artichokes.

However, there is always a price tag attached to popularity.

While some chefs shine with perfect technique and ingredients, others dish out a concotion that is often a pale imitation of the real thing. Pecorino Romano, which is added liberally on the original recipe, is expensive. You can easily tell the sauce is poor when the cheese is barely discernible, the pepper is old and all you get is a white sauce with a flat, unidimensional flavour. A greasy puddle at the bottom of the plate is also not a good sign.

If you plan to visit Rome for the first time, I suggest to try to make cacio e pepe pasta at home first.

cacio e pepe recipe spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper
photos recipe: Tea de Jong & Francesco Scala

Not only you will enjoy the process, but you will know what to expect. I also suggest to research where to taste all of the famous Roman pasta dishes: carbonara, amatriciana, gricia and, obviously, cacio e pepe. The Romans are your best source of information and you can find, and easily translate, plenty of reviews and articles written by locals. I often interview someone I meet in a shop or in a park and they are always happy to advice their favorite trattoria.

Recipe

Making a perfect cacio e pepe sauce requires a little practice, but once you have command of the method and don’t make mistakes with temperature and texture (see below), it works very well every time. Important steps are marked in bold. Please be accurate!

Equipment

• Pasta pan
• colander
• container to reserve the pasta water
• large shallow bowl or pan at room temperature
• a set of salad servers or spaghetti server

Ingredients

• 250 g (1/2 lb) spaghetti or tonnarelli, stringozzi or other thick fresh noodles
• 80 g (about 3 oz) Pecorino Romano, at room temperature, very finely grated
• 3-6 tablespoons of whole milk, at room temperature

Finish

• freshly ground or cracked black pepper
• 1 cup reserved warm pasta water for thinning the sauce, if needed

Prepare ingredients

Grate the Pecorino romano very finely and allow both the milk and cheese to get to room temperature.
As for the pepper, it’s best to use coarse freshly ground or crushed black pepper and, for a more intense flavour, toast whole peppercorns in a dry skillet before grinding. The toasting brings out the underlying sweetness and fruitiness of the pepper and intensifies its fragrance.

I use about one pinch of peppercorns per person and heat them over a low heat in a small skillet until they just start to look shiny (1-3 minutes), then crush them with a mortar and pestle. It’s important to keep the ground pepper covered to preserve its aroma until ready to use.

crushed toasted black pepper for cacio e pepe pasta

Cook the pasta

Bring a pan of lightly salted water to a boil, add the pasta and stir. Fresh stringozzi will cook in one minute. If using spaghetti, cook according to the package instructions, usually 9 to 12 minutes depending on the amount and quality. Do make sure to cook the pasta until al dente.

Prepare sauce

Meanwhile, transfer the cheese to a large bowl and beat-in the room temperature milk very gradually to make a thick paste.

Assemble dish

When the pasta is cooked, strain, but reserve a cup of pasta water just in case you need it for thinning the sauce. As an alternative, scoop the pasta from the water with tongs so that it stays moist. Quickly add the noodles to the cheese mixture in the bowl, keeping the warm pasta water to hand.

tossing fresh noodles with cacio e pepeToss vigorously with the salad servers, adjusting with a tablespoon or two of pasta water at a time, as necessary.
Add more grated cheese if the sauce is too thin.

how to sauce cacio e pepe easy recipe

What to expect

Generally, the sauce becomes creamy quite quickly, within a minute or so. If it doesn’t, please keep stirring for another minute. As long as the cheese does not coagulate, a creamy sauce will form as the cheese reaches the correct temperature, approximately 55°C (130°F).

Should your pasta cool off while saucing, put it back in the empty pasta pan which should still be hot and re-heat it for the briefest amount of time. Be cautious with heat as Pecorino is creamy at low temperatures, but it becomes lumpy at high temperatures. Add some pasta water to keep the sauce fluid, if necessary.

how to make authentic cacio e pepe with pecorino and black pepper

Sprinkle with the black pepper, divide between warm bowls, serve and eat immediately with additional black pepper on the side if desired.
Serves 2-3.

cacio e pepe Roman pasta ready to serve

 

 

Grilled bell peppers with mint and my new life in Rome

I have been dreaming of this day for a long time.

Today life hands me the gift of writing a recipe again. A recipe for all of you who have been by my side throughout all that has happened in the last two years. For all of you who have called, sent messages, visited. For those of you who brought delicious food and offered a helping hand or a gesture of comfort. Today’s simple recipe is for all the love we have received.

photo: M. Kraemer

After my beloved Ruurd became ill, just a little over two years ago, so much has happened. For the longest time I felt like the lonely captain of a ship, trying to navigate through an endless storm. I worked relentlessly to run the farm, the agriturismo, and to deal with our family crisis. Often that ship felt like the Titanic.

But miracles do happen. Someone – angels – turned up at our door, and gave us the opportunity to change. Finally, last November, our farm was sold to an adorable couple who have fallen in love with the wild beauty of our magical mountain. Our corner of paradise could not have been in better hands.

In a few months I packed everything: the memories, the old furniture, my favorite kitchen equipment, and moved to Rome. We live now in a small apartment on the top floor of a 1939 building just South of Rome’s historic center. We enjoy great views all the way to the hills of the Castelli Romani.

vie from cooking school Rome Appio Latino is an old neighbourhood, with a great outdoor market, not a tacky souvenir in sight, and all sort of small shops and businesses at literally steps from where we live. People is kind and friendly and most have lived here for generations.

I feel home, I have always loved big cities. At the market I have already made friends with the butcher, the cheesemonger and with the guy who has special beans and spices. I can’t get enough of the cornucopia of foods on offer. I always come back from shopping with too much food, the vegetables are magnificent!

You might have wondered if I had retired, and the answer is no, of course! As you might have realised from this new version of the website, I am finally ready to offer cooking classes and other services.

I will tell you more about my projects in the next posts, but now is time for this month’s recipe.

Grilled sweet peppers are a staple on the Italian summer table, generally served as part of an antipasto or a side dish. The secret to obtain fantastic grilled bell peppers is to obtain thick, plump peppers which must be in season and access to fresh herbs and high quality extra virgin olive oil.

Grilling the peppers on the BBQ contributes an additional layer of smoky aroma. However, summers have become so hot and it’s hard to endure to stand by hot coals or to use the oven. Instead, I use a cast iron griddle which is easy in a city apartment and does not heat up the kitchen as much.

Regardless of the cooking method, I find that the quality and freshness of the peppers is the most important factor to obtain a flavour which – you will appreciate -is vastly superior to jarred products.

Recipe

  • 3-4 large whole red or yellow pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves and/or basil
  • 1 clove of garlic

I use a 26 cm/ 10 inch heavy cast iron griddle which gets hot very quickly on gas, so I don’t preheat it. I just place the peppers in the pan and place it on the heat.

There is generally no need to oil vegetables if you use a very hot grill. This way the vegetables don’t smoke and you will avoid the unpleasant flavour of burnt oil.  It is also important to cover the peppers with a large lid which will make the process faster and disperse less heat in the kitchen.

how to grill Italian style bell peppers on the stovetop

Grill the bell peppers until skins start to blister, flipping them around so they blacken evenly on all sides. This should take about 20 minutes but time might change depending on your heat source and the thickness of the pan.
recipe to grill bell peppers Italian style

Do make sure to check them every 5 min so that only the skin will burn! The flesh should hardly cook otherwise the peppers will fall apart and you might not be able to peel them at all.

Once the peppers are ready, transfer them in a closed non reactive container (e.g. a stainless steel pan with a lid) or into a paper bag or wrap them with several layers of kitchen paper. Let them stand until cool enough to handle.

Peel the peppers, then open lengthwise, discarding stems and seeds. Cut into 5 cm/2 inch strips.

Place a shallow pan on low heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a clove of finely minced garlic. Simmer until fragrant then stir the peppers briefly in the aromatic oil. Switch the heat off, and stir in the mint or basil, torn into small pieces or cut – just before using – in to tiny strips. Note that some varieties of mint might become bitter if cooked, so be gentle with the last step.

If you have time, set aside the peppers in a closed container to marinade for a few hours or refrigerate overnight . Add a small pinch of salt just before serving, cold or at room temperature.

Serves 2-3

 

 

 

 

Stir-fried chicken breast with olives, capers & tomato

Isola Polvese at Trasimeno LakeUmbria Italy

Hello my friends, how have you been?

After a cold spring, summer is upon us and it’s hot, hot, hot. Has it been the same where you live?

Within a few days, around mid June, I found myself changing our food and clothes from winter to full summer. Now I’m fighting for the survival of my basil plants which more often than not end up freezing to death or burned! My beloved potted garden is suffering right now. After a spectacular crop of strawberries, I haven’t been able to plant anything.

On the other hand, Betty the cat has been enjoying the raised table as her private solarium, away from unwanted attention from Google the dog. Meanwhile, I carefully evaluate if I should kill anymore species from the vegetable world. I think I should wait.

view of countryside near Assisi from Agriturismo B&B Cooking School Alla Madonna del Piatto

For the rest, life is getting just a little more normal here at Alla Madonna del Piatto. We spent a wonderful day at the Polvese Island in the Trasimeno lake located just North of Perugia (photo above).

Most importantly, we have just welcomed the first 2 small groups of B&B visitors and the first cooking class in person since summer 2019. It’s been such a joy to have people in the kitchen and share a day doing what I love the most!

Review Agriturismo Alla Madonna del Piatto and Cooking School Assisi Italy

Should you not be able to make it to Italy this year, you could still join one of my online classes. Now that is so hot, I am offering fresh and easy recipes based on short cooking or no cooking. Online classes are still popular for birthdays and other celebrations, especially if you are unable to visit your beloved.

This month’s recipe, inspired to the famous pasta sauce Puttanesca, reflects the mood of the season. It’s a simple meal, ready in minutes, full of flavor but light and nutritious. As you know I have an inordinate fondness for eggplants, so I like to serve the chicken with soft grilled slices of this fantastic vegetable. However, you could use your favorite green salad, sliced cucumbers, steamed leaves, as long as you choose something not too sweet – e.g. arugula  – to balance the natural sweetness of the chicken.

Recipe

  • 250 g (½ lb) organic chicken breast slices
  • 2 tablespoon corn starch
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1 cup small plum tomatoes halved or crushed canned  tomatoes½ cup  black or green olives
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed well if in salt
  • 1 anchovy fillet packed in olive oil

Optional:

  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 small fresh chili pepper diced

Cut chicken breast into small strips and toss with the corn starch.

Heat a deep-sided skillet or wok over medium-high heat, then add the olive oil. Add the chicken strips,  and cook stirring occasionally until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm.

Return the pan to low heat. Add the garlic, olives, anchovy and capers and cook until fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until they look soft and start to release their juices. If using canned  tomatoes, cook for 7-8 minutes until slightly thickened.  Stir the chicken back to the skillet along with any juices that have accumulated. Simmer to blend the flavors and reheat.
Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly. Scatter with parsley and diced chili pepper, if using. Serve with steamed vegetables or grilled eggplants like the ones in the photo below.

Serves 2.

Eas ìy grilled marinated eggplants

Spaghetti with fresh fava beans & guanciale

olive grove in Umbria in the spring

Spaghetti, fave, guanciale, pecorino and country walks.

Umbria is impossibly green right now and, after a long period of restrictions, it’s finally possible to make walks on a different mountain! Ruurd and I are restless. We have been confined here in our small community for several months. As a consequence we find every excuse to go the the next village or town just for the sake of a small trip. One day the excuse is to explore unknown woodlands to pick wild asparagus.

On another day we must drive 30 minutes to buy a special salami at a favorite butcher shop. Next, we discover it is absolutely urgent to visit a second-hand shop hunting for photography props. In truth, it feels wonderful to be on another road, in another town, to meet and greet other people, even a different olive grove is exciting! We are relieved but worried it will not last as the numbers are wobbly. However, deep in our hearts we just wish to be free and live our simple life.

It’s still unseasonably cold but the valley below Assisi is full of rapeseed flowers which makes it look like fields of gold. I am eager to work on my small container garden but I know by experience that I can only plant when the nights are finally warm. At least my parsley is looking better and I might even get a handful of strawberries from a pot that Tea has left in my care. Obviously, se could not carry it to The Netherlands. We miss her so much.

Are you bored of cabbages? I really can’t take them anymore. I have a red cabbage I bought a few days ago because it looked gorgeous but I can’t make myself to cook it. Luckily the markets are full of marvelous artichokes, asparagus, loquats and piles of fava beans. If this was a normal year, every self respecting Umbrian restaurant would have this simple pasta in their menu. The Romans call this sauce “Gricia with fava beans”, but with just call it pasta with fave, pecorino and guanciale.

Should you not have access to fava beans, substitute with blanched shelled green peas. Shelling the fava will take some time, but it’s all worth it. Very young and tender favas don’t need shelling, but the skin of more mature beans is bitter and needs to be removed.

Recipe

  • 200 g (7 oz) spaghetti
  • 200 g (1 cup) broad beans (yields 6 tablespoons shelled broad beans)
  • 1 garlic clove, very finely minced
  • 3 tablespoons very finely grated Pecorino cheese
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 60 g (2 oz) guanciale or cured pancetta

If you buy fresh fava beans in the pod, you will need about 1/2 kg (1 lb) per person. Remove the beans from the pods, then blanch in boiling water for 5 minutes, or until some of the skins start to split. Drain and refresh under cold water. Remove the skins and set aside.
Dice the guanciale or pancetta, then sauté in 1 teaspoon of olive oil, until it just starts to become crispy.
In a pan large enough to hold all the pasta, sauté the garlic clove in olive oil until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans and mix briefly to infuse them with the oil. Take off the heat and add the guanciale.
Bring the Pecorino and milk to room temperature, then transfer to a serving bowl and mix together.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1/3 cup of pasta water. Transfer the pasta into the pan that holds the beans and guanciale, turn the heat up to high, add some pasta water and quickly stir to combine. Transfer the pasta into the bowl with the Pecorino and milk mixture, stir vigorously.
Serve immediately with additional cheese and a sprinkle of black pepper, if desired.

Serves 2.

PS. Do you already have my cookbooks? BTW both “A Kitchen with a View” and “Festa Italiana” make a wonderful gift for mother’s day. Click on the titles to order or visit the Cookbooks page, thank you!

Wonderful photo by: Smitten Italy

 

Crema diplomatica custard with prosecco strawberries

Strawberries soaked in prosecco, lemon and vanilla

A healthy Easter fruit based dessert

Growing up I have always loved Easter. First of all because of the great food appearing in the markets, juicy strawberries, asparagus, fava beans, agretti. Then, because of the expectation of the great Easter meals and Easter Monday picnic.

For Easter we would sit at a multicourse meal during which we would enjoy the best of two worlds: Easter cheese bread with plates of fantastic salumi from the Umbrian side of the family, artichoke sformato, baked meat rolls and marzipan sweets from the Sicilian side of the family. Of course we also enjoyed all the usual suspects of our large family gatherings, mouthwatering lasagna, roast lamb and piles of colomba, a dove shaped sweet bread similar to panettone.

easter breakfast in Umbria Italy
Traditional Umbrian Easter Breakfast with Torta di Pasqua (cheese bread), salame, chocolate, eggs and wine.

The next day, if the weather allowed, all leftovers would be packed. Cars loaded with food and blankets, we would drive to a countryside picnic site to bask in the sun and hunt for wild asparagus, the greatest delicacy of this time of the year.

The crema diplomatica, also called Italian Chantilly, is not a traditional Easter dessert. However, in the present times it’s perfect for a small party and in fact it’s been very popular at my online cooking classes in the last few weeks. As a bonus this version of the crema is mixed with ricotta instead of whipped cream so it’s light, not overly sweet and makes good use of the glut of strawberries just arrived at the market. You can obviously serve the crema diplomatica with fresh or poached fruit for the whole year. In addition, if you make the custard in the microwave you will have the crema ready in no time.

For extra wonderful flavor, prepare the prosecco strawberries at least half a day ahead.

Recipe

for the custard (pastry cream):

  • 250 ml ( 1 cup) milk
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon maizena (corn starch)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • zest of 1/2 organic lemon

to finish:

  • 125 g (4 and 1/2 oz) ricotta
  • 3 tablespoon organic brown sugar or 6 tablespoon caramel
  • light cookies or crumbled puff pastry
  • fresh or poached fruit (see prosecco strawberries below)

Make the custard in the microwave:

Using a tall glass container, heat the milk and the lemon zest in the microwave until hot to the touch, about 2 min. In a separate microwavable tall container, whisk the egg, sugar and starch until smooth. Continue whisking the egg mixture while adding the hot milk, first one tablespoon at the time until smooth and then all the remaining milk and the zest at once.

Microwave the mixture for one minute on high heat. 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 completely.

Stir the ricotta into the custard until smooth and completely incorporated. Refrigerate until needed.

For the prosecco strawberries:

  • 250 ml (1 cup) Prosecco, Vin Santo, Moscato or a dessert wine of your choice.
  • 2-3 tablespoons of light brown sugar juice of half a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or zest of half a lemon or orange
  • 500 g (1 lb) strawberries, washed and sliced

 

Mix the wine and brown sugar in a saucepan over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the strawberries, and set aside for 10-15 minutes, or until cooled to room temperature. Add the lemon juice and vanilla extract or citrus zest and refrigerate for at least one hour, and up to a day.

In Italy, we serve fruit and fruit salads as a dessert, unadorned, except may be with a small amount of whipped cream. If the strawberries are ripe, their flavor will shine through the lovely marinade.

However, at the beginning of the season this recipe is perfect as a “sauce” for another dessert like the crema diplomatica.

Crema diplomatica with strawberries

Decorate with a sprinkle of brown sugar, a drizzle of caramel or crumbled amaretti cookies if you like.

Serves 3-4

Happy Easter and Happy Spring to you all!

White cannellini beans and rainbow chard with roast sausages

snow in the Umbrian hills

It’s snowing again in the Umbrian hills but the house is warm, the pantry and refrigerator are full of food and I have the sun in my kitchen.

Like every year, a huge crate of organic oranges from Sicily has arrived. As a consequence, I have spent the last few days slightly dazed by the intense aroma of orange peels simmering in sugar syrup. As you know, making candied orange peels is a yearly tradition in this house.

how to make candied orange peels

Even if we can’t go anywhere, I am blessed because I connect every week with so many of you who want to join my online cooking classes or who are attending events I have been invited to.

Recently, I have represented Umbria for a wonderful event with the US-based National Tourist Board of Italy (ENIT). We had a zoom meeting with over 150 travel professionals from all over the world. We were connected with several US  based ENIT offices plus the Canada, Portorico, and Mexico offices. It’s been exciting to see the interest in our little region and heart warming thinking of the wild possibility that travelers might be able to come and see us again. Do we dare to hope?

Italian national tourist board Umbria Event

I know, it’s impossible to make plans right now. When the day gets long and dark, I channel my inner self and  go to the kitchen to make some food for body and soul. Since Tea is away at University, I tend to cook too much for myself and Ruurd. However, I have learned to cook in batches and prefer recipes which freeze well so I don’t waste.

All the components of this recipe can be made in advance, but I generally roast the sausages just before dinner. On the other hand I often have in the freezer boxes of blanched greens and beans I cook from scratch.

rainbow chard at Italian market

Note that the recipe is vegetarian until you add the sausages at the end. This means that you can make the beans and chard and put some away for the vegetarians in the family, then add the sausages to the rest and everyone is happy.

White cannellini beans and sausage Italian recipe

Ingredients:

8 fresh Italian pork sausages or other sweet sausage of your choice

  • 250 g (1/2 lb) White beans like cannellini or tondini, or 1/2 kg (1 lb) cooked beans
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 small tomato
  • leaves from 1 sprig rosemary
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely minced

About 500 to 750 g (1 to 1 and 1/2 lb )vegetables like kale, spinach or Swiss chard, cleaned, steamed and chopped after removing the excess moisture.

I like to cook beans from scratch, which is more economical. Besides, they have a better flavor and no added chemicals. You can cook a large batch of beans and freeze them in portions with their broth for a ready meal.

To cook the beans:

Soak beans overnight in room temperature water, rinse and transfer to a tall saucepan. Add a whole onion, carrot, tomato and celery, and cover again with plenty of water. Cover the pot and simmer slowly until the beans are tender but not falling apart, 1 to 2 hours.

To cook the sausages:

Preheat oven at 200 °C (390 °F). Roast sausages in a pan with 1/4 inch water and one tablespoon olive oil until lightly brown on all sides. Remove the sausages from the pan, cut in bite size chunks, transfer them back into the pan and cover to keep them warm.

Flavor and assemble the dish:

When ready to serve, chop rosemary very finely, almost to a powder. Don’t do this in advance, as the rosemary will oxidize and loose flavor. Sauté the rosemary and garlic in 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil until fragrant.
Drain beans, season with salt and pepper, and stir to incorporate until heated through.

Stir in the steamed vegetables and if needed, reserve some for the vegetarian option.

beans and cavolo nero rosemary garlic recip

Transfer the rest of beans and vegetables into the pan with sausages to soak in the meat juices. Serve immediately.

Serves 4-6

sausage and cannellini beans Italian recipe
This recipe is delicious also with different beans as long as they have with a delicate flavor and with other greens such as spinach, broccolini or kale