Posts Tagged ‘Italy’

Southern-Italian-inspired baked whole fish, and pasta with garlic and hot pepper

For dinner last night we made two dishes inspired by our travels in southern Italy, both very easy and delicious. One was a whole black sea bass, which we seasoned and baked. The other was spaghetti with a simple and flavorful topping.

We went to our local fishmonger on Saturday morning, and he had a fresh 2-pound back bass, which he gutted for us but otherwise left whole. To cook the fish that evening, I preheated the oven to 425, and lined a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. I arranged a few lemon slices on the parchment paper, rubbed 3 to 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on both sides of the fish, sprinkled salt on both sides too, and then lay the fish down on the lemon slices. I put a half-dozen more lemon slices in to the fish cavity, along with 6 to 8 sprigs of fresh thyme. Last, I rolled some cherry tomatoes around in a bowl with another tablespoon of olive oil, sprinkled with salt, put the tomatoes onto the same baking sheet, and put it all in the oven for 30 minutes.

A fresh black bass

A fresh black bass

The fish stuffed and ready for the oven

The fish stuffed and ready for the oven

Meanwhile, I put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the spaghetti, and set out other ingredients I had around: a dried cayenne pepper from my garden of two years ago, a tablespoon of capers in brine, and about 1/3 cup Calabrian caper shoots in olive oil we had recently been given a jar of. I took a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano out of the fridge to come to room temp, and finely grated 2 cups worth using a zester.

I used the seeds from only one of these peppers.

I used the seeds from only one of these peppers.

Caper shoots in olive oil

Caper shoots in olive oil

I put a large skillet on low heat, and added about 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. I sliced six cloves of garlic into thin slices, being careful to pull out and discard the green sprout from each clove – the garlic is a bit old and tired now, almost time for a new season. I added the garlic to the oil, and let it gently cook for 15 minutes, being careful that the heat was low enough that the garlic did not get very brown. Then I removed the garlic with a slotted spoon, and put in the hot pepper flakes from 1 cayenne pepper, the capers and the caper shoots.

The garlic adding flavor to olive oil at a low temperature.

The garlic adding flavor to olive oil at a low temperature.

The red pepper flakes, capers, and caper shoots added after the garlic was removed.

The red pepper flakes, capers, and caper shoots added after the garlic was removed.

Meanwhile, the salted pasta water had boiled, so I put in about 3/4 lb of spaghetti, and cooked until al dente. I drained the pasta well, and then poured it in to the large skillet with the olive oil and other ingredients, and stirred well. I tossed in about 1/2 cup of minced fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, and stirred in the cheese. And, the fish was just out of the oven! We gently pulled the fish off the bones on each side, and served with the cherry tomatoes and pasta, with sea salt, olive oil, and fresh lemon wedges on the table for additional seasoning.

The fish just out of the oven.

The fish just out of the oven.



It all paired very well with a chilled Viognier. Yum!

Tuscan Ribollita – a hearty traditional vegetable, bean, and bread stew

Yesterday was the perfect day to make a big batch of comfort food – a Tuscan vegetable stew called Ribollita. We make this dish during one of the cooking classes with Chef Piero on the Tuscany food tour, but I had yet to make it at home.

You layer cooked vegetables and beans with toasted bread rubbed with fresh garlic, and then let it all sit for two hours while the ingredients come to know themselves – they come together deliciously, and the dish becomes more than the sum of its parts somehow.

The full recipe is below, following the photos.

The night before, soak your beans, and then the next morning cook them for an hour or so until tender, so they’re ready to use when you want to start cooking your stew. [I grew Tuscan zolfini beans in my garden this year, so I was excited to use this classic (and hard to find) Tuscan bean in my soup. Tuscans love zolfini beans because they become soft and creamy when cooked, but retain their shape. Cannelini or another white bean of choice can be used instead of course.]

When you’re ready to make your soup, chop up several different kinds of vegetables fairly finely, and sauté them in a large pot in a generous amount of olive oil until soft (reserving some of the raw onions for later).

Chopping up the savoy cabbage

Chopping up the savoy cabbage

Sauteing the vegetables until soft

Sauteing the vegetables until soft

While the vegetables are cooking, divide your cooked beans in half, and run half of them through the food mill (or push through a fine-mesh sieve).

A food mill is still a handy tool to have!

A food mill is still a handy tool to have!

Beans ready for adding to the stew

Beans ready for adding to the stew

Once the vegetables are soft, stir in both the whole beans and the food-milled beans, as well as some water, or broth if you prefer. (The recipe called for using the bean-soaking water, but I worry a bit about doing that, gas-wise…) Bring it to a boil and let simmer for 1 hour. While it cooks, saute the rest of the raw onion, and some garlic, until soft and just turning golden.

The vegetables and beans cooking for an hour

The vegetables and beans cooking for an hour

Sauteing the rest of the onion, and some garlic

Sauteing the rest of the onion, and some garlic

While the soup is cooking, slice your stale bread, toast it, and rub it with a cut clove of fresh garlic.

Stale sliced farm-bread toasting in the oven

Stale sliced farm-bread toasting in the oven

Rub the toast with fresh garlic

Rub the toast with fresh garlic

After the stew has cooked for an hour, turn off the heat, and stir in the onions and garlic. Then you use another large pot (or in my case, the same pot after you pour the stew out of it into a big bowl), put a layer of the garlic toast in the bottom, spoon over some stew, drizzle some olive oil over and grind some fresh pepper, then another layer of the garlic toast, and repeat until all the toast and stew are in the pot, ending with stew on top.

Layering the toast and the stew

Layering the toast and the stew

All layers in!

All layers in!

Then you put on the lid and let the stew sit for 2 hours, while all the ingredients come together. After 2 hours I went to heat the stew up gently before serving, and found that all the liquid had been absorbed!

The liquid had all been absorbed in my stew! So I added a little boiling water.

The liquid had all been absorbed in my stew! So I added a little boiling water.

So I added in a couple more cups of boiling water, stirred it, heated it gently, and served. I grated fresh parmigiano reggiano over the top of each bowl, and drizzled with a good strong olive oil. It was delicious, the bread perfectly soft, and very rich and hearty tasting, yet starting with very plain ingredients.

Recipe follows, enjoy! -Jillian

Tuscan Bread, Bean and Vegetable Soup
(La Minestra di Pane Ribollita)

Serves 8


– 1 onion, coarsely chopped
– 2 zucchini, chopped into small pieces
– 2 celery sticks, chopped into small pieces
– 2 carrots, chopped into small pieces
– 1/2 savoy cabbage, chopped into small pieces
– 20 leaves tuscan kale (also called dinosaur kale or lacinato kale) or swiss chard, chopped into small pieces
– 2 peeled tomatoes (I used 1 small can tomatoes and their juice)
– 250 grams boiled white beans (I started with about 8 ounces (by weight) of dry zolfini beans)
– 1 kg stale tuscan-style bread (I used a hearty farm bread)
– 2 cloves garlic, plus more for rubbing on the toast
– olive oil
– salt and pepper
– 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, optional
– parmigiano reggiano cheese and olive oil for topping


1. Soak your beans the night before, and cook them until soft, so they’re ready for use. Reserve the cooking liquid if you want to add it to the stew later. Chop the onion coarsely. Chop the rest of the vegetables into small pieces, ie, zucchini, celery, carrots, and cabbage. Place half the chopped onion and the rest of the vegetables in a large stockpot, with the dried thyme if using. Add some olive oil and sauté over medium to medium-high heat until soft and well-cooked, stirring often (about 20 minutes). Add half the cooked beans, and puree the rest of the beans by passing them through a food mill, and add to the soup also. Add 8 to 12 cups water (or broth if you prefer, or use the reserved bean cooking liquid). Bring to a boil, then cook for 1 hour on medium heat, partially covered, stirring occasionally. I also added about 2 teaspoons of salt, but the Tuscans use salt quite sparingly so only add salt to your own taste.

2. While the soup is cooking, sauté in a frying pan the rest of the chopped onion and garlic (finely chopped) in olive oil. Also toast the sliced stale bread, and rub a cut clove of fresh garlic over each slice. When the soup has cooked for an hour, stir in the sautéed onions and garlic. Arrange a layer of bread in the bottom of a deep terracotta dish or a large pot with lid. Pour a few generous ladlefuls of the soup over the bread until it is covered, plus a little olive oil and freshly ground pepper.

3. Continue to layer the bread and soup in this way until the dish is full. Cover and leave to rest for approximately 2 hours. Before serving, heat the bread soup mixture gently until hot, stirring well. (My soup had absorbed all the liquid, so before heating I stirred in a couple cups of boiling water.) Serve with extra virgin olive oil drizzled on top, as well as freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, and put out the salt cellar so guests can add salt to their taste.

Grilled Whole Lake Trout with Garlic and Thyme

If you’re looking for a main dish that’s quick and easy to make, delicious, and makes for a dramatic presentation, whole grilled fish is a great way to go.

I was talking with the fishmonger at my local market last Saturday, and asked him what would be best to grill that night. He steered me to these beautiful lake trout, caught the day before. (When I say “whole” I just mean, heads and tails still on – the fishmonger had already cleaned/gutted them.)

Opening up and admiring the fish at home

Fish that’s very fresh has good color, shiny eyes, and firm flesh.

Stuffing the cavity with fresh thyme, crushed garlic cloves, and some sea salt

Stuffing the cavity with fresh thyme, crushed garlic cloves, and some sea salt

After admiring the fish, I stuffed each one with a few springs of fresh thyme, 2 crushed garlic cloves, and about 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, and then rubbed a little olive oil on the outsides, just a tablespoon or so. Meanwhile I was heating the grill, and had scraped the grill grate clean with a wire brush and wiped a little oil on the grate too.

Prepped ingredients for our side dish, which was pasta with fresh pesto, cherry tomatoes, and parmigiano reggiano cheese.

Prepped ingredients for our side dish, which was pasta with fresh pesto, cherry tomatoes, and parmigiano reggiano cheese.

The trout on the grill, only about 7 minutes per side on medium to medium-high

The trout on the grill, only about 7 minutes per side on medium to medium-high

Before grilling the fish, I prepped the ingredients for our side dish, since I knew the fish cooking time would be short. Given this month’s garden bounty, fresh pesto and cherry tomatoes over pasta was the clear way to go. Years ago Elph gave me a beautiful Italian marble mortar and pestle that is fun to use, so that’s a bonus, and an encouragement to make pesto by hand rather than using a cuisinart. (When I’m making large quantities of pesto, I definitely do use a cuisinart…)

Some swear that basil tastes better and stays fresher when torn rather than cut with a knife; I have not tested that for myself, but I did enjoy using the mortar and pestle for this small dinner. I first crushed a clove of garlic in 1 teaspoon of sea salt, and then added basil and a good olive oil a bit at a time until I’d added about a packed cup’s worth of basil and a couple tablespoons of olive oil, and last added in some toasted walnuts, 1/3 cup or so. I sliced the cherry tomatoes (these are like candy right now so I used a lot, maybe 2 cups worth), and grated a cup of parmigiano reggiano.

I’d brought salted water to boil in a large pot, and when it was time to put the fish on the grill, I also put the pasta in the cooking water. This is easier to do simultaneously when you have 2 people cooking! If you’re solo you’ll probably want to stagger the cooking to prevent overcooking either the pasta or the fish.

We used a timer for 7 minutes a side for the fish, which is what the fishmonger recommended, but he also said just to test it by making a small incision in the flesh and seeing if it was flaky and no longer translucent.

It's hard to see the pasta and pesto under there, I put so many tomatoes on, but it was delicious!

It’s hard to see the pasta and pesto under there, I put so many tomatoes on, but it was delicious!

The fish were done in 14 minutes flat. Yum.

The fish were done in 14 minutes flat. Yum.

We enjoyed plating the fish whole and eating them that way. We poured a little olive oil over each fish and squeezed fresh lemon juice over too, and gave each another sprinkle of salt and pepper. You eat one side by lifting the skin up off the meat, with the backbone facing away from you on the plate, and then sliding the meat gently down toward the plate with a fork. It slides cleanly off the bone, but you just pay attention to make sure you don’t get the occasional stray bone. And then turn it over and eat the other side. And don’t forget the cheeks! Tiny and fun to eat, just down from and a little behind the eyes. We could taste the thyme and garlic in the fish.

A wonderful summer meal; it made me feel like our back deck was perched up in Tuscany or Sicily. Enjoy!

Pork Tenderloin with Plum Chutney

The plums have just stared coming in to the markets, and I was in the mood to make a dish that reminded me of Tuscany, so this pork tenderloin recipe using fresh herbs, pancetta, and plums was just the thing. It was slightly fussy to make in that you tie it up with string, but that only took a few minutes, and the results were so worth it! Full recipe follows at the bottom of my description.

First, the herb rub for the tenderloin. I did not have herbes de Provence, so I improvised, using some fantastic herbs from Tuscany, as well as from my garden.

My herbs-de-provence substitite - fennel and thyme flowers from Tuscany, plus fresh basil and savory from my garden.

My herbs-de-provence substitite – fennel and thyme flowers from Tuscany, plus fresh basil and savory from my garden.

Minced rosemary added in too, and then mixed with a good olive oil

Minced rosemary added in too, and then mixed with a good olive oil

After rubbing the tenderloins with the olive oil and herb mixture, I draped them with the pancetta, and tied them with cotton string as best I could. It didn’t take that long.

Laying the pancetta onto (and under) the herb-rubbed tenderloins.

Laying the pancetta onto (and under) the herb-rubbed tenderloins.

Tenderloins and pancetta tied up with string!

Tenderloins and pancetta tied up with string!

I covered the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. And then I made the plum chutney. I had four very ripe black plums, which peeled easily without having the blanch them.

First you cook the shallot with the brown sugar and spices.

First you cook the shallot with the brown sugar and spices.

Then you add the plums and simmer for a few minutes.

Then you add the plums and simmer for a few minutes.

It was surprisingly easy to make a really tasty chutney. I put it in the fridge over night too. Pulled it out the next day and rewarmed it a little bit while I grilled the tenderloins.

The chutney, ready to eat

The chutney, ready to eat

The tenderloins on the grill, you brown them first and then cook over lower heat.

The tenderloins on the grill, you brown them first and then cook over lower heat.

The cooking time on the tenderloins was pretty short; definitely use a meat thermometer.

The cooked tenderloins, resting for a few minutes before slicing.

The cooked tenderloins, resting for a few minutes before slicing.

Dinner - with some beet greens and chard, and a wild rice and brown rice mix. Delicious!

Dinner – with some beet greens and chard, and a wild rice and brown rice mix. Delicious!

It was a fantastic meal, and a festive-looking one so great to make for a dinner party. And even more so because the things that take the most time can be done the day before. Recipe follows, enjoy! -Jillian


Pork Tenderloin with Plum Chutney
(original source: Bon Appetit, slightly modified)


Plum Chutney
– 4 ripe red or black plums (I used black plums)
– 1 tablespoon olive oil
– 1 large shallot, sliced lengthwise
– 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
– 1/4 cup sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar
– 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
– 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
– 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated peeled
– 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 1 bay leaf
– kosher salt

– 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, minced
– 4 teaspoons herbes de provence OR some other combination (such as fennel flowers, thyme, savory, basil)
– 4 teaspoons olive oil
– 2 pork tenderloins (about 2 lbs)
– kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
– 16 thin slices pancetta, about 8 oz, or prosciutto


Peel plums, if desired. (Mine peeled easily but you could try dropping them in boiling water for a minute if yours don’t.) Halve and pit. Cut into 1/2″ wedges.Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallot begins to soften, about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar, next 6 ingredients, and 1/4 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in plums. Cover and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until fruit is soft and juices have thickened, 20–25 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Let cool slightly. DO AHEAD: Chutney can be made 1 week ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm slightly before serving.

Stir rosemary, herbes de Provence, and oil in a small bowl. Rub all over pork; season with salt and pepper. Wrap pancetta slices around pork and tie at 2″ intervals with kitchen twine to hold together. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. (NOTE: I did this a day ahead and I think it improves the flavor to sit overnight with the herb rub on it.)
If using a charcoal grill, build a medium-hot fire; push coals over to 1 side of grill. If using a gas grill, heat all but 1 burner to high. Grill tenderloins over hot part of grill, turning frequently, until a crisp brown crust forms on all sides, 8—10 minutes. Move tenderloins to cooler part of grill to gently cook through; cover and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of each loin registers 145°, 15—20 minutes longer. (NOTE: we only needed to cook it 10 minutes, check after 10.) Transfer tenderloins to a cutting board. Let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly and serve with plum chutney alongside. (We served this with a brown-and-wild-rice mix, and some steamed chard/beet greens. Delicious!)

Pasta Carbonara

Every once in a while in winter time, I crave Pasta Carbonara – a simple dish that relies heavily on the use of high-quality ingredients.

Courtesy of Zingerman’s Mail Order, I had some excellent guanciale just waiting in my freezer, from La Quercia, an artisanal meat-curing company in Iowa. As well as some Parmigiano Reggiano from Zingerman’s Deli. (On our Tuscany food tour, we visit the tiny cheese maker who makes this Parm Reg that Zingerman’s Deli carries!) And, local free-range eggs from the farmer’s market. With some sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and our favorite brand of dried pasta, I was ready to roll. Recipe follows the photos. Enjoy!

Browning the guanciale

Adding the onion and browning

Parmigiano Reggiano with free-range eggs

Adding salt and pepper and then whisking

Stirring it quickly in to the cooked pasta and guanciale mixture

And eating immediately! A large serving of a good salad helps balance out the richness.

Pasta Carbonara
(recipe modified from

5 ounces guanciale (unsmoked cured hog jowl), or pancetta
1 medium onion, finely chopped (note, some recipes skip onion and only use garlic)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (note, some recipes skip garlic and use only onion)
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 large eggs
3/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, finely grated
1/3 cup Pecorino Romano cheese (or use all Parm Reg)
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, optional garnish

Cut guanciale or pancetta into 1/3-inch dice, then cook in a deep 12-inch heavy
skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until fat begins to render, 1 to 2 minutes. Add
onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is golden, about 10 minutes. Add wine
and boil until reduced by half, 1 to 2 minutes.

Cook spaghetti in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente.
While pasta is cooking, whisk together eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano
(if using), 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small

Drain spaghetti in a colander and add to onion mixture, then toss with tongs over
moderate heat until coated. Remove from heat and add egg mixture, tossing to
combine. Serve immediately on warm plates.

Good winter reading on Italy – A Year in the Village of Eternity

I just finished reading A Year in the Village of Eternity: The Lifestyle of Longevity in Campodimele, Italy, by Tracey Lawson. The author decides to visit the village when she hears that a disproportionate number of residents in Campodimele live into their 90s and 100s – she wants to learn about their food and their lifestyle to gain insight into why they live longer.

I enjoyed it, and found it to be engagingly written with a light, cheerful tone. She narrates short vignettes of her experiences learning from the residents about daily life in the mountain village, month by month through the year. Each month is a separate section and has multiple pages of recipes, tied in to its in-season ingredients and festival dishes.

The individual stories within each section are very short, which makes for good bedtime reading. There are a couple of color-photo-sections too, which are fun to look through after you’ve read most of the book and been introduced to the personalities shown in the photos.

I haven’t tried cooking from the book yet, but plan to. The recipes range from simple-looking one-pagers, such as the Fresh Beans with Oil, Garlic, and Parsley, to four-pagers or more, such as the Lasagna with Minced Veal. One challenge may be getting some of the ingredients called for, but I plan to swap in where necessary. This book might just inspire me to make more of my own ricotta!

The author also gives recipes for traditional foods that are unlikely to be made by your average cook, but an adventuresome few will find it intriguing – such as her recipe for Air-Dried Spicy Sausage, where the chopped meat is to be piped in to fresh, rinsed, pig intestine.

I look forward to some winter cooking fun with this one, and since the recipes are so seasonal I expect I’ll be pulling it out in spring, summer, and fall as well.

Tuscan Countryside Dinner Recipes

In May 2012, Peggy Markel, our Tuscany food tour partner, came to Ann Arbor and cooked up a wonderful Tuscan dinner, together with the chefs at Zingerman’s Roadhouse. There were 4 courses, and 4 wines.

Peggy at the Tuscan Countryside dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse

All the wines were Tuscan of course – one white, two reds, and a dessert wine

Some menu highlights:
Antipasto: Finocchina Salume – Tuscan fennel seed salame, and, Crostino di fegato – Chicken liver pate on toasted Tuscan bread (freshly made by Zingerman’s Bakehouse). Primo Piatto: Ribollita – a bread, bean, and vegetable soup with Tuscan Kale. Secondo Piatto: Arrosto di Maiale con Sale Aromatico – Roasted pork loin with aromatic salt. Contorno: Patate arrosto con rosmarino – roasted potatoes with rosemary. Dolce: Percorino staginato con miele di castagno – aged Pecorino cheese with chestnut honey. And more!

The Ribollita got rave reviews. The bean used was the famed Tuscan Solfini bean – it’s creamy and tender yet holds its shape

Slices of the roast pork and vegetables. You can see the green of the aromatic salt in the middle, which added a lot of flavor

The Ribollita was a big favorite, for sure. Here are the recipes for the Ribollita, the Tuscan Aromatic Salt, and the Roast Pork, enjoy!

La Minestra di Pane Ribollita (per sei persone)
(Tuscan bread and vegetable soup, for six people)

1 onion, 2 zucchini, 2 celery stalks, 2 carrots, 1/2 of a savoy cabbage, 20 leaves of black cabbage (also called Tuscan kale or Dinosaur kale) or swiss chard, 2 peeled tomatoes, 250 gr boiled white cannellini beans (or solfini beans if you can get them!)(keep the cooking water), 1 kg stale Tuscan style (unsalted) bread, 2 cloves of garlic (optional), extra-virgin olive oil: as required, salt and pepper, 1 teaspoon dried thyme (optional).

Chop the onion coarsely. Chop the rest of the vegetables into small pieces ie. zucchini, celery, carrots and cabbage. Place half the chopped onion and the rest of the vegetables in a large stockpot. Add the olive oil and cook until brown. Add half of the cooked beans. Then, puree the rest of the beans by passing them through a food mill and add to the soup, together with the cooking liquid. Cook for 1 hour on a medium heat. At the end of the cooking time, saute in a frying pan, the rest of the chopped onion and garlic (finely chopped) in olive oil. Add to the vegetable soup, stirring well. Toast the sliced stale bread; Rub some garlic over each slice and arrange a layer of bread in the bottom of a deep “terracotta” dish. Pour a generous ladleful of vegetable soup over the bread plus a little oil and pepper. Continue to layer the bread and soup in this way until the dish is full. Leave to rest for approx. two hours. Before serving boil the bread soup mixture, stirring well and serve with extra-virgin olive oil.

Sale Aromatico
(Tuscan aromatic salt)

Equal amounts of fresh: rosemary, sage, thyme, sea salt, garlic.

Chop finely all together. It can be used immediately or dried out and preserved in a jar for several weeks. This salt mix (in addition to chopped black olives) is used for stuffing various meats: pork, turkey, chicken, rabbit, veal, etc.

Arrosto di Maiale con Sale Aromatico
(Roasted pork loin with aromatic salt)

Pork rib roast, garlic, rosemary, sage, sea salt, red onion, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, carrots, celery, white wine

Cut pork roast away from the bone. Trim the fat from the roast.
Make the “Sale Aromatico” (see previous recipe). Cut 5 slits into the roast – 1 inch and 2 inches deep, add stuff the sale aromatico into the cuts, and place a sprig of rosemary into each cut also. Tie the roast with string. Place Olive oil into roasting pan and roll roast in the oil. Also put ribs into the pan and cover with oil. Place in the oven at 350 degrees for 75 minutes. In 45 minutes add 1 cup of white wine, place back in the oven. Add vegetables to the pan in the last 15 minutes. Peel carrots and cut into 2-3 inch pieces. Cut celery into 2-3 inch pieces. Quarter red onion.
Salt and pepper to taste.


Ricotta-Spinach Gnocchi Roll

Or, more prettily in Italian: Rotolo di Gnocchi con Spinaci. The original recipe is from Autumn in Piemonte: Food and Travels in Italy’s Northwest, by Manuela Darling-Gansser.

I made this recipe last weekend, with logistics help and moral support from Elph and a couple friends who were over! It was a bit tricky, so I’ll post the recipe first, with pictures at the end once you have more of an idea what the process was. My comments on the recipe are in blue.

serves 6


For  the potatoes:

4-1/2 lbs floury potatoes, boiled
1-2 teaspoons salt
2 organic eggs, lightly beaten
7-10 ounces flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill General Purpose Gluten-Free flour)
3-1/2 ounces unsalted butter, cubed
10 sage leaves

For the Filling:

9 ounces ricotta
2 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 organic egg
salt and pepper
unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
9 ounces frozen spinach, thawed

(I found that my gnocchi roll was enormous – 15 inches long and about 6 inches wide and 3 to 4 inches high. Next time I make this, I will try using half the amounts listed above!)

Put the spinach out on the counter to thaw ahead of time. (Once thawed, I squeezed it quite a bit to get out excess water.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the potatoes until just done.

(Later in the recipe it says to saute the garlic and spinach in butter in a frying pan; I did it while the potatoes were cooking rather than having to do it later.)

(Also, you will need more boiling water to cook the gnocchi in, so keep another pot on the stove and bring water to a boil so you have it when you need it.)

While the potatoes are still hot, peel them and push them through a potato ricer. Now add the salt, eggs, and gradually, the flour. The amount of flour will depend on the kind of potato you use, but remember that the less flour you use, the softer the gnocchi will be. The dough should be soft, but not stick to your hands. (I used about 8 ounces of gluten-free flour.)

With a rolling pin, roll out the dough until about 1 inch thick. (I did this on a piece of parchment paper to make it easier to move later.) Mix ricotta, Parmigiano, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl and then spread it evenly on top of dough. In a frying pan melt a little butter and lightly cook garlic. Mix the spinach with the butter and garlic, cook a few more minutes, and then spread this on top of the ricotta mixture.

Roll the gnocchi dough, ricotta, and spinach into a sausage. Wrap the sausage tightly in cheesecloth or muslin, tie each end, and boil in salted water for about 10-15 minutes. Let cool.
(This was the tricky part. Using the parchment paper, we folded in the two sides to the middle as best we could – it was too thick to roll it up into a sausage shape. Then it took two of us to carefully lift the parchment paper and slide the “sausage” on to the large square of cheesecloth. I wrapped it and tied the ends with cooking (cotton) twine. Then two of us carefully lifted it into my roasting pan, set across two stove-top burners with boiling water in it. My roasting pan was the only thing large enough! It was not ideal since the water did not come all the way over the top, but we filled it as high as we could, and boiled it 15 minutes. Then two of us very carefully lifted it out, using various kitchen implements, and let it cool some. )

Preheat oven to 400F. Butter an ovenproof dish that will hold the roll comfortably, and carefully put the roll in it. With a sharp knife, cut it into slices about 3/4 inch thick. Sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, then dot with cubed butter and spread sage leaves evenly over the slices. Cook in oven until golden-brown, about 15 minutes. (I used a cookie sheet since its the only thing it would easily fit on. It was a bit hard to cut, I wiped the knife blade clean between each cut.)

Getting the slices apart when serving was a bit tricky too, but again if I wiped the spatula clean between each piece it helped. I served this with two other dishes from the same cookbook: Cipolle Rosse al Forno (baked red onions) and Cavolo con Acciughe (cabbage with anchovies). I have to admit we did not have a Piedmontese red wine to go with, but the hearty chianti we did have went very well. It was a delicious meal, and we definitely earned our dinner!  PHOTOS follow.


Pushing the (lava-hot) potatoes through the ricer.

The potatoes with salt, egg, and flour added - the dough was still nicely soft but a lot less sticky than it was before I added flour.

Spreading first the ricotta mixture and then the spinach on top of the potato mixture. Note the parchment paper to help later with moving it!

We used the parchment paper to help roll up the sides of the "sausage" ideally I think the dough would have covered the filling completely

Moving the roll to the cheesecloth

I tied the ends of the cheesecloth "log" with cotton twine

Then, carefully into the roasting pan of boiling water for 15 minutes

Once boiled, we lifted it out of the water (2-person operation), laid it on a cookie sheet, and untied the strings

Then onto another, buttered, cookie sheet

After slicing, we dotted it with butter and sage, and into the oven

15 minutes later, we were very ready to eat our lovely creation!

My dinner plate, with the gnocchi, baked red onions, and cabbage with anchovy - all Piedmontese recipes, which I'll post soon!

Sicilian Ricotta Easter Cake

I was reading a book about Sicily recently, and the author described tasting a delicious ricotta cake there, traditionally made around Easter-time due to the high quality of the spring milk. I was intrigued – I think about ricotta in relation to stuffed pasta, or cannoli, but not as the main ingredient in a cake, so decided to try it. The recipe is mainly about letting the fresh ricotta’s flavor and texture shine.  And having tasted fresh ricotta at a dairy in Sicily, I knew I wanted to make my own ricotta.

Ricotta is very simple to make! I happen to live only a few miles from the wonderful Zingerman’s Creamery, and they provided me with 5 gallons of fresh whey, from a batch of a cow’s cheese they had just made. (If you don’t have a good source of whey, you can use whole milk to make ricotta, but I believe there are other ingredients involved so please google that.)

Step 1, was to heat the whey to 200 degrees F. While it was heating, I lined a strainer (I used two strainers actually) with very fine cloth – I used a thin dishtowel for one, and a piece of fine cheesecloth doubled up for the other. (There is also an extra-fine cheesecloth you can buy, called buttercloth, that cheesemaker supply places sell.) If you think you’ll want to use the leftover whey for something else after the ricotta (such as making sauerkraut, etc), put the strainer over another pot or bowl.


Heating 5 gallons of whey to 200F

The strainer over one pot and the whey in another


When the whey reached 200F, I could see the white milk solids precipitating out of the whey. I used a large glass measuring cup to pour the hot whey into the strainer, some at a time. The solids start to “clog” up the cloth so I poured in some, then went and did something else while it drained, and then poured in more. I used a wooden spoon to scrape down the sides of the cloth sometimes.


Me (carefully) pouring some of the hot whey into the strainer

The full strainer would take several minutes to drain.


I ended up with nearly 4 cups of ricotta! Which I hear is a high yield, which may be a fluke; I intend to try making this again in a few weeks and I’ll report back. Then we started in on the Ricotta Cake recipe (the full recipe is at the end). We lightly beat together egg yolks, honey, orange zest and juice, and lemon zest and juice, and stirred it gently into the ricotta.


An unusually high yield of ricotta

Mixing the zest in to the ricotta


Since my household is mostly gluten-free, Elph made an almond crust, instead of the traditional Sicilian pastry crust. He mixed almond flour with sugar, butter, cream, coconut milk, and vanilla, pressed it in to a pie plate, and baked it for 10 minutes or so. Then I scooped in the filling, and we baked it about 80 minutes at 350.


Pressing the almond crust into the pie plate

Into the oven


We enjoyed a slice right away – it has a lovely fresh, mild, creamy flavor, with the hints of citrus. And it was just as good the next day, with more citrus flavor, although our crust had gotten somewhat soft. Still delicious though.


Mm pie...


Recipe follows:

Gluten-Free Almond Pie Crust


1 1/2 cups almond meal or almond flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
3 tablespoons chilled butter or butter substitute
2 1/4 tablespoons cream or coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Toss the dry ingredients together in a bowl and mix well, and then add the wet ingredients to the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix in a food processor until the dough forms a soft, workable ball. (Using a food processor is an easy way of mixing and handling the dough, but you can accomplish the same results using a pastry blender or wooden spoon.) Press the pastry directly into the pan without rolling, using your fingertips and the heel of your palm. Prick the pastry lightly with a fork and bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 10 to 12 minutes before filling.

Sicilian Ricotta Easter Cake, filling

4 cups ricotta
4 egg yolks
6 tablespoons honey
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice

(NOTE, next time I make this, I may use twice that much orange juice, and try reducing it down on the stovetop, maybe mixed with the honey, let it cool, and then add that to the ricotta, to get more orange flavor.)

Preheat oven to 350F. (If you just baked your crust the oven is already preheated of course.)

Gently beat the egg yolks in a small bowl until just combined, and stir in the lemon and orange juice and zest, and the honey. Then pour the mixture in to the ricotta, stir gently, and scoop in into the prepared pie crust.

Bake approximately 80 minutes until light golden in color. Enjoy!

Glossary of (Some) Italian Food Words

This is not an exhaustive list, it’s just a start, for the fun of it, which our tour partner Gioacchino wrote up for us before we visited Sicily in 2009, -Jillian

agnello — lamb

amaro — bitters

anice — anise

anguilla — freshwater or sea eel

anguria — red watermelon, also rosso melone

antipasto — appetizer

aperitivo — aperitif

arancine — fried rice balls filled with meat or cheese

arborio — creamy white rice native to Italy’s Piedmont region

arrosto — roast

babbaluci –Sicilian for small snails (in Italian, lumache)

baccalà — cod fillets in salt or water

baccalaru — Sicilian for baccalà

bar — drink and coffee shop, as distinguished from a pub

beccafico — fresh roasted herring (sardines) stuffed with a delicious mixture of traditional ingredients

birra bionda — light beer or ale, as distinguished from dark beer (stout or bock) or red beer

bistecca — steak

bocconcini — any meat, bread or cheese formed into small pieces

bruschetta — toasted bread topped with chilled chopped tomatoes, onions, olives and herbs

buccellato — a crusty winter cake having a sweet filling of figs and nuts, sometimes cut into sections or formed into cookies

caciocavallo — a local cheese made from sheep’s milk

cacocciulo — Sicilian for carciofo, artichoke

caffétteria — coffee shop (“bar” being the term usually used in Sicily), sometimes refreshments

calamari — squid

calzone — bread roll baked with ham, cheese or other stuffings

cannolo — pastry having a tubular crust filled with ricotta cream filling

caponata — cold salad of eggplant (aubergines), capers, olives, celery and tomatoes A variation is made with artichokes instead of eggplant

capra — goat meat

capretto — young goat; kid

capricciosa — a pizza made with numerous ingredients, including tomatoes, mozzarella, ham, artichokes and other toppings

cappuccino — light coffee served with steamed milk and usually served at breakfast (So-called for its colour resembling that of the light brown habits of the Capuchin monks)

carciofi — artichokes

cardo — also cardu or cardoon The celery-like stalk of the artichoke leaf

cassata — cake or tort of sweet ricotta cream filling in a crust of frosting and candied fruits

cena — usually supper (evening meal) but sometimes a large lunch

chitarre — literally “guitars,” spaghetti whose shape is square rather than round, so-called because it is formed by running the soft paste through a series of wires similar to the strings of a guitar

cipollata — glaze of onions, vinegar and sugar used as sauce for certain fish dishes

condimento — condiment; usually refers to the toppings on a pizza

conto — restaurant check

contorno — a side dish, usually in addition to the salad

coperto — nominal cover charge added to restaurant bill; this is not a tip

cornetto — light breakfast pastry similar to a croissant

cozze — mussels

cremeria — an ice cream shop, in Sicily gelateria is the more common term

croquet — fried potato and cheese dumplings

crocchè — croquet

cuccìa — sometimes cucchia; traditional winter pudding made from hard wheat, somewhat similar to rice pudding Served on Saint Lucy’s Day, 13 December

cus-cus — Italian spelling of couscous

cuscusu — Sicilian for couscous

fava — a flat broad bean grown in Sicily

filetto — fillet

finnochio — fennel The term actually refers to the “wild” variety, unrelated to the anise greens often sold as finocchio nowadays

focaccia — a seasoned bread, quite similar to a thick pizza, but flavored with olive oil and herbs instead of vegetables and cheese; in Sicily, most focaccerias (focaccia bakeries) serve focaccia but also sfincione

frascatela — a doughy dumpling paste of cauliflower and bacon

friggitoria — food stand specializing in fried foods such as panella, arancine, croquet, etc

fritedda — vegetable dish or pasta sauce made with fresh green fave beans, peas, and sometimes artichoke hearts and scallions

frizzante — describes effervescent water

frutti di mare — seafood, such as shellfish

gamberi — shrimp

gamberoni — large shrimp or prawns

gattò — from the French gateau, describes food in the form of a soft cake similar to quiche

gelateria — an ice cream shop

gelato — ice cream, whether made with or without milk

gelo di mellone — sweet gelatine dessert made from water melon, served in Summer

gelsi — mulberry, a summer ice cream flavor

gelsomina — jasmine, an ice cream flavored with this flower

giri — refers generically to any of several spinach-like vegetables but particularly to one resembling bok choy, with dark leaves and a white stalk

gorgonzola — Italian bleu cheese, named for the city where it is made

granita — crushed sweetened ice flavored with lemon, strawberries, mint and sometimes mulberries (gelsi)

grappa — strong brandy distilled from grape pumice and seeds

griglia — grill; alla griglia refers to grilled dishes

insalata mista — salad of lettuce and other vegetables

insalata riso — cold rice salad, a Summer dish

involtini — grilled or roasted chicken or beef slices stuffed with vegetable or meat filling; also leafy vegetables (such as radicchio) stuffed with meat filling

latte di mandorla — literally “almond milk,” carbonated milky white drink made with sweetened almond paste and almond extract

limoncello — generic name for a sweet lemon liqueur

maccu — also macco, creamy winter soup made from dried fava beans and fennel

margherita — a pizza made with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella

marsala — dark fortified wine similar to Port, named for the Sicilian city where it is made; alla marsala refers to meats prepared with this wine

martini — sweet white or red vermouth; unless the term “cocktail” is specified, this is not the cocktail of this name (containing dry vermouth with vodka or gin) but the vermouth itself

milza — sauteed veal spleen, usually served in sandwiches

naturale — natural; describes mineral water that is not effervescent; “still water”

neonata — baby sardines (a few days old) served as a sauce or fried

nero di seppia — cuttlefish (seppia) ink and the black sauce made from it

noce — walnut

nocciola — hazelnut, an ice cream flavor

osteria — literally a tavern or inn, but usually a trattoria

ostriche — oysters

panella — salty flat fried cakes made with ceci bean flour, often served as an appetizer

panino — sandwich

pasta al forno — pasta baked with beef, tomatoes and cheese; similar to baked lasagne

pasta reale — almond paste marzipan pastries decorated and colored to resemble fruits and various objects; sometimes called “Frutta Martorana” in Palermo

pasticceria — pastry shop

pecorino — describes ricotta and certain other cheeses made from sheep’s milk

pesce — fish

pesce spada — sword fish

pesto — green pasta sauce made with ground, crushed basil and pine nuts

piccante — spicy

pizzaiola — describes certain dishes, such as some sausages, and even potatoes, made with a variety of vegetable ingredients and spices

pizzeria — restaurant specializing in pizza and certain fried foods

pollo — chicken

polpo — octopus

porcini — small dark mushrooms

pranzo — lunch

primo — also “primo piatto,” first course, usually a pasta or rice dish

primo sale — a sweet Sicilian cheese

pub — British style pub or American style bar

quattro formaggi — a pizza made with four cheeses, usually mozzarella, bleu (or gorgonzola), parmesan and a local cheese

reginelle — small cookies coated with sesame seeds

ricci — urchins, usually served raw

ricotta — cottage cheese, which in Sicily is made from sheep’s milk

risotto — describes various arborio rice dishes

ristorante — usually a more formal restuarant which serves evening meals and sometimes lunches, as opposed to a trattoria or pizzeria, which would be less formal

rollò — roast made of beef stuffed with meats, cheeses and vegetables

salsa verde — any green pasta sauce similar to pesto

salsiccia — pork sausage

salsiccia pizzaiola — sausage stuffed with pork, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and other vegetables

sarde — fresh small sardines, usually served stuffed (“beccafico”) or with pasta and fennel (“pasta con sarde”)

scampi — large shrimp

secondo — also “secondo piatto,” second course, usually the main meat dish

semifreddo — whipped dessert similar to mousse

seppia — cuttlefish

sfincione — a thick Sicilian pizza topped with tomatoes, onions and anchovies; rarely served in pizzerias but available in focaccerias, some bakeries, or from street vendors To Sicilians, sfincione is not considered “pizza,” which in Italy is by definition thin and crusty

sfingi — also sfinci, fried puffed dough (“cream puffs”) filled with cream (especially the “sfingi di San Giuseppe” served on Saint Joseph’s Day, 19 March) or coated with honey Singular is sfincia

siccia — Sicilian for seppia, cuttlefish

sparacelli — a tasty broccoli variety similar to the undomesticated broccolo

spiedini — meat and vegetables served on a skewer, similar to shish kebab

spremuta — freshly-squeezed orange juice, as distinguished from succo d’arancia, the bottled variety

spumoni — a tricolored, three-flavored (usually cherry, chocolate and pistachio) Neapolitan ice cream virtually unknown in Italy today but still made in the United States, where it was introduced in the 1890s (The American term “Neapolitan” for vanilla, chocolate and strawberry tricolored ice cream is based on its former identification with spumoni)

stigghiola — seasoned and barbecued lamb or kid intestines served on a skewer

tonno — tuna or tunny; this is a tasty dark Mediterranean variety served fresh, nothing like the canned white tuna sold in supermarkets

torrone — an ice cream flavor based on this candy made with honey, egg whites and nuts

trattoria — an informal restaurant which serves evening meals and lunches

triglie — also “triglie di scoglio,” red mullet, best in April and often served in a sweet sauce of vinegar and onions

tunisini — a variety of eggplant (aubergine) having a light purple skin and a very white flesh

vergine — literally “virgin,” this term describes a pure grade of olive oil made from the first cold pressing of the freshly harvested olives

vino bianco — white wine

vino rosso — red wine

vitello — beef

vitellino — veal

vongole — clams

zuppa inglese — rum mix, an ice cream flavor