Crostata is a popular dessert throughout Italy: you can see various types in the window of bakeries and pastry shops and it is easily made at home. I have yet to meet an Italian who doesn’t have a soft spot for crostata of one kind or another.
The base (shell) of crostata is made of pasta frolla, a dough of flour, sugar, butter and eggs. Pasta frolla is versatile: besides providing the base to make crostata, by itself it makes very nice cookies (called frollini).
There are many recipes for pasta frolla and various ideas about how to make it. In my repertoire, I have two versions of pasta frolla that I have been using for some time, inspired by those in the seminal cookbook La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene by Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911), first published in 1891 and still in print. In Italy, we refer to the book as l’Artusi. (It is available in English translation as Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well.) (more…)
Bruschetta (Broo-SKET-ah), which are slices of toasted, rustic bread topped with simple ingredients, started out as a simple peasant snack for field workers, but today is an appetizer found in most Italian restaurants.
The most famous version of bruschetta is topped with chopped tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, and either fresh basil or a sprinkle of oregano. However, any crostini topped with meats, cheeses, beans, or other seasonal vegetables and herbs make endless possibilities that can satisfy all palates.
My trio of bruschetta appetizers utilizes the freshest ingredients found at the local farmers’ market. The colors and flavors can be combined to create many memorable toppings. When I am in Rome, I always go to Campo di Fiori to do my daily shopping for vegetables.
I have made friends there and also in the United States at my local farmers’ market, and they can always tell me what is the freshest, or about some unique herb that can spark my imagination on how to incorporate it into a new recipe.
My first bruschetta is the most famous, with fresh tomato, high-quality extra-virgin olive oil and oregano. It’s a crowd-pleaser that never lets you down. The second is topped with thinly sliced Prosciutto de Parma, fontina cheese and melon, which is a play on sweet and savory. The final one is a combination of pickled eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes and Gorgonzola cheese, which has a slightly spicy kick from Southern Italy. This one is special because I pickle the eggplant and jar the sun-dried tomatoes with oil to release all of their delicious flavors.
With just a few ingredients, these starters will kickstart your palate and will be the beginning of a wonderful Italian dinner.
Suggested Pairing: Mazzoni Pinot Grigio
1 large baguette, or rustic Italian bread, sliced to 1/2-inch thick
1/4 pound of Prosciutto di Parma, thinly sliced
1 package small cherry tomatoes
1 small cantaloupe melon
1 package of micro greens
8 oz. fontina cheese, thinly sliced
8 oz. soft gorgonzola cheese
10 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
4 oz pickled eggplant
4 oz sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, cut in half
1. Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters and place in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Add the finely chopped basil, cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator.
2. Cut the cantaloupe in half and discard the seeds. Use a melon-baller to make as many balls as needed.
3. Wrap each ball with a strip of prosciutto, set on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator.
4. Slice the fontina set on a plate cover and transfer to the refrigerator.
5. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes and pickled eggplant into very small pieces, crumble the gorgonzola cheese and mix all together. Set on a plate and transfer to the refrigerator.
6. Slice a baguette on the diagonal into 1/2-inch slices. Grill, or bake in the oven until they are slightly crisp, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and rub with a garlic clove that has been cut in half.
7. Remove all the ingredients from the refrigerator and assemble the bruschetta right before you serve them.
Influenced by memories in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother, Italian-born Francesco Romano is the man behind the food blog, Coco de Mama. He shares recipes and culinary knowledge with Mazzoni fans each month.
Zanini De Vita writes that this pasta shape is typical of Molise, the small southern Italian region sandwiched between Abruzzo and Puglia. She describes it as “rather open strascinati, whose curvature varies with the thickness of the pasta sheet.” It is made by dragging (trascinare) on a wooden board with two fingers a small rectangle of rolled dough. I couldn’t find a photo or image of cuzzetielle, so what you see here is my rendition based on the description I read.
Some of my favorite parts of an Italian meal are the antipasti, or appetizers. Recently when I was in Rome, I went to one of my favorite traditional Roman restaurants and saw tortino di spinaci, or spinach soufflé, on the menu, so I ordered the rest of my meal to match the flavors of that amazing appetizer.
Tortino di Spinaci is too delicious to enjoy only once in a lifetime, so I knew right away that I’d have to come home and recreate this dish. Mama makes her soufflés with a delicious combination of spinach, gruyere and Parmigiano, which is how I made this recipe. Instead of serving it in the dish in which it was cooked, I pulled it out to show the delicious layers and colors, which is quite an impressive presentation to wow your guests. (more…)
It’s an age old dilemma; how does one eat spaghetti gracefully? Unless you plan on eating pasta with your hands or reenacting Lady and the Tramp, you might want to study up.
Managing the pasta can be a difficult process at first, but with some practice, you’ll be eating spaghetti like an Italian in no time. In our humble opinions, eating spaghetti is still easier than using chopsticks, so so you’ll be a pro before you know it!
Below are a few easy tips that will help you eat spaghetti politely and elegantly. Take a stab at it and let us know how it goes in the comments below! (more…)
On New Year’s Eve a steaming pot of lentils with sausages and slices of cotechino was always on the dinner menu at home in Perugia. In preparing this festive comfort dish with the aromatic smell and strong flavor of cured pork meat, my mother followed a tradition meant to bring prosperity, as the lentils have come to symbolize coins. As a child, I didn’t know that the lentils we ate were quite special.
Umbria, the region in the heart of Italy of which Perugia is the capital city, is renowned for the cultivation of various legumes: the lentils from Castello di Norcia I ate as a child, lentils from the Altopiano di Colfiorito, cicerchia beans and others. (more…)
In my recent travels through Tuscany, I visited this little village on top of a hill called Sant’Angelo in Colle in Montalcino, where Mazzoni Wines are produced. I had an amazing lunch at Trattoria il Leccio, where they specialize in the region’s famous pasta called “Pici,” which is a longer, thicker version of spaghetti with a wild boar ragu sauce.
I told the owner that I wrote a blog about Italian cooking and he invited me into the kitchen to see how Pici is made. His Nonna (grandmother) was in the kitchen making this regional pasta and she showed me the process and gave me tips on how to roll and stretch the pasta perfectly.
Over the burners on the stove was a large pot of ragu that had been simmering for hours. She walked me through a recipe and told me, “Devi avere pazienza,” or “Be patient.” The sauce takes over two hours to become so rich and delicious.
To bring a little bit of Montalcino to the United States, we’ve provided you with a traditional Pici recipe below. With this recipe, I hope you’ll make your own fresh pasta. There is a great tutorial here if you’ve never made Pici before. Don’t be afraid of the dough; not only will you impress your guests, but you’ll notice the difference in the taste and texture of this special dish. (more…)
Orecchiette, strascinati, cavatelli. The musicality of the Italian language is displayed not only in inherently lyrical expressions, like poems and songs, but also in the names of everyday things, like pasta. Scorze d’amelle, scorze di nocelle. Simply saying these names tickles the imagination.
When I want to learn more about a pasta shape, my reference is the “Encyclopedia of Pasta” by Oretta Zanini De Vita. The book contains entries for 310 types of pasta. Each type is identified by a main name, and when applicable, alternative names. The same pasta shape can have different names in different regions, or different towns. Various sizes of the same shape may have different names. Sometimes the same name refers to two different types of pasta. Such proliferation can be a bit intimidating, if not maddening, for the visitor – or the writer trying to inform her readers. (more…)
This Thursday is New Year’s Day, and it’s one of our favorite holidays because it’s celebrated by all kinds of people all over the world. Whether you’re in New York or Milan, religious or not, a new year is cause for festivity.
New Year’s Day is also an excuse for a good meal surrounded by family and friends. Seafood is always a popular choice for New Year’s, as it’s thought to bring good luck, so we’re sharing our favorite mussels and pasta recipe with you this week in preparation for the holiday.
With the holidays coming up, it’s easy to get stressed about what to feed the army of relatives that will soon be on your doorstep. We’re a big fan of this easy chicken recipe for large reunions. It’s an old family recipe brought straight from Italy, and can easily be doubled or tripled depending on how many mouths you have to feed.
And the best part? You’ll have these chicken breasts prepared and grilled in under a half hour so that you can spend more time catching up with Uncle Joe and less time standing over a hot stove. Pair with Mazzoni Pinot Grigio and enjoy. Salute! (more…)
The holidays are here, which only means one thing: there’s lots of food and wine in our future. Between the grocery shopping, turkey prepping, and table setting, Thanksgiving can become a stressful time for everyone.
Luckily, Italians never seem to be stressed around the holidays. That’s because they live by the simple mantra, “No food without wine and no wine without food.” As long as there’s food and wine, it’s a party!
As many of you know, Pizza Margherita is much-loved Italian tradition, and a favorite meal both in Europe and around the world. What you may not know, however, is the fascinating legend of the pizza’s origins.
While many have debated the true history of Pizza Margherita, the story goes that shortly after Italy unified in 1861, King Umberto I and his queen, Margherita, took a visit to Naples. While there, the Queen became bored of the French cuisine that was standard throughout Europe at that time. She requested that a local pizza maker present her with something a little more Italian. (more…)
Neiman Marcus, a name known for iconic style and excellent taste, recently published Neiman Marcus Cooks, a completely updated edition of their classic cookbook. We are incredibly honored that Mazzoni was featured as a suggested wine pairing in multiple recipes!
We don’t want to leave our blog readers hanging, so today we’ll share with you a Calamari recipe from the book. Although the dish has become a popular appetizer, this isn’t your average Calamari. Impress your date or your family with this mouth-watering Flash-fried Calamari and Thai Chile Dipping Sauce. Pair with Mazzoni Vermentino Chardonnay and dig in. Salute!
Above: The recipe for roasting chestnuts at home is easy. Just arrange the chestnuts in a seasoned cast iron pan and roast on your stovetop over low heat. When the shells start to opena and the chestnuts become tender, they’re ready to eat.
From the island of Sicily to Italy’s Dolomite alps, the tradition of roasting chestnuts in fall is practically sacred.
Across the boot, as the weather starts to get cold and the leaves turn to brown, you’ll find vendors slow-roasting chestnuts in the piazzas.
And every Italian will tell you that the aroma of roasting chestnuts brings back great memories of childhood and time spent with family.
It’s easy to roast chestnuts at home.
You can do it on a grill: whether gas-, wood-, or charcoal-fired, just arrange the chestnuts on the grill and roast slowly over low heat for 20-30 minutes, turning occasionally until tender (cooking time may vary). When the shells start to opena and the chestnuts become tender, they’re ready to eat.
You can also do it on a stovetop: a seasoned cast iron pan is ideal for this.
Once the chestnuts are ready to eat, open a bottle of Mazzoni Piemonte Barbera (a classic pairing), close your eyes, breath in the aromas of the wine and chestnuts, and you’ll be transported to an Italian piazza on a fall day.
Above: Some of the best pizzerias in Rome now often serve sauceless pies topped with freshly sliced mortadella.
One of Italy’s greatest gifts to the world is its culinary traditions. Pasta, pizza, caprese salad, osso buco, risotto, panini…
And the list goes on and on: just think of the many Italian and Italian-inspired dishes that have become part of our own culinary traditions here in the United States.
Most Americans couldn’t live without them!
When cooking Italian food at home, always look for the freshest ingredients and take advantage of the many excellent Italian cookbooks that are available today and the many Italian food bloggers who post regularly about their favorite recipes.
But there’s another Italian lesson that we can all benefit from by taking time to properly savor our food and enjoy mealtime.
Sitting down at the lunch or dinner table is a sacred event in daily Italian life. No matter how hectic the workday or how busy the schedule, Italians always put a hold on everything when they sit down to eat.
It’s a time for workers to recharge and families to reconnect.
And here’s the Italians’ best-kept secret: by relaxing and winding down at the lunch or dinner table, you’ll also digest your food more easily.
So the next time you sit down for a meal, whether at home or while taking a break from work, eat like an Italian by taking time out to truly taste every morsel.
Don’t get us wrong: we have nothing against Parmigiano Reggiano, the classic grating cheese that can only be produced in the provinces of Parma and Reggio Emilia in Emilia-Romagna.
We love topping our ragù alla bolognese or our lasagne alla bolognese with an extra helping of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
And we love eggplant layered with Parmigiano Reggiano, a dish that combines one of the great food products of the north with one of the staples of southern Italian cuisine.
But when it comes to the winter soups of Tuscany, like ribollita, the “twice cooked” bread soup (made with stale bread, Swiss chard, and cannellini beans), we have to insist that the dish be finished with a generous drizzle of Tuscan extra-virgin olive oil. Anything else would be sacrilege!
In the United States, we eat our salad before the first course or entrée at dinner.
In Italy, salad is served instead after the main course.
For Italians, salad — generally dressed with extra-virgin olive oil, aromatic balsamic vinegar or wine vinegar, salt and pepper — is intended to cleanse the palate and aid in digestion.
The acidity of the vinegar and the fresh lettuces refresh the mouth and tastebuds (in anticipation of dessert!).
And the olive oil helps to settle and balance the digestion.
But there’s another reason why Italians eat their salad after the main course: the acidity in the vinegar competes with the acidity in wine and can often overwhelm the palate and thus attenuate the flavors and aromas of wine.
Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Prosciutto Toscano, Prosciutto di Cinghiale (wild boar prosciutto, also from Tuscany)…
Prosciutto is one of those foods that defines Italian gastronomy. It’s one of the country’s most ancient dishes (dating back to Roman times) and one of its most delicious.
But what good is prosciutto if you throw it on to a Hobart deli slicer and allow an overly heated blade to ruin it?
In Italy, prosciutto is sliced using slowly run blades, often hand operated. That’s the key to correctly slicing prosciutto: if the blade runs to fast (and is not sharp enough), the resulting friction will heat the steel and consequently melt the prosciutto.
Many restaurants in the U.S. are now using reproductions of old Berkel slicers — the gold standard in prosciutto slicing. And many restaurants in Italy are having old Berkels restored and refurbished: there’s something about the blades on the old models that makes them slice better than the newer ones. Perhaps because they were beveled by hand, they never slice too thin (which would result in the prosciutto falling apart) but just thin enough that the prosciutto still melts in your mouth.
Your best bet? Ask your grocer to slice by hand.
In a lot of ways, Italy isn’t just one country. It’s actually twenty little countries.
As you travel through Italy’s twenty regions (as many of you are doing or will do this summer), you quickly recognize that in every region, the language, food, and customs are different.
There’s an old saying: the only time Italy is a united country is when its national soccer team is playing.
But there’s another thing that unites Italians from every walk of life: pizza.
And while every region has its own take on the traditional pizza recipe, you’ll find the famous Pizza Margherita at every pizzeria in every Italian city and town, no matter how small.
Some Italians — no matter where they’re from — insist that the Margherita is the only pizza they’ll eat because it’s the only “true” pizza.
Much has been written about the Pizza Margherita and its origins. While there is some disagreement as to when it was first invented, everyone agrees that it is made using buffalo’s milk mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil.
In what is possibly the longest and most tedious recipe ever written, the formula for the Pizza Margherita was officially codified in 2009 when the European Union awarded the Pizza Napoletana Traditional Specialty Guaranteed status (Pizza Napoletana TSG must be made using either tomato/mozzarella/oregano or tomato/mozzarella/basil, the latter combination being the Pizza Margherita).
It’s ten pages long!
A few years ago, the Italian government released a study revealing that pizza is the most popular Italian word beyond Italy’s borders.
And it’s no wonder: this simple, humble dish — made from flour, water, salt, mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil/oregano — seems to speak every language in the world.
So when you head to Italy for your next visit, before you order a regional specialty pizza (which might be equally delicious), be sure to first try a Pizza Margherita — where it all began.
No summer is complete in Italy without the smell of fresh pomodorini (cherry tomatoes) simmering away with basil to make a sublimely simple plate of spaghetti col pomodoro.
‘Tis the season for tomatoes and even if you can’t get the divine Pomodorini del Piennolo DOP of Campania, any good, farm-fresh cherry tomato will do.
-Start with about 2 pounds of fresh-as-can-be cherry tomatoes. Slice them in half.
-Peel and slightly crush 3 whole garlic cloves. Generously cover the bottom of a saute pan with olive oil. Yes, that means about ½ of a cup! Trust is, this is the secret.
-Over medium heat, let the garlic become golden in the oil, then pluck it out.
-Get the oil to medium high and put the tomato halves in the pan. Cover the pan quickly, as it will hiss as scream. This is good.
-After 3-5 minutes, lower the heat back to medium and salt the tomatoes generously.
-Stir the tomatoes. After about 10 more minutes, the tomatoes will probably be mushy. Start to smash them with a wooden spoon.
-Meanwhile, cook a pound of spaghetti (not too thin!) in generously salted water.
-After the tomatoes have cooked for a total of around 20 minutes, turn off the heat and add a handful of fresh basil.
-When the pasta is just harder than al dente, drain it and add it to the pan with the tomatoes. Stir it around with the tomatoes and cook it for 1 minute or two until it’s done.
-Plate the pasta and dust with a bit of Parmigiano Reggiano.
Now take a second to breathe in the intoxicating scent of simplicity and make a toast to Summer!
Photo via Wikipedia.
As you are traveling throughout Italy this summer, you will undoubtedly experience the pleasures Italian dining. Mealtime is sacred, revered. It is a time to linger and enjoy lively conversation with friends and family. There are just a few things to remember about il conto (“the bill”) when dining out in Italy that can make your meal time even better.
1. Bringing the check: It is considered rude in Italy to bring il conto to a table who hasn’t requested it. Even if the floor is being swept and all the diners have gone but you, your bill will not arrive until you ask for it. Speak up when you want to pay!
2. Pane e coperto: This is a charge you will see any time you sit down for a meal. The translation is “bread and cover,” and it’s an automatic charge for bread and service. You will pay this whether you eat the bread or not. It’s usually no more than a few Euro.
3. Tipping: Service and tax are usually included in the menu price, so there is no custom of tipping an extra set percentage. If you want to leave some change, it is not expected but certainly will be appreciated.
Summer is such a special time in the Italian culinary world. With all of the beach combing happening up and down the boot, it’s time to go back to the summertime easy-to-prepare-and-eat-cold dishes like Insalata di Riso (Rice Salad).
Typically, the ingredients are as follows:
– boiled rice
– sweet corn
– green peas
– olives (green AND black, if you like)
– sliced frankfurters
– diced tomatoes
– diced aged cheese
– sliced hard-boiled eggs (used as garnish)
– extra-virgin olive oil
– lemon juice or vinegar
Your average Italian mamma would probably stick with these ingredients. Cooked, cooled rice is tossed with all ingredients and enjoyed at room temperature or cold. It is not unheard of to use olive-oil-packed tuna in place of the frankfurters or diced salami/mortadella. You can substitute other grains such as farro or barley.
Anything goes and the only limit is your imagination! Salt to taste and tweak the flavors to suit your palate.
Insalata di Riso is one of those dishes that is just great for a picnic anywhere, even if you can’t eat it in the Mediterranean sea breeze.
Image via Wiki Commons.
Live Like an Italian is at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival throughout the weekend.
Please stop by and taste with us!
Spring in Italy has arrived, and with it, the abundant and beautiful produce that it bears. While so many veggies herald the season, fava beans are synonymous with returning flowers, sun and warmth.
If you were to eat in Italy right now, you might find a plate of lightly blanched favas still in the pods next to a plate of pancetta. There is a unique pleasure in popping the tender green morsels from their pods one by while blessing every other bite with the savory, fatty salt of a great pancetta. It is a divine combination of sweet, verdant and innocent vegetable consumed with the hedonistic and unctuous pleasure of lard. Similar to shelling peanuts one by one or working your way through a platter of crab legs, eating favas in this way is a very convivial ritual.
You might also see favas in a salad tossed with thinly shaved sheep’s milk cheese, or stewed with peas and artichokes. Europeans have been wise to the abundant nutritional contribution of favas for millennia, but Americans are finally becoming aware of this culinary star and the bean’s availability stateside is increasing, thanks to our fervent Italophilia.
Look for the beans, usually found in their long pods at your local grocer and enjoy spring like an Italian.