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…)