mercoledì 17 gennaio 2007



Indeed, in a post to It.Hobby.Cucina, the Italian general cooking newsgroup, RoDante da Fano traces pizza's origins from Ancient Egypt to Imperial Rome, where there were a number of different kinds of flat baked breads with a variety of sweet or salty toppings, and goes on to say that the descendents of these proto-pizzas were common throughout the peninsula in the 1700s. In 1835, he continues, Alexandre Dumas noted in his diary that "in Naples pizza is flavored with oil, lard, tallow, cheese, tomato, or anchovies…" Other chroniclers listed other common toppings, also noting that pizza was a cheap food that Neapolitans ate for breakfast or lunch; in the 1870s things stabilized to a degree, when a Neapolitan pizzaiolo created the Margherita, which he named after Italy's beautiful queen, by sprinkling a few fresh basil leaves over a pizza topped with mozzarella and tomato -- red, white and green, the national colors.
The Margherita is still the most popular pizza today, perhaps because it's simple, light and tasty.
It's also, in some ways, a better foil for the pizzaiolo's skill than some a pizza with a more elaborate toppings, because what little there is has to be perfect: Well-risen well-turned dough; mozzarella di bufala, made from the milk of the water buffaloes that are raised around Naples; good light tomato sauce; good extra virgin olive oil; and fresh basil. Ideally it should be baked in a wood-fired oven, whose hot floor will rapidly crisp the dough.

At home, a pizza stone can take the place of the terracotta floor of the wood-fired oven, and one can substitute the mozzarella di bufala with mozzarella fiordilatte made from cow's milk (as do most Italian pizzerias). The important thing is that you use good quality ingredients, and make your pizza with care.

Making the Dough

To make the dough for 2 12-inch pizzas, you'll need:

1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups warm (105-115 F, or 42-45 C) water
3 1/2 -3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
A healthy pinch of salt

Begin by dissolving the yeast in the water, in a large mixing bowl; let it stand for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and mix, either by hand or with a mixer set to low speed, until the ingredients are blended. Now hand-knead the dough or mix it with a dough hook setting the speed to low for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Coat the insides of another bowl with olive oil and turn the dough in it to coat it too, then cover with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise for an hour, or until it doubles in volume.

For the baking, if you have a wood-fired pizza oven, fire it up.
If you are instead using your kitchen oven, preheat it to 475 F (250 C) -- if you are using a baking stone it should heat for at least 45 minutes. Otherwise grease and dust two flat baking sheets with corn meal. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into a ball and let them sit for 15 minutes. Then shape them into disks, stretching them out from the center on a floured surface. Do not roll them, because rolling toughens the dough.

You are now ready to assemble the pizzas: Ladle and spread a half cup or so of tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes over the disks, leaving an inch of sauce-free rim, add the toppings (see next page), and bake.
If you're using a baking stone and have a baker's peel (a thin metal disk with a handle), lightly flour it, slide the pizza onto it, and transfer it to the stone with a deft yank -- the flour will keep the dough from sticking. If you don't have a peel, use a flat cookie sheet instead, lightly flouring it, to transfer the pizza from the work surface to the stone.

If you're using a metal baking pan you should bake the pizza towards the bottom of the oven. In a recent post to Rec.Foods.Cooking Karen suggested baking on the bottom rack for about 4 minutes, or until the pizza is firm enough to slide off the pan, and then slide it from the pan straight onto the rack to finish cooking.

The pizza will in any case be done when the crust is browned and the toppings are cooked; this takes 3 minutes in a wood-fired oven and about 15 at home. If you discover that the mozzarella begins to brown before the other ingredients are cooked to your satisfaction, the next time add it after the pizza (with the other toppings) has baked for about 5 minutes.

Having said all this, once you have your dough, what to do with it? The standard topping combinations one encounters in Italy differ somewhat from those I have encountered elsewhere.
Traditional Pizza Recipes: From Marinara to Quattro Stagioni, and Beyond!
Begin by either making or buying pizza dough. And now, some suggestions:

Pizza Margherita: to honor the Queen
You'll want 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, about a quarter pound of shredded mozzarella, and 3-4 fresh basil leaves. Spread the tomato sauce on the dough, sprinkle with the mozzarella, drizzle with a few drops olive oil, add the basil and bake.

Pizza Marinara: the garlic-lover's delight
You'll want two cloves (or more or less to taste) finely sliced garlic, and 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes. Spread the sauce over the pizza, sprinkle the garlic, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.

Pizza al Prosciutto: a standby
You'll want 2-3 ounces finely sliced cooked ham, shredded, 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, and 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella.

Italian Lasagna Recipes
Find Italian Lasagna Recipe Info. - Your Info Source.
Spread the tomato sauce, sprinkle the with the mozzarella and ham, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.

Pizza Prosciutto e Funghi: another standby
You'll want about a cup finely sliced Champignon mushrooms, 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, 2-3 ounces finely sliced ham, and 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella. Spread the tomato sauce, sprinkle the other toppings over it, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.

La Napoletana: yet another standby
1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, 3-4 anchovy filets or more to taste, 1 tablespoon or so rinsed salted or pickled capers, a dusting of oregano. Spread the tomato sauce over the pizza, dot it with the remaining ingredients, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.

L'Atomica: A fiery wonder
Though the one constant is a healthy jolt of crumbled red pepper, the other ingredients vary considerably from pizzaiolo to pizzaiolo.
Variation 1: 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, a tablespoon or to taste salted or pickled capers (rinsed), 3-4 anchovy fillets, boned, a dusting of oregano, and crumbled red pepper, to taste. 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella is optional. Assemble the pizza, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.
Variation 2: 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, 3/4 cup finely sliced mushrooms, a dusting of oregano, crumbled red pepper to taste, and 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella (optional). Assemble the pizza, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.

Pizza Quattro Stagioni: The four seasons
1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, 3-4 canned artichoke hearts, quartered, 5-6 black olives packed in brine (you'll want the sweet variety), 1/2 cup finely sliced mushrooms, 2 ounces finely sliced ham, shredded, and 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella. Spread the tomato and the mozzarella, arrange the other four toppings each in its quarter of the pizza; drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.

Pizza Capricciosa: Everything in the house
Not really, but it seems like that. It's usually the richest pizza offered, and every pizzaiolo makes it differently. This is based on the Pizzaria Giancarlo, outside Florence's Porta San Frediano. 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, 1 finely sliced hot dog, 1 link sweet Italian sausage (about 2 inches long), skinned and shredded, 8 thin slices salamino piccante (pepperoni in the anglo-saxon world) 2 ounces thinly sliced ham, shredded, 2 canned artichoke hearts, quartered. Spread the tomato sauce over the pizza, sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the sauce, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.

Pizza ai Quattro Formaggi: Cheese Galore!
1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, 1/3 cup (each) shredded pecorino, gorgonzola, groviera (Swiss Cheese), and fontina or asiago, one black olive. Spread the tomato, and sprinkle it with the cheeses; the pizza will look almost white. Dot it with the olive and bake.

Pizza alla Bismark:
For reasons unknown to me a pizza with an egg cracked over it so it emerges from the oven sunny-side-up is called a Bismark. Excactly what else goes onto the pizza is up to the pizzaiolo, but ham goes quite well. So: 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes, 2-3 ounces thinly sliced ham, shredded, and an egg. Spread the tomato sauce over the pizza, sprinkle the remaining ingredients over the sauce, crack the egg over the middle of the pizza, drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.

Pizza Vegetariana:
Again lots of variability, though the vegetables used are almost always cooked: stewed peppers, stewed eggplant, artichoke hearts, spinach, and what have you Begin with the standard 1/2 cup tomato sauce or chopped canned tomatoes and 1/4 pound shredded mozzarella, and go from there, adding the cooked vegetables you prefer. Drizzle with a few drops olive oil and bake.


Bread is one of the most variable of Italian foods: In different areas you'll find different flours or combinations of flours, some poeple use salt and others do not, some shape their breads into loaves, whereas others prefer rounds, wheels, or even crosses, some brush their bread with oil, some dry it... And that's just a beginning.

However, there are some breads you will find everywhere.

Being rubbed with garlic and drizzled with oil is one of the nicest things that can happen to sliced bread. Ideal for barbecues too!

La Focaccia Ligure
Focaccia is a flat, dimpled bread sprinkled with olive oil and salt, and though the Ligurians take credit for inventing it, the rest of Italy has happily adopted it.

La Piadina Romagnola
Romagna's flatbread is tasty to bite into, wonderful when spread with cheese, an excellent foil for cold cuts, and (when folded) perfect for containing all sorts of things, for example grilled sausages and onions.

Arguably the national dish, and certainly the best known abroad. Making the dough, topping suggestions, and links to many recipes.

Though you will find packets of commercially prepared grissini in almost every Italian restaurant, true grissini are a Piemontese specialty, bread sticks a yard long and as thick as a finger. This recipe yields a spicy variation.


Vegetable Based Antipasti
Pinzimonio, salads, pickles, sottoli... There's tremendous variety to Italian vegetable based antipasti; some are excellent at the beginning of a meal or to nibble on during a party, while others will also work well as the centerpiece of a light meal. Here are some standards you will find throughout Italy:

Being rubbed with garlic and drizzled with oil is one of the nicest things that can happen to sliced bread. Ideal for barbecues too!

A big bowl of fresh, tasty chopped raw vegetables served with oil and vinegar that your guests can mix and season to taste in their own little bowls makes for a perfect antipasto or side dish.

Cipolline Sotto Aceto
Pickled onions: a perfect antipasto, especially when it's hot.

Carciofi Sott'Olio
Artichokes packed in oil are tasty antipasti, and an excellent side dish too.

A medley of pickled vegetables: one of the classic elements of an Antipasto Misto.

Peperoni alla Griglia
Grilled bell peppers are one of the tastiest summer antipasti or side dishes known, and easy to make too!

Peperoncini al Tonno
Tiny round hot peppers stuffed with tuna fish: They're addictive!


Cooking pasta is easy, but does require care to achieve the best results.
Difficulty: Easy
Time Required: 35 minutes

Here's How:

1) Fill a pot with one quart of water per serving of pasta (1/4 pound, 100 g) you plan to make, and set it to boil.
2) When it comes to a boil, add 1 tablespoon of coarse salt (a little less if it's fine) per quart of water.
3) Check the pasta package for cooking time. No time? See below.
4) When the water comes back to a rolling boil, add the pasta and give it a good stir to separate the pieces.

5) Stir occasionally to keep the pasta pieces from sticking to each other or the pot.
6) A minute before the cooking time is up, fish out a piece of pasta and check for doneness.
7) Fresh pasta (fettuccine, tagliatelle, lasagna) cooks quickly, 3-5 minutes.
8) Thin dry pasta (spaghettini, shells, rotini) cooks in 6-9 minutes.
9) Thick walled pasta (penne, ziti, spaghetti, tortiglioni, etc.) cooks in 12-15 minutes.
10)You want an al dente, or chewy texture -- not flab. Taste, or break open a piece of pasta to test for doneness.
11)If you see a thin white line or white dot(s) in the middle of the broken piece, it's not done yet.
12)Test again, and as soon as the broken piece is a uniform translucent yellow, drain the pasta.
13)Sauce the pasta per the recipe and serve it.


1) To better wed the pasta to the sauce, put the sauce in a broad skillet and heat it while the pasta cooks.
2) Drain the pasta when it's just shy of done and stir it into the skillet before the colander stops dripping completely.
3) Toss the pasta and sauce over high heat for a minute or two, until the pasta is done.


Italian cooking is very difficult to pin down -- almost every city and town has its specialties, and there are regional trends too; the end result is a huge number of local cuisines rather than a single national cuisine. However, there are some dishes that you will find almost everywhere, and that are now standards among the many Italian communities scattered across the globe.

Neapolitan Meat Ragù - - Carne al Ragù

Carne al Ragù is an elegant, rich Neapolitan recipe published by Cavalcanti in the late 1830s, and reprinted by Caròla Francesconi in her wonderful La Cucina Napoletana. She notes that the meat used should vary depending upon the goal in mind; though Cavalcanti suggests one use an elegant cut if the primary goal is to serve a pot roast as a second course, in less demanding circumstances he also used other cuts, and also other animals, including chicken and pork.

For lardoning:
- 4 ounces (100 g) prosciutto
- 2 ounces (50 g) pancetta
- Parsley
- Pepper
The meat:
- 3 1/3 pounds beef or veal
- 1/3 cup tomato paste + 2/3 cup tomato sauce, or: a 1 pound (400 g) can tomato sauce
- 2 ounces (50 g) minced cured lard (use prosciutto fat if need be)
- 1/4 pound (100 g) rendered lard
- 6 ounces (150 g) onion
- Pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 cup dry red wine (Taurasi would be ideal here)
- Salt, to be added at the end


Continuing with the introduction:
If the goal is an elegant piece of meat, then use rump roast or a similar prime beef or veal cut, or a nice boned pork loin. If you instead want a flavorful ragù, Ms.

Francesconi suggests you use gallinelle (meat from pork trotters) and trachiolelle (salted pork spare ribs), which are unaesthetic but very flavorful. In the absence of trachiolelle use regular pork spare ribs. In any case, the meats used are a function of the use planned for the dish. Unfortunately, you will need a kitchen scale.

The recipe:
Cut the prosciutto and the pancetta into strips, roll them in minced parsley and pepper, and use them to lardon the meat (make the cuts parallel to the grain of the meat). Then tie it.

Put the onion, garlic, and cured lard through a meat grinder (or blend them), catching any juices that happen to drip out, and set them to sauté in a large oval dish -- tradition dictates it be either terracotta or copper -- together with the lard, oil, meat, and pepper. Cover and simmer over the lowest possible flame; when the onions begin to color uncover the pot and stir things about more often, adding the wine a little at a time and letting it evaporate before adding more. At this point, the onions will be well browned and every trace of liquid will be gone, leaving just the fat that bubbles very slowly. In terms of cooking time, 2 hours.

Raise the flame and add a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste, or tomato sauce, diluted in a half cup of hot water, and cook, stirring often, until the tomato has become quite dark, almost black. Repeat the process, stirring often and letting each new addition of tomato darken, until the tomato is all used up. Time: 2 hours.

The most important and delicate phases are done. Now add a couple of ladles of hot water, lower the flame, cover, and simmer the meat for another two hours, being careful that it doesn't dry out. By this time the meat will likely be tender. If it is, remove it to a platter and continue to simmer the sauce, adding, should it become too thick, a little more water.

The ragù will be ready when the tomato no longer tastes like raw tomato, and the sauce is very dark, rich, smooth shiny, and oily. At this point check for salt, return the meat to the pot, and heat for a few minutes more.

Given the time required, it's best to make the ragù the day before it's needed. By doing this you'll also be able to skim off excess fat with ease, when it firms up on the surface (you may want to slip everything into the refrigerator to hasten this).

Lardoning is optional, but makes for tastier meat. And some, to obtain a richer sauce, use broth rather than water. Others, instead, add carrot, celery, and a pinch of nutmeg (all minced, with the onion), and use dry white wine instead of red.

Use the sauce over pasta. The meat will be an excellent second course, especially if accompanied by broccoli strascinati.

Beef Stew, Roman Style - - Stufatino di Manzo alla Romana

Stufatino di Manzo alla Romana: A classic Roman beef stew. As is often the case with stews, it provides the wherewithal for an entire meal: use some of the sauce, with grated Parmigiano or pecorino romano, to season pasta, and serve the stew with a second vegetable as a second course.


- 1 1/3-1 1/2 pounds (600-700 g) beef -- from the forequarter, thinly sliced
- Oil or lard (about 1/4 cup)
- Marjoram (several sprigs, fresh, if possible)
- 3/4 cup (200 ml) dry red wine
- Tomatoes (about a pound, I'd say), blanched, peeled and chopped
- 2 1/4 ounces (60 g) prosciutto fat
- 1/2 a medium-sized onion
- 1 clove garlic
- Salt
- Pepper
- 3/4 pound (350 g) celery, cleaned, chopped, and partially boiled separately
- 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) cardoons, cleaned, chopped and partially boiled separately


Heat the oil or lard, and melt the prosciutto fat in it. While the fat is melting, mince the onion and the garlic. As soon as the onion begins to brown add the sliced meat. Season with salt, pepper and marjoram, and cook, stirring, until the meat is well browned.

Stir in the wine, and once it has evaporated, add the tomatoes. Let cook for a few minutes, then add boiling water to cover.

Cover the pot and simmer for about two hours, adding a little more hot water if the sauce looks to be drying out. A few minutes before the stew is done, stir in the celery and heat them through. Doing so you'll obtain a spezzatino cor sèllero. If you instead opt for cardoons you'll have a stufatino ar gobbo. Thus dictates tradition, to the great delight of Romans.

This tradition is still respected by some Roman restaurants, for example the Osteria del Curato. To serve 6, Cesare Marinotti, the owner's son, heats 2 1/2 pounds (1 k) of beef, from "behind the shank," cut in inch-thick slices. He browns them with minced onion, carrot, and celery [equal volumes, starting from a moderately sized onion], and when they have browned adds a glass of wine and a pound of tomatoes. He then simmers, and when the meat is cooked stirs in 1 1/2 pounds of cleaned, chopped and boiled cardoons. Or, in their absence, not celery, but 1 1/4 pounds of cubed potatoes, boiled separately for 20 minutes and cooked with the stew for 10.

The Wine? A zesty red, for example a Chianti d'annata, or a Lacrima Cristi Rosso.


Piatti di Pesce / fish

Italy is water-bound, with thousands of miles of beaches, bays, and inlets. Almost everything that lives in the sea, from swordfish, which the fishermen still harpoon from the bows of their boats in the Straights of Messina, to arselle, little clams that live in the sand below the swash zone and are gathered with strainers, finds its way to the table.

The role of fish in the Italian diet was, in the past, even more important than it is now: Up until the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church required that the faithful eat fish on both Fridays and days of penitence, for example during lent; all large cities had fishmongers to meet the demand, and there were traveling fishmongers who made the rounds of the towns too small to support a specialized store.

With the increasing availability of high quality, relatively inexpensive frozen fish, the Italian per capita consumption of seafood has increased considerably, especially in inland areas. Of course, going to the fish stalls of the market is much more fun than staring into a freezer bin. In choosing a fresh fish, begin by looking it in the eye. It should stare back, looking as if it's thinking about darting away. If its eyes are instead cloudy, it's not fresh. Its gills should be bright red, though Artusi warns us to touch them and then sniff our fingers to make sure the fishmonger hasn't painted them with ox blood. Its flesh should be elastic, and spring up when pressed down. Finally, it shouldn't smell fishy.

A word on cooking times: To calculate the cooking time for a fish, measure it at its thickest point and cook it for ten minutes per inch, turning it once. This method was developed by Evelene Spencer and improved upon by the Canadian Department of Fisheries; according to James Beard, it can be employed with any cooking technique. For example, he suggests you poach a four-inch thick fish for forty minutes, and you grill a two-and-a-half-inch thick fish for twenty five minutes, twelve per side. When grilling a fish, you should set it about four inches above the coals. A more empiric test is to stick a toothpick into the thickest part of the fish, near the backbone. If the flesh is no longer translucent and flakes easily, it is done.

Boiled Fish - Pesce Lesso

Boiled Fish, or Pesce Lesso: Boiled fish is easy to prepare and can be tremendously satisfying. Three pounds of boiled fish will serve four to six as a second course or two to four as a main course. You'll need:
1 or more non-oily fish weighing a total of between 2 and three pounds, scaled and cleaned.
Rubbing the fish's skin with a slice of lemon will help keep it intact.
A quarter to a half an onion (depending on the size of the fish), a carrot,
a stick of celery, a bunch of parsley, and half a lemon.
Water sufficient to cover the fish
A fish pan (if you have one)
Lightly salt the water and simmer the vegetables for 20 minutes to a half hour before adding the fish.

The fish will done when its eyes pop out, its skin parts when touched, and its flesh becomes tender; in turms of cooking time figure 10 minutes per inch of thickness of the fish, measured at its thickest point.

Turn it, carefully, when it's half done, and leave it in its broth until you're ready to serve it (the broth will be quite tasty, and if you strain it, will be perfect for making Lenten Cabbage Soup).

A good boiled fish will do very well served hot, garnished with fresh parsley and accompanied by freshly made mayonnaise or some other sauce (see recipes), and a vegetable.

If, however, you wish to make a more impressive presentation, you can follow Artusi's suggestion and surround the fish with Brussels sprouts, boiled if they're small or done in the oven if they're large, boiled potatoes, and, optionally, hard boiled eggs, all sliced. As a second possibility he suggests that you bone the fish and set it on a platter, spread mayonnaise over it, and decorate it with anchovy fillets and capers.

Grilled Fish - - Pesce alla Griglia

Grilled Fish, or Pesce alla Griglia: A good grill and a fine fish are a marriage made in heaven. To serve four to six as a second course, or two to four as a main course, you'll need:
- 1 or more fish weighing a total between 2 and three pounds, cleaned,
- scaled, and lightly scored, or slices of a large fish, for example swordfish.
- 1/2 cup of marinade made with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon juice,
and a few leaves of minced rosemary, bay leaf, or the herb you prefer (optional).
- A folding grate to put the fish in, if you have it.
Marinate the fish, slipping some of the herbs and lemon slices into the cavity as well.

Preheat the grill or start the fire long enough ahead to let the coals burn down.

Set the fish over the coals, basting it with the marinade as it cooks; the use of one of those folding grates with a hinge opposite the handle makes the fish easier to flip, and allows you to prepare several small fish at once.

Continue cooking till the flesh parts easily and the skin is crispy; in terms of a cooking time, figure 10 minutes per figure 10 minutes per inch of thickness of the fish, measured at its thickest point.

"Grilled" fish can also be done in the oven.

Mixed Fried Seafood - Fritto Misto di Mare

Fritto Misto di Mare, or Mixed Fried Seafood: Little can be more refreshing, or more picturesque, than a fritto misto di mare on the coast. It requires absolutely fresh fish however, and care too, because otherwise it becomes heavy and difficult on the digestion. The traditional fritto misto includes representatives of most of the watery families, including mollusks and arthropods. There's also what's known as...

- Lots of fish (see below for kinds)
- Oil for frying
- Lemon wedges
- Flour, or, if you want, batter (see below)
... a fritto di paranza, which is just very small (2 inch long including head and tail) fish rolled in flour, fried, and served with lemon wedges. You eat them heads and all (unless they're a little larger than normal), and purists frown on cleaning the fish because the intestines provide a slightly sharp flavor contrast.

I prefer my fish cleaned and you may well too. But if the heads are small they're pleasingly crunchy, and the tails are perfect handles.

In any case, to make a fritto di paranza to serve six you'll need about 2 pounds (1 k) of assorted tiny, minnow-sized fish. To make a more standard fritto di mare you'll need 2 1/2 pounds (1.2 k) of mixed small fish, including fresh sardines and anchovies, baby squid, baby cuttlefish, small crabs, scampi and other assorted crustaceans, reef mullet and tiny whiting, sole, and whatever else your fishmonger suggests.

You'll also need 2 cups flour for rolling the fish, abundant oil (it's best to fry in several pots so what fries first will still be hot when the last things are cooked), salt, several lemons cut into wedges, and sprigs of fresh parsley to serve as garnish.

Wash, clean and pat the fish dry. You can bone the minnows, opening up like a book to remove the spines, but it's not indispensable. If you are using something like sole, filet it. Cut away the mouth parts of the squid and cuttlefish, remove the innards without breaking the ink sacks (you can use them to make a risotto with squid ink), and remove the bones from the cuttlefish (give them to a friend who keeps caged birds). Cut the bodies of the mollusks into rings, and keep the tentacles together in bunches. Shell or don't shell the crustaceans depending upon how hard their shells are.

Coat the fish thoroughly with flour and fry it, beginning with the mollusks and then the crustaceans, followed by the larger and then the smaller fish. As the fish rise to the surface and turn golden remove them with a strainer and drain them on absorbent paper. Transfer the fish to a platter, season it with salt, garnish it with parsley, and serve it with the lemon wedges and a chilled bottle of Trebbiano di Romagna or Castelli Romani. Or, if you want to splurge, a nice Gavi di Gavi.


Beef & Veal: Braciole, Involtini, Steaks, Etc.

Braciole, depending upon where you are in Italy, are either cutlets with the bone, or scallops, and unless specified are usually either beef or veal. In some cases braciole are rolled up, at which point in other parts of Italy they're called involtini. Steak isn't any easier; in some places it's bistecca (after beef steak), and in others it's costata. Regardless, these dishes are tasty and for the most part cooked quickly.

Braciolone, a big braciola

The word braciola means different things in different parts of Italy. In the north it's generally a cutlet -- veal or beef -- cooked flat, either with a sauce or over the grill. In the south, on the other hand, the word braciola can also refer to a slice of meat rolled up around a filling -- what's called an involtino further north. A braciolone is a big braciola, and this is a festive dish from Trapani. To serve 4:
- A broad, thin slice of lean boned veal weighing 1 1/8 pounds (500 g)
- 3 hardboiled eggs, peeled
- 1/2 pound (225 g) breadcrumbs
- 3 slices mortadella
- 3 slices cooked ham
- 2 ounces (50 g) finely sliced salami
- 4 ounces (100 g) fresh caciocavallo cheese (use a fresh provolone if need be), diced
- 2 ounces (50 g, or a cup) freshly grated aged caciovavallo or Parmigiano
- A small bunch parsley, minced
- 2 tablespoons raisins (optional)
- 2 tablespoon pine nuts (optional)
- A clove of garlic, minced
- An onion, sliced
- 2 cups (500 ml) tomato sauce
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- Extravirgin olive oil
- Sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Butcher's twine
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a pot and add the onion and the tomato; season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar and cook for 15 minutes. In the meantime combine the breadcrumbs with the garlic, the parsley, the fresh and grated cheeses, the raisins, and the pine nuts.

Season the mixture with salt and pepper and add enough olive oil to it to soften it to the consistency of a fairly thick paste.

Spread out the slice of meat on your work surface, pounding it gently with a smooth-faced pounder or the flat of a knife. Season it with salt and pepper and brush it with olive oil. Lay the slices of cold cuts over the meat, and shape the breadcrumb mixture into a sausage shape in the center of the meat; press the hardboiled eggs into the breadcrumbs.

Next, roll the slice of meat up around the filling, and tie the toll tight with butcher's twine, being careful to make a good seal lest the cheese melt and emerge as the meat cooks. Heat 5 tablespoons of oil in a pot and brown the roll on all sides. Sprinkle the wine over it and continue cooking until the wine has evaporated, then add the tomato and onion sauce and simmer for an hour. When the time is up remove the braciola from the pot and let it cool some on a serving dish. Slice it, heat the sauce through and spoon it over the slices, and serve at once.


Italy is one great vegetable patch from the Alps on down. Anything that can be grown is grown, and turned into delightful side dishes of one sort or another, many of which can also double as a main course in a light meal.

Asparagus with Eggs and Pecorino Romano - - Asparagi con Uova e Pecorino Romano

Asparagus with Eggs and Pecorino Romano, or Asparagi con Uova e Pecorino Romano: Pecorino Romano's saltiness works very well with both eggs and asparagus. To serve 4 as an antipasto you'll need:
- 1 pound (500 g) asparagus
- 4 eggs
- A couple of ounces (about 50 g) of Pecorino Romano, shredded
- Salt
Boil the asparagus spears for about 3-5 minutes in lightly salted water. Do not overcook them. While they're cooking, soft-boil (3 minutes) the eggs, or, if you'd rather, poach them. Divide the asparagus spears among you plates, place an egg on each (cut it in half if it's soft-boiled), and sprinkle with the Pecorino flakes.
Serve at once.

Mushroom Flan - - Sformato Di Funghi

Mushroom Flan, or Sformato Di Funghi: This is from Pellegrino Artusi's La Scienza In Cucina e L'Arte di Mangiar Bene, which I translated as The Art of Eating Well (Random House).

"Any kind of mushroom can be used in this dish," writes Artusi, "but I prefer porcini, unless they happen to be quite large. Scrub the dirt from them, then chop them into pieces the size of chick peas, if not smaller.

Sauté them in butter, seasoning them with salt and pepper, and when they've cooked almost completely, add a half cup of meat sauce and simmer them until done. Upon removing the mushrooms from the fire, bind them with béchamel sauce, beaten egg, and grated Parmigiano, then steam the mixture until it sets over a double boiler.

"1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms (650 g) and 5 eggs will make a timbale sufficient to serve ten people. Figure about a half cup of béchamel sauce (see instructions if need be), and 1/2 cup grated cheese.

Stuffed Zucchini - - Cucuzzieddri Chjini

There are many recipes for stuffed zucchini. This is from Basilicata, and is quite simple, with bread crumbs, minced beef, and grated pecorino.
6 long zucchini (as opposed to the round variety)
1/2 pound minced beef
Day-old Italian bread stripped of crust and crumbled -- the same volume as the meat
Grated pecorino romano -- a half cup, or more, to taste
1 egg
1 clove garlic, minced
Minced parsley (a small bunch)
Olive Oil
Black pepper and salt to taste (keep in mind that pecorino romano is salty)
Wash the zucchini, split them lengthwise, and scoop out the pulp with a spoon. Mix the remaining ingredients in a bowl, and use it to fill the zucchini shells (if the volume of the mixture looks low with respect to that of the shells add some of the zucchini pulp to it).

Find Out More About Squash Here.
Put the stuffed zucchini in a lightly oiled baking tin, drizzle them lightly with oil, and bake them in a warm (375 F or 180 C) oven until they're done -- a half hour to 45 minutes.

The wine? A white, and I'd be tempted by a Falanghina, from Campania.

Vegetable Pies, Tortes, Patties, Casseroles & More

Savory vegetable pies are much more common in Italy than one might expect. And quite varied too, from the buttery creamy tarts of Piemonte to the rich Tiellas made in Puglia. Lots of variety!

Pea and Asparagus Flan - - Sformato di Piselli e Asparagi

Pea and Asparagus Flan, or Sformato di Piselli e Asparagi: This will be very nice in late spring or early summer, and will be best if you use smaller, richly flavored asparagus. It will work well as a primarily vegetarian entrée for four, and can also be used as an antipasto (in association with other things) if you're serving more people.
2 1/4 pounds (1 k) peas in the pod; shelled this will be about a pound, or 500 g
12 ounces (300 g) asparagus tips
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 pound (100 g) ham, diced
4 eggs
1/2 cup (50 g) flour
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
Shell the peas and boil them for 10 minutes in lightly salted water. Drain them and let them cool

While the peas are cooling prepare the asparagus spears, washing them and cutting the tips and the part of the stalks that is tender; discard the rest.

Preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C).

Cream the butter.

Work the eggs into it one at a time, and then the flour; next, add the milk in a slow stream while beating the mixture with a whisk; should lumps form whisk them out before adding more milk. Once you have added all the milk and the cream is homogenous, stir in the peas, asparagus, and ham.

Butter and dust with bread crumbs a round mold large enough to contain the ingredients, transfer the cream into it, and bake the flan for about an hour. Unmold it and serve.


Italy is the land of salad, especially Rome. Leafy vegetables also abound, just about everywhere.

Chicken Salad with Mint Tzaziki - Insalata di Pollo con Tzatziki alla Menta

This chicken salad is a distinctly modern Italian recipe, with a pleasant mix of yogurt and soy sauce, ingredients I would never have encountered in a salad when I moved to Italy in 1982. To serve 4:
** The Salad **
2/3 pound (300 g) boned skinned chicken breast
A bay leaf
A sprig of thyme
3 white pepper corns
3 sprigs of parsley
1/3 pound (150 g) radicchio rosso or red chicory
A small head of curly lettuce
2 carrots
2 ribs from the heart of a head of celery
** The Dressing **
6 ounces (150 g) plain lowfat yogurt
An organically grown lemon
A clove of garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
A small bunch fresh mint, minced
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Simmer the chicken breast for 20 minutes in lightly salted water with the bay leaf, thyme, parsley.

In the meantime, crush the garlic clove in a garlic crusher and combine it with the yogurt, soy sauce, minced mint, lemon juice, and some grated lemon zest.

Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep cool.

Julienne the carrots and the celery. Tear the salad greens, and shred the chicken. Combine the greens and the chicken, stir a tablespoon of chicken broth into the dressing, and season the the salad with the dressing. Chill the salad for 10 minutes, and serve.

The wine? A light white, along the lines of a Soave.


Puddings are a mainstay of Italian meals, and Tiramisu is just the tip of the iceburg.

Tiramisu: A No-Egg No-Cheese Variation

I occasionally get notes from people worried about the raw eggs in tiramisu and the health risk they pose. One option that also neatly sidesteps the risks posed by mascarpone, which should never be allowed to warm, is to use yogurt.

And since this tiramisu has neither eggs nor perishable mascarpone, I would feel comfortable adding it to the cooler and taking it on a picnic.
1 pint (500 ml) plain whole yogurt (you could also use flavors that work with coffee)
1 pound (500 g) Savoiardi or ladyfingers
1/2 cup fairly weak espresso coffee, or more if need be
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/3 cup bitter cocoa powder
Combine the sugar and coffee in a bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Dip the cookies in it quickly, on both sides, so they are moist but not soaked, and put them in a baking dish; when you have covered the bottom of the dish spread an even layer of yogurt over them.

Continue layering until all is used up, ending with a layer of yogurt.

Use a sieve to sprinkle the cocoa evenly over the top of the tiramisu, and chill it for 4 hours before serving it.

Strawberry Sformato - - Sformato di Fragole

Wild strawberries are delightful, and work very well in this summery dessert. To serve 4-6 you'll need:
10 ounces (300 g) wild strawberries
1 cup (200 g) sugar
1/4 cup (25 g) potato starch
1 pint (500 ml) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 egg yolks and a whole egg
A shot of orange liqueur
1 tablespoon of strawberry marmalade
A little butter for the mold
Hull the strawberries and was them well in cold water. Drain them and put them in a bowl; dust them with half the sugar, the vanilla extract, and three tablespoons of liquor. Mix gently and let them sit for an hour.

Butter a pudding mold.

Preheat your oven to 360 F (180 C).

Bring the milk and the remaining sugar to a boil.

Lightly beat the yolks and the egg in a bowl, incorporate the potato starch, and then add the hot milk, a little at a time, while stirring steadily. Drain the strawberries, reserving the liquid that has formed, and add them to the mixture. Pour the mixture into the mold, set the mold in a pan of water, and set everything in the oven for about an hour. Let the sformato cool.

Next, pour the reserved liquid into a pan and heat it gently with the strawberry marmalade, stirring all the while. When it is heated through,. Remove the pan from the fire and incorporate the last tablespoon of liqueur. Pour the glaze over the sformato and serve it at once.


Zabaione is one of the classic, simple desserts that one finds in many places; It's very nice served in small cups, and is also excellent for dipping cakes or cookies; Giuliana Ascoli Vitali-Norsa suggests it be served with Dicitinobis, at the Vigil of Kippur. You'll need:
6 yolks
2/3 cup (120 g) sugar
18 tablespoons of Marsala (this should come out to slightly more than a cup)
Beat the yolks and the sugar until the mixture is palest yellow tending towards white, then beat in the Marsala and cook over a double boiler. Do not let it reach a boil, but remove it from the fire as soon as it thickens.

Italian Chicken Recipe
Info on Italian Chicken Recipe. Italian Chicken Recipe Guides.
When it has cooled to merely warm, you can, if you like, fold in an egg white beaten to very firm peaks.

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