Minestrone soup is common in Italy. So common, in fact, that the word “minestrone” is synonymous with “zuppa” or “soup.” When one mentions minestrone, what comes to mind is a bean and pasta soup, usually flavored with a bit of tomato. The beauty of this soup is that, aside from these three basic ingredients, almost any vegetable can be added. So minestrone soup can be made again and again and still add variety to your dinner table!
Below is my family’s basic method for minestrone soup. The final soup is vegetarian, but the broth does use leftover meat bones and is a testament to how Italians traditionally use every bit of food they have at home. Ditto for the fresh parsley stalks. Why throw them away when they make a wonderful flavoring for soup broth?
White beans (cannellini) are the most common bean to add to the homemade broth, but other types of beans can be substituted, such as pinto beans or kidney beans (but not black beans). Dried beans work best, but for shorter cooking times, canned beans can be used. Canned chickpeas are a nice addition. Any miniature pasta variety will work. In a pinch, spaghetti can be cut into smaller pieces and added.
If you have a bit of leftover cooked potato, green beans, zucchini, or another vegetable, add it to your minestrone soup at the end of the cooking time. A bit of leftover pork chop, chicken, or beef from the night before? Meat can be added as well. You will be following a long Italian tradition of not wasting food and at the same time turning bits of leftovers into something delicious!
Try our method to make minestrone soup and continue a wonderful Italian tradition for your own family. —Kathryn Occhipinti
For the Meat Broth
About 16 cups of water
4 pork chop bones (leftover/cooked)
1 chicken back (leftover/cooked)
or any other combination of leftover bones
with small amounts of meat clinging to them
2 carrots, each cut into 3–4 pieces
1 stalk of celery, cut into 3–4 pieces
1 onion, skin removed, cut into 4 pieces
1 parsnip cut into 4 pieces (optional)
1 clove garlic, skin removed
bundle of fresh parsley stems
For the Soup
1 lb. dried cannellini beans
or other Italian white beans, pinto beans, kidney beans
2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely*
1 stalk celery, chopped finely*
1 onion, chopped finely*
1 can (28 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1/4–1/2 cup fresh green beans, cut into quarters
1/4 cup dried parsley or 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1–2 cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
1/2 cup Ditali Rigati 59 pasta (Granoro brand)
or minature pasta of choice
*See below for note about how to chop soup vegetables.
Make the Meat Broth (Day 1)
Fill a large stock pot with about 16 cups of water and set it on the stove. You may need a little more or less depending on the number of meat bones you have to make the broth. The amount of water should easily cover the bones and vegetables.
Add the leftover, precooked bones. (This soup can also be made with bones that have not been cooked, of course, but the precooked bones will add a little bit of flavor from the herbs and seasonings already used for the first cooking.)
Add all of the vegetables to the soup pot—carrots, celery, onion, clove of garlic. Note that these vegetables will be cooked until they have released all their flavor and will be removed before making the final soup, so there is no need to peel and chop them finely. Just wash, chop coarsely, and add to the soup pot.
Tie a bunch of parsley stalks together with food string and add them to the soup pot.
Turn the heat up to high and cover the pot to get it to boil. When the water comes to a boil, remove the lid and lower the heat to medium. Keep the water at a low boil and let the bones and vegetables cook slowly for 3–5 hours.
Skim any surface froth that may develop during cooking with a large spoon, but do not stir, or the broth will get cloudy.
Add additional water if necessary and continue cooking until the broth has the desired flavor and has reduced to about 8 cups.
When the broth is done, the meat should be falling off the bone and the vegetables very mushy.
Turn off the heat and let cool. Remove larger pieces of bone and vegetables with a straining ladle to leave the broth in the pot.
Pour the broth through a colander with fine holes to remove any particulate matter, then store it in a large plastic container in the refrigerator overnight.
If using dried beans, sort the beans in a bowl and remove any stones or beans that have not dried properly. Rinse and then place the beans into a non-reactive (plastic or glass) bowl overnight in cold water (about twice the amount of water as beans). Change the water once if you can.
Make the Soup (Day 2)
The next day, remove the broth from the refrigerator. Skim off the fat that will have floated to the top and hardened overnight and discard.
Place the skimmed broth into a large pot, about twice the size as the amount of liquid you have remaining. Add about 4 cups of additional water, becausse the broth will cook down again on the stove top.
Add the dried beans that have been soaked overnight. Cook about 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the beans have softened and started to fall apart.
Note that the beans that dissolve will give the soup flavor and thickness, and about half the added beans will dissolve by the end of the total cooking time. The amount of cooking time to get the beans to soften to this point will mostly depend on how old your beans are (older will take longer) and how long you have presoaked them.
When the beans have softened and started to fall apart, you can add your chopped vegetables—carrot, celery, onion, green beans.
Add the can of chopped tomatoes, including the liquid and the dried or chopped parsley.
Cook about 15–20 minutes on medium heat to soften the vegetables.
Add the canned garbanzo beans and any other cooked beans or vegetables at this point. Add optional fresh parsley.
Continue to cook on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
Bring the soup to a boil and then add pasta and cook al dente (a little firm) according to package directions. If not serving the soup right away, undercook it a bit, because pasta will absorb water as it sits in the soup.
Serve in a large soup bowl garnished with fresh parsley.
Refrigerate leftovers to eat later in the week, if there are any!
*How to Chop Soup Vegetables
Carrots: Cut lengthwise to half, and then lengthwise again to get quarters. Line them up side by side and then cut crosswise from the tips to the base of the carrot to get small, even pieces that look like quarters of a circle.
Celery: Cut lengthwise through each celery stalk as many times as needed to give pieces the same thickness as the carrot pieces. (You will need more lengthwise cuts at the thicker part of the celery near the base.) Then cut crosswise from the tip to the base to get small, rectangular pieces of celery about the same size as the carrot pieces.
Onion: Halve the onion lengthwise. Turn each flat side of the onion half down onto the board. Cut through lengthwise, from one side to the other, following the vein in the onion. Then cut through crosswise to make pieces the same size as the other vegetables.
—Adapted from a cooking class given for the Italian-American Society of Peoria, by Kathryn Occhipinti
That’s Italian Minestrone Soup for Your Family
Monday night is pork chop night at my home, a tradition started some time ago when my children were small and just starting to eat table food. When the butcher has thick pork chops available, I like to use the trick of filling the pork chops with prosciutto and Fontina cheese to liven up our evening meal. As usual, for the recipes I post, the method is short and simple, so the dishes are easy to prepare at home. And the combination of delicious Italian ingredients will have your family clamoring for more!
Fontina is a wonderful Italian cheese that has been made from cow’s milk in the Val d’Aosta region of Northern Italy since the 12th century. Fontina has a light yellow color, a soft but firm texture, and a slightly nutty flavor. Like mozzarella, but less well known in this country, it is used in dishes that require melted cheese. When paired with prosciutto and a single fresh sage leaf, it makes a delicious filling for… just about anything!
(Makes 4 filled pork chops)
4 thick cut pork chops (1.5 inches optimal)
salt, pepper, olive oil
4 slices of Fontina cheese, cut into a rectangle
4 slices of Prosicutto di Parma, halved lengthwise
4 fresh sage leaves
Lay out the ingredients for the filling.
Take a rectangular piece of Fontina cheese and cover each side with half of a prosciutto slice. Top with a sage leaf.
Rinse the pork chops and pat dry.
Lay the pork chops flat on a cutting board, and using a sharp, small meat knife, pare off the excess fat from the edge. Then cut parallel to the surface of the pork chop through the whitish membrane until you can feel the bone. Gently separate the layers of pork chop with your fingers as you cut to create a pocket to hold the filling.
Insert prosciutto and Fontina cheese filling packets into the pork chop.
Close the free edge of the pork chop with two or three toothpicks. Angle each toothpick through the layers of pork chop so the pork chop seals nicely and can lie flat.
Heat about 1/4 cup olive oil in your favorite skillet or on a griddle. If you have a ridged skillet, this will create grill marks on the meat, but a regular skillet will work.
Add pork chops and cook over high heat about 3 to 4 minutes to brown the surface. Two pork chops will usually fit in one skillet at a time. Try not to crowd the pork chops in the pan, so they brown properly.
Flip pork chops over and cook another 3 to 4 minutes over high heat to brown the other side.
Flip pork chops back to the original side. If using a skillet with grill ridges, turn the pork chop 90 degrees when you flip it over to create a criss-cross pattern.
Cover and lower heat to medium. Cook about 5 to 7 minutes.
Flip pork chops over and cook over medium heat, covered, for another 5 to 7 minutes.
Test the pork chops by inserting a knife into the meat near the bone. If the juices do not run clear, cook an additional 5 minutes on either side, or until juices run clear.
Remove from skillet and take out toothpicks. Set each pork chop in an individual dish, drizzled with a small amount of the pan juices. Watch your family’s look of amazement when they cut into the pork chops to find a delicious filling!
—Adapted from the Italian-American Society of Peoria cooking classes, by Kathryn Occhipinti
Italian Pork Chops Ripieno (with Prosciutto and Fontina)
The word Italian word “tartufo” refers to the round, brown-and-white truffles found in the densely forested Apennine Mountains that run down the spine of Italy. These slightly irregularly shaped round balls are found nestled between the roots of old beech, birch, and pine trees by specially trained dogs. A similarly shaped sweet French candy made from chocolate and cream, known as “ganache,” is also referred to as a truffle.
We present here a method for a round, chocolate-coated ice cream treat made from vanilla and chocolate Italian gelato ice cream that is also called “tartufo.” In the version that follows, there is a surprise in the center—a real Italian marinated Amarena cherry.* Try our recipe as is, or make your own version with any of your favorite Italian gelato flavors. Enjoy a cold, refreshing treat this summer with our simple method!
(Makes approximately 8 ice cream balls)
(Method takes a few minutes each day for 3 days)
1 pint vanilla ice cream (gelato)
1 pint chocolate ice cream (gelato)
8 Italian Amarena cherries* in syrup
4.0 oz. bittersweet chocolate
4.0 oz. semisweet chocolate
4 tsp canola oil
To see step-by-step pictures, visit Stella Lucente Italian Pinterest.
Make the Ice Cream Balls
Let the vanilla and chocolate ice cream soften slightly in the ice cream cartons so it is easy to scoop out. (If it is too soft and watery, it will not make good ice cream balls.)
Using an ice cream scoop, scoop out 4 balls of vanilla ice cream and place each ball on a piece of plastic wrap. Pull the plastic wrap above the ball and twist to seal.
Quickly put the balls into a freezer-safe container and back into the freezer. (Plastic tray containers from Chinese take-out food work well because they are just the right size for four balls and have a cover.)
The same way, make 4 ice cream balls from the chocolate ice cream, wrap each ball in plastic wrap, and place the wrapped balls into a second freezer-safe container. Quickly return the container to the freezer.
Freeze overnight. If you want, after the ice cream balls have refrozen, form them into a more rounded shape with the plastic still on and return them to the freezer.
The next day, or when the ice cream balls have frozen through completely and are hard, remove one vanilla and one chocolate ball from the freezer at a time.
Unwrap each ball quickly and save the plastic wrap.
Turn each ball over so that the smooth, round end of each ball is facing up.
Slice each ball in half and make a tiny well in the center of each half that is the size of half a cherry. Quickly press a cherry into the center of one of the ice cream halves, and then top with an ice cream half of the other flavor so that the final balls are half vanilla and half chocolate.
Wrap each ball in the original plastic wrap again and place them back into the freezer container.
Repeat the last 5 steps until all 8 ice cream balls have been used.
If desired, you can form each ball into a more smooth circle after it has frozen again while the ball is in the plastic wrap.
Make the Chocolate Coating
**A note about baking chocolates: I like to use 1/2 dark/bittersweet chocolate and 1/2 semisweet chocolate for children; you can use all dark chocolate if you like. Unsweetened chocolate is not recommended. Make sure to use good quality baking chocolate, whatever your choice.
On the third day, after the combined ice cream balls have completely frozen through, they are ready to coat with chocolate.
Microwave the chocolate and the canola oil in a small glass bowl (best) or glass measuring cup for about 2 minutes on medium heat (50%). Stir, and if all chocolate dissolves, set aside. Or microwave 30 seconds more, check and repeat as needed, until all chocolate is melted.
After the chocolate has melted, let it cool slightly. This is a crucial step, because if the chocolate is too hot, it will melt the chocolate balls; if the chocolate cools too much, it will start to harden. A glass bowl is best for coating the ice cream balls because it can be put into the microwave to melt the chocolate again if it starts to harden before you are finished working with it.
One at a time, take out an ice cream ball from the freezer, remove plastic wrap from the ice cream ball, and immediately place each ball into the chocolate, rolling the ball over once with a large spoon to coat the top and bottom of the ball.
Immediately set each chocolate-covered ball onto a cookie sheet or small tray covered in aluminum foil and place back into the freezer.
Repeat the last two steps until all ice cream balls have been coated with the chocolate. There will be just enough chocolate to coat 8 balls, so work quickly and reheat the chocolate as necessary, scraping down the sides of the bowl to use all the melted chocolate efficiently.
Freeze all chocolate balls uncovered at least 2 hours.
If you are not serving the tartufi right away, cover them lightly in aluminum foil or place them back into covered containers and store in the freezer.
When ready to serve, cut each tartufo in half with a serrated knife and place on a small plate.
Or place each tartufo ball as is in the center of a large fancy ice cream cup and watch everyone crack open the chocolate shell, dig in, and enjoy their summer treat!
*To find Amarena cherries if you do not have an Italian specialty shop in your neighborhood, simply search online. Look for the Fabbri brand pictured here.
The cherries, in heavy syrup, come in a beautiful white-and-blue decorated jar. Save the jar when you have used all the cherries and use it as a lovely decorative glass piece to give your kitchen a true Italian flair.
—Adapted from a cooking class given for the Italian-American Society of Peoria, by Kathryn Occhipinti
Tartufo: Summertime Gelato Treat!
Gnocchi (pronounced (NYAAW – KEY) are Italian potato dumplings, and if made properly, they are said to be like little pillows: delicate and soft, and a delight to eat! Gnocchi are popular in northern Italy and as far south as the Abruzzo region.
The dough is prepared with just a few ingredients—potatoes, a bit of flour, and sometimes an egg. The dough is then kneaded gently, rolled out, and cut into bite-size pieces. At the end of the process, ridges are created by rolling each “gnocco” along a fork or specially carved small wooden board. These ridges are perfect for capturing the delicious butter sauce, Gorgonzola sauce, pesto, or tomato sauce they can be served with. To see the method to make gnocchi in detail, visit our Stella Lucente Italian Pinterest site.
Italian families commonly gather around the kitchen table and make these treats together, often on a Sunday afternoon. Make and enjoy these famous Italian dumplings one afternoon at your home for a special treat!
For the gnocchi
1 large Idaho potato
1 cup of flour
For the brown butter and sage sauce
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 fresh sage leaves, torn
For the Gorgonzola sauce
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 lb. fresh Gorgonzola cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 –1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream or half and half
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Procedure to make the gnocchi
Place the potato on a rack in the oven and bake until soft throughout, or microwave it on high for about 6 minutes. (If you are cooking potatoes for more than one batch, wrap the extras in foil to hold in the heat until you are ready to use them.)
Don’t work with the potato when it is very hot. Wait until it is comfortably warm, then remove the skin and mash it with a fork or use a potato ricer. (The ricer is recommended because it makes quick work of getting the potato ready to add the flour, while at the same time keeping the potato fluffy and removing all eyes and lumps.)
The mashed/riced potatoes should be light and loose.
Place 1 cup of flour on your work surface.
Place your mashed/riced potato alongside in a separate pile.
Spread out the mashed/riced potatoes, then sprinkle some of the flour onto the potatoes. Start working the two ingredients together.
As soon as the flour is absorbed, add more flour until the mixture starts to create a workable dough. A light hand in mixing here will yield a tender dumpling. Do not over-knead!
Depending on the size of your potato, you may or may not use all of the flour; use only enough to create a workable dough. (Too much dough will yield sticky, heavy gnocchi when cooked instead of light and airy gnocchi!)
Gather the dough into a ball and cover for 10 minutes. This will allow the moisture from the potatoes to be absorbed by the flour.
Knead the dough just enough to blend again; do not overwork.
Slice off a quarter of the dough and start rolling it out to form a length of “rope” that is 1/2 inch thick.
Cut the rope into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces and then process it by rolling the gnocchi beneath your finger, then quickly pulling it toward you until it has made a full turn and curled up a bit.
To create ridges, use this same movement over the back of the tines of a fork or a specially ridged wooden gnocchi board.
Method to cook the gnocchi
Fill a large pot with water about ¾ of the way to the top and add a generous amount of salt. Cover pot and bring to a boil. While the water is boiling, prepare your sauce.
Turn the heat down, uncover, and add gnocchi gently. A large, flat, slotted serving spoon works best to lower the gnocchi safely into the water.
Cook gnocchi for about 3–4 minutes.
Watch the gnocchi as they cook, and when they float to the top of the water, gently lift them out with a slotted spoon.
Procedure to make the brown butter and sage sauce
Melt the butter gently in a large, light-colored skillet or saucepan over very low heat.
Turn the pan around on the burner as needed, so the butter melts at an even rate if you have an electric stove.
After the butter has melted, keep the heat on low, but watch it carefully. It will start to turn brown. Swirl the melted butter in the pan gently to evenly distribute the heat.
When the butter has turned light brown, immediately remove it from the heat.
Add the salt and swirl to melt.
Add the fresh torn sage leaves.
Immediately pour over warm, just-cooked gnocchi waiting to be sauced in a serving bowl and mix gently to coat.
Garnish with a sprig of sage and serve while hot.
Procedure to make the Gorgonzola sauce
Place the butter, Gorgonzola cheese, and milk in a small saucepan. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Melt all ingredients together slowly over low heat while stirring gently to blend the Gorgonzola cheese with the other ingredients.
When all has melted and blended together, taste and adjust salt.
If the gnocchi are not ready at this time, turn off the heat. Then reheat sauce gently on low heat for about a minute and add the final ingredients.
Add the heavy cream or half and half, mix to incorporate, and cook over medium heat, simmering the sauce to reduce and thicken it.
Add the Parmesan cheese and cook over low heat to melt.
Remove from heat and pour over warm, just-cooked gnocchi waiting to be sauced in a serving bowl and mix gently to coat.
—Adapted from “Cooking Around the World” at the Chillicothe Public Library, Illinois, as presented with the Italian-American Society of Peoria on July 14, 2014, by Rudy Litwin and Kathryn Occhipinti
Gnocchi with Brown Butter or Gorgonzola Sauce
Italian beef rolls—involtini di carne, also known as braciole, bracioli, or bruciuluni (in Palermo Sicilian dialect)—are a favorite southern Italian treat that are often served for the Sunday family dinner. What I enjoy most about this dish is that there are so many different variations, and every family that makes braciole has its own special traditional recipe. My family hides a whole hard-boiled egg in the center for a surprise when the braciole is cut open. Other families chop the egg in half or into smaller pieces, and some families do not use egg at all!
By the way, I am not sure of the origin of the word braciole used here in America, but in Italy, braciola refers to a cut of pork (usually grilled), and this dish can be made with pork cutlets. My friend Peter Palazzolo from the Speak Sicilian! Facebook group mentioned to me that long ago this rolled-up meat was cooked with grape vine twigs cured like coal, or bracia. But, I think my friend and Italian teacher Maria Vanessa Colapinto (blog eleganza per me), is correct with her idea that the real origin of this word comes from the Italian for the old-type grill that the rolled up meat for this dish was cooked on. This grill is still in use today and is called a “brace.” Meat cooked in this way is “all’abracie,” or “on the grill.”
When I was growing up, I always knew it was Sunday from the wonderful fragrance of the pot of homemade tomato sauce cooking on the stove top that would slowly permeate every corner of our house. If we couldn’t wait for the sauce to finish cooking, a slice of Italian bread dipped in the sauce would serve to keep our appetites at bay until mom or grandma deemed it was finally perfect.
Southern Italian tomato sauce is cooked at least an hour or so and usually longer when other meats are added to flavor the sauce. Every Italian family has its own special sauce that has been passed down for generations. I am including here the basic tomato sauce recipe from my family that I use to cook the braciole.
Most Italians use only a little basil in their tomato sauce and sometimes some parsley, and I have included both herbs in the tomato sauce recipe below. The Italian motto seems to be “less is more” when it comes to tomato sauce, although the ingredients used must be high quality. Oregano is a herb not generally found in tomato sauce in Italy, although legend has it that American soldiers brought oregano home after World War II, and it seems like the American families here have adopted this additional herb for their sauce in many parts of the country.
Also, if good tomatoes or good tomato puree is used (with less acid), it is not necessary to add sugar to tomato sauce, but in some parts of America, a sweeter sauce is preferred. Growing up as I did in New York, we liked the Contadina brand of tomato products.
There are as many variations as there are families in Italy and America, so make the pot of sauce your family has come to love, and enjoy a special Sunday together!
Italian Tomato Sauce
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 can (28 oz.) Contadina brand tomato puree or chopped tomatoes
1 can Contadina brand tomato paste
1/4 cup dried parsley or chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 Tablespoon dried basil or 2 Tablespoons torn fresh basil
1 Tablespoon of salt or to taste
Optional meat: ground beef, Italian sausage, braciole
Heat the olive oil in a large pot and sauté the onions and garlic with a wooden spoon until softened.
Add the tomato puree, tomato paste, parsley, and basil to the same pot.
Add 2 cups of water.
Cover, bring the sauce to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low.
Simmer on medium-low heat with the lid partially covering the pot, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon for at least 1 hour, so the sauce does not stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
Cook for at least 1 hour; at least 1.5 hours if adding meat to the sauce. (Brown any meat in a separate skillet before adding it.)
Add additional water if the sauce becomes too thick, or cook for additional time with the lid of the pot off if the sauce becomes too thin.
Prepare the Braciole Meat
Any thin, flat cut of beef can be used, such as top round. If you can, ask your butcher to cut the meat against the grain, so when it cooks in the sauce, it will soften properly and virtually melt in your mouth. At Caputo’s in Chicago, the meat is nicely marbled and labeled “braggiola steak,” an Americanization of the original word, no doubt.
One package with four braciole steaks, about 1.5 pounds for four people.
Lay the slices of meat out on a plate. Trim them to approximately the same rectangular size. If you want, tenderize and enlarge slightly with a meat mallet.
Fill, Assemble, and Cook the Braciole
4 hardboiled eggs, whole or halved
1/4–1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, stems removed, chopped coarsely
1 small onion, sliced thinly
1/4–1/3 cup Provolone or another hard, sharp cheese, cut into coarse pieces
Other additions/substitutions: caciocavallo cheese, pancetta, ham, salami, mushrooms
Examples: breadcrumbs + garlic + olive oil or breadcrumbs + salami + cheese + parsley
Place the egg and other ingredients desired onto the braciole steak.
The braciole meat is rolled over the egg, long side, with short ends tucked in, and then tied with meat twine. The ends also can be sealed with toothpicks. To see step-by-step pictures of the methods for rolling a braciole, go to Stella Lucente Pinterest.
Brown each assembled braciole in a little olive oil in a frying pan.
Have sauce boiling on the stove top. Gently lower the braciole into the boiling sauce.
Lower heat to a simmer and cook about 1 hour, or until tender.
While braciole are cooking in the sauce, set a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil and cook spaghetti or another pasta of your choice. Time the pasta so that it is hot and ready to be sauced when the braciole are done.
Remove the meat string or toothpicks before serving the braciole!
Serve with your favorite pasta and extra sauce on the side. Pasta used for the picture in this blog is Mafaldine 81 from Divella, made in Italy.
—Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria, with special thanks to Rose M. Occhipinti
Braciole: Italian Beef Rolls for Sunday Dinner
Italian Easter traditions are unique to each region of the country and have been lovingly handed down within families through the generations. Ricotta cheesecake, a version of which was first served by the Romans centuries ago, has come to play a part in the Easter celebration in Sicily as well.
The recipe given below is for a Sicilian Easter cheesecake—actually a “ricotta pie,” made with a sweet Italian pie crust and sweet ricotta and farro wheat filling. It has been passed down through the years within my father’s family from the town of Ragusa in Sicily.
Farro wheat is one of the oldest forms of natural wheat grown in southern Italy and has been enjoyed by Italians for centuries. This whole-wheat grain is added to the ricotta filling as a symbol of renewal, along with dried fruit left over from winter stores and traditional Sicilian flavorings, in order to create a rich texture and a perfectly balanced sweet citrus and cinnamon flavor. Try it this Easter for a taste of Italian tradition!
Pasta Frolla (Sweet Pastry)
2 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
½ tsp salt
¾ cup butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp brandy
1 tsp grated lemon zest
Farro Wheat* Preparation
½ cup whole farro wheat (about 1¼ cup cooked)
¼ cup hot milk
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp candied orange
1 Tbsp minced dried apricot
1 Tbsp minced dried prune
¾ lb. whole milk ricotta cheese
¾ cup sugar
3 egg yolks, beaten
dash of cinnamon
grated rind of 1 lemon (yellow part only, not white pith)
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp orange juice
2 egg whites, whipped until stiff with a pinch of cream of tartar
Prepare the wheat
Cook the wheat according to the package directions; drain the water.
Add the scalded milk, salt, and sugar and boil an additional 5 minutes.
Remove from heat, add the orange peel and dried fruit, mix, and set aside to cool.
Prepare the pasta frolla
Sift the flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl.
Cut in butter with a fork and fingertips until the size of small peas.
Stir in egg yolks one at a time, mixing gently with a fork.
Gather the crumbly pieces of dough, adding a little milk if necessary to moisten.
Turn out on a floured board and press together with a soft, gentle kneading motion with the palm of the hand until a dough forms.
Form two discs, one slightly larger than the other, wrap them in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Make the filling
Mix together all the filling ingredients except the egg whites.
Fold in the prepared wheat and then the whipped egg whites.
Assemble the pie
Roll out the larger disc of dough for the bottom crust and lay it in a 9” springform pan.
Prick the bottom with a fork. Add the prepared filling and refrigerate.
Roll out the top crust and cut it into strips using a knife or pasta wheel, and use the strips to make a lattice crust on a pizza plate or other flat board (see Stella Lucente Pinterest for step-by-step pictures).
Slide the lattice crust onto the top of the pie and crimp the edges.
Bake in preheated oven at 350° for about 40–50 minutes, or until crust is nicely browned. Cool in oven.
Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar when cool if desired. Refrigerate until serving.
*Whole farro can now be found in many specialty stores and on the Internet. Rustichella D’Abruzzo brand “whole farro cereal grain” was used in the recipe.
—Kathryn Occhipinti: Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria
Italian Recipes: Easter Cheesecake Recipe: Traditional Sicilian Sweet Farro Wheat Pie
Lentils are loved by Italians and make a wonderful, hot, nourishing soup for everyone! Try this recipe, and I think you will agree, even if you’ve never eaten lentils before. Any kind of miniature pasta can be used in this soup. My mother usually breaks regular spaghetti into shorter pieces for her version, although miniature ravioli are fun if you can find them in your local grocery store. For a vegetarian dish, dried ravioli with squash filling, which are pictured in this blog, are a wonderful complement to the lentils.
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion (chopped finely)
2 carrots (chopped finely)
1 stick of celery (chopped finely)
1 package (12 oz.) dried lentils (sorted and rinsed once but not soaked)
1 tsp crushed, dried sage
1 bay leaf
optional: meat stock or broth*
1 can (14.5 oz.) chopped tomatoes
about 6 oz. dried miniature pasta or dried miniature squash ravioli**
Use a large, wide-bottom pot to make this soup.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat and then add the chopped onion and carrot and cook, stirring, until both have softened a bit.
Add the lentils and cook the vegetables a bit longer, stirring, but do not let the onions brown. (This initial cooking of the lentils is said to harden the skin, so they will not become too mushy. If you like more mushy lentils, skip the sautée and just add the lentils after the rest of the vegetables have become soft . This will also decrease the overall cooking time.)
Add enough water (or meat stock if you have it and do not want a vegetarian dish) to cover the vegetables—about 6–8 cups—the dried sage, and the bay leaf.
Cover and bring to a boil; uncover, reduce heat, and simmer 45 minutes.
After the vegetables have cooked a bit, taste the soup. See how much the lentils have softened, and if they are still hard, cook longer. If they are about soft enough for your liking, proceed as follows:
Add about 1 Tablespoon of salt (to taste; less can be used) and an additional 2–4 cups of water for the pasta that you will soon be adding. Cover and bring soup back to a rolling boil.
When the soup is at a rolling boil, add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato juice from the can and the pasta.
Cook until the pasta is “al dente” or “to the tooth.”
Remember to remove the bay leaf before serving!
Enjoy with crusty Italian bread on a cold winter’s day!
*Italian “meat stock or broth” is often composed of whatever bones and small pieces of meat are left over from the night before—chicken and pork bones can be combined, for instance, or just one or the other used. When I make this soup for my family, it is usually with pork chop bones and meat left over from Monday night’s dinner. This gives the soup a nice added complexity.
**The dried ravioli used for the dish pictured was the “La Piana” brand imported from Italy, “ravioli with squash filling,” which also adds a nice bit of flavor to the dish. Here are some links to help you find this pasta in the United States: Italian Foods Corporation, La Piana Italian foods Facebook page, Pennsylvania Macaroni Food Company.
—Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria,
Italian Recipe: Lentil Soup (Zuppa di Lenticchie)
It is amazing that a dish this simple can be so delicious. It is a real crowd-pleaser, loved by adults and children alike and perfect as the only dish or as one of several fish dishes (sometimes as many as seven!) served at an Italian-American Christmas Eve feast. “Scampi style” in America just means that shrimp are cooked in a light sauce of garlic, butter, and white wine to a delightful tenderness and flavor.
The Italian name “scampi” is the plural of “scampo,” which means “safety, salvation, or escape,” and the verb “scampare,” which means “to escape.” Regarding this dish, the word “scampi” cleverly refers to the tail of a certain small lobster found in the North and Mediterranean Seas. The French name is “langoustine” and the Spanish name is “cigala.” This small lobster (to get technical, the true name is Nephrops norvegicus) has meat in the tail section but not much in the claws. In the United Kingdom, “scampi”refers to the preparation of the whole tail of this lobster cooked in breadcrumbs, but tradition elsewhere renders “scampi” as a preparation of garlic, butter, and white wine. Try this easy-to-make dish this Christmas Eve and see for yourself how wonderful shrimp can taste!
1 pound of linguine, cooked (serves 4–6)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1–2 shallots, finely chopped, or 1/4 cup finely chopped onions
6 plump cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 tsp salt and pinch of white pepper to taste
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup Italian white wine (chill the rest of the bottle for dinner)
1 pound large shrimp (about 16–18), cleaned, shell peeled off, and de-veined*
Few sprigs of chopped parsley
First, start to cook the linguine, and let the pasta cook as the sauce is being made. If you are lucky, it will all come together at about the same time! A general method for cooking pasta is as follows: set a large pot of well-salted water on the stove to boil, and at the rolling boil, add the pasta; stir; cover the pot to bring back to a boil quickly; uncover, stir, and cook until pasta is “al dente” (slightly firm). Drain and keep warm if pasta is ready before sauce is finished.
Set a large skillet with high sides or your largest frying pan on a burner over low heat. Watch the pan very closely from start to finish so that the shallots, garlic, and butter do not turn brown. The “sauce” will come together very quickly.
Put the olive oil and shallots or onions and garlic into the skillet with the salt over medium heat and cook, stirring as needed, until they soften (do not let them brown).
Add the butter and let it melt slowly. Cook until the onions and garlic are translucent (cooked through).
Add the white wine and raise heat to boil down the alcohol in the wine and thicken the “sauce.” Boil down until about 3/4 cup of wine is left.
Add the shrimp and cook briefly on each side (about 3–4 minutes) over medium heat, until they turn pink, turning and moving the shrimp in butter as needed. Do not overcook, or the shrimp will dry out and become rubbery.
Taste and adjust salt and add a pinch of white pepper as needed. If too much wine has boiled off by the time the shrimp have cooked, add some pasta water. If the sauce seems a bit watery, take the shrimp out and boil down a bit more.
Take pan off heat and add the chopped parsley.
Enjoy over freshly cooked linguine. Because this is a delicate fish dish, no grated cheese topping is needed!
*To get the best flavor from the shrimp in this dish, it is best to buy the shrimp raw and clean them, although shrimp can be bought already cooked and just warmed through in a pinch. When cleaning the shrimp, the veins along the outer and inner curves of the shrimp should be removed by making a slight cut and pulling each vein out. I have a shrimp knife for this task that I found in a specialty food catalog long ago that looks like this and makes the work quick and easy.
—Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria,
Italian-American Style Shrimp Recipe: Shrimp Scampi
This famous Italian sauce from the city of Bologna is actually a “ragù” (similar to the French “ragout”) because all of the ingredients are gradually combined and then simmered in a large saucepan for hours, until the flavors have beautifully melded and a thick sauce is created. Pair this delicious sauce with thick spaghetti or tubular macaroni that has ridges for the sauce to cling to. For a special dinner, this sauce is wonderful with homemade wide-ribbon pasta, such as tagliatelle or pappardelle. And remember, a little sauce goes a long way in Italy—a generous ladle of sauce on top of a nest of pasta in each plate makes a wonderful meal—top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and enjoy!
(Serves 4 with 1 lb. of pasta)
3 Tbsp butter (plus more to finish sauce at end if desired)
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup chopped pancetta or ¼ cup chopped bacon
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 stalk of celery, chopped finely
1 carrot, peeled and chopped finely
¾ cup ground beef
¾ cup ground pork
¼ cup ground Italian sausage (about 1 sausage removed from casing)
¾ cup dry white wine
1½ cups beef stock
4 tsp tomato paste
¼ cup whipping cream
¼ lb. cremini mushrooms, quartered and sautéed in 3 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter
Heat 3 Tbsp of butter with 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
Add the finely chopped onion, celery, and carrot, and cook with a pinch of salt until vegetables have softened.
Add the chopped pancetta or bacon and cook to render out the fat. Remove meaty parts of bacon.
Add the ground beef, ground pork, and Italian sausage meat, and stir with a wooden spoon to break up meat as it browns.
Add dry white wine and raise heat to high to boil off.
Mix a little of the beef stock with the tomato paste to thin, and then stir into the skillet with the other ingredients.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add ¼ cup of the beef stock and cover the skillet.
Cook over medium-low heat for an additional 1 to 1½ hours, stirring intermittently and adding more stock gradually to keep the meat moist.
All the ingredients should come together to form a gravy-like sauce, or ragù.
Optional: While the meat ragù is cooking, quarter and sauté the mushrooms in a separate small frying pan in 1 Tbsp butter and 3 Tbsp olive oil and reserve.
To complete the sauce, remove the ragù from the heat, stir in the mushrooms and their juices, and then stir in the whipping cream.
Add additional tablespoons of cream and 1–2 Tbsp of butter as desired.
Serve immediately, with a generous ladle of sauce in the center of each plate of pasta.
(Leftover sauce can be stored in the refrigerator or for longer periods in the freezer. Add a little water to the sauce as needed and reheat over low heat.)
—Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria, by Kathryn Occhipinti
Italian Sauce Recipe: Authentic Family-Style Bolognese Meat Sauce
This famous Italian layered dessert, which literally means “pick-me-up,” was said to have originated when Italian ladies wanted a snack to get them through a long night of entertaining. Try our version, and we think you will agree that a piece of this dessert will add sparkle to any get-together or special celebration, whether for lunch, dinner, or the wee hours of the evening… Just follow our step-by-step instructions on how to make each component of the dessert, and assemble it all into the delicious layers that will form a kind of cake when refrigerated overnight.
Make the zabaglione* custard:
*Italian custard made with Marsala wine
6 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup Marsala wine
Off heat, beat the egg yolks and sugar on the top pot of a double boiler with a whisk
until combined and the yolks become pale yellow.
Fill the bottom pot ⅓ of the way up with water and heat to a simmer on the stove.
Place the pot with the egg yolk mixture over the pot with the simmering water.
Stir the beaten egg yolks constantly with a whisk while slowly pouring in the Marsala wine.
Continue to stir, scraping the bottom of the pot often, for about 5 to 6 minutes.
When the mixture has thickened, transfer to a bowl and chill for 30 minutes.
Make the cream filling:
1 cup whipping cream (cold)
4 Tbsp sugar
1 lb. Mascarpone cheese
chilled zabaglione custard
Beat the whipping cream and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.
Fold in the Mascarpone cheese, and then the chilled zabaglione custard, into the whipped cream until well blended.
Make the coffee syrup mixture:
2 cups espresso coffee (cooled)
¼ cup Marsala wine
1 tsp vanilla
Combine the espresso coffee, Marsala wine, and vanilla in a measuring cup.
Assemble the tiramisu (have the following ready):
- Cream filling
- Coffee syrup
- 2 (7 oz.) packages of lady finger cookies
- 3 Tbsp cocoa powder for dusting
Arrange 16 lady finger cookies in a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.
Pour 1 tsp of the coffee syrup on each cookie.
Spread ⅓ of the cream filling mixture over the cookies.
Dust with 1 Tbsp of the cocoa powder.
Repeat cookie layer, coffee syrup, cream filling mixture, and cocoa powder two more times, finishing with a layer of cream and a dusting of the cocoa powder on top.
Cover and refrigerate at least 5 hours or overnight to allow the cookies to absorb
moisture and flavor.
Cut into squares to serve and enjoy with a cup of espresso coffee!
—Adapted from the cooking classes given by the Italian-American Society of Peoria. Thanks to Rudy Litwin, IAS President in 2012, for this recipe!
Dessert Recipe from Italy: Make Our Famous Tiramisù