Pesto alla Genovese is the famous bright green “pasta sauce” from the northern Italian region of Liguria, whose capital is the city of Genoa. My introduction to pesto, which was not a part of my southern Italian upbringing, was from one of those little glass jars I found in a grocery store in Peoria, Illinois. The jar had been labeled “pesto” by an Italian company. Back then, I was trying to learn to cook true Italian “regional” cooking and specifically to expand my sauce-making techniques beyond the ubiquitous and well-loved southern Italian red tomato sauce.
Diary of my first experiences making pesto…
So, on the day of my first foray into northern Italian sauces, I put a pot of salted water on the stove to boil, added some spaghetti, and dusted off my jar of Italian-labeled pesto that had probably been sitting on the grocery shelf for many, many months before I had purchased it. I opened the jar and saw that olive oil was floating on top, separate from the basil that makes up the major component of the sauce. I mixed the basil and olive oil together, not knowing if this was the correct thing to do. (It was. The olive oil layer on top helps to preserve the pesto.)
When the spaghetti was ready, I drained it and poured some of the thick, dull green pesto from the jar over my hot spaghetti and mixed it to coat. Was I supposed to use the entire jar? I wasn’t sure. I tasted it. It wasn’t too bad, but really, it wasn’t very good either, and I wasn’t really sure why. After all, pesto is a famous dressing for pasta. Millions of people love it!
Not one to give up easily, a few weeks later, I tried to make a pesto sauce for my pasta again. The second time, I emptied the contents of my jar of pesto into a small pan to warm the sauce. Even worse! Now, I know that pesto is a “cold emulsion” type of “dressing” for pasta and should never be cooked! But, as I said, back when I was first introduced to pesto, I really had no experience about how it should be prepared or how it should taste.
Pesto success at last?
Finally, one year when I had an over-abundance of fresh basil in my garden one late summer, I remembered pesto alla Genovese. Perhaps fresh basil was the secret. I turned to my favorite Italian cookbook, Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni. I had purchased this cookbook in 1992 while in training in San Francisco, and I credit the book with sparking my interest in discovering true Italian cuisine for the home cook. Each region is beautifully introduced with photographs of beautiful platters of food set in the Italian countryside. Translated from the Italian, and beautifully compiled with all regional specialties included, detailed notes on each specialty, and clear directions, Italian Regional Cooking is my “bible” of Italian cooking, even today. Unfortunately, when it comes to the recipe for making pesto alla Genovese, the directions are a bit vague…
Pesto alla Genovese
(Genoese Green Sauce or Basil Sauce)
“Put 2 cloves of garlic, 4 small bunches of fresh basil leaves, a pinch of coarse salt, and a tablespoon of toasted pine nuts, if liked, in a mortar. Pound to a paste. Continue pounding, gradually adding 3 or 4 tablespoons each of grated Parmesan and Pecorino cheese. When the paste is smooth, stir in a cup of olive oil. This quantity of pesto is sufficient for 1 pound noodles and will serve 3.” —Ada Boni, Italian Regional Cooking, pg. 85. (Milan English Translation © 1989 by International Culinary Society, dist. by Crown Publishers, NY)
Pesto—a method, NOT a recipe!
I realized at once that the directions above were really a method rather than a recipe, and this is the secret to pesto—one must find his or her own favorite combination of ingredients and method that works best. So I started on my journey to discover my own “true” pesto alla Genovese with the ratio of ingredients above, not really knowing exactly how many basil leaves to include in my “4 small bunches of basil leaves,” or exactly how to use a mortar and pestle. But I did discover one thing to be true: fresh basil leaves led to freshly made pesto, and this was the key to a delicious and aromatic pasta dressing!
A pesto method learned over time…
After much reading on the topic, I learned that the name “pesto” comes from the Italian verb “pestare,” which means “to crush/to mash.” After more reading and many, many more attempts, I learned that the sequence for crushing the ingredients makes a difference.
First, mashing the garlic and pine nuts into a paste allows the garlic to receive the crushed basil, cheese, and olive oil more easily. (Also, halve the garlic and remove any bitter green stem that may have started to grow before processing the garlic.) I no longer roast my pine nuts. Adding the basil leaves a little at a time and most of the salt when most of the basil leaves have been crushed seems to help to get the right consistency and to keep the vibrant green color of the pesto.
Much trial and error led to a basil/pine nut/cheese ratio that I liked, although in truth, once I started to make fresh pesto, a wide range of ratios of ingredients worked. The amount of garlic can be varied—less or more, depending on taste—although I like to keep the garlic/pine nut ratio equal.
The proportion of Parmesan, which is a cow’s milk cheese, to Peccorino, which is a goat’s milk cheese, is also important. I’ve experimented using Peccorino Romano and the less well-known Peccorino Sardo. Both taste good to me, but of course, everyone has their favorite. (Peccorino Sardo is recommended by Chef John Coletta of Chicago’s Ristorante Quartino.)
For a quick dinner during the workweek, it is even possible to make pesto by pulsing all the ingredients together in a food processor, although, of course, this method does not allow the full flavor of the pesto to bloom and would certainly not be considered authentic pesto alla Genovese in Liguria!
But how should pesto be served?
Finally, I also learned to dilute my pesto with a bit of the hot, starchy pasta water just before serving to ensure that the pasta strands are evenly coated with the pesto. And from Chef John Coletta of Chicago’s Ristorante Quartino, I learned a trick that turned pasta with pesto into one of my children’s favorite dishes. The pesto recipe in his cookbook, 250 True Italian Pasta Dishes, suggests serving hot pasta coated with pesto in a large pasta bowl lined with paper-thin slices of prosciutto. As John says,
“When a platter is lined with paper-thin prosciutto and hot pasta is piled on top, something wonderful happens: as the pasta heats the prosciutto, the meat releases its flavor. When you serve the pasta with a little bit of the prosciutto in each portion, it is very fragrant in a way that is different from cooked prosciutto.” —John Coletta with Nancy Ross Ryan, 250 True Italian Pasta Dishes, pgs. 134–135. (©2009 by Robert Rose, Inc. Ontario, Canada)
A favorite blogger spotlights “Pesto alla Genovese”
I thought I had my pesto method complete many years ago. Fast forward to about a year ago, when one of my favorite Italian travel bloggers, Victoria DeMaio, wrote about her experience learning to make pesto on tour, from the city of pesto’s birth, Genoa. Click on the link Presto! It’s Pesto! to read her full blog post in “PostcardZ from Victoria” if you like.
Once again, pesto returned to the forefront of my culinary experimentation. Finally, directly from Liguria, through Victoria’s blog, I learned what a typical mortar and pestle used in Liguria looks like and how to use them!
To make authentic pesto alla Genovese, one must purchase a fairly large Carrera marble mortar and use a large wooden pestle. In Liguria, every bride receives this important wedding gift from her family before departing for her new family life. Click on the link to watch Victoria’s YouTube video, “Let’s Make Pesto with Mario and Cristina in Genoa Where Pesto Originated.” You will learn a bit about Genoa and see Mario’s mortar and pestle technique for crushing basil leaves. Notice the basil plant he is holding in the beginning of the video to show the approximate number of basil leaves needed for making one batch of pesto!
I also learned from Victoria’s blog post, Presto! It’s Pesto!, that the traditional pasta served in Genoa with pesto alla Genovese is called trofiette. (See below for details). This pasta is not easily found here in America, though, and I like to dress gnocchi and spaghetti with pesto, as is commonly done throughout northern Italy. I did know that pesto should always be served with a white wine, because its herbaceous character does not mix well with red. In her blog, Victoria mentions the local Genovese white wine called Vermentino.
“Pesto is served in a variety of delicious ways and with several different pastas but the most traditional is trofiette which looks a bit like a small twisted rope. (Trofiette is made with farina made from castagne (chestnuts) and water (no eggs) and requires 20 min to cook.)” —Victoria DeMaio
Finally, about fresh Genovese basil…
The last “link,” so to speak, in the chain of events that led to my understanding of how to make an authentic pesto alla Genovese is perhaps the most important: the type of basil that should be used. The Ligurians believe that the basil grown in their region, Basilico Genovese DOP (Designazione di Origine Protetta, or Protected Denomination of Origin), which was granted by the European Union in 2015 is the only basil to use for authentic pesto alla Genovese.
Basil was originally introduced throughout Italy by the Romans. (The Romans loved to cook with herbs, and they created what some consider an early form of pesto using basil leaves called “moretum.”) The specific type of sweet basil grown in Liguria for which the DOP designation is held is said to have very little or no undertones of mint and a more piquant and complex taste than the most common variety of sweet basil. The pungent aroma released when these basil leaves are crushed is what gives the wonderful fragrance of true pesto alla Genovese.
To fall under the Basilico Genovese DOP designation, along with the variety of basil grown, the location where it is grown is important. Basilico Genovese DOP must be grown in a narrow strip of land “between the mountains and the sea” that encompasses the provinces of Genoa, Savona, and Imperia. The best Basilico Genovese DOP is said to be grown in a small village named Prà, just west of the city of Genoa. Basilico Genovese DOP is grown year-round in these provinces, with greenhouses in use for many years to allow the year-round, continuous production.
…and Metropolitan Farms in Chicago
So, what does all this mean for us here in America? Can we produce high-quality basil for our own version of pesto? After being introduced to Metropolitan Farms just west of Chicago last May, I would venture to say that the answer to this question is “yes,” and in a uniquely creative way!
The event that I attended last May, titled Metropolitan Farm Tour: Explore an Urban Ag Destination, was organized by Catherine Lambrecht, long-time Culinary Historians of Chicago director and director of the Chicago Foodways Roundtable. Metropolitan Farms uses a relatively new technique called aquaponics to create a closed-loop greenhouse system that can produce hydroponically grown herbs and lettuce and fish for local sale year-round.
The system is composed of two greenhouses, one for fish tanks and the other for the greens to grow hydroponically. The fish (tilapia, in this case) provide the fertilizer for the greens as they grow; water from their tanks is piped into the hydroponic system that circulates around the roots of the plants. The water from the plants is then filtered and piped back into the fish tanks. The greens are grown in carefully regulated, advanced greenhouse conditions, which create healthy, undamaged plants without the need for pesticides.
As part of their crop, Metropolitan Farms grows high-quality Genovese basil from seed, year-round, as is done in Liguria. Most of their basil is sold wholesale. They also make their own pesto (several varieties) for local sale.
Walking through the Metropolitan Farms greenhouse, I could almost smell the fragrant pesto that would come from this ingenious system. I’ll end this blog post with a photo of Benjamin and his wonderful basil, and we’ve come full circle, as the wonderful fragrant basil I grew in my own garden was really the impetus for the many years I spent discovering the details of how to make pesto alla Genovese in the first place!
Ingredients for Italian Recipe
Kathryn’s Pesto alla Genovese
Leaves from 1 small sweet, green (Genovese) basil plant
(about 1 cup of lightly packed leaves, rinsed, patted dry, stems removed)
1 to 2 small garlic cloves, peeled, halved lengthwise
(and bitter green center removed if present)
1 to 2 tablespoons Italian pine nuts
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cups of extra virgin olive oil, from Liguria, if possible
Method for the Pesto
Note: Before starting, set a large pot of well-salted water on the stove to boil, and cook your pasta to “al dente” tenderness (“to the tooth). Time the pasta so it finishes cooking just before the pesto is complete. Keep in mind that fresh pasta and gnocchi will take far less time to cook than dried pasta.
- Put the garlic cloves into the mortar with a few grains of salt and begin to crush. Add the pine nuts and continue to crush into a smooth paste.
- Remove the garlic/pine nut mixture from the mortar to a small bowl.
- Put a few of the basil leaves and a few grains of salt into the mortar and begin to crush, using the method shown in the link to the video in this blog post.
- As the basil leaves become crushed and release their essential oils, add a few more. Continue to crush the leaves, adding a few at a time, until all are crushed fairly uniformly.
- Add whatever salt is left to the crushed basil leaves, the garlic/pine nut mixture, and then drizzle in a bit of olive oil. Combine.
- Add the cheeses and a bit more olive oil. Combine.
- Drizzle in the rest of the olive oil while continuously stirring the garlic/pine nut/ crushed basil/cheese mixture until a creamy dressing has formed.
- Reserve 1 to 2 tablespoons of pasta water and mix into the pesto to warm.
- Quickly drain the pasta and put the warm pasta into a large serving bowl.
- Dress with your pesto, mix to coat, and serve immediately!
- If you would like to preserve your pesto rather than use it right away, it can be frozen in small plastic containers. Top off with a small amount of olive oil. Leave a small amount of room in the container for the liquid to expand and then cover.
Kathryn’s Gardening Tips
- Basil is an annual plant and, with some exceptions in warmer climates, will not reseed on its own. It grows easily from seed after the threat of frost is over and when the soil has warmed in cooler climates. It is advisable to plant seedlings, though, in order to have basil readily available throughout the summer.
- All basil plants love a very sunny location, hot, humid weather, and lots of water. If you do not water carefully, the plant will droop and may appear to have died, but a good dousing of water will quickly bring it “back to life.”
- The basil plant will grow a center stalk of small white flowers, which will then go to seed. Pinch this off when you see it; if you allow the plant to go to seed, it will die shortly thereafter.
- To overwinter basil, cut a stalk from the top of the plant with as long a stem as possible. Try to do this before the plant has started to go to seed, when it is still in the growing phase. Place the stem in a small container of water, and watch the roots appear. When a small ball of roots has formed, it is ready to plant in soil.
See “Growing Italian Herbs” from Zuppa, Insalata, e Verdure (Soup, Salad, and Vegetables) by Kathryn Occhipinti © 2006, Italian-American Society of Peoria.
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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Pesto alla Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago
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Manicotti (pronounced (man-ee-cot-tee) are Italian crêpes, called crespelle, filled with cheese, topped with just a bit of sauce, and baked. They are a perfect light start as the “primo”(first) course for a special Italian meal. Because making the crespelle is a bit labor intensive—they have to be made one by one—we don’t often have manicotti at my house. I made these at home this past Easter for dinner, so I thought I would share the method.
A few words about what are called manicotti in America. Many of you have no doubt tasted manicotti made with pasta tubes in an Italian-American restaurant or have seen manicotti pasta tubes in the grocery store. And yes, the pasta tubes are about the same size as the “tubes” we will make when we roll up our crespelle. And yes, our filling will work well in these pasta tubes or large pasta shells for a quick meal. But for true manicotti made the southern Italian way, as passed down by my Mamma Rosa, the shells must be light crespelle, not made from boiled pasta.
Also, I have to say that I completely forgot that manicotti can be topped with sauce and a bit of grated mozzarella cheese. But please (I am begging here), please do not “drown” your manicotti in sauce or a pool of gooey mozzarella cheese, as some restaurants do. Then the crespelle will become soggy, and you will not be able to taste the delicate flavors of the cheese filling!
To see the method to make Italian crespelle in real time, watch our Stella Lucente Italian You Tube Channel. Visit the Learn Travel Italian Pinterest site for photos of how to put together your own manicotti. Try our recipe and amaze your family with something new!
Ingredients for Italian Recipe: Manicotti from Mamma Rosa
For the crespelle (crêpes)*
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 Tbsp olive oil
For the cheese filling
15 oz. good, fresh Ricotta cheese**
6 oz. mozzarella (not buffalo mozzarella) cut into small cubes***
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, minced, stems removed
1 jar (26 oz.) homemade or favorite tomato sauce
Make the crespelle batter
Put 1/2 cup of the milk and the rest of the ingredients into a mixing bowl.
Beat briskly with a whisk until all lumps of flour have dissolved. (This may take a little bit of time and produce small air bubbles if done thoroughly.)
Add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk and beat with the whisk again.
Let batter rest for 1 hour in the refrigerator. This will let any remaining particles of flour absorb into the batter and relax any gluten that may have formed during the mixing. The rest allows for a more tender and less “doughy” crespelle.
Method to cook the crespelle
To cook the batter to make the crespelle, you will need a small frying pan that heats evenly and holds the heat well. A crêpe pan works best, of course!
The technique is a little tricky, and the crespelle must be cooked one at a time. But once the method is mastered, you should have a batch of about 8–10 crespelle in no time!
- Brush the pan with olive oil and then heat the pan over medium-high heat.
- Pour approximately 3 Tbsp of batter into the center of the pan.
- Off heat, tilt the pan around with a circular motion so that the batter thins out and forms a round crêpe about the size of the pan.
- Place the pan back on the heat again and cook until the edges of the crêpe become whitish and the inner portion yellow and partially solid.
- Using a spatula, flip once and cook briefly (about 30 seconds).
- Remove to a plate to cool.
Watch our video “How to Make Crespelle” on the Learn Travel Italian YouTube Channel.
Assemble the Manicotti
One at a time, place a crespelle on a separate plate and stuff with the ricotta mixture to make a manicotti as follows:
- Place the crespelle with the second side up (the side that cooked briefly after flipping) onto a plate or work board.
- Place 1–2 Tbsp of ricotta filling in a line down the middle.
- Fold one side of the crespelle over to the center.
Repeat with the other side and overlap to make a tube shape with open ends, similar to a large penne pasta. Seal the overlapping edges in the center with a drop of water.
Have a baking pan ready with a layer of spaghetti sauce on the bottom.
Place the manicotti into the pan.
Continue to make manicotti and place them into the pan, making as many rows as possible to fill up the pan.
When the pan has been filled, pour a bit of your favorite tomato sauce to make a “line” of sauce over the center of each row of manicotti. Don’t put too much sauce over the manicotti, or the crespelle will become soggy.
Above all, please don’t drown your manicotti in mozzarella cheese! If you like, put a small amount of shredded mozzarella over the top of the sauce line.
Bake in a 350° oven about 15–20 minutes, or until the mozzarella cheese has melted and the manicotti have crisped a bit.
Serve with tomato sauce on the side.
*There are, of course, many variations on how to make crespelle batter. Some use more egg or less flour. Others don’t use olive oil. I’ve found that the recipe for crespelle batter given above works the best with the pan that I have available at home. If adding more egg, the batter may stick to the pan. Less flour makes a watery batter that is a little difficult to deal with without a true crêpe maker. If you have a favorite crêpe batter, you can use that, although crespelle are traditionally a little bit thicker than crêpes.
**This dish showcases how delicious ricotta cheese can be. So please use only creamy, fresh, good quality ricotta cheese, from a specialty store if possible.
*** For the mozzarella cheese, the hard mozzarella cheese holds up better and has more flavor to add to the dish than buffalo mozzarella. The slightly nutty flavor of fontina cheese is also wonderful in this filling, although it is not “authentic” because it is a northern Italian cheese, and the dish is southern Italian.
—Adapted from Primi e Secondi Piatti Italian cookbook from the Italian-American Society of Peoria; recipe by Rose Schimmenti Occhipinti and Kathy Occhipinti
A delicious and easy to make family dinner. Try it tonight!
The recipe title, “One-Pot Italian Chicken in Marsala Wine” sounds rich… and it is! But it is also so easy to make! I am told that for many years in Italy, only relatively wealthy families had ovens (in the day of my great grandparents). As a result, many wonderful Italian meals were developed that could be made entirely on the stove top. This actually fits perfectly with the lifestyle we live today.
In this chicken in Marsala wine recipe, a whole cut chicken is cooked in one large skillet along with the wine and few other ingredients until a silky gravy forms. This hearty and fulfilling dish can be made during the week or served when friends are over on the weekend. Hearty, crusty Italian bread makes a perfect accompaniment. Add a salad or vegetable side dish (contorno) if you like.
So get out the largest skillet you have, and try our chicken in Marsala wine dish for your family tonight. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed! —Kathryn Occhipinti
1 frying chicken, cut into 2 breasts, 2 thighs/legs, 2 wings
(any chicken with breasts and thighs of similar size)
up to 1/2 cup olive oil, as needed
1 small onion, minced
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 strips guanciale (bacon from cheek of pig) or
2 strips prosciutto, chopped
3/4 cup Marsala wine
8 oz. cremini mushrooms
1 (15 oz.) can chopped tomatoes or
canned or fresh cherry tomatoes
2 sprigs of Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped coarsely
Rinse the frying chicken inside and out, pat dry, and cut into pieces. Reserve the back for chicken soup to be made at a later date!
Sprinkle chicken lightly with salt and pepper.
Use a large, shallow pot, Dutch oven, or skillet to cook all ingredients over medium high heat as follows:
Pour olive oil into your pot or skillet to coat the entire bottom of the pot with a thin layer of oil, using 1/4 to 1/2 cup of olive oil. Heat oil over medium high heat (do not let the oil smoke or flavor will be lost).
Add chicken to the pan skin side down, keeping each piece separate from the other and cook without moving the chicken for a few minutes, until the skin has browned and some of the fat from under the skin has been rendered.
Turn chicken pieces once and cook about 5 minutes more.
Remove chicken pieces to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
Pour out excess oil/fat from the skillet. Add fresh olive oil if necessary to coat the bottom lightly again.
Into the skillet, add the chopped onion, crushed garlic clove, and guanciale or prosciutto. Cook until the onion has softened.
Add Marsala wine and turn the heat up to high briefly to boil off alcohol while scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release chicken bits that will help flavor the sauce. Lower heat and continue to boil off alcohol until about 50% of the Marsala wine remains in the pot.
Put the chicken back into the skillet and add tomatoes (with the juices in the can), mushrooms, and parsley. Add enough water, so the chicken and vegetables are almost completely covered.
Cover the skillet and cook on medium high heat until the chicken is cooked through, adding more water as needed, about 15 to 30 minutes (this will depend on how cooked the chicken was initially, of course).
If the sauce is too watery at the end of cooking time, remove the lid and boil off some liquid gently. The sauce should be fairly thick.*
Taste, and adjust salt and pepper before serving.
Place the chicken pieces on a large platter or on individual plates. Pour on the sauce and serve with rustic Italian bread.
*This method is a fricassee of chicken (a method of cooking meat in which it is cut up, sautéed and braised, and served with its sauce), so the sauce will be a little fatty. If you want to decrease the amount of fat, the same method can be followed with skinless, bone-in chicken cooked for a shorter time initially.
by Kathryn Occhipinti
Italian Recipes: One Pot Italian Chicken in Marsala Wine
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
Italian Recipes: 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 Recipes: 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
Italian Recipes: 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
Italian Recipes: 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
Italian Recipes: 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 Recipes: 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 Recipes: 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 Recipes: 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!
Italian Recipes: Make Our Famous Tiramisù