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Basil for Pesto alla Genovese

Pesto alla Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago

Pesto alla Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago 

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog Pesto is a unique green sauce that originated from the piquant basil grown around the city of Genoa and is now loved the world over.

Pesto alla Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago

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)

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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!

Making Pesto with a mortar and pestle, photo courtesy of Victoria DeMaio
Mortar and pestle for making pesto. Photo courtesy of Victoria DeMaio

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

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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.

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…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!

Metropolitan Farms Founder Benjamin Kant
Benjamin Kant of Metropolitan Farms in Chicago showing his Genovese basil growing method.

Italian Recipe: Kathryn’s Pesto alla Genovese 

Pasta alla Genovese with Trofiette Pasta from Liguria
Photo credit: Victoria-DeMaio of true-Trofiette pasta from the region of Liguria and pesto. From-the-blog-PostcardZ-from-Victoria-Presto-Its-Pesto.jpg

Ingredients for Italian Recipe
Kathryn’s Pesto alla Genovese
(Serves 4)

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Remove the garlic/pine nut mixture from the mortar to a small bowl.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Add the cheeses and a bit more olive oil. Combine.
  7. 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.
  8. Reserve 1 to 2 tablespoons of pasta water and mix into the pesto to warm.
  9. Quickly drain the pasta and put the warm pasta into a large serving bowl.
  10. 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.

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Growing Basil
Kathryn’s Gardening Tips 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

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.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
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More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
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Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Pesto alla Genovese Meets American Aquaponic Farming in Chicago

That’s Italian Minestrone Soup for Your Family

That’s Italian Minestrone Soup for Your Family

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog Minestrone Soup — A hearty and warming dish for the fall season or any time.

That’s Italian Minestrone Soup!
Calling Italian Moms, Dads, and Kids Everywhere! 

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


That’s Italian Minestrone Soup for Your Family

Zuppa di Minestrone
Minestrone soup, ready to serve

Ingredients

For the Meat Broth
(Day 1)
 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
(Day 2)
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

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

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.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Stella Lucente Italian, LLC

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian

Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

That’s Italian Minestrone Soup for Your Family

Filled pork chop

Italian Pork Chops Ripieno (with Prosciutto and Fontina)

Italian Pork Chops Ripieno (with Prosciutto and Fontina)

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog Ripieno—The word for “stuffed” in Italian.  And pork chops filleted and filled  with prosciutto and Fontina cheese can only mean—delicious!

Italian Pork Chops Ripieno 

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!

—Kathryn Occhipinti


Italian Pork Chops Ripieno  

Pork chops with Italian ham and cheese
Pork chop filled with prosciutto, Fontina cheese, and sage leaf, cut and ready to eat.

Ingredients
(Makes 4 filled pork chops)

4 thick cut pork chops (1.5 inches optimal)
salt, pepper, olive oil

Filling
4 slices of Fontina cheese, cut into a rectangle
4 slices of Prosicutto di Parma, halved lengthwise
4  fresh sage leaves

Procedure

Lay out the ingredients for the filling.

Prosciutto, Fontina cheese, sage
Fontina cheese, fresh sage leaves, and prosciutto for 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.

Pork chop filet with filling ingredients
Filled pork chop with filling ingredients ready to package and insert.

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.

 

Filled and sealed pork chop
Filled pork chop sealed with two toothpicks

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.

Grill skillet
Skillet with grill ridges

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.

Skillet with pork chops
Place pork chops on the skillet along the grill ridges.

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!

Pork chops filled and cut open
Finished stuffed pork chop cut open to show the filling

—Adapted from the Italian-American Society of Peoria cooking classes, by Kathryn Occhipinti

 

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

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.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
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More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
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Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Italian Pork Chops Ripieno (with Prosciutto and Fontina)

Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage sauce

Gnocchi with Brown Butter or Gorgonzola Sauce

Gnocchi with Brown Butter or Gorgonzola Sauce

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog Gnocchi—light, airy dumplings perfect for your favorite Italian sauce!

Italian Recipe: Gnocchi with Brown Butter or Gorgonzola Sauce 

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!
—Kathryn Occhipinti


Italian Recipe: Gnocchi with Brown Butter or Gorgonzola Sauce 

Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce
Gnocchi in Gorgonzola Sauce

Ingredients
(Serves 6–8)

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

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

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.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Stella Lucente Italian, LLC

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian

Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Gnocchi with Brown Butter or Gorgonzola Sauce

Recipe for Italian Sauce - Bolognese Meat Sauce with Pasta

Italian Sauce Recipe: Authentic Family-Style Bolognese Meat Sauce

Italian Sauce Recipe: Authentic Family-Style Bolognese Meat Sauce

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog Pasta alla Bolognese—pasta with everybody’s favorite meat sauce! And so easy to make… in one pot!

Italian Sauce Recipe: Bolognese Meat Ragù

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!
—Kathryn Occhipinti


Italian Sauce Recipe: Bolognese Meat Ragù 

Ingredients
(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

Optional:
¼ lb. cremini mushrooms, quartered and sautéed in 3 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter

Procedure

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

Best Kathy Twitter Pic edited for blog

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.
“Everything you need to know to enjoy your visit to Italy!”

Join my Conversational Italian! Facebook group and follow me on Twitter at StellaLucente@travelitalian1 and start to learn Italian today for FREE!
Conversational Italian! Facebook Group
Tweet Stella Lucente Italian

YouTube videos to learn Italian are available from © Stella Lucente, LLC.
YouTube Stella Lucente Italian, LLC

More information on and photographs of Italy can be found on Facebook Stella Lucente Italian and Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian.
Facebook Stella Lucente Italian

Pinterest Stella Lucente Italian

Visit learntravelitalian.com/download.html to purchase/download Conversational Italian for Travelers and find more interesting facts and helpful hints about getting around Italy! Learn how to buy train tickets online, how to make international and local telephone calls, and how to decipher Italian coffee names and restaurant menus, all while gaining the basic understanding of Italian that you will need to know to communicate easily and effectively while in Italy. —From the staff at Stella Lucente, LLC

Italian Sauce Recipe: Authentic Family-Style Bolognese Meat Sauce