You may have seen the news reports about the Mediterranean diet study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
People who eat lots of beans, nuts, fish, vegetables and fruits, use extra virgin olive oil and drink wine with meals have a lower incidence of heart disease and other medical problems.
In Italia, you’ll find locally grown, seasonal produce markets in every city neighborhood and town. Campo di Fiori is one of the most famous. I shop it often when staying in the historical center of Rome.
Italians cherish fresh produce. They eat fish often. Nuts often end a meal. Extra virgin olive oil is an Italian kitchen staple. Meat is eaten in moderation.
Italians eat most of of their food at the midday meal. Supper is a simple, light meal.
I get a lot of exercise every day in Italia, including a delightful passagata or stroll after the evening meal. I’ll be enjoying the local bounty in Italia soon. I’ll share what I cook in Rome and Naples with you.
I try to maintain an Italian diet here in North Beach. Luckily I have ample access to local, seasonal vegetables, fruit, and locally caught seafood. Beans and grains are a significant part of my diet. And, I always use extra virgin olive oil except when frying.
Adopt a Mediterranean lifestyle and you’ll never need another diet scheme to lose weight or stay healthy. Eat Italian. It’s delicious and it’s good for you. Try this simple vegetable recipe and fish recipe to get a taste for yourself.
I’m hoping for spring. The quince blossoms are in bloom so spring can’t be far away. For me, this classic salad from Sicily is a prelude to the change of seasons.
Start or end your meal with this perky salad. The licorice and sweet orange notes float in the citrus vinaigrette. The intense wrinkled, meaty, oil-cured olives add surprising complexity to this crunchy salad.
Usually I eat salad at the end of a meal but this one goes to the top. It’s fresh and complex and easily fills the bill as a simple first course or add it to your antipasti platter.
Panettone is a buttery bread studded with raisins and candied orange, lemon and citron peel.
Italians, especially in the north, love to eat panettone at Christmas and New Year.
Dunk panettone in your morning espresso or cappuccino. Panettone for dessert pairs well with a glass of vin santo or marsala. Leftover panettone is ideal for bread pudding or even french toast.
I didn’t have any panettone this holiday season but I couldn’t pass up buying one last week at a post-holiday 50% discount. After a few days I had my fill so I decided to use it up and made panettone bread pudding.
Bread pudding takes about 10 minutes of actual work to make. The rest of the time is just waiting for the panettone cubes to toast, then to absorb the custard mixture and bake in the oven. It’s an easy recipe with a big payoff.
My bread pudding has a rich and creamy interior with a golden, crunchy top. The buttery flavor sparkles with sweet raisins and candied orange peel. A little dark rum in the custard deepens the flavor. I had to add a dollop of freshly whipped cream to balance everything out.
The yellow spaghetti squash balanced the colors on the plate. The slightly sweet squash accented by mild sage and garlic infused EVOO was a nice contrast to the roast with a zesty spinach stuffing.
Stumped about how to handle spaghetti squash? It’s actually easy to cook. The hardest part is carefully splitting the squash in half.
Bake the squash for an hour and pull out the long spaghetti strands. Quickly saute the spaghetti squash in EVOO or butter gently flavored with your favorite herbs and aromatics. Or top it with marinara sauce and grated parmigiano. It is spaghetti squash after all.
Spaghetti squash is a versatile, simple and delicious side dish that you can enjoy often.
North Beach’s Little City Meats was an inspiration for my New Year’s Eve dinner. A boneless leg of veal caught my eye. Mike trimmed it up for me to make a stuffed roast.
This is a butterflied roast. Lay it down flat, spread on a layer of zesty spinach stuffing, roll it up and tie it tightly. The veal roast lies on a bed of carrot, onion, celery, porcini, parsley and rosemary that flavor the pan gravy as it roasts in the oven for a couple of hours.
The slices show off spinach stuffing on the serving platter. The veal is moist and tender with a crispy crust. A drizzle of the flavorful pan gravy over the slices finishes the dish. I left the kitchen twine on so you could see how I tie the roast so it holds its shape as it cooks.
At the request of one of my dinner guests, I served the roast with spaghetti squash quickly sauteed in garlic-infused olive oil and dusted with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. A yummy introduction to the new year.
My mom made a stuffing like this for veal breast, a hard cut to find. I’m glad I came up with this roast to bring back those childhood food memories.
1 cup country bread, cut in 1-inch cubes, crusts removed
¾ cup milk
¼ pound pancetta (or mortadella), cut in 1-inch chunks
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
1 carrot, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
2 stalks celery , cut in 1-inch pieces
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
3 tablespoons pecorino, finely grated
¼ teaspoon sea salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt
1½ cups sauteed fresh spinach, chopped
For the Veal
1 2-pound veal boneless leg of veal roast
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt, or crystal kosher salt
For the Roasting Pan
1 onion, peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
2 stalks celery , cut into 1-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 fresh rosemary branch
2 full stems Italian parsley
¼ cup dried porcini mushrooms, crumbled or chopped in small pieces
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup white wine
2 cups water or vegetable broth
Soak the bread in a small bowl filled with the milk. Toss so the milk absorbs the milk. Set aside.
Put the pancetta, onion, carrot, celery and garlic in the food processor with a steel blade and process them for 30 seconds into fine bits.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and process briefly until everything is a finely minced.
Pour the olive oil into a 10 or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat.
When the oil is hot add the contents of processor bowl and sauté over medium-low heat for 3 minutes until the vegetables are tender and the onions translucent.
Squeeze the milk from bread cubes, scatter them over the sauteed vegetables and mix well.
Add the chopped parsley and mix well.
Mix the spinach into the stuffing well and cook the stuffing for a minute more.
Put the stuffing into a bowl to cool.
When the stuffing cool stir in the pine nuts, grated cheese, parsley, salt, pepper, and the beaten egg. Mix the stuffing well and set aside.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Soften the porcini in hot water. Remove from the water. Reserve the soaking liquid.
Lay out the boneless leg of veal roast on a work surface, cut side up.
Spread the stuffing evenly over the roast.
Starting with the wider end, roll up the roast tightly. Tie tightly with kitchen twine so the roast stays together while roasting. (I tied it once lengthwise and around the roast close to each end and one more tie in the middle.)
Rub the outside all over with the olive oil.
Sprinkle sea salt and ground black pepper to taste all over the roast.
Spread the rosemary, parsley, onions, carrots, celery, garlic and porcini on the bottom of a roasting pan to form a bed for the roast. Sprinkle with olive oil, sea salt and ground black pepper.
Lay the roast in the middle of the vegetable bed.
Add the water, wine and porcini soaking liquid. (Be careful pouring the soaking liquid so that you leave any sediment behind.)
Cover the roasting pan with aluminum foil and roast for 1 hour.
Uncover the roast and put it back in the oven until the veal is tender has a golden crust.
Remove the roast to a plate to rest.
Strain the pan drippings into a small pan.
After it cools, skim off any fat floating on the surface.
Keep warm over a very low flame.
Slice the roast and layer slices on a serving platter.
San Franciscans love dungeness crab this time of year. The crabs are big and meaty this season. I’m making a celebratory dungeness salad with celery and shallot, EVOO and Meyer lemon.
The lemon perks up the briny sweetness of the crab bathed in mellow olive oil. The celery and shallot add a background crunch to the crab salad. Simple and sinful.
If your have steamed, cleaned and cracked crab the salad is done in 10 minutes. Use the recipe below and put a celebratory crab salad on your table. Add fried calamari and giardiniera and your antipasti is complete.
Lentil soup with cotechino is a traditional New Year’s Eve first course. It brings you good luck in the new year. The dish full of tiny lentils represents the coins you will amass in the new year and the fat boiled sausage your impending opulence.
I wasn’t completely satisfied with the New Year’s Eve dinner menu I posted the other day. Something was amiss. As often happens I found inspiration in the market.
There it was, a beautiful boneless leg of veal roast sitting in the display case at Little City Meats. The roast with a zesty spinach stuffing will be the anchor of my meal. I’ll post this recipe soon.
I’m all set for New Year’s Eve dinner at my place. Are you?
Except for the Prosecco, we’re drinking some nice California reds.
Buon Capo d’Anno! Happy New Year! Buon appetito!
Gianni’s New Year’s Eve Dinner Menu
Calimari fritti. Fried calamari served with vinegar pepper confetti.
Fresh dungeness crab salad with celery, shallot, EVOO and fresh Meyer lemon (recipe below).
Zeppole. (fried savory, light doughnuts with anchovies)
Prosecco, a sparkling dry wine from the Veneto in northern Italia
Just back from Christmas with friends and family in Jersey. Now it’s time to plan my New Year’s Eve menu. I’ll share this year’s menu when I’m done.
In the meantime, here are a couple of classic dishes to get you started with your planning. I know I’ll make both these dishes this year.
Like many other cultures, Italians and Italian-Americans serve a bean dish as a talisman for a successful new year. The lentils in my dish symbolize all the money you’re gonna make next year. It’s a delicious, nutritious lentil soup with sausage. Add it to your New Year’s table.
Cena di Vigilia (Christmas Eve meal) is a Neapolitan tradition.
I’m cooking with my friend Susan in her New Jersey kitchen. Along with her brother Joe, we’ll prepare our Christmas Eve Seven Fish Dinner for 20 friends.
I’ll miss the dungeness crab this year. The San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf crabbers are back after a brief strike over wholesale prices. I’ve eaten some since the crabs came back on the market last week so I think I can survive without them on Christmas Eve. If you’re in town buy some crab. They’re fresh, big and meaty.
I just love this classic Neapolitan Christmas Salad, insalata di rinforza, in Italian. Insalata di rinforza translates into Reinforced Salad. How did such an important part of the Christmas table get such a silly name?
Here’s the tale. Giardiniera, vegetables stored in a vinegar bath, is a main ingredient. Neapolitans make their giardiniera with the last of the summer bounty. Of course, after a few days of marinating, you have to eat some, and then some more. To make sure there is enough at Christmas, they add more vegetables as their giardiniera stash gets low.
By the time Christmas comes around the giardiniera has been “reinforced” several times by adding more vegetables to replenish the jar. And so the restored giardiniera lends its name to insalata di reinfoza, the Neapolitan Christmas Salad.
Don’t worry, if you don’t want to make giardiniera, just buy some at the market.
This is a really simple salad to put together and it looks beautiful on your holiday table all by itself or as the centerpiece of an antipasti course as I served it at my lunch today. With the giardiniera in hand, all you have to do is boil some cauliflower florets and compose the salad. How easy is that?
It’s a Jersey Christmas this year. I’m cooking a Seven Fish Dinner on Christmas Eve with friends. Christmas Day is with my sister Rose’s branch of the family. We’ll be 3 generations in the kitchen.
My office-mates convinced me to cook for them before I take off. We couldn’t decide on a restaurant for our annual holiday party so we’ll celebrate at my place instead. I’m preparing a traditional 4-course Italian meal.
The picture is from the last office lunch I prepared. That’s really old balsamic vinegar I brought back from Modena going into the baby field green salad.
One of the guys in the office can’t stop randomly saying “pasta fazool” ever since I posted the pasta and beans recipe. So we had to include that dish. Otherwise, I would have made the lighter, fancier Italian Wedding Soup for this holiday meal.
The Neapolitan Christmas Salad includes giardiniera, marinated vegetables that you can store in the fridge for weeks. I’ll post the insalata di rinforzo recipe tomorrow and tell you how it got its name.
Insalata di rinforzo (Neapolitan Christmas Salad)
Prosciutto and soppresata salami
Aged sharp provolone
Pecorino with truffles
Prosecco, a dry sparkling wine from the Veneto near Venice (Foss Marai)
Pasta e Fagiole (Pasta Fazool/Pasta & Beans)
Lacryma Christi, a robust red from the hills of Vesuvius near Naples (Terradora di Paolo)
Chicken cutlets topped with sauteed wild mushrooms and melted mozzarella, garlic/olive oil smashed potatoes, sauteed broccoli rabe (recipe in my free vegetable eBook)
Pagiu, a full-flavored ruby-red sangiovese from the heart of Umbria (Brogal Vignabaldo)
Vanilla gelato and lemon sorbetto topped with homemade limoncello
Sparkling and still Italian waters throughout the meal
I was excited when I walked into North Beach’s Little City Meats this morning.
The Christmas sausage stuffed with pork, fennel, imported provolone and basil was in. Run, don’t walk. Get some before they’re all gone. I absolutely love these holiday sausages and can’t wait for them to appear this time of year.
Father and son Ron and Mike Spinelli at Little City have been my butchers for over 2 decades. They have fantastic meats and just as importantly, they both have hard to find Old-World meat cutting skills.
Want cutlets? They pound out lovely, thin scallopine. Need braciole or a butterflied pork roast. No worries. They do it all.
Little City is the place to go if you want Italian pork sausage. All year round I cook up their mild Sicilian sausage with fennel and their spicy hot Calabrese sausage.
It wouldn’t be Christmas in a Neapolitan house without struffoli, little round fritters bathed in a boiling honey glaze and then topped with colorful sprinkles.
The little marbles are crispy outside with a nutty flavor sweetened by the honey. The inside is light and airy. The sprinkles are just for show.
Some families mound struffoli into a pyramid reminiscent of a Christmas tree. Others form a wreath to celebrate the holiday. At my house in Jersey we always built a pyramid and I still do today.
Struffoli keep well. My mother made them a day or two before Christmas and set them on the dining room buffet. The arrival of struffoli was a harbinger of Saint Nick’s imminent arrival.
When I was little, I’d sneak by and quickly snatch one or two struffoli with my fingers, stuffing them in my mouth as I walked through the dining room. It wasn’t long until my Mom saw a dent in the side of the struffoli pyramid and brought my pilfering to an abrupt end.
This is one of those things I only make once a year. I got an early start this year but I’ll be making more for the Christmas table back in Jersey.
Oh, you don’t have to eat struffoli with your fingers. Give each of your guests a couple of heaping mounds on a plate and a spoon.
If you want another holiday sweet this season make bow ties a/k/a cenci, wandi and bugia. I love the blisters that form on the bow ties as they quickly fry. No honey glaze here just a powdered sugar dusting before eating. Watch out, the delicate bow ties splinter with each bite and sometimes send out a puff of powdered sugar. They sure are fun to eat.
Struffoli (Honey Balls)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
zest of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1/2 orange
1 tablespoon rum, grappa or vanilla
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup colored sprinkles
Put the flour, sugar, salt, and zest in a large bowl. Mix well.
Make a well in the middle of the flour.
Add the eggs and rum (or grappa or vanilla) to the well and beat the eggs.
With a fork or your hand mix the flour slowly into the eggs to form the dough. The dough should be sticky.
Turn the dough out on a floured board and knead briefly until the dough comes together. (Do not overwork the dough or the strufolli will be dense.)
Form the dough into a ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Turn the dough back out onto a floured surface. It still will be sticky, roll it around in the flour and form it back into a ball.
Cut the ball into 8 equal pieces and form each into a ball. Dust lightly with flour so they do not stick together and put all but one of them back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
On the floured surface roll out the dough ball with your hands into a rope about a half-inch in diameter. (Be sure to cover the bowl so the remaining balls do not form a crust.)
With a knife or pastry scrapper ut the ropes in half-inch pieces.
Roll the cut pieces into a ball about the size of a marble and put them in a single layer on a lightly floured baking pan. (Forming the round shape is important. Strufolli derives from the word for rounded.)
Repeat with the other 7 dough balls.
Put 3 cups of safflower or your favorite oil in a large pot and over medium heat bring the oil to 375 degrees.
Shake off any excess flour and fry small batches of the dough balls in hot oil, turning occasionally until they are a dark golden color all over. They should be done in about a minute or so.
With a slotted spoon, remove the struffoli to a large platter lined with paper towel to drain.
Put the honey, sugar and water in a pan large enough to hold all the struffoli,
Over medium-low heat stir until the sugar is melted.
Increase the heat to medium-high and continue cooking the glaze until it comes to a boil, starts to foam up and darken in color, about a minute or two. (The foam should dissipate soon after it foams up.)
Remove the glaze from the heat and add all the strufolli.
Mix well to cover all of the strufolli with the honey glaze.
With a slotted spoon transfer the strufolli to a serving platter and mold them into a pyramid or a wreath.
Drizzle some of the honey glaze left in the pot over the strufolli and scatter the sprinkles on the top of the strufolli mound.
Loosely cover the strufolli with plastic wrap. If you are lucky you can eat strufolli for several days.
Pasta and beans was a staple in my childhood Jersey home. My mom made this soup often and we all loved it. A fan asked for the recipe.
Pasta and beans is a healthy and inexpensive peasant dish. You can have this one-pot meal that packs lots of flavor and goodness on your table in less than an hour. My version is from Campania and we call it pasta fazool in Neapolitan-American slang.
I fondly remember my last visit to Casserta Vecchia, a medieval village high in the hills overlooking the Bay of Naples. As we took in the view, the winds picked up. A dark storm was sweeping up from the bay.
We ducked into an ancient inn to have lunch as the blustery, fast-moving storm passed by. I was warmed by a bowl of pasta and beans in a terra cotta bowl, followed by grilled sausage, both cooked in a huge open hearth in the dining room with old stone walls and hand-hewn wooden beams overhead.
Pasta e fagioli is made all over Italia and varies from region to region. One big difference is that mine has no meat. Up north they usually add pancetta to the aromatics as the base of the soup. Some people like to add tomato puree. Some people don’t add tomato, they like a white pasta fazool.
Mine has a light pink hue. I use a little tomato puree. Make it any way you like it, just don’t make it the way they do at Olive Garden.
The creamy beans and pasta are bathed in a savory light broth enhanced by the sharpness of the pecorino and the mellow olive oil. Pasta fazool will warm you and fill you up all winter long.
3 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight or two 15 oz. cans
8 cups water
½ pound ditalini or another short-cut pasta
1 teaspoon dried oregano
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
If you are using dried beans soak about 1¼ cups overnight or for at least 12 hours. They will expand and should yield about 3 cups of soaked beans for the soup.
Roughly chop the onion, celery and garlic.
Put the EVOO, onions and celery in a large enameled pot.
Over medium heat, sauté the onions and celery until translucent, about 5 minutes. (You do not want them to pick up any color.)
Add the garlic and bay leaf and sauté for another minute.
Add the cannellini beans and mix well.
Add the water and tomato puree to the pot. Stir well.
Put the cover on the pan and simmer over medium-low heat stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the soup thickens. (If you are using canned beans that should take about about 20-30 minutes. If you are using dried beans soaked over night that could take 60 minutes or so. You want the beans to be tender but not mushy.)
Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes more.
Shut off the heat and add the parsley. Mix well.
Serve in bowls immediately with a sprinkle of pecorino and a drizzle of EVOO.
I got off easy this year. I didn’t cook Thanksgiving dinner. I joined friends in the North Bay and had to bring an antipasto.
It took me a while to get inspired but an idea hit me at the market. The late harvest grapes were spectacular. I made a grape and walnut focaccia scented with rosemary.
Focaccia is a good option for a bring-along appetizer. Flatbread is easy to transport and can be served at room temperature. I paired this one with creamy Italian robolia cheese. The sweet grapes and crunchy walnuts are enhanced by the scent of rosemary. A bite of the focaccia with a bite of the cheese is heavenly.
Bubbly prosecco was the perfect accompaniment, adding a crisp citrus and floral note.
I got carried away. I made a savory pear tomato focaccia too and paired it with a balsamic-rubbed aged pecorino cheese. The doughs for these 2 flatbreads are not the same. Here’s the tomato and onion focaccia recipe.
I love baking in the late fall. Making pizza, focaccia or bread is a zen experience for me. Kneading dough and baking relaxes me. Making focaccia in the morning makes my day.