Cooking Foraged Chicory in Roma

My HP Production crew devouring spaghetti cacao e pepe I cooked in my Rome kitchen
My HP Production crew devouring saltimbocca I cooked in my Rome kitchen

The last time I was in Italy I hooked up with my friend Luca and the crew from his video company, HB Productions. We spent days together shopping and shooting episodes of me cooking in my apartment near the Spanish Steps.

Here’s the first of those HB Production episodes just in time as early spring vegetables hit the farmers market.

I shopped every day in Campo dei Fiori, the huge open air market in the historical center of Rome. I was lucky to meet Alessandro who had a produce stand there. He was my guide to the spring vegetables he had to offer.

This day he had wild chicory, cicoria, he foraged early that morning in the hills near his home outside of Rome. He sold me the chicory with a condition. “Cook it with olive oil and lots of garlic, that’s all.” “And chili pepper,” I said. Alessandro agreed and added “but no lemon, no lemon.” Boy, these Italians are strict but that was my plan anyway.

What a wonderful Slow Food moment, scoring locally foraged cicoria to cook in my Rome apartment a few blocks away from the market! Watch me use a versatile, simple method to respectfully coax maximum flavor from this humble wild green. Here in the U.S. curly endive is the closest to the wild chicory I cooked in Rome.

You may have seen some of the Rome footage in this Hungry Village production. Get a peek of Luca and his aunt Giulia, the best cook in the family, who joined me in the kitchen for a couple of episodes.

I hope to have the other Rome episodes ready to post soon. Stay tuned but in the meantime here’s my saltimbocca recipe.

So You Want To Be An American? is the music in the episode. I love the tune. Here’s hip Neapolitan crooner Renato Carosone’s 1958 rendition of his Tu Vuo Fa L’Americano.

Keep on cooking. Buon appetito!

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Cooking Foraged Chicory in Roma
 
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A simple chicory preparation that you can use for other leafy greens too.
Author:
Recipe type: Vegetables
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 pound chicory (curly endive)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, smashed
  • pinch of chili flake
  • sea salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Bring about 4 cups of water to a boil in a pot.
  2. Add the chicory and blanch for a minute or two.
  3. Heat the oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes to the pan and cook until the garlic just begins to take on some color.
  4. Drain the chicory and add it to the sauté pan. Add sea salt to taste.
  5. Stir well to dress the chicory with the oil.
  6. Serve immediately.

 

 

My Family Christmas Menu Suggestions

Passing It On--Cooking with My Godson
Passing It On–Cooking with My Godson

Some say that the most important meal this season is the Christmas Eve fish dinner. I’m doing the Neapolitan-inspired Feast of Seven Fishes, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.

But you gotta eat after everyone is done opening all their presents Christmas day, right? When I’m back east with family for Christmas, we cook up a fantastic four-course dinner.

3 generations will cook together and our Italian-American dinner will include some dishes that my family has made since they first immigrated to America over a hundred years ago.

We gather around the table at about 2 in the afternoon. The leisurely meal will last until early evening.

Create your own Christmas feast. We’re still working on our final menu but here are some of the dishes that are on our list.

Antipasto (before the meal)

The antipasto is a preview of the meal to come. It’s the icebreaker as your guests settle in at the table. It starts the conversation and tantalizes your taste buds to let you know of the culinary delights to come.

It's easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!
It’s easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!

 

A platter with a selection of Italian salumi (cured meats) and cheeses is a must. Watch me put together a beautiful antipasti platter in this short video.

Neapolitan Christmas Salad with pickled vegetables, cauliflower florets and olives
Neapolitan Christmas Salad with pickled vegetables, cauliflower florets and olives

I may pair the platter with a traditional Neapolitan Christmas salad, insalata di rinforza.

 

 

If we don’t go the platter-salad route I know my family will want some artichokes to start the our Christmas meal.

Easy Crispy Baby Artichokes
Easy Crispy Baby Artichokes

 

These crispy baby artichokes are always a favorite.

Or make one Roman-style stuffed artichoke for each guest.

 

 

 

Primo  Piatto (First Course)

A fancy pasta is our usual choice. We’ll probably make a lasagna. Here are 2 to choose from.

Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.
Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.

 

The lasagna al forno is a bit more complicated but you can assemble it the day before and bake it Christmas day. It’s incredible and well worth the effort.

 

 

A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour
A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour

 

 

This lasagna is a quick version that you can get in the oven in less than 30 minutes.

 

 

 

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
Baked crespelle (crepes) stuffed with spinach & ricotta in a light tomato sauce.

 

And I know there will be some votes for one of my Mom’s spinach & ricotta cannelloni in a simple tomato sauce.

 

 

 

Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs
Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs

 

 

For a lighter first course try my delicious “Italian Wedding Soup” with chicken, escarole & tiny veal meatballs. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

 

 

 

Secondo Piatto (Main Course)

Porchetta
Porhcetta–Herb Filled Pork Roast

My choice is my porchetta roast with onions caramelized with balsamic vinegar and rosemary roasted potatoes on the side.

This was the episode that started the “Porchetta War” with a bunch of Italians. If you have time, check out my video on how I beat the Italians at their own game.

If you want to combine these 2 versions of porchetta just ask you butcher for a skin-on pork belly and wrap that around the loin roast before you tie it up and roast it in the oven.

Roasted boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach & prosciutto
Roasted boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach & prosciutto

 

 

Or if we don’t do pork, my family hasn’t had my turkey breast stuffed with spinach and prosciutto with a quick pan gravy. Serve it with my garlic mashed potatoes for an easy second course.

 

 

 

 

Dolci (Dessert)

And to end the meal, maybe just some fruit and roasted chestnuts.

Or try these dolci (desserts) that you can make the day before for a bigger end to you meal.

Tiramisu, the Italian "pick-me-up" with mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso & Marsala with chocolate all over
Tiramisu, the Italian “pick-me-up” with mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso & Marsala with chocolate all over

 

Tiramisu is really not that hard to make. After you make the mascarpone filling and the espresso-rum dip for the ladyfingers it’s a snap to assemble.

 

 

 

Easy to make Panettone Bread Pudding
Easy to make Panettone Bread Pudding

 

This time of the year most Italian and Italian-American households have panettone in the house. This sweet bread studded with raisins and candied citrus makes a fantastic panettone bread pudding. It’s ready in no time and even better if you make it the day before.

 

 

Liquore di Fragole (Strawberry Liquore)
Liquore di Fragole (Strawberry Liqueur)

 

A Finishing Touch

Some espresso and maybe one of my homemade liqueurs and you can call it a wrap. Make my liquore di fragole (strawberry liqueur) with its beautiful Christmas hue or limoncello a few days in advance and you’re good to go.

A little Christmas gift for you at the end of the limoncello video, a suggestion for an easy sweet end to your meal

Buon Natale. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Buon Appetito!

Roasted Turkey Breast with Spinach & Prosciutto Stuffing

Roasted turkey breast stuffed with mellow sauteed spinach and salty prosciutto done in 90 minutes
Roasted turkey breast stuffed with mellow sauteed spinach and salty prosciutto

This is part two of our Thanksgiving special. Check out part one here.

I’m not in the mood to roast a whole turkey this year so I came up with this easy tasty boneless breast roast that’s ready after about 90 minutes in a hot oven.

The flavor of the Diestel turkey is out of this world, so much better than those factory-raised frozen birds in the supermarket.

These off-the-grid organic turkeys from Sonora, in the Sierra foothills, get to range about the farm and eat only organic grains raised on the farm.

The breast meat is tender and full of mild flavor. My stuffing and roasting broth keep the breast moist while it roasts.

Make sure each bite has some of the crispy skin, tender breast meat and mellow spinach stuffing topped with salty prosciutto. You won’t be sorry.

Add a starch and your Thanksgiving dinner is ready to serve in less than 2 hours. That way you can linger over your morning coffee before getting ready for your guests.

Watch me make roasted garlic and olive oil mashed potatoes. Or how about roasted brussel sprouts or a green bean salad?

Make my easy pumpkin ricotta cheesecake the day before for a light dessert full of fall spice.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Buon appetito!

Roasted Turkey Breast with Spinach & Prosciutto Stuffing
 
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A Thanksgiving dinner that you can cook in under 2 hours. You won't believe the complex flavor of the moist tender breast and the mellow spinach and salty prosciutto stuffing.
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 1 4 Pound turkey breast, deboned and butterflied
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach
  • ½ onion, finely diced
  • ½ cup grated parmigiano
  • 6 slices prosciutto
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 sprigs fresh flat Italian parsley
  • 3 lemon slices
  • 4 leaves fresh sage
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup water or broth
  • Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Over medium heat 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a wide pot.
  3. When the oil is hot saute the onions until they are translucent and tender.
  4. Add about an inch of water to the bottom of the pot and raise the heat to medium-high.
  5. Add as much of the spinach as you can to the pot and turn it to mix it with the onions and to help it all wilt. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt.
  6. Add more spinach until all of it is wilted.
  7. Put the spinach in a bowl and mix in the grated parmigiano and set the spinach aside to cool.
  8. Butterfly the breast and lay flat open, pounding with a meat mallet to create even thickness throughout. (Save time. Ask your butcher to butterfly the breast for you.)
  9. Spread the spinach mixture across the breast, leaving a 1½ inch border all around.
  10. Put the prosciutto slices in a single layer over the spinach.
  11. Beginning at one end, firmly roll up the turkey breast and use 4 equally spaced kitchen lengths of kitchen twine to secure the roast well.
  12. In a casserole lay out the parsley, sage and lemon slices to form a bed for the roast.
  13. Rub a tablespoon of olive oil well all over.
  14. Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground black pepper evenly over the roast.
  15. Pour in the white wine, water (or broth) into the bottom of the casserole. Sprinkle olive oil over the liquid.
  16. Roast in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 1 hour 20 minutes, or until the turkey breast reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. The temperature will rise to 160 degrees as it rests. (I'm using an off-the-grid organic turkey but if your roasting a supermarket turkey you may want to leave it in the oven longer, until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.)
  17. Baste the roast with the pan juices several times during roasting. (Add more wine and water to maintain about an inch of liquid in the casserole.
  18. Remove the breast roll from the pan and loosely cover with foil.
  19. Pour the pan juices through a strainer into a pan. Skim off excess oil.
  20. Keep the pan gravy over very low heat to keep it warm.
  21. After the roast has rested for about 20 minutes, slice it thinly and arrange the spirals on a serving platter.
  22. Pour the pan gravy over the slices. (If you have more gravy, serve it at the table.)
  23. Serve immediately.

 

Pumpkin Ricotta Cheesecake

A light pumpkin ricotta cheesecake full of fall spice.
A light pumpkin ricotta cheesecake full of fall spice.

Want a light dessert for your holiday table?

I love this ricotta cheesecake with pumpkin as an end to a fall meal. It’s a nice change from the heavier New York cheesecake.

Pumpkin ricotta cheesecake is easy to make. It doesn’t have a pastry crust so you can have it in the oven in 10 minutes and out in 90.

I’m not a purist so I don’t care if the cheesecake cracks on top. Looks rustic, right? Ask Martha Stewart if you want to get rid of the cracks.

Add a dollop of whipped cream and you have a wonderful end to a wonderful holiday meal.

Creamy, airy, rich pumpkin flavor with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg lingering in the background. The nutty crust that forms around the edge is my favorite bite. Make this one of your fall favorites.

The cheesecake is even better if you make it the day before so it has a chance to set-up nicely in the refrigerator. One less thing to worry about on the big day. Just bring it back to room temperature before serving.

Thanksgiving is coming. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss Thursday’s episode, a quick spinach & prosciutto stuffed boneless turkey breast.

Then watch me make roasted garlic & olive oil mashed potatoes.

Make all 3 of these recipes and you have a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner for your guests to enjoy without a lot of sweat & tears.

Happy Thanksgiving! Buon appetito!

Pumpkin Ricotta Cheesecake
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 8
Ingredients
  • 3 cups whole-milk ricotta
  • 1 cup plus mascarpone
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup unbleached flour
  • 5 large eggs
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt, divided
  • 1 cup canned pure pumpkin purée
  • ¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter and flour a 9-inch spring form baking pan and set the pan aside.
  3. In a mixer beat eggs, white sugar, and ½ teaspoon sea salt at high speed until foamy and sugar is fully dissolved.
  4. Add the ricotta, mascarpone and flour to the bowl and mix well until the mixture is fluffy.
  5. Scrape out the ricotta into a large bowl.
  6. Put the pumpkin, brown sugar, cream, ¼ teaspoon sea salt and spices in the mixer bowl and on medium speed mix until smooth.
  7. Add the heavy cream and on low speed incorporate it into the pumpkin mixture.
  8. Add the pumpkin mixture to the bowl with the ricotta and mix well until the pumpkin is fully incorporated into the ricotta.
  9. Pour the mixture into the spring pan. Tap the pan to remove any air bubbles and smooth the top with a spatula.
  10. Bake until the sides are set and lightly golden but the center is still slightly jiggly, about 90 minutes.
  11. Set the cake on a wire rack and let it cool completely. Remove the cake from the spring pan and place it on a serving dish.
  12. Serve at room temperature.

 

Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic & Olive Oil

"Smashed" potatoes flavored with roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil
“Smashed” potatoes flavored with roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil

This is part one of a 2 part Thanksgiving special. Stay tuned for part two next week.

Easy and delicious, mashed potatoes flavored with mellow roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil, pairs well with meat, fish or poultry.

My Mom didn’t call them mashed potatoes, she called them “smashed” potatoes and I still do. I like chunks of potato for that toothsome feel. But I like a smoother or whipped version of mashed potatoes too.

Make your mashed potatoes anyway you like them. Mash them more, whip them with a whisk or a hand beater, or put the hot potatoes through a ricer if you want a smoother or whipped consistency, then add the roasted garlic and olive oil.

Any way you make them just get them to your guests while they’re still piping hot. .

For Thanksgiving this year I’m serving with my smashed potatoes with a roasted boneless turkey breast stuffed with sauteed spinach and prosciutto that’s in and out of the oven in less than 90 minutes.

It’s a complete easy and quick dinner with protein, veggies and carbohydrates all on the plate.

We’ll publish the turkey episode next week so be sure to subscribe now.

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Garlic & Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes
 
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Roughly mashed potatoes flavored with mellow roasted garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Punch you spuds up a notch with this easy recipe.
Author:
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 1 head garlic, roasted
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 pounds yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • sea salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut the top off of the garlic bulb.
  3. Sprinkle olive oil on the top of the exposed cloves.
  4. Tightly wrap in aluminum foil and roast in the oven until the cloves are squeezably soft, about 30-40 minutes. Set the garlic aside to cool,
  5. Put the unpeeled potatoes in a pot. Cover with water an inch above the potatoes.
  6. Boil over high heat until the potatoes are knife tender.
  7. While the potatoes are cooking, squeeze the garlic in a pot with a sprinkle of sea salt and mash it into a paste with a fork. Add the milk and mix well.
  8. Put the pot over low heat. Stir to mix well. Warm the milk but don't let it boil or scald.
  9. Drain the potatoes. Peel them when they're cool enough to handle and put them in a bowl. Mash them with a potato masher and leave some small chunks of potato.
  10. Add the milk and garlic mixture, add sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and mix everything well.
  11. Put the mashed potatoes in a serving bowl and sprinkle a good, finishing extra virgin olive oil on top.
  12. Serve hot.

 

Squash Blossom Sauced Ravioli from North Beach’s New Italian Homemade Company

Italian Homemade Opens on Columbus in North Beach
Mattia Cosmi & Andrea Iannitti (and my shadow) at Italian Homemade Now Open on Columbus in North Beach

The Italian Homemade Company opened in North Beach on Columbus between Filbert & Greenwich a few days ago. I visited this morning for the first time. It was like stopping by someone’s kitchen in northern Italy.

I’m making a light pasta cream sauce with zucchini blossoms and was looking for fresh pasta. I bought some of Homemade’s fresh tagliatelle. But I couldn’t resist this morning’s crop of tiny spinach and ricotta ravioli for my delicate sauce.

Mattia Cosmi and Alice Romagnoli, the gracious owners, are settling into their new space. Alice makes fresh pasta every day. She hails from Rimini on the northern Italian Adriatic coast where they make beautiful fresh pasta. Mattia, is from the Marche region.

Another owner, Carlo Ciccardi, was jet-lagged after arriving a few hours ago from a trip back home near the beautiful beach town between Naples and Rome, Sperlonga.

Stop in soon for fresh pasta, salumi, cheeses and imported products. Italian Homemade will make several fresh pasta choices each day along with other fresh dishes to take away.

Today Alice made a lasagna with bechamel and ragu. She suggested a baked in-house piadina (flat bread) sandwich with your choice of stuffed baked tomato or pepper inside. Add some prosciutto and mozzarella and you have a fresh street-food meal to eat at the long communal table or to take away to enjoy in Washington Square, just a block away.

Benvenuti e buona fortuna! A warm welcome and best wishes to our new neighbors. Thank you for bringing another slice of Italia to North Beach.

Fresh ravs from Italian Homemade with a squash blossom & shallot cream sauce
Fresh ravs from Italian Homemade with a squash blossom & shallot cream sauce

My lunch turned out beautifully.

The Italian Homemade Company spinach and ricotta ravioli are delicate but toothsome. The tasty little ravioli are bathed in the shallot-flavored cream sauce accented by the sweetness of the zucchini blossoms and the nuttiness of the parmigiano. Even with just a few ingredients, these ravioli explode with complex flavor in every bite.
Here’s the recipe for the squash blossom cream sauce. It works well with delicate stuffed pasta or flat fresh or dried pasta like fettucine or tagliatelle.

Check out Italian Homemade’s Facebook page.

Buon appetito!

Panzanella: Summer Tomato & Bread Salad

Panzanella: Summer Tomato & Bread Salad
Panzanella: Summer Tomato & Bread Salad

A few days ago in a post on my pasta e fagioli video episode, Markus asked that I make panzanella, a simple Tuscan peasant summer salad.

I said I would when the summer tomatoes hit the farmers market. The first crop of Early Girls won’t be in for a few more weeks and the big heirlooms won’t be ready until the end of the summer. I thought I wouldn’t be making panzanella for a while.

But I couldn’t get panzanella out of my mind since Markus’ post. So when I saw a huge selection of tomatoes at Bruins Farms booth at the Ferry Building Farmers Market yesterday I had to buy some and give panzanella a go.

If you’ve been to Tuscany in the summer you’ve enjoyed panzanella. It’s made with days-old dark salt-free Tuscan bread. Recipes for this peasant dish date back to the days of Michelangelo according to Tuscan food maestro Giulliano Bugialli.

This is my modern San Francisco version. While you’ll see recipes with peppers, cucumbers and all sorts of other ingredients in today’s panzanella recipes, I keep it simple.

Tomatoes and a good crusty rustic bread soaked in the olive oil and tomato juices are the stars. My mix today is Lemon Boy, Black Zebra and Beefsteak.

These tomatoes are grown about 70 miles inland from San Francisco, in greenhouses on the farm a bit west of Sacramento where it’s sunnier and warmer than it is here in the City.

Panzanella only has a few ingredients so you have to make sure you’re using the best. These Bruins Farms tomatoes fit the bill and that makes it easier to wait for the big field-grown heirloom tomatoes later this summer.

Make panzanella with day-old rustic bread or switch it up and make it with taralli, those small boiled then baked crunchy rings. You can buy taralli in North Beach at Molinari Deli on Columbus or at A.G. Ferrari’s stores around the Bay Area or online.

The onion and basil round out the flavor of the sweet tomatoes and the juicy, creamy bread cubes perk up each mouthful with a lingering acidic vinegar tingle.

Serve panzanella chilled or at room temperature as an antipasto or as a side for grilled meats or poultry.

Find out more about New York City’s Little Italy, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. If you’ve been disappointed with what’s left of Little Italy in lower Manhattan visit Arthur Avenue. You’ll find everything you’re looking for.

Buon appetito!

Panzanella: Summer Tomato & Bread Salad
 
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A peasant Tuscan ripe summer tomatoes, basil and day-old bread moistened by the best extra virgin olive oil and tomato juices.
Author:
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • ½ red onion
  • 6 basil leaves
  • 3 thick slices of day-old rustic bread
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Cut the tomatoes into 2-inch cubes and put them in a large bowl.
  2. Quarter the onion and slice each quarter very thin and put them in the bowl.
  3. Rip each basil leaf into large pieces and add them to the bowl.
  4. Add the olive oil, sea salt and black pepper and mix all the ingredients well. Set the bowl aside. (The salt will start to draw the juices out of the tomatoes.)
  5. Cut the bread into 2-inch cubes and put them into the bowl with the tomatoes. (Remove the crust if you want but I leave it on to add more texture to the salad.)
  6. Let the salad sit for an hour or so on the counter or in the refrigerator to develop the juices that will be absorbed by the bread.
  7. Mix the salad well before serving.
  8. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

 

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Greens & Ricotta Cake

Don’t miss the next recipe video: Subscribe now to my YouTube channel.

Torta Pasqualina
Celebrate the end of Lent with torta Pasqualina, a savory Easter cake.

Easter is a relaxed holiday. There’s a saying “Natale con i tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi.” Christmas with your family. Easter with whomever you like. In Italy the Easter celebration spills over to Monday, called La Pasquetta, when Italians like to eat al fresco or go on a picnic.

Torta Pasqualina, Easter cake, is traditionally served as an antipasto on the Easter table. Torta Pasqualina is best at room temperature so it’s good to go for your picnic too.

The torta includes traditional symbolic Easter foods. Before modern production, eggs were costly and only available this time of year so eggs and tender leafy greens are a reminder of spring awakening.

The dough for the crust is fun to make. It’s pliable enough so that you can stretch it and roll it out really thin. If making dough doesn’t sound like fun to you, use puff pastry instead.

Chard and baby spinach sautéed with onion in olive oil and brightened by fresh marjoram forms the first layer. Ricotta whipped light and fluffy with egg and parmigiano creates the second layer topped with a golden phyllo-like crust.

Spring lamb, “the Lamb of God” in all those Renaissance paintings, is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. So baby spring lamb is another traditional Easter food. If you’re looking for an Easter main course check out my abbacchio video, baby spring lamb roasted with rosemary and garlic served with golden potato wedges. And if you want help with the other courses, check out my Easter recipe roundup.

Buona Pasqua! Buon Appetito!

 

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Chard & Ricotta Pie
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Antipasto
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
Crust
  • 2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1½ cups water
Filling
  • 1 pound swiss chard
  • 1 pound spinach
  • 1 bunch of spring onions (or half an onion)
  • 1 pound ricotta, drained
  • ½ cup grated parmigiana
  • 9 eggs
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • sea salt freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
Crust
  1. You want to end up with 4 sheets, 2 for the base of a 10" inch spring form pan and 2 for the top crust.
  2. Dissolve the salt in the water then add the oil and stir.
  3. Put the flour in a large bowl. Add the water mixture.
  4. Mix the flour with a fork or knead it with you hand.
  5. When a dough has formed put it on a lightly-floured surface and knead it until it becomes smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes.
  6. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic film and let sit at room temperature for about an hour.
Filling-Greens
  1. Blanch the chard and spinach in simmering water for about 3 minutes. Drain the greens and let them cool on a plate.
  2. When cool squeeze all the water out of the greens. You want them very dry.
  3. Roughly chop the greens.
  4. Chop the onion.
  5. Over medium-high heat put 2-tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan.
  6. When the oil starts to ripple add the onion and cook until the onion starts to turn translucent.
  7. Add the greens to the pan, add sea salt and pepper and mix well. Cook until the greens are tender.
  8. Put the greens in a bowl and add the chopped marjoram and let the greens cool.
  9. Put the ricotta in another bowl. Beat 3 eggs and add them to the ricotta along ¼ cup grated parmigiano, parsley, nutmeg (which I forgot to add in the video) and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Whisk all the ingredients together so that the ricotta mixture is well blended and fluffy.
Assembly
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Divide the dough in 4, roll 2 larger dough pieces (about 10 oz. each) to a thin sheet about a 13-inch diameter and the smaller balls (about 7 oz.) and roll out to to a thin sheet about 10-inches.
  3. Brush the bottom and sides of the baking pan well with olive oil.
  4. Spread one larger sheet of the pastry and spread it with evenly over the bottom of the pan and about up the side.
  5. Brush the pastry all over with oil.
  6. Put the second pastry sheet, put it on top of the first sheet and pat it so that the second sheet adheres to the first.
  7. Add the greens to the baking pan and spread them evenly over the bottom crust.
  8. Add the ricotta mixture and spread it evenly over the greens.
  9. Make an indentation with the back of the spoon in the center and then 5 indentations spread evenly mid-way between the center and the edge of the pan.
  10. Separate 6 eggs. Put an egg yolk in each indentation.
  11. Lightly beat the egg whites and spread a thin layer of the whites on top of the ricotta mixture and sprinkle grated parmigiano all over.
  12. Completely cover the top the ricotta layer with one of the smaller sheets. Press it to adhere to the side crust and brush it with olive oil.
  13. Lay the last small sheet on top to fully cover the cake and press this last sheet gently to adhere to the side crust.
  14. Cut off any dough that hangs over the side of the baking pan. Roll down the remaining dough on the sides, crimp with your fingers to form the edge of the crust an the circumference of the cake. Gently depress the edge with a fork to create a pretty top edge.
  15. Brush the top of the cake with olive oil.
  16. Bake the cake in the oven until the top crust is golden, about 45 minutes.
  17. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Easter Recipe Roundup

Abbacchio: Easter spring lamb

Lent’s coming to an end. No more fasting soon, so I’m getting ready for my 4-course Italian-American Easter dinner celebration.

I’m bringing what’s available in the spring farmers market to our Easter feast.

For the antipasto I’m serving pizza rustica, a Neapolitan savory deep-dish ricotta pie with sausage, salami and fresh mozzarella. I’ll serve a slice of the pizza rustica with Giardiniera, marinated garden vegetables that I make a few days ahead so they reach their full flavor. Giardiniera will be a piquant foil for the savory pie.

My primo piatto, the first plate, is a light but full-flavored artichoke, leek and potato soup.

The secondo piatto, the second plate, is porchetta, a butterflied pork roast with an herb paste. The roast is accompanied by roasted potatoes dotted with truffle oil and cipollini agro dolce, onions in a sweet & sour glaze.

I’m bookending the meal with another Neapolitan Easter pie, pastiera, a sweet ricotta pie with wheat berries and candied citron.

Make the same dinner I’m making or change it up. Design your own Easter dinner. Choose from my selected dishes for each of the 4 courses. And if you just want to see the videos, check out this handy YouTube playlist.

 

Antipasti (before the meal)

Baked Baby Eggplant
Baked Baby Eggplant

Pair one of these dishes with your favorite Italian salumi, cheeses and olives.

Primo Piatto (first plate)

Soups

Tasty artichoke slices, leeks and potato in a thick thyme flavored broth
Artichoke, leek and potato soup

Rice

Risi bisi: Venetian Rice and Spring Peas
Risi bisi: Venetian Rice and Spring Peas

Pasta

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Secondo Piatto (second plate)

Porchetta
Porhcetta–Herb Filled Pork Roast

Contorni (Side Dishes)

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Use one of the vegetables in the antipasti selections or make one of these to serve with the second piatto.

 

Dolci (dessert)

Tiramisu

Easter Roasted Spring Lamb

Abbacchio: Easter spring lamb

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After 40 days of Lent, nothing hits the spot like tender, spring abbacchio.
After 40 days of Lent, nothing hits the spot like tender, spring abbacchio.

This is the time of the year to enjoy baby milk-fed lamb or baby goat.

The season lasts maybe 6 weeks running up to Easter. The prized animals are slaughtered before they are weaned and take on a more gamey flavor.

The breast and chops that I cooked came from a baby spring lamb that weighed just 35 pounds.

My North Beach recipe is a taste memory amalgam of the roasted capretto that my Mom made and baby lamb abbacchio and scottadito that I savored in springtime Rome.

The hardest part of this dish is finding baby lamb. I’m lucky to live in San Francisco, so I got mine at Golden Gate Meat Company in the Ferry Building. If you can’t get the breast use chops or even a leg of lamb. Any cut works with this recipe.

The breast riblets are crispy and fall off the bone tender. The chops have a golden brown crust and delicate flavor and can be cooked to your preferred doneness.

Keep an eye out for my Easter Recipe Roundup. You’ll see the other 3 courses I’m making for my Easter dinner and recipes for dozens of my favorites for you to make your own 4-course Easter dinner.

Buona Pasqua! Buon appetito!

Easter Roasted Spring Lamb
 
Prep time
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Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 anchovy filets
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 baby spring lamb breast or 4 double rib chops
  • 4 Yukon Gold potatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup wine wine
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place the potatoes in a pot of well-salted water. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes until just knife tender. Take the potatoes out of the water and set aside.
  3. When cool enough to handle peel the potatoes, cut each in half and then in quarters.
  4. Place the potatoes on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Coat the potatoes well all over.
  5. Put the potatoes in the oven on the upper rack. Roast until the potatoes, turning them once until they are crispy and very light brown, about 25 minutes. Remove the potatoes from oven and set aside.
  6. Finely chop 2 garlic cloves, the leaves of 2 rosemary branches and the anchovy. Put the mixture in a bowl. Add the vinegar and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Mix well to form a paste and set aside.
  7. Cut the breast into 4 similar size pieces. Thoroughly season each piece on both sides with salt and pepper. (Or substitute the lamb chops.)
  8. Put a cast iron pan or a skillet large enough to hold the lamb over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan.
  9. Smash 2 garlic cloves and 2 rosemary branches to the pan. Cook in the hot olive oil for a minute or two to infuse the oil with their flavor. Discard the garlic and rosemary.
  10. Put the lamb in the pan and cook to form a golden crust on both sides. Put the lamb in a baking dish.
  11. Add the white wine to the hot pan. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom and let the wine simmer for a minute to burn off the alcohol.
  12. Pour the wine into the baking dish.
  13. Put the baking dish on the bottom shelf of the oven and roast the lamb until it is golden brown, about 90 minutes. (If using chops roast until they reach an internal temperature of 125 degrees.)
  14. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
  15. Remove the baking dish from the oven and cover the lamb on both sides with the rosemary paste. Add the potatoes to the pan.
  16. Return the baking dish and continue roasting until the lamb is fork tender. (If using chops until the internal temperature is 140 degrees.)
  17. Remove the lamb and potatoes to a serving platter. Skim off any excess fat from the pan juices and pour them over the lamb.
  18. Serve immediately.

 

Baby Artichokes: Eat the Whole Thing

Crispy baby artichokes
Crispy baby artichokes

Baby artichokes are in the market at a very attractive price. I bought some to create a crispy delight.

Be sure to buy plenty. This is another one of those treats that gets poached off the stove by family and friends before the baby artichokes even make it to the table.

Baby artichokes are super easy to clean and cook. Best of all you can eat the whole thing. There’s no prickly choke to get rid of.

Crispy golden-brown leaves add a nutty note to the creamy artichoke heart. A simple way to savor the essence of the artichoke without breaking a sweat.

Serve the baby artichokes as part of an antipasto course or as a side for meat or poultry.

Want more? Watch me make stuffed artichokes in the style of the ghetto in Rome.

Buon appetito!

Baby Artichokes: Eat the Whole Thing
 
Prep time
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Enjoy baby artichokes in way less than 30 minutes.
Author:
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 12 baby artichokes
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
Instructions
  1. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon into a bowl of water.
  2. Cut off the discolored bottom of the stem. Trim any dark green skin from the bottom of the stem.
  3. Pull off the dark outer leaves until the tender yellow and pale green leaves appear.
  4. Cut off the tip of the artichoke at the line separating the dark from the pale part of the leaf.
  5. Put the cleaned artichoke in the acidulated water.
  6. Put on a pot of water to boil over high heat. Cook the artichokes until knife tender.
  7. When cool enough to handle, cut the artichokes in half length-wise.
  8. Put the olive oil in a cast iron or saute pan. When the oil starts to ripple cook the artichokes flat side down until golden brown.
  9. Remove the artichokes to a serving plate crispy flat side up and sprinkle with sea salt with some lemon wedges scattered around.
  10. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

 

 

Cacio e Pepe: Spaghetti with a No-Cook Pecorino & Black Pepper Sauce

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Cacio e pepe
Cacio e pepe is a minimalist Italian version of mac and cheese.

It’s ridiculous how a few quality ingredients can make such a sumptuous pasta dish. When in Rome cacio e pepe is one of two pasta dishes that I order at one of my favorite restaurants as soon as I arrive.

If you’re really hungry and want something simple to eat this no-cook sauce is for you. Boil well-salted water, cook the spaghetti and you’re almost done.

When the spaghetti is al dente, fish it out of the water and put it in a big bowl. Pour a cup of hot pasta water over the spaghetti, stir in the grated pecorino & freshly ground black pepper, toss and your ready to eat.

The silky zesty pecorino sauce clings to every strand of spaghetti and the black pepper explodes in your mouth. I couldn’t stop eating this one.

Be sure to buy the best spaghetti from Italy that you can. I prefer pasta from a small producer in and around Naples. This pasta could cost you 4 or 5 dollars but it’s worth every penny. Their durum wheat pasta extruded through a bronze die has a deep nutty wheat flavor and the rough surface holds sauce well. In a pinch I use De Cecco.

Buy a hunk of pecorino romano from Italy and grate just before using to maximize its taste. Buy quality black peppercorns and coarsely grind or crush them so that you fully enjoy their robust flavor and texture.

Oh, and that other pasta dish I can’t wait to eat when I get to Roma, spaghetti carbonara. Let me know if you want me to make that one in a future episode. Just leave a comment.

I often make a spaghetti pie when I have cacio e pepe left over. Just add beaten eggs, mix and bake it until the spaghetti strands on top are golden and nutty. It’s an easy way of getting a second day of enjoyment out of this tasty dish. You can make a spaghetti pie too.

Buon appetito!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Cacio e Pepe: Spaghetti with a No-Cook Pecorino & Black Pepper Sauce
 
Prep time
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Author:
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound (500 grams) spaghetti
  • 1 cup grated pecorino romano
  • freshly coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • sea salt for the pasta water
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. When the water reaches a rapid boil add the spaghetti. Toss the spaghetti to make sure it doesn't stick.
  3. While the spaghetti is cooking grate the pecorino, half on the coarse grate and half on the fine grate.
  4. Coarsely grind black pepper or crack them with a pan or a meat pounder.
  5. When the spaghetti is al dente fish it out with tongs and put it in a big bowl. (Save 2 cups of pasta water if you drain it in a colander.)
  6. Add a cup of pasta water to the bowl and toss to moisten the spaghetti.
  7. Add the grated pecorino and toss. If the pasta is too dry add more pasta water to form a silky sauce.
  8. Add the black pepper and toss the spaghetti well.
  9. Serve immediately. Have some pecorino and the pepper mill on the table for your guests to add more if they want.

 

Pasta Primavera: Bow tie pasta with early spring vegetables

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Pasta Primavera
Pasta primavera is spring on a plate.

I love this time of year when the first of the early spring vegetables start to hit the market. Pencil-thin asparagus, tiny peas, and tender fava beans are among my favorites, so I just had to make pasta primavera with these spring farmers’ market beauties.

But the nice thing about pasta primavera is that it’s versatile enough to work well with all kinds of produce. Asparagus not looking so good? Use artichokes instead! Are those gorgeous ramps on sale this week? Use those! Just pick whatever’s fresh and delicious in your market and you can’t go wrong.

This dish is inspired by the original Spaghetti alla Primavera from Sirio Maccioni, co-owner of Le Cirque restaurant in New York City–it’s a real Italian-American classic. I’ve lightened the dish up by using no butter and less cream, and this keeps the spring vegetables in sharp focus. Instead, pasta water creates a flavorful broth as the base of the sauce and bow tie pasta instead of spaghetti guarantees you get some veggies with every bite.

I prefer the more robust ricotta salata flavor instead of parmigiano as a finishing note, but different strokes, right? And extra virgin olive oil does put some fat back into this really healthy, full-flavored taste of springtime, I’ll give you that, but come on, a little ain’t gonna kill ya.

I made farfalle alla primavera a few years ago at my cooking demonstration and tasting at The Villages in San Jose. I was cooking for 50 Italian-Americans and wannabes and I needed a boat-load of vegetables, so while setting up for the show I enlisted a dozen of my students to shell the peas and fava beans and cut the asparagus. When all the work was done, one of my prep helpers said “Next time use frozen!” Well, of course you can, but it won’t be as good as using fresh from the farmer’s market–the extra work means extra flavor and who don’t want that?

The full flavor of the spring vegetables rule this simple, uncluttered pasta dish that is ready in the time it takes to cook the pasta.  After you shell the peas and fava that is. Just make sure none of your helpers throw them pea pods at ya.

And if you like this, also try my recipe for spring asparagus frittata. It’s another great way to get spring on a plate.

Buon appetito!

Pasta Primavera: Bow Tie Pasta with Early Spring Vegetables
 
Bow tie pasta with fresh spring peas, lava beans and asparagus in a light cream sauce.
Author:
Recipe type: pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 1 cup fava beans
  • 1 pound or 500 grams Farfalle dried pasta
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 spring onions, cut in 1-inch slices
  • 8 thin asparagus spears, cut on a bias in 2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup shelled fresh peas
  • 10 ripe cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 5 basil leaves, ripped by hand
  • ¼ cup grated ricotta salata or grated parmigiano
  • sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and finishing olive oil to taste
Instructions
  1. Remove the fava beans from the pod and blanch them in the hot pasta water for a minute or two. Take the fava beans out of the water and when cool remove the wrinkled skin from the fava.
  2. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil over high heat.
  3. Add the farfalle to the boiling water and cook until just al dente.
  4. In the meantime, put a large saute pan over medium-high and add 2 tablespoons of the extra virgin olive oil and add the garlic.
  5. When the garlic starts to give off its aroma add the spring onion.
  6. When the onion is translucent, add the asparagus and fava beans sprinkle with sea salt and sauté for a minute or two until the asparagus takes on a deeper green color.
  7. Add a cup of the pasta water to the sauté pan and cover the pan. Cover the pan and cook for 2 minutes or until the asparagus and fava are tender.
  8. Add the peas and cherry tomatoes, another cup of pasta water and cook until the peas and tomatoes are wrinkled, for a minute or two more.
  9. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the cream and mix well. Cook to reduce and thicken the sauce.
  10. Drain the farfalle when just al dente and put them in the pan. Stir the farfalle well with the primavera sauce. (Add more pasta water if the sauce is too dense.)
  11. Stir in the basil.
  12. Off the heat add a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper and the grated cheese.
  13. Drizzle the farfalle with your finishing extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.

 

Celebrate St. Joseph’s Day

The dessert of Italian Father's Day.
The dessert of Italian Father’s Day.

Move over St. Patrick. The Feast of St. Joseph, Father’s Day in Italy is this Wednesday.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe is one of my favorite Neapolitan pastries.

But I only make these pastry cream filled puffs topped with an Amarena cherry once a year, on March 19.

Watch me make zeppole 2-ways so you can make zeppole this year too..

Here’s a quick, light menu for Wednesday so you have room for zeppole at the end of the meal. Serve a traditional St. Joseph’s Day spaghetti followed by my early Spring asparagus frittata.

Pair the fritatta with a simple mixed green salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt. Some crusty bread and you’re all set.

Then get ready for a stupendous finish, your homemade zeppole.

Buona festa! Buon appetito!

Spring Asparagus Frittata

Spring Asparagus Frittata

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Spring Asparagus Frittata
Pencil-thin asparagus is just barely held together by egg in this spring frittata.

I made this asparagus frittata last spring while in Rome. Allesandro, my friend and produce vendor in Campo de Fiori, the huge open air produce market in the historical center of Rome, showed me wild asparagus he had foraged the night before. It took him all night to collect 2 kilos.

That’s Allesandro in video episode showing me those skinny wild asparagus that quickly went into a frittata for my mates back in our apartment near Piazza di Spagna.

I found some really thin asparagus at the farmers market. They reminded me of the frittata I made in Rome and I had to make it here in San Francisco.

I roasted the asparagus with olive oil and sea salt to intensify its bright flavor. This is a thinner frittata than I usually make because I want the egg mixture to just hold the asparagus together and let the concentrated springtime flavor shine.

Watch me make a sausage and potato frittata and see another asparagus frittata recipe where I don’t roast the asparagus but cook it in the same pan that I use to cook the frittata.

Serve frittata as a part of your antipasti or as a light lunch or dinner with a salad and a hunk of crusty bread. When I’m not in the mood to cook frittata is my go to recipe. It’s ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. Buon appetito!

Asparagus Fritatta
 
Prep time
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Author:
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 8-10 asparagus spears
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino, parmigiana or grana padano
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Put the asparagus on a cooking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt. Toss the asparagus to cover them all with the oil.
  3. Roast in the oven until the asparagus begins to brown, about 8 minutes. Turn them at least once.
  4. Take the asparagus out of the oven and when cool cut them on the diagonal in 2-inch pieces. Set the asparagus aside.
  5. Add the eggs to a large bowl and beat them well.
  6. Add the asparagus, parsley, grated cheese, ½ teaspoon sea salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper and mix all the ingredients well.
  7. Put a 9-inch cast-iron or saute pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Swirl the olive oil so it coats the sides of the pan well to avoid the sides of the frittata from sticking.
  8. When the oil starts to ripple the add the egg mixture to the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
  9. As the frittata begins to set stir the bottom of the frittata with a fork. With a spatula lightly pull the edge of frittata away from the side of the pan. Genly slide the spatula under the frittata. Be sure the frittata is loose and moves easily when you shake the pan.
  10. Place a plate over the pan and flip the pan so the frittata ends up on the plate.
  11. Slide the frittata back in the pan.
  12. Finish cooking the frittata until it is solid.
  13. (If you don’t want the flip the frittata, finish cooking it in a 375 degree oven until the top sets and browns.)
  14. Slide the frittata onto a serving plate and serve immediately or at room temperature.