Like in most catholic countries, the start of lent is a big occasion in Italy. Carnival (carnivale) runs from “fat Thursday , giovedi grasso” until “fat Tuesday, martedi grasso”. Traditionally people dress up in masks and costumes, but outside of Venice, this is mostly only done by small children. However everybody uses it as an excuse to eat lots of sweet things. This is Italy after all This recipe is for one of the most common biscuits. They have many regional names, bugie, cenci, crostoli, frappe, galani, sfrappole ,but here they are known as chiacchiere. A rough translation would be “chatty biscuits”. There are many variations on the basic recipe, some include grappa or wine, or lemon zest, but this is one of the simplest.
280g plain flour
70g potato starch (if you can’t find this, use all plain flour)
20g unsalted butter
20g icing sugar
3 medium eggs
A few drops of vanilla essence or a sachet of vanilla extract
1 tsp of baking powder
Oil for deep frying
Mix all the ingredients together to form a dough.
Chiacchere mixing dough
Knead it for a couple of minutes until it’s smooth.
Roll it out very thinly. If the dough is too sticky, dust with a little flour. You are aiming for about the thickness of lasagne. In fact, if you have a pasta rolling machine, that would be perfect.
Chiacchere ready to fry
Cut out rectangles of about 6×3 cm (2×1 inch) and make a slit in the middle. A pastry wheel is good for this.
Deep fry in hot oil (about 190°c 375°f) until they are puffed up and lightly golden.
From Campania. This salad is named after the island of Capri, in the Gulf of Naples, near to Sorrento. Versions of this dish can be now be found in “Italian” restaurants all over the world. It is extremely simple, just “mozzarella”, tomatoes and good extra virgin olive oil.
As always, the quality of the ingredients is very important. First the “mozzarella”. The name should technically be reserved for buffalo milk cheese. Cows milk cheese is known as “fior di latte”. The milk used is not as important as the freshness. In fact Accademia Italiana della Cucina recommends using a cow’s milk cheese from Agerola or Sorrento. Most people here insist on eating it on the day it is made. Mozzarella made the day before is only good for pizza. If all you can find is supermarket cheese with a shelf life of up to a month, it wont be worth making this dish, make a pizza instead Slice into fairly thin slices, about half a centimetre or a quarter of an inch.
Next, the tomatoes. Again, use the best you can find. Try to find them about the same size as the cheese. This makes the presentation nicer. Slice crossways into slices of about the same size as the cheese.
Arrange them on a plate, alternating the tomato and mozzarella. Add a generous amount of fresh basil and drizzle with olive oil. You can season with a little salt if you like.
The Academia suggests an alternative method where the cheese and tomatoes are diced.
The salad will taste much better if you serve it at room temperature, not straight from the fridge.
Unlike most salads in Italy, this is served as a main course, rather than a side dish.
Inspector Montalbano is a popular fictional Sicilian police detective, created by Andrea Camilleri. The stories are set in the small town of Vigata , and, being Italian, feature food quite prominently. In the story Inspector Montelbano’s Arancini (Gli arancini di Montalbano), the famous Sicilian dish is used as a plot device. Does the inspector want to leave Sicily to be with his girlfriend in Paris, or does he want to stay and eat his housekeeper Adelina’s arancini. I won’t tell you what he decides, but you can probably guess My father is a fan of the books, and he is fond of arancini when he visits me, so I decided to recreate this recipe from the book. The main differences between Adelina’s dish, and the more well known version is that she uses béchamel sauce instead of cheese. Also the ragù is made with whole pieces of meat, not mince.
For the ragù
150g of reasonably fatty beef in one piece
150g of reasonably fatty pork in one piece
1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
a sprig of parsley
a few leaves of basil
250ml of passata
1 heaped tablespoon of tomato purée
extra virgin olive oil to taste
salt and pepper to taste
For the risotto
500g risotto rice
1 small onion
oil and butter to taste
150g of shelled peas (use fresh or frozen depending on the season)
oil for deep frying (traditionally olive oil, but you can use peanut oil or similar)
salt and pepper to taste
Arancini Ragù ingredients
Fry the onion and celery gently in a little oil. Add the two pieces of meat and brown them on all sides.
Add the passata and tomato purée diluted in a little hot water. Season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally, and adding more water if needed. Cook slowly for at least an hour and a half, longer if possible. Add the chopped parsley and basil, and cook for a further half an hour. This sauce can also be made in advance.
Arancini Ragù cooked
Make a classic risotto following the standard recipe, but without wine or cheese. It should be quite dry. Montalbano is quiet clear that it should be without saffron. (senza zaffirano, pi carità!)
Arancini cooking risotto
Tip the risotto out onto a marble slab (or a large tray), let it cool a little and then mix with a little of the tomato sauce and stir in the eggs. Let it cool completely. Put it into the fridge for about half an hour.
Arancini risotto cooling
Meanwhile, cook the peas in boiling salted water. Chop the meat with a mezzaluna or a knife. Montalbano forbids the use of a food processor (nenti frullatore, pi carità di Dio!) :) Mix some of the béchamel sauce with the peas and salami cut into small cubes. Add enough of the tomato sauce from the meat to make a fairly thick mixture.
Arancini mixed filling
Slightly dampen your hands and take some of the rice and roll it in the palm of your hand trying to make a sort of bowl. Put a spoonful of the ragù mixture in the middle. Cover with a little more rice and form it into a ball.You are aiming for about tennis ball size. Continue until you run out of rice. You probably won’t need all of the filling.
Arancini ready for coating
Put them in the fridge again for half an hour or so to firm up. Coat with egg, and then roll in bread crumbs.
Arancini ready for cooking
Fry the arancini in hot oil (about 165°C) until they are golden brown. Drain on kitchen towels. They are best eaten hot, but are also good cold.
The Bellini is another one of those recipes which is far better known in the USA than it is in Italy. The original recipe is authentically Italian however. Barmen over the years have added various ingredients, peach schnapps etc., but the original is extremely simple, and in my opinion better. It was invented by Giuseppe Cipriani at Harry’s Bar in Venice in the 1930s . It is named after Giovanni Bellini, a fifteenth century Venetian painter. Being Italian, it should be made with Prosecco, not Champagne, but you can use Champagne if you can’t find any of the good stuff
Ripe white peaches (never yellow)
Prosecco (Spumante has more bubbles than Frizzante, use whichever you prefer)
Peel the peaches and remove the stones. The recommended method is to grate the flesh and then pass it through a sieve. I use a hand cranked food mill, sometimes known as a mouli. A food processor is said to aerate the purée too much. If it isn’t sweet enough for you, you can add sugar or simple syrup at this stage.
Put the purée in the freezer until it is almost frozen, but still soft.
Bellini frozen peach purée
Put a few spoons of purée into an iced glass. You can use a straight glass, or a champagne flute. Top up with iced Prosecco. Gently stir to mix the two ingredients. The proportions should be one part peach to three parts Prosecco.
Zuppa di aglio. Versions of this soup exist all over the world. I used to live in the Czech Republic and česnečka was said to be a fantastic cure for a hangover It is best made with new season “wet” garlic, but regular dried garlic will give good results. Use very good stock, it will be so much better than cubes. It can easily be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock and a vegetarian cheese. Serves 4.
Simmer the garlic and potato in the stock for about 20 minutes. The garlic and potato should be very tender.
Liquidize until smooth and season with salt and pepper.
Cut a clove of garlic in half and rub the cut side on both side of the toast. This will produce quite a strong garlic flavour, so be careful. If you prefer a mild flavour, leave out this step altogether.
Drizzle the toast with olive oil, put a slice into each bowl, pour the hot soup on top and sprinkle with parmesan.
From Puglia. Pettole are sweet or savoury doughnuts. In the region of Campania , and I believe the US, they are known as zeppole. Here in Puglia, zeppole refers to a cake traditionally eaten on St Joseph’s day. They are called pettole here in Puglia and some regions of Basilicata. They are traditionally eaten on St Martin’s day in Lecce (Nov 11), St Cecilia’s day in Taranto (Nov 22), Around the immaculate conception on the 7th and 8th of December in Brindisi, and Christmas Eve in Foggia. They are generally eaten during the Christmas period throughout the region. They can be prepared in two ways, sweet or savoury. The savoury version can be plain, or contain other ingredients, such as olives, cooked cauliflower, salt cod , sundried tomatoes and anchovies. The sweet versions are dredged in sugar and/or dipped in vincotto a sweet, concentrated grape juice produced in Puglia. Honey or jam are also common if you can’t find vincotto.
375 ml warm water
500 g oo flour
Half a block of fresh yeast or 3½ g dried
2 tsp of salt
Oil for deep frying
For the savoury version:- 10 olives, stoned and sliced into rings. Use black or green or a mixture of both.
For the sweet version:- Granulated sugar, vincotto or honey.
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Mix together the water and flour. Add the salt at the end of mixing. You should have a very wet dough. If you are making the savoury version, stir in the olives.
Pettole mixed dough
Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours.
Pettole ready to cook
Wet your hands and scoop up about a tablespoon of dough and deep fry until it is lightly brown. You will need to turn them halfway through cooking. Drain on kitchen paper.
If you are making the sweet version, dredge each pettole in sugar and serve with a dish of vincotto or honey to dip them in.
Fry the whole clove of garlic and the finely chopped onion gently in a little olive oil. After a few minutes, when the clove is lightly brown, remove it and discard. Add the chard and marjoram if used. Season with salt and pepper. Cook gently for a few minutes until the chard is completely wilted. You don’t have to add any water, the water left clinging to the leaves after washing should be enough.
Swiss chard frittata wilting chard
Allow to cool and squeeze out as much water as possible. Mix together the lightly beaten eggs, the chard and the cheese.
Swiss chard frittata ready to cook
Heat a large frying pan to a medium. Add a couple of table spoons of oil an add the egg mixture. Fry until the top has started to set.
Swiss chard frittata ready to turn
Flip the frittata by placing a large plate on top. Turn out onto the plate and then slide back into the pan. Finish off for a couple of minutes. Can be eaten hot or cold.
Pasta cresciuta. From Naples. My local pizzaria here in Bari is Neapolitan and cooks what the locals regard as “thick” pizzas. The Barese go there when they want some foreign food They also cook a few specialities from Naples, such as arancini and this dish. Pasta cresciuta means “grown dough”, because the batter contains yeast. You can cook them without a filling, or with some of the more traditional ones such as courgette flowers or anchovies. Alternatively experiment with what you have to hand. The batter will make about 60-80 pieces.
Mixed fritters ingredients
Sun-dried tomato halves, soaked to soften
Courgette (Zucchini) flowers picked over to make sure they don’t contain any insects etc.
Large sage leaves
Oil for deep frying (traditionally olive oil, but sunflower oil is acceptable)
For the batter
1 cube of fresh yeast
320ml lukewarm water
300g oo flour
A pinch of salt
First make the batter. Dissolve the yeast in the water. Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture. Beat it with a whisk until smooth. Cover and leave in a warm place for 1 – 2 hours to rise. It should about double in size.
Mixed fritters batter
Heat a pan full of oil to a medium heat, about 180°c. If the oil is too hot the fritters will be raw on the inside and burnt on the the outside. If the temperature is too low they will be soggy. A litte experimentation may be needed to get it right.
Mixed fritters cooking
To make plain fritters, drop tablespoons of the batter into the hot oil. Cook until they are lightly browned, turning once. You are aiming to keep a reasonably soft texture. Think savory doughnuts. Drain on kitchen paper. Dip the various fillings into the batter and continue as before.
They are best eaten hot, but may also be eaten cold.
Pizza di patate e prosciutto. From Bari. This is a more complicated version of the traditional potato “pizza”. They call it a pizza here, but that name is quite confusing as it does not contain any bread or flour. To confuse matters further it is also known as Torta di patate or Gateau di patate in various regions. It is basically a potato pie filled with ham and spinach. The ham can easily be left out to make it vegetarian (if you are careful about what cheese you use of course). It can be eaten warm or cold and will keep in the fridge for 3 or 4 days. It also freezes well. Serves about 8 as a main course.
Potato pizza ingredients
1.2 kg floury potatoes.
250g scamorza, provola or mozzarella, grated or thinly sliced.
Cook the potatoes in their skins in lightly salted water. Drain and peel when cool enough to handle.
Potato pizza cooking potatoes
Mash the potatoes and mix with the egg yolks and parmesan.
Potato pizza mixed with cheese
Fry the whole garlic clove for a few minutes in a little olive oil. Remove and add the spinach. There should be enough water clinging to the leaves after washing. Add a little salt and couple of grates of nutmeg. Cook over a medium heat until the spinach has completely wilted. Leave to cool and squeeze out as much water as possible.
Potato pizza cooking spinach
Grease a 24cm cake tin and dust with bread crumbs. Use 2/3 of the potato to make the base of the pizza. Build up the sides a little to contain the filling. Add the spinach.
Potato pizza with spinach
Add the ham
Potato pizza with ham
Cover with the cheese
Potato pizza with cheese
Close the pizza with the remaining 1/3 of the potato. Cover the top with bread crumbs and dot liberally with knobs of butter.
Potato pizza ready for the oven
Bake in an oven preheated to 200°c for 50 minutes.
Torta Pasqualina or Easter Monday pie is a very popular dish to have today that has its origins in Liguria. Easter Monday is traditionally a day for picnics and this is often one of the things taken along. This is a slightly simplified version as it uses pre prepared puff pastry. It’s good to know that doctors no longer say eating cholesterol is bad for you as it includes at least 10 eggs. Serves at least 6.
500g puff pastry
500g swiss chard or spinach, stalks removed
1 small onion, finely chopped
80g of parmesan or pecorino romano (or a mixture of both)
1 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram or parsley
300g ricotta, passed through a sieve to remove lumps
1 tbsp of single cream
Torta pasqualina ingredients
Put the swiss chard, the onion and 2 tbsp of oil into a saucepan. Season with salt and people and cook over a medium heat until the chard is completely wilted. Allow to cool and squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
Torta pasqualina wilting chard
Chop finely and transfer to a bowl. Add an egg, 50g of cheese and the marjoram or parsley and mix well.
Torta pasqualina filling
In another bowl mix together the ricotta, the cream, 2 eggs and 30g of cheese.
Torta pasqualina assembling pie
Roll out 2/3 of the pastry and use it to line an oiled cake tin. Make a layer with the chard. Cover with the ricotta. Crack 6 eggs, regularly spaced onto the surface.
Torta pasqualina ready for the oven
Roll out the remaining 1/3 of the pastry and use it to close the pie. Trim off the excess pastry and fold over and crimp the edges to seal. Brush with olive oil and bake at 180 °c for 45 minutes.
Hard boiled eggs are of course an important symbol of Easter in Italy. They are often eaten as part of an Easter antipasto. This is one of the simplest, and in my opinion best recipes.
6 hardboiled eggs
6 anchovy fillets or 2 tablespoons anchovy paste
4 tablespoons of olive oil
chopped parsley or chives
Eggs mimosa ingredients
Halve the eggs and put the yolks in a bowl along with the anchovies and pepper to taste. Blend with a blender, adding the olive oil little by little, until you have a smooth paste. Fill the empty halves of the eggs with the mixture, sprinkle with parsley or chives and serve.
Fave con pecorino. This is not so much a recipe as a serving suggestion. People tend to forget that broad beans (known as fava beans in the US) can be eaten raw. So, for that matter, can peas. Also there is a bit of a misunderstanding about what exactly is pecorino. Any sheep’s milk cheese is a pecorino, from pecora, which means sheep in Italian. The only pecorino commonly available outside of Italy is Pecorino Romano and is usually used grated as a seasoning, in a similar way to parmesan. This recipe calls for a younger, less salty cheese. Of course, you can break with tradition and use a cow’s milk cheese. When broad beans come into season, this is one of the most popular way to eat them. Some people serve them shelled and the cheese cut into little squares, but most people provide a pile of beans and a lump of cheese and let their guests get on with it. Eat each bean with a small piece of cheese. They are served as an antipasto or at the end of the meal, before the dessert.
Involtini di verza. This is a good winter dish. There are many versions, but I prefer this one because the stuffing is not so heavy as it contains rice and chopped cabbage rather than all meat. It can be served as an antipasto or a second course, but it is quite substantial, so it is probably better as a second course. Serves 6
Remove the tough central rib from 12 cabbage leaves.
stuffed cabbage removing stalk
Blanch the leaves in abundant boiling water. Take 150g of the more tender centre of the cabbage and chop finely.
stuffed cabbage cooking filling
Melt the butter in a pan and fry the carrot, celery and onion gently for about 15 minutes. Be careful that they do not brown. Increase the heat and add the rice and “toast” for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the white wine, the sausage and the chopped cabbage. Stirring constantly wait until the liquid has been absorbed. Add a ladle of the hot stock and wait for the liquid to be absorbed. Continue using the standard risotto method until the rice is cooked. Mix in the parmesan.
stuffed cabbage filling rolls
Take a cabbage leaf and place a couple of tablespoons of the mixture on each one.
stuffed cabbage filled roll
Roll the leaf up to make a compact parcel. Hide the open seam underneath.
stuffed cabbage ready for the oven
Cover the base of a casserole with little olive oil and half a ladle stock. Arrange the cabbage rolls in the dish. Cover the dish with melted butter and parmesan.
Stuffed cabbage finished dish
Bake at 200°C for 15 minutes, finish off under the grill for 5 minutes. Let the rolls rest for 10 minutes and the serve.
Bagna caôda.From Piemonte. The rough translation of title is “hot bath” , which in my opinion is always preferable to a cold one This dish is well known outside of Italy, but as is often the case it often is very different from the original. It is basically a warm anchovy and garlic dip for raw vegetables. These are two of my favourite things, so it’s one of my favourite antipasti. A lot of versions include milk or cream, but these are not found in the original Piemonte version
Bagna caoda ingredients
About 6 anchovy fillets per person. Salted are best, but tinned in oil will do. Soak them in a little white wine.
Garlic (from 2 or 3 cloves per person up to a whole head)
Olive oil, the best you can find, about 1/2 a wine glass per person. Only olive oil will do.
About 20 g of unsalted butter per person.
1 egg per person(optional)
To serve, dip vegetables into the mixture. The recipe I have is very prescriptive and says you can only use vegetables that are in season and grow in Piedmont. I think this is going a bit far though. Some suggestions on what to serve with the Bagna Cauda (raw unless otherwise stated):-
potatoes cooked in their skins and then peeled
Peppers roasted and peeled or raw
Onions boiled or baked
Jerusalem artichokes (raw or cooked))
Cauliflower (raw or cooked)
Small globe artichoke
Small whole mushrooms
Bagna caoda vegetables
Slice the garlic very thinly and soak it in cold water for a couple of hours. Some recipes call for it to be boiled in milk, but I think this is unnecessary.
Add all the ingredients to an earthenware pot along with a small ladle of oil and cook very slowly for about half an hour. Don’t let the garlic brown. Stir it constantly with a wooden spoon. When the anchovies and garlic have dissolved into the sauce, add the rest of the oil.
Bring the pot to the table and keep it warm with some kind heat source. You can buy special pots for this purpose, but fondue sets work well. Serve it with your selection of vegetables.
When you have had your fill of vegetables you can add a beaten egg to what’s left in the pot.
Plum Cake. You see this cake all over Italy. It is a type of sponge cake, baked in a loaf tin, similar to what is known as a loaf cake in the UK. In my opinion Italy does most things to do with food extremely well. One possible exception is breakfast. It is usually just coffee and some variety of cake. The coffee is very good though This is a very common breakfast cake. I haven’t translated the name. It always appears in English, although the pronunciation is more ploomcake. It never, however, contains plums, or indeed any other kind of fruit. I have asked around, but nobody has any idea how it got its name. If anybody knows, please let me know.
200g icing sugar
4 eggs, seperated
200g unsalted butter
200g 00 flour
1 tsp baking powder
A few drops of vanilla essence
A pinch of salt
Plum Cake ingredients
Beat the butter together with the sugar using a wooden spoon.
Plum Cake butter and sugar
When they are combined, add the egg yolks and continue beating until you get a smooth mixture.
Plum Cake egg yolks
Whip the egg white, together with a pinch of salt, with an electric whisk until you get stiff peaks.
Plum Cake egg whites
Gently fold in the egg whites, into the egg yolk mixture.
Plum Cake flour
Gently fold in the flour, baking powder and the vanilla essence.
Plum Cake ready for the oven
Grease a large loaf tin with butter and dust with flour. Pour in the mixture.
Plum Cake finished dish
Bake at 170°c for 40-45 minutes. When a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean, it is ready.