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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cozze ripiene gratinate. This is quite an unusual mussel recipe. Mussels baked on the half shell are a very common antipasto here, but this recipe treats them a bit like the French scallop dish coquilles saint-jacques. They are baked with white sauce, cheese and wine. Serves 4 as a main course, many more as part of an antipasto.
Clean the mussels well. Place them in a pan along with half the clove of garlic, a sprig of parsley and the wine. Open the mussels by placing the pan over a high heat. Drain the mussels and filter and reserve the cooking liquid. Remove them from their shells.
Baked mussels opened with cooking liquid
Mix the mussel meat with 2 tbsp of olive oil, a chopped sprig of parsley, the rest of the garlic, chopped and a tbsp of the cooking liquid. Season with pepper.
Baked mussels removed from their shells
Place each mussel on a half shell.
Baked mussels on the half shell
Mix together the white sauce, the egg yolk and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Top each shell with some of the mixture.
Baked mussels with white sauce
Sprinkle breadcrumbs on the top and bake at 190°c for 15 minutes.
Tiramisu is ubiquitous in restaurants within Italy and around the world. The translation literally is “pick me up”. Idiomatically it means something like “make me happy”. It is quite a recent invention and didn’t start to become popular both nationally and internationally until the 80s.
As with most things in Italy there is a great debate about the true origin of tiramisu(or tiramesù in the Venetian dialect). Some sources put its origin as Siena in Tuscany however I think that the most credible claim comes from Treviso, in the Veneto near to Venice. Roberto Linguanotto from the Beccherie restaurant claims to have invented it at the end of the 60s and this is his recipe. People have changed the recipe a lot over the years and the original included no cream or alcohol.
The recipe was for a restaurant size portion but I used a third of the quantities to make 6 or 7 big portions.
Tiramisu finished dish
4 egg yolks
160 g sugar
330 g mascarpone
Up to 20 Savoiardi biscuits (also known as ladyfingers)
Enough strong unsweetened espresso coffee (ristretto) to dip the biscuits in, allowed to cool
Unsweetened cocoa powder to dust the top
Whip the egg yolks together with the sugar until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is stiff.
Tiramisu egg yolks and sugar
Fold in the mascarpone.
Tiramisu folding in the marsapone
Dip half of the biscuits into the coffee. Be careful not to make them too wet as they will disintegrate. Arrange them in a single layer in a dish. Roberto recommends a round one.
Tiramisu dipping the biscuits
Spread half of the mascarpone mixture over the biscuit.
Tiramisu first layer with cream
Repeat to form a second layer.
Tiramisu second layer without cream
Dust the top liberally with cocoa powder.
Tiramisu dusted with cocoa
Chill the dish in the fridge for several hours, preferably overnight.
Meringhette al gelato di cioccolato. One story about the origin of meringues is that they were invented in the Swiss town of Meiringen by an Italian chef named Gasparini. I quite like this story as I am biased because I also have strong links to Switzerland 🙂 I needed to use up the egg whites left over from a Tiramisu so I did a bit of searching and came up with this from Sale & Pepe magazine. The idea came from the magazine, but the recipe for the meringues is slightly different as I wanted to be more precise with the measurements. The quantities are one part caster sugar, one part icing sugar and one part egg white. Serves 6
Meringues finished dish
400 g chocolate ice cream
120g caster sugar
120g icing sugar
120g egg whites (about 4 eggs)
1 tsp lemon juice
Beat the egg whites and lemon juice with an electric whisk while gradually adding the caster sugar. When the mixture has risen and is shiny and quite dense, carefully fold in the icing sugar.
Meringue whipped egg white and sugar
Make small meringues by placing teaspoons of the mixture on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper.
Bake at 90°C with the oven door propped open to allow the moisture to escape. It should take about an hour and a half.
When the meringues are ready, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool completely.
Serve them by making a sandwich with two meringues and some ice cream.
Versions of this dish are popping up all over the place at the moment. I don’t know the exact origin, but it is definitely not traditional. I had some a while back in a local restaurant and was under orders from Mariella to cook it at home 🙂 She even provided the hazelnuts from a tree in her garden. I prefer to leave the biscuits in quite large pieces. It would look more like salami if the pieces were smaller, but I like the texture like this. This would keep very well in the freezer. I don’t know how many this serves, but it is quite heavy, so lots.
Chocolate salami finished dish
300 g plain biscuits
150 g unsalted butter
200 g plain chocolate
100 g hazelnuts
2 tablespoons of brandy or rum
100 g sugar
Chocolate salami ingredients
Break the biscuits into small pieces. I used a type called Saiwa Oro which are readily available here, but you can see from the picture what type to aim for.
Chocolate salami biscuits
Lightly roast the hazelnuts and rub them together to try and remove as much of the skin as possible. Put them in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin.
Chocolate salami hazlenuts
Make sure the butter is at room temperature and whisk it lightly by hand. Add the eggs and whisk it some more. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie. When the chocolate is smooth, add it to the butter and egg mixture. Make sure it is not too hot or the eggs will curdle. Add the brandy or rum. If you want to make an alcohol free version, use rum essence. Add the hazelnuts and mix well. Add the biscuits and mix again. When the biscuits are well covered by the chocolate, turn the mixture out onto a large square of greaseproof paper. Form it into a rough salami shape.
Chocolate salami mix on greaseproof paper
Bring the greaseproof paper up at the sides to make a sausage shape. Twist the paper together at the ends so you get a compact salami shape.
Chocolate salami ready for the fridge
Cover the roll in aluminium foil and put in the fridge for at least 3 hours.
Chocolate salami with icing sugar
Unwrap and slice the roll reasonably thinly to serve. Lightly dust the plate with icing sugar if you like.
Casonsei alla Bergamasca. When I lived in Bergamo we used to drive up into the mountains once or twice a year to eat polenta taragna. The starter was invariably casoncelli, or casonsei in the bergamasco dialect. Slightly sweet filled pasta dressed with sage and pancetta. Makes a generous 8 servings.
Casoncelli finished dish
For the pasta:-
400 g 00 flour
100 g durum wheat flour
Mix together all the ingredients along with enough water to make a dough. Knead until smooth. Let it rest for half an hour or so and then roll out into reasonably thick sheets. A hand cranked pasta machine will be a great help with this.
Panzerotti. From Bari. These are one of the most famous and popular dishes from Bari. They are deep fried pockets of dough stuffed with a variety of fillings. Two of the most common are mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and oregano and ricotta forte (also called skuanda), cherry tomatoes, onion and anchovies. Ricotta forte is a bit of a “Marmite” ingredient. By that I mean it is very strongly flavoured and you either love it or hate it. I am in the first camp, lovely stuff. Rather than cherry tomatoes, “appesi” are more traditional. These are small tomatoes which are picked when still not completely ripe and hung up for later consumption. As these are hard to find, you can use any type. I went to a party here and a lady was employed just to make panzerotti all evening. The last round was filled with Nutella! The size of the panzerotti varies, but I made 12 with this recipe.
For the pastry
500 g 00 flour
100 ml tepid milk
1 cube of fresh yeast
2 tablespoons of olive oil
10 g salt
Dissolve the yeast in the milk. Add the milk to the flour, oil and salt along with enough tepid water to make a smooth dough.
Oil the dough, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for up to 2 hours.
Separate the dough into 12 portions and roll into small balls. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for a further half an hour.
Panzerotti balls of dough
Take one ball of dough and roll it into a large disc. Place a large tablespoon of filling in the middle of each one. Fold the dough over to form a half moon shape. Press down well and try to exclude as much air as possible. Either fold over and crimp the edges or cut off the excess pastry with a pasty wheel and seal the edges with a fork.
Panzerotti ready to cook
Deep fry the panzerotti until they are lightly golden. Some people use extra virgin olive oil and some people use regular vegetable oil. You can also bake them in an oven at 200 °C for 15 minutes, but the result is quite different.
Panzerotti finished dish
200 g mozzarella
300 g cherry tomatoes
Chop and drain the tomatoes. Cube the mozzarella. Mix together with a generous amount of mozzarella.
Parmigiana di melanzane. From Puglia. This is a really common dish here. It takes a bit of time to prepare, so it tends to be a celebration dish. It’s worth the effort though. Lots of people, even Jamie Oliver, assume it’s a northern dish because of it’s name. It is in fact named after the cheese not the city and is a southern dish.He also says to grill the aubergines rather than fry them. I’ve tried it this way and although the dish is undoubtedly less calorific, I think the taste suffers considerably. The dish is claimed by Puglia, Campania and Sicily and possibly other regions as their own. I’ve seen similar recipes from the states called “eggplant lasagne” even though it contains no béchamel sauce or … erm … lasagne. Even though it’s a vegetarian dish it’s quite heavy so I wouldn’t recommend eating it too often. Serves at least 6 as a main course, many more as part of an antipasto.
Wash and dry the aubergines. Slice into 5 mm rounds. Dust with flour. Dip in the eggs and fry for a minutes in olive oil. Drain on kitchen paper.
Fry the clove of garlic in 4 table spoons of olive oil until it is brown. Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the garlic.
Cover the bottom of an oven proof dish with tomato sauce. Add a layer aubergines. Add a layer of mozzarella and then parmesan. Repeat until all the aubergine is used up. Finish with a layer of aubergines covered with tomato sauce and parmesan.
Bake for 1 hour at 200°c. If the top starts to get too brown, cover it with aluminium foil.
Polpettone pugliese. This is another recipe that I cook a lot. Other recipes cook the meatloaf in a tomato sauce, but this one roasts it dry. It uses minced veal, but if you can’t find it then minced beef will be fine. Italians don’t use the crated “white” variety anyway, so the veal is very pink. This is often served with roast potatoes. Serves 6.