Procello e Gelato

 




Limoncello is usually enjoyed as a digestive, at the end of the meal, but it can also be served as an aperitif.  The origins of limoncello are unclear; the authorship of the recipe of this famous liqueur is, in fact, contested between three splendid places in Campania; Amalfi, Capri and Sorrento. These places are famous because of the abundance of fragrant lemon trees and for a production of Limoncello handed down for generations. There are several popular stories and legends that tell the birth of this famous liqueur.


The origins of limoncello date back to the early 1900s, in a small guesthouse on the Azure Island of Anacapri. On this island Mrs. Maria Antonia Farace cared for a garden rich in lemons and oranges. A relative opened a catering business and presented Limoncello as the specialty of the house made with the ancient recipe of the grandmother. Later a small artisan production of Limoncello was registered as a brand. Also simultaneously, in Amalfi and Sorrento were born the first legends and the first stories about the traditional production of this famous yellow liqueur. The story in fact tells that the great Sorrento families never let guests miss a taste of the then experimental limoncello. In the city of Amalfi there are even those who claim that the origins of limoncello are even older.

This legend tells that limoncello was used by fishermen and peasants especially in the morning to fight the cold. Finally, there are those who claim that the first recipe was born inside a monastery to delight the friars between prayers. Beyond all these narratives, limoncello has now become a pride of Campanian and Italian culture. Furthermore, in order to defend against imitations, its name has been guarded by the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI). Therefore, the real and original limoncello is the one produced in the Sorrentino territory and only in some areas of Campania.

The success of an impeccable limoncello lies precisely in the quality of lemons that, on the Amalfi coast, abound and are characterized by large dimensions, an elliptical shape, a wrinkled, thick, fragrant, and bright yellow skin. The skins are rich in essential oils that give limoncello its scent and unique and decisive taste. It’s important to pick the first

flowering lemons because they are richer in flavor, collected preferably at dawn when the scents are more concentrated. Limoncello is made with untreated lemon peel whose alcohol content ranges between 20% and 32% vol. A sweet liqueur, with a characteristic yellow color, which is obtained by letting the lemon peels macerate in pure alcohol with the addition of a syrup based on water and sugar.

 


Prosecco is one of the most loved Italian white wines in the world. Suitable for celebrating important holidays and occasions, Prosecco is today considered an excellent accompaniment for any meal, thanks to its fruity aroma and slightly sweetened flavor. Prosecco owes its name to a small town near the city of Trieste where it is grown, and the former name of the region's primary grape variety. The main grape used to make Prosecco is a white grape called Glera which gives Prosecco its characteristically fresh and aromatic flavor. A thin-skinned green grape grown in the Veneto and Friuli regions of northern Italy for hundreds of years. The Glera base wine may be mixed with a small quantity of other grape varieties to give further complexity to the final product. All Proseccos must be at least 85 per cent Glera grapes blended with other local grape varieties such as; Verdiso, Perera, and Bianchetta, or even Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay. Most Proseccos are blends, but after a really exceptional harvest some winemakers produce ‘pure’ Prosecco, made from 100 per cent Glera grape.

Prosecco sparkling wine may have only been catapulted to fame in recent years, but it has a history going back many hundreds of years. North Eastern Italy has produced wine for millennia and many of its vineyards were already well established when the area was colonized extensively by the Greeks around 800 BC. The Glera grape is believed to be of Slovenian origin and was probably cultivated in the vineyards of the Italian village of “Prosecco” in Trieste which shares a border with Slovenia. It is believed to have been referred to by the Romans of the area, as far back as 200 BC, as “Pucino”. The first documented mention of Prosecco comes in a poem written in 1754 by Aureliano Acanti.

On the nose Prosecco has fruity and floral notes; in the mouth it is dry and decisive, excellent to taste with antipasti of prosciutto, salami, and cheeses. Prosecco can also be used to make cocktails, to cook savory dishes especially risotto, and to be enjoyed as is.

Limoncello and Prosecco are always available in my refrigerator.  I love to experiment using them in savory dishes and sharing these dishes with my students or clients. Here is a simple drink or it can even be considered a dessert that can be made any time of the year. I have named it “Procello e Gelato”, enjoy it!

 

Procello e Gelato

1½ ounces Limoncello

3 ounces Prosecco

1 scoop of lemon gelato or Sorbet

1 slice lemon

Sugar for garnish, optional

Prepare sugar rim by rubbing the rim of a chilled martini glass with lemon juice, then dipping it in sugar.

Scoop the gelato or sorbet into chilled glass.  Add a shot of Limoncello, and slowly top with prosecco. Serve with a spoon.

EASTER IN ITALY – TORTA PASQUALINA

Torta Pasqualina 


Easter is one of the most celebrated holidays in Italy. The Sunday before Easter, families return home with blessed olive branches from churches (in the absence of palm trees).  Holy Week begins. Thursday commemorates the anniversary of the Last Supper. Good Friday is the day of the Way of the Cross where streets light up with torches and processions. On Saturday, at midnight, bells toll to announce the Renaissance. Sunday the most important day, eggs, sweets, and chocolate are shared. Easter Monday became a holiday on the national calendar during the post-war period, to prolong the spring break.

Here are some of the traditional Italian Easter Pastries and cakes:

La Columba:

La Columba (The Dove) is a traditional classic Italian Easter cake. It is a rich fluffly cake made with high-quality flour, farm fresh eggs, sugar, butter, and natural yeast that takes at least 30 hours to rise. After rising, the dough is then baked into the iconic dove shape and lastly topped with pear sugar and almonds. The dove represents the symbol of peace.

La Pastiera:

The emblematic Neapolitan Pastiera sweet cake originating in Naples and known and appreciated throughout Italy. La Pastiera is made with short crust pastry, ricotta, eggs, orange blossom, and durum wheat cooked in milk to create a custard like consistency. It is prepared on Thursdays and Fridays of the Holy Week.

La Scarcella:

In Puglia, the local tradition offers Scarcella, a typical round-shaped cookie type dessert.  A white or colored hard-boiled egg is incorporated or woven in the dough with a white glaze on top. In ancient times the egg was considered a symbol of the union between earth and sky attributing to it the cosmic meaning of the symbol of new life.

La Torta Pasqualina:

The Ligurian Torta Pasqualina was established in the early 1400s as a savory preparation associated with Easter symbolism. It is a savory cake filed with eggs prepared to celebrate Easter and spring. It is one of the most famous and ancient recipes of the Ligurian cuisine. The pastry dough was originally composed of 33 layers, a reference to the years of Jesus. The eggs represent renewal, a wish for fruitfulness and the awakening of nature.


Alba’s Torta Pasqualina (Easter Pie)

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 ½ pounds fresh Swiss chard or spinach, blanched

1 tablespoon minced fresh marjoram

1-pound whole ricotta, drained overnight

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano

2 pieces ready-made puff pastry (thawed in frig)

6 whole eggs, divided

 

1.        Blanch the Swiss chard or spinach for a few minutes in salted boiling water. Strain well and squeeze any remaining liquid with your hands.  

2.        In a large skillet, add 3 tablespoons olive oil, the minced garlic; cook about a minute on low heat.  Add the Swiss chard or spinach, salt, pepper, and marjoram. Cook 2-3 minutes on medium heat until the vegetable is completely dry.  Cool slightly.

3.        In a large bowl, whip the strained ricotta with a wooden spoon about a minute. Add the vegetable mixture; mix well and season with salt and pepper.  Add half of the grated cheese in the filling mixture.

4.        Place a piece of parchment paper on a work surface. Add a little flour on top and with a rolling pin; stretch each puff pastry to fit the size of your pie pan.  Place the first puff pastry on the pie pan.  Prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork. Add the ricotta mixture.  Top with remaining grated cheese. Make 5 indentations with a tablespoon around the pie to make room for 5 whole eggs.  Crack a whole egg and place one in each indentation.  Sprinkle with pepper.  Drizzle a drop or two of olive oil on top of each egg.

5.        Place the second puff pastry dough on top of the pie. Before cutting the extra puff pastry that is extending over the baking dish, leave about ½ inch hang.  Fold the bottom and top puff pastry layers toward the inside of the pan, closing the entire pie.  Cut a tiny hole in the middle of pie.

6.        Beat remaining egg and lightly brush over the top of the pie. Bake about 50 minutes in a preheated 350F oven.  The pie should be golden on top.  Allow to rest 10-15 minutes before serving.  

 Chef Tip: be sure the puff pastry is cold when you work with it.


 

 

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Valentine Risotto al Prosecco Pere e Pecorino

 


 

There are two differing folk tales about St. Valentine according to legend and history. One of them was about a priest and martyr from the ancient Roman Empire. The other was a martyr and a bishop in Terni, Italy (Valentino da Terni).

The first legend, a priest dared to defy the order of Roman Emperor Claudius II. The emperor declared that Roman soldiers should not marry because he believed that single men made better and stronger soldiers. St. Valentine, a priest felt this decree was unjust.  He defied the emperor by performing marriage ceremonies in secret for Roman soldiers. This act of defiance angered the emperor, and he beheaded Valentine on February 14th.Valentine's faithfulness inspired many Roman men to marriage and in honor of him, they drew names of eligible ladies out of an urn during this holiday. Then the couple would pair off and spent the year getting to know one another, which often led to marriage. This custom spread across Europe.

The other legend, Valentino became a martyr because he wanted to protect others. During  the third century, Christians were being imprisoned, tortured, and beaten and sent to Roman prisons. Valentino could not bear to see this happen, so he plotted and succeeded in freeing many of these prisoners. This led to his imprisonment, where they decided to put   him to death. Before his murder took place, he met and befriended the jailer's daughter.    Legend says Valentino healed her from blindness and was capable of performing many   other miracles. He fell madly in love with this woman, and before he died, he wrote her a   letter and signed it, "from your Valentine," which took place in mid-February in A.D. 270 and   is believed to be why we endorse our cards this way today.

 Around the Middle Ages is when things began to evolve, it is believed that courtly love gained influence throughout Europe. Some celebrants found a more chivalrous and   cheerful way of explaining why Saint Valentine’s day should be a time to think about   romance. Romantic phrases and poems were written.

During the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century, the production of mass quantities of  consumer goods began to appear with greeting cards with romantic phrases and images  appearing on greeting cards. Cadbury’s heart-shaped boxes of chocolates emerged in the  1860s, Hershey’s Kisses in 1907, and Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards in 1913. All of which have still continued the Valentine’s Day traditions.

Valentine's Day 2021 offers the opportunity to celebrate this occasion with our loved one in a thousand different ways, but all linked to wanting to express feelings of love that binds   us to a special person. It is no coincidence that many choose to declare themselves on Valentine’s Day to amaze the person they love. There are also those who choose to make a marriage proposal and there is certainly no better day than Valentine's Day to ask your   sweetheart to marry you.

For a Valentine's Dinner at home, you can order something special from a takeaway restaurant, or choose to prepare a dinner together on that evening. You do not need to organize a complicated dinners to be romantic. I would like to treat you to a romantic dish that I hope you will prepare without too much fuss. This will leave more time for conversations and je ne c’est pas quois apres!  


Risotto is a traditional Italian rice dish made from a short-grained starchy variety of rice called Arborio rice. A well-cooked risotto should be soft and creamy. It shouldn't run across  the plate, nor should it be stiff or gluey. While not too difficult, I am adding essential detailed instructions that will make it easier to prepare this restaurant-worthy risotto in your kitchen.  The first step is to gather all ingredients and read all the instructions before beginning.

Risotto al Proseco Pere e Pecorino

Risotto al Prosecco Pere e Pecorino 

5 cups chicken stock, warm 

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons unsalted butter (divided)

1 medium shallot, minced 

1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

3/4 cup Prosecco (or dry white wine)

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

2 pears with skin on (1 diced, 1 sliced for decoration)

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

1 tablespoon roughly chopped Italian parsley

You will need: 1 wide thick-bottom pan, 1 wooden spoon, a medium broth pan, a ladle

Warm the broth: In a medium saucepan, heat the stock to a boil and immediately set the heat on low to simmer, so the stock stays warm while you cook the risotto.

Cook the shallot: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a wide thick bottom pan over low heat. Add the minced shallot; cook for 5 minutes or until softened and barely golden. Season.

Add the rice: Turn the heat up slightly; add the rice to the pan stirring it briskly with a wooden spoon to coat the grains with the oil and melted butter. Sauté stirring for 2-3 minutes until there is a slightly nutty aroma. The rice should be translucent. Do not let the rice turn gold or brown.

Add the wine: Add the Prosecco or wine and cook while stirring until the liquid is fully absorbed. When it is fully absorbed/reduced you can begin adding the broth.

Add the broth: Add a ladle of hot stock to the rice and stir until the liquid is fully absorbed (almost disappears). When the rice appears almost dry, add another ladle of stock, and repeat the process. Stir only when you add the stock, not constantly. Continue adding stock, a ladle at a time, for 15 minutes.

Add the pears: Add the diced pears; cook another 5-10 minutes or until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite, without being crunchy.

Finish the risotto: Off the heat, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the grated cheese, and parsley. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Divide into serving dishes, decorated with a slice or two of pear and freshly cracked pepper.


Chef Tip:
Should you run out of stock and the risotto is still crunchy, finish cooking it with hot water. Add the water a ladle at a time, stirring while it's absorbed.

 

 

 


Lentil Vellutata (velvety) in Red Wine and Panceta

 


It’s Soup Weather! 

Italy’s history and culture are entwined with its ancient heritage, and all Italians are immensely proud of their country and its amazing past. A love of music, art, good food and great wine is born into every native, and the enjoyment of life’s finer things is compulsory. Much of the country’s rural regions still have a traditional lifestyle and even the modernity of the great cities is touched by the iconic eras predating the present.

It's no surprise that Italians enthusiastically document the origin and history of their products associated with their regional culinary traditions. Lentils date back over 7000 years and are the oldest legumes in the world.  They are native to Mesopotamia and today they are grown all over the world. They come in many colors; from yellow that are popular in Indian, to green, red, orange, and the most popular the brown, used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Cuisines. In ancient and medieval times, lentils were consumed by the poor as a substitute for meat because they are an excellent source of protein, iron, and potassium.  Italy prides itself on the countless types of lentils grown in several regions. Most of the lentils are “BIO” which means they are organic.

 

Here are some documented types of lentils (lenticchie) grown in Italy by region:


  • Sicily: Lenticchie di Villalba are larger and have the highest level of iron and protein

 

  • Umbria: Lenticchie della piana di Castelluccio di Norcia, the skin is thinner and are more digestible

 

  • Abbruzzo: Lenticchie Di Santo Stefano Di Sessanio documented in 998 by a monastary, they found their ideal habitat and are dark purple

 

  • Lazio: Lenticchie dei Papi (lentils of the popes), papa Pio IX, after the loss of his power consoled himself with a plate of these local lentils

 

  • Marche: Lentichhie Rosse Del Montefeltro are red and brown color and present in Romans times

Hot soups have been served as a first course since ancient times. Soup is usually served in autumn or winter seasons, but there are no rules to say that we cannot eat soups in all seasons.  Making soup requires very little effort. It can be made with a few ingredients already in the pantry such as canned beans, spices, fresh herbs, an onion, and leftover vegetables. My husband calls me the “Soup Contessa” because I can impromptu create new soups from leftovers and pantry items without a recipe.

This Tuscan lentil soup is one of the most popular dish that is still appreciated and found in today’s restaurants, trattorias, and homes throughout this region. I recommend giving the lentils a few rinses in cold water before cooking.  The brown beans that are generally found in our grocery stores also need a good rinsing. I usually soak them for a few hours before I start cooking them.  They will get larger and will require a little less time to cook.

 

 

  Lentil Vellutata (velvety) in Red Wine and Panceta     

2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

2 ounces diced pancetta

1 medium sweet onion, minced

1 carrot, minced

1 celery stalk, minced

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 cup red wine, divided

8 ounces small lentils, rinsed                                                                        

2 bay leaves                                                                                       

6 ounces tomato sauce         

Salt and black pepper

Pinch red pepper flakes         

Pinch ground coriander to garnish

1.     In a large skillet on medium-low heat, add 2 tablespoons oil. Add the pancetta, onion, carrot, and celery and cook 8-10 minutes until soft and barely golden. Add ½ cup of wine and cook about 5 minutes to reduce the wine.

2.     Add the lentils; cook 10 minutes. Add ½ cup wine and reduce slightly.  Add the bay leaves, tomato sauce, and ½ cup of warm water or broth; Cover and cook 10-15 minutes or until the lentils are tender. Remove the bay leaves and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes as needed.

3.     Serve the soup in bowls with a thread of olive oil, and a sprinkle of ground coriander.

 

Limoncello Sugar Cookies

 

Limoncello Cookies 

(Yields 20-24 cookies)
1 stick cold unsalted butter  
1½ cups granulated sugar
1 egg
2 ½ cups organic all­-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons Limoncello
Zest of two large lemons
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Icing optional:
1 cup confectioner sugar
2 -3 tablespoons limoncello

 

Limoncello 

1.     Preheat oven to 350º F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

2.     In a food processor pulse the sugar and butter together until well blended. Add the egg and mix until well­ combined and creamy.

3.     In a bowl, stir in and mix flour, baking powder, salt, limoncello, lemon zest and lemon juice. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and pulse a few times.  Repeat two more times. Allow the mixture to sit about 3 minutes to allow lemon flavor to develop. Transfer to a bowl. If some butter should stick to the bottom of the processor, just take out and mix with the fork in the bowl.

4.     Scoop the cookie dough by the tablespoon full and roll into a ball.  You can also use a small scooper. Place cookie dough onto baking sheet, spacing about 1½­ inches to 2 inches apart. Lightly press each cookie down. Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden. Depending on thickness it may take a minute or two longer. Cool.

5.     If you like you can mix the confectioner sugar with limoncello to create a glaze.  When cookies are cool, drizzle over the cookies.

 

 Limoncello undoubtedly is one of the most famous and widespread liquors typical of the area of the Amalfi Coast. In Italy it is served as a digestive after meals. I like to prepare chicken, shrimp, and other seafood with a splash of Limoncello.  It is also used for desserts as in my recipe above, I replaced lemon juice with Limoncello. Since I am not a patient baker, I used the food processor to quickly pulse and bring the dough together within minutes to make these delicious cookies.  I like to serve them as is. If you prefer, you can add the glaze on top which is also very simple to make.  Then put that Limoncello back in the freezer for next time!

 

Spicy Ground Beef and Baharat Seasoning


Spicy Ground Beef and Baharat Seasoning 





Baharat seasoning mix: 
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground caraway
Spicy ground beef:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, minced
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 1/4-pound ground beef (85/15)
1 can (14.5 oz.) petite dice tomatoes
2 teaspoons Baharat Seasoning (above)
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
6-8 whole Romaine Lettuce leaves
Greek yogurt for serving, if desired

Baharat Seasoning: Mix together the ground coriander, ground cumin, ground cardamom, ground caraway, and turmeric with enough tepid water to make a paste; set aside. Note: Add 1 tablespoon of water at a time to a creamy paste.

Spicy ground beef:

1.     Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan over medium heat, add the onion, garlic, and ginger; sauté until the onion is softened, about 8-10 minutes. Remove the seasoned onions from the pan. Transfer to a bowl. Do not wipe the pan clean.

2.     Add the ground beef to the pan and increase heat to medium-high. Cook the beef, breaking it apart until the meat is cooked through and nicely browned.

3.     Add the canned tomatoes with juice. Cook 5 minutes. Add the seasoned onions. Let simmer about 15 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are well-softened. Stir in the Baharat seasoning and cook 2-3 minutes more.

4.     Turn off the heat; add the chopped cilantro and mint. Serve the spicy meat in lettuce leaves. Top with a dollop Greek yogurt if desired. You can also serve on Pita bread.



Spicy Ground Beef Baharat Seasoning in Lettuce Leaves


Baharat is a Middle Eastern blend of warming spices using spices that you probably already have in your pantry, creating a whole new unique dinner. Depending on the area of the Middle East there can be some variation of the spices. I added Baharat seasoning to browned ground beef and simmered with tomatoes for a simple yet exotic preparation. Once cooked you can place atop of lettuce leaf or pita bread with a dollop of yogurt.

 

 


Spice It Up Tzatziki



Tzatziki spices and Feta 




Tzatziki is a traditional Greek dish using thick Greek Yogurt and refreshing cucumbers. There are some variants of this recipe depending on the region of Greece. It is usually served as an accompaniment with gyros, kebabs, or pita bread. I created my own version because that’s what I like to do with recipes that interest me.  Since I love hummus so much, I used spices that I thought would go well with my version of Tzatziki. I served it with grilled Italian meatballs and grilled peppers and onions.  Ottimo we say in Italian!



3 small Persian cucumbers, divided
1 ½ cups full-fat Greek yogurt, strained
1 large clove garlic, mashed and minced
Pinch Sea salt
Black pepper to taste
Red pepper flakes to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons minced fennel greens (or fresh dill)
1-2 ounces Greek feta, cut in small cubes
Ground coriander for decoration
Ground cumin for decoration
Ground paprika for decoration  

The cucumber: Finely chop 2 cucumbers, no need to remove the skin. Transfer to a sieve, sprinkle with sea salt, and allow to drain about an hour in a bowl.  After an hour push down with a spatula to squeeze out any additional excess liquid.

Note: I used small Persian cucumbers because they have much fewer seeds and are tastier. You can also drink the cucumber juice, no need to throw it away.

The Yogurt: Place the yogurt in a small sieve over another bowl and allow to drain about an hour in the bowl.
Note: I used grass fed full-fat Greek Yogurt, more delicious!
Combine: in a larger bowl, combine the cucumbers, yogurt, minced herb, garlic, a tablespoon of olive oil, tiny pinch of salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes; mix well. Refrigerate for a few hours so the flavors will combine well.
Serve: Transfer the tzatziki to a round bowl, not too deep. Add a few kalamata olive in the center of the dish.  Then thinly slice 1 cucumber and place around the bowl. Add feta pieces on top, and sprinkle the top with paprika, cumin, and coriander. Lastly, adorn with a thread of excellent olive oil to finish the dish.