Category Archives: Italy

Italian Cooking Class

I occasionally enjoy attending a cooking class at Johnson & Wales in Charlotte, or more easily at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill.  Last week I attended a class by Chef Guiliano Hazan, whose mother Marcella Hazan wrote one of the cookbooks I used during Italian cooking this summer!  Chef Hazan showed us how to prepare a complete Italian meal, 4 simple dishes with really good flavor. I apologize for the quality of some of these photos, we were sitting in a room without a lot of light. Also, by the time we got the food towards the end of the class, I was so hungry I just wanted to eat it!! :)

Our first course, or “Primo”, was Leek and Chickpea Soup with pasta, pancetta and pecorino cheese. I actually found the full recipe posted on Hazan’s own blog, so you can make it for yourself. The soup was tasty and smelled delicious while cooking, but I found it to be the least exciting of the dishes we tried at the class – even though I really enjoy all these components together. What I found most useful about this demonstration was the chef’s treatment of leeks. If you’ve ever cooked with leeks you know that they can be very dirty, and the dirt is within the inner layers so it can be pretty hard to clean. Chef Hazan showed us how to slice the leeks to the desired size and just swish them all around in a large bowl of cold water.  As it sits for a few minutes, the dirt is washed out of the leeks and drops to the bottom of the bowl. Then you can lift the leeks from the top of the bowl, shake them off to drain and add them to your dish.

That’s one of the best benefits of attending a cooking class, not the actual recipes (which you can find online or in cookbooks), but the many tips and techniques that chefs have learned through cooking school or from their own experience.  The other great tip I learned at this class was how to wash parsley. It sounds like an easy thing, I know, but washing and chopping parsley can be a very messy job if you don’t dry the parsley completely before chopping. Chef Hazan showed us how he picks off the flat-leaf parsley leaves from the stems, then briefly rinses the parsley leaves.  He then places them on a layer of paper towel, covers with another paper towel and rolls them up into a cylinder.  He then rolls that cylinder back and forth on a cutting board or other surface to aid in absorbing all the extra moisture from the parsley.  After it is dried in this way, parsley is clean but dry and can be chopped very finely for use in various dishes.

Our “secondo” or second course, was Beef Chuck Braised in Milk, and Zucchini Sauteed with Fresh Mint.  The beef recipe was absolutely delicious, and I will DEFINITELY be making this one at home this winter!  It turned out like a very tender and savory pot roast, the milk making a lovely carmelized and flavorful brown sauce. I’ve included the link above to this recipe from “Every Night Italian” – available in Google books.  The zucchini recipe is similar to a recipe I made out of Guiliano’s mother’s cookbook earlier this summer, the full recipe is also on their blog.

Finally, our dessert for the evening was a Chocolate and Amaretti Custard.  This was a homemade egg custard with crushed Amaretti cookies and semi-sweet chocolate stirred into the hot custard to incorporate prior to chilling.  A deliciously sweet end to the evening. This recipe is also available on Google books from the link above. Overall, it was a great evening and tasty meal!


Two Cream Sauces

Even though it’s now August, there’s one more set of Italian recipes I wanted to share – a tomato vodka cream sauce and a roasted red pepper sauce. Both can be served with whatever pasta you prefer, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Tomato Vodka Sauce
3 c. marinara sauce
1 c. vodka
1/2 c. cream
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together the marinara and vodka, then simmer to reduce by 25% in volume. Stir in cream and heat through. Remove from heat and stir in cheese, season with salt and pepper.

From: Everyday Italian, by Giada de Laurentis

Roasted Pepper Sauce
2 yellow peppers
2 red peppers
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1/4 c. cream
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c. grated Parmesan

Rub peppers with olive oil, then roast in 425F oven for about 30 minutes, turning to brown all around. Place in a plastic bag and let rest for 20 minutes. Peel the peppers, remove seeds, and slice.

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a pan and saute garlic briefly. Add peppers and saute to combine flavors, around 5 minutes. Puree peppers and garlic in blender or food processor. Return the puree to the pan and bring to a simmer. Add cream, season with salt and pepper to taste, and heat through. Toss with pasta and serve sprinkles with cheese and fresh oregano.

From: The Italian Farmer’s Table

Chickpeas, Spinach and Bacon pasta

This is a relatively quick cooking pasta dish, perfect for a weeknight meal. The bacon gives it a nice flavor, but it’s also pretty healthy with the mixture of beans and greens. I adjusted the recipe to use frozen instead of fresh spinach, and bacon instead of pancetta – because both of those are easier to get at any grocery store. It also called for pecorino cheese, which I don’t really like, so I used Parmesan instead. My friends know that I LOVE me some chickpeas/garbanzos/ceci whatever you want to call them! This dish is definitely a ‘keeper’ – leftovers were even good cold from the fridge, like a pasta salad.

Chickpeas, Spinach and Bacon Pasta
3 garlic cloves, sliced
3 slices bacon, chopped
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 can chickpeas, drained
5 oz. chopped frozen spinach
6 oz. dried pasta (shells, macaroni, bowties)

Bring a pot of salted water to boil, and cook pasta. In the meantime, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a non-stick skillet, and brown the garlic slices for a couple of minutes. Then add bacon and saute for a few minutes to release the fat and brown slightly. Add pepper flakes and stir briefly, then add chickpeas and spinach. Stir and simmer for a few minutes. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, then add 1/4 c. of the pasta water and simmer for a few minutes more. When the pasta is finished, drain it and add to the pan with the chickpea sauce.  Sprinkle with Parmesan or other favorite cheese. Serves 2.

Adapted from: Lidia’s Italy, by Lidia Bastianich

Limoncello delights

Some of you may know that I don’t like coffee or even coffee-flavored items <gasp!> so tiramisu is a dessert that I don’t eat.  I came across a recipe for limoncello tiramisu and decided to give it a try – a tiramisu I could actually enjoy!  It’s fairly easy to make, you boil a limoncello flavored syrup for a few minutes, and you make a lemon custard. Once everything is cool, ladyfingers are dipped in the syrup and layered with the custard.

The recipe I used was from the cookbook Lidia’s Italy – and is actually available from her website:   It packs a punch, as my co-workers and I found out when I brought this dessert to our lunch together :)  I was starting to wonder if I might get in trouble for bringing this dessert to work!

Limoncello is a lemon-flavored liqueur from Italy. Now that I have a partial bottle remaining, I have to figure out what else I can do with the stuff ;)  Last night, I tried this limoncello cosmopolitan with cran-raspberry juice, vodka and limoncello that turned out pretty good.

I’m thinking of trying a Limoncello Raspberry Float tonight –  It seems “meant to be”, since I already have both vanilla ice cream and raspberry gelato in my freezer at the moment. Something to look forward to at the end of another hot hot day (104 degrees) in Raleigh!



Butternut Squash Strudel

Strudel is typically a dessert, but in this case it’s filled with butternut squash and leeks as a side dish. The whole wheat pastry is fall-apart crumbly, but easy to make and flavorful. Because the pastry is so tender, it’s a little difficult to handle or move it, so I recommend that you line the baking pan with parchment paper so that you can easily lift it after baking and transfer to a serving dish. This will minimize breakage. But any unsightly cracks in the strudel will be easily overcome by the deliciousness of this dish!  This is the second installment of recipes that I made for my co-workers, and they all loved this one.

Butternut Squash Strudel
2 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 sticks (1/2 lb.) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. ice water

1 butternut squash
2 Tbsp. butter
3 leeks, sliced thinly
1/4 c. parsley, chopped
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

In an electric mixer, whisk together flour and salt. Add pieces of butter and mix until crumbs are about the size of peanuts. Add water gradually and blend until the dough starts to come together. Knead together to form a disc and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour or more.

Cut the squash in half, remove seeds, and rub the cut surfaces with olive oil. Place flesh side down on a baking sheet and roast at 425F for 40 minutes. Set aside to cool, then scoop out flesh and mash it up in a bowl. Saute the leeks in butter until translucent. Mix in with butternut squash, and add other filling ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.

Roll out the dough (may need to thaw it a bit first) until slightly less than 1/4-inch thick, in a rectangle. Place the dough on a piece of parchment paper before filling. Spread the filling down the middle and wrap up either side and pinch to close together. Pinch the ends closed too. The filling is pretty dry, so it doesn’t matter if there are a few cracks or it doesn’t seal completely.

Lifting with the parchment paper, place the strudel on a baking pan, and bake at 375F for about 30 minutes. Let cool, then slice and serve at room temperature.

Adapted from: The Italian Farmer’s Table

Rosemary roasted pork with Fig sauce

Last week, I made a meal for my library co-workers. On the menu was roasted pork with a port wine and fig sauce, penne pasta with roasted pepper sauce, whole wheat strudel with butternut squash and leek filling, and limoncello tiramisu. Others brought bread and caprese salad to round out the meal. If only we had a siesta break it would have been perfect!

The roasted pork was my favorite part of the meal, this roast turned out to be particularly succulent. Though I must say that just about anything would taste good slathered with this port wine and fig sauce – yum!  I’m still eating leftovers, so I’ll share more about the other recipes in additional posts this week.

Roasted Pork
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil

These were mixed together and slathered all over the outside of a full (4-5 lb.) pork loin. The oven was preheated to 425F, and the pork roasted for about 1 hour (time depends on size of loin). Turn it over every 10-15 minutes to get nicely browned on all sides. You’ll know it’s done when the internal temperature reaches 145F. Remove it from the oven and let it rest covered with foil for 20 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile, add 1 c. chicken broth to the roasting pan to deglaze and get all the yummy bits off the bottom of the pan. Pour some of this broth back over the pork after it is sliced up. Then drizzle with the fig sauce (below).

Port Wine and Fig Sauce
2 1/2 c. port wine
1 1/4 c. chicken broth
8-12 dried figs (about 3 oz., or 1/2 c. prior to chopping)
2 cinnamon sticks
2 fresh sprigs of rosemary
1 Tbsp. honey
2 Tbsp. butter

Chop up the figs. Mix together the wine, broth, figs, cinnamon, rosemary and honey in a saucepan and boil it gently (more than a simmer, but not bubbling over) for 30-40 minutes – until it is reduced by half or more. Remove the rosemary sprigs and cinnamon sticks. Place the sauce in a small food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add the butter, and season to taste with salt and pepper. If you’re not using it right away, keep refrigerated and re-warm it before serving.

Adapted from: Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentis

Chicken Roulade and Gnocchi

Here are two items I made this week – chicken roulade stuffed with a mashed vegetable filling, and goat cheese ricotta gnocchi in a walnut butter sauce. These don’t look particularly colorful together on the plate – but along with a side salad they made a tasty meal together.

Gnocchi are typically made with potatoes, but ricotta cheese gnocchi are especially rich and flavorful. I first ran into these at the Italian restaurant chain Maggiano’s, where they serve the ricotta gnocchi with a tomato vodka cream sauce – wow! [That reminds me, I need to make that sauce too sometime before the end of the month :)]

This gnocchi recipe uses a mixture of goat cheese and ricotta for a stronger flavor. The ingredients are mixed into a soft dough, rolled into a snake shape and cut into piece. The pieces are then rolled over a small grater to make an unique shape. It will take a little practice to get this right!

Goat Ricotta Gnocchi
3/4 c. goat cheese
1 c. ricotta
1 c. flour
6 Tbsp. butter
1/3 c. chopped walnuts
1 Tbsp. chopped thyme
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together the goat cheese, ricotta and flour and knead the dough until it doesn’t stick to a wooden surface. You may need to add a little more flour, depending on the type of flour and the climate. [I actually made this batch a bit sticky, as you can see from the picture of the completed product, which kind of melted together somewhat…]

Roll out the dough about 1-inch thick, and then slice small pieces about 1/4-inch pieces. Roll the pieces over a small grater to form a consistent shape. Place onto a flour-coated sheet and put in the fridge until you’re ready to boil. Boil a pot of salted water, then add the gnocchi. They only need to cook briefly, about 1-2 minutes until the gnocchi float back to the top of the water. Drain while you make the sauce.

Make the walnut butter sauce by melting butter in a saucepan, then add walnuts and thyme for about 30 seconds, add a couple Tbsp. of pasta water and mix well to make a sauce.  Add the gnocchi to the pan and stir to mix and coat with sauce. Then serve immediately.

The chicken roulade was supposed to be made with chicken breasts, but I had some frozen thighs that I wanted to use – so I adapted it. They don’t turn out as pretty with thighs, but tasted delicious.  The basic concept of this recipe is to cook cabbage and other vegetables together for a long time over low heat, then puree into a mashed vegetable mixture that is used to stuff the chicken. It is then sealed up in aluminum foil and baked.

Chicken Roulade
4 boneless chicken thighs
olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small carrot, diced
4 c. shredded cabbage
1 Tbsp. thyme
1 Tbsp. parsley
1/4 c. water
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion, celery and carrot in olive oil over medium heat for about 5-6 minutes, until tender. Then add the cabbage and herbs and continue to saute until it wilts. Turn the heat way down, add 1/4 c. water and cover to simmer over very low heat for about 30 minutes, adding more water as necessary to keep from sticking.

Preheat the oven to 425F. Butterfly and pound the thighs thin, set aside.

Puree the vegetables with cream and salt and pepper to taste. Use this paste to stuff the thighs or breasts and roll them up, sealing in aluminum foil. [There will be some stuffing leftover, use it to serve with the roulade as a sauce.] Place in a baking dish and bake at 425F for 30-35 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool, then slice and serve.

Both recipes Adapted from: The Italian Farmer’s Table