Castello cheese – Italian style! – and a giveaway in honour of the movie Burnt

I usually need to remind myself not to go grocery shopping hungry – I buy everything! – but for this blog post, I’m introducing a new rule: don’t go to the movies hungry. Particularly if you go see Burnt, the new movie out with Bradley Cooper staring as a fallen top chef trying to recapture his career. The food in this movie will definitely make your stomach growl. I was invited to see it by Castello cheese who sent me the lovely prize pack below AND has one available for one of my readers!

Among other things in the prize pack, there is Castello Brie cheese, creamy and gooey especially when warmed up and a great base for a number of flavours. Today I’ve topped my brie with classic Italian flavours – pesto, tomatoes, olive oil and pine nuts. More about that below, but first, how to win your own Castello cheese prize pack.


I love it when I can give away something to a blog reader. I so appreciate your feedback and support (and passion!) for the recipes and postings I feature here. And if Castello wants to share some cheese to celebrate their featuring in the Burnt movie, well, let’s get you entered to win! Here’s what’s in the prize pack:

Movie tickets for two including one popcorn and two drinks;
Castello Brie cheese;
a bottle of olive oil;
Burnt movie inspired recipe cards; and
$2o in Castello cheese vouchers!

How to enter:
Leave a comment on this blog post (below) telling me your favourite Italian dish that includes cheese. Be sure to use your real first name and email when leaving a comment. You have until Thursday, November 19th at 12:00am. For a second entry, like or comment on An Italian Canadian Life on Facebook within the same time period.

This giveaway is open from Thursday, November 12th, 2015 until Thursday, November 19th, 2015 at 12:00AM EST and is only open to Canadian addresses. The winner will be chosen randomly via, contacted via email, and have 48 hours to respond. You will need to provide a street address (not a P.O. Box) and a phone number to claim the prize.

Now what to do with that prize pack when you get it? Enjoy the cheese. While my home cooking may not be as gourmet as featured in Burnt (seriously, who can design plates like that! And I need more than one bite of cheese!), we Italians sure know how to add flavour. These small Castello Brie packages are perfect for an appetizer for two. Pop it in a ramekin for baking and top it with your favourite Italian ingredients and you are ready to go. It’s that easy. Here’s what you’ll need:

1-2 teaspoons basil pesto
2 sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon pine nuts
Olive oil
Good crusty bread, sliced and toasted


By |12/11/2015|Mangia|25 Comments

Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Risotto Recipe

The last year has been all about change. With the arrival of our little one, everything in life changed. And then jobs changed and even how we spend our free time. I’ve been thinking about change a lot lately and find myself making small changes everywhere these days, even in cooking. And when it comes to food I’m the type of person who wanders grocery aisles to find new products and ideas. When I go on vacation, a must stop is always the grocery store. From trying something completely new to taking a twist on an old favourite, that’s the best part of cooking.

Take risotto for example: I’m used to the way we’ve always made it, like this Asparagus Risotto. Then there’s this knock-out super-traditional and ultra-technical Milanese Risotto. But small changes to either of these recipes can bring you something completely new. So when a pile of mushrooms went on sale at the store, I tried a few new ones that I wouldn’t normally use in Italian cooking, like shiitake, and went to the rice aisle for another small change: carnaroli rice.

Mushroom Risotto Recipe

You’ve seen me use Arborio rice for risotto, but there’s actually a few other types of Italian starchy rices like carnaroli and Vialone nano. Carnaroli rice is preferred for risotto is some regions in Italy. It is shorter and wider than Arborio, but can be used much the same. Trying it out for this recipe, I found that the grains held their shape more in the end dish, but it wasn’t necessarily creamier than the usual Arborio.

It’s a small change but often that’s how you find your perfect recipe. Like when Nonno started using Yukon Gold potatoes to make colluri, he claimed they made the doughnuts fluffier. A little tweak never hurts (though I wouldn’t change the colluri recipe, ever!). What small change have you made to a recipe only to find it made it even better? Let me know in the comments!

Mushroom Risotto Recipe

Mushroom Risotto
6 cups chicken stock (or 3 mushroom bouillon cubes dissolved in 6 cups of water)
2 cups cannaroli rice
4 cups mixed chopped mushrooms
1 minced onion
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese


By |28/10/2015|Primo, Recipes|0 Comments

Autumn Vegetable Pasta al Forno – and a CorningWare giveaway!


While the trees on my street are turning colours of orange and yellow, there’s just one maple tree down the road that is a vibrant, almost neon, red. I love it. The colours are a wonder during fall and even my son, cozy in his stroller, is staring at the trees to take it all in. With the last few vegetables of the season, those colours are in the kitchen too – deep purple, vibrant reds and pinks and bright yellows. Today, I’m using all those colours to make one of my staple dishes this time of year – pasta al forno with eggplant and beans.

Of course, when World Kitchen sent me this crazy-coloured 4-Pc Bakeware set from CW by CorningWare, I thought, what a great opportunity to add even more colour into the kitchen and give my readers a chance to win one of their own! I am so happy with the colour of these dishes, practically all the bakeware I have is white (go ahead and look back at my other recipes!) and I don’t see why everything needs to be white. Certainly our vegetables and trees aren’t that boring. If you want to make your kitchen colourful – scroll to the bottom of this recipe for all the details on how to win a  2.5 Quart Vermillion Baker from CW by CorningWare (Retail value $21.99).


You might be thinking: “but autumn vegetables are butternut squash and pumpkin.” That’s certainly what you’ll see on many food blogs this time of year, but for Italians autumn is also the bounty of the season, bushels of all our favourite vegetables abound. We’re still enjoying and preserving eggplants, tomatoes and romano beans, in fact these vegetables in the photos came out of my garden just this week. This dish is kind of a take on the Sicilian traditional dish of “pasta alla norma” which involves fried strips of eggplant and ricotta. In this version the eggplant and beans add a creamy texture to the pasta, making it rich and filling. Baking pasta also means a crispy and cheesy top layer – that’s the bits we fight over at this house, everyone wants the crispy pasta.

If you haven’t tried pasta “al forno” (baked), now’s the time. And scroll to the bottom to find out how to be entered for your own colourful CorningWare!

Pasta_al_forno_for autumn

Autumn Vegetable Pasta al Forno
7 medium tomatoes, peeled and seeded OR 1 796 ml can of peeled tomatoes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 Sicilian eggplant, peeled and cut into cubes
250g romano beans, shelled
500g pasta
100g mozzarella, shredded
30g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons tomato paste


By |08/10/2015|Primo, Recipes|18 Comments

Preserving Romano Beans


If you love Italian food and love to eat local, fresh food all year, I can’t imagine a busier season than fall. All the plants produce their last burst of vegetables and fruit and you can pick them up by the bushel-full at some farmer’s markets. That’s exactly what you’ll find Italians doing at least. Once tomato passata is packed away, it’s time to see what else we can store and freeze to have for the winter. Lately, in addition to recipes, I’m trying to record our ways of preserving and uses of those preserves like green tomatoes and eggplants.

There is some preserving we don’t do anymore, like peas. I remember going to pick bushels of peas with my parents and grandparents and spending long hours on the front porch shucking them from their pods. (Though I ate more than I contributed to the bowl of peas destined for the freezer.) Now with local farms offering flash frozen bags for just a few dollars, it’s hard to justify all the work. I’d rather just spend the time eating peas fresh. But romano beans, also known as cranberry beans, aren’t so common that you would find them already done. But they are a staple of many Italian dishes, from pasta to mashes, soups and stews. I love the deep pink hues on the pods and beans when they are fresh. Cooked up, they are creamy and hearty. Here’s how to preserve a stash for the winter…


First you’ll need to pick out your romano beans. You want pods that are a vibrant pink, but not purple (those are almost ready to be used as seeds). The pods should be full – that is you can feel each bean fully – and with very few black splotches on the outside. Take your beans home and immediately spread them out for at least two days on blankets or towels , this softens the shells so they are easier to split open after they dry a bit.


By |30/09/2015|Conservare (preserving), Recipes|1 Comment

Jarring your own tomato sauce base (passata) – the Italian way!


If you’ve seen a few neighbours toiling away late at night over a pot of tomato sauce in their garage, you know it’s tomato season.

Every year, Italian families gather together to get the key pantry staple for their house ready for the winter. Canned, or jarred, tomatoes. If you don’t do this often, this massive undertaking seems a bit mysterious and I’ve been asked by friends and neighbours, “how” and “why??” for years. Here’s a bit of insight into how it’s done:

Italians take their food ingredients seriously: freshness and seasonality are two key tenets to this. When vegetables, or meats, are in season they need to be preserved for the winter so we always have that taste of fresh tomatoes whenever we put a pot of sauce on (or the multitude of other dishes that tomatoes can be used for).

There’s a few different ways that tomatoes can be preserved in jars. My preferred method is plum tomatoes: taking heirloom tomatoes, seeding and peeling them, jarring and boiling the jars. When used later these tomatoes need to be broken down through cooking or blending. Some people also put fresh small tomatoes in jars and bake the jars. (I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m told it works).


Below though, is the most common process, using San Marzano tomatoes. These small tomatoes are treasured for their flavour and “meatiness”, that is that they have a lot of flesh so you don’t loose a lot of vegetable when you remove the core and seeds. In this process, the base to tomato sauce (passata) is made by cooking the tomatoes, crushing them and jarring. These jars can rest in a cool place for up to 2 years and when broken open are used to make sauce for pasta, though you’ll add in meat or other vegetables and continue to slow cook until you get a thick and flavourful sauce.


While Italians do this by the bushel-ful, the same process can be used for any number of tomatoes, so even if you only want to make a few jars.
Here’s what you’ll need:
– San Marzano tomatoes
– Fresh basil leaves
– sterilized glass mason jars and lids
– a large pot (and heat source like a stove or outdoor burner)
– a few large bowls
– a tomato crushing machine
– knives, funnel, ladle, jar handler
– towels, lots of towels


Wash all of the tomatoes and lay them out on old towels or tablecloths to dry a bit. Using a paring knife, core tomatoes, remove any seeds (this can add a sour taste to your sauce) and cut the tomatoes in half or quarters. The more people you have, the faster this process is.

Cook the tomato pieces in a large pot (do not add any other ingredient or any water, they will make their own as they break down), for about 30-45 minutes.


By |04/09/2015|Recipes, Salse (sauces)|3 Comments

Mixed Summer Vegetables with Cornbread (Impanata di Verdure)


This dish is one hot mess. But delicious! I mean, look at it. Not exactly the most appealing thing you can cook, but it’s my favourite vegetable dish. It’s super tasty with minimal seasoning, showcasing what a home garden or farmers market can grow with love. This was a specialty of my Nonno’s – his garden yielded all the vegetables needed to get this dish in motion. And it was his cornbread he made in the early mornings that he’d add in.

“Impanata” traditionally means “breaded” or “to bread” something like meat cutlets or eggplant. In that process, the meat or vegetable is coated in flour, egg, then a breadcrumb mixture that includes seasoning and cheese. Check out my “fettini”/veal cutlets recipe for an example. However, in the case of this mixed vegetable dish, “impananta” means to mix in bread, in a way to fortify the dish and make it a bit more substantial. The bread used is “frizzini”, made when fresh hearty bread rounds (like cornbread) are sliced in two and dried out slowly in the oven. This was a method of preserving bread when ingredients were scarce. The bread can then be eaten hard or reconstituted with water, oil, soup or when added to a dish like this “impanata” I’m featuring today. You can make your own frizzini or purchase them at any good Italian food store.


For the vegetables: look for the first tender garden produce, or young vegetables to get this recipe right: shiny small eggplant, young zucchini, and flat beans where the bean itself isn’t fully grown and plump yet. Add these into a pan for a little slow cooking and it’s vegetable heaven on your plate. Nothing says “summer garden fresh” more than this dish. I eat it as a main, but it works as a side dish as well, you just might have to convince your family or guests to take a bite first. Yes, it’s not pretty but it has all the things Italians love: fresh vegetables, slow cooking, using what you’ve got (the bread!) and eating as a family. This recipe makes enough for 6-8 people, but if you have leftovers just crisp them up in a frying pan the next day.


Mixed Summer Vegetables with Cornbread (Impanata di Verdure)
3-4 frizzini (dried bread)
3/4 lb Italian flat beans
1 yellow onion (or one bunch green onions)
1 19oz can plum tomatoes (or 5-6 fresh, peeled and seeded tomatoes)
2 small eggplants
1 medium zucchini
5-6 large basil leaves, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
(optional: red peppers or hot peppers, seeded and thinly sliced)


By |17/08/2015|Contorno (sides and snacks), Recipes|1 Comment