My grandfather used to sit out on his back patio, his legs stretched on a wobbly plastic chair, and “survey the land” (as I used to call it). After a long day working in his rather large backyard garden, there seemed to be nothing better than to enjoy the cool air of dusk, and the purple sky, while watching the garden shadows grow long.
And gardens do take a lot of work. Well, at least managing it the Italian way. We seed, prune and pluck, water diligently, tie and support, all to get the best out of our plants. My grandfather, and now me, never seemed to be the type of person to just “throw some seeds” and see what came.
And the result of all that work: a lot of vegetables. The first few tomatoes and peppers seem to come slowly and with great excitement surrounding their arrival. Then suddenly, sometime in August, it’s like the plants explode and the kitchen table is covered in vegetables and I’m scrambling to figure out what to do with them all. Here is one recipe that comes in handy during the summer bounty: tiella.
A traditional Southern Italian dish, tiella is a sort of baked casserole which, in some regions also includes mussels or some sort of seafood. In my family’s version though, vegetables are the star of the show. How else to best showcase all that hard work? Whether you just finishing picking in your own garden, or had a really successful shopping trip to the farmer’s market, break out your casserole dish and warm up the oven to have the best of summer all in one forkful.
4-5 medium tomatoes or 1 small can of plum tomatoes
1 medium zucchini (or two small zucchini)
1 red or yellow onion
4 medium potatoes
8 ounces flat green or yellow beans
fresh parsley or basil
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
I’m about to offer you one of the simplest – and best – of all my family recipes. It’s peas. Fried peas.
This recipe is so simple, and so second nature to me, I’ve been consistently forgetting to include it on the blog. But this spring, with fresh peas around the corner, I stuck a sticky note on the fridge to make sure I remembered to write this recipe down.
Now there’s two ways you can end this recipe: by making the peas juicy and moist (which most Nonna’s prefer) or by crisping up the peas just slightly for some texture (which is what my sister and I always preferred – though my mom complained we were burning them!). How you want to end it is up to you, but they will both taste great. Fresh peas or frozen will work just fine.
Fried peas were a go-to recipe for my sister and I growing up. Other than my sister’s tried and true pasta she always – ALWAYS – made when she was looking after me. We paired the peas with chicken cutlets or chicken fingers, or steaks. This is actually the only way I eat peas, other than raw, straight out of the pod which is my absolute favourite spring treat. I’ve never boiled them or steamed them, that seems rather boring. Or mashed them, what’s up with mushy peas?
At the same time, I’m aware some people might think – why fry peas? I’ll tell you why: flavour. Layered Italian flavours. Try them just once, and you’ll need to have them again. To this day, if fried peas are served at any family gathering, I always take the leftovers.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped onions
2 cups fresh or frozen peas
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 garlic cloves, minced or 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/4 cup water or chicken stock (1/2 cup if you’d like the peas a little wetter)
It’s Italian Heritage Month!
Oh the events to go to!! You’ll taste, see, dance, and celebrate all things Italian this month (it should be hard to miss). Just last week I was able to attend Castello Italia at Casa Loma in Toronto, which featured Italian blown glass artists, singers, food, musicians and so much more. It was a great way to kick off the month.
And many will take the month to extole the virtues of Italian food, but also poetry, art, architecture, music, cars, innovation, fashion…and the list goes on.
I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the blog and what it means to me this year, 5 years after it’s start, and one thing that always weighs on my mind is how much it turned in to just a food blog. I used to write more about what Italian-Canadian life was like: the traditions, values, and rituals that make us what we are and, of course, the food. At first I wanted to sure not to focus just on food, to reduce “Italian-ness” to just that. But overwhelmingly, my readers told me, it was the food they really fell for. There seems to be no better way to be immersed into another culture, or reminded of your one, then feeding your senses of sight, smell and taste all at the same time.
Over the past 5 years I’ve also had the privilege of working with a variety of Italia-Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs – newspapers and magazines, radio stations, food distributers, food retailers, museums and art galleries, national organizations, students and writers. I’ve gone dot events and seen Italian-Canadian celebrations of all things Italian (and Canadian) and talked to all kinds of people, of Italian-descent or otherwise, about what they love, and they speak passionately of it, about Italy and its’ people.
And going back to that list of Italian things to celebrate – cars, music, fashion, food and more – one thing becomes clear. It’s passion that sees each one of those Italian things through. Passion for speed and beauty brings us beautiful cars. Passion for simplicity, style and elegance brings us Italian fashion. Passion for family, flavours and nature brings us Italian food. We’re a people that don’t do things half-way. If we have the passion for it, we’re making it the best it can be.
So, it’s the same with this blog. Be it posts about being Italian or the best recipes I have from my family, it will be the best expression of Italian-ness that I can have. With all the passion I have.
Happy Italian Heritage Month everyone. Take the time to enjoy the blog, but also all the events happening across the country and online.
It’s been a while since I posted and for the first time, I’m re-doing a recipe. Not because the first version was wrong, but because now I can do it better. Pasta with Rapini was the first recipe I posted nearly 5 years ago and I posted it because it is my absolute favourite dish. Comfort food at it’s best. Simple Italian cooking. And it’s from my Dad’s hometown of Monteleone in Puglia. When I posted it, I had many people comment on how much they love this dish but also others that were excited to try it. And yet, it is still one that I only serve to immediate family – rapini (or broccoli rabe) can be hard to love if they are too bitter.
But mostly I’m posting this recipe re-do because back then, I was afraid to use the word “orecchiette” (the ear-shaped pasta featured in the pictures) and just called it “pasta.” I thought it would turn readers off but now I regret it – that’s the name of the dish and it’s authentic. Back then, I used a food processor to pulse together the garlic and anchovies that help flavour the recipe – partially because it was easier and partially because it was easier to explain. Now, I love doing things by hand, the way they were originally done. I don’t mind my garlic a little chunkier and I do love putting the little bit of work in. Also back then my photography skills were just emerging. I’ve come so far – and yet, am by no means professional – in showcasing the ingredients that find their way into my kitchen and it makes me much happier. This dish needed new photos desperately.
And finally, back then, my readers were mainly friends and family. With thousands of new blog readers a day and more than a thousand getting my recipes by email, it was time to make this favourite recipe a star of the show again. So if you haven’t had the chance to go back in the recipe archives, here’s the opportunity to see one of the best and give it a try. This is an Italian classic and it’s the reason I started this blog.
Orecchiette with Rapini
1 16oz package semolina orecchiette
1 bunch of rapini, coarsely chopped
3 anchovy fillets
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil as needed
grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese to taste
ground hot peppers (if desired)
I’m entering my fifth year of blogging (I started in early 2012) and it’s amazing to see how many people I’ve met online, how many things I’ve learned about Italian cooking from readers who ask all sorts of questions about ingredients and share their own recipes, and just how many of my family’s recipe I’ve gotten to write down. It’s time to look back at some of the more classic dishes I’ve served up – at least one from each year – that might have you thinking about more than just pasta when you think Italian food. Looking ahead, I’ll be taking on more of our sauces and seasonal foods, trying out some new photography techniques, and, with any luck, offering a few more contests. Most of all, for 2016, I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you. Let me know in the comments what recipes you are looking for, new or old! Happy New Year!
This has been by-far the most popular recipe on my blog. Considering you can buy jugs of this antipasto at places like Costco, it’s popularity is gaining but you don’t need all sort of added flavouring agents or preservatives to get the best eggplant antipasto on your table. Homemade, simple steps and lots of flavour is what you get out of this recipe. A jar of eggplant antipasto also makes an amazing gift to hosts and guests.
Technically this still has pasta in it, but it is not your typical carb-loaded pasta dish. This is heart-warming simplicity in a bowl, employed by every Nonna and mom to comfort kids and bellies at any other age. Homemade stock makes the difference here, but you won’t lose anything with a quick bullion cube replacement to get dinner on the table on a cold day.
Baked Risotto with Peas
Does risotto need to take hours? Does it need to have a creamy saffron sauce? Or can it be bathed in flavour-bursting tomato sauce and get baked until it has a satisfying crunchy top? Well that’s how I grew up with it. Easy to make ahead, just a few ingredients, and the ability to mix in vegetables or meat to round out your meal if you wish. Try it!
Rotolo di Pollo
I had to include one more complicated recipe on this list. This is a traditional preparation of chicken that is sure to impress guests. What I love about this recipe is that the chicken is treated with care and all of it’s parts are used to develop a stuffing that I often find myself craving. Learn how to de-bone a chicken, make classic stuffing and make a centrepiece for a dinner party.
So many of these recipes are family favourites that I find I rarely serve to non-Italian friends. Why? Maybe I think that they’ll think the food is weird or so unfamiliar they won’t try it. We make these fritters so often during the summer, I’ll definitely try sharing them this year – really, what’s not to like? Fresh veggies and herbs, batter, cheese and, in the end, a crispy snack. Make a batch for your family and friends.
Biscotti, those twice-baked crisped coffee-dippers, are so popular but there’s plenty of other Italian cookies to explore. Mostaccioli are as traditional as they get. Flavoured mostly by honey, these chewy soft cookies look a lot like biscotti, and are formed the same way, by baking the dough in a log, but are a nice, not-so-sweet, change to your dessert tray.
It’s the week of Christmas and of all the things to look forward to – family, gifts, cookies and Christmas trees – I’ve got my eye on a different prize: seafood. Crazy, right? This is one of the few times of the year my family whips up a massive batch of Fritto Misto di Mare (Mixed Fried Seafood). Christmas Eve is all about fish and while I’ve heard of it called the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” by Italian-Americans recently that’s not how I’ve known it. I do know that as part of religious observance, Fridays, particularly holy Fridays, and Christmas Eve, called La Vigilia di Natale (The Vigil of Christmas, literally, or the Eve before Christmas), we avoid meat products.
I can’t say that we’ve ever had exactly seven dishes on Christmas Eve, but one we always have is Fritto Misto di Mare (and baccala (salted cod fish) but that’s a recipe for another day). Fritto Misto is by far a crowd favourite, there isn’t anyone who passes on this dish no matter how full you are from the antipasto or pasta. Pipping hot, crispy and tangy from a squeeze of lemon, it wouldn’t be Christmas without fried seafood. Below is how my family gets it to the table. I’ve done shrimp and squid here, but we would typically also have scallops. They can be prepared and cooked the same way as the shrimp. But to be honest, I strongly dislike scallops – it’s a texture thing – but don’t avoid having them at your table! If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where all this seafood can be bought fresh that should be your preferred purchase and you can just ignore my instructions on defrosting, a necessary evil for those of us who are landlocked (save for a large, great lake). Merry Christmas everyone! May your Christmas eve be full of Fritti Misti and fun!
Fritto Misto di Mare
500g shrimp (size 31-40 or the larger, the better!)
400g cleaned, frozen squid
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon salt plus additional for seasoning after frying
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 cup cornmeal
canola oil for frying
lemon slices for dressing