Beyond pasta: 6 traditional southern Italian dishes you should try this year

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!

Eggplant Antipasto Recipe
Eggplant Antipasto
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.

Recipe for Pastina
Pastina
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 Recipe
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!

Recipe Pollo Rotollo
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.

Pitticelle Cucuzze (Zucchini Fritters)
Zucchini Fritters
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.

mostaccioli recipe
Mostaccioli
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.

By |09/01/2016|Mangia|0 Comments

Fritto Misto di Mare (Mixed Fried Seafood)

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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!

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Fritto Misto di Mare

500g shrimp (size 31-40 or the larger, the better!)
400g scallops
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

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By |20/12/2015|Recipes, Secondo|0 Comments

Cartellate (Honey Pinwheels)

Italian_cartellate_honey_pinwheels

So many readers write to me about “secret” family recipes, the things only Nonna made, or Mom developed from a previous recipe. Our most revered foods are often from the minds and hands of those we love, and this is even more heightened during the holidays.

This blog has been going for just over four years now and there’s still a favourite, secret recipe I haven’t shared with you…until today. My absolute-favourite-it’s-not-Christmas-without-them “cookie”: cartellate. These honey jewels originate from Puglia, the region that holds my dad’s home town of Monteleone, but it’s my mother who has perfected the recipe to the point that I cannot control myself around them. In my family we called them “crispelle,” but they are more commonly known as cartellate (or pinwheels). We coat them in honey, or sometimes a dusting of icing sugar, but other families soak them in vin cotto (cooked wine) or a combination of vin cotto and honey. Others still create ones that are rolled with a filling of nuts and dried fruits.

cartellate_recipe

What just boogles my mind about cartellate, and a few other Italian cookies, is just how complicated the process of making them can be to explain. As usual with traditional Italian recipes, the ingredients are simple – flour, eggs, oil – but getting to the final, delicious product will take a few steps. So be forewarned – there’s a lot of pictures in the post so you can see the full process! And here’s an interesting tip from this recipe, the one small oz of liqueur in the ingredients can add flavour to the dough, but it’s real function is to keep the oil from foaming when cooking these treats.

Cartellate
Dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 a cup for kneading
4 large eggs
1 oz Italian liqueur – Anisette, Amaretto or, if preferred, Rum. If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute in vanilla.
2 tablespoons of canola oil
1 tablespoon of sugar

Finishing:
Canola oil for frying
1 1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon water

how_to_make_cartellate_dough

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By |09/12/2015|Dolce, Recipes|3 Comments

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

castellocheese-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.

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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 random.org, 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.

castellocheese
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

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By |12/11/2015|Mangia|26 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

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

Autumn Vegetable Pasta al Forno – and a CorningWare giveaway!

pasta-al-forno-with-autumn-vegetables

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).

Pasta_al_forno-recipe

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

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