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

Guest Post: Finding Panelle


There’s nothing like the memories of food and emotion to mark your travels. The flavours we sample when out of our daily routine sometimes stay with us for years. And even when you think you know all about Italian food, there’s always something that will still surprise you. For this post, student Daniel Elia brings us his adventure of Finding Panelle in Italy.

During the Fall of 2012, I was given the opportunity to spend a year in Italy on exchange, attending university while teaching English at a private school. Growing up in an Italian household, food was always at the centre of any encounter or celebration. I had always associated good food with sitting down at my Nonna’s house with homemade soppressata, wine and parmeggiano. As a twenty year old in the middle of his university education in Canada, I had obviously devoured my fair share of street food after a night out drinking. I had never envisioned Sicilian street food tasting surprisingly as delicious as my family gatherings back in Canada.

A childhood friend also on exchange in Denmark and I traveled to Palermo, hoping to attend a soccer game and encounter a greasy Mafioso in his natural habitat. Upon arriving to our hostel, we were greeted by an unbelievably friendly Australian working at the front desk and were swept away with the rest of the occupants of the hostel to the area known as La Vucciria – the meat market. After seeing buildings still in ruins from WWII and interacting with friendly locals who had quite an odd interest in reggae music, we were told we had to indulge in a traditional late-night snack. We were led to a carello with a greasy man, hair greased back, and his chest hair hanging out of his shirt; the quintessential Sicilian stereotype. Without hesitation we paid for our unknown snack and were given the sandwich; Panelle.


By |17/04/2015|Mangia|0 Comments

Classic Milanese-Style Risotto as made by Michelin-Star Chef Morelli


First let me tell you this was the best risotto I’ve ever tasted. But who could expect less? Presented by the “How Italy does Italian” tour in advance of World EXPO 2015 in May, Michelin-star Chef Giancarlo Morelli brought his cooking and style to George Brown College in Toronto and I was lucky enough to be part of the whole experience. Focusing on the art of simple food with pure ingredients, Chef Morelli reminded me why care in cooking and selecting products makes such a difference in your food. And now with his recipe for risotto, you can give it a try too.

Giancarlo-Morelli-Fotografo-Devid-Rotasperti-(56)Part of me was expecting complicated techniques and foreign tools from the demonstration. What I got was a reminder that the best food is cooked simply and authentically with attend paid to bringing out the flavour of each element. Care and creativity is in the process, the ingredients and the end taste. For Chef Morelli, this was his first day in Canada leading into a week-long tour by Italian product producers showcasing the best Italy has to offer. “Just because it has an Italian flag on it, doesn’t mean it’s Italian,” says Chef Morelli, reminding us to know where our ingredients come from. Among his shared cooking philosophies (which I am adopting!): he doesn’t use salt during the cooking, only to finish the dish. His reasons for this are two-fold: it’s important to avoid too much salt for a healthy life and “if you can’t get the feeling and flavour of each ingredient when you taste a dish,” he notes, “then it doesn’t work.”

Below is Chef Morelli’s risotto recipe, which you have to try as he won “best risotto in the world” in a competition of 1,100 dishes at the Concorso Premio Gallo in 2010. Yet, Chef Morelli is clear to tell us that risotto has been the same for 200 years. He doesn’t change the culture of food but perfects and modernizes how it is created. Some tips on creating this winning dish from the Chef himself:

– Choose an organic carnaroli rice, not necessarily arborio. You can find this at most Italian grocers.
– Use vegetarian stock only. Add 2kg of seasonal vegetables to 5L of water (no salt!) and cook for 2-3 hours for a rich stock.
– It’s impossible to have risotto without butter. Use butter or butter and oil to start the dish, and butter to finish it. Use frozen butter when finishing, this will help to develop the creaminess of the dish properly, instead of the butter breaking down too quickly.
– The rice will cook in exactly 13 minutes, so set your timer.
– Never leave the rice alone, it’s like a baby you have to nurture.
– Balance the dish at the end with the butter and the cheese, no additional salt, off the heat. This technique is called the “mantecatura”, finishing with fats and stirring vigorously to add air into the dish.

The recipe, below, to stay true-to-form, is in Italian and English. Use care in picking your ingredients and in your cooking and you’ll have a winner too. If you give it a try, let me know how it works out in the comments (hint: you can omit the bone marrow and wine caramel topping and it’s still amazing!).



By |27/03/2015|Mangia|3 Comments

Collecting your favourite (and missing) Christmas recipes


What was missing from your Christmas table? What foods are part of your best holiday memories? Looking for an old family recipe?

Every year in December my blog and email inbox get really busy. In the lead up to Christmas, everyone is searching for their favourite old recipes like a cookie or treat their mother or grandmother used to make. The best emails I get are from readers who have just found old recipes on my site and tell me all about the memories they had of those foods and what a joy it was to have them again at the table.

In 2015, instead of searching at the last minute for a recipe just like Nonna’s, let’s help each other out and get those recipes together starting now.

Since the holiday season has just passed, and what was missing from the table is still fresh in our minds, now is the time to ask you: what are your favourite Italian Christmas dishes? Maybe it was something your mother used to make, or maybe a cookie an Italian neighbour used to always bring you. What recipes are you missing or searching for? Give me the English or Italian names of your Christmas dishes (and maybe a bit of a description!) and I’ll work to search them out and put together a Christmas recipe guide.

Here’s a brief list (after the jump) that I have so far of some desserts. From pasta to fish to fried treats, tell me what to add in the comments section of this post! (more…)

By |09/01/2015|Mangia|4 Comments

Contest: Win Gluten Free Catelli Macaroni for a Year


Late last year I started experimenting with using gluten-free pasta so that I could share some of my favourite family pasta recipes with guests who have diet restrictions. Catelli shared a sample of their new gluten-free pasta with me and I used it with a classic Sicilian Anchovy Pasta. Having just launched a new cut to their pasta collection – macaroni – Catelli has generously offered to give one Italian-Canadian Life reader one-year supply of Catelli Gluten Free Macaroni (open to Canadian residents only).

I received news of this great contest just last week with the launch of the pasta at George Brown College, hosted by Chef John Higgins, Director of George Brown Chef School, former personal chef to the Queen Mother and a judge on Food Network’s Chopped Canada. Chef Higgins demonstrated a variety of recipes that use Catelli Gluten-Free Pasta including a flavourful Ginger-Edamame Macaroni Salad and Moroccan Macaroni Bowl (pictured above, courtesy of Catelli). But the best part of the presentation, to me, was a great discussion on how to cook pasta properly. Gluten-free or not, cooking pasta well makes all the difference to a recipe. His top tips:

* For dry pastas, cook according to the directions on the pasta box. For me, an al dente consistency is preferred (an al dente consistency has some bite and a pleasing resistance to the chew – not gummy or sticky) so you can usually cut one to two minutes off the cooking time on the package.

* When cooking pasta, use a large pot.Using a large pot will give the pasta room to boil and not stick together.

* Over-seasoning the water with salt – bringing it almost to the taste of the sea – will substantially enhance the flavour profile of the dish. As a rule of thumb, use 10 grams of salt for one litre of water and 100 grams of pasta.

* Never add oil to the water when cooking pasta. It does not keep it from sticking together. In fact, the oil creates a coating that prevents the sauce from adhering to the pasta. This is undesirable because you want the pasta to soak up the sauce.

I don’t buy gluten-free pasta frequently and had heard that gluten-free pasta has a different taste and texture. But with this experience now, I can tell you that if you follow the rules above (as you should for any pasta!), you won’t notice a difference. So it’s time for you to give some gluten-free pasta a try. I’m excited to share this opportunity with my readers – the only thing better than pasta is free pasta!

What’s more – Catelli is also offering a coupon to everyone: get a $1 off coupon from Websaver. Coupons are available while quantities last. Thanks Catelli! 


Win a one-year supply of Catelli Gluten Free Macaroni (open to Canadian residents only). Keep reading…


By |16/05/2014|Mangia|18 Comments

Myths and realities about the Italian diet

I shocked a friend last week by telling her that creamy Fettuccine Alfredo wasn’t really Italian. I had to point out that I don’t eat it every week (or at all actually!). It’s an Americanized version of an old Roman dish and it exemplifies just how much Italian food has changed through time and cultures. While she was taken aback, I was able to offer her more proof of “non-Italian, Italian” dishes. Recently, Panoram Italia, an Italian-Canadian publication, created an issue all about the Italian-Canadian diet: what’s typical, what’s changed, and how it differs from food in Italy. I had the opportunity to contribute the article “The Italian Paradox: Myths and reality about the Italian diet” to the magazine.

What I loved about writing this article was the opportunity to not only talk to people who had experience eating “Italian” in Italy and Canada and could describe the differences well, but also the opportunity to dive into scientific articles about why the Italian diet is healthy (or not, in some cases). In the end, I was able to see how the Italian diet has changed both in Italy and in Canada and I have a better sense myself of how I want change the way I eat. For me, it means more vegetables though that will get easier as the summer approaches and I get to plant my garden.

Here’s a snippet of the article, and you can continue on to Panoram Italia to read more….

_______________________________________________ offers 5,198 books about the Mediterranean diet. 118 of those books focus on Italian cooking and nearly all have a picture of olive oil on the cover.

It’s easy to see why there is such a demand for insight into what and how Italians eat: study after study shows Italians are healthier and live longer. Though Italians smoke more than other Europeans and spend less on healthcare, they have healthier weights and less diseases. And Italy is one of the top 10 countries in the world with the longest human longevity.

But go to an Italian chain restaurant in North America and you’ll be served heaping amounts of pasta coated with cheese, a far cry from what is considered “healthy.” Movie and TV images of traditional Italian Sunday meals suggest big portions of meat, a lot of wine and opulent desserts are the norm. How do pizza and pasta translate into a healthy diet?

“That’s not representative of Italian meals,” says Susan McKenna Grant, author of Piano, Piano, Pieno: Authentic Food from a Tuscan Farm and owner/chef of La Petraia restaurant in Sienna. “[Italians eat] less junk food, less soda, less sugar, do more natural exercise like walking and have a better understanding of what good food is,” she says. She also confirms that olive oil is one of the best foods Italians consume. Fresh vegetables, and plenty of them, are the stars of meals, not just pasta.

A 1995 study of the Mediterranean diet “Italian Style” confirmed that Italians preferred a plant-based, low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. This means a high intake of vegetables, beans, fruit and cereals; medium-to-high intake of fish and unsaturated fats (that’s where the olive oil comes in); and low intake of meats, saturated fats and dairy products. The study also tracked the physiological effects of this food and found the benefits abound. For example, tomatoes, broccoli, wine, unprocessed olive oil, garlic and certain spices offer antioxidant effects. The high intake of plant-based meals also provided protective roles for health. Spanish research published in Food Chemistry magazine found that tomato sauce – the olive oil, tomatoes and garlic cooked together particularly – is loaded with compounds that have been linked to the reduction of tumours and cardiovascular diseases.

Read more at Panoram Italia…

By |24/04/2014|Mangia|4 Comments

Traditional Italian Easter Recipe Roundup


As with many holidays, the demand for traditional recipes is high this time of the year. My post last week about Easter Ciambelle got a great response and my Easter Bread recipe from last year is also still very popular. This year, it was featured on news websites and newspapers all over Canada and the US as part of an interview I did on traditional Easter breads. But with these two recipes I’ve only scratched the surface of what Italian households might be prepping this weekend.

Still considering your Easter menu? I’ve rounded up some traditional Italian Easter recipes from around the web for you to try out. Did I miss a favourite recipe from your family – let me know in the comments and we can share it here next year.

Have fun baking and cooking up a storm! Happy Easter / Buona Pasqua everyone!

Italian Easter Breads

Italian Easter Bread (from The Italian Dish)

Easter Dove Bread / La Colomba di Pascua (from Mother Earth)

Easter Bread Dolls / Pupi Con L’uova (from Mangia Bene Pasta)

Sweet Italian Easter Bread (from Laura in the Kitchen)


Easter Sunday Lamb

Roman Grilled Lamb Chops (from Delallo)

Easter Lamb with Peas (from Academia Barilla)

Basil Stuffed Lamb Roast (from Mangia Bene Pasta)

Italian Easter Leg of Lamb (from The Dolce Vita Diaries)


Savoury Pies

Torta di Pasqua (from BBC Food)

Easter Meat Pie (from Mamma’s Italian Recipes)

Stuffed Pizza / Pizza Chena (from

Italian Easter Pie / Torta Pasqualina (from The Italian Dish)



Easter Grain Cake / La Pastiera (from Marcellina in Cucina)

Easter Wheat Pie (from Foodista)

Campania Ricotta Easter Pie (from Italy Revisited)

Easter cookie wreaths / knots / baskets (from Judy’s Culinaria)

By |18/04/2014|Mangia|3 Comments

The secrets of Italian recipe interpretation

Old Italian lady and girl cooking, photo by Mario Ingrosso, Senise, Italy, 1978

Photo: A nonna and a young girl preserving tomatoes, photo by Mario Ingrosso, Senise, Italy, 1978

My grandfather’s process for making bread, or my favourite breadsticks, taralli, had one crucial step: get up early. When the sky was still dark blue, if not black, the dough would be formed and he could get in breakfast, a check in on the garden and maybe a nap while waiting for it to rise.

When my family and I insisted that we learn how to make taralli from him – and that meant really measuring out the ingredients and writing down the steps that were all in his head – he said “no.” I’d never be able to get up early enough he told me. We would start too late and the whole day would be lost. I made him promise to at least do the recipe on a Saturday, which he agreed to (and kept that promise, he was liable to just pick any day he felt like), and I did my best to surprise him by arriving on time. Even on time, we knocked on the door, our eyelids still heavy, and he was already done his second coffee for the day. Evidently, we were already behind.

As much as I may have surprised him by my dedication to get up early, when he took us down to the basement kitchen to start the process, we got our own surprise. We insisted on measuring the ingredients, not once but twice to be sure. If he said a “handful of fennel seeds” we made him fill his hand full then pour it into a measuring cup. When we asked how much flour, he said proudly that he does measure the flour. He pulled out his measuring cup. He used an empty margarine container to scoop out the flour! My mother and I looked at each other, each with the immediate thought: how many cups in a margarine container? And so the measuring, and re-measuring continued.

I get so many emails from readers saying how thrilled they are to see old recipes here on the blog and those still searching for recipes or trying to translate them from the Italian they remember. Nonno or Nonna might still be able to tell you a recipe or you may have inherited the scribbled, stained notebook from a kitchen. Either way you’ll most likely hear one of these:

un pizzico / a pinch

circa… / around…

nu pugnu / a handful

quanto ne prende / whatever it takes


By |04/04/2014|Mangia|10 Comments

No power? Italian food to the rescue!


Four days before Christmas, I found myself in my cold, dark basement counting jars of food. We had just lost power and it was clear it was going to be out for days. While it’s not the way I wanted to start my Christmas holidays, it was time to take stock of how much preserving we’d done throughout the year. I was never happier to count mason jars.

In 2012, I wrote a post all about why I love keeping up the traditional methods of preserving food, including knowing where you food is coming from and making your food go farther for your money and your effort. I wrote:

“This year, we’re trying out some preserving methods we’ve done before (like sausages and tomatoes) and stretching our muscles on the lesser-used methods like potato and meat sausages, green tomatoes, crushed olives and more.”

Thanks to writing for my blog, and a family that enjoys these projects, I got to try and document these preserving methods. We also preserve food by batch cooking meals like lasagna or eggplant parmesan and freezing them for use later. And they came in handy! The blackout caused by a massive ice storm lasted for four days in my neighbourhood. With temperatures at -10 degrees Celsius and below, the house dark and our phone service even lost, we were in urban survival mode.

We took a drive to where there was power and found lineups for gas, stores our of wood, salt and shovels, and restaurants either closed or having hired security at the door to monitor the crowds scrambling to get food. Turns out it was safer at home in the cold. While others were lining up for Big Macs, we took a flashlight to the shelves in the basement, our makeshift “cantina”, to wrangle up our food. Meals meant cracking open our mason jars and getting out a sharp knife. We had olives and sundried tomatoes with taralli and slices of sopprasatta and cheese. We also had preserved eggplant and pestos spread on bread. Sausages from the freezer were wrapped in foil and thrown into the fireplace for a quick cook. We even cooked lasagna (also from the freezer) on the barbecue.

House lights and the hum of furnances finally woke up our neighbourhood on Christmas Eve. Relieved, we quickly got to work getting our Christmas Eve meal of seafood on the table and we counted our blessings to be in a warm house with all of our family.For others, including my parents, it would be almost another 48 hours before power came back on in their house.

I’m proud of my heritage and its appreciation for food. I understand now, more than ever, why it is important. So lessons from this harsh (pioneer) Christmas were learned. I have neighbours and relatives that are stocking up now for the next emergency (we need to get some firewood too!). What about you? Ready to try some preserving this year? Here’s some recipes from the last two years to get you started:

Eggplant Antipasto
Calabrese Cracked Olives (Olive Schiacciate)
Green Tomatoes
Potato and Pork Sausage
Parsley Lemon Pesto

By |14/01/2014|Mangia|2 Comments

A year in review: top 5 posts of 2013

The end of December marks the second anniversary of An Italian-Canadian Life. When I started the blog, I committed to evaluating its’ success every year. I’ve had another great year of fun on the blog and judging by the comments and emails I get from readers, I think it should continue. You tell me you love the recipes, the memories and the opportunity to build community. Also, this year the blog:

– received a Canolo Award as an Authentic Italian Food Blogger
– was featured on CHIN Radio
– had recipes featured on Foodgawker and TasteSpotting
– was able to hold a few contests (and there’s still another coming up!) and be a judge for other online contests
– had some amazing guest bloggers share their writing and photos with us.

But what matters most are the posts that resonate with readers and friends. So here’s a look back at the top five posts, based on views, that were published in 2013. Not surprisingly, recipes are the most popular posts, though posts about Italian culture and traditions aren’t far behind. If you have any requests for posts in 2014, let me know in the comments!

Top 5 posts of 2013

Chiambelle with Fennel Recipe

Recipe: Ciambelle with Fennel

Ciambella (or chiambella) is a word used for pretty much anything round with a hole in the middle really, even cakes appear with this name. However, this is a bread that is a crunchy-on-the-outside, chewy-in-the-middle, great-for-dipping-or-with-cheese kind of bread that I always like to have in the house. My mother started making this bread after getting the recipe from a friend and it’s become one of my family favourites.

Nutella Roll Recipe

Recipe: Nutella Roll for World Nutella Day

Cookies made in a roll or log shape are common among old-fashioned Italian cookie recipes. I’ve had variations of this cookie but in this recipe I mixed two of my favourite things together. My mother makes this log roll with lemon pie filling in the middle and it tastes divine! I used her dough recipe and substituted the lemon filling for Nutella and it is a great alternative. The orange flavouring of the dough mixes well with the chocolate and is a play on the classic bread and Nutella snack.

mostaccioli recipe

Recipe: Mostaccioli

Not all desserts are meant to be tooth-achingly sweet. And old Italian recipes are prime examples of slightly sweet treats that meet the sweet tooth craving without going clowingly over the edge. As a matter of necessity  of course, many of the old recipes are sweetened by nothing more than grape must or honey, like this family favourite is. Mostaccioli were made by my grandmother and great aunts regularly and while they look like biscotti, they are soft and moist as they don’t go through the second baking process.

Lemoncello recipe

Recipe: Limoncello

Limoncello has long been produced in southern Italy and, in fact, is the second-most popular liqueur in Italy. It’s made by steeping lemon zest in alcohol and mixing in a simple syrup. You can use this method to make a number of different types of liqueurs (hazelnut, coffee, orange, etc.) as long as you get your quantities and steeping times just right. Limoncello offers a smooth, sweet lemon taste, without any of the usual bitterness associated with lemons.

Potato Sausage Recipe

Recipe: Potato and Pork Sausage

This recipe comes from my husband’s family. He fondly remembers eating these as a kid on family road trips. They would pack the sausages, straight from the freezer, into tin foil and place them in the back windshield of the car to warm up in the summer sun as they drove to their destination. The recipe itself is typical of southern Italian cooking, and Italian austerity measures, as it uses potatoes as a filler for meat (which there wasn’t a lot of years ago).


By |27/12/2013|Mangia, Recipes|4 Comments