Pasta Piselli in Bianco

Recipe for Pasta Piselli in Bianco

Today I’m hoping for spring. The newscaster on the radio yesterday said that by this point in this crazy winter, we’ve shovelled more than 100cm of snow. And this weekend the big melt is on. There’s a puddle the size of an Olympic swimming pool at the end of my driveway, we nearly lost the dog in it.

While I don’t trust that winter is over, the water tells me spring is on the way and that means sunshine, more time outdoors and fresh spring vegetables. The best of those is peas, and while I prefer them raw, sweet and small right out of the pod, they are a great addition to meals as well, like in pasta piselli in bianco (pasta with peas in a “white” sauce).

When I was a kid, I could make myself sick on raw peas. Early on a Saturday morning, my mom and grandparents would disappear for a few hours and come back with bushels of peas in their bright green pods. We would sit in the shade of the front porch, metal bowls in our laps, shellling the pods one by one and listening to the peas hit the bowl with a satisfying “ping, ping, ping.” At first I would be excited to help: I was usually eating more raw peas than were making it into the bowl. But an hour into it, the conversation waned, my stomach was full and my fingernails were lined with green. I would squirm in my seat, hoping to be excused. No such luck – this was a family affair, through and through. When we were finally done, we would freeze the peas and have them for the whole year – there was nothing better.

These days, I go to a nearby farm where they do the shelling for you and flash freeze the sweet peas. A few weeks ago, I shared a pasta piselli recipe that was traditional to my family, using tomato sauce. Now, here’s another common recipe also employed by parents and grandparents as a quick dish that kids generally love: pasta piselli in bianco. “In bianco” means “in white”, or in a white sauce, without tomatoes. While you can use frozen peas, fresh peas are always the best. The recipe is quick, easy and fresh: to be served in the bright sunshine of spring.

Recipe for Pasta Piselli in Bianco

Pasta Piselli in Bianco
200g mini shell dry pasta (100g per person)
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1 medium onion, chopped
50g pancetta (or bacon. Use however much you have around.)
olive oil
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated


By |20/02/2014|Primo, Recipes|5 Comments

Frittata di Spaghetti

Frittata di Spaghetti Recipe (Spaghetti Pie)

In my memories, I often see my mom’s parents (who lived next door) in a low blue light. They always waited until the last minute of daylight to reach for the light switch, letting the long shadows of afternoons find their way into their kitchen. Their basement kitchen, where everything was coloured brown, relied on two small windows near the ceiling to let in the sun. Late afternoon to dusk was when I was called over for dinner and so the coolness of the darkened rooms during summer was an escape. But when company came over at night, the blazing yellow bulbs in the kitchen light fixture coloured everything with warmth.

When I remembered by grandparents making this frittata di spaghetti, my mind didn’t see the bright lights on over their stove like I have now in my attempts to get every dish they used to make for me right. I saw refreshing afternoon darkness and my Nonna giving the frittata its’ sweet time in the frying pan while my grandparents talked or read at the kitchen table. My Nonno used to affectionately call this frittata “spaghetti pie.” The name was ridiculous coming from him, but that was part of the charm of the dish. With its’ silly English name, I always thought he had come up with some new way I would like pasta that was more Canadian than Italian. Not so – this is really just a classic frittata with just a different ingredient inside.

If you search the internet for “spaghetti pie” (and I don’t recommend that you do) you get a lot of baked, gooey, overdone dishes that don’t appeal to me at all. The joy of this dish is in its’ crunchy exterior, the appreciation for the time needed to get it crunchy and the ability to share it easily and eat it by hand if you want. Made with leftover pasta most of the time, it’s another example of making sure nothing goes to waste. Best of all, it’s an easy dish to throw together that tastes good cold as well, so Nonno would pack it up in foil, a slice each, for picnics and fishing trips. How else can you eat pasta lakeside while waiting for your dinner to take the bait?

Frittata di Spaghetti Recipe (Spaghetti Pie)

Frittata di Spaghetti
200g dry pasta / 400g cooked pasta (al dente)
3 large eggs
1 cup mozzerella, shredded
1/4 cup Parmiggiano Reggiano, grated
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil


By |24/01/2014|Primo, Recipes|6 Comments

Pasta Piselli (Pasta with Peas)


It’s the simplest recipes that sometimes hold the dearest spot in an Italian kid’s heart. Pasta piselli is a classic, simple dish that just about every Nonna serves up to grandkids for lunch or dinner, particularly for picky eaters. It’s hard to get little feet to stop running around long enough to get some food in them. From my memory, the conversation with Nonna goes something like this:

“What do you want to eat?”
“Do you want pasta?”
“Do you want pasta piselli?”

There are two versions of pasta piselli – with sauce and without – but we’ll start with the one my Nonna made. Adding peas to a regular pasta dish does something: it adds a pop of unexpected sweetness and, I image, is a great way to get vegetables into a little one. When you grow up, pasta piselli is a simple pleasure, an easy home cooking twist that infuses an ordinary dish with a little history and love (yes, all that from a few peas!). Don’t believe me? Try it for yourself.

Pasta Piselli
200 gr of pasta (100 grams per person)
1 cup fresh or frozen peas
tomato sauce
Parmiggiano Reggiano



By |17/01/2014|Primo, Recipes|6 Comments

Sicilian Anchovy Pasta and a Catelli Pasta Giveaway!


I’m ending out 2013 with a two-in-one post: a traditional recipe that tries out something new AND a giveaway! Get ready to enter to win a great prize from Catelli Pasta!

We start by mixing the old with the new, just in time for New Years. With more and more frequency, we’re encountering dinner guests to our house who must avoid gluten (a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and some other grains). That means our quick go-to pasta recipes are out and our homemade pasta is definitely not an option. In order to enjoy our pasta dinners, we’ve had guests actually bring their own gluten-free pasta to dinner, which is unacceptable to us as hosts. So we’ve been searching out pasta options for our guests and Catelli recently shared their Catelli Gluten Free Pasta with me to try. It is made with rice, corn and quinoa and is produced in a dedicated gluten free facility, so I can guarantee my guests a meal they don’t have to worry about.

A good pasta has to hold up to a traditional recipe, so I tried it with Sicilian Anchovy Pasta. The pasta definitely has the right taste, it’s very close to traditional white/wheat pasta, so you and your guests shouldn’t notice a taste difference. The cooking time is much quicker than “regular” pasta so be sure to use the timing on the box and keep it “al dente” (still firm, but not hard). As with most gluten-free pastas, when overcooked, the pasta may begin to break apart. Time it well, like with this recipe below, and you’ll have no problems.

If you like this recipe, or have one of your own you want to try out, you are in luck!

The good folks at Catelli are offering two lucky readers of this blog a Catelli prize pack: 12 boxes of pasta for you to enjoy at home!

To enter to win: Leave a comment on this blog post about what new recipes or ingredients you are going to try in the new year by January 6.

Want a second entry? If you are a subscriber, or sign up now to be a subscriber to An Italian-Canadian Life, your name will be entered in the draw twice. Use the Subscribe form at the top, right hand side of the blog (enter the same email address that you use to leave your comment).

A winner will be chosen, using a random generator, on January 6 at midnight. Enjoy the recipe and I’m looking forward to your entries!

Sicilian Anchovy Pasta
340g pasta (I used Catelli Gluten-Free Spaghetti and served four)
2 cloves of garlic
10 anchovy fillets
dried hot pepper flakes
olive oil
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated



By |30/12/2013|Primo, Recipes|10 Comments

Farro Risotto from “The Healthy Italian” – and a contest!

Farro Risotto Recipe

If you follow this blog regularly you know that I love posting traditional recipes from my family. A lot of people enjoy these recipes just as much as I do, especially for those who swear by the Mediterranean diet, but I often get questions about “tweaking” the recipe for the extra health-conscious: can I bake instead of fry? Can I replace all-purpose flour with whole wheat? Can I reduce the sugar?

I ask readers to let me know, if they give the recipe a twist, how it works out. One of my more popular posts on this blog is spelt pasta, which started as an experiment in my own kitchen. Today I’m asking you how you’ve adapted traditional dishes to meet dietary needs for a chance to win a new cookbook! (keep reading….)

The thing with traditional recipes is that they don’t change much. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done though. Recently, Fina Scroppo, an editor and writer, shared her new book with me “The Healthy Italian: cooking for the love of food and family,” a cookbook that puts alternative spins on Italian classics. I’ll admit, I may have been a bit skeptical (can you really put quinoa in eggplant parmesan?), but the only way to really know if these new recipes work, is to try them.

One of Fina’s recipes immediately spoke to me: farro risotto. First, it uses a whole grain (farro) which draws in a lot of questions from readers each time I write about it (and I’ve become a bit obsessed about myself). Secondly, it’s made creamy not by the starch typically found in the classic risotto arborio rice, but from goat cheese, which is one of my favourite ingredients. Fina tells the story about how her family had to find alternatives to Italian recipes when her sister was diagnosed with celiac disease. For me, I had to make two more  little adjustments: the original recipe called for asparagus which is not seasonal right now (a big part of Italian eating), so I used squash instead and I used whole grain farro instead of semi-pearled as I don’t mind the extra chewiness. If you are new to farro, or prefer the consistency of rice, use the semi-pearled type.

The result was a creamy, extremely tasty dish that offered no guilt after you devour the whole bowl full. Enjoy the recipe – and if you want to try Fina’s recipes yourself, here’s your chance: Enter to win “The Healthy Italian: cooking for the love of food and family,” by telling me how you’ve adapted a traditional family recipe for dietary or health reasons in the comments. A winner will be selected at random at midnight on November 22. Good luck!

Farro Risotto (from “The Healthy Italian”)
2 cups butternut squash, cubed
3 1/2 cubes reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp light butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups semi-pearl farro (spelt grain, also called emmer)
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp crumbled light goat cheese
2 tbsp each fresh parsley and fresh basil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving (optional)


By |15/11/2013|Primo, Recipes|6 Comments

Tenerumi Pasta (Zucchini shoot pasta)


Rainy and cold, it’s been a terrible summer for my tomato plants though the garden is one of my favourite parts of the season. I derive a little joy and pride from anything we can manage to grow on our small plot. I also like trying out a few “experiments” or new vegetables. Last year, we had some colourful tomatoes. This year, we’re trying to grow long, Sicilian zucchini, commonly known as tromboncino. These large vines grow quickly (I measured up to 3 inches a day!), latching on to anything in their path. They hold pale green zucchini that can grow to three feet or more, dangling just above the ground. If you are ever in a neighbourhood of Italians, you’ll see these zucchini swinging from trellises, clothes lines or trees.

My husband grew up shadowing his grandfather in his garden, filled with tromboncino, and had always wanted to give the plant a try. My mom found some seeds and presented my husband with three plants in the spring. We planted all three and strung a rope from the fence to our house, guiding the zucchini along. The vines have started to weigh down the rope and we search desperately for zucchini every morning. So far we have a bulky plant and nothing to eat from it.

But that all changed a few days ago, both problems being solved with one solution. Recently my husband’s Sicilian Nonna visited our home and she looking upon our experiment with glee. Laughing at our sagging rope holding up the vines she had two things to say right away: first, we need to cut off some leaves and vines, the plant is too heavy and second, those tenerumi make a great pasta!

I had to ask for an explanation of “tenerumi” – certainly she didn’t mean the actual vegetables, the few zucchini that sprouted are only a few inches long. No, tenerumi are the offshoots of the main vine that stretch out, with young leaves at the tips and curly tendrils trying to grasp on to anything nearby. I’ve been pulling these shoots and tendrils back from the fence as they keep trying to make an escape for my neighbour’s yard and guide them in the right direction. The wisdom I gained from that Nonna visit was this: cutting off the tenerumi focuses the growth on the main lines of the plant (so they’ll grow big zucchini!), but also they are a delicacy to eat. Some even say they taste better than the zucchinis themselves.


And so it came to be that that very night, after some delicate pruning of the zucchini plant, tenerumi pasta graced our dinner table. The dish has quite a bit of broth, but a fresh and light taste, that doesn’t really taste like zucchini. You can easily replace the tenerumi with swiss chard or spinach, or even add extra other greens to the dish. Since I have a lot of tenerumi to go through, I’ll be making this a few times. Fingers crossed that we get some actual zucchini out of this experiment eventually!

Tenerumi Pasta
250-300g pasta (for four people)
1 large onion
1 large or 2 medium potatoes
4 cups chopped tenerumi
1 cup peel tomatoes
olive oil
Parmigiano Reggiano for sprinkling


By |30/07/2013|Primo, Recipes|4 Comments

Pasta with Oil and Garlic / Pasta con Aglio e Olio

pasta with oil and garlic

Last week the snow melted and I was able to tip toe out into the garden to peek in on the garlic bulbs I planted last November. There’s nothing popping through yet, but I’m anxiously awaiting this year’s crop, my second. I’ve planted an “extra sweet” type of garlic and I can’t wait to add it to my recipes. I’ve been blessed by being surrounded by family and friends that love garlic as much as I do and don’t find it odd that I’m happily celebrating National Garlic Month.

My grandparents used it liberally. My university roommate and I would eat shawarma and middle eastern potatoes smoothered in a fluffly garlic sauce at least once a week and spend the night breathing the sweet odour in the apartment. Now my husband uses garlic as if it were as common place a condiment as ketchup or pepper. Peeling, smashing, grating and sauteeing the bulbs with almost every meal, he insists he does it to fight away colds but I think he’s just a product of this grandmother’s addiction to heavy garlic. Her favourite: pasta with oil and mounds (and mounds!) of minced garlic. So thick sometimes that it burns.

Pasta with oil and garlic…pasta con aglio e olio…is a classic, simple, Italian dish that everyone knows how to make. It’s the perfect late night snack and the easiest dinner “go to” when you are rushing to get a meal on the table. If you want to be delicate with your flavours, you can slice the garlic thick, sautee it in the oil then remove it so you are not eating full chunks of garlic. Or you can take it on with full force as we do.

The recipe is an easy one, but just to make it a little more interesting, I’ve paired with an unusal pasta: squid ink pasta (pasta al nero di seppia). It has a slightly fishy smell once it hits the boiling water, but prepared on your plate it’s flavour is is more of the “sea” than fish and it is unusually slippery.

Pasta con Aglio e Olio
20 oz squid ink pasta (or other pasta)
3 garlic cloves sliced or minced
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese to taste


By |08/04/2013|Primo, Recipes|1 Comment

Guest Post Recipe: Conchiglioni

Stuffed Shell RecipeJerry Buccilli joins us for his third guest post with An Italian-Canadian Life.

If you come from a big, crazy Italian family like ours I am sure you can relate on how hectic day to day life can become. So many things on the go. So many things to do. As much as you’d like to have more time it’s just not feasible. That’s why this recipe is perfect. Easy to make with not a lot of fuss and in the end you can make enough to have leftovers for two or three days. (Nothing wrong with leftovers so long as you follow proper storing procedures).

This recipe for Conchiglioni literally means “sea shells” and its name is derived from the shape of the pasta you will use. There are many variations to this dish depending on what part of Italy you come from. The funny thing about Italy is how controversial the topic of food can be. One person’s recipe from the north can vary astronomically from the same dish made in the south.

This recipe is the one we use every day. Keep in mind that you can get pretty creative with it. In Sicily they add raisins and green olives to the mixture. In Abbruzzo they add ground pork. Have fun with it. We tried to keep this recipe simple. Generally if you go to your local Italian eatery and ask for stuffed shells you’ll likely get this version.

Try out this recipe first and then build on it. It’s fun to experiment. Buon Appetito!

Conchiglioni – Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
Serves up to 10 (serving size is 3 stuffed shells)
30 jumbo pasta shells
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 cups of home-made marinara sauce
3 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 cups spinach, sautéed, drained and chopped
2 cups ricotta
1 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
salt and pepper taste


By |05/03/2013|Primo, Recipes|1 Comment

Baked Risotto with Peas

Baked Risotto Recipe








I’ve got to be honest. I’m a little drained from the holidays. Too much to do, too much shopping, too much shovelling and too much illness (did everyone catch the flu?). That and I’m tired of it being dark so early at night and dark when I wake up in the morning. I’ve got the January blues. This weather, and this feeling, calls for some Italian soul cooking. The good filling stuff that keeps you warm and is easy to throw in the oven. That means last weekend, I threw together some baked risotto for dinner.

This baked risotto recipe is a specialty from my grandfather and my aunt. Cheesy and gooey on the inside, crispy on the top and sides (that’s a requirement), this is winter comfort food at its best. If you have some sauce to use up, it’s a great alternative to pasta. And the leftovers, crisped up even more in the toaster oven, are great the next day.

Baked Risotto with Peas
4 cups cooked abrorio or short grain rice
2 cups meat sauce (ground beef or shredded pork and beef are great options)
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup parmigiano cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, divided (add more if you love cheese!)
1/3 cup fresh or frozen peas


By |10/01/2013|Primo, Recipes|3 Comments

Homemade Cavatelli with Roasted Tomato Pesto for World Pasta Day

Homemade Cavatelli with Roasted Tomato Pesto











Happy World Pasta Day! Ok, I’m a day early, but let’s say I’m celebrating all week! The cold weather has me craving some comfort food, and for Italians, that pretty much always starts with pasta.

In honour of World Pasta Day on October 25th, I’m trying a new pasta I’ve never made before: semolina cavatelli. I also whipped up a new pesto that I’ve fallen in love with. The result? Homemade cavatelli with roasted tomato pesto.

I’m still working on getting pasta perfect every time, so making a new dough was a challenge for me. In my first attempt at cavatelli the dough was way too soft and the pasta just smushed out of the machine. It was a mess. Now, I’ve figured it out and the key is to keep it simple and, for cavatelli, make it a harder dough. Many thanks to Aurora Importing for the lovely cavatelli maker I won from them in a contest earlier this year. Apparently you can make cavatelli by hand, but the machine sure did speed up the process. So did making the dough in the food processor. I know it’s not traditional, but dinner was ready in an hour and it was all homemade. Plus, the dough worked out great and the cavatelli were delicious!

Homemade Cavatelli with Roasted Tomato Pesto

1 pound durum wheat semolina flour (preferably fine grain)
1 cup very cold water

Roasted tomato pesto
1 cup roasted tomatoes or sundried tomatoes
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup grated parmigiana cheese
1 tablespoon dried Italian oregano
4 tablespoons olive oil


By |24/10/2012|Primo, Recipes|1 Comment