Recipe of the Month April: Baked Rigatoni with Lamb Sauce

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Baked Rigs Finish with script

Buon giorno!

Italians are known for their endless baked pasta ideas. It seems like everyone has one or more. This one is a little different as the sauce is made with ground lamb instead of pork, sausage, or meatballs. What’s the difference? Let’s look closely at this recipe for BAKED RIGATONI WITH LAMB SAUCE to find out.

Begin with the lamb: Italians eat a lot of lamb especially in the spring. It is simply a tradition. Could you just as easily use ground beef in this recipe? Well…yes you could do that, but the flavor would be very different. That is what is so unique and amazing about cooking with lamb. Where you start is not necessarily where you end up. Beef cannot possibly achieve the level of flavor that you will get from the ground lamb. Before simmering the sauce has a completely different flavor. When you finish – it is a different story entirely.

The preparation: This is a simple dish – and easy to put together. It is built in layers and comes together in about 40 minutes. It is one of the more flavorful baked pasta dishes mostly because of the use of lamb instead of beef or even sausage. As almost always, I recommend using fresh herbs.

You, your family, and guests will just love it.


Serves: 4

Prep and Cook: About 40 minutes


1 lb. Rigatoni, Mezza Rigatoni ( as you see in the photos), Ziti, or Penne – cooked according to package directions

4 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Onion Chopped

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped finely

1 C. chopped baby carrots – chop into small bits

2 Stalks Celery – chop into small bits

2 Tbsp. Fresh Sage – chopped

2 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary – chopped

1 lb. ground lamb

1/2 C. Dry White Wine

1 14 oz. Canned Tomatoes – crushed or blended slightly

Kosher Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 Tbsp. Heavy Cream

1/2 C. Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

10 oz. Fresh Mozzarella Cheese – cubed

Chopped fresh Italian parsley for garnish


Cook the onion, garlic, carrots, celery, and herbs in the olive oil for about 5 minutes at med. high heat.

Baked Rigs - Lamb 1

Add the ground lamb to the pan and brown – about another 5 minutes.

Add the wine to the pan and cook another minute.

Pour in the tomatoes and add the salt and pepper.

Then cook about 15 minutes more.

Baked Rigs - Lamb 2

When finished remove from the heat and let sit a minute to cool. Then add the cream and stir in until blended.

Baked Rigs - Lamb 3

Add the sauce to the pasta and pour into a 15 x 9 inch rectangular baking dish.

Sprinkle on the Parmigiano-Reggiano and mix in.

Distribute the mozzarella cubes around the pan and gently mix in.

Baked Rigs - Lamb 4

Baked Rigs - Lamb 5

Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes until the mozzarella is melted and “oozy”.

Garnish with Fresh Chopped Italian Parsley and serve!

*For an interesting addition – try adding a small scoop of warm ricotta cheese, flavored with a little grated Parmigiano, black pepper, and chopped fresh parsley an on each serving.

I like a lovely Barbera D’Alba with this BAKED RIGATONI WITH LAMB SAUCE.


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February: Cannellini Bean Salad with Rosemary Focaccia Croutons

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Bean Salad Finish 3 with script

Buon giorno!

I often tout the qualities of beans in my posts. I also like to mention the importance of beans in Italian cooking. The simplicity of ingredients in Italian cooking makes it the perfect cuisine for beans to shine. In fact, I can’t even imagine Italian cuisine without frequent use of them. Often you’ll see them front and center as the main course rather than as a side dish. Here you see them as the main ingredient in a seemingly simple and rustic CANNELLINI BEAN SALAD WITH FOCACCIA CROUTONS. One bite of this amazing dish and you’ll see why I have given it Recipe of the Month status. The flavor in the dish is complex with the herbs giving it an earthy essence. The Lemon Dressing adds another level of flavor without overpowering the ingredients cooked into the beans.

This salad is so hearty and tasty that you can serve it as your main course as well as a side or salad. It calls for some prosciutto, but vegetarians would be just as happy with this beautiful salad by omitting the meat.  You are welcome to use dried beans which require a long cooking time, but this dish makes up well using the canned cannellini beans requiring much less time. You can make it ahead and refrigerate, but the croutons should NOT be added until you serve so that they won’t get soft.

This post is kind of a “twofer” in that you also get Focaccia and an interesting use for it in the croutons. The ROSEMARY FOCACCIA fills your kitchen with a lovely aroma. You’ll make your croutons and be happy for the leftover to eat with your meal or fried with eggs the next morning. Oh – what could be better than this?!

As an Italian, I love using all kinds of beans in cooking. However, when you make this salad, you’ll see why it is a BIG FAVORITE for me.

Bean Salad Finish 2 with script



Makes: 1  9 x 13 loaf

Prep: 3 hours

Cook: 12-15 minutes


1 C. lukewarm water

1 package Active Dry Yeast

1 1/2 Tsp. Honey

2 1/2 C. All Purpose Flour divided 1 C. and 1 1/2 C.

1/4 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Tsp. Kosher Salt

3 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary Leaves + a little more for top

Coarse Salt for top of bread

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for drizzling


Mix the cup of water with the yeast and honey. Let it sit for about 5 minutes, and then add 1 cup of flour and the 1/4 C. oil. Mix together with a spoon and let it sit another 5 minutes.

Now add the 1 1/2 C. Flour, salt, and Rosemary.

Mix together with clean hands and knead just a few minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Sprinkle with a little flour if sticky.

Rosemary Focaccia dough

Set the ball in an oiled bowl and rub the outside of the dough with the oil on your hands.

Cover and let rise in a warm place about an hour and a half.

Place the dough in an oiled pan 13 x 9 and stretch it to fit the inside of the pan. Push on it with your fingers and just keep working it into the rectangular shape to fill it. Put a little flour on your fingers if sticky. Then dimple the dough with a floured finger (making dents with your fingers)

Put it aside, covered loosely with a warm towel, in a warm place to rise again in the pan for about another 30 minutes. The 2nd rise will not be as great as the first.

Drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and sprinkle with coarse salt and some Rosemary.

Bake in a 450 oven for about 12-15 minutes until the top is golden.

Rosemary Focaccia finish with script

Drizzle again with Extra Virgin Olive Oil as soon as it comes out of the oven. Let the focaccia cool – then cut into the amount of croutons you’d like to use. Slice the rest to eat or freeze. The croutons freeze well also.

Focaccia Croutons


Prep: 1 hour

Serves: 4-6


3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Garlic Clove – chopped finely

1/2 Onion – chopped

1 C. Chopped Prosciutto

Pinch Red Pepper Flakes

1/2 Tsp. Dried Oregano

2 Cans Cannellini Beans, rinsed and drained

2 Tbsp. Fresh Sage – chopped

2 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary – chopped

1 Bay Leaf

1 1/2 C. Chicken Broth

2 C. Fresh Arugula

Lemon Dressing (see recipe below)

Shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago Cheese

Focaccia Croutons


Cook the onion, garlic, prosciutto, red pepper, and oregano in the oil on Medium High for a couple of minutes.

Bean Salad 1

Add the beans, sage, rosemary, bay leaf, and chicken broth to the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer, covered, for 5 minutes.

Bean Salad 3

Drain and discard liquid along with the Bay Leaf.

Add the arugula to the beans, and toss gently.

Bean Salad 5

Add the lemon dressing to the arugula and beans, and toss again gently.

Garnish with Focaccia Croutons and Cheese shavings.

(Note: if you make the salad ahead, do not add the croutons until serving time – so they won’t soften.)



1/2 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Use a nice one for this

1 Tbsp. Wine Vinegar

1/4 C. Fresh Lemon Juice

Kosher Salt and Fresh Black Pepper to taste – use enough salt to bring out the flavors!


Mix the ingredients for the dressing together and set aside for the salad.

Bean Salad 4

This CANNELLINI BEAN SALAD WITH ROSEMARY FOCACCIA CROUTONS is so lovely, it will be a favorite year round. It has so much flavor and interest and is a perfect choice for lent, summer dining on the patio, or anytime! Taste it, and you will see why it is the Recipe of the Month!


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January: Porchetta

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Porchetta finish with glaze with script

Buon giorno!

New Year’s Day is one for treading softly and speaking in muted tones in deference to those who might not be able to process shouting from the rooftops after a night of too much.. well.. everything. Since I am not the type of celebrator who needs coddling on this day – I may get a little, shall we say, enthusiastic in tone here , so you may want to protect your tender ears for a moment. Actually, I can’t shout loudly enough about this one and my family would back me up on my exuberance for this recipe. PORCHETTA is a divine dish to serve and enjoy. It makes a beautiful presentation for not a lot of effort — just a little time!

What is PORCHETTA exactly? This is an Italian rolled boneless pork preparation which in its purest form requires a HUGE process which includes gutting the pig, rolling, stuffing, spicing, and covering with belly fat etc and accompanied by a long roasting time.  It is a most flavorful preparation and makes absolutely incredible sandwiches.

Origins? The region of Lazio, where Rome is located, is given credit for the beginnings of this amazing pork preparation. However, you can easily find PORCHETTA in most other regions of Italy with variations depending upon area.

Are we REALLY going to gut a pig?? Uh, no!

My PORCHETTA is much easier. In fact, you will love making and serving this one so much, it will become a regular favorite for you, your family, and your amazed guests! This makes a spectacular holiday dish or one for a special dinner party.

I love using pork tenderloins from Circle B Ranch – humanely raised natural Berkshire Pork. They ship and there really is a difference in their extraordinary pork products – so much flavor – just the right amount of fat.

Let’s get to the pig!


Makes: about 8 thickly cut slices usually serving 4

Prep: 40 minutes

Cook: about 30 minutes


One 1-1 1/3 lb. Pork Tenderloin, patted dry with paper towels

Kosher Salt and Fresh Pepper

1 lb. Loose Italian Sausage (out of the casings) and browned in a pan

1 8 oz. Jar Fig Jam or Preserves (found often in the cheese section) or Apricot Preserves

1 Jar Roasted Red Peppers ( or roast your own), patted dry with paper towels

Whole fresh Basil leaves

8 oz. Fresh or Smoked Mozzarella, sliced thinly

Good quality bacon

Butcher’s twine or string

Fresh stalks of Rosemary

Saba or Balsamic Glaze for drizzling to serve


Porchetta 1

Begin by butterflying your pork tenderloin with a sharp knife. This is easier than you think, but if you must – ask your butcher to do it for you. To butterfly, slide your knife through the meat vertically down the side about 1/2 way through – not all the way. Open the meat so you now see the inside.Then take your knife and make another vertical cut all the way down the side of the meat on one of the thick sides not all the way through. You will actually watch the meat open up further. Repeat this again until the meat is fully opened and about 1/2 inch thick.

Then using a meat mallet or heavy can of tomatoes, pound the meat so it is thin and flatter.

Porchetta 3

Salt and pepper the inside. Then spread the inside with the fig preserves.

Porchetta 4

Line the inside over the preserves with the Basil Leaves.

Porchetta 5

Follow with the cooked sausage that has been drained and patted a little after browning.

Porchetta 2

Add the roasted peppers.

Porchetta 6

Then add the slices of mozzarella.

Porchetta 7

Now with the meat in front of you horizontally, carefully roll it forward onto itself, pushing the stuffing in with your fingers until it is completely rolled. It takes usually just one or two rolls as it is pretty full. Tuck in the two ends to try to cover the stuffing.

Porchetta rolled

Cover the roll with bacon slices, tucking the extra underneath.

Porchetta 9

Cut several lengths of the string – about 8 inches each. Taking one string at a time, slide it under the roll and tie it at several intervals down the roll. You can even do one long vertical tie at the end to secure it.(Can refrigerate several hours)

Porchetta 11

Place stalks of rosemary over the top of the roll and place it in an oiled pan in a 450 degree oven.

Porchetta 13

Cook until a meat thermometer registers about 150 degrees. (The time depends on your oven – approximately 30 minutes) Remove from oven and let it rest about 15 minutes. Cut the strings off the roll and discard them.

Porchetta finish without glaze with script

Slice the roll thickly and serve one or two slices to each person, drizzled with Saba or Balsamic Glaze. (Saba is a wonderful Balsamic-like liquid made totally from grapes reduced to “must”. It is valued much like a long aged Balsamic Vinegar and used in much the same way.)

You might want to make two and freeze one!


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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography


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December: Zuppa di Pesce

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Seafood Stew Buon Natale

Buon giorno!

Buona festa a tutti! It’s that time of year when Italians turn their attention to things “fishy”. Why? It’s that Christmas Eve thing – you know – choosing the dishes for the great night before Christmas dinner, known as “The Feast of the Seven Fishes”. It’s funny though – that it is different in every household with some serving the 7 dishes – some serving more than seven – and some serving fewer than 7. The important thing here is that these dishes are carefully chosen and revered in family lore. One of them that speaks “Natale” to so many and is among the best known is the ZUPPA DI PESCE or Italian fish stew or soup. This dish – evokes mouthwatering memories that run deep into my soul. There are no other flavors – so delicate – yet so bold that remind me of more of an Italian Christmas than those in this dish.

It is not a difficult recipe. The key to its success is freshness! As in all Italian dishes, fresh ingredients reign supreme. For this one, I would say freshness makes or breaks the dish. Whether you use all of the fresh fish recommended, or some of them, or even add others – the important thing to remember is to rely on fresh seafood. Aside from that, truly, you cannot mess this up.

Reminiscent of the well known French Bouillabaisse, ZUPPA DI PESCE is a dish found by many names depending where you are in Italy – or what your family decided long ago to call it because of their region of origin. It is Cacciucco in Tuscany and in the coastal areas of Liguria. It is Cioppino by the Italian-American families of the San Francisco area. If you are boating around Sardinia, you will hear it called La Cassola. The original recipes for the Sardinian version use local fish like dogfish, eel, skate etc. Sicily offers Zuppa di Pesce Siracusana ( in the style of Syracusa) which is a baked stew served with toasted bread. However, Southern Italy – most notably Campania or Naples,  is the area most associated with ZUPPA DI PESCE ,as we most often speak of it, with tomatoes, herbs, hot pepper, and garlic, and just as you see it here.

All of these preparations have one thing in common – the need to be served with plentiful amounts of crusty Italian bread or Crostini!

Because, my father, Attilio, who was from the Campania region, made this soup so artfully, I dedicate this recipe to him and think he might find it quite familiar!


Serves: about 6


1/2 C. Olive Oil

4 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped

1 Large Onion – sliced thinly

1 Large (or 2 Medium) Fennel Bulb – sliced

3 Medium Yukon Gold Potatoes, unpeeled – cut up

2 Stalks Celery – chopped coarsely

A few baby carrots – chopped coarsely (6-7)

2 Tbsp. Fresh Oregano – chopped

1/2 C. Fresh Italian Parsley – chopped

1/2 C. Dry White Wine

3 Tbsp. Pernod or Sambuca

1 28 oz. Can San Marzano Tomatoes – I like to use whole peeled and then crush them with clean hands

Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes

4 Cups Seafood Stock or Clam Juice

Salt and Pepper to taste


1 lb. Cleaned Calamari  – cut into rings – include the tentacles!

1 lb. Fresh Cod – cut into large pieces

A large bag (about 30) Littleneck Clams – scrub the shells well!

2 lb. Very Large Shrimp – cleaned and peeled

1 lb. Sea Scallops – cut in half or horizontally

3 Medium Lobster Tails – or 2 Large ones – cut each into a few large pieces, leaving shell  intact


In the olive oil added to a large pot, cook the next 8 ingredients about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Seafood stew 1

Add the wine and Pernod or Sambuca – Cook another minute.

Add the tomatoes, the red pepper flakes, and the stock or clam juice.

Seafood Stew 2

Then add the clams being first sure to brush and clean their shells well.

Seafood Stew 3

Cover and bring to a boil – Reduce heat to medium and cook about 20 minutes. Check and see if all clams are open. If not – cook another 5 or so minutes. Some are a little stubborn and need more cooking time.

Then remove and clams that have not opened and discard.

Remove the opened clams with shells carefully with a slotted spoon to a dish and reserve.

Add the cod, shrimp, scallops, and lobster to the pot.

Stir gently and cook about 10 minutes or until just cooked through. Do not over cook.

Add the clams back to the pot.

Taste for seasoning – adding salt and pepper as needed.

Seafood Stew 4 with script

Serve with the garnish below.


Fresh Lemon Wedges

Lots of fresh chopped Italian Parsley

This ZUPPA DI PESCE  is both beautiful and fun to serve. You will be so proud to have this dish at your table and hear the audible gasps. Serve this amazingly flavorful concoction with large Crostini as you see in the photo. For more delicious ways to serve Crostini, check out my ebook “For Love of Crostini”: HERE 

For a perfect pairing with this Southern Italian interpretation, serve this dish with a crisp Falanghina, the Italian white wine that was “made for” seafood.


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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography


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November: Chicken Scarpariello

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7 Ready to simmer

Buon giorno!

Chicken what??? Say it with me slowwwly – CHICKEN SCARPARIELLO. You know that saying “it tastes like chicken”? Well, this is a chicken dish that does NOT taste like chicken. Instead, it is an explosion of several different flavors happening all at once. It is one of those really splendid taste experiences where you are not sure what to comment on first. It may not taste like chicken, but it certainly tastes like something wonderful has just happened in your mouth with every bite. It is a fabulous twist on the traditional sausage and peppers that is so much more. Just look at it – Oh the colors –  this is a gorgeous dish!

CHICKEN SCARPARIELLO is a dish with seemingly no definite origins. No one seems to know where it came from. It smacks of Southern Italy in some ways but my guess is that it is one of those Italian American dishes that just appeared and evolved. Scarpa means shoe in Italian. The name Scarpariello  means in the style of the shoemaker. Go figure!

Some like to call it a great Sunday Supper dish. It is definitely that – but to reserve it only for that day would neglect all of those other days when it would be just as welcome.

It is simple to make – but has a definite set of ingredients which make it the authentic dish. Of course, the chicken, but also, the red pepper, the pickled peppers (I like Peppadews!), fresh garlic, broth, and fresh herbs. Some recipes deviate a little by adding or omitting the following: white wine, fresh lemon juice, and mushrooms. It is perfectly fine to use breast meat if you like, but the thighs are soooo tender in this and give the impression of the traditional Piemontese rabbit dishes for which the the Northern Italians are so famous.

You can serve it on its own with lots of Italian bread or over pasta, polenta, or over mashed potatoes as you see it here.

However it got started, and no matter how or when you serve it – you will love this one and want to make it a part of your family tradition or a great meal to introduce to your friends.

COLOR rules the day with this dish! Can you resist?


Serves: 4

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 35 minutes


8 Boneless, skinless chicken thighs ( I like thighs best for this!)

Salt and Pepper

Flour for dredging

1/3 C. Olive Oil

4 Links Italian Sausage ( cut into pieces)

5 Whole Garlic Cloves

1 Medium Fresh Red Pepper – cut into  pieces

6 Peppadews or Pickled type peppers – cut into strips ( I like a combo of orange and red ones) They are sweet South African peppers that can be found in jars or in olive bars at most grocers.

1/2 lb. Mushrooms ( I like the wild ones!)

1/2 C. Dry White Wine

5 Fresh Sage Leaves

1 Tsp. Fresh Thyme Leaves

1 Long Fresh Rosemary Sprig

2 C. Chicken Broth

Juice of a fresh Lemon

2 Tbsp. Butter


Add some salt and pepper to the flour and mix. Dredge the chicken thighs in this flour.

1 Dredging chicken

Brown the thighs in the olive oil – adding more if needed. Then remove the thighs to a platter and set aside.

2 Dredging chicken

Add the sausage pieces to the same pan, brown them, and add them to the platter with the chicken.

3 Sausage browning

A look at Peppadews – sweet and luscious –  for those unfamiliar and the next group of ingredients to include.

4 Peppadews

5 Ingredients for chicken

Back in the pan, add the garlic cloves, red pepper, Peppadews, and mushrooms – Cook for about 5 minutes.

6 cooking vegs

The color begins to emerge!

Add the wine to the pan and de-glaze about 3 minutes at a good simmer.

Add the chicken and sausage back to the pan and add the sage, rosemary, broth, and lemon juice. A gorgeous display of color has appropriated your pan!! Stir.

7 Ready to simmer

Heat until bubbling. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes – then uncover and continue to simmer for another 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter – melt in.

Remove the garlic cloves, if you like.

How to serve your CHICKEN SCARPARIELLO? Serve it straight up on its own with plenty of Italian crusty bread OR serve it over mashed potatoes as you see in the photo.

Scarpariello Finish with Script

Another great way to present this dish is over polenta for a meal with a Northern Italian edge. Of course, it is always delicious over a pasta like Cappellini. However you do it – you will love this dish for the ease of prep and the extraordinary flavor!


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October: Risotto With Seafood Sauce

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Risotto Seafood finish 1 with script

Buon giorno!

There is nothing better than an Italian Seafood Sauce well prepared. It has so many uses – risotto, pasta etc. Today’s RISOTTO WITH SEAFOOD SAUCE is a great representation of the Italian Seafood Sauce at its very best – prepared with fresh clams, shrimp, and crab.

Often you will see this sauce as “alla scoglio” which means of the rocks or in the style of the rocks. This refers to the use of seafood which lives in the rocks of the Mediterranean – clams, shrimp, crab, and sometimes mussels, crab, or lobster. This sauce preparation is found throughout the coastal areas of Italy – claimed by the North and the South.

As always – good ingredients wins the day with this sauce – fresh clams, crab, and shrimp and fresh herbs!

The sauce captures the essence of the sea in the “creatures” you choose to put into it. The aroma is distinctively Mediterranean. When you prepare it, you may even want to play the songs of the coastal fishermen in the background for extra ambience. You know the ones – “Santa Lucia”, “Torna a Surriento”, “Vieni Sul Mar”…

My father, Attilio, would often sing as he cooked. He sang the traditional songs of Italy and seemed to choose them according to what he prepared. I can still hear him..

“Vide’o mare quant’ e bello, spira tantu sentimento…”


Seafood sauce with script

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 40 minutes


2 Cloves Fresh Garlic

3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 28 oz. Can San Marzano Tomatoes ( this is a type of tomato, not a brand – the very best)

2 Tbsp. Tomato Paste

2 Tbsp. Fresh Parsley Chopped

2 Tbsp. Fresh Chopped Basil

1 Tbsp. Fresh Oregano

1/4 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

Salt and Pepper to taste

1/2 Cup Clam juice

1/2 Cup Dry White Wine or Dry Vermouth

1 lb. Cleaned Shrimp, shells removed

2 Dozen Littleneck Clams, shells scrubbed

8 Oz. Lump Crabmeat (Lump or Jumbo Lump is best)


Cook the garlic in the oil a minute – do not burn!

Add tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, clam juice and wine.

Cook at medium to medium high bubbling until much of the liquid cooks off – about 30 minutes.

Add shrimp and clams  –  cook about 10 minutes or a couple of minutes more until all shells have opened. Discard any clams that do not open.

Risotto with Seafood Sauce

Seafood sauce


Risotto for seafood sauce

Serves: 4

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 45 minutes approx.


2 1/2 Cups Arborio Rice

3 Tbsp. Butter

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Onion – chopped

1/2 Cup Dry White Wine

6 Cups Liquid: 5 Cups chicken broth, 1 cup Clam Juice

Pinch of Saffron Threads

2 Tbsp. Butter

1/4 C. Parmigiano-Reggiano Grated

Fresh Basil for garnish


Warm your broth and clam juice and add the saffron threads to the liquid, crushing them with your fingers a little before adding.

Melt butter in oil, and add the onion and stir, cooking at medium high about 5 minutes.

Add rice to the pan. Stir the rice and coat well – cooking for about 5 minutes.

Now add the wine, stir and let it cook down.

Continuing at medium high heat, add about a cup of the warm broth and clam juice with the saffron to the pan and continue to stir. When most of the liquid is gone add another  1/2 cup and stir. Continue adding the liquid by the same amount until you use all of it, slowly stirring as you add. Once the liquid is gone and cooks into the rice, it should be done.

Turn off the heat and stir in the butter and then the cheese. The risotto is ready and should be a beautiful golden color from the saffron threads.

TO SERVE: Spoon some of the hot sauce over each bowl of risotto along with some clams and shrimp. Top with some of the Lump Crab and fresh basil.

There is no better pairing with RISOTTO WITH SEAFOOD SAUCE than a crisp Terradora di Paolo Falanghina from Campania – an Italian white wine that was just made for seafood! “Vieni sul mar…”


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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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September: Meatballs

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Don’t Mess With the Meatballs!

Meatball finish with script

Buon giorno!

So I am finally getting around to the simplest example of Italian cooking –  MEATBALLS. I like to call them the “Scarlet Pimpernell” of Italian cuisine – you remember: “ they seek him here, they seek him there… that damned elusive Pimpernell”. Meatballs are pretty much everywhere, but are rather elusive as it’s hard to find a really good one. Everyone has a recipe. People go to amazing lengths to jazz them up – complicate them – put their singular stamp on them. Truth is – there is no need to go to such lengths and most of them fail.

My trusty author-friend, Marcia Mayo (now Guiendon), a word wizard, and I were talking about meatballs at dinner the other night. I told her that for such a very simple thing, it was amazing how often they are bastardized especially by the American public in an effort to “get cute”  – be different – fill them full of things  etc. I said I should write about this. Agreeing, she recommended that I call my blog post “Don’t Mess With the Meatballs!”  So here we are – for all the folks who have asked for them.

In my life experience, the very finest meatballs were found right in my mother, Loretta’s, kitchen. If she were here, she would undoubtedly repeat one of her favorite lines, “Don’t be stupid!” She would not think the subject worthy of my time writing about it as they are so easy, so simple, that they couldn’t be such a big deal. Although, if she had any of the meatballs I have had lately, she might get it.

Loretta made her meatballs so simply and never by recipe. I watched her so many times, I have lost count. She always used the same few ingredients and counseled me in the same way on a couple of tips:

1. Always use an even mixture of ground beef chuck, pork, and veal.

2. Use your clean hands to mix the ingredients.

3.Don’t overwork the meat – don’t over mix as it toughens the meatball. Just pull the ingredients together gently and roll.

4. Always use fresh garlic and fresh Italian parsley.

5. Use fresh breadcrumbs – preferably from Italian bread at least a day old.

6. Wet your hands to roll the balls.

7. Fry them for best flavor and moistness.

I highly recommend the old KISS Method for meatballs. You know: “keep it simple stupid!” It just doesn’t get any easier.

If looking for a good Sunday Sauce for these meatballs – try my PORK RAGU!

Loretta, this one’s for you!


Makes: 14-15 Large meatballs

Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 8-10 minutes


2 lb. Ground beef, pork, and veal in fairly equal parts

2 C. Fresh Breadcrumbs

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic chopped finely

1/3 C. Chopped Fresh Italian Parsley

2/3 C. Grated Cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino, or Aged Provolone

1 Tsp. Kosher Salt

Freshly Ground Black Pepper

2 Eggs

If you are Sicilian – 1/4 C. Currants – Loretta would NOT like this!

Olive Oil for frying


See the meatball tips above in the text!!

If you can’t find the mix of ground meats, ask any butcher to grind it for you. It is traditionally the mixture for good meatloaf.

Make your own breadcrumbs by putting the bread in the food processor or blender and pulse to create the breadcrumbs.

Add to the meat mixture, the breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, grated cheese, salt and pepper and mix together with your hands. ( Add the currants if using) Don’t over mix – just pull it together. Over mixing toughens the meat.

Meatballs 1

Crack two eggs and add to the mixture. Mix together gently with your clean hands – just to moisten.

Meatballs 2

Clean your hands and wet them to roll the meatballs. Repeat wetting them if needed. You can roll any size you need – large or small for soup or lasagna.

Meatballs 3

Now you can fry them in olive oil as I recommend or bake them at 350 degrees. If you fry – they will be more moist. If you bake, be careful not to over cook as they will be hard – not more than 12 minutes – then finish in sauce.

Meatballs 5

For frying – brown them on all sides. Keep them moving in the oil for just a few minutes (about 6 min. depending on the heat) and then place them in your sauce to cook completely. If you want to – after browning you can bake them at 350 for about 5 minutes but you don’t have to if using them in sauce. You can also freeze them.

MEATBALLS are the Italians’ gift to the world. If kept simple and unembellished, they are heavenly. Try my recipe for Pork Ragu – the Sunday Sauce for finishing your meatballs. Open a lovely Chianti Classico to enjoy with them.


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August: Pesto Potatoes

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Pesto Potatoes finish with script

Buon giorno!

They say that in the coastal areas of the region of Liguria, the aroma of pesto permeates the air. This is not the same pesto that you see in the jars at your grocer – far from it! Many who say they do not care for it, have only this rather pathetic version in the jar from which to draw reference. Instead, this is the real thing, made from fresh picked herbs, fresh garlic, nuts (more traditionally pignoli) and the best extra virgin olive oil.

Now THIS is pesto!

Pesto Potatoes 3 with script

Your kitchen will smell like Liguria when you make PESTO POTATOES. This delicious dish, charged with immense flavor, is a beautiful accompaniment to any grilled meat, poultry, or fish.

In Liguria, most people grow their own basil. These days many of us here in the US grow our own as well. Fortunately, in more recent times, it is now always available at our local markets. So we can enjoy this amazing aromatic fresh herb all year round. Pesto can be ours at any time, just as in Liguria, anytime we want to make it. The wonderful thing about it is that it is soooo easy. If you have a few fresh ingredients and a blender – you can make your own! Dine like a true Ligurian, and prepare their signature green sauce for your own “Italian table!”.

PESTO POTATOES are fun to serve. Not only do they taste great ,but also this potato dish makes a beautiful presentation on your table. The potatoes bathe in the beautiful green sauce and more color pops through with the addition of sun dried tomatoes. The sun dried tomatoes also contribute a touch of sweetness brightening this largely savory dish.

These potatoes will disappear quickly! Serve them at your next grilling extravaganza!


Makes: 1 1/2-2 lb. potatoes

Prep: 30 minutes


1 1/2-2 lb. Small White Potatoes – skins on – cooked

2 C. Fresh Basil Leaves

1 Large Clove Fresh Garlic

3/4 C. Toasted Walnuts

1 Tbsp. Fresh Lemon Juice

3/4 C. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

2/3 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 C. Sun Dried Tomatoes, packed in oil – chopped small

Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings for garnish


Cook your potatoes and then slice them in half – or leave them whole if they are especially small.

Place the basil, garlic, walnuts, lemon juice, grated cheese, salt and pepper in a blender.

Pesto Potatoes 1

Run your blender while adding all of your oil slowly through the top in a stream as the mixture becomes a smooth paste. It will become a beautiful green color.

Pesto Potatoes 2

If it seems too dry – add more oil.

Taste for seasoning. It is important to add enough salt and pepper to bring out the flavor of this sauce.

Pour this pesto sauce over the cooked potatoes and gently toss.

Add the sun dried tomatoes and toss again.

Pesto Potatoes 5

Garnish with shavings of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Serve at room temperature.


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July: Mac and Cheese Italian Style

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Mac - finish with script

Buon giorno!

OK – Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t. Usually the opposite is the case – can’t get enough of it – want it every day – can’t resist it when it is served. This one will get the attention of the all who love the cheesy oozy comforting goodness of this classic dish. Only this time – we’re giving it that Italian “edge” with MAC AND CHEESE ITALIAN STYLE! If you can resist this one – Calabrisi does not end with an “I”!


We’re taking a slightly different turn with this though. It is not the orange colored mac and cheese we are so used to seeing from those… boxes. I make this with all kinds of short pastas – you choose! It is great with gnocchi as well. This recipe uses Fontina – the Italian melting cheese with the nutty flavor – that will take care of the OOZY. We add White Cheddar for the CHEESY. The Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago is there.. well, because why in the world wouldn’t we want it there??? The wine gives it that hint of loveliness, and we get touch of sweet from the butternut squash. You get the idea! We add one flavor level after another – until we hit the max… and then… we add (optional but incredible) seafood – lobster or shrimp. We have just cracked the ceiling of culinary heaven!


As if that is not enough – those who look for that something extra which makes this a truly distinctive and complex dish will finish with a “touch” of White Truffle Oil – oh YEAH!! Actually, I probably had you at Fontina – but gilding the lily is just, well, fun. So why not go for it. I think I can actually sense some palpitations here and with good reason. This is a VERY special dish!


Serves: 6-8

Prep: 35 minutes

Cook: 20 minutes


1 lb. Short pasta or gnocchi – cooked

1 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Tbsp. Butter

1 C. Chopped Pancetta – chops easier if partially frozen!

1 Medium Onion – chopped

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped finely

2 Tbsp. Flour

3/4 C. White Wine or Dry Vermouth

2 C. Half and Half or heavy cream – warmed

1 C. Grated Fontina

1 C. Grated Sharp White Cheddar

1/2 C. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago Cheese

1/2 C. Sliced Black Olives

1/2 C. Chopped Fresh Basil

2 C. Chopped Fresh Butternut Squash

1/2 C. Sliced almonds

1 C. Fresh White Breadcrumbs (not dried)

Drizzle of White Truffle Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil

OPTIONAL BUT AMAZING: 1 lb. Cooked Lobster Meat or 1 lb. Cooked Shrimp


Roast the Butternut Squash tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes until fork tender. Set aside.

1 Roasted Butternut Squash

Cook pancetta in oil and butter until just crisp.

Add onion and cook until tender.

2 Mac and Cheese

Add garlic and cook another minute – do not burn garlic!!

Add the flour and, stirring, cook the rawness out for a couple of minutes.

3 Mac and Cheese

Add the wine – cook a couple of minutes at medium high. It will thicken.

5 Mac and Cheese

Reduce heat a little and add the cream, stirring until it thickens again.

6 Mac and Cheese

Add the cheeses and melt in, stirring. Taste for seasoning. I like freshly ground pepper and Kosher salt.

7 Mac and Cheese

Add the olives, basil, squash and seafood, if using. Stir in.

8 Mac and Cheese

Toss the pasta with this sauce fully incorporating it. Use ALL of the sauce as you want it very “saucy and cheesy”.

Pour into a buttered baking pan or individual baking dishes and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and sliced almonds.

9 Mac and Cheese

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes until cheese is melted.

Pop under the broiler  for a minute if it is not golden brown on top from baking.

Drizzle with the white truffle oil – just a bit as a little goes a LONG way with this pretty amazing addition! — or drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Serve your MAC AND CHEESE ITALIAN STYLE as a main course or as a side at your next grilling event. Prepare for raves on this one!!! Take your bow and…


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June: Cocoa Ribs

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Cocoa Ribs finish 1 with script

Buon giorno!

Growing up in my Italian family, ribs were not part of the summer grilling repertoire. Spare ribs were reserved for making sauce and flavoring soups, beans, or minestra. After living in the South for more years than I lived as a “Yankee, ribs have crept into our barbeques over time – but not without a little Italian influence here and there from some special ingredients. We now look forward to ribs every summer – both beef and pork – but mostly pork. After making them for years, I think it’s time to share. Here they are – so good you’ll have trouble not biting into your fingers! The COCOA RIBS!

The best ribs: The best pork ribs I have used are from Circle B Ranch. They provide only the very best Heritage Pork products, humanely raised. OK – so that’s a good thing – but how do they taste? I wouldn’t be using their products again and again if they weren’t superior in flavor. Their ribs are terrific – lean and meaty with just the right amount of fat. I mean really! Just look at them! Visit their site, and give them a try!

What’s with the cocoa?? I can only say – you’ll see!! Remember these words – deep  – dark – rich – and mahogany…

These ribs can be made indoors or grilled outdoors – which means even if you don’t grill – you do not have to be deprived of them. I provide the instructions for cooking the ribs totally indoors, partially indoors with a quick char on the grill, and totally outdoors with smoke from wood chips. Although I prefer them cooked over the wood chips, I have made these all three ways, and they are still wonderful. If you use wood chips, apple, pecan, and cherry wood are good choices. But – if you like more pronounced flavor – you can always go with hickory.

For ease and convenience, you can prepare the rub and the sauce ahead, if you like, making the actual “rib day” an easy slide. I like to keep some of this rub in a sealed container in the pantry at all times, so I can quickly access some for grilling pork tenderloin, chicken, and brisket. Because it is a dry rub, it will last quite a while. I usually make the sauce a day or two ahead, although leftover sauce will serve you well for several days after you make it.

TIPRemember that these ribs are to be mostly cooked with the dry rub with the sauce reserved for the last few minutes of cooking – just to get that nice shine on them. Putting the sauce on too early causes them to burn and blacken. Then you serve the sauce on the side for dipping the ribs as you eat them. This is definitely the way to go!!

So andiamo – let’s fire up the grill and get that wood smoking.


Makes: about 3-4 racks of ribs

(pork or beef – I prefer baby backs)

Prep: 40 minutes

The Rub:


3 Tbsp. Chili Powder

4 Tbsp. Cocoa

1/3 c. Brown Sugar

¼ tsp. Cayenne Pepper

1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder

Salt and pepper


You can mix the rub ahead if you like.

Mix above ingredients together.

Cocoa Ribs 1

Rub the dry mixture all over your rib racks – both sides – a few hours before cooking.

Cocoa Ribs 3

Outdoor cooking: Cook the ribs on the grill over smoking wood chips until done, brushing them with the Sauce on both sides in the last few minutes of cooking. If you lather on the sauce early, the ribs will char too much. Just a a little sauce is necessary towards the end.The remaining sauce is used for dipping the ribs as you eat them. NOTE: These ribs are so much better grilled or smoked over wood chips!


For Indoor Cooking: Tent with foil and bake in the oven at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Carefully open the foil and turn the rack over. Cover again with the foil and bake another 15 minutes at same temperature.

The ribs are now essentially cooked. Brush them with sauce on both sides. Now pop them under the broiler on both sides.


For the Partial Indoor/Outdoor Combo Method: After the tent baking indoors, they just need a quick char on the grill. Brush them on both sides with the sauce, and place on the grill with cover down. Should take just about 3 minutes – check them – you don’t want them black. If they have the desired char – turn them over – close grill again for another 3 minutes or more if needed.

Cocoa Ribs finish 2 with script


Remove from grill – cut with scissors into individual ribs. Serve with a side of sauce for dipping the ribs.

The Sauce:


3 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Large Clove Garlic – finely chopped

2 c. Ketchup

1 c. Chicken Broth

4 Tbsp. Soy Sauce

1/3 c. Brown Sugar

3 Tbsp. Molasses

4 Tbsp. Red Wine Vinegar

1 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder (sift for fewer lumps)

1/8 tsp. Cayenne Pepper

2 Tbsp. Fresh Chopped Oregano


In a saucepan, cook chopped garlic in oil for a minute. Do not burn garlic. Then add the remaining ingredients.

Make sure to crush the lumps of cocoa powder against the side of the pot with the back of spoon to be sure they are fully incorporated in the sauce. Sifting the cocoa powder helps with this.

Cocoa Ribs 2

Simmer all for about 15-20 minutes until sauce reduces and is thickened. You can make this a day or 2 ahead. Keep in refrigerator and reheat before serving. The sauce lasts several days and you can just keep using the leftovers.

Do not taste for seasoning until the sauce is completely cooked and thickened. The flavors will blend and change during the cooking.

This sauce is great leftover for grilling chicken, pork, or beef brisket!

When you serve COCOA RIBS, you’ll want to pray to the Guardian Angel of leftovers that he/she grants you some. They are amazing the next day. You need no reminders to get the cold beers ready –But for a vino rosso – perhaps a Syrah or Linda’s favorite with barbeque – a good BARBERA!


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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography


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May: Peperonata Steak

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Steak peperonata with script

Buon giorno!

So patio season ( my favorite time of year) begins again in most places, and our thoughts turn to outdoor dining, sometimes lighter foods, and grilling. One of the best and most economical of grilling options, in my view, is my PEPERONATA STEAK.

I love eating and serving this as it is so easy, doesn’t break the bank, and everyone thinks they are having something special—and they would be right! I use flatiron steak for this dish. After whacking it a little with a mallet, I let it sit in olive oil and rosemary for a few hours or over night, and it never disappoints. It turns a not so special cut of meat into a tender juicy grilled delight.

About the meat: The flatiron steak is similar in appearance to flank steak, but I think is generally more tender. It is a shoulder cut as opposed to a stomach cut like flank steak which in my experience has been hit or miss. This steak does not take much cooking but when grilled properly produces a very tender result especially when sliced thinly across the grain. This dish makes a great presentation and steak lovers will be very happy with it. It also makes great leftover sandwiches, paninis, or steak salad the next day.! As with most beef – the flavor comes with what you do with it in the way of other ingredients. In this case, it is the peppers!

About peperonata: This is mainly Sicilian, but you will find some form of it in other areas of Italy. It is the brightest, most beautiful, array of peppers you will ever serve. The colors are so vivid and the flavor packs an amazing punch. It has many uses. Did I say easy?  Yes it is easy. No roasting involved. It is mainly a mixture of onions and peppers cooked on top of the stove. I usually make it earlier in the day and cover it until just before serving when all it will need is a warming. Pour this stuff over your meat and WOW! For Italians who may remember – it is perfect for those pepper and scrambled egg sandwiches we all remember from growing up. All in all, so much flavor – so much visual – you can’t lose!


Serves 4

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: about 20-25 minutes total


1 1/2 lb. Flatiron steak (sizes vary – this is approximate)

Olive Oil – enough to coat both sides of steak

2 Fresh Garlic Cloves – sliced

3 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary Leaves

Kosher Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

4 Whole Peppers – one of each color: green, yellow, orange, and red – sliced and cleaned of seeds and pith

1 Whole Sweet Onion – sliced

Splash of water

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil

3 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce

Kosher Salt and pepper to taste


Pound both sides of the steak with the sharp pointed side of a meat mallet. If you don’t have one, just take a steak knife and pierce the steak in several places on both sides.

Marinate several hours or overnight in olive oil to coat the steak – sliced fresh garlic – Rosemary Leaves – and sprinkle both sides with Kosher Salt and black pepper.

You can cook the peppers a few hours ahead if you like.

Slice the peppers thinly and remove seeds and pith. Place them in a large pan with the sliced onion, water, olive oil, Worcestershire, and salt and pepper to taste.

Cook covered about 6 minutes at medium high. Remove cover and continue to cook at same heat, stirring occasionally until the peppers and onions are tender – takes about 10-15 minutes total cooking time.

You can be the judge of how tender you like them. Set them aside, covered, until ready to serve. Then heat through before serving.

For the steak – you’ll want a VERY hot grill. Sear both sides well for about 3 minutes on each side or until you get some good grill marks –  then cook for just a few more minutes on low – until desired doneness.

When your steak is ready – let it sit about 10 minutes at least without cutting into it so that the meat juices reabsorb.

Slice the meat very thinly against the grain with a sharp knife or electric knife. Arrange on platter and pour your peppers over the top or down the middle.

PEPERONATA STEAK is worthy of a great Cabernet Sauvignon – or your favorite full bodied vino rosso. If you are feeling especially fancy – get out that beautiful Barolo you have been saving! Meet you on the patio!



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April: Pizza Rustica

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Pizzagaina or Easter Pie


Pizza Rustica slice with script

Buon giorno!

Now if that doesn’t get your attention – you might want to check your pulse! One of the most traditional Italian dishes of the Easter season is PIZZA RUSTICA. This wonder of the Italian kitchen is also known as Pizzagaina or Easter Pie. No matter what you call it, this delicious layered delight is fabulous. Eat it for brunch, lunch, dinner or as a special course at your Easter dinner. No matter how you slice it, this will win the hearts of all at your Italian table. Many raised in Italian homes will remember it. Perhaps, their Nonnas prepared it for Easter. Others, not familiar, will find this a simple dish that will please everyone. It is the best “Italian sandwich” you will ever find with everything in it that you love!

This is an easy dish to make really. This recipe is especially simple I think. You can make your dough in advance and refrigerate. Your results will be better if you allow it to come up to room temperature before you work with it. I make the dough in the food processor. You can just throw the ingredients in and whirl away! My addition of fresh Rosemary Leaves gives the dough a more interesting essence and really adds flavor overall.

The fun with this is that you can use any combination of filling ingredients that you like. Choose your own meats and cheeses. Some like to chop up all the filling items and just throw them into the pie shell all at once. this is easier of course. But I like to layer my ingredients. I think it is more interesting and prettier when it is sliced to layer.

This is one great pie to have hanging around in the frig. It is a meal in itself. You need nothing more!


Pizza Rustica 6 with script

Makes: 1  9-10 inch pie


Bake: 50-60 minutes depending on oven

Dough Ingredients

2 Cups All Purpose Flour

2 Sticks Butter – cold and cut into small pieces

1/2 Tsp. Kosher Salt

2 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary Leaves – chopped finely

2 Large Eggs

Dough Instructions

Place all of the above ingredients in a food processor bowl – and run the processor until the dough comes together.

Pizza Rustica 1

Pour it out onto a board and form into 2 balls.

Pizza Rustica 2

Rest the dough in the refrigerator about an hour.

When ready to use, set the dough out for about 20-30 minutes, letting it become warmer and easier to work with.

Roll out one ball and place into a 9-10 inch deep dish pie plate – or press it into the plate with your hands. Even out the edges.You can use a springform pan if you like.

Now you are ready to fill your Easter Pie.

Filling Ingredients

6 Hard Boiled Eggs sliced into about 4 slices

2 Links Italian Sausage taken out of the casings and browned in a fry pan.

1/2 lb. Fresh Mozzarella or Basket Cheese

1 Medium Onion sliced thinly and cooked in just a little olive oil until just tender and golden.

Choose your own sliced meats such as prosciutto, capicola, ham, soppresata, salami etc. I have used here:

1/2 lb. Sliced Ham

6 Oz. Sliced Capicola

2 Tbsp. Chopped Fresh Basil (you can substitute parsley if you like.)

4 Raw Eggs beaten

1/3 C. Grated Cheese – Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino or Provolone are good for this

Salt and Pepper to taste

( You can also add ricotta, drained or some chopped roasted red peppers if you like)

1 beaten egg to brush the top of the pie


After rolling out or pressing into the pie plate – one of the dough balls, begin to layer your ingredients inside it.

You can chop and mix the meats, cheese, hard boiled eggs, onions and basil together and pile it all in at once or layer the ingredients as I have done in the photos.

Start with the ham. Follow with the egg slices and then the sausage. Next spread the cooked onions over the top followed by the Basil and then the mozzarella. End with the capicola. You can do it as you like, but I like a layer of the sliced meat at the bottom and also at the top.

Pizza Rustica 3

Pizza Rustica 4

Next beat the 4 eggs and mix with the grated cheese and salt and pepper. Carefully pour this mixture over the pie. Watch that it doesn’t spill out.

Top the filling with the second ball of dough rolled out. Neaten, crimp, or flute your edges.

Beat an egg and brush the top of the pie with it.

Pizza Rustica 5

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 50-60 minutes until golden on top. Let cool completely.

I like to make it a day ahead. This gives it a chance to set well and to make beautiful slices.

You will truly enjoy making and eating this PIZZA RUSTICA, a sign of spring in any Italian kitchen! 



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March: Ricotta Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom Sauce

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Cousin Bebe’s Ricotta Gnocchi-

Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce - finish 1 with script

   Buon giorno!

I have this Cousin Bebe, who is an amazing mother, wife, and friend. She also cooks like a dream and is into hunting for the very best ingredients. You can already tell that we are sympatico in the ingredients department. Although – I must admit that she would walk farther for good baking chocolate than I would! Mostly, I love her because she makes me laugh on a regular basis – for that alone I would be ever grateful!

During one of our marathon conversations recently, she shared a dish with me that she loves with ricotta gnocchi and mushrooms that really sparked my interest. She said that a chef- friend of hers turned her on to it, and she was passing the idea on to me. I loved the idea immediately and ran with it! I tweaked it a little adding my own twist here and there, and my version of RICOTTA GNOCCHI WITH WILD MUSHROOMS was born. Bebe will find many changes to the original recipe. I hope she enjoys the new “take” on this dish!

About 5 star dishes at our house: I have a tough crowd in my kitchen with not only me critiquing dishes, but also my family. My husband, who has been gained a more discerning palate over time, has ranked this dish among his “5 star” picks! He just loves it. It was kind of surprising, as he is not a big gnocchi fan – but these gnocchi changed all that. He simply loves this!

Some thoughts on this dish: It can be vegetarian although chicken broth is called for in my recipe. Change to vegetable broth if you like. I prefer the chicken – but no harm – no foul. One suggestion is that I like the gnocchi ingredients to be room temperature before making them. Also – and the Italians from birth in the crowd can appreciate this distinction – often gnocchi are fashioned ,after cutting, into “cavatelli- like” shapes by using the two finger method. In this case, I stop after cutting, leaving them in the little pillow shapes. I just like them that way in this dish – a better visual – and I think they remain light, not acquiring more flour. I find than Ricotta Gnocchi are a little lighter than potato, and weighting them down with more flour does them an injustice, I think. Believe me on this one – you can’t mess these up!

About the mushrooms: It is no surprise that I elected to use Wild Mushrooms for the sauce, as I run with any opportunity to use them. It is a love affair with me and these wild ones as many of you know having followed my recipes. I roast them first to give them a deeper flavor and added a surprise ingredient – a little Balsamic Vinegar before roasting which is subtly detectable in the finished sauce and offers another level of flavor that is only achieved by the caramelization. This addition makes the difference between just a mushroom sauce and one that immediately piques interest when it hits the palate.


I think of this dish as in the Northern Italian style, especially with the use of butter and mascarpone as the cooks of the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Lombardia might suggest. In Lombardia, they would probably use the wonderful Porcini mushrooms, plentiful in the lake area.

This dish requires a little time in the making of the gnocchi. The sauce – on the other hand – comes together quickly.

The gnocchi may be made ahead and frozen by spreading them out on a sheet pan – freezing them in a single layer. Then you can transfer them, once frozen, to a ziploc bag until ready to cook. Do not defrost before cooking. Drop them into the boiling water straight from the freezer.

My enthusiasm for this dish runneth over!! These gnocchi simply rock! I can’t wait for you to try them!


Serves: 4

Prep: 40 minutes

Cook: 3 minutes


2 Cups Flour +  Flour for the board

2 Large Eggs

2 Cups Ricotta Cheese – Whole Milk please


You can start the old fashioned way by pouring the flour onto a board – making a well and placing the eggs and ricotta in the middle. Proceed by mixing the dough with clean hands.



It is much faster and easier to put the flour, eggs, and ricotta into your food processor and with a few turns, the dough comes together almost immediately! It will be sticky. Put some flour on your hands and place some flour on your board or surface. Take some of the dough out of the processor bowl with your floured hands – make a ball and roll into a 1/2-3/4 inch thick rope on your floured surface.


With a sharp knife, cut the rope into small 3/4 inch sections or “pillows”. (They will look like little pillow shapes)

finished gnocchi

Continue with all of the balls until you use all the dough. Sprinkle the gnocchi with flour. (I like the gnocchi for this dish to remain in pillow shape. Often we roll the pillows each more time through flour with two fingers to roll them or over the tines of a fork. If you prefer to do this you can.)

You can make the gnocchi ahead and freeze them which makes this a very easy dish to prepare for guests. To freeze: lay the gnocchi in a single layer on a sheet and put them into the freezer. When frozen, put the gnocchi in a ziploc bag, seal and place in freezer until ready to use them. Do NOT defrost them before using.

Drop the gnocchi into rapidly boiling water (straight from the freezer if frozen). I like to boil them in 1/3’s giving them a stir after dropping them in. Remove them to a serving dish when they rise to float at the top of the water – about 3-4 minutes. Very quick!


Serves: 4

Prep: 20-25 minutes total


1 lb. Assorted cleaned wild mushrooms of your choosing (Regular button mushrooms can be used, but the wild ones offer a more earthy flavor to the dish.)

Olive oil to drizzle mushrooms for roasting

Balsamic Vinegar to drizzle mushrooms for roasting

Salt and Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tbsp. Olive Oil

2 Tbsp. Butter

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic – finely chopped

2 Tbsp. Fresh Rosemary Leaves

1 Tbsp. Porcini Powder  – Optional (sometimes hard to find)

3/4 C. Dry White Wine or Dry Vermouth

3/4 C. Chicken Broth

1/3 Cup Mascarpone Cheese (optional)

Grated Asiago Cheese to serve


Spread the cleaned mushrooms on a baking sheet. Drizzle them with olive oil and then follow with a light drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar. Add salt and pepper. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 10-15 minutes.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce 4

Remove from oven – slice or leave whole and set them aside along with any juices that flowed during roasting.

Put olive oil and butter in a large fry pan, melting the butter.

Add the mushrooms, juices, garlic, rosemary, porcini powder if using, wine, and broth to the pan. At medium high heat, rapidly bubble for 6-8 minutes or until the liquid is reduced down to 1/2 and slightly concentrated. The liquid will thicken slightly.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce 5

Turn off the heat. At this point, if you are using the mascarpone,which I recommend because the sauce becomes so velvety and rich – add it, stirring, and melting into the hot sauce. If you choose not to use the mascarpone – the sauce is still lovely though not as rich.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Mushroom Sauce 6

Pour the sauce and mushrooms over the cooked gnocchi. Garnish with a little Rosemary and serve with grated Asiago.

RICOTTA GNOCCHI WITH WILD MUSHROOM SAUCE is such a beautiful dish to serve.It is one of those dishes you dream about later. Yeah, it’s THAT good! Although the preparation is simple, the flavors are complex. I have to agree with my husband when he says “this is a 5 star dish!”



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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography


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February: Dark Chocolate Torta Caprese Style

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Torta Caprese Al Cioccolato-

Torta finish B with script 2

Buon giorno!

One of the interesting facts about Italian regional cooking is that there are different names for the same or similar dish as you move from region to region. The recipes may vary slightly, but they are essentially the same. An example of this is the simple Chocolate Torte. The one we look at here is the Neapolitan version of this torte –  DARK CHOCOLATE TORTA CAPRESE STYLE  or Torta Caprese Al Cioccolato. This torta is representative of the Caprese style version or the type made in the region of Campania.

Campania, the region of Naples, Capri, and Sorrento  – is boastful of its history, music, and soul – and with good reason. The people of this region live life out loud with drama and spontaneity at the foot of an active volcano. Life to the people of Campania is best lived with abandon and painted with love in the bold colors of its people and spirit.

Their torte or torta is not only dense, but also rich, gooey, moist and  – everything you want in a dark dramatic chocolate dessert that is seductive and sexy. This is it! It lacks a lot of flour, and instead, calls for ground almonds as is the way of many Italian cakes. It contains several eggs and may almost appear to be underdone when finished. It is best when it sits a while or is refrigerated and then presented several hours later or allowed to sit overnight. Then the slices are firm.

This DARK CHOCOLATE TORTA is the dessert you must seek for romantic dinners, Valentine’s Day or a treat for chocolate lovers. This is your dark, handsome paramour or inamorata, waiting to be summoned!

When love calls…beckon forth…



Makes: One 9 inch cake


1 ½ sticks butter – cut into pieces

8 oz. Good dark chocolate – I like 60-70% cocoa – broken into pieces

½ c. sugar

¾ c. brown sugar

6 large eggs

1 tsp. Almond Extract

1 c. ground almonds (grind in food processor)

1 Tbsp. Flour

1 ½ Tbsp. Cocoa

Powdered sugar and cocoa for dusting


Grease a 9 inch spring form pan.

Melt butter and chocolate together in a double boiler or in a bowl over boiling water. Mix well & cool down.

Torta Caprese 2

In a mixer bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, brown sugar, and almond extract.

Torta Caprese 1

Add the chocolate butter mixture, and incorporate well.

Add ground almonds, flour, and cocoa.

Torta Caprese 3

Mix together and pour into prepared pan.

Torta Caprese 4

Bake in a 350 degree oven until firm in the center – about 40 minutes. Time will depend on how hot your oven is. This is a very moist cake! Do not over cook it!

Remove sides of spring form and let cool.

Sift powdered sugar mixed with cocoa over the top of the cake.

Serve with whipped cream or berries.

Here is another serving idea – cut into squares.

Torta Capresa with script 1

DARK CHOCOLATE TORTA CAPRESE STYLE says love in every language!


Comments are welcome in the “Speak Your Mind Area” beneath this post online.



Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography


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January: Novecento Cake

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Novecento finish with script

Buon giorno!

I am about to share my favorite cake recipe with you! This one is a keeper folks! It is called NOVECENTO CAKE! This cake has so many ingredients in it that I love – hazelnuts, mascarpone, Nutella, whipped cream, and Frangelico liqueur. It just spells L-O-V-E. This cake also has kind of an interesting story…

I receive a lot of email from folks who enjoy Italian food, sharing memories and stories, etc. I truly treasure these emails – the fuel that keeps me going. Sometimes I receive inquiries about specific recipes. Some of these recipes have me completely stumped – in other words – I have never heard of them!  There was one not long ago that both stumped me and captured my full attention.

Recently, I received an email from Terry, a friend of my website, inquiring about a cake he sampled in Italy that he absolutely could not forget. Terry visited Piemonte, a region in the North of Italy known for its amazing food and its wine country. While touring the town of Ivrea, he encountered the NOVECENTO CAKE and became determined to find or recreate it. 

The history: The cake was the brainchild of Ottavio Bertinotti, a pastry chef of reknown, in the town of Ivrea in Piemonte in the late 1800’s to herald the coming of a brand new century. This is how he arrived upon the name “novecento”. The recipe was a secret then and the secret is held closely even today – virtually impossible to obtain.Today it is made by a pasticcieria  called “Balla”. Unfortunately, Balla guards the secret recipe tightly and will not reveal it. The whole idea of secrecy intrigued me, so I spent some time researching the cake. Several have tried to duplicate it, and I have now joined this group of obsessed individuals.

After some time pondering this thing – I decided to come up with my own version – based loosely on what little I could find in research. As luck would have it, I saw that sponge cake or Pane di Spagna was used for the cake itself. Now this just happened to be a favorite and often made cake by my mother, Loretta. She loved sponge cake so we had it a lot at home, and she had a lovely recipe for it. I tweaked that lovely recipe especially for this cake by adding a bit of cocoa. She would, I think, be proud of this new creation especially since her sponge cake became the foundation on which to build it.

I also happen to love the flavor of hazelnuts which I added to the filling in the form of Nutella.

One nice thing about sponge cake is that it will hold liquid without becoming soggy. Maybe that’s why they call it sponge cake? Your call! As with many Italian desserts, this cake just begged to be brushed with “something potent.” I brushed the layers generously with Frangelico which is a hazelnut liqueur.

The resulting cake – not difficult to make – is a very typically Italian tasting pastry delight which has become my favorite dessert. It deserves the honor of the title: RECIPE OF THE MONTH!


Makes: One 3 layer cake

Prep: 1 hour 30 minutes

For Sponge Cake (Pane di Spagna):


8 egg yolks

8 egg whites

2 tsp. almond extract

1 1/3 C. Flour

1 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder

1 1/4 C. sugar

1 1/2 Tbsp. Water

1/4 tsp. salt


( I like to make the sponge cake layers a day ahead of assembly and then make filling and assemble and let sit several hours or preferably overnight.)

Sift the flour, cocoa, and salt 3 times into a bowl.

Novecento 1

In mixer – mix egg yolks, sugar, water, and extract until light colored.

Novecento 2

Add flour mixture to the yolk mixture gradually making a batter.

Novecento 4

Beat egg whites until stiff and then fold them into the batter with a spatula. Add a little of the whites at first and beat them in with a spatula to lighten the batter. Then fold the rest in.

Novecento 5

Novecento 6

Pour into 3 greased and floured 9 “ cake pans.

Novecento 7

Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes and turn out of pans to cool completely. Refrigerate the layers overnight and fill the next day.



8 oz. Mascarpone Cheese

1 Cup Whipped Heavy Cream

dash salt

3 Tbsp. Sugar

1/2 C. Nutella

2 Tbsp. Frangelico liqueur (hazelnut)


Mix the Frangelico and Nutella together until smooth.

Novecento 8

Beat the Nutella mixture together with the mascarpone until blended.

Novecento 9

Whip the cream with the sugar and salt.

Novecento 10

Add a little of the whipped cream to the Nutella and Mascarpone mixture and mix in to lighten. Then fold in the rest of the whipped cream.




3/4 C. Frangelico for brushing

1/2 C. Toasted Coarsely Chopped Hazelnuts

1/4 C. Powdered sugar

1/2 Tbsp. Cocoa Powder


Brush the tops of all sponge cake layers generously with Frangelico liqueur. It requires about 3/4 C. of liqueur for this.

Novecento 11

Spread 1/2 of the filling over the first layer.

Top with the second layer – press down a little on it –  and spread with the remaining filling.

Novecento 12

Top with the third layer. Press down again to firmly plant the layers and filling together.

Novecento 13

Sprinkle the toasted hazelnuts on the top layer.

Novecento 14

Mix the powdered sugar and cocoa together and sift over the top of the cake.

Novecento 15

Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Slice your NOVECENTO CAKE  and serve with Frangelico, espresso or coffee. A dollop of whipped cream on the side of each slice is nice! Enjoy this one!


  Comments are welcome in the “Speak Your Mind Area” beneath this post online.



Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography


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