December 17, 2008

Italialicious Bananattone

I know this is not the traditional recipe you might have been expecting, however it’s very original and full of flavor! Also, making traditional panettone is a long process, and then you have to wait for the panettone to mature. On the other hand, my bananattone needs less yeast expertise, and you can both bake it and enjoy it on Christmas day (although it does require 1 overnight rising process)!

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
5 ¼ cups bread flour
9 Tbsp honey
¾ cup milk
2 ½ tsp yeast
2 cups walnuts, raisins and candied orange and lemon peel
2 large eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp orange essence (or orange blossom water)
½ cup olive oil
½ cup sugar
1/4 milk and 1 tsp sugar to brush your loaves

On Christmas Eve

Dissolve 2 Tbsp honey in a cup of warm milk. Add the yeast and stir. Let it rise for a couple of minutes in a warm place. Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients: flour and sugar. Mix the mashed bananas with about 7 Tbsp honey (I’m sure 7 Tbsp honey has an equivalent in cups, but Tbsp is what I used, so…). Add the vanilla extract and the orange essence to the banana mixture (you can also use 1 ½ tsp of fiori di Sicilia extract). Reserve the banana mixture. Add the two eggs to the flour and sugar mixture and beat it using a stand mixer. While beating this flour mixture, add the eggs. Beat until little crumbs form. Now it’s time to add the active yeast to the flour. Add olive oil and, finally, the banana mixture. Beat until everything is incorporated and you get a nice dough. Let it rise for about 1 ½ hours.

After wrapping your presents ;) , punch the dough down. Sprinkle the nuts and fruit with a couple of tablespoons of flour. Add the nuts and fruit to the dough. Add a pinch of salt. With a stand mixer, knead the dough for at least 25 minutes. Put the dough in two bread molds – or several muffin molds, if you want bananattone muffins – and brush the top with sugared milk (add a touch of orange essence to the milk too). Let it rise in the fridge overnight.

On Christmas day

Brush your bananattoni (plural) with warm sugared milk (again, with a nice touch of orange essence). Let the bananattoni rest at room temperature for about 1 hour. Then bake in a 375F preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes until nice and golden brown. And that’s it! HAPPY HOLIDAYS!!!!


When putting the dough into the molds, you should do it until you reach half the height of the mold. Before baking, your bread should have risen all the way to the height of the mold.

I’m very fond of the texture you get with my recipe. It’s fluffy and you get a really good substitute for real panettone. So, it was a smart idea! The cost you pay is a loss of aroma, because bananattone smells like bananas!

Finally, I must say I got inspired by Annie Brocoli and her Nanas Bananas!

Posted by Daziano at 10:01 PM | 17 comments  
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December 15, 2008

In search for a crèche and starting a Christmas tradition

Once upon a time, Christmas Eve dinner in Italy was very light, people went to the Midnight Mass, and then when they came home they exchanged gifts. A traditional Christmas in Italy nowadays involves the cenone di natale or huge Christmas Eve dinner with your family. You wait until midnight, and when midnight arrives the first thing you do is to put Gesù Bambino (Baby Jesus) in your crèche. Then, you exchange gifts with your family. And then, you continue eating! On Christmas day you don’t stop eating: now it’s time for friends to come over and have a huge lunch together – il pranzo di Natale!

Crèche or Nativity scenes (presepe or presepio in Italian) are a deep Italian tradition for Christmas. In fact, one can say it’s the most Italian among Christmas traditions since it was Saint Francis of Assisi who was the first to think of recreating the birth of baby Jesus (even though Neapolitans claim they had the first presepe about 250 years before Saint Francis’ one… well, in any case everything is connected to the Roman and Etruscan tradition of lares). Then, each region developed its very own tradition: wooden presepi in the northern regions (namely around Genoa), finely sculpted presepi in Bologna, ornate presepi with local products in Sicilia, and the complex and extremely realistic presepi in Naples. Presepi viventi (living crèches), where costumed people recreate the Nativity scene, are found all around Italy too: I played Saint Joseph when I was a kid!

I spent my first Christmas in North America in Philadelphia, and since the presepe was so important to me I needed to have one. But I wasn’t aware how difficult it was to get one. Before coming to North America, I lived in Chile where some traditions are very close to the ones you can find in Italy. In Chile, you have a huge dinner on Christmas Eve with your family, then you have a huge lunch on Christmas day using leftovers from the night before, and you always have a pesebre or crèche next to the Christmas tree. And you can buy these Nativity scenes all around the city; you can even buy one from street vendors in the markets. Well, getting one in Philadelphia wasn’t easy at all. First, I was surprised that in English you use the French word crèche to describe it. That was the first piece of evidence that it wasn’t a very American thing. Then we visited like 5 different Christmas stores. They didn’t have it. The last store we visited actually had one: a huge inflatable crèche. And a cold air balloon wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. Then we expanded our search limits and we went to the suburbs. And a crèche we did find, imported directly from Italy, of course. But it was too expensive, I mean extremely expensive. Christmas was coming and I didn’t have a crèche! Then one friend told us to ask a friend of his. She was an Irish Catholic girl, married to an Italian guy (that’s another thing I discovered here: Italians and Irish get along very well!). And she told us about the right place to go! And so we finally got a crèche!

Since Americans usually don’t do anything for Christmas Eve, I started a personal tradition of preparing a huge dinner to share with friends – and then we spend Christmas day with the family. It’s a late dinner because we wait until midnight. But it’s not a hard wait, because we have several antipasti, pasta as a starter, a comforting entrée and dessert. At midnight we put Baby Jesus in his manger, and we exchange gifts. I love to have a special gift for every guest, like a cute Nutcracker, and I always have some panettone to give! After that, we have a good cup of espresso, panettone, panforte and torrone! As you can see, I simply love Christmas! Of course, the first year we invited the Irish-Italian couple who told us where to find our crèche. And they loved our dinner so much that now they started their own tradition of a Christmas Eve dinner with friends.

Posted by Daziano at 8:55 AM | 14 comments  
December 10, 2008

There ain’t no ‘feast of the seven fishes’ in Italy

On my first Christmas in America, my neighbor told me that the feast of the seven fishes was being held in an Italian restaurant next to us. She was really excited about it, but I had no idea what on earth she was talking about. So, I was like ‘Uh?’ and I guess she totally perceived my un-excitement, because she repeated once again her sentence, and now with greater excitement and joy. Then she was really surprised when she had to explain to me that the ‘seven fishes’ was an Italian tradition. And yet it was the very first time in my entire life I had heard about it. After that experience, I found books about the feast of seven fishes with recipes from the Italian market in Philly, I saw signs inviting you to go to the ‘seven fishes’ in churches all around Italian-American neighborhoods in New Jersey, and I even read about it in Wikipedia (even though you should get suspicious when you notice there’s no link for an article in Italian)… So I discovered that for Americans the feast of the seven fishes is supposed to be THE ultimate Italian tradition for Christmas.

Is it really? Well, the true answer is no, it’s not. I tried to be nice and polite with my neighbor so I told her that maybe it was a regional tradition I didn’t know. But the true answer is still the same: there’s no such thing as ‘feast of the seven fishes’ in Italy. Hard to believe for Americans, I know. It’s even hard to believe for Italian-Americans.

So, where did the whole idea come from? I really don’t know. In Italy, every region has its own traditions for Christmas. However, it was pretty general once that on Christmas Eve Italians had a light dinner before going to Church for the Mass of the Vigil at midnight. Strictly speaking, Christmas Eve is supposed to be a fast day for Catholics, but every single Italian thought of ‘la cena di magro’ (the dinner without meat) as a way to prepare for the huge lunch on Christmas day. I know you’re thinking ‘Aha!… so Italians do have a dinner without meat for Christmas Eve after all’. You’re right, but a dinner without meat doesn’t necessarily imply a dinner with fish (and the seven-different-fish-dishes idea is completely strange to me and totally absent in Italy). On the one hand, it is true that fish is perfectly suitable for a dinner without meat: a starter made of smoked salmon or an eel entrée are two popular dishes for Italian cena di magro. But on the other hand, cheese and vegetables are perfectly suitable for a dinner without meat too. In fact, tortellini in brodo (a kind of soup made with tortellini pasta filled with cheese and vegetables) is pretty popular for Christmas Eve in northern Italy. Also this light dinner is a tradition that is disappearing in Italy. Nowadays nobody goes to church anymore (or at least not as it used to be), and the cenone di Natale (huge Christmas dinner) is becoming the new tradition. And for the cenone di Natale all the abundance of the traditional Christmas lunch is permitted: filled capon, pork, lamb, ham and even turkey!
Posted by Daziano at 5:50 PM | 15 comments  
November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving gnocchi à la cassonade

Well, I have to tell you I’m not the first to think of sweet potato gnocchi as the perfect starter for Thanksgiving. In fact, I got inspired by my fav star chef: Giada De Laurentiis. I totally love Giada! We have the same style of Italian cooking! I mean it’s really impressive. Sometimes I’m watching her show on the Food Network and I’m like: Gosh, that’s exactly how I cook! Giada has an (almost ;) ) unique style which blends authentic Italian cuisine and the American convenience concept, together with a nice Californian touch and a French approach in her techniques. And I cook Italian, with recipes I learned from my Italian family, I lived in Chile (and Santiago looks exactly like a Californian city… with a nice French appeal!) and now I live in North America so I got the French connection à la québécoise!

That being said, and despite my unconditional love for Giada, I must say her gnocchi recipe got some mixed reviews (apparently the gnocchi turn a bit soggy)… so why not give my Thanksgiving gnocchi recipe a try? ;)

2 lbs sweet potatoes
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1 ½ to 2 cups all purpose flour

6 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp brown sugar
Salt and pepper

Making gnocchi is quite easy. Roast, microwave or boil the sweet potatoes until tender. Peel the sweet potatoes and mash them. Knead the mashed sweet potatoes with the egg yolk, 1½ cup flour, cinnamon and salt. Stop kneading when the dough comes together. Add more flour only if the dough is wet and too sticky. Roll the dough into a ball, and then cut it into pieces. Roll each piece into long ‘snakes’ about ½-inch thick. Cut the snakes into ½-inch pieces. Sprinkle with flour, and shape the gnocchi using a fork or a gnocchi paddle (rigagnocchi). Set the gnocchi on a floured kitchen towel. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sugar, a bit of salt and pepper, and stir.

Drop the gnocchi into salted boiling water. The gnocchi are ready when they start to rise and float to the surface (about 1 minute or so). Remove the gnocchi from the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the skillet with the sauce. Serve and impress your guests!

Happy American Thanksgiving!

Gnocchi must be cooked right after shaping them – or they can be frozen.
Posted by Daziano at 3:08 PM | 16 comments  
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November 24, 2008

A couple of ideas for Thanksgiving side dishes

Zesty roasted asparagus
1 bunch asparagus
3 Tbsp Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 Tbsp olive oil
Lemon zest
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Clean the asparagus, discard the tough stem ends. Peel the bottom part of the asparagus if the stems are too thick. Drizzle the asparagus with olive oil and put them in a single layer on a sheet pan. Sprinkle some freshly ground black pepper and just a touch of salt on top. Roast the asparagus in a 400F preheated oven for about 12 minutes. Take out of the oven, sprinkle with the lemon zest and the cheese. Return the asparagus to the oven and roast for a couple of minutes until the cheese turns nice and golden. Drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice before serving.

Rustic mashed sweet potatoes with ricotta cheese
2 lbs sweet potatoes
1 ½ cup ricotta cheese
2/3 cup milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper

Roast, microwave or boil the sweet potatoes until tender. When the sweet potatoes are ready, mash them roughly. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter, add the ricotta cheese and the milk, and stir. When the ricotta gets warm, add the mashed sweet potatoes, the pumpkin puree, salt and pepper. Pour in some olive oil, give a quick stir and serve!
Posted by Daziano at 10:06 PM | 14 comments  
November 21, 2008

Italian-American Thanksgiving pumpkin biscuits

My pumpkin biscuits are perfect for an Italian-American Thanksgiving feast!

1 cup pumpkin purée
1 cup brown sugar
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp baking soda
¾ cup ricotta cheese
2 eggs
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp orange essence
Orange zest
1 cup golden raisins (soaked in 2 Tbsp rum)
2 Tbsp maple syrup
Pinch of salt

Mix the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add the pumpkin purée (I used homemade pumpkin puree, but you can certainly use store-bought). Then add the eggs one by one and stir. Add one cup of brown sugar, the olive oil, the ricotta cheese, the orange essence and orange zest, the cinnamon, the maple syrup and a pinch of salt. Finally add the raisins. Stir to incorporate everything (I used my pretty apple-green stand mixer). Preheat the oven to 350F. Put some cooking spray on your muffin pan, and then scoop the batter into the pan. Sprinkle some more brown sugar on top. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, until the biscuits turn golden. Serve warm and, of course, devour them with some butter!
Posted by Daziano at 9:52 PM | 11 comments  
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November 18, 2008

Wine of the year

Each year, Wine Spectator makes a list of the 100 most exciting wines of the year. This year, the winner is a Chilean wine! Chilean wines, especially the red ones, are world renowned because of their quality and attractive prices. In the last few years, Chilean wines have been spotted among the top 10, but this is the first time a Chilean wine tops the list as the best one.

The winner, Casa Lapostolle’s Clos Apalta 2005, is a vintage wine made of a blend of Merlot (26%), Cabernet Sauvignon (28%), aromatic Petit Verdot (4%) and Chilean distinctive Carmenère (42%). This blend was originally made in Bordeaux, France. However, in 1867 a plague attacked all the vineyards in Europe, and Carmenère – the Bordeaux variety hardest to grow – virtually disappeared. At least that was what people thought.

Chile has a long history of wine production. Because of the wonderful dry Mediterranean climate in its central valley, the conquistadors realized they could bring wine grapes to Chile and began to produce wine around Santiago. It wasn’t a particularly good wine, partly because it was made for use in the Mass. However in the 19th century, Chile adopted France as a role model (you can experience the French feeling in Chile looking at some interesting architectural corners in Santiago and around the vineyards). Because of the French connection, Chile changed its production of wine. They imported cuttings from Bordeaux, and among them they brought Carmenère. Without knowing, Chilean producers continued to grow this wine grape thinking it was Merlot. Only in 1994 a French specialist confirmed that it was Carmenère! Since then, this lost grape has become a staple among Chilean wines. I personally believe Carmenère is the most interesting wine from Chile since it has a unique and very intriguing flavor. So, it doesn’t surprise me that the most exciting wine in the world has Carmenère as its main grape!


The year 2005 was particularly good for every Chilean wine!
Posted by Daziano at 9:41 PM | 7 comments  
November 14, 2008

Turkey milanesas with cranberry sauce

Milanesas are a creation of Italian immigrants in Argentina. After a piece of tango and a hot sip of mate, they mixed two Milanese dishes: cotolette and scaloppine. In Argentina, milanesas are usually made with beef or veal. However, you can easily transform this Italian-Argentine dish into a holiday recipe by using turkey cutlets! I made this for Canadian Thanksgiving and it was a big hit, so why not give it a try for American Thanksgiving? It’s the perfect recipe for an easy turkey dinner!


1 pound turkey cutlets
2 eggs
1 Tbsp cold water
1¼ cup bread crumbs
¾ cup flour
Salt, pepper
Butter for sautéing (about 4 Tbsp)

Set flour, eggs and breadcrumbs separately in three shallow bowls. Add water to the eggs and beat this mixture slightly to obtain an egg wash. Season the flour with some salt and pepper (if you’re using seasoned bread crumbs just add a little touch of salt and pepper). Pound each cutlet gently to get thin and tender milanesas. Then, start a standard breading procedure: cutlets in flour first, then egg wash. After the egg wash dipping, put your cutlets in a colander. The extra egg will drain, and you’ll be able to wash your hands to continue. Dip the cutlets into the bread crumbs, and sauté the milanesas in a preheated saucepan with butter. Over medium-high heat, it won’t take more than 5 or 6 minutes to be ready. Drain the cutlets on paper towels, and serve with my French Canadian cranberry sauce.

Branching out
Buenos Aires shrimp muzarella pizza
Posted by Daziano at 9:05 PM | 20 comments  
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November 11, 2008

French Canadian cranberry sauce - sauce aux canneberges

Ok. I know it might be a little weird to pretend to teach you how to make cranberry sauce. We don’t even have cranberries in Italy. In fact, I had to consult Wikipedia to discover that in Italian there’s the word ossicocco for cranberry. And I’m telling you, I had no idea of the existence of that word until now.

Anyhow, since my blog is like my public recipe book that I consult myself whenever I want to make something I did before, here’s the recipe for my French Canadian cranberry sauce. Why is it French Canadian? Well, I cook Italian but I’ve learned some culinary customs from around here. So I decided to use maple syrup (is there anything more Canadian than maple syrup? And Quebec is the biggest producer in the world). I also used brown sugar, a very northern France ingredient for me, and very popular in Quebec too (the French connection!).

3 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup water
1/3 cup maple syrup
2/3 cup brown sugar

Dissolve the sugar in the water. Add the maple syrup. In a saucepan over medium high heat, bring this mixture to a boil for a couple of minutes. Add the cranberries. Stir often. When the cranberries begin to pop, reduce the heat to medium. Let the sauce simmer for about 5 or 6 minutes. After that, it’s ready to serve! How about on top of some polenta?
Posted by Daziano at 9:24 PM | 17 comments  
November 8, 2008

Tastes of Italia

Hi! I’ve been busy traveling, celebrating Obama’s victory, planning my holiday trip, writing my dissertation proposal and also working on a paper that eventually I’ll present in England next year. But don’t worry. I haven’t stopped cooking. In fact, I have some nice ideas for the holiday season. Also, for my B-day I got a stand mixer! And I’ve already baked some panettone!

In addition, and while I find time to post some recipes, I have to tell you that my Italian clam chowder (which I made for last Christmas) is on the Nov/Dec issue of Tastes of Italia magazine. You’ll find it among the readers’ favorite recipes. And mine was selected as the featured one!

Posted by Daziano at 9:12 PM | 22 comments  
October 27, 2008

Fresh and tangy shrimp, olive and arugula salad

This is another extremely simple idea for a salad.

Fresh shrimp, cleaned
Stuffed green olives
Baby Arugula
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Olive oil

Cook the shrimp in salted boiling water over medium heat for about 3 minutes until the shrimp turn pink. Let the shrimp cool. To create your salad, just mix the cooled shrimp with olives and arugula. Add a touch of coarse salt, and drizzle with a nice quantity of olive oil and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Stuffed green olives are a very common snack in Italy and Spain. Usually they are stuffed with red peppers, almonds or anchovies!
Posted by Daziano at 7:44 PM | 16 comments  
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October 23, 2008

Luxurious duck and chickpea salad

This is an incredibly chic salad that’s ready in no time. Preparing duck is very easy, but you have to eat it rare or medium rare. I know how afraid North Americans get when it comes to eating nearly raw food. But trust me, you’ll just love duck!

2 duck breasts
2 cups mixed mushrooms (crimini and oyster)
1 can chickpeas
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Olive oil
Thyme, salt and pepper

Before cooking the duck, with a sharp knife cut the duck breasts on the skin side in a crisscross pattern. Your cuts must be deep enough to almost get into the meat, taking care to not actually touch the meat. We want the duck to lose the fat in the skin while it’s cooking, but we don’t want to lose the juices. Sprinkle the skin side of the duck with some coarse salt and pepper. In a skillet, sauté the duck with a light touch of olive oil for about 3 minutes over medium-high heat, on the skin side first. When the skin is nice, golden and crunchy, sprinkle some salt on the meat side and turn the duck. Sauté the duck breasts for about 7 minutes over medium heat. In the meantime, drain and wash the chickpeas. To warm them up, use your microwave oven or quickly sauté them in a skillet (you can even rinse them using hot water).

When the duck is ready, take it out of the skillet and wait for about 2 minutes before cutting. Use the same skillet to sauté the mushrooms until nice and golden brown. Cut the duck into nice chunks, and put these on top of the chickpeas and mushrooms. Drizzle with a generous quantity of olive oil and lemon juice, and some salt and fresh thyme.

Even though you could eat this salad cold, you can appreciate the flavors better when it’s eaten warm.
Posted by Daziano at 6:12 PM | 13 comments  
October 20, 2008

Piquant prosciutto crudo, ricotta, limone candito e rucola panini

French baguette is an all time classic for a sandwich, even in Italy. But if you’re using classic bread, a nice idea is to let your creativity work on choosing what to put inside. Prosciutto crudo (simply called prosciutto in North America) has a savory quality that pairs well with creamy ricotta cheese. Arugula gives freshness and peppery flavor. Finally, canditi di limone or Italian candied lemon peel completes the sandwich with an interesting zing.

Ingredients (for 2 sandwiches)
1 medium sized baguette
6 paper-thin slices prosciutto
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp candied lemon peel

Slice the baguette in half lengthwise. Mix the ricotta cheese with the olive oil and candied lemon peel. Simply put the slices of prosciutto on one half of the baguette. On top, spread the ricotta mixture. Add the arugula and a touch of coarse salt. Close your sandwich.
Posted by Daziano at 9:19 PM | 21 comments  
October 17, 2008

Italian-Canadian picnic

When fall colors are at their best and you’re lucky enough to have a sunny day, you then have the perfect setting for an Italian-Canadian picnic. We went to gorgeous Parc National de la Mauricie in Quebec, about an hour and a half from both Montreal and Quebec City.

So, what are the staples for an Italian-Canadian picnic? Please take note:

Fresh and tangy shrimp, olive and arugula salad
Luxurious duck and chickpea salad
Piquant prosciutto crudo, ricotta, limone candito e rucola panini
Wholesome prosciutto cotto e formaggio panini
Bright and pungent crostini with black olive tapenade
Crostini with melt-in-your-mouth French paté de foie
Luscious French brioche bread with strawberry and blueberry jam
At least 3 different kinds of cheese
A whole salame, salty almonds, hazelnuts and Italian chips
Decadent and chocolaty crostata al cioccolato
Smooth, full-bodied and fruity French-Canadian ice cider

Posted by Daziano at 9:32 PM | 17 comments  
October 15, 2008

Whole wheat penne alla boscaiola, Lombardy style

In Italy, fall is a synonym for fresh mushrooms. In the forest, under the falling leaves, the best mushrooms – usually Porcini mushrooms, the ones that we can find dried in North America – are waiting to be picked and eaten. When you use mushrooms in a sauce, in Italian we call it boscaiola, because it reminds you of the bosco or the gorgeous northern Italian forests.

1 pound whole wheat penne
4 cups crimini mushrooms
2 cups fresh cherry tomatoes
2 shallots
1 garlic clove
1 bunch fresh rosemary
½ cup red wine
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
Grana Padano cheese

Clean and quarter the mushrooms. Mince the shallots. In a saucepan with olive oil over medium heat, sauté the shallots for a couple of minutes. Add the garlic clove, minced. Add the mushrooms and sauté them for about 5 minutes until nice and brown. Pour the wine into the sauce. Add the tomatoes. Season the sauce with salt, pepper and the rosemary. Let the sauce simmer for about 20 minutes. Cook the pasta. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and toss into the saucepan. Serve with Grana Padano cheese.
Posted by Daziano at 9:32 PM | 19 comments  
October 5, 2008

Traditional Panzanella salad

So, what do our beloved Queen of Canada and Italian cuisine have in common? Well, in Italian cuisine we hate to throw things away, just as HCM Elizabeth does (or as she commands – have you ever heard about how lovely she finds it when new dishes are created using leftovers in Her royal kitchen?). So, did you roast a chicken? Use the bones to make chicken broth! Do you have leftover risotto? Make arancine! Do you have stale bread? Make a Tuscan panzanella salad!

About 4 thick slices of old bread
½ red onion, sliced
2 large ripe tomatoes
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 cucumber, sliced
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 garlic clove (optional)
Olive oil
Salt, pepper

Traditionally, the bread is soaked in water for about 20 or 30 minutes (a step you could skip if your bread is just 1 day old). I personally don’t like that, since I don’t like the idea of tasting water in my salad. So, I prefer to quickly moisten the bread under running water. Then the bread will wonderfully absorb all the flavors of all the different ingredients, especially the tomatoes and the olive oil.

Using your hands, crumble the softened bread and put it in a bowl. Over the bread put the tomatoes, cut in wedges. Add some salt and the vinegar, and stir. Add the sliced cucumber, onion and celery. Add olive oil, and a touch of salt and pepper. Stir and put the salad in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Serve with basil.

I used a nice basil and parmesan bread. It gave more flavor.

Branching out
Fancy panzanella salad

Please note there's one more thing in common. HCM stands for Her Canadian Majesty. And me, I write about HCM in my dissertation... however, my HCM stands for Hybrid Choice Models... God save the Queen!
Posted by Daziano at 8:56 PM | 16 comments  
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October 3, 2008

Pesto alla Genovese

There’s nothing more Genovese than pesto. This specialty from Liguria calls for sweet basil, spicy garlic, strong tasty pecorino cheese, nutty parmigiano cheese and crunchy pine nuts. Then, every ingredient is carefully pounded in a mortar (pestare in Italian means to pound) and emulsified with fruity olive oil. The Italian Consorzio del pesto Genovese is fighting to obtain the DOP label for pesto. They decree the rules for pesto Genovese, which include DOP Genovese basil (especially the one cultivated in Pra’ – a neighborhood in Genoa), Ligurian olive oil (olive oil from neighboring regions is also OK), DOP cheeses (Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, and Pecorino Sardo, Romano, Toscano or Siciliano), and Mediterranean pine nuts. A pesto which doesn’t follow the rules exactly should not be referred to as pesto Genovese, but it could be called pesto alla Genovese (pesto in the style of Genoa).

Following the official traditional recipe, here’s my pesto alla Genovese


3 cups fresh small-leaved basil

3 Tbsp Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
3 Tbsp Pecorino Sardo cheese, grated

2 cloves of garlic 1 Tbsp pine nuts
½ - ¾ cup olive oil

Pinch of coarse salt

In a marble mortar, crush one garlic clove using a pestle. Add some coarse salt and continue crushing until creamy. Add about 1 handful of the basil, and pound the pesto with careful circular movements. Add the second clove of garlic, crush it, and then add another handful of the basil. Continue pounding and adding the basil by handfuls. When the basil gets a vivid green color, add the pine nuts. Once the pine nuts are incorporated into the pesto, add the grated cheeses and stir with a wooden spoon. Add the olive oil in a thin steady stream and continue stirring.

I know that in Liguria each
casalinga (housewife) has her own recipe of pesto. So the proportions of cheese, pine nuts and garlic vary from one house to another. The same thing happens with some of the techniques. However, based on the DOP standards, I’ll write some facts about pesto that will destroy common misleading conceptions:

1. Too much garlic is not OK. I’d say this is the most common error when people prepare their own pesto, and it’s also true for the pesto made by many store brands and Italian-American restaurants. Pesto is above all a basil-based sauce. Garlic should be there, but it shouldn’t be the protagonist of this story.
2. Other-herbs-pesto pesto-like sauces are not real pesto. Spinach pesto? Parsley pesto? Sun dried tomato pesto (very common nowadays in America)? None of them are known in Liguria, and none of them would be named pesto in Italy. I’m not saying they aren’t good, because they are. But they are not pesto, but rather pesto-like sauces.

3. Pesto does not call for toasted pine nuts. It’s true that by toasting the pine nuts you enhance the flavor: but this is exactly the problem. You don’t want to enhance this nutty flavor; you want to add texture and the delicate taste of untoasted pine nuts, which will soften and neutralize the strong taste of garlic.
4. Pesto is a cold sauce for hot or warm dishes. Pesto should always be served cold on hot dishes. The heat of the pasta or soup will activate the aromas present in the basil and cheese (and will partially melt the cheese, resulting in an even creamier texture). Traditional pesto can be strong, garlicky, oily and slightly bitter if it is eaten cold, and you don’t want that.
5. Lemon juice on pesto?! Sometimes people outside Italy do that, especially in a salad. This step is not necessary because pesto should be eaten warmed (not cooked), as stated before.

6. Not every basil is suitable for pesto. The traditional recipe calls for DOP Genovese Basil, which grows under certain conditions (of the soil, of the humidity that comes from the shore, and of the Mediterranean sun) and has particular chemical properties. You should avoid basil with leaves that are too big, but above all avoid mint-tasting basil!
7. Pesto is made combining grana cheese (like Parmigiano Reggiano) and pecorino (sheep) cheese. Some recipes of non-Italian chefs suggest using only Parmigiano Reggiano, as if it were the only Italian cheese. But people from Liguria, who were sailors, had commercial contacts with the island of Sardinia, so they brought Pecorino Sardo cheese from Sardinia to Genoa for centuries. So the addition of pecorino cheese has both historical and practical implications. The strong salty flavor of Pecorino Sardo will mix very well with the nutty flavor of Parmigiano Reggiano, resulting in a perfect pesto.


If you use your food processor, use just a few pulses because if you warm up the basil it will cause oxidation and the basil will taste bitter, and we don’t want that.

Posted by Daziano at 9:34 PM | 18 comments  

DOP and DOC what?

In Italy, now there’s a tendency to define the original and true recipe of Italian staples: the original recipe of pesto Genovese, the true and only one ragù alla Bolognese recipe, the ultimate Neapolitan pizza, and so on. In its very conception, this search is a contradiction with the soul of Italian cuisine. In fact, it’s impossible to choose only one recipe because in Italy each region, each town, each village and each mamma has their very own recipes.

However, and as an undesirable consequence of its globalization, Italian cuisine has suffered immensely from the worldwide appearance of veritable impostors that don’t do any justice to the real McCoy. As a way to respond to this deterioration that harms the reputation and – more important – the taste of Italian traditional recipes, some groups claim they have the original and unique recipe and they fight to impose this way of producing as being the only one. When this happens, you’ll see the famous Italian labels DOP and DOC. DOP means Denominazione di Origine Protetta (Protected Designation of Origin, mostly used for local produce of a specific region as well as for traditional processed products), while DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Controlled Designation of Origin, which is used mostly for wines).

What I like about this idea is that they do indeed set the standards for industrial production, ensuring that even if you’re in America, Canada or anywhere else outside Italy, you can be sure you’ll be purchasing something that’s very close to the thing that mamma Giuseppa and aunt Ernestina prepare following their own traditions, and that uncle Carmelo grows in his garden.

Some DOP Italian products:

Modena Balsamic vinegar, Emilia Romagna
Genovese Basil, Liguria
Chianti Classico Olive Oil, Tuscany
Gorgonzola cheese, Piemonte and Lombardy
Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, Campania and Lazio
San Marzano Tomatoes, Campania
Prosciutto di Parma, Emilia Romagna
Parmigiano Romano Cheese, Emilia Romagna and Lombardy
Pecorino Romano Cheese, Tuscany, Lazio and Sardinia

Mozzarella and Neapolitan pizza are both considered STG (specialità tradizionale garantita or guaranteed traditional specialty), which sets traditional standards for a product that are associated with a specific region, while the production itself is not restricted to that region.

The Consorzio del pesto Genovese is fighting to obtain the DOP label for pesto.

There’s also DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – Guaranteed Controlled Designation of Origin) which has higher standards than DOC. I know it’s complicated.
Posted by Daziano at 9:27 PM | 4 comments  
September 30, 2008

Lac Saint-Jean and the Saguenay fjord

A wonderful region to visit in Quebec is Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, with its wonderful lake and the magnificent fjord which connects the lake with the Saint Lawrence river. A couple of weeks ago we had a quick getaway to this area, which is not terribly far from Quebec City. Driving up about 3 hours from Quebec City, and after taking a free ride in a ferry crossing the Saguenay river, you get to the nice town of Tadoussac. Once in Tadoussac you can take different cruises, either through the fjord or to watch whales if you prefer!

The whole area has plenty of attractions, but as I told you (and you can read about this here) this region is famous for its blueberries! And it’s also famous for the early 20th century and ultimate Québécois novel ‘Maria Chapdelaine – A Tale of the Lake St. John Country’ written by French author Louis Hémon:

“The forests of Quebec are rich in wild berries; cranberries, Indian pears, black currants, sarsaparilla spring up freely in the wake of the great fires, but the blueberry, the bilberry or whortleberry of France, is of all the most abundant and delicious. The gathering of them, from July to September, is an industry of many families who spend the whole day in the woods; strings of children down to the tiniest go swinging their tin pails, empty in the morning, full and heavy by evening. Others only gather the blueberries for their own use, either to make jam or the famous pies national to French Canada” wrote Hémon in his book. So, what better way could you think of to experience Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean than by baking one of these famous pies?

Incredibly enough, it was my first time sailing through a fjord. Why is that so incredible? Well, because I grew up in Chile, which has plenty of fjords in its southern part. In fact, Chilean Patagonia is just one fjord after another, just like Norway!
Posted by Daziano at 9:07 PM | 6 comments  

Maria Chapdelaine’s tarte aux bleuets

This is the ultimate Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean blueberry pie (or traditional tarte aux bleuets in French). Easy to make, wonderful to taste!

4 cups blueberries
½ cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp butter
Pie dough (enough for one double crust pie)

Roll out just a little bit more than half of the dough over a pie mold enough to make a pie shell. Fill the shell with the blueberries. Sprinkle with the sugar and flour, and place some cubes of butter on top. Cover with the rest of the dough, making about 3 holes in the top of the pie. Bake in a 400F preheated oven for about 50 minutes or until the pie turns nice and golden brown.

This is a traditional Québécois recipe, but I’m sure people from Alto Adige in Italy would love my crostata ai mirtilli!

Posted by Daziano at 9:01 PM | 10 comments  
September 28, 2008

Sword fish, oven roasted beets and sautéed beet greens

Ok. I know some people hate beets because they think beets taste just like dirt. If you’re one of these people, skip this recipe.

4 big sword fish steaks (about 1” thick)

4 large beets

1 handful fresh rosemary

1 Tbsp butter
Olive oil (about 3 Tbsp)
Italian parsley

Salt, pepper
2 lemons

Scrub the beets to clean them. Remove both ends, and cut the bulbs into wedges (about 6). Put the beets on aluminum foil. Drizzle with olive oil (about 1 Tbsp). Add salt, pepper and fresh rosemary. Wrap with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated 400F oven for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until soft. During the last 10 minutes you can open the aluminum foil and put the beets under the broiler until caramelized. Once ready, peel the beets.

Wash the beet greens, dry them well and chop. About an hour after you put the beets in the oven, sauté the chopped greens with melted butter (1 Tbsp) and olive oil (1 Tbsp). Add salt and pepper.

To prepare the swordfish, season it with salt and pepper. In a saucepan with olive oil, sauté the fish over medium heat about 7 minutes per side.
Mix the beets and beet greens. Cut the fish into cubes and put the cubes over the beets. Drizzle with lots of lemon juice and a nice touch of olive oil. You can add some chopped parsley if you like.
Posted by Daziano at 8:33 PM | 7 comments  
September 25, 2008

No sugar added golden honeydew melon yogurt gelato

A long name for a fabulous treat! Honeydew melons are so sweet and juicy I think you don’t need to add any sugar. Of course you can taste it and if you prefer you could sweeten this gelato just a bit.

3 cups golden honeydew melon
2 cups plain yogurt

Combine the melon with the yogurt using an electric blender. Then pour the mixture into your ice cream machine and let the machine do its work. Wait… that’s it? Sure! It can’t get any easier than this!
Posted by Daziano at 9:26 PM | 11 comments  
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September 24, 2008

Tortellini al ragù express

This one is a quick and easy recipe to get closer to pasta the real Bolognese way. In Bologna, fresh pasta is always accompanied with a rich and thick sauce called ragù in Italian, which in a way is more like a stew than a sauce. In this recipe, I’ll use an Italian secret to prepare a wonderful meal: we’ll use the meat of Italian sausages instead of ground meat. What’s the deal? The sausage contains spices which give a lot of flavor without the fuss!

1 pound tortellini (I used spinach tortellini)
1 cup celery, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
1 ½ - 2 cups unpeeled Italian sausages (veal and pork would be great)
½ red onion, chopped
½ cup red wine
2 ripe tomatoes, cubed
1 small can San Marzano tomatoes (about 13 oz), crushed
Salt, pepper, peperoncino
Olive oil (about 1 Tbsp)
Grana Padano cheese, grated for serving

First, peel the Italian sausages: we want what’s inside them. In a saucepan, sauté the sausage meat until slightly brown. Remove the meat but keep in the saucepan the grease that came out of the meat while it was sautéed. Sauté the onion, the celery and the carrots, making a soffritto. Add salt, pepper, and some peperoncino (you could use hot Italian sausages, but if you use the mild ones, you can control how spicy you make your ragù by adding peperoncino or Italian red pepper flakes). Put the sautéed meat back in the saucepan. Stir, and after a couple of minutes add the red wine. Add the tomatoes. Simmer for about 15 minutes and then add the crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Cook for about 30 minutes over medium heat and stirring occasionally.

Boil the tortellini in salted boiling water until al dente (about 5 minutes for fresh tortellini). Drain the tortellini and pour them into the saucepan with the ragù. Give a quick stir and serve with Grana Padano cheese.

When cooking with celery, always add a bit of the celery leaves, chopped. It adds more flavor. In this recipe I even put some chopped leaves on top!

Why did I call this my express ragù if it’s not ready in less than 30 minutes? Well, everything will be ready in less than 1 hour. And real Bolognese ragù takes about 4 hours!
Posted by Daziano at 9:18 PM | 9 comments  
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