Welcome the Spring season with some simple Italian anti-pasto

Spring is officially here and I wouldn’t believe it if it weren’t for the birds I heard singing their little lungs out this past weekend.

Although the temperature was still in the 20′s I had to open the windows not for the fresh air, but rather to fill the room with at least the sound of Spring.

Like most people, by the time Spring comes around thoughts go from wondering if we’ll get out of work due to slick roads to drawing sketches of the front yard with new shrubbery and flowers, to planning garden crops and last but not least, thinking of spring recipes that offer a bit more “spring” unlike our wintery potatoes and roast beef.

I’ve decided to post one of my simple recipes, anti-pasto, which seems to fit the new season.

A few simple ingredients:

  • Kalamata Olives (pitted from a jar)
  • 3 Cloves Garlic (minced or mashed)
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Chopped Artichokes (from a jar)
  • Roasted Red Peppers sliced (also from a jar)

Okay, ready to roll?   Mix everything together and drizzle with about 3-4 Tablespoons of the olive oil and mix again.

Yes, that is truly easy.   Didn’t I say, if I can do it so can you??

Variations to this recipe

As with so many Italian dishes, you can use whatever you have on hand. Will this recipe still taste good if you don’t have the roasted red peppers?  Yes.   What about the if you only have regular olive oil?  Yes – won’t be as flavorful, but yes it will still taste good.

Sometimes I add in cannellini beans or even chick peas.  You can serve right out of the bowl or add it on top of some lettuce.

Add in some whole green olives, use ones that are marinated for extra flavors and herbs, or keep it simple without the marinated varieties.

Tip of the Post

Here is a helpful tip I’ve learned comes in handy for those of us who don’t have inherent second nature ability to mix and match flavors with 99% guaranteed success….

Photograph Labels!    What I mean is, when at a store and you see a prepackaged mix of XYZ item on the shelf, give the ingredients label a good read.  If you have a camera handy through your phone snap a picture for future reference.

So for this example above I mentioned some olives come marinated.  I prefer mine that are in water, but what if I wanted to make my own marinated mix at home?   So I cheat.   I look at the ingredients used by the producers, snap a picture if it looks easy enough and I mimic at home.

So add some Spring in your kitchen with this simple recipe and let me know how how it goes!

Yours Truly,

Liz!

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Last night’s leftovers turned into my favorite Italian soup

Yesterday we made a homemade veggie soup with some carrots, celery, onions and two cloves garlic, some chicken broth powder (without msg) and some water.  Added some Barilla orzo and it was moderately good, but honestly a bit bland.

This was undoubtedly due to the fact my husband and I are trying to go three days without any additional sodium, so that means no adding salt or grated cheese. Nothing about it was exceptional enough to call it an Italian soup, but that all changed today.

Today however was another story, as he used my soup as the base for my favorite cannellini bean soup, the recipe can be found here: http://www.simpleitaliancooking.com/recipes/cannellini-bean-soup-recipe.htm.

My 8 minute video is below (I can’t believe this is from nearly 4 years ago!):

He added in some cans of cannellini beans and took some extra lettuce we needed to use up and chopped it, then mixed it all together and let cook on low for… well I don’t know how long.  For me it would have been 40 minutes on medium.

He then used our hand held blender stick
which is awesome, and used that to blend some of the beans into the soup making it less watery and more creamy.  This kitchen tool is great as it does the blending job without having to transfer the soup to a regular stand mixer.   Anything that makes our life in the kitchen simpler is what we are all about!

 

 

 

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Useful kitchen essentials for Italian Cookware

The best Italian cooking relies on the freshest ingredients prepared simply, using traditional techniques. Many of the finest Italian dishes contain as few as four to eight ingredients which combine to create layers of flavor without fuss. Since the hallmark of Italian cooking is its exquisite simplicity, it does not require lots of fancy equipment. Once you`ve gathered the most important kitchen tools, the only limit to the spectacular variety of Italian delicacies you can create is your own imagination.

The first and most important thing every Italian kitchen must have is a pasta pot. Cooking pasta for one can be done in any saucepan, but if you`re cooking for a bunch, you must have a tall, narrow pasta pot. Crowding the pasta in the pot will cause it to stick together, as will not keeping the water at a rolling boil. A tall, narrow pasta pot keeps the water temperature constant while giving the pasta room to cook.

A strainer or colander is necessary, not only for draining cooked pasta, but for holding washed vegetables to dry and for salting eggplant. It is best to have both a colander with relatively large holes in it and a mesh strainer for finer and smaller pasta such as angel hair, pastina and orzo.

Most experienced cooks can tell at a glance or with one bite when pasta is perfectly al dente, but if you`re just getting started, you absolutely need a kitchen timer. Many types of pasta, especially fresh pasta and delicate types such as angel hair, go from luscious to limp in a matter of seconds, so set the timer as soon as the water returns to a boil and taste-test a strand the second it goes off for perfect pasta every time.

Good knives are essential to any kitchen, but because Italian cuisine relies so wonderfully on fresh vegetables, you will need several different types of knife to handle the different tasks. A small paring knife is needed for peeling vegetables or scoring tomato skins before blanching. A filet knife is good for more delicate tasks such as removing silverskin or the membranes from shellfish or citrus fruits. A chef`s knife is the most versatile and can be used for everything, from slicing and dicing to smashing garlic with the flat, wide blade. No Italian kitchen is complete without a serrated bread knife, which is also useful for slicing very ripe tomatoes and other vegetables that tend to squish under even a very sharp, smooth blade.


Wooden spoons are invaluable for stirring sauces, soups and stews. Look for a selection of sizes and shapes, from regular bowl-shaped spoons to ones with a hole in the center which are perfect for stirring fresh pasta as it cooks. Look also for a flat wooden spoon for browning ground meats without scratching your non-stick skillets. Long-handled wooden spoons make stirring the contents of your deep pasta not only more comfortable, but safer.

A pasta machine is not an absolute essential these days when fresh pasta is so readily available, but for true pasta lovers there is simply nothing better than homemade pasta. Pasta machines are available in a wide variety of styles and price ranges, from the stand-alone electric pasta makers used in commercial kitchens through attachments for your food processor to the simplest hand-crank machines that clamp to your counter`s edge.

Whether you are a first time cook or a seasoned chef, check out the wonderful selection of fine kitchen equipment available from the friendly experts at www.cs-catering-equipment.co.uk for the exact kitchen implements needed to bring every one of your dishes to the table perfectly prepared.

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Ways to use Italian Espresso in food

Although coffee may not have been invented in Italy, the coffee culture that we are all familiar with today certainly originated there. Italian espresso, or caffe, as it is known by the Italians, is typically served as a small cup of very strong coffee. The highly caffeinated beverage has risen in popularity and is now recognized as a breakfast staple worldwide. What you may not know is that espresso can also be enjoyed in many of your favorite foods.

ChiliStainless Steel Italian Espreso Maker

Espresso may seem like an unlikely ingredient in chili, but it actually adds a smoky richness that is quite delicious. For an easy, no-fuss meal, combine 1 pound of browned ground beef, 2 cans each of chili beans, diced tomatoes and tomato sauce, 1 jar of chunky salsa (use mild or hot depending on your preference), 1 diced white onion, 1 chopped chocolate bar, 2 shots of espresso, 2 teaspoons of chili powder and 1 teaspoon of paprika in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 8 hours (4 hours on high will do if you are pressed for time) and top with shredded cheddar cheese before serving.

All-Purpose Marinade

Your guests will never believe what the secret ingredient is in this mouthwatering marinade. First mix 2 cups of espresso, cup of lemon juice, cup of molasses, teaspoon of red pepper flakes, 3 tablespoons of kosher salt and 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar in a large bowl and set aside. Prepare the meat by washing and poking holes in it. Place the meat and marinade in a freezer bag and chill for at least 2 hours (chill overnight for best results). Grill and serve with your favorite sides. The unique flavor of this marinade is ideal for steaks but also works well with other meats such as chicken and pork.

Frosting

Espresso frosting is a decadent topping that can be used on just about any dessert, from cookies to cakes and brownies. It is easy to make too. All you have to do is add equal parts of semi-sweet chocolate chips and espresso over a double boiler. Once the chocolate is melted, remove the mixture from heat and stir in cubes of unsalted butter until the frosting is smooth and shiny. Let the frosting sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to set.

Ice Cream

It is not uncommon to enjoy a cup of coffee after dinner with dessert. Why not combine the two? Espresso ice cream is a fun way to put a spin on a classic tradition. Simply combine 2 cups of heavy whipping cream, 1 cups of whole milk, cup of white sugar, cup of chilled brewed espresso, cup of chocolate syrup, cup chopped cocoa roast almonds and 4 ounces of chopped dark chocolate in a large bowl until the sugar is fully dissolved. Chill the mixture before pouring into an ice cream maker.

Martini

Who says you can`t get a jolt of caffeine with your cocktail? Combine 1 ounce of brewed espresso, 1 ounces of vodka, 1 ounces of coffee flavored liquor, 1 ounce of white crrme de cacao and 1 cup of ice in a shaker. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass, then enjoy!

Any coffee connoisseur can tell you that espresso should not be brewed in just any old coffee machine. In order to be truly enjoyed at its finest, Italian espresso must be brewed in a proper espresso maker. Fortunately, Caffe Society has a wide selection of coffee and espresso machines available for purchase that are sure to brew the perfect cup every time.

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Very Hearty Italian Vegetable Soup Recipe

Guest Post

Italian cooking is revered for its simplicity and for its use of the freshest and most natural ingredients. Italian vegetable soup is made differently by every Italian cook, but the one thing that all versions have in common is the freshness of the vegetables and herbs and the way in which the layers of flavor deepen and blend as it simmers, filling your home with the rich and savory scent.

Ingredients:

Stock pot
Olive oil
4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 onions, diced
2 carrots, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
Kosher salt
Dry white wine
3 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp sugar
1 zucchini, diced
1 yellow squash, diced
Bay leaves
Fresh thyme
Fresh rosemary
Cooking twine
1 can white beans or chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes
Vegetable stock
Skillet
1/2 cup broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup cauliflower, chopped
1/4 cup Italian green beans
Pasta, cooked
Coarse black pepper
Fresh basil, chopped
Parmesan, shaved

Instructions:

  1. Coat the bottom of a large stock pot with a thin layer of olive oil. Heat the oil over medium heat until the surface of the oil starts to shimmer and you can smell its scent.
  2. Stir in the garlic, onions, carrots and celery, making sure that they are well coated in the hot oil.
  3. Sprinkle a generous amount of kosher salt over the vegetables. Cook and stir them for about 20 minutes until they are soft. Turn the heat down if the vegetables begin to stick or the garlic begins to brown. You can also add a bit more water or another splash of olive oil if necessary.
  4. Deglaze the pot with enough dry white wine to just cover the bottom of the pot. Stir the vegetables to scrape up any that might be sticking. Simmer the vegetables in the wine for 5 to 8 minutes or until the wine reduces a bit.
  5. Sprinkle the sugar over the vegetables and stir in the tomato paste, making sure that it is well incorporated.
  6. Tie 2 to 3 bay leaves and several sprigs of thyme and rosemary into a small bundle with cooking twine and toss it into the pot.
  7. Add the white beans, diced tomatoes and enough vegetable stock to cover all of the vegetables with about 2 inches to spare. Simmer the soup, stirring it occasionally, for at least 20 minutes.
  8. Coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and heat it over medium-high heat. Add the zucchini and yellow squash and cook them until they start to turn brown and crisp. This keeps them from getting mushy in the soup. When they have browned around the edges, add them to the stock pot.
  9. Add the broccoli, cauliflower and Italian green beans to the soup. Let it simmer about 10 minutes or until the broccoli and cauliflower are just cooked through.
  10. Stir in enough cooked, small pasta shapes like ditalini or little shells to stand up to the vegetables, about 1 to 1 1/2 cups.
  11. Remove the bundled herbs and correct the seasoning with kosher salt if needed and cracked black pepper.
  12. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a generous spoonful each of chopped basil and shaved, fresh Parmesan cheese. Serve with hot, crusty bread.
  13. For a heartier soup, add chopped bacon or pancetta to the olive oil when you first start cooking the vegetables and use chicken broth instead of vegetable broth.

Even the best Italian cook is helpless without a reliable and efficient range, so check out the bountiful supply of Rangemaster kitchen equipment at Cookers and Ovens and let the friendly and professional experts help you find the one that`s perfect for your particular kitchen.

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Easy Chicken with Olives and Prunes Recipe

Easy recipe for chicken with olives prunes

image by elanaspantry.com

Do you have a recipe that you love to talk about to friends or family?   This flavorful chicken recipe is one of those because it is so easy and yet is very impressive in taste and flavor.

I really hope every one of my readers will try this recipe (actually all my recipes) at some point because as I always say – if I can make it so can you!

I adapted this recipe which originally appeared on the popular elanaspantry.com website and took the liberty to make some changes (and use her photo -full disclosure as I just don’t have a camera to take such good photos!).  I removed a few ingredients and modified the measurements – especially since the recipe was based off a 2 lb chicken which I have never even seen a 2lb chicken.

For those of us who might be a bit gun shy about cooking a whole chicken – I’d suggest buying the chicken parts or cutting the chicken into parts as you would a chicken cacciatore – just adjust the cooking time appropriately.

Andiamo…

Ingredients

1 whole chicken (I used a 4 lb. chicken, and used a thermometer to make sure it read 165F when done)
1 1/2 cup pitted green olives (I used Spanish olives and even left the pimentos in)
1 1/2 cup pitted prunes (buy the store brand in a box)
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 cloves pressed garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup agave nectar or honey (I used a mix of both, and last time I did just honey – both taste great – the honey adds more sweetness)
¼ cup apple cider vinegar (this adds a real nice tanginess to it)

Instructions:

Prep-work:  This is one of the MOST critical steps – you’ve got to soak the chicken for at least an hour in a salt brine.

What’s a brine?  It’s salted water.   I fill a huge pan that the chicken will fit in and fill it quite a bit with water, pour in a bit of salt maybe 1/4 cup – I eyeball it.  Soak it in the water in the fridge for a few hours, and then rinse it real well.

The salt relaxes the proteins in the chicken and so when it cooks the chicken comes out so tender it literally falls off the bone.

  1. Rinse the chicken and pat dry
  2. Place the chicken breast side up in a 9 x 13 inch baking dish
  3. In a large bowl, combine the olives, prunes, bay leaves, garlic, olive oil, honey/agave and apple cider vinegar
  4. Pour the mixture from the bowl in the dish around the chicken and rub the chicken with the flavored oil
  5. Bake at 425° F for 20 minutes covered lightly with foil
  6. Remove foil and lower heat to 375° F and continue to bake the chicken until it is cooked through and juice is clear, which can be anywhere from an hour to a little more depending on size of the chicken.   If baking two chickens at once you don’t need to cook longer than a single one.
  7. Make sure the internal temperature reads 165F at the thickest parts.  They say that’s the breast and the thigh – I check it all over as I get a bit paranoid.
  8. Remove from the oven, let every enjoyone the aroma, serve and watch the compliments roll in!  Make sure to plate it with the olives and prunes too.

As a dry run, I made this recipe this past weekend on a 4lb organic chicken for my husband and I which we bought at a local store that specializes in local organic and better than organic products called Native Harvest.  Going to really miss them when we move to Ohio, and I hope someday they incorporate mail-order services. (hint hint if they are reading this…)

So I made the chicken and it came out excellent.  I followed my instructions above and the cooking time was perfect – an hour and 20 minutes total.   It made excellent leftovers for my lunch the next day and it was better than anything I could have ordered!

If you try this please let me know how it comes out and if it was a big success.  I know it will be!

Wishing everyone a wonderful happy holiday and a very Merry Christmas where we always remember the real reason for the season!

Best wishes -

Liz

www.simpleitaliancooking.com

 

 

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Ideas on Italian Dishes to Prepare for a Unique Stag Do Dinner

Before they get married, most men like to have one last night of celebrations with their best friends. When organizing a bachelor party – also known as a stag do – a popular option is to plan a dinner party. When arranging a dinner party for a stag do, choosing the right food is one of the top priorities. Men love to eat, and they like meals that are hearty and filling. Italian foods seem to fulfill these requirements and can be easily made from fresh, healthy ingredients.

The following are just a few suggestions of simple Italian fare that would get rave reviews at a stag do dinner:

Starters

Most men love meat so starting the stag do food with antipasto might not be a great idea; instead, make antipasto kabobs. These are simple to prepare because they only require arranging items on a metal or wooden kabob skewer.

First, marinade simple items like olives, peppers, cherry tomatoes, pepperoni, salami, and cooked cheese tortellini in Italian dressing for several hours. Then, alternate these items on a stick, folding the meat slices several times to make them fit neatly. Add a sprig of parsley to the end for garnish.

Main Course

lasagnaItalian cuisine offers at least two manly favorites for a unique stag do, pasta or pizza. If the affair is to be a sit down supper, pasta is perfect. Men are usually crazy about lasagne, and the more meat and cheese that it contains, the better they like it.

Simple lasagne can be made with store bought tomato sauce and no cook lasagne noodles. Just add the sauce to ground beef that has been cooked and drained of grease. Then, alternate this meat sauce with the noodles and shredded mozzarella cheese until a 9×13 inch pan is filled.

Cover with foil and bake for about an hour at 400 degrees. Remove the foil and bake another 10 minutes.

If the stag do is completely informal, Italian pizza is a great crowd pleaser. Gather a number of meats, sausages, vegetables and cheeses. Use readymade pizza bases, coat them pizza sauce, and then pile on these toppings.

Another good idea for a stag do is to make individual calzones so that they do not have to be cut or shared. These can be made by using frozen bread dough and bottled pizza sauce with meat. Make 6 inch circles by dividing the dough into four parts and rolling each section.

Spoon the meat sauce into the center of the circles, add a tablespoon of mozzarella cheese and fold over. Use a fork to press the edges together and brush with milk.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and Italian herbs. Bake for 20 minutes at 350, and watch the gentlemen line up for seconds.

Dessert

For the perfect ending to an Italian stag do dinner, most men would appreciate a chocolate Panini. These can be made by buttering one side of two pieces of bread and adding a pinch of sugar.

The alternate sides should be spread with cream cheese and half of a milk chocolate candy bar should be put between the slices with the buttered side out. These should be heated in a Panini press for two minutes and served with whipped cream and fruit if desired.

A healthier dessert for a stag do is to make a cheese and fruit platter presented in an attractive manner.

The key to a successful stag do dinner is to cater to the male palate and to have plenty of food. Italian food can be used to meet both of these requirements.

Guest writer Andrea Thompson enjoys preparing simple Italian dishes for friends and family. She writes on behalf of http://www.stagdoideas.net, where you can find lots of ideas for celebrating with the boys, such as a stag weekend in London.

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The Simplicity of Italian Soups

Every Italian homemaker knows that soup is one of the secrets to stretching the food budget. Using leftovers, wilted produce or otherwise inedible bits of meat or bones, a thrifty cook can create a nutritious first course.

With the addition of some noodles, potatoes or grain, soup is often filling enough to serve as the main part of a meal.

The most important part of a soup is the broth that it is made with.  Italian cooks from the home country would never consider using a powdered or canned broth as the basis for soup, right?  Fortunately for both the wallet and one’s health, making homemade broth is very easy.

Saving raw or cooked bones, scraps and any leftover cooking juices from meat meals in a container in the freezer doesn’t take much time while cleaning up after a meal. Grouping poultry bones and meat bones in another is acceptable if there are not enough of each kind of bone to keep separately.

Pieces of vegetables trimmed during preparation and leftover vegetables can be put into another container in the freezer. Don’t forget pieces of the vegetable that you normally throw out. Corn cobs and onion peels are both good additions. Avoid vegetables in the cabbage and broccoli family as extended cooking will impart a bitter flavor to the final product.

Don’t be afraid to add salt, unless there is a medical reason to be avoiding the sodium. Good broth requires the addition of a bit of salt to taste right.

A Key Italian Ingredient… Broth

In general, you can not overcook broth. If time is of the essence, you can pressure cook the bones and vegetables with water for an hour or so.  Simmering on the stove top will give similar results. The broth will be perfectly adequate and give you a good flavor.

If you are planning in advance, poultry broth can simmer gently for up to 24 hours for a nice chicken soup.  Beef, pork and lamb bones are able to cook for as long as three days. Splashing in a little bit of vinegar at the beginning of the cooking process will help the minerals in the bones and the proteins in the cartilage to dissolve into the broth, making it more nutrient dense.

Strain out the solids gently, but avoid squeezing out the last of the liquid to help keep the broth clear. Pour the broth into a container and chill for a few hours. Fat that rises to the surface will be firm and easy to remove. The remaining broth will be rich and clear and may have become firm from the presence of collagen. This is a sign of very nutritious broth, so don’t be concerned.

From Broth to Dishes

At this point, your broth can be turned into nearly any kind of Italian soup that you like. With the addition of pasta and beans, meat broth can be transformed into minestrone soup. Leftover minestrone soup can be recycled into ribollita with the addition of stale bread and vegetables.

Ciuppin is soup featuring an assortment of seafood, white wine, onions and garlic and thickened with stale bread. Seupa à la valpellinentze is a satisfying soup made with Savoy cabbage, ham and Fontina cheese with rye bread. Other soups thickened with bread include zuppa di pane and papa al pomodoro.

Other hearty soups use grains as thickeners.  Orzetto has vegetables and barley and is flavored with smoked pork known as speck. Potatoes and barley are both used in Seupa de gri along with seasonal vegetables and salt pork.

Legumes are Great to Bulk up Your Italian Soups

Lentils and other legumes shouldn’t be overlooked when making soup. Virtù is a thick pasta and bean soup flavored with vegetables, pork and herbs. It was named after the seven young women who gathered up the seven required types of legumes, vegetables, meat and pasta and watched over it as it cooked for 48 hours. This soup is traditionally cooked in the spring to clean out the pantry of the leftover odds and ends.

You can try even a soup as simple as Cannellini Bean Soup as featured on this site.   It uses basic Italian ingredients and fits any budget – as does Pasta Fagioli.

Despite the complex flavors of Italian soups, they are generally easy to make. Using homemade broth and fresh ingredients will make the soup more nutritious and less expensive than anything you will find in the supermarket.

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The Role and Morphing of Italian Desserts in American Society

Who doesn’t love Italian desserts? The wide variety of choices ensures that even the fussiest guest will be pleased. Whether preparing one of the traditional Italian recipes from the old country or the modern variations, Italian desserts are the perfect ending to a meal or a treat alongside a cup of coffee or tea.

The Role of Italian Immigrants

gelato coneAmericanized Italian desserts have been extremely popular in the United States for decades. As Italian immigrants traveled through the country, their rich cultural heritage influenced the people that they encountered. Recipes from Italy were adapted to use new ingredients, reflect local preferences or include cooking techniques from other countries, creating an entirely new generation of recipes that had never been experienced in Europe.

Desserts and more Italian Desserts…

What county fair would be complete without fried dough lavishly dusted with powdered sugar? Americanized gelato is close to our own ice cream, mass produced with much higher in fat and sugar in order to be shelf stable for long periods of time.  Our biscotti is similar to only one of the many types eaten in Italy. American biscotti is generally served with hot coffee, rather than the Italian custom of eating it alongside sweet dessert wines

The Italian Cannoli Turned American

The American cannoli, a popular crispy fried tube filled with sweetened, flavored ricotta cheese is similar to the Italian version. The primary difference is how the cannoli cheese cream filling is flavored.  While candied cherries and citrus peel are popular in Italy, Americans tend to prefer their cannoli cream to be plain or studded with chocolate chips.

Cannoli cream is used by creative cooks in many other desserts. Cannoli ice cream is a purely American invention, generally containing cannoli cream flavored base with broken pieces of cannoli shell folded in. Other pastry chefs use the filling for layer cakes or innovative baked creations.

NutellaUntil recently, Italian chocolate was mostly unknown here. In the past few years, Nutella has become increasingly available. This rich hazelnut and cocoa spread has acquired something of a cult status. It is often eaten during breakfast in Italy, but is more frequently eaten for dessert in the United States.

Old fashioned Italian desserts are relatively unknown in the United States. The sweet course in Italy contains savory elements and strong alcoholic flavors. Italian palates are also accustomed to less sugar than Americans expect.

Desserts and the Holidays

In Italy, many desserts were only made during Catholic holidays, though recently, professional bakeries have begun carrying the more popular choices year round. In addition to being delicious, many of these baked goods have religious symbolism.

Baked Easter specialties can be decorated with Doves, a symbol representing peace. The colomba di Pasqua is a buttery yeasted cake flavored with candied citrus peel. After shaping the dough into a dove shape, it is garnished with pearl sugar and almonds.

After 40 days of austere Lenten diets, Italians rejoice in the arrival of Easter. Easter Sunday is celebrated with treats unique to each of the regions of Italy. Hand made, delicious chocolate eggs conceal toys or jewelry. Cheese is baked into a sweet pie known as crostata or pastry called formagelle. Other traditional Easter desserts include cakes made from rice, wheat berries and other grains.

Fruit desserts are very common in Italy, especially in the areas with lush produce. Fruit salads, candied fruit or fresh figs stuffed with mascarpone are simple desserts. Fruit is also made into fritters, pastries and cakes. It’s even used with sweetened ricotta and chestnuts to stuff fresh ravioli before deep frying and dusting with powdered sugar.

Italian Coffee

It would be remiss to write about Italian food without mentioning coffee. Unlike the United States, dessert coffees are always drunk black and generally unsweetened. Popular variations on espresso include the caffe Americano, which is diluted with extra hot water, or the extra strong ristretto.Italian Coffee Maker

Coffee is usually served without milk after mid-morning, but may not always be unflavored. Corretto is espresso that has been “corrected” with grappa or other Italian liqueurs. An affogato is a scoop of ice cream served in a cup of hot espresso.

Italian cooks are keenly aware of balance in their meals, so heavy first and second courses will call for a light dessert. Cookies or fruit gelato might be served to guests who were served red meats or cheese and pasta dishes. On the other hand, a decadent, rich dessert would be appropriate after a light seafood or vegetarian meal.

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What is Italian Vodka Sauce Really?

Raos Vodka sauce (image source: www.raos.com)

Due to growing up with Italian pasta sauces that rarely varied from a basic marinara meat sauce, the idea of a vodka sauce just didn’t sound right.  Frank on the other hand likes vodka sauce so I tried from a jar and sure enough… I didn’t like it.

That was awhile ago and we decided to try it again a few weeks ago, this time we tried the Simply Enjoy brand at Martins.  This time I enjoyed it as it didn’t seem to be overpowered by cheesy flavor.

There are many companies that offer vodka sauce as shown in the image to the right.

Main Ingredients

As with most good Italian recipes, the key is simplicity and avoiding such a mix of ingredients that you don’t know what it is you’re supposed to be tasting.

Vodka sauce is no different.  The most common ingredients I found used were:

Tomatoes (fresh or canned) -

some suggested using canned whole tomatoes and then blending them down.  I wouldn’t get diced, but instead pureed.

Cento's San Marzano Canned Tomatoes

The advantage to getting whole tomatoes is that they are often sold as the Italian plum tomatoes or the San Marzano tomatoes which I recently wrote a post on.

If you don’t want to use a food mill, just use something like the Nutri Bullet (I’ll soon be writing about this new addition to our family) or any blender or electric food processor.

Cream

- This ingredient is the reason why the color of the sauce is not the typical Italian red, but instead a toned down red, or orange.   Being a novice in this area I was always curious why  the color change – now I know and so do you!

Most recipes call for heavy cream.   My problem is I want to cut calories where I can.  So I would prefer to use half and half, in addition it doesn’t have the proteins that wreak havoc on my joints.

I’d probably add some butter for added richness and maybe a pinch of cornstarch to thicken it just a bit.

Vodka

- Typically the vodka is added in with the tomatoes and cooked down.   This not only blends the flavors throughout the tomatoes, but it also cooks out the alcohol.

However, I did come across one recipe that talked about how they got their recipe from a relative that loved this amazing homemade sauce and passed it down.   When reading the instructions, I noticed they added the vodka right before serving the pasta!   Yeah, I guess I’d love that recipe too!

Cheese

- Adding in Parmesan cheese was also a common ingredient.   I find some sauces/recipes which added more than others.   For me, it’s personal preference.  If you want it with more cheese flavor then add more, if not add less.  The good thing is you can always adjust it.

Herbs

- I was surprised to see that basil was frequently used in these recipes as I’ve never tasted  basil in any of the sauces I purchased.  Italian parsley was also commonly used, and even one recipe from Ciao Italia used capers!  I’d be curious to see how that rounds out the flavor.

And those are your main ingredients!   Not much different than a regular pasta sauce really.   You still saute the garlic, onions, etc. as you normally would and then add in the ingredients and simmer until cooked (usually 30 minutes or so).  One recipe also called for pancetta, but did admit it changes the flavor to such a degree it could go by another name.

The History of Vodka

Although I certainly am not devoting my life to the study of Italian vodka sauce, it is very clear that the general assumption is that it isn’t an authentic Italian recipe passed down through many generations having roots in some famous or not so famous Italian city destined to be the next tourist attraction.

My proof that Vodka sauce did not originate in Italy?  There is no town, province or region named Vodka!

It appears that it was sometime during the 70′s that the recipe was showcased in a New York Restaurant.  Whether the recipe was invented there or not who knows.

From then on, recipes have been created and modified – just take a look from Paul Newman’s to Prego or Rao’s as shown above.  Even I’m taking a stab at making my own version.

Recipe themes

What to do with a vodka sauce?   Obviously use it with pasta, but don’t worry as to what shape of pasta.  I’ve seen it served with both long and short.

I’ve also seen here in a NY food journal, a restaurant which makes (at the time of their article/review) a pizza with this sauce!

I wouldn’t suggest adding vegetables, but shrimp seems to be a frequent visitor to the pasta with vodka sauce plate. This I can see tasting very good, more so than with chicken – but again personal preference.

I personally think that this type of sauce would make for an excellent baked recipe.  Considering a baked pasta dish is tomato sauce and ricotta cheese, the similarities are there, but different enough that they would taste completely different!

When I create my own recipe, I’ll let you know.  I’m hoping it will be soon and I’ll keep you posted!

Sincerely,

Liz
www.simpleitaliancooking.com
Easy and Simple Italian Recipes

 

 

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