Because the best things in life are simple

Tag: Tuscan

Torta d’patata

Torta d’patata

(Above: Torta d’patata before putting it in the oven where it develops a light, brown, crust.)

This is a recipe from my grandmother Bruna’s kitchen. It’s a very thin and savory potato cake made with swiss chard.

Peeled potatoes in a colander.
Mashed potatoes is the starter for this dish.
Mashed potato mixture on a cookie sheet.
Spread the mashed potato mixture out onto a floured cookie sheet.

You basically make mashed potatoes and then add some savory ingredients before spreading it on a cookie sheet and baking it.

My grandmother was born in the hills of northern Tuscany, so I believe this recipe is very much a Tuscan specialty. I made this as part of the “Julia (Child) Meets Bruna” dinner party meal plan, and a version of it also showed up in the “Southern France Vegetarian” meal plan.

Here’s the recipe:

 

 

 

Torta d'Patata

October 15, 2018
: 1 hr 15 min
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • Potatoes, peeled, washed, and cut in half (about 4 pounds)
  • Onion, chopped fine (1 large)
  • Garlic (1 clove, smashed or split in two)
  • Fresh parsley, chopped (a small handful or about 1/4 cup)
  • Fresh sage, chopped (About 2-3 tablespoons)
  • Fresh mint, chopped (A small handful or about 1/4 cup)
  • Swiss chard, chopped (1 bunch, about 8 leaves with stems trimmed)
  • Chicken bullion cube (1/2 a cube)
  • Grated parmesan cheese (3/4 cup)
  • 2 Eggs
  • Butter (1-2 tablespoons)
Directions
  • Step 1 Put potatoes in boiling water and cook until very tender. Drain in a colander and then make mashed potatoes with them. (I put the potatoes through a ricer so there are no lumps.
  • Step 2 In a frying pan, saute the onions until translucent and then add the garlic, parsley, sage, and mint. Stir for about a minute and then add the swiss chard. Cover and cook until swiss chard shrinks and is ready to eat.
  • Step 3 Dissolve half a chicken bullion cube about 3/4 cup of hot water.
  • Step 4 Add all ingredients (from frying pan and the chicken stock you just created) to the mashed potatoes and stir.
  • Step 5 Add the grated cheese, the 2 eggs and the butter to the mashed potatoes and stir until the eggs and everything are well blended.
  • Step 6 Grease a cookie sheet with Crisco shortening. Sprinkle flour over it to cover the pan. Turn out excess flour.
  • Step 7 Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, spread mashed potato mixture evenly over cookie sheet.
  • Step 8 Place in a 350 oven until lightly golden brown (be careful not to let bottom burn). This should take about 20 minutes, give or take 5 minutes or so.
  • Step 9 Take from the oven and sprinkle salt over the top. Cut into large squares or rectangles.

 

 

Ma’s Stuffed Peppers

This is an easy one and the kids like them too. Feel free to dip them in ketchup.  (more…)

Quick, Easy Nutella Cookies

Quick, Easy Nutella Cookies

My friend Antoinette (who was born in Italy and is one of the best cooks I know) brought these to my house for a dinner party. They’re so good, it’s hard to stop eating them. And then when she told me how easy and fast they are to make I had to try it.

These cookies can be made well in advance. The cookies come out crunchy and sweet. And it’s very hard to stop eating them.

One final note: I always believed there were many similarities and/or opportunities to blend Italian cooking with Chinese cooking and this recipe proves it. Here’s what you need to do:

Nutella Cookies

September 20, 2018
: 2 min
: 30 min
: 30 min
: Easy

By:

Ingredients
  • Nutella (buy a small jar)
  • Wonton wrappers
  • Powdered Sugar
  • Vegetable oil
Directions
  • Step 1 Put a dab of Nutella (less than a teaspoon will do) into the middle of a wonton wrapper. Fold the wrapper over so that it creates a triangle. Press down the edges until they stick. (Some other recipes recommend sealing the edges with a beaten egg, but I found this wasn’t necessary). Note: I suggest making up a bunch of these before you start deep frying because the deep frying goes very quickly.
  • Step 2 Heat about an inch or so of vegetable oil over high heat in a good skillet (I used a cast iron skillet).
  • Step 3 Drop three or four wonton cookies into the oil and cook on each side for about 30 seconds or less (just until light golden brown). Remove cookies to a plate lined with paper towels so the oil can drain.
  • Step 4 Put cookies on a platter and sprinkle powdered sugar over both sides. I used a sieve to sprinkle the sugar evenly.

 

 

Recipe Videos From Boston’s Best Chefs

This is one of my favorite recipes from the weekly Dorm Room Chef series I produced for the Boston Globe. (more…)

Tuscan-Style Fried Sage Leaves

Tuscan-Style Fried Sage Leaves

This recipe was printed in the Boston Globe’s food section at least 15 years ago, probably closer to 20 years ago. I cut it out of the paper then and used it to make these today but unfortunately, there’s no date on the clipping.

The headline on the article was “Tuscany’s last secret,” and the recipe for the frying batter, which can also be used with vegetables and zucchini blossoms, was taken from the Fine Art of Italian Cooking, by Giuliano Bugialli. I think the Globe should ask readers for their favorite recipe from the Globe’s food section over the past fifty years and then print an article based on the top 10 selections.

Here’s the recipe:

Tuscan-Style Fried Sage Leaves

October 11, 2015
: 15 min
: 20 min
: 35 min
: Easy

By:

Ingredients
  • Sage leaves, fresh whole
  • All purpose unbleached flour, 1 1/8 cup
  • Kosher salt, a pinch
  • Ground black pepper, just a little
  • Nutmeg, a pinch
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons
  • Egg yolk, one from an extra-large egg
  • Dry, white wine, 1/4 cup
  • Vodka, unflavored 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Cold water, 1/2 cup
Directions
  • Step 1 To Make the Batter: In a large bowl, mix the flour with the salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  • Step 2 Make a well in the center of the flour, then add the olive oil, a tablespoon at a time, mixing very well and incorporating just a little of the flour from the rim of the well.
  • Step 3 Add the egg yolk, wine, and vodka and incorporate more flour.
  • Step 4 Finally, add the water and mix everything together very well. The batter should be very smooth with no lumps.
  • Step 5 Let it rest at least one hour in a cool place.
  • Step 6 Frying the Sage Leaves:  Heat about an inch or two of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Insert a wooden spoon in the oil and if bubbles form about it, it’s hot enough to cook the leaves.
  • Step 7 Dip the leaves quickly in the batter, being sure to coat well on both sides and cook in the hot oil in several batches.
  • Step 8 Cook each leaf about one minute or two on each side. Remove from the oil when they turn golden brown and place on a plate lined with a paper towel to allow the oil to drain.
  • Step 9 Sprinkle salt on the leaves and a squirt of lemon juice.

 

Simplicity at its Lemon-Roasted Best

Simplicity at its Lemon-Roasted Best

Roasted potatoes go well with this dish.
Roasted potatoes go well with this dish.

My friend Jeannie gave me the most beautiful cookbook for Christmas. It’s part of Williams-Sonoma’s “Authentic Recipes of the World” series. And this one focusses on the city of Florence.

Northern italians cook simply with the freshest and best ingredients at hand. And that’s what you should do here.

So splurge: buy a good chicken, not one of those thawed out ones for 99-cents a pound. And use the best lemons you can find. There aren’t too many more ingredients to this dish but here’s the list:

Ingredients:

  • Chicken (1 whole bird, about 3 1/2 pounds, preferably free-range, neck and giblets removed).
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (2 tbsp.)
  • Lemons (2 small)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper (I always use Kosher salt; and always, always, pepper from a grinder.)

What I did:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry with paper towels.

Rub outside of chicken with olive oil, then sprinkle skin and insides with salt and pepper.

Stuff the cavity with two whole lemons.

Put the chicken in a lightly oiled shallow roasting pan and cook for about 1 1/4 hours, until golden brown. Baste occasionally.

Transfer chicken to a carving board and remove the lemons. Then tent some aluminum foil over it.

When the lemons are cool to the touch, cut them in half and squeeze the juice into the roasting pan. Throw the lemons away.

Add 3 tbspoons of water to the pan and place over high heat.

Cook for about two minutes, until reduced by 1/3.

Carve the chicken and arrange on a platter. The pour the lemon pan juices over it.

Makes about 4 servings.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Chicken Parmesan (or beef or veal)

Chicken Parmesan (or beef or veal)

Chicken Parmesan is good as an entree or as a sandwich made with two slices of garlic toast.
Chicken Parmesan is good as an entree or as a sandwich made with two slices of garlic toast.

This recipe works for chicken parmesan, beef parmesan or veal parmesan. If you want to make beef or veal parmesan, buy good quality beef or veal cutlets and omit the sage. (Good veal should be pink, not brown or gray.)

My mother often made the beef cutlets and this is her recipe. Every time she made it she’d forget if the cheese came first or the sauce when layering the dish and she’d say, “I forget, do I put the cheese on first or the sauce?” I’d answer, “The cheese. It’s just the opposite of making pizza.”

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • Tomato Sauce (click here to get recipe)
  • Boneless chicken breasts, or chicken cutlets (6-10)
  • Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated. (About a cup)
  • Mozzarella cheese (8 oz.)
  • Sage (enough to sprinkle over the chicken as it cooks)
  • Breadcrumbs (about 8 oz.)
  • Large eggs (2-4)
  • Milk (one splash per egg)
  • Crisco shortening

The first layer before the sauce is spooned on.
The first layer before the sauce is spooned on.

Preparing the Chicken:


If you buy chicken breasts, you have to beat them to make them thin. If you buy cutlets, you don’t have to do this. Separate the breasts and pound them flat on both sides. You can do this by putting a piece of plastic wrap or wax paper over the breasts and hitting them a few times with a rolling pin or meat tenderizer.

Breading the chicken: Scramble a few eggs with a few splashes of milk in a bowl. Add salt and pepper.  Spread breadcrumbs on a large dinner plate or platter. Dip the chicken in the egg mixture and then dredge through the breadcrumbs until covered.

Fry the chicken in batches in a little olive oil with garlic on medium heat. You can also add a thin slice of butter to the pan for flavor, but be careful it doesn’t burn. Sprinkle with a little sage and cook on both sides until done. Transfer the chicken to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain the grease. (If the pan gets dirty or burns from leftover breadcrumbs, wipe it clean with a paper towel and add fresh oil).

Lightly grease a roasting pan with the Crisco shortening. Lay down one layer of chicken. Put thin slices of mozzarella over each chicken piece. Cover with sauce. Sprinkle Parmesan or Romano cheese over chicken. And repeat with each layer, ending with a layer of sauce and grated cheese.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about half an hour to one hour, until cheese melts. Serve hot. You can serve this with rice. If you like mix a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce into the rice. Or with mashed potatoes, green beans, whatever you like.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Florentine Rags (Cenci)

Florentine Rags (Cenci)

Some people add a little lemon juice or lemon zest to the dough but this recipe did not call for any.
Some people add a little lemon juice or lemon zest to the dough but this recipe did not call for any.

Here’s another recipe from the classic 19th century Italian Cookbook, The Art of Eating Well, by Pellegrino Artusi.

Cenci are a Florentine winter treat, made from Epiphany to Mardi Gras. This deep-fried pastry looks like little rags and tastes a little like fried dough, but not as heavy and never greasy.

Ingredients/Shopping List:

  • All-purpose flour (2 1/4 cups)
  • Butter (2 tbsp.)
  • Confectioners’ sugar (1/3 cup, plus more for dusting the finished cenci)
  • Large eggs (2)
  • Brandy (1 tbsp.)
  • Salt (just a pinch)
  • Water (Optional; 1/4 cup or less; just enough to make dough)
  • Vegetable oil or lard (enough for deep frying)

I recommend using a cast iron skillet when deep frying. Get the oil good and hot, but not smoking.
I recommend using a cast iron skillet when deep frying. Get the oil good and hot, but not smoking.

What I did:

Making the Dough: Mix all of these ingredients in a bowl, making a fairly stiff dough. You may have to add a little water to incorporate all of the ingredients. Knead the dough thoroughly on a lighted floured surface. Add a little flour if dough comes out too soft. Shape into a ball and flour it. Let it rest, covered, for about an hour.

After it rests, the dough will much softer and easier to roll out. (If the dough formed a crust while it sat, knead it a little before rolling it out.) Roll it out into a thin rectangle (about 1/8 inch thick).

Use a pastry wheel (or knife) to cut it into strips as long as your palm and two fingers wide.

Twist and crinkle the strips and then fry them in the hot oil or lard.

Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to catch the extra oil.

Transfer to a clean plate and when cool, dust them with confectioners’ sugar.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

Take a Four Minute Trip to Italy (Audio Slideshow)

Take a Four Minute Trip to Italy (Audio Slideshow)

This ancient door is located in the walled city of Barga, not too far from Lucca and Florence.
This ancient door is located in the walled city of Barga, not too far from Lucca and Florence. (All photos by Mark Micheli)

(Click here or the photo above to watch an audio slideshow on the doors and windows of Italy. To watch it full screen, click on the arrows in the lower right corner of the slideshow.)

With the euro high and the economy weak I thought I’d help by creating an audio slideshow mini-staycation for those who are dreaming of traveling to Europe but simply can’t justify it with their bank account.

For me, traveling to Italy is all about immersing myself in the colors and shapes unique to that part of the world: the earthen yellows, burnt orange, and dusty browns of the stucco buildings; the ornate architectural embellishments; and the soft shadows cast by a gentle sun.

Looking through photos from my trip there in 2007, I realized I captured much of this in the photos I took of windows and doors. Some of them are the typical, sentimental shots of flowers dripping down from small rod-iron window balconies; clothes drying on the line in the cool Tuscan air; or old bicycles parked haphazardly on ancient city streets.

But they are all real and representative of what you see there. These images slowly become a part of you and can alter your aesthetic sensibilities. These visual memories are the most important thing you bring back home, but often get overlooked in favor of the souvenir guide of Rome, the leather bookmark from Florence or the Murano glass figurine from Venice.

It’s my hope that this audio slideshow will offer you the same visual treat you’d get on an afternoon stroll down the Via Veneto, the back streets of Tuscany, or alongside  the Grand Canal in Venice. So sit back and relax with a real or imagined glass of Chianti and enjoy this staycation. You deserve it.

–Mark Micheli for RootsLiving

(P.S. — There’s a message on one of the doors. See if you can find it and if you do, follow the instructions. You’ll be rewarded.)

Prized Recipe: Chicken with Polenta

Prized Recipe: Chicken with Polenta

(Special thanks to professional food photographer Russell French for photographing this meal. His photos appear courtesy of Russell French Studio.)

This is one of my prized recipes. My grandmother, Bruna, used to make this and it was my favorite dish when I was a little boy.

I remember sitting at her kitchen table, with a glass of red wine mixed 50/50 with ginger ale (that’s what the kids got to drink). I’d pluck out the little black olives that were covered in a red sauce and stick them on all ten fingers, and then eat them one by one. My fingertips would be hot and then instantly cool as I ate each one.

Here’s the recipe from that memory:

Chicken with Polenta: The Chicken Recipe

July 27, 2009
: 6-8
: 30 min
: 45 min
: Medium

This is what you call peasant food, created in northern Italy where my grandmother learned to cook it.

By:

Ingredients
  • Chicken: I like to use a mixture of bone-in breasts and bone-in thighs. For this recipe, you could use four bone-in breasts
  • and four bone-in thighs to serve between 6 and eight people. You could also use a whole chicken, cut up, or even rabbit.
  • Two or three sweet Italian sausages
  • About 16 oz. of mushrooms
  • One can of pitted black olives
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cans of tomato paste (and about the same amount of water)
  • Two or three garlic cloves
  • A sprig of fresh sage or about a tablespoon of dried sage
  • A sprig of nepitella or about a tablespoon of dried nepitella. Can also substitute a combination of basil and mint. (Optional)
  • About four or five tablespoons of olive oil
  • About 1/3 to 1/2 cup of red table wine
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of nutmeg
Directions
  • Step 1 Clean fat from chicken and soak in salted water.
  • Step 2 Boil sausage for about three minutes.
  • Step 3 Fry sausage with chicken, one clove of garlic (crushed), sage, salt and nutmeg in about one tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Step 4 Fry mushrooms in about one or two tablespoons of olive oil, with garlic clove (crushed), and nepitella. And then add to chicken.
  • Step 5 Add red wine, pitted black olives, tomato paste and dissolve with water to make a sauce.
  • Step 6 Heat in oven. If heating in oven immediately after cooking, set at 350 and heat for only about 15 minutes or so. If you’re not going to serve it for a while, turn heat down to 250 or even 200 just to keep warm. (Don’t overcook chicken as it gets tough.)

Chicken and Polenta: The Polenta Recipe

July 27, 2009
: 6-8
: 15 min
: 15 min
: 30 min
: Medium

By:

Ingredients
  • Three cups of corn meal
  • Seven cups of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Directions
  • Step 1 Bring seven cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a boil over medium high heat.
  • Step 2 Gradually stir in three cups of corn meal in a slow and steady stream. Stir vigorously as you add the corn meal to avoid lumps. Continue to stir vigorously until polenta is a creamy, yet stiff, consistency. (Tip: Have boiling water on hand in case polenta gets too thick.)
  • Step 3 You can either spoon polenta onto plates in a small pile or you can dump the whole pot of polenta on a large wooden board and let it spread out and cool a bit before slicing into rectangles or squares.
  • Step 4 Spoon tomato sauce from chicken dish on top of polenta when serving.

 

A Must-Have Wild Italian

A Must-Have Wild Italian

This herb grows wild in Tuscany and will grow wild in your backyard too.
This herb grows wild in Tuscany and will grow wild in your backyard too.

Nepitella completes the trifecta of Italian herbs that are a must-have in any Tuscan kitchen. You know about oregano and basil, but what is nepitella?

It’s an herb like no other and one I wouldn’t dream of living without. Some describe it as a cross between oregano and mint, but I believe it’s more like a cross between basil and mint. In reality, it’s in a league by itself.

So what do you use it for and where can you get it? Find out the answers to these questions and more.

More on nepitella at AllThingsTuscan.com

And try this recipe for Nepitella and Mushroom Spaghetti

(Photo by Mark Micheli)

Lenten Spaghetti (From the Artusi)

Lenten Spaghetti (From the Artusi)

(Above: Good Italian food isn’t all about red sauce, as this dish proves.)

This is a little different, but very good, simple and easy to make.  Pellegrino Artusi, in his famous 1891 cookbook, said that some might exclaim, “What a ridiculous dish!” But we both like it. It’s Romagnan and a little sweet.

Lenten Spaghetti (From the Artusi)

June 30, 2009
: 5-6

By:

Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 ounces of shelled walnuts
  • 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 lb of spaghetti
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of spices (Spezie Fini, see below)
  • For the Spezie Fini:
  • 2 whole nutmegs
  • 2 ounces stick cinnamon from Ceylon
  • 1 ounce (4 1/2 tablespoons) all-spice
  • 4/5 ounce (4 tablespoons) cloves
  • 2 tablespoons sweet almonds
Directions
  • Step 1 To make the Spezie Fini (choice spice mixture): Grind the spices “in a bronze mortar” (or chop in a mini food processor or however you choose to grind).
  • Step 2 According to Artusi, you “Strain the powder through a silk strainer” (or whatever) and store it in a glass bottle. It should keep for years with the same potency.
  • Step 3 To make the Lenten Spaghetti: Mash walnuts with bread crumbs, and add some confectioners’ sugar and a pinch of the Spezie Fini spices.
  • Step 4 Drain the pasta, season it with oil and pepper, stir in the walnut spice mixture.
Grilled Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers

Grilled Pork Chops with Peppers and Capers

A good companion to the grilled pork chops and peppers dish is grilled artichokes (recipe follows).
A good companion to the grilled pork chops and peppers dish is grilled artichokes (recipe follows).

This was the first recipe I made out of my newest cookbook, Mario Batali Italian Grill, and the results were amazing. My wife Trish commented that she had a hundred flavors mingling in her mouth while she ate this. And although the recipe says it serves six, three of us finished it off as we all had seconds.

(Note: Recipe calls for pork chops to sit in brine overnight.)

  • Ingredients:
  • For the brine:
  • 4 1/2 quarts of water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
    —————————-
  • 6 pork rib chops
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 red bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
  • 3 yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into thin strips
  • 8 bulb onions, trimmed and quartered, or 2 red onions, halved and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
  • 1/2 cup Gaeta olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons small capers, with their brine
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
It doesn't get more colorful or flavorful than this pepper, onion, and caper mixture.
It doesn't get more colorful or flavorful than this pepper, onion, and caper mixture.

What I did:

In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of the water, the salt, and brown sugar and heat over high heat, stirring, until the salt and sugar dissolve.

Pour into a large deep bowl or another container large enough to hold the pork and the brine.

Add the peppercorns, the bay leaves, and the remaining 4 quarts of water. Stir to mix well.

When brine is completely cool, add the pork chops. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, heat olive oil in large pot over high heat until very hot. Add the peppers, onions, olives, red pepper flakes, and capers and cook, stirring for 10 minutes, or until the peppers and onions are beginning to soften. Add the wine and bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from the heat, and set aside.

Drain the chops and pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

Place chops on hottest part of the grill and cook for 7 minutes, unmoved. With tongs, carefully rotate the chops 90 degrees to create nice grill marks and cook for 4 minutes more. Turn the chops over and cook for 5 to 9 minutes more, making sure they are cooked inside.

Transfer the chops to a platter, spoon the pepper mixture over it and serve.

This dinner was so good we had two pork chops each.
This dinner was so good we had two pork chops each.

Also, try the Grilled Artichoke recipe

Find more recipes in the Food section.

(Photos by Mark Micheli)