Simple is better. It’s a rule with fashion. It’s a rule with writing. Most of all, it’s a rule with food. This easy little salad recipe, bean & potato salad, is a good way to keep it simple.
When it came to side salads, it always felt like my family had infinite variations for what to serve on hot summer days. Tomatoes and cucumbers, tomatoes and potatoes, potatoes and beans, asparagus, zucchini, whatever – as long as it came out of the garden fresh and was tossed with olive oil and garlic, you pretty much couldn’t lose. I’ll admit that when I was younger, I did my best to avoid any salad (with leaf vegetables or without), but now I see that good ingredients, simply prepared are the best to serve.
This recipe was a staple, simply because there was always an overabundance of beans from the garden during the summer. Adjust the recipe as you see fit – more beans or more potatoes or more garlic –to your taste. Some people love keeping peels on potatoes, others need to remove them. Mine are peeled just because it reminds me of Nonno.
My grandfather hated potato peels, while the rest of the family would leave the peels from baked potatoes until last to load them up with butter and munch our way through, he would push his off his plate. Nonno said, and this was probably the only thing he was this particular about, that even when he was poor in Italy he didn’t eat potato peels, so why would he do it now. Fair enough, I’m wasn’t going to argue with that since it just meant an extra peel for me.
Potato & Bean Salad
2lbs of potatoes
1 lb of green romano pole beans
1-3 cloves of garlic
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin Olive Oil
salt to taste
In celebration of our fourth #pastatuesday and the winner of An Italian-Canadian Life’s first pasta contest, I’m offering up a recipe for the perfect side or pairing for pasta: a recipe for meatballs and veal rolls (or polpette and braciole).
Meatballs are a classic part of Sunday dinner and braciola are always a special surprise. For southern Italians, braciole are veal cutlet roll ups but what is inside can be debated. Each family has their own version. Some just put herbs and cheese inside, others, like my family, puts a meatball mixture inside. While “braciole” which refers to “slices of meat” in southern Italy, this recipe is common throughout Italy, but called “involtini”, meaning “little bunches.” Whatever you call them, they are a little labour-intensive but worth the work.
Polpette e braciole
1 pound pork meat, minced
1 pound veal meat, minced
2 cups bread crumbs
1 cup parmigiana cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup parsley, chopped
8 veal cutlets
vegetable oil for frying
As spring and summer approach, my schedule gets increasingly busy. I have a number of projects that go on during the summer, plus events, the garden, etc things can get a bit stressful and I’m a stress eater. I’m trying desperately to cut down on my sugar intake and am searching for alternatives to my stress cravings to wean me off the sugar hits. (If you ever want to get rid of a bag of chocolate-covered almonds quickly, just put it near me.)
Not all desserts are meant to be tooth-achingly sweet. And old Italian recipes are prime examples of slightly sweet treats that meet the sweet tooth craving without going clowingly over the edge. As a matter of necessity of course, many of the old recipes are sweetened by nothing more than grape must or honey, like this family favourite is. Mostaccioli were made by my grandmother and great aunts regularly and while they look like biscotti, they are soft and moist as they don’t go through the second baking process.
The word “mostaccioli” can refer to cookies, although you may find a few recipes for it that include a chocolate covering, but also pasta that is commonly referred to as “penne.” For me the name refers just to these simple Calabrese cookies that have always been on our table.
1 kg honey
1 kg of flour (or just under)
6 egg yolks
1 tsp baking soda
Last week the snow melted and I was able to tip toe out into the garden to peek in on the garlic bulbs I planted last November. There’s nothing popping through yet, but I’m anxiously awaiting this year’s crop, my second. I’ve planted an “extra sweet” type of garlic and I can’t wait to add it to my recipes. I’ve been blessed by being surrounded by family and friends that love garlic as much as I do and don’t find it odd that I’m happily celebrating National Garlic Month.
My grandparents used it liberally. My university roommate and I would eat shawarma and middle eastern potatoes smoothered in a fluffly garlic sauce at least once a week and spend the night breathing the sweet odour in the apartment. Now my husband uses garlic as if it were as common place a condiment as ketchup or pepper. Peeling, smashing, grating and sauteeing the bulbs with almost every meal, he insists he does it to fight away colds but I think he’s just a product of this grandmother’s addiction to heavy garlic. Her favourite: pasta with oil and mounds (and mounds!) of minced garlic. So thick sometimes that it burns.
Pasta with oil and garlic…pasta con aglio e olio…is a classic, simple, Italian dish that everyone knows how to make. It’s the perfect late night snack and the easiest dinner “go to” when you are rushing to get a meal on the table. If you want to be delicate with your flavours, you can slice the garlic thick, sautee it in the oil then remove it so you are not eating full chunks of garlic. Or you can take it on with full force as we do.
The recipe is an easy one, but just to make it a little more interesting, I’ve paired with an unusal pasta: squid ink pasta (pasta al nero di seppia). It has a slightly fishy smell once it hits the boiling water, but prepared on your plate it’s flavour is is more of the “sea” than fish and it is unusually slippery.
Pasta con Aglio e Olio
20 oz squid ink pasta (or other pasta)
3 garlic cloves sliced or minced
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
Grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese to taste
One year, it wasn’t until July that I found the last Easter egg that should have been part of my Easter hunt. Tucked behind the top of a cushion on my grandmother’s red velvet couch which stood watch over her formal living room, the egg’s colourful foil covering was an immediate reminder in the scorching heat of summer, of the surprises and joys of Easter.
Eggs were hidden two ways at my Nonna’s house: chocolate ones tucked away by my aunts for my sister and I and real ones by my Nonna in her traditional Easter bread. Fresh eggs, woven into handmade bread, coddled to gold-brown perfection was made for just this one event each year. Traditional to Calabria, bread made this way can have many names. In our dialect, it’s called “vavarillu” which refers to something being swaddled.
My Nonno was the primary dinner cook at my grandparent’s house, turning out patate fritte, pasta, soups and slow-cooked chicken and potatoes. But when it came to Easter bread – my Nonna really shined. It was a day-long affair and the eggs and loaves being counted out for which families they had to be taken to. Loaves were packed up for each relative that was to be visited. A family of four or more would get a wreath with four eggs in it, others would get smaller loaves with just one or two eggs. The eggs in the bread did more than represent spring and new beginnings. The shape of the loaf that had one egg twisted into it was said to be made to look like the baby Jesus – the egg being his head, then his body swaddled in cloth and his two feet emerging at the bottom.
To celebrate Easter with all my readers, I’m sharing here my family’s Easter bread recipe. You can find a few variations of this type of woven bread online, though many of them are sweet. In our family, it was made with plain bread to be shared during the Easter meal. My Nonna used chicken eggs originally, but with my husband’s family breeding ducks, we have access to free-range duck eggs that come in off-white, brown and a greenish-blue. The colours are perfect for Easter, without having to dye the eggs.
Happy Easter – I hope you find all the eggs and surprises you are looking for this spring!
1.5kg bread flour (also called hard wheat flour)
1.5 kg all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons salt (Kosher preferred)
5 cups warm water
1/4 cup vegetable oil (optional)
whole washed raw eggs
The last few weeks I’ve seen a few glimpses of spring: a few hours of sunny sky, some higher temperatures, multiple bunny sightings and the birds have started their early morning chirping. The refreshing spring air though, is the best part. It brightens up my day, refreshes me and reminds me that a fresh start is around the corner. That sprightly feeling is something I also get from lemons…and limoncello!
Of late, I love adding lemon juice and lemon zest to recipes, whether in my cookies, on fish dishes, in pesto, wherever I can fit it in. Not only is lemon really good for you as it helps with digestion, balances your pH, etc., it also puts a spring feeling into your dishes. That may also be why limoncello is now my drink of choice. Limoncello, a lemon liqueur, offers an intense and vivid lemon flavour.
Making this drink is relatively new to my family, so I’ll file it under a “new tradition” as it now a regular feature at get-togethers. But limoncello has long been produced in southern Italy and, in fact, is the second-most popular liqueur in Italy. It’s made by steeping lemon zest in alcohol and mixing in a simple syrup. You can use this method to make a number of different types of liqueurs (hazelnut, coffee, orange, etc.) as long as you get your quantities and steeping times just right. Limoncello offers a smooth, sweet lemon taste, without any of the usual bitterness associated with lemons.
Traditionally, it’s served as an after-dinner digestivo but you can also use it as an ingredient in cocktails or desserts and even over ice cream.
7 good quality lemons
1 litre of 90 proof alcohol (That’s pure grain alcohol. You might need to find a speciality store to get this depending on where you live)
900 grams sugar
2 litre of water