It’s Italian Heritage Month!
Oh the events to go to!! You’ll taste, see, dance, and celebrate all things Italian this month (it should be hard to miss). Just last week I was able to attend Castello Italia at Casa Loma in Toronto, which featured Italian blown glass artists, singers, food, musicians and so much more. It was a great way to kick off the month.
And many will take the month to extole the virtues of Italian food, but also poetry, art, architecture, music, cars, innovation, fashion…and the list goes on.
I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the blog and what it means to me this year, 5 years after it’s start, and one thing that always weighs on my mind is how much it turned in to just a food blog. I used to write more about what Italian-Canadian life was like: the traditions, values, and rituals that make us what we are and, of course, the food. At first I wanted to sure not to focus just on food, to reduce “Italian-ness” to just that. But overwhelmingly, my readers told me, it was the food they really fell for. There seems to be no better way to be immersed into another culture, or reminded of your one, then feeding your senses of sight, smell and taste all at the same time.
Over the past 5 years I’ve also had the privilege of working with a variety of Italia-Canadian businesses and entrepreneurs – newspapers and magazines, radio stations, food distributers, food retailers, museums and art galleries, national organizations, students and writers. I’ve gone dot events and seen Italian-Canadian celebrations of all things Italian (and Canadian) and talked to all kinds of people, of Italian-descent or otherwise, about what they love, and they speak passionately of it, about Italy and its’ people.
And going back to that list of Italian things to celebrate – cars, music, fashion, food and more – one thing becomes clear. It’s passion that sees each one of those Italian things through. Passion for speed and beauty brings us beautiful cars. Passion for simplicity, style and elegance brings us Italian fashion. Passion for family, flavours and nature brings us Italian food. We’re a people that don’t do things half-way. If we have the passion for it, we’re making it the best it can be.
So, it’s the same with this blog. Be it posts about being Italian or the best recipes I have from my family, it will be the best expression of Italian-ness that I can have. With all the passion I have.
Happy Italian Heritage Month everyone. Take the time to enjoy the blog, but also all the events happening across the country and online.
It’s been a while since I posted and for the first time, I’m re-doing a recipe. Not because the first version was wrong, but because now I can do it better. Pasta with Rapini was the first recipe I posted nearly 5 years ago and I posted it because it is my absolute favourite dish. Comfort food at it’s best. Simple Italian cooking. And it’s from my Dad’s hometown of Monteleone in Puglia. When I posted it, I had many people comment on how much they love this dish but also others that were excited to try it. And yet, it is still one that I only serve to immediate family – rapini (or broccoli rabe) can be hard to love if they are too bitter.
But mostly I’m posting this recipe re-do because back then, I was afraid to use the word “orecchiette” (the ear-shaped pasta featured in the pictures) and just called it “pasta.” I thought it would turn readers off but now I regret it – that’s the name of the dish and it’s authentic. Back then, I used a food processor to pulse together the garlic and anchovies that help flavour the recipe – partially because it was easier and partially because it was easier to explain. Now, I love doing things by hand, the way they were originally done. I don’t mind my garlic a little chunkier and I do love putting the little bit of work in. Also back then my photography skills were just emerging. I’ve come so far – and yet, am by no means professional – in showcasing the ingredients that find their way into my kitchen and it makes me much happier. This dish needed new photos desperately.
And finally, back then, my readers were mainly friends and family. With thousands of new blog readers a day and more than a thousand getting my recipes by email, it was time to make this favourite recipe a star of the show again. So if you haven’t had the chance to go back in the recipe archives, here’s the opportunity to see one of the best and give it a try. This is an Italian classic and it’s the reason I started this blog.
Orecchiette with Rapini
1 16oz package semolina orecchiette
1 bunch of rapini, coarsely chopped
3 anchovy fillets
2 cloves of garlic
olive oil as needed
grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese to taste
ground hot peppers (if desired)
I’m entering my fifth year of blogging (I started in early 2012) and it’s amazing to see how many people I’ve met online, how many things I’ve learned about Italian cooking from readers who ask all sorts of questions about ingredients and share their own recipes, and just how many of my family’s recipe I’ve gotten to write down. It’s time to look back at some of the more classic dishes I’ve served up – at least one from each year – that might have you thinking about more than just pasta when you think Italian food. Looking ahead, I’ll be taking on more of our sauces and seasonal foods, trying out some new photography techniques, and, with any luck, offering a few more contests. Most of all, for 2016, I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you. Let me know in the comments what recipes you are looking for, new or old! Happy New Year!
This has been by-far the most popular recipe on my blog. Considering you can buy jugs of this antipasto at places like Costco, it’s popularity is gaining but you don’t need all sort of added flavouring agents or preservatives to get the best eggplant antipasto on your table. Homemade, simple steps and lots of flavour is what you get out of this recipe. A jar of eggplant antipasto also makes an amazing gift to hosts and guests.
Technically this still has pasta in it, but it is not your typical carb-loaded pasta dish. This is heart-warming simplicity in a bowl, employed by every Nonna and mom to comfort kids and bellies at any other age. Homemade stock makes the difference here, but you won’t lose anything with a quick bullion cube replacement to get dinner on the table on a cold day.
Baked Risotto with Peas
Does risotto need to take hours? Does it need to have a creamy saffron sauce? Or can it be bathed in flavour-bursting tomato sauce and get baked until it has a satisfying crunchy top? Well that’s how I grew up with it. Easy to make ahead, just a few ingredients, and the ability to mix in vegetables or meat to round out your meal if you wish. Try it!
Rotolo di Pollo
I had to include one more complicated recipe on this list. This is a traditional preparation of chicken that is sure to impress guests. What I love about this recipe is that the chicken is treated with care and all of it’s parts are used to develop a stuffing that I often find myself craving. Learn how to de-bone a chicken, make classic stuffing and make a centrepiece for a dinner party.
So many of these recipes are family favourites that I find I rarely serve to non-Italian friends. Why? Maybe I think that they’ll think the food is weird or so unfamiliar they won’t try it. We make these fritters so often during the summer, I’ll definitely try sharing them this year – really, what’s not to like? Fresh veggies and herbs, batter, cheese and, in the end, a crispy snack. Make a batch for your family and friends.
Biscotti, those twice-baked crisped coffee-dippers, are so popular but there’s plenty of other Italian cookies to explore. Mostaccioli are as traditional as they get. Flavoured mostly by honey, these chewy soft cookies look a lot like biscotti, and are formed the same way, by baking the dough in a log, but are a nice, not-so-sweet, change to your dessert tray.
It’s the week of Christmas and of all the things to look forward to – family, gifts, cookies and Christmas trees – I’ve got my eye on a different prize: seafood. Crazy, right? This is one of the few times of the year my family whips up a massive batch of Fritto Misto di Mare (Mixed Fried Seafood). Christmas Eve is all about fish and while I’ve heard of it called the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” by Italian-Americans recently that’s not how I’ve known it. I do know that as part of religious observance, Fridays, particularly holy Fridays, and Christmas Eve, called La Vigilia di Natale (The Vigil of Christmas, literally, or the Eve before Christmas), we avoid meat products.
I can’t say that we’ve ever had exactly seven dishes on Christmas Eve, but one we always have is Fritto Misto di Mare (and baccala (salted cod fish) but that’s a recipe for another day). Fritto Misto is by far a crowd favourite, there isn’t anyone who passes on this dish no matter how full you are from the antipasto or pasta. Pipping hot, crispy and tangy from a squeeze of lemon, it wouldn’t be Christmas without fried seafood. Below is how my family gets it to the table. I’ve done shrimp and squid here, but we would typically also have scallops. They can be prepared and cooked the same way as the shrimp. But to be honest, I strongly dislike scallops – it’s a texture thing – but don’t avoid having them at your table! If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where all this seafood can be bought fresh that should be your preferred purchase and you can just ignore my instructions on defrosting, a necessary evil for those of us who are landlocked (save for a large, great lake). Merry Christmas everyone! May your Christmas eve be full of Fritti Misti and fun!
Fritto Misto di Mare
500g shrimp (size 31-40 or the larger, the better!)
400g cleaned, frozen squid
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons cold water
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 teaspoon salt plus additional for seasoning after frying
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 cup cornmeal
canola oil for frying
lemon slices for dressing
So many readers write to me about “secret” family recipes, the things only Nonna made, or Mom developed from a previous recipe. Our most revered foods are often from the minds and hands of those we love, and this is even more heightened during the holidays.
This blog has been going for just over four years now and there’s still a favourite, secret recipe I haven’t shared with you…until today. My absolute-favourite-it’s-not-Christmas-without-them “cookie”: cartellate. These honey jewels originate from Puglia, the region that holds my dad’s home town of Monteleone, but it’s my mother who has perfected the recipe to the point that I cannot control myself around them. In my family we called them “crispelle,” but they are more commonly known as cartellate (or pinwheels). We coat them in honey, or sometimes a dusting of icing sugar, but other families soak them in vin cotto (cooked wine) or a combination of vin cotto and honey. Others still create ones that are rolled with a filling of nuts and dried fruits.
What just boogles my mind about cartellate, and a few other Italian cookies, is just how complicated the process of making them can be to explain. As usual with traditional Italian recipes, the ingredients are simple – flour, eggs, oil – but getting to the final, delicious product will take a few steps. So be forewarned – there’s a lot of pictures in the post so you can see the full process! And here’s an interesting tip from this recipe, the one small oz of liqueur in the ingredients can add flavour to the dough, but it’s real function is to keep the oil from foaming when cooking these treats.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 a cup for kneading
4 large eggs
1 oz Italian liqueur – Anisette, Amaretto or, if preferred, Rum. If you don’t want to use alcohol, you can substitute in vanilla.
2 tablespoons of canola oil
1 tablespoon of sugar
Canola oil for frying
1 1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon water
I usually need to remind myself not to go grocery shopping hungry – I buy everything! – but for this blog post, I’m introducing a new rule: don’t go to the movies hungry. Particularly if you go see Burnt, the new movie out with Bradley Cooper staring as a fallen top chef trying to recapture his career. The food in this movie will definitely make your stomach growl. I was invited to see it by Castello cheese who sent me the lovely prize pack below AND has one available for one of my readers!
Among other things in the prize pack, there is Castello Brie cheese, creamy and gooey especially when warmed up and a great base for a number of flavours. Today I’ve topped my brie with classic Italian flavours – pesto, tomatoes, olive oil and pine nuts. More about that below, but first, how to win your own Castello cheese prize pack.
I love it when I can give away something to a blog reader. I so appreciate your feedback and support (and passion!) for the recipes and postings I feature here. And if Castello wants to share some cheese to celebrate their featuring in the Burnt movie, well, let’s get you entered to win! Here’s what’s in the prize pack:
Movie tickets for two including one popcorn and two drinks;
Castello Brie cheese;
a bottle of olive oil;
Burnt movie inspired recipe cards; and
$2o in Castello cheese vouchers!
How to enter:
Leave a comment on this blog post (below) telling me your favourite Italian dish that includes cheese. Be sure to use your real first name and email when leaving a comment. You have until Thursday, November 19th at 12:00am. For a second entry, like or comment on An Italian Canadian Life on Facebook within the same time period.
This giveaway is open from Thursday, November 12th, 2015 until Thursday, November 19th, 2015 at 12:00AM EST and is only open to Canadian addresses. The winner will be chosen randomly via random.org, contacted via email, and have 48 hours to respond. You will need to provide a street address (not a P.O. Box) and a phone number to claim the prize.
Now what to do with that prize pack when you get it? Enjoy the cheese. While my home cooking may not be as gourmet as featured in Burnt (seriously, who can design plates like that! And I need more than one bite of cheese!), we Italians sure know how to add flavour. These small Castello Brie packages are perfect for an appetizer for two. Pop it in a ramekin for baking and top it with your favourite Italian ingredients and you are ready to go. It’s that easy. Here’s what you’ll need:
1-2 teaspoons basil pesto
2 sundried tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon pine nuts
Good crusty bread, sliced and toasted