It’s Italian Heritage Month! Buona Festa!
June always has a buzz about it at our house: the weather is great, the garden is beginning to grow, there’s family celebrations everywhere plus weddings and baptisms. And it’s Italian Heritage Month which means a slew of events to celebrate, remember and share being Italian.
If you’ve never been out to an Italian event, I can assure you the food is good, it’s a bit loud and there will be some Nonni dancing somewhere, which is always fun to watch (and they’ll pull you in too!). Here’s where to start and a selection of upcoming events:
- Check out the official Italian Heritage Month event calendar. Events launched on May 31 at Castello Italia (that’s Casa Loma in Toronto) and continue on everyday through out the city, province and country.
- The Italian Contemporary Film Festival is on June 11-19. Roberto Benigni & Nicoletta Braschi (Life is Beautiful and other films) are in town!
- Ready to eat? How about hitting up La Rose Italia Fest in Milton on June 7. Or the Taste of Little Italy June 19-21 in Toronto.
- Out West? Get ready for June 14: Italian Day on the Drive in Vancouver.
- If you’re an admirer of the arts: Books and Biscotti events, and Italian Family Story time, are on tap. Plus music and art shows (too many to list) all found on the events calendar listed above.
- History buffs will want to get out to the Royal Ontario Museum as well where Pompeii: In the Shadow of the Volcano is opening.
These are just a few ideas to get you going. From home you can get in on the action too. Scroll through my tours of a few Canadian Little Italy communities in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. Or a visit to Pier 21 in Halifax, where many Italians entered Canada for the first time. In 2013 I was also invited to share my thoughts on being Italian Canadian on CHIN RADIO – have a listen.
On the blog, recipes will be on hold this month while we take a look at different views of Italy and being Italian: fun and easy reads to remind you, we’re not just about food!
At the moment my life is all about small things. The little boy is seven months and he’s ready to motor. That means pint-sized shorts and mini socks. Tiny sandals and mini baseball hats for the summer. Teeny toes and fingers reaching for everything. I’m starting to cut up small bits of food and I’ve found it’s changing the way I’m looking at dinner and grocery shopping.
That’s how I ended up with “mini mini bocconcini” in my fridge. Tre Stelle asked if I wanted to take a fresh look at their cheese selection, so off to the market I went with coupons in hand. And in looking over all the options in the cheese aisle, I realized that I seem to only buy the regular size bocconcini (rounds of fresh mozzarella) when I’m having an event – tossing them into salads or on skewers for appetizers. In honour of my son, why not try the “mini mini” bocconcini and see what we can do with them? Paired up with “mini” (or cherry) tomatoes, there’s no way this cheese can lose.
Plus, chunks of cheese in pasta means my husband had his two favourite things together. For me, I wanted something fresh and spring-like for dinner. Fresh cheese, with raw tomatoes and a dose of garlic scape pesto says spring to me. For you readers, I realized I hadn’t posted a pasta recipe in a little while, so it was time to catch up.
Turns out, mini items are fun to eat. This pasta, which serves two, was devoured in minutes. And while he’s not ready for this food yet, my son was eyeing my bowl, those little fingers reaching as far as they could to get a taste!
“Mini” Spring Pasta
250g of your favourite semolina pasta
1/2 recipe of garlic scape pesto
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 container Tre Stelle mini mini bocconcini (200g)
The tops of fresh spring garlic are popping out of the garden. I’m always so glad to see it’s survived the winter! I don’t have enough room to plant tons of garlic, but the 18-20 bulbs I do get in the ground always come in handy. The best thing about growing your own garlic – collecting the garlic scapes. But you can also buy them in bunches at local farmer’s markets.
I’ve written about garlic scapes before: scapes are the curling tops of the garlic plants. They should be picked before the developing flower opens. To eat them raw, you should pick them when they begin to emerge from between the main garlic leaves, even before they start to curl, when they are still tender. If you catch them a little later, they can always be blanched to soften them up a bit. Two years ago I posted two recipes for garlic scape pesto.
The pesto is still a favourite of mine, but with garlic scape season just around the corner, I thought I’d share another way to cook them up: lightly battered and fried. I’ve served these for dinner, over steaks or chicken, or even as an appetizer. Trimming and blanching them first removes any fibrous parts that aren’t so pleasant to chomp into. The batter makes them crisp as you bite into the light, fresh garlic taste.
After a small dinner party last week, one guest pushed back her chair and threw up her arms. She told us that we must have some tricks to being able to whip up dinners so easily. I’m glad it looked easy – it was hard to balance with a six-month-old!- but we just love cooking and having people over.
So I usually say, no, I don’t have any tricks. But the truth is there are one or two things we rely on to get good food on the table. The first is the freezer – we do large batch preps in advance and when vegetables and meats are in season – so it’s all ready to go. The second is my FoodSaver. If you’ve been paying close attention to some posts you’ll see the FoodSaver bags in the background or note my suggestions to vacuum seal vegetables. That’s how all my freezer foods stay fresh.
Well the folks at FoodSaver noticed and sent me a new FoodSaver 4400 to try out. With it, I’ll show you a third trick – you can freeze pasta dough so you can have it fresh any day you want.
So for dinner guests that say, “I can’t believe you made fresh pasta!” Well, we did…we just did half the prep in advance! This comes in very handy when we get a few flats of eggs from my husbands’ families’ duck farm. One can only eat so much quiche and I’d hate for them to go to waste. So we make large batches of pasta dough and freeze them for later use. This was an experiment we did last year and it’s turned out pretty handy. If you ever make too much dough, want to prep for a dinner party or find eggs on sale, this is a perfect way to make your pasta in advance.
First – an easy pasta recipe:
Nonna makes pasta by eye, she knows just the right amount of flour by looking at it and when the dough is ready by the feel. I have yet to acquire that talent, so instead I use a rule of thumb: about 100g of flour to one large egg. If you want to get technical about it you can weigh your eggs since size can vary and weigh your flour as sometimes it can have more moisture in it and use a 3:2 ratio of flour to eggs. I’m not mathematically inclined, so I’ll stick to my rule of thumb.
200g all purpose flour
200g semolina flour
This makes about one pound of pasta, or about four servings. Stick it all in a mixer and set it to medium. When the dough comes together, stop the mixer and dump it out on a floured surface and knead it five or six times. Form the pasta into a smooth ball.
There’s nothing like the memories of food and emotion to mark your travels. The flavours we sample when out of our daily routine sometimes stay with us for years. And even when you think you know all about Italian food, there’s always something that will still surprise you. For this post, student Daniel Elia brings us his adventure of Finding Panelle in Italy.
During the Fall of 2012, I was given the opportunity to spend a year in Italy on exchange, attending university while teaching English at a private school. Growing up in an Italian household, food was always at the centre of any encounter or celebration. I had always associated good food with sitting down at my Nonna’s house with homemade soppressata, wine and parmeggiano. As a twenty year old in the middle of his university education in Canada, I had obviously devoured my fair share of street food after a night out drinking. I had never envisioned Sicilian street food tasting surprisingly as delicious as my family gatherings back in Canada.
A childhood friend also on exchange in Denmark and I traveled to Palermo, hoping to attend a soccer game and encounter a greasy Mafioso in his natural habitat. Upon arriving to our hostel, we were greeted by an unbelievably friendly Australian working at the front desk and were swept away with the rest of the occupants of the hostel to the area known as La Vucciria – the meat market. After seeing buildings still in ruins from WWII and interacting with friendly locals who had quite an odd interest in reggae music, we were told we had to indulge in a traditional late-night snack. We were led to a carello with a greasy man, hair greased back, and his chest hair hanging out of his shirt; the quintessential Sicilian stereotype. Without hesitation we paid for our unknown snack and were given the sandwich; Panelle.
It’s holiday season again! It’s also my sons’ first Easter. It would be slightly more exciting if he were crawling or walking and hunting for eggs but I’ll still take the opportunity to get some classic sweets on the table to celebrate. And boy, am I going classic!
Lemon twist cookies. If you know an Italian, you probably know these cookies. Tangy, dense and not-too-sweet but still a treat. Every Nonna has a recipe like this one and, in fact, this was my Nonnas’. One way to tell this for sure: it is made with oil, not butter. Also, the ingredients include lemon zest and juice. Many modern recipes ask for lemon extract, but I’m betting they didn’t have any of that in her mountain town in Italy. Dipped in a lemony glaze and decorated (usually with sprinkles – but more about that later), you can find these on many cookie tables at special events.
Since it’s Easter, you’ll find them next to Easter Ciambelle and Easter Bread and one of those large Italian chocolate Easter eggs wrapped in brightly-coloured foil. All this probably following a meal of lamb and spinach and ricotta pie. It’s a big celebration with all the family, and all the food you would expect. To tell the truth, the kids might bring Easter baskets to fill up on chocolate eggs, but these days my basket just gets filled up with Easter leftovers and I don’t mind a bit. Double up this recipe and you’ll have plenty to share too. Happy Easter! Buona Pasqua!
Italian Lemon Twist Cookies
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
3 tsp baking powder
Zest and juice of one lemon + 1/3 cup lemon juice for glaze
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups icing sugar