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Recipe: Zia’s Biscotti


Amid shelves of cookbooks and piles of recipe magazines, my mother’s house holds a small worn notebook full of recipes. The pages are torn, stained and layered with scraps of paper (usually the back of envelopes) that have recipes scribbled in ink or pencil. Sometimes there are instructions and no measurements. Sometimes ingredients and no baking instructions.

Sorting out what cookies get baked for Christmas is less about going through her recipe list and choosing and more about remembering. “Those ones with the nuts on top.” “The round ones that Comare brought over.” “Dad’s favourite.” Proper names for cookies are useless, we all just associate them with people, places or times anyway. This little biscotti recipe lives on a scrap of paper with the simple heading: Zia’s Biscotti.

Zia, meaning Aunt, could mean, well, anyone in the family or extended family. It doesn’t matter though, they came from family and have always been a staple. These biscotti are light and crumbly. I’ve tried several recipes from various books (versions with harder dough I find too dense, those made with butter seem to taste overwhelmingly of butter) but keep coming back to these ones for their simplicity and their texture. You can swap out the almonds for different nuts or other ingredients like chocolate chunks or cranberries, or even add cocoa to the dough for a chocolate version. It’s a great base that’s easily adapted.

Anyway you make them though, these biscotti are classic, just the memories we all hold dear of our family and favourite cookies.

Zia’s Biscotti
6 large eggs
500g sugar
500g flour
500g almonds
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla

Send a virtual panettone or cookie tray to your friends and family with these Italian ecards

Merry Christmas, Buon Natale! With one month to

Recipe: Calabrese Cracked Olives (Olive Schiacciate)

Calabrese olives

In the basement there’s a treasure. No matter how much I despised trekking into the basement to fetch something for my mother, the truth was that a trip to the cantina (cellar) meant stepping into a magical room full of our favourite foods and a year’s (or more!) worth of work. Yellow lupini beans, red crushed tomatoes, brown mushrooms, all gleaming from behind their glass homes. One of our favourite cantina inhabitants was, and is, olives.

Calabrese cracked olives, named as such because of the way they are cracked (smashed, really) open, were always a staple in my house growing up.  Served as a snack with soppresata, cheese, taralli and other antipasti, we stocked up on jars of this green gold in the cantina. The recipe for preserving olives is held mainly in the minds of older Italians, much like the recipe for preserving green tomatoes I shared here previously. You can find recipes online with a similar name, but they are often written in Italian and not quite the same.

In North America, green olives are picked at the end of September to about the middle of November. In Europe, the harvest is a bit later and into the winter. Preserving olives is another one of those food events that calls for a big gathering of family if you are going to make a lot, just like making sausages or canning tomatoes. Part social event, part necessity, Italian food preservation has always been an integral part of life for southern Italians. These days, the family gathering part is more important than the preserving, but the results – good food and some fun – are the same.

Some tips for this recipe: you’ll need some time and some patience, smashing the olives can get messy and don’t let the olives get brown or mushy at any point, then they’ll lose their taste and allure. Finally, be sure to add these to your pantry or cantina collection, for olive lovers this is a great way to have a fresh olive taste all year around.

Calabrese Cracked Olives (Olive Schiacciate)
1 case green olives
1 lb salt (1 box)
2tbsp fennel
2-3 tbsp dried oregano
2-3 tbsp dried basil
1 tbsp granulated garlic
olive oil
hot pepper flakes to taste

Select a case of olives where the fruits are still firm and are a medium-large. If the olives are very fresh, you may need to allow them to sit for a few days in a cool place such as a cantina or garage. The olives are ready to process when they break open easily with a bit of pressure.


Found: 1906 Vintage Italian Postcard (some things always stay the same…)

Recipe: Farro Risotto from “The Healthy Italian” – and a contest!

Farro Risotto Recipe

If you follow this blog regularly you know that I love posting traditional recipes from my family. A lot of people enjoy these recipes just as much as I do, especially for those who swear by the Mediterranean diet, but I often get questions about “tweaking” the recipe for the extra health-conscious: can I bake instead of fry? Can I replace all-purpose flour with whole wheat? Can I reduce the sugar?

I ask readers to let me know, if they give the recipe a twist, how it works out. One of my more popular posts on this blog is spelt pasta, which started as an experiment in my own kitchen. Today I’m asking you how you’ve adapted traditional dishes to meet dietary needs for a chance to win a new cookbook! (keep reading….)

The thing with traditional recipes is that they don’t change much. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done though. Recently, Fina Scroppo, an editor and writer, shared her new book with me “The Healthy Italian: cooking for the love of food and family,” a cookbook that puts alternative spins on Italian classics. I’ll admit, I may have been a bit skeptical (can you really put quinoa in eggplant parmesan?), but the only way to really know if these new recipes work, is to try them.

One of Fina’s recipes immediately spoke to me: farro risotto. First, it uses a whole grain (farro) which draws in a lot of questions from readers each time I write about it (and I’ve become a bit obsessed about myself). Secondly, it’s made creamy not by the starch typically found in the classic risotto arborio rice, but from goat cheese, which is one of my favourite ingredients. Fina tells the story about how her family had to find alternatives to Italian recipes when her sister was diagnosed with celiac disease. For me, I had to make two more  little adjustments: the original recipe called for asparagus which is not seasonal right now (a big part of Italian eating), so I used squash instead and I used whole grain farro instead of semi-pearled as I don’t mind the extra chewiness. If you are new to farro, or prefer the consistency of rice, use the semi-pearled type.

The result was a creamy, extremely tasty dish that offered no guilt after you devour the whole bowl full. Enjoy the recipe – and if you want to try Fina’s recipes yourself, here’s your chance: Enter to win “The Healthy Italian: cooking for the love of food and family,” by telling me how you’ve adapted a traditional family recipe for dietary or health reasons in the comments. A winner will be selected at random at midnight on November 22. Good luck!

Farro Risotto (from “The Healthy Italian”)
2 cups butternut squash, cubed
3 1/2 cubes reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp light butter
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 1/2 cups semi-pearl farro (spelt grain, also called emmer)
1/2 cup white wine
2 tbsp crumbled light goat cheese
2 tbsp each fresh parsley and fresh basil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving (optional)

Guest Post: Italian memories from Northern Ontario

family picture

What does it mean to be Italian in North America? Today An Italian-Canadian Life welcomes a guest post by Amy Di Nardo, a university student studying nursing in Toronto,  who hopes to work in the gerontology field.  She loves garlic, kitchen-floor dances, and espresso. (I can’t say I blame her…)

The neighborhood I currently live in Toronto (Downsview) is very diverse. If I go for a walk on a Saturday afternoon, it excites me to hear different languages — whether it be Yiddish, Italian or Russian being spoken at different intersections. At a nearby park, I see young children playing on the swings, while a group of elderly ladies walk by, deep in conversation.

I have lived in Toronto for just about two years and it was a huge transition. I found that it took a great deal of time to adjust to the the rhythm of a large city. In my hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, I grew up in an Italian bubble. The city contains a very large Italian population relative to its size and due to its isolation from other major cities (nine hour drive to Toronto), a unique culture was created that lives and thrives within the community.

The ways in which ethnic communities interact, both internally and externally to other groups, seems very different in small versus metropolitan centres.

It didn’t take me much time to find an Italian presence in Toronto. The first experience I had was going to College Street for the Tarantella Festival. The street was closed off for dancing, musicians, vendors and artists such as Mimmo Cavallaro and Rionne Junno. I wouldn’t expect this sort of large-scale event to come to Sault Ste. Marie.

After this event, I was introduced to the popular GTA magazine, PanoramItalia, and the newspaper Lo Specchio. There were profiles, articles, events, language classes — everything you can think of! I quickly realized how organized and vastly different the Toronto Italian community is from Sault Ste. Marie — however, I still cannot put my finger on the exact variances.