Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site

Main Page This family-friendly site celebrates Italian culture for the enjoyment of children and adults. Site-Overview



Recipes and Italian Food History






10 Recipes




The True Italian Cuisine and Recipes


The wonderful cookbook by food historian Donatella Cirri Martelli, La vera cucina italiana (The True Italian Cuisine, Editoriale Olimpia, 1980) provides entertaining and edifying information on many Italian dishes and Italian cuisine in general.  If you have the chance to get a copy of the book, I highly recommend it for her erudition, passion for Italian cuisine, and her impeccable Tuscan Italian.  Below are summaries of some of the information she includes, per section, along with a few translated recipes.  I've added other recipes from around my site to this page, too.


Gli antipasti - Appetizers

La pasta asciutta - Dried Pasta

La pasta fatta in casa - Fresh Pasta (Homemade Pasta)

Risotto, Minestre, Zuppe, Polenta - Rice Dishes, Stews, Soups, Polenta

Pizze, Focacce, Torte salate - Pizzas, Flat Breads (Pizza Breads), Savory Pies

La carne, Il pollo, Il pesce, Piccola salumeria casalinga - Meat, Chicken, Fish, Homemade Cured Meats

Le verdure, La verdure sott’olio e sott’aceto, Le uova - Vegetables, Vegetables preserved in oil and vinegar, Eggs

I dolci, I gelati, La frutta conservata, I liquori - Desserts, Ices, Preserved Fruit, Liquors


Gli antipasti - Appetizers


Antipasto comes from Latin, meaning ‘before a meal’, but in Italy is meant as a stuzzichino, or taste of foods that stimulate the appetite, preparing it for the full meal.  The same recipes are used for tramezzi or piatti di mezzo, a classic tradition of serving tasty morsels between main dishes.  Today they are often used at receptions that require finger-food, or for light summer meals.


One of the oldest of these recipes is for La panzanella, a bread-based salad.  It was usually made with the week’s leftovers, because no food could afford to be wasted.  I usually make it during the summer months, because it is delicious and refreshing, and very easy to make.


La panzanella - Bread Salad

500 grams of bread, preferably whole grain, and a few days old

4 very ripe tomatoes

2 red onions

4 tablespoons of olive oil

2 tablespoons of vinegar

Chopped fresh basil

Salt and pepper to taste


The key to the dish is the soaking of the bread, diced, in cold water for half an hour.  Then you wring it out with your hands and crumble it into a big mixing bowl.  Then you add the other ingredients, mix, and set it in the fridge for at least two hours. 


Ms. Martelli explains that la maionese, used in some antipasti recipes, while it is clearly an Italianization of the French word for mayonnaise, it actually has older roots in Italian cuisine than in French cuisine.  Il Platina describes a recipe in his 1475 cookbook for a sauce made with eggs with lemon juice that is very similar to modern mayonnaise. 


She includes a very old recipe for liver pate or Pasticcio freddo di fegato, and explains that it has it’s origins in the Italian Renaissance (Il Platina, again, and Cristoforo da Messiburgo in Banchetti, composizione di vivande et apparecchio generale from Ferrara in 1549) when it was almost always used as filling for a meat pie.  Only in the summer months was it used as a spread on bread or crackers, as we use it today. 


Pasticcio freddo di fegato - Cold Liver Paste

200 grams of veal liver (diced)

200 grams of chicken livers

100 grams of raw ham

120 grams of butter

1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon of cognac or aquavit

1 tablespoon of anchovies

Sage leaves

Two cloves of garlic

Salt, pepper to taste


Cook the livers in 20 grams of the butter, and with the sage and the garlic cloves.  When they are done, put them in a mixing bowl and discard the sage and garlic.  Add the ham, egg yolk, cognac and anchovies.  Mix well, then add the rest of the butter, softened, and mix until you have a consistent cream of liver pate.


Fett’unta is as old as bread.  It means 'bread-soaked', in olive oil.  Garlic bread as known outside of Italy, is not eaten in Italy.  Instead they make this recipe and it's variations, called Bruschetta



Bread slices

Extra virgin olive oil

Garlic cloves

Salt and pepper


Toast the bread slices.  Rub the garlic cloves over the toasted bread.  They will dissolve into the bread.  Put the bread slices on a plate and season them with salt and pepper.  Then pour the olive oil over them.  Eat while the slices are still crisp and warm.



Prepare the Fett’unta as described above, and then cover them with one or more of the following toppings.  Place the bread slices in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes until the toppings are melted or cooked.  They need less cooking time if you place the slices under a grill.

Grated or thinly sliced cheese of any kind


Thinly sliced onion rounds

Bits or slices of meat of any kind

Sliced or minced mushrooms

Fresh or dried oregano, sage or rosemary

Tomato paste or sauce

Cooked beans in a sauce

Thinly sliced or diced vegetables


La pasta asciutta - Dried Pasta


The history in Italy of dried pasta cooked and seasoned with a sauce can be traced as far back as the Etruscans (900 B.C.) who seasoned their pasta with game (venison) based sauces.  This passed on to the Romans and then appears in the first Italian cookbook in Italian, rather than Latin, by Anonimo Toscano, from the end of the 1300’s, and published for the first time in 1963 by Francesco Zambrini.  The pasta was cooked in broth and seasoned with cheese. 


Even though the old texts use the term lasagna, they actually refer to something more like tagliatelle.  Spaghetti comes from the Napels region, and most regions have a traditional pasta shape.  Maestro Martino’s De arte coquinaria from 1450 has recipes for vermicelli and maccheroni.  The story of pasta coming from China is a myth.


The earliest seasonings for the cooked pasta were meat sauces, milk, butter, cheese, vegetables, and only after the arrival of the tomato from the New World, and then some time to be convinced it wasn’t poisonous, did tomato find it’s ideal partner in pasta.  Practically every family in Italy has a favorite sugo or salsa for their pasta, so I won’t waste time putting one here.  But I will put a recipe for an older pasta sauce, originally Italian (with some variation in ingredients) and now considered French:  La besciamella (white sauce).  The Medici called it colla, which means glue, and when it cools it is very glue-like, but when it is warm it makes a rich and exotic pasta sauce.


La besciamella - Béchamel or White Sauce

50 grams of butter

4 tablespoons of white flour

½ liter of milk or chicken broth (milk for vegetable pastas, half/half for meat and fish pastas)

50 grams of grated Parmesan cheese

Salt to taste

Grated nutmeg


Most recipes have you melt the butter, then add the flour, and then slowly whisk in the hot liquid.  I find that unnecessarily laborious and too often end up with balls of flour.  I never have a problem when I start with cold liquid, whisk in the flour, then heat it up slowly, whisking as it cooks.  After a low boil, whisking continually, for about 5 minutes, it is usually ready.  Remove it from the heat and add the butter and cheese and stir until they melt.  Then add the salt and nutmeg to taste.  To give you an idea of how much nutmeg you might use, I like a lot of nutmeg, which usually means about ½ a teaspoon. 


Le Penne

Penne are thick tubes of pasta about as long as your thumb.  They hold up well to strong flavors and retain their chewy texture even when not served immediately.  Cook them according to the instructions on the package, which should indicate the number of minutes they should be boiled in salted water.



Cream and Ham Sauce:  Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a pot over a medium heat, then add fresh cream and let it evaporate a bit on a high heat for at least 5 minutes.  Add diced cooked ham, the cooked Penne, grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.  Let it cook just a few minutes more, stirring continually.  Adjust the amounts of cream and ham to suit your personal tastes and the amount of pasta the sauce is to cover. 


Cream, Ham and Pea Sauce:  Cook the sauce as described above.  When you add the cooked Penne, add cooked peas to the sauce as well.


Cream, Garlic and Mushroom Sauce:  Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a pot over a low heat and add chopped garlic cloves to personal taste.  Cook for a few minutes, then add fresh cream and let it evaporate a bit on a high heat for at least 5 minutes.  Add chopped, sautéed mushrooms and the cooked Penne, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Let it cook just a few minutes more, stirring continually.  Adjust the ingredient amounts according to your personal tastes and the amount of pasta the sauce is to cover.


Just one last word, concerning the cold-water-on-cooked-pasta debate.  Ms. Martelli, in her authoritative voice, says that one cup of cold water thrown over just cooked pasta, works well as a break on cooking, long enough to get the pasta seasoned and served up at table.  But you should never rinse the cooked pasta under running water because you lose the flour-water coating that has formed over the pasta, which helps the seasonings cling to it. 



La pasta fatta in casa - Fresh Pasta (Homemade Pasta)

Fresh pasta is made in sheets and cut and shaped in the various types of pasta.  It’s said that lasagna and tagliatelle, and pasta filled with pumpkin (the earliest fillings) are all from Ferrara.  And cappelletti, ravioli and cannoli (not the dessert cannoli) are from Modena. 


In Ferrara they also say that tagliatelle were made to imitate the long blond hair of Lucrezia Borgia who married Alfonso I d’Este, the Lord of Ferrara, in 1501 (her third ‘lucky’ husband).  It is from this period that tagliatelle were a part of all the great banquets. 


Tomato is added to pasta to make red pasta.  Spinach is added to make green pasta.  Ms. Martelli describes a patriotic tri-colore (tri-color) dish that some people serve on patriotic occasions.  All three colors of tagliatelle are prepared, and then they are seasoned with three different colors of sauces.  For example, on the serving dish you would see white pasta with tomato sauce, the green pasta with white sauce (besciamella), and the red pasta with a green sauce (pesto).


To make fresh pasta at home, one must have a pasta machine to create the sheets, a rolling board, a rolling pin, patience, patience and more patience.  And as with all artistry, practice makes perfect.  So the only recipe I’ll put here is one Ms. Martelli calls Gnocchi di spinaci or malfatti alla fiorentina, because it requires none of these things.  It is typically served during Lent.


Gnocchi di spinaci / malfatti alla fiorentina - Spinach Gnocchi / Florentine Misshapen Things

1 kilo freshly cooked spinach, all moisture removed, chopped finely

500 grams of fresh ricotta cheese

200 grams of grated Parmesan cheese

2 large eggs, or 3 small ones

Ground nutmeg (1/2 teaspoon or so)

Salt to taste

Mix together the chopped spinach, cheeses, eggs, nutmeg and salt.  Shape small balls of the pasta, then lightly flour them.  Cook them in boiling water until they float.  Remove them and season them immediately and serve.  A simple seasoning is best, like melted butter with some sage and Parmesan cheese.  But you can use a tomato sauce if you prefer.


Risotto, Minestre, Zuppe, Polenta - Rice Dishes, Stews, Soups, Polenta


Ms. Martelli reminds the reader that pasta is not the only first course dish in Italian cuisine.  It may be one of the most unique and best know abroad, but in Italy, it is not a fixture at every Italian’s lunch.  Alternating with pasta as first course are rice dishes (risotti), polenta, and a wide variety of soups (stews, broths, soups, cream-soups).


Rice dishes date from the twelfth century, having come from Chine via the Silk Road, brought by traveling monks and planted in 1150.  It is easily cultivated in the Po Valley (Vermicelli, Lombardy, Piedmont), and is the basis of many of the most famous northern first course dishes (rice with just about every vegetable imaginable), and desserts (for which the rice is cooked in milk).  Italian cuisine uses short-grain rice rather then the preferred long-grain used in the Orient.  Short-grain rice absorbs more seasonings because of it’s glutinous  coating.  It’s tastier.


Polenta has an even older origin, if with various grains, dating from the pre-Roman Etruscan period.  However, it is probably as old as the cultivation of grain itself, ten thousand years old.  It is the mainstay of many of today’s populations in the poorest regions of the planet, especially made with sorghum, a grain used by the Etruscans for their pultes, polentas. 


Grain grows best in Italy’s northern regions (Veneto, Lombardy), and it is here that polenta is most eaten.  But even the winter-cold central regions enjoy the dish, usually served with hearty game sauces.  It can vary in color from grey to orange.  Before maize (cornmeal) was brought from the New World, polentas in Italy were made from gran-turco (gran-saraceno) - Durham Wheat, the grain that is used for couscous, a similar dish eaten throughout North-Africa. 

Polenta is eaten freshly cooked with a sauce poured over it, or sliced up after it has cooled, and then baked in the oven with various ingredients between layers of polenta slices.  The following is one such recipe.


Polenta pasticciata - Polenta Pie

300 grams of sliced, cooked polenta

100 grams butter, diced

100 grams of grated Parmesan cheese

100 grams of grated Gruviere cheese

Besciamella (see above)


Layer the polenta slices in a buttered dish, alternated with the other ingredients.  Make sure you don’t finish with the polenta slices on top.  Then cook it in a hot oven for at least 10 minutes.  You can season it with sage or diced ham if you like between the layers.


Soups have been the mainstay of the poor since the beginning of time.  The broth base can be made from leftover animal bones, and the soup ingredients can be leftovers of meat, vegetables, and even bread.  The richer variety of soup, the cream-soups, date from the Italian Renaissance.  Interestingly, the oldest Italian soups contain boiled bread, as it was the tradition in the Middle-Ages to serve meals to the gentry on unleavened bread, and then the servants boiled up all the leftovers, including these early versions of pizzas, as their one meal of the day.  



Pizze, Focacce, Torte salate - Pizzas, Flat Breads (Pizza Breads), Savory Pies


Throughout the Mediterranean basin flat breads made of ground grains mixed with water have been staples of the diet for centuries.  The Phoenicians, Mediterranean traders from what is now Lebanon, passed the custom on to the people of Carthage, who were famous for cooking focacce (risen flat breads) in terracotta molds in the shape of flowers, fish and birds.  Greeks and Romans also used flat unrisen bread as plates, serving the food on them, but not eating them.  Metal plates finally took the place of these mensae only in the 14th century. 


Focacce remained popular throughout the middle ages, and each region of Italy made local versions, with local names.  The Latin dialects became the Italian dialects, and the names remained.  These are the various names used today in Italy for the regional variations:  focaccia, cavaccino, pizza, pitta, impanata, calzoni, panzerotti, etc.  They are known around the world, but like all of Italian cooking, there are few rigid rules about how to make them.  The individual creativity of the cook is encouraged.  In Italy, cooking truly is a creative outlet.


Foccace - Pizza Breads

1 cup lukewarm milk

1 package yeast

1 tbsp sugar

1tsp salt

3 tbsp olive oil

Approx. 2 ½ cups flour


In a room temperature glass or crockery bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk, then mix in the sugar, salt, and oil with a wooden spoon.  Add the flour until the dough forms a compact ball.  Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thick and place on an olive-oiled oven tray.  Press firmly with your fingertips to make indentations in the dough.  Cover with a clean tea towel and let it rise to double in height.  This should take only 1 hour if you keep the tray in a warm, draft-free place.  This is the basic Foccace dough.  Below are various toppings to add to the risen bread before it is cooked in a hot oven for roughly 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden.



Olive Oil:  Pour olive oil over the dough and spread it around with your fingers to cover the entire surface.  Then sprinkle the dough lightly with salt.  The fruitier the oil, the tastier the bread.

Olive Oil and Rosemary:  Prepare the dough with the previous topping and then sprinkle it with chopped fresh or dried rosemary.

Onion and Cheese:  Cover the dough with cooked onions and then sprinkle with grated cheese.

Tomato:  Cover the dough with a tomato pasta sauce and then drizzle olive oil over the top.

Raisons:  Add raisons to the dough just before you roll it out to rise.  After the rising, cover the dough with olive oil and salt as described for the Olive Oil topping.


Savory pies (torte salate) are so-called to differentiate them from dessert tarts.  Like in all European cooking cultures, the pie is very old.  In ancient English texts, the crusts (top and bottom) are called the ‘coffin’, because of the apt comparison with burials, the food ‘entombed’ and cooked in the oven.  Recipes for savory pies appear in the oldest Italian cookbooks, often with the popular ingredients of the day:  cinnamon, sugar, almonds and rose water. 


One of the classic savory pies is La torta Pasqualina, The Easer Pie.  The time before Easter is Lent, when the Catholic church forbade the eating of meat and eggs.  So when Easter came, ending the restrictions of Lent, it was customary to celebrate with eggs dishes, also because eggs signify rebirth.  You find the same tradition in orthodox Christian customs, too.  This pie is from the Lombard region of Italy.


La torta Pasqualina - The Easter Tart

Pie crust for a double-crust pie

400 grams of cooked and finely chopped spinach

300 grams of fresh ricotta cheese

6 eggs

100 grams of grated Parmesan cheese

Parsley, 2-3 tablespoons

Marjoram, a pinch

Sale and pepper, about one teaspoon of salt and ½ of pepper


Butter a round casserole dish, then line it with the crust.  Mix together the spinach, cheeses, two eggs, parsley, marjoram, and salt and pepper.  Put the filling in the crust.  Then use a spoon to form four pockets in the filling.  Put one egg in each, raw, but without the shell (different from the Greeks who cook the eggs with the shells in Easter breads!).  Then put the top crust on, seal it, brush it with olive oil.  Cook it in a moderate over for roughly an hour and ½.  If the top cooks too quickly, cover it with aluminum foil.  It is best eaten warm or cold, but never hot.



La carne, Il pollo, Il pesce, Piccola salumeria casalinga - Meat, Chicken, Fish, Homemade Cured Meats


In her discussion of the history of meat in the diet of ancient Italians, Ms. Martelli reveals something interesting.  There are those who believe the name given to the boot-shaped peninsula, Italia, came from the word vitulia, which means the ‘land of veal’.  It was called thus because of the massive herds of beasts that roamed the land.  Etruscans, early inhabitants of Italy, were famous as big meat eaters.  Eventually, these wild herd were depleted (just like the forests that covered Southern Italy, which were cut down to build Greek ships, leaving the soil to erode into the impoverished land that remains today).


Romans prided themselves on their dietary frugality, and ate meat rarely during any week.  When they did eat meat, it was not beef, cows and bulls being too valuable in agriculture and the production of milk.  They ate pork, chicken and wild fowl (that too has disappeared after the flood-plains were drained).  Slaves, over half of the Roman-era population, lived on bread, olive oil, olives, rotten fruit, and the leftovers from their master’s table.


The middle-ages saw a worsening of diets due to the continual wars and the insecurity economic depression that accompanied them.  Only when the Renaissance began, did the diets of the poor improve, but while the rich ate the best parts of the beasts, the poor had to make due with the internal organs and the ears and feet of the animals.  They created tasty dishes that entered Italian cuisine and are still eaten today.  (The internal organs of animals butchered in the U.S. are often shipped to Europe for sale.)  I won’t put one of those recipes here, mainly because the smell of them turns my stomach (sorry, but it’s the truth).  Instead, here’s a recipe from Northern Italy.


Petto di pollo con panna e funghi  - Chicken breasts with cream and mushrooms

400 grams of chicken breasts, pounded into thin fillets

400 grams of sliced mushrooms

¼ liter of cream

50 grams of butter

50 grams of flour

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

salt and pepper to taste


Melt the butter in a pan and add the garlic.  When the garlic is toasted, remove it.  Then lightly flour the chicken breasts and brown them on both sides in the hot butter.  Add the mushrooms and cover the pan to let them cook for 10 minutes.  Then uncover the pan and raise the heat to cook off some the mushroom liquid.  Then add the cream and cook, stirring for 10 minutes until you have a nice thick sauce.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  (Ms. Martelli has you add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to the cooking mushrooms, and season the dish at that time.  It is up to you.)


Grilled meats are very popular and the best restaurants for freshly grilled meats are the special Grillaio restaurants that grill everything (except the pasta!).  I always seemed to find them in the mountain villages, and you can smell them as you approach.  The wonderful aroma of the charcoal and cooking meats is their best advertising.


Pollo alla griglia - Grilled Chicken

Medium-sized pieces of chicken either on the bone or not

Vinegar or lemon juice

Crushed garlic cloves



Marinate the chicken pieces several hours, preferably overnight, in the vinegar/lemon juice, garlic and herbs.  The vinegar/lemon juice tenderizes the meat, and the meat takes the flavors of the garlic and various herbs.  After marinating, dry the chicken pieces then coat them with olive oil, and grill.  Season with salt and pepper as it cooks. Italians often use large pieces of sage or rosemary dipped in olive oil to brush the meat as it grills to add flavor, and to apply the oil which makes the meat crisp and brown.  The marinade should be used only to tenderize and flavor the raw chicken, not for basting or as a sauce for sanitary reasons.



The variations are in the herbs that you use in the marinade, or the liquids you add for flavor.  Try various combinations to find the ones that appeal to your personal tastes.  Here are some suggestions.

Fresh or dried sage

Fresh or dried rosemary

Fresh or dried thyme

Extra crushed garlic cloves

Orange juice

Whisky, vodka or other strong liquor



Fish has always been a staple of the Mediterranean diet, but pollution has killed off most of the fresh water fish in Italy, and the Mediterranean is considered, technically, a dead sea.  The result has been higher fish prices, just as the prices of meat has come down.  Even the fish that does appear on the market is often of questionable quality due to pollution in the seas where they are fished or farmed.  Sadly, this is not a problem unique to Italy.  The following is the simplest way to cook a fish, and if the fish is fresh, it is the tastiest, in my humble opinion.


Oven Roasted Fish in Foil

1 whole fish, cleaned (especially nice with trout and salmon-trout)

several cloves of crushed garlic

One lemon sliced thinly

1 cup of chopped parsley

Salt and pepper to taste


Set the fish on a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to wrap it up.  Fill the fish with the garlic and parsley.  Put lemon slices inside and outside the fish.  Seal it in the foil and set it in a hot oven (on a tray is you’d like, to catch any escaping juice) for 20 minutes or 30 minutes for a thick fish.  Remove it from the oven and foil, season with salt and pepper, and serve.  Or you can serve it and let each person season it to their taste. 



Le verdure, La verdure sott’olio e sott’aceto, Le uova - Vegetables, Vegetables preserved in oil and vinegar, Eggs


Vegetables have always been a large part of the diet of the people living on the Italian peninsula, not only because many varieties grow wild, there, but because their nutritive and medicinal qualities have long been known. 


Potatoes arrived from the New World in the 17th century, and quickly became a staple of the diet of Northern Italians, especially those living in the mountains.  This manner of cooking potatoes is the tastiest fried potatoes I’ve ever eaten.  And whatever you do, don’t call the French Fries.


Patate fritte - Fried Potatoes

Two medium-sized potatoes per person, sliced into strips about ½ inch thick

Two cloves of garlic, sliced in two with the skin on, if you’d like

Peanut oil (this is the best oil for frying because it can reach higher temperatures without burning)

Salt and pepper


Put the oil in a pot and heat it up.  It is best to put it in a deep pot rather than a shallow pan.  Add the garlic and when they start to brown, the oil is generally ready.  Add the sliced potatoes, but only enough that they still have room to float around a bit.  It’s best to cook several batches than try to cook them all at once, because water escapes during the cooking process, and it can make the potatoes stick together.  I like to remove the garlic when it is thoroughly cooked to avoid a burnt taste getting in the oil.  Add some salt and pepper while the potatoes are cooking.  I decide they are done, when I think they are golden enough, and then I wait one more minute.  They never seem to be done when I think they are, so that one minute makes all the difference in the world.  Remove the potatoes from the oil with a strainer tool and let them sit on paper towels for a few minutes.  Season them further now, and serve while they are still hot. 


Tomatoes came from the New World, too, and were found to grow best in the South of Italy, especially around the Naples area, where even today they produce the most, and best, tomatoes in the country.  Ms. Martelli says that tomatoes appear in 80 percent of all Italian recipes, but that sounds a bit exaggerated to me.


Melanzane, or egg plant, is a typical vegetable of Southern Italy because of the warm weather needed to grow them, and because they were brought there by the Arabs who ruled over that region for a time.  The name even comes from the Arab word for the vegetable badingian. 


Pepperoni, or sweet bell peppers, are another vegetable typical of Southern Italy, again because of the warm weather needed to ripen them, and because the Spanish brought them there, from Brazil, when they ruled over both regions. 


Greens, like spinach, grow wild throughout Italy.  They are especially nice in this following recipe, but you can make this dish with many other kinds of vegetables like cooked broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.  It’s name, sformato, means ‘misshapen’, which I’ve always imagined referred to how the vegetables are chopped up before cooked into a new form.  It is a simple, yet exquisitely tasting dish, that seduces even men, who seem to have a natural aversion to vegetables.


Sformato di spinaci - Misshapen Spinach Pie

300 grams of cooked spinach, chopped very finely

Besciamella, prepared as reported above

40 grams of butter

2 egg yolks

Salt and pepper, about 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper

A pinch of nutmeg, about ¼ teaspoon

100 grams of grated Parmesan or Gruviere cheese


Mix together the spinach, besciamella, then add the egg yolks, salt and pepper, nutmeg and almost all the cheese.  Butter and flour a baking dish.  Put in the mixture and flatten it out.  Drop pieces of the butter over the top and sprinkle it with the leftover cheese.  Set it in a hot oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until it is firm and golden.  It is delicious warm and cold, as a side-dish, and as a vegetarian dish.  It is even nice sliced and served between bread as a sandwich.


Mushroom dishes abound in Italy, mainly because they grow wild there.  For this reason, Italian mushroom recipes are best when made with wild mushrooms or the expensive Porcini mushrooms. 


Beans, despite having arrived in Italy via the New World in the 16th century, are an integral part of Italian cuisine.  A relative of the black-eyed pea has always been eaten, especially in Tuscany.  They are used in soups, salads, and eaten on their own, most often with a dollop of olive oil over the top.  They are a delicious winter food, warming you up for hours.


The ancient Greeks and Romans enjoyed finocchi, or finocchio in the singular form, just as much as today’s Italians.  It’s anisette taste is quite strong when eaten raw in a salad, but it become milder and more refined when cooked.  It can be cooked in just about any way you can imagine:  boiled, fried, baked, sautéed, grilled.


Artichokes, carciofi, are native to the Mediterranean basin, and have been part of the Italian diet for their flavor as well as for their medicinal properties.  To this day, digestives are made from distilled artichokes for their supposed purifying properties for the liver and kidneys.  However, the scientists now say you get that effect eating raw artichokes only.


My favorite Italian vegetable is the Zucchino.  It is delicious in a variety of ways, as are all vegetables in Italy.  You can use these same guidelines for almost any vegetable.




Slice the zucchine into chunks or lengthwise into strips.  Place them in an oven dish and add a few spoonfuls of olive oil.  Mix the pieces until they are thinly coated with the oil.  Set under a hot grill for roughly 10 minutes, turning the zucchine occasionally.  Season with salt and pepper as it cooks.



Slice the zucchine into chunks or lengthwise into strips.  Sprinkle the pieces with salt and let them sit 30 minutes to remove excess water.  Rinse, and then dry the pieces.  Dip them in a batter of egg yolks, flour, salt and pepper.   Cook them in hot vegetable oil until golden, then remove and drain on absorbent paper.  Serve hot.



Dice the zucchine.  Heat olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pot, and add crushed garlic.  Add the zucchine and cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the zucchine is soft, roughly 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper as it cooks.



Boil the zucchine whole for roughly 10 minutes, or until a fork enters it easily.  Remove and cool.  Dice the zucchine and mix it with other cooked and diced vegetables such as potatoes or carrots.  Season with olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, salt and pepper, basil or oregano or mint, and anchovies if desired.


Vegetables are often cured in oil or vinegar, the most famous of these is of course the olive, the basis of the ancient Mediterranean diet.  But all other vegetables are preserved in this way, too, and used as antipasti, or mixed into salads. 


The frittata is a fried egg dish that is very versatile.  You can cook it with almost any combination of herbs, vegetables, with fresh cheese, or as the Neapolitans, cook it over leftover spaghetti.  The trick is in the beating of the eggs, and in flipping it over.


Frittata semplice - Simple Frittata

Estimate one egg per person, plus one for the meal (for example, for 4 people, you would use 5 eggs).  Separate the eggs and beat the whites first, with a pinch of salt and pepper, until they are frothy.  Then add the yolks.  It’s best to use a heated non-stick pan with high edges, lightly oiled.  Pour in the egg mixture and let it cook for several minutes until it is set on the bottom, but still raw on top.  Use the lid of the pan, or a large plate, to help you turn the frittata over, to cook the other side.  Place the lid over the pan, and turn it over.  The frittata will fall on the lid.  Put the pan back on the fire, and let the frittata slide back into the pan, the raw side down.  Let it cook a few minutes more, then serve topped with a bit of melted butter, and grated Parmesan cheese.



I dolci, I gelati, La frutta conservata, I liquori - Desserts, Ices, Preserved Fruit, Liquors


Ancient Rome loved its sweets, many made with fruit, and sweetened with honey or a syrup made from grapes.  The sweets made in Italy today have precedents in Rome, such as cooked fruit dishes, honey and almond candies, strudels, biscuits, sweet breads, marmalade, and puddings.


The middle ages saw a greater influence of Arabic sweets introduced in Sicily and then quickly spread throughout the peninsula.  These are the unleavened sweets that are often a nougat holding together nuts and candied fruit.  Sweet breads were also popular, often cooked with raisons and fruit. 


It’s during this time that the Arab sharbat became the Italian sorbetto, made with wine, honey and fruit, and chilled first with the perennial glaciers on Mount Etna in Sicily, and later in ice cellars, like the one constructed under Palazzo Pitti in Florence by the Medici, just for their gelati.  It was during the time of the Medici that sorbetti became gelati by adding milk and eggs to the ingredients.


By the 1400s recipes can be found for baked custards, cheese cakes, rice puddings, rice tarts, fried dough pastries.  Regional diversification of sweets is also a product of this time.  The Southern Italian regions held closely to the Arab sweets traditions, while the Northern Regions embraced sweets made with cream, pastries, butter and fruit.   


Desserts served after a meal are usually for special occasions.  It is more usual to end a meal with fruit, nature’s candy, you could say, than with a baked sweet.  For this reason, many Italian sweets are linked to holidays or seasons. 


Check my creams-puddings, spoonbreads, and granita pages for recipes.  On my Liqueur page there are recipes for my Zabaione and Vov, a Zabaione liqueur, and for a coffee liqueur.   


But here I’ll put a recipe for one of my favorite Italian sweets, the crostata, or tart.  Here are recipes, from my e-book, for the crust and some classic fillings.


Crostata Crust - Tart Crust

½ cup flour

½ cup melted butter

¼ cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tsp grated lemon rind

1 tsp sweet dessert wine (such as Marsala or Vin Santo)


Mix the butter with the flour.  Add the sugar, egg yolks, wine, and the lemon rind and work it quickly into a dough.  Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in waxed paper and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.  Remove, roll out, and fit into the tart pan.  Use all the dough, folding the sides in to make a thick edge to the thick crust.


Crostata di marmelata - Jam Tart:  Spread the jam of your preference over the dough.  For a richer flavor, you can mix into the jam 1 tbsp of cognac or another liquor.  For this tart, reserve some of the dough and roll it into thin logs.  Place these in a grid pattern over the jam.  Brush them with beaten egg.  Cook the crostata for approximately 15 minutes at a moderate temperature until the crust is golden.  Cool.


Crostata di limone - Lemon Tart:  Mix together 2 eggs, 1 cup powdered sugar, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 1 grated lemon rind, ½ tsp salt, 3 tbsp flour.  Pour into the crust and bake approximately 15 minutes at a moderate temperature, or until the filling is firm.  Cool.


Crostata di ricotta - Cheese Tart:  Mix together until creamy 1 cup of ricotta cheese, ¼ cup sugar, 2 tbsp cream if needed to make a creamy texture.  Then add two eggs (you can whip the whites and fold them in last, for a lighter texture), the juice and grated rind of one lemon, ½ tsp salt.  Put in the crust and bake approximately 15 minutes at a moderate temperature, or until the filling is firm.  Cool. 


Salame Dolce - Sweet Salami

This traditional Tuscan recipe is called Sweet Salami because it's made to look like a salami.  It's actually a delicate, refined, chocolate candy.  It's embarrassingly simple to make.  It looks wonderful served on a special occasion.  It tastes great with a cup of coffee or tea, instead of a cookie/biscuit or piece of cake. 


  • 3 cups (300 grams) crushed cookies/biscuits, leave some chunks if you want a rough 'salami' look (as in the picture), use dry cookies such as Marie Biscuits, Vanilla Wafers, or Amaretti
  • 1/2 cup (50 grams) cocoa power
  • 1/2 cup liquid (100 dl) such as orange juice for a non-alcoholic candy, or a liquor or sweet wine like Marsala, or a hard liquor like whiskey, rum or brandy
  • 1 cup (150 grams) powdered sugar (I replace this with the powdered diabetic sugar to taste and the texture becomes more like fudge)
  • 2/3 cup (150 grams) butter, melted


  • Mix the dry ingredients (crushed cookies, cocoa powder, powdered sugar)
  • Add the wet ingredients (liquid, melted butter).
  • Cut two lengths of waxed paper, one for each 'salami', and have four ties ready for the ends.
  • Sprinkle each paper with white flour.
  • Roll each 'salami':  Put half the dough on each paper, spread out into a line.  Roll it up into a log, making sure the sides and end are lightly covered with the flour.  Tie each end.
  • Set the logs in the refrigerator for a few hours.  You can keep it in the fridge longer, of course.  But it needs at least a few hours to set well.  To speed this up, you can set them in the freezer.
  • Remove the wrapping, slice and serve.  Slice it diagonally to make it look even more like a real salami.

Zabaione - Sabayon



  • 6 eggs yolks

  • 3/4 cups sugar

  • 1 cup Marsala wine


  • Put the yolks and sugar together in a stainless steel pot. 

  • Mix this with an electric mixer over a very low heat (or in a double-boiler) constantly as you slowly add the Marsala wine. 

  • Cook it for at least 5 minutes, mixing all the time as it thickens.  If it's not light and airy after that, whip it for another few minutes at high speed.  (Cooking times vary so be patient.  It's the egg yolks that do the most to thicken the dessert, so if the eggs are small, add an extra yolk.)

Serving Suggestions:

  • It's delicious served warm over sliced fruit, especially peaches.

  • Traditionally,  it’s served with cookies.

  • Fancy restaurants serve it warm in a brandy snifter with a long handled spoon.

Vov - Egg Liqueur


6 egg yolks

500 grams of sugar

1/2 liter of whole milk

1/2 liter of Marsala wine

1 lemon

1-2 teaspoons of Vanilla extract

Put the yolks and sugar together in a pan.  Mix this with an electric mixer over a very low heat (or in a double-boiler) constantly as you add the Marsala wine.  Cook it for at least 5 minutes, mixing all the time.  Then slowly add the milk and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and add the juice of the lemon, and the Vanilla extract.

You can drink it right away, or store it in the refrigerator, pretty much for as long as you'd like, but don't exaggerate.  Trust me, once your family tastes it, it won't last long.  Just like the commercial Vov, it's great in coffee, over ice cream, in cakes and icings, and even the new way in cocktails.

Liquore di caffe - Coffee Liqueur

The sugar and water base in this recipe is the syrup for any sweet liqueur, and you can add as much alcohol as you want (alcohol preserves it, so be sure to put enough to keep it safe from germs).  You can experiment by adding fruit syrups to flavor the liqueur any way you want.  Here's the coffee version.

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup good quality instant coffee

1-2 teaspoons Vanilla extract (to taste)

1 1/2 cups Vodka

Boil the water and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.  Remove it from the heat.  Dissolve the coffee in the Vodka.  Add the Vanilla.  Then add this to the syrup.  Mix carefully.  

You can use it immediately, or store it in air-tight bottles.  It thickens as it cools.  It's delicious over ice cream, added to coffee or milk, or on it's own.  A drop of cream sets a serving off well.