Your Italian-American Gardening Tips (with Recipes) – Oregano (Origano) and Zucchini (Zucchina)

Italian-American Gardening tips - herb oregano
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! This week I will share about how to grow the herb oregano and it’s perfect Italian companion zucchini for one of my favorite Italian side-dishes, a simple “stew” of zucchini and tomatoes with onions and oregano.  Even children who don’t like summer squash will love this dish! 

As I’ve mentioned before, this summer I’ve had to start a new garden from scratch now that I have moved to the Chicago suburbs from Peoria. So I thought I would take a few photos and share some of what I’ve come to know about gardening with this series “Your Italian Gardening Tips.” 

For as long as I can remember, both sides of my Italian family have established summer vegetable gardens here in America.  My grandfather was a master gardener, and used knowledge he brought over from Sicily to create his perfect garden in a very small patch of land in Brooklyn, New York.

Meanwhile, my grandmother was busy in the kitchen cooking our favorite meals with the fresh fruits and vegetables that my grandfather grew. She passed down the simple but delicious method for stewing zucchini with tomatoes and oregano to our family here in America.  After reading about how to grow oregano and zucchini,  and watch me it in action as I cook the dish by clicking the Instagram link if you want!

Check out my Insatgram account, ConversationalItalian.French to see photos of my garden as it progresses.

Below are my insights on growing oregano and zucchini.  Please leave a comment if you want. I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about gardening!  

And remember Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Important Phrases on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you need a compact, lightweight pocket guidebook to take on your next trip to Italy! Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

*******************************

Italian Herb Oregano – Origano

 

Italian-American Gardening tips - herb oregano
Oregano – just getting started growing in my garden

Oregano is a perennial, bush-like plant that is commonly used in tomato salads or combined with zucchini and tomatoes for a vegetable side dish (contorno). In the United States, oregano became popular after World War II, when it was brought back from Italy by American soldiers and became a common addition to tomato sauces in Italian-American households.

Oregano will come up each spring if planted directly in the garden, usually growing a bit larger each year.  Oregano likes sun, but can also grow in partial shade. Trim frequently with kitchen scissors and dry or keep the leaves fresh in the refrigerator on the stalk. Significant amounts of oregano can be harvested early in summer and the plant will regrow. Allow to flower late in the summer.  The plant is cold hardy and can survive a fall or spring frost, but will die back in the winter.  Remove any remaining dead branches in the spring and the plant will grow for another season.

To harvest oregano, cut off the stem with its leaves.  Then, use a small knife or your fingers to run down the length of the stem and remove the small leaves. Discard the stem. To dry,, bundle and hang from the stems upside down.  When dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store in an air-tight container away from heat.

 

*******************************

 Italian Summer Squash – Zucchina e Cucuzza

Zucchina is one zucchini in Italian
Two zucchini plants growing side by side in the garden.

Zucchini in English, or zucchina/zucchine in Italian is a summer squash, also known as a marrow.  The immature form of a marrow is called a courgette. The smaller courgettes, which have more flesh and less seeds than the mature summer squash, are used widely in Italian cooking. Zucchini is popular fried, stewed, and even hollowed out and stuffed, and usually served as an appetizer or a side dish.  The zucchini flowers are edible and are often stuffed and fried as an appetizer.

Zucchini can be planted after the last threat of frost is over. Zucchini like well-manured, moist soil and can even grow on a compost heap (from personal experience)! Create a mound of soil and plant 4-6 seeds around the mound so the plants will grow next to one another.  This will encourage pollination by bees, who can easily fly from one flower to the next.

Male zucchini plant
Male zucchini flower on a long stalk from my garden

Zucchini plants come in male and female varieties, although they look identical and have almost identical flowers. However, only the female plant will produce a zucchini, which grows from the base of the female flower itself.  Male flowers will grow on a long, slender stalk.  When the pollen is transferred from the male to the female flower, the zucchini at the base of the female flower will enlarge as the flower slowly becomes smaller and finally dies off.  Some gardeners transfer the pollen from the male to the female flower on the tip of a Q-tip, hoping to ensure a large crop of zucchini fruit, but usually this is not necessary if enough seeds are planted.

For the most flavorful zucchini, harvest when 5-6″ long by cutting them off at the stem. Refrigerate with the short stem intact until ready to use. Be careful to check daily, or a giant zucchini may appear unexpectedly in the garden and most of the flesh will be replaced by seeds! Frequent harvesting will also encourage more female flowers to emerge and in turn this will produce more fruit.

Zucchini leaves are susceptible to fungus, and may turn brownish, but the plant should continue to produce fruit. Slugs and other insects may bore into the stem and cause the leaves to wilt and die. Sprinkling crushed egg shells on the soil may discourage slugs, who don’t like to slide over the shells. Planting zucchini in a different location each year will help to avoid the spread of these diseases to your crop next year.

To cook zucchini, simply cut off the stem and the opposite end and then cut the entire vegetable cross-wise into rounds or lengthwise into sticks or strips.

 

Cucuzza 

Image from www.specialtyproduce.com

A famous long, thin, light green squash that is harvested in the summer from southern Italy and Sicily is known as “cucuzza.”  Cucuzza (pronounced “goo-gooz” in  Sicilian dialect) typically grows from 1 to 3 feet. Unlike a true summer squash, the skin from this squash must be peeled be peeled before cooking.  There is a well-known Sicilian proverb that states, “Cucinala come vuoi, sempre cucuzza è!” meaning, “However you cook it, it’s still just squash!” 

Cucuzza is also used as an endearing term for a young girl in a 1950’s Italian novelty song sung by Louis Prima called, “My Cucuzza.”  He sings about the vegetable, Cucuza grows in Italy down on the farm.  It’s something like zucchini flavored with Italian charm… I call my girl cucuzza because she’s as sweet as can be.”  To hear the song sung by Louis Prima in it’s entirety, click this My Cucuzza link.

 

*******************************

Zucchini with Tomatoes and Oregano

Stewed zucchini, tomatoes and oregano
Stewed zucchini and tomatoes with fresh oregano and a slice of crusty Italian bread.

Watch the method in time elapse photography as I cook this dish on my Instagram channel by clicking here:

View this post on Instagram

That’s Italian! Zucchini and with tomatoes and fresh oregano (origano) from your garden – an easy-to-make and delicious vegetable side dish for summer. Even your kids will love this! Just sauté onions (don’t let brown) and zucchini with a pinch of salt a little olive oil. Add tomatoes, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Delizioso! Delicious! #osnap #chicagogarden #chicagogardener #chicagoland #italyinamerica #italiangardens #italiangardenstyle #oregano #oreganoplant #summersquash ##origano🍃 #origanofresco🌿 #origanofresco #zucchinirecipes #zucchinis #zucchina #zucchiniplant #summersquash #howtocook #howtocookzucchini #italianfood @italynearme #howtocookvegetables #howtocookvegetablestew

A post shared by Kathryn Occhipinti (@conversationalitalian.french) on

 

Ingredients: 

olive oil, 1 onion, 3 medium-size Zucchini, 6 plum tomatoes, fresh oregano, salt

Method: 

  1. Coarsely chop the onion, zucchini and tomatoes. (See the video for the method to chop these vegetables.)
  2. Pour olive oil into a large frying pan with high sides or a pot large enough to accommodate all the vegetables, heat briefly, and then add the onions and a pinch of salt.
  3. When the onions have softened, and turned clear, add the zucchini. Cover and let zucchini cook on medium heat to soften, stirring occasionally. Do not let zucchini or onions brown.
  4. When zucchini ha softened, add the chopped tomatoes and salt to taste with a few grinds of pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat. If needed, add a little water.
  5. When the tomatoes have softened, add the oregano and cook until the herb has softened.
  6. When all vegetables have softened, but are not mushy, they are done!  The finished vegetable dish should have a little bit of “juice” and can be served in a separate small bowl if wanted.
  7. Serve with Italian bread to “sop up” the juices.

Buon appetito!

 

 

Advertisements

Ricotta Cheesecake for your Italian Valentine

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

For all those special people in your life – make a special Italian cake for Valentines Day!

My family’s favorite cheesecake recipe is now online for anyone who’d like to try a light, delicious cheesecake made Italian-style, with ricotta cheese – just as the Romans did way back when they invented this dessert.

I’ve already shared the recipe with my Conversationalitalian followers on Instagram, so if you’d like to see how to make the cheesecake with its special crust step by step, just click here:

View this post on Instagram

Italian Ricotta Cheesecake for Valentines Day. Makes a light, crumbly cheesecake, Italian-style, invented by the Romans! Ingredients: Crust: Mix 2 cups flour, 1/4 c sugar, 1/2 tsp. Salt. Cut in 3/4 cup unsalted butter. Add and mix with a fork: 2 large eggs lightly beaten, 3 Tbsps. Brandy, 1 tsp. Grated lemon zest. Spread mixture over bottom of 9” springform pan and bake 8 min at 350 degrees. Make disk of rest and refrig. Filling: Mix together 2 1/2 lbs. good ricotta cheese, 1/2 c sugar, 1 Tbsp. flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1 tsp. Vanilla, 1 tsp. lemon zest, 2 large eggs beaten lightly. Pour filling into partially prebaked crust. Roll out rest of dough to create heart. Bake at 350 1 hour and about 15 min.more. Dust with powdered sugar. Fill in heart with raspberry or other jam. Add fruit. Let cool and then refrig at leat 4 hours before enjoying!………………………….. #cheesecake #italiandesserts #italiandessertsarethebest #italiandessert🇮🇹 #italiandessertcheesecake #italianfoodbloggers #italianfoodblogger #valentinedessert #valentinesday2019 #dolcevita #osnap #valentinesdaygift #learnitaliancookng #italiancook #italiancookingclass #cheesecakerecipe #cheesecakes #cheesecakefactory #thecheesecakefactoryathome #valentinesday2019 #valentinedesserts #valentinedessert #valentinedaydessert #valentinedessertcrawl #valentinedessertspecial

A post shared by Kathryn Occhipinti (@conversationalitalian.french) on

 

The full method for this recipe is being simultaneously posted on the Learn Italian! blog for my website, www.learntravelitalian.com, where all authentic Italian recipes  for the home cook that I personally use are found.  Below is an excerpt. Click on the link to print off the entire method and enjoy!

Share your comments below if you like, or in our Conversational Italian Facebook group.

 

Italian Ricotta Cheesecake for Valentines Day 

When I was growing up in New York, my mother made a version of light, fresh-tasting cheesecake that my family loved.  After I became older and moved away from home,  I would often order what was called “New York Style” cheesecake in restaurants, hoping for a dessert that that would come close to the memory I had of my mother’s heavenly version.

What I came to realize over the years was that “New York Style” cheesecake is not at all like the cheesecake that my  used to make  while we were living in New York.  I could not understand why the restaurant cheesecake served to me often had an off flavor (can you say artificial ingredients?) and a texture that was heavy, and even gooey or sticky.

Of course, as I discovered when I finally asked my mother for her recipe, the reason the cheesecake I had at home was so different from what I found in restaurants was the type of cheese my mother used.  The ricotta cheese that my  mother would get freshly made from the Italian deli  after church every Sunday yielded a delicious, light, and almost crumbly cheesecake,  gently held together by a few  fresh eggs, flavored lightly with vanilla and given a fresh taste with a bit of lemon zest.  Which is not to say the other, more creamy versions made with cream cheese are not good if made with fresh ingredients.  They are just not Italian ricotta cheesecake!

The Italian crust my mother makes for her ricotta cheesecake also yields another subtle layer of flavor.  The method used to make the Italian version of a smaller fruit “crostata” or “tart” transfers to the thicker cheesecakes made in Italy.  A  “pasta frolla,” or “sweet pastry” crust lines the bottom of the tart and a lattice crust nicely decorates the top of the tart, and a true Italian cheesecake will have a lattice crust!  The crust for this cheesecake is flavored with a bit of lemon zest and brandy, which nicely compliments the taste of the fresh ricotta.

I modified the traditional lattice crust for Valentines Day by cutting an open heart into the top lattice crust.  After  baking the cheesecake, I let it cool a bit and then  I spread some good raspberry jam into the center of the heart for color and a little extra flavor.

My family loved this cheesecake as an early Valentines Day present.  I hope your loved ones will too!  For the recipe, click HERE -Kathryn Occhipinti

 

Your Italian Travel Tips – The Seven Secrets of Bologna – True or False?

La Brutta Figura photo of a canal in Bologna
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Ciao a tutti! About once a month (or so), I have been re-blogging posts that describe the lesser known places in Italy – or the more well-known viewed in a unique way – under the heading, “Your Italian Travel Tips.”

For January 2019, I am featuring a blogger who lives in the Veneto region, who writes the blog La Brutta Figura (Unlocking Italy).

The author does not share her name with us in her blog, but I immediately took to her personable writing for its honesty and humor about what it is like for a Scottish expat to to live in Italy.  Plus, I love the name she chose for the blog, which translates into something like, “to make a bad impression” and has overtones of the strength and tenacity it took for her to adapt to the Italian way of life. This title is, of course, is the exact opposite of the well-known Italian saying that most Italians desperately strive to live by, which is “fare una bella figura.”

In her own words, the authors say about herself:

Initially this blog was a way of sharing my expat story, which naturally involved daily episodes of ‘la brutta figura’, but as I got to grips with participating in local traditions (mainly alcoholic as we are in the Veneto), began to travel the length and breadth of the boot, and learnt enough Italian to feel really at home in this mad country, I decided instead that I wanted to share these cultural experiences I have and non-touristy places I visit, that come from living in Italy, not just holidaying here… I am a travel writer with an incurable addiction to writing about Italy. It might be one of the easiest countries to be a writer in – Italians live like they’re in poetry, theatre, ballet. Us writers just need to record what we see. I contribute to several publications where I’ve written about a wine festival on Isola del Giglio, about surprising Italian inventions, abouthow to live la dolce vita, and about the so-called ‘most beautiful room in the world’.

I have never visited Bologna, although I’ve passed through on the train from one larger city to the next many times.  Each time, I vow to return and stay for at least a day or two to enjoy the unique architecture, visit Università di Bologna (founded in 1088 and the oldest continuously operating university in the world) and, of course, sample the rich Italian food with its generous use of butter and cream that has earned her the nickname “La Grassa” (literally “the fat one”) .

After reading this blog, I felt a bit closer to the spirit of the city of Bologna and I am even more intrigued about what I may find there when I finally do get a chance to visit.  I hope you are too!

To read the full blog, click on the title: The Seven Secrets of Bologna: True or False?

And remember Conversational Italian for Travelers: Just the Important Phrases on Amazon.com and Learn Travel Italian.com if you need a compact, lightweight pocket guidebook to take on your next trip to Italy! Free Cultural Notes, Italian Recipes, and Audio to help you practice your Italian are also found on Learn Travel Italian.com.

Italian Pasta and Lentils for Good Luck in 2019!

Italian lentils and pasta
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Italian pasta with lentils is said to bring families around the world good luck for the new year!

This recipe is being simultaneously posted on the Learn Italian! blog for my website, www.learntravelitalian.com, where all authentic Italian recipes  for the home cook that I personally use and have blogged about for the last 3 1/2 years are found.  Below is an excerpt. Click on the link for the entire method!

And I would like to wish all my readers:

Buon Anno 2019 – con salute, amore, e prosperità!
Happy New Year 2019 – with health, love, and prosperity
from my family to yours

Share your comments below if you like, or in our Conversational Italian Facebook group.

Italian Pasta and Lentils for New Year’s Good Luck! 

Pasta with lentils or lentil soup is a New Year’s tradition in many Italian households. The  lentil dishes are said to bring to luck to the family on New Year’s Day.  I am not sure if anyone really knows exactly why lentils are supposed to be good luck.  Maybe it is because they are shaped like small coins?

Whatever the reason, pasta and lentils is a hearty and delicious winter combination. Lentils are rich in protein,  and the pasta/lentil combination was probably an important contribution to family nutrition  in the days of the “cucina povera” cooking in Italy. Flavored with a bit of pancetta (Italian peppery bacon), garlic and tomato, the lentils make a delicious sauce that coats the pasta beautifully.

I used “maltagliati” or “poorly cut” pasta for this dish,  which to me is reminiscent of its “cucina povera,” origins but also because  the lentils cling nicely to the short, flat noodles. If you cannot find maltagliati pasta, lasagna noodles broken by hand into small, irregular pieces will give a similar effect.

Buon anno 2019 a tutti!  Try my pasta and lentils dish on a wintry day for a warm and comforting meal.   -Kathyn Occhipinti

For the recipe, click HERE

 

Turkey Soup Recipe for your Italian-American Thanksgiving

Conversational Italian turkey noodle soup
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Turkey soup for Thanksgiving is a family tradition that I started several years ago when my children were young and still living at home.

As I describe in the blog to follow, it was almost an accidental occurrence – instead of “wasting” the left over turkey bones by throwing them into the garbage, I “threw” them into a large stock pot, and created the “Turkey soup” that my family asks for every year.

Since my turkey soup recipe is to be made after Thanksgiving dinner, when the home cook is usually exhausted, it has to be easy, and it is! I have broken up the recipe into two days, but it can easily be completed the same day.  Also, a big batch of turkey soup gives your family something warm and nourishing that they can reheat themselves for the rest of the weekend.

This recipe is being simultaneously posted on the Learn Italian! blog for my website, www.learntravelitalian.com, where all authentic Italian recipes  for the home cook that I personally use and have blogged about for the last 3 1/2 years are found.  Below is an excerpt. Click on the link for the entire method!

And I would like to wish all my readers a “Happy Thanksgiving”
from my family to yours!

Share your comments below if you like, or in our Conversational Italian Facebook group.

For a summary of my blogs on all sites, visit my website,
Learn ConversationalItalian

Thanksgiving Turkey Soup – That’s Italian!

 

What makes my Thanksgiving turkey soup Italian, you ask?  Well, maybe it  actually is an American soup – since turkey is the quintessentially American bird – but made with an Italian touch!  Let me explain.

Of course, here in America it is not Thanksgiving without turkey.  And, the Italian cook hosting Thanksgiving dinner will not want anyone to miss out on their fair share (read enormous share) of turkey.  Which means a large turkey for every family size.  Which means the best part of Thanksgiving – leftovers!

Working under the Italian traditions that demand: (1) no food be wasted and (2) all left overs be transformed into a new and delicious dish,  one Thanksgiving evening I decided that it would be a waste to throw out the left over turkey bones with all the small bits of meat still clinging to them.  Instead of putting the turkey carcass into the garbage, I broke it up a bit and  put it  into my large stock pot.  Then I added a few coarsely chopped vegetables, left over fresh parsley, covered all with water and let the pot simmer on the stove top.

When my 6 year old daughter came down from her room on the second floor of the house and made her way back into the kitchen to ask why I was still cooking and what is was that smelled so good, I knew I had a hit! She insisted on having some of the soup that very night.

I have had a  standing request  from my family to make Thanksgiving turkey soup every year since that time.  The slightly sweet, mild flavor of the roasted turkey comes out beautifully with the long cooking that a soup requires.  And, with virtually no effort on my part, the family has a warm, easy meal to heat up themselves for the rest of the weekend.

For the quintessential “Italian” contribution to the soup, add a box of pappardelle noodles or small soup pasta in your favorite shape  to make your Thanksgiving turkey soup complete!

I have broken up the steps to make my Thanksgiving turkey soup into two separate days, but once the family smells the broth simmering on the stove, they may want you to finish the soup for a light evening meal  that very same night!
—Kathryn Occhipinti

For the recipe, click HERE

 

Mom’s Italian Meatballs – are the Best!

Tomato sauce with Italian Meatballs
Kathryn for learntravelitalian.com
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel Italian.com

Last month, I attended an event organized by Salvatore Sciacca,  executive Director of the Chicagoland Italian American Professionals (CIAP). The event was called  The First Annual Meatball Fest.

As I mention in my latest blog I recently posted on my sister  blog for Italian language and culture, Learn Italian! the CIAP group features Italian-American “cooking competition” events several times a year, and I have to say, they are always a delicious and  entertaining way to spend a Sunday afternoon with my family.

Click on the link to visit the recent Learn Italian! blog post from October 10, 2018, to read all about my experiences making my family’s meatballs and how that day sparked my interest in learning more about this traditional Italian food. Learn (probably) more than you’ve ever wanted to know about the history of Italian meatballs, making Italian meatballs, and my favorite cookbook, Ada Boni’s Italian Regional Cooking.

 

Mom’s Best Italian Meatballs

When I was invited to be one of the home cooks for this fall’s event,  The First Annual Meatball Fest,  I quickly checked my calendar, noted I was available, and signed up for another Sunday afternoon of Italian-American food and fun.

I had learned  my family recipe for Italian meatballs from my Sicilian-American mother and grandmother long ago, and have been preparing meatballs  for my own family for Italian Sunday dinners for about 20 years now.  I was happy to share my family’s recipe with other families at the event, and also looking forward to tasting what the other home cooks had to offer.

Growing up in an Italian-American household as I did, I really did not have to  do anything special to prepare for the  Italian meatball event held by the CIAP group – at least, I thought I didn’t have to do anything special !  

As it turned out, though, after hearing the other home cooks talk about their method for making meatballs,  I came home curious about the origins of this very common Italian-American dish and ended up doing a bit of research after the event! Click HERE to read more…

Visit my newly UPDATED and REDESIGNED website, www.learntravelitalian.com for more of my Italian and Italian-American recipes, cultural notes and  advanced Italian language blog posts updated monthly. 

One-Pot Italian Chicken Cacciatore

Chicken alla Cacciatore

 

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Chicken cacciatore in my house is a summertime dish.  Summertime months lead to fresh vegetables in an Italian garden – especially fresh tomatoes and peppers, -which make a perfect accompaniment for chicken. And yes, here in the Midwest we also have fresh green beans, which are not traditional, but can be added as well.

The method I developed for a light chicken cacciatore was originally posted on May 23, 2018 on the Learn Italian! blog for Stella Lucente, LLC  and www.learntravelitalian.com. Below is an excerpt. Click on the link for the entire method!

I’d love to hear if you’ve tried this recipe, or if you have another way to make this famous dish!

Share your comments below if you like, or in our Conversational Italian Facebook group.

The recipe title, “One-Pot Italian Chicken Cacciatore,” refers to a type of meat stew made in Italy, presumably when a hunter would bring home a fresh catch. Or possibly, the hunter himself would make this stew with the one pot he had on hand while out in the forest. Exactly where the title comes from is no longer known, and many delicious variations of chicken stew are called “alla cacciatore”—meaning “as a hunter would make”—in Italy today.

For our Italian chicken cacciatore recipe, a whole cut chicken is cooked in one large skillet, using olive oil and fresh summer tomatoes and peppers. Although this dish started out “back in the day” as a stew (in cooking terms, a fricassee), I’ve omitted the flour to make less of a gravy and instead a light, fresh “sauce.” By taking the chicken out of the pot after browning and then putting it back in to finish cooking, the amount of chicken fat in the dish is reduced. I like mushrooms, which I often add to the dish as well.

Hearty, crusty Italian bread makes a perfect accompaniment to Italian chicken cacciatore, although I have to admit that my family does not follow the proper Italian food “rules” when it comes to this dish. If you’ve been to Italy, you know them: the first course (il primo) is pasta, risotto, or gnocchi, and the second course (il secondo) is the meat—all by itself in a sauce or gravy. Fresh vegetables are abundant in Italy, but in Italian restaurants, they must be ordered as a side dish (contorno) during the second course.

Like good Italian-Americans, we eat our chicken with the pasta on the side and cover both in sauce. Add Parmesan cheese if you like, but only to the pasta! I hope your family enjoys this recipe as much as mine does.   —Kathryn Occhipinti  

Click here for the recipe!

Italian Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

Italian chocolate hazelnut tart
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

As I write this blog, the weather has turned warmer with a hint of a cool breeze, and it seems that the sunshine of spring has finally arrived to my part of the world.  What better way is there to celebrate this lovely change of the seasons than with… chocolate!  And what better combination is there than chocolate and hazelnuts for an Italian chocolate-hazelnut tart?

When I discovered that Italians make tarts, I used a basic Italian pasta frolla (sweet pastry) method and added chocolate to it.  Best of all, the filling does not need to be baked, so it is “quick and easy” – just stir together filling ingredients and pour for a candy-like soft chocolate filling.

This recipe was originally posted on April 25, 2018 on the Learn Italian! blog for Stella Lucente, LLC  and www.learntravelitalian.com. Below is an excerpt. Click on the link for the entire method!

Share your comments below if you like, or in our Conversational Italian Facebook group.

For a summary of all of my blogs on all sites, visit my NEW website,
Learn ConversationalItalian

Italian Chocolate Hazelnut Tart

This Italian chocolate hazelnut tart (crostata) blends two classic Italian ingredients that go perfectly with one another to create a delicious, sweet end to any meal. I think you will agree that a slice of this chocolate tart for dessert will add something special to any get-together or special celebration.  And it is very simple to make!

A basic, pre-baked pie crust and a no-bake filling of chocolate ganache, hazelnut spread, and real hazelnuts will turn into something special when combined. The filling is candy-like, similar to the flavored chocolate fillings found in truffle candies, so even a thin slice is very rich! Also included is an easy method for homemade whipped cream.

Try a slice of our chocolate hazelnut tart topped with a dollop of freshly made whipped cream and see for yourself! —Kathryn Occhipinti   read more of this blog…

Italian Lamb Roast for Easter Dinner

Roasted Lamb for Easter

 

Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

Buona Pasqua a tutti!  I am a new convert to celebrating Easter the traditional Italian way, with Easter lamb, as you will discover if you read on below.  But  now I enjoy Easter lamb just as much as any Italian, and – more importantly – my family does, too! The method I developed for roasted Easter lamb was originally posted on March 21, 2018 on the Learn Italian! blog for Stella Lucente, LLC  and www.learntravelitalian.com. Below is an excerpt. Click on the link for the entire method!

I’d love to hear if your family makes Lamb for Easter dinner and your favorite method!

Share your comments below if you like, or in our Conversational Italian Facebook group.

The Easter holiday and the Easter lamb for dinner have been linked together in Italy far beyond recorded years.  But, I have to admit that here in America, my Italian-American family’s own tradition for Easter was (for many years) a special Sunday brunch with friends at our favorite restaurant.  My children loved greeting the Easter bunny as he walked through, the Easter egg hunt, and of course, the special (and the children’s second) Easter basket filled with chocolate goodies provided with dessert.

Now that my family is a bit older, and the charm of the Easter bunny has faded (although not the love of chocolate, mind you),  we prefer to meet at home for Easter.  Since the matriarch of the family, my mother, has had to give up cooking, making our Italian Easter dinner – which, as we all know should feature lamb – has fallen to me.

Another confession – I’ve never really liked the particular “gamy” taste of lamb.  But, luckily, I’ve taken up this family challenge with years of Italian cuisine to fall back on.  I’ve tried several ways to make lamb known to  Italians of different regions.  And I think I’ve found a method that my family all agrees makes our lamb moist and delicious. (Hint: you may find some similarities between this recipe and the pot roast recipe I posted from February.) I hope if you try this recipe for Easter, or for another special family dinner, that your family will agree with mine that it is the most delicate and flavorful lamb you’ve tried. Click here to read on for the recipe!

Italian Father’s Day: St. Joseph’s Day is La Festa del Papà

Festa del San Giuseppe St. Joseph's Table
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD for Conversational Italian for Travelers books

March is the month for showing thanks to fathers in Italy. “La Festa del Papà” takes place on March 19, the day dedicated to San Giuseppe, or St. Joseph, father of Jesus Christ in the Christian religion.

Many Catholic churches in Italy and America, as well as Italian-American societies, host special ceremonies and parades to give thanks to St. Joseph. In my community in and around Chicago, this is a much-loved holiday that seems to bridge the generations between young and old. I’ve had the honor of celebrating St. Joseph’s Day many times, sometimes with two or three different Italian clubs each year!

The traditional St. Joseph’s Day celebration is completed with an afternoon feast, which is centered on a “St. Joseph’s Table”*—a large, three-tiered table with a statue of St. Joseph in the center surrounded by platter upon platter of special foods. Because it is the Catholic season of Lent, the traditional dishes for the St. Joseph’s Table do not contain meat. But that does not stop the Italians from creating a wonderful feast of pasta, fish, and special pastries to celebrate St. Joseph and all fathers of Italy.

Below is a bit of history about the day that I have found during my research on the topic. And, of course, because much of the focus of this holiday is on the special foods to be made for the feast, a Sicilian recipe for Sfinge—fried dough balls—is found at the end of the blog post.

*Featured image of a St. Joseph’s Table courtesy of azenofmyown.blogspot.com.

      **********************

La Festa di San Giuseppe

Il 19 di Marzo

St. Joseph is honored with a special day by many countries of the world that practice Christianity. In Italy, it is said that the people from Sicily hold St. Joseph in special regard because they believe that their prayers to St. Joseph ended a drought that had caused a severe famine during the Middle Ages.

Legend has it that the drought in Sicily one year was so severe that the only vegetable left growing in the fields was the fava bean. The Sicilian people prayed to St. Joseph and promised they would honor him with a great feast every year if he ended the drought. They survived on fava beans until their prayers were answered and the rains came. From that time on, as promised, Sicilians all over the island have dedicated a feast in honor of Saint Joseph. The tradition has continued to today, and the St. Joseph’s Table, as it is now called, has grown into a feast rich in delicious and symbolic foods.

The St. Joseph’s Table should have three tiers, representing the holy trinity of Catholicism. In the center is a statue of St. Joseph. Fava beans are always included—in a bowl by themselves or as part of a dish. An ancient peasant food thought to have been introduced to Sicily by the Romans called “Maccu” (a soup of dried, crushed fava beans, fennel, and olive oil) was included in the past, as “Maccu di San Giuseppe,” but it is rarely seen today in Italy. Today, many Italian Americans have fava beans blessed at church and carry them for good luck for the rest of the year.

Breadcrumbs are also a popular component of the St. Joseph Day feast, and they are said to represent sawdust. This serves as a reminder that St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers and supported his family by working as a carpenter. Breadcrumbs can be found in many Sicilian dishes, and for St. Joseph’s Day, they are popular in stuffed artichokes or in pasta con sarde.

Treats from the bakery abound on the St. Joseph’s Day table, because St. Joseph is also the patron saint of pastry chefs. Every region has its own special “San Giuseppe” breads and desserts. Breads are made into the shape of a staff or a cross. Fried pastries are very popular. “Sfinci” is a small, fried dough ball (fritter) sprinkled with sugar. Larger puff pastry balls called “zeppole” are piped with custard or cannoli cream and are often topped with a maraschino cherry.

The table is also decorated with many types of citrus fruits. And red is the color to wear for good luck at your Festa di San Giuseppe! When you greet people at the festa, say, “May St. Joseph always smile upon you.”

After the celebration, as part of the tradition, the table is broken down, and all food that is left is wrapped and distributed to various charities, so those less fortunate may also partake.


Traditional Sfinge di Ricotta from Sicily

 

St. Joseph's Day Sfinge
Sfinge, Italian fritters, sprinkled with sugar.

Below is an excerpt from the site Visit Sicily about the wonderful Sicilian treat, Sfinge di Ricotta, which is traditional for La Festa di San Giuseppe. They are simple to make—a puffy, fried dough ball, or fritter, sprinkled with sugar—and delicious!

The recipe of “Sfinci” is one of the oldest, typical Sicilian recipes.  Sicilian people, as all southerner people, go crazy for frying and during Carnival they prepare  thousands of yummy  recipes. These  Sicilian  cookies are small pieces of fried dough enriched with nuggets of raisins or ricotta cheese and then  fried in hot oil.

There are several variants, some of these also add boiled potatoes in the dough. This is the most classic version with a simple mixture of water, sugar, flour and ricotta cheese. Try them, they are delicious, you will not stop eating! 

Ingredienti*: 

  • 500 g (whole milk ricotta cheese [about 15–16 oz.])
  • 200/250 g flour (2–2.5 cups)
  • 2 spoons of sugar (teaspoons)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Instructions

Place all ingredients together in a bowl (eggs and ricotta in a well in the center of the dry ingredients) and mix them with a mixer or by hand until you get a dough with a solid and firm consistency. (Start with 2 cups of flour, and add the rest as needed).

Let stand for about 20 minutes.

Then take the dough with the tip of a spoon and push it with your finger in a saucepan filled with boiling oil. (A small, deep pot works well for this step. Use only small bits of dough and try to form a small ball as you roll it off the spoon. Test the oil by putting one piece of dough in and watch it cook. Moderate the oil so it does not get too hot, so the center of the dough will have time to cook.) Let them cook until they have a goldish aspect.

(The pieces of dough will form a puffed ball (fritter) as they cook. When one side is finished cooking, the ball will flip by itself to the other side. When the other side has finished cooking, the ball will flip again. Let the fritter cook a few more seconds after the second flip and then remove it with a slotted spoon.)

(Drain fritters on a paper towel and while still hot roll gently in sugar. Then remove them to a serving bowl and sprinkle with more sugar if desired.)

Sprinkle them with sugar and serve.

*Volumes are approximate and additional directions in parenthesis are added to the original recipe by the author.