Mom’s Italian Meatballs – are the Best!

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

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, for more of my Italian and Italian-American recipes, cultural notes and  advanced Italian language blog posts updated monthly. 

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 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.

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                                            *Update: Learn Conversational Italian website has been disabled for now.  The link above will direct you to all material found on this website, which will be on

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…


One-Pot Italian Chicken in Marsala Wine

One Pot Italian Chicken in Marsala Wine

The perfect chicken dinner for those trapped indoors in the snowstorm that’s hit the country this weekend, or anytime! This is one of my family’s favorite suppers, and it is oh-so-easy to make.

The method for making Italian chicken in Marsala wine was originally posted on February 26, 2017, on the Learn Italian! blog for Stella Lucente, LLC, and Below is an excerpt.

I’d love to hear from you after your family has tried this recipe!  

One-Pot Italian Chicken in Marsala Wine

The recipe title, “One-Pot Italian Chicken in Marsala Wine” sounds rich… and it is! But it is also so easy to make! I am told that for many years in Italy, only relatively wealthy families had ovens (in the day of my great grandparents). As a result, many wonderful Italian meals were developed that could be made entirely on the stove top. This actually fits perfectly with the lifestyle we live today.

In this chicken in Marsala wine recipe, a whole cut chicken is cooked in one large skillet along with the wine and few other ingredients until a silky gravy forms. This hearty and fulfilling dish can be made during the week or served when friends are over on the weekend. Hearty, crusty Italian bread makes a perfect accompaniment. Add a salad or vegetable side dish (contorno) if you like.

So get out the largest skillet you have, and try our chicken in Marsala wine dish for your family tonight. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed! —Kathryn Occhipinti

Click on the Learn Italian! link for the recipe!

Italian Pork Chops Ripieno

Stuffed pork chop


I couldn’t resist blogging about one of my favorite Italian-style pork chop dinners for our monthly Italian recipe. Monday night is pork chop night at my house, and it seems like this summer, it has become pork chops stuffed with prosciutto and Fontina cheese night!

It’s still warm enough to do this on the grill if you want to! Or, make the pork chops look like they were grilled with my tip. I know your family will love this recipe, because it is a favorite at my house!

The method for making these Italian pork chops was originally posted on October 23, 2016, on the Learn Italian! blog for Stella Lucente, LLC, and Below is an excerpt. Click on the link for the recipe!

I’d love to hear from you after your family has tried this recipe!  


Italian Pork Chops Ripieno 

Monday night is pork chop night at my home, a tradition started some time ago when my children were small and just starting to eat table food. When the butcher has thick pork chops available, I like to use the trick of filling the pork chops with prosciutto and Fontina cheese to liven up our evening meal. As usual, for the recipes I post, the method is short and simple, so the dishes are easy to prepare at home. And the combination of delicious Italian ingredients will have your family clamoring for more!

Fontina is a wonderful Italian cheese that has been made from cow’s milk in the Val d’Aosta region of Northern Italy since the 12th century. Fontina has a light yellow color, a soft but firm texture, and a slightly nutty flavor. Like mozzarella, but less well known in this country, it is used in dishes that require melted cheese. When paired with prosciutto and a single fresh sage leaf, it makes a delicious filling for… just about anything! Click on the link for the recipe… Learn Italian!

A Must Try! Easy Method for a Summertime Gelato Treat

Tartufo - A Summertime Treat


This Italian ice cream treat is a favorite with my family, especially now that the hottest days of summer are upon us. Who wouldn’t love their two favorite flavors of ice cream covered in chocolate with a cherry in the center? These ice cream balls are as quick and easy to make as they are delicious to eat!

This method for making the Italian ice cream treat called tartufo was originally posted on July 31, 2016, on the Learn Italian! blog for Stella Lucente, LLC, and Below is an excerpt. Click on the link for the recipe!

I’d love to hear from you after your family has tried this recipe!  

 The word Italian word “tartufo” refers to the round, brown-and-white truffles found in the densely forested Apennine Mountains that run down the spine of Italy. These slightly irregularly shaped round balls are found nestled between the roots of old beech, birch, and pine trees by specially trained dogs. A similarly shaped sweet French candy made from chocolate and cream, known as “ganache,” is also referred to as a truffle.

We present here a method for a round, chocolate-coated ice cream treat made from vanilla and chocolate Italian gelato ice cream that is also called “tartufo.” In the version that follows, there is a surprise in the center—a real Italian marinated Amarena cherry.* Try our recipe as is, or make your own version with any of your favorite Italian gelato flavors. Enjoy a cold, refreshing treat this summer with our simple method!

To see the method to make gnocchi in detail, visit our Stella Lucente Italian Pinterest site.

Gnocchi with Brown Butter or Gorgonzola Sauce

Gnocchi ready to serve

I did not grow up making gnocchi or the sauces that have become my favorite accompaniment to these small, light, and airy potato dumplings that you can read about in this blog post. But one of the Italian-American families that I know well, from the Abruzzo region in central Italy, make them regularly, and I fell in love with them.

Here in America, the family that I know makes gnocchi for Sunday afternoon dinner and holidays. All the children gather around the kitchen table and, joking and laughing, turn the otherwise tedious task of cutting and forming the dough into dumplings into a fun family event. This particular family always serves gnocchi with their favorite tomato sauce. But in Italy, gnocchi are served with a variety of sauces, so I thought it would be fun to write about these more “unusual” sauces for families here in America.

The recipe for gnocchi and the method for making brown butter and Gorgonzola sauces was originally posted on June 21, 2016, on the Learn Italian! blog for Stella Lucente, LLC, and Below is an excerpt. Click on the link for the recipe!

I’d love to hear if your family makes gnocchi and about your favorite sauce to serve them with!

Gnocchi (pronounced (NYAAW – KEY) are Italian potato dumplings, and if made properly, they are said to be like little pillows: delicate and soft, and a delight to eat! Gnocchi are popular in northern Italy and as far south as the Abruzzo region.

The dough is prepared with just a few ingredients—potatoes, a bit of flour, and sometimes an egg. The dough is then kneaded gently, rolled out, and cut into bite-size pieces. At the end of the process, ridges are created by rolling each “gnocco” along a fork or specially carved small wooden board. These ridges are perfect for capturing the delicious butter sauce, Gorgonzola sauce, pesto, or tomato sauce they can be served with. To see the method to make gnocchi in detail, visit our Stella Lucente Italian Pinterest site.

Reading Italian Menus: Il Secondo

Roman restaurant
Kathryn for
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, for Learn Travel

When I first traveled to Italy as a college student, I had difficulty at first when I tried to read and order at an Italian restaurant. I thought back to how many lessons I had had in Italian through high school and college and then realized that the reason was simple: Italian courses in school did not focus on the vocabulary I needed as a traveler.

Years later, when members of the Italian-American Society of Peoria would ask me if I could help them with Italian before a trip to Italy they had planned—for vacation or to visit long-lost Italian relatives—I remembered my own difficulties, and I created the Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books. These books focus on the vocabulary and phrases we all need to know to enjoy our trip to Italy!

Along these lines, last week, I asked the Conversational Italian! Facebook group, “What is your favorite Italian dish for Il Secondo, or the second course?” I posted about one of my favorite dishes my mother would make when I was growing up as a child, called braciole, and the family tomato sauce recipe she would cook this rolled-up meat in.

I’d love to hear about more Italian favorites! Continue the conversation on this blog, and join us on our Facebook group if you like!

Read the list below of cooking methods and types of meats found on menus in Italian restaurants, taken from Chapter 17 of Conversational Italian for Travelers and see if it reminds you of your favorite Italian dish!


Cooking Methods in Italian

fritto fried
bollito boiled
arrostito roasted
brasato/stufato braised/stewed
affumicato smoked
farcito(a)/ripieno(a) stuffed
al forno baked (lit. from the oven)
alla brace broiled
alla griglia/ai ferri grilled
alla cacciatora stewed in a pot (as a hunter would make)


Meat Dishes in Italian


la cotoletta cutlet (meat without bone)
la scaloppina very thin cutlet
la costoletta chop/rib (bone in meat)
l’arrosto the roast (to be sliced)
la bistecca* steak*
bistecca alla fiorentina steak florentine style
al sangue rare meat
ben cotto well-done meat
cotto a puntino cooked just right
il sugo di carne gravy
le polpette meatballs
il vitello veal
il pollo chicken
il petto di pollo chicken breast fillet
il tacchino turkey
l’anatra duck
la quaglia quail
il fagiano pheasant
il coniglio rabbit
il maiale pork
la pancetta bacon
il guanciale bacon from pig cheeks
l’agnello lamb
l’abbacchio young lamb
la capra/il capretto goat/kid
il fegato liver

*When ordering a steak in Italy (wonderful grilled steaks, called bistecca alla fiorentina, can be found in Tuscany, for example), it is not really possible to order how the steak should be cooked. Instead, it is usually left for the chef to decide, based on the cut of meat and the style of the dish.


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