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. 

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 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 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 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!

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.


Learn Conversational Italian for Travelers
Conversational Italian for Travelers Textbook

Available on  www.Learn Travel

Braciole: Italian Beef Rolls for Dinner

Braciole - Italian Beef Rolls

My grandmother came to this country as a young woman in the 1920s to wed my grandfather, who had been her childhood sweetheart some 8 years before, when they both lived in the same small town in Sicily. She left her family behind, but brought with her the knowledge of how to cook the Italian food that she grew up with and that my grandfather loved so well.

As a child, one of my favorite dishes that my grandmother, and then my mother, would make at home was called braciole (meat rolls with a surprise filling in the center).  The recipe for my family’s braciole and the tomato sauce to cook them in was originally posted on 5/9/16 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 this dish and your favorite recipe!

Italian beef rolls—involtini di carne,  also known as braciole, bracioli, or  bruciuluni (in Palermo Sicilian dialect)—are a favorite southern Italian treat that are often served for the Sunday family dinner. What I enjoy most about this dish is that there are so many different variations, and every family that makes braciole has its own special traditional recipe. My family hides a whole hard-boiled egg in the center for a surprise when the braciole is cut open. Other families chop the egg in half or into smaller pieces, and some families do not use egg at all!

By the way, I am not sure of the origin of the word braciole used here in America, but in Italy, braciola refers to a cut of pork (usually grilled), and this dish can be made with pork cutlets. My friend Peter Palazzolo from the Speak Sicilian! Facebook group mentioned to me that long ago this rolled-up meat was cooked with grapevine twigs cured like coal, or bracia. But, I think my friend and Italian teacher Maria Vanessa Colapinto (blog eleganza per me), is correct with her idea that the real origin of this word comes from the Italian for the old-type grill that the rolled-up meat for this dish was cooked on. This grill is still used today and is called a “brace.” Meat cooked in this way is “all’abrace,” or “on the grill.”