No, I’m not Italian. Yes, I’m a wannabe. Now that we’ve got that out-of-the-way, let’s bond because if you’re reading this, chances are, you admire the Italian culture and food as much as I do.
The year I did “An Italian Christmas” theme for our Alberta Food Tours pre-Christmas shopping tours for food lovers we were embraced by my Italian business owner friends. A lot of these recipes either came from them or were inspired by them. They are good, very good or in Italian, bene – molto bene!
Breakfast Panettone – Not your average French Toast
My friend Franca Bellusci inspired this recipe. She always gives me a beautiful panettone at Christmas. Enjoy this with a little Muscato wine on Christmas morning, just like Franca does.
1 panettone, sliced in thick slices
6 eggs, whisked
½ cup milk
3 Tablespoons Grand Marnier
Cinnamon – to taste
- Slice the panettone,
- Whisk the eggs, milk and Grand Marnier together in a flat glass container.
- Sprinkle the top of the mix with cinnamon.
- Heat a skillet.
- Working quickly, dip the panettone in the egg mix, flip it and then transfer it to the skillet.
- Sprinkle additional cinnamon as needed before dipping and cooking each slice.
- Serve with great Italian coffee, Muscato, sausage and fresh fruit.
Former CBC Wild Rose Columnist, Cinda Chavich shared this recipe. The calzones can be made ahead and frozen for quick reheating or lunch boxes. Using parchment paper ensures they won’t stick to the pan so clean-up is easy.
5 loaves Whole Wheat Frozen Bread Dough, Thawed
½ lb Hot Italian Sausage
1 onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 bunch of broccolini, diced
3 – 4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 – 454 gram tub ricotta cheese
1 – 2 cups shredded mozzarella
3 – 4 sprigs fresh basil, remove the leaves and cut in thin ribbons
Milk for basting the turnovers
½ cup cornmeal for spreading on cookie sheet
- Thaw the bread dough for about 3 hours at room temperature and while dough is thawing prepare your filling.
- Heat a fry pan on medium and sauté the sausage until brown and crumbly. Set aside on a paper towel to absorb the fat.
- Sauté the onion, pepper and broccolini until soft – In the remaining sausage fat of the frypan – and then add the garlic and cook until soft. Set the mix aside to cool adding the sausage back in.
- Mix the cheeses and basil in a bowl and add to the meat mixture once the meat cools. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use
- Cut each of the thawed bread loaves into 6 pieces.
- Roll the pieces out into 5-inch circles on a lightly floured surface.
- Pick up each piece and spread a little water around the edges.
- Place 2 to 3 Tablespoons of filling in the centre and pinch the dough closed forming a turnover. Place each turnover on a parchment lined cookie sheet which has been spread with cornmeal.
- When you have 6 on a sheet, baste them with milk and bake them at 400ºF (convection if you have it) for about 15 minutes. Eat right away or let cool completely on a wire rack and freeze for later.
Other filling ideas:
Eggs scrambled with sausage or bacon, cheese, hash browns with onions and green pepper. Ground beef with chopped mushrooms, garlic and onions and grated cheddar. Lightly sautéed drained spinach, chopped fresh dill, caramelized onions, feta cheese and pine nuts.
Prosciutto Rolls with Arugula, Dried Figs and Gorgonzola
This is my favourite special appetizer my friend Susan Gremell makes for our Christmas Eve gathering. It is worth the effort.
16 dried black mission figs, each cut into 6 wedges
1 cup Ruby Port
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, room temperature
2 ounces crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
12 thin slices prosciutto
4 bunches arugula
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons grated lemon peel
- Combine figs, Port and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the Port is reduced to a syrup, about 10 – 15 minutes.
- Transfer the figs and syrup to a bowl and cool. Tip: You can do this a day ahead. Store covered and refrigerated.)
- Stir the goat cheese and Gorgonzola in a small bowl until well blended.
- Lay the prosciutto on a work surface, spacing the slices at least 3 inches apart. Spread each with 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture, arrange 4 to 6 fig wedges over the cheese, spacing evenly. Drizzle a few drops of Port syrup over the figs. Starting at short end of each prosciutto slice, place 3 arugula leaves so that tops extend 1 inch over long side of prosciutto. Place 3 more leaves at opposite side, so that stems overlap in centre and tops extend 1 inch over the opposite long side.
- Starting at short tightly roll the prosciutto around the figs and arugula. Cut the rolls crosswise in half. Stand the rolls up on platter, so that arugula tops face up.
- Whisk the oil, lemon juice and lemon peel in a small bowl. Drizzle a small amount of lemon dressing in centre of prosciutto rolls to moisten arugula and serve. Tip: The Prosciutto rolls and lemon dressing can be made 8 hours ahead. Cover the rolls with damp paper towels then plastic wrap; refrigerate. Let the dressing stand at room temperature.)
Make ahead alert! – This dish freezes well. Far from authentic Italian, this is really easy and really good and that’s why it’s included here. It’s an old family recipe. My Mother used to make it on New Year’s eve because she could just pull it out of the oven, having done all the work ahead. If you are feeling swish, substitute the crab with a can of lobster for amazing wow factor and taste. I’m not even going to apologize for the cans of mushroom soup. If you are an accomplished cook, go ahead and substitute a homemade bechamel for your seafood sauce. If you are not a great cook, have-at-er and enjoy the ease of this yummy dish during the busy holidays.
12 lasagna noodles, cooked
2 Tablespoons butter
½ cup onion, chopped
8 ounces cream cheese
1½ cups cottage cheese
1 egg, beaten
1½ teaspoon dried basil
Pepper to taste
2 cans of cream of mushroom soup
⅓ cup milk
⅓ cup white wine
8 ounces crab meat
1 lb shrimp
¼ cup parmesan, grated
½ cup white cheddar, grated
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Heat a sauté pan on medium and melt the butter, then add the onion and sauté until soft and transparent.
- Remove from heat. Stir in the cream cheese, cottage cheese, egg, basil and pepper. Set aside.
- Combine the soup, milk, wine and seafood in a large bowl and set aside.
- Spray a lasagna pan with cooking spray and then place a layer of noodles followed by the cheese and then the seafood mixture. Repeat the layers, finishing with a layer of noodles.
- Sprinkle the top with the parmesan and cheddar, cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Then remove the cover, cook under the broiler until the cheese is brown.
- Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes so it will firm up and be easy to lift and serve.
I love this recipe because you can whip it up in no time and I almost always have these ingredients stored in my fridge and pantry. It evolved from the original Roman Puttanesca because I could not resist throwing in a can of clams.
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon chili flakes
1 Tablespoon anchovy paste
28 ounce plum tomatoes, drained
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
¼ cup black olives, sliced
3 Tablespoons capers
2 cans or bottles baby clams
1 lb favourite pasta
¼ cup grated Parmigiano reggiano
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- Heat a large sauté pan on medium and add the oil. Once warm, add the garlic, pepper flakes and anchovy paste and cook until fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, olives, capers and clams and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile boil the pasta and cook al dente. Drain (but don’t rinse) and add it to the sauce.
- Garnish with the parmesan and parsley and enjoy with great bread and wine.
Italian Pot Roast
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
4 whole cloves
2 allspice berries or 1 teaspoon ground allspice
6 black peppercorns
3 Tablespoons olive oil
3½ lbs beef pot roast, trimmed of excess fat
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 celery stalks, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup hearty red wine
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- Combine the cinnamon stick, cloves, allspice, and peppercorns in a coffee or spice grinder and pulse to a fine powder.
- Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high and add the oil. Add the meat and cook, turning, for 10 to 15 minutes until lightly browned on all sides. Remove to the crock pot or earthen casserole you will be braising it in.
- Add the onions, garlic, celery, and carrots to the same pan you cooked the meat in and sauté until lightly browned. Add the spice mixture and cook for 2 minutes. Add the red wine and cook for about 10 minutes, scraping the brown bits off the bottom of the pan and until the liquid decreases by about half. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and salt to taste. Pour the sauce over the meat in the slow cooker. Tip: You can do all this the night before and put it in the refrigerator at this point or do it early on the morning of the day you want it to be ready.
- Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours. The meat should fall apart easily when plied with a fork.
- Transfer to a warmed serving dish and garnish with parsley. Enjoy with polenta or a mix of mashed potatoes and butternut squash. You could also serve it with pasta.
Summertime Pasta Anytime
This recipe is so easy it is almost embarrassing, except for how good it tastes. I won a “Best Everyday Recipe” contest in the fall of 2005 in The Calgary Herald with this and lots of people have made it and loved it. Eating it in the winter can transport you back to those glorious sun-soaked days of fresh basil and ripe tomatoes.
1 pkg whole grain spaghetti
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 wedge of Gorgonzola or Cambozola cheese, rind removed and chopped into large chunks
¾ cup basil leaves, roughly torn
5 or 6 vine-ripened medium-sized tomatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Pepper to taste
- Toast the pine nuts in a 350ºF oven until brown. Keep your eye on them and set a timer – they can burn on a dime.
- Prepare the other ingredients while the pasta cooks in a large pot of boiling water.
- Drain the pasta into a colander. Do not rinse, but put it immediately back into the hot-pot.
- Throw in the rest of the ingredients and stir until the cheese melts.
- Add some fresh ground pepper to taste. Enjoy with a hearty Italian red wine, a loaf of bread and a green salad.
Apple Cake with Crackly Meringue
Our talented Alberta Food Tours’ team member, chef Judy Wood, taught me to make this cake when I went to Italy on a culinary escape with her and Gail Norton of the Cookbook Co. Cooks. It’s always a hit and easy to pull together because most of us have a lemon and an apple somewhere in the back of our refrigerator.
2 cups plus 3 Tablespoons flour (divided)
1½ cups plus 2 Tablespoons sugar (divided)
6 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits
¾ cup milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon baking powder
2 large apples (granny smith) peeled, cored and diced
1 large egg white
Zest 1 large lemon
- Butter a 9-inch spring form pan.
- Rub together with your fingers 2 cups flour, 1½ cups sugar, salt and butter until crumbly in a large bowl.
- Remove 1 cup of this mixture and press it into the bottom of the pan, to form a crust.
- Make a well in the remaining crumbs and add the milk, eggs, vanilla, lemon zest, the remaining 3 Tablespoons of flour and the baking powder. With a whisk, blend until well blended, but still lumpy.
- Fold in the apples and pour into the pan with the crust.
- Beat the egg white in a small bowl until foamy. Beat in the remaining 2 Tablespoons of sugar and continue beating until soft peaks form.
- Spread over the top of the batter and bake 60 minutes or until cake tests done from the middle (a toothpick inserted should come out clean).
- Cool for 30 minutes and remove the sides of the pan to complete the cooling. Enjoy with cinnamon ice cream.
This recipe was inspired by my friend Lina Castle, the founder of Lina’s Italian Market in Calgary. It’s super easy and a good way to keep people from falling asleep after dinner.
1 pkg lady finger biscuits
½ cup strong coffee
1 Tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
2 Tablespoons sugar
4 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¼ lb Mascarpone cream cheese
Dusting of cocoa powder
- Stir and melt the sugar in the coffee and add the Amaretto. Leave it to cool.
- Mix the egg yolks and half cup of sugar until creamy then add the mascarpone and mix well. Set aside.
- Pour the coffee mix into a flat-bottomed dish.
- Working quickly, soak the bottom of each lady finger in the coffee mix and then place the biscuit on the bottom of a 9X11-inch pan. Cover this with the cheese mixture.
- Repeat these layers ending with the cheese topping
- Leave in the fridge for 4 hours and sprinkle with cocoa powder before serving.
Use individual glass containers like a stem less wine tumbler and layer little Amoretti biscuits with the egg/cheese mixture to create a mini tiramisu trifle effect. Sprinkle the top with crumbled Amoretti biscuits.
Lemon Mascarpone Tart
I loved this tart so much that I wrote to The Calgary Herald in 1995 to see if they could get the recipe from Marianne Sanders who started Calgary’s Brûlée Bakery. She agreed to share it and was happy to have the recipe published. Because you make the dough in the food processor and it makes enough for two tarts, this recipe is easier than you might think. I also use a bottled store-bought lemon curd to cut down on the work involved.
For the Tart Crust
2¼ cups flour
½ cup sugar
½ cup butter, softened
1 egg yolk
Dash lemon juice
- Pulse together the flour, sugar and butter in a food processor.
- Add the egg, yolk and lemon juice and pulse until the dough comes together.
- Divide the dough in half and refrigerate or freeze the other half.
- Spray a 10-inch spring form pan with cooking spray.
- Press two-thirds of the dough into the bottom of the pan.
- Bake at 350ºF for 12 minutes. Cool.
- With remaining third of the dough, form a long rope and press into the pan to form the edge of the crust. Refrigerate until baking.
For the Filling
¼ lb cream cheese
¼ lb mascarpone cheese
¼ cup sugar
⅓ cup lemon curd (I use store-bought)
5 Tablespoons lemon juice
6 Tablespoons whipping cream
- Cream the cheeses, sugar and lemon curd.
- Add the eggs gradually and beat until fluffy.
- Beat in the juice and cream.
- Pour into the prepared crust that has been spread with a thin layer of lemon curd.
- Bake at 350ºF for approximately 20 minutes or until set in the middle.
- Chill the tart and then load it with fresh berries right before serving.
Italian Holiday Baking
Biscotti means twice-baked in Italian and I make so many of these cookies each year, I end up feeling half-baked! But, I love making them because my friend Claire taught me and her Italian Nonna taught her. I lived in Boston in the early nineties and Claire was my best friend in a place where it was somewhat hard to make friends. We would pick a date and work together in the kitchen her apartment in a massive old house. The windows would steam up and before long every surface would be covered with cooking cookies. My husband would arrive with pizza and wine and we’d celebrate our own holiday tradition. That’s what I still think about with every single batch so how could I ever stop making them? Friendship and traditions keep us warm on the coldest December nights.
2¼ cups flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons butter
¾ cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 Tablespoon lemon peel
1½ teaspoons fennel seed
½ cup dried sweetened cranberries
¾ cup chopped white chocolate
½ cup chopped pistachios
6 – 10 ounces white chocolate for dipping or drizzling
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Combine the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and whisk to blend.
- Place the sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beat, scrape down the sides and then add the lemon peel & vanilla and mix again.
- Lower the speed and add the flour mixture until well-blended.
- Fold in the cranberries, chocolate and nuts until well-distributed.
- Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 logs.
- Place the logs on the parchment paper and flatten them to 4-inch wide by 12-inch long logs. Leave at least 3 to 4 inches between them on the baking sheet and bake for 35 minutes or until lightly golden.
- Cool on baking sheet for at least 10 minutes then cut the parchment in two and slide one log to a cutting board, carefully sliding out its parchment from under it. Cut that log into 1-inch wide slices with a serrated knife. Return the slices to the cookie sheet and repeat with the other log. Once done, return the cookie sheet to the oven for 10 more minutes then remove and let the cookies cool completely on a wire rack.
- Melt the rest of the white chocolate in a double boiler and either dip one end of individual cookies or line the cookies up closely together and drizzle the tops with the melted chocolate. Tip: These keep well for a couple of months in an airtight container.
This recipe comes from one of our treasured guests, Anne-Marie Block’s, Great Aunt Clara. Don’t mess with 80 years of success.
1 cup margarine (I know, I know but Aunt Clara says no butter)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 lb ricotta (or a 15 ounce container will do)
- Mix the margarine and sugar until fluffy with an electric mixer.
- Beat 1 egg at a time into the mixture.
- Add the vanilla, then the flour, baking soda and salt.
- Add the ricotta last and mix well.
- Drop by the teaspoon onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
- Bake at 350ºF for about 10 minutes.
For the Icing
Beat the icing sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 teaspoon almond extract and water together to a smooth consistency. Once the cookies are cool, dip them in the icing.