About Beth

Beth, along with her husband, Mike, is co-owner of two Italian Deli/Markets in St. Louis - Viviano’s Festa Italiano. When not creating yummy new menu items for the deli, she’s the pediatric research lab supervisor at Washington University School of Medicine. Read more out about Viviano’s Festa Italiano.

About Irene

Irene loves to think, read and dream about food. She enjoys cooking & eating in general. Although she demures about her talents, Irene has a finely-tuned palate that her friends envy. She bakes on occasion. The rest of the time she's creating memories with her family and friends. . . or she's learning a new needlecraft technique.

About Deborah

Deborah is a wife, mother, grandmother, traveler, bootlegger, and a very poor speller! As Victor Hazan so eloquently puts it, Deborah has chosen Umbria to be the home of her soul. When she can’t be there in body, she spends her free time cooking & reading about Italy. She blogs mostly about food and about trips – past and future – here: Old Shoes New Trip.

About Doug

Doug lives in Eastern Ontario in a farmhouse built in 1903. He is a retired teacher with four adult children, a wife, a son-in-law, two Irish step-grandchildren and one grandson who he is lucky to hang with a lot. He has way too many books. Doug also blogs at To Slow Time Down.

About Cindy

Cindy lives in Eagle River, Alaska where her freezer is always full of salmon, halibut & shrimp. Cindy participates in several regular cooking challenges. You can read more about her cooking and life in the last frontier on her blog, Baked Alaska.

About Sandi

Sandi is a true Southerner, but a traveler & Italian cook at heart. She lives in Alabama and knows more about fried green tomatoes than fricassees. Her family owned the WhistleStop Café for many years. Sandi also blogs at Whistlestop Cafe Cooking.

About Jan

Jan, a serious home cook, has owned “Essentials” since 1992. She is passionate about all things Italian, especially the cuisine & the language. Jan blogs about her travels (next trip Italy May/June of 2010) at: Keep your Feet in the Street.

About Jerry

Jerry is a food obsessed Canadian. He learned to love Italian food as a child while eating the meals prepared by his Napolitano uncle. He learned to cook Italian foods by watching his uncle cook these feasts for the family. This love of Italian food has been honed through serious personal experimentation in eating and cooking. Willing to try most anything once, Jerry isn't so sure about tripe! Jerry also blogs at Jerry's Thoughts, Musings, and Rants!

About Palma

Palma is a Marriage & Family Therapist in Palm Desert, CA. She’s an Italian-American with a passion for cooking, entertaining, & travel to Italy. She’s always planning her next culinary adventure to Italia on her blog, Palmabella's Passions

About Kim

Kim is our permanent sub and the image above gives you a good idea of the look on her face when she realized she was drafted. Kim loves to eat, drink, travel and cook - probably in that order. When she's not here, you can find her organizing and leading food, wine and beer tours in Europe as co-owner and operator of GrapeHops or blogging at What I Really Think.


Recipe Index Archives

March 28, 2010

Crostini Bianchi-Ricotta and Anchovy Canapes

I am so lucky to have this as the first recipe of the project. I have been dreading this blogging idea because I may be a pretty fair cook, but I don’t consider myself a good writer. So, I ask your sufferance with my style and understand that the point is just the food.

I haven’t posted my bio yet, so I thought I would give you a little background. My husband and I have been married 22 years and for the first 15 people were always telling us that we should open a restaurant. We finally did. It is a unique place for our area. We have a deli, Italian grocery, and a café. We also do a lot of catering. There are 3 owners, Michael, Becky and myself. Michael, my husband, is the people person. He is the one everyone comes to see. Becky, my sister, handles all of the financials and most of the management pieces. I am responsible for all of the recipes and a lot of the computer work. We all have our strengths and weaknesses, but we balance out pretty well.

With this recipe the hardest part was not changing anything. When I am creating a recipe for the store, I always start with 4 or 5 that sound promising and then I combine the parts until I end up with something that I really like. When I first read the recipe, I saw that it called for 8 anchovies. I started to cut it back, but realized that I had to be true to Marcella’s recipe, so I followed it exactly. We have a new brand of anchovies that we just started carrying at the store. The brand is Agostino Recca. I am so glad that I had these. They are so mellow compared to other brands that I have used. When I combined all of the ingredients I was amazed at how good it tasted. The ingredients are simple, ricotta, butter, anchovies, EVOO, and freshly ground black pepper. The quality of the ingredients really shine in this recipe. I toasted the bread (Fazio’s Italian sliced bread, for those of you in the St. Louis area). I then sliced off the crusts, cut the slices in half and then half again, and then covered them with the ricotta mixture. My only regret when making these was that we didn’t have any company over to eat them.


Okay, so this wasn’t so hard, maybe I will get used to it!

March 29, 2010

Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce

In my family it is a well established fact that I do not eat eggs. I have suffered brunch after brunch dealing with this unfortunate reality. No, I am not allergic but the reaction is absolute. As luck would have it, my first recipe of the food challenge is an egg appetizer. Blat!

I reviewed the recipe and decided that organic eggs were the only way to go. This cold appetizer is the Italian cousin to another egg dish, Deviled Eggs. Go to any American bridal shower, potluck or picnic and 9 times out of 10 you can find them there. I wonder if the same is true for this recipe somewhere in Italy. The process is the same: boil eggs, mix cooked yolks with ingredients, spoon atop egg whites. The ingredients are not. Italian pantry staples of capers, anchovies, and extra virgin olive oil are the supporting ingredients in this dish.

Thinking about my brothers and sisters in Christ preparing to celebrate miracles this week, I prepared the recipe with hope in my heart. Hope that a teeny tiny miracle could be bestowed upon me. I want to eat eggs. You can’t always get what you want. So just in case:

I, Irene, promise to taste every single food item I prepare during this Italian food challenge. I will do so with a cheerful palate and disregard to food aversions or unfamiliar ingredients. Because food is fun and all is well when you are among friends.

Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce
Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce

I was surprised to find the green sauce was not that green. Sadly, no egg eating miracles where performed. I gave myself a pat on the back and a glass of white wine anyway. I’ll try eggs again in August.

Hard-Boiled Egg with Green Sauce
Another view

©2010 Irene D. Ericson

March 30, 2010

Roasted Peppers and Anchovies


I love anchovies. I love their fishiness. I love the way they melt in a pan to become this wonderful not quite liquid flavoring for other foods. For me, anchovies are the secret behind that illusive fifth flavor - umami - in many dishes.

So, I appreciate the lesson Marcella offers on page 9.

As this project begins, I hope all of our readers will take the time to treat Fundamentals from page 7 through page 51 of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking like a textbook. Don't start following the recipes until you've studied the Fundamentals. Even the most practiced home cook will learn much. Even those of you who have a well worn copy of Essentials can benefit from going back to the beginning and actually studying the Fundamentals.

After all of that, right out of the gate, I had to go to Marcella's plan 'b' in order to prepare my very first challenge recipe.

I couldn't find salt packed anchovies anywhere. Not even at my old reliable Global Foods. They offered to try to order them for me. But their source was Roland. No offense to Roland, but their quality isn't the top of the line in most instances, and I didn't want to risk it.

So, plan 'b' according to Marcella is glass packed (so you can see the amount of meat), imported, and probably expensive.

Thank goodness, Viviano's had something better than Roland. Agostino Recca is a great brand. And at about $8.00 a jar, not cheap. But the anchovies were beautiful.


Now on to the peppers. I am sure there are very solid production and shipping cost arguments to justify it, but I have a very hard time swollowing a price of $2.00 each for peppers. Many things I will pick up in a store and not even make note of the price. Fennel for example. But for some reason the price of peppers just gets under my skin! I digress.

I roasted my pepper. First on a tray over the burners.


I didn't like the amount of time it was taking because of those silly holes. So, I took Marcella's advice and did what I should have from the start. I put the peppers directly in the flame.

Finally, I prepped the roasted peppers and gathered all of the ingredients to layer in my serving dish.


Two hours later, we enjoyed our "appetizer" with a crostini. We enjoyed it a lot. We enjoyed it so much that the four of us polished the entire dish off as a complete meal.

March 31, 2010

Roasted Eggplant with Peppers and Cucumber

The first thing that you notice with this dish is it's amazing colors. I'm making this at the beginning of Spring but it is definately something that would be wonderful on a hot summer evening when the vegetables are at their peak freshness. I have to emphasize how easy this recipe is.

It calls for the eggplant to be grilled or done under a broiler, which I chose to do since the wind was ready to blow me off of my deck today. The result in the broiler was perfectly fine. One very important step is to make sure the eggplant has time to release it's juices after being cooked. I let it sit for about half an hour after removing it from the broiler.

During this time it needs to be over a strainer. It was a very quick recipe with most of the time involved actually during the straining process. I used a very good olive oil, and added the salt at the last moment before serving just like Marcella recommends.

You can serve it as a salad or on toast, so I served it bruschetta style. I used a whole wheat baguette that I brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven for about 5 minutes. I topped it with my pepper, cucumber and eggplant mixture and garnished with parsley. The presentation was very colorful.


The only thing that could have improved it was the state of my vegetables due to the fact that it isn't peak season for the peppers and what I had to choose from at the supermarket wasn't ideal. This will definately be pulled back out and done to it's glory in July when the vegetables can do the recipe it's justice. It was a great way to start the cooking challenge, simple, fresh and giving me the time to focus on the harder task of learning how to blog, which I might add I am not a fan of. I try to steer clear of technology whenever possible. You won't see me using gadgets, or shortcuts in the kitchen either. Let that explain my out of focus shots and my obvious lack of computer savvy that I display in the next year of our cooking challenge. I am much more comfortable behind my stove than behind my computer. If only you could taste the recipes instead of only see my sad idea of food photography. With that explained...bring on the next recipe!

April 1, 2010

Marinated Carrot Sticks


This is Cindy, and it's time for my first recipe from "The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking". When I saw the first recipe I was to make in this challenge, I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. Marinated Carrot Sticks? How much of a challenge could those be to make and how special could a marinated carrot taste?

Well, let me tell you-I jumped to the wrong conclusion. These were a wonderful cold appetizer. The carrots are cooked in salted water until tender, then marinated in a mixture of olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, oregano, and salt and pepper. The garlic and vinegar flavor is not overwhelming at all, just adds a subtle background flavor. The oregano is a little more pronounced. These Marinated Carrot Sticks would be a very nice addition to any appetizer platter. If they last that long. I took them over to my husband to have him taste, and within 5 or 10 minutes we had eaten every one of them!

April 2, 2010

Carciofi alla Romana (Artichokes, Roman style)

I am Sandi, blogging fromthe WhistleStop Cafe kitchen. This is my first recipe from our Pomodori e Vino cooking challenge, and luckily it is one of my favorites when eating at a Roman trattoria. Carciofi alla Romana~ or Artichokes, Roman style.

The first of many weekly challenges... to find the right kind of ingredients here in Alabama. I managed to find the large globe artichokes, which are not exactly the stout, tender artichokes found in Italy. Allora. These will just have to work.
Most of the essentials of Italian cooking involve the 'process' of cooking. Marcella goes into details about the proper way to clean and prepare the artichokes... which is essential for most dishes using the fresh artichoke.

First~ remove the outer leaves. If at first this seems wasteful, she says it is more wasteful to cook something that can't be eaten. (I like her thinking!)
Continue until you reach the tender inner leaves. Cut the tips of the inner leaves off.Rub all of the cut surfaces with lemon to prevent browning.Mean while, mince some mint, parsley, garlic and mix with salt and pepper.Rub the chokes well with the herbs and place tops down in a pot and cook until tender~ the smell is amazing! I served mine with some nice mint and fennel risotto.
Remember~ a new recipe everyday!
Buon Appetito y'all,

April 3, 2010

Mushroom, Parmesan Cheese, and White Truffle Salad

Where to begin . . .

Hello. This is Jerry and today I join the ranks of the other obsessive cooks making our way through 'Essentials'.

That was poetic. Or not.

Some initial thoughts? I LOVE Marcella. I have come to appreciate how she has tried to make Italian cooking accessible to North American cooks much the same way Julia Child did French cooking. I like the way Marcella provides great advice to the North American cook so that we can experience success with the recipes . . . can't find a particular ingredient in NA - this would be a good substitute. Sure, you may not end up with the same results as if you scouraged the market in a small idyllic Italian town but you're not in Italy are you? You might wish you were but reality is that you're in a suburb of Toronto and white truffles aren't to be found.

I've cooked Italian food for yonks. Seriously, it has probably been more than 40 years since I first grabbed a spoon and a spatula and helped Uncle Romolo work up a feast for the family. Uncle Romolo may be gone but his lessons for me are not - Italian food is simple, fresh, and comforting. Take that Olive Garden (AKA Italian Food HELL)!

Marcella is a master of this minimalistic technique.

This strikes home even more when one considers that Hazan was raised during the depression and the war. Readers of history know that these were particularly challenging years for those who were living in Italy. People made do with what they could find. Food wasn't wasted. Simple pleasures were what it was all about.

This recipe is a perfect example of this. Five ingredients - mushrooms, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, olive oil. Top with some salt (I left this out) and freshly ground pepper and you're good. The recipe has white truffles as an option. I've eaten white truffles in Piemonte when they are in season. They are DIVINE. I would have loved to have added white truffles to this dish but they were not to be found.

I wrote Hazan to see about substituting black truffles instead. She promptly wrote back:

Oh, Jerry!

This definitely is not white truffle season, and even if it were you might have second thoughts about using them, considering the price they now bring. The thing about white truffles is the aroma, there is nothing else like it, and black truffles don’t come anywhere near it. If you read the headnote, it tells you to skip the truffles if they are not available (or too expensive). If you use the right olive oil (see the headnote) and a good parmigiano-reggiano the result will still be delicious.

Classic Hazan. Use fresh, local ingredients, and enjoy the joy that simplicity brings to your plate!

We had this salad for dinner tonight - it was a Good Friday treat. It was brilliant. Because there are so few ingredients you want to use the best ingredients - no cheap olive oil and crap Wisconsin parmesan cheese ('how can that even be allowed?' he wonders allowed . . .) here. Use the best ingredients that you can find and your taste buds will sing . . .


Oh Marcella, I am gonna LOVE cooking my way through your cookbook!

April 4, 2010

Tomatoes Stuffed with Shrimp

I am so glad that Deborah invited me to be a part of this adventure! I had always taken shortcuts in recipes where I didn’t think it would make a difference in the final taste of the food. That is why I had never made my own mayonnaise before. Boy, was I missing out. The difference was amazing. I have to say that since my background is science, I couldn’t feel good about playing with the salmonella factor, so I did buy whole pasteurized eggs. I was a little worried that this would change the eggs ability to work in the recipe, but it didn’t.

I do wish that I could have been making this recipe during July or August, because most of the tomatoes that are available in the stores now are not so great. I did find some “on the vine” tomatoes that looked good, so I decided to go with them. I can’t wait until this summer to make this with the delicious heirloom tomatoes that I can get from the farmers market!


The recipe is simple, but the combination of flavors is powerful. Michael and I ate this immediately after making, but I think that if I had let the flavors marinate for a few hours it would have been even better. Michael loves capers, so he was in heaven with this dish.

This is such a beautiful way to serve shrimp. I almost felt like one of the “ladies who lunch”.

April 5, 2010

Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna

Tuna, Tuna my dear old friend.
We meet weekly I can’t pretend.
Sweet and flaky that’s what you are.
I love you as salad; my favorite by far.

Tomatoes Stuffed with Tuna

I was excited to see that I would once again try to make homemade mayonnaise. My first attempt eight years ago was a disaster. So much so I have not tried to make it again. My excitement quickly fizzed after several attempts this past week including two tries this morning resulting in nothing even close to resembling mayo. I was pressed for time and needed to post this blog while it was still Monday so I substituted commercially prepared mayo. No boos please.

Mayo refusing to emulsify

This recipe is a tuna salad made with mayonnaise, Dijon mustard and capers stuffed inside a tomato. Over the years I have always eaten canned tuna packed in water. This is the first time I’ve had canned tuna packed in oil. Marcella was right. It has more flavor. The results are simple and delicious with a slightly salty bite.

©2010 Irene D. Ericson

May 5, 2010

Pasta e Fagioli - Pasta and Bean Soup

In the voice of Bob Sheppard, "Now cooking for Michele, number 99 - Kim Riemann." Okay - don't know who Bob Sheppard is? Well, then that reference is lost on you (the rest of you get it right?) - basically, I'm "pinch-hitting" for Michele this week and her assignment is to make Pasta e Fagioli soup.

I'm no stranger to Pasta e Fagioli soup (known around these parts as Pasta Fajola or a little further northeast, Pasta Fazool - no, I'm not kidding), it's one of our favorites (always stop at the Carnivale Italiano for the local Italian ladies version every summer - though that's definitely not Pasta Fagioli weather - but I digress). So when I saw the opportunity to snag this recipe help Michele out, I jumped at it.

The first difference I noticed between what I've made (or eaten) in the past is the bean Marcella uses. She's a fan of the cranberry bean while here I've seen the red kidney bean (and sometimes even the cannellini bean) used though she does say that red kidney beans would be an acceptable substitute. Now the thing you should know about Cranberry beans (and unfortunately, I could not find them fresh this time of year, so I went with the dried version), is they go by other names (see Cook's Thesaurus - Beans for further explanation) but the one I know them as is Roman (aka Roma) Beans (at least according to Goya). So that's what I went with. They're basically a pinkish bean with a stripe.

The second difference between Marcella's version and mine, she uses pork rib meats (and I was never quite clear what I was supposed to do with those ribs once I completed the soup - I nibbled on one, Fala enjoyed some meat off one of the others), while I use some ground Italian sausage (turkey usually), as a base.

Other than that it's pretty similar to the soups I've made - a bit of a soffrito (celery, onion and carrot) as a base, along with the aforementioned bones, homemade beef broth, which I actually did as opposed to the canned variety I usually use (hey that reminds me - has anyone posted about making the homemade broth/stock?), and at the very end the pasta. She recommends maltagliati (homemade) or any tubular macaroni (I used elbows because we always have them on hand for mac and cheese). That pasta has to go in at the end (and don't cook it for too long afterward), because it just soaks up that broth like a sponge. For leftovers the next day, I added a bit more broth to thin it out but I'd also like to note that the Italian Club Ladies Auxilliary serves theirs almost like a stew at the Carnivale (no broth in site after those macaroni have been sitting in those crockpots all day long).

Lastly, how did it taste? Pretty darn good - because of that homemade broth, it definitely had a richer flavor than my version with canned broth. Though I do have to admit, I did miss my bit of sausage in there. I'll make it again, though a bit of a lighter version (skip the butter at the end next time) as I'm watching my girlish figure and unfortunately, it's getting easier and easier to watch.

Now, here's where you're going to kill me as the sub. I had a bit of a camera misfortune, and my shots (which probably weren't any good anyway), got erased. And yes, while I'd like to blame it on one of my kids or my husband it was my stupidity that led to their destruction (I'll probably never be invited back to cook again). But ... I did remember I had some left over cranberry beans that I photographed for y'all, just so I'd at least have one shot, and you would all know what they look like.

cranberry bean


May 6, 2010

Aquacotta-Tuscan Peasant Soup with Cabbage and Beans

Aquacotta - Tuscan Peasant Soup with Cabbage and Beans

Aquacotta is usually a peasant dish. It's a soup made with stale bread, water, onions, tomatoes, and olive oil. But it's also made in grander households. There, it usually contains eggs, Parmesan cheese, and lemon juice. The version that Marcella lists in her book is of the grander type, and comes from Villa Cappezzana.

I have to say, I was really getting tired of soup and wasn't that excited about making it. But I was really surprised-I loved the soup. You begin by soaking cannellini beans overnight, then cooking them the next day until they're tender. You then make a soup of onions, celery, cabbage, kale, tomatoes, and basil. This mixture cooks for 2-3 hours. I followed all directions except for one-I couldn't find Savoy cabbage anywhere, and had to use regular green cabbage.

When you're ready to assemble the dish, you toast day-old Tuscan-style bread, and layer it on the bottom of a casserole dish. You then top that with the soup and grated Parmesan cheese. You then poach eggs until the whites are just set, and place them on top of the soup mixture. You top with more Parmesan, and place in a hot oven for 10 minutes. You then have this delightful, filling, soup. The flavor of the celery really comes through in this soup, and the poached egg on top really adds the finishing touch.

January 8, 2011

Sautéed Green Beans with Parmesan Cheese


It was last June when I made this recipe knowing that the green beans I found in the market in January would be dismal. I picked up a pound of freshly-picked beans at the local farmer's market and went to town. These beans had traveled less than 20 minutes to get to my table.

I think that this was one of the easiest recipes I've attempted so far in the challenge. All one needed to do was snap off the 'tails' of the beans, cook them in water, and then sauté the cooked beans in butter. Dump (such a refined and glorious culinary term) on 1/4 cup of fresh parmigiano-reggiano and you ready to serve.

Of course this was wonderful - beans, butter, cheese . . . how could it not be?

Note to others - when you're attempting a simple recipe like this you will need to use the best ingredients you have - with so few ingredients a poor quality item will stand out and turn the beauty of this dish to a veritable nasty beast.

No one wants that. Put away that horrid green can of 'grated parmesan cheese product'. No. Don't put it away - THROW IT OUT!


Fresh beans - picked as soon as you can prior to cooking. Use the best butter you have. Grate some REAL parmigiano-reggiano on top - remember, if it is made ANYWHERE but the Parma area of Italy it ain't real and you won't be thrilled with the results. Real freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano practically melts on your tongue like a big ol' fluffy snowflake. Treat yourself - hold out for the real stuff.

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