Thursday, June 30, 2011

"Happy 4th of July" Italian Style



Italy, does not celebrate July 4 th as the United States does, but they do celebrate on June 2, which is like our July 4 th. It is called Republic Day or “Festa della Repubblica.” This year is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy (1861-2011). On this day, Italian’s celebrate and honor the anniversary that Italy became a republic.

Back in the United States, this weekend is called Independence Day, which is celebrated on July 4 th and is often known as “the Fourth of July.” It is the anniversary (235 years) of the publication of the Declaration of Independence.

How it all began was in 1775, people in New England began fighting the British for their independence. On July 2,1776, the Congress voted for independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was first published two days later on July 4,1776. John Adams the husband of Abigail Adams wrote in a letter to her how the day should be celebrated. He described “pomp and parade, with shows, games, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations” throughout the United States. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, both signers of the Declaration of Independence and presidents of the United States, died on July 4,1826 - exactly 50 years after the declaration.

What and how we celebrate the birth of our Nation is by a day of family celebrations with picnics and barbecues, showing a great deal of emphasis on the American tradition of freedom. Many people display the American flag outside their homes or buildings and many communities arrange fireworks that are often accompanied by patriotic music. The most common symbol of Independence Day is the American Flag. Other symbols related with July 4 th are the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island in New York and Macy’s fireworks viewed all over the United States.

I remember when I was a young girl, we always had the whole family over for a BBQ on July 4 th. However, our BBQ’s were a little different from the traditional American family. Coming from an Italian American family, this is what my Mom would serve in the summer for our BBQ’s. We would have the grilled steaks, sausages and hamburgers, but we would also have some type of pasta either lasagna or baked Ziti. Oh, and don’t forget that our day started out with some antipasto and cheeses, with crispy sliced Italian bread in a big wicker basket. Some side dishes to enjoy with our grilled meats were vegetables like homemade eggplant parmesan, fried veggies, juicy ripe red tomatoes and if sausages were on the menu there was always red and green peppers with sweet onions in a huge bowl. Our family always enjoyed cold crisp salads, from a mixed green salad to beets and string beans mixed with a sweet balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Then if that were not enough, fruit would be served, like juicy watermelon, sweet cherries, peaches and plums. As we would watch the fireworks in our neighborhood, we would enjoy the desserts, pies, cakes, cookies and sweet creamy Italian pastries with black coffee or tea. I also remember that my Dad would always buy a few packages of sparklers and when it got dark, he would light them and watch us as we swirled them around in the sky. This is the way my family celebrated our nation’s birth.

Grandmother Julia, Great-Grandmother
Sofia, & my Mom (1950)
The recipe for this weekend is an Italian Stuffed Baby Eggplant. This recipe was created by my great grandmother Sofia and passed it down to my grandmother Julia and then she passed it down to my mother Madeline, who now has passed it down to me. This recipe would also be served along side of a great BBQ. As you know, the Italian American people helped build this country so I thought I would honor our Independence with this very appetizing dish. I hope that you enjoy your weekend with your family no matter how you celebrate July 4 th.
Italian Stuffed Baby Eggplant

Ingredients:
6 small eggplants (makes 12 half shells)
Olive oil
¾ tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
2 8oz cans of tomato sauce (Del Monte)
½ teaspoon of basil flakes (or fresh)
1 egg
1 ¼ cups of bread crumbs (unflavored)
¼ cup of grated cheese (Pecorino Romano)

Directions:
Cut eggplant lengthwise in half and scoop out the inside of the eggplant. Cut scooped out insides into bite-sized pieces. Put scooped out shells in some salted water to par boil. Put just enough oil to cover the bottom of a 3-quart pot. Heat and saut√© minced garlic. Then add tomato sauce and stir. Next, put in the cut up insides of the eggplant with salt/peeper and let cook until soft. (not mushy). Add water if needed. After they are cooked, remove from the heat and cool off a little. Combine the egg, breadcrumbs, grated cheese and basil flakes, and mix well. Now add to the combined mixture the cut up cooked, cooled eggplant insides. Drain eggplant shells in colander. Put a small amount of tomato sauce on bottom of baking pan. Now fill the eggplant shells with the mixture and place in baking dish. Put tomato sauce on top of stuffed eggplant. Also, add a small amount of water to bottom of pan and bake for 25 minutes at 350° Can be eaten as a side dish either hot or cold.

Wine: Zinfandel is my recommendation for wine, which goes well with eggplant, and grilled or barbecued meats. It is a full-bodied, dark red wine with blackberry and a peppery balance. This wine complements hearty, spicy foods and does not overpower the flavors of the food.
 
For my readers that are looking for answers to last weeks crossword puzzle find it here:
Hope that you had fun with the crossword.





 
“ Happy 4 th of July everyone!” Until next time……..
 
 
 
 
Copyright © 2011 All Right Reserved
 
 

Friday, June 24, 2011

"National Chocolate Pudding Day"



As my readers know, I like to mark the celebration of certain holidays and special food days so this weekend is no different it is “National Chocolate Pudding Day” on June 26. In America, chocolate pudding is a chocolate flavored custard. In Britain, chocolate pudding is more of a dense cake, and the word "pudding" itself can be a generic term for "dessert.” Mostly all English puddings begin with the same basic ingredients such as milk, sugar, eggs, flour and butter. They also involve fresh fruit like raspberries, strawberries, custard, and cream. In Italy, Nutella is the brand name of a hazelnut flavored sweet spread by the Italian company Ferrero who introduced Nutella in 1963. This tasty unique spread is made from the combination of roasted hazelnuts, skim milk and a hint of cocoa, plus it doesn’t have any artificial colors and preservatives. There are a number of ways to enjoy this luscious chocolate, but mostly with its creamy texture it is usually spread on bread and will delight your taste buds with each bite. The estimated Italian production of Nutella averages 179,000 tons per year and is sold in 75 countries. February 5th is “World Nutella Day” which is a day to celebrate, to get creative with and most importantly, to eat Nutella.

Now, back here in the United States, celebrating any type of chocolate is wonderful. If you are a true chocoholic like me, who craves and consumes chocolate any way you can this is for you. Do you love chocolate? Do you truly believe that chocolate makes every day a better day? Does the mere thought of chocolate make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? If you answered YES to any of the above, then this is the recipe for you. A cool summer treat.

I have always loved chocolate pudding, whether it is in a fancy parfait dish with whipped cream or in a pie with a graham cracker crust. I grew up with the cooked variety of chocolate pudding in a box. We never make the instant, as my Mom used to say that the consistency was different from the cook and serve. Then there was the little pudding cups from the store, but they were not the same as the kind you have to cook either. My-T-Fine or Jell-O pudding and pie filling was the only ones that we would buy in the supermarket. You had to add milk to the pudding and cook it on the stovetop. This pudding and pie filling is in a class by it’s self. It just seemed to be just richer and creamier than what the grocery stores carried. It cost a few cents more, but I will bet you never go back to the other brands once you have tried it. Chocolate pudding was not the only one that we would buy. My-T-Fine and Jell-O also had Vanilla and a Lemon pie filling which you could make a velvety smooth Lemon Meringue Pie. A nostalgic comfort food that brings back fond childhood memories. Who doesn't love the soft, creamy texture of old-fashioned puddings?

Therefore, it is a perfect fun day to celebrate with people young and old alike. Celebrating National Chocolate Pudding Day can add some lighthearted and delicious fun to what might be just another day in June. This recipe that I have for you this week is one of my all time favorites. My Mom taught me how to make this recipe and we used to make it in the summer, as it was a cool and refreshing dessert. Ice Box Pudding Cake, is so simple and easy but it is the best on a hot summers night, just enough to cool you off. This recipe is made using My-T-Fine or Jell-O brand Chocolate and Vanilla pudding (cook and serve). It also adds the texture of graham crackers and whipped cream. You can also make this in a larger dish and it can be served as a dessert for BBQ’s and for picnics. It truly is a great comfort food and people of all ages love it. So, enjoy “National Pudding Day” and create many memories with chocolate pudding.

As a fun activity to do while you are waiting for your pudding to set up in the refrigerator, is to try this crossword puzzle with a theme of Cooking Utensils. I will post the answers in next weeks Blog. So, make sure you come back and see if you have all the answers correct.







Across
2. The last of the common eating utensils to be developed.
5. Cook red cabbage in this and the cabbage turns blue.
8. A shallow concave container for particular type of custard pie.
10. A pan for making miniature muffins.
11. Metal cooking vessel, usually with a handle.
12. Metal or pottery that has been overlaid with a hard, glassy substance.
14. A communal social activity, a piece of electronic equipment, and a cooking appliance.
15. To separate lumps from a powdered material.
16. A Canadian ground pork, veal and onion pie, sometimes served cold.
19. A deep, round metal cooking utensil with one long handle.
20. Poultry cutter

Down
1. Cooking hole.
3. Kitchen appliance.
4. According to many, the most important kitchen utensil.
5. An aviation, baseball, and food processing term.
6. The single, central kernel or stone of certain fruits.
7. A large young chicken over 3 1/2 lb.
9. Made of heat-resistant material and used for cooking.
10. A gadget for extracting juice from a species of Allium.
11. Goes with vegetable, potato and apple.
13. Atomic number 13.
14. A fungus.
15. Paella pan.
17. An earthenware pot used to cook stews in Spain, Central & South America.
18. The goat god.
  
 
 
Ice Box Pudding Cake

Ingredients:

2 boxes (5.9 oz size) Cook & Serve Chocolate Pudding (NOT INSTANT)
2 boxes (5.9 oz size) Cook & Serve Vanilla Pudding (NOT INSTANT)
8 cups of whole milk
1 box (15 oz size) plain graham crackers
1 16 oz Cool Whip or whipped cream of your choice
1 11 x 7 inch glass baking dish

Directions:

Prepare the pudding according to the directions on the box for each flavor. Layer the glass-baking dish with graham crackers. (break the crackers, if necessary to fit the pan) Spread a layer of warm pudding on the top of graham crackers (use the chocolate for the first layer) Put another layer of graham crackers on top of chocolate. Then spread a layer of warm vanilla pudding on the top of graham crackers. Now cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours. The last thing to do is crush some graham crackers and sprinkle over the top of last layer (vanilla) after the pudding is set. When you are ready to serve it, cut the icebox cake into small squares. Then scoop the sections into individual serving bowls or plates and top generously with whipped cream.
Substitutions:
***Sugar free pudding or 1% milk would be fine to substitute for either of these ingredients. Just be sure to use the cooked sugar free pudding mix.
Till next time .....
 
Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 17, 2011

Happy Father's Day or Festa del Papa



“Happy Father’s Day” or in Italian we say, ”Festa del Papa" Mostly Roman Catholic households in Italy celebrate Father’s Day on March 19, which is St. Joseph’s Feast Day. This day is celebrated to honor Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus Christ, a fatherly symbol of love, compassion, kindness, generosity and acceptance. This is a day when families show their gratitude to their fathers with favors, gifts and family gatherings.

But, here in the United States we celebrate Father’s Day on the third Sunday in June. The thought for creating a day for children to honor their fathers began in Spokane, Washington the year was 1909, when Senora Smart was listening to a Mother’s Day sermon. Her Mother had died and was raised by her father along with her siblings. She wanted to tell her father how special he was especially being courageous, selfless and a loving man. So since her father William was born in June she chose that month to hold the first Father’s Day on June 19th, 1910. The National Father’s Day Committee was formed in New York City in 1926 and recognized a permanent national observance of Father’s Day in 1966.

A day to celebrate fatherhood and male parenting for all fathers, whether it be dads, step-dads, grand-dads and even foster dads “You don’t have to have your own children to be a great Dad,” which is a very meaningful and moving quote.
My Dad & me
(1959-1960 ? )

So, today as I wish my Dad a Happy Father’s Day, and I also wish my son Paul, a Happy Foster Father’s Day as well.

My son Paul, is a foster father. He and Stacey (his wife) are foster parents. They met when they were both 21, on Oct 4, 1996. Their love and commitment continued and on January 6, 2007 they were married. As life would have it, they were not blessed with children so they decided to foster a child or possibly adopt.

Through the Department of Social Services in their town where they live, in upstate New York, they were able to go through the steps to become foster parents. They took the courses and became certified to provide a temporary, safe home for children in crisis. Foster parents are part of the child’s support and care. They are partners with the child’s case/social workers, teachers and doctors. Becoming a foster parent is not just the opening of one’s home and providing food, clothing and shelter. Foster care is a dedicated advocacy of love and nurturing for children. The goal of the foster care system is to reunite the children with their biological families. If this is not possible which sometimes happens, the county will begin to look for an adoptive home. The courts in that case usually ask the current foster parents if they are interested in adopting the child.

Since, my son and my daughter-in-law have been certified to foster, they have had many children come and go. From infants to older children, they were there to open their hearts and home. As they began to foster more children, and return them to their biological parents or other responsible relatives, their hearts began to break. They decided that letting the children go was a very hard adjustment and didn’t want them to leave their lives. I, for one, give Paul and Stacey so much credit for doing this in the first place. It really takes a special person or people to have such room in their hearts. Through their commitment, they finally decided they wanted to adopt a foster child. So, one day this sweet little girl was sent to them for foster care. She was 2 1/2 years old when she came into their lives. She will be 5 in August and they are trying to adopt her through the court system. Paul and Stacey have a wonderful relationship with this little angel that was sent to them, and shower her with love, respect and understanding.  
Paul, my son
(2004)


As I watch my son Paul interact with this little angel, I wonder what makes a good father? Using respectful words and tone of voice, taking time out to play and listen when there is a problem, taking family vacations and camp outs. Being a good husband to his wife, this shows respect and understanding. Reading to the children and teaching children to work with their hands so they understand a job well done. Sticking to your principles and promises a father plays a role of a guide, supporter, motivator, protector and most of all shows love. I think that is what makes a good father and I see that in my son Paul, all of the above and much more.

There are so many children separated from their families and there is always a need for foster parents, just like Saint Joseph was a foster father to Jesus. There is always a need for loving families to provide temporary or permanent homes to children in need. Please consider contacting your local Catholic Charities or Division of Family Services about becoming a foster parent. Celebrate the roll of fathers in the lives of children and show that you don’t have to be a biological father to make a difference in the life of a child.
 
Paul & Stacey
(2006)

My son Paul, has a favorite recipe that I would love to share with you, Corn Fritters. My mother taught me how to prepare this recipe when my son was young. He always enjoyed this dish and every time he visits he asks me to make it for him. I know that on Father’s Day it is a weekend for BBQ‘s, so what a delicious, simple and quick dish to have on the side with hamburgers, hot dogs and steaks. So again, I hope that everyone enjoys their Father’s Day. To my son, Paul and my Dad, I love you and I am very lucky to have you both in my life.
Corn Fritters

Ingredients:

2 cups of corn (1 can of creamed corn)
1 teaspoon of salt
1 /8 teaspoon of pepper
1 egg
1 teaspoon melted unsalted butter
1 /2 cup of milk
2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
Vegetable oil
  
Directions:

Heat oil in pot or deep fryer to 365 ° (185° C). In bowl combine corn, salt/pepper, and a well beaten egg. Then add butter, milk, baking powder and flour. Mix together (will be lumpy)
Drop fritter batter by spoonfuls (tablespoon) into hot oil, and fry until golden. Drain on paper towels.
You can eat then just the way they are or put some pancake syrup on them or even powdered sugar. (optional)
Yields: about 12-15 corn fritters
 
Till next time………
 
 
Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved
 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Regional Cuisine's of Italy

In Italy, cooking is an art, it is love and who the Italian people are. The soul of the food is found in an ideal combination of many ingredients, such as sauces, herbs, olive oils, and cheeses which play an important part in preparing the food. Pasta, rice, beans, eggplant, bell peppers, zucchini, artichokes, escarole and tomatoes are all ingredients that are used within a typical Italian recipe. All fresh ingredients such as spinach, carrots, celery, potatoes and fruit are also used as an essential part to create a very tasty Italian meal. The Italian diet is very healthy even though Italians consume a great deal of wine. The Italian people have made their mark in many parts of the world. They are very proud of their heritage and origin. It is the heartland of art, knowledge and beauty. Italians have helped build railroads, bridges, streets and buildings. They worked in mines, farms and factories. They brought to this country their famous love for art and music, their laughter and of course their famous Pizzas. They have a very strong family life, and “La Famiglia” is everything to the Italians. They also are very dedicated in their belief of the Roman Catholic religion. They have fairs and festivals to honor the Saints that are part of their belief system. Italians are known for their generosity, friendliness, gentleness, welcoming, sociability and are very animated people. The Italian language is known as a romance language. There are many various dialects throughout the different regions of Italy. The Italian cuisine is characterized by strong regional influences which differ from region to region. Italy is a long and narrow peninsula surrounded by the sea. In addition, a long row of mountains runs from the north to south through this narrow country. These geographic features create a multitude of environments with different variations, including fertile valleys or plains, mountains, forests, cool foothills, and Mediterranean coastlines. There are many different climates throughout Italy which gives great varieties to the different types of foods that are grown.

The cuisine from Northern Italy is mainly based on meat (usually red) with vegetables, such as carrots and cauliflower. Rice (risotto) and polenta also dominate this region. A few examples of what foods come from that area include red radicchio and balsamic vinegar from Modena. Parmesan cheese and Prosciutto (type of bacon, but dried and cured) is a delightful influence to many dishes throughout Italy.

In Central Italy, grilled or roasted meat dishes are popular in this area. Tomatoes are plentiful in this region because of the warmer weather and the abundance of the sun. Chestnuts and saffron (a common herb) are also part of the central Italy’s diet. Rome which is the capital of Italy is a great producer of grapes and wine making. Central Italy has introduced the boiling of green vegetables, such as cabbage and escarole to just name a few. Artichokes are very popular and the stuffing of vegetables with rice or cheese is a delicious addition to that regions cuisine.

The South (except for the islands of Sicily and Sardinia) is based on fish, lamb and pork with a lighter side of vegetables, salads and tomatoes. Puglia (the heel of Italy’s boot) has the longest coastline of any Italian region. Seafood is very abundant and popular, such as mussels, clams, eel, sardines, anchovies and octopus along the Amalfi coast. Naples is the birthplace of Pizza. A staple of the southern households are pastas, lemons and breads, which include calzones, crusty breads and focaccia. Olive oil, cheeses and cream based sauces are delightfully added to any recipe made in that region. And then we cannot forget Limoncello, which is considered now as the national drink of Italy. Limoncello is the generic name for an Italian citrus-based lemon liqueur that is served chilled.

The Sicilian (Sicily) cuisine was influenced by the long domination of the Greeks, Arabs and the Spaniadards and it is refined with a variety of fine delicious pastries such as cannoli, tiramisu and cassatas. Eggplants, tomatoes and pastas are also favored in that region. Many types of fish including sardines, and calamari are popular because of the sea that surrounds this area. Cheeses such as Pecorino Siciliano and Ricotta are prominent in Sicilian cooking. Sicily surpasses all other regions in its abundance of sweets, fruits, and ice creams.

Sardinian (Sardinia) cuisine includes fish (shellfish, lobster, tuna) from the sea, fruits and vegetables, herbs from the mountains and a variety of meats, pork, lamb and chicken. Popular choices for meals in Sardinia include stews and roasts made with fennel. Potatoes which are made into gnocchi make for a very filling meal. Hearty grains, breads and pastas are accompanied by very simple preparation but extremely “tasty” dishes. Although generally not big drinkers, Sardinians like beer more than the mainland Italians. Local red wines are rich full bodied and give roasts and cheese a strong taste. Local whites are tangy and dry served chilled with fish and cheese dishes which are extremely refreshing.

In doing some research for my upcoming cookbook that I am in the process of writing, I found some information on my family history as to what regions in Italy my family originated from.

My grandparent’s families on my mother’s side originated from towns called Caserta and Catanzaro. Caserta is located in the Campania region of Italy. Caserta is a 45-minute train ride from Naples Central Station. Located in the south of the country, the southern cuisine is very familiar in this area. Catanzaro, which is located south in the Calabria region. (Tip of boot) This area in Italy has coastlines on two different seas, the Lonian and Tyrrhenian. This is a large tourism area due to its splendid cliffs, wide fine sandy beaches and a lively nightlife especially in the summer.

My grandparent’s families on my father’s side originated from towns called Benevento and Castelvetrano. Benevento is an historic town in the hills of the Campania region, which is near Naples and Caserta where my mothers’ family came from. (as they say it is a small world) Benevento is mainly an agricultural area with products that include wine, olives and tobacco. The main industry is that of processing food (sweets and pasta.) Castelvetrano is located in Sicily. Castelvetrano is a big agricultural center, olive oil, grapes and has a large wine industry.  
My grandmother Julia, Mother,
grandfather Louis
(1943) 

 
I remember a recipe that my Mother taught me called Italian Stuffed Peppers. (was her own recipe that she created) They are made by stuffing cubanelle peppers with a bread crumb filling toped with tomato sauce and baked. Cubanelles are a long slender banana-shaped sweet pepper, also known as Italian frying peppers. You can use this recipe as a side-dish along with any of the regional foods throughout Italy.


Italian Stuffed Peppers
Ingredients:
6 Cubanelle peppers
3 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
3 cups unflavored bread crumbs
4 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
1 cup of grated cheese (Pecorino Romano)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Directions:
1. Cut ½ inch from the top of a washed pepper and remove the seeds.
2. Mix the bread crumbs with parsley, minced garlic, grated cheese, salt and pepper.
Add a small amount of oil and mix with hands. When it feels like a sandy
consistency then you are ready to fill the peppers.
3. Fill the peppers with mixture (do not fill to tightly as it will become dry)
4. Put about a 1 ½ cups of tomato sauce on bottom of a baking dish so they will not stick.
5. Place peppers in the baking dish, cover with remaining 1 ½ cups of tomato sauce and sprinkle a small amount of olive oil on top of the peppers.
6. Bake the peppers at 350° for about 30 minutes.

Till next time....

Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved

Friday, June 3, 2011

Italian Cheeses



In Italy, food is culture. It is part of the history of the Country as well as the Italian lifestyle. Italy is a place with sophisticated taste. One of the most famous types of food in Italy is fresh Italian cheeses. There is nothing like an authentic savory Italian cheese, paired with some sweet juicy fruit and a glass of Chianti wine. If you try Italian cheeses just once, I promise that you will fall in love forever.


My Grandfather Julius
my Dad's father
Some of my readers will remember that in a past story, I talked about my Dad and when he owned the Italian Deli in Astoria, NY. When I was young I would go to the deli on weekends and help my father. Remember, I was young maybe about 12 or so. It was always fun to help stock some of the shelves and whatever I could do to help out at my young age. My grandfather was also part owner and I enjoyed going to the “store” to be with him as well. My grandfather Julius (my Dad’s father) was a very gentle and loving gentleman. He always tried to make you laugh and was a very handsome man. He sported a small thin pencil like mustache and his dark hair was slicked back. He was quiet but if you asked him a question about sports or the weather he was your man. My grandpa would always listen to his transistor radio with earplugs in his ears not to disturb anyone and was never without a newspaper. He worked behind the counter and never really used the cash register. My grandfather would add up all the items as he wrote them on a paper bag, (no plastic bags, only paper at that time) and would come up with the exact figure. My Dad was also a math wiz and would amaze me when he added the total amount of the customers order. Sometimes there might be about 15-20 items or more and they would just use their heads, no calculator just great math skills. I always envied them. Now, as you walked in the Italian Deli, you can’t help smell the aromas of all the Italian cheeses hanging from the ceiling. Big round ones, long ones and small ones were all hanging on hooks with ropes next to the salami’s and prosciutto's. It was a wonderful sight and as you looked all around some of the cheeses were opened in the window cases so you can see the inside and possibly ask for a sample of these mouth-watering tasty cheeses. So, as you can see I grew up with these cheeses and I am very proud to have been in a family that enjoys this culture and celebrates its tradition. The month of June is National Cheese month, and June 4, 2011 is National Cheese Day, so let’s travel together to Italy and explore the many types of truly authentic Italian Cheeses that are indispensable for adding delicious flavors to the many dishes of the Italian culture.
My Grandfather Julius and myself at
my grandfathers' 75th Birthday
(1973)
There are about 400 types of Italian cheeses, too many to mention so I would love to share with you 5 of the more popular Italian cheeses that are used today.

Mozzarella: is made from Buffalo milk in southern Italy (Campania region) and has a taste that is mild and delicate. It is now made world wide from cow’s milk. Its texture is soft and chewy. Mozzarella is the key ingredient in Italian pizza and lasagna, it can also be fried in a stick shape which is a popular appietizer in some restaurants.

Ricotta: is a traditional, creamy mild whey cheese made from cow’s or sheep’s milk. It is white and moist but not sticky. Ricotta should be firm, but not solid. It is primarily used in lasagna, can be used as a white pizza and is widely used in many other Italian specialty dishes. (I love it just plain on a slice of toast)

Mascarpone: is a soft, white, fresh, vegetarian, cream cheese made in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. In fact, it really is not considered a cheese at all, but rather the result of a culture being added to the cream skimmed off the milk, used in the production of Parmesan. It has a mild flavor and it is used as a substitute for whipped cream. It is spreadable and it is added to famous Italian desserts, sometimes accompanied by cognac. Mascarpone is the secret of a good Tiramisu recipe.

Parmesan: is named after the town of Parma in Northern Italy. Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano is one of the world’s most popular and widely enjoyed cheeses, also known as the King of undisputed cheeses. It is a traditional, unpasteurized, hard cheese made from cow’s skimmed milk. It is generally aged for 2-3 years. It has a sharp, salty, and full flavor. It comes in the shape of a drum with a sticky hard, yellow rind. The aroma is sweet and fruity, and it is ivory or pale yellow in color. Parmigiano Reggiano is primarily a grating cheese used as toppings for soups, pasta dishes, salads and also can be used for chicken or veal. This cheese is sold in chunks or wedges and then can be grated or shaved.

Pecorino: is the name given to all Italian cheeses made from sheep’s milk. Pecora in Italian means sheep and it is one of Italy’s oldest cheeses. Pecorino Romano is the name given to cheeses from the Rome area, Pecorino Sardo is from Sardinia, Pecorino Siciliano is from Sicily. Also known as Locatelli which is the brand name of Pecorino Romano. It is a traditional creamery, hard, drum cheese made from sheep’s milk. The smooth hard rind is pale straw to dark brown in color. The interior color is white to pale yellow. It takes 8 to 12 months to mature, during which time it develops its characteristic flavor which is salty, with a fruity tang that becomes steadily more robust. Pecorino is a very tasty product and it is used in recipes like baked ravioli, grated or shaved in sauces and on pasta dishes.
 
As I mentioned above, these cheeses can be paired with a wonderful Chianti wine. Chianti Classicos (Riserva) is best when accompanied by food, with a tomato base such as spaghetti and meatballs to chicken cacciatore or even osso bucco. This wine has become much more popular and available in wine stores and restaurants. Chianti has an aroma of cherries and plums and some even say violets. The best wines have a slight spiciness and even a touch of saltiness. If you haven’t tried Chianti for a while or never have had the pleasure of tasting a glass please go to your favorite wine store and savor this complex, Italian red wine. Find a place for Chianti at your table and you’ll be glad that you did!

So enjoy your cheeses with your bottle of Chianti wine and as we say in Italian,
“Gustare il formaggio e il vino” (enjoy your cheese and wine)

This weekend’s recipe celebrates a lovely refreshing dish made with Mozzarella Cheese, called:

Insalata Caprese (salad in the style of Capri)

Ingredients:1 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced ¼ inch thick
2-3 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick
Fresh basil leaves (about 10)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of drained capers (optional)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:In a circular design around the side of a serving plate, alternate fresh mozzarella slices on a large platter with sliced tomatoes, overlapping for effect. Tear fresh basil leaves and sprinkle liberally over the slices. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Sprinkle capers over the top if using them. Just before serving
Drizzle on top with quality extra-virgin olive oil.

Note: Insalata Caprese should never be allowed to sit in oil for any length of time and become soggy, and no vinegar of any kind goes on true Insalata Caprese!
Can be served with Italian bread and an array of other appetizers. Enjoy !!!

Till next time……..
 
 
 
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