Spring is on the corner. . . green peas are calling!

The warm days leading to Primavera (Spring) are here and this wonderful season comes with a basket full of fresh produce. While it is true that it is possible to find almost any produce all year long either frozen, grown in greenhouses or coming from somewhere on earth, there is not better satisfaction than using seasonal, local ingredients.

Which one amongst produce speak to you about Spring? To me is piselli (green peas)! How can I forget  when as a child, on my mom side, I was helping to shell the piselli freschi (fresh green peas)! And when a very tiny one would come out of the pod,  I would eat it just like that, raw. . . and I can still taste the sweetness of it.

I definitely associate certain dishes with Spring. One is the Agnello di Pasqua (Easter Lamb), baked with green peas and potatoes, and another one is definitely the pasta e piselli (pasta and green peas).

My other Spring favorites are carciofi (artichokes) and asparagi ( asparagus).

Two nights ago, the warm weather and a trip to the grocery store reminded me that it was no longer time for stew, polenta, and soup but it was time to switch – just like your wardrobe- to the Spring menu.

And guess what? A basket of fresh green peas was before my eyes, just waiting for me, and I immediately knew what was going to be on my dinner table : pasta e piselli, of course!

Before I give out my recipe, there is something I should confess. To my complete disappointment, once I started shelling the fresh green peas I soon realized that they were not very good; the peas inside the pods (except for a handful) didn’t have the bright green color that you would expect, they were pale and hard. After the initial discontent, I got over the fact that I couldn’t actually use the fresh spring green peas that I was longing for, but I had to rely on the bag of frozen organic sweet peas that was in my freezer. Except for my personal disappointment the final product was delicious anyway.

For the most part, this is the traditional recipe of pasta e piselli like my mom used to make. I have added, however, few unconventional elements: the snow peas for crunchiness and the fresh mint for aroma and freshness. I also puréed part of the green peas to achieve some creaminess.

I hope you will enjoy it. Oh, and did I mention that you can add this dish to your meatless Friday (or Monday) and to your Mediterranean diet’s recipe book?

Which is your favorite Spring recipe? Do you usually make an effort to use seasonal, local ingredients?

RICETTA PASTA E PISELLI

Ingredients for 4 persons

2-3/4 cups mezzi ditalini tubetti pasta (My preferred brand is De Cecco)

2 pounds of fresh green peas (this should yield to 2 or 2-1/2 cups of unshelled peas)

OR 1 bag of frozen sweet peas

1/2 onion finely sliced

1 slice of ham 1/4 inch thick and cut into short strips (I use grilled Tuscan cooked ham). You can also use pancetta cubed into 1/2 inch pieces.

4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

4 cups vegetables broth (warm)

10 snow peas

few leaves of fresh mint

Directions

If using frozen peas:

1)  To defrost the peas I place them in a colander and I set the colander under cold running water for few minutes. Transfer half of the peas to a food processor, start pulsing, add a little broth and run the food processor to purée the peas. Set aside.

2) In a heart ware pot heat the oil with the onion and the ham. Add some salt and cook until the ham is golden. Add the snow peas and the whole peas and stir to combine the flavors.

3) Add the peas purée and stir to combine. Add few leaves of mint (save 4 for presentation).

4) Cook few more minutes then add 3 cups of the broth. Add salt, pepper  and cooking on medium heat, bring to boil. add the pasta and cook for the required time (if more liquid is needed add the remaining broth). Make sure you stir frequently so the pasta doesn’t stick together and do not over cook the pasta, it must be al dente!

4) Before spooning into individual plate remove the mint’s leaves (once they are cooked the color is not appealing). Plate the pasta and right before serving decorate with a small leaf of fresh mint. If you desire you can drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.

Doesn’t just the color of this dish tell you that is Spring?

Wow, this dish is quite green. Italian twist on St. Patrick’s day anyone?

NOTE: if you are using fresh peas, during step 2 will shall add all the unshelled peas. You will skip step 3. In step 4 you will cook the peas for 15 minutes then spoon off 1/2 of the peas, purée them in the food processor and then transfer back into the pan. Cook 5 more minutes, bring to boil and then follow the directions for cooking the pasta.

Recipe: Calzoni e Panzerotti. . . Yum-Yum!!!

This past Monday, after 4 weeks of winter break, my youngest son, Mattia, went back to school. I already miss him!

To ensure that he would not forget his mom, I went on a three-day cooking marathon: Baked rigatoni with tomatoes/béchamel sauce on Friday, baked Calzoni and fried Panzerotti on Saturday and Tagliatelle alla Bolognese on Sunday!

Oh. . . he will remember me!

Even if you are not trying to impress your son, you can still treat yourself to this bontà (delicacy).

I will share with you the recipes of the calzoni and panzerotti.

The Calzone al forno (baked calzone) is a specialty of the Neapolitan cuisine, yet widespread through Central, and Southern Italy.

The dough is the same as the pizza and the filling is traditionally composed of mozzarella or provola, grated cheese, ricotta and salame.

In Naples, you can taste delightful calzoni in every Pizzeria, where they are baked in traditional forni a legna (wood fire ovens).

The Panzerotto, typical of the Italian region of Puglia, is simply a variation of the calzone. The same pizza dough is used; however, the traditional filling is a mix of tomatoes and mozzarella. The Panzerotto can be baked or fried.

Although, a specialty of Puglia, the panzerotti, just like the calzoni, are found everywhere in Italy, and particularly in the Southern regions.

The panzerotto is sometime also called calzone fritto (fried calzone).

Fried panzerotti were one of my favorite treats during my college’s years in Napoli. Friggitorie (local shop selling fried food) selling hot panzerotti, crocchè di papate (potatoes croquettes) and pastacresciuta (fried dough) are still in many corner of Naples; My favorite friggitoria was the Friggitoria Vomero, outside the stop of the Funicolare Centrale (funicular railway).

The recipes below are the typical version of calzoni and panzerotti however, you can create your own filling, based on your own likes. Get creative!

Ricetta Calzoni e Panzerotti

(NOTE: The pictures below show two batches of dough and fillings and double the amount of  calzoni and panzerotti)

Ingredients for the dough:

2 cups flour type 00 (you can substitute with all-purpose flour – see next line)

1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour (if you don’t have type 00 flour, increase the quantity of all-purpose flour to a total of 3 -1/2 cups)

1-1/2 cups of lukewarm filtered water (100 degree)

1 teaspoon yeast

¼ teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Dissolve the yeast in a 1/4 cup of water with ¼ teaspoon of sugar. Let the yeast foam (5-10 minutes).

In a separate small bowl dissolve the sea salt into a 1/4 cup of water and set aside.

Sift the two types of flour and transfer into the bowl of a standing mixer with the hook attachment.

Add the yeast and start mixing at low-speed.

Once the yeast has blended into the flour, increase the speed and slowly start adding the water.

Once you have added approximately 3/4 cups of water, you can add the salted water. If it appears that the dough is still not coming together, add the remaining ¼ cup of water.

Continue to mix until the dough forms a ball and the sides of the bowl are completely clean.

Transfer the dough on a slightly floured surface and knead for 1-2 minutes until smooth.

Form a ball and transfer to a bowl that you had previously brushed with a little bit of oil. Brush also the dough with oil to prevent it from drying, and cover with plastic film and with a kitchen towel. Keep the bowl in a dry place and let raise for 2 hours (during winter, sometime I keep the dough in the oven with the lights on, the warmth of the lights helps the raising process).

You can now start to assemble your filling.

I personally like to use both types of ripieno (filling) for both the calzoni and the panzerotti. I then bake, and fry some of each.

Ripieno di Ricotta 

Ingredients:

1 cup of good quality ricotta cheese (hand dipped is the best)

1 extra-large egg

4 oz. mozzarella cheese

3 oz. sopressata salami  or  Genova salami cut 1/4 inches thick

1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano

salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup tomato purée

2-3 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Peanut Oil (Peanut oil has a high smoke point and neutral taste which makes it perfect for frying foods. Extra virgin olive oil also has a high smoke point however, you will definitely taste its flavor).

Directions:

Chop the mozzarella and the salame into pieces (I use a food processor. Using the pulse option I easily obtain small pieces).

In a bowl combine the ricotta with the egg, the Parmigiano, the pecorino, salt and pepper.

Add the mozzarella and the salame and mix well to combine.

Ripieno di Pomodoro e Mozzarella 

Ingredients:

4 oz mozzarella cheese, chopped

2 cups of canned San Marzano tomatoes, chopped

¼ teaspoon oregano

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

extra virgin olive oil or peanut oil to fry

Directions:

Pour the chopped pomodori (tomatoes) into a strainer sitting over a bowl and let drain the water until ready to use.

When you are ready to stuff the calzone and panzerotti, transfer the tomatoes into a dry bowl, add the mozzarella, the oil, the salt and, the oregano and mix together.

How to assemble and cook the calzoni and panzerotti

Transfer the dough on a surface dusted with flour and knead for 1 minute. Roll out the dough, and with a cookie cutter or a glass, form 5 inches diameter disks; Placed the disks on a floured surface. Cover with plastic film and a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven at 450 degree.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with corn meal.

With your hand and the aid of a rolling-pin, roll out each disk until very thin (less than ¼ inch thick). Put some of the filling in the center of each disk.

Brush the edge of each disk with water and close each one by folding the dough over and pressing down along the edges with your finger first and then with the tines of a fork.

Place half of the calzoni and panzerotti in the baking sheet and brush the top with tomato puree.

Bake for 10-15 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes then enjoy!

Buonissimi!!!

The other batch of canzoni and panzerotti will be fried.

In a large pan, heat 2-3 inches of olive oil or peanut oil to 170 degree. If you don’t have a thermometer you can drop a piece of bread without crust into the oil, if the bread reach the bottom of the pan and quickly return to surface, the oil is ready.

When the oil is ready, fry the panzerotti and calzoni, few at the time, turning them on both sides until golden.

Remove them with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and serve hot.

Sitting on top of the fried calzoni and panzerotti is something that my mom used to make. It’s the pizzetta fritta (fried little piazza), simply a thicker disk of dough with a slight well in the center. First you fry the side with the well then, flip over, and while it is frying, fill the well with a spoonful of tomatoes purée and a sprinkle of Parmigiano cheese. I loved it then, and I love it now!

I hope you will enjoy these recipes. Let me know how creative you will be with your fillings!

December the 8th and the Christmas Tree

Read the word!

This month of December my blog will be dedicated to the Italian traditions of the Christmas Season.

There is a first time for everything. This year, for the first time and against the Italian tradition I have trimmed (addobbato) my Christmas tree (albero di Natale) prior to December the 8th. To be precise my tree was trimmed and lit on November the 30th, shame on me!

You may ask “what about December the 8th?”

December the 8th in the Catholic world, is the festivity of the Immaculate Conception. Already celebrated in the XI century, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed by Pope Pio IX on December 8, 1845.

Every city in Italy, big and small, celebrate this festivity in their own unique way. In Rome, in Piazza di Spagna, the Pope adorns the statue of Mary with a garland of flower. Because the statue sits on top of a column, the firemen (pompieri) on ladder, place the garland on the statue.

In the Year of the Catholic Church liturgy, this holiday marks the last of the Marian Feasts (Feste Mariane) dedicated to the Virgin Mary (Madonna).

This national holiday is also enjoyed as a long weekend. It is common for the Italians to take il ponte (the bridge), this means that if a holiday falls on a Thursday or a Tuesday, they bridge the holidays taking off from work and school the extra day in between. Aren’t we smart!

Traditionally, this holiday also marks the beginning of the Christmas Holiday Season (Feste Natalizie) and therefore the trimming of the Christmas tree.

After going through several changes over the years (all red, all silver, silver and red and so on) my Christmas tree has finally found its identity. For start it is a real tree, it has a modern flair, it has a collection of the ornaments that my boys present to me every year, it has an Italian touch and, it is lit with clear lights.

Babbo Natale speeding on his Vespa

To satisfy my longing for something different, few years ago I also bought a small silver tinsel tree, I love it…it’s an eye sore to my boys! Well, they were lucky I didn’t bring home the other tree I came around, a green bottle brush tree. I am not talking about the botanical specie but true brushes to clean bottles. Let me be clear, I do like it. May be I will surprise them next year!

Tinsel Tree

One thing for sure, Christmas tree in Italy don’t have a skirt!

Can you read what the letters spell on my Christmas tree?

Do you have a real or artificial tree? How do you decorate your tree? Clear lights or multicolor? Do you have a theme?

I would love to know!

Let’s get started!

Here I am, I decided to start a blog as a way to share my Italian heritage and my knowledge and experience about everything that is Italian.
This will be the place where I will share the memories of my life in Italy, my passion for Italian cuisine, my  favorite Italian destinations, my research on Italian culture and traditions and, my beautiful Italian language.
Wow, I have so much to share…I am Italian after all!

Paestum...A special place of my childhood