Polenta is typical from Central and Northern Italy. It is obtained by cooking cornmeal in salted water. Each region in Italy has its own typical version of polenta. It can be made “hard” to be served in slices, or soft and creamy. The more finely ground the cornmeal is, and the more water, the softer and creamier your polenta will be.

Polenta can be made using different types of flour. The most common are

  • yellow (made with yellow cornmeal)
  • white (made with white cornmeal)
  • saracena (made with a mix of buckwheat flour and white cornmeal)
  • taragna (made with a mix of buckwheat flour and yellow cornmeal)

This is the recipe to make the “hard” type of polenta using yellow cornmeal. The cornmeal must be coarsely ground, and the flour:water ratio is 1:4.

Ingredients (for two people)

  • 200 g of coarse yellow cornmeal
  • 800 ml of water
  • 1 and 1/2 tsp of salt (a bit more than 1/2 Tbsp)

To make polenta it is important to use a good pot that evenly distributes heat.

(1) Bring the water to a boil and add the salt. (2) Lower the heat to low and very slowly, to avoid the formation of clumps,  add the cornmeal mixing with a whisk. (3) Cook stirring every 3 or 4 minutes with a wooden spatula, mixing the bottom layer with the top layer.  After the first 45 minutes the polenta begins to detach from the sides of the pot, and is practically cooked. But, because the more the polenta cooks the better it will be, continue to  cook and mix for other 20 minutes.

When ready put the polenta on a wooden board. Do this turning the pot upside-down with a quick movement so that the polenta will keep a “cake-like” shape.

Serve immediately, very warm, with your choice of sauce. Here is some example:

Coniglio con le olive alla ligure

Veal spezzatino with polenta

Coniglio con le Olive alla Ligure (Rabbit with Olives)

I particularly like to prepare rabbit. I guess it is because when I was a child my mom would often cook rabbit and it was always delicious. This is a recipe from the region of Liguria. Served with warm polenta, it is a perfect dish for winter.


  • one rabbit (ask the butcher to cut it in 8 pieces), with its liver
  • 1 clove of garlic, cleaned and halved
  • 3 small onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 stock of celery, finely chopped
  • rosemary, leaves finely chopped (discard the stem)
  • thyme leaves (discard the stem)
  • 4 leaves of sage
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt (I used Trapani coarse salt), black pepper
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 and 1/4 cups of red wine
  • 3/4
  •  cup of water
  • pitted Niçoise olives

In a large pot heat the oil, add the garlic and let it become golden. Add the rabbit and let it brown on all sides. Add the herbs, the onions, and the celery. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add the wine and the water. Take the rabbit’s liver, cut it in very small pieces and mush it with a fork, then add it to the rabbit. The liver will give a nice flavor to the sauce!

Lower the heat, cover with a lid, and cook for 30 minutes.

Take the lid off, so that the sauce will thicken a bit,  and cook other 30 minutes turning around the pieces of rabbit with a wooden spoon. Just 5 minutes before the rabbit is ready add the olives.

Polenta is a perfect side dish for this rabbit.

Branzino al Cartoccio

I love to prepare branzino al cartoccio.  The delicate meat of this fish retains all the moisture, and all the flavors blend nicely in the juices released by the fish.  Also, all the aromas stay inside the cartoccio while the fish is cooking, which is a good thing if you cook in a small kitchen!

Ingredients (for two)

  • one whole branzino (about 1 lb), cleaned
  • 1/2 zucchini, cut in very thin sticks
  • a few sweet grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 clove of garlic, cleaned and halved
  • a few sprigs of thyme,  rosemary, and Italian parsley
  • a slice of lemon
  • salt, black pepper, and extra virgin olive oil for seasoning
  • aluminum foil, or parchment paper, for wrapping

Place the fish with all the vegetables, herbs, and seasoning on the aluminum foil (or parchment paper). Wrap all the ingredients in the the foil, and close  so that it is well sealed to trap in steam during baking. Place upon a baking sheet.

Place in the oven, preheated at 375 F, to bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the cartoccio from the oven and open carefully letting out the hot steam.

Each oven is different so the cooking time may vary a bit, also the baking time depends on the size of the fish. After 20 minutes baking, open the cartoccio and check if the fish is ready, if it needs more baking close the cartoccio and put back in the oven.
To check if the fish is ready: (1)  the eye should be a white ball, (2) pulling the side fin, it should come out easily, (3) making a small incision along the spine of the fish, the meat should come away from the bone relatively easy.

When the branzino is ready serve it right away: clean it (debone it and discard all the bones,  the head, and the tail), discard the herbs and the garlic, and serve with the tomatoes, the zucchini and the cooking juices.

A nice mixed salad, is a good complement to this dish.


Fagottini di Crêpes con Spinaci, Funghi, e Mozzarella

English subtitle: Crêpe Envelops with Spinach, Mushrooms, and Mozzarella.

I like the combination of spinach, mushrooms, and mozzarella so I decided to combine them in the filling for these Crêpes.

Before serving I warmed up the Crêpes envelopes in the oven so that the mozzarella would melt. We had them with some salad. The Crêpes should be made at least 1 hour in advance, because the batter has to rest before cooking.

For the Crêpes (quantities are for about 9 Crêpes of 22cm / 9″ in diameter)

  • 100 g of flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 15 g melted butter
  • a pinch of salt

In a bowl put the flour and the two eggs. Add a couple of spoons of milk and begin mixing with a wooden spoon or a fork. Keep adding milk and stirring to obtain a smooth mixture. Add the melted butter, season with just a bit of salt and use a whisk to mix well. Let the mixture rest for at least one hour in the fridge. Do not skip the resting step, it is important!
To cook the Crêpes use a heavy non-stick pan, mine is 22cm in diameter. For this pan size I used one large spoon of batter, equivalent to 3 Tbsp, for each Crêpe. Warm up the pan on medium heat, swipe a thin layer of butter over the whole pan (use a paper towel to eliminate excess butter and help spread it uniformly). Pour some batter on the pan and spread it around to form a very thin uniform layer, quickly tilting and turning the pan. It helps to start with the pan tilted at a 45 degrees angle, and pouring from the top then start tilting around right away. Cook for about 1 minute or until the Crêpe easily comes off of the pan and is golden on the bottom. Flip the Crêpe and cook about another minute on the other side.

It is not necessary to add butter on the pan after every Crêpes, but you need to use a good non stick pan.

For the filling

  • 280 g  (10 oz) of fresh spinach (one bag)
  • 300 g  (10 oz) of champignon mushrooms
  • 200 g  (7 oz ) of fresh mozzarella
  • garlic
  • thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • white wine

Spinach. Wash and steam cook the spinach. I just put them in a wok, add 1/4 cup of water, salt, close the lid and let cook for 4 minutes. When ready, drain all the water, and sauté with  butter to flavor and eliminate some of the excess moisture (I usedvery little butter) .

Mushrooms. Clean, and thinly slice the mushrooms.  In a pan, heat some olive oil, add a clove of garlic, and let it become a bit golden. Add the mushrooms and sauté. Add salt, pepper, thyme leaves,  and let evaporate most of the water released by the mushrooms. Add some white wine ad let it evaporate. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft.

To fill the Crêpes. Put just a bit of spinach in the center, one or two thin slices of fresh mozzarella (thin otherwise they will not melt well) and one spoon of mushroom. If the mozzarella in unsalted, you may want to add some salt. Fold the Crêpe to wrap the filling.

Before serving: warm the oven to 375 F ,  arrange the Crêpe envelopes in a baking dish, and put them in the oven for about 5 minutes to melt the mozzarella.


Risotto “svuota-frigo”

Risotto svuota-frigo, or if you like “all-I-have-left-in-the-fridge risotto”. This is not a “proper” recipe for risotto, but my way to use up those little bits left in the fridge from previous recipes. It is a way to prepare a satisfying dish for dinner with whatever I have, when I had not planned something in advance.

Here is the version I prepared this evening.

Ingredients (for two large portions)

  • 1/2 leek, finely sliced
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 zucchini, finely sliced
  • 1 Roma tomato, finely chopped
  • thyme
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 cup of rice (carnaroli)
  • extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper
  • generous amount of parmigiano, grated

In a deep pot put some extra-virgin olive oil, the leek, and the shallot and let soften a bit on medium  heat.  Then add the zucchini,  the tomato and the thyme. Season with salt and let cook a couple of minutes. Add the wine and let it evaporate. Last add the rice and let it warm up stirring for a few seconds.

If, like me tonight, you are using a pressure cooker, add the water, season with salt and close the lid. Cook for 6 minutes from the time it begins to whistle. I hope there are no risotto-purists reading this post, otherwise please forgive me! It is a svuota-frigo recipe after all! (If you want to do it the proper way, add, a bit at a time, some vegetable broth that you have made in advance. The broth should be kept  warm, in a separate pot, on a low heat. Keep stirring the risotto and adding the vegetable broth until the rice is cooked, about 20 minutes).

When the risotto is ready, add some ground pepper and the parmigiano. Stir well and serve it right away.

Sweet Potato and Parsnip Soup

Yesterday, inspired by a restaurant menu, I wanted to prepare a soup with sweet potatoes. I took my “The Soup Bible” (a book by Debra Mayhew), and found this recipe which I liked. The sweetness of the two root vegetables comes  through strongly in this delicious recipe.  I decided to balance the sweetness adding a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Ingredients (for 5 bowls of soup)

  • 1 Tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large leek, sliced
  • 2 celery stocks, chopped
  • 4 cups diced sweet potatoes (2 potatoes)
  • 1 1/2 cups diced parsnips
  • 3 1/4 cups of vegetable stock (I used water)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the garnish

  • finely chopped Italian parsley
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice (if you want to balance the sweetness of the root vegetables)

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add all the leek, the celery, the sweet potatoes, the parsnips, and cook for 5 minutes stirring to prevent browning.

Add the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.

Add salt and black pepper to taste and remove from heat.

Purée the soup with an immersion blender. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve garnishing the individual bowls with the chopped parsley. Bring some lemon wedges to the table for those who want to add some lemon juice.

Simply sautéed Maine shrimp

I went to buy a few things  for dinner today and I found these beautiful Maine shrimp that I could not resist. They are in season now and they looked so fresh.

 In Italy we are used to buying  “whole” shrimp with the heads on. In fresh shrimp, the head is where you find most of the flavor, so I had to get these! It is hard to find whole shrimp here in the US.

Reading around I learned that Maine shrimp are prized for their sweet, delicate meat that requires little, if any, cooking time.  So I decided to prepare them in a very simple way.

Ingredients for two

  • 1/2 lb of Maine shrimp
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt, I recommend coarse Trapani sea salt
  • 1 Tsp white wine
  • Italian parsley
  • lemon

Warm up some olive oil in a pan and add a clove of garlic cleaned and halved. When the garlic is lightly golden add the shrimp. Season with salt (I used a pinch of  coarse Trapani sea salt, a present of my sister in law, thank you Susan!) and add just one or two Tsp of white wine. Cook very briefly for 2 minutes, the shrimp have to become pink.

Before serving sprinkle some finely chopped parsley, and squeeze some lemon juice on it. Eat right away.

An excellent wine pairing would be a Muscadet “sur lie” from Loire Valley (2004 Brégeon Muscadet “Gorges” — 64 months on the lees ).

Lemon ricotta semifreddo with warm berries

These semifreddi are a favorite in our house and they are incredibly easy to prepare .

The nice thing about these little desserts is that you can keep them in the freezer. When you have a guest or simply feel like having something sweet: just take them out of the freezer,  let them get soft, and warm up the berries for the topping!


  • 500 gr of ricotta
  • 120 gr of heavy cream
  • 100 gr of confectioners sugar
  • 8 gr of gelatin sheets
  • 1/4 tsp of natural lemon flavor
  • mixed berries for topping, frozen or fresh

Soak sheets of gelatin in cold water for 5 to 10 minutes. Once soft, warm up the heavy cream, take the gelatin from the water (removing excess water) and melt it in the warm cream stirring until dissolved.

In a bowl, mix well ricotta and sugar and add the heavy cream-gelatin mix. Stir well to obtain a smooth cream. Add the lemon flavor.

Take a silicone muffin pan, fill the molds with the ricotta-based cream, and even up with a spatula. Put in the freezer.

About 30 min before serving, take the semifreddi out of the molds and let them thaw directly on the plates where you want to serve them (once soft, it will be too hard to move them around).  It will be easier to take them out of the mold if you briefly immerse the bottom of the mold in warm water.

Warm some mixed berries in a small pot (I used frozen berries), pour over the semifreddi and enjoy them!

Radicchio Trevigiano Grigliato

(Jump to the recipe )

This is a very simple yet delicious recipe and  right now it is peak season for radicchio, mid-winter. I love grilled radicchio which in my opinion is the best part of a grilled vegetable platter. Here I prepared it with some melted cheese.

Radicchio has an high antioxidant content rivaling that of blueberries and spinach. Rich in vitamin A, vitamin C and calcium, it provides a source of fiber.

As the name suggests, radicchio trevigiano is a specialty from Treviso. In North America it  is simply called Treviso. There are two types of radicchio trevigiano: precoce and tardivo (early and late). The radicchio tardivo is more of a delicacy but harder to grow therefore is  more expensive and difficult to find outside of Italy.  The  precoce is more easy to find, it has stronger bitter accents than the tardivo but is still delicious and it pairs very well with melted Asiago fresco cheese.

Here is the recipe, it takes longer to write it than to prepare it!

Ingredients: one large (or two small)  radicchio trevigiano precoce , extra-virgin olive oil, salt, about 100 gr of a young cow-milk cheese with a full flavor and  good for melting (I used Asiago fresco), freshly grated pepper.

Preheat the oven to 360°F on roasting (we want heat from both top and bottom).

Slice the radicchio first in half along its length, and then in smaller slices. Wash and dry eliminating the excess water. Cut and discard the hard core that holds together the leaves at the base.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper (I wet the baking sheet first so the parchment paper will stick to it and will not move around) Transfer the radicchio on the baking sheet and dress generously with extra-virgin olive oil and salt (I used some wonderful thin salt flakes that my sister in law gave me, Anglesey Sea Salt from Wales, which add a crunchy consistency). Mix well to evenly distribute dressing. Do not spread the leaves too much otherwise they dry too much while cooking.

Put in the center of the oven, and cook for about 20 minutes. The thick white part of the leaves should become tender and the thin part lightly crispy.

While the radicchio is in the oven prepare some thin slices of the cheese. When the radicchio is almost done arrange the cheese slices on it and leave in the oven for one more minute or until the cheese just melts. Take out of the oven, grate some pepper on it and enjoy right away! Careful not to burn your tongue though! Excellent with some prosciutto di Parma and fresh bread.

For a low cholesterol version of this recipe, do not add the cheese.

Mini erbazzoni. Un aperitivo to begin with a toast!

Welcome to the NY al dente kitchen! Let’s start with an aperitivo to celebrate the opening of this new blog with a toast! Grab a glass of wine and have a bite of these mini erbazzoni.

The erbazzone is a traditional Italian savory pie originally from Reggio Emilia with a filling basically made of swiss chard and/or spinach with plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Made in a small size, they are excellent as an aperitivo, hors d’oeuvre, or even for a lunch box. It is a very versatile recipe, many filling variations and additions are possible, and by adding cheese, eggs, and/or meat such as pancetta, sausage, mortadella, or ham, it can easily become a nutrient dish for lunch or dinner.
The traditional crust is a sort of pâte brisée (or shortcrust pastry) made with lard. I opted for an extra-virgin olive oil version of the crust and a simple filling with swiss chard and ricotta.
Here is the recipe for about 10 or 12 mini erbazzoni:

Ingredients for the crust: 250 gr of all purpose flour, 1/2 tsp of baking powder, 30 gr of extra-virgin olive oil, 1/2 cup of cold sparkling water, 1/2 tsp of salt.

Ingredients for the filling: 1 bunch of swiss chard, 1 small  shallot, 1 clove of garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, 120 gr of ricotta, 60 gr of grated parmigiano, nutmeg, black pepper.

Prepare the dough for the crust. Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, adding the water a bit at a time, until you  to obtain a smooth dough. Use a electric mixer if you want. Finish by kneading the dough by hand on a flat surface. Try working as quickly as possible to prevent the dough becoming warm. Wrap the dough in clear plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 15 minutes, up to 30 minutes. It is important to let the dough chill and rest, it will make it less difficult to roll it.

Prepare the swiss chard for the filling. Chop the leaves  in large pieces and put them in a pot with water. When water boils add salt and cook until tender. Drain and press to get rid of  the excess water. Next you want to saute the vegetables with finely chopped shallot, garlic, and extra-virgin olive oil. Begin by softening the shallots in olive oil on a medium flames, together with a clove of garlic. I use a wok but a frying pan is also good. Add salt to taste and saute for a few minutes. Discard the garlic. Distribute on a cutting board and chop finely. Let it cool a bit.

Prepare the filling. In a bowl mix the chopped vegetable, the grated parmigiano, the ricotta, some freshly grated nutmeg and black pepper.

Make the pies. Start preheating the oven at 375° F. Roll the dough very thin about 3 or 4 mm (1/8 in). (If you wish use a pasta machine). Distribute the filling on the rolled dough. To help sealing, wet the dough around the filling with a bit of water. Then cover with a top layer of rolled dough and seal all around the filling pressing with your fingers paying attention to let out all the excess air. Cut the mini erbazzoni in the shape you like using a dough cutter or a wheel cutter. With a tooth pick make holes on the top of the mini pies.

Bake. Cover a baking sheet with baking parchment paper, put the mini erbazzoni on it , brush them with some milk, and put them in  the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden.

Enjoy them. Let them cool down before eating them they are good either warm or room temperature. Still very good also the day after.