Un brindisi all’Anno Nuovo!

Felice Anno Nuovo!  Happy New Year!

photo from www.divertimentitalia.com

New Year’s Eve is ripe with tradition in Italy.  It’s all about biding good riddance to the bad luck and regrets of the old year, and welcoming good fortune and well-being in the new one.

In some parts of Italy, people take this quite seriously – tossing their old ceramic plates and dishes right off of their apartment balconies to crash and break on the street below.  It’s “getting rid of the old” in the most literal sense.  Fortunately for the safety of those strolling below, this tradition is practiced less and less frequently.

Shooting fireworks, or sometimes guns, from the rooftops is common in some cities, and one particularly playful tradition is to wear red underwear on New Year’s Eve.  This time of year, the window displays of Italian lingerie shops are filled with red intimi for the occasion.

Perhaps the most common tradition on New Year’s Eve is to eat a meal of lenticchie e cotechino, or lentils and sausage, at midnight.  The lentils represent coins, an indication of the wealth to come, while the cotechino, a particularly rich and uniquely prepared fresh sausage, symbolizes abundance.

Of course, the Anno Nuovo is toasted with good drink  and good fellowship.

For your New Year’s celebration, or for any celebration large or small throughout the year, we’ve presented three classic Italian cocktails: the Bellini, the Negroni and the Americano.

The Bellini
The Bellini was invented in the 1930s at Harry’s Bar in Venice by barman and owner Giuseppe Cipriani.  It wasn’t until 1948, though, that Cipriani named the drink after the 15th century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini.  Before and after World War II, European cities were home to high profile American artists and writers, and Venice was no exception.  Orson Welles, Truman Capote and  Peggy Guggenheim frequented Harry’s Bar, but it was Ernest Hemingway who made it famous.  Harry’s Bar still exists in Venice, and there is a New York location, as well.

An authentic Bellini is made with 2 parts Prosecco and 1 part white peach puree.  The website for Harry’s Bar states that the peach should be grated or crushed but not blended, that a little sugar can be added if the drink is too tart, and that all ingredients should be as cold as possible when mixing.

Because white peaches are not in season all year long, yellow peaches can be used, or even peach puree if needed.  A raspberry or two can be added to give it its characteristic pink hue.  Serve it in a flute, with a peach or raspberry garnish.

The Negroni
The Negroni is named after Count Camillo Negroni of Florence, who one day decided to ask his bartender at Caffè Casoni to add gin rather than soda to his Campari and Vermouth cocktail.  This gorgeous deep red drink is made with 1 part Campari, 1 part sweet vermouth (Martini Rosso) and 1 part gin.  Pour over ice in an old-fashioned tumbler, and garnish with an orange slice and a curl of lemon peel.

The Americano
The Americano used to be referred to as the Milano-Torino, because its first principal ingredient, Campari, comes from Milan, and its second principal ingredient, sweet vermouth, comes from Turin.  An Americano is made with Campari, sweet vermouth and soda in equal parts.  It is poured over ice in an old-fashioned glass, and garnished with an orange slice.

Un saluto a tutti voi per un Felice Anno Nuovo!

Due Spaghetti’s Christmas Eve Dinner Menu, and Holiday Wine Guide

It’s snowing today, just in time for Christmas.

Christmas is white in our corner of the Earth, so the rare lack of snow leading up to the holidays has been welcomed, but is also just slightly disconcerting.  Winter simply never skips Minnesota, though; sooner or later it will come.  So, as far as we are concerned it might as well snow now, on the eve of Christmas Eve, before we are all out on the roads traveling to the homes of family and friends.  A layer of pretty white snow will brighten the landscape and bring holiday cheer.

Plus, we’ve finished wrapping our gifts, bought the groceries for Christmas Eve dinner, and selected enough wine to carry us through the New Year.  Today we will start a fire, read a book or watch a movie and wait for Christmas to come.

Due Spaghetti’s Christmas Eve Dinner Menu
We smiled today as we read the many articles about the classic Italian-American tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fish on Christmas Eve.  This tradition, sacred to many Italian Americans, is unheard of in Italy.  Seafood, however, is commonly the focus of the Christmas Eve meal in Italy, in accordance with the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays and on certain holy days.

We are preparing the following seafood-based Christmas Eve meal for our family:

Insalata di polpo
Octopus Salad
Crostini con salmone e arugula
Smoked Salmon and Arugula Crostini
(Prosecco Rustico, Nino Franco)

Primo Piatto
Spaghetti del pescatore
Spaghetti with Seafood
(Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, 2010 Luchetti)

Secondo Piatto
Pesce al cartoccio
Red Snapper, baked ‘al cartoccio’
(Fiano di  Avellino, 2008 Jovis)

Insalata di arance
Orange and Fennel Salad
Patate al forno

Oven Roasted Rosemary and Garlic Potatoes

Parfait di panettone e zabaglione
Panettone and Zabaglione Parfait
(Moscato, Bartenura 2010)

Due Spaghetti’s Holiday Wine Guide
If you are wondering about wines to pair with your own Christmas Eve and Christmas meal, if you’d like to gift a nice bottle or two, or if you simply want to have some good wine on hand over the holidays, here are a few of Due Spaghetti’s favorites:

Sparkling Wines

Pass on the Champagne and toast to happiness and good health with an Italian Prosecco.  Produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy, Prosecco is light, crisp, aromatic and dry – a more uplifting sparkling wine than its French cousin.  One favorite is Col Vetoraz Prosecco.  

Another Italian sparkling wine we enjoy is Moscato d’Asti. Sweet and light, it is a traditional Christmas dessert wine.

Finally, for a sparkling sweet red also light with overtures of strawberry, try a Brachetto or Brachetto d’Acqui.


Sure, there are plenty of good bottles of Italian Pinot Grigio.  But there are even more exciting whites, many from from central and southern Italy.  A few of our favorites are:

Verdicchio – A wine from the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast; its name is derived from the wine’s slightly green hue.

Falanghina – Produced from grapes that grow in the hills surrounding Mount Vesuvius, this wine was unheard of until recently, but is quickly becoming a hit.

Fiano di Avellino – This is another favorite wine that originates, like Falanghina, from the Campania region of southern Italy.  The Fiano grape also grows in volcanic soils, and Fiano di Avellino has a very slight sparkling quality.

Insolia – This Sicilian white is also lightly sparkling, and has a fresh citrus scent.

Arneis – This white is a stand-out from the Piedmont region, where reds rule.  It’s a full-bodied but refreshing and unique Italian white wine.


Distinguished Italian Reds recognized for their elegance and quality are Amarone, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino.  They will make a powerful impression on any table or as any gift.

Super Tuscans are also guaranteed to impress.  Super Tuscans are wines that are created when producers intentionally deviate from the standard blending requirements for DOC. and DOCG wines.  Sassicaia, Tignanello, Solaia and Ornellaia are excellent Super Tuscan wines.

Other lesser known Italian reds that we like are:

AglianicoAglianico is the name of a black grape from the south of Italy that produces a deeply hued and intensely flavored red wine.  Two to look for are Aglianico del Vulture and Taurasi. These wines have yet to attract widespread attention, but it is only a matter of time.

Primitivo – The Primitivo is a parent grape to Zinfandel, and comparisons between Primitivo and Zinfandel abound.  This is an economical, pleasant and out-of-the-ordinary Italian red.

Lagrein – Made from grapes grown at the foot of the Swiss Alps, this powerful red from Italy’s Alto Adige region is making a come back.

Here’s to cold nights, warm friends, and good drink to give them!

The Due Spaghetti Holiday Gift-Giving Guide for Italian Cooks

Ah, there is nothing like the holiday season to bring joy, cheer and elevated cortisol levels due to the tension and stress of battling traffic and crowds while trying to complete your Christmas shopping.

As bad as it is here in the States, nothing compared to trying to move around Rome during the days before Christmas.  During le feste, as the holidays are called in Italian, people and automobiles fill the roads and sidewalks of the Eternal City, and even making your way through an intersection takes skill and determination.

We used to manage it, maneuvering our little Nissan Micra through the crowds, getting in and out of parking spots so small that only inches separated you from the cars in front and behind you.  Typically, we’d no more finish all of our shopping and Stefano’s father would slip us a 100 mila lire bill and ask us to go and pick out something nice for Stefano’s mom on his behalf!

To help you finish your holiday shopping without needing to venture outdoors at all, we’ve assembled the Due Spaghetti Gift-Giving Guide for Italian Cooks. All of the items have met our standard for authenticity and usefulness, and most can be purchased online at our Due Spaghetti aStore.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and have a look. 

Must Have Italian Cookbooks

The Silver Spoon
Called Il Cucchiaio D’Argento in Italian, The Silver Spoon is the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of recipes from all regions of Italy.

Often referred to as the “bible” of Italian cooking, It is a must-have for all Italian kitchens.

First published in 1950, it has been updated several times.  Be sure to buy the new edition, with a red cover.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Author Marcella Hazan is to Italian cooking what Julia Child is to French cooking.  She provides not just recipes, but also detailed information about the ingredients, techniques and traditions of Italian cooking.

And, Hazan is attentive to ensuring that dishes can be prepared in an American kitchen with locally available ingredients.

Made in Italy: Food and Stories
Michellen-starred chef Giogio Locatelli, of London’s Locanda Locatelli, writes about the food of his native Italy with passion and intelligence.

The sophisticated but re-creatable recipes are interspersed with Locatelli’s endearing tales of local traditions and childhood memories, making this a pleasant read as well as an invaluable culinary resource.

Useful Kitchen Tools

Microplane Graters

Inspired by woodworking tools, these amazinggraters outperform all others.  Grating hard cheeses like Parmigiano and zesting lemons becomes simple.  Our favorites are the Classic Zester/Grater and the Coarse grater with attachment.

Imperia Pasta Maker
Stefano’s mom rolls out her homemade pasta and cuts it by hand, just like his Nonna did.  Most of us would never get around to making pasta at home if we held to this standard, though.  With the Imperia homemade pasta maker, lasagne, fettuccine and tagliatelle turn out perfectly, and with an attachment or two you can even make ravioli.

Bialetti Stovetop Espresso Maker

Skip the expensive espresso makers, and join the millions of Italians who use the stovetop Bialetti Moka Express to make espresso at home.  They come in many different sizes, but at Due Spaghetti we recommend the 3-serving version.  We begin each day with espresso from ours.

Tasty Edible Gifts

Pocket Coffee
Despite its English name, this delightful confection surprisingly has not taken hold stateside.  A dark chocolate candy filled with rich liquid espresso makes for a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.  A great stocking stuffer for chocolate and coffee lovers!

This classic Italian Christmas cake originated in Milan, but is now a hallmark of the holidays across all of Italy.  Candied lemon, citrus and orange zest and raisins give the light, airy cake a fragrant citrus quality.  At our house, we enjoy it for breakfast as well as for dessert.  Some Italian delis in the U.S. have begun selling artisan panettoni, but if you cannot find one, they can be ordered online from Italian producers such as Bauli.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Called Aceto Balsamico in Italian, good-quality balsamic vinegar is a staple in Italian kitchens.  It’s not worth skimping on quality – look for balsamic vinegar from Modena, aged at least 12 years, but better yet 25.  It’s delicious with olive oil over salad, or drizzled on fresh strawberries in summertime.

Or…An Iconic Italian Car

The Fiat 500
Originally produced as a post-WWII economy car, the Fiat 500 became enormously popular in Italy and throughout Europe, and is now an icon of Italian 20th century design and culture.  Fiat brought the 500 back in 2007, exactly 50 years after the debut of the original version, and it launched in the U.S. market in 2010.  The sporty Abarth model, already on European roads, will be available to order here in the U.S. in February 2012.  Due Spaghetti officially test drove the new 500c convertible recently.  Expect a post on this sometime soon, but in the meanwhile let it suffice to say that this little car is a gem of Italian style design and a joy to drive.


It’s December, and weekends are dedicated to holiday baking.  We keep things simple – just the 3 or 4 special Italian holiday treats from Stefano’s childhood that now have become part of our family traditions.  There are precisely the right number of weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas to get everything in: salame di cioccolatopanpepato, mostaccioli, and tozzetti.  This year, before Luigi returns to Italy for good, we may try to add panettone to our repertoire.


This weekend it’s tozzetti, which are sometimes called cantucci in Italy, and are incorrectly called biscotti here in the States.  As recipients of the Cannolo Award for Authentic Italian Food, we have the responsibility to educate our audience and correct misconceptions, so let’s take a moment to talk about biscotti.

This discussion is very similar to a previous post about bruschette and crostini.  The word biscotto (singular) can be broken into two parts: bis, the Latin suffix indicating two; and cotto, which means cooked.  Biscotto, therefore, means “twice cooked.”  This is actually an accurate description of tozzetti, which we are writing about today, because they are baked twice.  However, in Italian biscotto is a broad term, corresponding to “cookie” in American English or “biscuit” in British English.  There are lots of different types of biscotti (plural), just like there are many types of cookies.

The biscotti sold in coffee shops in America would not be called biscotti in Italy.  They’d be called tozzetti or cantucci.  However, in Italy they are smaller and more delicately flavored.  Like so many things in America, our biscotti have become over-sized and over-elaborated.  There is no-such thing as “chocolate-dipped biscotti” or “caramel macchiato biscotti” in Italy; those are Starbucks inventions.  And, that “o” in the second syllable is pronounced “oh” not “ah,” like this.The difference between tozzetti and cantucci is a bit more elusive, and like so many Italian recipes it is mostly a regional difference.  Cantucci, also called cantuccini or biscotti del Prato, are typical of Tuscany.  They are usually made with almonds, and are often paired with Vin Santo, an amber-colored Tuscan dessert wine.  Tozzetti are more common to the Umbria and Lazio regions of central Italy.  They are sometimes made with almonds, but more commonly contain hazelnuts, pine nuts or bits of chocolate.


Stefano’s mom, Maria, makes tozzetti with hazelnuts in very traditional fashion.  Over the years, we’ve experimented with different flavors and ingredients, but we eventually returned to a recipe much like Maria’s, typical of the Castelli Romani, the hilltowns outside of Rome.  We call them tozzetti. Another may call them differently. Regardless of what they are called, they are delicious.

for 4-5 dozen tozzetti

3 eggs
225 grams (1 cup) sugar
500 grams (4 cups) flour
50 grams (3 & 1/2 Tbsp) butter
300 grams (approx. 3 cups) crushed hazelnuts or sliced almonds
1 pouch of lievito Pane degli Angeli
1 shot glass of amaretto or brandy

Spread the nuts onto a baking tray lined with parchment paper.  Toast them in an oven preheated to 350°F (180°C) for around 10 minutes or until they have taken a golden brown color and a nutty smell, and set them aside.

Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the eggs and the liqueur.  Add the flour and lievito Pane degli Angeli, and mix gently until the dry ingredients are absorbed.  Mix in the nuts.

Using your hands, divide the dough in quarters.  Work work each section of dough into a long, uniform log and place two logs onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 30 minutes at 350°F (180°C).  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes.  Leave the oven on.



Carefully transfer the baked logs to a cutting board.  Using a sharp serrated knife, cut 1/2 inch wide tozzetti.  They will be crumbly, so take care to not break them.  Return the tozzetti to the baking sheet, lay them on their sides, and place them back into the oven for 10 more minutes without turning them.  Let them cool completely (if you can resist).



Enjoy your tozzetti with coffee, milk or tea at breakfast, or with a dessert wine such as Vin Santo or Passito after dinner.

Readers, did you grow up eating tozzetti or cantucci during the Christmas holidays?  What is your understanding of the difference between the two?

Polenta con funghi, salsiccia e brie

Polenta was a special treat at Stefano’s mom’s house in Rome.  She made a huge pot, and Stefano’s father was in charge of stirring it, which he did with a strong branch from one of their olive trees that he’d cleaned and whittled for this purpose.

Instead of using plates she poured it over a spianatoia, or spianatora as it’s referred to in Roman dialect – a large, wooden board set on top of the dining room table.  Lifting the board from side to side and corner to corner causes the polenta to spread smoothly over the top, and the wood absorbs excess water, helping it set.

She topped the polenta with a delicious sauce, usually either  sugo con la spuntatura di maiale (tomato sauce with short ribs) or sugo con baccalà (tomato sauce with salt cod).  We all sat around the table, forks in hand, and ate that wonderful polenta straight from the spianatoia, gradually working our way from the edges of the polenta to the center,  always ready to ward off the person sitting next to us in defense of our personal portion of polenta.

Another classic from Italy’s cucina povera, polenta originated in northern Italy and has become an Italian culinary tradition.  Made from cornmeal and water, polenta can be served in countless ways.  Thicker or softer, with a coarser texture or creamier, and with many different types of toppings.

Traditionally, polenta is cooked in a paiolo, or large copper pot, for an hour or more.  It needs to be stirred continually.  Fellow blogger Paola of An Italian Cooking in the Midwest, a true Bergamasca from the north of Italy, is a polenta expert and even owns an electric paiolo with a motorized blade that stirs the polenta for you!  It was from Paola’s post on polenta that we learned the trick of adding the polenta slowly and stirring it in before the water boils to avoid it turning out lumpy.  Until we have an electric paiolo of our own, we will use quick-cooking polenta, as we did for this recipe.

We wanted to make a sophisticated polenta, one that could be served as a part of an elegant holiday meal.  We added brie to the polenta durante la cottura (during cooking) to give it a rich and creamy quality, and topped it with wild mushrooms and sausage sauteed in garlic, olive oil and white wine.

Ingredients for 4 small servings
Instant polenta*
1 cup Brie, rind removed and cubed into 1/4 in. pieces
1/4 pound ground pork
4 cups mushrooms**, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley
Olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
Crushed red pepper – optional

*Look for Italian instant polenta, the dry kind, not pre-cooked. If you cannot find an Italian brand, there are several American brands of polenta, and even Quaker cornmeal will suffice if needed. The general guidelines for dosage is 1 part polenta to 4 parts water. We used 1 cups polenta in 4 cups water, but follow the directions on the packaging.

**We used Porcini, Shiitake, Oyster, Portobello and White mushrooms, but any variation is just fine. The Porcini and Shiitake were dried, and in that case need to be rehydrated before use.

Wash and thinly slice the mushrooms. Add olive oil and butter to a large saucepan, and place it over medium heat. Mince a clove of garlic and chop the parsley, and sauté them in olive oil and the butter. Add the mushrooms, white wine and salt. Let cook over medium heat until the mushrooms release their juices and become dark brown and tender, and the liquids concentrate.

While the mushrooms are cooking, mince the other clove of garlic and in a separate pan, sauté it in a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the ground pork, 1/4 cup of wine, salt, and if you wish a dash of crushed red pepper.  Let simmer until the pork is no longer pink and the wine has cooked off. Stir frequently so that the pork crumbles into small pieces.  Mix the pork and mushrooms, and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, bring the water to boil.  When the water is hot but before it reaches a boil, gradually add the polenta, stirring continually with a wire whisk to prevent lumps from forming.  Add the Brie, and stir continually until the polenta thickens.

Pour the polenta onto small plates, top with the mushrooms and sausage, and serve hot.

Download a pdf of the recipe Polenta con funghi e salsiccia

Wine Pairing
We paired our polenta con funghi e salsiccia with a Sauvignon Blanc by Fattori. It’s a well-structured wine with a crisp acidity that compliments the complex flavors of this polenta dish well.