Linguine al sugo di tonno

It’s hot.  Really, really hot.  It’s time to fare il cambio di stagione nell’armadio – the seasonal updating of the closet with summer clothes.  It’s also time to do the same with the refrigerator, making space for farmer’s market vegetables and easy, summertime staples.  Of all the seasons, summer is our favorite from a culinary perspective – there is so much variety and flavor and simplicity.

But before we talk food, let’s go back to clothes.  We’ve finished planning our July trip back home.  We’ll spend a few days in Rome with Stefano’s family, celebrating the birthdays of our young nephews Flavio and Davide, and visiting some of our favorite spots in the city.  We’ll probably take a day trip down to the costiera amalfitana and stop at our favorite restaurant there.  Then, we will throw our kids and Stefano’s madre, Maria, in the car with us and head nord for a tour of northern Italy’s wine regions.

Finalizing our itinerary and booking our hotels got us thinking about what to pack.  It’s hot in many Italian cities in summertime, even in the northern regions where we will be.  We want clothes that are cool and practical, but fashionable, and that won’t make us look like American tourists.

Here’s a quick guide for those of you with similar ambitions:

Women, wear lightweight dresses, skirts, and capris.  Opt for short-sleeved or sleeveless blouses or tops.  Dressier t-shirts are okay.  Keep in mind that low necklines are common, but if you hope to enter a church, keep you shoulders covered or have something to throw over them.  Wear comfortable but feminine sandals or ballet flats.  Heels do not fare well on cobblestone streets; if you really need some height, opt for wedges.  If your hair is long, have something to pull it up and off of your neck.

Men, choose lightweight jeans or cotton trousers.  Linen pants are common.  Knee-length and sailor length pants have been fashionable, too.  On top, wear a light weight cotton button-down or knit top.  Men often wear sandals outside of the office in summertime, or lightweight casual shoes.

Children can get by with pretty much anything.  Keep it lightweight, consider a hat to cover their heads, and be mindful of the scorching sun.

Other tips: Wear lightweight, natural fibers.  By lightweight, we really mean lightweight – if you live in a cold climate like we do, your summer clothes may still be too heavy.  Leave your rugged hiking sandals and your rubber Crocs at home – Italians opt for more fashionable, yet still comfortable, footwear.  Shorts aren’t usually worn by adults, although some stylish shorts are becoming more common with young people.  Avoid baseball hats if you are over 12 years old.  Finally, get used to being warm and a little sweaty, plan your outings after sundown when many cities come alive, and don’t put your feet in the fountains to cool down!

Okay, back to food.  Linguine al sugo di tonno reminds us of a summertime pasta, even though it can, and is, made all year round.  Perhaps it’s the tuna, which makes us think of the sea.  It is a quick and easy, tangy and delicious pasta.  You can use pretty much any pasta shape, although Stefano’s father, Andrea, always insisted that it be made with linguine.  Be sure to find good tuna packed in olive oil, never in water, and splurge on a can of San Marzano tomatoes.

1 large can (28 oz., approx. 800g) whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
2 cans (5 oz, or 75g, per can) tuna in olive oil
1 Tablespoon capers
1 quarter of a medium onion
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Dash of dry white wine
Salt to taste
One pack (16 oz. or 500 g) of linguine

Cut the onion into large pieces and sauté in olive oil for 5 minutes, or until translucent.  Drain the excess olive oil from the tuna, and add it, along with the capers, to the onions.  Allow the mixture to cook for a few additional minutes.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first so that they are smooth.  Pour a dash of wine into the sauce, and allow to cook for about 30 minutes, adding salt to taste.

Place a large pot of water to boil over high heat.  When the water boils, add a handful of salt to it and then the pasta.  Cook to al dente according the time on the package.  Drain the pasta, and return it to the pot it cooked it.  Add the sauce to the pasta, and stir over low heat until it is well mixed.  Serve and enjoy immediately.

Tiramisù al limoncello

The night before we flew back to the States, while we crammed things back into our suitcase hoping it would all fit, Stefano’s papà, Andrea, stopped by Nonna Pierina’s house and picked a crate full of lemons from the very prolific lemon tree that grew outside of her ground floor apartment.

Andrea sat at the little table in the kitchen and carefully peeled those lemons.  He wrapped the lemon peel in paper towels, packaged it carefully in zip lock plastic bags, and then added ice packs to keep it cold.  When we thought that nothing more could possibly fit into our suitcases, he came into the bedroom and presented us with these parcels of lemon peel.  “Ecco,” he said.  “Quando tornate in America potete fare il limoncello.”  When we got back to America we could make limoncello.  He held us to it, too.  He called us every day to ask if Stefano had bought the alcohol to soak the lemon peel in, until Stefano finally told him that he had.

We’ll be writing about how to make limoncello, the sweet, lemony liquor from Italy’s Amalfi Coast, a little later this summer.  For today, we’re sharing with you a  variation of Italy’s most famous dessert, tiramisù.  We posted the original recipe, with espresso, brandy and cocoa, nearly a year ago.  This version, tiramisù al limoncello, is a rich and flavorful summertime adaptation of the classic recipe.

Take note – it is best when refrigerated overnight, so plan ahead.

This recipe is our contribution to Cooked in Translation, a new blog hop created by Sophie from the German Foodie and Pola from An Italian Cooking in the Midwest where readers from all over the world interpret a classic international dish through the lens of their own culinary tradition.

6 large eggs, with yolks and whites separated
200 grams (1 cup) + 1 pinch sugar
2 tubs (450 grams or 16 oz, total) mascarpone*
250 ml (1 cup) + 6 Tablespoons limoncello
250 ml (1 cup) warm milk
1 package Savoiardi (Lady Fingers)**
Pearl sugar, or other decorative sugar***

Combine the egg yolks, 6 Tablespoons of limoncello, and the sugar into large mixing bowl.  Beat with electric mixer 2-3 minutes.  Add the mascarpone and beat 3-5 more minutes until the consistency is smooth.  Set aside.

In another bowl, add a pinch of sugar to the egg whites.  Beat until the mixture forms stiff peaks.  Gently fold the egg whites into the mascarpone mixture.  Set aside.

Pour the rest of the limoncello and the warm milk into a different bowl.  Submerge the lady fingers into the limoncello and milk one by one, and layer on bottom of a glass baking pan.  Soak the lady fingers just enough so that they are not crunchy, but not so much that they break.

Spread 1/2 of mascarpone mixture on top of the lady fingers.  Sprinkle pearl sugar over the mascarpone mixture.  Add a second layer of lady fingers, and top with another layer of mascarpone mixture and pearl sugar.

Refrigerate overnight before serving.

* We use Bel Gioioso Mascarpone, which is sold in 8 oz. tubs.
**We use Alessi brand Savoiardi.
***Powdered sugar or any other decorative sugar can be used instead of pearl sugar, or you can skip it altogether.

Paccheri con pomodorini e rucola


It’s the word most frequently used by Italian mothers when addressing their children.  “Eat,” they command, placing a plate of pasta in front of you.

It’s Mother’s Day, la Festa della Mamma, and we thought about writing a tribute to the mamma Italiana.  But that’s complicated.  A lot has been written on the topic already, sometimes humorous, other times studious, and most of those articles discuss the devoted Italian mother and the 30+ year old son who still lives at home.  Instead of adding our voice to that conversation, we’ll just move on to pasta.

After all, we have an American mom stateside who was nothing but supportive when her daughter married an Italian and started a family in Rome, and an Italian mamma who was strong and supportive when her Italian son and American daughter-in-law later decided to move their family back across the ocean.

This weekend we prepared a fun and colorful pasta dish, paccheri con pomodorini e rucolaPaccheri, originally from Naples, resemble giant, smooth maccheroni.  A simple sauce of fresh cherry tomatoes and peppery arugula, one of our favorite combinations, is complimented by ricotta salata, (a sheep’s cheese made from pressed, salted and dried ricotta) grated on top.

1 package (500 grams) paccheri
2 cartons (2 pints, or approx. 340 grams) cherry tomatoes
2 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic
Ricotta salata

Place a large pot of water to on high heat to boil.  Halve the cherry tomatoes and set aside.  Halve the garlic cloves, and sauté in the olive oil inside a large skillet.  Remove them just as they begin to brown, and discard.  Add the cherry tomatoes to the skillet and cook over medium low heat for 10-15 minutes, until they break down.  Press the tomatoes slightly while they are cooking to help them release their liquid and pulp.  Salt lightly to taste.

When the water boils, add a heaping handful of salt to the water, and then add the paccheri.  Allow the pasta to cook al dente according to the directions on the package.  Carefully stir from time to time to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom and sides of the pan.

When the paccheri are cooked, drain and add them to the skillet with the tomatoes.  Toss in 2 handfuls of arugula.  Stir, turn the heat onto medium-low, and cover for 2-3 minutes.  Uncover, stir again, and let cook for another 2-3 minutes or until the arugula is just wilted.

Serve immediately with a sprinkling of grated ricotta salata on top.

Torta Rustica (Rustic Farmhouse Pie)

I’m not sure what made us crave a torta rustica this weekend.  Perhaps it was the dark and stormy week we’ve had that gave appeal to the scent of a savory pie baking in a warm oven.  Or, maybe the farmhouses and chalets situated among the rolling foothills of the Dolomites that we saw this morning while researching our summer trip to Trentino-Alto Adige and other northern Italian wine regions put us in the mood.

We don’t have a proprietary torta rustica recipe; neither Stefano’s mom nor his grandmother made it frequently.  Our sister-in-law Valentina makes one, the recipe almost certainly passed down to her from her mamma, Marinella.  Without Valentina and Marinella’s recipe at hand, though, we perused our copy of the The Silver Spoon for the perfect pie for this Sunday afternoon.

There are many different types of torte rustiche.  Many call for leafy greens, like the arugula e taleggio version that we almost made, or like .  Some are heavier on cream and cheese, like the classic torta pasqualina, or Easter Pie, recently made by fellow blogger Pola at an Italian Cooking in the Midwest.  Although many call for spring vegetables like leeks and artichokes, the woodsy mushroom pie with walnut cream inspired us to fold the corner over and make note for fall.

We settled on a rustic farmhouse pie that is a nice balance of vegetables and and cheeses, with pretty colors and complex flavors.  We put our own touch on The Silver Spoon’s original recipe, and loved the results.

385 grams (2 and 3/4 cup) flour, plus extra for dusting
1 cup (250 ml) white wine
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 packages frozen, chopped spinach
30 grams (2 Tablespoons) butter, plus extra for greasing
125 ml. (1/2 cup) heavy cream
35 grams (1/4 cup) grated Parmigiano
1 bunch thyme
2 red bell peppers
2 yellow bell peppers
6-8 slices of thinly sliced cooked ham (deli ham)
200 grams (7 ounces) fontina cheese, thinly sliced
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper

Add a pinch of salt to the flour, and form a mound on a clean smooth surface.  Make a well in the center of the mound, and pour the wine and oil into it.  Using your fingers, gradually work the flour into the liquid, working from the center outward and gradually incorporating the flour into the dough.  Knead the dough lightly until if forms a smooth ball.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

In the meanwhile, add the spinach to boiling water and cook until tender, approximately 5 minutes.  Drain well, squeezing out as much of the water as you can.  Melt the butter in a skillet.  Return the spinach to the skillet, and add the cream and Parmigiano.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 5 minutes over low heat, stirring frequently.    Remove from heat and set aside.

Halve the bell peppers, removing stems and seeds.  Place the pepper halves onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, and place in oven under a high broiler until the skins are deeply charred and blistered.  Remove the peppers from the oven and place them into a paper bag.  Close the bag tightly and let sit until they are cool enough to handle.  Peel off the skins, and then slice the peppers thinly, keeping the strips of red pepper separate from the yellow ones.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180° C/350° F, and butter a pie plate or a tart pan with tall sides.  Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into two pieces, one piece slightly larger than the other.  Roll out the larger of the two pieces of dough on a flour-dusted smooth surface, until it is just larger than the diameter of the pie plate or tart pan.  Place the dough carefully into the the pan, allowing it to fold over the edges.

Arrange a layer of ham on the bottom of the pie. Add a layer of spinach, using half of the spinach, Parmigiano and cream mixture.  Follow with a layer of all of the red peppers.  Top with a layer of fontina, using half of the cheese slices.  Repeat the process with another layer of ham, the rest of the spinach mixture, and then the yellow peppers.  Add another layer of ham on top of the peppers, and finally the last layer of fontina.

Roll out the second ball of dough, and cover the pie.  Roll the edges of the bottom layer of dough up over the top layer, and pinch together with your fingers.  You may wish to wet your fingers to help seal the crust together.  Beat the egg yolk and add a small amount of water to it.  Prick the top of the pie with a fork, and brush with the egg yolk.

Bake for 1 to 1.5 hours, until the top is golden brown.  Let sit 30 minutes before cutting.  Serve hot or cold.