Pesce spada al cartoccio

Some Due Spaghetti followers try each of our recipes diligently.  They email questions about ingredients, quantities, and procedures.  They tell us about memories they have of eating those same foods, and sometimes they share their family’s version of them with us.  Other readers just enjoy reading our posts, admiring the photos, learning about Italian food and culture and living vicariously through the blog, which is perfectly fine, too.

If you fall into the latter category, you might, just might, want to give this recipe a try.  It is truly exceptional.  Even if this is the one Due Spaghetti recipe that you ever make, it will be worth it.  It is elegant, pretty, creative, and absolutely delicious.  It can be prepared in advance and kept warm in the oven, making it ideal for a dinner party.  It’s both filling and nutritious.  It’s sure to be a hit with your guests.  What more can we say?  We’ll likely never post a better recipe.

We wish we could take credit for this dish, but we can’t.  We don’t have a story to to tell  about how Stefano grew up eating it, his grandma having taught his mom, who in turn taught us.  Until today, we had actually never even had it before, at least not exactly like this.  We simply came across the recipe in Il cucchiaio d’argento, or The Silver Spoon, Italy’s most authoritative cookbook.  There is a gorgeous full-page photo of it on p. 744 that caught our attention, and we flagged the recipe to try someday.

You see, we love seafood.  Touched by four seas (the Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian, Adriatic, Ionian), it’s not surprising that fish are an important part of Italian cuisine.  Pesce spada, or swordfish, is one of the most prestigious.  There are six different swordfish recipes in Il cucchiaio d’argento, but the recipe pesce spada al cartoccio, featuring swordfish steaks accompanied by fresh clams, mussels, shrimp and the colorful southern Italian mix of tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, red chili peppers, basil and flat leaf Italian parsley, steals the show.

This foto of three fishermen, Daniele, Gaetano and Andrea, can be found on the Italian fishing website, along with the story of how they caught their pesce spada after an entire night of waiting.

The al cartoccio method of cooking fish is healthy and renders the fish incredibly flavorful.  Cartoccio means parcel or pouch in English.  There is not an English phrase to describe this cooking method; we’ve borrowed from the French en papillote.  It means  to wrap the fish in parchment paper or aluminum foil, or sometimes both, and bake it until cooked.  It requires little to no oil, and renders the fish moist, tender and bursting with flavor.

We used a little less oil than the original recipe called for, a little more garlic, and we added a little dry, white wine.  Otherwise, we followed the Cucchiaio d’argento recipe exactly.  Buy the freshest seafood you can find, and the most colorful herbs and vegetables.   It will turn out perfect.

Ingredients for 4
4 swordfish steaks
250 grams (9 ounces) mussels
250 grams (9 ounces) clams
150 grams (5 ounces) raw shrimp, peeled and de-veined
2 medium tomatoes
1 yellow bell pepper
1 red chili pepper (alternatively, crushed red pepper)
1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley
1 bunch basil
2 cloves garlic
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 dash dry white wine
Salt to taste


Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C).  Typically, shellfish today comes already scrubbed clean.  However, if yours aren’t, scrub the clams and scrub and de-beard the mussels.  If any clams or mussels are open, shut them.  Discard any that do not shut, or that reopen after you’ve shut them.  Mince the garlic.  Chop the tomatoes coarsely.  Cut the pepper lengthwise into strips 2 or 3 cm. wide.  Chop the chili pepper finely.  Preserve as many of the seeds as you wish – the more seeds you use, the hotter it will be.

Cook the shellfish
Place the garlic and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a wide saucepan with a lid.  Sauté the garlic in the oil until it turns a golden color.  Pour in a dash of dry white wine, add the clams and the mussels, and cover.  Let the shellfish cook covered over medium until the clams and mussels open up, approximately 4 minutes.  Uncover, turn heat down and let simmer one more minute, and then remove from heat.  Discard any clams or mussels that did not open.  Separate the shellfish from the liquid, preserving both.  Set aside.

Cook the shrimp
Add one tablespoon of olive oil to a new pan.  You will eventually be adding the shellfish, their liquid and the vegetables, so choose a pan that can accommodate these.  Add the shrimp, and cook over medium heat until they turn pink, rotating them so that both side cook.  This will take just a few minutes.  Watch them carefully, turn them as soon as one side is pink, and avoid over-cooking so that they do not become tough.  Add the mussels, clams, yellow pepper, chili pepper, basil and parsley, and pour in the liquid from the shellfish.  Simmer covered for 5 minutes and uncovered for an additional 3 minutes, adding salt to taste.

Sear the swordfish
Add the final tablespoon of olive oil to a skillet and bring it to temperature over medium heat.  Add your swordfish steaks to the skillet, and sprinkle salt on top of them.  Cook for about 3-5 minutes, and then turn, salt the cooked side, and let the bottom side cook for another 3-5 minutes.  The outside will be cooked to a golden sear, but the inside will still be rare.

The final step – preparing the cartoccio
Tear four long, rectangular strips of aluminum paper, each long enough to contain a swordfish steak and the fish topping.  Position the foil lengthwise on a counter top.  Place a swordfish steak in the center of the foil, and top with 1/4 of the seafood.  Bring the long sides of the foil together at the top, and fold one side over the other, creating a seal.  Then, take one end of the foil, carefully fold it over and roll it towards the center of the parcel.  Do the same on the other end, creating a neat foil package.  Place each package onto a baking sheet.  Bake for approximately 10 minutes.

Serving the pesce spada al cartoccio
If helpful, the pesce spada al cartoccio can be left unopened in a warm oven for up to 30 minutes, or perhaps even longer, before serving. When you are ready to eat, place each parcel onto a serving plate, and carefully open the foil up, revealing the delicious seafood inside. Eat the fish right out of the foil, with plenty of crusty bread to soak up the delicious juices. Don’t forget to place an extra dish or two on the table so that your guests can discard their clam and mussel shells.

Download a pdf of the recipe Pesce spada al cartoccio

Pollo alla cacciatora

Pollo alla cacciatora, a.k.a. chicken cacciatore, is perhaps one of the most commonly mistreated Italian dishes outside of Italy.

Once, while visiting the States when we still lived in Italy, Stefano saw “Chicken Cacciatore” on the menu of a restaurant.  Always wary of Italian food in other countries, he thought this would be a safe choice.  How surprised he was when the waiter brought him a heaping plate of fettuccine with pieces of chicken in a cream sauce!

There were a couple of problems with this.  First, generally speaking, Italians don’t put chicken in their pasta.  Second, food prepared – alla cacciatora refers to meats, typically chicken or rabbit but sometimes other fowl, wild boar or even lamb, seasoned with aromi (onion, carrots, celery and parsley) and stewed in tomatoes, possibly with some white wine.  There is no cream sauce involved, and it is definitely a protein-based second course, not a first course pasta dish.

Cacciatore means “hunter” and food prepared -alla cacciatora typically is translated to “hunter’s style.”  This likely refers more to the fact that the meats were hunted, and then prepared at home with foods and seasonings found in the garden.  Pollo alla cacciatore is a recipe of Tuscan origin that is prepared across Italy today.  As is so often the case, there are variations of the recipe, some which call for mushrooms or red bell peppers.

Our recipe below is quite traditional, except for the fact that we remove the skin.  Many recipes call for the skin to be left on.  We prefer the healthier skinless version below, and have found that the meat turns out tender and flavorful.

For another version of pollo alla cacciatora, see fellow Italian food blogger and Cannolo Award recipient Manu of Manu’s Menu, and for other examples of comical Italian food aberrations, see Paolo’s Quatro Fromaggio and Other Disgraces on the Menu.

1 whole chicken, 4-5 lbs (approx. 2 kilos), whole or in pieces, preferably all natural
Two 28 oz. (500 g.) cans whole tomatoes
1 medium onion
1 stalk celery
1  medium carrot
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch flat leaf Italian parsley
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tbsp. Olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter

Remove the skin from the chicken, using paper towel to help pull the slippery skin off, if necessary.  If your chicken is whole, chop it into 6-8 pieces.  Pat it dry and set aside.

Slice your onion into thin rings, and slice your carrot and celery lengthwise into 4 pieces.   In a large skillet, sauté the onion in olive oil and butter.  When the onion is translucent, add the celery, carrot, parsley and chicken.  Salt and pepper liberally.  Allow the chicken to brown, turning it occasionally so that it cooks evenly on all sides.  Add the wine, and let it cook for 5 minutes.  Then, add the canned tomatoes, passing them through a food mill first to produce a smooth sauce.

Once the sauce boils, turn the heat down and allow the chicken to simmer for an hour or more, until the meat separates easily from the bone.  Taste for salt and adjust.  Serve with crusty bread to soak up the juices.

Download a pdf of the recipe Pollo alla cacciatora

Wine Pairing
We paired our pollo alla cacciatora with a classic Langhe Chardonnay by Giacomo Vico. It is a fresh, medium-full bodied wine that nicely balances the chicken and sauce of this dish.

Calamari con piselli

Thank goodness for seafood!

With the holidays behind us, it’s time to lighten up, eat healthier and drop the pounds we probably added over the last month or two.  But, it’s still cold outside, the days are short and Sunday afternoons at home call for family-style meals.  Seafood-based dishes are the perfect solution – tasty, comforting and healthy.

Calamari con piselli, or squid with peas stewed in tomato sauce, was of a favorite dish of Stefano and his brother and sister when growing up in Rome.  Their mom, Maria, made it often in the winter, using either calamari (squid) or its related cephalopod, seppie (cuttlefish).

Before we begin with the recipe, let’s look more closely at these interesting and delicious sea creatures.  Octopus (polpo in Italian), squid (calamari in Italian) and cuttlefish (seppie in Italian) are three common cephalopods prevalent in southern Mediterranean and Asian cooking.   All cephalopods have bilateral body symmetry and a large head with tentacles attached to it.   They also all have ink sacs and can squirt ink, which is why they are sometimes referred commonly as inkfish.  It is the black colored ink from squid that is used to make squid ink pasta.

In the landlocked Midwest of the United States, cephalopods are not easy to come by.  We were thrilled to fine frozen calamari while out shopping one day, and immediately new that we would stew them in tomato sauce with peas, for a perfect January weekend meal.

2 and 1/2 lbs. squid
Two 28-oz. cans of canned whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
3 Tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
16 oz. frozen peas
Salt to taste
Black pepper, or if you prefer crushed red pepper

Generally, squid is sold already cleaned.  If your squid is not cleaned, clean it, as explained here.  If your squid is clean, rinse it under running water, removing any skin, sand or bits of tough tissue.  If the tentacles are still attached, remove them.  Pat the squid bodies and tentacles dry with paper towels.

On a cutting board, slice the body, or sac, into rings 1/4th inch to 1/2 inch wide.  Chop the onion and sauté it in the olive oil over medium heat.  Mince the garlic, and add it to the sauté when the onion becomes translucent.  Chop the parsley and add it to the sauté.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill.  Bring to a boil, and then add the white wine.  Allow it to cook for 10-15 minutes, add salt and pepper to taste, and then add the squid.  Simmer for approximately 30 minutes, add the peas and let the mixture cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until the peas are tender.

Serve in a pasta or soup bowl, with a piece of crusty bread, toasted if you wish.

Download a pdf of the recipe Calamari con piselli

Pesce e patate al forno

Roasted Whole Fish with Potatoes
Some people just aren’t used to eating a whole animal.  The roasted pig sitting on our kitchen cupboard, head and all, garnered a good deal of admiration at Stefano’s recent 40th birthday party.  It’s too bad he (the pig) was not cognizant for it all – a classic case of posthumous fame.

The same is true with fish.  Not everyone is prepared to find a whole one on their dinner plate.  We found our freshwater friend’s underbite amusing; but teeth and eyeballs cause some squirm.  Besides, many of us never learned what to do when presented with a whole fish for dinner.  How does one go about removing the head, skin and spine in order to get to the the tender white fillet inside?

In many cultures, though, eating whole fish is commonplace.  Whole fish is  more economical than fish fillets, and also much better tasting.  Meats and fish cooked in their bones and skin are always moister and more savory than slices of meat or fish separated from the carcass.

In Italy, roasted fish with rosemary potatoes are a common Sunday afternoon meal.  Stefano’s mom, Maria, visits the fish market on Saturday and picks out whichever fish looks the best – sometimes spigola (seabass), other times trota (trout).  Freshness is important – signs of a not-so-fresh fish include a fishy smell, cloudy eyes, and a dry tail.  In Italy, they will typically gut and scale your fish right there for you.  In the States, they will often come scaled and gutted.

On a side note, an Italian fish market is a spectacular sight – be sure to visit one when you are there.

At home, Maria washes the fish, stuffs their cavities with herbs and spices, and bakes them with diced potatoes seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil and a bit of crushed red pepper.

The first step in eating a whole roasted fish is to remove the head.  Place your fork under its gill, and use your knife to separate the head from the rest of the fish.  Use your knife to remove the tail.  Then, slide your knife under the skin; it should lift right off exposing the tender, flaky fillet below.  Don’t try to turn your fish over to remove the skin on the bottom side.  Instead, carefully lift the fish fillet up and off, leaving the spine intact below.  Remove the herbs that you will find there then, starting from the top, carefully lift the spine away from the other fillet below.  Finally, turn the bottom fillet over and remove its skin.  When you serve whole fish, remember to place a few extra plates out on the table to hold the skin and bones.

1 whole fish per person.  Trout or sea bass work well.
1 potato per person, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
1 clove of finely minced garlic per fish, plus extra for the potatoes
1 sprig of fresh rosemary per fish, plus extra for the potatoes
Crushed red pepper
Olive oil

Wash the exterior and the cavity of the fish under cold water.  Coat the bottom of a baking pan or roasting pan with olive oil.  Add the diced potatoes.  Salt and pepper the potatoes liberally, and add a handful of finely mined garlic and rosemary stems.  Rub olive oil on the skin and in the cavity of each fish, and lay them in the baking pan on top of the potatoes.  Salt the cavity of each fish liberally and add the minced garlic.  If you wish, you may also add some crushed red pepper.  Place a sprig of rosemary inside each fish.

Bake at 375° F for approximately 30 minutes.  Once or twice during cooking, use a flat spatula to lift and turn the potatoes, being careful to not prod or poke the fish.  Do not turn the fish.  Cooking time will vary according to the size of the fish; it is done when the skin loosens and the meat is tender but firm to the touch.  Your potatoes may require additional cooking time.  If this is the case, remove the fish and return the baking tray to the oven until the potatoes are golden brown.

Frittata con i fiori di zucca

Squash Blossom Frittata

The days are becoming shorter, the nights cooler.  The highest leaves on the tall maple in our front yard are turning gold, orange and red.  Even though these early fall days are warm and sunny yet, there is no mistaking that fall is here.  Our lives have become busier, too.  Gone are the long, lazy summer days.  They’ve been replaced with school, homework, and a faster pace of life.

As seasons change, so do our cooking and eating habits.  We cook more on weekends, and freeze sauces, soups and vegetables for easy reheating during weeknights.  We bake our own bread on Sundays, and we aim for genuine, healthy meals that are also simple and quick to prepare.

The frittata is just that.  Often referred to as an open-faced omelette, the frittata is a classic Italian dish made from beaten eggs mixed with meat, cheese or vegetables and cooked in a skillet over low heat.  Unlike an omelette, the frittata is not folded in half.  Rather, it is carefully flipped so that it cooks on both sides.

There are countless varieties of frittate (singular – fritatta, plural – fritatte): frittata with zucchini, frittata with asparagus, frittata with artichokes, frittata with sausage, frittata with potatoes, and even frittata with leftover pasta.

We opted for frittata with squash blossoms.  One of our favorite summer foods, we jumped on the occasion to have them one more time before summer’s end.

A dozen eggs
Approximately a dozen squash or zucchini blossoms
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano
Olive Oil

Prepare the squash blossoms for cooking by removing their stems and pistils or stamen.  See this previous post on fried zucchini blossoms for specific instructions.  Rinse them gently under water and pat dry.  Slice the blossoms lengthwise into 4 strips.

Heat 2-3 Tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet.  Add the squash blossoms and sauté over medium heat for 7-10 minutes until they become tender, stirring occasionally.

While the blossoms are cooking, crack the eggs into a bowl and beat them by hand until the yolks and whites are evenly mixed.  Add the Parmigiano, and salt and pepper to taste.  When the blossoms are ready, add them to the egg mixture as well, and mix everything together.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a 12-inch, heavy, non-stick frying pan.  Pour the egg mixture into the pan, and cook over medium heat for approximately 5-10 minutes.  As the egg cooks, use a spatula to loosen the underside of the frittata from the pan to keep it from sticking.

When the frittata is cooked about 2/3 of the way through, flip it over to allow the other side to cook, as well.  Frittata-flipping is an art that takes some practice to master.  First, use your spatula to be sure that the bottom of the frittata is no sticking to the bottom of the pan.  Then, find a large, flat lid that covers the entire pan.  It is fine if the cover is even larger than the pan.  Holding the lid tightly against the pan, quickly flip the pan over, turning the frittata upside down onto the lid.  Slowly lift the pan up and return it to the stove, and carefully slide the frittata back into the pan, the cooked side up.

For frittata-flipping phobics, there is an alternative – once the frittata is cooked about 2/3 of the way through, place the frittata, pan and all, under a broiler for 2-3 minutes to allow the top to finish cooking.

Once cooked, carefully remove the frittata from the pan and onto a large plate.  Cut it into wedges just like a pizza, and serve with bread.  Frittata can be eaten warm, or at room temperature.  You can even place the frittata between two slices of bread for a delicious sandwich.

Do any of you have a favorite frittata? 
If so, tell us about it, and share your frittata-flipping tips!

Rabbit with white wine and rosemary

A 19th century recipe for rabbit stew is widely (but questionably) reported to have begun with the phrase, “First, catch a hare.”

As practical that that advice may sound, we opt for farm-raised rabbit.  Rabbit can be found at specialty butcher shops, like Clancey’s Meat and Fish in the Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis, where we purchased ours.

Although rabbit is relatively rare in North America, it is a common dish in across western Europe, as well as in South America, and in parts of the Middle East and Asia.  Rabbit meat is lean, fine grained and high in protein, making it a healthy and versatile white meat.

Cooked on the stovetop with white wine and rosemary and usually served with roasted potatoes, rabbit was a common Sunday afternoon dish at Stefano’s mom’s house in Italy.

1 whole rabbit
1/4 C. white wine
1 dash white wine vinegar
1/8 C. olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 large sprig rosemary
Salt and Pepper
Optional – 1 cup flour
Optional – crushed red pepper


Cut the rabbit into pieces with a large butcher knife.

If you like a creamier texture, place the flour into a shallow bowl and dust each piece of rabbit in flour on all sides.  However, you can omit the flour if you wish.  We like rabbit both ways.

Mince the garlic and sauté it in the oil in a large pan until golden brown. Add the white wine and white wine vinegar, and allow the mixture to continue to simmer on medium heat. Carefully arrange the rabbit in the skillet.

Add rosemary leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. If you like white meats with a little heat, add a little crushed red pepper. Cover, and cook over medium heat, turning on occasion, for approximately 20-25 minutes. Serve with vegetables or roasted potatoes.

Wine Pairing
We drank a 2009 Pinot Grigio from Alois Lageder with our rabbit.  It is a medium-bodied, well-balanced pinot grigio with a nice floral bouquet.  It pairs very well with white meat.  Alois Lageder is a producer from the Alto Adige region, located in the Dolomites in  northeast Italy.


Tonno e Fagioli

Too hot to cook!  103° degrees Farenheit (nearly 40° Celcius) in Minneapolis today, and dinner needed to be something simple and light.

Tonno e fagioli, which our boys call Tuna-Bean Salad in English, was our answer.  The tuna and beans provide texture and substance, while the lemon juice, green onions and parsley add a light, fresh flavor to the salad.

4 5-oz. cans tuna in olive oil (not in water)
2 19-oz. cans of Cannellini beans
3 green onions, chopped
1 bunch of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
Olive oil

Drain the excess oil off of the tuna, and place it into a large salad bowl.  Strain and rinse the Cannellini beans well.  Add the beans to the tuna in the salad bowl.  Add the chopped green onions, the parsley, the juice of two lemons and 3-4 generous pinches of salt.  Add enough extra virgin olive oil to render the salad moist, approximately 1/4 cup.  Stir until the salad is mixed well and the tuna has broken into small pieces, taking care to not damage the beans.  Let stand for 10 minutes, and serve.

Go the extra mile to find tuna packed in olive oil – it makes a difference.  Our favorite brand is Genova Tonno, which we find at Cub.  Any brand of Cannellini beans will work fine.  Don’t try to substitute other white beans, however.

Cena di Pesce

Summer finally arrived in Minneapolis, and the gorgeous, hot weather had us craving seafood.  A zuppa di pesce appetizer with prosecco, followed by spaghetti alle vongole as a the first course, gamberi alla griglia as a second course, and white wine from the south of Italy, made for a perfect summer evening dinner.

Zuppa di Pesce
Zuppa, as it sounds, means soup and pesce is Italian for fish and seafood.  A slice of bread toasted on the grill placed at the bottom of the dish absorbs the delicious broth.

Approximately 2 lbs. Seafood Medley, fresh or frozen.  Look for shellfish like clams and mussels, shrimp, squid, scallops.  Avoid crabmeat.
1 clove garlic
2 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 cup fish stock
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
3 pinches salt
Red Pepper
Olive oil
White wine

Cut the clove of garlic into 6-8 pieces, and sauté in olive oil until golden brown.  Add the seafood, butter, tomato sauce, fish stock and wine, salt and if you like a dash of black and red pepper.  Let the mixture simmer for 5-7 minutes, and then turn off heat.

Toast slices of rustic bread in the oven or on the grill.  Place one slice of bread at the bottom of a shallow soup bowl, and spoon the zuppa di pesce over it.  Sprinkle chopped parsley on top.  Serve hot.

Spaghetti alle Vongole
This is one of our all time favorite dishes.  Vongole is the Italian word for clams.  Clams from the Mediterranean are smaller than their cousins in the found in the Atlantic, off of the east coast of the United States.  If you can, buy the Mediterranean ones – they are a little more flavorful and delicate. If you can’t find Mediterranean clams, Littleneck clams work just fine.

2 lbs. clams
1 clove garlic
Olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup clam stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 pinches salt
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 lb. spaghetti

Rinse clams in cold water, and examine them to verify that they are all closed.  Discard any clams that are open; this is a sign that they are bad.  Set clams aside.  Cut the clove of garlic into 6-8 pieces, and sauté in olive oil until golden brown.  Add  clams, clam stock, wine, butter and salt.  Let simmer until all of the clams have opened up and some of the liquids have evaporated, approximately 5-10 minutes.  Remove from heat.

In a separate pot, add spaghetti to boiling, salted water.  (See Methods section for more information about how to salt the pasta water).  Cook until al dente.  Drain.  Return to pot, and add the clam mixture.  Stir gently.  Serve in pasta plates garnished with a sprinkle of parsley.  Remember to put an empty plate or two on the table for the clam shells.

Gamberi alla Griglia
Skewered, grilled king tiger prawn were an easy and delicious end to our seafood dinner.

1 lb king tiger prawn, or fresh, uncooked jumbo shrimp (approximately 20)
Juice of 1 lemon
Wooden or metal skewers

Rinse prawns in cold water.  Place in a bowl.  Squeeze the juice of one lemon over them, and let marinade for approximately 20 minutes.

If you are using wooden skewers, soak them in water before using them to prevent them from burning on the grill.  Place prawns onto skewer by piercing them through their middle.

Place prawn skewers on grill at medium heat for approximately  5 minutes on each side, brushing the remainder of the marinade on them from time to time.

Remove from heat and serve.  You can use fancy silverware to remove the head and shell, or if you are at home with family and friends, just pull it off with your fingers and enjoy.

We began the dinner sipping a nice prosecco called Sergio, from the Veneto region of Italy.  Extra dry and crisp with green apple and citrus aromas, it complimented the shellfish and seafood with its minerality.

Next, we opened a bottle of Falanghina, a wine made in Benevento, in the Campania region of Italy that boasts a long history of seafood cuisine.  Falanghina has quickly become one of our favorite white wines, and this particular 2009 Falanghina from the Cantina del Taburno label was exceptional.   It is slightly sparkling and minerally, with a crisp acidity that allows the wine to pair beautifully with shellfish and crustaceans.

Pollo alla Griglia e Insalata di Rucola e Pomodorini

June 2 was the 150th celebration of the Festa della Repubblica Italiana, a national holiday commemorating the birth of Italy as a democratic nation.  It was on this date in 1946 when Italians flooded to the polls to vote for a republic form of government over a monarchy,  marking the fall Fascism and the exile of the reigning Savoia family to Switzerland.

Heads of state from all over the world were in Rome today to celebrate this event.  Among the events scheduled for them was a pranzo at Palazzo del Quirinale, home of the President of the Italian Republic.  I wonder what was on the menu?

We held our own celebration here at home with an appetizer of Taleggio and Roquefort cheese with blueberries, chicken on the grill, and arugula and cherry tomato salad.

Taleggio, made from cow’s milk, is one of the oldest Italian soft cheeses.  It has a mild flavor and creamy texture, which is wonderful spread on crackers.   Taleggio stands in contrast to Roquefort, a strong, tangy French blue cheese made from goat’s milk.

Chicken on this grill is an easy favorite of ours.  Buy a whole chicken in pieces, remove the skin, and once on the grill splash on a marinade of olive oil, wine, rosemary, garlic and salt.  See the Methods section for more information on the marinade.

The highlight of this meal, however, was the arugula and cherry tomato salad.  I’d had arugula on my mind every since reading a StarTribune article about fresh arugula available at a local farmer’s market.  Stefano’s mom used to grow arugula at her house by the sea, and we’d eat it all summer long.  This salad is one of the simplest and most delicious ways to serve arugula.  The sweet and tangy cherry tomatoes balance the sharp, peppery flavor of the arugula, while the olive oil adds a smooth, earthy flavor that pulls it all together.

If you can’t obtain fresh grown arugula, store-bought works just fine.  Add arugula to a salad bowl.  Throw in quartered or halved cherry tomatoes.  Sprinkle sea salt liberally over the salad, and drizzle plenty of olive oil on top.  Stir with salad tongs, and serve.

Le Polpette al Sugo

At home in Rome, meatballs cooking on the stove top meant that rigatoni with meat sauce would be served as a first course.  The abundant tomato sauce in which the meatballs cook almost steals the show from the meatballs themselves, and makes for a tangy compliment to pasta.

There are many Italian meatball recipes.  This one is a simple favorite.

2 lbs lean ground beef
1 lb ground pork
2 eggs
3-4 sprigs flat leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, very finely chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
The inside only of ½ loaf of Italian bread
3 28-oz. cans peeled whole tomatoes, or more if desired
Olive Oil
1 beef bullion cube
Dry red wine

Place the ground meat into a large mixing bowl.  Add eggs, parsley, garlic and Parmesan cheese.  Place the inside of ½ loaf of Italian bread in a separate bowl.  Add just enough milk to moisten all of the bread, and let sit for a few minutes. Pull the bread piece by piece out of the bowl, squeeze to eliminate excess milk, and add it to the meat mixture.  Add 2 pinches of salt, and mix it all together with your hands.

Place about 1 cup of flour on a plate.  Shape the meat mixture into balls slightly larger than a golf ball.  Roll each meatball in flour and set on a plastic sheet.

Cover the bottom of a large pot with olive oil.  Cut a ¼ inch slice of a large onion, chop it finely, and sauté it in the olive oil.  When the onions are translucent, add two carrots, and two stalks of celery, cut into pieces.  Gently place the meatballs one by one into the pot, and then add the bullion cube and a dash of dry red wine.

Let the meatballs simmer in the sauté, stirring occasionally so that they brown on all sides.   After approximately 7-8 minutes your meatballs should be well-browned.

Add your whole tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to obtain a smooth sauce.  (See Methods section for more information).  You should use at least 3 large cans of whole tomatoes, but more is fine – you will just have more sauce left over.  Bring the sauce back to a boil, and then allow it to cook for 20 to 25 more minutes, adding salt to taste and stirring gently from time to time.

Serve in pasta bowls and have plenty of bread ready to soak up the sauce.