Sugo di pomodoro fresco

We’re all packed for Rome.  It didn’t take much – with this heat there simply are not that many clothes we need to bring.  Our weather app showed 100°F/38°C in Rome today, and 97°F/36°C tomorrow.  It’s sizzling.

It doesn’t matter – we’re excited to go!  We’ll take Due Spaghetti on the road, taking foto of the foods we eat, the places we visit, and the people we meet. From Stefano’s mom’s apartment, to our favorite places in Rome, on our road trip through northern Italy’s wine country, and concluding in the Cinque Terre, we’ll chronicle our travels and take note of our favorite finds.  We’ll update the blog as time permits, and tweet in between.  Join us!  We’d love to read your comments, learn of your suggestions, and answer your questions.

It seemed appropriate to make a simply fresh tomato and basil sauce for the final meal before we leave.  Called sugo al pomodoro fresco in Italian, there are no canned tomatoes needed.  Instead, this sauce is made from the fresh, flavorful, tomatoes of summer.  Fresh and light, it is a perfect way to dress pasta.

You will need a food mill to make sugo al pomodoro fresco. Our favorite is made by Oxo, and can be found in most kitchenware stores, or on our Due Spaghetti aStore.

8-12 medium San Marzano or on-the-vine tomatoes
one small bunch of basil
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

Slice the tomatoes into quarters.  Remove the cores and seeds, and place the tomatoes into a sauce pan.  Cover, and cook on medium-low head until they deconstruct, approximately 10-15 minutes.  Pass the tomatoes through a food mill to remove the skin and any sinewy parts, and back into a saucepan.  Simmer over low heat with the olive oil for another 10-15 minutes. Salt to taste, and add the basil during the final few minutes.

Toss together with your pasta of choice cooked al dente, and serve with a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Arrivederci!  Ci vediamo in Italia.

Pasta fredda al salmone e sedano (Smoked Salmon Pasta Salad)

It’s been a few weeks since we’ve posted a new recipe on Due Spaghetti.  The pace of summer is supposed to be slower and more relaxed, but June has been a whirlwind so far.  On a positive note, we are getting closer and closer to moving back into our house.  Our friend Tiet, a true artisan cabinetmaker, is almost done making our walnut kitchen cabinets, and they are beautiful.  The hardwood floors are in, and we’re picking out paint colors.  If all goes well, we will return from our July trip to Italy and move back in.

We are looking forward to that trip, to spending time with family and friends and to finally slowing down.  We’ll spend a week in Rome with Stefano’s family, celebrating the 3rd birthdays of our nephews Davide and Flavio, and catching up with our 8-year-old nephew Damiano.  Nonna Maria will have all 5 grandsons home at once, and the cousins will be happy to be together again.

We’ll spend the second week touring Northern Italy.  Our first stop will be Trentino, in South Tyrol along a road called the Strada del Vino  in the midst of vineyards and wineries.  The kids will stay with Nonna Maria and enjoy the pool at Schwarz Adler Turm Hotel, while we will tour the Alois Lageder winery.  The next day, we will travel down to Veneto and have lunch with Lucia from Villa Monteleone winery.

Next, we’ll head east towards Piemonte, and Barolo country.  We will stay at Albergo Castiglione, with its pool overlooking the vineyards of the Langhe countryside, and visit the winery of Paolo Saracco, producer of fine Moscato and Pinot Nero.  Finally, we’ll end our trip in the Cinque Terre, where we’ve rented a small apartment in Riomaggiore right near the sea, from Signora Edi Vesigna.

This weekend we made a summer pasta salad that reflects the the simplicity and the slow pace of the warm months.  Smoked salmon is the primary focus of this pasta salad. Chopped celery gives it a mild, cool flavor and lemon zest and juice provides a hint of summertime freshness.

1 box of Farfalle or any other short pasta
200 grams (7 ounces) smoked salmon
1 stalk of celery
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 handful of coarse salt
3 Tablespoons olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Place a large pot of water over high heat to boil.  In a large bowl, break the smoked salmon into small pieces.  Chop the celery finely, and add it to the bowl with the salmon.  Add the zest and juice of one lemon, and set aside.

When the water boils, add a heaping handful of coarse salt to the water, and then the pasta.  Cook al dente according to the time on the package.  Drain the pasta and rinse it well under cold running water, mixing it with your hands until it is evenly cool.  Drain well.

Transfer the pasta into the bowl with the salmon mixture.  Stir in the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. The pasta salad is best when eaten right away.

Pasta fredda is the perfect summer time lunch or dinner.  Here is another Due Spaghetti pasta fredda recipe you might like.

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.

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.

Cacio e pepe (Happy Birthday, Roma!)

April 21st was the 2,765th birthday of Rome!  According to legend, Romolo founded the city on April 21st of 753 B.C.  But to understand that story, we should really back up a few more years yet, to the almost tragic birth of Romolo e Remo, or Romulus and Remus.

The Tiber River and St. Peter's Basilica, image from

Conceived by their mother Rhea, a Vestal Virgin,  and the God Mars, the twins were abandoned at birth, placed in a basket and floated down the Tiber river.  The river was in flood stage though, and their basket eventually washed to shore where a  she-wolf, (lupa) found them and nursed them to health.   Eventually the boys were adopted and raised by a shepherd and his wife.  Upon reaching adulthood, the boys decided to found a town at the same location where the lupa found and nursed them.  They argued, however, over which hill the new city should be build upon.  Romolo wanted the town built on the Palatine Hill, and Remo on the Aventine Hill.  In the quarrel that ensued, Romolo killed Remo, becoming the sole namesake of the city of Roma.

The Capitoline Wolf, a bronze statue of the she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus located in Rome's Capitoline Museums. Image from

To commemorate Rome’s compleanno (birthday), we compiled some of the web’s best photos of the Eternal City, and prepared one of the most classic Roman pastas, Cacio e pepe.

Cacio e pepe is a classic of the cucina povera Romana.  The shepherds who herded sheep in the hills outside of Rome who would carry aged cheese made from sheep’s milk with them, because it was easy to transport and preserve, and sheep’s cheese is a staple of Roman cuisine.  Cacio e pepe is made from just three ingredients: the hard, sharp and salty sheep’s cheese Pecorino Romano, cracked black pepper, and spaghetti. Disregard recipes that call for blends of cheeses, olive oil, or other ingredients – that’s not the real thing.

Cacio e pepe is a fixture on the menu of Rome’s traditional osterie and trattorie, and a fantastic pasta to make on a whim.  Despite its simplicity, it requires the right technique to prepare it well.  In a well-executed cacio e pepe, the Pecorino will turn creamy and smooth, coating the spaghetti perfectly.

This post is also our entry to the 261st edition of Presto Pasta Nights, hosted this week by Simona of the delightful English/Italian food blog Briciole.  Be sure to stop by and take a look at the pasta entries from around the world!

Ingredients, for 4-6 people
1 package (450 or 500 grams) spaghetti
250 grams (approx 8 ounces or just over 2 cups) grated Pecorino Romano
Cracked black pepper
Sea salt, preferably coarse

Bring a large pot of water to boil, and toss an abundant handful of salt into it. Add the pasta, and cook until al dente according to the time specified on the package.  While the pasta is boiling, prepare your cheese and have your black pepper ready to grind.

Just before draining the pasta, remove several cups of the pasta water and set aside.  When the pasta is al dente, drain it and return it immediately to the hot pot it cooked it.  Add one ladle of the preserved cooking water and about 3/4 of the grated cheese, and toss together vigorously with two forks so that the cheese melts into a smooth sauce.  If it seems too dry, add a little more of the cooking water.  If it is too runny, add more cheese.   Grind black pepper abundantly over the pasta, toss again, and serve immediately with one more dusting of ground black pepper and a sprinkle of grated Pecorino.

Wine Pairing
A dish this Roman needs a wine from Castelli Romani, the hills just outside of Rome where shepherds still tend sheep and produce great sheep’s milk cheese.  One option is Fontana Candida Frascati, which we featured in another Roman pasta dish, la carbonara.  Or, if you prefer a red, we recommend Velletri Rosso Riserva Terre dei Volsci.  This wine reflects the simplicity and earthiness of the Castelli Romani, and it’s freshness and acidity stand up well to the strong flavor of Pecorino Romano in cacio e pepe.

Le foto di Roma

The Colosseum. Image from

Castel Sant'Angelo and the Tiber River. Image from

Piazza Campo de' Fiori. Image from

St. Peter's Basilica rises above the rooftops of Rome. Image from

Piazza Campidoglio, where we were married. Image from

A Fiat 500 parked in Trastevere, one of the oldest parts of Rome. Image from

Piazza San Pietro (St. Peter's Square). Image from

The splendid Pantheon. Image from

Risotto agli asparagi

We have our tickets back to Italy this summer!  After watching airline prices for months on end, we finally saw them drop to a reasonable price, and we quickly booked.

image from

After spending a few days in Rome to visit family and friends and to celebrate the 3rd birthday of our two adorable nephews, Flavio and Davide, we plan on heading north to the visit the Piedmont region of Italy.  Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, in the far northwestern part of Italy, Piedmont is home to the Nebbiolo grape, from which some of Italy’s most prestigious wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, are produced.

image from

Inspired by upcoming trip to northern Italy and to the arrival of spring and the seasonal vegetables that accompany it, today we prepared risotto agli asparagi, or asparagus risotto.  More heavily influenced by central and southern Italian cuisine, risotto is not a dish that we often make, and we don’t at all profess to be experts.  However, risotto is one of those dishes that has transcended its regional  origins and has become known across the world as a classic Italian dish.  Plus, it’s simply delicious, so we’ve tried our hand at it and love the results.

There are a few important keys to a good, authentic risotto.  First, use a short grain, plump rice such as arborio.  This rice has a high starch content, which is essential to a creamy risotto.  Second, toast your rice in olive oil, butter or both before adding liquid to it.  Third, be sure to heat your vegetable broth until boiling, and add it very gradually to your risotto while stirring continually.  The hot broth and stirring motion causes the rice to release its starch, which is what gives risotto its unique creaminess.

for 4 people

400 grams (approx. 2 cups) rice, preferably arborio
1 lb. (450 g) asparagus
1/2 of a medium onion, minced
1 qt (approx. 1 liter) vegetable broth
2 cups (250 ml) water
2 Tbsp. butter (approx. 30 g)
2 Tbsp. olive oil (approx. 30 ml)
1 cup (approx. 100 g) grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Cut the bottom 1/3 off of the asparagus spears and cook them in salted boiling water for 10-12 minutes, until tender.  Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a wide saucepan over low heat.  Add the olive oil and the minced onions and sauté for 5 minutes, paying attention that they don’t brown.  Add the rice to the onions, and stir until all grains are coated in the oil and butter. Let the rice toast in the sauté for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cut the tips off of the cooked asparagus, and chop the spears into 1/4 inch (just over .5 cm) pieces.  Discard any tough parts of the spear, and add the tips and chopped asparagus to the rice and onion mixture.  Stir together.

In a separate saucepan, bring the vegetable broth and water to a boil.  Adjust the heat of the rice mixture to medium-low, and add the broth to the rice one ladle at a time, stirring well in between until the rice absorbs the liquid and the risotto assumes a creamy consistency.  Be patient; this process will take 30-40 minutes.  When the last of the liquid is absorbed, stir in the grated Parmigiano.  Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, and serve immediately with a dusting of Parmigiano on top.

Download a pdf copy of Risotto agli asparagi

Wine Pairing
We recommend pairing risotto agli asparagi with a Vecchie Scuole Sauvignon Blanc from Fattori.  This wine from the Veneto region has a nice floral nose and delicate grassy flavor that recalls green vegetables and is especially suited to asparagus risotto.

La pasta fatta in casa

This week, Due Spaghetti reached and surpassed 25,000 hits!

When we started Due Spaghetti last May, we really didn’t know what it would bring, or even how long it would last.  We just knew that a lot of people were curious about Italian food, wine and culture, and that we enjoyed sharing our experiences with them!  Over the past 9 months, through Due Spaghetti we’ve thought about food differently.  We’ve researched recipes and marveled over regional variations.  We’ve expanded our own repertoire and established an even higher standard of quality for our dinners.  We’ve very likely learned as much as we’ve taught.

We’ve also found a community of people from all parts of the world who share our passion for Italian food and wine.  Some of them are Italian food bloggers that we now follow regularly, others have roots in Italy just like we do, and can relate to the recipes that we post and the memories we write about.  And then, there are family, friends and colleagues whom we see and interact with everyday, who every once in a while surprise us by mentioning something they saw or a recipe they tried on Due Spaghetti!

“How should we celebrate,” we asked on our Facebook page?  Due Spaghetti follower Lisa, who spent summers in Rome as a child and now lives in the U.S., very appropriately responded, ‘na spaghettata!

It was good advice.  Our inaugural post, Spaghetti al pomodoro e basilico, featured spaghetti.  Shortly thereafter, we asked Rome-born chef Filippo Caffari of the Butcher Block in Minneapolis to explain to our readers exactly what Due Spaghetti means, and he told us, molto emphatically, with lots of gestures.  It’s fitting, therefore, that we commemorate 25,000 hits with a mouth-watering plate of pasta.

We didn’t choose spaghetti, though.  Instead, we used our Sunday afternoon to show our readers how to make homemade pasta, or pasta fatta in casa.  Many Italian food bloggers and cookbook authors have broached the subject with readers.  We consulted our favorite cookbooks, checked the recipes of our fellow bloggers, and of course, called Stefano’s mom, Maria.

The thing about homemade pasta, though, is that no recipe is the same.  Flour and eggs – that’s all that’s called for.  But the ratio of flour to eggs varies from recipe to recipe, because factors such as temperature and humidity vary from location to location and from season to season.  The homemade egg pasta we make in Minneapolis in winter will require less flour than the pasta fatta in casa that Maria makes in Rome in summer.

The most comprehensive explanation of variations in pasta fatta in casa recipes is in Giorgio Locatelli’s cookbook, Made in Italy.  However, the best description of how to mix, knead, roll out and cut pasta comes from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  The recipe that works the best for our climate is straight from Il Cucchiaio d’Argento, or the Silver Spoon.

Ingredients for 4
2 eggs
170 grams (1 and 2/3 cups) flour, plus more as needed

If possible, use an Italian type 00 flour, such as King Arthur Italian-Style
flour. Otherwise, use all-purpose, unbleached flour. And, buy the best eggs you can
find. Farm fresh eggs are superior in taste and add a beautiful yellow color to your

Preparing the dough
Pour the flour onto a clean, smooth work surface. Form the flour into a mound, and then create a wide, deep well in the center. Crack the eggs into a small container and beat lightly with a fork. Pour the eggs into the center of the flour, and use a fork to mix, gradually drawing more flour into the eggs until the eggs are no longer runny. Set the fork aside and continue mixing with your hands until the dough is smooth. If needed, incorporate more flour – the dough should be smooth, but not sticky.  Set the dough aside, wash your hands and clean your work surface.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes, using the palm of your hand to press the dough down. Fold the dough and press again, turning the dough in the same direction. Press, fold and turn.

After 10 minutes, the dough will be smooth and elastic. Cover it in plastic wrap, and let it sit for an hour.

Making Pasta
After an hour, your dough will be ready to be pressed and cut into pasta. You can either use a pasta machine, or you can roll and cut the pasta by hand. We opted to roll and cut by hand.

If you use a pasta machine, separate your dough into four equal pieces. Attach your pasta machine to the edge of our work surface, set out dish clothes to place your pasta on, and prepare some flour to have handy. One part of your pasta machine is designed to produce smooth sheets of pasta, and the other side is where you cut the sheets of pasta into fettuccine or the square-shaped spaghetti alla chitarra. You will first make smooth sheets of pasta. Set your pasta machine on the widest setting, and feed the pasta through the press. Fold the pasta sheet in half, and run it through a second time at the widest setting. Set this pasta sheet onto the dish cloth, and repeat for the remaining three pieces of dough. Sprinkle flour onto your sheets of pasta if needed to prevent it from sticking.

Once you have finished pressing all four pieces of dough, narrow the press by one notch, and run each piece of dough through the press again. Continue narrowing the press and passing the dough through until it is the thickness you prefer. Then, take each sheet of pasta and run it through the opposite end of the pasta maker, whatever width you prefer. As the fettuccine or spaghetti alla chitarra come through the machine, set them onto a cutting board or other surface, using your fingers to arrange them into a bird’s nest shape.

If you decide to roll out and cut your pasta by hand, sprinkle flour onto a broad, clean
work surface. Separate the dough into two or four pieces, depending on how large your work surface is. Use a rolling pin or a dowel, roll out the dough into an oblong form, flipping it over from time to time and using as much flour as you need to keep it from sticking. When the sheet of pasta is as thin as you like, set it aside and roll out the next piece.

After all of the dough has been rolled into pasta sheets, it is time to cut the pasta. Take a sheet of dough, and fold it loosely into a flat roll about three inches
wide. Using a cleaver or a similar rectangular, smooth chef’s knife, cut the roll into
ribbons of pasta. Use your fingers to lift and separate the pasta, and arrange it into a
bird’s nest shape.

Cooking your pasta
Cook your homemade egg pasta right away in boiling, salted water. The pasta will cook quickly, in 2-3 minutes. Drain the pasta carefully and dress it in your favorite sauce. We used a ragù sauce left over from meatballs that Stefano had made earlier in the week.

Find a Sunday afternoon, equip yourself with good flour, quality eggs, a clean work surface, and either a pasta maker or a rolling pin, and give it a try.  It’s not that hard, if you follow the tips we’ll give you below.  And there is simply nothing like a plate of pasta fatta in casa.

Download a pdf of Pasta fatta in casa

Pennette al salmone

The Oscars are on tonight!  Movie stars, the red carpet, glamorous women in evening gowns, handsome men in black tie attire.  Even if you usually watch movies from Netflix or Red Box a year after they’ve come out, like we do, it’s still fun to crowd around the television to take it all in.

Nothing matches the allure of cinema italiano, though.  During the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, Italian film makers, actors and actresses entertained audiences world wide with movies that are now iconic.  Federico Fellini gave us masterpieces such as La strada, Le notti di Cabiria, 8 1/2 and of course, La dolce vita.

Marcello Mastroianni & Anita Ekberg in the Trevi Fountain in "La Dolce Vita"

The left-leaning and sometimes controversial Pier Paolo Pasolini, master of the commedia all’italiano Mario Monicelli, and Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) director Vittorio de Sica made memorable and award-winning Italian films, while comic actors Totò, and Alberto Sordi became household names in Italy and beyond by making audiences laugh.

Pier Paolo Pasolini

"Ladri di biciclette"

Alberto Sordi eating spaghetti in the film "Un americano a Roma"

Watch it here: Alberto Sordi – Macaroni io ve distruggo!

The Italian actresses, though, captured the imagination of viewers everywhere. Claudia Cardinale, star of Fellini’s 8 1/2, Monicelli’s I soliti ignoti (Big Deal on Madonna Street) and Luchino Visconti’s il Gattopardo (The Leopard), is still consideed one of Italy’s most glamorous actresses.

In 1961 Sophia Loren earned an Academy Award for her dramatic performance in De Sica’s film World War II film La ciociara (Two Women), the first actress to win that award for a foreign language film.

Like Loren, Gina Lollobrigida began her career in Italian film, and went on to make European and American films, including Never So Few with Frank Sinatra and Come September with Rock Hudson.

Claudia Cardinale in "Il gattopardo" (The Leopard)

Sophia Loren in "La ciociara" (Two Women)

Gina Lollobrigida and Rock Hudson in "Come September"

Watching these men and women of the big screen calls for an equally glamorous  Italian pasta.  Pennette al salmone is the perfect fit.  It’s easy and quick to prepare, but delicious and elegant in with its petite pasta and its creamy pink salmon sauce – the perfect accompaniment to a night at the Oscars.

Ingredients for 4
30 g (2 Tbsp) butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
70 g (1/3 cup) finely chopped onion
115 g (4 oz.) smoked salmon
1 large can (800 g or 28 oz) whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
100 g (just under 1/2 cup) crème fraîche*
1 bunch Italian parsley
1 package (500g or 16 oz.) pennette**
Dry white wine

*Crème fraîche is a cultured cream used for cooking.  In Italy, we use a similar product called panna, but it is not available locally.  If you cannot find either option, heavy cream will work.

**Pennette are smaller than the more commonly known pasta, penne.  Ours were made by Garofalo, an Italian pasta company, and were called Penne Mezzani Rigate.

Place butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and sauté for 5 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Add the smoked salmon, broken into small pieces.  Mince the Italian parsley.  Add a large pinch to the salmon, and set the rest aside.  Sauté the salmon and parsley for 5 more minutes.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to produce a smooth sauce.  Add a dash of dry white wine, salt liberally, and let simmer for 15 minutes.

While the sauce simmers, bring a medium pot of water to boil.  Toss in a handful of salt (preferably coarse), and add the pasta.  Cook to pasta al dente according to the time on the package.  While the pasta cooks, add the crème fraîche to the sauce, stir it in well, and turn off the heat. Taste for salt, and add if needed.

When the pasta is ready, drain it and return it immediately to the pot.  Pour in the salmon sauce, and stir well until all of the pasta is coated.  Serve right away with a sprinkling of Italian parsley on top.

Download a pdf of Pennette al salmone.

Lasagne alla bolognese

In Rome, Stefano’s mom makes lasagne for special occasions, holiday meals, and Sunday afternoon family gatherings.  She uses her homemade pasta, which makes it extra special.  Unlike in America, where lasagna tends to be a bit over-worked, authentic Italian lasagne uses several layers of thin sheets of fresh egg pasta, with rich bolognese sauce (ragù) and besciamella (béchamel) in between.  There is no ricotta in lasagne alla bolognese.  Instead, we use Parmigiano.  Stefano’s mom also adds mozzarella, although traditional lasagne alla bolognese does not call for it.  According to The Silver Spoon, the addition of mozzarella may come from a southern variation of lasagne, called lasagne napoletane.  We have come to appreciate the mozzarella in our lasagne, so we have included it in our recipe.

Warm and comforting, it’s the perfect winter meal.  We especially like making up a few pans at a time and freezing them unbaked, so that we can just pull them out in the morning, let them thaw during the day, and bake them for dinner whenever we want.  There are always leftovers, and all Italians know that lasagne tastes even better the day after.

Ingredients for one 9×13 pan

For the bolognese sauce
Two 28 0z. cans of whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1 and 1/2 lbs. ground beef*
1 medium carrot
1 celery stalk
1/2 of a medium yellow onion
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt to taste

For the besciamella
100 g flour (just a bit more than 3/4 cup)
100 g butter (just shy of a stick)
1 liter whole milk
1 dash of salt
1 dash of nutmeg

4 sheets of 9×13 fresh egg pasta, or the equivalent**
2 ovoline of fresh mozzarella, in water (one tub)
1 cup grated Parmigiano***

*Choose ground beef however lean you prefer.  Generally speaking, less lean cuts will produce a sweeter sauce.  However, we often choose very lean ground beef and do not believe that there is an evident taste sacrifice.

**Homemade pasta is ideal.  Alternatively, use store bought fresh egg pasta.  Locally, fresh sheets of egg pasta can be purchased at Cossetta’s.  Oven-ready, no-boil dry pasta, such as Barilla’s lasagna, will work, too.

***Buy a wedge of real Parmigiano Reggiano, and grate it finely.  Alternatively, you can use pre-grated Parmigiano Reggiano, sometimes sold in tubs.  Bags of Parmesan sold in supermarkets are typically not authentic Parmigiano Reggiano, and please no green Kraft shaker parmesan!


For the besciamella
Prepare the besciamella in advance.  Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat, taking care that the butter does not brown.  When melted, remove from heat and stir in the flour, mixing with a fork until it forms a paste.  Heat the milk gently until warm.  Add the milk a little at a time, stirring well after each addition until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  When all the milk has been added, return the saucepan to the stove over medium-low heat.  Add the salt and nutmeg.  Stirring continually to prevent the formation of lumps, allow the mixture to thicken and come to a boil.  Remove from heat and let cool.

If you wish, you can prepare the besciamella a day or so in advance.  Store in the refrigerator in a air-tight container.

For the bolognese sauce
Chop the carrot, celery and onion and put them in a saucepan along with the olive oil.  Sauté over medium heat for 3-4 minutes until the onion becomes translucent.  Add the ground beef, along with salt to taste.  Allow the ground beef to brown slowly, stirring frequently so that the beef crumbles and cooks finely.  Add the tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to produce a smooth sauce.    Bring to a simmer, and then add the white wine.  Cook uncovered for 3 hours or more at a low simmer, stirring occasionally.  If the sauce should thicken too much, a small amount of water can be added.  When done, remove from heat, allow to cool slightly.  While still warm, taste for salt and add if needed.  Set aside.

Assembling the lasagne
Drain the mozzarella and cube it as finely as you can.  It will be somewhat messy.  Place the cubed mozzarella into a small bowl.  If required, grate the Parmigiano and place it in a separate bowl.  Pour the besciamella into the bolognese sauce, and stir until well mixed.  (Sometimes the besciamella and the bolognese are kept separate, and added to the lasagne in layers.  We prefer to mix them together before assembling the lasagne.)

Arrange your workspace so that your sauce, mozzarella and Parmigiano are set out next to your pan and your fresh pasta.  Using a ladle, place sauce at the bottom of the pan and spread it around to cover the entire surface area.  Add a layer of fresh pasta.  Follow with another layer of sauce (We have found that two ladles provides the right amount), a sprinkling of mozzarella and another sprinkling of Parmigiano.  Add a second layer of pasta, followed by a second sprinkling of the two cheese.  Repeat until you have at least three and if possible four layers.  Add a little extra mozzarella and Parmigiano onto your final layer to produce a crispy top.

Bake at 350° F, (180° C) until the cheeses on top are browned, approximately 30 to 45 minutes.  Allow the lasagne to sit for 15 minutes before serving.  If you prefer, the assembled lasagne can be frozen unbaked.  Allow it to thaw before baking.

Download a pdf version of Lasagne alla bolognese

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.