I spent a semester of college in Florence and my bus stop was directly in front of a focacceria called Pugi. The focaccia at Pugi is transcendent. It’s golden brown and crispy on the outside, with a spongy soft center soaked with fruity olive oil. The variations are endless; thin slices of ham and cheese, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, olives, rosemary. They make stuffed and layered focaccias, individual pizzas, and dessert breads slathered with sweet seasonal fruit. It’s no surprise that there is constant line out the door.
It would be impossible to recreate Pugi’s focaccia, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying. Here’s a great recipe for a classic rosemary focaccia from The Tucci Cookbook. I served this as a first course at a dinner party, alongside my favorite creamy ricotta spread, salmami, prosciutto, and a spicy pear jelly.
1 package dry yeast
2 1/4 tsp sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups bread flour
4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup milk
6 tblsp olive oil, plus more for oiling the bowl
leaves from one 5-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
1. In a measuring cup, stir the yeast, sugar, and warm water. Set aside for 5 minutes.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the all-purpose and bread flours with 2 teaspoons of the salt. Stir in the yeast mixture. Gradually stir in the milk and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Mix at low speed until the dough has come together and is smooth (about 5 minutes).
3. Lightly oil a large bowl with olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and drape a dish towel over the bowl. Set aside in a warm place and allow to double in size, about 2 hours.
4. Lightly grease a large baking sheet (about 9 x 15-inch). Gently punch down the dough. Place on the baking sheet and roll it out evenly to fit on the sheet. Cover with a dish towel and allow the dough to rise for 20 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
6. Use your fingertips to make random indentations in the dough. Drizzle the top with the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and the rosemary leaves. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving warm.
* Variations: Before baking, top the focaccia with any combination of the following: 1/4-inch-thick slices ripe plum tomatoes; 24 pitted kalamata olives, 1/4 cup very thinly sliced red onion; 1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese; 1/4-inch-thick slices of peeled eggplant; 1/4-inch-thick slices bell pepper; 1/4-inch-thick slices zucchini; 1/3 cup pesto.
For a sweet variation, gently press 1 cup dried fruit, such as cherries, blueberries, raisins, or 1 cup chocolate chips into the rolled and risen focaccia. Brush with 3 tblsp melted butter and bake.
It’s fava bean season again, and they are worth the effort it takes to get them out of their protective shells. To prep fava beans, remove them from their cottony pods, blanche them in boiling salted water for 3 to 4 minutes, place in an ice water bath, drain, and remove their waxy outer shell.
This simple salad pairs fava beans with their classic counterparts, lemon and salty cheese. You can use Pecorino or Parmesan here. Bitter radicchio, parsley, and a super flavorful lemon vinaigrette round everything out. I love the pale green ingredients contrasted with the bright purple radicchio.
Radicchio and Fava Bean Salad
1 small head of radicchio, halved, cored and thinly sliced
3 handfuls of fava bean pods, beans removed, blanched, and outer shells removed
2 tblsp coarsely chopped parsely
2 scallions, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 garlic clove, pressed
juice of 1 or 2 lemons
salt and coarse pepper
3 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
shaved Parmesan or Pecorino
1. In a large bowl, make the dressing. Combine pressed garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and lemon juice. Use a fork to slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add parsley and scallions.
2. Gently toss radicchio and fava beans into the vinaigrette. Divide into bowls and garnish generously with shaved Parmesan.
Arancini have become a mainstay of my party food repertoire, and for good reason. They are magical. They are so festive that one can imagine eating them at an ancient Roman feast, a backyard picnic, or a fancy wedding in the Hamptons. These traditional Sicilian fried balls of rice are also hand-held, bite-sized, and can be made in advance. Leave it to the Sicilians to perfect party food over 1000 years ago.
I made this sophisticated version of arancini from Martha Stewart for a baby shower. I love the double blast of bright orange color from the butternut squash and the golden panko crust. The center has a tangy burst of goat cheese, and a drizzle of warm honey takes them over the top.
To make them in advance, prepare the recipe below and let cool completely on parchment-lined sheets. Layer them between parchment in large freezer-bags and freeze for up to 1 month. To defrost, transfer them to the fridge one day before your party. On the day of the event, reheat them in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning once.
Butternut Squash Arancini with Sage
makes about 20
2 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium chicken stock
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely diced butternut squash
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1/2 cup arborio rice
1 tablespoon finely chopped sage
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, whisked
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
2 ounces goat cheese
Canola oil for frying
1/3 cup honey, warmed
1. Heat chicken stock over medium-low heat until warm; cover and keep warm over low heat.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; add squash and cook, stirring often, until lightly golden and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove squash from pan. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in pan; add onion and garlic, and saute over medium heat until translucent, 6 to 8 minutes.
3. Add rice to pan; stir to coat with oil. Add 1/2 cup warm stock; cook rice, stirring constantly, until stock is absorbed. Repeat until all stock has been used and risotto is soft and creamy, about 22 minutes.
4. Remove from heat; stir in squash and sage, and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, and let cool completely.
5. Place flour, eggs, and panko on separate plates. Using a tablespoon, scoop up a ball of cooled risotto, and nestle 1/2 teaspoon goat cheese in the middle. Roll in flour, dip in egg, and roll in panko; set on a tray. Repeat for remaining risotto. Heat 3 inches of canola oil to about 360 degrees in a wide, heavy-bottomed pan. Fry arancini in batches, turning every minute, until brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove to a paper-towel-lined plate.
6. To serve, drizzle arancini with warm honey, or serve honey as a dipping sauce.
I am somewhat of an olive fiend. They are a constant element of my antipasto plates and salads. I’ve tried many recipes for marinated olives, but this one from Jean Georges Vongerichten really stands out. His simple technique uses toasted fennel, fresh orange peel, and crushed red chile flakes to make an infused oil full of depth and flavor. And it does this with only four ingredients. The sweetness of orange and anise counteract the brine from the olives, and every so often, you get a nice crunch from the toasted fennel seeds.
Orange and Fennel Marinated Olives
makes 1 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups Lucques olives (or other brine-cured green olives, or mix with Kalamatas)
3/4 tsp fennel seeds
1/8 tsp crushed red chile flakes
4 (4-inch) strips of orange zest (removed with a vegetable peeler)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Rinse olives under cool water and drain well.
2. In a dry skillet, toast the fennel seeds over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chile flakes and toast for another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add the oil and orange peel. Steep until cool.
3. Pour the oil mixture over the olives. Cover and marinate at room temperature for at least 6 hours, or refrigerate for up to 5 days.
This special recipe comes from Jessica Theroux’s Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, a gorgeous book with heartfelt stories and classic recipes from Tuscany to Sicily. Theroux spent over a year in Italy, seeking out female elders to learn the roots and the wisdom of their culinary heritage. She stood at their side as they made bagna cauda, gnocchi di semolina, minestrone, osso buco, and much more. I bookmarked many recipes in this book.
These chard balls come from a grandmother named Carluccia who lives in the Southern region of Calabria. I was instantly drawn to these veggie polpette. They are a perfect Pezzo recipe; bite-sized, colorful and healthy. The baked polpette are fluffy on the inside, with a nice crunch on the surface from the toasted sesame seeds.
Polpette di Bietola e Marmellata di Cipolla Rossa
(Chard-Sesame Balls and Red Onion Jam)
serves 6-8 for an appetizer
For the Polpette
2 bunches chard, destemmed and washed
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, very finely minced
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan or hard pecorino
1 large egg
1 tsp lemon zest
salt to taste
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup tan-colored sesame seeds
For the Marmellata
1 cup very finely diced red onions
1/4 cup sugar
small pinch of salt
cayenne pepper to taste
1 tblsp red wine vinegar
1. To prepare the marmelatta, place the onions, sugar, salt, and cayenne together in a small pan. Turn the heat to medium-low, and bring to a boil. The onions will give off significant water–let the mixture boil until it becomes a jam-like consistency, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. Let cool to room temperature before serving with the warm polpette.
2. To prepare the polpette, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Steam the chard leaves for 2 to 3 minutes. Drain the chard and let briefly cool. Vigorously squeeze the chard dry by turning and pressing it against a fine-mesh strainer repeatedly to strain out the liquid.
3. Finely puree the chard in a food processor. Place a cup of the chard in a large mixing bowl and whisk together with the rest of the ingredients, except for the olive oil and sesame seeds.
4. Place some olive oil in one bowl, and sesame seeds in another. Roll the chard mixture into balls (using about 2 tablespoons per ball). Roll the balls first in the olive oil and then the sesame seeds. Bake for 20 minutes, until puffed and lightly browned on the bottom.
Squash blossoms have a delicate flavor and their tender petals are a beautiful pale green and goldenrod. In Italy, they are stuffed with mozzarella or ricotta, anchovies, garlic, fresh herbs, or simply battered and fried. They are an elegant late Summer appetizer.
Fried Squash Blossoms with Piquillo Pepper Sauce
For Squash Blossoms
1 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta (drained in cheesecloth for at least 1 hour)
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup finely chopped mint or parsley
salt and pepper
12 to 16 large zucchini squash blossoms, stamens removed and well-cleaned
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chilled seltzer or club soda
About 3 cups vegetable oil for frying
For Piquillo Pepper Puree
1/2 cup jarred piquillo peppers (4 oz)
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tblsp sherry vinegar
pinch of cayenne
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the piquillo pepper puree
1. In a food processor, combine piquillo peppers, garlic, sherry vinegar, cayenne and puree. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream. Season with salt and pepper.
For the squash blossoms
1. Combine ricotta, egg yolk, mint or parsley, and salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Cut the tip off one corner of a ziploc bag and place filling in the bag. Open the flowers and use the ziploc bag to pipe 1 tablespoon of the filling in each flower. Gently press the filling into the base of the flower. Cover with the petals and twist the top to seal. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Heat oil in a cast iron Dutch oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together flour, seltzer water, and some salt and pepper in a large bowl.
3. Hold the squash blossoms by the stem. Dip each into the batter, making sure to coat completely. Let any excess batter drip off. Place the blossoms in the oil and fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes, turning often to brown evenly. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately with piquillo pepper sauce.