It’s that time of year in Italy. The grapes are being harvested for this year’s wine production! It’s an exciting time, to say the least, as well as a delicious period when the locals are enjoying the bounty the land has to offer. Making wine is no small task, so I will leave that to the pros, but one way I am enjoying the season, even though I am not in Tuscany, is by eating and baking with grapes. One of Tuscany’s most preferred method of baking with grapes is in schiacciata, which is similar to a sweet focaccia. While I love making fall schiacciata, I love this cake just as much. This cake is a bit more, well, cakey, that schiacciata, which tends to be a bit more bread-like and with added rosemary on top, can be a bit savory. This cake is wonderful for dessert, to be enjoyed with coffee or tea, or even for breakfast. Be sure to use small seedless grapes, as anything large will sink to the bottom of the cake. Topping it with a tablespoon of sugar and some slivered almost is purely optional, but they do add a nice touch. Go ahead and make prepare this delicious cake this fall, you will not be sorry.
Fall Harvest Cake
2 cups small seedless grapes (Thompson or Concord grapes)
11/3 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra for dusting the grapes)
1½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
Zest of 1 orange or 1 lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup light tasting olive oil (or vegetable oil)
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup milk (whole/skim/2%)
Optional: 1 tablespoon sugar
Optional: 2 – 3 tablespoons slivered almonds
1. Pre-heat oven to 350F, grease and flour an 8-inch springform or regular cake pan, or spray it with Pam non-stick spray.
2. Lightly dust the grapes in 1 tablespoon of flour. Set aside.
3. Whisk together flour, baking powder and baking soda together in a medium bowl, set aside.
4. In a large mixing bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3m inutes. Add the zest and vanilla beat until combined.
5. Reduce speed to low and slowly add the oil. Slowly add the yogurt and milk and beat until combined.
6. Still with speed on low, slowly add the flour just until combined, do not overmix.
4. Turn the mixer off and add half the grapes into the batter and mix with a spatula. Pour into the pan, and spread evenly. Top the batter with remaining grapes, and very gently press them down with your hand or spatula.
5. Optional: Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar on top and top with slivered almonds. Bake the bake for approximately 40-45 minutes. Cool before removing from the pan.
Oh summer…. We love you, but you don’t last nearly as long as we’d like. With it, you bring your bounty of tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, green beans, and lots and lots of basil. But fall is almost here and with it comes an entire new line of ingredients that we adore just as much. Italians love to enjoy products at their peak of season, and why not, that is when they are the healthiest, tastiest and most readily available. Adopting the Italian mentality of eating in season, below you will find a list of seasonal ingredients often enjoyed in Italian dishes, that are perfect for this time of year. Enjoy them liberally for they all carry lots of vitamins and minerals.
Swiss Chard and Spinach
Swiss chard and spinach are autumn vegetables that are also excellent antioxidants. They also have the advantage of cooking very quickly. Which makes them even that much more appealing. Great in salads, in pasta dishes or simply sautéed as a side dish, these leafy greens are a must in my kitchen.
Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, cabbage is also great for your health. It also contains vitamin A and vitamin C and has an intense and characteristic flavor. I enjoy it in soups, with lots of carrots, onions, parsley and diced potatoes.
Be it fresh, dry or frozen, mushrooms are the ideal fall ingredient. Their growth is facilitated by the autumn rains, and they are considered a good source of mineral salts such as potassium, phosphorus, copper and selenium. Did you know that mushrooms are famous for their power to strengthen the immune system? I love mushrooms in risottos or in chicken and turkey recipes.
Another typical autumn vegetable is the artichoke. Considered to be the protector of the liver, the artichoke with its characteristic bitter-sweet taste has a low-calorie content and is rich in minerals. After cleaning them out, I steam baby artichokes, then sauté them with lots of garlic and herbs, then top them with fresh breadcrumbs and grated Parmigiano cheese.
Often added to salads, or roasted in the oven as a side dish to chicken or seafood, fennel is rich in water, low in calories, and known for its aromatic and digestive properties. Its liquorish flavor is refreshing and light.
Rich in complex carbohydrates, potatoes are a vegetable that gives life to many recipes in the kitchen and has many beneficial properties. I love potatoes any which way they’re cooked, but one of my favorites method is diced small, seasoned with lots of great olive oil and fresh herbs, than placed in one layer on a baking sheet. After that, I top them with a healthy dusting of fresh breadcrumbs and roast them for 25 – 30 minutes. They’re the perfect side dish to roasted chicken.
Apples and Pears
Typical fruits of the autumn season are apples, pears. There are several varieties and all have a unique flavor. They are great in fall salads, enjoyed with chicken or pork and eaten as dessert. I also love baking with apples and pears as they are a great addition to coffee cakes or bundts.
Typically harvested in September or October for wine production, grapes are a great way of ending your meal. With their sweet flavor, they are deceptively addictive!
There are countless varieties of chestnuts, a very nutritious food that can be used for many dishes in the kitchen. In addition, chestnuts are rich in vitamins and minerals. I enjoy them simply roasted in the oven. Be sure to score them with an X or they will burst in the oven!
Oranges and Mandarins
Sweet citrus fruits rich in vitamin C, oranges and mandarins are highly hydrating fruits, that contain few calories and many vitamins. They’re in peak season in the late fall, all the way into winter.
Add these or any other seasonal ingredient to your fall menu, and not only will you be eating like an Italian, you’ll be eating healthy too!
Sunday means one thing in an Italian household: food and family, and lots of both. Growing up in southern Italy, Sunday meant Mass, followed by a large family meal that was usually prepared, or at least started, before Mass. Mom would get up early to prepare the sauce, along with whatever else we were having that day. Pasta al Forno, or baked ziti was served pretty regularly in my household, usually with a second course of fried cutlets and peas with pearl onions. It was a traditional Sunday meal, a frequent go-to when you wanted to eat something a little more elaborate, but couldn’t think of anything else! Generally, mom would get everything ready beforehand, including breading the cutlets, making the sauce and dicing up all the ingredients. Then upon returning from church, we’d prep the pasta for the oven, and fry the pre-breaded cutlets. The peas required little attention, thus the perfect side dish! This dish is sure to bring many Italians and Italian-Americans to their youth!
Southern Italian Style Pasta al Forno
For the sauce:
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 – 3 crushed garlic cloves
½ small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 lb ground meat (beef, beef & veal combo, turkey)
1 teaspoon salt, plus additional for salting the pasta water
1 (28 ounces) can, plus an additional ½ (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
For the pasta:
¾ - 1 lb ziti, penne or rigatoni pasta
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
8 oz shredded mozzarella, divided
½ lb deli-style ham, diced, divided
¼ lb deli-style salami or soppresata, diced, divided
4 eggs, hardboiled and diced, divided
If there is one dish that takes mere minutes to prepare, is ideal for week-night dinners, but worthy of guests, and is adored by adults and children alike, it would have to be veal saltimbocca. Enhanced by the flavor and saltiness of the prosciutto, this recipe is surprisingly simple to prepare. The term “saltimbocca” literally translates to “jump in your mouth,” and it is believed that the deliciousness of this dish is so extraordinary, that it will literally jump in your mouth! This dish is a favorite of Roman cuisine and is often found on restaurant menus, both here and in Italy. And talk about a kid friendly recipe, children adore the saltiness of the prosciutto in this dish. Because the veal is generally very thin, this dish takes a mere 20 – 25 minutes from start to finish. You could follow the recipe as is and substitute thin chicken breasts cutlets if you prefer. Adjust cooking time accordingly as even the thinnest chicken cutlets will be thicker than veal and require a few extra minutes of cooking time.
4 – 6 thin veal cutlets
Salt, to taste
4 thin slices of prosciutto
8 large sage leaves
½ cup flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons butter, dived
¾ cup chicken stock
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