Bring in the New Year with Lentil Soup

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Zuppa di Lenticchie – Italian Lentil Soup
(as demonstrated and served at the 2017 IFAFA Conference in Rockford, IL)

Lentils are traditionally served at many New Year’s dinners throughout Italy. With their coin-like shape, they are believed to represent good fortune and money in the coming year. They are commonly served with either cotechino or zampone.

Jody Perrecone and Mary Ann Ferruggia demonstrate how to make Italian Lentil Soup to participants at the 2017 IFAFA Conference in Rockford, IL.

1 lb green lentils, rinsed and sorted
3 large yellow onions, chopped
2 leeks, white part only, chopped
1 T minced garlic (3 cloves)
3 T olive oil
salt and black pepper
1 t ground cumin (optional)
8 celery sticks, chopped
4-6 carrots, chopped
3 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
4 T tomato paste
2 T red wine or red wine vinegar (optional)
½ box ditalini (little thimbles) or other small pasta
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (to serve)

In a large stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions, leeks, and garlic with the olive oil, salt, pepper, and cumin for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are Leggi tutto “Bring in the New Year with Lentil Soup”

Calamari  al Forno – Baked Squid

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Look for squid that has already been cleaned to shorten prep time considerably. The squid used for the recipe should be 4-6 inches long. Anything smaller makes for tedious stuffing. Serves 4.

1 ½ pounds cleaned whole squid, including tentacles (Separate squid bodies from tentacles; finely chop tentacles)
½ fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
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Cuzzupa, a Traditional Easter Bread from Calabria

A classic Easter dessert in the region of Calabria, the cuzzupa is a lightly sweetened cake with eggs nestled into it. It is a tradition to make one cuzzupa for each member of the family, and the size of each cake may depend on age and “hierarchy” of the family member– the head of the family gets the biggest cake while the children get the smallest ones! Cuzzupe are a nice alternative to chocolate and other sweets that children receive at Easter time.

Cuzzupe can be made in many shapes. They’re molded by hand into braids, rings, hearts, nests, baskets, dolls, etc. A different shape may be used for each member of the family.

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Truffle Crazy

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Truffle Crazy
By Helen Donegan

Truffles are the things, I think, that illustrate more than most how much Italians love their food. I had never really heard of them before I came to live in Italy. Then I only ate them when some one else was paying.

One day ten years ago my husband came home with enough “truffle” to do two plates of pasta (a very tiny piece). He was all pleased with himself and had paid $40 – I nearly throttled him! I couldn’t believe someone would pay so much for a plate of pasta! Now I know better – people go crazy for them! So I would just like to take you through a fact-finding tour and let you know of the various truffles festivals that are held in Italy during the Autumn/Winter.

The first thing is of course to explain what truffles are; I can’t be the only person who didn’t know! Basically truffles are glorified mushrooms (I am sorry, I am sorry!) that are found in certain areas in Italy (and some other countries). There are many different types, but we can divide them into white & black and then again by season.

The big divide between white and black truffles causes endless discussion here – the white truffle mainly comes from the North of Italy, especially in the Piemonte region. These are considered superior by about 75% of the experts; some even claim they have aphrodisiacal qualities!

“True truffles” have to come from certain areas and be grown in the right season – the black winter truffle is found mainly in Umbria from mid-November until mid-March. The black truffles are favored by the other 25% of the above-mentioned “experts.” The white truffle is officially found in the Piedmont region of Italy from early October through late December but they can come from other areas of the North of Italy. There are other “inferior” truffles, including the summer truffles.

Attempts to produce truffles commercially have all failed; they will not grow “on demand.” They grow underground, mainly at the roots of oak trees – but also chestnut, hazel, or beech trees at times. Specially trained pigs or dogs sniff them out, and it is this long slow process, which makes them so expensive. The men who collect the truffles are highly expert in their work. They are said to be able to identify the shape of a tree, which will have good truffles under the roots. If the truffle isn’t ready for eating, it will be put back under the soil to be harvested later. Searching for truffles is almost religious in a way. The men and their animals are greatly revered by many. I found the many accounts which demonstrate a little of the “magic” involved in the whole process.

With the scarcity of the truffle and the difficulty in finding it in the first place, the price keeps going up. Of course this leads to shady and sometimes criminal activity. Some restaurants will go to incredible lengths to satisfy their clients. This encourages racketeering, etc. You also have to make sure that the restaurant or shop selling them is reliable. Not everything called a truffle is a truffle; there are many “fake” varieties. Personally I can’t tell the difference and, if the price is right, I don’t care! (I know that is sacrilege to all “foodies”).

There are lots of recipes using truffles. It depends on the quality of the truffle if you cook them or not. Now a complete industry has grown up around truffles, and there are many types of oils and sauces made with them. Purists say that you can’t preserve truffles – putting them in oil is supposed to ruin the truffle and the oil. They say you should eat them fresh, within two weeks of being taken from the ground. Apparently the taste diminishes even within these two weeks, so the fresher the better. However I think, if you like the taste of truffles and have no alternative, you will enjoy the various products with a truffle flavor. (See recipe for Spaghetti with Black Truffles on the next page.)

There are lots of special events held throughout the year where you can taste truffles and enjoy the party-type atmosphere they evoke. If you are going to be in Italy during truffle season, try phoning the hotlines below to learn of local truffle festivals:

Truffle Festival Hotlines
Alba: 0173/362-807 Mondovì: 0174/559-263, 559-256
Asti: 0141/399-482, 399-399 Montechiaro d’Asti: 0141/999-136
Canelli: 0141/823-685, 820-111 Murisengo: 0141/993-041
Moncalvo: 0141/917-505



Walnut Sauce

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  • 200 grams walnuts
  • 1/2 glove of garlic
  • the soft part of two bread rolls
  • whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt

Shell walnuts; soak in water in order to remove the bitter inside skin. Place nuts in the mortar with the garlic, bread soaked in milk, and salt. Blend with pestle until smooth and creamy.

When serving with pasta, I suggest that you dilute it with a little bit of the hot water used to cook the pasta and toss with butter and Parmesan cheese.


Pesto Sauce

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  • 4 bunches of basil  40 gr Parmesan
  • 20 gr pecorino cheese
  • a handful of pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt
  • Ligurian olive oil

Wash and dry with paper towels the small basil leaves. (Be careful not to mash them when you dry them.) While the leaves are drying, chop 2 cloves of garlic with a bit of salt. After chopping garlic and salt, add the basil leaves, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and pecorino cheese, and mix it all with a mortar and pestle, gradually adding the olive oil. The pesto sauce should not be too liquid.


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Serves 4 people

  1. 250 gr of flour
  2. a pinch of salt
  3. water

Mix flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the water. Start mixing the ingredients until all the flour is incorporated and the dough looks cohesive. (If the dough is too sticky, add a bit more flour).

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Pasta della Liguria: Trofie e Croxetti

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Contributed by Anna Merullo

A handmade pasta shaped like a string bean, you can find trofie all along the Italian Riviera restaurant menus and in Ligurians’ homes. The traditional name trofie possibly derives from “strafuggià” (to rub), the movement done with one’s hands to make this kind of pasta.

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Oranges all’italiana

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This is even better if you can find Sicilian blood oranges! –Jackie Capurro

  • 4 large oranges
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1 tablespoon grappa or other liqueur 
  • 2 tablespoons high-quality balsamic vinegar
  • mint leaves for garnish
  1. Peel the oranges, and cut them into large rounds about 1/2-inch thick
  2. Place each slice in a large frying pan, sprinkle with the sugar, and add the raisins. (You may have to do this in two batches.)
  3. Add 2 tablespoons water, and cook over high heat for the first 3 minutes.
  4. Lower the heat, and cook for 4 more minutes, flipping the oranges halfway through.
  5. Pour in the grappa, and let it evaporate.
  6. Arrange the oranges on a plate, add the sauce from the pan, and let cool to room temperature (do not put in the refrigerator)
  7. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar, and serve, garnished with mint. Serves 4.

Amaretto Cake

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  • 3/4 c butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1-1/2 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/4 t ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1/4 c amaretto liqueur
  • 1 t finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1/2 t vanilla

    Syrup / Glaze

  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/4 c water
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 2 T light corn syrup
  • [1/2 c amaretto liqueur – optional]


  1. Generously grease and flour six 4-inch fluted tube pans or one 6-cup fluted tube pan.
  2. Let butter and eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, and nutmeg.  In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds.  Beat on medium-high speed, adding the 3/4 c sugar 2 tablespoons at a time, about 6 minutes or until mixture is very light and fluffy.
  3. Stir in the 1/4 c amaretto, lemon peel, and vanilla.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating for one minute after each addition, scraping bowl often.  Gradually add the flour mixture to butter mixture, beating on medium-low speed just till combined.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan(s).  Bake in a 325° oven 20-25 minutes for the miniature pans, 40-45 minutes for the large single pan, or until toothpick tests clean.  Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove cake(s) from pan(s).  Cool thoroughly on racks.  Prick fluted top and sides of each cake generously with tines of fork.
  5. For syrup, in a medium saucepan, combine the remaining, 1/3 c sugar, water, brown sugar, and corn syrup.  Cook and stir over medium heat till bubbly and most of the sugar is dissolved; remove from heat.  [Stir in the 1/2 c amaretto.]  Cool for 5 minutes.
  6. Dip fluted top and sides of each cooled miniature cake into syrup.  Place cakes on a wire rack above a tray of cookie sheet.  Spoon or brush any remaining syrup over tops of cakes.  (For large cake, do not attempt to dip!  Brush syrup on tops and sides of cake while on rack, allowing excess to drip into tray/cookie sheet below.)
  7. Wrap individual cakes in plastic wrap or cellophane; chill, fluted side up, for up to 3 weeks.  Or transfer to a tightly covered container to chill.

Makes 6 miniature cakes or 1 large cake (24 servings)