[Thoughts on the Table – 78] A Chat with Award-winning Author Andrew Cotto

Andrew Cotto is an award-winning American writer of Italian descent. His latest novel titled Cucina Tipica tells the fascinating adventure of a young American who falls in love with Tuscany and with the culture of its people. Naturally, food and wine end up setting the pace and become deeply entrenched in the story.

I was humbled to be contacted by Mr. Cotto who sent me a copy of the book for consideration as he thought it would fit with the theme of the podcast. After reading it, I couldn’t agree more! Please join us in this episode where we discuss the novel in its many aspects–from the significance of food in the Italian culture to the chemistry of taste, from culture shock and relocation to speaking a foreign language and what it does to interactions and introspection.

You can follow Andrew Cotto on andrewcotto.com as well as on Twitter, Facebook, and InstagramCucina Tipica is available on Amazon.


As an “appetizer” for the book, Andrew sent me a recap in the form of a Food and Wine Plot Menu with 24 tastes each corresponding to a food scene in the novel. Enjoy!

Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure
A Novel by Andrew Cotto

Food & Wine Plot Menu

Food and Wine Plot Menu

Novel Overview: Cucina Tipica is the story of a disheartened American who arrives in Italy on holiday and decides he never wants to leave. What follows is a wine-soaked, food-filled travel adventure about one man’s quest for an antiquated existence in the modern world.

Jacoby Pines – a forlorn young American with a “golden palate” and hopes of redemption in Italy
Claire – a travel writer and Jacoby’s fiancee
Bill – a septuagenarian ex-pat from Texas and Jacoby’s wingman in the “adventure”
Paolo – Jacoby and Claire’s neighbor and landlord in the hills south of Florence near the village of Antella
Dolores – Claire’s “outrageous” English cousin and “Chiantishire” resident
Helen – An Aussie/English ex-pat and Florence museum guide

1st Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: Excelsior Palace Hotel – Rapallo, Italy
Food: Prosciutto, cheese, olives, dried lemons, fresh figs
Wine: Prosecco
Additional Notes: They ate with their hands and drank from the bottle, leaving stains and crumbs on the bed sheets, which Claire attempted to clear before removing her bikini bottom…

2nd Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: A “hole-in-the-wall” seafood osteria in Rapallo
Food: a basket of lightly fried calamari, shrimp, bream and whole anchovy seasoned with salt and lemon; pureed and garlicky fish soup; steamed prawns dipped in aioli; grilled sardines; plates of pasta with pesto and plates of pasta with clams
Wine: Carafes of Vermentino
Additional Notes: They shared the meal of seafood by the seaside in the Rapallo back alley as completely as possible, holding hands under and above the table, kissing frequently, filling each other’s glasses, and laughing throughout the two hours of slow and utter indulgence.

3rd Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Paolo
Where: The terrace behind Paolo’s villa featuring a wood-burning oven
Food: Handmade pizza with olives, anchovy fillets, and fresh basil; “Misto Arrosto” – a mixed roast of lamb, sausage, rabbit, liver in caul fat, guinea hen, halved-potatoes, heads of garlic, caramelized carrot and fennel.
Wine: “Local Chianti” – DOCG Colli Fiorentini, Grappa
Additional Notes: Jacoby felt as peaceful and inspired as he had in months. Maybe ever. The best two meals of his life had been had over the first two days in Italy. The country itself was more beautiful than pictures could capture. The people spoke a lovely language and wore elegant clothes. It was all good. And he wanted in.

4th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: Comune di Norcia (Umbria)
Food: Porchetta sandwich for Jacoby; salad of wilted wild mushrooms atop bitter local greens for Claire
Drinks: Soft

5th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: An elegant agriturismo in Le Marche
Food: Charcuterie plate of house-cured meats; silky thick noodles topped with black truffles; lamb roast; Pecorino cheese drizzled with honey
Wine: Rosso Piceno
Additional Notes: After dinner, they roamed the silent grounds and made love on a pool-side chaise lounge after skinny dipping in the cool water that rippled with shards of silver moonlight.

6th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Claire
Where: The tiny piazza in Panzano-in-Chianti
Wine: Brunello di Montalcino
Additional Notes: Claire tucked into Jacoby’s side and put a foot up on the bench against the back of her leg. They silently swirled the wine and took small sips, staring at the valley beyond the village that burned gold with smoldering sunshine of a fading afternoon. Jacoby savored the apple smell of Claire’s radiant hair and the feel of her lithe body pressed into his. He thought that they, in that still pose, would make a great statue, like a modern Apollo and Daphne, frozen in marble so that their love would always last.

7th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores
Where: Restaurant in Panzano owned by a young butcher (inspired by the auspices of Dario Cecchini)
Food: Bistecca Fiorentina, uccellini in brodo (white beans with tomatoes in broth)
Wine: Vecchie Terre di Montefili – Chianti Classico
Additional Notes: The flavor of the beef was as profound and complex as any Jacoby had ever tasted. Steak in the States was bland, in need of sauce, but this simply-prepared choice cut was perfectly grilled – seared on the outside, rare and warm internally – helped by hints of lemon and rosemary and coarse salt while letting the flavor of the meat itself dominate. Amazing. Transcendental. Good f****** lord.

8th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores
Where: Terrace behind the barn where they lived on Paolo’s property
Food: Eggs with prosciutto and sage, bread
Wine: Prosecco
Additional Notes: Jacoby loved cooking for people, then sharing the meal and the mutual pleasure of being together. Eating the same food; drinking the same wine; everyone on the same stage. It was like sex when sex was good and mutual. What people called “making love.”

9th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores
Where: Mercato Centrale, Florence
Food: Margherita Pizza
Wine: Moralino di Scansano

10th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini, Antella
Food: Sausage and eggs with stewed tomatoes
Drink: Espresso
Additional Notes: “I’ve been an ex-pat for 35 years, and the only thing I miss about America is breakfast,” – Bill

11th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini
Food: Spring Minestrone (generous with pieces of artichoke, asparagus and carrots in a broth of pureed onions and leeks with a snap of garlic); fresh fettuccine with fava beans and Pecorino; rabbit loin wrapped in pancetta over polenta dotted with green olives
Drinks: Negroni, Chianti Colli Fiorentini, Grappa
Additional Notes: Bill and Jacoby ate and drank and spoke of their looming adventure into Florence proper, in search of a matriarch holed up in a palace marked by a cat statue. They laughed at their dim prospects, which were soothed by the magnificent meal and flowing wine.

12th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: Florence, food stand near the Sant’Ambrogio market
Food: Lampredotto sandwiches
Wine: Chianti in plastic cups
Additional Notes: The aroma out of the stand was pungent; the sandwich warm in his hand, of tomato infused broth and hearty filling tucked between the bread. The taste was super savory to the bite, ample aromatics and a soft texture from the holy trinity of bread and filling and broth.

13th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Bill, Helen
Where: Florence, a gazebo in Piazza Signoria
Wine: Prosecco
Additional Notes: “Why, yes. Yes, I would,” Helen said. “There’s few things I prefer more than a glass of Prosecco.”

14th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Bill, Helen
Where: Florence, Il Teatro del Sale
Food: Gurguglione; artichoke sformato; polpettini; fried rabbit; zucchini stuffed with ground pork; roasted chicken & sausage with potatoes, flourless chocolate cake
Wine: House red, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Additional Notes: There was nowhere else in the world Jacoby wished to be. This was his Grand Canyon. His Hawaii. Mount Everest or Disney World. His paradise was a theater-cafeteria-commissary, sharing a table with two people he hardly knew but liked immensely, full of possibilities, in a room full of shamelessly happy people.

15th Taste:
Who: Jacoby, Bill, Helen
Where: Florence, club Sriracha
Drinks: Negronis (many)

16th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: The barn
Food: Steak & eggs
Additional Notes: Tears fell down Jacoby’s face as he continued to chew enough to swallow safely. The salt from the tears entering his mouth brightened the flavor, making it more clear what was happening even before Claire descended the stairs in the same clothes she wore before, a suitcase thumping beside her.

17th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Al fresco table at the cafe in Antella
Food: Ceci and bread
Wine: Chianti Colli Fiorentini
Additional Notes: “Ciao,” Jacoby called before tucking into his plate of oven-baked chickpeas that tasted as flavorful as anything he’d ever eaten, washing the legumes and bread down with the local red wine as he sat in the cool shadows of his own private dining terrace on a Friday night in a silent village as twilight settled upon him in what felt like the most important place in all of the world.

18th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Osteria in Pienza
Food: Pici with porcini; pappardelle with wild rabbit ragu
Wine: Argiano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
Additional Notes: In a shaded osteria at the end of town, Jacoby couldn’t decide between two pastas… so he ordered both, taking the mushroom plate first, followed by the gamy second course, both washed down with separate, massive goblets of Vino Nobile, which he swirled and sipped with great delight.

19th Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Enoteca la Fortezza, Montalcino
Food: A plate of Pecorino in three varieties
Wine: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino (2007)
Additional Notes: When it was over, Jacoby felt a thread of sadness which he hoped to dash through the purchase of a case of the very wine he just drank.

20th Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Bill
Where: A cantinetta near Antella
Food: mixed antipasti; tagliatelle with porcini; roasted pork ribs; cantuccini…
Wine: Colli Fiorentini Riserva, …Vin Santo
Additional Notes: “That was incredible” Jacoby said. Bill made a face of modest expression and flicked a wrist in the air. “Cucina tipica,” he said.

21st Taste:
Who: Jacoby and Helen
Where: Lo Sprone Vinaino, Santo Spirito, Florence
Food: Cacio e Pepe; charred octopus & potatoes; roasted pigeon
Wine: Martinis (in the piazza out front), white wine (unnamed)

22nd Taste:
Who: Jacoby
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini
Food: Cinghiale ragu over polenta
Wine: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino
Additional Notes: The meat was as tender as it was flavorful, filling his mouth with silky decadence buttressed by layers of flavor only attainable through days of preparation that precedes slow, slow cooking.

23rd Taste:
Who: Claire & Dolores
Where: Hotel Floria-Zanobini
Food: Cinghiale ragu over polenta
Wine: Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino
Additional Notes: “My f****** God!” Dolores’ voice shot from the kitchen. “This is the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my life!”
Jacoby and Claire cracked up and parted their hug.
“Bring it in here,” Jacoby called.
“No f****** way!” Dolores called back.

24th Taste (in absentia):
Who: Jacoby, Claire, Dolores, Bill
Where: The cantinetta near Antella
Food: To be determined
Wine: To be determined (lots guaranteed)
Additional Notes: “How’s the food?” Dolores asked Jacoby. “Decent?”
“Oh, it’s way better than decent,” Jacoby said. “More like typical.”


Oven-Roasted Vegetables Stripes

Roasted vegetables are nothing new, but this particular arrangement makes for a truly spectacular dish which can be served as a main course, accompanied with fresh and aged cheese, as well as a side dish.

When I lived with my parents, this preparation was a common Sunday meal feature. However, it didn’t start in my childhood. For some reason, one day my mother started roasting vegetables this way and ever since it has been pretty much her only way. Since the cooked casserole is incredibly beautiful, she would bring it to the table straight from the oven and ask people if they wanted a bit of all the vegetables or if they had their favorites. Since everyone likes potatoes, her casserole would always be generous with the popular tubers.

The striped arrangement, however, is not merely beautiful to see. By keeping the vegetables separate as they cook, each flavor remains distinct and intense. In fact, this dish works best when using vegetables of different flavor profiles and textures, as well as of differing colors. For instance, I decided to pair sweet bell peppers with bitter radicchio, and starchy potatoes with aromatic fennel. But yam, zucchini, eggplants, cabbage, mushrooms, endive, onion, green beans, and shallots can all be used as well.

Why radicchio and fennel?

I chose radicchio and fennel because they also happen to be quite obscure to many of my Canadian friends. They are often even obscure to the superstore cashiers who sometimes ask me what they’re weighing! If you have yet to try them, they’re both a bit of an acquired taste – but I guarantee they’ll quickly grow on you. Radicchio is quite bitter and astringent, but its flavor becomes milder with cooking, especially in the presence of salt. Fennel has a sweet anise-like flavor, though the roasting (and the resulting caramelization) brings out more of a well-rounded umami flavor.

Why pre-roasting?

As you will see, each vegetable is pre-roasted in the pan before going into the oven. This is to equalize cooking times. In the case of starchy vegetables like potatoes, pre-roasting also provides the necessary searing which will keep them separate and crunchy on the outside. The subtle layer of garlic flavoring and the oregano finish, along with the olive oil, all combine to bring the dish together.

Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables Stripes

Yield: 4 servings, or 8 sides

Total Time: 1 hour

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables Stripes


  • 3 medium yellow potatoes, diced uniformly (1/2 inch edge)
  • 1 large fennel (or two small ones), sliced
  • 2 bell peppers (yellow and red), sliced
  • 1 head of radicchio di Chioggia (or 3 of radicchio Trevisano), sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, whole - just for rubbing the pan
  • 1/4 cup of vegetable broth, kept warm
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon oregano (dried or fresh)
  • salt


  1. Gather the ingredients.
  2. Rub a garlic clove, which you have previously cut to expose the pulp, vigorously on a dry, oven-proof casserole. This will give a very subtle garlic flavor to the whole dish.ingredients, potatoes
  3. Pat dry the diced potato with paper towel. Preheat a tablespoon of olive oil in a non-stick pan, roast the potatoes for 5-10 minutes at a high temperature, turning them from time to time to sear them on all sides. Note: don't add any salt at this time to avoid osmosis which would extract water from the potatoes, preventing proper searing. When the potatoes begin to brown, add a bit of salt, then put them in the casserole on one of the long sides (as in the finished dish above).
  4. In the same non-stick pan, roast the fennel for 5 minutes at medium heat. If necessary, add a little more olive oil. While it cooks, add a bit of salt. When the fennel begins to brown, remove it from the pan and lay it in the casserole on the side opposite to the potatoes.fennel, bell pepper
  5. In the same pan, now roast the bell peppers (separating the colors, or together) at medium heat for 5 minutes. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil. Start preheating the oven at 180 °C (350 °F). As the bell peppers cook, add a bit of salt. When the bell peppers begin to soften, add them to the casserole, as a stripe next to the potatoes.
  6. In the same pan, finally, roast the radicchio for a minute or two at medium heat until it starts to soften. Add a bit of salt.radicchio, garlic
  7. Lay the radicchio as the final stripe, next to the fennel. Place the casserole in the oven at 180 °C (350 °F) for 45 minutes.
  8. After 30 minutes of cooking, pour in the vegetable broth and sprinkle generously with oregano.casserole, broth


Spätzle-style Passatelli Sauteed with Radicchio, on Cheese Fondue

Passatelli are a variation of “stracciatella”, an ancient soup that can be found in various parts of Italy. To make stracciatella, a mix of egg, cheese and (optional) breadcrumbs is whisked into boiling broth, resulting in bits of ripped dough that resemble small tore rags (“straccetti”). To make passatelli, instead, the dough is forced through a heavy perforated iron, resulting in irregularly shaped short noodles of variable thickness (their name comes from “passare” = to go through). You can see the passatelli iron in action in this youtube video produced by a local television in the Romagna area. Passatelli are a classic dish of the Emilia-Romagna, Marche, and Umbria regions, where they are traditionally boiled in broth and served as a soup.

Since the passatelli iron is nowadays hard to find (even in Italy), some suggest using a potato ricer with large holes. You can see it demonstrated in the second part of the same video. While this can be effective, it produces noodles of uniform thickness, removing that irregularity that is characteristic of the dish.

For my interpretation of passatelli, I made use of a spaetzle maker, which is fairly common in kitchen stores (and on amazon.com). The resulting passatelli are slightly shorter and thinner than they should be, but I found that they work especially well when served dry, as opposed to in a soup.

As for the proportions between the ingredients, I went with the original recipe presented by Pellegrino Artusi in his famous recipe book: Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, which was first published in 1891. This differs from modern day passatelli which generally feature equal amounts (in weight) of breadcrumbs and Parmigiano. Also, Artusi calls for a small quantity of bone marrow “for extra softness,” which is no longer used. Instead, I kept the idea, but replaced the bone marrow with softened butter.

Even though I followed Artusi’s proportions for the dough, I served the passatelli according to a more modern tradition. Particularly, I tried to replicate the presentation suggested in the video mentioned above, in which boiled passatelli are drained and sauteed in butter with a small amount of radicchio, and then served over a light cheese fondue. The result was truly amazing! A very successful dish that can totally be the star of the show in a rustic and cozy meal.

Spätzle-style Passatelli Sauteed with Radicchio on Cheese Fondue

Yield: 2 servings

Total Time: 40 minutes

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Spätzle-style Passatelli Sauteed with Radicchio on Cheese Fondue


     For the dough

    • 100 g (3 ½ oz) breadcrumbs (made from plain stale bread, without oils or additional ingredients)
    • 40 g (1 ½ oz) Parmigiano, grated
    • 20 g (¾ oz) unsalted butter, softened
    • 2 eggs
    • Sprinkle of grated nutmeg
    • 2 liters (½ gallon) of vegetable stock

     For sauteeing

    • 1 ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
    • ¼ of a small radicchio, sliced
    • Salt and pepper

     For the cheese fondue

    • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
    • 1 Tbsp white flour
    • ½ cup milk
    • 20 g (¾ oz) Parmigiano, grated
    • 40 g (1 ½ oz) Fontina, (or Swiss cheese), diced


       For the dough

      1. Mix all ingredients except for some of the breadcrumbs.
      2. Kneed for a few minutes until obtaining a soft dough that is not too sticky, adding the remaining breadcrumbs as needed to obtain a workable consistency.
      3. Squeeze the dough through the holes of the spaetzle grater. See here for the video.making spaetzle-style passatelli
      4. Bring the broth to a gentle boil, then toss in the passatelli.
      5. Continue boiling until the passatelli will float, then drain them gently.boiling passatelli

       For sauteeing

      1. Sautee the radicchio in butter until softened. Adjust with salt and pepper.sauteing radicchio
      2. Add the boiled and drained passatelli. Toss them gently to lightly sautee them.spaetzle-style passatelli

       For the cheese fondue

      1. Place the butter and a tablespoon of water in a small pan at medium heat to prepare a light bechamel.
      2. When the butter melts add the flour and mix vigorously until you hear a sizzling sound.
      3. Gradually add the milk, starting with a very small amount and mixing until completely absorbed.
      4. Continue until all milk is incorporated. Allow it boil for a minute to complete the bechamel.
      5. Add the Parmigiano and the Fontina, mix until they’re fully melted.making cheese fondue
      6. Assemble the dish by placing the cheese fondue in the bowls, then lay the sauteed passatelli over top.


      Shrimp, Zucchini and Saffron Linguine

      This dish is a summer classic featuring an incredible flavor combination: roasted zucchini, shrimp and saffron, in a creamy wine sauce.

      Like other crustaceans, shrimp tend to spoil quickly and are often frozen at sea or even sold cooked. Whole shrimp deteriorates even quicker because the cephalothorax (the “head”) contains the midgut gland (corresponding to the liver), which contains digestive enzymes. This gland, however, also happens to be the most flavorful part of the shrimp*. For best results, choose the freshest whole shrimp – when the recipe calls for just tails (like in this case), use the heads to make a tasty fish broth.

      *Harold McGee. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. 2nd edition (2004).

      Shrimp, Zucchini and Saffron Linguine

      Yield: 2 servings

      Total Time: 25 minutes

      Prep Time: 10 minutes

      Cook Time: 15 minutes

      Shrimp, Zucchini and Saffron Linguine


      • 5 oz (140 g) shrimp tails, peeled
      • 1/2 cup (120 ml) cream (~30% fat)
      • 1/8 cup (30 ml) white wine
      • 1 shallot, finely chopped
      • 1 zucchini, sliced into sticks
      • 1 pouch powdered saffron (0.15 g)
      • 1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely minced
      • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
      • 140 g linguine (or your other favorite dried pasta)
      • salt and pepper


      1. Start bringing a large pot of salted water to a boil (1 Tablespoon of coarse salt every 2 liters of water).
      2. Cook the shallot for 2 minutes in olive oil, then add the zucchini.
      3. Roast at high heat for 5-10 minutes tossing gently to prevent sticking.
      4. At this point, start cooking the pasta for the time indicated on the box.
      5. Add the shrimp, roast them on one side for 30 seconds, then flip them for another 30 seconds with a splash of wine.
      6. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set them aside in a bowl, making sure you collect their juices.
      7. Add the saffron and the cream.
      8. Allow the sauce to reduce for 5 minutes at max heat. Adjust salt and pepper.
      9. When the pasta is just about ready, add the shrimp you had set aside along with their juices.
      10. Then, rapidly drain the pasta and toss it into the sauce.
      11. Mix gently for a minute or two until the pasta is uniformly coated.
      12. Dish out the pasta with the help of tongs, then pour any remaining sauce onto the dishes.
      13. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately. Enjoy with a glass of white wine!




      Canederli, the Italian Knödel

      Canederli are bread dumplings only found in the north-east of Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige, Friuli, and part of Veneto), where they are served as a first course or as a main entree. Variations of this dish are common in all south-eastern Europe, where they are also served as an accompaniment to meat stews and roasts. The word ‘canederlo’, in fact, derives from the German and Austrian ‘knödel’ (dumpling).

      Canederli can be considered part of ‘cucina povera’ (cuisine of the poor), as they are made of simple and inexpensive ingredients: stale bread moistened with milk and bound with eggs and a small amount of flour. However, the mixture is often enriched with cheese and Speck (a kind of smoked prosciutto also local to the north-east regions of Italy).

      There are several variations of this regional dish, the following recipe describes one of the most common: filled with cheese. Once the dumplings are prepared and boiled, they are either served “dry” with melted butter or in broth.

      What is the correct pronunciation of “bruschetta”? Check out this and other often mispronounced Italian words.

      Canederli, the Italian Knödel

      Yield: 4-5 servings

      Total Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

      Prep Time: 2 hours

      Cook Time: 20 minutes

      #Canederli, the Italian Knödel


         For the dumplings

        • 300 g (10 oz) stale bread, diced (which can be obtained by dicing 450 g of fresh bread and laying it on a perforated tray for 24-48 hours, covered with a tea towel) - it's important that the bread is fully dried out and crunchy
        • 225 ml (1 scant cup) milk
        • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
        • 60 g (½ cup) white flour
        • 3 Tbsp (minced) flat leaf (Italian) parsley
        • 200 g (7 oz) cheese, e.g.: Fontina, Raclette (smoked or plain), or Gouda (smoked or plain), diced
        • 45 g (3 Tbsp) unsalted butter
        • 1 ½ Tbsp olive oil
        • 1 onion, finely chopped
        • ½ tsp salt
        • ¼ tsp pepper
        • ¼ tsp nutmeg
        • 3 liters (12 cups) of vegetable stock (for boiling)

         To serve them "dry"

        • 20 g (1 ½ Tbsp) (per serving) unsalted butter
        • 10 g (2 tsp) (per serving) grated Parmigiano
        • 1 small bunch of chives, thinly sliced

         To serve them in broth

        • 1 cup (per serving) additional vegetable stock
        • Some grated Parmigiano
        • Some chives, thinly sliced (optional)


        1. Put the stale bread into a large mixing bowl (1). Add the milk (2), the eggs (3), as well as salt, pepper and nutmeg.
        2. Mix well and let it rest for at least two hours, covered with a tea towel, in a cool place or in the fridge. Stir occasionally to ensure that the mix absorbs the liquid uniformly.
        3. After the two hours, add the flour (4), then the parsley (5), and the cheese (6). Mix gently.
        4. Finely chop the onion (7) and fry it in oil and butter for ten minutes at medium heat, stirring occasionally.
        5. Let the onion cool (8), then incorporate it into the mix (9).
        6. Let the mixture rest for another half-hour covered with a tea towel. It should look uniformly moist and slightly sticky.
        7. Using your hands, form the canederli by pressing together enough of the mix to make balls the size of a small orange (60 to 80 grams each). You should be able produce 14-16 balls out of the entire mix.
        8. After making each ball, roll it in flour to seal the outside and prevent the canederli from sticking to each other (10).
        9. When all the canederli are ready, re-roll them into flour and compress them a second time (11).
        10. Have the vegetable stock in a large pot, well boiling on the stove.
        11. Place the canederli gently in the pot (12-13), wait until the boil is resumed (14).
        12. Boil the canederli for 12-15 minutes (they will be floating the whole time), then drain them gently.
        13. If serving the canederli "dry", warm up the butter just enough to melt it. Place 3 canederli into each plate, pour the melted butter on them, then sprinkle with some thin-sliced chives, a generous amount of grated Parmigiano, and some freshly ground black pepper.


        Note: once boiled, the canederli can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.

        If serving the canederli in broth, prepare more vegetable stock (as the one used for boiling will be cloudy because of the flour). Place one or two canederli into each bowl, then pour the broth on them. Finish with some grated Parmigiano and (optional) chives.


        More featured recipes

        Ravioli: the Food of Kings and Peasants

        What is the correct pronunciation of “bruschetta”? Check out this and other often mispronounced Italian words.

        The word ‘ravioli’ (plural of ‘raviolo’) refers to all kinds of filled Italian pasta where a thin layer of dough wraps around a filling (‘ripieno’, in Italian). Ravioli are either boiled and dished out with sauce (a popular first course) or served in broth (a classic dinner option, especially during winter). The pasta layer, generally egg-based and rolled into a thin sheet, serves as more than an enclosure – it overextends around the filling and binds with the sauces or gains flavor from the broth. Common fillings may include anything from meat, to cheese, to vegetables and vary greatly among the countless regional recipes. Special types of deep-fried sweet ravioli also exist, perpetuating a tradition that goes back to the earliest written documents on filled pasta.

        The recipe book “Liber de Coquina” (Naples, end of 13th century) defines “torta” as a thick pie shell used as a sealed pot and not meant to be eaten. The torta was filled with a mixture of minced meat, grains, vegetables, and spices, and placed in the bread oven(1). Large and elaborate versions of the torta – made of multiple layers and decorated with plums – were served in important banquets, whereas simpler preparations were accessible to everybody.

        Inspired by the idea behind the torta, pasta makers started to incorporate similar types of fillings into their pasta shapes. The word ‘tortello’ (small torta) was used to refer to the pasta enclosure, whereas the word ‘raviolo’ (probably from late Latin rabiòlæ) was generally used to refer to just the filling. In addition to being boiled and served with sauces, the savory-filled tortelli were also fried and served with sugar and honey(1).

        As a testament to its ancient origins, filled pasta changes name and often also shape, size, and fillings based on the region of Italy. Here is a list of the most popular kinds:

          • Agnolotti (Piedmont, and other northern Italian regions) are made by layering two sheets of dough and cutting out a circle (a) or a square (b), or by folding a circle or square of dough in half (creating a half-circle shape (c) or a rectangle). If the folded agnolotti are pinched, they are called “al plin” (e). Agnolotti are usually relatively large (∅ 50 mm). The traditional Piedmontese style is filled with braised beef, ham, spinach, Parmigiano and egg, and served with the gravy from the beef or with butter (with optional sage or truffle) and Parmigiano(2).
        Circular pasta cutter
        • Anolini (provinces of Parma and Piacenza) are medium-sized (∅ 40 mm) and generally round (a, in the picture below) or almost half-circle shaped (d), cut with a circular pasta cutter. Usually, anolini have meat-based fillings and are served in broth or with a sauce made from beef.
        • Cappelletti (Emilia-Romagna, but especially Romagna) are slightly larger than ‘tortellini’, about 30 mm in diameter. They are obtained by placing the filling in the middle of squares of pasta dough, then by folding the dough diagonally to form a triangle, and by wrapping it around a finger until the opposing corners overlap and can be pressed together (h). The name ‘cappelletti’ means small hats in Italian, from the resemblance of the finished product to small paper hats. The filling generally includes different kinds of meat (pork, veal, prosciutto) and Parmigiano. Cappelletti are normally had in chicken broth.
        • Casoncelli (Lombardy, and particularly Val Camonica, Bergamo, and Brescia) are medium-sized (∅ 40 mm), generally in the shape of a half-circle (c), or of a candy wrapper. The fillings used in casoncelli vary substantially based on the area in which they are made, even from town to town. The ones from Bergamo are filled with veal, sausage, raisins, spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper), Parmigiano, and breadcrumbs. They are generally served with melted butter (with optional ‘pancetta‘) and sage.
        • Fagottini or Sacchetti are a modern creation, their shape is obtained by closing squares of pasta dough to form small bags (i) around meat-based or vegetarian fillings.
        • Pansotti (Liguria) are quite large (∅ 50 mm) and made by cutting squares or circles of dough and folding them in half (c, f). The name means “big bellies” in Italian dialect. Traditionally, the Genoa-style pansotti are filled with ricotta, Parmigiano, endive, turnip, and garlic, and served with a sauce made with walnut, milk, and bread(2).
        • Ravioli (the whole of Italy) are usually square with a side of about 40 mm. They are made by layering one sheet of pasta dough, small lumps of filling, and another sheet of pasta dough. A common variety is filled with spinach, ricotta, and Parmigiano(2), a type of filling which is called ‘di magro’ (literally, “lean” in Italian). This name was introduced by the Catholics to indicate that the filling doesn’t contain meat and this dish is allowed to be consumed during Fridays in Lent. Another variety is the Neapolitan-style, filled with ricotta, Parmigiano, parsley, and egg, and generally served with tomato sauce and Parmigiano(2). Ravioli with meat or fish-based fillings are also popular.
        • Tortelli (all northern Italy) are commonly square and flat (b) with a side of 50 mm, but they may also be round (a), or half-circle shaped (c). In some cases, they may also look like big ‘tortellini’ (g). A famous kind of tortelli from Lombardy is ‘Tortelli con la Zucca’, filled with pumpkin, Parmigiano, bread crumbs, ground ‘amaretti’ (almond macaroons), and eggs, and usually served with butter and sage(2). Tuscan-style tortelli, instead, have a meat-base filling. Just like in Medieval times, sweet versions of tortelli also exist; nowadays, however, they tend to have more neutral fillings (e.g.: ricotta and cinnamon) and they are sometimes cooked in the oven instead of being fried in oil. A different kind of sweet tortelli is ‘Tortelli Cremaschi’ (from the city of Crema), which have a sweet filling, savory pasta dough, and savory serving sauce (butter and Parmigiano). The filling is made with ground ‘mostaccini’ (spiced hard cookies typical of Crema), ground ‘amaretti’, raisins, candied citron peel, lemon zest, egg, Parmigiano, Marsala liquor, nutmeg, and (optional) ground mint. This dish is served on special occasions and during the traditional mid-summer festival.
        • Tortellini (Emilia-Romagna, but especially Emilia and particularly the cities of Bologna and Modena) are quite small (∅ 20 mm) and have a shape similar to ‘cappelletti’ except that they are usually made starting from a circle of pasta instead of a square (g). The name is a diminutive of ‘tortelli’. The filling is usually meat-based (mortadella, prosciutto, veal, Parmigiano, egg(2)). Tortellini are commonly served with tomato sauce or in meat broth.
        • Tortelloni (northern Italy), are generally a larger version (∅ 30-40 mm) of tortellini (g) or cappelletti (h), but they may also be a larger version of the flat tortelli (b). Tortelloni may have several types of fillings, both meat-based and vegetarian. A well-known filling is mushroom-based (with porcini mushroom, ricotta, onion, Parmigiano), served with butter and sage(2).
        Common shapes of Italian filled pasta

        (1) “Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History” by Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari – Columbia University Press. ISBN: 978-0-231-12232-0
        (2) “The Silver Spoon” – Phaidon Press. ISBN: 978-0-714-84531-9

        More featured articles

        Saffron and Leek Risotto

        Leeks (‘porri’, in Italian) have thickening properties and a more complex flavor profile than onions, thanks to the cabbage hints of their upper leaves(1). When replacing onion for leek in a risotto, the resulting dish is creamier and with more depth. Saffron is traditional in Milanese style risotto, but also a spice that goes amazingly well with leek, bringing an additional element to this first course. The preparation of any kind of risotto is very reliable, as long as a few tips (below) are kept in mind.

        (1) Harold McGee. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. 2nd edition (2004).

        Saffron and Leek Risotto

        Yield: 2 servings

        Total Time: 25 minutes

        Prep Time: 5 minutes

        Cook Time: 20 minutes

        Saffron and Leek Risotto


        • 2/3 cup of risotto rice (Carnaroli or Arborio)
        • 2 leek stalks, washed and sliced
        • 1 ½ tablespoons of butter
        • ½ glass of white wine, at room temperature
        • 3 cups of flavorful vegetable broth
        • ½ of a pouch of Italian saffron
        • ¼ cup of Parmigiano, grated
        • Black pepper, freshly ground
        • Salt


        1. Bring the stock to a gentle boil.
        2. In a second, larger, pot melt 1 tablespoon of butter (fig. 1).
        3. Add the leek to the butter (fig. 2) and roast it at medium heat until tender.
        4. Add the rice and toast it with the leek for 2-3 minutes (fig. 3).
        5. Add the wine and let it evaporate while stirring constantly. Reset the clock - the rice cooking time will be between 15 minutes (for Arborio) and 18 minutes (for Carnaroli).
        6. Add the vegetable broth, one ladle at a time, while stirring frequently (fig. 4). Ensure that both the risotto and the broth are kept simmering.
        7. When the rice is almost ready, dissolve the saffron in one ladle of broth and then add it to the pot. By the time the rice will be ready, the risotto will need to be quite soft, but without any excess liquid left in the pot.
        8. When the time is up, take the pot off the heat.
        9. Stir in ½ of the grated Parmigiano and the remaining ½ tablespoon of butter, adjust the salt if necessary.
        10. Let the risotto rest for 1 minute.
        11. Serve sprinkled with the rest of the Parmigiano and some ground black pepper.


        Pasta 101 – A Primer on the Most Iconic Italian Food

        Pasta is probably the most recognized Italian dish. And for good reasons. Pasta plays a fundamental part in the diet of every Italian – even daily! This article describes all main pasta types.

        Italians like pasta because they know it’s a filling meal that is easy to digest, a great option for the lunch break. The scientific reason behind this is in the high percentage of carbohydrates that pasta contains, a source of ready-to-use energy. Most Italians don’t believe in low-carb diets, since pasta and bread are so entrenched in their culture, although they do know that the excess of carbohydrates will show on the scale.

        Now that we have the Atkins debate out of the way (probably the most controversial debate that we will ever have on this blog), let’s talk about the different ways to classify pasta (limiting to its more basic forms, and leaving some of its variations, such as gnocchi or ravioli, for another post).

        Short or Long

        Pasta can be short (‘corta’) or long (‘lunga’). Examples of short kinds of pasta are: maccheroni , rigatoni, penne, rotini, farfalle. Examples of long kinds of pasta are: spaghetti , tagliatelle linguine .
        Even though subtle, the shape, size, and thickness of pasta affect its texture on the palate, and the way it takes the sauce (hence the flavor). Because of this, tradition tends to dictate whether to choose short or long based on the preparation, in some cases even calls for a specific cut (e.g. in the case of penne all’arrabbiata  – not arabiatta!).

        The shortest kinds of pasta are usually eaten in broth (‘pasta in brodo’), as opposed to in dry preparations (‘pasta asciutta’). ‘Mac and cheese’ is an exception where a very short pasta is used in a dry dish – this, however, is not a traditional Italian recipe.

        Long pasta typically poses some “mechanical difficulties” to those that are not used to eating it. The proper way to eat long pasta doesn’t involve cutting it with a knife! Instead, it consists in rolling the strings around the fork (by rotating it in the hand), optionally using a spoon as support (although this is not common in Italy). Long pasta is known to splash the person eating it, especially if tomato or oily sauces are used. That’s the main reason why in Italy it is not unusual to see people in restaurants wearing napkins around their necks.

        Fresh or Dried

        Pasta can be fresh (‘fresca’) or dried (‘secca’). Fresh pasta (either industrially made or hand made) is preserved by keeping it in the fridge in air-tight wrapping (and only lasts a few days). Dried pasta is industrially treated to remove its moisture and can be stored for quite a long time even if the box has been opened.

        Because of its different texture and flavor, fresh pasta is considered more highly than the dried one, and on certain dishes, it’s almost mandatory. However, quality dried pasta has different properties that work well for certain dishes, and in every day’s cooking, it’s far more popular than the fresh one. Every Italian has their own favorite brand of dried pasta, and they are very loyal to it (the most popular ones are Voiello, Barilla, De Cecco).
        Both dried and fresh pasta may or may not contain eggs. Egg pasta has a different flavor and texture that works well for some delicate preparations. Common cuts of egg pasta are tagliatelle, pappardelle, garganelli.

        Boiled or Baked

        Pasta can either be boiled in abundant salty water, or baked in the oven. When boiled pasta is ready, it is quickly drained and served with a sauce (for best results, boiled pasta should be added to the sauce while still in the pan and allowed to rest in it for a minute). The boiling time is extremely important as you want the pasta to be “al dente” (for commercial pasta, most Italians simply follow the cooking time on the box). The expression “al dente” literally means “to the tooth”, indicating that the cooked pasta should be firm enough to require it to be chewed. The chewing process makes al dente pasta easier to digest than overcooked pasta. Pasta can also be boiled in broth and served in the same broth.

        Baked pasta, on the other hand, is filled or layered with other ingredients, covered in sauce, and baked in the oven. If dried pasta is used, it gets sometimes lightly pre-boiled before going in the oven. Examples are: cannelloni  (not caneloni!), or the world-famous lasagna  (plural: lasagne ).

        Durum or Regular Wheat

        Italian dried pasta is made exclusively with durum wheat semolina. Fresh pasta can be made of regular wheat semolina or even all-purpose flour. Durum semolina is high in gluten, and the pasta made from it holds the cooking much better, i.e. doesn’t overcook as easily as regular wheat pasta. Even the best durum pasta, however, don’t reheat well at all – no Italian would eat leftover pasta the next day. Baked pasta instead can be reheated (sometimes, Italians even bake their lasagnas intentionally the night before and warm them up the next day for a more uniform and intense flavor).

        As mentioned, every boiled pasta is served with some kind of sauce, and the sauce has to be in a sufficient quantity to coat the pasta, and just a little more. It’s a common Italian habit to eat the sauce remaining in the plate with some bread. This operation is called ‘fare la scarpetta’, which literally means: doing the little shoe – shaping a chunk of bread like a small shoe and wipe the plate clean!

        Regardless of the type of sauce used, grated Parmigiano (or in some cases aged Pecorino) is added (just before serving) pretty much to every pasta dish. A common exception is for sauces containing fish.

        It is interesting to note that probably 50% of pasta sauces are traditionally vegetarian – this contributes to making Italy a vegetarian-friendly country.

        Every Italian region has its own exclusive pasta sauce recipes, and it would be impossible to mention them all here. However, there are a few families of sauces that are popular all around Italy. Here is a list of them where every sauce is paired with its most typical cut of pasta.

        • Based on just olive oil, e.g.:
          • spaghetti ‘aglio, olio e peperoncino’ (with garlic and chili pepper)
          • linguine with shell fish or other seafood (usually with some garlic and white wine)
        • Based on tomato, e.g.:
          • tomato basil rotini
          • penne all’arrabbiata (spicy, with garlic and parsley)
          • creamy tomato farfalle (with heavy cream)
        • Pesto (basil, oil, pine nuts, Parmigiano), e.g.:
        • Just butter, e.g.:
          • pappardelle (also, ravioli) butter and sage
        • Based on meat, e.g.:
          • spaghetti al ragù (Bolognese)
          • tagliatelle ‘al cinghiale’ (with wild boar)
        • Based on cream, e.g.:
          • pappardelle with mushrooms
          • fettuccine with salmon
          • farfalle with ham and peas
        • Based on eggs, e.g.:
        • Based on cheese, e.g.:

        Finally, I can’t help but mention the most common mistakes found in North America. You are likely not going to have an authentic Italian pasta dish if:

        • You are getting served preparations that in Italy don’t exist. For instance:
          • Alfredo sauce. In Italy, there are several cheese and butter sauces, but nothing called Alfredo.
          • Spaghetti with meatballs. There is some evidence of such a dish in some areas of southern Italy, but this dish is virtually extinct in Italy.
        • Your pasta is terribly overcooked – Italian pasta has to be “al dente”.
        • There is too much sauce – pasta is a dry dish, not a stew!
        • There is too much pasta – 80-100 grams (around 3 ounces) is the average amount.
        • Pasta is served with a side of salad or garlic toast – it just doesn’t happen in Italy (however, bread would be on the table).

        Also, if you are making pasta at home, using pre-made sauces from a jar is a big no-no. You can buy some OK pre-made Italian sauces, but they don’t compare with the freshly made ones and don’t have a big market in Italy.

        More featured articles