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The February 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen and Deeba of Passionate About Baking. They chose Tiramisu as the challenge for the month. Their challenge recipe is based on recipes from The Washington Post, Cordon Bleu at Home and Baking Obsession.

What a challenge! We had to make our own savoiardi/ladyfinger biscuits and mascarpone cheese with the given recipes as well as the zabaglione and pastry cream. Here are the recipe sources:
Mascarpone Cheese – Vera’s Recipe (Baking Obsession) for Homemade Mascarpone Cheese
Savoiardi/ Ladyfinger Biscuits – Recipe from Cordon Bleu At Home
Tiramisu – Carminantonio’s Tiramisu from The Washington Post, July 11 2007

I started preparing the tiramisu ingredients 3 days before I planned to serve it since many of the ingredients require a long rest in the refrigerator. First, I made the zabaglione and pastry cream since both needed to rest for at least four hours. The zabaglione recipe called for Marsala wine, which I did not have, so I used Port instead. I couldn’t help but sample the zabaglione before I put it in the fridge and, let me tell you, I could have made a meal out of this stuff. And the aroma was absolutely intoxicating!

On Day 2, I made the ladyfingers and mascarpone cheese. Making the ladyfingers was my favorite part of the process since it allowed me to put my pastry bag to good use. 🙂 I had some difficulty with getting the cream to 190 degrees for the mascarpone cheese. I finally did, but it took much longer than the 15 minutes the recipe indicated.


Day 3, I made the whipped cream then combined the zabaglione, pastry cream, and mascarpone cheese. Next, I gently folded the whipped cream into the zabaglione/pastry cream/mascarpone mixture.

Finally, it was time to assemble the tiramisu. I dipped the ladyfingers in espresso as quickly as I could. I decided to use a trifle bowl for my tiramisu instead of the 8×8 square dish as suggested. I’m not 100% satisfied with the appearance, but that’s what I get for not listening to Aparna and Deeba (aka the tiramisu masters).

Twenty-four hours later, the flavors had married perfectly! This is hands-down the best tiramisu I’ve ever had. Then again, I’m pretty sure I’ve never had ladyfingers or mascarpone cheese made from scratch. It was a big hit with the gals at last week’s game night. I’ll definitely use this recipe the next time I feel the need to do a little showboating! 😉

After all this hard work, I think all the Daring Bakers deserve a round of applause. Please visit our blogroll and give them an “atta girl” (or boy). I’m drooling in anticipation of next month’s challenge. With this group of bakers, there’s no doubt it will be something exciting and delicious!

Chicken Toscana Soup

Last week was my turn to host game night which meant I got to toss around menu ideas (one of my favorite hobbies, incidentally). I knew I’d be making an Italian dessert so after contemplating several ideas, I decided to make the entire meal Italiano.

Two of my favorite dishes at Romano’s Macaroni Grill are their chicken Toscana soup and warm spinach salad. The soup is a creamy chicken soup with gnocchi, tomatoes, and spinach which compliments the salad – fresh spinach wilted and tossed with prosciutto, roasted garlic, fresh lemon and extra virgin olive oil then topped with toasted goat cheese – perfectly!

Lucky for me, I was able to find some “copycat” recipes. Thanks, Google and RecipeZaar!

Quick & Light Chicken Toscana Soup Inspired by Macaroni Grill

Serves 8


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil 
  • 2 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 90 ounces low-sodium low-fat chicken broth
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • 4 cups cooked chicken (I used a rotisserie chicken from Fresh Market)
  • 16 ounces 1% low-fat milk (I used whole milk)
  • 16 ounces mini gnocchi
  • 10 ounces baby spinach (fresh, half bag)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Fresh basil (if you only have dried, rub approx. 3/4 tsp. between palms and add when you add the milk)


  1. Cook the onion and garlic in olive oil until transparent (5-10 minutes). Add the chicken broth and bring to boil. Add chicken and tomatoes; bring back to a good simmer for 5 minutes. Add gnocchi; cook for 1 or 2 minutes if mini size, a little longer if larger.
  2. Add milk and heat until steaming. Stir in spinach just long enough to wilt. Ladel into bowls and top with parmesan cheese and fresh basil if you have it.

Warm Spinach Salad

I wilted a ton of fresh spinach in my wok then dressed it in a roasted garlic lemon vinaigrette (recipe below). I toasted several slices of goat cheese (instructions to follow), crisped the prosciutto, and voila!

Roasted Garlic Lemon Vinaigrette Inspired by Macaroni Grill


  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 ounce roasted garlic
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 lemon, juice of


Place vinegar, honey, salt and roasted garlic in a food processor. Puree until the garlic is chopped very fine. With the food processor still running, add olive oil and lemon juice. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To Toast Goat Cheese:

  • 12 oz. goat cheese
  • 1/2 c. dried bread crumbs
  • 1/2 c. walnuts, ground fine

Slice rounds of the goat cheese with a sharp knife that is placed under hot running water after each slice is made. Pat the rounds so that they are firm, with rounded edges, and about 1/2 inch in thickness. Combine the bread crumbs and ground walnuts. Brush the goat cheese rounds with a bit of the walnut or vegetable oil and coat with the crumb mixture. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes, or until the crust is brown. (Instructions by

I tried baking the goat cheese in the oven, but found that browning it on the stovetop in a small non-stick skillet worked much better. Click here for the chicken Toscana soup recipe and here for the roasted garlic lemon vinaigrette recipe. Buon Appetito! Come back soon for the Italian dessert – 100% made from scratch. You won’t want to miss it!

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100% verbatim from either book.

Lidisano’s Cannoli
Makes 22-24 4-inch cannoli
Prep time:
Dough – 2 hours and 10-20 minutes, including resting time, and depending on whether you do it by hand or machine.
Filling – 5-10 minutes plus chilling time (about 2 hours or more)
Frying – 1-2 minutes per cannoli
Assemble – 20–30 minutes

2 cups (250 grams/8.82 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons(28 grams/1 ounce) sugar
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.06 ounces) unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (approx. 3 grams/0.11 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (42 grams/1.5 ounces) vegetable or olive oil
1 teaspoon (5 grams/0.18 ounces) white wine vinegar
Approximately 1/2 cup (approx. 59 grams/approx. 4 fluid ounces/approx. 125 ml) sweet Marsala or any white or red wine you have on hand
1 large egg, separated (you will need the egg white but not the yolk)
Vegetable or any neutral oil for frying – about 2 quarts (8 cups/approx. 2 litres)
1/2 cup (approx. 62 grams/2 ounces) toasted, chopped pistachio nuts, mini chocolate chips/grated chocolate and/or candied or plain zests, fruits etc.. for garnish
Confectioners’ sugar

2 lbs (approx. 3.5 cups/approx. 1 kg/32 ounces) ricotta cheese, drained
1 2/3 cups cup (160 grams/6 ounces) confectioner’s sugar, (more or less, depending on how sweet you want it), sifted
1/2 teaspoon (1.15 grams/0.04 ounces) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (4 grams/0.15 ounces) pure vanilla extract or the beans from one vanilla bean
3 tablespoons (approx. 28 grams/approx. 1 ounce) finely chopped good quality chocolate of your choice
2 tablespoons (12 grams/0.42 ounces) of finely chopped, candied orange peel, or the grated zest of one small to medium orange
3 tablespoons (23 grams/0.81 ounce) toasted, finely chopped pistachios

Note – If you want chocolate ricotta filling, add a few tablespoons of dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to the above recipe, and thin it out with a few drops of warm water if too thick to pipe.

1. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer or food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oil, vinegar, and enough of the wine to make a soft dough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and well blended, about 2 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge from 2 hours to overnight.

2 Cut the dough into two pieces. Keep the remaining dough covered while you work. Lightly flour a large cutting or pastry board and roll the dough until super thin, about 1/16 to 1/8” thick (An area of about 13 inches by 18 inches should give you that). Cut out 3 to 5-inch circles (3-inch – small/medium; 4-inch – medium/large; 5-inch;- large. Your choice). Roll the cut out circle into an oval, rolling it larger and thinner if it’s shrunk a little.

3. Oil the outside of the cannoli tubes (You only have to do this once, as the oil from the deep fry will keep them well oiled.). Roll a dough oval from the long side (If square, position like a diamond, and place tube/form on the corner closest to you, then roll) around each tube/form and dab a little egg white on the dough where the edges overlap. (Avoid getting egg white on the tube, or the pastry will stick to it.) Press well to seal. Set aside to let the egg white seal dry a little.

4. In a deep heavy saucepan, pour enough oil to reach a depth of 3 inches, or if using an electric deep-fryer, follow the manufacturer’s directions. Heat the oil to 375°F (190 °C) on a deep fry thermometer, or until a small piece of the dough or bread cube placed in the oil sizzles and browns in 1 minute. Have ready a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towels or paper bags.

5. Carefully lower a few of the cannoli tubes into the hot oil. Do not crowd the pan. Fry the shells until golden, about 2 minutes, turning them so that they brown evenly.

6. Lift a cannoli tube with a wire skimmer or large slotted spoon, out of the oil. Using tongs, grasp the cannoli tube at one end. Very carefully remove the cannoli tube with the open sides straight up and down so that the oil flows back into the pan. Place the tube on paper towels or bags to drain. Repeat with the remaining tubes. While they are still hot, grasp the tubes with a potholder and pull the cannoli shells off the tubes with a pair of tongs, or with your hand protected by an oven mitt or towel. Let the shells cool completely on the paper towels. Place shells on cooling rack until ready to fill.

7. Repeat making and frying the shells with the remaining dough. If you are reusing the cannoli tubes, let them cool before wrapping them in the dough.

1. Line a strainer with cheesecloth. Place the ricotta in the strainer over a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. Weight it down with a heavy can, and let the ricotta drain in the refrigerator for several hours to overnight.

2. In a bowl with electric mixer, beat ricotta until smooth and creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and blend until smooth. Transfer to another bowl and stir in chocolate, zest and nuts. Chill until firm.(The filling can be made up to 24 hours prior to filling the shells. Just cover and keep refrigerated).

1. When ready to serve..fill a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain or star tip, or a ziplock bag, with the ricotta cream. If using a ziplock bag, cut about 1/2 inch off one corner. Insert the tip in the cannoli shell and squeeze gently until the shell is half filled. Turn the shell and fill the other side.

2. Press or dip cannoli in chopped pistachios, grated chocolate/mini chocolate chips, candied fruit or zest into the cream at each end. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and/or drizzles of melted chocolate if desired.

Let’s just say this challenge was a labor of love. If you’re looking for an upper-body workout,  just give rolling this cannoli dough a try. It wore me out, but not before I forced it into submission. 🙂

Instead of purchasing cannoli forms, my dear husband fashioned some for me by cutting a wooden dowel (1-inch in diameter) into 4-inch long pieces. I oiled the wooden forms liberally with vegetable oil and they worked like a charm.

As you can see, I chose a sweet filling for my cannoli – a traditional ricotta filling with mini chocolate chips. Whether your sweet tooth is jonesin’ for more tasty confections or you’re in the mood for some savory cannoli, venture over to the Daring Bakers’ blogroll and take a peek at what the rest of the gang’s up to. Have a great week!

Update: After checking out some of the other Daring Bakers’ cannoli, I felt mine were a little too “vanilla”. I used the same filling, but dipped the ends of the cannoli in chocolate. Here are my jazzed up cannoli – white chocolate & pistachio, white chocolate with mini chocolate chips, chocolate & coconut, and last but not least, chocolate with candied orange peel. The kitchen stills smells citrusy, ahhh!

proscuitto & mushroom pizza

In case you didn’t know, my husband is a bicycling badass (and, yes, he has great legs!). But let me get to the point so you don’t think I’m just bragging.

kevin biking

Kevin turned me on to a website that he and I both could enjoy – Culinary Competitor, “a recipe resource for athletes who love good food.” Warning – this site will make you huuungry! They have some delicious sounding recipes: sesame-soy pork loin, mango-salmon sushi rolls, and the proscuitto and mushroom pizza. Oh, and did I mention their photography is phenomenal?

I’ve been wanting to make my own pizza dough for a while and this recipe gave me the inspiration I needed to actually do it. So, so, so simple! I cannot tell you how glad I am I tried this.

2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
1 ½ cup warm water
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ t salt
1 t active dry yeast

4 ripe, fresh tomatoes (such as Roma), diced
1 T extra virgin olive oil
¼ t salt
pinch of sugar
black pepper to taste

6 cups sliced crimini mushrooms, rinsed
3 oz (usually one normal package size) prosciutto, fat trimmed and sliced into 2 by ¼ inch strips
Fontina cheese
Pecorino Romano cheese

For the dough
Place the warm water (should be comfortably warm to the touch, but not hot) in a large mixing bowl. Add the yeast and let sit about five minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, mix well, then knead for about five minutes. Transfer to a greased bowl, cover with a clean dishtowel, and let sit about one half hour. Punch down then let sit an additional twenty minutes or so.

For the toppings
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, and cook about ten minutes, stirring often. The mushrooms will release a lot of water when sautéing, so once they have cooked down, drain then return them to the skillet. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.

Roll or press out your dough onto a lightly greased baking sheet or pizza stone. Spread with sauce all the way to the sides and top with mushrooms, a combination of Fontina and Pecorino Romano cheese, and the sliced proscuitto.

Being a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to pizza, I made a pepperoni and mozzarella pizza too. Both were satisfying, but I must say the proscuitto and mushroom one was the crowd favorite. And the best part? I still have one more dough ball in the freezer. Now, I’ll take that over frozen pizza any day!

The recipe is also available at Pez Cycling which has great coverage of the Tour if you’re interested. And, really, who isn’t?

Visit me on Tuesday where I’ll be dishing about my Raspberry Blanc-Manger. You won’t want to miss it!

chicken bryan

Ever since I bought Henrietta’s goat cheese at the farmers’ market last weekend, I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate it into at least one meal a day. I’ve put it on top of salads, in an omelet with sauteed spinach and tomatoes, on a fork,  on my finger, whatever is handy. I really should have shared with someone, but we’re way past that point now.

My husband absolutely adores the Chicken Bryan at Carrabba’s so I decided to look for the recipe online. Success! Here is the original Carrabba’s Chicken Bryan recipe. I love the contrast between the saltiness of the sundried tomatoes, the freshness of the basil, and the creaminess of the goat cheese.

And what would go better with pasta and Chicken Bryan than one of Kevin’s favorite vegetables – brussel sprouts. Not any brussel sprouts, mind you. Only shredded brussel sprouts with pecans and prosciutto would do. The texture alone makes this recipe a keeper not to mention the flavor. The crunchiness of the toasted pecans is fantastic and who doesn’t love prosciutto? Even if you’re not a brussel sprout fan, I urge you to give this recipe a try.

Be sure to visit me tomorrow for my latest Tuesdays With Dorie adventure. It’s gonna be delish!


Last night was “sketti” night at our house. Since I was feeling lazy, I eagerly accepted the help of a premade sauce. <GASP> I know, I know…shame on me, but just hear me out.

A while back, I made Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Spaghetti and Meatballs which calls for 2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes. The result? Quite possibly the best Pomodoro sauce ever! So last night, I put my faith in San Marzano again this time purchasing two jars of their marinara sauce.

Of course, I couldn’t resist jazzing it up a bit. I added a splash (okay, maybe 2) of Cabernet Sauvignon, a slight drizzle of EVOO, and an herb blend I mixed up with my mortar & pestel (oregano, basil, parsley, sea salt, and black pepper). You know how much I love to break out my mortar & pestel! The result? A rich, hearty sauce full of flavor. In a word, delizioso!

I just can’t call it a “recipe” since I had so much help, so here’s the assembly:

  • 2 jars San Marzano marinara sauce
  • 1/4 lb. ground pork
  • 1/4 lb. ground sirloin
  • Roasted garlic, to taste (I love garlic, so I’m generous with it)
  • Button mushrooms
  • Grated Parmesan-Reggiano
  • Fresh spaghetti

Notes:  I seasoned the meat while browning it in a non-stick skillet using the same herb blend mentioned above. Be careful not to add the garlic to the sauce too soon. Roasted garlic is already pretty soft and it doesn’t take very long for the flavor to incorporate into the sauce.

This is a great back-up for those nights you need to have dinner ready ASAP or you’re just feeling lazy…like me 😉

Last night, I tried my hand at homemade pesto. It was so much better than storebought! This is my variation on a recipe by Curtis Stone aka Take Home Chef.


  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Fresh basil leaves (I used the entire package)
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 8 ounces dried farfalle
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped Italian parsley

Cooking Instructions

To make the pesto: Using a mortar and pestle smash the garlic into a coarse puree. Add basil and pound until it is coarsely chopped. Mix in the grated cheese. Add 1/3 cup of pine nuts and smash to break them up. Slowly mix in 1/4 cup of olive oil. Season the pesto to taste with salt and pepper. The pesto was still pretty lumpy so I transferred it to my food processor for a few quick pulses. Set it aside.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat tablespoon of oil in a large ovenproof sauté pan over high heat. Sprinkle the chicken breasts generously with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken breasts just until golden brown but not yet cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Remove the pan from the heat. Spread the pesto over the top of the chicken breasts. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake until the chicken is just cooked through, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, to prepare the pasta: Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat until al dente, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking about 8 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Whisk 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the reserved pasta cooking water to blend well. Add the spaghetti and parsley and toss to coat.

Cut each chicken breast crosswise and on a slight diagonal into 4 slices. Arrange the chicken slices alongside the spaghetti. Garnish with the remaining 1/4 cup of pine nuts.

I was quite pleased with this dish and it met with my hubby’s approval. I will definitely be making this again!

"Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity." ~Voltaire

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