Salsa Leggero. Linguini served with fat free sauce.
Welcome to my kitchen, or mia cucina when cooking Italian food. When la cucina was first thought of the idea was to provide good Italian food that people could enjoy at home without having to cook it themselves. Although Italians happily buy good quality dried pasta they do make their own sauces as I do.
Our sauces are all made with fresh vegetables and fresh herbs, although we do use tinned Italian tomatoes, as we believe that these give the best depth of flavour. There are no artificial ingredients included to prolong the shelf life of these sauces but they do freeze very well and are ready to eat in no time.
Why buy a shop bought sauce packed full of sugar and salt when you could be eating something which is freshly made with the minimum of salt and sugar sufficient to bring out the flavours of all the other, natural ingredients ?
La cucina di Francesca provides a range of five classic sauces.
Salsa Pomarola is the traditional tomato sauce which, surely, all children and adults love served with a bowl of steaming hot spaghetti with a knob of butter and fresh parmesan cheese. What could be easier when you walk in from work with no idea what to cook for tea ?
Salsa Leggero is a fat free version of the traditional tomato sauce and it is cram packed with vegetables and fresh herbs. It is great heated through and served straight with pasta or it can be used as the base for a homemade Bolognese just by browning some lean minced beef adding the salsa and simmering together.
Salsa Arrabiatta is the classic fiery sauce with garlic and chilli. It is good with pasta but can compliment grilled chicken or fish. A bit of salad or green vegetables and some salad potatoes is a meal in it’s self.
Salsa Puttanesca is the classic Neapolitan sauce with an anchovy base, garlic, olives and capers. Lovely with pasta but great with roasted cod.
Salsa Rosmarino is a lovely pungent sauce with a hint of chilli and fresh rosemary which comes direct from out garden. this also goes really well with white fish, chicken or pork.
All these sauces are delicious with many varieties of pasta but can also be used as the starting point for many other dishes and I will be providing recipes in future blogs. If you do place an order for any of my salsas I will pop a sheet with recipe ideas in for you.
Chicken mozzarella with tomato salsa (4 portions)
Suitable for Salsa Pomarola, Salsa Arrabiatta, Salsa Leggero and Salsa Rosmarino
Pre-heat the oven to 220C/fan 200C/425F/gas mark 7.
Take 4 medium chicken breast and lightly flatten them with a rolling pin – put some cling film over chicken before bashing. Break 1 to 2 eggs in a shallow dish and mix with a little milk, put some plain flour in another shallow dish seasoned with salt & pepper. The dishes should be large enough to accommodate flattened chicken breast.
One by one coat the chicken in the egg and then the flour and lightly fry the chicken breasts in vegetable oil for about 10 to 12 minutes. The oil should be sizzling when you put the chicken in the pan and you can add a bit of butter but take care not to allow the oil to burn. Turn the chicken from time to time.
Put the chicken in an oven proof dish – cover with the tomato salsa and slices of mozzarella – you will need two 125gm mozzarella balls, drained and finally sliced. Bake in the oven for about five minutes until the mozzarella has melted.
Sprinkle a handful of fresh basil over the dish and serve.
A simpler and healthier version is to omit the coating of the chicken in the egg an flour. Instead slash the chicken breast four times with a sharp knife cutting through to the middle of the breast. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the chicken gently in the oil with 3 garlic cloves that have been finely sliced. Cook for 10 minutes turning occasionally until golden all over. Place in the oven proof dish a follow instructions above.
Mixed seafood in homemade salsa
Suitable for Salsa Pomarola, Salsa Arrabiatta, Salsa Leggero and Salsa Rosmarino
Prepare and clean a variety of fish and shellfish such as cod, mussels, clams, prawns & squid (approximately 500gms finished weight) and refrigerate until required. Tip one of the above sauces into a shallow pan and heat through thoroughly. Increase the heat to high and add a splash of white wine (optional). Add the squid; sauté for 5 minutes, tossing frequently to ensure even cooking. Add clams or mussels, strips of fish fillet, and prawns and stir to expose all of the seafood to the heat of the pan. Cook until the mussel (or clam) shells open, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of fresh parsley and remove from the heat. Stir into pasta as required. Season and serve with a salad and crusty bread.
Northeast Italy – the stretch of country between Venice and the Alps, Lake Garda and Slovenia is really three wine making regions. Trentino-Alto Adige, Northern Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. The variety of wines from these areas reflects the diversity of the grapes grown.
I am going to focus on wines from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, or Friuli as it is usually known, purely because it is the area I know and love the best.
Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s landscape is characterized by coastal flatlands to the south rising up to mountains and plateaux in the north. The region is bound by the borders with Austria and Slovenia (to the north and east respectively), which follow the contours of the eastern Alps. The most significant mountains in this area are the Julian Alps, whence the Giulia appendix in the region’s name. To the south lies the Gulf of Trieste (the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea), and the winelands of Veneto spread for miles to the west.
Italy’s northeastern most region is the crossroads of Europe’s Latin, Germanic and Slavic cultures. As a result of this complicated history these wines reflect the traditions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Austria, Germany and the Eastern Adriatic. In addition to Pinots, Traminer, Riesling and Malvasia, there are the indigenous grapes such as Ribolla Gialla and Verduzzo.
The region is home to three DOCG titles (the highest classification for Italian wines. It denotes controlled (controllata) production methods and guaranteed (garantita) wine quality. Two of these DOCG are for it’s unique dessert wines. Ramondolo, a little known sweet white winw whose Verduzzo grapes are grown in the hills to the north of Udine and Colli Orientali del Friuli Picolit a delicate amber wine made from the aromatic Picolit grape. The third is for wine from Rosazzo, a high-quality, mineral-laden white wines made on the hillsides surrounding the Abbazia di Rosazzo. The wine is a blend of several varieties, the most important of which is the local Friulano grape, which must make up at least 50 percent of the final wine.
There are ten DOCs in Friuli although two of these are considered to be exceptional – Collio Goriziano, which is usually known simply as Collio, and Friuli Colli Orientali, which runs from Gorizia along the Slovenian border to Tarcento. Quality is also excellent in the Friuli Isonzo DOC area, where some stylish dry whites are made from Gewurztraminer, Pinot Grigio and Riesling as well as some off-dry and sparkling wines. Some excellent reds are also made from the Cabernets and Pinot Nero, as well as sweet late harvest (vendemmia tardiva) wines, either as single varietal whites or blends. Carso is a DOC whose red Terrano wines and whites from Malvasia Istriana show great class. In the other DOC zones, varietal wines are favoured. The largest area is the Friuli Grave. Tocai Friuliano has been an important variety historically. The grape is now commonly known as Friuliano following a European court ruling to avoid confusion with the Hungarian wine Tokaji.
The area is known predominantly for its white wines which are considered some of the best examples of Italian wine. Along with theVeneto and Trentino-Alto Adige/Sudtirol, the Friuli-Venezia Giulia forms the Tre Venezie wine region which ranks with Tuscany and Piedmont as Italy’s world class wine regions.
Friuli whites are rich and creamy expressions with fragrant layers of stone and passion fruits, honeysuckle and drying mineral tones. They are complex because the region they occupy is so multifaceted. South of Udine are two territories for growing grapes. Colli Orientali del Friuli and Collio comprise the hillside areas, home to the celebrated Rosazzo and Oslavia crus where some of the best wines are made. Flatter lands have been enriched by alluvial deposits from the Tagliamento River and are home to the Isonzo, Grave and Aquilea zones.
Most of Friuli’s whites are mono-variety and, following the Austro-Hungarian or Anglo-Saxon tradition of wine making, these wines are named after the variety: Friulano, Chardonnay, Sauvignon, etc., which differs from the Latin tradition where wines are named after a place like Chianti, Valpolicella or Barolo.
Here’s what you can expect from the individual grapes that make up Friuli’s rich patrimony of white wines:
Bianco (or blended wines): These wines benefit from sophisticated winemaking techniques that produce added elegance and intensity. Particularly impressive are the white blends that pair an aromatic component like Sauvignon with a richly textured partner such as Friulano or Picolit.
Friulano: The most commonly planted variety in Friuli, Friulano was once associated with easy-drinking taverna wines made to be consumed young. Careful effort has recently turned Friulano into the region’s banner grape. Work by leading winemakers such as the late Mario Schiopetto and Livio Felluga helped bring out luscious aromas of white almond, stone fruit and Cavaillon melon. Wines including and preceding the 2006 vintage were labeled Tocai Friulano. But after a long battle with Hungary’s Tokaji region, the European Union ruled that Friuli Tocai wines should be identified simply as Friulano which means “coming from Friuli.” “We fought hard to keep ‘Tocai,’ but we are better off with ‘Friulano’ because it identifies our region,” says Felluga.
Pinot Bianco: A French import, Pinot Bianco was introduced during the 19th century Habsburg domination along with international varieties Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Merlot. It is planted across Northern Italy and has found a happy home in Friuli thanks to the calcareous marl soils that enhance its aromas of mineral, apricot, pear and Golden Delicious apple. They are among the most food-friendly whites ever, thanks to their naturally creamy structure. Pair them with shellfish or white asparagus risotto.
Pinot Grigio: In Friuli, Pinot Grigio has a very different image from the mass produced watery wine often found elsewhere. Winemakers Ronco del Gelso (Sot Lis Rivis bottling), Vigneti Fantinel (Sant’Helena) and Ermacora craft creamier, denser wines with passion fruit, honeysuckle and bright lemon zest that would pair with Tandoori chicken or spinach and ricotta ravioli. An interesting new style of Pinot Grigio is Ramato, which means “copperish in color.” You could mistake it for a rosé but look close and you will indeed see that it is more amber than pink. The color comes from extended contact with the skins (that are naturally copper-gray in color, hence “Pinot Grigio”).
Ribolla Gialla: Another important indigenous grape of Friuli, Ribolla Gialla boasts a distinctive personality with a saturated golden color, light body, high acidity and fragrant aromas of exotic fruit, papaya and mango, which turn nutty with time. It has existed in these parts since the 1300s (in Slovenia it is known as Rebula) and gives its best results on hillside vineyards.
Sauvignon: We call it “Sauvignon Blanc,” but in Friuli the grape goes by its variety name “Sauvignon” (the root for Sauvignons Jaune, Noir, Rose, Gris and Vert). What distinguishes the grape in Northeast Italy is that it lacks those aggressive aromas of nettle and artichoke you sometimes find elsewhere. In the Colli Orientali del Friuli’s Collio and Grave areas it tends to showcase softer aromas of passion fruit, sage, mint and tomato leaf. Try one with Thai basil coconut curry sauce.
Verduzzo Friulano: Made as both a dry and a sweet wine, Verduzzo enjoys a long indigenous existence in Friuli. When vinified dry, it can be difficult to appreciate because of its resin and pine nut flavors and sour astringency (there’s a slight tannic bite there too). Dessert wines, such as Scubla’s Cràtis and Gigante’s version, are much more popular.
Red wines from Friuli have tended to be single varietal wines made from Italian grapes like Refosco as well as Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Nero. Historically they were light and approachable and not designed for long term keeping. But this is a region where experimentation and forward thinking in the winery is as much part of the routine as homage to traditional techniques is in other parts of Italy. Consequently there are some fine blends on the market, often aged in oak barrels. The resultant wines have great depth and complexity and a firm structure that ensures they are capable of ageing.
Refosco, also known as Terrano, is a versatile red grape whose recent versions have taken well to oak ageing. Some distinctive and interesting reds are also made from Tazzelenghe, Pignolo and Schioppettino, grapes from the region that are seldom seen elsewhere, and Franconia which is better known in Central Europe as Blaufränkisch.
Friuli is a melting pot of cultures and its borders have altered over many years. It sits between Austria and Slovenia and there is an overlap of ethnicities, traditions and cooking. It has three distinct geographical areas, each has their own distinct culinary character and traditions. Carnia in the northern mountains, the central Friulian plains and southernmost Friuli which borders the Adriatic coast.
The isolation of the Carnian Alps has resulted in a self-sufficiency where families still raise their own livestock and farm the land. Large scale agriculture is difficult and, as a result the diet is based on what was found in the fields and forests. Wild mushrooms, wild asparagus, radicchio, wild herbs, berries and apples all feature and if you visit at the right time of year there are festivals to celebrate all these natural bounties.Apple cider was often made from bruised and leftover fruit.
Common to all of Friuli are the three staples; polenta, beans and potatoes – food of the poor. Game such venison, pheasant and fresh fish such as trout were also available.
In order to maintain the shelf life of meat salt and smoke curing were used. Prosciutto di Sauris, from the small village of Sauris di Sotto, is one of Carnia’s most recognised products. Hams are smoked using a combination of herbs, juniper and beech wood. Cows were a mainstay of the local economy and even the poorest family owned a cow. The milk being used to make fresh butter, yogurt and cheese. Montasio cheese is one of Friuli’s top food exports. It is produced in three forms; fresh; semi-aged and aged. Ricotta affumicata (smoked ricotta) is a speciality which is difficult to find elsewhere. The ricotta is smoked above the traditional family stove, the foglar, – the lovely open fire with a hooded chimney where a cauldron would be placed above the open fire where much of the cooking took place. The fogolar is a symbol of warmth, sociability and cooking – a true gathering point. The smoked ricotta has a unique flavour which is a perfect finish grated over pasta and gnocchi.
The majority of Carnia’s food came directly from the land but one significant food source was introduced by travelling pedlars called cramars. They brought an assortment of goods from the markets of central Europe. Spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg are added to cjalsons – perhaps Carnia’s most distinctive dish. These are a type of stuffed pasta with complex stuffings of both the sweet and savoury variety which can include potato, cheese, herbs, fruit, nuts or chocolate. Each cook has their own mix and sweet and savoury flavours often overlap. Both sweet and savoury cjalsons are traditionally served in melted butter and topped with smoked ricotta and a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar.
Austria’s influence is evident in the many types of gnocchi (dumplings) that appear throughout Friuli. In Carnia these dumplings are made from local ingredients such as ricotta cheese, pumpkin, herbs and prosciutto di Sauris. Delicious jams, fruit syrups and honey are produced throughout Carnia. Honey made from dandelion (tarassaco) is the most characteristic but there is also rhododendron, blue-berry, mint, rosemary, chestnut, sunflower, heather and clover. Desserts are simple and rustic. Cakes, tarts, breads and strudels are made with locally grown apples, pears, berries, pumpkin or nuts.
Frico Croccante is a speciality which dates back to the 15th century. It was originally a sweet dish of fried cheese sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. For the peasants of Carnia, Frico was, originally a way of using up leftovers when the cheese rinds were tossed into a pot to form a crisp pancake. Frico croccante is a crispy cheese basket filled with a local speciality such as sautee mushrooms. Frico made with potatoes is a potato and cheese pancake served with a main course.
Polenta (or maize) was and still is a staple food in northern Italy. The maize originated from South America and was introduced into Europe by Columbus and has been used as a staple food since the 16th century. Nowadays it is the ubiquitous side dish throughout Friuli. It can be served either soft i.e. direct from the pan or grilled to accompany savoury sauces or grilled meats. In it’s original form it might have been served as a creamy porridge topped with fresh ricotta and browned butter.
Pearl barley, orzo, is often used to replace the rice in a risotto and is very popular when served with wild mushrooms and Montasion cheese.
Buckwheat flour also features and is used to make blecs, a buckwheat pasta served with smoked ricotta, cream sauce with mushrooms or a wild game sauce.
Pumpkins feature in soup, frico, gnocchi, as a puree or in cakes and a festival is held in honour of the pumpkin in October in the small town of Venzone.
Central Friuli is characterized by low, flat plains with occasional hill towns – the most centrally located is Udine. There is a strong Venetian influence throughout Friuli in its architecture, language and cooking.
Cured meats are a speciality. Pitina is a salami made from ground mutton seasoned with herbs, dredged in cornmeal and smoke-cured using juniper wood. Salami cooked with onions and vinegar is served throughout central Friuli, traditionally with polenta.
The mountains north of Pordenone are also home to a type of salted cheese called Asino. This cheese is used to stuff the traditional cornmeal dumpling – balote.
Cured goose and duck breast were created by the region’s modest Jewish population and today are produced in the southern plains of central Friuli.
Baccala – salt cod is popular throughout central and southern Friuli. It is a remainder of centuries of Venetian rule. Smoked herring and trout are available from San Danieli which is also home to the most famous pork product -Prosciutto di San Daniele. The dry climate and fresh breezes of this quiet hill town are said to be the perfect environment for curing the hams.
The traditional diet was the frugal food of farmers, hearty grains, vegetables especially those with a long shelf life like potatoes. Beans, barley, rice and corn were easily dried and stored. During the winter the Friulians subsisted on polenta, made from stone ground dried corn, barley and bean soup enriched with pancetta or smoked pork and turnips were preserved through fermentation in grape skins to make brovada – the most typical of winter side dishes but a bit of an acquired taste. White asparagus is a celebrated speciality with a festa dedicated to it. It makes a lovely starter when lightly boiled, rolled up with San Danieli prosciutto sprinkled with grated Montasio cheese and baked in the oven until the cheese has melted or used in a risotto.
The regions Slavic influence is especially apparent in eastern Friuli, home of the lovely cake gubana. It is a enriched dough filled with raisins soaked in grappa, nuts and spices rolled into a spiral. It originates in Cividale and the name is from the Slovene word guba meaning wrinkled or folded.
Southern Friuli, including the Adriatic coast was Europe’s gateway to the east with port of Trieste playing a pivotal cultural role. Fresh, local fish figures widely and the Venetian influence is especially noticeable in typical dishes using salt cad, sardines, crab, langoustines and squid. As well as the abundance of seafood, the most distinguishing feature of the cooking is the Germanic influence which is most evident in Venezia Giulia which has been heavily influenced through its Austro-Hungarian influences.
Cevapcici, a type of sausage with Slavic origins, is very popular.
Pork, potatoes and polenta remain staple foods. These are often enhanced by the introduction of foreign ingredients. International trade brought in exotic spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, caraway seeds and poppy seeds are used extensively in local dishes as is paprika, a mainstay of Hungarian cooking. The sweet-sour flavour known as agrodolce was introduced and appears in many vinegar flavoured dishes such as sardoni in savour. Sardini in savor is an ancient dish which has evolved out of the necessity to conserve fish and is a Venetian speciality. Sardines are dipped in flour and lightly cooked in olive oil until golden and then covered in a sauce made from lightly fried onions, white wine vinegar, bay leaf, salt, pepper and left to refrigerate for all the flavour soak in to the fish.
A reminder of the Austro-Hungarian culture is the coffee houses found in Trieste – the home of Illy coffee where elegant Viennese cakes such as Sacher Tort, a very rich chocolate cake and Dobos Tort, a layer cake with chocolate butter cream and caramel, can be enjoyed. Strudel is a firm favourite as are cream and chocolate laced pastries. Three desserts which have originated in Trieste are Pinza, a plain sweet loaf traditionally eaten at Easter and Prenitz and putizza which are similar to gubana. Prenitz is named after a Slovenian Easter cake presnec and uses puff pastry rather than the enriched sweet dough of the gubana. It’s ingredients are very exotic and include dried fruits, chopped nuts, amaretti biscuits, Marsala wine, rum, cinnamon, lemon, sugar and honey. Putizza, named after the Slovenian pastry potica is similar to a gubanac contains chocolate in it’s filling. Cuguluf is a marbled pound cake cooked in a traditional kugelhupf round mould with a hole in the middle was a favourite of the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph and a marbled chocolate version is very popular in Friuli.
Apple strudel is thought to have been inspired by the Turkish baklava which was integrated into the Austro-Hungarian cuisine during the 16th century. Apples were introduced and it remains extremely popular. The pastry needs to be paper thin for an authentic light and delicate taste.
Liptauer is a cheese made from fresh sheep’s milk, Lipto, named after the former Austro-Hungarian province of the same name now part of Slovakia. In Trieste fresh ricotta may be used instead of the Lipto cheese and mixed with a range of ingredients such as onion, anchovies, capers, mustard, pickles, parsley, chives and caraway seeds as well as paprika. Gorgonzola may be added. It is use d as a cheese spread for rye bread.
Hearty soups are a traditional dish. Borlotti beans, pancetta, potatoes and often feature in the soups such as Minestra di Bobici – which includes sweet corn and Jota which includes sauerkraut. Brodetto alla Triestina is a local fish soup similar to many fish soups found throughout the Mediterranean the only difference being that the fish is pan fried before being added to the tomato based stock.
Gnocchi are a big favourite throughout Friuli and in southern Friuli potato dumplings with a plum filling of Austro-Hungarian origin are typically served as a first course. They are served coated with breadcrumbs cooked in butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. Bread based gnocchi are similar to Austrian dumplings and served in beef broth or with a hearty meat sauce or with goulasch.
Struccolo di Spinaze – a strudel made from pasta dough or a potato gnocchi dough with a spinach filling is served with a few spoons of beef broth or pan sauces from roasted or pan fried meat.
The word goulasch is from a Hungarian word gulyas meaning herdsman. Goulasch came to Friuli during the Austro- Hungarian reign. It is a beef and tomato dish which traditionally uses paprika for flavouring and is served with polenta, potato gnocchi or mashed potato.
Calamari stuffed with fresh bread crumbs flavoured with parsley are very popular.
Greek immigrants introduced breaded and fried aubergines and courgettes. Potatoes cooked in a skillet, patate in tecia, are a dish originating in Trieste. Potatoes are boiled and then coarsely mashed with fried onions and pancetta, beef broth and black pepper until they start to brown. Other vegetable cooked such as sweet peppers, courgettes, cabbage, aubergines, and peasd with pancetta are cooked in a similar fashion where the individual vegetables are cooked in olive oil until tender and seasoned with salt and pepper, in a skillet. Fresh parsley, caraway seeds, cinnamon or cloves may also be added.
Artichoke hearts stuffed with breadcrumbs, local cheese, fresh parsley and garlic are a local delicacy originating from Roman times.