Risotto Primavera-a taste of Spring

It’s Saturday morning and the end of a long week. I usually spend my weekends cooking and writing and shooting photos. I will spend some time doing research and finding the right recipe for the evening meal or blog entry. Once it has all come together as a plan, I head out to my local markets to shop for the freshest ingredients.

I am very lucky to live in a neighbourhood that is full of great markets, cheese shops, butchers and fruit stands. Often, I can get whatever I need at the local merchants. In summer we have a farmers’ market in the park where we can get locally grown organic produce and baked goods.

All of this is in the heart of Canada’s biggest city, Toronto.

I have spent the last month taking you on a tour of Italy and writing about regional Italian cuisine. I have really enjoyed making all of the dishes that I featured because I love Italian food for its simplicity and great flavours. Italian cooking is all about the fresh ingredients. I also loved reliving my travels through Italy by sharing those stories. I hope you have enjoyed this series as much as I have.

My last entry in the series is Risotto Primavaera adapted from a new cookbook called The Tuscan Sun Cookbook. The book contains wonderful traditional recipes and great photos of the Tuscan region. Because I used vegetable stock instead of chicken stock it makes a very tasty vegetarian and gluten-free dish. Cooking the peas in the wine and stock made them slightly mushy but full of flavour. In fact, the flavours were so well- balanced and delicious the leftovers were just as wonderful as they were on the first day.

Risotto Primavera

Makes 4 servings


1 cup fresh or frozen peas
3 large carrots, peeled
1 bunch of asparagus
5 ½ cups vegetable stock
½ cup white wine
2 cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp. butter
½ cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese


Break the asparagus stems where they naturally snap and steam or roast them until cooked but still crunchy.

Slice carrots in diagonal medallions about ¼ inch thick and steam them until cook but still crunchy.

In a large saucepan, heat the stock and wine to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer and add peas.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy 6 quart pot over medium heat. Add rice and onion and sauté couple of minutes , stirring to coat and brown the rice.
Add 1 tsp. each of salt and pepper. Gradually ladle in the stock one ladle a t a time allowing the rice the rice to absorb the liquid as you stir. Keep stirring and ladling in the rest of the liquid and peas until the rice is done, about 20 minutes.
Add 1 tbsp. butter and stir.
Remove from heat and add the zest and lemon juice and Parmigiano. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve rice immediately in large shallow bowls with vegetables surrounding the rice.

Recipe adapted from The Tuscan Sun Cookbook by Frances Mayes and Edward Mayes


Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna- A Taste of Florence

Both times that I have been to Florence I was only there for a day. Of all of the places in the world that you want to explore, Florence is in the top 10.

I promise myself that I will go back and I will stay for a few at least a week.

I will return to her open air markets that wind through her streets for miles. I will barter with the vendors over fine leather goods and treasures from local artisans. I will spend at least one day touring the Uffizi Museum to see the amazing sculptures. I will spend hours studying the Florentine architecture.

I will also spend time in the local restaurants and cafes enjoying some of Italy’s best cuisine.This recipe reminds me of Florence and the Florentine style of cooking.

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna


For the filling:
1-1/2 lb. (about 3 cups) whole milk ricotta
2 lb. fresh spinach, or 2 10-oz. packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed
2 oz. (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

To assemble:
3/4 lb. fresh lasagne noodle
1 jar of tomato sauce
1 recipe Basic Cream Sauce (see below)
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 oz. (1 Tbs.) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes


Make the filling:

Drain the ricotta in a fine sieve set over a bowl for 1 hour, or longer if the ricotta is very wet.

If using fresh spinach, stem and rinse it well; don’t dry the leaves. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, cook the spinach until wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well, squeeze out the excess moisture, and chop finely. If using thawed frozen spinach, squeeze it dry.

Melt the butter in a 10- or 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat and add the onion. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Add the spinach and toss it for 1 or 2 minutes to coat it with the butter. Transfer the spinach mixture to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature. Add the ricotta, Parmigiano, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix well. You should have about 4-1/2 cups.

Cook the noodles:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Slip the noodles, two or three at a time, into the boiling water and cook them until they’re tender and pale, 3 to 5 minutes (thinner noodles will cook more quickly). To make sure they’re done, taste a small piece. If it’s still tough, it needs a little more cooking (fresh pasta should not be cooked al dente like dried pasta).

Carefully scoop the noodles out of the pot with a large wire skimmer and slide them into the ice water to stop the cooking. When they’re cool, layer them between clean dish towels until you’re ready to assemble the lasagne (The noodles will keep this way for up to 2 hours).

Assemble the lasagne:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Choose a baking dish that’s about 9×12 inches and 3 inches deep, or about 10×14 inches and 2 inches deep. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce in a sparse layer on the bottom of the baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of cooked noodles, cutting them as needed to fill the gaps. With a spatula, spread one-third of the spinach and ricotta filling (about 1-1/2 cups) over the first layer of noodles. Then spread one-third of the remaining tomato sauce (about 1-1/3 cups) and one-third (1/2 cup) of the cream sauce over the filling. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the Parmigiano on top. Add a new layer of noodles, overlapping them slightly, and repeat the layers as instructed above, using all of the filling and ending with the Parmigiano, to make a total of three layers (you may not need all the pasta). Dot the top with the butter cubes. Cover with foil.

Put the baking dish on a baking sheet and bake until heated through and bubbling at the edges, 45 to 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Basic Cream Sauce (Beciamella)


1-1/2 oz. (3 Tbs.) unsalted butter
3 Tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
1-3/4 cups whole milk, heated
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Small pinch freshly grated nutmeg


In a 2-qt. saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly for 2 to 3 minutes. Do not let the mixture brown. Slowly whisk in the hot milk and bring just to a simmer, whisking frequently. Reduce the heat to low and cook, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened to a creamy, gravy-like consistency and no longer tastes of raw flour, 6 to 8 minutes for a single batch, 10 to 12 minutes for a double batch. Remove from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. If not using right away, transfer to a bowl and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the sauce to keep a skin from forming. Plan to use the sauce within 30 minutes because it thickens if it’s left to sit for too long. If that should happen, add a little warm milk and whisk well to thin it.

Recipe from The Best of Fine Cooking- Pasta

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Browned Butter

No trip to Rome would be complete without a visit to the ancient ruins of the old city. Standing in the Colosseum and imagining gladiators and the historic events of centuries long past, really puts time in perspective. In North America we think of history as the past two hundred years. In Europe and Asia history is a world of ancient civilizations. Ruins of the Roman times are strewn across the country bearing witness to this historic era.

Before we leave Rome for Florence and Tuscany I want to share one more recipe from this region. It is one of my favourite Italian dishes, Gnocchi. These fluffy little dumplings were first introduced in Roman times and have become very popular all over Italy. This recipe is a modern-day variation of the classic potato gnocchi that I adapted from one in the Earth to Table cookbook.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage Browned Butter

Makes 6 servings


4 medium sweet potatoes
4 medium Russet potatoes
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 extra-large eggs, beaten
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
12 fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup butter


Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Place sweet potatoes and potatoes on baking sheet, prick with a fork and roast until soft, about 1 1/2 hours. Let cool slightly, then cut in half and scoop the flesh into a large bowl.

Add flour, salt and pepper to the potato mixture and mix until smooth. Make a well in the center and pour in eggs. Using a fork and starting at the centre of the mixture, incorporate the eggs into the mixture.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until a soft, slightly sticky, spongy dough forms. Do not over work the dough. Shape into a ball and place on a lightly floured cutting board. Cut ball into 8 pieces and cover with a clean tea towel. Dust a baking sheet with flour.

On a lightly floured surface, working one piece at a time and keeping the rest covered, roll each piece into a 20-inch rope, about 1/2 inch thick. Cut rope into 1-inch lengths. Using your thumb, roll each piece back over the tines of a floured fork, leaving an indentation from your thumb on one side and the marking of the fork on the other. Place gnocchi on prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all dough is prepared.

Dough can be refrigerated in an air tight container for up to one day.

Melt butter in a small fry pan and add sage leaves. Simmer over medium heat until the butter turns golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

To cook gnocchi bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Plunge half of the gnocchi into the boiling water. Once they float to the surface, continue to cook for 1 minute longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to a plate and repeat cooking process with the other half of the gnocchi.

Drizzle with sage butter and parmesan and serve.

Recipe adapted from Earth to Table by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann

Prosciutto, Fig and Arugula Pizza- fit for Angels and Demons

The first time I was in Paris I was reading the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown while I was on the plane to France. When I got to The Louvre I was so excited to hunt for places described in the book while, I was exploring the museum.

The last time I was in Rome I was touring the Vatican and Castel Sant’ Angelo. These two sites are only a few blocks apart and seeing them both in one day is a good way to experience the history of the area. What I did not know when I was seeing these sites, was that I would be seeing them in a movie, soon afterward. The week after I got home the movie Angels and Demons came out on DVD. I was able to revisit so many of the great spots in Rome while watching the movie. It was like reliving my time in Rome through one of Tom Hanks’ adventures.

Rome is a great food city. I love the espresso bars where you stand and have your morning coffee. I love the gelateria where you can go for sweet treats until the wee hours of the morning. I love the panini trucks that will make you delicious toasted sandwiches for lunch. I love the small cafes hosted by families that make you simple, but flavourful bowls of pasta for your dinner. I love the pizzerias in Rome.

I made this pizza recipe in memory of this great city.

Pizza Dough

Makes 1 pound or enough for 4 individual pizzas

3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. sugar
Extra-virgin olive oil

Pizza Topping

6 slices of buffalo mozzarella cheese, ¼ inch thick
½ cup arugula
3 slices prosciutto
3 fresh figs, quartered or 3 dried figs, quartered
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp. Semolina flour
2 tbsp. honey

Combine the flour, yeast, salt and sugar in a mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix until just blended, then, add 1 1/3 cups warm water. Mix until the dough comes together, then mix for another minute.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, lightly oil the top of the dough, and cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot for 8 hours or until risen dough is marshmallowy.
On a lightly floured surface, use a bench scraper or sharp knife to divide into quarters. With lightly floured hands, shape the pieces into balls by cupping the dough and turning it against the floured surface until round and tight.
Transfer the balls to a highly oiled baking sheet or bowls, then, lightly brush the tops with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot until tripled in volume, about 1 ½ hours. Use immediately or put a sheet of parchment on top of the dough balls, then cover tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for up to 2 days. When ready to use, remove from the refrigerator and let stand in a warm place for 1 hour.

Place a pizza stone on the lowest rack of the oven. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Let the stone heat up with the oven.
Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface until it is approximately 9 inches in diameter. Lay on a pizza paddle lightly floured with semolina flour. Add cheese, prosciutto, arugula, figs, salt and pepper.
Slide pizza onto the heated stone and bake on 12- 15 minutes, until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted. Slide pizza back onto paddle and remove from the oven. Drizzle pizza with honey and serve.

Let pizza stone cool down with the oven to avoid cracking.

Recipe for pizza dough from Home Cooking with Jean-Georges by Jean-Georges Vongerichten

Fusilli with Grilled Chicken and Asiago-A Celebration of Italy

I love to travel! When I travel, I love to soak up the local culture, taste the local cuisine and learn about the history, art and architecture. One of my favourite places in the world for great art and architecture is Rome.

This city is rich with history and full of life. Last time I was there I did a night walk through central Rome. We started with a delicious dinner of pasta and wine in Campo de Fiori. After dinner we walked up to Piazza Navona and wandered through the market. I love the architecture in the Piazza and the feeling of excitement.  People were gathering in the streets to enjoy the night and to spend time with their friends. The cafes were filled with groups of friends enjoying meals, conversation and good times together.

After Piazza Navona we walked to the Spanish Steps and then wandered the streets toward the historic Pantheon. Across from the Pantheon there is an amazing place that has dozens of flavours of fresh gelato. We treated ourselves to a cup of this rich, creamy dessert as we continued our walk to the final destination; the Trevi Fountain. Whenever I see the Trevi Fountain, I always toss in a coin and make a wish that I will return to Rome again someday.

I highly recommend this night walk as way to see this exciting city at night. Rome is so lively and the Roman people all love to come out at night to play.

In memory of my travels to Italy I have decided to make the month of March a celebration of Italian food. This pasta recipe is in memory of the meal that we had that night in Rome.

Buon Appetito!

Fusilli with Grilled Chicken and Asiago Cheese

Makes 4 servings


1 lb. fusilli pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
¼ cup fresh basil, chopped
1 cup grilled chicken breast, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup diced yellow peppers
1 cup grated Asiago cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Drain pasta and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tomatoes and peppers and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add chicken and cook about 2 more minutes, until chicken is  heated  through. Add the cooked pasta, cheese, and toss to combine. Sprinkle with chopped basil, salt and pepper.

Transfer the pasta to a serving plate and sprinkle with a little more parmesan cheese

Butternut Squash, Asiago and Walnut Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter

I have not made homemade ravioli in years. The last time I made ravioli was in Sicily in with my daughters’ Nona. She was an adorable little Sicilian woman who spent her days running about cooking, cleaning, shopping for meals and looking after her family. She started every day at the crack of dawn by running out to buy all of the ingredients for the day’s meals from the local fishermen, the vegetable stand or the local butcher. Her energy level was unmatched, she was like a whirlwind while she cleaned, chopped, rolled, tasted and baked her day away.

One time while we were staying with her on holiday she decided to show me how to make ravioli. She made a large quantity of pasta dough, large enough to cover the entire kitchen table when rolled out vigorously with a broom handle. When the dough was ready we carefully dolloped a mixture of ricotta, sugar, eggs, lemon zest and herbs a few inches apart onto the first half of the pasta dough. When the first half was ready, she flipped the other half over on top of the first and set about pressing the dough together around each dollop. Then she cut out each ravioli using a rolling pizza cutter that had a zigzag edge. She popped the packets into boiling water and served them with homemade tomato sauce. The whole process was mesmerizing and so memorable that I can still see her moving quickly around the table rolling and sealing the little packets of ricotta heaven. Needless to say I was so intimidated by her ability to make it look so easy I never tried it on my own, until now.

Then, I was watching the Food Network a few weeks ago and Ricardo Larrivee was demonstrating how to make ravioli with wonton wrappers. Here it was, the answer to my fear of making homemade ravioli. It looked so easy so I rushed out and bought the wrappers, found a great filling recipe on SpicySweatSalty’s blog site and got busy.

The result was a light savoury ravioli with a sweet, nutty squash sensation in every bite. They were my first solo homemade ravioli, they were delicious and I had overcome my ravioli making fear.

Could homemade pasta be next?

Butternut Squash, Asiago & Walnut Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter


1 large butternut squash
50 wonton wrappers
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 ½ tsp. organic honey
¾ tsp. coarse sea salt
5 oz. fresh grated Asiago cheese


Peel and seed squash and cut into 1/4-inch cubes. Combine squash, walnuts, olive oil, pepper flakes, honey and sea salt in a bowl. Toss ingredients until completely coated with oil. Pour out onto baking sheet and cook in 350-degree F oven for a half hour, stirring every 10 minutes.

Turn temperature on oven up to 500 degrees F and cook squash mixture for 5 minutes or until squash are tender. Let cool.

In food processor, combine squash mixture and cheese. Blend until ingredients are almost smooth.

To make the ravioli, place a wonton wrapper on a clean, flat surface. Brush the edges with water. Place about 1 teaspoon of the squash mixture in the middle of the wonton. Cover with a second wonton wrapper.  Press around the filling with fingers or a fork to seal the packets. (Be careful not to pierce the wonton). Cut  pressed ravioli with a ravioli press or a round cookie cutter. Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers and squash mixture until all have been used.

Drop the ravioli into the boiling water, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until tender. Remove, drain.

Place 6 to 8 ravioli on serving plates, and drizzle with sauce. Sprinkle with freshly grated Asiago cheese.

Sage Brown Butter Sauce


1/4 c. butter
3 fresh sage leaves
Salt and black pepper

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the sage. Continue to cook and stir until the sage is crispy but not browned. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Filling recipe adapted from a recipe on Spicy Salty Sweet