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How to Cook Traditional Italian Food

Italian food expert Elizabeth Minchilli joins the Clever Cookstr to share the basics of cooking traditional Roman dishes at home. 

By
Kara Rota,
April 1, 2015
Episode #045

Elizabeth Minchilli moved to Italy at a young age and became enamored with the culture and cuisine. Now she lives in Rome as an author and tour guide. 

Her latest book is Eating Rome: Living the Good Life in the Eternal City. Today, she's here to share the basics of traditional Roman cooking.

Click the arrow in the player above to listen to the whole interview, or download the episode from iTunes to learn: 

  • The basic tenets of Roman cooking and how they differ from what we know of as Italian-American cuisine.

  • How to make the most of exploring the food culture of a new locale.

  • What secret ingredients Elizabeth always has on hand.

  • Go-to dinners you can rely on during the work week.

  • How to use meat as a condiment.

  • And much more!

Bonus Recipes!

Ricotta, Raspberry, and Chocolate Crostata 

Ingredients for crostata crust

  • 1 crostata crust (see below)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 egg yolks at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • pinch of salt

How to make crostata crust

Preheat the oven to 350o Fahrenheit and line a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with parchment paper.  Put the flours into a large bowl and make a well in center.  Add the butter, egg yolks, sugar, and salt to the well.  Mix the wet ingredients in the well with your fingers, then slowly start mixing in the flour. Use your hand, and eventually the heel of your hand, to mush it all together until it forms a ball.  Let the dough rest for 10 minutes, then push it out into the prepared tart pan.  Don’t try to toll it out, just spread it out to the edges with the palm of your hand to form an even crust.

Ingredients for crostata center

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh whole-milk ricotta
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups fresh raspberries
  • 1 cup chopped semisweet dark chocolate or chocolate chips

How to make Ricotta, Raspberry, and Chocolate Crostata

Preheat the oven to 350o Fahrenheit.  Line a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with parchment paper.  Place the crostata dough in the pan, spreading it out with the heel of your hand until it covers the bottom of the pan and a bit up the sides.  Bake the crust for about 15 minutes, or until it starts to turn golden.  Remove from the oven and let cool.  Leave the oven on.  Whip the ricotta with a fork until smooth.  Add the sugar and egg and stir until incorporated and smooth.  Fold in the berries and chocolate.  Fill the tart shell with the ricotta mixture, return it to the oven, and bake for about 25 minutes, or until set.  Let cool to room temperature and serve. 

Pasta with Artichokes, Peas, and Mint Pesto 

Ingredients

  • 6 large artichokes
  • Zest and 1 tablespoon juice from 1 large untreated lemon
  • 3 tablespoons and 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons sale, plus more as needed
  •  1/2 cup water, plus more as needed
  • 2 cups fresh shelled peas
  • 1 big bunch fresh mint (about 1 1/2 cups mint leaves)
  •  2 garlic cloves
  •  1/4 cup almonds
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup grated mild pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • 1 pound (500 grams) strascinati pasta, or pasta of your choice
  • Freshly ground black pepper

How to make Pasta with Artichokes, Peas, and Mint Pesto 

Trim the artichokes by removing the outer tough leaves and the sharp tips.  Cut away any bright green bits until you get to the soft heart.  Slice thinly and put in a bowl of water to which you’ve added about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.   In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of the salt, and cook until the onion has softened but not browned, about 8 minutes.  Drain the artichoke slices and add to the pan, stir, and add about 1/2 cup of water.  Simmer until softened, but not browned, adding a bit more water if needed.  When the artichokes are almost done, add the peas, and cook until tender.  Taste and adjust with more salt if needed, but remember the pesto will also add flavor.

Put the mint, garlic, almonds, lemon zest, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small food processor and puree until smooth. (You may have to add a bit of olive oil to make it blend.)  Then add all of the 1/3 cup of olive oil until the mixture is well chopped and combined.  Transfer the pesto to a small bowl and add the grated cheese.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Meanwhile, check the artichoke mixture and reheat if it has gotten cold.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.  Transfer the pasta to a large bowl and toss with the artichoke mixture. 

If the pesto seems very thick, add a ladleful of the reserved pasta cooking water to thin it out a bit, and then add to the pasta, tossing to mix it well.  At this point, you can also add a bit more of the reserved cooking water to loosen things up and make it a bit creamier if desired.  Serve topped with freshly ground black pepper.

Book photo courtesy of St. Martin's Press. Author photo courtesy of Parker Fitzgerald.

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