Risotto and gnocchi

Summer cooking: Insalata di Riso Cold rice salad

Summer is here and with it the shroud of fog over anywhere near water in perfect-not-so-sunny San Francisco. But I live in the Mission and so I enjoy a micro-climate that makes me hunger for the dishes my mother packed for our daylong summer picnics. Speaking of picnics, there surely will be one on this stunning beach featuring this very recipe during the week long stay I am hosting at my family summer home in Maremma this September. Here are details on the culinary and cultural adventure and details on how to sign up.

In case you can't make join me on the perfect coasts of Maremma, below is the recipe for my mother's killer insalata di riso.

Insalata di riso al tonno

Cold rice salad with tuna

for 6 people

2 small red bell peppers

1.5 cups rice

1 yellow zucchini

1 green zucchini

1/2 pound string beans

1/4 cup capers

1/2 cup pitted black olives

1 handful basil

1 can tuna in olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

lemon juice

olive oil

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 hard boiled eggs

Place the peppers on a sheet pan and in a 350˚F oven until they start getting tender and are blistered all over.

In the meantime, bring 2 generous pots of salted water to a boil. Add the rice and boil gently until al dente (about 18 minutes).

While the peppers and rice are cooking, cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and slice them in thin half wheels.

Top and tail the green beans and snap each bean in thirds.

Run the capers under hot water to eliminate the excess salt, then soak in cold water while you are finishing the rest of the preparation steps.

Rinse the olives from the brine and soak them in cold water.

Stack the basil leaves and roll longitudinally. Slice in very thin ribbons.

Drain the tuna from the oil and smash it with a fork. Place it in abowl with the ribboned basil.

Drop the zucchini and beans in the other boiling water and blanch just until they start to yield.

Drain and run under cold water to stop from cooking further and keep a bright color. Pat dry and add to the bowl with the tuna and basil.

Test the rice to see if it is ready, if so drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking and eliminate the starch. Shake the colander to eliminate excess water and transfer the rice to the bowl.

Remove the peppers from the oven and place them in a paper bag. Seal and set aside.

Drain and squeeze the capers then add them to the bowl.

Open the bag, the skin should come off the peppers rather easily. Eliminate skin and seeds. Then cut the peppers in short strips and add to the bowl.

Toss the ingredients that are in the bowl and taste for salt, adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Sprinkle some lemon juice and toss again. Lastly dress generously with olive oil and toss.

Test and balance lemon, salt and pepper. Place in a serving bowl and create a mound that is higher in the center and slides down on the sides.

Cut the olives in half and each egg in eight wedges.

Spread a thin layer of mayonnaise over the salad mounds and arrange the olive halves and egg slices in decorative chain patterns.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.


  • I use a risotto rice for this salad (Arborio or Vialone Nano or Carnaroli) but any white rice will do as long as you leave it al dente and stop the cooking with cold water
  • You can also customize the salad with other vegetables: I have made it with some carrots, halved cherry tomatoes, shelling peas and sugar snaps, or even with herbs: mint or basil work well with this
  • I list red peppers to balance color but you can use yellow as well

Discover hydroponic waterboarding, travel to Italy and eat tomatoes filled with rice and basil

For those of you eager for my recipes, feel free to skip today's anecdote about family life, but do click here to join me on an adventure to DISCOVER MAREMMA, one of Italy's best kept secrets. The trip is scheduled for the 3rd week in September. My 5th grader told me Thursday morning he needed a total of 20 small potted plants of 4 different kinds to conduct and experiment that would start exactly at 12:40pm.

We rushed to the local garden center to acquire the plantlings while I prodded for details. Ernesto and his classmates had devised 4 different hydroponic environments in which to observe how the same plant reacted. Why 5 of each then? He needed a control living in an ideal environment, he then explained the numbers/letters cross referencing grid he drew to chart the progress of the trial.

The ideal environment? "Soil, of course", Ernesto said. Then he gathered a couple of different kind of vinegars and asked that we stop to get a sports drink on the way to school. By Tuesday, I should know exactly what age balsamic is best to kill an organic basil plant in 48 hours or less.

Boston Participation medal
Boston Participation medal

This charmingly fallacious study in plant waterboarding may have in part been inspired by my excitement about Caleb Harper's CityFarm project, at which I got a first row look last week when I spoke at MIT MediaLab as one of the panelists who considered the intersection of tradition and innovation in large scale food production.

Plants waterboarding

Plants waterboarding

If I can get my kid to forego the vinegars and sports drinks, our loft might even see its own vertical farm soon. In the meantime, I managed to save one of the basil plants for this oven friendly tomato dish I so adore.

Pomodori al riso con patate

Rice filled tomatoes with potatoes

for 6 people

6 round cluster tomatoes

salt to taste

1 garlic clove

lots of fresh basil leaves

9 tablespoon rice

olive oil

2 to 3 medium size yellow potatoes

pepper to taste

Wash the tomatoes and cut a thin disk off the stem side of each tomato. Set the disks aside as you will use them later as a lid.

Using a melon baller or a small spoon, remove the pulp and seeds of the tomato, leaving a shell of skin and flesh. Salt the interior of the tomato shells and place them open side down to drain on paper towels.

Discard the harder parts and save the softer, more liquid part of the pulp.

Chop the garlic roughly and tear the basil leaves with your hands.

Place the saved tomato pulp, garlic and basil in the food processor or blender. Add a quantity of water equal to about 1/3 of the liquid you already have and 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and blend for a couple of minutes

Peel the potatoes and cut each in 8 long wedges. Season them with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Spoon 1.5 tablespoons of rice in each tomato shell, then fill to the brim with the blended tomato mixture. Mix using the back of the spoon and top with more liquid if needed.

Arrange the tomatoes in a baking dish lined with parchment paper and cover each with the "lids" you set aside.

Stick the potato wedges in between the tomatoes. Sprinkle with some salt and drizzle with olive oil. Everything should be quite snug in the baking dish.

Bake at 350˚F for about an hour. The rice and potatoes should both be thoroughly cooked and the tomato skins a little wrinkly. They are best served between warm and room temperature and are a perfect midnight snack.


  • My mother taught me that the best tomatoes for this are what I know as costoluti-meaning they have costole-ribs. See their picture below, if you find them. most definitely use them, as their sweet flesh and thin skin definitely pays off.

My Italian Thanksgiving: tortelli or risotto. Or maybe both...

The richness of my life humbles me into thankfulness year round. Right now, for example, I am thankful that I get to write my first Thanksgiving blog entry. On Thursday I will be even more thankful to choose between pumpkin and amaretti tortelli OR risotto with squash, sage and taleggio. Maybe I even get to eat them both, and that will make me thankful the most.

Tortelli di zucca e amaretti Pumpkin and amaretti ravioli

kneading the dough

for 8 people Dough 5 eggs 1 generous pound flour salt

Filling 1 medium size squash or pumpkin with dense flesh and nutty flavor (butternut, kabocha, sugar pie, cinderella all work) 4 or 5 amaretti mostarda di frutta (see notes) grated zest of 1/2 an orange 1 egg 2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano ReggianoMaking tortelli zucca I nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste

Dressing 1/2 stick of butter 1 handful grated Parmigiano Reggiano 1 amaretto 1 pinch grated orange zest

Salt the flour and mound it in a well on a wooden board. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. Using a fork, start working the eggs gradually incorporating the flour while keeping the well from falling and the eggs from running.

When the dough and flour become too dense to work with a fork, bring the dough together by pressing it with your hands.

When you have a somewhat shaggy ball of dough, start kneading by stretching the dough, folding and pressing it into itself. Continue kneading until the dough is somewhat smooth and elastic and quickly snaps back into place when pulled. It will take about 15 minutes.

You can also use a mixer with a hook attachment, just place the ingredients and mix on medium until everything comes together nicely and the dough looks homogeneous and elastic.

Wrap tightly and let the dough relax for at least 30 minutes before rolling.

Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, sprinkle with salt and place in the oven to roast cut side up. Roast until it can be easily pierced with a knife. Scoop the flesh out into a bowl, mash and let cool.

Crumble the amaretti. Take a small piece of fruit out of the mostarda and mince finely. Combine the pumpkin, amaretti, mostarda, egg and parmigiano. Season with nutmeg salt and pepper to taste.

Roll the pasta into strips, they must be very thin, so that you are able to see the outline of your hand through them. Line small mounds of filling just above the center line of each pasta strip, 1” apart from each other.

Dip a pastry brush in water or egg wash. Brush in between each mound of filling and above the whole row.

the tortelli will look like this

Fold the strip of pasta in half and seal along the top where you brushed with water. Starting from one end and moving toward the other, seal in between the filling, paying mind to pushing out excess air.

With a fluted pastry wheel cut along the top edge, leaving a half inch margin of pasta, then cut in between each little ball of filling to obtain square ravioli.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper and dust it with flour. Arrange the ravioli on it so that they do not overlap. Refrigerate until ready to cook.

To cook, drop the tortelli in boiling salted water. When they float to the surface, give them 3 to 4 minutes.

In the meantime, melt the butter, crumble the amaretti and mix it with the parmigiano and zest.

Douse about half the butter on the bottom of a warm platter. Drain the tortelli with a slotted spoon and arrange them on the platter. Douse them with the remaining butter and dust the dressed parmigiano all over them.

Serve immediately.


  • Mostarda di frutta is candied fruit in a mustard sauce. It is a condiment typical of some Northeastern areas of Italy, typically served along side salumi, boiled meats and aged cheeses. It has a spicy and sweet character, reminding of a chutney. This is a good one for this recipe and Formaggio Kitchen happens to be one of my favorite online places for difficult-to-purvey ingredients for my Italian pantry


Risotto alla zucca con taleggio e salvia al profumo di arancio Squash risotto with taleggio and sage with hint of orange

for 6 people 1 small acorn squash 6 to 8 sage leaves 1/4 pound taleggio cheese (see note) 2 quarts stock (chicken or vegetable) 3 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons minced onion grated zest of 1/2 an orange 7 handfuls of risotto rice splash of dry white wine 1 small handful of grated parmigiano salt and pepper to taste

Split the squash in half. Place one half on a sheet pan cut side up and sprinkle with salt. Roast until it can be easily pierced with a fork. Scoop out the flesh and puree it.

In the meantime, peel and dice small the remaining half of the squash. Stack the sage leaves and cut them in very thin ribbons. Dice the taleggio. Bring the stock to a boil and keep hot.

Soften the onion in the butter with the grated zest with half the sage. Add the diced squash and braise for about 5 minutes. Add the risotto and toast it.

Deglaze it with the wine. Stir in the squash pure and some stock.

Stir continuously while adding stock until the risotto is ready, generally 20 minutes from when the rice first touches heat, adjust salt and pepper as you move along the cooking process.

When ready, remove from the heat and quickly stir in the cheeses. Garnish with the remaining sage and serve immediately.


  • Taleggio is a delicious creamy cheese from Lombardia which is fairly easy to find in any well stocked cheese counter
  • If you are in San Francisco, Rainbow Grocery carries a good farmhouse one, or a less expensive one can be found at Lucca Ravioli on Valencia at 22nd. Any Whole Foods is likely to carry it

Want to learn how to make bread and bone marrow gnocchi this Sunday?

...then join me at 18 Reasons to learn how and why Italians never waste old bread. The class, part of a 3-Sunday series called L'ingegno in cucina-The delicious economy of Italian home cooking will run from 5 to 8:30pm and will be, as always, a very hands-on workshop of intense deliciousness ending in a communal dinner. You can sigFocaccia pane vecchio e pomodorin up here for just one class or for the whole series, whose upcoming themes are risotto and frittata, two of the other crafty ways Italian use leftovers in their cooking.

Other items on the menu are focaccia di pane-in the picture on the left, pappa col pomodoro-a Tuscan bread and tomato soup and, of course, my mom's perfect panzanella, all about which you can read in my Mothers' Day blog post.

I hope to see you there! In the meantime, stay tuned for news on my adventures in Baci Perugina recipes development.

Semolina gnocchi with asparagus, prosciutto and fontina

My godmother, aunt Paola, traces the early showings to my passion for all things food to a day in the mid 70's when I was barely the age my little boy is now, 9. She was hosting me in her striking apartment in the center of Pisa and thought that preparing a dish of gnocchi alla romana, the semolina dumplings every Italian kid counts among their  favorites, would best express the godmotherly love she felt, and still does, for me.

When she didn't get the expected wows, she asked. It seems my answer was a diplomatically vague remark on her skills as a cook. She pressed, until I admitted that while they pleased my eye much, they failed to engage my palate.

We laugh about it today, that I have acquired the wisdom to understand how poetic this humble dish can be.

Below is a version I enriched with staple and seasonal pantry ingredients and have taught to much appreciation of my students.

I will be teaching it again on Tuesday, June 11 during my Gnocchi Primer at 18 Reasons in the Mission. Join me, it'll be fun.

Gnocchi alla romana con asparagi, prosciutto e Asiago Semolina gnocchi with asparagus, prosciutto and Asiago

for 8 people:Gnocchi di semolino 1 small shallot salt 1/2 bunch asparagus 3 tablespoons olive oil 4 slices minced prosciutto splash white wine 1 quart whole milk salt 1/2 pound semolina 2 egg yolks 4 tablespoons butter 1/3 cup grated parmigiano grated nutmeg and pepper to taste 1/4 cup shredded asiago


Mince the shallot with a generous pinch of salt. Snap off the whitish bottom part of the asparagus and peel away any conspicuously fibrous skin. Slice the asparagus in thin wheels, leaving the very tips whole.

Soften the onion into the olive oil and add the asparagus. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add in the prosciutto and caramelize for 1 to 2 minutes. Deglaze with a splash of white wine.

Cover and continue cooking until the asparagus is tender, about 10 to 12 minutes, adding liquid along the way if necessary. Adjust salt and pepper. Set aside to cool.

Bring the milk to a boil with a generous pinch of salt. Slowly drizzle in the semolina whisking continuously. The mixture will quickly become dense.

Cook for another 10 minutes, mixing constantly and detaching from the sides and bottom. Remove from the heat and work in the yolks.

Season with 3 tablespoons of the butter, parmigiano, pepper and nutmeg. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Evenly work the asparagus and prosciutto mixture into the semolina dough. Pour the dough onto a lightly dampened surface and spread to an even layer 1/2” high. Let cool.

In the meantime, butter the bottom of a baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of butter.

With a small cookie cutter of your preferred shape, cut small pieces from the semolina dough. To avoid the cookie cutter getting to sticky, dip it into water after each 5 to 6 uses.

Arrange the gnocchi into the baking dish in increasingly shrinking layers, so that, when all used, they will form a sort of pyramid.

Cover with a generous dusting of the shredded asiago and place in a 375˚F oven for about 15 minutes, until heated thoroughly and somewhat golden.

Serve immediately.


Feeding the Revolution-Part II: Forchette in Downton

5:19 tavolo apparecchiato At the Italian version of a Downton Abbey dinner, things do not exactly run like clockwork: unexpected guests show up, glasses break, truffles do not arrive in time, the silverware is mismatched, quails catch fire and staff all loudly speak at the same time while enjoying wine.

On Sunday, the Forchette Tricolori, the cooking group of which I spoke last week, humored me by playing butlers, footmen, housemaids and kitchen maids to my Mrs.Patmore (for those who don't know, she is the legendary cook of Downton Abbey).


The result, was a dinner for 50 lucky guests held in San Francisco's  Consulate General of Italy, in support of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution Day.

5:19 Aperitivo

After we all enjoyed Aperol sangria and hors d'oeuvres in the delightful garden, we maneuvered our guests into the formal dining room were they sat down to a dinner inspired by the crossing of our local seasonal bounty with the best of Italy's food imports.

And despite the Butler's attempt on the Ambassador's welfare, a footman kidnapping a quail off a plate and a few drops of hot coffee spilled by a housemaid on a guest or two, the evening still received a standing ovation by the attendees who asked that a mailing list be started to receive early notification and priority admission to next year's dinner.


The Forchette Tricolori get a standing ovation


You can read all about the course and scope of the evening in this lovely article by Nickolas Marinelli of L'Italo-Americano.

In the meantime, I am treating you to the recipe for a fabulous risotto I got to make during my stint as Mrs.Patmore.



Mosaico di Carnaroli giallo e fuchsia Fuchsia and yellow Carnaroli rice mosaic

This award winning eye and mouth delight was created by my dear friend and extraordinary chef Olivia Bonomi.

for 4 people 1 to 2 red beets, depending on size    Mosaico risotto 1 shallot 1 quart vegetable stock 1 pint heavy cream 1 sachet powdered saffron 2 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 pound Arborio rice 1/4 cup white wine 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 1/4 cup grated Grana Padano

Steam, peel and purée beets. Mince shallots. Bring stock to a boil. In a sauce pan, simmer the heavy cream until reduced to 1/3. Add saffron and season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside and keep hot.

Soften the shallot in the heated olive oil and over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir continuously until the grains are “toasted”-coated in oil and translucent.

Turn up the heat and deglaze with the white wine. Lower the heat to medium and start ladling in the stock. Start tasting around minute 14, depending on your preference, it will be done somewhere between 18 and 21 minutes.

With the last ladleful of stock, add the beet purée and mix well. Remove from heat and add butter and Grana Padano for the “mantecatura”.

To plate sprinkle a little saffron sauce (like a Jackson Pollock painting) on dish , and scoop risotto in the middle. With a spoon make a little hole in the centre of the risotto and fill it with hot saffron sauce. Serve immediately.