If a trip to the Italian countryside is not on your itinerary this year, best-selling authors Edward and Frances Mayes will transport you there by way of the latest in their cookbook series. The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes From Our Italian Kitchen is filled with stunning photographs, simple, delicious recipes, and the couple’s signature inviting narrative about living and cooking in Italy.
The Tuscans, it seems, do not spend all day in the kitchen before having dinner guests. Instead, meals revolve around what is fresh and seasonal. Simply stocked pantries with staples such as cheese, nuts, beans and olive oil save time shopping, planning and prepping in the kitchen. It’s an inspiring message for all of us about the joys of eating simply, and healthfully, every day of the year.
Chard With Raisins and Orange Peels
Chard grows easily. How gratifying that it’s cut-and-come-again. If you have a plot for chard, you learn to harvest a huge quantity and steam an enormous pot at once. Then you drain and cool the much-reduced clump of greens, squeeze out the water and form softball-size balls. What a boon for the cook. You can freeze these balls individually in plastic wrap. They’re then ready for soups or this very typical sauté. Always use most of the stems, cut into small hunks. Kale works just as well in this recipe.
- ½ cup raisins
- 2 tablespoons vin santo or orange juice
- 2 large bunches chard
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- peel of 1 orange
- ¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
Soak the raisins for 15 minutes in the 2 tablespoons vin santo orange juice.
Cut off the tough ends of the chard stems and then slice the rest into 1-inch pieces. Steam the chard until the leaves are limp, about 7 minutes. Cool, squeeze out the excess water, then coarsely chop the chard and set it aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat (while the chard is steaming), cook the stems in the olive oil with the onion for 5 minutes, or until the stems are al dente. Add them to the cooked chard leaves and season with salt and pepper. Mix in the peel, raisins, vin santo, and pine nuts. Cook, covered, on medium-low heat, for 2 to 3 minutes to heat through.
Chicken With Artichokes, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Chickpeas
Stick a Post-it note on this recipe, and when in doubt, turn to it. The Mediterranean flavors transform “just chicken” into a memorable dinner.
Chickpeas are a late love of ours. Just a taste of chickpea fritters, which are a favorite Sicilian street food, and we were fans. Now we roast them for snacks, serve them with herbs and tomatoes as a cold salad, and adore them in this super-fast piatto unico, one-pot dinner.
Refer to the pantry section for information on chickpeas. You can simmer them in light stock with onion, celery, carrot and garlic, or just cook them in water and season afterward. Cooking chickpeas yourself yields a much better texture than you’ll find in the soft and viscous canned ones. Artichokes partner well with the ceci. Although fresh artichokes are a primary passion, in this recipe I opt for the convenience of canned or frozen ones. If you’re using sun-dried tomatoes in dry form, plump them for a half hour in wine or olive oil.
This hearty stew calls for a big wine, such as Tenuta Sette Ponti, IGT, Crognolo. All the Sette Ponti wines are terrific.
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 3 chicken breasts, halved, skin on
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ cup red wine
- ¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas
- 2 14-ounce cans water-packed artichoke hearts, drained
- ½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, slivered, or 1 cup sliced oven-roasted tomatoes
- ¼ cup fresh thyme or fresh marjoram leaves or 2 tablespoons dried
- ½ cup black or green olives, pitted
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Over medium-low heat, in a large, enameled ovenproof pot with a lid, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Sauté the onion, and after about 3 minutes, remove it to a medium bowl. Season the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil to the pot, raise the heat to medium-high, and brown the chicken for 3 minutes per side. Add the wine, bring it quickly to a boil and then turn the heat off immediately.
Combine the onion with the parsley, chickpeas, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, thyme and olives. Spread the combined vegetables over the chicken, and bake, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces, turning the chicken once. Serve right from the pot or transfer to a platter.
Baked Pasta With Sausage and Four Cheeses
Serves 4 to 6
With the bread oven hot, we slide many different dishes across the brick floor—focaccia, pork loins and, of course, baked pastas. Ed adapted this recipe for kitchen use. We’ve served this at a hundred casual suppers. I don’t think there’s a better pasta.
For this most robust pasta, our local wine seller, Marco Molesini, recommends a Super Tuscan, such as Guidalberto from Bolgheri, made by Tenuta San Guido of Sassicaia fame.
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for the baking dish
- 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, meat cut into small pieces
- 1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage, casings removed, meat cut into small pieces
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
- 1 cup soffritto (recipe follows)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 8 tomatoes or 1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, juice included, chopped
- 1 pound rigatoni
- 1 cup (8 ounces) whole-milk ricotta
- 8 ounces fontina or taleggio, cubed
- 8 ounces mozzarella, cubed
- 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated parmigiano-reggiano
- 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs, toasted
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Bring the pasta water to a boil and add salt.
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat and cook the sausage, breaking it up as it browns, about 5 minutes. Add the red wine, turn the heat up to boil, and cook until much of the liquid has reduced, about 10 minutes. Add the oregano, soffritto, seasonings, and tomatoes along with their juices. Simmer the sauce for at least 10 minutes, or until thick and savory.
Cook the rigatoni a minute less than the time required on the package (since it will continue cooking in the oven), then drain, reserving a bit of the pasta water.
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta with the fontina and a splash of the pasta water, then add the drained rigatoni and continue mixing. Add the sausage mixture and mozzarella, tossing to mix well.
Oil a 9-by 13-inch baking dish, and then pour in the pasta. Sprinkle the Parmigiano and breadcrumbs on top. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes or until golden flecked and hot.
For the Soffritto
Makes 1 cup
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, minced
- 1 carrot, minced
- 1 celery stalk, minced
- 1 handful of flat-leaf parsley, minced
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
Sauté the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until they begin to color and turn tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Adapted from The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes From the Italian Kitchen, 2012, Random House, NY.
You may also like: Grandmother's flan recipe.
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