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Ah, Those Italians... (September 9, 2004)

"Indove se magnuca, Er cello ce conduca." That translates into "May heaven deliver us to wherever we can eat!" To us that's Italy, and we've got three magnificent new cookbooks that give us the some of best this remarkable country has to offer.

For many, Italy starts in Rome, and so shall we: In a Roman Kitchen. Jo Bettoja, originally from a tiny cotton country town near Savannah, Georgia, went to live in Rome during the aptly epitaphed "sweet life" Dolce Vita era. A much-sought-after Vogue model, she married Angelo Bettoja, a distinguished owner of Italian luxury hotels. This ex-pat Southern belle turned herself into an authoritative Roman matron, eventually founding the world-renowned Roman cooking school Lo Scaldavivande. She's also a best-selling author of several regional Italian cookbooks, and her recipes have been featured in the New York Times, Food and Wine, Travel and Leisure, McCall's and Town and Country.

Jo's beautiful new cookbook, In a Roman Kitchen, contains over 200 authentic recipes from Roman homes – from the savoury splendor of crisply fried artichokes to the easy indulgence of perfectly al dente spaghetti alla carbonara, hazelnut semifreddo and Roman roast suckling pig. Jo's book proves the cooking of Rome is every bit as glorious as the city's breathtaking art and architecture. Bettoja is truly an expert; just reading her recipes give you a sense of the passion Italians have for fresh ingredients perfectly seasoned and prepared. The book is sprinkled with delightful snapshots of shops and markets and the people who love them; it's almost as good as being there... ah, perhaps we'll start planning a trip for next year!

Next we picked up Julia della Croce's Roma: Authentic Recipes From in and Around the Eternal City, and here too were swept back to the cafes and kitchens of Rome and the surrounding countryside and coastline of Lazio. Della Croce is a journalist and award-winning author and was described by the James Beard Foundation as one of "America's Best Cooking Teachers." Roma is more than a cookbook, for you'll find a wide-ranging list of her favourite places to stay, fun and historical festivals and authentic regional Italian cooking and wine classes. Another wonderful Roman holiday!

But why stop here? Moving east, we have Umbria: Regional Recipes From the Heartland of Italy. In this book, Julia della Croce has unveiled the foods, recipes and culinary folklore of a region that has its roots in Etruria, Italy's oldest and most fascinating civilization. Here again, you'll find authentic recipes for the home cook from simple recipes like the one below to more challenging dishes, each with distinctively robust Umbrian flavours.

Ron, call the travel agent. We're not waiting a moment longer!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (83 KB)


Porchetta alla Romana
Roman Roast Suckling Pig

Jo Bettoja tells us that porchetta is still sold on the streets in Rome; there are even shops that sell only porchetta to go and trattorias that specialize in it. The rich meat makes a big show at an outdoor buffet, where it is traditionally presented whole on a bed of laurel with a lemon in its mouth. It is perfectly accompanied by fruit chutney. In Rome it is always served at room temperature or even cold, with big thick slices of crusty Italian bread and what is called (in Roman dialect), a foietta – ¼ litre – of wine from the Castelli Romani.

Can't get to Rome this year? Get to your butcher instead, and make this show-stopping dish for your next al fresco dinner party. Yes, it's work, but trust us, you'll dine out on this for years! Dolce Vita indeed!

Serves about 20
Plan at least one day ahead

  • 1 suckling pig, about 25 pounds
  • 12 large cloves of garlic, in their skins
  • 2½ ounces wild fennel, tender stalks and leaves*
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp dried fennel flowers, or 2 Tbsp fennel seeds
  • Extra virgin olive oil

*If wild fennel is not available, use the feathery green fronds of a fennel bulb – not the same, but a good substitute.

The pig must be boned, and it is such a long, tedious job that you should cajole your butcher into doing this for you. Ask him to leave the trotters intact and to save you the liver, heart and tongue. These should be cut into 1-inch pieces, so if you want, you can ask him to do that too. Also ask him to weigh the meat after boning. For every 2½ pounds of pork, you will need 1 ounce of salt. This may sound like a lot, but it's necessary.

Put the garlic and wild fennel in hot water and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes and drain. Remove the skins from the garlic. Chop the wild fennel coarsely.

Lay the pig on its back on a work surface, cut side up. Salt the interior of the pig generously, particularly in the hams and the meatier parts. Rub the pig with the garlic, crushing the cloves with your hands. Sprinkle the chopped wild fennel over the pig. In a bowl, season the cut-up liver, heart and tongue with salt and pepper and distribute the pieces down the middle of the pig. Sprinkle the fennel flowers or dried fennel seeds on top.

Close up the pig, securing the skin with short metal skewers every 2 inches and cross-tying with twine. (You'll need help for this; it takes at least four hands.) Then, to give a shape to the pig, tie up the whole body with twine every 3 inches, tightening only slightly to leave room for expansion. Refrigerate the seasoned pig for at least 8 hours or overnight, turning it every now and then from one side or the other.

When ready to cook the porchetta, preheat the oven to 450°F. Cover the ears, snout and tail with foil. Put the pig on its stomach on a large baking sheet and, dipping your hands in olive oil, rub it generously all over the pig.

Bake the pig in the hot oven for 40 minutes. (Check after 30 minutes to be sure it does not brown too rapidly.) Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and cook for about 2½ hours, or until the juices run clear. It is impossible to give a specific time, because ovens and pigs vary. Let the porchetta cool completely before slicing and keep it in a cool palace until ready to serve. Do not refrigerate.

When ready to serve the porchetta, cut into 1-inch-thick slices, beginning at the hind feet: With a sharp knife, score the slices. Use a sharp kitchen scissors to cut the crusty skin first, then slice the meat. Porchetta will keep at least 5 days in the refrigerator and is almost always better for it. Let the meat come to cool room temperature before serving.

Note: This porchetta is to be made at home. The porchetta vendors who sell roast suckling pig in their shops debone pigs weighing up to 200 pounds or more. They use exactly the same condiments, in proportion to the size of the animal. Ariccia, in the Castelli Romani, is famous for their porchetta, which is considered the best in Lazio.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
a Kabinett-style Riesling or, if you want to stay in Italy, a rich Soave (Anselmi, Pieropan, Inama).


Zucchine Ripiene
Pan-Seared stuffed Zucchini

In Rome, stuffed zucchini are made with the whole small squash, which are cored, stuffed, and sautéed in olive oil, then cooked slowly in a little tomato sauce. This tasty dish is a wonderful way to use up the end of summer garden bounty and just ignore the moans when you announce "Zucchini tonight!" Once you've served this dish, you'll have them begging for seconds!

It's an easy recipe, perfect for the beginning cooks in your family!

Serves 4

  • 4 young zucchini, about 8 ounces each
  • 1 slice stale bread, crust removed
  • Milk, stock or water as needed to cover bread
  • ½ pound lean ground beef
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup water

Using an apple corer or paring knife, core the zucchini, leaving about ¼ inch of the zucchini wall and discarding the flesh. It if is difficult to core the zucchini, cut them in half horizontally to core, again leaving a ¼-inch wall and discarding the flesh. Pat dry and set aside.

In a shallow bowl, soak the break in milk to cover until it is thoroughly softened, about 10 minutes. Squeeze it well to remove the liquid and place it in a bowl with the meat, egg, cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Use your hands to combine all the ingredients.

Using your fingers, push the stuffing into the cavity of each zucchini. Form any leftover stuffing into small meatballs.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the stuffed zucchini and the little meatballs if there are any, and sauté until they are nicely coloured all over, about 12 minutes. If the pan is not large enough, sauté in two batches. Use tongs to turn them as they sauté to avoid puncturing them. Combine the tomato sauce and water and pour it into the skillet. Using a wooden spoon, stir to distribute the sauce evenly. Partially cover the skillet and cook over low heat until the zucchini are thoroughly tender and the filling is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

This dish is improved when made a day in advance. The stuffed zucchini can be reheated or served at room temperature.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
a medium-bodied dry red – Valpolicella or Chianti Classico.


Trota al Tartufo
Trout with Truffles

What an interesting contrast of foods in this quintessential Umbrian dish: the homely black truffle, which grows beneath the earth and explodes with aroma and flavour under the pestle, with the sweet benign flesh of the river trout. What brings the two together is the morbidezza, "softness," of Umbrian olive oil, which is at once gentle and full of fruit.

Sigh, this is a dish made in heaven. Aw... go ahead, spring for the truffles and watch this fish fly!

Serves 4

  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, cut up, plus 2 large cloves, bruised
  • 1 celery stalk with leaves, cut into several pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and quartered
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 handful fresh Italian parsley, stems, and leaves
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt
  • 4 very fresh trout, each about ¾ pound or equivalent wither (4 pounds total), smaller trout between 8 and 12 inches in length, cleaned and well rinsed
  • 2 black truffles, brushed clean
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Some 2 to 3 hours before you plan to cook the fish, set the olive oil to marinate with the cut up garlic in a small ceramic or glass bowl.

When it is time to begin cooking, fill with water a fish poacher or deep skillet large enough to accommodate the whole trout without crowding them (about 8 cups water). Add the celery, carrot, onion, bruised garlic, parsley and peppercorns and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes.

Measure the thickness of the fish at the thickest part, then calculate the cooking time, figuring 10 minutes cooking time per inch of thickness. Add the salt to the water, reduce the heat to low and carefully lower the fish into the barely simmering water. Poach gently for the estimated cooking time minus 1 minute. The fish should be just opaque throughout when tested with a knife.

Using a large slotted metal spatula, transfer the fish to a platter. Scrape off the skin while the fish is still warm. Debone each fish carefully to remove the spine, but leave the head and tail intact.

While the fish is still quite warm, stir the olive oil to remove the garlic. In a mortar and pestle, crush and then pound the ruffles directly into the infused oil and sir in the pepper to taste. Immediately spoon about half the truffle paste onto the warm fish to keep the flesh moist and penetrate the surface with its flavour.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Spoon the remaining truffle paste over the fish to taste, or pass it at the table.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
a dry white, medium-bodied – Viognier, white Burgundy, Ontario Chardonnay or, in Italian mode, Gavi or Vermentino.


We wish to thank the following for permission to publish material and photographs:

John Wiley and Sons, Inc., for In a Roman Kitchen by Jo Bettoja. © 2003 by Jo Bettoja. Photographs by Paolo Destefanis.

Raincoast Books, Vancouver and Chronicle Books, San Francisco for Julia della Croce's Umbria, text © 2002 by Julia della Croce, photographs © John A. Rizzo, and Roma: Authentic Recipes from in and Around the Eternal City, text © Julia della Croce, photographs © Paolo Destefanis.

Suckling pig photo from Ontario Pork. For more information and delicious recipes, access Don't forget to put Ontario Pork on your Fork!


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (83 KB)




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