09/29/09 Spinach and Cheese Strata

"Da frutto si conosce l'albero." (From a fruit, one knows the tree) Welcome to another recipe edition from Adriana's Italian Bakery!

This week's Italian recipes:
  -Cannellini Soup with Parmigiano
  -Campanelle Pasta with Parsley Butter
  -Spinach and Cheese Strata

"Auguri e saluti" to all our readers. Enjoy this week's recipes!

Arrivederci e a presto!

Yours Truly,              
Adriana Ciccarello       

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 Recipe: Cannellini Soup with Parmigiano

Cannellini Soup with Parmigiano
Zuppa di Fagioli Cannellini con Parmigiano


3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus additional oil for garnish
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped (about 2/3 cup)
Three 15-ounce cans cannellini (white kidney beans), drained
6 cups chicken broth
2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
Two 2 x 2-inch Parmesan cheese rinds
3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese


Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat.

Add onion, carrot, and celery and saute until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add beans, broth, sage, Parmesan rinds, and prosciutto; simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until flavors blend and soup thickens slightly, about 40 minutes.

Using tongs, remove cheese rinds.

Puree about 5 cups soup in processor and return to pot.

Season with salt and pepper. (Soup can be made 2 days ahead. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm before serving.)

Ladle soup into bowls and serve, passing grated Parmesan cheese and additional olive oil separately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

That's it!

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 Recipe: Campanelle Pasta with Parsley Butter

Campanelle Pasta with Parsley Butter
Campanelle al Sugo di Burro e Prezzemolo


For the Parsley Butter:
1 cup (packed) coarsely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons (packed) grated lemon peel
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

For the Pasta:
1 lb campanelle (trumpet-shaped pasta), fiori, or fusilli pasta


Prepare the Parsley Butter:
Finely chop parsley, lemon peel, and garlic in processor.

Add butter and process until well blended.

Season parsley butter to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)

Prepare the Pasta:
Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until 'al dente'. Drain.

Transfer pasta to large serving bowl.

Add half of parsley butter (about 1/3 cup) to pasta; toss to coat.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 6 servings.

That's it!

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 Recipe: Spinach and Cheese Strata

Spinach and Cheese Strata
Strata di Spinaci e Formaggio


1 (10-oz) package frozen spinach, thawed
1 and 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (1 large)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 cups cubed (1 inch) French or Italian bread (1/2 lb)
6 oz coarsely grated Gruyère (2 cups)
2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup)
2 and 3/4 cups milk
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard


Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then finely chop.

Cook onion in butter in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until soft, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Stir in spinach, then remove from heat.

Spread 1/3 of bread cubes in a buttered 3-quart gratin dish or other shallow ceramic baking dish and top evenly with one third of spinach mixture.

Sprinkle with one third of each cheese.

Repeat layering twice (ending with cheeses).

Whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl and pour evenly over strata.

Chill strata, covered with plastic wrap, at least 8 hours (for bread to absorb custard).

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Let strata stand at room temperature 30 minutes.

Bake strata, uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed, golden brown, and cooked through, 45 to 55 minutes.

Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Note: Strata can be chilled up to 1 day. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before baking. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

That's it!

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 Only In Italy!

"Only In Italy" is a daily news column that translates & reports on funny but true news items from legitimate Italian news resources in Italy. Each story is slapped with our wild, often ironic, and sometimes rather opinionated comments. And now, for your reading pleasure:

All Roads May Lead to Rome, But They Aren't Bringing Cash

Rome - January 13, 2009 - On a recent chilly afternoon, Andrea Eluca was standing outside the Roman Forum dressed as a gladiator. Small groups of tourists passed by and smiled at his leather breastplate, sword and motorcycle helmet festooned with a red broom brush. But none stopped to pose for a picture.

Winter is always tough going for gladiators or rather "centurions," as Mr. Eluca described himself. But this season is proving particularly tough.

"The quantity isn't down, but the quality is," Mr. Eluca said with a sniffle. "People are coming, they're just not spending."

The strong euro and worsening economic crisis have taken their toll on tourism even in Rome, where tourists are as reliable as death and taxes, and probably more reliable than people who pay taxes.

Returns are not in yet for December, but they are not expected to be stellar, thanks to the poor economy, frequent cancellations and strikes by Alitalia, not to mention the rainy deluge before Christmas that almost put the Tiber out of its banks in the city's historic center. Visits by Americans are expected to be off by 15 percent for December.

Things were not any better at the Vatican, where the number of visitors to papal audiences dropped by half a million in 2008, to 2.2 million.

Near the Coliseum, the horse-drawn carriage drivers were glum. "Business has dropped about 35 to 40 percent compared to three or four years ago," said Fabrizio Manzone, who charges between $65 and $135, depending on the route.

Tourists "will all go out for a pizza," he said. But when you're trying to save, "a carriage ride is the first thing you drop from the list."

Things are even worse in high-end tourism. On Via Veneto, la vita is decidedly less dolce these days.

At the swanky Excelsior hotel bar, famous for the best martinis in Rome, things were slow on a recent rainy weeknight. When a bartender was asked how things were going, his face dropped nearly to the floor in a neo-realist expression of gloom.

The staff had just been informed of layoffs, said the bartender, who declined to give his name because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

An older man walked in with two well-groomed young women, one wearing a Chanel necklace with two interlocking C's. They ordered drinks and chatted in Russian.

"Russians are the only rich Europeans now," the bartender said. "The Arabs come, and some Spanish, but the Americans hardly ever come anymore."

At the Hotel Danieli in Venice, which like the Excelsior is owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts, workers went on strike on New Year's Eve to protest proposed layoffs. Guests who had signed up for a Champagne and beluga caviar dinner were sent to ring in the new year elsewhere.

But amid crisis comes opportunity. The Excelsior and Danieli are offering rooms for as low as $335 a night.

Indeed, for those who have money, this is the time to come to Rome. Crowds are more manageable, airfare is cheaper, and shops are offering major sales.

Admiring the Pantheon, Ron Weintraub, an American telecommunications consultant based in Ankara, Turkey, had a one-word answer for why he came to Rome: "Saldi."

Like retailers elsewhere, Italian shops slash prices every January, but this year they are doing so more aggressively than ever. On the upscale Via Condotti near the Spanish Steps, shops like Gucci and Prada are offering discounts as high as 50 percent.

At Gucci on a recent rainy weekday morning, the customers eyeing such items as a leather bomber jacket with a fur collar, reduced 50 percent from the initial price of $4,500, were almost entirely Russian and Japanese.

Back near the Roman Forum, things were still slow for Mr. Eluca, the centurion. He rubbed his cold hands together and scanned the area for picture-takers. Then his cell phone rang. "Eh," he answered after fetching it from a red bag slung at his side.

"No, Mom, I have a little bit of a cold, but I'll be fine," he said. "Don't worry, I'll be home soon for lunch."

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do?" What? try to swindle anyone who doesn't speak English?

Rome is not an industrious city. It's the government offices, Vatican, and above all, the tourists that keep the city alive. So, the question is the following, "Cornuti", wasn't this expected when you bite the hand that feeds you? Don't blame a crisis on your greed and selfishness.

Welcome to the Eternal City!

Villa Borghese: "I attempted to buy a soda - asked the price and was told 6 euros (8 USD) for a small coke - then, got a nasty attitude when he put it back and did not complete the purchase."

-> You obviously don't appreciate our magnificent history. You could have sipped a soda at the exact same bar where centuries ago, Bernini relaxed and took his breaks from his sculpture work.

Piazza Barberini: "On my first trip to Rome with my husband, we had dinner outside by Piazza Barberini. I had spaghetti and he had some meat dish. The dinner was great, the view was great, the service was so-so, the bill almost made us choke. It was 135 euros (180 USD)! For a plate of spaghetti and a meat dish that only included one side of vegetables! We were astounded. We asked the waiter if the check was correct, he said it was. We asked him to explain why it was so much, he said "for the outside service".

-> You obviously didn't realize the historical significance of where you were eating. The 90-100 euro "outside service" surcharge was for the privilege of eating a bland pasta and overcooked meat where Cassius and Brutus frequently had lunch together arguing about how much a pain in the ass Caesar had become.

Pantheon: "I have seen many children including my great-niece and great-nephews running toward this woman while shrieking with joy, principessa, principessa! Well, this principessa (princess) or regina (queen) or whoever she was, who stood in front of the Pantheon, she was not very regale or generous in her manners. Instead of giving the children a hug back, or even just a slight pat on the head, she immediately pushed them away. They said I need to pay 5 euros (6.65 USD) for a hug."

-> "Cavolo", another example of ignorance displayed by tourists. During the Renaissance period, it was considered inappropriate and unbecoming for the peasants to be within the vicinity of nobility. However; if the nobles did not behave according to the rules of chivalry, these nobles were cast out and reduced to being treated like beggars and prostitutes. Therefore; it was a bargain to pay 5 euros to hug a whore.

Vatican: "The average price of a small cup of gelato is 1.20 euros (1.60 USD). Near the Vatican, I have seen the same cup sold for 5.50 euros (7.30 USD). Imagine a family of five - Mom, Dad, and their three children - who all want gelato after meals. The children, of course, want large cups. I don't know about you, but I would rethink my priority when the bill for gelato is 70 euros (93 USD) a day."

-> And for the last time: lack of appreciation for supreme culinary taste. The milk for the gelato is produced by the holy cows at the Vatican. They feed on the holy backyard grass and the raw milk is pasteurized by the holy friars.

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