12/08/09 Shiitake Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto

"Ride bene chi ride ultimo." (He who laughs last, laughs best.) Welcome to another recipe edition from Adriana's Italian Bakery!

This week's Italian recipes:
  -Shiitake Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto
  -Potato Gnocchi with Chicken Livers and Pancetta
  -Braised Lamb Shanks on Soft Polenta

Hope all our readers are getting ready for a happy and healthy Christmas Holiday Season. Enjoy this week's recipes!

Arrivederci e a presto!

Yours Truly,              
Adriana Ciccarello       

 Italian Cookies for Christmas Holidays

Cookies have always played an important part in Italian cuisine, whether you have them for breakfast with a cappuccino, or nibbled with a quick cup of espresso at a mid-morning or afternoon break. It is at holiday time however, particularly Christmas, when cookies truly shine. In almost any Italian home, whether it be in Italy, or in North America, most families treat themselves to traditional cookies each Christmas, and often these cookies are from recipes that have been handed down through their families for generations.

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 Recipe: Shiitake Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto

Shiitake Mushroom and Asparagus Risotto
Shiitake di Funghi e Asparagi Risotto


5 cups chicken broth (40 fluid ounces)
1 cup water
1 lb thin to medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices, leaving tips 1 and 1/2 inches long
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
3/4 lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 and 1/2 cups Arborio rice (10 ounces)
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (1 cup)


Bring broth and water to a boil in a 4-quart pot.

Add asparagus and cook, uncovered, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

Transfer asparagus with a slotted spoon to a large bowl of ice and cold water to stop cooking, then drain and pat dry. Keep broth at a bare simmer, covered.

Heat olive oil with 1 tablespoon butter in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then saute mushrooms, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 4 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper, then transfer to a bowl.

Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter in saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes.

Add rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Add wine and cook, stirring, until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Ladle in 1 cup simmering broth and cook at a strong simmer, stirring, until absorbed, about 2 minutes.

Continue simmering and adding broth, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and looks creamy, 18 to 20 minutes. (Save leftover broth for thinning.)

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup cheese, remaining tablespoon butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

Gently stir in asparagus and mushrooms, then cover pan and let stand 1 minute.

If desired, thin risotto with some of remaining broth. Serve immediately with remaining cheese on the side. Makes 4 main-course servings.

That's it!

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 Recipe: Potato Gnocchi with Chicken Livers and Pancetta

Potato Gnocchi with Chicken Livers and Pancetta
Gnocchi di Patate con Fegatini di Pollo e Pancetta


For the Gnocchi:
One 1-pound russet potato
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 large egg
1 teaspoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup water
1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms*
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
2 cups sliced crimini mushrooms (about 4 ounces)
1 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 teaspoons Sherry wine vinegar

2 ounces sliced pancetta,** chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon minced fresh Italian parsley
1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
5 ounces chicken livers, coarsely chopped


Prepare the Gnocchi:
Preheat oven to 450F.

Pierce potato in several places with fork.

Bake until tender, about 1 hour.

Let stand until just cool enough to handle, about 15 minutes.

Peel potato.

Press potato through ricer or food mill or mash in large bowl.

Add flour, egg, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, lemon peel, salt, and pepper and stir just until blended.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface; divide into 8 pieces.

Roll 1 dough piece between hands and surface to 15-inch long rope.

Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.

Place gnocchi on lightly floured baking sheet.

Repeat with remaining dough. (Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover and chill.)

Prepare the Sauce:
Bring 1/2 cup water to boil in small saucepan.

Remove from heat.

Add porcini; let soak until soft, about 20 minutes.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat.

Add crimini mushrooms; saute until soft, about 5 minutes.

Add porcini mushrooms and their soaking liquid, leaving behind any sediment in bowl.

Cook until almost all liquid evaporates, about 1 minute.

Add broth and vinegar.

Reduce heat to medium; simmer until reduced to 1 cup liquid, about 4 minutes.

Whisk in 3 tablespoons butter.

Heat heavy large skillet over medium heat.

Add pancetta; saute until pancetta is crisp, about 2 minutes.

Add shallots, parsley, sage, and rosemary.

Saute until shallots are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add liver and saute just until cooked through, about 5 minutes.

Add mushroom mixture.

Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, bring large pot of salted water to boil.

Add gnocchi and cook until rising to surface, about 2 minutes.

Continue cooking 1 minute longer.

Drain. Divide gnocchi among 4 plates.

Spoon sauce over and serve. Makes 4 servings

Note: *Dried porcini mushrooms are available at Italian markets, specialty foods stores, and many supermarkets. Pancetta, Italian bacon cured in salt, is available at Italian markets, some specialty foods stores, and some supermarkets.

That's it!

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 Recipe: Braised Lamb Shanks on Soft Polenta

Braised Lamb Shanks on Soft Polenta
Brasato di Agnello su Polenta


For the Polenta:
10 cups (about) water
4 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 small Turkish bay leaves
2 cups polenta (coarse cornmeal)

For the Lamb Shanks:
2 cups hot water
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms*
2 large oranges
4 Turkish bay leaves
2 large fresh rosemary sprigs
4 whole cloves
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onions
Six 1-pound lamb shanks
1 cup dry red wine (such as Barolo)
1/4 cup tomato paste
8 cups chicken broth


Prepare the Polenta:
Bring 5 cups water to simmer in medium saucepan.

Cover; keep warm over low heat.

Pour 5 cups water into large pot.

Add salt, olive oil, and bay leaves; bring to boil over medium-high heat.

Reduce heat to medium; gradually add cornmeal, whisking to avoid lumps.

Reduce heat to medium-low.

Simmer uncovered until polenta is thick, whisking often, about 3 minutes.

Whisk in 1 cup of reserved hot water.

Continue to simmer until polenta is smooth and thick, whisking often, about 3 minutes.

Add remaining hot water, 1 cup at a time, and cook until very thick after each addition, whisking often, about 20 minutes.

Prepare the Lamb Shanks:
Combine 2 cups hot water and mushrooms in small bowl.

Let stand until mushrooms soften, about 30 minutes.

Using vegetable peeler, remove peel (orange part only) from oranges in long strips.

Squeeze juice from oranges; reserve peel and juice.

Tie bay leaves, rosemary sprigs, and cloves in square of moistened cheesecloth.

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in wide pot over medium-high heat.

Add onions; saute until golden, about 12 minutes.

Using slotted spoon, transfer onions to small bowl.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to pot.

Sprinkle lamb with salt and pepper.

Add 3 lamb shanks to pot.

Saute until brown on all sides, about 10 minutes.

Transfer to plate.

Repeat with remaining shanks.

Return onions to pot.

Using slotted spoon, add mushrooms, then mushroom soaking liquid, leaving any sediment in bowl.

Add orange peel and juice, herb bundle, wine, and tomato paste.

Boil 5 minutes, scraping up browned bits.

Return lamb to pot, arranging in single layer.

Add broth; bring to boil.

Reduce heat to medium-low.

Cover; simmer 30 minutes.

Partially uncover pot.

Simmer until lamb is tender, turning every 15 minutes, about 1 and 1/2 hours longer.

Transfer lamb to bowl.

Tilt pot and spoon fat off top of sauce.

Boil until sauce is thick enough to coat spoon lightly and is reduced to 5 cups, about 35 minutes.

Discard herb bundle and orange peel.

Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Return lamb to pot, spooning sauce over to coat. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Refrigerate lamb, uncovered, until cold, then cover and keep refrigerated. Rewarm over low heat before continuing.)

Spoon polenta onto large platter.

Arrange lamb atop polenta.

Spoon sauce over lamb and serve. Makes 6 servings

Note: *Dried porcini mushrooms are available at Italian markets, specialty foods stores, and many supermarkets.

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:

'Blind' Mafia Killer Read Pope's Autobiography

Naples - January 13 - The Italian Mafia's fondness for religious reading matter was confirmed this week when police found a well-thumbed copy of a book by Pope John Paul II in the hide-out of a mafioso who slipped through their fingers.

Giuseppe Setola, a Neapolitan Mafia killer who got out of jail last year on a bogus medical certificate attesting to virtual blindness, "appeared to have dropped" the pope's 2004 autobiography Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way, before he made his escape through a tunnel and sewers, police said.

Setola, 38, who is wanted for 17 murders committed for the Camorra clan exposed in Roberto Saviano's worldwide bestseller Gomorrah, left the book behind in his third escape from police raids.

A day after Setola's flit, police in Naples on Wednesday broke into the attic lair of Camorra 'lieutenant' Franco Imparato, adorned with statues of the Madonna and Padre Pio and a wall sticker saying "God is like Mamma, He never abandons you".

Setola and Imparato are not the first Mafiosi to have been found with spiritual succour. Boss of bosses Bernardo Provenzano was found with a favorite Bible in his Corleone farm hideaway when police caught up with him after 43 years on the run in 2006. Provenzano insisted on hanging onto the studiously annotated copy of the Holy Book in jail but he was given another copy instead, as code busters got to work on linking the highlighted passages to his associates.

Four years previously, in April 2002, Provenzano's right-hand man Antonino Giuffre' was caught in a converted sheep-pen with a clutch of religious cards with pictures of Padre Pio, Our Lady of Fatima and Jesus.

The mobsters' apparent devotion fits a stereotypical image of the assassin and churchgoer, a combination that has come to define part of the Mafia lifestyle. Michele Greco, the so-called Mafia 'pope' who died in prison last year, was a dedicated Bible student while Provenzano's co-boss Toto' Riina, a wearer of heavy golden crosses, kept devotional images of the patron saint of Corleone, Saint Leoluca.

But Pietro Aglieri, arrested in 1997 when he was No.2 in Cosa Nostra, probably outdid them all. As well as having a sort of chapel built into his hide-out, he had a Carmelite monk come and confess him while he was a fugitive. At his arrest, the Mafia boss was in the middle of reading a Russian book called The Road of a Pilgrim, which tells of a farmer who abandons his town and takes up the life of a mystic.

The relationship between Mafia figures and religion has always been strong, perhaps not surprisingly given the devout Catholic culture they live in. The Mafia does not discourage its members from playing a part in the Sicilian church, and even encourages it. One of the younger generations of Mafia dons, Benedetto 'Nitto' Santapaola, is a former student of Salesian priests and once said he would have become a priest had he not felt the call of the Mob.

The merging of mafia and Roman Catholic cultures goes beyond the individual to some of the rites of Cosa Nostra, which borrow heavily from church ceremonies and rituals, observers say.

Over the years, films and books have made familiar the religious rituals with which budding Mafiosi seal their pacts: the figurines in the background, the blood-stained saint's images that are burned in the hand after a finger is fatefully pricked. Many Italians were skeptical that the film image fully matched reality, but in 1996 leading informant Leonardo Messina confirmed the initiation rite in all its detail:

"The day I became a man of honor they pricked my finger. The blood was used to stain an image of the Madonna which was set alight, burning as I passed it from one hand to another. I was asked to pronounce the formula: 'as paper I burn you, as a saint I adore you: just as this paper burns, so must my flesh burn if I betray Cosa Nostra"'.

Italy's other mafias vie with Cosa Nostra in religiosity.

The mafia in the southeastern region of Puglia is called Sacra Corona Unita (United Sacred Crown), while the Camorra, the subject of Saviano's 2006 book and a 2008 film vying for an Oscar next month, is famous for its lavish funerals for fallen Mafiosi.

The pope's autobiography was not Setola's only reading matter, police said. Officers also found a copy of a book on the Camorra by a Naples journalist, Rosaria Capacchione, who like Saviano is under 24-hour police protection. Italian dailies noted Wednesday that Setola would probably have been disappointed if he had got to the end of Capacchione's book, Camorra Gold. He is mentioned only once.

"Giuseppe Setola, a Neapolitan Mafia killer who got out of jail last year on a bogus medical certificate attesting to virtual blindness..." Bravo! The good doctor should take our advice and go into dry cleaning.

Fact: Scholars have documented the obscure relationship between the Catholic Church and the Mafia since at least 1861, when the Italian State confiscated church property and the Church in turn refused to recognize the authority of the new Italy.

Sicily was strongly Catholic, but in a strongly tribal sense rather than in an intellectual and theological sense, and had a tradition of suspicion of outsiders. The friction between the Church and the state gave a great advantage to violent criminal bands in Sicily who could claim to peasants and townspeople that cooperating with the police (representing the new Italian state) was an anti-Catholic activity.

It was only in the 1980s that the Catholic Church took a firm stand against the Sicilian Mafia, at the time of the murder of Giovanni Falcone, the Palermo prosecutor.

Still, bosses in hiding managed to have their children baptized and even marry.

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