Living the WELL Life

La Dolce Vita
 - by Christina Pirello

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ah, the good life!  For me Italian food will always be a main ingredient in life.  After all, I am Italian!  And what’s not to love?  The flavors, aromas, fresh produce, mouth-watering pastas, and colors of la dolce vita are ever-present in Italian cuisine.  Take in the tastes of Italy in the comfort of your own home with this special menu.  And if you want to be fully immersed, consider joining me for the ultimate Italy experience with our Tuscan Harvest Feast tour, June 18-27, 2010.  (We’ve only got a few spots left!)

Ciao for now and mangia!


TuscanFoccacia with Grapes
Wild Mushroom Bruschetta 

Farro Salad, Umbria-Style
Asparagus and Artichoke Heart Pasta
Rigatoni with Cannelini Beans and Spicy Sausages
Antico Dolce Torte
Lemon Custard Cups

Tuscan Foccacia with Grapes

2 1/2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
3 tablespoons Chianti wine
1 tablespoon Suzanne’s Specialties brown rice syrup
1/2 cup warm spring or filtered water
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup semolina flour
1/2 cup extra virgin olive or avocado oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3-4 cups Concord or wine grapes
1/2 cup granulated maple syrup

Stir together yeast, wine, rice syrup and warm water in a large bowl until the yeast is dissolved. Let stand about 10 minutes, until the yeast is bubbly.  Mix flours together. Stir in 1 cup of flour (the mixture will be lumpy), cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 40 minutes. 

Stir in oil, 1 1/2 cups of flour and sea salt and mix until a sticky dough forms. Flour a dry work surface and knead dough (gradually adding up to 1/2 cup more flour to keep dough from sticking) until dough is elastic, but still soft, 8-10 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a large, oiled bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly to release any air trapped in the dough. Cut the dough in half. Roll out 1/2 of the dough, (keeping the other 1/2 covered) with a lightly floured rolling pin into a rough 10-x 12-inch rectangle. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled 10 x 15-inch baking sheet with sides and gently stretch dough to cover as much of the pan as possible. Scatter the dough with 1/2 the grapes and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the maple granules.

Roll out remaining piece of dough to match the first and lay it on top of the grapes, stretching to cover them. Scatter remaining grapes over the top and sprinkle with remaining maple granules. Press grapes gently into dough. Cover pan with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the foccacia on the middle oven rack until well-browned and firm in the middle, about 45 minutes. After baking, loosen the sides with a spatula and transfer from the pan to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Makes 8-10 servings.

Wild Mushroom Bruschetta 

1 whole grain baguette, 2-inch thick diagonal slices
Extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh garlic cloves, split in half
Sea salt

Extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
5-6 shallots, thinly sliced
1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked until tender, thinly sliced
1 cup crimini mushrooms, brushed free of dirt, thinly sliced
1 cup oyster mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 medium portobello mushrooms, brushed free of dirt, coarsely chopped
3-4 sprigs fresh basil, leaves removed, shredded
2 cup mirin
Juice of 2 fresh lemon
Several stalks fresh chives, finely minced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment.  Lightly brush both sides of the baguette slices with oil, rub with garlic halves and arrange on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle very lightly with salt and bake until crisp, and lightly browned at the edges, about 12 minutes.

Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet and sauté the garlic and shallots, with a pinch of salt, for 2-3 minutes.  Stir in the shiitake and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the balance of mushrooms, a generous pinch of salt and sauté until the mushrooms release their juices and begin to re-absorb them.  Continue to sauté until the mushrooms are golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Add mirin and bring to a boil, uncovered.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until the mirin is absorbed into the mushrooms, 3-5 minutes.  Season to taste with salt, stir well and remove from heat.  Stir in lemon juice and most of the chives, reserving a couple of tablespoons for garnish.

To serve, spoon mushrooms generously onto the bread slices and serve garnished with fresh chives.  Makes 8-10 servings.

Farro Salad, Umbria-Style

3 cups spring or filtered water 1 cup farro, rinsed well Sea salt 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar ½ cup fresh/frozen baby peas 2 cups baby arugula 3 plum tomatoes, diced, do not seed 3 sprigs fresh basil, leaves removed, left whole

Place water and farro in a sauce pan over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Add a generous pinch of salt, cover partially and reduce heat to low.  Cook until farro has absorbed all liquid, about 25 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in oil, vinegar, and a light seasoning of salt to taste.

While the farro cooks, bring a pot of water, with a pinch of salt to a boil.  Cook fresh fava beans for 3 minutes.  Add peas and cook 1 minute more.  Drain well and cool in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.  Drain again.  Gently fold fava beans and peas into farro mixture.

To serve, arrange arugula on a serving platter and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Just before serving, stir tomatoes and basil until farro, taking care not to break the grain or peas too much in the mixing.  Spoon onto arugula and serve.  Makes about 4 servings.

Asparagus and Artichoke Heart Pasta

4-6 small artichokes (small purple artichokes are best for this recipe)
Extra virgin olive oil
1-2 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
Generous pinch red pepper flakes
2-3 shallots, finely minced
Sea salt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
One half cup white wine
6-8 stems asparagus, ends snapped, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces orecchiette

One half red bell pepper, roasted over an open flame, peeled seeded, sliced into ribbons

Prepare the artichokes by cutting off the stems; flush with the bottom of the globe.  Peel and cut away the outer leaves of the artichokes until the tender inner leaves are exposed.  Trim the tips of the leaves.  Split the artichokes in half, lengthwise.  Using a grapefruit spoon, clean the choke out of each one, preserving the shape of the artichoke half.

Place a small amount of oil, along with garlic, red pepper flakes and shallots in a skillet and turn heat to medium.  When the shallots begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2-3 minutes.  Stir in artichoke hearts, lemon zest and wine, cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook until artichoke hearts are tender, about 12 minutes.  Add asparagus pieces, season to taste with salt, cover and cook just until asparagus is bright green and tender.  Do not over cook.

While the vegetables cook, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta al dente.  Drain well, but do not rinse, reserving one half-cup pasta cooking water.  Stir the pasta cooking water into the vegetable mixture and cook for 1 minute.

Transfer pasta to a platter and spoon artichokes and asparagus over top.  Garnish with red pepper ribbons, drizzle with a fruity extra virgin olive oil to finish and serve immediately.  Makes 2-4 servings.

Rigatoni with Cannelini Beans and Spicy Sausages 

Extra virgin olive oil
3-4 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
Sea salt
8 ounces tempeh sausage, crumbled
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup canned diced tomatoes
Generous pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound rigatoni
2 cups cooked cannellini beans
3-4 sprigs fresh basil, leaves removed from stems, finely shredded
Juice of 1 fresh lemon

Place a generous amount of oil, garlic and onion in a deep skillet and turn heat to medium.  When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes.  Stir in tempeh sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon.  Add a pinch of salt and sauté until the tempeh sausage begins to brown, about 3 minutes.  Add wine, tomatoes and red pepper flakes, bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook for 15 minutes.

While the sausage mixture cooks, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook rigatoni al dente, 8-10 minutes.  Drain well, but do not rinse.  When the sausage is ready, stir in cannellini beans, season lightly with salt and remove from heat.  Stir in basil, lemon juice and cooked rigatoni, mixing well to combine.  Serve garnished with whole basil sprigs.  Makes 4-6 servings.

Antico Dolce Torte

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour generous pinch sea salt
6 tablespoons avocado oil ½ cup brown rice syrup ¾ cup spring or filtered boiling water

Place the flour, salt, rice syrup and oil in a food processor or electric mixer and mix until blended.  Boil water and add to the flour mixture while the mixer or processor is running.  Blend only until the particles begin to cling together.  Gather dough into a ball, wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for one hour.


3 cups walnuts, pan-toasted and minced 2 cups raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup brown rice syrup ¼ cup avocado oil

Blend nuts, raisins, and cinnamon in a food processor until a fine meal forms.  Do not over-process into flour.  Scrape into a mixing bowl.  In a saucepan, heat oil and rice syrup until it foams and stir immediately into raisin and nut mixture.  Divide the filling into 3 separate bowls and set aside.


3 tablespoons avocado oil
1 ½ cup brown rice syrup

Heat ingredients until they foam and use it immediately.

To assemble, divide chilled dough into thirds.  On a floured surface, roll out one portion at a time into long rectangular shapes – about 30 inches x 5 inches x 1/8 inch thick.  Trim strips evenly so the rectangles match.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly oil a cookie sheet.  Spoon filling from each of the three bowls onto one half of each strip, lengthwise.  Fold the other half of the dough over the filling, making filled 30-inch long strips.

Starting at the end of one strip, roll tightly on its side (like you would roll a tire).  Overlapping slightly at the edge, attach the next strip and continue to roll.  Repeat with the last strip.  Now, turn the assembled torte, filling side up onto the cookie sheet.  Tie a string midway around the diameter of the torte.  Quickly mix the glaze and brush the sides, spooning the balance of laze over the top.  Bake for about one hour, until golden brown.  When cooled, remove the string.  Serve sliced in thin wedges.  Makes one torte, about 8-10 servings.

Lemon Custard Cups

2 cups amasake 2 tablespoons brown rice syrup 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 pinch sea salt 2 tablespoons kuzu 1 each lemon -- juiced 4 sheets phyllo dough 1/4 cup olive oil 1/2 cup bread crumbs 1/2 cup berries

Heat the amasake, syrup, vanilla and salt in saucepan and heat slowly to simmer, reduce to low.  Dissolve kuzu in water and add to pan, cook to thicken.  Remove from heat and whisk in lemon, transfer to bowl and cover with plastic.

Lightly oil muffin pan, preheat to 375 degrees.  Stack the phyllo and cut into 8 equal portions and press into muffin cups, brush with oil and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. 
Bake for 6 minutes and then cool.  Whisk custard to loosen, portion into cups, garnish with berries.


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