Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Italian Valentine's Day Dinner

I enjoyed making an Italian Valentine's Day dinner for two wonderful ladies - my wife and our daughter. I was generally very happy with the results. The menu was:

Olive Paté
Zuppa di Carne (Meat Soup)
Braciole alla Pizzaiola (Steaks with Tomato, Garlic, & Oregano)
Carote al Marsala (Carrots with Marsala Wine)
Fritelle di Riso (Rice Pancakes)

The Olive Paté, which I have mentioned in an earlier post, is an antipasto that is not really a paté, but an incredibly easy and tasty olive spread that is served on toast like crostini. It can also be used as a pasta sauce. The recipe can be found at

The other four recipes are from two Italian cookbooks, both authored by Lorenza De' Medici, a descendant of the famous De' Medici family. The Zuppa di Carne is from Tuscany, the Beautiful Cookbook. The last three are from Italy, the Beautiful Cookbook.

I really enjoyed the Zuppa di Carne, whose recipe is on page 71 of Beautiful Tuscany. It is from the town of Arezzo in Tuscany. The dish is easy to make. It takes about 3 hours to prepare:

Serves 6

2 Tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
6 oz lean beef
6 oz lean veal
6 oz lean pork
2 oz pancetta, diced (I used 4 oz.)
1 fresh rosemary sprig, chopped
6 fresh sage leaves
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 lb plum tomatoes, peeled & chopped
1 celery stalk, trimmed & chopped
1 bay leaf
pinch of ground chili
6 cups of light meat stock
6 slice of coarse country bread

1. In a deep saucepan over moderate heat, warm the olive oil. Add the meat, pancetta, rosemary and sage. Cook, stirring frequently, until the meat browns, about 10 minutes. Add the onion, tomatoes, celery, bay leaf, and chili. Season to taste with salt, cover, & lower the heat. Simmer for 2 hours, gradually adding about half of the stock to prevent the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
2. (I skipped this step because I had chopped the meat fairly fine while browning it, but I'll mention it anyway.) Remove the meat from the pan and chop fairly finely. Return the meat to the pan, and, if necessary, add a little more stock to thin the sauce. It should be quite thin.
3. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees.
4. Heat the remaining stock in a saucepan until very hot. Toast the bread in the oven until golden. One by one, dip the toast slices in the stock, place in individual soup dishes, and top each slice with part of the meat sauce. Pour the hot stock over the meat sauce and serve immediately.

Braciole alla Pizzaiola

The recipe for Braciole alla Pizzaiola is on page 151 of Beautiful Italy. The dish, which is from Campania in southern Italy, is tasty and easy to make.

Serves 6 (I cut the meat and tomatoes portion of the recipe in half to serve three.)

1/4 cup EVOO
1 garlic clove, peeled
6 thin slices of beef (I used New York Strip Steaks)
1 lb tomatoes, peeled & coarsely chopped
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano

1. Heat the oil with the garlic in a cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the meat and brown on both sides. Add the tomatoes, season with salt & pepper, & bring to a boil.
2. Turn down the heat. Sprinkle the oregano over the meat & tomatoes. Partially cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes more to reduce the sauce before serving.

Carote al Marsala (Carrots with Marsala Wine)

This dish, which is from Sicily, was tasty and very easy to make, although I prefer the Carote in Stufato recipe, which I have mentioned in another post and which is in the Beautiful Tuscany Cookbook. This recipe is on page 189 of the Beautiful Italy Cookbook. It serves 6. I cut the amount of carrots in half to serve three.


2 tbsp EVOO
1&1/2 lb of carrots, peeled and sliced. (I cheated & used the presliced carrots from Publix)
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup dry Marsala wine (I used sweet Marsala, which seemed to work fine.)


1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the carrots & sauté over high heat for a few minutes. Season with salt & pepper, add a few tablespoons of water & continue cooking over low heat until almost tender.
2. Just before removing the carrots from the stove, raise the heat & sprinkle the sugar over the carrots, stirring so that they become lightly caramelized. Sprinkle with Marsala and let it evaporate.

Fritelle di Riso (Rice Pancakes)

This dish, which is from Lombardy, tasted nice, but not great. My daughter suggested topping the finished pancakes with powdered sugar. We agreed that the sugar enhanced the taste. Other possibilities for topping would be honey or cinnamon sugar.

The dish was very messy to prepare. The recipe is on page 239 of Beautiful Italy. Serves 6.


1 cup (6 oz) of Arborio rice
2 cups whole milk
2 tbsp butter
pinch of salt
1 tbsp superfine (caster) sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon
3 egg yolks
2 tbsp rum
1 egg white
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
oil for deep frying

1. Boil the rice in the milk until the liquid is completely absorbed. Mix in the butter, salt, sugar, and grated lemon rind, and let cool completely. Then stir in the egg yolks and rum.
2. Beat the egg white until stiff & fold it gently into the rice mixture. Form the mixture into small balls. Then flatten the balls into discs that are 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter and 3/8 inch (1 cm) thick. Dredge in the flour.
3. Heat the oil to 350 degrees. Fry the discs in batches on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Arrange on a plate & serve hot.

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