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An Italian farmhouse dinner

By Staff | Oct 16, 2015

JUMBO PASTA SHELLS stuffed with Swiss chard and mushrooms is pleasing to the taste of most any palate.


From GRIT magazine

Italians have a passion for food.

Good food. They’re driven by a passion for quality ingredients – much more so than just about any other culture, including the French.

The majority of Italians have backyard gardens where they grow their own tomatoes, herbs, peppers, greens, squashes and eggplants, mostly open-pollinated heirloom varieties passed down in their families for use in their everyday cooking.

START THE MEAL with a light, delicious arugala and spinach salad.

For most Italians, home cooking is considered one of the finest pleasures in life – not a chore at all.

To spend an afternoon or an entire day in the kitchen preparing a meal is actually quite ordinary, and often times it’s a family affair.

No-knead ciabatta bread

(Recipe from The Mother Earth News Book of Bread cookbook scheduled to be released in October.)

Ciabatta bread was first produced in 1982 by a baker named Arnaldo Cavallari, from the small town of Adria, near Venice, Italy.

-Photo courtesy GRIT magazine WHEN IT COMES to appetizers, you can’t go wrong with ciabatta bread and olive oil for dipping.

Cavallari and other bakers in Italy set out to create a genuine Italian sandwich bread to compete with French baguettes.

Ciabatta bread has since become popular throughout Italy, with many regions having their own version; some with a crisp crust and a soft, porous texture, and others like the kind found in Tuscany, Umbria and Marche with a firm crust and dense crumb.

This recipe results in the latter.

Yields 2 loaves.

Starter (Day 1):

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

3/4 cup water, room temperature

Final Dough (Day 2):

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 3/4 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, room temperature

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

On Day 1:

Two days (48 hours) before you plan to serve the bread, prepare the starter by stirring together the flour, yeast and water in a small mixing bowl.

Cover and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.

On Day 2:

Once 24 hours has passed, prepare the final dough by whisking together the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large mixing bowl.

Add water, olive oil and starter, and stir with dough whisk or large spoon until mixture just comes together into wet, sticky dough.

Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 19 hours at room temperature.

Using wooden spoon, stir dough a couple of strokes. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for an additional two hours.

Lightly spray 17-by-11-by-1-inch baking sheet with baking spray.

Line sheet with parchment paper, and lightly flour (about 1 teaspoon) in spots where loaves will go.

Turn dough out onto floured work surface and sprinkle with lots of flour.

Shape dough into log, and cut in half.

Transfer halves to prepared baking sheet, with logs set parallel with short end of pan. Press dough out to 10-by-4-inch rectangles.

Dimple surfaces with floured fingertips. Sprinkle each rectangle lightly with flour, then cover with floured, lint-free tea towel or oil-sprayed plastic wrap.

Let rise for 2 hours.

About 20 minutes before rise is complete, preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Uncover dough and place in oven on center rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until crust is golden.

Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack for one hour.

Store bread, wrapped in aluminum foil, at room temperature for up to two days.

While this ciabatta is best the day it’s baked, it can be reheated in a 350-degree oven until it crisps up again, about 10 minutes.

Crostini di Pane (croutons)

Cut ciabatta or other bread into 1-inch chunks. Toss with a little olive oil, salt, and dried herb of your choice thyme is good.

Spread out on baking sheet, and bake at 325 F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden and crunchy.

Arugula and spinach salad

Arugula and spinach are a perfect combination as the spinach balances out the spicy arugula.

Both are extremely easy to grow in the garden and can even be grown year-round with a moderate season-extending setup, such as a cold frame or low tunnel, depending on your climate.

Yields four servings.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic, smashed

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

8 cups spinach and arugula, mixed


Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated as garnish

In small cup, make a vinaigrette by combining oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, rosemary, sea salt and pepper.

Whisk to emulsify.

Place spinach and arugula in large bowl. Add vinaigrette and toss, straining out garlic clove.

Divide mixture evenly among four serving plates, and garnish each with croutons and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Swiss chard and mushroom stuffed shells

Yields 4 servings.

6 ounces jumbo pasta shells (half of a 12-ounce box)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large bunch Swiss chard, stems removed, cut into ribbons

1 medium onion, chopped

6 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced

15 ounces ricotta

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, divided

1 1/2 cups half-and-half

1/2 pound fontina cheese, grated

8 ounces part-skim mozzarella, divided

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes

1/4 cup fresh chopped basil

Balsamic glaze, optional

Cook pasta shells according to package directions; drain and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Oil 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish and set aside.

Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat; add chard, onion and mushrooms, and saute for five minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool for five minutes.

Transfer mixture to bowl of food processor.

Add ricotta and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, and process until combined. (You want it to be a bit chunky, but mixed well.)

Spoon chard mixture into cooked and cooled shells. Line shells up, touching, in prepared dish, and set aside.

In saucepan, heat the half-and-half over medium heat.

Add fontina and half the mozzarella, and heat until melted and smooth.

Stir in nutmeg, pepper and remaining sea salt. Pour sauce evenly over stuffed shells.

Top with remaining mozzarella and cherry tomatoes.

Cover with foil, and bake for 20 minutes.

Uncover and continue baking for an additional 20 minutes, or until mozzarella is melted.

Sprinkle with basil and a swirl of balsamic glaze, if desired, just before serving.

(NOTE: A balsamic glaze is simply a sauce made with about 1 cup balsamic vinegar and a couple tablespoons brown sugar, honey or molasses, and cooked over low heat for a few minutes, until smooth, then brought to a boil briefly, before reducing heat and simmering for 8 to 10 minutes, or until mixture is reduced by a third and is slightly thick.

Excerpted from GRIT, Celebrating Rural America Since 1882. To read more articles from GRIT, please visit “http://www.Grit.com”>www.Grit.com. Copyright 2015 by Ogden Publications Inc.

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