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An Italian farmhouse dinner

By Staff | Sep 4, 2018

Jumbo pasta shells stuffed with Swiss chard and mushrooms is pleasing to the taste of most any palate.


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. They protect their precious food culture with strict labeling laws and vehement opposition to genetically modified crops. 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 oftentimes it’s a family affair. Here are four recipes that add up to an Italian farmhouse dinner.

Antipasto (appetizers)

Prior to the main course, enjoy a light repast of wine, Castelvetrano olives soaked in extra-virgin olive oil with fresh or dried herbs like thyme and rosemary, an assortment of charcuterie, ciabatta bread for dipping into olive oil, and a bowl of cherry or grape tomatoes from the garden, served with a little dish of sea salt. Set out toothpicks, napkins, and some pit bowls, and let the evening begin.

These mini cakes are the perfect Italian desert.

Insalate (salads)

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 4 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.

Portata principale (main course)

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

11/2 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 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool for 5 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.

Dolce (dessert)

Olive oil cakes with

orange glaze

With its Mediterranean climate, citrus groves dot the Italian countryside, especially the Amalfi Coast. Just about every Italian family has lemon or orange trees, or both, in their backyard.


11/4 cups sugar

2 tablespoons grated orange zest

2 large eggs

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2/3 cup half-and-half

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon finely minced fresh rosemary


3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

11/2 to 2 tablespoons orange juice

11/2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted

11/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil


Rosemary sprigs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush 6- or 12-cup mini Bundt or muffin pan with melted unsalted butter (about 1 tablespoon). Lightly dust with flour, and shake out excess.

To make cakes:

Place sugar and orange zest in blender, and pulse until combined, stirring to mix if necessary. Add eggs, one at a time, then gradually pour in olive oil and half-and-half, pulsing until thin batter forms, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides and mix with rubber spatula. Do not over blend.

In small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and minced rosemary. Add to blender in two batches, pulsing lightly until just combined. Stop to scrape down sides of blender as needed. Pour batter evenly into prepared pan.

Bake until cakes just begin to pull away from sides of pan and spring back when lightly touched 30 to 35 minutes for 6-cup Bundt pan, or 22 to 25 minutes for 12-cup Bundt or muffin pan. Remove from oven and cool in pan for 10 minutes, then loosen sides with small knife, and invert cakes onto cooling rack.

To make glaze:

Whisk together confectioner’s sugar, orange juice, butter and oil until smooth. (If mixture is too thick, add a bit more orange juice.)

To put it all together:

Drizzle glaze over warm cakes, and garnish with rosemary sprigs.

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