Italian National Day

Focaccia with caramelised onion and pine nuts

 

June 2nd is Italian National Day – Festa della Repubblica. This day commemorates the referendum of 1946 when the Italian population was called upon to decide upon a newly structured government after the Second World War. In the spirit of all that falls under the red, white and green flag, here’s a menu that’ll see you through from antipasti all the way through to the sweetest Dolci finish. And to all my Italian friends, especially the Sforza family, Saluti!

 These recipes were developed exclusively for Food and Home Entertaining, June edition 

 

Focaccia with caramelised onion and pine nuts

 

Focaccia with caramelised red onions and pine nuts

Pane (breads)

Throughout Italy, bread is eaten everyday. Whether dipped in a morning coffee, used to add substance to soups, salads or for the customary practise of nibbling on with glass of wine before the meal. The importance of bread remains cornerstone to the Italian food culture. One of my favourite go-to books on Italian food is Katie Caldesi, author of The Italian Cookery Course. I love how as a non-Italian, married to Giancarlo, an Italian chef and cookery teacher, Katie respectfully navigates her way around the rather complex subject of ‘authentic’ Italian food. Her exploration of regional food and subsequent interpretation thereof makes the journey into this culturally rich cuisine doable for the rest of us. She has this to say about bread  – In times past, the women in smaller communities gathered together to bake bread in communal ovens. While about this daily ritual, recipes and tips were shared. Traditional insider secrets that can only be learnt from experience was casually passed down from one generation to another. The religious significance of bread was also carried through to the shaping of breads, celebrating religious festivals and celebrations.

 

Artichoke, kale and ricotta conchiglioni

 

Artichoke, kale and ricotta conchiglioni with arrabbiata sauce

Pasta

‘Everything you see I owe to spaghetti’ – Sophia Loren

While I don’t think this is necessarily going to work in my favour, it remains one of my favourite comfort foods and the easiest way to feed a crowd of hungry mouths. There are literally hundreds of different shapes and varieties of pasta, some more familiar than others. I’m fascinated by the logic behind the shape, each being paired to the most suitable sauce. Conchiglioni are large shells, perfect for stuffing with a delicious meat ragù or ricotta filling. For this vegetarian pasta bake, I’ve used marinated artichokes, kale and creamy ricotta cheese to fill the conchiglioni and nestled them snugly on a ruby red arrabbiata tomato sauce. It’s a definite winner.

 

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Pesto beans and rosemary potatoes

Broccolini with prosciutto, capers and olives

 

Broccolini with prosciutto, capers and olives

 

Pesto beans with rosemary potatoes and parmesan

 

Pesto beans with rosemary potatoes

 

Rosemary and red wine beef with buttered porcini mushrooms

Carne – Meat

Several years ago I met Giorgio Locatelli, a Michelin starred chef, at the Good Food and Wine Show in Johannesburg. As is the Italian way, demonstrative hand waving and deft knife skills impressed the crowd of food enthusiasts no end. I still remember. He made fresh egg pasta ravioli filled with walnuts, ricotta and caramelised onions. Buonissimo! After the demonstration, a book signing followed. Armed with my copy of his latest book, Made in Italy Food and Stories, I stood in line to meet the man. Maybe this is just me, but when confronted with something or someone hugely impressive, words tumble out of my mouth that astound even me. Given the opportunity to ask an intelligent question, I say this. ‘You know Giorgio, on my recent trip to Venice, I ate the worst Carbonara ever! What’s up with that?’ No surprise then that the inscription is free of endearments. It reads  – Dianne, Bon appetito. Giorgio. I’m pleased to say, I have indeed had many great pastas since then!

Concerning meat he writes – ‘Coming from a rural culture, the concept of using the entire animal is common practise’. Improvisation is thus key to clever cooking, making the little that you have stretch even further. A slow cooked ragù such as this would be eaten as a main meal, with the rich tomato sauce reserved for a pasta the following day.

 

Rosemary and red wine slow braised beef with buttered porcini mushrooms

 

Nutella and Hazelnut chocolate torte

Dolci – Dessert

What can I say about dessert? For me, a meal is not complete without a little something sweet at the end. All’s well that ends well and this a superbly decadent way to conclude my celebratory Italian feast. As disappointingly sad as the carbonara was, I can write a book on the spectacularly indecent volume of swoon-worthy gelato consumed on the same trip! Glorious, it was. I recall eating cherry ice cream in Rome on a blisteringly hot August day. On returning home I immediately made a version of it using amarena cherries and toasted almonds. When you think of Italian desserts, there’s little that compares with creamy gelato. This chocolate torte however, is a strong contender. To compromise, I think a scoop of smooth vanilla bean ice cream would be a fitting companion. So in the words of Giorgio, Buon appetito!

 

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15 Comments. Leave new

  • Moyahabo Pitikoe
    1 June 2016 9:11 am

    Thank you Di for sharing such a beautiful story. I have been struggling with a theme for Father’s Day lunch.
    This Italian theme is definitely impressive.
    I hope it tastes as good because i am a bit rusted now.

  • Hello Di! Love the Pesto Beans with rosemary potatoes and parmesan! We’ll DEFINITELY share this one with the #loyalroyals at Pesto Princess 😉

  • Dianne Bibby
    1 June 2016 3:28 pm

    Hi Kathleen. Thank you so much. It’s almost too good to be good for you! I’m completely stuck on this dish.

  • Dianne Bibby
    1 June 2016 3:34 pm

    Pleasure Habi. I think this could be the order of my ‘last supper’, from start to finish. Especially the finish. You’ll need a lie-down after though – just to recover from complete deliciousness!

  • Lovonne Burrow
    1 June 2016 7:09 pm

    Hi
    where can I find the recipe for NUTELLA AND HAZELNUT CHOCOLATE TORTE it looks wonderful;
    Thank you
    Lovonne

  • Dianne Bibby
    2 June 2016 8:02 am

    Hi there Lovonne. The recipes for Italian National Day were developed for Food and Home Entertaining magazine, June edition. (South Africa) If you’re not from SA, I can make a plan to get the recipe to you. Thanks for stopping in!

  • Nathalie Goldberg
    2 June 2016 10:45 am

    Hi. All looks delicious! I would also like to have the recipe for NUTELLA AND HAZELNUT CHOCOLATE TORTE. Thank you

  • Dianne Bibby
    2 June 2016 7:16 pm

    Thank you Nathalie. I’ll email it through for you shortly. It’s a chocolate lovers dream. Hope you enjoy it.

  • Lindsey Sforza
    3 June 2016 2:00 pm

    Can’t go incognito on this one….looks absolutely delicious and so beautifully presented.

    Saluti ….The Sforza family!

  • Dianne Bibby
    3 June 2016 5:19 pm

    Ah Lindsey! Thank you. At our next epic lunch. Save a date, can’t waite…

  • Please could you send me the recipe for pesto beans and rosemary potatoes and the Nutella and hazelnut chocolate torte, looks divine

  • Dianne Bibby
    6 July 2016 7:15 am

    Hello Carol. With pleasure. These are two of my favourites from the shoot. The pesto beans are quite simply addictive.

  • Hi Dianne,
    I love your website! I would love the recipes for pesto beans and rosemary potatoes and the Nutella and hazelnut chocolate torte, please – and thank you. They look delicious 😋

  • Hi Heather. Thank you so much. That’s so lovely to hear. The recipes first appeared in Food and Home Entertaining, about a year ago. I’ll email them through to you with pleasure.

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