An excellent thing, the onion – bigoli in salsa, onion and sardine sauce for pasta from Veneto

“Onions. An excellent thing, the onion, and highly suitable for old people and those with cold temperaments, owing to its nature, which is hot in the highest degree, sometimes moist, and sometimes dry. The most desirable of the many varieties are the white onions, being rich in watery juices. They generate milk in nursing mothers and fertile semen in men. They improve the eyesight, are softening, and stimulate the bladder. Headaches, which are sometimes caused by onions, can be cured with vinegar and milk. Those suffering from coughs, asthma, and constrictions in the chest, should eat boiled onions, or onions baked under the embers, served with sugar and a little fresh butter”

This passage is by the XI Century Baghdad doctor Ibn Butlann whose book Taqwīm as‑Siḥḥa (تقويم الصحة Maintenance of Health) was translated in Europe as Tacuinum Sanitatis and became one of the most important books on hygiene, dietetics and exercise, from the Middle Ages well into the Renaissance (the picture and text in the gallery are from the English edition of the book, The Four Season of the House of Cerruti, 1984, available on http://www.archive.org).
Onions are indeed excellent and without them much Italian cooking would be lustreless.

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Patate alla pizzaiola – Potatoes pizzaiola 

In classic Italian cookery, when something is cooked  “alla pizzaiola” (pizza-style),  it means it has tomatoes and origano (sometimes garlic too),  as in the most basic topping for pizza.

Patate alla pizzaiola belongs to that army of homely dishes that are the backbone, almost the unsung heroes,  of Italian cookery:  simple affairs, often vegetarian, quickly assembled, generally rather economical and immensely satisfying.

This is not “a recipe”, just, I would say, “a way with” potatoes – once you understand the idea, you can really play with it. Continue reading

I peperoni imbottiti alla napoletana (Neapolitan-style stuffed peppers)

“Blessed be the stuffed peppers! what a clever thing they are!…What are they made of? Not much: peppers, bread, a couple of aubergines cooked ‘fungitiello‘ style (i.e. deep fried),  a handful of capers and Gaeta black olives, some anchovies and, let’s not forget, a pinch of oregano and parsley, a clove of garlic and few bits of tomatoes. And from these humble ingredients, a masterpiece is born: one of those dishes that makes your mouth water just thinking about them. Continue reading

Sfincione di Bagheria (sfincione from Bagheria, a Sicilian pizza)

Sfincione is the pizza of Sicily: contrary to its Neapolitan counterpart, which is generally round, sold in individual portions, with a thick cornicione, a thin centre and not too much topping, sfincione is generally baked in large trays and sold cut up in hefty portions (even if there are also small, individual  sfincioni, called sfincionelli, approximately 300 g each); it is quite thick all over, with a soft and pillowy dough (sometimes a little lard is added to the dough, which I greatly approve of) and it is laden with toppings. It is another thing altogether and something I urge you to explore – sfincione lends itself to domestic home baking much better than Neapolitan pizza. Continue reading