Per la famiglia means “for the family” and through sharing family recipes from generations past, author Emily Richards is inviting us into her home so we can share in some of the magic that is her family food culture. This book “fetes the celebrations and foods of an Italian-Canadian through the years” by recording Emily’s family recipes so they can be shared with generations to come. There are traditional versions of recipes as well as new takes on some dishes. Whether you are from an Italian family or simply love Italian food, this book will speak to your heart and stomach and help you to easily prepare and enjoy the flavours of Southern Italy food in your own home.
The book contains a lot of useful information as well as recipes. There’s a Food Glossary that even seasoned cooks might find useful, where Emily walks us through some of the Southern Italian ingredients that she works with – cheeses, oils, cured meats, peppers, olives, onions and garlic, stocks, pasta, herbs, sauces and tomatoes. All these ingredients are outlined in terms of selecting the right kind for your recipe, uses and storing. The book also includes a section about Kitchen Staples where Emily gives you recipes for her “basics” that she keeps on hand in the kitchen at all times – dried herbs, stock, tomato and roasted pepper sauce, roasted tomatoes and peppers, and fresh ricotta cheese.
The chapters are organized around the various courses that are aprt of an Italian meal – Antipasti, Pizza e Pane, First Course and Light Meals, Main Courses, Vegetables and Salads, Desserts and Cookies. There are also chapters for Easter and Christmas and if you’re wondering how to put it all together, there’s a chapter that brings together a few different dishes in various Menus for Italian Celebrations.
In the introduction, Emily mentions the fact that, while most of the ingredients are easily sourced, there are some pieces of specialty equipment that she uses which might prove to be a good investment if you are going to use them often (i.e. pasta maker). Emily does offer other options and methods that you can use if you don’t have access to that specialty equipment, making most of the recipes very accessible for everyone.
I’ve made a number of Emily’s recipes (including with my boys’ cooking club, when Emily came to show them how to make gnocchi!) and what I really appreciate about them is their simplicity. They harken back to a time when cooking was simpler and ingredient lists were shorter! Most of the recipes in this book are one-page numbers whose ingredient lists include helpful hints about ingredients (i.e. where to find certain ingredients in the grocery store) as well as substitutions. The recipes are clearly written and easy to understand (it’s just like Emily is with you in the kitchen as you cook!) and each recipe tells a story. All together, the recipes make up the story of the life of Emily’s family through foods that have been passed down from generation to generation. For the first time, many of them are being recorded in writing to preserve the heritage of the rich food culture of this family. Readers will delight in cooking their way through these classic Italian recipes and many will be surprised at just how easy they are to make at home, thanks to Emily’s clear instructions.
It’s well known that Italians show their love through food and Per la famiglia allows you a glimpse into that world via your own kitchen. So, get out there and get cooking. As Emily says: “Mangia con gusto” (eat with enjoyment!).
Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi (Gnocchi di Ricotta e spinaci)
Reprinted here with permission
These delicate little dumplings are from Zia Lina, my dad’s middle sister. She also makes a plain ricotta version without the spinach that is equally delicious (see tip below). She makes these for special occastions (usually when we visit!), but they work for any family meal. If you’re not a fan of spinach just omit it.
In addition to the gnocchi basket from my Nonna, I also have a gnocchi paddle that makes the ridges on gnocchi perfectly. After showing my dad the little board, he made me my own paddle, just the right size for me! He later made a box full which I take with me to cooking classes to sell. It was such a pleasure to showcase my dad’s craft as a woodworker and carpenter. Most of my students were happy to buy one and take it home to recreate gnocchi for their families. It makes me smile knowing people have some of my family’s work in their homes.
1 large tub (11 oz / 330 g) baby spinach, washed*
1 tub (475 g) ricotta cheese
3 cups (750 mL) all-purpose flour (approx.), divided
½ tsp (2 mL) salt
1 batch of Homemade Tomato (see below) or Easy Gorgonzola sauce (see below)
*You will need about 16 cups (4 L) of lightly packed baby spinach.
** You will need 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) of ricotta cheese.
IN A LARGE SKILLET, cover and cook spinach over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Drain and squeeze spinach well. Chop spinach; set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together egg, ricotta and spinach. Gradually stir in 2½ cups (625 mL) flour and salt with wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Place dough on a floured surface and knead in remaining flour for 5 minutes to form a smooth dough.
Divide dough into 8 pieces; roll each into long, thin strands, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick. Cut into about 36 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Roll each piece across tines of a fork, gnocchi paddle or gnocchi basket. Place in a single layer on a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough. Place in the freezer for about 1 hour or until firm. Use a flat spatula or wooden spoon to gently scrape the frozen gnocchi off the baking sheet.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook gnocchi from frozen for about 8 minutes or until they float to the top and are tender throughout. Drain with a slotted spoon and toss with Homemade Tomato Sauce (see recipe p. 23) or Easy Gorgonzola Sauce (see recipe p. 124).
Make ahead: If you want to freeze the gnocchi, once they are firmly frozen, use a spatula to scrape pasta off baking sheet into a resealable plastic bag and freeze for up to 3 months. To make plain ricotta gnocchi, like my Zia Lina sometimes does, omit spinach and use only 2 cups (500 mL) of flour to stir in to form soft dough. You may need to knead in more flour to form a smooth dough.
MAKES 2 LB (1 KG), ENOUGH FOR 4 TO 6 SERVINGS.
Homemade Tomato Sauce
Sugo Fatto in Casa
This is as close to my mom and Nonna’s sauce that I could get. Using home-made canned tomatoes makes a difference but many people don’t get a chance to can their own tomatoes. I wanted to be able to offer you a recipe for a tomato sauce using store-bought canned tomatoes that was easy to make and still tasted great. This sauce is perfect for pasta or any other dish that uses tomato sauce, like pizza. It’s simple and tasty and also freezes beautifully.
2 cans (28 oz / 796 mL) plum tomatoes*
6 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
2 sprigs fresh basil
1 small onion, halved
2 cloves garlic, halved
3 Tbsp (45 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 mL) dried oregano leaves
2 tsp (10 mL) salt
¼ tsp (1 mL) hot pepper flakes
*You can use 6 cups (1.5 L) of homemade tomatoes if you can your own. You can also use 2 jars (700mL) of tomato pasta if you don’t want to puree them yourself.
IN A FOOD MILL OR BLENDER, puree tomatoes until smooth and pour into large saucepan. Add parsley, basil, onion, garlic, oil, oregano, salt and hot pepper flakes. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low; cook for about 2 hours or until reduced slightly and thickened.
MAKES 5 CUPS (1.25 L) SAUCE.
You can serve up the very soft onion, garlic and herbs on crusty bread. I have family members that enjoy them this way.
Easy Gorgonzola Cheese Sauce
Salsa Facile alla Gorgonzola
This sauce is very special yet super simple. It is tasty with pastas like tagliatelle, fettuccine or even gnocchi. This rich and decadent sauce is always a favourite.
2 Tbsp (30 mL) butter
1 small shallot, diced
1 ½ cups (375 mL) 35% whipping cream
4 oz (125 g) Gorgonzola or other blue cheese, crumbled*
Pinch of fresh ground pepper
2 Tbsp (30 mL) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
*This is about 3/4 cup (190 mL) of Gorgonzola cheese.
IN A LARGE SKILLET, heat butter over medium heat. Cook shallot for 3 minutes or until softened. Add cream and bring to boil for about 3 minutes or until reduced slightly. Reduce heat; add Gorgonzola and pepper. Stir until melted and thickened. Toss with your favourite cooked pasta.
MAKES 1 ½ CUPS (375 ML) OR ENOUGH FOR 1 LB (450 G) OF PASTA.
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Mardi Michels is a full-time French teacher to elementary school-aged boys and the author of eat. live. travel. write - a blog focusing on culinary adventures near and far. She has lived and worked as a teacher in Australia, Hong Kong, England, France and now calls Toronto home. She has spent nearly every summer over the past decade in France, honing her cooking and baking skills, touring different wine producing regions and in 2014 she and her husband purchased an historic home in South West France which they operate as a vacation rental property. As part of her job, she runs a cooking class twice a week for 7-14 year-old boys, Les Petits Chefs and Cooking Basics. Mardi is a Food Revolution Ambassador for Canada, a contributor to JamieOliver.Com and in her spare time teaches cooking and baking classes around Toronto.
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