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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Happy New Year from the Mountains of Abruzzo

(copyright, Maria Liberati 2007)
Here's wishing that you all had a wonderful Christmas and that you were able to include some of the special recipes we have included this past month.
I am writing from my office in Italy- high in the mountains of Abruzzo.
The Holiday season still goes on here. While you are waiting to ring in the New Year as we are here as well, we will be celebrating until the 6th of January. This last Holiday is the Epiphany or La Befana and marks the end of the Christmas Holidays.
Here the Holidays are the topic of conversation for everyone for at least 4-6 weeks. I was really tired and not too awake when we landed in Rome. But I really realized I was here when I had to stop at customs to show my passport. No, showing my passport didn't wake me up. The customs officers- there were 3- that had to look at my passport were discussing a recipe that they had for Christmas Eve dinner (Vigilia) as they glanced at my passport- paying more attention to the details of the recipe than the looking over of passports. And unfortunately I did not hear the entire recipe. Although as tempted as I was to ask, I decided it was best not to ask.
Besides, I knew that the sooner I left the airport the sooner we would be having a cappuccino and cornetti at Palombini-in EUR (a neighborhood in Rome) right in front of the 'square coliseum'-that alone is sight for sore tired eyes.
And as I have been continuing this series, here is an excerpt from my upcoming book- The Basic Art of Italian Cooking-Holidays and Special Occasions (to be released in late 2008). This chapter is about our New Year's Eve last year -to bring in 2007.
(excerpt from The Basic Art of Italian Cooking-Holidays & Special Occasions
copyright, Maria Liberati 2007, art of living,PrimaMedia,Inc.)
Never plan for anything..As all the highways were closed because of icy conditions and two terrible accidents on the A24 highway (the highway that goes from Abruzzo to Rome)–we had to quickly think on our feet to save the festivities for New Year’s Eve. Which we did….
As luck has it we found out this morning that we could not get out of town safely so we had just enough time to grab all of the ingredients we needed to make a 7 course New Year’s Eve fest fit for a king.. for 25 people….

Primi (first course)
Spaghetti lightly tossed with fresh shrimp and calamari in an ‘aglio e olio’ (garlic and oil) topped at the end with fresh parsley.

Secondi (second course)
Zuppa di lenticchie (lentil soup) with freshly made crostini (croutons)
Served with Cotechino (a type of ham)

Terzo (third course)
Fresh baked salmone

Quarto (fourth course)
Frittata made with fresh escarole and grated parmigiano cheese

Contorni (side dishes)
*Fresh swiss chard- cooked and lightly tossed with olive oil and fresh lemon juice
*Fresh mozzarella

All of this was served with Vino Novello. This is the new wine that comes out about this time of the year. It is called vino novello (new wine) because it is only aged for 3 months versus aging for at least 1 year.

Dolci (desserts)
*Torte di panettone (see recipe in my next blog later this week)
*Artisanal chocolate torrone made here in Abruzzo. (It contains 80% cocoa and hazelnuts grown locally. This is a specialty here in the province of Abruzzo).

Fruit course
Fresh grapes (you must eat at least 12 grapes on New Year’s Eve for good luck).
Fresh apples

To bring in the New Year, Braccchetto D’Acqui was served. It is a sparkling red wine that is delicate and with just a hint of sweetness

Torte di panettone recipe
(Copyright 2005- Maria Liberati)
Many of you who have been at my book signings have savored this torte (cake). We make it around Christmas time because it is made with panettone (an Italian sweet bread made for Christmas). We usually have so much panettone left over and try to think of creative things to do with it. So I came up with this recipe with a friend of mine that is a pastry chef here in Abruzzo. It is really very easy to make but is so yummy they will think you were baking all day.

And as I always recommend in all of my cookbooks- use only the best ingredients you can find for this torte. Since there are only a few ingredients each and everyone is important.

*1/3 to ½ of a pannettone (most gourmet stores carry these now, if you are lucky you may be able to find a fresh baked one as well).
*1- 4 ounce chocolate bar (must be 70-80% cocoa)
*4 large dried figs
*2 cups whole milk
*1/2 cup sugar
*¼ tsp vanilla
*2 whole eggs
Baking paper
1- 8” shallow cake pan
Small piece of solid chocolate to shave into chocolate curls on top
Confectioner’s Sugar

If panettone is a few days old it should be dry. If it is not dry, tear panettone into small cubes, preheat oven to 375-400 degrees. When oven is preheated place panettone cubes on flat baking sheet and bake till begins to turn golden and becomes dry.

Line shallow cake pan with baking paper. Chop 4 ounces of dark chocolate into small pieces. Chop four figs into small pieces. Set these aside.

Cover pan with one layer of panettone cubes. Press cubes gently to fit form of pan. Sprinkle chopped chocolate and figs on panettone cubes. Place another layer of panettone cubes on top, again press gently to cover the first layer and to fit form of pan.

With wire whisk, whisk together 2 cups milk and 2 eggs. Then little by little add in the sugar and whisk and then add in vanilla and whisk for 1 minute or until well blended.

With soup ladle gently pour this mixture over panettone cubes and then gently press down to form panettone and mixture to pan and then let
sit for 10 minutes so all is absorbed. Then place in oven preheated to 375 degrees for 40 -50 minutes.

Top should be golden and all liquid should be absorbed.

When cool, take out of pan by edges of baking paper. Garnish top with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and chocolate curls shaved from chocolate bar.

Should be kept in refrigerator and best if made the night before.

Serve with Bracchetto D’Acqui sparkling wine.

Tanti Auguri for a safe and Happy 2008!

You can purchase the bestselling book The Basic Art of Italian Cooking and still receive $5 off retail price and free shipping at
and portion of proceeds go to Gilda's Club.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Memories, part 2

Here is another chapter from my upcoming book:

The Basic Art of Italian Cooking-Holidays & Special Occasions

copyright 2007, Maria Liberati; Publisher-art of living,PrimaMedia,Inc

to be released 2008

Christmas Eve Memories

Someone once said “there is a book of record in your mind, in which every act of your life is noted down. Each morning the blank page is turned on which the day’s history is noted on lines that can not be edited. This book of record is your memory. An act is done, is done forever, for the time in which it is done in passing, passes no more”.

I try to remember this at each Christmas Eve dinner. Each one is a special memory and its’ own special chapter in my ‘memory book’ made up of two important ingredients: good food and family.

In Italian we have a saying : “Natale con I tuoi”. It means that Christmas should be spent with family and those that you love.

Christmas Eve dinner begins a few days before. Shopping for fresh fish at the Italian Market in Philadelphia is always an event in itself. My mother and aunt have a knack for choosing the best and freshest fish-they had a great teacher- their mother.
Early on Christmas Eve morning the preparation of the fish begins. Nothing comes out of the family kitchen that wasn’t freshly prepared by family members.

By the time 3 PM arrives the kitchen is all aflutter with activity. Oven is baking and stove is filled with many pots a brewing, sauces being made, fishes being fried, sautéed, sauces filling the air with a wonderful aroma. Inevitably someone always yells out, “what do you think, should it stay a little longer” and at least 5 of the family cooks run over to ‘make their call’.

On the other side of the kitchen table the freshly breaded, lightly fired smelts have just arrived and will be finished before any of the cooks attempt to taste. But no fear, as in all Italian feasts there are plenty more where that came from and no shortage of cooks willing to fry up a fresh batch..

In different parts of the house hugs and kisses are still being exchanged with arriving guests who quickly follow their noses to have a taste at what’s being brought to the kitchen table
And after everyone has settled in all of a sudden things become quiet-like the second act of an opera- we are now waiting for our second act-dinner. Quiet is soon broken by the sound of the popping open of wine bottles and the first ‘Saluti’ and wine glasses –filled with our favorite family wine-Montepulciano D’Abbruzzo. And the ‘opera’ continues, a symphony of noise of dishes being passed around and new and old memories being shared.

Our favorite dessert is the Panettone di Cioccolata. This is a new dessert that has now become one of our family traditions. I hope it becomes one of yours.

Sidebar: Try a slightly sweet, festive sparkling wine with this dessert. Brachetto D’Acqui
makes a great accompaniment to this dessert.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Memories, part 1

My Christmas memories are very special ones. They are made up of vivid sights, smells and sounds.
*Sights-of family and good friends, brightly decorated presents and wrapping and bows and colorful table decorations, large tables spilling over with food
*Smells of great foods cooking on the stove and baking in the oven.
*Sounds- laughter, clanking of bowls and whirring mixers, oven timers, singing Christmas Carols-(in Italian and English), happy chatter, wine and champagne bottles popping and toasts of glasses clanking.
The most precious gifts that I received during the Holidays are these memories to treasure. Memories that I can relive, if only in my mind or through some faded photo.

There is one material gift that I do remember out of all of my Christmases- a sled. You see we lived in the city of Philadelphia- not exactly great space to ride around on a sled. But my parents always dreamed of building a house in the country and taking us out of the city- (which they did) and a place where we can go sledding with open fields and hills.

. After all the presents were opened, Mom insisted that we get ready to go to nonna’s house for our family Christmas Day dinner . But my father couldn’t budge until he took me on my first sleigh ride-‘city style’. What a great memory, and luckily I have a photo to prove it- my Dad pulling that little sled along the sidewalk, through the driveway and the peaceful quiet of a crisp snowy day. When the cold was too much we began heading towards home, but “pull me again Daddy”, I chanted. Of course my doting Dad headed around the block again, and again that day. Nothing could stop him, but Mom, who finally came out to find us. That winter was a special one, filled with memories of many snowy days and many sleigh rides with my father.

Here is hoping you have a special Holiday made up of many

And I want to leave you with a taste of Christmas. This is a recipe I created to use up all that leftover Panettone. it was featured in the Holiday issue of tastes of Italia Magazine.This is a scrumptious version of bread pudding.

Panettone di Natale

*½ of a large panettone-cut into small cubes
*2 cups of milk
*1/2 tsp of pure vanilla extract
*Dark chocolate (70-90 % cocoa) broken into small pieces or chopped.
*4 dried figs, cut into small pieces
*1/4 cup dried cherries
* ¼ cup raisins
*1 fresh lemon rind grated
Powdered cocoa for dusting on top

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Break or pull apart panettone into small cubes.
Place one layer of panettone cubes in an 8 inch round or square glass or ceramic baking dish. Cover with, chopped chocolate pieces, chopped fig pieces , then cherries ,then raisins. Cover this layer with remaining panettone cubes.
In seperate bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, vanilla and sugar. Pour liquid over panettone cubes. Gently push down on top to be sure liquid soaks into all layers, Let sit for 10 minutes then bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes or until firm and golden on top. When cool, dust with powdered cocoa and serve.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Panettone- once the Italian secret..revealed..

Christmas time is here and if you are spending Christmas in Italy that means the sight of Panettone in every shape size and flavor decorating the supermarkets, the open air markets , the windows of many coffee bars. There are even Panettone bread that are carved out and used as nativity scenes with figures of the nativity scene strategically placed inside. The original Panettone bread is time consuming and takes a bit of practice to make. However ,for those of you short on time that love to bake, you can try this simple version of Panettone. it is just as delicious and healthy too. All great ingredients, but panettone is high in calories, so a small slice will do, thank you.
There is nothing better than starting a cold winter morning with a slice of toasted panettone bread and some jam
For the recipe check out my regular column now at
Hope this makes your holidays a bit more delicious!!Ciao for now!!Maria

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Pennsylvania Holiday Food and Beverage Show

This years' Pennsylvania Holiday Food and Beverage Show was bigger and better than last year and included many more companies as a well as a wine tasting room. The event was held at the Toyota Arena in York, Pa.

I was selected to be one of the celebrity chefs there and did two onstage appearances. The appearances which were unscripted were taped by York County dining and you can view here:

My two onstage appearances and demos included some wonderful cheeses provided by Penn Cheese company. If you are looking for a recipe for your Holiday risotto and focaccia bread- watch the first clip. The second clip was done in the wine tasting room and includes no-bake- appetizers perfect for wine pairing.

A special thanks to all that came out to see me at the show. It is always so nice to meet everyone and hear about your experiences with cooking the recipes in The Basic Art of Italian Cooking and my spice blend Sapori D'Italian-Tuscan Picnic.
Also, a special thanks to my cooking appearance assistant-Chris Smith.

For those of you that will be in the Philadelphia, Pa area in March- I will be doing a special guest appearance at the Wine Academy there- for a class in the basics of cooking with wine.
You can go to to register or for more info.
Ciao for now!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Basic Art of the Bubbly, part two

Since I began talking about how water tasting has become an art unto itself- I wanted to continue that with info on learning to appreciate the fine imported mineral waters out there. But remember- we are talking about naturally carbonated waters-not soda.

These waters are waters that come from springs and have a gentle and natural carbonation. Some of these naturally carbonated waters really aid digestion, have health benefits. They make a perfect choice to sip during Holiday meals to help digest.

Each mineral water in Italy comes from a different mineral spring and therefore has its' own characteristic . Some have a softer or harsher taste depending on the mineral content of the water. This is really influenced by the location and the age of the spring and other factors.

Some of the reasons to practice tasting and appreciating different mineral waters is that you will soon learn to distinguish between their characterstics. You will also be able to describe the qualities of specific waters and expertly pair them with wine and food.

Here are the steps on how to conduct a proper mineral water tasting:

Step 1- Pour

As soon as bottle is opened pour into water glass

Step 2- Taste

Sip a small sip (approx 2 tblsps) into your mouth. Let it remain on your tongue and then distribute it throughout your mouth. Notice the tastes and feel of the water.

Step 3-Observe

Raise your glass to eye level. Then lower glass to observe it from above.

Step 4-Smell

Raise glass up under your nose and then breathe in deeply.

Step 5-Second taste

Once again, take a generous sip of the water and let it linger on your tongue.


Cin Cin

Ciao for now!

Maria Liberati

If you are a wine aficianado or want to learn how to be one- come out to The Wine School in Philadelphia on March 13, 2008. I will be doing a class on the basics of Italian cooking with wine. To get more info or register go to or email me at us at

Home of the bestselling book:
The Basic Art of Italian Cooking by Maria Liberati, tm