Italy Al Dente: Pasta, Risotto, Gnocchi, Polenta, Soup

Italy Al Dente: Pasta, Risotto, Gnocchi, Polenta, Soup

by Biba Caggiano

Pasta, polenta, gnocchi, risotto, soup—these are the heart and soul of Italian cooking. Simple, hearty, and filling, these dishes can satisfy any craving, any time.

Do you like pasta? Biba gives you pasta—three chapters of pasta, eighty-seven recipes in all. Prefer your pasta stuffed? How about Eggplant-Goat Cheese Tortelli with Fresh Tomatoes and Black


Pasta, polenta, gnocchi, risotto, soup—these are the heart and soul of Italian cooking. Simple, hearty, and filling, these dishes can satisfy any craving, any time.

Do you like pasta? Biba gives you pasta—three chapters of pasta, eighty-seven recipes in all. Prefer your pasta stuffed? How about Eggplant-Goat Cheese Tortelli with Fresh Tomatoes and Black Olives or Spinach Cannelloni with Duck and Wild Mushroom Stuffing? Want to try a new spin on lasagne? Lasagne with Walnut Pesto and Ricotta might be just the thing. If you like to keep it simple, Biba can feed your hunger with inspired but quick-to-the-table recipes like Spaghetti with Hot Anchovy Sauce or Pasta with Spicy Broccoli.

Polenta and gnocchi are the quintessential Italian comfort foods and Biba's hearty recipes serve up satisfaction and surprising variety—Potato Gnocchi with Osso Buco Sauce; Saffron Gnocchi with Mushrooms, Prosciutto, Asparagus, and Cream Sauce; Polenta with Fontina, Butter, and Sage; and Soft Polenta with Pancetta, Garlic, and Hot Pepper, to name only a few.

Risotto and soup—what better choices can one have on a cold, wet evening? Whatever you're in the mood for—or have on hand—there's a risotto to fit the bill. Savor Risotto of the Fisherman; Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash; Risotto with Three Cheeses; or Risotto with Sausage, Beans, and Red Wine. And soup lovers will delight in what Biba has to offer—from thick vegetable minestre like Tuscan Chick-pea and Pasta Soup and Artichoke, Leek, and Rice Soup to lighter fare like Angel Hair in Broth.

Italy at Dente keeps the flavors direct and the recipes simple. If you like Italian, this is a cookbook for the kitchen counter.

Italy al Dente is Italian food that is "just right." There singular recipes are perfectly on target — precisely the food we want to eat every day, day after day: the simply perfect pasta, flavor-filled gnocchi, hearty soups, steaming risottos, and comforting polenta — the tastes we crave when we think Italian.

Legions of Biba admirers — who have brought hundreds of thousands of copies of her cookbooks — know that no one hits this high note quite as well as she does. Recipe after recipe, each is a peak moment, with dishes like Simmer Spaghetti with Uncooked Tomato Sauce Squash-Eggplant Tortellini with Butter and Sage, Ricotta Gnocchi with Walnuts and Gorgonzola, Barley and Porcini Mushroom Soup, Soft Polenta with Bolognese Meat Sauce, and Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash. This is simple cooking at its best.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Caggiano, chef/owner of a popular Sacramento restaurant and author of From Biba's Italian Kitchen (LJ 5/15/95), concentrates on the kind of Italian food most Americans like best: pastas, risottos, gnocchi and polenta dishes, and soups. With her usual knowledgeable enthusiam, she presents delicious, satisfying recipes, from Sicilian Fresh Fava Bean Soup (oddly enough, she describes soups as "the best-kept secret of Italian cooking," which is hardly the case) to Polenta with Fontina, Butter, and Sage. An especially appealing chapter is called "La Spaghettata" (which she translates as "Spaghetti at Midnight"), quick and easy dishes tossed together using pantry samples or a handful of fresh ingredients. Recommended for most collections.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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8.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 1.29(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Parmesan, Egg, and Nutmeg Soup (Passatelli)

Serves 4 to 6

Passatelli are made with an unusual dough of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, eggs, nutmeg, and bread crumbs. The dough is riced into an aromatic hot broth, and as it cooks, it forms small golden strands.The result is a soup that is both delicate and intensely flavorful.This traditional soup of Emilia-Romagna should be made only with food homemade meat broth.

6 cups Basic Meat Broth
2 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/3 cup fine, plain bread crumbs

Put the broth in a medium pot and bring it to a gentle boil over medium heat.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a medium bowl with a fork.Always using a fork mix in the nutmeg, Parmigiano and bread crumbs.Mix all the ingredients thoroughly and work into a soft dough.Place the dough on a pastry board and give it a brief kneading adding a bit more cheese and bread crumbs if it is too soft or moist.At this point you should have a somewhat firm, granular dough. (The dough can be made an hour or so ahead and set aside, covered, until ready to use.)

When the broth begins to boil, put half the dough into a potato ricer of food mill fitted with that large hole disk and rice the dough directly into the simmering broth.Repeat with the remaining dough.Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the passatelli for about 1 minute.

Turn off under the pot and let the soup rest for about 5 minutes.Ladle the soup into individual bowls and serve hot with a sprinkle of a little extra grated Parmigiano.

Risotto with Tomatoes and SmokedMozzarella (Risotto ai Pomodori e Mozzarella Affumicata)

Serves 4 to 6

One of the dishes we do at my restaurant is pasta or gnocchi topped with a traditional sauce of tomatoes and smoked mozzarella. One day as I was tasting the sauce I thought it would be delicious combined into a risotto. It worked beautifully.


For the Sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes with their juice, put through a food mill to remove seeds
2 ounces smoked mozzarella, grated

For the Risotto
4 to 5 cups Basic Chicken Broth or low-sodium canned chicken broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely minced yellow onion
2 cups imported Arborio rice or other rice for risotto
1/2 dry white wine
Salt if needed


Prepare the sauce: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until it is golden on both sides. Discard the garlic, add the tomatoes, and simmer for 6 to 7 minutes. Add the mozzarella, stir for less than 1 minute, and turn the heat off under the skillet. (Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups sauce.)

Prepare the risotto: Heat the broth in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the onion and cook, stirring, until the onion is pale yellow and soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir quickly until it is well coated with the butter and onion, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it is almost all reduced. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth or just enough to barely cover the rice. Cook, stirring, until the broth has been absorbed almost completely. Continue cooking and stirring the rice in this manner, adding the broth 1/2 cup or so at a time for 12 to 13 minutes.

Now add a small ladle of the sauce and cook, stirring, until the sauce has been absorbed. Keep cooking the rice, adding the sauce a little at a time, until all the sauce has been used up and the rice has a moist, creamy consistency, about 5 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and serve.

Note: This risotto doesn't need Parmigiano or butter added at the last moment, since the mozzarella binds the rice. Keep in mind that smoked mozzarella is quite salty, and very probably this risotto will not need additional salt.

Without Tomatoes

For a Risotto with Smoked Mozzarella, but without the tomatoes, prepare the risotto and cook it for 18 minutes. Add the cubed mozzarella directly tothe risotto, stir quickly to melt the cheese, and serve.

Meet the Author

Biba Caggiano is the author of Northern Italian Cooking, Modern Italian Cooking, and Leo Buscaglia's Love Cookbook with Biba Caggiano, From Biba's Italian Kitchen, and Italy alDente. Her cooking show, Biba's Kitchen, was seen on the Learning Channel, and she is the chef/owner of Biba's restaurant in Sacramento, California, where she lives.

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