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Back to the blog!


Thank goodness things have calmed down from the book tour. Now I can continue sharing recipes and telling you about the garden. But I would also like to hear from you about what you'd like for me to include in the blog: any particular kinds of recipes? More garden tips? More stories about Calabria? Let me know, and I'll get right on it. Here is a video that was shown last Tuesday on Eye on the Bay, a local tv show on the Bay Area channel, KPIX.  The show featured my book,  my dad’s garden and my mom cooking along with me in my kitchen.

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Buon Natale - Merry Christmas


Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tanti auguri di Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!

I just got back from New York and I have been busy getting ready for the Christmas Eve Feast dinner. Mom has been frying all day making grispelle, cuddurieddi and cannariculi.

If you missed me on the Martha Stewart baking show on Tuesday,  click here to watch a clip of the show.  Click on the "Peaches with cream"  picture to see me making the ""Pesche con crema" with Martha Stewart.

Tune in to see me on The Martha Stewart Show on December 21


It has been a very busy past month with the book signings that has kept me away from the blog.   The big news now is that I will be in New York as a guest on The Martha Stewart Show on Tuesday, December 21 at 10 am.   Check your local Hallmark Channel for times in your area.  I will be demonstrating making the “Pesche”- whimsical little cakes that resemble a peach filled with pastry cream. Here is a picture of the "Pesche" from my cookbook by Sara Remington.

I am excited to be in New York this time of the year and enjoy the holiday displays.

Funghi ripieni di ricotta (Wild mushrooms stuffed with ricotta)


Here is the second recipe that we prepared during the culinary tour.

When the tour group went foraging in La Sila mountains near Camigliatello, we found a distinctive type of mushroom called macrolepiota procera, which is known as mazza di tamburo in Italian and “parasol mushroom” in English. Here is a picture of one that I found on that day.

I was not familiar with this mushroom, but our mycologist guide told us that this one was edible and to pick them all. It comes in various sizes; when they are small they have a tight cap but as they age the cap opens up and looks like an umbrella.

And let me reiterate the warning I've given in previous posts: please, please, PLEASE, don’t pick mushrooms unless you are trained to identify them or are with a mycologist. Some wild mushrooms are poisonous and can lead to severe illness or death.

I went to my grocery store to look for a similar mushroom and the closest I could come up with were portobellos and shiitakes. I used them for this recipe and both worked well.

Like the recipe of mushroom and potato soup in the previous post it is very simple and easy to prepare. The filling has fresh ricotta, breadcrumbs, pecorino cheese, and fresh herbs.

Mix all the ingredients well. Add salt and pepper.

I typically clean mushrooms with only a damp cloth or small toothbrush to avoid getting them wet. But for this recipes Chef Pietro Lecce of La Tavernetta washed the mushrooms. He explained that he actually wanted some moisture, which would help in cooking the mushrooms. I rinsed the mushroom caps and drained them completely, so whatever was absorbed was a small amount of water.

Remove the stems and sprinkle with some salt. Stuff the mushroom caps with about two tablespoons of ricotta filling, less if you're using small cap.

Oil a baking dish and place the stuffed mushroom caps next to each other. Drizzle with olive oil.

And bake. We had these stuffed mushrooms warm as an appetizer but they work well as a side dish also. Give it a try!

For a printable recipe

click here

Funghi ripieni con ricotta(Wild mushrooms stuffed with ricotta)

One dozen mushroom caps,  more if small

1 cup well-drained ricotta

¼ cup dried breadcrumbs

¼ cup grated pecorino cheese

2 teaspoons fresh mint leaves, chopped

2 teaspoons fresh parsley, chopped

2 teaspoons fresh basil leaves, chopped

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven at 400F.

Remove stems from mushrooms and quickly rinse under water.   Drain well.  Set aside.

Mix the remaining ingredients until all blended.

Coat a baking dish with some olive oil.  Sprinkle the mushroom caps with salt. Stuff each cap with one to two tablespoons of ricotta filling, depending on size.

Place the stuffed mushroom caps inside the baking dish right next to each other.

Drizzle with olive oil.   Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes for large caps, 15 minutes for small caps.

Zuppetta di porcini e patate (porcini and potato soup)


Lots of things have kept me busy since I came back from my culinary tour in Calabria: my book launch happened last week and there is a book signing event every week from now until January. But I did promise everyone in the tour group that I would remake the dishes we cooked in Calabria and give them the recipes. So today, our first rainy day in the Bay Area, seems like a good time to start. Luckily most of the recipes that we cooked are in my book, but a few were new to me. The first cooking class of the tour was held at La Tavernetta restaurant in Camigliatello Silano, in the heart of the Sila mountains. This restaurant is one of the top restaurants in Calabria and its menu focuses on dishes based on local ingredients. We spent our first day foraging for wild mushrooms and for dinner, the chef and owner Pietro Lecce demonstrated two wonderful dishes using them. This week I will give you the recipe for the soup we had. Next week I will try the appetizer we made, roasted mushroom caps filled with ricotta and herbs.

This soup really showcases the simplicity of Calabrian cooking. We used the local potatoes that grow in the Sila mountains--our closest are the Yukon gold--and porcini mushrooms.

The two star ingredients of this soup, porcini and potatoes.

Cut the potatoes in small cubes, about 3/8 -inch by 1/2 -inch

Cut the porcini, cap and stem, into small cubes

Cook the potatoes in the broth until soft

Sautee the porcini mushrooms with a sprig of fresh thyme

When the potatoes are soft add the sauteed mushrooms and finish the soup following the recipe below. Yummy!

For a printable recipe, click here.

Zuppetta di porcini e patate (Porcini mushrooms and potato soup)

1.5 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, cut in small cubes, about 3/8 inch by 1/2 inch

Extra virgin olive oil

3/4 pound fresh porcini mushrooms

Sprig of fresh thyme

3 cups or more Vegetable broth or chicken broth

Salt and black pepper

In a small pot, warm up three tablespoons of olive oil. Add the cubed potatoes. Stir to coat and then add two cups of hot vegetable broth. Simmer until the potatoes are cooked and soft, about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cut the porcini mushrooms into small cubes including the stems. In a 10 inch skillet place 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Set over high heat add the mushrooms and a sprig of thyme . Add more olive oil if dry. Saute quickly until the mushrooms are soft. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat.

Once the potatoes are soft stir and press against the side of the pot to smash some of them. Add the mushrooms to the potatoes and another ladle of broth. Let them cook together until the potatoes are soft enough that some start breaking apart, about 5 minutes. Stir and smash enough potatoes against the side of the potto make a thick creamy soup. Add more broth if the soup is too thick.

To serve, place a couple of ladles of the soup in a bowl and add a swirl of extra virgin olive oil. Add a few croutons on top of the soup, if desired.

Serves 4 to 6

Eating our way through Calabria


The culinary tour ended today but I haven't been able to add posts or upload any pictures because of the slow internet connection. Everyone on the trip thought it was a success, and the only complaint from them was that I fed them too much food. We did eat it all, tho', since it was too good to leave on our plates. We all had a wonderful time cooking, foraging for mushroom, visiting various producers, wineries, produce markets, and we even checked out castles and churches along the way. Check out some of the photos below and the remainder on My Calabria Facebook fan page posted in the Calabria culinary tour 2010 folder album.

Our first day up in the Sila mountains foraging for wild mushrooms:

Do you recognize any of these unusual mushrooms?

Here is our mushroom pick for the day ready for our cooking class:

Below are  photos of some of the foods we ate during the tour.

Insalata di Pomodori e Cipolle Calabrese


I have missed my favorite tomato salad until these past two weeks, when our tomatoes finally decided to ripen. This recipe was going to be in my cookbook but it didn’t make it in the last cut, so here it is for you to try.

You might not think you need a recipe for tomato salad, but we Calabrians are particular about ours. The tomatoes must be firm, even a little greenish; we consider them too soft for salad when they are ripe. The onions must be red and sweet, like the elongated torpedo-like cipolle di Tropea or those labeled “Italian sweet.” Calabrians also use dried wild oregano in this salad, either home-dried or purchased at a farmers’ market. And most would add a generous amount of chopped fresh peperoncini (hot red peppers), but you can omit them.

I salt the salad 10 to 15 minutes before serving to draw out the juices; we always soak them up with bread. For an easy summer lunch, I sometimes fold in a jar of top-quality Calabrian tuna.

I could eat this salad almost every day!

Insalata di pomodori e cipolle calabrese

(Calabrian-Style Tomato and Red Onion Salad)

1 large red onion, ends removed, halved, and peeled

1 pound firm tomatoes, either plum or round salad type

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced crosswise

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 small fresh hot red pepper, such as cayenne or Thai, chopped (optional)

2 teaspoons kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Slice the onion halves thinly from stem end to root end.  Place the slices in a bowl and cover with cold water for 5 minutes. Set aside.

Core the tomatoes. Cut plum tomatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 2 or 3 wedges. If using round salad tomatoes, cut them in half through the stem end, then cut into wedges. Place the tomatoes in a non-reactive bowl.

Drain the onions and add them to the tomatoes along with the garlic. Add the oregano, crumbling it between your fingers as you add it, and the hot pepper, if using. Add 2 teaspoons salt and the olive oil. Toss gently, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes to draw out some juices before serving.

Serves 4 to 6

Melanzane arrostite (Marinated Grilled Eggplant with Garlic and Mint)


 Marinated eggplant

Marinated eggplant

One of my favorite ways to eat eggplant during the summer months is to grill and marinate them with a simple sauce of olive oil, vinegar, garlic and fresh mint, a minty vinaigrette.

These are so good and easy to make that you will make them all the time, just as I do.   Please read last year post on how to buy eggplants.

For this recipe I tend to use the globe eggplant sliced crosswise but I also use the Italian eggplant sliced lengthwise. Whatever type you use, be sure to cook the eggplant until it is tender all the way through.

Prepare the marinade in a baking dish while you heat the grill. Mix the olive oil, red wine vinegar, minced garlic, chopped mint, salt and pepper in a baking dish.  If your vinegar is too strong you can add a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar to cut down on the acidity of the vinegar.

Set the marinade aside while you prepare and grill the eggplant.

Slice the eggplant crosswise into rounds about 1/2 inch thick

 sliced eggplant

sliced eggplant

Season both sides of the eggplant with salt and brush generously with olive oil.

Grill the eggplant until fully cooked on both sides. Don't be afraid to brush them with additional oil while you grill them. If you don't have a grill, you can use a grill pan.

 Grilled eggplant

Grilled eggplant

When the eggplant slices are done, transfer them to the baking dish with the marinade. Turn them to coat  generously with the marinade.

 Coating eggplant in marinade

Coating eggplant in marinade

Transfer the eggplant to a platter. Spoon any unabsorbed marinade over the eggplant. This dish is best served when the grilled eggplant has had a few hours to soak up the marinade. If possible, prepare it 3 to 4 hours before serving and keep at room temperature. Serve with crusty bread for soaking up the juices.

 Marinated eggplant

Marinated eggplant

I always grill more than one eggplant, since they are as good or better  in a sandwich the next day.  They also keep well in the refrigerator for few days. Just remember to bring them to room temperature.

Melanzane Arrostite

(Marinated Grilled Eggplant with Garlic and Mint)

For the marinade:

1/2 cup  extra-virgin olive oil

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar (you can add one or two teaspoons of balsamic vinegar if your wine vinegar is too strong)

3 cloves garlic, very finely minced

2 tablespoons minced fresh mint

1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 large globe eggplant, about 1-1/2 pounds

1 teaspoon kosher salt

About 1/4 cup  extra-virgin olive oil

Prepare the marinade: Put the first six ingredients in a 2- to 3-quart (2- to 3-liter) baking dish and whisk with a fork to blend. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Prepare a moderate charcoal fire or preheat a gas grill. You can also cook the eggplant over moderate heat in a ridged grill pan on the stove.

Remove the eggplant stem, then cut the eggplant crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick (12-millimeter-thick) rounds. You should have about 12 slices. Using the 1 teaspoon salt, season both sides of each slice. Brush both sides generously with the olive oil, reserving any excess oil for grilling.

Grill the eggplant without turning until it is nicely colored on the bottom, 3 to 5 minutes, then brush the top surface with olive oil and turn. (You may not need all the oil.) Grill the second side until the eggplant is cooked through but still holds its shape, another 3 to 5 minutes.

As the eggplant slices are done, transfer them to the baking dish. Turn them to coat them generously with the marinade. As necessary, overlap the eggplant in the dish, spooning marinade over each slice. Transfer the slices to a serving platter and spoon any unabsorbed marinade over them.

Serves 4 to 6 Copyright 2004, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Pasta con crema di zucchine


Here is one more recipe for you to use up all your zucchini. I created it back in the summer of 1983 for the first Zucchini Festival in Hayward, California. I knew that my pasta with zucchini and ricotta salata wouldn't be a good choice so I came up with a recipe made with pureed zucchini. It almost looks like a pesto sauce.

The recipe was so good that it won first place in the main dish category. Everybody loves this dish and it is especially popular with kids - they eat it not knowing that it is made with zucchini.

The puree is so lush that most people think it contains butter and cream. It has neither. My original recipe did include butter, as an attempt to appeal to Americans, but over the years I dropped it and the dish remains sufficiently rich. You can make it several hours ahead and it also freezes well.

It is an easy recipe to make; the sauce has only zucchini, onion, garlic, parsley, basil and a bouillon cube that gives it its very rich taste.

In the 80s it was very popular in Italy to throw a bouillon cube into everything--that's how I happened to put it in this sauce. I tried making the dish without it once and the taste just wasn't the same. I use the Knorr chicken bouillon cubes, butyou can use their vegetable flavor if you prefer .

Saute the onion and garlic until soft:

Add the zucchini, parsley, basil and crumbled bouillon cube:

Cook at low heat until it is very soft and smashes easily:

Then puree it in a blender until you have a smooth sauce:

Put the sauce in a skillet, add some cheese and add the drained pasta to the sauce.  Toss the pasta until well coated.

Let me know what you think of it.

Pasta con crema di zucchine

(Pasta with zucchini and herb puree)

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 pound zucchini, halved or quartered lengthwise, then sliced about 1/4 inch thick

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 chicken bouillon cube (preferably Knorr brand), crushed

2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more for passing

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 lb of Rigatoni, Penne or other type of short pasta

Grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese to taste

1. In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add the zucchini, basil, parsley and the crumbled bouillon cubes.

2. Cook, uncovered, over low heat for about 20 minutes, until the zucchini are fully cooked and soft. If the zucchini seem dry, add a small amount of water to continue cooking until soft. It should look like a mush of zucchini. Taste for salt. If needed add salt to taste. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.

3. When the zucchini are cooked, place the mixture in a blender and puree until you have a smooth sauce.

4.  Bring the water for the pasta to a boil, add salt to taste, and cook the pasta until al dente.

5. While the pasta is cooking, place the sauce in a large sauté pan, and add the grated cheese. Mix well.

6.  When the pasta is ready, drain, and add to the sauce, raising the heat and stirring until the pasta is well coated. Sprinkle with more cheese and serve at once.

Serves 6

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

My book is at the printer!


I can’t believe it! After all these years I finally have my own book in my hands. I received what is known in the publishing business as a "bindery copy" last week. Here it is sitting on my table:

A sneak preview of  the back cover:

and a page in the book:

By the way, My Calabria is now also on Facebook. Become a fan and you will be able to stay on top of my book-signing events, cooking classes and culinary tours to Calabria. To join, go to the rightmost column of this page and click on the Like button under the "My Calabria on Facebook" logo. And don't forget to tell your friends!

Pasta con Zucchine e Ricotta Salata


Here is  another recipe where you can put your zucchini to use. We made this pasta dish at the all-zucchini cooking class on Saturday.

You can prepare everything while the pasta cooks. The key ingredients are zucchini and a flurry of grated ricotta salata. I was lucky to have a nice ricotta affumicata that my parents brought back from Calabria, but either will work well with this dish. Even fresh ricotta will make this dish flavorful.

My aunt used to prepare this dish; the ricotta salata melts when it hits the pasta, and by adding a little hot water from the pasta pot, you can create an almost creamy sauce. Some people prefer to sauté the zucchini, but I think the fried zucchini have more flavor. And some would say peperoncini (hot peppers)  are optional, but not  in my house!

Slice the zucchini in 1/8 inch rounds:

Sprinkle them with  a teaspoon of salt and toss. Fry the zucchini slices in batches until golden on both sides.

Leave a couple of tablespoons of oil in the pan when you are done frying the zucchini slices and add the garlic, fried zucchini slices and chopped basil.  Cook for few minutes to infuse the flavors.

Drain the pasta and add it to the pot with the zucchini. Toss well and add the ricotta salata.  Add some pasta water to make a creamy sauce.

Pasta with Zucchini and Ricotta Salata

1-1/2 pounds zucchini, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rounds

Kosher salt

Extra virgin olive oil for frying

1 pound spaghetti or bucatini

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or minced

1 or 2 small fresh green or red chilies, minced (optional)

1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil

1/2 cup finely grated ricotta salata cheese, plus more for garnish

Put the sliced zucchini in a bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Toss to coat.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a frying pan over moderately high heat until it sizzles when you insert the end of a wooden skewer or chopstick (about 365ºF). Add the zucchini in batches and fry, turning with a fork, until lightly colored in spots. Transfer them as they are done to a plate.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Just before the pasta is done, finish the sauce. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the frying oil and reduce the heat to moderately low. Add the garlic and chilies and cook briefly just to soften them; do not let them burn. Add the basil and zucchini, toss gently, and cook briefly just to infuse the zucchini with the seasonings.

Set aside 1 cup of pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the warm pot. Add the zucchini and the cheese and toss well, adding reserved water as needed to moisten the pasta and make a creamy sauce. Serve immediately, topping each portion with a little more grated cheese.

Serves 4 to 6

Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Today's pick from my "orto" (vegetable garden)


Someone asked me the other day how much food I typically get from my Oakland orto. Of course it varies depending on the time of the year, but during the summer I typically pick enough for family dinner every night. As an example I thought I'd show you what I picked from my garden today, July 22, 2010. I picked enough romano beans to cook and serve as a salad for dinner:

This handful of gorgeous zucchini blossoms I will save for my Saturday cooking class:

Lots of figs, both Adriatic and Black Mission, from my trees:

I also picked two cucumbers, three zucchini and two eggplants, which I will use in a pasta dish tonight.

Oh! I forgot! I even got a basketful of strawberries from our strawberry bushes:

and lots of sweet sweet Italian prunes. Take a look at how many are on just one branch!

There is a lot of satisfaction in growing your own vegetables. I hope that I have convinced some of you to give it a try, even if you have only pots on a terrace. In fact I extend my own garden by planting in pots; all my basil and hot peppers ended up in pots this year. I even put a cherry tomato plant in a pot, and take a look at it. It is the first one to have ripe tomatoes!

I also get eggs every day now. Here are the eggs just from the last three days. The beautiful blue-green ones  were laid by Gelsomina, our Ameraucana chicken.

My family can almost live off our small garden during the summer months, especially now with the addition of those eggs.

Pitticelle di Zucchine (Zucchini Fritters)


July is the month when my eight zucchini plants produces more zucchini that I can keep up with. I pick quite a few of them each day; as you can see below, each plant produces lots of them.

A typical daily pick of zucchini:

My parents never pick zucchini when they are small. That would be wasteful! Why not wait until they are larger, and thereby get a lot more food out of them? Like good Calabrians, my parents have many ways to preserve zucchini for the winter. In fact two of my favorite recipes that preserve zucchini use only large zucchini. One method is to dry the zukes in the sun during the summer; they are then called cose siccati or seccatini. The other is to cook them with vinegar and preserve them with olive oil, garlic, fresh mint and hot peppers, known as zucchine sott’olio. I love them both and a large portion of my zucchini end up preserved both ways. Both of these recipes are included in the preserves section of my upcoming book.

I love zucchini every which way you can think of and I prepare them in many dishes from appetizer to dessert. I will share more of my zucchini recipes that didn’t make it in my book in the coming weeks. I even started doing a cooking class a couple of years ago where the entire menu is based on zucchini. In fact  this class is coming up on July 24, and if you are interested in attending it there are still some spots available.

Today, the first recipe that I will share  is one that my mom would always make for me as a snack,  and it is now my children's favorite summer snack. They are zucchini fritters: pitticelle di zucchine in Calabrese, or frittelle di zucchine in Italian. My mother would fold some zucchini slices into a simple batter and fry each individual fritter. But when she started making these for my kids she noticed that they  would pull out the zucchini slices and eat just the fried dough. So she started chopping the zucchini and fold them into the batter. This did the trick. I will show you both ways and you decide which way you prefer. Eat them as an appetizer or as a snack. The problem is you can’t stop eating them.

How to make pitticelle di zucchine:

Slice the zucchini into ¼ inch rounds, or dice the entire zucchini.

Prepare the batter by  mixing flour with salt, parsley, basil, grated pecorino cheese, egg and water.

Place the zucchini rounds on top of the batter or fold the diced zucchini into the batter.

Fry the fritters until golden on both sides

Here is what they look like when done. The top photo has fritters with sliced zucchini and the bottom photo fritters with diced zucchini.

Pitticelle di Zucchine

Zucchini Fritters

1 large zucchini (about 1/2 pound), in 1/4-inch-thick rounds or diced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the batter:

1 cup  unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon freshly grated pecorino cheese

2 teaspoons minced flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon minced fresh basil

3/4 cup cold water

Extra virgin olive oil, for frying

In a bowl, sprinkle the zucchini with salt and toss to coat. Let stand 10 minutes to draw out some of the water.

Make the batter: Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and make a shallow well in the center. Place the beaten egg, cheese and herbs in the well and mix into the flour with a fork. Add the water and beat well until the mixture resembles thick pancake batter. When you lift some batter with the fork, it should fall in a ribbon. If the batter is too thick, add more water, a teaspoon at a time. If too thin, add a little more flour.

Heat 1/4 inch  of olive oil in a frying pan over moderate heat until it sizzles when you insert the end of a wooden skewer or chopstick (about 365ºF).

Drain the zucchini but do not rinse. Put a half-dozen slices of zucchini on top of the batter and spoon batter over them to coat. Transfer the battered zucchini to the hot oil with the spoon, making sure they are completely coated. Continue adding battered zucchini to the frying pan until it is filled but not crowded. Fry zucchini until golden brown on both sides, turning with a fork halfway through. Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain. Repeat battering and frying zucchini until done. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

If you choose to make the fritters with the zucchini diced, fold them in the batter and using a spoon transfer a spoonful to the hot oil.  Fry the zucchini fritters until golden on both sides, turning with a fork halfway through.   Transfer the fritters to paper towels to drain.  Repeat until all the batter is used.

Makes 2 dozen, to serve 6 to 8

Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.


My garden at the end of June


Last month I was worrying that my garden wasn't doing as well as last year since the weather had been unsually cold for the Bay Area. But after taking some pictures today and comparing them to last year's, I was amazed at how similar the garden is. After all that cold weather everything seems to have caught up to about where it was last year. But this year we have a new garden member: actual kiwi fruit on the vines!

I planted the vines three years ago and have patiently waited, and this year it finally happened. Last year, having almost given up on them, I went to the nursery where I had purchased the vines and asked whether I really had a male and female plant. The lady behind the counter reassured me: "It takes three to four years before kiwi bear fruit". Well, she was right! The fruit finally showed up this year and lots of them!

I'm happy to see my vegetables in such good shape. I've been tending them all by myself this past month since my parents are vacationing in Calabria. I have just a few more weeks on my own and then I will get lots of help with watering, tying and pruning those tomatoes. Take a look at last year post, so you'll know how to remove the suckers from the tomato plants.

The Romano beans are up to the top of their wood poles, loaded with flowers and tiny beans which I'll soon pick. The zucchini plants have started producing flowers and zucchini.

The tomatoes are up to the same level as last year

and the peppers and eggplants are doing just as well.

I think my parents will be happy with the results!

Nocino (Walnut Liqueur)


June 24 is the day when people in Calabria and throughout Italy start the process of making nocino.  June 24 happens to be San Giovanni’s day  (St John’s day) and tradition has it that the green walnuts must be picked on this day to make the best nocino. Nocino is a dark-colored liqueur with a hint of spice, and  is typically served cold. It is considered a digestive in Italy but I like to use it in desserts. I make a walnut cake (the recipe will be in my book) that I serve with a custard sauce flavored with nocino and it is so good! I also drizzle it over ice cream.

I have never made nocino; instead I have always brought it back with me from Calabria. The brand I buy  is made locally in Scalea and has a 35% alcohol content.

I have been talking about making nocino for years but every year I always seem to miss the date of June 24. This year, tho, I remembered. I called my friend Laura, who  happens to have a huge walnut tree on her farm, and asked her if she could pick two dozen green walnuts on June 24 for me.  She brought me 27 walnuts and I used them all, even though I heard once in Calabria that you must use exactly 24 walnuts as it is June 24. I don’t think a couple of extra walnuts will ruin it. I was trained as a scientist, so I figure that the more surface area there is, the more I can extract, right? Or should I be a good Calabrian girl and follow the traditional ritual?

If you are interested in making nocino I am sure that you can still make it in the next couple of days if you can find some green walnuts.  If not, you can wait until next June 24 or if you just want to try the liqueur, you can buy nocino made by Monteverdi Spirits of Napa, California.

The only thing you need to make nocino is a couple dozen of unripe green walnuts...

some spices, and a bottle of Everclear grain alcohol, 151 proof.

I guess you could use vodka but in Italy it is made with grain alcohol and I have always used Everclear to make my limoncello so I decided to do the same for nocino.

You need to cut the walnuts in half lengthwise, and then quarter each half. You will end up with eight pieces.

Make sure you wear gloves and use a plastic cutting board; the juice of the walnuts will stain your hands as well as the  cutting board.

Place the cut walnut pieces with the alcohol and the spices in a canning jar with a rubber gasket and clamp lid, or any other jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Cover and leave the jar on a window sill for the next 40 days. Make sure that the walnuts are covered by the alcohol. I didn't have quite the right size -- my jar is a little too big but it will do.

After 40 days, the liquid  looks dark brown in color.

Filter the dark colored alcohol from the  walnuts and spices and add a cool simple syrup (3 cups sugar dissolved in 1 liter water) to the filtered alcohol.  Put it away for 40 days in a cool place.  After  40 days it is ready to be bottled and stored in a cool place.

The homemade nocino was as good, if not better than the one I brought back from Calabria.


Walnut Liquer

For a printable recipe click here

2 dozen or so green walnuts (I used 27)

1 bottle of Everclear (151 proof), 750 ml

Zest of one lemon (unsprayed)

2 sticks of cinnamon

12 cloves

1 vanilla bean, split

4 cups water (1 liter)

3 cups sugar

Make sure you wear gloves and use a plastic cutting board; the juice of the walnuts will stain your hands as well as the cutting board.

Cut the green walnuts in quarters lengthwise, and then cut each quarter in half. You will end up with eight pieces per walnut.

Place the cut walnut pieces with the alcohol and the lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves and vanilla bean in a canning jar with a rubber gasket and clamp-type lid, or any other jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Cover and leave the jar on a window sill for the next 40 days. Make sure that the walnuts are covered by the alcohol.

After 40 days, the liquid should look dark brown in color.

After this time, make a simple syrup by placing 4 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar in a pan over a low flame and heat until the sugar is dissolved.  When the sugar is dissolved, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Make sure that the sugar mixture is completely cooled before adding it to the infused alcohol or the liquer will become cloudy.

Filter the alcohol from the green walnuts and spices and add the cool simple syrup to it.  Then put it away in a cool place for another 40 days.

After 40 days, you can bottle it and store it.  It will be perfect for Christmas!

Makes about 2 liters of nocino

Cipolle di Tropea (The Sweet Red Onions of Tropea)


Calabria is famous for its sweet red onions named after the glamorous beach town of Tropea. During the month of May and June you can buy them freshly harvested at roadside farm stands.

Later, in June and July, they are sold at markets strung in a ristra.

The main growing area is south of Tropea, around Ricardi and Capo Vaticano. You will find these onions grown all over Calabria but the ones grown close to the sea are extremely sweet because of the sandy soil and the mild climate throughout the year. They come in two shapes, torpedo and flat round. I grow both types in my garden. If you want to grow them you can order the seeds online from Seeds from Italy or Garden Edibles and start them in early fall. You will then need to transplant them in October, and by June they'll be ready to eat. Here is what they look like in my garden right now:

In Calabria these red onions are eaten raw in salads; cooked in sauces; roasted or grilled; placed on top of pizza or in frittate; made into jam, and even added to ice cream!

Last year when I was in Calabria in May, right when they were being sold as young fresh red onions, I enjoyed them roasted under salt at Casa Janca in Pizzo. I never had them prepared this way and it was the most wonderful side dish of the evening. Signora Rita Callipo roasted them under a crust of salt and then served them with only a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. I could have made an entire meal out of them. They were so good that when I got back home I pulled some young red onions from my garden and prepared them the same way. I just made them again last night and decided to share this simple recipe with you.

If you have never cooked under salt don't be afraid of the quantity required. The salt seals the food and keeps it moist, yet it doesn't get into the food. I roast whole fish under salt and it is truly the best way to prepare it. You can get my recipe for seabass under a crust of salt in my cookbook due out this fall.

Red onions just pulled from my garden:

Clean the fresh red onions by removing their roots and stems.

Mix 1.5 lbs of Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (a half box) with enough water (about 1 cup) to make it the consistency of sand. Use only Diamond Crystal kosher salt; other brands are made by a different process, so the crystals have a different shape and are less absorbent.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet, which will make cleaning easier, and make a bed of salt.

Lay the onions on top and cover them with the wet salt. Pat the salt down and make sure that no part of the onion is exposed.

Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes. Crack the salt crust.

Remove the onions and clean any salt that sticks to them. I also remove the outer layer of the onion.

Cut the onions in half and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with a little sea salt if needed.

Give it a try.  They are so good!

Our first egg!


I found our first egg yesterday!

It was such a surprise as it wasn't laid in the nesting box and we were not expecting eggs yet. Chickens start laying their first eggs after five and half months so the eggs were due next week. When we  let the chickens out this morning  we found our second egg!

The second egg is a little bigger than the first egg but neither is quite to size yet. We don’t know which chicken is laying the egg; any idea how to figure that out?

We couldn’t wait to have our first egg for breakfast; we compared it to the organic, free range eggs that I buy at the farmers' market, which is at the bottom of this photo. Our egg is at the top.

Our egg was small, but otherwise it looked just like the eggs that I grew up eating in Calabria. The yolk was an intense orange and the taste …well what can I say? There was no comparison. I fixed it the way I always loved to eat them when I was a kid, fried in extra virgin olive oil, sunny side up.

Here is a picture of our chickens, all grown up now.

Our challenge now is to teach the chickens to lay their eggs in their cozy nesting box!  Any suggestions?

Pasta con Finocchietto Selvatico (Penne with wild fennel and sausage)


This is the time of the year for wild fennel fronds. Thank goodness that my parents moved to Northern California. I don’t know what we would have done without our wild fennel!

The wild fennel that grows here in Northern California is the same variety, finocchietto selvatico, as the one that grows on the coastal areas of Southern Italy. I foraged for some yesterday while hiking on a trail with my husband.

Wild fennel grows in empty lots, meadows, roadsides--just about everywhere. During the spring the green fronds sprout from the old roots of the previous year. They then grow throughout the spring and summer into tall cane-like stems. By July the plant blooms with yellow "flowers", that are, in fact, immature seeds that some people use to make “fennel pollen”.

Wild fennel is not the same as the fennel that you buy at the farmers' market or at the produce store. In fact, wild fennel doesn’t resemble it in any way at all. The domesticated fennel has a large edible white bulb, which is wonderful raw in salads and cooked in many different ways. Its fronds have very little flavor. Wild fennel, however, does not produce a bulb. Its edible parts are the springtime fronds and the summertime seeds. It has a very distinctive flavor of sweet anise.

When foraging for wild fennel don’t collect from the roadside or other locations where the plants are exposed to car exhaust or dogs. Go in the back of a lot or in areas where people don’t walk their dogs. Also take only a few fronds from each plant. Don’t remove an entire plant. I'll let you know how to forage for the seeds later in the summer when I have some photos.

Many of you have eaten pasta con sarde, a dish from my husband's hometown of Palermo that requires wild fennel fronds. But Calabrians also eat the fronds. My grandmother would throw them in a delicious minestra made with various wild greens. And we use the seeds to flavor our cracked green olives, our cured black olives, and of course our homemade Calabrian sausage, both fresh and cured.

I had included a pasta recipe in my cookbook that required wild fennel but it was removed because I was told that nobody outside California has access to it. Is this true? Those of you who live elsewhere, please let me know if you have seen wild fennel. I would think that it would grow on any coastal areas with mild weather. If indeed it doesn’t grow where you live you can buy the seeds from  Seeds from Italy and grow your own wild fennel. But whether you have foraged for wild fennel or grown it from seed, give this quick pasta dish a try. Don’t replace it with domesticated fennel fronds as they don’t taste the same.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Boil the cleaned fronds for 10 minutes. Drain the fronds well, reserving the cooking liquid, and finely mince them as shown on the right side of the picture below.

Remove the sausage from its casing. Break the sausage into small clumps with a knife. I used my homemade fresh Calabrian sausage, but you can use any sweet or hot Italian sausage.

Brown the sausage with some olive oil.

Add the minced cooked wild fennel. Season with salt.

Cook the pasta in the reserved water that the fennel was cooked in. Drain and toss with the sauce.

Here is the finished dish. So simple--only three ingredients--and yet so good!

Pasta con Finocchietto Selvatico (Penne with wild fennel and sausage)


1/4 pound (115 grams) wild fennel fronds, leaves and slim, tender stems only
3/4 pound (350 grams) fresh sweet or hot Italian sausage or Fresh Homemade Fennel Sausage Calabrian Style
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 pound (450 grams) penne rigate or rigatoni

Wash the fronds well in hot water as they can harbor small insects. Bring 5 quarts (5 liters) of water to a boil in an 8-quart (8-liter) pot over high heat. Add the fronds and boil 10 minutes, then lift them out of the water and into a colander, reserving the water to cook the pasta. Drain the fronds well and finely mince. You should have 1/2 to 2/3 cup minced greens.

Remove the sausage from its casing. Break the sausage into small clumps with a table knife.

Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch (25-centimeter) skillet over moderately high heat. Add the sausage and cook until it is no longer pink and begins to brown lightly. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon, breaking up the clumps into smaller bits. Add the fennel greens and stir well to distribute them and coat them with the oil. Season with salt. Reduce the heat and keep warm.

Add 1/4 cup (35 grams) salt to the water in which you cooked the fennel. Return to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until al dente. Set aside 1 cup (250 milliliters) of the pasta water, then drain the pasta and return it to the skillet with the sausage and fennel greens. Cook, stirring, over moderate heat for a minute or two to flavor the pasta, moistening it with some of the reserved pasta water. Serve immediately.

Serves 6

Copyright 2006, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.

Bruschetta with Fresh Fava Beans


My garden is a little behind from last May. The weather has been unusual for California this year, with lots of rain and cold. We have planted all the tomatoes, eggplant and romano beans, but have not planted our peppers yet. Fresh peas are still on the vines because they were late coming out this year.

And of course we have been picking lots of fava beans on a daily basis.

Eating fava beans every day prompted me to write about them. We plant the variety of beans that we brought over from Calabria. The bean pods are very long compared to the ones that you find here at the farmers' market. Typically fava bean pods are about six inches long with 5 or 6 beans inside, but our variety is 10 to 12 inches long with 8 to 10 beans inside the pod. Each plant produces lots of pods.

Here are the beans inside the pod.

The beans themselves have an outer skin that most people here in the United States always remove, making for lots more work. Calabrians usually leave them on when making pasta or minestra with fava beans  but I do remove them for certain dishes. The recipe for a fava bean "spread" that I will show you is one of these. You can put it on top of bruschetta or serve it with grilled fish, toss it with pasta, or fold it into a risotto. It is so easy to make that you can just follow the photos below to make it at home.

To make enough for six people you will need about four pounds of fava bean pods. Shuck the beans from the pods,  blanch the beans in boiling water for about a minute, put them in cold water to stop cooking, drain them and then remove the outer skin.  Place them in a skillet with a good amount of olive oil, three cloves of  minced garlic and a sprig of fresh thyme.  Cook until soft for about  20 minutes, adding a little water if dry. Remove the thyme sprig and mash with a potato masher. Add some lemon juice to taste.  If the puree is still dry add some good extra virgin olive oil at the end.

While it is still warm spread it on top of bruschetta and top it with some shavings of ricotta salata or pecorino.

The next time you go to the farmers' market grab the fava beans because their season is short. Look for bright fresh pods. If they are wrinkly or brown don't buy them. And remember to buy lots of pods. Five pounds of pods give you only about 2 pounds of shelled beans.

P.S.  Here is a formal portrait of my chickens. They have finally lost their fear of open spaces and have become proper country chicks. This photo was as hard to take as one of kindergarten children (they just wont stand still). I managed to corral all four of them in one corner of the yard.  They love being outside and eating greens. Can't wait for that first egg!


Bruschetta con Fave Fresche (Bruschetta topped with fresh fava bean spread)


4 pounds fava beans
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
One small sprig rosemary
One small sprig thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon
Six slices of grilled country-style bread

1. Shell the fava beans and discard the pods.

2. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the shelled fava beans. Cook the beans for about one minute. Drain and place in a bowl of ice-cold water, to cool. Drain them again. Using your thumbnail, break the outer green skin and squeeze the pod between your thumb and forefinger - the bright green bean inside will pop right out. Discard the tough, outer skin.

3. Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a medium size skillet. Add the fava beans, garlic, rosemary and thyme sprigs, salt, pepper and 1/4 cup of water.

4. Cook over low heat until the fava beans are soft and absorb the flavors of the garlic and herbs, about 20 minutes. Add more water if the beans are drying out. Remove from the heat. Remove the herb sprigs and mash the mixture to a coarse puree or use a food processor and briefly process the mixture, if you prefer a smooth paste. Taste for salt and pepper. Add more olive oil and the lemon juice to taste. If the mixture seems dry, add more olive oil.

5. Spread the bean mixture on the grilled bruschetta. You can finish the bruschetta with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil and topped with some shaved, fresh pecorino cheese or ricotta salata if you like.

Copyright 2005, Rosetta Costantino. All rights reserved.