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Recipes from Leslie Brienza

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Leslie Brienza
Leslie is an Italian American food, wine and product photographer living in New York City. Although her work is very diverse her passion lies in Italian food and products. She creates recipes then photographs them in her studio. Her expert eye for lighting and composition is what sets her work apart.

Growing up she spent countless hours in the kitchen with her grandmother and mother and has continued the tradition of the Italian way of life in the US. She also brings home ideas and new recipes whenever she visits her family in Rome and southern Italy.

She is a lover of Instagram and posts beautiful images every day.

lesliebrienzaphotography.com
lesliebrienza@gmail.com

Leslie Brienza's Recipes
It's that time of year when the colors of fall start to surround us and we bring out our scarves and jackets preparing for the cool weather ahead. Seeing pumpkins, squash and mums on every corner always gets me thinking about soups of the season.

Squash is a good vegetable to experiment with all season long. There are so many varieties, all with their own unique flavors and textures, and once roasted the sky is the limit. I created this simple soup with butternut squash and Speck, a type of prosciutto from the Alto Adige region of Italy. It's a bit lighter in flavor than prosciutto from other regions which doesn't overpower the flavor of the squash. The Speck adds some savory flavor, the apple gives it just enough sweetness and the rice puts the 'comfort' in comfort food. Use a good quality peppery olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano for the ultimate flavor combination.

I hope you enjoy it on a cold and crisp fall or winter day!

    Ingredients:
  • 1 medium sized butternut squash
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 slices speck or other prosciutto, cut in small pieces
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 1.1 litres low sodium chicken broth
  • 170 grams Carnaroli rice
  • 1 apple, Honey Crisp or similarly sweet, peeled, cored and cubed


Method:
  1. Heat oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6.
  2. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds.
  3. Rub olive oil on the squash and place cut size down on cookie sheet.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes or until skin is browned and flesh is soft.
  5. Remove squash from oven and let cool.
  6. Remove skin from squash and cut into cubes.
  7. Heat olive oil in 5 qt. saucepan and sauté onions until soft and translucent.
  8. Add the speck and apple and saute for 2-3 minutes over medium high heat until browned.
  9. Add squash to pan and brown for two minutes.
  10. Add chicken broth and rice and bring to a boil.
  11. Reduce heat to low, and cook covered for 25-30 minutes or until rice is done.
  12. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and cracked pepper.
  13. Drizzle good quality olive oil over the top and serve.
It's that time of year when the colors of fall start to surround us and we bring out our scarves and jackets preparing for the cool weather ahead. Seeing pumpkins, squash and mums on every corner always gets me thinking about soups of the season.

One of my favorite things about summer is the farmer’s markets and the abundance of fruits and vegetables available. Not only are they beautiful specimens to photograph, it’s no secret that the freshness of ingredients can make or break a meal. Summer squash is high on my list but so underrated. It must be because we are overwhelmed by the amount available and how fast it grows. It just doesn’t seem special, but it really is. It’s one of those vegetables that can take over a garden in no time and we end up giving it away to everyone we know because we just don’t know what to do with it all. Here is a recipe to make where you can use a good amount of it for a nice dinner or double it, and use a lot of it for a party. When summer squash is roasted it has a very delicate flavor and does not overpower a dish, it actually marries nicely with other subtle ingredients. Always use the freshest ingredients and the best olive oil and balsamic you can find. Your guests will thank you.

    Serves: 4-6

    Ingredients:

  • 1.8 kilograms zucchini squash
  • 3 garlic cloves, whole, peeled
  • 4 T olive oil
  • 140 grams cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 230 grams spaghetti
  • 100 grams ricotta salata good quality balsamic vinegar


Method:
  1. Cut ends off of zucchini and cut in ½” slices lengthwise. Lay all slices on baking sheet with garlic cloves, brush olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  2. Roast in oven at 190° Celsius for 40 minutes, turning over slices halfway through roasting.
  3. While zucchini is roasting, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, cherry tomatoes and basil leaves to serving dish.
  4. Once zucchini is browned remove from oven and cool.
  5. Cook spaghetti al dente, reserve ½ cup pasta water.
  6. Drain spaghetti and add to serving dish. Mix together with tomato mixture, adding reserved pasta water to desired consistency.
  7. Grate ricotta salata and mix in, reserving some for topping.
  8. Cut up zucchini into bit size pieces and add to serving dish.
  9. Mix all together well then top generously with more grated ricotta salata, drizzle with olive oil and just a little balsamic vinegar.
Polenta is one of the best Italian comfort foods and living in the Northeastern United States I find myself making it a lot in the wintertime. It's especially warming after spending the day in the mountains skiing. Polenta is a typical dish of northern Italy in the Piemonte region. Piemonte sits at the base of the Alps, bordering Switzerland, so naturally It's very cold there. Perfectly in alignment with my climate. Polenta is a good base for so many dishes but the most popular, and my favorite, is Polenta al Ragu, a flavorful meat sauce with simple ingredients that is easy to prepare. Served over a plateful of creamy polenta will surely warm your body and soul.

Polenta al Ragu

Serves 4

Ragu ingredients:


  • 225g lean ground beef
  • 225g ground pork
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 carrot, chopped fine
  • 1/2 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped fine
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 800g tomato puree
  • 113g dry white wine
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • salt
  • pepper
  • Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  • fresh sprig of rosemary for garnish


Polenta ingredients:

  • 1134ml water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 227 grams polenta
  • 1 tablespoon butter


Method:

  1. In a medium saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add the meat and cook until done, breaking up into very small pieces as it's cooking. Set aside.
  2. In a medium frying pan heat 2 tbsp oil. Add carrot, onion, celery and garlic. Cook until onion is translucent and soft but not browned.
  3. Put meat back on the heat and add the wine. Stir until wine is simmering. Add the tomato puree and the stalk of fresh rosemary. Add onion and carrot mixture and stir all together.
  4. Bring to a soft boil, cover loosely and turn heat to low. Simmer for about one hour or until flavors meld together.
  5. While sauce is cooking prepare the polenta.
  6. In a large saucepan bring water and salt to a boil. Slowly add in the polenta, stirring constantly with a whisk until completely incorporated, about a minute or two.
  7. Turn heat to low and stir every five to ten minutes for one hour. The consistency should be tender and soft and resemble scrambled eggs.
  8. Remove from heat and add butter, stirring until melted and polenta has a shine to it.
  9. Remove rosemary from ragu and add salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Immediately ladle polenta on four warmed plates and top with ragu. Finish with grated cheese.
Being a chocoholic is not an easy task. Once one gets a taste of the decadent sweet flavor of cocoa the standards for quality get higher and higher and finding that taste in purchased baked goods gets more difficult. That’s what happened to me. So naturally I began baking more and more and of course using good quality chocolate in just about everything. That didn’t work out so well when I realized I was sensitive to gluten. I had to make some adjustments to my baking routine and that’s when I discovered this beautifully rich and chocolaty Flourless Chocolate Cake. This is now one of my 'go to' cakes for guests because if anyone is gluten intolerant they will be able to join in on the best part of the meal.

I’ve made this cake many times and have made some adjustments over the years. One thing that is very important is using good quality butter and chocolate. I like to use a 70% chocolate which, as the cake has minimal sugar in it, I find gives it the perfect balance between bitter and sweet. Adding powdered sugar and fruit for garnish will finish it off putting it slightly over the edge on the sweeter side. I also try to use organic or farm fresh eggs when I can find them. The better quality each ingredient is individually will make a better tasting cake as a whole. This is a very rich and dense cake so it will serve a crowd up to 16 people.

Some tips for the best results: Make sure to use a water bath in this recipe so the cake doesn’t crack in the oven. Beat the eggs for about six minutes on high to incorporate enough air to render a light and airy texture.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

Ingredients:


  • 8 large eggs
  • 425 grams chocolate, 70%, chopped
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons sugar dissolved in 32 grams cold water
  • confectioner’s sugar and berries for garnish


Method:

  1. Prepare a 22cm springform pan by greasing bottom and sides with butter and placing a piece of parchment paper on the bottom. Wrap the bottom and sides of pan with foil to keep the water out.
  2. Heat oven to 160 degrees Celsius.
  3. Mix sugar and water together until completely dissolved.
  4. Melt chocolate, butter and sugar water over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally.
  5. Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a cold bowl with an electric mixer on high speed for six minutes until eggs are light and airy and increase in volume.
  6. Let chocolate cool to room temperature then fold in 1/3 of the egg mixture at a time until incorporated completely.
  7. Pour mixture in prepared pan, tapping a few times to smooth out.
  8. Place the pan in a larger ovenproof pan and fill with boiling water until it’s about halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The cake will not look set but it will continue baking once out of the oven. Do not over bake. Remove from water bath, remove foil and cool completely on wire rack. Cool, uncovered, in refrigerator for two hours then cover until ready to serve.
Two summers ago I spent a month in Tuscany photographing wineries and a bed and breakfast. It was September and I remember waking up and feeling the subtle transition from the summer heat and humidity to a crispy coolness in the air, a sign that Fall was on it's way. I also remember the sacks of porcini mushrooms the family that I stayed with used to bring home and the aroma that filled the kitchen as they prepared delicious meals using those fresh mushrooms. I was more than grateful to be invited to the dinner table. Well, I've been feeling that same crispy, cool air the last several days here in Maine as I daydream of that golden time in Italy.

I get inspired this time of year to make something with fresh mushrooms just so I can relive that experience I had. A fresh mushroom lasagne seems appropriate and a definite crowdpleaser. Although I can't get those fresh porcini's here in the US, the dried ones seem to do the trick. I use more porcini's and add butter because I love how the butter helps bring out the richness in the mushrooms. Served with a salad of greens and tomatoes this is a simple and delicious meal that will ease you right into Fall.

Mushroom Lasagna

Ingredients:


For the mushrooms
  • 14g dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 142g sweet onions, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 113ml red wine
  • 566g cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Freshly ground pepper


For the béchamel sauce
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 shallots, very finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 454ml milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground pepper


For the lasagna
  • 340 grams no-boil lasagna sheets
  • 170 grams Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
  • Fresh parsley leaves


Method:

  1. Heat oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 degrees Fahrenheit).
  2. Grease bottom and sides of rectangular pan with olive oil.
Mushrooms
  1. Soak the porcini mushrooms in 600ml of boiling water for about 30 minutes. Drain, making sure to squeeze out all the liquid from the mushrooms while reserving the porcini broth.
  2. Rinse mushrooms in cool water and roughly chop.
  3. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat.
  4. Add onion and garlic and cook for two minutes or until onion is translucent.
  5. Add the porcini mushrooms with their liquid and the wine, cover and cook until the liquid has almost, but not completely, evaporated.
  6. Increase heat to medium high.
  7. Add crimini mushrooms, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper and cook until juices from the crimini's evaporate.
  8. Take off heat and set aside.
Béchamel
  1. Heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan.
  2. Add the shallot and cook until fragrant, about two minutes.
  3. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture starts to bubble, but not brown.
  4. Whisk in the milk slowly and stir constantly until mixture thickens.
  5. Reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if needed.
  6. Strain mixture directly into pan with the mushrooms, reserving about four tablespoons of bechamel.
  7. Stir until incorporated and set aside.
Assembly
  1. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil.
  2. Add about 4 lasagne sheets and boil for about two minutes. These will be used for the top layer only.
  3. Remove from water and lay to drain on flat surface.
  4. Spread the reserved bechamel on bottom of lasagne pan.
  5. Top with a layer of uncooked lasagne sheets.
  6. Add a generous layer of mushroom mixture followed by a layer of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
  7. Repeat layering of lasagne sheets, mushroom mixture and cheese until you have enough room for one more layer.
  8. Place partially cooked lasagne sheets on top and cover with the remaining mushroom mixture and cheese.
  9. Sprinkle top with parsley.
  10. Be sure to cover all corners and exposed sheets with sauce so they will cook thoroughly. If you like some crunch to the top layer you can leave some areas exposed.
  11. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
  12. Remove foil and bake an additional ten minutes or until top is golden browned.
  13. Remove from heat and let sit for ten minutes before cutting and serving.
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