The Cheeses of Italy

Focaccine Calde con Finocchio e Mozzarella Piccante

Roasted Fennel & Spiced Mozzarella Panini

Store-bought focaccia will work, but why not try our foolproof focaccia recipe for this succulent panino?

For the fennel:

  • 1 large fennel bulb, quartered, trimmed, cored, and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the panini:

  • 4 small focaccia breads, split horizontally, or 1 large focaccia, cut into 4 equal pieces and split horizontally
  • 1/4 cup black olive paste
  • 1/2 pound fresh Mozzarella (preferably di Bufala), thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or chili flakes

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (preferably set on convection bake).

Make the fennel: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and drop in the fennel. Season with the salt. Cook 5 minutes, then drain and place in a roasting pan.

Toss with the olive oil, Parmigiano, and pepper. Roast in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until caramelized. (The fennel is delicious on its own, served a side dish to any meat or fish; it also makes a great pasta sauce.) Set aside.

Make the panini: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Open up the focaccia breads on the counter and spread the olive paste evenly over the bottom half of each focaccia. Top with the roasted fennel.

Divide the Mozzarella among the top portion of each focaccia bread. Sprinkle with the salt and Aleppo pepper.

Close the panini and place on the parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake in the preheated oven 10 minutes, or until the Mozzarella melts and the panini are crispy. Serve hot. Serves 4

Cavatelli con Ricotta, Pomodorini e Basilico

Cavatelli with Ricotta, Grape Tomatoes, and Basil

Substitute 1 and ½ pounds dried cavatelli for the fresh cavatelli below if time is short.

For the cavatelli:

  • 1 pound semolina flour, plus extra for the counter
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Hot water

For the sauce:

  • 2/3 pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 bunch arugula, leaves only, cut into fine strips
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

For the chili oil:

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili flakes

To cook and serve:

  • 2 tablespoons salt

Make the cavatelli: Place the semolina on the counter and mix in the salt. Make a well in the center and add enough hot water to make a dough that comes together; it will take about 1 cup of water. The dough should be firm and form a solid mass. Add more water if the dough is ragged and does not come together (keep in mind that this dough should be quite firm, almost hard, so as to pass through the rollers of the cavatelli machine without sticking together).

Knead vigorously 5 to 10 minutes, or until very smooth. Cut into 16 pieces and roll into ¼-inch-wide logs. Roll through a cavatelli machine. Toss with semolina flour and spread out on a flour-dusted tray for up to 24 hours.

Make the sauce: In a large bowl, combine the Ricotta, tomatoes, arugula, and salt. Stir gently and set aside.

Make the chili oil: Combine all the ingredients in a small skillet and heat over a low flame until the garlic and chili are aromatic, about 2 minutes.

To cook the cavatelli: Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add the cavatelli and the 2 tablespoons of salt; cook until the cavatelli are al dente, about 5 minutes, tasting often to determine doneness. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.

Stir the reserved pasta cooking water into the Ricotta sauce in the bowl. Stir in the cavatelli and the chili oil and adjust the seasoning if needed. Serve hot. Serves 8

Crostata Ripiena di Carciofi, Zucchine e Formaggio

Polenta-Crusted Artichoke, Zucchini, and Cheese Pie

This pie is best served warm just after baking, when the crust is especially crisp. The use of buttermilk in the dough is not traditionally Italian (Italians would use more butter instead) but it allows you to cut down on the fat in the recipe and obtain a luscious, crisp, crumbly crust.

For the dough:

  • 1 and ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • ½ cup polenta (not instant)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoons baking powder
  • ¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed, plus extra for greasing the pie pan
  • ¾ cup buttermilk, plus extra for brushing the top

For the filling:

  • 4 large eggs
  • 3 medium zucchini (about 1 pound), scrubbed and cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large leeks, white part only, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • One 10-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and coarsely chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup basil leaves, chopped
  • 1 and ½ tablespoons polenta (not instant)
  • 1 and ½ cups coarsely grated Fontina from Val d'Aosta or crumbled young goat cheese

Make the dough: Place the flour and polenta in a bowl and add the salt and baking powder. Mix well. Add the butter and quickly combine with your fingertips; it is essential that you work as fast as possible so that you avoid melting the butter (this would result in a heavier, less flaky pastry dough once baked). When the mixture resembles coarse meal, add the buttermilk and quickly gather into a mass; there will be lumps of butter visible. Add a little more buttermilk if needed to form a mass. Cut into 2 pieces, one slightly larger than the other, shape into 2 flat disks, and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate 15 minutes.

Make the filling: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the eggs in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover the pot, and set aside 13 minutes. Drain, rinse under cool water, and shell the hard-boiled eggs. Cut into thin slices.

Place the zucchini in a colander set over a plate. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of the salt and set aside for 30 minutes; this purges excess liquid from zucchini, making the filling less watery later. Rinse and blot dry.

Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over a medium flame. Add the leeks and garlic, and cook 10 minutes, or until the leeks are wilted. Add the zucchini and artichokes, season with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and the pepper, and sauté 8 minutes, or until the vegetables are crisp-tender. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the basil, polenta, and Fontina. Adjust the seasoning if needed. Cool to room temperature.

Assemble the pie: Butter a 9 and 1/2 -inch glass baking dish. Roll out the larger piece of chilled dough on a lightly floured counter into an 11-inch circle. Roll out the smaller piece of chilled dough into a 10-inch circle.

Line the prepared baking dish with the larger dough circle and top with half of the hard-boiled eggs; season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt. Spoon in half of the filling. Top with the remaining hard-boiled eggs and season with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Spoon in the remaining filling. Cover with the smaller dough circle.

Crimp the edges to seal well and use excess dough to create a pretty border around the pie. Tear a hole in the middle of the top crust and brush with buttermilk.

Bake in the preheated oven 45 minutes, or until the crust is a deep golden color and crispy. Serve warm, in wedges, with green salad tossed with lemon juice and olive oil. Serves 4 as a first course, 8 as an appetizer

Frittata al Forno con Fiori di Zucchina, Zucchine e Tre Formaggi

Zucchini & Zucchini Blossom Frittata with Three Cheeses

A luscious combination of peppery Pecorino, nutty Parmigiano, and creamy Ricotta perfectly complements the sweetness of summer zucchini and the ephemeral character of zucchini blossoms.

  • 12 baby zucchini, with blossoms attached
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Nonstick spray for greasing the parchment paper
  • 10 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • ¼ pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta

Preheat the oven to 375°.

Thinly slice the zucchini (reserve the blossoms) and toss with the olive oil, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and a pinch of the pepper in a roasting pan.

Roast 20 minutes, or until golden at the edges and soft. Cool to room temperature.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl with the remaining ¼ teaspoon of salt, the remaining pinch of pepper, cream, Pecorino, Parmigiano, parsley, and zucchini.

Line an 8- x 10-inch roasting pan or pie plate with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper with the nonstick spray and pour in the egg mixture.

Dollop the Ricotta over the top.

Wash the zucchini blossoms thoroughly but gently and blot dry. Top the frittata decoratively with the zucchini blossoms.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until set and golden. Remove from the pan, peel off the parchment paper, and cut into wedges. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Serves 4 as a first course, 8 as an appetizer

Torta Salata al Formaggio con Asparagi

Savory Cheese and Asparagus Pie

Store-bought phyllo dough works beautifully in this lovely springtime pie. Look for phyllo dough in the freezer section of well-stocked supermarkets, and defrost overnight in the refrigerator before assembling the pie. The pie can be prepared (but not baked) up to 12 hours ahead; pour on the egg custard mixture just before baking.

For the filling:

  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/2 pound fresh Mozzarella, coarsely grated
  • 1/4 pound fresh Ricotta
  • 1/4 pound French Feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 bunches asparagus, woody ends trimmed, stalks cut into 1/4-inch lengths, tips reserved

For the pie:

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 10 sheets phyllo dough, thawed

For the custard mixture:

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup club soda

Make the filling: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl (remember to reserve the asparagus tips to garnish the top of the pie).

Make the pie: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a rectangular glass baking dish (9 inches x 13 inches is ideal).

Cut the phyllo dough in half, making 20 rectangles that will line the baking pan nicely. Line the baking pan with 1 phyllo rectangle and brush very lightly with the olive oil, keeping the other phyllo rectangles covered with a dry towel while you work (otherwise the phyllo will dry out and crack, becoming very difficult to work with).

Top with another phyllo rectangle; continue in this manner, brushing lightly with olive oil and stacking phyllo rectangles, until you have used 7 phyllo rectangles.

Spoon on half of the asparagus and cheese filling and spread well, covering the dough.

Layer another 6 phyllo rectangles over the filling, brushing between the layers with olive oil.

Spoon on the remaining asparagus and cheese filling, spreading it well and covering the dough nicely.

Top with the remaining 7 phyllo rectangles, brushing between the layers with olive oil.

Arrange the reserved asparagus tips in a pretty pattern over the top of the pie.

Make the custard mixture: Whisk the ingredients together in a bowl. Pour the custard mixture over the pie. As the pie bakes, the custard will puff and turn into a delicately creamy topping.

Bake in the preheated oven 45 minutes, or until golden, set, and crisp. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Serves 4 as a first course, 8 as an appetizer

Cannoli Profumati all'Arancia

Orange, Mascarpone, and Ricotta Cannoli

Look for cannoli shells at Italian markets and pastry shops.

  • ½ pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta
  • ½ pound Mascarpone (preferably imported Italian)
  • ¼ cup honey (preferably orange blossom)
  • grated zest of 1 orange
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped unsalted pistachios
  • 24 mini cannoli shells

Make the cream filling: Beat the Ricotta and Mascarpone with the honey, orange zest, and cinnamon until it is perfectly smooth with a whisk.

Refrigerate up to 1 day. (Do not process the mixture in a food processor, or it will liquefy.)

Stuff the cannoli: Pipe the cream filling through a pastry bag fitted with a flat tip into the hollow cannoli shells.

Dip both ends in the chopped pistachios and arrange on a serving platter. Chill the cannoli for 2 to 12 hours and enjoy. Makes 24 miniature cannolis

Triangoli Croccanti ai Quattro Formaggi

Crispy Four-Cheese Phyllo Triangles over Baby Greens

Look for phyllo dough in the freezer section of most well-stocked supermarkets, and allow at least 12 hours to defrost in the refrigerator.

For the triangles:

  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped tarragon
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika
  • 1/3 pound Fontina from Val d'Aosta, rind removed, coarsely grated
  • 1/3 pound coarsely grated smoked Mozzarella
  • 1/3 pound coarsely grated fresh Mozzarella
  • 1/3 pound young goat cheese, crumbled
  • 11 sheets phyllo dough, thawed
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the greens:

  • 4 packed cups mixed baby greens
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Make the triangles: In a bowl, combine the herbs, pepper, nutmeg, and paprika. Add the Fontina, smoked Mozzarella, fresh Mozzarella, and goat cheese, and mix well.

Place the phyllo dough on a large cutting board, and slice into 4-inch wide strips (you will have 3 strips per sheet). Place under a dry towel while you work.

Place one strip of dough in front of you, keeping the others covered. Brush it lightly with the olive oil, cover with another strip of dough, and brush that strip with olive oil as well.

Place 2 heaping tablespoons of filling along the bottom edge of the dough. Roll the phyllo dough over the filling to enclose, folding it up away from you as if you were folding a flag.

Seal with a little additional olive oil, place seam-side down on a parchment paper-lined 11-inch x 17-inch baking sheet, and lightly oil the top.

Continue to roll triangles in this way, arranging them in a single layer on the baking sheet. (The triangles can be frozen on the baking sheet at this point; when they are solid, transfer to freezer-safe bags. Do not defrost before baking.)

To bake: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (preferably set on convection bake). Bake the triangles for 20 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

Make the greens: Toss the greens with the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mound on 8 plates. Top each with 2 triangles and serve. Makes 16 four-inch triangles (serves 8)

Grana con Miele di Castagne e Noci

Grana Padano with Chestnut Honey and Walnuts

Grana Padano is a nutty, buttery cow's milk cheese from Lombardy, where it has been produced for a thousand years. Italians use it as often as they use Parmigiano-Reggiano and it is excellent both grated and as a table cheese. Look for Grana Padano with a smooth, golden-yellow rind stamped with the Consortium’s distinctive seal, and a compact, dense inner structure without holes or color striations. Wrap Grana Padano tightly in a double layer of plastic wrap and refrigerate it up to 1 month; wedges can also be frozen if desired. If using Grana Padano as a grating cheese, it’s always best to grate it just before savoring it—if you really must grate it days before you are going to use it, freeze it to better preserve its aroma. Serve the elegant dish below as a combined cheese and dessert course. If you can't find chestnut honey (which has a pleasantly bitter falvor), use any honey you like; clover or orange blossom are fine substitutes.

  • 3/4 pound Grana Padano, cut into 1/4-inch-thick wedges
  • 36 walnut halves
  • 1/2 cup chestnut honey

Arrange the Grana Padano on 6 plates. Top with the walnuts and drizzle with the chestnut honey. Enjoy immediately. Serves 6

Frittata di Salsiccia e Pecorino

Italian Sausage and Pecorino Frittata

Use zucchini, asparagus, or mushrooms instead of peppers if you prefer, and omit the sausage for a vegetarian frittata. Store leftover frittata in the refrigerator and enjoy at room temperature, or warm a few minutes in a preheated 350° oven.

  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 pound Italian sausage, casings removed and crumbled
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 orange pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 basil leaves, torn
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

Preheat the broiler.

Heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in an ovenproof 10-inch skillet. Add the sausage and cook 5 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring; the sausage should be cooked all the way through and lightly browned (cook a little longer if it is not). Be sure to break up the sausage with a spoon while cooking so it is in nice, small pieces.

Add the onion, orange pepper, and green pepper, and seaon with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Cook 5 more minutes, or until the peppers and onion are wilted. Stir in the basil.

Beat the eggs with the cream, Pecorino, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper in a large bowl. Stir in the hot sausage-pepper mixture, beating and stirring quickly to avoid scrambling the eggs, and pour into the same skillet, dribbling in the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil first. Cook over medium heat 10 minutes, or until set and golden on the bottom.

Transfer the frittata to the preheated broiler and cook until set and lightly browned on the top, about 5 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Serves 2 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer

Barchette di Indivia al Gorgonzola

Endive Boats with Gorgonzola and Walnut Mousse

Select a mild, buttery Gorgonzola for this rich appetizer, and cut off its rind to ensure the mousse won't be bitter.

  • 1/2 pound mild Gorgonzola, rind removed, cut into large pieces
  • 1/2 cup shelled walnut halves, plus extra to garnish
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, plus extra if needed
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 large Belgian endives, separated into spears
  • 1/4 cup honey

In a food processor, combine the Gorgonzola, the walnut halves, the cream, and the pepper until smooth; add more cream if needed to thin it out. The mousse should be as thick as jam. Refrigerate 30 minutes (or up to 2 days) to firm it up; this makes piping easier.

Arrange the endive spears on a platter with the tips facing in toward the center. Spoon the Gorgonzola mousse into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.

Pipe the Gorgonzola mousse on the bottom half of each endive spear in a pretty rosette pattern. Top each rosette of Gorgonzola mousse with a walnut half. Drizzle the Gorgonzola mousse lightly with the honey and serve within 15 minutes. Serves 12

Stuzzichini di Fontina, Pomodoro e Rucola

Fontina, Tomato, and Arugula Triangles

While hardly traditional in the Italian kitchen, flour tortillas provide a lovely thin shell for the cheese and vegetable stuffing. In Italy, thin, pliable flatbreads called piadine--made from flour and lard--would be used instead, but tortillas are a fabulous substitute. Be sure to buy Fontina from Val d'Aosta, a nutty cow's milk cheese that melts beautifully, for this easy finger food.

  • 8 flour tortillas (8-inch diameter)
  • 1/2 pound Fontina from Val d'Aosta, rind removed, thinly sliced or coarsely grated
  • 4 plum tomatoes, very thinly sliced
  • 1 large bunch arugula, leaves only, cut into chiffonnade
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

Place 4 of the tortillas on a work surface. Top each with one-quarter of the Fontina, tomatoes, and arugula; season evenly with salt and pepper. Cover with the remaining 4 tortillas.

Heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in each of two 10-inch omelet pans. Slip in one of the tortillas in each skillet, and cook over medium-high heat until golden on the bottom; turn and cook the other side until golden. It will take about 5 minutes total.

Cook the 2 remaining tortillas in the remaining olive oil in the same manner.

While the second batch of tortillas cook, serve the first batch, cut into 8 triangles each. Makes 32 pieces

Crostini con Peperoni Arrostiti e Caprino

Crostini with Roasted Peppers and Goat Cheese
roast the peppers cut side down

You can top the baguette slices with slices of fresh Mozzarella instead of goat cheese for a milder flavor.

  • 24 thin slices baguette (1/4-inch-thick)
  • 2 red peppers, halved, seeded, stems and membranes removed
  • 2 yellow peppers, halved, seeded, stems and membranes removed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 12 basil leaves, torn
  • 1/2 pound young goat cheese, at room temperature (such as Coach Farm Low-Fat Goat Cheese Sticks)

Preheat the oven to 450°.

Arrange the baguette slices in a single layer on an 11- x 17-inch baking sheet. Toast in the preheated oven until golden on top, about 5 minutes.

Raise the oven temperature to broil.

Line the same baking sheet with aluminum foil; place the peppers on it, cut side down, and broil in the preheated oven until they are blistered and black, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven; wrap in the aluminum foil that lined the baking sheet and set aside for 15 to 30 minutes; the steam in the foil packet will loosen the skin of the peppers, making them easier to peel. Unwrap the peppers, then peel and remove the seeds; cut into strips and toss with the olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and basil in a medium bowl (this can be done up to 4 days ahead and refrigerated).

Spread the goat cheese on the crostini; place on a platter, top with the roasted peppers (discarding the garlic cloves first), and serve. Makes 24

Crostini con Salmone Affumicato ed Erba Cipollina

Crostini with Smoked Salmon and Chive Mousse

Try to buy imported Italian Mascarpone (rather than domestic) for this and other recipes: the flavor is richer and creamier, the texture smoother.

  • 1/2 pound Mascarpone
  • 1 bunch chives, snipped, plus 6 chives, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 thin slices pumpernickel bread (1/4-inch-thick), cut into 6 triangles each
  • 12 thin slices smoked salmon, halved

In a food processor, purée the Mascarpone with the snipped chives, salt, and pepper until smooth and pale green. Spread on the pumpernickel bread triangles and top each triangle with a half-slice of smoked salmon.

Garnish each bread triangle with a 1-inch-length of chive. Serve within 15 minutes. Makes 24