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Miscellaneous Italian First Course Dishes

There are many Italian first course dishes that can't be pigeonholed into the standard pasta/soup categories, for example Tuscany's crespelle or pappa al pomodoro, Liguria's testaroli, or the host of strudel-like dishes of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

An End of Summer Recipe: Mediterranean Cuscus, or Cuscus Mediterraneo
Cuscus may bring the southern shores of the Mediterranean to mind, but has long been eaten in Italy too, both by Sicilians, who tend to make theirs with fish, and by Italian Jews, who tend to make theirs with meat. But there are other things one can do with cuscus, and this salad is extremely refreshing. Easy to make, too, and quick as well.

Artusi's Recipe for Gnocchi alla Romana
Pellegrino Artusi only included a few Roman dishes in his classic, La Scienza in Cucina, and modern Romans say he doctored what he did include, and some imply he developed this recipe for Gnocchi alla Romana. It is quite good, so good he begins with: I hope you will like these as much as my guests have. If you do, toast me if I'm alive, or say a Rest in Peace if I've gone to push up cabbages.

Asparagusl Strudel with Beet sauce and Horseradish Aromas
This savory strudel will be a tasty first course.

Aunt Emm'a Gnocchi alla Romana Lite
Gnocchi alla Romana are tremendously satisfying, but they are also rich, to the point that dieticians would frown on one's making them too often. This variation Elisabetta's Aunt Emma learned while living in Rome many years ago is much lighter: It doesn't have any eggs, and reduces the milk as well.

Basil Strudel with Baby Calamari -- Strudel di Basilico con Zotoli
This strucolo is boiled, rather than baked, and will be a tasty first course.

Bread Soup Caglaritana Style - Zuppa di Pane alla Cagliaritana
In Tuscany zuppa di pane is a winter dish. In Sardinia it's tomato-based, and therefore summery. Around Cagliari they also add milk and yogurt to it, which will result in a richer, creamier dish.

Bread Soup Gallurese Style - Zuppa di Pane alla Gallurese
Bread soup is common throughout Italy, and there are many variations on the theme. Some are wintry, whereas this Sardinian specialty from Gallura, the northeastern part of the island, is summery.

Calentita
A Gibraltarian variation on Panissa that might have been brought by Ligurian sailors.

Canederli
Simple bread balls from the high reaches of the Dolomites.

Carso Strudel -- Strucolo Carsolino
Carso Strudel, or Strucolo Carsolino: A strucolo from the inland karst high plains of Friuli; it's an interesting sweet dish that will provide an unusual beginning to a meal, and will be nice with a sweeter wine, for example a passito. The practice of boiling rather than baking a strudel is quite common in the area, and I expect, given the cinnamon and sugar involved here, that the recipe is quite old.

Chestnut Rags - Stracci di Castagne - A Traditional Chestnut Pasta Recipe
Pasta with chestnut flour is classic peasant food, and a wonderful fall alternative to regular pasta.

Couscous
This is drawn from my translation of Pellegrino Artusi's Scienza in Cucina e L'Arte di Mangiar Bene, which was published as The Art of Eating Well by Random House. It's an interesting recipe, and all the more impressive considering that it was written in the 1890s, when when few had much interest in what now might be termed ethnic cuisine. If you want to know more about the book, or order it, here's a writeup on my personal site. Returning to the recipe...

Crespelle -- Crepes
Crespelle are the Italian equivalent of crepes. Though the preparation now has a certain ring of elegance to it, in the past crespelle were considered poor people's food. The change came in 1895, when Henri Carpentier, Maitre at Montecarlo's Café de Paris, prepared them at the table for the Prince of Wales. Edward named them after his lady friend -- Crepes Suzette.

Cuscus with Pork and Cauliflower, or Cuscus con Carne di Maiale e Cavolfiore
Sicilians greatly enjoy cuscus, and though one might attribute this to the period when the island was an Arab province, the love of cuscus could also be more recent -- Sicily is not far from north Africa, and exchanges never ceased between the two shores. As a general rule Sicilians serve their cuscus with fish, as opposed to the mutton favored by the north Africans, but there are exceptions. This one is from Trapani.

Cuscussù
Cuscussù: Much of Livorno's sizable Jewish community came from Africa, and this is a recipe they brought with them.

Cùscussú or Cùscus
Cùscussú or Cùscus: This is a Sicilian version, and unlike the Tuscan Jewish versions of the dish, uses a fish sauce as an accompaniment to the steamed cuscus.

Frascatole in Fish Sauce, or Frascatole al Sugo di Pesce
Frascatole are a Sicilian variation on cuscus that can be seasoned with many different sauces. This fish sauce is from Trapani, and more specifically from the Hotel Moderno in Erice. It will take some effort, but will be well worth it.

Fregula with Tomato Sauce -- Fregula col Pomodoro
This will be nice in the summer, when you can buy sun-ripened tomatoes. In winter, I'd use canned plum tomatoes rather than the hothouse variety.

Gattò
Gattò is Neapolitan for the French gateau, and generally refers to a pie, be it savory or sweet. This particular gattò is savory, and -- steaming in the middle of the dining room table -- will be a wonderful change of pace on cold winter day. It also adds a new dimension to the concept of mashed potatoes.

Gnocchi alla Romana with Leeks and Speck
Gnocchi alla Romana made following the basic recipe are quite simple. And tasty too, but simple enough to invite variations. Here's a simple one based on leeks and speck, the glorious smoked ham of the Südtyrol. If you cannot find speck, use Prosciutto.

Making Aunt Emma's Gnocchi alla Romana Lite: An Illustrated Recipe
Gnocchi alla Romana are tremendously satisfying, but they are also rich, to the point that dieticians would frown on one's making them too often. This variation Elisabetta's Aunt Emma learned while living in Rome many years ago is much lighter: It doesn't have any eggs, and reduces the milk as well.

Olives Ascolana Style: Olive all'Ascolana
Olives, stuffed with a zesty combination of meat and cheese, and fried. One normally wouldn't think of this as a first course but in Ascoli it can be.

Panissa
Panissa: This is an old Ligurian recipe, from the days when poverty was endemic and people of necessity turned frugality into an art. It calls for chickpea flour, which you can make at home if need be, by grinding dry chickpeas to a powder in either an electric coffee grinder or a blender. The coffee grinder is likely a better bet, though you should make certain you've cleaned out all traces of coffee before you start

Pappa al Pomodoro
Pappa al pomodoro sounds like kid's food, and it is -- for kids of all ages. In the past it was also very much a homey dish, a tasty summer way to use up leftover bread that no housewife would have dreamed of serving to a guest. Now it's on the menus of Florence's trendier restaurants.

Pork-filled Cannelloni Provençal Style -- Cannelloni con Maiale alla Provenzale
Here's a somewhat more elegant cannellone recipe.

Potato and Meat Strudel -- Strucolo di Patate e Carne
Potato and Meat Strudel, or Strucolo di Patate e Carne: A strucolo is a Friulian strudel, which is wrapped in cloth and boiled rather than baked. They're often made with doughs that contain other ingredients in addition to flour. This recipe, which would be served as a first course (or could be a light lunch with a tossed salad), is an ideal solution to leftover meats, say from a platter of roasted meat cooked up for Sunday dinner.

Potato and Spinach Strucolo -- Strucolo di Patate e Spinaci
Potato and Spinach Strucolo, or Strucolo di Patate e Spinaci: A strucolo is a Friulian strudel, which is wrapped in cloth and boiled rather than baked. They're often made with doughs that contain other ingredients in addition to flour. This recipe, which would be served as a first course (or could be a light lunch with a tossed salad), will be a tasty alternative to ravioli.

Red radicchio Strudel: Strudel di Radicchio Rosso
The bitterness of radicchio nicely complements this first course dish.

Salmon Crespelle -- Crespelle al Salmone
Crespelle are the Italian version of crepes; according to Antonio Piccinardi they are especially popular in the Abruzzi region, where they are served in broth or baked. They also figure prominently on the menus of elegant restaurants throughout the Peninsula, generally as first-course dishes.This particular version is especially popular around Valentine's Day.

Sformato all'Emiliana
An extraordinarily rich, potatoey, cheesy wonder that's perfect for the keeping the cold at bay.

Spinach Roll -- Salame di Spinaci
This spinach roll recipe is an Italian Jewish recipe ideally suited for a festive meal, especially Hanukkah.

Strucolo from Istria -- Strucolo Istriano
Strucolo Istriano -- -- Strucolo from Istria

Testaroli
Testaroli are a specialty of the Lunigiana region, a wild, isolated valley that extends inland along the border between Tuscany and Liguria. They derive their name from the testo, a flat or slightly domed cast iron or stone griddle that they're cooked on, and are quite ancient.

Testaroli
Some hold they're a precursor of pasta. They're fantastic with pesto sauce.

Testaroli with Baccalà and Onions -- Testaroli con Baccalà e Cipolle
Though one generally thinks of testaroli as a first course dish they can work very nicely as a bed for other foods, in this case fish and onions. I'd use fairly sweet onions here.

Testarolo Lasagna with Wild Boar Sauce Recipe
Testarolo Lasagna with Wild Boar Sauce, or Lasagna Di Testarolo con Ragout di Cinghiale: Though one generally thinks of pasta when one hears the word lasagna, they can be made with other ingredients as well. In this case, with testaroli, thin bread rounds that in some ways resemble crepes, and may be a precursor to modern pasta. If you do not have wild boar, this will also work well with other game, in particular venison or mountain goat.

Tuscan Bread Salad -- Panzanella
Panzanella, like ribollita, is a solution to the problem of what to do with bread that has dried out and become too tough to chew. In the past, when people made bread once a week, it was more common than it is now, but it is still refreshing on hot summer days, and is perfect picnic food.

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