Italy is a country we always associate with wonderful home cooking and fun times: comfort dishes, pasta made from scratch, long simmered sauces, loving Grandmas, loud conversations (also the case back in Brazil, by the way) and happy glasses of wine.  If you are fond of authentic Italian food, “From the Bartolini Kitchens” is a spot you must incorporate into your virtual world. I first got to John’s site indirectly, by reading his comments on blogs we both visited. Each and every comment he wrote made me think “this ChicagoJohn is such a nice guy!”  From comments I jumped to his blog, and became an instant subscriber and avid reader. So, if his site is new to you, stop by and while you are having fun there, make sure to check the story of his family, that could very well be made into a movie. Fascinating to read, just as his recipes and recollections of his cooking with “Zia”.

I have quite a few of his recipes on my list to try, but this one made the jump from “to try soon” to “tried and true” in a couple of weeks. Record time, considering that Sally usually performs her culinary magic in anti-warp speed.  😉


(slightly adapted from this Bartolini family recipe)

3 lamb shanks
2 tbsp olive oil
4 medium carrots, roughly chopped
leaves and stalks from the top of a celery heart, about 1 cup
1 shallot, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
4 sprigs of rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 cup red wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
veal stock (or chicken stock, or water)
salt & pepper to taste
lemon zest for garnish, optional

Heat oven to 250 F.

In a large fry pan, heat the olive oil over med-high heat. Add 2 smashed garlic cloves and sauté until golden. Remove the garlic and discard.

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper and place them into the pan, browning them on all sides. This could take anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and reserve the lamb shanks.

Place all the vegetables into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté until some color is achieved. Add the tomato paste and cook until fragrant and its color deepens, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the red wine, deglaze the pan well, then add lamb shanks back to the pan.  Pour veal stock so that the level of the liquid comes two-thirds up the meat.  Add the rosemary and bay leaf, season the liquid with more salt and pepper.

Cover the pan and place in the oven for 3 hours or more, moving the pieces around every 45 minutes or so. If the liquid dries too much, add water or stock. When the meat is super tender, remove it and reduce the sauce if necessary by boiling it down on top of the stove.

Serve, garnished with lemon zest and sauce on the side.


 to print the recipe, click here


Comments:  This braise is one of those perfect recipes to cook when you will be spending a nice Sunday at home, no social obligations, just playing it all by ear. I actually made it on Easter Sunday, but we enjoyed it next day. Hard to beat a meal like this after work on a Monday.  It made me wonder why I don’t do this type of elaborate advanced cooking more often, like every weekend. Yeah, right. I am such a jokester!  😉

I love to keep this type of braise in the fridge overnight because not only the flavors intensify, but it makes it easy to remove the congealed fat on top.  Interestingly, when I tried a bit of the sauce at the end of braising, I thought that the flavor of the vinegar was a tad too strong.  Somehow it was perfectly balanced next day. The magic of Bartolini Kitchens, working at full power!

We enjoyed this delicious lamb with a smooth cauliflower puree, if you want the recipe, here is a flash back from the Bewitching Kitchen’s past. Three lamb shanks were too much for the two of us, of course. But I have big plans for the leftover meat: a lamb ragú to be served over pappardelle.  That shall happen soon, the meat is waiting in the freezer. Well labeled. Obviously.  😉


 The smell of this dish while braising is intoxicating. In the best possible way….
No individual was immune to it in our home.



John, thanks for a great recipe, I still want to make your Sauce in the style of Bologna which has been calling my name for a long time!  


ONE YEAR AGO: Ridiculously Good Coconut Brigadeiros

TWO YEARS AGO:  A bewitching move ahead… (from OK to KS!)

THREE YEARS AGO: Double-hydration focaccia

FOUR YEARS AGO: Pierre Nury’s Rustic Light Rye: Bougnat


I am so excited about this post, because it’s my first time taking part of “The Secret Recipe Club”.  If you haven’t heard about it, it is a group event in which each month you are assigned one food blog to cook a recipe from and another blogger will be matched with your blog.  The assignments are distributed a few weeks in advance, but every post must be published on the exact same day and  at the exact same time!  How cool is that?  😉

This event grew so much that now they have 4 different groups with “reveal days” a week apart.  Today is THE DAY for group D. By the way, we are all newbies in this group, this is the first reveal for our group.  I was assigned the blog Tami’s Kitchen Table Talk, and you can visit her nice virtual spot by jumping here.  Tami not only is a member of The Secret Recipe Club, but the hostess of group D, so of course it added a lot of hyperventilation to my first time in the event.  Getting to cook from your boss’ blog, so to speak…  WOW!

Tami has two kids, 8 and 13 years old, so her blog is perfect for those with young kids and/or teenagers, who must face all the stresses of an extra-busy life, and still bring a nice meal to the table.  In her blog, you will find a lot of sweets, cookies, and countless options to feed the whole family.   I spent quite a bit of time reading it, and finally decided to make her “Pasta e Fagioli”.  First, because it is a classic Italian recipe I’ve always wanted to try. And second, because the weather is perfect for it right now. Since I have no choice but accept that the days of temps in the upper 90’s are over, I might as well make soups and stews…  😉

(slightly modified from Tami’s Kitchen Table Talk)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pancetta, diced
2 (4 to 6-inch) sprigs rosemary, left intact
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 large fresh bay leaf
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 small carrots, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
salt and pepper
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans
1 + 1/2 cups crushed tomatoes  (with juices)
2 cups water
1 quart chicken stock
1 + 1/2 cups ditalini pasta  (I used half ditalini, half elbows)
grated Parmigiano cheese for serving

Heat a deep pot over medium high heat and add oil and pancetta.  Cook until the pancetta pieces are golden brown, add the rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, chopped veggies and garlic.   Season everything lightly with salt and pepper (pancetta is already quite salty, so keep that in mind).

Saute everything together for a couple of minutes, add the beans, crushed tomatoes, water, and chicken stock.  Increase heat to high, when boiling add the pasta, and reduce to medium heat.   Cook stirring every once in a while, until the pasta is al dente (8 to 10 minutes).  Remove the rosemary stems and the bay leaf before serving.

Laddle soup on bowls, and serve with a nice piece of bread, with plenty of cheese grated on top.


to print the recipe, click here

This was a perfect meal for an unexpectedly chilly evening, in which we almost had to turn our heating system on.   One of the reasons we didn’t was this warm and soothing soup, that made us feel all cozy and comfy.  Thanks, Tami! Leftovers  were my lunch for the two following days. On the last day, it became almost a regular pasta dish, I did not add additional liquid, just shaved some more cheese on top and enjoyed it immensely that way too.   The beans give extra creaminess and substance to the dish,  and the pancetta a subtle “meaty” presence.

If you want to go make this soup vegetarian-friendly, simply omit the pancetta, and  use vegetable stock instead of chicken broth.  It will still be wonderful, I guarantee it.

Tami, it was nice to “meet” you through this event, I will be  reading your culinary adventures from now on!

Note added after publication: at the end of this post you will find a little icon with “Links in collection” – just click on it to see the full list of blog posts from our group, all published this morning, at 7am US central time. And if you want to see who got my blog, click here to visit Jenni’s siteShe made one of my favorite recipes! 😉

ONE YEAR AGO: Mesmerizing Lemon Bars

TWO YEARS AGO: Pizza Napoletana

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This is my 300th post!

While growing up I was a picky eater.  The list of things I avoided was huge, including most vegetables (except for tomatoes and potatoes) and all kinds of seafood.   Invitations for dinner at a friend’s home made me worry for days, thinking about what to do if they served such or such an item. When my friends suggested a night out for sushi, I made sure that the restaurant had other choices (and I don’t mean miso soup or tempura!  ;-)).  But, in my twenties the food aversions started to bother me.    Even though I had trouble admitting it, I wanted to be a person who could appreciate any type of food that a host served me, and stop worrying about my humongous list of neurotic restrictions.

Slowly but surely I experimented  with things I disliked: a small bite here, a taste there, and to my surprise, I found that the worst part of the experience was not the food itself, but its anticipation, … the fear of it.  When I was 30 I’d overcome almost all my food aversions, and each one felt like a small victory. Nevertheless, one item stubbornly refused to capitulate: anchovies.  I recently set on a mission to change that.  Following  Jeffrey Steingarten in his great book “The Man Who Ate Everything,”   I’ll slowly  introduce anchovies in my cooking.  This recipe is my first step on the path to  enjoying them.

(adapted from Fine Cooking, October 2010)

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
2  cloves garlic, minced
2-3 oil-packed anchovy fillets, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
One 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 lb. dried spaghetti
1/2 cup pitted brine-cured black olives, such as Kalamata, coarsely chopped
2 Tbs. nonpareil capers, rinsed and drained
1 Tbs. chopped fresh oregano or marjoram
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbs. of the olive oil with the garlic in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant, but not too dark, about 2 minutes.  Add the anchovies and red pepper flakes and cook for a couple more minutes. Add the tomatoes,  increase the heat to medium high, bring to a boil, and then simmer gently for 10 minutes.

After adding the tomatoes to the pan, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions until al dente.

When the tomato sauce is ready, add the olives, capers, and oregano and stir. Simmer until just heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil and season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

When the pasta is ready, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water and drain well. Return the pasta to the pot, set it over medium-low heat, pour in the sauce, and toss, adding cooking water as needed for the sauce to coat the pasta. Serve immediately.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments:  Pasta puttanesca was a perfect option for anchovies, because it has so many other flavors in the sauce: capers, black olives and herbs.  I felt a little uneasy opening the can of oil-packed anchovies, took a careful sniff and tried to concentrate on “umami” instead of “impossibly fishy.”  I had no idea that they would splatter so much in the pan, loudly announcing their presence  and making  a mess on the stove.  Next time I’ll be better prepared!

The verdict?  I detected a hint of the salty, smoky flavor of the anchovies, but nothing offensive.  This time I only used two filets, just to be safe, but the next time I’ll  add three.   Some day I want a slice of pizza with one of those small fish laying defiantly on top, but it may take more time!

Puttanesca is a hearty dish that will stand on its own as a meal, but because I wasn’t sure about it, I also prepared plan B: grilled flank steak.   It was really a tasty match!

ONE YEAR AGO:  Hoisin Explosion

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Ossobuco milanese is perfect for cold evenings, and great for company, as you can prepare it in advance and re-heat it when your guests arrive. Like most braises, it gets better with a day or two of rest in the fridge.   Traditionally, it’s served with a saffron risotto, but this time I made it with mashed potatoes.  The sauce is so luscious, and mashed potatoes are also a perfect match.  

When preparing such a classic dish, I avoid “simplified,” “easy,” “quick,” “low fat,” or “light” versions.  My favorite recipe for ossobuco comes from Marcella Hazan, a respected authority on Italian cooking. I scaled down her recipe, which is posted below, and cooked only 4 veal shanks. But, the dish is satisfying, and the original recipe is certainly enough for 6 to 8 happy folks.

(from Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)

6 – 8 veal shanks
Salt and pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp butter
1 cup diced onion
2/3 cup diced carrot
2/3 cup diced celery
1 cup dry white wine
2 strips lemon zest
1 cup  chicken stock (I used beef stock, homemade)
1 + 1/2 cups diced tomatoes
1 tsp fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
3 – 4 parsley sprigs

for gremolata
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 tsp finely minced garlic
1 Tbsp minced Italian parsley

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Tie each shank tightly with a piece of twine to prevent them from falling apart during cooking.  Lightly season the shanks with salt and pepper, then flour both sides of the meat and brown them in a skillet with very hot olive oil. Set the meat aside, discard most of the oil,  deglaze the pan with 1 cup of white wine, and set it aside.

Add butter to an oven-proof pan with a tight-fitting lid (like a Le Creuset pan) large enough to hold the meat in a single layer, and saute the onion, carrot, and celery mixture for about 6 minutes, until translucent.  Add the lemon peel and cook for a couple more minutes, then add the meat to the sauteed veggies,  pour the wine from deglazing the skillet over it and add the stock, the tomatoes, bay leaves, and thyme.  Season with salt and pepper.

Bring the contents to a simmer, cover and transfer the pan to the oven. Let it cook for 2 – 3 hours (depending on the thickness of your shanks),  until the meat is fork tender.  If the pot gets too dry, add a few tablespoons of water.

Add the gremolata on top of the meat and sauce a few minutes before serving, and don’t allow it to cook for a long time.   Cut the twine around the meat, and serve.


to print the recipe, click here

receita em portugues na segunda pagina

Comments: The ideal thickness for veal shanks in ossobuco  is 1.5 inch. Mine were slightly thinner, which made it difficult to tie the string around them, but the meat cooked faster: a little over 2 hours was enough.

I expected that the string wasn’t going to stay tied during the cooking, but I decided to use it anyway. Another important tip from Marcella:  don’t remove the silver membranes around the shanks, they help preserve the shape of the meat as it braises.

Cutting the veggies:  for this recipe, I diced them by hand, as uniformly as possible. Since they are so prominent in the sauce, using a food processor or other gadget compromises the presentation.

Marcella advises to add liquid up to 3/4 of the height of the shanks; I added a little more, but I didn’t have to adjust the amount until the end.  Every half an hour or so I flipped the shanks in the liquid, and made sure that it wasn’t boiling too furiously.  During the final 45 minutes I lowered the temperature to 325F.

We had it with a nice slice of homemade sourdough bread, anointed with some of the bone marrow – it was pure bliss!    I can hardly wait to enjoy the leftovers later this week!

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