Ricette Classiche: Fritedda


The change of season is always something seasonal cooks look forward to.  At Bellavitae, we would welcome spring with fresh asparagus, peas, fava beans, artichokes, and morels.

In springtime, we should celebrate freshness, whether fruits and vegetables and served cooked or raw.  A perfect illustration of this is the classic Sicilian dish fretedda (also called fritella – in Greece it’s koukia me anginares, in Rome it’s la vignarola and fresh peas are added).  It’s a much-loved Mediterranean stew that is made at the end of the artichoke season and beginning of the fava bean season.

Best of Sicily magazine writer Roberta Gangi provides her recipe here.  Clifford A. Wright offers his here.  Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ Greek version is here.  Note that while these recipes differ significantly, I would label them each authentic (my views on authenticity of classic recipes will be saved for another post when I have time for such a rant).

Reader Gida Ingrassia recently commented on my May 2010 post In Season: Asparagus and Fava Beans:

“I am looking for a recipe to make Sicilian “fritedda” with fava beans, asparagus, onions, peas and artichokes. Do you use regular artichokes and pare them down or are artichoke hearts necessary? Please advise.”

Well, I suppose I have already answered the question in the introduction!  To understand this dish you need to understand its purpose:  It is served in the Mediterranean when the artichoke and fava bean seasons cross.  It celebrates spring freshness.  So use fresh!

Gangi, Wright, and Jenkins give you specific instructions on how to cook the artichokes.  Buy the youngest available, boil the hearts and tender leaves until partially forgiving but not yet quite soft enough to eat.  Then add the other ingredients for further cooking.

Pianogrillo Farm Olive Oil

Here are some tips for success:

  • Make this dish as soon as fava beans come into season.  Nancy Harmon Jenkins wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal:  “It’s true that favas left to mature on their stalks too long will have a leathery skin that must be removed. Like peas, favas should be harvested and consumed when they are young.”
  • Don’t listen to the food snobs who insist you peel the beans after they’ve been shucked.  Again from Jenkins:  “How tiresome—and unnecessary. That’s not how it’s done in Italy. Or in Greece, Spain, Lebanon, Great Britain or anywhere else the beans are a spring staple. Only in France do they call for peeling the beans. Go figure.”
  • Use only the freshest ingredients.  Avoid dried favas, bottled artichoke hearts, or canned peas (in a pinch, I may use frozen peas).
  • Use Sicilian olive oil!  This tip will transform the dish from very good to phenomenal!  My favorite Sicilian olive oil is Pianogrillo Farm Extra Virgin Olive Oil available from Gustiamo or Amazon.

Thanks for the question, Gida.  Let us know how it turns out.




Further Reading:

What to do with Leftover Easter Ham? Try this Amazing Pasta Sauce

Sugo di Piselli, Prosciutto Cotto, e Panna

Pasta Sauce with Peas, Ham, and Cream, in the style of Emilia-Romagna

Photo Courtesy Divine Domesticity



This Easter I made an All-American holiday brunch for my sister, nephew (the creator of this website), and his lovely new wife Liz.  We feasted on ham with an orange-Dijon glaze, scalloped potatoes, fresh fruit drowned in Moscato, and gargantuan homemade cinnamon rolls.

Of course we had lots of leftovers, especially ham.  With fresh early peas now finding their way into farmers’ markets, what better way to enjoy leftover ham than Sugo di Piselli, Prosciutto Cotto, e Panna [Pasta Sauce with Peas, Ham, and Cream]?

One glance at the ingredients and you quickly surmise this pasta dish is from Emilia-Romagna.  Very rich and bursting with flavor, the sauce traditionally welcomes the spring season.  And it’s easy to make!

If you’re not able to find fresh peas, you can always substitute frozen early peas.  You can use either fresh or dried pasta — see the suggested shapes below.


  • 2 pounds fresh early peas (in their pods) OR 1 cup frozen early peas (thawed)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter plus additional 1 tablespoon to mix with the pasta
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup ham, chopped into matchsticks ¼ inch wide
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • Salt
  • Black pepper, freshly grinded
  • ½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated


Making the Sauce

  1. If you’re using fresh peas, shell from their pods; soak in cold water for five minutes, then drain.
  2. Heat two tablespoons of the butter in a saucepan on medium high heat, add the peas and ¼ cup of water.  When it reaches the boiling point, lower the heat to a gentle simmer.
  3. Simmer for 10 minutes then add salt.  Continue cooking until the peas are tender.  The time needed to reach tenderness can vary wildly, depending on the freshness of the peas, and how young they are.
  4. Meanwhile, heat two tablespoons of the butter on medium in a large skillet and sauté the onion until it becomes lightly golden. (If you are using frozen peas, begin the recipe at this point, using four tablespoons of butter to sauté the onion).  Add the ham and stir for about a minute.
  5. If using frozen peas, add them to the skillet after the onion is golden and the ham has been added.  If using fresh peas, add to the sautéed onion and ham, then cook an additional five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the cream and grind fresh black pepper liberally.  Turn the heat up to high (don’t worry, if the cream is fresh it will never curdle), stir frequently and let reduce to a fairly dense consistency.
  7. Boil and drain the pasta.  Swirl a tablespoon of butter into the pasta, then toss with the sauce and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano


Suggested Pasta

Garganelli (photo courtesy Federico Stevanin)


  • The most traditional pasta for this sauce is fresh garganelli, although dried garganelli also works well
  • Other fresh pasta suitable for this sauce include fettuccine or tagliatelle
  • Dried pastas for this sauce include conchiglie [shells], penne, or maccheroncini



Pasta all’Uova Fatta in Casa: The Joy and Satisfaction of Making Homemade Egg Pasta


In Season: Asparagus and Fava Beans

As winter fades from memory, our appetites begin to yearn for fresh spring vegetables.  The two earliest to arrive are asparagus [asparagi] and fava beans [fave].  For most of the U.S., these vegetables are best from late April through mid-June.  Both share important status in Italian cuisine.

Fava beans

The only bean known in Italy for nearly 5,000 years was the fava bean.  Italians from central parts southward to Sicily enjoyed these beans either fresh and young or dried and later soaked in water and cooked.  It wasn’t until the discovery of the New World did Italians begin growing other varieties of beans, which during the late 16th Century were introduced into nearly all of Europe and are today an important part of the Italian diet.

Fava beans are an annual cool-weather crop.  Italians eat fava beans raw, cooked, or dried (after reconstitution).  In Tuscany, fava beans are eaten raw with some sea salt or simply grilled while still in their pods.

As the fava plants mature in late spring, their beans become drier, starchier, and tougher.  At this point, they are dried and used later in soups and other dishes.

Traditional early fava bean dishes include:

  • Ciauredda [Artichoke and Fava Bean stew].  Fresh fava beans are sautéed with onions, artichokes, and potatoes, and then formed into a stew. (Basilicata)
  • Fave al Guanciale [Fava Beans and Pork Jowl]. The dish simply uses young fava beans sautéed in olive oil with onion and pork jowl. (Lazio, mainly Rome) 
  • Fave alle Acciughe [Fava Beans and Anchovies].  The fava beans are first boiled until al dente, and then combined with anchovy fillets, garlic, and marjoram.  This mixture is loosely chopped and then white wine vinegar, salt, and pepper are added (Calabria)
  • Fave con Salsa all’Aceto [Fava Beans in Vinegar Sauce].  The fava beans are first boiled, then sautéed in olive oil and garlic, and then blended with stale bread, white wine vinegar, grated pecorino, and fresh mint leaves. (Calabria)
  • Pasta con le Fave [Pasta and Fava Beans].  Fava beans are added to sautéed pancetta and onion, along with marjoram, salt, and a bit of chili pepper.  After adding tomato puree, the sauce is used to cover rough-cut egg pasta [maltagliati] (Abruzzo)
  • Quadrucci con le Fave [Tiny Square Pasta and Fava Beans].  Cooked ham is sautéed with onion and mint leaves, with meat broth added, along with plum tomatoes and fresh fava beans.  The broth is simmered for about an hour before the fresh tiny pasta squares are added. (Upper Lazio)
  • Zuppa di Fave Fresche [Fresh Fava Bean Soup].  Fava beans are added to artichokes, fresh peas, onions, potatoes, asparagus, and pancetta are sautéed until very soft (Campania)

At Bellavitae, we are serving fresh fava beans my favorite way – Tuscan-style.  We shell fresh fava beans, combine them with small cubes of fresh Pecorino Toscano DOP (young Tuscan pecorino), and drizzle liberally with Tuscan olive oil.  Nothing says spring more than this dish.

Dried fava beans are used mainly in soups and purees.  But here are a couple of other traditional Italian dishes that use dried fava beans:

  • Fave e cicorie [Fava Beans and Chicory]. Dried beans are soaked overnight, then cooked for about three hours in lightly salted water.  The beans are then crushed and drizzled with olive oil.  The crushed beans are then mashed with a wooden spoon and served on a bed of cooked chicory and drizzled with more olive oil. (Puglia)
  • Panelle di fave [Fava Bean Fritters].  Dried fava beans are soaked overnight and then simmered in salted water with onion and fennel for about three hours.  The mixture is passed through a sieve.  This “dough” is then rolled out very thick and left to cool.  Then 1” by 2” strips are fried in olive oil until golden.  They can then be dusted with chili pepper flakes. (Sicily)


Asparagus is found throughout Italy and the vegetable is served raw, grilled, fried, boiled, dressed with sauces, or deep-fried in batter as part of a fritto misto.  There’s even an Italian saying – attributed to the Roman Emperor Augustus – Velocius quam asparagi coquantur.” [Let it be done quicker than you would cook asparagus].

Asparagus is one of the oldest domesticated vegetables.  It grew wild along the Nile in ancient Egypt.  The Greeks enjoyed the vegetable and introduced it to the Romans.  Asparagus was believed to be an aphrodisiac – the name comes from Greek meaning “to swell to be ripe.”

The best-known variety is probably Asparagi Bianchi del Bassano, the white asparagus from the town of Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto.  It is grown entirely underground by about 100 local farmers.  They deliberately keep the plants in the dark – a process known as etiolation – as a result, no chlorophyll develops in the spears, which remain white.  J.S. Marcus wrote an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal about how Italians go wild for this variety beginning in early March each year that dates back to the mid-16th Century.

Classic Italian dishes using asparagus include:

  • Asparagi al Gorgonzola Dolce [Asparagus with Gorgonzola Dolce]  The asparagus are boiled until done, then placed in a baking dished, covered with Gorgonzola Dolce and butter and baked until the cheese is browned. (Piedmont)
  • Asparagi con le Uova in Cereghin [Asparagus with Fried Eggs].  Asparagus spears are boiled upright until bright green.  After drained, they are plated and sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Eggs that have been fried sunny-side up are placed on top, melting the cheese in between. (Lombardia)
  • Asparagi di Bassano con Salsa di Uova Sode [White Asparagus with Egg Sauce] Asparagus spears are boiled upright.  When done they are covered with a sauce made of hard-boiled eggs, lemon juice, anchovies, and capers. (Veneto)
  • Asparagi Selvatici in Umido [Braised Wild Asparagus]  Here’s a Sicilian riddle:
    • Indovinello: “Mastru tanu, chi faciti ‘nta ‘ssu chià nu?  Nun manciati e nun viviti e chiù longu vi faciti!”  [“Master Gaetano, what are you doing in that piazza?  You don’t eat, don’t drink, and all the time just grow longer!”].
    • “Risposta: “l’asparago selvatico”.  [Answer:  “I’m wild asparagus”].

Sicilians adore wild asparagus, which has a pleasantly bitter taste.  This recipe calls for wild asparagus tips sautéed in an earthenware pan with white wine, tomato paste, and salt. (Sicily)

  • Frittata di Asparagi [Open-faced Omelet with Asparagus and Parmigiano-Reggiano] Beaten eggs fried open-face style in butter with cooked asparagus, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, salt, and pepper. (Emilia-Romagna)
  • Riso e Asparagi [Rice and Asparagus]  The asparagus are placed in salted boiling water with the stalks standing in the pot.  They are then simmered for about 15 minutes.  The stalks are discarded for another use.  The remaining water is returned to a boil with Arborio or Carnaroli rice added.  Before serving, the asparagus tips are added, along with butter and Taleggio.  (Lombardia)
  • Risotto di Scampi agli Asparagi [Risotto with Shrimp and Asparagus]  Asparagus are boiled and the tips removed.  The stalks are put through a food mill and added to the reserved cooking liquid.  The shrimp are shelled.  The shells and heads are boiled with a carrot, onion, celery, and bay leaf.  The strained liquid is added to the asparagus liquid.  The resulting broth is used to make the risotto. (Veneto)
  • Zuppa di Asparagi [Asparagus Soup].  Asparagus is sautéed in olive oil with garlic.  Beef broth is added.  When the asparagus has cooked bright green, beaten eggs, grated pecorino, and parsley are added.  The mixture is poured into bowls over slices of bread (Calabria)

At Bellavitae, we are offering fresh asparagus two ways:

  • First, we simply grill it, brushing on olive oil.
  • The second is a method from the small northwest Italian region of Valle d’Aosta in the Alps.  We take bundles of asparagus, add strips of fontina cheese, and wrap in a slice of prosciutto.  We top it with a bit more fontina, and then bake it in the brick oven.

The growing season for both fava beans and asparagus is very short – some six or seven weeks.  Then it’s on to other vegetables:  first peas, then fresh basil (pesto!), and, well, I’m dreaming about juicy summer tomatoes.

Meanwhile, celebrate spring in New York – Italian-style at Bellavitae.


On the menu: Costolette d’Agnello a Scottadito

Courtesy Denver Magazine


Grilled Colorado Lamb Chops

In its March issue, Denver magazine had a terrific article on Colorado lamb:

“Is there a more innocent, idyllic creature than the spring lamb?  It’s been a symbol of purity and, by extension, rebirth for millennia — morphing from Aries, the first sign of the zodiac (today more commonly depicted in adult form as a ram), into a Judeo-Christian icon of sacrifice and resurrection that, in turn, manifests as an Easter supper centerpiece and Passover Seder ceremonial offering.”

I’ve tasted lamb from different parts of the U.S., as well as from Australia and New Zealand.  None has the flavor or the texture of Colorado’s grass-fed lamb.

The state saw its cattle and sheep industry take off in the late 1800s, when New Zealand and Australia controlled the international wool market.  However, these farmers fed and bred their sheep to optimize wool production.  In Colorado, the opposite was – and still is – true:  the focus is on meat quality, with wool being of secondary consideration.

The animals feed on bromegrass, orchardgrass, and perennial rye, all of which thrive in Colorado’s mountain climate.  In the winter they eat alfalfa hay.  And I love this quote:

“Oogie McGuire, owner of the Desert Weyr farm, says, “Terroir is not just a word that describes cheese or fine wine.”  If she’s right, then all those mountain springs and lush valleys in the marketing materials of Colorado lamb promoters aren’t just for show — they’re what’s for dinner. “

According to the American Lamb Board, domestic lamb is of higher quality because it “travels up to 10,000 fewer miles and about 30 days less than imported lamb.”  Another advantage:  the ribeye of an American lamb rib chop provides 38% more meat than Australia and New Zealand rib chops.

The quality is so good that we do as little as possible to interfere with this beautiful piece of meat.  We simply rub a garlic clove on the meat and place it on the hot grill, adding rosemary and some coarse salt.

By the way, scottadito translates to burn with heat [scottare] and finger [dito], or burned finger.  Pick up a hot Colorado lamb chop by its bone and you’ll understand.  We never frown on guests eating with their fingers, we encourage it!

Buona Pasqua!

Further Reading: 


On the menu: Fusilli con le Zucchine a Scapece

Fusilli with marinated Zucchini, Garlic, and Mint in the style of Campania

Scapece refers to the pickling of fish or vegetables, similar to carpione and saor, a technique used throughout the Mediterranean.  Scapece is the Italianization of the Spanish word escabeche.  It’s an ancient technique of preserving food by first frying in olive oil, then marinating in vinegar, garlic, and mint.

Zucchini prepared this way are delicious as a side dish or as part of an antipasti spread, as you will find throughout southern Italy and Sardinia.  For this dish, we cut the zucchini into small strips, and form into a sauce for fusilli, the curlicue pasta.  It makes for wonderful physical and tasting sensations in the palate.