the appetizer:

Though there are many individual regional cuisines in Italy, northern and southern Italian cuisines are primarily differentiated by the cooking fat and style of pasta commonly used. Northern Italian cuisine (other than on the coast) favors butter, cream, polenta, Mascarpone, Grana Padano, and Parmigiano cheeses, risotto and fresh egg pasta. Southern Italian cuisine tends toward Mozzarella, Caciocavallo and Pecorino cheeses, olive oil and dried pasta. Southern Italian cuisine also makes greater use of the ubiquitous tomato.

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Baked Asparagus (Asparagi Al Forno)

Serves 4

Asparagus is very dear to the Italians, especially in the north where they like to serve it with butter and Parmesan and a fried egg on the side. This more rustic Umbrian version with olive oil is equally delicious and probably has more flavor.

800 g / 1-1/2 lb. white or green asparagus
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
90 ml / 6 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
50 g / 2 oz (1/2 cup) freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano—the best Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C / 350 degrees F / gas mark 4.

Clean the asparagus the trim off the woody ends of the stalks if necessary. Place the asparagus in a pan of lightly salted boiling water and cook for about 8 minutes over a moderate heat. The water should be simmering, not boiling.

Drain with a slotted spoon and lay the asparagus in a buttered terra-cotta dish. Season with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Drizzle the olive oil over the top and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 6-7 minutes, until lightly golden.

Italian Country Cooking
by Susanna Gelmetti
Illustrations by Robert Budwig
Ten Speed Press, 1996
$16.95, paper, 128 pages
ISBN: 0-89815-828-1
Reprinted with permission


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This page modified January 2007