In Honor of Parmigiano Reggiano Night: Risotto Cacio e Pepe!

October 27, 2012 at 8pm at the “Salone del Gusto” in Turin, Italy, was the webcasted event “Parmigiano Reggiano Night.” This occasion was to celebrate one of Italy’s most beloved cheeses and an opportunity to virtually share the table with all who supported the local cheese farmers and companies that produce the almighty Parmigiano Reggiano!

The Northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna was greatly affected by the earthquakes of May 20th and 29th. Well-known for its traditional regional cuisine and infamous local products (such as Parmigiano Reggiano, prosciutto di Parma, and Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, to name just a few), the region has hundreds of regional farmers that were affected and many small artisan companies that were damaged during the earthquakes. Many people bought stranded wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano online that would otherwise have no home to age in. To thank people for their support, the Parmigiano Reggiano Consortium created the “Parmigiano Reggiano Night” which invited homes around Italy to take part in the webcasted dinner event that shared a recipe by Modena native and world-renowned Chef Massimo Bottura, owner of the Three Michelin “Osteria Francescana” restaurant in Modena, Italy. Chef Bottura created a risotto recipe to be shared at the “Parmigiano Reggiano Night.’ His “Risotto Cacio e Pepe” (cheese and pepper risotto) uses Parmigiano Reggiano cheese as the highlight ingredient, instead of the traditional Pecorino Romano for the “cacio” (see my previous recipe for “Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe” for more information). Click here to see a brief interview with Chef Bottura explaining the inspiration for his dish.

About this recipe
The recipe I share with you is from Chef Massimo Bottura. I only changed the amount of risotto made (4 servings instead of 6 servings) and I simplified the “pepe” element to include a mix of black, white, green and pink peppercorns instead of his more exotic mix of white, Szechuan, Jamaican, Sarawak, and wild peppers. I strongly encourage you to follow his recipe if you can find this wonderful blend for your risotto.

A word of advice: don’t be intimidated by the risotto! As long as you know how you like your risotto, you will know how to cook it. Since the liquid element (usually broth) is slowly added ladle by ladle and stirred until the rice absorbs it before adding more liquid, you will be able to moderate how your rice cooks to your taste. Yes, it is that simple, even if risotto disguises itself as a sophisticated dish, it is not complicated to make.

Chef Bottura’s recipe fascinated me because he obtains the liquid element for the risotto from the aged parmesan cheese! The recipe calls for heating the freshly grated aged parmesan with water, until the cheese separates into threads. Allowing the liquid to cool and be refrigerated overnight creates a separation of “Parmigiano Reggiano water” used to cook the rice, and a “Parmigiano Reggiano cream” that is used towards the end to cream the risotto. The result… Brilliant! The flavor… mmm…Divine! I will certainly be using this “Bottura technique” very often!

Risotto Cacio e Pepe
Recipe from Chef Massimo Bottura for “Parmigiano Reggiano Night”
Serves 4
Prep time: 10 minutes to make the Parmigiano Reggiano Water (to be made the day before)
Cook time: 30-35 minutes

Ingredients – Parmigiano Reggiano Water:

  • 35 ounces (992g) of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (ideally one that has been aged for 30 months)
  • 2 2/3 liters of water

Ingredients – Risotto:

  • 12 oz (330g) of Arborio rice (Chef Bottura uses “Vialone Nano rice”)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Freshly cracked pepper mix*

Recipe Note: For the pepper, I used a mixed of black, white, green, and pink peppercorns. Chef Bottura uses a mix of white, Szechuan, Jamaican, Sarawak, and wild peppers.

Directions for the Parmigiano Reggiano Water

  1. Mix freshly grated cheese with water.
  2. In a pan, at low heat stir cheese and water mixture (if you have a thermometer, heat it up to 176°F (80°C). Note: do not go over 194°F (90°C). According to the original recipe “when the Parmigiano Reggiano starts to go into threads at the bottom, remove the pan from the heat and leave it to cool down to room temperature.”
  3. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave overnight in the fridge.
  4. The mixture will separate into a creamy solid and water parts. You will use the Parmigiano Reggiano water to cook the risotto, and the cream part towards the end to make the risotto creamy.

Directions for the Risotto

  1. In a medium sized pan, heat the olive oil (at low heat) and add the Arborio rice and stir the rice to get an even coating of the oil. Sauté the rice in the oil for a minute.
  2. Add some of the Parmigiano Reggiano water (enough just to cover the rice), and stir frequently until the water is absorbed (but the rice is not dry).
  3. Keep adding the Parmigiano Reggiano water until the rice develops a softer consistency by taste. When it is nearly cooked, add some of the Parmigiano Reggiano cream and stir thoroughly.
  4. If needed, add more of the Parmigiano Reggiano water, until the rice reaches your desired consistency in texture.
  5. Remove from heat and add the remainder of the Parmigiano Reggiano cream.
  6. Plate the risotto and sprinkle freshly cracked pepper on top.
  7. Serve immediately.

I hope you give this recipe a try, and share the love for one of Italy’s favorite cheeses at your dinner table! Enjoy!

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Cucumber & Smoked Salmon Canapé with Wasabi Cream

Smoked salmon is wonderful over bread, toast or crackers; but when served over cucumber, it creates a lighter and gluten-free alternative to the standard canapé. Cream cheese also pairs well with smoked salmon and in the US this duo is often served with bagels and even in sushi (as in the famous Philadelphia roll). Combining cucumber and smoked salmon in a canapé gives a fun twist and a healthier alternative to serving a carb-based appetizer.

A little nutrition
Smoked salmon is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids; however, for health reasons, it is best consumed in small quantities (such as in this appetizer) since smoked salmon has approximately 222 milligrams of sodium per ounce compared to approximately 17 milligrams of sodium per ounce in fresh, baked salmon. “Lox” which is sold in the US and often mistaken to be the same as smoked salmon has 567 milligrams of sodium per ounce. That is because lox is salmon cured in salt for several weeks while smoked salmon is cured and cold-smoked. (For more information please see The New York Times – Dining & Wine article: “Smoked Salmon Any Way You Slice It”).

About this recipe 
The first time I made this recipe I was having guests over and didn’t want to use the same crackers for the smoked salmon as for another appetizer I was serving. I had cucumbers in the fridge and decided to use them since I like the combination of cucumbers and salmon in sushi. I was undecided as to whether put cream cheese or wasabi to add a dash of flavor, and experimented with different combinations to achieve the recipe below (I even tried adding a few drops of soy sauce to which I got mixed reviews, so I am adding it as an optional item for you to try). Feel free to modify the wasabi cream; it was merely a last minute invention to bring this canapé closer to a sushi base than the usual “bagels and cream cheese’ combination. I used wasabi powder which is what I use at home when making sushi, but you can use ready-made wasabi paste. I also used the Asian cucumber as they are thinner and more delicate portion-size for the canapé.  However, you can use the standard-sized cucumber.  Make sure to use a mandolin to cut the cucumber slices equally thin for a prettier presentation. The chives are not only decorative but also add to the flavorful combination of this elegant canapé.

Cucumber & Smoked Salmon Canapé with Wasabi Cream
Serves 4
Prep time: 5-8 minutes
Cook time: none


  • 4 oz (120g) Asian cucumber (or any other cucumber)
  • 3.5 oz (100g) smoked salmon (sliced)
  • 1 Tablespoon cream cheese
  • 2 pea-size amounts of wasabi (can use wasabi paste or wasabi powder mixed with water)
  • 1-2 drops of soy sauce (low sodium preferred); optional  
  • Fresh chives, cut into 1 inch (2cm) portions


  1. Make wasabi cream by mixing the cream cheese with the wasabi paste.
    1. Note: You can make your own wasabi paste by mixing wasabi powder with water (approximately 1 part water to 2 parts powder).
  2. Slice cucumbers using a mandolin for even slices. Pat dry and plate them.
  3. Cut the fresh chives into 1 inch (2cm) portions, reserve.
  4. Cut pieces of smoked salmon slices and form small rolls. Place salmon rolls on top of the cucumber slices.
  5. Place a little bit of the wasabi cream on top of the salmon (you can pipe it on top for a prettier appearance). Finish by decorating with the fresh chives.

Enjoy this simple and delicious appetizer that will surely impress your guests!


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Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese, Rosemary & Honey Spread

When in season, fresh figs are one of my favorite fruits. They are delicate and mildly sweet, which pairs well with savory flavors such as cheese, cured meats, and vegetables.  I just returned from Brazil where my cousin Daniela served wonderful fresh figs brought from a local organic farm; I miss them! The figs in Brazil are three times bigger than the ones I find in the US, juicier and more flavorful. Figs are delicious on their own, in salads, as an appetizer with cheese or prosciutto, as dessert with honey or in tarts, or as jam spread on bread. It has always been a dream of mine to have my own fig tree to pick from… though I may need to have more than just one tree!

Figs are a good source of fiber, copper, manganese, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and vitamin K according to the USDA.  They also contain many antioxidants such as flavonoids and polyphenols.

About this recipe
I first ate figs with goat cheese at my friend Halle’s house years ago. She taught me this simple recipe and I fell in love at first bite; never thinking to combine all of these wonderful ingredients together. The combination of the tart goat cheese with the slightly sweet flesh of the figs are enhanced with the spicy note of the pepper, extra sweetness from the honey and sweet earthy tone of the rosemary to bring it all together. You can serve this as an appetizer, or as a snack. You can try with dried figs if you cannot find fresh figs or when fresh figs are not in season. For this recipe, I used fresh California black figs.

Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese, Rosemary & Honey Spread
Serves 6-8
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: none


  • 16oz (450g) of fresh figs, cut in quarters if large or in half if small
  • 6 oz (160g) of goat cheese
  • 2 branches of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
  • 1 teaspoon of honey (or agave nectar)
  • Fresh ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Carefully wash and pat dry figs and cut them in half (if using small figs such as pictured above) or in quarters (if using large figs), set aside.
  2. Finely chop rosemary and combine with goat cheese, honey (or agave) and freshly ground black pepper. Use a fork to break the goat cheese and combine all ingredients. Place mixture in the refrigerator until ready to serve.
  3. When ready to serve; spread the mixture on the figs or serve the cheese mixture on the side as pictured above.

Enjoy this wonderful appetizer or snack with a glass of wine anytime!

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Lemon Buttermilk Breakfast Cake (Low Fat)

It is customary in Brazil to have a simple light cake for breakfast, afternoon tea or coffee. By ‘light’ I refer to the texture and not calories or fat content; since cakes don’t usually feel as heavy as their ingredients. My mother has a wonderful recipe for a simple breakfast cake in which I decided to add homemade buttermilk instead of milk for the liquid component. I usually save the leftover buttermilk from making ricotta to use in breads and cakes (click here for ricotta and buttermilk recipe: Homemade Ricotta – buttermilk from ricotta will last a week or two in the refrigerator).

Buttermilk substitution
I have to admit I never buy buttermilk. When I don’t have my homemade version, I simply add one tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup of milk and let it sit for a few minutes. This method creates the sour milk flavor of buttermilk (click here to see other tips and substitutions).

About this recipe
This recipe is wonderful and requires no butter or oil and simply uses eggs and buttermilk to give the cake its moisture. I have reduced the amount of sugar from my mother’s recipe and as mentioned above, substituted buttermilk for the milk. I added lemon zest for an extra touch of flavor and sweet fragrance. This is a low fat and delightfully fluffy cake, so go ahead and treat yourself to more than one serving, I guarantee you won’t be able to eat just one slice!

Lemon Buttermilk Breakfast Cake (low fat)
Yields 16 servings (using a 10-inch/26cm diameter baking pan)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30-40 minutes
Cooking Temperature: 350°F/180°C


  • 2 cups (280g) all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup of buttermilk (click here for homemade version or for substitution)
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Zest of 1 small lemon
  • Butter (for greasing baking pan)
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Butter and flour the baking pan and set aside.
  2. First separate the egg yolks from the whites and beat the egg whites into stiff peaks. Set aside.
    1. Note: Beating the egg whites separately incorporates more air into the batter; which is a very important step to achieving a soft fluffy cake.
  3. Combine egg yolks, lemon zest, and sugar and beat until achieving a smooth and pale yellow cream.
  4. Sift flour and add to the egg cream mixture. Mix at low speed while slowly adding the buttermilk. Increase speed to medium until well blended.
  5. Slowly combine 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the batter (the batter will feel a bit “heavy” so incorporate the egg whites slowly not to take away the “airiness”). When well mixed, slowly combine the rest of the egg whites into the mixture.
  6. Add the baking powder and slowly incorporate it into the batter; do not over mix at this point.
    1. Note: Baking powder is very delicate and should always be added as a last step whenever possible.
  7. Slowly pour mixture into greased and floured baking pan.
  8. Bake for approximately 30-40 minutes (depending on size of pan and your stove) until the top is golden brown (you can also measure by sticking a toothpick in the cake; if it comes out clean, the cake is done).
  9. Allow cake to slightly cool before removing from pan.

Serve the cake with fruits, jam or on its own, at breakfast or as a snack anytime of the day. Enjoy!

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Three Bean Salad… in 5 minutes!

Beans are a basic food staple all over the world. It is a legume rich in protein, and often one of the main ingredients in a vegetarian’s diet. I love beans hot or cold: in soup, with rice, or on their own. There are thousands of varieties of beans in the world, all of which have different colors, shapes and flavors.  The Three Bean Salad below can be modified to include any type of bean (and even more than just three varieties) to your liking. Have fun experimenting with different flavors in this simple salad for a quick and nutritious dish that goes well with meats or chicken or on its own.  I sometimes eat it with couscous or greens for a lighter vegetarian meal. 

Nutritious & Delicious
Beans are a good source of fiber, protein, iron, vitamin B9 (folate), and complex carbohydrates making it a nutritious addition to any meal – be sure to read the label to find exact amount, as different beans offer different nutritional values of each nutrient.

About this recipe
My mother has been making mixed beans salad for as long as I can remember. She always uses a variety of beans, usually three, for a colorful mixture. I like the variety of colors and flavors of the white, brown and black beans.  You can use any white, brown or black bean of your choice. Alternatively, you can cook your own beans by soaking them overnight in water and cooking them until tender. However, for a quick meal, you can use canned beans. Be mindful to read the label and make sure there are no chemical agents added to preserve the beans.  I like to wash the beans in water before using them to remove the water and salt they were canned with. This is a quick salad that can be served as a side dish or a main dish anytime!

Three Bean Salad in 5 Minutes
Serves 4-6 (as main dish) or 6-8 people (as a salad/side dish)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: none (if using canned beans)


  • 1 can (approximately 15oz/425g) of black beans (preferably organic)
  • 1 can (approximately 15oz/425g) of white beans (Cannellini, White Northern, etc – preferably organic)
  • 1 can (approximately 15oz/425g) of brown/red beans (pinto beans, kidney beans, etc – preferably organic)
    • 3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 medium tomato, chopped
    • 1 thin slice of red (purple) onion, finely chopped*
    • Fresh parsley, as much as you like
    • Fresh scallions, as much as you like
    • Salt and pepper, to taste

*NOTE: Although the red/purple onion is not as strong as the white one, it can still be too strong for some people. Therefore you can either leave it out of the recipe (since scallions are part of the onion family as well) or you can leave it in water while you prepare everything and add them at the end, in order to take the “sting” out of the onion.


  1. If using the red/purple onion, do this step first: finely chop the onion slice and place in a bowl of water (if you like the taste of raw onion, you can skip this step and just add the chopped onion to the rest of the ingredients).
  2. Open and drain the cans of beans. Carefully wash them with water to remove the water and salt from the can. Drain again and place them in a serving bowl.
  3. Chop the tomato, parsley, scallions and carefully mix with the beans.
  4. Drain the onions and add them to the bean salad.
  5. Season with olive oil, salt and pepper and it is ready to serve or leave it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

This quick bean salad will last days in the refrigerator; just add a little more olive oil before serving it and voilà: dinner is ready.  Hope you enjoy!

Posted in Brunch/Breakfast, Entree (lunch/dinner), Healthy Cookture, Light Dishes, Salads, Side Dishes, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment