Tony Stallone's Italian recipes

Peapod grocer Tony Stallone showcases authentic Italian products and recipes.

From Tony Stallone:

What makes a good olive oil? What is the difference between an extra virgin olive oil, 100 percent pure olive oil and a simple virgin olive oil? How should I store my olive oil? How long does it keep? What should I use it for?

Here are the answers: A good olive oil has a beautiful bouquet to the nose and delicate non-oily flavor on the tongue. The first cold press (cold press is meant to say the oil is extracted from the olives without heating) is usually the first press of olives, the second press is referred to as virgin olive oil and the subsequent presses are simply olive oil which can be extracted from the olives using heat or even chemicals. Always store your olive oils in a cool, dark place away from sunlight which can turn your olive rancid much more quickly. Italian producers suggest olive oil needs to be consumed within 18 months of bottling and good producers like Academia Barilla will put a must use by date on the bottle (this is a trend we see more producers doing). I could go on and on about olive oils, but here are a few good tips to remember; a good extra virgin olive oil should be used to drizzle (a tablespoon of olive oil contains 120 calories) on top of vegetables or meats and use in a homemade salad dressing. You should use a 100 percent olive oil for sautéing ( I tend to use a less expensive extra virgin for this), olive oil has a higher smoke point than extra virgin olive oil and is considerably cheaper as well.

Let's move onto the featured in seasonal Italian vegetables this month, baby artichokes. There are two prime seasons for artichokes, spring and fall. Baby artichokes are actually fully-matured artichokes that grow on the branches of the artichoke plant rather than the main stem (the ones on the main stem are your typical bigger ones, and the largest of all artichokes grows on the top of the plant). I love baby artichokes because they are easy to clean, you do not have to fuss with the fuzz in the middle as with the big ones because there is none, and they are practically all edible. I have prepared roasted baby artichokes for everyone to try that is simple to make that all of our viewers will enjoy and also brought an artichoke salad (see recipes below). Baby artichokes are great prepared like this, served mixed with pasta or sautéed and served on their own. I think after we educate viewers we will see more people enjoying this healthy (high in vitamin C and fiber) vegetable that was once only thought of in Italian or fine dining restaurants.

To finish, we will enjoy an appetizer; Bruschetta Mario (pronounced Bru sketta, in Italian ch is pronounced with a hard K, not cha; a pet peeve of mine), I love this appetizer because it is not only simple and delicious but also represents the colors of the Italian National flag.

Roasted Baby Artichokes

2lbs Baby artichokes

1/4C Extra Virgin Olive Oil

salt and pepper to taste

To prepare clean artichokes first; trim stem, pull off outer leaves leaving lighter green leaves then place in cold water lemon bath (1 part lemon 3 parts water). Remove from lemon bath. Once prepped, cut the larger artichokes in half, but if they are really small leave them whole. Place the artichokes in a pot of water to cover. Simmer artichokes for about seven or eight minutes or until just tender, then drain them well. When cooled slightly toss them in olive oil and bake in a baking dish, in a single layer, in a 450 degree oven for seven or eight minutes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. You can serve on the side as an accompaninent to meat or toss with Pasta and a good parmesan cheese. However you cook them, artichokes are very healthy as well as tasty. They are a good source of vitamin C, folate, fiber and a number of minerals especially potassium, phosphorus and magnesium. Serve warm.

Baby Artichoke Salad

4 medium sized artichokes

1 medium lemon

1/4t Academia Barilla Black Olive Sicilian Sea Salt *

Pepper to taste

1/2C Academia Barilla Unfiltered extra virgin olive oil *

4 to 6oz shaved slices of Academia Barilla Pecorino Gran Cru *

Wash, clean (removing the outer layer) and cut the artichokes in half. Slice the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into a medium size glass bowl (sometimes react with metal dishes). Remove the center of the artichoke if present and discard. With the remaining artichokes, slice thinly and place in bowl with lemon (the lemon juice will keep the artichokes from discoloring. Mix the cut artichokes in the lemon juice and drain. Add the oil, salt and pepper to taste. Plate the artichoke salad and place a few shavings of the cheese on top Bruschetta alla Mario

1 French baguette cut into 1/4" slices

2oz Academia Barilla Parmesan Spreadable Cheese *

1 jar of Academia Barilla Cherry tomato topping *

15 to 20 Sicilian pitted Nocellara Del Belice Olives *

Toast bread in 400-degree oven until just crisp, but not burned let cool , spread the Parmigianino spreadable cheese on it, half teaspoon of the Sicilian cherry tomato topping, and top it with the Sicilian pitted Nocellara del Belice olive. Plate and serve as wonderful appetizer, just a little twist on a typical bruschetta dish

* All above Academia Barilla products available at Peapod and other fine Grocers around Chicago.

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