Monthly Archives: March 2012

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Basil



4 boneless chicken breast halves

4 oz. fresh goat cheese

2 scallions, thinly sliced

8 basil leaves, shredded or sliced very thinly

¼. t. coarsely ground pepper

½ c. flour

1 egg, beaten with 2 T. water until frothy

1 c. Italian seasoned breadcrumbs

Oil for frying

Mushroom Sauce

4 T. butter

½ pound mushrooms. Sliced

¼ c. dry white wine

2/3 c. chicken stock

4 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into 4 pieces

Salt and pepper


Flatten each chicken breast between sheets of plastic wrap to a thickness of ¼ inch using meat mallet.  Combine cheese, green onions, basil and pepper in small bowl.  Divide the cheese mixture lengthwise over half of each chicken piece.  Tuck short ends in.  Roll chicken up, starting and one long side, into tight cylinders.  Dip each rolled chicken breast first in flour, egg and breadcrumbs.  In a large skillet, fry the chicken breasts in oil until golden brown, transfer to baking dish and keep warm at 200 degrees while you make the sauce.

For sauce:  In a skillet over medium heat, melt butter and sauté mushrooms until tender, about 8 minutes.  Add wine and boil 3 minutes.  Add stock and boil until liquid is reduced by half, about 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and swirl in 4 tablespoons cold butter, one piece at a time.  Season sauce with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Cut rolls crosswise into ½ inch thick rounds.  Fan out on plates.  Serve immediately, passing sauce separately.

Herb and Onion Bread


½ c. milk

1 ½ T. sugar

1 t. salt

1 T. butter

1 pkg. active dry yeast

½ c. warm water (110o)

2 ¼ c.whole wheat flour

½ small onion, minced

½ t. dried dill weed

1 t. dried rosemary, crushed


Scald milk and dissolve in it sugar, salt and butter.  Cool to lukewarm.  Dissolve yeast in warm water.  Add cooled milk, flour, onions and herbs.  Stir well.  When smooth, cover bowl with towel and let dough rise in warm place until triple in bulk or for about 45 minutes.  Stir down and beat vigorously for a few minutes.  Turn into a greased loaf pan.  Let stand for 10 minutes.  Bake at 350o F for one hour.

Garlic and Herbs


Italian cooking uses the freshest ingredients and would not be complete without the distinctive flavor of garlic and fresh herbs. When Gretchen and I took cooking classes in Florence, I remember being impressed with the way our chef instructor would rush out the back door of the kitchen and pick fresh herbs from pots in the back yard to use in the recipes he was preparing. Parsley, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, and garlic, although not an herb, are essential to Italian cooking.

Garlic is a member of the onion family and is one of the most essential flavorings used in Italian cooking. Italians consumed 108 million pounds of garlic in 2006, a 4 percent increase over the previous year, according to Coldiretti, Italy’s leading farmers association. Garlic is a bulbous plant of the genus allium. It grows underground in large bulbs or “heads” with a papery skin. Inside each head are anywhere from 10 to 20 cloves. Garlic’s most well known medicinal property is that of an antibiotic, as the allicin in raw, crushed garlic has been shown to kill 23 types of bacteria. It has also historically been used for repelling mosquitos and scorpions, treating dog bites and to increase stamina. Vitamins A, B, and C, in garlic stimulate the body to fight carcinogens and get rid of toxins, and may even aid in preventing certain types of cancer, such as stomach cancer. Garlic’s sulfur compounds can regulate blood sugar metabolism, stimulate and detoxify the liver, and stimulate the blood circulation and the nervous system. Garlic is found in a variety of sausages and salamis and is used in recipes to flavor meats and sauces.

Flat-leaf Italian parsley is much more flavorful than the curly, decorative variety that we use most often in the U.S. Its medicinal properties include use as a breath freshener, digestive aid, and in tea to treat high blood pressure and rheumatism. Because it is high in vitamins A and C, it has also been used as a quinine substitute to treat malaria. Parsley is used in meat marinades, soup stock, vegetable dishes and as a colorful garnish. The Greek word for basil, basilikon, means “regal herb.”

Basil is prolific throughout the Mediterranean region but grows primarily in summer, although it can be cultivated during the other seasons in greenhouses. The most common variety of basil is Sweet Italian Large Leaf, although Genovese Basil is also used. One variety of basil, Ocimum gratissimum, is believed to have mosquito-repellent properties. Basil, combined with oil, garlic and pine nuts is the essential ingredient in fresh pesto sauce. Basil also complements tomato sauces and is essential in the classic Caprese salad – tomato, mozzarella di bufala and basil drizzled with olive oil.

The name “oregano” comes from the Greek words oros, for mountain, and ganos, for splendor. This aromatic herb is a perennial that grows wild in the mountains and flourishes in late summer, in warm, sunny fields. Its delicate flowers have a reddish-pink tint and thick, dark green, velvety leaves. Oregano has been used for various medicinal purposes throughout history. Its pure oil extract helps in the reduction of tooth pain and when poured directly into the tooth cavity, it acts as an analgesic. In cooking, oregano compliments tomatoes and olive oil, and is an essential seasoning for pizza. It is often sprinkled on bruschetta, and included in meat marinades.

Rosemary has a tea-like aroma and piney flavor. It is a spiky perennial bush common to the coastal regions of Italy and other Mediterranean countries, characterized by silvery green leaves similar to pine needles. It is a symbol or remembrance and friendship. Rosemary is used to relax muscles, calm nerves and as an antiseptic. It is a wonderful addition to potatoes and roasted meats like lamb, pork, chicken, and rabbit, and is added to foccacia bread.

“Sage” derives its name from the Latin salus, for health, and refers to the herb’s curative properties. An evergreen perennial, sage flowers in early to late summer and flourishes in sandy, dry soil. Sage’s medicinal properties include stopping the bleeding of wounds, calming asthma attacks, stimulating menstrual flow and decreasing milk flow in lactating women. In lotion form, it is useful for treating sores and other skin problems. Also, as a hair rinse, it removes dandruff and gives hair a softer and shinier texture. Sage is one of the most commonly used herbs in Italian cooking. It seasons poultry, veal, rabbit, fish and butter-based pasta sauces without overshadowing other flavors.

Egg Tagliarini with Sour Cream Clam Sauce


1—12 oz. pkg. Egg Tagliarini

2-3 cloves, garlic, minced

1 c. butter, cut up.

2 cans (10 oz each) whole baby clams

1 c. sour cream (room temperature)

1/4 c. fresh flat Italian leaf parsley, chopped


Drain clams, reserving one T. clam liquid.  Into a large sauce pan, pour remaining liquid into pasta water.  Cook egg Tagliarini according to package directions. Drain and return to large sauce pan.  In a separate sauce pan over medium heat, sauté garlic in 2 T. butter.  Add remaining butter and heat until melted.  Add clams and reserved clam liquid.  Stir in sour cream. Heat but do not boil.  Add sauce to tagliarini and stir to coat pasta. Serve garnished with parsley. Serves 4-6.



Linguine with Clam Sauce


3 T. butter

3 T. flour

2 c. milk

¾ t. salt

1 T. parsley

1 T. minced onion

2 c. steamed clams, removed from shells and chopped or 2-6 ½ oz. cans minced clams, drained

1-4oz. can mushrooms, pieces and stems, drained

16 oz. linguine

Paprika for garnish


In a sauce pan over medium heat, melt butter and gradually stir in flour to make a roux.  Gradually add milk, stirring constantly and cook until it begins to thicken.  Add salt, parsley, onion, chopped clams and mushrooms.  Reduce heat to simmer while you prepare linguini according to package directions.  Spoon sauce over the linguine and garnish each serving with paprika. Serves 6.

The Circuit Hike

The next day was our day off and Brandi and I decided to take a 45 minute circuit hike around Positano. We left the apartment at about 9 AM and stopped at the coffee shop for a cup of cappuccino and a pastry (for energy?) and then headed down to the beachfront.

I had purchased the Sunflower Landscapes book “Sorrento– Amalfi—Capri” by Julian Tippet which described the walk as “a moderate hike.” Craig and I had maintained a section of the Appalachian Trail when we lived in Virginia and we did a lot of hiking.  I was looking forward to exploring the outdoors in Italy. The circuit hike sounded like a good one with which to start.  Eventually I wanted to tackle the Sentiero degli Dei (Walk of the Gods) which is supposed to be a spectacular hike along the mountain ridges.

We started with what promised to be an easy path to Fornillo beach, adjacent to the main beach at Positano and guarded by two ancient stone towers.  We followed paved stones set in the sand past the quiet beach, sea canoes that you can rent, and a beachside bar.  We located the steps leading up the hill and started ascending, and ascending, (whew!) and ascending! The guide book said “Ascend these until you reach Fornillo church.”  It failed to mention that the church was a long, long way up. Every time we got to what we thought was the top, the stairs turned the corner an continued to climb towards the sky. I think we climbed at least 2,000 steps (if that’s a “moderate” hike according to my guide book, I can’t imagine what a strenuous one would be!)  It took us two hours and when we reached the top we were drenched with perspiration.

As we walked along the paved street past shops in the upper village, a young Italian man emerged from a beauty salon with two brochures which he handed to us. He looked concerned as he examined our bright red faces and pantomimed that we could use the brochures as fans to cool ourselves.

Grazie,” we smiled and accepted the brochures with a nod of thanks. Exhausted, we stopped at a sidewalk café overlooking Positano and after ordering large bottles of ice cold acqua naturale, we shared pasta with a clam sauce

The view of the sea was beautiful from the top of the hill, but we were glad when we were able to walk on a road that curved down the hill. On the way we passed a small grocery store, where I purchased a bottle of the local white wine, Falanghina, to take back to the apartment.  When we reached the village center, Brandi wanted to stop at the news stand to look for paperback Italian pastry cookbooks which she had heard that they carried.

That evening, over a glass of the chilled wine, we agreed it had been a great walk and spent a couple of hours translating some of the recipes in Brandi’s cookbooks and reviewing cooking terms.

I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep and had just drifted off when David started pounding on my bedroom door.

“Marcia, come quick,” he urged.  “It’s an emergency!”

I swung my feet over the side of the bed and splashed them into a wet puddle. The apartment was flooded! David had been doing laundry when the washer hose that sends water out of the machine had come loose from the wall.  The hose gyrated like a snake spewing water into the bathroom and down the hall. David, Brandi and I grabbed available bath towels, sopped up the water and wrung them out in the bathroom sink, slipping and sliding on the wet towels as we did so.  It took us an hour to clean up the mess.

“If only we had some duct tape,” I said.  “We could secure the hose to the pipe in the wall.”

“Kirsten brought everything in the world with her in two 100 lb bags, and I think she actually has some duct tape.” replied Brandi.  “It’s a shame she’s in Ravello.  Even if we had a car so we could go get it, the gas prices are £1.43 liter!”

Our neighbor, Paulo, is our landlord, so I went next door to tell him what had happened.

“I call the repair man in the morning,” he promised.

The next evening, it took us 10 loads of wash to get the towels clean again! The washer was very, very small and vibrated wildly during the spin cycle.  There were towels drying all over the front lawn on porch railings, clothes lines & drying racks.


Chicken and Broccoli Pizza

Pizza Dough

1 pkg. active dry yeast

1 c. warm water (110o)

2 ½ c flour

2 T. oil

1 t. sugar

1 t. salt


1 boneless chicken breast, cut into strips

1 T. extra virgin olive oil

2 c. tomato sauce

1 T. oregano leaves

2 t. thyme

½ t. garlic salt

½ c. sliced red onions

½ c. sliced yellow bell pepper

½ c. sun dried tomatoes

½ c. fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 c. fresh broccoli florets

2 jalapenos, seeded and sliced (optional)

3 c. grated mozzarella cheese


Preheat oven to 450o F. To make the pizza dough, dissolve yeast in warm water.  Stir in flour, oil, sugar and salt.  Beat 25 strokes or until mixture forms a ball.  Cover and let rest five minutes. Grease fingers and spread out dough on baking sheet to form a 14” round.  In a skillet over medium heat, sauté chicken strips in oil until done. Spread tomato sauce on the pizza dough.  Season the sauce with oregano, thyme and garlic salt.  Distribute onions, bell pepper, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli and chicken strips on top of sauce.  Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and bake at 450o F. for 10-15 minutes.  (For crispier crust, prebake five minutes before adding ingredients.)

Duck Pizza


Pizza Dough

1 pkg. active dry yeast

1 c. warm water (110o)

2 ½ c flour

2 T. oil

1 t. sugar

1 t. salt


4 duck breasts

2 T. olive oil

1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced

2 c. provolone Cheese, grated

Hoisin sauce, bottled


To prepare duck breasts: Score skin side with a sharp knife in a criss-cross pattern.  In a frying pan on medium high heat, sear duck breasts in olive oil.  Cover pan, reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Remove skin and cut duck breast into ½ inch pieces. Set aside while you make the pizza dough. Dissolve yeast in warm water.  Stir in flour, oil, sugar and salt.  Beat 25 strokes or until mixture forms a ball.  Cover and let rest five minutes. Divide dough into four portions.  Grease fingers and spread out dough on baking sheet to form four 8” rounds.  Spread Hoisin sauce on each pizza dough round. Divide duck breast, scallions and provolone cheese between the four pizzas. Bake at 425o F. for 10-15 minutes.  (For crispier crust, prebake five minutes before adding ingredients.) Cut into wedges and serve hot.


My day in the kitchen was beginning to follow a routine.  When I first arrived at the hotel, I changed into my uniform and then got a cup of espresso from Domenico.  He was the barista for the restaurant.  Then I donned a fresh apron and started working.

In the mornings we did a lot of prep work.  At first I thought they were giving me all the tomatoes to dice, carrots and potatoes to peel and zucchini to shred with the mandoline because I was the intern or apprentice (or maybe a woman?).  But I looked around and noticed that everyone was dicing and slicing ingredients for the day’s recipes.  Chef posted the daily specials on the bulletin board along with that day’s employee menu.  We washed lettuce, separated basil, made tomato sauce, cleaned fish and grated Parmigiano cheese each morning.

After the employee lunch, I changed into a clean apron and followed the other chefs through the main dining room and hotel lobby to the elevator etched into the rocky hillside at the back of the hotel.  We traveled down several levels to the restaurant. The restaurant by the pool is open air with views of theMediterranean. Tables are set with white table cloths and flowers. Hanging baskets adorn the thatched roof. They serve about 50-60 people during lunch service and guests dine in pool attire. White jacketed waiters (no waitresses) took the orders and brought them to an open counter that separated the smaller kitchen from the open air dining room. They read out the orders in Italian and then place the order slip under a paperweight on the counter.  One chef manned the brick pizza oven and grill, another handled all the cold salads and appetizer plates, one assembled the desserts and Alessandro was in charge of preparing the pasta and main dish.

“Let me show you how to make an Italian pizza.”  Alessandro said as lunch service ended. He led me over to the alcove in the dining room where the brick oven was located.

“This is our pizza oven.  It is made of brick and is fired by wood.  It is supposed to keep an even temperature, but it has a crack in it and cooks unevenly.”  He opened a refrigerated, stainless steel drawer beneath the oven and extracted a round ball of pizza dough.  Alessandro flattened it with his hands and carefully rolled it out with a marble rolling pin.

“I thought you were supposed to toss it in the air,” I said.

He smiled, “That is only in the movies.”  He spread sliced tomatoes on the flattened round of dough and adorned it with fresh mozzarella cheese.  Alessandro scooped it up with a flat, wooden paddle and inserted it into the oven near the hot coals.  We watched the cheese melt and he turned it slightly to keep the crust from burning.  Then he removed it with the wooden paddle and placed it on the counter.  Alessandro sliced the pizza with a sharp knife and handed me a piece.

“This is Pizza Margherita,” he said. It was delicious!

When I returned to Positano, I always went down to the internet cafe to check my email.  Brandi was using the computers at the internet café when I got there after work.  We talked for a few minutes and she told me what her kids were doing. I purchased a bottle of water and found a stool in front of a computer.

Craig emailed that he had been spending a lot of time working on our lawn and clearing a path down the hillside behind our property to the beach. He sounded resentful that I wasn’t there to help and seemed to indicate that he was working hard while I was having fun. Although I felt a little guilty about not being there helping, I decided not to address his complaints. Instead, I complimented him on all the work he was doing. I told him what I’d been doing in the kitchen and thanked him again for encouraging me to become a chef.

After answering emails, I headed back up the stone steps that would take be to the apartment. I found our neighbor Paulo watering the vegetables and flowers in his garden.  Paulo was in his mid-70s – short and wiry, his skin was like tanned leather and he always had a smile on his face. He was the one who had planted basil in lieu of grass in our front yard, and he regularly harvested the huge lemons from the trees that shaded the laundry on our clotheslines.

Basil & lemons in our front yard


            “Buona sera. Good afternoon,” he greeted me.


Buona sera,” I replied.  “Come sta oggi? How are you today?”


Molto bene. Very well. I have been making limoncello.” He turned off his hose and asked, “Have you tried it? Let me pour you a glass of my homemade recipe,” he offered as he invited me into his apartment. Paulo told me his recipe started with grain alcohol as he poured me a tiny little glass of the chilled liquid. Whoa!  It was like fire going down and made my eyes water.


“Oh,” I choked. “That tastes nice and lemony.” It was not as smooth as the limoncello we had purchased for the apartment, and it was the nicest thing I could think of to say.


Positano is…

Pastel-colored stucco buildings, weathered by the sun and wind, spilling down steep hillsides that plunge to the turquoise sea;

Purple Bougainville-draped arbors, lemon trees laden with aromatic fruit and gray-green olive trees clinging to the terraced slopes;

Laundry dancing on balcony railings and clotheslines strung from window to window above the narrow cobblestone alleyways.

A rooster crows “koo-kee-eye-oh” that sounds like the word cucchiaio which means “spoon” in Italian;

A stray cat softly mewing as it stretches itself in the morning sun;

The whoosh of cappuccino machines and the aroma of fresh-baked pastries wafting out open windows;

Melodic church bells calling the devout to mass.

A gray sand beach speckled with towels and beach chairs you can rent by the day;

Blue and yellow row boats lined up on the beach waiting to be inspected by fishermen;

Old men playing the card game Scopa on the sidewalk outside the internet café;

Artists at their easels capturing the town in vibrant colors on canvas.

Shop keepers standing in doorways smoking cigarettes;

Tourists strolling by with cones of gelato inspecting brightly-colored beach towels and t-shirts, Hand-painted ceramic bowls, and Rows of handmade leather sandals bedecked in jewels.

The whine of motor scooters and the screech of bus brakes as they maneuver the tight turns along the cliffs above the village;

The smell of garlic and olive oil wafting on a balmy breeze;

Cafes with tables on the sidewalk;

Shouts from a bar when Italy’s team scores a soccer goal and occasional fireworks that celebrate a victory.

 …where I lived one summer