5@5 - Surprising components of the Italian dinner table
April 2nd, 2012
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

The Italian food most Americans love - spaghetti and meatballs, baked ziti, sausage and peppers - is as red-blooded (and red-sauced) American as it is Italian.

In authentic Italian food, whole fish, game and offal are customary; and a great deal of the country's culinary landscape embraces cocina povera, or “peasant cooking," as well as living off the land's fresh fruits and vegetables.

This simplicity - sometimes from unexpected ingredients - plays a key part in living la dolce vita, according to David Rocco.

Rocco is an Italian cookbook author and the host of “David Rocco’s Dolce Vita” and "David Rocco’s Amalfi Getaway” on the Cooking Channel.

Five Surprising Components of the Italian Dinner Table: David Rocco

1. Chestnut flour
"We’ve all heard of chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but how about chestnut polenta? Common to Tuscan cooking in the fall, chestnuts are a surprisingly versatile ingredient in Italian cooking that you’ll go nuts for.

The flour is surprisingly sweet with a gorgeous nutty flavor that makes wonderful desserts like castagnaccio (chestnut cake) and chestnut fritters. It’s also wonderful for those who have a sensitivity to wheat, since it does not contain gluten."

Chestnut Fritters (Frittelle di Castagne)
Serves 6

1 3/4 cups (400 ml) of chestnut flour
2 cups (450 ml) water
Pinch of salt
extra virgin olive oil, for deep frying
icing sugar

Mix the chestnut flour and the water together until the mixture is smooth and just slightly thicker than a pancake batter. Add a pinch of salt and give it a good mix.

Heat up the olive oil in a large frying pan over high heat. Just before the oil starts to smoke start adding your fritter batter in small ladlefuls. Don’t overcrowd the pan.

Cook until they’re golden on both sides. As each one is done, put them on a plate covered with an absorbent paper towel to soak up any excess oil.

Plate them and sprinkle with icing sugar.

2. Lemons
"On set of my new series 'David Rocco’s Amalfi Getaway,' we learned that the juice from a lemon is really just the tip of the iceberg. Everywhere along the Amalfi Coast, people cook with lemon zest, rind and even the leaves. Lemon zest is an easy way to add a sunny flavor to many dishes, including pasta.

Often, when we stopped for a lemon granita (lemon ice), we found there were little chunks of rind in there that were a burst of flavor and added a fun texture.

We even did some grilling on lemon leaves (and you can too): the oils from the leaves infuse the meat or cheese with lemony flavor, and, believe me, there were no sourpusses at the table!"

3. Couscous
"Couscous is a grain most would associate with African cooking, but it is also one of Sicily’s culinary specialties. From using it as a pasta with a great sauce, to substituting it for bread in a panzanella, this grain can do it all. Or sweeten it up as the Italians do with honey, raisins, candied fruit, and pine nuts for an exotic dessert.

In San Vito Lo Capo, just outside Palermo, they have a weekend festival where - you guessed it - couscous is the star ingredient!"

4. Wine (just trust me, here)
"Sure, we’ve all cooked with wine before, but how about making it the star ingredient in a dessert? In Chianti, during the harvest, they will make sweet pizza using the Sangiovese grape (the primary grape of Chianti Classico) by splashing the dough with Chianti wine and sprinkling it with sugar.

And if baking isn't your thing, substitute your vegetable broth with a good Chianti wine when making a risotto for a full-bodied dish that is not short on flavor.

Or for one of my summertime favorites, add fresh-cut peaches to a pitcher of wine for a delicious post-dinner infusion."

5. Kiwi
"Did you know that Italy is the largest producer of kiwi fruit in the world? Italians simply love this fruit and I love it even more in a cocktail.

Kiwi slices muddled with vodka, simple syrup, and a splash of Prosecco makes for a unique Italian cocktail - and I bet you thought New Zealand had the kiwi market covered."

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Bite • Italy • Think • Travel

soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Rosanna

    I agree Spaghetti & meatballs, Baked Ziti not a typical Italian dish found in Italy, but being full blooded Calabrese straight from the old country I can tell you Homemade Spicy Sausage Onions & Peppers is a very typical dish in most true Italian homes!

    April 6, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  2. Shanequa

    Dont be get me started on collard green!!!!!!

    April 4, 2012 at 3:05 pm |
  3. BlackMammy

    Good Lawd! Kiwi make me half to take a dyarear on da turrlet!!!

    April 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
    • Tyrone

      Corn do dat 2 me!!!

      April 4, 2012 at 3:03 pm |
    • Shanequa

      Praise da Lawd!! Catfish give me da runs!!

      April 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm |
  4. donnasalerno

    Love your blog – Grazie Mil David! Always nice to learn a new cooking technique or custom – especially with the kiwi!

    April 4, 2012 at 9:33 am |
  5. Christopher

    To Accuracy In Reporting: Tomato.. Tomaato. Couscous is DERIVED from a grain, PERIOD. David said it right.

    To Elisa: I'm pretty sure it was a typo. Not that serious.

    April 4, 2012 at 1:47 am |
  6. Elisa

    It's not "cocina povera" but "cucina povera". Having said that, Italians do eat whole fish, game and offal.


    April 3, 2012 at 10:19 pm |
  7. healthy recipes for dinner

    This is very interesting, You're a very professional blogger. I have joined your feed and sit up for in quest of more of your fantastic post. Additionally, I have shared your site in my social networks

    April 3, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  8. Dan

    I'll try making my mushroom risotto with Chianti instead of beef broth. Maybe 50-50?

    Being from a large Italian-American family I do shake my head when my friends think Olive Garden or baked ziti is Italian cuisine. I've been eating peaches and wine for dessert since age 3 and buy lemons by the bushel. I recently made my own sausage with vermouth and orange zest.....killer on the grill.

    April 3, 2012 at 5:52 pm |
  9. 4initalia

    I lived in Northern Italy for a year, and never saw a kiwi in the market. There were avocados, that were oddly never ripe. But there were so many mouthwatering options – pistachio nuts – from Iran – baby artichokes – melon with prosciutto and Parma ham, to drizzle with real balsalmico aceto – even to a vegetarian, that looked amazing. Compared to Italy, in America reality bites.... http://4initalia.wordpress.com/2009/12/02/reality-bites/

    April 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
  10. Accuracy in reporting

    Couscous is not a "grain" - it is a pasta made from Semolina (grain), just like most other pastas.

    April 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm |
  11. Christen

    I would have never thought about using couscous as a sort of dessert, but I will definitely have to give it a whirl!

    April 3, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  12. ~_~

    Mi ha colpito!

    April 3, 2012 at 6:46 am |
  13. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    I did not know that about Kiwi. I always figured they came from New Zealand or something. In my FACE!

    April 2, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
    • Kip

      The New Zealand nickname comes from the bird, not the fruit..........

      April 3, 2012 at 4:47 am |
      • Nomad

        Non Sequitur. Faulty! Faulty!

        April 4, 2012 at 6:57 am |
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