Three Recipes from ‘Italy by Ingredient: Artisanal Foods, Modern Recipes’ by Viola Buitoni


Photos by Molly DeCoudreaux

From left: Crostata di crema di polenta con pere e amaretti, Polo con olive nere al profumo di salvia e arancio, Cicorie d’inverno in salsa di acciughe. (Photos by Molly DeCoudreaux, used with permission from Italy by Ingredient by Viola Buitoni, copyright 2023 by Rizzoli Books)

Author Viola Buitoni will appear at Taste of Italy at Rockridge Market Hall on October 14, 2023. Read more about the event here.


Crostata di crema di polenta con pere e amaretti
(Polenta custard tart with pears and amaretti)

(Used with permission from Italy by Ingredient by Viola Buitoni, copyright 2023 by Rizzoli Books)

This tart is a fall-into-winter pleasure particularly suited for afternoon tea with a spoonful of clotted cream or crème fraîche. Because the timing and texture of quick-cooking polenta differs from brand to brand, you may need to adjust the milk to get to the correct density. If amaretti aren’t available, flavor the custard with 1 teaspoon almond extract and add some chopped almonds for texture. Make your life easier by using a tart pan with a removable bottom, if you have one. It makes unmolding the crostata a cinch.

For a 9- to 10-inch / 23- to 25-cm tart pan; for 6 to 8 people

  • Pasta frolla dough for one 10-inch / 25-cm tart shell (page 179)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1⁄4 cup / 50 g sugar
  • 1⁄4 cup / 30 g quick-cooking polenta
  • 2 to 3 cups / 475 to 700 ml whole milk
  • 2 ripe but firm pears (Boscs are ideal)
  • 12 amaretti

Make the pasta frolla dough as directed on pages 179–181, then roll out and line a 9- to 10-inch / 23- to 25-cm tart pan with a removable bottom. Refrigerate until needed.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until pale yellow and a little fluffy, with well-defined bubbles forming on the surface. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan, then sprinkle in the polenta, letting it fall between your fingers while stirring it in with a wooden spoon.

Pour the milk into a saucepan and heat over medium heat to just below boiling. Transfer the milk to a heatproof measuring pitcher. Set the saucepan with the polenta-egg mixture over medium heat and slowly stream in 2 cups / 475 ml of the hot milk while whisking continuously. Once the milk is in, continue whisking for about 5 minutes, until the polenta is fully cooked. Gauge the consistency: It should be dense but smooth and easy to whisk. If it isn’t, whisk in as much additional hot milk as necessary to achieve the right texture.

Turn off the heat, transfer the polenta custard to a cold bowl, and set it aside to cool completely.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and a second one in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 375˚F / 190°C / gas mark 5.

Cut each pear into quarters, then remove the core and stem. Slice each quarter into 4 slices. Crumble the amaretti coarsely. Use three-fourths of them to dust the bottom of the tart shell.

Pour the polenta custard over the amaretti and level it with a dampened offset spatula or dinner knife. Arrange the pear slices over the custard in concentric circles, leaving an empty circle in the center. Mound the remaining amaretti in the center circle.

Place the tart on a sheet pan, loosely tent it with aluminum foil, and slide it onto the rack in the lower third of the oven. Set a timer for 30 minutes. When it goes off, remove the foil and move the tart to the middle rack.

Set the timer for an additional 15 minutes, at the end of which you will test if the tart is done by touching its center; it should softly bounce but not jiggle. If the center still gives a little too much, return the tart to the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes, until it passes the bouncy versus jiggly test.

Remove the tart from the sheet pan and leave it just until the pan is cool enough to handle comfortably. Lift the tart from the outer pan ring and slide it from the bottom circle onto a plate large enough to contain it within its rim. Serve at room temperature.


Pollo con olive nere al profumo di salvia e arancio
Sage and orange–scented chicken with black olives

(Used with permission from Italy by Ingredient by Viola Buitoni, copyright 2023 by Rizzoli Books)

Back in the 1980s, rabbit was not a selection obvious to the butcher in the Upper East Side neighborhood to which I had moved straight from the Umbrian countryside, so I used chicken instead. The day the local Lebanese fruiterer was out of green olives, I bought some sun-dried black ones in their place. I added orange zest later, as my hand in the kitchen became surer of itself. And that is how the rabbit with green olives of my youth was reincarnated into the family favorite chicken. Instead of buying a whole chicken, you can use parts. Dark meat is always juicier, but if you prefer breast, braise it 6 to 8 minutes less or it will be dry. Rosemary, savory, or thyme is a good stand-in for sage, and any type of black olive will do. And it goes without saying that you can and should use rabbit if you like it and can source it.

For 6 to 8 people

  • 1 chicken, 4 to 5 pounds / 1.8 to 2.2 kg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup / 170 g black olives
  • 1 orange
  • 4 sage sprigs
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
  • 1 cup / 240 ml white wine
  • 1 cup / 240 ml chicken stock, heated

The day before making the dish, ask your butcher to cut the chicken into 10 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings, and 2 bone-in breast halves, each split in half). Make sure the back ends up in the package, too, as it will impart great flavor to the final dish. When you get home, sprinkle the chicken pieces on all sides with salt, cover, and refrigerate.

About an hour before you start cooking, take the seasoned chicken pieces out of the refrigerator, pat them dry, and leave them on the counter to come to room temperature.

Wash the brine off the olives well and place them in a small bowl. Squeeze each one lightly with your fingers to loosen the flesh from the pit and discard the pits. Cut 2 wide strips of peel from the orange. Rub 2 of the sage sprigs and the orange peel strips between your palms to release their essence and add them to the bowl.

Slant the blade of your knife until it is almost parallel to the cutting board and use the heel of your hand to gently press the blade down on 2 of the garlic cloves until you’ve cracked the skin. Peel the cloves and leave them whole. Keep one aside and add the other one to the olives. Pour enough oil into the bowl to barely cover the olives and toss well.

Grate 1 1⁄2 teaspoons zest from the orange. Peel the remaining garlic clove, then mince it into a paste with a generous pinch of salt. Mix the garlic and grated zest together. Rub the remaining 2 sage sprigs between your palms to release their essence.

Select a sauté pan wide enough to accommodate the chicken pieces in one cozy, but comfortable, layer. Pour 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil into the pan, add the whole peeled garlic clove, and over low heat slowly coax out the garlic’s fragrance.

Remove and discard the garlic, raise the heat to medium, and add the chicken pieces. Brown them for 5 to 7 minutes, until the chicken will lift off the pan without being forced or pulled. It should be golden. Turn the chicken pieces over and repeat the step on the other side, then move them to a plate.

Turn the heat back down to low, toss in the garlic-zest mixture and sage sprigs, and stir to coat them in chicken deliciousness until the garlic has softened. It will take a couple of minutes, and be careful not to burn the garlic. Return the chicken to the pan, raise the heat to high, and douse with the wine. When the acid of the alcohol no longer pinches your throat and punches your nose and its sugar sweetly caresses your eyes and cheeks instead, pour the hot stock over the chicken. The liquid should lap just the bottom one-quarter of the chicken.

Lower the heat until the stock is simmering with a low, gentle mutter. Cover partially and cook for 30 to 35 minutes. During cooking, you will visit with your chicken every 7 minutes or so to stir it and ensure it has between one half- and 1-inch liquid and isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan. If necessary, add a little hot water. It is important that there be enough liquid to have a good amount of sauce, but not so much that the chicken is boiling instead of braising.

When the chicken is about 10 minutes from ready, fish the garlic clove, orange peel strips, and sage out of the olives and drain off most of the marinating oil. Stir the olives into the pan and finish cooking the chicken.

The chicken is ready when it starts to barely retract from the joints and bones without falling away and is quite tender. It should look lustrous, luscious, and moist and smell like this is the last dish you’ll want to eat before dying.

Sample the sauce and adjust salt and pepper to your taste. Use tongs to attractively arrange the chicken pieces on a warm serving platter, douse with the sauce and olives, and serve.


Cicorie d’inverno in salsa di acciughe
Winter chicories with anchovy dressing

(Used with permission from Italy by Ingredient by Viola Buitoni, copyright 2023 by Rizzoli Books)

This salad is a classic on my Christmas table. If I can find them, I use puntarelle, as per the custom of the Roman Christmases of my childhood. Puntarelle are the tips of the crunchy heart that forms inside a head of overgrown chicory. If they are unavailable, I will use a mix of brightly colored radicchio varieties. The acid-to-fat ratio in the dressing follows my mother’s, but I use lemon instead of vinegar as I prefer it, and I keep the garlic scant. To push it into adult dinner-party territory, I add some pine nuts and currants.

For 6 people

  • 2 heads winter chicory (any kind of radicchio, escarole, or frisée)
  • 2 tablespoons dried currants
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 6 anchovy fillets packed in oil
  • 1 lemon
  • 1⁄2 garlic clove
  • Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
  • 1 or 2 pinches of red chili flakes
  • Salt

Clean and separate the chicory leaves and tear them by hand into pieces that can be manageably eaten. Drop the leaves into a salad spinner and rinse two or three times until all the dirt is gone. Submerge the clean green leaves in water, toss 8 to 10 ice cubes into the spinner, and leave the salad to crisp while you ready the rest of the ingredients.

Soak the currants in hot water. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat until hovering your hand over it feels quite uncomfortable. Toss in the pine nuts and turn off the heat. Swirl the pan to sweat and lightly toast the nuts.

Chop the anchovies roughly. Grate 1 1⁄2 teaspoons zest from the lemon, then juice the lemon and measure how much juice it yields. Put the anchovies, lemon zest and juice, and the garlic in a blender or small food processor.

Pour three times the amount of lemon juice in olive oil into a cup. Start the blender and slowly stream in the olive oil. You will yield a dense, lovely vinaigrette. Taste and adjust with salt if necessary. You can also do this by hand with a small whisk if you do not have an electric-powered device.

Drain the chicories and spin them three or four times, pouring out the moisture that gathers at the bottom between one cycle and the next. Move the dry leaves to a salad bowl and sprinkle them with the chili flakes and 1 teaspoon salt. Toss well.

Drain and squeeze the currants and add them to the salad bowl along with the toasted pine nuts.

Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons / 45 to 60 ml of the dressing along the side of the salad bowl, then toss with salad servers or clean hands until all the leaves are coated. Add more dressing if needed, keeping in mind that the leaves should glisten, not drip. Store any extra dressing for your next salad.