A TASTE OF SUNSHINE….SOUR CREAM LEMON LOAF

So here’s the story…when Stanley Tucci’s CNN Series SEARCHING FOR ITALY premiered weeks ago the first episode was on Napoli (Naples) and its surrounding region. A Spaghetti dish with fried Zucchini known as Spaghetti alla Nerano was featured and one of the key ingredients, infact what makes it the unique dish it is was a locally crafted cheese called PROVOLONE DEL MONACO. I needed to have it. A friend of mine, grazie to Angela Santarelli let me know of an online US Company that imports some hard to get Italian items so I took a look. The company is DOLCITERRA ( https://www.dolceterra.com/) and when I jumped into the website it was like a new door of possibilities opened up. Yes, they had the cheese I wanted but ohhhhhh they had so much more. One of the items was a case of LIMONE DI SORRENTO, lemons from the groves around Sorrento, the area is profumed with the most amazing lemons. They are larger, have a somewhate less sour and sweeter juice, and a thicker and tastier rind/skin than regular lemons. Oh I still love regular lemons, but these are exponentially more aromatic and tastier. I ordered. 4 weeks later my booty arrived. I’ve used them in salad dressings, cakes, savory dishes, drinks. These are prized for making Limoncello too. This is where it was invented, in Campania because of the amazing lemons. Who doesn’t like Lemon Loaf Cake? Ok, those who don’t can exit from the door on your left right now. The rest of you can stay. LOL. I’m a big fan of it so I thought i’d make an American classic, the Sour Cream Ice Lemon Loaf but use these amazing Sorrento Lemons. The result was a huge success. Now don’t look sad, I see you saying..”ughh. where am I going to get Sorrento lemons”. This recipe is for any lemons. The best to use would be fresh Organic Lemons that are firm and fragrant. And if you have Sorrento Lemons that’s just a bonus, but any lemons will work. Let’s get baking!!!

SOUR CREAM LEMON LOAF CAKE

TAKES 2 HOURS

FOR THE LOAF CAKE

3 LARGE FRESH EGGS, WELL BEATEN

1 CUP PLUS 2 TABLESPOONS GRANULATED SUGAR

1 CUP SOUR CREAM (I LIKE FAGE BRAND)

3 TABLESPOONS ORGANIC LEMON ZEST

JUICE OF ONE WHOLE LEMON (OR 2 TBS PURE LEMON EXTRACT)

*NOTE ON THE LEMON JUICE/EXTRACT. THE JUICE PROVIDES A BACKGROUND OF LIGHT LEMON ESSENCE. THE EXTRACT GIVES AN UP FRONT PUNCH OF LEMON, UP TO YOU

2 TEASPOON PURE VANILLA EXTRACT

1/2 CUP VEGETABLE OIL

1 1/2 CUPS SIFTED UNBLEACHED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR

2 TEASPOONS FRESH BAKING POWDER (CHECK YOUR EXPIRATION DATES BEFORE USING)

3/4 TEASPOON KOSHER SALT

ICING ( LEMON GLAZE)

1 CUP PLUS 2 TABLESPOONS OF CONFECTIONER’S SUGAR

3-4 TABLESPOONS OF FRESH SQUEEZED LEMON JUICE (LET ME STOP YOU RIGHT HERE, FRESH LEMONS ALWAYS, BOTTLED LEMON JUICE IS A VERY DIFFERENT TASTING PRODUCT, NOT GOOD IN THIS AT ALL)

2 TSPS. LEMON ZEST

1 TEASPOON PURE VANILLA EXTRACT.

Preheat the oven to 350 Degress F. Grease a 9X5 loaf pan with butter or spray shortening. Lightly dust with flour. Shake out excess.

Add the beat eggs to a large bowl and add the sour cream and sugar, whisk briskly. Add the lemon juice, the lemon zest, the vanilla and when fully combined slowly add the oil whisking steadily.

In another bowl mix the flour, baking powder and the salt. Gently blend with a fork till combined. Then add to the wet mixture until no lumps and fully incorporated. Don’t mix for too long.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan and place onto a heavy baking sheet (why? ever had a cake decide to grow and pour over the sides? you don’t want that mess on the bottom of your oven!!!

Bake on the center rack for 60 minutes or until the center comes out clean with a knife or toothpick. All ovens bake differently so once you’ve come to the 50 minute mark check the cake, It’s what I do. If you need more time check again after 10 minutes keeping a close eye on the whole thing. If your oven normally runs hot a foil loosely placed over the top helps prevent scorching.

most important: BE PATIENT. let this cool on a rack for 1 hour.

While it’s cooling, add the confectioners’ sugar and zest to a bowl. Add the lemon juice and vanilla and mix until it’s the right consistency. You may need more sugar. You may need more juice.

Feel the bottom of the loaf pan after an hour has passed. If it’s still warm, give it another hour. Gently Turn the loaf out of the pan. Place on a platter/plate. Then drizzle as little or as much of the glaze as you like. As you can see from the pic i like alot. That wonderful sweet tart sunny lemon glaze is something you want more than less of. This cake tastes best on day 2 if you can make it a day ahead of serving it. However, it tastes amazing on day one as well.

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PESCE OREGANATA….BAKED FISH TOPPED WITH SAVORY BREADCRUMBS AND HERBS

OREGANATA….An ItalianAmerican style of placing a savory breadcrumb topping over seafood or fish and then either broiling or baking it. Who hasn’t loved digging their teeth into a piping hot VONGOLE OREGANATA, those wonderful baked Clams Oreganata that are a quintessential ItalianAmerican restaurant starter? Fish is also given this treatment which all stems from various regional styles of topping a dish with a mixture of breadcrumbs, herbs, cheeses, olive oil, lemon. Each and every cook/chef/region has their way of doing this. In Napoletana it’s sometimes referred to as ARRIGANATA. The herbs are fresh parsley and dried Oregano (ORIGANO in Italian) and it’s the addition of the oregano that gives this dish it’s name. Accept no Oreganata without oregano in it. It’s just not right!! I can hear my mom right now saying Oregano…..she would pronounce it AHHH-RREGANA, clearly using her Napolitana-Lucana dialect. Any fish can be used in this dish but clearly different fish have different cooking times so always adjust to the type of fish you are using. In the picture is my favorite fish, Halibut. This was a piece of Wild Atlantic Halibut. Sidenote, the pasta on the side was simply garlic sauteed in extra virgin olive oil with whole Grape or Cherry Tomatoes softened in the hot oil, a little sea salt. then tossed with Spinach Linguine. Why Spinach Linguine? BECAUSE IT MAKES A COLORFUL PLATE!! Ok, that really wasn’t the reason even though it does, I had a box of Spinach Linguine in the pantry so I thought it would be PERFECT with the Halibut. Fresh fish matched with wine, olive oil and this topping are pure ItalianAmerican heaven. Let’s get into the kitchen now and create a beautiful meal without much hassle.

HALIBUT OREGANATA FOR 4

4 6 Ounce Halibut Filets

1 1/4 cup coarse PLAIN ITALIAN BREAD CRUMBS

2 TBS FINELY MINCED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

1 TSP. CRUMBLED GOOD DRIED OREGANO

3 TBS. GRATED PECORINO ROMANO

2 CLOVES OF GARLIC MINCED FINELY

1/3 TSP SEA SALT

1/2 TSP PEPERONCINO (CRUSHED DRIED RED CHILES)

3 TBS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

1 1/2 TSP FINELY GRATED LEMON ZEST

SALT AND PEPPER FOR SEASONING THE FISH

1/8 CUP WHITE WINE

JUICE OF 2 LEMONS

2 TBS OLIVE OIL

Pat the fish filets dry with paper towels. Lightly Season with salt and pepper. Place on a plate. Pre Heat oven to 400 Degrees F. In a bowl mix the breadcrumbs, herbs, pecorino, salt, peperoncino, olive oil lemon zest. Blend together. Place a layer of the breadcrumb mixture evenly divided on all 4 filets. Place in a baking dish you’ve placed 1 tbs of Olive oil in , 1/2 the lemon juice, and the wine. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top of the filets and place in the hot oven. Rule of thumb is 10 minutes of baking for every inch of fish. Best to use a thermometer to check the internal temp which shouldn’t be more than 120 degrees F. When the fish is done remove from the oven, baste with the pan juices and more lemon juice. That’s it. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it you’ll be baking all types of fish with this. Serve with rice or pasta or potatoes or a salad. Be creative. Happy Cooking!!

MOM’S CHRISTMAS EVE STUFFED CALAMARI, MY VERSION

Traditions, we all have them. Some we hold onto so tightly and never want to let go for fear of losing forever the people or places they remind us of. This is especially true when people in our lives pass away, when we physically are no longer near the places where these memories came from. Food is the connector often between that memory and the present day. Holidays seem to be a real trigger for these emotions and traditions. One way I keep my Mom and Dad at our Holiday dinners is by recreating in some way a dish that was served by them as we grew up. Specifically I’m talking about my Mom’s Stuffed Calamari (squid) in Sauce that was one of many Seafood dishes she served on Christmas Eve. For ItalianAmericans it was an extention of the old Catholic pre-Feast fasting, when the night before a religious holiday no meat was allowed. While this practice in the Catholic church is centuries gone, it became part of the Christmas Holiday traditions in Italy. No matter where you go in Italy there will be families that are only eating Fish or Seafood and in Italian America, since most of our ancestors came over 100 years ago to the USA we still celebrate their 100 year and older traditions. What changed between Italy and the USA over these 100 years is the amount of seafood and fish dishes that are served. Oh yes, there are a few places in Southern Italy where there’s a number attached to the amount of fish dishes on Christmas Eve but it’s not a majority practice. Somehow the name, Feast of the Seven Fishes was coined here in the USA and in the last 30 years it’s the name and sometimes practice ItalianAmericans follow. Historically, most of Southern Italy was quite poor 125 years ago and that’s why they immigrated in such large numbers to the USA. People living in those meager conditions would never have the means to pull off a multicourse fish and seafood dinner. Fishermen needed to sell the better fish to make a living and basically fed their family the unwanted bits and pieces. So that fish dinner on Christmas Eve was often a Brodetto, a mix of fish and seafood pieces that streched it into a meal for many. Baccala’, the dried Salt Cod was also a popular item because it was plentiful and kept for months before it was to be used. Coming to America the initial Christmas Eves, or La Vigilia as it’s called for the new Immigrants were small affairs similar to what they had in Italy with maybe a few more dishes here and there because all foods were more accessible and plentiful in the USA, especially the urban centers. Fast Forward to the first generation of ItalianAmericans born in the USA and around the time of WWII we enter the BOOM time of the 1950s where people are doing better, the celebrations were bigger as the families grew and the number of dishes served went up exponentially. My Dad never made tons of money, he always provided us with what we needed and then some, but Christmas Eve was the BIG NIGHT. All types of seafood were in the kitchen with Mom at the stove frying, baking, grilling, braising. This is how I believe the “Feast of the 7 Fishes” became a thing, an ItalianAmerican thing. One of these dishes is My mom’s stuffed calamari and I’d like to share it with you for your Christmas Eve or whenever. I don’t do the whenever. Mom made it once a year, so I do to. To honor her. To remember her. It’s what makes it a tradition.

STUFFED CALAMARI FOR 6

TIME: 2 HOURS

THE SAUCE:

Southern Italian Seafood Sauces with tomato are generally composed of only a few ingredients, often perfumed with really good olive oil and garlic, a good dose of heat from peperoncino (either fresh italian red chiles or dried). Sometimes a touch of White Wine, and parsley. Seafood sauces paired with fried seafoods tend to be heavier on the oil, garlic, peperoncino, and a pinch of oregano in there. They are also thicker. This One for the Stuffed Calamari is one of the first types. More like a regular pasta sauce.

3 TBS GOOD EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

3 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

1 TSP PEPERONCINO (DRIED HOT ITALIAN CHILE FLAKES)

1/2 TSP SEA SALT

1/8 CUP WHITE WINE

2 28 OZ CANS OF GOOD QUALITY ITALIAN PLUM TOMATOES, like San Marzano, or a good POMODORI PELATI. Crush the tomatoes with your hands or a processor.

3 SPRIGS OF ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

Make the sauce first. In a saucepan/pot heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and peperoncino. Sprinkle the salt over that. Stir making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. After about 2 minutes on medium heat add the wine. Let this come to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Now add the parsley then the tomatoes. Blend well. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Let this simmer for 1/2 hour. While that’s going on let’s stuff the CALAMARI!!!

THE CALAMARI

10 CLEANED MEDIUM SIZE CALAMARI “TUBES”

1/8 CUP CHOPPED CALAMARI TENTACLES

1/2 TSP LEMON ZEST

JUICE OF 1/2 LEMON

1 1/4 CUP GOOD ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS

2 TBS OLIVE OIL

2 FINELY MINCED GARLIC CLOVES

2 TBS. FINELY MINCED FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

3 TBS GRATED PECORINO

1/2 TBS. PEPERONCINO

15 RAISINS

15 PIGNOLI NUTS

PINCH OF SEA SALT

10 CAPERS (OPTIONAL)

5 GAETA OLIVES , CHOPPED (OPTIONAL)

Blend everything together except the tubes. This will form a stuffing blend for you. Some years mom blended an egg into the mix, others she did not. The eggs will create a solid stuffing, no egg creates a looser one. I always make the non-egg one. With each Calamari tube carefully fill each one leaving room at the bottom, and about an inch or more at the top. The Stuffing will expand and you don’t want the tubes to burst into the sauce (and yes that’s happened to me plenty of times and it makes for a really tasty sauce to serve over macaroni, but with all this work, you want your calamari to stay nice, capisci? Good). Fold the tops over so you can skewer them with a long toothpick. But they time you’ve done all this the sauce is ready for the calamari!! Simply drop the calamari into the sauce and make sure they are all covered. Simmer this for 50 minutes, Remove from the heat and let it sit in the sauce for 15 minutes. Done.

HOW TO SERVE? Glad you asked. However you would like is my first answer. My second answer is go Italian style but serving the sauce over a pasta for a first course (primo) then the Stuffed Calamari with a side vegetable as a second course (secondo) OR, like Mom did it, the sauce on the macaroni and with the Calamari on the side all at once. Thanks to all who asked me for this recipe today, I’m sure my Mom is smiling!!

SHRIMP MARINARA…MY VERSION..WITH PASTA

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SHRIMP MARINARA…..One of the classic dishes of the ITalianAmerican Restaurant and many homecooks. Basically a tomato sauce with Shrimp in it served over pasta. The most traditional pasta is long style, like Spaghetti, Linguine, etc but I love it with cut tubed macaroni like ziti rigati or penne rigati. Why? Rigati means RIDGED and it catches more of the sauce as does the hollow tubes. The sauce gets inside and there’s flavor in every bite. Often the dish is made with a simmering tomato sauce with the shrimp tossed in at the last minute to cook thru. This helps to impart a little of that sweet taste of the sea to the sauce but also often overcooks the shrimp. I have a two step process and i get the seafood essence in the sauce by adding some anchovies to the sauce saute’. This way the shrimp stay plump and crisp and there’s no overcooking. Marinara Sauce….is it Italian? Yes and no. The Term MARINARA in Italian cuisine means anything made with seafood/fish. In ItalianAmerican cuisine is means a meatless sauce, with or without the addition of seafood or fish. Lots of legends about this sauce but for purposes of this blogpost it really follows Italian tradition as the dish contains seafood. Just some “food for thought”. Make the sauce first and have it completed and just simmering when you make the shrimp and then just drop the shrimp into the sauce and turn off the heat. Brilliant.

SHRIMP MARINARA

4-6 SERVINGS 2 HOURS

THE SAUCE:

2 28 oz cans of GOOD QUALITY TOMATOES…preferably Italian Imported plum tomatoes, or San Marzano DOP (my most preferred) OR 56 oz of imported tomato PASSATA (found in most Italian markets and some supermarkets) Using whole tomatoes from the can, simply mash well with your hands or use a food processor.

6 sliced CLOVES OF FRESH GARLIC

FRESH PARSLEY

3 ANCHOVY FILETS

3 TBS. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

PINCH (OR MORE UP TO YOU) OF PEPERONCINO (DRIED HOT CHILE FLAKES)

2 TBS. DRY WHITE WINE, PREFERABLY ITALIAN (IT’S AN ITALIAN DISH, WHY NOT?)

Using a heavy bottomed (always recommended for tomato based sauces) high sided pot or pan heat the olive oil. Add the anchovies and peperoncino. Mash the anchovies into the heated oil. Lightly season with salt as the anchovy might be salty. Add the garlic and a few sprigs of fresh parsley. When the garlic is almost golden and fragrant add the white wine. Stir, bring to a boil then add the tomatoes. Blend well. Bring to a boil. THEN reduce to a simmer stirring every now and then. The sauce should reduce by almost 1/2 when it’s done. PRO TIP: A tomato sauce is done for pasta when you no longer see a separation of water and sauce. This problem was called “AQUADD” by my father when people’s pasta sauces leaked pink water around the plate/bowl. Not all canned tomatoes are the same and many American brands are made from tomatoes that are not “sauce” tomatoes. They take longer to cook the water out of them, bear that in mind when shopping. It’s why I’m a stickler with the imported Italian plums, they are naturally created with less water in the fruit so they are better suited to sauce making. OK, enough of all that…let me get you back to cooking. LOL. Taste the sauce for seasoning when you’re done. Now let’s make the shrimp.

THE SHRIMP:

36 PEELED AND DEVEINED USA WILD CAUGHT 16-20 SIZE SHRIMP

SALT/BLACK PEPPER. 1/2 TSP OF EACH BLENDED TOGETHER

3 TBS OLIVE OIL

1 lb PASTA OF CHOICE, COOKED ACCORDING TO THE PACKAGE INSTRUCTIONS. I LIKE FOR THIS PENNE RIGATE FROM ITALY.

Make sure to blot dry the shrimp with paper towels. This helps them caramelize on the edges and not steam. Using a heavy bottomed pan (like a cast iron) heat the olive oil to medium high. Place the shrimp in a bowl and toss well with the salt and pepper mixture. IN BATCHES, fry the shrimp JUST until they are lightly golden on the edges on both sides. Takes about 2 minutes per side. DO NOT CROWD THE PAN or you’ll be steaming the shrimp. Remove them to another bowl. When you are done frying the shrimp then add them to the SAUCE. Stir to blend well. Let them sit in the hot sauce for 3 minutes. While all this is happening you’ll have cooked the macaroni according to the directions. AL DENTE ALWAY!! Making sure not to add any Shrimp to the pasta, use your ladle to add just enough sauce to the pasta to coat it all. (PLEASE, don’t follow those pictures where the sauce sits on top of dry hot pasta, coat the pasta with the sauce!! but don’t drown it!). When you’ve done that, turn the pasta out onto a deep serving platter or bowl. NOW, Top the platter with the Shrimp, using a slotted spoon. Done. Add more sauce if you like or sauce on the side for everyone to add their preference. Garnish the plates with chopped parsley (or basil, some like basil with this, i’ve always been taught to just use parsley), and more peperoncino. BUON APPETITO!!!

CAULIFLOWER, CHEESE AND SESAME SEED FRITTERS

FRITTI FRITTI FRITTI!!! Fritti are a catch-all phrase in Italian for small fried bits of anything. Fritters if you will. In parts of Southern Italy like Naples and Sicily there’s a huge FRITTI culture. A street food phenom at feasts, events, and small shops known as FRIGGITORIE where all types of local fried foods like fish, seafood, breads, doughs, vegetables, croquettes, etc. are sold in little cones to take away. The most famous of these Fritti are Arancini (riceballs), Fritto Misto, the famous small fried fish and seafood and vegetable mix, Potato Croquettes, Chick Pea Fritters (Panelle), Zeppole, Sfingi, the list goes on. There’s lots of crossover between Sicilian and Napoletana foods because they were at one time part of the same country (before unification of the Italian state in the mid 1800’s). Using the basic fritti batter as a base I created a Sicilian based FRITTI using steamed Cauliflower florets, mint, Caciocavallo cheese, sesame seeds. The result was a taste of SICILIA without the airfare and packing. Takes about 1/2 hour-45 minutes and one head of cauliflower makes enough fritti for 4-6 people. GREAT for parties. They can be made ahead of time and reheated in a hot oven on sheet pans, but truly taste the best after they are first made. I spend so much time pouring over Classic regional recipes, pulling from my own family’s cooking, from my Travels and that’s how I create my dishes. Some are classic traditional, others are created using the regional building blocks of ingredients that naturally go together.

FRITTI DI CAVOLOFIORE ( VRUOCULI), CACIOCAVALLO E GIUGIULENA CON MENTA

CAULIFLOWER, CACIOCAVALLO AND SESAME SEED FRITTERS WITH MINT

(MINT SHOWS UP OFTEN IN SICILIAN CUISINE)

1 LARGE HEAD OF CAULIFLOWER, RINSED WELL, DRIED WITH A PAPER TOWEL AND BROKEN DOWN INTO FLORETS

2 LARGE EGGS, BEATEN WELL

2 TBS. WHOLE MILK

1/2 TEASPOON KOSHER OR SEA SALT plus more for finishing

1 1/2 CUPS SIFTED SELF RISING FLOUR

3 TABLESPOONS GRATED CACIOCAVALLO OR PECORINO CHEESE

1 1/2 TSP FINELY MINCED FRESH MINT

3 TBS. SESAME SEEDS

1/2 TSP GROUND BLACK PEPPER

PEANUT/VEGETABLE OIL FOR FRYING

IN a heavy large high sided pot or skillet ( I like cast iron) heat 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees F.

While that is happening, set up a station with a sheet pan triple lined with paper towels or single lined with brown paper bags.

In a large bowl, add the dry ingredients except 1 tbs of flour. Then add all the liquid ingredients and beat together to form a batter. Should be the consistency of a thick pancake batter. Use more milk to thin it if too thick SLOWLY, add a little, beat..continue till you get to the right consistency. Toss the tbs of flour over the Cauliflower florets. Then drop them into the batter then in batches drop them into the hot oil after it’s reached the 375 mark or when a tester dancers and splatters when it hits the oil. Using wooden sticks or heatproof tongs make sure both sides are golden brown before you remove the fritti. They should puff up somewhat and be nice and crisp on the outside, sort of fluffy on the inside around the cauliflower. Takes about 6 minutes per batch. DO NOT OVERCROWD!!!!!!!! Take your time!!! As they come out of the fryer place on the blotting trays to drain. Sprinkle with some sea salt. Continue till done.

Where’s the dipping sauce??? Italian tradition, usually there is no dipping sauces for these Fritti. ItalianAmerican? If you must dip…a homemade Marinara works OR some whipped ricotta blended with a little honey and black pepper. You’ll thank me for that one.

SPAGHETTI WITH ITALIAN LONG HOT PEPPERS, ONIONS, SWEET FENNEL SAUSAGE AND CHERRY TOMATOES

Do I love Spaghetti? Let me count the ways. Wait, the ways are countless. I have some favorites but basically I love Spaghetti in any way you make it, provided it’s a nice “condimento” that you’re pairing it with. A Condimento is whatever you’re dressing the pasta with. There’s a big world of Italian and Non Italian ingredients out there to pair with Spaghetti, but I prefer to stick with Italian combinations. I can’t tell you how much I love Sausage and Peppers and Onions, that classic Napoletana and ItalianAmerican pairing. One night when I was craving both Spaghetti and Sausage and Peppers I decided to combine them. Yeah, I’m not the first to have done that, but i created a dish that is so good I want to share it with you

Let’s start is some basics. Italian Sweet or Hot Sausage, the best is generally found at a shop where it’s made daily, like an Italian Pork Store (Salumeria) or a Butcher shop, or some of the larger regional Supermarket where it’s still made in house. I realize this isn’t an option Nationally but if you can find such places, get your Italian Sausage there. There’s a difference. What? Quite often the commerical/industrial produced sausages are over ground, they are too fine and they have lots of added flavors that really have no place in an Italian sausage. Now about the peppers. The Italian LONG HOT. Here in the Northeast in all of our ItalianAmerican concentrated areas this is a common site in home gardens or in Farmers MArkets and some supermarkets. Sort of Curly they come in Green, Green and Red, and Red. If no Long Hots are too be found, use Ripe Red Bell Peppers and add a good sprinkling of Hot Pepper Flakes in the saute’ (Peperoncino). Now let’s make some spaghetti!!!

SPAGHETTI WITH SAUSAGE AND ITALIAN LONG HOT PEPPERS AND ONIONS

1 1/2 LBS SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE OUT OF THE CASING

4 ITALIAN LONG HOT PEPPERS, DE-SEEDED, RIBS CUT OUT, SLICE INTO STRIPS OR RINGS

2 CUBANELLE PEPPERS (ITALIAN FRYING PEPPERS), DE-SEEDED, SLICE INTO STRIPS OR RINGS

1/2 PINT SLICED CHERRY TOMATOES

BASIL LEAVES OPTIONAL/PINCH OF OREGANO OPTIONAL

EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

1 lb good IMPORTED ITALIAN SPAGHETTI OR BUCATINI

Let’s make this simple. Add about 2 tbs of olive oil to a large heavy pan. Heat. Add the Sausage and cook for at least 10 minutes, till it’s caramelized (THAT IS FLAVOR!!), then remove with slotted spoon to a dish. If needed, add more olive oil, heat and then simply fry up the onions and peppers, seasoning with a little salt. (No pepper needed if using the Long Hots, if using the Sweet long peppers, season with black pepper). Fry but on medium so they can cook and soften without burning or getting too brown around the edges. After 10 minutes of cooking, add the tomatoes. When the onions and peppers and tomatoes are soft, give it about 20 minutes, then add the sausage meat and ALL the juices that collected on the bottom of the pan. Let the sausage peppers and onions now simmer on low. While that magic is happening in the pan, resist the urge to just dig in and cook the Spaghetti till al dente according to the package instructions. When the spaghetti is at the right spot remove it with tongs from the water gently and add to the pan of sausage, long hots and onions. For a more “saucy” texture add a few spoonfuls of the pasta water. Or just leave as is and cook for 2 minutes. Take off the heat. At this point you are done unless you want additional flavor from basil or oregano. Toss in whichever you prefer at this time. CHEESE? for me? Yes. For many there’s this no grated (Pecorino or Parmigiano) cheese on Sausage dishes. I’m not debating it so this falls under the IT’S UP TO YOU. Personally, the salty sharpness of the Pecorino Romano just tops this dish off for me. This should satisfy 3-4 really hungry people. HAPPY COOKING!!!!

TIELLA DI VERDURE NELLO STILE DI PUGLIA. VEGETABLE TIELLA (LAYERED BAKED CASSEROLE) USING THE STYLES OF PUGLIA

LA TIELLA…..La Tiella is a dish used in Southern Italian cooking to bake foods like a layering of seafood, potatoes,rice and vegetable in Puglia or to make a pastry enclosed stuffed pie with various fillings, often seafood in Gaeta. The finished recipes are known as Tiella also. One of my favorites is an All Vegetable and Cheese style made in Puglia. While it’s not as popular as the mussels, potatoes and rice one it certainly is made often and depending on the town or the cook or the season the vegetables and cheeses may vary. This is my version of a vegetable Tiella. Sliced potatoes and vegetables layered with Pecorino and Scamorza cheese, olive oil and parsley, topped with rustic, coarse italian bread cubes with olive oil and cheese create this delicious dish. I don’t have a Tiella pan in my house from Italy, do you? LOL. But…instead I used a 9 inch cake pan. Baking dishes are fine too. The traditional Tiella isn’t very Deep so a cake pan or similar deep baking pan works well. Before you start, since I often FORGET!!!! after I’ve started layering, brush the sides and bottom of the pan with a blend of melted butter and olive oil. Then dust the sides and bottom with fine Italian bread crumbs. This helps create a nice but light crust around the sides and bottom of the finished dish. So many great regional Italian dishes that are relatively unknown away from their places of origin…I really get excited when I’m sharing one with you. Can you feel it? Well, I’m excited to show you…Let’s cook!!

TIELLA DI VERDURE (VEGETABLE TIELLA) FOR 4-6 2 HOURS

INGREDIENTI:

2 POTATOES, PEELED AND SLICED INTO 1/8 INCH SLICES

1 PT. CHERRY OR GRAPE TOMATOES, SLICED

2 MEDIUM ZUCCHINI, SLICED INTO 1/8 INCH SLICED

1 LARGE ONION, SLICED INTO 1/8 INCH SLICES

1/2 LB DICED OR SLICED SCAMORZA OR MOZZARELLA

1/4 CUP GRATED PECORINO ROMANO

OLIVE OIL AS NEEDED

2 TBS OF CHOPPED FRESH ITALIAN PARSLEY

1/4 TSP OF GOOD DRIED OREGANO OR 4 BASIL LEAVES

COARSELY CHOPPED STALE ITALIAN BREAD, ABOUT 1/8 CUP TOSSED WITH A LITTLE OLIVE OIL AND SALT

KOSHER SALT, COARSE GROUND BLACK PEPPER

PREHEAT OVEN to 375 degrees F. Saute’ the onions in a little olive oil and salt until they are wilted. reserve. drizzle more olive oil into the bottom of your baking dish. start with a layer of potatoes. season lightly with salt and pepper, some parsley, some pecorino, and a drizzle of olive oil. add a layer of the onions, then add a layer of tomatoes and some scamorza, oregano or basil, drizzle of olive oil, season with pecorino, salt and pepper, then another layer of potatoes, onions, another of tomatoes then the zucchini doing all the same things you did with the potatoes. When you’ve used up all your vegetables top with the last of the scamorza and pecorino, but then top with the coarse bread. Season that with a little more olive oil and pecorino then TIGHTLY COVER with foil and into the oven for 45-50 minutes. Best to place the baking dish on a baking tray to catch any liquid that drips out. Uncover and bake for addition 10 minutes or until the top is nicely browned. IMPORTANT…resist the tempation to eat it now!!!! Let this sit for at LEAST 20 MINUTES before cutting into it. Trust me. It’s a much better dish AND even better when you make it a day ahead and reheat it the next day. FLAVOR!!!!! a great entree’ or side dish. I like to serve it with grilled fish, fried meatballs, chicken, pork chops..

GAMBERI CON RISO E ZAFFERANO…SHRIMP WITH RICE AND SAFFRON…COOKING DURING THE CORONAVIRUS

GAMBERI CON RISO E ZAFFERANO….SHRIMP WITH RICE AND SAFFRON. This is not a Risotto, the process is different, the Rice itself is different. For this dish I use a Long Grain Rice. This is also the first in a series of blogs on the foods i’ve created and cooked for my family while in self-quarantine during the 2020 Coronavirus Covid-19 Pandemic Cooking not only nourishes those you feed but it creates an activity, something to look forward to while being housebound. Certainly once the pandemic is over enjoy making these dishes whenever you wish. I created this dish early in March 2020 when we were first told to shelter-in-place, staying home except for going out for essentials. I keep a stocked pantry so there was lots to chose from, like Gulf Shrimp in the freezer, Red Bell Peppers, Baby Arugula, Grape Tomatoes, etc. I used some Vermouth in this dish because it’s aromatic flavors compliment seafood. Hoping everyone is coping and complying as best as they can. Let’s cook!!!

GAMBERI CON RISO E ZAFFERANO

1 HOUR 10 MINUTES APPROX START TO FINISH 4-6 SERVINGS

1/2 TSP GOOD SAFFRON THREADS

1/3 CUP HOT WATER

2 TBS. OLIVE OIL

1 1/2 LBS 16-20 SHRIMP, PEELED, DEVEINED, PATTED DRY WITH PAPER TOWELS

2 CUPS LONG GRAIN RICE, i like to use Jasmine.

2 CUPS SEAFOOD OR CHICKEN OR VEGETABLE STOCK

1/2 CUP SWEET VERMOUTH

1 MEDIUM ONION, SMALL DICE

1 MEDIUM RED BELL PEPPER, SMALL DICE

4 QUARTERED CHERRY OR GRAPE TOMATOES (OPTIONAL)

SALT, BLACK PEPPER TO TASTE

2 TBS BUTTER

1/2 CUP CHOPPED BABY ARUGULA

1 LEMON

Grind the saffron in a mortar and pestle until it’s all broken up. Add that to the hot water, You can alternatively rub the threads with your hands, you’ll just get some yellow on your palms. Mix the water and leave it for 5 minutes and it will change color. Should be a bright orange. Heat a heavy bottomed pot or sklllet with the oil. Add the shrimp and cook only for 3 minutes till the edges turn pink. Remove to a platter and cover loosely with foil. Add the peppers and onions to the oil, season with salt and pepper. Saute’ till just soft, about 8 minutes, then add the rice and blend. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Now add the Saffron Water, blend in. Add the Stock and the Vermouth, stir well. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and tightly cover, cooking it for 15-20 minutes, until the rice is fluffy. With a fork fluff the rice and then add the shrimp, gently blending the rice and shrimp. Cover for 5 minutes. Add the butter and the chopped arugula. Gently mix and taste for seasoning. Serve each portion with a drizzle of olive oil, fresh squeeze of lemon and a grinding of black pepper. If using the tomatoes, add them with the peppers and onions.

FROM UMBRIA, FRICCO’ DI POLLO, CHICKEN IN TOMATO, WINE, VINEGAR

IMG_9516Internet surfing and research sometime turn up the most amazing unknown to me new recipes.  It was October 4, Feast of St.Francis of Assisi and so I thought I would be fun to make something from his homeland, UMBRIA in Central Italy.  I knew I had chicken parts in the fridge, some San Marzano tomatoes, so something that used those items would work.  Now I could have just made an ItalianAmerican Chicken Cacciatore, I had a bit of a craving for that.  But no.  I wanted to celebrate the day and the region in St.Francis’ honor after all my middle name is Francis.  After a full Google search of Chicken and tomato dishes from Umbria one dish kept coming up to the top of the search.  FRICCO’ or FRICO’, apparently it’s spelled both ways showed up more than once and with two versions.  One version is BIANCO, meaning in a white wine and herb sauce.  The other was ROSSO, meaning Tomato is in the mix.  Sounds like Chicken alla Cacciatora to me right?  Well, the process is the same but they take a bit of a turn which is just enough to make this not your usual cacciatora.  Pancetta or Guanciale or Prosciutto and Anchovy in the mix.  I was SOLD and couldn’t wait to come home from work and create this wonderful sounding dish! By the way, FRICCO’ or FRICO’ is Umbrian for the French word, FRICANDEAU, a type of stew. Many versions of this are made with a trio of meats..Lamb, Rabbit, and Chicken. Others are made with just one. This Umbrian version doesn’t bear much resemblance to the French beef or veal versions, but love how they word was borrowed and localized. Other names for this dish are Pollo all’Eugubina or Pollo di Gubbio, Gubbio being a major city in Umbria. Don’t you find a dish is more exciting to cook and tastes even better when there’s a wonderful history behind it?

FRICCO’ DI POLLO EUGUBINA GUBBIO STYLE CHICKEN WITH CURED PORK, TOMATO, HERBS, VINEGAR, WINE AND A LITTLE ANCHOVY

SERVES 4-6 APPROX. TIME 2 HOURS

1 LARGE CHICKEN CUT INTO 8 PIECES, PATTED DRY WITH A PAPER TOWEL

1/8 LB DICED OR SLICED PANCETTA, OR GUANCIALE, OR PROSCIUTTO WITH SOME FAT ATTACHED

1 CUP WHOLE “PELATI”, PEELED ITALIAN PLUM TOMATOES

1/4 CUP WHITE WINE VINEGAR

1 CUP DRY WHITE WINE, USE ONE FROM UMBRIA, LIKE AN ORVIETO

2 CLOVES OF GARLIC, SLICED

1 SPRIG FRESH ROSEMARY

4 FRESH SAGE LEAVES

1 ANCHOVY FILET

PINCH OF PEPERONCINO

1/2 CUP CHICKEN OR VEGETABLE STOCK

SALT TO TASTE

OLIVE OIL, AS NEEDED

Season the chicken with salt. In a heavy skillet or dutch oven heat 2 tbs of olive oil. Add the chicken skin side down and let it get a good sear over medium heat. Takes about 8 minutes. Flip and sear that side for 5 minutes. Deglaze the pan with 1/2 the wine. Remove with the pan juices to a bowl. Add more olive oil to the pan and add the cured meat, saute’ for 6 minutes until it starts to caramelize. Add the garlic and the rosemary and peperoncino, and the anchovy. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and vinegar and 3 of the sage leaves. Bring to a boil and add the tomatoes. Stir well. Bring to the boil and add the chicken pieces skin side down. Add the stock and again, bring to a boil then reducing and letting this braise on a simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Taste the sauce for seasonings and adjust as necessary. When the chicken it tender and cooked throw in the remaining sage leave and remove the sprig of rosemary. There’s such umami in this dish with the cured pork and anchovy, there’s a bit of “agrodolce” going on too. That’s sweet/sour. What to serve it with? As you can see in my picture I made it with Parmigiano and Garlic Mashed Potatoes. Roasted potatoes, Rice, Pasta, up to you….but…the mashed were amazing with it. Chicken will taste best if you leave it to sit for 1 /2 hour before serving. You’ll thank me. Garnish with the pan juices, olive oil and fresh rosemary. HAPPY COOKING!!!

BACCALA’ CON PEPERONI, POMODORI, CIPOLLE ROSSE…DRIED SALT COD COOKED WITH PEPPERS, CHERRY TOMATOES AND RED ONIONS

BACCALA’. The Italian word for DRIED SALTED COD. A gift from the Northern Europe where the cod is caught, then salted and dried this fish became a staple in the poverty stricken homes across southern Italy. It became the most popular Christmas Eve seafood as it was cheap and available to both rich and poor in Italy’s south, from the sea up into the mountains. Every family has it’s Christmas Eve tradtional Baccala’ dish. Probably the two most popular are the simply Fried Baccala’ and the Baccala baked or pan cooked with tomatoes, peppers, olives. There’s a host of dishes that can be made with Baccala and Italians aren’t the only ones who love this fish. French, Portuguese, Spanish, Caribbeans, Northern Europeans…every cuisine has wonderful dishes. Most important when cooking Baccala is that you give the dried fish enough time to hydrate and rid itself of the excess salt. My standard rule is 3 days of soaking in cold water, left covered in the fridge with 2 changes of water per day. Pat dry on day 3 and now you’re ready to use it. This recipe is one I made up one Christmas Eve when I wanted something different from my usual preparations. The Cod is lightly floured and seared in hot olive oil. Removed. Then in that pan a saute’ of Sliced Cubanelles (Italian Frying Peppers), Red Onions, Sliced Fresh Cherry Tomatoes, a pinch of salt and black pepper. When the vegetables are soft, add some white wine and then add the cod back. Top with toasted breadcrumbs, pignoli and fresh basil. It’s Delicious!! Let’s COOK!!

1 3/4 lbs (original dry weight) of 3 DAY SOAKED BACCALA, CUT UP INTO MEDIUM CHUNKS.

2 TBS. ALL PURPOSE FLOUR SEASONED WITH BLACK PEPPER (NO SALT!!!)

OLIVE OIL

3 SLICED SEEDED CUBANELLE (ITALIAN FRYING) PEPPERS

1 LARGE SLICED RED ONION

1/2 PINT SLICED CHERRY OR GRAPE TOMATOES

HANDFUL OF CHOPPED FRESH PARSLEY

1/2 CUP ITALIAN WHITE WINE

2 TBS. TOASTED PLAIN BREADCRUMBS

3 TORN FRESH BASIL LEAVES

1 1/2 TBS TOASTED PIGNOLI

In a heavy pan, like a cast iron or heavy bottomed one heat 2 tbs of olive oil till you see the waves in the pan. Dredge the baccala’ chunks on all sides shaking off the excess and sear on all sides till the cod is golden. Transfer to paper towels to absorb excess oil In the same pan add the peppers, onions and tomatoes and saute’ on medium until they are soft. Takes about 10 minutes, Don’t rush it. Add the peperoncino and 1/2 the parsley. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, Add the Baccala’ back and cook for only 6 minutes. Finish with the toasted breadcrumbs, basil, parsley and pignoli. Remove from the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. ALTERNATE METHOD, after you’ve added the cod back, top with everything and place into a hot oven (400 degrees F) until the breadcrumbs begin to brown, then remove.

Serving suggestion….this dish can be served hot, or warm/room temperature. Serve with good seeded Italian or Sicilian Bread. Make it anytime you want a taste of Italian seafood whether it’s Christmas eve or not. BUONA CUCINA!! BUON APPETITO!!!