Monthly Archives: October 2015



Ever just   want something from your childhood?  A super craving of sorts? It happened today and the craving was for the old fashioned American Classic Blue Plate Special,  The SALISBURY STEAK.  A little history here. Believe it or not back in the late 1800’s a doctor named James Salisbury1185030_266441590190815_42477728_n

had some ideas about the types of foods that are bad for the human body and what was good  for it.  His theory was that RED MEAT eaten three times a day followed by glasses of hot water were the way to glorious health.  Starches and vegetables he believed were converted into toxins and should only be eaten in small amounts.  Hmmmm…I guess nothing has changed since FAD diets relying on complete removal of one or many food groups and heavy intake of another will always be part of our culture.  The original/authentic recipe for the 3 times a day steak was to use an amount of ground lean meat formed into a steak like shape and broiled.  That’s it.  Somewhere along the line a host of ingredients was added to the mix and even other vegetables and a brown gravy.  Surely somewhere in your past you may remember, fondly or not, this box in your freezer.1185030_266441590190815_42477728_n

As a child growing up in a home where 95% of everything served to us was from scratch it was like a holiday or treat when we got my mother to break down and ” OK, just this one time..” buy a Swanson Salisbury Steak dinner.  I freely admit, I love meatloaf too. Times and taste change, we mature, sometimes our palates do as well and that Swanson dinner isn’t tasting too good to me anymore. Now I make my own.  Tonight I decided to do some research just to compare the recipes out there with mine or with ideas I was thinking of incorporating (yes, each meal gets that much thought into it, LOL).  When I Googled SALISBURY STEAK the first one up was a Five Star Rated recipe on the Food Network website by the lovely yet criminally insane infront of a stove Sandra Lee.   Her recipe scared the life out of me.
The absolute lack of food responsibility by Food Network posting that and handing it 5-stars just killed me.  Included in this SalisburySteakaggedon were repetitive layers of processed ingredients, all loaded with salt, sugar, fat, yet all performing the same function in a recipe.  Do you add 4 types of sugar to the average recipe? 4 types of fats?  I didn’t think so.  The only flavor you are left with is salt and that food lab iinduced good feeling your supposed to texturally feel when eating it.    Ok, here is the link for you to make your own judgment on and see what it is I’m talking about:
Enough about Sandra and her tasty treats…let’s cook…for the record..I tried to incorporate the flavors I remembered from those TV dinner Salsbury Steak meals but using what nature has offered to us to get the job done…This should make enough for 5 diners.  Dice 1/2 of an onion, 1 small cubanelle pepper or green pepper, 1 clove garlic minced..(keep the onion and pepper dice to a small even dice for even cooking), 2 tsp. Worchestershire Sauce, 1  1/2 tsp. English Dry mustard, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper, 1/8 cup Rolled  or non-Instant Oats (Oatmeal), 1 large egg, beaten, 1 tsp. Bell’s seasoning (which can be found, especially around the Fall holidays in the herb section) , 1 1/2 lbs. ground sirloin. Mix this all up together and form into oval patties about 1/2 inch thick.  keep covered until ready to cook.  Use the other 1/2 of that onion for the gravy..slice it , slice 1 small cubanelle (just so much more flavorful than a green bell) or a small green bell, 10 cremini mushrooms, sliced…in a large pan heat 1 tbs. of canola oil, gently saute’ the sliced vegetables, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  After about 8-10 minutes, they should be soft and nicely cooked.  Remove them to a platter.  Now…in the same pan, add  just a few more drops of oil and fry the steaks for 5 minutes on each side.

if no Bell’s Seasoning available, not a gamechanger..simplyuse 1 tsp of Thyme.

Make sure they brown nicely.  IT’S FLAVOR! Remove the steaks and place them on a platter, cover with foil.  Add 3 tbs. of unsalted butter to the pan, then when it’s melted, add 4 tbs. of sifted unbleached flour stirring to pull those bits off the bottom of the pan.  We are making a little roux here.  Let this cook for 2 minutes, then add 1/8 cup of Beefstock, homemade, YES PLEASE! or    use a good boxed low sodium 99% fat free brand, there are plenty out there today, the cans are generally higher in fat and sodium.   Stir well to incorporate all the roux and bring to a boil.  Add 3/4 of the sauteed peppers, onions, and mushrooms..then add steaks.  Lower to a simmer and let the liquid reduce by almost 1/2,   If you like your stuff really saucy, reduce it less…by the way, check for seasonings at the very end and not while you are cooking.  When you are happy with the consistency of the sauce,   a few drops of Worchestershire will add a little more flavor. This takes about 10 minutes to finish off the steaks in the sauce.
Serve the steaks with the sauce poured over then and top with the reserved peppers, onions and mushrooms.
Lots of flavor, sort of a Salisbury steak idea meets the Southern tradition of “smothered” meats.

Unlike Dr.Salisbury prescription for a bland broiled steak 3 times a day with a hot water chaser (you would definitely lose weight because after one day of that you’d not eat for 2 months!), this recipe adds a host of vegetables to it, uses a leaner grade of meat, the oatmeal has got to have some benefits…don’t you feel healthier already?  lol…Happy Cooking friends..serve with roasted potatoes, or mashed, and maybe steamed carrots since there is a green vegetable X2 in the recipe.165994_3211681293308_1441686714_n (1)






I was thinking up a clever title for this blogpost but then said ditch that idea, just say what it is because that really will say it all.  Today was National Potato Day and really, that potato needs more than just one day to be celebrated.  I celebrate it all the time in all of it’s forms…however, I could write for hours discussing ways to cook and eat potatoes and cover all the world’s cuisines with that but I’m going to limit this celebration to a simple and flavorful oven roasted version.  Yes, you’ve see this all before, but maybe some of you haven’t and this came out so good I want to share it.  Like the picture?  Please say yes, I’m sensitive and can’t handle rejection…ok, thanks for liking it.  Let’s move on..Oven Roasted potatoes are not uniquely Italian, but they are made from North to South and East…

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Memories taste sweet and one of the sweetest memories I have is of my Mom’s PIGNOLI COOKIES.  Hers were not unique but they were hers and that’s what makes them special. I treasure her recipe box which was really not how she cooked, only certain things were committed to a written recipe.  Her cooking was mostly recipes in her head…I wonder where I get that from.  This was one of her written ones..the PIGNOLI COOKIE which is the GRAND PRIZE if you landed the one or two that are in all ItalianAmerican cookie platters at the end of a special occasion.  Almond paste and Pignoli, the two main ingredients have always been wildly expensive.  Most bakeries today sell them for 29.99-35.00 @ lb. Making them at home is much cheaper, but not cheap.  Here’s Mom’s recipe card:aipignul As with all her written recipes, they are incomplete.  Her philosophy was , if you know how to cook, you can fill in the blanks.  So there you go.  I wanted to make them and went by memory.  Too lazy to look for Mom’s card.  I remembered it right down to the measurements…pretty scary.  I did add 2 other items away from Mom’s recipe, one was 3 tbs. of sifted Unbleached flour and 1/2 tsp. of Pure Vanilla (have we had this talk yet..go to your pantry..if your extract says Imitation, throw it out…buy a bottle of PURE Vanilla. Why are you cooking with fake stuff?  Unless you are baking everyday in big quantities the additional cost of the real item is not a burden.) The flour just helps stabilize the mixture, the vanilla I use in baking like one uses lemon in savory cooking.  It seems to carry the other flavors and enhance them.  That almond essence is just fantastic in these chewy almond macaroons (yeah, they are a form of macaroon).

So what’s the history of this cookie?  Marzipan is a very well loved and used ingredient in European confections, North, Central and Southern.  In Italy the region that Marzipan or PASTA REALE really is King is Sicily.  Certainly the Salento and Puglia have their share of Almond Paste treats, but in Sicily it’s almost a religion.  Almonds are a crop for the region and Sicilians include almonds in both their sweet and savory foods.  No one knows for sure where this pignoli (which is another hallmark of Sicilian cooking) topped almond macaroon came from.  The cookie is also made with slivered almonds on top.  Since all research I’ve read points to Sicily, I’m going with that premise.

Notice 2 things in my pictures that I don’t want you to do.  First is the foil on the baking sheet.  I had no Silpat, no parchment paper.  I improvised with lightly greasing a foil lining. In a pinch it works, but you SHOULD use silpat or Parchment.  The texture will be better.  They are also just a touch darker than they should be.  I received a work related call while I was baking them and that extra 2 minutes in the oven created a crispy sort of bottom.  They should be soft yet browned so, shut your phone off when you are cooking or risk a potential disaster.  Had I not pulled them out when I did they would have become AMARETTI, those toasted almond macaroons, delicious, but not what I was making. Seconds count in cooking and baking!!!

TIME: 45 MINUTES                                         YIELD:  18 COOKIES

8 oz. ALMOND PASTE, cut into small pieces then broken up with a mixer into small pieces


3 TBS. SIFTED UNBLEACHED FLOUR  (omit this is you are looking for GLUTEN FREE)




CONFECTIONER’S SUGAR FOR DUSTING (Check the labels as not all Confectioner’s Sugar is Gluten Free if you are in need of this to be GF, if not, omit)

SILPAT or PARCHMENT PAPER  (Mom used Waxed Paper, but I think Parchment is a better choice)

Let’s start baking.  Pre heat oven to 325 F.  To the already mixed up Almond paste (you can use a food processor too) add the sugar.  Mix well, Then add the flour.  Mix well. Should look like this:pignoli 001 Now add the eggs and vanilla and mix just until the mixture comes together. It will be a sticky dough so don’t be alarmed at that.  It should hold a small ball shape.  Empty the nuts into a bowl.  Now, roll 18 equal sized small balls, i guess a teaspoon full is good.  Eyeball this folks, just keep them equal size. That’s also how things bake properly and at the same time.  Dip one side of the ball into the bowl of Pignoli.  Then place them on the Silpat or Parchment Paper lined baking sheet.  Use heavy baking sheets if you can.  Less chance of burning will occur. When they are all lined up, with room in between place them into the oven on the middle rack.pignoli 002 looking at the foil is killing me.  But, honesty in cooking and blogging so there you go.. DON’T USE FOIL!! Bake them for 15 minutes.  Then place them in the top rack and bake for addition 5 minutes only.  USE YOUR HEADS HERE!! If they look too brown or brown enough don’t do the 5 extra minutes.  Every oven is calibrated differently…so use the common sense adjustment for making these.  Your eyes are your biggest cooking implement.   When you remove them let them sit for 3-4 minutes, then gently transfer them with a spatula to a cooling rack.  Let them cook for 1/2 hour.  pignoli 004  My phone call created those over toasted pignoli on the cookies and the darker ring around the base.  No phone calls.. Let it ring. That’s what voicemail is for.  Now dust them with Confectioner’s Sugar.  pignoli 005  If not serving them right away no sugar dusting until you are serving.  MAKE SURE THEY ARE STORED IN AIR TIGHT CONTAINERS!!!  You will get that wonderful soft and chewy texture then.pignoli 022 Like that!!  Even with my extended accidental baking time they were wonderfully PIGNOLI COOKIE textured.  I can hear my Mom exclaim ” AI’PIGNUL”  spoken as Ai PEENYOOL…dialect Italian…  That makes this blog and recipe much more personal for me, and so, for you too.  You are baking an HEIRLOOM recipe, as much as that overused buzzword can be thrown around, it makes perfect sense here.  With anticipation I would watch my Mom remove the Marzipan (Almond Paste) from the plastic covered tubes (Odense was the brand she used) and steal a chunk or two of it before she continued with the rest of the recipe.  Food memories make for better tasting food.  GRAZIE MOM for this gift, her recipe is like a million others but I have the proof in my hands and her handwriting.  And now I pass it on to you.  Happy Baking!  Happy Eating!!


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001 There’s not much for me to say here that you don’t know already..that PASTA E FAGIOLI or the more Italian-American name, PASTA FAZOOL is one of the most Popular dishes from the Italian kitchen.  Let me add that no one’s recipe is the “RIGHT” one, here, or in Italy.   It is a loaded bowl of beans and macaroni, a dish of fuel to keep one going and when researching or learning about Italian cuisine one learns that Italy is 20something regions that are different from each other.  Their locations are varied and can be warm sundrenched seashore to frigid Alpine peaks. Basically the region will absolutely dictate what beans, pasta and other ingredients go into that pot. Let’s complicate this more with personal preferences ,thicker versus more soup-like.  Throw the monkeywrench of the Italian-American cuisine into the pot and now the versions are hybrids of different immigrant Italian styles and American additions.  My bottom line here is to never, never shake your head in disgust at someone’s version of Pasta e Fagioli because it doesn’t match your definition.  No one’s will, however some will probably come close or can even be exacty.  There is NO “authentic” original recipe for this so don’t even look for it.  So what am I blogging about then?  My most basic version to which you can add, subtract, but this is how I generally go about making my PASTA E FAGIOLI.

TIME: 1 1/2-3  hours     SERVES: 6

Let also just start off here saying..type of beans…tomato or not…type of pasta..cured pork or not…all personal preferences.  And here’s another one…this Idea of the al dente pasta and bean soup..again..just my taste so you take it from there…but this is soup, it’s not a plated entree/secondo. Somewhere along the line chefs with some influence decided that a soup should be something ripe with different textures from soft to chewy.  I disagree.  It’s soup.  That level of comfort I derive from it is because soup always had a well cooked load of pasta,meat, vegetables, beans  in it. I really don’t think that the  people we learned these dishes from who would probably be over 100years old now added pasta after the dish was cooked and then served it.  I’d bet more than likely, the pasta was a. cooked in the soup b. cooked separately then added.  but the soup was left to simmer, or sit for a bit,  or for the next day.  I’ll put my blinders up and let you and your tastebuds decide how you want to have your components cooked but i’m in the soft comforting “old school” soup camp.

1/4 finely diced Prosciutto rind or Pancetta

2 tbs. OliveOil

2 stalks small diced Celery

2 peeled carrots, cut into a small dice

2 onions small dice

2 GARLIC cloves, finely minced

Kosher salt

pinch of Peperoncino

pinch of Oregano, Sicilian is best if you can find it

1 lb of cooked beans (cooked yourself OR canned)LIKE Cannellini, Borolotti, Great Northern

1tbs Tomato paste

1 cup Italian Crushed Tomatoes


1 cup water or stock

OPTIONAL:  small Parmigiano cheese rind


In a soup pot…heat the olive oil and prosciutto or pancetta.  Once that’s taken on some color, add the onions, celery and carrots. Saute’ for at least 8 minutes on medium.  Now add the garlic, peperoncino, pinch of salt,oregano.  Let this saute’ for 2 minutes then add the tomato paste.  Stir this as you saute’ for 2 minutes.  Now add the cup of Crushed Italian tomatoes. Bring to a boil.  Now add the cup of stock /water.  Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer.  Add the beans at this point.  Let this simmer for 1/2 hour, stirring frequently. If you are using the Parmigiano rind, add it now before you start to simmer.  When the simmering is done, add the pasta.  Simmer for 10 minutes, then turn it off.  Taste for seasoning. If you are good with it, add a tbs of grated parmigiano or pecorino, a drizzle of olive oil and cover pushing it back on the stove.  Let this sit for at least 3 hours before serving.  Now PAY ATTENTION HERE…look at my picture..this is how it will look.  If you like it more loose, use more stock when creating it.  If you like it more on the creamy/thick side, puree’ 1/8 cup of the beans and stir that in before your simmer it.  Use extra cheese and olive oil AND ground black pepper or peperoncino and a pinch of oregano or a basil leaf (optional) before serving.  Also, TIP/HINT..taste the soup after you let it sit and before serving.  It may need more seasoning.

I like this whole deal better on day 2…just my opinion, now make this yourself and enjoy!!





Chances are, you have seen recipes for broccoli di rabe, a bitter green of the broccoli family, many many times.
Perhaps you have had this delicious vegetable, sauteed with garlic and oil, and other aromatics..or stuffed into
a bread, or paired up with pasta, tradtionally orecchiette (little ears).  This pasta hails from the once dirt poor
regions of Puglia and Basilicata and is merely a mix of flour and water and some deft finger handling.  In our
family, years ago, my Grandmother and her sister in law Caterina Luberto (Zi’Caterin) would spend what seemed
like hours making a cavatelli like orecchiette like pasta and I would stare mesmerized by their quick hand
movements.  I wish I was older and had paid more attention to the intricacies of this pasta production.  Most
supermarkets now carry the factory made orecchiette which is made with the typical pasta recipe used in
most dried macaroni.   It’s good…but not great. The real texture and flavor is from the Bronze pressed Artisinal
or the handmade(best) dried orecchiette from Italy.  The bronze pressed I buy when I can’t find the handmade
ones.  Handmade are more rustic in their shape and texture..the bronze ones are delicious…OK, what are
bronze pressed pastas?  The pasta dough is forced through a special bronze press which roughs up the
exterior of the pasta.  This way, the sauces adhere much better to each piece.  Pricey, yes.  How often are you
eating orecchiette..???  I knew it.  So splurge at the specialty Italian store for a lb. of good orecchiette.  Or
you can find them thru on-line sources.  They usually retail for between 3.99 to 6.99.

Feeling like I was bored with the
usual pairing of sauteed rabe with sausage and orecchiette…I improvised and altered the ingredients..but did
not “change” the ingredients.
Ecco la!  There is the change-up.  I chopped up the broccoli
rabe and added 1/2 of it to sweet fennel sausage meat making meatballs out of them…sauteed them..
then sauteed the rest of the rabe with garlic and oil, a little red chile pepper flakes, then tossed in the pasta and
let it get sort of brown on the edges.  Then added the meatballs and there you have it.

For 6-8 people, use 1 lb. of Orecchiette….cook according to directions, and drain.
Remove the meat from 1 lb. of good Italian Sweet Fennel Sausage in its’ casings.  Add to a bowl.  Add a 1/2 cup
of grated provolone or pecorino, 1 finely minced garlic clove, and 1/2 a bunch of well chopped steamed broccoli
rabe.  Try to not use much of the stem, stick with the tender thinner parts and the leaves.  Add 1/2 tsp. black
pepper. NO SALT!  Remember, the sausage is already salted.  Now add 2 tbs. of breadcrumbs and with your
hands blend well and form into small walnut sized balls.  In some good olive oil, fry these on medium for about
7 minutes on one side, 5 on the other..You are cooking these all the way through.
Let’s stop right here with another idea.
Party season is on its’ way…Holidays and all that (stress and/or fun)…make these as an hors d’ouevres instead
of the usual party meatball.  Sprinkle them with a little cheese and serve with toothpicks or on a platter..nice!



Ok…sorry for the detour…Add some olive oil to a large pan, heat, add 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp. of red
chile flakes..stir for 30 sec. then add the remaining chopped broccoli rabe…stir then add the pasta and mix
well.  Let the pasta get a little brown in some spots..this should take about 5 minutes. Sitr well, add 2 tbs. of
grated cheese and serve with the meatballs on top.

Check out those crispy edges on the orecchiette…the different flavors and textures in this dish make it
very satisfying.  At the end of the day, I’m feeling good about changing the look of a recipe to make
it a little (or very) different yet staying loyal to the traditional taste and ingredients.  No, you cannot use
turkey sausage,,, no you cannot use spinach…no you cannot use Bowtie pasta.  Stick with the com-
bination that has worked for years and years…Maybe someday I’ll remember Zi’Caterin’s pasta
making technique…