CHILLI MUSSELS…a find on the last vacation we went on. We spent a few days in Western Australia’s city of PERTH where because of a recommendation from Australian travelers we met in Bali we learned of these Mussels in a Tomato, Hot Pepper, and Wine Sauce. Sounds like Mussels Fra Diavolo? Sounds like a typical ItalianAmerican seafood dish? Since I’ve come back from vacation I’ve been trying to see where this dish originated. I’ve found out a few things. You can find them all over Australia, yet on line research always points to Perth and Western Australia. Australia’s proximity to Asia had me thinking these were possibly an Indonesian or Thai or Chinese style of mussels. No. They are decidedly Mediterranean in their style and flavor. Are they different from ItalianAmerican mussels in hot pepper spiked tomato sauce? When That bowl was placed infront of us in Western Australia’s seaside town of CERVANTES my head said..oh, it’s our Fra Diavolo with an Australian name. Sitting in the CERVANTES BAR AND BISTRO after a full day of driving up the coast I can tell you I was in for a great culinary surprise. These had a bit of sweetness to them. I detected maybe sugar in the mix. There were fresh sliced chile peppers in the mix. Aha. That’s it. Quite possibly with Australia’s large Italian Immigrant population this was a creation made by them with some changes as often happens in immigrant communities. There’s a style of cooking called AustralianItalian, just like we have ItalianAmerican in the States. Now you’ll say, what’s the difference??? Why would the dried chile pepper flakes (peperoncino) taste different than the fresh. Well…taste both for yourself. There’s a difference. And this is not a one is better than the other conversation, this is me telling you my foodcentric friends that there’s new dishes to be had when you change an ingredient. Fresh Chiles is possibly more Asian in it’s flavor profile. It’s a bit fruity. There’s a texture the ItalianAmerican mussels don’t have. It was amazing. Travel Food surprises are always welcome. Simply switch out fresh chiles for the peperoncino, add a pinch of sugar, or brown sugar and you’ll get the chilli mussel experience. Most important, use mid sized fresh mussels. Those enormous Green ones don’t work here. For a recipe, since I’ve not made my own version of them yet, here’s a link from Australia’s great Travel magazine, GOURMET TRAVELLER. I fell in love with this magazine after my daughter bought me one for the beach while we were there.
POLPETTINE!!! I can’t get enough of these meatballs..the smaller type, from any cuisine anywhere in the world. There are HUNDREDS of versions and every so often I create my own version based on what’s in the fridge. POLPETTINE DI SALSICCE E MANZO CON SALVIA, VINO, E PARMIGIANO is just one of them. How delicious does food sound in other languages? I think very. MINI MEATBALLS OF ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND GROUND BEEF WITH SAGE, RED WINE AND PARMIGIANO. Sounds better in Italian don’t you think? I’m not reinventing the wheel here, I ‘m creating using a specific traditional flavor combination. Beef and Sausage are commonly used in meatball making. Sage is so earthy and Parmigiano’s nutty complex flavor combined with a simmer in red wine, olive oil and garlic are simply amazing together. Towards the end I added a spoonful of crushed tomato just to balance it all out but not turning it into a pan of meat balls in sugo di pomodoro. Let’s create this delicious pan in your kitchen now shall we? ANDIAMO.
FOR 24 POLPETTINE:
1/2 LB. FRESH ITALIAN PORK SAUSAGE MEAT (NO FENNEL IS POSSIBLE)
1/2 LB. FRESH GROUND CHUCK BEEF (80% LEAN, 20 % FAT)
1/2 CUP PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS SOAKED IN 3 TBS. HEAVY CREAM
1 LARGE OR JUMBO EGG BEATEN
2 FRESH SAGE LEAVES FINELY MINCED
2 CLOVES FRESH GARLIC FINELY MINCED
1/4 CUP FRESHLY GRATED PARMIGIANO REGGIANO
1/4 TSP. GROUND BLACK PEPPER
NO SALT ADDED BECAUSE THE COMBO OF THE SAUSAGE MEAT AND THE PARMIGIANO WILL ADD THE SALTINESS TO THE POLPETTINE
1/3 CUP RED WINE
1/3 CUP CHICKEN STOCK
PINCH OF SEA OR KOSHER SALT
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
1 TBS. CRUSHED ITALIAN TOMATOES
A FEW EXTRA SAGE LEAVES
1 PEELED FRESH GARLIC CLOVE
In a large stainless steel mixing bowl combine all the ingredients up to the Red Wine. Mix well, but just until it’s a homogenized mixture. Roll into small walnut sized balls. Place on a tray. In a large wide frying pan heat 2 tbs. of the olive oil and place as many meatballs as you can WITHOUT them touching each other. You may have to do this in 2 batches. This recipe makes around 24 meatballs. Brown the meatballs on all sides. Remove to a platter until you’ve finished frying them all. Add one more TBS of Olive Oil and the Garlic clove. Let this get fragrant and then add the wine and deglaze the pan. Get all the bits off the bottom of the pan and then add 1/3 cup of Chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then add the meatballs all in. Let them simmer for 15 minutes on medium/low. When you see most of the liquid is reduced, you’re almost done. Stir in the tomato. Pinch of salt. Remove to a serving platter and add a nice amount of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and garnish with sage leaves. OR, do it all right out of the pan (as shown in the picture).
Now you’re done. Serve as is, with bread to sop up those juices. Accompany with a side of sauteed greens like Broccoli Rabe or Escarole. Maybe some roasted potatoes or a seasoned Rice.
Let’s make a chicken dish. This one is a bona fide Italian dish, and it’s an ItalianAmerican one as well. Fantastic. However. You will probably find a million versions of this so let me explain what makes a chicken dish “CONTADINA”. Take the word itself, it means the Farmer’s Wife. Many Italian dishes are named romantically or literally after the type of person who “invented” the dish. Invented in quotes because we seldom REALLY know where these dishes actually came from. Part of the fun with cooking is piece together bits of national tradition and food culture to find a genesis for a dish. POLLO ALLA CONTADINA is a term used to describe Chicken made in the fashion of a Farmer’s wife or Peasant or Country style. Cut pieces of whole chicken are seared then simmered with pieces of sausage, onion, herbs, wine, mushrooms, lard (or olive oil), peppers and tomato. To make it easy, think of this as the famous Chicken Scarpariello with Crushed Tomato added. Most dishes are interelated. A specific change creates something new. I’ve seen recipes for this with cream as well. I prefer no cream. My modern version of this dish utilizes Boneless breasts. Unlike the Farmer’s wife who was chained to her kitchen and home duties all day I’m not, so I often have less cooking time than 10 hours to prep a meal. You can get this done in under 1 1/2 hours. Comes out even better when you use boneless thighs with the skin on them but my family isn’t a fan of the dark meat. So I’d be lying if I gave you that recipe…lol. But feel free to use Bone in /Skin on pieces of chicken or the boneless skin on /skinless thighs instead of the boneless breasts. Remember, they need longer sear and cooking times so adjust accordingly. See??? Something for everyone is what A FOOD OBSESSION likes to give you!! Historically Chicken is not very Italian in the kitchen and the dishes that are traditional usually are whole birds or in pieces because they were old. Old and Stringy, the young chickens were too valuable to eat as they gave eggs to the family with was way more important a food. And cheap and available to all. ItalianAmericans created most of the cutlet intense Chicken dishes. I say that with love, not as it being a bad thing. It’s wonderful when a cuisine creates a new cuisine. Honor both!!! Enough of my babble…time to cook.
TIME: 1 1/2 HOURS SERVES: 4-6
1 1/2 LBS WHOLE BONELESS CHICKEN BREASTS CUT INTO CHUNKS OR STRIPS
1/8 CUP SEASONED FLOUR
1 LB. SWEET ITALIAN FENNEL PORK SAUSAGE
1 DICED ONION
4 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC
3/4 LB SLICED OR QUARTERED BUTTON MUSHROOMS
1 SLICED RED PEPPER
1/4 CUP ITALIAN WHITE WINE
1 28 OZ CAN ITALIAN PLUM/SAN MARZANO TOMATOES CRUSHED WITH YOUR HANDS
1/8 CUP WATER OR CHICKEN STOCK
1 BAY LEAF
PINCH FENNEL SEEDS
ENOUGH FRESH THYME OR ROSEMARY TO MAKE 2 TBS. CHOPPED
KOSHER SALT AND FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER
Start by lightly seasoning the chicken then coating it with the flour. shake off the excess. In your largest, widest, heaviest pan or Dutch oven, heat 1 tbs. of olive oil and cook the sausage until they are well browned on all sides. Takes about 10-15 minutes. Remove the sausage. Now add more olive oil if necessary and brown the chicken on all sides, in batches if necessary adding more oil as you go (again, if needed). When done deglaze the pan with the wine scraping up all the delicious bits on the bottom. Pour this over the sausage you already have put to the side. Add more olive oil to the pan and saute’ the onions, peppers, and mushrooms, seasoning as you good. When they are soft (don’t rush it…you want them soft before you go to the next step, give this 15 minutes on medium, stirring or shaking the pan/pot from time to time.). Add the garlic and saute in for 2 minutes then add the tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Add 1/2 the chopped herbs and the bay leafand fennel seeds. Season with salt and pepper. Now reduce to a simmer. Add the Sausage, Chicken and all the collected juices. Add the water/stock. Let this simmer for 45 minutes and reduce the liquid by almost 3/4. Stir occasionally, do not cover!!! You want the liquid to evaporate and leave a deliciously concentrated sauce around the meat and vegetables. I like to let it almost completely evaporate. Up to you. Realize though the longer you cook it the more you need to pay attention since you don’t want to scorch/burn that tomato in the dish. So many rules LOL.. Let sit for a bit before serving. Most of all, enjoy every part of cooking. Especially the smiles on everyone who is lucky enough to enjoy your meals! HAPPY COOKING!!
HOW GOOD DOES THAT LOOK? Of course you are agreeing with me. ItalianAmerican style Stuffed FRIED Meatballs, but here’s the thing, these are not simmered in sauce after frying. These are filled, breaded, then fried. Served on their own or on a bed of Sugo di Pomodoro (ok, I’m getting European here, that means Tomato Sauce). At Easter dinner hosted by my sister Joann and her family she made a version of these for the antipasto. Delicious. I took that idea and put some A FOOD OBSESSION touches into the mix and made them a week later. Big hit. And….they are great for entertaining. Party apps or Antipasto for a dinner. You can even use them as an Entree’. So my version of my sister’s POLPETTE FRITTE RIPIENE contain ground beef, ground pork, Red Wine, Garlic, Soaked breadcrumbs, parsley, eggs, lots of grated Pecorino Romano, black pepper, a cube of either Scamorza (my preference) or mozzarella in the center. Let’s stop here, if you follow me on Social media you know I love to use Scamorza cheese. For those who are unfamiliar with it Scamorza is a Southern Italian cheese which starts its life out the same as mozzarella. Mozzarella is eaten fresh. Scamorza is aged for a minimum of around 2 weeks and it becomes sort of the consistency of a Gouda cheese. Yet it’s mild like mozzarella. It’s actually the cheese that Southern Italians use in many “al forno” or baked dishes the way Italian Americans use Mozzarella. It’s low in moisture and melts beautifully. It’s perfect for these meatballs but mozzarella works too. Scamorza looks like a small bag and it’s slightly yellow/gold in color. Lasts a while in the fridge. So thanks to a great meal and idea from my sister here’s my version of Fried Stuffed Meatballs.
FOR 24 MEATBALLS TIME: 1 3/4 HOURS
1 LB. GROUND CHUCK
1/4 LB. GROUND PORK
2 BEATEN EGGS
1 1/2 CUPS STALE BREAD CUBES, OR 1/2 CUP PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS, SOAKED IN MILK OR WATER, THEN SQUEEZE THE LIQUID OUT IF USING THE BREAD, OR JUST ADD ENOUGH MILK, CREAM, OR WATER TO HYDRATE THE CRUMBS AND LET THEM REST FOR 8 MINUTES.
1 1/2 CUPS GRATED PECORINO ROMANO CHEESE
2 TBS MINCED FLAT LEAF ITALIAN PARSLEY
2 FINELY MINCED CLOVES OF GARLIC
2 TBS. ITALIAN RED WINE
1/2 TSP. KOSHER SALT
1/2 TSP. GROUND BLACK PEPPER
24 SMALL CUBES OF SCAMORZA CHEESE, LOW MOISTURE MOZZARELLA, OR DAY OLD FRESH MOZZARELLA. (TIP…USING FRESH MOZZARELLA THE SAME DAY IT’S MADE WILL RELEASE TOO MUCH LIQUID, USE IT ONE DAY LATER)
1 CUP SIFTED FLOUR
1 CUP PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS MIXED WITH 1 CUP PECORINO ROMANO AND 1 TBS. FINELY MINCED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY, SALT AND PEPPER TO TASTE
3 BEATEN EGGS WITH 1 TBS MILK
OLIVE OIL FOR FRYING (YES YOU CAN FRY WITH OLIVE OIL)
MARINARA SAUCE, OPTIONAL
Finely mince the garlic and parsley. In a large bowl, add the beaten eggs, the soaked bread/breadcrumbs, the wine, the grated cheese. Blend well. Now add the meats and blend well. Let this sit for 10 minutes. Now make 24 -26 meatballs slightly bigger than a golf ball. Insert a cube of the cheese into each one carefully making sure that you cover it well with the meat. Roll the meatballs in the flour, then the egg/milk mixture, draining of the excess. Then coat with the breadcrumb/grated cheese mixture. Place all the completed balls on a tray and chill for 10 minutes. Using a heavy frying pan heat up 1/4 inch of Olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs in batches keeping the heat on medium. You want these to cook full so don’t have the oil so hot that the crumbs will burn and the insides stay raw. Gently roll the balls until all sides are toasty golden. Drain on paper towels. Should take 10 minutes. Don’t over crowd…the oil temp drops and you will have steamed soggy meatballs. They can be made ahead of time too and then gently reheated in a moderate oven for 10 minutes. As a serving suggestion, you can plate them or serve them with Warm Marinara sauce. Personally I love them as they are but I know many of you enjoy the sauce idea so serve them however you want. HAPPY COOKING!!!
Chicken Scaloppine (notice my Italian spelling of the American Scallopine, how’s that? lol). There’s no “recipe” for Scaloppine because it refers to the way the meat/poultry is cut. Thin Slices of meat/poulty in Italian are called SCALOPPA, and thinner ones are called SCALOPPINE. In Olde English Collops meant slices of meat so somewhere in Europe this word originated. Scaloppine in Italy generally means a veal dish as the chicken and turkey scaloppine in the US is an ItalianAmerican creation. Chicken Scaloppine could be the most popular of all, but any thin sliced meat or poultry can be used. Ok, enough with the food history. How and why am I blogging this version? Audience request! I made this one night for dinner after work using items in the fridge and then posted it on social media and…..WHERE’S THE RECIPE ??? comments started poking me with notifications. So..here’s how I made this Chicken Scaloppine with Mushrooms and Spinach. I served it over plain steamed white rice.
8 thin sliced and pounded Chicken Breast cutlets (boneless)
1/2 cup sifted flour
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp Granulated Garlic
1/2 tsp Hungarian Sweet Paprika
1/8 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1 1/4 cup Chicken Stock
1 1/4 cups sliced button or Cremini Mushrooms
3 sliced cloves of garlic
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups rinsed and dried baby spinach leaves
2 tbs. unsalted butter
Use your heaviest and largest skillet/pan for this. Add 2 tbs of Olive oil. Heat to medium. Mix together the flour, salt, pepper, paprika, granulated garlic. Dredge the cutlets in the flour on both sides, gently shaking off the excess. In batches saute’ the chicken for about 5 minutes per side. remove them to a platter loosely covered with foil when they are all done Do not stack, lay them out flat. Add the mushrooms and 1 more tbs. of olive oil to the pan. Raise the heat to medium high. Sprinkle the mushrooms with a little salt and pepper…Toss making sure all the mushrooms have been coated with the hot oil. Now saute’ the mushrooms till they start to take on color and are soft. Add the garlic. Saute for 2 minutes and then add the wine. Bring this to a boil and let it cook for 2 minutes. Now add the Stock and bring that to the boil. Stir well to combine all the pan ingredients. Let this boil for 3 minutes then lower to a simmer. In a cup or container add 2 tbs of the flour and then add , stirring while you add about 1/4 cup of the pan liquid. Keep stirring until all lumps are dissolved and you have a nice slurry. Stir the liquid in the pan and swirl in the slurry, keep stirring and gently bring the pan back to the boil THEN reduce to a simmer. It should be lightly thickened by now. Add the chicken back and top with the spinach. Cover the pan for 5 minutes. The spinach should have wilted and gently stir that into the chicken and mushrooms. Your chicken should be tender now and the sauce well blended and seasoned. Of course, check for seasoning at this point. Add any extra salt or pepper you think it needs, if any. Now add 2 tbs of unsalted butter to the pan and blend it into the pan. This adds a nice finish to the pan and extra flavor. Serve over Steamed rice. Happy Cooking!!!!
Italian American cuisine is so widespread through the USA and often there are subtle or major differences in the same dish based on the region. Sometimes it has to do with ingredient availability and often it’s just the style made popular by a chef or cook in a regional ItalianAmerican restaurant borrowing from their own home kitchens. Such is the case with the Classic ItalianAmerican dish, CHICKEN VESUVIO. At it’s base is a bonafide Southern Italian chicken preparation. Chickens were not a popular food as they were more prized for their egg laying. Chicken cutlets were definitely not historical to Southern Italy’s cuisine. The heritage chicken dishes were usually stewed or slow roasted dishes which helped tenderize the chicken’s meat after it was no longer producing enough eggs for the family. Think Chicken alla Cacciatora…or Chicken roasted in a pan with a strong acid (to help make the meat more tender) like Wine, Lemon, or Vinegar. Into that pan herbs that were growing wild or around the house would be added with a good amount of onion or garlic..sometimes both. Potatoes and sometimes other vegetables would be added as the chicken baked and it was all mixed with lard or olive oil. I don’t think there’s an ItalianAmerican who didn’t grow up on a version of this dish. Scarpariello is a version of this dish. Vesuvio is a version of this dish. Why Chicago? Why Vesuvio? As with all foods this one is steeped in many legends. I’ll just give what I think could be the reason. In the 1930’s there was a restaurant in Chicago called VESUVIO and many fingers point to this dish being served on the menu. It became popular and in time became a Chicago dish made in restaurants in that city both Italian and non-Italian. One of the most popular versions of the dish is made with the addition of peas. That’s how I first had it in Chicago and that’s the version I love the most. I’ve also had it with Mushrooms and/or Artichoke Hearts, but I had the version with peas most often. All versions start off with searing/browning the chicken in hot olive oil first. This is key because that pan frying creates a specific taste. Then the chicken is transferred to a baking dish with all the other ingredients and baked till tender. My recipe is pretty much an adaptation from the Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse version.
Serves 4-6 takes 2 hours
4 LARGE RUSSET POTATOES
3/4 CUP EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
8 CLOVES OF GARLIC Gently bruised
2 CLOVES OF GARLIC, finely minced
1 5-6 lb ROASTING CHICKEN cut into 8-10 pieces
2 TBS KOSHER SALT
1 TBS BLACK PEPPER
1 TBS OREGANO, or 2 TBS MINCED ROSEMARY OR THYME
1 TSP. GRANULATED GARLIC
1/3 CUP CHOPPED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY
1 1/2 CUPS DRY ITALIAN WHITE WINE
1 CUP CHICKEN STOCK (LOW SODIUM)
1 CUP FROZEN GREEN PEAS, cooked
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Peel the potatoes and cut them into wedges. Heat some of the olive oil in a large Skillet and salt the potatoes. When the skillet is hot add the potatoes and get them golden on all sides. Add 1/2 the whole garlic and let this cook for only another minute. REmove the garlic and potatoes to a platter. Add more olive oil. Now Season the chicken with salt, granulated garlic, 1/2 the oregano or herbs, black pepper. Fry the chicken just until golden on all sides, Takes about 8 minutes. Then deglaze the pan with the Wine. Let this cook for 10 minutes, making sure you’ve scraped all the brown bits up from the bottom of the pan. Pour the Chicken into a baking pan and add the potatoes and all the other ingredients except for the peas. Roast this until the chicken reaches 155 degrees F. Takes about 40 minutes. At the end, add the peas and blend in with the dish. Cook for another 5 minutes. Make sure the potatoes are tender as well. Baste the dish with the pan juices before you serve. The temperature and time should ensure you not losing juices in the pan BUT if it looks that it might happen then add more wine or stock. A salad or a nice platter of sauteed greens goes great with this ItalianAmerican Classic. Happy Cooking.
The Mediterranean is one of the most varied regions of the world in its beauty, its people, its countries and its cuisines. It straddles Europe, Africa and a bit of Asia. Centuries of trading and plundering brought foods from all over the globe to this region where, like the peppers and the tomato, they became part of the local cuisine. Portugal on the far west of the Mediterranean region is actually on the Atlantic but it shares this food connection with the rest of the area. Seafood, smoked pork sausages, abundant use of the powdered dried red pepper we call Paprika, chiles, onions, Olive Oil, herbs all factor heavily in Portuguese cuisine. Truth be told I’ve not been there, it’s on my bucket list but thanks to living in the NYC Metropolitan area, there are many Portuguese restaurants one can visit, especially in Newark New Jersey’s Ironbound section. One one of these visits I was introduced to the combination of Clams and Pork. There are a few dishes that use fresh pork, fried in cubes, and sometimes sliced Portuguese sausages like chourico and linguica are used. Combined in a saute’ of the pork, peppers, onions, garlic, herbs, then wine, paprika, tomatoes, the clams are then added last and steam in the mix adding their oceanic brine to the liquid. It’s amazing. Want to try it? Good. Let’s cook.
TIME: about 1 hour SERVES: 6
1 LB. PORTUGUESE CHOURICO OR LINGUICA (DIFFERENCE IS CHOURICO IS HOT, LINGUICA IS MILD), CHOICE UP TO YOU. I LIKE THE EXTRA SPICE KICK FROM THE CHOURICO, SLICED INTO 1/4 INCH RINGS
1 CUP CHICKEN STOCK
1/2 CUP PORTUGUESE WHITE WINE (OR ANY MEDITERRANEAN WHITE)
1/4 CUP SPANISH OLIVE OIL
1 LARGE ONION, THIN SLICED
4 CLOVES OF GARLIC, PEELED AND THICKLY SLICED
1 DRAINED 28 OZ CAN OF SAN MARZANO TOMATOES, COARSE CHOP THE TOMATOES, RESERVE THE JUICE FOR ANOTHER USE
1 JAR ROASTED RED PEPPERS, SLICED
4 DOZEN COCKLES OR SMALL LITTLE NECK CLAMS, SCRUBBED AND CLEAN
2 SPRIGS OF CILANTRO OR PARSLEY
1 TSP. SWEET SPANISH PAPRIKA (HUNGARIAN WORKS TOO)
PINCH OF SEA SALT
In a Dutch oven, add 2 tbs of olive oil and heat. Brown the Chourico on both sides. takes about 6 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Add the onions and 1/2 the garlic. Season with salt and the paprika. Be careful not to brown the onion as that will turn them bitter. Keep an eye on it and stir frequently. When they are fairly soft, add the peppers and tomatoes. Saute’ for 5 minutes then add the wine and reserved Chourico, and let this cook for 5 minutes. Add the Cilantro (or parsley) then the rest of the garlic and the chicken stock. Bring to a boil a little more olive oil, and then the clams. With a sturdy spoon make sure the clams are all coated with the liquid. Cover and let this cook for 10 minutes, Uncover and check for the open clams. If all clams aren’t open gently stir the pot and cook until they are all open, another 5 minutes it should take. Let the pot sit hot and covered for 10 minutes. Uncover. Any unopened clams discard. Serve in bowls with crusty bread on the side that you’ve drizzled the remaining olive oil over. Now dip that bread into those bowls, bring a clam up to your mouth and slurp out the juice and the clam then have a slice of chourico as a chaser. LOL. Tastes great right? Enjoy and Happy Cooking!!