Category Archives: HERBS

SEPTEMBER SALAD….TOMATO, PAN ROASTED CORN, THYME AND RANCH WITH RED ONION

0007September is in full swing,  moving us from Summer into Fall and presenting us with some of the best produce of the season.  Tomatoes are fantastic.  Corn is amazing.  Herbs are full of flavor.  It’s right before that old fashioned “Harvest Tyme” so what better time (pun intended) to create a seasonal salad that NEVER tastes as good as right now.  Corn is PAN ROASTED and cut off the cob, mixed with sweet sun ripened  tomatoes, red onion, fresh thyme (more time, i think i have too much TIME on my hands, sorry folks couldn’t resist that bit of corn (more puns, stop!!!). Toss it all with a simple Ranch style dressing and you have a great bowl of salad.  A Celebration of September!  You can make this any time of the year but it will never taste as good as it does right now..unless you’re in the southern Hemisphere. Then you will enjoy this in a few month when your Summer is ending.  I live at the central Jersey Shore and we have farms, lots of local farms that until the first frosts of the upcoming Fall will be giving us wonderful fruits and vegetables. We are called the GARDEN STATE for a reason. Contrary to the usual media images of  the urban areas of this state, we have farms.  Lots of them.  And in September they are giving us their best.  Find some farm fresh tomatoes and corn OR maybe you grow your own!  Follow my recipe and serve this salad to your family and friends.  Let’s go into the kitchen!!!

TOMATO GRILLED CORN THYME AND RED ONION SALAD WITH RANCH DRESSING

TIME : 1 hour                         SERVES: 4-6

RANCH STYLE DRESSING

1/2 CUP BUTTERMILK

1/3 CUP SOUR CREAM

2 TBS. HELLMAN’S MAYONAISE (OR DUKE’S)

2 TBS. OLIVE OIL

1/2 TSP GRANULATED GARLIC

1 TBS. BROWN MUSTARD

1 TSP. APPLE CIDER VINEGAR

1 1/2 TBS. HONEY

2 DASHES TABASCO SAUCE

KOSHER SALT TO TASTE

FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER TO TASTE

whisk ALL the ingredients together till smooth and creamy.  Taste for seasoning.  Cover and leave at room temperature until the Salad is ready to “dress”.

 

SALAD

5-6 EARS OF CORN (or 2 1/2 Cups of Frozen, Drained Canned )

2 TBS. OLIVE OIL

1 MEDIUM RED ONION, SMALL DICED

2 RIPE SEASONAL TOMATOES, DICED

2  TBS. CHOPPED FRESH THYME

SALT, PEPPER

In a hot cast iron pan lightly oil the pan and fit 3 ears of corn and let it char on one side.  Turn and do this with all the ears of corn until they are all nicely charred.  When they have cooled down strip the ear of its corn by holding it vertically in a bowl (with a damp paper towel under it to keep it from moving!)using a sharp knife cut off all the kernels from the ear.  When you are done add the fresh of the ingredients to the bowl.  Season with Salt and Pepper.Then pour the dressing over it all.  Blend well.   Taste for seasoning.Chill for at least 1 hour then serve.   Taste for seasoning.

A fitting salad to usher out the growing season and warm weather!!  Happy Cooking!

 

 

 

 

 

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LAGANE E CECI, PASTA STRIPS AND CHICK PEAS, BASED IN BASILICATA, CREATED IN MY KITCHEN…

0041Back to Italy we go for our dish today….follow me down south to the regions of Basilicata, Calabria, Campania and this recipe known as LAGANE E CECI will show up in kitchens that stick to the old ways.  Certainly that doesn’t mean it’s a stodgy musty old dish, in fatto, with this recipe you will feel very Hipster Brooklyn.  Get that?  OK..  A dish of this LAGANE pasta which is sort of somewhere between Lasagne sheets and a wide Tagliatelle.  The actual LAGANE are a rustic pasta made with no eggs and unless you make them yourself you’re out of luck in the USA finding that pasta.  No worries.  I’m giving you MY rendition of this delicious dish.  Use Lasagne noodles. Cooked just till al dente. You want some chew to the pasta.  When thinking MEDITERRANEAN DIET this has got to be a dish that shows up.  It’s yet another Italian pairing of Beans or Peas and Pasta with a flavorful base.   In the wooded hinterlands between Calabria and Basilicata there use to be roaming bandits  called I BRIGANTI.  They were known as thieves who ate copious amounts of pasta, specifically LAGANA or LAGANE and were given the name “SCOLALAGANE”.  Don’t you love Food history?397224_3628916283922_1247137950_n(the looting SCOLALAGANE in a picture from the internet).  In my ancestral homeland of Basilicata often Sage or Rosemary is the aromatic herb used to flavor the dish.  In my kitchen I prefer using fresh Rosemary.  Up to you! Of course with roots in Calabria and Basilicata you KNOW there will be a chile component to the recipe.  Diavulicchiu or Peperoncino, Calabrian hot dried peppers..any of them work.  The earthy herbs and chick peas and the chewy pasta with the chiles are Italian regional food magic.  It’s an addictive dish.  And easy.  Let’s cook!

LAGANE E CECI ALLA A FOOD OBSESSION

TIME: 1 HOUR                                SERVES: 4-5

1 lb LASAGNA , cooked AL DENTE, then cooled on a rack. Then slice lengthwise into 1 inch strips.  OR us 1 lb PAPPARDELLE, also cooked AL DENTE, drained. OR `1 LB MAFALDE

2 CUPS COOKED CHICK PEAS (CECI), drained

3 TBS. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

3 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

1   TBS TOMATO PASTE

SALT to taste

1 SPRIG FRESH ROSEMARY or 3 FRESH SAGE LEAVES

3/4 TBS CHILE PEPPER FLAKES (PEPERONCINO) or adjust to your heat tolerance.

GRATED RICOTTA SALATA or PECORINO , about 1/2 cup

In a wide heavy pan heat 2 tbs of the olive oil. Then add the garlic and peperoncino and let this get JUST to the point of lightly browning.  Add the tomato paste and blend in.  Add 1/2 tsp of salt and 2 empty paste cans of water.  Let this come to a boil after you’ve gotten all the paste, garlic and water smooth.  Now add the beans and the fresh herb Bring to a simmer for 20 minutes.  Add the “LAGANE” to the pan and heat through for about 5 minutes.  Shut off and let it sit for about 10 minutes.  Drizzle with the remaining tbs of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and the grated cheese.  Blend well.  Serve with extra cheese if you like and more peperoncino…

Enjoy this dish from the interior of three of Italy’s Regions.  I’m sure back in the late 1890’s one of these houses on my maternal Grandfather’s street in Grassano, Basilicata had a pot of this on their stove.  BUON APPETITO!!

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Grassano, early 1900’s..as painted by my late cousin Professore Luigi Paone who lived and died in Grassano.  This painting was given to me by his wife, the late cousin Rosetta on August 15, 2006 in their living room in Grassano.  CHE BELLI RICORDI!!!

 

 

 

 

 

POTATOES STEWED IN TOMATO, PATATE IN UMIDO, WITH GARLIC AND OLIVE OIL

12924567_1312429585441165_3820909032551130529_nDo you have a dish that brings you back to your childhood kitchen table?  I’m sure , like me, you have many.  Most of mine are simple dishes that my stay at home Mom fed us day after day and while they all left an impression on me some were just more special to me.  Coming in from P.S.26 in Staten Island, NYC at 3:10pm every day would always be made better when the aroma coming from Mom’s kitchen reached out..grabbed me by the nostrils and pulled me in.  These are things you don’t ever forget.  Let me not bore you AGAIN with my ethnic background, OK, I’ll bore you..I’m ItalianAmerican, second generation born in the U.S. and our meals were mostly Italian foods, or ITalianAmerican foods and peppered up with American and other international cuisines.  Mom gave us a great meal every night (not so much on breakfast, Mom hated the mornings). Come Spring I start to miss Mom more than usual (#italianamericanmommasboy), she loved her Spring and all the holidays it contained.  March is a bridge month I think.  A little Winter , A little Summer.  It takes us from the cold barren ice into the budding green and flowers.So winter or colder weather dishes are still great thru the month.  PATATE IN UMIDO…Stewed Potatoes, doesn’t sound to great does it?  Let me change your mind.  I’d eat this dish every night. On it’s own with a nice piece of Italian bread.  In the Summer when Dad’s garden was bursting she’d throw handfuls of his many varieties of green beans into the pot as well.  In that one move she took the hearty Wintry Patate in Umido and turned it into a Summer’s dish.  I smell her Aqua Net shellacked hair do along with her perfume as she’s passing me by as I write this. I’ll bet she wants to make sure I don’t screw up her dish as I share it with you!  LET’S COOK!!!

3 lbs of peeled potatoes

3 tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4 cloves of garlic

1 can of San Marzano tomatoes, run thru a blender to puree or 2 cups of Passata

pinch of dried Oregano

salt, pepper

3 fresh Basil leaves

water as needed

Pecorino Romano, or Parmigiano Reggiano, grated to taste

Peperoncino, to taste

Like most rustic Italian dishes not a lot of ingredients, all of these are very obtainable.

Cut potatoes into equal but cubes or slices.  Heat, in a heavy bottomed pot 2 Tbs. Olive Oil.  Pinch of salt, a bit of the Oregano, a bit of the pepper. Now add the potatoes and let them cook for 5 minutes stirring as you go.  Add the garlic and saute’ till fragrant.  Blend well.  Now season the potatoes with salt and pepper and then add the tomatoes and 1 cup of water.  Bring to a boil.  Stir.  Now let this pot simmer for 40 minutes.  Test a potato for doneness. Make sure you gently stir without breaking up the potatoes. If they are cooked through you are done.  Remove from the heat.  Tear up 3 basil leaves and gently blend in. DONE!  This makes large servings for 4, or a side dish for 4-6.  Check the dish for seasoning.  Add salt and pepper as needed/to your liking.  Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the pot. Let your diners add their own peperoncino and Grated Cheese.

Thanks again for stopping by and HAPPY COOKING!!

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TOASTED SPINACH GNUDI WITH A SAGE AND PUMPKIN SAUCE..GNUDI CON SALVIA E ZUCCA

002GNUDI!!!  pronounce it  NYUU-DEE, an Italian food from Tuscany is as it’s name implies, sort of a Nude Ravioli.  It’s a dumpling made with ricotta, eggs, spinach, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and just enough flour to bind it so it’s not quite a gnocchi but close.  Italian cooking is wonderfully full of dishes that closely resemble each other but nuances in ingredient amount or region make them separate and unique.  Fantastic!!  Let me give a foodie PSA here while I have your attention.  You know that TUSCAN recipe or dish you are eating in a restaurant or making at home?  You know, that ULTIMATE TUSCAN soup, chicken, whatever?  It’s more than likely NOT TUSCAN.  Drives me crazy.  As someone who shares food ideas and knowledge calling something TUSCAN when it’s not drives me insane.  Imagine this for a minute…in Italy…at a restaurant or supermarket/store selling American foods…there’s an item called….NEW YORK CAJUN GUMBO….or KANSAS LOBSTER…or MIDWESTERN CLAM CHOWDER….clearly you get my drift.  Louisiana gets the gumbo…Maine gets the Lobster…New England or Manhattan get the Clam Chowder.   The term TUSCAN gets placed on any dish someone (usually a corporate boardroom) wants to for marketing purposes. People are attracted to that term thinking it’s bona fide Tuscan food, or the implication is that all Italian food is Tuscan, or that the American created dish is Tuscan.  Let me do my part to promote real Tuscan influenced food by giving you this recipe I came up with using a Tuscan dumpling and some of the more common Tuscan ingredients..spinach, pumpkin, sage.

Gnudi can be eaten out of the pot, or with butter, or pan toasted, or lightly sauced with butter based sauces, or tomato sauce. A recent batch of gnudi I made, after poaching them i let them “dry” for 2 hours then toasted them in butter till they took on a golden brown crust then simply sauced them with sauteed onions, pumpkin puree, butter, sage, parmigiano-reggiano or Grana Padano, black pepper, and Vin Santo (Spanish sherry makes a decent substitute if you can’t find the Vin Santo).

serves: 4                                          time: 3 hours (which includes the time to let the gnudi dry)

First, the GNUDI

1 CUP  WHOLE MILK RICOTTA, DRAINED

1 CUP CHOPPED FROZEN SPINACH, THAWED AND SQUEEZED VERY DRY (important!!)

1 CUP FRESH GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO OR GRANA PADANO

3 LARGE EGG YOLKS (ORGANIC WORK BEST) at ROOM TEMPERATURE

1 CUP SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR OR TIPO 00 from ITALY

1/8  TSP EACH OF  FRESH GRATED NUTMEG, KOSHER SALT, FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

2 TBS UNSALTED BUTTER

You can use a food processor or bowl for this.  Mix together the Ricotta, Spinach, Parmigiano, and yolks.  Pulse or mix till blended.  Add the nutmeg, salt and black pepper.  Mix.  Now gently add in the flour until fully incorporated. Let sit for 5 minutes.  NOW to form the GNUDI.  Some are made in the small oval shape like I do and some are made in the same size, just under 1 inch, in a ball. Keep the size and shape uniform for consistent cooking. As you make them, lay them onto a kitchen towel covered baking sheet.  Bring a large pot of water to the boil.   When you have finished the gnudi and they’ve rested, gently drop them into the boiling water. Let them cook  and as they are ready, they will float to the top of the pot.  Takes up to 5 minutes.  I use the 5 minute mark as my gauge.  Using a slotted spoon or kitchen spider transfer the drained gnudi to a parchment paper lined sheet pat.  Leave these to dry out now for no less than one hour.

SAUCE:

1 MEDIUM ONION, DICED FINE

6 TABLESPOONS UNSALTED BUTTER (EUROPEAN STYLE OR EUROPEAN WORKS BEST)

2 TBS OF VIN SANTO OR SPANISH SHERRY

1/2 CUP PURE PUMPKIN PUREE (PUMPKIN ONLY)

1/8 CUP RESERVED GNUDI COOKING WATER

2 SAGE LEAVES, WHOLE

FOR GARNISH:

4 CHOPPED FRESH SAGE LEAVES

FRESHLY GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO OR GRANA PADANO TO TASTE

SLIGHT GRATING OF FRESH NUTMEG AND /OR BLACK PEPPER

In a wide heavy bottomed pan melt the butter and then add the onions…bring to medium and let them slowly get soft. Takes about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the 2 sage leaves.  Now add the Vin Santo or Sherry.  Let cook for 2 mintues then stir in the pumpkin puree.  Add the reserved cooking water and bring pan to  boil then reduce to a simmer.  Let simmer for 5 minutes.   Now back to the GNUDI.

In a skillet heat the 2 tbs of butter and gently toast the gnudi on both sides, taking care not to overload the pan.  You may need to do this in 2 batches.  TOO MUCH CROWDING IN A PAN CREATES STEAM AND YOU LOSE THE BROWNING AND EVERYTHING IS RUINED!!!!!! When you have a nice color on the GNUDI like this:156142_2992380330921_1304531591_32200242_158577316_nyou are now ready to sauce them.  Bring the pan of Pumpkin Onion Sage sauce up to medium heat and gently add the gnudi and make sure you coat all the gnudi with the sauce.  TAKE NOTE: I’m saucing it in the Italian manner…as Lidia tells us..”Sauce is merely a CONDIMENTO, the star is the pasta!”…You always want the pasta to shine through, however I understand that most Americans are used to much more sauce on their pasta then they would have in Italy.  Want more sauce on this? Simply double the recipe. Tutti i gusti son gusti!! (Everyone to their own tastes)…back to my recipe.  After you’ve coated all the gnudi and it’s heated thru for a good 3 minutes remove from the heat and garnish with the chopped sage, nutmeg and grated cheese to taste.  Serve.  I’m starving now as I type all this.  It’s such a tasty dish.  0041As always, thank you for letting me into your kitchens….enjoy this little bit of Tuscany, I actually think the region around Siena is noted for their gnudi.  BUONA CUCINA!!

 

 

 

 

 

SAGE AND CRANBERRY ITALIAN SAUSAGE PATTIES…

003The Fall Season seems to turn even our foods in to rust, red, orange and muted green colored fantasies.  Seasons also affect my recipe development as was the case on a blustery autumn day when there was Italian Sweet Fennel Sausage, Calabrian N’duja(a chile spike Calabrian spreadable salami), fresh sage sitting in my fridge.  Grey and chilly outside meant something warm and fall-ish needed to be cooked in the kitchen and I came up with making sausage patties with the ingredients plus some pantry items like a bag of Dried Cranberries.  The pairing of savory minced meats with sweet dried fruits is a gift from the Arab countries and was brought to the Western Mediterranean during their conquests of those areas.  Raisins, currants, pignoli, almonds and so forth show up in ground meat and fish dishes quite often in places like Italy and Spain.  I pooled those resources to develop this VERY tasty SAGE AND CRANBERRY SAUSAGE PATTY.  There’s flavors from Southern and Central Italy here but I’m modifying the recipe for the blog since N’djua is a ridiculously tough food to find for most people.  Instead I’m going to use Spanish Pimenton (Smoked Paprika) and Peperoncino (Italian dried hot pepper) to replicate the flavors in the Calabrian N’duja.  A little finishing of the cooked patties with Marsala or Sherry nicely rounds it all out.I’m such a fan of the sweet /savory foods.  This is one of them.  Serve with bread, or a vegetable or even rice.

TIME: 35 MINUTES                                     SERVES: 2-3

2 lbs. the BEST ITALIAN PORK SAUSAGE MEAT YOU CAN GET (simply slit the casings and remove the meat)  you can use ITALIAN TURKEY SAUSAGE as an alternative.

2 TBS DRIED CRANBERRIES

1 MINCED SHALLOT

3 FRESH SAGE LEAVES, FINELY CHOPPED, plus some whole leaves for garnish

4 TBS MARSALA OR SHERRY

1 TSP. GROUND RED CHILES (or PEPERONCINO)

1 TSP. SPANISH PIMENTON (SPANISH SMOKED PAPRIKA)

(if you want less “heat” from the chiles, go with 1/2 Tsp and replace with 1 tsp of sweet paprika..but use the Pimenton as well.  Paprika is simply an Eastern European word for red peppers)

OLIVE OIL

Mix everything except the olive oil and only use 1 tbs of Marsala or Sherry in a bowl.  Combine till well blended. Let sit for 10 minutes. 401674_3107550370100_1304531591_32244544_484452443_nNow form into 4-6 patties. In a pan, add 2 tbs of olive oil and place on medium heat, and cook the patties until crusty and golden brown on each side, about 6 minutes per side.  Remove the finished patties to a platter and lightly cover with aluminum foil.  Add the rest of the olive oil to the pan and deglaze it with the remaining Marsala or Sherry. Add  a little more olive oil and then return the patties to the pan and simply heat them up in the pan sauce, about 2 minutes.  Done.  Garnish with dried cranberries and, although I didn’t when I made them in the picture, I’ve toasted almond pieces and garnished with them too. Sweet, savory, hot, porky, Mediterranean, herby, and with the almonds, crunchy.  This is when food talks back to you and you response, GRAZIE or Thank you.  Happy Cooking!!

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note:  no salt added, why? Sausage is well salted.  Adding salt to these patties would make them way too salty.

 

PEPERONATA, SOUTHERN ITALIAN PEPPER STEW

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PEPERONATA

 

Italian Cuisine is full of simple dishes that require one rule….look for the best ingredients you can find.  That basically translates into cook with the seasons.  In the USA we can access foods out of our regional seasons at any time of the year.  Making an out of season peperonata will still be a delicious dish but never as good as when peppers are in season.  That rule applies across the board.  Me?  I make peperonata whenever I feel like totally realizing that a Peperonata made in May will take delicious, but never as good as one you make in August thru November.The most basic form of this PEPERONATA, which is a PEPPER STEW, is  slow cooking strips of different colored peppers in Olive Oil  with onions and garlic.  Then it splits off from there into many variations.  Give this dish about 2 hours of your time and you’ll be making it over and over again.  Use a nice heavy and wide pot fot this dish, a dutch oven.  I add the umami of Anchovy to the mix.  The dish is southern Italian so as long as these are combos that appear in other regional dishes you are not committing Italian Food Heresy. 006Home grown produce that’s still warm in your hand and seconds from picking it will ALWAYS be the optimum way to get your ingredients. In the real world only a handful of us have that treat.  Next best idea is to have a local farmers or farm market where produce truly is local, from the surrounding area.  Living at the Central Jersey Shore we have quite a few great places that for those of us who don’t grow in our own gardens and the seasonal selections are fantastic. This is where I purchased the peppers for my PEPERONATA. http://www.deliciousorchardsnjonline.com/….DELICIOUS ORCHARDS in Colts Neck N.J.  Beautiful selection of local bell peppers, seasonal bell peppers from other areas, local cubanelles, cheese peppers, hot cherry peppers, Italian long hots, Italian Long Sweets, and dozens of chile pepper varieties.  For this dish we use a mix of multicolored bell peppers.  The long stewing transforms these ordinary tasting peppers into a complex and velvet like vegetable stew.  About the variations, if the core of the dish isn’t a slow cooked down pot of pepper slices with olive oil and onions and/or garlic it’s just a saute’ of peppers. A little tomato in the mix adds to the complexity.  I use a tablespoon of Imported Italian tomato paste..rich and concentrated. Lidia is telling us “layers of flavor” in most of her shows and this dish is an example of how a crisp raw pepper and some other ingredients turns into something so much greater than it was before you made the Peperonata.  Get excited!! This is an exciting tasting dish. Here is my version of PEPERONATA!

MAKES ABOUT 5 CUPS                             TAKES: CLOSE TO 2 HOURS

1/2 cup OLIVE OIL

8 MULTICOLORED SUMMER BELL PEPPERS, seeded, cored, ribs cut out, and cut into as uniformly sliced cuts as you can get.

2 MEDIUM SLICED ONIONS

3 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

1/2 TSP. CRUMBLED DRIED OREGANO

1 TSP. RINSED SALTED CAPERS

1 ANCHOVY FILET (ok, optional if you refuse to enjoy the umami that those delicious little fish give without making it taste like fish…just sayin…)

1 TABLESPOON OF TOMATO PASTE (i use imported Italian tomato paste)

2 TABLESPOONS OF RED WINE VINEGAR

1/8 cup WHITE WINE

SEA SALT

PEPERONCINO

In a large heavy pot(Dutch oven) heat 1/2 the olive oil and add the peppers. Season the peppers with salt  and make sure to coat them well with the oil.  This really helps with breaking them down.  Let this cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.  Now add the onion, garlic, anchovy, oregano and pinch of peperoncino, pinch of salt and blend well with the peppers.  Let this cook for 10 minutes.Add the wine and tomato paste  the rest of the olive oil and the capers and blend well.  Continue to cook on low for 1 hour, stirring frequently. When the peppers are nice and soft, add the vinegar and stir.  Taste. Check for seasonings at this point. Remove from the heat and let it sit for 3 hours or over night. Then use either at room temperature or gently reheated.

Some people add olive to this.  I prefer not too.  Up to you.  TUTTI I GUSTI SON GUSTI!! meaning everyone to their own tastes!!

So what are we using this in?? Again, on it’s own as a main or side with bread…in eggs, frittata, over an omelette, mixed with potatoes, on sandwiches,  with sausages and pork, over grilled chicken..on flatbreds, pizzas, bruschetta and crostini…0002More local peppers…these are from another fantastic local farm market I frequent… MATT’S FARM MARKET in Lake Como, NJ…  http://www.mattsfarmmarket.com/

 

Remember, these are not fried peppers, or sauteed peppers, they are stewed peppers, a 2 hour investment will pay off in high culinary dividends!!

 

 

 

 

 

STUFFED ARTICHOKES…A TRIBUTE TO A BEAUTIFUL SOUL

stufarti4316 006   Cooking is sometimes called a labor of love, you have to love to do it, you have to love the whole process, and you have to love to feed people and satisfy them.  Lots of love.  There’s another type of love and it’s the love you feel because that dish you are making, the aroma, the prep, the taste, the look, all of it combines and fills your soul with someone who has touched your heart.  Many times is a person who is still living…and many times it’s a reminder of someone who has left us.  This is such a dish for me.  Stuffed Artichokes are a very common dish in the Italian-American home.  Their origin is somewhere down south, this preparation anyway.  In many articles Sicily claims it and in others the people from Naples claim it.  Truth be told I’ve never met an Italian-American whose ancestry hails from any of the southern regions that doesn’t make this.  It definitely shows up at every Fall thru Winter holiday table.  It’s festive and there’s a good amount of work in making them, all worth it.  Simply put, they are trimmed, centers are cleaned out, and they are stuffed with any number of breadcrumb combinations, usually the same with some differences from kitchen to kitchen.  Before we tackle these amazing “vegetables” let’s discuss what they are.  For me, they are as common as apples and chocolate candy but I realize you all didn’t grow up in my home.  The ARTICHOKE is the bud of a type of THISTLE plant.  They are cut before the flower blossoms and to cook they are braised, steamed, fried, the leaves are scraped against your bottom teeth to release the delicious “meat”, the bottoms are eaten, and the hearts sometimes are used in salads, fried, baked, grilled.

Here is where this Stuffed Artichoke takes on a special meaning for me.  Whenever my mom made them and my recipe is close to hers it’s not exact, but when she made them she made sure to connect herself with her late sister Luigina (Jean) Scaramuzzi Clark.  You see Aunt Dee Dee (Italian American families have a confusing habit of calling someone 2-4 different names, don’t ask) would add pignoli to her stuffing, and she crowned each stuffed artichoke with a piece of Anchovy and some fennel seeds.  My mom would almost say a prayer as she was doing it.  “This is how my sister Jean would make then”..over and over again I can hear Mom saying that.  auntdede  It was 51 years ago on October 9, 1964 that my Aunt passed away leaving a husband and 2 children.  She was only 39, complications from a surgery.  I have a huge family and each Aunt and Uncle were special but Aunt Dee Dee was something just a little more than special.  That picture is of her in her home Easter 1959.  I think you can see from the picture the loving and fun person she was.  I was only 6 when she passed away but I was heartbroken.  I’ll say my mom never recovered from losing her sister, nor did the other 6 Scaramuzzi siblings.  Aunt Dee Dee let me do things my VERY over protective mom did not, like go around the corner to the store on my own, I know, only 6 but we are talking 1964, very different times.  The Italian store, FAZZINO’S was literally in Aunt DeeDee’s backyard.  I stayed over their home that summer of 1964, so long ago, it may have only been one night but it was like the best night ever.  My cousin Eddie had stacks of horror magazines that he let me pour through, and Aunt DeeDee needed something from the store, it might have been cold cuts so she gave me the money and send me around the corner and watched me go with the list.  What a thrill that was, I was a man now !!  I guess we had a nice lunch or dinner when Uncle Ed and cousin Joyce were home and that’s where that memory of letting me do something like a big kid ended. Dad picked me up and then it was back to waiting till I was a little older to do that again, but I never forgot my Aunt for giving me that thrill.  Only a few short month later she was gone.  However I’m sure I speak for my cousins, we’ve never forgotten her and every Oct. 9 I remember, and this one I decided to make the Stuffed Artichokes “her way”….my kitchen tribute to a loved Aunt who is still missed over 50 years later.

Ok…time to cook.

for 4                    Time: 2 hours

stufarti4316 015  It would be a lie if I said..so easy..artichokes are a pain in the ass to prep.  Don’t ask me for the easy way because Nature is Nature and they are what they are. If they are very prickly you must cut them away with a very sharp knife, trim the bottom and the stem leaves, then smash them onto a hard and flat surface. Then with your hands pry them open. See, it’s really a flower and you can see this as you pry them open.  Into the center you go and at the bottom are 2 layers..one if the choke…and it will do just that to you if you don’t remove it.  It’s a slightly thorny, needle like fuzz that with a spoon, a Grapefruit spoon best if you have one of them (really, who has them anymore?) scrape it all out, using the spoon and your fingers.  The layer under that is the  HEART, the prize, to me, one of the BEST TASTING FOODS ON EARTH. The idea here is to stuff down to the choke and fill in randomly the layers of leaves surrounding the choke.  It’s random RANDOM random…meaning there’s no symmetry to this. Every leaf doesn’t need to have stuffing on it…you’ll see.

  • 4 large artichokes (PREPPED)
  • 3/4  cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated PECORINO ROMANO
  • 2 minced garlic cloves, 2 smashed cloves for the sauce
  • 1/2 mashed filet of anchovy, one filet cut in fourths, 1/2 filet for the sauce
  • 2 tbs toasted pignoli
  • 2 tbs chopped italian flat leaf parsley
  • pinch of peperoncino
  • 1/2  tsp fennel seeds
  • salt
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 juiced lemon
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  •  1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbs EUROPEAN butter, if not, use Unsalted.

Mix the breadcrumbs, Pecorino, Garlic, Mashed Anchovy, pignoli, 3/4 of the fennel seeds (give them a little whack with the side of your knife), pinch of salt, a little of the lemon juice and enough Extra  Virgin Olive Oil to “moisten” them…careful not to over oil.  Fill the artichokes, center first, don’t PACK the crumbs,then the sides.  Chokes are all different sizes so you may need more filling, or less. stufarti4316 013 In a heavy bottomed saucepan that will hold all four Stuffed Artichokes,  add a few tbs. of the olive oil, add the smashed garlic cloves, then the 1/2 filet of anchovy.  Let this saute’ together, then add the water and the wine and the lemon juice. Pinch of salt.  Add the artichokes and make sure the liquid comes at least 1/2 way up the chokes.stufarti4316 011

Top each artichoke with a few fennel seeds and the 1/4 piece of Anchovy.1896946_356315294536777_6420556031303265535_n  NOW  bring to a boil for 5 minutes then reduce the heat to a simmer. Pour some of the cooking liquid over each of the stuffed chokes . Drizzle with olive oil. COVER TIGHTLY making sure there’s no steam escaping, they will steam for 45 minutes minimum.  You will check at the 1/2 hour point to make sure there’s still enough liquid in there.  Add as needed but don’t bring the liquid to the middle of the chokes this time. Cover again .  They should be done by now BUT that’s not foolproof.  Try to remove a leaf from one of the chokes.  If it easily pulls off, you are done, if not go for 10 minutes more.  They should look like this when you remove the cover. stufarti4316 008  The breadcrumbs should have a moist look to them.

Let them sit in this hot pot, COVERED, for 10 minutes.  Remove to a serving platter.  Bring the pan liquid to a boil then a simmer and let it reduce if it hasn’t already. you may not need to do anything.  Remove from the flame and whisk in the butter.  A squeeze of lemon. Done.  Now Drizzle this over each of the Artichokes.  Serve.  And at the end of the eating you’ll be left with the PRIZE, the HEART…I was way too excited to take the picture when I got down to it so, pardon the chewed up look of my plate, but you get the idea.  BTW, that plate, not my Aunt Luigina’s, but it was another beloved Aunt’s, it was my Aunt Angelina DeSiato Scaramuzzi’s.  Food with no history and love is the stuff you eat on the run or when that’s all that is available.  In your kitchen…you are in control and I like to good with my relatives all around me, figuratively.  They made me happy as a child and their memory continues to make me smile, especially at my kitchen table.

Buon Appetito!!