Category Archives: SICILIAN CUISINE

SICILIAN CAULIFLOWER AND POTATO CROQUETTES, CAZZILLI DI VRUOCCULI E PATATE

12301481_523460571155581_6765352164488669537_n Italians love fried little bits…fritti…and the fritti come in many forms.  Depending on the region you will often find little street stands or stores that specialize only in Fried Foods. Stop.  I see your eyes rolling.  Life’s too short not to enjoy a fried treat now and then.  The list of Italian fried bits is very long AND delicious but let me introduce you to this one from Sicily.  The CAZZILLO.  Plural, CAZZILLI.  Now pardon my comments here but Sicilians love the bawdy and love things that make you laugh in embarassment.  Cazzo is Italian for the male organ…Cazzilli is Sicilian for, well, a little one LOL.  Are you embarassed and shocked?  The Sicilians have done it again.  Have some fun, life’s too short not to laugh a little.  This dish combines the Sicilians love of a good joke with a few of their favorite foods, potatoes and cauliflower.  VRUOCCULI is actually a type of cauliflower, a little greener than our pure white American Cauliflowers.  This CAZZILLI recipe is a version of the typical Sicilian potato croquette combined with mashed cauliflower.  Sicilians make their potato croquettes either simply rolled in flour and fried OR breaded and fried.  Generally when I’m making a Napoletana style Potato Croquette (Panzarotti) I will bread them. But when making Sicilian ones I don’t bread them.  These Cazzilli have a hefty helping of grated Caciocavallo cheese in them.  Now Caciocavallo is not available everywhere so instead you can use the more accessible Provolone or Pecorino.  See, I”m not going to give you a recipe that you can’t reproduce in your kitchen.  Truth be told most cooks in their homes will use what’s on hand to make a dish so it’s fine to use any one of the three.  Caciocavallo is most Sicilian.  If you have a good cheese store by you see if they carry CACIOCAVALLO RAGUSANO, from Ragusa, Sicily. It’s amazing.   Now here’s a few tips.  Start with leftover or day old Mashed Potatoes.  Many recipes tell you to make it all the same day.  No.  There’s a magic that happens when a cooked starch sits overnight.  Trust me.  ItalianAmerican Moms and Grandmothers would make their versions of Potato croquettes usually with leftover mashed potatoes from the day before’s dinner. Same for RiceBalls (Arancini).  The end result is just better, and they don’t fall apart.  You’ll need 3 cups of mashed potatoes of this recipe.  Steam the cauliflower the day before as well.  One head of cauliflower for 3 cups of mashed potatoes.  When the cauliflower is still warm, mash it well.  set it in a strainer and let it drain overnight.  OR if you have leftover cauliflower, simply mash it.  So those are the starting points for these CAZZILLI.  Let’s get cooking now!!

TIME: 24 hours                   SERVES: 6 (up to 3 per person)

3 cups chilled day-old Mashed Potatoes

1 mashed steamed Cauliflower head

2 beaten eggs

1 1/4 cup grated CACIOCAVALLO or PECORINO or PROVOLONE cheese

2 tbs. All purpose flour

1 tbs. minced flat leaf Italian parsley

salt, fresh ground black pepper

Olive oil for frying

Lemon slices for serving

Simply blend ALL the ingredients and season with salt and lots of black pepper until you can form a small oval shaped croquette, about 2 inches long.  Roll each one in flour, and then chill for 1/2 hour.  In a large heavy high sided pan (pull out the cast iron skillet for this!) Bring 2 inches of  oil to 360 degrees F and start frying the Cazzilli.  DON’T CROWD THE PAN!!! 5-6 at a time works well.   Fry till golden on all sides, takes about 3 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towels.  When done frying transfer to a nice serving platter and garnish with lemon slices.  They are wonderful hot or at room temperature.  Enjoy your CAZZILLI!!! HAPPY COOKING.

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SFINGI DI SAN GIUSEPPE PALERMITANI..SAINT JOSEPH’S SFINGI PASTRY, PALERMO STYLE

palmsunday16 044I get excited many times during the year in anticipation of a Holiday or Celebration and the foods that are part of that season, day, or time.  One of my most favorite is the annual Catholic celebration of the Feast of St.Joseph which Southern Italian culture has created a beautiful day of Springtime foods only eaten on March 19.  San Giuseppe is especially  revered in Sicily where he is one of their most beloved patrons.  Huge Celebrations in all the towns and homes flow out into the streets and special savory and sweet foods are made.  No where in Italy is this celebration as exhuberant as in Sicily, but don’t worry, the rest of Italy celebrates it with many different sweet and savory treats as well  This post deals with my most favorite of them all, the SFINGI DI SAN GIUSEPPE.  Sfingi is a term meaning a fried sponge of dough.  Sfingi are also the name for what people in Naples called Zeppole.  However….when the talented Sicilian pastry makers started immigrating to the USA in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s some things made some changes.  I have no idea why or how this happened because at St.Joseph’s time all Italian Pastry shops made 2 types of “St.Joseph’s Pastry”. They are now sold from the beginning of Lent thru Easter with peak production on and about March 19.  The two types are the Sicilian Sfingi which has morphed into a large, sometimes oversized cream puff, baked then filled with a Ricotta Cannoli Cream.  The top of the Cream puff is placed back on and a then a rosette of Cannoli cream added.  To this crushed pistachio or nuts, candied cherry and orange peel are added.  Crowned with powdered sugar.  The other pastry is from Naples, and is called the ZEPPOLE DI SAN GIUSEPPE.  Using a pastry bag and a rosette tip a circle of the cream puff dough is piped out then slid into hot oil and fried.  It’s split and a Vanilla Italian Pastry Cream (Crema Pasticceria) is added to the center, The top is placed on it and a rosette of the cream topped with a sour cherry (Amarena) goes on to finish it.  Both are amazing.  But so strange that the formerly fried SFINGI is now the baked one.  Whatever.  All delicious.  This is a dish that my mom made.  She loved making cream puffs.  She filled them with all sorts of fillings, puddings, whipped cream, italian creams, ricotta cream, chocolate cream.  But for San Giuseppe she made the Sicilian sfingi (she was not Sicilian!) and I watch intently as she went thru each step.  Let’s push this even further as in Palermo they leave the top off, sort of a Sfingi on the Half Shell.  These are the ones I”m showing you here.  Let’s go into the kitchen and bake!!!

First, you need to make the filling.  CREMA DI RICOTTA SICILIANA

1 lb DRAINED WHOLE MILK RICOTTA

1/2 CUP CONFECTIONERS SUGAR

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon or one very very very SMALL drop of Cinnamon Oil.

3 tbs. fine chopped CITRON

2 tbs. small semi sweet CHOCOLATE CHIPS

BLEND TOGETHER UNTIL VERY SMOOTH AND CHILL OVER NIGHT

 

SHELLS: GLI SFINGI

1 CUP WATER

1/2 CUP BUTTER OR SHORTENING

1/8 TEASPOON OF  KOSHER SALT

1 cup TIPO 00 ITALIAN FLOUR OR 1 CUP SIFTED ALL PURPOSE UNBLEACHED FLOUR

3 EGGS

GARNISH:  CANDIED CHERRIES   CANDIED ORANGE PEELS  CRUSHED PISTACHIOS

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Bring a cup of water to a boil.  Add the butter or shortening and the salt.  Stir until the butter/shortening is melted and comes back to the boil.  Lower the heat and gently add all the flour in at once and keep stirring with a wooden spoon until the flour leaves the sides of the pan.  Remove from the heat.  Now add one egg and beat into the hot mixture until it’s fully incorporated.  Do the same with the next two eggs beating thoughroughly after each egg addition.  Place a parchment sheet on a baking pan.  PLace the mixture in a pastry bag and press out a mound about 2 inches wide.  Or form the same with tablespoons.  Bake for 20 minutes in the hot oven.  Then lower the temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for an additional 20 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on racks. When cool slice in half.. Remove any wet dough from the inside it there is any.   Fill each 1/2 with the Ricotta cream.  Top with a candied cherry, slice of candied orange peel and some crushed Pistachio nuts.  Chill for 2 hours before serving.  Makes about 1 1/2 doz.   BUONA FESTA DI SAN GIUSEPPE!!!

 

 

MEATBALLS WITH A SICILIAN INFLUENCE, CREATING A RECIPE, POLPETTINE IN BIANCO

0041Meatballs….one of those perennial favorites, all kinds, all types, all cuisines.  One of my missions with my food blogging and Social Media posting is that people open their minds to meatballs other than the usual suspects. Oh I’m not saying that your favorites aren’t fantastic but instead I’m saying look beyond the familiar and there’s a world of other types to enjoy.  Standing at my stove last night it was St.Joseph’s Day (Festa di San Giuseppe) which is celebrated with much fervor by Italians, specifically Sicilians.  You see the good San Giuseppe saved Sicily from all sorts of bad things and as most religious legends and traditions  do, there is celebrating on the days these saints are honored.  For Sicily there’s a host of foods, and since March 19 falls during LENT when meat was forbidden to be eaten, all the dishes are meatless, emphasis on seafood and fish.  Confused? Asking yourself, um, then why a meatball post?  BECAUSE.  These are not meatballs for St.Joseph’s day but, as with all recipes, they have a development genesis. Ground chuck in the fridge….one daughter who doesn’t like anchovies in her pasta (which was the one of the St.Joseph’s entrees I made)…killing two birds with one stone meant to have something for my daughter, make meatballs out of that chopped chuck.  Easy. Then the recipe developer in me took over and I paired the Sicilian-ness of the day with my meatballs.  No these aren’t a traditional Sicilian meatballs but, again, recipe development has many influences and the Sicilian holiday gave me the inspiration.  Ground Chuck.  Sicilian Oregano.  Pecorino cheese. Black Pepper.  Eggs. Plain Breadcrumbs. Red Onions. Mix, roll, fry in Sicilian Olive Oil and simmer in a mix of that oil, red onion, basil and Marsala Wine, also from Sicily. Sicily’s cuisine does not always contain garlic, oh yes it’s used but Onion will show up more often.   Originally I was going to use White Wine and I named the dish Polpettini in Bianco.  Instead  I switch last minute to the made in Sicily fortified Marsala.  Still in Bianco because that Italian Culinary term means NO TOMATO.  See, more pearls of Italian culinary wisdom.  You’re Welcome.548528_2971219081903_1304531591_32189688_1417227459_n From my hometown of Staten Island NYC comes this picture courtesy of the Staten Island Advance of the San Giuseppe (St.Joseph’s) Procession.    How does any of this factor into developing a recipe? Again, my opinion only, but a good recipe is developed organically…things that should belong together create a special harmony and when you’re in a certain mindset you become even more creative. E COSI’. Let’s make POLPETTINI IN BIANCO.

TIME: 45 MINUTES                                    YIELDS: 25 WALNUT SIZED MEATBALLS, approx.

 

1 LB. GROUND CHUCK (80% lean, 20% fat)

1 LARGE EGG

3 TBS. FINELY MINCED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

1 SMALL CALABRIAN RED ONION OR SHALLOT, finely minced

1/2 TSP SICILIAN DRIED OREGANO rubbed between your hands, or any good dried Oregano

1 TBS SICILIAN EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL or another good Extra Virgin, preferably Italian

1/2 CUP DRY PLAIN BREADCRUMBS moistened (hydrated) with 3 tbs milk or cream

1/2 CUP FRESHLY GRATED CACIOCAVALLO OR PECORINO CHEESE

1/2 TSP SEA SALT

1/2 TSP BLACK PEPPER

2 TBS OLIVE OIL (or use the same you used above)

1/2 CUP MARSALA WINE OR WHITE WINE

1/8 CUP STOCK OR WATER

2 FRESH BASIL LEAVES

In a large bowl beat the egg and add the cheese, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, all but 1 tsp of the onion, salt and pepper,the tbs of Extra Virgin Olive oil. When this is well mixed together, add the meat and gently blend till it’s all one mixture. Let this rest for 5 minutes. Form into Walnut sized balls and line on a foil or wax paper or parchment paper covered baking sheet.  In a large wide and heavy skillet heat the 2 TBS of Olive Oil and in batches add the meatballs and let them fry for about 6 minutes,397224_3628916283922_1247137950_n then turn, fry for another 4 minutes.  remove them all to a platter keeping them covered until done.  In the pan add the remaining onion and saute for 3 minutes then add the stock and the Marsala, bring to a boil.  Add the basil leaf then the all the meatballs and reduce to a simmer.  Let this simmer for 15 minutes but stir a few times.  Done.Remove from the flame and  give gentle stir.  Let them sit for 15 minutes…then serve.  Wonderful with roasted potatoes and a green sauteed vegetable.  Enjoy making these PURPETTINE CU’BIANCU….what’s that?  POLPETTINE IN BIANCO in Sicilian.  More fun saying it that way I think.  Happy Cooking!!

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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FENNEL AND TOMATO BAKED CHICKEN, COMBINING DELICIOUS ITALIAN FLAVORS

fennelchicken-003As the weather moves towards the colder side we look to our ovens again.  The aromas that envelope the home as a dish is roasting or baking bring on anticipatory hunger and a generally good feeling all around.  I find Baking/Roasting Chicken can turn a cold rough day into a warm hug everytime.  The combinations and cuisines are endless. Chicken is a blank canvas that pays off with a masterpiece when completed.  CHICKEN SKIN!!!  The flavor center.  It gives up its flavor to the meat and to the cooking juices while keeping some in that skin which makes it a delight.  My cooking is done mostly, almost 99% of the time in absence of a recipe, instead, i use my cooking experience and research to put together dishes that make sense.  Some are actual regional dishes with a set list of ingredients in a particular manner.  Then there are the other times when I use a basic template for a dish and play around.  Like I did one night after work with this BAKED CHICKEN WITH FENNEL, TOMATOES , AND MUSHROOMS.  Fennel (oftentimes LIKE TONIGHT AT THE SUPERMARKET, it’s mislabeled as ANISE, similar tastes but not the same) is in the fall and winter markets.  The type is actually FLORENTINE FENNEL, or FINOCCHIO, and is part of the ItalianAmerican holiday table.  That’s why I bought a big knob with stalks and beautiful fronds tonight.  But I once had some post-Thanksgiving finocchio hanging around in the fridge.  Fennel is often made as a side dish, roasted in the oven. SO….there were some Grape tomatoes and onions in my view, a nice pack of Organic chicken cut into pieces and I thought…let’s make a dish.  The chicken is well seasoned, the tomatoes are thrown in the pan along with some whole mushrooms, chopped fennel, olive oil, some cloves of garlic and White Wine and stock…and then baked. That’s it.  With those ingredients you CAN’T GO WRONG..your home will smell like a country restaurant somewhere in Italy or Sicily where Fennel is king.  Let’s make some chicken with fennel!!

TIME: 1 1/2 HOURS                                     SERVES: 4

1 ORGANIC OR NATURAL CHICKEN, CUT INTO 8 PIECES

2 TSP KOSHER SALT

1 TSP GROUND BLACK PEPPER

1/4 CUP OLIVE OIL

1 FENNEL BULB, TRIMMED AND SLICED

10 CHOPPED FENNEL FRONDS  (THE TOPS OF THE STALKS)

2 PINTS CHERRY TOMATOES

1 LB. WHOLE CREMINI OR BUTTON MUSHROOMS

1 MEDIUM ONION DICED

2 SMASHED CLOVES OF GARLIC

1/4 CUP WHITE WINE

1 TSP. HUNGARIAN PAPRIKA

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In a bowl, liberally season the chicken with salt, pepper, paprika, and olive oil. In another bowl, do the same with the fennel, tomatoes, mushrooms, onion, garlic.   In a baking pan add the vegetable mixture. Then fit the chicken into the pan. fennelchicken-005

Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top, then the wine.  Place into the oven in the middle rack and let it cook undisturbed for 25 minutes.  Baste the chicken with the pan juices and rotate the pan. Bake for an additional 25 minutes, or until the chicken is reading 165 degrees F on a meat thermometer (so you know, that’s my BFF).  When the chicken is at that temp, remove from the oven. baste with the pan juices and then cover and serve in 5 minutes.Delicious and clean tasting. Meat and a plate of vegetables cooked in the pan juices.  So good.  I like roasted potatoes, or rice, or simply some good bread with this…up to you. fennelchicken-004That pan is DYING for what the Italians call FARE LA SCARPETTA!!  Scooping up those pan juices with a really well crusted piece of Italian bread.  Do it before someone else does…you cooked it, it’s your treat. You deserve it.  Now enjoy your meal!  Happy Cooking!!

SICILIAN STYLE SAUSAGE MEATBALL STEW..SPEZZATINO CON POLPETTE DI SALSICCIA

img_3252SPEZZATINO!!!! The Italian word for STEW…although the word STUFATO means stew also, don’t ask, I don’t have an answer for that.  I think SPEZZATINO sounds nicer.  On the island of Sicily they have a SPEZZATINO culture, over in the Palermo region where they stew meatballs with potatoes.  Sounds like heaven.  A few years ago my friend Rose Marie Trapani, a native of the Palermo, Sicily region talked about her Mamma’s Meatball and Potato stew.  I had to make it. I loved everything about it.  In Sicily they also use the term SPEZZATINO AGGRESSATO DI POLPETTE CON PATATE…more new Italian and Sicilian words to increase your culinary vocabulary!! I like!!!  However, the stew I made last night was BASED on the principles of the Spezzatino Aggressato but I must drop AGGRESSATO from my recipe title.  My meatballs in this recipe are made from Sweet Italian Fennel Sausage Meat.  Into the stew I add Broccoli Rabe, Onions, Potatoes, diced Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Borlotti Beans and a nice red wine from Sicily, from REGALEALI, a NERO D’AVOLA.  What flavors in this stew! Notice I say Sicilian Style only because I created this dish in my kitchen with things from my pantry and fridge that went well together, it’s not a bona fide Sicilian dish.  I try to be careful about my Recipe titles. When I had a bowl of the Spezzatino the next day  I added some ricotta to the mix.  WOW. Not only did it taste better like all stews do the second day but the ricotta was a very tasty addition!  I’d advise making this on one day, and serving it the next.  Truly remarkable Italian-Siclian flavors.  It has that “Grandma” taste..are you with me here? Capisci??? Good.  Now we can start to cook.img_3231

First, we make the POLPETTE DI SALSICCE…the Sausage meatballs, made a bit smaller than a Sunday Sauce meatball.

TIME: 1 1/2 HOURS, prep and cooking                              SERVES: 4

1 LB LOOSE ITALIAN SWEET FENNEL SAUSAGE MEAT

1 BEATEN LARGE EGG

1 CUP STALE ITALIAN BREAD, SOAKED IN MILK AND SQUEEZED

2 TBS CHOPPED ITALIAN PARSLEY

1 CLOVE FINELY MINCED GARLIC

1/4 CUP GRATED PECORINO ROMANO OR PROVOLONE OR CACIOCAVALLO CHEESE

1/8 CUP RED WINE ( A RED SICILIAN, LIKE NERO D’AVOLA FROM REGALEALI IS FANTASTIC)

(do not add any salt to these meatballs as the sausage meat is already salted/seasoned and we are adding grated cheese)

Blend the garlic, parsley, bread with the beaten egg.  When combined, add the sausage meat and blend everything until it is well mixed.  Let it sit for 15 minutes covered, then form into small balls.  Fry the balls in Olive Oil. Reserve in a bowl. You will need to cook in batches.  Deglaze the pan with 1/8 cup of the Red Wine scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan. Pour this over the meatballs.

for the SPEZZATINO:

2 TBS. OLIVE OIL

1 DICED MEDIUM ONION

6 QUARTERED CREMINI MUSHROOMS

2 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

1 DICED AND SEEDED TOMATO

2 CUPS of GREENS (chopped Swiss Chard, broccoli Rabe, Turnip Tops, Escarole, Spinach)

1 CUP of diced peeled POTATOES

2 CUPS OF COOKED BORLOTTI OR CANNELLINI BEANS

1 CUP OF RED WINE

2 CUPS OF CHICKEN STOCK

SALT, PEPPER TO TASTE

In a large heavy bottom pot heat the olive oil.  Add the onions,mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and then add the potatoes.img_3232 Let this cook for about 10 minutes   stirring frequently. Now add the tomato and the greens. Cook for 5 minutes, Add the garlic and when fragrant (about 2 minutes) add the beans.

img_3233  Mix.  Now add the wine first and bring to a boil.  The aroma is amazing at this point. Stir and then add the chicken stock and add stir. Add the Sausage Meatballs and any of the liquid that has collected in the bowl of sausage balls. img_3234Gently stir and bring to a boil again. Then reduce to a simmer.img_3236Now let this simmer until much of the liquid is reduced.  You want a sort of thick stew here rather than a soup (and that’s why it’s a SPEZZATINO!!!). This process should take about 40 minutes.  Keep an eye on this so it gets to the right consistency.  Frequently stir the pot.  When it’s done let it sit at least 3 hours before serving. Next day is even better.img_3238

Before serving, drizzle lightly with Extra Virgin Olive Oil, peperoncino if you like, and of course grated Parmigiano or Pecorino. A hearty bowl of flavors with a Sicilian Twist.  Potatoes and Meatballs in a stew…Sicilian genius and comfort food.  A few other ingredients and it’s Minestrone meats Sicilian Meatball Stew…fantastico!!!  A nice Sicilian Red, like the Nero D’Avola you used in the Spezzatino goes great with it…img_3241

 

 

 

 

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!!