Category Archives: Tomatoes

SAN MARZANO COCKTAIL MEATBALLS…

007Time to discuss one of my favorite food subjects…the MEATBALL.  Let’s start out with this tidbit, there’s no such thing as the “ITALIAN MEATBALL”. Why you ask?  Because I said so.  And here’s why…there are meatballs of all shapes and sizes and ingredients made all over Italy.  Most likely you’re assuming the meatball in the big pot of sauce is the “Italian Meatball”.  Well that’s certainly one of many. Meatballs as a cocktail party or party food are fantastic since they are small.  They work well at a party and are generally a one bite affair.  For parties one of the meatball recipes I’ve developed is the SAN MARZANO COCKTAIL MEATBALL.  What is that all about? Scenario, you’re at a party…you’re dressed up..nice suit, shirt, dress, whatever.  You pick up the meatball out of the pan or platter and it’s dripping with sauce.  YIKES! Big sauce stain on your tie…or your chest and the shirt.  Down your blouse or onto the front of your dress or skirt.  Now you’ve done it!!  But you really want that delicious sauce flavor with the meatballs right?  Let’s mix this up a bit…for a cocktail party…or any party..add the sauce TO the meatball mix, then make the meatballs and simply serve on a tray, platter or bowl with toothpicks.  This recipe is made in two parts. first the sauce, then the meatballs.  To start:

THE SAUCE (which becomes one of the ingredients in the meatballs)

1 28oz Can SAN MARZANO DOP Tomatoes, or any good variety of Imported Italian Plums or Domestic Plum Tomatoes

2 TBS OLIVE OIL

1 SMALL FINE DICED ONION

SEA SALT

PEPERONCINO

3 FRESH BASIL LEAVES

In a sauce pan heat the olive oil and then add the onion, season with salt and peperoncino.  Let this cook until the onions are translucent and soft.  TIP: if you get impatient the onions will never really soften in the tomato sauce and you’ll have crunchy onions in the mix.  Be patient.  Take your time.  No rush.  Once your onions are soft add the tomatoes which you will crush with your hands first in a bowl, then add them to the pot.  Add one basil leaf and bring this to a boil, stir, then to a simmer and let this reduce for 1 hour, stirring frequently, until it’s reduced by about 1/2.  Add the remaining 2 basil leaves, taste for seasoning and let it sit off the flame to cool completely.  Should take about 2 hours.

MEATBALLS  (makes about 30 ish)

3/4 lb GROUND CHUCK

1/4 lb GROUND VEAL

1/4 lb LOOSE SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE MEAT

1 JUMBO EGG, beaten

handful of chopped Italian Flat Leaf Parsley

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup dry italian breadcrumbs

1/4 cup of the Sauce you made (that recipe above ^^^^)

3/4 cup freshly grated PECORINO ROMANO

2 FINELY (stressing the FINELY) MINCED GARLIC CLOVES

2 TBS OLIVE OIL

1/2 CUP ITALIAN WHITE WINE

In a large bowl, mix the breadcrumbs, eggs, cheese, parsley, S & P, Sauce, Garlic together.  Let this sit for 20 minutes. Why? we want the sauce to hydrate those breadcrumbs.  Your Panada (write it down, it’s the Italian word for a breadcrumb/bread mix moistened with eggs, herbs, oil,liquids like milk or water, etc. which forms the binding for the meatballs.  See, we are learning…I love teaching and sharing my food with you!!)  Since there’s a significant amount of liquid in the sauce (which is why we reduced it) you want those breadcrumbs to suck up all that moisture which in turn doesn’t steal moisture from the meats and balances the end product…dry crumbs on their own suck moisture from the meat and other sources.

Blend all the meats together.  Then add to the Panada after it’s sat for a while.  If it’s still too loose, add more breadcrumbs, but only a little at a time. Mix gently with lightly moistened hands (lightly, or you’re adding more water to the balls).  When fully mixed let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.  NOW start rolling walnut sized meatballs and line them on a parchment or waxed paper lined tray.  Chill for 10 minutes.  In a heavy skillet add 2 tbs. olive oil and heat.  Fry the meatballs for at least 5 minutes on each side without overcrowding.  Fry in batches.. Add more Olive oil as needed letting the oil get hot before adding more balls in the pan.  (why? the balls will soak in the oil..frying actually prevents that from happening).  When finished frying all the meatballs, deglaze the pan with the White Wine and gently add the meatballs back and simmer until the wine has evaporated.  Done.  Now serve with toothpicks to hungry guests OR let them cool…wrap them in pans and you can reheat them on trays in the oven for serving at your event/ party/dinner.  Meatballs and sauce all together  No drip. No stains.  No mess.    It was great cooking with you…hope to come into your kitchens again real soon!!!

 

 

 

 

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

1 STALK FRESH ROSEMARY, LEAVES REMOVED

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 and fresh Rosemary. 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

 

 

 

 

ANOTHER ITALIAN PASTA SAUCE..FROM BASILICATA,SUGO L’INTOPPO

004There couldn’t be a more appetizing picture for me than a pot of any  of Italy’s many tomato based pasta sauces.  Add a regional spin to them and now I’m even more excited.  Today is Sant’Innocenzo Day383468_3036299628876_1304531591_32215781_825528770_n in my paternal grandfather, INNOCENZO SCARAMUZZI’s Southern Italian town of his birth.  He lived in Grassano, Matera, Basilicata until he immigrated to NYC at the age of 25 in 1915.  What better day than September 22 to share a sauce that comes from his region?  FYI, not sure if he ever made this as Basilicata is a region with 2 provinces, Potenza (West) and Matera (East) and this sauce is made in and around both Provinces. Potenza is probably where it’s native to. It’s called in proper Italian… SUGO L’INTOPPO….in Basilicata or Lucanian dialect it’s called ‘NTRUPPC.  Sidebar here for a second…reasons why Italians are always arguing that THEIR version of any is the right one is because there’s never ONE definition, word, or pronunciation ,let’s just nod our heads and say, “I got it.”  Please do not call it a meat sauce or Bolognese or Ragu’Napoletano because there are many similaries in method and ingredients but there are some differences that make it a wonderfully unique regional sauce.  I will, on this patronal feast day remember my grandfather 156142_2992380330921_1304531591_32200242_158577316_n by blogging a wonderful sauce from his region.  What better way for a grandson who cooks and reveres his grandfather’s memory then to blog a new recipe for you all?  Right?  I thought so…Let’s cook.

 

SUGO L’INTOPPO   or  LU ‘NTROPPC…..SAUCE WITH OBSTACLES or A HITCH…what does that mean?  no idea…i’ll guess maybe all the meats in it are being called obstacles SINCE, most Pasta dishes in Italy serve the meats from their sauce as a secondo. Here the meats are served in the pasta so, they are “obstacles” to the pasta…That’s my thoughts and I’m sticking with them. ENJOY!!

1 1/2 LBS SWEET ITALIAN FENNEL SAUSAGE sliced or removed from their casings

1/2 LB STEW BEEF, MINCED

1/4 LB VEAL STEW, MINCED

6 14 oz CANS OF IMPORTED ITALIAN POMODORINI (most come from Potenza which is probably where this sauce originated), or 3 28 oz Cans of San Marzano DOP tomatoes.

1/4 cup OLIVE OIL

2 DICED MEDIUM ONIONS (Don’t even think of adding garlic)

1 TSP PEPERONCINO (DRIED RED CHILE FLAKES)

SEA SALT

HANDFUL OF FRESH BASIL

In a large heavy stock pot heat a 1/2 the olive oil and sear all the meats until they are nicely browned on all sides. Remove to a bowl or platter and add the rest of the olive oil to the pan.  Add the onions and rapidly stir them around..why?The liquid in the onions will release all the nice caramelized bits from the meats at the bottom of the pan.  It will also give the onions some color and flavor.Add some sea salt and the peperoncino.  Slowly cook this until the onions are soft, NOT BROWNED.  When the onions are soft, should take about 10 minutes…then add the tomatoes.  Stir.  Bring to a boil then add the meats, bring down to a simmer.  Add some basil.  Pinch of salt.  Let this simmer for 3 hours stirring occasionally.  Drop in the remaining basil leaves and let the sauce sit for about 2 hours before using. Done.

Now what pasta is most traditional?  STRASCINATI which you can make or buy in good Italian markets and pork stores.  It’s a flour/semolina and water rustic pasta that resembles a stretched out orecchiette or cavatelli.  BTW, in lieu of STRASCINATI orecchiette or cavatelli are fine .plenty of PECORINO ROMANO over the servings.003The finished dish using STRASCINATI I bought in a local Salumeria (Italian Pork Store).  Fantastic!!!

The recipe yields enough sauce for up to 3 lbs of Pasta.

Enjoy this view I snapped while coming down the road from Grassano in 2008.

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END OF SUMMER PANZANELLA STYLE SALAD

IMG_1707The last weeks of August are when tomatoes are at their peak in my region.  Jersey Tomatoes are prized for their full rich flavor after vine ripening and I happen to live in Jersey, so…there you go.  Our tomatoes are fantastic.  Truth be told I though our Staten Island, NYC tomatoes were fantastic too.  Ask my late father or my late Uncle Tony Scaramuzzi, two of Staten Island’s leading ItalianAmerican authorities and growers of tomatoes in their large home gardens.  They carried on that rivalry for years. They both grew amazing tomatoes. But I’m in Jersey where there’s a religion that worships the warm bright red orbs, big and small and this is the time of the year for them to be at their very best.  You can make sauces from them, oh yes, amazing pasta sauces but really…I’m way more interested in eating the raw product.  This is the only time of the year they will be this good.  August.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that we probably eat them raw at least once a day during the season.  While I don’t grow my own our farm markets are bulging at the seams with local tomatoes of all different varieties and your friends and neighbors who grow them in their home gardens are very generous with their bags of tomatoes as gifts for you.  I have such a neighbor.  Thanks Mike!  When I walked into the kitchen earlier today the aroma of the tomatoes I picked in his garden was floating somewhere in the air.IMG_1694That’s when I knew it’s time for ……..PANZANELLA.  Ok, Panzanella, what is it?  Well let’s start with what it’s not.  It’s not made with toasted bread.  The bread has to get stale.That means you can’t force it.  STALE. Let it sit in a paper bag for 2 days after you buy it, and buy brick oven Italian bread, no seeds, if possible.  The  toasted bread is a crouton, delicious, but not panzanella. One problem in being authentic to the Tuscan Panzanella is the bread itself. In Tuscany the bread is salt-less.  NO SALT.   When I went to Italy the first time in 1986, my maternal grandmother, a native of Avellino told me “be careful when you travel up North (in Italy)….senza sale..o’pane senza sale..no good.”  LOL.  She was right. Saltless bread must be one of those “acquired” tastes. If all the bread you’ve eaten all your life contains salt, it’s a strange taste without it.  So unless you are baking your own bread chances of finding good Italian saltless bread is going to be a problem. Even in Italy, outside of Tuscany, they use their local breads containing salt for this dish.  This salad is a balance of bits of only a few things.  There’s a small amount of red wine vinegar that helps to soften and flavor the bread and that allows the tomatoes full flavor to shine through. Imagine, I can wax poetically over a salad of stale bread and tomatoes.  If you notice in my title to this blogpost I say Panzanella “STYLE”…that’s like a get out of jail card for me.  It allows me to be close to what’s thought of as the closest to the original without misnaming the dish.  My panzanella I made tonight contains no Cucumber. Why?  I love cucumbers.  One of my daughters loves cucumbers.  My wife?  Hates them (so misguided isn’t she?). So, since one cooks to make the diners happy I always make my version of Panzanella without cucumber.  Feel free to add it, or, stick with my Panzanella STYLE.  And put down that bottle of Balsamic. It’s not , never now or ever..a substitute for Red Wine Vinegar which is what you use in this dish.  Italy generally is fiercely regional.  Balsamic is a traditional aged product of Emilia-Romagna.  Panzanella is generally a Tuscan dish.  Not the same region so pay attention here!! Alright, enough of my lecturing on this salad..let’s make it now.

TIME: 2 hours                                             SERVES: 4 people

4 thick slices of STALE (remember, Stale, plan ahead her, this isn’t a salad with seasoned croutons which is what “toasting ” them in the oven would do.  coarsely chopped

3 large tomatoes, JERSEY VINE RIPENED if possible..if not, find good local homegrown or farm market tomatoes.  Dice them and leave them in a bowl.

1 SMALL RED ONION, DICED

4 BASIL LEAVES

(1 PEELED AND THIN SLICED CUCUMBER IF USING)

SEA SALT

3 TBS. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

2 TBS RED WINE VINEGAR

WATER

1 TSP SEA SALT

FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

Soak the bread in about 1/8 cup of water for 15 minutes, then gently squeeze out the water. Then season with 1/2 tsp Sea salt, 1/2 tsp Black pepper, 2 tbs, Red Wine Vinegar, blend, then add 2 tbs. of the Extra Virgin Olive oil. Let this sit for 15 minutes.  Now add all the other ingredients:IMG_1697Then mix gently with…YOUR HANDS.  It’s how it’s done.  There are 2 methods, mine and then everyone elses, lol.  In Tuscany the bread is mixed by hand FIRST and then the other ingredients blended in.  I mix it all together, let it sit for 1/2 hour. Then I mix it again making sure the bread is well soaked.  Let it sit for 1/2 hour again, check for seasoning then serve. It’s that simple.  Add a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive oil before mixing prior to serving. Fresh ground pepper over everything.

It’s hard to enjoy this out of season which is why I’m highlighting it now.  If you attempt this in the winter months,  no matter how hard you try those winter tomatoes will stay rock hard and NOT give up the juices they do in the Summer.  Those juices are the real flavor in this salad and the soaked bread delivers it to you.  Note: seasoning. At every step give the salad a taste and if something is not quite right, a little salt and pepper will correct it.IMG_1700

 

 

MOM’S PARTY BAKED BEANS

Memories make foods taste better, that’s a fact.  Case in point are these simple baked beans that my late mom used to parade out for BBQ’s in the Summer and special occasions where she was the “caterer”.  Now before you go getting food snob on me I must tell you that these are made with canned beans.  If that offends you..this is not your recipe.  HOWEVER I will tell you that they are fantastic and unless your tastebuds just do not care for American baked bean dishes, you HAVE to make a tray of these.  Delicious and addictive.  Now truth be told it’s not EXACT to my Mom’s.  It’s close.  My Food Snobbery actually embellishes the dish without recipe OVERKILL.  I think Mom would be proud, happy, and like them. Basically I don’t add anything different then she did, but I add more of a few things.  Now keep reading and you’ll find out.  Back in May for Memorial Day my sister Liza made them.  I saw the pan and of course got a lump in my throat wishing my Mom was in the kitchen with us.  “These are Mommy’s party and BBQ in the back yard cabana (it was a screened in porch deal) Baked Beans aren’t they?” My sister replied, yes they are.  They had that deep rich color with the bacon top that Mom’s did. Unmistakably these were Mom’s.  For some reason, you don’t make these for just a  nightly dinner.  Instead they are festive…party buffet food…Summer BBQ in the backyard food.  I’m sure there are foods/dishes that you all love that remind you of a now gone loved one and memories of good times.  In my very ItalianAmerican home this version of American Baked Beans meant a good time or big party was happening.  Oh, I also changed the brand of beans, Mom used Campbells..most available, most popular.  This was in the pre Bush’s Beans days… B & M was the most expensive competition. My wife LOVES B & M so for a family party last week I made a tray using the B & M beans.  So I’m not straying from her formula..too much.  AND here’s the proof..my sisters saw them and said …”AHHH MOM’S!!”  Then confirm too (as if my own tastebuds are not the last word  LOL), my 46 year old nephew PROCLAIMED, “Wow, Grandma’s Baked Beans..it’s been too long..Spot on Uncle Pete”.. Just an FYI, when Mom made REAL BAKED BEANS, not for parties or BBQ, she’d soak the dry beans and layer them with salt pork and other ingrdients and in a New England Bean Pot, covered into the oven they’d go for hours.  That’s a different dish of hers.    OK, let’s cook.

 

MOM’S “PARTY” OR BBQ BAKED BEANS

TIME: 2 hours                   SERVES: 8-10

12 STRIPS OF BACON

1 MEDIUM VIDALIA ONION (SWEET) DICED

2 28 oz CANS B & M BAKED BEANS (no, i’m not getting sponsored here, it’s what I use, so….if you like use any other 28 oz cans of beans)

2 TBS BROWN MUSTARD

1/4 cup KETCHUP

1/8 CUP BROWN SUGAR

1 TBS MOLASSES

1/2 TSP TABASCO SAUCE

1 TSP WORCHESTERSHIRE SAUCE

2 TSP REAL MAPLE SYRUP

Start by pre heating your oven to 300 degrees F.   Dice 5 slices of the bacon and in a cast iron or heavy pan, saute’ the bacon on medium heat.  When you see bacon grease rendering into the pan then add the onions.  Stir well to make sure the bacon grease is on all the onion.  Let this slowly cook until the bacon is just about to the crisp stage and the onions are soft. Takes at least 15 minutes, more or less.

Remove from the heat when it looks like that picture above and drain off all that residual bacon fat.  Let it rest.  In a bowl or simply the baking pan you’re going to use add everything else except the remaining bacon strips and blend well.  THEN fold in the bacon/onion mixture.  Top with the bacon strips.    

Now into the oven for 1 1/2 hours.  TIP: place the pan on a sheet pan.  JUST in case there’s bubbling and spillage, this tomato and sugar and bacon blend will make a nasty mess if it hits the bottom of your oven. The sheet pan is insurance.  Pay your premium!!

When the pan looks like the picture below, you are done.  Resist the urge to move it along with a higher oven temp. Your BAKING the beans. They will taste and feel different than if you simple heat them up out of the can.

Let the hot beans sit for 15 minutes at least before serving.  Now, here’s one of my ALL TIME FAVORITE things to eat.  See those bacon strips?  They are ridiculously amazing…is that even proper grammar?  I don’t care.  It’s amazing. Make sure you sneak a few before the rest of the diners get to dig in.  You made it, you deserve it.  I can probably show you when my Mom used to slap my hand when she’d catch me lifting a strip before they were served.  My sister and I would always fight over them.  If you notice in the ingredient list there is no SALT or PEPPER  added.  Why? You are using canned beans in tomato sauce cooked with Pork, salt, seasonings, etc.  You are using bacon which releases salt into the baking beans.  Ketchup, mustard,Worchestershire all have salt so DO NOT ADD ANY MORE TO THIS DISH.  The sweet caramelizing of the dish balances the salty in it..IT’S FANTASTIC. Maybe because it’s a direct link to MOM? or simply because it just tastes that good?? I conclude, it’s both.  Happy Cooking.