A delicious idea for a one pan meal….here is my SHRIMP WITH PENNE, TOMATOES AND BROCCOLI. Shrimp are sauteed with garlic and good olive oil, cherry or grape tomatoes, steamed broccoli and Vermouth, then tossed gently with Al Dente cooked PENNE RIGATE (the kind with the ridges). Christmas Eve is coming and instead of Visions of SugarPlums in my Head as the Christmas song goes, there’s visions of Italian Seafood. Can’t help it. December comes and i start thinking I’m smelling pine trees and shrimp and calamari and baccala’ frying!! The LA VIGILIA, or CHRISTMAS EVE Italian American feast, also called by some as the Feast of the Seven Fishes is an exuberant evening of once a year seafood dishes and then some ending at midnight with Sausage and Peppers for many. This dish i’m cooking here is a nice way to soberly celebrate Christmas Eve (or anytime you want to make this) without breaking the bank and cooking for 3 days. Garlic bread on the side and you’re in for a great meal. ProTip: I realize that not everyone has the same access to certain types of ingredients but if possible, look for US WILD CAUGHT SHRIMP. They are simply better than many overseas imported shrimp raised in dubious “farms” and often with additives which turn the shrimp “strange” when cooking. The label should only say “Shrimp, wild caught, US”. For this dish you’ll want 20-24 count as they will work well with the size of the Penne. OK, I’m rambling, let’s cook.
SHRIMP WITH PENNE, BROCCOLI, AND CHERRY TOMATOES
SERVES 4-5 TAKES ABOUT 1 1/2 HOURS
1 1/2 LBS 20-24 COUNT US WILD CAUGHT SHRIMP, PEELED AND DEVEINED
3/4 CUP GOOD OLIVE OIL (WHY GOOD? BECAUSE YOU WANT THAT FLAVOR)
3 CLOVES GARLIC, SLICED
1 1/2 PINTS SLICE CHERRY OR GRAPE TOMATOES
2 MEDIUM SIZED HEADS OF BROCCOLI, BROKEN INTO FLORETS AND STEAMED
1/2 CUP VERMOUTH OR OTHER FORTIFIED WINE
SEA SALT, PEPERONCINO TO TASTE
1 lb IMPORTED ITALIAN PENNE RIGATE
In a heavy pan or dutch oven heat 3 tbs of olive oil. Add the 1/2 the garlic and a pinch of peperoncino Add the shrimp, season with some salt and saute’ in batches if you need to just till they are pink on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon. Have a large pot of water get to boiling then salt the water. Cook the penne according to the package JUST until al dente.
When you’re done sauteeing the shrimp reserve them in a bowl or platter. Add more olive oil to the pan, the rest of the garlic, the tomatoes, season with salt and saute’ for 5 minutes, then add the broccoli. Cook for 5 more minutes and add the Vermouth. Let this boil up and then simmer for 5 minutes. Add the Penne to the pan, blend well, then add the shrimp and cook together for about 3 minutes. Season with more peperoncino and salt to taste if needed. Drizzle with more olive oil and let this sit for about 5 minutes then serve. HAPPY COOKING!!!
OREGANATA….An ItalianAmerican style of placing a savory breadcrumb topping over seafood or fish and then either broiling or baking it. Who hasn’t loved digging their teeth into a piping hot VONGOLE OREGANATA, those wonderful baked Clams Oreganata that are a quintessential ItalianAmerican restaurant starter? Fish is also given this treatment which all stems from various regional styles of topping a dish with a mixture of breadcrumbs, herbs, cheeses, olive oil, lemon. Each and every cook/chef/region has their way of doing this. In Napoletana it’s sometimes referred to as ARRIGANATA. The herbs are fresh parsley and dried Oregano (ORIGANO in Italian) and it’s the addition of the oregano that gives this dish it’s name. Accept no Oreganata without oregano in it. It’s just not right!! I can hear my mom right now saying Oregano…..she would pronounce it AHHH-RREGANA, clearly using her Napolitana-Lucana dialect. Any fish can be used in this dish but clearly different fish have different cooking times so always adjust to the type of fish you are using. In the picture is my favorite fish, Halibut. This was a piece of Wild Atlantic Halibut. Sidenote, the pasta on the side was simply garlic sauteed in extra virgin olive oil with whole Grape or Cherry Tomatoes softened in the hot oil, a little sea salt. then tossed with Spinach Linguine. Why Spinach Linguine? BECAUSE IT MAKES A COLORFUL PLATE!! Ok, that really wasn’t the reason even though it does, I had a box of Spinach Linguine in the pantry so I thought it would be PERFECT with the Halibut. Fresh fish matched with wine, olive oil and this topping are pure ItalianAmerican heaven. Let’s get into the kitchen now and create a beautiful meal without much hassle.
HALIBUT OREGANATA FOR 4
4 6 Ounce Halibut Filets
1 1/4 cup coarse PLAIN ITALIAN BREAD CRUMBS
2 TBS FINELY MINCED ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY
1 TSP. CRUMBLED GOOD DRIED OREGANO
3 TBS. GRATED PECORINO ROMANO
2 CLOVES OF GARLIC MINCED FINELY
1/3 TSP SEA SALT
1/2 TSP PEPERONCINO (CRUSHED DRIED RED CHILES)
3 TBS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
1 1/2 TSP FINELY GRATED LEMON ZEST
SALT AND PEPPER FOR SEASONING THE FISH
1/8 CUP WHITE WINE
JUICE OF 2 LEMONS
2 TBS OLIVE OIL
Pat the fish filets dry with paper towels. Lightly Season with salt and pepper. Place on a plate. Pre Heat oven to 400 Degrees F. In a bowl mix the breadcrumbs, herbs, pecorino, salt, peperoncino, olive oil lemon zest. Blend together. Place a layer of the breadcrumb mixture evenly divided on all 4 filets. Place in a baking dish you’ve placed 1 tbs of Olive oil in , 1/2 the lemon juice, and the wine. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the top of the filets and place in the hot oven. Rule of thumb is 10 minutes of baking for every inch of fish. Best to use a thermometer to check the internal temp which shouldn’t be more than 120 degrees F. When the fish is done remove from the oven, baste with the pan juices and more lemon juice. That’s it. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it you’ll be baking all types of fish with this. Serve with rice or pasta or potatoes or a salad. Be creative. Happy Cooking!!
Traditions, we all have them. Some we hold onto so tightly and never want to let go for fear of losing forever the people or places they remind us of. This is especially true when people in our lives pass away, when we physically are no longer near the places where these memories came from. Food is the connector often between that memory and the present day. Holidays seem to be a real trigger for these emotions and traditions. One way I keep my Mom and Dad at our Holiday dinners is by recreating in some way a dish that was served by them as we grew up. Specifically I’m talking about my Mom’s Stuffed Calamari (squid) in Sauce that was one of many Seafood dishes she served on Christmas Eve. For ItalianAmericans it was an extention of the old Catholic pre-Feast fasting, when the night before a religious holiday no meat was allowed. While this practice in the Catholic church is centuries gone, it became part of the Christmas Holiday traditions in Italy. No matter where you go in Italy there will be families that are only eating Fish or Seafood and in Italian America, since most of our ancestors came over 100 years ago to the USA we still celebrate their 100 year and older traditions. What changed between Italy and the USA over these 100 years is the amount of seafood and fish dishes that are served. Oh yes, there are a few places in Southern Italy where there’s a number attached to the amount of fish dishes on Christmas Eve but it’s not a majority practice. Somehow the name, Feast of the Seven Fishes was coined here in the USA and in the last 30 years it’s the name and sometimes practice ItalianAmericans follow. Historically, most of Southern Italy was quite poor 125 years ago and that’s why they immigrated in such large numbers to the USA. People living in those meager conditions would never have the means to pull off a multicourse fish and seafood dinner. Fishermen needed to sell the better fish to make a living and basically fed their family the unwanted bits and pieces. So that fish dinner on Christmas Eve was often a Brodetto, a mix of fish and seafood pieces that streched it into a meal for many. Baccala’, the dried Salt Cod was also a popular item because it was plentiful and kept for months before it was to be used. Coming to America the initial Christmas Eves, or La Vigilia as it’s called for the new Immigrants were small affairs similar to what they had in Italy with maybe a few more dishes here and there because all foods were more accessible and plentiful in the USA, especially the urban centers. Fast Forward to the first generation of ItalianAmericans born in the USA and around the time of WWII we enter the BOOM time of the 1950s where people are doing better, the celebrations were bigger as the families grew and the number of dishes served went up exponentially. My Dad never made tons of money, he always provided us with what we needed and then some, but Christmas Eve was the BIG NIGHT. All types of seafood were in the kitchen with Mom at the stove frying, baking, grilling, braising. This is how I believe the “Feast of the 7 Fishes” became a thing, an ItalianAmerican thing. One of these dishes is My mom’s stuffed calamari and I’d like to share it with you for your Christmas Eve or whenever. I don’t do the whenever. Mom made it once a year, so I do to. To honor her. To remember her. It’s what makes it a tradition.
STUFFED CALAMARI FOR 6
TIME: 2 HOURS
Southern Italian Seafood Sauces with tomato are generally composed of only a few ingredients, often perfumed with really good olive oil and garlic, a good dose of heat from peperoncino (either fresh italian red chiles or dried). Sometimes a touch of White Wine, and parsley. Seafood sauces paired with fried seafoods tend to be heavier on the oil, garlic, peperoncino, and a pinch of oregano in there. They are also thicker. This One for the Stuffed Calamari is one of the first types. More like a regular pasta sauce.
3 TBS GOOD EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
3 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC
1 TSP PEPERONCINO (DRIED HOT ITALIAN CHILE FLAKES)
1/2 TSP SEA SALT
1/8 CUP WHITE WINE
2 28 OZ CANS OF GOOD QUALITY ITALIAN PLUM TOMATOES, like San Marzano, or a good POMODORI PELATI. Crush the tomatoes with your hands or a processor.
3 SPRIGS OF ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY
Make the sauce first. In a saucepan/pot heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and peperoncino. Sprinkle the salt over that. Stir making sure the garlic doesn’t burn. After about 2 minutes on medium heat add the wine. Let this come to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Now add the parsley then the tomatoes. Blend well. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Let this simmer for 1/2 hour. While that’s going on let’s stuff the CALAMARI!!!
10 CLEANED MEDIUM SIZE CALAMARI “TUBES”
1/8 CUP CHOPPED CALAMARI TENTACLES
1/2 TSP LEMON ZEST
JUICE OF 1/2 LEMON
1 1/4 CUP GOOD ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS
2 TBS OLIVE OIL
2 FINELY MINCED GARLIC CLOVES
2 TBS. FINELY MINCED FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY
3 TBS GRATED PECORINO
1/2 TBS. PEPERONCINO
15 PIGNOLI NUTS
PINCH OF SEA SALT
10 CAPERS (OPTIONAL)
5 GAETA OLIVES , CHOPPED (OPTIONAL)
Blend everything together except the tubes. This will form a stuffing blend for you. Some years mom blended an egg into the mix, others she did not. The eggs will create a solid stuffing, no egg creates a looser one. I always make the non-egg one. With each Calamari tube carefully fill each one leaving room at the bottom, and about an inch or more at the top. The Stuffing will expand and you don’t want the tubes to burst into the sauce (and yes that’s happened to me plenty of times and it makes for a really tasty sauce to serve over macaroni, but with all this work, you want your calamari to stay nice, capisci? Good). Fold the tops over so you can skewer them with a long toothpick. But they time you’ve done all this the sauce is ready for the calamari!! Simply drop the calamari into the sauce and make sure they are all covered. Simmer this for 50 minutes, Remove from the heat and let it sit in the sauce for 15 minutes. Done.
HOW TO SERVE? Glad you asked. However you would like is my first answer. My second answer is go Italian style but serving the sauce over a pasta for a first course (primo) then the Stuffed Calamari with a side vegetable as a second course (secondo) OR, like Mom did it, the sauce on the macaroni and with the Calamari on the side all at once. Thanks to all who asked me for this recipe today, I’m sure my Mom is smiling!!
SHRIMP MARINARA…..One of the classic dishes of the ITalianAmerican Restaurant and many homecooks. Basically a tomato sauce with Shrimp in it served over pasta. The most traditional pasta is long style, like Spaghetti, Linguine, etc but I love it with cut tubed macaroni like ziti rigati or penne rigati. Why? Rigati means RIDGED and it catches more of the sauce as does the hollow tubes. The sauce gets inside and there’s flavor in every bite. Often the dish is made with a simmering tomato sauce with the shrimp tossed in at the last minute to cook thru. This helps to impart a little of that sweet taste of the sea to the sauce but also often overcooks the shrimp. I have a two step process and i get the seafood essence in the sauce by adding some anchovies to the sauce saute’. This way the shrimp stay plump and crisp and there’s no overcooking. Marinara Sauce….is it Italian? Yes and no. The Term MARINARA in Italian cuisine means anything made with seafood/fish. In ItalianAmerican cuisine is means a meatless sauce, with or without the addition of seafood or fish. Lots of legends about this sauce but for purposes of this blogpost it really follows Italian tradition as the dish contains seafood. Just some “food for thought”. Make the sauce first and have it completed and just simmering when you make the shrimp and then just drop the shrimp into the sauce and turn off the heat. Brilliant.
4-6 SERVINGS 2 HOURS
2 28 oz cans of GOOD QUALITY TOMATOES…preferably Italian Imported plum tomatoes, or San Marzano DOP (my most preferred) OR 56 oz of imported tomato PASSATA (found in most Italian markets and some supermarkets) Using whole tomatoes from the can, simply mash well with your hands or use a food processor.
6 sliced CLOVES OF FRESH GARLIC
3 ANCHOVY FILETS
3 TBS. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
PINCH (OR MORE UP TO YOU) OF PEPERONCINO (DRIED HOT CHILE FLAKES)
2 TBS. DRY WHITE WINE, PREFERABLY ITALIAN (IT’S AN ITALIAN DISH, WHY NOT?)
Using a heavy bottomed (always recommended for tomato based sauces) high sided pot or pan heat the olive oil. Add the anchovies and peperoncino. Mash the anchovies into the heated oil. Lightly season with salt as the anchovy might be salty. Add the garlic and a few sprigs of fresh parsley. When the garlic is almost golden and fragrant add the white wine. Stir, bring to a boil then add the tomatoes. Blend well. Bring to a boil. THEN reduce to a simmer stirring every now and then. The sauce should reduce by almost 1/2 when it’s done. PRO TIP: A tomato sauce is done for pasta when you no longer see a separation of water and sauce. This problem was called “AQUADD” by my father when people’s pasta sauces leaked pink water around the plate/bowl. Not all canned tomatoes are the same and many American brands are made from tomatoes that are not “sauce” tomatoes. They take longer to cook the water out of them, bear that in mind when shopping. It’s why I’m a stickler with the imported Italian plums, they are naturally created with less water in the fruit so they are better suited to sauce making. OK, enough of all that…let me get you back to cooking. LOL. Taste the sauce for seasoning when you’re done. Now let’s make the shrimp.
36 PEELED AND DEVEINED USA WILD CAUGHT 16-20 SIZE SHRIMP
SALT/BLACK PEPPER. 1/2 TSP OF EACH BLENDED TOGETHER
3 TBS OLIVE OIL
1 lb PASTA OF CHOICE, COOKED ACCORDING TO THE PACKAGE INSTRUCTIONS. I LIKE FOR THIS PENNE RIGATE FROM ITALY.
Make sure to blot dry the shrimp with paper towels. This helps them caramelize on the edges and not steam. Using a heavy bottomed pan (like a cast iron) heat the olive oil to medium high. Place the shrimp in a bowl and toss well with the salt and pepper mixture. IN BATCHES, fry the shrimp JUST until they are lightly golden on the edges on both sides. Takes about 2 minutes per side. DO NOT CROWD THE PAN or you’ll be steaming the shrimp. Remove them to another bowl. When you are done frying the shrimp then add them to the SAUCE. Stir to blend well. Let them sit in the hot sauce for 3 minutes. While all this is happening you’ll have cooked the macaroni according to the directions. AL DENTE ALWAY!! Making sure not to add any Shrimp to the pasta, use your ladle to add just enough sauce to the pasta to coat it all. (PLEASE, don’t follow those pictures where the sauce sits on top of dry hot pasta, coat the pasta with the sauce!! but don’t drown it!). When you’ve done that, turn the pasta out onto a deep serving platter or bowl. NOW, Top the platter with the Shrimp, using a slotted spoon. Done. Add more sauce if you like or sauce on the side for everyone to add their preference. Garnish the plates with chopped parsley (or basil, some like basil with this, i’ve always been taught to just use parsley), and more peperoncino. BUON APPETITO!!!
FRITTI FRITTI FRITTI!!! Fritti are a catch-all phrase in Italian for small fried bits of anything. Fritters if you will. In parts of Southern Italy like Naples and Sicily there’s a huge FRITTI culture. A street food phenom at feasts, events, and small shops known as FRIGGITORIE where all types of local fried foods like fish, seafood, breads, doughs, vegetables, croquettes, etc. are sold in little cones to take away. The most famous of these Fritti are Arancini (riceballs), Fritto Misto, the famous small fried fish and seafood and vegetable mix, Potato Croquettes, Chick Pea Fritters (Panelle), Zeppole, Sfingi, the list goes on. There’s lots of crossover between Sicilian and Napoletana foods because they were at one time part of the same country (before unification of the Italian state in the mid 1800’s). Using the basic fritti batter as a base I created a Sicilian based FRITTI using steamed Cauliflower florets, mint, Caciocavallo cheese, sesame seeds. The result was a taste of SICILIA without the airfare and packing. Takes about 1/2 hour-45 minutes and one head of cauliflower makes enough fritti for 4-6 people. GREAT for parties. They can be made ahead of time and reheated in a hot oven on sheet pans, but truly taste the best after they are first made. I spend so much time pouring over Classic regional recipes, pulling from my own family’s cooking, from my Travels and that’s how I create my dishes. Some are classic traditional, others are created using the regional building blocks of ingredients that naturally go together.
FRITTI DI CAVOLOFIORE ( VRUOCULI), CACIOCAVALLO E GIUGIULENA CON MENTA
CAULIFLOWER, CACIOCAVALLO AND SESAME SEED FRITTERS WITH MINT
(MINT SHOWS UP OFTEN IN SICILIAN CUISINE)
1 LARGE HEAD OF CAULIFLOWER, RINSED WELL, DRIED WITH A PAPER TOWEL AND BROKEN DOWN INTO FLORETS
2 LARGE EGGS, BEATEN WELL
2 TBS. WHOLE MILK
1/2 TEASPOON KOSHER OR SEA SALT plus more for finishing
1 1/2 CUPS SIFTED SELF RISING FLOUR
3 TABLESPOONS GRATED CACIOCAVALLO OR PECORINO CHEESE
1 1/2 TSP FINELY MINCED FRESH MINT
3 TBS. SESAME SEEDS
1/2 TSP GROUND BLACK PEPPER
PEANUT/VEGETABLE OIL FOR FRYING
IN a heavy large high sided pot or skillet ( I like cast iron) heat 2 inches of oil to 375 degrees F.
While that is happening, set up a station with a sheet pan triple lined with paper towels or single lined with brown paper bags.
In a large bowl, add the dry ingredients except 1 tbs of flour. Then add all the liquid ingredients and beat together to form a batter. Should be the consistency of a thick pancake batter. Use more milk to thin it if too thick SLOWLY, add a little, beat..continue till you get to the right consistency. Toss the tbs of flour over the Cauliflower florets. Then drop them into the batter then in batches drop them into the hot oil after it’s reached the 375 mark or when a tester dancers and splatters when it hits the oil. Using wooden sticks or heatproof tongs make sure both sides are golden brown before you remove the fritti. They should puff up somewhat and be nice and crisp on the outside, sort of fluffy on the inside around the cauliflower. Takes about 6 minutes per batch. DO NOT OVERCROWD!!!!!!!! Take your time!!! As they come out of the fryer place on the blotting trays to drain. Sprinkle with some sea salt. Continue till done.
Where’s the dipping sauce??? Italian tradition, usually there is no dipping sauces for these Fritti. ItalianAmerican? If you must dip…a homemade Marinara works OR some whipped ricotta blended with a little honey and black pepper. You’ll thank me for that one.
Do I love Spaghetti? Let me count the ways. Wait, the ways are countless. I have some favorites but basically I love Spaghetti in any way you make it, provided it’s a nice “condimento” that you’re pairing it with. A Condimento is whatever you’re dressing the pasta with. There’s a big world of Italian and Non Italian ingredients out there to pair with Spaghetti, but I prefer to stick with Italian combinations. I can’t tell you how much I love Sausage and Peppers and Onions, that classic Napoletana and ItalianAmerican pairing. One night when I was craving both Spaghetti and Sausage and Peppers I decided to combine them. Yeah, I’m not the first to have done that, but i created a dish that is so good I want to share it with you
Let’s start is some basics. Italian Sweet or Hot Sausage, the best is generally found at a shop where it’s made daily, like an Italian Pork Store (Salumeria) or a Butcher shop, or some of the larger regional Supermarket where it’s still made in house. I realize this isn’t an option Nationally but if you can find such places, get your Italian Sausage there. There’s a difference. What? Quite often the commerical/industrial produced sausages are over ground, they are too fine and they have lots of added flavors that really have no place in an Italian sausage. Now about the peppers. The Italian LONG HOT. Here in the Northeast in all of our ItalianAmerican concentrated areas this is a common site in home gardens or in Farmers MArkets and some supermarkets. Sort of Curly they come in Green, Green and Red, and Red. If no Long Hots are too be found, use Ripe Red Bell Peppers and add a good sprinkling of Hot Pepper Flakes in the saute’ (Peperoncino). Now let’s make some spaghetti!!!
SPAGHETTI WITH SAUSAGE AND ITALIAN LONG HOT PEPPERS AND ONIONS
1 1/2 LBS SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE OUT OF THE CASING
4 ITALIAN LONG HOT PEPPERS, DE-SEEDED, RIBS CUT OUT, SLICE INTO STRIPS OR RINGS
2 CUBANELLE PEPPERS (ITALIAN FRYING PEPPERS), DE-SEEDED, SLICE INTO STRIPS OR RINGS
1/2 PINT SLICED CHERRY TOMATOES
BASIL LEAVES OPTIONAL/PINCH OF OREGANO OPTIONAL
EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
1 lb good IMPORTED ITALIAN SPAGHETTI OR BUCATINI
Let’s make this simple. Add about 2 tbs of olive oil to a large heavy pan. Heat. Add the Sausage and cook for at least 10 minutes, till it’s caramelized (THAT IS FLAVOR!!), then remove with slotted spoon to a dish. If needed, add more olive oil, heat and then simply fry up the onions and peppers, seasoning with a little salt. (No pepper needed if using the Long Hots, if using the Sweet long peppers, season with black pepper). Fry but on medium so they can cook and soften without burning or getting too brown around the edges. After 10 minutes of cooking, add the tomatoes. When the onions and peppers and tomatoes are soft, give it about 20 minutes, then add the sausage meat and ALL the juices that collected on the bottom of the pan. Let the sausage peppers and onions now simmer on low. While that magic is happening in the pan, resist the urge to just dig in and cook the Spaghetti till al dente according to the package instructions. When the spaghetti is at the right spot remove it with tongs from the water gently and add to the pan of sausage, long hots and onions. For a more “saucy” texture add a few spoonfuls of the pasta water. Or just leave as is and cook for 2 minutes. Take off the heat. At this point you are done unless you want additional flavor from basil or oregano. Toss in whichever you prefer at this time. CHEESE? for me? Yes. For many there’s this no grated (Pecorino or Parmigiano) cheese on Sausage dishes. I’m not debating it so this falls under the IT’S UP TO YOU. Personally, the salty sharpness of the Pecorino Romano just tops this dish off for me. This should satisfy 3-4 really hungry people. HAPPY COOKING!!!!
LA TIELLA…..La Tiella is a dish used in Southern Italian cooking to bake foods like a layering of seafood, potatoes,rice and vegetable in Puglia or to make a pastry enclosed stuffed pie with various fillings, often seafood in Gaeta. The finished recipes are known as Tiella also. One of my favorites is an All Vegetable and Cheese style made in Puglia. While it’s not as popular as the mussels, potatoes and rice one it certainly is made often and depending on the town or the cook or the season the vegetables and cheeses may vary. This is my version of a vegetable Tiella. Sliced potatoes and vegetables layered with Pecorino and Scamorza cheese, olive oil and parsley, topped with rustic, coarse italian bread cubes with olive oil and cheese create this delicious dish. I don’t have a Tiella pan in my house from Italy, do you? LOL. But…instead I used a 9 inch cake pan. Baking dishes are fine too. The traditional Tiella isn’t very Deep so a cake pan or similar deep baking pan works well. Before you start, since I often FORGET!!!! after I’ve started layering, brush the sides and bottom of the pan with a blend of melted butter and olive oil. Then dust the sides and bottom with fine Italian bread crumbs. This helps create a nice but light crust around the sides and bottom of the finished dish. So many great regional Italian dishes that are relatively unknown away from their places of origin…I really get excited when I’m sharing one with you. Can you feel it? Well, I’m excited to show you…Let’s cook!!
TIELLA DI VERDURE (VEGETABLE TIELLA) FOR 4-6 2 HOURS
2 POTATOES, PEELED AND SLICED INTO 1/8 INCH SLICES
1 PT. CHERRY OR GRAPE TOMATOES, SLICED
2 MEDIUM ZUCCHINI, SLICED INTO 1/8 INCH SLICED
1 LARGE ONION, SLICED INTO 1/8 INCH SLICES
1/2 LB DICED OR SLICED SCAMORZA OR MOZZARELLA
1/4 CUP GRATED PECORINO ROMANO
OLIVE OIL AS NEEDED
2 TBS OF CHOPPED FRESH ITALIAN PARSLEY
1/4 TSP OF GOOD DRIED OREGANO OR 4 BASIL LEAVES
COARSELY CHOPPED STALE ITALIAN BREAD, ABOUT 1/8 CUP TOSSED WITH A LITTLE OLIVE OIL AND SALT
KOSHER SALT, COARSE GROUND BLACK PEPPER
PREHEAT OVEN to 375 degrees F. Saute’ the onions in a little olive oil and salt until they are wilted. reserve. drizzle more olive oil into the bottom of your baking dish. start with a layer of potatoes. season lightly with salt and pepper, some parsley, some pecorino, and a drizzle of olive oil. add a layer of the onions, then add a layer of tomatoes and some scamorza, oregano or basil, drizzle of olive oil, season with pecorino, salt and pepper, then another layer of potatoes, onions, another of tomatoes then the zucchini doing all the same things you did with the potatoes. When you’ve used up all your vegetables top with the last of the scamorza and pecorino, but then top with the coarse bread. Season that with a little more olive oil and pecorino then TIGHTLY COVER with foil and into the oven for 45-50 minutes. Best to place the baking dish on a baking tray to catch any liquid that drips out. Uncover and bake for addition 10 minutes or until the top is nicely browned. IMPORTANT…resist the tempation to eat it now!!!! Let this sit for at LEAST 20 MINUTES before cutting into it. Trust me. It’s a much better dish AND even better when you make it a day ahead and reheat it the next day. FLAVOR!!!!! a great entree’ or side dish. I like to serve it with grilled fish, fried meatballs, chicken, pork chops..
FRITTI….they come in all shapes, sizes, batters, breadings, fillings, foods and depending on where you are are in Italy they are called Fritti, Pettole, Pittule, Crispeddi, the list goes on. NEVER argue with an Italian about what they call a dish!!! Everyone is right!! Often blanket terms like “Sicilian” mean something from a particular region of Sicily, oh that’s right, not all Sicilian cooking is the same. But it’s all Sicilian cuisine. I started with a basic flour and egg batter for these which is a common way in Sicily to make these. I was bringing them to a family holiday dinner to I wanted to make them special. I dipped into my bag of “what are some good complimentary ingredients that echo the Isola di Sicilia and I came up with Caciocavallo cheese, Mint (yes, Sicilians love the herb), and Sesame Seeds. The Arab conquest of Sicily for centuries brought many of their food traditions, the sesames are one of them and now are emblematic in many of Sicily’s foods/sweets like Cubbaita and Biscotti Regina, topping many panini and loaves of bread. So why not fold them into a savory batter and get the taste of Sicily in every bite? By the Way, Sicily has an ancient language which often borrows from Italian and Cauliflower, in Italian called Cavolofiore is often called Vruocculi, Vruocoli.
SICILIAN CAULIFLOWER FRITTERS
TIME: 2 HOURS MAKES; ABOUT 2 DOZEN
1 LARGE FRESH CAULIFLOWER HEAD, STEAMED, COOLED, THEN SEPARATED INTO FLORETS
2 TBS. AP FLOUR SEASONED WITH SALT AND PEPPER
2 LARGE ORGANIC (IF POSSIBLE) EGGS, BEATEN
1 CUP SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR
1/2 TSP BAKING POWDER (CHECK YOUR CONTAINER’S FRESHNESS DATE)
3/4 WHOLE MILK
1 TSP SICILIAN SEA SALT
3 TABLESPOONS ROASTED SESAME SEEDS
1 TSP. CRUMBLED DRIED MINT
1/8 CUP GRATED CACIOCAVALLO OR PECORINO
1/2 TSP BLACK PEPPER
OIL FOR FRYING ( I USED CORN OIL)
2 LEMONS, SLICED OR IN WEDGES
10 SPRIGS OF FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY
sprinkle the seasoned flour over the florets in a bowl and gently get each floret coated in flour. Add the milk and grated cheese to the eggs, beat well. Now add all the other ingredients and slowly create a thick batter. When all is blended well, reserve to the side. Heat 2 inches of oil in a high sided pan/pot ( i use my Cast iron pan) and bring to 325 degrees F. When the oil is ready, coat one of the florets with the batter, let excess drip off and test one. If it’s ready it will immediately sizzle and start fo puff up in size. About 2 minutes per side. Place the florets in the batter in batches and fry no more than 6 at a time our your oil temp drops and we have a greasy finished product. As each batch is done and draining sprinkle sea salt over them. They should be salted when hot, not when cooled. Continue battering and frying until you’re all done. Serve them piping hot on a platter with lots of lemon wedges or slices. Squeeze over the top when serving, extra on the side. Add some chopped parsley leaves as garnish. Enjoy!!
LA GENOVESE….one of the main sauces and dishes of Napoletana Cuisine, that is, the food of Naples, Italy. Growing up it was just Italian Pot Roast, later on I learned of it’s proper term, LA GENOVESE. Wait…doesn’t that mean it’s from Northern Italy’s city of Genoa? Well yes and no. Naples and Genoa are both active seaport cities in Italy and sailors work and sail between ports all the time. My great Grandfather was the pilot of the ferry between Naples and Sicily and Capri. All of this interaction brought many dishes to different coastal ports and La Genovese is probably one of them. In Genovese cuisine there’s a meat sauce called Tocco alla Genovese, or Sugo di Carne alla Genovese. This is a sauce with onions, celery, carrots, tomato, mushrooms and veal or beef, wine and cooked until the meat is tender. Most likely this sauce was brought to the port city of Napoli and Genovese cooks introduced the style. THEN, it makes the change and becomes Napoletana. The Napoletani use beef, sometime veal, sometimes pork. but they triple the amount of onions, traditionally the local red or bronze onions. They remove the mushrooms. They use Beef (although some families prefer using veal or pork). The sauce is started in lard and often with a little cured pork bits. The tomato, unlike the usual Napoletana amount of tomato, is almost non-existent. A ration of 1 lb for 1 lb of meat to onions is the rule. The sauce is cooked low and slow for hours until the meat is forktender. Tradition says to serve the onion sauce first over long tubes of broken Ziti (Zitone) and lots of Parmigiano-Reggiano. The meat is sliced and served as a secondo. Think Pot Roast, specifically a Jewish or Eastern European pot roast heavy on the onions. That’s the flavor of this… It’s amazing. Every kitchen in Naples and in Italian America has its own version of this most flavorful sauce. I’m happy to share mine with you now!
FOR 4 PEOPLE
3 1/2 LB THICK CHUCK STEAK, CAN BE IN TWO PIECES IF NEEDED
2 TBS DICED GUANCIALE OR PANCETTA OR 2 TBS LARD OR 2 TBS OLIVE OIL
3 1/2 LBS DICED RED ONIONS OR WHITE OR A MIX
2 STALKS FINE DICED CELERY WITH SOME OF THEIR LEAVES (NEVER THROW THEM OUT!!)
1 LARGE FINE DICED CARROT
1 TBS. TOMATO PASTE
1 CUP WHITE WINE
1 CUP BEEF STOCK OR WATER, OR CHICKEN STOCK
1 LARGE BAY LEAF
SALT AND BLACK PEPPER
IN A LARGE heavy pot, like a dutch oven slowly render the guanciale or pancetta until there’s a nice amount of lard in the pot….let the diced pieces get a little crispy, then remove with a slotted spoon and reserve them for later. Season the meat with generous Kosher Salt and Cracked Black pepper and sear it in the hot lard for at leat 5 minutes per side. you want a nice brown crust on both sides. Remove to a platter and loosely tent with foil. Now add the onions, celery and carrots to a bowl. Season them with salt and pepper. Add this to the pot and stir them with the drippings in the bottom of the pan. Cover and let this cook for 15 minutes on medium. Stir it a few times so there’s no real browning on the onions. Now add the wine and the stock and the tomato. Blend together. Add the meat and let it get completely covered by the pot mixture. Bring to a boil THEN reduce to a simmer. Add the bay leaf. Give it a good stir and let this simmer for 3-3 1/2 hours. Keep it covered for the first 1 1/2 hours. Stir every 1/2 hour. For the remaining time leave it 1/2 covered. Look for a few things while this cooks. It will reduce. The color will change to a light rusty tan. The onions, MUST be soft and melted. And the meat, it must be fork tender. Follow what I did and you’ll have a pot of Genovese that you will make again and again.
Oh the aroma of Fresh Littleneck Clams simmering in a tomato sauce flavored with garlic, wine, and Peperoncino. It’s the stuff Italian food dreams are made of. Provided you have the right ingredients this is a very simple dish to make in the home kitchen. ItalianAmericans grow up on this dish. We make it for Christmas Eve dinner. We make it for celebrations. We order it out. Clearly there are many ways people cook this dish. Personally I prefer the whole clam method using our local Littleneck clams harvested in the wild off our coast. Not everyone lives at the Jersey Shore or Long Island Shore so it’s not always a practical ingredient. If your local seafood store carries Manila Clams or New Zealand Cockles use them. In fact if you’re trying to cook more like they do in Italy only a live whole small clam will do. The smaller the better. Littlenecks are a bit larger than the clams in Italy but since they are local and fresh they are what I use. Certainly you can use canned if that’s all that’s available. Don’t deprive yourself of a delicious plate of seafood pasta. Like the first Italian immigrants to the USA did, they improvised and in turn created classic we still enjoy and treasure today. If possible look for Italian canned tomatoes as in imported from Italy. My choice is the San Marzano DOP variety. Now let’s get into the kitchen together and create magic for ourselves, family and friends. You can do this!!
Linguine with Red Clam Sauce
For 4 people. Time: 1 hour
3 1/2 dozen fresh small clams like Littleneck, Manila, or New Zealand Cockles. Whole Foods generally carries most of these.
3 tbs olive oil
4 sliced cloves of garlic.
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. Peperoncino (dried red Chile flakes)
1/8 cup dry white wine
2 28 oz cans of Imported Italian Plum Tomatoes called Pomodori Pelati. My preference is the San Marzano DOP variety.
1 lb Imported Italian Linguine. deCecco is a popular Italian brand sold Nationally.
In a heavy bottomed Dutch oven or large cast iron pan heat the olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic and season with the salt and Peperoncino. When the garlic does its happy dance and the aroma is amazing add the wine. Let this bubble and cook for about 5 minutes. Empty the tomatoes into a bowl and crush them with your hands or use a food processor. Pour into the garlic and oil. Stir well. Bring to a boil then reduce to medium. Let this cook for 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently. Now add the clams. Then cover. Reduce to a simmer and let them steam in the sauce until they open. Check to see if they have opened after 10 minutes. Stir gently. If some are still close cover and let cook another 5 minutes. While the sauce is cooking cook till just al dente the Linguine in plenty of salted water. Drain. Any unopened clams discard. Add the linguine to the pot and coat well. Cook for 2 minutes. Finito. You should need any more salt to season since the clams add Their briny liquor to the mix. It’s truly a little bit of heaven in you mouth when you taste this. My versionI think is close to the source. No herbs. Tomato. Garlic. Olive oil. Hot spice. And the oceanic wonder of the taste of the clams. In places where fresh clams are impossible to find use a large can of chopped ocean clams or the minced ones but only cook for 5 minutes after adding them. Serve with extra Peperoncino and a drizzle of Olive oil. I load my plate up but always be mindful of your diners. A pinch of it as you add in the sauté gives a nice kick. You can amp your serving up with more but you can’t remove the heat if you’ve loaded it up in the sauté. Buon Appetito!!