Tag Archives: Italian Cheeses

TIELLA DI VERDURE NELLO STILE DI PUGLIA. VEGETABLE TIELLA (LAYERED BAKED CASSEROLE) USING THE STYLES OF PUGLIA

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

INGREDIENTI:

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..

LEFTOVER SPAGHETTI, THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT…PAN FRIED SPAGHETTI

14232416_644181959083441_9086273294542237012_nLeftovers…they CAN be one of your most delicious dishes. Do you ever have leftover sauced Spaghetti? I hope you said yes because If you do not do this already I will now become your new best friend.  Reheating leftover spaghetti in the microwave should be a criminal offense.   Maybe that’s harsh, and….maybe not. The ultimate goal of eating is to keep the body fueled and functioning.  Why make everything quinoa puffs and kale? There’s no shame in making food that tastes exceptional.  Nature gave us taste buds that help us to enjoy    the various foods and dishes that mankind has developed over our history.  A bowl of leftover spaghetti can become an even better dish (and I know you loved it when you made it) the next day, with a little help..and I mean, a little.  First of all,  I do research a dish before I blog my own version of it, you can’t make this fresh.  Food undergoes chemical/physical changes and for some reason, if you fry the spaghetti in a pan after you’ve just cooked the dish is a fail.  Epic fail.  You’ve wasted a pound of good spaghetti. Your spaghetti needs to sit at least one night in the fridge and I think the texture and taste actually get better if you make it a few days after it’s first been made.

Some history…My Mom and countless other  ItalianAmerican mothers or fathers and grandparents have made this for generations.  It’s what we do with our pasta/macaroni leftovers.  Every bite of this dish is a trip back into my childhood kitchen in Staten Island, NYC where my mother reigned as queen of her kitchen.  Ever miss a loved one who has passed on?  Make a dish that connects you to them and you’ll never eat without them ..ever!!

So how do you give a “recipe” for a dish that is really already cooked?  here’s how…Simply take your leftover spaghetti and let it come to room temperature.  In a heavy wide cast iron skillet preferably, add 2 tbs of olive oil.  No measurements here because…you’ll never know how much you have, they are leftovers!!! In the pictures on here I used just under 1/2 lb of cooked, sauced left over spaghetti.  Add this to the pan and make sure you hear a strong sizzle. DO NOT MOVE THE SPAGHETTI AROUND!~!  After 6 minutes sprinkle 2 tbs. of PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS (no seasoning)over the top…mix that into the spaghetti. Flip the spaghetti and let this cook on that side for 5 minutes or longer, looking at it to see it there’s caramelizing going on. If not, let it be…this dish is not good if it’s simply heated in the pan. You want to see THIS:14202621_644181965750107_7802179799922542959_nsee those spaghetti strands getting toasty?  It’s fantastic.  Side note, do not confuse this with the other very popular Southern Italian or ItalianAmerican FRITTATA DI SPAGHETTI, or Spaghetti Frittata, Spaghetti Pie.  That has eggs beaten into it to create a pie like dish that can be cut into slices.  That’s for another blogpost.  If you have leftover meatballs, by all means, smash them into the pan too…continue to flip this spaghetti until it’s somewhat toasty on all sides.  Easy.  Now…how to serve it?  Grate lots of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano over it and place a side of Ricotta next to it.  Sprinkle with peperoncino to taste and you are ready to eat.

SIDEBAR:  When saucing the spaghetti  on the day you actually made it DO NOT OVER SAUCE!!! Too much sauce creates a soft less crispy dish.  I know you’re saying you like the extra sauce, but hold off before storing the leftovers in the fridge.  It will never really caramelize if it’s too wet.  Happy Cooking…Happy Eating!

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CANNOLI TIRAMISU’ IN A GLASS OR CUP

0tirpmi Last week I, A FOOD OBSESSION, had my first POP UP Dinner and I hope it’s not my last.  It was an amazing amount of fun, anxiety, great kitchen work, planning and working with some great people.  Through a Facebook food group I’m in, the MERRICK GIRLS WEEKNIGHT RECIPES group, my blog and my posts became known to the owner and chef of a Merrick, Long Island NY restaurant beautifully located on the water, ANCHOR DOWN SEAFOOD BAR AND GRILLE.  Chef Stephen Rosenbluth and his wife Jennifer had the idea to have me come to their restaurant on a Sunday night, create a special menu showcasing my recipes that I would cook with his wonderful kitchen staff and serve to members of the group.  FANTASTIC!!!  It would so much fun meeting all these people I’ve been in the group with for the last 2 years as well.  So I came up with a seafood menu and somehow it just evolved into a celebration of my Sicilian heritage.  Now TIRAMISU is hardly Sicilian.  It’s a Northern Italian creation most likely from the late 60’s -80’s up in the northern province of VENETO.  It’s said to be derived from the more traditional Zuppa Inglese layered dessert once very popular throughout Italy.  Growing up there was no TiraMiSu’, which translates as   PICK ME UP alluding to the Espresso which is the main flavor in the dessert.  I remember Zupp’Inglese as a child but no TiraMiSu’ which is historically correct.  America started seeing this dessert in the early 80’s or so and it took off.  If you tell me that as an ItalianAmerican in the NYC area you knew what Mascarpone Cheese was before the arrival of TiraMiSu in the 80’s i say…i don’t think so.  LOL..  TiraMiSu took over as the standard offering in all the Italian American and Italian restaurants in the USA.  It’s everywhere now.  Some versions good, some not so good.  It’s an Italian Crisp LadyFinger (called SAVOIARDI) layer, soaked in Espresso and sometimes a Liquore, then layered with an egg enriched Mascarpone and Whipped Cream layer, scented with Vanilla.  There’s some unsweetened cocoa dusted over the top and it’s chilled and sets up beautifully.  But let’s get back to what it’s doing here in my Sicilian PopUp.  I thought I’d play on the idea of a traditional Tiramisu but make it SICILIAN and a nice light ending to the meal.  I made a basic cannoli cream and added that to a wine glass. The Savoiardi were only 1/2 dipped into a syrup we made with Espresso, sugar, Marsala, Orange Peel.  All Sicilian flavors. The LadyFinger was place into the cream with the dry end up.  A drizzle of the syrup…a grating of Orange zest and a cherry completed the dessert.  Sicily in a cup…deconstructing a classic Northern dessert.  I think you have the idea now and you will want to make this for a party or dinner.  Let’s make CANNOLI TIRAMISU’!!

for 8 servings…have 8 stemmed glassed

takes..about 5 hours (not because it’s difficult, but the cream should be made at least 5 hours and chilled before making the dessert, overnight is best)

3 cups of drained RICOTTA pressed thru a sieve, or 3 cups of Impastata  Ricotta.

To drain wrap into a cheesecloth and hang over your kitchen faucet with a bowl underneath it.  This is the difference between the texture of Pastry shop Cannoli cream and loose runny homemade cannoli cream.  It’s worth the extra work.

1 drop CINAMMON OIL, or 1 TSP. GROUND CINNAMON

1/4 CUP SEMI SWEET CHOCOLATE CHIPS

1 CUP SIFTED CONFECTIONER’S SUGAR

1/2 TSP VANILLA EXTRACT

8 IMPORTED ITALIAN SAVOIARDI (LADY FINGERS)

3 TSP. ORANGE ZEST

8 CHERRIES, GLACE’, CANDIED, or MARASCHINO (DRAINED AND BLOTTED)

Using a mixer beat the cheese till smooth.  Add the cinnamon and the vanilla. Beat till blended in.  Now add the sugar slowly and when all incorporated raise the speed and beat until it’s smooth and no lumps are present.Fold in the Chip.  Cover tightly and refrigerate.

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THE SYRUP

2 CUPS STRONG BLACK ESPRESSO

2 STRIPS ORANGE PEEL

JUICE OF ONE ORANGE

1/2 CUP MARSALA

3/4 CUP GRANULATED SUGAR

WHISK together in a saucepan till the sugar is dissolved. Add the orange peel. Bring to a boil then reduce and simmer until it’s reduced by almost 40%.  Let cool.anchordown22816 086

Now add a small amount of the syrup to the bottom of the 8 glasses. Into each glass fill 1/3 of the way with the cannoli cream.  One by one, dip 1/2 of the SAVOIARDI into the Syrup and let the excess run back into the pan.  Now place it into the glass on top of the cream.  When finished with all 8, garnish with a drizzle of the syrup, divide the orange zest over the 8 cups, and add a cherry to finish.anchordown22816 006Now serve!!  It’s a tiramisu’ idea with the flavors of Sicily…who doesn’t love CANNOLI???? The happy diners at the PopUp all enjoyed their desserts.   It was a pleasure cooking with Chef Rosenbluth and staff and a pleasure working with and finally meeting the Girls of the Merrick Girls Weeknight Recipe Facebook Group.  You can find the group and join it on Facebook at :

https://www.facebook.com/groups/MerrickGirlsWeekdayRecipies/

And you can dine at ANCHOR DOWN SEAFOOD BAR AND GRILLE in Merrick LI :

http://www.anchordownny.com/

 

Tell Chef Stephen, Jennifer, Chef Jason and Murph, Christian, Bev, and  Megan you read about them on my blog!!!

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ZUCCHINE CON PESTO…ZUCCHINI WITH BASIL PESTO

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Yeah I know, Summer is over, what’s this Zucchine con Pesto out of season nonsense…ahh..certainly this dish will be at it’s best in the peak of the Summer growing season..but Zucchini are in the markets all year long, possibly not as sweet as the local summer grown, but they are still delicious.  Old school types refuse to believe that there are good vegetables to be had through the winter…some better than others.  I’ve found that most Fall thru Spring Zucchini have been a breath of fresh air from the earthy flavors of the seasonal root and cruciferous vegetables.  Pesto, if you make it in the summer you can freeze it in various forms, or pack it into olive oil sealed containers, or buy a decent brand in a store, frozen or jarred.  Where did this recipe come from?  It came from necessity.  Opening the fridge one night after work and having to come up with dinner in a hurry meant slicing the zucchini in the fridge into disks.  It meant thinking, what to do that would be delicious yet quick?  Well, on the door of the fridge was a jar of CENTO PESTO, imported from Italy.  All season long i make my own pesto.  I won this jar and 7 others! in a contest on Instagram.  Yay me!!! I then thought…wow, that pesto is packed with flavor, made of good stuff..hmmm. i’ll pan saute’ the zucchini cut in rounds till they blister in olive oil…then. add some garlic to the pan, then some peperoncino…THEN when the zucchini is tender move off the flame and stir in the pesto..not much…it’s not tasty when it’s over done..Just enough to create a “sauce” and coat the cooked zucchini.  Here’s the thing…unless you’re going to add it to a soup or sauce at the end..Pesto should not be cooked.  So…off the flame the pan went and 5 minutes late i stirred a spoon of pesto into the pan. Perfection reached!!

TIME:  about 40 minutes      SERVES: 4

5 small to medium ZUCCHINI (not the big ones..too much seed, too big for this recipe)

3 tbs. OLIVE OIL

3 sliced CLOVES OF GARLIC

KOSHER SALT

1/2 TSP PEPERONCINO (the Italian word for crushed dried hot red pepper/chile)

2 TBS. PESTO

 

Slice the zucchini in no more than 1/4 inch thick rounds.  Heat 1 1/2 tbs. olive oil in a wide pan and add as many slices as you can without them overlapping.  You may have to do them in two or three batches.  Leave the heat on medium or you will burn the exterior of the zucchini before the inside cooks.  I’d give them at least 8 minutes on one side.  Turn one over and if it’s blistered, you’re ready to turn them. Lightly salt them each time you add raw zucchini to the pan.  Let the other side blister as well, blistering meaning taking on nice color without burning.  Remove to a platter or dish and keep covered with foil as you finish the next batches.  Add more Olive Oil as necessary. Taste a zucchini, make sure it’s tender and seasoned. When you are done with the zucchini, in the pan you just cooked the zucchini in, add the garlic and peperoncino and let this  get fragrant, only takes about 1 minute to 1 1/2 minutes..do not let the garlic burn. Remove from the heat.   Now add the pesto and blend well with the oil being careful not to splatter yourself or all over the stove.  Now gently add the zucchini back into the pan and coat all the rounds with the “sauce”. This is one of my examples of LA DOLCE FAR NIENTE, real Italian style…the sweet joy and bliss of doing nothing..meaning..lazily hanging around enjoying good company and good food.  A plate of this zucchini does not have to be PIPING HOT..it can stay out at room temperature and infact, I think it taste better at room temperature.  Have  a table set with lots of these types of dishes and you can enjoy your guests and family instead of running back and forth into the kitchen.  A family style platter of this on the table or side board is perfect. It can be part of an antipasto or a “contorno” or side dish for a full meal.  However you serve it do not fuss..bring that LA DOLCE FAR NIENTE into your home.  Cooking is only a job if you get paid for it.  When you are home..enjoy!

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Imagine yourself along a canal off of the Venetian Lagoon…like this wonderful one in Burano outside of Venice…imagine a long table. lots of seafood and meats, vegetables, pasta and fruits…breads, antipasti..grilled…and  THAT is what I think of with a platter of this zucchini.  Did you notice I spelled it ZUCCHINE in the title?  That’s my inner Italian coming out…in Italian the word is ZUCCHINE (plural for ZUCCHINA, which means small squash, which is a ZUCCA, and they come in all shapes and sizes and colors.  In English we use the word ZUCCHINI) I’ve given you a vegetable dish AND a small Italian Grammar lesson.  Most importantly I’m giving you the permission to enjoy LA DOLCE FAR NIENTE..now go find it for yourself !! Happy Cooking!!

ROASTED TOMATOES ON THE VINE WITH MOZZARELLA, GRAZIE MICHELE SCICOLONE

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Tomatoes on the vine…the sights and tastes of the Summer season and hopefully the promise of an extended period of good weather until the Autumn frosts..these are beautiful things.  Cookbooks are beautiful things to (are you thinking, “where did THAT thought come from?” and one in particular is from a favorite cookbook author, MICHELE SCICOLONE, based in New York City and has been writing wonderful cookbooks that bring good food and sentiments to your table.  She’s very easy to follow and her recipes are wonderful.  So here’s the tie in–that tomato dish picture and the focus of this blogpost is from her cookbook THE ITALIAN VEGETABLE COOKBOOK.  Certainly this one is a favorite for all the reasons I mentioned and more..the photography is wonderful, the reading is easy, and the foods are glorious.  It’s a celebration of Italian Vegetable ideas and not once will you say..hmmm.  where’s the BEEF??? strascinati 003There’s my copy, i bought it as soon as it came out. AND doesn’t that cover look like the lead picture?? Of course it does and I’m going to share with you how I made this with many thanks to Michele Scicolone   (http://www.amazon.com/The-Italian-Vegetable-Cookbook-Antipasti/dp/0547909160)

 

This dish is a star and her version pairs the “on the vine” roasted tomatoes with Burrata.  Anything more delicious than Burrata?  Ok, maybe somethings AS DELICIOUS AS burrata. For my version though I was Burrata-less and instead used what I had in my fridge which were BOCCONCINI or CILIEGIE DI FIOR DI LATTE…”Fresh” small Mozzarella Balls in Water. I’d strongly advise either the Burrata with this (which is best because of it’s Creamy nature) or a fresh style in the water small mozzarella.  Get yourself about 1 lb of Tomatoes on the Vine..fresh picked would be even better! Pre heat your oven to 375 degrees F.  Coat them with 1 cup of Imported Italian Olive Oil, a good sprinkle of Kosher Salt, grinding of Black pepper and place them into a baking pan lined with foil.  Try to make sure none of the tomatoes are touching so the heat reaches all sides and roasts them evenly.

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Place into the oven and roast for at least 20 minutes or until the skins are splitting away and shriveled and the tomatoes sort of collapse and are soft.  There, you are done!  To serve, open the burrata, or slice it, or used the bocconcini and drizzle with the juices from the roasting pan.  About 1 lb of cheese should do it. Add that around the tomatoes and garnish with fresh Basil.  Serve with really good bread. Thank you to Michele Scicolone for this wonderful book AND recipe.

 

*My recipe is adapted from Michele Scicolone’s Book THE ITALIAN VEGETABLE COOKBOOK, so that means this is her idea, not mine, and i’m happy to share it.  I highly suggest purchasing the book as well.

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LARGE PASTA WITH BROCCOLI “CREAM” AND WALNUTS…PACCHERI CON CREMA DI BROCCOLI E NOCI

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Vegetables and dairy are wonderful pairings especially when they are creamy and  used as a pasta “sauce”.  I put “sauce” in quotes because the correct term in Italian would be a “condimento”…a condiment that enhances the pasta which, sorry to do this to you carb-haters out there, but the Pasta is the main event on a plate of macaroni.  The sauce or condimento just adds more flavor and nourishment, it’s an enhancer. And the sky is the limit with pasta dishes. Italy is full of heritage recipes, family recipes, regional recipes, with new ones are being created all the time.  I’m going to think that I created this but somewhere out there this dish may already be on a table in an Italian kitchen.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Let’s create together…for more texture I’m adding crushed walnuts.  Why?  Why NOT?  They will make the dish more interesting and complex.  The crunch with play off nicely with the toothsome pasta and creamy blend of cooked Broccoli and Mascarpone.  Parmigiano sharpens the plate and it’s nuttiness works with the Walnuts. Peperoncino because I’m of Southern Italian extraction and it’s what we do.  So I’ll give you a pass here and say if dried crushed chiles are too hot for your palate, fresh cracked black pepper will work too.  I’m going to ask you to do something that you will probably have been taught not to do.  I want you to “overcook” your broccoli.  That’s right, no crisp bright green florets for this dish, it simply will not work.  It will only taste raw.  Are you up for the challenge??  Do you have the courage to turn your Broccoli into mush?  GOOD!  Continue with me into the kitchen then..let’s go..ANDIAMO!

 

SERVES: 4-6                                    TIME: about 1 hour

2 lbs. CHOPPED WELL COOKED BROCCOLI (cook the broccoli until it’s very soft, drain well and let it sit for at least 1 hour, drain off any water that collects).

1 1/2 cups MASCARPONE CHEESE

2 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

KOSHER SALT, PEPERONCINO (or fresh ground Black Pepper)

2 TBS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Juice of 1 LEMON

3 TBS PARMIGIANO REGGIANO PLUS MORE FOR SERVING AND FINISHING

3 TBS. CRUSHED TOASTED WALNUTS

1 TBS WALNUT OIL (if available)

1 lb PACCHERI OR RIGATONI..cooked till Al Dente according to the package directions

In a Bowl, using a potato Masher, mash the Broccoli.  A Food Processor will make this  “CREMA” too thin, I like this with some small pieces of broccoli among the mashed pieces.  If you must have it thinner pulse it in a Food Processor.

In a large non stick pan, heat the olive oil…when it’s heated, add the garlic and a pinch of the peperoncino, pinch of salt.  Do not let the garlic brown, as soon as you really can smell the garlic add the broccoli  and heat the broccoli through keeping this on a low flame.  Heat for at least 8 minutes, being careful to stir frequently. Taste for seasoning, if you think it needs some salt, add a little now.  Add the lemon.,Gently stir in the MascarponeOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA until it’s incorporated into the mixture.  Next add the grated PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO and the Pasta.           OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Gently mix the pasta into the “CREMA”. Make sure it’s well blended.

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How nice is that? So, let’s finish this up…top with the toasted crushed walnuts, peperoncino or black pepper, a drizzle of Walnut Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil and more Grated Parmigiano.

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That is smoking “hot”.  A nice glass of wine or Sparkling Italian Water with fresh lime or lemon, or a frosty Beer or Coca-Cola…drink what you want.  Eat what you want.  You’ll want to eat this!  Happy Cooking!!

so let’s talk PACCHERI..what the hell is A FOOD OBSESSION talking about?  It’s an oversized Rigatoni like pasta that is loved in Naples (again with the Naples, sorry) and generally paired with light seafood sauces.  It’s big and toothsome and sucks into it’s center some of the Crema di Broccoli and the nuts.  Not easy to find but it’s what I use when I make the dish.  Rigatoni will work as well so, there’s your option.

A QUICK PASTA SAUCE…THE LEGENDARY SCIUE’ SCIUE’…IT MEANS HURRY UP!!

003  Sciue’ Sciue’…in Napoletana dialect is simply means “Hurry Up”…more love from the City of Naples.  Let this blogpost serve to open some eyes of people who only think an Italian Pasta Sauce made with tomatoes is a long-term prospect.  Most Italian tomato sauces are simply never cooked as long as non-Italians (that includes American-Italians) seem to cook their sauces.  That long simmer should only be reserved for a tomato sauce that includes meats,like Ragu’ di Bologna (Bolognese) or Ragu’ di Napoli (the prototype for Sunday Sauce from Naples and the south). Most of the other pasta sauces highlight the vibrancy of the tomato,they are fresh tasting. My trips to Italy always have included many pasta dishes where lightly cooked Cherry tomatoes were used. Growing up Cherry Tomatoes were something for salads, antipasto or vegetable platters, delicious snacks, or sometimes if Dad had a bumper crop, would be cooked down and frozen for the winter.  But, that was a rarity, they were just not used the same way we used Dad’s plum tomatoes. In Italy they were in so many pasta dishes, including versions of Spaghetti con Vongole Verace, the iconic Spaghetti with local clams.  Cherry Tomatoes also come packed in 15oz cans packed in Southern Italy known as POMODORINI.  Southern Italians use lots of cherry tomatoes along with the San Marzano and Plum tomatoes.  WHO KNEW??  That was a wonderful revelation. I love a good eye opener and since that first trip to Italy in 1986 I’ve been voraciously using Cherry tomatoes in all sorts of Italian ways.  Wait. Are you asking yourself, “is  A FOOD OBSESSION talking about an out of season item??”  Yes, you are correct, WAY out of season for most of the U.S., certainly where I am in  the Northeast. Let’s just give you a good reason why I am writing this today…008  That’s why. I need to think of fresh Summery, outdoorsy foods.  Using raw tomatoes is so indicative of the Summer growing season I’m compelled to blog this purely as therapy.  It’s March 6 and this morning it was 7 degrees F at home. That’s far from normal after a long record cold February.  WHA WHA WHA!!! Crying feels good sometimes!  Instead of throwing snowballs I’ll think  about summery food since you can find decent grape or Cherry tomatoes in your produce departments through the Winter and marinating them or cooking them even at this time of the year will yield a tasty dish.

 

SERVES: 4-6                                                TIME: 30 MINUTES

2 1/2 PINTS WHOLE OR SLICED FRESH CHERRY OR GRAPE TOMATOES

3 TBS. GOOD OLIVE OIL

2 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

KOSHER SALT, BLACK PEPPER

6 FRESH BASIL LEAVES or a PINCH of GOOD DRIED OREGANO

1 LB ITALIAN PASTA,  COOKED ACCORDING TO PACKAGE DIRECTIONS BUT KEEP TO THE AL DENTE DIRECTIONS

GRATED ITALIAN CHEESE…MOZZARELLA, PECORINO, RICOTTA SALATA, CACIOCAVALLO, PARMIGIANO..this is up to you…stick with the simplicity of the dish, use only one of them.

in a large skillet heat 2 tbs of the Olive Oil. Add the Tomatoes and cook on medium heat letting them get a bit of color on them.  Toss the around a bit..add some salt and pepper to taste and when they are soft (takes about 10 minutes or so) add the garlic.  Let this cook for 10 minutes on low.  Add the 3 Basil leaves.  Now add the al dente Pasta to the pan.  Toss well and heat through, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat..season with grated cheese, the remaining olive oil and basil leaves..taste for seasoning, add more salt or pepper at this point, not before. So often the cheese will add that additional saltiness you want.  Was that SCIUE’ SCIUE’??

Pull up a cup of coffee or a glass of wine now and sit here with me and let’s talk…If there is nothing else I convey to people through my blog and other Social networking/media it’s that there may be more to a cuisine than you’ve been taught or exposed to.  The long hours of a Nonna in black standing over a stove or open fire for hours are certainly wonderful and sentimental but hardly the total picture.  Many Italian tomato sauces have no herbs in them at all and here in the U.S.A. I see so many dumping that hay ball of “ITALIAN SEASONING” created in the boardroom and corporate food labs of big American food conglomerates.  There’s no such thing.  Dried oregano is used in ITalian cooking..the other dried herbs are not.  Today fresh herbs are available in most places where the population really lives.  If you are 100 miles from your nearest neighbor, you are in the minority..most of us live in and around urban/suburban centers and mega Supermarkets and Mega Stores are within an hour’s drive.  Fresh herbs can be grown or bought and they will last a while in your fridge, certainly more than 1 week.  Use them. Find them.  This Sciue’ Sciue’ would be a disaster if you added that green gray ball of dried herbs…what’s allowable is a pinch of  dried oregano (PINCH!!! NOT A TEASPOON).  That’s ITALIAN, not the other stuff.  No longer think of Tomato Sauce for Pasta as a single entity..there are hundreds of regional recipes with a different tomato sauce, and certainly every cook/chef/family has their own personal versions.

PENSARE FUORI LA SCATOLA!!!   THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX!!!

My Sciue’ Sciue’ pictured was made with DeCecco’s egg GARGANELLI, a delicious pasta.

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STUFFED MUSHROOMS PIZZAIOLA, MY MOM’S HOLIDAY STAPLE

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  I hope that lead picture draws you into this blogpost because not only is it a great dish for you to make, it means so much to me.  STUFFED MUSHROOMS PIZZAIOLA..let’s explore that…what makes it (Something) PIZZAIOLA?  The SAUCE.  Simple.  A blend of crushed Italian Plum Tomatoes, usually out of the can, preferably San Marzanos, then blended with OLIVE OIL, GARLIC, OREGANO, SALT, PEPPER.  That’s it. It’s used on Pizzas in Naples and paired up with other meats or poultry then baked, and that’s the sauce that makes these Stuffed Mushrooms Pizzaiola (meaning in the style of the Pizza Maker’s wife).  While the Pizzaiolo was making the pies, the wife who was the home cook was using the sauce in inventive ways.  Ok, that’s what I think happened so I am standing by that romantic explanation.  More importantly I want you do enjoy something that was a Holiday staple for my family at Thanksgiving and Christmas Day dinner year after year.  These are my mother’s Stuffed Holiday Mushrooms.  Only when making them last night did it occur to me that her recipe contained Pizzaiola sauce.  I love when that happens.  She was Napoletana, the sauce is Napoletana, stuffed vegetables are very Napoletana, it’s a dish that defines my family’s history.  AND it tastes awesome and that is why you want to make them.  Now is this exactly like my mother’s?  Let’s say 85%, I add some other techniques or steps to Mom’s standard Italian Fennel Sausage, pecorino, garlic, herb, and breadcrumb stuffing so this is MY VERSION of Mom’s recipe.  There’s enough of Mom’s recipe in here to make it mostly her’s, soeaster79momI don’t think she’ll be looking down from Heaven on my stove without smiling.  Miss you MOM!! That picture was taken by me Easter Sunday 1979 in our dining room..where all the Holiday Meals and Special occasions went down.  While cooking this last night my kitchen had every smell of the Holidays of my youth.  Happens everytime I make these Mushrooms for Thanksgiving.  Even if we dine elsewhere, I make a tray for home.  Try a Stuffed Mushroom slider sometime. Delicious!!  And the Pizzaiola sauce after baking is further seasoned by the mushrooms themselves and all the flavors in the stuffing.  Mom’s Thankgiving table was the stuff dreams were made of, at least to this kid..Stuffed Mushrooms, Stuffed Artichokes, Antipasto, her roasted red peppers (Holla!!),Finocchio on the table, nuts, dates, figs, fruit, Manicotti, Sausage and Meatballs, Turkey, Stuffing, Broccoli Rabe, “American” Broccoli, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Corn, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans Almondine, Cranberry Sauce..I’m not sure anymore if there was a salad…i’m thinking not…the dinner though would begin with chilled fruit cocktail in a stemed dish..This was as fancy as we got.  She even dressed her turkey, booties, fruits, garnishes, it was heaven.  Of course Italian Pastries but what everyone looked forward to were the pies…lots of them..apple, apple crumb, pumpkin, sweet potato, lemon merengue (my favorite), Cherry, Mince (no one at that one ),pecan, banana cream, chocolate pudding..you get the picture.  If you are at all in tune with food the heightened standard and diverse recipes and preparations during the Holidays is an excuse to do what you are really doing all year.  I love it and I hope you do to regardless of what holidays at year’s end you celebrate or do not.  It’s a time for entertaining.  My mom knew how to entertain, although, she wanted everything cleaned up too quickly…lol.  That tradition I do not perpetuate!  Relax, the mess will still be there tomorrow.  I’m not taking up precious social time to clean up..later for that!

Ready to cook?  I use regular button mushrooms for this..why you ask?  When there are beautiful huge stuffing mushrooms to be had?  Think of all that shows up at the holiday table, there’s usually a high variety of food, some of it very rich.  I’d rather serve a small bite than something that could be it’s own appetizer for a sit down dinner.  Think BIG picture, not just BIG food.

MAKES  50 MUSHROOMS

50 MUSHROOMS, STEMS GENTLY SEPARATED (finely dice the stems)

1 1/2 lbs. loose mix of hot and sweet ITALIAN PORK FENNEL SAUSAGE meat

(or just one type)

3 sliced cloves of garlic

1 large whole clove of GARLIC

Olive Oil

1 tsp. diced PANCETTA

1/4 cup RED WINE

1 tsp.Oregano

1/8 cup GRATED PECORINO ROMANO CHEESE

1/4 cup DICED LOW MOISTURE MOZZARELLA(not fresh made)

1/8 cup PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS

1 ITALIAN ROLL, day old preferably..soaked in water, then squeeze out the water

KOSHER SALT

2 TBS. FINELY CHOPPED FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY

1 CAN (28 OZ) SAN MARZANO TOMATOES OR GOOD ITALIAN PLUM TOMATOES

1/2 TSP FENNEL SEED, SLIGHTLY BRUISED

BLACK PEPPER

Start by making the PIZZAIOLA SAUCE. Simple.  Crush the tomatoes with your hand or run thru the processor or a food mill.  I’m lazy.  I use my hands.  Less clutter and things to wash, but feel free to use whatever you are comfortable with.  Empty it into a mixing bowl.  Add 1 TBS. Olive Oil, I like the taste of Olive Oil, alot..so I like a good Extra Virgin in here.  Feel free to use what you like.  Add 1/2 tsp of Oregano that you RUBBED BETWEEN YOUR HANDS..key technique, you release the oils in the dried oregano..do not use fresh for this. Salt and Pepper to taste..Smash one whole clove of garlic.  Add that..Now blend the ingredients and set it aside.

mushroompizzaiola 007  How beautiful is that!!??  And btw, since this is not cooked before you add it to the mushrooms the type and quality of the tomato is very very important.  Sometimes you can help out not so good tomatoes by cooking them in a sauce.  Not so with this Pizzaiola method.  The bright fresh taste of the tomato is highlighted in this sauce.  No 1.99 tomatoes here, they should cost you at least $ 2.50 or more.  Make that mental note.

Now the stuffing…it’s a Red Wine Braised Italian Sausage stuffing with some additions.let’s have fun with this.  In a large heavy pan for caramelization! add a little olive oil.  Keep on medium heat and add the pancetta.  When that is somewhat clear and has a little color on it add the sausage.  Let it cook on one side for at least 8 minutes or until it’s browned, then chop it with a spatula and turn the sausage meat so it now will evenly brown.  Let this cook for 5 minutes. Now add the sliced garlic.  Resist the urge to season at this point because sausage meat is well seasoned and soon we will be adding cheese to this..more salt.  You can always add salt, you can’t ever remove it, so trust me here. Now add the chopped stems and blend in well.  After about 2 minutes add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes then add the wine.  What an aroma you are now getting!! mushroompizzaiola 002 Let this simmer for at least 10 minutes.  If the wine evaporates before that just add a touch more.  This process infuses that tasty sausage with the wine flavor.  It’s delicious!  OK, take a piece out for yourself…are you smiling???  After 10 minutes, remove from the heat and let this cool down for at least 20 minutes.  In a large mixing bowl, add the remaining oregano, the breadcrumbs,the bread, all the cheeses, the parsley, and mix together. Now add the sausage mushroom mix and 2 tbs of that Pizzaoila sauce you made…blend well.  It’s ready when it looks like this:mushroompizzaiola 003  Then gently stuff each mushroom cap with the stuffing, just to the top, if there’s left over just add a little more to some.mushroompizzaiola 005  Place them into a baking/roasting pan that you’ve drizzled with some olive oil.  Next step…pre heat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Drizzle the Pizzaiola sauce around and over the mushrooms, another drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of some grated Pecorino Romano.mushroompizzaiola 010  You really have to be getting excited now.  Please say you are!!  Bake uncovered for 20 minutes.  At the 10 minute mark, rotate the pan.  Why?  I believe most ovens have hot spots so this just helps with an even cooking of the pan.  They are done when the mushrooms are soft.  Let them sit for about  5 minutes before serving and these reheat REAL well.  Here’s the finished product:

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A wonderful starter to a big Holiday meal, or a side, or , away from the Holidays make this and serve with pasta..the sauce needs good bread for dipping or wonderful on pasta.

 

 

 

 

 

PASTA WITH RICOTTA, PROSCIUTTO AND ARUGULA..SIMPLE PASTA FOR A QUICK MEAL

001  One can never have too many PASTA recipes and ideas, it is just too easy to create a tremendous meal with a pot of water and some good pasta, fresh or dried.  Comforting and filling, PAPPARDELLE, a medium width long sheet of pasta from Tuscany is what today’s post is all about.  You may see this most commonly served with a long simmered Ragu’ of Wild Boar (Cinghiale) or Duck (Anatra) or Bolognese style sauces but let’s not limit ourselves.  Have a 1/2 hour to get dinner ready?  This may be of interest to you.  I know it will be.  I’m pairing it with wilted Arugula, Prosciutto and tossing it with a good ricotta and Parmigiano-Reggiano.  A hint of garlic and you are eating really well..where’s that crisp white wine or sparkling water???  Dinner is served!  A little about Pappardelle…I like to know all about whatever it is I’m eating.  Makes it taste better.  In Tuscan dialect the verb PAPPARE denotes eating with glee, having fun,  with the joy a child might have.  I’ll agree. Pappardelle make you happy and there’s an excitement at your plate.  Is that a little much?  I’m not thinking so, but maybe you are.  You’ll feel it when you eat this easy dish.

SERVES: 4                                                 TAKES: 40 minutes

1 LB. EGG PAPPARDELLE, FRESH IS BEST, BUT THERE ARE EXCELLENT EGG PAPPARDELLE THAT ARE DRIED

1 1/2 CUP RICOTTA

1/4 cup freshly grated PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO

1/2 TSP. BLACK PEPPER or PEPERONCINO

1 clove sliced GARLIC

2 CUPS CHOPPED BABY ARUGULA

1/4 LB. CHOPPED PROSCIUTTO

2 TBS. EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Pinch of SALT

Cook the Pappardelle according to the package instructions.  While you are waiting for the water to boil you can get the “sauce” completed.

In a wide pan heat 1 tbs. of Olive oil.  Add the prosciutto and cook for about 5 minutes to melt the fat on it and lightly caramelize it.0002  Add the garlic and let it get fragrant (LOVE THAT TERM WITH FOOD, I’M STARVING AGAIN WHEN I HEAR THAT!!), this should only take about 1 to 2 minutes..do not let it burn.  Add the arugula and cook for no more than 2 minutes and pepper.           10965_1151469789308_1304531591_30356921_1242298_n  Remove from heat.  Season with salt if needed. Drain your Pappardelle retaining 2 tbs. of the water.004   Add the al dente pappardelle to the pan of prosciutto and arugula. Gently mix well.  Fold in 1 1/2 cups of ricotta and 1/8 cup of the Parmigiano Reggiano  Let it sit for 5 minutes then add the additional ricotta and DRIZZLE  with the remaining oliveoil. serve.  More Parmigiano and pepper if you like.  I like.20 Angelo-Brocato-New-Orleans  done.  Just a note here you may be thinking one clove of garlic is not enough.  I appeal to your senses of at least trying a dish in a more Italian fashion.  Too much garlic, in my opinion in this dish reduces it to a pile of garlic noodles.  Some Italian dishes do in fact have a real punch from garlic, others simply do not and are flavored with it, like this one.  Try it.

ANELLETTI AL FORNO, THE REAL SPAGHETTI -O’S, FROM SICILY

  Italy is a land of many regions like every other country and each area fiercely promotes it’s different foods, traditions, and dishes.  One of the biggest arguments you will encounter when two Italian-Americans get together will be about food, precisely about a dish.  One says his mother never made the dish, or makes it a certain way.  The other fights back with his mother made better and more importantly his mamma’s way is the RIGHT way because that’s what Mamma made.  This bickering is fueled by repetitive filling up of empty red wine glasses and reaches a crescendo when their stomachs are full and the argument is a draw.  Both sides walk away thinking regardless of what just went down, they are right, their momma is queen, their region of Italy is the only one that matters so, let’s have espresso and maybe a cannoli. Italian-Americans are a very unique blend of these hardcore Italian regions.  Most Italian-Americans (let’s call them IAs, too much typing) are American born of one or both parents having Italian lineage but there are many different regions that married together to form the current IA profile in America.  Take A FOOD OBSESSION, my Paternal grandparents were both born in Sciacca, Sicily. My mother’s mother was born in Castelbaronia, Avellino and lived in Naples from 10 to 20 years of age and my maternal grandfather was born in Grassano, Matera in Basilicata.  That makes me a product of 3 distinct regions, with my mom’s mom having lived in 2 towns in Campania bringing both those areas’ food traditions into the kitchen.  At some point the cooking of Italian food in America became an amalgam of all these regions, some very similar some quite different so remember that next time you hear two IAs making a fuss about whose food is more authentic.  What’s all this blabber about anyway?  It sets up this blogpost and I present to you a very regional dish, ANELLETTI AL FORNO which comes from in and around the Palermo region of Sicily.  It’s basically a baked pasta that uses ANELLETTI (means Little Rings).tomasello_aneletti  That’s right..WHOAAA…they look like Spaghetti-O’s..that All American kid’s canned pasta from Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.  I’m sure some of you love it as it was served with love to you as a child.  IA’s don’t do canned pasta, ever. We’d rather have our tongues cut out.  I’m sure the good Chef Boiardi’s employees used this pasta dish as the basis for stuff in the can.  Let’s freshen that idea up and go a little “authentic” (almost a silly word, no one really knows exactly what was or is authentic anymore but this is close) and go with my preparation of Anelletti Al Forno.  To show you how regional and isolated the food cultures of Italy can be, my Sicilian Grandmother who did cook a tomato sauce with peas (and potatoes) in a very Sicilian style never ever made Anelletti.  Why?  She came from Sciacca which is directly south on the Mediterranean shore below Palermo.  A few hours and some mountains made this dish totally unknown in her kitchen.  I was introduced to this dish at the FEAST OF SAINT ROSALIA on 18th Avenue in Brooklyn in the 70’s.  Back then the feast which celebrates the patron saint of Palermo was mostly lined with Sicilian food vendors, along with the usual suspects at an Italian-American street feast. teschio  In the shadow of Santa Rosalia I enjoyed Stuffed Artichokes, Panelle (Chick pea fritters), Arancini (Rice Balls) and a serving of Anelletti al Forno.  I fell in love and never looked back.  Sept. 4 in the traditional Feast of St.Rosalia but it’s celebrated in Palermo on July 15 during a celebration called IL FESTINO.  Don’t use one or twospecial days to make  this pasta, although making it on those days  does make it taste a little special..i’m not lying to you..maybe just a little bit.  Make it anytime and serve with a nice salad.  Let ‘s hit the kitchen.

Makes: 5-6 servings   Time: about 3 hours

1 LB. ANELLETTI (PASTA RINGS), COOKED TILL JUST UNDER AL DENTE, follow the package directions but knock off a few minutes at the end.

1/2 lb. GROUND VEAL or BEEF

1/2 LB. GROUND PORK

3 TBS. OLIVE OIL

1 FINE DICED ONION

1 28 OZ CAN IMPORTED ITALIAN TOMATOES (SAN MARZANO IF YOU HAVE THEM, not Sicilian, but very delicious)

1/2 can IMPORTED ITALIAN TOMATO PASTE

3 CHOPPED CELERY LEAVES

1 fine diced CARROT

1 cup RED WINE

2 cups WATER

Kosher salt

Black pepper

pinch of OREGANO

1 cup shelled GREEN PEAS

Olive oil and butter for greasing the Baking Pan

3 tbs. BREAD CRUMBS for LINING THE PAN

1 cup grated PECORINO OR CACIOCAVALLO

1 cup diced PRIMOSALE CHEESE or MOZZARELLA or PROVOLONE

OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS: FRIED SLICES OF EGGPLANT (no breading), CHOPPED WHOLE HARD BOILED EGGS,  CHOPPED SOPRESSATA

In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbs of olive oil…add the onions, carrots, and 1/2 the celery leaves , season with salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 15 minutes.  Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.  Add the ground meats to the pot and cook until you don’t see any pink, stirring from time to time, about 10 minutes. Now season with salt and pepper and the celery leaves. and oregano.  Cook for 2 minutes then add the wine, bring to a slow boil. Add the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes, then add the water, bring to a boil then down to a simmer. Add the tomatoes, that you crushed with your hands, to the pot.  Let this cook down for a good 1 hour 15 minutes.  It should be thick, if still watery, continue to reduce until that water is cooked out. Add the peas  and the balance of the celery leaves and cook for additional 10 minutes.

While all that is happening, cook the pasta until just under al dente according to the package directions.  Notice I’m not telling you to substitute the pasta.  This is not a universal pasta dish, it’s a regionally SPECIFIC heritage dish from the Palermo province of Sicily.  There’s no substitute..and to make it easy for you here’s a link where you can buy it on line:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Anelletti-No-Tomasello-16oz-1lb/dp/B000LRKPRA

There are other places too on the web. as well.  It’s INTRINSIC to use the Anelletti.  In a baking pan that you have lightly greased with butter or olive oil sprinkle 3/4 of the breadcrumbs around the pan.  Mix the pasta and the cheeses together with sauce( reserve 1 cup of sauce for the top)  then turn it into the pan.   Sprinkle with the diced cheese, the reserved sauce and more breadcrumbs.

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Bake in a 375 F degree oven for 40 minutes.  Let it sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.

This delicious treat sometimes has a thicker layer of crumbs around it, or is cooked in a ring pan or mold.  Be creative but keep to the traditions, there’s plenty of wiggle room there.

 

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Here’s the “moral” of this blogpost/story, especially for the most opinionated of you out there—open your mind to things that are not part of the kitchen you grew up on and see why it may be a valid authentic dish.  Until that visit to the streets of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn for the St.Rosalia Feast in the 70’s I would have said that Anelletti is NOT a Sicilian dish because my grandmother didn’t make it.  How wrong I would have been!  And when you hear this jingle from the 60’s you’ll have a WHOLE’nother idea of what that dish is: