Tag Archives: ITALIAN CUISINE

BACCALA’ CON PEPERONI, POMODORI, CIPOLLE ROSSE…DRIED SALT COD COOKED WITH PEPPERS, CHERRY TOMATOES AND RED ONIONS

BACCALA’. The Italian word for DRIED SALTED COD. A gift from the Northern Europe where the cod is caught, then salted and dried this fish became a staple in the poverty stricken homes across southern Italy. It became the most popular Christmas Eve seafood as it was cheap and available to both rich and poor in Italy’s south, from the sea up into the mountains. Every family has it’s Christmas Eve tradtional Baccala’ dish. Probably the two most popular are the simply Fried Baccala’ and the Baccala baked or pan cooked with tomatoes, peppers, olives. There’s a host of dishes that can be made with Baccala and Italians aren’t the only ones who love this fish. French, Portuguese, Spanish, Caribbeans, Northern Europeans…every cuisine has wonderful dishes. Most important when cooking Baccala is that you give the dried fish enough time to hydrate and rid itself of the excess salt. My standard rule is 3 days of soaking in cold water, left covered in the fridge with 2 changes of water per day. Pat dry on day 3 and now you’re ready to use it. This recipe is one I made up one Christmas Eve when I wanted something different from my usual preparations. The Cod is lightly floured and seared in hot olive oil. Removed. Then in that pan a saute’ of Sliced Cubanelles (Italian Frying Peppers), Red Onions, Sliced Fresh Cherry Tomatoes, a pinch of salt and black pepper. When the vegetables are soft, add some white wine and then add the cod back. Top with toasted breadcrumbs, pignoli and fresh basil. It’s Delicious!! Let’s COOK!!

1 3/4 lbs (original dry weight) of 3 DAY SOAKED BACCALA, CUT UP INTO MEDIUM CHUNKS.

2 TBS. ALL PURPOSE FLOUR SEASONED WITH BLACK PEPPER (NO SALT!!!)

OLIVE OIL

3 SLICED SEEDED CUBANELLE (ITALIAN FRYING) PEPPERS

1 LARGE SLICED RED ONION

1/2 PINT SLICED CHERRY OR GRAPE TOMATOES

HANDFUL OF CHOPPED FRESH PARSLEY

1/2 CUP ITALIAN WHITE WINE

2 TBS. TOASTED PLAIN BREADCRUMBS

3 TORN FRESH BASIL LEAVES

1 1/2 TBS TOASTED PIGNOLI

In a heavy pan, like a cast iron or heavy bottomed one heat 2 tbs of olive oil till you see the waves in the pan. Dredge the baccala’ chunks on all sides shaking off the excess and sear on all sides till the cod is golden. Transfer to paper towels to absorb excess oil In the same pan add the peppers, onions and tomatoes and saute’ on medium until they are soft. Takes about 10 minutes, Don’t rush it. Add the peperoncino and 1/2 the parsley. Deglaze the pan with the wine. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer, Add the Baccala’ back and cook for only 6 minutes. Finish with the toasted breadcrumbs, basil, parsley and pignoli. Remove from the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. ALTERNATE METHOD, after you’ve added the cod back, top with everything and place into a hot oven (400 degrees F) until the breadcrumbs begin to brown, then remove.

Serving suggestion….this dish can be served hot, or warm/room temperature. Serve with good seeded Italian or Sicilian Bread. Make it anytime you want a taste of Italian seafood whether it’s Christmas eve or not. BUONA CUCINA!! BUON APPETITO!!!

PANINI DI SANT’ANTONIO….ROLLS FOR ST.ANTHONY’S DAY JUNE 13

On June 13 Catholics all over the world celebrate the Feast of St.Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan preacher from Portugal who preached and ministered to the poor all over Italy settling in the Nothern Italian city of Padua. The legends surrounding his goodness to the poor manifest themselves in the PANE DI SANT’ANTONIO meaning he feed the hungry symbolized by small loaves of bread. All over Italy various styles of Pane or Panini (the italian word for small bread or rolls) have various styles. Some are light a brioche flavored with sugar and rum, others are slightly sweet with anisette, some are simply a plain crusty loaf, and some have fennel seeds and black pepper in them. So…what’s in the picture above? The are my own version of St.Anthony’s Rolls, slightly sweet, made with lard, black pepper and topped with Fennel Seeds. It’s my personal omaggio to St.Anthony. The rolls are the perfect vehicle for a few thin slices of Mortadella. Let’s go into the kitchen and create these tasty rolls.

PANINI DI SANT’ANTONIO MAKES ABOUT 2 DOZEN 2 1/2 INCH ROLLS

1 PACKET DRY YEAST

1 1/2 TEASPOONS GRANULATED SUGAR

1 CUP TEPID WATER

1/4 CUP LARD

3 1/2 CUPS OF SIFTED ALL PURPOSE FLOUR OR TIPO 00 IMPORTED ITALIAN FLOUR

2 1/2 TEASPOONS KOSHER SALT

1 1/2 TEASPOOONS CRACKED BLACKED PEPPER

2 BEATEN EGGS PLUS 3 TBS WHOLE MILK, MIX ALL TOGETHER

2 TBS FENNEL SEEDS

OLIVE OIL

wHISK the yeast, water, sugar, salt together. Let this sit for 15 minutes and it will bubble and froth. Now Add the flour and mix until the dough starts to come away from the bowl. You can do this with an electric mixer or by hand. When you have a smooth dough turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough for 5 minutes. Then press it out into a small rectangle and add 2 tbs of the lard, Fold the dough over the lard and knead until it’s disappeared and the dough it smooth again. Repeat what you just did until all the lard is used up. Then form a smooth ball , brush with olive oil , the brush the sides of a bowl placing the dough in it and cover with a kitchen towel. Keep in a warm spot until it doubles in size. Take at least one hour or more. When it’s doubled in side cut the dough into 24 equivalent sized pieces. Lay onto parchment paper covered tray and cover them for 20 minutes. Pre heat your oven to 400 Degrees F. Roll each ball of dough into a thick “snake” or rope and tie it in a knot. Lay them on parcement paper lined baking trays. When you’ve completed this brush each one with some of the egg wash AND sprinkle some Fennel Seeds on top. You decide how many you want on top. Place into the middle racks, not the bottom one. Bake for 10 minutes. Then rotate the pans and bake for another 8 minutes OR until the bottoms have a nice brown color and the tops are golden brown like in the picture. Here’s where recipes can fail, this is how my oven works. You may need more or less time, pay attention to your oven!!! Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Plain. or with Ricotta and Jam, or with Prosciutto or Mortadella. Or simply on their own. BUONA FESTA DI SANT’ANTONIO!!

MAIALE CON PEPERONATA (AGRODOLCE), PORK COOKED WITH SWEET AND SOUR PEPPER STEW

PORK WITH SWEET AND SOUR PEPPERS AND ONIONS

Italy is filled with Pork recipes and ItalianAmerica added more to the scene. This one is one that shows up often in Southern Italian Cooking, the combo of Pork with Peppers. Sometimes it’s with Hot Vinegar Peppers. Sometimes it’s with a simple saute’ of Peppers and Onions. Sometimes it’s AGRODOLCE, meaning sweet and sour peppers and onions. Creating this recipe I used the Sweet and Sour Pepper and Onion stew of Southern Italy known as PEPERONATA. This dish tastes best if you make the peperonata and let it sit in the fridge for 3 days. This allows all the AGRODOLCE components to work their magic on the peppers and onions. So my eager cooks out there, start with this, my recipe for Peperonata.

https://afoodobsessionblog.wordpress.com/2016/09/26/peperonata-southern-italian-pepper-stew/

Let the finished Peperonata sit for up to 3 days to fully develop. Cooking is layering. Each layer needs to be the best flavor it can be. Too often cooking has become a dump in the crock, Instant Pot type of process. While they have their uses approaching every meal you cook with “how quickly can I get this done” doesn’t give the end result that it should have. Certainly don’t cook a dish/meal that needs a ton of time if you are limited. Wait till you have the time, maybe a weekend, a special dinner, etc. and don’t short cut. Peperonata on day one is vastly different from what it tastes like in 3 day or later. Trust me. I’m not going to lie, I enjoy a short cut now and then when it doesn’t compromise the end result just to get it done with quickly. The Sugar and Vinegar need to marinate the Peperonata for it to taste properly. Ok, i’ve beated this dead horse enough. Let’s cook.

1 RECIPE OF FINISHED PEPERONATA

1 3/4 PORK LOIN SLICED IN STRIPS OR SMALL PIECES

1/3 CUP SEASONED SIFTED FLOUR

1/3 CUP WHITE ITALIAN WINE

PINCH OF OREGANO OR MARJORAM

PINCH OF PEPERONCINO

SALT TO TASTE

OLIVE OIL

In a Large heavy pan, heat 2 tbs of olive oil and in batches brown the pork. Loin of Pork cooks fairly quickly. When the batches of pork are done add the oregano and peperoncino, salt…and toss together for 5 minutes. Now deglaze the pan with the White Wine. Blend well. Now Add the Peperonata and mix gently. Let this simmer for 1/2 hour. Done. Basta. Simple. I like serving this with whole small potatoes roasted in Olive Oil, garlic and Rosemary. And some Crostini you’ve dipped into the cooking juices It’s heaven on a plate Mi Amici. Pork and peppers really brings out my Southern Italian Roots. Let’s hope you feel the same! Happy Cooking!!!

CALAMARI FRITTI, ITALIAN AMERICAN FRIED CALAMARI AT HOME

Fried Calamari….tender pieces of Squid lightly coated with a fine dusting of flour or cornmeal or rice flour then quickly fried in very hot oil could be one of the most addictive of all the dishes that came over from the “old country” to the USA. Much of the Mediterranean makes this dish but Italy and Spain I think are where it shines and possibly is most popular. I’ve eaten it all over Italy and in Spain and the difference between ItalianAmerican style and European style is what it’s served with, meaning the dipping sauce. In Spain I’ve had it with a garlic and saffron loaded aioli, amazing. In both Spain and Italy I’ve had it simply with a squeeze of fresh lemon and maybe some sea salt. In ItalianAmerica where Americans LOVE dipping sauces the fried calamari is served with a tomato sauce often loaded with garlic, olive oil and a hefty dose of dried or ground chile peppers. The sauces can be “sweet” (mild), “Medium” (with a kick), or “Hot” (with lots of heat of varying degrees of mouth burn). How do I like my fried calamari? Love the Aioli….love the lemon, but really love a tasty hot tomato sauce with it. Tentacles are separated from the bodies and the cleaned body “tubes” are sliced into rings. Here’s where we may disagree. Often they are cut too wide for me. I like1/8 inch cuts. They cook quicker, there’s more crunch, but again ,that’s just my personal opinion. You cut into the sizes you like. You’re eating it. The coating? Let me start out with what I don’t think it should be, these are not cutlets or chicken fingers. Breadcrumbs are off the table. Beer batter or heavy floury batters also, no thanks. Instead a simple dredge thru a fine milled flour of sorts seems to work the best. You can use sifted All Purpose flour, Tipo 00 Italian flour(superfine), fine ground cornmeal, rice flour, fine semolina flour, even corn starch but that’s a tricky one to work with and I’d advise against it. The oil…MUST BE HOT….and you can use a deep fryer or a heavy high sided pan, like a cast iron pan or a dutch oven. Into it you add Peanut Oil, Corn Oil, Vegetable Oil, you can add a bit of olive for some flavor into any of them. Personally I do not like Canola oil because I get an aftertaste from it but if you don’t have that issue then Canola works too. Lard is a wonderful frying oil but the hardcore porky flavor will completely overtake the gentle nuance of the calamari taste. I vote no on that idea. Sentimentally this is a reminder of my mom’s kitchen on Christmas Eve, that magical night when you waited for Santa AND you ate what seemed like the entire ocean full of Italian seafood. Here’s to you Mom and the meals you made and the tricks you taught me. She’ll always be with me guiding me thru the process and onto the table where my hungry family awaits for one of their most favorite foods. CALAMARI FRITTI!!!

CALAMARI FRITTI TAKES ABOUT 3/4 HOUR SERVES 6

PEANUT, CORN, VEGETABLE , CANOLA OIL

OLIVE OIL

1 1/2 LBS CLEANED SQUID (CALAMARI) WITH TENTACLES SEPARATED, AND THE TUBES CUT INTO RINGS A MIN. OF 1/3 INCH, TO A MAX OF 1/2 INCH

2 CUPS TIPO 00 FLOUR, OR SIFTED ALL PURPOSE, OR 3 PARTS FLOUR TO 1 PART FINE CORNMEAL OR RICE FLOUR…OR ALL FINE CORNMEAL OR RICE FLOUR. THAT’S UP TO YOU. I USE THE TIPO 00 FLOUR.

SEASON THE FLOUR IF YOU LIKE WITH SALT, PEPPER, GRANULATED GARLIC, PAPRIKA OR NOTHING, AGAIN UP TO YOU. I LIKE THE SALT, PEPPER AND PAPRIKA SEASONING IN THE FLOUR

2 CUPS WHOLE MILK

SLICED LEMONS, CHOPPED FRESH ITALIAN FLAT LEAF PARSLEY FOR GARNISH/FINISHING

SERVE WITH A SIMPLE MARINARA YOU HAVE ON HAND OR MAKE ONE USING LOTS OF PEPERONCINO AND GARLIC.

Place the milk into a large stainless steel mixing bowl. Pat the calamari dry with paper towels and discard the towels. Add the calamari to the milk and blend well. Let this sit for 20 minutes. Pour at least 3 inch of oil into your frying pot/pan and heat over medium heat until you get to 350 degrees F. Have baking trays laid out covered in brown paper bags or layers of paper towels. Remove the calamari in batches from the milk…shake off excess, and dredge in the flour…place into a spider or a strainer with a long handle and then shake off the excess, then into the hot oil . The calamari should dance around the oil quickly…and with move the calamari around the oil, then let it finish frying…takes about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes to get golden and crisp. Remove to the draining sheets immediately. Sprinkle with a little salt. Continue to do this in batches until you are complete. Add more oil as necessary giving time inbetween additions to come back to 350degrees F. The first batch might be darker than the remaining batches. Stick to that time limit. serve in a pile with lemon wedges and chopped parsley leaves. Serve a hot bowl of chile and garlic spiced marinara next to it and enjoy. You’ll be eating them as they are draining. Serve immediately. Enjoy.

CALAMARI AL FORNO CON PANGRATTATO, BAKED CALAMARI WITH BREADCRUMBS, GARLIC, OLIVE OIL

CALAMARI!!! Abundant and delicious.  One of the most popular of all Italian Seafoods it lends itself to many different recipes.  Calamari Fritti is the one most widely eaten but there are many way to cook Squid.  I’d like to share one with you and needs a hot oven to cook it in (an outdoor grill with the cover down even better because you get that smoky flavor too!).  CALAMARI AL FORNO CON PANGRATTUTO, Squid Baked with Breadcrumbs!!!  Now don’t shake your head, this isn’t breaded calamari but a simple mix of garlic, olive oil, fresh parsley, lemon, peperoncino, plain breadcrumbs and yes…Pecorino Romano.  Follow me, that old wives’ tale about never pairing Italian seafood with cheese has 1000 exceptions.  This is one of them.  It’s integral to the dish.  Since it’s December I’m all about the traditional Southern Italian-ItalianAmerican  La Vigilia Seafood dinner on Christmas Eve.  Last year I overbought calamari and had some whole ones in the fridge after Christmas.  Didn’t want fried calamari again since we had much of it on Christmas Eve so I came up with dish using some easy ingredients.  Let get into the kitchen.

3/4 LB SLICED FRESH CALAMARI (SQUID) RINGS AND TENTACLES

1/4 CUP EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

6 SLICED CLOVES OF GARLIC

2 TABLESPOONS FRESH PARSLEY

JUICE OF 1/2 FRESH LEMON

PEPERONCINO

KOSHER SALT

1/3 CUP PLAIN ITALIAN BREADCRUMBS TOASTED IN A DRY PAN, COOLED, THEN ADD 2 TBS. GRATED PECORINO ROMANO AND MIX TOGETHER WITH A LITTLE OLIVE OIL, RESERVE

PreHeat your oven to 450 degrees F.  Rinse the calamari in cold water, drain, pat dry with paper towels.  In a heavy pan heat all but 1 tbs of the olive oil.  Add the garlic and saute’ until fragrant, about 2 minutes being careful not to let it burn.  Add the squid and saute’ for only 1 minute on high heat. Remove from heat, add the parsley and a good pinch of peperoncino…Toss well, then place into a baking pan with the additional olive oil.  Top with the breadcrumbs , drizzle with olive oil, pinch of salt…and into the hot oven for no more than 6 minutes.  Test the calamari for doneness, should be tender.  When it’s done simply blend in the toasted breadcrumbs from the top and drizzle with the fresh lemon juice. Serves 3-4.  It’s amazing.  If you need more cooking time only go maybe another 2 minutes in the hot oven.    Serve with lots of Italian bread.  You can do this all on an outdoor grill too. 

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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MARINARA SAUCE 101, MY VERSION

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At the heart of ItalianAmerican cooking are the pasta sauces, the tomato based ones in particular.  Red Gold, this is priceless stuff.  Everyone has their particular style and signature methods of making their pasta sauces so this isn’t a post about what’s right..and what’s wrong.  It’s a guide.  It’s using my style to sauce your pasta, but it’s one particular type.  Italians do not use a single sauce every time they pair pasta with a tomato based sauce.  There’s types with meat, like that one that’s turned into the typical ItalianAmerican Sunday Sauce/Gravy we all love.  Depending on the region the sauces will change and signify a completely new dish.  And then there’s the basic tomato sauce which ALSO will change from region to region, kitchen to kitchen.  This post is a guide for what we Italian Americans call MARINARA SAUCE.  It denotes a light fragrant sauces of tomatoes, aromatics, olive oil and NO MEAT.  On the other side (Italy) it’s referred to as SUGO DI POMODORO.  Marinara in Italy means something to do with the sea, a dish using some type of fish or shellfish..nothing to do with tomatoes.  I suppose the early immigrants used the term Marinara to simply mean a tomato sauce “senza carne”, without meat, like one you could use for fish and seafood.  Drop some lobster, or crabs, or clams, mussels, shrimp or calamari into a Marinara and you have…Frutti di Mare Marinara.  So there’s the connection.  Order something on an Italian menu that says Marinara, it will be a fish/seafood dish of some sort.  By the way, NEVER feel foolish when that happens. How are you supposed to know if you don’t live there and for your whole life you were told Marinara means a meatless tomato sauce??  Just a little tip for traveling or general food knowledge now. ragudomenica 021  No debating or judgements here but but the best advice I can give regarding cooking is that the better the ingredient the better the finished product.  My choice for all my Italian and ItalianAmerican tomato sauces and dishes are the D.O.P. San Marzano imported form the Sarnese-Nocerino area of Campania (Naples) Italy. DOP means the government certified them as genuine.  The cost from 2.89 up to 9.00 depending on which brand you choose.  I’m not married to any brand, as long as I’m satisfied with their taste.  San Marzanos are usually softer (one of the key qualities) than other Plum tomato varieties.  They tend to cook quicker and have more flesh to seed ratio so they are a chef’s choice for sauce for this reason.  Also, they are low in acid and therefore sweeter.  Ok, I love them, I eat them straight out of the can.  Now you know!! LOL.

The other advice I will give is to limit the list of ingredients.  Italian cooking, with some exceptions relies on a handful of ingredients to make a dish.  I’m going to give you my Marinara Sauce recipe, add or subtract if you like, but it’s pretty delicious just as is.  I’m in the less is more when it comes to Italian food.  My sauce is made with the canned DOP San Marzano but you can use a like amount of your homegrown bottled tomatoes.  The most important element of this sauce is the TOMATO. Tomato should be the fresh overriding flavor at all times.  All the other players “support” the lead.  This version of tomato sauce comes from the Napoletana (Naples) tradition.

MARINARA FOR A POUND OF COOKED MACARONI (PASTA)

1 28 oz can of SAN MARZANO D.O.P. TOMATOES (or a good brand of Italian plum tomatoes) termed POMODORI PELATI, or PELATI

1/8 cup EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

3 SLICED FRESH CLOVES OF GARLIC

PINCH OF PEPERONCINO (DRIED CHILE FLAKES, the RED ONES, not A CHIPOTLE TYPE)

1 TEASPOON SEA SALT or KOSHER SALT (or to taste)

6 FRESH BASIL LEAVES OR PINCH OF OREGANO

Use a wide skillet if using 1 can.  For doubling or increasing the amount of sauce you’re making use a sauce pot.  For the one can of tomatoes though a wide skillet works best. Heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic when hot, and sprinkle with 1/2 of the salt.  Add 3 basil leaves, or the oregano, and the peperoncino.  You’re flavoring the base of the sauce.  Crush the tomatoes in the case with your hands (pour into a bowl and crush). After about 1 minute or so, the garlic will have flavored the oil..do not let it brown.  Now add the tomatoes,  Blend well.  Add about 1/4 of an inch of water to the can and swirl it around, then add to the pan.  Bring to a boil then reduce and let it simmer for 20-25 minutes stirring occasionally.  When the sauce is at your preferred consistency  taste for seasoning, add more salt if necessary and the rest of the basil, another pinch of oregano if using oregano. PINCH of oregano is what I mean by the way…so often Italian food gets muddled down in too much oregano…only a small bit between the finger tips is needed. A little goes a long way.  Use either or (basil or oregano). Let the sauce sit off the heat now for about 2 hours. Then reheat and use. Once it’s all at the heated preferred temperature it’s done.  DON’T OVERCOOK THIS!!!  The long simmered sauces are different, not marinara.  Use on your preferred pasta, this is good for 1 lb. of cooked.

Happy Cooking!! BUONA CUCINA!!!

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OLIVE OIL, BLACK PEPPER, AND ROSEMARY FOCACCIA

tday2015 073 This will  become a favorite recipe in your collection I promise!! FOCACCIA!!! that square or rectangular shaped Italian bread of varying thickness.  Topped with nothing or with a variety of items, none more delicious as the simple and very traditional Olive Oil, fresh Chopped Rosemary, and Black Pepper topping.  Are you looking at the picture?  Take a look.  There’s a white something on it too and that’s the scary sounding Italian LARDO.  Now I did not title the blog with LARDO in it for a good reason, it’s simply another item to add to the top.  More later on why it’s SO delicious, but to make this recipe accessible to as many as possible, it’s a basic focaccia that you can add on to if you like.  Let’s talk a little about Italian Focaccia, baking, and my home memories.  None of focaccia.  Not sure when that became something here in America but the term generally at one time was used regarding the baked square breads of Central Italy.  My heritage is southern Italian so the word was not used until one day when it was used everywhere.  Same with Ciabatta bread..recent to me, but always fiercely Central Italian, not new.  Bread baking or any YEAST baking can be scary to some.  Get over it and you will be spinning your own Pizza doughs and coming up with your own types of focaccia.   tday2015 068What is FOCACCIA??  It’s an Italian bread which generally contains more olive oil and yeast than a pizza dough.  It’s usually baked in a square or rectangular pan, cut into squares and is served as a starter, part of an Antipasto with salumi, olives, and cheeses on the side.  Or it is served as the bread with one’s meal, or as the meal itself.  Rarely will you see Italians in Italy eating sandwiches using Focaccia as the bread as that practice is more of an American or out of Italy practice.  Personally, (  you know I’m throwing my 2 Euros into the pot here) it’s too much bread and too much of a food on it’s own to make a sandwich out of it.  It’s a great addition to a buffet table for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  One of the most popular forms is the Olive Oil rich Rosemary, Salt and Black Pepper Focaccia version.  Similar breads are made through Italy with other names.  SCHIACCIATA is a Tuscan bread many times made with grapes, rosemary, or just olive oil.  Consider my version here, especially if you go that extra mile with the LARDO as a Tuscan Inspired version.  Baking breads at home reminds me of a very DARK period in my parents’ kitchen growing up.  They would from time to time get on these “kicks” or phases.  Their bread baking phase was particularly hard for my sister and I . Their breads all tasted the same…almost saltless, dense and crumbly, overly yeasty, hard to cut, you get the picture.  “HEY PETE, TODAY LET’S MAKE A HONEY WHEAT BREAD”..and my sister and I were running for the last slice of real out of the house made Brick oven Italian bread.  Hated that period in their cooking experimentation.  Basically every bread they made tasted the same..everything.  Most childhood kitchen memories for me are sentimental, heart warming…this one is not. Living in Staten Island we were never 5 minutes away from an amazing Italian bread bakery so…..no need to bake at home!!  Focaccia falls into a different category than loaf bread does.  Let get the flour out and start making some Focaccia together!!

 

SERVES: up to 8              TIME: 4 hours or so

2 CUPS WARM WATER (around 110 degrees, F)

2 TEASPOONS DRY YEAST

1/2 TEASPOON SUGAR

2 TEASPOON SALT

4 1/2 CUPS SIFTED FLOUR *All purpose works, but TIPO 00 from ITALY IS BETTER*

3 TABLESPOONS GOOD EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL *you want to taste the olive flavor in this*

2 TEASPOONS FINE CHOPPED FRESH ROSEMARY (do not use dried)

1 TABLESPOON FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER

SALT FOR TOP, FLAKED SEA SALT IS BEST, COARSE OR KOSHER is fine also.

OLIVE OIL FOR BRUSHING

6 STRIPS OF LARDO (OPTIONAL)

LARDO..don’t be scared…Lardo is an Italian Cured Pork Cut..It’s the Cured portion of FatBack, very little meat if any is included.  Generally it’s snowy white.  Cured with secret regional herbs and spices, Rosemary  being one of them, so it’s a natural accompaniment to this Focaccia.  Serve in thin slices as an antipasto, the most prized comes from Aosta in the Northwest of Italy, and Colonnata in Tuscany.

In a large bowl add the water, mix the salt and sugar till dissolved. Then sprinkle the yeast over the top and gently stir.. Let this sit for 15 minutes until it bubbles and froths on top.  Now in slow batches, add the flour, 1 tablespoon olive oil and work the dough till it comes together.  If it’s still too tacky gently add more flour in small increments.  When it’s no longer sticky knead it on a floured board/surface for no less than 10 minutes.  Now place in a large bowl, add 1 tbs of OliveOil making sure the whole ball of dough is covered in oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and leave in a warm area to raise for 2 hours.  Punch down the dough and knead for 2 minutes and reform into a ball, back into the bowl, cover and let rise for 45 minutes.    Oil a baking pan and press the dough into the pan (11 X13) or larger..the larger the pan the thinner your focaccia.  Try to press the dough till all the sides, if it shriks back some what, it’s ok… Now with your finger poke the dough in random spots, do not rip through the dough.  Brush the top of the focaccia with olive oil and sprinkle about 1 tsp. of coarse salt (like Kosher) over the top, the black pepper, and the rosemary (again, do not use dried rosemary for this..the flavor is wrong, the texture is wrong and it will only crisp up more in the heat…use FRESH).  Let this sit on top of the stove for 20 minutes.  Pre heat the oven to 475 degress F.tday2015 052

Bake the focaccia until it’s browned on the bottom and golden brown on the top, about 20-25 minutes.  Some ovens might get it done sooner, just keep an eye on it.  When it’s done it should look like this:tday2015 067  If you are using the LARDO, drape the slices over the top after you’ve let the focaccia sit out of the oven for 10 minutes.  The risidual heat will allow the lardo to melt into the bread.  It’s out of this world.  If you want to keep it VEGAN OR VEGETARIAN certainly omit the Lardo.  Cut with a sharp knife.  Enjoy.

 

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PASTA E FAGIOLI…PASTA FAZOOL

001 There’s not much for me to say here that you don’t know already..that PASTA E FAGIOLI or the more Italian-American name, PASTA FAZOOL is one of the most Popular dishes from the Italian kitchen.  Let me add that no one’s recipe is the “RIGHT” one, here, or in Italy.   It is a loaded bowl of beans and macaroni, a dish of fuel to keep one going and when researching or learning about Italian cuisine one learns that Italy is 20something regions that are different from each other.  Their locations are varied and can be warm sundrenched seashore to frigid Alpine peaks. Basically the region will absolutely dictate what beans, pasta and other ingredients go into that pot. Let’s complicate this more with personal preferences ,thicker versus more soup-like.  Throw the monkeywrench of the Italian-American cuisine into the pot and now the versions are hybrids of different immigrant Italian styles and American additions.  My bottom line here is to never, never shake your head in disgust at someone’s version of Pasta e Fagioli because it doesn’t match your definition.  No one’s will, however some will probably come close or can even be exacty.  There is NO “authentic” original recipe for this so don’t even look for it.  So what am I blogging about then?  My most basic version to which you can add, subtract, but this is how I generally go about making my PASTA E FAGIOLI.

TIME: 1 1/2-3  hours     SERVES: 6

Let also just start off here saying..type of beans…tomato or not…type of pasta..cured pork or not…all personal preferences.  And here’s another one…this Idea of the al dente pasta and bean soup..again..just my taste so you take it from there…but this is soup, it’s not a plated entree/secondo. Somewhere along the line chefs with some influence decided that a soup should be something ripe with different textures from soft to chewy.  I disagree.  It’s soup.  That level of comfort I derive from it is because soup always had a well cooked load of pasta,meat, vegetables, beans  in it. I really don’t think that the  people we learned these dishes from who would probably be over 100years old now added pasta after the dish was cooked and then served it.  I’d bet more than likely, the pasta was a. cooked in the soup b. cooked separately then added.  but the soup was left to simmer, or sit for a bit,  or for the next day.  I’ll put my blinders up and let you and your tastebuds decide how you want to have your components cooked but i’m in the soft comforting “old school” soup camp.

1/4 finely diced Prosciutto rind or Pancetta

2 tbs. OliveOil

2 stalks small diced Celery

2 peeled carrots, cut into a small dice

2 onions small dice

2 GARLIC cloves, finely minced

Kosher salt

pinch of Peperoncino

pinch of Oregano, Sicilian is best if you can find it

1 lb of cooked beans (cooked yourself OR canned)LIKE Cannellini, Borolotti, Great Northern

1tbs Tomato paste

1 cup Italian Crushed Tomatoes

1/2 lb. cooked Al Dente TUBETTINI OR DITALINI PASTA

1 cup water or stock

OPTIONAL:  small Parmigiano cheese rind

 

In a soup pot…heat the olive oil and prosciutto or pancetta.  Once that’s taken on some color, add the onions, celery and carrots. Saute’ for at least 8 minutes on medium.  Now add the garlic, peperoncino, pinch of salt,oregano.  Let this saute’ for 2 minutes then add the tomato paste.  Stir this as you saute’ for 2 minutes.  Now add the cup of Crushed Italian tomatoes. Bring to a boil.  Now add the cup of stock /water.  Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer.  Add the beans at this point.  Let this simmer for 1/2 hour, stirring frequently. If you are using the Parmigiano rind, add it now before you start to simmer.  When the simmering is done, add the pasta.  Simmer for 10 minutes, then turn it off.  Taste for seasoning. If you are good with it, add a tbs of grated parmigiano or pecorino, a drizzle of olive oil and cover pushing it back on the stove.  Let this sit for at least 3 hours before serving.  Now PAY ATTENTION HERE…look at my picture..this is how it will look.  If you like it more loose, use more stock when creating it.  If you like it more on the creamy/thick side, puree’ 1/8 cup of the beans and stir that in before your simmer it.  Use extra cheese and olive oil AND ground black pepper or peperoncino and a pinch of oregano or a basil leaf (optional) before serving.  Also, TIP/HINT..taste the soup after you let it sit and before serving.  It may need more seasoning.

I like this whole deal better on day 2…just my opinion, now make this yourself and enjoy!!

 

BROCCOLI RABE AND SAUSAGE MEATBALLS WITH ORECCHIETTE

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Chances are, you have seen recipes for broccoli di rabe, a bitter green of the broccoli family, many many times.
Perhaps you have had this delicious vegetable, sauteed with garlic and oil, and other aromatics..or stuffed into
a bread, or paired up with pasta, tradtionally orecchiette (little ears).  This pasta hails from the once dirt poor
regions of Puglia and Basilicata and is merely a mix of flour and water and some deft finger handling.  In our
family, years ago, my Grandmother and her sister in law Caterina Luberto (Zi’Caterin) would spend what seemed
like hours making a cavatelli like orecchiette like pasta and I would stare mesmerized by their quick hand
movements.  I wish I was older and had paid more attention to the intricacies of this pasta production.  Most
supermarkets now carry the factory made orecchiette which is made with the typical pasta recipe used in
most dried macaroni.   It’s good…but not great. The real texture and flavor is from the Bronze pressed Artisinal
or the handmade(best) dried orecchiette from Italy.  The bronze pressed I buy when I can’t find the handmade
ones.  Handmade are more rustic in their shape and texture..the bronze ones are delicious…OK, what are
bronze pressed pastas?  The pasta dough is forced through a special bronze press which roughs up the
exterior of the pasta.  This way, the sauces adhere much better to each piece.  Pricey, yes.  How often are you
eating orecchiette..???  I knew it.  So splurge at the specialty Italian store for a lb. of good orecchiette.  Or
you can find them thru on-line sources.  They usually retail for between 3.99 to 6.99.

Feeling like I was bored with the
usual pairing of sauteed rabe with sausage and orecchiette…I improvised and altered the ingredients..but did
not “change” the ingredients.
Ecco la!  There is the change-up.  I chopped up the broccoli
rabe and added 1/2 of it to sweet fennel sausage meat making meatballs out of them…sauteed them..
then sauteed the rest of the rabe with garlic and oil, a little red chile pepper flakes, then tossed in the pasta and
let it get sort of brown on the edges.  Then added the meatballs and there you have it.

LET’S COOK!
For 6-8 people, use 1 lb. of Orecchiette….cook according to directions, and drain.
Remove the meat from 1 lb. of good Italian Sweet Fennel Sausage in its’ casings.  Add to a bowl.  Add a 1/2 cup
of grated provolone or pecorino, 1 finely minced garlic clove, and 1/2 a bunch of well chopped steamed broccoli
rabe.  Try to not use much of the stem, stick with the tender thinner parts and the leaves.  Add 1/2 tsp. black
pepper. NO SALT!  Remember, the sausage is already salted.  Now add 2 tbs. of breadcrumbs and with your
hands blend well and form into small walnut sized balls.  In some good olive oil, fry these on medium for about
7 minutes on one side, 5 on the other..You are cooking these all the way through.
Let’s stop right here with another idea.
Party season is on its’ way…Holidays and all that (stress and/or fun)…make these as an hors d’ouevres instead
of the usual party meatball.  Sprinkle them with a little cheese and serve with toothpicks or on a platter..nice!

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Ok…sorry for the detour…Add some olive oil to a large pan, heat, add 2 minced cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp. of red
chile flakes..stir for 30 sec. then add the remaining chopped broccoli rabe…stir then add the pasta and mix
well.  Let the pasta get a little brown in some spots..this should take about 5 minutes. Sitr well, add 2 tbs. of
grated cheese and serve with the meatballs on top.

Check out those crispy edges on the orecchiette…the different flavors and textures in this dish make it
very satisfying.  At the end of the day, I’m feeling good about changing the look of a recipe to make
it a little (or very) different yet staying loyal to the traditional taste and ingredients.  No, you cannot use
turkey sausage,,, no you cannot use spinach…no you cannot use Bowtie pasta.  Stick with the com-
bination that has worked for years and years…Maybe someday I’ll remember Zi’Caterin’s pasta
making technique…