Monday, December 27, 2010

One More (Christmas) Thing…

The presents are opened…

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…but before we say goodbye to Christmas 2010, there’s one more holiday recipe I’d like to share … our traditional Christmas morning breakfast: Chocolate Chip Holiday Muffins!

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An old Hershey Foods recipe (when the company was still called Hershey Foods), these muffins are best served with whipped cream cheese on top.

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You can wait a year to try them for breakfast one morning next  holiday season … or you can try them sooner. It really doesn’t matter – they are festive any old day of the year! Here’s hoping your holiday weekend was just splendido!

(Click here to print and view recipe)

Chocolate Chip Holiday Muffins on Foodista

Saturday, December 25, 2010

My Favorite Day of the Year!

The Baby Jesus has been placed in the manger, and Santa is on his way. As promised earlier in the week, here’s a quick peek at our Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes.

We started our day with cheese and olives…

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…then prepped for the meal ahead. (You will recognize my mom in the bottom right, but that handsome guy up top in the middle is making his first appearance here on Mangia, Figlie. Welcome my nephew, Marc. We heart him so much!)

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Ralph roasted chestnuts on the grill. (They were a tender treat!)

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And then we sat down for our 7 fishes (top row, l-r: She-Crab Soup, Mom’s Hot Baked Stuffed Clams, Calamari Salad; bottom row, l-r: Fried Oysters, Broiled Salmon and Codfish [with a caper sauce on the side], Shrimp and Grits). Uh … YUM!

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Finally, we opened presents. Look at this wonderful gift from my brother and sister-in-law. Perfect, right?

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I can’t speak for anyone else, but I loved sharing this special day and this special feast with my family. But alas, it is past midnight and I can hear Santa on the roof. Must go help out! Until next week, my friends:

Buon Natale!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Beautiful World

Editor’s Note: This post was written before our trip to New York last week, but I was waiting to hear back from my aunt before posting it. I’ve just heard back from her tonight. Though I’ve already talked a bit about our trip to my uncle’s funeral, here’s what was on my mind on December 12, the day before we headed northeast to our family.

This past week was one of those weeks that offers more than one person should be asked to handle, culminating with sad news on Friday that my Uncle Sam in New York has joined my father and other family members now “bowling in Heaven.”

You met Aunt Barbara, my father’s younger sister, the week I blogged about Mom’s 80th birthday party. Aunt Barb and Uncle Sam married on June 16, 1963 – forty-seven-and-a-half years ago – and they parented two beautiful girls, my cousins Anamarie and Sandra.

Uncle Sam had been ill for a number of years, and in the past few months things had taken a turn for the worse. Nobody was surprised by the news, I don’t think, but that doesn’t take away one ounce of ache, especially for Aunt Barb, my cousins, and their families. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers in the weeks and months ahead as they work through this difficult time.

Thinking about Uncle Sam most certainly brings a smile to my face. He was exactly what you think of when you think of an Italian uncle. He wasn’t a tall man, and he did gray nicely with a good head of thick hair. He was a wonderful gardener and most importantly a hard samworker. But it was his broken English that stands out most in my mind. I’d be lying if I said I understood everything he said to me over the years. Though he came with his family to America while still a young man, they all continued to speak the “language of music” at home.

It’s difficult to describe the way Uncle Sam pronounced the word beautiful – the “beau” was more of a “boo” … boo-tiful. Nah, that doesn’t do it justice – but it was a word he used often, and in my head I will hear him saying it till the end of time. It was, after all, a testament to the beauty he saw in his wife, in his daughters, in his grandchildren … in all of us.

Italian grandmas and grandpas and aunts and uncles are known for slipping a few bucks in your hand when you hug them goodbye prior to a long journey. Aunt Barb would hand me a couple bucks, saying “Shh, don’t tell anyone.” Then Uncle Sam would turn around and hand me a couple more. Sometimes it was the other way around. Either way, I usually protested – I may well be the only niece who would say, “But Aunt Barb already….” “No, no, no,” was the response. They were just that generous; that was just how it was done.

Rest in peace, Uncle Sam. Ti vogliamo bene. Oh, and here’s a few bucks for your journey… Shh….

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lucky Number 7

Christmas Week is well upon us and my heart is beginning to pound. Of all the traditions of my ancestors and my childhood, my favorite without doubt is celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

As I’ve noted before, I am not necessarily a fan of Wikipedia – I never rely on it for anything work related – but when it comes to certain topics related to this blog, I find its explanations concise and accurate. So, with props to Wikipedia, here’s what you need to know about the Feast of the Seven Fishes:

The Feast of the Seven Fishes … is believed to have originated in Southern Italy and is not a known tradition in many parts of Italy. Today, it is a completely Italian-American feast that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. Some Italian-American families have been known to celebrate with 9, 11, or 13 different seafood dishes. This celebration is a commemoration of the wait, Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.

The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the medieval Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence — in this case, refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products — on Fridays and specific holy days. As no meat or butter could be used, observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil.

There are many hypotheses for what the number "7" relates to, one being the number of Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. Another theory is that seven is a number representing perfection: the traditional Biblical number for divinity is three, and for Earth is four, and the combination of these numbers, seven, represents God on Earth, or Jesus Christ.

The most famous dish Southern Italians are known for is Baccalà (salted cod fish) … Celebrating with such a simple fish as Baccalà is attributed to the greatly impoverished regions of Southern Italy. Fried smelts, calamari, and other types of seafood have [also] been incorporated into the Christmas Eve dinner over the years.

In our tradition that celebrated annually by my husband, my children, my mother, and me, generally at my house (with a nice fire in the wood-burning fireplace, and a walk around our neighborhood Methodist church, which lines its four square blocks with luminaries) – the fishes and dishes change from year to year. Some years we create seven different fish dishes; other years we make cioppino, a fish and seafood stew that we serve over spaghetti.

This year for Christmas Eve we’re changing the venue and celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes with my brother Ralph, my sister-in-law Vicki, and their family. I can’t wait! I am slated to make shrimp and grits and she-crab soup, and to help my mom with a calamari salad.  My mother’s other contribution is her baked clams, and my brother and his wife are making whitefish and salmon, and frying up oysters. (Oh, and I’m bringing the pignoli cookies, too! Yay.)

Ralph, my techie brother, has suggested we try to video blog on Friday. We’re just off the phone, undecided if that would detract from our enjoyment of being together or add to it. At very least, I’ll take lots of photos, so that either way, you can check back here Christmas Eve night for a peek at our authentic Italian-American tradition.

In the meantime, to get your taste buds going, click here to view and print my mom’s recipe for Hot Baked Stuffed Clams, which she brings to the table every year. And if you’d like to read more about the Feast of the Seven Fishes and baccalà, might I suggest this very informative book:

strega nona

It’s one of our Christmas favorites!! (Simply click on the book cover above for more information from Amazon.com.)

In closing, I wish you all a safe and productive week ahead. And to quote a good friend and a follower here at Mangia, Figlie who, earlier this week, sent these words to my email Inbox: “Have a joyous holiday filled with love….”

Buona Vigilia di Natale!

Hot Baked Stuffed Clams on Foodista

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Playing Catch-Up

Things most certainly didn’t go as I had hoped the past two weeks, which is why I completely missed week 2 of holiday cookies. I guess that’s what I get for promising.

But life is back in full swing after visiting la famiglia in New York for the most solemn of occasions. If a burial service can be lovely, it was, and though it was a freezing day at the cemetery, the sun did manage to peek through the clouds, assuring my uncle’s safe journey up to our family of bowlers in Heaven. May you rest in peace, Uncle Sam. Please tell my dad I miss him.

The visit was a whirlwind – we were there just over 24 hours total – and I always leave wishing we’d had more time to visit.

So, now you are asking yourself: “But, Maria, what does this have to do with the cookie recipes you promised?” Well, as I’m sure you know by now, any gathering with my family always promises good Italian food … and lots of it. For instance, just look what Aunt Ann put on the table for dessert after breakfast:

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It’s true. When was the last time you were offered dessert after bacon and eggs? More importantly, see those cookies? Those are homemade toralle! My week 2 cookie!!

Though Aunt Ann created this very festive batch, the recipe in my recipe box originates with my Aunt Santa – appropriate for the season, wouldn’t you say? She was married to Uncle Joe, my mother’s oldest (and only) brother. Aunt Santa and Uncle Joe spent their life together in the lovely town of Port Chester, New York, raising three beautiful daughters. Though older than I, my cousins were always kind to that little brat (that would be me, of course) that visited from Pennsylvania.

My memories of sitting around Uncle Joe and Aunt Santa’s dining room table, cracking nuts, drinking coffee (the adults) and milk (me), and eating cookies – those are as vivid as if they happened yesterday. I remember plastic covers on white sofas at their house … and being allowed to swim in their new pool when the water temperature was much too cold for any sane human. They had the coolest laundry shoot ever – my Barbie could fall two stories into a basket of laundry without any limb damage! And since Aunt Santa worked for Avon, headquartered just down the road from them, there were also free samples of new Avon products. I’m a sucker for Avon, even to this day, thanks to Aunt Santa.

But that was a long time ago. The little things remain in my memory, but much has happened since that time and that house. Uncle Joe died in 1983, just a few weeks before my dad. Thankfully, their widows continue to grace us with their presence in our lives. My mom, of course … you know what she’s been up to. As for Aunt Santa, she’s now in her 90s, doing the best she can with a fading memory. Sadly, I haven’t seen her in years, but thanks to Facebook, my cousins and I are in better touch than we have been in quite some time.

Coincidentally, my week 3 cookie recipe also originated with Aunt Santa. If I could make just one cookie for Christmas every year (and there are years I have), what would it be? Pecan tassies, of course!

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Aunt Santa’s Pecan Tassies
(Click here to view and print recipe)

 

 

 


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When I pull out that recipe and the one for “Aunt Santa’s Sugar Cookies (Toralle)”…

(Click here to view and print recipe)

…I feel a rush of comfort in my heart for the good old days, when my dad and uncles were still with us, and we could all gather at a table loaded with food … loaded with love.

Uncle Joe and Daddy, I trust you’ve ushered Uncle Sam into the great bowling alley in the sky with open arms. Next time it lightning and thunders, I’ll be looking up with a smile on my face … knowing full well you are all  having the time of your afterlives. Vi vogliamo bene.

Toralle on Foodista

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Surrender

Fight it as I may, the holidays are again upon us. The two trees at Walmart have turned into 222 trees, and the three channels of music on TV have multiplied to 11 (at last count). That can only mean one thing: it’s time for me to surrender … to the festivities we call “The Holidays.”

I already have friends baking cookies and freezing them, to be taken out in a couple of weeks and enjoyed in the latter part of the month. Not me, though. I’m not that … organized? … adventurous?

Actually, as you may have heard, I can be a bit picky when it comes to the freshness of food. That’s why I wait until the week of Christmas to start my baking. Well, that and the fact that if I start now, the cookies wouldn’t even make it into the freezer. They’d be in my belly, and I’d be baking again in two weeks anyway.

For the sake of this blog, though, it is time to delve into my holiday baking. You’ve heard of Food Network’s “12 Days” of cookies? Well, I am happy to bring you my “3 Weeks” of cookies! Let’s begin … Cominciamo.

I bet I wouldn’t be very far off if I said, most of us have good memories of holiday cookie baking from our childhoods. Sand tarts, gingerbread men, peanut butter blossoms… In an Italian family, these are not holiday staples, however. We make pizzelle.

I know you’ve heard of them, but just in case you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, I will defer to Wikipedia, which – though it isn’t the best source of anything on the Web – did offer a seemingly accurate and succinct explanation in this case:

Pizzelle (pronounced with ts sound, like “pizza”) (singular pizzella) are traditional Italian waffle cookies made from flour, eggs, sugar, butter or vegetable oil, and flavoringpizzelles (often vanilla, anise, or lemon zest). Pizzelle can be hard and crisp or soft and chewy depending on the ingredients and method of preparation.

Pizzelle were originally made in the Abruzzo region of south-central Italy. The name comes from the Italian word for “round” and “flat” (pizze); this is also the meaning of the word pizza…

The cookie dough or batter is put into a pizzelle iron, which resembles a waffle iron. The pizzelle iron is held by hand over a hot burner on the stovetop, although some models are electric and require no stove. Typically, the iron stamps a snowflake pattern onto both sides of the thin golden-brown cookie, which has a crisp texture once it is cooled. There are also several brands of ready-made pizzelle available in stores.

Pizzelle are popular during Christmas and Easter, [and] they are often found at Italian weddings, alongside other traditional pastries [and] cookies.

You will need just two items-in-hand to make pizzelle:

  1. my mom’s recipe and baking notes (click here to view and print), and
  2. a pizzelle iron.

I don’t think Williams Sonoma will mind that I “borrowed” the photo below from their website, since you can simply click on it to order your own pizzelle iron directly from their online catalog.

iron

What I like most about this iron, besides it being electric and non-stick, is the lock in the front. Using a pizzelle iron with a lock is not only easier on your arm (as you don’t have to hold the iron shut manually for an hour or two … or three), but it creates a thin and even cookie – and with the pizzelle, the thinner and crispier, the better.

When I was a young girl, I remember the making of the pizzelle as an all-day family affair. My mother would make the batter (a double batch), and my father would do the baking. He would scoop a nice teaspoonful of batter onto each pattern of the pizzelle iron, and then he would watch the second hand on his watch, meticulously timing each baking. Since one batch of batter makes about 60 cookies, and you can only make two cookies at a time taking 30-45 seconds to bake, it was a good two- or three-hour exercise in cookie making. As I got older, I was allowed to help time and then eventually bake the cookies myself.

Most years nowadays, Mom and I gather at her house for pizzelle making. In fact, we share a pizzelle iron, since it’s unusual for either of us to bake pizzelle without the other. Mom still makes the batter (we’re down to one batch a year), and I’ve come into my own as chief baker and timer.

As technology has changed, so has my method of timing. We went from the second hand on Dad’s watch, to the second hand on the wall clock, to the timer on the microwave, to most recently, the timer on my iPod. What hasn’t changed, though, is the smell that lingers in the house after a good afternoon of pizzelle baking, the crunch of a perfectly baked waffle cookie, and the satisfaction that comes from spending an afternoon in the kitchen with the people you love most in the world. That, MasterCard, is priceless.

Traditional Italian Pizzelles on Foodista

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Best Waffles Ever!

Don’t these just look like the best waffles ever?

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I’m here to tell you: They are! Good flavor, crunchy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside.

Every time I make this recipe, I feel like Alton Brown, because there is a scientific reason this is the best waffle recipe ever. It has to do with the fact that you separate the eggs and whip the whites. Then, after mixing all the other ingredients, the very last thing you do is fold in the egg whites. Something about that step and the use of baking powder … I am positive Alton could base a whole half-hour show on just this recipe.

I must credit Polly Smith, my friend Holly’s mom, for passing this down to her daughter, who then shared it with me many, many years ago. It’s a much-requested recipe when we visit friends for the 4th of July every year and a much-requested recipe by my husband many other weekends throughout the year.

Mrs. Smith’s Waffles … try them once, and you’ll likely never go back. I know I haven’t.

(Click here to print and view recipe)

Mrs. Smith's Waffles on Foodista

Sunday, November 14, 2010

To Catch a Tory

My apologies, my friends, for the extended absence. Let’s just leave it at: we had some computer issues, and I wasn’t accomplishing much since all that began. Well, I did almost have a nervous breakdown, if you can call that an accomplishment. But thankfully, we seem to have the computer dilemmas solved, and already I can feel the focus moving back into my life.

Since I last wrote, the holidays seem to have arrived. The Christmas trees are up at Walmart, Dish Network has added three channels of holiday music to its program guide, and my 11-year-old son requested Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas” in the car last week. To quote one of my favorite movies: “And so it begins….”

Yet I am not ready to begin. We are still having sunny, 60-degree days, and though I have been craving more soups for lunch (as there is a definite chill in the air), I am not ready to start in on the Christmas cookie recipes.

Instead, it’s that time of the year when we don’t mind turning on our ovens, and yesterday I turned mine on to make one of the comfort foods of my youth: Mom’s Chicken Cacciatore. God knows I needed some comfort food after the past two weeks of computer headaches.

There’s no long-winded story to accompany the dish. Mom has made this all my life. It’s a simple recipe, and yet another one of those that can feed four or twenty-four. (You just need to make an extra pan or two.) Here’s how you do it:

  1. In a large pan in a preheated 350-degree oven, cook 2-3 pieces of chicken per person until they start to color, about 30 minutes. (We prefer dark-meat chicken — legs and thighs — but if you prefer white meat, chicken breasts work just as well.)
  2. Add 2 large diced peppers (I used Yummy Orange Peppers leftover from our produce co-op this week),



    2 chopped onions, and a small container of mushrooms, sliced. You’ll have something that looks like this:

    PB130003

    Cook another 30 minutes.
  3. Sprinkle the chicken and veggies with salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, and basil, and top with a can of crushed tomatoes. (I tried San Marzano, which are supposed to be “the best,” according to all the professional Italian chefs out there. I would have to say, they were pretty darn good.)
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    Mix, adding a little bit of water if the sauce is too thick. Cook another 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

I always make chicken cacciatore with spaghetti on the side, since Mom and I both agree that the sauce from this dish is one of the best spaghetti toppers you can find. Must be the added chicken fat (“schmaltz,” as my dear husband calls it). Whatever it is, it’s worth it.

Happy eating, my friends, and thanks for sticking around. Grazie.

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Chicken Cacciatore
(Click here to view and print recipe)

 

 

 

Mom's Chicken Cacciatore on Foodista

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guest Post #7: Comfort and Distraction

Editor’s note: This week, my friend Elaine — an exceptional unemployment comp and HR consultant, if you ever need one — talks about the comfort food of her childhood and offers two recipes passed down through the generations of her family.

by Elaine M. Davis, Guest Blogger

I fondly remember when I was a little girl, running out to meet my dad and carrying his lunch pail into the house when he got home from work each day. I adored my dad beyond reason at that age. Although I have some unhappy memories of that time — my parents divorced when I was about 7 — the memories that keep coming back these days are the happy ones.

I know it’s strange to think of a father cooking in the 1960s, but my dad did then and still does to this day. Among his many recipes, passed down from my nanny, are a Garlic Salt & Worcestershire Sauce Marinade for steak and, one of my favorites, the family recipe for Bread Pudding.

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Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding
(Click here to view and print recipe)


Warm from the oven, with a smooth, custardy texture and milk poured over it, bread pudding is one of my ultimate comfort foods. Though it may seem like an anachronism — it was originally created to give new life to old, hard, or stale bread, after all — bread pudding is still good old-fashioned food.

Speaking of comfort food: My mother’s Catholic Irish-German family is a large and pretty tight-knit bunch. Of course, there were bound to be recipes! Homemade applesauce, German potato salad, great meatloaf, and others were passed down through the family to future generations. But the one my mother became famous for making? Fruit Cocktail Cake.

Fruit Cocktail Cake


Fruit Cocktail Cake
(Click here to view and print recipe)


Even if you don’t like fruit cocktail from a can (or if you prefer fresh fruit as I normally do), this recipe is sure to please. If you’re a fan of homemade banana or zucchini bread, this cake has a similar texture, but the coconut in the glaze drizzled over the cake gives it just enough sweetness to set it apart from those breads, into something much more unique and satisfying.

Dense and moist with its glaze, this cake is so yummy, you can’t stop with one piece. You just have to have a smidgen more! So, if you’re looking for a new sweet, I highly recommend this one!

Memories are powerful things. You might find yourself in an antique store and see a toy exactly like one you used to play with as a child, and suddenly all those happy childhood memories come flooding back. Or you could be like me, finding comfort when you bake and enjoy dishes passed down through your family.

My nanny’s bread pudding and my mom’s fruit cocktail cake, they connect me to my past in a good way. And in the busy and complicated world of adulthood, who wouldn’t welcome such a nice distraction?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Name This Dish…

If you are a regular reader here at Mangia, Figlie, you know each recipe I offer originated with a family member or, in some cases, a good friend. If it didn’t, the whole premise of this blog would be moot. In fact, I have very few dishes in my cooking repertoire developed by yours truly … although one, in particular, does come to mind:

Cook up a pound of your favorite pasta until al dente, then drain. Toss with
3/4 pound of fresh mozzarella cheese, diced; two whole tomatoes, diced; a good handful of fresh basil leaves, chiffonade; a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil; and
3 tablespoons of Italian dressing (the Boyers like “Ken’s"). Serve immediately.

Now surely I’m not the first person to develop this recipe, but I can honestly say, it didn’t originate with family or friends, and I wasn’t influenced by a pasta dish I ate at any restaurant or demonstrated by some chef on TV. I put this recipe together for my kids, who literally jump for joy every time I serve fresh mozzarella and tomatoes with dinner.

Originally, I called the dish “Pasta Margherita,” because the ingredients matched the toppings on a Margherita pizza: fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato, fresh basil leaves, and olive oil. But maybe “Pasta Fresca” would be better? Or “Pasta Caprese”? What name would you suggest?

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Of course, my son doesn’t care what any of us call it; he simply calls it his favorite.

(Click here to print recipe)

Pasta Maria on Foodista

Friday, October 15, 2010

Regarding Tiramisu

I made tiramisu for the first time ever on Wednesday. I was hosting the “2nd Wednesday Book Club” meeting that night, and a while back, one of my club friends, Cynthia (who wrote Guest-Post #6: Mac & Alfredo), had asked for a good tiramisu recipe. Having never made it before, and unaware of any family recipe to share, I took to the Internet.

I researched the recipes of two of my favorite Food Network celebs: Giada De Laurentiis, because she offers healthy and tasty recipes from all regions of the Italian Republic; and Ina Garten, because I find her to be kitchen royalty … she is the Barefoot Contessa, after all. Ina is known for saying things like: “How easy is that?” and “Who wouldn’t love that?”
I would eat anything — ANYTHING — either of them made.

Regarding tiramisu, in the case of Giada v. Ina, the recipes are basically the same: egg yolks, sugar, dark rum, espresso, mascarpone cheese, ladyfingers, and shaved chocolate. Ina suggests extra ladyfingers and double the amount of rum, but other than that, the recipes read alike. I took that as a good sign — my ladies were in agreement — and I chose Giada’s recipe for Book Club, thinking the flavor might be a little more delicate with a little less alcohol.

When the girls arrived at 7:00 p.m., it wasn’t long before I was dishing out the tiramisu. Everyone said they liked it, even Stephanie, who you know from over at Conversations from the Cul-de-Sac. She commented that she never thought she liked the dessert, but she did indeed like mine. I was thrilled! It wasn’t sweet and the overall flavor certainly wasn’t overpowered by the alcohol. In fact, next time, I’d probably go with Ina’s recipe and add the extra rum, plus dust it with a little powdered sugar. But for a first try, I was pleased.

I wish I had a picture of my tiramisu to show you. Beth from Dirty Laundry kept telling me to take a picture, but I was insistent that no one would want to read about my little dessert adventure. And yet here I am, two days later, writing this post and searching the Photoxpress archives for a free stock photo. Silly me … stubborn me … I know.

Luckily I found one:

tiramisu

If you’d like to try one or both of these recipes for yourself, here are the links:

Giada's Recipe                             Ina's Recipe

In the meantime, might I suggest this month’s book selection:

Click here to learn more about One Day on Amazon.com

I think my tiramisu-eating friends would agree, it was an excellent read, leading to an interesting discussion. Grazie a tutti per una buona notte. Now, if I only had a picture of the group to share….

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Eating “Paste”

I don’t know about you, but I am a food magazine junkie: Every Day with Rachael Ray, Food Network Magazine, Real Simple and Coastal Living (which both have very nice food sections), and my favorite: Everyday Food from Martha Stewart. I like that last one because the recipes are easy, mostly healthy, and don’t require a ton of one-time ingredients. You know, like brown miso, which costs $5.50 for a small container, of which you use only one tablespoon. But I digress…

As I go through each magazine, I rip out the pages of the recipes that look interesting, then pile them in the back of my homemade recipe book for future experimentation. If I recipessee something on TV I want to try, I print out that recipe and add it to the pile as well. And  if, when I make a recipe, I like it, I three-hole punch it and add it in. If not, in the round file it goes.

A couple of times a year, I go through the pile and weed out those that really don’t look all that interesting after all. Last week I did that. And what I found was a crazy amount of pesto-related recipes … which got me thinking: It’s that time of the year to harvest whatever basil is left in our gardens. It’s time for pesto.

Before I get to the recipes, it’s probably best to explain the method for making pesto. Generally, there is a green leaf of some type and a nut of some type, cheese, garlic, salt, and olive oil. In a food processor, process all the ingredients except the oil. Then slowly drizzle in the oil until a nice paste forms.

I found two different basil pesto recipes in my pile last week.

The first is from my Aunt Liz in Florida. We call her Liz, even though her friends call her Judy and her real name is Eileen. I don’t know the back story there, but since I’m being vague, let me add: she isn’t really my aunt either. We’ve just always called her that, because she’s been a close friend of our family … well, forever, as far as I’m concerned. My parents met her and Uncle Red (who we miss immensely) before I was born, and we’ve all remained friends ever since. Aunt Liz and Uncle Red even traveled from Florida to Pennsylvania for my wedding all those years ago.

More importantly, Aunt Liz and I share many interests: cooking and baking, tennis, stitching, antiquing. Just look at this lovely teapot that she passed down to me, knowing I would just adore it (as I do):

teapot

Aunt Liz often shares recipes with me as well. The pesto one she recently sent is classic: basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, and salt & pepper. My mouth is watering just typing that in.

The second recipe, which was copied from one of those Italian cookbooks I borrowed from Mom earlier this year, is very similar to Aunt Liz’s, but it also calls for Romano cheese and, get this … butter. How dreamy does that sound?

basilikumpesto


Pesto
(Click here to view
and print recipes)

 

 

Also in that pile were two recipes from Mario Batali — one for broccoli rabe pesto, and one for walnut pesto — and a recipe for arugula pesto from Every Day with Rachael Ray. (Don’t forget: large, blue type indicates a link. Simply click on a link for the corresponding recipe.)

Another of my favorite non-basil recipes also comes from Rachael, who offers up an Artichoke Crema Pesto recipe to die for. Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to that one online, but you can find the recipe in her first cookbook, 30-Minute Meals.

“Fine, I’ll try them, Maria,” you say, “but, what do I do with all this pesto?” I say: “Take your pick”:

The combinations for pesto are seemingly endless, as are the uses. What’s your favorite pesto recipe, and how do you like to use it? I’d love to hear from you … mi piacerebbe sentire da voi.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Onions and Potatoes and Eggs, Oh My!

How’s this for bold? This morning my mom called to talk about a few things, as we do most days. When we each got through our a.m. agenda, I asked: “So, what are you doing today? Want to make us lunch?” She jumped at the chance — we don’t have a lot of time alone-together these days, with my work and the kids and all. I suggested she make frittata. Thankfully, she bit.

This is a recipe Mom’s been making for years. Take one onion and two potatoes. Peel and chop the onion, peel and dice the potato, and sauté them together in a large frying pan with canola oil and salt & pepper until the onion and potatoes are tender. Talk about a great smell when I walked in her house!

Next, beat five eggs and add them to the pan. Allow to cook over medium heat, moving the eggs around (as you would for an omelet) until almost cooked through to the top.

At this point, some people may simply put the pan under the broiler to finish off the top, but not Mom. She does this thing: she slides the frittata onto a dinner plate, then flips it back into the pan, which she returns to the stovetop to finish cooking. Cut into triangles, and enjoy!

frittata




Mom’s Frittata
(Click here to view
and print recipe)

 

 

 

 

Relatively quick, easy … and a staple in my mom’s house for as long as I can remember. Today she served a little homemade ratatouille on the side (that’s what she did with that Sicilian eggplant from last week), I brought some fresh Portuguese rolls which we buttered, and we had a nice leisurely lunch, mother and daughter. A cool breeze was blowing in the kitchen window, and the food was oh-so-good, as was the conversation. Talk about comfort food … it was perfect!

Grazie, mamma. Io ti amo.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Thing of Beauty

The last couple weeks have been crazy-busy with paid work, which trumps the fun of blogging every time. I hope you’ll excuse my absence last week. There just weren’t enough hours to get everything done. But I’m back this week, hopefully strong, with a classic. Let’s begin … cominciamo.

The end is near yet again. Summer, you say? Nope … that was on Tuesday. September? It’s true … my favorite month of the year, with its beautiful blue skies and warm sun, is quickly coming to a close. But that’s not what I’m talking about either. Of particular interest to Mangia, Figlie’s creator is that eggplant season, which begins in July here in the Mid-Atlantic states, is almost over for yet another year. So many recipes, so little time…

Just take a look at this thing of beauty that my mom’s friend dropped off at her house the other day:

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It’s a Sicilian eggplant, described on Wikia.com as: “characterized by a tender flavor and a sweet taste.” I’ve never in my life seen one of these, or if I have, I didn’t notice. And I can’t imagine I didn’t notice. Mom says she isn’t sure what she’s doing with it yet, but if she doesn’t do something soon, I’ll have to go steal it from her. Don’t want to see that lovely specimen go to waste.

This thing of beauty arrived from our produce co-op last week:

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It’s a Japanese eggplant, if you aren’t familiar. Thin-skinned, its flavor is described as “delicate” and “sweet.”

Throw in a couple American eggplants and an Italian eggplant (already peeled)…

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….and we’ve been feasting for a couple of weeks now. On what, you ask? Here are a few ideas:

1. Joe Ambrosino, of Queens, New York, aptly “channels” his grandmother when he blogs at Your Italian Grandma. About a month ago, he posted a recipe for caponata, which is a cooked eggplant salad that can be served hot or cold, as an appetizer, side dish, or over a nice plate of pasta. As soon as I saw the recipe, I knew I had to mention it here!

The ingredients, though numerous, are fairly basic in an Italian pantry: eggplant, garlic, onion, celery, olives, capers, raisins, tomato paste/sauce, red pepper flakes, red wine vinegar, and granulated sugar or honey. But what really caught my eye was his secret ingredient: cocoa! Joe says the cocoa will “darken the color and deepen the taste of the dish.” Having followed his blog for quite some time now, I trust his dishes. Click here to read Joe’s full caponata post and find his recipe.

2. On Wednesday night I sautéed an eggplant and some veggies in a pan and served it as a side dish at dinner. I took one Japanese eggplant, one zucchini, and one red onion. I peeled and chopped each, put them in a pan with butter and olive oil, salt and pepper, and slowly cooked them over low heat on top of the stove. Stirring occasionally, I allowed them to sauté for about an hour. This was the result:

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I sprinkled a little grated Romano cheese over the top and called it done. My husband gave the dish a thumbs-up (“You can make this again, hunny.”), commenting that he liked the “greasiness” with the veggies. I coupled it with my grilled flank steak, which was a flavorful combination, but I couldn’t help thinking how nicely this would go over a plate of pasta as well.

3. Of course, my favorite thing to do with eggplant is to make parmesan. We vacationed in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with a group of friends and their families several summers ago, and when it was my night to cook, I chose this dish. Not only does it easily feed a crowd (we numbered 17 that trip, if I’m counting correctly), but it’s a Montesano favorite … meaning dinner guests always seem to enjoy it when we make it for them.

The recipe is simple. First, make a pot of Mom’s tomato sauce:

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Peel and thinly slice an eggplant or two (or three, in this case):

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In a bowl, mix together 4 eggs and 1/4 cup of flour, to resemble a pancake batter. Dip each slice of eggplant into the batter and fry in oil, turning once, until fork-tender and lightly browned on each side. Move fried eggplant to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet to absorb the excess oil:

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Once the sauce and eggplant are prepared, grab some shredded mozzarella cheese out of the “icebox” and layer the ingredients in this order, from bottom to top:

Sauce (to cover the bottom of the glass dish)
Eggplant
Mozzarella
Sauce
Eggplant
Mozzarella
Sauce
Eggplant
Sauce

Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes at 325 degrees, and this is what you’ll get:

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Mom’s Eggplant Parmesan
(Click here to print recipe)

4. There is one more recipe I must mention — one I make fairly often — a bit of a different take on eggplant parmesan. It by no means takes the place of Mom’s recipe, and it really isn’t as efficient to make for a crowd, but Mario Batali offers an amazing parm recipe, focusing more on the eggplant itself (cutting it lengthwise) and using fresh mozzarella. It’s a light and refreshing dish, perfect for a hot July night, and it’s great if serving just a few people. Click here to view and print Mario’s recipe.

I realize now I should’ve posted these recipes earlier in eggplant season … it’s just the way it worked out, I suppose. But I’m taking no excuses. I’ve offered four tasty eggplant recipes and you have at least one week left till the eggplants leave the building. Go get yourself one, give one of these recipes a try, and let me know how it goes!

Sauteed Eggplant, Zucchini, and Onions on Foodista