Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Frittering Away

My dear friend, Beth:

I believe you still owe me a zucchini.

Anxiously waiting,

You may remember Beth from my very first post. She’s the person to thank (or perhaps blame) for my venture into the world of blogging. She writes a funny and often heart-warming blog called Dirty Laundry. Her caustic humor easily rivals that of her favorite New York Times best-selling author, Jen Lancaster (who you can find online at jennsyvania.com), but at the same time, she’s a doll! (Don’t worry, Beth. We won’t tell anyone.)

A couple of weeks ago, Beth challenged her readers to a test: match her three growing children to their baby pictures. The prize: a zucchini fresh from her garden. I am happy to report, I got all three right — which was a bit of a feat, as her children have changed considerably as they’ve grown. But darn it, I wanted that zucchini!

Imagine the possibilities: zucchini dip, zucchini crisp, zucchini bread, zucchini curry soup … these are just a few of the 2,597 recipes I found on Foodista.com this morning that listed zucchini as an ingredient. Though honestly, I’m sure I’ll take the fritter route — a route my ancestors would approve of.

In fact, just last week I made zucchini fritters using fresh fare from the produce co-op I’ve mentioned before. The recipe I followed came from the latest issue of Food Network magazine. I omitted the spring onions, just because I didn’t have any in the fridge, though they surely would have added another welcome layer of flavor to an already delish dish. You can find the recipe HERE. Several other good-looking fritter recipes are also available on Cooks.com.

Beth, I’m wondering: any chance you have any extra zucchini flowers hanging around?

I grew up eating fried zucchini flowers (let’s call them fiori fritti), and my mom — when we were talking about this week’s possible post topics — shared her recipe with me. Simply:

  1. Wash the zucchini flowers, pull out the centers, and flatten.
  2. Prepare your favorite pancake batter, adding in a bit of grated cheese.
  3. Heat oil in a shallow pan. Carefully dip each flower into the pancake mix and place in the pan.
  4. Allow to cook a minute or two, until lightly brown on the bottom, then flip.
  5. When brown on both sides, remove from the pan onto a paper-towel-covered plate (to soak up some of the oil).
  6. Serve immediately (perhaps with a little salt on top), and enjoy!

Or better yet, bring your zucchini flowers to my house; I’ll do the cooking, and in good Italian tradition, we’ll share a meal at my table. Spero di vederti presto!


(Click here to view
and print recipe)



Fiori Fritti on Foodista

Sunday, June 20, 2010

No Recipe, Just A Little Blog Tangent

As you can imagine, my whole life as I’ve traveled, eating out has been at least half the fun of every single destination for me. I love food. I have always loved food, and as I age, I appreciate its tastes and textures more and more every year.

Now you might expect my palate to be a bit snobby, always seeking the best seafood and cheeses and wines … but in fact, my favorite “road food” — if I may steal a term from Alton Brown — is cole slaw. Not that I’ve liked every dish of cole slaw ever served to me, but I love to try the many variations out there.

Is the cabbage chopped or shredded? Are carrots part of the recipe? Are they grated or finely chopped? Is the base more mayonnaise or vinegar? Is there celery seed? And what other ingredients are thrown in?

Many years ago — more than a decade, I’m sure — I considered starting a cole slaw journal and one day writing a book comparing my findings. And the final chapter would divulge the very best cole slaw I ever ate.

I obviously decided against that idea — I mean, who would be the audience for that book? But I do continue to taste-test cole slaw wherever I go. My favorite recipe would be made with shredded cabbage, a bit of grated carrot, a light mayo base with just a touch of vinegar, and definitely celery seed. To paraphrase — is it  T.O.? — I love me some celery seed!

What may be most humorous here, though, is that I never — NEVER! — make my own slaw. My mother-in-law was almost famous for hers, laden with mayo and vinegar, but I generally don’t eat slaw … except when I’m on the road. Then it becomes my side-of-choice … my missione. What’s yours?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Summer Is Near!

My garden is shaping up quite nicely this year.


As you can see above, the radishes (in rows on the left) are in need of a thinning, but the edamame (in rows on the right) are filling in perfectly, and though it’s hard to see, the green leaf lettuce (potted) has proven to be tender and tasty.


I even have tomatoes starting in my Topsy Turvy planters! That’s very exciting, as it’s my first year trying out what I find to be an intriguing product.

Unfortunately, a cold spell mid-spring greatly hurt sweet basil growth here in Central P6150013Pennsylvania this year. Unless the nurseries pulled their basil indoors at night, most of the crop didn’t thrive. And though I did manage to find two Italian basil plants, the sweet basil I really crave is struggling. Look at the poor little guy to the right.

I finally broke down and bought a small potted sweet basil plant at a local grocery chain … because without basil, my summer would not be complete.

P6110001At the farmers’ market on Saturday morning, I got my hands on the lovely hothouse tomatoes to the right. I thought they’d be a nice addition to the heirloom tomato that came in our produce co-op package-of-the-week … and I knew summer was near: I had everything I needed to make Mom’s Tomato Salad.

Now, when I purchased Rachael Ray’s original cookbook in 2002, one of the first recipes I noticed was her Tomato and Onion Salad. I knew it was authentic, as I’d grown up with something very similar on our dinner table in the form of my mom’s tomato salad. Rachael uses tomatoes, white onion, basil, parsley, olive oil, salt, and pepper; Mom’s recipe is a bit more basic (I say that’s a good thing) and looks like this:

  1. Chop up three or four tomatoes.
  2. Add several slices of red onion, diced, along with sweet basil from the garden, several tablespoons of olive oil, and lots of salt.
  3. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for a bit.

That’s it! Great over grilled flank steak:


…savored by my son over ditalini:


…or perfect all on its own:


L'estate รจ vicina!

(Click here to print recipe)

Tomato and Onion Salad on Foodista

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Buckle Up!

June 15 is just around the corner and that can only mean one thing here in Central Pennsylvania: Blueberries! Oh, and my mom’s blueberry buckle, of course.

Well, technically, it’s Mrs. Tancredi’s blueberry buckle. Her husband and my dad worked together at Hershey Foods many, many years ago, and the two couples often socialized outside of the office. Sometime in the 1970s, the buckle made its way to a social, and soon after that, the recipe made its way to my mom’s kitchen.

As life moves forward, oftentimes friends lose touch, which is what happened in this case … but strangely, just a few weeks ago — when I already had blueberries on the brain — Mom and I ran into Mrs. Tancredi and her daughter at Church. When my mom introduced me, she said: “This is where the blueberry buckle recipe came from.” Then she turned to Mrs. Tancredi and said, “Do you know, I still have the original recipe you gave me, in your handwriting?” When I think of the recipe, I think of it as Mom’s … but it’s only fair to give credit where credit is due.

Here’s a little buckle story you may enjoy. I hesitate to bring it up, but even I admit, it is humorous all these years later.

P6030006I was generally a helpful child. I am a bit of a worker bee, as I’ve mentioned before, and I’m fairly good at taking direction. So, at a very early age, I felt very comfortable in my mom’s kitchen just doing little chores to help. One thing I learned from my mom is to transfer my bulk sugar and flour into large plastic containers as soon as I open the bags, to keep the sugar and flour fresh and bug-free.

One day, when I was — best guess — 10 years old, I noticed Mom’s bulk sugar container wasn’t quite full. In an effort to help out a bit and please her, I took the liberty of adding to the container. Mom then proceeded to make a blueberry buckle — I forget if it was for friends or family. Later in the day, when she served the dessert, something was obviously off! It just didn’t taste right … what was missing, what was wrong?

Yup, you guessed it: helpful little me — I had topped off the container with … salt. It certainly wasn’t intentional, but it was embarrassing nonetheless for Mom when she had to take back all the pieces of blueberry buckle and forage the cabinets for some Pepperidge Farm cookies. I think that was the last time I tried to take the lead in her kitchen; after that, I definitely waited for her direction!

As much as I love chocolate and ice cream, cakes and pies are something I generally can live without. Don’t get me wrong — there are a few really good ones. I rarely pass up a piece of key lime pie, for instance. And for years, German chocolate cake was my favorite, something about the coconut and chocolate combination. (That’s what makes Almond Joy so good, after all.) But I seem to have outgrown that phase. Now, just give me a good grapefruit sorbet or a nice coffee milkshake.

But blueberry buckle is seasonally good … and there is just something satisfying in that. It’s the one cake every year I can count on Mom to make. And sometime, early in June, I start getting anxious for a big old piece of this summer comfort food!

packinghousecover (13K)I just recently learned that a friend of mine married into an orchard family. Along the Mason Dixon line lies Shaw Orchards, which offers, according to its website, “some of the best quality fruit you'll find anywhere in the country, as well as local produce, jams, jellies, flowers, and canned goods. The orchard is open for pick-your-own strawberries, cherries, blueberries, and apples.” Here is a picture of my friend, Jana, from the orchard’s website:


How lucky is she, surrounded by all those blueberries?! She tells me the picking is exceptional, especially since the blueberries grow at waist level and you don’t have to get on your hands and knees for the chore. They sure look tasty, Blueberries-on-stemwouldn’t you agree?

I just can’t wait to take the kids down to Shaw Orchards during summer vacation. Jana’s daughter is in my daughter’s class at school, so I know it will be fun to be picking-our-own at my daughter’s friend’s grandparents’ orchard. And if I time it right, we may also be able to bring home some peaches for my homemade peach marmalade. But that’s another post.

This summer, if you are near the Pennsylvania/Maryland border, I would encourage you to check out Shaw Orchards on the Mason Dixon Line. Feel free to tell them Maria sent you! And once you have your fresh-picked blueberries home — and especially if you’ve never had blueberry buckle — I encourage you to try Mrs. Tancredi’s recipe. There’s nothing quite as fresh or comforting as the first buckle of the season. Just be sure to check for salt in your sugar bowl first! Buona cottura!


Mrs. Tancredi’s
Blueberry Buckle
(Click here to view
and print recipe)

Classic Blueberry Buckle on Foodista

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Guest Post #3: A Fond Food Memory

by Ralph Montesano

I have been asked by my sister, Maria, to reflect on my fond food memories of growing up second-generation Italian-American. I’m not a writer, that’s her job, so bear with me while I try to paint a picture of eating Montesano/Iozzo style.

Our family, as most of you are now aware, hails from the south of Italy. Not known for its gourmet dining pleasures, southern Italy is best known for its heavy sauces, big macaronis, mounds of bread and meats … comfort food!!! I remember Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin songs playing while our grandmothers stuffed the pot of sauce with three types of meats: meatballs, pork, and sausage. And I remember the braciole floating in the pot starting to make my mouth water.

Then there is the macaroni. We didn’t just have plain ole spaghetti … it was either ziti or rigatoni, maybe some stuffed macaroni such as manicotti, or even lasagna. We’d rip off a hunk of our favorite hard-crusted bread to “get the grease out of our mouth,” and we’d top it all off with the reddest red wine that could be dumped out of a gallon jug. There you have it: comfort food.

Now you are expecting, I guess, a recipe. Not so fast. That will come in a future post. As a medical person I believe in varying methods of treatments. My studies started a long time ago with one of my first instructors — Poppy!

One thing a good Italian must learn before embarking on a life of southern Italian eating is how to survive it. And the best survival tool ever found comes in a simple blue bottle you can find in any drug store. That’s right:

I remember Poppy preparing the antidote. First, he’d take a large glass, pour two capfuls (yes, capfuls) of Brioschi into the glass, and fill the glass with water. The bubbles were indicative of the effervescent action that was to relieve the only downside to comfort eating. And then there was the belch…

To this day I owe a lot to my ancestors, for not only teaching us to cook second-generation Italian style, but also for teaching us how to survive eating it all.

I promised my sister a recipe and I am working on it. I will submit it at a later date, but until then, practice your Brioschi skills and maybe you can enjoy not only preparing and eating the dish, but also surviving it! Ciao!