Grilled Ham and Cheese on scooped out Italian

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Ingredients:
Fresh crusty Italian bread (French baguettes)
Thinly sliced boiled ham
Thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
paprika

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice the Italian bread in half through the middle to have two wedges.
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  4. Scoop out the soft middle.
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  6. Place 2 slices of boiled ham on each slice of bread. And 2 slices of mozzarella.
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  8. ightly drizzle extra virgin olive oil.
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  10. Lightly sprinkle paprika.
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  12. Bake for 12 minutes until the cheese is melted and the bread is crisp.
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    Don’t forget to smile while you bite into the crispy gooey Ham and Cheese on scooped out Italian!

Christmas Eve’s Clams Oreganate And My Favorite Christmas Present

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The Typewriter

This  Christmas season I got all nostalgic and  I remembered one of my favorite Christmas present from the past. Don’t be surprised if this favorite gift of mine involves the restaurant.  My thoughts brought me back to 1971 when I woke up on Christmas morning to find my very own typewriter underneath the Christmas tree and I bet you all thought I was going to say pots and pans.  I was ecstatic!  I went right to work practicing typing and learning where all the keys were located.   I still remember the feeling of pressing down each key and the joy I felt as I witnessed the perfect black letter imprinted on the paper.  I especially loved the rhythm of the typing as I got better and better at it.  I would make up songs in my head as I typed.  It really was the best gift ever.

In 1971 I was twelve years old, taking biology taught by Sister Diane at Regina Coeli School.   Returning to school after a wonderful ten-day vacation, a biology test awaited us that first week in January.   During that Christmas vacation I remembered having fun practicing on my new typewriter typing out my biology notes. Of course, I had to make the notes look good so I practiced my typing over and over again. I had always been just an average student and did not take my studies very seriously.   At that time, I had never regarded myself as studious or even having the potential to achieve high grades.  The following day after the test, Sr. Diane announced that there was one student that had gotten the highest grade in both 8th grade classes.  I sat in my desk looking on with a bored expression thinking one of the smart kids got the highest grade.  Sr. Diane looked at the class with an amused expression as she announced my name. I was in shock.  I never thought in a million years that it could have been me. Inadvertently, when I typed out the notes, the information must have gotten lodged into my brain. The pride I felt and the shocked look in the smart kids faces did something to me. I realized that I did have potential! It just required a little work on my part.  And that was the just the beginning of how that typewriter changed my life.

I became addicted to the feel and the rhythm of the typewriter keys on my fingertips. I tried to think of what I could do to keep typing.  And then it came to me.  A most wonderful idea! I typed out a daily special from the restaurant menu.  The waitresses would usually hand write these specials during the slow hours between lunch and dinner.  Coming from Catholic School where penmanship was everything I regarded their penmanship as atrocious!! I wanted to make my father proud of me so I presented him with a perfectly typed daily special and told him I could make the menus look more professional. My dad loved the idea!  But unfortunately, I didn’t think it through all the way.  At twelve I wasn’t fully aware of how many menus we had at the restaurant and I didn’t quite understand the whole concept of daily specials. In the beginning, I happily typed away and then I begrudgingly realized that I was typing the never ending daily specials for 100 menus, 6 days a week.

What started out as a great fun idea had become hard work!  That little typewriter’s keys became harder and harder to press down as I forged ahead with the daily specials.  My fingers became so sore.  I no longer wanted to type those annoying daily specials.  But there was no convincing my dad to go back to handwritten specials!  By the following year, I talked my parents into buying me a much-needed electric typewriter.  Aaah….it was so much easier of my fingers!  But it was still tedious work typing out all those daily specials.  By the time, I was a junior in high school I found an even better alternative to the electric typewriter. I graduated to a memory typewriter!  With the memory typewriter, I only had to type one special. The rest of the specials could be automatically typed by the press of a button. All I had to do was place an index card in the typewriter one at a time.  It was great!!  But that wonderful feeling quickly wore off as I sat there for hours feeding the index cards one at a time complaining and whining about it!  At this point in time, I was in college working on my grades and other interests.  These daily specials were the bane of my existence. By the 80’s the personal computer became affordable and finally I happily became a whiz at typing out the daily specials!

Not only did that toy typewriter that I found underneath the Christmas tree so many years ago, make me believe in myself but it also taught me to always look for a quicker and better way to get the job done.  But the most important lesson of all was that it taught me is to make sure to do research before I volunteer my services!  Merry Christmas Everyone!

See our Clams Oreganate recipe.

Clams Oreganate

I am going to give you the long version of making clams oreganate by making your own breadcrumbs.  They are the best.  For some reason making them from scratch are so delicious!!  Growing up in our Italian American family Christmas Eve table was never without out clams oreganate.  Of course they were readily available in our restaurant!

Ingredients:
Garlic Bread
2 loaves of thin crusted french bread (the thicker crust is harder to make crumbs)
1/2 cup of Extra Virgin Olive OIl
4 cloves of garlic minced
3/4 tsp of oregano
4-5 turns of black pepper
Oreganate Crumbs
2 cups of breadcrumbs either from the garlic bread crumb recipe or store bought Italian flavored bread crumbs
3/4 chopped parsley
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Raw clams on the half shell*
*2 dozen clams serves four people but the oreganate stuffing is enough to stuff 4 dozen clams

Procedure:

For the Garlic bread

  1. Slice french bread
  2. Mix well 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil with minced garlic and dried oregano
  3. Brush olive oil mixture on all the slices of bread placing on 2 cookie sheets
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  4. Toast in oven prewarmed at 325degrees for 30 minutes until golden brown and crisp to touch. If you want to make garlic bread for eating just toast under 2nd shelf under broiler until golden brown.
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  5. You may eat some of the garlic bread but save some to make into breadcrumbs

         For the Oreganate Bread Crumbs

  6. To make breadcrumbs use a food processor or a blender.  For best results make sure that the bread is crisp.
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  7. To make sure there are no big chunks.  Shake breadcrumbs thru a sieve and pulverize the big chunks again.
  8.  Once all pulverized.  Add 1/2 cup virgin olive oil,  2 tablespoons of oregano and mix well and 3/4 cup of chopped parsley2016-09-02-19-03-35
  9. Add chopped parsley and mix well.2016-09-02-19-05-11
  10. Open the little neck clams making sure to not drain the clam water.  Juicy clams are the best!
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  11. Spoon bread crumb mixture onto clams. careful not to pack it down.  It should be fluffy!
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  12.  Drizzle with  a little extra virgin olive oil and bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes and its ready to eat!
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Buon Appetito e Buon Natale!!

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!

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“Hi Teresa, I figured you would know where I can get bushels of tomatoes.”  “Oh sorry Teresa, we can’t! We are swimming in tomatoes here!” “Hello Teresa, I have brought you a bushel of tomatoes.” So.much talk of tomatoes!! What can I say it’s tomato season in the Hudson Valley!

I always teased my kids and told them I am just not any ordinary mamma but a pasta mamma!  To this day I still can’t get this vision that I have of a pasta mamma out of my head!  I am not quite sure how old I was, but one summer in Italy I came across what I believed was a pasta mamma.  Thank goodness it wasn’t anybody I was related to.  While we were on our way to visit my aunt, we came across a neighbor.  The neighbor upon seeing my dad, ran over screaming in her Neapolitan dialect to give my dad this really exaggerated big hug. It wasn’t because she was short, robust and splattered with tomato sauce that I took notice, but it was her apron!  Her apron had two conspicuously placed well-worn patches across her chest! Mind you the apron was intact except for those two patches.  While my parents were all smiles greeting this woman, my brother and I just stood there looking on with puzzled looks on our faces. Why this well-endowed woman would want to bring more attention to herself by wearing that apron was beyond us!  Unabashed she stood so proud wearing that remarkable apron bragging about the number of jars of tomatoes she had just canned.

I keep thinking about that woman lately every time the subject of tomatoes comes up in discussions this past week. The Hudson Valley farmers as I am sure many of the farmers from where you are from are also busy harvesting tomatoes.  If you don’t have the luxury of picking your tomatoes out of your own garden, I hope you are all taking advantage of those beautiful vine ripened tomatoes from your local farmers.  I just called my co-packer who makes the 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce to order more pallets.   They work with the local farms in our area.  They told me, “Teresa, have a little patience for we are swimming in tomatoes and we are busy!”.

I remember when I was a little girl, my mom, her five sisters and Nonna, would be gathered together wearing aprons (thankfully with no patches across their chests) and their hair tied up in kerchiefs at this time of the year.  My grandfather would start the fire in the pit while all the girls were busy preparing the tomatoes.  Such a happy chore with all of them laughing and singing while sorting, cutting, straining, cooking, pouring, and jarring.  I remember hearing the joyful pop of the lids as the sauce cooled and witnessing the satisfaction on everyone’s faces.

In Italy, my father’s sisters would do the same thing. There were times that we would be in Italy during tomato harvest and the canning of the delicious tomatoes. The tomatoes were so different in Monte di Procida.  The Mediterranean sun is strong and growing tomatoes in the volcanic soil yields the sweetest juiciest tomatoes! All my aunts had their own wood fired ovens to bake bread, pizza and to seal all of those jars of tomatoes.  The ovens were located in cantinas and a whole side of the building was designated for the ovens made of blocks and concrete. The cantinas were free standing buildings away from the house.   My Zia Gilda would bake so much bread that she even had customers!  A summer treat was pizza! The pizza that came out of those wood fired ovens was incomparable to anything I have ever eaten. The crust had a touch of char covered with a few really ripe garden  tomatoes, a basil leaf, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and fresh mozzarella. The pizza was unbelievably delicious! Mind you, my Zia would only make the pizza with the extra dough left over from the bread.    She never thought much of this pizza.  I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t make more of it! But she would often tell me that bread was her first priority.  The pizza was just a little snack. I am still searching for a comparable pizza!  The typical NY pizza we are accustomed to is not the same.

In a town not too far from my dad’s town of Monte di Procida is the ancient town of Baia where Julius Caesar had a villa there (The Castello Aragonese di Baia is open to the public now with museums). The mineral springs in Baia attracted the elite during the Roman Empire.  Most of the ancient town is under water now as a result from a volcanic eruption.  A couple of years ago my brother, sister and I met in Italy.  We decided to go to a historic pizzeria in Baia. What was unusual about this pizzeria was that it was located inside the town bread oven. Yes, you read right!  It was a bread oven so huge that there was a pizzeria built inside of it.  During the Roman Empire it was used to bake bread for the whole town.   We sat inside of this huge hollowed out oven and ate pizza and imagined Caesar eating pizza here.

Only joking about Caesar eating pizza.  The Pizza Margherita became famous in 1889, 28 years after the unification of Italy.  History has it that when Queen Margherita of Savoy, the wife of King Umberto I, visited Naples, a chef and his wife created a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, tomato, mozzarella and basil! To this day it is still called Pizza Margherita!

Sadly, I don’t own a wood fired oven.  Using the garden cherry tomatoes, the pizza comes out pretty good minus the char.  I have that wood fired oven on my bucket list. I did get Jim, my husband, to make me a fire pit, though!  So I am getting closer.

I hope you enjoy the following pizza recipe as much as as my family and I do.  I used the delicious tomatoes from the garden! No worries if you don’t have a garden, just be sure to visit  farm markets to get those delicious tomatoes that are all the rage.  There is nothing like fresh vine ripened tomatoes.  Even though I am in the business of selling tomato sauce, I won’t lie to you there is nothing like a fresh tomato right off the vine.  Don’t get confused with those grocery store, hot house tomatoes, though! I also have available the jarred 825 MAIN Pizza Margherita Sauce for those months of the year when we can’t get those super delicious garden tomatoes. Even tough I don’t can my own tomatoes, Continue reading

Pizza Margherita

Ingredients:
1 ball pizza dough (you can make your own or buy already prepared at your local grocer)
1 1/2 dozen ripe cherry tomatoes sliced in half
1 clove of garlic grated ( You can leave it out of even add more to your liking
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
6 leaves of basil
grated pecorino romano cheese or grated parmagiana cheese
half teaspoon of sea salt
1 small ball of fresh mozzarella cheese

Procedure:

  1. Roll out the pizza dough into a 12 inch circle. Place either on a pizza stone or on a cookie sheet. And preheat oven to 425 degrees.
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  2. Slice cherry tomatoes and grate garlic into a small bowl.
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3. Add extra virgin olive oil and sea salt into bowl of tomatoes.
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4.Place tomatoes on the ROLLED out dough that was placed on cookie sheet. Spread the tomatoes and extra virgin olive oil evenly on the dough. Grate the Pecorino Romano cheese onto the dough. Just a sprinkling all over.
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5. Add the basil leaves
2016-09-05 11.20.32 Continue reading

The Story of My Mamma the Movie Star and Spaghetti Putanesca Recipe

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I always thought of my mom as a movie star. Not only was Mamma beautiful but she dressed the part, too! Many would think it odd that I would regard her in this way since she came from a remote volcanic island off the coast of Naples, Italy. When she was born, this underdeveloped tiny island’s main source of income was fishing and farming. Mamma grew up poor, but most of her family’s suffering was attributed to my grandfather having left for almost 4 years to go to Argentina, an unsuccessful attempt at making Argentina a future home for them. During his time in Argentina, the country suffered a collapsed economy and a violent overturn of the government. My grandfather, broken and penniless returned to Ischia to focus on another plan to make a better life for his family.

While Nonno was gone, a successful publisher by the name of Angelo Rizzoli visited Ischia. Rizzoli, an orphan, raised in poverty, having apprenticed as a printer, came to great prosperity. He became one of Italy’s first producers of daily newspapers and ran a publishing house. Rizzoli was also quite active in the production of films. So when Rizzoli first visited Ischia, the town of Lacco Ameno, he fell in love with the beauty of this quaint little island and the struggles of its people. He was inspired to turn this impoverished, quiet, little island into a fashionable destination for the rich and famous. Not only did he want to attract the wealthy from the world of finance and politics, but he mostly wanted the cinematography industry to discover this island. So Rizzoli put his plan in place to turn Ischia into a popular and prosperous tourist attraction by building a hospital (Ospedale Rizzoli), hotels and thermal spas on the island. But it was his work in the movies with his production company “Cinriz” that inspired film-makers to follow in his footsteps and to become smitten with Ischia’s natural charms and beauty.

That’s the back story about how it came to be that in 1951 Burt Lancaster and the crew of The Crimson Pirate came to the island of Ischia in Italy to film a Caribbean swash buckling pirate movie! This movie forever changed the lives of many Ischiatani.

Most of the film shots had the Castello Aragonese as the backdrop. That’s the castle that is located in Ischia Ponte where my mom and her family lived. The Castello Aragonese dates back to 2500 years ago! My Grandmother would often talk about how il castello saved many lives when the volcano would erupt. Being that il castello is located on a large rock not too far from the coast of Ischia Ponte connected by a bridge made of rocks, the townspeople would run to seek refuge from the lava. My deeply religious Nonna would exclaim how the Madonna in il castello thrust her foot forward and the lava miraculously stopped flowing!

As you can imagine the producer needed lots of town people for some of the scenes. So my mom and some of the sisters jumped at the chance to be in a movie! When I was older my brother and I would have our eyes peeled watching this movie hoping to get a glimpse of my mom. Did you know that The Crimson Pirate was the inspiration for Disney’s block buster with Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean?

The movie crew was in Ischia for quite a few months filming. A bunch of them stayed at the Pensione Pineta, a hotel just a block away from my mom’s house. One day the hotel keeper asked my mom as she was out and about, if my grandmother would be willing to supply some laundry service for the guests. My mom, understanding that this could be a lucrative opportunity eagerly accepted for my grandmother. I would often tease my mom that not only did she make a movie side by side Burt Lancaster, but she also washed and ironed his underwear!

While filming the movie one of the props was a big pirate ship anchored in front of il castello. My mom being the oldest of seven grew up very gutsy. She carried a lot of responsibilities on her shoulders as the oldest. When my grandfather left for Argentina my mom was only 12 years old while my grandmother was pregnant with their only son and had to raise 6 young children. So as circumstances would have it, my mom would be my grandmother’s right hand. So at an early age she was able to express herself quite easily with adults. She also learned early on that she would not get any coddling because in a house of seven women and one baby boy lots of responsibilities landed on her shoulders. So if a boy ever mentioned to my mom she couldn’t – you better believe my mom set out to prove him wrong! So keep that in mind while I tell you that a boy once dared my mom to swim to that pirate ship anchored by the castle and dive off the gang plank. So she did! The ship was so tall that when she dove in staright  she could feel the water getting colder and colder the deeper she went.

(I’m going to digress for a moment . She was known as quite the swimmer. One year when visiting Ischia, my children all competitive swimmers were diving off a pier and the Italian men all looked on in amazement. Then right behind the kids my mom dove in. The men all turned to each other and exclaimed how the grandchildren must take after their Nonna! I later told my mom what they said and she beamed with pride!)

I believe that the aura of those movie stars that came to visit the island that one summer in 1951 rubbed off onto my mom. The usually quiet town woke up with all the activity from the movie crew and it changed my mom’s outlook on life. I bet the reason that blue eyes were the number one prerequisite on my mom’s list for husband material was because of Burt Lancaster’s blue eyes! My mom confided in me that when she met my father it was love at first sight when she noticed he had blue eyes! ( I would like to add another piece of trivia to this story : The other actor that starred alongside Burt Lancaster was Nick Cravat. Nick and Burt were in 9 films together. He played a mute in this film because of his thick Brooklyn accent. My dad’s extended family are all from Brooklyn with thick Brooklyn accents! They were the reason for my dad and his brothers coming to America. Small world right?)

That summer not only changed my mom but it also gave a new positive outlook for all of the townspeople too! The filming of The Crimson Pirate not only paved the way for Ischia becoming a chic tourist attraction, but for also becoming a set for a long list of future blockbuster hits!

I am proud to say that my mom shared the stage alongside Burt Lancaster. Ok well, maybe not as a lead, but definitely in the movie! I would like to think that not only was the famous Angelo Rizzoli the catalyst for the rise of Ischia’s tourist trade but forgive me if a stretch it to include my mom too!

See our Spaghetti ala Putanesca recipe.

Spaghetti ala Putanesca

Serves 2.
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This dish was actually invented by an innkeeper in Ischia. The story is that late one night guests were hungry and there was no food left. The innkeeper quickly put together a pasta dish with whatever he had on hand which included some tomatoes, olives, capers and anchovies. He said he put together a “putanatta”. It’s a slang word for throwing together some left overs. But the actual meaning of the word is whore. The following night the customer came in requesting the same thing because it was so delicious. The dish was so delicious that other customers wanted it too! But the chef was reluctant to put it on the menu because he was afraid it was offensive. So he lightened it up a little by calling it Pasta Putanesca.

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Ingredients:
12 vine ripened cherry tomatoes sliced in half
4 anchovy filets
2 garlic cloves- sliced thin
¼ cup of capers
¼ cup of sliced Kalamata olives (about 20 olives)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ cup of sherry
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
Pinch of oregano
½ pound of cooked spaghetti

Note: The measurements of the ingredients don’t have to be exact. Remember it’s whatever you have on hand that makes it special!

Procedure:

  1. Pour extra virgin Olive oil in skillet and add sliced garlic, sliced olives and capers. Sauté on medium heat until garlic becomes golden brown.2016-08-31 17.19.02

2.  Turn off heat and add anchovies and sherry. Turn heat back on to medium and stir breaking up the anchovies until anchovies melt.
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3. Add the sliced cherry tomatoes. Tomatoes must be fully ripened into a bright red. Cook on medium heat until heated through.
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4. Cook pasta to your liking and add to skillet.
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5. Also add a ladle of pasta water.
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6. Add chopped parsley and a pinch of oregano
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Stir well and serve!

Olive & Caper Sauce and Finding My Voice

My favorite part of my job is talking to all the people I meet. This past year at one of my seminars I met a woman who, as soon as I said hello to her, she proclaimed her love for Adams Fairacre Farms (the specialty grocery store in my area where I have my seminars). The woman, having grown up in NYC where her mom bought produce from street carts, explained that the store reminded her of her youth. I must have looked puzzled because she said, “Honey, I am really old! I’m 87.” She didn’t look that old at all! As we chit-chatted, she slipped an Italian expression into our conversation. “You’re Italian!”, I blurted out. My delight encouraged this Signora to tell me about her most interesting life.

When the Signora first got married to her husband, who was an opera singer, they moved to Rome because he had won a scholarship at The Santa Cecilia Conservatory. This was interesting to me because listening to opera was part of my upbringing. My mom grew up listening to opera with her dad and she passed this passion on to us. I loved opera, but I couldn’t sing beautifully like my mom. I asked her if any of her children inherited their father’s voice.

She told me that one of her daughters did inherit her father’s voice. Unfortunately, he didn’t want her to follow in his footsteps. She rolled her eyes as she told me that he had said that women opera singers were divas and he didn’t want his daughter to be a diva.

Later on in life, after she and her husband divorced, she said that she need to sfoggare, which in Italian means to unleash or vent. When she turned 70 she started write and she has since written 6 novels. And one of them is called The Diva!

Her story affected me and I can’t stop thinking about her. My blog musings are typically about growing up in a restaurant family. I am never very specific about my role in the family, but after speaking with the Signora, she gave me the courage to sfoggare!

It was a struggle being a female in a male-dominated family. I am not saying women weren’t important in my family, but they had certain roles to play that came from the pre-war mentality of provincial Italy. My father’s first born was a girl (me) while his brothers had first born sons. In this large Italian family consisting of aunts, uncles and numerous cousins all trying to navigate a new American life and running an Italian restaurant, I tended to get lost. They preferred me to be seen and not heard, but I wasn’t the quiet type. I longed to be considered, but I learned quickly that I needed to find other ways to get what I wanted.

I was good in school and it was one way of getting some satisfaction and control. I worked hard to get high grades; I won some awards at school and I studied business in college. But it didn’t really get acknowledged in my family. High grades didn’t make a difference in the restaurant business. What mattered was the time and physical labor that you put into it.

After I graduated, I worked for a year as an accountant in a firm. But when my family opened another restaurant, I went back to the family business to give a hand. I worked as a server and hostess, the typical front of house jobs for a female, but I what I really wanted to do was work behind the scenes. I slowly managed to work in the office and I quietly made accounting changes. Business was my passion and I enjoyed learning about the restaurant business. I analyzed the numbers and learned where to focus my attention. When I married my husband I found a great partner. He appreciated and valued what I could contribute, so we teamed up.

Later in life, we had to deal with the passing of my father, but together my husband and I kept the restaurant going and with some perseverance we managed a successful restaurant for 20 years. In 2011, we made the business decision to close the restaurant and change our career paths. And suddenly, I no longer had the restaurant or my husband to lean on and I had to work on my own.

It took me 50 years to find the courage to use my voice. Sometimes I wonder why at my age I am trying so hard to do something new, but then I think of the Signora writing 6 books when she turned 70! So here I am, the face of 825 MAIN. Even though I can’t sing a note, I am finally using my voice!

See our Olive & Caper Sauce recipe.

Olive & Caper Sauce Recipe

Here’s a pasta recipe that was a family favorite!

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Ingredients:
2 garlic large garlic cloves sliced thin
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh Italian parsley
¼ cup of sliced Kalamata olives or Gaeta Olives
¼ cup of sliced green olives with herbs
¼ cup of sliced green French olives
¼ cup of capers (drained)
¼ cup of toasted pignoli nuts (pine nuts)
¼ cup of golden raisins
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
1 pound of thin spaghetti (either angel hair or capellini pasta)

Procedure:
1. Measure and slice the ingredients and set aside.
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2. Saute garlic in ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil until golden brown.
3. Remove off of burner and immediately add the chopped parsley to stop the browning of the garlic.
4. Toast the pignoli nuts in a small cast iron pan until lightly browned
5. Add pignoli nuts, *olives, capers, raisins and hot pepper flakes to garlic and oil. Heat thru and set aside to cook pasta.
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6. Drain pasta saving a ½ cup of pasta water.
7. Add pasta water to olive and caper sauce.
8. Add pasta to skillet with the olive and caper sauce and heat thru mixing thoroughly.
9. Plate the pasta and pour rest of olive caper sauce on top.

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*you can substitute with your favorite olives. Make sure they are a little bitter, tangy and salty. So delicious with the sweet raisins, the nuttiness of the pignoli and the saltiness of the capers!
Buon Apetitto!

Italian Easter Bread (Casatiello Dolce)

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I just can’t let Easter go by without writing about my family’s Easter tradition of Easter Bread. It is a paschal ritual in my dad’s hometown of Monte di Procida in Italy. The old fashioned way is to start with a mother yeast that everyone makes themselves called “criscito” which is mixed into sweet bread dough that needs to rise for three days and finally sweet fragrant loaves are baked in a wood burning oven. The name of this bread was called “casatiello” aka panettone. But growing up in my large Italian/American family this old tradition turned into a competitive baking contest. In my family, Lent was not only regarded as a Christian event where we fast and give up stuff (never panettone recipes!) but we also 40 days of planning the art of baking panettone (Easter bread).

One year my dad brought us to Italy to experience Easter in Monte di Procida. While we there we made sure to visit our very large family. Every house we visited the matriarch of the house brought us into a warm room specially heated for the revered panetone. We were shown rows and rows of pans filled with rising dough covered under blankets waiting for Holy Saturday to be baked. Now mind you the judging starts even before the bread is baked. Everyone is eagerly watching their breads rise. If it rises too fast that it will be a big flop. If it rises too slow it will be hard as a rock. At twelve years old I thought this was comical as we all peered into all these pans. We were made to look at these pans as if was the latest discovery! It left quite a mark in my memory because I am chuckling as I envision this in my mind. Every household had their own secret recipe. You may ask why all these pans and pans of breads. Every family makes a large one for themselves. And then several smaller ones for each of the children. And let us not forget the fiancés. The mother-in-law has to show off her baking expertise to her future daughter-in-law.

Here in America my whole extended family practiced this tradition. So you can imagine the amount of Easter bread that was made. But what was even funnier is that my father, the chef, made Easter bread and also my mother made her own batch. It ended up being a contest within our own household. My dad’s brothers and their wives also made Easter bread. And guess what? Yup! Our Italian customers and employees got into the act too!! And you can’t leave out Cafe Aurora the Italian Bakery in our town. They also brought in their own bread to add to the collection!! So by Easter Sunday the restaurant was wall to wall Easter Bread.

The competition itself was not a formal competition but was just informal tastings. It was like “Hey Joe, taste my Easter Bread how good it came out!”. And my dad would proudly encourage the competitor to try his too. Let me share with you all a secret. Lean closer! I am going to whisper. I don’t want anyone to hear me. I don’t know if any of you have ever tried their Easter bread. It’s not that good! Oh my!! I can’t believe I actually said it. Actually it’s an acquired taste. It comes in a variety of ways its either really dry and flavorful or it is moist and light. (Most of my family’s panettone/casatiello was dry! I think they drank it with lots of wine to wash it down!) Some are braided with colored eggs. Always with bits of dried fruit throughout. The custom is to eat this bread at the end of their meal with jugs of wine. That year we went to Italy for Easter I witnessed something that we don’t do in America. The Monday after Easter is also a national holiday. It’s called Lunedi in Albis. In Monte di Procida, the townspeople all go out and have picnics to celebrate spring! I remember Lunedi Albis quite vividly! My cousins and I had a picnic in the vineyards. There are no open fields in Monte di Procida only vineyards. Guess what we ate? Yes, that dry casatiello along with hard boiled eggs! But you know what? It was actually a delicious picnic sitting there on the mountain side amidst the grape vines with the sun overhead!

Over the years our competitors have given up the challenge but I continue on. The craziness that I experienced growing up with this informal Panettone/Casatiello competition has rubbed off on me. With no competition I still keep making loaves and loaves of it myself trying to get the perfect recipe. I always try a new recipe every year. I am still trying to find the perfect recipe that everyone can actually enjoy. It’s not Easter without a battle of the Easter Breads even if it just with myself now. Happy Easter everyone! I need to run to put another batch in the oven!

See our Italian Easter Bread (Casatiello Dolce) recipe.