All My Firsts! ‘Chicken Scarpariello Recipe’

 As I reach this new phase of my life with the last of my kids planning her wedding, I wonder how I got here?  I think it all started with a bunch of firsts:

I was the first born American in a huge Italian family.

I was the first to go to school without knowing a word of English.

I was the first in my family to eat canned spaghetti. (I had no choice because it was served at the school cafeteria.  I had to eat it as the  Catholic nun was glaring at me to swallow.  I have to say it was the worst thing I ever had and so sad that mamma sent me to school without a bag lunch.)

I was the first to date a non- Italian ( It was a big revolt in the family over that first!  There was even a family council over this and major discussions with a wooden spoon. Ouch!)

And I ended being the first to marry the non-Italian ( I fought hard and won.  I think all my younger siblings and cousins should grovel at my feet for that.  Because gasp! I broke the Italian seal of approval!)

The first to go to college.

The first to get a job that didn’t involve food. ( I became an accountant)

I was the first grandchild to take my Nonna for a drive in my car. (I drove her over the bridge twice because instead of getting off the ramp I continued back on the bridge. Nonna was wondering where we were going while she held on to her rosary beads.  I lied and told her we had to take a detour while thinking I need to go to confession!)

Getting my car license really opened up my world of firsts.  Because of it, I picked up Mexican take out.  It was the first time I ate Mexican and introduced my mom and siblings to tortillas.

I had my first bagel at the Marist College cafeteria. I never tasted anything so delicious.  Who knew that bread boiled and baked could taste so good!

Not only have I come a long way but I paved the way for the rest of my American born family! When I think of my own children I am proud that I made their childhood a little more normal than mine.  Even what I keep in the refrigerator has changed big time. I go back to one odd memory of growing up. Of course, I didn’t realize it was odd because this is all my brother and I knew!  On Saturday mornings whilst my parents slept my brother and I would slyly raid the fridge. Peering in with our eyes wide open, the fridge was an adventure! While Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon played in the background we grabbed a lemon to share, cutting it in half and poured salt over the it.  We also grabbed the bottle of olives and helped ourselves to a few.  Reaching in further or I should say as I reached in because being the oldest I had the longest reach, I would find glistening in the rear  the red, green and yellow hot cherry peppers. Nick and I would grab forks and pierce a pepper each. If we were lucky there were leftover anchovies. What can I say? Was this weird? Or maybe there were other choices but our palates craved for what we knew I need to ask my children what snack did they sneak? I really do hope I gave them more normal options like bagels and cream cheese! Or maybe tortilla chips!  In honor of my Saturday ritual with my brother, I am sharing our restaurant recipe of Chicken Scarpariello.  It’s a little different than most recipes because we only used boneless chicken breasts. Hope you enjoy the hot cherry peppers as much as my brother and I do! Maybe you can put on Rocky and Bullwinkle and make it complete!

PS  I love hot cherry peppers so much that I make my own every summer!  I pickled them with black peppercorns, bay leaves and peeled garlic this year! Also Scarpariello means shoemaker.  Don’t ask! It makes no sense to me why it’s called that.

 

Chicken Scarpariello

serves 4

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Ingredients:

 

4 Boneless Chicken breasts about a pound

½ cup of flour

Salt pepper

Canola Oil for frying

4 cloves of garlic

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

½  cup of white wine

½ chicken stock

½ cup of butter

4 hot cherry peppers packed in vinegar (slivered with seeds removed)

4 small Yukon potatoes (peeled and sliced in rounds boiled until tender)

 

Procedure:

 

  1. Cut chicken in chunks

  2. Place cut up chicken in a zip lock bag with flour, salt and pepper to taste and shake._DSC0121

  3. Place in a colander and shake off flour_DSC0124

  4. Fry chicken in Canola Oil

  5. Drain chicken on paper towels_DSC0126

  6. Slice garlic and                      _DSC0125

  7. Saute garlic in 2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil until a pale brown_DSC0127

  8. Add wine, chicken stock, and butter and cook on medium heat ( salt and pepper to taste) _DSC0128

  9. Add cooked chicken and potatoes and cook until bubbly.

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    Chicken Scarpariello

  10. You may add a few tablespoons of vinegar that peppers were packed in for extra tartness

  11. My Pickled Hot Cherry Peppers with black peppercorns, bay leaves and peeled garlic!    _DSC0131

Spaghetti and Meatballs (American style vs Italian style)

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     One of our most popular dishes that we served in the restaurant was “Spaghetti and Meatballs”.  A big dish of spaghetti with 2 large meatballs doused with our delicious tomato sauce was a big seller.  Twice a week the chefs would be busy mixing the ground meat in a huge mixer and then rolling 500 meatballs at a time. People loved this dish! Spaghetti and meatballs is a standard Italian dish served at Italian restaurants all over the US.  Notice I said the US.  It is not a typical dish served in Italy. If you go to Italy, you won’t find this dish on restaurant menus and if you do it’s probably in a tourist spot to make the American tourist happy. Italy does have a version of meatballs called polpettes.  But they a very different.  They are usually eaten as a meal itself or in soups.  They are made with different meat from turkey to fish. And they are as small as marbles or as large as a golf ball.  Nothing like the baseball or softball sized American meatballs.

       Polpettes are usually found more at the family table than on a restaurant menu. My grandmother made delicious meatballs that I looked forward to on Sunday dinner with the family. Pellegrino Artusi was a Florentine silk merchant who in his retirement travelled Italy and recorded recipes. He became famous when he published the first regional cookbook, The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well for the home chef in 1891. When he talked about polpettes he said “Non crediate che io abbia la pretensione d’insegnarvi a far le polpette. Questo è un piatto che tutti lo sanno fare cominciando dal ciuco,” which translates, “Don’t think I’m pretentious enough to teach you how to make meatballs. This is a dish that everybody can make, starting with the donkey.” So needless to say, Italian version of meatballs was an incredibly easy dish to make.

       So, you may ask how did those large meatballs doused with tomato sauce over spaghetti evolve from polpettes.  It’s the common story shared by all immigrants traveling to America.  They have to make do with ingredients they can find and afford.

      Four million Italians (mostly from southern Italy) immigrated to America from 1880 to 1920. Because the majority of Italians that came were from Southern Italy their cuisine made a huge mark on the Italian/American culture.  When these poor immigrants came to the US they found that their income increased so that they were able to spend more money on food.  They ended up going from eating meat once a week to eating meat every day! And meat was consumed in much larger quantities.  So, the small moist polpettes made with 50% bread and 50% meat that they enjoyed in Italy changed to larger denser meatballs made with mostly beef.

          I have to tell you as popular as the restaurant meatball was, I preferred my Nonna’s meatballs.  There was a huge difference! Nonna’s meatballs were soft and succulent while the restaurant meatballs were large and dense.   I think it’s because Nonna made polpettes not the Italian/American meatball.  Here are a few secrets to get a truly soft succulent meatball.

  1. Use 50% meat and 50% bread.

  2. Use day old bread soaked in either water or milk.

  3. Overcooking meat for too long gets dry and tough but the bread keeps it moist.

  4. Do not over mix the meatball mixture. Overmixing make a denser meatball

      Now that I have shared the secret to making a perfect meatball the rest is easy.  And this is why Pellegrino Artusi said, “everybody can make, starting with the donkey.” Not only am I going to share my Nonna’s meatball recipe but I will also include a gluten free version, a vegan, and a vegetarian recipe. My Nonna’s recipe includes raisins and pignoli ( very popular additions in Neapolitan cooking). You can omit them if not something that your family may like. The gluten free recipe I developed for my daughter who is on a gluten free diet.  They are also very good but not as light and airy as Nonna’s.  The Gluten free meatballs are dense like the Italian/American version.  Also, some recipes may ask for bread crumbs instead of the soaked bread.  These meatballs will be denser. I also included a vegetarian meatball made with zucchini and a vegan meatball made with eggplant.  In Italy polpette are made with a variety of ingredients.  Enjoy tryin the different versions!


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 Nonna’s Neapolitan Meatballs 

INGREDIENTS:

4 slices bread (2 packed cups’ worth)

2 pounds ground beef or you can use a mix of pork, veal. and beef

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup grated Parmagiano Reggiano

1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

15 turns white pepper

4 large eggs

1/2 cup dried bread crumbs

825 MAIN Marinara Sauce

 

PREPARATION:

1. Heat the oven to 325°F. Put the fresh bread in a bowl, cover it with water, and let it soak for a minute or so. Pour off the water and wring out the bread, then crumble and tear it into tiny pieces,

2. Combine the bread with all the remaining ingredients except the tomato sauce in a medium mixing bowl, adding them in the order they are listed. Add the dried bread crumbs last to adjust for wetness: the mixture should be moist wet, not sloppy wet.

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3. Using a small scoop, scoop and level dropping the meatball evenly on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The meatballs will be firm but still juicy and gently yielding when they’re cooked through. (At this point, you can cool the meatballs and hold them in the refrigerator for as long as a couple of days or freeze them for the future.

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4. Meanwhile, heat the 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate the meatballs comfortably.

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5. Place the meatballs into the pan of sauce and nudge the heat up ever so slightly. Simmer the meatballs for half an hour or so (this isn’t one of those cases where longer is better) so they can soak up some sauce. Keep them there until it’s time to eat.

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 Gluten-Free Meatballs 

Ingredients:

1 ½ pounds of meatloaf mix (veal, pork, and beef chopped meat)

3 eggs

¼ cup of chopped fresh parsley

¼ cup of grated Parmigiana Reggiano cheese

1 clove of garlic grated on the microplane or minced

½ cup of almond meal

Salt and pepper to taste

1 jar of 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce

 

Procedure:

  1. In a bowl mix all the ingredients. Don’t over mix.
  2. Using a small scoop. Scoop and level and place on a baking sheet fitted with parchment paper.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the meatballs. Small scoop makes about 40 meatballs.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate the meatballs comfortably.

 

Vegetarian: Ricotta & Zucchini Balls  

Ingredients:

100% Organic Extra Virgin Olive oil

4 zucchini

1/2 cup ricotta drained

2 eggs

bread crumbs

½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

salt

black pepper

½ cup basil chopped

Preparation:

  1. Wash zucchini and then grate with a grater with large holes then drain or squeeze all the water from zucchini with paper towels.
  2. In a bowl put zucchini, ricotta, parmigiano, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper, basil and beaten eggs then mix.
  3. In the end add breadcrumbs until the mixture is thick enough to form balls.
  4. Scoop the zucchini mixture and either fry in plenty of extra virgin olive oil hot or bake in a 375-degree oven for 16 minutes on an oiled baking sheet.

 

Vegan Eggplant Balls 

 Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant, diced

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 shallot, minced

¼ + 1/8 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1-1 ½ tablespoon(s) extra virgin olive oil

¾ cup whole wheat breadcrumbs (gluten-free if desired), divided

½ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ cup of chopped fresh parsley

 

Procedure:

1.Preheat oven to 400°F.

2.On a large cookie sheet, combine eggplant, garlic, shallot, a pinch of salt, pepper, and olive oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes, until edges are browned. Once eggplant is removed from the oven, lower the temperature to 350°F.

3.In a large food processor (10-cup) combine roasted eggplant mixture with ½ cup of breadcrumbs, and the rest of the spices. Pulse until ingredients are just combined.

4.Scrape down the sides of the food processor and add the other ¼ cup of breadcrumbs. Continue to pulse until mixed. Avoid over-processing, when possible. When complete, the mixture should easily adhere into balls. (Note: Over-processing the eggplant mixture and breadcrumbs can make the mixture extra sticky and you may have difficulty forming balls.)

5.Form the eggplant and breadcrumb mixture into 1- or 2-inch balls, based on personal preference. Per eggplant, you should yield about 12-16 balls, depending on the size of the eggplant and balls.

6.Place balls on a large baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through.

Understanding Olive Oil

Olive oils from around the world

For the past five years, I have been doing seminars for our local farm market.  I concentrate on sharing inside information that I have learned from my passion for food.  This year I decided to investigate olive oils from around the world.  With all this hype on olive oils lately what do we really know about them?

So, let me share how it came to be that I am so passionate about olive oil.   As you probably know by now if you have been following my blog entries, my parents came from Italy to the US in the late 1950’s. So, while growing up we would often go to Italy to visit our relatives.  My dad came from the town of Monte di Procida while my mom was from the island of Ischia.  Both overlooked the bay of Naples.  There is one memorable experience that made a real impact and was the catalyst for my passion for food.  I must have been around 10 years old.  My nonna handed me an empty green bottle and asked me to go to the corner store ‘Rosarios’ to fill up the bottle with olive oil.  My chest filled up with self-importance with this chore.  Never been allowed to walk to ‘Rosarios’ by myself before, I relished this task.  That may be why I paid extra attention to Nonna drizzling the thick green oil over the tomatoes we were going to have for lunch.  I noticed that when she put it back in the cupboard she placed it next to a clear bottle of oil.  I asked nonna why she had 2 bottles of oil.  She explained to me that the clear bottle is used for frying and the green oil is for everything else. That afternoon I took notice on how delicious the tomato salad was.  That taste of olive oil was embedded into my memory.  When we came back to the US I often wondered why we didn’t have that same olive oil.  When I moved out of my parents’ home I was on a mission to find a comparable olive oil.  So, while my friends were all tasting their first beer I was tasting olive oil.

You think I am weird?  Recently I had the occasion to ask my son who went to Italy to visit with his grandmother at the age of 10 years old what he remembers most about that trip. I had been talking to my cousin who resides in Italy and her kids to this day talk about when Josh went to visit.  It was 19 years ago, so I wondered if my son even remembered.  And this is how I know that he is my son.  He said that he still thinks about that delicious tomato and tuna salad that my cousin made.  He still is searching to find that same taste! And I believe it’s the olive oil.

The reason both he and I are so crazed about this olive oil is that it wasn’t until the 1980’s that extra virgin olive oil was even made available in America. In the 1980’s the International Olive Oil Council started sponsoring and promoting research about the healthy “Mediterranean diet.”  This coincided with the Slow Food movement emerging from Turin, emphasizing the European style artisanal approach to crafting food products.  Finally, olive oil was distributed in the U.S. It was successful marketing of olive oil that contributed to the olive boom!  Because of the wide marketing campaign of healthy olive oil, consumption of olive oil worldwide from 1990 to present blew up.  The US consumption increased by 250%.  The United Kingdom increased by 763%. Consumption in Italy Greece and Spain increased minimally because it was always part of their diet. So, Olive Oil business has become a gold mine and everyone wants to get in on it.  So, that’s why you see so many more countries involved in growing olive trees and making oil.

As I have been talking to people and reading up about olive oil, I realized that many Americans although knowledgeable about the health benefits of olive oil, don’t know what a good olive oil is supposed to taste like. For that matter, Americans may not realize that to have health benefits it has to be unrefined extra virgin olive oil.  We have all become so accustomed to the cheaper supermarket big chain olive oils that we have no idea what a good olive oil is even supposed to taste like. Our palates have become accustomed the bad characteristics of Olive Oil as typical. That’s why I have this need to share with you what I have learned about Olive oils and what you may be missing out on!

Good Characteristics of Olive oil are the following:

Fruity, Bitter and pungent (the peppery characteristic you feel at the back of your throat. Olive oil should taste fresh and not heavy and oily.

The bad characteristics are:  Fusty from olives that are gathered in piles.  Musty when olive is stored in humid environment. Sometimes metallic if it comes in contact with prolonged contact with metal during storage. And the most common is rancid.  It has gone bad. Almost like the taste of stale crackers that are made with fat. Olive oil only has a shell life of 2 years.  But once it’s opened you need to use it within a month or two.

   During my seminar, we all tasted olive oils from around the world. So, to understand what we tasted I went over a few things that are important when picking out an olive oil.

There are several factors that impact the taste of olive oils. So, that by understanding what you like will impact what country olive oil you will gravitate to.

  1. variety of olives used
  2. location and soil condition
  3. environmental factors and weather. 2 years ago, Italy had a disease that affected many olive groves.  This past year Spain has been having lots of rain that impacted the olives groves where production was at an all-time low.  You will see a rise in the price of Spanish olive oil.
  4. Olive ripeness. Green olives are bitter while ripe olives are fruity
  5. Timing of the harvest. If you wait too long the olives get too ripe and will bruise causing the olive oil to not taste good.
  6. Length of time between the harvest and pressing. The longer the wait between harvest and pressing the more the olive gets damaged and bruised yielding a terrible olive oil.  That’s why estate olive oil is so much better.  They go directly from the tree to the press.  The bigger national olive oils will collect olives from all over and transport them to a manufacturing plant.  The olives get too ripe and acquire mold.  They are cheaper because it is mass produced but the olive oil is not very good.
  7. The very best oils come from small producers who have complete control over their orchard, the harvesting of the fruit, the pressing of the olives, and the storage and eventual bottling of the product. Ripe olives are easily bruised…
  8. Additionally, the press and the bottling facility must be readily available, ideally on the farm itself. Ripe olives are easily bruised and must be held in small containers before pressing in order to avoid being squeezed by their own weight and begin deterioration. A controlled environment with ultra-sanitary conditions is paramount. The pressing process must be accomplished in the briefest time possible.
  9. Pressing technique. The best oils are pressed within a few hours, and certainly not to exceed 24 hours after the harvest, any delay beyond this time frame has a detrimental effect on the quality of the oil.  The pressing to extract the oil must happen quickly and at a controlled temperature of (ideally) of less than 80 degrees F.
  10. Packaging and storing.
  11. Being a fruit, olives contain natural antioxidants that protect the plant during its lifetime. When the olive tree is very old it contains more of these antioxidants. This is one of the reasons that olive trees are often hundreds of years old and create antioxidant rich products

 

 

Estate olive oils –  are the cream of the crop.  They are produces using olives from a single farm.  The olives are usually handpicked and then pressed and bottles at the estate.  In Italy, they are called DOP.  These olives oils are more expensive.

Blends – two types of blends are either blends from different countries or olives from diverse areas of one country are combines.  The bulk blended oils are the most economical but are still high quality.

Color –

  1. Green comes from unripe olives and are slightly bitter.
  2. Emerald tinged have fruity, grassy and peppery that dominate the food that you use them on.
  3. Golden color is made from ripe olives. Golden olive oil has a milder, smoother buttery taste without bitterness. These are good with foods that you don’t want overshadowed with olive oil taste.

Acidity

To start with, if you purchase quality EVOO the acidity level is already low at no more than .8% (That’s less than 1%) Acidity levels are determined solely by the variety of olive and by production methods. Some olives have a naturally higher acidity level. If they are not harvested with care and quickly processed into olive oil they will have even greater levels. Some on the other hand have lower acidity to start but if they are not harvested and processed properly the levels will increase. This is why olives from the same variety and the same grove can produce different grades of olive oil. If the olives are picked and pressed within 24 hours, as all of the ones in my line are, they will never have acidity levels greater than the required .8%.  If oils are blended, as is done routinely with lower grade and refined olive oil it can produce lower acidity levels and then be passed off as “extra virgin”.

So long as the oil is real EVOO (and many are not even though they claim to be) there is no reason to choose based on acidity. It should be based on taste and what one wants to do with the olive oil

Refined Olive Oils

Only about 30 percent of all olive oil production ends at extracting the oil from the olives. Refining involved using solvents and high heat to neutralize the tastes of the oil. This allows producers to use olives that are not in the best condition, and blend from oils from a wide variety of sources (even countries) because the bad tastes resulting from oxidized olives and the mass production process are chemically removed. When you see “Pure Olive Oil” at the store, or a bottle that says simply “Olive Oil,” “Genuine”, “Light”, “certified”, these are refined.  Refined has no antioxidants! So, they don’t meet the criteria for International Olive Oil healthy diet.

HOW TO TASTE OLIVE OIL

Tasting olive oil straight is the best way to judge its quality. Pour a little in a small glass and warm the glass in one hand, while covering it with the other. Now put your nose into the glass to sense the aromas. Hopefully, it reminds you of things like fresh olives, grass, bananas and apples. Hay, cardboard, vinegar, mud and mustiness are some of the aromas that indicate an olive oil has gone bad.

STORING OLIVE OIL

You can keep unopened olive oil in a cool, dark place for up to two years (high quality olive oil will last longer than one that wasn’t great to begin with).

Once you open the container, the oil begins to degrade much faster. A good rule of thumb is to use it within a few months after opening. Keep the bottle tightly capped and away from heat and direct light. The best strategy is to use olive oil often, and go through it quickly.

Extra virgin olive oil and wine also share the same “enemies:” heat, oxygen and light.  Olive oils have a relatively short shelf life and once the bottles are opened and exposed to oxygen, the oils will naturally begin to break down and lose both their organoleptic and nutritive properties.  Freshness therefore, becomes a huge issue, although older oils can still be excellent cooking oils. Storage after purchase is also important.  If possible, extra virgin olives oils are best stored in a cool, dark place like a cabinet.  Do not store or display your oil on or near your stove or on a window sill.

What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

  1. the oil must come from fresh olives that were milled within 24 hours of their harvest.
  2. it must be extracted by mechanical means, not from heat or chemicals. It’s called unrefined.

3.They must not be treated chemically in any way.

  1. Extra virgin oil is, in fact, fresh olive juice.

5.Being a fruit, olives contain natural antioxidants that protect the plant during its lifetime. When the olive tree is very old it contains more of these antioxidants. This is one of the reasons that olive trees are often hundreds of years old and create antioxidant rich products.

Extra-virgin olive oil (cold pressed) is the best. 

          But how do we know if it is the real thing and not a fraud olive oil?

7 Tips for Recognizing Real Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1.Do not buy light olive oil or a blend; it isn’t virgin quality.

  1. When extra virgin olive oil costs less than $10 a liter it may not be real.
  2. Only buy oils in dark bottles, as this protects the oil from oxidation.
  3. Look for a seal from the International Olive Oil Council (IOC)
  4. Look for a harvesting date on the label.
  5. Olive oil can get old and rancid. A simple test for a “good” olive oil is to taste a little on a spoon. Not rancid, real olive oil will have a fruity taste in the front of your mouth and a peppery taste in the back of your mouth.
  6. How about the fridge test as stated by Dr Oz? He said that when you put a real extra-virgin olive oil in the refrigerator, it will become thick and cloudy as it cools completely. That is not a for sure test (some oils made from high-wax olive varieties will even solidify) according to a Fridge Test

Olive Oils from Around the World  

When buying olive oil, you’ll see varieties from all over the world.  Most of the world’s supply are grown in Spain, Italy and Greece.  Traditionally olive trees have been located in countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea because they need hot summers and mild winters. But now other countries are participating in the production of Olive Oil which includes other oils that we will be trying from California, France, Turkey and even Israel!

HOW TO TASTE OLIVE OIL

Tasting olive oil straight is the best way to judge its quality. Pour a little in a small glass and warm the glass in one hand, while covering it with the other. Now put your nose into the glass to sense the aromas. Hopefully, it reminds you of things like fresh olives, grass, bananas and apples. Hay, cardboard, vinegar, mud and mustiness are some of the aromas that indicate an olive oil has gone bad.

The following Extra Virgin Olive Oils are Available at Adams Fairacre Farms

Turkey – Kristal –

  1. ($16.63 per quart 25 fl oz. is 12.99 Turkey)
  2. Rich and Intense or smooth and fresh depending on olives used. We are tasting the smooth and fresh
  3. Major producer of olive oil having a long history of growing olive trees

California, US –  California Olive

  1. ($18.91 per quart $9.99 for 16.9 fl ounce)
  2. oil Blend – This all-American pick wowed testers with its smooth, subtle taste—think gentle apple notes with a hint of spice.
  3. Californian olive oil is light in color and flavor, with a bit of a fruity taste.
  4. For cooking!
  5. California heads in production in the US with their 250 different types of olives.
  6. Texas, Florida and Oregon also have entered the market.

Sicily Italy –  Partanna 100% organic      

  1. ($25.59 per quart $19.99 for 25 fl ounce)
  2. This buttery, sometimes it is unfiltered selection
  3. Use it over grilled vegetables and fish.
  4. Modest price for drizzling!
  5. Adams Private Label Olive oil is from Sicily

Israel – Sindyanna of Galilee

  1. ($30.09 per quart 17 oz is $15.99)
  2. fruity blend with green apple and fresh thyme notes
  3. Israel along with Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are actively increasing their olive growing.

Greece –  Gaea Sitia (estate grown) Green and fruity Gold award in 2016 NY International Olive Oil Competition

  1. ($30.10 per quart $15.99 17 fluid ounce)
  2. Greek olive oil packs a strong flavor and aroma and tends to be green.
  3. Greece produces about 13 percent of the world’s olive supply.
  4. History has it that Greece is the place of origin for olive oil because the olive and the tree have a large part in Greek mythology and the olive branch was given to winners at the Olympic games. Although Spain and Italy have surpassed production.

Spain – Pio del Ramo – mild- arbequina or intense Picual or balanced blend        Tasting the Picual today!

  1. ($35.95 per quart – 16.9 fl oz is 18.99)
  2. Spanish olive oil is typically golden yellow with a fruity, nutty flavor.
    1. Spain produces about 45 percent of the world’s olive supply. Largest producer and volume is heavily directed toward export. They export in barrels where Italy is primarily bottled.

Northern Italy – Lucini Premium extra virgin olive oil.  Gold award in the 2016 NY international Olive Oil Competition.

  1. ($37.63 per quart $19.99 for 17 fluid oz)
  2. They have 20 regions that they grow loves along with the island of Sardinia and Sicily.
  3. Italian olive oil is often dark green and has an herbal aroma and a grassy flavor.
  4. Italy grows about 20 percent of the world’s olives. 2nd largest producer of olive oil.

France – Le Chateau d’Estoublon single variety olives

  1. ($85.16 per qt $17.99 for 6.76 fl oz)
  2. French olive oil is typically pale in color and has a milder flavor.
  3. While French production of olive oil are very small by world standards they are very proud of their quality and distinctive taste.

 

White Bean (Cannellini) Soup

( Easy and quick to make and so delicious!!)

Ingredients

1 can of cannellini beans

½ cup of 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce

2 bay leaves

2-3 shallots

a clove of garlic (crushed with the palm of your hand)

1 quart of vegetable stock or chicken stock

1 piece of Parmigiana cheese rind

 Extra virgin olive oil

Chopped parsley

 

Procedure 

  1. Chop the shallots in small chunks, not too fine.
  2. Put in a pot the shallots, garlic, bay leaves, 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce, Parmigiana cheese rind, and beans with the stock
  3. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 mins.
  4. Add salt to taste if the stock is unsalted
  5. Serve with a spiral of olive oil and some chopped parsley.

Chiacchiere al Forno – a Carnevale Neapolitan Cookie

chiacchierri  I had a seminar this past weekend and I made an Italian cookie that is usually made to celebrate Carnevale (Mardi Gras, fat Tuesday).  The cookies are usually fried or baked and served with a cup of chocolate sauce to dip into.  For convenience of serving this as part of the cooking seminar I dipped the cookies in semi-sweet chocolate.  I didn’t realize these cookies were going to be such a hit and did not give out the recipe at the seminar.  So many people asked for the recipe so here it is!! I think what makes these cookies so tasty and unusual is the lemon zest and the marsala wine.  Typical of Neapolitan baking.  In the next couple of weeks I promise I will share with you on my blog the last 3 seminars with recipes and lots of information!  Talk to you all soon.  Vivi con gusto!

 

Chiaccheri al Forno

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups of flour

½ cup of superfine sugar ( if you don’t have superfine sugar you can pulse the sugar in a food processor but don’t overdo or it will turn to powdered sugar)

2 ounces of softened butter ( half a stick of butter)

4 eggs

4 tablespoons of Marsala Wine

Zest of  2 whole lemons ( make sure when you grate it that you don’t get the white part – it’s the bitter part)

1 tbs of vanilla

¼ tsp of baking soda

1/4 tsp of salt

Melted semi sweet dark chocolate for dipping – I add a little shortening to thin it out

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Combine all the ingredients except for chocolate in a mixer and mix until all combined. The dough will be sticky.
  3. Put dough on a flour surface and knead and keep adding flour until it’s a smooth non-sticky consistence.
  4. Roll out dough until it’s an 1/8 of an inch.
  5. Cut with a pizza cutter into rectangles. Then indent the middle of the rectangle in one or two cuts.
  6. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, making sure you space the chiarccheri so they don’t over lap.
  7. Bake in oven until they have a golden color – about 10 minutes
  8. Dip the edges in melted chocolate

Ham and Cheese on Scooped Out Italian!

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This holiday season I bumped into a longtime customer of ours while shopping.  We were on a long line together at Toys R Us and chatted as we waited patiently.  Patience is a great virtue to have during the holiday rush. But I was happy to have this time with her because she shared her very first memory of the restaurant. As she spoke she brought me back in time.  She woke up those old memories of yester year when the restaurant was located in downtown Poughkeepsie.  I remember the holiday season being so much fun.  Downtown Poughkeepsie was hopping with shoppers and workers alike.  Everyone greeted each other on the side walk with reciprocated Merry Christmas’ and Happy Hanukkahs. People carrying fancy packages, coming into the restaurant for a quick dinner all knew each other.  I remembered all the happy faces with big smiles as my dad and uncles greeted each and every customer by name. Downtown was so festive!  It wasn’t just the store fronts beautifully decorated! Even the people were beautifully dressed!  The best department stores were located on Main Street.  There was Schwartz and Co.  were all the men purchased the finest suits.  It was the Up To Date where I learned all about fashion. And let us not forget Santa! The real Santa was at the Luckey Platts!  And there was a jewelry store with beautiful gemstones gleaming in the windows on every block.   My mom introduced me to perfume. Every Christmas I received ‘Up To Dates’ newest scent.  Poughkeepsie was like a mini NYC 5th Avenue!

For the first five years, we lived above the restaurant so I was right in bird’s eye view of downtown Poughkeepsie.  It was electric! The streets were full of people shouting to each other with joyous voices.  The restaurant lunch crowd was mostly business people while at dinner they all brought their families. Back then having a Martini or Manhattan at lunch was common.  There was one lawyer who didn’t drink would order a water in a martini glass with an olive just to be part of the “Martini Lunch Clique”.   Owning a restaurant sometimes makes you privy to people’s secrets.  You would think I saw some not so nice things but I have to say those were rare.  It was all good experiences back then.  All I remember is my dad and mom being so happy.  My dad’s smile was so big.  I think his smile must have been contagious because everyone that came into the restaurant had that same smile when greeting my dad.  How I loved those days!

I had to shake my head a little to bring me back to the present as the woman continued talking.   She had a familiar smile on her face as she recalled her very first introduction to the restaurant.  Back in 1970 when she was pregnant with her first child, she and her husband travelled from Westchester to interview for a job at law firm in downtown Poughkeepsie across the street from the restaurant.  As she recounted that she had been waiting in the car for her husband, I stood there starry eyed as I imagined that they had parked in the large municipal lot behind the restaurant. The very lot that I could see from out the window of our apartment. As part of the interview process the firm’s partners brought her husband to have lunch at our restaurant.  While she was laughing as she told me her story, I was thinking, “Goodness gracious!  She must have been starving while waiting for her husband!” When her husband got back to the car he explained that they brought him to an Italian Restaurant.  The menu was full of the most delicious Italian entrees.  The woman said that her mouth was watering as he described the entrees.  But what shocked the husband was that everyone at his table did not order Italian food! To his surprise, they all ordered grilled ham and cheese on scooped out Italian bread.  As I looked at her big smile as she finished her story my heart warmed because I saw my father’s smile in her.  It never occurred to me how weird it must have been that we served Grilled Ham and Cheese at our Italian restaurant. I thought it was normal that dozens of plates of Grilled Ham and Cheese flew out of our kitchen.  Lunch was served fast to accommodate the workers!  I can still hear the wait staff ordering Grilled Ham and Cheese on scooped out Italian.  I guess from an outsider it really was weird for Italians to be serving Ham and Cheese but not in Downtown Poughkeepsie!

So, as we start a New Year I want to leave you with a memory of the years gone by.  I wonder why an ordinary Grilled Ham Cheese was so special back then.  But maybe it was because the smiles were contagious! Everyone smiled!  So, I am making my New Year’s resolution this year to smile more and I hope all of you will too!  I bet our smiles will be contagious and we will make memories out of the ordinary!

 

                       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._DSC0090

  3. Scoop out the soft middle.                              _DSC0092

  4. Place 2 slices of boiled ham on each slice of bread. And 2 slices of mozzarella._DSC0095

  5. Lightly drizzle extra virgin olive oil.         _DSC0100

  6. Lightly sprinkle paprika.           _DSC0101

  7. Bake for 12 minutes until the cheese is melted and the bread is crisp.  _DSC0104

  8. 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

2016-09-02-19-19-59The 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!


                 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 sheets2016-09-02-18-27-11
  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.2016-09-02-18-47-25
  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.2016-09-02-18-53-59
  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!2016-09-02-18-24-55
  11. Spoon bread crumb mixture onto clams. careful not to pack it down.  It should be fluffy!2016-09-02-19-06-45
  12.  Drizzle with  a little extra virgin olive oil and bake in 350 degree oven for 15 minutes and its ready to eat!2016-09-02-19-18-24

  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

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!


 

Spaghetti ala Putanesca

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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.

Ingredients: Serves 2

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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.2016-08-31 17.22.21

3. Add the sliced cherry tomatoes. Tomatoes must be fully ripened into a bright red. Cook on medium heat until heated through.2016-08-31 17.25.18

      4. Cook pasta to your liking and add to skillet.2016-08-31 18.26.10
5. Also add a ladle of pasta water.
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6. Add chopped parsley and a pinch of oregano2016-08-31 18.27.50
                                                  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!
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Here’s a pasta recipe that was a family favorite!

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Olive & Caper Sauce

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.DSC_1080
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. DSC_1083
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. DSC_1091

*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)

DSC_0113 (1)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!

Italian Easter Bread (Casatiello Dolce)

    Ingredients:
    3-3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
    2/3 cup sugar
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
    1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
    1 teaspoon of dry vanilla
    1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
    3 large eggs, room temperature
    ¼ cup lukewarm water
    1/3 cup of orange juice
    1 tablespoon warm honey
    2 oz of Strega Liquor
    11-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter (10-1/2 tablespoons softened and cut into tablespoons; 1 tablespoon chilled)
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    Preparation:
    1. In the bowl of the stand mixer, mix the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, lemon zest, vanilla and cinnamon at low speed.
    2. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, 1/4 cup lukewarm water, 1/3 cup warm orange juice and honey.
    3. While the mixer runs at low speed, pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients. Increase speed to medium-low and continue mixing.
    4. Add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing completely before adding each. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. DSC_0107 (1)
    5. Place the dough in the large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a cold oven with the door closed for about 12 to 15 hours, until the dough is nearly tripled in volume.DSC_0108DSC_0110 (1)
    Rub your hands with flour, sprinkle the top of the dough lightly with some flour, and turn out onto a floured board. Sprinkle a little more flour onto the dough. Divide in half
    6. Prepare 2 small pans with a high edge. Line with parchment paper.
    7. Fold the edges of the dough into the center and place seam side down into the prepared pans. Cover with a damp tea towel (not terry cloth) and let rise in a draft-free spot at room temperature about 3 to 5 hours, until dough is just above the top of the mold. DSC_0111
    8. Place the rack in the lower third (closer to the bottom than the middle) of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. (If the dough is too high in the oven, the top will brown before the middle is cooked, resulting in a burned top crust.)
    9. Use a serrated knife to score and X across the entire surface of the dough. Place 1/2 tablespoon chilled butter in the center of the X in each dough.
    10. Bake in the preheated oven about 45 minutes to an hour, until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out slightly moist but not wet or doughy. To keep the Easter bread from getting too dark I put a piece of parchment over each loaf and then remove the last 15 minutes.
    11. After its cooled you can frost with a meringue and sprinkles. Or you can make a glaze heating anisette with sugar and then glazing with sprinkles. Or plain with just some powdered sugar.
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    Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!
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