“Mornings were the best part of the day! We got to go to work with my mom! My brother and I couldn’t eat breakfast fast enough to get ready! Sitting by the bathroom door we patiently watched my mom put on her lipstick. I loved the sound she made after carefully sliding the lipstick around her lips, pursing her lips together. That pop sound signaled, “Let’s go!”
Working was going down to “the restaurant” to help set up all the tables for lunch. While my brother and I carefully placed the paper placemats at each place setting, my mom methodically placed the silverware in their proper spots. Watching her balance all those butter dishes I marveled at how she tossed the plates like Frisbees landing perfectly over the butter knives! I secretly hoped that one day my mom would let me set up the tables all by myself.
Finally after setting up all those tables we got our much anticipated reward! We followed my mom into the kitchen where she pulled out two little cans of tomato juice out of the refrigerator. As we continued to follow her to the salad pantry where she lifted up the gleaming stainless steel top to pull out a lemon cutting it into perfect wedges we caught a glimpse of my dad and his brothers busy at work! My brother and I stood very quietly as we didn’t want to distract them from their work. The restaurant kitchen was sacred! Grabbing 2 small glasses, my mom had us sit at a table adjacent to the bar. As we slid into the booth my brother and I gleefully opened up those little cans of tomato juice pouring it into little glasses and squeezing wedges of lemon into them! I can still remember the taste of that tomato juice! To this day no tomato juice has ever compared to what we sipped on back then in “the restaurant” sitting next to my mom after a productive morning!” My brother and I felt great satisfaction knowing that we too did our share in “the restaurant”!
After the lunch crowd my mom would come upstairs to the apartments. As she climbed up the steps we heard the faint jingling of coins. My brother and I would jump up with joy running to get hugs!! As mom sat down at the kitchen table with her two sisters to compare notes of what the day brought she would pull out wads of dollars from her uniform pockets dividing it out equally between the three of them. My brother, my cousins, and I would often sit quietly near watching this daily ritual. Sharing was so easy between the sisters. While my mom worked the sisters would take care of the children. They were all in it together.
It didn’t happen every time but sometimes my mom would scoop up her change and my eyes would widen as she poured her fist full of change into my cupped hands. I was the oldest and I was entrusted with the important task of dividing the change amongst all the children. As soon as the kids observed this transaction everyone ran to get the piggy banks. This next part I remember quite vividly. I am almost blushing as I think back. Although I counted out the coins evenly I kept the shiny silver ones for myself while my younger brother and cousins got the brown coins. Placing the coins in our piggy banks my coins kerplinked while everyone else’s coins kerplunked!”
My brother and I huddled together by the window of our apartment and quietly listened amidst the sounds of the clinging and the clanging of dishes, pots and pans for that beautiful melodic song. And then like a ray of sunshine that burst of song penetrated upwards through the skylights. Up, up, up, through the air, through the window of where we sat, that voice….those words…that beautiful melody squeezed us like a warm mother’s embrace. “I am orderrrriiiinnnggg!”.
You see in 1961 my parents and their siblings opened up a restaurant. We lived in an apartment above the restaurant. Those first few years were hard for my brother and I as we adjusted to restaurant life. Although we missed my mom as she worked long hours alongside my dad, the sound of her voice was music to our ears and we took comfort. Hours were spent by the window listening and hoping to hear her voice singing out those beautiful words! “I am orderrriiinnnng!” That was the phrase the wait-staff used, to yell out customers’ orders to the chefs in the kitchen. Of course my mom’s distinct soprano voice was a great asset in the noisy busy kitchen of “the restaurant”.
That is the first vivid memory I have of ”the restaurant”. I thought that I would start off 2015 by going back…. For my 2015 New Year’s Resolution I am going to share with you “the restaurant” recipes enhanced by the stories. Happy New Year!!!
This past weekend at a seminar I found myself trying to explain what exactly is a caper. These little pungent Mediteranean capers come from the bud of blossoming bushes. I actually had the pleasure of seeing caper bushes. It was many years ago when my brother and I visited our grandparents at their home town on the island of Ischia. They took us for a leisurely walk through town and we visited the Castello Aragonese, a medieval castle built on volcanic rock. As we walked up to the castle, clinging to the cracked walls and cliffs were these unusual and attractive ornamental shrubs. They were thriving in the sunny hot dry climate of Ischia. As you can see from the picture the castle is nestled on volcanic rock in the middle of the sea. So these caper shrubs are evidently salt tolerant as well. My Nonno (grandfather) pointed out the capers on the shrubs. The bushy plant had a thick cluster of thorny branches and fleshy, egg shaped leaves. They were as high as five feet in some places, but most were sprawled out over rocks and soil.
Nonno explained that from April to June, the caper shrub’s tiny buds flower into large, sweet-scented, pink blooms clustered with long, violet stamens. The plants harvested for capers, however, rarely blossom. Instead, workers endure hot sun, sharp thorns and rugged terrain throughout the summer to pick the precious buds as they ripen. It was a beautiful walk as we gazed out to sea. My Nonno walked ahead explaining all the sites while my Nonna (grandmother) ambled behind slowly carrying her large purse under her arm. Nick and I found our Italian grandparents amusing. At one point it started sprinkling as was common in the afternoons in Ischia, a sun shower. Nonno slowed down and turned to ask my Nonna if she was ok. In his tongue in cheek manner he just shook his head as he found Nonna pulling out a clear plastic rain bonnet for her head and a sweater for her shoulders out of that large white purse of hers. My brother and I were hysterically laughing not just at my Nonna but at Nonno’s reaction. What a special caper memory. I think of them whenever I use capers in my cooking.
Capers are enhanced enhanced by a pickling process fundamental to their cultivation, their tart and briny flavors enrich sauces, spreads and garnishes. Capers are a staple in the Italian kitchen. The tiny, piquant buds are enjoyed from region to region, from the north to the south. In Sicily capers are served in caponata, a summer side dish in which their saline bite cuts through the rich taste of tender, slow-cooked eggplant. In Naples they adorn spaghetti alla puttanesca, one of the sauces I made at the seminar where the capers are combined with tomatoes, olives and anchovies in a pasta fredda to create a light yet assertive sauce. The tangy orbs are often sprinkled over pizza, pasta, and fish dishes as a flavorful garnish, and they appear in a variety of sauces.
Most capers come from wild plants, though in Spain and Italy—the two largest producers—they are cultivated. Sicily and the Aeolian island of Salina produce the majority of Italy’s capers. The best, though, come from Pantelleria. On this tiny island, halfway to Tunisia, volcanic soil and the heat of an intense Mediterranean sun create ideal growing conditions. The berries are also picked, and both are pickled for use as a seasoning and garnish. The bud, or caper, is pickled in salt and vinegar brine, then sold in vinegar or packed in salt. The berry—the larger, plump, mature fruit of the plant—resembles a green grape with faint, white stripes and, like olives, is served in pastas, salads or even as a garnish in martinis. When choosing capers, look for dark green buds packed tightly in sea salt, because those submerged in vinegar lack the subtle, natural taste of the salted ones. The smaller buds have a more delicate flavor while the larger ones have less taste and could be frauds—sometimes the similar-looking buds of the nasturtium plant are passed off as capers. The French term nonpareil is commonly used to denote the smallest buds; surfines are the next largest. True Italian capers, though, are sorted by millimeter with mechanized screens. They range from 7 millimeters to 16 millimeters. Unfortunately in stores their size is not often marked. Be sure to look for buds not larger than a raisin. If using salted capers, soak them for five to ten minutes and drain to remove excess salt. Those in vinegar only require rinsing.
825 MAIN Marinara and Pizza Margherita Sauces from Poughkeepsie, NY
Delverde Pasta from Abruzzo region – pure waters of the Verde river – Majella National Park on the Adriatic side. Bronze die cut pasta. This is not an artisanal pasta although it is bronze cut. The cost is less compared to an artisanal bronze cut pasta. But compared to the Teflon cut pastas Delverede Pasta is more expensive. Bronze cut pastas are generally more expensive because of the labor costs to make it. Cooking time 11 minutes.
Pastificio Artigiano Cav. Giuseppe Cocco Artisanal bronze cut pasta. All the ingredients in Giuseppe Cocco’s pasta are genuine. Made in Rara S. Martino, Abruzzi, Italy. The pasta is characterized by its coarse appearance, typical of bronze die extrusion, and when cooked has a firm and elastic consistency, with excellent resilience. They also use the water from the Verde River. These fully manual and traditional methods require more time and space; hence the small production quantity. The traditional pasta taste and flavor are guaranteed. More labor intensive pasta requires a higher price point. Cooking time 18 minutes.
Pastifficio Riscossa – made in Bari, Italy. Teflon cut pasta. Bright yellow smooth to the touch pasta. Requires less drying time after it is made, therefore companies are able to mass produce much more quickly. Mass production less labor intensive yields are less expensive product. Teflon cut pasta is much cheaper than bronze cut pasta.
La Bella Pasta from Kingston, NY. Fresh pasta made from semolina flour and eggs. Much more delicate pasta requires less cooking time. Only 2-4 minutes.
How to eat spaghetti?
Don’t cut it with knife and fork
Don’t slurp it
Don’t twirl it so there is so much on the fork that it doesn’t fit in mouth
Pick up a few strands and twirl with the fork resting on the side of a pasta bowl with a rim.
Or: if you have a flat plate or a deep bowl with no sides use a spoon and twirl the spaghetti inside the spoon picking up just a few strands of spaghetti
What types of pasta are there?
Teflon cut – smooth and shiny and the color is amber because it is a quicker drying time at higher temperatures. All American made pasta is Teflon cut. Sauce tends to slide off of shiny smooth pasta.
Bronze cut (cut refers to the die or mold) – rougher and more porous, The color is much lighter yielding a pale yellow color. It is cooked at low temperature and longer drying time which maintains the aroma and flavor of the wheat. The low temperature also maintains the wheat nutritional value as well as the wheat protein. Bronze cut pasta allows the sauce to cling to it.
Fresh pasta – has a delicate texture. Most of the fresh pastas are made with eggs. It requires half the time of dry pasta. Its delicate texture is best with light butter sauces and herbs or a light tomato sauce. While dry pasta can handle a heartier sauce or put into soups and easier baked.
What are the ingredients?
dry pasta is made of durum wheat ( semolina durum) salt and water. The most important quality of durum wheat is that it contains more protein than common wheat. It is important to produce high quality pasta – a pasta that remains firm or al dente when cooked. The grinding of durum wheat produces a coarse flour called semolina. 1967 a law was passed in Italy that required only durum wheat to be used in making all dried pasta. Dry pasta is prevalent in southern Italy because of the climate. The mild sea breeze and hot winds from the Vesuvious was perfect for drying the pasta without getting moldy. Durum wheat is grown in many regions of the world ..including Mediterranean countries, north America, Russia and Argentina. In Italy it grows mostly in the southern regions – mostly notably in Puglia which produces the finest pasta in the world.
fresh pasta is made of from eggs and “00” high-gluten flour. Machine rolled and hand cut is better because sauce sticks better and is absorbed by the pasta to the hand cut pasta versus the machine cut. Some fresh cut pasta is also made without eggs.
How to cook Pasta?
1 gallon of water per pound of pasta. Put on high heat. Once torolling boil add 2 tablespoons of sea salt. Add pasta all at once. Separate pasta before it comes to a boil again with a fork. Keep it moving so it doesn’t stick. Test it 3 minutes after it comes back to a boil for fresh pasta and after 5 minutes for dry pasta. Test it if it is to your liking. It should be just slightly hard to the teeth – “al dente”. Strain quickly in a colander and put in bowl…without loosing all the water. Not too dry. Better yet use fork or tongs and pull out of water. Or use a strainer that is part of a spaghetti pot.
After cooking a good pasta should look moist not gummy. Cooking in too little water makes a gummy pasta.
Transfer pasta to a bowl quickly and add some sauce stir coating, all the pasta. Don’t douse the pasta. Just moisten with the sauce and then a ladle on top for presentation.
How to serve it.
Italians serve it as a 2 oz portion while Americans serve it as a 4 oz portion. Italians is served as a first course while Americans serve it as a main course. Italians eat it everyday sometimes twice a day.
The Pasta War
Controversy began in 1975 between the USA and European Econimic Community EEC subsidized exports of pasta to get the price down so it can compete with American pasta companies. Because Durum wheat was so much higher priced than the regular flour American were using to make pasta . High tariffs were issued making the Italian pasta more expensive. But then in turn the Europeans issued high tariffs on American lemons and walnuts. But EEC continues to subsidize exported pasta to make it more affordable.
“Fare la Scarpetta”
Fare la scarpetta is a phrase in the Italian language that’s close to the heart of everyone who has enjoyed a delicious plate of pasta with sauce. Meaning “make the little shoe,” it refers to the small piece of bread used to mop up the last of the sauce on your plate.
Please enjoys today’s 825 MAIN Sauces with the pasta and be sure to “Fare la Scarpetta”!
Making tomato sauce is easy enough but finding the perfect ingredients is what makes it special. This week my husband and I went searching for basil to put in our next 825 MAIN tomato Sauce batch. We want to support Hudson Valley farms. Our search this past week was for basil. Our first stop was to Frank Sorbello’s Farm in Highland, NY. We found acres and acres of crops and acres and acres of greenhouses. Frank Sorbello showed us around. I was surprised to find that Frank doesn’t grow his basil in the greenhouses. He said basil doesn’t do well in greenhouses. It needs full sun and does not like the cold. So it is a very short season. He didn’t have a good crop this year with all the heavy rain. He didn’t have any basil to harvest for us. Frank lost 2 crops from the heavy rains in June and the heavy rain in July. The basil leaves had turned yellow and that is a big turn off to the produce buyers. He said as long as the weather keeps up he will have basil to harvest in September. Frank was proud to tell us that he grows his basil in black soil brought in from a river bank. The growing season for basil in the Hudson Valley is June to September. Gosh! Who knew! I grow basil in my garden and I did notice the yellow leaves but I still continue to use it. I didn’t realize that it has to be perfect to sell at stores. Frank had lots of other crops. But I had to wonder how much this farmer economically suffred when 2 crops of acres of basil were lost this summer due to the weather. All that work and money lost to the weather! Basil is so temperamental!
Our next stop was to Continental Organics. Continental Organics is a sustainable agriculture company located on a former dairy farm in the Hudson Valley town of New Windsor, New York. They produce natural and organic food in a closed-loop micro environment comprised of indoor high tech RAS aquaponics equipment and restored traditional organic fields. They grow the basil using hydroponic methods. I had no idea what Jim and I were in for. Whenever I think of hydroponic all I think of is bland perfectly sized tomatoes. We were pleasantly surprised. The tomato plants were thriving . The basil was beautiful. As I looked on in the climate controlled greenhouses with the beautiful greens I thought of Frank Sorbello. This poor farmer worked so hard and lost 2 crops to his short lived season for basil. Continental Organics greenhouses were thriving. They used all the space including the rooftop of their building. It was amazing!
I have to make a decision. I do want to support Frank and his traditional farming methods. There is a certain feel to traditional farming of our land as I remembered Frank’s well weathered face. I want to support the traditional farmer. But then there is Keith, a disabled veteran, who wants to sustain the economic viability of farm operations and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole. Continental Organics is a disabled veteran company, which warms my heart as well. I think I would like to use both, Frank in the short months of summer and Keith the rest of the year.
825 MAIN Marinara is learning so much from Eataly about olive oils!
I have been on a quest to learn more about the olive oil that I put in the 825 MAIN Marinara. I know what I like and what I don’t like. I needed to find out why so as to know what to use in my product. I have been on a whirlwind of tasting olive oils. I must have tasted about 30 so far from all different regions even ones from Texas. All this tasting that I have done didn’t give me the answer I was looking for. What makes a good olive oil? So I signed my husband and I for a class at La Scuola di Eataly where Lydia Bastianich is the dean. We were both going to get a better understanding of the world of olive oil.
The Flatiron Building
So we arrived to the Flatiron district of NYC to find Eataly. The beautiful Flatiron building points us to Eataly. The Flatiron was built in 1909 and was once the tallest building in NY designed by Chicago’s Daniel Burnham as a vertical Renaissance palazzo with Beaux-Arts styling. In 2009 an Italian real estate company from Rome bought the building. Hmm…how apropos!
The first Eataly originated in Turin, Italy in 2007 and became a fast growing chain. Eataly in NYC is the largest artisanal Italian food and wine marketplace in the world. Mario Batali partnered up with Lydia and Joe Bastianich to open up this extraordinary marketplace. It was so busy when we got there on a Saturday. It was overwhelming and so exciting to be amongst all this wonderful food. It was like a condensed outdoor market you would find in any Italian city. At this point I think there was more people jam packed in here than all of Italy.
It was like a condensed outdoor market you would find in any Italian city. At this point I think there was more people jam packed in here than all of Italy
Prosciutto, salami and sausage hanging everywhere!
When were finally pointed to La Scuola we were pleasantly surprised to see perfectly placed desks in a beautiful kitchen. All the desks were set with brown paper placemats with Eataly stamped glasses and a big basket of artisanal Italian bread. My husband and I were in heaven. It was going to be a very pleasant adventure with our instructors, Nicholas Coleman and Chef Dave Pasternack.
Aren’t those desks so adorable?
I am going to give you a super condensed version of what we learned. My husband and I considered ourselves somewhat knowledgeable on olive oils. We found out we don’t know anything! I have listed some of what we learned.
We tried 4 olive oils from Italy from Liguria, Lazio, Tuscany, and Sicily
1. The only olive oil one should buy is extra virgin olive oil. Anything that uses any other word before olive oil is substandard. Also there is no use in buying organic olive oil. It is one of the least pesticide ridden fruit.
2. An olive oil in clear glass or plastic is a big no no!! The taste of plastic compromises the olive oil. Clear glass speeds up the spoilage of the olive oil. Good olive oil containers are dark glass or tin containers. Although some good olive oils are packaged in clear glass to market to the Americans. Americans like to see what they buy. Ugh! Let’s boycott clear glass olive oils! Spread the word! We Americans are educated and know what’s best. Well now I do after this class!
La Scuola di Eatlay with Nicholas Coleman and Chef Pasternack
3. Don’t buy olive oils where the label reads “Product of Italy” with no mention of the Olive cultivator or a region specified.
4. Olive oil is regarded as fresh fruit juice. And is to be treated as such. It spoils. It does not age as fine wine. No wonder as much as I search for that olive oil taste that I experienced in Italy, I haven’t been able to find it here on the east coast of America. What I was tasting was fresh squeezed olive oil. The fresher the oil the greener it is. And I will never find it unless I go to Puglia and drink from a spout of freshly milled Olive oil!
5. When our recipes call for extra virgin olive oil it is a generic term. In reality olive oil varies from country to country, region to region, even year to year from the same olive grove. Even the way the olives are harvested is important to the taste. The best olive oils are hand harvested and thus very expensive. I figured out that taste that I absolutely can’t stand in certain olive oils. I thought it may be the type of olive or the region. I learned what that taste is. The cheaper olive oils are harvested by machines so even the over ripe and rotten olives are gathered. So the quantity and speed of the olives harvested affects the taste and the price of the olive oils.
This is an olive oil spec. It lists where the olive oil is grown, what kind of olives were used, who the cultivator is,when they were cultivated, what the acid content to just name a few specs.
6. So one of the most interesting thing that we learned was the peppery taste in olive oils. When you taste the olive oil straight from the bottle (which is a ritual in our family with a fresh loaf of Italian bread) that peppery taste that is evident in better olive oils. We thought it tasted hot and sometimes it catches in the back of your throat and makes you cough. Well the more peppery taste you get the higher the antioxidants.
7. Even the pits are crushed when making olive oil!
8. Lastly, there are different uses for extra virgin olive oils. The milder ones are used for delicate foods like fish while the robust ones are used for tomato sauces.
9. I almost forgot. One little bit of trivia he shared. Truffle olive oil is a scam. It is synthetic truffle flavor. Truffles have water in them and water and oil don’t mix.
Pesce Crudo del Giorno
So all in all we enjoyed ourselves immensely. While we educated our brains our palates were getting pampered! Sorry for so few food pictures after the first course I just dug in without taking pictures! It was a delicious learning session! We learned how to warm the olive oil cupping the cup in between our palms. The tasting part kind of reminded me of camels. Haha! We had to slurp the olive oil in our mouths and then like a reverse spit spraying the inside of our mouth so every taste bud could be coated! It was quite funny! I had to really contain myself without bursting out in laughter! Thanks to Nicholas and Chef Dave we tasted 4 different varieties of olive from 4 different olives from 3 regions of Italy. They were so buttery and luscious! The difference between the robust olive oils and the mellow ones was the grassy taste. And some were more peppery than others. Going to Lydia Bastianich’s La Scuola di Eatlay was a great adventure!
I had two wonderful days showcasing my sauce in the Adams Fairacre Farms in both Newburgh and Kingston this weekend. Talking to people while they experience 825 MAIN Marinara is so much fun! I love hearing people’s stories! My favorite story was from an Italian woman who was born in the Campania region of Italy. She exclaimed that although she makes her own sauce she likes to try bottled sauces to see if her sauce has any competition. So as I gladly handed her a sample, she shared with me how she brings her family to her hometown in Italy every summer. Her passion for food was evident as her face lit up with excitement as she recalled all the regional foods she introduces her family to. She even went so far as to explain that her home space is taken up with a huge kitchen. I watched her face carefully as she put the spoon to her lips, eagerly waiting for her nod of approval. In the typical way that an Italian would nod with that little shrug meaning “it’s good but not as good as mine”, the mom tried to delicately give me her critique. I didn’t take any offense explaining that 825 MAIN Marinara is supposed to be a marinara sauce that one uses when they don’t want to sacrifice taste for time. But the funniest thing about this cute woman was that it wasn’t enough to give me just her opinion, she quickly called her kids over to try the sauce. She needed her kids to rate my sauce against her sauce. So as her children (all young adults) tried my sauce their faces lit up and said “Mom! This sauce is really good!” The woman got a little sheepish but was a good sport about it. I couldn’t help but react with the biggest smile on my face but quickly toned it down as she glanced over at me. It turns out that the family was in Adams shopping for dinner. They have a summer home in Woodstock and all six kids were visiting and mom needed to make dinner. To make me feel better the mom picked up a jar. But what was even funnier was that the kids came back behind her and picked up another jar. As they left my sampling table they all cheered me on. Later the mom came back and apologized. She said her kids called her a “sauce snob”. I told her I was not offended at all! We quickly bonded over our love for food and a quest to serve our family only the best. The only difference between her and me is that my mission is to share my delicious sauce with all of you. As I think back over this weekend’s stories I am empowered by my accomplishment! I convinced a “sauce snob” to buy not one jar but 2 jars of 825 MAIN Marinara. Now that’s what I call a great weekend!
These potato dumplings, traditionally served as a first course, are small bites of heaven. Although most people associate this dish with Italian cuisine, versions of this dish exist around the world; Croatia, France, and South America all have variations of the dish. The word “gnocchi” is derived from the Italian word “nocchio,” meaning a “knot in wood.” Most Italian chefs say that the secret behind perfect gnocchi is the right potato. The best are ones high in starch and low in water content, such as the russet potato. The less water in the dough, the less gummy it will be. It is said that the gnocchi is perhaps one of the oldest recorded dishes that can be found, and when you actually try them there is no wonder why they have survived for so long. These delightful Italian little dumplings are and absolutely fantastic dish, and they can be found in several variations. As with many Italian dishes, region can play a large role in the type of gnocchi you can find. Each version tenderly preserved through time with a recipe that can easily stem back to the early 1300th century Tuscans. This is a very simple recipe to make, and while it is easy you can find many that will put a twist on this recipe to make it their own. The Gnocchi is a recipe that is very old, and apparently it does have quite the clan. There are more Gnocchi variations than you can shake a stick at, and all of which are dependant on where you are in Italy. I am introducing you to a southern Italian variety from Naples made with potatoes and another variety popular in Florence, Italy made with ricotta cheese and spinach These dumplings in their early stages are often confused with pasta, but truth be told they are actually even older than pasta itself. The similarities are not reserved for the appearance either, as the dressings for the two dishes are quite similar as well. It is clear however to those that are experienced that Gnocchi and pasta are not the same dish. Someone unfamiliar with the ways in Italy or the general foods can easily become confused and assume that they are in fact one and the same.
For those of you who are not aware of the significance of the Ides of March, according to the Roman calendar, it is the date signifying the beginning of spring and there was a huge celebration in the city of Rome. The Soothsayers warned Julius Caesar to “beware of the Ides of March,” which of course he didn’t listen to and was stabbed to death by his best friend Marcus Brutus. Thus the phrase “et tu brutus”. So I thought we could celebrate with this Roman holiday with Caesar Salad , a tribute to Caesar. And a popular Roman pasta dish called Buccatini al’Amatriciana.