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!!

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)
    DSC_0106

    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.
    DSC_0112

    Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!
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