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

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!!

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)
    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!
    Continue reading

Scallops Belvedere

Happy New Year From Our Family To Your Family!!

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                                   Scallops Belvedere

       I know I promised I was going to write down 50 recipes as my 2015 New Year’s Resolution but it took me longer than I expected to combine cooking, writing, pictures and memories.  But no worries Jim and I will continue this fun project into 2016!

     For the New Year I would like to share the recipe for Scallops Belvedere. But before I delve right into the recipe I thought I would tell you all about scallops.  To cook scallops perfectly one needs to really understand scallops.  As I have often say about Italian cooking it not just about the recipe but the quality of the ingredients!

      We often see the typical white round scallop behind glass at the fish market.   But were you aware that scallops are mollusks that have two beautiful convexly ridged, or scalloped, shells. I am sure you have all come across the scallop shell at one time or other while taking a walk on the beach looking for the perfect shell!  The edible portion of the scallop is the white muscle that opens and closes the two shells and is called the “nut.” The reproductive glands known as “coral” are also edible, but not widely consumed here in the US.

      In the US we have three kinds of scallops available: Sea scallops, bay scallops and calico scallops.  For the Scallops Belvedere recipe, we use sea scallops. Sea scallops are relatively large, often 1½-2 inches in diameter, and are perfect for searing. We don’t recommend bay scallops because they are much smaller and not as good for searing. The Calico scallops are also not recommended because their shells are so tightly closed they must be steamed open before any further preparation.  The season for fresh sea scallops and bay scallops runs from October through March, while fresh calico scallops are available from December through May. Of course frozen scallops are available year-round.

      You may also come across “diver scallops”.  It doesn’t mean anything but the manner in which the scallops were harvested. Divers go down and choose mature scallops by hand, leaving behind immature scallops as well as leaving the ocean floor alone.  Since the ocean floor is not disturbed by the divers, diver scallops are usually less gritty than those harvested by bottom trawls. They are also more expensive than the ones harvested by trawling. Trawling is done by scraping the ocean floor and pulling up scallops without regard to maturity or to the damage possibly being done to the ocean floor.

   One of the most important facts to look for in scallops is  whether they are wet or dry scallops.  Dry scallops are the best!  Whatever you do not buy the wet scallops! Read on as I explain the differences and you will understand my reasons.

    Unfortunately, most scallops that you find from your fish monger or supermarket are treated with sodium tripolyphosphate (STP), a chemical that, while it is safe to consume, it ruins the ability to get a perfect sear on the scallop. These chemically treated scallops are called wet scallops.   STP loosens the structure of scallops making them sponge-like, where they soak up almost 30% of their original weight in water. This is an economical perk for fishmongers who sell scallops based on weight, but not for consumers who end up paying for the added water! What’s worse, the treatment makes scallops nearly impossible to sear because all that excess moisture floods the pan as soon as the scallops start to cook. The scallops end up being small, rubbery and pale with a soapy after-taste. You just can’t get the beautiful caramelization with a wet scallop that we want in a perfectly cooked scallop.  Please take notice that if they are wet scallops they are just labeled as scallops. 

    Dry scallops are untreated and don’t expel as much water as they cook. Although they are pricier and have a much shorter shelf life than wet scallops, dry scallops are superior in quality, flavor, and ease of cooking. Because they aren’t treated, they are certainly fresher when you find them at the fish counter, with a sweeter, brinier flavor.

     Now that I have explained that dry scallops are the ones to buy for this recipe, let me explain how to make sure you do get the dry scallops.  Either ask the fishmonger or check the label!  Fish counters selling dry scallops will most likely be proud of and advertise the fact that they are indeed dry. If it just states scallops most likely they are wet scallops.   Second, look at the container the scallops are held in. If there’s milky white liquid in the container they are probably treated with TSP. Finally, take a good look at the scallops themselves. Wet scallops have a ghostly, opaque, pale white or orange-white appearance. Dry scallops will be fleshier and more translucent!

      As an added note when purchasing scallops, make sure to buy from a reputable fishmonger and be sure to smell the scallops before purchase.  The scallops should smell clean and sweet and like the ocean.  If they have a strong fishy smell, do not buy them.

      I checked our first 1961 menu to see if we served scallops back in the day.  I found two entrees, fried scallops and scallops sautéed with mushrooms.  I found it interesting that they were both listed as Cape Cod Scallops. Now that you understand all about scallops please enjoy the following recipe that quickly became a favorite!

 

Scallops Belvedere

Served over Mashed Potatoes and Steamed Green Beans

 

Ingredients:

          8 (Dry) Sea Scallops (serves 2 people)

         1/3 cup white wine

         3 drops of tabasco sauce

         4 sprigs of fresh Rosemary ( pull apart leaves off of 2 sprigs and roughly chop) ( save 2 sprigs                for serving)

         ½ cup of Seafood Stock or Chicken Stock

         Salt to taste around ½ tsp

         1 tablespoon of fresh chopped parsley

         4 tablespoons of butter

         1 sliced clove of garlic

         4 sundried tomatoes julienned

         1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons  Canola oil (used for frying and sauteeing garlic)

          Flour for dredging

          Your favorite mashed potato recipe

          Steamed green beans

 

Procedure:

  1. Wash dry sea scallops and pat dry.DSC_0699 
  2. Dredge  dry sea scallops in flour, generously coating each scallop.DSC_0700
  3. Pour 1/3 cup of canola oil in skillet.  Heat until smoking hot!
  4. Sear scallops to a golden brown.  Don’t be concerned if they are cooked thru. This is just to get a golden crust. About 3-5 minutes.  Do not overcook.DSC_0703
  5. Remove scallops from pan and set aside.
  6. Drain most of the canola oil.  Leave the skillet crusty with a bit of oil that’s left.
  7. Deglaze the skillet with 1/3 cup of white wine over low heat stirring.DSC_0707
  8. Add 3 drops of tabasco sauce
  9. Add chopped rosemary,1/2 teaspoon of salt and ½ cup of seafood stockDSC_0710
  10. In a separate skillet saute the one clove of sliced garlic until golden in 2 Tbs of canola oil. Quickly take off the burner and add the 2 TBS pf chopped parsley.DSC_0711
  11. Add the garlic sauce to skillet.
  12. Add 4 tablespoons of butter and 4 sundried tomatoes sliced into julienne strips.DSC_0712
  13. Once it all comes to a simmer add the prepared scallops and heat thru.DSC_0715
  14. Place mounds of mashed potatoes on each plate .
  15. Mound mashed potatoes with scallops.
  16. Dress plate with steamed green beans and sprigs of rosemary.
  17. Lastly pour the sauce over the prepared plate.DSC_0718

Buon Appetitto!!

Soft Shell Crabs

includes soft shel crab parissienne 023

 Soft Shell Crabs Parisienne Styleincludes soft shel crab parissienne 023

   “Papa”

“To talk about soft shell crabs I am always reminded of my dad.  He loved the ocean.  My dad taught us everything about the ocean, seafood and how to enjoy them both! Before I go on to discuss soft shell crabs as promised I would like to share my memories of my dad.  I will refer him as Papa! 

   Papa had the biggest smile I had ever seen!  In fact everything about Papa was big except in stature.  He was only 5’7”.  Not only was he always impeccably dressed, he always had a tan.  He wore lots of rings and his pinkie ring was a huge diamond!  As far as I can remember he always owned a red convertible.   

   It wasn’t always like this for my Dad.  He was born in the little town of Monte di Procida.  It has an area of less than 1 ½ square miles. Located on the southern coast of Italy near Naples, this little panoramic town is almost isolated from the rest of the towns.  It sits on a perch overlooking the Gulf of Naples, the many towns below it and if you stand at my uncle’s house one can even see Sorrento and Gaeta as your eyes follow the coastline.  The islands of Procida and Ischia are so close you can almost reach out to touch them and on a clear day Capri too!  Its unique harbor has been utilized in ancient times since the Greeks.  Now the harbor is filled with a fleet of fishing boats!   My father grew up during WWII.  During this time the beautiful town was also a strategic point for the Germans.  It was used as a base for torpedo practice.  Papa would often tell us some scary stories about that time. It was because of WWII and it’s destruction that my dad was determined to come to America for a better life.  America changed my Dad’s life for the better and he became this bigger than life character that we looked up to!

   One year when I was 9 years old he took all of us on a transcontinental cruise. Not only did he take his family but he also brought along his red Pontiac convertible. So my dad,  along with my mom, my brother, my sister, I and the red Pontiac convertible crossed the Atlantic making several stops including,  Portugal, the rock of Gibraltar, Spain, Genoa and finally Naples.  I still can picture him and Nonna (his mom) driving with the top down in the little town of Monte di Procida.  Nonna with a kerchief on her head to protect her hair from the wind sat so proudly next to her son.  The red Pontiac convertible was as big as my dad’s ego!  But unfortunately the fancy American car was not made for the narrow ancient streets that St. Paul once crossed on his way to Rome to see Caesar. Without a care in the world my dad squeezed through those streets waving to all the towns’ people, greeting them all by name.  By the end of the trip the red Pontiac convertible sides were so dented in that we were barely able to open the doors. But no worries…my dad packed the red Pontiac convertible with us as we travelled back across the Atlantic to New York.  When we arrived home he went and bought himself another one!

    Traveling though Italy with my dad was such an experience.  People were drawn to him.  He had such a big personality.  So warm and gracious!  It was always such excitement when my dad went to visit his hometown. Everyone came over to greet him.  Our house was like a café.  We were always brewing espresso.  It got to be as soon as I saw a car coming I wouldn’t even wait for my Nonna to ask me to make coffee.  I immediately took out the moka pot and started the process.   I also set out the little crystal aperitif glasses for the vermouth.  Espresso, vermouth and limoncello were served!   Before they left my dad would always give the guests a big chunk of American milk chocolate as a souvenir from America. My dad loved American milk chocolate so much so that he wanted to share with his family and friends back in Italy.  As he does things so big he would order 40 pound slabs of milk chocolate from his favorite Italian bakery, Caffe Aurora, here in Poughkeepsie to bring back to Italy!  

   It was only one year that he brought over his red convertible I think he learned his lesson with the big American car because after that he would usually rent a FIAT 500! It was funny watching him load up his FIAT with watermelons because one thing about my father if he bought something for himself he always bought for his sisters too.  He made everyone smile and laugh when they saw him pull up with his little Fiat and pull out watermelon after watermelon!    The big smiles from everyone made my heart melt!  And he was so funny teasing the market people.  I love listening to his Montese sing song accent.   The dad that I loved was the dad I saw in Italy.  One summer he brought just my brother and me to visit Nonna in Italy.  As a treat he brought my brother and I to Capri.  It was so fun!  It was such a special trip!  But the best part was when we stopped for lunch at this rooftop restaurant overlooking the beautiful views of Capri.  The waiter gazing at my dad’s bigger than life personality along with his striking blue eyes (all the more impressive with his dark tan) asked if he was Raff Vallone. As I watched my dad’s already broad smile get bigger, Papa asked the waiter, “tell me more who this Raff Vallone is!” All impressed that he looked like a movie star who was known for his rugged good looks my father just beamed! And my brother and I just sat a little taller thinking how handsome our father really was that other people thought so too!”


Soft Shell Crabs

Soft Shell Crabs are available at your seafood market from April to September. It’s during this time that crabs molt their old exoskeletons.  These soft shell crabs are removed from the ocean as soon as they shed their shells to prevent hardening. The famous Maryland blue crabs that we are accustomed to hammering the outer shell and picking it apart to get to the delicious meat are now soft.  After removing the mouthparts, the gills and the abdomen, the whole crab is now edible, shell and all!  No work is involved in eating soft shell crabs! Soft shell crabs were a much anticipated menu item every spring at “the restaurant”!  We had people from all over come for our Soft Shell Crabs.   As you read on I will share all the secrets of cooking the soft shell crabs so you can make them just as good at home.  Typically Soft Shell Crabs are fried but at “the restaurant” sautéed was the most popular.  One of the ways we served them was in a Parisienne Sauce (please read recipe #11 blog post) for the home cook please understands that these crabs only survive a few days out of water.  So when picking out your soft shell crabs make sure they are fresh!  You can’t tell just by looking at them.

Secret #1   not only do you need to make sure they are plump don’t be embarrassed to give it the smell test too! They should smell clean and astringent!

Secret #2   refuse to have the fish monger clean the crabs for you or the crabs will lose all their liquid. Liquid is important so the crabs are very plump.  Wait until you are ready to cook the crabs to clean.  It’s easy to clean them!

Secret #3 I have given you step by step process for cleaning the crabs.  And showed you how to prepare then with an egg batter.  But you can also prepare them with just flour.  Putting a floured soft shell crab (no egg batter) in hot oil results in the plumpest crabs ever.

 

 Cleaning and preparing soft shell crabs for the Parisienne Sauce

 

  1. Flip the soft shell crab oversoft shell crab underneath

  1. Remove the stomach flap on the center back of the crabsoft shell crab stomach flap

  1. Underneath the flaps on the front of the crab are the lungs.soft shell crab flap for lungs

  1. Remove the lungssoft shel crab lung

  2. Remove the eyessoft shel crab eyes

  3. Remove the beard underneath the eyesspft shel crab beard

  1. Prepare batter for the egg battered soft shell crabs. Beat 3 eggs with a pinch of saltsoft shel crab prep

  2. Rinse soft shell crabs in water.

  3. Dredge in flour on both sides and underneath the flaps toosoft shell crab in flour

  4. Dip floured crabs into beaten eggs and coat well.soft shel crab in egge batter

  5. Heat a pan with oil until very hot.

  6. Place back of crab into the frying pansoft shel crab dredged

  1. Lower heat and fry 5-8 minutes on each side. There will be a lot of splatter so keep a splatter guard on pan.

  1. Drain the crabs on paper towels and now they are ready for the Parissiene sauce!

  2. Place soft shell crabs in the Parisienne sauceincludes soft shel crab parissienne 045

      16. Cook until sauce is thickened and serve!

Buon Appetito!

 

Parisienne Sauce

parisienne sauce caper picture

Parisienne Sauce was a very popular sauce in the restaurant. It’s a buttery lemony sauce enhanced with the salty tanginess of capers. Capers are the highlight of this sauce.  To understand capers one has to know capers.  I thought I would share a little story about my childhood and some facts about the tiny delicate caper that’s packed with a huge flavor punch. 

    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, Italy.  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. 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. Workers endure hot sun, sharp thorns and rugged terrain throughout the summer to pick the precious buds as they ripen.  

       I loved this walk up to the castle listening to Nonno explain all of this in his rich napolitano cadence! The long steep climb winding around the castle with the ocean views were breathe taking.  Nonno walked ahead explaining all the sites while my Nonna (grandmother) ambled behind slowly carrying her large purse under her arm.  My brother and I found our Italian grandparents amusing.  At one point we felt a sprinkling of rain 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 watched Nonna dig into her large white purse and pull out a clear plastic rain bonnet for her head and a sweater for her shoulders.   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.

    Let me explain more about capers. Pickling process enhances the flavor of capers. Capers with their tart and briny flavors enrich sauces. 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 salty bite cuts through the smooth buttery taste of slow cooked eggplant.  In Ischia they are part of spaghetti alla puttanesca. The sauce consists of capers, tomatoes, olives and anchovies. These delicious little gems are often sprinkled over pizza, pasta, and fish dishes as a flavorful garnish.

     Most capers come from wild plants, thoughout 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. The large caper berries are eaten “as is” just as you would an olive.  You can even serve them in your favorite martini!

 


Parisienne Sauce

soft shell crabs Parisienne( Parisienne Sauce served using Soft Shell Crabs)

Ingredients:

     1 cup of chicken stock

    5 tablespoons of butter

    ¼ cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice ( Juice form 1 ½ lemons)

    1 teaspoon of drained capers (nonpareil packed in brine)

    3 dashes of Tabasco sauce

    3 ounces of sherry

   ½ teaspoon of salt

   Fresh ground pepper to taste

   2 sprigs of chopped Italian parsley

Procedure:

Add all ingredients in a large skillet.  Simmer on medium heat until reduced and slightly thickened.  It usually takes about 10 minutes. includes soft shel crab parissienne 045

This sauce is used on Chicken Scallopini, Veal Scallopini, Scallops, Shrimp, Filet of Sole or Soft Shell Crabs.

For this recipe I used the Parisienne Sauce with Soft Shell Crabs.  In my next post I will love to tell you all about Soft Shell Crabs…how to shop for them and how to cook them.

*Although the restaurant called this sauce Parisienne Sauce please don’t confuse it with the French version of Parisienne Sauce that uses cream and eggs.

 

 

Chicken Scallopini alla Francese

cartoon chicken ala francese  “My dad was the first of his brothers to leave the apartment life over the restaurant to buy a house in the countryside.   The first day in our new home was both exciting and scary.  Living only with our immediate family without all of our Italian speaking aunts, uncles and cousins was an entirely new experience for us!  I even got my own room!! Mornings were so quiet!  No more dishes, pots and pans clinging and clanging!  As much as it was strange for us to go from an apartment dwelling with my huge Italian speaking family it was strange for our neighbors to have Italian immigrants that barely spoke English move into their community.  

     The first little girl I met was a pretty red haired girl the same age as I was! I was intrigued by her beautiful straight red hair!  She was just as awestruck by my long unruly curly hair and olive complexion.   My first day of school was a little intimidating. It was hard for me to fit in.  My parents were really stuck on making sure I knew my roots and were afraid that I would lose my Italian heritage if I became Americanized. It wasn’t only my Italian heritage; my dad had this old world opinion of what girls should be allowed to do. Because of my parents’ immigrant mentality and old world views they were reluctant to allow me to participate in childhood activities that my friends were accustomed too.  But my new friend made things so much easier.  She introduced me to her four best friends.   But instead of ignoring me my little group of friends accepted me for who I was.  On the other hand, it wasn’t as easy with my classmates.  I learned early on to hide a part of myself.  I was known as the shy quiet girl.

   That little red haired girl and her friends were the only ones that got to know the real me.  I was myself with them.  I couldn’t help but let the loud Italian me out! They understood the struggles that I had with Italian and American culture and they helped me assimilate.  The little red haired girl taught me how to feed oatmeal to her baby sheep.   My short,  cute friend shared her beautiful Ukrainian Easter Eggs! My Hungarian friend shared her family ghost stories!  My other friend introduced me to cheese danishes. And then there was my friend who lived on the other side of town;  she showed me that Dads came home at 5 o’clock with dinner waiting for them!  I learned that I too could fit in the American melting pot!

  The bond that I made 50 years ago with those friends was never broken! In fact we still are the best of friends and love hanging out with each other. We are all grown up now with children and grandchildren. As different as we all became, living in different states with a menagerie of careers, we are exactly what the old saying says,”The more things change, the more things stay the same!”  We all share that one thing that has kept us together all these years – the willingness to accept each other for who we are.

  Some of us  met up this summer and spent a few days together. We went to the little red haired girl’s lakeside home and I cooked for them!  Please read on as I share the recipe I made for them!!”

Paula, Jodie, and Mary!!

Paula, Jodie and Mary!!


 

Francese Sauce

finished frances dish

 

Ingredients:

1 cup of chicken stock (unsalted)

5 TBSP butter

Juice of 1 ½ lemons (1/4 cup)

3 dashes of Tabasco

3 oz of sherry or white wine ( milder)

½ tsp salt

Fresh ground pepper to taste

2 sprigs of chopped Italian parsley

*Prepared Chicken Scallopini

 

Procedure:

Add all ingredients to prepared chicken scallopini and the whole wedges of lemon. ( you also prepare sauce seperately and add chicken later)

add all ingredients to francese

and simmer on medium heat until reduced and slightly thickened about 10 minutes. Remove chicken  and wedges of lemon and finish simmering until thickened.  Just about 2-3 minutes.

francese reducing

 

This sauce can be used for veal, chicken, shrimp, filet of sole, soft shell crabs….

Plate chicken and pour sauce over.  Garnish with a sprig of parsley.

francese 2

*We used chicken for this recipe:

  A package of 2 skinless boneless breasts. Depending on the size of the breast…slice it into 3 horizontal slices .  Take each slice and cut it in half.  You will have 6 pieces.  Sometimes the meat departments will sell the chicken already in large scallopini slices which you will still have to slice in half.    

     Take one of the slices and put it in a plastic gallon size freezer bag ( freezer bags are thicker than the regular storage bags) using the flat part of the meat cleaver pound 3-4 times on one side and then flip to pound the chicken on the other side.  Do this to all the other 5 slices.  Using plastic freezer bags makes it easier to keep your kitchen clean and sanitary.

    Beat up three eggs in a bowl and put ½  cup of flour (you may need more)  in another bowl.  Salt the slices of chicken on both sides, dredge in flour and then in the beaten egg.  These slices are then fried in a pan with vegetable oil until  golden in color.  Don’t worry if they aren’t cooked through because we finish cooking the chicken in the sauce.  After all the chicken has been prepared we set it aside and make the Francese Sauce.

Buon’ Appetito!!

and as my friends taught me to say:

“Dig In”!