Un’Caffe! Please!

In my last blog post I shared how disappointed I was that I couldn’t go visit my sister this spring.  I must tell you as much as I so wanted to see my sister there was one other thing that I was so looking forward to.  I have been dreaming about it!  I am drooling right now as I think about it.  No! It’s not Italian men! 

It’s the coffee!  Some of you know that I went to Italy this past fall. For some reason I became obsessed with the espresso.  Every morning I had a cappuccino.  In the afternoon I had an espresso after lunch.  In the late afternoon I had a macchiato.  By late afternoon I became very fluent with my Italian or so I thought as I hysterically waved and greeted every person I came across. I need to admit to you all that I have a caffeine problem.  For some reason it makes me talk nonstop.  My daughter always knows. When I go into a fast-long-winded story, she scolds me as I am panting out of breath, “You had coffee. Didn’t you?”

  But! OMG!  The coffee that was enjoying every day while I was in Ischia was delicious!  It wasn’t acidic or burnt tasting.  It was so smoooooth and creammmmy!  And I am not talking about the cappuccino. Just plain espresso is thick and creamy.  They only fill those little espresso cups half-way.  That’s why at the coffee bars in Italy there are no seats.

  • People go in.
  • Stand at the bar with no stools.
  • Order un’caffe.
  • Down the espresso.
  • Share a greeting with the barista and fellow coffee drinkers.
  • Out the door they go!

The morning is the only time the cappuccino is enjoyed by Italians.  They won’t drink it after 11.  If you order a cappuccino during the day, they will exclaim, “Pffttt Americano!”.  I was very careful not to order one because I wanted to be inconspicuous ( yeah right, as I hysterically wave and greet)! But I did order a macchiato.  The macchiato was heaven!  There was a little but more in the cup than espresso with a thick foamy caramel colored top. Not like a cappuccino at all.  The cappuccino is served in a large cup with a 3/ 4 filled cup of white foam.  The macchiato is served in an espresso cup with ¼ of the cup filled with a dark caramel colored foam.  Such a thick and creamy espresso drink.  If I had my way I would have asked for a triple.  I don’t think my sister, her husband and the rest of the people in the bar would have been happy with me.

Ever since I got back from Italy, I keep searching for the perfect espresso drink.  I tried all the chains from low end to high end.  I went directly to coffee roasters to try their espresso, restaurants that tout their espresso drinks, and bakeries.  I even bought high end coffee beans and would grind them myself. I just can’t replicate that delicious taste.  I started researching and reading.  Some say it’s the way they roast the coffee bean.  They said that in the US we over roast the coffee bean to get the bean extra dark which is a mistake. Others say it’s the water.

As I sit here with my cup of espresso made with my moka pot, dunking an S shaped Italian cookie into the espresso, I pretend I am gazing at the Mediterranean Sea alongside my sister. I really do miss her so. Maybe it wasn’t the espresso. I think it was my sister’s company!

Italian S Cookies

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

      Egg Wash

1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon milk

2 teaspoons demerara sugar for sprinkling on egg wash

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350℉.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs on medium-high speed until nice and frothy (about 3-4 minutes).
  5. Slowly add sugar. Continue to whisk until well combined and slightly thickened (about 2 minutes).
  6. Add the oil, extract, and the zest. Combine well.
  7. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix with wooden spoon until well combined, dough will be soft.
  8. Scoop dough with medium sized cookie scoop and drop on a lightly floured surface (about 2 tablespoons).
  9. Roll out each piece in a 4-5 inch strand about 1/2 inch in diameter.
  10. Place on parchment-lined cookie sheet and form into an S shape.
  11. Brush tops of cookies with egg yolk mixture.
  12. Sprinkle with demerara sugar
  13. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned (this is a pale cookie).
  14. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.

Let’s bake while we wait!

     It’s been such a whirlwind of a few months.  I am writing this blog post today sitting at my desk.  But if all was right with the world, I would it to be sitting under a lemon tree on the Island of Ischia in Italy with my beautiful sister.  In January while the news from China was just coming out about the Coronavirus, my daughter and I oblivious to the severity of the situation planned a fun trip to trip to Europe.  Our first stop was to be in Lisbon, Portugal and then we were flying to Naples to finish our trip visiting my sister Giovanna who lives in Ischia. Alas, a few days after I booked the trip the news started to get more and more serious.  My daughter, my sister and I started to become obsessed with watching the news. It was the strangest thing.  Like a snowball rolling down a hill this coronavirus epidemic was becoming bigger and bigger each day. We didn’t even need to make the decision to cancel the trip. Every week the flight kept changing. First the flight’s destination was changed to land in Rome instead of Naples. Then as Italy put in more restrictions the flight’s destination was changed to Lisbon.  Finally, 5 days before we were to leave all flights were suspended. 

     As we followed whatever was going on in Italy, we knew it would be a matter of time that we would be the doing the same thing here in the states.  When US advised us to limit our gatherings to 10 people, I hurried up and finished my sauce deliveries not knowing if they were going to close travel between states like the provinces of Italy. I even made a last run to stock up my grown children who live in Connecticut and Westchester with the 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce, 825 MAIN Pizza Margherita Sauce and pasta.

    Because I was so preoccupied with keeping up with the news and tying up loose ends, I inadvertently forgot about St. Josephs Day on March 19th.  Not only is St. Joseph the national Italian holiday for Father’s Day but we always celebrated the holiday because Joseph was my dad’s name, followed by my son and husband whose middle name is Joseph. We all celebrated by making zeppole. aka Sfingi di San Giuseppe, aka Cream Puffs.

     Since I am settling in at home now, I am catching up with my baking.  So, I made St. Josephs Cream Puffs!  Here is an easy recipe that I used for the Cream Puff and the Pastry Cream.  I hope you enjoy making it and eating it as much as my husband and I did!  Stay safe while we are making history!

Cream Puffs

Ingredients:

  •  1 cup water
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 to 4 eggs, plus 1 egg for egg wash

Directions:

  1. To make the cream puffs: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt, and granulated sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add all the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated, 30 to 60 seconds
  2. Scrape the mixture into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed. With the mixer running, and working 1 egg at a time, add 3 of the eggs, stopping after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy, and the eggs are completely incorporated. The dough should be thick but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add the remaining egg and mix until incorporated.
  3. You can use a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe the dough onto the baking sheet lined with parchment paper, in 2-inch diameter rounds or balls.  But I used a tablespoon and dropped the dough on the baking. Whisk the remaining egg with 1 1/2 teaspoons water. Brush the surface of the rounds with the egg wash to knock down the points (you may not use all the egg wash). Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and bake until puffed up, and light golden brown, about 20 minutes more. Try not to open the oven door too often during the baking. Let cool on the baking sheet.
  4. To fill the cream puffs, place a pastry tip on your finger and poke a hole in the bottom of each puff.  Or you can slice the cream puff and insert pastry cream by a spoon.

Pastry Cream

Ingredients:

  •  2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise or 1 tsp of pure vanilla
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pinch salt

      

Directions:

  1. Place the milk, half the sugar and the vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Combine the egg yolks and the remaining sugar in a bowl and whisk until light in color. Add in the flour and the salt, mix to combine.
  3. When the milk just begins to boil, remove from heat and remove vanilla bean.
  4. Very slowly dribble the hot milk into the yolk mixture, stirring all the time. When about half of the milk has been added, place all the yolk mixture into the saucepan over medium heat.
  5. Using a spatula or a whisk, mix the pastry cream as it heats, making sure to reach all the corners of the pan when you stir. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. The mixture will be thick.
  6. Remove from heat and add the butter. Strain if you wish for a smoother cream. Place into a bowl and cover directly with plastic wrap to stop a skin from forming on the cream. Chill and use within a few days.

Tradition

According to the Cambridge Dictionary the definition of Tradition is a way of acting that people in a particular society or group have continued to follow for a longtime.

      This past year I struggled with finding my path.  As you have noticed I really slacked off with keeping up with my blog and my recipes. I am not sure what has happened.  I think with the marriage of my last child maybe I lost myself.  I lost who I was and started thinking that I needed to slow down.  But I found I am not comfortable with this new me. In my quest to find myself again I realized that maybe I need to go back and reflect on how things used to be.

My Great Grandfather Isidoro Amalfitano with his fishing crew circa 1930s.

      I found a picture of my great grandfather on my mother’s side.  He was a fisherman along with his brothers on the island of Ischia in Italy.  The Amalfitano men made a living as fishermen.  Unlike most other Ischitanos living on the island the Amalfitano brothers stood out by their tall muscular stature. They had a good life until World War 1 and the Spanish Flu of 1918.  The soldiers coming home from the war brought with them the Spanish Flu and it spread to so many Ischitanos!  It was a deadly flu.  It is said that by the spring of 1919, the influenza pandemic had sickened an estimated one-third of the world’s population and may have killed as many as 50 million people. And Ischitanos were part of that statistic.  The townspeople couldn’t keep up with individual grave plots and ended up having to have mass burials.  My great grandmother became one of those casualties leaving behind a husband and four children.  Soon things leveled off and my great grandfather remarried.  He continued his fishing business with his family and life went on.  My grandmother became of age and she married starting her own family.  Soon afterwards WW2 hit, and my grandfather went off to serve as a medic leaving his family behind to struggle.  The island of Ischia entered another sad time as they dealt with food and water shortage.  Families struggled as the heads of household were off to fight in the war.  After World War 2 ended Ischia struggled economically. My grandfather looked to move to another country for a better life for his family.  He tried out Argentina for 3 years hoping to bring his family there, but Argentina’s economy crashed, and my grandfather soon came back to Ischia.  Instead of feeling defeated he continued his dream of making his family’s life better and made plans to move to the United States. In 1955 he moved half of his family to Marlboro, New York. My grandfather along with my mom and two of her sisters worked to make enough money so that they could bring my grandmother and the rest of the siblings to join them in the US.

Even though the family moved to the US, they continued to follow their Italian traditions.   One of the traditions they never forgot was fishing. Even though my grandmother and grandfather settled inland away from the ocean they couldn’t let go of the love for the sea.  I don’t how they found this place in Norwalk, Connecticut but they did! With the little bit of English that they knew they found a place to rent a motorized rowboat and go fishing in the Long Island Sound.  Many of my summer memories included going to Norwalk, CT to go fishing with my grandparents.  My dad grew up on the mainland of Italy, but his town was a small mountain surrounded by water on three sides so he too enjoyed fishing.  It was a huge family excursion with 3-4 boats getting rented.  We brought steak sandwiches and we always included spaghetti pizza. Once I got married and had children my dad also introduced my children to fishing on the Long Island Sound in Norwalk, CT.

My grandfather Giovan Giuseppe Mazzella fishing on the Long Island Sound near the Norwalk, Connecticut Marina circa 1960

Life got busier and we no longer went on fishing excursions. But just a few years ago a restaurant was recommended in Norwalk, Ct and my husband and I and our children went to try it out. When I arrived, I immediately recognized the spot even though the dock, bait shop, and boat rentals were no longer there.  But now a beautiful seafood restaurant took over the spot. 

  So, as the old year is left behind and a new year is started, I rethink my purpose in life. Maybe I need to go back to my roots. To go forward, one must go back first and ponder.      This past week my husband and I took the family out to dinner to the seafood restaurant in Norwalk.  I handed them all pieces of paper from the oldest to the youngest (who happens to be my granddaughter Emma) to write down their dreams for the new year.  I thought what a perfect place to ponder our dreams.  As I looked out to sea, I thought of my grandfather who never gave up his dream to make a better life for his family. He didn’t succeed at first but that didn’t stop him.  I sat and looked around the table and I realized that I really am living my best life surrounded by my family.  The least I can do is to not give up my dreams!  And you know what?  In order to fulfill our dreams, we must never forget where we came from and who we are.   I want to wish you all a Happy New Year!  May all your dreams come true!  Tradition! It’s the fuel to follow your dreams!

My husband, children. spouses and grandchildren eating dinner in Norwalk, CT at the same place my grandparents went fishing ….2019

Spaghetti Pizza

My mom always made spaghetti pizza for our picnic when we went fishing in Norwalk, Connecticut. Here’s our recipe. There are quite a few versions of it. My grandmother would make a sweet variety. While my Zia in Monte di Procida would make a savory one and sprinkle it with a bit of sugar on top. But I thought I would share my mom’s version which my kids also love! One time when my son was three he got all excited when he saw my mom making it and got all excited thinking we were going fishing!

Ingredients:

1 pound of cooked spaghetti al dente

1/2 cup grated cheese

1/2 cup of cubed prosciutto

1/2 cup of cubed fresh mozzarella

1 1/2 cups of shredded dry mozzarella

1/2 pound of cubed Auricchio Provolone

3 eggs

1/4 cup of Grape seed oil or corn oil. I like to use grape seed oil.

Procedure:

1. Mix all the cheeses and the proscuitto

2. Beat eggs and add to pasta to mix.

3. Add the cheese and prosciutto mixture to the pasta

4. Heat 1/4 cup of grape seed oil in a skillet

5. Add pasta mixture to pan and spread out tucking the cheese inside the pasta.

6. Let fry about 10 minutes or more until you can easily slide spatula underneath the spaghetti feeling that it’s crispy.

7. Flip the pizza over and cook 10-15 minutes long until the other side is crispy.

8. Take out of pan and let sit on paper towel to drain some of the oil and then serve!

Buon Appetito!

Cured Green Olive Recipe

Fresh Green Olives

Fresh Green Olives found at your area farm market. I got my fresh green olives at Adams Fairacre Farm in Poughkeepsie, New York

I grew up watching my grandparents on both sides of the family, can all kinds of produce besides just tomatoes.  Vegetables were marinated and jarred for the winter.  Peaches were peeled and halved in a sugary syrup. My family would also cure olives.  They were jarred in a salty brine and cured for months.  In the last few years since I retired from my life in the restaurant, I have had time to relive my upbringing.  I kept seeing raw green olives at Adams Fairacre Farms, our local farm market. I decided to try to cure my own olives.  One year I tried the saltwater brine version, while changing the water for months and fretting every time I forgot to! So, then the next year I found an easy recipe that cured olives in vinegar and to let it sit in extra virgin olive oil for 2 months.  The olives were delicious!  And what was surprisingly good was even the oil from the olives. My family and I just loved spreading it on crusty Italian bread! I couldn’t wait to do it again this year.   I decided to share my olive curing journey and hope you will try a hand at it too since olives are in season.

Cured Green Olives

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh green olives
  • 1 carrot, finely dices
  • 2 stalks of celery, finely diced
  • 1 qt white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of sea salt
  • ½ cup water
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil to cover the olive

Procedure:

  1. Wash and dry the olives making sure they are all firm and no bruises.  It’s if your green olives have a slight purplish tint.  They are just beginning to ripen.

2.     Make 4 incisions lengthwise on each olive spacing evenly.

3.      Place olives in a bowl or large jar.  Whatever you use make sure it’s not reactive. Add celery and carrots.  Then add the salt, water and vinegar solution to cover all the olives.

4.     Mix well and add a paper napkin on top to keep olives submerged.
5.       Stir the contents in the bowl once or twice a day.
6.      After 4 days the olives should have darkened slightly and become soft but not mushy.  If they are still hard wait another day.

7.       After 4th or 5th day drain olive mixture in a colander. Toss to get rid of all the liquid.
8.    Put the drained olive mixture in a clean jar or jars and cover the olive oil mixture with the extra virgin olive oil.  The olives need to be completely submerged in the olive oil.

9.      Place the jar of olives in a cool dark place.  I put mine in the fridge! Let them rest for 2 months before tasting.
10.       The olives will have a pleasant vinegary taste.  And don’t throw out the extra virgin olive oil.  It’s delicious!  Since it’s in the fridge it will thicken like butter and you can spread it like butter!!  Yum!

Happy New Year with lots of Good Luck serving Lentil Soup. Memories with Toscanini

I have been trying to get over this writing slump that I have been in lately. I really want to write about something special before the end of the year. I kept thinking and thinking but alas nothing went through my mind. So, I decided to look through my scrapbook to hopefully spur a memory. And I came across a letter written by a customer on July 3,1977 on the back of our Coppola’s Restaurant placemat. It’s a letter from Walfredo Tocanini. Not only is this man a councilman from New Rochelle, NY (he left his business card), but his grandfather was the famous Metropolitan Opera House conductor, Arturo Toscanini. He wrote the letter in Italian letting us know that he came to Coppola’s Restaurant to enjoy a delicious Italian meal in the Hudson Valley, celebrating the 4th of July and Garibaldi’s birthday. He emphasized how much they thoroughly enjoyed the Shrimp Scampi and Veal Scaloppini ala Marsala but also wanted to correct something on the menu. Our 1970’s menu was decorated with pencil drawings of famous Italian contributors in the United States. One of the drawings depicted Walfredo’s grandfather, Arturo Toscanini whom we mislabeled as the manager of the Metropolitan Opera House. Walfredo corrected that Arturo was the artistic director of the Metropolitan Opera and that Giulio Gatti-Casazza was the manager of the metropolitan Opera.
So, I thought to myself, “ehh maybe I will write about Tocanini.” But as I looked up the grandson, Walfredo Toscanini I found so much written about him. And then I came across his obituary. He died December 31, 2011! How eerie is that? I came across this on his 7th anniversary! Now I must write about him!
As I am reading about the councilman Walfredo Toscanini I realize that not only was his grandfather a famous conductor but Walfredo made his mark on the world too!
Walfredo Toscanini was born in Milan in 1928. He was an only child and the oldest of Arturo Toscanini’s grandchildren. Walfredo parents were vehemently anti-fascist. They decided to not allow Walfredo to attend Italian public schools under Mussolini’s strict control. Instead he was sent to a Swiss-run private school in Milan. There he learned German and French and was not subjected to fascist propaganda.
In 1938 after his grandfather Arturo had a run in with Italian government because of his anti-fascist beliefs, the whole family moved to America. Walfredo enrolled in New Jersey public schools when he arrived at 9 years old. Later, Walfredo went on to Yale and graduated as an architect. He worked for over 50 years in the New York area as a senior architect and various other jobs. He lived in New Rochelle where he was a long-serving district leader for the Democratic Party and was very active in preserving the arts.
Walfredo’s passion was to preserve and publicize the artistic legacy not only of his grandfather but also of his mother, Cia Fornaroli, a prima ballerina at La Scala in Milan during the 1920s, and of his father, Walter Toscanini, a man of letters, dance historian and anti-fascist activist.
Walfredo Toscanini also arranged to have Arturo Toscanini¹s archives and recordings made available to scholars and music lovers at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. In 1987, he co-authored an illustrated book, Toscanini with longtime friend and Opera News Associate Editor John Freeman.
As I am writing about Walfredo and his famous grandfather I realized that I have something in common with him! Our families lived through Mussolini’s reign. Although I didn’t experience Mussolini’s fascist reign in Italy, my parents did. I have in my possession my mother’s report card where allegiance to Mussolini is all over the front of her report card. She often told me how they had to practice marching in honor of Mussolini during school. But the most important thing that we both share is the love of our family and trying to keep their legacy alive. Walfredo in keeping his famous conductor grandfather, dance historian father and prima ballerina mother memories alive worked hard preserving their work. My story, although not as grand but it is just as important to me, is preserving my father’s impact in the Hudson Valley with Italian food. My dad died way too young and I keep his memory alive through the bottling of the 825 MAIN Sauces and sharing the many restaurant stories whether it be from our family or our customers. And of course, our many recipes! Even though I am not related to Walfredo Toscanini I hope this story helps in preserving the efforts Walfredo Toscanini made to keep his family’s memory alive.

Happy New Year’s from our family to yours!


Lentil Soup for Good Luck

(Italians traditionally serve lentil soup to enjoy on New Year’s Eve or Day in hopes of bringing greater abundance and prosperity in the coming year) Lentil soup was one of the ‘soups of the day’ at our restaurant anytime during the year!

Ingredients:

2 cups lentils, rinsed twice in a colander under cold water (preferably Umbrian lentils)
6 cups chicken broth
1 vegetable bouillon cube
2 – 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 oz. bacon or pancetta, diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 celery stalks with leaves attached, diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, stems removed, washed, and minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 cup freshly minced basil
1 12-oz. can Italian plum tomatoes (crushed with your hands (or buy it already diced/chopped)
2 cups fresh spinach leaves or escarole, rinsed well and chopped
(optional) pinch of hot red pepper flakes
2 rinds of parmigiana reggiano cheese
1 bay leaf
1 short sprig fresh rosemary
4 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper

Instructions:

1.Rinse the lentils in cold water in a colander.
2. Drizzle olive oil into a pot. When the olive oil is hot, add the chopped pancetta and sauté’ for 2 minutes.
3. Add the chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Stir.
4. Cook, stirring often, until the onions, carrots, and celery are semi-soft, for about 2 minutes.
5. Turn off stove. Stir in the garlic, tomatoes, chicken broth and bouillon cube.
6. Bring everything to a boil.
7. Add the lentils, parsley, seasonings, and cheese rinds.
8. Cook for 45 minutes
9. Taste and add additional salt and pepper to taste preferences if desired.
10. Add the spinach or escarole allow to wilt

Serve with: freshly grated Parmigiano cheese, pass around to guests

Buon Appetito!