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!

DSC_1086

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!

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.

 

 

What are Capers? A staple in Italian Cooking

capers and leaves

Caper Berry Plant

what-are-capers_thumb

This past weekend at a seminar I found myself trying to explain what exactly is a caper.  These little pungent Mediteranean capers come from the bud of blossoming bushes.  I actually had the pleasure of seeing caper bushes.  It was many years ago when  my brother and I visited our grandparents at their home town on the island of Ischia. They took us for a leisurely walk through town and we visited the Castello Aragonese, a medieval castle built on volcanic rock. As we walked up to the castle, clinging to the cracked walls and cliffs were these unusual and attractive ornamental shrubs.  They were thriving in the sunny hot dry climate of Ischia. As you can see from the picture the castle is nestled on volcanic rock in the middle of the sea. So these caper shrubs are evidently salt tolerant as well. My Nonno (grandfather) pointed out the capers on the shrubs. The bushy plant had a thick cluster of thorny branches and fleshy, egg shaped leaves. They were as high as five feet in some places, but most were sprawled out over rocks and soil.

castel in ischia

Castelo Aragonese – A medieval castle on volcanic rock off the island of Ischia in Naples, Italy

Nonno explained that from April to June, the caper shrub’s tiny buds flower into large, sweet-scented, pink blooms clustered with long, violet stamens. The plants harvested for capers, however, rarely blossom. Instead, workers endure hot sun, sharp thorns and rugged terrain throughout the summer to pick the precious buds as they ripen.  It was a beautiful walk as we gazed out to sea. My Nonno walked ahead explaining all the sites while my Nonna (grandmother) ambled behind slowly carrying her large purse under her arm.  Nick and I found our Italian grandparents amusing.  At one point it started sprinkling as was common in the afternoons in Ischia, a sun shower.  Nonno slowed down and turned to ask my Nonna if she was ok.  In his tongue in cheek manner he just shook his head as he found Nonna pulling out  a clear plastic rain bonnet for her head and a sweater for her shoulders out of that large white purse of hers.  My brother and I were hysterically laughing not just at my Nonna but at Nonno’s reaction.  What a special caper memory.  I think of them whenever I use capers in my cooking.

Capers are enhanced enhanced by a pickling process fundamental to their cultivation, their tart and briny flavors enrich sauces, spreads and garnishes.  Capers are a staple in the Italian kitchen. The tiny, piquant buds are enjoyed from region to region, from the north to the south.  In Sicily capers are served in caponata, a summer side dish in which their saline bite cuts through the rich taste of tender, slow-cooked eggplant.  In Naples they adorn spaghetti alla puttanesca, one of the sauces I made at the seminar where the capers are combined with tomatoes, olives and anchovies in a pasta fredda to create a light yet assertive sauce. The tangy orbs are often sprinkled over pizza, pasta, and fish dishes as a flavorful garnish, and they appear in a variety of sauces.

Most capers come from wild plants, though in Spain and Italy—the two largest producers—they are cultivated. Sicily and the Aeolian island of Salina produce the majority of Italy’s capers. The best, though, come from Pantelleria. On this tiny island, halfway to Tunisia, volcanic soil and the heat of an intense Mediterranean sun create ideal growing conditions. The berries are also picked, and both are pickled for use as a seasoning and garnish. The bud, or caper, is pickled in salt and vinegar brine, then sold in vinegar or packed in salt. The berry—the larger, plump, mature fruit of the plant—resembles a green grape with faint, white stripes and, like olives, is served in pastas, salads or even as a garnish in martinis. When choosing capers, look for dark green buds packed tightly in sea salt, because those submerged in vinegar lack the subtle, natural taste of the salted ones. The smaller buds have a more delicate flavor while the larger ones have less taste and could be frauds—sometimes the similar-looking buds of the nasturtium plant are passed off as capers. The French term nonpareil is commonly used to denote the smallest buds; surfines are the next largest. True Italian capers, though, are sorted by millimeter with mechanized screens. They range from 7 millimeters to 16 millimeters. Unfortunately in stores their size is not often marked.  Be sure to look for buds not larger than a raisin. If using salted capers, soak them for five to ten minutes and drain to remove excess salt. Those in vinegar only require rinsing.