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!

 

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!


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“Hi Teresa, I figured you would know where I can get bushels of tomatoes.”  “Oh sorry Teresa, we can’t! We are swimming in tomatoes here!” “Hello Teresa, I have brought you a bushel of tomatoes.” So.much talk of tomatoes!! What can I say it’s tomato season in the Hudson Valley!

I always teased my kids and told them I am just not any ordinary mamma but a pasta mamma!  To this day I still can’t get this vision that I have of a pasta mamma out of my head!  I am not quite sure how old I was, but one summer in Italy I came across what I believed was a pasta mamma.  Thank goodness it wasn’t anybody I was related to.  While we were on our way to visit my aunt, we came across a neighbor.  The neighbor upon seeing my dad, ran over screaming in her Neapolitan dialect to give my dad this really exaggerated big hug. It wasn’t because she was short, robust and splattered with tomato sauce that I took notice, but it was her apron!  Her apron had two conspicuously placed well-worn patches across her chest! Mind you the apron was intact except for those two patches.  While my parents were all smiles greeting this woman, my brother and I just stood there looking on with puzzled looks on our faces. Why this well-endowed woman would want to bring more attention to herself by wearing that apron was beyond us!  Unabashed she stood so proud wearing that remarkable apron bragging about the number of jars of tomatoes she had just canned.

I keep thinking about that woman lately every time the subject of tomatoes comes up in discussions this past week. The Hudson Valley farmers as I am sure many of the farmers from where you are from are also busy harvesting tomatoes.  If you don’t have the luxury of picking your tomatoes out of your own garden, I hope you are all taking advantage of those beautiful vine ripened tomatoes from your local farmers.  I just called my co-packer who makes the 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce to order more pallets.   They work with the local farms in our area.  They told me, “Teresa, have a little patience for we are swimming in tomatoes and we are busy!”.

I remember when I was a little girl, my mom, her five sisters and Nonna, would be gathered together wearing aprons (thankfully with no patches across their chests) and their hair tied up in kerchiefs at this time of the year.  My grandfather would start the fire in the pit while all the girls were busy preparing the tomatoes.  Such a happy chore with all of them laughing and singing while sorting, cutting, straining, cooking, pouring, and jarring.  I remember hearing the joyful pop of the lids as the sauce cooled and witnessing the satisfaction on everyone’s faces.

In Italy, my father’s sisters would do the same thing. There were times that we would be in Italy during tomato harvest and the canning of the delicious tomatoes. The tomatoes were so different in Monte di Procida.  The Mediterranean sun is strong and growing tomatoes in the volcanic soil yields the sweetest juiciest tomatoes! All my aunts had their own wood fired ovens to bake bread, pizza and to seal all of those jars of tomatoes.  The ovens were located in cantinas and a whole side of the building was designated for the ovens made of blocks and concrete. The cantinas were free standing buildings away from the house.   My Zia Gilda would bake so much bread that she even had customers!  A summer treat was pizza! The pizza that came out of those wood fired ovens was incomparable to anything I have ever eaten. The crust had a touch of char covered with a few really ripe garden  tomatoes, a basil leaf, sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and fresh mozzarella. The pizza was unbelievably delicious! Mind you, my Zia would only make the pizza with the extra dough left over from the bread.    She never thought much of this pizza.  I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t make more of it! But she would often tell me that bread was her first priority.  The pizza was just a little snack. I am still searching for a comparable pizza!  The typical NY pizza we are accustomed to is not the same.

In a town not too far from my dad’s town of Monte di Procida is the ancient town of Baia where Julius Caesar had a villa there (The Castello Aragonese di Baia is open to the public now with museums). The mineral springs in Baia attracted the elite during the Roman Empire.  Most of the ancient town is under water now as a result from a volcanic eruption.  A couple of years ago my brother, sister and I met in Italy.  We decided to go to a historic pizzeria in Baia. What was unusual about this pizzeria was that it was located inside the town bread oven. Yes, you read right!  It was a bread oven so huge that there was a pizzeria built inside of it.  During the Roman Empire it was used to bake bread for the whole town.   We sat inside of this huge hollowed out oven and ate pizza and imagined Caesar eating pizza here.

Only joking about Caesar eating pizza.  The Pizza Margherita became famous in 1889, 28 years after the unification of Italy.  History has it that when Queen Margherita of Savoy, the wife of King Umberto I, visited Naples, a chef and his wife created a pizza resembling the colors of the Italian flag, tomato, mozzarella and basil! To this day it is still called Pizza Margherita!

Sadly, I don’t own a wood fired oven.  Using the garden cherry tomatoes, the pizza comes out pretty good minus the char.  I have that wood fired oven on my bucket list. I did get Jim, my husband, to make me a fire pit, though!  So I am getting closer.

I hope you enjoy the following pizza recipe as much as as my family and I do.  I used the delicious tomatoes from the garden! No worries if you don’t have a garden, just be sure to visit  farm markets to get those delicious tomatoes that are all the rage.  There is nothing like fresh vine ripened tomatoes.  Even though I am in the business of selling tomato sauce, I won’t lie to you there is nothing like a fresh tomato right off the vine.  Don’t get confused with those grocery store, hot house tomatoes, though! I also have available the jarred 825 MAIN Pizza Margherita Sauce for those months of the year when we can’t get those super delicious garden tomatoes. Even tough I don’t can my own tomatoes, Continue reading

Pesto Sauce

pesto cartoon 024Part 2  Cooking for my Childhood Friends

        “As I dropped the pasta in the pot of boiling water I called out to my friends, “How do you want the pasta cooked?”  I was wincing waiting for the answer.  They all matter-of-factly answered together, “al dente!” My heart leaped for joy as I realized they have come a long way from when I first met them 50 years ago!

   Growing up in Hyde Park so many years ago, I was always taken aback whenever pasta was served.  I am not talking the way it was served in the school cafeteria.  They did have a lot of children to serve!  But I could never bring myself to eat the school cafeteria pasta.  Depending on whom the lunch lady was, the spaghetti varied between, large worm- like spaghetti swirling on my plate with runny sauce or it was scooped out with an ice cream scoop.

  Even the neighborhood deli always had cooked pasta with sauce in their display case.  I often rode my bike to the corner store with my friends to get candy.  I would find myself looking on with curiosity when the deli man  scooped up cold pasta mixed with sauce into containers. Watching him squish down the pasta to make room for more, I shuddered as the soft pasta flattened into a pudding like consistency.  I just couldn’t understand why someone would want to eat that mush!

     One day I had an opportunity to watch neighbor-hood mom cook pasta and I began to understand this phenomenon.  When we made pasta at home it was always well attended to.  Meaning when you dropped the pasta in the boiling water my mom stood by stirring and checking when the pasta was done.  Just when my mom thought it was ready she would take it out blow on it and would hand it to me. I had the privilege to tell her when it was “al dente”. “Al dente” was when it was just short of being fully cooked through, firm but not soft. The pasta was then immediately drained and plated into individual plates which was served right away. We actually had an assembly line to the table to speed up the process.

   When my neighbor cooked pasta, it was left in the pot boiling while she attended to other cooking.  The pasta boiled and boiled.  After the water was good and starchy she drained the soft limp pasta. But that wasn’t enough! She then washed the gooey pasta to make sure all the goop was rinsed away.  It was then put in a large bowl with sauce. It sat while everyone slowly came to the table.  Maybe that’s why cooked pasta was offered at the deli.  This mush pasta took all day to make!

      Years ago American pasta was not made from durum wheat. It was made from the same flour they used for soft bread. So technically it was hard to make pasta “al dente”. Besides needing a quick technique to serve pasta one also needed imported pasta from Italy made from durum wheat.  Italian pasta was so much more expensive back then and not accessible to everyone.

     America has come a long way. We have so many more options now and most pasta is made from durum wheat.  I have to believe that my Italian family had a large part in the way pasta is served today. Well at least in Hyde Park! “


Fresh Pesto

 

Ingredients:

1 cup of chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 ½ cup chopped fresh basil

½  cup grated cheese ( parmagiana is best)

½  extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup toasted walnut or

¼ cup of toasted pignoli nuts

1 clove garlic

¼ tsp salt

½ boiled potato (1/4 mashed)  yellow potato is creamiest to use

 

Procedure:

 Add parsleyparsley 1

basil,basil

and coarsely chop

chop the basil

Toast the pignoli in a small skillet for a few minutes until lighty brownedtoast the pignoli

Add grated parmagiana cheese, garlic, olive oil and saltadd ingredients for pesto

Blend together either in blender, food processor or an immersion blender. Then add boiled yellow potato mix and then add cooked potato

 and continue blending

creamy blended pesto

 It is ready to serve.  Pesto is served mixed in with pasta.  Of course pasta “al dente”

     I made my friends a pasta that was served in the restaurant.  It was pasta that was layered with a ladle of hot marinara, a scoop of pesto, and topped with spoon of ricotta cheese.  We called it:

Pasta Amalfitano!

pesto amailfitano

Buon’ Appetito!

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”!