Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!


2016-09-05 12.03.38

“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!

Deviled Crab Meat Stuffing

cartoon deviled crabmeat 003

      Trying to wake up my memory from the 1960’s when the restaurant first began I decided to study the first dinner menu. I counted 183 menu items.  In fact there was nothing anyone could want that wasn’t listed on that menu.  Not only were there many items but they were really odd entrees. On the cold appetizers category I noticed they had tuna packed in oil. (Did people really go into a restaurant and ask for tuna packed in oil on a plate?) Oh and let me point out that we had a California Fresh Fruit Cup listed on the menu!! (Is California fruit better than Florida fruit? Why not local fruit?) They also served veal kidneys, tripe and chicken livers! There was even a category for omelet’s. Through the years  the menu was shortened and thankfully they dropped the word California from fresh fruit cup. We stopped serving pizza and organ foods except for chicken livers. We tried to take chicken livers off the menu but the customers revolted and we apologetically put it back on the menu.

     The chicken livers entree on the menu was always a surprise to me. In the latter years these 2 lawyers came to the restaurant  that I recall serving when I was a little girl. They had retired to Florida and met up for a lunch date to relive the olden days and they both gleefully ordered the Chicken Livers Marsala. I was thinking to myself “Are you kidding me?” With all the most delicious things on the menu that the restaurant is famous for they ordered Chicken Livers????

    As I perused through the whole menu, I noticed that a lot of the menu consisted of Italian-American foods. Most of the entree are not served in Italy. My family is from Naples, Italy. I wanted to find something, anything that came from their hometown. I found that the menu represented a melting pot of items of all the places that my dad and his brothers worked before they opened up their own restaurant. They worked in American pizzerias, French restaurants, American Grilles, and Italian/American restaurants. They also consulted with their uncle Zio Monico who had a restaurant (The New Corner Italian Restaurant) which to this day is still open in Brooklyn from 1936. They used the uncle’s menu for ideas too! Now I know why the restaurant menu had 183 items. Not only did it represent every eatery they worked at but also their uncle’s Brooklyn restaurant.

  There were many different pasta and sauces. And lots of parmigiana entrees and even spaghetti parmigiana! But what exactly is parmigiana and did that come from Italy? I remember one year when we all went to Italy on vacation, we went out to eat and an American friend that came with us wanted Chicken ala Parmigiana. We were in Capri at a small local restaurant. You have to understand that in the Naples area when you go into a small restaurant there are no menus. The patriarch, aka my dad, asks what they have. For appetizers, it’s always the staples, some charcuterie and cheese or fresh caught octopus, shellfish etc…. For secondo- it’s always the pasta of the day that they prepare. And then the entrée is just a plain bistecca or some fresh caught fish. Sometimes they may have roasted chicken. I felt bad for my friend when he asked for Chicken Parmigiana. The waiter in his typical Napolitano way, hunched his shoulders, put his cupped hand up in a gesture, and with a look of utter disgust exclaimed in Napolitano “Where do you come from!”

     With a little research I found that Parmigiana has nothing to do with cheese or the Parma region! Parmigiana is a southern Italian dish based upon melanzane alla parmigiana, what we call eggplant parmigiana. (My family doesn’t put tomato sauce on eggplant parmagiana, it is individual servings of eggplant where an egg cheese mixture is sandwiched in between eggplant dipped in eggwash, floured and fried.) Adding veal or chicken in place of eggplant is an invention of the Italian immigrant communities in the U.S. The name itself may come from a Sicilian word, parmiciana — for the slats of wood in a shutter, which overlap in the same way as the slices of eggplant in the dish.

       Okay! I am beginning to understand the thought process to this menu. But where is our Italian Napolitano roots represented in this menu! There must be something! In my last blog I was surprised that they didn’t even call espresso by it’s name but by demitasse.

     And there it was! At a quick glance I thought it was a typo…..but over and over …..like a glowing firefly in the dark. There it was! The very essence of my Napolitano roots!! Finally!!!

     I wished they highlighted it or capitalized the letters. Or maybe they should have made the font bold and huge! Wait for it!! Here it comes!!

They spelled mozzarella….muzzarella!!!

     Muzzarella is the Napolitano pronunciation for mozzarella. Muzzarella is like music to my ears. It is home! And there it was on the first menu…… Muzzarella! The only thing Napolitano on that first menu that represented the three immigrant chefs!!

You will never see that word written! But  you may hear an Italian/American say that word in it’s shortened version…..Muzz!


Deviled Crab Meat Stuffing

“This stuffing has been a favorite amongst our customers through the years.  It has been a sought after recipe.  The only reason of  our reluctance to share was only that there are so many steps in making this coveted dish.  I believe this recipe originated from a dish served at one of the restaurants that the brothers had worked at in the 1950’s.  I want to say it comes from Nick Beni’s Anchor Inn. I am sure it has been tweeked from the original recipe. Take your time and enjoy!!”

Ingredients:

16 oz Crabmeat (lump or claw)

9 oz Sherry

3 large mushrooms

1 medium onion ( 2cups of finely chopped onion)

1 ½ sticks of butter ( 12 TBS butter)

1 quart of whole milk

¾ cup of clam juice ( reserved from 4 cherry stone clams) or buy clam juice in a bottle at grocery store

4 cherry stone clams finely chopped, optional

19 oz flour

10 oz corn starch

10 oz shortening

1 ¼ tsp egg food coloring

¾ cup of water

11 oz water

1  TBS salt

1 ½ tsp ground black pepper

1 ½ tsp oregano

Utensils:

2 medium pots, 1  large (2 gallon) pot 1 bowl, whisk, knife,  measuring cup, measuring spoons.

Procedures:

  1. Finely chop onions. Set aside.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 052
  2. Clean mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Slice and dice whole mushrooms (stems and all). Set aside.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 054
  3. Coarsely chop crabmeat. Set aside.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 057
  4. Combine the 2 cups of finely chopped onions, ¾ cup of water, 12 TBS butter in a pot over high heat until it comes to a boil then lower the heat to simmer.  Continue simmering  on low heat while the rest of the ingredients are put together.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 053
  5. Corn Starch preparation: In a bowl with 1 cup of cold water  slowly add 10 oz of corn starch whisking vigorously to avoid clumping.  The mixture will set up and become thick. Set aside.  Don’t worry if corn starch sinks to the bottom.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 058
  6. Rue: In a very large pot ( all the ingredients will be combined in this pot)  melt  10 oz of vegetable shortening on low heat. Turn off heat and remove pot from the burner. Slowly add flour  until all the flour is mixed in and the  rue becomes thick.  End product should be the consistency of a thick paste.  Deviled crabmeat stuffing 059
  7. Clam Juice: Either buy a bottle of clam juice found at your grocer. Or shuck 4 cherry stone clams reserving ¾ cup of the juice and chopping the clams and adding it to the mixture. One may even add small tiny shrimp to this.  We have done both in the restaurant.
  8. In a separate pot warm 1 quart of milk with 1 ¼ tsp of yellow food coloring over medium heat.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 060

 

      At this point there will be 3 pots and a bowl.   You will have the large pot with the rue, smaller pot with onion mixture, small pot with the yellow warm milk and a bowl of cornstarch mixture.  At this point we will start combining the prepared ingredients.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 062

 

  1. To the pot with the onion mixture add the 9 oz of sherry , chopped mushrooms, chopped crabmeat, chopped clams (optional) and  ¾ cups of clam juice.  Keep simmering on low heat.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 061
  2. Start warming up the rue again and when it starts to bubble slowly add the yellow milk mixture and vigorously whisk so that no lumps form and the yellow mixture is thickening. Keep stirring until you take it off the heat or it will burn. It should become a very thick and smooth.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 063
  3. Turn off heat on onion mixture and slowly pour into the yellow rue and stir until smooth.  Bring to a boil.   You will see bubbles and popping.  Turn off heat.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 066
  4. Add the seasoning: 1 TBS salt, 1 ½ tsp ground black pepper, 1 ½ tsp oregano
  5. Taste it and see if it to your liking. This is the time to adjust the seasoning. Add a little more salt if you like.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 067
  6. Stir the cornstarch mixture in the bowl. If the cornstarch sank to the bottom and will be hard just keep stirring until it is all blended again.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 058
  7. Put the yellow mixture on medium heat until it becomes bubbly again. Add the corn starch mixture in small doses ( like in 10  parts) .  Whisk the corn starch continuosly. Continuosly stirring and completely incorporating the cornstarch during each addition. It will become very thick where it is hard to turn the whisk. You may want to have someone hold the pot in place as you stir.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 068Deviled crabmeat stuffing 069
  8. Let it cool and then place in refrigerator to set.

 

This is a large batch and it yields 11 cups of stuffing. You can freeze it.  But it needs to be portioned out in balls and wrapped  individually and put it freezer.  We never froze it in the restaurant but for the home cook these are large portions.  I even stuffed clams shells and wrapped each one and then froze them.  The frozen balls can then be put on shrimp or wrap filet of sole around them and placed in oven.

** Suggestion:  Timing is critical in this recipe.  Have all the ingredients and utensils ready.  Please be sure to have all the pots of ingredients boiling hot when they are added except for the milk. You can turn off the heat while you get to next stage but be sure to bring to temperature when you are ready to add to the final stage.  (Milk should be hot but not boiling as it will burn.)

 

For  stuffed clams the oven is preheated to 350 degrees.  Sprinkle paprika on stuffed clams and drizzled with olive oil. Bakes 20-30 minutes depending on size and amount of stuffing.  I generously stuff the clams.  Bake until the tops of clams are light brown and crispy.  Then serve.Deviled crabmeat stuffing 070

 

For stuffed shrimp:   Roll a large a heaping table spoon of stuffing into a small log and place in the middle of a shrimp. 3-4 shrimp per person.  Put in a casserole with a little water on bottom top with mozzarella cheese and drizzle with melted butter.  Bake in  350 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Buon Appetito!!


 

Pasta w/ Tomato Basil Cream ala 825 MAIN

tomato basil cream pic

 Ingredients:

  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 whole Medium Onion, Finely Diced
  • 2 jars of 825 MAIN Pizza Margherita Sauce
  • Salt  to taste
  •  1 cup Heavy Cream
  • Fresh Basil, Chopped
  • 1-1/2 fresh pasta

Preparation:

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.

Heat butter and oil over medium heat. Add onions and  saute for a minute or so. Pour in 825 MAIN Pizza Margherita Sauce and add salt  to taste. Stir and cook over low heat for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from heat and stir in cream.  Check seasonings. Stir in pasta and chopped basil and serve immediately.

 

Chicken Manicotti

chicken manicotti
INGREDIENTS:
• 2 cups chicken, cooked and diced
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
• 1 cup grated Parmagiana cheese, divided
• One 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
• 1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
• 1 large clove garlic, minced
• 1 teaspoon salt, divided
• 1/4 teaspoon pepper
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 2 cups half and half
• 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
• One jar of 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce
• 12 manicotti, cooked and rinsed in cold water

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In a medium size bowl combine the ricotta, 1/2 of the cup parmagiana cheese, eggs, and mozzarella. Stir in the basil, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper, and chicken until well combined. Set the filling aside.
In a saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour, and the rest of the salt. Cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly just until the mixture starts to brown. Whisk in the half and half, stirring until becomes thick. Remove from heat and stir in the rest of the parmagiana cheese and nutmeg. Pour into large casserole dish, spreading around to completely to coat the bottom.
Place the filling into a large zip lock bag. Clip one corner and fill the manicotti from both sides and place over the white sauce. Repeat with the remaining manicotti and the filling. Pour the 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce over manicotti evenly. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella (or more if you like). Bake for about 25 minutes or until the filling is heated through.