I grew up in a big Italian family where English was not spoken in the house. My big Italian family consisted of not only my parents but also my grandparents, 7 aunts and 7 uncles, all of whom were Italian immigrants just entering the US. I was the first born American in our family. As much as they reasoned that they wanted the children to all speak Italian, I believe it was more because no one knew a word of English. I started learning English when I began school. But it was not until I took Italian in college that I realized that whatever language I was speaking at home was not Italian! It was not only a mixture of Italian and Napolitano dialect but it was also consisted of English words said with a thick Italian accent. I soon realized that so many words that I thought were Italian were actually English mispronunciations. For instance, we lived in Poughkeepsie, but my Italian family insisted we lived in ‘Pookeepzz’. The Italian teacher corrected me when I said river was translated to riviera in Italian. Riviera is a riverbank. But my big Italian family were trying to say Hudson River in English and they would refer to it as Riviera. And then whenever we visited my grandmother, she would offer us kids ‘gookeez’. No such word in Italian! They were speaking English and were offering us cookies! I even thought that sandwich in Italian was san-gweecio. I did not even realize I was saying san-gwich when ordering at the McDonald’s drive thru until my children brought it to my attention. After that I made sure I said SSSaaaannndddwhich while they snickered in the background. When I think back to all the times my dad brought us to Italy to visit the family, it is no wonder my cousins had no clue what we were saying. So basically, we did not speak Italian and we did not speak English.
There was one time in fourth grade that my mother went to pick up my report card from Sister Mary Regis’ class. I was an overall good student, but the teacher complained to my mom that my English could be better. My mom was perplexed and asked her what she meant. She proceeded to tell my mom that I should be able to pronounce ‘th’. My mom explained that I never learned the ‘th’ sounds because it is not in the Italian language. With a stern voice Sister Mary Regis said, “You live in America and Teresa needs to speak proper English!” After that I made sure to pronounce all the ‘th’ words correctly while developing a stutter with every ‘th’ word.
It was not until years later that I got a good handle on the ‘th’ sound minus for the occasional confusion with tong and thong. We were in Italy and I was 13. My Italian cousins and I were sitting on the beach with their friends. They all found great joy in having me say three thirty and three thousand over and over. They were laughing hysterically. For some reason hearing me pronounce the ‘th’ sound made for a quite entertaining afternoon for them. It is no wonder that I still stutter over an occasional ‘th’ word.
Alright already! I admit it I have the occasional speech issues leftover from my childhood. But! I can say sfogliatelle perfectly! And even my children can say it right. I made sure that they were able to pronounce words properly in the language they were speaking in. I know this to be true because there was one time while in college my daughter and her college friends visited an Italian Bakery in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Everyone ordered either eclairs or cannoli. When it became my daughters turn to order, she ordered her favorite sfogliatella in the proper Italian pronunciation. The Italian shop owners did a double take and immediately focused all their attention on my daughter asking her name. Their eyes glimmered as she told them her name was Adriana. “Aaaahh, what a beautiful name! You are Italian!“, they rejoiced as they lovingly served her a delicious sfogliatella on a golden plate. ……wink wink
What is sfoglialtelle?
Sfogliatella is a crispy clam shaped pastry made from dozens of thin layers of dough and filled with a citrusy sweet mixture of ricotta and semolina. They are a symbol of the city of Naples in Italy. What makes them so uniquely special is that as crunchy as the pastry is on the outside, the inside filling is a complete reverse and so smooth. Sfogliatelle are best served warm with the perfumes of the candied fruit and the cinnamon adding to the experience.
Legend has it that this pastry was invented in the 1600’s in the Covent of Santa Rosa on the Amalfi Coast. The Mother Superior, Clothilde, had some leftover semolina soaked in milk. So instead of wasting it, the Mother Superior, made it into a sweetened filling mixing it with ricotta and placed it into dough shaped like the monk’s hood. It was so delicious that the convent began selling it and the rest is history.
Wherever the Italian immigrants from Naples settled they brought their love of sfogliatelle to share. So it has come to be that when you go into an Italian Bakery anywhere in New York, they are most likely offering the Sfogliatelle. As famous as the Sfogliatelle Riccia (crunchy pastry) is, there is also less known variety as the Sfogliatelle Frolle ( smooth pastry). I have been trying to make Sfogliatelle Riccia in the last few years experimenting with different flours to get the perfect texture. I found the best flour to use is the 00 flour. If you can’t find 00 flour, pastry flour is a good alternative. The most time consuming part of this recipe is preparing the dough from a pasta roller. I used the kitchen aide mixer with the pasta roller attachment to get the dough as thin as possible and rolled it into a log. If you enjoy a challenge this recipe is very rewarding!
Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and add the salt.
Bring the mixture to the boil. Sprinkle in the semolina, whisking gently all the while to keep lumps from forming.
Cook the mixture for 2-3 minutes until it thickens to a paste-like consistency.
Remove it from the heat, pour it into a bowl and allow it to cool.
Meanwhile, press the ricotta through a fine mesh strainer, again, to eliminate lumps.
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl….…and stir them together.
Cover the filling with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. It will store up to two days.
To make the Sfogliatelle:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment combine the flour, the salt, the honey and the water.
Let everything mix on medium speed for a good 10 minutes.
Note that the dough will be kind of dry and crumbly. It will not form a ball. That is fine.
Transfer the dough to a wooden board and start putting all the crumbs together to form a ball.
Start kneading the dough until the ball comes together and it feels supple and smooth. The kneading process will take about 10 minutes.
Coat the dough with a thin coat of lard, wrap it in plastic paper and let it rest for 1 hour at room temperature.
If you have a long table roll out a sheet of wax paper at least 9 feet long. Otherwise, no worries, do it in shorter length.
After 1 hour, take the dough and divide in half.
Take one half and leave the other half in the plastic paper.
Attach the pasta roller to your stand mixer or use any other pasta roller that you may have. Set the roller to the widest setting.
With your hands flatten the dough as much as you can and begin to the pass it through the roller. The first few times the dough will rip, not to worry, keep folding the dough and keep passing it through the rollers. Eventually it will no longer rip and the dough will become smooth and velvety.
12. Once you have a sheet that is nice and smooth, set the pasta roller to next to the thinnest setting (on the Kitchen Aid I set it to 8).
13. Pass the dough through the roller and be careful to catch the thin layer of dough that will come out Once you catch it, gently deposit it the sheet of dough on the wax paper that you laid on the table.
14. Starting from one end, put some lard on your fingers and spread it over the entire surface of the dough. Do it gently as you do not want to rip the dough.
15. Once you have covered the entire surface with lard, start from one end and begin to roll the dough into a log as tight as possible until you reach the other end. If you table isn’t 9ft. Just keep attaching the shorther lengths until you have a log about 2 1/2 inches thick.
16. Apply a coating of lard over the entire log, wrap it in plastic paper and store it in the fridge.
17. Repeat the same process for the other half of the dough.
18. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 5 hours.
19. Pre-heat the oven to 400F.Take each log and cut it in slices of a little less than 1/2 inch. Take each slice and with your thumb press all around toward the center of the dough so that it spreads and forms a cone
20. Fill each cone with two teaspoons of filling, close the end and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
21. Once you have made all the sfogliatelle, bake them for 27-28 minutes.
22. Once they cool, you can optionally sprinkle them with powdered sugar and serve them.
Since we are stuck at home, we have been watching the HBO series My Brilliant Friend. The show was created from Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels. The story line is about two girlfriends and the difficulty they experienced as women living in the 1950’s in Naples, Italy. My Brilliant Friend is the name of Elena Ferrante’s first novel. The show is not only spoken in Italian, but also in the Neapolitan dialect with English subtitles. Some of the scenes were even filmed on the island of Ischia located in the Bay of Naples. My sister lives there now and is also the island where my mom and her family grew up. I have read the first of Elena Ferrante novels, and had started reading the second book which I could not bring myself to finish. For some reason I decided to force myself to watch the HBO series during this quarantine. I thought that listening to the Neapolitan dialect would bring me comfort. As I watched the series, I realized why I stopped reading Elena Ferrante’s books. Her books are painfully too familiar.
My mom was born in 1936 and moved to the US in 1955. My Brilliant Friend series is also set in the 1950’s. Mamma told me so many stories during her upbringing. My mom was the oldest of seven siblings. Her father was away as a medic during the war, and afterwards he went away again in search of a better place for his family to live. The family struggled whenever he was away. As a young child my mom was forced to grow up fast and strong. Her mom desperately relied on her. Mamma had to do a lot of things that would seem way too much for a young child to do. But her mom had no choice while taking care of 6 younger children. I listened to my mom and her stories of all the things she had to do, I just could not fathom the gravity of the situation until I heard the desperation of my grandmother’s words.
One day as my Nonna (grandmother) stirred sugar into a cup of espresso she, told me of a time when she went to speak to her priest before Nonno (grandfather) went away to Argentina in 1949. My Nonna was the holiest person I have ever known. Her whole life was guided through the Lord and the Holy Spirit. She went to church every day. I knew that faith got her out of the darkest moments of her life. That day over espresso, she recollected a dilemma she experienced in minced words that I could not quite understand. I leaned forward so I can fully comprehend what she was trying to tell me. Her face was cringed in pain and her voice stammered as she tried to reveal her secret. My Nonna did not speak any English and she told me this in the Neapolitan dialect. Although I am basically fluent in Italian, some of the words, she used I never heard of. With my eyes wide, my mouth agape and at full attention, I listened. She proceeded to tell me that during the time before Nonno left for Argentina she went to confession to ask the priest for guidance. But I did not get it! I just nodded to reassure her I was listening. To this day I still wonder what she was trying to tell me. I did not understand the words she used to tell me what the priest had said. How can I understand? I cannot even imagine what it was like living during that time, in that place, under those circumstances? All I can tell you is what I saw in front of me as Nonna closed her eyes and lifted her hands as if in reverence and said she found out she was pregnant with her only son, her 7th child as Nonno sailed off to Argentina. Nonno met his only son 3 years later when he finally came back from Argentina.
My Nonna was so burdened with her husband away, a child on the way, and 6 other children to feed, that she had no one else to rely on but my mom. Nonna kept all her other children under close watch. They did not have the freedom that my mom had to freely move throughout the island. My mom’s siblings were not allowed to go anywhere. My grandmother was extremely strict with them. I grew up understanding that Nonna was protective and overbearing. I used to hear whispers that my mom, as a child, was arrogant and spoiled. I often wonder if Mama’s sisters could have been jealous of her. But as I am rethinking about it now, how could they have not felt that way about my mom. They watched my mom have the freedom that they wished they had.
Because of this responsibility, my mom ended up developing a strong character. My grandmother needed her to be that way. Money was so tight, and the family was starving. The money my grandfather would send from Argentina was not enough for the 8 of them. My grandmother would say to my mom…Here is 2 lire and a shopping list. See what you can do. As challenging as it was, my mom would embrace the task. She became good at bartering with the market people to get as much as she could with the little money that she had. Mamma was proud to go back home with everything on the list and watch intently to see if she could erase the worry off my grandmother’s face. Mamma was industrious too! Mamma proudly told me of the time she had to travel to Forio, (a town on the other side of the island) to learn how to make baskets. Nonna gave her enough money to buy all the material, too! When she got back home, she taught her mom and her sisters to make the baskets too. They all worked hard to make baskets to sell to the tourists. Another time, while my mom was out and about the town, a tourist asked where she could find a laundress. Mamma piped up that her mom is a laundress! Mom’s quick thinking added another monetary opportunity to put food on the table. Mamma told me countless stories of how it was when her father was away.
That is how my brilliant mamma became who she was. But just as much as my mom had let go of her childhood, my grandmother also had to let go of some of her motherly instincts for the family to survive.
I think about those times now as we all struggle with this pandemic. How strong my mom and her family had to be to endure all those hardships back then. I am confident that we all can overcome this hardship at this time! After all it is in our genes to overcome!
Grilled Chicken Marinated with Mint Pesto
This dish is a family favorite! I can remember my grandfather starting the grill. He didn’t use charcoal just wood in a barbecue pit. The mint pesto was made with his own white wine vinegar which was way stronger than commercial vinegar. He used it whole chicken or fish. My version is adapted to make it a quick meal on your stove top. Enjoy!
2 Boneless chicken Breast pounded so it the same thickness throughout
½ cup fresh mint leaves
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup of white wine vinegar
½ tsp of salt
2 cloves of garlic
Blend the mint leaves, EVOO, vinegar salt and garlic together until just about chopped. Not smooth though. Blend for a few seconds to get all the ingredients in a rough chopped look.
Add the mint pesto to the chicken to marinate for a half hour.
Preheat a cast iron pan on high heat on the stove top.
Grill chicken in a cast iron pan. With heat set to medium. Flip to cook both sides. The length of time that it takes depends on the thickness of the pounded chicken. It could be anywhere from 10 minutes to 20 minutes.
Despite having all these limitations set in place, I hope you all were able to enjoy your Easter and Passover celebrations. Practicing social distancing, I did manage to carefully carry on one Easter tradition. I made several Italian Easter Pies and dropped them off to our children, my sister and my mom. Today is Easter Monday and it has always been celebrated throughout the world. Even the White House used to have its own Easter Monday tradition with The Egg Roll on it’s the grounds. But this year, this epidemic has made us all reminisce about Easter and Passovers and how it used to be.
Growing up, my mom always referred to the Monday after Easter as Lunedi in Albis (Monday in White). But as a national holiday throughout Italy, it’s called Pasquetta (Little Easter). After the somber week of reflecting on Jesus dying for us and rising from the dead the Italians get together informally on the Monday after Easter. They head outdoors to enjoy the spring sunshine and warm breezes with family and friends, packing up the leftovers from the Easter feast into picnic baskets.
In 1972 my dad wanted us all to experience Easter in Italy. We jetted out from NYC to Naples with a stopover in London on the brand new 747! The trip wasn’t as glamorous as it sounds, though. Having problems with connection flights we ended up staying 2 overnights in London. Two days of constant running between airline counters trying to get a flight to Naples was exhausting! Unfortunately, we ended up missing part of Holy Week. I was 13 years old and besides the memorable flight, there were a couple of other memories that stood out to me during our trip to Italy.
One memory was that I noticed how proud all the women were of their Panettones (Easter Bread) or as Napolitano’s call it, casatiello. The process was a huge undertaking because each of the matriarchs of the families baked enough for all their children, the children’s families and even the children’s in-laws. Each family we visited during Easter week made sure to bring us to a special room where all the panettones were rising. The women in their kerchiefs and aprons made elaborate gestures of removing the blankets to show off the many pans of bread. This really piqued my curiosity and I asked my mom why all this drama about the rising of this bread. She said they made their own yeast and it took longer to rise. I remember thinking this bread was almost like Christ rising from the dead in three days. Is this why they all make Easter bread? So, after all the waiting the bread was ready to bake and we got to enjoy it on Easter Sunday and Monday.
The second most memorable experience was Easter Monday, La Pasquetta. My brother and I, along with my cousins had a picnic in one of Monte di Procida’s vineyards. We brought dyed hard-boiled eggs, prosciutto and provolone cheese, bread, the Easter panettone, bottles of water and even a bottle of wine. I enjoyed it all! Well except for the panettone and the wine. The pannetone was dry and sweet. Now that I remember correctly, my brother and my cousins ate the panettone with the wine. Hmmmm? Maybe that’s why my brother was rolling down the hill like an Easter egg. I wasn’t a wine drinker back then. I didn’t like it. Imagine that? I grew up drinking water with wine mixed in. Forbidding underage drinking wasn’t a thing in the Italian culture. Wine on the table was the norm. Kids drank diluted wine. I did not acquire a taste for it. When I finally turned eighteen in 1976 (the drinking age back then), it didn’t phase me. If I wanted a drink, I could have had it long before I was 18. So possibly the panettone didn’t taste as good to me because I refused to dunk it in wine! My taste buds changed as I got older. I love panettone now! Especially when it’s dunked in wine!
I have attached a recipe for Cornetti (Italian croissants). I am still daydreaming of sitting at a bar enjoying a cappuccino while dunking a cornetto. The Italian Cornetto and the French Croissant look similar but actually very different.
1. The cornetto is much sweeter than the French croissant. The Cornetto contains more sugar, while the French version contains more butter, which makes it so much greasier
2. The cornetto is softer compared to the French croissant, which is crispier.
3. Italian cornetti usually have fillings. They are filled either with pastry cream, marmalade, honey, or chocolate (I love the ones filled with pastry cream!), while the ‘cornetto vuoto’ (an empty cornetto) is the pastry without any filling. The French version doesn’t traditionally have fillings.
I tried a couple of different recipes for cornetti but this is my favorite. I used brown sugar because I didn’t have can sugar and it still came out perfect. The texture is just what a remember about them. Not greasy at all. I didn’t fill these with pastry cream but next time I will try filling them!
Cornetti (Italian Croissants)
• 1 cup of water
• 1 tbs of honey
• ¼ cup of cane sugar or brown sugar
• 1 egg
• 1/3 cup melted butter
• Zest of 1 lemon
• 1 cup of flour
• 1 cup of oo flour
• 1 envelope of yeast (preferably brewers yeast)
• 2 tsp of sugar
For the layers
• ¼ cupof cane sugar or brown sugar
• 1/8 cup of melted butter
For the finishing
• 1 egg yolk to brush before cooking
• Warm honey to brush after cooking
1. In a bowl, add the flours, the envelope of brewers yeast and the two teaspoons of cane sugar that will serve to activate the yeast. Mix all the ingredients.
2. In another bowl pour the warm water and then add and a tablespoon of honey.
3. Into the bowl with warm water and honey, add the brown sugar, the grated lemon peel, the melted butter and the egg.
4.Mixing it all together with a fork, add the flour a little at a time.
5. Continue to work the dough with your hands and add the flour, until we get a dough with an elastic consistency.
6. Put the dough in a bowl, engrave in a cross with a knife and cover with cling wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place, until the volume doubles, it will take about 2 hours.
7. After it rises lightly work the dough and to form a long log. Divide it into 8 equal loaves of about 4 ounces each.
8. Prepare the pastry by rolling out the loaves to form 8 discs about 2mm thick (very thin!)
9. Spread the loaves one at a time, with the rolling pin and brush the melted butter and sprinkle the cane sugar on the surface. Continue laying out and overlapping all the discs.
10. After fixing the last disc we stretch with a rolling pin to get a round pastry, about half a centimeter thick (less than ¼ inch thick)
12. With a pizza cutter make 8 wedges and a small incision in the center of each wedge. Roll up the wedges to form the croissants and fix them in the baking tray, covered with parched paper. Cover with clingwrap and leave to rise for about 20 minutes.
12. Brush with egg yolk and bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for about 20 minutes.
13. As soon as you take the cornetti out of the oven , lightly brush them with warm honey!
14. And don’t forget to dunk it in a cappucino. Or maybe wine! hiccup!
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
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
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon milk
2 teaspoons demerara sugar for sprinkling on egg wash
Preheat the oven to 350℉.
Line a large baking sheet with
In a medium mixing bowl, sift
together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
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).
Slowly add sugar. Continue to whisk
until well combined and slightly thickened (about 2 minutes).
Add the oil, extract, and the zest.
Add the sifted dry ingredients and
mix with wooden spoon until well combined, dough will be soft.
Scoop dough with medium sized
cookie scoop and drop on a lightly floured surface (about 2 tablespoons).
Roll out each piece in a 4-5 inch
strand about 1/2 inch in diameter.
Place on parchment-lined cookie
sheet and form into an S shape.
Brush tops of cookies with egg yolk
Sprinkle with demerara sugar
Bake for 15-17 minutes or until
bottoms are lightly browned (this is a pale cookie).
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
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!
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Place the milk, half the sugar and the vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium heat.
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.
When the milk just begins to boil, remove from heat and remove vanilla bean.
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.
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.
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.
These past two weekends I enjoyed giving seminars to the customers of Adams Fairacre Farms in Poughkeepsie and in Wappinger Falls. During the dreary winter months in January and February Adams Fairacre Farms gives the customers an opportunity to learn and enjoy some interesting subjects! I was invited to share what I know as well. So I gladly jumped in the fun. I decided to bring everyone on a tour of Northern Italy’s pasta and sauces. Not only did I set the mood with Italian music I set up the props. On display was a painting of Tuscany set on an easel. The table was set with an vivid Italian table cloth set with grapevine baskets filled with oranges. Incidentally my grandfather made the huge basket from the vines from his vineyard. A separate table was set up with my portable kitchen. My wonderful husband and daughter helped serve while lots of customers came to experience the fun event. It was so fun that I decided to share with you all the fun facts and experience of this Tour of Northern Italy Pasta and Sauces. But let me start off with some of my observations with our American pasta culture versus Italian. Let me say I am an American in an Italian restaurant family so I am fully aware of our American pasta culture. But when I go to Italy the differences are so obvious. Is one wrong and the other right? No! It’s just a cultural difference. But it’s fun to compare!
Some Pasta Facts
I will start off with
talking about some misconceptions we Americans have about pasta.
Americans seem to think that pasta to be good must be made freshly by hand.
Best way is made by an Italian grandmother using a rolling pin
2. or by a machine that some of us have in
or ready-made fresh pasta that we can find right here at Adams.
Americans think of dry pasta or in Italian (pasta secca) found in boxes and plastic bags as substandard.
But no! In
Italy most Italians eat dry pasta that comes out of a box! An exception is the
northern region! In Northern Italy fresh
pasta is quite popular and most families make their own.
Fresh Pasta Facts
Italy uses more fresh pasta than Southern Italy
is usually made from softer wheats, though some durum semolina can be mixed in,
and some is made with just durum, but that takes a lot of strength to work
south, some fresh pasta is made with just flour and water, but in the north it
is almost always made with flour, eggs, salt and water. If it is to be used for
stuffing, as in ravioli, a little milk is sometimes added.
6 major differences with the way we make pasta in the US
We overcook the pasta
According to Italians the biggest mistake that we Americans make is overcooking the pasta. We all know what aldente is. But pasta must be served as soon as it is drained. It gets a little crazy at my house when we drain the pasta. My husband dishes out pasta. I sauce it. The kids pass out the dishes. We must be fast! Pasta is very important.
2.Cook in too little water
But another problem with making pasta is using too
little water. A pound of pasta should be
cooked in 5 quarts of salted water vigorously boiling. Too little water stews the pasta making it
gummy and overcooked. Believe me, I too am guilty of this. Sometimes I am too lazy to go to the cupboard
and get the big pasta potout thinking it’s just my husband and I. It’s a big mistake. The pasta doesn’t cook evenly and the pasta
Cooking the perfect pasta.
Make sure its 5 quarts of
water per pound of pasta.
Bring to a boil.
Add 2 tablespoons of salt.
Place pasta in boiling
It will quickly come to a
When pasta is done. 5-6 minutes (more for thicker pasta less for
thinner like spaghettini or angel hair.
Remove and drain but not
too thoroughly. Save 2 ladles of pasta
3. Adding Oil to water
When you add oil to the cooking water for pasta will only make the pasta slippery and harder for the sauce to get absorbed into the pasta. Your pasta will lack the flavor of the sauce.
4. Huge Portions
When it comes to eating pasta, Italians are very measurement conscious. And it’s a very easy formula to follow: 100 grams (3-1/2 ounces) or less of pasta per person.
It is never a heaping portion like one you would expect in the States.” In the ’90s, Los Angeles Italian restaurants routinely served pasta in giant bowls, each portion enough to feed three or four.
The point of the dish is not the sauce but the pasta. There should be just enough sauce to coat each strand lightly. There shouldn’t be puddles of sauce congealing in the bottom of the dish.
5. Oversauce the pasta
A way to get the most flavor into the pasta about a minute or 2 before it’s done strain it. Saving a ladle of pasta water then toss it in with the sauce and a ladle of the pasta water. Let it finish cooking on the stove. And then quickly serve it. This is called “pasta saltata in padella”. But some further explanation of the sauce. They don’t call it sauce or salsa. They refer to it as condimento or condiment. The condimento is just about a ¼ cup per serving
6. Too much cheese on pasta
Cheese is just a scant teaspoonful per
serving. In Italy the waiters come and
quickly grate a little cheese on the pasta.
In our restaurant if the waitstaff weren’t attending each table to
grating the cheese they would go and try to sprinkle a teaspoon of cheese. But typically, the waitstaff we be grating
and dumping loads of cheese on top of pasta!
Italian cooking is an art of simplicity and balance. It’s recognizing that less
is often so much better than more. AS I
often talk about in my seminars. Just
like my sauces the 825 MAIN. It’s very
simple. But it’s about the quality of
the ingredients. I am very picky about
the ingredients. As you will find out as
I continue…… And as we try the different pasta and sauce for each region in the
northern part of Italy you will begin to understand what I am talking about.
So, let’s get to the fun part. I am going to cover 4 northern regions of Italy. I am picking a pasta that is popular in that area with a sauce or I should say condimento of the area.
Most commonly crimped, square-shaped and stuffed with meat, agnolotti (or ‘priest hats’) is the primary pasta of Piedmont, in the northwestern region of Italy. Located in the lush-green foothills of the Alps and the Apennines, and surrounded by a wooded wilderness, Piemontese cuisine is typically tinged with the musky aromas of its mountainous backdrop. Perfect for poaching, agnolotti can also be added to a broth, but are best pan-fried in a sage and butter sauce and finished off with a dusting of white truffle.
recipe I use Rana brand of Tortelloni.
They are a fresh pasta found in the dairy section of Adams. I used the Cheese Tortelloni and also the Spinach
and Roasted Garlic Tortelloni. I have to
say I was partial to the Cheese one. I put it in a very simple butter/sage
sauce. The recipe follows. But the
highlight of this dish is the shaving of truffles. In the Poughkeepsie Adams
Fairacre Farms I was able to order a fresh black truffle that came from Burgundy,
France. While in Wappingers I had
available the revered White Truffles that were sold in jar. The truffle products are sold in the pasta
section in the Wappinger store. If you
would like to read about some Truffle Facts continue on while the recipe
Truffles are quite unique in feature that
separates them from other common fungi. Truffle has a rounded, below the earth
fruiting body that can be lobed, with shallow to deep furrows and has
yellowish, tan to dark brown skin. The interior is solid, white, marble like in
white species and black in black species with narrow, white veins that tend to
radiate from the base. Mature specimens possess a pungent, rich smell.
Several species of tuber (truffle)
mushrooms found naturally in the dense forests of Northern Hemisphere,
especially Italy, Balkans, and France.
The black perigord (French black) truffle
(Tuber melanosporum) is mainly found the wooden forests of Southern Europe.
They feature mottling pattern with streaks of white veins. They are the most
sought after by the chefs all over the world for its very aromatic flesh.
important black species are black summer truffle (T. aestivum) and Burgundy
truffles (T. uncinatum) are also prized for their culinary values.
The white truffles (T. magnatum) are the
largest of truffles and found in the Northern Italy. White truffles are also
highly accolade by the chefs for their powerful fragrance likened to mould,
garlic, and smell of cheese.
Some other species include those found in
the US such as Oregon black truffle (T. gibbosum), Oregon brown truffle are
also noted for their culinary values. Pecan truffle (T. lyoni) is found in the
southern part of United States near the pecan tree cultivation.
ruffles are grown the wild close to oak,
poplar, hazelnut, elm, pecans and beech trees. Mature truffles develop odors
and emit volatile organic compounds and pheromones that attract wild animals.
Truffle hunters search for them from autumn to winter with the help of trained
dogs in these wooded forests. In the
past, hunters used to rely on pigs to sniff out these prized discoveries.
Problem was, the pigs loved to eat them. In the 70’s they stopped using pigs.
These days, well-trained dogs who don’t care for the taste are used for
Reasons why Italy has best
1. IT’S THE HOME OF THE WORLD’S BEST
dozens of varieties of truffles in the world, but Italy’s white truffle is one
of the most elusive, most delicious and most expensive. It’s found only from
September to December and in just the right conditions, growing on the roots of
trees under layers of damp leaves and dirt.
2. IT’S ALSO THE HOME OF THE WORLD’S MOST
In 2007, two
of the family’s hunters – Luciano and Cristiano Savini – unearthed a
1.28-kilogram (2-pound, 13-ounce) truffle that sold at auction for a whopping
USD 330,000. That price is recognized by Guinness World Records as the most
money ever paid at auction for a white truffle. You can check out a replica of
the truffle at the headquarters. Fun fact: The dog that found the original was
14 years old.
truffles are a rare delicacy: The short season for the mushrooms, the
stratospheric prices ($2,000 a pound is not uncommon) and the intense aromas
and flavors make this mostly something for the world’s super rich. Shaving a
few grams of a white truffle on a dish such as risotto can send the price at a
restaurant soaring into the triple digits.
Selection and storage
truffles are usually sold in the areas from which they are harvested. Choose
firm, fleshly truffles, without bruises.
In the markets one can choose dried
truffles in airtight containers. Other novelty products such as truffle
flavored sugar, salt, truffle honey, truffle oil, etc can also be found in the
supermarkets. Truffles canned in water are also available in some stores.
Eat them as soon as possible. To store,
place them in the fridge fresh up to 1 week. Place cut truffles in an airtight
container and cover them with Madeira or white wine. Canned truffles that are
cut and covered with Madeira or a little oil for a month.
Once at home, use them early. Place them in
cool dry place in a wooden basket away from sunlight and moisture. Keep in the
fridge for a few days, in a paper bag or a dish covered with a clean cloth.
Preparation and serving
Truffle’s rarity in the nature makes them the most expensive items to use liberally in the dishes. Their usefulness counted just as gourmet food and to some extent as appetizer. Do not wash truffles -rub them gently with a soft brush. Cut them in slices, slivers, cubes or shaving.
Agnolotti or Tortelloni del Plin
Package of Rana Tortelloni
1 teaspoon salt, plus more for pasta water 8-10 tablespoons butter 10 sage leaves 1 cup grated Grana Padano 1 fresh white truffle (optional!)
Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add
the fresh agnolotti/ tortelloni, stirring gently, and cook them for 3-4 minutes
or until the agnolotti are bobbing on the surface of the water.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over
medium heat. Lay the sage leaves in the pan and heat until the butter is
sizzling gently. Toast the leaves for about 1 minute, then remove them.
Add 1 cup of water to the butter, then swirl the
pan and simmer for about 2 minutes, reducing the liquid by half. Keep the sauce
hot over very low heat.
Drain the agnolotti and add them to the sauce in
the pan. Toss and cook them for about 1 minute over medium heat until the sauce
is bubbling. Remove the pan from the heat, add the grated cheese.
Optional: Shave fresh white truffles over the pasta!
recognized as the ‘bow-tie’, farfalle borrows its name from the Italian word
for ‘butterflies’. Despite its intricate design, this good-looking variety
remains the signature pasta of the northwestern Italian region of Lombardy.
Habitually blended with beetroot, spinach or squid-ink, farfalle is also
available in an array of brilliant color combinations to include the vivid hues
of the Italian flag. Owing to its sauce-holding-abilities, this pasta is best
served with a simple tomato and basil concoction.
Fairacre Farms in Poughkeepsie has Delverde Bow ties but the Adams in
Wappingers has colorful artisanal Farfalle (bowtie) Pasta called Tarall’oro. This dish is highlighted by my own 825 MAIN
Farfalle ala 825 MAIN Marinara
1 jar of 825 MAIN Marinara
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves and then very thinly sliced
1 lb. dried farfalle pasta
Grated Parmagiano Reggiano cheese
In a 10-
or 11-inch sauté pan, heat the jar of 825 MAIN Marinara over medium-low heat,
stirring occasionally, until sauce is heated. Remove from the heat.
on the basil and stir to combine thoroughly.
the sauce is warming up, bring a large pot of abundantly salted water to a
vigorous boil and cook the pasta until al dente. Drain it well.
pasta with three-quarters of the sauce and divide among individual serving bowls.
little of the remaining sauce over each serving and sprinkle on the cheese, if
Strozzapreti: (larger version of
(or ‘priest-choker’), is a hand-rolled variety of pasta from the northern
Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Its dubious name origin is unclear; one
legend suggests that ‘Strozzapreti’ stems from the story of the gluttonous
priests who choked on their pasta as a result of their insatiable appetite,
another claims that housewives ‘choked’ the dough in such a rage, violent
enough to ‘choke a priest’. Irregular in size and shape, strozzapreti is the
larger version of cavatelli (‘little hollows’), and is made of flour, water,
parmigiano-reggiano, and egg whites.
The Cavatelli that I used is in the frozen food section of
Adams those are made with ricotta
cheese, eggs, flour, and salt.
Sauce is Adams marinara, mozzarella cheese, and
Adams Marinara Sauce
1 jar of Adams Marinara Sauce
1 lb. of cavatelli
or if you are lucky to find the larger version called Stozzapreti
of fresh mozzarella cut into chunks
grated Parmagiana Reggiano cheese
In a pasta
pot , heat the jar of Adams Marinara sauce over medium-low heat, stirring
occasionally, until sauce is heated. Remove from the heat.
pot of salted boiling water for spaghetti.
Add cavatelli/strozzapreti and cook according to
Drain pasta saving a ladle of pasta water
In pasta pot add the cavatelli adding a ladle of
Adams Marinara Sauce and a ladle of pasta water.
Mozzarella and grated cheese
Bigoli – The bigoli are a type of
long pasta, which looks like a big spaghetto; they’re from Veneto, but
they’re quite common and popular in the Eastern Lombardia. The name “bigoli”
seems to result from the dialect term “bigàt” which means “worm” with regard to
the shape of the pasta.
Bigoli in salsa
Bigoli in salsa, long pasta cooked in
a tasty fish sauce, is the only inclusion of pasta in the city’s traditional
Bigoli are a
kind of pasta made with semolina flour (semola di grano tenero), salt, and
water. They are like thick spaghetti, and similar to Tuscan pici or bringoli.
The name is also used for a kind of wholewheat spaghetti typical to the town of
Bassano del Grappa in the north of the Veneto and so these are also sometimes
used. Normal spaghetti would works well if it’s all that you can find. In fact,
in many Venetian restaurants today, spaghetti are served as bigoli. Most letter
L ls are not pronounced in Venetian and so you will often see the word written
as it’s said: bigoi.
Salsa is the
general word for sauce, but in this dish it refers to something very specific.
The condiment is made from three ingredients only: white onions, water, and
salted sardines or anchovies. White onions are a speciality of the town of
Chioggia in the south of the Venetian lagoon. Sardines and anchovies are native
to the Venetian lagoon. Although the sardine is the traditional ingredient of
this dish, it really doesn’t matter which one you use. The two are very similar
indeed and in Venetian have almost identical names. Sardine is sarda and
This dish was the most time consuming. It takes an hour for the onions to melt down
before you add the anchovies. I saved
this dish for last because it is very aromatic and has a long lasting taste and
I didn’t want to corrupt the tasting of the other pastas. It’s the most different and not a popular
dish in the US. I was pleasantly surprised
that the customers really enjoyed this dish!
also need to add that cheese if served in Venice is a huge No No! But we are in America and we can do
whatever we like! I used La Bella fresh
spaghetti for this dish since it was the most similar to Bigoli.
onions, finely chopped
2 TBS of
extra virgin olive oil
sardine or anchovy fillets
1 pound of
bigoli or fresh thick spaghetti
Place the onions in a large frying with EV olive oil.
Cook on a low heat seating them until so soft that they are falling apart adding a little water so as not to color the onion. You are almost melting the onions! Takes about an hour.
Finely chop the sardine/anchovy fillets and add the fish to the pan
Stir until the fish has dissolved in the into the onion mixture.
Continue to cook for about five minutes.
Bring a pan with 4 quarts of unsalted water to the boil.
Cook the bigol/ spaghetti according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pasta to the frying pan with the sauce in it.
Mix the pasta into the sauce, adding a little of the cooking water if necessary, and then serve topped with chopped parsley and plenty of ground black pepper.
Thank you for taking the journey through Northern Italy’s pasta and sauces! Buon apetitto!! I cant help but be Italian when I talk and talk and talk…especially with my hands!!
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.
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.
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 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!
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
1/4 cup of Grape seed oil or corn oil. I like to use grape seed oil.
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!
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!
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
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
As we were leaving Italy this past spring, after visiting my sister Giovanna, a boutique in the Napoli airport jumped out at me! We got to the airport in plenty of time and as we settled into our gate’s waiting area, I told my husband that I was a going for a walk. I think he was a little worried when he saw that I grabbed my pocket book. I urged him not to worry because I wasn’t buying clothes! I headed towards the most beautifully decorated boutique. Entering the boutique, Dolce e Gabbana spoke to me loud and clear. I patted my side to make sure I had my pocketbook!
Just a mere 15 minutes later I lugged a beautiful shopping bag to where Jim was sitting. As he glared at me, I joyfully exclaimed that I bought pasta!
I had filled my bag full of Pasta Di Martino! Jim looked at me with a puzzled look on his face.
“But Jim! It’s a real special pasta. It’s made in Gragnano on a hilltop between Monti Lattari and the Amalfi Coast not too far from the airport! Gragnano is famous for its air-dried, bronze-extruded pasta across the world. The Gragnano townsfolk call it white gold. Even though Gragnano has been making this pasta for hundreds of years, it was only in the 18th century that Pasta di Gragnano became widely known spreading all over Italy. In the last century Pasta di Gragnano began to travel beyond Italy’s borders to the rest of the world.”
I continued to tell him that there are 4 reasons this pasta is exceptional!
1. The land where the wheat is cultivated. The town of Gragnano is situated where there’s a right mix of wind, sun, and humidity. In the 18th century, the king of Napoli decided that only two places were suitable to cultivate the wheat for the rest of the population: Naples and Gragnano. The pasta also must be made by mixing durum wheat with the calcium-poor water of Monti Lattari.
2. The second reason is the carefully-developed process, which continues to be regulated by a strict standard of production. In 2013, the European Union declared PGI (Protected Geographical Indication): the pasta made under the name “Pasta di Gragnano” must be produced in a legally defined area that still corresponds to the territory indicated by the king of the Napoli about two centuries ago.
3. The dough must be extruded through rough bronze forms and, once it has taken shape, dry at low temperatures in the mountain air. The result of this long and traditional process is one of the finest pastas in the world. This pasta is called Bronze Cut.
4. And the last reason and what attracted me to the pasta in the first place is that Dolce e Gabbana ( An Italian luxury fashion house founded in 1985 in Legnano by Italian designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana) signed the new look of Di Martino Pasta. A special edition celebrating Italian excellence through colors, symbols and monuments identifying the country.
I was feeling all smug and self important explaining all of this to Jim. And then he tells me that this isn’t new to him. Adams Fairacre Farms where he is the grocery manager carries this very pasta. In fact he had spoken to the international buyer for Pasta di Martino at the recent Food show. He actually ordered pasta with the Dolce e Gabbana look to sell at the Wappinger Falls, NY location. I am like, “Say what!!!” “Yes, we sell it at Adams”, Jim answered with his smug, self-important tone.
I couldn’t believe it. Adams Fairacre Farms is selling the Di Martino Pasta with the Dolce e Gabbana look. Wow! Not only is it being sold in Neiman Marcus and Bergdoff Goodmans. It is even featured in Vogue magazine. And now it’s available in our very own Hudson Valley at Adams Fairacre Farms, Wappinger Falls, NY!
When we arrived home from our trip, I marched myself into Adams to see for myself. There it was! Rows and rows of Pasta Di Martino pasta. So far only the mezzo rigatoni were packaged in the Dolce e Gabbana signed wrappers. I noticed they even have the infamous 24 inch spaghetti wrapped in the original blue paper that the Gragnano pasta was wrapped in hundreds of years ago. No other pasta is wrapped in that way.
I am astounded that we have the Crown Jewel of pasta wrapped in Dolce e Gabbana right here in Wappinger Falls and no one even noticed! Right under our very noses!! Like who knew!
Now that I have uncovered this gem in the Hudson Valley, you all better hurry in while supplies last! Because I sure did fill my cart at Adams Fairacre Farms in Wappinger Falls, NY!!
Love this beautiful pasta!! Can I wear ?
Shrimp Marinara using the 24 inch Pasta di Martino Spaghetti
1 jar of 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce (authentic Napolitana marinara sauce to go with Napolitana Di Martino spaghetti)
1 lb of 24 inch Pasta Di Martino Spaghetti ( Each blue paper package holds 2 individually wrapped pounds of 24 inch spaghetti)
2 cloves of garlic cleaned and sliced thin
¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup white wine
Pinch of red pepper
1 lb of cleaned and deveined shrimp
3 sprigs fresh parsley – chopped
1. Pour jar of 825 MAIN Marinara Sauce in a sauce pan. Warm sauce on medium heat.
2. Start a big pot of boiling water.
3. In a saute pan place extra virgin olive oil, sliced garlic, pinch of red pepper, and the shrimp. Cook on medium heat until the shrimp turn from opaque to white. Careful not to overcook. Less is better because you will be finishing cooking the shrimp with the sauce. Beware that overcooking makes shrimp tough.
4. Add the white wine and the chopped fresh parsley
5. Add the cooked shrimp mixture to warm 825 MAIN Marinara sauce.
6. Add broken up pieces of basil.
7. Add spaghetti to big pot of boiling water. No need to break spaghetti. It will fold over as it softens and nudge it down with thongs. Cook it al dente. Strain saving a half cup of pasta water.
8. Put strained spaghetti back in pot with the ½ cup of pasta water and a couple of ladles of the shrimp marinara sauce. Stir over medium heat until all spaghetti is coated.
9. Divide spaghetti amongst the plates and ladle the prepared Shrimp marinara sauce over. Serve with a leaf of basil on the side of plate.
I am so embarrassed that it has been so long since I have written a blog entry. Our only daughter is getting married and I have been preoccupied with making sure that everything is perfect because god forbid I make a “brutta figura”! But I ended up making a “brutta figura” with all of you by not keeping up with my blog posts! If you are Italian, you know exactly what I mean by “brutta figura”. For all the non-Italians read on as I explain in detail of this Italian phenomenon. And for all the Italians out there help me make a “bella figura” by giving me wedding planning advice.
While growing up in my big Italian family, my parents stressed to all of us the importance of always making a “bella figura” so our family looked good. We strived to make “una bella figura” versus “una brutta figura”). In literal translation brutta means ugly and bella means beautiful. Figura means figure as in body shape. Figuratively, these two phrases mean that Italians want to always make a good impression versus a bad impression. Let me give you an example. My first introduction to “brutta figura” was when we would go visit my extended Italian family. The hostess would welcome us into her home and lead us into a beautiful dining room set up with fine linens, china and would serve espresso, an assortment of desserts, and aperitifs. This was her way of making “una bella figura”. (One time we went to a relative’s house in Brooklyn and we had to sit on plastic covered chairs that went crunch when we moved. I don’t know if this could be regarded as “bella figura”.) For us children, so as not to embarrass my parents and create “una brutta figura”, we were urged to partake of the coffee, desserts and even the aperitifs. Yes, as a child I was encouraged by the hostess to try the aperitifs along with everything else. Although I didn’t care for the aperitifs and the espresso to make “una bella figura” I had to try it. But now when I look back I should not have tried so hard with the Italian pastries. I realize now, this was the only drawback to this “bella figura”. All these good impressions I made, ended up on my “figura” which now I need to work on, so I can make a “bella figura” for my own daughter’s wedding.
As I grew up in the restaurant I watched my father and my uncle practice their “bella figura” on their restaurant customers. My father would ho, ho, ho while my uncle would ha, ha, ha, as a customer told a joke. My brother and I would recognize my father’s overly deep laugh and my uncle’s high pitched laugh as fake. We would look at each other and say, “bella figura”. We knew that our dad and uncle were pretending to understand the joke!
I passed on this “bella figura” concept to not only my husband but our kids as well. In the early years when my husband and I were dating, one day in front of my father, my husband bravely downed a glass of fresh warm goat’s milk that was just milked from our pet goat, Daisy so as to make a “bella figura’. Our youngest child absolutely hates butter. Whenever we would go out to dinner and his entre’ happened to be made with butter, he would have a meltdown. We would have to immediately return it and get something else. Now that he is older and married, he makes sure to make a “bella figura” whenever he eats with his wife’s family who use butter to their hearts content in everything they make! The oldest child who was in the Navy avoided many national incidents by practicing “bella figura”. In the Philippines he partook in eating everything that his hosts, the Philippine Navy, served in his honor. It was the first time and last time that he had roasted pigs face. Another time in Iraq he braced himself to accept a date dredged in yogurt from the fingers of his Iraquee guide. He made a “bella figura’’ and ate it as it was passed from one Iraqi’s hands to another’s and finally to his own.
But “bella figura” doesn’t just relate to food. Italians make sure their clothes are neatly pressed with accessories that match to the smallest detail. From the women with perfectly coiffured hair, to the men with their perfectly trimmed beards, Italians take their appearances seriously. But its not just the way they look! Even things must look good. A dessert, a gift, a garden, an entrance to a home, everything must be perfectly decorated with a flourish! Even with their children’s school studies would parents often ask, “hai fatto una bella figura?” when asking how they did in an exam. And let me explain their generosity! Italians always put their hand in their pocket to avoid “una brutta figura”! Even if someone is making a “brutta figura” in front of you, it is best to avoid noticing it. After all, it is a “bella figura” to not embarrass the person making the “brutta figura”!
In Italy one can even make a “brutta figura” while drinking coffee! I drink cappuccino whenever I feel like it. Whether it’s in the morning or after a meal, I have no problem ordering one. But when I am in Italy, I make sure to only order one in the morning because I don’t want to make a “brutta figura”! Apparently, a cappuccino is only a breakfast drink in Italy. They will serve you one, but rest assured, in their heads they are thinking,” Pfft……Americano!” Also, any real Italian, will never drink coffee out of a paper cup! Or even worse, walk around drinking out of one! That is a huge “brutta figura’!
And now to get back to this wedding. I am not only just worrying about the guest list so as not to make a “brutta figura”. I need to make sure the flowers are perfect on the tables, we present a good meal and it’s served with finesse, so we can make a “bella figura”. But honestly, what is stressing me out the most is my dress! I must find a beautiful dress that fits perfectly on this “figura” (literally) just so I don’t make a “brutta figura” (figuratively). Ohh the consequences of making a “bella figura” through the years and now I risk making a “brutta figura” at my own daughter’s wedding!
Zucchini Flower Zeppole
Male and Female Zucchini Flowers
It’s summer time and my zucchini plants are in full swing! We enjoy zucchini year-round, but you need the summer to enjoy the flowers! My family loves zeppole made with zucchini flowers. The flowers are edible and so utterly delicious that we can’t wait for summer to plant zucchini plants! I am going to show how to make these zeppole step by step! If you haven’t planted zucchini plants look for the zucchini flowers at your farmer’s market. Italians love their zucchini never letting them grow longer than 5 inches and are sold with their flowers still attached. In the picture above I have displayed the female flowers which are attached to the zucchini and the male flowers. I only use the male flowers for the zeppole. They have long stems with no zucchini attached. Some recipes call for the female flowers too but I prefer only the male flowers. The female flowers sometimes are bruised and fall apart.
10 to 12 male zucchini flowers, washed removing stamen and leaves
1 cup of flour
1 teaspoon of salt
½ teaspoon of baking powder
A turn of pepper mill
½ to ¾ cup of water depending how thick you want the zeppole
¼ to ½ cup of oil for frying depending on what size pan you use. You want to have enough to fry in. I prefer extra virgin oil to fry in for extra flavor but any frying oil is good.
1. Wash the flowers thoroughly making sure that you don’t inadvertently catch a bee inside the flower!
2. Remove the tiny green leaves around the flower.
3. Next break off the stamen
Take off the stamen
4. Set aside on paper towels to dry. Now to make the batter.
5. Mix the dry ingredients separately and in a separate bowl mix water and egg. Then add the egg mixture to the dry ingredients and mix.
Mix up the batter
6. Now you have some choices!
a. Some people love to stuff the flowers (keeping the stem on) with ricotta cheese mozzarella and grated cheese twisting the top of the flower to keep the stuffing inside. And then coating them with the batter.
Stuffed Whole Zucchini Flower
b. You can dip the flower whole (with stem on for presentation only) into the batter.
Frying the zucchini flower Zeppole
c. You can also tear the flower in pieces ( be sure to take stem off) and placing it in batter. And putting batter in oil to fry by tablespoonfuls.
7. Next is fry your choice of flower preparation in heated oil in a skillet. I set the burner on a medium high. I like them a golden brown and then flip it over. Check often so you don’t burn them. It can take about 3 minutes or more on each side. I like to line a plate with paper towel to drain off excess oil.
Drain zeppola on paper towels
8. Finally serve and eat. I sprinkle them with a little grated sea salt. My granddaughter likes them sprinkled with sugar!