Hey, Everybody! It’s St. Joseph’s Feast Day!

Hiatus or not, I couldn’t let St. Joseph’s Feast Day pass without at least a mention. In the past, I’ve shared both a recipe and musical selection to commemorate the holiday. Today, there will be no recipe but the song will offer plenty of suggestions for you to prepare for tonight’s celebratory dinner.

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Sorry, Rosina’s already spoken for.

Enjoy the holiday!

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Happy Birthday – Zia

It’s our dear Zia’s birthday and Sheila, our good friend Celi’s star pig, had a party in Zia’s honor. Do take the link to read — and see — all about it.

Buon compleanno, Bella!
Cent’anni!

thekitchensgarden

One of the Fellowship has a birthday today. We call her Zia. She is the Master Memory behind her nephew’s blog From The Bartolini Kitchens.  Their food is amazing. Her nephew Chicago John gave his Aunt a most unusual Birthday present.  Feeding Sheila for the day.  Zia’s birthday day. So all day today Sheila is having a birthday party for Zia.  And she is going to get as fat as a pig.  Sheila not Zia.  I made them both a carrot cake.  But only Sheila gets to eat it. Though I am sure she would share it with Zia is asked nicely.

Happy Birthday Zia. (Zia is 90 something,  but I  am not at liberty to tell you the ‘something’ as she looks ridiculously young for her age and no-one would believe it anyway.)
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And because your todays are my yesterdays. Sheila posed for Zia’s photo shoot yesterday for today’s blog…

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Happy Halloween!

The Kitchens Wish You All

A

SAFE & HAPPY

HALLOWEEN!

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(Click to enlarge any/all photos)

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(Comments have been closed to allow you more time for Tricks ‘n Treats.)

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It’s Columbus Day!

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus, Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519. (Source: Wikipedia)

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Here in the States, today is a holiday set aside to commemorate the “discovery” of America by that navigator from Genoa, Christopher Columbus, or as we call him, Cristoforo Colombo.

Two years ago, to celebrate, I shared a musical number with you, while last year we cooked octopus. Today I’ve chosen to highlight how the Italian language is passed from generation to generation … kinda-sorta. Watch how Great Grandma teaches her Little One the intricacies of the Italian language. The only problem is that the video is far too short. I could watch these two “talk” for hours.

Have a great Columbus Day and to our good friends and neighbors to the North, have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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We’re Celebrating St. Joseph’s Feast Day with a Sicilian Strata

Oh, happy day! As some of you already know, today, March 19th, is the feast day of the Christ Child’s earthly Father, St. Joseph. Celebrated in towns and villages throughout Italy, the life of this humble carpenter is especially commemorated in Sicily, where it is believed his intercession saved the island’s inhabitants from a drought-induced famine during the Middle Ages. Today, in the States, his feast day is remembered wherever an Italian community calls home. Here in the Bartolini kitchens, we celebrate St. Joseph with music. In years past, we assembled a band and sang a song. All that’s left to do is dance.

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Since today we celebrate Sicily’s Patron Saint, why not feature a dish from that beautiful island? That’s a great idea, though I doubt that this dish is actually Sicilian in origin. Chances are it’s an American-Italian creation, if that. Well, at least half of its name is Italian, strata being derived from the Italian word for layer, strato.

As its name suggests, a strata consists of layers of ingredients and these are held together with a custard-type mixture. Strata come in many flavors. When Zia’s youngest Son’s family comes for a visit, ofttimes 3 of her Grandsons will work together to serve brunch. One mans the smoker while the other 2 bake a strata and prepare a few side dishes. They perform like a well-oiled machine and no one leaves that table hungry.

With a Sicilian strata, it’s all about the sausage, so, be sure to use your favorite Italian sausage, or homemade if you have it. You’ll find that today’s recipe is relatively benign but you can spice it up as much as you like. This can be easily accomplished by using “hot” Italian sausage, sautéing diced hot peppers with the vegetables, and/or seasoning the vegetables with red pepper flakes.

Your strata may be served hot or at room temperature, making it perfect brunch fare. Assemble it the night before and bake it anytime before your guests are seated at the table. Add a salad, some jam for bread/toast/bagels, perhaps some fruit, and brunch is served. Best of all, instead of being stuck in the kitchen playing short-order cook, you’ll be sipping Bloody Marys with your guests.

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Sicilian Strata 1*     *     *

Sicilian Strata Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Italian sausage meat, from links or patties (See Notes)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 6 Spring onions (scallions) chopped
  • 1 loaf Italian bread, sliced
  • 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, divided – Parmigiano Reggiano may be substituted
  • 8 oz (225 g) ball of fresh mozzarella, grated, divided (See Notes)
  • 1 dozen cherry/grape tomatoes, sliced, divided (See Notes)
  • 9 large eggs
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • salt and pepper, to taste (See Notes)
  • chopped parsley for garnish

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Sicilian Strata 2*     *     *

Directions

  1. In a large frying pan over med-high heat, sauté sausage meat until browned. Remove to a dish and reserve.
  2. In the same pan, sauté mushrooms until just about cooked through, about 5 minutes. If needed, add some additional olive oil.
  3. Add the onions and peppers to the pan and sauté until soft, another 5 minutes.
  4. Return sausage to the pan, mix, and heat through. Remove from heat and reserve.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper until well-combined.
  6. Use oil spray, vegetable oil, or butter to lightly grease a large baking dish.
  7. Build the strata:
    1. Cover the bottom of the dish with a layer of bread slices.
    2. Sprinkle half of the sausage mixture over the bread.
    3. Add half of the tomatoes.
    4. Sprinkle half of the grated Pecorino Romano cheese on top.
    5. Finish this layer by adding half of the mozzarella cheese.
    6. Add another layer of sliced bread.
    7. Cover this layer with the remaining sausage mixture and tomatoes.
    8. Carefully pour the egg mixture over the top of the entire dish.
    9. Finish the strata by sprinkling the rest of the Pecorino Romano and mozzarella on top.
  8. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight.
  9. Pre-heat oven to 350˚ F (175˚ C).
  10. Remove cover and bake in the center of the pre-heated oven until the eggs are set and the top is lightly browned, about 40 to 50 minutes. It should have a reading of no less than 165˚ F (74˚ C) on an instant-read thermometer. (See Notes)
  11. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before garnishing with parsley and cutting into squares for serving.

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Still not quite what you had in mind?

Then head on over to my blogging friend Nancy’s blog, Feasting with Friends. Just days ago she posted a recipe for a strata with Ham & Asparagus and it sounds delicious.

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Notes

Use whatever sausage you like, though Italian is suggested. It is a Sicilian strata, after all. I use our family sausage though you might prefer something a little sweeter or a bit more spicy. If using links, be sure to remove the sausage meat from the casings before cooking.

If using fresh mozzarella, it will be much easier to grate if you place it in your freezer for 30 to 45 minutes before grating.

As you may have seen in the photos, 8 oz of fresh mozzarella, when grated, will not result in enough mozzarella to completely cover each layer. Use more if that is what you prefer.

In Summer, I use a couple of “regular” tomatoes that I chop before adding to the strata. Being this is Winter, good tomatoes are practically impossible to find here, so, I use cherry or grape tomatoes that I slice in half. Use the best tomatoes you can, given the season.

The amount of salt you use will depend greatly upon the sausage and cheese you’ve chosen. Both can add quite a bit of salt to your strata.

Allowing the strata to come up to room temperature before baking will reduce baking time. As a precaution since you’re using raw egg, do not let the raw strata sit unrefrigerated for more than a half-hour, especially if you’ve a warm kitchen.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Bartolini Cannelloni 1Since we’re in a celebratory mood, I thought today’s blast from the past should take us back  to a recipe that was shared to commemorate a previous St. Joseph’s Feast Day. It was just about a year ago that I showed you all how to make Bartolini cannelloni, affectionately labeled a crown jewel of the Bartolini family recipe book. For a refresher course, all you need do is click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Harissa Thighs 3Harissa Chicken

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This Recipe has Legs: Strangozzi Pasta with Octopus

Strangozzi al Polipi

Recentlyour good friend Tanya, of Chica Andaluza fame, shared a recipe for Carpaccio of Octopus. (Do check out that recipe and, while you’re at it, take a few minutes to explore the rest of her fantastic blog.) I’d not thought about octopus in years and that post reminded me that my family once cooked octopus, polipo. I spoke to Zia about it and we decided to prepare it the next time I visited her. That visit took place last month and, with Monday having been Columbus Day, I thought octopus would make a fine way to commemorate his voyage across the Atlantic. After all, there were those that believed his ships would be sunk by a giant octopus long before they fell off the edge of the Earth.

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Strangozzi al Polipi

Strangozzi al Polipi

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It’s been quite some time since an octopus was given the place of honor at a Bartolini dinner — more than half a century, but who’s counting? We really have no reason for it not being served since then. The dish is delicious, reminiscent of calamari in umido, and it isn’t at all difficult to prepare. No matter. The dish was prepared by my family at one time and thereby has earned a page on this blog.

Back in the day, we would have prepared the octopus in umido, which in this case means stewed in a tomato sauce. Served in bowls with a chunk of good, crusty bread, the dish is delicious and, in some homes, is one of the dishes on the menu for the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. Originally, I had planned to prepare today’s recipe in umido until reality intervened.

As of now, I know of only one place to buy octopus and that’s at my Italian market. Unfortunately, they only sell very small or very large octopi and each poses a problem for us. When you cook something in umido, it is best that the protein be in large pieces. This is not a soup but a stew, after all, and the pieces should reflect that. Well, the small octopi are so small that it would take 4 to equal a pound (450 g). When chopped, the

Octopus over Polenta

Octopus over Polenta

pieces are far too small for in umido presentation. In fact, Zia and I attempted to serve them over polenta and, though tasty, all but a few pieces were too small even for that. On the other end of the spectrum, the market sells frozen octopi that are 4 and 5 lbs. apiece. Though that would be wonderful to prepare for a Bartolini family dinner, an octopus that size is far too large for a meal for Zia and I. So, although we had to change the dish to suit the circumstances, the search is on now for an octopus weighing 1 pound. When I find one, I’ll either create a separate Polipo in Umido post or amend this one to include that recipe. Bear in mind, though, that the ingredients used in the in umido recipe are the same as those used here for this sauce. Differences, if there are any, will be in the amounts listed. I’ll only be sure of that once I find an octopus in the right size.

Since we couldn’t serve the octopus as we had originally intended, in umido, Zia and I served it over polenta. As I mentioned earlier, that dish didn’t quite work as well as we Bartolini Strangozzi Pastathought it would. Again the octopus pieces needed to be larger. Once home, I bought 3 more small octopi and decided to serve them over pasta. As luck would have it, a few weeks earlier my blogging friend, Lidia, had noticed something while shopping and sent her discovery to me. (Not only does she share the name of one of my favorite chefs, Lidia has a wonderful blog, Oh Lidia, and I hope you take time to have a look.) You can imagine my surprise when I opened the carton and found 3 pastas manufactured by a company called “Bartolini”. I can’t think of a better pasta to serve with this old family recipe than one that shares our family name. So, of the 3 sent, I chose to prepare strangozzi.

In an earlier post, I demonstrated how to make strozzapreti pasta and gave an account of how it got its name. (See It’s déjà vu all over again … ) Strozzapreti, you see, means priest choker and one legend states that this pasta was so delicious that priests choked when eating it for the first time. What does this have to do with strangozzi? Well, it is thought that the word strangozzi is derived from the Italian word for shoelaces, stringhe, yet this pasta has come to mean priest stranglers. Huh?  Stay with me. Centuries ago, in Umbria, the clergy was not looked upon kindly by the villagers. Legend says that they chased down the worst of the clergy and those that were caught were strangled with their shoelaces. These long pasta ribbons are thought to resemble those shoelaces. Death by shoelace immortalized in pasta. Ya gotta love it!

In reality, strangozzi are about the size of what we would call linguine, the only difference being in their thickness. Our linguine are cut from thin pasta sheets; strangozzi is cut from sheets twice as thick. The result is a hearty pasta that is perfect for heavier or meat-based sauces.

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Before beginning the recipe, the octopus must be cleaned and readied. The head is actually a hood and the contents of its interior need to be removed. It is easy enough to do and you can slice its side to make it even easier. Next, the eyes must be removed. Make a small slice on either side of each eye, creating a small wedge. Remove each wedge and the eye with it. Since these octopi were so small, I sliced the octopus just above both eyes and again below, creating a ring. I then cut the eyes off of the ring. One last thing to be removed is the beak. Turning the octopus upside-down, you’ll notice a small whole at the center of the 8 legs. With your fingers, carefully feel the beak and note its size. With a sharp knife, cut around the beak and remove. Now that it’s cleaned, cut the legs section in half, creating 2 parts with 4 legs apiece. Cut those pieces in half again, and then again. In the end, you will have separated all 8 legs. Do not chop them but leave them whole and proceed with the recipe.

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Click to see any/all photos enlarged.

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Strangozzi Pasta with Octopus Recipe

Ingredients

  • octopus (See Notes)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less to taste)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 large can, 28 oz (800 g), whole tomatoes – hand-torn
  • 1/2 tsp dried marjoram (2 tsp fresh)
  • 3 to 4 oz dry white wine
  • 1 lb  (450 g) cooked Strangozzi pasta — or whatever pasta you prefer — cooked al dente
  • reserved pasta water

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan over med-high heat, bring to boil enough water to cover the octopus. Add the octopus and allow to simmer for 1 to 2 minutes after the pot returns to the boil. Small octopus should boil for 1 minute. Larger should be allowed to boil closer to 2 minutes. Remove the octopus and place in an ice bath to stop the cooking process and reserve. Once cooled, see Notes for chopping considerations.
  2. Over med-high heat, add olive oil in a medium sauce pan.
  3. Add red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper before sautéing until the onion is translucent and garlic fragrant — about 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes, wine, and marjoram, stir to combine. Bring to a boil before reducing to a soft simmer.
  5. After the sauce has thickened and darkened a bit — about 30 minutes — add the chopped octopus and continue to simmer.
  6. If using small octopi, it should be finished cooking in about 20 minutes. Taste a piece after 15 minutes to test for doneness and to check the seasoning. If necessary, add some of the reserved pasta water. (See Notes)
  7. Meanwhile, the pasta should have been cooked al dente and strained. Be sure to reserve some of the pasta water.
  8. In a large bowl or serving platter, combine the octopus sauce with the cooked pasta and mix. If the pasta seems too dry, add some of the reserved pasta water.
  9. Serve immediately.
  10. Like all mildly flavored seafood pastas, grated cheese is not recommended for it will overpower the dish.

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Notes

The dish will determine the size of the pieces when chopping the octopus.

  • For pasta dishes, I would suggest chopping small octopi into pieces about 3/4 inches (2 cm). These pieces will shrink a little during cooking and will be easily managed no matter what pasta you choose.
  • For in umido, a larger octopus should be used and, when chopped, the pieces should be larger. Ultimately, the size will depend upon how comfortable you are dealing with the pieces while eating. Even so, I would suggest that all pieces be no less than an inch (2.5 cm) long. (Since this recipe was posted, I did find and prepare a 1 lb. octopus in umido. You can see that recipe by clicking HERE.)

No matter the preparation or the size of the pieces, do try to keep them all the same size. Doing so will ensure that all the octopus is evenly cooked.

Understandably, the larger the octopus, the longer it should simmer in the tomato sauce. A small octopus should take 15 to 20 minutes, as was stated in the recipe above. Larger octopi will take up to 30 minutes, maybe more. Be careful not to overcook lest the octopus become rubbery. If in doubt, taste a piece to see if it is cooked to your liking.

For reasons unknown to me, we’ve always discarded the water used to blanch the octopus. Even though the octopus is in it only briefly, the water does darken in color.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Strozzapreti with Pesto

Strozzapreti with Pesto

With all of this talk of strangling priests, it’s only logical that today’s look back would be to the strozzapreti post. Not only will you learn how to make the pasta by hand, you’ll also learn how a few of the common pastas got their names. All this can be yours just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Damson Plum Jam Preview

Damson Plum Jam

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