Dad’s Grilled Red Snapper

red-snapper-5

Those of you who follow me on Instagram know that I’ve been recently waylaid by a rather unfortunate run-in with a bit of black walnut-shell. In perhaps the most unkindest cut of all, the blow was delivered by one of my beloved post-Thanksgiving turkey sammiches. (I knew The Fates could be cruel but who knew they had a taste for irony, as well?) The resultant series of appointments meant that I’ve not been around WordPress very much of late. Although there’s more work to be done, I’m happy to say that the worst of the ordeal is now behind me. I’ll be back at 100% before you know it but, please, I’m begging you, no more jokes about whistling merry Christmas.

Neither of today’s dishes — I wouldn’t really call them recipes — are in any way complicated or difficult to prepare. Given my current situation, they are just what the dentists ordered. In my mind, however, both are closely tied to the upcoming holidays. The first, red snapper, was a favorite of my Dad. It’s also my last post before Christmas Eve and I’ve a tradition of offering a seafood dish for those preparing a Feast of the Seven Fishes.  The second dish shared today, roasted chestnuts, was the very last Mom served on the holidays.

I’ve wanted to post a red snapper recipe for some time but it’s a little complicated. You see, snapper is endangered depending upon where and how it’s harvested. If caught by hook and line in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s OK to purchase. Red snapper caught in the South Atlantic, however, should be avoided. Ruby snapper — its Hawaiian cousin — is OK to purchase. (Source: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch). I’ve often seen red snapper for sale but, as a rule of thumb, if the monger cannot tell me where or how a fish is caught, I choose another fish or, in some cases, another monger. Over the years, I’ve passed up a lot of red snapper. That’s not so complicated. Well, stay with me.

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red-snapper-2

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Recently, my fish monger had fresh red snapper and I eagerly bought 2 fillets, one to be grilled that night and the second to be prepared the following night. See the opening photo? That’s  proof that I actually grilled red snapper. Unfortunately, it’s the only photo that I have because moments later my grill ran out of propane. I finished cooking the fillet on a grill pan.

That was a Friday 2 weeks ago. The following day, Saturday, we were hit with a snowstorm.(We’ve had snow on each of the past 3 weekends with more expected tomorrow.) I spent my day pushing the snow off of the walkways. For some reason, replacing my grill’s propane tank never crossed my mind — until dinner time. That’s when I made an executive decision. I wasn’t going anywhere and fired up the grill pan, instead.

Complications aside, this is about the easiest preparation for a dish that  I’ve ever posted. It’s not so much the fish but the memories that go along with it. Yes, it was  Dad’s favorite fish but he wanted it grilled. No matter the season, no matter the weather, if red snapper fillets were on the menu that night, Dad was at the barbecue getting the grill ready.

grandpas-barbecueAs I’ve mentioned in other posts, our barbecue was made of brick and built by Grandpa in the late1950s. Mention that barbecue and In my mind’s eye, I see Dad standing before it, preparing our main course.  Once, during a summer storm, Dad was wearing a trench coat over a pair of shorts, his bare legs extending beyond the coat’s hem. His right hand was tending our meal while his left hand struggled to maintain control of the wind-whipped umbrella. Now that’s dedication.

red-snapper-1Although I can’t say for certain what he was grilling on that foul weather day, it would be a pretty good bet to say that it was red snapper. That’s how much he enjoyed grilled red snapper fillets! I do, too, maybe not to that extent but I do enjoy red snapper when grilled.

The fish is easy enough to prepare. Season both sides of the fillet with salt & pepper before drizzling with olive oil. Light the grill and while it heats, place equal amounts of butter and lemon juice in a small sauce pan over low heat. Softly simmer the two while the fish cooks. Red snapper fillets flake easily so we, Dad and I, use(d) a fish basket to hold them in place on the grill. There’s nothing worse than watching part of your dinner fall between the spaces in your grill plates. Depending upon how hot your grill is, the fillets should cook in about  3 to 4 minutes for the first side and about 2 minutes for the other. Place the fish skin-side down to start. (See NOTES) Once finished, remove the fillets to a serving platter and drizzle with lemon butter sauce. Serve immediately with lemon wedges. See? Couldn’t be easier but oh, so very good!

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Since the red snapper dish was so simple to prepare, I thought I’d make this post a two-fer. Recently my Brother asked where my post for roasted chestnuts was located. Um … it wasn’t. I’d forgotten all about them. So, here’s another easy recipe that also means holiday to me.

On Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day, once the deserts had been served and the table cleared, while the adults dipped anise-flavored biscotti into their caffè and chatted, Mom would bring freshly roasted chestnuts, castagne, to the table. No matter how sated, everyone at that table managed to eat a few chestnuts, You see, much like the old Jell-O advert, there’s aways room for castagne.roasted-chestnuts-2016

Sometime that afternoon or early evening, Dad would use his penknife to slice an “X” in the rounded side of each chestnut. Later, they would be placed on a baking sheet which was then put into a 425˚ F pre-heated oven. After about 20 to 25 minutes, the chestnuts were removed and allowed to cool slightly before being served.

I wish I could be more precise but much depends upon how fresh the nuts are and whether all have been properly roasted. You see, a chestnut has a shell within a shell. We’re all familiar with the brown outer shell but the one on the inside will give you fits. It’s inedible, paper-thin, fuzzy, and can stick to the chestnut like glue. If your chestnut is roasted for tool long or too short, you can expect problems with that inner shell. Oh! There’s an added bonus to roasting them for too long: the chestnuts become rock-hard.

Now, there are those who par-boil their nuts before roasting but I’ve never tried that. Mom boiled a few and, once chopped, included them in her turkey stuffing. If I remember correctly, she didn’t fare any better with the boiled chestnuts than we did later that evening with them roasted. Problems aside, a few roasted chestnuts to end the meal are as much a part of my holiday feast memories as are those of the much-beloved platters of ravioli that began them.

Speaking of the holidays, we at the Bartolini kitchens wish you all a holiday season most memorable, with a new year filled with wonder and joy.

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Notes

The red snapper fillets can easily be prepared on a grill pan or under the broiler. In the first case, heat the grill pan as you would a barbecue. Cook the fish as if it were on a grill, skin-side down, for a few minutes before turning it over for about another 2 minutes. If you broil the fillets, place them skin-side down on an unheated broiler pan/tray about 4 inches under the heating element, They should be ready in about 4 minutes but keep a close eye on them. If you’ve used a broiler with seafood, you know exactly what I mean.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

braised-eel

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve so why not take a look back at a dish traditionally served on that night? I’m talking about eels and though I only remember it being served once when I was very young, peering into a sink full of eels definitely left an impression. You can see how they’re prepared by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

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Panettone: A Bread with Promise

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The Incredible Edible Eggplant

Eggplant Blossom

Such Promise

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It all started innocently enough, with a blossom identical to the one pictured above. I had learned my lesson well, or so I thought. See, last year’s 2 eggplants were just about smothered by my tomato plants. The tomatoes quite literally took over my then-new raised garden bed as if the soil had been smuggled out of Chernobyl. I picked only 1 eggplant and it was a Japanese variety, not at all what I had expected. This type of thing has happened enough times to convince me that there are people who delight in swapping name tags between differing varieties of the same vegetable. This spring’s cuckoo was a jalapeño masquerading as a cayenne pepper.

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Growing Up Eggplant

Growing Up Eggplant

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This year, I planted 3 eggplants with the conviction that I would keep my eye — and pruning shears — on the neighboring tomato plants. I won’t bore you with the details but I was partly successful, with two plants growing nicely. The 3rd, well, is now engulfed. All facts considered, I really cannot complain. The 2 remaining plants have managed to produce more of the bulb-shaped vegetables than I thought botanically possible. (I really must get that soil tested.) As a result, I’ve pulled out every eggplant recipe at my disposal in trying to stay ahead of these 2 overly productive plants.

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The Day's Eggplant Harvest

The 1st Eggplant Harvest 

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Here are the dishes that I’ve prepared thus far. I’ve supplied the recipe for the first dish and links for the rest, the exceptions being the eggplant lasagna and a pickled eggplant. Both of those recipes are in the works.

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Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Grilled Eggplant & Tomato

Pre-heat the barbecue or grill pan. Slice the eggplant into approximately 3/4 inch (2 cm) rings. Cut the plum tomatoes in half, removing the seeds if you like. Use a pastry brush to sparingly coat the eggplant with olive oil. Lightly drizzle the tomato halves with olive oil and then season everything with salt and pepper. Giving the eggplant slices a head start, grill both vegetables until cooked to your satisfaction. Remove to a platter. Garnish the vegetables with a mixture of chopped fresh rosemary, thyme, basil, and parsley. Season with salt & pepper before adding a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or Olio Santo (See Coming soon … ).

This vegetarian dish may be served hot, warm, or at room temperature, and will make a great light lunch or tasty side for any meal.

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Pasta alla Norma

Pasta alla Norma

A favorite of Sicily, this eggplant & tomato sauce was created in honor of the Bellini opera of the same name. You needn’t travel to Sicily nor the nearest opera house to enjoy this dish, however. Just take this LINK to see the recipe that I posted.

The recipe calls for a garnish of ricotta salata. If you cannot find this cheese, crumbled feta is a great substitute and more readily available.

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Caponata

Eggplant Caponata

Also originating in Sicily, caponata is another dish that celebrates the eggplant. Today, it is found throughout Italy with ingredients that often vary from region to region. I’ve shared Mom’s recipe, which you can find HERE.

Don’t forget to make more than needed. Add a few beaten eggs to the leftovers to make a tasty frittata the next day.

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Stuffed Eggplant

Stuffed Eggplant

Grandma served this dish to her girls, Mom & Zia, when they were young. You can well-imagine my surprise when my Zia in San Marino also served stuffed eggplant during my recent visit. The recipe for this tasty contorno — and popular in both sides of my family —  can be found HERE.

Any of the stuffed vegetables in the linked recipe can be used to make a great tasting sandwich for your lunch the following day.

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Eggplant Lasagna

Eggplant Lasagna

A layered dish, eggplant lasagna features pasta sheets, baked eggplant slices, and a tomato sauce, with or without meat. Oh! I almost forgot the cheeses. Asiago, mozzarella, and Pecorino Romano combine to make this one flavorful main course.

True confession time: I had thought that I’d already published this recipe and was surprised to learn that I had yet to share it. Not to worry. That oversight will be corrected in the weeks to come.

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Jamie Oliver’s Pickled & Marinated Eggplant

Marinated Eggplant

Jamie has done it again. In his recipe, eggplant is chopped, bathed in a pickling liquid, and then marinated in herbed olive oil. Best of all, this same technique may be used with mushrooms, onions, small peppers, zucchini, and fennel, with each vegetable having its own suggested herb to include. You can check them all out by taking this LINK.

I did make one substitution to his recipe. In place of oregano, I used marjoram. For those unfamiliar, marjoram is related to oregano but is a bit more mild and is favored in Le Marche, the ancestral home of the Bartolini.

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Indian-Style Pickled Eggplant

Indian Pickled Eggplant - Preview

Looking for something with a bit more heat? Well, with my cayenne pepper plants competing with my eggplants for top honors, I went web surfing for recipes. With many to choose from, the final recipe is an amalgam, using ingredients that I had on-hand or that could be easily sourced. The result was a spicy dish that I really enjoy. Best of all, it’s reduced my eggplant AND cayenne pepper inventories. A bit too involved to be shared here — this post is long enough already — I’ll publish the final recipe in the weeks ahead.

This eggplant dish supplies the heat that Jamie’s pickle was missing.

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Baba Ganouj

Baba Ganouj 1

Can you detect which has been garnished with a drizzle of Olio Santo?

Although I’ve enjoyed baba ganouj far too many times to count, I’ve never actually prepared it, relying instead on one that I purchase from my favorite Middle Eastern grocery. Well, with a glut of eggplant filling my vegetable crisper, baba ganouj seemed like yet another great use of the melanzane and I sought help from the blog of our resident Middle Eastern food expert Sawsan, The Chef in Disguise. Her blog is brimming with delicious recipes and you can view her baba ganouj recipe HERE.

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And there you have it. This is my way of handling 2 incredibly productive eggplants. If you think I’ve eaten plenty of eggplant lately, well, you’d be correct — and you haven’t even seen the inside of my freezers. I’ll be enjoying(?) eggplant dishes for months to come.

If I’ve missed an eggplant dish that you’re particularly fond of, or, you prepare a tasty variation of one of the recipes that I’ve just highlighted, don’t be shy. Please share the recipe or link in the Comments section below. These plants just won’t quit!

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You may have noticed …

… My recent absence from the blogging world. This is Honey Time in Michigan’s Thumb and my Cousin and his Wife graciously offered to open Zia’s home so that I could get honey for my friends and neighbors. That’s the official explanation. In reality, my Cousin – aka “The Max Whisperer” – hadn’t seen Max in about a year and missed their “nature hikes”. In the photo above, the 2 BFFs are returning from their last hike of the visit. Also above is a photo of 2 of the 3 cases of the honey that I brought back. All told, our little group of honeycombers purchased about 6 cases of honey that day.

As luck would have it, my Cousin found a baseball-sized puffball growing in the yard. When picked 3 days later, it had grown to the size of a cantaloupe. As of this writing, I’ve yet to prepare it — but I will!

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant parmesan is the one dish in my repertoire that I’ve yet to prepare using the current harvest. Having made 2 trays of eggplant lasagna – one of which is still in my freezer – I took a pass on eggplant parmesan. Who knows? If we don’t have a killing frost soon, I just may turn to eggplant parmesan to help me deal with this surplus. Worse things could happen. You can see the recipe that I’ll be following simply by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Olio Santo - Preview

Olio Santo

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If it’s Mid-Summer, it’s Time for Pinzimonio!

Pinzimonio 2

I remember this dish every year — but around Thanksgiving, long after the gardens have withered and the farmers markets have closed for the season. Sure, you can make this dish anytime but it’s best when the vegetables are freshly picked. So, what is pinzimonio?

It’s a variety of fresh vegetables served raw with a side dressing of olive oil and vinegar that’s seasoned simply with salt and pepper. (Yes, that’s crudités but I hesitate to bring a third language into the discussion.)  It’s easy enough to prepare and a great way to take advantage of summer’s bounty.

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Pinzimonio 1

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When I was a boy, Mom would serve pinzimonio just about every Sunday starting in July, when the first of our garden’s crop ripened. As we gathered for dinner, there would be a platter of cut, raw vegetables in the center of the table waiting for us. You might find bell peppers, fennel, celery, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, and scallions, along with whatever caught Dad’s eye when he took Sis & I to the grocery that morning. Rounding out the antipasti/insalati, she’d also serve a platter of freshly picked, sliced tomatoes (See Déjà Vu).  But wait! There’s more.

At each of our places at the table, Mom would have a ramekin with our own dipping sauce which she would cater to our age and preference. All contained oil and red wine vinegar but those for Sis and I, being the youngest, contained just a touch of salt & pepper. My brother, being so very much older (this is one way to see if my siblings read the blog), was allowed more salt and pepper in his dipping sauce. Mom, having a life-long aversion to pepper, gave herself barely a few pepper flakes with the salt in her ramekin. Dad had no such issues and you could see a thick layer of salt with another of pepper covering the bottom of his little dish. Each of us helped ourselves to whatever we wanted on the platter and dipped it into our own ramekins. No need to pass this or that and, best of all, we could double, triple, or even quadruple dip without so much as a raised eyebrow from Mom.

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Pinzimonio 3

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Now, as for a recipe, well, I’ve pretty much explained the dish already. Gather together any fresh vegetable that you would serve dressed with an oil and vinegar dressing. Clean and trim each in such a way to accommodate their serving and arrange them on a platter. Next, place oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in ramekins or small dishes, one per place setting. Although Mom always used red wine vinegar, I’ve used balsamic and loved it.

No matter the vinegar used, you’ll find that pinzimonio is a great way to take advantage of the bounty of summer, while adding more vegetables to your diet. Not only that but if, like me, you have meatless days, pinzimonio makes a great lunch or dinner, especially when summer’s heat renders the stove off-limits.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Tomato Antipasti - Deja Vu

I could hardly write about pinzimonio without offering you the link to Mom’s Tomato Antipasti. This time of year, both dishes were usually served side-by-side, much to the delight of all seated at that table. Best of all, it’s an easy dish to prepare and, like pinzimonio, no stove is required. Here’s the LINK to one of my family’s favorite summertime antipasti.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squash with Seafood Preview

Butternut Squash “Noodles” with Seafood

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Our Italian Holiday

This being such a short post, I thought I’d take advantage of the opportunity and share a bit of our holiday last spring.

Bologna

My trip began in Bologna, a wonderful town with an incredible history. It is home to the world’s oldest continuously operating university and the center of what many believe to be the heart of Italian cuisine. With my nephew arriving the next day, I had barely enough time to check into my room, take a walk, break my camera, have a great dinner, and get lost on my way back to the hotel. Yes, you read that correctly. My camera was out of commission for the entire trip. Let me apologize now for the quality of the pics to follow. Truth be told, I hadn’t planned on posting many because most would be very similar to those posted 2 years ago. Even so, it would have been nice to have had a good camera with me.

Many of Bologna’s walks are covered and the “pavement” is marble. The city is meant for the casual promenade. Besides several churches and the university, there are a number of sites to see: the Two Towers, the Piazza Maggiore (site of my camera’s untimely demise), the statue of Neptune, and of course, my prosciutto store, La Prosciutteria. How I love that place!!!  Here are a few photos. Click on any one to see a full description.

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That day ended with one of the best restaurant meals that I was served.

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The Republic of San Marino

My nephew’s plane arrived on time and soon we were on our way to San Marino, where Zia Pina greeted us with open arms, Waiting with her was her grand-daughter & husband, and the newest member of our the family, the soon to be one-year-old Viola. Zia is a wonderful cook and the highlight was when she served cappelletti for the entire family. This just so happens to by my nephew’s favorite dish and one he hasn’t enjoyed since his Grandma, my Mom, passed away 14 years ago. The following day, she took us both for a tour of the city of San Marino, and the seat of the republic’s government atop Mt. Titano. The next day, Sunday, we attended a mass that Zia had arranged to honor our family’s departed. Afterward, we re-assembled at a restaurant In Riccione, on the Adriatic shore, for a fantastic seafood feast. I would go back there in a heartbeat! Here are just a few of those photos.

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Venice

Before leaving San Marino, my nephew and I “kidnapped” a young cousin for a day trip to Venice and Murano Island. It was a chilly day with showers, so, we timed our lunch and a caffè for the worst spells — or so we tried. Although we knew it was the Italian Liberation Day holiday, we didn’t know that it was also St. Mark’s feast day, he being the Patron Saint of Venice. We learned of our oversight upon setting foot upon St. Mark’s Square. Even so, we had to keep moving and, after a water taxi ride to Murano Island for a bit of souvenir shopping, we ended our day with a fine supper. Then it was a dash across Venice for a train ride back to Rimini where a cousin would take us to Zia’s. (I won’t mention that our arrival was delayed because we missed our train and, consequently, were stowaways on the next.) Thankfully, our “chauffeur” was very kind and waited patiently for our eventual arrival. These next photos are by committee. Oddly enough, each of our phones, ran out of power as we traversed Venice. Mine was the first to go, only to miraculously revive — its vibrating giving me quite a start — on the train as we approached the station in Rimini.

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Don’t let the blue skies fool you. We were drenched by the time we reached the piazza and there wasn’t a soul seated in any of the cafés that encircle it.

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Rome

The next morning, my nephew and I boarded a train bound for Rome, with Zia and 2 cousins accompanying us. What fun! Our flat was about 100 yards from the Pantheon and once we settled in, we were off for a little sightseeing around the Piazza Navona. That night, we enjoyed a fine dinner in celebration of my nephew’s graduation and, as we soon learned, my cousin’s wedding anniversary. The next morning, we walked to the Vatican to meet another cousin and her husband. Unable to get into the Vatican because the Pope was awaiting a diplomat, we took taxis to the Colosseum, stopping along the way for lunch. Well, by the time we made it to the Colosseum, it was far too crowded with tourists to enter. We headed back to the flat, said our goodbyes, and our cousins headed to the train station for their ride back to San Marino. Alone now, with only 2 days left, we planned the rest of our stay. We would spend one morning revisiting the Colosseum, with the Vatican occupying the second. The afternoons would be spent seeing everything on his “must see” list, as well as a couple of sites that I tossed into the mix. Of course, a fantastic meal would end each day.

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Corinaldo

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time for us to part company. My nephew returned home but a few weeks earlier I had decided to extend my holiday. I wanted to take a few days to visit Corinaldo, the Bartolini ancestral home. So, as my nephew boarded a plane, I caught a train to Ancona, where I rented a car for the drive to Corinaldo. It’s a quaint little village nestled in rolling hills. The very center of the town is totally encircled by walls that were built during the 1300s. Unlike similar towns in Italy, these walls have been maintained and are in excellent condition. There is but one entrance and one exit, the knowledge of which might have saved me the hour I spent circling the area, not to mention one ill-fated attempt of entering through the exit. (Ah! The joys of travel.) Once situated, my flat was quite nice with a terrace facing west and I was anxious to watch the sun set over the Italian countryside. Well, that was the plan but the clouds had made previous reservations, apparently, and I never did see a sunset. No worries. I still enjoyed my time there, walking from one end of the village to the other — make that “carefully walking”. It rained intermittently and the cobblestone streets are quite narrow. I rushed for a doorway or hugged a wall whenever I heard a car approach. Luckily, that didn’t happen very often. There is no rush hour in downtown Corinaldo. There is, however, a great little restaurant on The Stairs and they served me my final meal in my Grandparents’ hometown.

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Terrace view

The terrace view

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Fiumicino

I left the next morning taking a route to Ancona that would allow me to travel along the Adriatic coast for a spell. To get to the coast, I travelled along narrow roads that carried me over the hills, through the beautiful Marche countryside. I dropped off the car and made my way to the train station. With an early morning flight, my destination would be Fiumicino, a small town about 30 km outside of Rome and home to the city’s international airport. Lucky for me, there was a wonderful restaurant just down the street from my hotel. My holiday ended with one last fantastic meal, albeit a filling one.

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Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

Along the way to Fiumincino during the last train ride.

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One thing more

Unbeknownst to me, I spent my holiday walking with a stress fracture of my left ankle. It had bothered me before I left but I made a variety of excuses about it. In fact, even upon coming home, the excuses continued. Finally, about a week later, I decided to have it checked and I was given this fancy boot to wear for the next 4 weeks. WIth the boot now gone, I am happy to say that things are back to normal, whatever that means.

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Stress Fracture

You won’t find this at Ferragamo’s.

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Our holiday was memorable in so many ways, and during the course of which, my now-adult nephew and I became re-acquainted. We were treated royally, with our family members freeing up their schedules so that they could spend as much time with us as possible. I’ve read that when we put to paper an objective, the odds of accomplishing it increase by 40%. With that in mind, I do not know how or when but I will be returning to San Marino. I must. I’ve promised to kidnap another cousin for a day trip somewhere.

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Zia’s Baked Calamari

Calamari Cotti della Zia

St. Joseph’s Feast Day is just around the corner (March 19th) and what better way to celebrate than to share one of the few remaining Bartolini recipes, Zia’s Baked Calamari.

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Baked Calamari 6

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The 12 of us living together in the two-flat were treated to some exceptional cooking, courtesy of Mom, Zia, and Nonna. We all had our favorites, to be sure, and I’ve made no attempt to hide my never-ending love of Bartolini ravioli. Even so, Zia’s baked calamari is the one dish that reigns supreme in several of our hearts,. You can be sure that when that platter is set on the table, photos will be snapped and dispatched to those not present. The caption is guaranteed to read something like, “Look what we had for dinner.” When not included, the “Nyeah, nyeah!” is implied.

Now that I know how they’re prepared, it all seems so easy. Getting here, though, was tortuous, leaving a trail of barely edible cephalopods in my wake. From over-stuffing the tubes with breading that was far too oily to roasting them at too high a temperature and for too long, if there was a mistake to be made, I found and made it — sometimes more than once. Finally I made it a point to stay in her kitchen and watch Zia perform every step of the process, even grabbing a bit of breading to get a feel for the amount of oil needed. And then it happened. I got it right. I’ve not been so happy with a dish since I made my first batch of our family ravioli. I am very happy to say that calamari is now a frequent guest of honor at my dinner table.

Since that momentous dinner, I have made a couple modest changes to the original recipe, adding a garlic clove to the stuffing and some lemon juice to the baking dish just before placing it in the oven. You can easily skip both if you like. Otherwise, you’ll find that the stuffing is very similar to the breading used in several of my family’s recipes. Zia adds a bit of lemon juice and the chopped tentacles to the mixture. No need to include the latter if you don’t want them.

Now, as I so painfully learned, here are the problems to avoid. Do not over saturate the filling with olive oil. It should be moist to the touch, not sopping wet. Fill, do not stuff, the tubes. Calamari shrink while being baked and, If too heavily stuffed, much of the excess will spill out. When properly filled, the tubes will shrink around the filling without any being lost. Lastly, raising the oven temperature will result in over-cooked calamari with under-cooked filling. (Been there, there, and, yes, even there.)

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Happy St. Joseph’s Feast Day, everyone!

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Baked Calamari Filling

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Baked Calamari Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs calamari, fresh or frozen, cleaned (tentacles optional)
  • 2 cups plain bread crumbs – Panko may be substituted
  • half cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or grated (optional)
  • enough olive oil to moisten the bread crumbs – should not be sopping wet
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • fresh lemon juice (optional)

Directions

  1. Clean the calamari, if necessary. Make sure to remove the beak located in the center of the tentacles. (See Notes)
  2. Chop the tentacles, if using.
  3. Combine all the ingredients, except for the calamari tubes, and mix well.
  4. Use the breading mixture to fill the calamari tubes. Do not overfill. The tubes will shrink while cooking.
  5. Place filled calamari in a baking dish that has been lightly oiled or sprayed with cooking spray.
  6. Sprinkle excess breading mixture on top of the calamari. (See Notes)
  7. Sprinkle lightly with olive oil and, if you like, a little lemon juice.
  8. Place in a pre-heated 350˚ F (175˚C) for 35 to 40 minutes. (See Notes)
  9. Serve immediately.

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Baked Calamari 5

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Notes

I was unable to capture the process but you can watch a chef clean whole squid right HERE.

In the past, I’ve mentioned that rubbery calamari will result when not cooked quickly or for at least 45 minutes. Here, because they’re baked, a few minutes have been shaved off the cooking time. The calamari will be slightly crisp instead of being chewy.

In the highly unlikely event that there are leftovers, I like to slice them into rings and use them when I prepare pasta aglio e olio. Just follow the pasta recipe and add the calamari to the pan of seasoned oil when you add the pasta. When the pasta is ready, the calamari will be heated through.

The breading remnants in the baking dish are worth their weight in gold. Gather and place them in a sealable plastic bag to be stored in the freezer. Use them to garnish a future seafood pasta dish in place of cheese. They will add plenty of flavor to your pasta and all you need do is reach into the freezer to retrieve a bag.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Easter Bread Deja Vu

WIth Easter fast approaching, why not take a look at a bread that’s traditionally prepared in Marchigiani homes for the holy day? The recipe comes from King Arthur Flour’s website but it is very reminiscent of a loaf that my Nonna made for her two young daughters, Mom and my Zia. You can learn all about it just by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Trenette with Clams and Mussels Preview

Trenette with Mussels and Clams

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Mom’s Strawberry-Banana Pie

Strawberry Pie 1

I really cannot explain why this recipe was overlooked for so long. Granted, it wasn’t one that Mom prepared frequently — we were a strawberry shortcake family — but she did make this pie at least once a year. And how I loved it! I was walking around the farmers market, looking at all the fresh strawberries, when I remembered this treat. After buying a quart of strawberries, I rushed home, stopping along the way at a grocery to buy the rest of the ingredients. It wasn’t very much later that I had a strawberry-banana pie chilling in my fridge. A few weeks more and I prepared another while visiting Zia. Now, several months later and with my birthday looming in the near future (it’s Sunday, you know), I thought this the perfect time to share the recipe for Mom’s strawberry banana pie — and my personal favorite. Happy birthday to me!

The recipe I’m sharing is memory-based, for there is nothing written to follow. As you’ll soon see, however, the recipe is easy enough to reconstruct, although I did make a couple of changes. In the first place, I believe Mom used a pudding mix — sometimes vanilla, other times banana — and I do not recall her make pudding from scratch for this pie. The recipe I initially followed was printed in the recipe book that came with my first microwave, bought after I moved to Chicago in 1980. Never throw away a cookbook.

Then again, there are times when maybe you should toss a cookbook. When I prepared its vanilla pudding recipe, it was far too thick and not nearly as creamy as remembered and, therefore, not worthy of Mom’s pie. So, I made a couple of adjustments. I cut the amount of cornstarch, used 3 egg yolks instead of 2 whole eggs, and used less vanilla. The result was a pudding fit for Mom’s pie, just thick enough not to be runny yet creamy enough to wash over your palate. I, like the pudding, was all set.

I could not recall what, if any, glaze Mom used with the strawberry topping. I chose strawberry flavored gelatin, thinking it would both set the berries in place and prolong their shelf life. I did consider making the pie without the strawberry topping, using fresh berries to garnish each piece when served. If you prefer to do that, you should cover the pie with plastic wrap to prevent a film forming on the pudding.

It’s my idea to add a thin coating of chocolate to the pie crust. Living alone, my pie will not “disappear” as quickly as Mom’s did. The chocolate coating will prevent the pie crust from getting soggy as the pie sits. (I can say, with some certainty, that from my earliest days I have never liked a soggy bottom.)

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Strawberrhy Banana Pie

Dessert at Zia’s

*     *     *

Strawberry-Banana Pie Recipe

Ingredients

for the pie

  • 1 pastry crust large enough to cover a deep, 9″ (23 cm) pie dish – store-bought may be substituted
  • ⅓ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp whole milk
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • vanilla pudding, recipe follows
  • 12 oz (340 g) fresh strawberries, cleaned, hulled, and halved or sliced
  • strawberry flavored gelatin, instructions follow
  • whipping cream for serving
  • shaved chocolate for garnish (optional)

for the vanilla pudding

  • ⅔ cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla

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Directions

to prepare the vanilla pudding

  1. Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt before adding ½ cup of milk. Continue whisking until fully combined.
  2. Add remaining milk and microwave on high for 5 or 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pudding should be smooth and thick.
  3. Temper the eggs by adding a few ounces of the hot liquid to the eggs, stirring all the while. Begin stirring the hot liquid as you add the egg mixture to it.
  4. Microwave on high until the pudding just begins to boil, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the butter and vanilla to the pudding, stir well, cover with plastic wrap (see Notes), and set aside to cool.

to prepare the pie crust

  1. Pre-heat oven to 450˚ F (230˚ C).
  2. Use whatever type of pasty crust that you prefer — homemade or store-bought — and use it to cover a deep, 9 inch (23 cm) pie plate/pan.
  3. Use a fork to puncture the pie crust before baking for 10 to 12 minutes in the pre-heated oven. Crust should be golden brown. Remove to cool.
  4. Once the crust has cooled somewhat, melt the chocolate chips and warm the milk.
  5. Add the milk to the melted chocolate and whisk to create a ganache (see Notes.)
  6. Use a pastry brush to lightly coat the bottom of the pie crust with the melted chocolate.

to prepare the gelatin

  1. Follow the package directions to quickly prepare the gelatin using both boiling water and ice cubes.
  2. Once the gelatin is dissolved and the ice cubes have melted, add the halved/sliced strawberries and gently stir.
  3. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

to assemble the pie

  1. Once the pie crust has set and the chocolate coating hardened, coat the chocolate with a bit of pudding.
  2. Evenly space the sliced bananas across the pie’s bottom.
  3. Use as much pudding as is necessary to coat the sliced bananas. Be sure to leave room on top of the pudding for the strawberries. Use an offset spatula to even the top of the pudding.
  4. Use a slotted spoon to place the strawberries atop the pudding. Carefully pour the gelatin to cover the pudding and coat the strawberries.
    • Place excess gelatin and strawberries into serving bowls. Once set they may be served to those poor unfortunates who do not like pie.
  5. Refrigerate at least 2 hours to let the pie fully set. The longer the better.
  6. Serve garnished with freshly whipped cream and shaved chocolate (optional).

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Strawberry Banana Pie 6

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Notes

You can make this pie any number of ways, from the very simple — use store-bought pastry and instant pudding mix — to the more involved — make your own pastry, pudding, and strawberry glaze. No matter how you choose to prepare it, you’ll find this pie makes a fine dessert.

I bet that a few of you gasped and clutched your pearls when you read that I had prepared the pudding in the microwave. Release the pearls! Martha Stewart’s vanilla pudding recipe is a good one and is prepared in a more traditional way.

Whatever type of pudding you prepare, be sure it is on the firm side so that the pie doesn’t collapse as the runny pudding fills the empty place left when you serve a piece of the pie.

Although I like the chocolate coating for the pie’s crust, you’ll create new problems if the chocolate is rock-hard when solid. Remember you’ll have to cut through it to serve the pie. Use enough milk to make a ganache that will stiffen without getting too hard. Either that or make the chocolate coating as thin as possible.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Blueberry-Lemon Slice copy

Since today’s recipe was a dessert, why not end this post with another? This Blueberry-Lemon Slice is the perfect combination of tart and sweet and not at all difficult to prepare. It’s also a tasty way to use some of those blueberries if, like me, you freeze a couple quarts every summer. You will see the recipe when you click HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Zucchini Pesto Pasta Preview

Zucchini “Noodles” with Walnut Pesto

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Stovetop Braised Rabbit

Rabbit ServedI’ve mentioned in the past that Dad was a hunter. When I was very young, he and a few friends would spend a weekend deer hunting in autumn. I don’t recall him ever being successful, though we sometimes received venison from one his friends. Whether the friend was a member of the hunting party or just generous, I do not recall.

Dad was far more successful hunting pheasants. He’d leave early in the morning and return that night, usually with at least one ring-necked pheasant. Very often, he and I dressed the birds. Because the seasons overlapped, he sometimes brought home a rabbit, as well. He skinned the animal and I remember cleaning them but not very often. I think Mom objected far more to my participation than I did. I couldn’t/wouldn’t do it today.

Rabbit Sous Chef

Flat Ruthie comes out of retirement

We enjoyed rabbit many more times than Dad’s rifle ever supplied. Grandpa sometimes brought them home from the farmers market already dressed. Dad also brought them home but I do not recall his source. Though not a regular part of our diet, it wasn’t a surprise to see rabbit served when Dad was home for dinner.

Today, I’ve a number of groceries that sell rabbit. With the exception of one butcher shop, all are frozen. If I’m going to buy a frozen rabbit, I’ll buy one that carries the date on the label and from a store I trust. As I’ve said in the past, developing relationships with your butchers and grocers can prove beneficial in a number of ways.

I rarely buy rabbit to cook for myself. I will buy one, however, and bring it to Zia. Served relatively rarely, these days rabbit is more of a treat than it ever was. With only two of us seated at the table, one rabbit is more than enough to satisfy us both. No matter which of us is cook that night, we always cook our rabbit the same way and that’s the recipe I’ll be sharing. Do take a look at the Notes section, however, for an alternative way to prepare it.

One thing to keep in mind when preparing rabbit is that it is a very lean meat. With so little fat, the meat can be tough and dry if not prepared correctly. I know because I once served my Traveling Companion probably the worst rabbit dinner ever prepared. WIth lean meats, low and slow is the way to go. Keep the heat low and take your time braising it. You’ll be rewarded with a moist, tender rabbit to serve your guests.

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Rabbit Braise Start*     *     *

Stovetop Braised Rabbit Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 dressed rabbit, about 3 lbs 
  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped – 2 TBS tomato paste may be substituted – (optional)
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • white wine
  • salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Cut the rabbit into manageable pieces. This can be from 8 to 12 pieces, depending upon your preference and plans for serving.
  2. Season the rabbit with salt and pepper. 
  3. Heat a few TBS of olive oil over med-high in a deep frypan with a lid. 
  4. Place the garlic and rabbit pieces into the pan and brown the rabbit before flipping them over to brown the other side — about 5 – 8 minutes per side.
  5. Add the tomato (optional), rosemary, and about ¾ cups of white wine to start, and bring the pan to the boil. 
  6. Reduce the heat to a soft simmer, cover, and braise the rabbit for well over an hour — more like an hour-and-a-half. 
  7. During the braise, turn the pieces over occasionally and add more wine, as needed, should the pan begin too dry. You may substitute water or chicken stock for some of the wine. 
  8. When fully cooked, remove and discard the rosemary sprigs, place the rabbit on a platter, and serve.

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Rabbit Braising

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Notes

This recipe is the Bartolini method of braising rabbit. (Actually, it was Mom’s idea to add a little tomato, “Just for color.”) If, like me, you have a difficult time getting the braise right, you may want to try cooking the rabbit in the hunter’s style, alla cacciatore. Mom’s cacciatore is also a stove top braise but it includes bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms. They’ll keep the rabbit moist, just as they do chicken. There’s no need to go looking for the recipe. Mom’s Chicken Cacciatore is today’s “Deja Vu” dish.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Cacciatore with Polenta

Whether you decide to cook rabbit in this style, you really should give Mom’s cacciatore a try. The peppers, onions, mushrooms, and rosemary combine with the wine to make a very appetizing main course. Best of all, the aroma will fill your kitchen like only the best comfort foods can. You can see how it’s prepared by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Strawberry Pie Preview

Mom’s Strawberry-Banana Pie

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Stewed Cuttlefish and Squid

Sepia e Calamari in Umido

It’s that time of year when some will surf the net looking for seafood recipes. In many Italian households, you see, Christmas Eve will be celebrated with a Feast of the 7 Fishes … or 11 Fishes … or 12 Fishes … or 13 Fishes. The number itself is dependent upon: a) the number of Christian Sacraments (7); b) the number of Apostles minus Judas (11); c) the number of original Apostles (12); or, d) the number of original Apostles plus Jesus (13). No matter how or why you count them — and there are more versions than those I’ve listed — that’s a lot of fish dishes.

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Sepia e Calamari in Umido

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Although my family never celebrated with a Feast of however many Fishes, we did have a variety of seafood dishes to enjoy on Christmas Eve. I’ve shared those recipes, along with a meatless dish or two, in previous years. To make it easier for you to access them, I’ve created a “Christmas Eve” category that you can access at the end of this post or on the right side of the blog’s Home Page. If you need more suggestions, you may want to check out my Seafood (Frutti di Mare) category. There you’ll find every seafood dish I’ve shared over the past 5 years. (5 years!! Do you believe it?)

I doubt that today’s recipe was ever served at either home of the two-flat. The fact is, either cuttlefish (sepia) or squid (calamari) would have been served but never both in the same pot. Believe me. Initially I had no intention of doing it either. The fact is that the fishmonger was out of fresh cuttlefish and the box contained fewer than were needed to make today’s dish. As luck would have it, that was the only box that he had. It had been decades since either Zia or myself had even seen cuttlefish and I wanted to surprise her with them during the last Visitation. So, I bought some fresh squid and decided to sail into uncharted culinary waters.

Before getting into the recipe, lets talk seafood. Cuttlefish, squid, and octopus are all members of the cephalopod family. As you can see in the photo below, a cuttlefish has the shorter, more round body with tentacles that are also shorter and thicker than its squid cousin. If you own a parakeet/budgie, you may have purchased a cuttlebone for it to use to maintain its beak. That “bone” comes from cuttlefish. In squid, that bone is a smaller, clear, and flexible piece of cartilage. It’s known as the “pen”. The flesh of cuttlefish is thicker than that of squid and most believe it to be more tender. When cooked in umido, like today’s dish, the difference is too minimal to be noticed — at least to my palate. Lastly, because of the differences in body type, I sliced the cuttlefish lengthwise into strips. The squid’s body was cut into rings. The tentacles of both were cut in half but if you find them unappealing, just discard them. (See NOTES for help with cleaning squid.)

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Cuttlefish & Squid

*     *     *

Stewed Cuttlefish and Squid Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 to 3 tbs olive oil
  • 2 or 3 anchovies
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped or grated
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 lb raw cuttlefish, skinned, cleaned and cut into strips. If using tentacles, cut in half.
  • 1 lb raw squid, skinned, cleaned, and cut into rings. If fusing tentacles, cut in half.
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 large can (28 oz, 800 g) whole tomatoes
  • 1 small can (14 oz, 400 g ) diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbs fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 tbs fresh basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 whole clove garlic, minced or grated
  • sliced, thick crusted bread for serving

Directions

  1. Heat oil over med-high heat in a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan.
  2. Add the anchovies, garlic, and red pepper flakes before reducing heat to med-low. Cook for about 2 minutes. Do not allow garlic to burn.
  3. Add cuttlefish and squid and continue to cook until flesh whitens – about 5 minutes.
  4. Add wine and increase heat to med-high. Continue to cook until wine is reduced by half – about 7 to 10 minutes.
  5. Add both cans of tomatoes, tearing the tomatoes by hand as you add them to the pot.
  6. Combine the parsley and basil and use 3/4 to season the pot. Reserve the rest. Stir to fully combine.
  7. Reduce the heat to medium and allow the pot to simmer for at least 20 minutes. It is ready to be served when the stew has thickened and grown deeper in color.
  8. Bring to the table garnished with the remaining chopped basil and parsley.

To Serve

While the stew simmers, toast some crusty bread, one slice per serving. While still warm. rub the remaining garlic clove across the bread. Place one slice of the now garlicky bread

into the bottom of each serving bowl. When it has finished simmering, ladle the stew over the bread in each bowl. Buon appetito!

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Notes

When cooking cuttlefish or squid, either cook them for less than a minute or more than 45 minutes. Anything in between will result in seafood with the texture of rubber. Because this is a stewed dish, if in doubt, taste a piece. If it’s chewy, continue to cook until tender.

As you know, I work alone in the kitchen, taking all the photos as I go. Normally, there isn’t a problem that a time delay and remote shutter cannot handle. Cleaning squid, however, is a different matter completely. Being the ham-fisted person that I am, there really was no way for me to capture the cleaning without in some way impacting my camera. Is squid juice corrosive? I didn’t want to find out, so, I’ve found a video that will teach you what you need to know about cleaning squid — all in under 3 minutes. Enjoy!  How to clean squid.

This is another seafood dish in which the flavors are relatively mild. Using grated cheese would pretty much obliterate them. Save that cheese for some other dish on the night’s menu.

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Leftovers?

Squid and Sepia Leftovers

Was there any doubt?

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Frutti di Mare, Deja vu

Whether you choose to serve this dish individually, with each dinner guest receiving a packet, or en masse, with a large packet placed in the table’s center, few dishes will delight your table mates like Linguine with Seafood in Parchment. After all, who doesn’t like receiving gifts this time of year and this one comes with a fantastic aroma that’s released upon opening. It doesn’t get much better than this and you can learn all about it HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Braised Rabbit PreviewStovetop Braised Rabbit

(You may want to skip this one, Eva.)

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New York Style Cheesecake

Zia gets her book

No caption needed

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I can almost hear you already. “You said you don’t bake!” Well, I still say that, today’s dish being the exception that proves the rule. I have been preparing this cheesecake for well over 30 years. Its origins have long since been forgotten. At one time, this was my go-to dessert or potluck contribution. It was definitely a crowd pleaser. After all, who doesn’t like cheesecake?

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NYC Cheesecake 4

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Over the years, potlucks fell out of favor within my group and this recipe was prepared fewer and fewer times. Of course, my want to offer something other than cheesecake for dessert had something to do with it, too. The truth is, I cannot tell you the last time I made the cake. Now, that’s a shame because it is a great cheesecake, dense and heavy like the best New York style cheesecakes.

NYC CheesecakeWhen I first prepared the cake, I would arrange sliced kiwi fruit on top, the perfect camouflage for an unsightly crack. Soon the kiwi were joined by a raspberry sauce. Little did I know that the sauce was a “coulis”. That revelation would come several years and many TV cooking shows later.

If there is a complaint about the recipe is that there is no crust. My favorite cheesecakes all have a crust of some sort. Every time I bake this cake, I tell myself that the next time I’ll experiment and make a crust. Then, when it comes time to make the thing, I read over the instructions and realize that a bad crust could ruin an afternoon’s efforts — and I put it off the experiment until next time. As you’ll soon see, the cheesecake I prepared for this post is crustless but I really do think I’ll make a crust next time. Really.

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NYC Cheesecake 2

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New York Style Cheesecake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 16 oz (453 g) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 lb (453 g) cottage cheese, creamed
  • 1½ c (330 g) sugar
  • 4 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp four
  • 1½ tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ½ c (113 g) butter, melted
  • 16 oz (453 g) sour cream

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 325˚ F (160˚ C). Thoroughly grease a 9 inch (23 cm) springform pan.
  2. Using a stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese and cottage cheese at high speed until well combined and smooth.
  3. Gradually add the sugar and then the eggs.
  4. Reduce the speed to low before adding the corn starch, flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla.
  5. When well-mixed, add the melted butter and sour cream and beat until combined.
  6. Pour the batter into the greased pan and place on the center rack of the pre-heated oven. Bake for 70 minutes or until cake is firm around the edges.
  7. Turn off the oven and let the cake stand in the oven for 2 hours.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a counter for at least 2 hours more.
  9. Refrigerate at least 3 hours before serving.
  10. Garnish with fresh berries or sauce of your choice.

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Fresh Raspberries

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Raspberry Coulis Recipe

  • 12 oz (340 g) fresh raspberries
  • 3 oz (85 g) sugar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • splash of Framboise (optional)
  • pinch of salt

Place the ingredients in a small sauce pan over med-low heat. Cook until the sugar is melted and the berries have dissolved somewhat. Place mixture into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Strain mixture through a fine sieve. Discard solids and refrigerate the covered coulis before use. Should keep in the fridge for 3 or 4 days, 30 days if frozen.

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NYC Cheesecake Whole

What crack?

*     *     *

Notes

Do not rush combining the cream and cottage cheeses (Step 2). The more time you take, the creamier the cheesecake.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Pappa al Pomodoro

Summer’s late start in this area meant that my tomatoes seemed to take forever to ripen. When September rolled around, I had a glut of tomatoes to contend with. One of my favorite ways to deal with this “problem” is to make Tomato with Bread Soup, Pappa al Pomodoro. Using little more than some day-old bread and the ripest of tomatoes, this soup is a wonderful way to celebrate the tomato harvest. This simple recipe can be found HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Salsa Preview

Ground Cherry Salsa

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By any other name …

Double Delight

The last two winters have been hard on my girls. “Helen Hayes”, “Marilyn Monroe”, and “Judy Garland” didn’t make it. Luckily I was able to locate their twins and each is doing quite well. No such luck with “Elizabeth Taylor”, however, and in a move reminiscent of All About Eve, “Double Delight”, a hybrid tea rose, has taken her spot.

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My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup

Minestra del Ceci delle Mie Due Nonne

Minestra del Cece 2*     *     *

Every year, just before Christmas Eve, I’ve shared a recipe for seafood, often mentioning the Feast of the Seven Fishes when doing so. To that end, next week’s post will feature another such dish. (See Coming soon to a monitor near you.) Not all Italian families, however, prepare a feast on Christmas Eve. We certainly didn’t when I was very young. My family’s tradition of enjoying a seafood feast didn’t start until a few years later, when Dad would leave the restaurant early, bringing the seafood with him. Prior to that time, our Christmas Eve dinner was nothing special, although always meatless because, being Catholic, meat was not allowed. “Upstairs”, in Zia’s home, baccalà was the main course, with “Nonna”, also, serving today’s soup, garbanzo bean.

Whether you call them garbanzos, chickpeas, or ceci, this bean is a good one to have in your pantry. Very low in fat and high in protein, garbanzos are becoming more popular as gluten-free and vegetarian diets become more common. Most readily available dried or in cans, garbanzos can be used in any number of ways and, when ground, the resulting flour is a viable substitute for gluten flours. In a country where meat was reserved for special occasions, garbanzos were one of several beans Italians used to supply protein to their diets.

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Today’s soup was 1 of the 4 dishes that I prepared for Zia during my last visit. To be honest, she was the dish’s mastermind and I her dutiful sous chef. As you’ll soon see, mine was an easy job. At some point she mentioned that “Grandma”, Mom and Zia’s Mother, also cooked garbanzo bean soup and in the same way as did her Mother-in-Law, “Nonna”. This recipe is a gift from both women, “due nonne“. I’m not certain, however, if this soup is a traditional Marchigiani dish. Yes, both women were from Marche but this soup is quite basic and could very well have originated anywhere in Italy — if not somewhere else. (Perhaps our friend and expert of all things Marchigiani, Mariano Pallottini, will be able to shed some light on this for us.)

As is the case with most of the Bartolini recipes from back in the day, this soup is simple to prepare and relies on a few, commonplace ingredients. As you can imagine, the most important thing you’ll put in your stockpot, therefore, is the stock itself. Here, because the soup was served on Christmas Eve, a day when Catholics were forbidden to eat meat, a vegetable stock is used. Feel free to use whatever type of stock you prefer, though you’ll want to use a rich, full-flavored stock for a soup you’ll be serving on so special a night.

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Minestra di Ceci*     *     *

My Grandmas’ Garbanzo Bean Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups dried garbanzo beans/chickpeas, inspected to remove stones and the like (see Notes)
  • 2 quarts vegetable stock (see Notes)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • grated Pecorino Romano cheese for serving – omit if vegan

Directions

  1. At least 8 hours or the night before, place the beans in a large bowl and cover with water that is at least 2 inches above the beans. Before use, pour off the water, rinse, and set aside to drain. Do not allow to dry out.
  2. Heat the oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over med-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent — about 5 minutes. Do not allow it to brown. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Add the stock and chickpeas to the pot and stir. Bring to a boil before reducing to a simmer.
  4. Continue to simmer until the beans are as tender as you like. (See Notes)
  5. Check for seasoning before serving with plenty of grated cheese at the table. (Omit or use soy cheese if vegan.)

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Garbanzo Bean Soup*     *     *

Notes

The homemade stock used here was prepared using vegetable odds & ends that I’d been keeping in my freezer. The ingredient list will vary each time the stock is made.

  1. In a large stockpot over med-high heat, add 2 tbsp each of butter and olive oil.
  2. When hot, add broccoli stems, cauliflower cores, carrot peelings, and asparagus stalk trimmings, as well as a quartered large onion, 3 roughly chopped carrots, 3 roughly chopped celery stalks (leaves included), and a few cloves of smashed garlic. Sauté until the vegetables begin to color.
  3. Add a handful of parsley, a quartered tomato (“for color”), and 1 bay leaf before adding enough water to fill the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  4. Continue to cook for at 2 hours, allowing the stock to reduce and the flavors to intensify. Occasionally skim the stock of the film that may coat the its surface. If the stock reduces too much, add water to compensate.
  5. Season with salt and pepper if you intend to use the stock to make vegetable soup. If the stock is to be used in other recipes, best to leave it salt-free and season it when used.
  6. Once cooled, refrigerate for no more than a few days or store, frozen, for up to 1 month.

When using dry beans, you must take a few minutes to inspect them, looking for small stones and/or beans that are discolored or otherwise spoilt. Discard them.

We’ve found that 1 cup (200 g) of dried beans per quart (950 ml) of stock will yield a soup with just the right “beans to stock ratio” in every bowl. You may wish to add more or less stock to suit your own tastes.

Cooking times will depend upon the type of bean — canned or dried — that you use.

  • If dried, the longer they are allowed to soak, the less time needed to cook. Even so, they will take at least 60 minutes — more like 90 — to cook fully.
  • If canned, rinse before using and they should be ready to eat once they are heated through. Taste before serving to ensure that they meet your preferences.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

 Eel in the Style of Le MarcheNo listing of traditional Italian dishes served on Christmas Eve would be complete without mentioning eel. Yes, eel. Served on Christmas Eve almost exclusively, live anguille, eels, can be found in tanks at the largest and best-equipped Italian markets beginning around December 15th.  You can learn how my family prepared the slippery devils by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Squid Ink Pasta PreviewSquid Ink Pasta with Clams and Bottarga

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Mom’s Osso Buco

Osso Buco della Mamma

Ossobuco 1

Finalmente! It was almost one year ago when I prepared osso buco for Zia and promised you that I would soon post the recipe. Well, that was the plan.

As I mentioned last week, Mom didn’t leave us a cookbook but we do have a couple of notebooks in which her recipes can be found, in varying states of completion. The osso buco I prepared for Zia was based on a recipe that I found which was little more than a few notes. We enjoyed the dinner and, when I got home, I set about writing the recipe. That’s when I found it, Mom’s full recipe. She had written notes in one book and the full recipe in another. I had taken one version with me to Michigan and referred to the other when I began writing the recipe. The post was put on hold until I could prepare Mom’s actual recipe. The Visitation would prove the perfect opportunity to both prepare Mom’s recipe and celebrate Zia’s return to Chicago.

I’m fully aware that some may object to eating veal, for a variety of reasons. I myself cringe when, while traveling through Michigan, I see the tiny enclosures used to raise calves for veal. Today there are alternatives. A quick check with Google will provide you with the names of local farms that raise veal humanely and the stores that carry their product. Be forewarned, however, that your peace of mind won’t come cheaply. A much less expensive alternative is to substitute beef shanks for the veal. In fact, that’s what I did when I tested both versions of Mom’s recipe, and, what I do when I’ve a taste for osso buco but don’t wish to take out a loan to satisfy it.

There are few differences between Mom’s original recipe and what I’ve prepared here, and those involve my use of a slow cooker. Braising shanks in an oven requires more liquid than doing so in a slow cooker. The recipe reflects this. Additionally, as you’ll soon see, Mom cooked 4 shanks at a time. I only cooked 2, though I kept most ingredient amounts the same. This meant that I had quite a bit of extra sauce left over. See below to learn how we used that sauce.

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Ossobuco 1

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Osso Buco Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 veal shanks (See Notes)
  • salt and pepper
  • flour
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion sliced
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (See Notes)
  •  1/2 cup veal stock – chicken may be substituted
  • 1 large can (28 oz, 794 g) whole tomatoes, torn/crushed by hand

for the Gremolata

  • 2 anchovy fillets, finely chopped — anchovy paste may be substituted
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • zest of 1 lemon

Directions

  1. Season the shanks with salt & pepper on both sides. Begin to heat some oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
  2. Place about 1/3 cup of flour into a plastic bag, followed by 2 of the shanks. Carefully shake to coat the shanks with flour. Place the shanks in the now hot oil and repeat with the remaining 2 flanks.
  3. Cook the shanks until both sides are well-browned, – about 7 or 8 minutes total. Remove and reserve.
  4. Meanwhile, add the onions, garlic, carrots, celery, tomatoes, tomato paste, and bay leaf to the slow cooker. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Stir until combined.
  5. Use the white wine to deglaze the frying pan and pour the liquid into the slow cooker when finished.
  6. Add the shanks to the slow cooker. Be sure to include any of the juices that may have collected on the plate.
  7. Add enough stock so that the sauce comes halfway up the sides of the shanks.
  8. Set the slow cooker to  “LOW” and cook for 8 hours. To speed up the cooking time, for every hour cooked on “HIGH” reduce the cooking time by 2 hours.
  9. About every hour, baste the top of the shanks to keep them moist. (See Notes)
  10. Make the gremolata towards the end of the cooking process:
    • In a small bowl, combine the anchovies, garlic, parsley, and zest. Stir until fully combined.
  11. Carefully remove the shanks and serve immediately with sauce and garnished with a sprinkling of gremolata.

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Ossobuco 3

Osso buco served with polenta and broccolini 

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Notes

I’ve slightly adjusted Mom’s recipe to reflect braising these shanks in a slow cooker and not the oven. If using the oven:

  • Preheat the oven to 350˚ F  (175˚ C).
  • Increase the amount of liquids use 2/3 cups dry white wine and 3/4 cups stock.
  • Cook for 1½ to 2 hours.  Meat should be fork tender and just about falling off the bone. Let it go too long and it will fall of the bone, ruining your presentation.

Although you can get shanks as thin as an inch, 2 inch thick shanks were used here. Cooking times may vary if you use shanks that vary in thickness.

Ask your butcher to tie the shanks to prevent them from falling apart during the braise. Be sure to remove the string before serving.

Attempting to turn the shanks over while braising is very problematic. They may, in fact, fall apart during the process. Best to leave them as-is and baste them periodically throughout the braise. If braising in the oven, baste the shanks every 30 minutes or so, If using a slow-cooker, baste every hour or so. Remember, the fewer times you uncover a slow cooker, the better.

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It’s that time again

Winter is fast approaching and I’m going to sneak in one last visit with Zia before it gets here. The Kitchens will be closed while I’m gone.

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About that extra sauce

Tagliatelle in Sauce

After our dinner, the leftover sauce was split in half. Zia’s portion went into the freezer and went home with her. My portion was later used to dress the homemade tagliatelle pictured above.

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It’s déjà vu all over again …

Stovetop Root Vegetables

Last weekend saw this area’s farmers markets close for the year, reflecting the fact that very little, if anything, will be grown here for the next 6 months. This doesn’t mean, however, that all locally grown produce has disappeared and no longer available. Because of their relatively long shelf-life, our markets will still carry apples, squash and a variety of root vegetables for weeks, even months, to come. Today’s look back features a stove top method for braising root vegetables, a recipe that will make an attractive side dish for any of the feasts you may prepare this holiday season. You can learn all about it by clicking HERE.

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Coming soon to a monitor near you …

Honey Mustard Preview

  Honey Mustard

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