My Family Christmas Menu Suggestions

Passing It On--Cooking with My Godson
Passing It On–Cooking with My Godson

Some say that the most important meal this season is the Christmas Eve fish dinner. I’m doing the Neapolitan-inspired Feast of Seven Fishes, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.

But you gotta eat after everyone is done opening all their presents Christmas day, right? When I’m back east with family for Christmas, we cook up a fantastic four-course dinner.

3 generations will cook together and our Italian-American dinner will include some dishes that my family has made since they first immigrated to America over a hundred years ago.

We gather around the table at about 2 in the afternoon. The leisurely meal will last until early evening.

Create your own Christmas feast. We’re still working on our final menu but here are some of the dishes that are on our list.

Antipasto (before the meal)

The antipasto is a preview of the meal to come. It’s the icebreaker as your guests settle in at the table. It starts the conversation and tantalizes your taste buds to let you know of the culinary delights to come.

It's easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!
It’s easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!

 

A platter with a selection of Italian salumi (cured meats) and cheeses is a must. Watch me put together a beautiful antipasti platter in this short video.

Neapolitan Christmas Salad with pickled vegetables, cauliflower florets and olives
Neapolitan Christmas Salad with pickled vegetables, cauliflower florets and olives

I may pair the platter with a traditional Neapolitan Christmas salad, insalata di rinforza.

 

 

If we don’t go the platter-salad route I know my family will want some artichokes to start the our Christmas meal.

Easy Crispy Baby Artichokes
Easy Crispy Baby Artichokes

 

These crispy baby artichokes are always a favorite.

Or make one Roman-style stuffed artichoke for each guest.

 

 

 

Primo  Piatto (First Course)

A fancy pasta is our usual choice. We’ll probably make a lasagna. Here are 2 to choose from.

Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.
Lasagna al forno con balsamella. Layers of homemade pasta, Bolognese meat sauce, grated parmigiano and fresh mozzarella, and bechamel.

 

The lasagna al forno is a bit more complicated but you can assemble it the day before and bake it Christmas day. It’s incredible and well worth the effort.

 

 

A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour
A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour

 

 

This lasagna is a quick version that you can get in the oven in less than 30 minutes.

 

 

 

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
Baked crespelle (crepes) stuffed with spinach & ricotta in a light tomato sauce.

 

And I know there will be some votes for one of my Mom’s spinach & ricotta cannelloni in a simple tomato sauce.

 

 

 

Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs
Chicken and Escarole Soup with Veal Meatballs

 

 

For a lighter first course try my delicious “Italian Wedding Soup” with chicken, escarole & tiny veal meatballs. It’s a real crowd pleaser.

 

 

 

Secondo Piatto (Main Course)

Porchetta
Porhcetta–Herb Filled Pork Roast

My choice is my porchetta roast with onions caramelized with balsamic vinegar and rosemary roasted potatoes on the side.

This was the episode that started the “Porchetta War” with a bunch of Italians. If you have time, check out my video on how I beat the Italians at their own game.

If you want to combine these 2 versions of porchetta just ask you butcher for a skin-on pork belly and wrap that around the loin roast before you tie it up and roast it in the oven.

Roasted boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach & prosciutto
Roasted boneless chicken breast stuffed with spinach & prosciutto

 

 

Or if we don’t do pork, my family hasn’t had my turkey breast stuffed with spinach and prosciutto with a quick pan gravy. Serve it with my garlic mashed potatoes for an easy second course.

 

 

 

 

Dolci (Dessert)

And to end the meal, maybe just some fruit and roasted chestnuts.

Or try these dolci (desserts) that you can make the day before for a bigger end to you meal.

Tiramisu, the Italian "pick-me-up" with mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso & Marsala with chocolate all over
Tiramisu, the Italian “pick-me-up” with mascarpone cream and ladyfingers soaked in espresso & Marsala with chocolate all over

 

Tiramisu is really not that hard to make. After you make the mascarpone filling and the espresso-rum dip for the ladyfingers it’s a snap to assemble.

 

 

 

Easy to make Panettone Bread Pudding
Easy to make Panettone Bread Pudding

 

This time of the year most Italian and Italian-American households have panettone in the house. This sweet bread studded with raisins and candied citrus makes a fantastic panettone bread pudding. It’s ready in no time and even better if you make it the day before.

 

 

Liquore di Fragole (Strawberry Liquore)
Liquore di Fragole (Strawberry Liqueur)

 

A Finishing Touch

Some espresso and maybe one of my homemade liqueurs and you can call it a wrap. Make my liquore di fragole (strawberry liqueur) with its beautiful Christmas hue or limoncello a few days in advance and you’re good to go.

A little Christmas gift for you at the end of the limoncello video, a suggestion for an easy sweet end to your meal

Buon Natale. Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Buon Appetito!

Christmas Eve Feast of 7 Fish Recipe Roundup

Fish Market, Ortigia Sicily
Fish Market, Ortigia Sicily

I’ll be with family and friends for Christmas. Our Neapolitan family tradition is to prepare a 7-fish Christmas Eve dinner, La Festa dei Sette Pesci.

Seven fish unless I’m with the Sicilian branch of the family, then it’s 13!

I hope you will be with the ones you love too.

Here’s a collection of my fish dishes that you can make for all your friends and family around your Christmas Eve dinner table to enjoy.

Buon Natale! Happy Holidays!

All in One

Cioppino Video: Christmas Eve Stew of Seven Fishes from San Francisco
Cioppino, 7 fish stew, a delicious San Francisco treat

If you want all 7 fish in one pot make cioppino, the San Francisco fish stew treat.

This is my go-to recipe if I want to make something fast and easy for the guests around my table. All 7 fish are cooked in one pot. A hunk of grilled bread scraped with garlic and you’re good to go.

The hardest part of cioppino is the trip to your fishmonger. You can have cioppino on your table in about 30 minutes.

Antipasto Picks

If a 3 or 4-course feast is what you have in mind make these dishes for an antipasto course, many ready in less than a half-hour.

Rice balls with shrimp in the center & a spicy dipping sauce
Rice balls with shrimp in the center & a spicy dipping sauce

Arancini, everybody loves rice balls. They are a perennial favorite at my table.

They come in many different shapes with various fillings.

This version is from my friends at North Beach’s da Flora restaurant.

The arborio rice has shrimp hidden in the middle of the crispy orb. Eat these arancini with or without the aioli. But if you don’t make the dipping sauce you’ll be missing a real treat.

 

Crispy, tender fried calamari with spicy vinegar pepper confetti
Crispy, tender fried calamari with spicy vinegar pepper confetti

You gotta be careful with this one. Often my fried calamari never makes it to the table. Everyone gathers in the kitchen around the stove and grabs a tender fried ring or crunchy tentacle as soon as they come out of the hot oil. If that happens to you make sure you quickly sprinkle some sea salt on the calamari as they drain on paper towel.

If the fried calamari survive poaching in the kitchen make sure that you get them to the table while they are hot out of the oil. That’s the way to maximize your enjoyment.

Succulent mussels & clams quickly steamed in a  flavorful broth
Succulent mussels & clams quickly steamed in a flavorful broth

How about some steamed mussels & clams ready in about 10 minutes?

Be sure to pick out the heavy clams & mussels with tightly closed shells.

This is a quick dish. The hardest part is scrubbing the shells prior to cooking.

You can serve up a big bowl and let your guests help themselves.

Just make sure that everyone gets at least one slice of the grilled bread. Dunking the bread in the sauce is my favorite bite.

Halibut and potato fish cakes
Halibut and potato fish cakes

My Mom made her fish cakes with baccala. If you don’t have time to soak dried salted cod for 3 days use fresh cod or halibut.

You can make the fish cakes ahead of time and heat them in the oven just before serving.

A bonus with the fish cakes, a recipe for grilled trumpet mushrooms and another for pickled carrots.

 

Mussels with a hot tomato sauce and twice-baked bread
Mussels with a hot tomato sauce and twice-baked bread

Mussels with a spicy tomato sauce is a real crowd-pleaser. This is my Dad’s recipe.

Some of my nephews insist that I make these mussels any time we’re together. My Dad always made them when they visited.

That was nearly a half-century ago. It warms my heart that I can revive those moments gone by.

Be sure to have extra twice-baked bread. Everyone wants more than one piece.

Primo Piatto (The First Course)

Dungeness Crab
Spaghetti with spicy Dungeness crab

It’s crab season in San Francisco. Dungeness crabs are always an important part of our holiday meal in the Bay Area.

They’re big and tender this year and the price isn’t bad either. Use your favorite crab if you can’t get dungeness.

Here’s a recipe with a spicy tomato sauce that doesn’t overwhelm the sweet tender Dungeness crab. A marriage made in heaven.

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Onions & Anchovies
Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Onions & Anchovies

Spaghetti with onions and anchovies is a simple dish that packs intense flavor in every bite.

The nutty flavor of the whole wheat pasta really takes this dish over the top.

Be sure you get a quality imported Italian whole wheat spaghetti or other long pasta for this dish.

With a few ingredients the pasta has to be the star. No mushy hippie whole wheat pasta will do.

Strozzapreti pasta and prawns in a roasted red bell pepper sauce
Strozzapreti pasta and prawns in a roasted red bell pepper sauce

Strozzapreti and prawns in a roasted red bell pepper sauce is beautiful to behold and an elegant addition to your holiday table.

Roast the peppers ahead to save you some cooking time on Christmas Eve.

You can make it in the time that it takes to cook the pasta.

 

 

Another quick preparation for a busy night, spaghetti with clams.

Spaghetti with Clams from the Bay of Naples
Spaghetti with Clams from the Bay of Naples

A Neapolitan favorite, you can’t go wrong with this pasta.

Long strands of spaghetti with clams in a spicy garlic sauce. It’s a little bit of heaven.

Put on a big pot of well-salted water to boil. Steam the clams in the spicy broth while the pasta is cooking.

The clams will have opened and the sauce will be waiting as you pull the spaghetti out of the boiling water to finish cooking in the clam sauce.

 

Secondo Piatto (Main Course)

Petrale Sole in a Caper White Wine Butter Sauce
Petrale Sole in a Caper White Wine Butter Sauce

Sole is one of my favorite fish.

It’s easy to work with and has a delicate flavor.

Sole with capers is really easy. Saute the filets and make the sauce right in the same pan.

The delicate Petrale sole has a crispy crust with a moist flaky interior.

The capers perk up the sole. The light buttery sauce ties it all together.

 

Crispy quick-fried shrimp with a squeeze of lemon
Crispy quick-fried shrimp with a squeeze of lemon

 

Nothing easier and tastier than quick-cooked shrimp.

Shrimp on the east coast, prawns here in the Bay Area.

The hardest part of this recipe is cleaning the shrimp.

Once that’s done the shrimp are ready in less than 10 minutes.

I take that back, the hardest part of this recipe is not eating them all up as they drain on paper towel.

To augment your main course choose from my collection of vegetable side dishes on my website or those in my Vegetable Recipes eBook. It’s my holiday gift.

Halibut roasted with cherry tomatoes, potatoes and olives
Halibut roasted with cherry tomatoes, potatoes and olives

But if you want your fish, veggies and starch all in one go make my halibut roasted in parchment is the one for you.

Use halibut, cod or your favorite fish.

The halibut is wrapped in parchment or foil with the potatoes, tomatoes and olives so you get it all.

Drizzle some olive oil and dry white wine over the fish and vegetables and when you open the pouch you have a  complete plate for your table. Quick, easy and oh so flavorful.

Dolci

Crispy cannoli shells with a sweet ricotta filling studded with chocolate and candied citrus
Crispy cannoli shells with a sweet ricotta filling studded with chocolate and candied citrus

For these holiday meals we often buy some of our favorite pastries to end the meal. If you have the time make cannoli.

But if you want something homemade and light make strufoli, little fried dough balls in a honey glaze sprinkled with colorful holiday confetti. Another traditional sweet is to end your meal on a traditional holiday note is cenci, those delicate bow-ties. Be careful, the powdered sugar doesn’t get on you.

Buon Natale! Buon Appetito!

 

 

Make A Perfect Antipasti Platter

It's easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!
It’s easy to make a lovely antipasti platter!

An antipasti platter is your culinary canvas. Lay out a couple of your favorite Italian cheeses and salumi (cured meats) that pair well together. Add some veggies for color. Olives maybe? And what about some taralli scattered all around?

A feast for the eyes but more importantly an icebreaker for those around your table. A little prosecco doesn’t hurt to get the conversations flowing. Let their eyes feast on your canvas for a short while.

It’s a set-up. The antipasti course is an important beginning to a leisurely 4-course Italian meal. Wake up the taste buds with a little something. A variety of tastes preview what’s to follow.

The one I made is a classic from my days in Jersey. Some variation of that platter started every holiday meal.

No time? Get everything you need at an Italian deli or well-stocked market. Then you just have to paint your canvas.

But if you want to add something homemade, make my quick olives marinated with orange, oregano and chili flakes. My roasted peppers are always a favorite. Invest a little more time and make my homemade giardiniera, still crunchy pickled vegetables.

Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss my upcoming porchetta episode. A real farm to table story about a sow from Chico and the beautiful spit-roasted porchetta devoured by a crowd on Russian Hill. Here’s a peek at the porchetta party.

Warning! Don’t fill up on the antipasti. You got a soup, pasta or risotto coming followed by the main course and dessert. Depending on who’s at my table sometimes I make individual plates for everybody so nobody eats too much right away.

Buon appetito!

Marinated Roasted Peppers
 
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Roasted peppers flavored with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and oregano
Author:
Recipe type: Appetiser
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 2-3 red or yellow bell peppers (don't use green)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced or chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • sea salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Roast the peppers right on the burner. Turn so that the skin is blackened all over.
  2. Put the blackened peppers in a covered bowl or paper bag to let them steam a bit.
  3. When the peppers are cool enough to handle cut the pepper in half and remove the seeds and membranes, turn over and scrape off the blackened skin.
  4. Cut into 2-inch strips.
  5. Put the roasted peppers in a bowl. Add the olive oil, garlic and oregano and mix well.
  6. Let the peppers sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Serve at room temperature.

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:123]

 

Turkey, Stuffing & Gravy the Italian-American Way

Roasted Turkey Infused with rosemary, sage, lemon & garlic resting
Roasted Turkey stuffed with aromatics resting

This year I’m making a roasted boneless turkey breast stuffed with spinach and prosciutto. But I’m thinking fondly of my whole succulent roasted turkey and stuffing. Did I make the wrong choice for my Thanksgiving table?

Nope, I’ve gotten over my ambivalence. I’m sticking with the stuffed turkey breast and roasted garlic & olive oil mashed potatoes. But if you want a whole roasted turkey, with a delicious sausage-chestnut stuffing and classic pan gravy, try my favorite recipes for all three.

The turkey is infused with rosemary, sage, garlic and lemon. The stuffing studded with sausage and chestnuts is a perfect flavorful partner for the moist and tender turkey. The easy pan gravy brings it all together.

Take advantage of that hot oven. Add my easy roasted brussels sprouts and your Thanksgiving plate is complete.

Make up your mind already. Which way will you go this Thanksgiving?

Either way make my pumpkin ricotta cheesecake the day before to top off your holiday festivities.

Buon appetito! Happy Thanksgiving!

Father’s Day Cookies: St. Joseph’s Pants (Cavazune)

St. Joseph's Pants, Cavazune
St. Joseph’s Pants, Cavazune with a ceci, walnut, raisin, honey & orange zest filling

Father’s Day is next Sunday, June 15. I’ve been thinking about my Dad with love and gratitude. Though he passed long ago he is still with me.

Dad immigrated to America early in the last century. He did not have an easy life but he prevailed.

He was a very smart and honest man. He spoke several languages. He taught himself to play a mean mandolin. He wanted to be a lawyer but ended up being a butcher in Newark’s First Ward.

While my Dad’s ambitions were never fully realized he ensured that his children achieved their dreams. His oldest daughter was the first in the family to attend college. Both daughters became teachers. His oldest son earned a mechanical engineering degree and served as an Air Force pilot. I became the lawyer he wanted to be.

My Dad loved and supported us all.  He joyfully celebrated our every success. In his later years “Pops,” as his grandkids called him, was most fulfilled when his 11 grandchildren surrounded him. I cherish the memories of our 3-generation family gatherings around his table. Many of the dishes I cook today are from those happy days long ago.

In Italy Father’s Day is celebrated on March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph, who helped raise Jesus. I’m blending the Italian and American holidays together.

Cavazune, or St. Joseph’s Pants, are a traditional filled cookie made for St. Joseph’s Day all over Italy. Ron, a fan, asked that I make cavazune. His family hails from Balzano in northern Italy about 2 1/2 hours northwest of Venice. Ron tells me they made huge batches of these cookies for their St. Joseph’s Day celebration to share with family and friends. Mille grazie for your suggestion Ron.

There are many variations of this cookie throughout Italia. Ron shared a description of his family’s cookie. I used his memories as the basis for this recipe.

The cookie is filled with a mince of ceci (chickpeas or garbanzo), raisins and walnuts sweetened with honey and balsamic then fried. Mosto cotto, a sweet, thick cooked wine is traditionally used. I didn’t have any so I substituted a thick, sweet balsamic vinegar. If you have mosto cotto in your pantry use that instead.

These cookies are light as air. The delicate crispy wrapper holds a sweet ceci paste flecked with crunchy walnut bits and raisins all sweetened with California Wildflower honey. The spices and orange zest linger on my tongue after the last bite reminding me to have another one.

Happy Father’s Day! Buon appetito!

Father's Day St. Joseph's Pants (Cavazune)
 
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Author:
Serves: 30 cookies
Ingredients
Pastry Dough
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅛ cup water
Pastry Filling
  • 1 can of chickpeas (19 oz.)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • ½ cup ground walnuts
  • ½ cup raisins
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Canola or your favorite vegetable oil for deep frying
Instructions
Dough
  1. Put all the ingredients except the water in the bowl of a food processor and process adding the water a little at a time until a dough ball forms.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a board and knead briefly. The dough will be on the stiff side. If the dough is too wet add more flour.
  3. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap it in clear plastic and let the dough rest at room temperature for about an hour.
Filling
  1. Chop the walnuts or process them in a food processor and set aside.
  2. Drain and rinse the chickpeas and put them in a pot covered with water. Cook over medium heat for 20 minutes to soften the chickpeas.
  3. Drain the chickpeas and set them aside to cool. Put them in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they are to create a smooth mash.
  4. In a large bowl combine the chickpeas, walnuts, raisins, honey, cinnamon, orange zest and balsamic and set the filling aside.
  5. Cut the rested dough into six pieces.
  6. Roll each out to a thin rectangle about 12 inches by 6 inches or pass each piece through pasta machine ending with the smallest setting.
  7. Cut the rolled out dough in 3 inch circles.
  8. Put about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle, wet the edge with water and fold over the dough to form a half-moon.
  9. Press the sides of each pastry pocket with a fork to seal them. Set them aside on a kitchen towel.
  10. Put the canola oil in a pot to a depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil to 375 degrees.
  11. Fry the cavazune in the hot oil until they are golden on both sides.
  12. Cool.
  13. Sprinkle with confectionery sugar and serve at room temperature.

 

Father’s Day: Mussels with Hot Tomato Sauce

Mussels with a hot tomato sauce
Mussels with a hot tomato sauce

Father’s Day is June 15. You know me. Holidays bring back food memories. Here’s one from my Dad Gennaro (aka Jerry).

My Mom was always at the stove so my Dad didn’t cook often.  But when he did Dad made some really good dishes. This one is one of my favorites.

This is an unusual sauce. It’s not made with whole San Marzano tomatoes that I use in most of my sauces.

I make this one with tomato paste so it’s a really thick and dense sauce that you spoon on top of the mussels laid atop friselle, or hard twice-baked bread slices.

Heat up olive oil in a pot with the hot pepper. I use whole peperoncini, dried chili peppers. When the oil is hot add the tomato paste and the water you used to rinse out the cans and stir well. As it cooks the paste will darken to a red brick color and be really thick. Stir in some oregano.

While the tomato paste is cooking steam the mussels. Watch me steam mussels and clams. This is the technique that you’ll use for this dish.

Make sure you add enough wine and water to the steaming pot. You need a fair amount of the mussel broth to put this dish together.

If you’re lucky to live in an Italian neighborhood you will be able to buy friselle, twice baked bread rounds or rusks at a local bakery. I can’t get them anymore in North Beach so I baked slices of a sourdough loaf from Italian-French Bakery on Grant until they were hard and golden.

This dish may remind you of the sauce at Vincent’s Clam Bar or Umberto’s Clam House in lower Manhattan’s Little Italy. But my guess is that my Dad got this recipe from his mother and the food she cooked at her Quisisana restaurant in Newark’s Italian immigrant First Ward and later in Brooklyn through the 1950s.

The sweet thick tomato sauce surrounds the tender briny mussels just out of the sea. I hate to say it but my favorite bite is the twice-baked bread soaked with mussel broth and topped with the sauce. But I try to slurp in a mussel too. I love the kick from the peperoncini as it all goes down.

Happy Father’s Day. Wanna share your memories of food your Dad made for you?

Buon appetito!

Father's Day: Mussels with Hot Tomato Sauce
 
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Steamed mussels and friselle topped with a spicy tomato paste sauce.
Author:
Recipe type: Seafood
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 24 mussels well-scrubbed, steamed
  • Strained mussel broth from the steaming pot, about 2 cups.
  • 4 friselle or baked bread slices
  • 2 12-ounce cans tomato paste
  • water to slosh-out the paste cans
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 peperoncini (dried chili) or 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • ¼ onion, minced
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and place 4 pieces of sliced rustic bread on a baking sheet and bake until slightly golden and completely dry, about 15 minutes. Set aside the twice-cooked bread. (Or use friselle, Italian rusks from your bakery.)
  2. Put the olive oil, garlic, onion and peperoncini in a sauce pot over medium-high heat.
  3. When the oil sizzles add the tomato paste and the water used to rinse the cans.
  4. Stir well and when the paste starts to turn to a darker brick red color lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes more.
  5. In the meantime steam the mussels using this recipe. http://www.gianni.tv/10-minute-mussels-clams/ or the link above in the post.
  6. Remove the steamed mussels from the pot and strain out the broth. (You should have about 2 cups of mussel broth.)
  7. Add half of the mussel broth to the sauce and mix well.
  8. Remove the top shell from the mussels.
  9. Rub the twice-baked bread with a garlic clove and drizzle each piece with extra virgin olive oil
  10. Put a piece of the twice-baked bread on the bottom of a dish or bowl.
  11. Drizzle some broth over the bread to soften it. (If more liquid is needed use water.)
  12. Spread some sauce over the bread.
  13. Arrange 6 mussels around the bread and top each with sauce.
  14. Sprinkle with each mussel and the bread with extra virgin olive oil and the parsley. Serve immediately.

 

 

My Mother’s Day Tribute

My "Baby" Stool
My “Baby” Stool

To all the Mom’s out there my best wishes for a wonderful Mother’s Day coming this Sunday. Here’s my video Mother’s Day salute to all of you.

My Mom was a wonderful cook. I really can’t remember a bad meal, no, not even a mediocre meal, on her table every day.

When I was barely able to reach the top of the table I was at my Mom’s side helping her cook. I still have the little wooden stool I stood on.

Food was the core of our family. We ate together every day. Holidays brought 20+ relatives to my Mom’s table. It was a loving, sensuous and supportive environment that nourished us and shaped who I am today.

Mom was born in Mirabella Eclano, a small village near Avellino about 45 kilometers inland from Naples in the beautiful Appenine foothills.

Her family escaped their hardscrabble life and came to the U.S. at the turn of the last century. She learned to cook from my grandmother Rosa who lived with us until she passed at 93.

I’ve been cooking this food of my youth, adapted to the American environment, for over half-century. Not only is it delicious, but gathering family and friends around the table to share a leisurely meal continues to enrich my life.

As a tribute to my Mom I’m making her Sunday Gravy. Though she passed decades ago her influence on my life is unabated.

Here’s my story about tracing Mom’s gravy back to it’s roots.

What’s the favorite dish that your Mom cooked for you? Make it as a tribute to all she did to help make you who you are today.

Buon appetito!

Pasta Fazool, Pasta e Fagioli, Pasta & Beans

Don’t miss the next recipe video: Subscribe now to my YouTube channel.

When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool, that's amore.
When the stars make you drool just like a pasta fazool, that’s amore.

I ate a lot of pasta and beans growing up in Jersey. My Mom made it often and I loved it.

So when pasta fazool, as we called it back East, was a Viewer’s Choice suggestion from lovelyamor13 on YouTube, I was very happy to make it.

Pasta e fagioli is healthy and inexpensive peasant dish. You can have this one-pot meal that packs lots of flavor and goodness on your table in less than an hour.

Pasta e fagioli is made all over Italy and varies from region to region. One big difference is that mine has no meat. Up north they usually add pancetta to the aromatics as the base of the soup. Some people like to add tomato puree. Some people don’t add tomato, they like a white pasta fazool.

Mine has a light pink hue. I use a little tomato puree. Make it any way you like it, just don’t make it the way they do at Olive Garden.

The creamy beans and pasta are bathed in a savory light broth enhanced by the sharpness of the pecorino and the mellow olive oil. Pasta fazool will warm you and fill you up. Make extra so you can eat it again the next day.

Buon appetito!

5.0 from 3 reviews
Pasta Fazool, Pasta e Fagioli, Pasta & Beans
 
A healthy, inexpensive Italian peasant dish, ditalini pasta & cannellini beans
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • ½ onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • ½ cup tomato puree
  • 1 cup dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight or one 15 oz. can
  • 8 cups water
  • ½ pound ditalini or another short-cut pasta
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • grated pecorino
Instructions
  1. If you are using dried beans soak about 1¼ cups overnight or for at least 12 hours. They will expand and should yield about 3 cups of soaked beans for the soup.
  2. Roughly chop the onion, celery and garlic.
  3. Put the EVOO, onions and celery in a large enameled pot.
  4. Over medium heat, sauté the onions and celery until translucent, about 5 minutes. (You do not want them to pick up any color.)
  5. Add the garlic and bay leaf and sauté for another minute.
  6. Add the cannellini beans and mix well.
  7. Add the water and tomato puree to the pot. Stir well.
  8. Put the cover on the pan and simmer over medium-low heat stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the soup thickens. You want the beans to be tender but not mushy.)
  9. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  10. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes more.
  11. Shut off the heat and add the parsley. Mix well.
  12. Serve in bowls immediately with a sprinkle of pecorino and a drizzle of EVOO.
  13. Serves 6.

 

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta Fazool/Pasta & Beans)
Author: www.Gianni.tv
Ingredients
  • ½ onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • ½ cup tomato puree
  • 3 cups dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight or two 15 oz. cans
  • 8 cups water
  • ½ pound ditalini or another short-cut pasta
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • grated pecorino
Instructions
  1. If you are using dried beans soak about 1¼ cups overnight or for at least 12 hours. They will expand and should yield about 3 cups of soaked beans for the soup.
  2. Roughly chop the onion, celery and garlic.
  3. Put the EVOO, onions and celery in a large enameled pot.
  4. Over medium heat, sauté the onions and celery until translucent, about 5 minutes. (You do not want them to pick up any color.)
  5. Add the garlic and bay leaf and sauté for another minute.
  6. Add the cannellini beans and mix well.
  7. Add the water and tomato puree to the pot. Stir well.
  8. Put the cover on the pan and simmer over medium-low heat stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and the soup thickens. (If you are using canned beans that should take about about 20-30 minutes. If you are using dried beans soaked over night that could take 60 minutes or so. You want the beans to be tender but not mushy.)
  9. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
  10. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8-10 minutes more.
  11. Shut off the heat and add the parsley. Mix well.
  12. Serve in bowls immediately with a sprinkle of pecorino and a drizzle of EVOO.
  13. Serves 6.

Cannoli Siciliani: Crispy Tubes Filled with Sweet Creamy Ricotta

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Homemade cannoli are easy to make and even easier to eat.
Homemade cannoli are easy to make and even easier to eat.

Often at the end of a special meal growing up in Jersey Italian pastries would cap off the day’s celebration.

I’d visit Ferrara’s Pastry on Bloomfield Avenue in Newark and buy a dozen and a half of my family’s favorites. Sfogliatelle, baba, Cannoli, Neapoleans, eclairs. After Ferrara’s closed Calandra’s Bakery near the Water Tower and Dicky Dee’s fried hot dog joint further down Bloomfield Avenue became my go to place.

Here in San Francisco’s North Beach my favorite cannoli (little tubes) is Santo’s at Cavalli Cafe on Stockton. He fills them when you order one and drizzles the ends with his fresh orange syrup. He has regular size and minis. I always get the regular.

But I like my homemade cannoli too. They’re fun to make and really not that difficult. You can make the shells ahead and fill them just before serving.

My shells are crispy with blisters all over so be careful, they’ll shatter as you bite into the sweet, creamy ricotta filling studded with candied orange and chocolate chips.

If you don’t want to make your own shells you can buy the shells. I got a box of Ferrara’s shells at North Beach’s Molinari Deli on Columbus. Whip up your own ricotta filling and fill the shells just before serving so they stay don’t get soggy.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe is a Neapolitan pastry I love too. Check out my zeppole video episode and make some for yourself.

Buon appetito!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Cannoli
 
Prep time
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Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
Shells
  • 4 cups sifted flour
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • canola or your favorite vegetable oil for frying
Filling
  • 4 cups ricotta
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
  • ¼ cup finely chopped candied orange peel (or lemon peel or candied citron)
Instructions
Shells
  1. Mix the flour, sugar and sea salt in a bowl. Cut in the butter.
  2. Add the yolks. Stir in the wine a little at a time until a dough forms. (Use more wine or water if the dough is too dry.)
  3. Knead the dough briefly on a well-floured board.
  4. Roll out the dough to ⅛ inch thickness, or run it through a pasta machine.
  5. Cut the dough in 4-inch circles. Wrap the circles around cannoli forms. (Buy the forms on Amazon and many retail stores.)
  6. Wet the overlapping edge and pinch the ends together. Flare out the ends.
  7. Heat the oil in a pot to 350 degrees. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the oil stay at this temperature. Fry the shells in the oil until lightly brown all over.
  8. Drain the shells on paper towel.
Filling
  1. With a wire whisk blend the ricotta with the powdered sugar until very smooth.
  2. Add the vanilla, candied fruit and chocolate and mix well into the ricotta and chill.
Assembly
  1. Fill the cannoli shells with the filling just before serving so the shells stay crispy. Piping the filling with a pastry bag works well or use a spoon to fill the cannoli from both ends.
  2. Dust with powdered sugar.

 

Easter Roasted Spring Lamb

Abbacchio: Easter spring lamb

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After 40 days of Lent, nothing hits the spot like tender, spring abbacchio.
After 40 days of Lent, nothing hits the spot like tender, spring abbacchio.

This is the time of the year to enjoy baby milk-fed lamb or baby goat.

The season lasts maybe 6 weeks running up to Easter. The prized animals are slaughtered before they are weaned and take on a more gamey flavor.

The breast and chops that I cooked came from a baby spring lamb that weighed just 35 pounds.

My North Beach recipe is a taste memory amalgam of the roasted capretto that my Mom made and baby lamb abbacchio and scottadito that I savored in springtime Rome.

The hardest part of this dish is finding baby lamb. I’m lucky to live in San Francisco, so I got mine at Golden Gate Meat Company in the Ferry Building. If you can’t get the breast use chops or even a leg of lamb. Any cut works with this recipe.

The breast riblets are crispy and fall off the bone tender. The chops have a golden brown crust and delicate flavor and can be cooked to your preferred doneness.

Keep an eye out for my Easter Recipe Roundup. You’ll see the other 3 courses I’m making for my Easter dinner and recipes for dozens of my favorites for you to make your own 4-course Easter dinner.

Buona Pasqua! Buon appetito!

Easter Roasted Spring Lamb
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • 2 anchovy filets
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 baby spring lamb breast or 4 double rib chops
  • 4 Yukon Gold potatoes
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup wine wine
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place the potatoes in a pot of well-salted water. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes until just knife tender. Take the potatoes out of the water and set aside.
  3. When cool enough to handle peel the potatoes, cut each in half and then in quarters.
  4. Place the potatoes on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Coat the potatoes well all over.
  5. Put the potatoes in the oven on the upper rack. Roast until the potatoes, turning them once until they are crispy and very light brown, about 25 minutes. Remove the potatoes from oven and set aside.
  6. Finely chop 2 garlic cloves, the leaves of 2 rosemary branches and the anchovy. Put the mixture in a bowl. Add the vinegar and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Mix well to form a paste and set aside.
  7. Cut the breast into 4 similar size pieces. Thoroughly season each piece on both sides with salt and pepper. (Or substitute the lamb chops.)
  8. Put a cast iron pan or a skillet large enough to hold the lamb over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan.
  9. Smash 2 garlic cloves and 2 rosemary branches to the pan. Cook in the hot olive oil for a minute or two to infuse the oil with their flavor. Discard the garlic and rosemary.
  10. Put the lamb in the pan and cook to form a golden crust on both sides. Put the lamb in a baking dish.
  11. Add the white wine to the hot pan. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom and let the wine simmer for a minute to burn off the alcohol.
  12. Pour the wine into the baking dish.
  13. Put the baking dish on the bottom shelf of the oven and roast the lamb until it is golden brown, about 90 minutes. (If using chops roast until they reach an internal temperature of 125 degrees.)
  14. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
  15. Remove the baking dish from the oven and cover the lamb on both sides with the rosemary paste. Add the potatoes to the pan.
  16. Return the baking dish and continue roasting until the lamb is fork tender. (If using chops until the internal temperature is 140 degrees.)
  17. Remove the lamb and potatoes to a serving platter. Skim off any excess fat from the pan juices and pour them over the lamb.
  18. Serve immediately.

 

Cardi Fritti: Fried Cardoons

Crunchy fried cardoons that taste like its artichoke cousin.
Crunchy fried cardoons that taste like its artichoke cousin

In the spring when I was a kid in Jersey I went foraging for cardoons with my Uncle Frank in the “wild” West Orange hills. He married Aunt Florence, my Mom’s sister, and they lived downstairs from us.

Uncle Frank was born in Calabria and didn’t speak much English but he knew how to forage and I loved trapezing through the woods with him.

Back home with our cardoons, Aunt Flo fried them until golden. I’d always steal one hot out of the oil and I’d always burn the roof of my mouth as I scarfed it down.

I don’t see cardoons in the market often but when I do I grab some. I found these at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market. The guy I bought mine from said nobody buys his cardoons but chefs. “Nobody knows what to do with them,” he said.

Don’t be afraid of cardoons. Now you can be in on a culinary secret ingredient that I grew up with. Cardoons can be scary looking but they’re really easy to cook up once you know how. Here’s how my Aunt Florence did it.

Blanch the cleaned cardoons and bread them after a dip in egg wash. Fry them until golden all over. Give the cardi fritti a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt and you’ll be in for a rare treat.

Cardoons are cousins of the artichoke and that’s the flavor you bite into after you get through the crunchy exterior of my cardi fritti.

Serve cardi fritti as part of your antipasti or as a side with meat or chicken.

Oh, and those SF chefs  who buy up all the cardoons at the farmers market, here’s Aziza’s Mourad Lahlou’s cardoon salad recipe. So what if it’s not Italian. It’s delicious.

Buon appetito!

Cardi Fritti: Fried Cardoons
 
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Cardoons taste like their artichoke cousin. They're easy to prepare once you know how.
Author:
Recipe type: Vegetable
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 pound cardoons
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup flour
  • breadcrumbs
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • canola oil
Instructions
  1. Put on a pot of water to boil.
  2. Cut off the leaves on the cardoon so you're left with only a clean stalk.
  3. Trim both ends of the cardoon.
  4. Pull off the tough strings or remove them with a veggie peeler.
  5. Cut each stalk into 4-inch lengths.
  6. Put the cardoons in the boiling water and cook until tender.
  7. Drain the cardoons and set aside to cool.
  8. Put the eggs, parsley, grated cheese and sea salt and black pepper to taste in a bowl and beat well.
  9. When the cardoons are cool tear the larger cardoons strips in half.
  10. Dredge the strips in the flour and coat well, put the strips in the eggwash and then in the breadcrumbs. (Some of the strips will stick together to form "patties" and some will be single stalks.)
  11. Put a cast iron or heavy-bottomed pan over high-heat and add an inch of the oils (half olive/half canola) .
  12. When the oil ripples lower the heat to medium and fry the breaded cardoons until golden on both sides.
  13. Drain on paper towel.
  14. Serve immediately with a light squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of sea salt.

 

 

 

Stufato di Manzo: Italian Beef & Vegetable Stew

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Stufato di Manzo is perfect for cold winter nights.
Stufato di Manzo is perfect for cold winter nights.

Beef stew was my favorite lunch when I trudged home from elementary school on a cold wet winter’s day. I liked to squash all of the tender ingredients together to form a shepherd’s pie mash-up on my plate that I scooped up with a spoon.

Not so many cold wet days here in the Bay Area during the California drought but I’m making this comforting stew anyway. It’s still one of my favorite dishes. I like to make sure that I have some left over because it is a tasty and quick dish to heat up after a long day when I don’t have the energy to cook.

The beef adds deep flavor to the stew but to be honest I’m in it for the most flavorful ingredients, the vegetables.

You may have noticed that many of my recipes reflect my tendency to eat more vegetables and less meat. Often meat is a flavor agent in the dish not the star. The beef stew is a good example. If you have a paleo at the table just pile that dish up with lots of meat.

Food writer and cook Mark Bittman recently shared his thoughts about more vegetables, less meat in his NY Times article.

Bittman seems to have stirred to pot so to speak with his ribollita recipe, the humble but classic Tuscan vegetable soup.

If you want the real deal, check out my ribollita recipe that I learned from Stefania at North Beach’s fantastic BaoNecci on Green. Her ribollita goes back 5 generations in her northern Tuscany family.

If you don’t have the 2 days to make ribollita stop at Day 1 and enjoy a wonderful healthy minestrone.

Buon appetito!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Stufato di Manzo: Italian Beef & Vegetable Stew
 
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Italian beef and vegetable stew
Author:
Recipe type: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound beef chuck, cut in 2-inch cubes
  • 2 carrots, cut half and then in 2-inch slices
  • 2 celery stalks, cut half and then in 2-inch slices
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in small cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 sprigs Italian parsley, 3 on the stem and roughly chop just the leaves from one
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste (I misspoke in the video and said 3 teaspoons)
  • 3 tablespoons EVOO
  • 3 cups water
  • sea salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Trim excess fat from the beef. Cut in 2 inch cubes. Season with some sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Lightly dust the beef with flour.
  2. Quarter the carrots and potatoes then cut them into in ½ inch slices. Cut the celery stalk in half and cut into pieces the same size as the carrots and potatoes.
  3. Put 2 tablespoons of EVOO in an enamel or heavy-bottomed pot. Put the pot over a high flame until the oil starts to ripple then lower the heat to medium-high.
  4. When the oil is rippling add the beef. Cook the beef and let the beef develop a dark brown crust on all sides. (A fond will form on the bottom of the pot. Those brown bits will eventually melt into the braising sauce and add flavor. Lower the flame if necessary or add a little water so the fond doesn't burn.)
  5. Add another tablespoon EVOO if there is not enough fat in the pot to brown the vegetables.
  6. Add the vegetables and bay leaf to the pot.
  7. Stir the vegetables to coat well with the oil and cook until they pick up some brown color.
  8. When the vegetables are done clear a small spot on the bottom of the pan. Make sure it has a coating of oil adding some if necessary.
  9. Add the tomato paste to the hot spot and cook the tomato paste until it darkens. Stir to coat all of the vegetables with the paste.
  10. To braise add enough water to just cover the stew. Be sure to scrape up (deglaze) all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. (You can use stock but I don't think the dish really needs it. You can deglaze the bottom of the pot with ¼ cup dry red wine to add another layer of flavor. Just cook off most of the wine before adding the braising liquid.)
  11. Add 3 stems of parsley and stir into the stew.
  12. Cover the pot and simmer the stew for about 60 minutes.
  13. Stir the stew occasionally to ensure it does not burn on the bottom.
  14. Reduce the heat to a low simmer. The stew should be just lightly bubbling at the edge of the pot.
  15. Put the lid ajar atop the pot if the stew is not thick enough and simmer for 30 minutes more.
  16. Braise until the beef flakes when speared with a fork and the vegetables are knife tender.
  17. Spoon the stew into a bowl and sprinkle a bit of finishing EVOO on top and chopped parsley for color.
  18. Serve immediately.

 

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

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Spinach and ricotta cannelloni will take you to my childhood in Northern Jersey.
Spinach and ricotta cannelloni will take you to my childhood in Northern Jersey.

Growing up in northern Jersey when my Mom took out her small black cast iron pan Sunday morning we knew we were in for a treat.

She was getting ready to make crespelle (crepes) for her fantastic spinach and ricotta stuffed cannelloni (big pipes).

The crispy and creamy cannelloni hot from the oven would be the pasta course for our Sunday dinner.

Don’t give me a hard time with the cannelloni versus manicotti thing. In Italian-American restaurants these are called manicotti but in Italy especially around Naples this dish is cannelloni.

Now that that’s out of the way let’s get back to the recipe.

With a hot well-oiled small saute pan, a flat griddle pan or a non-stick crepe pan you’ll find that the crespelle are easy and quick to make. You can even make the crespelle the day before and keep them in the fridge to quickly fill and bake the next day.

Make a simple San Marzano-basil tomato sauce so that the cannelloni aren’t overwhelmed. The tasty crespelle are the perfect tender wrapper for the creamy spinach-ricotta filling with melted mozzarella on top.

I usually serve two cannelloni topped with a little extra sauce to each guest. If any cannelloni  are left over I have been known to eat one or two more. They are absolutely delicious.

Watch me make a fresh San Marzano tomato sauce during the late summer harvest. You can substitute canned San Marzano tomatoes from Italy for fresh so you can make the marinara sauce all year long.

And if you want to make fresh pasta instead of crespelle for the cannelloni watch me make fresh pasta ravioli for inspiration.

Buon appetito!

4.0 from 1 reviews
Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni
 
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Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
For the Crespelle (makes about 18)
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1¼ cups (or more) whole milk
  • Extra virgin olive oil for brushing the crepe pan
For the Filling
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach or 2 10 ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 pound ricotta, well drained
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Crespelle Topping
  • 8-ounces mozzarella, grated
  • ¼ cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
Sauce
  • 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand, stems and skin removed
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil
  • sea salt to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
For the Sauce
  1. Put a pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the olive oil and garlic.
  3. Saute the garlic for a minute or so. You don't want it to pick up any color, just infuse the oil with its flavor.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir well.
  5. Add sea salt to taste and the basil.
  6. Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer, lowering the heat if needed.
  7. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until the volume is reduced by 25%.
  8. Keep the sauce warm while you make and bake the cannelloni.
For the Crespelle
  1. Whisk eggs and salt in large bowl.
  2. Gradually whisk in flour, then 1¼ cups milk.
  3. Whisk until the batter is very smooth and has no big clumps of flour.
  4. If necessary, add more milk by tablespoons to batter to thin to consistency of heavy whipping cream.
  5. Heat 8-inch diameter nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with extra virgin olive oil.
  6. Pour 3 tablespoons batter into skillet and swirl to coat bottom evenly.
  7. Cook until top appears dry, loosening sides of crepe with spatula, about 45 seconds.
  8. Turn and cook until brown spots appear on second side, about 30 seconds.
  9. Turn crepe out onto plate.
  10. Repeat with remaining batter, brushing skillet with EVOO and stacking crepes on plate.
For the Filling
  1. Put the spinach in a pot over medium-high heat and add ½ cup water
  2. Cook until the spinach is wilted.
  3. Drain the spinach.
  4. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as you can.
  5. Roughly chop the spinach.
  6. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Assembly
  1. In a large baking dish put ¼ cup of the sauce to lightly cover the bottom of the dish.
  2. Lay the crespelle on a flat work surface.
  3. Put about 3-4 tablespoons at one end of each crespelle and roll it up.
  4. Place it seam side down in the baking dish.
  5. Repeat until all the crespelle are filled.
  6. Top the cannelloni with a light layer of sauce.
  7. Top the sauce evenly with the mozzarella and then the parmigiano.
  8. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.
  9. Uncover and bake until the mozzarella on top of the cannelloni is melted and slightly browned, about 10 minutes more.
  10. Let the cannelloni cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Gianni’s Tip: I made crespelle (crepes) for this stuffed pasta dish but fresh pasta sheets, no-cook lasagna sheets or dried manicotti (big sleeves) or large shells work just as well with this filling.

Cook the dried pasta in boiling water until al dente before filling.

The no-cook lasagna sheets should be soaked in hot water until they are pliable and the fresh lasagna sheets need to be cooked in boiling water. Either way put in the sheets in a single layer on kitchen towels until they are cut into 6 to 8-inch squares and filled.

If you have any cannelloni left over they are even better heated in the oven the next day. You can freeze them too.

Bow Ties? Wandi? Cenci?–A Sweet Crackly Holiday Recipe

Bow Ties? Wandi? Cenci? Bugia? Delicate fried sweet ribbons
Bow Ties? Wandi? Cenci? Bugia? Delicate fried sweet ribbons

I love these delicate fried dough ribbons that show up on the table at the end of the meal this time of year.

I have 2 problems with them though. I don’t know what to call them and once I start eating them I can’t stop.

We called them bow ties or cenci (rags) in Jersey, wandi (gloves) in Rhode Island and bugia (liar’s knot) here in San Francisco. My favorite name is chiacchiere (to chatter) for the noise they make frying in the hot oil.

Call them what you want just make them for your table. I’m making extra so I can bring a plate of bow ties along when I visit friends this holiday season.

The simple dough is made in a food processor, kneaded briefly by hand and then rolled out with a rolling pin or put through a pasta machine to achieve a thin dough. I cut the ribbons with my ravioli cutter. Tie the ribbons in a bow and fry them quickly in hot oil until they are golden. Dust the bow ties with lots of powdered sugar all over.

The nutty bow ties shatter with each bite, light as air and just sweet enough for the end of a big meal with an espresso.

Be careful eating these crispy puffs so you don’t get powdered sugar all over your holiday outfit.

Some put honey I bow ties. I don’t. I reserve the honey for Struffoli, Holiday Honey Balls. These sweet nuggets are another staple at a Neapolitan Christmas table.

Buon appetito! Buon Natale! Happy Holidays to all.

Crispy Bow Ties, Wandi, Cenci Holiday Cookie Recipe
 
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Fry up a batch of these light, crispy holiday cookies for your table or to bring as a gift when visiting friends and family this year,
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 20
Ingredients
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • lots of powdered sugar for dusting
Instructions
  1. Put the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to aerate the dry ingredients.
  2. With the machine running add the eggs
  3. The dough is ready when it balls around the blade.
  4. Turn out the dough to a lightly floured board and knead until a soft dough forms and it doesn't stick to the work surface .
  5. Wrap the dough in plastic film and let it sit for about 15 minutes.
  6. Unwrap the dough and cut the ball into thirds.
  7. Work with one-third at a time and keep the others wrapped in plastic.
  8. With a rolling pin roll out the dough to about a 1/16th inch thickness or use a pasta machine to get the right thickness. I roll it through to the thinnest setting for crispy ribbons.
  9. Using a fluted pasta wheel cut the dough into 1-inch strips and cut the strips into 7-inch lengths.
  10. Pull the strips gently until they're about 9-inches long and tie the strip into a loose bow and set aside on parchment paper or a floured kitchen towel. (You want thin strips so the bows turn out light and crackly when you bite into one. If you don't want to make bows just put a small slit in the ribbon.)
  11. Put a couple of inches of oil in a deep pot and heat the oil to 375 degrees.
  12. Drop in a few bow ties at a time, turning them so that they are golden all over.
  13. Put the bows on paper towel to drain.
  14. When ready to serve sprinkle the bow ties with lots of powdered sugar. (Don't be skimpy with the powdered sugar dusting. There's not much sugar in the dough so the dusting adds most of the sweetness to the bows.)
  15. This recipe will yield about 5 dozen bow ties. (Keep them in an airtight container and they will last for days. Don't dust with powdered sugar until you're ready to serve some.)

 

Meatballs Neapolitan Style

Meatballs from Napoli
Meatballs from Napoli

My trip to Italy is fast approaching. I wanted to do a couple of posts before I leave and the dishes had to be simple.

Meat-eaters love meatballs. These are from Naples and may be a bit different than what you’re used to eating here in the States. My Mom made them this way once in a while.

Usually for meatballs I use a combination of beef, pork and veal ground together but this time I’m only using beef. The addition of raisins and toasted pine nuts adds flavor dimension and texture to the meatballs.

The spicy meatballs are fork-tender. The sweetness of the raisins in tempered by the basil tomato sauce. The soft crunch of the toasted pine nuts is a welcome surprise. Simply delicious.

You can serve the meatballs with a vegetable or salad and with or without tomato sauce. I like them both ways. Don’t get too fancy though, the meatballs should be the star of your light lunch or dinner.

Use the tomato sauce to dress pasta or save it to use another time.

Keep an eye out for my 2 new video episodes that we shot in North Beach before I headed to Italy. I’ll spend 2 days shooting video in Rome. Hopefully, we’ll get a couple of new episodes of my shopping and cooking from my apartment kitchen in the heart of Roma.

Buon appetito!

Meatballs Neapolitan Style
 
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Meatballs from the heart of Naples, flavored with garlic, pecorino, raisins and pine nuts served with or without tomato sauce
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • Meatballs
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 cups cubed dried crustless bread
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh Italian flat parsley
  • ⅓ cup raisins
  • ⅓ cup toasted pine nuts
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil for frying (or use your favorite frying oil)
  • Tomato Sauce (Optional)
  • 1 28-ounce can imported San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large sprig of fresh basil
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Soak the bread in water.
  2. Add all of the ingredients (except the oil) into a mixing bowl.
  3. Squeeze the bread to get rid of the water then break it up and add it to the bowl.
  4. Blend the mix well with your hands (or a fork). (I squish it in my hands until the mixture is very well blended.)
  5. Take about a ⅓ cup of the mixture in your hands and roll it into a ball.
  6. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  7. When the oil ripples, add the meatballs.
  8. Brown the meatballs well. You want to develop a dark, firm crust all over, about 10 minutes total.
  9. Serve immediately with your favorite salad or vegetables.
  10. Tomato Sauce (Optional)
  11. Put the olive oil and garlic in a pot over medium-high heat.
  12. When the garlic starts to brown add the tomatoes.
  13. Add the basil.
  14. When the tomato sauce rapidly simmers reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 20 minutes.
  15. Add the meatballs and let them warm in the sauce for about 10 minutes.
  16. Serve the meatballs immediately topped with a bit more of the tomato sauce.
  17. Makes about 12 meatballs.
  18. (You can use the tomato sauce for pasta or save it for another use.)

If you want to serve the meatballs with tomato sauce, here’s a simple recipe that will be ready in about 30 minutes.