Are you afraid of squash blossoms that are flooding farmers markets now?
Don’t be. The blossoms are versatile and easy to cook up. Grab some if you can.
Stuff the blossoms with mozzarella and anchovy and fry them coated with a light batter. Use them as a topping for a tomato-less pizza. Or make this really simple pasta cream sauce that will be on your table in the time it takes to cook the pasta.
Slice the blossoms into 1-inch ribbons. Saute the shallot with butter and extra virgin olive oil. When the shallot is translucent add the blossom ribbons and saffron. Finish with heavy cream and cook until the sauce thickens.
Add the cooked pasta and toss with the sauce to finish cooking. Shut off the heat. Add grated parmigiano and a sprinkle of grated black pepper and toss well.
That’s it. Sit down and eat.
Most of the sauce will be absorbed by the pasta and some will coat it too. The yellow-orange blossoms pleasingly speckle the saffron-tinted pasta and add a hint of zucchini flavor. Mild shallot deepens the flavor of the mellow parmigiano cream sauce.
Every eye-pleasing bite is a mouthful of delicate complex flavor. So simple and so delicious.
1 pound or 500 grams fresh tagliatelle, linguine or fettuccine. Or use a long dried pasta. I used fettuccine here
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
12 zucchini blossoms, sliced into ribbons
Pinch of saffron
¾ cups heavy cream
¼ cup grated parmigiano
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Put a big pot of well-salted water on to boil.
Cut off the dark green base of the squash blossom and the stem. The pistil should fall out. Discard the pistil and stem piece.
Slice the blossoms horizontally into 1-inch ribbons.
Put the butter and olive in a large saute pan over medium heat.
When the butter begins to bubble add the shallot and cook until the the shallot is translucent, about 1 minute.
Lower the heat to medium-low.
Add the sliced blossoms and sea salt to taste to the pan and stir to coat the blossoms with the butter and oil.
Cook until the blossoms soften and become fragrant, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the saffron and mix well.
Add the cream and cook stirring well until the cream begins to thicken.
In the meantime, when the water is at a rapid boil. add the fresh or dried pasta (Fresh pasta should take less than 5 minutes to rise to the surface and be perfectly al dente. Follow the package directions for dried pasta. Cook until al dente.)
While pasta is cooking warm the sauce over low heat.
Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste and the grated parmigiano. Mix well to coat the pasta evenly with the sauce and cheese.
Serve immediately with extra grated parmigiano on the table for your guests.
Rows of fish packed on ice sparkled in the morning sun as we searched the open-air fish market for the perfect catch for dinner.
I almost bumped into this guy in the picture below swinging a long stick with neon orange plastic strips on the end to keep the flies moving.
With this heat we’d cook on the grill when we got back to our house in Ortigia on the Ionian coast.
We settled on 1-inch steaks cut from a huge swordfish just out of the sea.
To finish the dish I made Salmoriglio, a light uncooked sauce with fresh oregano and parsley, extra virgin olive oil, lemon, and garlic popular throughout southern Italy and perfect for grilled swordfish steaks.
Mix up a batch as you get the fire going. I takes about 5 minutes to make the sauce. Let it sit for about 30 minutes so the flavors meld.
Lightly brush the sauce over both sides of the swordfish steaks and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper.
Grill the steaks over medium coals or medium-high heat in a grill pan. Grill the first side giving them a quarter turn halfway through to create the hatched grill marks, about 4 minutes total. Finish them quickly on the second side so that they are still moist and tender when you take them off the grill, about 3 minutes more.
Put the swordfish on a plate and drizzle with the Salmoriglio sauce. Put the extra salmoriglio in a sauce bowl so you guests can add more if they want.
The firm and moist swordfish steak is smoky from the grill. The fresh oregano and parsley are front and center in the clean and light lemon and olive oil sauce with garlic and hot red pepper in the background. A wonderful combination that lets the fresh briny swordfish shine.
Here’s one of my favorite dishes that’s easy and quick to make for a weeknight dinner. You’ll be eating in a half hour or so.
Roast the sausage in a hot 425 degree oven until they’re golden brown.
While the sausage is roasting steam/saute the broccoli rabe in a big covered pot with garlic, red pepper flakes and extra virgin olive oil.
The broccoli rabe is infused with garlic and the hot chili flakes add a perky sparkle as you swallow.
I chose two Little City Meats homemade sausages to diversify a bit. One is the mild Sicilian with fennel seeds the other a hot Calabrese with dried chili.
Sometimes I want to extend the heat and I’ll grab a hot Calabrese. Sometimes I want to calm it all down and go for the mild Sicilian instead. Either way with a crusty chunk of Italian bread you’ll be in heaven.
For a vegetarian alternative I often just have a bowl of broccoli rabe with a hunk of crusty bread to soak up the cooking broth.
Either way quick, healthy and delicious. Your dinner all on one plate.
I scored the first of the organic San Marzano tomatoes from Happy Boy Farms at the Thursday Galleria farmers market in San Francisco’s financial district.
I was lazy and wanted a simple sauce so I didn’t cook it at all. This pasta can be on your table in about 30 minutes.
Just pop the San Marzanos in boiling water to loosen the skin and peel them. Roughly chop the tomatoes and let them marinate with extra virgin olive oil, basil and garlic for 30 minutes while the pasta water comes to a boil.
When the pasta is cooked add the marinated tomatoes and toss to coat the pasta well. Top each serving with a ripped basil leaf, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a light shower of grated parmigiano and eat.
You can use any fresh tomato for this pasta sauce. As long as they’re ripe and sweet, cherry, pear or heirloom tomatoes work well too. The heat of the pasta will bring out their full sweet flavor.
I didn’t make my own pasta. I bought some fresh pappardelle at the market but you can use long or short dried pasta too. Make it with penne or another short dried pasta and serve it at room temperature or slightly chilled and you have an Italian pasta salad for your summer buffet table.
I love the pure raw flavors of the sweet tomatoes and basil bathed in the garlic-infused olive oil. The toothsome pappadelle captures it all and adds a nutty wheat note to every bite.
Beef brisket long braised with aromatic vegetables and herbs is a simple but flavorful lunch or dinner all on one plate.
Recipe type: Entree
2 pounds beef brisket
2 carrots, quartered and cut in 2 inches pieces
2 celery stalks, cut in 2 inches pieces
1 onion, cut in half and quartered
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of Italian parsley
1 cup sangiovese or zinfandel or your favorite dry red wine
1 cup San Marzano tomatoes crushed by hand
1 cup water (if needed)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Sprinkle sea salt and freshly ground black pepper all over the brisket and rub it into the meat.
Heat the olive oil in a large enameled pot or thick bottom sauce pan over medium-high heat.
When the oil ripples brown the brisket on both sides to create a dark crust.
Remove the brisket to a plate.
Add the tomato paste, vegetables and herbs, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and cook until the tomato paste darkens and the vegetables start to caramelize. Scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
Add the wine and cook until the wine is almost all evaporated. Scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot.
Add the tomatoes and stir well.
Lower the heat to medium-low and put the brisket back in the pot along with any juices on the resting plate. Add some water if necessary so that the brisket is almost covered with the braising liquid.
Put the top on the pot and braise the brisket until it is fork tender, about 60-90 minutes.
Remove the parsley and bay leaf.
Slice the brisket against the grain and serve on a large platter with the vegetables and topped with gravy.
No flour in this focaccia. Riced potatoes with parmigiano and white wine form the focaccia "dough" filled with sweet long-cooked onions flavored with a bay leaf, capers and black olives topped with bread crumbs and baked until golden brown.
Recipe type: Focaccia
2 pounds onions, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
3 cups water
4 pitted Gaeta or your favorite black olive, chopped
1 teaspoon drained capers
2 large baking potatoes boiled then peeled and riced or mashed, about 1¼ pounds
2 tablespoons grated parmigiano or pecorino cheese
1 teaspoon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3-4 tablespoons dry white wine
¼ cup breadcrumbs and extra virgin olive oil for the top and bottom crusts
Pour the olive oil into a large enameled pot or heavy bottomed sauce pan
Add the onions, bay leaf, wine, salt, pepper to taste and the water to the pot.
Cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until the water is evaporated. Be sure the mixture is very dry so the interior of the focaccia is not gummy.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the capers and olives.
Boil the potatoes with the peel on until they are knife tender.
Peel the potatoes and rice or mash them.
Put the potatoes in a bowl, add the grated cheese, sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and mix well.
Add enough of the wine to make a consistent dough.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Brush the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate with olive oil and thinly coat the bottom with bread crumbs.
Spread about half of the potato mixture in an even ¾ inch layer in the pie plate.
Next evenly spread the onion filling.
Top the onion filling with the remaining potatoes,
Brush the potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with breadcrumbs to completely cover the the top.
Bake until the top is golden brown, about 45 minutes.
I recalled a remarkable day on the northern coast where I learned of 2 new ingredients for my Italian-American cooking, couscous and saffron.
We spent a delightful day in San Vito lo Capo lounging on the soft pink beach, swimming in the Tyrrhenian Sea with Tunisia on the horizon and exploring the annual couscous festival in the small town that hugs the coast.
As the sun began to set we headed back to our hotel in the hills overlooking Palermo. We stopped in a tavola calda in Monreale for a quick meal.
I asked the owner Filippo if he could grill swordfish for me simply seasoned with olive oil, oregano and lemon. It was one of his favorites and he was happy to make it for me.
We talked as he brushed the fresh swordfish steak with oregano-infused olive oil, laid it on the hot iron grate over the open fire and sprinkled it with sea salt. It was on the plate in a jiffy with wedges of lemon. Simply delicious.
On the way out we thanked Filippo for the wonderful meal. He went to the counter and came back with “Zafferano: Giallo il Colore della Felicita” (Yellow: The Color of Happiness), a booklet with dozens of Sicilian recipes made with saffron. He autographed it as a gift for me.
This is one of those recipes and the dish includes saffron and couscous, 2 ingredients that I added to my Italian-American pantry after that wonderful day in Sicily. It can be on your table in about 45 minutes.
The saffron bathes everything in a golden hue. The crusted veal is tender and moist, the vegetables soft and sweet and the nutty couscous absorbs the flavors of it all. Another delicious Italian dish influenced by North African cooking.
Couscous with Veal, Cauliflower, Red Peppers & Saffron
Summer just arrived and I’m starting to get in the mood for the bounty slowly hitting the market.
This simple yet complex salad is my bridge to the new season.
Insalata cruda e cotta is an interesting mix of fresh and cooked vegetables and will be on your table in about 30 minutes.
Sweet roasted onions, just tender green beans, crunchy lettuce, ripe tomatoes, and exploding creamy potatoes, complex flavor and texture in every bite. The oil and vinegar dressing with perky capers and briny black olives elevates this simple salad to a whole new level.
Serve insalata cruda e cotta as part of an antipasti course , a light lunch or as a side for meat or fish.
I love cannellini beans and Sicilian canned tuna. Putting these 2 pantry staples together in this salad makes me very happy.
You can use canned beans but since there are only 2 main ingredients in the salad I like to use dry beans. They aren’t mushy like the ones in the can and don’t break apart as you mix the salad together.
Soak the beans overnight. But, if you’re like me and didn’t plan ahead use my speedy method to prepare the dried beans for the salad in about 2 minutes.
The creamy beans infused with celery, onion and bay leaf are the perfect base for the briny tuna, sweet red onion and tangy olives. Every bite is a delight.
Serve the white bean and tuna salad as part of your antipasti platter or on a bed of lettuce as a light meal with a hunk of crusty bread.
Combine 2 of my favorite ingredients, cannellini beans and Sicilian canned tuna, to create a full-flavored salad.
Recipe type: Appetiser
1 cup dried cannellini beans
1 celery stalk with top leaves, cut in large pieces
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half
1 bay leaf
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 7-ounce can Sicilian tuna packed in olive oil
1 small red onion, minced
⅓ cup Gaeta olives
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup Italian flat parsley, chopped
Soak the beans in cold water to cover overnight.
Drain and rinse the beans
(If you forgot to soak the beans overnight put the beans in a pot and cover with water at least 2 inches above the beans. Bring the pot to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Take the pot off the heat, cover and let the beans soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse and continue with the recipe. If you're really desperate use canned beans. Be sure to rinse them well.)
Put the soaked beans in a large pot and cover with cold water by 2 inches and bring the pot to a boil.
Add the celery, onion and bay leaf, reduce the heat and simmer for 45 minutes or longer until the beans are tender.
While the beans are cooking, put the red onion in a large bowl and cover with the vinegar. Let the onions sit in the vinegar for 5 minutes.
Add the olives to the bowl.
When the beans are cooked add them to the bowl.
Add the olive oil and parsley to bowl. Gently mix the beans to coat the beans with the olive oil.
Add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste and mix the beans gently.
Break the tuna into small pieces and add the tuna to the bowl. Mix the beans gently to distribute the tuna.
Let the salad sit for about an hour before serving.
These braciole are beef rolls filled with prosciutto, provolo and a bread stuffing with chopped egg, parsley, garlic and pecorino.
The braciole braise in San Marzano tomatoes to create a sauce with deep rich flavors and a brick red color.
In Italy the sauce is typically used to dress pasta as a first course followed by the braciole accompanied by a vegetable.
The sauce fills the house with the aroma of sweet tomatoes, garlic and oregano. You know long before the meal that you’re in for a treat.
The braciola is fork tender. The prosciutto and provolo add salty zest. Every bite is a surprise, a sweet raisin here, a crunchy pine nut there, all hidden in the rich bread and chopped egg filling.
I quickly sauteed baby spinach in extra virgin olive oil with a touch of butter and a smashed garlic clove, the spinach a mellow interlude to the complexly flavored braciole and oregano-scented tomato sauce.
Braciole, slow braised beef rolls stuffed with prosciutto, provolo and a savory bread stuffing in an oregano-scented San Marzano tomato sauce.
Recipe type: Entree
For the Braciole
6 thin beef slices, about 6 by 8 inches and about ½ inch thick. Pound the beef if necessary to get the right shape and thickness. (I use thinly sliced sirloin when I want to cut the braising time. Minute or flank steaks or bottom round slices work well but will need at least 2 hours to braise.)
2 cups stale bread, crust removed and cubed
⅓ cup raisins
⅓ cup toasted pine nuts
2 boiled eggs, chopped
⅓ cup grated pecorino or parmigiano
2 tablespoons fresh Italian flat parsley, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ pound thinly sliced prosciuto
¼ pound provolo or provolone, cut into 1 inch strips
For the Sauce
28-ounce canned San Marzano tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, cut into a small dice
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 bay leaf
⅛ teaspoon chili flakes
Put the stale bread in a bowl and cover with water.
When the bread is soft squeeze out the water and put the bread in a large bowl.
Put the eggs in a pot and cover with water. Over high heat bring the water to a boil. When the water boils shut off the heat, cover the pot and let the eggs sit in the water for 12 minutes so they're hard boiled.
When the eggs are cool enough to handle remove the shell and roughly chop the eggs.
Add the onion, garlic, chopped egg, raisins, pine nuts, parsley, grated pecorino, 1 tablespoon olive oil and sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Mix all the ingredients well.
Lay the beef out on a working surface.
Cover each slice with a thin slice of prosciutto. Tap the prosciutto all over with the back of a chef's knife so it adheres to the beef.
Spread the stuffing evenly over all of the beef slices. (Leave an inch border around the edges so the stuffing doesn't spill out.)
Place a strip of provolo near the end of the beef slice.
Tightly roll up each beef slice starting at the end with the provolo.
Attach a toothpick through the braciole to hold it together while cooking. Or tie the braciole tightly with string at each end.
Sprinkle the braciole with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Put a pot over medium-high heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil.
When the oil is hot add the braciole and brown them all over. (Lower the heat if necessary so the braciole don't burn.)
Set the braciole aside on a plate.
Put the onions, garlic and chili flakes in the pot and sauté until the onions are translucent. (Be sure to scape up the fond, the dark bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.)
Add the tomato paste and toast in the oil until its color darkens.
Add the oregano and bay leaf and mix all the ingredients well.
Add the tomatoes and bring the sauce to a low simmer.
Put the braciole and any juices that collected on the resting plate back in the pot.
Braise the braciole covered by the sauce until the braciole are fork tender, at least an hour or as long as 2½ hours depending the cut of beef you used.
When tender, slice the braciole in 2 inch slices.
Put some sauce on a serving platter.
Lay out the braciole slices and top with additional sauce.
I didn’t want anything heavy for lunch. I had a hankering for shrimp but didn’t want to spend a lot of time cooking some up.
Here’s a simple dish that will be on your table in 15 minutes after you peel and clean the prawns.
Flavor extra virgin olive oil with garlic and fresh sage in a baking dish. Lay in the prawns wrapped in prosciutto. Drizzle them with EVOO and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. Bake the prawns in a hot oven for 10 minutes. Plate them up, drizzle the oil from the baking pan all over and eat. How simple is that?
A whiff of sage and garlic precedes each bite. The salty, crispy prosciutto enhances the sweetness of the tender, moist prawns with just a hint of heat from the black pepper. A simple, yet complexly flavored dish.
I served these prawns with steamed rice on the side to soak up the sauce and a baby field greens salad simply dressed with EVOO, homemade red wine vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. A perfect Sunday afternoon lunch.
We had fun in the Cookhouse kitchen in North Beach. I was still on this kick cooking the food of Roma and Napoli so I could get in the groove for an upcoming trip to those cities. Stay tuned for some episodes we shot in Italia!
Suppli are tasty egg-shaped fried rice balls. The surprise in the middle give them their name.
You may know these as arancini. They remind Sicilians of oranges. But in Rome, they’re called suppli al telefono for the telephone lines formed when you bite into melted mozzarella at the center.
The rice inside the crispy crust is flavored by a thick flavorful tomato-meat sauce. The best bite is when you hit the oozing mozzarella telephone lines in the center.
½ pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into rectangles the size and shape of large sugar cubes (about 24 pieces)
Olive oil, preferably extra-virgin, for deep-frying
To make the tomato mixture:
In a small bowl, combine the mushrooms with warm water to cover and let stand for 15 minutes to rehydrate. Drain, squeeze out the excess liquid and chop finely.
In a fry pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the beef, onion and mushrooms and sauté until the meat is no longer red, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomato puree and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce has reduced by about one-third, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
To make the rice:
Bring a large saucepan three-fourths full of water to a rapid boil over high heat.
Add the 1 tablespoon of sea salt and the rice and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the rice has softened but is still al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the rice and spread it out on a large platter or roasting pan to cool slightly.
When cool put the rice in a bowl and add the eggs, butter, parmigiano, a pinch of salt and the tomato mixture. Mix to combine well. Let cool to room temperature.
To form the croquettes:
Whisk the egg in a small, shallow bowl.
Pour the flour into a second shallow bowl and the breadcrumbs into a third bowl.
Using a spoon or your hands, scoop up some rice and with your hand form into a ball the size and shape of an egg to make the suppli.
With your finger, make an indentation in the side of the suppli, insert a piece of the mozzarella deep into the center and close the rice around it.
Roll the suppli in the flour to lightly cover all over, then the beaten egg coating it all over, and then roll in the bread crumbs, again coating evenly.
Place the ball on a large, flat plate or tray. Repeat with the remaining rice and cheese, evenly coating each suppli.
When all the suppli are formed, cover the plate and refrigerate the suppli for at least 1 hour or up to overnight before cooking.
Preheat an oven to 200°F. You can keep the suppli warm on a sheet pan in the oven as you cook them.
To cook the suppli:
In a heavy saucepan or deep, heavy fry pan, pour in olive oil to a depth of at least 2 inches and over medium-high heat the oil until a bit of rice dropped into the hot oil sizzles immediately on contact.
Working in batches, fry the supply, turning as needed to color evenly, until they are a deep sunburned color and have a nice crisp crust, 5 to 7 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain, then transfer to the platter in the oven while you fry the remaining croquettes.
Serve the croquettes while the mozzarella core is still hot. They may be eaten with a knife and fork, but for the traditional telephone-cord effect, they should be eaten by hand so the telephone line forms as you bite into the mozzarella center.
The escarole in the market today was gorgeous, light green heads with fresh, tender leaves. I get 2 uses from a head of escarole.
Save the yellow-green inner leaves for a simple salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon or red wine vinegar and sea salt. Serve the escarole salad as a first course or as an accompaniment for meat, fish or pasta.
Another favorite for the rest of the darker green outer leaves is to quickly saute the escarole with olive oil, garlic, chili flakes and sea salt (scarola in padella).
The escarole is sweet and tender bathed in the garlic-infused olive oil with a bit of chili heat. Healthy and delicious. Serve the sauteed escarole as a side for meat or fish.
Sometimes for a light meal, I’ll just have a bowl of sauteed escarole with a hunk of crusty bread that I dip in the olive oil broth.
This is an easy dish and a universal cooking method for most green leafy vegetables that I use often. Add it to your repertoire.