I’m hosting an informal Easter dinner next Sunday. Some of the friends at the table will be with me in Rome and Naples in a few weeks so I’m serving dishes from those 2 cities.
We’ll start with a savory deep-dish pie, Pizza Rustica filled with ricotta, mozzarella and salumi and a deep-dish ricotta with candied citrus peel pie, Pastiera Napoletana, will be the sweet ending to our meal.
Chicken Roman-Style with red and yellow peppers in a sweet tomato sauce with prosciutto bits will be the piatto secondo, the main course.
Pollo alla Romana con i peperoni is a simple recipe that is ready in about 30 minutes. I used boneless, skinless chicken breast but you can use any chicken parts that please you. If you have more cook time, bone-in pieces will add even more flavor to the dish.
The cooking method used here, insaporire, to develop flavor, is a classic Italian technique. Cook the chicken and peppers separately to develop their full flavors. Then combine them together at the end so that the ingredients absorb flavor from each other and the dish develops distinctive, yet complex flavors.
The chicken is infused with the soft sweetness of the peppers, the salty prosciutto and chunky San Marzano tomato sauce. A perfect flavor balance.
Serve some polenta or rice on the side to absorb the sauce and you have lunch or dinner on one plate.
Lucky for me I’m only making one of each pie this year. The picture above shows some of the pies I made a couple of years ago when the family gathered in Virginia. I had to ensure we had enough for Easter dinner and for everyone to take some home too.
I’ll post recipes for the rest of the Easter meal this week: Stracciatella, a Roman egg-drop soup and pollo alla Romano, chicken with red and yellow peppers in a light tomato sauce.
March 19 is the Feast of St. Joseph, Festa di San Giuseppe. It’s a big day in Italy and a big day among Italian-Americans.
St. Joseph’s Day is Father’s Day in Italia. Joseph was Mary’s husband and helped raise the young Jesus. St. Joseph is also Sicily’s patron saint. The story is that St. Joseph’s intervention saved Sicilians from starvation during a severe Middle Ages drought.
I make some of my favorite Italian food this time of the year in celebration of the Festa di San Giuseppe, the Feast of St. Joseph.
This year I’m making Sicilian St. Joseph’s Day dishes. First up is Spaghetti di San Giuseppe with toasted breadcrumbs that symbolize the sawdust on a carpeter’s floor.
The spaghetti is bathed in a zesty garlic, olive oil and anchovy sauce topped with nutty, golden toasted breadcrumbs. Spaghetti di San Giuseppe is a humble, simple dish with deep complex flavor. You can make the sauce in the time that it takes to cook the pasta.
My Italian roots are in Campania so I can’t forego making a Neapolitan pastry, Zeppole di San Giuseppe. We’re gathering to celebrate an Italian-American friend’s birthday tomorrow. I’m making Zeppole di San Giuseppe as my gift for the birthday boy and his guests.
Just cook the chicken (or fish) atop a bed of green olives, capers and lemon for less than 10 minutes. Serve the tender moist chicken topped with the zesty pan sauce.
Recipe type: Entree
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast cut in chunky pieces (or fish fillets).
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup pitted olives, roughly chopped (I use big fat green cerignola olives)
1 tablespoon capers
juice of 1 lemon
sea salt to taste
2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
Mix the olive oil, olives capers and lemon juice in a 10-inch cast iron skillet or a heavy-bottomed saute pan.
Over medium-low heat slowly bring the mixture to a gentle sizzle.
Arrange the chicken pieces (or fish fillets) in a single layer. Cook in batches if necessary.
Cook the chicken until fully cooked, about 4 minutes on the first side and about 3 minutes on the other side. I cover the pan for about half of the cooking time for each side. (Depending on the thickness of the fish fillets cook a minute or 2 on the first side and about a minute on the second side.)
Sprinkle the chicken or fish with the chopped parsley.
Taste the pan sauce and add some salt if necessary.
Put the chicken or fish on a serving platter and pour the pan sauce with the olives and capers on top.
Spring is taking hold so I thought I’d make something to celebrate, an egg pie with tender, thin asparagus.
Actually “La Squadra”, is gathering at my house for lunch. My Rome and Naples traveling companions and I need to finish planning our final week in Campania next month.
The frittata is part of my antipasti course, along with buffalo mozzarella from Campania and thinly sliced cappocolo cured locally. We could be in either Roma or Napoli. This spring egg pie is popular in both cities. It’s popular with me too.
Don’t be intimidated. Making a frittata is not that hard. You can watch me making a frittata. If you don’t want to flip the frittata just finish it in the oven.
Frittata is a tasty antipasto or serve it with a salad and it’s lunch.
The golden frittata crust is nutty. The parmigiano perks up the tender, moist interior. The grassy, sweet asparagus scream spring has arrived.
Here’s one of my favorite spaghetti sauces that’s ready in the time it takes to cook the spaghetti. The recipe comes from the the small hill town of Amatrice in the Sabine Hills northeast of Rome.
You see spaghetti all’Amatriciana in all the trattorie in Rome. It’s a really popular pasta here in North Beach too. I get it whenever it’s on the menu at da Flora on Columbus.
Here’s my version of this simple sauce. It doesn’t have many ingredients. Make sure you use canned San Marzano tomatoes for this one. The tomato, onion and guanciale sauce is ready in about 20 minutes.
I like the sauce a little on the chunky side. It sticks to the spaghetti better. The onions enhance the sweetness of the tomatoes. The crispy little guanciale cubes add texture to every bite. I add some chili flakes to perk everything up.
Nothing better than a fat forkful of spaghetti all’Amatriciana. It’s a mouthful of flavor that packs a little heat.
In Amatrice they hold an annual August festival, Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana, that celebrates their world-famous pasta dish. Here’s a video of the town and the festival devoted exclusively to this dish. Buon appetito!
You may see a theme in my upcoming recipes. I’m celebrating the food of Rome, the first stop on my upcoming trip to Italia.
A popular dish found in restaurants all over Rome, straccetti di manzo is a quick sauté of thinly sliced steak and mushrooms served over a bed of arugula.
The dish is called “stracetti” or “little rags” because the thinly sliced lean filet or steak is torn into small bite-sized pieces that resemble rags.
If you enjoy a salad topped by grilled steak, try this quick dish to satisfy your desires. It’s full of flavor and will be on your table in about 30 minutes. Just right for lunch or a light dinner all on one plate.
The boys at Little City suggested beef filet or a strip steak for this dish. I wanted buttery beef so I picked the filet and it works beautifully. The big heap of baby arugula at Union Produce caught my eye. It was a perfect base for the dish.
The tender filet rags and nutty mushrooms are bathed in the buttery pan sauce with sweet balsamic notes. The arugula adds a crunchy, peppery finish to each bite. Simple, healthy and delicious.
You may have seen the news reports about the Mediterranean diet study just published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
People who eat lots of beans, nuts, fish, vegetables and fruits, use extra virgin olive oil and drink wine with meals have a lower incidence of heart disease and other medical problems.
In Italia, you’ll find locally grown, seasonal produce markets in every city neighborhood and town. Campo di Fiori is one of the most famous. I shop it often when staying in the historical center of Rome.
Italians cherish fresh produce. They eat fish often. Nuts often end a meal. Extra virgin olive oil is an Italian kitchen staple. Meat is eaten in moderation.
Italians eat most of of their food at the midday meal. Supper is a simple, light meal.
I get a lot of exercise every day in Italia, including a delightful passagata or stroll after the evening meal. I’ll be enjoying the local bounty in Italia soon. I’ll share what I cook in Rome and Naples with you.
I try to maintain an Italian diet here in North Beach. Luckily I have ample access to local, seasonal vegetables, fruit, and locally caught seafood. Beans and grains are a significant part of my diet. And, I always use extra virgin olive oil except when frying.
Adopt a Mediterranean lifestyle and you’ll never need another diet scheme to lose weight or stay healthy. Eat Italian. It’s delicious and it’s good for you. Try this simple vegetable recipe and fish recipe to get a taste for yourself.
In anticipation of tomorrow night’s Academy Awards I cooked up some Oscar-worthy eggs this morning.
Ever see Norman Jewison’s 1987 movie about a Brooklyn Italian-American family? “Moonstruck” won Oscars for Olympia Dukakis and Cher.
There’s a kitchen scene where Dukakis is making these eggs for herself and Cher.
“Moonstruck” eggs were a popular item on my restaurant’s brunch menu. There’s no better combination than peppers and eggs. We served them with roasted pork and fennel sausage.
In Italy this dish is known as “birds in a nest”. They are super simple and they make a big impression for that special Saturday or Sunday morning. Add your favorite potatoes and breakfast meat and that’s it.
Why go out for a “romantic” dinner on Valentine’s Day? The restaurants are crazy busy. Why tolerate the hassle of overbooked places and food pouring out of an overworked kitchen? All you’ll get is agita (heartburn).
Don’t go out. Stay home and cook Valentine’s Day dinner together. Start a new tradition. Enjoy your time cooking together and share food made with love.
Baked Ziti alla Sorrento is the star of this special dinner. It’s an Italian version of mac ‘n cheese from the sunny coast of the Bay of Naples.
The small pasta tubes are coated in creamy ricotta, soft melted mozzarella and marinara sauce then baked in the oven. I can’t resist picking off the nutty toasted ziti on top. Save the leftovers. Baked ziti is even better the next day. Aglianico, Nero d’Avola or Chianti go well with the ziti.
By making the marinara while the pasta water comes to a boil and the salad as the ziti bakes, dinner will be ready in about an hour.
And for dessert, top a big scoop of vanilla gelato with a shot of limoncello or your favorite liqueur. Who knows, after all that wine this might be just what you both need to get lucky.
Easy baked ziti is sumptuous. The pasta is coasted with creamy ricotta, mozzarella and marinara then baked in the oven until crispy on top.
Recipe type: Main
28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large branch of fresh basil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 pound ziti
1 pound ricotta
8 ounces fresh mozzarella
3 cups marinara sauce
5 basil leaves
1 cup grated parmigiano, pecorino or grana padano
Before you get started put a large pot of well salted water to boil over high heat. (Use about 5 quarts of water and at least 1 tablespoon of sea salt for a pound of pasta.) Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Put the olive oil and garlic in a pan and over medium-high heat. Saute the garlic until it starts to take on some color.
Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano and salt.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir occasionally and cook until the sauce thickens, about 20 minutes.
Set the sauce aside.
Cut the mozzarella into 1-inch cubes.
Put the ricotta in a strainer to drain.
Cook the ziti in a large pot of well-salted rapidly boiling water. Drain the ziti just as it reaches al dente, about 10 minutes.
Put the ziti in a large bowl. Add the ricotta, mozzarella, ½ cup grated cheese, 2 cups of marinara sauce and basil leaves ripped in small pieces. Mix to coat the pasta well,
Cover the bottom of a baking dish with marinara sauce.
Spread the ziti evenly in the baking dish.
Top the ziti with the remaining marinara sauce and sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese.
Bake in the oven until the top of the baked ziti starts to turn golden, about 30 minutes.