Chicken Vesuvio

There is absolutely nothing that comes as close to comfort food as chicken and potatoes. My mother would bake some form of chicken with potatoes at least two Sundays out of the month. Nothing was more welcomed than a pan of golden chicken with crispy potatoes and bits of caramelized onions, that my father and I would fight for, stuck to the bottom of the pan.

My mother had an unusual set up for her baking, she never used the oven in the main kitchen. We had a full kitchen in the basement and she would always use that oven, saying it kept the house cooler. Not sure why she would mind from November through March. But that was mom’s logic. You see, before I came into the world my grandparents, who lived on the second floor of our two family house, rented the back rooms of the main floor to other tenants. My mother and father and brother and sister lived in the front rooms of the main floor and the basement. So naturally we had a full bathroom and kitchen in the basement. It wasn’t till I arrived that my parents needed more room and my grandfather made the tenants move out and gave the entire main floor to us, basement included.

Just before dinner was ready my mother would pick one of us to go downstairs and get the roast. How we managed to carry that hot pan of food up a full flight of steps without only one disaster is a amazing. And of course that one time that my father tripped on the last landing spilling the beans was just that. I heard words I never heard before coming from my fathers mouth. It was epic.

There are many variations of chicken and potatoes. Chicken Vesuvio is said to have originated in Chicago around the 1940’s. It’s an Italian/American dish that most likely came from someone in the south of Italy. Naples would be a good guess being the the name of the infamous volcano is part of the recipe’s name. The ingredients are few, but the flavors just all come together in a simply wonderful chicken and potato meal. And it’s made in one pan.

Chicken Vesuvio

4 chicken drum sticks

4 chicken thighs ( you can include the breast, as long as it’s on the bone)

1/4 cup olive oil

3 -4 large cloves garlic, whole

1 russet potato, peeled and cut into small chunks. ( you can add as many potatoes as you need for the amount of servings you want).

1/2 medium onion, rough chop

4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme

3/4 cup dry white wine

Package or 10 oz of frozen peas or artichoke hearts, or both.

Salt and pepper to taste

Salt and pepper your chicken on both sides. Place a large fry or sauté pan on medium high heat, large enough to hold all the chicken. Add the olive oil and garlic. When oil is hot add the chicken pieces skin side down.

Brown for about 4-5 minutes then turn the chicken to brown the other side. Remove the chicken and garlic and place on a plate.

Add the potatoes and onions to the hot pan along with the thyme. Salt and pepper the potatoes. Cook till onions become translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Lower the heat and deglaze the pan with the white wine. Cook down about 1 minute. Push the potatoes and onions off to the side and add the chicken along with the garlic back to the pan, skin side up. Mix the potatoes all around the chicken.

Place in your 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes or when the chicken is fully cooked. After 20 minutes add 1/2 cup of water if chicken is too dry, if you want more crisp potatoes don’t add any water.

The last 10 minutes add the peas/and or artichoke hearts to the pan and mix with everything else.

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Sourdough Starter – FEED ME!!!!

I have had a sourdough starter dormant in my refrigerator for over 10 years. It made the move with me from New York to Pennsylvania and today I thought I would try and revive it. I read that this culture is hard to kill. When it goes into a dormant state the culture settles on the bottom of the jar and forms a thick white sludge. A dark water like liquid forms on the top and it’s commonly called hooch. It’s actually a layer of alcohol formed by the culture that protects everything below it. Sort of a well balanced environment for the dormant culture. I took the jar out of the refrigerator and stirred up the hooch into the culture below. When done it was like the consistency of heavy cream. Everything above the hooch was nasty so I just poured the stirred mixture into a clean mason jar. I fed it a half a cup of flour, stirred it well, and will now wait to see what happens. Once it reaches room temperature, if it’s still alive, I should start to see bubbles forming and the culture start to grow. I’ll give it 24 hours and empty about a cup of the liquid down the drain, then add another cup of flour and filtered water.

It took three days to regenerate the culture. When I checked this morning it was a bubbly mass inside the jar and almost doubled in size. One more day of feeding and I should be ready to make a loaf. These little beasties are amazing. A living organism that can go 10 years without eating and still survive. They got my respect.

It’s time I start digging through all my recipes on making sourdough bread. The years of experimenting and baking are all down on paper. The wonderful thing about sour dough is the flavor. This is a natural yeast, not like the commercially grown yeast that rises quick. The slow rise process goes through a fermenting process and that is what adds the flavor to the bread. There are some cultures that are hundreds of years old. Some bakeries in Europe are using the same culture that they used during the time of Napoleon. They just keep feeding the pot of culture every time they take some. If I use a cup of active culture in my recipe I always add a cup of flour and cup of water to the pot, and keep it going. If I don’t bake for a while I’ll just put the active culture in the refrigerator and when I’m ready to use it just repeat the process.

Pane Cafone (Country man’s bread)

500 Gm (3 1/2 cups) unbleached all purpose flour

235 ml (1 cup) water

235 ml (1 cup) active sourdough culture

2 teaspoons sea salt

Mix all the ingredients together and knead for about 5 minutes. Place in a lightly oiled bowl cover with plastic wrap loosely and proof at least 5 hours at room temperature. 80 degrees is the ideal temp so I put the bowl in the oven with the oven light on and that holds the oven at a constant 80 degrees.

Once the dough doubles in size, I pull a corner of the ball and fold it over itself. I do this to the other three sides. I flip it over and place it on a piece of parchment paper on my cutting board, cover it with a towel, and return it to proof for another 3 hours. Before I put it in the oven I make a slash or two on the top.

Bake in a preheated oven on a baking stone at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 45 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack for at least an hour before you slice.

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Pasta all’Amatriciana

When you get a hold of guanciale from Italy you put it to good use. Guanciale is produced with whole pork cheeks. It is rubbed with salt, sugar , and spices and cured for three weeks. It has an earthy flavor that is stronger and richer than pancetta and its texture is more delicate and silky. When cooked, the fat melts away giving great depth of flavor to the dishes and sauces you use it in. This month I made authentic Pasta Carbonara with guanciale and now I would like to redo another pasta dish I previously posted, Pasta all’Amatriciana.

Once again this is a pasta dish with few ingredients, but it’s important to use the best possible quality ingredients. If you don’t have Italian specialty stores in your neighborhood the internet is a wonderful thing. There is nothing you can’t get online from around the world, for a price. For me, this was well worth it.

Please note, this recipe has NO onions, No garlic, and specifically calls for San Marzano tomatoes.

1 -2 ounces of Guanciale, cut into small dice.

1/2 cup white wine

1 – 28 ounce can of San Marzano Tomatoes, crushed by hand

1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 pound bucatini pasta, or other thick spaghetti product

1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese

Salt & black pepper to taste

Put a large pot of salted water on high heat and bring to a boil for the pasta.

In the meantime, in a skillet large enough to hold the cooked pasta, cook the guanciale over medium low heat until the guanciale is crisp and most of the fat is rendered. Put the crisp guanciale in a small dish for later and add the white wine and red pepper flakes to the pan with the rendered fat. Cook off the wine for about a minuet.

Add the crushed San Marzano Tomatoes to the pan and bring the heat to medium high. Stir well and bring to a simmer, uncovered. The sauce should only cook for about 10-15 minuets. After that cooking time, taste the sauce for salt and pepper. When the water comes to a boil add the pasta and stir. However long the pasta takes to cook, drain it two minutes earlier, it will finish cooking in the pan of sauce. Reserve one cup of pasta water if needed.

Add the drained pasta to the pan of sauce along with the reserved crisp guanciale and cook on medium heat while stirring for the additional time it takes to cook the pasta al dente.

Plate the pasta and add a generous amount of Pecorino Romano cheese. Enjoy! Simplicity at its finest.

One of three feral cats that come to visit was watching me the whole time through my patio door as I prepared this meal. They know when something good is cooking in my house.

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Authentic Pasta Carbonara

My Mother always made Pasta Carbonara when I was growing up in Brooklyn. But she made it her own way. Unlike the original way, she would include regular bacon, onions, garlic and butter. The rest of the ingredients were the same. I have my original post for Past Carbonara they way my mother made it here: https://cookingitaliancomfortfood.com/2010/05/27/pasta-carbonara/ Don’t get me wrong, I love this version, grew up eating it as one of my original comfort foods and make it till this day. But I thought I would show you the authentic way of preparing Pasta Carbonara. We don’t use cream or butter, no garlic or onions, and instead of hickory smoked American bacon we use guanciale. Pancetta is the alternate pork product to use, and easier to purchase than guanciale. Pancetta is from the pork belly like bacon, but is cured without smoke. Guanciale is like pancetta but does not come from the pork belly. Guanciale is from the pig’s jowls. The flavor is more intense and is the true ingredient for Pasta Carbonara. If you can’t find Guanciale at your grocer or Italian Specialty store, Pancetta works fine.

Pasta Carbonara is best eaten fresh, so make only enough for your current meal. It doesn’t do well as leftovers. This recipe is for serving 4 people, or 3 really hungry people. The best pasta to use is thick spaghetti, bucatini or linguini. The ingredients are few and simple, like many other great Italian dishes. The secret is to use the best ingredients available.

PASTA CARBONARA RECIPE

12 ounces of Thick Spaghetti, Bucatini or Linguini

4 ounces of Guanciale or pancetta cut into small dice or cubes

2 ounce of Pecorino Romano cheese grated

2 large egg yolks

Pinch of salt and plenty of Black Pepper

Cut the guanciale into strips and dice into small cubes.

Mix the two egg yolks in a small bowl with the grated cheese, pinch of salt and plenty of fresh ground black pepper. Mix until creamy then set aside.

In a large frying pan over low heat, cook the guanciale. You want to render all the fat from the guanciale until crisp. Don’t burn it.

Once the guanciale is crisp and browned remove from the pan and set aside. Keep the rendered fat for later.

At this point you should have a pot of salted water on the boil. Add the pasta and cook till al dente. Take a cup of the pasta water before you drain the pasta and set aside. Drain the pasta. With the heat on low, add the pasta to the fat from the meat along with the pieces of crispy guanciale and half your saved pasta water. Mix together well until some of the water is absorbed.

This is very important, remove the pan from the heat before you add the egg and cheese mixture. You don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs and pasta. Add a few tablespoons of the hot pasta water to the egg and cheese mixture while stirring to temper the eggs. Now add the egg and cheese mixture to the pasta while constantly stirring quickly. The heat from the pasta will cook the egg. Add more pasta water as needed to give you more moisture , this water makes more of the sauce and give the dish a creamy finish. Keep stirring well until you get the desired creamy sauce.

Add some more black pepper and top with additional grated cheese. Serve immediately.

I have to say that I have had Pasta Carbonara prepared in every way possible, and except for my mother’s version, this by far is the best. The creaminess and cheesy sauce on the pasta combined with the crunchy outstanding pork flavor of the crispy guanciale puts this dish in a class of its own. It’s like nothing you ever had.

Posted in Pasta, Pork | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

One skillet Italian Sausage and Pepper with Rice

Fads

Fads, short lived popularity of objects or behavior that quickly fade away. Can you think of any you experienced as a child?  Thinking back  one  comes to mind,  and it involved my brother Richard. He would get obsessed with things. Back in the early 60’s the song Wipe Out was playing on the radio. My brother must have been in high school. I could remember him driving everyone in the house crazy while he played the drum solo of wipe out with his hands slapping at the dinner table, dining room table and any other flat surface he happened to be sitting near.  Glasses would shake, plates would rattle and my sister’s eyes would roll. She  would scream and tell my mother to make him stop. Of course, he only did it louder, until my father intervened. You didn’t want him to tell you a second time to stop. That year for Christmas, my mother bought my brother Richard a snare drum. Really. My sister played the piano, I dabbled on the keyboards, and my brother played the snare drum. The drum remained in the basement. Honestly, I think my brother sounded better playing Wipe Out with his hands on the kitchen table than with the snare drum.

In addition to drum sticks the snare drum came with a set of brushes so my brother was able to tone down the noise and produce a gentle shuffle sound from time to time, with and without the snare sound. Nothing ever came of my brother’s drumming interest. After Wipe Out, there wasn’t much left of his repertoire. He might have asked for a cymbal or hi-hat but my mother realize the mistake of getting him the snare drum and ignored him. Another passing fad. I do remember one year my brother got a set of bongos. That too passed.

Hula hoops were another fad, but more popular with the girls. I have to admit, they were much better at keeping their hips in motion and keeping that hoop up then the guys. And then one summer someone bought a spinning top. Like any other fad, it all started with one kid. Within days, everyone else on the block were trying to spin tops. What frustration! Point up, point down, over hand, under hand, we all tried different techniques to get that top to spin. Those that gave up came back the next day with a Duncan YoYo.

And who can forget Click Clacks? They consisted of two stone hard acrylic balls which hung on either end of a heavy string. The two balls would swing apart and together, making the loud clacking noise that gave the toy its name. Once in full swing they would hit each other in the up swing and down swing.  Until the swing lost its course and they clonked you in the head. I believe they finally were banned in the 80’s, going the way of the Lawn Darts. A much less deadly fad was the wooden paddle ball. At least the ball at the end of the rubber band was a soft pink ball. So a shot to the face didn’t leave any marks.

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This dish will not disappoint. Simple ingredients, bursting with flavor.  My son Joseph texted me this the other day and said I should try it. I trust my son. He knows good food. So I collected the ingredients and made it for a Saturday night supper. It was delicious. Easy to make, easy clean up because it’s made in one pot, and sticks to your ribs. This one is a keeper, add a side salad and your meal is complete.

Italian Sausage and Pepper with Rice

  • One Pound Italian Sweet Sausage, casing removed
  • 1 medium red onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 /2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large red bell pepper, rough chop
  • 2 cloves garlic, thin sliced
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon of hot red pepper flakes, or to taste. Optional
  • 1 cup of extra long grain rice, like Carolina
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 – 80z can of low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 green onions, rough chop
  • 1 medium ripe tomato, rough chop
  • 3 tablespoon of flat leaf parsley, rough chop

In a large skillet or sauce pot with a lid, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and salt and cook down for 3-5 minutes. Add the red bell pepper, paprika and garlic, stirring and cook for another three minutes. Turn the heat to high and push the vegetables to one side of the pot to brown the sausage. Pick off little pieces of the sausage and place in the pot. Stir till the sausage is browned and the veggies start to caramelize.  Add the raw rice and red pepper flakes and cook while stirring for about two minutes.  Deglaze the pan with the white wine, stirring up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan, for about a minute. Add the chicken broth and stir to incorporate all the flavors. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low and cover. Cook for about 18 minutes. Check and stir to make sure the rice is not burning. When the rice is cooked and all the moisture has evaporated, take off the heat and add the green onion, tomato and parsley. Stir well. Cover and let sit for about five minutes before serving.

Posted in Pork, Rice | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Tomato Sauce with Fresh Tomatoes

Most backyard gardeners have picked their last tomato by now. This time of year is when I love to make fresh tomato sauce using the Roma and plum tomatoes I grew myself and allowed to ripen on the vine. It’s a simple process, a little labor intensive, but well worth the reward of having the freshest, sweetest tomato sauce for my macaroni. Earlier in the season I bought a half bushel of plum tomatoes from a local farm and canned about 7 jars of tomato sauce, the next best alternative to making a fresh tomato sauce.  This is not so much a recipe as it is a procedure for making fresh tomato sauce.

You are going to need about 5 pounds of vine ripened plum tomatoes. That should make about 32 ounces of tomato sauce before you cook it down. Although you use this procedure for preparing sauce to can, this is just to make a fresh sauce your are going to use that day.

Wash all the tomatoes in cool water and place on a dish towel on your counter.

Cut the tomatoes in half and place in a stainless steel sauce pot. After adding half the tomatoes, place on medium heat and stir until you see liquid form at the bottom of the pot. Don’t allow the tomatoes to sit too long without stirring if there is no liquid on the bottom, they might burn.

Once the tomatoes release their juices process the remainder of the tomatoes, cutting in half and placing in the pot, while occasionally stirring.  As the tomatoes soften mash down with a potato masher.

Cook the tomatoes until they are all soft. The softer the better.

If you have a food mill choose the screen with the smallest holes. You can also use a food strainer and sauce mill. Either will remove the skins and seeds and strain the sauce. If you don’t have either, you can always blanch the tomatoes, remove their skins, and remove the seeds with your fingers. Place the flesh into a blender and puree.

Place the stewed tomatoes into the food mil and process.

In between batches be sure to scrape the strained sauce from under the food mill into your bowl. Then discard the seeds and skins and add another batch.  You should be able to process 5 pounds of tomatoes in two batches.

That’s about it! You now have about 32 ounces of fresh pureed tomatoes. Now it’s time to make the sauce.

I use a wide saute pan to cook the sauce. The sauce will thicken quicker because of the large heating surface. Add about 4 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive oil to the pan on medium heat. To the hot oil add about 4 cloves of chopped garlic. Cook till just fragrant, about a minute, then add the pureed tomatoes.

Throw in about 3 or 4 fresh basil leaves torn into little pieces. Add salt and black pepper to taste. That is all I add to my fresh tomato sauce. Cook the sauce over medium heat for about 20 minutes or until thickened and reduced by about half. Taste again for salt.

While the sauce is cooking you should have a large pot of salted water boiling. I like to use linguine, but use whatever macaroni you like. Add the macaroni to the boiling water just as the sauce is ready. I cook the macaroni about a minute less that the box calls for for al dente. The macaroni will continue to cook in the sauce.

Strain the macaroni in a colander and add directly to the sauce. Stir and mix well for the additional minute or two over medium heat until the macaroni is done  to your taste. Remove from the heat and add  additional fresh basil leaves torn into little pieces.

Add some grated cheese, a glass of red wine, and enjoy!

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German Sausage with Apples and Sauerkraut

I know, I’m off the reservation again. But I don’t eat Italian food every night! I actually grew quite fond of this dish and it’s real easy to make on a work night. I’ve been making it for years for my family and in the fall when I have my Oktoberfest party (just another excuse to get together with friends, drink beer, and eat German food) I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of this dish, I made it and ate it quicker than I could photograph it. But I wanted to share it with all of you because it’s one of my favorite dishes, that’s not Italian. To all my German friends out there, i’m not sure how authentic this recipe is, but like I said, I’ve been making it for years and have added some of my own touches. Another thing I like about this recipe is how flexible it can be. You’ll see what I mean as I explain it to you.

German Sausage with Apples and Sauerkraut

  • 4-5 links of knockwurst or any style German or Polish Sausage
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 large apple (Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, Golden Delicious or whatever you have on hand) peeled, cored and sliced thin or cut into small chunks
  • 1 – 2 pounds of Sauerkraut (depending on how many people) drained and slightly rinsed
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon chicken base
  • 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of dark brown sugar

In a large or medium pot, depending on how many sausages and pounds of sauerkraut you are using, heat the olive oil on a medium heat. Add the sliced onions and saute a couple of minutes until they soften. Add the apple and continue to stir till the apples soften, about 5 minutes. At this point add the wine. I used red wine, it doesn’t matter. The red wine gives it a little color. Cook the wine down for a few minutes. Now add the cup of water and chicken base. You can also use a chicken bullion cube if you don’t have chicken base. I prefer the base.

I like to rinse my sauerkraut about 20 seconds in cold water and let it drain in a strainer. Add the drained sauerkraut ,  caraway seeds and dark brown sugar and bring to a simmer, stirring everything well. Lower the heat to low and add the sausage. I like to cut the knockwurst in half so they don’t burst.  Cover and let simmer for about 20 minutes.

 

That’s it! Serve with some spicy brown mustard and you have a quick meal. If you have some crusty rolls this makes a great sandwich. Just put some mustard on the roll, cut up the sausage and top with the sauerkraut.

Posted in Beef, Pork | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Pane di Granturco – Corn Bread

Friends from Womb to Tomb

When do you remember playing with your childhood friends for the last time ? I thought so. Neither do I. At some point in your childhood, there came a day when it was the last time you played with your buddies. I don’t remember that day. Maybe it was when we graduated high school. Maybe it was when we graduated Junior High School. I guess it’s not important, but at some point you played that last game of stick ball or stoop ball or game of catch and never played it with them again. It’s kind of sad to think about it. When you went from childhood to adult hood. Maybe it was when you started college. Or met that wonderful girl that you became totally absorbed in.

This picture was taken at my 13th Birthday. LtoR: Angelo Volaro (Junior), Ralph S., Me, Anthony Merola (Mayor)

Over 52 years later old friends can’t stay apart. Junior, Me, and Mayor got together at my home in NEPA for a day of reminiscing, friendship and good food. I lost touch with Ralph S after Junior High School, he didn’t live on the block. I hope he’s well.

 

Two of my childhood buddies from 77th Street Brooklyn came up and payed me a visit in North East Pennsylvania. Angelo Volaro, who we called Junior, and Anthony Merola, who was and still is known as Mayor. They came up with their wives and took the long drive to pay a visit to an old friend. Junior was my neighbor on 77 Street. We shared a common driveway. Since we were able to walk, Junior and I played together. That driveway and our backyard was our world. And between the plastic green army men we shared and plastic horses with it’s own cowboy figure, our backyard was the backdrop to every war battle and cattle roundup we could imagine. Our parents were friends and we always got together for birthdays, graduations, and other milestone events. We each had siblings that were common in age so there was always a lot of activity between the two houses.

Anthony Merola lived a few doors down, and when we were old enough to venture away from our backyard and driveway we met Mayor and he became a member of our pack. In Brooklyn you didn’t need your parents to drive you to meet and play with your friends. If they lived on your side of the street, you had a playmate. George Galgano was another member of the group but he lived at the corner of the block. We were a little older when we got to meet him.  And then there was Christine Gemarino. She was the girl of the group. She played all the female parts in our games of army and cops and robbers. We loved a show called Riverboat back then and used to make believe we were the characters from that show. With the help of a metal garbage can cover hooked up to a fence, it made a great riverboat steering wheel. And of course, Christine was always the damsel in distress. Me and George always fought over who would save her first. We were only 4 or 5 years old, but we all knew our gender roles back then.  Of course Christine was always the nurse in our games of war and we all got wounded very early in the play so she could give us a little TLC.  We made use of everything around us. A long stick made a great rifle, if we didn’t get that cap gun for Christmas. And then there were the “dirt bombs”. Some how dirt bombs only appeared at a certain time of year, usually in the spring. We didn’t know why, but as adults it became abundantly clear. Dirt bombs appeared in the neighborhood gardens about the time the Italian men in the neighborhood “turned” the soil getting ready to plant the seasons tomatoes and cucuzzi. And just like that, little balls of dirt about the size of a golf ball appeared like magic. Dirt bombs were the weapons of choice to lob at your opponents. They really stung if you got hit in the head. But, that’s war.

As we got older the games turned more to some kind of sport using a pink ball and the small group that started with Junior, Mayor, George and Christine grew. We used to play a game called “punch”. We played it in the driveway where the steps leading to the side entrance to each of our houses became first and third base. Second base was further down the driveway and we marked it with chalk. Two or three kids played the field while the “batter” would toss the ball up in the air and swing at it with either a side arm swing or over head swing, hitting the ball with your fist and sending it soaring down the driveway. Mayor was the best punch baller and used to drive the ball out past the driveway and into the street. The rest of the game was played like regular baseball. We ran bases and had foul balls if they hit the houses before first and third base. Once the ball passed first and third it was fair play no matter where it went.

It was amazing the games we were able to play with just a pink ball. Punch ball, stoop ball, box baseball, slap ball, hit the stick (usually an old Good Humor ice cream stick). And as summers progressed and we were older, stick ball and two hand touch football were played in the street in front of our houses. The group grew larger, kids from across the street joined in the fun. At any given moment, at the beginning of another summer day, 77 Street was full of friends and playmates that made up the day of fun and games . I could fill volumes with all the games that made up our day. It’s a wonder when we came home from the fun, usually when the street lights came on, and our mothers ran a bath for us, the rings of dirt that lined the tub was epic.

But, enough of the past. When Junior and Mayor showed up Sunday afternoon with their family it was like we had just gotten together the other day. That’s what true friends feel like. You could be apart for years, but the moment you get together it’s like you never were apart.  After their 2 and 1/2 hour long ride from Brooklyn I’m sure they felt good getting out of their car to stretch their legs. It was great having “company” again with old friends. And as if it wasn’t enough seeing them all again, Junior and Mayor bought an abundance of Brooklyn treats. Three loaves of Italian bread and a seeded twist, which Junior knew was my favorite (it’s amazing the things he remembers) three balls of homemade mozzarella, two regular and one smoked, a bottle of wine and a large bottle of Manhattan Special Espresso Coffee Soda, and a box of over a dozen miniature Italian pastries, which included Sfogliatella, Lobster Tails, Pasticciotto, regular cannoli and chocolate covered cannoli. All my favorite. The best of Brooklyn, including my friends, arrived at my door!

It was great seeing them all and catching up on what has happened since our last visit. They were curious about where I had settled to live and asked a lot of questions about living in NEPA. I gave them my best sales job in selling the pros of living outside of Brooklyn. Maybe I could convince one of them to leave Brooklyn and move near me. But I don’t think there is a chance of that happening. If they haven’t left Brooklyn by now I don’t think it will ever happen. I put out a simple spread for them. Not the usual antipasti. They get that all the time in Brooklyn. I put out a tray of Roasted Red Pepper Humus with Pita Chips and a salsa with tortilla chips. The Hummus was new to some of my friends, they never had it before. It was a good choice. I put together some easy cook out items. I picked up a couple of pounds of ground chuck I got at Clark’s Sunrise Market in Honesdale. Some of the best around, and made my own patties with just a little salt and pepper added to the meat. I also got some hot dogs from The Alpine Wurst House, also in Honesdale. The Alpine is a real German sausage house. They make all their own hot dogs and wursts in house. They have a great deli and restaurant as well. My friends loved the hot dogs because of the “snap” from the natural casing and the flavor was awesome. I rounded off the meal with marinated Flap Steak. It’s similar to skirt steak and flank steak but much more tender and flavorful in my opinion. The grains are larger which makes it ideal for soaking up the marinade.  I believe this cut is also used for sirloin tips. The marinade works well with beef as well as chicken. Here is the recipe:

MARINADE FOR GRILLING

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons of chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder

Mix well in a small bowl

I prefer to lay out the flank steak or chicken breast in a 9″x 13″ Pyrex baking dish. Cover with the marinade and cover the pan in plastic wrap and refrigerate 4-8 hours, turning halfway through. Bone in chicken parts I use a gallon Zip Lock bag to marinate in.

Needless to say, with all those flavors, the Flap steak was also a hit. I made a big salad with a olive oil and balsamic dressing and put out some potato salad and macaroni salad. The simple menu gave me more time to spend with my friends and we all enjoyed the day together. Of course the highlight of the meal was when I made coffee and we broke out the Italian pastries. My friends controlled themselves and made sure I had enough left over for the week. They only lasted till Monday. Oh well, you only live once.

 

This corn bread recipe was a favorite of Grandma Isabella. She would make dozens of little loaves and dry them out so they kept for months. We would use them in fresh tomato salads broken up like croutons. The bread would absorb the sweet tomato juices and vinegar and olive oil. When the loaves were fresh they were great eaten with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of dried oregano. Either way, they tasted great. Please give it a try.

*Please note, I made some changes to the recipe from the original posting. Grandma Isabella never wrote anything down and things got lost in the translation, so this is what the ingredients should be. I also added a first rise to the dough, which was suggested by my son Michael.

Pane di Granturco

To prepare the yeast

  • 1/2 ounce dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water

Put all ingredients in a cup. Yeast is ready to use when bubbling begins.

Dough Preparation

  • 12 oz stone ground corn meal
  • 36 oz semolina flour
  • 2 oz sugar
  • 1 -1/2 tablespoons salt
  • 8 cups all purpose  flour

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl

Add to the dry ingredients

  • 1/2 cup vegetable or corn oil
  • the yeast mixture
  • and approximately 5 cups water

Mix until all the flour is wet and well incorporated. Start mixing with your hands until it all comes together, then place on a floured board and knead for at least 10 minutes. Dough should not be sticky if it is add some more flour. Cover with a cloth and let rise for one hour.

Now, cut small fist size pieces and roll into logs, then close them like a bagel. Add them to an oiled baking sheet. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 1  1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. Do not open oven door for the first 7 minutes. The top of the bread should be lightly browned. Make the bread in batches until all the dough is used up.

After the little loaves are baked, remove from the oven and slice in half when cool enough to handle. Position back on the cookie sheet. Lower oven temperature to 200 degrees and place back in the oven until the bread is dried. The finished bread should be as dry as a crouton. Cool and store in airtight containers, like a zip lock back. Will keep for months in a cool dark place.

 

 

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Roast Leg of Lamb

Leg of lamb on Easter is about as traditional as you can get. I can’t remember an Easter without it. Most families continue having lamb on Easter. It represented a right of spring and rebirth. And it taste wonderful!  We had many traditions on Easter that seem to have disappeared. We all went to church as a family, dressed in our Sunday best. All the little girls in the neighborhood wore Easter hats and white gloves with their pretty little dresses. I had on my only suite, which my mother kept in great condition. At least for as long as i could wear it and not outgrow it. My Grandfather always wore his best “Italian” suite on Sunday. And kept it on all day. That’s something we lost today. Sunday,for many of us , is no different from any other day. And that’s a shame. We walked to church, it was about 4 blocks away, at Our Lady of Guadalupe. On the walk home we would stop at the Italian bakery  to pick up loafs of bread and some cookies. The end of the bread never made it home, one of us would rip it off for a snack. Back home my grandmother was preparing the leg of lamb and Easter dinner. The moment you entered the house you could smell the garlic and lamb. The end of that bread will not keep me satisfied, I thought.

My father never went to church. When I asked my mother about that she would say he needed to stay home to stir the sauce. Made sense to me.

We set up the dinner table in our dining room for Easter. Some Easters my aunts and uncles would join us, but this Easter it was just the immediate family. Settings around the table were for my mother and father, brother, sister, me and my grandmother and grandfather. As soon as the lamb was ready my grandmother would call down the steps for one of us to go upstairs and get the roasted lamb. My mother already prepared the manicotti and was dishing out the portions to everyone. Once the lamb arrived my grandparents came down, my grandfather with a bottle of his wine in hand, and we were ready to eat. My grandfather always sat at the head of the table, my grandmother at his side. He would make the sign of the cross and have God bless us all, and then we started to eat. Dishes rattled, extra sauce was passed around, along with the grated cheese, and we all dug into my mother’s homemade manicotti. The lamb was resting, covered in the kitchen.

When the first course was finished and the last puddle of sauce was swept away on a piece of Italian bread, my mother and sister and grandmother would clear the dishes and make room for the next course. My father was carving the lamp in the kitchen and taste testing a few pieces of the succulent meat here and there. A parade of side dishes made their way to the dining room and placed around the table, roasted potatoes, sautéed broccoli , stuffed mushrooms, mixed salad, string beans and carrots in tomato sauce, and filled every nook and cranny on the table. We had to place the bottles of wine and soda and baskets of bread on the server behind us because there was not enough room. Then finally my father marched in with the carved lamb. I could see the look of anticipation on my Grandfather’s face as my father entered the room with the main course. My grandfather picked out this leg of lamb very carefully and he inspected it with his eyes to make sure my father did a good job of carving it. Without hesitation, it was placed right in front of my Grandfather, he was the first one served, always. As he was digging into the lamb all the other dishes were passed around. My grandfather also garnered the lamb bone. He loved to eat the meat off the bone. He always said, “the sweetest meat is next to the bone.” I think Louis Prima sang about that, “Closest to the bone, sweeter is the meat”. Eventually  we all got the plate of lamb and picked out our slices. My mouth is watering just writing about this. Buona Pasqua!

Every Easter my grandmother would prepare a leg of lamb this way. She would poke holes all over the lamb and fill each hole with a clove of garlic and parsley. She would roast the lamb with potatoes, onions and white wine. It was delicious! When you sliced the lamb you would get pieces of the garlic and parsley mixed in with the lamb.

Roast Leg of Lamb

  • 1 6-7 pound leg of lamb
  • 1 whole garlic bulb, seperated and peeled
  • 1 bunch of fresh flat leaf Italian parsley
  • 2 pounds potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh minced thyme
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper

The night before you roast the lamb, prepare it this way. Place the lamb on your work surface. With a long thin knife poke a hole into the lamb about 2-3 inches deep. Push a clove of the peeled garlic into the hole with your finger. On top of that push about 3 or 4 leaves of the fresh parsley on top of the garlic into the hole. Repeat this all around the lamb, spacing the holes about 4 inches apart. If an individuale clove of garlic is too large just cut it in half.

Rub the leg of lamb with olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap the lamb in platic wrap, sealing it all around, and place it in the regridgerator over night until you are ready to roast it. This allows the flavors of the garlic and parlsey to be absorbed into the lamb.

The next day in a large roasting pan, place the sliced potatoes and sliced onions in the roasting pan. Sprinkle the potatoes and onions with the minced thyme and 2 minced garlic cloves. Add a 1/4 cup olive oil to the potatoes and onions, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands.

Unwrap the plastic wrap from the lamb and place the lamb into the roasting pan surrounded by the potatoes and onions. Pour the white wine over the potatoes.

Roast uncovered at 400 degrees about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until desired doneness. Turn the lamb every 15 minutes, basting with the liquid from the roasting pan.

Let lamb stand 20 minutes before carving. Serve the lamb garnished with the potatoes and a few wedges of lemon.

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Mpanada di Scarola (Escarole Pie)

The one comfort food that stands out for me among all other comfort foods is scarola. That’s right, scarola, escarole,  a vegetable. And scarola was my go to dish when I was sick. I have had my share of childhood sick days. Lord knows, from September through March I have had colds, fever, sore throats. It was like clock work, the holidays would come around and I was in bed with some kind of flu or virus. And the one thing that stands out in my mind, other than my mother covering me in wash cloths and socks soaked in alcohol to bring down my fever, is my grandmother coming to my bedside with bowls of scarola. I would get sick and my grandmother started the pot of scarola. She boiled it in a pot of water and added garlic and “Italian  oil”, as she would call olive oil, and served it up to me in a large bowl with the broth and a piece of Italian bread. Along with the scarola, my grandfather would bring home some Lamp rib chops from his butcher shop. You know, the real good expensive ones with the bone handle and the tender disc of meat at the end. That was one advantage of being the butcher’s grandson. Cooked in the broiler with just some salt, the lamb chop and scarola was my original comfort food. And like a miracle, it brought me to health every time. Of course, my mother always welcomed the help my grandparents would give in my time of need. That was one of the advantages of living in the same house as your grandparents. I had a double dose of care and love all the time. And there was always someone around to help make you feel better. Not to mention the great food everyone prepared for you. I kind of looked forward to getting sick. Hmmmm!

Another benefit we enjoyed when we got sick,  besides eating well,  was we got to watch TV in bed. It’s the only time my folks would roll out our portable black and white TV and put it by my bedside. You see, for my younger audience, we did not have a TV in every room. We had the one main TV in the living room and that was it. Same thing for telephones. One phone in the hall way. One phone number. And we had no clue who was calling until we answered the phone.  No call waiting, if someone called and you were on the phone they heard a “busy” signal. Remember those? And we had no clue someone else was trying to reach us unless they called back. It’s amazing how we survived such archaic times.  But there was a limit my mother allowed me to watch TV, even when I was sick. It was basically limited to the morning and early evening. The rest of the time I kept busy playing making bed tents, reading Hot Stuff, Richie Rich and Superman comic books, playing with my army men and taking naps in between.  Every once in a while when my father got home from work he would bring me a new toy. Not very often, but it was great when he did. I remember one time he bought me a potato gun. My mother almost killed him. The potato gun was a wonder of its time. You would push the tip of the gun into a potato, breaking off a potato slug, and then shoot the potato slug. My mother spent hours cleaning up the potato spuds all over the room.

This Mpanada di Scarola is a pie my family would make for the holidays, along with other pies filled with broccoli and olives, usually around Christmas Eve. If you like escarole you will love this pie. It’s easy to make and warms the heart along with the belly. Give it a try.

 

Mpanada di Scarola (Escarole pies)

Basic Pizza Dough (recipe follows)

  • 1 large head of escarole, 1 1/2 pounds, washed and cut into thirds
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup pitted black Gaeta or kalamata olives, roughly chopped
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 cup grated ciaciocavalo or provolone cheese
  • 1 egg beaten with a teaspoon of water for egg wash

In a large pot add the escarole and 2 cups  water.  Bring to a boil. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the escarole is tender. Drain the escarole. Rinse under cool water so you can handle, and squeeze dry. Roughly chop and set aside.

In the same pot you boiled the escarole in,  heat the oil over medium heat and cook the garlic for about a 1 minuet. Add the onion and stir for 2 minutes, add the escarole, and olives and saute until the escarole cooks down and the onions becomes soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. Once cool add the cheese. Taste for salt, add black pepper.  Then add the beaten egg. Mix well.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

At this point you can either make a pie or loaf. My family made loafs. Guess they were loafers.  Roll out your pizza dough on a piece of parchment paper the size to fit your sheet pan. Lay out your filling across the dough from left to right, right to the edge.

Slightly fold over the left and right side “burrito” style and bring the long ends over, pinching closed. If you have too much dough trim off before bringing over.

Place seam side down and place the loaf and parchment onto the sheet pan. Score about three slits on top of the loaf and brush with egg wash.

Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Slightly cool before serving. Taste great at room temperature, if it lasts that long.

Basic Pizza Dough

  • 1 envelope active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 3 – 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for coating dough
  • Put the yeast, sugar, and water into a small bowl, stir.Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Add the olive oil to the yeast mixture and pour into the well. Work into a dough with a wooden spoon.On a lightly floured board, knead the dough, folding it over and over until it is smooth and silky. Add a little flour as needed until the dough is no longer sticky. Shape into a ball. Lightly oil a bowl and place the dough in the bowl, turn dough over to coat the other side and cover it with a dish towel. Let stand in a warm place until doubles in size, about 1 hour.

 

 

 

Posted in pizza, vegetable | Tagged , , | 8 Comments