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 minuets. 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 minuets. Do not open oven door for the first 7 minuets. 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

Sausage Rolls

A lot has happened since my last post. So here is the “Reader’s Digest” version. I left New York, sold my house and moved to North East Pennsylvania. Found a job on a daily newspaper that covers Wayne and Pike county and bought my retirement house on a lake, next door to a local tavern. Can it get better than that?

I’m planning on raising some chickens, ducks and guinea fowl. The guinea fowl are great for depleting the tick population that thrives too well here. I have an unfinished cellar, with a stacked stone foundation,  that is ideal for curing and storing meats, canned goods and root cellar vegetables. Did I mention I’m next door to the local tavern?

The view from my back porch.

This area couldn’t be more different from my roots growing up in Brooklyn, but there are many similarities. In Brooklyn your block was your town and your neighborhood was an extension of that town. Here it’s no different. Neighbors are friendly and helpful. They are all God-fearing folks and would give you the shirt off their back if you had the need. I work in a cute little town called Honesdale. I found my Mayberry. Folks here have roots, deep roots. Many have been here all their lives, generations. It sets up a down home base, like my block in Brooklyn, everyone knew each other, everyone was friendly. There is a local market here called Clark’s Sunrise Market. It’s run by three generations of family. We had places like that in Brooklyn, one called Monzelli’s, a family run market, run by three generations. Went to school with their son. His grandparent’s knew my Grandparents and his mother and father knew my mother and father. They all grew up in the neighborhood, went to school there and worked there. Honesdale is the birthplace of the Steam locomotive, the song “Walking In A Winter Wonderland” was written by a gentleman that lived on Church Street, just a few yards from my office. And right across the street from my office is the first headquarters of the children’s Highlights Magazine and still in use today.

When I first moved up here I felt like a fish out of water until I realized how similar it was to growing up in Brooklyn in the mid 50’s. First thing I did was search out my comfort foods. Where to shop, where to buy pizza, bagels, any good Italian restaurants, deli’s, was there a good Chinese Restaurant here? Any Kosher deli’s? I could tell you one thing, no one delivers. And nothing is close. This is farm land and acres of state hunting grounds, rivers and streams, huge lakes like Wallenpaupack, and seasonal. After Labor day three-quarters of the population leaves. Off season it’s quiet. But come Memorial day, look out. It never really gets that crowded, but you notice different folk arriving and shopping in the stores.

I’m about 15 minuets from a town called Milford, PA. And that’s where I found Fretta’s. At first I couldn’t believe it. Fretta’s started out in Little Italy at about the time my Grandfather arrived there from Italy. They moved to Brooklyn, on 86th Street in my neighborhood and was there for many years, until the grandson, who was living in Staten Island, decided to take the family business to Milford. This place is the holy grail of Italian pork stores and it was right here in Milford. The moment you walk into the place you smell the pungent aromas of the homemade soppressata, capocollo and beef braciole hanging from the rafters curing alongside the imported provolone and prosciutto hanging displayed. Not to mention all the homemade fresh sausage, pinwheels, prime cut steaks and chops. I died and went to heaven and it was right here in Milford. Could I be any closer to home? And just up the road is a place called Jorgensen’s Dimmick Inn, an old world tavern revived by a couple of Brooklyn boys from Bay Ridge. They even have an item on their menu called the 79th Street Burger. Milford has to be the 6th borough. I feel closer to home up here in NEPA than I did in Rockland County New York.

There is also a different culture up here than I was used to in New York. One Monday morning I was driving to work and when I passed the local high school I noticed it was closed. I couldn’t imagine what holiday it was for the school to be closed. Did I miss something? When I got into work I asked my coworkers why the school was closed. They look at me like I was an alien and said, “it’s the first day of hunting season, the schools always close first day of hunting season”.  Silly me for not knowing that. Almost everyone hunts up here. Not for trophy, but food. Although if they bag a six pointer it’s unlikely they will not display it. Our newspaper runs a Big Buck contest every year and the residents bring their bucks in to have us judge who’s the biggest. From the first day of the contest, beginning at 8am, people were driving up with their entries. I couldn’t believe the range of hunters, from 16-year-old girls to seasoned huntsmen that have been doing this for decades. No wonder they close the schools that day. Everyone is out hunting.

These are good people up here. They respect God, country and each other. But they don’t know how to make a good Pizza. That was my next quest. Finding good pizza. There is a pizza style here that is not New York Style Pizza. A hundred year old hotel called the Waymart Hotel has been making pizza for as long as it’s been in existence. And is famous for their square pie. Legend has it Italian immigrants settled here mining coal and as many immigrants do,  make the food of their country. But they had to settle for ingredients that was local and the “Old Forge” style of pizza was born. Nothing like NY pizza, the cheese blend is just that, not mozzarella but a blend of different cheese. I have to say, it was tasty, different, but not New York Pizza. I came across a place called Mike’s pizzeria not far from my house and discovered the owner is from Nutley, New Jersey. Not bad pie. For now it’s my go to pie. But I’m still searching.

All in all I now call NEPA my home.  I’m only an hour away from my son Joseph and an hour and a half from my older boy and his wife, Michael and Jess. It’s a two-hour ride into Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island, so I’m close enough for visits. Scranton is only a half hour away so I still need to explore that.  It’s nice to walk out my back door and fish in my own lake, and pass farmland with cows grazing in the fields. And live near towns where the people are friendly and all know one another. Not to mention, I’m right next door to the local tavern.

 

We had a bakery in Brooklyn called Termini’s. They made great bread, cookies, cakes, pizza and these sausage rolls. They only made them on Saturdays so it was always a special treat for me when my mother or grandfather would pick up bread from there and come home with these sausage rolls. I never bothered heating them up, but ate them right out of the bag my mother brought them home in. Their pizza was also a treat, and I ate that cold as well. It was THAT good.

 

 

Sausage Rolls

  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper,seeded and sliced thin
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced thin
  • 3 tbl olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 lb of sweet Italian sausage,raw with casing removed
  • Provolone cheese, grated
  • pizza dough
  • Egg wash (one beaten egg with teaspoon of water)

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees

In a medium fry pan heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the red and green pepper and sliced onion and saute for 12 minuets until soft. Add the chopped garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Roll out the pizza dough and cut into 9 rectangles.

Break off a piece of sausage and form it into a log to fit inside the sough.

Top with the sauteed peppers and onions , and sprinkle of grated provolone.

Fold the little packet into a roll and pinch the seams shut. Place seam side down on an oiled sheet pan or on parchment paper on top of the sheet pan.  Brush with egg wash and score each roll with three slits.

Place in oven and cook till golden brown, about 20-25 minuets. Cool slightly, remove from pan and serve.

 

Posted in Antipasto, Bread, pizza, Pork | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Eggplant Rollatine

Eggplant is one of my favorite dishes. I don’t care how you prepare it, it’s all good. For years I was a firm believer that if you didn’t fry the eggplant it wasn’t worth cooking. I’ve since curbed that idea and have found you can prepare the eggplant differently for certain dishes and not lose the flavor or quality. Grilled eggplant works so well for some dishes, fried for others, and yes, I even found that baking your eggplant properly can do a dish justice. And save on some calories as well. I have tested making eggplant Parmigiano baking the breaded eggplant instead of frying. It actually came out very good. Not exactly like the fried version, but very close. For us older folks you have to weigh the dietary benefit of making it that way. I find that as I get older I cannot tolerate fried foods as much as I did when I was younger. So, you have to adapt. Now, for you young whippersnappers out there, fry away. You can take any recipe I have for baking and fry the food instead. Whatever works for you.

Eggplant rollatine works very well with baking the eggplant. I don’t bread the eggplant in this dish, I find the flavors of the ricotta, and tomato basil sauce, along with a top quality pecorino Romano cheese brings out the best in the eggplant that way. When my grandmother prepared eggplant Parmigiano she never breaded the eggplant. She didn’t even use any mozzarella! You can find my recipe for that here.  We have come to know many American versions of Italian food. Sometimes it’s best to stick to your roots.

If you are a member of Weight Watchers you will be happy to know that the following dish serves 10 and each serving is only 6 points. If you are not concerned with calories you should use whole milk ricotta and mozzarella cheese.

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EGGPLANT ROLLATINE

  • 2 medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise 1/4″ thick
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 1 large egg
  • 15 ounce part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 3-4 shaves of fresh nutmeg or 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg
  • 3 cups of homemade Marinara Sauce, recipe here *
  • 1/2 pound part skim shredded mozzarella

*leave out the butter and only use 3 tablespoons of olive oil for Weight Watchers version.

First thing is to prepare the eggplant. Slice the eggplant 1/4 inch thick long ways. Use a mandolin slicer if you have one. I like the OXO Good Grips V-Blade slicer. If you do it with a knife, use a very sharp or serrated blade for the best cut. You should wind up with 20 usable slices of eggplant. Sprinkle the sliced eggplant with kosher salt and let sit to drain in a colander for about 1/2 hour. Dry each slice off with a paper towel.

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Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Using a large sheet pan, lightly spray the pan with olive oil. Place the eggplant on the pan in a single layer, fitting as many slices as you can side by side. Lightly spray the top of the eggplant with the olive oil. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 10 minutes. Use 2-3 pans if you need to fit all the eggplant in one time. Don’t over cook at this point, it’s easier to handle if it’s a little under cooked. The eggplant will finish cooking later. Once cooked remove the foil (save it for later) and allow to cool enough for you to handle

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While the eggplant is cooking, in a medium bowl, mix the egg, ricotta, grated cheese, spinach, garlic, salt, pepper and ground nutmeg till well combined. Set aside.

Add about 1/4 cup of marinara sauce to the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish. Spread it out evenly.

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On your work surface lay out two slices of cooked eggplant slightly overlapping each other long ways. Spoon about 3 heaping tablespoons of the ricotta mixture onto the short end of the eggplant.

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Carefully roll the eggplant around the ricotta filling and place seam side down in the prepared baking dish.

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Do the same with the remaining eggplant until you have 10 servings. If you have any eggplant left over, no problem. Just double layer some of the rollatine with them. I don’t like wasting anything. I even cook the little scraps and just add it right in when I roll up the eggplant.

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Spoon the remaining marinara sauce over the eggplant.

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Cover with the shredded mozzarella and another 2 tablespoons of grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.

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Remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes.

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Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

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Oxtail Stew

October had different meanings for me growing up in Brooklyn then it does now living in the northern suburbs as an adult. Halloween was in October. And if you lived in Bensonhurst, you looked forward to Halloween.  Halloween was the first holiday your mother opened up the large chest in the basement that stored all the Halloween decorations. They were usually on top of the larger assortment of Christmas decorations that were stored in the same chest, just below. I would follow my mother into the basement as she headed towards the chest of holiday treasure. As soon as she opened it I could smell the faint aroma of pine from last year’s Christmas. It was an amazing smell and brought back all the childhood memories I had of Christmas past. But first, it was Halloween.Halloween1

Mom carefully lifted the familiar fragile paper decorations with dried tape marks on them  left from last year’s Halloween. I can’t tell you how many years these decorations were used. A smiling pumpkin, a black cat, a skeleton, Witches.4ddd06d13f7e89bee3f72137c7bcc977The challenge was to set up the skeleton on the front door with the legs and arms bent in such a way that they would scare everyone coming to the door.  I had the same challenge with the black cat. 3742f1051340de6b943826e73e76641fThe cat had to be positioned just right so it looked like it was about to jump at you. At least that’s what I thought. Most of the other decorations were just taped to our front porch windows, in hopes that the trick or treaters would know this was the house with the best candy. Once the decorations were up the decision had to be made as to what I was going to be for Halloween. That was the questions all your friends asked in October, “Hey Pete! What are you going to be for Halloween?” A pirate, a hobo, Dracula, Superman. SUPERMAN! That was my best Halloween ever, the year I was Superman. My mother made that costume for me and I loved it. I practiced for days, weeks before Halloween, flying around the house jumping from sofa to sofa in my Superman costume. I loved it! I”m glad I was smart enough to realize that I really couldn’t fly, but that didn’t matter, I dreamed I could.

Trick or Treat came to an end at the age of 13. We were teenagers now and Trick or Treat was for kids. Now, Halloween took on a whole new meaning. Somehow we went from collecting candy to throwing eggs and beating each other with sweat socks filled with chalk powder. We mostly took out our “aggression” on each other and not neighbor’s property. Unless of course you were that family on the block that would constantly chase us kids away from playing in front of their house. But I’ll plead the 5th on that one.

Today, October means a lot of different things. Living in the suburbs of New York we get to enjoy the beautiful fall foliage as only one can living in the northeast. The days are usually sunny, cool and crisp and the local farms are pressing apple cider and selling apple cider doughnuts. Nothing is quite as good as New York State Apples. The sunny warm fall days and cool nights are perfect for the ripening of apples and they do really well in this part of the country. Another phenomenon which recently surfaced is the influx of everything pumpkin. From coffee to beer, October brings out pumpkin flavored everything. Some good, some not so good. And not so far away, Thanksgiving. My favorite food holiday. I almost can’t wait for Christmas!!!!!

Oxtail Stew is the perfect fall dish to make for those cool October evenings.

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Oxtail Stew

  • 5-6 pounds of Oxtail (beef), cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour for dredging
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup light olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 5 carrots, scrubbed, un-skinned, and cut into 2 inch chunks
  • 1 cup of red wine
  • 1 – 28 oz. can of Italian Plum tomatoes, such as San Marzano, with their juices, crushed by hand
  • 3 bay leaves
  • a few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • water to cover
  • 1/2 – 1 pound of wide pasta such as Mafaldine or Pappardelle
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Preheat oven to 325 F.

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In a large dutch oven, heat 1/4 cup olive oil on medium high heat. In a medium bowl mix 1 cup of flour with salt and pepper to taste. Dredge the oxtail pieces in the flour and brown them in the pot, not overcrowding them.

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Brown them in batches if you need to. Remove from the pot and place on a plate.

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Add to the pot the carrots, onions, and celery and stir well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Leave untouched about 4-5 minutes till they start browning before you stir up. This browning adds to the flavor. Add the chopped garlic and stir, cooking for another 1-2 minutes. Deglaze the pot with the cup of red wine and cook down for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes straight from the can, crushing each plum tomato by hand. Add all the juices from the can. Stir well. Add back the oxtail into the pot.  Add enough water to the pot so everything is just covered. Stir well. Pull the rosemary from their stems and roughly chop and add to pot, along with the whole sprigs of thyme (you can fish out the stems at the end) and the bay leaves. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover and place in the oven for three hours. Check halfway through to see if it needs more liquid to keep everything covered.

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Once the stew is cooked, taste for salt and pepper and you can eat it just like that with some mashed potatoes on the side along with a salad . I like to pick the meat from the bones. I throw out the bones and place the shredded meat back into the pot.

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Cook the pasta till al dente and after you strain it add back to the pot. Put a couple of ladles of the sauce and stew on the pasta and stir it up. Place the dressed pasta in large bowls and add more of the stew right on top.

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Sprinkle with some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on top and enjoy.

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Chicken and Potatoes Peasant Style

When my grandmother made any meal that included chicken and vinegar, just the aroma from cooking it made me run upstairs in our house to see what was in the oven. When I make this simple dish I can’t help but see my grandmother in her faded floral apron bending over the open oven spooning the juices in the pan over the chicken, and giving it a little taste to see if she added enough salt. She always had a smile on her face when she put the spoon down.  My grandfather would be sitting in the dining room reading his Sunday paper and anticipating when my grandmother would call him in to eat. I was never far behind him. That’s one of the advantages of living in the same house as your grandparents, you always had something good to eat. If I finished dinner with my family early I could run upstairs to see what grandma was cooking. And I usually did.

This is another “one pan dish”.  A simple Sicilian Peasant chicken that is full of flavor. Just add a salad and some bread and you have a complete Sunday supper. If you open the windows a bit you also might get a visit from the neighbors to see what’s cooking. So make plenty.

The secret here is you soak the chicken in a mixture of vinegar and water. This acts like a marinade while you are preparing the rest of the dish.

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Chicken and Potatoes Peasant Style

  • 1 whole chicken, cut up
  • 1 cup of white vinegar
  • 3 medium potatoes cut into small pieces (I like to leave the skin on)
  • 2 small onions, rough chop
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 4 very ripe fresh plumb tomatoes, cut into medium dice
  • 1 large sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

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Place the chicken in a large bowl or pot to fit and pour in the cup of white vinegar. Add cold tap water till chicken is covered. Let sit for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, toss into a large roasting pan, the potatoes, onions, white wine, fresh tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper and olive oil.

Drain the chicken, no need to rinse, just pat dry with paper towel.  Add to the pan and toss till everything is mixed well. Arrange the chicken, skin side down, between the vegetables in the pan. Roast for 35 minutes. Turn the chicken skin side up and stir up the vegetables. Cook for another 35-40 minutes, or until chicken and potatoes are golden brown.

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