Brasciola from Sicilia to the States

Brasiola.Plated

Served with Homemade Pasta and My Spinach, Feta & Mozzarella Rolls wrapped in Phyllo

Tom and I vacationed in Sicily three years ago. We enjoyed the warm hospitality, culture and food of this beautiful island and her people. While in Palermo, we had the pleasure of participating in a cooking class of typical Sicilian cooking conducted by Nicoletta Lanza Tomasi, the Duchess of Palma on Via Butera in her husband’s beautiful family Palazzo. Nicoletta was a gracious host and an informative teacher that day. We returned home to the states with wonderful recipes which beckoned me to get my apron and prepare panelle, fresh organic pasta sauce, Pantelleria style potato salad with capers and a fragrant flan-like dessert called Bianomangiare which I will share in another blog. Our main staple of the meal centered around thin slices of lean beef that we stuffed with fresh chopped pesto called Involtini di Carne alla Palermitana or Palermitan style Meat Rolls. We asked Nicoletta if this was a version of Braciola that we prepare back in the states. Her response was similar to other European cooks who remind us that our Italian-American ancestors arrived here bringing their traditions and recipes, many of which were adjusted over the years. Just ask them about spaghetti and meat balls.

The bottom line is that many Europeans enjoy our Italian-American traditions when they visit the states but they adhere to the recipes that comprise their culinary history and Nicoletta’s recipe for Involtini di Carne alla Palermitana is exactly that. Her delicious recipe for Palermitan Meat Rolls was easy to prepare and a memorable recipe I will keep on file but for now, I will stick with my Italian-American tradition of stuffed flank steak in robust red wine and tomato sauce. My recipe was revered by my Sicilian-American father-in-law, Tony Puma. This was his favorite. I really don’t know but I believe that after a serving or two of Brasciola, Dad may have even advised my husband Tom to marry me.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 slices of flank steak, sliced very thin
  • Pignoli Nuts
  • Raisins
  • Salami cut into small pieces
  • Shaved Parmesan Cheese
  • Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 2 eggs diced
  • Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • Kitchen Twine
  • 1 quart of tomato and basil sauce
  • 1 cup red wine

RECIPE:                                                                                2 Forks

Simmer the tomato sauce with fresh basil, oregano, salt, pepper and a little red wine (1 cup)

To prepare the BRASCIOLA, tenderize each slice of beef and set aside

Prepare small bowls of each ingredient so it is easy to stuff each roll

Begin to stuff the Brasciola in this order – Breadrumbs, 1 tsp Olive Oil, shredded Mozzarella, diced Salami, Chopped Hard Boiled Egg, Parmesan, Raisins, Pignoli, Salt & Pepper to taste

Roll the flank steak while keeping the stuffing neatly inside. As you roll, tuck the sides into the center of the roll

Wrap each roll with kitchen twine

Gently pan fry each roll in olive oil until brown

Move the brasciola rolls into a saucepan of tomato basil sauce. Simmer on low for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Serve with tomato sauce and shaved Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Nuts About Pignoli Cookies

PignoliOnPlate

Half the fun of visiting Italian neighborhoods is in asking locals about their favorite pizzeria and bakery. This is not an easy answer. Trust me. Their response is specific and passionate. Who makes the best pizza? Well, you need to rephrase that by asking who makes the best pizza sauce, cheesiest pizza, best thick crust, thin crust, best pizza to fold in half and eat in one hand….and the list goes on.   Italian bakeries are no different. As a matter of fact, their bragging rights are even more specific because they relate to the baked goods they produce. Best bread, best cannoli, best sfogliatelle, best cassata cake, best rainbow bars and of course, who makes the best pignoli cookies. What makes them the best? Are they crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside and filled with almond paste to die for? Then let’s talk about the nuts. Are they sweet, toasted and above all, covering every space on top of the cookie? Do you get them plain or with confectioners’ sugar on top? “Oh yes please” or “No way, it ruins the presentation and taste of the nuts.” The options are endless and the opinions are firm usually ending in “everyone knows they make the best”.

Astoria, New York City had great bakeries on every block from 30th Street to 37th Street where I went to school at Most Precious Blood. This did not even cover the other avenues let alone Steinway Street or Ditmars Blvd where La Guli Pastry Shop reigned Italian supreme but Ditmars is another blog dedicated to the love of good Greek streetfood.

Caiazzo’s Bakery was located on Broadway between 33rd and 34th Streets, just 2 short blocks from my home. My mother entrusted me with the important task of going to Caiazzo’s to buy my father’s sesame seeded Italian cookies. I know they were made fresh that day because I was blown away by the strong aroma when I stepped in the store. Caiazzo’s was known for their Italian loaves, focaccia and pizza bread, sesame cookies and pignoli cookies. I gave the owner, a little Italian lady dressed in black and sitting on the stool next to the register my money. She carefully weighed the brown bags and smiled as I left with a bag of Dad’s sesame faves but not without a little bag of (Oh Yes!) Pignoli cookies for myself. They had a delicious chewy almond paste on the inside, a crisp golden bakery crust on the outside and an abundance of sweet little pine nuts all lover the cookie. Who could want anything else?

I’ve read recipes and baked Pignoli cookies over the years. Some were pretty decent but nothing compared to the memorable taste of this iconic neighborhood bakery. It seems like a cookie of this character would appeal to adults but this little Italian girl and her cookie loving pals enjoyed the entire experience of eating them and that is exactly what it was – an experience. In the same spirit that Oreo® lovers break apart the cookie so they can eat the white icing first, my friends and I knew that there is an exact way to eat Pignoli cookies. You had to first eat all of the pine nuts one by one. Then savor the chewy almond paste filling for last.

PignoliOnPlate.2

Caiazzo’s is gone but the popularity for pignoli cookies lives on. Go online and check out Ferrara’s in Little Italy, NY or visit your local bakeries and make your own decision on local bragging rights. For me, it’s DeRomo’s gourmet market, restaurant and bakery in Bonita Springs, Florida. The family is originally from the Bronx and it’s a little like going home.

DeRomos.Pignoli   DeRomosCookies.Box

DeRomo’s Pignoli Cookies. There were a little more than 7 in the box when we bought them.

If you’re lucky enough to visit Sicily, head to Trapani, Cefalu or Catania for some traditional Sicilian dolce. You will find these same cookies are made with pignoli nuts, hazlenuts and pistachios. Some are even enrobed in chocolate. They were a very close second if not just as good as Caiazzo’s but this came as no surprise since the Pignoli cookie is a traditional southern Italian dolce.

Dolce.Serio.Sicily

Check Out these Pignoli, Hazelnuts and Pistachio Sicilian Versions from Cefalu.

Catania.Dolce.2

These Colorful Marzipan Fruits accompany the chocolate enrobed pignoli and almond cookies on the far right.
The Pasticceria was in Catania.

My advice is to give our French counterparts, the macarons a rest after years of hype and give Pignoli cookies a try. Then let the world know who makes the best in your neighborhood.PignoliNuts.2

 

TOMATO AND CHEESE PIE

Tomato and Cheese pies have been something on my bucket list to prepare for quite some time. I had the pleasure of making this vegetarian delight for good friends and fellow fooderati at the Sanibel Community House when I was asked to speak about tomatoes at our monthly potluck dinner lecture series a few months ago.  The Sanibel Community House is in the process of raising funds for a major renovation which will include a large professional kitchen to accommodate food crafting and cooking classes for islanders, vacationers and everyone interested in the Sanibel and Captiva Island community. For more information, check out their efforts on www.sanibelcommunityhouse.net.

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This pie is so simple to prepare that I tried making several versions the next day for my bakery on Sanibel Island, Geppetto’s Beach Foodies. It is a vegetarian favorite and a new staple on our menu. Even more exciting is that I shared the recipe with a close friend from  New York. Fedela Kessler tried the recipe and sent me a pic of her craft (see below). Thanks Fedela for trying it out and sending your feedback. I miss our diner chats.

 

FedelasTomatoPie

 

Enjoy!

Donna

 

 Difficulty                                                                                                        1 FORK

INGREDIENTS:

  • In a hurry and you have no time to make your own pie crust?  Try Pillsbury Pet Ritz brand frozen pie crust shells. The Pet Ritz crust is flaky, buttery and withstands sweet fruit or savory tomato liquids when the pie is cut.
  • 6 medium beefsteak tomatoes. Note: I mixed in colorful heirloom tomatoes for interest.
  • Sea Salt and Pepper
  • Italian Seasonings
  • Fresh Basil finely chopped
  • ½ cup finely chopped scallions
  • 2 cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1 cup Hellmann’s Mayonnaise
  • Colorful Yellow and Red Grape Tomatoes for Garnish

 

RECIPE:

  •  PREP WORK:
  • Preheat Oven to 375.
  • Poke holes with fork tines – 10 to 12 times.
  • Bake frozen pie crust shells for 8 minutes. Remove and Cool.
  • Peel and slice tomatoes to 1/8 inch thickness
  • In a bowl, combine 1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella  with 1 cup mayonnaise.
  • ASSEMBLE THE PIE:
  • Layer the tomatoes in the pie shell.
  • Layer the ½ cup scallions.
  • Season with Salt and Pepper, Italian Seasonings and fresh chopped basil
  • Sprinkle with ½ cup shredded mozzarella
  • Spread the cheese/mayo mixture on top.
  • Garnish with grape tomatoes, remaining chopped basil, salt , pepper, Italian seasonings.

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BAKE the pie for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.

Cool and Serve.

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PIE VARIATIONS:

  1. Substitute Cheddar or Monterey Jack shredded cheese or make a pie with a combination of cheeses.
  2. Substitute ½ of the amount of mayo with plain yogurt.
  3. The sky is the limit with a variety of different garnishes ie: pine nuts, dried fruits, spinach & artichoke
  4. Turn this into a one meal pie. Add a layer of cooked and sliced sausage or a healthier alternative of cooked ground turkey meat or fish.
  5. For a firmer bottom crust, layer some cheese slices on the bottom of the pie. Then add the tomato, onions, meat if desired.

Orvieto Gelato

 Cassata Gelato

Miritello (Blueberry), Chocolate and My New Favorite – Cassata Gelato

 Regardless of the cities we visit during our stay in Italy, Tom and I are always inspired to try their local gelato. We have had some really creamy delicious gelato during our holiday this year but I have to say that each annual trip to Tuscany and Umbria warrants a return visit to the city of Orvieto where gelato is one culinary staple that is taken seriously and revered by Italians at their International Gelato Festival which we attended in 2013.   It may sound odd, but buffalo mozzarella gelato anyone?

Gelato Cake

Caffe del Corso’s Straticella Gelato Cake with Whipped Cream and Piroulines

The historic city of Orvieto is a must stop for Tuscan travelers driving north from the eternal city of Rome and heading toward the Tuscan sun. We love Orvieto for the handmade pottery, the warm friendly shopkeepers who remember us from the year before, the magnificent Duomo and yes, for a taste of our favorite artiginale gelato at the caffe del corso.

Orvieto Duomo

Orvieto Duomo

StreetBandinOrvieto

A Young Boy Helps An Orvieto Band Count Their Tips

I recently posted a picture on Instagram of my Orvieto gelato cornet with Miritello (Blueberry), Chocolate and my new favorite, Cassata gelato which is so creamy and rich that I could not differentiate if I was eating a cannoli, the filling of a rich cassata cake or my delicious gelato.

Cassata gelato is filled with cherries, candied fruit and thin long pieces of rich dark chocolate. Just eating this reminds me that the holidays are around the corner.

We will definitely plan to make Cassata gelato in our Pinocchio’s shops both in Sanibel and in our franchise store in Greenwood, Indiana partly because I want our loyal Customers to sample this wonderful flavor and admittedly, partly because I do not want to wait another year for my next taste of Cassata Gelato. If you get the opportunity to try Cassata gelato, please do so. You will not be disappointed.

 

Gustare!

(Enjoy!)

 

Donna

 

 

Lemon Risotto Cakes

Lemon Risotto Cakes with Fresh Basil, Mozzarella, Toasted Pine Nuts and Diced Fresh Tomato Brushetta

Seasoned Chef Recipes

Seasoned Chef Recipes

I am always looking for a beautiful light starch to accompany a great piece of meat or fish. Risotto is just that starch. Although it appears easy to prepare, risotto takes time, patience and an eventual mastery in how much broth to use in making this creamy moist side dish.  Trust me, it’s worth the time and effort to make this northern Italian staple.

Parmesan cheese, mushroom, truffle and lemon risotto are a few varieties of risotto commonly found in markets. Depending on the risotto flavor, each variety is cooked in a vegetable or chicken broth.

The recipe for these risotto cakes can be prepared ahead of time and warmed when ready to serve which makes them a great catering option for holidays and parties. The recipe below makes 12 cakes.

Lemon Risotto Cakes image 1              Lemon Risotto Cakes image 2

INGREDIENTS:

A box of Risotto – I prefer Vita Verde Tuscan Country Milanese Risotto – 10.5 oz.

One onion diced and sautéed in olive oil

Chicken bouillon

4 fragrant fresh lemons

For décor, basil leaves, pignoli nuts, brushetta diced tomato, balsamic glaze and small mozzarella balls

RECIPE:                                                              

Dice and sauté the onion in olive oil. Add salt, pepper and a little paprika to brown the onion. Set aside.

Cut lemons in half. Juice the lemons.  Add lemon juice to the water so that package directions for the water liquid remain the same.  (Another words, I substitute some of the water with the fresh lemon juice).

Prepare Risotto according to package directions. Add onion to the bouillon and water mixture.

Cover and cook on medium heat 15 – 18 minutes.

Make sure the risotto does not lose moisture during the cooking process. If it does, then slightly lower the heat and add a little more water.

Let risotto rest 3 – 5 minutes.

Spray a muffin tin with nonstick spray.

Fill the tins with risotto and bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Let cool. Turn the risotto cakes upside down.

Lemon Risotto Cakes image 3

FROM TUSCANY WITH LOVE: PICI PASTA

Moderate Recipes

Moderate Recipes

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Do you recall the first time that you ate spaghetti as a child?  If you were like me, then the answer would probably be NO. I was so young and sitting in a high chair that I cannot recall that memorable moment but I can tell you that I begged my mother, my grandmother and my aunt  to serve it to me plain, with a little butter and in (post high chair) time with some pecorino romano cheese. I did not want spaghetti sauce on my pasta. As I grew up into a young lady of 6 or 7 years, I would be adventurous and ask for sauce “on the side”.  I still do at times but there are moments today that can only be captured by a good bowl of Bolognese sauce.

Regardless of the sauce and pasta dressings, I waited to travel to Italy with my husband before I fell in love with pici pasta, traditional pasta from the Tuscany region of Siena.  OK. I love all pasta, especially fresh pasta like  thin angel hair, spaghetti, linguine and bucatini but there is something so delicious about hand rolled pici pasta that I wonder why it is not served more frequently in restaurants in the states.  Pici pasta is similar to Bucatini but the strands are thick long solid pasta shapes made from dough that is primarily water, flour and on occasion, egg. Each pici strand is individually hand rolled and no two strands are the same.  Here is a recipe for preparing pici pasta that our friends at La Ferreira in Loro Ciuffena shared with us.  Enjoy!

Ingredients:

100 grams of flour (96g = ¾ cup so add a little more flour than ¾ cup)

¼ cup water

1 egg (optional)

Sea Salt – ¼ tsp total for both pasta and sauce

Fresh Ground Pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

¼ cup Crushed Garlic

1  cup Marzano or Grape Tomatoes

3 – 4 springs fresh Basil

Shaved Pecorino Romano Cheese

Moderate Recipes

Moderate Recipes

HOW TO MAKE PICI:  

Slowly mix some of the water and flour until you can make a well in the center to add the egg. Continue to mix the flour, water and egg mixture.  Add a dash of sea salt. At this point you may not need all of the remaining water. Use only enough water to incorporate the flour into the dough mixture.post 401 image 1

Knead for 8 – 10 minutes into a ball

Place in a bowl and cover with a damp towel

Let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes

Generously flour your surface to prevent the dough from sticking.

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Roll the dough until it is ¼ inch thick.

Cut into long strips.

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Take each strand and roll it back and forth with the front of your fingers to create long pici.

Add a little flour on the rolled pici to prevent sticking.

Boil water with a pinch of salt and a cap of olive oil.

Cook Pici for 8 – 10 minutes until cooked ‘al dente’.  Do NOT overcook pici pasta.

Rinse well and set aside.

Moderate Recipes

Moderate Recipes

SIMPLE PICI SAUCE:

Heat a frying pan with1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil.

Season the oil in the frying pan with salt, pepper, crushed garlic and fresh basil.

Prepare 1 cup Grape or Marzano tomatoes by cutting them in half, length-wise.

Add tomatoes to the frying pan.

picci pasta 1                                      picci pasta 2picci pasta 3

 

(Note:  Some use grape sized tomatoes.  If you can get them, the Marzano tomatoes are wonderful. They are a little larger and longer than grape tomatoes and really burst with flavor.)

Reduce the heat to med-low setting.  Add cooked pici pasta. Add more olive oil – just enough to prevent the pasta from sticking to the pan.  Pan fry pici no more than 4 – 5 minutes.

pici past image 4                              pici pasta image 5                                                           Plate the pici pasta.                                              Top with fresh basil and drizzle with a little more olive oil.

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Shave Pecorino Romano Cheese on top and enjoy.