Jorj’s Greatest Hits Inspired by Little Italy + Bakery Recommendation

Jorj’s Greatest Hits Inspired by Little Italy + Bakery Recommendation

There are over fifty Little Italy neighborhoods in the U.S., and today, Columbus Day, is a big deal for all of them. The celebrations marking the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in America over 500 years ago began with weekend parades, and are being sucked up – sometimes in the form of pasta drowning in Italian style gravy  – all day today.

I am familiar with and love quite a few of the big ones: the Little Italy of Cleveland, Ohio (close to where I grew up), Manhattan, The Hill in St. Louis, and handful of Little Italy’s out west where the cannoli and baked lasagna make you happy to be alive…I could spend hours studying old family recipes from these bakeries and romantic restaurants that burn away the hours on a Roman candle…. Here are my greatest Italian hits in pictures.

While I was dunking my favorite Italian cookie into a mug of espresso, I called up a Sicilian chef I met on an historic food tour of Boynton Beach this summer. Here she is in front of some goodies.

Chef Anna is from a village near Sicily. She and her family have managed Palermo’s in Boynton for decades. The bakery draws in all kinds of customers. Once, Charlotte York (actress, Kristin Davis) walked out of Sex & the City’s nearest Little Italy and straight into Palermo’s — celebrity photo on their site.

You can come into this colorful bakery and see a lot of history hanging on the walls. I asked Chef Anna what her favorite Italian dessert is, and she answered with one sweet word and this picture of it:

Cassata. It is a tort cake filled with ricotta cheese that involves a detailed process to cook, then intricately decorate.  In fact, the making of the Cassata is considered a specialty talent done by skilled pastry chefs.

“The essence of Italian sweets goes back our ancestors, our grandmothers in Sicily who made sweets using naturally produced ingredients like honey,” said Chef Anna, adding that she just did a Cassata cake making demo in the culinary department at Macy’s.

Hmm…well, that’s food for thought. I love to bake and teach, so perhaps I will do a pastry inspired lesson with my next cooking class at the Diamond Creek Golf Club in Boone, NC.

Don’t forget, my cookbook, SUNDAY BEST DISHES: A Cookbook for Passionate Cooks has quite a few of Italy’s greatest hits.

My family style recipes, most ideally suited for culinary exploration on a leisurely weekend at home, can be purchased at Dorrance or Amazon, and is also available, with audio by me, at iTunes.  Aaaaand…in my upcoming cookbook, CANVAS & CUISINE, the best culinary stops under the Tuscan sun are featured in chapter after chapter.

Caio – Happy Columbus Day!  I leave you with my recipe for pumpkin risotto!

Pumpkin Risotto with Wild Mushrooms

MAKES 6 SERVINGS

1 quart home made chicken broth, or low sodium chicken broth

1 cup pumpkin puree

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

8 ounces assorted wild mushrooms, chopped

1 teaspoon ground sage

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 cup Arborio rice

½ cup Marsala wine

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons half and half

4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, about 1 cup

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Whisk the chicken broth and pumpkin puree in a pot over low heat.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the mushrooms and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Season with sage, salt and pepper. Stir in the rice and cook to toast, about 2 to 3 minutes more.  Pour in the wine and cook until the liquid disappears. Stir in a ladleful of warmed broth.  When the liquid is absorbed, add another ladleful of broth.  Continue until all of the broth has been absorbed.  This should take about 20 minutes.  The risotto will be wet, not sticky, chewy on the outside and tender on the inside.  Stir in the butter, half and half and Parmesan cheese.  Taste and adjust seasonings. Garnish with fresh parsley.

 

Veal Marsala that melts in your mouth…

Veal Marsala that melts in your mouth…

Yes, this is just as delicious as it sounds, and surprisingly quick to make. In place of traditional mushrooms, the Marsala sauce combines thinly sliced fennel, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes with the wine. Truffle mustard adds a unique depth of flavor– one you will want to incorporate into other dishes.

This veal, like so many of my recipes, comes from a delicious memory. In the early days of my marriage, my husband and I would travel to my in-law’s home on Sunday night where my mother-in-law, Mary Jane, served veal marsala almost every time.

And why wouldn’t she? It was a winner!

I loved the tangy, rich sauce and the thin, lightly breaded veal cutlet. She bought the meat from a local butcher and he did the pounding for her. The end result is a tender, wine-laced bite that literally melted in my mouth.

My twist on the traditional recipe is to substitute Mary Jane’s sauce staple that includes thick slices of earthy mushrooms and replace them with fennel, artichoke, and sun-dried tomatoes – an ode to all tastes Italian and one of the best recipes in my latest cookbook.

This is hardly the only recipe from the Skillets and Saucery chapter of SUNDAY BEST that yields a melt in your mouth, romantic dinner best served with wine. I like to post the seared, braised and grilled dishes from this chapter maybe more than all the others, because they encourage passionate home cooks to use their imaginations.

Let me know if you made anything particularly luscious in your kitchen this weekend!

Sunday Best Veal Marsala

Makes 4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

4 (3 to 4-ounces) veal cutlets, pounded to 1/8-inch thickness

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 small fennel bulb, tops trimmed, cored and thinly sliced, about ½ cup

6 to 8 medium artichoke hearts, thinly sliced, about ½ cup

¼ cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained

½ teaspoon dried French thyme

1 cup Marsala wine

½ cup homemade chicken broth, or prepared low sodium chicken broth

1 tablespoon truffle mustard

Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan over medium high heat. Season both sides of the veal with salt and pepper. Place the cutlets into the pan and cook until golden, about 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and brown the other side, 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove the veal to a platter.

Place the fennel, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes into the pan. Cook until the vegetables are soft and golden, about 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle the veggies with thyme. Pour the wine into the pan. Cook until the wine reduces by half. Pour the broth into the pan. Stir in the mustard. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer the sauce for 1 minute. Place the veal back into the pan. Simmer until the veal is cooked through, and the sauce thickens, about 5 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pizza, Hot n’ Fresh at Home!

Pizza, Hot n’ Fresh at Home!

When I was a kid, my mom would drive to the corner Italian restaurant to pick up a pizza that was assembled, but not yet baked. She’d get home and place the pizza in the oven. She’d call us to the table and we ate hot, right-out-of-the-oven pizza, burning our mouths on the cheese. I guess some things just leave an indelible mark! For this reason, I’m not a fan of pizza delivery. No matter what they do to improve the box, the pizza still tastes like cardboard to me.

For this reason, I like to make pizza at home. Pre-made pizza crust has improved dramatically from that cylindrical can of dough. Now you can purchase hand-rolled, fresh dough in the deli department of the grocery store. Pizza sauces have evolved as well. You can find sauces made with organic ingredients, little to no sugar in the recipe.

Add to this, the fact that you can purchase pancetta already diced and pepperoni already sliced, and making pizza at home is a no brainer. Here’s a recipe for my family’s favorite pizza. It goes without saying, that you can add any toppings you and your gang like! Just make sure no one burns their mouth on the cheese!

Hubby’s favorite pizza is loaded with meat, meat and more meat. I prefer pizza at home with a ton of veggies. My PPP Pizza merges the two. We combine pepperoni, pancetta and bell pepper with diced mushrooms and lots of Mozzarella cheese. It’s the perfect weeknight meal for two. Just add a veggie salad and a glass of wine!

PPP Pizza
With a couple of M’s
Serves 2 to 4
30 Minute Cuisine

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 prepared roll pizza dough
1 (12-ounce) jar prepared pizza sauce
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 pint baby Portobello mushrooms, stemmed and diced, about 2 cups
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon coarse black pepper
4 ounces sliced pepperoni
1 large bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
½ small onion, peeled and thinly sliced
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Preheat the oven on it’s highest setting. Drizzle one tablespoon olive oil into a large baking sheet with rim. Press out the pizza dough into the baking sheet. Pour the pizza sauce over the dough.

Pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into a small skillet over medium high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until golden and crisping, about 3 to 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a paper towel lined plate. Keep the oil in the pan to cook the mushrooms.

Place the mushrooms into the pan. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until golden, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate.

Lay the pepperoni slices onto the pizza. Continue adding the bell pepper slices, pancetta, mushrooms and onion. Sprinkle the cheese over everything. Place the pizza into the oven and cook until the crust is golden, the cheese has melted, and the veggies are soft, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cut the pizza into 8 pieces. Sprinkle with fresh basil and drizzle with a bit more olive oil.

 

At Home In the Kitchen with Italian Gravy!

At Home In the Kitchen with Italian Gravy!

I’m not sure if this is an authentic Italian recipe or a Northeast American Italian recipe. I do know this, though: there are as many traditional family variations of this pasta sauce as there are Italian Nonnas. What is common is the freshness of the ingredients. Freshly diced onion, minced garlic cloves and fresh basil leaves are used in place of dried herbs and spices. I use Italian canned tomatoes, but if you’re being totally authentic, you can peel and hand-mash sweet plum tomatoes into the sauce.

Where the difference lies is in the meat. If you add meat to the sauce, it’s called gravy. And get a load of this gravy — it’s not finalized yet, but the aroma filling your kitchen is going to make you wish it were!

I like mine with beefy short rib, Italian sausage and of course, meatballs like these!

 

Others prefer to slow cook braciola in the sauce. Both Sunday sauce and Sunday gravy benefit from slowly simmering all-day long. This can be accomplished in a large pot on the stovetop, in a slow cooker or my preference, in a Dutch oven, cooked in my oven, set on low heat. Regardless of which you use, the pot does matter. You need a heavy pot to handle the day-long cooking.

Browning the meat is essential to get those yummy flavors into the pot, as well as searing the tenderness into the beef and sausage. In contrast, when you add the onions and garlic to the pot, you want softness, not too much color. Make sure to turn down the heat so you don’t burn the veggies. Deglazing the pot with a bit (or a lot) of wine, gathers all those tasty brown bits for the start of the sauce.

Whichever sauce you choose, make a big batch. Leftover gravy not only freezes well, but you can use the sausage and meatballs in hoagies; the short rib meat is an excellent filling for ravioli. Making Sunday Gravy on Sunday is freeing! The recipe allows you to prepare it in the morning and walk away for hours. When it’s time to call the family to the table (and they will be pestering you all day from the aroma wafting around the house), drop the pasta into boiling, salted water and take the top off that simmering pot. The rich sauce is done and ready to ladle. If you’re more of a visual learner check out my #AtHomeIntheKitchen segment below…

Making Italian style gravy: a short video

And here’s the recipe for nonnas, nanas or just about anyone who loves a good pasta!! A disclaimer, though: a starving grandchild ate every last meatball from my plate before I took this shot…

Sunday Gravy
Serves 6 or more
All Day Cuisine

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 meaty beef short ribs
3 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons coarse black pepper
4 links Italian sausage
2 large white onions, peeled and diced, about 2 cups
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced, about 2 tablespoons
2 cups red wine
2 (28-ounce cans) crushed tomatoes
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 quart homemade beef stock, or prepared low sodium broth
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
12 (2-inch) meatballs (see Cook’s Tip for recipe)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 pound dried fettucine pasta
Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven (or large pot) over medium high heat. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Brown the short ribs on all sides until they are well browned. This should take you about 10 minutes. Transfer the short ribs to a platter.

Cut the sausage links in half creating two smaller links. Cook the sausage in the oil until well browned, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the sausage to the same platter as the short ribs.

Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions to the oil, and cook until softened and beginning to turn golden, about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic. Pour in the wine. Simmer until the wine almost completely disappears. Pour in the crushed tomatoes. Stir in the tomato paste. Pour in three cups of the beef stock. Stir in the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Add the short ribs and sausage back to the sauce. Cover and simmer on very low heat until the rib meat is falling off the bone, 4 hours or more on the stove top, 8 hours on low in a slow cooker, or 6 hours in a 250°oven.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Coat a rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place the meatballs onto the baking sheet and gently roll them in the oil. Bake until the meatballs are cooked through and the outside are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Gently place the meatballs into the sauce. Add the fresh basil. Simmer for at least another 30 minutes. If your sauce is too thick, you can add more beef stock. If your sauce is too thin, you can stir in more tomato paste. Taste and add more salt if you like.

Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to the directions on the package. Drain the pasta and pour into a large bowl. Ladle some of the Sunday Gravy over the pasta and toss to coat the noodles. Ladle more sauce over the pasta and include the short rib meat, sausage and meatballs. Sprinkle with additional fresh basil. Serve family style with grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

Cook’s Tip
You can purchase prepared meatballs in the butcher department of the grocery store. But, if you would like to make your own, it’s easy to do. Soak 2 to 3 slices of bread with about ¼ cup milk for 10 minutes. Place ¾ pound of lean ground beef with ¾ pound ground pork in a small bowl. Season with ½ teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley, 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Add the bread and any excess milk to the meat. Use your hands to gently combine all the ingredients and form into 2-inch balls. The gentler your hands, the fluffier the meatball.

A Pasta Dish for Bacon Lovers

A Pasta Dish for Bacon Lovers

So…. Is your shopping done? Your holiday menu planned? Your packages wrapped? Well, if you’re like me, the answer is no, no and stop-asking-already no. So, let’s not stress on dinner. Try my simply delicious recipe for Penne Pasta Carbonara.  Yes, it’s a SUNDAY BEST favorite; however, this yummy skillet dish is perfect for a late night supper any day of the week – especially for those bacon lovers in your life.

More than likely, you have everything you need to make this sitting in your fridge and pantry – the recipe calls for under a dozen ingredients, a few of which are just your garden variety Italian herbs. Just look at this DISH OF THE DAY as it gets under way in the pic above. The finished product is even yummier!

As well as learning an indispensable cook’s tip for making pasta perfect, my Penne Pasta Carbonara comes together quickly, and it’s oh, so comforting and calming during the last week before Xmas! You can serve it to family right out of the skillet.

They’ll love everything you dish out of your autographed copy of SUNDAY BEST DISHES: A COOKBOOK FOR PASSIONATE COOKS. Be extraordinarily merry when you click the link and buy today!

Penne Pasta Carbonara

MAKES 6 TO 8 SERVINGS

1 pound penne pasta

2 tablespoon olive oil

12 ounces bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large white onion, peeled and diced, about 1 cup

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarse ground pepper

3 large eggs

4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, about 1 cup, plus more for garnish

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until just al dente, about 10 minutes.

While the pasta cooks, heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet over medium high heat.  Cook until the bacon begins to crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the onions and cook in the skillet over medium high heat until soft and just beginning to turn brown.  Season with salt and pepper.

Whisk together the eggs and cheese in a small bowl.

Transfer the pasta to the skillet, reserving the pasta water.  Pour the egg and cheese sauce into the skillet and toss with the bacon, onion and pasta. Ladle 1 to 2 (or more) of the pasta water into the sauce until it’s smooth and creamy. Toss the oregano into the pan.  Sprinkle additional Parmesan over all. Serve the pasta right from the skillet.

 

Best Garlic Bread…. Evah!

Best Garlic Bread…. Evah!

I love it when a versatile recipe comes together, and practically forces you to eat something that you normally wouldn’t. I’m talking about BREAD! No other food has been so greatly loved (bread of life) and hated (it’s a white carb, for goodness sake!), than bread. I mean really, who partakes of that bread basket when you are dining out? I’ve notice lately that waiters offer you the basket before they bring it to the table and then, look at you with dismay if you actually take a piece. What lifestyle diet puts bread at the top of the list of approved foods for you to eat? None! What cooking school offers classes is bread baking? None! How many of your friends actually know what a dough hook is? None! I can go on….

However, there comes a time in dining, when bread is a NECESSARY part of the meal. I’m talking spaghetti and meatballs. Bread is a mighty part of the sauce slurping experience. It’s practically a utensil since we don’t always have an oversized spoon for twirling. And what makes the bread even better? Garlic, butter and cheese, of course.

So, when my sweet brother-in-law came to visit, and after three grueling days of mountain golf, when we decided to stay in for dinner, I made his favorite and ours, spaghetti with gravy. Luckily, I had a loaf of bread tucked into the back of the freezer (for emergency purposes – purely medicinal, I’m sure). I defrost the bread, split it in half and spread it with butter. I toast the bread in a hot oven until the edges begin to turn brown. Then I remove it from the oven and get down to business.

This is where it gets fun. For garlic bread, I mix together two kinds of cheese with mayo, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Spread this topping onto the toasted bread and place it into a hot oven until the ooze and bubble of the cheese, just a couple of minutes. Voila! Really good garlic bread. But, here’s where it gets FUN. You can mix anything into the cheese. You can use any cheese and add veggies like chopped green onion, diced sun-dried tomatoes, and chopped olives. You can mix cooked, diced chicken and hot sauce for an open-face Buffalo Cheese bread. Or leftover shredded pork and sautéed onions for a Southern-Style Cheese bread. How about chopped corn beef and sauerkraut for a Rueben Bread (with a side of Thousand Island, of course). I’ve even mixed in diced cooked shrimp for a cheesier version of Shrimp Toast!

But start with this carb-filled and oh-so delightful template. Haters gonna hate…but they gotta eat too!

Shhh! I snuck a few veggies in these fab meatballs...

Overhead view of a cheese grater with parmesan cheese on a rustic wood kitchen table. A plate of spaghetti and garlic bread on board are also shown.

Really Cheesy Garlic Bread

Serves 10

20 Minute Cuisine

Just bite into this cheesy, gooey garlicky bread and relive a childhood memory or two. It’s just that good!

12 ounces cheddar cheese, grated, about 3 cups

4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated, about 1 cup

2 ounces Parmesan Cheese, grated, about 1 cup

½ cup mayonnaise

1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, about 1 cup

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 loaf crusty French bread

½ cup butter, 1 stick

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

Preheat the oven to 425°. Stir together the cheeses, mayo, green onions and salt in a bowl.

Cut loaf of bread in half horizontally, and place onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until soft and fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes, being careful that the garlic does not burn. Brush the garlic butter over the cut side of the bread. Place the bread into the oven and toast until just golden, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Spread cheese mixture on warm loaves and place back into the oven until the cheeses melt and begin to bubble, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Slice the bread into wedges and serve warm. To prepare garlicy bread in advance, simply wrap the bread in the aluminum foil and keep warm.