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The Glorious Vegetables of Italy: Author Domenica Marchetti pays us a visit PLUS Winter Cauliflower Salad Recipe

8 Mar Author of five Italian-inspired cookbooks (and my J-school buddy!)

Everyone should live in Italy for at least a little while. I lived there for a couple of years in my twenties and it was transformative for all those reasons you might expect: fresh seasonal food, friendly people, beautiful surroundings. It was transformative for other reasons as well, but let’s stick to food.

The Glorious Vegetables of Italy!

The Glorious Vegetables of Italy!

My first job there was picking grapes and apples in the Trentino part of Trentino-Alto Adige, a semi-autonomous region just south of Innsbruck, Austria, at the foot of the Italian Alps, within sight of the Dolomites…crispy cold at 7 a.m., warming Schiava dry rosé wine and ham and cheese panini at 9 a.m. The church bells echoing around the valley at noon made us drop everything and run for la pasta asciutta laborers’ lunch with more schiava and café corretto (“corrected” with sambuca or grappa)…singing opera in the trees…big Sunday family meals, ridiculously everything you might expect, including the hard work seven days a week all season.

One of the things that astonished me was how differently they treated vegetables – not just as an overcooked side to the more important meat dish — but with respect and zest and creativity. They were complex flavor and texture experiences, enhanced by often being straight from the farm. Who knew? I certainly didn’t.

Steam basket. We steamed first and did a little more chopping later to create more nooks and crannies for the other bits to cling to.

Steam basket. We steamed first and did a little more chopping later to create more nooks and crannies for the other bits to cling to.

I reluctantly close the window on that memory (before I kick myself for the many things I didn’t learn when I was there, when I should remain rapturous about the things I did and before I bore the hell out of you with my nostalgic ramblings) and turn to the present.

Domenica Marchetti, a classmate of mine from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, is genetically predisposed to channel those Italian flavors I remember. Her mother is from Abruzzo and her father from an Italian-Rhode Island family and she spent her summers in Italy in the embrace of a flurry of aunts and their kitchens. After several years of covering the gore and complications that reporters regularly cover and running home to spend all her free Domenica-time elbow deep in cookery books and pots and pans, she put due più due insieme and started writing about food instead.

I actually took mine to work and hid in my office so I didn't have to share...

I actually took mine to work and hid in my office so I didn’t have to share…this is before I got the cheese on.

Domenica’s latest cookbook (they now number five!) is The Glorious Vegetables of Italy and it is big and gorgeous and glorious indeed (In case you don’t believe me, it is a New York Times Notable Cookbook).

You might need one for the coffee table and another to dog-ear and stain and love up in the kitchen, because the images, by Sang An are delicious and you won’t want to get them messed up when you cook! My Sunday cooking companion, Marianne (herself no slouch in the Italian kitchen) immediately decided we had to make the Winter Cauliflower Salad. And we did and it was so robust and delicious and just the perfect way to end this frigid winter to end all winters.

Domenica was very happy to hear that we started our exploration of her book with cauliflower, such an unassuming vegetable, and before I give you the recipe (which is adapted…I just didn’t have everything available and anyway, for the original — especially notable for the slow-roasted tomato recipe which you won’t find here — you need to get her book!), she wanted you to know why this is one of her favorites and emailed this message just for you: Continue reading

Lasagne, Lasagna, Lasaña: keeping it simple, making it Puerto Rican

14 Jan Perfect food for entertaining!

No matter how you spell it, lasagne is great food for entertaining and with the SuperBowl coming up, you may want to consider this version as an option for the buffet table!

This is a wonderfully homey dish

This is a wonderfully homey dish

In its original Italian version (which may actually be adapted from a Greek dish) from Emilia Romagna (if Wikipedia is to be believed and on this one I am not really sure), lasagne is pasta layered with ragu, bechamel (creamy white sauce) and parmigiano reggiano. Lasagne has since been adapted and changed and reworked in so many ways that it has as many permutations as there are cooks who make it.

I have to say, I do not love bechamel. It’s okay when someone else makes it, but I would rather not. So, I do what so many do: layer mozzarella and ricotta and grated parmigiano and I am at peace with this shortcut that results in a creamy gooiness, no doubt horrifying to the Emiliani, but they are far away living their Italian lives and are not doing my dishes for me here in New York. And with apologies to the late, great Marcella Hazan, I am not ready to be making my own lasagne noodles, even though she maintains it is heresy to do otherwise.

Layers of gooey goodness

Layers of gooey goodness

Continue reading

Best Ever Italian Wedding Soup

10 Dec Madonna, this is good soup!

You don’t need a wedding invitation to tuck into this soup, quite possibly the best Marianne and I have ever made on our Sunday night cooking projects. And that’s saying something, as we have made some kicking soups (escarole and lentil in particular). Regular readers know that my friend Marianne and I like to cook big on Sundays, not to eat at the moment, but to pack up for weekday work lunches. We couldn’t agree on what to make — she wanted white chili and I wanted minestrone — but the fact that I had a bunch of chopped meat and both I and her husband, Ted, had rich turkey stock from our respective Thanksgiving roasts decided it for us.

Tiny little meatballs packed with cheesy-herby flavor....

Tiny little meatballs packed with cheesy-herby flavor….

The stock is everything in a good soup, which is why I try to always have some homemade stuff on hand. Please, please, please…next time you roast a bird (or get a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket), simmer those bones with some onion, garlic (unpeeled), herbs, maybe a carrot or a stalk of celery, and a few peppercorns for a couple of hours and strain yourself some stock (freezes well). The commercial stuff is too salty and just can’t hold a candle to the real thing.

Italian wedding soup , as far as I can determine, is an Italian-American favorite, based perhaps on a minestra maritata that dates back to Spanish-controlled parts of Italy (Lazio and Campania) and Toledo. The maritata part refers to how well the flavors marry together, not how the soup will fortify newlyweds for the tasks at hand.

Simmering away merrily on a Sunday night

Simmering away merrily on a Sunday night

Continue reading

Amazing Escarole and White Bean Soup (with tiny meatball option)

5 Nov escarole

My friend Marianne and I cook together most Sundays, putting together at least one big dish that we can pack for lunch a few days of the following week. My lentil soup is a regular feature of Sunday night cooking, as are roasted vegetables, But a glorious head of escarole at a recent end-of-season Restoration Farm pick-up proved inspiring and nostalgic.

The veggie version

The veggie version

For Marianne it was all about her Italian nana who Marianne swears made this soup out of a handful of leaves, a pinch of ground beef and water. Grandmothers from those days were like that…they somehow conjured the most memorable, intoxicating flavors out of thin air like fairy godmothers.

Me, I need a good stock to help me out. Especially because my own abuela never made anything like this that I can remember, so I don’t know where I first had escarole soup, or why it provokes such sighs of nostalgia in me, or how I knew that mine has to have white beans, even though Nana Manone doesn’t seem to have included them in hers. And I wasn’t planning on meatballs, but since Nana used them….(which might explain the water instead of stock) Marianne’s big brother Peter will have to shed some light on this one, if he remembers.

The meatball version...with a handful of pasta in my lunch

The meatball version…with a handful of pasta in my lunch

In the meantime, I defrosted my prize homemade chicken stock in the fridge and softened the beans and grudgingly defrosted some raw but seasoned ground beef and prepared myself for battle. Continue reading

Summer Tomato Recipe (or just chop fresh tomatoes over warm pasta and you’re done!)

16 Oct tomatoes pasta

We won’t be eating this light and fresh summer way much longer.

The little man and I pulled out the tomato plants today. They could have stayed in a bit longer and we might have had a few more vine-ripened tomatoes, but he took off all the little greenies (“39, Mom! I picked 39 tomatoes!”), holding up his shirt hem to make an impromptu bag for them, while I folded the netting (okay, attempted to fold the netting and then just balled it all up because it was making me crazy) and then he pulled out all the plants (about ten) I threw them in the leaf compost and we called it an afternoon. After a summer of garden disasters, the pounds and pounds of tomatoes we got from our ten plants was a true joy. And I have several quarts of sauce and puree in the freezer for later!

Light and beautiful, any kind of tomatoes will do, as long as they are garden fresh!

Light and beautiful, any kind of tomatoes will do, as long as they are garden fresh!

My dad (he of the crazy-ass mostly vegan diet) just had surgery for bladder cancer last week, so we’ve been very, very busy with other things, not least of which is preparing food for everyone so that we all continue to eat well and keep up our strength while we work on his recuperation and everything else (like work — fullltime and freelance — and school and soccer and violin — and on and on). So yes, the healing and kitchen are going great guns, but the writing is not.

So this is not even a recipe, but a solution. Boil pasta in generously salted water and drain, reserving 1/4 Cup of pasta water.. Chop up fresh tomatoes and toss them into the pasta with a splash of olive oil, a splash of pasta water, a couple of basil leaves if you’ve got and maybe some finely minced garlic. Serve with grated cheese/a sprinkle of salt, Or not. Eat. Move on to the next thing and try not to mourn the end of the summer tomatoes. Save your seeds and plant more next year!

From my garden. I love this moment of the harvest season, when you realize it's almost over and therefore appreciate these flavors that much more.

From my garden. I love this moment of the harvest season, when you realize it’s almost over and therefore appreciate these flavors that much more.

Pasta Frittata: A delicious solution for leftovers!

13 Aug Beautiful farmhouse cooking.

I recently had a delicious veggie-filled frittata during a boat trip with my friend, Chef Deborah Pittorino of The Greenporter Hotel in Long Island’s wine country. We ended up fishing for baby bluefish off the dock

Baby bluefish

Baby bluefish

and having some luck there (and enjoying an incredibly show of juvenile ospreys…I will include Leandro’s amazing picture here!)

Osprey, by Leandro

Osprey, by Leandro

The frittata was a wonderful pick-me-up after a morning of unsuccessful fishing. It fueled us just enough to keep trying. I have yet to get the recipe for Deborah’s version but it reminded me that I have been sitting on my own frittata recipe for a couple of weeks and it is high time to share it with you, especially during summer high season for eggs!

A frittata is a wonderful way to take tiny bits of this and that and bind them in egg to make a hearty yet light picnic-worthy meal that is totally fun. You can slice them into wedges and make them into finger food, or serve them on a proper plate with salad greens and crusty bread, sliced thin.

Light but filling, rustic but delicate...these are a perfect light meal

Light but filling, rustic but delicate…these are a perfect light meal

I learned to make them in Italy, where folks take leftover pasta and cook it up with eggs so it is similar to a Spanish tortilla or an omelette with the ingredients blended into the egg as opposed to being wrapped in egg. You will want a skillet that can go from stove top to broiler to finish the top. The following recipe is designed to use up leftovers, but you may also want to try my Duck Egg and Asparagus Frittata or a classic Spanish Tortilla.

This is really easy to do and the results are so satisfying so read on for the recipe!! Continue reading

Cilantro & Parsley Pesto Variations With Queso Fresco and Without Nuts

26 Jun Cilantro-parsley pesto

We’re moving on up! I was invited to do a cooking demonstration recently at The Old Country Road School, a K-5 school in the Hicksville Union Free Public School District. The school was celebrating its successful garden project, now in its third year! It being a school, I figured it would be a hoot to let my then-five-, now-six-year-old show everyone to make one of his favorite sauces - hand-ground basil pesto! I mean, if a five-year-old can do it, why can’t everyone?

Proud, Proud Mama!

Proud, Proud Mama! Photo: Kara Gallagher

He was a star, waving the garlic around, handing out basil for the kids and their parents to feel and smell, and smashing the pesto into a paste with great gusto. He wasn’t a bit nervous, but I think there are a few Food Network stars who should be…Come to think of it, maybe I should be nervous too?

This pesto holds its bright green-ness much better than basil pesto!

This pesto holds its bright green-ness much better than basil pesto!

Continue reading

Guest Post from a Ghost Writer: Crostini with Fig Spread, Caramelized Onions and Gorgonzola

5 Jun And here it is - a beautiful and delicious party dish!

Kerriann Flanagan Brosky puts the normal in paranormal. Seriously…when I say she’s a ghost writer, I’m not kidding!

Kerriann is today’s guest blogger sharing a great recipe for crostini, but I simply must give you the back story before we get to that.

Many of us who love food lead double lives. I grow, cook and write about food, but in my other life I am a full-time college professor. Look around the food blogging world and you’ll find fulltime parents, home renovators, artists, poets, and more. But my fellow contributor at Edible Long Island, Kerriann Flanagan Brosky, a cookbook author, writer and photographer, sent my eyebrows to the ceiling and my jaw to the floor with her other profession: she is a serious ghost investigator!

Kerriann and Sal, co-writers of Delectable Italian Dishes

Kerriann and Sal, co-writers of Delectable Italian Dishes

Continue reading

Fish on Friday: Five More Fab Seafood Solutions

28 Mar Creamy, sweet, tangy, chunky, light Swedish Skagen Salad (the best shrimp salad EVER)
Spanish tapas: Mussels vinaigrette (make 'em the night before)

Spanish tapas: Mussels vinaigrette (make ‘em the night before)

The last Friday in Lent is coming up. Why just pan-fry filets (again), when you could try some of these much more entertaining and tasty takes on seafood? This is Part Two of my Lenten seafood series. I know you’ll end up making them all year long. I certainly do!

Shrimp and Avocado Salad, Spiked with Chipotle (charming served in an avocado shell)

Shrimp and Avocado Salad, Spiked with Chipotle (charming served in an avocado shell)

Pasta al Tonno: One of the fastest pasta sauces known to man. (switch out the green olives for black) Deeply flavored

Pasta al Tonno: One of the fastest pasta sauces known to man. (Feel free to switch out the green olives for black and skip the capers) Deeply flavored!

Creamy, sweet, tangy, chunky, light Swedish Skagen Salad (the best shrimp salad EVER)

Creamy, sweet, tangy, chunky, light Swedish Skagen Salad (the best shrimp salad EVER)

Cioppino Latino...sí, sí, sí

Cioppino Latino…A San Fran Seafood Stew Classic with a special Latina twist

For more seafood recipes, click here!

Baked Cauliflower Macaroni and Cheese: Is there any pay-off in pandering to a kid?

27 Mar Deliciously creamy macaroni and cheese!

This was not at all a sneak attack. This was a straightforward “Hey little dude, do you think you would like cauliflower if I made this recipe?”

Oh, yes, yes, I would eat it up, it looks delicious, definitely make it Mommy, make it right away, blah, blah, blah.

Baking bacon!

Baking bacon!

So there is no reason why, after troubling myself to get all the ingredients and getting my unwilling, intermittently vegan dad into the process, and committing myself to joining my son in eating a stodgy, creamy, cheesy, bacon-y mess of a fantastic casserole that in no way advances my desire to look good in a bathing suit by summer…there is absolutely no reason why said five-year-old little dude should be allowed to not eat the damn cauliflower, whether he likes it or not.

Mustard seed and rosemary, crushed

Mustard seed and rosemary, crushed

But of course, you know what happened. Continue reading

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