Every year in late summer, my friend Tony invites me to have dinner with him under the fig tree in his Brooklyn backyard. The massive tree was planted long ago by his Sicilian grandfather and has withstood more than 70 years of the freezing winters we can sometimes have here in New York City. Today, the fig tree is the pride and joy of Tony and his whole family and the envy of all of his friends. Not only is the tree beautiful to see, most years it produces masses of luscious ripe fruit. This year’s crop was exceptionally good and one evening 6 friends sat under the tree eating the sweet figs wrapped in prosciutto with glasses of sparkling rosé Faive by Nino Franco, a producer in the Veneto region of Italy. A perfect combination, and as my friend, cookbook author Marie Simmons would say, we were in Fig Heaven http://www.mariesimmons.com/recipes/fig_heaven.html
Tony sent me home with a bag filled with plump violet-colored figs which I added to the box of blue-black Mission figs I had purchased the day before. I snipped off the stems, cut them in quarters and cooked them with sugar until the juices were thick and syrupy. I added fresh lemon juice and orange zest to heighten the fig flavor and when it cooled I had several containers of chunky sweet jam. It’s wonderful on yogurt, or whole wheat toast with cream cheese or butter, or as a condiment for a zesty cheese like gorgonzola. By the way, I did not bother to put the jam through the canning process since I only made a small batch. It will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks or in the freezer for at least 6 months. Not that I expect it to last that long. The recipe follows.
Melissa Clark of The New York Times wrote an article about Brooklyn’s fig trees, including Tony’s, with a quote from me about the fig tree tradition in Brooklyn and it’s significance for Italian immigrants. Here is a link: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/29/dining/in-brooklyn-an-abundance-of-fig-trees.html?_r=2&hpw.
Chunky Fig and Orange Jam
Makes 2 8-ounce containers
1 pound ripe fresh figs, stemmed
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
Cut the figs into quarters. Place them in a saucepan with the sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices begin to simmer. As the figs soften, crush them slightly with a potato masher or sturdy wire whisk. After about 20 minutes, skim off the foam that rises to the surface. Cook until the juices thicken slightly and are reduced, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Remove the saucepan from the stove. Stir in the lemon juice and orange zest. Spoon the jam into jars or plastic freezer containers and cool completely. Cover and store in the refrigerator up to 3 weeks or in the freezer up to 3 months.
© 2012 by Michele Scicolone
September 4, 2012 4 Comments
Red, white, yellow and green, onions are something I use in my kitchen practically every day. Here are some tips and techniques that every cook should know about buying, storing and using onions:
1. When buying onions in a mesh bag, smell them first. A strong smell indicates that one or more of the onions is spoiled.
2. At home, do not store onions in a plastic bag. They should be kept in a cool, dark, airy place.
3. Cold onions are less likely to make your eyes tear, so chill them before chopping or slicing.
4. Wet whole onions to make it easier to remove onions skins.
5. Grating is a good alternative to mincing onions for any dish where you want them to blend in completely, such as a meatloaf. Remove the ends and the skin from the onion, cut it in half and grate it on a box grater or microplane. This is a good method for garlic, too.
6. When sauteing onions, cook them on medium low to medium heat — not high — to avoid a bitter taste.
7. While sauteing onions, add a tablespoon or two of water to the skillet to help it to cook evenly and prevent burning.
8. For caramelized onions when you want them to cook to a rich golden brown, sprinkle them with salt as they cook to help draw out the liquid.
9. When sauteing onions and garlic for the same recipe, cook the onions first, then add the garlic and cook one minute more. Onions need several minutes to become tender while garlic cooks quickly.
10. When serving onions raw in a salad, slice or chop them and place the pieces in ice water for 20 to 30 minutes to mellow the flavor and crisp them. Drain and pat dry before using.
Do you have a favorite tip for cooking onions? I’d love to hear it .
August 9, 2012 10 Comments
Charles and I always enjoy having dinner at the home of our friends Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca, who are both great cooks. Here is a link to a post I wrote a while back about a dinner at their house: http://michelescicolone.com/dinner-commissario-montalbano/.
They’ve just written a mini ecookbook, featuring 10 of their recipes for tomato-based pasta sauces. They tell interesting stories in their headnotes, and Tom provides wine recommendations for each dish. Here’s an example:
Farfalle with Calabrian Tomato Sauce
Copyright © 2012 Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca
What makes a dish Calabrian? In Italy, that’s a no-brainer: “peperoncino rosso piccante,” or “hot red peppers,” used liberally. It must be the bracing mountain air and the rugged countryside that makes Calabrians so fond of what they call “diavolillo,” or “little devil.” Though Calabria is far in Italy’s south, a lot of it is upland, and we guess it takes a lot of hot red pepper to ward off the night’s chill. At least that’s the best explanation we can come up with for this region’s conspicuous fondness for peppery dishes. We’ve moderated that tendency somewhat in this tasty recipe, but if you want the heavy-caliber experience, by all means add more peperoncino.
Whenever we’re traveling anywhere in Italy from Rome to Sicily, we take the opportunity to restock our supply of these hot peppers, which keep very well in the refrigerator for months. Just one of them, seethed briefly in olive oil, gives an intriguing lift to many sauces. However, it’s important to remember to remove the little devil before serving the dish, lest one unsuspecting diner bite into a morsel of heat that sizzles the tonsils.
This recipe is as simple as our rigatoni with mushroom sauce. The zinginess of dried hot red pepper is further enriched by the combination with pancetta, the air-cured but unsmoked bacon that’s widely used throughout central and southern Italy as a starting point for pasta sauces. Different regions cure it slightly differently: It may be almost entirely unspiced or completely covered with crushed black pepper. Guess which kind Calabria prefers.
Wine: The regionally correct choice would be Ciro (Librandi makes a good one), but Ciro is hard to find here. Primitivo would work, as would a fruity Zinfandel or even a Syrah. Or you could go completely against the grain and serve a sprightly white wine with this dish — maybe a Falanghina or a top-quality Frascati, like Fontana Candida’s Luna Mater.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 ounces chopped pancetta
2 pounds plum tomatoes, puréed in a food mill or processor
1 dried peperoncino rosso (or substitute 1 pinch crushed red pepper)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 pound imported Italian farfalle
Freshly grated pecorino romano (optional)
Heat the olive oil over low heat in a nonreactive skillet. Add the onion and pancetta and cook 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion is soft and the pancetta has released its fat. Don’t let the onion brown or the pancetta crisp. Add the puréed tomatoes and the peperoncino. Stir thoroughly and cook on a simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the sauce thickens nicely. Remove the peperoncino and stir in the basil and salt to taste.
Bring a large pot of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil. Cook the farfalle until al dente. Drain in a colander, transfer to a warmed serving bowl and toss with the sauce. Serve at once, passing the grated cheese at the table for those who like it.
“Not the Same Old Spaghetti Sauce,” published by Hang Time Press, is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble.com, and iTunes for $2.99. For more info about Diane and Tom, check out their very entertaining websites at http://dianescookbooks.wordpress.com/ and http://ubriaco.wordpress.com/.
July 5, 2012 2 Comments
1,000 ITALIAN RECIPES has a new look! First published in 2004 by Wiley Publishing, this book is the culmination of my many years of cooking, eating, and researching Italian food and now it sports a jaunty red cover. Comprehensive and far ranging, 1,000 ITALIAN RECIPES really does contain 1,000 recipes. Believe me, I counted them. Inside you will find old family favorites that I grew up with, such as Struffoli (Honey Balls), Neapolitan Lasagna as my mom and grandma made it, plus recipes I learned in my travels around Italy, like Crispy Pasta with Chickpeas (Ceci e Tria) from Puglia and Roman Style Braised Oxtails (Coda alla Vaccinara).
Too many zucchini? There are more than a dozen recipes to choose from. In the mood for a chocolatey dessert but don’t want to turn on the oven? Try the no-bake Chocolate Salami. No matter what you are looking for, chances are you will find it in 1,000 ITALIAN RECIPES. The recipes range from the simple to the complex so it’s an ideal gift for new brides and graduates, as well as experienced cooks. But don’t take my word for it–Mario Batali called the book “a masterpiece,” and Lidia Bastianich said that it is “A must have for any serious Italian cook.”
Here is a recipe from the book. This was my dad’s Sunday special, a traditional recipe that he learned from his mother. In Naples it is called Gatto’ di Patate, but we just called it Dad’s Potato Pie.
Dad’s Neapolitan Potato Pie
Makes 6 to 8 servings
2 1/2 pounds all-purpose potatoes, such as Yukon gold
1/4 cup plain dry bread crumbs
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup warm milk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, chopped
4 ounces salame or imported Italian prosciutto, chopped
1. Scrub the potatoes with a brush under cold running water. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan with cold water to cover. Add salt to taste. Cover the pan and bring the water to a boil. Cook over medium heat until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly.
2. Place a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs.
3. Peel the potatoes, put them in a large bowl, and mash them with a masher or fork until smooth. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the butter, the milk, 1 cup of the Parmigiano, the egg, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Fold in the mozzarella and salame.
4. Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano. Dot with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter.
5. Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until the top is browned. Let stand briefly at room temperature before serving.
© 1,000 ITALIAN RECIPES by Michele Scicolone 2004 Wiley Publishing
June 26, 2012 2 Comments
Everybody wants to do something special for their mom on Mother’s Day. Flowers are a possibility, or perfume, or some other gift, or take her to dinner in a restaurant, but I say forget it. Flowers don’t last, she doesn’t need another perfume, and her favorite restaurants will be too crowded on Mother’s Day. What your Mom, if she is anything like the other moms I know, wants more than anything is to spend the day with you and the rest of the family. I suggest you stay home and make Mom a great lunch instead.
It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. In fact, if you put your slow cooker to work, you can make a great meal in practically no time. Think of something with a little flair that everyone will enjoy. My suggestion is Chicken Bouillabaisse, a recipe from The French Slow Cooker. You may know bouillabaisse as a fish stew, but in Provence it is also made with chicken and I have adapted the recipe to the slow cooker. Together with some seasonings, the chicken goes into the cooker with some white wine, and tomatoes. They all cook together until the chicken is fork tender. Serve it as they do in France with toasted bread and Rouille, a spicy garlic sauce.
For starters, a great salad would be my choice, perhaps with a slice of goat cheese. And for dessert, buy a cake from the bakery, or make the flourless chocolate cake published on this website about a year ago. You can make it a day or two ahead and serve it proudly with some fresh strawberries.
Serves 4 to 8
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 cup chopped canned or fresh tomato
- 1/2 cup tomato puree
- 2 3-inch strips orange zest
- Big pinch saffron threads, crumbled
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- Pinch of piment d’Espelette or cayenne
- 8 chicken thighs, skin removed
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 8 1/2 -inch thick slices toasted French or Italian bread
- Rouille (see page 00)
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until tender and golden, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a simmer. Pour the mixture into a large slow cooker. Stir in the tomato, puree, orange zest, saffron and fennel.
- Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the pieces in the slow cooker, spooning some of the sauce over the top. Cover and cook on low 6 hours or until the chicken is tender and coming away from the bone.
- Serve the chicken and sauce in shallow bowls with the toast and Rouille.
You could make this luscious rosy red pepper sauce from scratch by first making a mayonnaise and then adding roasted peppers, but I like this convenient shortcut method just as well. Serve it with a fish or vegetable bouillabaisse, grilled fish, as a dip for raw vegetables or as a spread for sandwiches.
Makes 1-3/4 cups
- 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, either homemade or from a jar
- 1 large garlic clove
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- Pinch of cayenne or Espelette pepper
- In a blender or food processor, finely chop the peppers and garlic. Add the mayonnaise, oil, lemon juice and cayenne and process until smooth. Store the sauce in a covered jar in the refrigerator.
May 6, 2012 1 Comment
“Cut a deep cross into the top of the bread. Then prick each quarter with a fork to let the fairies out,” explained Darina Allen, as she demonstrated how to make Irish Soda Bread. Darina is the founder of the renowned Ballymaloe Cooking School in Ballymaloe, Ireland where she teaches and lives on an organic farm. Often called the Julia Child of Ireland, Darina was in New York recently as a representative of Kerrygold butter and cheese, which is the brand name for the Irish Dairy Board, a cooperative of small farmer co-ops and creameries.
Darina hosted a cooking demonstration and tasting at The Tenement Museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. We toured a typical 19th century Irish apartment, then met Darina in the kitchen at the visitors’ center. Darina told us that Soda Bread, which is leavened with baking soda and buttermilk, is a staple in Irish homes and at one time was baked fresh daily in a heavy iron pot on the hearth. The bread took only 2 to 3 minutes to mix and shape. After about 30 minutes in the oven, it was ready to eat. My favorite way was slathered with golden Kerrygold butter, or topped with Cashel Blue, an artisanal cow’s milk cheese hand made exclusively by the Grubb family on their farm near Cashel in County Tipperary. Luscious and creamy, semi-soft Cashel Blue has a round, buttery flavor.
Darina had a host of suggestions for varying the basic soda bread formula, such as adding a handful of chopped fresh herbs, or raisins to make the colorfully named Spotted Dog. The dough can also be cut into wedges for scones, and served with clotted cream and jam. Another idea was to cut the dough into pieces, brush the tops with beaten egg, and sprinkle them with grated Kerrygold Dubliner cheese before baking. Small pieces would be perfect for appetizers, while larger ones could be served like dinner rolls.
Here is Darina’s recipe in her own words. If you don’t have store bought buttermilk, make your own by putting, for every cup needed, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or white vinegar into a measuring cup and filling it to 1 cup with milk. Let stand 5 minutes until slightly curdled.
White Soda Bread (Makes 1 loaf)
450 grams (1 pound/4cups) white flour, preferably unbleached
1 level teaspoon salt
1 level teaspoon baking soda
sour milk or buttermilk to mix — 350 to 450 ml (12 to 14 fluid ounces/1-1/2 to 1/3/4 cups) approximately
Preheat the oven to 230°C or 450°F.
Seive the dry ingredients. Make a well in the centre. Pour most of the milk in at once. Using one hand, mix in the flour from the sides of the bowl, adding more milk if necessary. The dough should be softish, not too wet and sticky. When it all comes together, turn it out onto a well-floured work surface. Wash and dry your hands. Tidy it up and flip over gently. Pat the dough into a round about 1-1/2 inches deep and cut a cross on it to let the fairies out! Let the cuts go over the sides of the bread to make sure of this.
Place the dough on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in a hot oven 230°C/450°F for 8 to 15 minutes, then turn down the oven to 200°C/400°F for 30 minutes or until cooked. If you are in doubt, tap the bottom of the bread: if it is cooked it will sound hollow.
Variation: Kerrygold Dubliner Cheese Scones — Make the dough as above but flatten the dough into a round 2.5cm (1 inch) deep approx. Cut into wedges. Brush the tops with beaten egg. Sprinkle the tops with 1 cup grated Dubliner Cheese. Bake for 20 minutes approx. in a hot oven, 230°C/450°F.
Darina sent everyone home with a gift copy of her new book Irish Traditional Cooking (Kyle Books 2012) and a wheel of Kerrygold Cashel Blue. I’m captivated by the beautiful photos and charming stories in the book. As for the cheese, we’ve been enjoying it with fruit for dessert and with nuts for a snack.
March 31, 2012 5 Comments