Tuesday, June 21, 2011

why a sink full of dishes is an absolute delight

              Change is in the air on this first official day of summer. Tonight in the kitchen where I spend this evening chopping just ripened tomatoes, I consider how of late, the only smell that's permeated from this little apartment has derived more so from takeout. Tonight however, my counter space is littered with cutting boards and leftover shreds of carrot. Tonight, a sink full of dishes is an absolute delight.
            Acutely aware of my misshapen state, the state which has prevented me from basting, sautéing, grilling, and roasting lately, I welcome the feeling of drizzling olive oil in a sauce pan once again and of adjusting the burner heat so as not to sever the garlic before it can melt into the kale and celery. Tonight’s dinner is a labor of love. I have nowhere to be and plenty of time to feel under the weather but resilient, and so I return to the single recipe, which feels effortless and filling without prompting a wardrobe change brought on by the overindulgence of heavier ingredients. This lighter Tuscan bean soup (the recipe is included in a post I published back in March), while albeit strange to some who might question why anyone would crave a hotter item in hotter weather, satisfies my craving for something hearty and haphazard. This recipe boils down to a science of its own – asking only that enough attention is paid to cooking the cannellini separately before submerging it in a neighboring pot bubbling with chicken stock.

            And so tonight’s soup is about recreating a favorite dish regardless of the temperature. It’s about setting time aside to cook and be content with your own company. It's about enjoying the simple pleasures of loading a dishwasher and ladling that second helping of sinless delight.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Cut the Cheese (out)

         In light of my lactose intolerant stomach, I am cutting the cheese (out) of my diet. It does not stop there though, this endeavor suggested to me by a very dear friend of my families’ who also happens to be a physician, insists that this hiatus include all dairy, period. This means my breakfast can no longer consist of cereal and creamer crazed coffee with a side of Dannon, can no longer involve unflattering helpings of cheddar or gorgonzola atop my iceberg and radicchio respectively at the salad bar, but worse yet still is the parting from my mozzarella (such sweet sorrow).

       Its been three days and already I admit I’ve succumbed twice, well, there was that slice of Alpine Lace I stole from the cold cut spread Saturday night, so more than twice thanks to last night’s pepperoni pizza purchase I inhaled on the couch alongside my Entourage watching comrade. I did however manage to throw out the yogurt whose perforation I subconsciously peeled away at 7 a.m. on Sunday before quickly realizing I could not partake in my usual post run regiment. It hits me like a ton of bricks then that my morning routine clearly needs reevaluation.

       This gets me thinking – am I expected to eat croissants and pretzels and Panini bread for the next week or so while the doc and I test run his theory that dairy is complicating my already sensitive and predisposed enzyme inefficiencies? Surely this little experiment the doc has me committed to really is negotiable because even the doc knows that lettuce does not leap out of a plastic container if it’s not tossed with the right vinaigrette and mild Monterey Day three. The slip ups already amount to a full day’s worth of cheesy intake. We shall see but the future looks bleak for those whose diets center on things named Pecorino, Provolone, or Mascarpone. I am feeling Bleu just writing this.  

Once again there will be no pictures because I cannot keep my craving in the house. Yes, it’s really come to this point.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Broccolo, my new best friend; sorry Pizza

                I personally think you need to know someone for a considerable amount of time before you’ll allow them to happen upon you and a dish of half eaten cavatelli and broccoli. Stay tuned for explanation. Perhaps your cavatelli and broccoli gentle reader involves a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a commitment to watch Gone with the Wind in one sitting, but regardless, this was one such time. I adore you Bill, but we’re just not quite there yet. Blame Vito’s.
                Last night while I trekked uptown enjoying this unbelievable weather which is unbelievably uncanny in light of the rain sodden afternoons we’ve been weathering lately, I sprinted into Vito’s deli conscious of the good fortune I have of living in a town where a place like Vito’s remains open well after 5 p.m. Inside, the “mutz” boys (much to my chagrin), let me down easy; no more rabe. I was too late. The early bird always gets the damn worm.
                Technically it’s too hot to be craving a heavier pasta dish like cavatelli – with its flour pasta and not-so-subtle helping of garlic and oil, but when you have a hankering, you have a hankering and I was still making amends with myself for having passed on the homemade cavatelli I saw next to the sausage and peppers at the Italian Festival South Philly hosted two weeks ago. I’d been too busy stuffing my face with tomato pie to notice the rabe when it was right there for the taking, well for the purchasing.
                I made eyes with the container then though, and the rest is history as they say. Homemade cavatelli and broccoli sitting in the corner – don’t the boys at Vito’s know better than to put baby in the corner? Patrick Swayze did. I do too. I paid the “mutz” men in what remains to be seen as one of the single best investments I’ve made since my relocation to Hoboken, and walked out of the store beaming – I was going to eat this “too heavy” cavatelli and I was not leaving from the table until I’d finished every last branch.
                Tonight in preparation of yet another Wednesday installment of how to learn Italian with a bunch of English speaking New Yorkers, I frantically rubbed soap and hot water on my crème colored skirt that now houses an unholy helping of leftover oil from the makeshift plate I made out of the container’s lid; a real triumph for the oil since I hardly came up for air in between bites. At this point my colleague and dear friend Bill emailed me to ask why I was still at my desk. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was stuffing my face so I did what any level-headed female would do who is in a relationship with food that she doesn’t want discovered – I told him in no uncertain terms was he to come down to the 4th floor, not now, not ever when there’s cavatelli present.  I didn’t want him to see me this way. I could not let him see me drenched in olive oil with the stupidest grin on my face, sitting beside what once was an entire dish of homemade cavatelli. My hesitance rooted in the fact that I personally think you need to know someone for a good amount of time before you’ll allow them to find you curled up in your cubby, your skirt a mess, your dish completely empty, and you in a “please don’t resuscitate” me kind of food induced coma.
There are no pictures to document this. Gentle reader you know why.   

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pizza; a girl's best friend

             There are days I am hungrier than others. On those days in which I crave comfortable clothes and a day off from work, I am not necessarily looking to plunge fork first into a prime rib cooked to medium perfection. Instead, I want only to pick at fresh hummus and pita, or to do the socially unacceptable thing my mother cringes at the idea of and eat ice cream and only ice cream for dinner.
            With these last few weeks for the most part behind me, I am regaining an appetite. Because of the past few weeks I understand that mealtimes can be extremely healing, especially when such weekends involve South Philly’s annual Italian Festival and overcast...
            On the crowded corner of 9th and Christian on Sunday, I shimmied to Dean Martin in between bites of my two-dollar slice from Lorenzo’s. A casual bystander might have encountered the two of us, my slice and I, and mistaken it for my last meal. This casual observer on Sunday beheld quite a scene; a day of misgivings and malnourishment swiftly revived with every bite of Lorenzo’s heartwarming and heartburn-inducing slice. Far be it from me to venture to the festival for helpings of homemade broccoli rabbe, sausage and peppers, and penne like everyone else, which sat idle in their trays while my foodie friends and I indulged what we perceived to be “human” bites of Lorenzo’s tomato pie because it was my first Sunday “back” from my freakish departure from my usual bouts with overindulgence and sheer foodie late-night dining in light of my recent personal and professional preoccupations.    
            It hit me on Sunday also that pizza heals late-night stoopers, day old cramps, helps to overcome breakups, and most recently chronic anxiety. Never an expensive date, pizza blends with a bottle of wine or easily transitions amidst a six-pack of a local brew like none other because it’s a girl’s best friend. In South Philly this weekend my best friend and I shimmied down Christian street like two fools in love, and my faith in food is and was restored instantly.

            Not to be outdone, I abandoned Lorenzo’s only momentarily to slip a five to a woman dressed like a baker who suggested I try the St. Joe’s cake; a delicate blend of ricotta cheese and zeppoli crust. Back at the corner closest to the DJ, I dug my plastic fork into the doily encasing my soft cheese sponge cake, smiling and singing Italian classics I remember fondly from my childhood, while all around me families sat eating, talking, laughing and ducking underneath awnings whenever the rain looked like it wanted to join in on the festivities for a bit. Luckily, we managed to have our cake and eat it without finding ourselves hovered underneath some unsuspecting neighbor’s front door, and luckily my love for food prevailed in spite of  a string of former pizza-less evenings.

Monday, May 2, 2011

hankering for a little piece of Southern comfort

            Fresh off the plane from Austin, tonight this Yankee had a big ol’ hankering for a little piece of Southern comfort. For the last three nights, I’ve eaten what the likes of Paula Dean fans cook regularly – chicken fried steak, collard greens and Mexican that rivals what’s actually being served south of our border. Somehow waltzing down Washington toward 12th, I couldn’t bring myself to sauté a Purdue chicken breast. Tom Petty said it best when he acted as my su chef - you don’t know how it feels to want to eat that which you can’t replicate. My remedy for tonight’s “homesickness” consisted of butter, bread, and Campbell’s.
            My best friend who less than a year ago moved to Rhode Island raved about the grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup her mom prepared for her when we were in high school. Admittedly, whenever Kate talked about these favorite lunches, the pairing seemed strange. Living in a house where olive oil was a staple, the heartwarming coziness of the cheesy bread was lost on my father’s birth certificate, and Nonna’s handmade gnocchi. Tonight though, armed with a box of cheez-it(s), I dipped, slurped, and savored.
            My playlist continued churning out feel good melodies, except that when the boss intoned about the streets of Philadelphia, I pictured “the legendary” Pappasito’s Cantina where only twenty-four hours ago, I satisfied my bottomless pit status with a platter of pork and cheese enchiladas. Suddenly my nostalgia for the city of brotherly love and what I thought had been my unparalleled relationship with Cuban food was compromised. Its nothing personal Bruce, you just don’t know how it feels to get introduced to a cuisine like Tex Mex only to return to chains like Qdoba on your quainter city’s corner.

            To go from eating chicken fried steak and homemade grits (even if the grits were a coronary waiting to happen), to entertaining the idea of settling for a fresh little tomato and mozzarella Panini felt absurd as I hauled my carry on up to my third floor digs. Tonight I spooned the Campbell’s soup into my hand painted soup bowls and toasted to Texas. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

buonasaera bistecca

            Buonasera bistecca. You should’ve seen my face dear reader, as I submerged the $4 King’s sirloin into the Extra Virgin Oil drizzled across a heavy duty paper plate. Oglio I whispered to myself, practicing,
enjoying the sound of Italian in my little 3rd floor kitchen. Reminiscing about the night before, where I’d attended my first round of Beginner’s Italian, my professor Sabina had silenced her “g” so that her “l” (s) rolled right off of her Italian-born tongue, prominent and perfect. Oglio, I mouthed again, making eyes at the breadcrumbs in the cabinet left haphazardly open above the stove. Broken Italian was one thing but where would this steak dinner be tonight without its beloved friend breadcrumbs?

            I made one of my absolute all-time favorite dinners tonight, steak with oil, breadcrumbs, and beefsteak tomatoes. It’s semplice (simple) as the Italians say, but to-die for nevertheless, and what’s more, this semplice dinner requires very little preparation. As a kid, countless times I watched my dad whip it up on a whim, the aroma of the yellow onion sautéing in an itty bitty skillet made more alluring by the promise of whatever veggie might accompany it. Mushrooms in a Santa Margherita “sauce,” with a pinch of salt and pepper and generous oil base paired effortlessly with the bistecca. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Short-grain vs. cereal grain and the quest for the perfect risotto

             I like rice. I like rice more than most, so much so that I once told someone during our first date when probed that my favorite food is rice. Admittedly not exactly your run of the mill answer, and yet in the rice’s defense, it’s not exactly your everyday starch either. I still taste the subtle hint of light cream and crisp, fruit-focused Château St. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc pairing from tonight’s risotto romance.
             In the living room of my aunt’s house not too long ago, TV’s Lidia Bastianich hosted an episode on her show Lidia’s Italy in which she substituted Arborio rice for barley. Food writer extraordinaire Tenaya Darlington and I discuss over cappuccino on a Saturday the difference in consistency Lidia’s dish proposes.
            Madame Fromage, http://madamefromage.blogspot.com/ suggests that barley possesses a flavorful characteristic worth advocating in favor of. After poking around certain websites, I find out that barley isn't all bad. For one, it containts eight essential amino acids, even if it does goes against a "foodie's" predisposed disposition to cook up a delicate risotto with minced onion prepared to an al dente perfection.

            Tonight I chicken out of my willingness to substitute my beloved rice. With chicken broth and dry white wine, I execute a recipe I know all too well with a little help from my friends Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman, whose cookbook Risotto: more than 120 recipes for the classic dish of northern italy, has become a staple in my Hoboken nook.

            The recipe Risotto con piselli, masterfully mingles sweet and dry so that your palette experiences a kind of comfort food conveyed through the creamy finish - compliments of the recipe’s inclusion of light cream. Tonight my fork nestles in my bowl, just as eager as I to put away this rice’s, firm, creamy, and chewy texture due to the higher amylopectin starch content.

Perhaps in the near future I will abandon my apprehension for barley and give it a go Tenaya!

Risotto con piselli

condimenti: 1 tbsp unsalted butter
                      1 cup of defrosted peas, not cooked
                      1/4 cup of light cream
                      1/3 cup of grated parmesan

brodo:          5 cups basic broth
                     1/2 cup of dry white wine

soffritto:       2 tbsp unsalted butter
                     1 tbsp oil
                     1/3 cup of minced onion
                     1 celery rib, finely minced

riso:             1 1/2 cups of arborio rice

- heat the butter in a small skillet over moderate heat. when it
begins to foam, add the peas and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring
occasionally. turn off heath and set aside.

- bring the broth to a steady boil.

- heat the butter and oil in a heavy 4-quart casserole dish over
moderate heat. add the onion and celery and saute for 1 to 2min, until
the onion begins to soften, being careful not to brown it.

- add the rice to the soffritto; using a wooden spoon, stir for 1min.
add the wine and stir until completely absorbed. begin to add the
simmering broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently. wait until
each addition is completely absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup,
reserving about 1/4 cup to add at the end. ***
stir frequently to prevent sticking ***.

- after approx. 15min, when the rice is tender but still firm, add the
reserved broth and condimenti - peas,  cream, and parmesan, and stir
vigorously to combine with the rice.

- serve immediately* serves 4.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Parc Place

  I am channeling my inner Parisian on Sunday morning while sitting in Rittenhouse Square’s beautiful new addition to its square, Parc restaurant - 
http://www.parc-restaurant.com. Even the menu looks to be a work of art, offering savory HORS DíOEUVRES like oatmeal Brule and what quickly becomes my personal favorite, 
Breakfast Pastries.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 10
Croissant, pain au chocolat, apple turnover,
Blueberry muffin, pumpkin spiced bread that I swoon over while the waiter gingerly approaches with my morning mimosa. Soon he will not be the only one smiling.

My family obliges my insistence that every good pastry is only as good as the cappuccino it’s submerged in. Saturated and unable to protest the coffee’s unadultering heat, the pain au chocolat scorns my simultaneous sip of mimosa. It thinks me gluttonous. More likely than not I look gluttonous while I shovel the croissant’s crusty exterior in what might as well be considered a trough of serendipitously scooped foam wonderland.

Soon after the pastries disappear, the waiter returns. This time he presents a piping onion soup gratinee .  .  .  .  .  .  .  . 10 My eyes light up. The cheese oozes like a science fair project and my spoon returns with only layers of Swiss – somewhere below, the small brown cauldron taunts me with its promise of beef bouillon and bay leaf.

Meanwhile, my brother, mom and best friend practically arm wrestle for final spoonfuls of the quiche Lorraine which they swear is just to-die-for but elsewhere from across the table, I make eyes at the lone apple turnover which sits beside a trio of jams and butters eager to be spread and dipped into my very patient cappuccino which sits atop its china doll white saucer. The Lorraine would have to wait.

Earlier in the morning my mother and I stand barefoot in the kitchen trading cautionary tales about what constitutes "creamer" in coffee. Mom suggests that since there is no milk, we should just bite the bullet and add good ol' Reddi Whip to the mix. My hesitance wins me an extra dollop of mom's makeshift remedy. Admittedly the whip tastes delicious, not out of place like I originally feared it would. Creamy and dissolvent, the Whip lulls me into a cup of joe rivaled only by Parc's customary sugar bowl and creamer with a side of mimosa - to wash it down. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fat and Happy in Philly

            When I walked through the door of South Street’s little gem Supper on Saturday, I didn’t know what to expect. Wendy Kirby hosted a handful of us food writers upstairs for the first ever Philly Food & Drink Blogger Meet up, and I knew I was in good company when the hostess handed me a drink ticket and instructed me to order my complimentary mimosa after simply saying, “hello.” As Natalie Merchant said, these are the days.

            Natural light trickled in the windows of Supper as those of us assembled got to work meeting and greeting with mouths full.  Life imitated art while relative strangers became new acquaintances among company like Chef Mitch Presnky’s sinful red velvet waffles finished with prune and cream cheese.

            I chatted with host Wendy Kirby about the importance of food photography where blog writing is concerned – here is another candid, and if I’m being candid, there is nothing quite like fresh sauerkraut atop a deep fried pork shoulder with beer mustard to tickle the palette:

                The afternoon was a success. In between bites of crispy apple beignets with cinnamon and sugar, my new friends and I mulled over our next outing. Would we tour the bakeries or crash another 2nd floor establishment, bloody Mary’s in hand? Skies the limit we decided but for now, I’m still digesting the lovely company and cream cheese.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"a happy meal"

            At the corner table in the front of Hoboken’s Hummus Bar, a little boy foregoes his fork. It looks like he is finger painting with his falafel. I am on my lunch break watching curly haired and cranky Drew whine while his patient saint of a mother insists he take just one more bite.
            Meanwhile, my cabbage and red beet salad pita has me salivating. I dote on the savory sweet yet tart treat while Drew protests finishing his chickpeas. In Drew’s defense I find myself questioning ordering falafel for a four year old.  It’s not exactly a happy meal.

            To be fair though, I start thinking back to my own childhood, wondering what I liked when I was Drew’s age. Pastina. A simple bowl of just boiled orzo looking pasta made of wheat flour and egg doused in butter and my mother’s love. That is and was my comfort food at four and fifteen on a colder night before dance classes.
            Pastina unlike its irregularly shaped counterparts tastes delicious sprinkled with butter and butter only. It absorbs broth like none other and I associate it most closely with my Nona who eats it nightly because she cannot chew most other things.
            Back in the front of the restaurant from his booster seat, Drew begrudgingly opens his mouth. Mom knows best. She knows better than to allow Drew to shovel the food into his mouth. She also knows that she can seal this deal with promise of another sip of freshly squeezed lemonade, well played Drew’s mom.
            My own lunch box never hosted lemonade or soda when I was a kid.  It boasted farina looking polenta (last night’s leftovers) or semolina bread sodden mortadella with Extra Virgin and Arnie the Butcher’s roasted red peppers. My mom picked up cold pilaf special and would serve it as a “side” with our Osso Bucco or Scaloppini on Tuesday nights.
            My lunch box did not know what a chickpea or ham sandwich was. It still cringes when it smells Annabelle’s bologna and cheese concoction or Jimmy’s mom’s leftover meatloaf. My brother and I just weren’t raised to look forward to mom’s grilled cheese and Campbell’s reheated condensed tomato. We never ate the “hot lunch” cheeseburger with a side of fries unless mom ran out of fresh Italian bread and the bus came on time, leaving us no choice.
            Even now, when I pack my lunch for work – it hosts Watercress with its peppery propensity to pair well with things like candied pecans and dried cranberries or peeled Granny Smith’s. I bring to work a last night’s cutlet or Pete’s “mutz” with its buffalo finish. I dip crackers in just sliced cheese and drizzle it with apricot. I munch on tomatoes on the vine like the fruit that they are, thrilled about their juice on my jaw. When I pack lunch, I do not think of afternoons past when Drew’s mom cut my lunch, but I do remember eating Mediterranean faire and I look at Drew and I wink.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Measuring Cups for good Measure

Everyone copes differently. After her father passed, Orangette write Molly Wizenberg writes in her Homemade Life memoir that she swam in croissants and potato salad; the food she associated most with her father. I too am swimming in chocolate and heavy cream but luckily Vittorio is still alive and well. My emotional baggage comes in the form of a breakup. Some women buy shoes, I splurge on $6 tomatoes on the vine and take up baking. Yes, baking.

Let me just say that I did not stumble upon this desire single-handedly. I did not wake up today and decide that it is time to take up the one form of culinary art I have notoriously written off as box fair or worse, have reserved for companies like Bindi to graciously supply my tiramisu. Quite frankly, the prospect of composing a cake without a box and premade mix is terrifying but all the more reason to endeavor to do away with store bought dessert in one form or another.

I want to go by Nicolette after my recent introduction to the fabulous Eric Ripert and the dinner I ate at Boston’s beautiful Mistral Bistro. I admit that my newfound obsession with everything David Lebovitz leads me to this evening’s Orange and Rum Chocolate Mousse Cake complements of his Great Book of Chocolate. I rationalize that any dessert that calls for dark spice rum cannot prove haphazard even if its creator is slightly tipsy hovering over her apartment’s not-so easy bake oven; the oven typically a makeshift pantry for baking dishes on any given night I customarily abandon in favor of casserole dishes and roasting pans; but I am suffering a breakup here. 

Call it caviar wishes or temporary insanity but I have to do something to keep my mind off of the “thing” we’re not talking about and since David and Molly are on my bookshelf, and I cannot consume a vat of potato salad for fear of my Italian roots uprooting, I opt for the measuring cups, for good measure.

The verdict’s still out. If it smells like a cake and it looks like a cake, you need to still take a taste; believe you me. I really should give myself more credit but when you are raised in a household where the closest thing to homemade dessert includes a box of J-E-L-L-O pudding mix, you’re not exactly conditioned to turn your nose up to a red Duncan Hines box if it means dessert is served.

I still remember classmates’ parents preparing baked goods to drop off for the holiday parties and begging my mom to assemble a cake like the cake Katie Miller’s mom whipped up for the third grade Halloween party. Ever the negotiator, my mom tells me that Katie Miller’s mom is a “stay at home mom” and that if Little Debbie’s are not good enough for the third grade Halloween party, I can always go empty-handed or worse, not at all. All these years later, still not above Little Debbie’s, I cannot justify unwrapping those prepackaged pastries in my apartment where I readily compose fresh sauces and chicken marsala late night with hardly any effort. At some point, we all graduate, with a little luck I can finally separate myself from boxed mixes.

Currently, the mousse cake sits in the middle of the bottom oven rack surrounded by a bath of warm water beneath it; David takes his cake making seriously, I will give him that. I yearn to churn out a flawless tart as effortlessly as his memoir eludes a tart can be prepared. Regardless of whether or not the chocolate mixes with the butter mixes with the sugar and eggs, I must say this endeavor proved as therapeutic as any other cannellini recipe I’ve shared; even if hovering over measuring cups is not as natural to me as it is to others.  

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Sauce by any other Name would be Blasphemous, would be Gravy

I am consistently floored by the amount of ingredients and sheer preparation cookbooks tout when including a recipe for marinara. Made from fresh essentials like garlic and basil, marinara does not require the same kind of attention needed in piecing together gravy used in Shepherd’s pie or smothers a turkey dinner. Marinara is after all, a sauce.

I know Italians who take their marinara very seriously. They swoon and they fill their gravy bowls with well, gravy – real Bolognese Ragu chock full of stock and one to two glasses of wine and/or milk. The very essence of this gravy suggests that it lingers happily between the fibers of tagliatelle or pappardelle, which is usually layered in pieces of lamb. Gravy in and of itself serves a purpose only if paired with something equally hearty.

Marinara though, glides across a dish of spaghettini like none other, soaks up a ziti likening it to it a penne on a good night and festoons ravioli with a kind of reprieve. Marinara does a dance all of its own. It sits atop a cutlet without overpowering the cutlet’s breadcrumbs, without diminishing its taste. Marinara would never be caught dead on top of a biscuit. Marinara does not play well with other cuisines.

In my apartment, marinara starts with a cutting board, a knife and ideally, a generous eyeballing of garlic. If you’re anything like me though, you do not garnish your marinara liberally otherwise you will be in serious need of an anti acid like the Pink Stuff; not quite a Limón cello finish to a beautifully rendered dinner.  Indigestion aside, the bear minimum is needed to craft an ambrosial array of tangy and sweet red syrup.

In my humble opinion, marinara should taste like beloved Nona’s famed recipe – it should surprise your palette with the subtle hints of balsamic vinegar and the prevalent presence of delicious tomatoes. It should never be jarred or reheated in a microwave. It should compel you to double dip and find yourself fighting the urge to sip it as though it were a soup.

My love affair with marinara comes full circle once I introduce the sauce to my friend Parmesan. Though somewhat of a gastronomical nightmare amidst my mozzarella and tomato side salad, I suffer in ravenous radiance at my countertop with stools for two every time I serendipitously prepare myself a marinara.

Sauce (the way it was intended)
  •      Olive Oil – personally I recommend investing in a bottle of
  •      Have Morton Salt nearby and black pepper to spare
  •      Fresh garlic (eyeball it, you typically need less than you think unless you enjoy tasting it the next morning)
  •      Fresh Basil
  •     Tomato paste – any type will do
  •     Crushed tomatoes – San Marzano aren’t half bad and sometimes the grocery store carries them. If you live near a specialty food store, stock up on whichever can your pork store manager carries. His suggestions are always welcome.
  •     Parmesan cheese – steer clear of Kraft's container. 
  •     Balsamic Vinegar – only to be added after the crushed tomatoes and only pour about a tbsp into your sauce
  •    Optional: diced yellow onion – again, not to be overdone otherwise it will drastically change the taste of your marinara

Oil needs time to heat the pot before it can marinate the garlic and basil. Do not add the Parmesan or the vinegar without first cooking the paste and tomatoes together for several minutes. The sauce should only be set on medium heat and should be stirred often. Ideally, give the sauce anywhere from half an hour to an hour to blend nicely enough to serve. Bon appétit.


From the Beginning...

I hope you won’t mind one more hungry stomach eager to sit beside you at your dinner table and relish in your blogosphere. I do not come empty handed though. I bring with me a couple of anecdotes and some recipes that I hope will keep you coming back for more Zucchero.
Given that Christmas Eve is now a thing of the past, I decide tonight to relish in my craving for fish. On colder winter evenings such as this, when I am feeling slightly homesick, I remember watching my mother and grandmother effortlessly pouring over dishes like Zuppa di Pesce throughout my childhood and suddenly, wafts of freshly peeled garlic tickle my taste buds. Soon, I find myself scouring the grocery store for whole grain linguine to help recreate this family favorite. Scampi. Although it can be prepared a multitude of ways, scampi has always been reserved for those special occasions where company was expected or an entire evening could be devoted to the preparation involved in concocting such a gratuitous dish. At home in my kitchen, Rock N’ Roll High School blares through the nearby stereo and I remember my mother and grandmother and I remember…
        the smell of sautéing shrimp and garlic the way my mother remembers seeing Joey Ramone for the first time in a rundown bar in Manhattan at age fifteen. The picturesque staple of rock n roll’s riches for an impressionable New Yorker, I admire the sight of a dishrag strewn on a flour covered kitchen counter. At fifteen, Joey Ramone lulls my mother’s teenage inhibitions. At sixteen, I whisk an egg and ask my Joey Ramone of a grandmother how to prevent the breadcrumbs from escaping the uncooked cutlets we prepare at sunset.
Her fingers enchant a skillet the way Joey’s stroke a mic. She too is a crowd pleaser, preparing potatoes in a pool of extra virgin olive oil. Peeled and poised for garnishing with pepper, my Nonna’s hands which age with each knead and stoke, proudly display the remnants of a once live chicken beside a bowl filled with beautifully browned carbohydrates.
No longer sixteen and able to take cues from a woman well versed in peeling garlic, it is my turn to finesse an ordinary package of pasta into a masterful mantra of flavor and forgotten pastimes. I mosey around my third floor kitchen in knitted socks not unlike my Nonna who swore by isotones slippers in the winter, hunger propelling my menacing attention to detail. Even the paprika is measured. The salt tossed in sparingly, it represents the faith all Italian cooks have in boiling water. The pot a host for transformation from otherwise inedible grains to serendipitous scampi.
Tonight is a resurrection. I unscrew the top to the sherry, squeeze the lemon and welcome the aromas of familiar dry and sweet components coming alive in an iron caste skillet. I bite my lip in anticipation and almost reading my uneasiness, the shrimp winks at me. She stands in the kitchen, hovering over the cutting board and later scrubs each dish by hand. And later I wink at my isotones slippers, the shoes I feebly fill on Monday nights while Maxwell’s around the corner hosts the next Levi wearing Johnny. It is lonely in my kitchen while Dee Dee Ramone is off banging on his drums but somewhere, Nonna stirs up appetites with her wooden spoon in a frying pan in someone else’s domain, acting as the model hostess.   
       … Like the Sunday dinners I learned to appreciate at an early age, this blog is represents my hosting a myopic array of flavors and fiction – memory and memoir. I hope you’ll digest and return for more Zucchero very so