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Archive for the ‘2002’ Category

My Menu for Christmas Eve 2002

Recipes:

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Ricotta Bruschetta
Linguine with Anchovies, Parsley, and Sweet Bread Crumbs
Lobster with Tomato and Brandy
Sweet Orange Salad with Pomegranate and Orange Liqueur

I love Christmas Eve for its sense of drama, and lacking much religious conviction I find drama for its own sake a wonderful thing. I have a gay disco boy’s fascination with glitter, lights, and late-night festivity. My more or less traditional virgilia, the Southern Italian Christmas Eve fish dinner, is always served late in the evening. Candles are a very important accompaniment; I like to arrange them in clusters so it almost looks like the apartment is on fire. The customary thirteen fish dishes seem much too much work, and whenever I’ve even come close the preparing that amount of food, I’ve noticed my guests growing uneasy.

Nowadays I make two or three fish dishes. I almost always make a salt cod purée (a recipe for it appears on page 246 of my book Pasta Improvvisata). I serve it without the pasta, and instead pour the purée into a baking dish, drizzle it with olive oil, and stick it in a hot oven for about 10 minutes. I make garlic toast to go with it. In the last few years I’ve served an aperitif of white wine with fresh pomegranate juice with the salt cod; the wine looks and tastes beautiful, but after tasting a white wine­and­Campari drink recently in a restaurant in Barletta, Puglia, I’ve decided to go with that instead this year. It is just as brilliantly pink and cuts through the olive-oily richness of the salt cod nicely.

I’ve fallen in love with anchovies all over again. I’ve found myself eating a whole tin of them when nobody was paying attention, so I’m legitimizing my passion by turning it toward a sit-down first course of linguine tossed with salt-packed Sicilian anchovies, white wine, and lots of parsley, and garnished with sweetened bread crumbs, another Sicilian touch. For the main course, I’m recreating a family lobster recipe from my mother’s memory (lobster simmered in tomatoes and brandy is something her father Errico made for Christmas Eve, but since he died at a very young age, I never got to taste it).

I almost always include some kind of orange salad to cleanse the palate after all the fish. Usually I make it in a savory vein, with olives and onions, but this year I’ve decided on a sweet version seasoned with almonds, orange liqueur, pomegranate, and mint. I hope someone will bring some cookies or some type of dessert. Struffoli would be great, but I’m not going to get it together to make them myself. I’ve asked my sister Liti to make star-shaped cookies finished with gold dust. That will be fabulous, if they ever materialize. I’ve got a 140-proof Centerbe (100 herbs) liqueur I brought back from the Abruzzi last month. It tastes like fire and is actually so high in alcohol it evaporates on your tongue. I can’t taste even one herb in the outrageous stuff, but it is an amazing electric green color. I hesitate to serve it, but it may be a good thing to bring out when I want everyone to go home (coupled with my new Leonard Cohen CD, it should really clear the house).

To keep things moving, especially if you don’t have any kids, I suggest inviting a few animals. Dogs are not known for their love of fish, so they probably won’t be pawing at the tablecloth, but they love barking at lights and they do enjoy music and dancing. My cats appreciate the puréed salt cod very much, and they always get their own little plate of it. And since one of them has no teeth, the creamy texture is just right for her.

Color is important for a merry Christmas, so I try to incorporate red and green into my menu selections. Lobster, Campari, blood oranges, pomegranates, mint, basil, and the evil Centerbe all go well with Christmas lights, and I believe they should make for a very merry time.

I hope this will give you a few ideas for your own Christmas Eve celebration. For more Christmas Eve recipes, see my web recipes for Christmas Eve 2000 and 2001.

Buon Natale, and happy cooking!

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto and Ricotta Bruschetta

Pâté di pomodori secchi (sun-dried tomato pesto) is a specialty of the Salento area of Puglia, south of Bari. I’ve purchased this condimento there in little jars at various food shops, but it is very easy to make at home, either with your own oven-dried tomatoes or with store-bought sun-dried ones (I show you both ways here). It makes a wonderful pasta sauce or topping for roast chicken or tuna, but since it’s so highly flavored I often serve it as part an antipasto of some kind. My version of this pesto is a bit more jazzed-up than the relatively plain ones I’ve sampled in Puglia. It’s flavored somewhat like a Provençal tapenade.

If you’d like to serve this as a sit-down first course, toss a slightly bitter green salad (arugula, chicory, endive, frisée, or a mix) with extra-virgin olive oil and a tiny splash of vinegar and place two bruschetta on each serving. I think that’s what I’ll do this year. For a richer effect you can replace the ricotta with fresh goat cheese.

I’ve doubled the amount of tomatoes you actually need to oven-dry for this dish, since it’s nice to have some extra on hand for tossing with pasta or using in an antipasto platter.

(Serves 5 or 6 as an appetizer)

For making your own oven-dried tomatoes:

20 or so plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Salt
Extra-virgin olive oil

For the pesto:

1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
A small handful of capers
2 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
A few sprigs of marjoram, leaves only
The grated zest from 1/2 an orange
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
A very tiny splash of grappa

Plus:

1 baguette, cut into thin rounds
About a cup of whole milk ricotta

To make the dried tomatoes: Preheat the oven to 225 degrees. Place the tomatoes, already cut, on a sheet pan. Drizzle on a generous amount of olive oil, season them with salt, and toss with your hands until they’re well coated. Arrange them cut side up and bake for about 3 hours. They will be slightly shriveled but still moist in their centers. Let them cool.

To make the pesto: Place about half of the oven-dried tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor (if you’ve bought sun-dried tomatoes, use about a dozen of the ones that come packed in oil). Add the garlic, capers, anchovies, marjoram, and orange zest. Season with black pepper and add a tiny splash of grappa and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Pulse the mixture a few times until you have a rough paste. Taste it for seasoning (with the anchovies and capers, you shouldn’t need extra salt, but you never really know until you taste it). Pour the pesto into a bowl (you can cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a day or two, but I prefer to use it the same day for the liveliest taste; in any case, return it to room temperature before serving).

When you’re ready to serve this, toast the baguette slices on both sides, spread them with a dollop of ricotta, and top them with a teaspoon of the tomato pesto. Serve right away.

Linguine with Anchovies, Parsley, and Sweet Bread Crumbs

Slightly sweetened bread crumbs are sometimes used to top pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines) in Sicily, and I love their sweetness with the oily fish, so I’ve paired them here with anchovies, another rich, pungent fish. Try to find salt-packed anchovies for this dish. Their flavor is superior to that of the oil-preserved variety. Flott is an excellent producer whose salt-packed anchovies are available through Buon Italia importers, at the Chelsea Market in New York, whose number is (212) 633-9090.

(Serves 5 as a first course)

10 salt-packed anchovies
1 pound linguine
Extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
1 fresh medium hot chile, minced, using the seeds if you like some heat
A generous splash of dry white wine
A large handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly chopped (at least 1/2 cup)
The grated zest from 1 lemon
Salt, if needed

For the bread crumbs:

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup homemade dry bread crumbs
A generous pinch of sugar
Salt

To prepare the anchovies, run them one at a time under cool water, and starting from the head end, work the fillets free from the backbones with your fingers. After doing a few, you’ll get the hang of it (it doesn’t matter if you mutilate a couple, since they’re going to be dissolved in the sauce anyway). Let the fillets soak in a bowl of cool water for about 15 minutes to remove excess salt, and then drain them and pat them dry.

Make the bread crumbs: Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the small skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the bread crumbs, season with a generous pinch of sugar and a little salt, and sauté until crisp and just starting to turn light golden. Transfer to a small serving bowl.

Set up a large pot of pasta-cooking water, add a generous amount of salt, and bring it to a boil. Add the linguine, giving it a stir to make sure it doesn’t stick together.

In a skillet large enough to hold all the linguine, heat about 1/2 cup of olive oil over medium flame. Add the garlic, anchovies, and minced chile, and sauté until the garlic is fragrant and the anchovies have dissolved, about 2 or 3 minutes only. You don’t want the garlic to brown very much; lightly golden is best. Add a splash of white wine and let it bubble for a few seconds.

When the linguine is al dente (I like it very al dente for this dish), drain, leaving a bit of water clinging to it, and add it to the skillet. Add the parsley and lemon zest and toss well over medium heat for about a minute. Add a drizzle of fresh olive oil and give it a taste. (With all the anchovies, you probably won’t need extra salt.) Pour the linguine into pasta-serving bowls and top each one with a generous sprinkling of the bread crumbs. Bring the remaining bread crumbs to the table.

Lobster with Tomato and Brandy

I’ve never understood wanting to immerse sweet, delicate lobster in an intensely spicy tomato sauce, fra diavolo style; it seems to defeat the lobster’s reason for being (or for eating, at least). A Christmas Eve dish my mother’s father made was lobster simmered in a rich, boozy tomato sauce with no chiles. Here is my version, as recalled by my mother.

For the best texture, I should be adding raw, butchered lobster to this sauce, but after working in a restaurant where I was ordered to chop cratefuls of live lobsters, sometimes a hundred at a time, and bursting into tears on one occasion at the overwhelming carnage of the task, I don’t think I can ever butcher even one of them again. Here I’ve boiled them, whole, until they’re about half cooked, and then I’ve chopped them up. It is admittedly a compromise solution, but it works well to achieve the velvety, tender texture you want for the dish.

To make the lobster just a little diavolo, leave out the nutmeg and add one or two dried, crumbled red chiles to the skillet when you add the garlic.

(Serves 5 as a main course)

Extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced, plus a whole garlic clove for the bruschetta
2 bay leaves, fresh if possible
A few generous gratings of nutmeg
A tiny pinch of ground clove
Sea salt
2 35-ounce cans diced plum tomatoes, lightly drained (Muir Glen is my favorite brand)
1/2 cup low-salt canned chicken broth (or a very light fish broth)
Freshly ground black pepper
5 live 1 1/2­pound lobsters
Four tablespoons unsalted butter
A small wine glass of brandy or cognac
A few sprigs of tarragon, the leaves lightly chopped
A generous handful of basil leaves, lightly chopped, plus a few whole sprigs for garnish
A large handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
I baguette

Set up a very large lobster pot full of water and bring it to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the garlic and sauté briefly, just until it gives off its aroma, about a minute or so. Add the bay leaves, nutmeg, clove, the tomatoes, and the chicken broth, and cook uncovered at a lively simmer for about 5 minutes (you want the sauce to stay fresh and brightly colored, so don’t let it go any longer). Season with salt and ground black pepper. Turn off the heat.

Add about 2 heaping tablespoons of sea salt to the water, let it return to a hard boil, and drop in the lobsters. Cover the pot and boil for 5 minutes (they will be almost half cooked). Lift the lobsters from the water and let them cool enough so you can handle them. Pull off their claws and hit each one with a hammer to crack it (cover the claws with a kitchen towel first so shell fragments don’t fly all over the place). Do this over a large plate or something that will catch all the juices. Cut the bodies in half lengthwise, also making sure no juices get away. Add all the lobster juices to the skillet, and stir them into the sauce.

In a very large skillet that will hold all the lobster pieces and the sauce (or in two skillets), melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the lobster pieces (shell still on), placing the bodies flesh side down, and sauté them in the butter for about a minute. Season with a pinch of salt and more generously with black pepper, and pour on the brandy or cognac, letting it bubble until it is almost evaporated. Pour on the tomato sauce, and stir to blend it. Turn the heat down to low and let everything simmer for about 5 minutes, just to finish cooking the lobster and blend the flavors. Turn the lobster pieces over and add the chopped tarragon and the basil. The sauce should be a little brothy and studded with chunks of tomato. Taste for seasoning and add a generous drizzle of olive oil.

Make bruschetta by toasting the baguette slices on both sides, rubbing them with the whole garlic clove, and brushing them with olive oil.

Place the lobster pieces in a wide, shallow serving bowl, and pour the sauce over them. Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts, and garnish with basil sprigs. Serve hot, accompanied by the bruschetta.

Sweet Orange Salad with Pomegranate and Orange Liqueur

Here’s a sweet version of the popular orange salads found throughout Sicily, which are more often assembled with savory additions such as olives, onions, olive oil, and black pepper. This sweet salad can serve as a segue between main course and dessert or as a dessert in its own right. Use raisins if pomegranates are out of season or hard to find.

(Serves 4 or 5)

7 oranges, peeled and cut into thin rounds (a mix of blood oranges and regular ones looks lovely)
A handful of whole blanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
The seeds from about 1/2 a medium pomegranate
A pinch of salt
A generous splash of orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
A handful of mint leaves, left whole
Powdered sugar

About a half hour before you’ll want to serve the salad, arrange the oranges on a nice-looking serving dish. Scatter on the almonds and the pomegranate seeds. Drizzle on the orange liqueur. Let this sit, unrefrigerated, to develop flavor. Right before serving, season the oranges with a pinch of salt, scatter on the mint leaves, and dust everything lightly with powdered sugar.

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Recipes:

Roasted Beet Salad with Candied Lemon and Pistachios
Green Fig Salad with Pepato, Celery, and Basil
Potato and Sweet Pepper Torta Calabrian Style
Pizza di Scarola with Gaeta Olives and Caciocavallo
Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Prosciutto, and White Wine
Sausages and Italian Frying Peppers with Sage and Fennel Salad

I’m now working on a book that may turn out to be called Cooking with the Flavors of Southern Italy. It will have a strong improvisational theme and be composed not of traditional regional recipes but of personal recipes of my own based on the classic flavor themes of Southern Italian cooking­­orange and lemon, anchovy and bottarga, raisins and pine nuts, fennel and saffron, vinegar and sugar. These and other flavors come up again and again in the cooking of the deep Italian South, the regions of Campania, Puglia, Calabria, and Sicily. These are flavors I love. They define my palate, forming the base notes for my cooking.

This fall collection of recipes and essays is also about the improvisational nature of home cooking and about the pleasure I get from the often impromptu meals I make for friends and family. Some of the recipes are offshoots of family favorites; others were created to express my seemingly inexhaustible devotion to the flavors of the land that my family emigrated from. I’ve created my own New York-based take on this beautiful cooking.

I’ve also attempted here to to talk you through the cooking process, the way I silently talk to myself while I cook or when friends come by for dinner and watch and ask questions. I’ve made an effort to explain why I choose particular pasta shapes, one herb over another, why I let a piece of fish sit in the pan without moving it around, why I’ve specified a particular burner temperature, or why I add ingredients at different times during the cooking process. These are matters that seasoned cooks know about but sometimes neglect to share because they’ve become so second-nature.

Fall is an especially interesting time to be testing these recipes, because autumn in New York is so different from in, say, Palermo (in fact, the last time I was in Palermo in early November, it was 98 degrees with blazing sun one day and rained torrentially the next). Working with these Southern flavors and at the same time keeping in tune with the New York soil, I try to be true to two regions that are both mine, one in ancestry and spirit, the other in body and spirit.

Please let me know what you think of my works in progress. I welcome any ideas that come to you as you’re cooking my recipes. Tell me about anything in my wording that seems confusing or somehow makes it difficult for you in the kitchen. And let me know when something tastes wonderful. I’m at edemane@earthlink.net.

Happy fall cooking!

Roasted Beet Salad with Candied Lemon and Pistachios

Beets don’t remind me of sunny Mediterranean shores, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten them anywhere in Southern Italy. But they are plentiful at my Manhattan farmers’ market in late summer and early fall, in colors that range from golden yellow to brilliant crimson. They are beautiful but nevertheless have never immediately inspired me. I always take bunches home and then have to think a little harder than usual to figure out what to do with them.

Lemons and pistachios are two major Sicilian crops and figure prominently in all aspects of the island’s cooking, from pastas to desserts. I’ve included these flavors, along with a touch of anchovy (another Sicilian specialty) and extra virgin olive oil, to create a salad whose ingredients play up the beets’ sweetness. but also play against it, bringing out their slight bitter note.

Ideas: Orange is another citrus fruit that goes well with beets. I sometimes include a few slices in this salad (if I use golden beets, blood oranges are a good contrast). Crumbled young goat cheese is delicious scattered over the top right before serving. If you’d like to include an herb, I feel basil and tarragon marry especially well with beets

(Serves 4)

2 lemons
1 tablespoon sugar
5 medium beets (either crimson or golden), the greens removed (and saved for another use, if you like) and the beets washed
1 anchovy fillet, minced
1 garlic clove, smashed with the back of your knife
A few scrapings of nutmeg
About a tablespoon of sherry wine vinegar
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
A large bunch of arugula, stemmed, washed, and dried
A small red onion, very thinly sliced
A handful of shelled unsalted pistachios

With a zester, peel the yellow skin from the lemon in long thin strips, scraping up as little of the white pith as possible (if you don’t have a zester that will do this, remove the skin with a sharp vegetable peeler and then cut it into thin strips by hand). Place the strips in a small saucepan, add the sugar, and cover with about 1/2 inch of cool water. Over medium heat, bring the water to a boil and simmer until the water has evaporated and the zest is sticky. Spread the zest out on a counter or cutting board to dry for about 1/2 hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil and place them on a sheet pan or in a shallow baking dish. Roast until they are tender and fragrant, about 1 hour (a thin knife should pierce the biggest one easily when they’re cooked through). Let the beets cool for a few minutes, and then slip off their skins. Cut the beets into thin slices.

Make the dressing by whisking together in a small bowl the minced anchovy, garlic, nutmeg, sherry wine vinegar, salt, and black pepper. Whisk in about 3 or 4 tablespoons of good olive oil and taste for seasoning (I find that the sweetness of beets can take a little extra salt).

Place the arugula in a salad bowl and toss it with a drizzle of the dressing. Divide it up among four salad plates. In the same salad bowl, add the beets, red onion, pistachios, and candied lemon. Pour on the rest of the dressing, and toss very gently, so the beet slices don’t break up (I do this with my fingers). Divide the beets onto the arugula. Serve right away.

Green Fig Salad with Pepato, Celery, and Basil

Here I complement sweet fresh figs with both bitter and sharp elements, using arugula, celery, strong black-pepper studded Sicilian Pepato (a Pecorino cheese), basil, fennel, and lemon. I prefer green figs; they have a better-tasting skin than the purple variety, which can sometimes taste musty to my palate.

(Serves 4)

A medium bunch of arugula, stemmed
1 large fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced, a small handful of its fronds chopped
4 inner celery stalks, with their leaves, the stalks thinly sliced, the leaves left whole
1 large shallot (the red variety looks pretty here, if you can find it), thinly sliced
8 fresh green-skin figs, cut in half lengthwise
A small handful of small basil leaves, left whole
About a tablespoon of lemon juice, plus the grated zest from 1/2 medium lemon
Salt
Extra virgin olive oil
A chunk of Pepato cheese

Place the arugula, fennel and chopped fronds, celery with leaves, shallot, and figs in a large salad bowl. Scatter on the basil leaves. In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and zest, a pinch of salt, and about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Taste for a good balance of olive and acid, adjusting if you need to. Pour this over the salad and toss gently. Divide the salad onto four small plates, and shave a generous amount of the Pepato over each one. Serve right away.

Potato and Sweet Pepper Torta Calabrian Style

Potatoes sautéed in a skillet with sweet peppers and sometimes onion (and sometimes a few hot chilies) is a homey Calabrian classic. I’ve taken the same ingredients and given them a more formal structure by layering them in a tart pan.

Make this in an eight-inch tart pan. I use one with a removable bottom so any excess oil will leak out during cooking onto the sheet pan underneath.

(Serves 4 to 6)

Extra-virgin olive oil
4 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1 large onion, thinly sliced
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A splash of dry white wine or dry vermouth
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled (they hold their shape better that way) and thinly sliced
A few sprigs of rosemary, the leaves chopped
A few branches of marjoram, the leaves chopped
1/2 cup grated Pecorino cheese
1/2 cup grated Caciocavallo cheese

In a large skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced peppers and onions, season with salt and black pepper, and sauté until they are tender and very lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Add a splash of dry white wine or vermouth and let it bubble a few seconds, scraping up the cooked-on pan juices with your spoon.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly brush a tart pan with olive oil.

Place the sliced potatoes, rosemary, and marjoram in a medium bowl. Add a drizzle of olive oil, and season well with salt and black pepper. Toss the potatoes well, so they’re well coated with oil and seasoning.

Start layering the potatoes in the tart pan in a slightly overlapping circular pattern. Cover the first potato layer with about three quarters of the sautéed peppers. Sprinkle on a generous layer of Pecorino and Caciocavallo (you can mix the cheeses together if you like). Add another layer of potatoes, and top with the remaining peppers. Top that with the remaining cheeses. Drizzle any oil and herbs that might be left in the bowl over the top. Place the tart on a sheet pan.

Bake until the top is nicely browned and the potatoes are tender when pierced with a thin knife, about 1 hour. Let the tart sit for about 10 minutes before cutting it into wedges.

Pizza di Scarola with Gaeta Olives and Caciocavallo

Pizza di Scarola is the Neapolitan name for a double-crusted escarole-filled pie that is traditional for Christmas Eve. When I was a child you could find these pies in New York pizza shops, sold by the slice. They made a refreshing change from the pepperoni slices I almost always went for. You don’t see them around much nowadays, but you can still find them in pizza shops in Naples. In addition to the escarole, so loved by Neapolitans (and me), this pie is usually highly flavored with most of the classic Southern Italian strong tastes, including anchovies, capers, olives, raisins, and pine nuts. My version concentrates on olives, using the Gaeta black olives famous in the region, and Caciocavallo cheese, which melts beautifully.

(Serves 4 or 5 as a lunch dish, or 6 or 7 as an appetizer)

For the dough:

2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus a little extra for rolling the dough out
A generous pinch of salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup dry white wine, at room temperature or at least not ice-cold
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the filling:

2 large heads of escarole (about 2 pounds), trimmed, chopped into bite-size pieces, and well washed (it looks like a lot, but it cooks down)
1 large garlic clove, minced
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A few scrapings of nutmeg
A generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
A large handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
A small handful of golden raisins
3/4 cup grated Caciocavallo cheese
About 1/2 cup black olives, preferably Gaetas, pitted and roughly chopped
1 large egg

To make the dough, start by placing the flour in a shallow bowl. Add a generous amount of salt, and stir it in to distribute it well. Place the egg, white wine, and olive oil in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to blend everything. Pour this onto the flour, and mix with your fork until you have a crumbly but rather moist mass. Now knead it briefly with your hands to form a ball. (This should take only about 3 minutes. This is not like pasta dough, where you want to knead it a long time to develop elasticity; this dough will cook up slightly flaky.) Divide the dough into two, making one section slightly larger than the other. Wrap both pieces in plastic, and let them rest, unrefrigerated, for about an hour (this will make them easier to roll out).

While the dough is resting, set up a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add the escarole, and blanch it for about 2 minutes. Drain it into a colander, and run cold water over it to stop the cooking and to preserve its bright green color. When it is cold, squeeze all the water out of it with your hands (you want it really dry so your tart doesn’t cook up soggy). Place the escarole in a mixing bowl, and add all the other ingredients for the filling. Mix well to make sure the egg and everything else is evenly distributed.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Sprinkle a little flour on a work surface and roll out the larger piece of dough until you have a large, more or less round shape about 12 inches across. Trim the edges to make it still rounder. You’ll probably need to sprinkle a little flour over the dough to prevent it from sticking, although olive-oil dough is pretty easy to roll out, since it’s so oily. Brush a pizza pan (or sheet pan) with olive oil and place the dough round on it. Roll out the other piece in the same fashion, but make it about an inch smaller. Pour the filling onto the large round, and spread it out to about an inch from the edge. Place the smaller round on top, trimming the edges, if necessary, to neaten it up. Brush the edge of the larger round with water and pull it up over the top, making little folds all around to form a ruffly edge (it will look something like the edge of an American pie crust), pressing to seal it while you do. Make a few small air vents in the top with a thin knife, and brush the whole thing lightly with olive oil. You will now have something that looks like a flying saucer.

Bake until the tart is golden brown all over, about 35 minutes. Let cool for about 20 minutes before serving (this will allow you to slice it more cleanly). To serve, just cut it into pie-shaped wedges of any width you like.

Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Prosciutto, and White Wine

Here is my version of a traditional Puglian pasta using the region’s orecchiette and bitter broccoli. Sometimes the dish is seasoned with garlic and a pinch of hot chili, and occasionally sausage is added. I’ve substituted prosciutto for the sausage, giving it a lighter feel, and the white wine mingles with the olive oil to create a fruity sauce.

(Serves 6 as a first course or 4 as a main course)

2 bunches of broccoli rabe, stemmed and lightly chopped
Salt
1 pound orecchiette
Extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of grated nutmeg
A small wineglass of dry white wine
5 thin slices prosciutto di Parma, the excess fat removed, chopped, and set aside
A 1/2-pound chunk of Grana Padano cheese

Bring to a boil a large pot of pasta-cooking water, and add a generous amount of salt. When it returns to a boil, add the broccoli rabe, and blanch for 2 minutes. Scoop the broccoli rabe from the pot into a colander with a large strainer spoon. Run cold water over it to stop the cooking and to preserve its bright green color. When it’s cold, squeeze out all the excess water with your hands.

Bring the water back to a boil, and drop in the orecchiette, giving the pot a few stirs to make sure it doesn’t stick together.

Heat about 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the chopped prosciutto fat and the garlic and sauté until the garlic is just turning the lightest shade of gold and the fat has melted. Add the broccoli rabe, season with salt, black pepper, and nutmeg, and sauté until it’s well coated with oil, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine, and let it boil for a minute, leaving some liquid in the skillet. Turn off the heat.

When the orecchiette is al dente, drain it, leaving a little water clinging to it, and pour it into a large serving bowl. Drizzle it with olive oil and give it a toss. Add the broccoli rabe, with all its skillet juices, and the prosciutto. Grate on a tablespoon or so of Grana Padano, and toss everything gently. Taste for seasoning and serve, bringing the remaining chunk of Grana Padano to the table.

Sausages and Italian Frying Peppers with Sage and Fennel Seed

When I was a kid, long, light green, slightly acidy peppers were always called Italian frying peppers, and my mother always used them to make this dish. My father grew them in his little garden and picked them when they were just starting to show little specks of red. They are always available during the summer at my local farmers’ market, but I don’t see them in supermarkets much anymore, unless I go to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx or another Italian neighborhood. According to Mary Amabile Palmer, in her book La Cucina di Calabria, they are called friarelli in that Southern Italian region. The Spanish cubanelle that I often see in supermarkets are similar, and you can use them if you can’t find Italian frying peppers. Cubanelle are slightly stubbier in shape but have a similar flavor.

I haven’t found a good way to make this dish without browning the sausages in a separate skillet and then combining them with the peppers. I like getting the sausages really brown on high heat and keeping the peppers and onions soft and light-colored, which is how my mother always made the dish, with textures that make sense to me.

The sage and fennel seed are my additions to an otherwise fairly straightforward traditional Southern Italian dish.

(Serves 4 or 5)

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, such as a Vidalia, thinly sliced
1 large fennel bulb, cored and sliced
5 Italian frying peppers or cubanelles, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
A small palmful of fennel seeds
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds sweet Italian pork sausage
1 large wineglass dry white wine
About a dozen sage leaves, lightly chopped
A loaf of hard-crusted Italian bread

Choose a large casserole that will eventually hold all the ingredients without crowding. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, and peppers, and sauté a few minutes to start them softening. Add the garlic and fennel seeds, and season lightly with salt (some sausages are very salty, so you don’t want to add too much salt at the beginning). Add a little black pepper, and sauté until everything is soft and has not taken on much color (if the peppers start to brown too much, turn down the heat).

While the peppers are cooking, set up a skillet over high heat. Add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Prick the sausages in a few places (this will prevent their skins from bursting), and sauté them on all sides until they’re nice and brown, about 8 minutes or so. Add the white wine, and let it bubble for a few seconds, scraping up all the cooked-on skillet juices to incorporate them into the dish (this adds a lot of flavor). The sausages should be browned but still a little pink inside. Add the sausages with all the skillet juices, and the sage leaves, to the peppers, cover the casserole, and cook everything together just until the sausages are tender and all the flavors are nicely blended, about 5 minutes longer.

You can serve this in shallow bowls with the bread on the side to soak up all the juices, or you can split the bread and fill big hero sandwiches.

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A Hearty Summer Dinner

Recipes:

Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes with Buffalo Mozzarella Bocconcini
Grilled Skirt Steak with Salmoriglio Sauce
Broccoli Rabe with Hot Chili and Cumin
Amaretto-Marinated Cherries

This meal is admittedly a little substanial for a serious dieter. It just might be more appropriate when you’re at the maintenance stage.

Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes with Buffalo Mozzarella Bocconcini

I’ve been finding imported buffalo mozzarella in my Italian market lately that seems much fresher than the stuff I’d been able to buy in the past. I don’t know if this is because more people buy it now and there is a better turnover or if the exporters have finally realized that we know what sour cheese tastes like, but it is certainly nice to have. Look for the little balls called bocconcini; they’re the perfect appetizer size. I’ve been buying ones that are fairly substantial, typically a little bigger than an egg; if you find tiny ones, use two per person. I should mention that buffalo mozzarella has a little more fat than the cow’s milk type. Substitute the latter if you desire.

(Serves 4 as a first course)

4 buffalo mozzarella bocconcini
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves sweet summer garlic, thinly sliced
1 1/2 pints sweet cherry tomatoes (a mix of red and yellow is pretty)
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A splash of balsamic vinegar
A few basil leaves, chopped
A few sprigs of fresh marjoram, the leaves chopped, plus a few whole sprigs for garnish

Choose four small salad plates and place a bocconcini in the middle of each (the mozzarella should be at room temperature and ideally have never been refrigerated, which tends to toughen it a bit).

In a large skillet, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat. When the pan is hot, add the garlic and the cherry tomatoes and sauté quickly just until the tomatoes start to burst, about 3 or 4 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper and add a splash of balsamic vinegar, letting it boil away for a few seconds. Mix in the herbs.

Pour the tomatoes around the bocconcini. Drizzle a little olive oil over everything and garnish with the marjoram sprigs. Serve warm.

Grilled Skirt Steak with Salmoriglio Sauce

Skirt steak is an incredibly flavorful and relatively inexpensive cut of beef. It is perfect for grilling but needs to be kept rare or medium rare to stay tender. Get your grill very hot and sear the steak quickly, and you’ll be rewarded with an elegant but quick and easy steak dinner.

Salmoriglio is an olive oil-based Sicilian sauce flavored, at its simplest, with lemon and oregano. Sometimes anchovies, garlic, or capers are added as well, and I’ve actually added all three to this version. Traditionally, salmoriglio is used to flavor fish, but I’ve found that its pungency also marries well with the char taste of grilled meats.

(Serves 4)

For the salmoriglio sauce:

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
The juice and zest from 1 large lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 anchovy fillets, minced
A palmful of salt-packed capers, soaked in several changes of cool water for 1/2 hour and then rinsed
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh marjoram or oregano, the leaves chopped
A few large sprigs of flat leaf parsley, the leaves chopped, plus a handful of whole parsley leaves for garnish

For the steak:

2 pounds skirt steak
About 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt
Coarsely ground black pepper

To make the salmoriglio, pour the olive oil and the lemon juice and zest into a small saucepan. Add the garlic, anchovy, and capers and simmer over low heat until it just reaches a boil, about 5 minutes, whisking frequently. Remove from the heat, season with salt and black pepper, and add the herbs. Give the mixture a few more whisks before pouring it into a sauceboat. This is a semi-emulsified sauce and will no doubt break as it sits, but that’s the nature of the thing, so don’t worry if it starts to look a little weepy half way through the meal. Make it right before you start to grill the steak, and cover the sauceboat with foil to keep it warm. This should keep it in good shape.

Set up an outside grill or a stovetop grill plate and get it hot. Pat the steak dry and rub it all over with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Season generously with salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

Grill the steak, without moving it, until nice char marks appear, about 4 or 5 minutes. Turn the steak and grill the other side, about another 4 minutes for rare (leave it a little longer for medium rare, but try to resist letting it go any longer than that). If you’re uncertain about doneness, just poke it with a sharp knife and look inside; remember that the steak will continue to cook a little after you take it off the heat, so it’s best pulled off a bit less done than you like it. Place the steak on a carving board and let it rest a few minutes. Slice the steak thinly against the grain (this will make the slices tender) and place it on a serving platter. Pour on a little of the salmoriglio and scatter on the whole parsley leaves. Bring the rest of the sauce to the table.

Broccoli Rabe with Hot Chili and Cumin

Ground cumin can make food smell like body odor if used heavy-handedly. This is not necessarily bad, but as on people, a little goes a long way. I’ve found that whole cumin seeds produce a much fresher, gentler flavor than ground ones, and they blend extremely well with bitter vegetables such as broccoli rabe (they’re also good on radicchio). And the heat from the chilies brings all the flavors into balance. If you’re not crazy about cumin, especially after reading this paragraph, use whole fennel seeds instead. They’re a more traditional Southern Italian flavor anyway.

(Serves 4)

2 bunches of broccoli rabe, the tough stems trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
A palmful of whole cumin seeds
A hot, fresh green chili, minced, including the seeds
Salt
A splash of dry white wine

Set up a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Drop in the broccoli rabe and blanch it for 3 minutes (it should still be a bit firm). Scoop the broccoli rabe from the water into a colander with a large strainer spoon, and run cold water over it to stop the cooking and preserve its bright green color. Squeeze it dry with your hands.

In a large skillet, heat about 1/4 cup of olive oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and the minced chili and let them sauté for a minute or so to release their flavors. Add the broccoli rabe, season with salt, and sauté until tender and well coated with the flavorings, about 3 minutes (try not to cook it longer or it will become mushy). Add a splash of white wine and let it boil away. Add a drizzle of fresh olive oil and serve hot or warm.

Amaretto-Marinated Cherries

If and when you’re not on a diet, try these homemade Maraschino-like cherries over vanilla ice cream.

(Serves 4 or 5 )

1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Amaretto liqueur
3 strips of lemon peel
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 pounds cherries, with the stems on if you can find them that way

Choose a large saucepan, wide and shallow rather than very deep, so the cherries can spread out and don’t require excessive liquid to cover them. Pour the white wine and Amaretto into the pan. Add the lemon peel and sugar. Boil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. The sugar will have dissolved and some of the alcohol will have burned off. Add the cherries and cook at a low boil for about 5 minutes longer, just until they are tender. They will give up some of their skin color to the liquid, creating a dark red syrup. Turn off the heat and let the cherries cool in the liquid. Refrigerate them overnight to deepen their flavor. When you’re ready to serve them, return them to room temperature. The dish will keep about 5 days in the refrigerator.

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An Elegant Summer Dinner

Recipes:

Puréed Zucchini Soup with Basil Oil and Ricotta
Sautéed Shrimp with Celery, Fennel Seeds, and Hot Chilies
Peaches in White Wine and Caramel

Puréed Zucchini Soup with Basil Oil and Ricotta

Zucchini is a subtle vegetable whose taste can become muted when it’s mixed with other vegetables. When I cook it I usually cook it alone so I can really taste it. I suggest making this with small tender zucchini, which taste more of vegetable than starch.

(Serves 4 or 5)

For the basil oil:

A large handful of basil leaves
About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the soup:

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 tender inner celery stalks, chopped, including the leaves
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
About 1 1/2 pounds small, tender zucchini, cut into medium dice
A pinch of nutmeg
Salt
Black pepper
3 cups homemade or low-salt-canned chicken broth (Swanson’s is the best)
A squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta
About 1/4 cup milk

To make the basil oil:

Set up a small pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add the basil leaves and blanch them for about 30 seconds. Lift them from the water with a small strainer and spoon them into a colander. Run cold water over them to preserve their green color. Squeeze the leaves dry in the palm of your hand and place them in the bowl of a food processor. Add the olive oil and process until well puréed. Pour the oil into a little bowl.

To make the soup:

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the shallots and celery and sauté until the celery is just starting to soften and give off fragrance, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the garlic and the zucchini. Season with nutmeg, salt, and black pepper, and sauté until the zucchini is a bit tender, about another 3 or 4 minutes. This sautéing step before you add the broth is important, as it brings out the flavor of the zucchini and prevents it from winding up with a bland boiled-vegetable taste. Add the chicken broth, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat back to medium and cook at a lively boil until the zucchini and everything is very tender, about another 10 minutes (cooking quickly at a lively boil will ensure that the soup keeps a nice green color). Purée the soup in a food processor or with a hand blender (the kind you stick right in the soup pot). Pour the soup back into the pot and give it a squeeze of lemon juice. Taste for seasoning, adding a pinch of salt if needed and a few fresh grindings of black pepper. Add a drizzle of olive oil.

In a small bowl, mix the ricotta with enough milk to thin it out to the consistency of yogurt (probably about 1/4 cup).

Reheat the soup if necessary. Ladle it into soup bowls. Give each bowl a tablespoon or so of ricotta and drizzle the basil oil around it. Serve hot.

Sautéed Shrimp with Celery, Fennel Seeds, and Hot Chilies

This recipes takes about five minutes and has so much flavor that I make variations on it all the time. Sometimes I’ll add capers or pine nuts, or a chopped anchovy or two. It’s success depends on getting the pan very hot, adding almost all the ingredients at once, and, most important, not overcooking the shrimp. I serve this as a main course with rice or couscous, but it also works well as an appetizer, with a glass of cold wine.

(Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as an appetizer)

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds extra-large shrimp, peeled, deveined if you like, and the tails left on
A small palmful of fennel seeds
1 small, fresh hot red chili, minced, including the seeds
3 tender inner celery stalks, thinly sliced, with the leaves from about 5 stalks, lightly chopped
4 scallions, cut into thin rounds, using some of the tender green part
2 young garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Salt (sea salt is a nice touch here)
A large summer tomato, seeded and cut into medium dice
A splash of Pernod or another pastis (Sambuca or Anisette, though a little sweeter than pastis, can also be used)

Choose a large skillet that will give the shrimp room to breath and place it over high heat. When the pan is hot, add about 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Let the oil get hot, almost smoking, and add the shrimp, fennel seeds, chili, celery, scallions, and garlic. Season with salt and sauté quickly, moving the shrimp around only enough to sauté both sides (too much stirring will cause liquid to be released from the shrimp and vegetables, leading to steaming). Sauté until the shrimp is just tender, about 4 minutes only. Add the Pernod and let it bubble for a few seconds. Add the tomato and the celery leaves, toss gently, and pull the pan off the heat. Finish with a drizzle of fresh olive oil and pour the shrimp into a large serving bowl, pouring any skillet juices over the top. Serve right away.

Peaches in White Wine and Caramel

Peaches in red or white wine were something my father always put together for backyard barbecues, and they were welcome after the meat extravaganza we usually worked our way through first (somehow he didn’t think it was a proper barbecue unless he offered sausages and chicken and ribs and steak). You can make this dish very simply by just pouring wine over sliced peaches the way he did, but I’ve chosen to deepen the flavor with caramel and some spices. I like it both ways.

(Serves 4 to 6)

About 6 ripe peaches, peeled if you like and cut into thick slices
1/2 cup sugar
About 1 cup dry white wine (something light and simple and not too oaky, like a Frascati)
2 or 3 strips of lemon peel
2 whole allspice
About 3 whole black peppercorns
A few mint leaves, left whole

Place the peach slices in a wide serving bowl.

In a small saucepan cook the sugar with an equal amount of water over medium heat until it turns to a nice dark caramel (watch it intently when it first starts turning golden; it can go from there to burnt and smoking quickly). Pour the caramel evenly over the peach slices and let sit for about 15 minutes, to allow the caramel to penetrate the fruit (it will harden a bit). Add enough white wine to just cover the peaches, and add the lemon peel, allspice, and peppercorns. Let this sit, unrefrigerated, for about 1/2 hour before serving. The wine will dissolve the caramel, creating a sweet dark liqueur. You can easily double or triple the recipe to feed a crowd, but if you do don’t double the whole spices or the taste will be too strong. Garnish with mint leaves just before serving.

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Recipes:

Zuppa di Pesce with Marjoram Pesto
Arugula, Dandelion, and Cherry Tomato Salad with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

I always find a dish of fresh seafood followed by a salad of summer greens to be a most satisfying meal. I usually prefer my seafood tossed with pasta, but this zuppa di pesce is loaded with enough summer herbs and garlic to make me almost not miss the pasta. The green salad is dressed in Southern Italian style, with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt.

Zuppa di Pesce with Marjoram Pesto

There are so many variations on fish soup in Southern Italy that I decided to clear my head of them and just make up my own. However I found myself including razor clams, tomatoes, and white wine, ingredients in a stew I was served one night on Ischia, one of the small islands off of Naples, so I’ll have to call it Ischia-style. The Marjoram pesto is my own touch, added for a jolt of flavor just before bringing the dish to the table. Since the pesto contains nuts, it also thickens the broth.

When buying seafood for a stew you can be tempted to get lots of different things, but juggling their cooking times always turns out to be difficult, so I’ve found it best to choose maybe three kinds of seafood and concentrate on cooking them perfectly. That way you can easily avoid winding up with rubbery shrimp, half-raw lobster, and unopened clams. I’ve included only shellfish in this version, but chunks of monkfish, catfish, or any other firm-fleshed fish can stand in for the shrimp. The zuppa I had in Ischia also included baby octopus, which tastes good but has an almost prenatal look that sometimes turns me off. If I can find very small tender calamari, I’ll cut it into rings and add it at the last minute. I find razor clams at Italian markets (in New York they almost always have them at Randazzo’s fish shop on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx and at Citarella in Manhattan); if you can’t find them, just include a few more of the littlenecks.

(Serves 4)

For the pesto:

1 garlic clove
A handful of pine nuts
About a cup of loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
Leaves from a few large branches of fresh marjoram
About 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
Salt

For the stew:

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tender inner celery stalks, chopped, plus the leaves lightly chopped
1 medium onion, cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
A small, fresh hot red chili, minced, including the seeds
2 anchovy fillets, chopped
Salt
A large wineglass of dry white wine
4 large summer tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
Salt
1 pound littleneck clams, the smallest ones you can find, washed
About 8 razor clams, if available, washed
1 pound small mussels, washed and, if necessary, debearded
1 pound large shrimp, head and tail on if available, unpeeled
A few sprigs of marjoram, the leaves chopped
A few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves chopped
A baguette, sliced

To make the pesto, place the pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and grind to a fine crumb. Add the parsley and marjoram, the olive oil, and a pinch of salt. Process briefly, just until you have a not-too-smooth green paste. Transfer to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressed against the pesto so no air is in (this will preserve the pesto’s green color as long as possible).

Look over all the shellfish, discarding any that don’t close when you either plunge them into cold water or tap on their shells (this means they’re dead ones, which you definitely don’t want in your stew). Choose a large, fairly wide casserole fitted with a lid that will hold all the shellfish after it has opened. Add about 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the casserole over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, garlic, bay leaf, hot chili, anchovy, and a pinch of salt, and sauté until everything is softened and fragrant, about 4 or 5 minutes. Add the white wine and let it boil down by about half. Add the tomatoes and cook at a lively simmer for about 10 minutes (and not longer, since you want to keep the sauce a nice bright red).

Add the littlenecks and cook, stirring frequently, until about half of them have started to open, usually about 5 minutes. Add the razor clams and the mussels (these take less time to open) and cook, stirring, until most of them have opened. Add the shrimp and stir them around so they’re covered with sauce (if you are using large, head-on shrimp, add them along with the mussels, since they take a little longer to cook through). Cover the casserole and turn the heat to low. Simmer very briefly, just until the shrimp are tender, about another 4 minutes only. Turn off the heat and let the casserole sit covered for a minute or so on the turned-off burner (this seems to give everything a moment to blend together, and also gives any clams or mussels that haven’t opened a last chance). Uncover the casserole and stir in the pesto. Serve hot in large bowls with slices of the baguette, toasted and brushed with olive oil.

Arugula, Dandelion, and Cherry Tomato Salad with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

I discovered the idea of dressing salad just with extra-virgin olive oil and sea salt in Sicily. The combination is especially good on bitter greens, where vinegar is not missed at all. Use your best olive oil for this.

(Serves 4)

1 garlic clove, lightly crushed
A large bunch of arugula, washed, dried, and stemmed
A medium bunch of young dandelion, washed, dried, and stemmed
A handful of whole basil leaves
A few whole mint leaves
A few sprigs of tarragon, leaves left whole
About a half a pint of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
Your best extra-virgin olive oil
Finely ground sea salt

Right before serving, rub a wooden salad bowl with the crushed garlic, and leave the garlic in the bowl. Add the greens, herbs, and tomatoes. Drizzle on enough oil to coat the leaves lightly (about 3 tablespoons should do it). Sprinkle with sea salt and toss everything gently. Serve right away (olive-oil-dressed salads tend to wilt quickly).

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Recipes:

Cauliflower Salad with Saffron, Raisins, and Pine Nuts
Preserved Tuna with Tomatoes, Black Olives, and Red Onion
Cantaloupe with Marsala

This menus is filled with all the sweet and sharp flavors of Southern Italy.

Cauliflower Salad with Saffron, Raisins, and Pine Nuts

Pasta with cauliflower, raisins, and pine nuts is a classic Sicilian dish often served at room temperature. If you’d like to make it, see page 90 of my book Williams-Sonoma Pasta). Here I’ve used those same flavors to create a summer salad. Make it a day ahead if you want to. The flavors deepen as it sits.

(Serves 4, or 5 as a side dish)

1 large cauliflower, cut into small flowerets
Salt
Extra virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of ground clove
A small wineglass of dry white wine
A generous pinch of saffron threads, dried and ground to a powder, and dissolved in a few tablespoons of warm water
A palmful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
A palmful of raisins, soaked in a little warm water for 10 minutes and then drained, if they’re hard
A few sprigs of fresh dill, chopped
A squeeze of lemon juice

Set up a large pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt and drop in the cauliflower, blanching it for about 3 minutes (it will still be somewhat crunchy). Drain the cauliflower into a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking. Let it drain.

In a large skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and let them soften for a few minutes before adding the cauliflower. Season with salt, black pepper, and a tiny pinch of ground clove. Sauté until the cauliflower is tender and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the white wine and let it boil down to almost nothing. Add the saffron water, the pine nuts, and the raisins, and simmer a minute longer to blend the flavors. Add the dill and taste for seasoning. Give it a drizzle of fresh olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice and toss gently. Pour the cauliflower into a serving bowl and let it come to room temperature before serving. Or refrigerate it overnight and bring it back to room temperature before serving.

Preserved Tuna with Tomatoes, Black Olives, and Red Onion

Tuna is in season in the New York area starting in early June, and Phil Karlin, at the Union Square greenmarket, has the freshest, most beautiful looking tuna of all. He carries not only bluefin but also the lighter-colored albacore, which people often pass over. I think they skip it because it’s not gleaming ruby red, but it does have excellent flavor. Either kind is fine for this dish.

Sicily has a long history of tuna canning, and even though the business is not as big as it once was, the island still produces some of the best canned tuna in the world. The tuna is slow-cooked in olive oil, making it very tender. Here is a home version of preserved tuna that takes about 15 minutes and gives excellent results. Use the delicate belly cut if you can find it. Ventresca is what they call this cut in Italy, and the best Sicilian canned tuna is often so labeled.

Preserved tuna can be added to all sorts of salads, and it’s especially good with chickpea, potato, or rice salads. It’s also great included in a hot or cold pasta dish. If you’re adding it to hot pasta or any hot dish, add it at the last minute, off the heat. Cooking preserved tuna spoils its delicate taste and texture.

(Serves 4 or 5)

For the tuna:

About 2 pounds bluefin or albacore tuna, the belly cut if you can find it, cut into chunks approximately 1 1/2 inches thick
Sea salt
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
1 bay leaf
A few black peppercorns
A few small sprigs of rosemary
A few large sprigs of marjoram
A few long strips of lemon peel
About 2 cups supermarket extra-virgin olive oil (you needn’t use your best estate-bottled oil)

For the salad:

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
2 scallions, chopped
1 garlic clove, sliced
A handful of black olives, chopped and pitted
The preserved tuna, gently broken up
Sea salt
Black pepper
A handful of lightly chopped basil and parsley leaves
Olive oil
Lemon juice

To make the tuna:

Place the tuna chunks in a high-sided saucepan. Sprinkle on a tablespoon of sea salt (the salt both flavors the tuna and preserves it), and give it a good stir. Add the garlic, bay leaf, peppercorns, herbs, and lemon peel. Pour on enough olive oil to cover the tuna by about 1/4 inch. Heat the oil over a low flame until it is hot to the touch but not boiling (this should take about 8 minutes). At this point the tuna should still be a little pink in the center. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let the tuna and oil cool to room temperature. The waning heat from the oil will continue to gently cook the tuna through, making it very tender and infusing it with flavor. You can use the tuna right away (just lift what you need from the oil) or cover it tightly and refrigerate it. It will keep for about a week. Just bring it back to room temperature before serving.

To make the salad:

In a large salad bowl, combine the cherry tomatoes, scallions, garlic, olives, and tuna. Season with salt, black pepper, and the basil and parsley. Add a drizzle of fresh olive oil (you can use the oil from the tuna, but I find it a bit strong for this salad). Squeeze on a little lemon juice and toss. Serve on a bed of arugula or escarole.

Cantaloupe with Marsala

Here’s a simple Sicilian dessert to make when cantaloupe is ripe and sweet. I usually don’t get fussy about using kitchen gadgets in my recipes, but I have to say that using a melon baller here makes a difference in the presentation.

(Serves 4)

1 large, ripe cantaloupe
A large wineglass of sweet Marsala wine (a high-quality brand like Florio is best)
A drizzle of honey
A pinch of ground cinnamon
A few short strips of lemon peel
A pinch of salt

Halve the cantaloupe and remove the seeds. Using a melon baller, scoop out all the insides into a pretty serving bowl. Pour on the Marsala and add the honey, cinnamon, lemon peel, and a tiny pinch of salt (the salt heightens the flavor of the melon in a subtle but worthwhile way; my grandfather always ate cantaloupe wedges heavily sprinkled with salt, and that is the concept behind pairing melon with prosciutto). Give it all a few good stirs, cover the bowl, and refrigerate it until everything is chilled, stirring occasionally. Serve cool.

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Summer in Manhattan always feels a little too tight and closed in, and if that isn’t irritating enough, just about everyone I know feels too heavy then too. So I’ve dedicated my summer Web site to diet menus. They’re admittedly not the hardest thing to pull off in July and August, when the greenmarkets are bursting with tomatoes, herbs, fresh hot chilies, and even edible flowers, but still, when it comes to reducing, everyone can use a little help.Three main ingredients let me produce the best summer cooking I possibly can, diet or not: my local greenmarket, an excellent fish seller, and first-rate extra-virgin olive oil.

The Union Square Greenmarket is so important to me I actually don’t think I’d be able to live in Manhattan without it. Phil Karlin of P.E.& D.D. Seafood brings fresh fish to the Union Square market from Riverhead, Long Island, three times a week, and I’ve become so spoiled by the utter freshness of his seasonal catch that shopping for fish even at fancy places like Balducci’s makes me critical. He offers a limited local selection, with no salmon (which is actually a relief), but everything he has was caught the night before or that morning, so it’s almost as fresh as the fish I’ve eaten in seaside restaurants on Mondello beach in Sicily, where you can watch the fisherman dock and haul the catch up onto the shore and straight into the restaurant kitchen.

I always treat myself to a bottle of really fine olive oil in the summer, because I use so much of it raw, drizzled over salads and vegetables and as a last-minute condiment for grilled meat and fish. Ravida, the beautiful estate-bottled oil from the southern coast of Sicily, still remains my favorite Southern oil. I try to take advantage of summer fruit as much as possible, and I’ve included a few fruit desserts flavored in the wine-and-sugar mode. The variations on fruit mixed with wine, herbs or spices, and a sweetener are pretty much endless, and with them you don’t have to sweat over a hot oven to turn out a light, first-rate dessert.

I’ve concentrated on vegetable and protein menus because I feel if I fill up on enough real food I’ll stand a better chance of not uncontrollably stuffing myself with bread and heavy desserts, but you’ll notice by glancing at my recipes that I haven’t cut back considerably on the amount of olive oil I use. You may if you like, but I feel that even though olive oil is a fat it’s a healthy fat, and it adds so much flavor to Italian food I consider it my duty as an Italian-American to use as much as I need to get the culinary results I’m after (you’ll also notice there is not a teaspoon of butter in any of these recipes). I stand by my philosophy that if you cut back on starch and don’t eat gallons of ice cream, you can have all the olive oil you desire. If you want to keep the olive oil moving through your body, wash it down with a glass of good wine. If you, like me, are a dedicated red-wine fan who isn’t completely comfortable switching over to white in hot weather, try a Sicilian Cerasuolo di Vittoria; it’s a light, cherry-hinted red that’s best very slightly chilled, and it’s excellent with grilled fish. Valle dell’Acate is a good producer of it.

Happy summer cooking to you.

An Alfresco Summer Lunch

A Soup-and-Salad Summer Dinner

An Elegant Summer Dinner

A Hearty Summer Dinner

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