Archive for the ‘2005’ Category

Ricotta and Nutmeg

Buddy and nutmeg.
Buddy samples my homemade ricotta.


Cavatelli with Nutmeg-Scented Ricotta, Thyme, and Pecorino
Homemade Ricotta, New and Improved

Ricotta is one of the loveliest tastes in all Italian food, but when you add a few scrapings of nutmeg to it, it becomes sublime. My mother used this sweet-smelling mix to fill lasagna, big shells, and, best of all, slim crespelle that she’d bake with a topping of Pecorino until they were crisp-edged but still fluffy within. I could eat a ton of them. If you add a little sugar to nutmeg-scented ricotta, you’ve created the filling for cannoli, one of the genius desserts of Southern Italy. For Christmas Eve I often make a ricotta cheesecake seasoned with nutmeg and sometimes lemon or orange flower water, so this mix of flavors really is the aroma of the holidays for me. I also love ricotta in an unstructured state, eating a bowl of it simply drizzled with honey (great with a glass of vin santo), or, if I’m in a more savory mood, with herbs and chopped olives or sundried tomatoes scattered over the top. That’s the beauty of the thing. It can go either way. (more…)

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Celebrate with the Flavors You Love

Spaghetti with big shrimp.
Spaghetti with big shrimp, tarragon, and lemon.

My Birthday Menu 2005


Escarole Salad with Buffalo Mozzarella Bruschetta and Anchovy Vinaigrette
Spaghetti with Big Shrimp, Tarragon, and Lemon

Wine: Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Valentini

I know several people who have birthdays in early to mid-December, including me and my idol Maria Callas. It’s a good time for a birthday. Things are just starting to get festive, and Manhattan, where I live, is decorated in sparkly junk, but it’s not close enough to Christmas to get you gypped out of receiving two distinct gifts or great dinners.

My birthday falls on December 3, and a few weeks before it this year I started thinking about what I’d like my special birthday dinner to be. I had no trouble zeroing in on the flavors I most love-pasta and seafood, preferably mixed together. (more…)

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My Thanksgiving Dinner

Olives to go with Thanksgiving dinner.


Black Olives with Chilies and Cognac
Almonds with Rosemary, Salt, and Sugar
Fennel Baked with Parmigiano and Moscato
Carrots with Marsala and Capers
Pear, Pancetta, and Fennel Stuffing
Endive and Watercress Salad with Pomegranate Seeds

When I was a kid my grandmother always made Thanksgiving dinner into a very complicated affair. Like most Italian-Americans she felt obligated to work homeland dishes like ravioli, lasagne, or stuffed artichokes into the day, out of a subconscious need to inject it with an alternate patriotism, I think. And I still in 2005 feel a strong desire to include garlic, Parmigiano, and olive oil in my Thanksgiving meal, more for spunk than for patriotism. (more…)

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Salad ingredients.
Ingredients for my Warm Cerignolo Olive Salad with Celery Leaves.


Pear and Fennel Salad with Asiago and Marsala Vinaigrette
Warm Cerignolo Olive Salad with Celery Leaves
Red Grape and Arugula Salad with Fennel Seeds and Ricotta Salata

My desire to create fusion cooking usually goes just as far as blending flavors from Sicily with those of Puglia or Campania. Not much of a leap. I don’t often venture outside my world of flavors; I just keep reinventing with the tastes that mean the most to me. My flavors are what anyone would categorize as classically Southern Italian, no messing around: Extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, capers, oranges, lemons, anchovies, sweet and hot chiles, black pepper, fennel, saffron, sea salt, all manner of seafood, salami, nutmeg and cinnamon, pancetta, Pecorino and caciocavallo, ricotta and mozzarella, basil and mint, parsley, oregano, marjoram, bay leaves, rosemary, raisins, pine nuts, pistachios, almonds, wine and vinegar, and honey. I think reining in your choices can do wonders for creativity, but even so this basket of tastes from Southern Italy is a lot to work with, really a lifetime’s worth of possible culinary improvisations. Except that now and again I’m tempted to add something new. (more…)

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September Song for Tomatoes

Barbara’s tomatoes.
Barbara’s Red Pear tomatoes.


Bucatini with End-of-Season Tomatoes, Mussels, and Pancetta
Farro Penne with Green Zebra Tomatoes, Marjoram, Almonds, and Ricotta Salata

September is a great month for tomatoes in New York, but it’s also a sad one, because you know it’s all coming to an end soon. Once October rolls in I start hoarding the remaining tomatoes at the markets. I don’t bottle and preserve them; that would seem excessive for a family of two, and it’s really not me anyway, but I do try to cook with them as much as possible during those dwindling tomato days. (more…)

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I Love Eggplant Parmigiano

New York–grown Italian eggplants.


Erica and Mo’s Eggplant Parmigiano

I don’t ruminate over my childhood now the way I did when I was in my twenties; that type of self-analysis feels more like a dead end as life goes on. But childhood food memories do pop up all the time. I seem to remember tastes and smells more than I do words and actions; maybe that’s one reason I chose cooking for a career. Lately I’ve been thinking about my mother’s eggplant parmigiano. It was my all-time favorite dish as a kid, her version of an exemplary classic of the Southern Italian kitchen. (more…)

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The Salty Side of Cantaloupe

Summer cantaloupes at Union Square.


Cantaloupe and Tomato Salad with Black Olives and Tarragon
Cantaloupe Salad with Prosciutto, Frisée, and Basil
Spaghetti with Cantaloupe and Hot Chilies

My grandfather always salted his cantaloupe. As a child I found this weird. It seemed so old-world for an elegantly turned-out man who had in many ways become an urbane New Yorker. When I got a little older and was introduced to prosciutto with melon, I reasoned that his salty cantaloupe was likely a Southern Italian peasant version of this wonderful pairing. There are several dishes like this in the Southern repertoire. One, called pasta che sardi a mari, translating roughly as pasta with the sardines still in the sea, is a cut-rate but delicious vegetarian version of the elaborate Sicilian pasta con le sarde, and it’s a good example of the Southerner’s ability to create elegance from poverty (the pasta includes wild fennel, raisins, pine nuts, and sometimes tomato or cauliflower). (more…)

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