Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category



Recipe below: Rice Salad with Zucchini, Black Olives, Mint, and Basil

I started making rice salads in the late 1980s after I became disgusted by all the pasta salads I was seeing, some even made by friends. I look at pasta salad as an American way of screwing up a timeless Italian marvel. Mushy, gummy, full of raw green peppers, overcooked chicken breast, dried cranberries, tons of vinegar. It’s bad enough when someone subjects penne to this treatment, but why would anyone serve tortellini this way? Ask any cook from Bologna her opinion of the weird dish. See what she says.

Rice salads are another matter. When I was researching The Flavors of Southern Italy, my second book, I spent time in Sicily. I remember vividly one lunch at a restaurant in Trapani. It had an elaborate antipasto table, and the place was packed. Everyone came for that table. It wasn’t just a heap of stupidly made odds and ends. Real passion went into it. There were snails in tomato sauce, grilled sardines, octopus agrodolce, pumpkin agrodolce, peppers stuffed with sausage, white beans with wild fennel, and not one but three rice salads. One with olives and capers, another with tomatoes and mint, and a third with some kind of salumi.  For me it underlined the legitimacy I’d always sensed in rice salad. It has integrity.

You see more rice dishes in Sicily than in other areas of the South, although Puglia also has its share. Rice isn’t grown there anymore, but during Arab rule in the tenth century it was planted with sophisticated irrigation that allowed it to flourish on the arid land. So there’s a history, and rice still works its way into many dishes, most famously into Sicily’s saffron-scented arancini.

I usually make rice salad when I have leftover plain rice, either long- or medium-grain. Risotto rice, with its high starch, is not good for salad, making it clumpy and gummy. If I cook new rice just for a salad, I let it cool before I toss it with other ingredients. That way everything stays clean and separate. This is a place to use your best olive oil, for it goes on raw, in all its unadulterated glory. My salad here has first-of-the-season little green and yellow zucchini, plus a hit of black olives and lots of herbs. In a month or so, I’ll be making ones with tomatoes and also with eggplant. They’re all good.


Rice Salad with Zucchini, Black Olives, Mint, and Basil

(Serves 4 to 5)

6 or so tiny young zucchini, a mix of green and yellow if possible, cut into small cubes
Extra-virgin olive oil, one that’s really good (I used Ravida)
Black pepper
A big pinch of allspice
1 small summer onion, cut into small dice
2 young summer garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons sweet vermouth
2 cups cooked long- or medium-grain rice (not risotto rice), at room temperature
A handful of lightly toasted pine nuts
A handful of good black olives, pitted (Niçoise are nice, or for something stronger, try the wrinkled Moroccan kind)
1 tablespoon white miso, at room temperature
1 tablespoon sherry wine vinegar
Aleppo pepper to taste
A handful of basil leaves, lightly chopped
A smaller handful of spearmint leaves, lightly chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Place the cubed zucchini on a sheet pan. Drizzle them with olive oil, and season with salt, black pepper, and the allspice. Roast until golden and just tender, about 6 or 7 minutes. In the last minute or so of cooking, scatter on the onion and garlic. Pull the pan from the oven, and splash on 1 tablespoon of the sweet vermouth, just to loosen all the good cooking bits.

Place the rice in a nice looking wide serving bowl. Season it with a little salt, and drizzle on a thread of olive oil. Now scrape the zucchini, along with any pan liquid, into the bowl. Add the olives and the pine nuts, and toss gently.

In a small bowl, whisk together the miso, the sherry vinegar, the remaining tablespoon of vermouth, and 2½ tablespoons of olive oil, seasoning with salt and black pepper. Pour this over the rice. Sprinkle on some Aleppo, and add the herbs. Toss well. Taste for seasoning, adding a bit more vinegar, salt, or olive oil if needed. Serve at room temperature.

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Still Life with Mussels, by Jack Knox.

Recipe below: Baked Mussels with Almonds, Lemon, and Summer Savory

So many of us are now cooking every day and every night, and we all can hit burnout. I have. But usually I recover quickly. For those of you who don’t rebound quite so fast, I’m here to help. I can give you fresh ways to look at old dishes, ideas for Italianizing spring and summer produce, and a few unusual culinary thoughts you might appreciate, ones lurking just beneath the surface of this miserable shutdown. No one wants to put lifeless food on the table, especially now. Dinner, for many of us, has become the highlight of our diminished day. I have the advantage of never getting bored with cooking. Frustrated, angry, yes, burnt out, yes, but my curiosity has so far stayed intact, and I’m grateful. I think being an improvisational cook helps. I’m not constrained by set-in-stone recipes, as my grandmother was. I almost never make a dish the same way twice. So if you’re looking to expand your culinary horizons, please feel free to write and ask me just about anything. Anything cooking related, that is.

When I recently put a photo of baked mussels up on Instagram, many Italian-leaning cooks said they’d never heard of them. I said they’re essentially baked clams but made with mussels. Everyone knew about baked clams and how to prepare them. But mussels are great the same way, and cheaper. If you score some fine ones, give this a try.

To make baked mussels you’ll want to steam them open in some vino, press a crumbly topping into the half shells, and run them under the broiler. The whole thing comes together in about 15 minutes. I’ve never met a cat that didn’t love them. For the crumbly topping, this time I ground up a handful of taralli instead of using breadcrumbs (you can, of course, use breadcrumbs). The texture of the crumbs is important. You don’t want them too finely ground or too wet. You know when you get mushy baked clams at a crappy red sauce joint? That’s what you need to avoid. I wanted to add fresh marjoram to the crumbs, but the marjoram I’ve planted is not looking very lively at the moment, so I chose summer savory instead. It’s kind of strong, but just a few sprigs worked out nicely. I also ground up a handful of almonds. You need, I feel, some kind of acid for this dish to sparkle, so dry vermouth and lemon zest and juice played their parts.  The crispy, oily, herby mussels were excellent with a glass of Primitivo rosato from Puglia.

This crumbly topping also works wonderfully on baked shrimp (just sprinkle it on raw shrimp and stick them in a really hot oven until tender and golden).

And, remember, if you have any Italian cooking-related questions, drop me a line.


Baked Mussels with Almonds, Lemon, and Summer Savory

(Serves 4 as an antipasto)

2 dozen mussels, well cleaned
½ cup dry vermouth
A handful of ground up taralli or 1 cup homemade breadcrumbs, not too finely ground
½ cup fresh almonds, ground
The juice and zest from 1 small lemon
1 small garlic clove, minced
Black pepper
2 tablespoons grated grana Padano cheese
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little more for drizzling
2 big sprigs summer savory or thyme, the leaves chopped
A palmful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

Put the mussels in a large pot, pour on the vermouth, and set the flame to high. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mussels open. Pull out the mussels into a bowl, and then pour their cooking liquid through a strainer into a small bowl. Taste the broth. If your mussels were in good shape, it should be sweet and saline.

Put all the rest of the ingredients, except the salt, into a bowl ,and mix everything well. Pour in about a tablespoon of the mussel cooking liquid, stirring it in. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, if needed (the cooking liquid may provide enough, but that depends on how salty your mussels are).

Pull off the top shell from each of the mussels. Press a little of the crumb mix against each half mussel, and lay them out, crumb side up, on a broiler pan. Drizzle with a little fresh olive oil, and run them under the broiler, about 4 inches from the heat, just until they start to turn golden. Eat them hot.

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Recipe below: Buddy’s Bucatini with Shrimp and Sicilian Pesto

Having my beloved kitty Buddy die during this virus lockdown added a huge extra layer of loneliness, grief, and confusion to the situation. Last night we buried his ashes in our little backyard flower garden, now called Buddy’s garden. A thought occurred to me while watering the garden afterward. If I watered Buddy’s ashes enough, he would grow back. He’d come back, full and healthy. It was just one of those fleeting thoughts.

After the burial we celebrated by preparing one of Buddy’s favorite foods, shrimp.  Buddy loved seafood of any kind. He sniffed it out the second I walked in from the store with it. But he was picky. It had to be super fresh. Day-old calamari was quickly examined and then ignored (the haughty walk-away). We called him Mr. Freschissima. A cat who understood the necessity of food perfection as much as I do.

This sweet-smelling wild-caught shrimp (Buddy would surely have approved) got tossed with bucatini and a Sicilian pesto. Sicilian style pesto is delicious, but it’s not normally much to look at. It’s made by grinding raw tomatoes, almonds, garlic, basil, sometimes mint, and olive oil in a mortar until you have a rough reddish-brown paste. I chopped all the ingredients separately and then combined them, resulting in a tidier look. The taste was also brighter, less homogenized.

This recipe is for you, Buddy. I’ll keep working on my seafood cooking, perfecting it, in celebration of you.


Buddy’s Bucatini with Shrimp and Sicilian Pesto

(Serves 4)

1½ pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined (but save the shells to make a little broth)
Extra-virgin olive oil
A few splashes of rosé wine
Piment d’Espelette
2 pints of sweet grape tomatoes, cut in half, also drained briefly if they seem really watery
A big handful of really fresh, blanched almonds, lightly toasted and then roughly chopped
1 small fresh garlic clove, minced
1 pound bucatini
A palmful of fresh spearmint leaves, chopped
A palmful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
A palmful of wild fennel fronds, chopped (or a big pinch of fennel pollen)
2 tablespoons grated grana Padano cheese

Get out a small saucepan, and set it over medium heat. Drizzle in a little olive oil. Add the shrimp shells, and stir them around until they turn pink, about 2 minutes. Add a splash of rosé wine and about a cup and a half of water. Add a little salt and some piment. Cook at a low boil until it’s reduced by half. Strain the shrimp broth into a small bowl, covering it to keep it warm.

Set up a pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt.

Get out a big pasta serving bowl. Put in it the tomatoes, the almonds, and the garlic. Season with salt and pimenton, and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, stirring everything around.

Drop the bucatini into the water.

Set up a large sauté pan over high heat. Add a big drizzle of olive oil. When hot, add the shrimp, spreading them out in one layer. Season with salt and pimenton, and cook, without moving them around, until they start to go pink, 2 minutes or so. Turn them over and quickly cook their other side, about another minute. Add a splash of rosé, letting it bubble for a few second. Pour the shrimp with pan juices into the bowl with the tomatoes. Add the reserved shrimp broth.

Drain the bucatini, and add it to the bowl. Add all the herbs, a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and the grana Padano. Toss gently, tasting for seasoning and adding more salt or pimenton if you think it can use it. Serve right away.

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Insects on a Sprig of Rosemary, by Jan van Kessel.

Recipe below: Linguine with Clams, Lemon, and Rosemary

Rosemary is one of the great aromas in my life. But it wasn’t in my young life. My father never planted it, my parents never cooked with it, except on our Easter lamb, and there it was always dried, a dusty remnant of its true self. I’m trying to think when it became important for me. Possibly when I first grew herbs on my University Place roof in the early eighties. No one was allowed to be up there, but the super didn’t give a crap, he even seemed interested, especially by the basil, an herb that as an Eastern European he was unfamiliar with.

The roof was white hot, and my rosemary grew like it was pushing out of cracks in a Southern Mediterranean villa. Around that time I remember often cooking chicken with rosemary, lemon, and garlic. I was proud of its fascinating aroma. All my friends ate it, over and over. And then at some point I got a small in-the-freezer ice cream maker and thought it would be cool to try strawberry and raspberry sorbetto with rosemary added. That was a revelation, sweet and piney. I also remember experimenting with a salsa verde for pork chops by adding rosemary and capers, and thinking I’d created a masterpiece. Then I found a recipe for an olive oil cake with rosemary and orange. That was so delicious I could hardly believe it. My tiny, unventilated apartment was filled with the aroma of sweet resin. Right in the middle of my Mudd Club days, I was playing with a lot of rosemary.

I’m not sure I’ve ever used rosemary with clams before. That’s not traditional or even usual, but I thought the brine-and-pine combo might work. It did. Rosemary is strong and deep, and it takes well to heat, unlike the leafier herbs that can get swallowed up. So, clam juice, white wine, garlic, rosemary, lemon zest . . . I think you’ll like this.


Linguine with Clams, Lemon, and Rosemary

(Serves 3 to 4)

4 to 5 dozen small clams (littlenecks are a good choice)
3/4 cup dry, non-oaky white wine
Sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 large sprigs rosemary, the leaves chopped
The grated zest from 2 large lemons, plus about 1 tablespoon of their juice
Dried peperoncini to taste
½ cup light chicken broth
1 pound linguine
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
A big handful of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped

Clean the clams well in several changes of cool water, and then drain them.

Get out a large pot. Put the clams and the wine in it. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down a touch, cover the pot, and let the clams heat, stirring them around a few times, until they just start to open. The thing about clams is that they won’t all open at the same time, so once a few of them start opening, uncover the pot and start pulling them out with tongs into a big bowl, one by one. This is important. You don’t want the open ones sitting in the liquid overcooking while you wait for the rest of them to open.

Strain the clam cooking liquid and set it aside.

Set up a big pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil, adding a good amount of salt.

Get out a large, wide sauté pan, big enough to hold all the clams, and put it over medium heat. Drizzle in about 3 tablespoons of good olive oil. Add the shallot, and let it soften. Add the garlic, the rosemary, the lemon zest, and some peperoncini. Sauté until everything is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the clam cooking liquid and the chicken broth.

Put the linguine in the water.

Let the clam broth simmer on low heat for about a minute or so to reduce. Then add the clams back to the broth, and turn off the heat, stirring everything around to coat the clams in broth. Add a drizzle of fresh olive oil.

When the linguine is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a big, wide serving bowl. Add the butter and the lemon juice, and toss. Add the clams with all their broth. Scatter on the parsley, and toss again. Taste to see if you need salt. If your clams are very salty you may not. Serve right away.

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A caper bush.

Recipe below: Warm Potato Salad with Lovage and Sicilian Capers

My lovage came back. I guess it didn’t mind our snowy early May as much as I did. My chives too. Other stuff would have, but I yanked it. Last year I planted what turned out to be acrid oregano, so I got rid of it at the first frost. I had stupidly put in mint, which naturally and furiously took over the entire garden, so that had to go. I will pot it separately this year. My thyme, marjoram, and savory got engulfed by some stringy invader that looked like masses of yellow threads, so all that got ripped up and, as suggested by my Agway man, actually burned. I’m hoping to do much better this year, rolling out a more organized approach.


Lovage in my garden.

Lovage took me a while to love. It’s a strong herb, with a taste something like jacked-up celery, or celery made into perfume. It’s hauntingly beautiful when used conservatively,  but merely haunting if you go overboard with it. I’ve learned restraint (people make lovage pesto; I’m not sure I’d want that). And I now realize that lovage marries very well with capers. But you’ve got to get good capers.

My favorite capers come from Pantelleria, an island to the south of Sicily, closer to Tunisia than to the Sicilian mainland. The Mediterranean caper bush grows like crazy in the island’s volcanic soil. The capers are big, almost juicy, and they taste like the flower buds that they in fact are. They’re packed in Trapani sea salt, not vinegar, which renders them sweet and floral, not sour. You just need to soak them to get rid of excess salt. I get mine from Gustiamo. You should give those Sicilian ones a try. I swear you’ll never go back to the little sour things again.


Warm Potato Salad with Lovage and Sicilian Capers

1½ pounds small Yukon Gold or fingerling potatoes
1 tablespoon dry vermouth
1 teaspoon sherry wine vinegar, or possibly a little more
A big pinch of sugar
A big pinch of ground allspice
2 tender inner celery stalks, chopped
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
A palmful of Sicilian salt-packed capers, soaked and rinsed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
About 8 lovage leaves, lightly chopped (if you don’t have lovage, use celery leaves)

Put the potatoes in a big pan, and cover them with water by at least 3 inches. Bring it to a boil, then turn it down a notch, and cook the potatoes just until they’re just tender, about 8 minutes. Poke into one to make sure.

Drain the potatoes. When they’re cool enough to handle but still really hot, cut them in half, and put them in a big, attractive serving bowl. Drizzle on the vermouth and the vinegar, and season with salt, the sugar, and the allspice. Toss gently with your hands. Let sit for about ten minutes, so the potatoes can soak up all the seasoning.

Add the celery, shallot, and capers. Drizzle on 2 tablespoons of really good olive oil (Sicilian would be excellent—try Ravida). Grind on a good amount of fresh black pepper, and scatter on the lovage. Toss gently, tasting for seasoning and adding more vinegar or salt if needed. Serve warm.

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Crepes and Salad, by Julie Galante.

Recipe below: Crespelle with Ricotta and Many Herbs

The quarantine has steered my dream time toward people from my culinary past. Maria Guarnaschelli, my first cookbook editor, who I haven’t heard from in years, recently made a grand appearance. I was always a little scared of her. She continues to scare me in my sleep.

After New York got locked down I moved upstate to ride it out, feeling a little guilty for leaving my city but also grateful to have an escape. Recently I had a nightmare set in our upstate house. I was messing around in the kitchen with an old fashioned hand-cranked meat grinder. I don’t actually own one, but I remember my grandmother using one. I was putting ricotta through it, and it was making a disgusting mess. As ricotta shot out over counter and floor, anxiety ground its way up my esophagus. A car appeared in the driveway. Maria Guarnaschelli and some guy with bleached blond hair got out.

“Finally, I’ve found out where you’re living,” she said, striding into the house as if she owned it. “You can’t get away from me. Do you have Sicilian wine?” Yes. “Can you get us some?” I asked her if she shouldn’t be wearing a mask. She blew that off. “Do you have any antipasti? Roasted peppers or something?” I didn’t. “What’s for dinner?” I said I was making manicotti with crespelle, and that was why there was ricotta all over the floor. “I hope you have enough for fifteen people. The office will be here any minute.” Now several more cars pulled up, and throngs of people came into the kitchen, none of them wearing masks and definitely not social-distancing. They drank wine and laughed like at a party.  “We’re not supposed to be doing this,” I said. “Oh lighten up,” Maria snapped. Now I was terrified. Not only could I get the virus from any one of these unruly city people, but also I didn’t have enough for them to eat. I went upstairs to ask my husband what to do. He said, “How do I know? They’re your friends.”

I woke up scared. Then I went ahead and made crespelle, just to put a cap on my dream. And I made a lot of it.


Crespelle with Ricotta and Many Herbs

(Serves 4 to 5, making about 12 7-inch crepes)

For the crespelle:

1¼ cups regular flour
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon cognac or grappa

For the filling:

2 cups baby arugula
2 cups baby spinach (or a mix of spinach and Swiss Chard)
1 cup lightly chopped basil leaves, plus a little extra for the top
1 cup lightly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus a little extra for the top
The leaves from 5 large marjoram sprigs
The leaves from a few large thyme sprigs
32 ounces whole-milk ricotta
1 garlic clove, minced
Black pepper
A few big gratings of nutmeg
2 eggs
1 cup grated grana Padano cheese, plus another ½ cup to sprinkle on the top

For the tomato sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, chopped
A splash of sweet vermouth
1 35-ounce can tomatoes, well chopped and lightly drained
A few big sprigs of marjoram, the leaves chopped
A few big sprigs of thyme, the leaves chopped
Black pepper

For the besciamella:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons regular flour
1 quart whole milk
1 fresh bay leaf
½ teaspoon nutmeg
A big pinch of Piment d’espelette

To make the crespelle batter, put all the crespelle ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until smooth. The batter should have the consistency of thick cream. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Pour the batter into a bowl, and let it sit for about 30 minutes before you use it. That will allow the flour to absorb the liquid and let the gluten relax, so you get a nice tender crepe.

Now cook the crespelle: I used a 7-inch omelet pan, but if you’ve got a proper crêpe pan, a little bigger or smaller, choose that. Any small sauté pan will do. With these olive oil crespelle, I never find sticking a problem, so you don’t need a nonstick pan. Put the pan over a medium flame, and let it heat up. Pour in just enough olive oil to coat the pan. Pull the pan from the heat, and ladle in a bit less than a quarter cup of batter, tilting the pan quickly in a circular movement to spread the batter. (You’ll get the hang of it. The first few usually don’t come out too well. Once the heat is regulated and you get the feel of it, trust me, you’ll find it fairly easy.) Let the crespella cook just until you notice it coloring lightly at the edge. Then shake the pan, moving the crespella away from you, and slip a spatula underneath. Give it a fast, confident flip. If it folds up a bit, just straighten it out with your fingers (these things are a lot sturdier than you’d think). Cook on the other side for about 30 seconds,. Then slide it onto a big plate.

Make the rest of the crespelle the same way, adding a drizzle of olive oil to the pan when needed. Stack the crespelle up on top of one another (they won’t stick, I swear). If you like, you can refrigerate them until you want to assemble the dish.

To make the filling: Blanch all the greens and herbs in a pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain and run cold water over them to stop the cooking and bring up their green color. Squeeze out as much water as possible, and then give them a few good chops. Put the chopped greens in a bowl, and then add all the other ingredients for the filling, mixing well.

To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallot, and let it soften for about a minute.  Add the sweet vermouth, and let it bubble for 10 or 15 seconds. Add the tomatoes and the herbs, and season with salt and black pepper. Cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes (not much longer, because you want the sauce to stay fresh tasting). Turn off the heat.

To make the besciamella: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk until it’s blended into the butter. Sauté for a minute or so, without letting it brown, to get rid of the raw taste. Add all the milk, and whisk well again to blend. Add all the spices and a decent amount of salt. Whisk a few more times, and then let the mix slowly heat, whisking frequently. Keep whisking while keeping it at a low bubble, until the sauce becomes thick and smooth, about another 4 minutes or so. That should do it. Cover the surface with plastic wrap, so it doesn’t form a skin.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Get out a baking dish big enough to snuggly hold the soon-to-be-rolled crespelle.  Or use two dishes. I usually do that. Oil it or them lightly with olive oil.

Fill each crepe with an ample layer of the ricotta filling, and roll it up. Place them all in the baking dish(es). Cover them with the besciamella.

Dot the top with blobs of tomato sauce (see the photo below), scatter on the remaining basil and parsley, and top with grana Padano. Give everything a drizzle of fresh olive oil and a few grindings of fresh black pepper, and bake uncovered until hot, bubbling, and lightly browned at the edges, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Let the crespelle sit for about 10 minutes before you cut them. It’s traditional to cut them into squares, as you would lasagna, instead of serving each person 1 or 2 whole, long crespelle. It really does look lovely that way.


Crespelle ready for the oven.

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Women with Fish


I’ve finally been punished for all the octopi I’ve hacked up, hammered, boiled, and grilled in the past thirty years.  I guess it’s too late to say I’m sorry.

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Still Life with Potatoes, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888.

Recipe below: Tiella Pugliese with Potatoes, Red Peppers, and Anchovies

I had a heartsick week. My cat Buddy, who was my best, closest, most loving cat ever, died of cancer. It’s been three days now, and I can’t say I’m anywhere near over the hump on the path of grieving. I feel as if my insides have been scraped dry. But I’m still me, and in times of trouble, I cook. I cook hard. Layering food can calm a broken heart. Structure is soothing. Seriously. When I’m sad, I often make a lasagna. I didn’t make a lasagna this time, but I did put together a tiella Pugliese.


My cat Buddy loved my cooking, especially anything with scallops, calamari, shrimp, or clams, and frankly he didn’t always need them cooked. Love you Buddy.

This is an unusual layered casserole from Puglia, my father’s part of the country. It’s a piatto unico, always anchored by a few layers of potatoes. Most people don’t think potato when they think of Southern Italy, but it’s not all pasta there. Some fine potatoes lurk around. Tiella is both the name of the dish and the name of the dish it’s cooked in.

You start with potatoes. Sometimes you add rice. But then you might put in an inner row of mussels still in their shells, or slices of salt cod. Often tucked in somewhere are tomatoes, zucchini, or sweet peppers. I’ve eaten one tiella that contained artichokes. You’re layering up and baking some of the good things you have on hand to feed your people. All the flavors meld to form a seamless whole. You sprinkle a little caciocavallo inside to gently and deliciously hold the thing together. You cut it like a lasagna. This felt solid and correct for the time I’m in now. Good food helps.


Tiella Pugliese with Potatoes, Red Peppers, and Anchovies

(Serves 5)

Extra-virgin olive oil
5 large Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced very thin—peel them if you like, but I didn’t bother
2 red bell peppers, roasted, seeded, peeled, and then cut into strips
Black pepper
Aleppo pepper
1¼ cup grated or thinly sliced caciocavallo cheese
6 canned Italian tomatoes, crushed with your hands
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
10 oil-packed anchovies, roughly chopped
6 or 7 big marjoram sprigs, the leaves chopped
6 or 7 big thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
A big splash of dry white wine
A handful of homemade breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Pick a nice looking casserole dish that will hold all the layers. I used a 7-by-10-inch Le Creuset rectangular one, but an equivalent oval or round dish will be pretty, too. Drizzle in a little olive oil, and lay down a layer of potatoes. Add the red peppers and some of the caciocavallo, seasoning with salt, black pepper, and a little Aleppo. Drizzle with olive oil.

Add another layer of potatoes. Then add the tomatoes and red onion and garlic. Scatter on the anchovies and half of the herbs.  Top with a sprinkling of caciocavallo. Give it another drizzle of oil.

Layer on the remaining potatoes, season with salt, black pepper, and Aleppo. Sprinkle on the rest of the herbs and any remaining caciocavallo. Drizzle on the wine.

Sprinkle on the breadcrumbs, and drizzle with oil. Season with salt and black pepper.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes. Take off the foil, and bake until the top is browned and the potatoes are tender, about another half hour.

Let the tiella rest for about 15 minutes before you cut it. Serve it hot or warm.

I served it with an arugula salad, and it seemed exactly right.







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Risotto da Romano, by Sonja DiMeola.

Recipe below: Risotto with Mushrooms, Peas, Thyme, and Saffron

I think it’s now six weeks since I left my city for upstate New York. The chipmunks I’ve been spying on from my kitchen window no longer look identical. I’m not sure what kind of accomplishment that perception is, exactly, but I’ve noticed that some are wider around the butt, some have longer stripes down their backs, some seem a rustier red. I’ve come to love the little guys, with their jerky movements and their skinny tails sticking straight up when they zoom by. And speaking of critters, I’ve been keeping an eye on Hudson Valley in Pictures, a Facebook group where locals post nature shots. I’m now envious of all the people who have foxes regularly hanging out in their backyards. One fox named Ginger is especially lovely, and now she’s got babies. Gray babies, soon to be red and fluffy just like her. I looked up how to attract foxes and have subsequently been flinging raw chopped meat around my yard. So far, no action that I can detect, but I’m not giving up. It’s boring up here, and these guys are gorgeous.


Ginger of the Hudson Valley.

I’ve also been looking for morels, so far also with no luck. Maybe it’s a little early.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

My longing for morels got me thinking about mushroom risotto, a fabulous thing when made with wild mushrooms, but still semi-fabulous with plain old supermarket ones. I had a bag of fancy Vialone Nano rice I ordered from Gustiamo.com, so I set out to make my first risotto of this quarantine season. No morels in the markets up here, but I did find shiitake, oysters, and cremini. Those with a bag of frozen peas, some homemade chicken stock, and fine Spanish saffron made for a memorable risotto. I like my risotto on the loose side, not too glopped up with cheese. This one was that way. I find that these days there’s nothing like looking forward to a fine meal to broaden one’s boxed-in horizons. Try this with a few glasses of Provençal rosé. You won’t be disappointed.


Risotto with Mushrooms, Peas, Thyme, and Saffron

(Serves 4 or 5)

A generous pinch of saffron threads
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large sweet onion, such as a Vidalia, cut into small dice
5 or 6 large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped, plus a little extra for garnish
1 long rosemary sprig, the leaves chopped
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups Vialone Nano or Carnaroli rice
3 cups chopped fresh mushrooms—a mix of wild and cultivated is good, but whatever you can get
Black pepper
½ cup dry vermouth
5 cups homemade chicken broth
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
The grated zest from 1 lemon
A chunk of Piave or grana Padano cheese

If your saffron is moist (and it should be somewhat moist if it’s fresh), place it in a small pan and dry it for a few seconds over a very low flame. Then put it in a mortar and give it a gentle grind. It should break down into a powder. Add a few tablespoons of hot water to the saffron, so it can release its full flavor. If you just throw saffron threads into a dish whole, they won’t break down enough to reveal their full blossomy beauty, and the stuff is expensive, so you want to get your money’s worth.

Pour the chicken broth into a saucepan, and if you have any mushroom trimmings, add them. Bring this to a boil, and then turn the heat down and keep it at a simmer.

The best pan for risotto is one that’s wide and has straight, not too high sides. That will provide enough room for good evaporation and even cooking. So find a pan somewhat like that, and get it hot over medium heat. Add half the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When it’s hot, add the onion, and let it soften for a minute or so. Add the herbs, the nutmeg, and the rice, and sauté a minute or so to coat the rice well. This will help it cook up separate and glossy. Add the mushrooms, and sauté until they’ve softened and are giving off some liquid, about 2 or 3 minutes longer. Season with salt and black pepper. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a few seconds.

Add a big ladle of the hot chicken broth, and give the rice a few good stirs. You needn’t go crazy stirring risotto constantly, so don’t get nervous here. The main thing is not to let it stick to the bottom of the pan, so just test it every so often with a few good stirs. When the rice looks almost dry, add more broth, and stir a few more times. Keep the rice at a good constant lively bubble and you’ll be in good shape. Add the saffron water, and stir it in. Keep adding broth as needed until the rice is just tender but still has a little bite. Add the peas and the lemon zest, stirring them in. Add a little more broth, stirring until the peas are tender and the consistency of the risotto is a little creamy. Add hot water if you run out of broth. In my experience, this whole process takes about 17 minutes.

Take the risotto off the heat, and add the rest of the butter and about 2 tablespoons of grated Piave or grana Padano, stirring it in. Add another small ladle of broth or water to ensure a loose, creamy consistency. Add a little more black pepper, and give it a final stir. Ladle the risotto into warmed serving bowls, garnish with the extra thyme, and serve right away, bringing the rest of the cheese to the table.

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Meatballs with Goat Cheese Spaghetti, by Kate Muirhead.

Recipe below: Meatballs with Moroccan Spices in a Tomato, Cinnamon, and Mint Sauce

How much ground meat does one freezer need? I seem to have a big collection, lamb and pork from various places, crappy beef from the supermarket, six or seven packages of good stuff from local farms. I’m not sure if it makes me feel more secure or out of control. It does make me feel a bit stupid. In normal times, I’ve always chopped my own meat, either by hand or with a grinder attachment on my food processor. Now I want it pre-ground and frozen, and I want lots of it. I don’t want to eat it so much as I just want to have it. And now I’m sick of looking at it all. It feels like unnecessary slaughter. Or am I taking it too seriously?

So I’ve been making lots of meatballs, all different ways, sometimes reaching back into my meatball-laden childhood, other times venturing off to foreign lands. My mother often made hers with raisins and pine nuts and a touch of cinnamon. That, I would say, was classic Neapolitan, often with a hint of Spanish-Arab. For my newest meatball creation I’ve taken this a step further, coming up with, I suppose, a cross between Moroccan kefta and Southern Italian style. I’ve added pork, definitely not Moroccan, and cheese, also usually not. And I’ve broken out my spices but not overdone it with them. The taste is gentle, a little sweet. The aroma of the things sizzling away in olive oil gave me a nice moment of much needed mind travel. It’s good to get out occasionally.


Meatballs with Moroccan Spices in a Tomato, Cinnamon, and Mint Sauce

(Serves 4 or 5)

For the meatballs:

1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
¾ pound ground chunk
¾ pound ground pork
1 large egg
¾ cup grated grana Padano cheese
5 thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
½ teaspoon each cumin, Aleppo pepper, sugar, coriander seed, cinnamon, and allspice
1 slice bread without the crust, soaked in milk
A splash of dry Marsala

For the sauce:

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
A splash of dry Marsala
1 35-ounce can Italian tomatoes, chopped, with the juice
A handful of spearmint leaves, torn

To make the meatballs, sauté the shallot and garlic in a little olive oil until just softened, about 2 minutes. Combine all the other meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Add the shallot and garlic and a drizzle of fresh olive oil. Mix it all gently with your hands. Try not to overwork the meat. If it gets too compact, the meatballs may get tough.

I always taste my meatball mix before cooking to make sure it’s well seasoned and it seems right to me. That might not be for you, but I find it really helpful.

Form the mix into meatballs any size you like. I prefer mine about in an inch or so across, but you can make bigger ones. Put them in the refrigerator for about an hour to firm up.

In the meantime, make the sauce. Get out a large skillet, and set it over medium heat. Drizzle in a tablespoon of so of olive oil. When it’s hot, add the shallot, the bay leaf, and the cinnamon, and sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add a splash of Marsala, and let it bubble. Add the tomatoes, season with salt, and cook at a lively bubble for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Get out a large skillet and pour in about ½ inch of olive oil. Get it hot over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs, and brown them well all over. Do this in batches, if you need to, so you don’t crowd them.

Heat the tomato sauce and drop the meatballs in it. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, just until they’re cooked through.

Scatter on the mint, and serve hot or warm. These meatballs are especially good with bruschetta, toasted and then rubbed with garlic and brushed with olive oil. I think an escarole salad is a perfect follow-up.

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