Thursday, June 30, 2011

Meet Diana and her Quick and Easy Pasta Fagioli recipe

DIANA, 46, with her Grandma Bianca, 91, who has passed down many great recipes, including the world's easiest pasta fagioli. Diana grew up in Cliffside Park, NJ and currently resides in Boonton Township with her husband of almost 20 years, Evan, and their two teen-aged sons, Alex and Luke. 

Among the cousins, I am probably the one with the reputation as being a train wreck in the kitchen. I’d like to think it is a reputation born more of choice than ability. Growing up, I never had much of an interest in standing on a two-step stool in front of the kitchen counter watching in awe as my mother prepared “supper” (we never called it dinner) that always consisted of a meat (usually red), a vegetable, a carbohydrate and the obligatory loaf of bread. Not just any bread—Italian bread from Pedoto’s Bakery in Fairview. My mother always says she never ate bread with her meals until she married my father. (A habit apparently difficult to break since they’ve been divorced 33 years, yet the loaf remains.)

So while my sister was absorbing the knowledge that eventually would dub her the Culinary Goddess of our family, I was more interested in get past 100 hops on my pogo stick to break the imaginary World Record inside my head. Needless to say, her skills are much more useful today.

My absence from the kitchen didn’t prove problematic until I went off to college where, instead of the traditional dorm room (cool, I’ll get a meal plan), I was placed in an apartment complete with a kitchen and three roommates who couldn’t tell the difference between a whisk and a spatula. So I started experimenting, and realized that I did in fact pick up a few tricks from my mother. When I discarded the high-salt flavor packet from the Ramen package and instead added an egg to the boiling noodles, drained the water and added butter, my roommates thought I was a genius. And so with the help of a few potpies and boxed macaroni and cheese, I did begin to cook…a little…and was ready to face the real world. Or so I thought.

The fact of the matter is I don’t love to cook. I went back to work full time after both my sons were born and what gave me more angst than anything else was the responsibility of feeding my family. This was a job I did not sign up for nor did I want. But I realized early on that neglecting this part of my “mom” duties would not only raise a few eyebrows (not to mention a visit from social services), it would be a physical detriment to my family. So I closed my eyes and took a leap into the kitchen. With the help of family recipes, memories of holiday meals, and stories about my parents, their parents and even my great-grandmothers in the kitchen, I learned to cook, giving hope to those of you out there whom, like me, chose to jump on your pogo stick rather than learn to make lasagna.

Pasta Fagioli

One would think all Italians have pasta fagioli (we pronounce it faz-ool) in their repertoire of recipes. But my Grandma Rose, whose family came from Sicily, never made the dish (perhaps because my father says he was never a fan of it.) But my maternal grandmother, Bianca, whose family came from the northern part of Italy, has been making it for as long as I can remember and, at age 91, she still rocks it in the kitchen. Thinking back, I do recall seeing my father eat my Grandma Bianca’s pasta fagioli…on the sly, of course.  After all, there is nothing like that mixture of tiny pasta and beans to warm the soul and make you shout, “Mama mia!” What I love about my grandmother’s recipe is that it is so easy and quick to make. But for those of you who want a little extra in the bowl, I’ve included a variation at the end of the recipe. (Pictured above, Diana's son, Alex, enjoys a crock of his great-grandmother's pasta fagioli.)

7 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 small cans of tomato sauce
2 cans of cannellini (white kidney) beans
2 teaspoons oregano or whatever Italian seasoning you prefer
1 pound pasta

In a fry pan, sautee garlic in olive oil. Add tomato sauce and kidney beans (don’t drain the liquid; it makes the sauce even more yummy) Add oregano. Simmer.

In separate pot boil enough water for one pound of pasta. Salt the water…and don’t be shy about it! When water boils add pasta and cook according to directions. (We use Ditalini, but any small pasta that you like will do.) When pasta is cooked, drain and add to sauce.

Top with shaved parmigiana, grab a nice, big piece of crusty Italian bread and enjoy!

Variation: Some people like celery, carrots and onions in their pasta fagioli. If you’re one of them, simply sautee those ingredients in the oil before adding the garlic. Also, if you want it to be more soupy than hearty, add 1 can of chicken broth along with the tomato sauce.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Meet Lisa and her Lemon Chicken recipe

LISA, 48, grew up in Cliffside Park, NJ. She currently resides in Pine Brook with her husband of 29 years, Arnold. They have four children, Danielle, Taisia, Arnold and Jimmy, and two grandchildren, Sophia, 2, and Juliana, 6 months.

As the oldest cousin, I am the self-proclaimed matriarch. A title I do not take lightly. So, for the longest time, family gatherings, birthdays, holidays, etc. would take place at my house. I think that my true calling is to be an army chef because, as my family would attest, I cook in large quantities. I’m not talking an extra hamburger or two; I’m talking massive pounds of macaroni. Lately, out of sheer exhaustion, I have passed the tradition of holidays onto my sister. A fact that she is not happy about and yes, there have been many times we did “rock, paper, scissors, shoot” to decide where Thanksgiving would be. And being the older sister, when I lost the match, I twisted her arm and sobbed uncontrollably until she gave in and agreed to have it at her house.

I do enjoy cooking and I picked up a lot of my recipes from my grandmother. Her meatball stew, her veal cutlets and gravy (we do not call it sauce) all come from watching her in the kitchen. My father was also a great cook and made a mean vodka penne. 

Cooking for four kids and a husband was sometimes a challenge. My daughters, at one point or another, decided they were vegetarians while my teenaged sons would practically eat the chairs if they were hungry enough. My husband, well, what can I say…God love him, he would eat anything I put in front of him and ask what it was later.

So, while each of the recipes I will share has some sort of memory for me, whether it be when my father cooked his gravy and turned a kitchen into a crime scene, or sitting at my grandmother’s house on a Sunday afternoon with the entire family eating spaghetti and meatballs, I look forward to sharing them with you and encourage you to make your own memories.


This is a recipe that my son Jimmy loves.  He asks for it every time I give my kids a chance to “order” their dinner.  Sometimes I use lemon curd in place of the lemons or when I want to give it an extra lemony taste.  Lemon curd is hard to come by but when you can find it, use it!

2 lbs thinly sliced chicken breasts
Flour mixed with salt, pepper and parsley (for breading) 
Egg wash (2 eggs beaten with milk)
2 lemons
2 cups chicken broth
A good white wine
1 package of white mushrooms, sliced

In a deep fry pan, put enough oil and butter so that it reaches halfway 
up the pan.

Dip each chicken breast in the flour, and then dip in the egg wash.

Fry until golden brown in the oil/butter mixture.

Remove chicken and place in deep baking dish.

Cut one lemon in slices and put in the remaining oil/butter mixture along with the sliced mushrooms.  Fry slightly.  Cut the other lemon in half and squeeze juice into pan.

Add chicken broth and white wine—about ¾ cup —to the mixture.  If broth seems too thin, add a pat of butter covered in flour, this will thicken the sauce.  Taste.  Add what your taste buds tell you…a little more wine, a little more lemon, a little more wine, a little more wine…

Pour over the chicken breasts.  Cover with foil and cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. 
The chicken will soak up a lot of the broth and will melt in your mouth.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

La Famiglia

A lot of people ask us how we're related. They know we're cousins, but want to know more. So here's a little about our family tree: Rose and Michael were our grandparents. They lived in Cliffside Park, NJ and had three sons—Johnny, Jimmy and Anthony (aka Butchie). We are the daughters of these three fine Italian men. Jennifer is the oldest of Johnny’s two children; Lisa and Diana are the first two of Jimmy’s three children; and Jill is the youngest of Butchie’s two children. We each have one brother (we are, after all, an Italian family). You'll be hearing and seeing a lot more of our big, happy Italian family! (Pictured is our Grandma Rose with our fathers. Don't ya just love the bowties?)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Welcome to Cousins in the Kitchen!

We are Diana, Jennifer, Jill and Lisa Bucco and we are “Cousins in the Kitchen.” We promise you lots of great recipes, stories about our antics in the kitchen, some fun videos, and an inside look at growing up Italian in Jersey. We promise you’ll love being part of our family! Check out our Facebook page...just search Cousins in the Kitchen!