Thursday, July 28, 2011

Alfredo Sauce for Fettuccine

My mom Paula would make Fettuccine Alfredo a couple of times a year. She always said you needed time and patience to make this sauce and, quite frankly, my mother had very little of either. But when she did make it, it was delicious! She made it with three cheeses and, of course, she did not write anything down. I remembered two of the cheeses, but was at a loss on the third so I decided to call my close friend Maria Parlato DeVico. Her family owns Villa Amalfi in Cliffside Park and both sides of her family are known for their cooking. Her father Nino helped me figure out the mystery cheese and gave me some helpful tips. So this recipe is one part Paula, one part Jennifer and one part Nino. — Jennifer

Helpful tips:
1. Alfredo is a cheese sauce, so the cheese should stand out. Don't use too much Half & Half or whole cream because it will taste milky. You want it to taste cheesy!

2. Timing is everything with this sauce. It has to be served right away, so you’ll have to time the cooking of the pasta with the completion of your sauce. Check the cooking time on the fettuccine box so you can plan accordingly.

3.  Patience, patience, patience. You cannot walk away from this sauce; it needs your attention! You have to continuously stir the cheese, add the Half & Half, and build this sauce. If you rush it, it will burn.

The three cheeses:
2 cups Pecorino Romano
2 cups Asiago
2 cups Parmesan

2 cups Half & Half or whole cream
½ stick of salted butter
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 leaves of basil to shred; extra leaves for topping
1 lemon for its zest
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Boil water for fettuccine
Shred the cheese in a food processor (shred the basil leaves with the Asiago cheese).

Coat the bottom of the pan with the butter. When melted, slowly add some of the cheese and some Half & Half. When the cheese is melted, add more cheese and more Half & Half.
Continuously stir the sauce to help with melting.
Add the garlic as you build the sauce.
The sauce should be a thick, rich consistency with no lumps. (If you find lumps, sparingly add more Half & Half.)
Finally, add lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste.

When the sauce is the right consistency and the pasta is ready, combine in the pan. Top with fresh pepper and basil leaves. Serve right away!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Dad's Vodka Penne

My father made a mean vodka penne.  Whenever the family got together, his vodka penne was always requested. Dad would stand at the stove for hours stirring the sauce as his grandchildren ripped off pieces of Italian bread to “dunk.” He’d yell at them to stop, but always with a smile on his face. Whenever he made the vodka sauce I'd have to buy two loaves of bread—one for dunking while cooking and one to hide for dinner. The day came when dad didn’t have the strength to stand over the stove.  He instructed me on how to make the vodka sauce, watching me every step of the way. When it was done, he was the one to dunk the bread.  He looked at me, smiled and proudly said, “You done good.” Nothing could have made me happier! I am now the official vodka penne maker, and when my kids rip off a piece of bread, dunk it and say, “Tastes just like grandpa's,” I know he’s smiling down on us.  — Lisa

This is an “all-day” cook, so make it on Sunday when most Italians have their gravy!

3 large shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
5 large cans of tomato sauce (it has to be sauce, not crushed tomatoes)
2 ½ turns of olive oil in a large pot
Quart of heavy cream
Good vodka (1 ½  shots)
Salt/pepper to taste

Heat olive oil on low heat
Sauté shallots until fragrant
Add garlic; sauté 3 minutes on medium heat

Add tomato sauce. Take one of the empty cans and fill halfway with water.  Swish the water in can and pour into each empty can, swishing around. When you completed all 5 cans, pour that into the large pot with tomato sauce.
Give it a good stir to mix the shallots, garlic and tomato sauce. 
Bring to a low boil before adding vodka. Mix well.

Add the heavy cream a little at a time until the sauce becomes a light red, almost pink color. (You may not use the entire quart.)

Lower heat, cover  and cook for 8 hours. Yes,  8 hours. Stir occasionally and dunk often! Or, you can do what Sophia does when she has her pop-pop's sauce...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Grandpa Mike Savino's Flounder Fillets

In some Italian families it is a Christmas Eve tradition to have the Feast of the 7 Fishes—"festa dei sette pesci.” This is in celebration of the wait of the midnight birth of baby Jesus. Some people even celebrate with up to 13 fishes, but typically it consists of 7 different seafood dishes.  My Grandpa Mike Savino always made his flounder fillets as one of those fishes. I've been eating it for as long as I can remember. This is one of my husband’s favorite dishes, and he doesn’t eat fish of any kind…except Grandpa Mike’s Flounder Fillets. Even though my husband never had the pleasure of meeting my grandfather he thinks of him every time we make this, as do the rest of us. Enjoy this with your loved ones, on Christmas Eve or any other eve, and we hope you create some wonderful memories of your own with these delicious flounder fillets. —Jill

Grandpa Mike's Flounder Fillets
6-8 pieces of wild caught fresh flounder fillets (boneless, skinless)
2 cups flour
4 eggs
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 lemon
1/2 cup of oil (olive, canola or vegetable)
1 large saute pan and 2 dishes or bowls for egg wash and breading

Crack the eggs into a dish and beat lightly for an egg wash
In the second dish mix the flour, salt and pepper

Dip each flounder fillet in the egg wash and then dredge in flour mixture. For this fish we use what we call the "double dip" method, which means you do the egg wash/flour process twice for each fillet.

After dredging the fish, coat the bottom of the pan with oil. This next step is crucial: Make sure the oil is hot before placing the fish fillets in the oil. Put the oil on medium to high heat for about 3-4 minutes. You can check the temperature of the oil by dropping into it a small piece of flour. If bubbles form, the oil is ready. (Putting the fillets in the oil before the oil is ready will result in soggy fillets, and no one wants that!)

Once the oil is hot place the fillets (usually 2 at a time to prevent overcrowding) in the pan. Cook fish 3-4 minutes on each side or until golden brown. If you flip the fish too early the breading could come off of the fish. I like to use a fork and gently lift the fish and check underneath to check it’s progress process after three minutes.

After all the fillets are cooked, place them on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil. When you are ready to serve, you can plate them however you like. We serve ours with lemon wedges, but tartar sauce is another option. 

P.S. Don’t throw away any leftovers! Cold flounder fillets are amazing on grilled Italian bread the next day for a great Italian fish sandwich.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Beautiful Stuffed Artichoke

The artichoke. So beautiful, so innocent, yet it can bring out the worst in people. Several members of our family have their opinions about how to stuff an artichoke. Some holidays become an artichoke showdown with several versions appearing on the table and then a silent survey ensues with eyes closely watching which dish disappears first. (All dishes usually disappear fast and furiously!)  Then, of course, there is the art of eating an artichoke. I am known in my family to obliterate the leaves, by first scraping off the stuffing between my teeth and then chewing on the leaf to make sure I get every bit of flavor. (I try not to do this when eating out, but I'm not always successful.) For me, eating an artichoke is a journey, feeling that with each leaf I am one step closer to getting to the soft, delicious, pale green heart. And more often than not, just when I have carefully removed “the beard,” someone sweeps in from behind me with a fork and proclaims, “This is the best part!” Oh well, guess I’ll just have to start on another…  — Diana

No matter how you stuff an artichoke, the preparation is important and mostly universal:
• Cut off the stem
• Slice off the top and snips the points off each leaf
• Clean the artichoke under running water, spreading the leaves
• Let artichokes drain upside down on paper towel

Here are a few stuffing variations:

My friend Kathy made stuffed artichokes when were in LBI for Fourth of July weekend. They were delicious, and going into the garden to pick fresh basil and oregano (yes, she has a small garden in her backyard on the bay) made it even better!

For 3 large artichokes:
2 cups Italian style breadcrumbs
8 cloves of garlic, minced
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1 cup grated romano or parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
A sprig of fresh oregano and basil (optional)
8 tbsp salted butter

Mix together everything but the butter and herbs. Stuff each artichoke with mixture and pack it in good!

Put the artichokes in a large pot with a few inches of water on the bottom. Add the other clove of garlic to the water along with the herb sprigs.

Put 2 tbsp of butter on the top of each artichoke. Cover the pot and simmer for about 45 minutes (depending on size of artichoke) or until the middle leaves pull out easily

Baste every 10 minutes or so throughout the cooking process. e' buonissimo! (She actually said that...she's studying Italian.)

My grandmother’s stuffing is similar to Kathy’s only she adds olive oil to the stuffing to make it more like a paste, therefore you don’t need the butter on top. She also uses a pressure cooker, which makes the leaves extra tender. So if you want to forgo all the butter, add some olive oil to the stuffing and cook as usual.

Joan (lovingly referred to as Ms. P by the family) is my sister's mother-in-law, and we can always count on her to bring a tray of stuffed artichokes to the Thanksgiving and Christmas table. Here's her stuffing:
White mushroom stems, finely chopped
Italian style breadcrumbs, mix with olive oil and then water so it's wet, but not mushy
Garlic salt to taste
Onion powder to taste

Mix all ingredients together and stuff away! (Joan actually smashes down on the artichokes while they are draining upside down to spread the leaves so she can really pile in the stuffing.)

Now here's her a large pot put enough water so it goes halfway up the artichoke. Add 1/2 cup lemon juice and 1/3 cup of soy sauce to the water. Cover and cook on medium heat so the water isn't boiling, but steaming. Cook for about one hour, but 5 minutes before they are done, pour 1 tablespoon of lemon juice on the top of each artichoke.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Grandpa Andrew's Eggplant Parmigiana

Jennifer sitting on her Grandpa Andrew's lap. He was her hero; she was his vision of hope and possibility in America.  

Every time I see an eggplant I think about my Grandpa Andrew. It’s probably because the best eggplants are like the best grandpas…round and plump. He had an amazing garden in his backyard in Hoboken, and would pick all the fresh herbs and vegetables when he cooked. Grandpa Andrew was my mom’s dad and he loved eggplant parmigiana, proclaiming no one could make the dish like a true Italian! (Spoken, of course, like a true Italian!)  He came to live with us when he got cancer and my mother would make it any time he requested it. One time, was extra special.  It was right before he passed away and he told me how happy he was that I was a "Yankee" or an American. He knew one day I would go college to make something of myself…something, he explained, he could not do because he had to leave school at age 13 to help care for his brothers and sister. I was only 10 years old at the time, but he told me how proud he was of me already and everything I would accomplish. He said his sacrifices—traveling on a boat from Italy to America when he was 9, learning English, working hard—were all worth it because I was American, and I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. He was my biggest fan. Every time I think of him, I think of how his sacrifices shape my accomplishments. Thanks Grandpa...This one’s for you! —Jennifer

Eggplant Parmigiana
1 eggplant (good size and ripe)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Italian style breadcrumbs
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded, whatever you prefer
Gravy (Italian sauce) a la Rosie

Skin the eggplant and slice into round hearty slices
Pour the milk into a bowl and add the salt and pepper
Beat eggs into the milk
Fill frying pan with EVOO, enough that the slices will be halfway in the oil
Heat oil so it is hot and ready to go once slices of eggplant are prepped

Dip the eggplant slices into the milk/egg mixture and then into the breadcrumbs, coating both sides
Fry slices until golden brown on both sides
Separate each layer of the fried eggplant with a paper towel to absorb the oil so they don’t get soggy

Let the eggplant cool.
Put some gravy in the bottom of a Pyrex pan. Put a layer eggplant in the pan, top with gravy and then top with cheese. Make as many layers as needed (extra cheese up top…yum)

Cook in oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Poppa's Sausage and Peppers

This recipe actually comes from my father-in-law Arnold. He and I were very close, I think mainly because he was the father of three boys and I was his first daughter-in-law. He used to hide his favorite cookies in the house and I was the only one who knew this special spot. We would call him the Barbecue Master because no one dared touch his grill (or his garbage, but that's a post for another time!), and he absolutely loved to barbecue for his family.  His sausage and peppers was everyone’s favorite dish.  I consider myself lucky because he pulled me aside one day and told me what he believed to be the key to a great sausage and pepper sandwich. My family now considers my sausage and peppers the best, and I owe it all to Poppa! — Lisa

Poppa's Sausage and Peppers
5 pounds of sweet Italian sausage (remember, I make everything in bulk)
15 bell peppers—5 red, 5 green, and 5 yellow or any combination you want
2 large onions
Olive oil
Several packages of long, soft Italian rolls

Parboil the sausage. Drain and let cool.
Slice each pepper into long strips about 1-inch wide.
Slice the onions the same way.
Now this was important according to Poppa:
Slice each sausage on a slant into about 5 pieces. You do not want chunks of sausage, rather slices of sausage so they go on a roll easier and cook more evenly.

Divide the sausage, peppers and onions into two large aluminum pans.
Liberally soak with olive oil, and get messy! C'mon, get your hands in there and toss it all around!

Cover both pans with foil. Wondering why you haven't preheated the oven? Because you're going to cook it on the grill! It’s just not the same in the oven. Put all the burners on medium heat and cook for at least an hour, stirring frequently and recovering. The peppers and onions should be soft but not mushy, and the sausage edges should have a nice brown color. There will be a lot of liquid, which is the best for dunking the sandwich and extra bread. And don't forget the napkins!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Meet Jill and Grandma Rosie's Meatball Stew

Jill, 34, grew up in Washington Township, NJ and currently resides in Memphis, TN, with her husband of two years, Phillip, and their 6-month-old son, Elliot.

I'm the youngest of all the cousins. Growing up Italian in New Jersey you can imagine all the cooking that took place. Whether it was a birthday, a holiday, a graduation, a wedding, or an ordinary weekend, we were always cooking. I remember each member of the family had their "specialty." My mother had all the recipes that she had learned from her father, like battered fish, or peppers and eggs. I remember my aunt’s famous stuffed mushrooms, the recipe my cousin, Jen, shared with you on Tuesday and that we still make every Christmas eve. 

But I'd have to say that Grandma Rose won the award. I'm pretty sure we all learned to cook at least one dish from her at one point or another. Chicken cutlets were always a favorite of mine. I remember my father telling me stories of his mother sending him to school, and he could always tell his lunch bag from the rest of the kids' bags. He didn't have peanut butter and jelly, or a ham sandwich. He had chicken cutlet sandwiches or meatball subs, and would always have a grease mark on the outside of his brown paper bag.

One specific memory I have isn’t an Italian dinner; it is breakfast: Grandma Rose's poached eggs.  She would wake up around 3 a.m. (or so it seemed) and not only would you smell the garlic from whatever she was preparing for dinner, you’d be treated to her poached eggs on toast. And they were the best poached eggs you ever tasted.

As I got older, my mother would let me help in the kitchen (other than the dreaded "will you set the table" that all kids are asked to do). I actually got to help cook! I was so excited and remember thinking, "Wow, I'm really good at this.” I don't know if it was because all the memories it brought back of our wonderful family gatherings, or if it was because it made me feel useful, or if it was just another excuse for us to talk about our day, life and good times in general.  Whether she would let me roll the meatballs, stir the gravy, or bread the chicken, we always had a wonderful time in the kitchen.

When I moved out I called home frequently. “Mom, what’s in the meatball stew? What kind of breadcrumbs am I supposed to get?  Do I really need to use veal?" I was a vegetarian for about nine years, which I’m sure upset the Gods of Italian Recipe Town since everything is made with ground meat, veal or sausage. Let's just say I perfected eggplant parmigiana.

 I am no longer a vegetarian, but have made a lot of the recipes my own by substituting. This was what was fun for me—taking some great meal and making it something different just by changing one or two ingredients.

Cooking in my family was very much "little bit of this, little bit of that," which is how I came up with a lot of my own recipes. When I lived alone, it morphed into what I could make out of what I already had in my fridge and my pantry closet. Some meals were awesome, and some meals were a little shy of awesome. To me and my family, food equals love. Cooking a great meal is how I show I love someone. Just ask my husband who gained 25 pounds in our first year dating. I remember saying, “I'm sorry, this is how I love.” Then I remember saying, “Wait, no I’m not. You're lucky to eat this well. Welcome to the family!”

The memories I have of family gatherings and cooking in the kitchen are the ones that will stay with me forever. Every time I make a recipe from our family, it takes me right back to where I was when I first ate it.  These are the memories that I cherish most and look forward to sharing with Elliot one day. 

Grandma Rosie's Meatball Stew
I loved when Grandma Rose would make meatballs for any recipe.  I always enjoyed when she would come to Tennessee and cook breakfast.  She’d ask, “You want breakfast?” If you said, “No,” she’d say, “OK, you want a meatball?” The answer was always "YES!"

3 cans of tomato sauce (recommend San Martzano tomatoes)
1 clove of garlic (finely chopped)
1 large yellow onion (sliced thin)
1 can of Del Monte peas
2 potatoes (cut into bite-sized pieces)
1 cup parmesan cheese

In a large pot, drizzle 2 teaspoons of olive oil and heat on medium/high.  Add chopped garlic and sliced onion. Sauté until onions are translucent.  Add the tomatoes to the onion and garlic mixture.  Once the mixture is heated (about 10 minutes) add the potatoes and cover pot with lid. Lower heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are almost cooked through (about 30 minutes).

This is a good time to make the meatballs!

2  pounds ground meat (beef, turkey, pork—or you can use a combo of each)
½ large yellow onion (finely diced)
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
2 tablespoons parsley
1 cup white bread torn by hand into bite-sized pieces (Italian breadcrumbs may be substituted)
½ cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs
2 teaspoons oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
Combine above ingredients in a bowl until mixed together.  Roll into 2-ounce balls (a little less than the size of your palm).  Place the meatballs into a skillet with two tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and sauté until golden brown on all sides.  Do not worry about cooking the meatballs all the way through; they will finish cooking in the sauce.  Put aside meatballs on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Once the potatoes are almost cooked through, add the meatballs. Lower heat to medium low, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Add peas at the last minute just to heat through.

Top with parmesan cheese and serve with crusty bread.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Meet Jennifer and her mom's Famous Stuffed Mushrooms

Jennifer, 36, grew up in Wood-Ridge, NJ and presently resides in Dumont with her husband of seven years, Jared, and their 4-year-old twin daughters Abigail and Eliza.

Food and the kitchen always remind me of my childhood. Even though it was the smallest room in the house, at family gatherings people migrated to the kitchen.  Standing around and chatting while my mother ran from cabinet to cabinet to get dishes, pots and pans, people would laugh and share stories.  I never understood why we would all crowd in that room. It was hot because the oven was always on, there wasn't enough seating so everyone was always standing, and my mom was always saying ‘scusi’ to people who were standing in front of the cabinets she needed to access. How annoying. But now that I am older I realize that the kitchen is the heart of the house. My mother used to say that making food for people “showed how much you loved them."  So it makes sense that people felt the most love in that small kitchen and gravitated there.

My mother cooked the Italian way, without following a recipe. Looking back, I don't think there was one cookbook in my house…ever.   Cooking was all about tasting, a pinch of this, it needs more of that and, finally, more garlic.  I would often sit in the kitchen while she cooked and watch her. She never pushed me out of the kitchen, she let me sit and watch. Never teaching me outright—"first you do this”—she let me learn by watching.  And watch I did. Mostly because I got the fresh meatball right out of the frying pan first, but mostly because it was a bonding experience.  She was a master who effortlessly moved around getting what she needed. Every night there was a new meal on the table; there was no need for leftovers.  Leftovers were for the Chinese food on Saturday night; Sunday through Friday it was a homemade meal.  I never thought much about it growing up.  I thought everyone had a mother who did this.  I didn't realize the impact her food, cooking and sharing in the kitchen had until she passed away.  At 19, the responsibility of "showing people how much you love them" through food was now passed to me. To be honest, I didn't know if I could live up to the legacy.

At first I stayed away from the kitchen, fearing failure and also because the memories were too strong.  I really didn't start cooking and trying new recipes until I moved on my own and into my first apartment.  That's when I realized, “Hey, I can cook!" Others, including family members (a huge honor!) started requesting certain dishes: “Make sure you bring your guacamole. Don’t forget those mushrooms.” My twin daughters now make "yummy" noises when they eat certain meals, making me feel like a superstar (Anyone who has picky 4-year-old eaters at home knows how awesome "yum" makes you feel.) By no means am I the best cook, but I better understand what my mom once told me about love and food.  I've also come to realize how special growing up Italian really was, and how much I want to pass on those traditions to my daughters. 

Paula's Famous Stuff Mushrooms
Where do I begin?  This was an appetizer that was made only on Christmas and I am not exaggerating when I say that relatives put orders in ahead of time. My mother would save plates and make extra for those who stopped by later on Christmas day. And we were forbidden touch those plates! They would say,  “Saved for the Wolfsohn's”  or “Don’t touch- for Lisa.” After my mother passed I took on the task of trying to figure out how to make this dish because, of course, she did not write anything down.  It took a couple of years, others have tried and failed, but I finally figured it out.  Now, every Thanksgiving I make them for my in-laws and write on the tin foil, “Made with love from Bucco.” Passing on the famous dish to a new group of people who never knew Paula, but have fallen in love with her food like so many others had done in the past.

1 package of uncased sausage—can be sweet or hot, or both
Stuffing mushrooms. The largest you can find and as many as you need
Italian style bread crumbs
Garlic powder
1 clove garlic
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

Clean mushrooms and remove stem
Mix together 1/2 cup of EVOO and 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
Dip or brush mushrooms in oil/garlic mixture

Fry up the sausage in oil with the clove of garlic, finely chopped
Once brown, add the ½ container of breadcrumbs to sausage
Mix until breadcrumbs have turned brown

Take the sausage breadcrumb mixture and stuff the mushrooms
Bake with love for 25 minutes at 375 degrees or until mushrooms are brown..

Helping in the kitchen at an early age is a Bucco family tradition. Here Abigail and Eliza help mom eat their Grandma Paula's Famous Stuffed Mushrooms.