Friday, July 31, 2009

Gaia's "cobbler pie"

If you are wondering who Gaia is, she's my little niece and this pie is named after her because I made it for the first time 4 years ago today, when she turned 1. Although this year we'll have to celebrate her birthday with a few days of delay, I thought it would be appropriate to post the recipe for this cobbler today, the day she turns 5.
I call it a cobbler "pie" because unlike cobblers it has a crust both on the bottom and on top, something I made up because the first time I made waaaaaay to much Graham cracker mixture. But everyone loved it, so from then on my cobbler always had a bottom crust as well as a crumble topping. I make it with strawberries, but bluberries or a mix of berries work just as well.


3 1/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
4 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

5 cups chopped strawberries
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Melt butter in a small pan, then mix with crumbs, sugar ad cinnamon. Divide in half. Pat half of the mixture on bottom of a 9-inch pie tin.

In a large pot cook strawberries, sugar and lemon juice for about ten minutes. Add enough cornstarch to thicken slightly. Pour into pie tin. Cover with remaining crumb mixture.

Bake at 375F until crumbs look browned and "done", about 25 minutes.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Steak tartare

Yes, I do enjoy eating raw meat. I love carpaccio and I love steak tartare. Of course the meat has to be of the finest quality and it definitely pays off to spend the extra bucks and buy top quality ground sirloin for this recipe. Steak tartare has always been a treat in my family and although I have eaten good renditions at several restaurants in Europe, my dad's recipe remains the best. Last night we were celebrating the fast that -by coincidence- we both received our bachelor's degrees on July 29th. He got his in Engeneering in 1960. I got mine in Communications in 2005. And what better way to celebrate than with this lavish, decadent meat recipe?


1 pound ground sirloin
1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1 big tablespoon of capers, chopped
1/2 tablespoon of capers, whole
Worchestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon hot mustard
1 shot of Brandy
Chopped parsley, to garnish

Steak tartare turns out better if ou keep the meat cold. To do so, use two concentric metal bowls of different sizes. Place water and ice in the bigger one and carefully lower the smaller one into it so that the water and ice will keep it cold while you work on the tartare.

Place egg yolks in the small bowl, season with salt and pepper and slowly incorporate mustard, lemon juice and olive oil stirring constantly:

Add Worchestershire sauce, tabasco, onion and capers to the egg mixture.

Add ground beef, season it with freshly ground pepper and mix well, using two spoons.
Add Brandy, taste to make sure seasoning is to your liking and serve immediately. If you want to go all out and have a truly decadent dinner serve with a side of french fries as they do in Switzerland. Delicious!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


For those of you who don't know it yet, I am a restaurant critic. I literally eat (and write about it) for a living which yes, is cool as hell. The coolest thing -other than the newspaper paying for my meals- is getting to try new cuisines and restaurants and, although Naples doesn't really offer anything too crazy, lately a bunch of ethnic restaurants have opened and most of them have become my favorites. Case in point: a little place called Noodle Saigon, responsible for introducing me to the delicious, heavenly pho.
Pho isn't just a Vietnamese soup. Pho is the national dish of Vietnam and it's such a satisfying yet simple dish I could easily eat it every day. Star anise, cinnamon, chiles... I had to have a recipe. So I bought a Vietnamese cook book and have been made my own pho ever since. I make it extremly spicy, but that's just me. If you don't want it too spicy don't marinate the meat in chili garlic sauce and go easy on the siracha.


For broth:
1 qt. water
2 beef buillion cubes
2 pho bo cubes (if you can't find them at the Asian store use one more beef cube instead)
6 pieces of star anise
2 sticks of cinnamon

Combine all ingredients and simmer for 20 minutes. When the broth is ready keep it warm but not boiling. Fish the solids out and discard them.

Other ingredients:
Rice noodles (medium size). I use 1 package (1 pound) for 4 people.
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 can of bean sprouts, drained
a bunch of basil, chopped
a bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 small Thai peppers per person, chopped (or less if they are too spicy to handle)
10 green onions, chopped
1 1/2 lbs beef tenderloin, thinly sliced

Siracha hot sauce
Soy sauce
Plum (Hoisin) sauce

After you prepare the broth, soak the noodles in it for about 10 minutes or until ready. Be careful because they overcook easily.

In the mean time, chop and prepare all the other ingredients.

When the noodles are ready place them in 4 bowls. Put the broth back on the stove and bring it to a boil. In the mean time put meat, vegetables and herbs in each bowl over the noodles. When the broth is very hot pour some into each bowl. The meat will begin to cook immediately and will be ready to eat in 2 minutes. Serve with extra sauces on the side.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Original Ligurian pesto

Liguria -the coastal region of Italy that borders with France to the West, Piedmont to the North and Tuscany to the East- has a simple yet satisfying cuisine. The abundance of fish, herbs, olive oil and green vegetables also makes it extremely healthy and perfect to embrace in the summer months.
I know you can buy pesto at the grocery store, but seriously, this is a million times better and if you happen to have a big basil plant it's also much cheaper than the pre-made type. Give it a try and you'll never use the store bought kind again. You can use it to make pasta, but it's also good on grilled fish, charred vegetables and if you mix it with hummus it's perfect for dipping fresh veggies.


1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried
1 medium cloves of garlic
1 small handful of raw pine nuts
1/2 cup Parmesan
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano

extra-virgin olive oil

If you own an immersion blender use it. It's the easiest way to make pesto.
Place basil, garlic and pine nuts in a bowl and process with immersion blender, slowly adding olive oil until you reach a creamy consistency. Slowly add cheese, processing to blend. Pour in a glass jar and cover with a little olive oil to keep the pesto from discoloring. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

If you don't own an immersion blender you can make it a regular blender, but remember to add an ice cube to the bottom of the blender before you process the basil or the motor will heat the basil and turn it an ugly brown color.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Savory zucchini pie

I love savory pies. Love, love, love, love, love them. Not only they are easy to make, they are also a great way to use the overabundance of vegetables that populate my fridge after one too many trips to the farmers market and they are healthy and light. What's not to love about them?
When I was little, my grandma Mina used to make an amazing savory pie with spinach, ham and boiled eggs, and so did my mom. As much as I enjoy that particular recipe, I find myself gravitating towards simpler, fresher variations in the summer and -most of all- I find myself making my savory pie with my all-time favorite vegetables: zucchini.
If ou are so inclined, you can make your own pie dough. I'm lazy and I like to use the pre-made, unroll and use kind of dough that you can find in the refrigerated section at the grocery store.


1 refrigerated pie crust (such as Pillsbury)
2 medium zucchini, sliced
2 scallions, sliced
1 cup of ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

Unroll pie crust on a square of parchment paper and place in a round, 9 inch pyrex.

In a bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Fold in sliced scallions and set aside.

Place half of the zucchini slices in the pie crust, sprinkle with salt and paprika. Pour ricotta mixture over zucchini. Place other half of zucchini slices on top of ricotta mixture, season with salt, paprika and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Fold excess dough towards the center of the pie.

Cook at 400F for 25 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese is slightly bubbly. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing. Good served warm or cold.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pasta with fish sauce

Since my boyfriend complains left and right that I never make pasta anymore (he's on a diet, so I don't make it as often because... well it's hard to eat pasta when you are on a diet!), last night I decided to surprise him and I made one of his favorite pasta recipes. My dad has been making this recipe forever, but it wasn't until I discovered how cheap and readily available tilapia is that I really got into it. It's also really quick to make, which makes it a perfect summer dish. I call for Barilla pasta and Pomi crushed tomatoes because I feel this is one of those recipes that turn out great only if you use the best ingredients. Also, I love capers and tend to use more of them than theavarage person... feel free to adjust the capers to your personal liking!


3/4 pound of Barilla spaghetti or spaghetti rigati
1 26-ounce carton of Pomi crushed tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
3 medium tilapia fillets
Salt and pepper
Red pepper flakes
1/2 cup capers
1/2 cup sliced green olives
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt

Bring water to a boil in a dutch oven and add a handful (if you have small hands) of coarse sea salt.

While you wait for the water to boil, swirl olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add chopped onion. Season tilapia with salt and pepper to taste and add to skillet. Cook onion and fish for a couple of minutes, then add crushed tomatoes, capers and olives. Season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste and continue cooking until fish is cooked through and falls apart.

Cook spaghetti al dente, drain and add to the skillet. Mix spaghetti and sauce well, serve immediately.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Chicken and veggie stir fry in black bean sauce

Wow, that is one long title... I thought about calling it "Chinese stir fry", but then again, other than the chili black bean sauce it doesn't have much Chinese in it. It was an attempt to reproduce the heavenly flavors of a dish I ate at Charlie Chiang's a couple of weeks ago, an attempt that failed, but while failing it produced a pretty delicious dinner. The chili black bean sauce is not hard to find -Asian grocery stores carry it, and if Naples, Fla. has an Asian grocery store I expect pretty much every city and town to have one as well.


1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 tablespoons chili black bean sauce
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 zucchini, cut into slices
2 cups snow peas
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
2 scallions, chopped
Sesame oil for cooking

Place chicken in a bowl and sprinkle with one tablespoon of cornstarch. Stir and set aside.

In a small bowl mix the broth, soy sauce, chili black bean sauce and one tablespoon of cornstarch. Stir to mix well.

Heat a wok on medium high heat, swirl in sesame oil and add the chicken, stir frying for a couple of minutes or until it changes color. Lower heat and add zucchini, snow peas, bell pepper. Season with a dash of soy sauce and cook until vegetables are crisp tender.

Add broth concoction to wok and cook for another couple of minutes, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and bubbly. Sprinkle with scallions and serve immediately.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Spicy grilled corn on the cob

Because the heat index has been around 105F lately, we spend most of our weekends trying to keep cool in the pool. It would work better if the water wasn't as hot as 96F, but really: what else can we do? So we grill by the pool, trying not to turn the stove and oven on in the house during the hottest hours of the day. Grilling corn on the cob has quickly become one of my favorites, not only because it tastes great and it's good for you, but also because right now you can buy locally grown corn for dirt cheap.
This is a recipe I've found on Cooking Light (which happens to be my favorite magazine) and I later tweaked it to better suit my taste for everything hot and spicy. It's easy and it's quick, and it tastes delicious!


4 ears of corn
3 tablespoons of butter, softened
Cayenne pepper
Chili powder
Dried oregano

Preheat grill.

Pull the husks back from each corn ear, but don't remove them. Get rid of all the hair.

In a small bowl, mix butter and spices to taste until you have a fairly liquid paste (in Florida, outdoors, it takes seconds). Rub mixture over corn and put husks back into place.

Throw corn ears on the grill and cook, turning occasionally, for about 10 minutes. The husks might get a little charred, but the corn will stay moist and super tasty. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lobster and avocado ceviche

As I said, I had all these avocados laying around the house so I decided to put them to good use during the weekend. And since it was so stinking hot, why not make a no-cook lunch? That's where the ceviche idea came from. Although the citric acid in the lime juice technically "cooks" whatever seafood you're using, it cooks it without raising the temperature in the kitchen. That's only one of the many reasons I love ceviche.
I don't remember when was the first time I had it, but I remember the first time I had great, authentic Peruvian ceviche and fell in love with it. I was at a small restaurant called Machu Picchu -not very original, but the food was amazing- and I asked the owner for the recipe. Turns out, ceviche is really easy to make and very satisfying to eat.

(Serves 2)

1 Haas avocado
1 cup canned green beans, drained
1 small red onion, sliced
10 limes
12 oz. raw lobster meat (about two Florida lobster tails)
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 lemon
3 tablespoons EVOO
3 garlic cloves, minced

Chop lobster in bite sized chuncks and place in one layer in a pyrex. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add onion. Squeeze limes over the lobster (a citrus squeezer really comes in handy when making ceviche) so that the meat is swimming in juice. Cover and chill in the fridge for about a half hour.

Slice the avocado and immediately add it to the lobster concoction (the lime juice will prevent it from turning black), toss gently to mix. Add green beans.

In a small bowl whisk the olive oil, garlic and juice of half lemon and use to dress the ceviche. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Peppers stuffed with meat, rice and cheese

A while ago the local Albertsons had a crazy ground beef sale -it was such a good deal it sent me into a crazy buying frenzy. So aftern making burgers, meatloaf and chili I still ended up with a freezer full of ground sirloin, which is good if you don't need to put anything else in there. Last night I decided to get rid of some of the meat and made a recipe my grandma used to make. Now one thing about my grandma is that she never wrote down her recipes, so I kinda had to wing it, but I have to say that I was very satisfied with the result.


1/4 cup long-grain rice
2 medium bell peppers
1/2 pound ground sirloin
1 chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon paprika
Salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups bottled tomato pasta sauce
1/2 cup grated fresh Romano cheese
1/2 cup dry red wine
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 450°.

Cook rice according to directions and set aside.

Cut tops off bell peppers, discard seeds and membranes and set aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef, onion, paprika, salt and allspice and cook until beef is lightly browned, stirring to crumble. Remove from heat. Add cooked rice, 1/2 cup pasta sauce, and cheese to beef mixture. Stir to combine.

Combine remaining 1 1/2 cups pasta sauce and wine in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Be careful not to overcook it!

Spoon beef mixture into each pepper. Place peppers in a baking dish coated with cooking spray and add wine mixture to pan. Cover with foil.

Bake at 450° for 20 minutes. Uncover; bake an additional 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil and serve.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Spicy avocados

This is a lazy, Monday-morning post (or should I say afternoon?). To make a long story short, I'm too lazy to type in some of the more exciting recipes I've cooked during the weekend, so I', going to write about my easy, super fast avocado side dish. Last week I was browsing through Whole Foods when I saw that they had a bag of 4 avocados (Haas, not the crappy Florida kind) for something ridiculously cheap like $3.99. Being the impulse buyer that I am I grabbed the beg and bought it -not realizing how ripe the avocados already were.
So I pretty much ate avocados all weekend and experimented with them a little, but this basic, easy way of preparing them is still my favorite. It's good as an appetizer or as a side dish, although I suggest you only eat a half or your appetite will be gone in a hurry.


1 avocado
Juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Red pepper flakes, to taste

Whisk lemon juice, oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes in a small bowl.
Cut the avocado in a half, remove the pit and cut flesh in chunks, without removing it from the shell.
Immediately pour dressing over avocado and serve.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tilapia with cherry tomatoes and capers

When I was little I didn’t like fish. I also didn’t like capers, zucchini, or anything green. My daily dinner consisted of spaghetti with butter and parmesan cheese because –surprise surprise – I didn’t like tomato sauce either. An Italian who doesn’t like tomato sauce? Crazy, I know.

I come from a family of amazing Italian cooks: my grandma Mina was an impatient but wonderful gnocchi maker; my dad makes the best risotto you’ll ever eat; my mom can cook anything, from tasty pastas to delicious desserts, and my sister’s tiramisu is so good it will make you melt. All of them were appalled, and also very surprised, by my complete lack of interest in good food. “Who did she get it from?” They would ask each other, as I picked at my plain pasta with butter and cheese.

Since then things have changed. I currently like most foods (except challenging anatomical parts such as brains, tripe and liver), and I’ve grown up to be quite the fish lover – a fact my mother regards as miraculous to this day.

There is one reason that I ended up liking fish: I discovered that there are fish like tilapia, snapper and mahi mahi, that don’t actually taste fishy. They are delicate and flaky, and when you pull them out of the oven they don’t smell like… well, like fish.

The recipe below is one of my favorite ways to cook tilapia. It’s very light and summery, and it reminds me of a recipe they make in most restaurants on the shores of the northern Italian lakes. It’s also fast and easy to make, but it looks so appetizing everyone at the table will think you have slaved in the kitchen for hours.



2 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons of capers, drained. If using the giant kind, mince them.
1 lemon
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
A few leaves of fresh basil
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3 tilapia fillets
Cooking spray

First of all you want to heat up your oven to 420 F.

While the oven is heating up take a pretty big bowl and mix the cherry tomatoes, capers, olive oil, basil, salt to taste and crushed red pepper. If you like spicy food feel free to put in more red pepper. I usually use a couple of tablespoons of red pepper flakes, but be careful – that makes it extremely spicy. Squeeze your lemon over the mixture and stir.

Sprinkle salt, pepper and paprika over the tilapia filets. Place them in a Pyrex pan and bake in the over for about ten minutes. I suggest you set your oven timer so you don’t forget about the fish and burn it to a crisp. Tilapia cooks really fast and turns pretty nasty when overcooked.

Take the fish out of the oven and top with the tomato mixture. Bake for five more minutes, dish out and enjoy!

GOOD WITH: Roasted potatoes, steamed or roasted asparagus, sautéed zucchini

WINE PAIRING: A fresh summery white Merlot or a not-too-sweet Chardonnay

Friday, July 10, 2009

Barley and pesto soup

I love soup. Even in the summer, even in Florida, I can't go for more than a few days without eating a comforting bowl of steamy goodness. Barely soup was a staple of my childhood, something they cooked in the Northeast of Italy with pieces of pork and speck. I make many variations of it, depending on the season and on whatever I get at the farmer's market, but one of my favorites is this version, with fava beans, sweet baby peas and pesto. I especially enjoy this recipe in the summer months because pesto and basil make it a refreshing alternative to most soups -and also because for once my basil plant is striving so I want to use it before it dies. If you don't have fava beans handy, just double up on the sweet peas -it's a variation I make sometimes when I don't feel like driving to store to buy just one ingredient.

Barley and pesto soup

(for 4)

Barley, 1 cup
Vegetable broth 8 cups
Salt and pepper, to taste
Frozen sweet peas, 1 1/2 cups
Fava beans, 1 1/2 cups
Canned corn, half can
A carrot, diced
Pesto, 4 tablespoons

In a large dutch oven, pour vegetable broth -or make it with cubes. This is a simple summer recipe, so it's not worth making stock from scratch. Bring broth to a boil, add barley, stir and reduce heat. Simmer for about a half hour or until cooked (but not overcooked and mushy).

Add peas, fava beans, corn and carrots. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes, until veggies are done but still somewhat crunchy.

Remove from heat and stir in pesto. Serve immediately, garnishing each bowl with a basil leaf.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Paella... my way

When I was ten my family took a brief vacation in Palma de Mallorca, a beautiful, rocky island off the coast of Spain. My primary occupation back in that day was spending as much time as humanly possible in the swimming pool, an activity interrupted only by a few ice cream cones to keep my energy level high.
Everything seemed perfect: the pool was big and surrounded by gorgeous gardens to explore, the sun was high in the sky, the weather was hot but not too hot. Little did we know that we were about to experience what I can only describe as a little culture shock. An insidious problem manifested itself on our first night in Mallorca when, around sunset, all of the sudden I proclaimed I was hungry.
At eight o’clock the two restaurants in the lobby of our hotels were closed. When we asked the concierge at what time they would open he remained vague.
“Soon,” he lied. Two hours later the restaurants were still closed, my parents were enjoying cocktail hour on the hotel terrace and I was passed out on a lounge chair, exhausted by a day of playing in the pool.
When I woke up the next morning my parents were still talking about the delicious paella they had the night before, when the food was finally served around midnight.
I never got to eat this wonderful, authentic paella made in a real Spanish kitchen, but I learned how to make a really good one from my dad who is a paella aficionado like me.

Traditional paella is made with chicken, chorizo and a generous medley of shellfish. My version doesn’t include much shellfish for two reasons: the first one is that I am on a budget and the second one is that I think mussels are slimy, so I opted to use only shrimp.
1 1/2 pound chicken breast, cubed
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon thyme (preferably fresh, but if you want to use the dried kind go ahead)
1 teaspoon marjoram (again: fresh is better, but not a must)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 (4-ounce) link hot sausage (Publix sells a hot sausage that is more yummy and less greasy than chorizo)
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 1/2 cups uncooked Uncle Ben’s rice
1/2 cup diced plum tomato
1 teaspoon Hungarian hot paprika
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads (a little pricey, but definitely worth it)
1 garlic clove, minced
3 cups chicken broth (canned broth is perfect for this recipe)
3/4 pound large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed
First of all pour yourself a glass of wine, a good paella is not something you can rush. I also suggest that you prepare, chop and mince all your ingredients before you start cooking. It will save you time and you won’t have to run to the fridge and chop onions like a maniac halfway through the cooking process.
Sprinkle the cubed chicken with rosemary, thyme and marjoram, add salt and black pepper to taste. Heat the olive oil in the largest skillet you own, over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until lightly browned, stirring constantly. Remove it from the skillet and set aside.
Now take the sausage and remove the casings: the easiest way to do this is with a sharp small knife, but nails and teeth work as well. Add the sausage to the pan and cook 1 minute, stirring to crumble.
Add the chopped onion and cubed bell pepper and cook 7 minutes, stirring constantly. Add rice, tomato, paprika, saffron, and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. At this point the rice will look slightly toasted.
Return chicken to pan. Add 1 cup of broth and 1/4 teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Simmer until broth evaporates. Add another cup of broth. Simmer until broth evaporates. Add a third cup of broth. See a pattern here? Repeat until rice looks almost done. Four cups of broth should do the trick: you don’t want an overcooked mess that looks like cafeteria rice. Stir in shrimp and peas. Cover and cook an additional 5 minutes or until shrimp is done.
WINE PARING: a medium bodied Spanish red or, if you have time, make sangria.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Pasta alla vodka

My love affair with vodka started in the early ‘80s, when I was way too young to be drinking it. Sometimes, before dinner, my parents would drink chilled Russian vodka in small chilled glasses they kept in the freezer. To me those small glasses seemed like something I should be handling with my little hands and fingers. Soon enough I declared that I too wanted “vokka” (I had some trouble saying vodka, but you will forgive me since I was barely three years old). My parents bought me a little shot glass, chilled it with theirs, and served me ice cold water in it whenever they were sipping their cocktail.
For years I wondered what the big deal about vodka was – to me it tasted just like water. Then one night, I was nine or ten, my dad wanted to try a recipe he had discovered in a restaurant in Rome: pasta alla vodka. That was the first time I tasted real vodka, even though it was obviously diluted in the sauce, and suddenly I realized that vodka tastes a lot better than water.
Since then pasta alla vodka has become a favorite dish of both my family and most of my friends. Using Absolute Pepper makes this already spicy dish even spicier, but regular vodka leads to wonderful results as well. Using good ingredients such as Barilla noodles and good Italian tomato puree is the key to make this dish taste heavenly.


1 pound Barilla penna rigate
2 15-ounce cans tomato puree, preferably “La Contadina”
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup vodka or more if you are a lush like me (better if Absolut Peppar)
In a large pot bring water to a boil.
In the mean time melt the butter in a large saucepan, and add the strained tomatoes. Heat over medium heat and season with salt to taste (keep in mind that you'll be adding a lot of Parmesan cheese later, which is salty, so go easy on the salt now).
When water starts boiling add a tablespoon of rock salt and add noodles. Cook for about ten minutes.
While pasta cooks, slowly add half of the Parmesan cheese to tomato sauce and stir constantly. When cheese is completely incorporated into tomato sauce remove saucepan from fire and carefully add cream, stirring constantly. Return pan to fire and add other half of Parmesan cheese while stirring. When cheese is melted turn heat down to low, add half of the vodka and mix.
Noodles should be ready by now. Strain pasta and add to saucepan. Mix all together and add the second half of the vodka. Stir and serve quickly, garnishing with a leaf of basil on every plate.
WINE PAIRING: No wine with this one. Drink a good, plain vodka martini, or a beer, if you must.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Smoked salmon tartines

There's something about smoked salmon that makes me go crazy. Maybe it's the fact that it was one of the first "sophisticated" foods I tried, at the tender age of 1 1/2 years old. My parents and I were catching a connection at Heathrow International airport in London and -all of the sudden- I got hungry. The only thing around was a small cart that sold -you guessed it- smoked salmon over dark bread and salted butter. Not only I ate it all and immediately stopped crying - I also discovered one of my favorite foods.

Years later I learned to appreciate another form of salmon: gravlax. Hailing from Sweden, this is one of the delicatessen that I truly enjoy from Northern Europe. My smoked salmon tartines are gravlax inspired, but are much simpler to make and they don't require any marinating. I came up with them last night, as it often happens while I was trying to find a new way to indulge in my favorite smoked fish. They are easy and quick to make, but the results are pretty impressive.


Good quality smoked salmon
Crackers (water crakers work well)
Cream cheese
Fresh dill
Dijon mustard

Soften the cream cheese by leaving out of the fridge for a half hour. In a small bowl, mix the cheese, mustard and chopped dill until they form a uniform cream.

Spoon a teaspoon of the cheese mixture on each cracker, top with a couple of capers and a piece of salmon and dress with pepper and lemon juice.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Traditional Indian chicken curry

I first tried chicken curry when I was very young. Somehow my mother tricked me into trying it despite my pickiness, and I instantly fell in love with it. Her recipe was a revised French version of the Indian classic: a velvety curry sauce made with cream and yellow curry powder.

As a teenager I tried my first real Indian curry in a small restaurant a few blocks away from my house in Milan, Italy. You could order your food mild, medium, hot or Indian hot. While the rest of my dining companions opted for mild I decided to have my curry medium. It was very spicy, delicious, and completely different from my mother’s. Real Indian curry has no cream in it and it’s rich with a variety of spices, none of which is actually called “curry”.

The version I cook today is closer to the traditional Indian recipe, with the addition of apples, something I borrowed from my mother’s formula. When I say it’s very spicy, I’m not joking: if spicy food is not your thing use less garam masala and use regular tomato juice instead of the hot one. Or just suck it up and eat lots of naan with it.


For the curry:

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

Half a lemon

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon fresh ginger

(8 ounce) can peeled, chopped tomatoes

2 tablespoons chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons garam masala

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

3 tablespoons plain yogurt

1 apple, peeled and cubed

1 1/2 cups water

1 (5.5 ounce) can hot tomato juice

For the naan:

1 ball of pizza dough (Publix sells fresh dough in the bakery section)

2 tablespoons of butter

1 tablespoon of minced garlic

In a large bowl, toss the chicken pieces with lemon juice, salt, and pepper to coat. Let it marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the cumin and cook 1 minute, until lightly toasted and fragrant. Add chopped onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook until onion is tender, about two minutes.

Add tomatoes, and season with chili powder, turmeric, garam masala, ground cumin, coriander, and paprika. There is no “right” amount of spices: it’s up to you to decide what is the best combination. Continue to cook and stir 2 minutes.

Add yogurt to the saucepan and stir until well blended. Add chicken pieces, and apples. Mix in water and tomato juice. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer about 40 minutes, until sauce has thickened and meat is done.

While the chicken simmers, heat up a grill pan and cover it with cooking spray. Melt butter in a small saucepan and stir in the garlic.

Divide the pizza dough in 8 pieces and flatten with your hands. Dip each piece in the butter mixture and throw on the hot grill pan. Cook on both sides (careful, it cooks fast), remove from grill and keep warm.

Serve bread with chicken curry.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

In the beginning there was risotto...

Not all rice is created equal. There is rice and then there is risotto. And although I enjoy rice dishes as much as the next person, risotto is a whole different story. I don’t just ‘like it’. I love it, crave it, dream of it.

Risotto has its origins in northern Italy, where rice paddies are abundant and the inclement winter weather is conductive to a richer, heavier cuisine than in the south. I, also, have my origins in northern Italy. As a child I didn’t enjoy eating, but risotto was one of the few dishes that always made me happy. There was something about the creaminess of the cheese binding the grains, the pungent taste of saffron, the festive yellow color that was so inviting and comforting even my five-year-old self couldn’t help but love it.

Risotto with saffron is one of the pillars of Milanese cuisine and northern Italians take much pride in serving it to their guests. While we enjoy being creative in the kitchen and experimenting with food and ingredients, when it comes to risotto we stick to tradition and we follow the few basic rules that make this dish special. I guess that being born and raised in Milano makes me somewhat of a risotto snob. Growing up in a family where making it is considered an art makes me take it even more seriously. “When you order risotto anywhere but in Northern Italy you’re asking for trouble,” my father used to say as I watched him stirring the rice. Risotto was always –and still is- his thing. My mother would prep the ingredients, but she never made it. It was dad’s specialty and everyone –relatives, neighbors, friends- knew it. We still gather around the kitchen island as he makes it, just like he did when I was a child. The risotto, too, is just the same: creamy, tasty, delicious.

His risotto alla Milanese is an easy, guaranteed to be great recipe that anyone can master. It’s a simplified version that doesn’t require bone marrow, which is delicious, but not always easy to find. Follow a few basic rules and your risotto will turn out a smashing success. And remember: in this recipes NO SUBSTITUTIONS ARE ALLOWED! =)

RISOTTO ALLA MILANESE (Milanese style risotto)

Ingredients for 4:
12 ounces risotto rice
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 cups of beef broth
1 onion, minced
1 tsp saffron
1cup dry white wine
1 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Make broth with cubes and keep warm.

In a large, thick Dutch oven (I like to use an extra heavy, enamel coated pot I use exclusively for risotto) melt half the butter with two tablespoons of olive oil on medium high. Add the minced onion and cook until translucent and tender but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Add rice, stir, and toast for about a minute. Add white wine, stir and let it evaporate, then pour two ladles of hot broth to the pot and turn the heat down to medium. Stir and cook until the broth has been absorbed. Every time the liquid is almost gone add another ladle of broth, doing so until the rice is almost done. Stir often.

When the rice is almost cooked (you’ll notice because it looks bigger and thicker or you can taste a grain or two to make sure), melt saffron in one last ladle of broth, add to the rice and stir.
Remove from heat, add butter and ¾ cup of grated parmesan cheese, stir vigorously, cover and let rest for 4 or five minutes. Serve hot, sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper and with remaining parmesan on the side.

If you want you can add some crumbled, sauted Italian sausage at the very end (pictured above)


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