Easter Bread

easter eggs baked *

I can’t tell you how excited I was to find this recipe on the website of the blog, theitaliandishblog.com, which is a fabulous blog, by the way.   I have been searching for years for this specific recipe for the Easter bread that my mother made every year at Easter time. It’s probably the only recipe of hers that cannot be found anywhere. When I saw the pictures on this website, I knew (or I should say hoped) this was the recipe I had been longing for over the last 10 years or more.

I was a little skeptical that it wouldn’t taste exactly as I remembered, but indeed it did.   Oh boy, was I happy! The memories flooded my mind. My mother made these breads for everyone in our family every Easter. My aunts and uncles, and cousins would all stop by on Holy Saturday to pick up their bread. I used to love to dye the eggs with my sister, and then we were allowed to do the braiding, once the dough had risen. But most of all, I remember the aroma that would engulf the kitchen. It would smell just like a bakery. As the relatives walked through the door, they would all let out a moan of delight. Many would sit in the kitchen and have a cup of coffee and a piece of warm Easter bread.

I’m so grateful to have found this recipe. It has added a little something special to my Easter this year….and hopefully for many years to come.

Buona Pasqua!

RECIPE:  Makes 6 breads

1 package Rapid Rise (instant) yeast, about 2 1/4 teaspoons

1 1/4 cups milk

pinch of salt

1/3 cup butter

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup sugar

3 1/2 cups flour (this is very approximate)

1 egg, beaten with 1 TBSP water for the egg wash

6 Dyed Easter Eggs ( they may be hard boiled or raw (be careful they don’t crack)

sprinkles

1.   In a small saucepan, warm the milk and butter together, just until the butter melts.

2.  In a large mixer bowl, combine the yeast, salt, sugar and eggs.

3.  Add the warm (not hot) milk and butter.

4.  Add about half the flour and beat until smooth with a dough hook.  Slowly add the remaining flour to form a stiff dough.  I used more flour than specified in order to get the dough to not be sticky.  Knead until smooth with the dough hook or turn out on a floured board and knead by hand.

5.  Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about an hour).

6.  Punch down the dough and cut in 12 pieces.  Roll each piece to form a 1 inch thick rope about 14 inches long.  Taking 2 pieces, twist to form a “braid,” pinching the ends, and loop into a circle.

7.  Place on two baking sheets, covered in parchment paper or Silpats. Cover and let rise until double (about another hour).

8.  Brush each bread with the egg wash.  Put on the sprinkles.  In the middle of each bread ring, gently place a dyed Easter egg, making an indentation with the egg.

9. Bake at 350 degree until golden, about 20 minutes.  Cool on rack.

** I don’t think it’s a great idea to eat these eggs, especially if you leave the breads out.  They are really just for decoration.

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Frittata

frittata dish 2 *

I love to just say the word “frittata.” It has such a lyrical sound. Such a beautiful word for a dish made up of eggs and potatoes and vegetables.   The combination of ingredients is endless.    Of course, everyone has a favorite choice of possibilities.   I have so many combinations that delight my palate, but I think my absolute favorite is zucchini, onions and potatoes.   These flavors really seem to go together beautifully with a little Parmigiano cheese and some fresh parsley.

This is a common dish during lent in Italian households. It also is great for picnics. It can be eaten at room temperature, so it packs up nicely for a day in the countryside or by the sea. We recently enjoyed it (room temperature) at sunset on the beach with a glass of white wine. But I wouldn’t shy away from indulging at breakfast….actually, I did have it again the next morning for breakfast, and I think it was even better as the flavors really melded overnight

There are two methods for cooking a frittata. Once you have poured everything into the fry pan, and it has started to cook through and the sides are starting to pull away from the edges of the pan, you can either put it under the broiler until the top cooks to a golden brown, or you can place a plate ( the size of the pan) on top of the pan and flip the frittata onto the plate. Then slide it back into the pan (uncooked side down)to finish cooking the other side.   The second method is not as hard as it sounds, and adds a bit of excitement to the cooking process, should you be in need of a little excitement. Either way, I think you’ll be delighted with the outcome.

RECIPE:

6 eggs

2 medium zucchini, one green, one yellow (or both the same color), sliced

1/2 onion, sliced thin

6 to 7 small potatoes, boiled until tender and sliced(can use large potatoes)

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/3 cup grated Parmigiano cheese, plus a little extra while cooking

2 TBSP olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1.  Whisk together the eggs, grated cheese and parsley.  Salt and pepper to taste.

2.  Saute the zucchini and onions in the olive oil in a fry pan, until onions are soft.

3. Add the cooked potatoes and heat through, stirring.

4.  Pour the egg mixture on top of the zucchini and potatoes, and cook over medium low heat.

5.  Once the egg mixture starts to cook, add a little more grated cheese to the top.

6.  When the frittata is just about cooked through, you can either put it under the broiler for a few minutes, until cooked through, or you can follow the procedure stated above, using a plate to flip the frittata and cook the underneath part until done.

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Liver with Onions and Bacon

liver plated 2

How can a recipe for liver hold fond memories? For me, it does. As odd as it may seem, I vividly recall how happy I was each time liver was for dinner. It was sort of a treat, if you can deem that possible. Perhaps it was the way in which my mother prepared it that made it so delicious. And no, neither tomatoes nor garlic were used in this recipe. She used bacon, onions and red wine vinegar for this dish, which were flavors that rarely graced our dinner table. Maybe that was what was so exotically delicious to me, even as a child?   It was like taking a walk on the wild side.

To the best of my recollection, we only had this scrumptious dish when my mom’s long time girlfriend came to dinner. It must have been a favorite of hers. This friend of my mom’s was a career woman, who never married, so she was as much of an enigma to me, as was the liver. So these evenings were something very special to me. I loved to hear her stories regarding the work environment (I can only imagine what the pay differential was then!!); I loved looking at her expensive, professional clothing; and of course, I loved the liver.

Liver, simply broiled, was also one of the first finger foods that both of my children loved as toddlers. I can see them sitting in their highchairs, picking up the small pieces with their chubby little fingers, and chewing and smiling.   What ever possessed me to think to make this for them at this early age?   I suppose I thought the love of liver would run in the family.

RECIPE:  serves 6

2 pounds calf’s liver, cut into 6 pieces

1 cup whole milk

8 bacon slices, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

3 TBSP unsalted butter, plus extra if needed

2 large onions, thinly sliced

3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1.  Place liver in a large glass baking dish and cover with the milk.  Let soak for twenty minutes or so.

2.  In a large skillet, over medium high heat, add butter and bacon and cook until bacon is rather crisp, about 5 minutes.  Transfer bacon, with a slotted spoon, onto paper towels to drain.

3.  Cook the onions in the remaining bacon fat until caramelized, about 10 minutes  Season with salt and pepper while cooking.  Transfer onions to a bowl and add the bacon to this dish.  Set aside.

4.  Pat liver dry and discard the milk.  Combine the flour, salt and pepper in a large zip lock bag or in a dish large enough to hold the liver.  Coat the liver on all sides in the flour .  Set aside on a baking sheet until ready to cook.

5.  Heat the bacon fat that remained in the skillet.  If none is left, add 2 more TBSP of butter to the skillet and let melt until bubbly.  Turn heat to high and add liver, in batches.  Cook approximately 3 minutes per side. If you like it more well done, adjust the timing.

6. Remove the cooked liver to a platter and keep warm.  Keeping the flame on medium high, add the onions and bacon and stir.  Turn the flame to high and add the vinegar.  Let it cook down for 5 minutes, stirring.

7.  Pour the onion and bacon mixture on top of the liver and serve.

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Mom’s Pizza

mom pizza plated

Homemade pizza is really so simple. Every time I make it, I wonder why I don’t do it more often. I guess it’s because I’m always cooking for a crowd when I make pizza, but if you’re only going to make a pie or two, it’s quite easy.  Any Italian bakery will provide excellent dough, so no need to make you own. It only takes a few ingredients, and in just a few steps, you will have an absolutely delicious, authentic pizza.

My mom was famous for her homemade pizza. My cousins would come over on Friday nights (meatless in those days), and she would produce pizza after pizza until we were all too full to move. Even though she hasn’t made pizza in nearly 10 years, she is still famous among those who were lucky enough to have tasted it.

My sister, daughter and I have watched my mom make pizza numerous times, trying so hard to figure out what her secret was.   Is it the oven temperature?   Is it the amount of tomatoes? They way she slices and places the mozzarella? The amount of oil drizzled on top? Even though we believe we have mastered all the steps to perfection, we all admit that we miss the mark just a tiny bit. There is something missing.   But we keep trying.   However, if you have never had my mom’s pizza, you won’t know the difference and will be absolutely delighted with the results of this recipe.

Remember……always use the best ingredients.

RECIPE:  2 pies

2 lbs pizza dough

1 can Italian plum tomatoes (must be San Marzano)

8 oz mozzarella ( depending on your taste, you might want more or less)

grated Parmesan cheese (you can use Romano cheese as well)

extra virgin olive oil

oregano

salt and pepper

1.  Let dough rise in bowls.  I first put a little flour in the bowl and then a little flour on top of the dough.  I cover each bowl with plastic wrap.  Then I cover all the bowls with a wool blanket, just the way my mother always did.

2.  Place the can of tomatoes in a saucepan and cook for 20 minutes.  Let it cool.

3.  Slice the mozzarella into thin slices.

4.  Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

4.  Once the dough has risen, gently roll it out on a floured surface until it is rectangular and can fit nicely into a cookie sheet.

5.  Lightly oil the bottom of the cookie sheets.  Gently place the dough in the cookie sheet and work it a bit until the fit is perfect.

6.  Using your hands, grab a whole plum tomato from the saucepan and squish it to release the juices.  Then place the pulp of the tomato on the dough.  Continue until you have the desired amount of tomatoes spread on the pie.  The key here is not to use the juice of the tomatoes as it will make the pie very mushy in the middle.  You want to use the pulp only.

7.  Add some salt and pepper ( go lightly).  Then place the mozzarella on top of the tomatoes, placing it as desired.

8.  Sprinkle with some grated cheese.

9.  Add some oregano, as much or little as you like.

10.  Drizzle with olive oil.

11.  When oven is preheated, place pies in oven.  After 5 minutes, lower the oven to 450 degrees.

12.  This is the only tricky part…. keep an eye on the pies.  All ovens are different, and the oven temperature is really key to turning out a perfect crusted pizza.  I always switch the pies around on the racks midway through the cooking process, as my mom always did.

13.  Depending on your oven ( and lower or raise the oven temp if you see the need), the pies will be done in about 15 minutes or so.  But keep your eye on the pies. 

14.  Let cool slightly in pan before cutting into pieces.

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Congo Squares

congo plated

While looking through my mother’s folder of torn and stained recipes (a habit that I just love), I came across a neatly typed recipe for “Congo Squares.”   I could tell this was a very old recipe, and I vaguely remembered the name. As I read through the ingredients, I started to recollect the taste, which is somewhat similar to what I think we now call “Blondies.”   I remembered my mother baking these bars for parties and company.   I decided to give them a try and bring them to a Super Bowl party. They were yummy! And I was very nostalgic over the taste. It brought me back to my childhood, as tastes often do.

I couldn’t help but wonder where the name came from so I “Googled” it, and was just amazed to see the exact same recipe came up for “Congo Squares.”  I thought that perhaps the name had been made up by whoever had typed this recipe for my mother.   It turns out that this was a very popular recipe in the 1950s, put out by Nestle’s Chocolate.

I think you will enjoy these, if you don’t already have a similar recipe. I might make a change or two the next time I make them. I think the addition of some unsweetened coconut could be quite good. I also might add a tsp. of vanilla for flavor.  Also, I deviated from the pan size in the recipe. I used a 9 x 13 baking pan instead of the 10 ½ x 15 ½ baking pan or cookie sheet suggested. I thought I would like the bars to be higher. I’m now second guessing my decision, and am wondering if they might not be tastier if they were thinner and chewier.  You can decide for yourself. I don’t think there really is a wrong choice.   Even the batter is delicious!!

RECIPE:

2 3/4 cups sifted flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

2/3 cup butter or shortening

2 1/4 cups (1 lb box) dark brown sugar

3 eggs

1 cup nuts, such as walnut or pecans, chopped

1 6 ounce package semi-sweet chocolate morsels

1.  Mix together and sift the flour, baking powder and salt.

2.  Melt the butter or shortening and mix well with the brown sugar.  Let cool a few minutes.

3.  Add  eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

4.  Add dry ingredients, then nuts and chocolate.  Mix well.

5.  Pour into greased  pan about 10 1/2 x15 1/2 x 3/4 inch.  Or 9 x 13 pan.

6.  Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes.  If using 9 x 13 pan, you will want to bake it 5 to 10 minutes longer.

7.  When cool, cut into squares.

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TRADITIONAL MEAT SAUCE (OR “GRAVY” OR “RAGU”)

meat gravy **

Last Sunday I was making my very first post on this blog, “Little Nonni’s Baked Spaghetti” for a family dinner celebrating my daughter’s birthday.    I then realized that my recipe for traditional meat sauce (or “gravy or “ragu” as we Italians call it) is hidden within this recipe, way back in the archives of this blog.  It is very difficult to find.  My family recipe for meatballs is also hidden there.    I decided that I needed to make these recipes much more accessible to all of you.  I apologize for keeping these two very important Italian dishes so obscurely placed.  Now they will be at your fingertips, and I hope you enjoy them over and over.  While you are at it, why not give “Little Nonni’s Baked Spaghetti” a try.  It is the very first post under the “Pasta” category.  You won’t regret it!!   I also would love for to try making braciole to add to your sauce.  I spent years watching my grandfather roll and tie these with tender loving care.  They are delicious, and add to the sauce, but not absolutely necessary, so don’t worry if you don’t feel like giving them a try.  I don’t always add them either.

Calling this Tradtional  meat sauce, is really quite brazen of me.  I should say that this is my family’s traditional meat sauce.  All Italians have their own family version of this wonderfully meaty sauce that would grace our tables on Sundays.  Who doesn’t remember the aromas swirling around the kitchen on Sunday mornings? Who among us hasn’t stolen a hot meatball, freshly draining from the fry pan?  It wouldn’t be Sunday, if you didn’t sneak a piece of fresh, crusty Italian bread and dip it in the gravy,  The memories go on and on.  What I love the most about making this sauce on Sundays is that my family is still stealing meatball; still dunking the bread in gravy; and still filled with happiness to smell this pot of meat and tomatoes cooking on the stove.   Traditions are a wonderful thing.   I believe them to be one of the best gifts you can give to your family.

Nonni’s Ragu

4 cans of Italian plum tomatoes, 28 ounce cans…..make sure the can says “Product of Italy”.

1 6ounce can of tomato paste

1 onion, chopped

1 to 2 pounds of pork spare ribs

1 to 2 pounds of beef ribs or any beef on the bone

1 pound of Italian pork sausage

1/2 cup good olive oil or lard…of course, Nonni used lard and I will sometimes use this or one part olive oil / one part lard

1 1/2 cups of red wine

salt and pepper to taste

In a large, heavy pot heat the oil and /or lard over medium heat.  When oil is warm, add the various meats in batches and brown, turning occasionally until brown on all sides.  Remove meat as it browns and continue adding until all the meat is browned well and out of the pot.  Now add the chopped onions and sauté for 5 minutes or so.  Add the wine and then stir and turn off the heat.  Now add the tomatoes, which have be “squished” in your hands until basically you have pureed tomatoes.  If you prefer, you can pulse them once or twice in a blender instead, but little Nonni would never have done that!  Turn the heat back up to medium and cook for thirty minutes.  Then add the tomato paste. Clean out the can of paste by swishing a little water around in the can and add it into the pot, stirring to mix the paste in well.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low for one hour, stirring occasionally.  Then put the meat back in the pot and cook for another hour, at least.  the longer the better.  Make sure you stir occasionally so that nothing sticks to the bottom.

Nonni’s Meatballs  

1/2 pound each of ground beef, veal and pork
1

1/2 cups of Italian style breadcrumbs

3 eggs, beaten

3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

3 garlic cloves, finely minced

1/2 cup fresh, Italian flat parsley, minced

salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil for frying meatballs in a skillet

Combine all ingredients, except the olive oil, in a large mixing bowl.  Using your hands, mix thoroughly. Really get in there.   If consistency is too wet, just add more breadcrumbs.

Once they are the right consistency, wash your hands, but leave them slightly wet for rolling the balls.  I place them on a cookie sheet as I go along and then fry all at one time.  She always used a cast iron heavy skillet to fry the meatballs and so do I.  But any skillet will do just fine.  Heat the oil.  Add several meatballs at a time, but keep an eye not to burn.  Keep turning until they are nicely browned.  I line another cookie sheet with paper towels and this is where I put the meatballs to drain as they come out of the pot.  This will get rid of the excess oil.

PAPA’S BEEF BRACIOLE

1 pound beef bottom round, cut into ½ inch think slices (this should give you around 6 slices)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/3 cup  chopped parsley

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

salt and pepper to taste

olive oil for frying

cooking twine for tying, or toothpicks can be used

1. Pound the meat to tenderize.

2. Lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper

3 Spread the garlic, parsley and grated cheese on each slice.

4. Roll the meat the short way and tie with string or use a toothpick to  secure.

5. Brown the meat  on all side in the hot olive oil.

6. Place in the sauce and cook for at least 30 minutes, but the longer the better.

meat gravy browning 1

meat gravy browning 2

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Can I tempt to to try Little Nonni’s Baked Spaghetti???

meat gravy pie

Diane’s Ginger Pot Roast

ginger pot roast plated *

I recently saw the movie “One Hundred Foot Journey,” and smiled when I heard the lead character, who was brought up cooking with his mother in a family restaurant in India say,  “food is memories.” I couldn’t agree more. That has been the main idea behind this blog. With each recipe or aroma, I have a bevy of memories so eager to come forth and remind me of the person or the time and place I first encountered the dish. The warm nostalgia that I feel as I recall times past, is something I wish for all of you. It has added so much to my life.

When I smell the spicy aroma of ginger and beef and onions, I am brought back to the early 1970s and a cozy kitchen in Bordentown, New Jersey.   I was newly married, and one of my “kitchen idols” was my sister-in-law, Diane. I loved watching her cook, and I especially loved indulging in whatever it was she prepared. We’d sit for hours in her kitchen, talking and laughing and watching toddlers play. It was truly the hearth of the house. So much love happened here, and I was grateful to be a part of it.

I have treated my family to her recipe for Ginger Pot Roast countless times. As I chop and brown, and add ingredients, I can still see the image of that happy kitchen of the 1970s as if it were yesterday.  I hear our laughter, see our smiles,  and I feel happy.

“Food is memories.”

RECIPE:

4 lb bottom round roast

3 small onions

2 bay leaves

1 cup red wine vinegar

13 (not 12) ginger snaps, crushed

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 large carrots, chopped

1 tsp ground cloves

3 TBSP vegetable oil

2 1/2 cups water

salt and pepper to taste

1.  Season meat with salt and pepper.  Brown meat and onion in oil.

2.  Add the celery, carrots and garlic and one cup of water.  Simmer on low for one hour.

3.  Add the vinegar, cloves, bay leaves and rest of the water.  Simmer for 30 minutes.

4.  Add the crumbled ginger snaps.  Simmer for another 45 minutes to an hour.

*Serve with mashed potatoes and applesauce.

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Cream Cheese Pound Cake

cream cheese plated 1

Before you start your New Year’s resolution of weight loss and no sugar, please have one last splurge, and let it be this cream cheese pound cake.   You won’t regret it. This cake is light and airy, yet dense and complex. It can stand alone or with some whipped cream and berries.   It’s great with a cup of coffee, yet elegant enough for a dinner party. Have I sold you on it yet?

I remember the day that I typed this recipe. It was 1973, and I was preparing to graduate from college and get married a few months later. I wasn’t worried about exams or graduation. But I was on a mission to make sure my recipe files were in perfect order and contained my favorite recipes before embarking on married life. As you know, my love of recipes is still a large part of my life, but when I think back on the maniacal way I began my “career” in the kitchen, I just have to laugh.

I’m not sure whose recipe this one was originally……perhaps Ginny or Anne. It could have been any one of my mom’s friends who loved to bake. Each time I make this cake, I’m taken back in time for some reason. It reminds me of simplicity and wholesomeness.

I hope you enjoy!

RECIPE:

1/2 lb. cream cheese (at room temperature)

1/2 lb. butter  (at room temperature)

2 cups sugar

6 eggs

2 cups Presto self rising flour

1 tsp vanilla

juice of 1/2 lemon

lemon zest

1.  Cream the cream cheese and butter together.

2.  Add the sugar and cream some more.

3.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well.

4.  Add vanilla, lemon juice and zest and Presto and mix very well.  Batter should be fluffy.

5. Grease and flour a tube pan.  Add batter.

6.  Bake in a 350 degree preheated oven for one hour.

7.  Let cool in pan.  Turn out onto cake rack to continue cooling.

8.  Sprinkle with confectioners sugar.  Serve alone or with fresh whipped cream and berries.

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Ida’s Vinegar Peppers (Sort of)

peppers plated **?

Italian stuffed vinegar peppers are a Christmas favorite of mine.   I don’t recall my mother or grandmothers ever making these, but I do know that they are a family tradition for many Italians at this time of year. I was first introduced to this tradition over 20 years ago, and once again, it was love at first bite.   These stuffed vinegar peppers were the focus of my husband’s family Christmas Eve celebration.   His mother, Ida, made dozens of these delicious peppers every year for family and friends. She was famous for them, and everyone waited in high anticipation for their share of the crop.  She made sure that every one of her children’s families had a plate of her famous peppers. They were absolutely delicious. She combined the flavors of sweet and sour to perfection to create a taste that no one can forget.

Now that she is no longer with us, several family members have tried to replicate her recipe. One or two have succeeded. My husband tries every year to get as close as possible to his mom’s recipe. It’s very heartwarming to see him try to keep her memory alive through this ritual each Christmas.  A lot of love goes into this attempt.  Some years he gets close, and other years , not so much.   Regardless, they are always delicious, and we think of her and all she did for her family as we enjoy this family favorite.

There are several challenges to this recipe.The biggest challenge is always finding the vinegar peppers and the Vino Cotto, but if you have a good Italian market near you, you should be able to find them, especially at this time of year. The other challenge has been getting the peppers as soft as hers. If you cook them too long, they tend to burn. We finally believe we found the secret, even though we haven’t tried it out just yet. She would gently fry the peppers in a little olive oil after she stuffed them, and before she put them in the oven. Now this is a lot of work, especially when I think of the dozens of peppers that she made each year! We will definitely try this with next year’s batch, and let you know if it makes a difference.

So this is my husband’s version of his mother’s stuffed vinegar peppers.

RECIPE: makes 2 to 3 dozen stuffed peppers

 2 to 3 dozen jarred Italian vinegar peppers, sweet or hot (be careful of the hot!)

2 cups ground pecans ( bread crumbs consistency)

2 cups jarred chestnuts, chopped

1 1/2 cups golden raisons, soaked

1 cup olive oil

2/3 cup vino cotto  plus some for baking ( this year he used fig balsamic vinegar in the mixture and it worked well)

1.  Prepare the stuffing by combining all the ingredients and mixing well.

2.  Prepare the peppers by rinsing them under water.  Then cut of the tops.  With a spoon ( he uses a grapefruit spoon), scoop out the insides, especially all the seeds.

3.  Prepare the baking pans (cookie sheets) by spreading some olive oil and water on the pans.

4.  Stuff the peppers and place on the prepared pans. (if you want to try gently frying them, you would do so before putting them on the pans).

5.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and drizzle each pepper with the vino cotto.  Leave uncovered and bake for another 15 minutes.

6.  Before serving, drizzle once again with the vino cotto.  Serve at room temperature.

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Florence’s Stuffed Clams

clams plated

With Christmas Eve just around the corner, I start counting my fishes. I count my blessings as well, but Christmas Eve is all about fish….seven different types of fish, to be exact. So I begin planning our menu for this feast of feasts…the mother of all feasts.   Most Italian families consider Christmas Eve to be the holiday, and Christmas just naturally follows.   Weeks of preparation goes into this celebration, especially the preparation of the food, Our tradition is that we must have seven fishes on the menu for Christmas Eve. How this tradition got started is not exactly known. Is it to represent the 7 sacraments? Does it represent the 7 hills of Rome? Or perhaps it because the number 7 is repeated over 700 times in the Bible.   Whatever the reason, this tradition began in southern Italy, and is still carried on today in most Italian families. Mine is one.

We have our family favorites that we stick to each year, but we always add something new just to keep the interest level up. Many years ago, I added “stuffed clams” to the antipasto portion of this meal.   They are “Florence’s Stuffed Clams,” to give credit to where credit is due. Florence is my son-in-law’s mother. She is the mother of nine, and grandmother to nearly 20 children. I was super impressed when she served this elegant looking appetizer to us at a family dinner party.  I remember thinking to myself, that if she has time to make these beautiful and delicious stuffed clams, then I most certainly can give them a try. I must say, I was intimidated, but she assured me that they were very easy.   I was indeed amazed at how easy they were to make.

You do need to ask you fish store for empty clam shells.  They usually have plenty, but if your fish monger is not as friendly as mine, you can buy clams, and just boil them until they open.  Clean out the clams from the shells, and you can actually use these fresh clams in the recipe as well.  After your guests feast on these delectable little morsels, all you have to do is wash out the shells, and put them away in a plastic bag or Tupperware until the next time.

My family loves them, and it’s a simple, scrumptious way to count clams towards one of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve.   Now all you have to do is come up with six more fish dishes.  Have fun!!

RECIPE: makes 2 dozen small or medium stuffed clams

4 cans (6.5 ounces) chopped or minced clams

1 cup clam juice or water

2 TBSP olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves minced

1/2 cup celery, chopped

1 1/2 ( plus or minus) cups breadcrumbs ( seasoned or not)

1 TBSP chopped parsley   ( or more if desired)

2 tsp. oregano

salt and pepper to taste

cream sauce:  1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup cold water, mixed)

1.  Saute garlic, onions and celery in olive oil until soft.

2.  Add clams, liquid and seasonings and parsley.  Simmer 20 minutes.

3.  Add crumbs and mix well.

4.  Add the flour and water mixture.  Simmer on very low heat for a few minutes, until well combined and thickened.

5.  Fill clam shells and place on a cookie sheet.  Spray with olive oil spray.

5.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until browned on top.

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