Meatballs 101

It’s been a while, and if you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, let me explain.   I’ve been on a mission to find the perfect meatball to share with you.  I’ve missed you, but trust me, you will be happy I took on this task.  

I used to think I made a great meatball.  I was praised far and wide for these traditional Italian meatballs that my mother taught me to make, and her mother before her and so forth throughout many generations of Italian women.  My children loved to sneak into the kitchen on Sunday mornings and grab a newly fried meatball when I wasn’t looking.   It seemed that I never made enough. They would mysteriously disappear.  I was proud of my meatballs and got great satisfaction from the enjoyment they gave all my hungry Sunday dinner guests.

Until one day recently, my son ( the greatest former meatball thief of all) told me that I “needed to step up my game” when it came to meatballs.  I was shocked, hurt and a bit annoyed.

“What do you mean?” I questioned him indignantly. “Everyone loves my meatballs, including you!”

“Not really, mom.  They’re missing something lately, “he replied.  “Have you changed something?”

He was way too old to punish, so I swallowed my pride and decided to examine this whole meatball situation.  Maybe Ihad changed something over the years.  

“Why don’t you try a new recipe,” he suggested.

At first I was reluctant, but then I thought maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea.  So I did what I love to do.  I turned to my cookbook collection for help.   And so it began… quest for the perfect meatball.

 I was surprised to find many different recipes for what I always thought was such a standard thing.  Some people used different meats.  Some even used sausage.  The type of breadcrumbs changed from recipe to recipe.  You might find ricotta being used.  Garlic or onion or both?  Raisons and pine nuts were in some recipes.  One recipe called for you to roll the meatball in flour before frying.  Then there was the question of whether to fry, bake or broil.  And the type of oil that you should use for frying changed with each recipe.  I was really confused, but willing to try some or all the recipes if necessary.

At the end of a very fattening, but delicious month or so, I came up with the winner.  It was from Arthur Schwartz’s cookbook, “Naples at Table.”  The funny thing was that it is basically the same as my mother’s recipe ( which is what I had always used), except he includes pine nuts and raisins  They are delicious with the pine nuts and raisins but the basic recipe without them is pure perfection.  The best part is that the family agreed.  

Where had I gone astray?  I had stopped using Italian bread soaked in water (or milk) and resorted to time saving Italian flavored breadcrumbs.  Since the breadcrumbs were flavored, I skimped on the fresh parsley, grated cheese, salt and pepper.   This had to be why my meatballs went from fabulous to not so fabulous.  

Now I won’t be so bold as to say that you will find this recipe to be your idea of a perfect meatball.  I learned two important lessons from this exercise in meatballs.  One is that we love the food we grew up on.  We were nourished in many ways from the dishes our families prepared. The tastes stay with us, as well as the love that went into the preparation.   So if this is not the meatball of your childhood, you may totally disagree with me.  

The other lesson I learned from all this is that “traditions” exist for a reason.  We don’t need to change things that are wonderful in their simplicity.  Honoring the way things have been done in the past is a beautiful thing, especially when it come to food.  Now when I make my meatballs, I can feel the presence of my grandmothers and my mother, giving me their seal of approval as I gently squeeze the liquid from the soaked bread.  I take my time and languish in the tradition and memories of it all. 

Finally, my “meatball thieves” are back, and I couldn’t be happier!

RECIPE: makes 12 meatballs

3 cups dried crustless bread (I use Italian bread) cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes before measuring

1 1/4 pounds ground beef (no later than 80%)

3 eggs, beaten to mix well

2 large garlic cloves, finely minced

1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese

1/4 cup finely cut parsley

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup vegetable oil for frying

1/3 cup raisons and 1/3 cup pinenuts …….optional

  1. Soak the bread in cold water ( or milk). Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl, combine, but do not yet mix, the remaining ingredients, except the oil.
  2. Squeeze the bread by fistfuls to drain it, then break it up into the bowl. First with a fork, then with your hands, blend the mixture very well, squishing it in your hands to make sure the bread blends with the meat. Do not worry about handling the meat too much.
  3. With your hands moistened in cold water, roll the mixture between your palms into 12 meatballs, each using about 1/3 cup of meat.
  4. Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium to medium-high heat. When a drop of water sizzles immediately, it’s hot enough for the meatballs. Gently place them in the pan and as soon as the first side looks brown, using a metal spatula, dislodge them and turn to another side. As the cooking side browns well, continue rotating the meatballs. After about 10 minutes the meatballs should be well browned but still slightly rare in the center.
  5. If serving the meatballs without sauce (“gravy”), lower the heat slightly and continue to cook, rotating the meatballs regularly, for another 5 to 8 minutes. If serving the meatballs in sauce, place them in the sauce now and simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Crispy Gnocchi with Burst Tomatoes and Mozzarella

by Ali Slagel

“Cooking New York Times” Website

As much as I love my cookbooks, sometimes I just don’t have the time to dawdle among the pages to find a recipe. I just can’t resist browsing through the gorgeous photos and dreaming about when I’ll make each dish.   I have been known to open a cookbook in search of a recipe, only to find that an hour or more has passed, and dinner will be late!  

When I don’t want to risk such an event, I open my computer, instead of a cookbook, and go straight to the website,   Just type in what you want to cook, and a bevy of recipes will appear, with mouthwatering pictures as well.    Many of my favorite cookbook authors have recipes on this website.  I also love all the features that it has to make cooking life easier. 

One day when I was searching for a recipe, I came across a picture for “Crunchy Gnocchi,” and I immediately saved it to “my recipe box,” knowing that I’d be making it very soon.  That’s one of the great features of this website.  You can save the recipes you might be interested in making, or have made and know you’ll want to make again.

This is one recipe I have made over and over again, and everyone leaves with the recipe!

I made one change to this recipe, which I think enhances it.  I added cubed eggplant, and I think it adds another dimension to the dish.  But if you’re not an eggplant lover, you can omit it, and just make the recipe as is.  You won’t be disappointed.

RECIPE: 4 servings

2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed

2 (12 to 18 ounce) packages shelf-stable potato gnocchi (not frozen)

1/4 cup unsalted butter

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/4 tsp. red-pepper flakes, plus more for serving

Kosher salt and black pepper

2 pints small tomatoes, such as cherry or grape (if tomatoes are larger than I’d like, I halve them)

1/4 cup thinly torn basil leaves, plus more for serving

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

optional…1 large eggplant, unpeeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

  1. Heat the broiler with a rack about 6 inches from the heat source
  2. In a large (12 to 14 inch) skillet on the stovetop, heat enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan (about 1 TBSP) over medium heat This is when you would saute the eggplant, if you are using it, until soft, but not mushy. Add more oil if needed. Remove from pan and set aside in a bowl.
  3. Wipe out the pan and heat another 1 TBSP of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add half the gnocchi to the pan, breaking up any that are stuck together. Cover with a lid or baking sheet and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on one side, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi and olive oil. Transfer to the same bowl. One side will have a crisp, golden color.
  4. Add the butter to the skillet and cook over medium-high, stirring often until golden brown and toasty, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, 1 1/2 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper, reducing the heat slightly if necessary to avoid scorching. Add the tomatoes and 3 TBSP of water and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened and the liquid has slightly thickened, 4 to 6 minutes. Smash the tomatoes as they burst, to help them along.
  5. Add the seared gnocchi ( and eggplant, if using), stir to coat, then shake into an even layer. Top with mozzarella and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Brown until the cheese is melted and browned in spots, 2 to 4 minutes. Top with more basil, red-pepper as desired.

Sautéed Swiss Chard

From Jane Brody’s Good Food Book

It was a cold, blustery March day, and there I was, alone in my kitchen with several bunches of rainbow Swiss chard. I kept staring at the swiss chard, hoping for some inspiration on what to do with it for that night’s dinner. Oil, garlic, tomatoes? That’s my usual. I learned that from my mother. When in doubt on how to cook any vegetable, saute some oil, garlic and tomatoes. You can’t miss with that, but I needed a change tonight. I needed some help from an old friend, so I searched my bookshelves and reached for Jane Brody’s Good Food Book. Nostalgia swept over me. On this cold wintry day, I felt comfort just holding this book and remembering how I once considered this the nutritional authority on how to feed my family. Jane Brody was a pioneer in nutrition, and it always gave me great pleasure to serve food from this book.

However, as I looked more closely at the cover, I was amazed to see that the sub-title to this book is “Living the High-Carbohydrate Way.” Boy have times changed! I’m not certain this would be a NYTimes bestseller right now when most diet gurus and nutritionists are touting low or no carbohydrate as the healthiest way to live. Perhaps even Jane has changed her thoughts on this. But I’m not here to debate this point. I’m here to share her delicious and healthy recipe for “sauteed Swiss chard.”

I thank Jane Brody for all the years she spent giving us advice on health, nutrition and wellness. She certainly made a difference in my life.

RECIPE: 3 to 4 servings

2 teaspoons oil ( I of course used olive oil)

1 to 2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 cup sliced leeks (white part) or one very small onion, thinly sliced

2/3 cups sliced celery

1 Tablespoon broth or water

4 cups coarsely chopped Swiss Chard ( I used rainbow Swiss chard because it looks so pretty)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Salt to taste.

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet (preferably nonstick), and add the garlic, leeks or onion and celery. Saute the vegetables, stirring them, for about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the broth or water and the Swiss chard. Season the mixture with pepper and salt, stirring the ingredients to combine well. Cover the pan, and simmer the mixture, stirring it occasionally, over low heat for about 5 minutes or until the chard is wilted and tender.


From The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy by Domenica Marchetti

“Glorious” is the word for this cookbook.  These sumptuous soups and stews are seasonal, even though we tend to think of soups and stews as hearty, wintry meals.  In this cookbook, you will find a vast variety of seasonal ingredients that can be cooked together to make a delicious one-pot meal.  

My favorite soup so far (I haven’t tried them all yet……but I plan to) is “Maccu.”  This is also known as “Spring Cleaning Soup.”  Doesn’t sound appetizing?  Oh, just wait!  I literally dream about this soup.  Or is it a stew?  I’m not quite sure, but whatever you want to call it, one thing is for sure.   It’s delicious!  The flavor is quite unique, and so is the tradition that goes along with it.

Traditionally, “Maccu” is a Sicilian soup served on March 19 to celebrate The Feast of Saint Joseph.  It is also said that it’s just a good way for Sicilian housewives to empty their pantries of any dried legumes left over from the winter.  Thus, they call it “Spring Cleaning Soup.”  They were cleaning out their pantries.   I had no idea that dried beans had a shelf life, but now I know that they do.  I, too, have made this soup every March for the past few years to use up all the beans I bought during the pandemic.  I think I was preparing for a famine, not a pandemic!  I’m nearing the end of my supply of beans, but I’ll purchase whatever necessary to make this soup each year.  It’s sooo good! This is going to be a tradition in this household for sure.

I must agree with the author that the fava beans are a must in this recipe.  They need to be one of the beans included because they fall apart and melt, giving the soup a lush texture that will warm your tummy and soul on a cold day in March.   

RECIPE: serves 4 to 6 as main course or serves 8 as first course.

2 1/2 cups mixed dried beans including 1 cup dried fava beans and 1 1/2 cups other beans, such as chickpeas, kidney beans, cannelloni beans, soaked overnight in water to cover

1/2 cup green or yellow split peas, rinsed and drained

1/2 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained

2 1/2 quarts ( 10 cups) water

2 ribs celery, finely chopped

1 fennel bulb, finely chopped

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 bunch swiss chard , washed and leaves cut into strips and stems chopped (kale will also do fine)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Kosher or sea salt

Generous pinch of red pepper flakes

Best quality extra virgin olive oil for serving

Drain the beans and make sure you remove the skins off the lava beans. Put the beans in a large Dutch oven or soup pot with a lid. Add the split peas, lentils and the water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming any foam that forms on the surface with a skimmer. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until the beans are somewhat tender.

Add the celery, fennel, onion and chard and stir well to combine everything thoroughly. Pour in the 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and season with a little salt and hot red pepper flakes. Continue to simmer, partially covered, fo another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the legumes and the vegetables are very tender and the soup is very thick. Add more water if the soup seems too dense, but it should be nearly thick enough to hole a wooden spoon upright. Taste for salt and add more if necessary.

Ladle the soup in bowls and drizzle each serving with your best olive oil.

**NOTE: While the quantity of legumes is important ( total of 3 1/2 cups), use what you have on hand (clean out your pantry), EXCEPT please use 1 cup of fava beans. It really makes a difference.

Broccoli Pasta

From Old World Italian by Mimi Thorisson

I’m always thrilled to receive a cookbook (or any book for that matter) as a gift.  It’s a gesture of endearment to me, as it lets me know that I am truly understood by that person.  They “get me” and my love of food, cooking and of course, cookbooks.  

Recently, I was given the cookbook “Old World Italian” by Mimi Thorisson.  I didn’t know much about the cookbook author, but her story is one of those that you wish was yours.  After living in France and writing several cookbooks and conducting cooking workshops there, she and her husband and children decided to travel through Italy, eventually living there, in search of exquisite, authentic Italian recipes.   This book is the product of those travels.  

I honestly don’t know what I enjoyed more……the written story of this adventure or the recipes.  The book truly reads like a novel.  I couldn’t put it down.  Such a fantasy come true!  And the pictures will have your mouth watering in minutes.  There is no other way to describe this book other than “dreamy.”  

One of my favorite recipes from the book is “broccoli pasta.”  It’s different from the “pasta with broccoli” recipe I have in the archives.  While I absolutely adore that recipe, this one is just as delicious, but with a different texture and a rather different taste.  I have added it to my repertoire of healthy vegetarian meals.  I’d be surprised if you didn’t do the same.

I hope you enjoy!


1 large head of broccoli and stems (about 1 pound) cut into small florets and coarsely chopped stems

1 pound dried spaghetti (meaning from a box, not freshly made)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced ( I used 2 cloves…love that garlic!)

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup heavy cream ( You can try a non dairy creamer. I bet it would be fine)

1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese. (You might want more for passing?)

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the broccoli and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, keeping the water boiling to cook the pasta.
  2. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente according to the package directions. Reserving 1 cup of the cooking water, drain the pasta, return to the empty pot and set aside.
  3. (While the pasta is cooking I did these next 3 steps). In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until tender and golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the broccoli and season with salt and pepper. Pour the cream over the mixture. Cook for 15 seconds and remove from the heat.
  4. Transfer the broccoli mixture to a food processor and process until roughly creamy.
  5. Add the broccoli sauce and a few tablespoons of reserved pasta water to the pot of pasta and set the pot over medium high-high heat. Cook, tossing frequently, until the pasta is well coated, 1 to 2 minute( add more pasta water if needed). Season with salt and pepper and scatter the grated Parmesan on top. Serve immediately.

** NOTE: I made sure the broccoli sauce was ready before I drained the pasta so the pasta wouldn’t clump together in the pot. Also, I tossed the pasta after adding the cheese at the end, to mix it in so it would cling to each strand of spaghetti. Then I added a bit more, “scattered” on top and passed Parmesan cheese at the table.

Chili Con Carne

from Soup Suppers by Arthur Schwartz

One of my favorite “food personalities” is Arthur Schwartz, known to many as “The Food Maven.”  You need to be of a certain age to even know who I’m talking about as his career has spanned over 40 years.  I first became enamored with Arthur during his 12 years on WOR radio hosting the program “Food Talk.”  I listened to this every lunchtime, throughout the nineties, in my office, writing down recipes, NYC restaurants I wanted to try, and especially Italian food and travel information.  At the time, he had a cooking school in southern Italy and took groups there.  I thought about joining one of his excursions, but I have my husband to guide me around Italy.  

I bring up Arthur Schwartz because I love his cookbooks!  Naples at Table has Italian recipes just like my family’s recipes.  It’s amazing.  We use this cookbook for many of our traditional holiday foods.  New York City Food is a historical and delicious anthology of foods that have made New York City the food capital of the world.  The best apple cake recipe around can be found in his Jewish Home Cooking. I promise to share recipes from all of these books in due time.   I have loved cooking from these books.

For this post, I’m going to share from my most recently acquired Soup Suppers. I purchased it about a year ago when I heard Arthur talk about it on a podcast that I listen to.  Every Monday at 8:00AM he calls into a show on Robin Hood Radio, a station out of Sheffield, Massachusetts, and for one half hour, he talks about food and recipes. One day, he mentioned this book and his recipe for Chile con Carne.  What peeked my interest was the fact that he called it “Chili con Carne.”  This is how this dish was referred to many years ago before it became just “chile.”  But when he mentioned a boyhood memory of his dad eating this with crumbled saltines, I knew I had to get this book.  My memory of “Chili con Carne “ is my mom opening a can of “Hormel Chili con Carne” for my dad on Saturdays for his lunch.   I LOVED the smell…..and the taste!   My dad would crumble saltines on top, and I’d eagerly wait for him to share with me.  Over the years, I’ve tried many versions of chili, always hoping to replicate this chili of my childhood.  Most were delicious, but missed the mark somehow.   Now the search is over.  The taste and aroma of this chili brings me right back to a Saturday lunch with my dad.  I garnish it the way I would with any other chili, with avocados, cheddar cheese, sour cream, etc., but I do miss the saltines.  And of course, my dad.   

RECIPE: Serves 4 to 6

3 Tablespoons vegetable oil

3 medium, onions, finely chopped

6 to 8 large garlic cloves, finely chopped or crushed

2 pounds lean ground beef

2 (28 ounce) cans of plum tomatoes, with their juice, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, or to taste

3 Tablespoons chili powder

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin seeds

2 (16 ounce) cans of kidney beans, drained, not rinsed


Sour cream

Shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese

fresh cilantro, chopped

Diced avocado

Diced fresh chilies

lime wedges

  1. In a 5 to 6 quart pot, heat the oil over medium heat and saute the onions until they brown, about 10 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and saute another 30 seconds.
  3. Add the ground beef and, with a wooden spoon, break it up and turn constantly until it loses it’s raw color.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes, salt, chili powder, 1/4 tsp. of cayenne, oregano, and cumin. Stir well. Partially cover and let simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Taste and add more salt and cayenne if desired, remembering that the beans will tone it down.
  6. Add the canned beans, stir well, partially cover again, and adjust heat so chili simmers gently for another 10 minutes.
  7. Ladle into deep bowls and serve with side garnishes.

Pumpkin Soup with a Very Fine Pasta

The New Complete Book of Pasta by Maria Luisa Scott & Jack Denton Scott

Autumn is soup season.  I could eat if for breakfast, lunch and dinner at this time of year.  So when a friend told me I had to try this recipe, I was eager to oblige.  

However, when she told me the ingredients, and that it came from an Italian cookbook, I was skeptical.  Chicken, pureed pumpkin, cream, spinach, pasta……it didn’t sound very Italian to me, nor had I ever heard of an Italian soup like this.  But this is my friend who never disappoints when she tells me a recipe is good……not in over 35 years.  I asked for the recipe, and a picture of the cookbook that it came from, as I was curious. 

I was surprised to see that the recipe is called “Zuppa di Zucca e Pasta Fine Fine alla Modena.”   Wow!  It certainly seemed authentic.    Also, it was from The New Complete Book of Pasta.     While I still questioned the “Italian-ness” of this recipe, I remembered this cookbook from her kitchen back in the late 1980s.  While our sons would play ball for hours in her backyard, she and I would sit in her kitchen with a cup of tea talking, laughing, and dancing to Phil Collins, Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran and of course Bruce Springsteen.  Conversation usually made its way around to food.  What we were making for dinner usually came up before the afternoon ended.  Coming from an English background, I was intrigued by her recipes for Shepherd’s Pie, English Trifle, Bubble and Squeek and many more.  

She had many cookbooks, but this particular one always caught my attention.  I didn’t own many Italian cookbooks at this point in my life.  My Italian recipes were mostly handed down from family.  I was amazed at the hundreds of ways to make pasta.  I remember leafing through this book, my mouth watering.  I also had a bit of mistrust.  Could my non-Italian friend really know Italian food?  Were these recipes authentic?  Over the years, this book (and my friend) have proved me dead wrong.  Every recipe she ever gave to me from here was a winner, even if it was something unusual to me.  She also is one of the best Italian cooks I know.  I like to think that it was my influence, but I’m sure this cookbook has something to do with it.  

So I took a chance and gave it a try.  She’s right again!  This recipe is indeed wonderful.  

If you have leftover turkey this Thanksgiving, I suggest you use it here instead of the chicken.  

Buon Appetito! 

RECIPE: serves 6

5 Tablespoons butter

1 medium-size onion, coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped ( I used 2 and minced)

1 celery stalk, scraped ( I did not) and coarsely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 bay leaf

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups cubed ( 1/2 inch) fresh pumpkin ( I used canned pureed)

1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup heavy cream or substitute 1 cup half and half ( I’m sure you can use coconut milk and cream, but will definitely alter the taste…..but not in a bad way)

2 cups cubed chicken (she used rotisserie chicken….I boiled some boneless thighs)

1/2 tsp (or to taste) ground nutmeg…grate your own if possible

1 cup broken-up very fine pasta, such as capellini or Angel hair

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh spinach ( we both doubled this)

In a large pot, over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add the onion, garlic and celery and cook 2 minutes. Do not brown. Add the salt, pepper, bay leaf, broth, pumpkin and cook, partially covered, about 25 minutes, or until the pumpkin can be mashed ( if using fresh pumpkin). Discard the bay leaf. Puree the soup with an immersion blender. (If putting this in a regular blender, cool first).

Stir in the milk and cream, chicken and nutmeg. cook for 2 minutes. Add the pasta and cook for 1 minute or until the pasta is just al dente. Taste for seasoning. Stir in the spinach and remaining butter and serve.

Leek and Potato Soup

Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

After posting a recipe from Stanley Tucci’s cookbook, my mind naturally went to Julia Child, where he played her husband in the 2009 film, “Julie and Julia.”  I love this movie for the cast, humor and plot.  Afterall, Julie is a blogger, who takes on the task of cooking Julia Child’s 524 recipes from “Mastering The Art of French Cooking” in 365 days.  

The movie, of course motivated me to buy the double volume set of this critically acclaimed cookbook.  I remember how enthusiastic I was to try some of these French classic dishes.  I had no intention of trying them all, as did Julie Powell, but I was eager to try to elevate my cooking skills.  I couldn’t stop staring at the beauty of the cookbook set.  It was placed in a prominent  place of honor on my bookshelf.  And there it sat for years.  I would occasionally open it; leaf through the hundreds of very complicated recipes; start to hyperventilate; and then close the book quickly and replace it on the shelf.  I’ve done this for 11 years!  Until now! 

But let me be honest.  I’ve been staring at this book for over 2 weeks and still had a very hard time deciding on a recipe.  Most of them still intimidate me.  It’s really not your average cookbook.  It is more of a textbook, teaching you about techniques, equipment, cuts of meat, and so much more.  It could have been called, ”Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About French Cooking, But Were Afraid to Ask.”     However, if you look long and hard enough, there are some simple recipes to be found.  Not every recipe is complex.  

So I decided on what Julia considers to be the most basic soup, Potage Parmentier (scary, right?), or also known as Leek and Potato Soup.  I chose this because not only is it simple, but she has so many variations of this soup, that once you master this basic recipe, you’ll have several other soup recipes to rely on and impress.

Now let me continue with my honesty and admit to you that several years ago I purchased the cookbook, “Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom.”  This was the title of her PBS special by the same name.  I would say this cookbook is a mini-version  (cheat version, actually) of her masterpiece mentioned above.  She makes sure you realize that this contains a less complex version of several of her recipes.  It still offers a great deal of culinary education, but some simpler techniques are used.  However, I proudly stuck to the original recipe in Volume 1 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I didn’t even take a peek.  Honestly!

The soup was delicious, and I can see that by adding other vegetables, such as carrots or squash, you would have a very different tasting soup.  The addition of watercress as a garnish added a lovely, light crunch.  In its simplicity it is very elegant tasting.  Perhaps that’s because it came from this very elegant cookbook set.  

RECIPE: serves 6 to 8 people

1 lb peeled potatoes (3 to 4 cups), sliced or diced

1 lb thinly sliced leeks, including tender green ( 3 cups)

2 quarts water

1 TBSP salt

4 to 6 TB shipping cream or 2 to 3 TBSP softened butter

2 to 3 TBSP minced chives or parsley

I added watercress

  1. Simmer the vegetables, water and salt together, partially covered, for 40 to 50 minutes, until vegetables are tender.
  2. Mash the vegetables in the soup with a fork or pass the soup through a food mill.
  3. Correct seasoning. Set aside until serving, then reheat to simmer.
  4. Off heat and just before serving, stir in the cream or butter by spoonfuls.
  5. Pour into a tureen or soup cups and decorate with herbs or watercress.

** Julia says that if you chill this soup, you have Vichyssoise. Very fancy!

** Silvia says to use an immersion blender to puree the soup, and so does Julia in the small “cheat book.” Next time I will do this for sure!!

Pasta with Mushrooms from “The Tucci Table”

Try as I might to refrain, I’m often tempted to purchase a new cookbook (or two) if I find myself intrigued by an author, or concept, or just about anything that will push me into the “I’ve got to have it” mode.  This time it was Stanley Tucci’s travel/culinary series on CNN, entitled “Searching for Italy,”  that persuaded me that I had to have a cookbook by Stanley Tucci!

 This show came at a much needed time last winter, when I was bored staying home  due to the pandemic and spent most of my time dreaming of the day when we’d be able to travel again to our much beloved Italy.  For one hour a week, Stanley Tucci transported us to Italy in all its beauty.   We could just about taste and smell the foods right through the TV.  The episode on the Amalfi Coast  actually brought tears to our eyes.   We’d eaten in most of the restaurants he visited during our many trips to this area of Italy.  And of course, the foods from this region are what I grew up eating.  Talk about lifting your spirits!  We’d record each episode and play it several times during the week, whenever we needed a pick me up.   Stanley Tucci saved me!!

I’m hoping he comes back for a second season, but in the meantime, I thought I’d enjoy perusing his cookbooks and finding some delicious new recipes.  I felt that I owed him something, after he brought me so much joy.   “The Tucci Cookbook” and “The Tucci Table”  are not new cookbooks.  They’ve been around for almost a decade.  I didn’t realize that he was such a cook.  I just thought he was an awesome actor.  There are wonderful recipes in both books.  I plan to make his famous “timpano,” from his movie “Big Night.”  This has so many steps and ingredients that it will have to wait until winter, as I’ll need at least two days to complete that feat! 

My recipe of choice for this post ……and it was a good one,  came from “The Tucci Table.”  It’s Pasta with Mushrooms, and it’s absolutely delicious.  It so earthy and full of flavor and texture.  This sauce would also be delicious on top of polenta. 

If you’re a Stanley Tucci fan, I think you’d enjoy his cookbooks, as cookbooks always give you some interesting insight into the author, their families, their lives.  If you’re a mushroom fan, this recipe is for you! 

Just as an aside, Stanley Tucci has a new book out entitled, “Taste: My Life Through Food.” I’ve read a few excerpts from this book, and I’m especially moved by learning that he had a malignant tumor at the base of his tongue several years ago and had severe radiation treatment that left him with ulcers in his mouth and no taste.  He says in this book that his greatest fear was losing his taste…..not death!  This started me thinking about how important taste is to me and perhaps I should think about it with more gratitude.  

And by the way, I have pre-ordered this book.  A memoir with recipes is my kind of heaven!!!  

Recipe: serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms soaked in 1 cup warm water

4 TBSP olive oil

2 TBSp Butter

1 large onion fine chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 1/2 to 3 pounds brown mushrooms such a Baby Bella or Cremini…or any mixture

1 bouquets garni ( 1 sprig each of rosemary, sage and thyme)

3/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken or veal stock

Freshly ground back pepper

1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 pound dried pappardelle

1 TBSP chopped Italian parsley

  1. First soak the dried porcini in 1 cup of warm water for about 30 minutes. Then lift from the soaking water and squeeze out as much of the water as you can, saving all the liquid. Pour the soaking-liquid through a coffee filter into a bowl to remove any sediment. Finely chopped the porcini and set aside.
  2. In a large saute pan, he 3 TBSP of the olive oil and 1 TBSP of butter over low heat. Add the onion, garlic and shallots and cook until softened but not brown. Raise the heat to medium. Add another TBSP of olive oil, all of the brown mushrooms, the chopped dried porcini and the bouquet garni. Cover and saute until the mushrooms have softened a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and let it cook for about 1 minute. Add the reserved porcini liquid, the chicken stock and a good pinch of black pepper. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until the mushrooms are nice and soft, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the bouquet garni and gently stir in the remaining TBSP of butter. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Bring 6 quarts of well-salted water to a boil. Cook the pappardelle until al dent.
  4. Drain the pasta and toss it in the pan with the mushrooms. (You may have to divide the sauce and the pasta into two batches to do this). I didn’t. Turn off the heat, add one cup of the Parmigiano, and toss it through the pasta. to serve, transfer the pasta to a platter and top with the remaining Parmigiano and the parsley.

My First Cookbook…….(Hamburger Stroganoff)

In my last post we looked at my mother’s first cookbook, from 1959, and now we’ll jump forward to 1973 and look at some of the recipes that were popular then.  While I don’t plan on addressing my cookbooks chronologically in this journey back through my kitchen memories, the next cookbook I’ll share is my first cookbook  .…..if you don’t count the booklet that came with my “Easy Bake Kitchen” in the 1950s .   It is also from Betty Crocker, and entitled “ Betty Crocker’s Dinner For Two Cookbook.”   

This cookbook was first published in 1964, and by the early 70’s, it was close to being irrelevant.   We women of the 70s were not setting a candlelit dinner for our husbands, unless perhaps for a special occasion.  Not only are some of the recipes outdated, but also it’s approach to wives in the kitchen wouldn’t stand up now for most.  For me “Dinner for Two” meant quick weeknight meals, thrown together after work, and often watched in front of TV.   Even Betty’s section entitled “Hurry-Up Dinners”  still makes me laugh, right down to the homemade dessert.  When I received this cookbook at my bridal shower in 1973, I do remember feeling hopeful that I’d cook like this for my husband every night, but once reality set in, I realized this was a cookbook that I’d use for entertaining only.  

And use it I did!  Looking at the pictures now, fond memories come back.  I can remember what dish I made for which friends or family members.   Some recipes were a hit, and others not so much.  However, there was one that was a success every time.  Hamburger Stroganoff.  Yes, it was always met with rave reviews.  Actually, this recipe was very popular back then.   As you can see from the picture in the cookbook, it was often served in a sterling silver chafing dish on a buffet table.  I’m going to admit that once upon a time I too, owned ( and used) sterling silver chafing dishes.  This was a popular shower and/or wedding gift at this time.  The silver presentation certainly raised the bar for a glorified “Hamburger Helper” meal.  

(Just as an aside….Hamburger Helper, the boxed success from General Mills, didn’t come around until 1971). 

I hadn’t made this dish in at least 30 years, but I remember loving it.  The taste of it is still fresh in my mind.  I couldn’t wait to see how I would feel about something like this now.  I am happy to say, that it did not disappoint.  Surprise!  I loved it, and my “taste testers” finished every last morsel.  It definitely needs the buttered, sesame noodles, but the sterling silver chafing dish is not necessary.  The aroma brought me back to my first tiny kitchen in Philadelphia, and the many friends I loved and entertained there.  This cookbook and Hamburger Stroganoff made me very happy.  

Hamburger Stroganoff 4 servings

1/2 cup minced onion 1 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 clove garlic, minced 1 can (10 &1/2 ounce) cream of chicken soup ( I used cream of mushroom).

1/4 cup butter 1 cup sour cream

1 lb. ground beef chopped parsley

2 TBSP flour

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

  1. Saute onion and garlic in butter over medium heat.
  2. Stir in the meat and brown.
  3. Stir in the flour, salt, pepper and mushrooms.
  4. Cook 5 minutes and then stir in the soup
  5. Simmer uncovered 10 minutes.
  6. Stir in Sour Cream and heat through.
  7. Garnish with parsley