Lobster Fra Diavolo with Spaghetti

fra plated **

With the celebration of Labor Day over and done, I turn my sights to the Holidays.  Well, not really, but they will be here before you know it.   Don’t worry….I’m not going to start posting holiday recipes for some time to come.  I’m still grilling and enjoying the summer bounty.  However, when I was asked to make lobster fra diaviolo for a Labor Day celebration, I couldn’t help thinking about the Holidays.  Lobster fra diavolo was my dad’s occasional contribution to either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve when we were growing up.  If my memory serves me correctly, this was one of the few times my mom would let him cook. My mom ruled her kitchen, but once in a while she let him in.  Yes, he made a mess of the kitchen like most men, and yes, this annoyed her (believe me, I can relate!), but the result was so delicious that it was worth every dirty pot, and all the tomato stains on the walls.

So why did I agree to make this spicy hot dish on a brutally hot day at the end of summer?  It’s because we also enjoyed dad’s special dish during the summers at the beach.  He loved to buy the lobsters and conduct lobster races for his grandchildren.  The kids loved to cheer on the lobsters crawling along the deck or kitchen floor.  They would even name the lobsters.  Sadly for the kids, he’d later cook them to perfection.  Sometimes they were served with drawn butter, but many times it was “fra diavolo” even in the summer heat.

About 12 years ago, we took my dad on a trip to the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.   He claimed that this is where he first tasted lobster fra diavolo when he was 17 years old. He and his brother and cousins would come to the Catskills to dance in the many large hotels of that time, the 1930s.   The Catskills were famous for these big band dance halls.  He insisted that we drive him all around the area in search of this place.  He claimed we found it… “Villa Vosillo,” which was indeed around in the 1930s and 40s.  Maybe he was right?  We went inside and was convinced that this was the place where he first had lobster fra diavolo!   It was no longer on the menu, so we left and went to our favorite Italian restaurant in the next town of Windham, New York.   Once the owner heard my dad’s story, he was happy to make it for him, even though it wasn’t on the menu there either.  My dad was elated!!  He said it tasted exactly as he remembered nearly 70 years prior!  To this day, my husband orders this dish at this restaurant in Windham, every single time we go there, and they make it special, just for him as they recall the night it made my dad so happy.

So many wonderful memories of lobster fra diavolo!   Sadly, however, I never watched him closely enough, nor did I write it down on paper.  To come up with this recipe that I’ll share with you, I used some memory, and combined it with some recipes from cookbooks, and the result was as close to his as possible.  He didn’t follow a recipe either.

I hope you will enjoy my version of my dad’s lobster fra diavolo. The main thing to remember is that you can make it as hot (diavolo), or not, as you like.  Your guests can always add more hot pepper if desired.  One last tip…..hand out bibs and/or many very big napkins.  This is a dish to dig in to and not worry about tomato stains everywhere! And don’t forget the spaghetti or linguine!!

Recipe:  serves 4

2  1 & 1/2 to 2 pound lobsters, cut up.   Ask your fishmonger to do this for you.  I also buy a few extra 5 to 7 ounce lobster tails.

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

4 cloves garlic, smashed

1 1/2 tsp. hot pepper flakes (you decide more or less)

1 cup dry white wine

1/3 cup cognac ( optional)

3  28 ounce cans peeled Italian plum tomatoes, squished with your hands or pulse in blender (squishing is preferable, always!)

1 TBSP. tomato paste

2 tsp.  dried oregano

10 fresh basil leaves, torn into bits

1 tsp sea salt  (plus more salt and pepper to taste)

1 pound of spaghetti or linguine ( you can use 1 & 1/2 pounds of spaghetti)

  1.  In a large heavy saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add all the lobster pieces, except the tails, and cook, stirring often for 10 minutes.
  2. Scatter the garlic, 1 tsp of sea salt, and hot pepper around the lobster pieces, and stir.
  3. Add the wine and cognac and cook for 3 minutes.
  4. Add the squished tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano and basil.  Stir well.
  5. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes are thickened, about 35 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Add the lobster tails and cook for 5 to 10 minutes
  7. Meanwhile bring a pasta pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook spaghetti or linguine until al dente.
  8. Mix pasta with sauce and serve with the lobster.  Pass extra hot pepper.

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Cousin Richard’s Summer Pasta

Richard's pasta in bolw**

Looking for that perfect, light, summer pasta dish for a warm, sunny Sunday?  Well you can wish to be invited to dinner at my cousin Richard’s house, or you can make his recipe at your house.   It’s perfect for any day of the week, actually.  But you know us Italians……Sunday means pasta, even in the hot summer months.   This is the perfect time of year to use the freshest ingredients from local farms or perhaps even from your backyard garden.  And of course, the simpler the better on a hot day.   This sauce doesn’t even require cooking!

So the key things about this sauce:

  1. Use ripe tomatoes, plum or cherry
  2. Fragrant basil, freshly picked.
  3. Allow the chopped tomatoes and basil to macerate for as long as you can, minimum of 2 hours.
  4. Use the best mozzarella you can find.

If you follow these 4 simple steps, your pasta dish can’t miss.  The mingling of these ingredients is a winner any way you serve it.  I promise you.

RECIPE:

1 pound of short pasta, such as fusilli or a short rigatoni

3 cups chopped ripe tomatoes, either cherry tomatoes or plum.

1 cup chopped (by hand if possible) fresh basil and save some whole for serving

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

2  tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 stick salted butter ( 4 TBSP)

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, chopped into 1 inch size cubes.

grated Pecorino Romano cheese for passing

  1.  Chop tomatoes and put in large bowl.
  2. Add the chopped basil and garlic.
  3. Add the salt and pepper and stir all ingredients to combine.  Set aside for 2 hours or so, stirring occasionally to combine the flavors.
  4. After the tomatoes and ingredients are macerated and ready, cook pasta in a large pot of salted water.  When al dente, drain well and return to the pot.  Add the tomatoes, and stir.
  5. Have the butter in your serving bowl.  Pour the pasta and tomatoes into the serving bowl and mix with butter.  Add the chopped mozzarella.  Stir again to combine and let the mozzarella melt a bit.
  6. Top with some grated cheese and more fresh basil.

**Note:  You can serve this immediately or at room temperature.  However, when mixing all the ingredients, the pasta should be hot….right out of the pot, so flavors will slightly cook together and the mozzarella will melt.

Buon appetito!   Enjoy the flavors of summer!

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Gluten Free Blueberry Cobbler

cobbler baked 1*

Who goes on a retreat and comes back with recipes (along with a sense of peace and well-being )?  I do, of course!   Especially when the food served was nothing short of spectacular. We were told ahead of time that it would be vegetarian, with gluten free and dairy free options.  I can totally enjoy eating this way, so I was happy. Plus, I was thinking this could be a good chance to drop a pound or two.

We arrived at the stunningly beautiful Uplands Center in Walton, New York at dinnertime, to find four very cheerful women cooking in the large country kitchen.   The aromas that drifted throughout the large house brought a very homey, cozy feeling to me.  When the dinner bell rang, we were escorted into the sunlit dining room to feast our eyes upon a buffet of home cooked soups, stews, grains, breads, and on and on. After devouring a plateful (and I do mean a plate FULL), I returned for seconds, not knowing that the desert buffet would be just as large.

I can’t even describe the desserts without tearing up with fond memories.   Each sweet treat reminded me of the baking of my childhood…..simple, rich in flavor, and full of fruit in the summertime.  I didn’t know where to start, nor when to stop.  The blueberry cobbler was my favorite.  It had just the right amount of sweetness, and was bursting with blueberries.

The food here is cooked with love.  Candy, her daughter, sister and friend emanated a warm-hearted spirit.  They loved nourishing us. You could feel that.  This couldn’t have been more obvious than in the food they prepared.   Meal after meal, the buffet was incredible to the senses….sight, smell and taste.

This was a special weekend and a wonderful experience.  I returned refreshed, happy, renewed, and few pounds heavier.

Recipe:

1 stick of butter, melted

1 cup of sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

1cup Gluten-freeAll Purpose Flour mix (Candy prefers King Arthur)…….and of course, use regular flour if you like

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 cup milk  (Can use almond or coconut if you want dairy free)

1/2 tsp. vanilla

2 cups fresh blueberries (or any kind of berries or fruit), washed and patted dry

  1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly grease a 3 quart baking dish with butter.
  3. Whisk together the flour, sugar (not the brown sugar),and baking powder.
  4. Stir in the milk, vanilla and the melted butter.
  5. Pour into prepared baking dish.
  6. Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle the brown sugar over the blueberries.
  7. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until golden.
  8. Top each serving with ice cream or whipped cream, if you like.

 

cobbler recipe

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Eggplant Stacks

stacks plated *

I have stared at the description of “Eggplant Stacks” on the menu of our favorite Italian restaurant in the bucolic Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York for many years, but never ordered it.   Why not?  I love eggplant.  I love mozzarella.  And I LOVE tomatoes.   Yet, there’s something about the name…”Eggplant Stacks”….that is just so unappealing to me.  Now let’s call it as they would in Italy. “ Melanzane e mozzarella con tomato e basilica.” Now that sounds likes music!    That I would order!   Time after time, I’ve glanced at this on the appetizer section of the menu, and then order something else.

Recently a friend of mine told me she was making “eggplant stacks” for her family that evening. I was astounded that she used the same name as the restaurant.  Of course, the ingredients were the same, and she convinced me that I would love it, no matter what it was called.   I didn’t even have to write the recipe down on paper, as it couldn’t be easier. However, when she said it was as good as eggplant parmigiano I became suspicious, and then downright curious. I immediately went to the store and bought all the ingredients I needed.  My family was now having “eggplant stacks” as well that evening.

I rather enjoyed preparing this dish.  You slice the eggplant in rounds, coat in egg, then breadcrumbs and bake in the oven. You can do this ahead of time for sure. Then you just slice the tomatoes and mozzarella and arrange the stacks, top with basil and then bake again.   It’s so pretty once assembled and baked just enough for the mozzarella to slowly melt down the sides a bit.   By the look of it, as well as the aroma, I knew we were in for a treat.

So let me be honest and tell you that these eggplant stacks are absolutely delicious.  They are pretty on the plate, and pass well on a platter as antipasto.  As an appetizer or side dish, they are a great addition.    Also, added to a delicious bowl of pasta in fresh tomato sauce (see archives), this is a real treat.   Easy to prepare; pleasing to the eye; divine to the taste buds.   A perfect recipe!

HOWEVER, let me just say, don’t try to pass this off as “as good as eggplant parmigiano.”   Sorry.  Not even close.  You won’t fool anyone.  But, it is delicious in it’s own right.  The distinct flavors of the eggplant, the mozzarella and the tomatoes stand out more than in eggplant parmigiano because they stand alone, ever so slightly melded together.  I like that, and I think you will too.

So let’s just call this for what it is.  It is indeed a stack of breaded eggplant, mozzarella and tomatoes,  topped with basil.  Delicious in it’s simplicity.  I especially love the lightness, and of course the combination of these ingredients can’t miss.

I will agree with my friend in that if you are craving eggplant parmigiano, this could possibly satisfy your taste.  It’s less work, and yes, it’s probably less calories, but there’s nothing like the real thing (see the archives for my recipe for eggplant parmigiano). However, I really do like making this. Everyone loves it, and as I said already, these ingredients are just so wonderful together.

Also, if you have food issues amongst your guests, it’s easy to make half the eggplant with gluten free breadcrumbs.  Or if dairy is a problem for some, you can easily use non-dairy mozzarella for some of the stacks.   It’s a recipe that can easily accommodate food allergies.

I hope I have enticed you to try this recipe.  I didn’t mean to put it down.  I LOVE it.  Please make it.  Call it whatever you like.  Just don’t try to pass it off as eggplant parmigiano, that’s all.

RECIPE:  makes approximately 8 to 10 stacks, depending on size of eggplant

1 large eggplant or 2 medium, thickly sliced….a good 1/2 inch or so.

2 large tomatoes, thickly sliced

8 ounces of mozzarella, thickly sliced

3 eggs, beaten

2 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (I recommend Italian panko breadcrumbs to make it crispy, or add plain panko to the Italian seasoned crumbs)

lots of fresh basil

3 TBSP grated Italian cheese, either Pecorino Romano or parmigiana.

olive oil cooking spray

olive oil for drizzle

  1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray a baking sheet pan with olive oil cooking spray.
  2. Whisk eggs in a shallow bowl, and place breadcrumbs in a second bowl
  3. Dip each side of the eggplant slices in the egg, then press into the breadcrumbs to coat each side.  Place on the prepared baking sheet. Spray the tops of the eggplant generously with the cooking spray.
  4. Bake 8 minutes at 400 degrees, then turn each slice and spray again.  Bake an additional 8 to 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and cool slightly (or let sit until ready to “stack”).
  6. To make the stacks, just place a slice of mozzarella on top of the eggplant, then the tomato.  Sprinkle with some grated cheese and top with basil.
  7. Bake stacks until the cheese has slightly melted, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.  Serve warm.  Before serving, top each stack with fresh basil, and perhaps a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil.

*Note:  I have thinned out some pesto sauce (see archives) with olive oil, and drizzled with this.  You absolutely don’t need to drizzle anything.  It’s just a suggestion.

**You can also double stack. Or, you can do as I do, eat two singles at one time.

IMG_9734IMG_9716stacks mozzarells slicedstacks crumbs:eggstacs dipstacks pan 1stacs pan 2stacks pan 4stacks pan 5stacks plated closeupstacks plated *

 

 

 

 

 

Pasta with Asparagus and Peas (Primavera)

primavera plated ***

Pasta Primavera can typically be made using all, or some, of Spring’s finest bounty.  My favorite way, however, of making this dish is with asparagus and fresh spring peas.   The simple flavors of asparagus and peas go so well together, especially when sautéed with shallots, garlic, olive oil and butter.   All you need after that is some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, some fresh herbs, such as parsley, tarragon or mint, and a grind or two of fresh black pepper.  Heaven awaits your taste buds.  I especially love how light this dish is without sacrificing flavor.

Eating what’s in season, just makes sense.  Most culinary aficionados have touted this practice for many years.  But before that, human nature just knew that this was the tastiest (and cheapest) was to eat.    In my grandmothers’ time, this was how you fed your family…..seasonally, from your garden.   Even when I was young, we had a vegetable man who came around to our street a few times a week with the freshest, local produce of the season, piled high in his bus.  Now we can buy just about any vegetable at any time of year from all around the globe.  I try very hard to wait for the right food at the right season.  This is one of the recipes where I do just that.  Asparagus and peas are in season right now in NJ, and I plucked the herbs from my garden.   The taste is extra fresh and extra vibrant.  You really taste each ingredient.

The motto to the story:  take whatever vegetables are in season, preferably grown local (easy to do this now with Farmer’s Markets in most towns), sauté with garlic, shallots or even spring onions in olive oil and butter. Put it on top of any pasta shape of your choice.  Add some fresh herbs and grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, and dig in for truly delectable experience.  You can’t miss!

Buon Appetito!

RECIPE:  serves 4

1 pound asparagus, preferably thin

1 lb. fresh peas ( you can find them shelled in the “convenience” section of the produce aisle

2 large shallots, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 TBSP unsalted butter, plus 1 extra TBSP for mixing

3 TBSP olive oil

1 tsp fine sea salt, plus salt for the pasta water

4 TBSP minced parsley

3 TBSP minced fresh tarragon or mint or both

Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

  1.  Cut tips off the asparagus and set aside.
  2. Cut stems of asparagus in 1 to 2 inch diagonals
  3. Melt the butter with the oil in a large sauce pan.
  4. Add the shallots, asparagus stems and peas.  Saute for 5 minutes, then add the garlic.
  5. Continue cooking for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the vegetable are tender but not mushy.
  6. Add the asparagus tips and fresh herbs (or you can add the herbs when plated) and cook 3 to 5 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain.
  8. Add the 1 TbSP ( maybe 2) of butter to the serving bowl before adding the drained pasta.  Stir to coat the pasta.  Add the asparagus and peas mixture and stir to combine.  Add at least 1/4 to 1/3 cup of cheese and combine.  Grind some black pepper.
  9. Serve with more grated cheese and black pepper.

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1950s Date and Nut Loaf

date:nut loaf slice **

My sister and I have spent months going through our parent’s home, navigating through 70 years of memorabilia.  Among the treasures that we found was our  mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook that she received Christmas 1959.   It is worn…actually falling apart.  It is soiled……so many pages have her food-coated  fingerprints.    It was loved and enjoyed by her for almost 60 years.

I can recall this cookbook, opened on our red formica kitchen table, and mom in her apron following her favorite recipe.  Usually she was baking from it’s pages, and nothing made me happier.  She had her favorite recipes, and I liked each one better than the next.

Going through Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book was a history lesson steeped in memories for me.    The pictures of the 1950s housewife, cooking in a beautiful dress and heels, is truly a slice of life that has disappeared (thank goodness).   The recipes have changed as well.  There is no mention of healthy ingredients, caloric or fat content, and surely the more sugar the better for these desserts.

In deciding which recipe to try first, I went through the cookbook, page by page, stopping and marking any page that was soiled by her food and her fingerprints.   Sixty years later and I can still smell and taste each one of her favorite recipes…….the ones where the spine of the book opens flatly.    I remember her apron.  I remember the standing Sunbeam mixmaster sitting on the counter.  I remember her smile.  She was always happy when she was cooking for her family.    I remember waiting with anticipation for that first slice of whatever it was she was baking.   It warms my heart to just recall this scene.

So after much deliberation I decided to begin my journey down memory lane within this cookbook with “Date and Nut Loaf.”   It was always one of my favorites.  She usually made it for afternoon coffee with a neighbor or one of my aunts.  I especially loved it when it was spread with cream cheese and made into small tea sandwiches.  If we were lucky, it appeared at the breakfast table the next morning.

My first bite of the date and nut loaf brought back many memories.  The taste was so familiar, even though I can’t even imagine when the last time was that I’d had it.  It was as if I’d had a slice yesterday.   It never ceases to amaze me how many memories our taste buds have locked away.  One bite and I’m back in time……a special time, that I love to visit over and over.

Recipe:  1 loaf

  1.  Pour 1 1/2 cups boiling water over ……1 1/2 cups cut-up dates
  2. Let cool.
  3. Mix thoroughly…. 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 TBSP soft shortening and 1 egg
  4. Stir in the dates and water.
  5. Sift together and stir in…2 1/4 cups sifted flour, 1 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt
  6. Blend in 1 cup broken nuts.  Use either walnuts or pecans.
  7. Pour into a well greased 9x5x3 loaf pan.
  8. Let stand for 20 minutes before baking
  9. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 60 to 70 minutes.

 

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Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms & Grapes

roasted mushrooms plated close up **?

You already know about my addiction to shitake mushrooms, and how very good they are for you.   My brilliant nutritionist claims that eating shitakes throughout the flu season really boosts your immunity.   Hence, you will find shitakes cooking in my kitchen all year long, either sautéing, roasting or in soups and stews.  I add them to everything!  Do check the archives for my sautéed mushrooms recipe.

One of my favorite ways to make these nutritional bombshells is to roast them in a hot oven with red grapes, shallots, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Then once they are cooked through and slightly crunchy, you drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  They are great as a side dish,  in an omelet, but also super as a snack, b y the handful.  The grapes add a slightly sweet touch to balance the earthy flavor.

Because I can’t remember where I read this recipe (this is a major problem lately), I’ve had to play around with the measuring of ingredients, but honestly, you can’t mess this up.  You can make them as crunchy as you like by increasing the heat.   The sweetness can be controlled by the amount of grapes you use, and of course, the balsamic vinegar adds a very complex flavoring to the entire dish.  One night I found myself adding a little extra salt, and eating them like popcorn while I watched a movie on TV!

They do shrink as they cook, so don’t be overwhelmed by the amount I’m suggesting.   No matter how many pounds of mushrooms I make, they disappear within 24 hours…..every single time.

Here’s to your health!  I hope you enjoy!

Recipe:  

1 1/2  to 2 lbs shiitake mushrooms (sometimes I add 5 oz. or so of a baby bella or criminology mushroom for texture)

15-20 seedless red grapes (left whole)

1 large shallot sliced

2 – 3cloves of garlic, thickly sliced

4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil ( you may need more)

sea salt or fine Kosher salt and pepper to taste

2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

  1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Spread the mushrooms, shallots, garlic and grapes on a sheet pan.
  3. Generously season with salt and pepper, but remember you can add more at the end.
  4. Drizzle with the olive oil and stir well to coat them.  You may need more olive oil.
  5. Roast in the oven for approximately 15 to 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes or so.
  6. When they are cooked to your liking, take them out of the oven, and while still on the pan, drizzle the balsamic vinegar all over, and stir.  Leave them on the pan for a few minutes before serving.

 

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Chia Breakfast Pudding

chia plated **

Long before chia seeds became known for being a super food, they were marketed as chia pets. All you had to do was plant the seeds in a clay figurine, water it and it would grow. When my kids were young they would sing the song, “chi chi chi chia,” as this was the theme song in the advertisement on TV.  They’d sing it over and over again and loved their chia pets. The song drove me crazy, and I found the chia pets to be hideous. These chia pets are still around and still as offensive as ever.

Before the craze changed from chia pets to super food, I had a friend ( a health enthusiast, to say the least) who told me about all the delicious things she was doing with these chia seeds. This wasn’t the first crazy food that she insisted was good for me. Most times, I’d listen to her and march off to a health food store and purchase some hemp, wheat grass or uva ursi leaves.   But “chi chi chi chia” seeds? Never!! Those disgusting things growing in my children’s rooms??!! No can do. But being a good friend, I wrote (scribbled) down her instructions on how to make a chia pudding that she swore would taste like tapioca pudding.

This scrap of paper ( her recipe for chia pudding) has sat in a folder marked “recipes to try” for years and years. I would constantly move it to the back of the pile, knowing that I’d never try it, until the last year or two, when chia breakfast pudding became popular and is everywhere!   You can find a million and one ways to make this on the internet.   I decided it was time to give it a go. I hadn’t seen a chia pet growing in my house for a very long time, so I thought I would be able to stomach it now.

Why did I wait so long to make this? It’s delicious! Saying it tastes like tapioca pudding is a stretch, but with berries, fruit and nuts, this makes a delicious breakfast or snack. There are so many variations on this pudding, but I think it best to keep it as simple as possible because it literally takes five minutes to make. Why complicate things? Keep it simple and you’ll make it often. I vary the toppings according to the fruit and nuts I have on hand.

I can’t believe that this has become a weekly breakfast choice for me now, after all these years. Now I’m the one singing, “chi chi chi chia.”

Recipe:  4 servings

1/2 cup chia seeds

2 cups milk…can be almond milk if desired

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. cinnamon

4 TBSP. maple syrup, or any other sweetener of choice (honey, agave, stevia etc), and you can adjust to your liking.

4 jars with lids….or you can put it all in a bowl and cover it.

Fruit, berries, nuts or any topping of  choice

  1.  Combine seeds with the milk and stir.
  2. Add the vanilla, cinnamon and sweetener and stir until all combined.
  3. Place in jars.  Cover and refrigerate over night.
  4. Top with fruit, nuts, etc.

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Ida’s Polenta

polenta plated **

First of all, please excuse my recent absence. It’s been quite a long time since my last post. What I’ve learned during this time of reflection, is just how important our memories truly are to us. Without memories, we are left with very little. I have been blessed with many memories of family and friends, and even people I hardly knew, who made me smile and brought some happiness into my life.

To that point, this blog has always been an homage to the people who have left me with beautiful memories of food, family, friendship and tradition. Nothing warms my heart more than remembering those special moments of cooking, laughter, and indulging in a world of taste, that has stayed indelible in my mind and on my tongue forever. I cherish each and every recipe, and every moment spent with that special person, who took the time to share themselves, as well as their recipes, with me.

One such recipe is Ida’s Polenta. I especially cherish this recipe as it is written in her handwriting, for my husband. Ida was a fabulous cook, and everything she made was a trip back in time to Italy, where she learned how to cook as a young girl. My favorite dish of her’s was polenta, with a tomato sauce made with pepperoni. This was an unusual dish for me because polenta wasn’t anything I was too familiar with at this time ( about 20 years ago, polenta wasn’t the rage as it is today). I also wasn’t fond of pepperoni, so it amazed me how outrageously delicious this sauce was.   The best part was the way she formed the polenta into perfectly shaped large shells, placed in a Pyrex baking dish, topped with gravy and grated cheese, and then baked it in the oven. It was a thing of beauty!

Ida made this for me every time we went to her apartment, as she knew it was my favorite. The minute you walked into her apartment, you could smell this sweet and tangy sauce, and my mouth would start to water. When she knew her cooking days were coming to an end, she wrote the recipe down on paper and put it in an envelope for my husband. Each time I open this envelope and pull out the handwritten recipe, memories abound for me. When I’m shaping the polenta ( I cannot get mine into the form of a shell as she did) I can see her working intently, but always having time for a laugh. She could tell a joke…..even while cooking!! And when we sit down to this delicious meal, my husband and I look at each other, and say,  “eat with the bread,” as she always did.

Recipe:   serves 4 to 6

1 cup polenta

2 cups water

1/2 grated Italian Pecorino Romano cheese

1 28 ounce can of Italian San Marzano plum tomatoes, squished or pureed.

1/3 cup olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 to 3 ounces of pepperoni, sliced in 2 inch by 1 inch pieces (no need to be accurate )

1/2 cup white wine

salt and pepper to taste

  1.  To make the sauce, simply heat the oil in a saucepan, add the garlic and onion until soft.  Then add the pepperoni for about 5 to 10 minutes.  The add the white wine.  Cook down the wine for 5 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 30 minutes on medium low heat.
  2.  Make polenta as package directs, which is usually to bring the water and 1/2 tsp of salt to a boil, and then to slowly stream in the polenta, constantly stirring so as not to form lumps. Once the polenta is firm and not runny, add the grated cheese and stir until absorbed.
  3. Put a layer of sauce in a 9 x 13 Pyrex pan.  Then layer the polenta on top.  (As I mentioned earlier, I just cannot shape the polenta at this point as Ida did.)
  4. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 20  to 30 minutes or until slightly firm to the touch.
  5. Once the polenta is firm and cooked, I am able to form it into ravioli, as I plate the polenta. It’s not necessary, but I think it looks nice in the dish, rather than like “mush.”  I then top it with sauce and grated cheese.
  6. “Eat with the bread!”
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Orecchiette with Broccoli-Rabe & Sausage

orechiette bowl **

In honor of my dad….a signature dish from his place of birth, the Puglia region of Italy.

To be specific, he was born  in Santeramo in Colle, Provincia di Bari, Puglia, Italy.

Recipe:  serves 4

1 pound orecchiette ( a Puglia pasta, named for the shape it resembles, “little ears”).

1/4 cup olive oil

4 large garlic cloves, crushed and peeled

1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage, meat removed from casings and crumbled.

2 pounds broccoli-rabe, cleaned and roughly cut

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (can add more to taste)

1/4 tsp. of salt or to taste

1/4 cup grated pecorino romano or parmigiano cheese.

  1.  Heat the olive oil in a large, deep, heavy skillet with fitted lid. Add the garlic and saute until golden, about 2 minutes.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add the orecchiette and cook until al dente.
  3. Meanwhile, add the sausage meat to the oil and garlic.  Cook, stirring about 5 minutes, or until meat is browned.
  4. Add to the broccoli-rabe to the meat, along with 1 cup pasta water, 1/4 tsp. of salt, and the pepper flakes.
  5. Cover pan and steam for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Remove cover and cook over high heat for 3 minutes or so, until the liquids are slightly reduced.
  7. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, and toss gently.
  8. Sprinkle on half the cheese, toss again and then add remaining cheese over the pasta.
  9. Serve immediately and pass more grated cheese if desired.

** You can eliminate the sausage by cooking the broccoli rabe in a large pot of salted water.  Remove it by using a slotted spoon.  Squeeze as much water out of the broccoli-rabe as possible.   Then cook the orecchiette in the same water.  Add it all to the pan of sautéed garlic,  red pepper, and oil,  and toss with the cheese.

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