Maida Heatter’s East 62nd Street Lemon Cake

lemon cake sliced:lemons****

Last week, the food world was all a buzz about the death of Maida Heatter, cookbook writer and “queen of cake.”   She was 102 years old.  I was intrigued by her obituary, and her notoriety in the world of baking.  I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of her.   I’d never heard of her famous Chocolate Mousse Torte,nor had I heard of her East 62ndStreet Lemon Cake. She had a cult following, but I wasn’t a part of it.  How was this possible, being the cookbook lover that I am?   She published her first cookbook “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts” in 1974, when I was in my heyday of baking.  I made a cake a week in those days.  I was just married and loved every minute of baking in my very own kitchen. Dinner had to include dessert, which almost always meant cake.  Was my head under a rock then?   The culinary world was overjoyed with the publication of this cookbook in 1974.   I wish I’d known.

As I thought more about this in the past few days since her passing, I realized that when I was first married, I only baked from the recipes that came from my mother and her friends, Ann and Ginny.  I had countless index cards full of wonderful desserts from family and friends. !  I only owned one or two cookbooks. It’s no wonder I didn’t know anything about Maida Heatter

I’m so happy I know about her now!  Her recipes were floating all over the internet this week, since her death.  I didn’t know which dessert to make first. They all looked fabulous, and I’m sure I’m going to bake my way through all of her most famous ones.  Since summer is upon us, my mind (and tastebuds) always turns to lemons.  I want lemon everything once the temperatures climb and the sun shines.  So it was only natural that I’d bake her East 62ndStreet Lemon Cake. It is a delicious Bundt cake, and so lemony that I couldn’t have been happier that I choose this one to bake.  Everything about this cake was just perfect….the texture;  the sweetness; the moistness; the light, lemon taste.  The only problem with it was that I couldn’t stop eating it. It was delicious for breakfast with a cup of cappuccino or mid afternoon with a cup of tea.

I enjoyed Maida Heatter’s cake for several days, enjoying every morsel.  Once the cake was finished, there was only one thing to do. I ran out to the Kitchen Arts and Letters Bookstore, a bookstore on Lexington Ave in NYC devoted only to cookbooks, and bought her recently released  ( 3 months before her death) cookbook,“Happiness is Baking.”  I can tell that she has many more dessert recipes that will soon become “favorites.”  I’ll keep you posted!



butter and flour to coat the bundt pan… OR I always use Baker’s Joy spray

3 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1 cup milk

2 TBSP lemon zest


1/3 cup lemon juice

3/4 cup sugar

  1.  Heat oven to 325 degrees.  Coat the bundt pan with butter and dust with flour or use Bakers Joy.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
  3. Cream the butter and sugar together.  Beat in the eggs one at a time.
  4. Fold in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk.  Stir in the lemon zest.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top of the batter.  Bake 1 1/4 hours, or until the cake tests done.
  5. While the cake bakes, make the glaze.  Warm the juice and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until all of the sugar is dissolved.  Cover and remove from the heat.
  6. When the cake is done, immediately unfold onto a cake rack or cake plate and apply the glaze with a pastry brush to the top and sides of the cake until it is all absorbed. lemon cake ingredientslemon cake batterlemon cake panlemon cake plated**lemon cake slice ?*lemon cake sliced:lemons****




Alberto’s Orecchiette and Brussels Sprouts


Whenever I think I have nothing in the house to cook for dinner, I call upon my husband to save the day. He always does!  I found myself staring into the refrigerator one evening, hoping something would call out to me, “here, make me.”

There were two containers of sliced Brussels sprouts, which didn’t appeal to me at all.   I didn’t have meat or fish to accompany them, so I couldn’t use them as a side dish.  I can put just about any vegetable over pasta or into risotto, but not Brussels sprouts! Yuk!   So I shut the refrigerator door, opened a bottle of white wine, and waited for either some inspiration to hit me, or for my husband to come home. The latter happened before there was even a glimmer of inspiration.

He didn’t need any wine for inspiration.  He immediately got to work on dinner.  I saw him fill the pasta pot with water, and pulled out a large fry pan.  When I saw him take the Brussels sprouts out of the refrigerator, I cringed!  I should know better by now to doubt him in a situation such as this, but I did express my concern.

“Take your wine and go relax inside and let me do this,”  he urged, as he gently nudged me out of the kitchen.  Gosh, I love this man!!!

Twenty minutes  (and a half bottle of wine) later, he called me in to dinner.  As I walked from the den to the kitchen, I knew I was in for a treat.  The aroma was out of this world!  What could he have done with Brussels sprouts??

You’ll find out the answer to that question when you try this recipe.  It was so delicious that I asked him to make it one week later for guests!

Recipe:  serves 4 to 6

1 pound orecchiette pasta…..or any short shape will do, such as fusilli or penne

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 pound bacon, cut in 1 inch pieces

3 cloves of garlic, sliced

1/2 large red onion, chopped

1/2 cup of white wine

1 lb brussels sprouts, sliced  (buy them already sliced if possible)

1 tsp. salt (more if needed)

red pepper to taste and black pepper to taste

Grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano cheese

  1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet.  Add bacon and cook, until slightly crisp.
  2. Add the onion, and garlic and saute until soft.
  3. Add the white wine and cook for about 5 minutes until it evaporates and the onions melt.
  4. Add the sprouts, salt,  red pepper and black pepper.
  5. Cover and cook for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, until everything has blended and is soft.  Stir occasionally.
  6. Meanwhile cook the pasta in a pot of salted water.
  7. When pasta is nearly cooked (al dente, please), add 1 cup of pasta water to the sprouts mixture, and stir.  You can save some more water on the side, in case you need more.
  8. Drain pasta, and mix all together.  Add grated Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmigiano.  Mix again and serve with more grated cheese.orbrussels brusselsorbrussels ingredientsorbrussels in bagorbrussels pastaorbrussels saute 1orbrussels saute 2orbrusselsinpan1orbrusselsinpan2orbrusselsinpan3orbrusselsbowlorbrusselsplated**






Angela M. Raimo’s Mother’s Easter Cheesecake (Pizza Dolce)


It’s that time of year when I start to yearn for jellybeans, Cadbury eggs, Peeps, and my mother’s “ Easter sweet ricotta pie.”    It’s interesting how we always think our mother’s versions of our favorite recipes are always the best.  We love the flavors of our childhood, making it indeed “the best” to us.

To say I love my mother’s Easter sweet ricotta pie is an understatement.  I literally start to crave it when Easter time rolls around. I know that there are many variations of this Italian dessert (citron…no citron; whiskey flavoring….vanilla flavoring; orange zest….orange juice).  The amount of sugar or eggs may vary from recipe to recipe, but the key ingredients never vary, so more than likely, it’s always delicious.  However, my mother’s pie has always been the best in my eyes.

UNTIL, I tasted my friend Angela’s mother’s recipe.   There was something considerably different about it, yet still the same.  I ate an entire piece trying to figure out why it was lighter and airier than my mom’s.  The secret:  separating the eggs and beating the egg whites until stiff, before folding the egg whites into the ricotta mixture.  This created a much less dense cheesecake.  Also, the crust was very different, but I wouldn’t learn more about that until much later, when she gave me a typed, step-by-step recipe to follow.

Angela (not her mother) used frozen store-bought crust.  You’d never have known it.   I suggest you do that, or go back in the archives to my mother’s “Easter Sweet Ricotta Pie” for her crust.  I’ve tried Angela’s pie crust recipe twice now and it just doesn’t come out right. She either copied it down wrong from her mother, or perhaps her mother gave it to her wrong so it would never be as good as hers, as many Italian mothers have done.

One of the things I loved most about Angela was her sense of adventure.  I only make this pie at Easter time, as is tradition.    Angela made it all year round, any chance she’d get.  She’d proudly bring it to my house for summer barbecues, New Year’s Eve, anyone’s birthday, and even a Halloween party.   So don’t be like me, and only delight in this pie once a year.   It should be enjoyed all year long.  Angela would want you to do so.

Recipe: 1 pie  (I’ve halved her recipe, but feel free to double and make 2 pies)


1 1/2 pounds of ricotta

1 Cup sugar

4 eggs —separated

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch of salt

lemon zest

orange zest and 1 ounce orange juice

citron (optional)

  1.  Separate eggs, and leave out until almost room temperature.
  2. Beat ricotta
  3. Add egg yokes and other ingredients and mix well to blend.
  4. Beat egg whites in a deep bowl until stiff peaks form.
  5. Fold the egg whites into the ricotta mixture.

Crust:  buy 2 frozen pie crusts ( Angela used Pillsbury, which comes two in a box) or go back into the archives for my mother’s crust recipe for “Easter Sweet ricotta Pie.”

Place one round crust in a 9 inch deep pie pan.  Pour the ricotta mixture into the pan.  Cut the other crust into strips and crisscross on top creating a lattice effect.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for approximately 1 hour.  “The batter will rise and appear like a mound…after cooling, it will drop.”

IMG_0267angela's pie ingredientsIMG_0280angela's pie ricottaangela's pi egg whitesangela's pie folding 1angela's pie folding 2angela's pi in shellangela's pie latticeIMG_1221IMG_1220IMG_0301





Risotto Primavera

primavera plated *

Just a few more days until the calendar tells us it is springtime….”primavera” in Italian.  I, for one, am thoroughly done with winter.  I’m sick of wool coats, boots, gloves and root vegetables.  Yes, I’ve had it up here with root vegetables.  I long for seasonal asparagus, sweet peas, zucchini and dandelions.    We are fortunate to be able to find these vegetables in our supermarkets all year round, but I never find the flavor to be as tasty as when purchased locally and in season.

Being impatient for spring to blossom, I decided to bring some springtime flavors into my kitchen, even though I was jumping the gun a bit. Nothing says “winter is over” to me more than risotto primavera.   The light, crisp flavors of asparagus, peas and zucchini, paired with the slight crunch of the risotto, awaken my taste buds after a long, heavy winter’s nap.

As I have mentioned before, risotto was brought into our family-fold by my sister and brother-in-law in the 1980’s.   Since that time, I have made risotto in so many variations, and with so many different vegetables and “condimenti,” that I feel confident in making it with just about anything,   However, I must pay homage to  Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman, whose cookbook “Risotto,” published in 1987, has given me the clear cut formula for making perfect risotto every time for several decades.

To make risotto primavera, you can substitute any springtime vegetables you like.  I’m using my favorites here in this recipe.  Just remember to add the vegetables in order of cooking time needed, so the texture of each vegetable is relatively similar when the dish is finished.

Welcome to spring! Welcome to primavera!

 RECIPE:  serves 4

Brodo: 5 cups vegetable broth (approximately…you may find you need more)

1/2 cup dry white wine

Soffritto:  2 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/3 cup finely minced onion

Riso:     1 1/2 cups Arborio rice

Condimenti:  3/4 pound asparagus, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, reserving the tips separately

2 cups zucchini, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen peas, thawed

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Brodo:  Bring the broth to a steady simmer in a saucepan.
  2. Soffritto:  Heat the butter and oil in a heavy 4 quart dutch oven over moderate heat.  Add the onion and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, until it begins to soften.
  3. Riso:  Add the rice to the soffritto, using a wooden spoon, stirring for 1 minute, making sure all the grains are well coated.  Add the wine and stir until it is completely absorbed.
  4. Condimenti:  Add the asparagus (not the tips) and begin to add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently.  Wait until each addition is almost completely absorbed before adding the next half cup.  Reserve 1/4 cup of the broth for the end. About halfway through the broth (about 10 minutes), add the zucchini and stir well to incorporate.  Cook about 4 minutes.  Then add the peas, stir a bit and then the asparagus tips.  Keep adding broth ( if you need more, just add it to the pan of simmering broth).  Stir frequently to prevent sticking.  After approximately 18 to 20 minutes, when the rice is tender but firm,  add the reserved 1/4 cup broth.  Turn off the heat and add the butter, parmesan and parsley.  Stir vigorously to combine with the rice.  Serve immediately with passed Parmesan cheese.

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Marianna’s Eggplant Caponata

marianna plated 1**

What do I love most about Italian cooks?  I love the way we “wing it.”   When sharing recipes, we don’t usually give detailed instructions, unless baking.  We share a general idea about how the dish is made.    Whether it’s your grandmother’s recipe or your girlfriend’s, chances are that there won’t be much information on measurements or timing, if it comes from an Italian cook.   I have so many recipes from friends and family, where the ingredients are listed without telling you specifically “how much,” or “how long” to cook it.  As Italians, we assume that you can figure this out on your own, perhaps adjusting a little to your own taste.  And besides, how can you go wrong with garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, etc, etc?   Our choices of ingredients are always delicious on their own!  It doesn’t much matter what you do with them.  They will produce something very tasty, no matter what.

So I’m always touched when I ask a friend of Italian descent for a recipe (not baking  of course), and my mouth waters as I read the list of ingredients, and then I notice how simple the directions are.   THEN I notice that not all the ingredients are quantified, and I’ll have to use my own judgment as to how long I need to cook it.  But that doesn’t stop me!  I proceed as I see fit, and the outcome is always wonderful.

This was the case with my friend Marianna’s caponata.  She brought this dish to my house for a dinner party one evening, and we all loved it.  It’s very different from mine (check my non traditional version of caponata in the archives), but definitely more traditional in taste.    I was so happy that she shared this recipe with me first time I made it, it was delicious, but it didn’t look like Marianna’s.   I didn’t peel the eggplant.  It was absolutely fantastic, but not hers.  The next time, I doubled the amount of tomatoes, and it was more like her version.   The next time I made it, I peeled the eggplant…. even more like hers and also delightful.    More onion…less onion…..still wonderful.  Extra balsamic vinegar…..scrumptuous!   I couldn’t mess this up!  No matter how I changed up the ingredients, this caponata was good enough to eat as soup! I could have called her to ask specific amounts, but why?  There’s nothing you can do to these fabulous ingredients, that won’t produce a flavorful, mouth-watering caponata!  Marianna knows that, and so do I!  Our grandmothers and mothers never relied on a cookbook.  They relied on their taste buds and the aroma.

So I’m going to challenge you to experiment a bit with this recipe.  I’ll give you the recipe that comes the closest to Marianna’s, and will suggest some of the inadvertent changes that I made as well.  I’ll give you the amounts that I finally decided came the closest to Marianna’s.   But I hope you’ll let your imagination run a little wild.  I know that Marianna would want you to do so, and so would I.  We were raised to cook the Italian way.  Maybe the first time you make it, you’ll want to follow our “suggestions,” but the next time (and believe me there will be a next time…it’s sooo good!) why not try doing something differently.  I guarantee you that you’ll not be disappointed!


2 lbs eggplant or  4 cups, cubed ( you can peel the eggplant or not)

2 red bell peppers, diced

1 small onion, diced, about 2/3 cup

1 28 ounce can of Italian crushed plum tomatoes

2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

4 TBSP olive oil….you will probably need to add more if you peel the eggplant

salt and pepper to taste

  1.  Heat the oil in a pan.  Saute the onion and bell pepper until cooked, about 6-8 minutes.
  2. Remove the onions and pepper and add the eggplant to the pan, adding more oil if needed.   Saute until softened, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Add the onion/pepper mixture back to the pan.  Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 25 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add the balsamic vinegar and serve, unless you’re like me and attack the pan with a spoon first.
  5. It’s wonderful served with Italian bread or crostini. Marianna's ingredientsmarianna choppedmarianna saute 1marianna saute 3mrianna saute eggplant1marianna saute cookedmarianna's caponata hersmarianna plated 1**



Gail’s Cheesecake

cheesecake baked***

“The best cheesecake ever!”

Make this cheesecake recipe, and I can just about guarantee you that this is the comment you will enthusiastically receive, over and over by everyone who has even a single bite.  I’m not bragging.  It’s not my recipe.  I just want you to try this particular recipe and compare.

This recipe for cheesecake belongs to Gail, who was someone very special to my mom.  Gail was my mom’s hairdresser for the past 25 plus years. The last 7 years of my mom’s life, Gail came to the house every Saturday evening, after working all day at the salon, and cut, colored and set my mom’s hair.  This was a very important ritual for my mom, and she waited with anticipation for Gail’s arrival every single Saturday.

Along with being a talented (and very kind) hair stylist,  Gail was a magnificent baker.   She’d bake all December…..cookies, pies, and her famous cheesecake.    The Saturday before Christmas,  Gail would bring my mom a huge tin of her homemade Christmas cookies and this deliciously rich cheesecake.   We waited for this delivery the way children wait for Santa!  No matter how full we were on Christmas Eve (even after the Feast of the Seven Fishes),  we would bring out Gail’s cheesecake, if only for a taste of this velvety, creamy, decadently rich dessert.

Of course, being the recipe collectors that we are, we asked Gail for the recipe years ago.  However, there was no need to make it, as we were certain she’d bring this to us year after year.  Also, cheesecake tended to intimidate me.  This year I knew I had to step up to the plate (no pun intended), as this beautiful Saturday ritual is no more.  So I gave it a go and was delighted at how easy it is to make.   I was so proud of it!  To hear my grandchildren say, “this is the best cheesecake ever!” just filled my heart.    And of course……there were the memories!   Those beautiful, beautiful memories.


9 inch springform pan


1 cup graham cracker crumbs

1/4 cup melted butter

3 TBSP sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon


2 cups sugar

4   8 ounce packages of cream cheese

6 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

2 pints sour cream

  1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix ingredients for crust.  Press on bottom of greased springform pan.
  3. Cream sugar and cream cheese.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each egg.
  4. Add vanilla
  5. Mix in sour cream, combining well.
  6. Pour into pan.
  7. Place cheesecake in pan of water about 1/2 inch up the side of pan.
  8. Bake approximately 1 hour, 15 minutes.
  9. Shut off oven and leave cheesecake in the oven for one hour.

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Mom’s Fried Artichoke Hearts

fried artichokes plated

Fried artichoke hearts are one of those dishes that I used to make only for special occasions. Why?  I’m not sure.  It’s simple enough to make, and I LOVE them!  Yet, I’d never think of making them on, let’s say, an average Tuesday night.  In my mind, they’re for dinner guests only or special occasions.

Perhaps it is my memory of these delectable morsels always showing up on a holiday table.  My mom always made these for Christmas Day dinner and Easter dinner. You could also count on them being served for a special Sunday dinner with family.    They were indeed “a treat” and considered “for special occasions only.”   I have followed this tradition……until now.

Once I realized how easy they are to make, and how much I miss them during the year, I’ve started to make them regularly.  However, at this time of year, I especially desire them, as I can see a beautiful plate of artichokes sitting on our Christmas table year after year, throughout my childhood, right into adulthood.  Somehow, fried artichoke hearts mean “Christmas” to me.

Perhaps this year, you’ll be looking for something different to add to your Christmas Day feast.  May I suggest you give this recipe a try?   You can make them ahead, and then just warm them up in the oven before serving,  I especially love them the next day (if there are leftovers), nice and warm, with some shavings of parmigiano cheese on top, with maybe a squeeze of lemon.  It’s one of my favorite lunches.

Most recipes for fried artichokes use bread crumbs, but my mother always used seasoned flour.  I’m sure this was how her mother made them.  While I sometimes switch out the flour for breadcrumbs, when it’s the Holidays, I always follow my mom’s recipe.  To me, this is the special dish that I remember.

Happy Holidays!


2  9 ounce packages of frozen artichoke hearts (you can also use canned, not marinated)

2 cups flour

1 TBSP sea salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

4 eggs

1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

olive oil for frying

  1.  Defrost artichoke hearts, if using frozen.
  2.  Beat the eggs with whisk and add the cheese.  Beat again.
  3. Combine the flour, salt and pepper in another dish.
  4. Heat the oil in a large fry pan.
  5. Dip a few hearts at a time into the egg, then flour, coating well.
  6. Gently place in the oil, turning occasionally until golden brown.
  7. Using a slotted spoon, remove from the oil and place on paper towels to drain.
  8. Once drained, place in a pyrex or any dish that can go in the oven.
  9. Before serving, heat in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.
  10. Nice to serve with lemon wedges on the side.fried artichokes packagefried artichokes canfried artichokes ingredientsfried artichokes in eggfried artichokes in flourfried artichokes in flour2fried artichokes fryingfried artichokes draining2fried artichokes plated ***fried artichokes plated



Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint Pesto

lamb chops plated *

When I look at my herb garden on the deck, I can’t help but be saddened at the passing of summer.  A few plants are still hearty, but others are slowly turning yellow and brown, soon to be a thing of the past.  The heartiest by far is the mint.  The mint struggled all summer to take over the garden. It just grew and grew, and spread and spread, no matter how much I pinched it back.

Trying desperately to use the mint, I’ve put it in every glass of ice tea, and garnished almost every dinner plate with it.   I’ve mixed it in with berries, and even snuck some leaves in with the basil when making pesto.  And I’ve definitely had way too many mojitos.  I just can’t muddle another sprig of mint!

I’ve tried so hard to be creative with this mint, but I was running out of ideas.  I made my swordfish with mint and balsamic vinegar recipe several times.  My fried zucchini and mint recipe was made so often that it was starting to bore me.  But please do check these recipes out in the archives.  They really are delicious.

Then one day, as I was seasoning some lamb chops for grilling, I had what I thought was a brilliant idea.  They serve mint jelly (yuk!) with lamb, so why not some kind of mint “accouterment.”   Mint pesto!!  Of course!  It would be delicious drizzled over the grilled chops, and maybe a little mixed in with pasta or rice as a side dish.    I was so excited!

It was indeed delicious, and I now have a freezer full of mint pesto.  I know I’ll be pulling out a container every time I make lamb all winter long, and wishing it was summer, with mint was growing wildly in my garden!  I’ll probably miss those mojitos as well!


4..6…8 lamb chops (your choice), salt and peppered, finely chopped garlic and olive oil for marinade.

1 cup packed mint leaves

2 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup pignoli nuts (can use almonds or pistachios)

1/4 cup pecorino Romano grated cheese

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp of salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

zest of 1 lemon

  1.  Season your lamb with above suggestions, and let it sit for 20 minutes at room temperature.
  2. Light grill or broiler.
  3. In food processor, put mint leaves, garlic and nuts.  Grind until smooth.
  4. Add cheese, salt and pepper and lemon zest.  Grind again.
  5. While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil through the tube, until smooth.  You can add more oil should you want the pesto to be thinner.
  6. Grill or broil chops until desired doneness.  Before serving, drizzle as much pesto as desired over the chops.

**You can also drizzle the pesto over whatever side dish you are serving….roasted potatoes, rice, pasta.IMG_9855

lamb chops marinatinglamb chops pesto ingredientslamb chops pestolamb chops plated 2lamb chops plated *

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.


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!

Richard's cherry tomatoesRichard's basilRichard's cherry tomatoes choppedRichard's cherry tomatoes:garlicRichard's mascerating in bowl1Richard's mascerating in bowl 2Richard's chopped mozzarellarichard's pasta in bowl closeup **richard's pasta plated ?Richard's pasta in bolw**