Friday, October 21, 2016

Wedding Cookie "cake" and "S" cookies

My son Michael got married last Saturday, and like any good Italian-American mother, I offered to make him and Beth (his bride) a wedding cookie cake for the reception. 
Decades ago, you couldn't go to a wedding reception in an Italian-American family without seeing trays of cookies for the guests, alongside a multi-tiered traditional wedding cake. They also include a scattering of Jordan almonds, or "confetti" as Italians call them.
I was dubious about whether this was truly an Italian custom, and I got my answer after attending a couple of weddings in Italy on my mother's side of the family - the Northern Italian side. Nobody there seems to follow this tradition, at least not my mom's relatives.
But one year when I was in Abruzzo, cousins of my late husband were busy baking up all sorts of cookies for a wedding tray - cookies that included the delicious bocconotti - recipe here.
I never got around to making the bocconotti for this wedding tray, but I did make anginetti, Italian Christmas "brownies", chocolate biscotti and sfratti, an Italian Jewish cookie.
My friend Lilli agreed to make her wonderful almond paste cookie, and I included those on the tray, and in another separate display.
And of course we had to have pizzelle. My father's wife, Rose, graciously offered to make them - and she outdid herself, making about 150 in total. They merited their own separate tray since they are so fragile.
I also wanted to make "S" cookies, or "esse" in Italian. I've eaten them in Frascati and in Rome, and loved them so much I've brought them home with me, but never quite found a recipe that came close to what I've eaten there.  These, a recipe from Mary Ann Esposito, are almost identical - a crispy sugar cookie that keeps its crunch.
Since the bride and groom's initials are M and B, I thought I'd experiment with those initials too. They were a little trickier to shape and not so successful, so I went back to the "S" shape, but made sure to place the "M's" and "B's" on top. Another way they're baked is in a figure "8." Just make whatever shape you like.
The cookies added a nice extra something to the dessert table, featuring a most unusual cake topper.
It's a sculpture of the bride and groom, Beth eating a doughnut and Michael eating gelato. Ever the animal lovers, at their feet are their two cats, Walter and Mervin.

On the way out, guests each took home a personalized bottle of limoncello - all made by Michael months before the wedding, with a photo of the two of them on the label.
And here's the happy couple just after they took their vows.
Auguroni and mazeltov to my favorite newlyweds!
#Live long and Prospero!
"Esse" or "S" Cookies
recipe from "Celebrations Italian Style" by Mary Ann Esposito
printable recipe here

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup solid vegetable shortening, melted and cooled (I used butter)
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon vanilla
coarse sugar for topping

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl.
-In another bowl, whisk the legs with the sugar until light and lemon-colored. Whisk in the shortening, lemon juice and vanilla. Gradually stir in the flour mixture, mixing well to blend the ingredients. Let batter sit, covered, for five minutes.
-Fill a tipless pastry bag two thirds full of the batter to form 3-inch long Ss or 8s on cookie sheets, spacing them about 1 1/2 inches apart, and shape each one into a 3-inch long S, using the back of the spoon. (I didn't bother shaping with a spoon. They spread out in the oven quite a bit. Also, at this point, I sprinkled with coarse decorating sugar. If you don't have any, use plain granulated sugar.
-Bake the cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, or until pale golden in color. Watch carefully and rotate the sheets to prevent burning. Let the cookies cool slightly on the cookie sheets before removing to cooling racks.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Good Gut Granola

Summer vacations are long over, school is in full swing, and it's back to rushing out the door first thing in the morning. 
What about breakfast? Still reaching for those packaged cereals filled with additives or tons of sugar? Most of those store-bought granolas - and even some of the home made ones - are heavy on the sugar content, reducing any benefits you might have imagined you were getting.
Not this recipe, which contains a lot of dietary fiber but eliminates most of the sugar.   
It's from a book called "The Good Gut," focusing on recipes that restore microbes called "microbiota" to our bodies -- microbiota that are diminishing because of the proliferation of antibiotic overuse, changes in diet and over sterilization, according to the authors, microbiologists Justin and Erica Sonnenberg.
This recipe uses just a bit of maple syrup as sweetener, plus some pumpkin puree - easy enough to find in these fall months.
You can add your own mix of grains - or buy something like this combination of hot rolled cereal from Bob's Red Mill --
Bake it in the oven, then mix in the raisins after it cools.
My favorite way to enjoy it is over some Greek Yogurt and stewed plums (cut up half a dozen plums and simmer for about five minutes in a few tablespoons of water, a couple of tablespoons of sugar and dash of cinnamon, until the plums break down).
It's a delicious, nutritious and quick way to start the day.
Bacteria Boosting Granola
from the book "The Good Gut"
printable recipe here

4 cups mixed rolled cereal grain (or 1 cup each of flakes from oats, barley, rye and quinoa; substitute as desired; Bob's Red Mill brand has a five-grain rolled cereal that works well.
1 cup unsweetened dried flake coconut
1 cup chopped almonds
1/2 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
3 T. olive oil
1/2 cup water
2 T. maple syrup
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 c. raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the rolled cereal, coconut, almonds, and pipettes. In a small bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, olive oil, water, maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla. Pour the wet mixture over the cereal mixture and stir to coat. Spread the mixture onto a large baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes or until golden brown, stirring halfway through. Add the raisins to the cooked granola. When cooled, store the granola in a covered container in the refrigerator. Keeps well for about a month. Serve over yogurt or seasonal fresh fruit.
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Monday, October 3, 2016

Schiacciata con l'uva

Now that wine grapes are in season, don't miss this chance to make schiacciata con l'uva, which literally means a squashed thing with grapes. It's a dish from Tuscany, and is more or less a focaccia, topped with grapes, rosemary, olive oil and a bit of sugar.
I love it as a snack, with a glass of wine before dinner, or as breakfast. Don't try to use those green or pale purple grapes you regularly see at the supermarket. They just don't have the jammy, intense flavor of concord grapes, or these tiny grapes I used, called black corinth seedless grapes. Many supermarkets also carry these darker, more flavorful grapes, so I hope you seek them out. Some of the larger ones will have seeds, so unless you don't mind a few seeds in your focaccia, you might want to make the effort to take them out.
These black corinth grapes are just perfect for this recipe, and so delicious to eat out of hand. But the caveat is that since they're so small, it takes much longer to strip them from the stems.
The dough is a pleasure to work with - it's so supple and rises easily, provided you keep it in a warm place. What started out as this size grew to at least quadruple in size in no time.
I had to punch it down twice because I wasn't ready to proceed the first time it had ballooned.
Once I was ready to work with it, it was  cinch to roll out on the pan. I pressed it out, using the palm of my hand, then spread a layer of grapes over it, with a sprinkling of sugar and some minced rosemary. Then stretch out the second layer of dough, place it on top, and press more grapes, sugar and rosemary into the top.
Pour some good quality extra-virgin olive oil over it before putting it into the oven. Since I had this delicious and fruity olive oil sent me to by -- made at Fattoria Ramerino, a producer near Florence, it seemed only fitting to use it on a Tuscan schiacciata.
The aroma in your house is fabulous and when it's finished, you won't be able to resist cutting into it.
By the way, as with leftover pizza, the best way to reheat is by placing slices in a cast iron skillet for a couple of minutes. The bottom stays crisp, and if you put the lid on top, the heat will permeate throughout. Caveat: The recipe makes a lot, and it dries out if you keep it for more than a couple of days, so make sure you have a lot of friends or family to help eat the schiacciata, or pass it around to your neighbors, as we did.

 Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

Schiacciata con l'uva - Focaccia With Harvest Grapes

I used a 12" x 16" cookie sheet
Prep Time: 20 mins + 2 hrs rising time
Cook Time: 45 minutes

printable recipe here


For The Focaccia Dough:
5 Cups All-purpose Unbleached Flour (I used King Arthur bread flour)
2 Teaspoons Instant Yeast (I used one package regular dry yeast)
2 – 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Plus 2 Additional Tablespoons To Oil Bowl)
1 Teaspoon Salt
1 3/4 Cups Warm Water
For The Filling & Topping:
2 Pounds Wine Grapes, Stemmed & Rinsed
3/4 Cup Sugar
3 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Rosemary
1/4 Cup Olive Oil


Measure and assemble your flour, oil, salt, yeast, and water.
Add everything but the water into a large bowl and stir.
Add half the water and stir.
Continue to add water until the dough begins to come together into a shaggy ball.
Dump the dough mixture onto a lightly floured surface and begin to knead with the heels of your hand.
Knead for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and pliant.
Add a little oil (2 tablespoons) to the bottom of a large bowl and place your ball of dough inside.
Roll the ball of dough around in the oil ensuring the sides of the bowl and ball of dough are both lightly oiled.
Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise.
(I cover mine with a kitchen towel on top of the plastic wrap and sit it on a large sunny windowsill.)
Let the dough rise until it is doubled in size, about an hour or an hour and a half depending on ambient temperature.
Divide the dough in half, and place half on a large baking pan (I used a 12" x 16" cookie sheet).
Drizzle the dough with a little olive oil, and scatter half the grapes over the dough.
Sprinkle the grapes with half the sugar and rosemary.
Stretch the other half of the dough over the dough in the pan to cover, pinching the two doughs together to encase the grapes inside.
Spread the other half grapes over the dough, and drizzle with the remaining olive oil.
Use the rest of the sugar and rosemary on the grapes.
Let the dough rest, and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Once the oven has reached temperature, bake the focaccia until it is golden brown and the grapes are bubbly and soft, about 45 minutes.
Cool at least 15 minutes before slicing.
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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My Brother Joe

How do you say goodbye to your last sibling after you've already lost a brother and sister? 
How do you say goodbye to the big brother who held your hand from the time your were little and was always there for anyone in need?
How do you say goodbye to the little boy born in Italy, who easily adapted to life in the United States from the age of four, to become a college graduate, a successful businessman and community volunteer? 
 How do you say goodbye to the handsome sailor who served his adopted country proudly, and whose little sister still has all the bracelet charms he brought home to her from his tours of duty all over the world?
How do you say goodbye to the brother born on the eponymous St. Joseph's day, who cherished his Italian ancestry and his family in Italy and the U.S.?
How do you say goodbye to the man who loved spending time outdoors in nature or with family, including the large group of cousins to whom he always stayed close?
How do you say goodbye to the man who was never happier than when he became a grandfather, to his beloved Emilia?
How do you say goodbye? 
You say it with a heavy heart and with sadness, but with the knowledge that he made the world a better place just by example.
 You say it with love for the years you were lucky enough to have him as a brother, and the knowledge that his suffering is finally over.
Ciao, ciao, carissimo fratello. 
May God keep you in his embrace.
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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Piccolo Farrotto

If you're not already familiar with Anson Mills, you should be. I first heard of them on a trip to Charleston last year when I bought a package of grits at a farmers' market there. It's a company founded on the premise of bringing quality flavors from heritage grains back to the forefront of American palates.
I was really impressed when I first tried their grits last year and wrote a post about shrimp 'n grits here. In the last few months I've have had the opportunity to try several other of Anson Mills' products, due to a generous gift sent to us by our friends Ken and Cathy, who live in South Carolina. The package contained everything from white rice, to red beans to polenta. Even the white rice, which you'd think would be standard fare, was exceptionally good. 
I was really curious to try the farro piccolo, which looks like a stubbier version of farro. Most farro sold commercially has been "pearled," reducing its cooking time. The trouble is, it also removes the bran layer, where all the flavor is, leaving nothing but pure starch. Anson Mills does not remove the bran layer, but in order to speed up cooking time (which can take up two hours for farro), it suggests a very clever technique, which I followed. You simply place the grains in a food processor and pulse for a few minute, in order to crack the bran layer. 
It works beautifully, but don't expect the farro to cook as quickly as minute rice. It will still take from 45 minutes to an hour to cook, but it's so worth the effort to achieve the creamy, flavorful dish you'll want to eat over and over. 
Anson Mills' website has lots of recipes using their products and I adapted one of them here, adding a few ingredients of my own, including part of this round zucchini from my garden. 
Mince everything and sauté in some butter and olive oil.
I had some roasted red pepper so I added that in too.
I don't have a photo to show you of the grains being stirred in, but if you've ever made risotto, you'll cook it similar to that, adding the grains and some broth, a little at a time.
 As a reward for your patience, you'll end up with a hearty, delicious and packed-with-nutrients-meal that tastes nothing like the "pearled" farro in supermarkets. It's so good, you'll wish you had an endless bowl.

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Piccolo Farrotto
(recipe adapted from Anson Mills)
printable recipe here

6 ounces (1 cup) Anson Mills Farro Piccolo
1 quart chicken stock (or beef stock or vegetable stock)
1.25 ounces (2 1/2 Tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 T. olive oil
1 large shallot, minced (3 tablespoons)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 bay leaf
1/3 cup finely diced celery
1/3 cup finely diced carrot
1/2 cup finely diced zucchini
1/4 cup roasted red pepper, cut into bits
2 ounces (1/2 cup) finely grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

    1. Turn the farro into a food processor and give it ten 1-second pulses to crack some of the bran that encases the grains. Transfer it to a small bowl.
      Bring the stock to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and keep the stock just below a simmer as you cook the farro. If you need more liquid at the end, use hot water.
    3. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed 3- or 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the carrot, celery and zucchini and cook until softened somewhat. They will continue to cook with the farro, so don't cook them fully now. Add the red pepper and the farro, increase the heat to medium, and stir until the grains are hot and coated with butter, about 1 minute. Stir in the wine and simmer until reduced to a glaze. Add the bay leaf and 1 cup of hot stock and stir once to make sure the grains are covered with liquid. Cook the farro, uncovered, at the barest simmer; when the liquid has been almost entirely absorbed and the farro begins to look dry, add another ½ cup of hot stock, stir once, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the farro once again begins to look dry. Cook the farro in this fashion for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add stock as needed, until the grains have expanded and are tender throughout, about 20 minutes longer.
    Stir in the Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. The farrotto should look creamy, not wet or soupy. Taste for seasoning. Stir in the parsley and serve immediately.

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Lobster Rolls

Quick - before summer's over, you have to make these. 
Big chunks of sweet lobster meat, seasonings and mayonnaise stuffed into buttered and toasted buns, combine to make these the best lobster rolls I've ever eaten - even in Maine! 
But homemade is always better, isn't it?
The Labor Day weekend is the perfect time for an indulgence before schedules get hectic and leisure takes a back seat.
You don't even have to cook the lobsters yourself, if your fish market, like mine, can do it for you. 
We brought home the cooked lobsters and let them cool long enough till we could extract the meat and mix with the other ingredients.
The recipe is from "The Jersey Shore Cookbook," by Deborah Smith, a book sent to me several months ago, but one that I put on the back burner until now. 
The cookbook features recipes from various restaurants up and down the coast of New Jersey, including this one, from Brandl restaurant in Belmar.
The recipe says it serves four, but we made two overstuffed ones instead. 
With some Jersey fresh corn and coleslaw on the side, it was one of my favorite meals of the summer. 
I hope you give it a try too.

 Want more Ciao Chow Linda? Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I'm cooking up each day. 
You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter. 

Lobster Rolls
recipe from "The Jersey Shore Cookbook" and Brandl restaurant, Belmar, NJ
serves four (or two, depending on how you generously stuff the rolls)
printable recipe here

3/4 cup mayonnaise
squirt of freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
a couple of pinches Old Bay seasoning
dash Worcestershire sauce
dash Tabasco sauce
1/4 cup diced sweet onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1 lb. shelled lobster meat in bite-size chunks (I used the meat from two 1 1/2 lb. lobsters)
softened butter
4 hot dog buns

Mix the lobster chunks with the rest of the ingredients. Chill, then stuff into hot dog buns that have been buttered and toasted.

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pasta all'Amatriciana

By now, the whole world knows about the devastating earthquake in central Italy last week, centered, but not limited to the town of Amatrice, famous for its eponymous dish of pasta all'Amatriciana.
Relief efforts have been ongoing in Italy around the clock since the tragedy struck. So far, the death toll has climbed to 291, but is expected to rise further as more bodies are retrieved from the rubble. Thousands of people are left homeless as entire towns have been nearly completely flattened.

What can those of us, who live far away and feel helpless, do for those in need?
There are plenty of organizations accepting donations for the victims, including NIAF and the Italian Red Cross. Cookbook author and friend Domenica Marchetti has written a post here listing more organizations involved in the relief effort, as well as a lovely memory of a visit there and a recipe for the dish.
Additionally, many restaurants across the country, including Philadelphia's Le Virtù and Brigantessa, are holding fund raising dinners featuring the dish, donating part of the proceeds to the cause.
But you don't even have to leave your home to help. People around the world are making pasta all'amatriciana as a tribute to the victims, and donating funds to help those affected, then posting photos on social media of their "virtual sagra." (A sagra, for those who don't know, is a town-wide feast celebrating a particular food - from chestnuts to cherries - and they are held all over Italy.)
Frank Fariello, who writes the excellent blog, Memorie di Angelina, has written a thorough post on pasta all'Amatriciana and I recommend you read that here to learn even more about the dish.
Yesterday, I made a bowl of it using Domenica's recipe, and also made a financial contribution to the cause. Although the most common pasta used for the dish is bucatini, a fat spaghetti with a hole down the center (a buco), I used these curly fusilli pictured below. You can use rigatoni or any kind of sturdy pasta. Something as light as angel hair pasta wouldn't be appropriate though, since the robust sauce needs something equally assertive.  
The dish requires very few ingredients and can be put together in practically the same time you boil the pasta. With so few ingredients, it's important that they be of the highest quality, so don't scrimp and buy bargain brand tomatoes, pasta, pecorino cheese or guanciale, made from the pork jowl. If you can't find guanciale, use pancetta, made from the belly of the pig.
With so many tomatoes ripening right now in my garden, I put some of them to good use in this recipe.

Cut the guanciale into small bits and fry it until it starts to release some of its fat. Don't let it get too crispy though, and don't drain that fat off. It adds a lot of flavor to the sauce.
Add some white wine, red pepper flakes and the tomatoes and let it simmer while the pasta cooks. 
About 10-15 minutes is all that's needed.
Drain the pasta, mix with the sauce and add a good handful of pecorino cheese. 
It amazes me how easy it is to put together, and with so few ingredients how delicious this dish can be. There's no basil, no salt, no black pepper, but it's one of the best dishes ever to come from the region.
If I closed my eyes, it was almost like being in Italy.

Pasta all'Amatriciana
(recipe from
  • 5 ounces guanciale (cured pork jowl), cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 dried peperoncino, crushed, or a generous pinch of crushed red chile pepper
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups diced tomatoes (fresh or best-quality canned)
  • 1 pound spaghetti or bucatini
  • Freshly grated Pecorino Romano
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt it generously.
Put the guanciale in a large, dry cast-iron pan or heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Saute until the meat has begun to render its fat and turn brown, about 10 minutes. Add the peperoncino and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Raise the heat to medium-high and pour in the wine. Cook at a lively simmer until most of the wine has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes.
Pour in the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook at a gentle simmer until the sauce is thickened, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot and spoon in about 3/4 of the sauce. Toss in a handful of pecorino and stir to combine. Add a splash or two of the reserved cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Transfer the dressed pasta to individual bowls and spoon a little more sauce on top. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.