ll Cibo é L'essenza Della Vita....

"The rooms that you use on a daily basis are the rooms people will always want to sit in, because they have soul." --Bunny Williams


"If you want to live forever and ever, drink wine and eat maccheroni." ~~~Sicilian Proverb

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Priest Stranglers and a Tiramisu Cheesecake

Happy Sunday!! 
    First of all, we want to thank you all for welcoming us to Blogland so enthusiastically. Every day I open my email and find the nicest notes from new friends. We love hearing your stories and are so happy that you enjoy ours.

     Since it is Sunday, I thought I could show you a recipe that had some sort of religious background story.
     And since I'm a little warped at times, the first thing that came to mind was Strangolaprete- roughly translated as Priest Strangler. Apparently this was a little joking jab at local priests who would come to dinner and gobble down so much of the family's food, they would strangle themselves with gluttony . I've also heard it as Strezzolopretti or Strezzoprete, depending on the local dialect.  You will sometimes find them on restaurant menus as Spinach Gnocchi, but how boring is that! Traditionally served with sage butter, they can also be topped with a Bolognese or Ragu, but I believe those sauces overwhelm the delicate flavors. These little dumplings make a great side to a simple roast chicken or meat dish.

        Local dialects are a source of great pride in Italy. A true Italian can meet a stranger and know immediately where he's from- if not the exact town, at least the general vicinity. The dialects vary so greatly as to become almost a completely different language going from North to South in the country.

    Then there's what I like to call "immigrant dialect". When my Grandma Josie and her sisters came over from Sicily as young girls, they had to learn to adapt to the ways and language of their new country, but still keep their heritage intact. My Aunt Katie, the oldest sister, never did learn as much of the English. She was older when they came and married an Italian, so there was not the great need. She got by in her lifetime very well with her broken English and her great spirit. My grandmother Josie was a bit younger and had to go to work. Out of necessity, she learned the language, but, as did most of the immigrants around her in her Brooklyn neighborhood, she "melded" the American ways and the English language with her native tongue.
       One great example of this (that any Brooklyn Italian knows) is the word "bakowsa" which means the "potty". Apparently, when the earliest immigrants came over, indoor plumbing was still a rare luxury. They were taught by their American neighbors to use the "back house" or outhouse. In the typical Italian way, they simply added a vowel- in this case an A- to back house. Hence, back-house-a.



And so the Italian language evolved

Aren't they too cute?!

    My parents got married in Italy where my Dad was stationed in the Army and met my mother. 

He cut quite a figure

My Sicilian grandparents in Brooklyn were unable to attend at the last minute, because my grandfather had suffered a mild heart attack and was unable to travel. 
For the first few months of their married life, my parents lived in her family's house in Vicenza while my father worked at the Army base

My Dad with some of the family at an outdoor trattoria

Six months later when Dad's tour of duty was over, they were to head back to the States to live. My mother was a 21 year old new bride, who did not speak a word of English and had never left her parents' home. Due to Army regulations, my father was forced to travel by ship and Mom flew to NY to be met by her new family.
         Keep in mind that this meant that approximately 65 rowdy Sicilians were standing at the airport terminal with a small photograph in their hands. This family was not known for being discreet
   My mother walked out into the terminal to be greeted by my diminutive but VERY domineering grandmother and promptly threw up on her feet and passed out cold.

Great first impressions abound in this family.

Come to find out she was pregnant with me and had no idea


So it's now dinnertime and Mom is trying very hard to impress this group and be helpful. They've basically been communicating in sign language all day. Grandma is washing dishes and Mom decides to help by drying and putting them away. She manages to ask my grandmother where they belong

"Een da cabineto" (cabinet + o= cabineto)

One problem here- in Italy where my mother grew up speaking the King's Italian, cabineto is bathroom.


There stands my mother holding a stack of dishes in the basement half bath and wondering what kind of family she married into that keeps their dishes in the bathroom. Here comes Grandma Josie in a tizzy- what kind of girl did her son marry that thinks my dishes belong in the bakowsa??

It's amazing they lived together for 15 years. 

And they both survived.

I'm also adding in a recipe for my Tiramisu Cheesecake because I happened to make it for today's dessert and it's REALLY good. Enjoy!

Pattie's Strangolapreti

1 large bag spinach, steamed, squeezed dry and chopped OR 8 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup whole milk ricotta
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 day old, stale roll, diced, soaked in warm milk and squeezed dry
1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk, beaten together
4 rounded tablespoons (app.) flour
good pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp kosher salt
Black pepper to taste

I have taken to using an immersion blender and mixing the half spinach and all the bread crumbs, then adding the rest of the ingredients, but you may choose to skip that step
Flour your hands and form small ovals of mixture-place on floured wax paper. Drop in rapidly boiling, salted water. When they float to the top, remove with a strainer (do NOT dump in a colander!). Drain off excess water and place in a casserole dish. Cover with sage butter, sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of Parmesan and broil for  a minute or 2 just to brown the top
SAGE BUTTER- Melt 1/2 stick of butter with about 6-8 sage leaves and simmer 1 minute
** The ricotta is not truly traditional in this recipe, but I prefer it to just flour which sometimes results in a heavy, gummy dumpling


Pattie's Tiramisu Cheesecake

2 Tblsp butter
1 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
In a medium saute pan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in hazelnuts, sugar, and water. Cook for approximately 5-7 minutes until the nuts are toasted and the syrup coats the nuts evenly. Spread on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and  separate with a fork. Cool completely. This will harden and you can then crumble it if necessary.
Cookies, Biscotti, or Ladyfingers processed to fine crumb- total 2 cups (I like to use my biscotti, especially if I have chocolate!)

3-4 T. butter, melted 
2 T. Kahlua
2 8 oz. packages cream cheese

1 C. sugar

16 oz. mascarpone cheese

3 eggs

1 heaping Tblsp. cornstarch

2 T. Kahlua or espresso 
1 cup sour cream
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Using a food processor or blender, process the cookies until they are  fine crumbs.

In a small bowl, melt the butter, add 2 T. of the coffee flavored liqueur or espresso and add the crumbs. Mix to moisten the crumbs. Press the crumb mixture into a 9 inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, mix cream cheese, mascarpone cheese, and sugar until very smooth. Add 2 tablespoons coffee flavored liqueur or espresso, and mix. Add the eggs and cornstarch and mix on slow speed until just smooth. Pour batter into crust and place pan on the middle rack of the oven. Pour in boiling water around springform pan to about an inch up the side
Bake at 350°F for about 45 minutes, or until just set.

Let cool by opening the oven door with the heat off for about 20 minutes. Let the cake continue to cool and then refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight, before serving. 
Slide a thin knife around edge of pan and remove sides. Place cake on platter and slip strips of parchment or waxed paper under the edges. Press hazelnut brittle onto sides and carefully remove strips of paper. Serve with shaved or powdered chocolate on top
**Just a note- When I went to buy the mascarpone, I found a flavored version with chocolate and coffee in it! Tiramisu mascarpone- brilliant!! I used this for the first time today and just cut back the Kahlua in the cheesecake to 1 tablespoon

As Always,
Buon Alimenti, Buon Amici,

Pattie and Allie

Thursday, February 25, 2010

FA Foodie Friday Pignolata and a Zippy Bean Soup

           It's time for another Foodie Friday, our favorite weekly Blogland event. Thank you to our gracious hostess, Michael , who is so generous with her talents and inspirations- not to mention her fabulous giveaways!

You can go to pretty much any Italian restaurant anywhere and find some version pf Pasta e Fagiole on the menu. Or, better known in any true American/Italian family as "Pasta Fazool". Some make it more soupy, some make it thick, some make it "white" (no tomatoes), and sometimes it's more of a sauce with beans. Meat is optional. Personally, I like it any way I've ever had it, but the beauty of Pasta e Fagiole is in it's versatility. Today's version is thick, somewhat creamy with a little kick from a bit of red pepper and some fresh ginger (my Italian is a bit rusty, but I believe my Nonna called it zenzero?- she firmly believed ginger could cure what ails you), and even better the second day. This was dinner last night along with some tender pork cutlets and an easy homemade foccacia bread.  

Today, I needed to use up some veggies in the fridge so I threw together a frittata for lunch and decided to grab my camera along the way.

I had to put this picture in because my son thought the freaky looking fork was "way cool!"

 Last, but not least, I had to throw in a sweet.

  Now, in Italy, cakes generally tend to be simpler productions than we're accustomed to here in the States. Sugary buttercream frostings and thick, super sweet cakes are not the norm.

   Pignolata is a Tuscan almond cake with pignoli- pine nuts. Each village has it's own recipe with some being more like a thin, dense almond flavored "brownie" and some being a bit more "cake-like". It's excellent with a cup of hot espresso and my grandmother frequently fancied it up with a spoonful of warmed raspberry jam on top. Personally, I don't think it needs any fancying- this is a comfort food of my childhood and needs no improvement in my book.

I don't generally use a recipe for most of my soups, but I tried to measure yesterday. Keep in mind that I'm still a little loopy from lack of sleep as my entire household was sick last week, but there's really no way to hurt this. Whatever you do, it will be delicious. 

By the way, some people use water as the base, others prefer a chicken or beef or vegetable stock. In Italy, it's common to use a mix, known as Brodo Misto or Mixed Broth. This could be a mix of chicken and beef or veal. The good, frugal Italian housewife uses whatever she has around. 
        For this soup, I used 8 cups of vegetable broth,  4 cups of chicken, and a little water

Pattie's Creamy, Zippy Pasta e Fagiole with Tomatoes

1 1/2 pound Northern beans (I had a 2 lb. bag that had been opened, so I'm guessing here)
about 1/2 cup olive oil
5 ounces ( about a cup) chopped pancetta (our market sells 5 oz. containers of diced pancetta- that's what I used)
4 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
3 stalks celery diced
about 1 1/2 cups chopped fennel
3 carrots diced
3/4-1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (start with 3/4- don't overpower the soup)
2 tsp salt (I use Kosher)
about 1 1/2 cups chunky tomato sauce (I had leftover sauce so in it went!)
1 good spoonful of prepared pesto
2 tsp minced fresh ginger or 1 tsp powdered
1 bag baby spinach, steamed, drained, and chopped

     You can soak the beans overnight or do as I did. Cover the beans with cold water, bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat. Let sit one hour and drain.
Heat olive oil in heavy pot and add pancetta. Saute till it starts to brown. Add garlic and saute 3-4 more minutes till golden and starts to crisp. Add the onion, carrots, celery, fennel, red pepper, and salt. Saute for 10-15 minutes till the vegetables start to soften and color. Add about 12 cups of liquid (I used 8 cups veggie broth and 4 cups of chicken broth), tomatoes and pesto. Stir in beans and simmer about 1 1/2-2 hours.
In small batches, puree 8-10 cups of soup (depending on your preference) in a blender with the ginger. Stir it all back together and stir in chopped steamed spinach. This can be served on it's own or over a bit of cooked pasta. I always cook the pasta separately and add to each serving to avoid the pasta getting mushy. Serve with freshly grated or shaved Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!


Pignolata alla Patrizia

1 1/2 cups pine nuts plus more for top of cake, lightly toasted                                   
3/4 cup sugar processed in food processor with 1 cup almond paste till completely incorporated
3 sticks butter, at room temperature 
zest and juice of 1 lemon plus zest of 1 orange
3 1/2 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
4 whole eggs
 heaping 1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche
4 large egg whites
6 tablespoons sugar 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
Cream the sugar, butter and citrus zests together (I use a stand mixer with the paddle).  Scrape down occasionally.
Add 2 cups of the flour and baking powder.  Mix until incorporated and then add 2 eggs, one at a time, mixing till completely incorporated before adding the second egg.  Add the remaining flour, mix well, then add the last 2 eggs, again one at a time
Add the creme fraiche and lemon juice and beat till smooth. As you continue mixing, add the lemon juice and incorporate. Scrape down the sides and bottom and mix well with a spatula.  In a separate bowl, with very clean beaters, beat egg whites on high till frothy. Very slowly add sugar and continue to beat till it forms stiff glossy peaks. Fold a third of the egg whites into the batter using a rubber spatula to combine well.  Add the rest of the meringue and fold in well until the mixture is combined.  I use my stand mixer on the very lowest speed. Fold in the pignoli  I used a 12” tart pan with a removeable bottom today because I can’t find my 12 “ springform pan :(  Spray well with PAM and spread batter in pan. Sprinkle some more pignoli on top and bake for 45-50 minutes till it tests done.
Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for about 30-40  minutes Carefully remove to a  cake rack to cool completely.  For the record, the spring-form pan works better- it was a bit messy getting the cake out of the pan today. When completely cool dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve plain or topped with warmed jam. This cake freezes well too.

As Always,

Buon Alimento, Buon Amici,

Pattie and Allie

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thursday dinner and a Tablescape

I can't believe it's Thursday!!

         One of my favorite days in Blogland and it snuck up on me again! We're linking up to Tablescape Thursday at Between Naps on the Porch. Our gracious hostess, Susan presides over a fantastic assortment of talented and creative tablescapers- come and browse for a while

This week has been a blur thanks in large part to this horrendous virus that snuck into the house when I wasn't looking. I realized it was Wednesday when I got to the gym at 4:45 this morning to meet my Tuesday morning client (who, of course, was still at home all tucked snug in his bed.

Yes, my brain is fried. 

So the tablescape we're sharing today is tonight's dinner table. 
I'm the kind of person that gets bored easily- as evidenced by the fact that I have a tendency to move furniture on a whim. 

To the point that my husband refuses to walk through any room in our house in the dark for fear of breaking a leg or stubbing a toe.

He also claims that if anyone stands still for too long, I'll paint them

He exaggerates a bit

Just a bit

I decided to go with all white dishes tonight. That decision was based on the fact that these particular dishes were still sitting on my dining room table from a dinner I hosted last week. So I'm repurposing

I can't believe I admitted that

Last week I posted about reality. We got a ton of emails after that post thanking us for being honest about the realities of decorating and tablescaping in the real world. 

So I'm being honest- sometimes things sit out for a while. It's not a deliberate decision

"Honey, I like the way those plates look stacked on the couch. And Nick's sneakers make a real statement sitting in the powder room sink where he left them. Let's live with it for a while".

No, that's not the way it goes. 

It's more about 7 people living in one house and the ensuing chaos that ensues.

This is our kitchen table

Same dishes- different room, linens, food...

Meet Mr Rooster

He normally lives out on our screen porch. His bell announces to the neighborhood that dinner is ready and the kids who live here should find their way home

He's very assertive

Here's another one of my realities. When I don't have enough napkins, I alternate them on the table. People who eat here think I'm being fancy. 

I'm just being smart

And cheap :)

All these whites were acquired separately

But they play together so nicely

I love these clear bubble glasses- they go with everything

Our little Carolina cardinals

Some southern sweet tea...

I love the simple white- it's all about texture here

So what's for dinner, Mom??

Hot and creamy, soul warming 

a creamy tomato based version of "Pasta Fazool" with a peppery bite 
Nonna's secret ingredient? Fresh ginger!

Herb foccacia and tender pork cutlets

and a tangy homemade vegetable relish from the canning pantry (otherwise known as the garage)

Join us tomorrow night for Foodie Friday at Gollum's where we'll be sharing the recipe for our rustic Pasta e Fagiole and also a fabulous, decadent, spectacular surprise dessert. 

It's a surprise to me too- I haven't figured out what we're making yet

Time to go dig through the pantry

As Always,

Buon Alimento, Buon Amici,

Pattie and Allie

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Napkins, Pizza, Pork and other Musings of a Tired Nursemaid

   Well! It's been quite a week. Unfortunately, blogging had to take a back seat to playing nursemaid to a whole houseful with a particularly nasty stomach bug. 
I will spare you the gruesome details

     Suffice to say that I am the lone standing survivor and holding my breath waiting for the body slam that I feel sure is coming.  Actually, I'm quite sure that it will hold off till later in the week when I am smack in the middle of a fairly major job. That's just par for the course.
     Today was the first day that a majority of family members were able to attempt a normal dinner. So, of course, being the caring, compassionate person that I am, I asked what they would like. Name it and Mama will make it for you. Fresh pasta? Homemade soup? Lobster Thermidor? (yeah, RIGHT!)

 "Mom, can we get Dominos??!!" (insert majorly enthusiastic squeals here)

NO, we cannot get Dominos! You've all been sick! I'm going to make you a good, healthy, nutritious and delicious dinner. I know! Pork medallions over linguine with a balsamic demi glace based sauce. 

"Mom, we're not hungry. We think we're sick again"

(Insert foot-stamping Mama here) 

     I love my children. Really I do. I recently had a discussion with my boys regarding good manners and why the napkins in the rings next to their plates should be folded neatly on their laps and not used as projectiles aimed at your unsuspecting mother. 

"But Mom, nobody else uses napkins"

Excuse me??

At this point Allie interrupts to agree with them. You all know Allie.

Cute little 16 year old. 

Hormonal, creative, wise-cracking teenage girl. 

This blog was her idea. 

She assured me that, alas, it's true- apparently I'm the only dinosaur in the country who uses cloth napkins. 

How sad.

When I was growing up, there were linens on the table for every meal. A freshly starched and ironed cloth and napkins at every setting- except for the older men who got dish towels. Apparently real men didn't use wimpy napkins

There were doilies on tables, lamp mats, flatware keepers, linen bags, and so much more. My Grandma Josie instilled a love of linens and textiles in me and got me started collecting many years ago. Some of my favorite items are the ones I remember her and my Mom using-  the ones I still use. 

Does anyone remember these?

Coasters were used under decanters and glassware and were available for both formal and casual occasions. 
These were made by my Aunt as part of her trousseau. 
The workmanship and tiny stitches are amazing

How fun are these?!

I've used these with Fiestaware for cookouts and evenings by the firepit

Love the retro look!

Linen with fresh green embroidery works beautifully with butterfly glasses

These are quite amazing- a combination of applique, reticella, and drawnwork

Can you imagine the hours spent

I feel sad that we seem to have lost some of the joy of entertaining graciously

I remember the polka dot set in front being a particular favorite of my mother's

So cute!!


The recipe I used tonight is loosely based on one I got from a newspaper a number of years ago. I buy the demi glace at a specialty grocery locally, but have found that many supermarkets have now started carrying it. I remember my Nonna buying little glass jars at the local butcher and tucking them down into her net shopping bag for the trip home. There really is no specific substitute for demi glace and the rich flavor it imparts is worth the purchase. If necessary, you could probably boil down some stock to a strong reduction- that's basically what a demi glace is

 based on a recipe by Chef John Pullis

6 slices coarsely chopped bacon
1 sliced onion
2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar 
1/2 cup veal ( or vegetable) stock
1 cup demi glace
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pork tenderloin, cut into 1 1/2-2 inch medallions
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
2 oz. butter

hot cooked pasta or egg noodles
Chopped parsley for garnish

Cook bacon and remove from pan. In bacon fat saute onion until caramelized. Add vinegar and reduce. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 15 minutes.
Heat oil and saute seasoned pork medallions until brown on both sides. Remove to a serving dish. 
Add sauce and sage to pan and whisk in butter. 
Serve with pasta or egg noodles tossed in brown butter. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

And yes- the boys ate pizza

But not Dominos

I have my pride

As Always,

Buon Alimento, Buon Amici,

Pattie and Allie