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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tablescape Thursday- an Easter Breakfast Table

         It's Holy Thursday and Easter preparations are in full swing along with normal, busy daily living. Blogging will have to be quick and easy this week. Our family Easter traditions have always revolved around church, kids, and food. Come to think of it, so do our daily lives- not a bad thing :)
   We always have an egg hunt for our kids first thing in the morning and they are always "surprised" at the end with a large basket of treats left at the table. I'll be waiting for the call and email pictures from our son in Florida who will be sure to keep his camera aimed on our precious grandbabies who can't be with us as they hunt for their treasures. They get the best of both worlds as they are celebrating Passover this week too.
  We're linking up with Tablescape Thursday at Between Naps on the Porch with our most gracious hostess Susan. We love this party!

Our Easter breakfast will consist of a mix of traditional Italian Easter savories and some more basic breakfast fare for my husband who prefers much plainer fare.

We start with a vintage crochet and applique  linen cloth

Spring is here

Layers of color reminds me of Spring flowers..

individual flower arrangements in hollowed out egg shells- an idea blatantly stolen from Yvonne at StoneGable :)

Hint:- if you're going to plant little flowers in dyed, hollowed out egg shells, be sure to have extra shells on hand. 

Ask me how I know. 

And tiny manicure scissors work quite well to cut the shell to size

The bunny cake plate will hold a Pizza Rustica and Mr. Bunny's basket will be overflowing with braided breads holding colored eggs

Each egg shell flower is set in a vintage depression glass cordial

My favorite Carnival glass egg plate

Two of our bunny guests- one for sugar and one pretty lady to supervise the coffee service

A dashing couple

Grandma Josie's silver reminds us of many Easters past...

These little fellas are keeping watch on the Torta Pasqualina

33 layers of pastry crust in remembrance of the 33 years Jesus lived among us

I won't tell you about the strange looks my husband was giving me as he watched me trying to stuff flower roots into egg shells

Our dinner table will be a bit more formal but no less filled with love and laughter. Wishing you all a wonderful, blessed holiday whether you're celebrating Easter or Passover. 

 Tomorrow will be busy with the making of egg breads, ricotta cheesecake, and pizza rustica which will be adorned with the blessed palms which were distributed at Mass last week.

Join us tomorrow evening for Foodie Friday at Gollum's (I hope). We'll try to have something yummy for you :)

As Always,

Buon Alimenti, Buon Amici,

and Buona Pasqua!

Pattie and Allie

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Easter Week- another Reality post!

Patiently waiting....

 In an Italian household, Easter week is right up there with Christmas week in terms of tradition and food. The kitchen is a mess and a whirlwind of activity with the kids home for Spring break and right in the thick of things. Unfortunately, this makes blogging just a bit more difficult. Things may be sporadic this week and I apologize. Forget about getting a decent picture- we're lucky if I manage to get an actual meal made to eat NOW- everything is in preparation for the weekend. Hopefully, I'll be able to get the Torta Pasqualina done on Thursday for a Foodie Friday post- no promises! Still to do: Easter breads, Ricotta cheesecake ala Mrs. R. (my grandma's neighbor always brought us a wonderful ricotta cheesecake for the holidays and now I do my best to replicate it for my Dad), Torta Rustica, a birthday cake for my eldest son, candies, and so on and so forth...

Please try not to notice the pots in the drainboard that were supposed to be put away BEFORE this picture was taken.

Raw eggs being dyed for Easter breads. In the background is a gift to me- Allie's first attempt at oil painting

It seems I'm running to the market twice a day!

        Last night in the midst of the chaos, a friend came over to make some candies. There was leftover chicken parmesan for hubby and kids, but she and I opted to throw together a fresh pasta dish that I've served her in the past. This is one of those that can be on the table in the time it takes to boil the pasta- LOVE that!
We've started to get the table set..hopefully I'll be able to finish tomorrow in time for Tablescape Thursday. Again- no promises :)

     This recipe originally caught my eye because using an egg on hot pasta was something my Nonna did frequently. I recently read in a very upscale foodie periodical that this is the latest "trend". I always knew that my Nonna was a woman ahead of her time.
    Be forewarned- this is a dish with strong flavors- really a pasta for grownups. That being said, it can also be infinitely adaptable. For meeker palates simply cut back just a bit on the anchovies (please do not omit completely- it would be tragic), and substitute baby spinach or arugala for the stronger radicchio.  For us, we enjoy the recipe as is- I am a lover of bitter greens such as broccoli rabe and radicchio and my friend cleaned her plate.

Egg Pappardelle With Bagna Cauda, Wilted Radicchio and an Olive-Oil-Fried Egg
adapted from Nancy Silverton's book~ A Twist of the Wrist
Serves 2-3 hungry people
For the pappardelle and bagna cauda:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
12-15 anchovy fillets ( I used 2 tins: 1 1/2 would be fine)
8 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
12 radicchio leaves, torn into small pieces ( I used most of a small head)
Grated zest and juice of half a lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces egg pappardelle
For finishing the dish:*** see note
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
Parmesan cheese
1 heaping tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
 Make the bagna cauda- Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, anchovies and garlic and cook on very low heat, breaking up the anchovies with a fork and stirring constantly, until the anchovies dissolve and the garlic is soft and fragrant. Turn off the heat, stir in the parsley, radicchio and lemon zest and juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Be careful with the salt as the anchovies can be salty- make sure you taste
 Prepare the pasta by bringing a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add enough kosher salt until the water tastes salty and return to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
 To finish the dish, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over high heat until the oil is almost smoking, about 2 minutes. Break 1 egg into a small bowl and pour into the skillet. When it just begins to set around the edges, break the second egg into the bowl and pour into the skillet. (By waiting a moment before adding the next egg, the eggs won’t stick together.) Repeat with the remaining 2 eggs. Cook until the edges are golden, the whites are set and the yolks are still runny.
**NOTE- I fried the egg in a skillet sprayed with PAM- I do not care for eggs fried in olive oil- this is a personal preference
 Use tongs to lift the pasta out of the water and transfer it quickly, while it’s dripping with water, to the skillet with the bagna cauda. This is important- do not drain the pasta in a colander. The starchy water on the strands is needed to coat the pasta. Place the skillet over high heat. Toss the pasta to combine the ingredients and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more.
 Using tongs, divide the pasta among 4 plates, twisting it into mounds. Grate a generous layer of cheese over each. Place an egg over the cheese. Sprinkle the parsley over the pasta and serve with more grated cheese and pepper.
When you break the yolk, it will coat the pasta with a rich, creamy, golden sauce

As Always,

Buon Alimenti, Buon Amici,

Pattie and Allie

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Break! Getting ready for Easter and having some fun!


      A blessed Palm Sunday to all! Easter week is a busy time in an Italian household (even a half Italian one) and we're busy planning and cooking and trying to keep up with all the not-so-much fun things that still have to be done.
If you've been following us on Facebook (and you should- we have fun! And we post "bonus" recipes that don't show up here), you know that we got a special request a couple of days ago from a follower. 
         Tricia said "When I think of Easter, I remember that every year when I was little, my grandmother gave each of the us a giant peanut butter, chocolate covered egg. she also had them in Strawberry..but it was the PB that I loved. We kept them in the fridge and would slice off a piece at a time. ..I'd love to find a recipe for those. She didn't make them, she got them from a lady she worked she can't give me the recipe."

       Well, you all know that we love anything that comes from a Grandma, so we took on the challenge. We did a little online research (LOVE the internet!) and Lo and Behold!- peanut butter eggs are apparently some kind of classic! Now in my family, Easter eggs meant one thing- my nonni in Italy would send a box every year with goodies for me and my brother which always included Italian chocolate eggs. 

This is similar to what I remember

         Those eggs were extravagant (by today's standards) and nothing like the Hallmark eggs we find in the supermarket today. My absolute favorites were the chocolate and sugar eggs with a peephole cut into them. There was always an elaborate little "diorama" type scene inside. They were quite large and often included moveable pieces and extra "surprise" gifts inside. I searched and searched, but couldn't find any pictures of those. We also LOVED the surprises found inside the luscious chocolate eggs- my brother and I would fight over those! And the eggs were HUGE!

     We posted these recipes on Facebook, but decided to put them here too since they were such fun to make. I took what I thought looked like the best components of the recipes we found online and in various community cookbooks and combined them. Our follower proclaimed them a success and I had to hide them so we'd have a few left for Easter! We actually made second batches of each today. So, we'll be back this week with more Easter goodies and hopefully a dinner or two, but in the meantime, enjoy this very "American" Easter tradition.

Peanut Butter Easter Eggs

1 1 pound package confectioners' sugar
1 rounded cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 stick cup butter8 oz cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 tablespoon milk
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 tablespoon shortening

In a mixing bowl, combine confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, butter and milk until blended. Shape mixture into two 1/2 pound eggs on a sheet of waxed paper. I just scooped out 2 blobs and smoothed them into shape with a spatula. Then I ran a wooden skewer lengthwise through the egg and out the other side. Freeze eggs for 1 hour. When they're pretty solid, cut semi-sweet chocolate into small pieces, add shortening, and place in a bowl over a pan of simmering water with shortening. Melt over medium heat, stirring frequently until smooth. Dip the eggs in melted chocolate(use a spoon to cover with chocolate) to cover then drain on waxed paper. When the eggs are cooled and set, decorate with colored frosting.

Coconut Eggs 
(Allie proclaimed these better than her favorite Mounds bars!)

1/2 of a 14 ounce bag of coconut
1/2 of a 7 ounce jar marshmallow cream
1 egg white
1/2 box of confectioner's sugar

Mix all together (I used stand mixer with paddle), form eggs (roll between your palms, and chill for an hour or so. Dip in melted chocolate. When set, decorate as desired

As Always,

Buon Alimenti, Buon Amici,

Pattie and Allie

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Foodie Friday and a huge thank you-this one's for Michael

       It's Foodie Friday at Designs by Gollum and we want to say a very special thank you! Two weeks ago we were the VERY lucky winners of one of Michael's giveaways- the copper pan!!! YAY!!!

It came this week and after my husband pried it out of my arms, we went to work deciding on a way to use it for this Foodie Friday. 
Then I remembered something. 
That is an accomplishment in itself as it seems that lately I'm lucky I remember the names of my children

Though we have so many of them, that can be understandable

A couple of weeks ago, Michael commented on our Facebook Fan page with her memories of a wonderful morsel that she had enjoyed during a trip to Italy. She mentioned a small roasted tomato with herb-y crumbs that she had never been able to duplicate.

I won't even begin to pretend I can duplicate that particular delicacy, but it was a starting point. As it happens, I absolutely love roasted tomatoes with their smoky, caramelized sweetness and I have had several recipes that are favorites of mine. 
After some searching through my files, and just a bit of taste-testing (did you expect me NOT to?), we combined and played till we came up with this week's recipe. 
And because everything is better with pasta, we are serving our roasted mini tomatoes with thin spaghetti and a huge thank you to Michael. 

Spaghetti with Roasted Tomatoes
loosely adapted from Canal House Cooking, Nonna Norma, and Zia Annamaria
8 ounces diced pancetta (for today I used a mix of pancetta and prosciutto- it’s what I had)
A very good quality extra virgin olive oil- this will affect this dish
5 anchovy fillets
3 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs (my Italian bread in the food processor)
small Campari tomatoes- I used 3 packages (tops sliced off, seeds scooped out with a grapefruit spoon)
1 large head garlic, roasted in an oven till soft 
4 cloves garlic, pressed
handful fresh thyme, parsley, basil, and rosemary leaves, minced (I use my trusty mezzaluna!)
salt & pepper
1-1 1/2 pounds spaghetti
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wrap the head of garlic in foil and roast till soft- about 40 minutes.  Saute the pancetta in a pan over medium heat until browned and crisp. Remove to a plate. Leave the rendered fat in the pan.  Add 4-5 tablespoons of the olive oil and the anchovies to the pan. Use a wooden spoon to stir and mash the anchovies until they dissolve. Add 1/2 the pressed garlic and saute for a minute, then add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring often, until they are golden. Season with salt and pepper Put the tomatoes, cut side up, in a baking dish sprayed with Pam. Take the roasted garlic and squeeze a bit into the cavities of each tomato. Mound some bread crumbs onto each tomato, pressing it down into the tomato and mounding just a little on top. Save the extra bread crumbs. Scatter  half the herbs on top. Drizzle about 1/4 cup of olive oil over all.  Roast the tomatoes in the oven until they have browned a bit but not collapsed. Depending on the size of the tomatoes, this can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes. These little guys took about 40 minutes. Remove the tomatoes from the baking dish and set aside. Do not clean out the baking dish!
Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water.  While the pasta cooks, gently heat about 1/4 cup (or a little more) of olive oil and saute the rest of the pressed garlic. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot  Stir the juices and any bits of bread crumbs from the bottom of the tomato roasting dish into the pasta.  Add a little olive oil and the reserved pasta water and toss lightly over low heat till warmed.  Toss in the rest of the herbs, the pancetta and leftover bread crumbs
Pour the pasta into a serving bowl, place the tomatoes on top, sprinkle fresh Parmesan cheese over all and serve.

Is this pot wonderful or what?!

Yellow matelasse blanket used as table cover

Folded piece of fabric that I love under plate

Garlicky, herb-y, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth tomatoes 

As Always,

Buon Alimenti, Buon Amici,

 Molti Grazie Michael

Pattie and Allie

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tablescape Thursday and are you a gadget person??

  La Gioia della Tavola    

      I'm going to go off my beaten path a little here today. I read an article in yesterday's NY Times that has been popping in and out of my head for the last 24 hours- that can be quite a dangerous thing. Now, many of you know that I work at a couple of different professions, among them trainer/nutritionist, designer/decorator and cooking teacher, so I'm thinking I might have a bit of credibility in this discussion.  Here is the article. 
     I'll preface this by saying that I believe the people I live and work with on a daily basis are a fairly normal and average representation of society. (well, okay- maybe not the people I live with...). The majority of the women work outside the home and, due to the close proximity of 2 major university hospitals and the Research Triangle Park, many hold occupations in either the fields of medicine, corporate administration, or IT. In short, these are busy people.
    A chicken nugget button?? 1 button pizza?? Bar coded food??? REALLY?? I honestly can't wrap my brain around the fact that enough people cook chicken nuggets often enough to warrant LOOKING to buy a machine that does it with one button! Now, my boys happen to be the ones that would eat chicken nuggets 6 times a week if I let them- they are the world's pickiest eaters- thanks to my culinarily impossible husband. (He's lucky I love him, but that's for another post) I'm amazed.
    Now, granted, I can only form my opinions based on what I know. As you are all by now aware, I was fortunate enough to be raised with a family that lived for and BY their food. I was taught from an early age to love and appreciate every morsel that we were blessed enough to have on our table. My grandmothers both lived and cooked their way through wars and Depression. I know that I get constant requests for cooking classes from busy working families. Our local Whole Foods and farmer's markets are always packed. 
     I'm a trainer/nutritionist. I start my day every morning at 5 a.m. in a gym. I do NOT subscribe to the theory that in order to be thin and healthy, you have to look at food as "sustenance" and nothing more. Food is one of the great pleasures of life and that's the way it should be. There are wonderful meals that can be put together in the time it takes to boil water or throw a steak on the grill. There's something to be said for the release of daily stress that happens in the 5 minutes it takes to slice an onion and chop a tomato. Personally, I get rid of a ton of frustration using my mezzaluna on cilantro. :)
    So tell me- are you a gadget person?? When you're shopping for your home and kitchen, do you look for appliances that "specialize" and make quick work of convenience foods? 
A toaster/egg maker

Do you keep a bare bones kitchen with only a whisk, mixing bowl and good knife?

Or do you, like me, fall somewhere in between? 
        I will tell you that I could not survive without my stand mixer and food processor- they are used multiple times daily.

I will never have clear expanses of countertop. S-i-g-h...

       My panini press died and I am in mourning- it will be replaced as soon as I find one on sale.
        I love my rice cooker/steamer, though admittedly I could survive without it. I just don't want to
      My immersion blender is one of my favorite toys as is my torch (hmmm, my husband is giving me a strange look)

           I don't use a bread machine simply because I don't see the need for us. I have a heavy duty stand mixer to knead dough if I want it to and I actually love seeing it rise in my oven or on my counter. There's a lot of satisfaction there.

          So, I'm honestly curious and look forward to your responses. What kind of cooking do you do? Is it a family affair or a one-man show? Are these gadgets really the wave of the future? Inquiring minds want to know. The answers may also help me in the planning of future classes, though I don't expect to be able to figure out bar-coded food any time soon. I'll follow up and let you all know what I find out

         Now for the fun stuff. My Grandma Josie always told me that no matter what appears on our table or how it gets there, it should look beautiful and make your family and guests feel special. She imparted her love of linens and textiles to me and I always remember her when setting a table
This table was actually done in less than 10 minutes. A former client and her daughter called and wanted to drop by. 
These place mats and napkins were found at an estate sale in upstate NY about 8 years ago. I love how they seem to "say" Spring.


The cake server is resting on a vintage ceramic knife rest with a tiny vase attached- so cute!


Had to bring in the bunnies- Easter is just around the corner


silver rose napkin rings


and an old sugar scuttle to go with the ivory coffee set

Syracuse cake plates found in a thrift shop in NY

Can you see the mottled pale yellow glaze and mother of pearl inside the cups? The china is so thin as to be almost transparent

We are joining our lovely hostess Susan at Between Naps on the Porch for her Tablescape Thursday party! No matter what or how you cook, remember to appreciate 
"La Gioia della Tavola"

As Always,

Buon Alimento, Buon Amici,

Pattie and Allie

I have to add a post-script here. After reading this post, my husband pointed out that the Advantium microwave that was installed by our builder has a chicken nugget setting! Who knew??!! In my defense, it's only been 3 years- you didn't honestly expect that I'd have read the directions to the thing by now, did you? I only learned to use "defrost" a week and a half ago!