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I have always loved to cook and create fun dishes for my family and friends. After marrying into a large Italian Family all of who are great cooks, it was so much fun learning the Italian way! Over the years I have experimented and some dishes were great and then some…..shall we say hit the pail quickly. I continue this passion for food and hope some of my ideas will be something you might want to try. I also like to read many recipes and then adjust the ingredients that I like,and that works for me and then go for it! One tip I have learned and will pass on to you, is on adding herbs to a dish. Whether fresh or dried, add a little at a time. It is also important to consider the texture of the herb and how it to will feel in your mouth. Many can be gritty if not broken down in a sauce or soup. My temptation is always for eye appeal, but ultimately have learned it is not only eye appeal but eat ability! LOL! The picture above is a caponata pie. Caponata is an Italian eggplant relish or chutney. A good friend of mine Anita who is from Italy had shared her recipe and actually made it with me the first time I made it. Remembering that day always brings back happy thoughts. She and her family were moving to Florida and literally with boxes all around us in her house I came over after shopping for all the ingredients and we whipped up a batch. I have always told my friends and family that was the best batch I ever made!
I usually make it and serve with with toasted bread or crackers, but this time decided to become a little festive for a party and used a 6inch spring form pan and made a pie. You would actually slice this after is is chilled as the filling must set up. I prefer Caponata cold but if you like it warm serve it as a dip and not in pie form. Here is my recipe……..enjoy!
4 to 6 cups eggplant cut in cubes
2cups onions chopped
2cups celery chopped
1 16 oz jar of sliced green olives with pimento
1 16 oz can of black olives sliced into rings
1/4 cup small capers and some juice about 2 teaspoons
1 can 28oz Hunts Crushed Tomatoes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
Start by Cutting you eggplant into cubes and then putting some salt on them and then put them in a strainer or colander and fit a plate or bowl to sit inside directly on the eggplant. Next fill a pot or container with water that can sit on top of or in the bowl you have on the eggplant so it will weigh it down. The purpose is to extract the bitter taste that eggplants can have if there are a lot of seeds. I actually use a colander and then I have a plate that fits over the top that sits right on the eggplant. I weigh it down by filling a pot of water and then put the pot on top of the plate!
After you see some dark liquid coming from the eggplant rinse with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Next fry the eggplant in some olive oil (regular not extra virgin) and fry until golden. You don’t need a lot of oil as you want them to color and not absorb the oil too much. Next drain on paper towels and set aside. In the same pan sauté your onion till soft and translucent and set aside. I always steam my celery or you could do it in the microwave till its crisp tender about 10 minutes.
Next combine crushed tomatoes with the vinegar and sugar and heat for 10 minutes and then add the eggplant, onions, celery, both olives and capers and simmer for about 20 minutes. I don’t add salt or pepper as I want the flavors of the vegetables and olives to keep their peak and not break down because of salt. I also find pepper masks the sweetness of the vegetables as well.
I hope you try this recipe and enjoy with your family and friends!
One of my favorite appetizers to serve when having company is stuffed bread. Once again combining both the English and Italian ingredients, I created a pork, sausage and Stilton Blue cheese bread for Thanksgiving this year. First start by making your dough. This is a pizza dough recipe that depending on how you roll it out will determine the consistency for the bread. I roll it out thin and it comes out like a soft bread yet has enough of a crust and browns well with an egg wash. Dough 2 1/2 to 3 cups Flour, 1 cup warm water 110 degrees, 1pkg yeast, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt.
Pour pkg of yeast into water and stir to combine. I use Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast. Let proof for 3 to 5 minutes. Next put the flour in a bowl and make a well in the center. Pour in your proofed water and yeast, the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and 1 teaspoon salt. Combine and form the dough into a ball making sure to get all the flour incorporated. If it is too wet and sticky add some more flour. Next knead the dough making sure you dust your hands with flour so the dough is not sticking to your hands. It will get softer and more pliable after a few minutes and then when done about 3 to 5 minutes, form into a ball and put in a bowl that you have greased with oil. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let double in size about 45 minutes to an hour.
Next take 1 pound ground pork and 1 pound Italian sausage out of the casings and brown with some sweet onion about 1 to 1 1/2 cups (less if you like or you could use onion powder) Add salt and pepper to taste and I also add 1to 1 1/2 teaspoons sage and some thyme leaves and some fennel. You can taste and adjust to your palate, as some sausages have fennel and you might not need to add any. Let the mixture cool down as the dough is rising, as you don’t want to stuff the bread with the hot mixture.
When dough is doubled in size put some flour on your table or surface where you are rolling out the dough and then punch down gently and roll with your rolling pin (remember to put flour on the rolling pin) into a large oval or rectangular shape. When rolled out, lightly spread some extra virgin olive oil on the entire surface and sprinkle black pepper. In the middle of you dough from left to right put out 1/2 your sausage and pork mixture and then your crumbled 3/4 cup blue cheese and you could at this time add some fresh chopped parsley as well. Next take the bottom and fold over the stuffing and then once again lightly with olive oil and pepper and then the meat followed by the cheese and then take the top and fold over the mixture and try and tuck underneath the bread. I shape it into a horseshoe and fold the ends up around the ends and make a ridge like you would on a pie and you can use a fork and press down to stay together or just fold . Then cut little small holes with a knife about an inch long around the loaf so it can vent. (maybe 6 to 8)Next beat 1 to 2 eggs and apply generously with a brush all over the loaf. Line your pan with parchment paper for baking. I bake at 400 degrees till browned about 45 minutes and then cool. A note about Blue Cheese, use according to taste as some cheeses are stronger than others. You want to taste it but not become overpowered by it. As an accompaniment you could put out a sweet chili pepper jelly. I hope you try it and enjoy!
The word Chitarra in Italian means Guitar. Spaghetti all Chitarra is actually referred to as square Spaghetti. The “chitarra” is the tool used to make the pasta using strings resembling those of a guitar. I paired it with a sauce made from Onions, Fennel, Roasted Peppers Celery, Swiss Chard and Tomatoes. You will need:
1 to 2 Large Onions
1 Large Bulb Fennel
4 Large Red Peppers
6 to 8 Stalks Celery
1 to 2lbs Swiss Chard
1-2 28oz Cans San Marzano Tomatoes I use Cento
1-2 16 oz Cans Stewed Tomatoes I use Delmonte Original with celery and onion.
1 to 2 lbs Spaghetti alla Chitarra I use Maurizio (imported bt Cento) or any other Italian Brands
Salt, Pepper and Crushed Red Pepper to taste.
I like lots of vegetables but you could cut back or adjust your amounts or substitute Kale or a mix of Kale and Swiss chard. You can also use 1 can of San Marzano and 1 can of Stewed tomatoes for 1lb of Pasta.
Start by roasting your peppers and then set aside to cool. You can do them on a grill, top of stove (gas) or in the oven. Let the skins get charred black and then cool and then peel off skin and slice into strips. Don’t rinse, rather wipe with a paper towel if you cant get all the charred skin off . Rinsing washes away the smoky flavor. I also do no recommend putting them in a brown bag as this steams away some flavor.
Next slice Celery, Onion and Fennel into strips and saute in some Extra Virgin Olive Oil. (about 4 Tbls) Slice Celery on an angle to get a slice similar in size to Onion and Fennel.
Add the Roasted Peppers to the Celery, Onion and Fennel and saute the mixture till the Swiss Chard wilts. Then add the tomatoes either crushing with your hands of cutting in chunks. Do the same with the Stewed Tomatoes. Please note that San Marzano Tomatoes are softer and will crush with your hands. They are a superior taste and well worth the extra cost. Now season to taste with Salt, Pepper and some Crushed Red Pepper Flakes. Cook over medium heat for about 15 to 20 minutes or while pasta is cooking and then mix some with the pasta and serve the rest on the side. It is easier to get the vegetables that way. Pass the Pecorino Romano cheese and Crushed Red Pepper to those who like it spicy. You can also drizzle a little Extra Virgin Olive oil on each individual dish if they like. The smoky sweet flavor from the Roasted Peppers is so delicious when combined with the Celery, Onion, Fennel and Swiss Chard. A delicate taste, with the star of the dish being the Spaghetti alla Chitarra. I hope you try this and enjoy it as much as we do!