Stuffed Artichokes

Stuffed artichokes are one of the dishes that I make on almost every major occasion since it’s something everyone always asks for and enjoys (including the kids!).  It’s tasty and easy to make, not taking more than 10 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to cook.

Stuffed artichoke time

Artichokes are an incredibly versatile vegetable, and this is just one recipe that I use them (we’ll make others in the future).  The artichoke originates in the Mediterranean region and has been cultivated in Sicily for hundreds of years, dating back to pre-Roman times.  So it comes as no surprise that it is a staple in every Italian kitchen and certainly is in my Sicilian kitchen.

I have great memories of the family sitting around the table, drinking wine (red wine goes great with artichokes), scraping the “meat” off the artichoke leaves and the kids vying over who will get the prized artichoke hearts that the adults elected to give away.

You’ll need the following ingredients for this recipe:

Put the seasoned breadcrumbs in a bowl.  Drizzle a half a cup of olive oil into the breadcrumbs and mix.  The oil should mix thoroughly throughout the breadcrumbs.

Clean the artichokes by cutting away any loose leaves.  Cut off the stem (you can stuff the stem inside the artichoke if you’d like– it tastes just as good as the hear– or you can throw it away).  Wash the artichoke thoroughly.  Bang the artichoke against a solid surface, which will help the leaves open up for you to wash them and eventually stuff them.

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Serve stuffed artichokes hot. Right out the pan is great!

Once washed, dry the artichokes off.  Get a small spoon and start placing the breadcrumbs in between the leaves of the artichoke.  You won’t be able to stuff every leave, but you should get good coverage of the the whole artichoke.  Once completed, place in a large pan.  Repeat with the rest of the artichokes.

Once all the artichokes are in pan, drizzle about a cup of olive oil the top of the artichokes.  Sprinkle salt and pepper, then add a 1-1.5 cups of water into the pan.  Place the pan on high heat on your stove and cover.

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Stuffed artichokes are great as a side dish or appetizer.

Cook the artichokes for about 30 minutes, checking on them every 10 minutes or so.  Add more water (1-1.5 cups) to the pan once the other water evaporates.  Your goal is to get the leaves and the heart of the artichoke steamed enough so they are soft.  You can test how done they are by removing a leaf and tasting it.  If the vegetable slides off the leaf easily into your mouth, then it is done.  When done, remove from the pan and serve!

I hope you develop your own memories and traditions with this recipe.  Let me know how it goes!

Lasagna: From the Old Country to You

Sundays were always a special day when I was growing up– it was a time for our family to get together and spend time enjoying each others company.  Of course, that always meant a large meal, usually where tomato sauce was involved and a several course meal.  Perhaps no other dish screams Sunday afternoon or special occasion such as lasagna.  In episode 20, we share one of my most beloved recipes, hand delivered to you from how I remember it from my mother and the stories from the old country in Italy.  My granddaughter, Maléna, joins me in cooking up this lasagna– her special touch adds a lot!

malena cooking

Mama Lombardo cooking with her granddaughter, Maléna

My lasagna takes about 1 hour to prepare.  The recipe I share is for a large lasagna pan, approximately 22 inches long, 10 inches wide and 3-4 inches deep.  You can make the lasagna any size you’d like– simply modify the amount of the ingredients.  I like to have left over lasagna since it stays well and makes for a great meal anytime.

You’ll need the following ingredients for this recipe:

  • tomato sauce and meatballs (see episode 1 for the full recipe)
  • 1-2 pounds of lasagna pasta, cooked al dente
  • 2 pounds of ricotta cheese
  • 6-7 tablespoons of grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4-5 long sprigs of Italian parsley, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded mozarella cheese
  • salt and pepper

Put the ricotta cheese in a large bowl.  Mix in the eggs, chopped parsley, a couple tablespoons of romano cheese and salt and pepper.  Mix together thoroughly, then set aside.

lasagna

Mama Lombardo’s lasagna

Cover the bottom of the pan with tomato sauce.  Layer the cooked lasagna pasta length-wise, covering the bottom of the pan. Using a large spoon, place spoonfuls of the ricotta cheese on top of the lasagna pasta.  You want enough so that you can spread it out with a spoon, covering all of the pasta.  Add 1-2 ladels of tomato sauce on top of the ricotta.  Using a fork, mix the ricotta and sauce, spreading it out evenly on top of the pasta.  Next, break up 2 meatballs with a fork into large chunks.  Spread the meatballs in with the ricotta and sauce mix on top of the pasta.  When completed, place another layer of pasta on top, completing covering the ricotta, sauce and meatball mix.  Repeat the same process with the ricotta, sauce and meatballs until you have enough layers to reach the top of the pan.  At the end of the final layer, spread the shredded mozzarella cheese on top, then place another layer of pasta on top of that.  This is your final topping.  Spread some tomato sauce over the top, then sprinkle some grated cheese.   You are now ready to put it in the oven!

Place the finished pan of lasagna into the oven at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when the top layer starts to look slightly browned.  Take it out of the oven, let it cool off for 10-15 minutes, then serve!

Stuffed Zucchini

Zucchini is one of the most versatile (and tasty) vegetables in the Italian kitchen.  In Episode 18 we shared with you Zucchini Italiani, and in Episode 19, we continue with this wonderful vegetable and share with you another way to prepare it– stuffed.  Stuffed zucchini makes a great appetizer or a side dish.

Stuffed zucchini, hot and ready to serve!

Stuffed zucchini takes about 30 minutes to prepare.  As always, we recommend using the freshest ingredients, preferably home-grown from in your garden.  Otherwise, fresh vegetables from the market will work, too.  You’ll need the following ingredients for this recipe:

  • 1-2 large zucchini, remove the seeds.  The zucchini needs to be large enough for you to stuff, so find the biggest one you can.  Homegrown or farm stands are usually the best place to find such large beasts.
  • 1 small zucchini, peeled and diced.
  • 2-3 celery stalks, diced.  Dice up some of the stalk leaves as well.
  • 1-2 potatoes, diced.
  • 1 medium onion, diced.
  • 1 clove of garlic, diced.
  • 1 cup of tomato sauce.  You can make your own by dicing up 1-2 large, fresh tomatoes or use plain, unseasoned tomato sauce
  • 1 cup of pignoli or pine nuts
  • 1 1/2 cups of seasoned breadcrumbs.  See Episode 1 for how to prepare the breadcrumbs.
  • 6-7 green olives, pitted and diced up
  • 2-3 spoonfuls of provolone cheese, diced or shredded
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • salt & pepper to season

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare the zucchini

Start off by slicing the zucchini length-wise and cleaning out the seeds.  Cut out some excess zucchini to create a hollow center in the zucchini in which you can place the stuffing.  Dice up the pieces of excess zucchini you used to hollow the center, or if you don’t have enough, peel and dice up a small zucchini.  Place about 3-4 spoonfuls of the diced up zucchini into the hollowed center.  Place the zucchini halves on a flat, oven-safe pan and set aside.

Prepare the stuffing

Heat 2 spoonfuls of olive oil on the stove in a large frying pan.  While the oil is heating, place the diced garlic in a bowl with the diced onion, then place the onions and garlic in the frying pan.  Mix the diced celery into the pan as well.  Stir and saute until tender.  When finished, place in a bowl and set aside.

Heat some more olive oil in the pan.  When heated, place the potatoes into the pan.  Saute until soft.  When finished, mix the garlic, onion and celery mixture int the potatoes. Stir them together.  When mixed together thoroughly, add the seasoned breadcrumbs and stir.  Next, add in the pignoli nuts, dice olives and shredde provolone cheese.  Mix together thoroughly over a medium heat on the stove.  You want to make sure the mixture is moist, so add some more olive oil if it’s too dry.

Stuff and bake the zucchini

Spoon the stuffing into the hollowed out zucchinis.  Stuff them all the way to the top, feeling free to overstuff them a bit if you’d like!  When done stuffing, spoon tomato sauce over the top of the stuffed zucchini.  Sprinkle oregano over the top. Drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top as well.

Add about 1 cup of water to the bottom of the pan before placing into the oven.  This is necessary to assist in cooking the zucchini all the way through, including on the bottom.

Place the pan into the oven and let bake for about 15-20 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when the zucchini is tender all the way through and the stuffing is browned on top.

Serve while hot.  I typically serve it as an appetizer or a side dish, slicing it into generous portions.   Buon appetito!

Zucchini italiani

Summer is full of fresh vegetables that are coming from the garden, including basil, dill, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and many others.  One of my favorite and perhaps most versatile of them all is zucchini.  Zucchini comes in many variaties and can be served in many different ways.  In episode 18, we share with you zucchini italiani, which is a zucchini cooked as a soup with different vegetables.  We prepare it in three different ways: plain, with potatoes and with egg.  You can serve it in any of the three ways or just pick one.

Mama Lombardo preparing zucchini italiani

You will need the following ingredients for this recipe:

  • 1 large zucchini, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 3-4 large fresh tomatoes
  • 2 large stalks of fresh basil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • olive oil
  • 2-3 cups of water
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup of fresh cut spaghetti pasta

Preferably all of these vegetables can come from your  garden (or a neighbors).  if not, you can use veggies from the grocery store or market.

Prepare the soups

Coat a small pan with olive oil and heat.  Place a quarter of the diced up onion into the pan and wait until the onion is translucent, stirring constantly.  Add the diced potatoes and about a cup of water.

While the potato is cooking, peel the tomatoes, take out the seeds the best you can and then cut up into small pieces, placing into a bowl.   Add one of the tomatoes in with the potatoes and stir.  Add salt and pepper to season.

Now you will want to prepare some plain zucchini (without potato).  Saute some onion in olive oil in a pan.  When they are translucent, add the diced up zucchini.  Add 2 cups of water as well as another sliced up tomato.  Add salt and pepper to season.  Cook until the zucchini is soft, which should be about 5 minutes.

Once the potatoes and the zucchini are soft, you should add some fresh basil into each pan.  Then take some of the zucchini and mix it into the potato mix.  This is dish #1, potato and zucchini.  Sepaprate the zucchini into 2 pans.  One of the pans is dish #2, plain zucchini.  For dish #3 (zucchini and egg), you will now add 2 eggs into one of pans with the plain zucchini.  Do so while the zucchini mix is boiling.  The egg with solidify and make a nice addition to the soup.

Cook your pasta

In a separate pan, cook the pasta.  I like to use cut up spaghetti pasta (either buy it that way or buy spaghetti and break it apart).  Once the pasta is cooked up, you should mix it with the soup mixes.  Of course, you can choose not to serve the soups with the pasta.

Zucchini italiani ready to serve. Buon appetito!

Serve!

Now you are ready to serve.  Simply scoop the soups into a bowl and serve hot.  I always like to serve it with some fresh, crusty, white Italian bread, which is fantastic for dunking into the soup.  You can also add some freshly ground parmigiano cheese if you’d like.

Enjoy!

Mama Lombardo’s Chicken Soup

I have a number of “staple” recipes in my kitchen, and one of them is my chicken soup. My kids, grandkids and entire family love my chicken soup and I am excited to share the recipe with you. It is great as pre-main meal appetizer or as a meal unto itself. We make it year round– including in the summer! There’s never an end to chicken soup season! I serve my chicken soup at Thanksgiving time and other holidays as an appetizer. Served hot and prinkled with some fresh parmagiano cheese, there’s nothing better!

Mama Lombardo’s Chicken Soup: served with mini-meatballs and carrots with pasta

My recipe is very straightforward. Unlike most other chicken soup recipes, I include mini-meatballs as part of the recipe. I make the base soup, and then mix the broth with the meatballs and pasta. I also serve the chicken and vegetables on the side, which can then be added to the soup mix.

Watch Episode 17 for full details of how to make Mama Lombardo’s Chicken Soup:

To make Mama Lombardo’s Chicken Soup, you will need:

* 1 whole, fresh chicken
* 2 tablespoons of salt
*1 teaspoon of pepper
* 2 tablespoons of fresh tomato sauce
* 1 large onion
* 5-6 carrots
* 1 bunch of celery
* 1/2 pound of ground turkey or beef, prepared for meatballs (see Episode 1 for meatball recipe)
* about 6-7 cups of water (will depend upon the size of the chicken and your pot)

Clean and butcher the chicken

First, you will need to clean and butcher the chicken. Place the chicken in a big pan of water. Sprinkle the chicken with some salt and let soak for 10 minutes. Next, you need to cut the chicken up, cutting the wings, legs and back into pieces. Wash the chicken, then add it back to the pan, covering it with water. Put it on the stove and let the water heat until you see all the excess waste material floating at the top. Turn off the heat, and then pour out all the water, straining the chicken. Rinse the chicken and then place back into a large pan and put on the stove.

Prepare the vegetables

Peel skin off the onion, leaving it whole. Put it aside in a bowl with some water. Next, take the skin off the carrots and cut off the ends. Place aside with the onion. Next, cut the very end of the leaves off the celery. Then cut the celery in half, taking the half with the leaves and placing it in the bowl with the onions and carrots. Place 3 of the cut celery stalks in the bowl as well. Finally, cut 3 of the carrots up with a knife, width-wise. Cut 3 of the carrots in half. Place the carrot halves in the bowl with the onion and celery. Take the carrot “wheels” and place them in a separate bowl (you’ll be cooking these with the meatballs).

Prepare the meatballs
You can use either ground turkey or beef for the meatballs. Once you’ve prepared the meat for meatballs (see Episode 1 for how to prepare the meatballs), start rolling them with your hands into small meatballs (about the size of a marble). Place them in a dish as you roll them out. Boil some water, and add the meatballs to the water. Also add the carrot wheels. Let the mixture boil for about 10 minutes.

Make the soup
Now that you’re done preparing all the ingredients, it’s time to make the soup! Turn the heat on high on the pan with the water and chicken it it (make sure you have enough water that the chicken is covered). Add the whole carrots, onions and celery to the water with the chicken. Add a tablespoon of salt and pepper. Finally, add the tablespoons of tomato sauce. The sauce will give the soup a rich color. Bring the soup to a boil. After 2-3 minutes of boiling, lower it to a simmer. You will need to let the soup simmer for about 60-90 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the chicken and vegetables are fully cooked.

Mama Lombardo’s Chicken Soup

Cooking the pasta
The final step is cooking pasta, which you’ll serve with the soup. I prefer to use small sized pasta, preferably ancini di pepe. Cook the pasta al dente, then strain.

Serving the soup
When the soup is done, add some soup to meatballs and carrots. Then add soup the pasta. Finally, add meatballs and carrots to the pasta. Serve the chicken and vegetables on the side. Encourage your guests to mix the chicken and vegetables in with the soup! Finally, sprinkle the soup and pasta with some freshly grated parmigiano or pecorino romano cheese. Add pepper if desired. Serve hot and enjoy!

The soup is authentic, simple and tasty. It’s great fresh or saved for later. In fact, I often freeze my soupe and pull it out to serve at a later date.

We hope you enjoy Mama Lombardo’s Chicken Soup and will give it a try. Let us know your thoughts!

Braciola: Old Country Style

In past times in the “Old Country”, meat was not eaten as regularly as it is today, given scarcity and lack of ability to keep it fresh.  When it was served, it was critical to serve it properly, maximizing the flavor and using it creatively.  That’s where the recipe we share with you today, braciola, found it’s roots.  Braciola means “slices of meat” (with the plural braciole often used as well), and originate in southern Italy, particularly Sicily, which is where my family comes from.  My family brought this recipe over from “the Old Country” when they came to the United States, and it continues to play a central role in the cuisine in my family.

Braciola can be cooked with a variety of meats (for example, pork or chicken), but is traditionally cooked with beef, and in tomato sauce.  It can be served as a main dish or a side dish.  Typically, I cook it with a tomato sauce that I am making, including meatballs, porkchops, sausages and other meats (see Episode 1: Classic Tomato Sauce and Meatballs).  I prepare and cook the braciole seperately, and let it cook in the sauce with the other meats for about 2 hours.  Once finished, I serve it with pasta and the other meats.  Otherwise, braciole makes a great meal into itself.

 

Ingredients for the braciola

You will need the following ingredients to make enough braciola to serve 3-4 people: 4 cuts of butterflied top round beef, 3 hard boiled eggs, 4-5 inner, tender stalks of celery, 1/2 cup of pine nuts, 3 cloves of diced garlic, 1 small white onion diced up, 1/2 cup of grated percorino romano cheese, 2 tablespoons of salt, and a 1/4 cup of olive oil.  You will also need toothpicks and butcher’s string to tie the meat.  Finally, you will also need to prepare your tomato sauce (see Episode 1).

Getting the right cut of meat

Braciola is made with the leanest cut of beef from the top round.  You will need to ask your local butcher to cut the meat properly for you.  Ask for a thin, lean cut of top round beef, and have the butcher butterfly it for you.  Butterflying the meat will make it thin enough and wide enough for you to make braciola.  If the butcher looks at you like you have 3 heads, go find another butcher.  A good, quality butcher will understand what it means to cut the meat the way you are asking.  When one of my sons picks up the meat for me, they tell the butcher that they need it cut properly or their old Italian mother will crucify them.  That usually gets the butcher to cut it properly 🙂

Preparing the braciola

Once you get the proper cut of meat, you are ready to begin.  Braciola is simple to make (as are most of the recipes I share with you), and will take about 15 minutes to prepare.  You will need to cook it in your sauce for about 2 hours after the initial preparation.

To make 4 braciole, you will need 4 cuts of meat.  Take the meat and lay it flat on a dish.  Slice up the inner, tender celery stalks and spread them evenly on the meat.  Do the same with the hard boiled eggs, spreading them out across the meats.  Take the pine nuts and sprinkle them on the meats evenly, along with the diced garlic and onions.  Finally, spread the cheese and salt across the meat.

Once all the toppings are added, you are ready to roll the meat.  Rolling the meat is not difficult, but it will take some practice.  Getting the proper roll is critical for braciola since it will help ensure the meat is cooked properly and is served properly when sliced.  Start by taking one end of the meat and gently folding it on itself until you reach the other end.  You want to make sure none of the fillings inside come out, and remain tucked inside the meat.

Once you have it rolled, you are ready to seal it shut so that it can be dropped into the sauce for cooking.  Start off sealing the meat with the toothpicks, which will help with the initial seal.  Put toothpicks on both ends, as well as the middle of the meat to keep it sealed.  Next, get about 2 feet of butcher’s string and begin tying the meat securely.  Start on one end, getting a solid tie, and follow that by wrapping the meat all the way up until you reach the other end, where you will seal it shut similar to the other end.  Cut any excess string off and dispose.  Repeat the same process on the other braciole.

Now you are ready to cook the meat.  Place the olive oil in a wide, flat frying pan and place on high.  Once the oil is heated, place your braciole in the pan, turning the heat down to medium.  Once the meat is slightly browned, rotate it.  Once it’s slightly browned on that side, rotate again.  Keep rotating until the meat is browned on all sides.  Once you are finished browning the meat, take it directly from the pan, and place it in the tomato sauce.  Let it simmer in the tomato sauce for about 2 hours.  This length of time will ensure the meat is cooked to a proper level of tenderness and that the flavor of meat is infused in the sauce.

After the meat has simmered for 2 hours, you are ready to remove, slice and serve.  Start by taking the meat out of the sauce and putting it in a casserole dish.  Remove all the string from the meat, using a clean scissors.  Next, take a sharp knife and slice the meat width-wise into nice circular cuts.  Spread some tomato sauce on top, and place into the oven at about 350 degrees for 7-8 minutes.  Remove, and serve right away.

I often will freeze the braciole in a freezer-friendly container, for serving at a future date.  It will preserve nicely in the freezer, and serve as an easy way to pull together a quick meal.

Hopefully you will give braciola a try, eventually making it part of your regular cooking tradition.  Let us know what you think by sharing your comments to this post.  Buon appetito!

La Festa dei Sette Pesci: A Christmas Tradition

Christmas is a time of year that is full of tradition.  In my family growing up, Christmas wasn’t just one day, but an entire season full of spending time with family and eating different foods.  The festivities culminated with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Fish was (and remains) the food that plays a central role for the Christmas holiday.  For many Italian families like mine, on Viglia di Natale (Christmas Eve), it’s about La Festa dei Sette Pesci (The Feast of the Seven Fish), where we serve seven types of fish (along with lots of other side dishes), typically served in one at a time in seven different courses.  La Festa dei Sette Pesci is common in Italy, particularly in southern Italy where my family came from.  The tradition draws its roots from our Christian faith around abstinence, or refraining from eating dairy or meat products on Friday or holidays, including Christmas time.  Instead, fish was eaten, typically fried in oil, baked or served with pasta.

Buona Natale! Mama Lombardo enjoying calamari ripieni and clams casino with her family

The reason seven fish are served tie back to Christian tradition as well, specifically to the frequency at which number seven is referred to in the Bible, with seven representing perfect completion.  Baby Jesus’ birth on Christmas represents this perfect completion, and seven fish are served for this reason. Seven, however, has evolved to many different numbers– 9, 11, 13, etc., so many families serve more.  It makes for a longer meal and more time with family and friends!

The fish can be any type of fish, including baccala, scungilli salad, calamari salad, baked cod, stuffed baked lobster, and many other types.  In my family, La Festa dei Sette Pesci usually consists of fried smelts, shrimp cooked scampi style with pasta and/or fried shrimp, baked scallops with breadcrumbs, fried grey of sole,  haddock prepared pizza aeola style (see Episode 5: Pizza Aeola), and the two recipes we share in this episode: clams casino and calamari ripieni (stuffed calamari) in tomato sauce served with spaghetti.

Clams Casino

I usually serve clams casino as an appetizer, but it can also be served a main course.  It’s an incredibly simple recipe, which only takes about 15 minutes to make.  The ingredients you need to make 6-7 clams on a half shell include: 1.5 pounds of fresh minced clams, 1 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs (see Episode 1- Classic Tomato Sauce and Meatballs for how to make the breadcrumbs), 1/4 cup of olive oil,  1/2 cup of tomato sauce, and oregano.

La Festa dei Sette Pesci: Clams Casino

Spread out your half shells on a baking sheet.  Evenly distribute the 1.5 pounds of minced clams across the shells, including some of the clam “juice” in the shell.  Add the olive oil to the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly.  Once mixed, spread breadcrumbs on top of the clams, covering the entire surface of clams.  Next, spoon some tomato sauce on top of the breadcrumbs, then spread it out with a fork evenly over the surface.  Sprinkle oregano on each and then place in the oven  on a broil at 375 for about 10 minutes.  Once golden brown on top, you’re done!  Serve hot.

Calamari ripieni in tomato sauce

Calamari (or squid) is a common type of seafood used in Italian cuisine, particularly in Sicily where the culture and cuisine is so tied to the Mediterranean Sea.  There are many different ways to prepare it: fried, marinated in a salad, al forno, among others.  My favorite is in tomato sauce and served with pasta.  The calamari provide a rich, unique flavor to the sauce.  I also stuff some of the calamari, bake it in the oven (al forno) and then add it to the sauce as well.  You can serve it al forno style without adding it to the sauce, which is the way I typically make it, but my family likes it in the sauce as well, which is what I’m going to show you today.

La Festa dei Sette Pesci: Calamari tomato sauce

The ingredients you will need for calamari ripieni in the tomato sauce are: 1 pound of fresh calamari (the whole calamari), 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 cup of seasoned breadcrumbs, 28 ounce can of tomato sauce, 1 clove of garlic, a 1/4 of a white onion, 1 celery stalk (the inside, tender stalks in the celery bunch), salt and pepper.

Start off by cleaning your calamari thoroughly.  Most fish markets sell the calamari already cleaned, but you want to make sure you check it over, washing it and removing any additional parts that may have been missed.  Once cleaned, get the long, tubular bodies of the squid and cut with a scissors into about 1/2 inch sections.  Cut up the tentacles as well. Place these sections aside for now. You will be adding these sections to the tomato sauce.

Use about 4-5 (or more if you prefer) of the tubular body sections to stuff.  Mix the olive oil with the breadcrumbs and mix thoroughly.  Stuff the breadcrumbs into the calamari, making sure you get it well-packed.  You need to seal the top of the calamari so the stuffing doesn’t fall out, so pin it shut using a toothpick.  Place the stuffed calamari into a casserole dish, and set aside.

Prepare the tomato sauce by heating a sauce pan on medium heat with some olive oil covering the bottom of the pan.  Once heated, add the clove of garlic (whole is fine, but you can also mince it), along with the white onion diced up.  Saute the onions until translucent.  Once done, add in the tomato sauce, a bit of water, and sprinkle in salt and pepper.  Let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes.

Next, add the sliced up calamari rings and tentacles to the tomato sauce.  Slice up the tender celery stalk into small, diced pieces and add to the tomato sauce as well.  The calamari needs only 3-5 minutes to cook, and you don’t want to overcook it since it can become rubbery.  So watch it carefully!  Once cooked, set aside.

Next, take some of the tomato sauce and spread it over the stuffed calamari in the casserole dish.  Place it in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10-15 minutes.  You can tell it’s done when you can stick a fork through it easily.  Once done, remove from the oven and place in the tomato sauce.

Cook your spaghetti (or if you prefer linguine or fettuccini, you can use that instead) al dente.  Add the calamari sauce to the pasta and spread it evenly throughout.  Serve topped with grated pecorino romano or parmiggiano cheese. The calamari tomato sauce is best served right away for the best flavor.

Clams casino and calamari ripieni in tomato sauce served with spaghetti

Buona Natale!

Clams casino and calamari ripieni in tomato sauce served with spaghetti are just two of the types of fish you can make for Christmas Eve.  I hope that you will give them a try and make it part of your Christmas tradition.

From my family to yours, I wish you a heartfelt Buona Natale or Merry Christmas!

Broccoli Rabe

Vegetables play an important role in the Italian kitchen– from tomatoes to beans to garlic to asparagus.  One of the most beloved is broccoli rabe or also known as broccoli rapini.  It’s also quickly gaining popularity in the US, and for good reason– it’s a tasty, versatile vegetable.  The flavor is nutty, bitter and delicious. When mixed with some garlic and sauteed in olive oil, it’s absolutely fantastic.  And that’s how we prepare it in episode 14 of the Cooking with Mama Lombardo show.

Broccoli rabe, a staple vegetable in Italian cooking, particularly in southern Italy

This recipe, like all the others I’ve shared with you, came directly from my mother, who was born and raised in Sicily.  Broccoli rabe sauteed with garlic is something she’d make as a side dish, but it can make a meal unto itself– making for a great meal with some crunchy Italian white bread.

The recipe is simple, and should take you about 15-20 minutes to prepare.  For this recipe, you will need 2 fresh bunches of broccoli rabe, 5-6 cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, and about 1/2 cup of olive oil. You can find broccoli rabe in most grocery stores.  Make sure you buy it fresh.  Avoid wilted, older looking broccoli rabe.  You can prepare one or two bunches (or more), depending upon how many people you are serving– just adjust the ingredients accordingly.  This recipe calls for two fresh bunches of broccoli rabe.

Start off by preparing the broccoli rabe by cutting off the bottom stems and peeling the sides.  Once you have done that, wash the broccoli rabe thoroughly.  I usually use a pan as well as a colander to fully wash and drain the leaves.  Once the leaves are washed, put about an inch or an inch and a half of water at the bottom of a large pan.  Place the washed leaves in the pan and place on the stove at high heat.  Steam the broccoli rabe for about 5-8 minutes, until the leaves are fully soft.  You’ll see the “loft” of the leaves go down and into the bottom of the pan.  You want to avoid over-steaming them.

Take the finished steamed broccoli rabe and drain out all the water.  Let the leaves drain and dry out thoroughly.  You want to make sure all the excess water is off of the leaves.  Sometimes using a paper towel to wipe up the excess water can help speed up the process.

Broccoli rabe: serve as a side dish or as a delicious meal with Italian white bread

While the broccoli rabe is drying, peel the garlic cloves and dice them up.  Place them aside for later use.  Next, place a large frying pan on the stove at high heat, and add the olive oil.  Once the olive oil is heated, place the broccoli rabe into the pan.  The broccoli rabe should immediately start crackling in the oil.  Once you’ve got the surface of the pan covered with the broccoli rabe, continue to snip the longer pieces into smaller pieces with a scissors, which will help make it less “stringy” when eating.  From a circle of the broccoli rabe in the pan with a spoon, and then place the garlic into the circle.  Spread the garlic out and mix it with the broccoli rabe.

Flip the broccoli rabe over a few times while cooking for about 6-10 minutes.  Get it crispy and brown on both sides.  Once it’s well cooked, place onto a pan and serve hot!  I like to serve it with crunchy Italian white bread– an absolutely fantastic combination.  Enjoy!

Double Recipe: Mogliu and Italian Marinated Steak Tips

The tomato or pomodoro is arguably the most important vegetable in the Italian kitchen (perhaps tied with aglia or garlic– see Episode 12).  Tomatoes especially take center stage in Sicilian cooking since the climate of Sicily is perfect for growing plump, juicy tomatoes.  Tomatoes also grow in abundance at the end of the summer where I live right outside of Boston, which is why I’m sharing with you a tasty recipe that puts the tomato front and center: mogliu.  Mogliu is an old Sicilian word, with it’s meaning derived from “to dunk”.  The name is absolutely perfect since a mogliu makes a fantastic juice made up of tomato, garlic, olive oil, mint and basil that you can dunk bread in for a great snack or an even an entire meal.

To accompany the molgiu, I’m preparing Italian marinated steak tips, which are perfect for grilling outside on your grill or in an open pit fire, such as what’s still commonly done in Sicily.  The marinade for the steak tips follows nearly the same recipe as the mix for the mogliu, which is why it makes sense to prepare them together (assuming you don’t mind lots of garlic in your meal!).  In fact, you can use the same marinade with chicken or turkey– it’s a great all around marinade and beat anything you’d pour out of  a bottle!

My co-host and I joined by two special guests in this special double episode: my other son, Rick Lombardo and his wife, Cheryl Lombardo.  Rick and Cheryl grow lots of vegetables in the summer and share tomatoes, basil and spearmint they have grown as part of this episode.  In addition to being great amateur farmers, they are an important part of my life, and it’s great to have them on the show!

Both of these recipes are simple to prepare and require basic ingredients.  We show you how it’s done in this special double episode (episode 13):

Here’s the recipe that my my mother gave to me, direct from Italy:

Mogliu

Most importantly, you’ll need about 6-8 medium to large, fresh, ripened tomatoes.  Preferably these are tomatoes from your garden or a local farm stand, so that you get the most flavor.  Slice the tomatoes up into medium chunks, and add them to a large bowl.  Place them aside while you prepare the mix.

For the mix, you’ll need 1 tablespoon of salt, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, 3 tablespoons of water, 10-20 spearmint leaves, 10-20 basil leaves, and 4 cloves of garlic.

Start off making the mix by adding salt into a mortar.  Add the chopped garlic cloves, then mash with the pestle.  Next, rip up the mint leaves, and mash.  Repeat with the basil leaves.  Finally, add the olive oil and red wine vinegar, followed by water.  Mix and then add to the tomatoes in the bowl.  Mix everything together thoroughly.  Get a large loaf of Italian bread (with a soft middle, and hard outer crust), and you’re ready to serve!  Be sure to dunk the bread in the juices of the mix.  Dunking the bread is not only delicious but is exactly how this dish was meant to be enjoyed– don’t be shy!

Italian marinated steak tips

You’ll need about 1-3 pounds of top grade sirloin steak tips.  The amount you make will depend upon how many people you are serving.  If the tips do not come pre-cut, you will need to cut them into 2 inch pieces, which you can so with a scissors or a sharp knife.  Once cut, place aside.

The marinade for the steak tips is the same recipe as the mix for the mogliu.  You will need all the same ingredients (outlined above), with the addition of 1 tablespoon or oregano and 1 large whole lemon.  Follow the same directions above for the mogliu mix when preparing.  Just add the oregano and squeeze the lemon juice into the mix.  Once completed, place the marinade into a large ziplock bag, then add the steak tips.  Add the lemon rinds into the gag.  Seal the bag, and place them in the refridgerator to marinate 2-24 hours.  The longer you let them marinate, the more flavor the steak tips will have.  I typically will prepare these the day before I plan on making them, which gives the tips outstanding flavor.  However, if you don’t have that much time, you can let them marinate for 2 hours or so and still get good flavor.

Grill the steak tips at around 300 degrees or so, at about 10-15 minutes per side, depending upon how well done you want them.  Once grilled, serve with the mogliu and any other side dish, and you’ve got a great meal!

As always, serve with a bottle of wine.  We decided to break with our tradition of red wines in this episode and break open a bottle of white wine, which my co-host and son, Gary, got on a recent trip to Acadia National Park in Maine.  We enjoyed a bottle of Riesling (Rising Tide) 2010 Dry white wine from Bar Harbor Cellars Winery.  It was the perfect accompaniment for our meal that we enjoyed outside on a beautiful summer day.

We hope that you will give these recipes a try and will have a beautiful summer day to enjoy them as well.  As always, let us know what you think!

Healthy Summertime Dish: Pasta Con Aglia

The Sicilian kitchen is all about using the seasonal items available from the land– the fresher, the better.  This time of year, fruits, vegetables and spices are in full bloom, and nothing beats using a fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil combination from the garden.  That’s what we do in Episode 12, where we share with you pasta con aglia or in the Sicilian dialect I grew up calling this dish, pasta cu aglia. In English, it’s simply pasta with garlic.

There is perhaps no other ingredient more Italian than garlic, which is healthy and tasty.  I grew up on the stuff, and raised my kids on it as well.  I use it in so many dishes, and pasta con aglia really emphasizes its flavor and beauty as an ingredient.

This is a dish that’s very quick to prepare (about 10 minutes), which is why my mother used to make when someone stopped by unexpectedly (unexpected guests were always welcome and fed well) and she needed to pull something together quickly.  She used to make it for large family gatherings as well since it was so easy to prepare and did not require lots of work.

Pasta con aglia is very healthy, and not too heavy– perfect for the summer time. I highly recommend giving this recipe a try, and eating it outside under the beautiful sun with a glass of wine.

Preparing the sauce

The ingredients you will need for the pasta con aglia are: 14 ounces of fresh, crushed tomatoes, 4 large cloves of garlic, about 1-1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, a handful of fresh basil, and about 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  You will also need a mortar and pestle which you will need to crush the mix.

You can use fresh tomatoes from the garden or fresh whole tomatoes in a can (I like Kitchen Ready brand), which is what I do when I don’t have fresh garden tomatoes to work with.  Start off by crushing the tomatoes in a bowl. Place them aside.

Next, take the four, large peeled cloves of garlic and slice them up into the mortar bowl.  Add more garlic if you like lots of garlic and want a stronger flavor.  This is pasta with garlic after all!  (Just don’t plan on kissing your significant other for the evening if you do use extra garlic!).  Use the pestle to crush the garlic.  Crush until it’s mashed into a small pieces.  Add the salt, and continue to crush.  Once crushed down, chop up the fresh basil, and add that to the mortar bowl.  Crush the basil.  Once it’s in a fine paste, add the olive oil, and mix.

Take the mixture, and add it to the crushed tomatoes.  Mix with a spoon.

While you’re preparing the sauce, you can cook the pasta.  Follow our directions for cooking pasta, making sure you keep it al dente.  The classic pasta to use with this recipe is spaghetti.  You can use another pasta if you’d like, but I’d stick with long pasta, such as fettucini, if you do substitute for the spaghetti.

Before draining the pasta, use a scoop to take some of the water from the pasta and place it aside.  You will use this water to add to the pasta mix when completed.

Once you’ve drained the pasta, place it in the pan you cooked it in, then add the sauce.  Mix thoroughly.  The pasta will absorb the sauce, so you should add some of the water you took from the pasta into the mix.  This will help make a nice “juice” with the sauce– something you can dip fresh bread into!

That’s it!  You are ready to serve!  Get your family and friends together, place a large plate of pasta in a bowl, add some grated percorino romano or parmesan cheese on top, and mangia!