Category Archives: Appetizers (antipasti)

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.

IMG_2762

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.

IMG_2764

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!

Advertisements

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!

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!

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!

Another Easter Classic: Pizza Gaina

Easter is a busy time of year in my kitchen, and this year has proven to be no exception.  I’m helping to prepare the Easter meal with my daughter-in-law this year.  While she’s making the main meal, I’ve got artichoke and asparagus frittatas ready to go, steamed artichokes, lasagna, broccoli rabe, a ricotta pie (which I’ll share with you in the next episode) and of course the Italian Easter cookies we shared with you earlier today.  In addition, we’ve also got pizza gaina, which is what we’ll be sharing with you in this episode.

Pizza gaina is a delicious, indulgent dish, used to celebrate the end of Lent and the high holiday of Easter.  It’s typically made on Good Friday and eaten on Easter Saturday or Easter Sunday to break the Lenten fast.  It’s indulgent because it includes several meats, which in the old days is something people avoided eating during certain times at Lent.

Pizza gaina is made throughout Italy, especially in southern Italy, and takes on different forms and names depending upon where you’re from.   It’s also known as pizza rustica and Italian ham pie (although other meats besides ham are in there).  No matter what it’s name, you’re going to love this recipe.

This is my sister-in-law, Elaine Angelo’s recipe, because it’s something that she has perfected over the years.  I actually haven’t made the dish that often, which is why we had Elaine join the show to show us how it’s done.  As always, please share your comments and thoughts– we’d love to know how it came out if you gave it a try!

My sister-in-law, Elaine Angelo, showing off her finished product.

The ingredients you’ll need for the crust are: 4 cups of flour, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, 1 stick of butter, 3 eggs and a half a cup of milk.  For the filling you will need 1 lb of ricotta cheese, 1 pound of fresh cheese, 1/2 cup of grated pecorino romano cheese, 8-10 large eggs, 1/2 pound of prosciutto (cut up), 1/2 pound of boiled or baked hame (cut up), and 1/2 pound of sliced or cut up pepperoni.  You can substitute or add other meats, such as capicola, sausage or other meats.  This is definitely a meat-lovers dish (sorry, no vegetarian option available!).

Preparing the Crust

The crust on pizza gaina is a savory one.  Start off by putting the stick of butter in a large bowl, mixing in the sugar.  Use a mixer to make sure it’s mixed well.  Add the pepper, and then slowly mix in the eggs.  Finally, gradually mix in the flour and milk, bringing the crust to a nice consistency.  Finish off by kneading the dough with your hands into a nice large ball.  Break the ball into 2 pieces: one for the bottom crust and one for the top crust.

Take the first ball and roll it out with a rolling pin on a cooking board.  Roll it out to about a quarter inch thick.  You will be using a 9 inch pie pan, so make sure you have enough to cover the bottom of the pan.  Transfer the crust over to the pan.  Next, pinch the crust up the side of the pan, making sure it covers all the edges of the pan.  Use extra crust from the ball if you need to fill in any gaps. Once completed, set aside.

Making the Filling

Get a large bowl and add the 1 pound of fresh cheese.  Fresh cheese is an Italian cheese, which you can normally find at the grocery store in the Easter time of year.  If you have trouble finding it, you can substitute farmer’s cheese (or basket cheese).

Mix up the fresh cheese, and then add the ricotta cheese.  Mix the two together with a mixer, and then add in the percorino romano cheese.  Next, gradually mix in the 8-10 eggs.  Once mixed thoroughly, add the prosciutto, ham, and pepperroni (or other meats).  Use a wooden spoon to mix the meats in.  Once mixed, pour the filling into the pie shell.  Smooth out the filling on top with the spoon.

Adding the Crust Top

Take the other ball of dough, and roll it out in the same way as the crust bottom.  Transfer the rolled out dough to the top of the pie, fully covering the filling.  Use your hands to mold the pie top to meet the pie bottom, ensuring it sealed (if it’s not sealed, you will have the cheeses ooze out of the sides, which is not something you want).  Use a fork to press the seams down.  Once completed, cut a couple of small “breathing” slices on top through the crust.

Place in the oven for 50 minutes at 375 degrees.

Once it’s done, let it cool down.  You will be serving it cold, so put it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Pizza gaina is straightforward and bit of work, but worth every bite.  I hope you enjoy it.  I just wanted to offer a big thank you to my sister-in-law Elaine for sharing her recipe and walking us through this episode.  We look forward to having her back in future episodes!

Happy Easter to everyone!