Category Archives: Episodes

St. Joseph’s Day Pasta

Welcome to Episode 4 of Cooking with Mama Lombardo!

In Italy and in Italian families around the world, St. Joseph is an important saint.  His feast day is the 19th of March and is full of tradition that celebrates work and the family. Since bread is symbolic for the reward for the hard work that feeds one’s family, it is used as an important part of the celebration of St. Joseph’s day.  From breadwork art sculptures (as seen in the video and the photo below) to the ingredients in this episodes dish, bread is everywhere on St. Joseph’s day.

Bread sculpture artwork used in celebrating St. Joseph's Day

In fact, in the “old country”, the bread sculptures were (and still are) used to decorate shrines to St. Joseph.  The village where my parents are from in Sicily, Salemi, is one of the main creators of these bread sculptures and draws visitors from distant lands to enjoy the artwork.  Eating of course is an important part of the tradition, and St. Joseph’s day is often accompanied by many courses based in bread, vegetables and fruit picked this time of year.  Traditionally, zeppoli or zeppole– fried balls of dough hollowed out and filled with sweetened ricotta or custard cream– are served for dessert (perhaps we’ll make these in a future episode!).

Traditional Sicilian dessert, zeppola, served on St. Joseph's Day

It’s a great tradition, and I’m happy to share with you one of the recipes that came from my mother in celebration of St. Joseph’s day: pasta alla modiga (Sicilian) or pasta with the breadcrumbs, otherwise known as St. Joseph’s Day pasta.  It is one of those dishes that I only made once per year (March 19th) and brings back special memories for me, my children and my grandchildren.  It always reminds us of St. Joseph’s day and the celebration of family and our hard work.

St. Joseph was a carpenter and the breadcrumbs used in this pasta symbolizes the sawdust from the carpentry work.  It’s a simple dish to prepare, requiring few ingredients and taking only about 15 minutes to pull together.  In Episode 4, we walk through how to prepare the dish.  We hope you enjoy it and will make it part of your own traditions on March 19th to celebrate St. Joseph, family and a special reward for all your hard work!

The recipe shared here serves about 5-7 people.  You will need 1 pound of spaghetti, 1 large bag of unseasoned, plain breadcrumbs, 4-5 cloves of fresh garlic, several sprigs of fresh parsley (about 10-12), 3-4 tablespoons of freshly ground pecorino romano cheese, salt, pepper, 3-4 tablespoons of sugar and 1 cup of olive oil.

Preparing the Perfect Pasta

Cooking pasta the right way is critical for not only this dish, but any dish, so let’s review how you cook the perfect pasta.  Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt to the water and bring it to a boil.  Once it’s boiling, add the one pound of spaghetti.  Make sure the pasta is fully submerged in the boiling water.   Cook the pasta for about 10 minutes, aiming to get it al dente. Get a large colander to drain the pasta.  “Shock” the pasta by adding some cold water from the sink to the boiling water and pasta.  Drain the pasta in the colander.  Do not wash the pasta with water.  Once completed, add the pasta to the breadcrumb mix (or if you’re cooking pasta for another dish, add whatever topping to the pasta).

Preparing the Breadcrumbs

Prepare the breadcrumbs in a large pan which will be large enough to hold all the breadcrumbs plus the all the pasta.  Add the bag of breadcrumbs into the pan.  Mince the garlic cloves and add to the breadcrumbs.  Chop up the parsley and add that to the breadcrumbs, mixing it in.  Finally mix in the sugar, salt and pepper, and then a half cup of olive oil.  Make sure all the ingredients are mixed well with the breadcrumbs.   If you decide to store the breadcrumbs for later, you can do so by storing in a plastic bag in the freezer, where you can pull them out to use later (they typically will last several weeks in the freezer).

The final step is to take the drained, cooked spaghetti and add it to the pan.  Coat all of the pasta with breadcrumbs.  Once the pasta is fully coated, sprinkle the top of the pasta with the remainder of the olive oil.  The oil will help make the breadcrumbs stick to the pasta as well as add flavor.

Serve the pasta hot in large bowl.  Sprinkle some of the excess breadcrumbs on top, and you’re ready to eat!  Buon appetito!


Eggplant Parmigiana

One of the most popular items among family members that I cook is eggplant parmesan.  I bring it to family birthday parties, holiday parties and other family gatherings, where I always leave with an empty pan.

Eggplant parmesan or parmigiana di melanaza is a classic southern Italian dish, particularly in Sicily.  Eggplants like warm and dry climates, so southern Italy is an ideal native ground for this plant.  Eggplants are used in a variety of dishes– in pasta, on pizza, in spreads, in salads, among other things.  It’s truly a versatile vegetable.

In Episode 3 of our show, we walk through how your prepare the fresh eggplant, battering and frying the eggplant, assembling the dish and finally, baking to perfection.  We hope you enjoy the show and will give the recipe a try.  Please share any comments.

The recipe shared in this episode makes enough for 5-7 people (or more depending upon how many servings and how hungry your guests are).   You will 2 fresh eggplants (1 large, 1 small/medium sized), 28 ozs of tomato sauce (be sure to prepare it as shown in Episode 1 (without the meat in the sauce), 2-3 cups of seasoned breadcrumbs, 2 eggs, salt, pepper, 1 cup of freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese, 3 cups of fresh shredded mozzarella, approximately 3-4 cups of water in a bowl, and lots of olive oil (as much as needed for frying).  You will also need a 8 x 11 inch (2 quart) pan for cooking.  If you’d like to make a larger dish (which I usually do), simply prepare more eggplants, up the amount of ingredients and use a bigger pan!

Preparing the Fresh Eggplant

Peel the 2 fresh eggplant, removing all the skin.  Once all the skin is removed, getting a sharp knife and cut the eggplant into 1/2 inch slices.  Place the eggplant slices into a large bowl of salt water (you’ll need about 3 -4 cups of water with about 3 teaspoons of salt dissolved in).  Let all of the eggplant slices soak in the salt water for about 5 minutes.  The goal is to soften the eggplant up so you can more easily remove the seeds, as well as to make the eggplant softer for frying.   Once done soaking, take a knife and scrape the seeds off of each of the eggplant slices.  The seeds are bitter and you should seek to remove as many as possible before cooking.    As you finish removing the seeds, place each eggplant slices on paper towels, drying them all around.

Batter and Fry the Eggplant Slices

Before battering and frying, prepare your tomato sauce.  You should prepare it the same way as we reviewed in Episode 1.  Keep it on a very lower simmer on the stove while you batter and fry the eggplant slices.

Take your 3 cups of seasoned breadcrumbs and place them in a large flat dish.  Crack and beat the 2 eggs into a dish, adding salt and pepper.  Take an eggplant slice with a fork and coat it in the egg.  Once fully coated with the egg, place it in the breadcrumbs, ensuring it is fully coated in breadcrumbs.  Repeat until all the eggplant slices are fully coated in breadcrumbs.

Get a large frying pan, and place it on the stove at medium heat.  Add olive oil.  You want to be sure to have enough oil to get a good frying process going– too little oil can burn the eggplant, so be careful.   Keep adding enough oil so the frying process continues without burning the eggplant.

Once the oil is nice and hot, add your eggplant slices, covering the pan.  Cook each slice until golden brown on each side, then place onto a dish with paper towels (you can layer the eggplant slices on top of one another with paper towels in between each layer).  If the olive oil becomes “dirty” or in other words, there are a lot of residual breadcrumbs pieces mixed in, swap out the dirty oil for fresh olive oil.

Layer the Eggplant in the Pan

Now you’re ready for the fun part (or the next fun part!).  There is no science behind how many layers of eggplant you should have for the perfect eggplant parmesan– just layer it until you reach the top of the pan.

Take your pan and coat the bottom with some of your tomato sauce.  Take an eggplant slice, coat it in tomato sauce, then place it in the pan.  Repeat with each slice until you’ve fully completed the layer.  Before going onto the next layer, sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese (or pecorino romano) over the layer, as well as sprinkle the fresh grated mozzarella cheese over the layer.  Build the next layer, repeating the process of adding the grated parmesan and shredded mozzarella in between each layer.  When you reach the top layer, top it off with the parmesan cheese and mozzarella.  Add some tomato sauce along the sides of the dish (don’t place any on top!).  That’s it!  Now you’re ready to bake it.

Baking the Eggplant Parmesan

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Place your pan of eggplant parmigiana into the middle of the oven.  Let it bake for about 20 minutes, rotating about halfway through.  I like to get a nice golden brown, crispy layer on top, so I move it to the top shelf of the oven after the 20 minutes is up, for about another 5-7 minutes.  Keep a close eye on it, making sure it doesn’t burn.  Once crispy on top, you’re ready to serve!

Make sure you serve the eggplant parmigiana hot!  It’s easy to re-heat if it cools down, which you can do in the oven.  You can serve with some tomato sauce on the side, as well as grated parmesan cheese.  It goes great with red wine.  Buon appetito!

Mama Lombardo’s Pizza

Pizza is one of the classic dishes that everyone loves.  Pizza has been modified to all different forms around the world, but nothing compares to the pizza recipe I grew up with.  When my parents came over from Italy, they cooked a thick crust pizza as was the tradition in Sicily.  My aunts, sister-in-laws and I modified the approach over the years to a thinner crust, while keeping the recipe true to its origins.  In Sicily today, you can find thick crust, as well as thin crust.  In fact, thin crust is more common, and it’s especially delicious when baked in a wood oven stove.  You don’t need a wood oven stove for my recipe (a regular electric or gas stove will work fine), but you will still need enough love, heart and soul that goes into a great pizza!  I have great memories of making trays of pizzas for my kids, grandkids and all their friends, and I hope that you’ll be able to create some similar great memories with my recipe.

Episode 2 walks you through how to make the pizza dough, prepare the pan, place on the toppings and baking the pizza.  Watch it and let us know your thoughts!  We really enjoy your comments and would love to hear from you.

Making the Pizza Dough

The ingredients for making the dough for 3-4 pizzas (about 18 inches x 12 inches) are:

6 cups of flour (white flour), 2 cups of luke warm water, 2 one oz. packs of yeast, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of sugar

Place the 6 cups of flour in a large pan (make sure it’s big enough for you to knead and manipulate the dough).  Add the salt, sugar and olive oil with the flour and mix well.    Mix the yeast with the water.  Stir it in for about 1-2 minutes until mixed well.  The slowly pour a little bit of water in with the flour mix.  Stir it, then add some more water.  Stir again.  Keep adding the water slowly until well mixed.  If the dough is sticky, add some additional flour.  The goal is to get the dough’s consistency smooth and even, so that’s not sticking to your fingers.  Knead it with  your hands, punching it down until the dough is smooth.

Keeping the dough in a single big ball, place a cloth over the top of the dough.  Put a cover on top of the pan, and place in a warm spot to rise.  Let the dough rise for about 75-90 minutes.  The dough should rise about 3-4 inches, pushing the cloth upward.  When it’s finished rising, break the dough into even, individual pizza dough balls (this recipe will allow for about 4 dough balls).  Round the individual balls out, then cover each with a cloth in a warm spot and let them re-rise for about 15 minutes.

Preparing the Pizza Dough

The ingredients you’ll need to prepare the pizza dough on the pan are 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of grated pecorino romano cheese.

First, prepare your 18 x 12 x 1 pizza pan by coating it with olive oil.  The olive oil will help the dough spread and ensure it doesn’t stick to the pan.  You probably will need about 2 tablespoons of oil.  Use a paper towel or cloth to spread the oil.

Once the pan is prepared, take one of the individual pizza dough balls, place it on the pan and begin stretching it out with your hands.  Carefully pull it out, starting at the center of the ball, and then outward towards the edges of the pan.  The dough should be thin, without tearing.  If you do tear the dough, gently cover it up with some more dough.  Add some grated pecorino romano cheese on top of the dough to help with the stretching process (it will give you some friction), as well as some flavor to the dough.  You have a finished stretching the pizza dough out when it cover the entire surface of the pan, with only a small space between the edge of the dough and the edge of the pan all around.

Adding the Toppings

The ingredients you’ll need for toppings for 4 pizzas are one 28 oz can of pureed tomato (Pastene Kitchen Ready tomato sauce is recommended), about 4-5 cups of mozzarella cheese (grated from a package or fresh is fine), 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 3 diced cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper, a pinch of dried oregano and whatever toppings you’d like.  I recommend keeping it simple and either keeping it plain or adding prosciutto, mushrooms and/or roasted red peppers.

Heat the tomato sauce in a small pan on the stove.  Heat it enough so it just gets warm– do not bring it to a boil.  Low to medium heat for about 5-7 minutes is plenty.

Add a handful of minced garlic on the pizza (if you really like garlic, add more). Spread 4-5 large spoonfuls (a wooden spoon is recommended) of tomato sauce over the top of the pizza.  Use the back of the spoon to spread the sauce over the dough, making sure it covers the entire pizza dough.  Spread the grated mozzarella cheese over the pizza, getting good coverage all over the pizza.  If you like extra cheese, feel free to add it, but I think a pizza with a moderate amount of cheese is best.  Now you can add whatever toppings you’d like (stay clear of too many toppings– the simpler the better).  In the video, I add mushrooms and roasted red pizza, but most of the time don’t add any and serve it plain.  Sprinkle the salt, pepper and oregano over the pizza.  Next, sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the pizza, and then you’re ready to get it into the oven.

Baking the Pizza

Once you’ve added the toppings, you’re ready to bake the pizza.  Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees (if your oven can’t reach that temperature, 450 degrees works).  The higher temperature will get a nice crispy texture to the pizza.  Place your pizza into the oven, about halfway down.  You will cook the pizza for 10-15 minutes maximum.  About halfway through cooking, be sure to check the bottom of the pizza to make sure it’s not sticking or burning.  Lift it with a fork all the way around.  Turn the pizza around in the oven for even baking.  You will know the pizza is finished when it looks slightly brown on top and the sides.  After 10-15 minutes, pull it out of the oven, and let it cool for a few minutes.  Cut it (I like cutting it into squares, but any shape works!), and you’re ready to serve!

Serve the pizza by itself or whatever side dishes you’d like.  A pilsner beer goes well with pizza (or wine if you prefer).  Buon appetito!

Classic Tomato Sauce and Meatballs

A staple in every Italian kitchen is tomato sauce.  Ever since I was growing up, I could remember my mother spending hours– many times the entire day– preparing a rich, flavorful tomato sauce.  The scent of the tomato sauce filling the house, and carrying out into the street fill my childhood memories.   Preparing the tomato sauce was an art, and remains an art today.  Getting the ingredients right and including meatballs, porkchops, sausages, and other meats to add to the richness of the sauce, helped make tomato sauce a classic in my household and I hope it will do the same for yours.

In this inaugural episode, my son, Gary Lombardo and I walk through how to prepare the classic tomato sauce and meatballs, as well as other meats.  It won’t take you all day, but you will need about 90 minutes or so to do things right.  Enjoy Episode 1 and check out the recipe below.  As always, leave us your thoughts!

Classic Tomato Sauce

For enough sauce to feed about 4-6 people, you will need:

2  28 oz cans of pureed tomatos (Pastene Kitchen Ready is recommended) or you can prepare your own tomato from fresh garden tomatoes (you probably want to stick with homegrown garden tomatoes)

1 small white onion, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup of virgin olive oil, 2 half teaspoons of sugar, water

Heat the olive oil at a medium heat in a large sauce pan.  Dice about 1/4 of the onion and all of the garlic.  Place diced up garlic and onions into the oil and sautee until the garlic is golden brown and the onions are translucent.  Add a half teaspoon of sugar to each can of pureed tomato.  Pour cans of tomatoes into the sauce pan with the onion and garlic.  Add about 1 cup of water (add to the cans to get excess of tomatoes in the can).  Lower heat, let simmer and prepare the pork chops, sausage and meatballs in the meantime.

Meatballs, Pork Chops and Sausage

Adding meat is key to giving a tomato sauce a rich flavor.  You can use any kind of meat you’d like, but I like to use pork chops, Italian sausage (with fennel), and beef or turkey meatballs.  I usually use about 4 sausages and 2 pork chops, but you can use as many as you’d like.  You should start cooking the pork chops and sausage first since they take more time to cook.   So start off by heating about a 1/4 cup of oil in a frying pan, and then add the sausages and pork chops.  The goal is to just get them brown enough in the frying pan, then transfer them to the tomato sauce to finish cooking.  Brown the pork chops and sausages on each side, just enough for them to get golden brown all around.  Transfer them into the same pan as the tomato sauce, stir them in and let them simmer.  Now, get the meatballs ready!

The key to any meatball are breadcrumbs.  You can make breadcrumbs from a loaf of bread or buy unseasoned breadcrumbs, which would be less work.  Either way, you will need to season your breadcrumbs before adding them to meatballs or any other dish.  I usually make a large quantity of breadcrumbs at once and store the extra in the freezer.  Mix 3-4 cups of breadcrumbs in a cuisinart (or by hand) with about 5 tablespoons of chopped parsley,1/4 cup of percorino romano cheese (fine grated), 3 cloves of minced garlic, 1 teaspsoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.   Make sure all ingredients are thoroughly mixed– you don’t want any chunky sections.

Now that you have your breadcrumbs completed, you’re ready to make your meatballs.  1-1.25 pounds of ground meet will make about 12-13 golfball sized meatballs.  Place the ground meat in a large bowl and mix with 1 cup of the seasoned breadcrumbs you made, 1 egg (2 eggs if beef), and about 3 tablespoons of water splashed on top.  Mix all the ingredients thoroughly with your hands, making sure all ingredients are smoothly integrated in the ground meat.  Take a small handful of meat and roll them into golf-sized meatballs.  (You can make them as large or small if you’d like– that will depend upon your preference).  Once you’ve rolled them all out, place them in hot olive oil in a frying pan and fry them until golden brown all around.  Similar to the pork and sausages, you don’t need to cook them all the way through since they will finish being cooked in the sauce.  Once you’ve finished frying them, place them directly in the sauce.  Stir them in, and let it simmer for about 60-90 minutes, making sure all the meat is cooked and giving plenty of time for the sauce to absorb the flavor of the meat. You can add fresh basil, crushed red pepper or oregano if you’d like, but I typically do not.

When you’re ready to serve, take all the meat out of the sauce and place in a large platter.  Mix the tomato sauce with some al dente pasta, top it with some fresh percorino romano or parmesan cheese and enjoy!

Buon Appetito!