Category Archives: Main Dishes (i secondi)

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!


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.


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:


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!

Sicilian Classic: Chicken Marsala

In this episode, we have a very special guest who joins us to share one of her favorite ways to cook the Sicilian classic, chicken marsala.  My daughter Christina Lombardo Seiler visited me from where she lives in San Diego and while she was here we filmed Episode 8  of the Cooking with Mama Lombardo Show.

It’s always special when you get to cook with your daughter, especially when it’s a recipe she has learned how to cook so well.  In fact, chicken marsala is not a recipe that I normally have cooked over the years, despite the city of Marsala being only about 45 minutes from where my parents came from.  Marsala wine is a wine that we often drank growing up, and is the most famous fortified wine coming from Italy.  Marsala comes in either in a dry or sweet variety, either of which you can use in this recipe.

Gary, Mama Lombardo and special guest Christina Lombardo Seiler

Chicken marsala is a perfect recipe for the Cooking with Mama Lombardo Show: simple, authentic, delicious and fun.  We hope that you’ll give it a try!

The ingredients you will need for chicken marsala include: 2-3 chicken breasts, 1/2 cup of flour, 4 tablespoons of butter, 1 cup of marsala wine, 3 cups of sliced mushrooms, salt, pepper, 1 cup of chicken broth, and chopped chives.

Preparing the Chicken

Tenderize your chicken breasts, by pounding them with a tenderizing tool.  Mix the flour, salt, pepper and some dried oregano (optional) in a dish.  Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour so that you have them covered all over in flour.

Heat a medium size skillet on medium heat.  Add 1-2 tablespoons of butter. When melted, add the chicken to the pan and cook until golden brown on each side.  Be careful not to burn the chicken.  Once golden brown, take the chicken off and put on a plate.

Making the Marsala Sauce

While the pan is still hot, add another tablespoon of butter.  Add the sliced mushrooms into the pan and spread them out evenly over the pan.  Next, add the marsala wine into the pan, along with the chicken broth.  Add another tablespoon of butter.  Bring to a low boil, and then add the chicken into the sauce.  Cover the chicken and let it simmer for about 8-10 minutes.   If you would like to thicken the sauce up, you can take some of the excess flour and add it to the simmering sauce.

Once finished, take the chicken out of the pan and serve on a plate.  Add some mushrooms and sauce on top.  Sprinkle a dash of salt and pepper, and then add some chopped chives for garnish.  That’s it!  Serve with some marsala wine and enjoy!

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!

First Guest Appearance Makes Pizza Aeola Extra Special

We have a special treat for you in this episode of Cooking with Mama Lombardo: our first guests ever on the show!  Our hope is to more guests come on the show to share their Italian recipes (let us know if you’d like to come on- we’d love to have you!), and we start off with two very special guests for me, two of my grandchildren.  Marco and Malena both provide some great laughs and bring their own special techniques to preparing this episode’s dish, pizza aeola or Italian style fish.

Fish is an important part of the Italian diet, given the country’s connection with the Mediterranean Sea.  This is especially true in Sicily, where pesce spada (swordfish), tonno (tuna) and other big fish have played such an important role in everyday lives throughout history.  Even today, buying fresh fish in the open markets, such as Palermo’s Vucciria, is lively everyday adventure and part of life.

Fish also plays an important part of the diet at this time of year, which is Lent.  In Catholic Christian families around the world (Italian and otherwise), abstinence from meat (beef, pork, poultry) on Fridays is the practice.  From this practice, a tradition of serving  fish on Fridays evolved, a tradition we continue to embrace during the Lenten season (Ash Wednesday through Easter).

With this backdrop, I’m happy to share with you a special recipe handed down to me from my mother and aunts, called pizza aeola.  I’m not really certain of the derivation of the name since it’s been lost in time (and probably evolved– as has many of the recipe names from word of mouth over time– from pesca d’aglio or garlic fish), but the name is appropriate because the fish is prepared with classic pizza toppings, and brings back the same memories as does pizza (see Episode 2- Mama Lombardo’s Pizza).

This recipe is really easy to prepare, requiring about 30 minutes total.  The recipe serves about 3-4 people.  The ingredients you’ll need are: 1.5 lbs of cleaned, skinless haddock filets (use more if you’d like to increase serving size), 1 clovee of garlic (use 2 if you really like garlic!), a handful of celery (use the tender top stalk leaves– not the main stalks), whole tomatoes (crushed), a 1/4 of small white onion, pecorino romano cheese, a pinch of dried oregano, 1/4 cup of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Preparing the toppings

Dice the cloves of garlic into fine pieces and chop the onions and garlic into diced pieces.  Place them into seperate bowls.  Grate the pecorino romano cheese and place in a bowl.  For the tomatoes, you can use whole canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes.  I only use fresh tomatoes if they are ripened and pulled fresh from the vine from the garden (typically only in the summertime).  Take the about 3-4 of the whole tomatoes and crush them up with a fork in a dish.  Set aside.

Preparing the fish

You will want to use a white, flaky fish for this recipe.  Haddock is the best fish to use.  Use fresh, not frozen fish.  When buying it from your fish market, ask to make sure it’s fresh (that day) and to have it fileted.   Make sure to have the skin removed (or you can remove the skin yourself at home if you so desire).

Wash the fish thoroughly, then place it in a large casserole dish.  We will be baking and broiling it on the oven, so make sure the dish you use is appropriate for doing so. After placing it the dish, add the toppings:  sprinkle the onions, garlic, celery, and tomatoes.  Spread them evenly on top of the fish.  Then sprinkle the oregano, salt and pepper over fish.  Finally, spread the olive oil over the fish.

I also like to add thinly sliced potatoes around the fish, which add a nice side dish to the meal, especially since they absorb the flavors of the fish as they cook.

After you place the toppings on the fish, you’re ready to place it in the oven to cook!  Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Once heated, place the fish in the middle of the oven for about 20 minutes.  After the 20 minutes is up, place your oven on broil, then move the fish to the top shelf of the oven for 3-5 minutes.  This will help the fish brown on top, which adds a delicious texture to the fish.

Take the fish out of the oven, then serve hot!  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!