Posts in Italy
Where The Dandelions Grow in Campania: Frances’ Italian Dandelions with Eggs

Whenever I cook with a Nonna or am lucky enough to have a friend share a cherished family recipe, the first question I ask is, “what makes this recipe so special?”  Every time, the answer is simple; because my Nonna made it for me.  It’s not a fancy ingredient or special cooking technique that keeps a recipe in a family for generations.  Instead, it’s the fondness we have for the person that first made it for us, and how she continued to make it for us, again and again, because we loved it.

This feeling was so evident when I spoke to Sandi Piacenza.  A lovely woman who took the time to tell me her family’s immigration story from Italy.  Sandi was born in the USA but her mother Frances Carolluzzi Forlenzo came from Italy and raised her and her two brothers in Stamford, Connecticut.  I love Frances’ story because it truly embodies why so many Italians came to America.  Frances’ parents dreamt of a better life for their daughter.  They saved up their money to send her here on her own.  At the ripe age of 16, she embarked for a new life.  Arriving in Ellis Island, Sandi proudly told me how her mother’s name is engraved on the wall.  She married Sandi’s father, Sabitino, at 17 ½. 

This recipe was taught to Frances by her mother in law, Rose Dellacorte.  The woman she credited with teaching her how to cook. Lucky for me, Sandi made sure to observe her mother and write the recipe down. And the best part, Sandi’s daughter Natalie is the one to bring it to my attention.  It’s her favorite Christmas Eve dish. Therefore, this recipe has been in this family over 100 years.  The family jokes how their ancestors would have to get the dandelions needed for this savory egg dish.  Now, when I make it, I feel like I can picture the Nonna sending the children out to pick them all over the hills of Campania.

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Sunday Supper (Fall Favorites): Lasagna Bolognese

My favorite aspect of Fall is how we all begin to crave some down-home cooking.  Summer is for eating light and grilling everything.  However, once the leaves begin to turn color and scatter, we break out the slow cooker, baked recipes and enjoy our Nonna recipes that keep us sated and warm, inside and out.

I’ve said in past posts how my mother’s brodo (tomato sauce) pops up in many of her recipes so I always have it on hand.  First, I make a big batch of brodo on Saturday, divvy it up into Tupperware and store it in the freezer.  Then, when I want to make a recipe, like Pasta Bolognese, I get fresh ground meat, pancetta frying up in the pan and add my brodo for a killer pasta sauce.

If I want to make an extra special dinner, I take it one step further, I make besciamella and roll out fresh lasagna sheets.  These components come together for a truly stand out dish, Lasagna Bolognese.

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I Left My Heart In San Francisco: Trattoria Contadina’s Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms

Trattoria Contadina is what every Italian restaurant should aspire to be.  Family owned for thirty years, passed down to the grandchildren and a dedication to maintaining a high quality dining experience with locally sourced ingredients.

On my eat feast in SF, I had to check out this delicious spot. The pastas are fresh and delicious and the Veal Saltimbocca melted in my mouth.  However, the true stand out for me, was a special that night, the Stuffed Zucchini Blossoms.  Zucchini flowers stuffed with a delicious ricotta filling and then lightly battered and fried.  They were crunchy on the outside and cheesy on the inside. 

Luckily, my mother grows zucchini in her garden and supplies me with a steady supply of blossoms.   So, as soon as I got home, I got to work on recreating this simple but delicious dish.

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Social Saturday: Bonnie's Muffaletta

While I was in SF on my eating marathon, I received an email from Bonnie Penders, the wonderful mother of my friend Katie.  I was in SF and the Penders’ clan was in Galveston, TX enjoying some family fun in the sun.  Bonnie emailed me for some help.  She had eaten a delicious sandwich and wants to recreate it at home, so she called upon me to figure it out.  Based on what Katie told me about her mother, she is an A+ nonna.  She loves to cook and teach her EIGHT grandchildren about good food.  She is a master gardener that donates herbs from her garden to a local homeless shelter.  Bonnie knows the benefit of a fresh meal and shares with those less fortunate.  Martha Stewart could learn a thing or two from Mrs. Penders!

Therefore, this email made me all sorts of happy.  It was exciting to be called upon to figure out a delicious recipe for a friend.  If you have a cold; call the doctor.  If you eat a great sandwich, call me!  Your food advisor, Heirloom Kitchen, to the rescue! Needless to say, I was quite honored to be given this task.

Coming up with this recipe was so much fun.  I did a little digging, a lot of research and came up with what I think is the perfect replicate of Maceo Spice & Import Co’s famous Muffaletta sandwich. 

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Sunday Supper: Pork Milanese

Once summer rolls in, we hit the grill hard.  Eating on paper plates, al fresco dining is fun and relaxing. On Sunday though, I still like to make a nice, sit down meal inside.  Old traditions die hard I guess and I don’t feel right unless I lay the tablecloth out and make something a bit special to enjoy at the end of the week. 

Tonight I'm making Pork Milanese.  The term ‘Milanese’ means the meat is pounded paper thin and then dipped in egg and Italian bread crumbs.  Italians love this dish and they make it with chicken, veal, pork and my mom will even do it with thin sliced steak!  It’s lightly fried in olive oil and then spritzed with lots and lots of lemon.  Serve it on top of a light arugula salad and I’m telling you, it’s downright heavenly.

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How To Tuesday: Dinner’s Ready! Verdure Gratinate al Forno (Vegetable Gratin)

When you have a busy schedule from morning ‘till evening, it’s difficult to get dinner on the table without a little stress.  For me, the kids get off the bus and it seems like a high speed chase until bedtime.  I have found to make the nighttime shift a bit easier is to prep as much as I can during the day so that when six o’clock rolls around, dinner is on the table and everyone is able to enjoy a delicious meal. 

My sister and her husband recently got back from a quick jaunt to Rome (lucky ducks!) and introduced me to a new cookbook, Tasting Rome.  After scouring the pages, I found that his recipe fit the bill!  Easy, delicious and like most Italian cooking, only a few ingredients that lead to the perfect dish.

 

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Weekday Hero: Cast Iron Skillet Pizza

Sometimes, you just don’t want to make a big dinner.  Sometimes, you just don’t feel like a really dirty kitchen, tons of dishes and loads of prep.  I get it, days are long, the kids are busy and many nights, we don’t have it in us.  However, before you grab the take out menu, please consider whipping up a crispy Cast Iron Skillet Pizza. It's easy and tastes so good!  And, at the end of the day, you still get a pat on the back because its home cooked and the kids will be begging for more.

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Cooking With Kids: Chicken Francese

My kids love to cook.  Probably, because if they want to find me, I’m usually standing in front of the stove cooking, testing or occasionally, baking up some treats. 

We recently started a nice Sunday tradition.  The girls pick something they really like and I teach them how to make it.

Alessandra loves Chicken Francese, most likely because I try to convince her that one of my late ancestors created the dish.  She is a big fan of FoodTV and all the kids cooking competitions so she really enjoys getting in the kitchen and trying her hand at making something good to eat.

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Italian Easter Bread

Just like the Irish have their soda bread for Saint Patrick’s Day, Italians have a special bread made once a year for Easter.  Italian Easter bread is a slightly sweet, braided bread adorned with hard boiled eggs and sprinkles. Some Italians will even dye the eggs before placing them in the bread but we do not.  My mom doesn’t use sprinkles either.  Her bread looks similar to a challah, lightly scented with anise seed.

This year, my mom and I decided to make the bread together.  I have never made my own before so I decided to make some additions like sprinkles, lemon zest, a bit of sugar and almond extract to my mom’s recipe for a sweeter, more colorful bread. Also, I made mine into a wreath like I have seen in Italian bakeries. She stuck to her tried and true Calabrese recipe.  Both came out wonderfully and I’m so happy I finally learned to make it.

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Social Saturday: Building the Perfect Antipasto Platter

Sometimes, when you decide to entertain, you don’t want to fuss.  A good bottle of wine, some fancy cheese and quality salumi are all you need to have some friends by for a chin wag.

Whenever I make antipasto platters, I make sure to follow the same, simple steps to make a great dish with a variety of yummy bites.

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Sunday Supper: Penne alla Vecchia Bettola

Ina Garten is my food idol and here is why.  She is completely self taught and didn’t start her career in food.  Early in her career, she realized that food made her happy, took a leap of faith, bought a little deli and the rest is history.  Her food is approachable, easy and always tastes good.  Most importantly, her recipes never fail. 

I have made so many of her recipes and honestly can’t pick a favorite but there are some true stand outs.  Now this recipe isn’t her's but she did pick it as a favorite and learned how to make it. This pasta dish comes from one of Ina’s favorite Hamptons restaurants, Nick and Toni’s.  It might seem like penne alla vodka and technically it is.  However, it is the best penne alla vodka you will ever have. 

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Sweet Tooth Friday: Tiramisu (Valentine's Edition!)

As I mentioned on Tuesday, this year, I decided to throw a Cupid’s Cocktail Party in honor of the ‘Day of Love’.  I needed an excuse for a get together and it seemed like the perfect time to invite my friends for a night of cocktails, yummy bites and of course, dessert.

I have asked my guests to bring a dessert they love to the festivities and I decided to do the same.  I went with a favorite, an old stand by, Tiramisu.  Just like any great love, it never disappoints and everyone digs in.  Layers of delicious lady fingers and creamy mascarpone cheese and of course, lots and lots of espresso.  When it’s made right, it’s a dream on a plate. 

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How-To Tuesday: Throwing A Smashing Cocktail Party

Not to toot my own horn but I know how to throw a successful party.  Phil and I share a love for entertaining, so we try to throw at least three to four parties annually. 

Having an entertaining party isn’t difficult, but a little planning can make your party better and stress-free.  After all you want to be able to mingle, laugh with friends and enjoy the fruits of your labor, right? Read on for a few tips on throwing an A+ affair along with a killer recipe for my mother's stuffed mushrooms - perfectly bite-sized and guaranteed to impress your guests!

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From Nonna's Kitchen: Nonna Gina’s Rice Balls

Growing up in an Italian home, I didn’t eat a lot of rice.  We preferred pasta and my mother served it regularly as our staple carbohydrate.  Once and a while, however, my mom would whip up a risotto and I would pout through dinner, pushing it to the edges of my plate hoping my father would think I had some.

Truth be told, I hate risotto.  It just doesn’t do it for me.  If I am going to eat something creamy and full of carbs, hand me a dish of cheesy polenta and I’m a happy girl.  The one positive to hating risotto though, is that my mother had plenty leftover to make rice balls with for us the next day.  Golden brown and crispy on the outside and creamy, cheesy inside make for a killer combination.

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Five Days of Christmas Cookies (DAY 5): Nonna Gina’s Pie Crust Cookies

The next time you realize you totally forgot about the cookie swap you need to go to tonight, make these and everyone will be asking you for the recipe.  So easy, so good and they come together in minutes - these cookies are awesome!  All you have to do is roll out some pie dough, sprinkle some really good filling, roll it back up and bake.  That’s it!  It's all the good toppings of a quality ice cream sundae rolled up in a pie crust. 

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