Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Mamma Meets the Cucina: Feast of the Seven Fishes!

From the Mamma...

Christmas Eve's Feast of the Seven Fishes or "La Vigilia" comes from a long standing Catholic tradition of avoiding meat on the vigil of (vigil = the night before) the Feast Day of Christmas. Tilapia is a favorite meatless dish in our house, which is why I chose to highlight it for this blog post. Now, our family might not have ALL seven dishes include fish, but we will throw on some shrimp fra diavolo, even if it is served sans capellini as an appetizer. But the tilapia and the pasta dish are a staple for us on Christmas Eve. It's yummy enough to impress the crowds of friends and family, but easy enough to handle as we quickly end the game of Scopa and rush to Midnight Mass! So give these a try - even if it's not for La Vigilia - they make a great accompaniment to each other.

This recipe is one of easy, healthy , and tasty all at the same time. Even kids are huge fans - whaddaya know?! A kid-pleasing fish dish without the word "stick" in the title!

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated romano cheese
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter
4-6 tilapia loins

Coat the tilapia in the melted butter. Mix all dry ingredients. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Coat the tilapia i the bread crumb mixture. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees. Serve immediately with a side of GEMELLI PASTA!!

This dish is so simple, yet full of flavor. The red and green of the tomatoes and the arugula make a great addition to the Christmas tablescape.

1 lb. Gemelli pasta
1 can crushed tomatoes
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1 bag arugula
crushed red pepper

Add 2-3 tbsps of e.v.o.o. to a large, deep skillet. Saute the garlic until light caramel in color. Add the arugula and cook until slightly wilted. (NOTE: you could use spinach here if you do not like arugula. The idea is to get the green color and an added distinct flavor) Remove and set aside. Add the crushed tomatoes, crushed red pepper, salt & black pepper to taste. Simmer for 20 minutes or so. Boil the gemelli till al dente. Just before draining, add the arugula back in. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce. Serve immediately.

NOTE: Gemelli is such a great pasta for this dish. It's curvy shape holds this rustic, crushed tomato auce perfectly, and I LOVE the chewy texture:)

From the Cucina...

My family has been celebrating Christmas Eve with the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes for as long as I could remember, and of course many years before that. For years, our meal would consist of most of the traditional dishes, such as baccala soup, smelts and shrimp. Non-fish dishes, such as spaghetti aglio e olio (garlic and oil) and chicken cutlets would also be served for those not-so-much into seafood. Over the past few years, my cousins, my brother and sister-in-law, and myself have been stepping up to help relieve our aunts and Grandmother from the heavy kitchen duties, while at the same time trying to update the menu a bit with some more modern dishes such as seared scallops and crab cakes. However we still make sure to keep some of the traditional staples in the rotation.

This year I am very proud and honored to be taking over one of the crown jewels of the table, stuffed calamari. Now chances are that many of you are only familiar with the more popular Italian eatery appetizer, fried calamari. Unlike the fried rings, stuffed calamari is actually using the whole calamari tube, stuffed with a breadcrumb and cheese filling, and cooked slowly in a pot of red sauce (I don't use the word gravy here because there is no meat involved). When cooked, they resemble a stuffed shell, and they are tender enough to cut without a knife!

If you have never tried stuffed calamari, I encourage you to do so. Whether you serve it along with pasta or on its own, I guarantee you it will make for a special part of your meal, especially if you are planning to celebrate a traditional Italian Christmas Eve.

Makes 8-10 pieces

1 lb. calamari tubes, cleaned (you can purchase cleaned calamari tubes in the freezer section of your grocery store)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 teaspoon parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Olive oil (enough to add to mixture until proper consistency)
* you can also chop the unused calamari tentacles and place them in the stuffing mixture for extra texture and flavor. Uncooked shrimp will also work well

Sauce Ingredients
1 29oz can tomato sauce, plus 1 can water
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a large pot, sauté garlic in heated olive oil. Add tomato sauce and sauce seasonings. Add water until desired consistency. Bring to a slow boil, then lower the temperature to simmer.

Mix stuffing ingredients, add oil and mix with hands until you get a nice, meatball-like consistency. Using a spoon, loosely stuff each calamari tube. You don't want to pack the tubes, because the stuffing will expand and the calamari will shrink when cooked. Secure the open ends of the tubes with a toothpick. Add the tubes to the sauce, cook on a medium-low simmer for 2 hours. You're looking for a string cheese consistency when you slice into the calamari. Serve and enjoy!

– We would like to wish all of our readers a happy and peaceful holiday and the warmest wishes for the New Year. Buon Natale!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Appetizers!

Years ago, my Aunt Marie put together a family cookbook, named "Cucina Di Rosa," after my grandmother Rose. It was full of my grandma's classic recipes and even some new recipes from all family members. We write them down as we cook them, so sometimes the measurements are approximate, but, hey - we're Italian! So make the best of it, and adjust it to your liking. I have chosen three appetizers to share from my family recipe archive - just in time for the holiday cocktail parties! Try them out, have a party, then.........................invite me!


1/2 cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 8oz. pkg (2 cups) shredded Jarlsburg Cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese

Drain tomatoes to remove oil, chop. Combine tomatoes, artichoke hearts, cheese, sour cream, mayo & garlic in mixing bowl. Transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake @ 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and mixture is heated through. Serve with baguettes.

3 cups cannelini beans
cilantro, finely chopped
2 - 4 tbsp lime juice
4 - 6 sun dried tomatoes, chopped
3 garlic cloves
chopped parsley
1 cup goat cheese

Place beans, goat cheese, cilantro, parsley in a bowl and mash together. Add sun-dried tomatoes, chopped garlic and lime juice and mix together to form dip. Serve with crackers, pita, or toasted french bread slices.

2 cans peeled plum tomatoes (San Marzano, of course)
1 med. eggplant
4 cloves garlic
1 small onion
1/4 cup olive oil
Oregano, to taste
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves
3 tbsp. re wine vinegar
1 loaf Italian bread
1 pkg goat cheese

Coat the bottom of a medium saucepan with olive oil. Add chopped garlic & onion to the oil while still cold. Season with salt & pepper. Cook until onions are transparent. Add oregano. Peel & dice eggplant into small pieces and add to the pan, season well. Saute for about 5-7 minutes. Add vinegar & cook for about 2 more minutes. Pour both cans of tomatoes in & break up with a wooden spoon. Season well. Allow to cook for about an hour, uncovered, so as to cook away some of the liquid.

Slice the bread to about 3/4" thickness. Lay on a baking sheet & drizzle with olive oil. Bake in 350 degree oven until light brown. Remove & spread each slice with goat cheese. Chop basil & add it to the eggplant just before spreading it onto the toasts. Serve immediately.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Captain Morgan's Sweet Potatoes

Did YOU invite The Captain to your Thanksgiving soiree? I DID! Check it out....


4 - 6 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups Captain Morgan's Private Stock Rum
1 - 2 sticks melted butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt

Mix the rum, butter, and seasoning. Toss cubed potatoes in the mixture to coat. Roast in the oven at 325 degrees for 1 - 1/2 hours. Then, MANGIA!!!!

These sweet potatoes are sweet, with a touch of savory - and you can spice them up by adding cayenne pepper. There are so many variations to this recipe, and it's one of those dishes that you really have to play around with. Taste the mixture as you go along to be sure that you've got the right seasoning. It's all about the taste that YOU like. Adjust it to what your preference is - you cannot ruin this dish!!!!

Unless, of course, you let that extra Captain Morgan go to waste! Pour yourself a glass of one of these AWESOME C.M. Private Stock drink ideas to pass the cooking time! But for now -

See you after Thanksgiving
with a photo (and recipe) recap! CIAO!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

EASY Chocolate Swirl Cookie Snack

You love chocolate. You have no patience for baking. You have little time to spend precisely measuring 25 ingredients........

If that sounds like you, then
1.) you are remarkably similar to me, and...
2.) you are going to LOVE this easy snack recipe

With only FOUR ingredients and NO OVEN TIME you have a presentable snack that tastes good too. I, personally, am going to have this on hand while we cook our Thanksgiving dinner.

You see, in our house, Thanksgiving is typically a three day process of cooking that involves tasting everything as you go. With all those wonderful savory flavors, every once in a while you want something sweet to nibble on. This snack is the perfect fix for any one's sweet tooth.


1 pkg graham crackers
1/2 lg. milk chocolate bar
1/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Line the surface with graham crackers (in flat rows), breaking pieces as needed to cover the entire thing. Heat the peanut butter and chocolate bar in the microwave in 30 second intervals until melted. Spread with a spatula on top of the graham cracker base. Heat the white chocolate chips in a separate bowl(in 30 second intervals) until melted. Drop spoonfuls of the melted white chocolate randomly onto the chocolate covered graham crackers. Use a butter knife to swirl the white chocolate into the chocolate. (you can make figure eights, or simply swirl it around randomly, whatever you're comfortable with)

Then, place in the freezer for about an hour. Remove, cut, and serve when ready. Be sure to leave the leftovers in the freezer so that the chocolate does not get soft. Pull them out whenever you get that chocolate craving, and its better than any artificially flavored candy bar!

By the way, kids LOVE this recipe because its SO easy and quick. You don't lose their attention span, and they build up anticipation waiting for the frozen result.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Italian Popp-a-corn!

Lately, I have been on a serious popcorn kick. I thought it only appropriate to repost a recipe I blogged about a couple years ago for garlic parmesan popcorn. It doesn't get any better than this for an Italian movie snack. ENJOY!

I am always looking for ways to 'Italianize' the common snack. (yes, I make up my own words, get used to it.) That's how this recipe for "garlic parmigiano popp-a-corn" was born. It's so easy, and it sure beats that greasy, stale stuff you get at the theatre. I attribute the popularity of this snack to my love for garlic. I have inevitably passed it on to my chilren, who love to peel it, smell it, and eat it. And so began our family movie nights - with an Italian twist:


  • Pop a bag of popcorn in the micro (you can find some really good organic varieties these days!)

  • While it's popping, heat 3-4 tablespoons of butter in a small pot until melted. (adjust amount according to number of bags)

  • Stir in a little bit of fresh, finely chopped parsley

  • Mix in some salt and pepper, to taste*

  • Add in two cloves of minced garlic (about 2 tsp). Be careful not to brown it, just slightly heat it.

  • Empty popcorn into a large bowl and toss it evenly in the butter mixture, then toss in a few heaping spoonfuls of grated parmesan cheese.

  • Mangia, e guarda il film!

*Note: cayenne pepper or hot pepper flakes really spice this up! Or try adding lemon juice for a tangy twist!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Family Recipes - Braciole & Chicken Cacciatore

Whether they're passed along from your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins, family recipes are what help keep tradition alive and well. Just a simple smell of a Sunday Gravy or a taste of an antipasto is enough to bring you back to your childhood in an instant. And what better way to help keep these fantastic traditions alive than to share them with our readers!

That's why Cucina Domenico and myself have agreed to share some of our favorite family recipes in our new feature segment called.....

*drum roll, please*

Family Recipes!
We will be featuring this special segment now and again, as we look forward to not only sharing the recipes with you, but also reliving some of our favorite memories as we once again get to enjoy the heavenly tastes of our favorite meals! We hope you enjoy as well!

From The Cucina:
Marie's Chicken Cacciatore

This family recipe has an interesting background, as it was actually first passed up in the family, then back down again. My Aunt Marie (Marie, or Re-Re to those who are her age in the family) was the first person to make it, and she served it once to my grandparents. My Grandmother (also Marie, and Aunt Marie to her nieces and nephews), loved it so much, that she asked to have the recipe, which my Aunt passed up to her. Fast forward a few years to when my Grandmother submitted this recipe to our local newspaper as Recipe of the Week, which was featured as a family favorite dish simply called Marie's Chicken Cacciatore (everyone in our family named Marie gets to share in the glory!). And whether or not you have a Mom or a Grandmom named Marie, an Aunt Marie or a Cousin Re-Re, you will be sure to enjoy this fantastic traditional Italian dish!

Marie's Chicken Cacciatore

4-6 chicken thighs (skin removed)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tspn rosemary
1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 green bell pepper, cut into small pieces
1 cup water
2 tblspn vegetable oil
pinch sugar
salt & pepper to taste

In a large frying pan, brown chicken and garlic in oil until chicken is golden brown. Add vinegar and 1/2 cup water. Simmer until liquid evaporates, then drain excess fat. Add rosemary, tomato sauce, remaining water, sugar, salt and pepper. Add peppers, stir together, cover slightly, let cook for 30 minutes.

Serve over a bed of rice or over mini pasta shells.

*Note - you can either serve the chicken thighs whole or shred the meat and discard the bone.

From the Mamma:
Dad's Braciole

Braciole is one of those classic Italian comfort foods. Slow cooked meat in a hearty gravy with a taste that no beef stew, stroganoff, or wellington could even compare with. It's one of those dishes you make in the downstairs kitchen and you nurture for a good few hours until it reaches perfection. The smell alone makes my dad's braciole recipe one of my greatest family memories. My father got his passion for cooking from the big Italian famiglia, and his technique from the Culinary Institute of America. Needless to say, his recipe is top of the line!

Dad's Braciole

2 - 3 lb. cut of top round or flank steak, pounded relatively thin
2 cups Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2-4 slices good quality ham or prosciutto cotto
2-4 slices domestic provolone
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 lg onion, minced
12 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 oz. cans San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 28 oz can of water

Mix the seasoned bread crumbs with parsley, grated cheese, 3 cloves of minced garlic. Combine with extra virgin olive oil until moistened (like the consistency of wet beach sand).

Lay out the pounded meat and top with bread crumb mixture, sliced provolone, and sliced ham. Roll against the direction of the grain of the meat (so that when you slice the cooked braciole, it is cut against the grain. Roll up the meat. Secure with butcher's twine. Season the outside of meat with salt and pepper. Sear on each side in a few tbsp of olive oil. Remove from pan, set aside.

Add a few more tbsp of olive oil to the pan. (enough to coat the veggies). Saute the onions for a couple minutes, add the garlic. saute until all are soft and lightly golden. Add in the red wine, de-glaze the pan. Cook off the alcohol (about 5 minutes). Add the tomatoes and water. Return the meat to the pan.

Simmer on medium heat for about 2 1/2 hours, depending on the size of your meat. Stir frequently. When cooked, slice the meat and serve the extra sauce over pasta. MANGIA!

*TIP* - whenever you are slow cooking a gravy like this, or even a soup, throw in the rind from the block of cheese you are using. (In this case, parmigiana!!) It gives the sauce an incredible flavor. Always save those rinds in the freezer, you never know when you'll need 'em!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Meatloaf Italiano

Sailing on a yacht in the Bahamas, playing a round of tennis, taking a long nap, even doing laundry.....I can think of a million better things to do with my time rather than roll a batch of meatballs large enough to feed a family of 6.

So tonight I adapted my polpette recipe into a loaf. It's much easier on the hands (and the clock). My easy Italian meatloaf is another one of my family's favorites.

What sets this meatloaf apart from your typical recipe is the fact that we cook the garlic and onions before mixing it in the meat. Any cook knows that the flavor of raw garlic or onions vs. cooked garlic or onions is a world of difference. Another key factor is the marinara sauce instead of the typical ketchup. It's the difference between a glorified med-e-gone sloppy joe, and a hearty Italian loaf of, well, meatballs.

Give this recipe a try, modifying it to your liking. Maybe you have a polpette (meatball) recipe that you love. Adjust the ingredients accordingly, and mangia! I serve mine with a side of garlic mashed potatoes.


1 1/2 lbs ground beef
2 tbsp e.v.o.o.
1/2 lg. onion, minced
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes.
1 cup breadcrumbs
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp Italian seasoning (I often use 2 tbsp chopped fresh basil, if I have it on hand)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup marinara sauce

Saute the onions in the olive oil for 2 - 3 minutes, add the garlic. Saute for another two minutes. Add the crushed pepper flakes*, continue cooking until the garlic and onions are lightly browned and soft. Set aside to cool.

Mix the beaten eggs, meat, cheese, bread crumbs, vinegar, and seasonings lightly. Fold in the cooled onion mixture. Form into a loaf on a cookie sheet (I prefer this method to a loaf pan) and top with marinara sauce. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Serve with garlic mashed potatoes and you've got yourself a tasty dinner (and probably some really bad breath)! BUON APPETITO!

*Adding the crushed red pepper flakes makes the meat mixture spicy. You may omit this step. I add it to the oil, rather than the meat, because the flavor seems to infuse the oil better, which brings out the heat (which I love!) Adjust it however you like.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day Lasagne Roll-Ups

Today is Election Day! (For us Italian Catholics, it is more importantly All Souls Day!) So when you're done praying for your departed love ones, say an extra one for the election....

But with all the praying and news watching going on today - I needed a quick and easy dinner that I could assemble ahead of time and throw in the oven tonight, as I watch the election recap. Lasagne is the perfect recipe! Although, lasagne can get kinda boring, so I switch it up a bit, and make individual rolled up servings. These are just as easy to make as regular lasagne. Its kinda similar to manicotti, but not as much cheesiness. These roll ups are cute and they taste good.

So as you sit in front of the tv watching election day news, you can rest easy knowing that dinner is in the oven waiting.

Lasagne Roll Ups

12 pcs. uncooked lasagne
1 1/2 32 oz. containers of whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
2 cups shredded mozarella cheese, divided
salt & pepper to taste
bolognese sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Boil the lasagne noodles until barely bendable (do not cook all the way through, or you will end up with soft, soggy lasagne). Drain, and spread out evenly on a piece of foil sprayed with pam. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, romano, and half of the mozarella with salt and pepper. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over each lasagne noodle, then roll them up like a little pinwheel.

Line the bottom of a large casserole dish with marinara sauce. Place the lasagne rolls neatly in rows in the dish. Top with bolognese sauce* and the remaining mozarella cheese. Sprinkle some romano cheese on top. I also like to add dollops of ricotta on the top. Bake uncovered until lightly brown and bubbly for around 45 minutes.

*When I'm in a hurry and I have leftovers, I crumble up leftover meatballs that are in sauce and use that in place of bolognese. You will not be disappointed, and it saves you some work!*

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pumpkin Risotto Recap

Recently I asked my blogging buddy, Dominic Condo to come up with some amazing recipe for Pumpkin Risotto. I had tasted a similar dish in Italy and fell in love at first bite. I haven't had anything like it since (and that was 7 years ago)....until Tuesday!

I actually made the recipe as featured on the Cucina Domenico blog and WOW was it yummy. The only modification I made was adding chicken. I cooked up some lightly seasoned chicken breasts (Italian herbs, sea salt, hot pepper) and then sliced them thinly on a diagonal. Then I coarsely chopped the thin slices into smaller, bite sized pieces, which I stirred into the risotto towards the end.

When I initially looked at the recipe, I thought 1 - 1 1/2 cups of pumpkin puree was quite a bit. Boy, was I wrong. I think I used nearly two cups because the flavor and the aroma were that awesome. It just goes to show - don't question a paisano's recipe - he probably knows what he's talking about! So have no fear and give it a shot (of amaretto). I did, and you won't be disappointed.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Last week, while in Boston I got to chatting with Mary (my dad's cousin's wife - so my SECOND cousin). She had me laughing as she constantly reminded me that she CANNOT cook, but does a "wonderful job of cleaning" up after her husband, Vinny, who cooked enough for an army last week. We arrived to homemade chicken soup with mini meatballs and ditalini, alongside homemade pizza, three varieties - broccoli rabe, italian sausage, and olives. The next night was eggplant parm with tortellini in red gravy. We probably gained an average of 10 lbs each last week...

Anyway, as we were sitting around pretending to cook, Mary pulled out her father's BISCOTTICHART. This thing was incredible. It was a handwritten graph of all different variations of biscotti, the beloved Italian, twice baked cookie that goes great with coffee, tea, or as LorraineRanalli suggests, a martini! Needless to say I took a copy home for my kitchen. It lists, in columns, each ingredient (sugar, flour, eggs, etc) and the varying amounts for each recipe (almond, chocolate, etc). Well with a little imagination, and a lot of fall inspiration, I made up a festive recipe for PUMPKIN BISCOTTI! I like to make them small - about half the size of a regular biscotti - so that they are easy to pop in your mouth. My kids especially appreciate this.


2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger (optional)
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (this can be canned pumpkin, but make sure it is NOT canned pumpkin pie filling. You want to use pure pumpkin and season it yourself)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the flour, sugar, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Sift out any clumps.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, softened butter, and the vanilla.

Pour the pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture and combine the ingredients. Do this gently, you don't want to overmix.

With floured hands , knead the dough lightly in the bowl. Form the dough into a large log (or small, if you want bite sized biscotti like me) and place on a lightly greased, parchment paper lined cookie sheet.

Bake for 25 - 30 minutes until the center is firm to the touch. Let the biscotti cool for 10 minutes, then slice into one inch pieces using a serrated knife.

Lower the oven to 300 degrees and bake, cut side down for an additional 15 minutes.

Now, I like my biscotti a tad chewy, so I wrap them up once they've cooled. If you prefer your biscotti to be crispy, then let it sit out uncovered for a few hours in a dry place.

TIP: I LOVE mixing in about 1/2 cup of white chocolate chips. It is the perfect accompaniment to the pumpkin for all you chocolate lovers:) You might have just found the perfect accompaniment for coffee after Thanksgiving dinner!

Sausage Bread x 2

Recently I had a bunch of my friends over for "Breakfast at Tiffany's!" It was quite a hit if I do say so myself! The best part about it was that everybody brought some unique breakfast dish and we basically ate for a good three hours. Che bella!

One of the dishes I made was an experimental twist on one of my favorite Italian sides - Sausage Bread! When my family owned our Italian Deli in Vegas, my dad would roll out some leftover pizza dough, pile on some cooked, ground Italian sausage and cheese (and sometimes mushrooms) and braid the excess dough over the top. A quick brush of some eggwash and this thing was gorgeous! It tasted so good - hot, cold, or room temp - and was a great side dish to serve with pasta, soup, or even bring to a dinner party. Anyway, the thing sold like crazy. Everyone loved it, and I was trying to think of a way I could make this for breakfast.

Now, if my "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was back home and all my Italian relatives were coming over, I would feel perfectly comfortable eating this savory Italian Sausage Bread for breakfast. But since I was dealing with my med-e-gone friends (i love you all, by the way), I figured I would go easy on their stomachs that early in the morning. SO what did I do? I made a rich breakfast sausage gravy and used that in the sausage bread instead!! It, too, was a hit, and was the prefect substitute for biscuits and gravy.

I encourage you to try both the breakfast and the Italian sausage variations, because they're both amazing. And there's so much room for improvement with this bread, so let me know your variations - I would LOVE to try them:)


Ground Breakfast Sausage
4 TBSP flour
2 cups milk
1 egg, beaten
Pizza dough, rolled out thin

Fry the ground sausage until cooked thoroughly. Add the flour, one tablespoon at a time until absorbed. Then gradually add the milk, and cook until thickened. (NOTE: in a typical sausage gravy, you would add more milk to make more gravy. By reducing the amount of milk for this recipe, you create enough of a paste to hold the mixture together. This gives the gravy taste without the sloppy mess, and enables the mixture to stay together inside the bread.)

Spread the thickened gravy mixture over the middle of a rolled out pizza dough, leaving a 2-3 inch border on all sides. Cut diagonal strips on the sides of the excess dough, and fold over alternately until you have a braided effect on top.

Brush the top with the remaining beaten egg.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until golden.


2 lb sausage, removed from casing
1 lg block mozzarella, grated
1-2 TB grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
Pizza dough, rolled out thin

Fry the ground sausage meat until done, drain. Mix with grated cheese, shredded mozzarella, and 1 beaten egg. Spread over the middle of a rolled out pizza dough, leaving a 2-3 inch border on all sides. Cut diagonal strips on the sides of the excess dough, and fold over alternately until you have a braided effect on top.

Brush the top with the remaining beaten egg.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until golden.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy Columbus Day

I love fall. It means all my favorite holidays are around the corner. Everything starts with a bunch of September birthdays for us. First my daughter's. She turned five and we made her an oreo cookie cake! Gotta love Williams Sonoma!

Then my husband's birthday, then mine. You can see that my kids took every single one of my favorite candies/junk food and decorated the table for me! Then we spent the evening eating it all up (in the name of cleaning, of course).

Sugar babies, candy corn, zebra cakes, Brach's candy pumpkins...all that sugary stuff that I tell my kids never to eat!mmm i love it:)

But the best part of fall for me is that we get a lot more quality family time together. Usually the summers are busy with fun bbq's and get-togethers where our kids run off to play with the other kids while we adults eat, drink, and be merry! Now that the weather is getting cooler, and we're seeing some more rainy days, we tend to find fun in indoor activities. For our family, it always means getting in the kitchen. The kids know just when to pull their chairs up to the counter to get a front row seat to the action. Then they, of course, help mix and stir whatever we're cooking up. Today it was pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin pie is so easy to make I don't think I will buy another one from the store again! Plus with all of our apple pie baking, I have the crust method down 100%! I make a mean homemade pie crust. Plus - making it from scratch means you know exactly what you're eating.

NOTE: I just watched the movie "Food, Inc." and was pretty much grossed out by every single thing I put into my mouth each day. Actually, I was mostly grossed out that I was feeding this my kids. I already know I'll probably have cancer in another 20 years or so - but my kids? Now the food industry has messed with the wrong person!

Anyway, I have a new found inspiration (which will likely diminish after a few weeks) to make everything from scratch. Like I said - we'll see how long this lasts:) But, in keeping with Longo Columbus Day tradition, we made a pumpkin pie and its already nearly gone!

So what to do when the food runs out and its still a rainy day? How about some indoor crafts? Last year, my Columbus Day articles for La Voce and Italians R Us highlighted a few Italian themed crafts that were good for young children. There are even a few that the older kids might enjoy. You can make anything from colored pasta flags to Italian themed trivets. check it out, and send me your Italian craft ideas!
Visit my article on using the link above!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Another Easy Weeknight Meal

Am I the only one who can't get back into the groove of the school year? Busy weekdays, cranky kiddos, homework.......I am so frustrated I could smash something.

How about some pretzels?

Dominic Condo's pretzel Coated Chicken Tenders is any easy weeknight meal that allows the kids to have something fun, and the parents to get out all their pent up stress and aggravation!

I can see it now --
"Pretzel Coated Chicken Tenders - Healthy for kids, even healthier for ornery adults..."

Honestly - the only thing more fun than smashing pretzels is having something quick, easy, AND yummy for dinner:) So get to it, and let us know what you think of the latest recipe from the Cucina!


Looking to put a new spin on a weekday meal that will keep the kids asking for more? Put aside your traditional chicken cutlets, and serve up pretzel coated chicken tenders. The shape of the tenders are similar to fast food chicken fingers, and the pretzels add a natural salty/snacky taste. Plus, knowing that pretzels are part of the meal is sure to make for a fun dinner for parents and kids.

Using a food processor, break up about two cups worth of pretzels almost to the point of breadcrumb consistency. You want to have some small pieces of pretzel still in the mix. If you don't have a food processor, you can smash the pretzels by placing them in a plastic bag and rolling it with a rolling pin or a large tomato sauce can. The crumbs will not be as fine, but it will work. Then simply bread the tenders as you would normally bread chicken cutlets (rolling in flour, then egg wash, then pretzel crumbs).

For the best taste and texture you want to fry the tenders, not bake them. I prefer using peanut oil for the taste, but vegetable oil will also work fine. For some extra flavor, you can add a few drops of sesame oil to the frying pan. Serve with honey mustard, barbecue sauce or marinara sauce for dipping (gotta get some Italian influence in there!!). Serve with steamed vegetables (carrots and peas are our favorites).
Note: you can bread the tenders ahead of time, either that morning or the night before, and keep them in the refrigerator until ready to use. This will save prep time to help get a quick meal on the table for your family to enjoy!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Two Meals in One

Here's an easy weeknight dinner that makes a GREAT fritatta the next morning! Italian sausage and potatoes, roasted with a little kosher salt, black pepper, garlic, and rosemary. Served very appropriately with a simple side salad. Easy, right?

Then, the next morning the sausage and potatoes make a cameo appearance, coarsely chopped in my fritatta. Mix in a little grated cheese, fresh parsley and basil, and you've possibly stumbled upon a quick fix for a fancy breakfast in bed! Hubby will be happy:)

(Use this trick wisely, ladies)


Thursday, September 16, 2010

And the winner is....

I am grateful to say that in our "Mamma Meets the Cucina" Gravy War, Una Mamma Italiana's gravy recipe came out on top! This is not to say Cucina Domenico's did not look super tasty as well! In fact, I will very soon be making his recipe and posting a review for all of you.

The whole point of this gravy war was to realize the signifiance of the Sunday Gravy tradition. And no matter which recipe looks closest to yours, any one who keeps the tradition going is the real winner. Let us never lose our cultural heritage that boasts such things as family meals and awesome food!

Try our gravy recipes. Dare to compare them! Why not submit your own recipe to us? We love to hear about other paisani that love Italia as much as we do.

So thanks for all the votes and Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Being Italian In America

Are you Italian? American-Italian?? Italian-American???

So many Italians from all ranges of the cultural spectrum have their defined opinions on this issue. In fact, my my writing has sometimes even been criticized for not being true to Italian culture. An Italian from Italy felt my cultural experiences in my life were stereotypical. Probably because it was from my perspective as an Italian in America, not an Italian in Italy. But then I often find other "Italian Americans" offensive with their stereotypical portrayals of Italians as "guidos" and "gumbas" that speak broken English with a Jersey accent, greasy hair, and tattoos everywhere.

So where is the happy medium? What is the defining image of our culture? I think that first we must admit that an Italian-American culture is different from Italian culture, and different from American culture. It is one in its own. I wrote an article on this precise issue for, which can be read here. I would love your thoughts on the issue. Here's my esteemed colleague's opinion:

"Italian Americans are passionate people. Passionate about their work, their lifestyle, their food (obviously), and most of all their family. When our ancestors came to this country, they had no money and no knowledge of the English language. But they did have pride, skills, determination and passion. These traits are still passed on throughout Italian American families today, which is why many Italian Americans can still enjoy old world culture and passion even in these modern, too-busy-for-anyone-else times."

~Dominic Condo of Cucina Domenico

I agree. We Italian-Americans are not Italian because we were technically not born in Italy (most of us, anyway) but we are not completely American because our culture goes so much deeper than burgers, fries, an the red white and blue. SO where do you fall? What's your opinion? Even if you're not Italian, you can relate because every culture struggles to find its identity in the new world - but let us not forget how lucky we are to have this freedom.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


between The Mamma and The Cucina
with an introduction by Gravy Wars author, Lorraine Ranalli

You know what happens when very passionate cooks duke it out in the kitchen?

Those of us standing on the sidelines win!

Be prepared to win big in the latest war between the Mamma and the Cucina. These dueling cooks are about to go spoon to spoon in Gravy Wars! Yes, inspired by my book (pause for a little pat on the back), Una Mamma Italiana and Cucina Domenico are preparing to unveil their secret gravy (or sauce, if you will) recipes to the entire universe.

They want you to vote on whose recipe is best. It’s a virtual taste-test. You will be asked to judge based on your interpretation of the info presented in the very near future by our beloved bloggers of cookery.

This, my friends, is the crux behind “Gravy Wars | South Philly, Foods, Feuds & Attytudes!” You don’t need to be Italian, a professional chef, or a native of Philadelphia to be sucked into legitimate kitchen competition. All you need is a passion for food and a mild interest in preparing it, and before you know it, you too will become competitive and possessive in the kitchen.

It truly is a phenomenon to behold!

Oh, if only we could get the Mamma and the Cucina to dole out their signature sauces to the entire social media world at some place like the Superdome. Ah, maybe someday. Alas, we’ll have to settle for the online battle.

Be sure to get your friends, relatives, co-workers, Farmville competitors, and acquaintances of all types to weigh in on this match. Who knows? With enough hype, we may just get these two to Louisiana yet!
~Lorraine Ranalli

NOW, let the gravy war begin!!!!!!!
Dom's Sunday Gravy
I have made countless pots of gravy since I was literally a kid, but only in the past few years have I really zeroed in on a specific recipe. However, I have never followed a written recipe. It was always from memory, or whatever mood I was in that day. Although I found it a bit painstaking (as I believe this should be a free-form dish), I documented every measurement while making this version of my gravy.

First, let me address the whole gravy versus sauce issue. There are countless opinions on the subject. When I hear "sauce," I think Marinara. Quick. Delicious, nonetheless...but quick.You heat your oil and garlic, add your tomatoes, onions, seasonings, maybe even some meat or even shrimp, and in 20-30 minutes you have a tasty meal. Gravy, on the other hand, is a bit more complex. My guess (and this is only a guess) is that the term comes from the flavors of the meats that are incorporated. The "other" gravies (beef, turkey, chicken and pork) are, of course, made from meat drippings. So when you add your meats to your red sauce and let it simmer for a few hours, the meat flavors the sauce to make it a red gravy. But the main difference to me is the time, patience and love that you put in to your gravy (I was gonna go with blood, sweat and tears, but that would be gross). You treat your pot of gravy as if it were a child. You raise it and nurture it, from it's infant stage until it matures.

I always add meatballs to my gravy, usually with either sausage, boneless country spare ribs, or brasciole (thin steak stuffed with a breadcrumb mixture and rolled up). I also prefer to bake my meatballs and sausage, instead of the traditional frying. It's just as tasty, healthier for you, and frees up some quality time.

Before we get into the actual'll notice that I suggest adding two baby carrots to the gravy. This is an old trick that I learned a few years back. The carrots add a natural sweetness to the gravy, while at the same time they soak up some of the acid from the tomatoes.

One last note...if you decide to try either of our Sunday Gravy recipes, we would be delighted. But if you decide to alter our recipes, and add your own flavors or ingredients, we would be overjoyed. Experiment, adjust the flavors to your likings, and most of all have fun. And be sure to share your version of the recipe with us.


2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 29-oz can tomato sauce (plus one can full of water)
1 6-oz can tomato paste with Italian herbs
olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tblspn Italian Seasoning (marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano and basil)
1 tblspn sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 beef bouillon cube
2 baby carrots
1 cup red wine(whatever you have opened)
1 loaf crusty Italian bread

Drizzle bottom of sauce pot with olive oil to coat on medium-high heat. Add chopped onion; stir for 1 minute or until onion is translucent. Add minced garlic; stir for about one minute. Add the two cans of crushed tomatoes, one can of tomato sauce plus one can of water, and one can of tomato paste; stir. Add Italian seasoning and sugar; stir. Heat and occasionally stir until slowly bubbling. Add bouillon cube, baby carrots and splash of wine; stir. Add salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat, slightly cover and simmer for one hour. Add cooked meats; simmer partially covered for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally. Sip and enjoy the remaining cup of wine as you dip some bread into the gravy while it's cooking.
Serve over your choice of pasta and enjoy!

The Mamma's Sunday Gravy

Let me begin by saying that Sunday gravy is a lot like a marriage - the more love you put into it, the better it gets. A good gravy recipe perfects itself over time, and my recipe is definitely age old. My great grandmother taught it to my father, who taught it to me, and NEVER with a recipe! So like Dom, I had to endure the sheer agony of writing down my measurements and step by step instructions. I kid you not, people, this took me a week. It's hard stuff when you're assuming that some gravy crazed paisan out there is reading this recipe and isn't quite sure what a 'pinch' or a 'shake' of something is. (who am I kidding - neither do I). The fact is, there are not any words to describe the attention to detail that goes into my "Nonni's" recipe for red gravy.

This is appropriately called gravy because of the fact that it is derived from the juices of MEAT. In our case, we're talkin pork shoulder and meatballs. Check out the recipe, copy it, change it, whatever you please - just don't miss out on the opportunity to start a Sunday gravy tradition in your family! Buon Appetito!

3 28 oz. cans whole peeled tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
Extra virgin olive oil (enough to sear the pork and then to barely cover the onions)
3 TB butter
2 lb. pork shoulder
2 onions, chopped
8-10 cloves garlic, sliced
2 cans water
Salt and pepper to taste
1 TB sugar
2 TB Italian Seasoning

Season the pork shoulder with salt and pepper. Start with enough e.v.o.o. in a pan to sear the pork on both sides. Remove the meat and set aside. Throw in the onions (then the garlic about 5 minutes later) adding enough oil to just barely cover the onions. It looks like a lot but it is the emulsifier you need to get this sauce good and creamy once blended. Add the butter at this point to aid in simmering the veggies. *disclaimer: Lorraine Ranalli, Gravy War QUEEN, might be judging me right about now, but all I can say is WATCH OUT! because butter is quite possibly my second favorite thing to cook with (the first, of course, being my hubby)!

Mix in the tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cans of tomatoes and the water. Mix together then blend with hand blender until smooth. Put the meat back in. (at this point, you would add your meatballs too, if you made them. I like to fry my meatballs and sear the pork in the same oil. Then I would set aside BOTH meats until after the sauce is blended. Then add the meats back to the sauce pot.)

Season the sauce with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and sugar. Simmer 2- 3 hours, or until the meat is cooked thoroughly. 1/3 hour before serving, double check your seasoning and make adjustments accordingly.

How to serve?
Over pasta and with a big chunk of Italian bread to soak up the gravy with. Is there any other way?

One last note from Chef Condo...
If you decide to try either of our Sunday Gravy recipes, we would be delighted. But if you decide to alter our recipes, and add your own flavors or ingredients, we would be overjoyed. Experiment, adjust the flavors to your likings, and most of all have fun. And be sure to share your version of the recipe with us.
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