Thursday, June 24, 2010

Italian Connections

In lieu of everything going on with "The Mamma meets the Cucina," I thought it only appropriate to post my "Italian Connections" article today. The story behind "The Mamma meets the Cucina" (which will be a recurring feature on this blog) falls right in line with this article.

Chef Domenico of Cucina Domenico and I got to know each other through our blogs and, as I mention in the article, we could already relate in many ways simply because we were both Italian! I think you'll agree that no matter what your heritage is, if you were raised with a strong cultural background, you know exactly the "connection" I'm talking about!

Enjoy my article on the Italians R Us website, under my column, "Una Mamma Italiana!"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Shepherd's Pie Italiano!

Ciao, fellow foodies. Our goal with "The Mamma meets the Cucina" is to keep the Italian recipes and traditions going in future generations of our now American families. We've got the rich heritage, but unfortunately, not many of us have real live nonne and small Italian village marketplaces at our fingertips. That's why there's "The Mamma meets the Cucina!"

So, we decided to kick off with a recipe that puts an Italian twist on an American classic - Shepherd's Pie Italiano! Shepherds pie is one of those comfort foods...well, to me, Italian food is ALWAYS comfort food! It makes you feel warm and fuzzy (wait - maybe thats the vino...?) In any case, a hearty meal like this really makes me think of my grandparents and great grandparents. Before they came to America, they ate regionally. By this I mean that they ate whatever foods naturally grew in the climate and soil of their small towns. (Here, I must give a shout out to Guardia Lombardi - my grandparent's small, small, small town near the tip of the boot) They lived off their land and used those regional ingredients to come up with such amazing dishes. To them it was peasant food - to us, it's a delicacy hard to find in the states.

I always say - until I retire and move my family into our Italian villa on the Amalfi coast, the burden rests on me and my generation (as usual) to let these traditional style recipes live on in the future. It gives us a link to our past; it acts as a tribute to our ancestors; it keeps us hungry for more... (there's gonna be a lot of that around here!)

So with an Italian touch, we turned a bunch of meat in a pie shell into a rich, hearty Italian sausage scallopini casserole type thing with a polenta topping! A regular old peasant dish, right?! Tell me your mouth is not watering already? Watch as Chef Condo reveals his Cucina secrets play-by-play for all of you paisans out there....


For this recipe, I'm taking the traditional Shepherd's Pie (beef and vegetables in a brown gravy topped with a mashed potato crust) and am adding an Italian spin to it. I'm talking sausage scallopini topped with polenta.

This dish is done in three stages:
Stage One - the scallopini
Stage Two - the polenta
Stage Three - combining and baking the two to make the pie

The scallopini (stage one) can be done ahead of time and refrigerated (up to a day). There is a lot of natural flavor coming from the garlic, onions, peppers, mushrooms and sausage, so you don't have to season much at all. I added a bit of black pepper and some Italian seasonings, and did not use salt at all. You can season to your liking.

The polenta (stage two) requires some time and effort. There's only four major ingredients (water, cornmeal, salt, parmesan cheese - I also added a bouillon cube for extra flavoring), but you have to be committed for 20 solid minutes of continuous stirring. Otherwise you risk burning the polenta or having it turn out lumpy. You want a nice, smooth texture What I suggest is to get yourself into a zone. Create a relaxed and happy atmosphere to help those minutes just breeze by. Throw on your favorite CD (my go-to is either the Best of Dean Martin or Dave Brubeck's Time Out), pour a glass of wine and have at it. You'll reap the rewards, I promise you!

Stage three is the easy part. Pour the scallopini mixture into a medium baking dish, spread the just-done polenta on top, and let it bake for 20-25 minutes. You can hit it under the broiler for a minute or so to crisp up the polenta, if you like. Let sit and cool for a few minutes before serving.

1 lb. ground sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
2 tblspn olive oil (plus more if needed)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 portabella mushroom cap, chopped
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
fresh ground black pepper
Italian seasoning
1 cup corn meal
3 cups water
1 tspn salt
1 chicken bouillon cube
1/4 cup parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan on medium-high heat, add garlic, heat for one minute. Add ground sausage, breaking up in pan, stir occasionally. When sausage is evenly browned, add onion and peppers, stir. Add mushrooms, stir. When peppers and onions become crisp-tender, add tomato sauce. Season with some fresh ground pepper and Italian seasoning (adjust seasoning to your liking). Stir, cover and simmer on medium-low for about 20-25 minutes, until sauce thickens, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside (you can prepare the scallopini portion earlier in the day and refrigerate to save time).

In a large sauce pan, place three cups water and bouillon cube, add salt, bring to a boil. Lower water to medium-low. Slowly add cornmeal a little at a time to water, stirring as you add. Do not add cornmeal all at once, or else it will clump. Stir cornmeal into water continuously for 20 minutes. You have to keep up with the stirring to avoid the polenta mixture from burning. About mid-way through, add parmesan cheese, continuing to stir. After 20 minutes, remove from heat.

Pour scallopini mix into a mid-size baking dish. Scoop polenta mixture on top and smooth out (like a cake frosting) to completely cover scallopini. Bake in oven uncovered at 350ยบ for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven, let sit for a few minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Introducing Cucina Domenico!

Ciao amici,

Hopefully by now you know about the exciting upcoming collaboration happening right here on Una Mamma Italiana's blog - "The Mama meets the Cucina!" I couldn't be more proud to be a part of something so exciting with an awesome chef and blogger - the real, live "Domenico" of Cucina Domenico!

A couple years ago (can't even believe its been that long!) Dominic and I got in touch through an article I wrote for, "Preserving the Family Meal." Being that we are both Italian passionate about our own families, we could relate on this topic (check it out, I'm sure you'll agree). And that's where it all began.....

As for today - here's a little "about the authors"...

Dominic Condo was born and raised in an Italian-American household in South Philadelphia, and currently lives in the Philly suburbs of Drexel Hill with his wife, Daria, and their two daughters, Julianna and Ava. He started his blog, Cucina Domenico, in the fall of 2008 as an opportunity to share his family stories and memories and many of the recipes that would go along with them. Not only does he like to make the traditional dishes, he also likes to experiment by adding his own simple twists. Being a descendent of various Italian regions (Calabria, Naples, Abruzzi and Sicily), he finds it very important that his children are aware of their heritage and the creativity that the Italian culture has to offer, and hopes that someday his site serves as a memoir for them.

Tiffany Longo was born into a loud, loving Italian-American family with strong values and deep traditions. Today, Tiffany relates her childhood stories and traditions in her own family in simple, everyday ways. From birthdays to baptisms, and feast days to 'onomasticos,' Tiffany never passes up the opportunity for a true Italian festa! To the Longo family, even the littlest holiday is a reason celebrate their heritage. As a result, Tiffany has joyfully burdened herself with the responsibility of helping today's generation of Italian-Americans accomplish these same goals for their children.

As a freelance writer, Tiffany's articles appear in La Voce Italian-American newspaper under the column "Mamma Mia!" She also keeps up her blog regularly, where you will find everything from recipes to projects to humorous Italian commentary for other mammas and the whole family.

Tiffany grew up Italian, is married to an Italian, and is now raising five little Italians of her own. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington with her husband Dominic, her son lil Dom, and her daughters Gabriella, Gianna, Maria, and Giuliana. With all the chaos of five kids (all 7 and under, mind you!) she finds consolation in her family being together, and, of course, eating together. No matter how crazy her household may be, it's never too busy to boil pasta.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Coming this weekend: The Mamma meets the Cucina!

A new and exciting feature on
Una Mamma Italiana's blog
is almost here!

Join Una Mamma Italiana and Cucina Domenico as they share (and compare!) their stories, recipes and traditions of the Italian-American lifestyle. You'll feel like the guest at every Sunday dinner as you witness the humorous culinary banter from this East coast - West coast duo. They may be 2500 miles apart, but they share the same Italian passion (and pride) in their own family recipes.

What kind of canned tomatoes are the best? Homemade roasted peppers or jarred? Who's gravy is better (yeah, they're going there!!) It's up to all of you! Don't miss the fun - The Mamma Meets the Cucina appears on both the Una Mamma Italiana and Cucina Domenico blogs. Get to know each blogger in their very first "about the authors" post this weekend! CIAO!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My "Great Bambino"

The "GREATEST Bambino" turns six!
Somehow, he got stuck on the angels, much to the coach's disappointment!
(Coach=Dad, Dad= Yankee fan)

So lately little league has taken over our lives!!!! Practices, games, equipment, uniforms.....I can barely stand it, especially since my hubby is the COACH! I've learned through all of this that being the coach's wife has, well, NO perks whatsoever!! I basically got stuck with emailing (often incorrect) game times to all the families. I'm pretty sure that if this was a paying job I would have been fired after the first week. Nonetheless, my pro-bono work has kept me busy, just like my litle slugger...

My son is my husband's protege. That's the nicest way I can put it. You know it's bad when every parent on the bleachers is commenting on how hard the coach is throwing to his son...I would hear things like, "He's so tough on his boy," and "Wow, he doesn't pitch that hard to the other kids!" This is what I get for having an Italian Yankee fan as a husband. (For those of you who can't make the connection - that basically means he is an overly proud father of a 'future major league Yankee shortstop that people just don't know about yet'......yeah, it's that bad).

So after the tough-love coaching style and all the little league games, my son naturally had to have a baseball birthday cake! I'm no baker, but I tried my best. We had a blast celebrating his 6th birthday (and the fact that little league season is over!).

So until next year, I will spend my days painfully watching spring training from my kitchen window. Ahh, the life of a coach's wife......

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Italian Pasta Salad

Memorial Day has come and gone and, for us, so has the rain....

Despite the torrential downpour that threatened to ruin our Memorial Day bbq, we stayed strong and kept the party going - even if it meant barbecuing under an umbrella and eating inside.

After all, good food and good company is what really makes the day special right? So I thought I'd share the Italian pasta salad (my sis-in-law's recipe) that I brought to our friend's bbq...


1/2 cup black olives - sliced
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes - halved
1/2 block fresh mozarella - cubed
2 lbs. tricolor rotini
1/4 cup Italian vinaigrette dressing of your choice
1-2 chicken breasts - cubed
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

I had grilled up some Italian seasoned chicken breasts the night before, so cubing up the leftovers was super easy! The I combined all my ingredients (after the pasta cooled of course) and tossed in the salad dressing. Use as much or as little dressing as you like. Way easy and very tasty. The perfect side for an Italian bbq! Now, Mangia!

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