Thursday, February 24, 2011

Italian Fried Onion Rings

You know me, I love anything fried! Here's a super simple recipe for Onion Ring batter. I fried mine in peanut oil, but use whatever you like - just make sure the oil is hot - these fry up really quickly.

1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3/4 Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs
1 egg
1 cup milk, add more as needed

Combine ingredients, adding more milk until desired batter consistency is reached.

Slice your onions into 1/4 inch rings. Dip into batter, shaking off excess. Fry.

Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle with sea salt & grated cheese immediately. MANGIA!

Monday, February 21, 2011

NEW: The Meatball Challenge Champion!

When Dominic Condo and Una Mamma Italiana, two of my fellow Cucina Chatter radio contributors asked me to weigh in on their meatball competition, I didn’t hesitate for a second! I love anything having to do with meatballs, especially trying new twists on how to make them or how to serve them. Unfortunately, I only got to “virtually” try them, by reading the mouth-watering recipes they both shared on their respective food sites and by looking at the tantalizing pictures. Neither were reinventing the actual meatball, rather coming up with different ways to serve them.

Let’s start with Una Mamma, she came up with a “Meatball Ring,” a sort of stuffed crust pizza made with croissant dough and a raised crust filled with meatballs and a flat center which she topped with salad. It looked fantastic! Oh, if only I could have eaten it! Dom’s creation was a meatball Stromboli. Of course, I did not get to taste his either, but Strombolis are one of my favorite things! He recommends a combo of mozzarella and provolone inside, and to that I couldn’t agree more. I love combining different cheeses and meats in a Stromboli or calzone. While both looked fantastic, my vote goes to the Stromboli and the polls reflected that. Now if they each want to ship me their creations to me here in New Jersey, I could get a better feel for the flavor…

Nice job you guys, Lorraine can attest to the fact that there’s never any losers in an Italian cucina—even though my meatballs and gravy won out when we squared off in our own throwdowns last year. Keep on rollin’!

– Johnny Meatballs
Meatball King of New Jersey - As Seen on TV!

A big Italian congratulations to Dom on his FIRST win of our "Mamma Meets The Cucina" food challenges! Of course, there's no need to mention that I won the last two competitions in a row. But naturally, I'll say it! And it was time to let him taste victory - just this once.

Be not afraid, paisans - I will not be so kind in the future! The next competition will inevitably feature my comeback - and, as you may know, I like to make quite an entrance...
Bravo Cucina Domenico!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Baked Ziti with Mini Meatballs

Happy Meatball Month!! As you may know, I have declared February "Meatball Month" in lieu of the recent "Mamma Meets The Cucina" Meatball Battle. Last week, I gave you recipes for Meatball Stew and Italian Herb Beer Bread. This week I've got another dish that is so classic, but often forgotten - Baked Ziti.

Typically, this dish involves ziti cut pasta tossed in a bolognese sauce, mixed with cheeses, and baked. Since I often roll mini meatballs (my kids love em), I decided to use those in place of the bolognese. Mini meatballs work especially well as snacks or appetizers - or in dishes like my Meatball Ring, because they cook more quickly, and therefore do not need to simmer in gravy to be enjoyed! When I make a big batch and have leftovers, I always throw together a ziti. It's a lot like lasagne but at least fifty steps simpler...

MEATBALL RECIPE #2: Baked Ziti with Polpetini (mini meatballs)

penne or ziti cut pasta
ricotta cheese
fresh mozzarella
shredded mozzarella
grated cheese

(Now, regarding quantities: I usually use an entire carton of ricotta because I'm cooking for 6 people and make a big casserole dish! You decide waht fits your family, beased on size and love of cheese! I also like to combine fresh and shredded mozzarella on top because I like the way it melts. But NOTHING tops the cubed fresh mozzarella for tossing in with the pasta. Che Bella!)

Boil 1-2 lbs (depending on your family size!) of penne or ziti pasta. BUT: Only boil them halfway. Take them out before they're even al dente - they will finish cooking in the oven and you DON'T want soggy noodles :(

Toss it in your favorite gravy or sauce and the cooked mini meatballs and fill a casserole dish. Gently fold in spoonfuls of ricotta cheese and cubed fresh mozzarella. Top with remaining mozzarella and grated cheese. I also love a few dollops of ricotta on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 20- 30 minutes. MANGIA!

As you can see here, I served mine with a side of my homemade Sausage Bread - VERY similar to a stromboli like Dom Condo made for our meatball challenge! You might want to give that a try too!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Meatball Stew and Italian Herb BEER BREAD!

In lieu of our recent "Mamma Meets the Cucina" Meatball Challenge, I have decided to officially declare February as Meatball Month!

I have so many meatball dishes to share that I couldn't use for the challenge since we were trying to showcase the meatball on its own.

So for the rest of the month, you will see more meatball recipes. The upcoming dishes are a bit more traditional, but still classics that everyone needs to try! I must admit that I'm most impressed with my new found love - beer bread.

I had originally wanted to make meatball stew after trying it at one of the indoor markets in Florence. When I returned to the states, I never gave it another thought. That is, until Dominic Condo posted his recipe on his blog and I rediscovered my craving. I created my own rendition with what I had in the house and am sharing it with you. I'm sure we will come up with several different versions in the future. One thing I'd like to try is adding red wine. But this version is such an EASY meal to prepare, and quite healthy.

Most simple Italian recipes stem from the poor regions of Italy, where they cooked with whatever foods grew regionally. I'm talking about authentic Peasant Food, which happens to be my FAVORITE way to eat Italian. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate gourmet Italian fare, but I grew up on the simple flavors of Italian cooking straight from the garden. This is one of those recipes.

So serve up a bowl with a slice of Italian Herb Beer Bread for dunking and you've got yourself a comforting, hearty Italian meal.

NOTE: Ingredients are unmeasured because this really is a dish you do by eye. Throw in the veggies YOUR FAMILY likes. If you stick with the proper liquid ratios, you really can't mess it up:)

1-2 cups each of chopped/cubed zucchini, carrots, and potatoes
1/2 large onion, minced
2 cups LOW SODIUM beef broth
2 15 oz. cans tomato sauce
Fresh basil
10 - 20 mini meatballs, already cooked (preferably fried!)

Saute the onions in some e.v.o.o. and add the veggies.

Coat them in the oil and let brown slightly. Season them (in the pan) with sea salt and cracked black pepper.

Add the sauce/broth and stir to combine. Throw in a bunch of fresh basil for flavor (to be removed later). Let simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer another 15-20 minutes. The liquid will significantly reduce.

So serve up a bowl with a slice of Italian Herb Beer Bread for dunking and you've got yourself a comforting, hearty Italian meal.

3 cups flour
1 Tbsp baking Powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp Italian Seasoning
2 tsp salt
12 z. beer

Mix all dry ingredients. Add the beer and stir (dough will be slightly wet, like a biscuit dough). Place dough in a well oiled loaf pan. Brush the top with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Once it comes out of the oven, brush the top with e.v.o.o. again and sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool for 10 minutes, then slice.
MANGIA! And don't forget to check back for some more meatball recipes coming this month!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

Happy V-Day to all of you folks romancing it up this holiday! While my two older kids are at school passing out the Valentines we spent hours writing out this weekend, we are having our own party here at home! Well, as much of a party as we can have with my two littlest ones being sick (can't you just see the sickness in their eyes in the pic?).

Naturally, candy is just what the doctor ordered, right? Not really. Sugar breaks down the immune system and makes it harder for your body to fight whatever sickness comes our way. My kids already know - "No more candy, mom, cuz I'm sick already and I want to get better fast!" (this usually involves some sort of bribery). This may sound strange - but sometimes I wish they were sick more often - like when it's 9 p.m. on a school night and my husband gets the brilliant idea to bust open the candy jar....I wonder if they would exercise such self control then - "Mom, no more candy..." Wishful thinking.

Anyway, in lieu of the wintery cold and the abundance of sugar this time of year, I have provided a few new "RECIPES" - a couple of old school Italian remedies for the common cold. This is straight from Le Nonne (the grandmothers) I know - so make use of it and avoid all the nasty, medicinal, RECALLED remedies out there today.

And this stuff goes for kids and adults, people! Buona Salute!! (To Good Health!)

GARLIC - garlic is more than just one of may favorite things in the world. It is actually has natural antibiotic characteristics when eaten raw. I've also heard of rubbing garlic infused olive oil on your feet and wrapping them for a few hours. Apparently toxins leave your body through the feet, so that draws out the sickness.

APPLE CIDER VINEGAR - speaking of feet, I have personally soaked my feet (at the onset of sickness) in apple cider vinegar and hot water. You have to get the organic, not brommated ACV. I usually get the Bragg's brand. Bragg's also has a book on all the possible uses for Apple Cider Vinegar as a health fix for so many things. Supposedly drinking water mixed with apple cider vinegar and honey aids digestion and prevents illness when done every day.

GRAPEFRUIT SEED OIL - A few drops of grapefruit seed oil on the tongue is also a cold remedy. This can be found at a local health store or in a "naturals" section of an upscale market. Grapefruit also has natural antibiotic effects.

GINGER- Ginger is always a great fix. Brew some in some hot water with honey and lemon juice and drink it to soothe a sore throat. The natural local honey is best. Normal grocery store honey is often heated to abnormally high temps during processing. High heat, with anything, kills all the essential naturally occurring nutrients, and basically makes any health benefits null and void.

HUMIDIFIERS - Run your humidifier in your kids' room with a couple drops of eucalyptus oil near the steam vent. My humidifier has a spot for this (where they want you to put vicks) but skip the chemicals in the air and us the natural oil. It clears their sinuses just as easily (and smells fresh too).

Have any other health remedies? I would LOVE to hear them! Email me at or post a comment here. I have plenty more remedies where this came from, but am always eager for more. After all, I'm bound to encounter childhood colds a bit more in my lifetime! Here's to a healthy Spring!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Meatball Competition: Meatball Stromboli & The Meatball Ring

Any self-respecting Italian has seen the movie, "Big Night," in which an Italian family tries to succeed at the restaurant business in America. Well, there is one particular scene in which the chef accuses a dining customer of being a 'criminal' for wrongly assuming that spaghetti just comes with meatballs. Astonished at the fact that spaghetti is served on its own, she asks why on earth this is. The waiter kindly responds, with a confused disposition,

"Sometimes spaghetti just likes to be alone!"

It is a classic scene that depicts the epitome of Italian pride in cooking! But upon pondering the humor in this ordeal, Chef Condo and I got to thinking,

"what about the meatball? Does the meatball ever like to be alone?"

And thus, this meatball challenge was born. We decided to explore unique ways to serve the meatball on its own - without its commonly paired up partner - spaghetti - or any pasta, for that matter.

And so, here you have two dishes that involve meatballs in two similar, yet very different ways. Which one looks better? YOU decide. Don't forget to vote in the poll on the sidebar of this or the Cucina Domenico blog!

Una Mamma Italiana

Here, (out West, that is) we have more than just sunshine and the Pacific - we have a fabulous restaurant chain, "The California Pizza Kitchen!" Now, I'm sure many of you Easterners have tried this place, but have you ever ordered their pizza salad? I grew up eating at this place. While my brother & I ordered greasy pepperoni, or barbeque chicken pizza, my mom (the constant dieter) would order this pizza salad. This, my friends, is the dish that inspired The Meatball Ring.

CPK would often serve a specialty salad atop a blindy baked (cooked with no toppings) pizza crust. It was like getting some bread on the side of your salad, but it made for a very unique presentation. I thought, why not incorporate meatballs into this.

My mind whirled around stuffed crust pizzas - why not stuff the crust with meatballs? But that looked a bit ridiculous in my head. Then I thought about wrapping the meatballs, instead of hiding them in the crust. (Think pigs in a blanket). Eureka. That - with a little bit of help from my best friend (google), brought the meatball ring to life. And there are SO many directions you can go with this.

I used croissant dough, but I am pretty sure that pizza dough, rolled out thin enough, would work just fine (maybe even better).

I laid out the dough on a circular pizza pan, leaving the triangular tips around the edge in the shape of a ring. I rolled a meatball under each point of dough until I had a star-like pizza crust. I baked it according to package directions.

Then, I let it cool, and topped it with a fresh salad. it was such a fun way of serving up a big salad to a crown. Then with every scoop of salad, each person can pull apart one of the triangles holding meatball. Not a bad idea, right?

But then my mind went a-whirling again. Why not use this meatball ring as a way to serve up ANYTHING at all. My next thought was antipasto. PERFECT. The gorgeous layout of Italian meats, cheeses, olives, artichokes,and whatever else you like on your antipasto platter would look beautiful served atop this meatball ring. And once it's cooled, it holds together like a gem!

Needless to say, this was my Superbowl party recipe! I will surely post a picture of the antipasto version a.s.a.p. - but use your imagination. What would you top this meatball ring with?

Dominic Condo

To me, there is no other dish as traditional and tasty as a plate of pasta topped with two or three meatballs. Even when Sunday dinners are presented family style, the full serving plate of meatballs almost serves as the centerpiece of the table. Classic. Comforting.
But I also love me a good meatball sandwich! Served up in a nice roll, topped with Parmesan and maybe a little mozzarella, toasted up in the oven's crispy hot goodness in every bite! If you've read my previous posts, you know that one of our go-to foods when getting together with friends is homemade Stromboli. Using meatball as Stromboli filling is always high on our request list. The consistency of a meatball sandwich combined with the taste of delicious homemade pizza dough. How could you go wrong?
The recipe itself is fairly simple – roll out your dough, top with meatballs, add some cheese, roll up, bake and serve. It's during the actual assembly when the love and craftsmanship comes into play.
Let's break it down....
A. you want to make sure that you roll out your dough thin enough to fold, but not too thin where it will break. There's a lot more texture in this filling as opposed to a pepperoni or ham Stromboli, so you need enough dough to keep everything contained.
B. you want to squash up your meatballs so they fill up more space and are not to lumpy. You'll want to let the meatballs cool before doing this step for two reasons:
1 - it's easier to work with the meatballs when slightly cooled
2 - if the meat is still hot, it will start to warm up the dough and make it harder to work with.
C. do not go overboard when adding your gravy/sauce.The key to a meatball Stromboli is the don't want it to be dry. A nice little drizzle of sauce on top of the crushed meatball is plenty. Too much sauce will make the dough soggy and hard to work with. And just as I mentioned about working with the meatballs cooled, you don't want the gravy to be too hot. Otherwise it will make the dough difficult to work with, You can always serve up a bowl of gravy/sauce on the side for dipping.
D. try using a combination of provolone and mozzarella cheese. Both melt well, and the combination gives you an equal balance of mozzarella creaminess and provolone sharpness. This is one of the many cooking tricks that my cousin Michael taught me many years ago!
You can follow my example photo on how to roll a Stromboli (although the example photo is of a pepperoni stromboli, the same rolling method applies to the meatball stromboli).
Add a few slits on the top of the dough to avoid air bubbles. Give it a quick hit with cooking spray, top with a bit of Italian seasoning. Bake uncovered at 375ยบ for about 20-25 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and let it sit for 5 minutes to cool. Otherwise the insides will run out if you slice it too soon.
Slice, Serve, & Enjoy!

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