Category Archives: Miscellaneous

New York Times Eggplant Favorites

 New York Times Eggplant Favorites

There’s a good article in the NYT Food Section by David Tanis. He gives a brief history of eggplant and it’s use in Sicilian cuisine. And what he says about eggplant in Sicily applies to lots of Southern Italian areas – it’s a staple and used in many different ways and the recipes have many variations.

Article –  Eggplant Favorites, Rooted in Sicily

– Recipes –

Pasta alla Norma


Baked Eggplant



Act Like a New Yorker
I want to point out a few simple things that could make a big difference on your next trip to New York City.

Tourism is a big industry in New York. We appreciate your business and, trust me on this, most New Yorkers would actually like tourists if only you tried to be part of our City and not just stand back and watch us as though you were at a zoo.

In winter, don’t dress like you’re going to a ski resort or in summer, a beach resort. This is a city so dress for the city and not a national park. How can you expect a good table in a white table cloth restaurant when you show up wearing sneakers, shorts and a baseball cap?

Manhattan isn’t just Times Square, so be adventurous and go see the neighborhoods. And New York City isn’t just Manhattan. Since you can have authentic Italian espresso in a café in Bensonhurst, Greek coffee in Astoria and café con leche in the South Bronx, why look for a Starbucks where their coffee will be no different than in the Starbucks at home in your local mall? And don’t forget Staten Island.

Skip the Olive Gardens, Burger Kings and other chains you’re used to and go local. With over 40,000 restaurants in New York, you can easily find one that suits your taste. It isn’t necessarily going to be more expensive and might even save you some money.

Explore the City the way natives do, by foot and public transit. It’s easy with a map and some common sense, keeping in mind you shouldn’t stop to look at your map at the top of a flight of subway stairs during rush hour.

New Yorkers move fast and walking too slowly or three abreast is almost as bad as reckless driving on a highway. Navigating the sidewalks of New York is a lot like your driving back home: keep up with the pace of traffic, don’t randomly change lanes and make no unexpected stops. You can cause accidents, traffic jams or at the very least, bad feelings.

When you come to an intersection, it’s fine if you don’t want to jay-walk but don’t block our way when we appear to be willing to risk our lives to get to an appointment on time. To New Yorkers, a “don’t walk” sign is just a suggestion. Assume we know what we’re doing after years of practice.

Please don’t  think I’m just another nasty New Yorker, because honest, I’m not. I’d really like you to avoid tourist traps and see the real New York. I want you to feel like you belong here and experience the city the way we do and all you have to do is act like a New Yorker.

Click here for updated GALLERY II

Robert Iulo at Yelp

An Italian Dinner

An Italian Dinner
You can have things pretty much your way in an Italian restaurant. You are the customer and they’ll try to accommodate you. It’s different when you go to an Italian home for dinner. You don’t want to offend your hosts and you want to be a good guest so here are a few things you should know.
Don’t show up with your hands in your pockets. Bring a little something for your hosts. Flowers or some wine always works. Maybe a box of pastry from a good bakery. Except for pastry, don’t bring any other food. Only certain family members and very close friends should bring an agreed upon dish.

Dress nicely (more formally than you might think). Unless for religious reasons – don’t wear a hat at the table, even if it’s your favorite team.

Expect to start eating at seven or later. You’ll arrive, have a drink, maybe the antipasto served buffet style and then sit down for the main meal to start. The exception to this is that dinner will be served at two or three in the afternoon if you’re invited on a Sunday.

Italians eat a lot over a long period of time and serve multiple courses. Typically, an Italian dinner will include antipasto, pasta, a main plus many side dishes, then coffee, so pace yourself and don’t take more than you can finish. There will always be enough for seconds and thirds.

It’s not a restaurant so don’t expect parmigiana, spaghetti & meatballs or other American dishes. Your hosts might serve you recipes that have been in their family for generations and are probably not typical to American Italian restaurants.

Bread isn’t served as an appetizer to start the meal like it is in a restaurant. It’s on the table throughout the meal. And don’t expect butter. Look at it this way – if your bread needs butter to be edible, maybe you should be buying better bread.

Salad will not  be served as a first course but as a side dish along with the main course. The salad will be dressed simply with salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar.

If your hosts have children, unless they’re babies, they will be at the table. If you have children they’ll be invited too. The kids will be at the table eating the same things you do (not specially prepared PB&Js or chicken nuggets). Italians believe that their children learn social skills by being in social settings.

There will be salt and black pepper and maybe red pepper flakes on the table. Don’t ask for any condiments not already on the table. No mustard for your prosciutto, no butter for your bread, no ketchup or mayo for anything and especially no grated cheese for any seafood dish. In some household that is considered a mortal sin punishable in hell.

Italians don’t drink a lot but a variety of drinks will be served throughout your visit – a cocktail, prosecco, or an aperitif when you arrive, wine with the meal and a cordial or digestif afterwards, so pace yourself.  Adolescents/teenagers will be served wine during the meal.

Dinner will end late and no matter how late it is, coffee will be served. That will be espresso, not decaf, not tea – only espresso (which can be sweetened with sugar or more likely, Anisette). There definitely won’t be any cappuccino. Italians feel that cappuccino is strictly for the morning and drinking it later in the day is like eating corn flakes for dinner.

Dessert isn’t a big part of our tradition. Typically, besides espresso, you’ll find cordials and Asti, perhaps fruit, fresh or dried, possibly in autumn, nuts, or maybe just some biscotti to dip in your coffee. If someone brought pastry it would be served with the coffee.

 “Tutti a tavola a mangiare!”  (Everyone to the table to eat!)


Robert Iulo at Yelp

Arthur Avenue, The Bronx

Arthur Avenue, The Bronx
Arthur Avenue is the Bronx’s Little Italy’s shopping street. A few tourists find their way there but most of the shoppers on Arthur Avenue know what they’re buying and intend to take it home and make a meal of it. The Arthur Avenue food stores sell products that you can’t get just anywhere. And they’re products that are necessary for an Italian kitchen.
Last week my sister Nicki and I went to pick up a few things. We came home with bacalla, liver sausage, soprasade, olive oil, ricotta salada, fruselle, biscotti, tripe, and some very fresh fruit  and vegatables. There aren’t many places where you can get all that within a block or two. Plus we snacked on clams on the half-shell, ate lunch at a great restaurant (Emilia’s) and later got some fresh baked sfogliatelle and espresso.



Cosenza’s Fish Market – sidewalk raw bar


Calabria Pork Store – dried and fresh sauage


Teitel Brothers

Medonia Brother’s Bakery


Biancardi’s Butcher


Arthur Avenue Retail Market

One of the results of our shopping trip on Arthur Ave.20161204_180655

 Click here for updated GALLERY II

Some Simple Kitchen Tips II

Some Simple Kitchen Tips  II

Powdered red pepper – Grind standard red pepper flakes in a blender until powered, Basilicata style. Be careful not to inhale when you uncover the blender or you’ll cough like a cat with a hairball.


Raisins – If a recipe calls for raisins never use black ones (they just don’t look appetizing.)   Always use golden and you can alternate with dried currants.


Ravioli – My mother, aunts and grandmother never used anything but a ricotta mix for stuffing. Since we never ate in Italian restaurants I didn’t know they could be made with meat or anything  else (pumpkin?) until I was almost an adult. My family’s ravioli were square, large, sealed by crimping with a fork and laid out on cotton sheets on the dining room table and the bed to dry before cooking. You can get good ones at Piemonte on Grand near Mulberry Streets or


Roasted Peppers – Char peppers over a gas burner set on high, turning frequently, until skin is blackened and blistered on all sides. Transfer to bag or a bowl and cover tightly; let stand  for 10 or 15 minutes. Rub skin off peppers with the back edge of a knife (without rinsing), remove and discard cores and seeds. Don’t worry about some of the black char remaining on the pieces.


Rustica – If, for instance, the recipe says peel, seed and finely dice tomatoes and you don’t have time, don’t peel or seed, just give them a rough chop and add the words “ala rustica” to the name of the dish. It means “country style” so you can avoid a lot of fussiness.


Salt & Pepper – It goes without saying that it should be added in layers as you add ingredients to a recipe.

salt and pepper

Seasoning a cast iron pan –  Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Coat the cooking surface of the pan with a thin layer of Crisco and put it in the oven, upside down, for 1 hour. Put a foil covered baking sheet under it to catch any drippings. Let it cool in the oven for about another hour and it’s done. If it’s sticky, heat it for another ½ hour. If it’s not an even coat, do the whole process again.


Stew – If wine is called for in red meat stew, Cote du Rhone is recommended.

cote du rhone

Tomatoes – More than acceptable to use canned if they are San Marzano and there are no other ingredients added to the can.

san marzano

To peel and seed fresh tomatoes – drop tomato in boiling water and wait until the outer thin skin cracks. Peel it. Cut it on the equator and take each half, squeeze and shake out the seeds. Cut off the stem end and remove some of the core.

Trinity – (the base for lots of recipes) – Equal parts chopped celery, carrots and  onions (with garlic & parsley also known by some Italians as balluto or sofritto). Saute until soft.  For a Cajun or Creole trinity replace the carrots with green bell pepper.


Click here for updated GALLERY II


NPR Article on Depression Era Diet

An interesting NPR article on Depression era diet with an interview with the authors of “A Square Meal.”


Creamed, Canned And Frozen: How The Great Depression Revamped U.S. Diets


The food that Italian immigrants ate was certainly cheap and delicious and highly nutritious… And they would go out and collect dandelion greens, take them home, and saute them in a little olive oil… You want vitamins, there’s a great source of vitamins! …they had great pasta dishes, which were very good, filled with flavor and filled with nutrients. It’s tragic that we didn’t look to their example for foods to eat during the Great Depression, but that wasn’t “science,” and also that was “un-American.”

Some Simple Kitchen Tips

Some Simple Kitchen Tips

Anchovies – Lots of people don’t like them but when dissolved and used as a spice in a recipe most people can’t tell that they’re eating anchovies. It’s all about umami.anchovies

Basic Salernitano Rules (from Grandma):

  • Red onions are better left raw. Don’t cook them unless you have to.
  • Don’t overdo it with the aromatics, i.e. if you’re using garlic as a base, don’t add onions, especially in red sauce.
  • The same is true for basilico and oregano – try to stick to one or the other. Typically, basilico with red meat and oregano with chicken & fish.
  • If your bread needs butter to be edible maybe you should be buying better bread.
My grandmother with my aunt and uncle at her grocery store on Mott Street
My grandmother, Nicolina, with my aunt and uncle at her grocery store on Mott Street

Bouquet garni – 3 sprigs each, rosemary or parsley and thyme tied around 3 bay leaves.

boquet garni

Breadcrumbs If you don’t make your own (a blender and two day old bread – simple) always buy unseasoned breadcrumbs and use your own seasoning.  To toast – put about a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy frying pan on medium heat.  Add a cup of the unseasoned bread crumbs and keep them moving until they darken.  Don’t walk away to do something else because they’ll burn.  When they reach the right color remove them from the pan immediately or they’ll keep cooking.  They should smell like toast, not burnt toast.  You can use this on many pastas in place of cheese and there are some sauces where you can only use toasted breadcrumbs – fish sauces like pasta con sarde or baccala.


Browning meat – just put small batches in the pan. If you crowd it, instead of browning, it steams.

browning meat

Eggplant – for almost all eggplant recipes:

“Peel the eggplants but leave some of the skin on to ‘hold them together.’ Slice them into rounds and place the slices into a scolo pasta (colander). Salt the eggplants and place a heavy plate on top and set the colander in the sink for about 1/2 hour.” – Nicki Filipponi


Grated cheese – Use Parmigiana, Loccatelli, Romano or whatever you like but don’t think you can put it on everything because it can conflict with and overpower delicate flavors. If you really want cheese, eat a piece of cheese.


Oil – when a recipe calls for oil, it’s always regular olive oil unless otherwise specified. Only use extra virgin when it’s not going to be cooked because it burns and looses its fresh taste at a very low temperature.images4SG1W92H

Parsley – always flat leaf/Italian. Even French cooks use it because curly/French parsley has no taste.


Pasta –  First, use more water than you’d think you’d need, about four quarts for one pound. Add a lot of salt, at least 2 tablespoons (it can only absorb so much). Pick a pasta shape that compliments the sauce. Cook it until it’s done the way you like it and don’t worry about the Al Dente Police raiding your kitchen.


Click here for updated GALLERY II


Essentials of Sicilian Cooking

Essentials of Sicilian Cooking

Not too long ago my wife Bridget and I, my sister Nicki and our neighbor Susan signed up to take a recreational cooking class at the Institute of Culinary Education.  The course we chose was Essentials of Sicilian Cooking. It was taught by by Giovanna Bellia La Marca, a professional chef and author of the cookbook Sicilian Feasts.

Giovanna making Cassata
Giovanna  showing us how to make the cassata

The first part of the 4 hour class began with Giovanna giving a talk on Sicily and its cuisine. There were 12 of us in the class. We broke up into small teams and divided the menu between us. ice menu

Almost ready to serve

Some of us knew how to cook and some were beginners but we all worked together with help from Giovanna. It took about 2 hours to prepare the meal and when everything was ready we sat down to dinner with wine right on the work tables where we prepared the dishes . Full time I.C.E. students served and cleared. It was a great was to spend an evening. The cooking was fun and we really learned something. The meal at the end of the evening was great and we got copies of the recipes to take home.ice4

Click here for updated GALLERY II

Greek Orthodox Church Festival

bAnnunciation Greek Orthodox Church Festival
Yesterday, Saturday, May 14th, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church had its annual festival. Good Greek food and music and on West 91st Street and West End Avenue, it’s just one block away from where we live.Doc6Doc4_Page_1

A kitchen was set up on the sidewalk and food served under a tent.Doc5

A whole roasted lamb right on 90th Street – not something you see every day.



Traditional Greek dancing and songs throughout the day.



Breaking News … Sugar on Grits ?

Breaking News… Sugar on Grits ?

“IT’S TIME TO COME TO GRIPS WITH THE SUGAR-ON-GRITS DEBATE,” 4/11/16 (click here for the full story) Mississippi Sun Herald

This is important – SUGAR ON GRITS ???

When I was drafted, at my first breakfast in an Army mess hall I saw what I thought were people eating mashed potatoes with their eggs. I was wrong. I asked what that white stuff was and was told it was grits. I had some and thought they were great. I even wrote my mother to tell her “they serve polenta for breakfast in the Army.” I’m a New Yorker with a warn spot in my heart for grits but as a ‘’northerner” I don’t feel right about weighing in on this sensitive issue. What do you think? Sugar or no sugar. Let me and the Mississippi Sun Herald know how you feel.