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!)

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Escarole Pie

Escarole Pie
My aunt used to make this, or something like it. I never got her recipe but this is pretty close. It’s a simple dish (especially if you buy pizza dough instead of making your own).

If you  want to make your own dough instead of going to a pizzaria, here’s a recipe from Martha Stewart .

Escarole filling –

Remove the base and cut the escarole into 1 inch slices and clean it. Drain it  but it should be wet so it steams.

Heat the garlic and oil with some salt, black pepper and red pepper. Add the damp escarole and stir to coat with the oil. After a few minutes, it should begin to wilt. Add the olives and capers if you’re using them. Add some water if necessary, cover and steam  until it’s completely wilted and tender. It may seem like too much when you start but after it’s wilted, it’s just the right amount.Uncover and keep it on a low heat until it begins to dry. If there is still too much liquid, drain the excess. Add some olive oil and let it cool.

Preparing the pie –

Pre-heat oven to 375o. Coat the baking pan with oil. Cut off about ¼ of the dough for the top of the pie. Roll out the rest and cover the bottom and sides of the baking pan with it. Place the cooked and cooled escarole in the pan (it should be moist but not dripping) and tamp it down.

Roll out the smaller piece of dough to the size of the top of the pan and cover the escarole. Squeeze the edges of both pieces of dough together and trim the edges at the top of the pan.

Make some small slits on top of the pie with a sharp knife to let the steam escape. Brush the top with olive oil and bake for 45 minutes. Let it cool and serve at room temperature.

 


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Chicken Baked with Paprika

Chicken Baked with Paprika – a one pan Middle Eastern dish with just a few simple ingredients. I’m using thighs but you can substitute a whole chicken cut into pieces.

 

Chicken Baked with Paprika

Mix the spices with  2 tablespoons of olive oil to make a paste. Don’t be tempted to use more than 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. A little goes a long way.


Combine the room temperature chicken and onion and throughly coat with the paste. It’s easier if you use your hands for this. Arrange the chicken pieces skin side up in an oiled pan and bake in a 500o preheated oven for 30 minutes.


When done, remove the chicken and onions from pan and place in a serving dish. Heat the pan on the stove, add a pat of butter and deglaze  with white wine. Pour the sauce over the chicken. We usually serve this with rice.


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Nick and Nora Glasses

(Nick and Nora with Asta in the middle)


Nick and Nora Glasses

I love going to steak houses. They’re known for big portions and big cocktails glasses. Two drinks and you’re fried. Well, there was a time when glasses weren’t huge and I learned about it in an old movie.

I was always a big fan of “The Thin Man,” with Dick Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, a husband and wife detective team. They were stylish, elegant and an all-together classy couple. The story takes place in New York between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. It seems that rather than solve a murder, Nick would prefer to stay mildly drunk.

There’s one scene where Nora tries to catch up with Nick’s drinking. She asks the bartender how many drinks he’s served Nick. When she’s told “six,” she orders six Martinis and says, “Line ’em up.” They’re served in beautiful little cocktail glasses that were popular at the time and are now know as “Nick and Nora Glasses.”

A Nick and Nora is about 3 ounces, compared to the steak house 8 – 10 ounces. In a smaller glass your drink stays cold until you finish it and if you want more, simply order another one or maybe another six.


If you’d like to see “The Thin Man,” you can get it on Netflix .

Just Google NICK & NORA GLASS if you’d like to get some.


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Calabrese Pasta

Calabrese Pasta
My Salernitano grandmother used to make this for my Calabrese grandfather. I don’t really know if this was something that was common in Calabria or simply a dish that he liked. When my mother made it, she said we were having Calabrese pasta and that’s what I still call it.
I list precise measurments for ingredients but it’s not written in stone. If you like olives, add more. If you don’t like capers, use less. You get the idea.

 

This is a very quick sauce so put up the pasta water before you start anything else.

Lightly sauté the anchovies, olives, capers and garlic in olive oil.


When the anchovies dissolve and the garlic begins to turn golden, add the tuna, tomatoes, pepper and oregano. Taste for seasoning and let it simmer for no more than 8-10 minutes to keep a fresh taste.


Toss the pasta in the sauce and serve with grated cheese (no cheese if you use the tuna).


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Spatchcocked Lemon Chicken a la Martha Stewart

Spatchcocked Lemon Chicken a la Martha Stewart
This is Martha’s recipe but she used one 4-pound chicken instead of two 2-pound  young chickens and shallots where I used red onion.
Spatchcocked chicken is splayed or butterflied. It’s done this way so it cooks faster or can be cooked on a grill. It’s also easier to carve than a whole roasted chicken.

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place chicken, breast side down, on a work surface. Starting at thigh end, cut along 1 side of backbone with kitchen shears. Turn chicken around; cut along other side. Discard backbone or save for stock. Flip chicken, and open it like a book. Press firmly on breastbone to flatten.
  2. Rub chicken with 1 tablespoon oil, and season with 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Brush 1 tablespoon oil in the center of a rimmed baking sheet slightly larger than the size of the chicken, and place half the lemon slices in a single layer on top of oil. Place chicken, skin side up, on lemons. Beginning at the neck end of breast, carefully loosen skin from flesh of breast and thighs with your fingers. Slide remaining lemon slices under skin in a single layer.
  3. Roast chicken 20 minutes. Toss onions with remaining teaspoon oil, and scatter around chicken. Continue to roast chicken until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of breast reaches 165 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes more.
  4. Transfer the chickens to a serving platter, and let it rest 10 minutes. Cut it into halves or serve whole with roasted some lemons, onions, and pan juices.

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Pasta All ‘Amatriciana with Veal

Pasta All ‘Amatriciana with Veal
Some people say Amatriciana can only be made with guanciale and served over bucatini pasta. Sometimes I make it with guanciale, sometimes with pancetta and this time I used porcetta. And I never serve it with bucatini. I find bucatini unmanageable. It has a mind of its own when you twirl it on your fork and it inevitably spots your shirt with sauce. So, I’m using short fusilli.

 

Pasta All ‘Amatriciana with Veal

Drain a can of plum tomatoes and cut them length-wise into ½ in. strips. Save the liquid from the can. In a frying pan, sauté porcetta until brown and crisp and remove. Brown the veal in the porcetta fat and remove it.


Lightly sauté the sliced onions in oil and add the chopped garlic in a pot. Don’t brown. Add salt, black pepper and red pepper to taste.  Add the tomatoes to the onions in the pot.


Don’t add the tomato liquid until the tomatoes fry for a bit. Then add the liquid, porcetta and veal to the pot. Deglaze (the Le Fond post tells you all about deglazing ) the pan that you browned the porcetta and veal in with ½ cup each of water and red wine and add to the sauce in the pot. Stir it and bring it to a boil. Taste for seasoning. Lower the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes.

Now’s the time to make the pasta. Cook it until almost done. Remove the veal from the sauce and stir in the pasta to finish cooking it in the sauce. Serve with grated cheese, maybe Pecorino Romano if you have it. Amatriciana should have a little heat to it so add lots of black or red pepper.


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New York’s Original Ray’s Pizza

New York’s  Original Ray’s Pizza
I grew up on Mott Street, just around the corner from Ray’s Pizzeria. It was a few doors from where my grandmother lived on Prince Street. I remember when it opened, in the same storefront where my barber, Luca, had his shop. Luca retired and Rayfie opened his pizzeria and eventually made it larger with an expanded the menu. It was great having a good pizzeria so close to where I lived.
For years, in New York, there’s been a dispute about which “Ray’s” pizza was the first one. It’s gone now, but based on my experience and backed-up by this old New York Times article, the “Original” was Rayfie Cuomo’s on Prince Street. I hope this settles some arguments.

 

For the whole NYT article – click here.


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Channel Bouillabaisse

Channel Bouillabaisse
This is a very basic form of bouillabaisse. Just a few ingredients and there isn’t any shell fish or anis or fennel and the stock is made as it’s cooking. You can start with this recipe and add on to it but it’s really very good as simple as it.

-just a few simple ingredients-


Simmer the onions, garlic and tomatoes in oil with salt and black pepper on high heat, until they soften and release their liquid. There’s no need to peel or cut them too finely since they’ll be strained out before serving. Add the saffron and stir.


Lay the cleaned whole fish (any kind of white fleshed fish will do) on top of the vegetable mixture and cover them with boiling water. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 -15 minutes.

Remove the fish and place it  in a platter and filet it. Return the bones to the broth and bring to a rapid boil for a few minutes then strain the liquid.


Place crusty bread in bowls and lay pieces of the fish on top of it, then some of the liquid and a sprinkle of chopped parsley if you like.


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