My great aunt Caroline could cook weeds and make them taste good. She had a dish her guests would often hope for at lunch. She’d sauté chicken hearts and mushrooms in olive oil with crumpled dried pepperoncini – simple ingredients which came together as something very special. The mushrooms were gathered by my Uncle Tony in his forays into the wilds of Staten Island to places only he knew.
When he went to pick wild mushrooms he’d be gone all day and Aunt Caroline would say, “He thinks I don’t know, but after he gets the mushrooms, he plays poker with his friends. As long as he brings me the mushrooms, I don’t say anything.”
The first time I can remember her serving the chicken hearts, she looked at me and without asking if I’d prefer it, cut a couple of slices of crunchy Italian bread and spread it with cream cheese and Welch’s grape jelly.
“Robbie’s ‘Merican,” she said to my mother, “so I made him a sandwich I saw on television.” I was glad to get the cream cheese and jelly but eventually acquired a taste for her chicken hearts.
1 lb chicken hearts
1 lb sliced mushrooms (your choice)
¼ cup olive oil
Dried peperoncini to taste
Salt and black pepper to taste
Wash, dry and season the chicken hearts with salt and black pepper. Sear them in oil in a very hot pan and remove. Sauté sliced mushrooms in the remaining fat & oil. When done return the chicken hearts. Break up 3 or 4 dried peperoncini into the pan stir and serve when the peppers soften.
Pepperoncini don’t have the intensity of jalapenos but still provide a good sparkle to many dishes. Wash, dry and place fresh (not pickled) green pepperoncini in an open work basket or string them together and hang them (out of direct sunlight). They’ll eventually turn dark red and become dry and brittle.
– Dried Pepperoncini Paste #1 -Heat about 1/4 cup olive oil; add 3 cloves of garlic and 10 crumbled dry peppers (remove stem, core and some seeds). Keep the heat low and don’t burn it. When the peppers and garlic darken a little put everything, including the oil in a food processor with a teaspoon of salt and grind until it’s a paste. Add more oil if needed. Put it back in the pan and heat until it dries. This works as a condiment on various dishes where you’d normally sprinkle red pepper flakes.
– Dried Pepperoncini Paste #2 -Start with dried pepperincini. Take off the stems and soak in water overnight – include seeds and ribs. Drain well and put in food processor with oil. Chop and add oil until it’s a paste. One suggested use: Add paste and some pasta water to pan when making Pasta Aglio e Olio (pasta w/ garlic & oil). Finish cooking pasta in the sauce and serve with toasted breadcrumbs.
– They’re great crumbled and fried with eggs,
– They can be eaten plain too. Remove the stem and the core of seeds. Give them a quick fry in hot olive oil. Their color will change from red to light brown. Let them cool and eat them like potato chips.
– Powdered pepperoncini– grind 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. If you don’t dry your own peppers, you can used store-bought red pepper flakes for this one.
– One last suggestion – take one or two fresh green peperoncini and remove the stem and seeds. Cut it into pieces small enough to fit into a bottle and then fill with virgin olive oil. Allow it a week or so to infuse and use this oil to drizzle on soups, meat or seafood dishes.
Roasted Beefsteak Sirloin with Blood and Butter Sauce
Adapted from Chef Waldy Malouf’s beefsteak recipe at the (now closed) Beacon Restaurant.
Throwing a “Beefsteak” is an old New York City tradition. It was a night of beef, beer and cigars with no vegetables or silverware.
For more on the beefsteak tradition see: ALL YOU CAN HOLD FOR FIVE BUCKS, written by Joseph Mitchell and originally printed in The New Yorker Magazine, 1939
1 whole boneless sirloin, approximately 8 pounds; ask your butcher for a No. 180 strip loin (pretty expensive)
2 onions, chopped
2 cups beef broth
8 ounces (2 sticks) butter
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
Sliced white bread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season sirloin heavily with S&P. Place in a roasting pan, fat side down and roast for 30 minutes. Turn meat over, fat side up, and add onions to pan beside meat. Roast another 30 minutes.
Remove roasting pan from oven. Turn oven off and leave door ajar to cool slightly. Transfer beef to a rimmed platter, leaving onions in pan. Loosely cover beef with foil and return to oven to keep warm. Carefully spoon off about two-thirds of the clear fat in roasting pan (leaving any dark juices beneath) and add beef broth. Place over high heat and boil until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add butter, Worcestershire sauce, and any juices that have collected in platter of beef. Return to medium-low heat and simmer for 10 more minutes. Strain sauce into a warmed pitcher or serving bowl.
To serve, slice sirloin into 1 1/2-inch-thick steaks and then cut each steak crosswise into strips 3 to 4 inches long that you will be able to pick up with your hands. Serve sauce very hot. Dip meat into sauce as you eat. You can also serve meat with a stack of white bread.
When my father was a young man he tended bar in various bars and restaurants in Greenwich Village. He developed a great Old Fashioned and passed the recipe on to me. That’s him, Frank Iulo, in the white shirt at Jay’s Bar on Houston Street.
Put circular slice of lemon in the bottom of an old fashioned glass. Add 1 tsp sugar, a few dashes of orange bitters and muddle. Be sure to crush lemon skin to get oil. Add ice and Rye or Canadian and stir. Float a few dashes of Angostura on top.
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Cut the peaches around the equator and then cut wedges into bite size pieces. Place the pieces in a bowl, sprinkle with sugar and toss. Allow them to sit for 15 minutes and then cover with the wine. Refrigerate and serve when chilled. Serves four.
My Calabrese grandfather used to have Marsala and an egg for breakfast. He’d just break an egg into a glass of Marsala and drink it without mixing or cooking it. He didn’t use a cocktail glass either.
Marsala Flip – a drink similar to both zabaglione (see below) and my grandfather’s breakfast.
One whole egg
Two ice cubes
Three ounces sweet Marsala
Put the ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth and creamy. A flip is a cocktail that’s been around for a long time. This is a simple version of it. You can also use port or sherry. Add sugar if you’re using something that isn’t sweet i.e. brandy or bourbon.
6 egg yolks
1 cup sweet Marsala
½ cup sugar
Put all the ingredients in a double boiler and whisk over medium heat until foamy. I use an old fashioned crank egg beater. It’s faster. Serve it hot or cold for dessert in a cocktail glass as is or with some berries on top.
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.
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.
Type can vary according to the sauce but NEVER, NEVER with sea food. Grandma said that was a mortal sin. Instead of the hard grating cheeses, try dry ricotta salada sometime or maybe a tablespoon of fresh ricotta in your dish before you put in pasta with tomato sauce. Instead of any grated cheese at all, try toasted bread crumbs. When Grandma couldn’t afford cheese this was a good substitute and on some dishes it’s better than cheese. I’ll explain how to make them in my next post.
Capozzelli di Angnelli Yes, it’s a lamb’s head. The padrone would get the loin, legs and chops and the peasants had to make what was left taste good.
1 lamb head, split in half
Salt and black pepper
1 tsp oregano
½ lemon plus more for serving
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup olive oil
Place room temperature halves on a platter and liberally season with salt and black pepper. Mix ½ tspn each, salt and black pepper with oregano, lemon juice, garlic and oil (save some oil to grease baking pan). Rub halves with marinade and allow to sit at room temperature for one hour.
Roast for 90 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 325o. Starting with cut side up, turn and baste with drippings every ½ hour. At the end of 90 minutes remove it from the oven and turn on the broiler.
Baste and place in broiler, eye side up, about 6 inches from flame for 2 minutes until lightly browned. When done, let it rest for about 5 minutes and serve with lemon wedges.
Summer Tomato Salad Aunt Caroline would pick the basilico and tomatoes in her Staten Island kitchen garden just before she made this Summer Tomato Salad. The ice cubes were necessary because the tomatoes would still be hot from the sun.
4 medium tomatoes
Salt and black pepper to taste
½ cup torn basil leaves
¼ cup olive oil
5 or 6 ice cubes
Cut narrow wedges around the core, discarding the core. Cut each wedge in half and place in a serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Toss and let sit for 20 minutes. Before serving add the oil, basil and ice cubes, then toss again.