Cast Iron

20150220_103805 Cast Iron

Cast iron is one of the oldest and best materials for cooking. If seasoned properly it’s as non-stick as any of the modern coated pans. It holds heat well and spreads it evenly and can be used both on the stove or in the oven. If you get a new one that’s not pre-seasoned, it’s simple enough to season it yourself. 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. Sound like a lot of work? Don’t worry because you’ll only have to do it once.

To clean it after use you usually have to just wipe it with a wet sponge (no soap) and if anything sticks, simply fill it with hot water and let it soak for a while then clean it with a brush, never steel wool. Dry it and it’s ready for its next use.


 

20150220_103648
ten inch pie pans with handles

My daughter, Kristina recently gave me a new pan. At first I thought it was just a decorative cast iron serving platter and although it’s attractive, it turns out that it’s also very utilitarian. It’s creator calls it a “ten inch pie pans with handles.” I don’t often bake pies but so far I’ve used it for chops, omelets and skillet corn bread. It’s lighter than my standard 10 inch cast iron pan, it makes a better serving presentation and it came pre-seasoned – a big plus. It’s made by Marsha Trattner, an artist-blacksmith in Red Hook, Brooklyn.  She makes other things in addition to pans. Take a look at her web site:  She-Weld.com skillet corn bread


One last cast iron utensil… I got it at a flea market for $20.  A Dutch oven old enough to probably have been used in a fire place. Not very pretty and extremely heavy, it’s still the greatest for stews.

Minestra and Zuppa

Minestra and Zuppa

The Fisherman's Wharf - corner of Houston and Mott Street in New York's Little Italy - by Nicki Fllipponi
The Fisherman’s Wharf – corner of Houston and Mott Street in New York’s Little Italy – by Nicki Fllipponi

 


< Minestra >

Basically, minestra is soupy pasta with vegetables. The vegetables can include broccoli, cauliflower, cecis, peas, lentils, beans or greens. The pasta is usually small, like tubes, shells or even broken spaghetti. The ingredients and combinations are up to you. An example of minestra is Pasta e Patate or the following pasta with escarole and beans from my sister Nicki. (If you need to distinguish between the soupy minestra pasta and pasta with say, tomato sauce or pesto, those are known as pasta asciutte, ‘dry pasta’ although it’s covered with sauce.)

Pasta con Scarola e Fagioli

Minestre

On a cold winter night nothing warms you up like a bowl of minestra.  It’s hearty, delicious and easy to prepare.  My Mother served soup at every meal.  This minestra was and still is one of my favorites.

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of escarole (rinse in cold water and cut into ½” strips)
  • Olive oil to drizzle in cooking pot
  • 2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
  • 2 smoked ham hocks
  • 1 can of cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1/2 lb. ditalini (short tubes)

Preparation:

Clean the escarole in cold water and cut into ½” strips.  Set aside. Heat the olive oil in a 3 quart pot add the garlic cloves and remove them when they are brown and soft.  Add the ham hocks to brown.  Add water to cover the hocks and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for about a half hour to forty-five minutes.  Add the escarole and cook until softened about 15 minutes.  Then add the rinsed cannellini beans and pasta. Cook until the pasta is done – about 10 minutes.

 


  < Zuppa >

Zuppa is a broth which never includes pasta and usually has a slice of bread or biscotti in it. An example of this follows as Merlutze en Brode, a recipe from a restaurant, The Fisherman’s Wharf, that our family had in the 1950s. This style of preparation  goes back to a time before tomatoes were common in Italian cuisine. Our chef, Michele, was proud of this one – so simple and so good.

Merlutze en Brode

zuppa

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 thinly sliced garlic cloves
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 2 medium sized whitings
  • 2 day old Italian bread or fruzalle

Preparation:

Lightly sweat the garlic in oil. Add salt, black pepper and ½  of the parsley. Cut the whitings into 5 pieces each, including head and tail, add to pot and just cover with hot water. Remove the head and tail when they get soft. Continue simmering until the skin becomes loose enough to remove and you can lift out the spine and bones from the pieces of fish. Add more water if it gets too dry. Add the rest of the parsley just before serving. Put some bread or fruzalle in a bowl and cover with the fish broth.

Eggplant Parmigiana

 

 

eggplant Eggplant Parmigiana  (parmigiana di melanzane )

This is probably a very different version for most of you. It’s a ‘parmigiana’ recipe with just parmesan cheese, no mozzarella. You can substitute other vegetables or chicken or veal cutlets but no mozzarella.  If you look up parmigiana, you’ll see it’s defined as “cooked with Parmesan cheese,” not mozzarella. Give our family recipe (written by my sister Nicki) a try.

It’s light and fresh compared to the parmigiana al ‘Americana you get in most restaurants with that thick rubbery layer of mozzarella on top.

parmesan 1
Parmesan

 

parmesan 2

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium eggplants cut into ½ in. rounds
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp salt and 2 grinds of black pepper
  • 1 ½ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups marinara tomato sauce (see note)
  • ½ cup basil cut chiffonade

Preparation:

Remove 3 or 4 strips of skin from the eggplants but leave enough to hold them together. Slice them into rounds and place the slices into a scolo pasta (colander) in layers, sprinkling kosher salt on each layer. Place a heavy plate and a 28 ounce can of tomatoes (you can use any kind of weight but what could be better than a can of tomatoes?) on top for weight and set the scolo pasta in the sink for about ½ hour.

After the eggplants have drained, squeeze out the excess water and dredge the slices in the flour and salt and pepper mixture.  Fry the slices in olive oil until browned on both sides.  Drain on paper towels. Coat a baking dish (I prefer a high round dish) with a ladle-full of marinara sauce, then a layer of eggplant and a generous sprinkling of cheese topped with another ladle-full of sauce and some torn basil leaves.  Repeat this process until you finish the eggplant. Bake in 350 degree oven for 30 – 45 minutes or until bubbly.  Serve with a sprinkle of fresh basil.

Note:  Marinara Sauce – Not all Italian tomato sauce is Marinara sauce.  This 3 ingredient sauce (not counting salt and pepper) is simple enough to make on a small fishing boat, hence the name – mariner. This sauce has multiple uses:  delicious with pasta (we used to have this meatless sauce when we were kids on Friday nights when meat was not an option), the perfect sauce for eggplant parmigiana, eggs in purgatory, etc.

¼ cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic (cut in large pieces so they can easily be removed)

1 ½ lbs of fresh tomatoes or 1 28oz con of crushed San Marzano tomatoes

Salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes to taste

Lightly brown garlic in the olive oil.  Add about a pound and a half of chopped fresh or one large can of crushed tomatoes (approx. 28 oz.).  Add salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes. Simmer ½ hour on medium heat and it’s done.

 

One last note – I have nothing against mozzarella. I love it fresh and cold, especially on a sandwich with ripe tomatoes and salt and pepper. I just think it’s been overused by cooks in Italian-American restaurants to the point where non-Italians think that’s the way  all Italians eat. And it isn’t.

Mozzerella

It you can’t get it fresh, try making your own – Ricki’s 30 Minute Mozzarella  

 

The Heidelberg Restaurant

The Heidelberg Restaurant

The Bavarian Inn, Café Geiger, Kline Konditori, the Berlin Bar and many others are gone. The last man standing is the Heidelberg Restaurant. It’s the only German restaurant left in what used to be New York City’s ‘Germantown’ on the Upper East Side. Times change and neighborhoods evolve but I’m glad the Heidelberg is still the same. The construction of the Second Avenue subway is disrupting businesses along its route. Many couldn’t handle it and closed their doors. Fortunately the Heidelberg is weathering the storm. I went for lunch one day toward the beginning of the subway project and saw construction trailers installed in front of the restaurant. When I got to the door there was a disheartening sign saying ‘Closed for Renovation.’ I was afraid that was the end of my favorite German restaurant. But no, when I went back a month later they were open and except for some fresh paint and new tables, no real change. The menu was the same with its wursts and schnitzels, and beer, oh what beer!

Draft Beer Taps
Draft Beer Taps

Heidelberg Beer

One of my favorite meals for a group of six or so is the Stammtisch – “House Table Plate.” It includes:

Blutwurst, Leberwurst, Black Forest bacon, Bratwurst, Kasseler Rippchen, Tongue, Leberkäse, and Schweinshaxe. Served with boiled potato, potato pancake, sauerkraut, and red cabbage

If you go during the day when their neighbor Schaller & Weber’s German butcher is open and you order steak tartar, the chef will go next door and have them grind the sirloin fresh. They also have an extensive dessert selection, very good coffee and a variety of schnaps for after dinner.

Heidelberg Schnapps
Heidelberg Schnapps

Pasta e Patate (pasta and potatoes)

Pasta e Patate (pasta and potatoes)

Pasta e Patate
Pasta e Patate

This is just about the height of La Cucina Povera. What’s less expensive and more filling than pasta and potatoes to feed a hungry family? My mother made this fairly often because it was a family tradition but would never serve it to guests – it wasn’t good enough. She pronounced it in Napolitano dialect as basta badon. It’s really a minestra, that is, sort of a soupy pasta with vegatables.

A quarter pound of meat for a little protein and extra flavor – some parsley to give a bit of color to a white on white dish, and there you have it. Recently my teenage granddaughter Molly came for dinner with a group of her hungry friends. We served six or seven courses with this as the pasta course. Of course it didn’t have the traditional poverty connotation for them and they said it was their favorite course of the dinner. Food doesn’t have to be expensive to be good.

 

Pasta e Patate Ingredients
Pasta e Patate Ingredients

Ingredients:

  • ¼ lb pancetta (or prosciutto) cut into small pieces
  • 1 medium onion
  • olive oil
  • 4 small tomatoes, skinned, seeded and chopped
  • 3 Idaho potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
  • salt & black pepper
  • 1 lb small pasta
  • 5 oz parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Pasta e Patate Cooking
Pasta e Patate – almost ready

Preparation:

Sautee the pancetta and chopped onions until lightly browned. Add the tomatoes and stir until they release their juice. Add potatoes and mix. Cover just barely with water and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the potatoes are almost done. Remove about 1 cup of the soup, puree it and return it to the pot.

Drain the pasta when it is almost done, saving the water. Add the pasta to the soup to finish cooking and also add as much pasta water as you need to make a soupy consistency. Mix in the cheese. Sprinkle with parsley for a little color and serve with additional parmesan cheese.

Espresso

Espresso

20150115_142403 a

When I was growing up the standard after dinner question was, “Who wants brown or black?” Brown being American coffee, usually Maxwell House and black was espresso. Our brand was Medaglia D’Oro and I still use it. We started drinking coffee very young. I remember my little China cup filled with half coffee and half milk and some sugar. Kids were allowed milk in espresso. Adults used Anisette.

Not long ago we offered espresso to some guests and one said, “Oh, you have an espresso machine.” I told him we didn’t have an espresso machine but we didn’t need one because we had a Napoletana Macchinetta. Macchinetta actually means ‘little machine.’

Fill the top with water, put the coffee grounds in the screw in filter and place the pot on the stove upside down. When you hear it boil, turn it right side up. A vacuum is created that forces the hot water through the grounds making a rich brew.

It’s not the only type of espresso maker. I have some others.

Copper machinetta, red mocha and a Vesuviana
Copper machinetta, red mocha and a Vesuviana

 

If I ever get a full-sized espresso machine, I’d like one like this –

Café Reggio
Café Reggio

 

 

Dominic

Liguria poster

My grandfather Dominic came to America in 1905. He traveled from Reggio di Calabria to Naples where he boarded the Liguria which brought him to New York. The voyage took two weeks and the ship held 1050 passengers. 50 1st and 2nd class on the upper decks and 1000 immigrants in steerage class on a deck just below the water line. I found this picture of his ship on the Ellis Island database .

Liguria
Liguria

I also got to see the page of the ship’s manifest that he was listed on. It indicates that he had $30.00 when he arrived in the USA. The minimum an immigrant had to have to enter the country at that time was $25.00. He sold Italian groceries and fruit. My mother grew up living over the grocery store at 282 Mott Street in New York’s Little Italy.

dominick
Dominic Lofaro

 

 

 

Sazerac

Sazarac

My wife Bridget and I went to four bars in the New Orleans’ French Quarter to try Sazeracs and take away the best recipe. This was our favorite but after four Sazeracs I could only remember the recipe and not the name of the bar where I got it – maybe the Hotel Monteleone? sazerac Ingredients:

  • Anisette (or Pernod)
  • Peychauds bitters
  • Simple syrup*
  • 2 oz. Rye
  • Angostura bitters

rye2 Preparation: Put ½ shot of Anisette in a small rocks glass. Coat the sides of the glass with it and then add some ice. In another small rocks glass add: a few dashes of Peychauds Bitters and 1 tsp of simple syrup. Mix, add ice and stir. Add a shot of rye and stir. Empty ice and excess Anisette from 1st rocks glass and strain mix of Peychauds, syrup and rye into it. Float a few dashes of Angostura on top. Serve cold without ice. Three aromatics, sugar and Rye – that’s a Sazerac.

*Simple syrup – Heat one cup of sugar in one cup of water. Stir until it’s clear and liquid.

Whole Wheat Fruselle

Whole Wheat Fruselle

Whole Wheat Fruselle a
An unadorned fruselle

This is a round whole wheat loaf, baked, cut in half, then baked again. It’s thin, very dry, crisp and crumbly. It’s about 6 or 7 inches across. You can get them in a good bakery in Bensonhurst in Brooklyn or on Arthur Ave. in the Bronx.

Dip it in, or hold it under running hot water to soften it a little. Shake off excess water. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried oregano and drizzle with oil. You can stop right there and eat it as is or you can add:

  •  roasted peppers,
  • sun dried or fresh tomatoes,
  • tapenade,
  • shavings or provolone or parmigiana,
  • red pepper flakes,
  • struzichino,
  • etc.  (you get the idea)

Serve it with a knife and fork like any open face sandwich. I’d be very surprised to ever see this on a restaurant menu.

Whole Wheat Fruselle b

Rosettes

Rosettes

“If you get the knack immediately, these are the easiest and prettiest desserts to make; if you don’t – you are doomed.” – Nicki

rosettes 5

Ingredients:

rosette ingredients

rosettes 6

In order to make the rosettes you must have the “irons”.  These can be purchased in any good house ware store.  Irons come in different shapes and sizes, but I only use the rosette shape, probably because it is the only one I have had for the past 30 years.

Rosettes

Preparation:

Mix all the ingredients well in a small bowl.  Let it stand for five minutes.  Place Crisco (not oil or butter, nothing but Crisco.  I once tried vegetable oil and had to throw them away.   I was not happy, so don’t even try anything but Crisco.  I don’t know why it works so well, but if it was good enough for my mother and it works, it’s good enough for me.) in a deep frying pan.  The Crisco must be very hot and deep enough to submerge the iron to heat it thoroughly.

When the iron is very hot take it out of the Crisco and put it into the batter.  IMPORTANT:  Do not cover the top of the iron with the batter, just up to the rim.  Then dip the batter-covered iron into the hot Crisco.  Hold the handle steady and the batter will fry and the rosette will come off the iron.  They may need a little coaxing with a fork.  Immediately dip the iron back into the batter.  (If the Crisco is hot enough, the iron is hot enough and the gods are with you this will go very smoothly.)  Turn the rosettes when they are golden.  Remove and drain on paper towels.

Place the drained rosettes in a pretty platter, drizzle them with honey and a good dusting of powdered sugar.  They are crisp delights and go well with Asti.

   – Nicki