They may not really be smelts although that’s how they’re sometimes labeled. They’re between 2 and 3 inches long and you can find them in an Italian or Chinese fish market. Some people call them bait fish, shiners or Kellies, I call them the potato chips of the sea. My Aunt Vicki used to make them on Christmas Eve. She called them “fried little fish.”
Rinse ½ pound thoroughly in a strainer under running cold water. Leave them head to tail, fins and scales. Spread them out on paper towels and blot them as dry as you can. Put 3 tablespoons of flour and some salt and black pepper in a bag, add the fish, shake until they’re coated and then spread them out again. Put about an inch of light oil in a pan and add the fish when it’s hot. Make sure to separate them before putting them in the pan because they’ll stay stuck together – a little tedious but worth it.
When they’re done add salt. Eat them while they’re hot with white wine or beer like potato chips. A great snack for guests hanging around the kitchen while dinner is cooking.
A tuna and lemon sandwich was one of my Uncle Charlie’s standard late night snacks.
1 can or jar of imported tuna packed in olive oil
1 fresh lemon
1 small red onion
A sprinkle of olive oil (infused with chilies if you have it)
Salt and black pepper
Crunchy seeded Italian bread
Drain the tuna and arrange it on the bread. Add thinly sliced red onion and thinly sliced lemon (include skin). You’ll need a very sharp knife for this. Sprinkle with plain or chili infused olive oil, salt and black pepper Add some Romaine if you like. This combination really works.
I have some sad news. DeRobertis Pasticceria is closing. They’ve been on First Ave. between Tenth and Eleventh Streets in Manhattan since 1904. And I’ve been going there since, well, I remember tagging along with my father on Sunday mornings to get pastry for after dinner – biscotti, cannoli, babas and sfogliatelle to go with our Anisette and black coffee. At Easter their pizza con gran couldn’t be beat and at Christmas they had the best struffoli.
The owner said the “new” local people expect his pasticceria to be more like Starbucks. (See Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York) Too bad they don’t know what it is that they have. And that it will be gone soon.
This is an old recipe that Rochelle has kept alive. Our mother used to make it on Christmas Eve.
2 large onions, sliced
½ cup olive oil divided
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 lbs tuna steaks, at least 1 inch thick cut into 2 by 2 inch pieces
½ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup finely chopped mint
Fry onions in ¼ cup of oil on medium heat until soft, translucent and slightly browned, about 20 minutes. Remove onions and add the rest of the oil to the same pan.
Season tuna with salt and pepper and lightly brown on both sides leaving the center rare. Return onions to pan, mix with tuna, increase heat and add the vinegar. Cover and let steam for 3 minutes. Oil, vinegar and liquid from the tuna will create a light sauce.
Place in a serving dish and sprinkle with the mint. This dish can be served hot or cold. Serves six.
December is coming so here’s Nicki’s recipe for a Christmas standard.
“Struffoli or as my family calls them, Ceci, are made for the Christmas Holidays. Time consuming to make, but well worth it. They are a delicious treat. They are especially good for breakfast on Christmas day; float them in your coffee cup and scoop them up with a spoon. So good!” – Nicki
Mix the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, the 1/4 cup of Crisco and eggs in a mixing bowl. Work the dough with your hands. Then turn the dough onto a floured board. Knead the dough until pliable. Form it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Flour the board. Cut the dough into ½ inch strips. Roll the strips into rope-like pieces about 8 – 10 inches long. I prefer rolling the dough in my hands but you can roll it on the board. Leave each roll to rest on the floured board as you roll the others. Cut each roll into ½ inch pieces. Roll each of these pieces into balls the size of a ceci (chick pea). I roll them by hand and can do two at a time. (Practice makes perfect). The board should be sufficiently floured so that the Struffoli do not stick together.
Put the Crisco (about four inches deep) in a large heavy-duty pot over medium heat. Drop in one ceci to check the heat of the Crisco. It should brown in a minute or two. Fry the dough in batches until golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon or a spider spoon and drain them on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Heat the honey and water in a pan until it blends. Add the ceci and toss and coat. Arrange in a serving bowl and dust with powdered sugar and sprinkles.
Ten items that include all six tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent. That’s what you get at Ayurveda Café. It’s vegetarian Indian cuisine served thali style. I’m by no means a vegetarian as you can tell be some of my posts (beefsteak, lamb’s head) but their meals are tasty and satisfying without meat. It might be the warm climate spices. That’s the difference between southern and northern cuisine – New Orleans vs. Boston, Sicily vs. Tuscany. I confess I don’t know much about southern Indian cooking but some dishes remind me of southern American standards like red rice and beans or southern Italian giambotta, both made without meat but still savory and hearty.
The Ayurveda Café has no menu but four vegetable dishes plus dessert are varied every day along with standard rice (white or brown), salad, nan and chutneys. If you’d like some more of anything you just have to ask for it. For beverages, in addition to various teas and lassis they serve beer (Kingfisher) and wine.
When I was growing up, we started drinking wine with dinner at an early age. We didn’t drink very much and didn’t drink it straight either. Our parents mixed it with soda. Some of my friends preferred Coke, and others, cream and even orange soda – go figure!
My choice was always, and still is 7Up. Some sweetness, some citrus and a bit of bubbly fizz with a rich Chianti can’t be beat. I wouldn’t attempt to order it at a restaurant but I still sometimes have it at home. It’s comfort food that really brings me back.
It’s a simple mix – about half and half. Younger kids get a little less wine and older kids, a bit more.
I found an interesting old cookbook called, A PLAIN COOKERY BOOK FOR THE WORKING CLASSES. It was written by Charles Elme Francatelli in 1861. He was ‘Maitre d’Hotel and Chief Cook to Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria,’ – pretty good credentials. A recipe that caught my attention was for Egg-Hot. It’s a sort of unusual beer cocktail. Here it is verbatim: I didn’t think this was something I could order at a local bar so I tried it myself. I tried it more than once. I made it with Brooklyn Lager and Sam Adams Boston Lager – both worked very well. I don’t think a beer like Corona or Bud would stand up to this recipe. I used a small sauce pan to heat the beer and a stoneware mug for the mixing. Adding ‘a drop of beer’ tempers the egg so it stays liquid and doesn’t scramble. I followed the instructions precisely and finished with a hearty mixture that was almost a meal. I think it would make a great winter drink comparable to Irish coffee.
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.