Posts Tagged ‘food’

When I first told my friends that I grew up in a Lithuanian family, that we only spoke Lithuanian at the dinner table, that I went to Lithuanian Saturday school for 8 years, that I was a Lithuanian boy scout…they looked at me with a bit of disbelief. On the surface, I looked just like any other American-born kid that grew up in the suburbs. But the home life was vastly different.

Few things were stranger to my friends than the food we ate. While all my “American” friends had PB&J’s for lunch, I had a liverwurst sandwich on dark Lithuanian bread. While my friends struggled with broccoli, I was force-fed beets. And while my friends ate macaroni with jarred tomato sauce, my Mom served us macaroni with sour cream and butter. (Nobody called it pasta back then.)

 

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Few things prove you are a true Lithuanian more than an appetite for herring. (Silke (sil-keh) in Lithuanian.) I loved it at an early age. Didn’t matter if it was in a cream sauce with onions, in a tomato casserole with chopped boletes, or perhaps my favorite: an appetizer my Mom prepared only twice a year when my Dad’s buddies came over to play rounds of bridge all night.

Years later, when I was just out of college and in my first years of radio, I shared an apartment with my college buddy, Don. One evening, I prepared this dish for him when he came home from work. We both had the next day off (smart move, considering he vodka!) and I explained to him my family history behind this strange-looking appetizer. (I don’t think he’d ever had herring before.) Though it looked bizarre, he knew he had to trust me when it came to food, and he popped one of those bites into his mouth. I could see he wasn’t sure whether he liked it or not…a moment of many sensations hitting him all at once…confusion in his eyes…do I spit it out or swallow it?…so I poured him the vodka. He swallowed the food…took a shot of the vodka…and instantly had a moment of clarity. It all came together. It was indeed magical. I’ll never forget that look on his face!

 

There are a few basic ingredients that make this appetizer work…

First and foremost, you need a bottle of good vodka in the freezer. Despite their lack of love for anything Russian, Lithuanians knew a good vodka when they saw one, and Stolichnaya has been the favorite for many years. Even now, with hundreds of vodkas to choose from, I still go to the red-labeled Stoli bottle for this dish. I find a space in the freezer…jam that bottle in there…and let it get nice and cold.

Obviously, good quality herring is essential. Though I can get them fresh when I’m back home on Long Island, the usual choice is from a jar. For me, there’s no better quality than Acme products out of Brooklyn, NY. (If you saw the episode of “Bizarre Foods America” with Andrew Zimmern where he visited a salmon processing plant in Brooklyn, that was Acme Smoked Fish.) You can find them in many supermarkets. The excellent Blue Hill Bay herring in dill sauce is an Acme product and can be found at Whole Foods.

Next: hard-boiled eggs that have cooled in the fridge. Get out the old egg slicer that’s been sitting in the kitchen  drawer for the last decade and use it for this appetizer.

Red onion, sliced thin. How much you use is up to you. But it’s gotta be red and it’s gotta be raw.

And finally, Lithuanian bread. Yes, there is such a thing. It’s easy to find in most Polish or German food stores in the New York area. I buy a loaf when I’m home and then keep it in the freezer to enjoy throughout the year. Lithuanian bread is like the lovechild of rye bread and pumpernickel, so either one of those will work in a pinch.

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To make the appetizer, simply place a small piece of Lithuanian bread, about 1 1/2″ square, on a plate. Place a slice of hard-boiled egg on top of it. On top of that, some red onion. Then finally, a piece of herring.

 

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Pop the whole thing in your mouth, and wash it down with a small amount of frozen vodka. No shots–this isn’t a frat house. Besides, you won’t make it to the end of dinner. Then again, you may not care at that point!

I never learned how to play bridge, but I’m sure my Dad would be proud that I remembered this treat.

This is a great way to impress your guests at a holiday dinner or any big celebration.

Buying a large roast is not an inexpensive proposition, so I wanted to be as sure as possible that it was going to come out right. I got to work, researching recipes online and watching every You Tube video I could find. Every chef and home cook had their own ideas of spices and rubs, but the basic methodology was the same: start the roast at very high heat to form a delicious crust on the meat, then bring the oven temperature down and cook it more slowly to bring the roast to a perfect medium rare.

A big 10-lb. roast is going to cost around 150 bucks, so the first step is simple: don’t skimp by buying a cheap cut of meat. You will absolutely regret it. Get the best meat you can afford. The reward you’ll get when you slice it in front of the family, with all those “oohs and ahhhs” will totally be worth it!

 

A perfectly cooked, perfectly delicious roast!

 

The second step is simple but very important: make sure the roast is at room temperature before cooking, and make sure the oven is really pre-heated properly to the right temperature before you put the roast in it. A cold roast will cook unevenly, and you won’t get that beautiful pink all the way through the meat when you slice it. It’ll be raw on the inside and overcooked on the outside. Take the roast out of the fridge for a good 2 hours before cooking…and if it’s frozen, back-time the heck out of it so that it’s truly thawed!

You can already see that back-timing is going to play an important part in a perfect roast. So, for example, if you want to be serving at 7PM, you need a half-hour (at least) for the meat to rest after cooking…about 2 hours of cooking time…and about 2 hours of bringing the roast to room temperature….give or take. Oven temperature settings vary, and roasts can be uneven. You’ll have to keep an eye on this thing.

That brings us to monitoring the temperature. If you have a meat thermometer, you’ll need to jab the roast a couple of times during the cooking process to know what temperature you’re at. I don’t like this method, because it means you’re pulling the roast out of the oven, dropping the oven temperature each time, and jabbing the meat, which releases juices every time you pull the thermometer out. I suggest investing in a probe that goes in the roast from the very beginning, and stays in the roast through the whole cooking process, monitoring the temperature the entire time. When the roast hits the perfect temperature of about 115 degrees, it beeps and lets you know it’s time to remove it from the oven. It’s practically foolproof.

 

My old-school monitoring system. I had it set for 120 degrees, but actually pulled the roast out at 115.

 

The monitor that I have is old-school, but it still works like a charm. I use it at Thanksgiving to get perfectly roasted turkeys on a Weber grill, and it works great here as well. The probe goes into the meat, and it’s connected to a transmitter. It also has a receiver that can be as far away as 100 feet from the roast, and it will signal you when the desired temperature has been reached. That means you don’t have to stare at the roast all the time. You don’t have to open the oven door all the time. You can actually enjoy a cocktail in the company of your guests or family while the meat cooks.

Other monitors are totally wireless. You stick a probe in the roast, and it calls your cell phone when the meat is done. Pretty cool. Amazon’s got whatever you need.

2 onions
3 carrots
3 stalks of celery

When it’s time to remove the roast from the fridge to bring it to room temperature, roughly chop the onions, carrots and celery and place them on the bottom of a roasting pan. Lay the roast on top.

The rub that you use on your roast is really a matter of what you like. Use the herbs and seasonings you love, and you can’t go wrong. Here’s my recipe for a 10 to 12-pound roast…

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Kosher salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
2 tablespoons granulated garlic
2 tablespoons granulated onion
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons rosemary, finely chopped

Combine these ingredients in a bowl. You want it to be like a paste or wet sand. If it’s too dry, add a little more olive oil. Dried oregano and thyme are usually fine the way they are, but because rosemary can be hard like pine needles, I either chop them really fine or I put them in a spice grinder. I have a small rosemary plant growing indoors by my window, so the needles are soft and wonderfully fragrant when I chop them up.

 

Seasoned and ready to cook!

 

Rub the seasonings all over the roast, making sure you get the bottom and the sides as well. Use it all up! You might think it’s too much salt, but remember: it’s a big hunka meat. Some of the seasonings will fall off. Be fearless!

To flavor the meat while cooking, I add a cup of red wine (optional) and 2 cups of beef or chicken stock in the pan with the vegetables. (In some cases, after the roast is cooked, you can use the juices at the bottom of the pan to make gravy. But give it a taste first. If you use a lot of salt on your roast, the juices could be too salty to use in your gravy. Gravy or not, a classic horseradish cream sauce on the side is a great choice. (The recipe is below.)

About a half-hour before you want to start cooking, pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. You really want it hot to start. Roast the meat at 450 for 20 minutes, then turn down the heat to 325 degrees.

This is where many recipes tell you to calculate how much more to cook based on the size of the roast, etc. If you’ve got a probe in the roast, you can see exactly how the temperature changes over time. If you decide that you’re going to “wing it,” you can go by the general math of 15 minutes per pound of meat, including that first 20 minutes. So, if you have a 10-pound roast, multiply that by 15 and you get 150 minutes. Subtract the first 20 minutes from that, and you need to cook the roast another 130 minutes at 325 degrees. This is by no means a guarantee of success, but a very general guideline.

If you have a standard meat thermometer, you know that you can safely leave the roast in the oven at least an hour before taking the first temperature reading. Then play it by ear. (Like I said, you don’t want to be opening the oven door and poking the meat all the time.)

Although I had my probe set at 120 degrees, I took the meat out at 115, removing the roast from the pan, and placing it on a cutting board (or another clean pan.) Then I wrapped the roast with foil, and covered the foil with a clean bath towel, keeping all the heat in, letting the meat rest for AT LEAST 30 minutes. The meat inside continued to cook and reached a temperature of 130 degrees before it started to slowly cool down. (If you leave the probe in while the meat is wrapped, you’ll actually see the temperature rise.)

After at least 30 minutes of resting, I unwrapped the roast and started slicing!

This is where you can pour off all the pan drippings and make a sauce if your spice mix wasn’t too salty or strong. As I mentioned, the classic horseradish cream sauce is great to serve with it…

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
6 tablespoons prepared horseradish (more if you like it!)
the juice of 2 lemons
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Combine all the ingredients, mixing well. Keep this refrigerated until it’s ready to serve.

 

A previous family dinner with mac & cheese, salad, the amazing rib roast and lobsters from Sakonnet Lobster in Little Compton, RI!

This is my version of a holiday drink I was introduced to by my mother-in-law from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

This classic is loaded with sugar. But then…so is everything else around the holidays!

Whiskey slush

9 cups water
2 cups sugar
4 “Constant Comment” tea bags
12 oz. frozen OJ concentrate
12 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate
2 cups whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
7-Up or Sprite

Boil the water and sugar, making sure the sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and steep the tea bags in the liquid for 10 minutes. Discard the tea bags.

Add the OJ, lemonade and whiskey. Mix well, then pour it all into a freezeable container with a lid. Freeze.

To serve: Scoop the slush out of the container (it doesn’t freeze solid) and mix in a tall glass with 7-Up.

Let’s face it: there’s no such thing as healthy eggnog. This recipe is delicious but is also a heart attack in a glass. I post it every year because my friends just love it.

My buddy, Rick Sammarco, a wicked talented bartender, credits his father, Al, for this eggnog. The original recipe calls for a lot more of everything. I’ve cut it down to a “more reasonable” size.

A word about salmonella: If you’re concerned about it, you need to decide what works for you. Some recipes tell you to make your eggnog weeks in advance to “sterilize” the drink with all the booze you’ve added to it. I’m not sure that really works. As for me, I use raw eggs in my Caesar salad dressing and in other recipes, so I’m willing to risk it here.

If you’re lucky, some stores–(though very few of them, and none near me)–sell pasteurized eggs. They say the taste is a bit funky, but that it does remove the salmonella.

 

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1.5 quarts vanilla ice cream (I use Breyer’s)
1 pint half & half
15 whole eggs (raw)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
At least 3/8 cup of each:
spiced rum (I use Captain Morgan)
whiskey (I use Crown Royal)
brandy (I use E&J)

 

Let the ice cream soften 1 day in the fridge. Mix the ice cream, eggs, vanilla, half-and-half in a blender.

Add the spices and liquor. Blend until it’s frothy.

Taste, and add more cinnamon and nutmeg if you like.

After it’s fully blended, let it sit in the fridge, covered, for at least 12-24 hours for the flavors to blend. Even longer is better.

 

 

NEW YORK STYLE CHEESECAKE

Posted: December 12, 2020 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Cheesecake is one of my guiltiest pleasures, but that also means it has be the best I’ve ever had if I’m going to allow that many calories into my belly!

This recipe is not only delicious, but it results in a perfectly cooked cheesecake with no cracking!

One of the keys to a great cheesecake right is placing it in a water bath while baking. But if the springform pan allows water in (and they all do), it creates problems. The solution is to foil-wrap the springform pan really well.

But first, the crust…

1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs, from 12 whole crackers
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

 

Preheat the oven to 375° and set an oven rack in the lower middle position.

Here’s the crucial part: Wrap a 9- or 10-inch springform pan with one large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil, covering the underside and extending all the way to the top so there are no seams on the bottom or sides of the pan. Just to make sure, repeat this process with another sheet of foil for insurance. This keeps the water bath out of your cheesecake, so do a thorough job of it!

Then spray the inside of the pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar, and salt. Stir until it’s well combined. Press the crumbs into an even layer on the the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, until set. Remove the pan from the oven and set it aside.

 

32 oz. (four 8-oz. blocks) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups sugar 
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon packed lemon zest, from 1 lemon
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, from 1 lemon 
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
1/2 cup sour cream

 

Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F. Boil some water.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, sugar, and flour together on medium speed until just smooth, about 1 minute. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl to be sure the mixture is evenly combined.

Add the vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt. Beat on low speed until it’s all just combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing on low speed until incorporated, scraping the bowl as necessary. Mix in the sour cream. Make sure the batter is uniform but don’t over-mix it.

By now, the oven should be cooled to 325°.

Set the cheesecake pan in a large roasting pan. Pour the batter on top of the crust. Pour the boiling water into the large roasting pan to come about 1 inch up the side of the cake pan.

 

 

Bake until the cake is just set, 1 hour and 30 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes (the cake should wobble just a bit when the pan is nudged). Remember: the cake will continue to cook outside of the oven before it cools!

Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and set it on a wire rack. Cool the cheesecake in the water bath until the water is just warm, about 45 minutes.

 

 

Remove the springform pan from the water bath and discard the foil. If necessary, run a thin-bladed knife around the edge of the cake to make sure it’s not sticking to the sides (which can cause cracks as it cools), then cover it with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge to cool for at least 8 hours or overnight.

 

 

After 8 hours, remove the sides of the springform pan. I like to serve the cheesecake right from the base of the pan. I’ve found that trying to remove the pan base only messes up the crust.

The secret to slicing beautiful pieces of cheesecake is to slice with a sharp knife, rinsing it in warm water and wiping it dry between every slice. 

 

 

Nothing goes better with cheesecake than a simple berry sauce. I avoid the common strawberry and go for these organic berries instead…

 

1 small container fresh raspberries
1 small container fresh blueberries
1 small container fresh blackberries
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar

 

Combine all of the berries in a large bowl and stir gently to combine. Spoon about 2/3 of the mixed berries into a medium saucepan. Transfer the remaining berries to a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. 

Add the lemon juice and sugar to the berries in the sauce pan. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and cook until the fruit is syrupy, about 5 minutes.

 

 

Move the hot berry mixture to a blender and purée it until it’s smooth. Set a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Pour the sauce into the strainer and use the back of a large spoon soup to force the sauce through the strainer and into the bowl. Discard the seeds that remain in the strainer. Refrigerate the berry sauce until it’s cold. 

Before serving, simply add the reserved berries to the sauce and stir them to combine.

 

 

Parker House rolls are one of my all-time favorite treats. They’re so light and delicious because milk and melted butter are used to make the dough. I’d make and eat them every weekend if it wasn’t for the fact that I’d gain a ton of weight in the process! So…I save them for special occasions.

 

 

There really is a Parker House. It’s a hotel in Boston where the rolls originated in the 1870’s. Legend has it that a disgruntled hotel baker threw a batch of unfinished rolls in the oven, and when they came out, they had a folded pocketbook shape that made them light on the inside, and crisp and buttery on the outside. A legend was born.

 

There are hundreds of Parkerhouse Roll recipes out there, but this is the one I swear by. It’s a great excuse to get out my old Kitchenaid standing mixer.

 

1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus softened butter for brushing
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water (100 to 110 degrees)
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup whole milk, warmed
2 large eggs, at room temperature
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt

 

Brush a large bowl with butter.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, combine the yeast with the water and a pinch of sugar. Let it stand until it gets foamy, about 10 minutes. This gets the yeast happy.

 

Add the milk, melted butter, eggs and remaining sugar and mix until it’s all combined.

Now switch to the dough hook and add the flour and salt. Knead at low speed until a smooth ball forms, about 2 minutes.

Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured board and knead it gently into a ball. Then place the ball in the buttered bowl, covering it with plastic wrap, and placing the bowl in a warm place. Let the dough double in volume. It’ll take about 1 1/2 hours.

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350.

Grease a 9-by-13 baking dish with more butter.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board again, punching out the air bubbles, and forming it into a ball again. Cut the ball in half, then each half into 8 pieces.

 

You can either leave the pieces in their wedge shape, placing them in the baking dish top side up. Or you can roll the wedges into balls, placing them into the baking dish, spacing them out evenly.

 

 

Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and let the dough rise again for about 30 minutes. By then, your oven will be nice and warm.

 

 

Bake the rolls for 20 to 25minutes, until they’re a beautiful golden color.

 

Serve them warm or at room temperature. If you bake the rolls earlier in the day, you can cover them in plastic wrap, and the re-heat gently before serving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes the best ideas come from out of nowhere.

I had 5 lbs. of beautiful St. Louis-style heritage Berkshire (also known as Kurobuta) pork ribs thawing in the fridge, and I knew I wanted to create a new sauce or glaze with them, but I was feeling less than inspired. Our food-loving friends, Don and Johanna, showed up at our door with a gift they bought in Maine, at a shop called LeRoux Kitchen. It was a bottle of maple balsamic vinegar. It smelled wonderful…and tasted even better! I knew I had what I was looking for.

I used a smoker to make these ribs, but if you don’t have one (or just don’t want to bother with one), the ribs are just as awesome when baked in the oven.

You can easily make your own maple balsamic vinegar by combining a 1/2 cup of balsamic (not the super-expensive kind, but the $9-a-bottle kind) with 1 tablespoon of maple syrup. Add more or less maple to taste.

Yup…my smoker…she’s been used a few times!

I use an electric digital smoker made by Masterbuilt. I like the fact that I can set the temperature and time, and not have to constantly watch it. It has a side chute where I can add smoking chips when I want, and the results are consistent. I suppose some grilling fanatics might say I’m cheating, but a digital smoker allows me to live a life, hang out with my family, do some yard work. I don’t have time to babysit.

I chose to smoke my ribs for about 4 hours in the smoker, lightly seasoning them first with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, adding hickory chips to the smoker only once to give them a “light smoke.”

Although I always use a water bath in my smoker, the ribs still come out visibly dry, so I like to brush them with a glaze, wrap them in foil and finish the cooking process in the oven. The glaze flavors the meat and also adds a little steam that tenderizes it.

Brushing with glaze, then wrapping in foil.

5 lbs. pork ribs (I get St. Louis-style Berkshire pork)
Lawry’s Seasoned Salt

1 cup water
1/2 cup maple balsamic vinegar (OR 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar + 1 tablespoon maple syrup)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (I like Franks’ Red Hot)

Prepare the ribs by removing the inedible skin on the back of the rack. The easiest way to do this is to cut a little “tab” of skin, then pull it with your fingers. Holding the skin with a dry paper towel will help your grip. I cut the racks in half to fit my smoker.

Season the ribs lightly with Lawry’s Seasoned Salt on both sides and place them into a 225-degree smoker (or oven, if you don’t have a smoker) for 3 hours, smoking lightly with hickory wood. (Skip the hickory if you’re using the oven.)

In a saucepan over high heat, combine the water, maple balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, onion, garlic, and cayenne pepper sauce. Stir well, and let it come to a boil. Let it reduce by half, leaving it still watery. Set it aside.

After 3 hours, remove the ribs from the smoker (or oven), placing them on a sheet of aluminum foil. (I use Reynold’s Non-Stick Foil, since the glaze will be sticky.) Brush both sides of the ribs with half of the glaze, and place the ribs meat-side-up on the foil before sealing the it around the ribs. Place the aluminum foil packets on a baking sheet, then into a pre-heated 250-degree oven (or back in the smoker.).

Remove the ribs from the oven or smoker after 1 hour. Open the foil packets so that the ribs are now exposed. Brush the top of the ribs one more time, then put the foil back over the top and cook for 1 hour more.

I live one town over from Fall River, Massachusetts, and just down the road from New Bedford, Massachusetts, two thriving proud Portuguese communities. My daughter is in middle school, and she had to take mandatory Portuguese language classes. We’ve got dozens of authentic Portuguese restaurants in the area, and even a well-stocked supermarket with its own bacalhau (salt cod) room: Portugalia Marketplace, in Fall River.

So when I first posted my recipe of Portuguese kale soup, I was told by many Portuguese friends that my soup wasn’t authentic so I couldn’t call it that. Fair enough. After all, my soup has far less carbs (no potatoes or pasta), fewer spices, and it uses homemade stock instead of water. It may not be Portuguese, but it’s full of flavor.

My version of the classic Portuguese kale soup.

My version of the classic Portuguese kale soup.

4 cups home-made chicken or beef stock
4 cups water
1 cup lentils, rinsed in cold water
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, through a press
1 lb. chourico, peeled and chopped into small cubes (I use Mello’s, out of Fall River, Mass.)
1 large bunch organic kale
salt and pepper

Add the stock and water to a large pot. Heat until boiling. Add the lentils.

In a saucepan with a little olive oil or bacon fat, sauté the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic for a few minutes. Add the chopped chourico and sauté a few minutes more. Add the contents of the sauté pan in the pot.

Wash and de-stem the kale, tearing the leaves into smaller pieces. Add the leaves to the pot and stir. The stems go in your compost pile. (You can also use them in a juicer.) Kale is always on the “dirty dozen” list of vegetables with large amounts of pesticides, so I always buy organic.

Cook the soup until the lentils are al dente. Taste and season for salt and pepper before serving.

Butter and cheese. Can anything be better?

It’s great when asparagus is in season, but we served it up yesterday with Thanksgiving dinner as well.

This is a great side dish with any main course like a big slab of meat, and has special meaning to me because my cousin first introduced me to asparagus with this recipe when I was just a kid. She passed away many years ago, but I think of her every time I make this simple but delicious dish.

You can use almost any grated “parmesan” cheese, but nothing beats real Parmigiano Reggiano that you freshly grate yourself.

 

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1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

 

 

The easy way to trim an asparagus spear is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. I toss the bottoms into my compost pile.

I heat the butter and oil together in a pan and then add the asparagus spears, cooking over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. (You don’t want them mushy.)

While the asparagus is still in the pan, I sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. I season with sea salt (I prefer Fleur de Sel) and freshly cracked black pepper.

 

 

 

Unless you’re Italian, you’re probably not going to have any pasta as part of your Thanksgiving meal. So after you’re done with all the turkey, and all the leftovers, this old-school Italian comfort food might be exactly what you’re looking for!

As a teenager growing up on Long Island, I worked long hours at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in Plainview. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) Though the pay sucked, I made some important friendships that have lasted to this day. I also learned many Italian cooking basics: how to open clams for red and white clam sauce, the secrets of great pizza dough, the art of a perfect espresso, and how to make massive quantities of baked ziti.

When I got older and I shared an apartment with my buddy, Don, we would regularly invite a large crowd of people over for a party, and a huge tray of baked ziti was an inexpensive and hugely popular way to feed a crowd that was doing some serious drinking.

The basic ingredients of baked ziti are the same as lasagna, the main difference being the wetness factor. If you make lasagna too wet, the thing will fall apart when you try to slice it. But baked ziti is meant to be sloppy, and it actually shines in its incredible gooiness!

My baked ziti consists of a meat sauce and 4 cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and Parmigiano Reggiano) using pasta that is boiled much firmer than al dente. Technically, I like to use penne, not ziti. It’s firmer, and really works well with this recipe. And there are plenty of great pasta choices out there for gluten-free diets. Our favorite brand of GF pasta is Garofalo.

I used to add a béchamel sauce to this recipe, but I’ve found that plain milk does the job just as well. Béchamel is better used in lasagna, where you want a bit of a thickening agent to keep it firm.

Gooey and delicious!

Meat Sauce…
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 lb. grass-fed ground beef or pastured pork, or a combination of both
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

Heat a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onions until translucent. I finely chop the carrots by peeling them all the way down until there’s nothing but a pile of peeled pieces, then chopping them up so small, they almost melt into the sauce. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beef (or pork) and cook the meat until it browns. Add the parsley, oregano, basil, salt, garlic and pepper and mix well.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a blender and blend it until smooth. Add this to the pan and mix well.

Cook the meat sauce for about 10 minutes, then remove it from the heat and set it aside.

Beautiful baked ziti!

4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 oz.), chopped
ricotta cheese (about 8 oz.)
mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 8 oz.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup whole milk
12 oz. small pasta, like ziti or penne

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the provolone, ricotta, mozzarella (save a little bit to sprinkle on top at the end), Parmigiano Reggiano, and milk. Add this mixture to the meat sauce and mix well.

For baked ziti, I use a deeper pan than I would for lasagna, about 4″ deep.

Boil the pasta in a pot of salty boiling water until very firm…firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta and pour it into the pan. Add the cheese and sauce mix and mix it all really well.

Smooth the top of the ziti mix flat with the back of a large spoon, then sprinkle the remaining mozzarella evenly over the top. Sprinkle a little oregano on top, and place the pan in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, or until the mozzarella on top is a beautiful golden brown.

The best mac and cheese ever: baked ziti!

Of course, when you’re cooking, there’s always someone hanging around to grab a taste of the baked ziti before it goes in the oven…