Archive | November, 2011

Toss That Turkey: Baked Lasagna

24 Nov

Confession time: I loathe Thanksgiving food.  Always have.  I despise turkey, detest stuffing and would not choke down a sweet or mashed potato unless threatened with physical harm.  This is appropriate because 1.) It’s Thanksgiving Day and 2.) Through the process of researching this website and cookbook project, I discovered I am not alone.

My mom tells me that her whole life growing up, the Capasso clan NEVER ate turkey on Thanksgiving. Every year, they had lasagna.  That is, until she turned 19 and met my dad (who, you might remember, loves himself some Italian food).  Dave Roberts was tall, blue-eyed and all-American and my mother was mortified by the idea that she might have to invite him over for the most all-American of holidays and eat (gasp!) cheesy, sauce-y, squares of baked pasta.  So, she begged T to make their first-ever Thanksgiving turkey.  My grandfather did not like it at all and my aunts, 20, 14, 12 and 9 at the time, were confused, but accommodating.  Like good assimilated Americans, my family has been eating it every year since, despite Popo’s loud protests and my intense hatred of it.  Hilarious– because my dad would probably have liked the lasagna all the same.

So this year I encourage you to toss that turkey… or, since you’ll probably be burned out on it by Monday, switch it up at some point and try our family recipe for lasagna, which is perfect every time (I’m not joking– anyone can make it), delicious and meatless.

BAKED LASAGNA (Serves 8-10)
1 batch Basic Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
1lb ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1t sugar
1/2t salt
Pinch nutmeg
1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, cooked and well-drained
1/2lb shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2C grated Parmesan cheese
1/2lb lasagna noodles

Prepare tomato sauce.  Mix together ricotta, eggs, sugar, salt, nutmeg and spinach.  Cook lasagna noodles in boiling salted water only to soften (do not overcook); drain.  In a large baking dish, spread a thin later of pasta, some of the ricotta mixture, some of the mozzarella and and Parmesan cheeses, and cover with tomato sauce.  Reapeat until all of the lasagna noodles are used.  Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Cut into squares and serve with more sauce and more grated cheese.

BASIC TOMATO SAUCE
3T olive oil
1/2 large white onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
2 1/2C water
1 bay leaf
2T chopped parsley
Fresh basil leaves, chopped, to taste
2t sugar
2t salt
1/4t pepper
Pinch baking soda

Saute onion and garlic over medium heat in olive oil until onion is soft.  Add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes and water, stirring to mix.  Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove bay leaf and serve over pasta.

Mangia!

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Dad’s Dinner: Spiedini with Lemon

18 Nov

This post is dedicated to one of the non-Italians I’m related to (you didn’t think the name “Roberts” came from Naples, did you?).  My father  has always been the king of excess.  He loves to drink, he loves to smoke and he loves to eat.  His mother was universally known as a terrible cook, so when he met my mother, he had his very first taste of lasagna.  He was hooked– on her and it.

Manning the grill

Through their courtship and marriage, he embraced my mother’s boot-shaped world with gusto, devouring plates of pasta and relishing our Friday nights at home, Frank Sinatra on the record player at full-blast (I told you, excessive).  We often teased that he wished he had been born Italian.  While I don’t know if that’s totally true, I do know one of our favorite things to do when we’re in St. Louis together is hit our favorite Italian restaurant on The Hill and gobble up the Wednesday special– spiedini.

Spiedini are super-delicious and super-easy to make at home, too.  Serve with a simple side of pasta (his very favorite is angel hair tossed with olive oil, butter, salt, pepper and TONS of garlic) and you have a quick, manly meal perfect for your decadent dad (or anyone else who likes good food).

SPIEDINI WITH LEMON (Serves 4)
16 breakfast steaks cut from eye of the round beef
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4C vegetable oil
Juice of one lemon
1 bay leaf
Italian bread crumbs (recipe follows, or use store-bought)

Put steaks in shallow bowl.  Combine salt, pepper, oil, lemon juice and bay leaf.  Pour over meat and marinate for about 30 minutes.  Bread each steak on both sides with bread crumbs and roll up, securing each with a toothpick.  Put under broiler to brown on all sides.  Drizzle with any remaining marinade while cooking.

HOMEMADE ITALIAN BREAD CRUMBS (makes 2 3/4 cups)
2C dry white bread crumbs
1/2C grated Parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4C freshly chopped parsley
1t salt
1/2t pepper

Mix all ingredients together and store in covered container in refrigerator until ready to use.

Mangia!

Gianna’s Gigantic Appetite: Ravioli Two Ways

11 Nov

Of late, my obsession with food has been rivaled by only one thing: Gianna Rose Roberts.  The arrival of my first niece 18 months ago is, from what I can tell, just about the most exciting event to happen in my family in approximately three decades.  Deservedly so, of course.  The first child of my only brother and his wife (who is an only child) “Gia” is a perfect little human; blue-eyed and blonde and hilarious– in exciting new developments, she has just started saying her own name and indicating her age by holding up one tiny index finger right next to her face.  A genius, clearly.

Not for nothing, this girl loves to eat.  Sweet potatoes and bananas and blueberries and Cheerios (of course).  But no food compares to the excitement she exhibits when faced with her favorite, ravioli.  I’m telling you, the result is an epic freakout.  She’s the size of a large cat and last I saw her, she had 13 in one sitting. Thankfully, I avoid diaper duty.

So, in honor of my little niece, Gia, give T’s recipe for homemade ravioli a try.  You’ll have to make your own pasta dough, but I think that’s kind of fun to do on a chilly Sunday afternoon.

NOTE: this dough recipe is for most traditional pasta shapes, but you will need to double the amounts listed here to make ravioli.

BASIC PASTA DOUGH (Makes about 1 1/2 pounds pasta)
4C all-purpose flour
2t salt
3 large eggs
1/4C lukewarm water– approximate
1T olive oil

Place flour in a large bowl (or on a large flat surface) and make a well in the center.  Put all remaining ingredients into the well and start blending the flour into the egg mixture until all the flour is incorporated.  Gather dough together and place on lightly-floured large bread board.  Knead until smooth, about 10 minutes.  Cover the dough with the bowl and let rest for 10 minutes.

MEAT FILLING
4T finely chopped onion
3T butter
3/4lb finely ground veal (or a mixture of beef and pork, for the non-veal eaters)
1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1/2C grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch nutmeg
3 eggs, slightly beaten
Salt

Saute onion in butter until it is soft and translucent.  Add meat and cook, stirring until meat is no longer pink and liquid has evaporated from pan.  Transfer to mizing bowl and stir in spinach, cheese, nutmeg and eggs.  Season with salt to taste.

CHEESE FILLING
1C ricotta, well-drained
1/2C frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1/2C grated Parmesan cheese
2T grated onion
3 egg yolks
1T salt

Put all ingredients into a bowl and mix well.

TO ASSEMBLE RAVIOLI
Divide the dough ball into six equal parts (makes 50-60 ravioli, depending on their size). Roll out each of your six dough segments into paper-thin rectangles of equal size; cover the dough you’re not using with a damp cloth to prevent drying.  Lay out the first rectangle and place little mounds (about a teaspoon) of filling two inches apart in rows across the dough.  With a pastry brush dipped in water, draw straight lines between the mounds (this will act as a bond to seal ravioli).  Press a second dough rectangle over the top and down between the mounds to seal.  Use ravioli cutter (or pizza cutter, if that’s all you have) on pressed lines to separate ravioli.  Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Cook in salted boiling water for about eight minutes.

Phew!  You worked hard on these, so if you want to top with your favorite jarred sauce, I won’t tell anyone (recipe for Basic Tomato Sauce coming soon…).  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and don’t be surprised if your friends and family react like Gia does.

Who Likes Ravioli? from Katherine Roberts on Vimeo.
Mangia!

Marry Me, Maria: Italian Fig Cookies (Cucidati)

9 Nov

A few weeks back, my aunt Maria, the baby of five sisters, got married to a nice guy named Lou.  The Capasso/D’Agrosa family wedding was an Italian celebration of epic proportions.  Family alone numbered nearly 60 and there were heartfelt vows, trays and trays of toasted ravioli, lamb, shrimp and cookies.  As if that weren’t stereotypical enough, we actually forced the band to play the Tarantella and danced in a circle around the room for a full ten minutes.

Maria, Lou and their sons, Sam and Nicholas

Aunts Maria and Lisa boogie down

Most importantly, we had fig cookies.  These were a T specialty and although she didn’t make them for this celebration, they are present at all Capasso shindigs.  They are somewhat time-consuming, but worth it for a special gathering.  I like mine sprinkled with non-pareils and refrigerated for just a few minutes before eating.

CUCIDATI (Makes 60 cookies)

Filling:
3 pounds figs
2C raisins
1C roasted almonds or hazelnuts
Peel of 2 oranges, roasted
1/2C honey
1t cinnamon
1/2t ground cloves
1/2t pepper

Clip hard tip from figs and soak with raisins in hot water for 15 minutes; drain.  Put figs, raisins, almonds and orange peel through food mill or food processor.  Add honey and spices; mix well.  Store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Dough:
4C all-purpose flour
1C sugar
1T baking powder
Dash salt
3/4C shortening
3 eggs
1/2C milk, approximately
1/2t vanilla extract

Mix flour with sugar, baking powder and salt.  Cut in shortening with fingers until mixture resembles corn meal.  Make a well and break in eggs.  Add half of the milk and vanilla.  Start mixing liquid into the flour, adding only enough milk to make a medium-soft dough which is easy to handle.  Knead until dough is smooth, about 5 minutes.  Lightly flour pastry cloth; take a piece of dough and roll into a long strip about 4 inches wide and as thin as pie crust.  Place some of the filling along the center of the dough.  Fold dough over to cover filling, trimming off excess dough.  Roll slightly to make a roll and pat down a little to flatten.  Cut into 1 1/2  inch diagonals.  With tip of scissors, clip tops of cookies (so filling shows through).  Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes.

Frost with slightly beaten egg white mixed with enough powdered sugar to thicken.  Sprinkle with non-pareils or colored candies.

My mom and I enjoy cookies at the rehearsal bowling party

Best wedding ever!  Mangia!

Family Favorite: Fried Artichoke Hearts

6 Nov

For my first recipe post, it’s only fitting that I share a simple recipe that graced literally every table at every gathering at T’s house throughout my life.  It’s also the dish I’m now responsible for at Christmas.  My friends love them for parties, too.  Please enjoy, simple and utterly snackable Fried Artichoke Hearts.  Per nonna– felice mangiare!

FRIED ARTICHOKE HEARTS
1 can artichoke hearts, drained (or one bag frozen, thawed)
1C flour
1C Italian-style breadcrumbs
3 eggs
2T milk
Salt and Pepper to taste (used to season flour and eggs)
Olive oil for frying
Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to garnish

Drain artichoke hearts, then slice each one in half, lengthwise
Set up a “breading station.”  Pour the flour on one plate, mixed with salt and pepper to taste.  Beat the eggs in a bowl, and season eggs with salt and pepper to taste.  Pour the breadcrumbs on another plate
Dip the artichoke hearts into the flour, brushing off the excess
Dip the artichokes into the egg mixture, again letting the excess drip off
Dip the artichokes into the breadcrumbs
Place breaded artichokes onto a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil, and let them sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (this makes them extra crunchy, and is a good time for you to get ready for your party!)
Heat a heavy, shallow pan over medium heat, then fill it about halfway up with olive oil.  When a breadcrumb dropped into the pan fries, pops (but doesn’t burn), the oil is hot enough.
Add the breaded artichokes in batches until they are golden and crispy, turning once.
Drain on paper towels, arrange on a platter and sprinkle with Parmigiano while they’re still hot.

These are best hot from the pan, but are also great at room temperature served with other antipasto.

This is what they look like, waiting to be fried (not the best photo, but it'll do for now)