Proposal Pasta: Penne with Squid and Eggplant Sauce

29 Feb

Love is in the air at For Antonina headquarters.  Within the past few months, not one, not two, but ALL THREE of my younger girl cousins (we’ll call them “The Capassoettes”) have become engaged.  Robin first, followed by Margaret a few weeks ago and topped off with little Gina, just this past weekend.  Three lucky fellows are getting into this fabulous family, indeed!

Robin and Gus, sweet and happy

Margie and... her fiance is German, so, Europe!

Gina and Josh (Gina is clearly bored by the whole thing)

In celebration, I present to you a fancy pasta dish, capable of warming the heart of even the coldest spinster residing in me… uh, all of us.  Perfect for a proposal, a hot date or a night watching movies and drinking excessively with your sexy single pals.

PASTA WITH SQUID AND EGGPLANT SAUCE (Serves 6 to 8)
1lb eggplant, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1/2C olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2lbs small squid, cleaned, bodies cut into 1/8 inch rings and tentacles chopped (you can usually find these already prepped at the grocery fish counter)
3 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1C dry red wine
1/4t dried thyme
1/4t oregano
1/3C parsley, chopped
1t salt
1/4t red pepper flakes
1lb penne pasta

Heat the oil and saute the eggplant, onion and garlic over moderate heat in a 2-quart pot until golden.  Add the squid, tomatoes, wine, thyme, oregano, parsley, salt and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.

Cook penne is salted boiling water until al dente.  Drain and toss with sauce.

The sauce simmers for a while so, while you wait, you can shop for wedding gifts online.  Congratulations, Capassoettes!  Now who’s ready for their fondue pot?  Mangia!

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Domestic Disturbance: Bracioline (Beef Roll)

15 Feb

Today, 24 hours after Valentine’s Day, I think it’s important to note that one day, it’s true love.  And the next day, you literally want to murder each other.  Like, mur-der.  Take-your- fingers- and-shove-them-into-his-eye-sockets murder.  Or is that just me?

T and Popo were married for just shy of 60 years, right up until Popo’s death last March.  I know for certain they wanted to kill each other from time to time.  Isn’t that just what happens after all those years together?  Every little thing just gets to you every once in a while?  There was definitely some screaming.  We’re Italian, after all.

While I haven’t been married for 60 years (or at all) I have definitely had dinner-table moments where I’ve wanted to kill my various plus-ones in the past.  “The Sports Guy” who went on the Atkins Diet and smelled like rotten fruit for months.  “The Cheese Head” who was, ironically, lactose-intolerant (not great for me; a girl who drinks two gallons of milk a week… by myself).  And it should go without saying, never, under any circumstances, date “The Hippie.”  Unless you want to hear about the social injustice of Safeway grocery stores over carob-chip brownies, which are as revolting as you might imagine.

So on February 15th, I give you a recipe that is so good, your significant other won’t have the chance to get on your nerves, and you won’t waste time yelling– you’ll both be too busy eating.

BRACIOLINE (Serves 4)
1 center cut boneless top round steak, cut thin, or
1 flank steak, flattened
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1/4C Italian bread crumbs (recipe posted 11/18/11)
2T fresh parsley, chopped
2 hard cooked eggs chopped (optional)
1/4 stick butter
4 slices Provolone cheese

Vegetable oil for browning

1 recipe Basic Tomato Sauce (recipe posted 11/24/11)

Sprinkle steak lightly with salt and pepper.  Cover with bread crumbs, parsley and chopped eggs and dot with butter.  Add slices of Provolone cheese.  Roll meat into a tight roll.  Tie with string or hold together with toothpicks.  Saute in oil, turning until well-browned.  Place in a pot of tomato sauce and simmer for about 1 hour, 15 minutes or until meat is well-done.  Remove from sauce and let cool slightly.  Slice carefully, removing string or toothpicks.  Layer in shallow baking pan and cover with some of the sauce.  Bake in a 350-degree over for 10 minutes or until heated through.  Use the rest of the sauce with your favorite pasta.

The most efficient way to make the beef rolls is to start the sauce first.  While it is simmering, prepare bracioline.  Add to partially-done sauce and finish them both together.

Mangia (and stop IRRITATING ME.  GOD)!

Big Game Bites: Stuffed Artichokes

1 Feb

So the Super Bowl is this Sunday and while I’ve never been a big fan of football, I have always loved a party.  This appetizer is delicious and easy to pick at as you and your guests graze over the course of the game.  Stuffed artichokes may seem mystifying, like something you’d get in a restaurant, but I promise, the recipe is really simple once you get past the work of prepping the artichoke.  So easy, in fact, that I cooked it in class for a high school home economics project.  That’s right, in high school– where I was, amazingly, a football cheerleader (despite having almost no understanding of the game).  Go figure.

Since my grandfather was a baseball player with five daughters, I don’t really have any football-related photos to share this time, but here are a couple of pics of T and Popo enjoying food at parties over the years.

 

STUFFED ARTICHOKES (Serves 4)
4 large artichokes
1C Italian bread crumbs
3T olive oil

1C water
1T olive oil
3 lemon slices
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, split
1t salt
6 peppercorns

Wash artichokes; drain.  Cut off stem at base of each artichoke.  Using scissors, trim off tips of artichoke leaves and cut 1-inch slick off across the top.  Gently spread the leaves open and cut away the small prickly leaves in the center of the artichoke.  Scrape away the fuzzy “choke” beneath them, being careful not to cut away any of the heart (the best part!).

Sprinkle the olive oil over the bread crumbs and rub together to moisten.  Place crumbs between loosened leaves and cavity.  Stand artichokes upright in a heavy saucepan and pour the water into the pan from the side, being careful not to pour the water onto the artichokes.  Add the olive oil, lemon slices, bay leaf, garlic, salt and peppercorns to the water.  Cover the pan and simmer for about 45 minutes or until leaves can be pulled out easily.

While cooking, be sure to check water level.  If the water evaporates before the artichokes are cooked, add more water.  When artichokes are done, lift from the pan with slotted spoon.  Serve whole or cut in half.

If you prefer, cook artichokes without stuffing and serve chilled with your favorite dip or hollandaise sauce.  Mangia!

Clearly Carbonara: Pasta with Cheese, Ham and Eggs

25 Jan

Some of the recipes in T’s book are slightly old-fashioned or not necessarily en vogue.  And some others are totally hip and way more common than they were 30 years ago when the book was published.  But they’re now known by their Italian name, rather than the 1980’s Americanized name that T might have used when she originally wrote this.

We’ve been cooking carbonara in my family for as long as I can remember, but it took me FOREVER to find it in T’s cookbook, because it’s listed under the extremely generic “Cheese, Ham and Eggs Pasta” recipe.  And while ham may have been appropriate for the American palate in 1982, we always used pancetta.  I encourage you to do the same.

PASTA WITH CHEESE, HAM AND EGGS (Serves 4 to 6)
2 or 3 slices ham, cut into strips or cubes (alternatively, 8oz. pancetta, cut into strips or cubes)
2T butter (only if using ham)
3 eggs
1C grated Parmesan cheese
Approximately 1/2 pint heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper (grind slightly more than you think you need)
1lb pasta (I use linguine, but T likes seashells)

Lightly saute ham in butter (if using pancetta, omit butter and drain off some of the grease).  Combine room temperature eggs with grated cheese and room temperature cream, reserving some cream.  Cook pasta in salted water, drain and place in a deep bowl.  Add egg mixture and the meat and toss quickly until egg and cheese have formed a sauce that sticks to the pasta.  Add freshly ground black pepper and toss again quickly.  If mixture is too thick, add more cream.  Serve at once with additional grated cheese.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: my mother always added cooked peas to the pasta with the black pepper.  I haaaaaate peas, so I don’t do that.  But if you want to add a vegetable, this is a great option.

This recipe is so good, I had my Pilates teacher over for dinner last night and she (and I) had two helpings each.  If she can splurge, so can you.  Mangia!

Winter Warmer: Chicken a la King

19 Jan

It’s supposed to rain in Los Angeles this weekend.  And I hear there was hail (and tornado sirens!) in St. Louis this past week.  It’s snowy back in Boston (where I lived once upon a time) and cold and cruddy in Pittsburgh (another former home base).  Weather-wise, I have it pretty good here in Southern California, and I never miss the snow.  But I do miss the excuse to hunker down with some good, old-fashioned comfort food.

This isn’t Italian, but it is something my mom used to make for my family all the time during the dark days between autumn and spring.  It is super-duper old school.  Which means you have to do old-school things before eating.  Play outside, make snow angels, admire your snowmen, and so forth.  Then, pull off your parkas, get into the kitchen and cook up something warmly winter-appropriate.  Mangia!

Rose and Annette show off their masterpiece

CHICKEN A LA KING (Serves 6)
1/2C finely chopped onion
1/4C finely chopped green pepper
2t butter
1 8oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 10 1/2oz. can cream of mushroom soup
1 4oz. can sliced mushrooms, undrained
Dash freshly ground pepper
2C cooked chicken, diced
2T dry sherry
6 large biscuits (homemade or heated)

Saute onion and green pepper in butter.  Blend in cream cheese, soup and pepper.  Stir in cooked chicken and mushrooms.  Heat to boiling and add sherry.  Serve over hot biscuits.

Teenager Trouble: Rigatoni with Fontina Cheese

12 Jan

Admit it; even the nicest people in the world go through a big, fat, sourpuss phase.  My teenage years were not rebellious– I didn’t drink, do drugs, or smoke and I was always home by curfew.  But, man, was I a back-talking pain-in-the-neck.  I guess some things never change.  I suppose it must run in the family– my mom, Rose, appears to be a piece of work, circa 1964, judging from some select archival photographic proof.

The only thing I seemed to like at that time was macaroni-and-cheese.  My mom used to joke that if they cut open my veins, powdered orange “cheese” would pulse through it.  Which, naturally, made me mad.  So in honor of your hormonally-charged bad attitude, today I encourage you to indulge your inner teenager.  Enjoy a cheese-loaded, carbohydrate-filled pubescent delicacy.

Rose with Grandmas Carolyn and Rosie. What a doll.

Me before a high school dance. Just delightful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIGATONI WITH FONTINA CHEESE (Serves 6)
1lb rigatoni
6T butter
1/2lb Fontina cheese, thinly sliced or grated
2 pinches nutmeg
1C grated Parmesan cheese
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

Cook rigatoni in boiling salted water until almost cooked.  Drain and place in a large bowl.  Add 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and nutmeg; toss until all of the pasta is coated.

In a buttered baking dish, make a layer of pasta, a layer of Fontina, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and repeate until all the pasta is used, ending with a layer of Fontina on top.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and black pepper and dot with remaining butter.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and golden brown.

This version of macaroni-and-cheese isn’t the stuff from a box, but you’ll love it, trust me.  Even if you sneer the whole time you’re eating.  Mangia!

Christmas Morning: Spinach Pie

31 Dec

Christmas Eve is usually the big Capasso meal.  Which means we like to scale it back on Christmas morning (sort of).  Spinach pie combines veggies and eggs in a handheld snack that’s easy to hold while you’re opening presents.  And it’s so easy, a 19-month old can help you prepare it!

SPINACH PIE
1 garlic clove, crushed
2T olive oil
2 10oz packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2lb mozzarella cheese, cubed (use the brick cheese, not a fresh ball)
1/4C Parmesan cheese, grated
8 eggs, beaten
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 unbaked 10-inch pie crust

Swish garlic in heated olive oil. Remove from skillet and add spinach, stirring to coat with oil. Combine eggs, cheeses, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add spinach and stir to blend. Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Cool, slice and serve.

See? I told you a 19-month old could do it. Mangia!