This was my birthday meal last year (pre-nice camera) with Rico, my brother and his family. No frills. Just good food. The sort of place our father, my babbo (io sono la cicetta del babbo), would have liked a lot. Rico really chose well. His wife, my sister-in-law Sandy, knew exactly what I was feeling when I walked into the place because she had a father-daughter relationship with my babbo that I always understood. Their kids, my nieces and my nephew, probably would have preferred another more well known joint, but they will all understand in time.
We started with some fried calamari with marinara and some sauteed mussels. Both were perfection in a bowl. While you could hear the ocean outside, we were all inside enjoying the fruits that the sea gave to us. It was truly a multi-sensory experience. Afterward we all enjoyed pasta… I had linguini and clams fra diavolo. Everyone laughed when Jonny ordered a whole pizza just for himself - fact of the matter is, he is blessed with an excellent metabolism. He finished the whole thing.
It was comfortable, easy, just how I wanted my real birthday to be. I missed my father, but I so much loved being with my big brother, my husband, my sister and my nieces and my nephew. Sometimes food really just brings us all together and we let bygones be bygones.
You readers out there that are lucky enough to have memories like these - keep them close to your heart. They are important and should be cherished.
When I lived in Italy I had the good fortune of living with Signora Luciana Dionisi. She looked like a caricature of a woman with her huge costume jewelry and large frame eyeglasses. She liked to speak with a lisp when making fun of Southern Italians (I think she was actually from Abruzzo but she always said that she was from Rome), which she did rather frequently. She loved Johnny Stecchino so much that her catch phrase was “Assassino!” If you haven’t seen the movie, rent it ASAP. She cooked mostly southern Italian style dishes but she did have a few more Tuscan traditional dishes under her belt. My favorite? Ribollita, or - the best Tuscan bean soup ever. She never gave me her recipe, which is far superior to mine, but I make this one all the time in the winter or really whenever the mood strikes (often). The pictures above are from just the other night when Lily and Alejandro came over for dinner.
The base is the same as the ragu, so this might seem a little familiar in the beginning. Make a lot though (you can double up as long as you have a very large pot) because the leftovers are always tastier than your first bowl.
Recipe for Ribollita:
1 bag of mixed beans (dry) olive oil kosher salt ¼ lb or even 1/8 lb pancetta chopped into bits 1 big yellow onion or 2 small 1 large finely chopped carrot 2 stalks celery finely chopped a handful of chopped garlic, maybe 4 cloves crushed red pepper flakes, a spoonful 4 plum tomatoes drained and diced - you don’t want the seeds ½ cup of basil leaves ripped apart 6-8 cups chicken stock (you need enough to cover the mixture of everything else I like to use my husband’s homemade stock if possible so the soup doesn’t get too salty) 1 head of radicchio, chopped 1 bundle of kale, chopped ( be sure to wash thoroughly and lacinato/dinosaur is the best kind to use) parmesan rind grated parm for serving good olive oil for serving leftovers bread for garlic bread to serve at bottom of soup
Beans have to be soaked overnight in a bowl of cold water in order to soften them enough.
Sautee in olive oil the carrots, celery, onion, red pepper flakes, pancetta and garlic together until onion is translucent/carrots are a little bit soft
While you are waiting drain the beans and rinse them a little
Add tomato and beans and stir all together. Add chicken stock, pinch of salt and basil, stir Put parm rind at the bottom of the pot with your spoon so that it melts into the mixture on its own
Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to med/low to simmer, now add your kale and radicchio. Stir and add extra stock if necessary at this time… or wine… I like to add some red wine to the mix.
This can all cook together for about 30mins - 1 hour and then it should be ready. I don’t mind the beans being a little chewy, but if you do, just let it simmer longer. The soup will only be tastier the longer it cooks.
Serve with garlic bread (just chop up some garlic and drizzle bread with olive oil - put in the broiler for a couple of minutes. I like baguette) at the bottom and parm on top. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil when serving leftovers.
Welcome to my food blog! I’ve been talking about creating one for some time so it was hard to really know where to begin. But then my little pal Orso Chiotto here pointed me in the right direction! I have to write about where it all began for me when it comes to food: my Italian heritage!
Here is a picture of Orso Chiotto and a menu from a restaurant in Florence that my parents brought home from their honeymoon. They figured that it would look cute in the nursery with all of the hand drawn crocodiles on it, and well, I still have it hanging up in my kitchen. What was stranger still was that the restaurant was still there 20 years later when I studied in Florence for a year. I know this because I passed by it every single day on my walk to school. Strange coincidence, but it just made me more sure that I could never part with it even though my parents divorced years ago and my father passed away two years ago.
What am I getting at? Well, I was meant to be a lover of food! I mean I had an Italian menu framed in my bedroom as a child, for crying out loud! I will probably write a lot about Italian cuisine, especially if the blog entry has to do with something that I make in my own kitchen. I also love all sorts of other delicious treats though, so if Italian is not your thing, don’t despair.
I named this blog “Daddy’s Little Fatty” because my father used to call me Cicetta Del Babbo when I was little. (Cicetta = little fatty, Babbo = Daddy). Also, I’m a little bit chubby, so it fits.
Ok you need a good food processor for this one. Thank goodness for Mother-In-Laws (love you, Camille)! Mine bought me a KitchenAid 9 cup processor and I am smitten. Easy to use, and more importantly, easy to clean. It has two different size inserts too so if you are making a smaller amount you don’t even have to clean the larger container! For this you need a big guy though because you are fitting an entire butternut squash inside.
Here is what you need:
A decent sized pot 1 large butternut squash Fresh sage Butter 1 medium onion Chicken Stock (4-6 cups depending on how big your squash is) Salt Pepper
Melt a chunk of unsalted butter in the pot Chop up the onion, add to the butter and sautee Peel and seed the squash and then chop into cubes. I recommend using a serrated edge knife because it is easier to saw… and you will need to saw a little. Kind of like carving a pumpkin! Add the chunks of squash into the pot and add the stock. Make sure there is enough stock to cover the squash. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the squash gets soft Pour into the food processor and blend until smooth - you don’t want any chunks left. Pour the puree back into the pot, add salt and pepper to your liking. Chop up fresh sage and stir into the soup If you like it rich, add a little bit of creme fraiche (if you can find it) or heavy cream.
Forget Chicken Soup for the soul… Butternut Squash FTW!
Bea’s: The Best Value for Great Southern Comfort Food
Ok, so I know it’s not every day that you find yourself in Chattanooga, TN… but when you do skip Rock City and Ruby Falls and head straight on over to Bea’s.
Jonny and I were there recently during a road trip from Alabama back to New York. Jonny’s dad had just passed away and we had a whole car load of musical instruments to bring home with us. Sometimes when you are exhausted and full of grief, comfort food on a lazy Susan is just what the doctor orders.
For $10 it’s all you can eat. With the lazy Susan in the middle of every communal table, the buffet style comes straight to your seat. You will have unlimited: Potato Salad (rivals only my Aunt Kathleen’s…still trying to get that recipe out of her…), Cole Slaw, Fried Okra, Fried Chicken, Chicken ‘n Dumplin’s, Peach Cobbler, Pulled Pork, Pinto Beans, Corn Bread and Yeast Rolls. To top it all off every table has a full pitcher of sweet tea ready for you before you even sit down. If any of the serving bowls get low, the waitresses quickly replenish them.
Jon felt right at home but as a “Yankee” I experienced a bit of culture shock. The cast of characters in this place felt like the very definition of Southerner. I can’t describe it very well. It felt like a weird dream where I was some sort of impostor. Waiters telling jokes that I didn’t get, ladies with voices thick with years of cigarette smoking who had thick accents to match that I could barely decipher what they were saying, all of this food that was probably all made with lard or Crisco, such foreign ingredients to me.
When we walked in around 7pm the parking lot was full and the place was hopping. Just one hour later we were one of the last cars to leave. It’s the sort of place where families are eating at “dinnertime”.
I ate too much and felt really sick afterwards, but I would do it all over again. Especially for that potato salad.
My father’s mother, my nonna, Santina Donati, may not have had very many culinary specialties but what she did cook she cooked really well. The most valuable thing that I learned from her cooking style is that a recipe is really just a guideline. (this is why I am hopeless as a pastry chef… I can’t follow measurements properly!)
So, I will not give you all the true secrets to making the “perfect” ragu for pasta because mine is never exactly the same every time that I make it. It always tastes good but it is bound to be slightly different each time.
Here are the basics:
What you will need:
A good pot for your sauce A wooden spoon 1 can Hunt’s Tomato Sauce - medium size (has to be Hunt’s… as an immigrant to the States, this was the brand that my Nonna embraced - not sure why but if it ain’t broke…) 1 can Hunt’s Tomato Paste - small size 1 lb ground pork 1 lb ground veal 1 large carrot (or two medium) 1 medium yellow onion 2 celery stalks ¼ lb pancetta thinly sliced at the deli fresh basil fresh grated Parmesan cheese honey fresh grated nutmeg olive oil salt
Now - I do plenty of variations on this sauce, like sometimes I add red wine or a little bit of cream or even fresh tomatoes… and the above ingredients and the instructions below are just my guideline for you, so play around with it.
Sautee the chopped onions, chopped celery and chopped carrots in the pan with some olive oil and salt. When the onions are translucent, add chopped up pancetta to the mix, stir around for a couple of minutes. Add ground meat in pieces and stir around until all of the meat has browned and fat has been rendered. Pour out the excess fat into an empty can so that your sauce doesn’t separate and get greasy. Add tomato sauce and tomato paste and a little bit of honey to balance the tomato acidity, some people use sugar (I think my Nonna did), but I like to use honey. Add as much grated Parmesan as you like, I usually do about a cup or so. Add a little ground nutmeg. Rip up the basil leaves and stir into the mix. Let the sauce cook together for about ½ hour. Serve over your favorite pasta!
I actually stole this idea from midtown lunchtime spot Pret A Manger. They used to have a sandwich on baguette that was just brie and basil. Nothing else.
Now I try to keep both brie and basil on hand when I know I’m going to have people over for dinner. In the case that I am running a little behind with my cooking (pretty frequent if someone is coming over on a weekday), I like to put this out with some very plain crackers. Carr’s Table Water do quite nicely.
It’s quick and easy and it takes out the assembly part of hors d'oeuvres. People can put the snack together any way they like. I recommend taking a cracker, putting a whole large basil leaf on top and then schmearing a slap of brie onto the whole thing.
I call my mom “Meemo” sometimes. I don’t know why. It just happens. Most of her family calls her “Yallie”. Her actual name is Mary-Alice, so that one actually makes more sense.
Boy, do I love it when I go visit her and Tom, my stepfather. She always makes something tasty! One all-time favorite is my Grandma’s pot roast which is best served with vegetable and potato. This particular evening we had peas and mashed. Yummmmmmm. The best thing about this recipe is that it is super easy and the meat always tastes delicious and tender. Now I wouldn’t say that Grandma had many other superb recipes… but this one is a star.
So without further ado, the recipe, courtesy of Meemo:
Alice Tully’s Pot Roast
(3 to 4-pound) boneless bottom round roast
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
vegetable oil (optional)
2 yellow onions, peeled and quartered
6 carrots, peeled and sliced into 2-3 inch pieces
3 celery stalks and sliced into 2-3 inch pieces
2 tablespoon tomato paste or 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 cup red wine (optional)
2 cups beef stock (optional)
Freshly chopped parsley leaves, for garnish
Directions Season the roast on all sides with salt and pepper. Sear (brown) the meat on all sides in a very hot heavy pot. Grandma would then add vegetables, a can of tomato sauce and enough water (she didn’t use garlic or wine or beef broth) to cover vegetables and ~ halfway up the side of beef and cook under low heat until tender- ~2-3 hours. I don’t like taste of boiled onions so I do this next step: Remove meat from pot, add oil and sauté onions celery and carrots. (I don’t use garlic.) until onions are translucent. Then return beef to pot, add wine, beef broth and paste or sauce) to cover vegetables ~ halfway up the side of beef and cook under low heat until tender- ~2-3 hours. Transfer the roast to a cutting board and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Slice and place on a serving platter. Skim the fat off the braising liquid and serve with the roast. Garnish with parsley Serve with mashed potatoes or egg noodles and peas.