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Articles by: Michele Scicolone

  • Brutti ma buoni! Delicious Hazelnut Meringue Cookies


     

    Large and round and with exceptional avor, Piedmontese hazelnuts even have their own IGP designation to protect the standards of their production. Known as nocciole Piedmontese, the nuts are highly prized by confectioners. Often they are combined with chocolate to make a wide variety of sweets. Bakeries sell hazelnut cakes, candies and biscotti. When I visited the home of Piedmontese friends one afternoon, they served brutti ma buoni (ugly but good) a delicious hazelnut meringue cookie, accompanied by glasses of refreshing Moscato D’Asti. The crisp light cookies and delicate Moscato were the perfect afternoon snack.

     

    When buying hazelnuts, smell them if you can to be sure that they are very fresh. The nuts have a high oil content which can make them turn rancid very quickly. Store the nuts in the freezer and use them as soon as possible after purchasing.

    Butter and our 3 baking sheets or line them with parchment paper. Arrange two racks in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the hazelnuts and sugar in a food processor. Pulse until the nuts are nely ground. Transfer to a large bowl.


    In a large electric mixer bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed with the salt until foamy. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the nut mixture. Add the vanilla.


    Drop the batter by tablespoon-fuls onto the prepared baking sheets leaving 2 inches between each. Bake the cookies 20 to 25 minutes or until  firm and lightly browned around the edges. Let cool 10 minutes on the pans, and then transfer to racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Cookies keep well for 2 weeks. 

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Brutti ma buoni! Delicious Hazelnut Meringue Cookies


     

    Large and round and with exceptional avor, Piedmontese hazelnuts even have their own IGP designation to protect the standards of their production. Known as nocciole Piedmontese, the nuts are highly prized by confectioners. Often they are combined with chocolate to make a wide variety of sweets. Bakeries sell hazelnut cakes, candies and biscotti. When I visited the home of Piedmontese friends one afternoon, they served brutti ma buoni (ugly but good) a delicious hazelnut meringue cookie, accompanied by glasses of refreshing Moscato D’Asti. The crisp light cookies and delicate Moscato were the perfect afternoon snack.

     

    When buying hazelnuts, smell them if you can to be sure that they are very fresh. The nuts have a high oil content which can make them turn rancid very quickly. Store the nuts in the freezer and use them as soon as possible after purchasing.

    Butter and our 3 baking sheets or line them with parchment paper. Arrange two racks in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Place the hazelnuts and sugar in a food processor. Pulse until the nuts are nely ground. Transfer to a large bowl.


    In a large electric mixer bowl, beat the egg whites on medium speed with the salt until foamy. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the nut mixture. Add the vanilla.


    Drop the batter by tablespoon-fuls onto the prepared baking sheets leaving 2 inches between each. Bake the cookies 20 to 25 minutes or until  firm and lightly browned around the edges. Let cool 10 minutes on the pans, and then transfer to racks to cool completely. Store in an airtight container. Cookies keep well for 2 weeks. 

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Meat and Wine Brasato with Barolo



    For the sauce, you can use the same wine you will be drinking with the meal, though a simpledry red will do. Barolo would be my first choice both for cooking and drinking with the steaks. Serve the steaks with mashed potatoes or creamy polenta, and a seasonal green vegetable, such as roasted Brussels sprouts.


    In a large skillet melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook

    until golden, about 5 minutes. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and wipe out the pan. Pat the steaks dry. Melt the remaining tablespoon of the butter in the same skillet over medium heat. When the butter foam subsides, place the steaks In the skillet and cook until browned, 4 to 5 minutes.

    Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the meat over and cook 4 minutes on the other side for rare or 5 to 6 minutes for medium rare. Remove from the pan. Cover and keep warm. Add the shallots to the pan and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the wine, broth and balsamic vinegar.  



    Bring to a simmer and cook until the liquid is thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in the pancetta. Cut the steaks crosswise into thick slices. Spoon the sauce over the meat and serve. 

     



      SERVES 4

    2 TABLESPOONS UNSALTED BUTTER

    1 THICK SLICE PANCETTA (ABOUT 1 OUNCE),

    FINELY CHOPPED 

    2 BONELESS SHELL STEAKS, ABOUT 1 INCH THICK 

    1/4 CUP CHOPPED SHALLOTS 

    1/2 CUP DRY RED WINE, SUCH AS BAROLO 

    1/2 CUP BEEF BROTH

    2 TABLESPOONS BALSAMIC VINEGAR

    SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND PEPPER

     

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Sicilian Style Cheese Caciocavallo all'Argentiera



    The fragrantaroma of the cheese sizzlingwith the olive oil, garlic,vinegar, and oregano wasenough to deceive them intothinking that nothing wasamiss.Caciocavallo is typically madefrom cows’ milk. Like mozzarella,it is a stretched curdcheese, but unlike mozzarellait is aged until it is firmand tangy.


    The name caciocavallomeans “horse cheese”which probably derives fromthe way the cheese wasformed into teardrop shapesthat were bound in pairs toa pole and suspended as ifover the back of a horse.


    Serve the bakedcheese with agreen salad,crisp Sicilianbread and abottle of heartyred wine,such as Nerod’Avola. It’sideal as an appetizeror quickmeatless meal.In a large heavy skillet, heatthe oil over medium heat. Addthe garlic and cook until justbeginning to turn golden, 1 to2 minutes.


    Place the cheeseslices in a single layer on top ofthe garlic. Raise the heat andadd the vinegar.Cook 1 to 2 minutes or until thecheese just begins to melt.With a metal spatula, quicklyturn the slices and sprinklewith the oregano.Cook briefly until the cheese isslightly softened and bubblingaround the edges.Transfer to a serving dish andserve hot with Sicilian bread.

    Serves 4

    8 ounces caciocavallo or provolone cheese, cut into1/2-inch thick slices

    1 tablespoon olive oil 

    2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

    2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    The Perfect Summer Pasta


          Some years ago, Charles and I spent a month in Rome.  Every day, we would explore a different section of the city, but our favorite neighborhood was between the Piazza Navona and the Tiber.  Most days we would head there for lunch at a favorite trattoria, and most days we would order Pasta alla Checca.  It is the perfect pasta for a summer day, light and fresh, and the ideal way to celebrate the great flavors of juicy summer tomatoes, fresh basil, and milky mozzarella.  The sauce is not cooked, just marinated for a short time and warmed by the hot cooked pasta.   At the restaurant, the chef used tubetti or ditalini pasta, the ideal choice because the tomatoes and cheese were cut into the same size pieces.  


         When I stopped at Di Palo's the other day and saw the pile of still warm and freshly made mozzarella piled on the counter, I knew the time was right to make Pasta alla Checca.  I had some beautiful ripe beefsteak tomatoes from the Greenmarket, and my Sicilian basil has grown to the size of a bush.  There are many variations on  this pasta recipe, but I think the version we ate in Rome is still the very best.  Here is a recipe from my book 1,000 Italian Recipes:

    Pasta alla Checca

    Serves 4 to 6


    3 medium size ripe tomatoes

    1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

    1 small garlic clove, minced

    Salt and freshly ground pepper

    20 basil leaves

    1 pound tubetti or ditalini

    8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice


    1. Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the cores, Squeeze out the tomato seeds.  Chop the tomatoes and place them in a bowl large enough to hold all of the ingredients.


    2. Stir in the oil, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.  Stack the basil leaves and cut them crosswise into thin ribbons.  Stir the basil into the tomatoes.  Cover and leave at room temperature up to 1 hour.  


    3. Bring at least 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot.  Stir well.  Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente, tender yet still firm to the bite.  Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the pasta.  Add the mozzarella and toss again.  Serve immediately.



        This is not a pasta salad.  It should not be served chilled.  In Rome we often ordered grilled anchovies to follow it.  Sardines, or another grilled fish, would be just as good.  What's the ideal wine?  Charles recommends chilled Frascati.



  • Art & Culture

    Neapolitan Style, Mussels with Black Pepper


    Neapolitan cooks know that simple preparations are best when it comes to fresh seafood. With just a few ingredients, this classic recipe called “Impepata di Cozze” exemplifies the Neapolitan style. Fresh, briny mussels are steamed with olive oil, garlic, and parsley in a covered pot. Once the mussels pop open, a generous amount of black pepper and fresh lemon juice are added.



    It takes only a few minutes and they are ready to eat. Serve the mussels over toasted bread or freselle, the hard crunchy biscuits that Neapolitans use to soak up the tasty cooking juices. 
    When buying mussels, look for clean, unbroken shells. At home, remove the mussels from the plastic bag. Store them in the refrigerator in a shallow pan covered with damp paper towels and cook them as soon as possible. L’impepata di cozze can be served as a first course or main dish for a light summer meal. Soak the mussels in cold water 30 minutes. 


    Cut or pull off the beards. Discard any mussels with cracked shells or that do not close tightly when touched. Pour the oil into a large pot. Add the garlic. Cook over medium heat until golden, about 1 minute. Stir in the parsley and pepper. Add the mussels and lemon juice to the pot. Cover and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels begin to open, about 5 minutes Transfer the opened mussels to serving bowls. Cook any mussels that remain closed a minute or two longer. Discard any that refuse to open. Pour the cooking liquid over the mussels. Serve hot with lemon wedges.
    Serves 4 TO 6 n 6 pounds mussels n 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil n 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped n 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley n 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper n 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice n Lemon wedges for garnish



  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Tuscan Farro: A Perfect Vegetable Soup



    Farro can be purchased at most Italian groceries, but if you can’t find it, substitute barley, wheat berries or spelt. These grains are very similar indeed and their use reflects slight regional differences in Europe as to what is grown locally and eaten as farro.


    Served with good bread, a glass of red wine and aged pecorino cheese from Tuscany, this meatless soup is ideal for a chilly spring day. In a large pot, cook the onion in the olive oil over medium heat, stirring often, until the onion is golden. Stir in the garlic. Cook 1 minute more.
     
    Add the potatoes and farro to the pot and cook for 10 minutes.

     
    Stir in 6 cups water and salt to taste. Stir in the kale, tomatoes and crushed red pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or until the soup is thick and the farro is tender. Taste for seasoning. Sprinkle with the cheese and serve hot.

    1 medium onion, chopped

    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil1 garlic clove,

    minced 2 medium potatoes,  peeled and chopped

    1 carrot, peeled and chopped

    1 cup pearled farro (about 6 ounces)

    6 cups water

    Salt 8 ounces kale or Tuscan kale, cut into 1/2 inch

    strips 1 cup canned tomatoes, chopped Pinch of crushed red pepper

    1/3 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese


    Recipe adapted from The Italian Vegetable Cookbook by Michele Scicolone.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    La Ricetta di Michele. Pizza Rustica for Easter


    When I was growing up, Lent was a time of sacrifice and deprivation.  There were no treats of any kind in the house, and we all “gave up” our favorite foods for the duration.  Of course, it didn’t count if you gave up spinach or broccoli; it had to be something good to eat and preferably not too good for you -- like chocolate, or ice cream.   For a child, 40 days seemed like forever.  


      When Holy Week finally arrived we were full of anticipation for the joy of Easter and the good eating the day would bring.  We would go shopping for new spring coats and straw hats and pastel colored dresses.    All through the week, my sister and I would color eggs and make baskets, while my mom would concentrate on the baking.  On Easter Sunday, the whole family would go to church dressed in new clothes.  It was a joyful day.  The dark winter was over and the smell of fresh flowers was everywhere.



    At home, the  family would get together for Easter dinner.  To start, there was Pizza Rustica, hard cooked eggs, and an unusual appetizer of sauteed calf's liver with vinegar and mint.  Next we would have my mom's her feather-light manicotti, then there was roast lamb, artichokes and asparagus.  

     The star of the dessert table was my mother’s Pastiera, the Neapolitan wheat and ricotta pie that is also known as Pizza Gran.  It is the recipe she learned from my grandmother, Antonietta Scotto de Fasano who came from Procida.  She taught me how to make it and I have taught my neice how to prepare it, too.  If you would like my family’s recipe for la Pastiera, please go to my website at www.MicheleScicolone.com.

     

     Here is my grandmother's recipe for  Pizza Rustica, sometimes called Pizza Chiene (dialect for pizza ripiena or stuffed pie).  There are many variations of this pie throughout Southern Italy, some of which are made with a yeast dough, while others have sweetened pie crust.  Some cooks add hard-cooked eggs, and every family has their own favorite combination of cheeses and cured meats.  The version below, which was published in my book 1,000 Italian Recipes, is the way my grandmother made Easter pie. 

     

    It is a very rich pie so a small slice goes a long way.   In Italy, Pizza Rustica is enjoyed for Pasquetta, the picnic on Easter Monday when everyone heads to the countryside to enjoy the fine spring weather. 

     

      Buona Pasqua a tutti! 

     



    PIZZA RUSTICA 

    (PIZZA CHIENE)



    Makes 12 servings

    Crust

    4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

    1 1/2 teaspoons salt

    1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening

    1/2 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

    2 large eggs, beaten

    3 to 4 tablespoons ice water

    Filling

    8 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

    3 large eggs, lightly beaten

    1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano

    2 pounds whole or part-skim ricotta, drained overnight

    8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice

    4 ounces prosciutto, cut into small dice

    4 ounces cooked ham, cut into small dice

    4 ounces sopressata, cut into small dice

    Glaze

    1 egg, lightly beaten

    1. Prepare the crust: Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Cut in the shortening and butter with a pastry blender or fork until the mixture resembles large crumbs. Add the eggs and stir until a soft dough forms. Scoop up some of the mixture with your hand and rapidly squeeze it until it holds together. Repeat with the rest of the dough until the ingredients hold together and can be formed into a smooth ball. If the mixture seems too dry and crumbly, add a little ice water. Gather the dough into two disks, one three times as large as the other. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate 1 hour up to overnight.

    2. To make the filling, cook the sausage meat in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon. Chop the meat on a board.

    3. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and Parmigiano until well blended. Stir in the ricotta, sausage meat, mozzarella, and diced meats.

    4. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375°F. On a lightly floured surface with a floured rolling pin, roll out the large piece of dough to form a 14-inch circle. Drape the dough over the rolling pin. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch springform pan, pressing it smoothly against the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Scrape the filling into the pan.

    5. Roll out the remaining piece of dough into a 9-inch circle. With a fluted pastry wheel, cut the dough into 1/2-inch strips. Place half the strips 1 inch apart over the filling. Turn the pan a quarter of the way around and place the remaining strips on top, forming a lattice pattern. Pinch the edges of the top and bottom layers of dough together to seal. Brush the dough with the egg glaze.

    6. Bake the pie 1 to 1-1/4 hours or until the crust is golden and the filling is puffed. Cool the pie in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and let cool completely. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator up to 3 days.

     

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Puffy Little Balls in Honey. Yes, it's Struffoli Time!

                 Struffoli, puffy little balls of fried dough drenched in honey, are the quintessential Christmas sweet in Naples and other places in Italy, especially the Central and Southern regions. 

                When I was a little girl in Brooklyn, other kids would be helping their mothers to make gingerbread and spritz cookies, but in our house, it was always struffoli.  Mom would start with a 5-pound bag of flour and a couple of dozen eggs.  She would mix and knead the ingredients together until a smooth dough formed.  Then the dough was left to rest under a clean kitchen towel and she would fill a big pot with oil.  Then we would start slicing, rolling and cutting the dough until little bits. 

                Once the oil was hot enough, she would carefully slip the pieces of dough into the hot oil, making sure all the while that we kids stayed far away from the hot pot.  But I loved to watch as the struffoli turned from little pillow shaped pellets into crisp, brown puffs. 
    When she judged them sufficiently browned, she would scoop out the puffs and drain them on paper towels.  They were eggy and toasty tasting, but they really wouldn’t be at their best until they were thoroughly drenched in good honey. 
    My mom didn’t think much of the supermarket brands, preferring instead to drive to a private home on Staten Island where the owner kept bees and gathered several different types of honey.  My mom would ask for a blend of the light and dark honeys for a perfectly mellow flavor. 

                After tossing the struffoli with the warm honey came the fun part -- piling the sticky balls into heaps on platters and disposable pie plates to be given as gifts to friends and family. But before they could be given away, the struffoli needed to be decorated.  We used little multicolored confetti and by the time we kids were done with the task, there were sticky finger marks and confetti all over the kitchen table and floor.  Sometimes we added candied red and green cherries, or sliced almonds, or strips of candied orange and citron.  Of course, we couldn’t resist tasting them to make sure they were as good as last year’s.

                The big platter would go on the sideboard where we could pick off a few whenever we passed by throughout the holiday season.  The pie plates were wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbons to bring to friends and family.  Of course, they would give us plates of their own struffoli, but in my house, we all knew that mom’s were superior.  They were crisp and light and never dense and hard like others we had tasted.

    A lot of Italian Americans have forgotten, or maybe they never knew, how to make struffoli, so I put them on the holiday entertaining menu I prepared at the cooking class I did at De Gustibus Cooking School at Macy’s on Thursday.  Sure enough, while I was getting ready for the class, I heard one of the assistants enter and exclaim, “Struffoli!  Hurray, we’re making struffoli!”  I felt just like a kid again, making struffoli with my mom.

                Here’s my recipe for struffoli which I published in my book 1,000 Italian Recipes.

    It makes a plateful, enough for 8 to 10.  If you want to make a big batch to give away, the recipe can easily be doubled. 

    **
      www.MicheleScicolone.com

    STRUFFOLI

    Makes 8 servings

    1 cup all-purpose flour plus more for kneading the dough

    1/4 teaspoon salt

    2 large eggs, beaten

    1/2 teaspoon grated lemon or orange zest

    Vegetable oil for frying

    1 cup honey (about 6 ounces

    Possible garnishes: multicolored sprinkles, chopped candied orange peel, citron or  cherries, toasted sliced almonds

    1. In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour and the salt. Add the eggs and lemon zest and stir until well blended.

    2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth, about 5 minutes. Add a little more flour if the dough seems sticky. Shape the dough into a ball. Cover the dough with an overturned bowl. Let the dough rest 30 minutes.

    3. Cut the dough into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Roll one slice between your palms into a 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut the rope into 1/2-inch nuggets. If the dough feels sticky, use a tiny bit of flour to dust the board or your hands. (Excess flour will cause the oil to foam up when you fry the struffoli.)

    4. Line a tray with paper towels. Pour about 2 inches of oil into a wide heavy saucepan. Heat the oil to 370°F on a frying thermometer, or until a small bit of the dough dropped into the oil sizzles and turns brown in 1 minute.

    5. Being careful not to splash the oil, slip just enough struffoli into the pan to fit without crowding. Cook, stirring once or twice with a slotted spoon, until the struffoli are crisp and evenly golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the struffoli with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining dough.

    6. When all of the struffoli are fried, gently heat the honey just to a simmer in a large shallow saucepan. Remove from the heat. Add the drained struffoli and toss well. Pile the struffoli onto a serving plate. Decorate with the multicolored sprinkles, candied fruits, or nuts.

    7. To serve, break off a portion of the struffoli with two large spoons or a salad server.   Store covered with an overturned bowl at room temperature up to 3 days.
     Copyright 2004 1,000 ITALIAN RECIPES by Michele Scicolone

                If you have any questions or comments about this recipe, or others, I would love to hear from you at mailto:[email protected]

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Brasato di Maiale For a Festive Dinner Party


    SERVES 6

    14-pound boneless pork shoulder roast, rolled and tied n Salt and freshly ground pepper

    2 tablespoons extra virgin oliveoil

    2 medium onions, chopped

    1 carrot, peeled and chopped

    1 celery rib, choppedn 4 garlic cloves, chopped n 2 3-inch sprigs rosemary

    1 cup dry whitewinen 1 cup water


    Brasato di maiale (pork stew) is a perfect choice for a din­ner party. It is easy to prepare and can even be made ahead and reheated. Serve it with white beans, polenta, or mashed potatoes and sautéed kale or broccoli and a good bottle of red wine, such as Aglianico. For dessert, an apple tart would be my choice.

    Pat the pork dry with paper towels. Sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

    In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the pork and cook, turn­ing it occasionally, about 15 minutes. When the meat is al­most complete­ly browned, add the onions, carrots and cel­ery. Cook until softened, about 8 minutes more. Stir in the gar­lic, rosemary, white wine and water. Bring the liquid to a simmer, scrap­ing the bottom of the pan. Cover the pot and place it in the oven.

    Cook the roast 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until the meat feels tender when pierced with a fork. Remove the pork and let it rest on a platter cov­ered with foil. Strain the pan juices into a saucepan. Skim off the fat and bring the pan juices to a simmer. Carve the pork and serve it with the sauce.

    For more information about cooking, go to michelescicolone.com

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