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Articles by: Michele Scicolone

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    MICHELE'S RECIPE - Chickpea Minestrone A Hearty Soup for Supper

    This minestrone, which is perfect for a first course or main dish, is from my new book, The Italian Vegetable Cookbook. Though there are many versions of minestrone, I liked the fact that this one contains sage and fennel, which gives it a lot of flavor.  Serve it hot or at room temperature with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil or freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.


    Serves 6

    1 large onion, chopped 

    1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped

    1 celery rib, chopped 

    1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped 

    1 garlic clove, finely chopped 

    1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage 

    2 tablespoons olive oil 

    3 tablespoons olive oil 

    2 tablespoons tomato paste 

    2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, drained 

    3 cups chicken or vegetable broth 

    3 cups water n Salt and pepper to taste 

    4 ounces broken spaghetti, or a small pasta such as tubetti or small shells

    Freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano

    In a large pot, cook the onion, carrot, celery, fennel, garlic and sage in the olive oil, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender and golden, about 10 minutes.
     

    Stir in the tomato paste and cook 2 minutes more. Add the chickpeas, broth and water.  Bring to a simmer and cook 1 hour, or until the vegetables are very tender.  Mash some of the chickpeas with the back of a spoon to thicken the soup. 
     

    When the soup is almost ready, add the pasta and stir well.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender.  If the soup is too thick, stir in a little warm water. Taste for seasoning.  Serve hot with freshly grated cheese.

  • 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.



  • 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. Struffoli for Christmas

                 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

    Chef Michael White & Parmesan.com


    Parmesan.com is the name of a brand new website launched this week by the Consorzio del Formaggio Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Visitors to the site will find a blog, extensive information about The King of Cheeses including its health benefits and illustrious history, great photos, and even interactive games and videos. Best of all,  for those who just enjoy eating Parmesan, there is a wealth of recipes supplied and shared by both featured chefs and home cooks.


     To celebrate Parmesan.com, Chef Michael White demonstrated a few of his favorite Parmesan recipes at the new Scuola Grande at Eataly.  Chef White is the owner of numerous restaurants, including Marea, Osteria Morini, and the soon to open pizzeria, Nicoletta.  


    His first recipe was Ricotta and Asparagus Tortelli with a Fonduta of Parmigiano Reggiano. The chef demonstrated how to make the luscious filling, generously laced with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano and nutmeg, and fold it into perfect little fresh pasta envelopes.  The creamy cheese sauce and lightly cooked asparagus with fava beans and leeks made this the perfect pasta for spring.  




    Chef White, who lived and worked for many years in Emilia Romagna, where Parmigiano Reggiano is made, said that the cheese is in the "top 5 most important ingredients" in his kitchen and he uses it every day.  


    The next dish he prepared was Chicken Petroniana, a classic recipe from Bologna.  He began by dipping chicken cutlets in grated Parmesan, then in egg and breadcrumbs before frying them.  He offered a great tip:  putting the grated cheese on the meat before adding the egg and breadcrumbs insulates it from the heat so that it won't burn when fried.  The crisped cutlets were topped with prosciutto and thin shavings of Parmesan which wilted from the heat, and a creamy cheese sauce.


    Chicken Petroniana

     

    Even the dessert was made with Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Chef White introduced his pastry chef who prepared a White Chocolate Parmigiano-Reggiano Semifreddo with Balsamic Glazed Strawberries and Candied Hazelnuts.  It was made by infusing milk and cream with the scraped Parmesan rinds.   The chef said that the nutty and fruity flavor elements of Parmigiano-Reggiano made it a natural for using in desserts.


    White Chocolate Parmigiano Reggiano Semifreddo 



    Nancy Radke, director of the US Information Office for Parmigiano-Reggiano said that the Consorzio has a renewed commitment to engaging with and educating the public through social media. For example, in April, Parmigiano-Reggiano joined Facebook and nearly 17,000 people joined their fan page.  Their Twitter handle is #OnlyParmesan.


    Parmigiano-Reggiano is a handmade cheese and is completely free of additives and preservatives.  Made from partially skimmed milk, it is aged an average of 24 months.  I always keep a big chunk in the refrigerator since Parmigiano Reggiano makes a perfect snack, simple dessert with fresh or dried fruit and nuts, and is an essential ingredient in many Italian dishes.  


    You can find Chef Michael White's recipes mentioned above and many others at www.Parmesan.com.  













  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Two Italian Master Chefs at the International Day of Italian Cuisines

    Ossobuco in Gremolata alla Milanese is the featured recipe of this year's International Day of Italian Cuisines sponsored by Itchefs.  Around the world on January 17, the feast day of Sant'Antonio Abate,  Italian chefs will be featuring this iconic dish in celebration of authentic Italian cuisine. 

    As part of the celebration,  2 days of classes and demonstrations were held at New York's International Culinary Center culminating in master classes with two of Italy's top chefs, Gennaro Esposito of Torre del Saraceno in Vico Equense and Pino Licata of La Madia in Licata, Sicily.

    Chef Gennaro spoke about his passion for

    "kilometer zero" ingredients, meaning those from local sources.  For his first recipe, he made risotto cooked with two broths, one fish and the other vegetable.  His techniques were unusual approach.  He does not use wine to his risotto and
    substitutes a slow cooked onion puree for sauteed onion.  What is more, the chef adds a little grated Grana Padano to the risotto, not to give it a cheesey taste which would interfere with the flavor of the fish, but to add more body.   The chef dusted his  serving plates with the zest of the unique Amalfi Coast lemons and a pinch of peperoncino before plating the risotto. Hot smoked bluefish and a ruffle of dried seaweed garnished the dish.   It was unlike any risotto I have ever tried, and it was very good. 

    For his second recipe Chef Gennaro made his personal interpretation of a classic fish soup.  He pressed the juices from an assortment of cooked fish and vegetables and to this he added several different shapes of dried pasta, beginning with orecchiete, the thickest and ending with spaghetti.  After adding each handful of pasta, the soup was stirred vigorously for several minutes.  When the pasta was tender, the chef added some pieces of fish and seafood including seppia, shrimp and sea bream.  The resulting soup was thick and creamy with plenty of texture from the seafood and pasta.  Once again, it was a completely unique and personal dish.

    Chef Pino Cuttaia has been called one of Italy's best chefs and his restaurant named the best in Sicily.  He, too, firmly believes in using the best local ingredients and uses his memory of traditional dishes to recreate them in novel ways.  The first dish he presented was a cannolo or tube made by frying thin slices of eggplant until crisp and stuffing it with a ricotta and eggplant filling.  He placed the tube inside of a long and skinny "perlina" eggplant, a variety  native to his region, rolled the whole thing in cooked capelli d'angelo pasta and baked it until golden.   If it sounds complicated and intricate, it was, but it was also very delicious, crunchy outside and creamy within.

    His next dish was based on the classic Sicilian arancini, or rice balls, but instead of a meat or cheese filling, Chef Pino fills half spheres of rice with a a ragu of sardines, wild fennel, currants and pine nuts, the traditional condiment for pasta con le sarde  and serves them in a pool of fresh tomato sauce. 

    His final recipe was  the Cannolo Cornucopia pictured at the top, an interpretation of the classic Sicilian cannolo dessert.  The fried pastry shell was thin and crunchy while the velvetty filling tasted of very fresh ricotta.  

    Marmalade made from Sicilian oranges accompanied the dessert. Chef Pino told us that the cannolo reflected the various cultures who had ventured into Sicily over the centuries.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Cucina Povera


     Si stava meglio quando si stava peggio is the theme of Cucina Povera, a new cookbook by Pamela Sheldon Johns.  Translated as ‘we were better off when things were worse,’ the proverb refers to a time when Italians were so poor that food was scarce, yet what they consumed was healthy, unprocessed and full of flavor unlike so much of what we are faced with today.  The book, which includes 60 recipes and many photographs in both color and black and white, is a nostalgic look at those times and their culinary legacy in Tuscany today. 

     

                While writing the book the author, who has lived in Tuscany for 20 years and hosts culinary workshops throughout Italy, interviewed neighbors and friends about traditional peasant cooking.  Many of them had lived through the dire poverty that characterized life in rural Italy before, during and after World War II.  To survive, they foraged, hunted, and fished and made use of everything.  The author states that “each area had a different experience in hard times, but throughout Italy the story was the same:  making do with inexpensive local foods.” 

     

                Chestnuts are a good example.  Not only were the nuts sweet and delicious when freshly roasted, they could be dried and ground into flour to bake into bread or simmered into polenta.  Honey made from chestnut flowers was prized for its distinctive flavor and eaten with fresh ricotta.  The chestnut wood made furniture and barrels, leaves were used for animal feed, and even the husks of the nuts were used as fuel. 

     

                The recipes in this book reflect this philosophy of making do and using up every scrap.  A frittata is made with wild greens like dandelion and the author suggests adding leftover pasta or potatoes.  Necci are crepes made with chestnut flour and filled with ricotta.  Spaghetti is topped with homemade stale breadcrumbs seasoned with garlic, olive oil and hot pepper while a tegamaccio, or freshwater fish stew is made with the catch of the day. 

     

                It all makes for a fascinating read with atmospheric photography and delicious eating, like this easy recipe:

     

    Pollo Arrosto al Vin Santo

    Roast Chicken with Vin Santo Sauce

     

    3 tablespoons aromatic herbs minced with salt

    1 clove garlic, minced

    1 chicken, about 3 pounds

    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

    2 cups vin santo or sweet Marsala wine

     

    Preheat the oven to 400°F.  Lightly oil a small roasting pan or heatproof casserole.

     

    In a small bowl, combine the herb mixture with the garlic.  Loosen the skin of the breast all over the chicken and spread the herb mixture under the skin.  Rub the chicken all over with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place the chicken on its side in the prepared pan and roast for 15 minutes, then turn and roast on the second side for 15 minutes.  Turn the chicken onto its back and roast for 30 minutes, or until the chickn tests done.

     

    Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and keep warm.  Set the roasting pan over medium heat and add the wine, stirring to scrape up the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Increase the heat to high and cook to reduce the liquid by half.  Drizzle the pan sauce over the roasted chicken and serve at once. 

     

    Serves 6

    adapted from Cucina Povera (Andrews McMeel Publishing).

  • Life & People

    The Authentic Italian Table Seal of Quality Awards


    On Wednesday, June 27,  The Italy-America Chamber of Commerce hosted The Authentic Italian Table, an evening of fine dining showcasing winners of the prestigious "Ospitalita Italiana -- Ristoranti nel Mondo" Seal of Quality Award at Guastavino, an event space on 59th Street.


    The Seal of Quality award is a promotion of Italy's National Institute of Tourism to recognize restaurants around the world who are committed to authentic Italian cuisine.  Among other requirements, the restaurants must prove that they use DOP and IGP products from Italy including extra virgin olive oil, feature Italian wines, present diners with menus written in correct Italian, and have at least one Italian speaking employee on staff.

    So far, 27 restaurants in the New York City Area have received the Ospitalita Italiana Seal of Quality award.  The recipients are entitled to display a plaque in their restaurants certifying their participation.  


    18 restaurants participated in the event on Wednesday offering tastings of some of their signature dishes.   Among the delicious offerings were arancini and cannoli from Cacio e Vino, lasagne from Il Gattopardo, salumi and porchetta from Il Gattopardo, and bigne from Tiella. Casa Vinicola Zonin provided some of the evening's wines and Birra Morretti offered beer.


    I have been to many of these restaurants and look forward to visiting the others.  Until my next trip to Italy, I know I can rely on them for a genuine Italian experience right in my own backyard.  Good luck to all of them!  



  • Life & People

    Abruzzo's Trabocchi Coast

     At first sight, a trabocco resembles a gigantic lumbering crustacean emerging from the Adriatic Sea.  Set on tall, slender wooden posts that rise high above the water, a trabocco is a platform with long wooden arms extending in different directions.  Ropes and nets are suspended from the arms.  Years ago, the trabocchi enabled fishermen in the province of Chieti in Abruzzo to work under all weather conditions.   Today, they are recognized as a historic treasure and symbol of the region.  Many trabocchi have been restored and are used as restaurants.   

      What is it like to dine aboard a trabocco?

     Recently, I had the opportunity to find out.  It was twilight when the other guests and I arrived at the trabocco owned by Mr. Romanelli, the president of Cantina Frentana, a cooperative winery in nearby Rocca San Giovanni www.cantinafrentana.it.   To get to the platform, we walked single file along a swaying wooden ramp lit with twinkling lamps.  Once on board, we were greeted with frosty glasses of dry, sparkling Cococciola, made from the grape of the same name.  As I sipped the wine,  I had to avoid looking down through the floorboards or all around us at the water.  

    In the middle of the platform, I was amazed to see a long, elegantly set dining table.  There was a small enclosure with a well equipped kitchen where the cooks were hard at work preparing our meal.   
    We started with a plate of cold appetizers including octopus salad, raw pink shrimp and cannochie, or mantis shrimp.  

      There were pallotte di pesce, fried balls 
    of fish blended with eggs and cheese, stuffed mild green chile peppers topped with sauteed shellfish, followed by spaghetti w

    ith clam sauce.   The Vallevo Trebbiano d'Abruzzo (an excellent buy at about $10) was an ideal match with the primi.  
    The main dish was a fantastic seafood soup or stew made with countless varieties of fish and seafood.  With it we drank the Vallevo Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Cerasuolo rose from Cantina Frentana.  

    We ended the evening with sweet slices of watermelon and delicious little cakes known as bocconcini stuffed with dark chocolate and grape must.  

    If you are looking for a unique dining experience, try a trabocco.  Perched high above the water, it's the aquatic equivalent of dining in a treehouse.  

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Dinner with Montalbano

     Salvo Montalbano is the leading character in a series of Italian mystery novels written by Andrea Camilleri.  Salvo is a decent and humane man with a fiercely independent streak who happens to be a police commissioner in Sicily.    He fights corruption, solves crimes, has girlfriend problems, and never fails to enjoy a good meal.   Normally I'm not much of mystery reader, but the series is well written and the characters are appealing.  The books capture a real feeling of life in Sicily.  The highlight for me though is the opportunity to experience Sicilian food vicariously with Montalbano.  You can bet that no matter how grim or perplexing the crime, Montalbano will sit down to a good meal and a bottle of wine either at his beachside home, prepared by his faithful housekeeper Adelina, or at some truckstop or trattoria on the way to or from the crime scene.

    Recently, my friend Diane Darrow picked up a copy of  I Segreti della Tavola di Montalbano--Le Ricette di Andrea Camilleri (The Secrets of Montalbano's Table -- The Recipes of Andrea Camilleri)  by Stefania Campo.  Diane is a great home cook and the author, along with her husband Italian wine expert Tom Maresca, of several Italian cookbooks.  Undaunted by the lack of detailed info in the recipes, Tom and Diane decided to undertake a Sicilian dinner Montalbano-style and Charles and I were delighted to attend.

    The meal began with Adelina's Caponata from Excursion to Tindari.  The flavors of the eggplant, onions and celery were balanced though it had less tomato than I am accustomed to and was topped with crunchy toasted almonds.  Altogether delicious.  Next came the Pasta col Ragu Siciliana (also from Excursion to Tindari), which was as good as it looks.  The ragu was made with sirloin that Diane and Tom had ground themselves and the pasta was topped with caciocavallo, a classic Sicilian cheese.  Our main course was a dramatic 'mpanata di maiale, from The Wings of the Sphinx, a baked drum of bread dough stuffed with sauteed sausages, potatoes, olives and cauliflower.  Diane accompanied it with roasted red peppers, the ideal complement.

    Tom selected the wines for the dinner.  Though we started with a magnum of French Champagne, at the table there were three Sicilian reds:  Don Antonio from Morgante, and the Rosso del Soprano and Faro from Palari, which we all enjoyed.

    Little dark chocolate cakes with orange sauce (sformatino di cioccolato amaro con salsa all'arancia) from The Snack Thief were a nice finish to our memorable Montalbano dinner.  Salvo is a lucky character to eat this well in every book, and we too felt lucky to share it with Diane and Tom.

    Click here to read more about this dinner and Diane's kitchen adventures.

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