Wednesday, September 30, 2009

When you are poor you eat lentils.

The money just wasn't there some weeks, even when my mother remarried and moved on to a more comfortable life in Houlton with my stepfather, Paul McLaughlin.
By the time I was truly conscious of my surroundings, other than fleeting glimpses, we had moved to Pleasant Street(seen in pictures elsewhere) which was to be their first and last real home other than the rented houses on Franklin Avenue and Bowdoin Street. The house was not a total wreck, but there was a mountain of work to do. I was not old enough so this fell often on my brother's shoulders, and occasionally Fred Burrill would show up for a visit and get drafted into helping when he expected a short vacation.
Anyway, Paul's income was OK for the time, but it often did not stretch far when legal issues from the former owner in their "Rent To Own" scheme was floundering or when big projects had to be tackled. One thing is clear, Paul had an enormous collection of tools by the time I left home.
Lentil soup is a Mediterranean staple. Lots of protein and very filling for those on a small budget. But, Lentil Soup is not nearly enough when you are in your late teens and twenties like Dick. Probably years earlier, when she was feeding a whole family on nothing, Mom got into the habit of making lentils rather than Lentil Soup. It really was a Lentil Soup, but it was closer to a wallpaper paste consistency than any soup I ever had.
I think I saw Mom put a meat bone or anything like that into it only once or twice. The Lentils were something of a shock to any uninitiated visitors, so it was always a "Family Meal".
My cousin Mildred said she remembered the lentils that Grammie made. She said she sat there with this black paste in front of her(It was probably looking back at her too.) and asked what was in it. Uncle Phil, always ready to be helpful, said it was made from the flies off the flypaper. That was the last time she ate that voluntarily.
She had a reputation for hating them as a result. She said that when she arrived at my mother's for a visit, Mom would tell Mildred not to worry, because she was not going to make lentil soup.
As I was describing this process to Mildred today, she said,"You know, that sounds like something I might like, now."
This black brown, lava flow paste looked very strange. But, you may have guessed by now that I would not be doing this build-up unless it was good. There, I ruined the punch-line. This stuff(what else would you call it) was great!
Once in a while there were doughboys(discussed elsewhere), hot and dripping with butter to eat with them. I was a pretty cheap date when it came to these meals. I needed nothing but the lentils and buttered(cheap and white) bread. I think I disgusted everyone by scooping the lentils onto the buttered bread, folding it up like a Taco, turning head and bread at an odd angle... and eating it. The lentils were very savoury, and I consider it one of my favorite meals...excluding pizza of course...
They are not every one's cup of tea as you might guess, so it is a truly rare thing for me to make. As a result, you will have to forgive the inexact directions...Well, they will be exact, but the accuracy might be in question.

First you take your lentils.... there were no real measurements. You might use half a bag or a full bag, but I never saw a cup measure in Mom's hands when she did this.

Actually, without measurement, all you do is:

Mince a medium onion.
Mince 6 garlic cloves(Leave whole if you like them or adjust the amount to taste if you are afraid of the garlic)
Pour a quarter cup of olive oil(Philip Berio plain oil was the standard at the time. Extra Virgin was a luxury...we dreamt not of.)and fry the onion and garlic very gently till the onion softens. Add a tablespoon of oregano, a teaspoon of basil, three cloves, a pinch or more of red pepper flakes and a good sized bay leaf. Allow everything to sweat for a while at that low temperature. You may add a tablespoon full of tomato paste to the pan and allow it to cook, stirring till it gets a bit of brown color.

Wash and pick over the bag of lentils(not the exotic colors of lentils you might find in Indian cooking). Get any stones and foreign matter out of them. If you want to keep the lentils whole while they are tender in the middle, soak them for an hour or so.

Mom just dumped the lentils on top of the herb mixture. Add water to cover generously and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir regularly to keep the bottom from sticking. Add water regularly, as the lentils cook and absorb the water. You may use broth or add a meat bone at the same time as the lentils if you wish.(watch the salt content) When the lentils are tender, and there is still some minor wateriness to the broth, add salt and pepper sparingly, and a big handful of macaroni, or broken spaghetti. Cover and cook till the pasta is done. In our case, the lentils would be very broken down, and the broth would be very thick rather than soupy. Adjust the salt and pepper before serving.

You might also like to try precooking very finely minced bacon or Pancetta to this. Add it along with the onions at the beginning.

True lentil soup, would be pre-soaked and cooked just till the lentils tender slightly and keep some of their shape. Carrots, peas, spinach or other greens(only near the end) can be added when you add broth to the lentils. This will be much lighter in color, thinner and with all the veggies floating in it. When my ex-wife, Marcia wanted Lentil Soup, I emptied the refrigerator into it. Sausage would be good in this soup as well...Italian of course.

Grandmother Hutchinson's Sweet Tomato Pickle(Burrill Family) after 1919

1 Peck of chopped tomatoes
8 large chopped onions

Sprinkle with 1 1/2 cups salt
Let stand overnoght
In the morning:

Add 2 pints of water
1 pint of vinegar

Boil 15 minutes

Drain and discard liquor

4 cups sugar
2 quarts vinegar
Put in a bag: 2 Tablespoons each of:
white mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cayenne

Boil 15 minutes

Pack in clean hot sterilized jars.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Burrill Family Sweet Tomato Pickles II after 1919

1 peck(about 2 gallons) sliced green tomatoes
3 red peppers chopped
2 green peppers chopped
1 head of cabbage chopped
6 onions chopped

In a bag:

2 Tablespoons mustard seed
2 Tablespoons celery seed
1 Tablespoon whole cloves
1 Tablespoon coarsely crushed stick cinnamon

8 Cups sugar
1/2 gal vinegar(this measure is poorly written and could really be any measure. As the other, one half peck pickle recipe was based on 1 quart, I assume that this one peck recipe should use two.)
1/2 cup salt

simmer 1 1/2 hours

Pack into clean, hot, sterilized jars.

Burrill Family Sweet Tomato Pickles I after 1919

One half peck(about a gallon) of green tomatoes, sliced and sprinkled with one half cup of salt. Let them sit over night.
Drain in the morning and put into two quarts of water.
Boil for 10 minutes and drain through a seive.
Put into a kettle:

1 quart of vinegar
1 pound of Sugar
(tied up in a cheesecloth)
1 teaspoon alspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon mustard(seed I assume)

bring it to a boil.
add the tomatoes and cook till well done.
Put into clean, hot, sterilized glass jars.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Grammie and Baked Beans

I think that we are all taken with the cooking that we grew up with. Mom made wonderful sauce. Grammie did great chicken and biscotti. Mrs. Burrill did brownies to die for. We can never be convinced that our mothers were not the greatest cooks on earth, and why should we? Grammie was a great cook. She learned at home in Salina, then got a dose of cooking instruction in Naples with her Aunt and then spent a lifetime caring for her large family and everyone that wandered in for a meal or twenty for years and years. She seems to have adapted to her surroundings too. When I went to visit her youngest sister in Livorno, virtually the first thing out of Carolina's mouth was: "Does your grandmother still cook those wonderful baked beans and other things like she used to?" She had a reputation all over for her cooking, but then all the women in the family were good cooks. Along came Uncle Phil, and they competed for the title. My sister was more likely to know her cooking than I was. She spent plenty of time with Grammie at the Johnnie Farm in Littleton, Maine. She said that like her, Grammie threw any compatible thing into her beans. If salt pork was not available, she would use bacon, a ham hock or other meat. If there was no Molasses she would use brown sugar. Apples were used sometimes, and Maple Syrup works of course. I do not suppose any of these things are a great revelation. The big difference that Sis remembers is the final dressing of the beans with olive oil. Who would have guessed?(See the letter from Mary Burrill in the blog at: for more of her memories of Grammie.)

Here is the recipe in her Housewife's Library.

Put the beans in to soak early in the evening, in a dish that will allow plenty of water to be used. Change the water at bed-time. Next morning early, parboil two hours; pour off nearly all the water; take raw pork, scored on top; put the beans in a deep dish, a stoneware jar is very nice, the pork in the middle, sinking it so as to have it just level with the surface. Add half a teaspoon of soda, two tablespoonfuls of molasses, and bake at least six hours. As the beans bake dry, add more water, a little at a time, until the last hour, when it is not necessary to moisten them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Baked/Broiled Veggies

Just a quick way to serve an attractive vegetable.

Start with vegetables at room temperature.

Cut a medium tomato in half horizontally and remove the seeds.

Cut baby Zucchini the long way in half or in thirds for larger squash.

Cut onion into horizontal disk in thirds.

Split tiny Eggplants in half the long way.

Lay the vegetables in a lasagna pan of glass ceramic or metal. You must remember that glass and ceramic my not fare well under the broiler for long.

Salt and pepper all the veggies.

Saute minced garlic in olive oil and sprinkle on the vegetables. Sprinkle with balsamic vinegar if desired.

Mix grated Parmesan or other favorite grating cheese and an equal amount of bread crumbs.(fresh preferred but any will do)

Dampen the mixture with olive oil and sprinkle on the upper cut surface of the vegetables in a heavy layer.

Run under the broiler or bake at 350(preferred) or so till the vegetables are just heated through and the crumbs are well browned. It will work better under the broiler if you broil one side, turn them, coat with the crumbs and put back under the broiler.

Serve with grilled bread on a bed of dressed bitter or mixed greens, cheese and a good wine. Toasted nuts like pine nuts, almonds or walnuts and a sprinkling of capers would be nice.

Grilled Marinated Vegetables with a surprise serving suggestion.

John is by the vegetable buffet in Palermo. A buffet, but the management wouldn't let you self serve. We love this at a little Sicilian place near Trajan's Column in Rome, and at: Alla Madonna in Venice. You see them all over Italy.

I love veggies when I go to Italy. That is quite a feat since I hated so many of the vegetables common to the Italian table most of my youth. As I have said elsewhere, eggplant still leaves me a little cold. Some of my objections have gone away since I realized that much of what I disliked was the texture of the veggies I had been served. I overcame my objections by slicing veggies like Zucchini and Eggplant much thinner than I remember from home. Also a flavorful marinade covers some of the strong flavors that I sometimes object to and the very bland veggies like eggplant. Also, If you use small or baby vegetables, the final dish can be much higher in quality.(Try whole tiny vegetables or green beans and baby carrots.) Zucchini is better, for me, if it is still crisp. Once I addressed all of my issues, I am much happier with the vegetables that I have always shied away from.

Pair this with a roast of Beef, Pork, Chicken or Turkey(I love Pork Tenderloins marinated with Rosemary, garlic and Balsamic Vinegar cut into medallions). This or Salami and other Italian meats can make a whole party! Don't forget a nice wine!


Small Zucchinis sliced the long way about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Larger ones should be cut across the squash. Do not invite me if you are serving yellow squash...YUK!

Eggplant cut as above. Mix colors as available for more interest. Layer salt and eggplant slices in a colander and put a plate on top to weigh the slices down. Allow to drain for an hour or so; rinse and dry.

Slice large white or yellow onions into wedges after peeling, leaving a bit of the root end connecting the leaves together, or in 1/2 inch slices across. Run a toothpick through the edge to the center to hold the rings together.

Cut large tomatoes in horizontal thirds. Pull the seeds out with the tip of your finger. Drain for a minute.

Wedge endive heads or half heads of escarole. Bundle other Italian greens together and grill as a bouquet.

Try winter squash wedges with the skin still attached.

Pour a puddle of olive oil in a plate and lay each vegetable slice into the puddle, turn and remove to a storage container. Sprinkle the layers of veggies with pepper. Add a dusting of dried oregano, basil, rosemary or mint. Choose only one. And sprinkle with finely minced garlic cloves. Do not use bottled garlic for this as it will spend some time at a neutral temperature which will encourage spoilage.

When all the veggies are oiled, etc., cover and allow to sit at room temperature or in the refrigerator to marinate for an hour or more.

Your first choice for grilling is charcoal or wood reduced to coals. You may also choose a gas grill, a stove top, counter top or Panini grill.

Grill the slices briefly just till tender and each displays nice grill marks. You do not want mush!

Remove to serving trays, arranging them beautifully in separate piles or on separate plates. Sprinkle with sea salt or other salt of your choice, and drizzle with the best olive oil you can muster.

Serve at room temperature with plenty of fresh bread or grilled bread rubbed with a cut clove of garlic.

Peppers of any color should be grilled whole till the skin is black and blistered. Place in a paper bag to steam for a while, then scrape the skin off and remove the stem and core. Slice or tear the pepper apart top to bottom in one inch slices or along the lobes of the pepper. Dress with oil and the marinade as above but do not grill.

Decorate the plates with olives and shavings of Parmesan or other grating cheese.

You may also sprinkle with sugar during the marinading, and dress the final display with red wine, lemon or balsamic vinegar. Capers and toasted pine or other nuts are a nice decoration.

Try frying bread crumbs in oil and garlic till golden and sprinkling on the vegetables.


Serve the grilled vegetables arranged around the rim of a large plate. Fill the center with bitter dressed greens and top the greens with a couple of slices of the grilled bread. Grill a disk of goat cheese till grill marked and just warmed through. Lay on top of the bread alone or with a grilled or poached egg. What a meal!

Fried Cheese

Bill in Eze overlooking Sant' Jean Cap Ferrat.

Any size, shape or variety is acceptable for this as long as it will hold together when cut. Very rich or piccante cheeses might be better cut small so they will not be overpowering. You are probably familiar with mozzarella sticks. This is closer to traditional with the cheese cut in flat slices and fried in shallow oil. I tried the string cheese mozzarella the other day and it was just fine. I cut them in half though because these can be delicate coming out of the oil.

This is so simple!

Prepare the cheese of choice by cutting in the desired shape. 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick is about the limit.

Dampen the cheese in water. Shake off the excess.
Drop into a shallow bowl of flour.
Coat the cheese in flour.
Dip in beaten egg with a teaspoon of added water per egg.
Lift the cheese out with a toothpick and drop into crumbs(see note).
With your fingers, gently lift the pieces out, patting the crumbs if necessary to stick.
Lay into a slotted spoon and lower into hot oil at about 360 degrees.
These will be done in a few seconds, so immediately turn over in the oil to get the second side into the oil or the first side will get heavy and resistant to turning.
Do not over cook as they will want to burst as they get more molten inside.
Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on brown paper or paper towels.
Serve still quite warm with a dipping sauce of Marinara or a bottled sauce like ranch or barbecue of your choice.

You may do the same thing with mushrooms, zucchini or other veggies cut into sticks where possible. Consider bottled salad dressings as an alternative dipping sauce for veggies.

OIL: I use Canola because of it's healthy reputation, but peanut oil or even olive oil(Not the green varieties) would do. Do not use anything Hydrogenated.

CRUMBS: I have started using Panko for this. The texture is great, but I find it does not cover fully. Try crushing some to a coarse powder mixed with the big crumbs to make a crust that covers better. Pani Caliatu would be a good choice, but commercial bread crumbs or fresh crumbs all work. The frying time is minimal so anything works.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Roasted Potatoes and or Vegetables

Seach for DIETS in the search box at the top left of the page.

 Cut potatoes into 2 inch pieces

 Partially peel and seed a medium eggplant and cut into 2 inch pieces.  Small eggplants do not need to be seeded or peeled.

 Add to the potatoes.

 Add large chumks of onion.

 Continue with red and or green peppers and zucchini.

 Don't forget that the beasts in the house like some vegetables.

 Add celery and carrots.

 Coat all vegetables with generous amounts of olive oil.

Add  salt and pepper.

 Any number of herbs and vegetables may be added.  These are my favorites.

 Notice whole gloves of garlic included.
 Stir in the oil, herbs and spices.

 Roast at 350 to 400 degrees till vegetables are tender and slightly charred.

 Stir during the roasting process a couple of times.  Lots of steam!

 See the nice browning on the vegetables.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Spanish Style Omelet

If you go to a Tapas Bar in Spain, one of the most popular dishes is an omelet which is nothing more than precooked potato cubes mixed with beaten eggs and simple seasoning.  Fried at a low temperature in a well seasoned frying pan and perhaps finished under the broiler, or baked in a shallow well greased pie plate.  They serve it in little wedges while you are enjoying a sherry, beer or wine.

Just choose a nice variety of vegetables and cut them into pieces that will cook at the same rate, a couple of cubed potatoes and a precooked meat
cubed zucchini and eggplant would be good if you are into that, perhaps with red peppers, or roasted red peppers added with the meat at the end. 

I use chopped carrots and onions.

Place them in a seasoned frying pan with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil and cook at very low temperature till the carrots are cooked and the onions caramelized.

Add a couple of cloves of minced garlic near the end of the cooking time.  Douse with a couple of ounces of water in the middle of the cooking time if the carrots are not cooking fast enough and allow it to boil away, then continue to caramelize.

 I precook a package of spinach, squeeze out all the moisture and chop it well. 

Boil the potatoes cut in 3/4 inch cubes till just tender.  Do not over cook.

When the vegetables are cooked, I season with salt and pepper, a dash of oregano.

Beat six eggs with a splash of milk, salt, Pepper, cayenne to taste, Paprika to taste, a pinch of nutmeg, (Parmesan if desired)

Off the heat, nestle bits of the spinach all through the vegetables in the pan.  Then press two dozen large precooked shrimp into the veggies.  Pour the eggs over the entire pan. The eggs should come just to the surface of the food.  You can always add another egg if it does not cover.

Return to the heat at a very low temperature until much of the egg is set.  Run the entire pan under the broiler till the top is spotty brown.

Cut in wedges, hot or room temperature. 

Find onion cream sauce posted elsewhere or make a tomato or red pepper coulis to serve over it.
See Spinach Pie.

You could easily tart this up...pardon the very English grilling thin slices of zucchini or eggplant.  Line the bottom of the lightly greased baking pan in an attractive pattern(just in case it is dropped upside down, you do not want to be embarrassed by sloppy work.).  Pour all the vegetables, potatoes and eggs over the layer of grilled veggies and bake as above.

Bill's Bastardized Caponata

I was always a bit leery of the brown black mass of vegetables that Grammie, Uncle Phil and Uncle Joe would scoop out if the little cans of Caponata or Caponatina. It looked to me as if it had spoiled in the can. It was only many years later that I started to appreciate veggies and even later that I saw what went into variations of this stuff and became interested. The first time I saw a recipe for Caponata, it was on The Frugal Gourmet's television show. That started me asking questions of Grammie. I cannot claim that this recipe is Grammie's, and it is only vaguely similar to other recipes I have seen elsewhere or in Italy. It is my own creation, based on the fact that I can barely tolerate eggplant. Eggplant is usually the main component of Caponata, and the color of the Caponata is much darker when there is more of it. In this recipe, I use the method from the Frugal Gourmet, but it is equally good if you use a charcoal, wood or gas fired grill to roast the vegetables once they are sliced or whole in the case of peppers and tomatoes.

Cube up all of your veggies in about 1 inch pieces. Larger is OK if you like the texture that way, but smaller probably will produce a paste when you are done. Eggplant should be sliced or cubed, skin on, and tossed with salt. Then, place the pieces in a colander with a weight on top to drain out the bitter juices.
Toast or fry the nuts till golden.

One medium eggplant
Two small zucchini
A large or two medium onions(I would discourage red. Pearl or cippolini would be wonderful whole).
Two large ripe tomatoes or 1 package of cherry or grape tomatoes
Several stalks of celery
Green and red peppers
Two or three carrots
Green and black olives(Pitted will be better for easy consumption, but whole olives hold together better in cooking)
1 small can of tomato sauce
1 can of tomato paste
Red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt(sea salt is best)
Red pepper flakes
Oregano(dried only please)
One whole head of garlic
3/4 cup Pignoli or slivered almonds(toasted)
Large cucumber(not traditional but I love it in the finished dish)
Three or four anchovy fillets, rinsed (Optional)
1/2 cup capers, rinsed
Good quality grated cheese of your choice...Nothing soft.

Cut the tomatoes into bite sized pieces or halve the cherry tomatoes.
Place on a baking sheet with the garlic cloves (Peeled) drizzle with olive oil and toss around to coat. Bake at 250 degrees for at least two hours.

In a large, heavy bottomed pan, preheat a heavy coat of olive oil till near the smoke point and fry the drained, rinsed and dried eggplant till lightly browned. Remove to a bowl.

Add more oil and repeat with the zucchini.

Repeat with the celery,peppers, onions and carrots. If you have issues with pepper indigestion, roast and peel the peppers instead. Then cut them up.

Return all the cooked vegetables to the pan. Pour in the tomato sauce, 3 tablespoons of vinegar,sugar,1/2 cup olive oil,one tablespoon of oregano, pepper, pepper flakes and anchovies if using. Bring to a boil and lower heat just to a bare simmer for about twenty minutes or just until the vegetables start to become tender. The eggplant may get very soft, but the other vegetables should be a bit crisp still. Stir often. If the liquid is thick and wants to burn, add a little water, but leave uncovered to evaporate. A few minutes before it is cooked, add the olives, tomatoes and garlic cloves. Remove from the heat, and as it cools, add the rest of the ingredients except the cukes, nuts and cheese. When almost cold, taste for salt but remember that it may get saltier as it sits because the capers will steep in the sauce. Also correct for vinegar and sugar. Add the cukes and nuts. Put it into the refrigerator to blend overnight. Taste and correct again. Add cheese to taste. Allow to warm to room temperature to serve. Serve with Endive scoops, Crusty bread, over pasta, as a sandwich condiment, on a bed or cup of lettuce or alone on a plate just to eat.

Alternatively, if you like your veggies crisper, mix all the liquids for the sauce separately, bring to a boil and pour over the veggies and cook briefly. You could also brown the paste in oil for a couple of minutes to darken and give a less RED sauce.

Now this is completely open to interpretation. I love cucumber and like Zucchini much more than eggplant, so shuffle things around to suit the seasonal vegetables and your preferences. That is what they would do in Italy. This will freeze OK without the cheese. Play with this, but remember to watch that you do not overcook the vegetables. Try grilling everything instead of frying.
You might even consider adding raisins to this when it is approaching the end of its cooking time...not for me though.

Put a cup or two in the food processor and grind it to a paste for a spread or dip on all kinds of stuff.

This is SWEET AND SOUR which is a big thing in Italy.

Bill's French-ish Salad dressing

1/2 finely minced or crushed clove of garlic. (Crush the garlic with the side of the knife, add a bit of salt, and mound and crush over and over with the knife till it becomes a paste.)
3 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon of white wine vinegar.  Red will do.
3 Tablespoons of tomato sauce or puree
1 Tablespoon of sugar
dash of onion powder or a Tablespoon of finely minced onion

Put all ingredients into a jar or Tupperware container with plenty of room to spare.

Shake vigorously till emulsified.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Italian Wedding Soup and all of it's relatives.(By Marriage) Including Carolyn Cusolito's Meatballs

I seem to drift very easily into uncharted and contentious territory with some of these recipes.
I always feel very inadequate when I am doing some of the recipes that I remember from childhood, so I ask anyone who is willing to talk to me about how they did this or that and I end up more confused than ever.
The problem is that everyone has little variations in these old recipes. For example, my mother hated cooked greens like Swiss Chard so she left them out of traditional recipes. Everyone had issues with some common ingredient that their mother or grandmother used, so variations occurred.
Then, we landed in the US or Australia where an entirely different cuisine developed based on the things that could be found there, or based on things that could not be found there.
Now, many luxury grocery items of the nineteen-teens or twenties are pretty common, and we do not have the original recipes anymore to use them in.
Another example of this is that many of the sweets that were made in the islands were drenched in wine boiled down to a sweet syrup. This was very similar to honey which can get pretty expensive. The people of Australia that had no access to grapes or cheap sweet wine began to use Golden Syrup and here, we use simple syrup or(God forbid) Maple syrup. Honey was widely used in the islands and the Cafarellas were evidently well known for it. Here in the States, it would be rather expensive to drench a big pile of pastries in honey.
Back to the subject: I have been asking for information from all of my Aeolian friends and relatives over the last couple of days. I have been trying to pin down the origins and the recipes for little dumplings in soup that we all remember as Padotolas.(the spelling being completely phonetic and there are a number of other spellings)
It seems that this is a dish that has weathered a few changes in the last 120 years. According to some of my sources from the islands there is a note from the 1890s by Duke Salvatore regarding this recipe. He said: "Their meatballs are called Badduotuli made of ground meat, egg yolks, moistened bread and raisins, simmered in beef stock eluted from bones for this purpose." However, most of the recipes that I have heard of from a number of sources do not follow this method. The basic meatball recipe is not far from the norm, but the method of cooking varies a lot, and meat versus cheese is a subject for debate along with the raisins. Who uses beef and raisins together. We will discuss that later.
I remember Mom putting about a pound of ground beef in a bowl(Grammie demanded that the butcher re-grind it a couple of times despite his objections that it was already ground.) On the islands the meat might be ground in a pasta maker and/or a mortar and pestle.
She added a few tablespoons of Parsley. We usually only had dried available. Then she would put a mound of dried crushed breadcrumbs in the bowl. It seemed to me that it was about a third of the volume of the meat. She added about the same amount of Parmesan cheese. She was not a snob about this. She used Romano cheese if the Parmesan was not available or too expensive. She sometimes stooped to the stuff in the green can, but this was a last resort! She warned that Romano and the green stuff were way too salty and I would have trouble when I used it.(From that point on I have never bought that stuff unless I was going on a camping trip or something!)
She would moisten the crumbs with a little water, pepper and an egg. All this was mushed(The scientific term) together into a fairly smooth paste. It was not so soft as to be runny, but it could be fairly sticky if it was too dry. There is a balance that you recognize with trial and disconcerting errors.(Watch the facial expressions of your victims for confirmation.) A bit of the paste would then be fried up in a pan and tasted. Adjustments could be made for salt,(There is rarely too little)cheese or crumb levels.
We all ended up on meatball duty for the next hour or so. Sometimes we would all sit around the kitchen table and sometimes we would retreat to a tray table in the den and roll tiny meatballs about the size of a hazelnut. We were warned to keep a count of how many we were doing.
Then we went to the stove and dumped them into the simmering chicken broth. Aunt May did a broth from roasted beef bones that tasted very much like marrow and very little like beef. But at home, I remember nothing but chicken broth from a can. It was probably home made broth when I was small and Mom had not come down with MS. She did not stand at the stove very much after that happened. When all of the meat mixture was used up, the total number was added up and a call went out to Uncle Phil with the final number. This tradition went on for many years. The calls went back and forth between my brother, Uncle Phil, Aunt May and me on Christmas eve, Thanksgiving eve, New Years eve and Easter. We were always proud of the number of meatballs we could get out of a pound of beef. I do not remember a prize being offered, but I do remember a feeling of great satisfaction if I had the highest number. The competition was not so straight-forward with Uncle Phil. He was actually trying to lose. There was a running joke that he liked big meatballs while Grammie and Mom liked them small. Uncle Phil would always complain when he came to our house for a holiday. He liked big meatballs! I suspect that this was all a ruse to keep everyone off balance while he tried to get possession of the turkey gizzard or heart. It was a rough game, but no one ever got a fork in the back of the hand as a result. Anyway, Mom got tired of the debate. She would ladle out the steaming bowl of soup with mounds of the little meatballs to everyone at the table. She somehow always left Uncle Phil for last. He would have a small mound of the meatballs with one large one perched on the top. This would be anywhere from twice the size of a walnut to the size of a Mandarin orange depending on how big a laugh she wanted. Uncle Phil(Unkie) always acted surprised despite the fact that this occurred year after year.
I tried making this one year to take to my mother-in-law for Christmas. As sometimes happened they were pretty salty despite my best efforts. She worked her way through a bowl of them, but it was plain that she was unimpressed.
I often put lots of extra broth in the soup after the second day and added the tiny pasta we all remember. This also cut the salt. Then on the last day, I would add asparagus spears or greens chopped up in it. It was all good.
Parmesan is not a cheese that was common on the islands. Even there, this would be a luxury item. Romano(Pecorino Romano) or a similar cheese might be there. Another possibility would be Ricotta Salata. In any event the cheese would be a salty, grating cheese.
Grammie used to make a cheese that was similar to Feta. This could be dried to a similar consistency to the grating cheeses if they lasted that long in a big family like hers.
The meat is also problematic. Meat was a luxury. Storage was an issue.
The pigs were slaughtered at a certain time of the year to facilitate curing in correct temperatures and so you did not have to feed too many animals through the winter.
You could not kill too many of your chickens unless you were trying to cure an illness or the priest was coming for dinner. If you kill them all, you ended up with no eggs.
Don't get me started on goats. Butchering goats was a good opportunity to disgust a child with the process or reduce a child to tears when their pet appeared at the table. Ask Anerio Cincotta about this.
Beef was ordered from Lipari in small quantities and leftovers would be stored underground or hanging in the cistern to keep it cool.
Generally, meat was for special occasions.
That leaves us with at least 276 days of the year that would be heavy on the fish, vegetarian, eggs or legumes like lentils for protein.
As a result there are many who remember this soup as having balls made with:

Grated cheese, breadcrumbs, raisins, chopped parsley,eggs and some milk or water.
This might be cooked as above in broth, or sometimes in tomato sauce.
This was good as a stuffing as well, and variations might easily appear in Calamari(with raisins?), Bracciole, or artichokes.(See recipes elsewhere) I remember Mom doing Roast Turkey and Chicken with regular Sage, bread, onion and celery stuffing in the big cavity(Raisins too)and the smaller neck-end cavity would be stuffed with the bread and cheese mixture.
There was always drying bread sitting on the kitchen counters somewhere. It would be on the warming shelf behind the stove when there was a wood stove.
Grammie said that there was always a "treat" of dried bread in the pantry after she saw her aristocratic grandmother, kissed her ring and was expected to sit quietly. I really like to make such recipes with several day old bread. And many people definitely use bread. But, I never saw anyone in my family do these things with anything but dried bread crumbs.
The last few slices and the heels of the bread would be left out on the counter. Then, as the big day approached(or the pile got too high)it was all spread out in the oven at a very low temperature till it dried and toasted slightly. They really appeared more yellow gold than toasty brown. It was very definitely DRY though.
It would be crushed with the bottom of a pan or a big cup and put into containers till it was used.
No one ever cared that we were using that nasty cheap white bread with little to no nutrition. Scala bread sometimes showed up, and you could taste the sesame.
Remember that my memories come from my youth in Northern Maine. Many of you had access to Italian bakeries and many had Italian grocers in the family.
I was speaking to Carolyn Cusolito Tavares yesterday. She volunteered her family recipe for meatballs for soup. There are tons of recipes like I have already given you here in the text. About this much of this and about this much of that. It is rare that I have something so specific as this to pass along. So thanks cousin Carolyn.


1 Cup of grated cheese
3 Eggs
1 Pound of ground meat(beef is the usual choice)
2 Cups of home made bread crumbs
1 Eggshell of water as needed
1 handful of chopped Parsley

These proportions seem a little foreign to me, but I have faith. I usually use more crumbs than others, so this fits in with typical island economy and I think that from what I observed, Carolyn is a great cook.

I would suggest that we all try this recipe with raisins included.

There is as classic combination of meats that is common in Italian ground meat recipes. This combo is 1/3 beef, 1/3 veal and 1/3 pork. This is good for meat sauces like Bolognese. It would be a good choice for these or other meatballs. It would not be unusual to use ground chicken. In fact there is a recipe from one of my Stromboli E-acquaintances which uses chicken breast and minced garlic(grinding the garlic with the side of a knife would be even better for this recipe).

Moving on, Mom would also make little hamburgers. She would use this or her own less "bready" meatball recipe to form little patties. They were not very big, perhaps 3 inches long by 1 1/2 inches wide. They were more or less oval. The real shape was supposed to be diamond or Lozenge shaped, but that is hard to make and to keep the shape through the cooking process. The cheese taste was very strong when they were fried like a burgher. This was usually served with plain spaghetti with oil, cheese and pepper. this would also be good with roasted cherry tomatoes and bell peppers. See the sauce recipes for instructions. She called these Papetta(i). The word for paste-like meat mixtures in Italian is Polpetta or plural: Polpetti. Basically it is pulp. Meats ground in a mortar would definitely be a pulp.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Caper Pesto

Notice the vines for Malvasia in the foreground and Caper stumps behind them. If you go to the Salumeria to buy Capers in salt, it is very likely that they came from Salina.

There are variations of this for every day of the year. I will give you the basic idea and you can make variations till the cows come home.
Pesto made with basil, in general has a basic recipe that is used in Liguria and is regularly published in cookbooks. In reality, the cook in Italy has a basic idea of the texture in mind, and they throw the ingredients together till it looks right and taste it. Then add things till it tastes right.
When I was in Malfa two years ago, I bought a small bottle of caper pesto and brought it home with me to use with pasta when the memory of Malfa was fading.
I still have the little bottle with its list of ingredients on it, but I hesitate to just imitate it here. I will give you my interpretation.
When you are on Salina, you will see peoples' yards with nice green grass and these ugly black-brown lumps sticking up in them. They were very knobby and gnarled. I had no idea what they were. It turns out that they were the stumps of caper bushes, generations old. Of course the bushes just grow like a sub-shrub with a white and pink flower. But, if you need to get capers for your own use, it is easy to just cut the caper back and allow it to come back up on an ever thickening stump. No need to forage. They have been "Pollarding" trees in big European cities for a couple of centuries at least. This is just a caper version.

Rinse and soak about half a cup of capers preserved in salt in cold water for at least a couple of hours, changing the water periodically. Do soak as long as you have time for as you will have trouble judging how much salt to use. Squeeze to dry slightly. You can use the capers from a bottle, but taste them first. They will have a different flavor, and may have vinegar. You could use this and add sugar which would be a bit sweet and sour. This is a well loved flavor in Italy, but it may not go well in some of the dishes you plan to use this with....Agro-Dolce.

Halve a couple of ripe but still firm tomatoes, and using your finger, remove all the seeds. Sprinkle the cut sides with salt(another reason to be wary of salt) and lay on a rack or paper towel, cut side down to drain for about an hour. Squeeze to remove left-over moisture and salt. Chop coarsely.

Crush your choice of olives with the side of a knife and remove the pits. Use green, black or a mix. I would not use wine or oil cured olives for this. Those are the terribly wrinkled ones. However I have seen versions of this recipe with oil cured olives...this would not be good for me however.

Peel and mince two medium garlic cloves very finely. If you do not like the sharpness of fresh garlic, sweat them in plenty of olive oil just till they soften on low temperature. Do not let them color. You can also put a few whole garlic cloves in a saucepan with oil, salt, pepper and a sprig of rosemary. Place on low heat and turn regularly till they become a warm brown and are very soft and wrinkly like a big plumped raisin.

Roast in the oven, or in a pan, about 1/4 cup of Pignola nuts or blanched slivered almonds.

OPTIONAL: thin slice a couple of scallions or mince a small handful of chives.
OPTIONAL: Add an anchovy fillet or two(another source of salt)

In a mortar and pestle, or if you are a wimp(like me) in a food processor:

Drop in the capers, garlic, olives, onion, tomatoes 1/4 cup parsley and nuts.

Pulse a few times. Everything should come out in a uniform texture. It should be about the size of baby peas.


about half a cup of EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL and pulse again. It should come together like a paste, but there should be a distinctive coarse texture where the pieces are still recognizable. Stir in 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan. Add as much more oil as necessary to get the correct texture.

Now you can check the seasoning. There were a lot of salt sources here. Olives, tomatoes, capers all had salt in them. When you are unsure, do not add salt till just before you serve it. The salt can still come out of the capers into the pesto while it is in storage.

Add more oil if necessary to make it a bit more fluid and easy to mix into pasta or smear over other things.


Use tomatoes that you have roasted in the oven, drizzled with oil for about two hours minimum, at 250 degrees.

Add a small Eggplant cut in chunks and roasted similarly.

Add Oregano and/or basil.

Mix into bean paste(post elsewhere) or Bean and tuna paste.

Toss into pasta.

Smear over plain fish half way through baking.

Toss with re hydrated baked or simmered Bacala(another salt source).

Add lemon juice and/or grated zest.

Smear over just roasted vegetable halves, Eggplant, Peppers, Tomatoes, Potatoes.

Coarsely mash some into new potatoes with extra oil. Especially good if you are serving fish with it. Potato and capers are a well known combination in the Aeolian islands, even though my great grandmother thought they were only fit for pigs.

Smear on grilled or toasted bread or garlic bread.

Mix it into cream cheese and stuff celery or Endive leaves.

Stir some into drained ricotta cheese and use it for a stuffing in deep fried squash, pumpkin or zucchini blossoms.
To drain the cheese, place a coffee filter into a mesh strainer and pour in the ricotta. Let drain into a deep bowl over night. You could use a double layer of cheesecloth as well.(possibly even paper towels)
You could conceivably put a layer of this stuffing between two slices of eggplant or zucchini slices then dip in batter together and deep fry...pray.

Today I saw a variation that was a mix of several anchovy fillets, 1/4 cup of rinsed drained capers, a handful of parsley, a half cup of oil cured olives(or your choice) all minced together, then wet with olive oil and Parmesan or Pecorino Romano mixed in. This was mixed with floured and fried veggies then baked at 350 till hot through.

ETC. Etc. etc.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Herb Butter

Herb Gardens are a joy, they enjoy neglect, poor soil works...they can change your cooking and your life.
I know of no one in the family named Herb. He is in no way responsible for this recipe. I used to be in Museum work however, in the Summers when I was not teaching. I had occasion to give teas a few times in the summer. We had a small herb garden which I restored and a rose garden that had gone wild and completely enveloped one side of the house in a mass of foliage. It was romantic, but not healthy for the house or the roses. I cut them all back and replanted the rose garden with old varieties. My niece took a few slips from all the old roses and now she has the care of the rampant varieties. It is fun to know that they were old varieties, but they are some work. When there was a tea, I tried to include things in the refreshments that we could grow. I had people help me make butter on site, and we harvested and processed the herbs. As a result, It was easy to make herb butters and serve them on bread that I made in the big bake oven in the kitchen fireplace. Biscuits with yeast, local cheese and baking powder were also offered from our bake oven.

To a quarter pound of salted butter, add 1/2 cup of fresh herbs. It is best to put each herb separately into a different butter, as the distinct taste is lost otherwise. There are some blends that were done based on antique Shaker recipes and so forth, but you are better off with just one.

Process the herbs and butter, slightly softened in a food processor. Then pack and freeze(or put it in your root cellar with some pond ice) for a day or two. Bring to room temperature and spread on small biscuits, bread rounds(both for tea sandwiches).

These may be used as a base for finely sliced cucumber with the seeds removed, shrimp paste or a single butterflied shrimp, Minced or sliced radishes, dried or roasted tomatoes etc.

These can be done open face or as regular sandwiches. Use up the bread cut from Eggs in a frame. Make the butter into sandwiches with a variety of breads and cut out with a cookie cutter(You eat all the trimmings). Try using mint with sliced strawberries.

The butters can also be wonderful over grilled plain meats such as a good steak, over grilled shaved steak, or over vegetables. Peas with mint butter. Saute cucumber or summer squash and melt dill butter over them or mint again. Grill some chicken, melt basil butter over the top and top with thin slices of tomato.

You can do blends that include fresh or roasted garlic and herbs, onions or chopped tomato(seeds removed), but beware the storage of anything like that as spoilage might be an issue.
Do not freeze the vegetable butters as the freezing will change the texture. Use immediately and before it has a chance to weep.

You can also do this with fresh or purchased Mayonnaise, but storage and freezing is an even bigger issue.


Wash all herbs in COLD water and be sure no pesticides are used near them.

Chives, minced shallots---onion flavor
Tarragon, basil---anise flavor
Salad Burnett, Borage--cucumber flavor
Rosemary sometimes with garlic---Piney and very Greek
Nasturtiums---pepper flavor
Mint, Spearmint, other flavored mints---
Oregano---Greek and Italian(try with lemon zest or juice(in moderation)
Lemon Balm, Sorrel(both in moderation), Lemon Verbena---Lemon
Rose petals and Lavendar---lovely but an aquired taste.
Citrus peel grated. The little clover like weed that shows up in all your planting beds is a Wood Sorrel and can be used as an herb for a lemon flavor. These would be good with saefood.

Try also mashing shrimp, crab or lobster into the butter and serving on bread or hot pasta. Plop a mini ice cream scoop of this on a great steak, but leave some texture in the seafood.

Try many of these on grilled or fried bread alone or with morsels of your favorite meats, cheeses or olives as an appetizer

Try any of these with Moscarpone or cream cheese. Perhaps you could try the rose petals or lavendar in between the layers of a plain cake with a glaze or powdered sugar on top.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Egg Salad

Anything looks good in front of Mom's bean pot.
The fact is, anyone who knows me well, can tell you that I hate eggs, for the most part.  Like many people, though, I don't mind Deviled Eggs.  I have always avoided Egg Salad Sandwiches.
I had an egg boiled for another lunch earlier in the week, and did not want to eat it as it was.  Can't waste it though.
So, I made my own Egg Salad. 

Boil one egg per sandwich.  To do this perfectly, just put your eggs in a saucepan.  Cover them with cold water.  Place on medium high heat and bring to a boil.  Do not allow to boil for long.  Turn off the heat and cover the pan.   Allow to sit in the water for about fifteen minutes or till cold.  Rinse and peel the eggs.  Older eggs are better than fresh for this.

Slice the eggs into a bowl. 
Finely mince onion (sweeter is better so red is good) to equal about a rounded Tablespoon or more of onion per egg.
Add a rounded tablespoon of Mayonnaise per egg.   For me, a bit more is better.
Salt and pepper generously.

Mash the whole thing with a potato masher.  I do this because I do not like the big chunks of egg white in some recipes.
I like the egg to be rather loose instead of dry.

Try adding flavorings to the salad, especially if eggs are not your favorite.:

Finely minced tarragon.
A bit of prepared mustard, or a dash of dry mustard per egg.
A dusting of Cayenne.
Finely minced ham or sausage of any type.
Parmesan cheese.
Very finely minced radish.


When you make your sandwiches, cut them into four on the diagonal, or into fingers without the crust.  Butter or Mayo one or more of the cut edges.  Dip the prepared edge in very finely chopped parsley or chives.  Shake the coated edge till anything loose drops off.  Display the decorated edges prominently on the tray or plate.

Bean and Tuna Dip, even fish haters will like.

I hate fish! I come from an island family on one side. I come from a hunting and fishing family on the other side that lived along the St. John river and Belleisle Bay in Canada. I grew up in Maine(granted it was far inland). But I hate fish! I try to train myself into eating it now and then, but it does not last long. I want to move to Italy when I retire. How will I survive in a culture so heavily into fish?
Pasta with octopus or cuttlefish ink....Oh My God!
I have found that I can eat scallops, shrimp and lobster, but I really only crave the related sauces. Tuna....OK I can eat it, as I can eat almost anything, but I would not choose it.
So, here is tuna I can eat.
I serve this at a party or a holiday dinner. I don't tell anyone what it is till they have eaten it. Never have an objection.
Serve it with grilled bread, crackers, crudites....or swirl a bit into a soup, a salad or toss with pasta.

By all means, do this recipe without the tuna. It would be very Tuscan that way, served warm or cold with a drizzle of oil and chunks of bread.

Cannelini Bean Dip

Drain and RINSE one can of White Cannelini beans.
Mince four cloves of garlic or mash them on the cutting board or with salt.
Drain one can of tuna...your choice.

Put everything into a food processor or a mortar and pestle. Process or grind to a paste. Add olive oil till a nice creamy mousse is achieved. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

Optional: Lemon zest and lemon juice, Anchovies, Pecorino Romano,Parmesan finely grated or chopped fresh parsley.

Pour into a shallow brightly colored bowl or plate. Chop scallions,roasted or fresh red and green peppers, seeded and drained tomatoes, black and green olives. This would be wonderful with endive scoops, asparagus spears, broccoli or cauliflower(blanched). Arrange the chopped vegetables, a few capers etc. in a decorative pattern around the edge of the pool of dip in a sort of wreath. The dip is rather colorless so you need some kind of color to help the appearance. Drizzle a bit of the very best olive oil you can afford over the top.

Take a whole, cleaned head of Cauliflower, spread the dip on the whole thing like frosting a cake. Cover tightly or wrap in foil and bake at a very low temperature for an hour of so(But just till tender) and sprinkle with minced roasted red peppers for color. Put the whole head into a serving bowl and use a large spoon to cut it apart at the table with plenty of fresh bread.


When you watch the chefs trimming artichokes before cooking, it seems that they are throwing most of it away. It is true that much of the artichoke is inedible, but the ruthless trimming is also throwing away bits of edible material. that would not do for a frugal society. Also, my mother threw away a large chunk of usable artichoke. She chopped off the stem below the flower. I know this is meant to be a family site, but I have no intention of advising anyone to throw away good food no matter what Mom did.

Four large artichokes. They should squeak when you squeeze them. they should feel heavy for their size, and not have dry or discolored leaves.

Bread crumbs... fresh, crushed dried bread or grated stale bread.

Grated cheese. Finely grated Parmesan, Romano(Pecorino Romano) the hard grating cheese with peppercorns in it or if available Ricotta Salata.(Dried salted Ricotta that becomes hard like other grating cheeses)

One beaten egg

Fresh or dried Parsley(flat leaf is best)

One recipe of meatless tomato sauce of your choice, home made chicken broth or water with onion, salt and pepper, chopped vegetables, garlic, tomato, mint(catmint or oregano), olive oil and a bay leaf.(boiled till all the vegetable matter has broken down) The resulting sauce should be quite thin.
How about steaming Mussels or mixed shellfish and reserving the liquid to steam the artichokes.

Cut the stem from the Atrichoke. Peel it and cut off the dried cut end. Set aside. Trim off the tiny leaves at the bottom of the artichoke and the loosest of the big leaves. Cut off the tip of the artichoke perhaps an inch from the top. You have two choices facing you now. 1. Hollow out the center of the artichoke by spreading the top open and digging down to the bottom of the center and dig out the purple finely divided blossom inside.(use a teaspoon, melon baller or a grapefruit spoon) {You can also cut it in half vertically and remove this(This leaves less of the artichoke to stuff as you now have to lay it down to cook it.)}
2. Leave it whole and have less or no space in the center to stuff and the choke remains for the eater to remove as they eat.

Mix two parts bread crumbs and one part cheese. Add an egg and an eggshell of water and parsley. Let it stand for a few minutes till the water is absorbed. You may also stuff it into the artichoke dry and rely on the sauce to moisten it.

Place a bit of stuffing into the middle of the artichoke by prying it apart with your fingers. Spread the artichoke as much as possible and rub against the grain of the artichoke to push a small amount of the crumb mixture inside most of the leaves. If you are not getting enough in, spread each leaf outward and stuff individually.

Lower the whole artichokes and the stems into the broth or sauce standing upright, and simmer covered till the artichoke is tender....use a skewer to pierce the artichoke to see if it yeilds. The artichoke halves should be done in a broad bottomed pan or frying pan. this liquid need not cover the artichoke. Much of the cooking process is from the rising steam. They could also just be steamed over a flavored liquid.

Serve alone on a plate drizzled with olive oil. Tear the leaves off one by one and eat by scraping the stuffing and the tender flesh from the bottom inside third of the leaf with your teeth. This is a slow but enjoyable process. When you reach the tender inside leaves, they may be eaten whole. Make sure you do not eat the purple inside flower, but once that is removed, the heart and virtually the entire artichoke is edible once the tough outer leaves are removed.

Some people stuff the artichoke with the dry stuffing and drizzle beaten egg or egg white over the stuffing to consoloidate it. I cannot envision this process, yet it is not uncommon.

I have also seen these served with grilled or steamed shrimp and drizzled with garlic infused butter. Just boil the oil or butter at a low temperature with minced garlic till the garlic is tender. Salt and pepper will help as well.

What's up Socca?

What do you do with chickpea flour. We see all these flours in the Italian grocery stores and wonder what in the world to do with them. (Chickpea and Chestnut are common) It is not unusual for the great chefs to use these in any number of sweet and savory recipes. Who knew that our ancestors were gourmets. We only remember the gourmands. I am hoping that I will find some recipes for these flours that might be at least applicable to our origins. I actually rather dislike Chickpeas, Garbanzos,Cecis etc., and I cannot get those who surround me to like Chestnuts. So what do we do with Chickpea flour, or dried chickpeas.

I found a recipe that I like in Nice France. I am not sure that people know that Nice and much of the western Riviera were Italian in their culture, and only had to choose which way they were going to go when Italy unified in the 1860's and 70's. In fact most relatives I speak to are pretty astonished to know that our Great Grandparents were not born in Italy. There simply was no Italy before the process that began in 1815. After the fall of Napoleon there were movements to get the support of Austria in forming a nation, and only ended when the pope finally withdrew from Rome to the Vatican in 1871. They even added territory after the First World War. Variations of this recipe are found all the way along the coast to Tuscany.

So Nice qualifies for an Italian recipe.

All you do to make Socca is mix water with chickpea flour till it is rather like slightly thin Pancake batter.(Say 1 cup flour to slightly more than one cup water to a maximum of perhaps 1 1/3 cup water Like flour it will use different amounts depending on the weather) Add a little salt. Let it rest while you work on the rest of your meal or take a nap. Pour this into a well seasoned iron skillet or a dark colored rimmed baking sheet(You might consider spraying it with a baking spray first or seasoning it with oil and heat a couple of times) Do not use a vehicle that will be ruined by scraping, because this is what you do with this stuff.
Once you have poured this into the pan to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, pour a generous stream of olive oil in a big spiral over the surface.
Shove it into the oven at about 450 degrees and bake it until it is cooked through(25 min?), and you get sort of a blistered and spotty scorch on the surface. I am not suggesting that you burn it, but you know how good those scorched spots on a pizza can be.
Place the pan on a steady surface and allow to cool briefly. Use a thin spatula to simply scrape it out of the pan in large shreds, piling them up on a serving plate.
Use it as an appetizer, serve with olives, cheese chunks, roasted peppers, sliced cured meats, Ricotta, drained over night in a sieve, pressed into a mold and unmolded onto a serving plate...Whatever. The most usual is to have it plain and nibbled out of a paper cone.

Now my suggestions: Mix minced hot peppers into the batter.
Mix in small but fleshy pieces of cooked red or green peppers.
Mix in rosemary and/or pepper.
Serve with grilled vegetables.
Try mixing the oil into the batter before you pour it.

Experimenting will get the results you like.

When you see this in Nice, it is at street vendors' carts or booths. The pans are perhaps a meter across, and are usually cooked elsewhere in wood burning ovens like pizzas,and brought to the shop covered, by bicycle to be sold.

Texas Mary's Artichokes

Mary is such a lovely, soft spoken lady. Col. Joe is a lucky guy. I understand that she is one of the last repositories of Aunt Jo Cafarella's recipes. As I said before, they were very close from the time Joe and Mary married till Aunt Jo's death, so close in fact that Aunt Jo passed on her secrets. Sounds a bit like the Masons, doesn't it. Sometimes it requires a lot of trust to pass your hard won secrets on to someone. As a result of this Mary has the reputation of being a fine cook. Of course she could have been a fine cook before, but Italians only credit you with the title if you can "Cook Italian".
Mary has a variation on Artichoke preparation that she would like to share with us, so here it is. I must say, Mary, This has more than a hint of Arabic in it.


1 lb bag fine bread crumbs (about 5 cups)

1 tbsp sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp parsley (dried) See note

2 tbsp basil (dried) See note

1 Cup grated romano or parmesan cheese

Mix all ingredients together well. Put in freezer to keep fresh and ready to use when you need it.

NOTE: I would use fresh herbs when I intend to use the bread crumb mixture immediately. If I intend to freeze the bread crumb mixture for use at a later date, I use the dried herbs.


Mary starts with the basic seasoned bread crumbs. Then she adds a 3oz jar of small capers well drained and squeezed dry to the bread crumb mixture. Put in your food processor about ten thin slices of salami or ham, one half cup of drained martini or Spanish olives and three or four jalapeno stuffed olives. (she likes the zip they add). Process this and add to your bread crumb mixture. Mix well. You may need to use your hand to mix to be sure all gets blended well and the mixture remains dry. This can all be done in advance and kept in the freezer until ready to stuff your artichokes.

Note from Bill: I am finding as I read more that the islanders used a mortar and pestle for many of these stuffings and anything that we might use a processor for.

Bring a pot of water to a boil with plenty of salt and a sliced fresh lemon. While the water is coming to a boil, clean the artichokes by cutting the stem off to about one half inch of the base of the artichoke. Reserve the stem. Cut off the very end and discard. Peel the stem.

Peel off the small leaves at the base of the artichoke and discard. With kitchen shears, cut about a half inch off the top of the other leaves. Using a knife, cut leaf ends across the very top of the artichoke. Cook the artichokes in the boiling water about 15 minutes. The stem pieces can be cooked in the water about 5 minutes or until tender. With tongs, remove the artichokes from the water and place upside down on a board to drain and cool. When they are cool, stick your fingers into the center and remove the fibrous leaves. Using a spoon you will expose the fuzzy choke, remove it and discard. It is not edible. The fuzzy choke sits on top of the “heart” or bottom of the artichoke and the most delicious part. I put in a mushroom to fill this empty space. Once they are all cleaned and ready to be stuffed, have a pan available that will hold the artichokes and put about one half inch of water in the bottom. Your pan is ready for the stuffed artichokes.

With a spoon, put a little of the stuffing behind each leaf. You will need to keep turning it to make sure that you get each leaf. Then put a spoonful of the stuffing in the center. The stuffing is dry and will fall into the bottom of the leaf. (This way with each pull of the leaves between your teeth, you get a bit of stuffing with the tidbit of the meat of the artichoke.) Place in the pan of water. When they are all stuffed, and into the pan, drizzle well with olive oil. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Remove the foil and bake an additional 15 minutes to brown the top and reduce the moisture so the leaves will not be soggy from the steam of cooking. I serve them with a slice of lemon placed in the center of each.

Note: Do Not Ever Put Any Leaves Into Your Disposal

Caprese Salad with Giardiniera and bread

I did all the cooking in Malfa.

Caprese salad and related salads from Bill and his mother.

Some of my favorite things as I was growing up were the simple salads that Mom made from garden produce. I was never a fan of salad greens. I did not hate them or refuse to eat them, I just favored the other ingredients.

Slice up cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers into roughly the same sized pieces...a vinaigrette would be wonderful, and we often drizzled it with oil and vinegar, but my favorite was just Red Wine Vinegar(especially what resulted from failed wine attempts) or cider vinegar and lots of black pepper.

Mom always said:" be a miser with the vinegar and a spendthrift with the oil"...Three to one is classic of course. I doubt that this expression started with her.

My personal favorite is related and is something I always look forward to in Italy. They tend to use smaller, intensely flavored tomatoes and sometimes under ripe or colored tomato varieties. It does have that red white and green color combo that Italians always look for in a patriotic dish.

1. slice two tomatoes in 1/2 inch slices.
2. count the slices and slice fresh Mozzarella( the stuff still in water when you buy it) in the same size and number of slices.
3. the same number of fresh basil leaves, ribbons of Basil like a chiffonade or good quality Pesto.

Alternate Cheese, tomato and basil like a spread deck of cards in a line or around a plate in a circle. If using the ribbons or pesto, just the tomato and cheese. Sprinkle the Basil or Pesto on top.

Drizzle good extra virgin olive oil over all. I will sometimes do curls of Parmesan or a mound of olives or Caponata in the center of the plate or circle of cheese and tomato.

I know this is well known today, but lets not overlook something great just because it is now common. Serve with a mound of good Italian or French bread torn in big, rough pieces to soak up the oil and drippings...capers or salt and pepper can be used as well. No need for vinegar here.

If you have trouble cutting nice slices of Mozzarella, try using a piece of thread or dental floss to cut it.  sometimes a knife will leave a very ragged cut or will drag so much as it cuts that the middle of the slice is all shredded and split.
This also works well with cakes.  You can wrap a thread around a layer of cake, crossing the ends and pull through the cake to make two layers from one.  It pulls in and cuts from all sides at once.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Herbs and lemons in salt.

We all know that Salina means salt. Shame on you if you do not! If you go to the island of Salina, you step off the dock and take a right to go to Malfa and most of the other towns. You go straight into the town surrounding the dock for Santa Marina. If you take a left, however, you go along the shore to Lingua. In the distance, just as the land turns away forming a point, there are the ancient salt pans. Sea water is introduced to this shallow depression, bounded by low walls, then the water is evaporated by the sun till crystals form. It is then piled up and turned regularly to finish drying. This is not unique to Salina. They do it a lot in western Sicily, like at Trapani. But this process gave the island its name. Sea salt can sometimes be pink from bacterial growth. No harm in it. The salt that forms like a frost at the top of the undisturbed drying salt is called Fleur de Sel in France and is a very gourmet product.
Our families used the salt to preserve all sorts of food,(notably capers, caper berries and fish) in a time and a place where refrigeration was not available. I still buy my capers in Boston, packed in sea salt from Salina. Short term preservation might be done by burying food or hanging it in the cisterns to stay cool. Evaporating coolers may have been impossible, because water was so precious there, and was more important than the preserved food in a place where food might be obtained all year round. The variety may not be great however.
In this method of cooling, a porous earthenware vessel is kept damp, or the contents seep through the body of the vessel. Evaporation on the surface removes heat from the contents. Also, a lattice like box is draped with coarse cloth. Water from a source above drips on the cloth. As the water evaporates, it draws heat from inside the box. Neither of these will keep things as cold as a modern refrigerator, but it is much better than room temperature storage. You sometimes see a tall cylindrical bisque vessel just big enough to hold a bottle of white wine, and a half inch or so of water. The evaporation through the clay chills the wine.

Anyway, it is very simple to preserve herbs with salt. Sea salt is best, and certainly honors our traditions. Other salt will also work.

Just get some nice clean covered jars. It is best to find old ones that are like apothecary jars with glass covers, but improvise. How about putting stone, glass or ceramic coasters on top of the uncovered jars to keep air out. The salt will corrode the metal covers.
Start by putting a layer of salt on the bottom of the jar, then a layer of herbs. Cover with salt and repeat till the jar is full, with salt on the top. Use the herbs like fresh, and the salt may also take on some of the flavor from the oils as well. What a nice gift for a culinary friend.
Keep in a cool, dark place.


You know that lemons become available at some times of the year for very low prices. We from the islands also have very close ties to Arabic and north African traditions. There are a number of recipes with spices for instance that we mostly think of for apple pie rather than regular food.
Preserved lemons figure heavily in recipes from those areas.

Buy plenty of lemons. You should get a few more than you think you need.
Scrub them, and cut off the little "nipple" at the end. Remove the green stem remnants at the other end where the lemon attaches to the branch.
Stand the lemon on the stem end and cut almost all the way through to the bottom, but leave it attached. Give the lemon a quarter turn and cut again. You have basically quartered the lemon, but the four quarters are still attached at that stem joint.
Open up the lemon and sprinkle a generous amount of salt on all the exposed cut surfaces. Sprinkle the rest of the lemon as well. Put the lemon into a large glass container, cut end down, and push the whole thing down firmly so that it nearly "Juices" itself. Add more lemons till the jar is full. The lemons should be tightly packed and submerged in the salty juices, but not so tightly packed that juices will not flow around them. If not covered, add more lemon juice from your extra supply. Sprinkle extra salt on top and seal them in. Metal will corrode so avoid metal near the preserves.
Allow them to sit for at least three weeks. Agitate them periodically by turning the bottle upside down for a moment then righting it again. The skins will soften when ready to use. You may add a wide variety of spices of your choice, such as cloves or cinnamon to the layers of lemons for variety.
Julienne or coarsely chop the rinds into long cooked sauces and layer into juicy meat dishes as they are baked.
To use, rinse thoroughly to remove most of the salt. Use or remove the pulp as you wish, but get rid of the seeds. Use in fish recipes, but take a look for Moroccan recipes to give you ideas.
Chicken, oily fish and goat would be naturals but do not overlook other meats.

Watch the salt in your recipe!!!

Basil and Oregano Tips

So many recipes call for FRESH BASIL. I love it and I try to grow plenty in the summer. If you run out or do not have access to fresh basil, take a look in the refrigerated section of the fresh vegetable aisle and find the plastic containers of Pesto. There will often be such things as Hummus in the same area. These are so much cheaper than the bottled varieties and the fresh basil for sale there! It will keep for quite some time in the refrigerator. It does go down hill of course, but even if it is not fresh as a daisy, it is better than dry. I stir a tablespoon into sauces, and I paint the pizza crust with it before I put the tomato on and paint the bread for tomato and mozzarella sandwiches. Curiously enough, I am happy to eat pasta with Pesto, but it is not my favorite.

Like fresh basil, this is not meant to be cooked. Perhaps a minute or so if you must, but just as you take it off the heat is best. The Parmesan mixed into it will stick to the pan if you cook it for long.

PS...Make your own!

Curiously, Oregano is much better dried. Plant some. It grows in big mats with absolutely no care. Clip large bouquets of it. Wrap the stems of the bouquet tightly with an elastic, and hang it upside down to dry in a dark but airy place. Once it is completely dry, and I do mean completely, put the bunches in big plastic bags. If not completely dry it will mold. Flick the bunches like wands over your cooking food or rub them lightly between your palms to release more. Do not use Mexican has no power. It looks and smells nice growing though.

Aunt Jo

Aunt Jo's Caponatina

Thank-you Janice for passing this on to us and for being the first. Mary(Texas Mary) has sent me other recipes, but this is the first one specifically for this project.


Main ingredients:

1 pound mushrooms

1 Large eggplant (peeled)

4 red peppers (roasted)

4 sticks celery

3 onions or 2 large

3 cloves garlic (chopped)

Other Ingredients:

Capers (optional), raisins(optional), olives, sliced toasted almonds or toasted pine nuts, salt, black pepper, 1T cinnamon, 1t parsley, basil, 1t oregano, olive oil, 1/3 cup cider vinegar, 1T sugar, 2T Romano or Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, 1/8t nutmeg.

Slice all the vegetables. Easiest is on a mandolin. Saute the vegetables in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. The recipe says to saute each veg. separately. Salt and pepper to taste as you go. Add all the vegetables back into the pan after they are cooked. Cook for a long time so that they are cooked down. Add tomato sauce, Parsley, basil, oregano, cinnamon and nutmeg. Cook for another 10 min.

The recipe calls for roasted peppers but I just slice red, orange or yellow peppers and saute as I do the others in the recipe.

In a small bowl, stir vinegar and sugar together and add to the pan. The recipe calls this a slurry. I usually wind up adding more of each to taste and I use more tomato sauce than the recipe calls for. Add the cheese and nuts. Add the raisins, olives(sliced) and capers if you like them. I omit the raisins and capers.

Note from Bill: Capers can be very salty or vinegary depending on how you get them...either be very light on the salt till the end of the recipe or rinse the capers before you add them...correct seasoning afterwards.
Also, I might recommend grilling sliced bread that has been moistened with olive oil and rubbed with garlic. Serve them together.
The Sultanas or white raisins are most like what you would find on the islands if you plan to use them.


Here is my half finished herb garden. It is nearly finished now, but my camera is on the blink. I will publish finished photos when I have the chance. In this post I will discuss the herbs, their uses and ways to preserve them. This is my third herb garden, having to leave one behind when I divorced and one when I left Cape Cod behind. This was by far the easiest to build. Perhaps it was not difficult to come up with materials, as we have manure from the horses and a huge supply of stone on the property, but since the stones were ranging upwards of 400 pounds in some cases, easy might not be the best word.
It is set in the sunniest part of the yard behind my house. The walls were started with broken fragments of the concrete salvaged from the back patio then cased and topped with stone. The inner walls that hold back the raised beds are half buried stones, some of which are huge. I back-filled the beds with the original earth from the site mixed with yards and yards of sandy loam from my local nursery.(Brigg's in North Attleboro) Then came wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of manure from the back of the property. All the manure is at least four years old. As rich soil is not necessarily what herbs like best, I will probably never do the manure again as a top dressing like I might with roses. I mixed all of this in and planted the herbs. At least, many herbs tend to be stronger flavored and more heavily scented in poor and dry conditions. Many of the herbs I plant are there for nostalgia and to illustrate what kinds of herbs there are. So many of them can be a little on the dangerous side if used in uncontrolled doses. I like them for the scent and their beauty and I use only a few of the more well known and safest herbs for cooking. Sorrel, for instance, is a wonderful, lemony herb/vegetable. It is great in soups and as a lemony note in recipes. However, it contains large amounts of Oxalic acid which crystallizes in the urinary tract. It is fine for occasional use, but not a regular thing.
All of the herb garden gets shade at least part of the day, but for the most part it is in full sun. There is one bed, however, that gets shade from an overhanging tree in the heat of the day. This bed got the plants that prefer shade or would be entirely too rampant in sunny conditions. Funny, I planted my favorite shade lover that I have tended most carefully for nearly twenty years in the sun because I was so impatient to move it in the Spring while it was still damp outside. I had only one bed ready at the time. Now I am trying to devise ways to make sure it is shaded. It hates to be moved once established. I am petrified that I will lose it if I move it again. Fortunately there is a Lilac there and a trellis will be nearby. Both will provide shade. The lilac is a white one that came from the front yard of the Olsen house in Cushing, Maine. I went up to help out when I was a curator of a small mueum in Maine. The Lilac was invading the driveway, so I took a few sprigs that I removed from the gravel. The Olsen house is famous as the house on the hill in Andrew Wyeth's: Christina's World. I will post a photo of the painting and hope no one will mind.
I have all of the standard herbs and now am looking for the more unusual things. I have plants such as Skullcap and Sweet Cicely that no one ever heard of. There will be plenty of Basil and Oregano for Spaghetti Sauce. There will be plenty for other day to day uses as well.
I put a round bed in the center. Lavender needs very will drained conditions, so the center bed got rather a lot of the worst and driest soil. I have the big pot full of flowers there as well as the statue of St. Fiacre. All are surrounded with various Lavenders and annual Calendulas. My luck with Lavender has been rather poor in the past, so I hope this will be a better start. Now for some general and unsolicited advice. I am best at the unsolicited part. I have had a bad habit since my first contact with herbs in my late teens. I have always planted every herb that will survive in my area, and many that would not survive more than that one season. It is probably a good strategy to look in your cupboard and decide what herbs you will truly use. Add to that list a few that have some nostalgia for you. Perhaps you had a mother-in-law that had plenty of Spearmint in the yard for some obscure dish that she always made. It is nice to has few uses ...and it will run crazy in your garden. Plant it in a tub sunk in the ground if you must have it for nostalgia's sake, but if you do not need it...leave it out. I will use Thyme, Oregano, Sage, Basil, Mint, all the onion relatives(chives, garlic chives, walking onions and garlic), Sweet Cicely, Horseradish, Sorrel, Lovage, Hyssop, Valerian, Sweet Woodruff, Costmary and a few I can't remember right now. I should not be growing things like Skullcap, exotically flavored Thymes, Feverfew(though I like it's pretty little flowers),Angelica(which can be toxic), Wormwood, and Rue. I will never use them and I should be concentrating my space and time on things that can be of use. You should be using the space that you are now saving to wean yourself off the local nursery...Sorry Briggs. Plant several waves of three or four plants each, for the first couple of years. Have enough woody plants growing so that they are more likely to survive a rough winter. The woody plants are always a worry. In subsequent years, cut and root cuttings from your woody plants and plant new ones. (Look for sprigs of the plant that are still soft and green. Cut off a piece of the plant, including the little node or collar that attaches to the next branch. Dip the cutting into water, and then into rooting powder. Shake the excess loose and sink the end into freshly turned, soft soil, damp sand or potting soil. Firm the soil around it and keep it watered. Do more than you think you need as half or more will die as a rule.) Reserve a couple of annual and biennial plants like Basil and Parsley so that they will send lots of energy into producing seeds instead of cuttings to eat. Remember to harvest and store the seeds. Start new Parsley plants each year so that there will always be a crop of healthy and flavorful plants mixed with the second year ones that will produce the seed. Divide clumping plants like Chives(my Ex-wife used to call them Clives because their gardener in England called them that). These plants will thrive for some time, but eventually the center will die out as the clump ages. Keep the plants fresh by starting a patch of them instead of a single clump and give away plants as they become too numerous to be practical. These are a good source of onion flavor in your foods without spending a fortune on onions every week. The only difference is that they should be added at the end of the cooking process intead of letting all their flavor cook away at the beginning. A huge patch of walking onions(Egyptian onions) is a good idea. Though there is a lot of work involved in skinning a couple of dozen tiny, top onions, blanching will hurry the process and they are wonderful roasted or grilled quickly with a litte Balsamic vinegar, reduced to become sweet and syrupy. Add a couple of Cloves and Thyme to the roasting pan or the vinegar to make it very Neapolitan. Try setting up gardens that are for separate uses. If you like, you could reserve a bed for herbs that will be useful only for herb teas. This is where you might consider Bee Balm, various flavored mints, Lemon Balm and exotic Basils. Use one part just for savory cooking; one for sweet cooking, and one for scents. Put all of your mints and plants like Tansy around your house as underplantings for standard flowering trees and standard roses. The masses of mint and Tansy will ward pests away from your house.