Mozzarella Lasagna

I may have mentioned this before, but I don’t like ricotta cheese. It is not appeasing to me. To me it’s dry cottage cheese with little flavor. I’m not a fan and I don’t understand why people like it.

As a result, I haven’t been a big fan of lasagna either. I was pleased to see that this recipe from my hometown cookbook, Little Italy Festival Town is anti ricotta.

After a light bask in my pleased feelings, I started to wonder. Since this recipe is from an Italian lady, does that mean ricotta in lasagna is not authentic to Italian recipes? After some quick searching, it appears that adding ricotta was an American thing to do.

All this time, I felt odd for not being a fan of ricotta in my lasagna. Maybe my Italian side was trying to tell me something.

What you’ll need

  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 cup of chopped onion
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 2 cans of tomato paste
  • 2 cans of water
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 X 8 X 2-inch baking pan

The first step is boiling the lasagna by preparing 8 quarts of water, 1/4 cup of salt, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Side note. I have never heard of boiling pasta with olive oil before, but I imagine with thicker pasta it will more likely absorb the oil and add to the taste.

Boil the pasta for 15 minutes and strain the water when done.

Next, heat a skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and add the ground beef as well as the remaining ingredients. You will simmer this meat sauce for about 35 minutes. Add additional water as needed when it cooks down.

Once the pasta and sauce are ready, you can start layering it up by placing a layer of sauce on the bottom, followed by a layer of pasta, and then a 1/4 of a cup of Parmesan.

Continue this layering until all the pasta has been used and then top this with the sauce, followed by the Parmesan.

Bake this at 350 for 30 minutes. Once those minutes are up remove from oven and top with strips of mozzarella. Cover this with foil as soon as it covered in cheese and then set it aside for 20 minutes.

The final result is quite satisfying.

I’m always shocked how good simple recipes can be. It’s such a pleasant surprise. These days, everything is being made with bells and whistles. Sometimes that turns out well, but it’s so common place now that I forget simple can be good.

That being said, I do think it would be fun to layer this up with even more types of cheese, but if you want to keep it simple, it will turn out well.

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Rice and Peas or as Italians say, Risi e Bisi

Risi e Bisi makes me think of AC/DC. I think I’ll add Risi/Bisi to my list of band names that will most likely never come into actual fruition. You kind of need musical ability to be in a band after all. I have some. I played the saxophone in school and all, but my guitar skills are abysmal. I could be a lead singer maybe. That might be my ticket to my band name dream into reality.

I’ll keep this band name dream alive and never do anything to actually reach it so my dreams won’t be crushed brutally like Bernie Sanders. This is the world we live in.

One dream you can reach is this dish, which is from Cecilia Antonini and Little Italy Festival Town Cookbook.

Cecilia is another woman from my town that I have no information on sadly. I did find it interesting that she uses leeks for this recipe. I had assumed leeks were a French thing. I ended up talking to my mother about it and she said, “Oh yeah, Italians like leeks too. It just fell to the wayside as a known Italian ingredient in America.”

Then she went on a rant about Trump and basically how he’s going to make things not so great again. My mother’s father was first generation American and that part of the family  went through a lot of discrimination because they were Italian.

When you grow up hearing about discrimination of your family in the past, it tends to make you sensitive to those who face it in the present.

Sadly, a lot of people forget that most immigrants were scrutinized and hated even if they came from Europe and were white.

I don’t want to get into politics, though. It hardly ever leads to a healthy discussion. Everyone wants their side to be right and the other to be dumb and wrong.

I declare peas for peace, starting now.

What you’ll need

  • 1/2 cup of minced leek or onion
  • 1/4 cup of minced parsley
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1 qt. boiling water
  • 1 qt. buttered peas, cooked and drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

The first step is to prepare your qt of boiling water. Next, saute the leeks or onion. I used a leek. Saute them with the parsley until it is golden brown. Add the rice after that and stir until it also browns, evenly. Now you add the boiling water, one cup at a time. Stir this mixture until the water is absorbed and the rice is at an al dente state.

The final steps are to add the buttered peas along with the salt and pepper. Stir this with the rice and serve with grated cheese and melted butter.

This dish was interesting, but I didn’t like it that much. It wasn’t bad, just so-so. From what I remember of eating it, the leeks and peas were the strongest in taste. I didn’t really put butter on it, which I think might have turned this dish from ok to good.

Despite my blasé feelings, I would like to try this again, because I think it would make an excellent side dish for a fish or chicken dish. I could see it being an interesting base for risotto as well.

Till next time I suppose.

 

They say Tortalacchi, You say Tortellini, I say Italian Sombreros

My latest recipe comes from my hometown’s cookbook, Little Italy Festival Town and is from an Italian lady named Antonia Tomei.

I sent out a facebook blast last time I wrote about these recipes, but the only person who responded was one girl and all she did was like my post and share it. I appreciated that, but I was hoping someone would have something to say because I enjoy history and getting to know tidbits about people.

I didn’t ask anyone this time around.

I thought about asking my mother again, but I feel like she doesn’t know most of these ladies either. I think her friend’s mother has a recipe in here and I will be asking my mom about her for sure. So don’t fret!

I know nothing about Mrs. Tomei and I had never heard of tortalacchi before. I know all about tortallini, but what is tortalacchi? I found some info from the Italian chain Maggiano’s though. If you are too lazy to read it, one factoid I’ll tell you is that Tortalacchi is a Roman dish.

Half of my Italian heritage is from a town about an hour and a half south of Rome. So I pretty much consider my Italian heritage half Roman and half Sicilian.

It shocked me that this being a Roman dish, was one I hadn’t heard of. Then I realized that tortalacchi is just a giant version of tortellini.  Tortellini soup was my chicken soup when I was sick as a kid.

I’m sure none of you guys care, but it made me feel better about my Italian heritage to figure this out.

Let’s move on to the recipe.

What you’ll need for the filling

  • 1 can of spinach, 15 oz
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups of grated cheese
  • 2 cups of cracker crumbs
  • 1 pt. milk

For the dough:

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 4 eggs

Your first step is to make the filling and to do so you will beat two eggs in a sauce pan and then add a little bit of cheese and crackers. Let me give you a tip about the crackers. I recommend putting them in a plastic ziplock bag and then go to town on them. This can be achieved by punching it, throwing it around your home, or even sitting on it. The possibilities are endless and it can be a cathartic experience.

When these items are mixed, you will gradually add in the milk until it starts to thicken up like cottage cheese. I forgot to mention that you’ll want the stove to be under a low setting while doing this. The next step is to add the spinach and more cheese and crackers until the filling is is thick enough to not water down your dough.

Speaking of the dough, that will be the next step! For the dough, you beat four eggs and then gradually add the flour and some water. Dough moistness has to be in the middle somewhere which is why you need to be careful about the water. It can’t be too dry or too wet. In other words, you want it to be a little damp.

Once the dough is mixed, roll it out until it is thick as a dime and then cut into 2 1/2 inch strips. Place filling one inch apart on the strip and then take a bare strip and place it on top. Cut those into squares and then fold two ends together to make a hat.

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I took some liberty on the whole “hat” thing

Once you’ve made all of your Italian sombreros, you will allow them to dry for two hours. The cookbook says to also place them on a wooden board. I’m not sure if that is necessary, but I wouldn’t question an old Italian lady. They are kind of scary and might hex you.

When the two hours are up, you treat your homemade tortalacchis like any other pasta by boiling them in boiling water.  Hopefully you know the drill on that.

Now you have some options as far as serving your sombreros. You can do what I did and pour those puppies with some marinara sauce or you can butter them up with melted butter and parm.

I love red sauces but this would be good with a butter sauce as well. So it’s really up to your personal preference. You could also get fancy and make a butternut sauce of some sort.

My experience was good except I had a whole lot of leftover filling. I ended up eating it as a spinach dip and it wasn’t too bad. If you do that though, you might as well add the dreaded artichokes to it and/or the appropriate cheese for such dip.

I did not add anything to it, but it was still good. Cream cheese and mozzarella probably would have made it better.

As far as the cooking process goes, this recipe was somewhat difficult and grueling. The filling is easy, it’s making the tortalacchi that can be time consuming and tiring.

Despite this, it is a rewarding experience and I recommend trying it for fun.

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Tortalacchi!

Spaghetti with Anchovy Sauce

I decided to try anchovies again. I must be insane.

This wonderful anchovy recipe is from Louisa Sasso and my town’s cookbook, aka Little Italy Festival Town Cookbook. Every year during Labor Day weekend my town has a festival. As I type, my old hometown classmates, friends, and family are celebrating our town’s heritage.

What this means for me is that Clinton, Indiana is trending on my Facebook. This is all fine and great, but unfortunately I just saw a picture from one of my friends that was upsetting to me.

Let me explain that my town’s festival has been going downhill for at least a decade. Before I was born, there were more Italian themed booths and stands that sold Italian food, but over the years, 75% of the festival has become fried festival food central. We still have a few great Italian food stands though. You can even play salami and cheese roulette!

Anyway, a new addition to the festival is a stand where you can buy flags. I mean that’s ok and all, but the flag this stand decided to showcase was a Confederate flag. Last time I checked, Italian immigrants were not a part of the Civil War and Indiana was a Union state. Apparently I must be having issues with my state of reality.

Now I have heard that for some people, the Confederate flag represents pride of southern culture or being down to earth country people. Ok, lets say you truly aren’t a racist bigot and just like the flag. Let me enlighten you that the Nazi swastika symbol has an origin that is actually peaceful and loving. It originates from India and means good fortune in Sanskrit. Knowing this, doesn’t change the fact that in our current culture, that symbol evokes feelings of terror and sadness.

The Confederate flag and The Civil War is peanuts comparatively but it’s still a symbol of sadness and terror for some people. Like, I don’t know, Black people come to mind. Of course, we all know they are just all angry, uptight, thugs, though. So, who cares how we affect them right?

I know this will piss off some people from my town, but seriously, why would you want to associate with something that isn’t really a part of your culture anyway?

I want to elaborate more on this subject and talk about these two guys in my high school who were dumber than a box of rocks and drove pickup trucks with Confederate flags on them. I will later, but I realize that this entry is already going far off course as it is.

I could afford some time to rant, because this was a quick and easy recipe. What you’ll need to make it is, spaghetti, 1 small can of anchovies, 1/3 cup of olive oil, and 1/3 cup of Italian bread crumbs.

The first step, (besides boil water to cook your spaghetti in) is to heat the olive oil in a saute pan. Add the anchovies next and simmer for 2-3 minutes on low heat. Then you add the bread crumbs and stir vigorously and thoroughly.

The final step is to wait for your past to be ready so you can mix it with the sauce.

This wasn’t half bad and super easy to make. The bread crumbs cover up the anchovy taste, which if you’ve been paying attention to my other posts is good news for me. For my leftovers, I doctored it up by melting Swiss and Gouda cheese on top which turned it into a spaghetti mac and cheese dish.

I know what you’re thinking right now too, and yes, it was real Gouda.

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Not as saucy as it claimed, but good.

Mashed Potato Gnocchi

This is another recipe from my hometown cookbook, Little Italy Festival Town. In the book this is called Instant Gnocchi, because it’s a variation of a gnocchi recipe made with instant mashed potatoes and was written by a woman named Virginia Harris.

I spoke with my mother to see if she had any stories behind the woman who wrote this recipe and she actually did which excited me. Virginia Harris, whose maiden name was Devan, grew up near my mother. I mean it is a small town, so that’s not shocking or anything, but my mother and I grew up on our family land which is on the outskirts of town. Basically Virginia was not a townie kid. My mother told me that when she was growing up there was some animosity between the townies and the kids who lived in the country. Before my mother’s generation the animosity of Clinton, Indiana was against the Italians and the townies. Now we have a whole festival dedicated to our Italian ancestry. So take that Clinton townies!

Besides being the country kid gang of Clinton, the other thing my mother and Virginia had in common was a love for horses. My mother and her sisters adore horses. They had some of their own growing up, but Virginia had a Palomino horse. I like horses but I do not share an adoration for them like my mother. I do know how to ride and I took a class in college even, but my mother and my aunts have a particular love that I can not match up to. This is my long-winded way of saying that I was not aware that a Palomino horse is a big deal in horse world.

The reason it’s a big deal is because Palomino horses are like golden horse gods. They are movie star beautiful. In fact they were commonly used in the 50s and 60s for movies. Don’t take my word for it though. Check this out.

This horse is so god-like, it floats in the air.

Naturally my mother and her sisters thought Virginia was the cats pajamas. Her cool status among my mother was elevated even higher because she would take her god horse to shows which is something she always wanted to do, but was not allowed because of the tyranny of her parents.

That’s a joke, by the way, in case anyone takes me seriously.

What this all boils down to is that Virginia was a cool lady who came up with a clever way to make gnocchi’s from scratch. So how do we make these wonderful gnocchi’s? I’ll tell you.

You will need, 1 envelope of instant mashed potatoes, 3 beaten eggs, 5 cups of flour, 1/4 cup of milk, 2/3 cup of water, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

The first step is to make your instant mashed potatoes. Just follow the package instructions and you are good to go. Then add the eggs to your mashed potatoes. Once the eggs have meshed with the potatoes you add the remaining ingredients and mix. After mixing, there is kneading. Knead with passion and then roll your dough out until it is about as thick as a finger. Cut the dough into bite sized squares and indent with a fork.

I totally forgot to indent mine with a fork. Actually I got real frustrated when I made this because I didn’t have enough all-purpose flour and substituted with some Bisquick which resulted in my dough being very sticky. I ended up just cutting random shapes and plopping them into boiling water. They still tasted fine, but they were not pretty. Virginia is probably disappointed in me. I’m sorry Virginia. If I had know how cool you were I would have made a better effort.

As you might have guessed, once you cut your dough up, (hopefully better than I did) you will drop that gnocchi into boiling water. You will know the gnocchi is cooked and ready when it rises to the top. When this happens remove your gnocchi with a slotted utensil until each one has been cooked.

To serve, just place on a plate and pour some marinara sauce on top with your choice of grated cheese. I like mine with cheese and crushed red pepper, but do with it what you will.

Despite my frustration with the dough, my gnocchi did turn out well. I had a huge mess to clean up though. So I do recommend covering your kitchen with saran wrap like Dexter Morgan would before a kill.

Other than that, this is easy to make and a great alternative to the traditional way of making potato gnocchi.

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Naked gnocchi

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Presentable gnocchi

Salsa Verde Italian Style

This next recipe comes from my hometown cookbook, The Little Italy Festival Town Cookbook. It’s basically a tapenade sauce and comes from Josephine Mooney. I do not know this woman either. Sadly I don’t know any of the cooks in this book. They are from a generation I always wanted to meet but was before my time. I do know a Mooney from my town though and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was her relative.

I have to ask my mother next time I write about a recipe from this cookbook. I’m sure she knows some of these women and probably has a good story to go with it.

Anyway, like I said this sauce is more like a tapenade than a sauce. If you don’t know what tapenade is, it’s a french dish of olives, olive oil, capers, and some sort of fish (generally tuna or anchovies) that is puréed. I couldn’t help but think of the old SNL bass-0-matic skit just now. Thankfully bass and bass-0-matics are not needed in either of these dishes. I don’t even want to think about how gross that would be.

What you do need to make this salsa is 5 hard cooked egg yolks, 1 2-oz. can of anchovies with oil, 1 1/2 cup of finely chopped parsley, a clove of garlic, pepper, and oil and vinegar to taste.

The first step is to boil your eggs. Once boiled you remove the outer shell. Only the yolk is needed for this dish. The yolk and anchovies are then mashed together into a paste, which is not as easy as it sounds. If you have a mortar and pestal I would recommend using that. If you don’t have that, than maybe you should use a bass-o-matic.

After everything has been mashed, you add the rest of the ingredients until you get a nice smooth consistency.

I wasn’t sure what kind of consistency was needed for this dish admittedly. Mine turned out fairly dry and my instincts told me to add more oil, but I ended up not. The end result was ok. I’m not a fan of anchovies. I almost substituted with tuna even, but I wanted to give it a shot. I’ve had anchovy based sauces before where you couldn’t even taste the fish and I do wonder if I had added more olive oil, if that would have negated the fish taste. The anchovy taste in this dish was very slight despite that. For me though, it was there enough.

I’m not saying it tasted bad. I  just really don’t like anchovies. If I ever make this again, I’ll probably substitute with tuna.

The recipe in the book says to pair this sauce with steak, boiled meat, or chicken. I paired mine with a baked chicken breast that I marinated with parsley, garlic, basil, and oregano. It went pretty well together I have to say, despite the anchovies. Yuck.

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It kind of looks like spinach doesn’t it?

Bagnet, A Sauce of Egg and Tomato

My next dish was fun to make and it comes from my hometown cookbook, The Little Italy Festival Town Cookbook. This particular recipe is from Mrs. John Ruffatti. I don’t know her. I probably know her kin, but I can’t pinpoint her to anyone. That’s how small towns work though. If you don’t know someone, you sure as hell know someone who knows the person you don’t know.

I feel very sad about the state of small towns. It feels like they are dying off. I don’t want to offend anyone who is still living in my hometown of Clinton, but it’s dying and dying fast. There are not many opportunities there and every year more and more of the younger generations move away.

I have many happy memories of Clinton. I have a lot of angst driven ones too, but overall I’m proud of where I grew up and how it shaped me. I still love my friends that I made there. To this day they are some of my favorite people in the world. That being said, I could never go back there to live.

Small towns have the best stories, too. My mother grew up in Clinton as well and she tells me great stories, most of which involve my grandfather. My grandfather was a first generation Italian-American and he started his own construction company when he was around my age, which makes me feel like a huge slacker. Anyway, he also loved dynamite, a lot. My mother loves to tell me about the various buildings he was hired to destroy and the giant grin on his face as the walls came tumbling down.  In one story, my mother and aunt were inside an old high school, pretty much dumpster diving and had to rush out because Grandpa was getting impatient. He started demolishing the building while they were still inside, in an area he knew they weren’t in, of course. My mother says she still remembers how it felt when the walls shook as her and her sister tried to cobble up as many artifacts from the school as they could.

My grandfather, such a legend in my family’s eyes. As I grew older I thought maybe my family was over exaggerating, but then I kept meeting other people around town that would get the same excited look on their faces when they spoke of him. My last boyfriend’s father had a story about him even. All the story consisted of was that my grandfather had waved and smiled at him a few days before he passed, but the way he told it, made it seem like my grandfather was a king or a celebrity. He also told me that the farmland his family now owns was the site of one my grandfather’s first major jobs. I’m not knowledgeable on farmer logistics so I could be getting this wrong, but it sounds like he helped level the land so they could plant there.

My mom jokes that we could write a book on all the stories involving my grandfather. In other words I could talk about him all day, but we shall move on to the title subject.

The first step in this recipe is to fry onions in butter. I’ve noticed in older recipes that butter seems to be the nectar of cooking. I see it everywhere. They put butter on everything back then. Anyway, you lightly brown the onions and then add tomatoes, parsley, basil, salt, pepper, and sugar. You cook that for a bit and then add two beaten eggs. The final result is very interesting. My eggs didn’t fry up as much as I thought they would and I’m guessing that’s because the sauce wasn’t quite hot enough. This didn’t affect my enjoyment of the dish. It affected the texture a bit, but I think the taste turned out quite well.

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Bagnet Sauce

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