Thursday, July 28, 2011

"National Lasagna Day"

An entire day dedicated to “Lasagna,” who knew!

National Lasagna Day is celebrated in the United States on July 29. Originally from the Emilia Romagna region which is the center of northern Italy and includes a tradition of fresh rich foods. Each region in Italy has their own way of creating Lasagna. In the southern regions the sauce is likely to be a simple Tomato or Ragu, where in other areas like the northern part of Italy a B├ęchamel sauce (white and creamy) is used. In Italy and the United States the fillings may vary as well. You can create a vegetarian filling such as spinach or eggplant, onions and garlic, tasty tuna or seafood, sausages and a wide selection of sharp cheeses. Lasagna has become a familiar dish in many other places of the world, from Europe to America. Who doesn’t love Italian food? Through the years Italian mothers and grandmothers have prepared and created many fabulous recipes for their families.
Great-Grandfather Giovanni
Great-Grandmother Sofia
Plus 2 of her 8 children 
The origins of Lasagna dates back to the 1st century B.C. where a common meal consisting of fine sheets of fried dough were called “lagana.” In the 2nd century a Greek scholar provided a recipe for lagana that was made with sheets of wheat flour and the juice of crushed lettuce, then flavored with spices and deep fried in oil. An early 5th century cookbook describes a dish of lagana that consisted of layers of dough with meat stuffing which sounds like our modern day Lasagna. When Italians immigrated to the United States they brought with them many cooking recipes and traditions. Lasagna is made with either rippled or flat noodles. Rippled noodles are common in southern Italy but rarely used in northern Italy. Rippled noodles are most popular in the United States.

Lasagna is made by towering layers of lasagna noodles packed with a creamy filling and made with a homemade meat sauce. The combination of spices, ricotta, mozzarella and Pecorino Romano grated chesses, are what I would call the most perfect Italian dish. It consists of your whole meal in one Lasagna pan. From your preparation, to taking it out of the oven and seeing it bubble with cheese on the top, plus the aroma floating around your kitchen is simply heavenly. Throughout the years, Lasagna still and always will be a favorite among my family and guests around my kitchen table.

My recommendation for pairing wine with Lasagna is Red Zinfandel. The color of a Zinfandel wine is deep red, bordering on black. Zinfandel is a spicy, peppery wine, with a hint of fruity flavors that include berries or dark cherries. The rule of wines is that you want to drink from light to dark. Therefore, Champagne tends to go very well with appetizers. White wine is usually a match for salads and lighter dishes, while red wine works perfectly with steaks and heavier meat sauces. Port wine is often the perfect end to a meal, especially with a chocolate dessert.
To celebrate National Lasagna Day, I want to share my mother’s recipe with all of you. I hope that you enjoy your Lasagna and make it a tradition at your family table. 

Mama’s Lasagna


1 lb Lasagna noodles
16 oz Ricotta cheese
1 lb of Mozzarella cheese (sliced or cubed)
3 / 4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 Egg
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
Favorite Tomato Sauce with meat or without


Boil water with a little salt and a little drizzled oil in a large pot. (the oil helps the Lasagna noodles not to stick) Add your Lasagna noodles to the water and let it cook for about 7 minutes. Drain the water and rinse the noodles with cold water so they do not stick, while you are preparing the filling. You want the noodles to be a little firm as you will be cooking them again in the oven.

Mix together in a large bowl, ricotta cheese, egg, mozzarella, salt and pepper. Preheat your oven to 375° F Take a 9x13 inch baking dish and spoon some tomato sauce on bottom of baking dish so the lasagna will not stick. Now layer your ingredients starting with the noodles. Next, assemble a layer of the ricotta cheese mixture over your noodles. Now, spread some tomato sauce over the cheese. Duplicate this process with all the layers and finish off with some mozzarella and a small amount of grated cheese.

Bake for about 45 minutes to an hour until the top is slightly browned and the cheese is bubbling. Let the Lasagna rest for 15 minutes so it is easier to serve. Garlic bread and a wonderful Italian green salad is a delightful addition to this dish.

You can also add cooked chopped meat to the tomato sauce or even sliced or ground sausage without the casing. You can also use the no boil Lasagna noodles.
Till Next Time…..

Copyright 2011 © All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 22, 2011

" Zesty Shrimp Pasta "

Pantry: Italian Essentials

A well-stocked pantry makes whipping up a delicious well-balanced Italian meal a snap. Countless dishes can be made from ingredients on hand, the options are limitless. Most major grocery stores carry many items imported from Italy. Other sources for those main ingredients would be Italian specialty stores in your area, or perhaps you may consider ordering online. If your grocery store does not carry your item, you can ask a manager if they might be able to order your ingredient for you. By stocking your kitchens with a few basic ingredients, you will be ready to prepare many Italian recipes. Premium ingredients are crucial to Italian cooking. The better your tomatoes, olive oils, and cheeses are the better your dishes will be. The Italian table is the heart of the family, a celebration that comes from making and eating a delicious meal. If you use the freshest ingredients and what is in season, you will find that you can create the most flavorful dishes.
In my family as in most Italian kitchens, you will find a large amount if not all of the following items in the pantry. These ingredients are essential to creating a traditional Italian meal. Check, if your pantry is stocked with any of these items, if not it is time to go shopping….

Cans: Tomatoes-whole & crushed, Tomato sauce & paste, Italian style stewed tomatoes, Beans-dried or caned, Mushrooms, Anchovies, Olives-Green & Black.

Grandmother Julia
(Mothers side)
Dry: Flour; semolina or all purpose, Quick rise yeast, Rice- Arborio, Sea salt, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Canola oil, Cornmeal, Breadcrumbs flavored or unflavored & Panko, Broths/stocks, Sun dried tomatoes, Nuts-Almonds, Pine Nuts, Hazel nuts, Walnuts, Pistachio nuts, Figs, granulated and confectioner’s sugar.

Great Grandmother
Gaetano (Fathers side)
Jars: Pesto, Minced Garlic, Oregano dried, Black pepper, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Anise seeds, Artichoke hearts, Olives, Pepperocini, Gairdiniera, Vinegar-red, white and balsamic, Red & White wine for cooking, (always buy a wine that you would drink) Dried Pastas, Capers, Espresso Coffee, Vanilla Bean Pure Extract, Raisins, Honey.

Refrigerator items: Sausages & Salami, Pepperoni, Pancetta, Proscuitto, Parmesan & Mozzarella Cheese, Grated Pecorino Romano Cheese, Butter-salted & un-salted, Eggplant, green vegetables such as Escarole, Broccoli Rabe, Spinach, Swiss-chard.

Freezer items: Frozen Vegetables, Meats, Seafood, Homemade stock in containers, Pre-made sauces.

Great Grandmother
Sofia (Mothers side)
Fresh items: Garlic, Parsley, Basil, Mint leaves, Bay leaves, Onions, Peppers: Red/Green/Yellow, Zucchini, Tomatoes, Lemons, Whipped cream, Mascarpone Cheese, Potatoes, Cheese, Meats, Seafood, Fish, Chicken, Breads, Fruits of all kinds: grapes, plums, pears, apples, pomegranates, oranges, etc.
Remember there are so many additional pantry items that you can stock, the list is endless, but with this starter list you will be able to begin cooking the Italian way. All you have to do is add some of these ingredients and you will be all set to prepare an authentic Italian meal that will impress your family. My recipe for this week is incredible. The combination of all of these Italian ingredients not only makes this dish very tasty but the aromas fill your home with love. So try this delicious pasta recipe for your family, especially that your pantry is filled with these mouth watering ingredients. You can also prepare a crisp green tossed salad and some slices of warm soft Italian bread to accompany your dish. Happy Cooking!

Zesty Shrimp Pasta

Total time 25 min / Prep 10 min / Servings is for 6

Ingredients:1/2 lb. Linguine, uncooked
3/4 cup prepared Good Seasons Zesty Italian Dressing Mix (divided)
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 large Onion, thinly sliced
1 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts, drained, quartered
1 lb. uncooked cleaned large shrimp
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 red pepper sliced
Add some sliced almonds

Directions:Cook pasta as directed on package meanwhile, heat 1/2 cup dressing in large skillet on medium heat. Stir in mushrooms, onions, red pepper and artichokes; cook 3 min or until onions are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp and parsley then stir. Cook 2 min or until shrimp are pink and vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Now drain the pasta; return to pot. Add shrimp mixture and remaining dressing; toss lightly. Sprinkle with cheese.

Here are the answers to last weeks’ “Food Trivia” Questions.

What percentage of a lemon is juice?
A. Lemons contain 30 to 45 percent juice depending on variety, climate, maturity when harvested, and storage conditions.

Two states have official beverages. Florida's is orange juice. What is the other state and its beverage?
A: Ohio: tomato juice.

French monks in 610A.D created the pretzel shape. What was it designed to resemble?
A: A little child's arms in prayer.

What flavor ice cream did Dolly Madison serve at the inaugural festivities in 1812?
A: Strawberry.

What is the traditional food served a Wimbledon each year? A: Strawberries and cream.

How many lemons does the average lemon tree yield per year?
A: 1,500. The trees usually bloom throughout the year, with the fruit picked 6 to 10 times a year.

What are the two most cultivated fruit trees in the world?
A: Number one is the Apple and number two is the Peach.

What do avocados, eggplants, cucumbers, chilies, and tomatoes have in common?
A: They are all botanically fruits, that are most usually prepared and served as vegetables.

How did you score? Did you get them all correct? Hope that you enjoyed “Food Trivia.”

Till Next time……
Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 15, 2011

festa della Madonna del Monte Carmelo or The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

July 16 is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, honored throughout Southern Italy and brought to the United States by immigrants. Devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated worldwide, and most Catholics are familiar with its tradition. In the late 14th century Saint Simon Stock, an early prior general of the Carmelite Order had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary in which she gave him the “Brown Scapular” which formed a part of the Carmelite habit, promising that those who died wearing the scapular would not suffer eternal fire.

The Italians especially are devoted to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In Southern Italy, a predominantly Catholic area, many Saints are recognized. In addition, every village places itself under the “protection” of a particular Saint. For example, San Gennaro protects the city of Naples, while Saint Nicholas watches over the city of Bari. A major public event in each village or city is called “The Feste Patronali” which is a gala event that the entire populous takes part in. The streets are illuminated with elaborate arches of lights, religious services, band concerts, foods of all kinds, games, and entertainment. There are countless lists of patron Saints, here are some examples; Saint Blaise that protects you from throat disease, Saint Anne guards expectant mothers, and Saint Lucy is the Saint invoked against eye problems.

In New York City, (East Harlem) is one of the oldest festivals in America that honors Our Lady of Mount Carmel since 1881. There is an old saying, "no one will ever become ill on the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel or as a result of its celebration." The honoring of the Virgin Mary is the grand finale of the weekend. Even though there is fun to be had at the feast, it still is a religious festival that most take very seriously. For three hours on the feast day, the five-foot Madonna statue, dressed in flowers and an embroidered gold satin cloak, will slowly be paraded through the streets by hundreds of people which include many priests and sometimes the Bishop. Along the way people pin money to ribbons and hang them on the statue’s platform, notes with prayers and sometimes even jewelry are attached to the statue, that you can hardly see the image of the Our Lady.

I remember when I was young, every July my family would enjoy the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. As we would walk to the entrance you could see all of the lights, and the excitement of the feast. I would go straight for the games and hope to win a stuffed bear or a prize of some kind. Then you see the booths of food, which are so fantastic. As you are walking along the streets you can smell the aromas of all the delicious foods that are available. Some booths sell hot pizza, juicy sausage and peppers, sweet Zeppole, sugary Cotton Candy, and of course creamy Ice Cream just to name a few of the different varieties of foods that you can find at the feast.. The next area of interest is the entertainment. I remember seeing a big stage surrounded by a band and music would be playing. As I would try to see between the crowds, my eyes would be fixed on a beautiful Italian singer. Even though I couldn’t understand the words in Italian, I was lulled by her spectacular voice. As you continued to walk along the streets that were blocked off from the traffic you could see the rides. They always had a Ferris wheel and a Merry-go-Round. Many of the rides were for little children as you would be able to see their smiling happy faces waiting to get on a ride. But I also remember the most important part of the feast which was visiting the church. My mom would give me a small chapel veil to put on my head, (years ago women had to have their heads covered going into the church) we would always light a candle and say a prayer at the statue of Our Lady. The church was so big, beautiful and quiet. It was hard to believe that outside the church all the noise and festivities were still going on. For me it was definitely the highlight of the feast.

FUN, BITS AND PIECES……..Food Trivia Questions
See how many you can guess right. Come back; see next weeks Blog for the answers

1. What percentage of a lemon is juice?
2. Two states have official beverages. Florida's is orange juice. What's the other state and its beverage?
3. The pretzel shape was created by French monks in 610A.D. What was it designed to resemble?
4. What flavor ice cream did Dolly Madison serve at the inaugural festivities in 1812?
5. What is the traditional food served at Wimbledon each year?
6. How many lemons does the average lemon tree yield per year?
7. What are the two most cultivated fruit trees in the world?
8. What do avocados, eggplants, cucumbers, chilies, and tomatoes have in common?

My recipe of the week is called “Sorbetto al Limone con Fragile,” which is Lemon Sorbet over Strawberries. This recipe’s source is from The colors are glorious, the preparation is very easy, and extremely addictive. So, I hope that you have a wonderful time at the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. As you are strolling the streets and eating,
I may see you there and say Hi……..

Sobetto al Limone con Fragile (Lemon Sorbet over Strawberries)

1 Pint of Strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 Pint of Lemon Sorbet (store-bought is fine)
2 Strips of lemon zest
Arrange the strawberries in 2 martini glasses or any type of tall glass. Top with the sorbet and garnish with the lemon zest.
This recipe serves 2

Till next time……..

Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 7, 2011

National Culinary Arts Month

The month of July is National Culinary Arts Month. This month long celebration is held each July which promotes awareness of professional cooks, chefs and their contributions to the culinary world of excellence. Culinary artists are responsible for skillfully preparing meals that are as pleasing to the palate as to the eye. The world of Culinary Arts not only consists of creating delicious dishes, but also the use of kitchen utensils, tools, and equipment that must be associated with preparation of the recipes.

How it all started was…. I remember when I was a young girl I would always watch my mom prepare and cook dinner. My job was always to set the table, which was quite boring. As I got older I would help my mom prepare the food by peeling the potatoes or fixing the salad, but that wouldn‘t due either. I desperately wanted to be taught how to create such mouth watering dishes. So, then I became more curious about cooking and wanted to seriously learn. That is when my mom began to teach me how to cook certain recipes. My mother and grandmother’s taught me the basic instructions of cooking and baking. They said that baking was a science in which you had to follow the recipe correctly, but with cooking you can be more creative, by adding a little of this or that. They told me that the tools and equipment you need are extremely important to create wonderful and tasty recipes. I received my first cookbook from my mom in 1974. It was the same cookbook that we used at home when I was a young girl. She wrote in it and it said, “Enjoy! Be happy in your kitchen as I am in mine, Love Mom.” For those of you wondering what cookbook it was, “Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook” revised edition 1971. Her copy was from 1948 which was the first printing of the cookbook. As the years went by and I became a wife and mother I learned how to improve my skills by still watching my mom, plus cooking shows and reading recipes in cookbooks. This month is the perfect time to try your hand at cooking! Here are some helpful tips for beginning chefs and the tools that you need.

Buy basic equipment; invest in a good set of sharp knives, sturdy pots and pans and a set of glass baking dishes. You will also need measuring cups and a set of measuring spoons. A food processor and an electric mixer will come in handy as you learn the ins and outs of food preparation. You will also need some wooden spoons, a wire whisk, a few spatulas, a vegetable peeler, a pastry brush, a grater, a cutting board, and a strainer just to name a few. The inventory of tools and equipment are countless, but as you learn to advance in your cooking techniques you can always add to your collection.

Familiarize yourself with cooking terms such as poaching, braising, roasting, grilling, and parboiling. Again these are just some examples that you will need to learn. You can use cookbooks for research and also an online cooking dictionary will help you learn the correct terms to use for your preparation of special dishes.
Don’t be afraid to take advantage of cooking classes being given in your neighborhood such as in schools or libraries. Look at cookbooks; sometimes they supply you with tutorials which are extremely helpful.
But most of all make your cooking and baking experience fun! If you make a mistake, just try again. Every inspiring cook or baker needs assistance, so ask help from your family, friends and even your children. Chopping, cutting and dicing are how they learn. So put on your apron and get out your knife and start chopping to create your next flavorful meal as the master chef of your own kitchen.

My recipe this week is a very sweet and easy “Raspberry and Peach Crisp” It can be served for breakfast, brunch and also for a decadent dessert. This is a favorite in my family. I obtained this recipe from, “The Taste of Home” which you can find online. You can substitute any small fruit if you are not fond of peaches and raspberries. This is a perfect Summer time treat and you can create this in 35 minutes. I also have added a recipe for a refreshing cool drink which is a “Peach Cocktail.” This will be a lovely addition to the Raspberry and Peach Crisp. I hope that you enjoy your new recipes and I’m sure that your taste buds will be dancing.

Raspberry and Peach Crisp

Prep time is 25 minutes
Bake time is 35 minutes
Serves 6 people

5 medium ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1 cup of fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
1/ 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/ 4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/ 3 cup thawed apple juice concentrate

1/3 cup of all purpose flour
1/3 cup of quick cooking oats
1/3 cup of packed brown sugar
1/ 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon,
1/ 4 cup of cold butter
Vanilla ice cream (optional) 
Combine peaches and raspberries in a greased 2 qt baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger and apple juice concentrate until smooth, drizzle over fruit. In a bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over fruit. Bake, uncovered at 375 ° for 30-35 minutes or until topping is golden brown and filling is bubbly. You can serve this warm and top with vanilla ice cream or serve cold. Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator, but I guarantee there may not be any leftovers with this exquisite summer treat!!

Peach Cocktail

1 oz. Peachtree Schnapps
1 oz. Vodka
4 oz. Orange Juice

Build in a highball glass with ice and top with soda. Garnish with a slice of peach if in season.

Till next time……..
Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved