Thursday, October 27, 2011

"Buon, Halloween Everyone" Plus "Sicilian Style Pumpkin Seeds"

Buon Halloween everyone! It is hard to believe it, but Halloween is just a few days away. The cooler temperatures are finally upon us. The leaves are falling and the colors are spectacular. (or I should say spooktacular) There is so much to see and do at this time of the year; such as apple picking and bobbing, costume parties, visiting haunted houses, horror films, trick-or-treating, carving jack-o‘-lanterns and many more fun activities, too numerous to mention.

1965- I was 11 yrs old
I have so many fond memories of when I was young, going to Halloween parties and wondering what costume I wanted to wear that year for Trick or Treating. I remember when I was about 11 years old, my grandmother “Nanni,” make this basket of flowers as a costume for the Girl Scouts Halloween party I was invited to. It was hard to wear, as you can see in the photo.  I literally was a basket of flowers. Due to her creative flare, I won first prize for the best costume that year. Another fond memory was of my brother, Chris. I would help him get dressed up in his costume and would take him up and down the blocks in our neighborhood Trick or Treating. We would then go back home and empty out all the candy and goodies from our bags, and continue up and down the blocks. At that time, you would be able to go from door to door with no worries. By the time we would finally get home, we were both exhausted, but it was fun and a memory I will never forget. Halloween was always a fun time in my family growing up, even my parents got in on the act. (see photo)
1993- My mom & dad
Did you know that since 1995, trick or treating in the town of Sandusky, Ohio, has been against the law for anyone older than 14? Did you know that it is very rare for a full moon to occur at the same time as Halloween? It has only occurred in-1925, 1944, 1955, and 1974. The next time it is said to occur is October 31, 2020. Or, maybe you knew that according to ancient superstitions, if you stare into a mirror at midnight on “All-Hallows Eve,” or “Halloween“, you’ll see your future spouse. But, I bet everyone knew that pumpkin is one of the best sources of vitamin A, and it tastes so good especially in a pie.

In Italy, the popularity of Halloween has grown immensely over the years. Even though Halloween falls on October 31, All Saint’s Eve is becoming a popular day for costume parties and events. On All Saint’s Day Catholics attend church services in honor of the saints, the martyrs, and those who have died for the Catholic faith. On All Souls Day, Catholics attend mass and they remember those family members that have died. Candles are lit and prayers are said to honor their memory. 

1976- I was a Geisha

In Italy, Halloween is primarily celebrated as the festival of adults, rather than the children. Trick or Treating, which is the customary celebration for children on Halloween, is not followed in Italy. It is the adults that put on masks during the celebration. However, recently more Halloween costume parties are being organized for children.

Many Italian cities now have what they call Urban Trekking, “a sport for all”. All Saints Eve walks are used to visit medieval towers, crypts, dungeons, or castles. Some of these cities hold children’s walks during the afternoon as well. Italy has several chilling displays of mummies and bones in catacombs, churches and crypts. These mummies have been naturally preserved and the displays can be a macabre sight, not recommended for young children.

In Italy, most every household arranges for a special cake called the Ossa dei Morti, or “Beans of the Dead”, which was in the shape of a bean. This ritual stands for their belief that the living and the departed souls of the near and dear ones, come together to participate in the Feast. Today’s recipe is my tribute to Halloween and to all Italian food lovers. It is one of my favorites and a great way to appreciate those pumpkin seeds from your carved pumpkins. In Sicily, Italy, it is still a tradition to eat salted pumpkins seeds.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds, Sicilian Style
 A traditional recipe from Academia Barilla

Cooking time: 1 hour
Plenty of Pumpkin seeds
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Black Olives
Black pepper, to taste
Start, by scooping all of the pumpkin seeds out of the pumpkin. Make sure to rinse the seeds very thoroughly to remove all of the pulp. Drain the seeds and spread them out on a paper towel, allowing them to dry for at least 2 hours. Preheat the oven to 275 F. While the oven is preheating, pour some extra virgin olive oil in a bowl. Toss the pumpkin seeds in the mixture. Drain the seeds and lay across a baking sheet with an edge. Sprinkle with salt, black olives, and black pepper. Bake about 30-45 minutes, tossing every 15 to 20 minutes, until golden brown. Allow the pumpkin seeds to cool before serving.
And don’t forget to accompany the toasted pumpkin seeds with a Vampire Kiss drink. I thought it would hit the spot. Here is my recipe, if you DARE!!! Enjoy!

Vampire Kiss
Serves 1

2 parts passion fruit-flavored rum
1 part tonic water
Splash of cranberry juice
Black cherry, for garnish

Shake all ingredients with ice.
Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a black cherry.

Till Next Time…….

Copyright © 2011 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Benvenuti! Celebrate, World Pasta Day, With "Homemade Manicotti"

Benvenuti! Welcome everyone, to my table, and lets eat pasta, pasta, and more pasta! Why, you ask? Because October 25th is World Pasta Day. The objective of World Pasta Day, now in its 16th year, is to draw the attention of the media and the consumers to pasta. The fact is that pasta is a global food, which is consumed in all five continents. Another purpose of World Pasta Day is to encourage the nutritional and culinary advantages of pasta. The World Pasta Congress held a meeting in Rome, Italy, on October 25,1995. Delegations from various countries discussed together the theme of pasta consumption, exchanging their ideas and experiences. After two years, in 1997, World Pasta Day was created, to recall and enhance the first event that took place with the international pasta community.

The International Pasta Organization (IPO) invites families, chefs and restaurants around the world to gather friends and loved ones and cook up their favorite pasta dish for health, taste, and convenience. Pasta is enriched with vitamin-B which is necessary for cell formation, mental alertness, and energy conservation, plus it is very helpful in boosting the immune system. When pasta is combined with vegetables, legumes, cheeses, olive oils and fish, it is an added health advantage.

To celebrate World Pasta Day, it is suggested that you try a new pasta. There are 600 shapes and flavors produced worldwide, including many whole grain options, as well as gluten free. But, watch your portions. Americans tend to overload their plates. A healthy portion of pasta is one to two cups cooked (1 cup of cooked pasta is about 200 calories). When eaten in the proper portions and in combination with healthy foods, pasta does not cause weight gain. Another way to enjoy pasta is to go meatless, try a hearty vegetable and bean soup or pasta with seasonal vegetables like cauliflower, or even pumpkin for a perfect fall meal. World Pasta Day is a great incentive to prepare a healthy pasta meal by getting creative in your kitchen. So, celebrate pasta and gather with family and friends to take advantage of a delicious meal.

As you prepare pasta for your World Pasta Day, I would love to share a few tips with you:
1. Use lots of water when cooking pasta. Do not add oil. Stir occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking together.
2. Pasta is ready when it’s “al dente.” It should be cooked completely through, yet firm enough to offer some resistance to your bite.
3. Many pasta shapes come in different sizes. The Italian suffix “ini” means smaller
(example: spaghettini is a thin version of spaghetti), while “oni” means larger.

1956, my dad's side of the family
From the left: my dad holding me and
my mom is bending in front of him

Being an Italian-American, pasta is a big part of our family gatherings. I remember on Sundays we would have the whole family over and “macaroni” as we called it, was on the menu for the day. We would wonder what type of pasta would my mom cook for that particular Sunday dinner. My personal favorites are shells and angel hair, or capellini. The shells always held the sauce in the little pocket and was fun to eat. The angel hair, is much thinner than spaghetti, it also cooks very fast. My recipe this week is one that my mother taught me how to make, which are like pillows of soft cheese in your mouth. Homemade Manicotti is so delectable that you won’t mind some extra time in the kitchen creating these scrumptious crepes. Buon Gusto!! (enjoy)

Homemade Manicotti Shells (crepes) and Filling

To make the shells (crepes):

Ingredients: Makes about 24
8 Eggs
2 Cups of All Purpose Flour
1 Teaspoon of salt
1 cup of water
Small amount of Butter / oil for pan
Put eggs in a blender, then add water and salt. Then add flour a little at a time as you are blending together. Brush melted butter or a bit of oil in your sauté pan and pour batter into the pan, ( I use a shot glass to measure out the amount of batter ) tilting to coat the bottom of the pan (you want a very thin crepe). Cook only until the underside is lightly browned and is just set, then turn and cook the other side. Invert onto plate; continue until you have about 24 depending on the size of the crepe.
You can freeze these crepes till you are ready to use. Make sure you use a piece of wax paper in between them before you freeze, so it is easier to take apart without breaking the crepes.

The Filling for the crepes:
3 lb container of part skim or whole milk Ricotta
1 lb part skim or whole milk Mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese
Fresh Parsley flakes
1 large egg
Salt and pepper to taste
Marinara or Meat Sauce (if you need an easy tomato sauce, check out my mom’s recipe on my blog post of August 18th)

1. Mix ricotta, cheese, parsley, and salt. Taste. Adjust seasoning according to taste and then stir in one egg.
2. Slice mozzarella into small bite size pieces. Then add to the mixture of ricotta etc. Mix all together.
3. Lay crepe on flat surface or in your hand. Place about 1 tablespoon of ricotta (more if larger crepe) into the center of crepe and spread out to edges. Fold one edge halfway over and then fold the other side to form a packet. They should be sort of flat.
4. Spread a layer of sauce onto a baking pan. Lay manicotti side by side and arrange them until the pan is filled. Add another layer of sauce on top and sprinkle with grated cheese.
5. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes and sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted.

Till Next Time…….
Copyright © 2011 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Eurochocolate in Perugia, Italy & Easy Chocolate Cream-Filled Torte

October is a great month for Italian food festivals, especially mushrooms, chestnuts, chocolate, and truffles. On October weekends, you’ll find fall food festivals and wine harvest celebrations all over Italy. One of my favorite festivals is called Eurochocolate. It is a chocolate lover’s paradise. As my readers know, I am a huge chocolate lover. So when I read about this festival, I just had to share it with all of you. This big chocolate festival takes place in Perugia, Italy, from October 14th through October 23rd. Eurochocolate this year celebrates its 18th birthday. This sweet event attracts about 900,000 visitors, and is famous for its Perugina, Baci chocolates.

The Perugina Company was formed in 1907 in the beautiful hill town of Perugia, in Umbria, and soon became one of the most successful confectionary companies in Italy. In 1922, Luisa Spagnoli, one of the founding members of the company, began to experiment with a new product, mixing together chocolate with hazelnuts. The product was delicious and took a rather strange form which resembled a fist, and the chocolate came to be called Cazzotto, literally a punch. Later given the more romantic title of Baci (“kiss“) by Giovanni Buitoni, and little love notes were placed inside the confectionary wrapping. Baci chocolates are one of the gifts most commonly exchanged between lovers today. Perugina has four shops in New York including its flagship store on Fifth Ave.

Legend has it that Luisa Spagnoli, wife of one of the founders of the Perugina Company, invented the Baci, in honor of her young love, Giovanni Buitoni, the son of another founding member of the company, who was 14 years her junior. (Incidentally the Buitoni families continue to be famous for their pasta.) Luisa, forced to keep her love a secret, wrote short romantic messages which she wrapped inside the chocolate and gave to Giovanni. After Luisa’s death, Giovanni wanted to keep this tradition of love messages in the chocolate, which can still be found in the wrappings today.

Eurochocolate is the most popular festival that takes place in Perugia and is known as the European capital of chocolate. For 10 days the Umbrian town transforms itself for the occasion in a huge open air pastry shop for the delight of all chocoholics. This Perugia festival will be organized with dozens of events concentrated on the “food of the gods” with exhibitions, cooking classes, tasting, chocolate sculptures, banquets, and many other celebrations. At Eurochocolate you can find a Chocolate Show, with over 150 signatures from around the world. Each year, new themes and entertainment are dedicated to the young and old. In this Chocolate Show, which has the widest range of chocolate products, Italian and foreign crafts, and this year also has an area for gluten-free products. For all the tourists and local Italians, this event is without any doubt a good one to discover the most remote corners of this antique medieval center and to enjoy the famous Umbrian hospitality.  

My mom, Madeline & dad, Robert

I remember when I was growing up in my Italian American family; we always had chocolates as a treat. Especially on the holidays, one of my chores when I was young was to polish the silver trays and place the chocolates on them for company. My parents made sure that they always had many goodies to serve their guests. I have many memories of chocolate candies, Ferrara-Italian Torrone (nougat candy), Hershey’s chocolate kisses, and of course we can’t forget the Baci chocolates, from Perugina. The silver wrapper on the Baci looked spectacular on the silver trays which illumined like lights on a Christmas tree. It was extremely hard not to just take one and unwrap the silver paper, but I waited till the guests had their fill. Then, I opened the little ball of silver and took a bite of this delicious hazelnut center which was like a bit of heaven in my mouth. As I would enjoy this petite ball of chocolate, I would read the love note that was enclosed in its wrapper. What a special treat that was when I was young and I still do the same as my parents did many years ago, place them on a silver tray, especially at Christmas so my guests can enjoy them as well.

Well, to honor all things chocolate, I thought this recipe is an easy, creamy, and very elegant “Chocolate Cream-Filled Torte,” for anytime of the year. I have made this a number of times and acquired this recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Hershey’s Classic Recipe Book.” So try a piece of chocolate, whether it is a piece of chocolate cake, candy or even a small Baci, from Perugina. Who doesn’t love chocolate? Enjoy!

Easy Chocolate Cream-Filled Torte

1 frozen pound cake (10 3/4 ounces) thawed
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
1 cup (1/2 pint) cold whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)
Sliced almonds (optional)

1. Cut cake horizontally to make 4 layers. Stir together sugar and cocoa in medium bowl. Add whipping cream and vanilla, beat until stiff.
2. Place bottom cake layer on serving platter. Spread 1/3 of the whipped cream mixture on cake layer. Place next cake layer on top of mixture, continue layering whipped cream mixture and cake until all have been used.
3. Prepare Chocolate Glaze, spoon over top of cake, allowing to drizzle down sides. Garnish with almonds, if desired. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Cover; refrigerate
leftover torte.

Chocolate Glaze:
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Add 2 tablespoons Hershey’s Cocoa and 2 tablespoons water. Cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and slightly thickened. Do not boil! Remove from heat and gradually add 1 cup of powdered sugar and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, beating with whisk until smooth. Makes about 1/2 cup glaze.

Makes about 8 to 10 servings

Till Next Time………
Copyright © 2011 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stuffed Artichokes, Columbus Day & National Italian-American Heritage Month

Every year the United States President signs an executive order declaring October as “National Italian-American Heritage Month.” This is a perfect time to enjoy the festivities surrounding Columbus Day and to recognize the many achievements, contributions, culture, history, and food, of  Americans of Italian descent. There were over 5.4 million Italians that immigrated to the United States between 1820 and 1992. Today there are over 26 million Italian Americans living in the United States. This makes them the fifth largest ethnic group. The new World was named “America” for Amerigo Vespucci (1451-1512), the Florentine explorer and geographer who was a friend to Columbus.

The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day in the United States took place in New York City, on October 12, 1792, when a group known as the Columbian Order held a parade to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the landing of Columbus. In 1866, following the start of Italian immigration to the U.S., another parade was held in New York City, this time by the Italians celebrating their link with American history. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared October 12, Columbus Day, as a national holiday. In 1971 the US Congress voted to move the official celebration of Columbus Day to the second Monday in October, which now is a federal holiday.

On August 3, 1492, Christopher Columbus, a sailor from Genoa, Italy, and the 88 members of his crew, plus their families, attended mass in the Church of St. George the Martyr. They prayed for a safe voyage. Leaving the church they boarded their three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, which was Columbus’ flagship, and began their voyage to the East Indies. October 12, is also celebrated in Spain, the country which sent Columbus on his famous voyage and whose Queen, Isabella of Castile, provided the financing (money came from the Queen’s personal funds not the national treasury) for his expedition. In Spain, the holiday is known as Hispanic Day, and it is celebrated with a huge parade in Madrid. In New York City, they celebrate with an annual parade which is also broadcasted internationally to Italy. While it is a nationally recognized holiday, not everyone is quick to participate in the festivities. Many people are insisting that it is not fair to celebrate a “discovery” that already had inhabitants, the Native Americans and therefore some states celebrate the holiday by a different name. 
The arrival of Europeans in the Americas was without a doubt one of the most important events in modern history, including food history. Many foods that were native to the Americas were brought to Europe and even more European products were brought back to America. Many Americans, especially Italian-Americans, celebrate Columbus Day with food. Food from Italy and many other countries are highlighted at parades and celebrations. In honor of the meal that Christopher Columbus must have eaten on the sail to the Americas, people cook a typical seamen’s dinner. That meal consisted of fish, potatoes, beef, cheese and a variety of other foods such as rice, dried fruits and legumes.

Italy- Late 1800's
(hard to see, click on photo)
My great-great-grandparents
Vincent & Josphine Puzelli
on my mom's side
Even though it must have been a good meal for them on the sea, it just doesn’t sound Italian enough for me. Were was the lasagna, meatballs, pasta, and we can’t forget Italian cookies and desserts? Well, I am not at sea, but I do have a wonderful recipe of the week for you and it is called “Stuffed Italian Artichokes.” I know, you must be saying, I don’t like them, you are wrong! Until you have tried my mom’s recipe made with spices, cheese, and bread crumbs all tucked together inside the leaves of this wonderful little green vegetable and then baked with a crispy top, you really haven’t tasted anything like this before! Now, that’s Italian! So in honor of my Italian-American Heritage and Columbus Day, have fun, celebrate and eat something Italian.

"Buon Appetito!”

"Stuffed Italian Artichokes"

6 medium artichokes
1 1/4 cups of bread crumbs (plain)
1/2 cup of grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
1/2 cup of fresh chopped parsley
2 teaspoons of minced garlic (fresh or jar)
3/4 teaspoon of salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup of olive oil or vegetable oil

Cut off stem and ¾ off the top of artichoke. Then remove some of the outer leaves at the bottom. Use scissors to clip off top of side leaves. (that removes the sticky point on each leaf) Then wash in deep bowl. Fill large pot with water and boil. Place the artichokes in pot carefully and lower heat to medium for about 7 minutes. Fork test bottom of artichoke for tenderness. If fork goes in and out easily, they are done. Next drain and run cold water on artichokes let them sit and cool off. While they are cooling down, mix the bread crumbs, parsley, minced garlic, grated cheese and a sprinkle of salt with pepper. Mix in a little oil with hands. When it feels like a sandy consistency then you are ready to fill. Gently spread the leaves a little apart and sprinkle some of the bread crumb mixture between each of the leaves. Place the now stuffed artichokes in a glass Pyrex baking dish. (7x11x1.5) Drizzle a small amount of oil on top of each artichoke. Put a small amount of water in bottom of pan about ¼ inch deep. Bake for about 25-30 minutes at 350° The top should be a little browned and crispy, when they are ready to eat.

Till Next Time…….
Copyright © 2011 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved