Friday, August 30, 2013

"Colorful Corn Salad" And "Italian Stuffed Peppers" To Celebrate Labor Day!

Coming to terms with the end of summer is a rough thought for some people. Were did it all go? Yesterday seems like we were just starting the month of June and here we are starting September already! Parents all over are getting prepared with supplies for their children to start another year of school. Before school begins and we start packing up the beach gear, lawn chairs, pool supplies, plus our grills, we have one more weekend of summer time fun that is called Labor Day! Personally, nothing says Labor Day weekend to me like a family BBQ or cookout. Labor Day is on Monday September 2nd this year, and I’m sure we are all looking forward to a long enjoyable weekend as we start the month of September. This weekend celebrates the “unofficial” end of summer. Everyone is going to the beach, having picnics, going to fairs, and enjoying the last weekend of their summer activities.

You may ask, what is Labor Day and why do we celebrate this day? So here are some facts about the holiday. Labor Day is an American Federal Holiday that celebrates the economic and social contributions of workers. We pay tribute to the achievements of the American workers. It is also supposed to be a day of rest and considered a workingman‘s holiday. The first Labor Day was held on September 5th 1882 in New York City. Then on June 28th 1894 it became a Federal holiday, stating that the first Monday, in September of each year would be a legal holiday in all U.S. territories. In addition, Labor Day marks the beginning of the season for the National Football League, (NFL) and some college leagues as well. Labor Day is also a great day for stores to have “End of Summer” sales.

In Italy, many Italians observe Labor Day as well. It is called La Festa dei Lavoratori. They observe this nationwide holiday on May 1st. A holiday that was connected with agricultural cycles and still celebrated in some regions throughout Italy. Farmers and workers traditionally took the day off. They relaxed and had parties with food, drinking, and dancing. This was to show their support for the social and economic achievements on this day.

So before you bid this summer farewell, go out with a bang on this Labor Day! Whether you are heading out of town, staying in the city, spending the day quietly at home relaxing, or enjoying one final celebration of the summer, be sure to relish the day with your family and friends.

This week I have two recipes to share with you. I remember a recipe that my mom taught me called “Italian Stuffed Peppers.” (was created by my mom) They are made by stuffing cubanelle peppers with a bread crumb filling topped with tomato sauce and baked. Cubanelles are a long slender banana-shaped sweet pepper, also known as Italian frying peppers. You can use this recipe as a side-dish.

The other dish is my rendition of a recipe I found in a magazine which I call “Colorful Corn Salad.” The combination of all the ingredients mixed together is not only colorful but also is harmonious in your mouth. These two recipes will be hits on your Labor Day weekend BBQ‘s, family gatherings, or even at home relaxing. 

Cubanelle Peppers
Italian Stuffed Peppers

6 Cubanelle peppers, tops and seeds removed
3 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
3 cups unflavored bread crumbs
4 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
1 cup of grated cheese (Pecorino Romano)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Cut 1/2 inch from the top of a washed pepper and remove the seeds. Mix the bread crumbs with parsley, minced garlic, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Add a small amount of oil and mix with hands. When it feels like a sandy consistency then you are ready to fill the peppers. Fill the peppers with mixture (do not fill to tightly as it will become dry) Put about a 1 1/2 cups of tomato sauce on bottom of a baking dish so they will not stick. Place peppers in the baking dish, cover with remaining 1 1/2 cups of tomato sauce and sprinkle a small amount of olive oil on top of the peppers. Bake the peppers at 350° for about 30 minutes. Can also be eaten at room temperature. 

“Colorful Corn Salad” 

3 cans of sweet corn nibblets (water drained)
1 can of black olives (pitted) and chopped
3/4 cup of chopped grape tomatoes
1/2 cup of chopped green pepper
1/2 cup of chopped red pepper
1/4 cup of chopped onion or scallions
1/2 cup of ranch salad dressing (your favorite)

In a large salad bowl, combine all vegetable ingredients, and then add the salad dressing. Stir till all coated, cover and refrigerate until serving. Serving is for 8 people or more, depending on how much of the ingredients you use. You can also add another ingredient or take one of them out. Your choice…just enjoy and Mangia Tutti!

Till The Next Time……………………….

Copyright © 2013 “Family Plus Food Equals Love”  All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 23, 2013

Breads And Homemade Italian Pizza! Pure Comfort Food....

As far as history has been recorded, bread has been a basic part of the world’s eating habits, and a traditional companion with meals. With fall approaching it is a perfect time to make bread and pizza. With the oven on and the aromas of bread baking, circling the room, there is nothing more comforting to the soul. There are various assortments of breads which include different textures and flavors but the most popular types are white, wheat, and whole-grains. In some recipes fruits and vegetables are used in bread making, but the most common ingredients include flour, sugar, yeast, eggs, nuts, spices, raisins, and milk.

In Italy, bread is taken quite seriously. Italians have rigid standards when it comes to what a loaf of bread should be. The basic standard Italian bread consists of yeast-leavened, unsweetened and baked in a loaf shape with tapered ends. A typical Italian loaf is thick and has a thin crust. The inside of an Italian bread loaf is moist and porous, which is perfect for absorbing toppings of tomatoes, olive oil, and cheeses. In the United States Italian bread arrived in the 18th century. Italian bread became quite popular very quickly. Today it is frequently used for sandwiches, as a side for soup, for dunking with olive oil and as a side for many Italian pasta dishes accompanied with a glass of wine. 
Nanni and myself years ago

In the baking world, there are many different types of bread flours on the market that make the difference to a successful loaf of bread. The most common of the baking flours used in households today is called all purpose flour. There is cake flour which is very good for baking cookies and cakes. Sourdough and pumpernickel breads use rye flour. Bleached flour has been treated with agents that make it whiter than other flours. (I personally use un-bleached flour) Self Rising flour is used regularly when baking, which is a combination of all purpose flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. There is flour that is labeled as bread flour and is used for baking breads or rolls. Soy flour is especially made for those who have gluten allergies as it does not contain gluten.

My grandmother---"Nanni"
As we continue in the baking world there are many types of breads that can be made with other ingredients such as: Bananas, Zucchini, Pumpkin, Corn, Carrot, French bread, Quick bread, Italian bread and Sour Dough bread. Additional items can also be added to your bread recipe such as nuts, raisins, spices and cranberries. 

Whatever the role bread plays in a meal, the delightful aromas fill a home and it stirs all the senses. I remember when my grandmother (who we called Nanni) would come over; she would make us a pizza with onions, tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella. She also used the best fresh herbs she could find. Instead of a round pizza pan, she would make the pizza in a baking pan. Her crust was always soft, and thick something like a Sicilian pizza would be. It was always a treat making pizza with her, as she would always tell a few stories about her Italian roots as we were eating. She never wrote her recipes down, so when she passed so did her recipes. She always said that her Italian dishes were all in her head. I found this recipe from MaryAnn Esposito at “Ciao Italia,” which is very similar to her recipe. I hope that you enjoy your pizza and make some bread; it really makes the house fragrant. It is what I would call, “real comfort food.”

Pizza Dough

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups of warm water (110°-115° F)
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups unbleached All Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Allow the yeast to proof until it is foamy, about 10 minutes. Add 3 cups of flour, salt and sugar. Mix the dough with your hands or use a mixer with a dough hook. Add the remaining flour as needed to make a dough that holds together. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead it for about 10 minutes. Grease a bowl with the olive oil and place the dough in the bowl. Turn the dough a few times in the bowl so the oil coats the dough. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let it rise for 2 hours in a warm place. Then punch down the dough and knead it for a few minutes on a lightly floured surface. Use the dough to make one large pizza or divide it in half to make 2 small ones. 

Now that your dough is made you can make your pizza with any ingredients you wish. Just make sure the ingredients are fresh and you will have a mouth watering pizza that you can’t wait to eat. Mangia!    

Till Next Time….

Copyright © 2013 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 16, 2013

Italian Culture & “Sofia’s Peas and Pasta”

A few days ago I was watching a video called “Discovery Atlas: Italy Revealed.” It depicts the passionate culture of Italy as it follows six stories of Italians, including a jockey participating in a traditional “palio,” to a former fisherman trying to set a diving record off Sicily’s coast, to the Missoni family of the fashion world, and a Venetian gondolier’s attempt to keep his family in his native city. I was amazed while I was watching this very scenic and heart warming video. It brought to mind that the Italian people are on a journey, that features many cultural customs such as fashion, cinema, food, music, and architecture just to name a few. 

When the Italian’s came to the United States, they developed many customs that were not part of their lives before they came here; creating a culture that is independent of any other. As I continued to think about this, I thought that it would be an interesting subject to share with you my readers about Italy‘s cultural icons. 

Since, my great grandparents came from Italy to the United States I can understand the culture behind my family's heritage. It must have been extremely challenging for them to come to another country, with another language, and now have to learn how to fit in with other customs that they did not understand. I feel very blessed and honored to have come from a background of exceptionally strong and dedicated men, and women to seek a better life for their families. Here are some of the famous Italian Cultural Icons that may give you a better understanding of why Italy is the birthplace of Western Culture and is often nicknamed ll Bel Paese (The Beautiful Country).

Architecture: Italy has a very broad and diverse architectural style. Some famous structures are the Coliseum, Tower of Pisa, Grand Canal (Venice), Sistine Chapel, and St Peter’s Square (Vatican).
My great-grandparents Giovanni & Sofia,
plus my aunt Jessie & uncle Arthur when
they were young

Visual Art: Over the centuries, Italian Art has gone through many changes. Italian painting is traditionally illustrated by warmth of colors and light. Some famous paintings and figures are Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo’s David, others by Raphael, Donatello, Caravaggio, and Botticelli. Many of these artifacts are religious in nature.

Literature: The basis of the modern Italian language was established by the poet Dante Alighieri (The Divine Comedy), Boccaccio, Leopardi, Petrarch (invented the sonnet), Giordano Bruno, and Niccolo Machiavelli.

Music: From folk to classical, music has always played an important role in Italian culture. The Italian Opera, Antonio Vivaldi, Giuseppe Verdi, Toscanini, Rossini, Puccini, Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and Enrico Caruso.

Cinema: The Italian film industry was born between 1903 and 1908. Some famous icons are, Dario Argento, Rossano Brazzi, Federico Fellini, Isabella Rossellini, Marcello Mastroianni, Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Anna Magnani, Roberto Benigni and Dino De Laurentiis.

Fashion and Design: Italian fashion is regarded as one of the most important in the world. Milan, Florence, and Rome are Italy’s main fashion capitals. Armani, Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, Ferragamo, Gucci, Prada, Pucci, Valentino, and Versace. 

Italian Cuisine: Ingredients and dishes vary by region. Cheese and wine are major parts of the cuisine, playing different roles both regionally and nationally. Some famous dishes include pasta, pizza, lasagna, focaccia, gelato, bread, olive oil, salami, Parma ham, and cappuccino. Others include desserts are Cannoli, Biscotti, Pizzelle, Zappole, and Sfogliatelle. 

Italy is filled with beauty, culture and history. There is so much more to this boot shaped country and its people. My recipe this week is one that my great-grandmother Sofia passed down and eventually it was taught to me. It is a simple but yet very tasty dish that is from Calabria, where my mother’s family originated from in Italy. 

“Sofia’s Peas & Pasta"

Ditali, Shells or any small pasta -1 lb 
1 pound of fresh or frozen peas
2 large onions sliced
Garlic 1 clove sliced
Oil olive, coat pan
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Pecorino Romano to taste or to top dish

In a large pot bring salted water to a rapid boil. Cook pasta according to directions until the pasta is al dente. Meanwhile heat olive oil in a pot and add sliced garlic. Now add onions when garlic is softened and color is light. Sauté onions till soft and translucent. Next add peas, plus a small amount of pasta water to coat peas. Add salt and pepper, cook until tender. By this time pasta should be cooked, drain and add to peas with onions. Mix well and add grated cheese to top your dish. Serve immediately. Yields: 4-6

Till Next Time……….. 

Copyright © 2012-2013 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 9, 2013

“Italian Stuffed Baby Eggplant” For “Ferragosto” And “La notte di San Lorenzo”

Buon Ferragosto! Ferragosto is a national holiday celebrated in Italy. It is held usually on August 15th. Initially, it was related to festivities that took place in the middle of the summer to mark the end of manual labor in the fields. Ferragosto, in Italy means it is time off from work, time to relax in the sun, and a great time to spend with your family and friends. If you happen to be in the city of any region in Italy on or around August 15th, be prepared to witness a quiet atmosphere. As you will see that mostly all the stores and tourist attractions are closed. But if you happen to go along the coast you will see hundreds of people at the beach, having fun, and relaxing. Some may be preparing cook outs for an incredible family feast, and waiting for some fireworks to begin.

The rest of the Italian people are either sleeping in or most likely in Church due to the fact that Roman Catholics commemorate this day of August 15th as a “Holy Day of Obligation” to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This means they celebrate and honor the rise of Mary up to Heaven to join her son Jesus, taking her place by his side to look after those of us remaining here on Earth. Many people have celebrations in the streets by parading a statue of Mary and praying to her for guidance and thanks. In some coastal areas, the seas are also blessed on Ferragosto, especially in fishing communities. Catholic prayers are said and the sea is sprinkled with Holy Water, with the sign of the cross over it. It is believed that to swim in the waters blessed on this day is a way of healing. 

Other Italians are camping out under the stars as this holiday often coincides with the peak activity of the Perseid meteor shower. Across Italy this night is known as “La notte di San Lorenzo” or the “Night of the Shooting Stars.” These shooting stars are also called Saint Lawrence’s tears, or Saint Lawrence‘s fire. This is to symbolize the sufferings of the Saint during his martyrdom, in the year 258. Scientifically, this phenomenon is due to the shower of meteors, which represent the debris left by the “Comet Swift Tuttle,” identified in 1862. Small fragments which are stationed in space come into contact with the atmosphere, resulting in an intense long glow with great speed. The falling of the stars is due to the passage, inside the Earth’s orbit, the asteroid belt of the constellation Perseus. If it is a clear night you may be able to witness a cascade of the falling stars at the rate of 60 or more per hour in the Northern Hemisphere. As with all meteor showers, the rate is greatest in the predawn hours, since the side of the Earth nearest to turning into the sun scoops up more meteors as the Earth moves through space.

The way my family and many other Italian families honor any festival, activity or event celebrating a special occasion is through the glorification of food. Typical Ferragosto food revolves around fresh vegetables, cold fruit, cold salads, cold pastas, and of course cold beverages.  Italian people look for cold foods to combat the heat of a hot August day. Many roadside stands sell watermelon and chilled fruit.

To those who have to work, those who are taking a rest, and for those who will celebrate with loved ones, I send my best wishes for a mid-August that is full of dreams and falling stars to see. I wish you a Happy Ferragosto!

My great-grandmother Sofia

My recipe this week is an Italian Stuffed Baby Eggplant. This recipe was created by my great-grandmother Sofia. This yummy dish can be served hot or cold. I love it in an Italian roll eaten cold.

“Italian Stuffed Baby Eggplant”

6 small eggplants (makes 12 half shells)
Olive oil
3/4 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
2 8oz cans of tomato sauce (Del Monte)
1/2 teaspoon of basil flakes (or fresh)
1 egg
1- 1/4 cups of bread crumbs (unflavored)
1/4 cup of grated cheese (Pecorino Romano)

Cut eggplant lengthwise in half and scoop out the inside of the eggplant. Cut scooped out insides into bite-sized pieces. Put scooped out shells in some salted water to par boil. Put just enough oil to cover the bottom of a 3-quart pot. Heat and sauté minced garlic. Then add tomato sauce and stir. Next, put in the cut up insides of the eggplant with salt/peeper and let cook until soft. (not mushy). Add water if needed. After they are cooked, remove from the heat and cool off a little. Combine the egg, breadcrumbs, grated cheese and basil flakes, and mix well. Now add to the combined mixture the cut up cooked, cooled eggplant insides. Drain eggplant shells in colander. Put a small amount of tomato sauce on bottom of baking pan. Now fill the eggplant shells with the mixture and place in baking dish. Put tomato sauce on top of stuffed eggplant. Also, add a small amount of water to bottom of pan and bake for 25 minutes at 350°.

Till Next Time……………………………….........

Copyright © 2013 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved

Friday, August 2, 2013

"Zucchini, Prosciutto, Tomato, and Cheese Panini" Recipe Andiamo! Let's Celebrate!

Welcome readers, Andiamo a mangiare un panino! (Let’s eat a sandwich!) Yummy! I know that everyone has eaten at least one or more delicious filled sandwiches in their lifetime. We have carried them to school, work, picnics, and other activities. They usually can be eaten for a lunchtime meal or sometimes just when you are looking for that special something to eat. Sandwiches can be made with many combinations of vegetables, meats, fish, poultry, cheese, sandwich spreads, eggs, etc. They are sold all over the world in cafes and restaurants. As we begin the new month, I want to honor the “sandwich,” especially in August, as it is “National Sandwich Month.” 

The first form of a sandwich is attributed to an ancient Jewish Elder, who is said to have put meat from the lamb and bitter herbs inside a matzo. (a flat unleavened bread) During the Middle Ages, thick slabs of coarse stale bread, called “trenchers,” were used as plates. The trenchers you could say were the first “open faced sandwich” that we know of today. In the United States, a sandwich is, made with two or more slices of bread, and with one or more layers of filling, typically meat or cheese, with the addition of vegetables. Sandwiches came be make hot or cold, open faced or can be a Triple Decker, a Dagwood, or a Monte Cristo. They can be a club or a sub, or French Dipped. Then of course we have a few of America’s favorites which include, a BLT, Grilled Cheese, Philly Cheese Steak, and the most favorite is the Hamburger! The bread can be coated with butter, oil, mustard or other condiments to enhance flavor and texture. A sandwich can also include tacos, burritos, bagels, wraps and even are made of Ice Cream. Just use your imagination and you too can enjoy “The Sandwich.” 

I remember a story when I was young…. “Gone With The Wind,” the movie was playing at a theater near where we lived. It was one of my mother’s favorite movies. At that time in the late 1960’s, my mom was not sure if they would ever play it again and wanted us to see this classic. She took my brothers and me to see the movie. It was on a Friday late in the afternoon and my mom made each one of us a tuna fish sandwich to eat for a quick dinner as the movie was 4 hours long. As a Catholic you could not eat meat on Fridays in those days. The movie had an intermission because it was so long, and that is when we started to eat the sandwiches. They were delicious as my mom put lettuce and tomato, with the tuna in between an Italian roll. We enjoyed them, but as you all know tuna does smell a little. I remember everyone looking at my brothers and I all lined up in the row eating the sandwiches. I remember saying to my mom, “everyone is looking at us”, and she said, “Do not worry about them looking; they are just jealous that they are not eating this fantastic sandwich.” Still to this day we remember that afternoon with the tuna sandwiches, my mom, and the movie. It will be a memory that we hold dear to our hearts. By the way, “Gone With The Wind” is now one of my favorites and every time I watch it, I remember the tuna story.  

In Italy, panino is the word for a sandwich made from bread other than sliced bread. The bread is cut horizontally and filled with deli ingredients such as salami, ham, cheese, or other food, and sometimes served warm after having been pressed by a warming grill. The term Panini has been adopted to refer to a pressed and toasted sandwich. Then there is Brischetta, an open faced, toasted bread brushed with olive oil and rubbed with garlic, topped with savory items, which might include tomato, basil, thinly sliced Italian ham.

My recipe this week is a scrumptious Panini called: “Zucchini, Prosciutto, Tomato and Cheese Panini.” When this sandwich is grilled to perfection, the cheese oozes out and all the flavors melt together. This sandwich is a delectable way to celebrate National Sandwich Month. Enjoy! 

Zucchini, Prosciutto, Tomato, and Cheese Panini

Makes: 1 sandwich

2 slices country white or sourdough-type bread
Drizzle of olive oil
Drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar
2 thin slices Prosciutto or ham
1/3 cup shredded young Asiago or Mozzarella cheese
2 slices of tomato thinly sliced
1/4 cup shredded zucchini

Drizzle the olive oil over one slice of bread and layer the prosciutto over it. Sprinkle the cheese over the prosciutto and then the tomatoes, and zucchini. Then drizzle some Balsamic Vinegar on top before putting the other slice of bread over it. Top with the second slice of bread and grill in a Panini maker.

If making in a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a non-stick sauté pan; when it begins to sizzle, add the sandwich and weigh it down with a grill press, cast-iron pan, or a brick covered in aluminum foil. When brown on the bottom, turn it over and brown the other side. Can be served with some chips or along side with a hot cup of soup for lunch or dinner.

Till Next Time……………………………….........

Copyright © 2013 “Family Plus Food Equals Love” All Rights Reserved