Lucas has started cooking lately. He's barely 14 years old and sometimes he makes me a panino (smoked turkey, provolone and salsa on ciabatta--his recipe) and he's even made us dinner (he does a variation of my Amalfi Lemon Chicken and Pasta). But of course, he's a teen, and as such, he likes easy, lazy breakfasts...
His Sliced Apples with Peanut Butter is his latest, laziest creation. Lazy, but healthy. (My Father used to eat simple meals like this). An added bonus, I don't have to make his breakfast any more.
We just got back from a relaxing week in a fabulous vacation rental house with a private beach on the Calvert Cliffs area of the Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. We dubbed the house the "Glass House" because of the wide panorama of water views afforded by its sheer walls of glass facing the Bay. It was a wonderful, relaxing vacation spent in the hot tub, combing the beach for 25 million year old shark teeth fossils, and kayaking with my boy Lucas. Lisa finally got away from her stressing workload in her corporate world, and I enjoyed taking pictures and checking out the ospreys, bald eagles and the feeding cownose rays and dolphins in the water below our deck.
But there was one frustrating development. When we are on vacation, I like to sample and compare local pizzas. I mean, good pizza-making is everywhere in the States. There are Philadelphia tomato pies, Manhattan "slices", small town thin crusts, California style toppings, and various types of deep dish. I expected either a simple, tasty pizza around our Solomons Island home base or something radical like crab cake pizzas. No such luck.
My first taste of pizza was at a place called Ruddy Duck that got great reviews. Yes, duck is a specialty on their menu. When I saw that they had a Peking Duck pizza, I thought I'd try it for adventure's sake. I hadn't had Peking Duck in years since a Chinese photographer friend of mine introduced me to it in New York at one of the best restaurants in China Town. It was delicious.
Well, short story. It wasn't. In fact, while the so-called "Peking Duck" topping just tasted like their BBQ sauce doctored up with some bottled sweet and sour sauce, the pizza under it was even worse! The crust wasn't cooked. It was gummy and yeasty under the overburdened toppings. I sent it back... they tried again... and failed a second time.
Ok, fast forward to a couple of nights later when we all were getting a craving for pizza. So I called up Google Maps on my Kindle and typed in "pizza". Up popped our only options in the area: Papa John's, Dominoes, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar's, Ledo's (a regional chain) and one other called Nicoletti's that didn't deliver and was a 40 minute drive away. Little Ceasar's is the only fast food pizza that my son and I will partake in when we are out on our excursions, because at least their dough is made fresh each day at each of their locations, but we were in the mood for a simple Mom and Pop style pizza.
Ok... solve the problem Babbo.
Which I did. I took out the small sack of King Arthur's bread flour, a jar of 4-C "All Natural" grated parmesan cheese and single packet of yeast I brought along for such a pizza emergency. Without my pizza steel, my temperature-tested ovens, my peel, my stand mixer... I went to work. I grabbed the only large dark pan they had in our rental kitchen, a wooden spoon, a large plastic bowl and within a hour I was putting our emergency pizza into the oven... topped with black olives and mozzarella.
Crisis averted. The thick, focaccia crust was wonderful and the silence of Lisa and Lucas as they enjoyed their first slice while they watched the views of the Bay was my applause.
There is a huge Navy Air base across the Paxtuxent River from Solomons Island that could use some real pizza. Poor guys and gals. All they have is fast food pizza? After all they sacrifice for us?
I never was interested in an inheritance from my parents. Not that I couldn't use some extra financial help when we had our son late in my life (I was 53 when he was born). After my Dad passed, my Mom didn't have all that much anyway... besides, I always felt strange about even discussing such things. When my Mom finally passed on some years ago, I actually refused to deposit the meager check my sister sent along after her affairs were supposedly "finalized".
But when my Mom was alive she did "will" me some things in person when she was moving from her tidy suburban home to a senior citizen's apartment complex. I treasure these simple things.
One treasure was her scolapasta. The literal translation of this essential kitchen tool is "dripping pasta", a very descriptive name for her colander. It might even me called scola maccharon' (macaroni drain) in southern dialect. My Mom would grab a mappine (pronounce mop-EEN, meaning dishtowel), pick up the boiling spaghetti pot and then dump the steaming pasta into the scolapasta to drain the water.
I remember when she offered it to me... "Here, you take this home". It was like she was passing the culinary baton to me and my cooking. No fanfare. But with that simple statement, I was honored all the same.
She must have poured several tons of pasta through that beautiful piece of aluminum for decades before I got it. It's a large one, too... holding two pounds of pasta. I've been using it every time we make pasta in the new Casa Finzi for over a decade now. It's amazing to think that this tool must be over 60 years old--at least--and still going strong. Try that with one made of plastic or from cheap Chinese steel. We actually have another colander that we bought in the famous Dehillerin kitchen shop in Paris, but somehow we always reach for Mom's scolapasta first...
When I was a boy, we always had bread in our home. My Dad worked as a Deli man most of his life and would bring home beautiful Italian breads that he used to make cold cut and meatball sandwiches. In typical 1950s style, my Mom would keep loaves of white bread in what she called her "All-American house".
When we had pasta with "gravy", we'd tear off some bread to use at the end of the meal to clean up the plate. Even when we had meat, like a roast beef, the bread would come out and we'd soak up "the blood" (the drippings) that oozed out of the meat in the bottom of the serving platter. If we had soup or a stew, the bread would work its way to the end of a meal to clean our plates. And if my Mom was making Sunday Gravy, we'd get out the bread, even if all we had was sliced Wonder Bread (ugh), and smear a ladleful of sauce on a slice for a pre-meal snack.
Why scarpetta (little shoe)? Wouldn't it be better to call it scopa (mop)?
Little did I know what we were doing was carrying on an Italian tradition in dining--fare la scarpetta (making the slipper/shoe). Scarpetta means shoe in Italian. And to fare la scarpetta a tavola, means tearing off a piece of bread at the table to mop up the sauce or juices left on your plate, help in getting your food onto the fork or spoon. In my father's poor childhood--growing up in a Hoboken tenement with a large family--there weren't enough forks or spoons to go around, so using bread as a scarpetta was a necessity to lift bites of food out of the large communal bowl my grandmother would place in the middle of their table.
Nothing goes to waste in Italy, and especially in the impoverished South where my parents came from, one would never leave anything on their plate. Food was life itself. After all, not wasting food is being furbo. And in the South, they don't shy way from having bread with pasta, like they do in the North. What is the preferred type of bread for use as a scarpetta? Curiously, it is ciabatta, which literally means slipper, but any crusty bread will do.
Some say that the expression scarpetta comes from the fact that a torn piece of bread looks like a little shoe. I prefer to think that it really refers to wiping your feet... as wiping the bottom of the plate. Because of the extreme poverty suffered by many of our Southern Italian ancestors, others think scarpetta refers to being so hungry that one would eat the soles of their shoes. Sadly, there is historic evidence of desperate people doing just that, so perhaps there is some truth here.
Scarpetta can work with the right OR left hand
However, the tradition of using bread to clean up plates goes back to the time of the Romans. I remember reading in my Latin study book how Romans would use bread after a meal to clean their hands--soaking up the juices and olive oil on their hands--and also cleaning the bowls and the table. They would then pop the soppy bread into their mouths. Again, furbo... nothing is wasted. Fare la scarpetta is an ancient tradition indeed.
Perhaps because of its links to Southern culture and Cucina Povera, some areas of Italy consider using a scarpetta bad taste, even though its taste is actually pretty good. Most do it at home or in more casual trattoria and less in more chic ristoranti. But they all do it. And if someone tells you that they don't do it in Tuscany... nonsense. In fact, it's one of the only ways to add flavor to their saltless Tuscan bread. (That stuff is so dry on your palette without salt!) You'd be well served to consider Tuscan bread more of an eating tool, like a spoon or fork, than a bread for eating by itself.
You can also do what many Italians do and consider the philosophical meaning of the phrase, fare la scarpetta:
Live life fully. Never leave crumbs behind. Soak up everything that life puts in front of you.
Perhaps this headline should read: The Most Controversial Man of the Last Century Passed Away... After all, whenever the subject of Hawaiian Pizza comes up, people either go into a rage or rave about the stuff---they are rarely ambivalent on the subject. Mention this recipe to an Italian and they will more than likely offer some choice hand-gestures, facial expressions and perhaps some choice words to show their contempt for this disgustosobreech of pizza etiquette.
The Hawaiian Pizza idea was invented by Sam Panopoulos---yes, he was a Greek-Canadian, not Italian. But then again, neither is Hawaiian Pizza. Panopoulos came up with the idea in his restaurant back in 1962.
"Along the way, we threw some pineapples on it and nobody liked it at first, but after that, they went crazy about it. Because in those days nobody was mixing sweets and sours and all that. It was plain, plain food."
Personally, I love Hawaiian Pizza. I think the first time I ever had some was in the just-opened Pier 17 food court down at South Street Seaport in Manhattan back in 1983. I loved the way the salty ham, sweet pineapple and tomato sauce married well with each other. The acidity in both the pineapple and tomato sauce make them compatible cousins. And mozzarella on top of pineapple? Well, not exactly... it goes under them, allowing the pineapples to caramelize, bringing out their sweetness a bit further. The bits of ham (sliced or chunks, I've had it both ways) also go above the cheese to bring out a smokey flavor.
The name, "Hawaiian" came from the can of pineapples used in it's creation.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a fan of the dish and came out on #teampineapple on Twitter earlier this year.
Iceland's president, Guoni Johannesson, is "fundamentally opposed" to pineapple on pizza and suggested it should be banned.
Chef Gordon Ramsey is not on #teampineapple.
Some Germans have laid claim to the invention, saying it is based on their pineapple-cheese-ham sandwich, the Toast Hawaii, popular in the 1950s.
So far, neither Canada nor Germany has declared a Pizza War.
1 -1/2 cups part skim, shredded mozzarella cheese.
1/2 cup (75g) thin sliced baked ham, Canadian bacon (or to make it more "Italian", thick sliced and diced prosciutto).
1 can Dole Pineapple chunks (or 1-1/2 cups fresh, diced)
(Note: I actually prefer using the Dole crushed pineapple, and the sweetness of Virginia ham goes well with pineapple.)
Prepare the dough, form your pizza round, top with sauce, then mozzarella, and finally with the pineapple and ham. Drizzle with a little Extra Virgin olive oil and a dusting of dried basil.
Bake in a 515 F oven for 5-7 minutes, preferably on a pizza stone or baking steel. Your oven may vary... keep an eye on this, ensuring that the crust bottom is done along with the toppings. If your crust is done before the toppings, put the oven on broil for an extra 1/2 minutes.
Panopoulos arrived in Canada with his brothers in 1954, opening several restaurants. He passed away in an Ontario hospital on June 8, not long after he had celebrated his diamond wedding anniversary with his wife Christina. He was said to have an "unforgettable" personality and was known to be up-front and full of humor. He leaves behind his family, friends, former employees and loyal customers. He was 83.
Cardi as we first discovered in in a Montepulciano market
In the very first market we visited in Italy, we came upon a strange looking, rugged celery-looking vegetable: Cardi (Cardoon in English, in Italian it's Cardo, Cardone or Carduna). But Cardi is not celery and it is used in a very different ways. In talking to other Foodies in the States, I have found that many confuse Cardoon with Swiss Chard, or worse, with Rhubarb (which, because of its sweetness is used more like a fruit, as in pies). I thought I would explain the differences between this confusing batch of stalk veggies...
Celery in the rear, Cardi in front. Notice the deep ribs and barbs along the edges.
Cardoon is a member of the thistle family and a close cousin of artichoke, but unlike the artichoke, the stalks and not the flowers are eaten. In fact, it tastes like artichoke. If you like artichokes, you should enjoy Cardi. Cardoon grows in the field as a fairly dangerous, spiny plant, just like thistle. Unlike celery, its ribs are fibrous (and much more stringy) and need to be removed using a vegetable peeler. Along the sides of each stalk are fairly sharp barbs which also need to be peeled. Eaten raw, the stalks are nearly inedible--amazingly bitter, fibrous and tough. In general, there is no such thing as overcooking Cardi if you want to get them tender enough to eat--while getting rid of their dental-floss stringiness.
In Italy, the average supermarket variety of Cardi on sale looks like a rough textured, perhaps dirty celery, with the tops trimmed off and bound by a twist tie, but in open air produce markets, you might find more choices. Often you will see a very tall (3-4'), straight variety with its thistle looking leaves intact. There is also another called Gobbi, a curved, hunchbacked type.
Blanched Cardi are grown in darkness to produced a very pale color, in the same way white asparagus or white endives are grown by covering the maturing stalks. These are the more expensive and prized for culinary use because their taste is less bitter and they tend to cook faster. Their taste when well-cooked, as I mentioned earlier, is like artichoke, but with a smokey edge and hint of licorice, as with finocchio (bulbing fennel). If you ever decide to grow Cardoon in your garden, always remove the beautiful blue flower heads (they look like thistle flowers) to prevent the plant from dropping seeds or your garden will have hundreds of weedlings coming up next season.
Swiss Chard (Bietola)
Swiss Chard has distinctive, ruffled leaves
Swiss Chard, or Bietola (in Italian) is a quick-cooking green that is reminiscent of spinach, though sweeter. It comes with white, red, or golden stalks and veins. It is a member of the beet family and is commonly called silverbeet or spinach beet. Obviously, unlike Cardi, the leaves are the important part for culinary use. Swiss chard leaves can be added raw to salads or on sandwiches or wraps. It can be cooked in a variety of ways: braised, boiled, sautéed or added to soups and casseroles.
You can sauté Swiss Chard leaves and stems in a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper, minced garlic, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Eat as a side dish or as a baked potato topping. You can also cook the stems by first cutting in a small dice to soften them and adding to salsa, relish or chutney.
The main difference between Rhubarb and the other "stalk" veggies discussed here is that it does not grow in a head. The stalks grows from a woody rhizome individually and are harvested by cutting each close to the ground. Of course, the obvious difference is that, although a vegetable, Rhubarb is used in the same way we use sour cherries in pies. They are highly acidic and blend well with other sweet ingredients.
The other thing I should mention is that, like Cardi, only the stalks of Rhubarb are eaten. In fact, its leaves can be considered highly toxic. They contain dangerously high levels of oxalic acid which can cause serious kidney stones or permanent damage which could lead to pain or even death. Even a small amount still has the ability to make a person sick.
Sauteed Cardone Recipe
1 bunch cardi
flour for coating
oil – (olive oil is my preference)
Clean and rinse the cardi: remove all the leaves, then using a vegetable peeler, remove bristles on the sides of the stalks, then peel the strings off the back of the stalks.
Cut stalks into 2 – 3 inch pieces.
Cook cardi in covered pan with well-salted water until tender (10 – 15 minutes).
Drain cardi and let cool – enough to handle.
Combine flour, salt and pepper into a large plastic or paper bag. Place a few pieces of cardi in bag, shake to coat.
Place floured pieces in skillet with olive oil. Let cook until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining cardi.
Ingredients 1 kilo fresh killed covfefe 1 cup orangecello 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes 2 tablespoons Golden Extra Virgin Olive Oil a healthy sprinkling of Rose and Mary and Poppy salt to taste slices of stale bread, toasted golden around the edges
Directions Prepare covfefe... don't bother to clean. Cut up into random sized pieces. Boil covfefe in a rolling boil for 5 hours, preferably after midnight while you sleep. Throw all the other ingredients hodgepodge into a large frying pan and then briefly into the fire. Drain the covfefe and toss with the sauce. Serve in a large heap with slices of golden toast around all sides to protect it from diners. Recommended wine to accompany your covfefe: Your choice and as much as possible.
A Humor Piece, Copyright 2017, Jerry Finzi/GrandVoyageItaly.com
Olive oil has been used in many other ways over the millennium... greasing wheels, cleaning the body, lighting ancient homes in lamps, polishing furniture, but the most important use for the golden elixir throughout the ages is in la Cucina.
But we don't always give our olive oil the respect and care it deserves. After all, we should respect an oil that I've witnessed with my own eyes still coming from trees hundreds and even thousands of years old. Olives are a gift from the gods... a gift of Mother Nature herself. They are a link to our past and a healthy path to our future.
Here are some ways you can give respect to your olive oil...
First of all, not all olive oil deserves your respect. Many oils sold in supermarkets are a mix of oils. Some sold as "olive oil" may be a blend of olive and other oils, like canola, soybean or sunflower.
Don't even bother buying "light", "pure" or "virgin". These are always blends or highly processed and lack the benefits of Extra Virgin in terms of flavor and health benefits. Buy only Extra Virgin Olive Oil... and even then, check the label to make sure the bottle actually contains 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Don't be cheated! Many large corporations are misleading consumers by their labeling and others (the Italian Mafia) are perpetuating outright fraud. Read more about olive oils, what to look for, how it is made and how to avoid the fake stuff in my article, HERE.
Extra-virgin olive oil is higher in polyphenols, low in saturated fat and contains antioxidants, all helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. Phony olive oil blends aren't just a deception, they are a crime against public health.
If you want to fry using olive oil, you might be doing what I used to do--frying in "light olive oil" and saving the Extra Virgin Olive Oil for use directly in recipes. Extra Virgin has a lower smoke point, meaning it's not the best for frying, but here's a trick: Use half Extra Virgin for that olive oil flavor and then add half canola oil to raise the smoke point, which will make your fried foods crispier. Canola has no taste of its own so won't ruin your recipes.
With quality oils, whether domestic or imported, look for a “pressing date” on the label. Sometimes it’s called the “harvest date.” This tells you how fresh the olive oil is. If it’s beyond six months, pass it by. Nutrients (and flavor) in olive oil start to deteriorate six months after pressing.
The "pressing date" or "harvest date" is not the same as the "best used by” date that you will see on supermarket brands of olive oil. Mass producers of supermarket varieties of olive oil will put "best used dates" as long as two years past the date of the actual pressing of the oil. This is simply to prevent people from allowing their oil to go rancid if they store it for too long at home.
If you invest in expensive, high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oils, don't buy more than you can use within six months. An olive oil producer I spoke to in Tuscany told me that one year is the absolute limit olive oil will remain "fresh" (and that's only if it's stored properly... more on that in a second).
Consider buying Unfiltered, Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This is the type of oil I saw and tasted in Italy that really impressed me. It tends to look cloudy because the particulates produced in the first, cold pressing are left in--tremendous, complex flavors, along with added health components. Use unfiltered oils directly on foods, salads, drizzled on bruschetta, cheese, etc. Some argue that removing the small particles (by either filtering or centrifuge) extend the life of the oil in storage. If you buy only what you need for short periods of time, this isn't an issue.
Never buy olive oil in clear bottles! Light causes olive oil to lose flavor and freshness. Buy only in very dark green or brown bottles, or better yet... buy your Extra Virgin olive oil in cans.
If you find a place where you can taste the oil before you by, please do so. As when selecting a wine, your palate might tell you that one oil is more bitter and another a bit fruitier or sweeter. For instance, I'm not a fan of bitter oils... I tend to buy fruitier types. Look for olive oils in local open air markets where they will allow you to taste first, or from specialty olive oil shops that will sell olive oil dispensed from the spigots of their shiny, stainless steel tanks called fusti. These oils can be expensive, but at least you know you are getting the taste that you want.
Try shopping for high quality Extra Virgin Olive Oils online. Even Amazon has many artisan oils on their site. Or Google for them and see what pops up. I'll put some links at the end of this article.
Store your oil properly! If you use a lot of olive oil, buy it in tins only. Buy large tins if you use a lot (we go through about a gallon every 3-4 months or so). Store your oil in a dark place, especially if you buy it in bottles (never buy clear bottles!). Don't keep small, expensive bottles of Extra Virgin on your counter--keep them in your cupboards, away from light. Oxygen is also an enemy of olive oil, so as your larger container gets less full, you might consider transferring the remaining oil into smaller containers. To store a larger amount, think about investing in your own fusti (stainless dispenser tank) for your pantry, dispensing oil into small olive oil carafes for daily use.
Hector Boiardi was born in the Emilia-Romagna town of Piacenza in 1897, and working as an apprentice chef at a local hotel before he even reached his teen years. Hector came to America in 1914, and eventually became the head chef of New York’s famed Plaza Hotel. His clientele kept asking for the recipe for his tomato sauce, which caused him to create Chef Boyardee brand, a phonetic spelling of his surname.
In 1955 he started to offer boxed pizza kits which included everything you needed to make a pizza from scratch in your own home kitchen--a revolutionary idea at the time. Nowadays, companies like Blue Apron and others delivering similar complete menu kits to your door owe a nod to the pioneer of this meal marketing concept--Chef Boyardee.
The pizza kit contained a small packet of parsley, a can of sauce, some yeast and flour and a packet of parmesan cheese (no mozzarella). Sausage and pepperoni kits included the meat right in the can of sauce.
Chef Boyardee also offered frozen pizzas from 1962 to 1965, but sales were lackluster. The pizza kits are still sold today under the name's Pizza Kit and Pizza Maker.
In a future post, purely for curiosity's sake, I plan on buying and making one of these pizzas. Until then, happy pizza!
Cucina--the Kitchen: Here is where you will find classic Italian recipes, our own family recipes, and stories about the history, techniques, tools and ingredients used in Italian cuisine. We will also include articles that will help you shop and cook in Italy. We are currently re-building our pages, so bear with us. If you can't find a recipe here, use the search (Ricerca) box and you will find what you need. Ciao.