Apr 042015
"Pecorella," almond paste lamb, a specialty of Sicily, at our al fresco lunch, Ragusa. Photo: Julia della Croce

“Pecorella,” almond paste lamb, a specialty of Sicily, at our al fresco lunch, Azienda Agricola Mandranova, Palma di Montechiaro (Agrigento). Photo: Julia della Croce

Special dolci are an essential part of Easter celebrations in Italy and Sicily in particular, where the Arab sweet tooth pervades. At this time several years ago, I was in Agrigento sampling the island’s quiddities with the legendary restaurateur Tony May (Palio, Gemelli, San Domenico, SD26) and a group of Italian chefs. We had lunch al fresco one afternoon at the estate of olive oil producers, where this traditional Easter sweet dominated the dessert table. Called pecorelle, “little lambs,” these artful confections are fashioned of almond paste and decorated with chocolate and tinted sugar. The lambs represent eternal life, the Easter theme, with the red flower symbolizing the Resurrection, Jesus Christ rising from the tomb. Despite the elaborate work that goes into them, they are meant to be eaten for their promise of living forever. Auguri di Pasqua!


Mar 302015
Victor and Marcella Hazan on their first date in Cesenatico, Emilia-Romagna. Courtesy of Victor Hazan.

Victor Hazan and Marcella Polini on their first date in Cesenatico, Emilia-Romagna. Courtesy of Victor Hazan.

A continuation of the conversation with Victor Hazan on the matter of my Irish beef & Guinness stew (see previous post):

A deft rebuttal, my dear.
Italians may sometimes mention nutrition, but they don’t believe in it, really. They go for taste. The interesting thing is that the taste of good Italian cooking turns out to be so salubrious. At least the people look so much better.
I have a very catholic appreciation of  the tastes of other cuisines, save when they seem to be an aberration. I find no grounding in principles of taste in boiled potato skins. That parsnips are sweet is perfectly okay. A stew wants to be vegetable sweet. And in any event, the cardoon balances.
An excellent stew all the same. I shall make it again. With a small touch of Italian. A little bit of Italian will improve any dish. Even any life.

Have you ever wondered which of the couple was the muse? I think I know. And he is right, a little bit of Italian will improve any dish, even any life…

Mar 302015
Victor Hazan Italianizes My Irish Stew

My readers will now and then offer comments on my recipes, but no one is more exacting than Victor Hazan, husband of and collaborator with the late Marcella Hazan and indeed himself a very fine cook. Here is a message he sent me about my Beef and Guinness Stew recipe, which I offered in my Zester Daily column for St. Patrick’s Day:  I followed it more or less scrupulously, save for some things an Italian cook wouldn’t go for, e.g. boiled potatoes served with their skins on. Che barbarità! I peeled and quartered them and threw them in with the meat after it had […more…]

Mar 192015
The Italian Answer to St. Patrick's Day is St. Joseph's, the Gorging Holiday

Just two days after the American Irish whoop it up on St. Patrick’s day, Lenten eating restrictions are lifted once again for the Italians to celebrate Father’s Day, the Feast of Saint Joseph (Festa di San Giuseppe). The foster father of Jesus, symbolic breadwinner, protector of Mary, patron saint of families, orphans, unwed mothers, and the indigent is reverenced with an orgy of eating, drinking—and most importantly, sweet gorging.  Joseph is by happenstance also the patron saint of pastry cooks. My grandfather was named Giuseppe, so this day held special meaning for us. Like other Italians, we celebrated with treats made only for this day, typically bigné (fried eclair with filled with […more…]

Mar 152015
The Art of the Stew, Irish Style — with Beef and Guinness

Hurry, go make yourself some “roasty” beef and Guinness stew. It might, just might, top its Italian counterpart. And if you don’t get around to it for St. Patrick’s Day, no need to suffer — make it any old time! My story, with recipe, in Zester Daily here .  

Feb 072015
Is Traditional Italian Food an Endangered Species?

A couple of weeks ago, Linda Pelaccio, a producer and host at Heritage Radio Network, asked if I would talk to her about that very question. It’s the subject of my last book, Italian Home Cooking: 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul, and something that’s on my mind more than ever as I travel around Italy these days. Seems it’s going the way of America with its fast food habits and global food tastes, while we’re going the way of Italy, yearning to farm, recapture heritage seeds, and make artisan foods. So the other day, I made my way to the radio station launched by Patrick Martins, founder of […more…]

Jan 182015
Polenta: The Long and the Short of It, with Inspiration from Marcella

Nearly twenty-five years ago I wrote an article for Cook’s magazine titled “Polenta: To Stir With Love.” In it, I advocated the traditional method for stirring the cornmeal and water continually as it simmers on the stove for lump-free and silky results, just as I had watched my mother and countless cooks in Italy’s polenta-loving regions do. Although most cornmeal package directions call for simmering it for some 45 minutes, many Italian cooks believe that it should be cooked for at least an hour or even longer, to improve its creaminess and render it more digestible. (Where the stirring was once done […more…]