Got tomatoes? Make a quick, fresh, pasta sauce.

tomatoes at Rialto Market in Venice

tomatoes at Rialto Market in Venice

Summertime and the tomatoes are easy. And they’re here. Lots of them.

The multi varieties in the markets make me feel a bit giddy inside. The color alone widens my eye pupils sending waves of exciting energy. Yes, just looking at them brings happiness.

We know there’s just a small summer window for summer locally-grown tomatoes (the ones in the photo above were “imported” from Sicily to Venice). Just a small window when tomatoes are really GOOD. When all we have to do to enjoy them is slice ’em up (maybe add a few grains of salt) and just eat.

tomatoes

But if you’re raking in bushels-full then it’s time to make some fresh tomato sauce. You can freeze the sauce (in dinner-time amounts) in plastic containers or ziplock bags. Or with just 6-8 tomatoes you can make some sauce just for tonight. It’s easy!

In the recipe below is the technique called tomato “concasse,” where you peel and seed the tomato and cut it into pieces. Eliminating the peel and seeds takes away any rough or bitter taste, leaving a smooth, buttery tomato for your sauce.

peeled tomatoes

peeled tomatoes

fresh tomato sauce

fresh tomato sauce

Flavor your sauce with onion and/or garlic and fresh herbs.

fresh tomato sauce

fresh tomato sauce

Choose your favorite pasta shape (any will do) and take your bowl of pasta and fresh tomato sauce outside, in the garden, on the terrace (or at least by a summery window). Sip a cool glass of wine. Immerse yourself in summer.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

6-8 large ripe tomatoes

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

2-3 garlic cloves, smashed

1/2 cup dry white wine

salt & pepper to taste

handful torn basil or mint leaves

Using a paring knife, core the tomatoes (just cut out the stem end). Cut a superficial “x” at the bottom of each tomato. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, big enough to hold the tomatoes. Drop in tomatoes to boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes. Lift out tomatoes with a slotted spoon and place immediately in an ice water bath (large bowl with about 2 cup ice and added water). Once tomatoes have cooled down take them out of water and they should be easy to peel. Discard skins. Cut tomatoes in quarters and using your fingers, slide out most of the seeds.

Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion and garlic. Cook until onion softens and garlic colors lightly. Add the wine. Let it cook until almost evaporated. Add tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Let simmer, covered askew, about 20-30 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, smash the pieces of tomato to break them down a bit. Boil your pasta. Unite with sauce! Add a sprinkling of grated cheese.

tomatoes in Rialto Market in Venice

tomatoes in Rialto Market in Venice

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger!

Murray's Cheese at Kroger's

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese Shop is on Bleecker Street in the NYC’s West Village. It’s a NY institution where you can find ANY cheese you may be looking for at great prices. New Yorkers LOVE Murray’s Cheese Shop.

BUT Murray’s is also (inexplicably and astonishingly wonderfully) in most Kroger stores in the Nashville area.

Murray's at Kroger

Murray’s at Kroger

A nice-sized Murray’s kiosk just off the produce section is packed with exotic & familiar, domestic & international cheeses. Go look. It will knock your socks off. They have cheese section titles like: “grate & crumble,” “melting,” “blue & bloomy rind,” “washed rind,” and more.

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

You can taste any of them (the people behind the counter are helpful and know their cheese). So when it’s hard to decide what to get, get a taste.

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

I love the manchego cheese (young & aged). I love the blue cheeses. They have true parmigiano reggiano. They have several pecorino cheeses. Cool Scandinavian cheeses. Lots of goat cheeses. Lots of good gouda cheese. Soft & fatty cheeses. Aged deep orange cheeses.

There are also small bins nestled in the cases filled with smaller chunks under $5.

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

You can’t go wrong. You want to buy everything.

Just next to the cheese kiosk is a refrigerated stack of shelves with more goodies you can’t find everywhere, like: wild boar salami and parmigiano butter.

Not every Kroger has a Murray’s Cheese, but you’ll know when they do because they post a Murray’s sign outside.

Murray's Cheese at Kroger

Murray’s Cheese at Kroger

The yes places I know about: Kroger on HWY 70S in Bellevue, Kroger at HWY 96 in Franklin, Kroger Green Hills.

Get thee to the cheesery!

Pizza for Dessert

grape pizza

grape pizza

I know you’ve seen pizza served for dessert. A lot of sweet stuff piled on like chocolate or nutella.

This one’s a little different. This involves fruit, and, yes, sugar, but then we sneak in the savory with rosemary & olive oil. Oh yeah. That’s right.

I first discovered sweet grape pizza from a Tuscan recipe for schiacciata di’uva (pizza with grapes). In that recipe the pizza was folded in half with grapes on the inside and on top.

I’ve since morphed the recipe to be a flat open pizza.

grape pizza assembly

grape pizza assembly

making grape pizza in my cooking class

making grape pizza in my cooking class

And now I’ve added brown sugar with the white sugar, prefer more abundant rosemary, and bake it until it’s nice and deep golden brown. The edges get a crispy snap and the sweetness surprises your tastebuds…making them run back for more.

grape pizza cut into pieces

grape pizza cut into pieces

To begin, you can buy pizza dough in the supermarket. This recipe is for 1 pound. But I’m also including here my Dad’s recipe for pizza dough, which my family is realizing is really my Aunt Mary’s recipe for pizza dough. Aunt Mary wasn’t my real aunt, but she’s still Aunt Mary to me. She, & her husband (Uncle John), lived upstairs from us in Brooklyn. She was a mentor in the kitchen for my mom. A sweetheart and a Sicilian.

When the summer gets in full swing try this with thin slices of peaches. In winter it works with thin slices of apple. I’ve used nectarines, too, and I just envisioned sweet red plums. Gotta try that one!

Grape Sweet Pizza w Brown Sugar & Rosemary

1 lb. pizza dough (store-bought or fresh-made)

3 cups seedless red grapes, sliced in half

1/2  cup sugar (or more)

1/2 brown sugar

8-10 fresh rosemary sprigs, Leaves stripped off, stems discarded

a few healthy drizzles of olive oil

Preheat oven to F. 400 degrees

Make sure dough is at room temperature. Press out dough into a thin flat disc or oblong shape. Alternatively, cut dough in half and make 2 smaller pizzas. Lay thin dough on a lightly-oiled parchment-lined baking sheet.

Place the grapes, cut side down, on top of the dough, pressing them in lightly. Leave a narrow border of dough on the outside edge. Sprinkle with sugar. Toss on rosemary. Drizzle olive oil.

Bake about 20 minutes until crusty and golden. Cut into squares to serve.

Dad’s (& Aunt Mary’s) Pizza Dough

For the dough:

5 cups flour (all-purpose)

2 teaspoons salt

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (1 package/envelope)

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 egg

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or you can do this by hand) mix together the flour and salt. In a medium bowl or large measuring cup combine 1 1/2 cups warm water (tepid, not too hot, not too cool) with the yeast and the sugar. In a small bowl or cup mix the egg with the olive oil.

Make a well in the center of the flour. When the yeast has “bloomed” (becomes puffy) pour the yeast water in the well and pour the egg/olive oil mixture in the well. Gently stir the flour and wet ingredients to roughly combine. Then mix on a slow speed with the dough hook for about 5 minutes until silky.

Take out dough hook. Smooth a thin film of olive oil over top of dough. Flip dough so all sides have a thin film of olive oil. Cover top of bowl with a clean dry kitchen towel and place in a draft-free place to rise. Let rise about 2 hours. It should double in size.

Scoop dough out onto a work surface and cut into 6-8 pieces (use a bench scraper or knife). Roll each piece gently into a ball and wrap each ball in a pam-sprayed or lightly oiled piece of plastic. Don’t wrap too tight since dough will rise again in plastic. Let rise about an hour more.

Unwrap dough and gently press into the shape you want. You can also stretch dough more by gently holding down the center and gently pulling the edges out.

Fav Nashville Eats: Mangia Nashville

porchetta sandwich on black carbon bread

porchetta sandwich on black carbon bread

I’ve got a new favorite sandwich. Porchetta (I’ll explain), broccoli rabe, caramelized onions, on black bread. Yes, black. Not pumpernickel. Black. As in carbon charcoal black bread. Good? YES! It’s only at Mangia Nashville.

Nick Pellegrino started Mangia Nashville while hitching a ride at the Cool Cafe in Franklin. On Friday and Saturday nights he’d take over that meat n’ 3 restaurant to stage an elaborate Italian multi-course feast complete with feet-tapping music (and indeed, everyone gets up to dance) while Coppola’s The Godfather played on the screens. Each course was served family style with 2 or 3 offerings of appetizer, main course, and dessert.

Wonderful success. So wonderful, he’s moved his happiness-generator to Melrose. Now, the place is all his. Mangia Nashville on Craighead just off of 8th Avenue still jumps every Friday and Saturday night with a seasonal fixed course menu of spectacular, authentic Italian dishes.

BUT! During the week, for lunch or for dinner, you can wander in and enjoy his special menu of panini, focaccia, and spuntini. Huh? Panini (sandwiches); Focaccia (thick, individual pizzas); Spuntini (favorite appetizers from across Italy).

One ingredient really stands out…it’s the killer (as in: “how do you make it taste so good?”) porchetta. Prochetta is a pork roast filled with herbs and garlic. Traditionally it is the young suckling pig, skin and all, but Nick’s is pork-belly-wrapped shoulder (including crispy skin). It is so moist and yummy.

My first run-in with porchetta was in Rome in the 1970’s. There’s a huge flea market there on Sundays at Porta Portese. I was making my way through the crowded market, buying scarves & shoes at great prices, hanging with my family…

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

…and there in the middle of the market was a man with a simple cart and a huge roast porchetta. He was selling sandwiches. Carving porchetta onto Roman rosetta rolls. The sandwich remained my Dad’s favorite food of Rome. Juice dripping down our arms while vendors shout “Saldi! Sadli!” (Sale! Sale!).

At Mangia I had porchetta on a roll of black bread. That bread was way too intriguing to pass up. And it’s delicious– it doesn’t taste like the carbon that makes it black…it just tastes good! And this carbon ingredient is supposed to be healthy for you, too. So why not?

Nick told me he was inspired by black carbon bread he had in Rome. He asked the Roman who served it how to make it and got an incomplete answer. So he came home and figured it out himself. Success! (And Yay for us.)

Mangia Nashville’s focaccias are about 8 inches — white or black bread. And the choice of toppings read like an encyclopedia of all luscious Italian tastes: arugula, mozzarella, prosciutto, artichoke hearts, sausage, swiss chard, pesto, roasted tomato, pancetta, ricotta salata, roasted garlic, and on and on….(drooling).

verdure focaccia

verdure focaccia

I also tried the pannelle. This from the list of “spuntini” appetizers. Panelle are Sicilian chickpea flour fritters. I make them in class sometimes. The version at Mangia is soft and decadent served with a chili sauce.

panelle

panelle

So, yes, come to enjoy the big weekend parties (reservations please). Or go during the week. There’s a full bar with great selections (and, of course, Italian beer, too) (AND–NY throwback–Manhattan Special espresso soda). Lunch, dinner, drinks and a hang. There aren’t too many sincere & authentic Italian joints in town. I highly recommend this one!

Will the real Alfredo please stand up?

My Dad with his father from Sicily, his stepmother from Sicily, and his sister Vera

My Dad with his father from Sicily, his stepmother from Sicily, and his sister Vera

My Dad’s name was Alfredo. Alfredo Bernani Ernani Licitra (I might be missing one name). He was named after a character in the Verdi opera “La Traviata”…Alfredo Germont.

But dad was not the inventor of Fettuccine Alfredo. (Neither was Signor Germont.)

Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo

There are a couple of Alfredo’s running around Roman Italian history who say they created the dish. And two restaurants in Rome (not too far from each other) are named “Alfredo” …each claiming to be the originator.

An Alfredo restaurant in Rome

An Alfredo restaurant in Rome

If you’re in Rome you may as well try them both. If you’re not in Rome here’s a recipe for you to try.

When I teach Fettuccine Alfredo in my cooking classes people are surprised to discover the recipe has no cream. No. Cream. It’s a creamy dish. But you don’t use cream.

So how does the pasta get so lusciously creamy?

Butter.

butter

butter

And parmigiano.

parmigiano

parmigiano

And pasta water. That’s it.

pasta water

pasta water

There’s a little finesse to acquire. The right softness of the butter. Adding the right amount of cheese and pasta water. At the right moment. Enthusiastically tossing.

Becoming a master happens fast. And then you get to eat it, too.

True Fettuccine Alfredo 

1 lb. fettuccine

½ lb. unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature

2 – 2 ½ cups grated parmigiano

salt & pepper to taste

Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt. Add fettuccine. Stir with a large fork (to keep strands from sticking together) until the water comes back to a boil.

Meanwhile, slice the butter into thin pats and lay them out in the bottom of a large shallow serving bowl. Hold bowl over boiling water to soften butter (not melt it).

Cook fettuccine until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water. Drain pasta.

Place the drained pasta on top of the butter and sprinkle 1/4-1/3 cup of the cheese on top. Using a large fork and spoon (or two forks) toss the pasta quickly, coating it with the butter and cheese. Add some of the pasta water—about half. Continue to toss. Add more cheese, sprinkling it lightly, tossing, sprinkling lightly again. Add the other half of the water. Keep tossing until the pasta is coated in the creaminess of the butter-cheese-water combination. Add more water if it’s too thick of a mixture. Taste for seasoning. Add some black pepper. Serve hot.

Rome: umbrella pines and ruins

Rome: umbrella pines

Dreaming of Positano

Positano

Positano

Maybe it’s the weather. Spring. That fresh air. Carrying the scents of baby leaves, buds about to burst, the planet’s new tip toward the sun.

But I’ve got Positano on my mind.

Positano

Positano

There is only one place like it. Adjacent towns along the Amalfi Coast are not exactly Positano. They all have their own secret charm. But only in Positano do the buildings pile up so high.

Positano

Positano

Does the beach draw you to the sea. Do the meandering, circling, serpentine streets take you from the top…

Positano

Positano

…to the bottom and back again.

Positano

Positano

And every storefront, hotel, restaurant, cafe along the way is where you want to spend hours–

Positano

Positano

each place — one at a time…

Positano

Positano

— so that you stay in Positano for an unlimited amount of days. Yes, that’s what I want.

Positano

Positano

And now for the best part: Baby Artichokes

baby artichokes

baby artichokes

Artichokes are great any size. I can make a meal of them every day. And with each leaf I nibble I wonder: Who ever thought of cooking this thistle and eating it this way? You know: pull off a leaf, don’t eat the leaf, but eat the tip of heart at the bottom of the leaf. Why did any think we should go through all this trouble for a tip of a leaf?

Whoever it was had genius in his/her brain. The ritual is as enticing as the taste. Food that takes you on a journey. The going is a grand ride, the arrival a sumptuous feast. That concentrated heart, all on its own, full bites of genius.

But imagine eating the entire artichoke. (It puts me in mind of soft-shelled blue-claw crabs: yes, you can eat the entire crab!) Baby artichokes are easy to trim, then you cook the whole thing, and then you eat the WHOLE thing. Sometimes I wonder if baby artichokes are like baby fish or clams or lobsters. Shouldn’t we throw them back in so they can grow? But with this plant, it’s not too much of a crime to eat them while young.

baby artichoke ingredients

baby artichoke ingredients

Here’s how:

First, cut off the top third of the leaves. And cut off the stem.

cut top off baby artichoke

cut top off baby artichoke

Then pull off all the tough dark green leaves until you come to the pale green leaves. Trim away any bright green from heart bottom.

trim away any green

trim away any green

Place them in acidulated water as you go (water with the juice of lemon). This helps them keep their color and not blacken.

lemon water

lemon water

Then add them to a medium or large saucepan (depending on how many artichokes you have). Add water (you can even use your acidulated water for a lemony taste). Add parsley. Add smashed garlic cloves. Add a few healthy drizzles of olive oil. And season with salt and pepper.

artichokes in water, olive oil, parsley and garlic

artichokes in water, olive oil, parsley and garlic

Bring to a simmer, then partially cover and cook for about 40 minutes, until a paring knife pokes easily into the heart.

There you have it. Eat the whole thing (I use a fork and knife). The world is your artichoke.

baby artichokes

baby artichokes

And check out this cool story about what happens when you let the thistle grow. It turns into a wondrous purple flower. (Beautiful, yes, but I want my artichoke.)

baby artichokes

baby artichokes