Lobster fra Diavolo

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Lobster fra Diavolo

One of my most favorite things about the Christmas season is Christmas Eve dinner. It’s the best meal of the whole year. And that’s because of the Italian inspiration called: the Night of the Seven Fishes.

Believe me, every year I try to get SEVEN fishes on the menu. But I usually end up with about 5. This year, we felt relaxed and casual and only had 3. But what a THREE.

My mom, sister and I decided to go to Costco on Christmas Eve morning (Duane resisted the Costco Christmas merriment–read: crowds). We knew they would have their impressive holiday fish island, piled with ice, and piled with great seafood. We thought: whatever looks good, we’ll buy it, then figure out our menu.

We rushed our huge carts up the wide-wide aisle to the seafood oasis. (One year, we got there late and watched 2 of the last 3 bags of clams go…arrggh!) We reached the icy array and there was plenty of sea creatures still available. We grabbed a big bag of little neck clams from Cedar Key, FL. We got a big bag of mussels from FL, too. Then we couldn’t resist the freshest, most beautiful lobster tails we’d ever seen. Pale, marbled brown and grey, with specks of orange. These were from Honduras. We got 4 tails, about 1 lb. each. One for each of us.

I’ve always found Costco’s fish & seafood quality to be pretty top-notch. Each of our seafood treasures had the fresh scent of the salty sea. We took it all home, chatting in the car about how we’d cook it up.

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this year’s three fishes

We decided to really keep it simple with favorites we knew well and love more.

We cooked Clams Oreganata…

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baked clams oreganata

…Steamed Mussels with wine, garlic & herbs…

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steamed mussels

…And Lobster Fra Diavolo–the Holy Grail of Italian seafood dishes. I’ve only had it a handful of times in my entire life. I remember my family making it on Long Island one year. I remember something like it in Italy. I may have tried once or twice on my own many years ago but the memory is blurry, watery, like bobbing up and down along the surface of the green-blue Atlantic.

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get me near an ocean and all’s right with the world

Of course, Maine lobster is the only lobster I knew growing up. In NY, our lobsters were from Maine. (Altho, my mom tells stories of family members fishing for lobster off the shores of Brooklyn where the Verrazano Bridge now stands.)

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Verrazano Bridge

In my 30 years of NYC living there were quarterly treks to one of 3 Spanish restaurants in Manhattan that each served special lobster dinners. These started at $12.95 for a pound and a quarter lobster (steamed or broiled) with a salad and side (rice pilaf or sliced roasted potatoes).

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ancient picture I found online of one of our faves on Bleecker Street

I had a circle of girlfriends who drooled on cue when these quarterly adventures came up on our calendars. At the table, over our first glass of wine (or Sangria–it was a Spanish restaurant, remember), we argued for half an hour over steamed or broiled (even tho we had each already decided how we wanted our lobster cooked on the subway ride over). Then we argued, while eating, as to which parts of the lobster should be eaten first. I go for sucking on the legs, then the cracking the claws, then eating any other shreds of meat in the body along with the tomalley, and saving the tail for last (with melted butter). These were 3-hour-long sittings because the other thing on the menu was a large quantity of laughter. Eventually, the dinners would jump in price to $13.95, $15.95, $18.95, until someone moved away, or we started to lose touch, or we just stopped going. (Sad face.)

Friends of Duane–Donna and Mike Dion–who actually live in Maine (and grew up there) treated us to a lobster feast a couple of years ago. They had a huge pot outside for steaming them. (Mike also grilled a few steaks and some corn, & Donna steamed a whole side of salmon, and heated a huge pot bubbling with steamers.) THAT was the best lobster I ever EVER tasted. Just caught that day. Probably from down the road.

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the Dion’s lobster feast

But back to Costco, Honduras, and Christmas Eve. Explosive special moments happen whenever/wherever/however lobster is served.

Fra diavolo means from the devil. Which means the dish is hot and spicy. We use crushed red pepper flakes, but feel free to go crazier with heat. If your eyes water while you bite into the tail that’s okay. We don’t get that hot here, but you’re welcome to do so. We’re afraid of losing any bit of that LOBSTER taste. So we go easy with the hot. It’s more like an elbow poked in your side, and less like an elbow poked in your eye.

Lobster Fra Diavolo (for 4)

4 1 lb. lobster tails

1/4 cup olive oil

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon fresh parsley leaves, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 lb. spaghetti or linguine

salt & black pepper to taste

Put a pasta pot of water on the stove to heat.

Using a good pair of kitchen shears, cut the inner shells of each lobster tail in half, lengthwise. Then cut the outer shells, and the meat, in half lengthwise. Now you have 8 cleanly cut halves of lobster tails (see photo below).

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan till hot. Add the lobster tails. Cook on a lively heat, turning them occasionally, until the meat turns opaque white, about 5-6 minutes. Remove tails to a bowl, and set aside.

Add garlic, red pepper flakes, oregano and parsley to the pan. Cook on a lively heat, stirring, until the garlic begins to soften and turn color lightly, about 2-3 minutes. Add the wine. Let the wine sizzle while you scrape to unstick any bits that have stuck to the pan. When the wine has evaporated by half, add the tomatoes. Stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10 minutes.

When the pasta water has come to a boil, season generously with salt. Add the pasta, stir to keep strands from sticking until pasta water boils rapidly. Cook to al dente. Half way through cooking the pasta, add the lobster tails (and any accumulated juices) to the tomato sauce. Cover askew and let simmer 5 minutes.

Drain pasta. Add to a serving bowl. Add tomato sauce to coat. Serve each person 2 halves of lobster tail with a nice serving of pasta. Drizzle some extra sauce on top.

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cutting tails in half

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sautéed tails

lobster fra diavolo

Lobster fra Diavolo

shells

the shells

 

 

 

 

Italian Cooking Party cookbook!

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It was a while in the making but it’s finally here! My new cookbook.

Italian Cooking Party

A Little Bit of Italy at Home

“Italian Cooking Party” captures the spirit and excitement of my Nashville Italian cooking parties. Over 100 authentic Italian recipes to cook at home and inspire your own Italian cooking parties.

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With hints on how to stock your Italian kitchen, recipes for each course of the Italian table, scrumptious menus, how to linger at the table Italian-style, plus taking it on the road to Italy.

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I’ve been leading Italian cooking parties in Nashville since 2009 to an enthusiastic circle of cooking enthusiasts. The intimate parties inspire Italian culture in the kitchen and at the table.

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That authentic Italian touch fills the book with my recipes and tips for everyone to bring a little bit of Italy home: Italian Cooking Party

Alimentum Books

178 pages

$30

Click here for more info.

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Sicily = Home

rainbow at hotel in Ragusa Ibla

rainbow at hotel in Ragusa Ibla

My ancestors are from Sicily. My father’s parents from Ragusa. And my mother’s mother from Palermo.

I’ve been to Italy countless times (really countless, because I have no idea how many times) …but last month was my first time to Sicily.

I was in Ragusa. I went to Palermo. I felt the vibes resonating in my soul. I envisioned distant unseen memories. I met people who mirrored my style and spirit. And my palate…it screamed the loudest: “I know this food!!!”

I was a little nervy. I brought a small group of my cooking class students with me. Usually I lead people to places I’ve been. But this was all open exploration. Luckily, my companions were up for the ride and loved every minute as much as I did.

w our hosts of Uncovered Sicily at Santa Tresa Winery in Vittoria

with our hosts of Uncovered Sicily at Santa Tresa Winery in Vittoria

In Ragusa, we cooked with locals in their homes.

making scacce in Marian di Ragusa

making scacce in Marina di Ragusa

making scacce in Marina di Ragusa

making scacce in Marina di Ragusa

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making scacce in Marina di Ragusa

We ate the food (and I’m telling you the taste was the same!) that I grew up with. Scacce, a kind of thin rolled up pizza with tomato sauce and Ragusano caciocavallo cheese.

scaccia

scaccia

more scaccia

more scaccia

...and more scacce!

…and more scacce!

We cooked and dined on pork braised in tomato sauce with ricotta ravioli and “cavati” (a hand-made cut pasta).

Ragusano pasta

Ragusano pasta

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In Palermo we shopped the Capo market with our hosts…

Capo market shopping

Capo market shopping

Capo market, buying fish

Capo market, buying fish

…and then cooked on a boat. We cleaned and stuffed sardines. We fried tiny fish and ate them whole in one bite. We marinated baby shrimp in lemon for bruschetta, and made almond cookies dipped in pistachios and candied cherry.

cooking in the boat's galley

cooking in the boat’s galley

stuffed sardines

stuffed sardines

shrimp bruschetta

shrimp bruschetta

tiny fried fish with pasta and almond pesto

tiny fried fish with pasta and almond pesto

almond cookies

almond cookies

We were wowed by cathedrals in Ragusa, Modica, and Cefalu…

San Giorgio Cathedral in Ragusa Ibla

San Giorgio Cathedral in Ragusa Ibla

San Giorgio interior w portrait of Saint George

San Giorgio interior w portrait of Saint George

San Pietro in Modica

San Pietro in Modica

San Pietro Cathedral interior

San Pietro Cathedral interior

Cefalu Cathedral

Cefalu Cathedral

Cefalu Cathedral interior

Cefalu Cathedral interior

We were delighted with groves (and city dwelling) cactus plants laden with prickly pears (that we ate at one of our dinners).

cactus in piazza in Ragusa Ibla

cactus in piazza in Ragusa Ibla

peeled prickly pears at one of our dinners -- in Giovanni and Agata's home

peeled prickly pears at Giovanni and Agata’s home

The arancina…

arancina w cappuccino

arancina w cappuccino Ragusa

arancina w cappuccino Cefalu

arancina w cappuccino Cefalu

The special chocolate in Modica hand-made in the aztec-style…

making chocolate in Modica

making chocolate in Modica

The gelato…

Modican chocolate and coconut gelato

Modican chocolate and coconut gelato

The cannoli and pastries (and pastries) (and pastries)…

pastries in Cefalu

pastries in Cefalu

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pastries Palermo

pastries Palermo

cannolo Ragusa

cannolo Ragusa

And the wine. The Sicilian wine. Charming and comforting.

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I’m just back now for a couple of weeks and I’m already scheming about returning. There is a spirit in Sicily like nowhere else in Italy. Its heritage, steeped in many cultures (Arab, Spanish, Norman, Greek) all combine to make such a unique world. I know what that is now. And I’m so happy to be made of the same stuff.

at restaurant Quattro Gatti in Ragusa Ibla

at restaurant Quattro Gatti in Ragusa Ibla

Nashville Favs: A Short Current Roundup

Broadway Nashville

Broadway, Nashville

I’m always running around town. Usually for food. (Will run for food.) Here’s some of my usual stops these days. This list, of course, changes. Six months from now, the frequent-stop list may be different, but today’s favorites will still be favorites. This is a mix of shops and restaurants. Enjoy the tastes found at all. YUM!

Little Gourmand in Green Hills

photo compliments of Little Gourmand

photo courtesy of Little Gourmand

Just entering this charming, entrancing store is reason for a visit. The shelves are full of imports from France: mustards, pates, salts, cookies, beautiful kitchen towels, cheese plates & knives. The freezer is full of imported baguettes, croissants, pane au chocolat. You can float through the aisles and be instantly transported. Guenievre Milliner is the delightful French proprietor, who bakes fresh croissants & pan au chocolate every Saturday morning. Get there early. They fly into the mouths of knowing pastry lovers. (I even hesitate to tell you about it. I want mine!) You can sit at one of the lovely cafe tables and sip an espresso, too. For lunch, yum-full baguette sandwiches!

Jim ‘n Nick’s in West Nashville & Cool Springs

photo courtesy of Jim 'n Nick's

photo courtesy of Jim ‘n Nick’s

I’m lucky to have Jim n’ Nick’s BBQ right in the neighborhood. To be honest, we used to go there a lot. But then Martin’s opened and we ran cross town to Martin’s when the BBQ taste bud was screaming for satisfaction. A few months ago we said, “let’s just go here. it’s in the nab.” Well. We think we have a new favorite. At Jim n’ Nick’s you sit at a table, the server serves you, they bring a basket of those amazing corn biscuits, and the BBQ? Well, as I said, I think have a new favorite. I love the baby backs. My mom the spare ribs. My sister likes both equally. Duane goes for the hot links. And the sides are stellar. Now those BBQ taste buds scream more often.

El Amigo Tacos on Nolensville Road near Elysian Fields

El Amigo on Nolensville Road

El Amigo on Nolensville Road

About 5 years ago, I ran a Nashville tours business with Annakate Tefft Ross. We rented a van and brought Nashvillians on all kinds of food adventures. On our very first tour we tooled up and down Nolensville Road tasting cuisines of the world. Our favorite stop for authentic Mexican tacos was always El Amigo. Duane and I still go there for, usually, a Sunday lunch. The tacos are SUPERB (and only cost $1.50, so get many). The sunny dining room, and the busy kitchen, fills what used to be a gas station. Do not let that deter you. Enjoy!

El Amigo chorizo tacos

El Amigo chorizo tacos

Lazzaroli Pasta Shop in Germantown

photo compliments of Lazzaroli Pasta Shop

photo compliments of Lazzaroli Pasta Shop

It’s the bee’s knees of an Italian food grocery store. But the real star of the show is Tom Lazzaro’s fresh made ravioli and pasta. Ravioli filled with such a variety you’ll stand at the freezer pondering and deciding for a good hour. And then pull several boxes to take home. We last tried the sausage & asiago. Yowsa. Wolfed down to the tune of Mmmmmm & Whoaaaaa. But the gorgonzola still rings in my taste memory. He makes several sauces to bring home, too. He makes fresh mozzarella every Saturday morning. Plus the shelves are full of Italian import wonders. And the refrigerator is stocked with Benton’s bacon and Italian specialty salumi.

Aldi supermarkets, several locations

Photo compliments of Aldi

Photo compliments of Aldi

Yes. A supermarket. I’ve heard so many things about Aldi, but hadn’t been. I also heard it has ties to Trader Joe’s (see my Trader Joe’s posts). Which gives it some pretty high marks. It’s supposedly a German-owned chain. When you walk in you feel shades of a European supermarket. How it’s laid out. How you get a cart (put in a quarter to release the cart, bring it back and pop out your quarter at the end. just like in Italy, only there you use a euro). You need to bring your own bags or they will sell you plastic bags (just like in Italy. cheap bags, but still better to bring your own). Lots of German imported candies, chocolate, etc. Great deals on produce. And meat (my mom says the meat looks exactly like the cuts and quality from Trader Joe’s). And then: sometimes shoes. pots & pans. grilling utensils. I bought a 2-burner cooktop for demonstrations. It’s worth the trip. You’ll exit with bagfuls. And feel ike you’re on a food exploration expedition.

I’m always on the prowl for the new (or new to me). Letting that “gatherer” ancient gene kick in. Stay tuned for more finds!

My Crazy Breakfasts

biscuits and butter

biscuits and butter

I live in the South and for breakfast I sometimes have biscuits. And sometimes I have grits. (Not on the same day.) This is not new to my new Southern living. When I lived in NYC I often ate biscuits for breakfast. And sometimes made grits. I love biscuits. And I love grits.

So my biscuit roots and my grits roots are not Southern roots. My favorite biscuit recipe is from Betty Crocker’s 1950 cookbook, a book my mom had when I was a baby and so I have it, too.

Betty Crocker

Betty Crocker

My mom was born and raised in Brooklyn and she made Betty Crocker’s biscuits. That’s how I learned it.

My grits recipe snuck into my repertoire somewhere in the 1990’s while living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and followed me to Spuyten Duyvil in the Bronx and has followed me to the South. (Sorry, everyone, I use instant grits…what do you expect a New Yorker to do?) I call my breakfast grits “crazy grits” because they are certifiable.

These are both breakfasts I eagerly look forward to. Mondays are usually grits mornings (Duane says it’s his favorite breakfast). For a while I refrained from making biscuits at all because we were trying to lose weight and bready, starchy things are weighty. But just this past Sunday morning I threw diet to the wind and made biscuits. I could (literally) eat the whole batch, but I didn’t. But I wanted to.

Page 67. That’s the page Betty Crocker’s biscuits are on. Even if I think I have it memorized I take out the book (red Pennsylvania Dutch pattern with a missing spine) and go immediately to page 67 for the recipe.

page 67

page 67

This past Sunday, tho, I just went with my whimsy (and left the book on the shelf). A cup and a half of flour. A teaspoon and a half of baking powder, a large pinch of salt, a bit of aleppo, 4 tablespoons of butter, cut in with a pastry cutter. Betty then adds milk. I was feeling devil-may-care. I had a leftover 1/4 cup of ricotta. And a leftover 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Oh yeah.

I barely knead it. Just push together to stick and pat into a thick disk.

I barely knead it. Just push together to stick and pat into a thick disk.

cut biscuit dough straight down. no wiggling.

cut biscuit dough straight down. no wiggling.

just baked biscuits

just baked biscuits

Over easy eggs. A few chorizo sausages chopped up. Some summer sliced tomatoes. And biscuits and butter.

breakfast of champions. or silly people. or both.

breakfast of champions. or silly people. or both.

On Monday… the grits. Here’s why they’re crazy. I top them with a sauté of vegetables (etc) that are hanging out in the refrigerator. This time there were 3 kinds of tomatoes, 2 kinds of peppers, mushrooms, onion, scallions, arugula, and some more chorizo. I sauté these up in a medium fry pan, while the grits simmer in a medium saucepan. I add salt, parmigiano, cumin and some aleppo to the grits. I add cumin, salt, pepper, turmeric (just a tad) to the veggies. Sometimes I splash a bit of vermouth.

vegetable saute

vegetable saute

The grits go first into the bowl and then the tasty chopped wonders on top. Duane adds one of his hot toppings: ghost pepper sauce, tabasco, or sriracha. I just take it straight.

grits for me and Duane

grits for me and Duane

grits for me

grits for me

Breakfast. Break that fast with delicious. Nothing much Italian about these dishes, but a palate must roam.

my friend, the biscuit

my friend, the biscuit

 

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!