This goodie has been in my family since my childhood (probably before I can remember, too). It’s the quintessential tomato sauce with shrimp and shrimpy flavor. Add it to spaghetti or linguine and you’ll be so happy!
We also make this with fresh blue-claw crabs, or lobster tails. Or calamari, or scungilli, too. Fish — seafood — love this sauce! And so will you.
Start with the most important part. The spice blend: some minced fresh Italian parsley, dried oregano, minced garlic, and red pepper flakes. That’s almost the whole thing.
But the recipe below will take you through the very easy steps.
Spicy Shrimp Tomato Saucewith Pasta
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled, deveined
3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1.5 teaspoons dried oregano
3 teaspoons, minced fresh parsley
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1lb. or 1/2 lb. Spaghetti or Linguine
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan until hot. Season the shrimp lightly with salt. Add shrimp to pan with oil. Cook tossing until shrimp are almost cooked through and pink. Remove from pan. Add garlic, oregano, parsley, and pepper flakes. Saute until garlic softens and starts to color, about 1-2 minutes. Add the wine. Cook until reduced by half. Add the tomatoes. stir to combine. Season with salt and black pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add shrimp back, simmer for 8-10 minutes more while pasta boils.
In history books you read about kings and queens, wars and land grabs, treaties and truces, but the history of what goes on in the private domain of kitchens is a little less covered. It’s not in your Social Studies curriculum.
I think a ruler’s reign is not more interesting than what you love to eat. I’d rather dig through pantry ingredients than make a chart of the rise and fall of empires.
For instance, these recipes were handwritten by my mom (one by my dad) several decades ago. She wrote them while watching my Aunt Mary bake these confections. Aunt Mary lived upstairs from us in Brooklyn. It was my first address, where I lived from birth to seven years old. Bensonhurst. A mostly Jewish neighborhood, with some Italians tucked in here and there. My best friend, Franny, lived directly across the street.
Aunt Mary, and her husband, Uncle John, were not really my aunt and uncle. They were good friends of my parents, older friends, and as happens in childhood, friends of parents become “relatives.”
My mom loved Aunt Mary’s cooking and always asked for the recipes. Aunt Mary, would instead say, “Come on up, I’ll show you.” So my mom watched, playing kitchen secretary, and wrote down what was happening. That’s how the recipes became her own.
When I started cooking as an adult, I’d ask my mom how do you make “your” cookies. What about “The Cupcakes?” And the seeded cookies? My mom told me the recipes. And each time she’d tell me the real source, which was always a revelation to me: “That’s not yours? It’s Aunt Mary’s? And this one, too…it’s Aunt Mary’s?”
A lot of them are Aunt Mary’s. She had Sicilian roots and was 1st generation American. My Dad was also. My mom was half and half: Sicilian and Neapolitan. Aunt Mary’s recipes were not always Italian or Sicilian — she made her hybrids from Italian-American life, too. It happens. And not always confections. We make Aunt Mary’s spareribs braised in brown sugar, vinegar, garlic, and mustard. We also love her onion pizza and Swiss cheese pizza.
My mom has a large plastic see-through envelope filled with the handwritten recipes she transcribed in pencil from watching Aunt Mary cook. These papers have seen a lot of use. Mary’s pizza dough recipe (the one I use, too, and the only one I’ve ever seen that has an egg in the dough), was re-transcribed by my dad. He became the pizza maker in our house.
I can still recite the address of that first Brooklyn residence. 1554 West 11th Street. It was next door to Seth Low Junior High. The school’s huge playground faced the side of our house. We were on the “parlor” floor. Aunt Mary upstairs, the landlord downstairs from us. My friend, Franny, and I went to PS 247: Kindergarten, First Grade and Second Grade. It was a 4-5 block walk from our street. When we became first graders, our moms let us walk to school on our own. They even gave us each a dollar for lunch. At lunchtime, we’d walk to the big and busy Bay Parkway, and go to Andre’s for a hamburger and French fries. I remember those lunches. We’d enter among a sea of legs, adult legs, all crowding at the counter to get their lunches. Somehow we 6-year-olds prevailed and ate lunch sitting on the low sill in Andre’s street-facing plate-glass window.
My mom confessed later that they’d sometimes come to check on us. They’d see us in the window happily nibbling our French fries. They didn’t bother us, or say hi. They just checked.
I’m a shellfish fan from way back. I grew up in Brooklyn and the south shore of Long Island so we were always around seafood. And, as an Italian-American family (with Southern Italian heritage), we had lots of seafood-y recipes we LOVED. They was always the top of the list: seafood/shellfish.
When we can score a few dozen mussels or clams we’re happy as …well, clams. Recently we got a large bagful of some wonderfully fresh mussels. So exciting! But what should we do with them? I insisted we cook them 3 different ways.
NOTE: Cleaning mussels is easy. I rinse then well under cool water and remove any “beards”– those are traces of seaweed that might be clinging to the edges (just pull it off).
NOTE: Mussels cook fast! Once they’ve opened they’re pretty much done.
I’ll list the recipes here so you don’t have to wade through text to get to the recipes! Enjoy! Let me know how it goes (or if you have any questions).
First: Stuffed Mussels on the Half Shell
20 fresh mussels
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2-3 sprigs fresh Italian parsley, leaves minced, stems discarded
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
olive oil for drizzling
3-4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
salt to taste
In a large sauce pan, heat about 1 cup of water to a simmer, seasoning with salt. Place mussels in water and cover. Let cook for about 2 minutes or so, until mussels pop open. Drain and remove top shells (the empty half) from each mussel, twisting off the shell half.
Line a sheet pan with foil. Line up opened mussels on half shells facing up. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a medium mixing bowl, mix together breadcrumb, garlic, parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle a little olive oil to moisten like wet sand. Spoon some breadcrumb mixture on top of each mussel. Add a small piece of butter on top of each mussel.
Bake for about 10 minutes, until the breadcrumbs get nice and golden. Serve.
Second: Mussels in Spicy Tomato Sauce with Pasta
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1-2 teaspoons dried oregano
3-4 sprigs fresh Italian parlsey, leaves minced, stems discarded
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper or to taste
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes
salt to taste
2-3 dozen fresh mussels
1/2 pound favorite pasta
Add the garlic, oregano, parsley, and olive oil to a large saucepan. Heat until sizzling. Add the crushed pepper flakes. Cook for no more than a minute. Add the tomatoes. Season with salt. Let simmer for about 10 minutes.
Add the mussels and cover. Cook at medium heat until the mussels pop open, about 8 minutes.
Meanwhile heat a pasta pot of water. When boiling, add salt. Add pasta and cook to desired doneness. When pasta is done, drain and add to the pot of mussels. Stir to combine. Turn off heat. Serve.
Third: Mussels in Saffron Cream Sauce
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, peeled and minced
1/3 cup chopped pancetta
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
healthy pinch saffron, crumbled
2-3 dozen fresh mussels
3-4 tablespoons heavy cream or half & half
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the shallot and pancetta. Cook until shallot is softened and pancetta has rendered, about 3-4 minutes. Add the wine. Season with salt & pepper. Add the saffron. Bring to a lively simmer. Add the cream and stir in, add the mussels and cover. Cook on medium heat until the mussels have popped open. Serve.
I’ve sampled LOTS of lasagna. In the States, in Italy, all kinds, with a variety of fillings, meat, besciamel, butternut squash, spinach, mushrooms, and more more more.
But my favorite is the one I grew up with, The one that my mom made. The one I first learned to make. It’s simple. Three cheeses. Ricotta, Mozzarella, Parmigiano. And some tomato sauce. That’s it!
Of course, the pasta, too. In the “old days” it was lasagna sheets from a Ronzoni box…those sheets with the curly edges. Then I made my own homemade pasta sheets. I love how tender they can be…melt-in-your-mouth. And THEN, my almost every time fallback now: no-boil, oven ready lasgna sheets. In the finished dish, these have the taste and texture of homemade. And so easy! (Just be sure to coat each sheet with sauce to the edges and corners — doesn’t have to be sopped with sauce, just nicely coated.)
To keep the dish light and delicate, go light with your sauce in each layer, and light with your sprinkling of mozzarella, ricotta, and grated cheese. All these ingredients are wonderful, but they don’t have to be piled on thickly. Results are more elegant when you go easy. Tastier and easier to gobble up, too.
Try it! Recipe below. Also a short video where I show you each step of the recipe.
Classic Three-Cheese Lasagna
For the Sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, small dice
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 – 28 oz & 1 -15 oz can crushed tomatoes
salt & pepper to taste
1 box (9 oz) Lasagna pasta, regular or no-boil
1 lb. or less mozzarella, grated on shredder side of a box grater
2-3 cups ricotta, seasoned with salt & pepper
1/4 cup cream or milk
1 cup grated cheese, parmigiano, pecorino or mixture
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Make the Sauce: Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a large sauce pan. Add the onion and cook until it softens. Add the wine and let evaporate. Add the tomatoes and season with salt & pepper. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Boil Pasta (if not using no-boil): Bring a pasta pot of water to a boil. Season well with salt. Add lasagna pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and run cool water over pieces.
No-Boil Pasta: If using no-boil pasta, no need to cook first— just layer into the lasagna and make sure each sheet has a light coating of sauce.
Make the Lasagna: Spoon a thin layer of sauce at the bottom of a pan about 9” X 13” and at least 3-inches deep. Place 3-4 pasta strips in one layer on top. Coat with a layer of sauce. Sprinkle some mozzarella. Stir milk into ricotta, season with slat & pepper. Spoon dollops of ricotta. Sprinkle some grated cheese. Repeat 3-4 more times until all the pasta sheets and ingredients have been used. On top layer, just spoon sauce to coat and sprinkle with some grated cheese.
Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is golden and the lasagna is bubbling. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before cutting into squares and serving.
Or with a twist. In any case, this is an easy, authentic focaccia. The kind I first tasted years ago in Liguria, in the tiny hilltop town of San Pietro di Rovereto, where the one tiny store that sold focaccia for your morning coffee, sent me away with a paper bag of focaccia that oiled up by the time I walked the two blocks to the pink villa where I was a guest. (How’s that for a run-on sentence?)
This focaccia tastes like that. And we’re real lucky to be able to make it in our own kitchens without even breaking a sweat. Choose your toppings. Usually I go with sliced kalamata olives and rosemary. Sometimes, I slice up an onion and first simmer it in a little water with a few drops of oil. Then use it as a topping. I almost always sprinkle some nice finishing salt on top.
Try this. It’s in my cookbook, the one that’s titled the EASY Italian Cookbook. Because this recipe is easy. 🙂
Once you slice it up, you can store it wrapped well in foil. You can leave it at room temp, but by the second day, refrigerate. Or even wrap well and freeze.
Let me know how it goes. YUM.
Riviera Focaccia with Rosemary and Olives
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons plus scant 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
1/2 cup of pitted kalamata olives, or favorite pitted olives
1/4 teaspoon finishing salt, or regular salt
Combine the flour, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the yeast and sugar to a small mixing bowl, add 1 cup warm water. Stir once. When yeast puffs up (blooms), add 2 tablespoons olive.
Make a well/hole in the center of the flour mixture. Pour in the wet ingredients. Whisk together gently until flour is all absorbed and the mixture looks smooth, about 1-2 minutes. Cover dough in bowl with a clean kitchen towel. Place in a draft-free spot and let dough to rise until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.
Pour a scant 1/4 cup of olive oil in a quarter-sheet pan, or rimmed jelly roll pan (approximately 9 x 13-inches). Pour out the dough into the pan without folding it, using a spatula to help. Poke your fingers into some of the oil, so the dough won’t stick as you poke down the dough to fill pan. Push it into the corners and try to even out the thickness all around. Poking the dough gives it the characteristic pocked surface of focaccia. Cover the dough with piece of parchment, and then kitchen towel. Let rise about 30 minutes more. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
When the dough has risen a second time, discard parchment. Poke your fingers to make impressions again, scatter rosemary, olives, and finishing salt on top. Bake focaccia in the hot oven for about 20 minutes until golden. Allow to cool a few minutes before loosening from pan with a spatula. Cut into squares or strips.
Some are sold out. First available one coming up September 23, 5pm CDT:
Old-Fashioned Lasagna and Cinnamon Buns
Classes are only $35 and take about 2 hours or less. I send you the recipe needs about a week before and the Zoom link a couple of days before.
Let me know if you want to join me in a comment or by email (see About & Contact tab). I love cooking together! And I’ll take you through step by step as we cook side by side in our own kitchens. Mmmmmmm!!
Okay, this is crazy. My mom has been making biscuits from the 1950 Betty Crocker cookbook since I was a kid. Some mornings these fresh biscuits would fill the kitchen with that welcoming baking aroma and what’s better than slathered butter dripping off a biscuit sandwich.
So I started making these biscuits, too, from the same 1950 Betty Crocker Cookbook (my mom gifted me one she found at a flea market years ago — she says her copy has some pages torn out by baby-me). The book is always on my shelf and I know to go to page 67 to find the recipe.
But turn to page 68. You’ll find a slew of variations for this dough. Cinnamon Buns is one of them. I never look at that recipe, I just make the dough and follow my memory of how cinnamon buns come about. Easy! And great. This batch I didn’t bake as long as I usually do. So they are a bit paler, but oh-so soft. Either way. Perfect.
Whisk the dough dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Cut in 1/4 cup cold butter until it’s broken into small pieces (I use a pastry cutter). Add the milk. Use a fork to whisk dough together until you can knead it. Knead it just enough to get it to stay together in one ball.
Dust a clean work surface lightly with flour. Roll out dough until about 12 X 12-inch or 12 X 9-inch (about an 1/8-inch thick).
To make the cinnamon buns: Spread the softened butter over the surface of the dough to cover in a thin film. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly. Roll from one end (the longer end is best) into a as-tight-as-you-can-roll jelly roll.
Cut 1/2-inch or 1-inch slices from the roll. Place slices cut side up, next to each other touching, on a silpat or parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake for about 12-15 minutes until lightly golden. Let cool completely.
For the Glaze:
1 tablespoon softened room temp butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
In a medium mixing bowl press out the butter with a spoon to make it smooth. Add the powdered sugar and mix until the butter is blended into small pieces with the sugar. Add the vanilla and mix. Run the kitchen faucet until water is very hot. Add a couple of tablespoons of hot water to the mixture and stir rapidly with a spoon to combine to smooth. If frosting seems too thick, add a little more hot water until it becomes the right consistency for drizzling. Add water just a very little at a time— even just drops. (If it becomes too thin, let sit for a while — it will thicken on its own. Or add a little more powdered sugar.)
When buns are cooled, rallying them together on a serving tray, touching. Drizzle glaze on top in a zigzag motion. Eat.
Here’s a favorite recipe that appears on our table year after year (sometimes week after week). I love it so much it’s included in my recently released cookbook, The Easy Italian Cookbook. But here it is for you!
I prefer Trader Joe brand frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, and patted dry. And a lot of supermarkets carry frozen artichoke hearts. Frozen plain hearts are better for this recipe than canned. Canned has a lot of acidity and that affects the flavor.
Season about a half-cup of AP flour with salt and pepper (tip: sometimes I use self-rising flour for this — it’s my mom’s choice — and I think it somehow seals the little package more).
Beat 2 eggs in a bowl with some salt. Dredge arties in flour, dip in egg, sauté till golden on each side in some olive oil. Drain on paper towels, salt again. Yum!
Crispy-Tender Artichoke Hearts
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry
1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste
Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Toss artichoke hearts in the seasoned flour. Remove one by one shaking off excess, dip in the egg to coat, then fry in oil. Cook until golden on each side, about 2-3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Lightly salt.
I love paella. I loved it before sampling in Madrid, and loved it even more after my true Spanish experience. I’m pretty sure that — officially — when you make a seafood paella it should be all seafood. But I can’t help myself. This one combines meats and fish (shrimp) and I’m enthralled with the combo! I think this version is the shortest way to get to an authentic tasting paella.
See the recipe below. You simply sauté your aromatics, and sausage or chorizo. Sauté rice. Add broth & saffron and cover. 15-20 minutes later add your chicken breast and shrimp…
…Back in oven for about 10-15 minutes. Done! The saffron gives it the color and that unmistakeable smoky atmosphere. It’s rich, but you can’t help but inhale rapid forkfuls. Enjoy.
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 chorizo sausages, sliced into bite-sized pieces
2 cups short gain rice, preferably Spanish rice
3 cups chicken stock
1 tablespoon saffron, crushed
2 roasted peppers, sliced into small pieces
1 lb. shrimp, shelled, deveined
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces
salt & pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
On the stovetop, heat the olive oil in a large pot that has a cover and can go into the oven. Add the onion, garlic, and chorizo. Sauté on medium heat until onion is softened. Add the rice, coat it with the oil and let it get hot. Add the stock and crumble the saffron in. Stir to combine. Season with salt & pepper. Cover pot and place in the oven.
When the rice is almost cooked and the liquid is almost absorbed (about 15-20 minutes), take out the pot and slip the shrimp and chicken pieces into the rice. Add some more stock or water if all has been absorbed (just a bit, don’t drown it). Cover and put back in the oven until chicken, shrimp, and rice are cooked, about 10 minutes more. Serve hot.