Mini Spinach Pies

I love these quick little savory pies. They come together in a snap and are perfect for appetizers, or sides, or make them a whole meal!

Here’s a short video taking you step by step through the process. See the recipe below.

Try them! Let me know how it goes. Yum!

Mini Spinach Pies

5-oz. package fresh baby spinach

1 shallot, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

salt & pepper to taste

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed

1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium sauté pan, heat the oil and sauté the shallot until softened. Add spinach to a large frying pan with a tablespoon of water. Cook and stir until wilted, about a 2 minutes. Drain spinach well. Let cool a few minutes.

Mix spinach, cooked shallot, and feta together in a medium mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

Roll out puff pastry sheet on a lightly-floured surface until it is about 20-30 % bigger. Cut sheet into about 3-inch squares (or close to that — choose your own size to use up the dough).

Place about a tablespoon of mixture in the center of a dough square. Fold over to form a triangle. Press the edges together. Then seal by lightly pressing the tines of a fork along the edges. Repeat with the rest of the dough and the mixture.

Place pies on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush lightly with beaten egg. With a paring knife, poke a small hole in the top of each one for steam. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden.

Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

Easy Chicken Piccata

I LOVE this dish. And it is so simple to do. Here’s a quick video giving you all the details (and recipe below). Make this often. You will crave the flavor! Lemony — Buttery — the zip of capers — and the depth of wine. It’s got it all.

Chicken Piccata

10-12 thin chicken cutlets (cut from 2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts)

1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt & pepper

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 tablespoons butter, divided

1 shallot, peeled and minced

Juice of 3 lemons

1/3 cup white wine

1 lemon, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons capers

salt to taste

Place the seasoned flour in a medium shallow bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large sauté pan. Dredge chicken cutlets in the seasoned flour and shake off excess. Sauté cutlets until golden on each side and cooked through. Add a little more oil if needed as you sauté. Lay out cooked chicken slices on a serving platter and tent with foil to keep warm.

Add shallot to the same pan and cook till softened, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, wine, lemon slices, and capers. Cook for 2-3 minutes to reduce a little. Swirl in 1-2 tablespoons butter. Season with salt. Bring to a simmer. Pour over chicken. Serve.

Let’s Grill Some Pizza

Finally, spring has crept “under me window sill!”

I’m out at the grill and loving the flames and char and tastiness. Pizza is one of my favorite things to grill.

Once you get the hang of getting the dough ready and onto the grill — the rest is easy as pizza pie.

Check out my quick video with demo and tips. And see recipe below.

Let’s grill pizza! And don’t be afraid to get some dark, crunchy, and even black-char on the dough. Taste better that way!

Quick Video for How to Make Grilled Pizza

Buy pizza dough at the store (cut a 1 lb. ball into 4 balls) or make my fresh pizza dough recipe below.

Always make sure dough is at room temperature (easier to work with). Press dough ball into a flat circle (can be a rough circle, an oval is okay too) on a pizza peel or sheet pan. You can gently stretch dough by holding the center and pulling the edges out. Don’t overwork dough, use as few stretching efforts as possible, if dough get overworked it’ll get tough and not stretch for you (until you let it rest for a while). Lightly oil the dough on both sides (drizzle and spread with your fingers).

PAM spray the grill grate before heating. Heat the grill to medium-high heat. In one quick-deliberate movement, lift the dough circle and place quickly on the grill grate. Let cook for about 3-4 minutes until good grill marks appear on the underside. Flip dough over using tongs (it’s stiff now, not floppy) and pull off onto a plate, peel, or cutting board.

Place on your favorite toppings. Tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes, mozzarella (or any other cheese– try Swiss– it’s great), cooked sausage crumbles, sliced peppers, mushrooms, etc. etc., keep it simple or go crazy. Drizzle a little olive oil on top. Slide dough back onto grill for the other side to cook and the toppings to melt/cook. Using tongs, slide off finished pizza onto plate or cutting board. Cut into squares/wedges to serve.

For making fresh pizza dough (for approximately 2 lbs. dough)

My Family’s recipe!

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 both sides have a thin film of olive oil. Cover top of bowl with a clean dry kitchen towel (or double layer of towels) 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 2-4 even pieces (use a bench scraper or knife). Or up to 6-8 pieces for smaller personal pizzas (and easier to flop onto the grill). Roll each piece gently into a ball. Place balls on a towel-lined sheet pan, coat with a thin film of olive oil. Cover with a double-layer of clean kitchen towels. Put in a draft free place, let rise for about an hour more. Proceed as above to grill pizza.

How to Make Fresh Pasta and Ravioli

Here’s a quick video on how easy it is to make fresh pasta dough — and Ravioli! It’s easier than you think. Recipe is below. And video gives you a visual step by step. Let me know if you try it, and how it worked out. And if you have any questions. 🙂

Chef Paulette at ChefPaulette.net
Music & Camera by DuaneSpencer.com

Recipe:
For the Pasta Dough: 
2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons olive oil

Make the dough: Whisk the flour and salt in a large bowl. Create a “well” in the middle. Pour egg mixture into the well center. Using a fork slowly mix the flour into the egg, until the dough starts to comes together. Gather the dough and knead on a lightly floured surface until most of the floury color disappears, and the dough is smooth. Shape into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 30 minutes - 1 hour.
For the filling:
1 and 1/2 cups ricotta
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese 
1-2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
salt & pepper to taste

Make the filling: In a medium mixing bowl, mix the ricotta, grated cheese, and parsley. Combine well. Season with salt & pepper.

Make the ravioli: Cut the pasta full batch into 4 quarters. Use two of the four quarters of the pasta dough recipe. Work with one piece at a time and keep the other pieces covered in plastic wrap. Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle, and roll through the pasta machine, changing the numbers from thick to thinner, one at a time until you reach desired thickness …usually about the 5th or 6th number. Dust the sheet with flour in between every couple of numbers if it feels too sticky. 

Lay the sheet on a table. Place scant teaspoons-full of filling in row on the bottom half of the sheet, about an inch apart. Fold the top half over the bottom half. Press all the edges closed to seal well. Cut in between to make the individual ravioli. Place the finished ravioli on a flour-dusted sheet and repeat with the rest of the dough.

Spicy Shrimp Tomato Sauce

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 Sauce with 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.

Recipe Stories

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.

Current Google image of 1554 West 11th Street
PS 247 Bensonhurst, Brooklyn

Mussels Three Ways

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.

Classic Three-Cheese Lasagna

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

For Lasagna:

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. 

Focaccia with a Whisk

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

2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed, stems discarded

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.

Join my Zoom Cooking Classes

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!!

More classes on the schedule coming up!

Let’s cook together!