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!

Family Sicilian Chicken


This is the simplest and most delicious chicken recipe ever. Ah-ha! Hard to believe? Well, it’s true. 😜 It’s been in my family for a couple of generations at least.

And it has a very Sicilian name: spizzadeda. That’s the best spelling I can come up with. I never saw it written down; I’ve only cooked it  after seeing it cooked by my mom. She attributes it to Palermo, home base for the Sicilian side of my mom’s family.

All you do is add a little olive oil to a frying pan to heat. Season your chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Cook chicken in hot oil until golden on each side. Take out. Add sliced onion.

Cook onions till soft. Add a splash of white wine.

Add back chicken. Add water to about halfway up chicken. Season with salt & pepper. Cover askew. Simmer for 30 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile, boil some spaghetti.

When done, mix spaghetti with the simmering juice of the chicken. Sprinkle grated Parmigiano on your pasta servings with the chicken.

Sound simple? Soooo surprisingly good!


8-10 pieces bone-in chicken

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1 medium onion, peeled, thin slices

1/4 dry white wine (optional)

1/2 lb. or 1 lb. spaghetti  (you can use more water in the cooking if you use a full pound.)

grated Parmesan for sprinkling

Add a little olive oil to a frying pan to heat. Season your chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Sauté  chicken in hot oil until golden on each side. Take out. Add sliced onion.

Cook onions till soft. Add a splash of white wine. Add back chicken. Add water to fill to about halfway up chicken. Season with salt & pepper. Cover askew. Simmer for 30 minutes until chicken is cooked through.

Boil spaghetti until al dente. When done, mix with the simmering juice of the chicken. Sprinkle grated Parmigiano on your pasta servings with the chicken.


These are a few of my favorite herbs

Uh-oh. Here comes the cool, then cold weather. Our garden on the patio is getting rag-tag and starting to slip into sleepiness. The leaves of our two trees– crepe myrtle & crab apple– are dropping, scattering, and painting an abstract landscape on the patio pebble floor.

All spring and summer I had the delight of stepping outside in the middle of cooking–leaving sizzling pans and boiling pots on the stove–while quickly snipping herbs from just outside the door. How I LOVE that. After years of apartment house living in NYC, the multi-herb wonder in the backyard  is my little paradise.

Here are my go-to most loved favorites…



Rosemary. Luckily this pine-needle-like bush carries on through the winter. Even if I’m not cooking with it I have to brush my hand across the leaves whenever I walk by and sniff the scent left on my fingers. Something about that smell is immediately transporting. To where? Some place in the deep soul of plant life that also lives in a happy place on my palate. Rosemary is  lovely with red meats especially lamb. But beef, too. And pork as well. It can be overpowering tho so I usually don’t use it on delicate dishes. Focaccia topping: perfect. Mince up the leaves finely if in a sauce.



Oregano. This is the one herb that is okay dried, too. It’s a different flavor than fresh, but dried oregano turns a tomato sauce into a pizza sauce. Fresh oregano jumpstarts a pesto (use just a little with your basil or parsley). It’s a surprising, welcome addition to a ravioli filling or roasted vegetable.



Parsley. I can never grow enough parsley for what I need. Parsley can go everywhere. Sometimes I like just a parsley pesto. Parsley swims abundantly in my artichoke cooking water. Minced in arrabbiata sauce. In the breadcrumb mixture for chicken cutlets. Minced in meatballs. It’s delicate taste can fit anywhere, yet it does add a LOT.



Basil. I remember the basil growing in my friend’s terraced garden up in the hills of Liguria. Basil shines in Liguria the most — the land of basil pesto. Where is originated. But it also shines in Napoli where pizza Margherita was born: pizza with tomato, mozzarella, and basil– the colors of the Italian flag.



Mint. Mint is the excitement herb. There are so many kinds, you can collect dozens. I grow two kinds of peppermint. The small, pointy leafed kind and a very delicate wide leave that my friend, Kazel, gave me. I also have chocolate mint which I adore. Add mint to your pesto. Break up leaves in a salad, or cooked vegetable dish. In the ravioli with your ricotta. Break up leaves in butter sauce. A mint frittata is stunningly deliciously!



Thyme. The thyme I grow is a kind I don’t see often. The leaves are feathery and rounded. It grows like crazy and I usually cut a large handful of leaves to top roasting chicken. When the chicken is done the leaves are all browned and stems are brittle. I remove the thyme, some leaves fall onto the meat, and the essence of thyme permeates the dish. Lovely.



Sage. Just like it’s name here’s a a wise herb. It almost has a smoky presence and brings an air of mysterious love to your dishes. You can also deep fry it for a crispy deep-flavored garnish to risotto, pasta, and vegetables.

Use herbs. I buy them in the store when winter sets in deep. It’s like insisting the garden be present on your table even in February. Herbs will brighten the dark cold days and positively charm your garden and kitchen in spring and summer. Dance with your herbs. They know all the steps.

10 Kitchen Handy-Dandy Deeds



I’m sure we all do it. Everyday. A million little shortcuts, tricks, helpful handy deeds in the kitchen. I stopped for a minute to see if I can catch a few of them speeding by. You know…they just happen. You forget you even do them. Try to take note of your handy-dandy kitchen deeds. Let me know yours. We can trade.

(In no particular order):

1. Preserve your green delicates longer.

undo the scallions

undo the scallions

Did you ever have a bunch of scallions or a bunch of parsley start to get all mushy and wet? When you first get them home, before putting them away, take off the rubber bands and twist ties. When they live loose in their bag (while stored) they don’t mush up so fast. (And I collect the rubber bands, which come in handy for all kinds of things.)

2. Magically use less olive oil.

2 olive oil bottles

2 olive oil bottles

A lot of the time we want to drizzle olive oil. Not POUR it. The large pour spouts in most store-bought bottles are pretty wide. So you get a river when you really want a steady creek. Those pretty olive oil decanter bottles you see all the time solve this asap (Trader Joe has millions of them).

olive oil bottles at TJ Maxx

olive oil bottles at TJ Maxx

Pour spouts might vary from one to the next. Some thinner than a drizzle; others just drizzle. So I keep two bottles. One pours faster than the other. I grab the faster one to coat a sauté pan. And the slower-pour for drizzling on top of food.

3. Slice shrimp in half for MORE SHRIMP.

cut shrimp

cut shrimp

Oh so tricky. I love this. Slice them in half lengthwise. Then add them to your dish (sauce? sauté? shrimp cocktail?). Half of a shrimp is just as satisfying to pop in your mouth as a whole shrimp. So you get to multiply them, distributing more shrimp pieces throughout your dish. Ain’t it the truth.

4. Scissors. The hidden hero in the kitchen.

scissor parsley

scissor parsley

Quick and easy. Snip snip snip. Fast-minced parsley. Or almost anything. There’s an ease and child-like play to using scissors. Like you’re getting away with something. Like it’s not supposed to be so easy. I cut sausage, butter, cooked spaghetti, pizza. Any other ideas?

5. Soft butter takes time.

soft butter

soft butter

I leave it out overnight. It’s ready in the morning when I want to bake. And it doesn’t mind leaving its refrigerated home for a dark evening on the kitchen counter. In fact, that stick of butter is on an adventure. It knows what’s coming and can dream about it all night. Transformation into the butterfly of a cake (or some other luscious starring role).

6. Stop your cutting board from running away.

cutting board with damp paper towel

cutting board with damp paper towel

Chasing your board around the table while your hand is busily chopping with a knife is probably not a great way to come up with more ingredients for your new inventive dish. Place a damp paper towel under the board. Keeps it from moving. The photo shows a transparent (yet opaque) plastic cutting board with a square of wet paper towel under it. But same tip works for wood, heavy plastic, etc.

7. Another way to avoid burns.

pot holder alert

pot holder alert

I’m a frittata cooker. Almost all leftovers can be made into a frittata. The last step of the dish is putting the frittata under the broiler. In its frying pan. Of course, when it’s golden and lovely, you take it out from under the broiler. And, of course, you use pot holders to take it out. And then you place the pan on the stove while you go and get a serving platter. LEAVE THE POT HOLDERS ON THE HANDLE. So when you come back and attempt to move a frying pan that you always hold by the handle when sautéing (since you FORGET that this time it’s SUPER hot) the pot holders remind you. (This is very nice of them and I’ve often thanked them for this service.)

8.  Put some salt in the cellar.

salt cellar

salt cellar

We’re always shaking salt from a salt shaker. It’s a nice way to get a gentle sprinkle on food. (And I am certainly a salter while cooking.) But what about when you need a teaspoon of salt? Or a tablespoon? Or when you need a “healthy pinch?” Hence, the salt cellar. It’s at the ready with a small vat of salt for you to poke into. Years ago when I first became fascinated with salt cellars I searched for the perfect one (accumulating non-perfect ones, too). I’ve since lost many from that collection but, in addition to my everyday Le Creuset salt cellar bought at TJ Maxx for a bargain, I still have one that I bought at a Paris flea market.

"sel" cellar

“sel” cellar

It’s got a hinged wooden door on top so your salt is safe from falling sugar, or fruit flies, or dust, or excited spattering stovetop oil. Now I use that one to store tea bags.

9. In the pasta pot: oil and water don’t mix.


pasta boiling

Don’t do it. You don’t need to. It just gets you some oil-coated American-style pasta. Nah. Spaghetti will not stick while boiling. You don’t need to add oil to the water. Here’s how:

pasta dropped in pot

pasta dropped in pot

I hold the whole bunch in my hand over the center of the boiling water and place the spaghetti upright into the center. The strands will splay more evenly to the sides that way. Then right away get a long wooden fork (or longest fork you have) and poke into the strands, spinning them like you would if you were eating them. Poke in different places and spin to loosen them from each other. This gets easier to do once the noodles soften into the water. Keep poking and spinning now and then until the water comes back to a boil. Now the spaghetti will stay separated as it boils (and you can poke and spin a few more times before done).

10. Not useful. Just pretty

doily dust

doily dust

I just love this trick. When your cake is done and cooled and you’re not going to ice it…just want to dust it with powdered sugar, first place a paper doily on top. I use a small sieve with powdered sugar in it and tap it to dust the whole thing with a good layer of sugar. Then hold the doily with your fingertips on each side and lift straight up. Voila!

I’ve done this in class and students LOVE it. One student came back the next time with a gift: a packet of plastic doilies with many shapes and designs — a Martha Stewart doily-pack. So you can re-use them.

chocolate w doily dust

chocolate w doily dust

Stay tuned for more Hand-Dandy Deeds!