Aleppo Pepper…right next to the salt

Aleppo Pepper

Aleppo Pepper

Aleppo pepper has crept into my cooking over the years and has become as much a staple as salt (overstatement — close to salt) (salt is THE most necessary seasoning condiment).

But consider: aleppo can be thought of as a hot pepper, but it’s not that hot. For me, it spikes the food not heats it. It gives it a LIFT. Wakes it up. Use more and you can get heat. But it’s a subtle heat…it’s a sleepy heat…it’s a heat that feels tame and feisty, too. The flavor is smoky and deep. Dare I say: perfect?

What do I use it on? Aleppo can jump into almost anything except the most delicate and I leave it out of desserts.

Making a ricotta filling for ravioli? A little aleppo gives it some pep. (You know how ricotta can be. Creamy, but needs salt…and aleppo).

ravioli

ravioli

Roasting some asparagus? A little aleppo wakes them up.

roasting asparagus

roasting asparagus

Aleppo turns meats into soulful mouthfuls…

roasted lamb with fennel

roasted lamb with fennel

Tomato Sauce loves a little aleppo…

sun-dried tom sauce

Seafood and aleppo go out on dates all the time…

clams oreganata

clams oreganata

Savory Breads just love that little punch of aleppo…

tomato & olive baguette

tomato & olive baguette

Lasagna embraces a small shake of aleppo…

lasagna

lasagna

Frittata’s say yippee when aleppo visits….

peppers frittata

peppers frittata

And don’t forget pizza! What more can I say?

pizza

pizza

Get some! You’ll soon figure out how much you’d like for whatever dish you want to give a little nudge to – or a lot. I always find it at Penzeys Spices, or if you have a Savory Spice Shop near you, I know they carry it.

Enjoy the heat this winter! 🙂

 

Favorite Venice Restaurants

Venice

Venice

Wow. Why am I always surprised by wonderful Venice? Each returning visit becomes a new revelation. The city without cars and trucks, with, instead, blue-lagoony canals and narrow walking lanes with quaint bridges, and architecture that charms with every glance. There’s a reason why travelers flock here. It’s enchanting. And the Venetians know the paradise they own. I just led a wonderful group of cooks to Venice where we cooked together and dined out to our heart’s content (very contented!). With every Venice stay I become completely re-enchanted.

The cuisine of Venice is filled with specific specialties. Lots of fish, seafood, shellfish: seppie, scallops, crab, shrimp, scampi, vongole, mussels, octopus, rombo, branzino, orata… And other classics like fegato alla Veneziana (liver), carpaccio, polenta, artichokes, sardines in soar (sweet/sour), and the bellini.

Many many (many) restaurants are wonderful.  But I have a few favorites, particularly in the neighborhood of Dorsoduro where I usually stay.

Taverna San Trovaso is always reliable with a varied menu of delicious. The ambience hugs you with warmth and character and the staff, sometimes aloof, can always be coaxed to smile and join in with your enthusiasm.

San Trovaso staff

San Trovaso staff

Favs here: spaghetti alle vongole….

spaghetti alle vongole

spaghetti alle vongole at San Trovaso

fegato alla Veneziana…

fegato alla veneziana

fegato alla veneziana at San Trovaso

pizza….

Fran with pizza

Fran with pizza at Taverna San Trovaso

our lunch break from shopping

our lunch break from shopping

Not far from here, still in Dorsoduro is a small trattoria called Ai Cugnai ( “at the in-laws”). We had dinner in their back room which doubles as a terrace when the retractable ceiling is open. It was a breezy, almost rainy night so the ceiling was closed, which added to the coziness. Favorite dishes are their baby octopus salad “moscardini” …

"moscardini"

“moscardini” at Ai Cugnai

the beef carpaccio…

carpaccio

carpaccio at Ai Cugnai

and the mixed seafood pasta…

mixed seafood pasta

mixed seafood pasta at Ai Cugnai

Ai Cugnai house wine

Ai Cugnai house wine

Still in Dorsoduro is a small restaurant that really feels like someone’s home cooking. Quattro Feri is on a small street off of Campo San Barnaba. We had their stellar spaghetti with scampi…

spaghetti with scampi

spaghetti with scampi at Quattro Feri

Also some great spaghetti alle vongole here. And do not leave without having dessert. Here’s their apricot jam crostata…

crostata marmelatta

crostata marmellatta at Quattro Feri

We strayed from Dorsoduro for our other favorite La Zucca in the Santa Croce sestiere. Every Venice stay must include a visit to La Zucca. Their specialty is inventive vegetarian dishes but they do not shy away from meat. I went for the pork Marsala…

pork marsala at La Zucca

pork Marsala at La Zucca

We all skipped around the menu…each dish perfect…

braised fennel at La Zucca

braised fennel at La Zucca

asparagus at La Zucca

asparagus at La Zucca

vegetable lasagna at La Zucca

vegetable lasagna at La Zucca

tagliatelle w duck ragu at La Zucca

tagliatelle w duck ragu at La Zucca

La Zucca

La Zucca

Exciting food in Venice. The more I know it, the more I love it. And the more I learn to cook it at home. An infinite excitement!

cooking in Venice

cooking fava beans in Venice

Christmas Eve

My mom. "Auntie," & Aunt Nettie

My mom. “Auntie,” & Aunt Nettie

Since forever and forever (my forever ago) Christmas Eve has been the most standout holiday of the year. It sparkled brighter than Christmas. It had more traditions and excitement. And the best food all year was Christmas Eve dinner.

Seafood. Fish. As many as you could fit in the kitchen. My mom held reins on Christmas Eve dinner for years. Everyone came to our house. No one would have it any other way. Because it was the best. I remember spaghetti with spicy tomato scungilli sauce. Or calamari sauce. Seafood salad with lobster, crab, squid, and shrimp. Huge Shrimp Scampi (that came in 5-lb boxes from the fish store at the dock in Bay Shore, LI). Sometimes we’d get fried calamari as take-out from our favorite restaurant to add to the fun.

My mom’s gonna sit back on this one this year. I’m making the attempt. It’ll be clams oreganata, steamed mussels with cannellini beans and bacon. Crabmeat cannelloni. Cod with parmigiano crumbs. Shrimp Scampi. Okay it’s not 7 of the traditional Seven Fishes, but…enough. Yet bigger than the menu: this dinner is intricately entwined with love. Somehow, this meal, captures who we all are.

My mom in center, with her parents, my aunt lily at left, and we can't remember who the baby is

My mom in center, with her parents, my aunt lily at left, and we can’t remember who the baby is

I can feel it, you know. I can feel the history in my genes. In my blood. In my heart and soul. I “get it.” I get where I came from. Brooklyn. New York. And Italy. I look at photos from the days even before I was born. At my family. At my parents. At my relatives. All contributed to who I am.

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

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

They are all in there. Making me familiar to myself because I know them.

This holiday reconnects me every time. As the days and hours get closer to 12/24 I can feel the air, the world, the atmosphere get fuller. Start to envelope me in all that I came from, all of these people who made me. Their love, warmth, spirit, and lasting charm are with me the strongest now.

At "Auntie's" with the family. Me & cousin Steven in foreground raising hell

At “Auntie’s” with the family. Me & cousin Steven in foreground raising hell

Spaghetti. With Shrimp. In just a few minutes.

Shrimp Pasta

Shrimp Pasta

Okay, I used linguine. But you get the idea. When I was in my twenties in my first NY apartment (studio, 4 floor walk-up) I used to soothe myself from the barrage of NY (a barrage I loved) with sautéed shrimp and angel hair pasta mixed with butter. It sealed up the insanity and made me feel whole again.

That was a long time ago (yet very crystal clear).  But these days I don’t stray too far from that brand of comfort food. Still with the shrimp. Still with the pasta. But minus the butter (olive oil instead). And a couple of added goodies.

Here goes:

First off, I cut the shrimp in half lengthwise it makes a nice shape when cooked and gives you more shrimp to the mouthful. Figure about 1 pound of shrimp to almost a pound of pasta (two-thirds?).

Shrimp

Shrimp

Then I heat some olive oil in a large sauté pan. When hot I sauté the shrimp until opaque, then take them out.

Shrimp on pan

Shrimp in pan

Now add some diced onion and minced garlic to the pan. Let them cook and soften (add some more olive oil if needed). Then add diced up fresh tomato and diced up lemon — including the peel…gives you a nice surprise bite of lemon. Let that sauté till hot.

Onions, Garlic, Tomato, Lemon

Onions, Garlic, Tomato, Lemon

Add about a half-cup of dry white wine…

Add wine

Add wine

Let wine evaporate by half and let the mixture sauté nicely while you start boiling the pasta…

pasta water

pasta water

And making the breadcrumbs. I heat a little oil in a small sauté pan, add about a cup of panko crumbs, season with salt & pepper, and sauté until breadcrumbs brown to deep golden.

browning the breadcrumbs

browning the breadcrumbs

Add the shrimp back to the pan w the onion-garlic-tomato-lemon mixture just as the pasta is almost done. Drain pasta, reserve some cooking liquid, add pasta to pan with shrimp. Toss to coat and to let pasta absorb some of the tasty juices. Add some pasta water if too dry and another drizzle of olive oil. Season to your liking with salt & pepper and a little hot pepper. Add a good dusting of breadcrumbs.

Shrimp w Lingiune

Shrimp w Linguine

I promise you the cares of your day will melt away. This is especially fun eating quietly while watching a favorite, also comforting, TV show. Not the news. A comforting TV show. That makes you giggle. Or draws you into the story and characters. An old movie is perfect. Preferable something from the 1930’s or 40′ or 50’s or early 60’s.

See that? It can be easy to feel good.