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Today is Marmo’s birthday!

The above photos were taken from a scrap book I assembled a looooong time ago entitled, “The Complete Hairstyle Index of Marlene Iaciofano.” In it, I displayed photographic examples of her numerous hairstyles (The Box jokes that she’s had about 742 of them) and numerated them for ease of identification for both herself and her stylists. Personally, my favorite is Baby Marmo, sporting what looks like a wig, but is actually all her real hair. Marmo has a nice head of hair, people. John would like to think he inherited this trait.

In addition to good hair, Marmo has a lot of other fantastic qualities that make her a good mom. Here are some of them:

1. Her refrigerator, while alarming and a potential health hazard, is always stocked full. You will never starve in the Iaciofano house. Unless The Box is there.

2. She makes no sense. In a good way! Marmo has a deep reservoir of energy. Often this comes out in her speech patterns. Like when she attempts to put three thoughts into one sentence.

3. She refers to either John or I as “Johnelana” or “Elanajohn”.

4. She always wants to try new restaurants.

5. She likes taking her children to foreign countries like Italy. It’s John’s turn this time – they depart on Friday.

6. She refers to my dog Toby as “Little Cesar” and “that cute little dawg” (please read with NJ accent). And treats him like her grandchild.

7. She will still make John breakfast.

8. She is an excellent cook.

Below, I am offering you one of Marmo’s tried and true pasta dishes: Farfalle with Sausage. This pasta dish makes almost everyone happy almost all of the time. It’s a Marmo special. The sauce is a tomato cream (the whole tomatoes provide a chunky consistency) with a kick from the red pepper. As for the sausage, if you like extra spice, you can use a spicy Italian sausage. Otherwise, a sweet sausage is a perfect contrast.

What You Need:
1 small onion, chopped
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
4-6 links of sausage, casing removed
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 can whole tomatoes
Grated Parmesan cheese
1 box farfalle pasta

What To Do:
Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Cook sausage meat, without casings. As the sausage cooks, break it into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Cook until the sausage is browned.

If too much fat has accumulated in the pan, you can drain it off, but leave about 2 tablespoons (a little fat goes a looooong way).

Add chopped onions and garlic and stir.

Add spices and herbs and the can of tomatoes.

Bring to a boil and add the heavy cream. Reduce the heat and cook on a very low heat for 20 minutes.

in the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once it is boiling, add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the boiling water. Add your farfalle pasta and cook until al dente (check package instructions).

Drain the pasta in a colander, and the cooked pasta into a large pasta serving bowl. Add in the sauce and toss to coat.

Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese, and a little extra chopped parsley.

Serves 4-5 people.

Wanna wish Marmo a happy one? Go “like” her company, Gourmet Getaways on Facebook!

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A colleague of mine told me a joke yesterday:

“How many Jets does it take to get to the Super Bowl?”

“How many?” I said.

“Two. One for the Packers and one for the Steelers!”  He roared with laughter.

“Funny,” I dryly responded.  In appreciation for the joke, I proceeded to fix him a cup of coffee.  Who’s smiling now, buddy?

Yes, I’m still bitter from the Pittsburgh loss.  Why were the Jets asleep at the wheel during the first half of an AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME?  Why did they have to lose to a group of degenerates who notoriously rack up fines and suspensions like Charlie Sheen trashes hotel rooms?  Why do I continue to support a franchise which, without fail, leaves me curled up in the fetal position on the morning after each season ending loss with a brutal hangover and an empty Kleenex box, surrounded by a litter of candy bar wrappers and uncapped magic markers?

Well, it’s hope I suppose.  Because regardless of how painful your team’s season ending loss was, there is always next year. And even sooner to the rescue, is the Super Bowl: an event so commercialized and familiar that even the most left out of football (or non-football) fans feel welcome to participate in. For many, it grants us one more opportunity to watch some quality football.  For everyone, it provides quality entertainment and food.  And what better idea for a Super Sunday snack than a mixture of American and Italian greatness?  Enter, the meatball slider – the perfect handful of a mouthful which teases your brain into thinking that three of these suckers is considerably less damaging than an entire meatball sub.  Well, actually, it is… provided you subscribe to the below mentioned, from-scratch recipe:

What You Need:
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork of veal
3/4 cup breadcrumbs (seasoned)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup ground pine nuts
1 egg
2 tablespoons chopped basil
1 tablespoon chopped taragon
3/4 teaspoon salt
a couple shakes of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Fresh basil (about 12 large leaves)
Mini Parker Rolls (or Brioche rolls)

Tomato Sauce: You can use your own recipe, or the one I describe here.

What To Do:
Place your ground (defrosted if it was frozen) meat In a large mixing bowl and mix to combine well.

Add in your breadcrumbs, ground pine nuts (you can grind them in a food processor) and everything else. Mix very well to combine. You really can’t over-mix.

Make sure the “meat-dough” is holding together. To do this, grab some with your hands (come on, you can do it!) and form it into balls. Pretend you’re making snow balls. With meat. If it’s holding together, continue making balls and setting them aside on a platter. If it’s not holding together, you can add another egg.

Once you have formed all your meatballs, heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium-low heat. Place your raw meatballs in the pan and fry ’em up!

You will need to rotate them a bit, so they brown evenly on all sides. Don’t do this with your bare hands. Use some tongs or a spatula at least. I’m begging you. Also the fat from the meat will combine with the oil of the pan and become VERY, VERY HOT. It may just splatter. Yet another use for those safety goggles I like so much.

This whole cooking process should take about 10 minutes. If you made giant meatballs, 15.

Open up your mini rolls like buns and place one meatball inside. Top with 1 large basil leaf. You can hold this whole contraption together with a toothpick if you like. Serve the tomato sauce on the side.

Note: You don’t have to use the pine nuts if you can’t find them or are allergic to nuts. They did give the meatballs a nice, nutty and slightly sweet flavor, which I liked very much.

Also – is this still not enough to feed your team?  Keep in mind our previous football related posts seen here, here and here.

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Due to the past success of Dinner with the Megs: Cheese and Wine night, the Megs and I decided to have another go at it, this time with cupcakes and wine. Pairing drinks with desserts is not a new concept (digestif, anyone?), but it has become a trend in recent years.

We didn’t want to jump on any bandwagons, but we did want to eat cupcakes. And drink wine. At the same time. So, the Megs and I embarked on Pairing Dinner Volume II: Cupcakes and Wine.

The Rules: This time the cupcakes would dictate the wine we chose. We needed:
1 type of Savory cupcake (this was my responsibility)
1 type of Sweet cupcake that was NOT chocolate (Meg L)
1 type of Sweet cupcake that WAS chocolate (Meg H)

You also needed to bring a wine that paired with your chosen cupcake. As an added rule, we decided that the cupcakes could either be homemade or store bought (sometimes it’s hard to work cupcake baking into daily life, try as we might).

For the savory cupcake, I made Butternut Squash, Kale and Sage cupcakes, and topped them with a dollop of cream cheese (as a stand-in for frosting). You can find the recipe here. These cupcakes are a great savory choice, as the butternut squash adds an element of sweetness which contrasts the with saltier ingredients, such as the Parmesan cheese.

The wine that the helpful staff at Bottlerocket on 19th street chose to pair with this cupcake was Zaccagni il Castello (2008), a smooth Italian white that has a hint of bitterness that goes well with the sage in the cupcakes. I should note that this wine was VERY well received by everyone – many thanks to Bottlerocket for the recommendation.

For our Sweet but not Chocolate cupcake, Meg L procured some pastel-frosted Vanilla Buttermilk confections from Magnolia Bakery. The icing on these cakes was something to behold – as well as taste. Swirling mounds of lavender, mint green and pale cream frosting topped off light yellow cake.

For wine, Meg L chose a Blueberry wine from Alba Vineyards in New Jersey, which really did taste like blueberries. Almost purple in color, it presented a strong flavor contrast to its lighter, vanilla counterparts.

Finally…chocolate! Meg H traveled to the Cupcake Stop’s Limelight Marketplace outpost to bring us these chocolate cake/icing beauties. The dark chocolate cake was topped with two dollops of a lighter, creamy frosting, drizzled with a bit of white chocolate.

I think Meg H was unaware, but Brachetto D’Aqui is one of my favorite sweet wines. It takes all my restraint not to just throw a straw in the bottle and sip away. When Meg H unveiled her Pineto Brachetto d’Aqui, I squealed with delight (and started searching my cabinets for straws).
The Brachetto has a nice effervescence that, while still a red, gives it a lighter quality. It doesn’t overwhelm the chocolate cupcakes.

Finally, because we thought this meal might be a touch on the sugary side, we threw in a kale salad. And throw it together we did with the following ingredients and in the following manner:

What You Need:
1 bunch kale, rinsed, stems removed and chopped
2 cups roasted butternut squash (left over from the savory cupcakes)
Handful of sun dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips
1 yellow zucchini, washed, cut into rounds
½ cup pine nuts
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic Vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for dressing

What To Do:
Get out a big salad bowl and throw in your washed and chopped kale. Go on, literally THROW it in there. You won’t hurt the kale.
Add in your butternut squash chunks (more gently), the sun dried tomatoes, zucchini (resist the urge to throw these around your kitchen like mini-frisbees), and everything else.

Drizzle with as much balsamic and olive oil as you like and give it a toss to coat evenly.

Then promptly ignore this salad in favor of cupcakes.

No, it’s actually a very good salad. And since kale is essentially spinach with ruffles, it’s just fancy enough for a cupcake and wine party.

Cheers!

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This past Christmas while we were all gathered ’round the dinner table staring in disbelief at the remains of our feast, Aunt Emily began to reminisce about her younger years. Aunt Emily is 96 years old, so those younger years were quite a while ago. While Aunt Emily claims that she has a lot of “happy memories” her strolls down memory lane often leave you searching for a pack of Zoloft or at least another drink.

For those of you unfamiliar, Aunt Emily is The Box’s aunt – so a great aunt to John and me. She was married to my dad’s Uncle Harry. While they both had their fun-loving moments, their relative amounts of persnickety-ness combined to form a mightily cantankerous duo. They both boycotted Easter one year to protest a phone conversation with my dad that they disliked. They honestly believed this was a punishment for us.

With food, Aunt Emily is equally….particular. I mentioned at Thanksgiving that Marmo must cook her a special dinner as she refuses to eat turkey. She also refuses to go to particular restaurants, eat after 5pm, and claims she has a seafood allergy (even though I have seen her eat shrimp). Consequently, Aunt Emily will only go to one restaurant – Casa Bella in Denville, NJ – which she happens to like, although you would never know it because when we take her there she complains loudly that:

1. She liked the old owner better and she misses him.

2. They don’t make her martinis properly (on one occasion the waiter brought her the gin and vermouth and told her to mix her own drink).

These episodes usually leave John wanting to dive under the table from embarrassment, and I admit to staring forlornly at my dinner plate.

However, even though Aunt Emily has strong opinions about food (and just about everything else), she isn’t a cook. Her self-admitted culinary claim to fame is being able to open a can of soup.

Yet this past Christmas she began talking about the foods her mother used to make for her. Back when life was simpler. She mentioned something specific: Pane Cotto. I had never heard of it before, being more familiar with the cooked custard dessert Panna Cotta. She even gave me some loosey-goosey cooking instructions involving bread, lard, cheese and water.

Later in the evening, I asked Marmo if she knew what the h%^& Aunt Emily was talking about. “I don’t know,” Marmo replied, “I’m not sure she was operating on all cylinders.”

Fair point. However, in the interest of family history, kitchen experimentation, and just plain ol’ curiosity, I decided to look into it a bit.

Turns out, Aunt Emily was operating on all cylinders when she remembered Pane Cotto, as it’s a real thing. My initial Google searches turned up a slew of recipes. What follows is my recipe, with inspiration from a few sources and based on the availability of ingredients in my fridge at the time. Here you go, Aunt Emily, here’s your Pane Cotto:

What You Need:
Makes 2 servings
1 large bunch of kale – rinsed, stems removed and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 tbsps. olive oil
4 chunky slices of day old Italian bread – I used the Jim Lahey Bread from Wednesday’s post
2 – 3 cups of chicken broth
Red pepper (to taste)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese

What To Do:
Heat up a large stock or cast iron pot. Add the olive oil and saute the onion, celery and kale until soft. About 10 minutes.

Add the chicken broth and red pepper to the pot. Bring to boil and reduce to a simmer, let simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper as desired. Pour into a baking dish. Place your bread slices over the top, making sure they sop up the chicken broth mixture. Cover the bread slices with grated Parmesan and bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

You want the tops of the bread with the cheese to get a little brown and toasty. It’s surprisingly good.

I also made some Kale, Sage and Butternut Squash muffins to go with it. Here’s how:

What You Need:
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium butternut squash, roasted, skin removed and cut into chunks.
Salt and pepper
A couple of handfuls of kale, washed and chopped
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup semi-soft cheese, cut into tiny cubes
2 tsp. of whole grain mustard (like a dijon)
2 eggs
¾ cup milk
2 cups regular flour
4 tsp. baking powder
4 leaves of fresh sage, chopped

What To Do:
Heat your oven to 4ooF.

Grease a muffin tin well with oil or butter.  In a large mixing bowl, stir together about two-thirds of the squash, the kale and the semi-soft cheese.  In a small bowl, beat together the milk, eggs, and mustard until well combined.  Pour this into the bowl with the squash and kale.  Sprinkle the flour, baking powder, and 1 tsp. salt onto the squash and wet ingredients mixture.  Stir it all together until just combined.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pan.  Sprinkle the tops with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes, until the muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted into one comes out clean. Remove from the oven, allow to cool for about 5 minutes, then dive in!  You can also freeze these bad-boys for later use.

This recipe was based on this version from Five and Spice.

• Please note that Aunt Emily would probably hate both these recipes.

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On our trip to Spasso, I became obsessed with their Ribollita soup. It was, in fact my favorite part of the meal (although John was a huge fan of the gnocchi). I don’t think I was ever more intrigued by a soup. A simple blend of white beans, kale, melty shreds of parmesan cheese and the lightest of tomato broths with….what was that flavor in there?….PANCETTA! Seriously, people, it makes everything betta. Yeah, I said it.

Naturally, I wanted to recreate this for myself in the Laboratorio Semi Moderno (my kitchen).

I dutifully embarked on a little recon mission – scouring the internets and reviewing Ribollita recipes. Which there are a lot of – woooo boy. Anyway, I found two favorites: one from 101 Cookbooks, and one from Epicurious. I did a little blend-a-roo between these two versions and created my own Frankenstein’s monster of a soup, which I now have a heck of a lot of and have been eating every day. Consider halving this recipe if you don’t want a bathtub-full of this stuff (but leave the pancetta amount as is):

Ribollita

What You Need:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 14-ounce / 400 ml can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound / 16 ounces Tuscan kale, stems trimmed off and leaves well chopped
2 cans white beans (cannellini beans)
2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
4 ounces pancetta or ham, chopped (optional if you want to keep it veggie)
3 cups chicken broth (you can use veggie broth) and 3-4 cups water
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Grated parmesan

Crusty, stale bread (like a baguette), cut into cubes and toasted. Kinda like croutons.

What To Do:
Get out your most huuuuuge-mongous pot and heat the olive oil in the pot over medium heat. Then, If you’re using the pancetta (pleeeeease use the pancetta. Unless you’re a vegetarian. And then it’s OK not to), throw the meat into the pot, and let it toast in there for about 4 minutes (stirring).

Add in the olive oil, celery, garlic, carrot, and onion. Cook these veggies slowly for 10 -15 minutes, but don’t allow them to turn brown. Stir in the tomatoes and cayenne pepper, and simmer for another 10 minutes, long enough for the tomatoes to thicken slightly. Stir in the kale, the beans, the 3 cups of chicken broth (you can use vegetable broth if you are keeping it vegetarian) and the water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes.

Cook 20 – 30 minutes, then stir in the salt, taste and add more if needed.

Before serving, stir in a healthy amount of grated parmesan cheese and top with the toasted bread cubes (I like saying that better than “croutons”). You can even top with a dollop of ricotta cheese like they did at Spasso. I liked that very much, but if you read this blog you know how much I love ricotta.

Why don’t you make some this weekend?

Note: You can cool and refrigerate this soup, but if you do, please DON’T add the parm or the bread cubes until you’ve reheated it and are ready to serve.

Makes a large pot of soup – enough for 10 servings.

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It’s Pizza Friday once again! I’m sure many of you were leery about those sprouts on Monday. Admit it, you were. WELL, my faithful readers, put those doubts aside, because this pizza is fan-freakin’-tastic. It’s got the crispy, vegetable French fries (sprouts), the ever-glorious pancetta, and parmesan cheese.

As an added bonus, our friends at Astor Wines have provided wine recommendations to pair with this pizza. So, on our way we go:

First, a note: pancetta is salty. And you have already salted your sprouts when you roasted them, so I would advise in this one case NOT to salt your pizza before popping it in the oven. Unless you like a little sodium overload.

What You Need:

Pizza dough made or bought

Roasted sprouts (recipe here)

1/4 lb thickly sliced pancetta

Olive oil

Parmeggiano Reggiano cheese

What To Do:

Fire up that oven (complete with pizza stone if you are using one) to 500 degrees.

Roll or stretch out your pizza dough to a circular-ish shape. Drizzle the dough with olive oil. Set aside.

Heat a teeny amount (1 tbsp) of olive oil in a pan on the stove top. Place your slices of pancetta in there and let them brown on both sides. Not too brown, don’t fry them to a burnt crisp like bacon or anything. They should still be juicy and just starting to brown. Like toast. Meat toast. Got it?

Place your meat toast (pancetta) on the pizza dough, spacing them evenly on the dough. Arrange your sprouts nicely on top of the pancetta. Then take a knife (or if you have one of those fancy cheese cutters that makes nice curls, use that thingy) and slice some very thin strips of Parmesan. Place those on there as well.

Pop that bad boy in the oven for about 10 minutes or there-abouts. When it’s toasted to your liking (the edges of the dough should be browning, topping should be a-bubbling), remove it from the oven and grate a little extra Parmesan cheese on top.

Serve! With these:

1. Pettirosso, Punta Crena NV (22940): A lovely sparking rose from Liguria that delicious on its own, but would pair nicely. It’s has the slightest hint of sweetness (slight is even being generous) that will contrast the salty pancetta and parm and it ends with a touch of bitter cherry pit that mimics the bitter end of the Brussels. It also has a touch of tannins on the end that the pizza will soften.

2. Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Fattoria il Palagio 2008 (21685): This is a rich white wine that blends earthy and lemon-y flavors that are complex yet totally approachable. By roasting the Brussels this brings out an earthier flavor, this wine will play with those flavors. The wines acidity will cut through the “fatty” pancetta and Parm.

I think that Rosé is calling my name. Can you hear it? Elaaaaaaaaaanaaaaaaaa…..Or is that just the wind?

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