Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sausage Polpettine Caesar Salad

An Italian twist on the traditional Caesar Salad

My twist on the classic caesar salad, using tiny, breaded, sausage meatballs (polpettine). The meatballs are flavored with breadcrumbs, pine nuts, garlic and parsley, and rolled in panko breadcrumbs, then fried in a an anchovy flavored oil, mimicking the flavors in the classic caesar salad. Serve with Parmigiano Reggiano shavings. The polpettine are an interesting stand-in for the croutons, but seriously, I don't think you will even miss the croutons!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Turkish Fig Baklava

I would be remiss if I didn't share one of my favorite desserts, Fig Baklava. I have the fondest memories of visiting the Turkish Market, in my old Brooklyn neighborhood, where I would buy house-made baklava, dried figs, and other Middle Eastern delights. I would always buckle to temptation and sit on a street-side bench to indulge in my treats before I even made it home. I remember digging into the bakalva with the plastic fork and jamming some of the gooey, syrupy-walnut filling into the middle of a dried, Turkish fig. 

Those two tastes, in tandem, is one of my favorite bites in the whole world, for sure. So, from that memory, this recipe was spawn, using little phyllo cups instead of entire phyllo sheets for for ease of preparation. The initial, gentle crunch of the pastry gives way to a crunchy, chewy, filling of walnuts, pistachios, fig paste, drenched in a fragrant, divinity of honey/simple-syrup that is redolent of orange zest and a touch of cinnamon.The result is sophisticated, with just the right ratio of nuts and figs. 

 Preparing individual phyllo cups is a cinch, allowing you to fine-tune the sweetness of each cup to your personal taste with the syrup. The fig takes precedence in this version with the addition of the final fig nestled atop. A filling like this would also be quite at home in a large, full size, fig baklava.

Buon Appetito!


 15  Athens brand mini phyllo shells
8 whole Turkish Figs, plus 4 figs for pulsing
 3 cups of walnuts
2/3 cup shelled pistachios
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup water
Couple pinches kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon


 Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut  8 of the figs into halves and set aside.  Remove stems from the other 4 figs ad pulse in food processor for about 30 seconds. Remove from food processor and set aside.  Pulse remaining ingredients in  food processor about 20-30 times. You still want to have some of the nutty texture, so don't overdo it.  Fill the 15 phyllo cups with the nut mixture and nestle a fig half in the top.  Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes.  Garnish with additional pistachio nuts.

 COOK'S NOTE: All of the nuts I used were roasted, not raw. You can certainly use raw if you'd like, and combined with honey.  If any of the nuts are salted, taste for seasoning before you add some salt.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Peach & Prosciutto Flatbreads

Peach & Prosciutto- two classic Italian flavors!

Italians love their prosciutto, but they also love their peaches. They are two great tastes that taste even better together! The pizza crust is thin and crispy and slathered with Italian extra virgin olive oil/horseradish-spiked cream, that is perfumed with garlic and earthy rosemary, which creates an ultimate creamy base, in lieu of a sauce. Add buffalo mozzarella underneath peaches and prosciutto. (Garnish with radish sprouts, optional). Perfect as a snack, or a romantic picnic for two!

May use store-bought pizza dough, or homemade recipe: 

  • 1- 4 ounce package of Fleischmann's Pizza Crust Yeast
  • 1 3/4- 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup of semolina flour, plus more for dusting
  • 2/3 cups of very warm water (120-125 degrees)
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1/2 salt
  • 2 teaspoons of red chili pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil


Combine 1 cup of all-purpose flour, semolina flour, undissolved yeast, red chili pepper flakes, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Combine very warm water (120-125 degrees), and oil; add to flour mixture. Mix until well blended (about a minute). Gradually, add the remaining flour and form a ball (it will be a bit sticky). Transfer dough ball to a floured surface and knead until smooth (about 4 minutes.) Cut dough ball in half with a pastry cutter. With a rolling pin, roll out one of the dough halves into a very thin 15x8 inch rectangle.Transfer that rectangle to a parchment-lined pizza peel.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Utica Chicken Riggies (Original, Chef Joe Morelli recipe)

The famous, signature dish of Utica, NY

Italy’s sauces are many; sometimes it is a meat sauce, other times, olive oil & garlic (aglio e olio), pestos, cream or tomato sauces, augmented, depending on the time of year and what is plentiful during the season.  The sauce in this dish is a very typical Piedmontese-style, spicy tomato sauce that's  made with a Sherry Wine, is laden with roasted red peppers and studded with spicy, hot cherry peppers. 

The name “Chicken Riggies” is a Utica, NY, colloquialism and a household name known to everyone in Central New York. And, for those that do not know, Utica, NY is so famous for its Chicken Riggies (rigatoni) that we actually have a, much publicized, annual "Riggies Fest" where people (and, restaurants) compete with their own version of the dish, and a winner is crowned every year. For a restaurant, holding that revered title, inevitably translates to a big boom in business.

Over the years, there have come to be several variations on the recipe, and truth be known, I have seen people get into full-blown debates over which restaurant (or, person) makes the best “Riggies!” Personally, I am partial to my mother's, who learned from the best,  Utica's own, Chef Joe Morelli.

Recently, Utica’s "Chicken Riggies" recipe made its way to the magazine pages of “The Cook’s Illustrated- Lightened-Up Edition.”  Also, a few years back, while working at Williams Sonoma's flagship store in NYC, I, personally, gave this recipe to a couple celebrity chefs in NYC, including Tyler Florence, and Rachel Ray, who featured the recipe on one of her shows, along with the  famous dish,  Chef Morelli's Utica Greens.


1 pound of Rigatoni
2  lbs. of chicken breast (cut up into  small chunks)
2  large fire roasted red peppers  ( from the jar and sliced into 1 inch pieces)
Bunch of hot cherry peppers, roughly chopped ( 7, or so – depending how much heat you want)
1- 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano  tomatoes
Hot cherry peppers from my garden, 2011
5 cloves of garlic  (save one of the cloves to sauté chicken and peppers)
1 cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese (plus more for topping)
1  cup of cooking Sherry wine (cut with  about ½ cup of water)
2+2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil (separated- half for sauté, half for sauce)
4 tablespoons of butter  (half a stick)
¼ cup of heavy cream
½ teaspoon of dried basil  ( plus, a few torn  leaves of fresh basil for tossing in with pasta at the end)
½ teaspoon of sea salt

In a large pot heat extra-virgin olive on low heat with 4 smashed and chopped  garlic cloves. This infuses the garlic into the oil before you add the tomatoes. Be careful that the garlic doesn’t get brown. It will be bitter.  Add the whole tomatoes and Sherry Wine. Simmer for a few minutes.  Add the butter, dried basil and the sea salt.  Allow to simmer on very low heat.  Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute the chicken  in extra-virgin olive oil. When chicken is almost browned, stir in the roasted red peppers,  the hot cherry peppers,  one minced garlic clove, and sauté for a couple of minute so the flavors marry.  Carefully, mash the whole tomatoes with a potato masher, then add in the Pecorino Romano cheese. (Do not add the cheese earlier, as it will stick to the bottom of the pot a little, and cling to the masher.) Toss the chicken and peppers in with the marinara sauce and simmer for 10 minutes.  Prepare rigatoni al dente and toss the full pound of rigatoni in the pot with the sauce mixture.  One pound of rigatoni is perfect for the amount of sauce that is prepared.  Serve with additional grated cheese and red pepper flakes.  Buon Appetito!

The original Riggies recipe calls for one stick of butter, but I cut it down and supplemented with a little heavy cream, but you can experiment, if you wish.  Also, some variation that I like instead of chicken are:  ¼ pound of crisped prosciutto and chopped calamata olives.  Or, prosciutto and peas is really good, too! Just don’t omit the roasted red peppers, that is what gives it a distinctive taste.    Also, when I double this recipe, I like to use one can of crushed tomatoes and one can of whole tomatoes, then crush the whole tomatoes with a potato masher while it’s cooking.  I love the chunks of tomato in the finished dish.     xxoo

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Smoky Goat Cheese Guacamole

Grand Prize Winner for Avocados From Mexico's "Guac-Off Recipe Contest,"  2012.  Recipe chosen as "Best Recipe" by Celebrity Chef Roberto Santibanez.


6 avocados from Mexico
3 ounces of goat cheese
4 small tomatillos, diced
2 poblano peppers, charred
1 serrano pepper, minced
1/2 cup of red onion, minced
2 ears of corn on the cob, char-grilled
2 limes, juiced
1/2 cup of cilantro, rough chopped
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, for grilling corn
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika, for grilling corn
1/2 teaspoon of garlic salt, for grilling corn
Salt (to taste
Chicharron, fried pork rinds for dipping and garnish


1. Preheat grill to medium-high.

2. Remove corn husks and slather corn with mayonnaise. Generously, sprinkle with garlic salt and smoked paprika.

3. Grill the corn and poblano peppers until they get a nice char on all sides, keeping the peppers closest to the fire.

4. Once the corn is grilled and peppers have a nice char, remove from grill and set corn aside to cool. Place peppers in a brown paper bag to steam, so the skins remove easily.

5. Meanwhile, halve the avocados and remove the pits. With a spoon, carefully scoop the avocadoes from their skins, being careful not to tear the skins. Set skins aside.

6. In a small bowl, combine 4 of the avocado halves with the goat cheese and mash with a fork to thoroughly combine, until creamy. Rough chop the remaining avocado halves and set aside.

7. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the corn off the cob and set aside.
Remove the poblano peppers from the bag and remove the seeds and with a butter knife, scrape off most of the charred skin. (Leave some of the charred skin, as this imparts a nice smoky flavor to the guacamole.)

8. Chop peppers into half-inch pieces.

9. In a separate medium-size bowl, combine the goat cheese/avocado mixture, the rough chopped avocados, red onion, tomatillos, serrano peppers, grilled poblano peppers, corn, juice of two limes, and the cilantro. Combine thoroughly with a spoon, leaving some of the avocados a bit chunky. Season with salt , to taste.

10. Scoop the guacamole back into the 12 skins to serve as individual portion sizes and garnish with chicharron and any remaining grilled corn.