CHEATER OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER

With the holidays fast approaching, especially Christmas Eve, the Mother of all Fish Meals, this recipe is quick, easy, and great to transport for a last minute show stopper for Friendsgiving or even Brunch. I call it Cheater Oysters Rockefeller. It was developed over Manhattans and dinner with my dear friends MD and AF while eating some creamed spinach from our favorite butcher, DellaPietra in Brooklyn Heights. For ingredients for four persons as a starter (3 per person), you need a dozen oysters, 12 Tablespoons of the aforementioned creamed spinach, grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano if that is what you have), and a splash of Pernod or Sambuca or even fennel seed or fennel pollen if you have for that taste of sweetness and licorice.

To prepare, heat your over to 500. You will be steaming the oysters open but not cooking them through. Cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil and crunch in spots to make a small pocket for the oysters to save the liquor that may seep out, you will want to use that later. Place the oysters on the sheet pan rounded side down and let them cook in the oven until the flat top starts to separate from the bottom; watch carefully, this only takes a few minutes. Take them out as this happens so that early openers don’t overcook. Let cool until you can handle, I use a potholder for this step, and pry the top from the bottom. When all are opened, pour any oyster liquor into a bowl and place the oysters back their shells. Usually the top comes off without the oyster attached, but if that does not happen, just scrape it off with a knife and place into the shell. This step requires a bit of patience if the tops don’t pop easily. Just work at them gently and they will open. I have an oyster knife but it isn’t necessary, use whatever you think will make the job easier for you. Even a flat head screwdriver works. Add any liquor that may have accumulated in the pan to the reserved juices and strain to remove any nasty shell bits that may have come off. Remove the tinfoil and replace with a new piece and cover that with a wire pan grate. Next, add the liquor to the creamed spinach and also add the splash of Pernod (or a pinch of ground fennel or fennel pollen) and salt and pepper to taste. You can preheat the spinach if you want but I don’t find that a necessary step. Spread each oyster to cover the entire opening with about a tablespoon of spinach and place on the wire grate. Top all with the grated cheese to your liking (isn’t more better?) and place back into the oven until the cheese is melted and the spinach warm.

If you are making to transport, place the shells, oysters, juice and spinach in separate containers and combine just before heating.

Serve, maybe with a glass of champagne? After all, it is the holidays and they are called Oysters Rockefeller!

LAZY LINGUINE VONGOLE

Unbeknownst to me, my fish market closed for good and I promised Linguine Vongole for dinner. So no vongole to be had. What to do? Buy the best canned clams you can find and make the recipe without the shells. Here is what you need for two people: 1/2 pound linguine; 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced; pinch red pepper; 1-2 cans best chopped clams you can find-drain the juices and reserve; 1-2 tablespoons white wine; handful of arugula; 2 tablespoons butter to finish the sauce.

Set a large pot of water on high heat and when it comes to a boil salt to bring taste of the water to the taste of seawater. Meanwhile, thinly slice the garlic, drain the clams (reserving the juices) and rinse them thoroughly to remove any tinny taste. 2 minutes before the pasta is done, in a separate pan, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat and add the sliced garlic. Add a bit of the reserved clam juices (or water if not using the clams, more on that later) to the pan and allow the garlic to steep a bit. This process slows the cooking of the garlic and ensures that it will not burn while you are preparing the rest of the sauce. When the water comes to a boil, add the linguine and cook it to within 2 minutes of the recommended cooking time. Back to the pan for the sauce, add a pinch of red pepper flakes (or to your taste for heat) and stir. When the pasta is done, drain it reserving a cup of the pasta water for use if needed. Add the white wine to the sauce pan and and cook for a few seconds to remove the alcohol taste. Add the clams and their reserved juices to the sauce pan and warm through, no more than a minute, you don’t want to overcook the clams. Toss in the pasta and give everything a good stir. If the sauce looks dry, add a bit of the pasta water. Finish cooking everything together, about another minute or so and taste for seasoning. Add a handful of arugula and the butter and stir, emulsifying the sauce and melting the arugula.

If you don’t eat clams, you can make the sauce the same way just omit the clams. You will need to use more of the pasta water to create the sauce but it will taste just as good. Instead of Linguine Vongole, you will have made Linguine Aglio. If you add a splash of oil to the finished Linguine Aglio, you will have Linguine Aglio ed Olio.

Pour into a warm bowl. Serve with some good bread to soak up the juices. That’s it. It took longer to type this up than it will take to cook! 10 minutes start to finish. Not even enough time to finish a glass of wine! And you won’t miss the clam shells.

BEST EASY GARLIC BREAD

You have the ribs cooking, the burgers prepped, the dogs waiting patiently for their turn on the grill. Salads, cupcakes, all the stuff that make a BBQ on the Fourth what it is. So what’s missing? Scratch your head, um, er, aha! you forgot the garlic bread, what fourth of July celebration should be without it? (Well most of them if you aren’t of Italian heritage, but a post for a different date). So this is as easy as it gets. What you need is a loaf of Ciabatta bread (or loaf of your choice, but Ciabatta works best), a stick of butter (per loaf), chopped garlic (I use my microplane, this way you don’t get big chunks and the garlic melts into the butter), a rimmed baking sheet, and that’s it. If you want to get fancy and add chopped herbs, have at it, but wait until the butter garlic mix is done. Slice the Ciabatta loaf in half as shown so that you have two pieces. Grill the bread to get nice marks (or put under the broiler to toast), and set aside. While bread is grilling, place the butter and garlic in the baking pan and melt, stirring to make sure all blended. You can do this on the grill or in the oven as well. When the butter is melted and mixed with garlic (slightly toasty NOT BURNT) place the grilled sides of the bread on the sheet pan into the butter mix and let the bread soak up the mixture. Place the two sides back together, slice lengthwise, and VOILA! Best Easy Garlic Bread! You will never make it another way, I promise.

NOT BORING BERRY SALSA

Just in time for America’s favorite holiday, I bring you Red, White, and Blue Berry Salsa. This beautiful side is can be served in a multitude of ways with a multitude of savory or sweet items, is easy to make, doesn’t require a great deal of time to prepare, involves a minimal amount of chopping and no heat, and looks gorgeous on the plate! What more could you ask for in a party food? And how and what do you need to prepare it? Think your regular salsa ingredients: onion–use Vidalia, white, or the white part of scallions; pepper-use Fresno to keep the color theme, but if you can’t find them, Jalenpeno works fine, even a pinch of red pepper flakes in a pinch-you need some heat; a splash of Balsamic to keep the sweet, a splash of olive oil and coarse sea salt to keep the savory; finally, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, even blackberries, whatever you like to keep the red and blue idea. Mix the ingredients together and let sit for about 1/2 hour to allow the flavors to marry. Serve along side grilled steak, hamburgers, or sausages. Serve atop vanilla ice cream. Leftovers? Serve the next day on some toast or yogurt for breakfast. See? Berries, they’re not just for whipped cream and scones, and certainly not boring! One more thing, as it is a celebration, don’t forget the champagne! Happy Birthday America!

Zeppole

I come from a family with a lot of Josephs: Mother, grandparents, brother, cousins, you know, a lot. So March 19 has a special place in my heart, not only because it is the St. Patrick’s Day equivalent for Italians, but also because of the fried dough nibbles my mom (and my grandmother, my aunts, my sister, you get the picture) would make to celebrate the date. So today, I bring you zeppole. Not a very sophisticated recipe, but so good. For ten zeppole each consisting of a quarter cup raw product, you will need one package of yeast dissolved in 1 1/4 cup warm water (proof to make sure it bubbles), 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour, and a pinch of salt. Mix the flour into the proofed yeast and water mixture, add pinch of salt and set aside to rise for about an hour and a half. You can make this the day before and let mixture rise in the fridge, just bring it to room temperature before cooking. Your mixture should be a bit soupy as shown in photo. When ready, bring about a cup of oil to high heat and set a paper bag-the paper bag is important, it is part of the tradition-aside and next to your pot. Add a 1/4 cup of mixture to oil and watch it fry. When the zeppole is cooked on one side, it will turn itself over, but if it doesn’t, just give it a nudge; you want both sides a golden color. That’s it. When ready to serve, dust with a bit of powdered sugar, or a mix of powdered sugar and cocoa powder or whatever you think you might like. You can probably serve them with something savory, but I am worried that my Italian ancestors will haunt your dreams for a year. In any event, enjoy. And if your name is Joseph or any close derivation thereof, I wish you a very happy feast day!

Love Apple Confit

Did you know that tomatoes are called love apples in some circles? What better day for this great recipe that is a riff on something I saw in Milk Street Magazine, and it comes together in under an hour. It is perfect for your pre Valentine’s Day dinner aperitivi. It utilizes those pint sized containers of grape or cherry tomatoes that are always around and gives them an elevated status beyond a toss in for a salad. For one pint of tomatoes (a container), you will need 2 cloves of peeled and smashed garlic, 4 Tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, a bay leaf, and 1/2 cup of water. In a heavy duty pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and add the garlic. Cook until the garlic is golden, about a minute. Add the remainder of the ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until all the tomatoes have burst, about 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the tomatoes from sticking. After all have burst, reduce heat and continue to cook another 15-20 minutes until the mixture resembles a thick sauce. The oil will come to the top and at that point the mixture is cooked. Set aside to cool. It will continue to thicken. Serve on a slice of good toasted bread for a take on bruschetta with a bit of basil and there you have it. Gluten Free? Just use your favorite gluten free loaf. Or add to an endive leaf. Don’t forget the champagne and a kiss. Happy Valentine’s Day!


Who doesn’t need something in the freezer for last minute invites for cocktails this time of the year? This yummy Comte’ cracker comes from David Lebovitz “My Paris Kitchen”, takes no time to put together and freezes beautifully to be pulled out when the need arises. You need 2 slices of prosciutto (omit if you don’t do meat), 8 Tablespoons of butter at room temperature, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (or fresh herb of your choice), 1/2 teaspoon each salt and fresh black pepper, 2 1/2 cups of freshly grated Comte’ cheese–you can substitute gruyere or cheddar, 1/4 cup cornmeal and 1 cup all purpose flour. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees an line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat. Place the prosciutto (if using) on the baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes or so until the slices look dry and crisp. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool, the meat will crisp a bit more while sitting. While you wait, in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and with the mixer on low speed, combine the butter, salt and pepper and herbs and then add the cheese. Still on low speed, add the cornmeal and the flour until all is well mixed. Back to the prosciutto. Take the now cooled slices and chop finely and add to the dough, combining well. Remove from bowl, divide dough in half and roll each half into a log about 8 inches long. If you plan to cook immediately, refrigerate for about an hour and then slice. Place the crackers on a rimmed baking sheet again lined with parchment paper or silpat cook at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack for 5 minute and serve. If you plan to freeze, wrap each log in plastic wrap and place on a cookie sheet until solid then store in a freezer bag. Remove from freezer about 1/2 hour before you plan to cook and follow the same cooking directions. I serve these all the time and they are quickly devoured. If you find that you are having the same experience, double the recipe. These little guys freeze well and everyone will marvel at your spur of the moment appetizer skill!!

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I am not cooking today, well not for a crowd, but I am going to give you two starters and a dessert that are easy and can be made in record time. All of these are from, where else, Italy. The first is called Pinzimonio and hails from the Tuscan region of the boot. It is a mixture of raw veggies: fennel, cucumber, radish, celery, whatever you like but make it colorful. The vegetables are is served with a mixture of best olive oil with flaky salt (Malden if you have it) freshly ground pepper, and a mix of your favorite spices or herbs. That’s it. The biggest dilemma of this nibble is what service piece to use. The second is a staple appetizer in Rome. For this you need a freshly sliced baguette or whatever your favorite bakery bread is, some unsalted butter, and anchovies. Butter the bread slices and top with the anchovies. Eat. This always makes an appearance at my Christmas Eve fish festa. Now the dessert. I call this the “idiot proof cake” because I am an idiot when it comes to baking and even I can make this. It is from the late Marcella Hazan who was Venetian, so we have made a small visit to the land of divine gastronomy, not to mention art, music, and style. Ingredients are fun ingredients to follow, 1/4 cup milk, 2 eggs, pinch of salt, 1 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of flour, 4 Tablespoons butter plus some for greasing the cake pan and some Panko. What are the fun ingredients? Whatever you want. I have made this cake with a mixture of plums, a mixture of berries, chopped apples, I have added mint, nuts, but today, because it is Thanksgiving and they are in season, I made with pomegranate seeds and blueberries. Beat the milk and eggs, add the salt, the sugar, and the flour and mix until combined, then add your fun ingredients. Preheat your oven to 375. Butter a springform pan or a tart pan and sprinkle the Panko on the bottom and the sides. Dump out any of the excess. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and add the 4 Tablespoons of butter in small bits to the mix, pushing them into the batter. Bake for 35-45 minutes. I start testing at 35 minutes, cooking time will vary depending on the heat of your oven. The finished produce is delicious served as is, or can be topped with ice cream, whipped cream, powdered sugar, fruit syrups, whatever suits your taste. So there you have it. Two before and one after the big meal bits and bites. What you serve in between, well that’s up to you. Once last thing. Many thanks to all who are following me. I am so grateful for your support and encouragement. Buona Festa Di Ringraziamento

Kale. The vegetable everyone loves to hate. You’ve juiced it, mashed it, eaten it raw for salad; heavens knows what other abuse you’ve inflicted on this beleaguered green. I am going to give you an idea gleaned from Jacques Pepin ages ago. And if you are quick, you can have it ready before the o’clock kickoff to go with your chips and dip. Crispy Roasted Kale Leaves. Easy. Healthy. Cheap. You need a head of kale, stripped of the leaves and leaves torn into bite sized pieces as shown, a splash of olive oil, Kosher salt (or flaky sea salt such as Maldon), pepper, and an oven set at 350. Lay the leaves on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with olive oil, a tablespoon or so. Now, place the kale leaves on a rack and place the rack onto the baking sheet. Make sure there is space between the leaves–they won’t get crunchy if layered on top of each other. Place the pan into the oven and roast about 10 minutes until crispy. You want them to keep some of the green color so watch that they don’t burn. When done, place into a serving bowl, toss with the salt and pepper and serve. That’s it. See, even kale can be made lovable with some olive oil and salt. And here is a freebie, you can do the same thing with Brussel Sprout leaves. Separate the heads and treat the same way. Now about that kickoff…..

Yotem Ottolenghi, the master of many ingredients, has published a new book called SIMPLE. It is a beautiful text and in fact does have many simple and ingredient pared recipes. Among them, I found this, and with the preponderance of beautiful mini cauliflowers of many colors still in the green markets, I was inspired to make it. It is indeed simple: ingredients-the aforementioned cauliflower, a Tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, and flaky sea salt, Maldon if you have it. He adds a green dipping sauce, but I found the sweetness and crunchiness of the cauliflower more than enough (I did serve some Greek yogurt alongside because I had a purple cauliflower and it looked so beautiful). I made this with a mini sized head, but the recipe works for any size. Here are the directions. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the cauliflower, trim the stem to flatten it, but do not remove the leaves (they get crunchy and delicious in the roasting process) and place in salted boiling water head down for 5-6 minutes. Don’t worry if the head is not completely immersed. After 6 minutes, remove and place head down in a colander to drain for 10 minutes. Place drained and cooled head on a sheet pan or an oven proof dish head side up (you can use the dish for serving) and top with butter, olive oil, and a sprinkle of the the sea salt. Roast in oven for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of the head. Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper. Serve as is either on the sheet pan or on the dish. Just break off the florets and eat. It is crunchy on the top, and creamy in the middle, the leaves get potato chip like, just a great vegetarian lunch or dinner side. And so much more inventive than the tiresome cauliflower rice.