“I’m not a chef, I’m Italian”- David Rocco

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Eternally Gluten Free with Dominick Cura

Ciao a tutti!! I have been featuring many gluten free recipes lately, so I am very excited to introduce you to Dominick Cura, his story is really inspiring and I hope it will help some of you. Dominick was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2009, which meant that he could no longer eat anything with gluten. At first, it was terrible for him, but he then started a blog about living gluten free. It’s called Eternally Gluten Free and I highly suggest you take a look!! In 2011, he decided to write a book to share with people how he made his experience positive in hopes of inspiring people. The cookbook includes gluten free sweets and some and details of his life with celiac. It is available at book stores in Seattle and hopes for it to make it in some other states as well. You can take a look at the book here, at amazon.com You can also read more about Dominick’s inspiring story here. Enjoy!!

This is not strictly a “healthy” Italian blog, although I do always try to make little changes to most of my recipes to make them a bit healthier, including using flour alternatives. What do you like to use in place of regular wheat flour?

I usually use white or brown rice flour or tapioca flour. I am using more brown rice flour now because it is healthier than white rice flour, but there are so many different flours to use. I think it is so much better to use gluten-free flours because you have such a variety of flours and flavors and textures whereas with wheat flour all you have is wheat!

Did you always enjoy cooking or did you discover it once you had to start creating your own recipes?

I only started cooking towards the end of the summer of 2011. I found a gluten-free cookbook and just kept baking from it. When I ran out of recipes I decided to make my own! It was very fun creating my own recipes, many were bad, and many were good. Sometimes I got a little too creative and ambitious and some stuff did not work, other times I got too creative and it was a great recipe!

With Italian food, there is a lot of bread and pasta. Since you are part Italian, I can imagine you use to eat a lot of that food. Having to live gluten free now, what do you in place of pasta?

Yes there is, although in Italy it is also very easy to eat gluten free because celiac is known well there so they have more options. I have only found like two baguettess that are good but they're not at all easy to get, so I don't usually have baguettes.

You wrote a cookbook, “Eternally Gluten Free: A Cookbook of Sweets and Inspiration, From a Teen.” Can you please share on of your favorite recipes with us?  

 My favorite recipe is the Italian Christmas dessert, Struffoli. For those who don't know, Struffoli are little balls of dough that are fried, dipped in honey, formed in a dome and topped with colorful sprinkles. When I lived in New York I used to have this every winter and I remember my mom telling me her memories of eating Struffoli with her family. Struffoli is also really good to make with more than one person, it really involves teamwork when your rolling out the balls of dough.


3/4 teaspoon Xanthan gum
1 cup brown rice flour
1 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, sliced into little pieces
3 eggs
zest of half a lemon
zest of half an orange
1 1/2 tablespoon white wine

Other Ingredients:

Vegetable oil for frying
1 1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup colorful sprinkles to decorate with

Put the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the butter and cut and mix it together with the fork to get out chunks of flour or big crumbs. Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to mix until it is doughy. If it is too dry you can add a little more white wine.

Roll the dough into small balls, the size of marbles.

Pour enough oil in a large saucepan to fill it halfway. Heat over medium-high heat. The oil will be ready when you get the bottom of a wooden spoon and press it against the bottom of the pan, and bubbles come out (a trick I learned from my grandmother) Fry the struffoli until golden brown.

Combine the honey and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat, until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the struffoli in and coat the struffoli in the honey. Place on a plate, form into a dome and sprinkle with sprinkles.

What’s the most memorable Italian meal you've ever had?  Whether cooked by you or someone else.

 The most memorable home cooked is fritatta. My brother and our cousins would always go to our grandparent’s house and there would always be a fritatta waiting for us to eat, sometimes my nonna would get creative and put in artichoke hearts or peppers and stuff. Luckily fritatta is naturally gluten-free! Speaking of artichokes, another great memory is breaded artichoke (more gluten!) Artichoke is so fun to eat, peeling of the leaves and sucking the insides, with breadcrumbs it was even better! Pretty much everything my nonna made was memorable.

Food can transport me to another time and make me remember something wonderful. I am always talking about my Nonna’s fried cauliflower and what beautiful memories I have of her making it for me. What are some of your favorite food memories?

I love this question! I have a lot. In New York at my grandparent’s house my nonna would always make pasta. (This was when I could have gluten) my nonna would always make pasta with squid ink. I was (and still am) kind of picky. But what I'd eat instead was pasta with breadcrumbs, pretty ironic that I used to love pasta with breadcrumbs... At my grandparents house I remember my whole family and my whole cousin’s family at my grandparent’s house for our occasional dinner together and we'd all eat pasta. It was fun and something i really miss because we all moved away from New York.

You are still very young; do you think you will want to continue to pursue cooking as a career? A lot of people have allergies to gluten, making it more difficult to eat out. Do you think you would maybe want to open a gluten free restaurant? 

 No. Many people say I should open a restaurant when I'm older but no. I want to be a movie director instead. If I didn't want to be a movie director is definitely be a baker, but I do want to be a movie director. But it might not happen if I just wait to be older. That's way I am also trying to make a documentary about Celiac disease, so then I'll have more experience and I'll also raise awareness of Celiac!

Thank you so much to Dominick, I’m always so happy to see someone turning what could be a very upsetting situation into something so positive.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Nutella Chronicles: Nutella Ricotta Zeppoles, Week One

It happened again. I woke up this morning, my hair a mess, half off the bed, memory blurred and my hand clutching a spoon like it was a teddy bear. What happened? What had I done? And then it all hit me. The familiar scent of hazelnut, the rich taste of chocolate in my mouth, the sticky fingers. I hit the nutella….again. Real bad too. How could I keep doing this? It was so unlike me. There was just something about the way nutella smelled and tasted, the smooth and creamy texture, all the versatility, the things I could do with it.

Never mind that now, I had to figure out exactly what got me here. I looked to the right side of the bed and saw a few half opened jars of the stuff, to the left there was a plate full of crumbs. Crumbs. Okay, I didn't just eat out of the jar then. They texture of the crumbs didn't make sense. They weren't brownies or cookies, they were too crispy for that. I needed to investigate further.

I got up and walked into the kitchen searching for more clues. A large mixing bowl sat on the counter, whisk still in it next to a used container of ricotta. A frying pan with a fresh layer of oil on the stove. Frying pan? Ricotta cheese? I clearly wasn't making cheesecake, so what could I have possibly done with a frying pan, ricotta and nutella?  Oh no. I remembered. It all came back to me. I made my great aunt Carmella’s Nutella Ricotta Zeppoles. But how? My mother kept the secret recipe hidden, I didn't even know where it was. I checked my phone, seeing that I had called her four times last night, she must have spilled. Obviously, what else could explain the zeppoles? I certainly didn't know how to make them. Only my mother held the key.

I went back to the bedroom searching desperately for more clues and there it was. Placed neatly on my desk. The recipe. The recipe for the most amazing, crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside, Nutella Ricotta Zeppoles. Glancing over the recipe, it wasn't hard to see why I had ended up like this.

Nutella Ricotta Zepploes

1 ½ pounds ricotta
½ cup of nutella
2 cups of flour
¼ tsp. salt
4 tsp. baking powder
2 tbsp. sugar
4 eggs
1 cup of neutral oil for frying

First, mix together your ricotta and nutella. Then add your eggs. In a separate bowl combine flour, salt, baking powder and sugar. Gently fold the dry ingredients into the nutella ricotta mix. Let the batter sit for around 20 minutes.

Prepare a deep pot for frying over high heat and add your oil. Drop batter by large tablespoons into the oil. Each zeppole should take roughly 4-6 minutes to fry, so please stand by and watch them. They should also float to the top!! Don’t get nervous if when they are done frying they look dark, the nutella makes the batter a mocha color! When they are done, take them out and put on a wire rack so any excess oil drips off. I like to serve these the traditional way with a light dusting on powdered sugar! Boun Appetito!! 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pumpkin Sausage Stew

Ciao!! I don’t know about you, but my favorite season is winter. I know it seems odd, since it can get very cold and snowy, but I just love it. I love what it signifies.  I think of Halloween, which is usually spent dressed up in front of the TV watching the parade, Charlie Brown and eating candy. Thanksgiving, spent at our wonderful friends house (which also means bake-athon, I’ll explain closer!!) and our annual Christmas Eve Party. When I think of winter, I think of happy times spent with the people that I love. And, ahem, the food.

It’s hard not to think about all the yummy food when the holidays roll around, right? Well, the other night in New York, it was really chilly out. And I don’t know about you, but on a chilly night, I need some serious comfort food. I need a big bowl of something warm and fragrant. And this Pumpkin Sausage Stew is just perfect.
The stew is filled with garlic, onions, pumpkin and hot Italian sausage. The contrast between the sweet, creamy pumpkin, rich and flavorful garlic and hot Italian sausage is just amazing. It’s a wonderful combination that will drive your taste buds wild!!

As I mentioned when I made my Pumpkin Gnocchi, I purchased a cheese pumpkin from Fresh Direct that was so big, I still have some of the puree in my freezer!! But that’s okay with me, I love eating as much pumpkin as I can when they’re in season. Plus, pumpkin is very healthy. It’s packed with antioxidants including alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, they’re high in fiber, low in calories and fat and they’re an excellent source of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C and E, magnesium, potassium and iron. So if this doesn't convince you to eat a lot of pumpkin, I don’t know what will!! Let me know how you like it!!

Pumpkin Sausage Stew

3 tbsp. olive oil
 1 ½ pounds of Italian sausage links- hot or sweet, I prefer hot!
4 cups cubed pumpkin
5 cloves of garlic, minced
3 cups chicken stock
Black Pepper
Fresh thyme
2-3 fresh sage leaves
1 bag of pearl onions

Brown your sausage links in a large stew pot over low to medium heat. Brown on all sides for around 10 minutes. Remove and put on a plate. Toss pumpkin cubes with salt and pepper and lightly brown them for about 2-3 minutes, remove to another plate. Add chopped garlic, cook for 5 minutes, do not let it burn. Put your sausage back in the pot; add your stock, more black pepper, salt, thyme and sage leaves. Cover your pot. Place in your oven on 350 degrees for one hour. After an hour or so, add your browned pumpkin. Continue baking, after around 15 minutes, add your peeled onions. Cover and let cook for an additional 15 minutes (start checking after 10 minutes, everyone’s oven is slightly different.) When the vegetables are softened, remove the cover, let brown around 15 minutes, test for seasonings. I like to serve my stew over garlic mashed potatoes. Having a spoonful of the pumpkin, sausage and potatoes at the same time is just incredible. Buon Appetito!! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Ciao a tutti!! With the holiday season fast approaching, I was so excited to receive a custom engraved wine box from Vino-Gifts.com. I know it’s only October, but hey, next month is Thanksgiving and before you know it, Christmas will be here! So why not start thinking about gift ideas, right? Who wants’ an impersonal gift like a tie or a gift card from amazon.com? Show someone you really put some thought into their gift with a custom engraved wine box. Plus, around the holidays, you know you’ll be invited to someone’s house for a party, so when you bring them a bottle of wine, instead of putting it in a pretty little bag (which will then most likely be thrown away) you put your wine in this case. Unlike those bags, this will last forever and not hurt the environment.

One of the things about a lot of gifts is that they are only good for a one time use, like a gift card. With this, you will always have it to treasure. It’s funny, but when I am looking around our apartment, I can instantly remember when I received something and from whom. I like to display pretty gifts that I've received over the years and this wine box will fit in beautifully with the rest.

These are also personal, which adds such a nice touch. You can have them engraved with whatever you like. Wedding, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Anniversary, Birthday, the list is endless. You can also include a picture on the lid which just makes it even more special. Every time you look at your box, you will be reminded of the special reason you received. Maybe it was your 30th Wedding Anniversary or just someone’s way of saying I love you. No matter what the reason, it will remain special. If you’re looking for a fantastic gift for the holidays, be sure to take a look at the many different options at Vino Gifts and Facebook. Cin cin!!!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fried Ravioli

Ciao!! A few days back, my computer was acting a little funny and making it very difficult for me to get through some of my writing. Not wanting to completely abandon my facebook page (which you can take a look at here!), I decided to just post some pictures of my upcoming recipes, including my Sausage Confit, Pizza Bianco, Sausage and Pumpkin Stew and my Fried Raviolis.

The picture of the fried raviolis gained more likes than any other picture I have ever posted, a total of 27 likes (so far!) I would say I’m not sure why these received so much attention, but yeah, I kind of do. After all, people love pasta, especially ravioli. I mean, pasta stuffed with cheese, how much more perfect can it get? And then fried and topped with parmigiana?!!? Hello!! Just writing about this is really making me wish I hadn’t eaten them all in one batch!! Every since I was little, Raviolis were always my favorite pasta and for many reasons.

One of my favorite restaurants is Frost in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We would go there with my nonna Nettie and I would always order the homemade ravioli. These ravioli were just beautiful! You got around five, but they were huge squares, each ravioli was the equivalent of 2 or 3 small ones. These memories are precious to me and as silly as it sound, when I think of the raviolis at Frost, my first thoughts are of my nonna <3. Also, my mother would make Fried Ravioli once a year for Christmas Eve as a fun appetizer, she still does! So raviolis are very special to me.

I wanted to create a bit of a spin on spinach ravioli with ricotta cheese, so these little cuties are stuffed with arugula and goat cheese and after they are fried, topped with parmigiana cheese. I know you’re all going to love them!! One of the things I love about arugula is that it has a bit of a bite because it’s nice and peppery, added with the smooth and creamy goat cheese, it’s just amazing. I’m not going to lie to you, because they are completely homemade using a pasta machine and then fried, they are a good amount of work, but I PROMISE you, it’s completely worth it.

Arugula and Goat Cheese Filling
1 bag of fresh arugula- you’ll be amazed how much arugula shrinks, so use the full bag!
1 ½ cups of goat cheese
1 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
1 tbsp. olive oil

First, coarsely chop all of your arugula and put in a bowl. Add goat cheese, garlic, parsley and olive oil and thoroughly mix. Let it sit in the fridge until you need it.

Ravioli Dough
eggs, plus 2 eggs, beaten for egg wash

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
1/2 cup water

In an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, add your eggs one at a time and mix. Add the flour and water; continue mixing until it forms a ball. Sprinkle some flour on a clean surface, and knead the dough until smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for about 30 minutes.

Cut the ball of dough in half, cover and reserve the dough you are not immediately using. Dust the counter and dough with some flour. Form the dough into a rectangle and roll it through a pasta machine, 2 or 3 times. Guide the sheet of dough with the palm of your hand. Reduce the setting and put the dough through again. Continue until the machine is at its narrowest setting. The dough should be paper-thin.
Dust the counter and dough with flour and lay out the long sheet of pasta. Brush the top surface of dough with egg wash. Drop 1 tablespoon of cooled filling about 2 inches apart on half the sheet of pasta. Fold the unfilled half over the filling. With your fingers, gently press out air pockets around each mound of filling and form a seal. Use a crimper to cut each pillow into squares. Check to make sure the crimped edges are sealed before cooking; you don’t want them falling apart!
Cook the ravioli in boiling water. When they are nice and al dente, usually after around 10-12 minutes take them out and plate them.
Next, prepare a deep pan over high heat with 1 cup of olive oil. Wait until the oil is hot and then add the raviolis carefully. Let them fry for around 5 minutes. When they are all done frying, place them on a plate that is covered with a paper towel so the excess oil can drip off. Let them sit for around 5 minutes and sprinkle with parmigiana cheese, you can be as generous as you like, so I won’t tell you exactly how much cheese to use! Serve while nice and warm. Please let me know what you think. Buon Appetito!!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Pizza Bianco

Ciao!! Have you ever met someone who doesn’t like pizza? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Pizza is just the perfect food. You have all your basic food groups covered. Fresh, yummy bread. Gooey and creamy cheese and juicy tomatoes. Well, except that this pizza doesn’t have tomatoes. This is Pizza Bianco or white pizza. And yes, I am aware that there are other food groups, like nutella, sausage and pasta. My favorite food groups.

Pizza was originally created in Naples, Italy (no wonder I love it so
much, I’m Napolitano!) and has clearly left its mark. Pizza can be found on pretty much every street corner. When I was in Ischia (an island off the coast of Naples) my mother and I had pizza pretty much every night for dinner. We had classic Neapolitan pizza marinara which is made with tomato, garlic, oregano and extra virgin olive oil, Pizza Margherita made with tomato, mozzarella, bail and olive oil and so many different kinds, if I told you all of them, we would be here all day!

My Pizza Bianco is made with a nice, chewy whole wheat crust and is topped with ricotta, garlic, olive oil, crushed red pepper and Italian parsley. If you’re looking to switch things up, it’s a nice change from a classic red gravy pizza. By gravy, I mean sauce. I’m Italian, we call it gravy. The pizza dough is prepared first, then your roasted garlic oil and finally your ricotta mix. The garlic oil is drizzled on when the pie is finished and fresh out of the oven.

I know it seems so easy to pick up a phone and just get a pizza delivered, but it is SO much more fun to make homemade pizza and it’s so satisfying!! Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

1 packet of yeast
¼ cup warm water
1 tablespoon honey
3 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
1 cup of cool water
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon of salt

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in ¼ cup warm water. Add the honey and let it sit for five minutes until foamy.
Put the flour in a food processor (make sure it has a stainless-steel blade.) Mix the 1 cup of cool water with the olive oil and salt. While the food processor is on, add the olive oil mix and the yeast. Mix until it is formed a ball.
Put the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let it rise. Move the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead dough for a minute or so. Roll or stretch your dough onto an oiled pizza pan (or if you’re like me, I like square pizza and use a cookie sheet!)

Roasted Garlic Oil

3 cloves of garlic (chopped)
½ cup olive oil

Prepare a small pan over medium heat with ½ cup of olive oil and add your chopped garlic. Let it cook until the garlic is roasted and slightly browned, but not burnt!! Turn off the heat and let it sit while you make the ricotta mix.

Ricotta Mix

16 ounces of ricotta
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Parsley (chopped and quanto basta!)

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. In a medium size bowl, thoroughly mix your ricotta with salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and parsley.

Now that you have everything set, spread the ricotta mix all over the pizza and put in the oven for at least 20 minutes or bake until the crust is crisp and browned. Everyone’s oven is different, so just make sure you don’t burn the pizza! Transfer to a cutting board and drizzle with the roasted garlic oil and let it sit for five minutes before cutting and serving. Buon Appetito!! 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Gnocchi with a sage butter walnut sauce

Ciao a tutti!! I have been on a real pumpkin kick lately, for many many reasons. One, I purchased the most beautiful Cheese Pumpkin from FreshDirect, it was so big! I roasted it right away and pureed it all in my VitaMix. This pumpkin was so delicious, as I was scooping it out to put it away, I tried a little. Wow!! It had nothing in it; it was just all natural pureed pumpkin, but boy was it good; fresh and creamy, just perfect!! The second reason; even though you can buy pumpkin year round in a can, there is nothing like fresh pumpkin, it just tastes so good. I love it in the fall and winter. 

Eating a bowl of pumpkin soup on a chilly night or having a big stack of pumpkin pancakes on Thanksgiving morning, anyway you have it; there is just something about pumpkin that makes me happy. It’s probably because I save it for the Holiday time, that fantastic period right before Halloween all the way to the New Year.

So, more about the pumpkin!! I had SO much pumpkin puree; I knew I was going to be eating pumpkin for days, which was fine with me. I was already using it to make a Pumpkin Sausage Stew (will post in a few days!!), but now I had to figure out what else to do with it. Whatever would I make without getting tired of all this pumpkin?!! Well, how about some Pumpkin Gnocchi in a sage butter walnut sauce?

I LOVE making homemade gnocchi; it’s so ridiculously easy and fun!! The main thing with gnocchi that you have to careful about is that a)there is enough to hold them together so if you are boiling them, as oppose to pan frying, they don’t fall apart b)not use so much flour that they taste like rocks. It can be difficult to achieve the perfect gnocchi, but I know you can do it!! These are little, fluffy, light pillows, just the way gnocchi should be! I prepared these with a wonderful sage butter walnut sauce; it complements the pumpkin perfectly.

Pumpkin Gnocchi

1 cup pumpkin puree (you can obviously use fresh pumpkin puree or you can get it in the can, but make sure it is 100% pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling!)
¾ tsp. salt
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 ½ cups of almond flour

Simply start by mixing your pumpkin puree, salt, nutmeg and pumpkin pie spice in a bowl. Sift in your flour and combine, do not over mix!!

Next, flour your hands and shape the gnocchi in your hands. I recommend the equivalent of a teaspoon size shape, do not handle excessively!! Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper and put the gnocchi on the parchment paper, put in the freezer to set for an hour.

Start boiling water in a pot, salt the water. Take the gnocchi out of the freezer and check that it is firm enough to start cooking. Once the water is boiling, carefully drop the gnocchi in the water, repeat with all of them. While the gnocchi is cooking, prepare another pan for your sauce…

Sage Butter Walnut Sauce

4 tbsp. butter
4 tbsp. walnuts

In a pan over medium heat, add butter, sage, thyme, salt, pepper and walnuts. All of the spices and herbs are to taste, so add what you like. Combine everything, do not let the walnuts burn!! When the gnocchi has finished boiling, add them to this pan with the sauce. Carefully toss so the gnocchi is coated with the butter sauce. Serve right away so they are nice, warm and fresh!! Buon Appetito!! 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Eggplant Patties

Ciao a tutti!! I have mentioned on many occasions, my love for vegetables. I have also let you in on my dirty little secret….I was a vegetarian. It was a few years ago, but still. Even though I do eat animal protein now, I am still a veggie girl and I am always looking for new and fun things to do with my vegetables to spice them up and give them some new life. So for today, I will be serving Eggplant Patties.

Italians embrace a lot of vegetables in their cooking, whether we are using broccoli, cauliflower, broccoli rabe, zucchini or eggplant, there is so much to be done! You can simply saute your veggies in some garlic and oil, roast them with some rosemary, you can be as creative as you want to be.

My eggplant patties are a wonderful new take on eggplant. They are made with some ricotta cheese which makes them soft and creamy on the inside and crunchy and crispy on the outside. They are full of yummy flavors of parmigiana, parsley and garlic. These are also a wonderful vegetarian burger alternative, make a bigger one for yourself and top with some tomatoes, a little pesto and serve on a whole grain bun. I fry mine because I look for any excuse to fry stuff (come on, can you blame me?!?!) but you can also bake them in the oven if you want. 

These are also in keeping with a lot of the gluten free recipes I have been featuring, so you can enjoy these if you have a gluten allergy or if you are on a low carb or paleo diet. These are just delicious, everyone will love them!! Vegetarians and carnivores alike!!

Eggplant Patties

2 large eggplants
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
Olive oil
2 eggs       
3/4 cup grated Parmesan 
½ cup ricotta cheese
1 1/4 cups almond flour
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350°F. Cut eggplants crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place on paper towels. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt; let stand 30 minutes. Brush 2 baking sheets with oil. Pat eggplant dry; put on prepared sheets. Brush lightly with oil. Bake until eggplant is tender and dry, about 1 hour. Cool slightly; chop coarsely. Whisk 1 egg, Parmesan, ricotta, almond flour, parsley, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in bowl. Stir in chopped eggplant (mixture will be soft). Press and shape eggplant mixture into little round patties. Pour oil into large skillet heat over medium-high heat. Add patties to skillet; sauté until browned, turning often, about 4 minutes. Move to paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt and serve. Buon Appetito!!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Chef Chat: Diego Ortoli of Portofino Cucina Italiana

Chef Chat: Diego Ortoli of Portofino Cucina Italiana

Ciao a tutti!! I am so excited to present my first interview with an Italian chef that will be part of a new feature called Chef Chat. This month, I am delighted to introduce you to Diego Ortoli of Portofino Cucina Italiana in downtown Los Angeles. Portofino Cucina Italiana brings the true feeling of Italian culture to Los Angeles, blending tradition, simplicity and authentic food and atmosphere.Be sure to take a look at the restaurants site so you can savor all of the delicious menu items and read more about Diego and his restaurant- http://portofinodtla.com/

Chef Diego Ortoli and his wife Atsuko
You grew up in Naples, famous for its tomatoes and lemons. Has that inspired your menu?

Diego's Spaghetti con Polpette at Portofino
Yes, of course. I grew up in the sun, where food is prepared simple with fresh ingredients every day. I wanted to have on my menu at least one of my favorite foods I enjoyed eating when little. So I decided to offer a very simple but classic dish as Spaghetti Pomodoro e Basilico. It's beautifully light but packed with flavours. We make it to order with just juicy, organic fresh tomatoes, organic garlic, organic basil and extra virgin olive oil. You can't have anything more simple, yet a timeless recipe that never fails to satisfy people.
What is your signature dish and would you please share the recipe with us?
I'll share how we prepare the spaghetti Pomodoro.
You'll have to make an incision on some ripe fresh tomatoes and then blanch them for about 10 seconds. Then put them in a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking. This way you'll be able to easily take the skin off. Take them from the water, drain, chop them and put them aside for later.
Once you want to make the sauce, you'll gently heat some olive oil in a skillet, then add about a tablespoon of chopped garlic and cook until golden brown, then add the tomatoes you blanched and a couple of tablespoons of shredded basil. Adjust with salt and pepper and cook briefly until the tomato sauce is ready (about 5 minutes). If you like, you can add parmesan cheese to the pasta once on the plate.

Fettuccine alla Piemontese at Portofino
When did you first fall in love with cooking?
I think it happened gradually. I remember my mom was a teacher and sometimes she had to work the evening shift (yes, we have that too in Italy, at some times of the year). So she'd call and tell me how to cook something for me and my younger brother. I think I learned how to cook over the phone. Kinda cool. Somehow all that cooking lessons stayed with me and eventually I used that knowledge to my advantage.
I saw that you offer a gluten free menu at Portofino which is fantastic for those with gluten allergies. A lot of Italian food centers around pasta, risotto, bread and pizza, what made you add this feature to your menu?
Yes, we have an extensive gluten free menu that offers plenty of choices and we're also adding more items like gnocchi and ravioli especially made gluten free. Oh and we have a fabulous gluten free flourless chocolate cake. Really delicious!
The idea was brought to me by many of my customers who told me they discovered they have some degree of gluten intolerance. Therefore to satisfy those requests, I started looking into it. I then discovered that gluten free pasta is actually tasty. And bread too. Some breads more than others, but once toasted is pretty tasty. So I started putting together the menu and now we have so many people on a gluten free lifestyle coming here and enjoying Italian food in a restaurant again.
Inside Portofino Cucina Italiana

What is the most popular dish at Portofino? 
Gnocchi, hands down. We make them fresh every morning. They are so magic. Fluffy and light, they just melt in your mouth. We offer the selection of three classic sauces, Bolognese, Pesto, and Gorgonzola (a little rich, but my favourite!)
A lot of people love Italian food, as a matter of fact, you have to look hard to find people who don’t like it, what do you think it is about Italian food that makes people enjoy it so much and brings everyone together?
Tiramisu at Portofino
Well Italian food is comforting, that's what it is. And of course is also very tasty. My only regret is that some people associate it with something heavy. I strongly disagree. Eating Italian food is not going to make you feel heavy more than American food or French food. Can you imagine eating a bacon cheeseburger with avocado and fries? That's heavy.
Pasta is a very balanced food in itself. It has proteins, carbs and a little of fat. At the most what CAN be heavy is the sauce YOU choose to eat with it.
You want to stay slim as most Italians in Italy? Just avoid creamy white sauces and don't fill up yourself with the free bread (my mom would have never allowed me to eat it before my meals).
I feel like it's important to bring this to people’s attention. We already live in a society that frowns upon carbs, and sending a positive message about Italian food is necessary now more than ever before. Some people are brainwashed to think carbs are bad, always. Like my mom was always telling me, everything is good in moderation. I want to take this opportunity to remind that to people, after all a little obvious but reminding it can't hurt.
Food can transport me to another time and make me remember something wonderful. I am always talking about my Nonna’s fried cauliflower and what beautiful memories I have of her making it for me. What are some of your favorite food memories?
Making cakes with my mom. Once a year at my b-day she'd make a strawberry cake I absolutely loved. That was a happy time. She really tried to make us feel we were not missing on anything. She'd always say, “I make it for you so it's fresh and we know is genuine. If I just buy it it's easy, but I make it for you and it tastes better.” I totally agree with it. I have to say she knows how to make it very good. I don't think I can match the deliciousness of her strawberry cake, actually!
Are any of the recipes from Portofino family recipes? And if so, who are they from? 
Well they are all, more or less, family recipes. We are proud to serve traditional Italian food at Portofino. We take the recipes we believe represent the traditional way of cooking a specific dish and avoid changing it. Sometimes, especially younger people, seems to me are looking for dishes with extra bold flavors – lots of ingredients, meats, bacon and so on. Italian food is in most cases just the opposite. Less is more here.  And believe me, less IS more.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this interview with Diego as much as I have!! Please take a look at his site and make your reservations right away!! http://portofinodtla.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/PortofinoDTLA?fref=ts

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fall Medley Pasta

Ciao lovely readers! For me, pasta has always been my go to comfort food (besides chocolate, but then again, who isn't comforted by chocolate?!?!) So when I am craving something cozy and yummy, I turn to pasta.

The other night in New York, it was a dark, gloomy and rainy evening. It was the perfect night for comfort food. I had fresh mushrooms, butternut squash and sage. Do you see where I’m going with this? Fall Medley Pasta!! There is just something about the combination of earthy mushrooms, sweet butternut squash and fragrant sage that makes me crazy!! Plus, you prepare this with some delicious rotini and a splash of cream….oh my. This pasta dish will satisfy everyone at your table. It’s a wonderful mix of flavors and textures. It’s just incredible; I promise that you will love it.

Fall Medley Pasta

6 tbsp. Olive oil
1 butternut squash- peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
1 pack of fresh mushrooms
Sage (some people can find sage very intense, so you pick exactly how much you want to use)
1 box of rotini
Cream (for just a splash!)

First, prepare a pan over medium heat with 2 tbsp. olive oil, a dash of salt and pepper (quanto basta) and add your already cut butternut squash cubes. Cook until tender for around 30 minutes, you don’t want them getting to soft and turning into mush.

While that is cooking, clean and slice your mushrooms. Prepare another pan over medium heat with 2 tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper and add the mushrooms. Cook for around 25 minutes.

In the mean time, start boiling your pasta water. While you are waiting for the water to boil, prepare another pan with 2 tbsp. olive oil. You are going to be frying your sage leaves, so wait until the olive is hot enough to fry.  Pick a large enough pan, since you will be using this to mix your pasta. Add your sage leaves to the pan. They will fry very quickly so stand by. Take the sage leaves out and put them on a plate with a napkin to absorb any excess oil.

Once the water is boiling, add your pasta. Once it is cooked, drain and add the pasta to the pan that you fried the sage in. Keep the pan on low heat. Add the butternut squash and mushrooms and mix. Make sure the olive oil coats all of the vegetables. Add a splash of cream, literally a splash! Mix again. Add the fried sage leaves to the pasta.  Let me know what you think. Buon Appetito!!