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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Felice Anno Nuovo!!

Felice Anno Nuovo!! Or should I say, Happy New Year!! I want to thank all of you for making my first year as a blogger, an amazing first year!! I am so grateful to have so many wonderful followers; I truly appreciate all of the love and support. This year is going to be bigger and I better, I promise. You can look forward to interviews with fabulous Italian chefs and personalities, more delicious recipes, giveaways and some very exciting news to come. So, join me for another year and let's make this the best year yet. Health and Happiness to you all! 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bella Roma- Part Uno; Castel Sant’Angelo and Seafood Pasta

Rome. When I first came here to study opera in the summer of 2011, I didn't quite know what to expect. My mother had been before and loved it and of course I have a lot of pride in my Italian background, but I had never been out of the country and was a little nervous. But, like most people that visit Italy, I instantly fell in love. It may sound like a cliche  but it’s true. I feel in love with the culture, history, the people, the food and just everything about being in Italy. I mean, what’s not to love?  

The second I landed back home, I was literally counting the minutes until I got to return. And luckily, just a year, 5 months, 11 days and 7 hours later, I got back to Italy. Not only was I going to get to experience Roma, but Firenze as well. On my first trip, we spent 6 nights in Rome and two weeks in Ischia and I loved every second of it. This time, we would be spending 2 and half weeks in Rome and a week in Florence.

Today, we decided to cross the Tiber River and go to one of my favorite places in Rome, Castel Sant’Angelo. One of the reasons I love Castel Sant’Angelo so much is that it figures prominently in Puccini’s “Tosca.” It is the prison and execution location of Mario Cavaradossi, as well as where Floria Tosca throws herself from the rooftop after learning of Cavaradossi’s death, as she is trying to escape from Scarpia’s henchmen. As she stands on the edge about to kill herself, she sings “O Scarpia, avanti a dio!” and the theme of the hauntingly beautiful aria “E lucevan le stelle” is played. Every time I visit, I feel the need to sing the last line all the way at the top (only if no one is around of course.)

Castel Sant’Angelo is the tomb of Hadrian and was later used by popes as a fortress and castle. It’s very fun walking around and finding little nooks and crannies to squeeze into. After exploring for a few hours, we decided it was time for lunch and ate at a little restaurant right off the Tiber. As soon as we glanced at the menu, we knew we had to try the gnocchi with fresh seafood. 

Homemade gnocchi with shrimp, clams, tomato and arugula in a garlic wine sauce. We also shared a Caprese salad. The pasta was incredible. The gnocchi were light and fluffy, just the way homemade gnocchi should be. The seafood was delicious and fresh, the sauce a wonderful fragrant combination of the wine and garlic, mixed with the seafood flavor and a little juice from the tomatoes. It was heavenly. While I don’t know the exact recipe of their version, I did try recreating my own once I got home, so I am happy to share my recipe with you. I made homemade gnocchi, but you can obviously use pre-made. Enjoy!!

Gnocchi with Seafood

1 pound of clams
1 pound of shrimp
1 package of gnocchi
¼ cup of olive oil
1 tbsp. crushed red pepper
4 cloves of garlic, minced very fine
½ cup of white wine
6 baby tomatoes, chopped in half
Handful of fresh arugula

Start off by cooking the clams with ½ a cup of water until cooked. Keep the liquid. Remove the meat from inside the clams and throw out the shells.

Start boiling salted water for your pasta. Once it has begun to boil, add the gnocchi. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat up the olive oil. Add crushed red pepper and garlic. Once the garlic has begun to brown, remove from heat and add the white wine and around 6 ounces of pasta water to the sauté pan. Put it back on the stove to heat.

When the pasta is almost done, remove from the water and add to the sauté pan. Save the water!! Add more liquid to the sauté pan depending on how creamy you want the sauce. Add the clams and shrimp and finish cooking with all the seafood until nice and al dente. Add the chopped tomatoes and arugula. Serve immediately. Enjoy with a glass of Prosecco. Buon Appetito!! 

Friday, December 21, 2012


In front of Fontana di Trevi 

Buongiorno miei amici! I had a wonderful time in Italy, revisiting my favorite sites in bella Rome and exploring new and wonderful places in Firenze. Being in Italy is truly a magical experience. Even though I am always happy to get back home, I am counting the minutes until I get to return. I have a lot of wonderful posts comng up that I would love to share with all of you. First, I have some exciting news. I came home to discover that I had placed in another recipe contest! My recipe for Ragu Bolognese is a contender in The Tyler Florence Ultimate Food and Wine Experience Contest. There will be five grand prize winners, each of whom will win a trip to Northern California to meet Tyler Florence. As always, your votes would be greatly appreciated. Please click this link to see how you can vote:  

Here are some exciting things that you can look forward to at La Cucina Prima Donna:

* Journals of my recent adventures in Roma and Firenze, from the Colosseum and The Uffizi to shopping at the local supermarkets

* Grocery Lists- That’s right, I will be posting a list of the many delicious food items I picked up while in Italy

* Picture Stories- Beautiful photos of the food and sites of Italy

* An interview with Chef Melissa Muller Daka, of the wonderful Sicilian restaurant Eolo

* An Italian New Years Eve, Aperitivo Style- This year’s New Years menu will be inspired by classic Italian apetitivo: crostini, grilled vegetables, olives, cheese and so much more. Stay tuned for the full menu, recipes and photos

* An interview with Bob Guccione Jr, founder of Spin Magazine

* A Nutella tasting party- You heard right, I will be hosting a nutella tasting party for World Nutella Day on February 5th

* An interview with Gennaro Pecchia of Men Who Dine

* And so much more!!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Guest Post- The Experimental Gourmand- Cooking Demonstration

Ciao!! I am very happy to share a post from Kathy Blake of The Experimental Gourmand. She is so graciously sharing a fantastic article about a wonderful cooking demonstration that she attended given by Mamma Agata's cooking school at the International Culinary CenterKathy Blake is the creator and writer of The Experimental Gourmand, a website that focuses on getting out and interacting with one’s local foodscape by exploring markets and pop-ups, sampling goodies made by food artisans, noshing at culinary events, and gathering up ingredients from farmers markets with which to cook at home.  Her recipes are inspired by her mother's home cooking as well as her time living in Italy, England, and France.  She is also currently a student in the Classic Culinary Arts program at the International Culinary Center (formerly known as the French Culinary Institute).  
Be sure to drop by her blog, give her a like on facebook and follow her on pinterest and twitter. Ciao for now!!

Farmers Spaghetti

The Amalfi Coast

 It’s a bit unfair, I know, to start off a post with a photo depicting a place as lovely and serene as the Amalfi Coast in Italy just as another winter storm is set to hit our area.  It really is one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever been to in my travels.  This isn’t just because of the gorgeous, colorful scenery.  The food of this area is also incredibly delicious.  While the dishes might seem to be simple to make, the key is the amazing quality of the ingredients and the artistry with which they are put together.  This was all brought back to me during the weekend before Thanksgiving, when I was able to assist Chiara and Gennaro Lima of Mamma Agata's Cooking School "The Hidden Treasure" during their culinary demonstrations at the International Culinary Center To view the rest of the article, click here!! 

The Bay of Naples

Eggplant Parmesan

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Guest Post- Ally's Kitchen- Chicken Puttanesca Boho Style

Ciao a tutti! I am very excited to introduce you to another fabulous blogger I have had the pleasure of connecting with, Alice D'Antoni Phillips of Ally's Kitchen.  Not only is Alice a fantastic blogger, but she has such a unique background! She is a school psychologist, actress, businesswoman, wife, mother, grandmother and creator of "Bohemian Bold" cooking and living and was a top 100 contestant on Master Chef Season 2!!! Impressed yet?!?! Well, today she is sharing her mouthwatering recipe for Chicken Puttanesca Boho Style!! So click here and be directed to her amazing site and experience all that Ally's Kitchen has to offer! And be sure to give her a like on facebook and follow her on pinterest and twitter. Buon Appetito!!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Guest Post- The Brooklyn Ragazza- Broccoli Rapini & Orecchiette with Gremolata

Ciao!! My guest post today is from the lovely Cathi Iannone of The Brooklyn Ragazza, a fantastic blog that is right up my alley!! I am so excited that she is sharing her AMAZING recipe for Broccoli Rapini and Orecchiette with Gremolata!! Please be sure to drop by her wonderful blog, like her on facebook and follow her on pinterest and twitter @CathiNYC. Ciao for now!! 

If you're from my neck of the woods, broccoli rapini & orecchiette...well, that's what's up! Okay, okay, I have a confession to make. We call it broccoli rabe & HATS. I know; it's a misnomer, or, to some, a misdemeanor. Technically, in Italian, "orecchiette" means little ears, not hats. Nope, not even close.  But, because of their shape, we, affectionately, call them hats.  Plus, hats has one syllable, and orecchiette has FIVE. You get where I'm going with this?  I hope I'm building a strong case here...

Seriously, though, it wasn't until I studied Italian language in college, that I actually converted, myself, but for the record, I do, secretly, use the misnomer in certain company.  Although, I would not recommend doing this in the earshot of a native Italian, unless you want to be dealt a cross look. I'm kidding... a little bit.  Hey, it's a beautiful, romantic, melodic language, and they take it seriously. So, I respect that.

The flip-side to that coin, would be correcting an Italian American, Utican that says "hats," or truncates the vowel off the end of Italian words.  You'll be dealt the same cross look, in tandem with an eye-roll, which translates to, an unenthusiastic, "who cares."  So, I just go with the flow, and embrace the colloquialism when I need to. Hey, when in Rome...and in this case, Utica/Rome. Literally.

So, let's talk about orecchiette for a moment. It's a very, "toothsome" pasta form Puglia, Italy, and is usually made by hand, using a small, paddle-shaped tool, called la rasola. Orecchiette is, usually, (and best) purchased  fresh, but I found a descent quality, dry orecchiette at Whole Foods Market for just a couple bucks. It can be found at other specialty stores, and, surely, at your local salumeria, that should carry an abundance of imported,  high-quality Italian goods.

Angelina, an elderly Pugliese woman, that used to live downstairs from me at my old place in Brooklyn, always made her own fresh orecchiette using the rasola, and informed me that this particular broccoli rapini dish is, actually, a Roman dish, and it happens to be very popular  in the Southern regions of Italy. It's no wonder it is so popular in my hometown; most Italian families that emigrated to the Upstate NY area are from Italy's Southern regions. Even with this commonality, the dialects still vary from family to family, depending on the region.

If I dared to utter the misnomer, "hats," to Angelina, she would, no doubt, look at me sideways with a grimace, and mumble, "what you talk?" Of course, she would mean this in the most lighthearted, humorous sense, as she was always jib-jabbing in the cutest way. But still, I kept this little, secret vernacular to myself. And, as Shakespeare once wrote, "a rose by any other name, is still a rose..." -so with that wisdom, let's put semantics aside, raise our glasses up, and mangiamo tutti! ~ let's eat everyone!



2 bunches of broccoli rapini (rabe)
2 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of white wine (plus, more for drinking)
5 cloves of garlic (minced finely, or use garlic press)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of butter
1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
½ cup of grated Pecorino Romano cheese
½ cup of gremolata (see recipe below)
Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
1 pound of orecchiette pasta (or, cavatelli)


1 – 1 ½ cups of plain breadcrumbs (not Italian)
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of anchovy paste (optional)
1 garlic clove (pushed though garlic press)
1 red hot cherry pepper (minced finely)*
¼ cup of fresh Italian parsley (chopped finely)
1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest
Sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste

*may use red pepper flakes instead


1.) Trim away about 3-4 inches of the broccoli rapini stems and rinse, thoroughly (the stems can be a bit fibrous).

2.) In a large sauté pan, on very low heat, combine olive oil, butter, minced garlic and hot pepper flakes. Sauté  for a few minutes so the garlic and hot pepper infuse the oil.

3.) Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the chicken broth and wine, then add the rinsed broccoli rapini. Cover and allow liquid to boil.

4.) Once liquid is boiling, turn down to a low simmer and allow broccoli rapini to steam down for about 15-20 minutes (turning every few minutes.) At this point, add salt and pepper, to taste.

5.) Meanwhile, to prepare gremolata, in a heavy-bottom sauce pan, on very low heat, add the olive oil, garlic, anchovy paste, and minced hot cherry pepper. Stir for about 2 minutes to infuse flavors in the oil.

6.)  Add about 1 cup of the bread crumbs, lemon zest, and parsley. Stir thoroughly to incorporate all the oil mixture with the breadcrumbs. If the mixture is still too “oily,” just add a bit more breadcrumbs. After about 5 minutes (while stirring constantly) the mixture will be golden brown and crispy.  Add salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

7.) After about 20 minutes of the broccoli rapini simmering, add about ½ cup of the gremolata mixture and toss to incorporate. This will thicken the broth mixture, slightly.  Also, add the grated Pecorino Romano cheese and toss again. The broth should now have a little body to it.

8.) Prepare orecchiette in liberally salted water. Once pasta is cooked to el dente, drain and add pasta to the broccoli rapini, starting with one quarter of the pasta at a time. You may add as little, or as much, depending on your liking.  ( I did not add the entire pound, but that’s me..)   Allow pasta to cook a little longer in the mixture to pick up the flavors and blossom (about 5 minutes).

9.) Serve with more gremolata as topping, additional grated cheese and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Buon Appetito!

May substitute cavatelli, or other short, toothsome pasta for the orecchiette, if you do not have orecchiette. Just do NOT use shells, or other flimsy pasta, as it will break in the dish. It NEEDS to be a sturdy pasta that can soak up the broth and infuse flavor into the pasta. You may use more broth, if you like the dish "soupier."  Also, optional ADD-INS: try adding prosciutto, or Italian sausage (already browned), or, toss a handful of  pine nuts in at the end.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Guest Post from Strands of My Life- Stuffed Calamari

Ciao!! Once again, I will be sharing a wonderful guest post with you, courtesy of Suzanne Perazzini of Strands of My Life. She is sharing her delicious Stuffed Calamari which makes me very excited! Be sure to drop by her blog and facebook  page and return the love! Enjoy!!

Adriano cooked this dish. It is a classic Italian dish with the addition of walnuts for a  bit of crunch. He also made a tomato/carrot puree to accompany it. He’s useful to have around.

I have probably mentioned before that my parents owned a seafood processing factory after we left the farm when I was ten. During my teens I worked there in the school holidays and loved it. it made me feel like an adult. I worked in the production lines either processing wet fish or crayfish. I met a lot of colourful characters there and no more so than Sam. It’s a while ago now and I can’t remember if he was Tongan or Maori but I do remember his quirkiness. One day he arrived at work wearing glasses and assured us that he now needed them. Later in the day I watched him rub his eye through where the lens should have been. Yes, no lenses. He explained that he was sure he could see better with them on.

Sam was always short of money but one day he told us he had bought a car. We were rather surprised and asked why he hadn’t driven it to work. He said he had. We looked out the window but only our cars sat out there. “Where is it?” we asked. He smiled and walked away. A week or so later, his flatmate, who also worked in the factory, explained the situation. Sam had brought a wreck for a few dollars and had it delivered to their front garden where it sat in all its awful glory. Each morning he got ready for work and went out and sat in the car, grabbed the steering wheel and put his foot on the accelerator and imagined he was driving to work. Then he got out and walked.

For a while I worked on our shortest production line with Sam. He packed sprats into plastic bags for cat food and I sealed them with a heat machine. One evening, Sam had had a little too much liquid refreshment and got himself into a touch of strife with the officers of the law. He told me the next day that they had asked what his job was and he had had to think long and hard and then answered, “I’m a cat sprat packer.” Apparently the officer took it in his stride. But it did give me pause for thought – I was a cat sprat packer too.

That was many years ago. I wonder what happened to him or if he ever did acquire a working vehicle. Wherever he is, he probably needs glasses for real now.

Recipe: Stuffed Calamari

·         4 big calamari
·         40 g. (or 2 slices) of bread, crumbled finely
·         bunch of parsley, chopped finely
·         1 garlic, chopped finely
·         ¼ cup walnuts
·         4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
·         1 egg
·         Salt & pepper
1.      Clean calamari. Separate tentacles from bodies. Chop tentacles finely.
2.      Chop up the parsley finely.
3.      Saute’ garlic in a pan with1 tablespoon of the oil for a few seconds and add the bread and a lot of parsley.
4.      Saute’ for about 2 minutes. Add tentacles. Cook until the liquid almost evaporates.
5.      Chop up the walnuts finely but not too small. Add to the filling mixture.
6.      Fill up calamari with the filling. Close with food sticks or toothpicks.
7.      Pour the remaining oil in the pan. Put the stuffed calamari in the pan when the oil is hot. Brown all sides then turn down the temperature and cook through, turning every now and then to cook them evenly.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 4

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Guest Post from Oh Cake- Hat Trick Lasagna

Ciao my lovely readers!! Today my guest post will be from Jessica Hose of Oh Cake. She is sharing her recipe for Hat Trick Lasagna which includes Grilled Eggplant, Sausage and Peppers and Bolognese!! Pretty much all of my favorite foods. Be sure to take a look at her blog, “like” her facebook page and follow her on pinterest and twitter @jesshose! Click here to go directly to the recipe for Hat Trick Lasagna!! Enjoy!! 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Guest Post from Noshing with the Nolands-Ziti with Sausage, Onion and Fennel

Ciao! Todays guest post will be from Tara Noland of Noshing with the Nolands. She is sharing a recipe for Ziti with Sausage, Onion and Fennel..mmmmmmm. Be sure to drop by her site and enter her giveaway to win a copy Lidia's Favorite Recipes, a cookbook by the one and only, Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and drop by the Noshing with the Nolands facebook page and say hello!


I will shortly be doing a HUGE Holiday Giveaway. Loads of prizes and exciting stuff for you all. I am thrilled to be working with some amazing bloggers from all over North America. One of the prizes is this amazing cookbook by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. I have seen Lidia on shows like The Chew where she makes some delicious Italian Dishes. It was hard to choose just one to show you today. Page after page of mouth watering dishes from appetizers, soups, pasta, entrees and much more. You will want to cook your way through the pages. One lucky winner will get this beautiful cookbook so stay tuned for all the details of our giveaway to come November 26-December 6.

Ziti with Sausage, Onion and Fennel, amazing!!

Ziti with Sausage, Onion and Fennel from Lidia’s Favorite Recipes and our Holiday Gift Extravaganze Giveaway!
Recipe type: Entree
Author: Tara Noland
Prep time: 20 mins
Cook time: 25 mins
Total time: 45 mins
Serves: 6

A gorgeous Italian Feast!!

o    Salt for the pasta water
o    1 lb. ziti
o    1 lb. sweet Italian sausage (without fennel seeds)
o    1 large fennel bulb, about 1 pound
o    1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used 1/4 cup)
o    2 medium onions, cut into half moon slices
o    1/2 tsp. salt
o    1/2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes
o    1/2 cup tomato paste
o    1/3 cup finely chopped fennel fronds
o    1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
1.      Heat a large pot of salted water to boiling and add the ziti. Cook until not quite al dente. Drain reserving 3 cups pasta water.
2.      Meanwhile, remove sausage from it’s casing and break up with your fingers. Trim the fennel bulb and remove the outer tough parts. Save the fronds. Slice the bulb in half lengthwise and remove the core. Slice each half into 1/4″ by 2″ slices and set aside.
3.      Heat the olive oil in a very large skillet or pot and add the sausage breaking up further as it cooks for about 1 1/2 minutes. Do not cook the sausage through. Push the sausage aside and add the onion slices into the cleared part of the pan. Stirring until the sizzle and wilt about 2 min., stir into the meat.
4.      Clear a new space and add the fennel and let it heat up for about 1 mn.
5.      Clear another spot and toast the red pepper flakes for 30 seconds. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. salt and stir to combine. Now clear a big spot in the center of the pan and add the tomato paste. Cook stirring in that spot for 1-2 min. until it sizzles and caramelizes. Then stir into the rest or the ingredients.
6.      Stir in the reserved pasta water, combining well and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook until the flavors have developed, and the sauce is thickened and the fennel is cooked about 6 min. Season to taste and add more water if it is too thick.
7.      Add the cooked ziti and stir to combine and continue to cook until the pasta is al dente.
8.      Sprinkle with the fronds and parmesan and serve right out of the pot or onto a warmed platter.

Adapted from Lidia's Favorite Recipes