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

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day BBQ- Italian Sausage and Peppers Burgers with Zucchini and Eggplant Chips

Memorial Day has arrived!! Which officially means that beach season is here, I can finally enjoy a  stroll on the beach in my best bathing suit and a nice, cold ice cream (ahem, gelato) cone in hand. Memorial Day weekend is also the PERFECT excuse to invite some friends over, blast some music and throw a party, but not just any party, a BBQ of course! Now, some of us don’t have BBQ’s. Maybe we don’t know how to actually work a BBQ in the backyard or if you’re a city girl like me, you can’t have one in an apartment obviously. But that doesn’t mean you can’t throw a wonderful mock bbq!! And because I always have to put my own twist on everything, I just have to throw an Italian BBQ!

Now, when I think of Memorial Day and eating in someone’s backyard or even on my own terrace (I’m in NYC, it’s as close to a backyard as I’m gonna get!!) I love the idea of getting my hands messy and nothing says messy to me like a burger, but not just any burger. My Italian Sausage and Peppers Burger!! A delicious burger made with sausage and beef, topped with caramelized peppers and onions and fresh fontina!! And of course, you need something on the side, right? Well what goes better with a burger than chips!!! But again, I have to put my own fun twist on everything, so I’m making eggplant and zucchini chips!!!! And to enjoy with these delicious treats, some garlic aioli!! 

This is the perfect meal to enjoy over Memorial Day weekend! Buon Appetito!!

Italian Sausage and Peppers Burgers

The Burger Part

¾ pound ground lean beef
¾ pound sausage (you can use already ground sauce or around 2-3 links depending on the size)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. Italian seasoning

If you are using sausage links, start by taking the case off of each link. Add to a bowl with the ground beef. Add salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and Italian seasoning. I use my kitchen aid electric hand mixer with dough hooks to combine the meat, if you don’t have something like that; you can combine it gently with your hands, but not too much!! Once the meat is combined, form into patties. Prepare your pan, grill, BBQ, whatever you’re using, with some oil. Put the patties down. Since these are made with sausage, you have to make sure they are thoroughly cooked through; NO ONE WANTS TO EAT RAW PORK!! Cook for around 6-10 minutes on each side.

The Pepper and Onion Part

1 large sweet onion
3 cubanelle peppers
2 tbsp. oil

Clean your peppers, and then slice into thin strips, along with the onions. Prepare a medium size pan (or grill or bbq) with the oil. Add the peppers and onions and cook over low heat until they are nice and caramelized, around 40 minutes. I prefer cooking them on low heat so they don’t burn and get hard.

The Cheese Part

6 slices of fresh fontina

The Assembling of the Burger

Get yourself a nice fresh ciabatta or focaccia roll (like I did!!), slice it in half and put it on your grill or bbq for a minute or so to get a nice smoky taste. Take the bread off and add your burger, a nice serving of the peppers and onions and a slice or two of fontina.

Zucchini and Eggplant Chips

2 Japanese eggplants (I like to use them because of the size, they’re perfect for chips!)
2 zucchini

1 cup of oil (for frying)

3/4 cup of cornstarch
¼ cup of flour
1 tsp. of baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ cup of water
1 egg

Clean your eggplants and zucchini and dry them. Cut the zucchini and eggplant into very thin slices (You can make them however thin or thick you like, but they will fry better when they are thin and taste even crispier.)

Mix all of your dry ingredients, the cornstarch, flour, baking soda, salt, black pepper, garlic powder and Italian seasoning. Then add your water and egg and beat lightly.

Use a deep enough pan to fry. Set your stove on high heat and put the oil in the pan. You will want to wait for it to really heat up before beginning to fry. Once it is hot, dip your vegetables in the batter and carefully immerse in the oil. Allow each side to fry for at least two minutes. Take the vegetables and put on a wire rack to cool. Salt lightly and enjoy!!

Garlic Aioli

1 cup of real mayonnaise
¼ cup olive oil with roasted garlic
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. salt
1 tbsp. paprika

Simply mix and of the ingredients together in a food processor and pulse a few times until the roasted garlic is broken down. Enjoy on the burger or with the chips!!

Enjoy these crispy delicious treats with your burger and a nice cold beer (it is Memorial Day weekend, I think beer might be more fitting than wine), put on some music and have some fun with friends and family this weekend and let’s kick off the summer right!! Mangia Bene!! 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ricotta Olive Oil Pound Cake

Ciao a tutti! I am so excited to share one of my favorite recipes with you…my Ricotta Olive Oil Pound Cake!! I don’t like to brag, but this pound cake is absolutely incredible! It’s light, moist and delicious. Some of you might be thinking “olive oil?!?!” but the olive oil just adds a lovely subtle fruitiness (if you use good olive oil) and along with the ricotta gives the cake a wonderful texture.  I made mine in little individual cake pans, but you can use a standard pound cake pan. I also made a simple glaze to put on the top and served the cake with some roasted hazelnuts on the side, just because I look for any excuse to munch on a few hazelnuts. Enjoy!

Ricotta Olive Oil Pound Cake

¼ cup plus 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups ricotta, at room temperature
1 ¼ cup sugar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
3 eggs

Preheat the oven the 350 degrees. Butter your cake pan.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Whip together the butter, ricotta, sugar, olive oil, vanilla and almond extract in a separate bowl with an electric mixer. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and beat until nice and airy. Add the eggs into the mix. Pour the batter into your pan and bake for 45-55 minutes or until you put a toothpick into the cake and it comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for around 15 minutes in the pan and then transfer to a wire rack to completely cool. While you are letting the cake cool, you can prepare your glaze…

Simple Glaze

3 ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
4 tbsp. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large bowl, combine the sugar with milk and vanilla. You can continue to add a little milk until it is the consistency that you like it! Pour over the pound cake once it is COMPLETELY cool. Buon Appetito!! 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Chef Chat: Kimberly Zanni, President of Gelato di Babbo

Ciao a tutti!! I love gelato, but then again who doesn’t? I mean, on a hot summer day, is there anything better than that first lick of cold, creamy gelato. Heck, I eat it year round. It doesn’t have to be cold. In fact, I’ve been known to put a scoop of gelato in my cioccolata calda. So, when I heard about Kimberly Zanni, President of Zanni Foods Inc, DBA Gelato Di Babbo, I just had to try her gelato. Afterall, there aren’t a whole lot of gelato sold in supermarkets and when I get outside and I need my fix, this seems like the perfect choice!! Her gelato is delicious, creamy and made with pure, natural ingredients, as is evident in the taste. I had a chance to sample all of the flavors (while they were all INCREDIBLE, I have to say I just feel in love with the White Chocolate Hazelnut and Chocolate Chip Salted Caramel!!) I had the opportunity to ask Kim some questions about her company and her delicious gelato! Enjoy!

 What do you think makes your gelato stand out from other products on the market? 

It’s healthy; I gave all of the gelato Italian names and the fact that I import my nut pastes under my own company. I don’t use gelato supply companies. I have my own recipes made into pastes for my gelato in Italy and then labeled under Zanni Foods Inc and I sell to other gelato makers and chefs. The fact that I went to Italy and walked on volcanic rock of the farms in Bronte, Sicily to bring back the best pistachio in the world. My competitors don’t do that. They buy from a company that tells them it is "Sicilian pistachio". I know how a pistachio plant is grown; the region and so on. I am that crazy about my products. My products are made from scratch and I worked hard on designing authentic quality gelato that is healthy too. People on weight watchers eat my products. It’s a number 3 on the point value system.

Your gelato is all natural and low in fat, how can it possibly taste so good?!?

I am the pickiest person you will ever meet when it comes to food. So I would never put my name on something if it wasn’t great!

I'm sure this is a difficult question because they're all delicious, but what is your favorite flavor?

Of course they are all my babies so I love them all. But I can make anything you can think of into gelato or sorbetto. My current favorites are... pistachio, chocolate chip caramel sea salt,and banana and my organic lemon sorbetto. (Not sold in pints)

You started selling your gelato from a customized trike on Main Street in Lititz, Pennsylvania, what was the initial reaction from people? And what inspired you to take your gelato all the way?

People loved it. I had a line and people started to look for my bike on the streets. It’s the classic American business story. I hope I can keep growing. It will be the most humble beginning to remember.

For more information on Kim and Gelato Di Babbo, be sure to pop by Zanni Foods  and her facebook page to say ciao!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Embracing Your Inner Sophia Loren Through Fashion and Food

To me, spring is the perfect time to come out of your shell. Think about it..fresh blooming flowers, spring cleaning, it’s all about a new start in a sense. Opening up. I don’t know about you, but when I think of a fresh start, I instantly think of fashion and of course, food. That might just be me, after all, my mother worked in the fashion industry for many, many years, I was pretty much born with heels on! And as far as the food, let’s not kid ourselves, I’m always thinking about food! But spring is a great time to have a little fun with fashion and explore some delicious new produce. So, let’s take a cue from one of my favorite actresses and my style and beauty icon, the one and only…Sophia Loren.

I have always loved Sophia; she is an incredibly talented, smart, beautiful and stylish women. She is the epitome of glamour.

When I was first in Italy the summer of 2011, I noticed instantly how glamorous Italian women are; donning fabulous stilettos, designer handbags, red glossy lips, full 50’s style skirts, fashion to the extreme. There is just something about these women that instantly grabs your attention, you can’t help but look. I have always loved that kind of style, in fact, that is usually how I dress. More specifically, I like to dress like an Italian movie star in the 50s and 60s, my main inspiration being Sophia. If you want to channel your inner Sophia here are a few of my tips:

1.      Confidence. They key to owning an outfit is confidence. You won’t look your best if you don’t feel your best.

2.      Embrace your figure. Sophia had an AMAZING body and she didn’t mind showing it off. It’s spring, so you don’t have to be too covered up. There are two levels of Sophia you can try out…If you’re new to this kind of fashion, try a beautiful fitted at the waist a-line skirt with a halter top or cropped sweater or go full Sophia and wear a fabulous white fitted dress or a floral halter dress with your best movie star sun glasses and heels and your best smile!

3.     When shopping for vintage Sophia style clothing, there are many options. Mainstream stores like H&M, Zara and Forever 21 always have little hidden gems. Maybe a beautiful full skirt or a cropped sweater. You can also shop specifically at Vintage clothing stores or stores with an eye towards new vintage style, like one of my favorite stores, Bettie Page and accessorize with a fabulous pair of sunglasses and of course, some beautiful shoes. As you can see, I had a little too much fun taking the pictures for this piece! 

4.      Eat!!! Sophia liked to eat, as is evident in her famous quote, “Everything you see I owe to Spaghetti.” In honor of Sophia and her obvious love for spaghetti, I think it’s only fitting to share her recipe for Spaghetti al Limone…

If you’re going to prepare Sophia’s Spaghetti al Limone, you’ll need some fresh lemons, which is perfect, because the outdoor markets have finally come out of their cocoon just in time! Luckily, living in NYC there are a fair share of green markets in the area, the most popular of course being the Union Square Market. But, if you’re not in Manhattan, there are plenty of wonderful green markets to be found in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and Forest Hills, Queens. These markets are a fantastic way to do a little experimenting with fresh produce..turnip tops, dandelion greens, baby zucchini, you’ll have so much fun discovering new and wonderful produce. I love how bright and fresh lemons are, they’re the perfect taste for this time of year. So, grab a few fresh lemons and get to work!!

Spaghetti al Limone

3 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
Zest of 3 lemons
½ cup heavy cream
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
1 ½ pounds spaghetti
Freshly grated parmigiana

Start by heating water in a large pot and salt the water. When the water is boiling, cook the pasta until al dente. In the meantime, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden, add the lemon zest and ¼ cup of the cream. Add salt and pepper. When the pasta is finished cooking, drain it and add to the saucepan along with the remaining cream. Toss well; making sure every piece of spaghetti gets covered! Serve with a little freshly grated parmigiana and your best Sophia dress!! Buon Appetito!!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Steak with Aged Balsamic Reduction, Garlic Mashed Citrus Cauliflower and Sauteed Broccoli Rabe

When my mother and I were in Florence recently, one night we had a lovely dinner right off of Piazza della Repubblica. I went for the tortellini with mushrooms and my mother went for a classic Italian dish…steak with aged balsamic vinegar. I haven’t had steak that much, as I’ve mentioned, I use to be a vegetarian. But when I do have a craving for a steak….I want a really good one. 

When the steak came to the table, I couldn’t believe how amazing it smelled. Sounds simple enough, right? Steak with aged balsamic vinegar, nothing too special. Think again. It’s always the simplest dishes that taste that most impressive I find the ones with the fewest ingredients. The steak was just perfect. Now, I’m a little weird….I don’t like my meat rare or medium, I like it medium well. I know, I know. A lot of people tell me that I’m ruining a really good steak cooking it that much and I do apologize to all of the meat purists out there, this is just my preference.

When I got back home, I was determined to make an equally satisfying steak. The key is having a good cut of meat and a really high quality aged balsamic vinegar. Lucky for me, I got quite a few bottles of the good stuff in Italy!! I served the steak with garlic mashed citrus cauliflower and sautéed broccoli rabe, this is my version of an Italian classic steak house dinner. Enjoy!!

Italian Steak Dinner

Steak with Aged Balsamic Reduction


3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. grey sea salt (you can use any salt you want, I love the taste of grey)
4 steaks (you could go with any cut that you like, I went with filet mignon), at room temperature

Prepare a heavy fry pan over medium heat. Add canola oil to pan. Sprinkle the 2 tbsp. of grey sea salt over the pan. The salt is going to act as a base for the steak to sit on. It will add a nice crust to the steak as well. Put the steaks on top of the salt. Cook on each side for 2-5 minutes (depending how rare or well done you like your steak!). Take the steaks out of the pan and allow to rest for 10 minutes. In the meantime…prepare the balsamic reduction.

Aged Balsamic Reduction

¼ cup aged balsamic vinegar

Add the ¼ cup aged balsamic vinegar to the fry pan. It will mix with the leftover liquid from the steak. Cook on low-medium heat until the sauce is bubbling and slightly reduced. Serve immediately drizzled over the steaks.

Mashed Garlic Citrus Cauliflower

4 cloves of garlic
1 cup of olive oil
1 head of citrus cauliflower, if you can’t get citrus, you can use regular cauliflower
2 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. pepper

Prepare a medium size glass ramekin with 4 cloves of peeled garlic, pour the olive oil over it. Cook in the oven on 350 degrees for at least 45 minutes or until the garlic is roasted.

Chop your cauliflower, removing the base and any of the leaves. You don’t need to really cut it, just cut it enough so it fits in the pot. Put in a deep pot over high heat and fill with water. Add 1 tbsp salt. Cook until the cauliflower is soft enough to mash, at least 25 minutes. Drain the water and mash the cauliflower, I like to do a rough mash just using a fork. Add 1 tbsp. salt, pepper and the roasted garlic and olive oil. Using an electric hand mixer, mix. You want the garlic to break down a little in the cauliflower and you want to olive oil to mix as well.

Sautéed Broccoli Rabe

3 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. pepper
1 tbsp. crushed red pepper
1 bunch of broccoli rabe, blanched

Prepare a medium size pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper. Allow the garlic to brown slightly, around 5 minutes. Add blanched broccoli rabe, toss and cook for 10 minutes. You don’t want to overcook the broccoli rabe and end up with mush! You want to keep it nice and crisp!