Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My Grandma and Your Grandma are Sitting by the Fire...

One of my fondest memories growing up was coming home after school and having my grandma cook me a "snack".   Now, I use the word "snack" loosely here because she would lovingly make me anything from last nights dinner leftovers to crepes with honey and lemon.  not to mention the muffins, cookies, and scone's she made about 3 times a week.  Because of her knack for making sweet, delicious, doughy treats she shaped much of my cooking acumen at a very tender age.  It was her who first told me that starch, not protein are the star of any Sunday dinner.  Her Yorkshire pudding was always in short supply, no matter how much she made.  Her roast potato's were made simply with just some oil and finished with salt.  Again, they were non-existent by the time desert hit the table.

I would like to think that grandma's have a sixth sense when it comes to cooking; I am sure mine has one.  My theory was recently put to test when my friend, Carlotta Longo, came over to share with me some of her nonna's pesto which she had shipped over from the Old Country, and an amazing recipe for pesto lasagna.  I have to say, the pesto was easily the best I have EVER tasted and the lasagna was equally as authentic and lick-your-plate delicious.

Food is the conduit of tradition; the passing down of years and years of trial, error, and tasting through a few short instructions and a list of ingredients.  These are the same tastes and smells that have been enjoyed by countless relatives and ancestors.  Food is what helps us get through tough times, it is what propels us into the good times, and it is almost always best when it is made by a grandma.

This post goes out to my grams, Carlotta's nonna, and all the wonderful grandmothers around the world making after school snacks for hungry kids.

Pesto Lasagna


6 medium zucchini, cut in half
1 bunch medium carrots, washed and scrubbed
8 - 10 small yellow-flesh potato's
8 cups pesto - recipe below
6 cups bechamel - recipe below
15 sheets of egg pasta, dry or fresh
6 cups grated parmigiano reggiano


1.  Salt a large pot of water and add potato's.  bring to a boil and add zucchini and carrots. boil for 7 minutes and remove zucchini.  boil for another 3 minutes and remove carrots.  boil for another 5 - 7 minutes and remove potato's.  cut all veg into a 1/2 inch dice mix in a large bowl and set aside to cool.

2.  Heat a pan with salted water and individually cook the dry pasta sheets until they just lose their brittleness, about 3 minutes.  Set each sheet aside on a clean kitchen towel.  As you finish with each sheet of pasta, set the resting sheet on a cooling rack.  stacking them is fine, too.  if you use fresh pasta, make sure it is wafer thin and skip this step.

3. Coat your vegetables and potato's with 1.5 to 2 cups of the pesto.  mix throughout, but don't over dress the veg.

4.  Turn your stove up to 400 degrees and let it warm. set up an assembly station with a 12"x7"x4" baking dish, pesto, bechamel, parmigiano, pasta, and veggies.  Layer in the following order: pasta, bechamel, pesto, cheese, pasta, bechamel ("just a little this time", i was told), pesto, vegetables, pesto (again, "just a little"), cheese, pasta, bechamel, pesto, cheese, pasta, bechamel, vegetables, pesto, cheese, pasta, cheese.

5. Use a paring knife to make holes in 3 or 4 rows across the lasagna to allow for the liquids to move around. cook for 25 minutes, remove from the oven and let stand for another 30 minutes.  serve.

Nonna Normanda's Pesto 
(Directly translated from her mouth to my blog...)

Ingredients for 6-8 people:
80-100 basil leaves
50 gr. Pecorino from Roma or Sardegna
50 gr. Fresh (not dry or already grated) Parmigiano Reggiano
100 gr Pine nuts
2-3 walnuts
1-2 Garlic cloves
Large grained sea salt


1. Wash the basil leaves and put them in the blender with a pinch of salt, the garlic, the pine nuts amd the walnuts. Add a bit of olive oil and blend.
2. Add the Parmigiano and the Pecorino.
3. Keep blending and adding oil until it is completely mixed and reaches a thick, creamy consistency.
Buon appetito

*as a note, please be aware that this is a raw, not cooked, sauce that should be made as close to this recipe as possible.  for the best results, use the freshest, highest quality ingredients you can find.  



1/2 a brick of butter
6 tablespoons of white flour
6 cups milk
3 tsp salt
2 tsp fresh grated nutmeg


Over medium heat melt the butter.  once melted add the white flour and mix until smooth and cook for 3 minutes. In a separate pot heat the milk until it is not quite boiled.  Whisk the milk in one cup at a time, until the mixture is smooth and has NO LUMPS.  Bring the whole mixture to a boil, turn the heat to low, and stir continuously for 10 - 15 minutes, or until you cant taste any grit from the flour.  if it gets too thick, add a little more warm milk. Add salt and nutmeg, stir, and set aside until needed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My Hommie, fellow Montrealer, and food bloger, Jessica Ianni puts out this little gem: http://puffybird.tumblr.com/

Its an all vegan blog, which is suspect, but she puts up good stuff so it gets a pass. shes also of Italian decent, so genetically she is inclined to make good food.

peep it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Dinner Party Revisited: How to Make it Not Suck

The main purpose of my blog was, and still is, to show my friends that cooking is easy. That they should do it more. I think it worked. I'm not sure, however, because no one (sauce mang being the exception) ever invites me over for dinner. If i know you and you are reading this, invite me over for dinner. I will even give you a step by step on how to do a proper dinner party.

1. Lets start with the basics: Clean your house. No one wants to go to your dirty apartment. Its not Buckingham Palace, but be proud of your castle, no matter how small or shitty. No one wants to eat in a dirty house.

2. Don't over crowd: Don't be afraid to say "no" to people. If you don't have enough food or space they will understand. if they don't, they are kinda dicks anyway, so its also a good screening method.

3. Vet your guestlist: make sure you know the vast majority of your guests, gauge their personalities, and don't invite conflicting people types. this is important. if you are a lone entertainer like me, you wont be around the whole time to keep the conversation flowing, so make sure your guests are going to have enough in common to keep everything fun.

4. Plan your menu: Dinner parties revolve around food. Make sure your planning considers time and rate of success. This is one of the reasons I almost always do a roast. its easy to prepare, very tasty if made right, and requires little work while cooking. Make sure that you have a protein, 2 different colored veggies, a starch, and i always like to include a salad for after. its very European.

5. Cook what you know: The night of the big show is not the time to be mixing it up and trying new things. Make the stuff that you could make in your sleep, or learn how to make something really good and easy before you take a shot at cooking for 6 of your besties. The first thing i learned how to cook was chicken parm, and it was the only thing i cooked for people for around 4 years.

6. Make sure everything is tasty and works well together: I hate HATE potlucks. Everyone brings one thing and i bet they dont follow most of the pointers on this blawg. you might get 2 soups, 1 curry dish, one mac and cheese, one bean dip... your mouth is all like, WTF. Curry and mac and cheese were never meant to be eaten together. ever. So make sure your menu complements itself. Sweet, savory, sour, salt.... soy and maple syrup on the pork roast, mustard fingerling potato's, basalmic and sugar on the green beans, butter/salt/pepper on the carrots. nothing fancy, but it all works.

7. More is better than less: Make sure you cook enough food. Proteins and starches are always what people want more of, so make sure you have lots of both of those. you want your guests to "eat and be well" as they say, so give them the chance to do that. This ties in with rule 2 as well.

8. Family style: don't plate your food for your friends. You are not as good at is as you may think, anyway. Now, I'm not trying to be harsh, but unless you have some kind of fine dining training, its not going to look as good as it will in your head. Just put lots of food into serving dishes (make sure you have some decent serving dishes) and allow your guests to portion themselves. this brings a sense of family to the table. You want your party to be less formal. It loosens everyone up and creates a more casual atmosphere.

There are some basics i didnt cover like music, wine, and plates and glasses, so make sure that you dont neglect to think about that stuff as well. I hope this helps and that I get lots of invitations to come to your house!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Traditional Christmas Breakfast...

There is something about the idea of heritage that really strikes a chord with me. My holidays are very much a celebration of heritage. My fathers mostly, but absolutely a family affair. As my family often liked to do things, it was a big deal. The whole celebration is focused around a huge breakfast of what one might call "old world" flavors. There is crusty bread, pickled onions, olives, hot and sweet Portuguese chorizo, Gin, and then as my aunt Joan calls it "de gyarlic pork". Garlic pork is made for Christmas breakfast at my house and the whole insane process is as follows.

a) chop up 40 or 50 cloves of garlic
b) layer a 3L or 4L jar with garlic, thyme, hot pepper, slices of uncooked pork, vinegar until it is full. seal the jar, leave it for 3 -5 days.
c) wake up at 5am on Christmas morning and boil the pork in the pickling juice, waking up everyone in the house with an equally terrifying and delicious smell of meat boiling in garlic pork juice. its intense.
d) remove the pork from the boiling pickling juice and fry it until golden on both sides.

The taste is briny, sweet, and savory from the thyme. It could be described as an acquired taste.

So all of this food usually makes it on the table for right before 10am, at which point somewhere between 20 to 40 relatives and family friends start pouring into the house. No joking. There were my brothers and sisters, and their families, my uncle Almindo, uncle Burnie, uncle John Vera, sometimes my uncle Joe, and my uncle John (who is the only actual real uncle out of that bunch of dudes). My dad would have a shot of Gin with all the guys and pass out by lunch time. then he would wake up a few hours later to make dinner. which obviously was a whole other affair that is worthy of its own blawg post sometime in the future.

in the theme of heritage, i want to shout out my girls Kat and Michelle who bought me a sweet Opinel knife for Christmas. its a great knife, with a rich 121 year history. goggle it.

The recipe im including is a riff on a classic French salad i saw someone make on a PBS show about 5 or 6 years ago. The original has baby potatoes, mustard, shallots, boiled egg, radicchio. i adapted it to make it a side for big roasts.

Mustard Potato's


1 pound red and yellow baby or fingerling potato's - washed
3 shallots - sliced thin
3 table spoons mustard Pommery or Dijon with the seeds
1/4 of a head of a radicchio, sliced as thin as you can
1 - 1.5 oz Grade A maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil for cooking


1. Boil the potato's in heavily salted boiling water for 15 minutes.

2. remove potato's from the water and set aside. they can sit for 20 mins to half an hour, as it should be a warm salad.

3. in a pan cook shallots in the olive oil over a low heat until fully caramelized.

4. add potatos, to the pan with the schallots and and remove from heat. combine all other ingredients and mix until covered.

serve as a side and enjoy!