This is the recipe of the stuffed mushrooms we prepared at our restaurant, Joe’s of Avenue U. It was my wife who suggested to use the inside of fresh bread instead of the muddica (toasted breadcrumbs), and her advice surely helped to better the taste and quality of this nosh.
The stuffed mushrooms are a delicate and elegant antipasto with enough nourishment to be used as a contorno (side dish).
12 large mushrooms
2 oz. of butter (1/2 stick)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 leek rinsed and finely chopped
4 dry porcini mushrooms, soaked in water (optional)
1/2 loaf of Italian bread, take the inside and soak it in milk
3 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese
½ cup of fresh Italian parsley- chopped
2 tablespoons of toasted pinoli (pine nuts)
Salt and pepper
Roasted red pepper, saffron or paprika for garnish
With a dry cloth, wipe the mushrooms; remove stems, mince them and set aside.
Lay mushroom’s caps in an oiled shallow pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Dice the butter and divide it in the mushroom’s caps.
Sautee diced leek with the olive oil, for about 3 minutes.
Drain porcini mushrooms, chop them finely and with the minced stems add them to the leeks.
Cook for about 5 minutes.
Squeeze out excess milk from bread and chop it small before adding it to the mixture. Sautee for 3 minutes.
Remove from flame and add the cheese (optional), parsley and the pinoli.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Stuff the mushroom caps and bake at 375’ for about 25 minutes.
Garnish with a piece of roasted red pepper or a sprinkle of saffron or paprika on each cap.
On Christmas we add cooked chopped spinach to the stuffing to create with the red of the roasted pepper, the colors of the holiday.
Squash Sweet & Sour Sauce
(“Cucuzza c’acitu o Ficatu ri puoveri”)
To prepare this dish you can use the Butternut Squash, the Acorn Squash, the Calabasas Squash or the Pumpkin. Winter squash is best from fall throughout winter because the flesh is protected by a hard skin, giving it a long shelf life. To prepare the squash, use a serrated knife to divide the squash in sections. Cut each section into ¼ inch slices and then remove the skin.
The cucuzza is called “the poor people’s liver” because, like liver, the squash contains an abundant supply of iron, riboflavin and vitamins A and C. The orange flesh of the winter squash is full of carotenoids, including beta carotene, an important nutrient which helps combat numerous diseases and assists in the anti-aging process. Moreover the fiber content of the squash can make a positive contribution towards good health.
But the most important quality of this recipe is the very addictive, delicious taste, and the ease of preparation. Incidentally, the preparation and ingredients of this dish are very similar to “Sweet and Sour Liver”.
This dish can be used as an interesting side dish or an intriguing appetizer. It can be served hot or cold and will keep in the refrigerator for a few days.
In a large skillet heat the oil and fry squash for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until lightlygolden, being careful not to overcook it.
Set fried squash on deep serving dish in layers and season with mint, salt and pepper.
When finished frying squash, add garlic to the oil and sauté until light brown.
The Sweet and Sour Sauce
Remove from heat and add vinegar and sugar, be mindful of the hot oil!
Reduce vinegar and sugar mixture for 2 minutes and pour on top of the squash.
1. Dredge sliced winter squash in flour and fry using olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature. It can be served as contorno, side dish, to a steak or a rich stew.
2. Another way to cook pumpkins and make a delicious contorno is to peel and cut the squash into big pieces and boil it in lightly salted water. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, or until tender. Drain and place in serving dish. Salt and pepper to taste. Sauté 3 cloves of thinly sliced garlic in ½ cup of olive oil, remove from heat and carefully add ½ cup of vinegar, reduce a few minutes. Pour mixture on top of the squash.
("Polpo all’Insalata" - "Purpu Cunzatu")
·2 lb. polpo cooked and cut into bite size pieces
·2 cloves of garlic-chopped
·chopped parsley (small bunch)
·¼ cup of olive oil
·few flakes of red pepper (Optional)
Place the polpo in a large bowl.
In a small bowl mix the olive oil, the juice of 2 lemons, garlic, ½ of the parsley, red pepper(optional) ½ teaspoon of salt and some pepper, and dress polpo with it. Taste for salt.
Serve at room temperature and garnish with remaining parsley.
Miniatures Rice Balls Appetizer
Arancine is derived from the Italian language for orange, or arancia. This recipe is simplified, easy to prepare and will make approximately 20 to 25 visually and gastronomically appealing miniature rice balls.
PART ONE - The Stuffing
· ½ lb. ricotta
· ½ lb. shredded mozzarella
· ½ cup grated cheese
· ½ lb. diced mortadella or ham
This stuffing is made using available products in your pantry or refrigerator, using your imagination and ingenuity.
Following up some suggestions:
In a small bowl mix: ½ lb. ricotta, ½ lb. shredded mozzarella, ½ cup grated cheese.
Combine ½ lb. diced mortadella or ham, ½ lb. shredded mozzarella, ¼ lb. butter at room temperature, 3 tablespoon grated cheese, ground black pepper to taste.
Mix 1 lb. salted butter, at room temperature, with your preferred herbs and spices.
Sauté with onions 1½ lb. chopped meat (or leftover steaks, sausages, meat balls, chopped) add some tomato sauce and you have a delicious stuffing.
Any leftover vegetable sautéed with onions or garlic, herbs and spices can produce Rice Balls Primavera.
PART TWO - Rice Preparation
· 1 lb. Arborio rice, rinsed
· ¼ cup of olive oil
· ½ medium onion finely chopped
· 2 quarts of water
· 1 tablespoons of tomato paste
· 1 tablespoon of salt (½ oz.)
· Pepper to taste
· ¼ cup chopped parsley
· 2 eggs
In a 6 quart sauce pot combine the olive oil with the onion and sauté for about 7 minutes, until lightly golden.
Add tomato paste, and as it fries, slowly add a quart of water.
After a few minutes, add the remaining water, salt, pepper and parsley. Let it boil for about ½ hour.
Remove 2 cups of liquid, set aside and stir the rice into the remaining boiling liquid, cook at a medium heat.
Beat the eggs, add 1 cup of the reserved liquid. This prevents the eggs from cooking too quickly when you add them to the boiling rice.
Mix the egg mixture into the rice and continue stirring, simmering it for about 15 minutes or until al dente; check the salt to your taste.
If necessary add some of the reserved liquid. Rice should have the consistency of a risotto, and if the reserved liquid is not enough, add some hot water. Place cooked rice in a large and wide pan to cool, turning it occasionally.
PART THREE - Making the Rice Balls
Work and compact cooled rice with your hands into a mass, if it is too dry add either the reserved water or plain water until it is smooth and moist, but not too watery.
Wet hands with oil and shape some rice into a ball, the size of a small orange (hence the name arancine).
Make a hole with your finger and fill it with a half of a teaspoon of the stuffing.
Add a small amount of rice to cover the hole and smooth the rice ball until round. If it is too small, add some rice. If it is too large, remove a pinch of rice and reshape. Repeat until it is a smooth sphere of the desired size.
Place the rice balls in an oiled pan, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours.
To make the miniature rice balls uniform in size, you can use a 3 ounce ice cream scoop, and make the rice balls as per above instructions.
PART FOUR - Frying the Rice Balls
You will need:
· A wide container with 3-4 lb. of sifted fine Italian breadcrumbs
· 2 eggs
· 4 tablespoons of milk
· Deep fryer @ 375 degrees (preferably Peanut Oil)
Place milk and eggs in a wide bowl and beat until smooth.
Lower the rice balls into the egg mixture, a few at a time. When you remove them from the egg mixture, reshape if necessary. Then roll them in the container with the breadcrumbs.
Press the breadcrumbs into the rice ball and continue rolling it in your hands, shaping into a ball.
Set the breaded rice ball into a pan or dish. Deep-fry until golden, let rest on paper towels.
It is advisable to warm the rice balls in a 325 degrees oven for a few minutes before serving, to allow the stuffing to get warm.
Vegetables in Vinegar
(“Giardiniera” – “Sutt’acitu”)
The Giardiniera is made of pickled vegetables; the pickling makes it possible to preserve vegetables in season when they are abundant and conserve them for some time. It is a somewhat complicated proceeding because it requires the preparation of the pickling liquid and then the cooking of all vegetables in separate boiling water and when cooked transferring it into a large bowl of ice and water to stop the cooking and finally, after draining and patting dry, mixing the vegetables with the pickling liquid.
The pickling liquid made with a vinegar mixture, has to be well acidulated in order to preserve the vegetables and because it tastes very vinegary, the Giardiniera was never one of my preferred side dish.
When I was cooking in our Focacceria, a Sicilian eating house, we made the Giardiniera in the traditional way, it was colorful and showy and we used it as a garnish to decorate most dishes. I noticed that most of the time people would not eat the Giardiniera and to my despair, I knew that most of our customers disliked the strong vinegary taste.
In one of my trips to Sicily , as a guest for lunch in a farmhouse, it was served i sutt’acitu, pickled vegetables, among a variety of cheeses, salami, salads, herrings etc. The pickled vegetables, looked like the ones I was making back home, except for an abundance of green and black olives and the degree of sourness that was much lower and very agreeable. I asked a lot of questions and received a few hints on how to make it, and when I returned to the States, I came up with this version of Giardiniera, very easy to prepare and very pleasing to your palate.
The Pickling Liquid
·12 cups of water
·4 cups of distilled white vinegar
·tablespoon of salt
·1 cauliflower (over 2 lb.) separate head into florets, bite size, and wash
·celery ribs, wash well and cut into 1 inch pieces
·1 red bell pepper, sliced into ½ inch pieces
·1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into ½ inch pieces
·5 carrots peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices, to make 3 cups
·oz. pearl onions, peeled. Or use an 8 oz jar of large cocktail onions
·1 box frozen artichokes heart, defrosted and cut in half or in quarts
You can add any other vegetable, like mushrooms, eggplants, etc
Also secure an prepare
·4 oz. jar of Tuscan sweet peperoncini, drained of their brine. Buy only imported from Italy or omit
·8 oz. Sicilian style green olives in brine, pitted
·12 oz. oil cured black olives, pitted
·1½ cup canola oil
·cup extra virgin olive oil
·½ cup distilled white vinegar
·few pinches of hot red pepper flakes
·4 bay leaves
·taste for salt and add if needed
·1 stainless steel 6 or 8 qt sauce pot
·stainless steel 3 quarts saucepan
·1 large bowl
·glass or plastic containers to storage the marinated vegetables
In the 8 quart pot, mix all ingredients for the pickling liquid, transfer 2 cups of it to the small saucepan and bring to a boil.
In a large bowl combine the condiments except for the bay leaves that you will add last.
Add cauliflower florets to the boiling liquid in the large pot, bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, until al dente and not overcooked.
When cauliflower is done, use a slatted spoon to transfer cooked vegetables to a big bowl.
In the same water, cook the celery for 6 minutes and in the same manner cook artichokes for 1 minute.
If you add other vegetables cook for 3 to 6 minutes, until al dente.
Use your judgment and taste the vegetables to make sure they are properly cooked.
Cook fresh pearl onions for 4 minutes. You can substitute pearl onions for small red onions, cut into quarters and cook for 4 minutes. Boil onions last.
Bring the small saucepan to a boil, add carrots and cook for 6 minutes. If using tiny baby carrots reduce time to 3 minutes.
In the small pot add the yellow pepper and follow with red pepper, cooking each for 4 minutes.
When you have all cooked vegetables in the bowl, add a jar of peperoncini, olives and mix.
Taste for salt and if you like a more pungent Giardiniera add some more vinegar.
Mix in bay leaves last and make sure the vegetables are submerged, adding some of the pickling liquid if necessary.
Store in a plastic or glass containers. Serve as antipasto or side dish.
It will keep refrigerated for about a month.
Antipasti with Olives
(“Antipasti di Olive”)
Olives are produced all over Sicily . In fact Sicily produces such a large amount of olives that it produces over 80% of the olive oil manufactured in Italy. The olives grown in Catania are colossal and the production is mostly used to be consumed in salads as an appetizer or stuffed with roasted red pepper and capers.
Here are a few tasty antipasti, easy and fast to make.
Black Olives Salad Musco Style("Olive Nere Condite" - "Alivi Cunzati alla Musco")
Angelo Musco was a Sicilian comedian, very famous before II World War.
·1 lb. black olives rinsed.
·2 cloves of garlic, whole
·zest of 1 orange
·zest of 1 lemon
·juice of 1 lemon
·1 oz. anise seeds
·½ cup of olive oil
·black pepper and red crushed pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients, and after a few hours, serve at room temperature
Fried Black Olives
(" Olive Nere Fritte" - "Alive Fritte")
·1 lb. salted black olives, rinsed and placed in a colander
·2 cloves of crushed garlic
·3 tablespoons of vinegar
·½ cup of olive oil
·½ teaspoon of oregano
Pat dry olives with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Place olives, garlic and oil in a large frying pan and sauté over a medium heat for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, pour the vinegar and mix.
Serve hot or cold and garnish with the oregano.
Green Olives Salad(“Olive Verdi Schiacciate” – Alivi Bianchi Cunzati”)
1 Lb. olives rinsed and cracked to eliminate the pits
1 cup diced celery
2 cloves of crushed garlic
½ cup of olive oil
3 tablespoons of vinegar
black pepper, red crushed pepper, and oregano to taste
abundant chopped parsley
add sliced red onions for extra zest
Mix all ingredients, and if possible let it stand a few hours to exchange the taste of the various ingredients.
In Syracuse the Olive Ammaccate are made with crackled green olives, red crushed pepper, garlic, olive oil and crushed fennel’s seeds.
Black Olives Salad(“Olive Nere Condite” – “Alivi Nivuri Cunzati”)
1 lb. black olives rinsed
2 cloves of diced garlic
½ cup of olive oil
2 tablespoons of vinegar
black pepper, red crushed pepper, and oregano to taste.
Mix all ingredients, and serve at room temperature.
You can add sliced red onions, and /or roasted peppers.