Retro Recipes and Traditional Fare

Italian Chocolate-Orange Ricotta Pie

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by Susan Russo

ricottapie.jpgThe days before Easter Sunday are hellish for supermarket workers in Italian-American cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia, and Providence. That's because every Italian woman, whether practicing Catholic or not, will be storming her local supermarket to purchase an obscene amount of eggs. (My mom used to buy between 12-15 dozen every year.) Lord help the poor dairy manager who runs out of eggs.

It's a sight to see. A gaggle of women trying to box one another one, in an effort to select the best eggs. It's the older Italian ladies who are most successful; they have honed their skills over the years. After all, they need to stockpile eggs. How else will they make  deviled eggs, braided sweet bread, sausage bread, and a host of pies?

Every Italian Easter table will have one or two savory pies, such as pizza chena (meaning "full pie"), a massive two-crusted pie filled with eggs and various Italian meats and cheeses and pastiera Neopoletana, a time-intensive pie made from ricotta cheese and soaked wheat kernels. The jewels of the Italian Easter table, however, are the sweet pies, namely custard, ricotta, and rice. Custard pie should be dense, creamy, and mile-high. Italian ricotta pie (torta di ricotta), an Italian cheesecake closely associated with Easter, is typically laced with citrus flavors but can also be made with nuts and/or chocolate.

Easy as 1-2-3-4 Pineapple Upside Down Cake

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by James Farmer III

pineapplecake.jpgIf man could only have one pan, it would probably have to be an iron skillet. You can fry, bake, sear and roast with these workhorses of the kitchen. Baking, as in cornbread, is most often thought of when using these pans for non-frying purposes, but there is a class of cakes that take the cake when it comes to iron skillet cooking, and the Pineapple Upside Down Cake is one of them.

I actually made this cake for Mama and Mimi’s birthday. They share the same birthday and don’t always want the same cake for their special day, but, this one is a great neutral for our family – everyone likes it! Mimi makes hers in an iron skillet as did Mema, her mother. This is one of those desserts with one arm reaching back to the “Ol’ South” via an iron skillet and another broadly stepping into the mid-twentieth century with the Baby Boomers and the craze for canned fruit! It seems that by the 1980’s and 90’s fresh fruit was hard to come by in Suburbia, USA, but thankfully those days are waning and fresh, seasonal produce is here to stay!

Chicken Scaloppine

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by Joseph Erdos

chickenscallopine.jpgItalian food isn't just all about pasta and tomato sauce. Much of it is simple and rustic home-style cooking, like simple sautes and slow braises. The recipes I like the most are both simple and elegant, such as scaloppine, which involves cooking thin pieces of meat. All that the word scaloppine means is thin piece of meat. Veal or chicken are commonly used in classic recipes. The meat is breaded, fried, and then served in a sauce, such as a piccata, which features white wine, capers, and lemon.

What's great about a recipe like scaloppine is that it's great for dinner for two or a large family gathering. It's a perfect dish for a quick weeknight meal because it's fast and easy. I update the classic recipe by replacing the breading with just Wondra flour. The low-protein flour creates a brown exterior that's light and just thin enough so as not to get soggy. Plus I don't add the chicken to the sauce. This way the coating stays crisp as long as possible. Simply serve the sauce spooned over the chicken and enjoy it right away.

Salmon Croquettes

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by James Farmer III

salmoncroquettes.jpg“We would have salmon croquettes and biscuits for lunch or finely-chopped roast, drizzled in au jus gravy and bourbon colored syrup and eat the meals with delight. As domestic deity, Mary was unrivaled.” – From my memoirs...

Mrs. Mary made salmon croquettes for lunch for us many times during my childhood. Often during the summer when we were out of school and in her hair, she’d send us to the garden to pick vegetables and then we’d “help” her make lunch.

Her croquettes were more so of a crispy salmon patty, not greasy, and wonderfully delicious. Many times we would have sliced cucumbers and Vidalia’s in vinegar with them or some other fresh veggie medley...okra and tomatoes, skillet corn, or browned squash.

I’ve often tried to recreate hers, and, as with her biscuits, I just don’t hit the mark. I have discovered, though, a modern twist on this classic that is quite divine. My Mimi, a fantastic cook herself, had a hankering for salmon croquettes and I was glad to oblige – wanting to try a twist on croquettes, we began thinking...a dangerous kitchen pastime!

The Infinitely Variable Omelet

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by David Latt

ImageOmelets are a great main course. Perfect for breakfast but also satisfying as lunch, dinner or a snack.

Easy to make, infinitely variable, filling, healthy and affordable, they are warming and delicious.

Just about any ingredients that can be sauteed can be used as a filling. (Why saute the fillings? To eliminate excess water and caramelize the ingredients.)  I like mine with cheese, but that's a matter of personal choice.

For breakfast this morning, I made my wife a vegetable omelet with spinach and shiitake mushrooms while I had a bit of bacon in mine.

Chicken Piccata

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by Joseph Erdos

ImageFor this recipe I defrosted two chicken breast halves overnight. And with a jar of capers from the pantry, I thought I'd make a simple chicken piccata. I chose to use one of my favorite flours, Wondra. It gives such a unique coating to meats when pan fried. It's usually used for making gravies because it dissolves instantly without forming lumps, but as the name implies, it works wonders on just about anything.

To serve with this quick meal, I had a bunch of white asparagus I bought last week. I know they're not in season in the Northeast, but at least they were from California. And they were on sale too. The spears of asparagus, steamed just until tender but with a little crunch, nicely complement the pan-fried chicken. If cooked just right, the breasts should be crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. Make sure you let the breasts rest, like with any meat, so that the internal juices redistribute. This recipe is easy to do and so rewarding at the table.

Italian Sausage Meatballs

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by Amy Sherman

ImageI could eat spaghetti and meatballs every night of the week. Of course my laundry bill would be astronomical. There are cleaning products for removing every possible stain including wine, coffee, ink and blood, but no one has invented a product to remove spaghetti sauce stains. Not yet anyway.

This recipe came about as part of my effort to "eat down the freezer." I had a package of two Italian sausages and some ground beef on hand, but neither were really enough to make a meal. The secret to these meatballs is a combination of pork and beef and also what you use to stretch the meat, plenty of bread and milk. The bread and milk create a very tender texture. Italian sausages have lots of seasoning and fat so you really don't need to add much more in that department though some fresh herbs are nice. I do like using dehydrated toasted onion flakes. I get them from Penzey's and they are great in dishes like this where normally I would want to saute fresh onions. They have good flavor and are a real time saver.

Crunchy-skinny-sexy Waldorf

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by Bumble Ward

ImageAs I was making my Shepherd's pie for our book club supper last night, I started to nibble thoughtfully on a celery stick and realized with quite an epiphany what a maligned and ignored vegetable the poor celery is. All due credit to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who said, famously, "Celery is a bit like a gym membership." The crunch is the thing, isn't it? It's the minxy little crunch that gets you every time.

Which led (as it does, stay with me here) to my driving home this morning down the CA 170 (my very favorite freeway) absolutely ravenous after schooling three horses and wondering what could prevent me from stopping at a fast food drive-thru. Cut to twenty minutes later and a plate adorned with a skinny version of a Waldorf salad sits in front of me, proud as can be. Easy and inadvertently calorie-conscious (as I couldn't find any mayo in the bloody fridge). Here's how you make this excruciatingly simple, scrumptious, crunchy lunch:

Recipe Redux: Grapefruit Fluff, 1941

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by Amanda Hesser

From the NY Times

ImageThe 1940s were a good time for drinking; eating, however, could be a dicey affair. Grapefruit fluff, published in The Times in 1941, was like a shining beacon in the sea of dull food. When looking for recipe inspiration in the paper’s archives, I moved right on by the date icebox pudding made with evaporated milk and the fruit turnovers that called for canned fruit. (A footnote, which only further proves my point: the original recipe had the uninspiring name “Grapefruit Dessert.” I changed this to fluff, for reasons you’ll understand when you make it.)

This fluff, the love child of broiled grapefruit and baked Alaska, is as joyful as it is unexpected. After assembly, you set the grapefruits in a pan filled with a bed of ice, then send them under the broiler for a quick singeing before the ice and everything else melts. To eat it, you pierce through a crisp, sugary snowcap to discover first a layer of warm, floppy meringue, then a pocket of vanilla ice cream and finally a well of tart and boozy slivers of grapefruit macerating in the grapefruit shell. It’s the perfect impromptu treat: you may already have all the ingredients in your pantry and fridge.

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Traditional Chicken Kiev

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by James Moore

chickenkievrussia.jpgI was recently in St Petersburg Russia and had a great lunch at Tsar Restaurant (note: avoid bottled water, each one cost $25). I decided to try the Chicken Kiev, which was pretty common on the restaurant menus in St. Petersburg, and it seemed so “Russian” (though I later discovered that it’s not).

Chicken Kiev is actually French in origin. Russian aristocracy became very interested in French cuisine in the 1700s and they would send their Russian chefs to France to train or bring French chefs into Russia. A French chef called Nicolas Francois Appert invented Chicken Kiev in the early 1800s. Appert's invention became famous and Russian chefs tried to imitate Chicken Kiev, calling the dish "cotelettes de volaille" instead of Chicken Kiev.

Early restaurants in New York City changed the name back to Chicken Kiev, in an attempt to attract the new Russian immigrants and this name stuck. Traditionally, it is deep fried in oil, but I found a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen that achieves the same crisp coating with frying.


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