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Banana Muffins

Have you got leftover bananas rotting on the counter? This is a delicious and quick alternative to the ubiquitous banana bread baked in a loaf pan. The texture is much finer than a traditional banana bread and for some reason, it’s a much lighter bake, but filling at the same time (well, if you eat two of them in a row, that is. But I’m not naming names.)

The recipe, from King Arthur Baking, says it makes 12 muffins, but I got 11. When I originally made it, I thought the recipe omitted baking powder, so I added 1/2 teaspoon, since it said they don’t rise very much. On a later reading, I realized the original recipe does indeed include baking powder — a full 2 teaspoons, which is not really necessary. They rose beautifully even with only 1/2 teaspoon baking powder.  I didn’t have the oat bran called for in the recipe, so I took some old-fashioned oats and whizzed them in the blender to break up the texture. It worked perfectly.

Serve with a cup of espresso or a pot of tea and bite into the crispy, crunchy topping. You’ll won’t miss that banana bread one bit, and you might even find yourself having a second muffin too!

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Banana Muffins
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • Batter
  • ½ cup (113g) yogurt
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup (50g) vegetable oil
  • 1½ cups (340g to 369g) mashed banana, 2 to 3 large bananas
  • ¾ cup (149g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (113g) oat bran (I used old-fashioned oats that I whizzed in the food processor)
  • 1½ cups (177g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Topping
  • ¼ cup (53g) brown sugar
  • ¼ cup (23g) old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons (14g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon (14g) soft butter
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a standard muffin tin, or line with papers and grease the papers.
  2. (I got 11, not 12 muffins from this recipe.)
  3. Combine the yogurt, egg, oil, mashed banana, sugar, and oat bran in a bowl.
  4. Whisk together and set aside for 10 minutes.
  5. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and nutmeg.
  6. Work the topping ingredients together until the mixture is crumbly.
  7. Whisk the banana mixture into the flour mixture.
  8. Scoop into the prepared muffin cups, filling them almost full.
  9. Sprinkle muffins with the topping.
  10. Bake the muffins for 20 to 24 minutes, until the muffins are set and browned. Remove from the oven and let rest in the pan for 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and enjoy warm.
 

Sole in Parchment

Now that spring is here in the U.S., summer is not far away, and of course, that means swimsuit weather. If you’ve gained a few too many pounds during the Covid pandemic, here’s a recipe that will help trim some of that expanding waistline. Not only does it taste delicious, it’s a snap to prepare ahead of time, making it an ideal dinner for company. Just pop it in the oven while you sit down for drinks and a chat, and in 15 minutes, you’re ready to eat.  Start by cutting out pieces of parchment paper in the shape of a heart — a large heart. Slice the vegetables into julienne strips, and toss with some olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs. In this case, I used leeks, zucchini, carrots, red pepper and cherry tomatoes cut in half, tossed in olive oil, with salt, pepper and minced parsley. But use whatever floats your boat. Just make sure you slice everything into uniform strips.

Season the fish with salt and white pepper, then dab some butter on top.

Layer a couple of slices of lemon over the buttered fish, then scatter some herbs on top. I used more parsley plus some fresh thyme.

Seal the packets by crimping all along the sides, starting with a fold at one end and continuing all the way around.

Here’s what they should look like after they’re completely crimped. Place in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes if you’re cooking thin pieces of sole, like mine were.

They come out of the oven a slight beige color.

Serve directly on each person’s plate, with some rice on the side. Entertaining and eating a healthy meal was never so easy!

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Sole in Parchment
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • filet of sole or flounder - 2 pieces or about 6 ounces per person
  • vegetables, julienned (carrots, red or green peppers, zucchini, leeks, etc. - whatever you like)
  • olive oil to mix with the vegetables
  • salt, pepper
  • parsley, thyme
  • butter
  • lemon slices
Instructions
  1. Julienne the vegetables thinly and mix with the olive oil, salt, pepperr and parsley in a bowl.
  2. Place a portion of the vegetables in the parchment paper and put fish on top.
  3. Season both sides of the fish with salt and pepper and top with a dab or two of butter, then with a couple of lemon slices.
  4. Crimp edges of the parchment paper, starting at one end and going around to the other end.
  5. Finish crimping and bake at 400 degrees for approximately 15 minutes, depending on thickness of fish.
 

Paglia e Fieno with Prosciutto, Peas and Parmigiano Cheese

Paglia e fieno literally translates to straw and hay in Italian, and it’s not hard to find these “nests” of green and yellow pasta already made in specialty stores or good supermarkets where I live. However, like most things, homemade is best, so if you have the time and inclination, make your own pasta. I made a big batch of both regular egg fettucine and spinach fettuccine on Easter Sunday, which is when we ate this dish. If you want a recipe for making spinach pasta, click here.   For plain egg pasta, the fine OO flour from Italy is best, combined with fresh eggs. You can make a well on a board and mix it the old-fashioned way, but these days, I mostly use a food processor and dump the flour and eggs in there, starting with about 1 1/2 cups of flour and two eggs. Add more flour until it forms a ball in the food processor bowl, then remove it and knead it some more, adding a little flour if necessary. When it’s smooth as a baby’s bottom, cover it and let it rest for at least a half hour, then roll it out with a pasta machine, or by hand, and cut it in the fettuccine shape.

The sauce is a classic — and also a waist expander, but if it’s a special occasion, who cares? It’s worth every calorie. Sorry I don’t have any photos while I was making the sauce, but it comes together so fast and we were all so hungry that I failed to snap any photos. You make the sauce while the pasta is boiling in the water– it’s that quick to do. Start by cutting up the prosciutto into bits and cooking it briefly in the butter. Add the cream and peas and let the cream reduce a bit. However don’t let it thicken too much because  the parmesan cheese will naturally thicken the sauce. Drain the pasta, but retain a cup or more of the pasta water in case you need to loosen the sauce. Add the drained pasta to the cream, prosciutto and peas and bestow it a healthy amount of freshly ground black pepper. Swirl everything around and if it seems too thick, add some of the pasta water and swirl a bit more. Turn off the heat and add the parmesan cheese, incorporating it into the dish. Serve with additional parmesan grated on top.

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Fettucine Paglia e Fieno
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1½ pounds paglia e fieno pasta
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pint (2 cups) heavy cream
  • ¼ pound (or more if you like) prosciutto, cut into small bits
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Cook the pasta in ample salted water and drain, but save about a cup of the pasta water.
  2. Make the sauce while the pasta is cooking.
  3. Cut the prosciutto into small pieces.
  4. Melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the prosciutto bits until they start to crisp.
  5. Add the cream and the frozen peas and cook a couple of minutes.
  6. The cream will start to reduce.
  7. Don't reduce it too much.
  8. It will thicken more when you add the parmesan cheese.
  9. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, sprinkling with a generous amount of freshly ground pepper.
  10. Swirl the pasta in the sauce.
  11. If need be, add a little of the reserved pasta water.
  12. Turn off the heat, and add the parmesan cheese.
  13. Swirl to blend it through, then add more once on top once it's in the serving dish.
 

Cioppino

In a recent episode of Stanley Tucci’s “Searching For Italy,” when he was on the Tuscan coast that borders Liguria, he ate a seafood stew called cacciucco, prepared by chef Fabbio Picchi, who owns the restaurant Cibreo in Florence. Picchi followed the cacciucco with a pasta dish tossed in the leftover sauce after the seafood had been polished off. Here I am, chatting with Picchi on a trip to Florence when travel to Italy was relatively easy.

The dishes he prepared and that show in general, had me dreaming about going back to Italy. Since that’s not possible in this pandemic, I had to do the next best thing — cook something like it at home that might transport me for a little while to la bell’Italia. Having just returned from a vacation in the Caribbean where I ate seafood every day, I felt driven to keep up the seafood vibe and decided to make cioppino – an Italian American seafood dish with origins in San Francisco that is similar to cacciucco. So many cultures have versions of seafood stews, and aside from cacciucco, Italy also lays claim to brodetto, a fish stew from the Abruzzo region,  that’s slightly less soupy and tomato-y than cacciucco or cioppino, and is cooked in a clay vessel. I helped prepare this brodetto several years ago while on a trabocco (small wooden fishing piers that jut into the Adriatic) along Abruzzo’s coastline. To read more about trabocchi, click here.

To make the cioppino, start by softening the vegetables in olive oil — onion, garlic, celery, carrots, green pepper and some fennel.

Next add the tomatoes, white wine and seasonings. Be very generous with the basil and parsley. You can make this in a Dutch oven, or in a more shallow pan, like this one. This recipe includes seafood amounts for two very generous servings, but intentionally makes enough sauce for a whole lot more. After we scarfed down all the seafood the night I made this, there was still plenty of leftover sauce to serve over pasta the next day.

After the sauce has simmered for about aan hour, add the shellfish and the rest of the seafood. You don’t have to use the same amounts or types of seafood I did. It’s a very fluid recipe and you can substitute whatever you like and eliminate whatever seafood I’ve included that you don’t like. I used cod but haddock or halibut would be great too. The cost of all this seafood can get a little pricey, but it’s a delicious splurge and would be perfect for a Lenten Friday (or Christmas Eve).  Put the shellfish in after you’ve put the rest of the seafood in, to try to keep them from getting submerged too much and hinder their opening. Place the lid on the pot and keep it at a simmer for 15 minutes, without checking or removing the lid.

After 15 minutes, check to see if the fish is cooked through. If not, put the lid back on for a few more minutes until everything is cooked properly. Some of the clams and mussels might still be closed, so put those aside in a separate pan and place it over a low heat by itself, while you portion out the cioppino, either in the pan where you cooked it, or in a tureen, gently lifting the seafood. The cod will easily fall apart unless you use a large spoon to scoop it up whole.

Serve in bowls with crusty toasted bread, smeared with olive oil and salt, or over polenta.

I made some homemade pasta to toss with the leftover sauce. It was perfect for the next evening’s meal. If I can’t have Italy right now, at least I can have pasta and cioppino!

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Cioppino
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • The amounts for the seafood are for two very generous servings. If you add more seafood to serve more people, you don't need to increase the amount of sauce. This recipe provides enough sauce for at least three or four more servings. In fact, after we had eaten all the seafood from the Cioppino one night, my husband and I used the leftover sauce the next day and served it over homemade pasta, and there was still plenty of sauce left in the pan that I didn't use.
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • ¼ cup green onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup celery, minced
  • ½ of a large fennel bulb, sliced roughly
  • ½ medium carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1 26.46 oz. box of finely chopped tomatoes
  • 1 26.46 oz. box of strained tomatoes
  • (or use all strained tomatoes, or all finely chopped tomatoes if you prefer)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup water (use it to swish out any remaining bits of tomato from the tomato box, jar or cans you use).
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • a sprinkle of red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, minced
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, minced
  • ½ pound halibut, cod or similar fleshy white fish
  • ½ pound fresh shrimp
  • ½ pound fresh scallops
  • 6 squid bodies, cut into "rings"
  • a dozen mussels
  • a dozen and a half clams
Instructions
  1. Sauté onion, green pepper, celery, carrot, fennel and garlic in olive oil in a large Dutch oven or pan until limp.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil, bay leaf, parsley, salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes.
  3. Heat to boiling and add the white wine.
  4. Reduce heat to a simmer.
  5. Simmer one hour, then discard the bay leaf.
  6. Cut the cod, or whatever white fish you're using, into two large pieces.
  7. Scrub the clams and mussels thoroughly, removing any "beard" from the mussels.
  8. Cut the squid into rings, and shell and devein the shrimp.
  9. Add the clams and the mussels to the pan, then add the rest of the seafood to the tomato sauce -- the squid, the shrimp, the scallops and the cod.
  10. Put the lid on and let everything cook together at a simmer for 15 minutes, WITHOUT STIRRING and WITHOUT LIFTING THE LID.
  11. If you stir, you will break up the codfish, which flakes apart easily when cooked.
  12. Check it after 15 minutes and if the fish is all cooked, serve the cioppino in the pan you cooked it, or remove it gently to a serving tureen.
  13. If some of the shellfish haven't opened, let them continue cooking in a separate pot, which should take only a few more minutes.
  14. Sprinkle with parsley and serve in bowls with plenty of toasted crusty bread smeared with olive oil and salt, or over polenta.
 

 

 

Braciole

I’m not sure why it took me so long to post a recipe for braciole, because it’s something my mother-in-law Mary made almost every time we visited, during my marriage to my late husband. Mary, who was from Abruzzo, had a limited repertoire of dishes, but whatever she served was delicious. There was almost always spaghetti with meatballs and braciole, followed by a roast chicken and potatoes. Many recipes for braciole are more elaborate than hers, including ingredients like prosciutto, or hard-boiled eggs. Those are delicious practically as meals in themselves, but Mary’s braciole was a simple roll of meat, seasoned inside with only parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. They were a perfect accompaniment to the pasta that was dressed with the long-simmering sauce from the braciole.  For these braciole, I have added a bit of grated parmesan cheese to add a little more flavor, something Mary didn’t do if I remember correctly, but it’s essentially the same recipe as hers. You need a very thin piece of beef for this recipe, and you can either purchase it already sliced (as I did from my local grocery store), or buy a piece of top or bottom round, or flank steak. Slice it thinly and pound it until it’s even thinner. If you freeze the beef slightly, it’s easier to slice. Then season it with salt, pepper, minced garlic, parsley and a grating of parmesan cheese.

Roll it tightly and secure with toothpicks (or string if you prefer).

Sauté in some olive oil until browned.

Then add it to your favorite tomato sauce recipe and simmer for about two hours. This photo was taken while my kitchen was being renovated and I was using a hot plate to cook most meals. I love cooking with a gas stove, but this induction-heating hot plate worked remarkably fast and well as a temporary cooktop.

Serve the braciole with pasta of your choosing. In this case, I used cavatappi, but rigatoni or even spaghetti would be great too.

By the way – Italian language lesson for the day – the correct pronunciation is bra-CHOH’-leh, not bra-ZHUL’, as you might have heard in some films featuring Italian Americans. Braciole is the plural of braciola. In most places in Italy, you’ll find a rolled and stuffed piece of meat or swordfish called involtini. The term braciole most likely is derived from the Italian word “brace” meaning coals or embers, and if you order braciole from a menu in much of Italy, you’ll most likely be served a grilled piece of meat. What is called involtini in Northern Italy became braciole in southern Italy — a dish made of tougher meat that was pounded and simmered for hours in tomato sauce to make it more tender. Since the majority of immigrants to the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were from Southern Italy, the term braciole took hold here. To complicate things even further, small rolls of braciole, like those I made, can be accurately called “braciolette” or little braciole – not to be confused with “braccialetti” or bracelets. Whatever you call them, they are delicious and the perfect Sunday (or any day) meal.

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Braciole
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • a few pieces of top or bottom round
  • salt, pepper
  • minced garlic
  • minced parsley
  • grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
Instructions
  1. Slice the meat thinly and pound to make it even flatter.
  2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, the minced garlic and parsley and a scattering of parmesan or pecorino cheese.
  3. Roll up and secure with toothpicks or string.
  4. Sauté in olive oil, then add to your favorite tomato sauce recipe and simmer for two hours.
  5. Serve with pasta.
 

 

 

 

Seared Salmon

Salmon is a staple in our diet, and I typically make it in the oven, spritzing with some lemon juice, then smearing with a little Dijon mustard, dill and roasting it for 12 minutes at 400 degrees. But I recently started pan searing it and have discovered our new favorite way to eat salmon. The browning in butter makes for a crunchy top, and adds more flavor to an already distinctive fish. Start by seasoning the salmon with salt and pepper, then placing skin side UP, into a skillet that’s been coated with some olive oil, and turned to medium to high heat, as in the photo below.

After it’s been cooking for about three or four minutes, check to see if it’s browned enough to your liking. Then flip it so that the skin makes contact with the pan. Warning: This splatters a lot so be prepared to clean your cooktop after dinner is over. Place a lid on the pan and let it cook for another couple of minutes.

Remove the lid and lower the heat a bit. I wanted the butter to be the dominant flavor, so I drained the olive oil at this point, but if you don’t mind the extra calories, leave in the olive oil when you add the butter. Add the shaved garlic and lemon juice, and spoon a little of the liquid over the salmon. Sprinkle with the parsley, and place a lid on top again.

Cook for another two to three minutes and serve. Rice is always a good complement to fish, as are any number of vegetables, from squash to green beans. Serve with extra lemon.

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Seared Salmon
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR TWO SERVINGS:
  • 2 pieces of salmon, with skin on, total weight about 1-1/14 lbs.
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
  • juice of ½ lemon, plus a few slices for garnish
  • salt, pepper
  • minced parsley
Instructions
  1. season the salmon with salt and pepper and a little lemon juice, saving most of the lemon juice for later.
  2. Turn up the heat on the skillet to medium high and place the salmon, skin side up, in the pan.
  3. Let it sear for about three or four minutes, or until it forms a nice crust.
  4. Using a long spatula, carefully flip the salmon over, being careful not to break the skin.
  5. Turn the heat to medium, and place a lid on the pan.
  6. Cook over medium heat for another two minutes.
  7. Remove the lid, and drain off most of the oil (or you can leave it if you want).
  8. Lower the heat to low to medium, then add the two tablespoons of butter, the garlic slices and the lemon juice.
  9. Spoon a bit of the liquid over the salmon.
  10. Sprinkle with parsley and place the lid on again.
  11. Cook for another two to three minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.
 

Vinegar Chicken with Crushed Olive Dressing

If you like olives, you’re going to love this recipe from Alison Roman and The New York Times. It’s a quick and delicious way to get a flavorful dinner on the table in 35 minutes, start to finish. Cook some rice or noodles and a side dish of vegetables while the chicken is in the oven and you’ll be ready to serve a meal fit for company, or just the family.

Make sure you use bone-in, skin-on chicken parts. The chicken skin will keep the meat from drying out at the high 450 degree temperature required. Please make the recipe as written at least once before tinkering with it. I won’t think ill of you if you use Kalamata olives rather than Castelveltrano, but I may have to send the recipe police after you if you tell me you subbed sun-dried tomatoes for the olives or curry powder for the turmeric.

More on the subject — check out this comment from a reader following the recipe as it appeared in the New York Times: “Wow! That was amazing! I didn’t have any olives so used onions instead, and I didn’t have any turmeric so substituted paprika. I also didn’t have any chicken so used free range heritage pork. We aren’t big fans of vinegar so I went with soy sauce. It was so good! Definitely a keeper recipe!!”

I’m all for improvisation, but that’s like asking for spaghetti and getting soba instead.  I think that reader just invented a whole different recipe. While your version may taste good, this one as written is a real keeper.

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Vinegar Chicken with Crushed Olive Dressing
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 3 ½ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken parts
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups green Castelvetrano olives, crushed and pitted
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated
  • 1 cup parsley, tender leaves and stems, chopped
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Place chicken on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with turmeric and 2 tablespoons olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Make sure chicken is skin-side up, then pour vinegar over and around chicken and place in the oven.
  4. Bake chicken, without flipping, until cooked through and deeply browned all over, 25 to 30 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, combine olives, garlic, parsley, the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.
  6. Once chicken is cooked, remove baking sheet from the oven and transfer chicken to a large serving platter, leaving behind any of the juices and bits stuck to the pan.
  7. Make sure the baking sheet is on a sturdy surface (the stovetop, a counter), then pour the olive mixture onto the sheet.
  8. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently scrape up all the bits the chicken left behind, letting the olive mixture mingle with the rendered fat and get increasingly saucy.
  9. Pour olive mixture over the chicken, then serve.
 

Dried Winter Fruit “Cakelets”

I’ve never counted how many cookbooks I own, but I do know that with many, I make one or two recipes and unfortunately, never revisit them for years because some other newcomer has captured my attention. I’ve got my tried and true cookbooks that I wouldn’t neglect for the world, but then there are some I’ve pushed to the back shelf over the years, including many that are written in Italian. Truth be told, it can be tedious to transcribe the quantities into the American measuring system when they’re written in metric. But the results are frequently worth the effort, like these little dried fruit “cakelets.” They’re from a cookbook called “Fantasie Da Forno” that I picked up in a Milan bookstore  years ago.

Winter is the perfect time for this recipe made with dried fruits. You can make it in small disposable paper cake pans, like these that I bought at a discount store, or make one larger cake in a round pan. There is a certain charm to these miniature cakelets though, and they are just the right serving for one person.

The small amount of cornmeal in the recipe gives the cake a darker look, but adds a bit of flavor and texture. If you want to eliminate the cornmeal, just substitute an equal amount of white all-purpose flour.

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From the Italian cookbook “Fantasie da forno”

Dried Winter Fruit Cakelets
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 7 tablespoons butter, softened (100 gr. di burro ammorbidito)
  • ½ cup (100 grams) sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten (2 uova sbatute)
  • ⅓ cup (50 grams) flour
  • 1 teaspoon (un cucchiaino di lievito) baking powder
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cornmeal (100 gr. di farina di mais)
  • 1½ cups mixed dried fruit (225 gr. frutta secca mister
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, or other nuts (25 gr. di pinoli)
  • grated rind of a lemon (la scorza grattugiata di 1 limone)
  • 2 tablespoons milk (2 cucchiai di latte)
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice (4 cucchiai di succo di limone)
Instructions
  1. Grease a 7" or 8" round pan (or use several small baking paper cake holders).
  2. Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixer.
  3. Add the beaten eggs, one a time, mixing each one thoroughly.
  4. Add the flour, baking powder and cornmeal and mix until incorporated.
  5. Add the dried fruits and nuts, the lemon peel, the lemon juice, and lastly the milk.
  6. Spread the mixture into the pan and bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for one hour, but if using the mini pans, check after 30 minutes.
  7. Test with a toothpick to see if it comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven, let it cool, then dust with powdered sugar.
 

Peppery Beef Stew

Here in the Northeast U.S., we’ve been hit with winter’s full blast – more snow that I can remember in quite a few years, with still more expected in a few days. Lots of shoveling, but also lots of solid, comforting winter fare, like this beef stew recipe from Michele Scicolone in her cookbook, “The Italian Slow Cooker.”  The book is a gem, and in my case, really useful while my kitchen is undergoing a radical transformation. Cooking is relegated to another room in the house, where my table is set up with all manner of electric implements, from my rice cooker to my automatic polenta stirring pot.  You’d be surprised at how much cooking you can accomplish without an oven or a cooktop, as long as you’ve got electricity. Washing dishes and pots without a sink is another thing, but thankfully, my husband has become rather adept at bathroom sink dishwashing.

I’ve been using a hot plate to cook most meals, and had to rely on it to brown the meat and prepare the sauce for this stew, before dumping everything into my slow cooker. I bought an induction-heating hot plate and I have to say, it works really efficiently, heating things quickly — almost too quickly, as I found out this morning after burning some orange peels I was candying.

Anyway, back to the beef stew. After you brown the meat in a skillet, you add the rest of the ingredients (including a tablespoon of whole black peppercorns) and scrape up all those flavorful bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Then dump everything into the slow cooker and forget about it.

Come back 6-8 hours later, and you’ve got a delicious, fork-tender beef stew, ready to serve over noodles or rice.

Add a green vegetable on the side, and dinner is served.

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Peppery Beef Stew
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • salt
  • 3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 2 inch chunks (I used 1¼ lbs. beef cubes but all the rest of the proportions in the recipe for the sauce)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup dry red wine, such as Chianti
  • 2 cups canned tomato puree (I used one 15-ounce can cherry tomatoes and ¼ cup water)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped, plus 6 whole garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
Instructions
  1. On a piece of wax paper, stir together the flour and salt to taste.
  2. Toss the beef with the flour and shake off any excess.
  3. In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  4. Add the meat in batches, without crowding the pan.
  5. Brown the beef well on all sides.
  6. With a slotted spoon transfr the beef to a large slow cooker.
  7. Add the wine to the skillet and bring it to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan.
  8. Add the tomato puree (or the cherry tomatoes and water), garlic, peppercorns, and ground pepper.
  9. Cook for 10 minutes, orr until slightly thickened.
  10. Pour the mixture into the slow cooker.
  11. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or until the beef is very tender.
  12. Taste for seasoning before serving.
 

Muffaletta

Are you wondering what to serve up for Superbowl Sunday? Admittedly, the pandemic has scaled back everyone’s plans, and you might not be gathering in a large group. But just in case you’ve got your own pandemic bubble to feed, or even if you want to make this and give some to neighbors, this sandwich is always a hit.

It’s said to have been created by Italian immigrants in New Orleans. However, many years ago, I was reading a classic Italian book called “Il Gattopardo” and surprisingly came upon a reference to it, when the protagonist, a prince, is on a hunting excursion with the local church organist. “Bevevano il vino tiepido delle borracce di legno, accompagnavano un pollo arrosto venuto fuori dal carniere di Don Fabrizio con i soavissimi muffoletti cosparsi di farina cruda che don Ciccio aveva portato con se.” In English, the title translates to “The Leopard” and the text is as follows: “They drank tepid wine from wooden bottles with a roast chicken from Don Fabrizio’s haversack, with the sweet muffoletti dusted with raw flour which Don Ciccio had brought with him.” If you haven’t read the book, it deals with the changes in Sicilian society during the risorgimento — Italy’s unification movement. It’s one of the most important novels in modern Italian literature and is widely translated in many languages, including English. It was even made into an excellent movie with Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale.

But I digress. Back to the muffaletta as we know it, which many say was first made here in the U.S. at Central Grocery Co. on Decatur Street in New Orleans by Salvatore Lupo, an immigrant from Sicily. My son-in-law and his wife, who live in New Orleans, sent us a jar of olive salad last year from Central Grocery, so naturally we needed to follow through and make our own muffuletta. This jar made enough for two muffaletta sandwiches. If you can’t find olive salad at a store near you, you can even order it from Central Grocery here or even from Amazon, here. 

I added some other ingredients to the olive salad, including fresh celery, parsley, marinated artichoke hearts, and roasted red peppers. You can choose to add more or less of whatever you like. There are no rules.

Aside from the olive salad, you need good bread, Italian cold cuts, and cheese.  A muffaletta is traditionally made with a round loaf, and in fact, I’ve made it in the past with a round loaf as you see below. I used mortadella, Genoa salami, coppa and capicolla, but a finocchiona, prosciutto or soppressata would be delicious here too. I used provolone cheese, but feel free to choose fontina, mozzarella or whatever floats your boat.

You can break with tradition and use a long ciabatta loaf instead of a round one, as I did the last time I made it. My local bread shop had a great assortment.

I came home with this beauty and sliced it in half lengthwise.

I scooped out some of the insides, but you can leave as much or as little interior bread as you like. Then I spread some of the olive salad on the bread.

I added a layer of the meats and cheese, then more olive salad, another layer of the meats and cheeses, finishing off with the olive salad next to the bread.

You’ll need to weigh it down with something heavy, so I covered both sides with parchment paper and placed a heavy cast iron grill pan on top. It went into the refrigerator for at least two hours. You can leave it even longer, but if you keep it weighed down in the refrigerator overnight, you risk getting the bread too soggy from the olive salad.

Last year I took it to my cousin’s Superbowl Party and the ciabatta sliced up easily into at least ten generous pieces.

Or just enjoy Super-Bowl size portions with your own small family.

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Muffaletta
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large round loaf, or long ciabatta
  • ¼ lb. of Genoa salami
  • ¼ lb. of capocollo
  • ¼ lb. mortadella
  • ¼ lb. of coppa
  • (orr use any combination of Itaian cold cuts you want, including soppressata, finocchiona, prosciutto etc.)
  • ¾ lb. provolone cheese (or fontina or mozzarella)
  • 1 jar of olive salad
  • POSSIBLE ADDITIONS TO THE SALAD:
  • ¼ cup sliced celery
  • 1 small jar of artichoke hearts, chopped
  • roasted red peppers, chopped
  • a few tablespoons minced parsley
  • chopped up jarred giardiniera
Instructions
  1. Slice the bread lengthwise and scoop out some of the interior bread.
  2. Mix the add-ons you like to the jarred olive salad, and spread some of it on the bottom of the bread.
  3. Add a layer of each of the sliced meats, a layer of cheese, more of the olive salad.
  4. Repeat with the meats and cheese, ending up with the olive salad.
  5. Cover with the top portion of the bread, then place some parchment paper, or plastic wrap on top.
  6. Press down with a heavy weight and refrigerate at least two hours to compact the sandwich and blend flavors.
  7. Be careful not to leave it pressed more than six or eight hours or the bread may become too soggy.