Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Apple and Cranberry Season

What do you think of when you think about autumn?  The leaves turning brilliant colors?  That it’s time to wear your favorite bulky sweater?  How much fun it is to stroll through the pumpkin patch, searching for that perfectly shaped pumpkin to put on your front steps or by the hearth.

Me, I see red.  Deep, rich red.  The color of apples and cranberries.

Columbus Day Weekend is traditionally the time to go apple picking.  Whether you venture out into the orchard and actually pluck the apples off the trees or visit the local farm stand and choose your favorite varieties from large wooden bins – it’s still apple picking in my book.

One friend of mine makes apple butter, another makes apple sauce.  I prefer apple crisp.  Because the apples are so naturally sweet, I add cranberries for a kick of tartness.  Besides, cranberries are so plentiful here in New England.

Here’s the recipe:  Apple Cranberry Crisp Recipe

 

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Breakfast for Dinner

 

We didn’t have a plan when my brother and I decided to meet up for dinner last Friday night.  But after a tough work week, we were ready to ease into the weekend.  So instead of going to a noisy, crowded urban hot-spot, we agreed to just hang out at my place.  Besides, I had chicken parm in the freezer I could pop right into the oven.

My Italian-American sisters can back me up on this: we generally have chicken parm in our freezers.  Or a tray of lasagna at the ready.  And red sauce.  Or Bolognese.  It’s just what we do.  We cook and cook and then put it all in the freezer.

But my brother had chicken for lunch so he wasn’t too enthusiastic when I mentioned the chicken parm.

“Well…I have a carton of buttermilk, a pound of bacon, and a dozen eggs in the fridge.  Wanna have breakfast for dinner?” I suggested.

“Yeah!” he eagerly agreed.

For us, pancakes are comfort food and we both needed a dose the other night.

Within minutes, bacon was sizzling, flour was being sifted, and eggs were getting whisked.

My buttermilk pancake recipe comes from some long-forgotten, old-school cookbook.  I re-named the recipe the “best ever buttermilk pancakes” and if you make a batch, I think you’ll agree.

Best Ever Buttermilk Pancakes

 

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Let’s Talk Turkey

Whose idea was it to make turkey the traditional Thanksgiving dish?  Do you think the pilgrims actually served turkey stuffed with cornbread and celery at their feast?  After all, Plymouth is right on the ocean, so they probably ate fish.  Maybe we’re all supposed to be dining on the Thanksgiving Lobster.  I’m just saying…

Okay, so I’m not crazy about turkey.  One or two slices of the bird, and I’m good.  The next day, you open the refrigerator and remember just why they call it foul.

For me, turkey day is all about the sides.  I can’t wait for the mashed potatoes, the green beans with the onions, cranberry sauce made from scratch, and kernel corn slow baked in a ramekin.

sweet-potato-casserole

One of my favorite sides is an easy sweet potato casserole with a hint of vanilla that can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave.  I’m happy to share the recipe with you.

sweet-potato-casserole

Whether you like apple, pumpkin, chocolate, or my personal favorite – lemon meringue – I’ll bet the expression, “life is uncertain, eat dessert first” was coined with pie in mind.  In fact, instead of nicknaming Thanksgiving “turkey day,” I’d opt for “pie day.”  And the next morning while all the shoppers are jockeying for a parking space at the mall so they can get in on the Black Friday sales, I gonna sleep in and eat leftover pie for breakfast.

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Soup’s On

stock-pot

The weather has finally shifted and the dry, crisp autumn air means it’s time to dig out my stock pot.  Nothing’s better than putting up a pot of soup on a Saturday morning.  You can enjoy it over the weekend and still have some left over for the work week.  I have several “go to” soup recipes that are easy, healthful, and freeze well.  One was given to me by a friend; another I found in a magazine.  But my spinach soup recipe comes from the first cookbook I ever bought, The Regional Italian Kitchen by Nika Hazelton.

I’d just gotten my first place on my own.  The apartment was a studio with a galley kitchen smaller than the average bathroom. There was barely enough room for my dishes, let alone for a cookbook, so it got wedged between two college texts on a book shelf in the main room.

That was a long time ago.  Now la cucina has a dedicated bookcase for my ever-growing collection of cookbooks.  Yet The Regional Italian Kitchen remains one of my most frequently used cookbooks, just as the spinach soup remains one of my all-time favorite recipes.  This flavorful soup can stand alone, or you can add a small chewy pasta like orzo or ditalini.

spinach-soup-1
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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Cook Out Calamity

BBQ“I’ll gain ten pounds over the 4th of July weekend,” my friend lamented.  “Everyone thinks the five weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve are the toughest time of the year to maintain your weight – but it’s the fifteen weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day that’ll get you.  I’m in the middle of one long cook out calamity!”

She made me hungry as she described what she’d eaten at the backyard party she’d most recently attended.

“From the minute I got there, I was like a Hoover vacuum cleaner,” she confessed.  “A hot dog – three, four bites tops, and it was gone.  Ribs dripping with sugary barbecue sauce.  Fried chicken cooked to crispy perfection.  The potato salad and the macaroni salad – carbs swimming in mayonnaise.  And don’t get me started on the desserts…”

When I weighed all this (no pun intended) against Turkey Day (which is really only one meal), a few holiday parties where you stand with a flute of champagne in one hand as you nibble on tiny hors d’oeuvres, and a tin of homemade Christmas cookies it takes you a good two weeks to polish off, I’ll admit, she had a point.

Still, this wasn’t a calamity.

There was an easy solution to her dilemma.  I offered her a simple, healthy, delish summer salad that looks pretty and transports well.  The perfect dish to bring to a cook out.

Cold Veggie Salad

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Buona Pasqua!

Easter Tulips

Buona Pasqua means Happy Easter in Italian.  Saying it evokes vivid childhood memories of Easters spent at my grandparents’ house.  I remember each and every Easter dress, coat, and hat I wore.  But mostly, I remember the food.

An Italian-American immigrant, my father’s mother was old-school when it came to holiday cooking.  For Easter, she made lamb.  A whole baby lamb.  Maybe it’s a texture thing, but I’ve never cared for it.  Despite the accompanying caramelized roasted vegetables that decorated the large oval meat platter, the lamb looked like a small dog sprawled out on the good bone china.  It was enough to make my little brother cry.  “It’s a puppy!  Don’t make me eat it…”

My reward for suffering through the lamb was the Easter bread, called “cuzzupe.”  My grandmother and her sister each made it differently.  A serrated knife was needed to saw through my grandmother’s cuzzupe, which was intentionally dry and hard, to symbolize unleavened bread, while my Aunt Theresa’s cuzzupe was moist with a subtle vanilla aroma.  Regardless of which sister you asked, getting the recipe for cuzzupe was not an easy thing.  My mother eventually pieced together this much from them:

7 ½ eggs cuzzupe
1 stick butter
1 ¼ tbs vanilla extract
2 ½ tbs sugar
3 ¾ tsp baking powder
Salt
Add flour, a little at a time – enough flour to knead
confectioner’s sugar and egg white for the icing

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  Why were they so specific about the SEVEN AND A HALF eggs, yet so vague about the quantity of flour?  Did they know just how much flour was needed simply by how the dough felt in their hands?

When I began hosting Easter at my house, I tried making the cuzzupe.  It was a disaster.  Luckily my mother has the patience, and she continues to make it every year, adjusting the recipe here and there.

Me?  I like a sure thing.  So I make the “cassata” or Easter cheesecake.  And I’m happy to share the recipe with you.

Easter Cheesecake recipered poppy

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Zitella's Favorite Recipes

Let’s Do Brunch!

Last weekend an old friend was in the city.  You may have heard it was cold here in Boston.  Frigid is not the right word.  Neither is arctic.  Try dangerously bone-chilling.  In fact, meteorologists warned that frostbite could occur after only a ten-minute exposure to the absurd temperature.  Needless to say, strolling through Boston’s Italian-American neighborhood, the North End, was no longer an option.  Likewise, shopping on Newbury Street was out of the question.  We had no choice but to chill – no pun intended – and stay in.

So I made brunch.

Brunch is, in my opinion, a highly underrated meal.  Think about it: you don’t have to get up early; you get to eat bacon; and you have permission to pour some prosecco in your OJ or vodka in your tomato juice even though it’s not quite noon-time.
orange cranberry sconesCall me the Queen of Brunch, but I like setting a colorful table.  A vase of red tulips, burgundy water glasses, and a few Marimekko red poppy plates are a great antidote for the winter blues.  A pot of strong coffee, an egg and veggie frittata, a warm fruit salad and you’ve got yourself the perfect meal for a lazy day.  And then there are the orange cranberry scones…

Are your weekdays harried and stressful?  Mine sure are.  When the weekend comes, we need to take a break, catch up with friends and family, stop texting and start talking.  What better way to do that than to stay in next weekend and make brunch?

Orange Cranberry Scone Recipe

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