Archive of ‘Italian Recipes’ category

Italian Lace Cookies, Or How I Wooed My Sugar with Sweets


This weekend I am giving you three great Italian recipes in three days.

This recipe comes with a particularly good story.

The first year I knew my husband, before he was my husband, I already knew I was in love. I actually thought so as soon as I met him, but there was a moment soon after that confirmed it. 

One hot summer evening, John (whom his family calls Giance, for Gancarlo, and most of his friends call JC) had to pick up something he’d been storing in his mom’s garage (I can’t remember what it was now, but maybe after he reads this post it will refresh his memory), and he invited me to come along. This was a very big deal.

I’d only met his mother once before. Also, I’d never been to her house. So that evening, as the sun was setting, we drove out of Manhattan and into Queens.

When we got there, John got busy doing whatever man thing he needed to do in the garage, and his mother took me on a tour of the house. I was most excited to see his old bedroom, the place where my future husband (yes, I thought of him that way even then), had slept and dreamed, and possibly, even dreamed of me.

At that time, Lil and I were still on formal ground. I remember looking around the room, and from the corner of my eye, I could see her gauging my reaction as I studied the framed family pictures she put on his old desk, and John’s old belongings. At last my eyes rested on the wall, where there hung a framed letter from the astronaut Alan Shepard. As I read the letter, Lil told me that it was a response to a letter John had sent him, complete with illustrations. My husband is an artist, and even back then, Lil said, his talent was apparent.

I cannot begin to explain how touching I found it that John wrote to his hero, and I could imagine the hopeful excitement he felt when a letter arrived for him in the mail several weeks later, with Alan Shepard’s name on the top left side of the envelope. I imagined my husband as a little boy ripping it open and pulling out the note to read it.

I just wanted to break down right there and confess to Lil, “I love your son so much. I promise I will take good care of him. Really, you don’t have to worry.”

But, I couldn’t say any of that. It was too soon. What I could do though, was show her.

Soon enough I was invited to her house again, this time for dinner. Determined to impress, I researched Italian cookie recipes and found this one for Florentines. I spent an afternoon baking, and then arranged the cookies on a pretty plate to take for dessert.

Lil is a smart woman. I knew when she saw me bringing homemade cookies, homemade Italian cookies, she’d be on to me. And really, that was just fine. She could infer what she wanted. She would probably be right.

Almost ten years later, I am still fond of these Florentines. The thin, delicate cookies pack a surprisingly big crunch, and the zest of orange and chocolate do the tango in such a way as to compliment, but not overpower, each other. Sort of like me and John. The cookies look fancy, but are not all that hard to make. Some good parchment paper or a Silpat mat are the only extravagant tools you need.

Now that John and I are married, and we have a family of our own, these Florentines still come in handy. If I find myself exhausted, and irrational at times, as is easy to feel when you are tired, stressed, and have small children, I think of that night at his house when I first saw his old bedroom. Imagining the little boy he was then, the excitement that prompted him to send an illustrated letter to his hero, somehow calms me, and keeps me from flying too far off the handle. Not always, but usually.

As for the Florentines, they can also be quite romantic. After all, they’re made of lace.

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1 3/4 cups sliced, blanched almonds (about 5 ounces)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Finely grated zest of 1 orange (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon fine salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup finely chopped chocolate pieces
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper.
Pulse the almonds in a food processor until finely chopped, but not pasty. Stir together the nuts, flour, zest and salt in a large bowl.
Put the sugar, cream, corn syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a rolling boil and sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla, then pour mixture into almond mixture and stir just to combine. Set aside until cool enough to handle, 30 minutes.
Scoop rounded teaspoons (for 3-inch cookies) or rounded tablespoons (for 6-inch cookies) of batter and roll into balls. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment or a Silpat mat, leaving about 3 to 4 inches between each cookie since they spread. Sprinkle with the chocolate.
Bake 1 pan at a time, until the cookies are thin and an even golden brown color throughout, rotating pans halfway through baking time, about 10 to 11 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks to cool. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve.
Adapted from Food Network
Adapted from Food Network
The Anonymous Eater

Spiced Meatballs

Delicious meatballs made with breadcrumbs and nutmeg

This weekend I’m giving you three days of three great Italian recipes, starting with yesterday’s Sicilian shrimp cous cous.

Tonight, we’re having meatballs for dinner, and what I like about the recipe for these tangy, spiced meatballs is that you don’t need to serve them with pasta. They make a great stand alone meal, with a little sauce on top. If you want to serve them with something on the side, try a  brown rice, quinoa, or sweet potatoes. I like mine with a salad. Remind me this week to post my favorite salad dressing recipes. I will show you how you can have big flavor, without a lot of fat.

Spiced Meatballs
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1 medium onion, finely minced
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
dash allspice
1 cup fresh chopped parsley
3 to 4 tablespoons butter or margarine, for cooking meatballs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups beef broth or bouillon
Cook onion in 2 tablespoons of butter. Combine with meat, bread crumbs, milk, eggs, seasonings and parsley.
Mix together and form into firm balls about 1-inch diameter. Cook in small batches with a little butter or margarine and shake pan frequently to help prevent sticking.
When all meatballs have been browned on all sides, stir flour into pan drippings. Gradually stir in beef broth. Stirring constantly, cook over low heat until thickened. Mix with one can tomato paste and serve with meatballs.
Serves 4 to 5
The Anonymous Eater


Star Inspiration, Star Chef


This weekend I will be posting three great Italian recipes, starting with this one.

I love this picture. I took it Saturday afternoon at Agata and Valentina on University Place, where their 20th anniversary celebration was in full swing! On the right are Agata, Joe, and Valentina, proprietors of one of my favorite markets in the city.

On the left is Michael Lomonaco, star inspiration and star chef. He was there to prepare Sicilian shrimp and cous cous. During the demonstration, Agata explained that although cous cous is from Morocco, it’s close enough to Siciliy that they can almost kiss. It’s no surprise then that cous cous made it’s way to the southern tip of Italy. (Okay, it was a little surprising to me, because I don’t think of cous cous as Italian at all.)

Here’s his recipe for Sicilian shrimp and couscous. It makes a great light supper!

Sicilian Shrimp and Couscous
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1 pound fresh small shrimp, peeled and deveined, shells reserved for broth
2 cups bottled clam juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
Pinch of saffron threads
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups packaged, quick-cooking couscous, rinsed under cold water and drained
1/4 cup shelled almonds, coarsely ground
Pour the clam juice into a medium-sized saucepan, and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Add the shrimp shells, and lower heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Discard the shells.
Pour the oil into a large pot set over low heat. Add the onion and cook until softened but not browned, about four minutes. Add the saffron, tomato paste, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and red chile flakes. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until very fragrant, about two minutes.
Pour in the shellfish broth, and stir the bottom of the pot to dislodge any browned bits. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce heat to a strong simmer. Stir the couscous, and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, about two minutes.
Season the raw shrimp with a pinch of salt and pepper, and then stir them into the couscous. Cover the pot and let the shrimp steam until firm and pink, about four minutes. When done, turn off the heat.
Divide the mixture between four large bowls. Garnish each with a tablespoon of the ground almonds. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
The Anonymous Eater