Seven Fishes 2015

Octopus Salad
Seven Fishes 2015: One down, six to go…
Photo Copyright © 2015, Skip Lombardi

For a host of reasons, your AlmostItalian.com team of two is far behind the proverbial eight-ball this year.

That doesn’t mean we’ve not been staking out our place on the fishing docks of Stonington, Connecticut, or standing in line for calamari fritti at the local Holy Ghost Society’s Friday suppers. Fear not, we continue to champion the foods of our Italian-American communities. And since they are at their best in winter, we’ve stalked and scored the wild and wiley scungilli

We just haven’t been posting as much thanks to the diabolical gremlins messing up our DSL service. We can think of more than a few Sicilian curses to hurl at the telecom companies exploiting the hapless, underpaid “customer service” agents in distant call centers, places where we suspect one can’t even find the solace of a good dish of pasta at the end of the day. But hey– it’s Christmas– or more correctly– la vigilia, Christmas Eve, and we should be more positive and offer you just a little something to take the edge off.

Here’s a little Polpo Marinato. We made this last night and the gently cooked “baby” octopus have been marinating in lemon, olive oil, capers fresh Florida tomatoes, peppers, and parsley. The salad will stay in the fridge till it’s time to lift a glass and wish everyone Buon Natale later this evening.

We’ll give you the recipe in a few days. Subscribe and you’ll be notified as soon as we do. No SPAM, just good cheer and delicious food!

The Calamartini


Eccolo!!! The Calamartini
Image © 2015, Skip Lombardi

The Calamartini® —from the people who taught you how to cook scungilli...

We’re not opposed to evolution or fusion, but in this age of bacon gelato and mac ‘n cheese pizza, we’d like to keep things simple.

Here’s our relaunch of the classic Mad Men libation.

The Calamartini

Ingredients:

A bone-dry vodka or gin
A dash of extra-dry white vermouth, whose herbal notes complement seafood

Garnish:

A sliver of lemon rind
A wisp of fresh dill or fennel frond
The tentacles of one small squid*

Eccolo! A savory marine cocktail with a twist.

* Note: we microwaved our Loligo pealei on high for 30 seconds, then chilled it until we assembled the cocktail.

What Would Pope Francis Cook?

Was it only two years ago that we first presented our recipe for Pasta e Ceci to celebrate Pope Francis’s ascension to the Papacy? The peripatetic Holy Father has covered a lot of ground since then and now he’s here, back in the New World.

Pasta e Ceci
Pasta e Ceci
Copyright © 2013, Skip Lombardi

To welcome him, we once again offer this modest, everyday Roman dish, a heavenly combination of ditalini and chick-peas. We can well imagine that after a week of airline food and banquets, the Holy Father may be yearning for a little home-cooking.

For Pasta e Ceci, Romans favor ditalini, which cook quickly within the broth of already-cooked pulses. Also called paternoster and avemarie, Our Father and Hail Mary, these short semolina tubes are reminiscent of rosary beads. Since devout cooks often said their evening prayers while preparing supper, some families maintained a tradition of gauging the cooking of their pasta according to the time it took to recite one or more prayers!

Ditalini and Rosary Beads
Ditalini with traditional kitchen timer
Copyright © 2013, Skip Lombardi

The dish is quickly assembled. Just be sure your chickpeas are thoroughly cooked before you begin.

Ingredients:

For the battuto:

Olive oil
1 large stalk of celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice (reserve any leaves for garnish)
1 medium onion (about 4 ounces), cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 Tablespoons flat-leaf Italian parsley including stems, finely chopped
2 Cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 bay leaf

For the soup:

1/2 teaspoon dry marjoram
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 ounces dry chickpeas, soaked and cooked according to package directions, OR
2 15-ounce cans of cooked chickpeas, drained & rinsed
8 ounces ditalini
4 Tablespoons flat-leaf Italian parsley, finely chopped.

To garnish:

Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle
Additional chopped parsley & any celery leaves
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Make your battuto

Heat a 4 to 6-quart pot over medium-high heat, then add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot.

Lower the heat to medium-low and add all the ingredients for the batutto. Sauté, stirring occasionally for approximately 10 minutes, or until the ingredients soften and barely begin to caramelize.

Make the soup:

Add the marjoram and a few grinds of black pepper and stir. Cook for a minute or two, allowing the herbs and pepper to begin to permeate the batutto.

Add the drained canned chickpeas (OR the home-cooked chickpeas and their cooking liquid) to the battuto. Add additional water so that you have a total of 6 cups of liquid in the pot. Adjust the heat and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

Have your garnishes ready as the pasta will cook very quickly.

Add the ditalini to the broth and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 minutes before you test one of the ditalini.If the pasta has reached the al dente state, the soup is ready. If not, continue cooking and tasting for another 1-2 minutes.

To Serve:

Ladle the soup into shallow bowls. Drizzle a teaspoon of fruity olive oil over each portion and garnish with parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.


Benvenuto, Francesco e buon appetito a tutti!

Serves 4-6.

Tenerumi Redux

Given our interest in Italian-American ingredients, yesterday we pounced upon this lovely basket of squash tendrils at Chase’s Daily in Belfast, Maine. We couldn’t help noting that surrounding this quintessentially Italian home garden specialty were Japanese eggplants, Thai basil, and produce with New World origins— Maine fingerling potatoes, multicolored cherry and husk tomatoes along with herbs like epazote and papalo.

Tenerumi at Chase's Daily, Belfast, Maine
Tenerumi at Chase’s Daily in Belfast, Maine
Copyright © 2014 Skip Lombardi

Late summer is the time of culinary fusion as gardens overflow. It’s easy to forget that the gardens of Italian immigrants—with their Mexican tomatoes and peppers—were already hot-spots of gastronomic change and experimentation. A generation or two from now, who knows what Italian-American food may include?

An abundance of squash means that the fast-growing tips of their vines, known in Italian as tenerumi, can be repeatedly harvested and enjoyed as components of pasta dishes. Once cut, the delicate tenerumi haven’t a long life in the fridge so they are hard to find in commercial distribution.

However, if you or someone you know has a garden, take a cue from our Italian grandparents…