Swordfish Breaded Palermo Style


For me, one of the most attractive characteristics of Italian cooking has always been its simplicity–its recipes with minimal ingredients and simple preparation. As I child, I used to watch my mother and aunt in the kitchen turn out multi-course dinners for us, night after night, without breaking a sweat. They cooked from memory the simple dishes with which they themselves grew up. One such dish was baked fish coated with breadcrumbs, which hailed from my mother’s Sicilian family.

Yesterday, when I came home from the fish market with some beautifully fresh swordfish, I thought I would try to recreate my mother’s dish and started looking for a recipe.

My search led me to one from Arthur Schwartz’s The Southern Italian Table: “Pesce Spada Impanata,” or Swordfish Breaded Palermo Style. Thin cutlets of swordfish are coated with seasoned bread crumbs and quickly baked. The savory, garlicky coating perfectly complements the subtly sweet, meaty flavors of the swordfish.

I served the fish accompanied by another of my mother’s favorites, string beans sautéed with garlic and oil.

Swordfish Breaded Palermo Style from The Southern Italian Table

1 cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon roughly ground fennel seed
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound swordfish, cut into 1/4 inch thick cutlets
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Lemon wedges

Place a rack on the highest rung of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450° F. (The position of the rack is important as it allows for a faster baking of the fish and the browning of the crumbs. RM)

Combine the breadcrumbs, salt, fennel seed, garlic, parsley, and 1 tablespoon of the oil on a large plate. Mix until all the bread crumbs are moistened with oil. (My breadcrumbs were quite dry and I needed to add a little more than the called-for tablespoon. RM)

Brush the fish slices lightly with the remaining tablespoon of oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Dredge each slice in the seasoned bread crumbs, pressing the crumbs into the fish so that each side is well coated. Arrange the fish slices on a baking sheet.

Bake the fish for 5 to 6 minutes.

Serve hot or at room temperature with lemon wedges.

My Note: Be sure to have your rack on the highest rung possible of your oven and to use a baking sheet without sides as opposed to a sheet pan with sides. Doing so will help the breading get more color. I did not have a baking sheet and had to put the fish under the broiler for the final minute or so to lightly brown the crumbs.

Wine Pairing: Grillo, un-oaked Chardonnay

Coq Au Riesling


What attracted me to this dish when I saw Nigella Lawson preparing it on the Food Network was that the chicken did not require any browning, which definitely shortens the clean-up time. I admit, however, that I was skeptical, since I knew that without any color, the chicken might not be too visually appealing. Nevertheless, the ease of prep and minimal cooking time convinced me to go ahead.

I was more than pleased with how the dish turned out the first time and have made it several times since, making small adjustments to the original recipe. As for the esthetics, the fresh dill add a lot of color. The savory-bacon and woodsy-mushroom flavors of the broth when combined with the buttered noodles have prompted many a guest to ask for seconds.

Coq au Riesling Adapted from Nigella Lawson
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic peeled and lightly smashed
1 cup bacon sliced into 1/4 inch strips
1 1/2 leeks (finely sliced) Slice from the white just to where the leek starts to turn green.
12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 2.75 pounds)
3 bay leaves
12 oz portabello mushrooms (torn into strips)
1 bottle dry riesling, ideally Alsatian.
salt (to taste)
fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (to serve)
Buttered egg noodles to accompany.

Heat the oil and garlic clove in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven and fry the bacon stripe until crisp Remove the garlic clove when it starts to take on color;

Add the sliced leeks and a pinch of salt and soften with the bacon for a minute or so.

Add the chicken thigh with the bay leaves, torn mushrooms and wine.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and bring to the boil. Cover the pot and simmer gently for 1 hour. Like all stews, this will taste even better the next day.

Serve sprinkled with dill and together with some buttered egg noodles.

Note: Do not skimp on the quality of the Riesling. It accounts for a lot of the flavor in this dish.

Here’s a link to the original recipe.

Wine Pairing: Dry Alsatian Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc

Cauliflower Sausage Gratin


Cauliflower has always been one of my favorite vegetables, especially when simmered slowly in onions in tomato sauce, a dish my Sicilian mother would often serve during Lent. I had originally planned to make this dish last night, but with my brother and his wife coming over for dinner, I thought I needed something more substantial for a main course. I looked through my files and found the answer: a recipe from television’s Iron Chef Michael Symon came to mind: cauliflower sausage gratin.

Sausage plays a supporting role in this dish, adding a savory succulence to the mild nutlike flavors of the cauliflower. A sweet tomato sauce with Vidalia onions and a buttery Parmigiano-panko crust complete the cast.

Cauliflower Sausage Gratin Adapted from Michael Symon


Olive Oil
3/4 pound Fennel Italian Sausage (removed from the casings)
1 medium head Cauliflower (about 2 pounds; cut in to small florets)
Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper (to taste)
1 medium Onion (small diced)
4 Garlic cloves (minced)
28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
1 cup Flat Leaf Parsley (chopped)
2/3 cup Panko Breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
Unsalted butter

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Place a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil along with the sausage. Cook, breaking up the sausage as you go, until browned, about 10 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add cauliflower to the pot and brown on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Depending on how much fat is left in the pan from browning the sausage, you may need to add some olive oil.

To the pan, add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until the onions become soft and aromatic, about 5 minutes. When the onions are almost done, add the garlic, stirring to make sure the garlic does not brown.

Add the crushed tomatoes with their liquid, along with the sausage and any remaining juices. Bring the mixture up to a simmer and give it a taste, adding additional salt and pepper if necessary. Mix in the parsley, minus 1 tablespoon, and then pour the whole mixture in to a 13×9 baking dish.

In a small bowl, mix together the panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the sausage and cauliflower, dot with butter, and bake until golden brown on top and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then serve.

Just from the oven
Just from the oven

Garnish with parsley.

Here’s a link to Michael Symon’s recipe from The Chew

Wine Pairing: Morellino di Scansano, Merlot

Gemelli with Tuna and Tomatoes: Act II


Raised in a family who suffered through the Great Depression, I was often reminded how important it was to save money and never let good food go to waste. My mother never let me forget that “people were starving in other parts of the world.” Her words made a lasting impression.

Indeed, using one night’s leftovers for the next day’s meal helps me justify spending so much for top quality ingredients. Tuesday’s gemelli with tuna and cherry tomatoes is a perfect example. The pasta’s main ingredient, Italian tuna packed in olive oil, was quite expensive—close to $25 for the two six-ounce jars—add to this the cost of the other ingredients and we’re looking at almost$40.

The pasta was wonderful the first night; however, I’m not a fan of reheated pasta, especially when it was prepared with fish. So I thought I would serve it last night as a salad. I took the pasta from the fridge two hours before dinner so that it would come to room temperature. I then made a light vinaigrette with some extra-virgin olive oil and a little balsamic vinegar. After tossing the past in the dressing, I added the juice of one lemon, a finely minced clove of garlic, a few more quartered cherry tomatoes, a good pinch of salt (cold dishes always seem to require more salt) and some freshly ground black pepper.

I served the pasta on a bed of wild arugula dressed with a drizzle of olive oil, some lemon zest, and a pinch of slat.

Paired with a dry rosé from Provence, this repurposed pasta was the perfect dish for dining al fresco on a humid summer’s night.

Would enjoy hearing from others their thoughts about using leftovers.

Gemelli with Tuna and Cherry Tomatoes


Last night we enjoyed one of our favorite weeknight pasta dishes: Gemelli with Tuna and Cherry Tomatoes. The source, a seven-year old recipe from Rachael Ray. The counterpoint between the unctuous, savory tuna and the fresh, sweet cherry tomatoes makes for a wonderful sauce for the twisted-twin strands of pasta.

Over the years, I’ve modified the recipe to meet our own palates, boosting the savory side with some capers, adding a little heat with some crushed red-pepper flakes, and using a touch of vinegar to brighten the dish with some acidity. If you would like to view the original recipe, here’s a link: Rachael Ray’s Original.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
pinch of crushed red-pepper flakes
2 jars solid Italian tuna in olive oil (6 ounces each), drained
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 pint small cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons small capers packed in brined, rinsed and drained
Coarse salt and black pepper
1 pound gemelli pasta – short braids of pasta or other short-cut pastas, such as penne rigate, can be substituted, cooked to al dente in salted water
1/3 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped (about 3 handfuls)
20 leaves fresh basil leaves, shredded
Serves 4

Add olive oil and garlic to a large, deep skillet. Place over low heat and slowly poach the garlic to extract as much flavor as possible, about 5 to 6 minutes. Do not let the garlic to take on any color.

Raise the heat to medium and when garlic starts to sizzle, add tuna and mash into oil with the back of a wooden spoon. Reduce the heat to low and let the tuna sit in the oil for about 5 minute to infuse the fish flavor into the oil and to give the tuna time to break down. Add the wine to help break down the tuna so that it almost melts into the oil. If necessary, add a little of the pasta water.

Tuna being mashed in oil and garlic
Tuna being mashed in oil and garlic

When the tuna is like a thick pasty sauce, raise the flame a bit and add the quartered tomatoes, vinegar, and capers. Season with salt and pepper. Heat the tomatoes through until they start to break down, 3 to 4 minutes, then add hot, drained pasta that has been cooked to al dente.

Tuna with tomatoes and capers added
Tuna with tomatoes and capers added

Add the parsley to the tuna and pasta and toss to combine well and evenly coat pasta. Adjust seasonings. Top pasta with shredded basil and serve on heated plates.

Pasta plated
Pasta plated

Wine Pairing: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Frascati


Grilled Steaks, Corn on the Cob, and Tomato Salad


Gone are the days when I could eat steaks like this 3 or 4 times a week. Now, more health conscious, it’s more like a once-a-month indulgence. Rather than our small electric grill, I prefer to use a two-burner grill pan to prepare steaks like this one.

I leave the steaks out of the fridge for about an hour to let them come to room temperature. I dry them with paper towels, and season one side liberally with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. I place the steaks seasoned-side down on a preheated hot grill pan pressing down to ensure full contact with the grill. I then season the second side as I did the first.

I cook on high for one minute and then on medium for about 5 minutes more for steaks that are an 1.25 inches thick. I then flip and cook on high for one minute and on medium, again for about 5 minutes.

After each one minute sear on high, I move the steaks to the center of the grill so that they’re not directly over the flame.

After cooking, I allow the steaks to rest for several minutes before serving.

For our salad, I prepared a fresh tomato salad that I used to enjoy as a child. For the tomatoes, I used some beautiful mini San Marzano tomatoes grown in Texas by Village Farms that I just discovered at our local Whole Foods. They’re perfectly textured and delightfully sweet.


I slice the tomatoes in half and season with Kosher salt. I then add one large garlic clove thinly sliced, a pinch of dried oregano, and about 6 basil leaves torn. I drizzle the salad with extra virgin olive oil and add a small ice cube. I then cover the salad with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. The ice cube is a carry over from my aunt, who used it to extend the dressing.

Wine Pairing: Valpolicella Ripasso

Veal Stew with Tomatoes and Peas – Adapted for “Detoxing”


“Culinarily challenged” is how I felt this weekend, when a close friend coming to spend the 4th with us announced just before arrival that she was “food detoxing.” She explained that, during this period, she could not eat anything that had wheat, flour, sugar, any grain, most dairy products, including milk, cream, cheese, etc. The list seemed endless.

A roast chicken with sautéd spinach made up our first dinner. Breakfast the next day allowed for scrambled eggs with smoked salmon. When I asked her what she would enjoy for dinner, she said “something stewed.” Given what seemed like an endless list of prohibited foods, I thought of recipes with minimal ingredients, which led me to Marcella Hazan’s “Veal Stew with Tomatoes and Peas” from her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Veal, onions, peas, and tomatoes are the main players. The recipe also calls for some flour and butter in supporting roles, but I could easily work around those prohibited ingredients.

I’ve always enjoyed this stew, which calls for a much longer cooking of peas, fresh or frozen, than has become fashionable these days. But that lengthy time, at least an hour, extracts a lot of flavor from them, which integrates perfectly with the mild taste of the veal.

To make the dish my own, I also add some rehydrated dried porcini and some of their liquid when I add the peas. In addition, right before serving, I stir in a gremolata, made from minced garlic, lemon zest, and parsley, a condiment often used to garnish and enhance osso bucco.

Veal Stew with Tomatoes and Peas Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds of boned veal shoulder, cut into 1.5 inch cubes
3 tablespoons chopped red onion
Fresh ground black pepper
1 28-ounce can of Italian crushed tomatoes
12 ounces frozen green peas, thawed
1 ounce dried porcini, rehydrated in warm water. When the mushrooms have rehydrated, in about 20 minutes, strain the water through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth or through a coffee filter, reserving a few tablespoons of the filtered water to add to the stew. Chop the mushrooms roughly.

For the gremolata
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine
1 small garlic clove, minced
Simply mix all of the above in a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

1. Put the olive oil in a non-reactive, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, preferably enameled cast iron, and heat the oil on high. When the oil is hot, place as much of the meat that will fit loosely in a single layer, and brown on all sides, turning until all sides are well browned. Transfer the meat to a plate and season with salt and pepper. You may have to repeat this step to finish cooking all the meat.

2. Turn the heat down to medium and add the chopped onions. Cook, scraping up any browned pieces of veal, until the onions become a pale gold. At this point, return the meat and any remaining juices to the pot. Add the chopped tomatoes and their juice. Bring to a bubble and then lower the heat to allow for a slow simmer. Cover the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour.

3. After the hour, add the peas, the chopped mushrooms, and 2 tablespoons of the filtered soaking water. Cover again and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for an additional 1 hour or 1.5 hours, until the veal is very fork tender. Before serving, taste and adjust for seasoning. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the gremolata.

Typically, I serve this dish with polenta or crusty Italian bread. However, given our guest’s restrictive diet, I opted for mashed potatoes, using organic chicken broth and extra-virgin olive oil for moisture.

Wine Pairing: Dolcetto, Sauvignon Blanc

Shepherd’s Pie. . .Well, Sort of


My post for 30 June highlighted a pressure-cooker pot roast with potatoes. Given the size of the roast and the number of potatoes, we had enough leftover for at least one more meal. Of course, I could have simply re-heated them, but I wanted something a little different. It didn’t take too long before I decided to make shepherd’s pie.

I realize this dish is a popular way to use up leftover lamb, but I thought why not beef. Looking at recipes in cookbooks and on the net, I started to get ideas: peas and pearl onions for more flavor, broth for more moisture, flour and butter to thicken the sauce for a gravy; olive oil for whipping the potatoes to make the topping.

I took the leftover pot roast, about 3 or 4 cups, and chopped it roughly in a food processor, reserving the juices.

I peeled the leftover cooked Yukon Gold potatoes, about 6, seasoned them with a little salt and put them through a ricer. I then whipped the potatoes with a hand mixer, adding a little chicken broth and some olive oil until they were creamy.

In a large skillet, I melted a tablespoon of butter, to which I added a cup of frozen pearl onions, and a cup of frozen peas and carrots. I sautéed the vegetables until the onions were a light gold and then seasoned them lightly with some salt.

To the sautéed vegetables, I added the juices from the roast and scraped up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. I added the meat to reheat. After it reached a simmer, I pressed about a tablespoon of butter and the same amount of flour between my fingers to create a paste. I added as much of this to the pan stirring continuously until the sauce thickened some to become a gravy.

I transferred the contents of the sauté pan to a square baking dish and covered them with a thick, even layer of the mashed potatoes, which I sprinkled lightly with sweet paprika, mostly for color.

I baked the “pie” in a preheated 375° F oven for 10 to 15 minutes, and then placed it under the broiler to brown the crust for about 3 minutes.

Right from the oven
Right from the oven

We were more than pleased with the results; the flavors were richer and more varied than the original roast.

Wine Pairing: Zinfandel

Shrimp with Zucchini and Tomatoes


Yesterday, I was challenged to to prepare the following recipe from Weight Watchers. At first glance, it looked fine.

Shrimp with Zucchini and Tomatoes

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup of grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup water

Heat 2 teaspoons of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add zucchini in a single layer; increase heat to high and cook until bottoms are golden, about 2 minutes. Flip zucchini and cook until golden on the other side, about 2 minutes or more. Remove zucchini to plate with a slotted spoon. Heat remaining oil in the same skillet. Add shrimp; sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper; sauté until shrimp are almost cooked through, about 1 minute. Stir in garlic and water; sauté, stirring to loosen bits from the bottom of the land, until shrimp are cooked through and tomatoes are softened, about 1 to 2 minutes more. Return zucchini to skillet; toss and serve.

However, when I brought the ingredients home and re-read the recipe I couldn’t resist making some changes for the following reasons., which would unfortunately slightly increase the number of Weight Watcher points.

First off, I don’t like to sauté in nonstick pans. I have two, but use them exclusively for eggs and omelets. I opted to use stainless steel, which necessitated using an extra tablespoon of olive oil.

Second, I thought that sautéing the tomatoes for 1 minute really wouldn’t extract their flavor or change their texture.

Finally, I thought combining water and raw garlic to “deglaze” the pan wasn’t going to add much flavor.

So, keeping most of the ingredients except for substituting wine for the water as well as adding an additional tablespoon of olive oil for sautéing and a quarter cup of chopped parsley for garnishing, I prepared the recipe with a few changes to the instructions.

I added all the olive oil (2 Tablespoons) up front and sautéed the zucchini along with the garlic for about 3 minutes; I kept my eye on the garlic making sure it remained light gold and not brown. As a a result, the zucchini were only lightly colored but nonetheless perfectly cooked.

I transferred the zucchini, garlic, and oil to a bowl, making sure there was no garlic left in the pan. I then carefully poured off most of the oil from the bowl, without any of the garlic, back into the sauté pan. I then seasoned the grape tomatoes with the salt and oregano and sautéed them until they started to break down and create a sauce.

At this point, I added the shrimp and cooked on one side until they turned pink, about 2 minutes. I then turned the shrimp and cooked for about 1 more minute. Then I added the wine and returned the zucchini, garlic, and any remaining oil in the bowl to the pan. I cooked everything for about about 2 more minutes. I then plated onto heated plates, sprinkling the shrimp with some chopped parsley and served with couscous.

I know the final dish had a few more Weight Watcher points than the original, but I think the extra flavor and texture of my version may have been worth them. However, if you are following their program religiously, I think you’ll be more than happy with the original recipe at the beginning of this post.

Wine Pairing: Dry Rose

Sausages and Cannellini all’Uccelletta


Last year, I came across a recipe for turkey sausages and cannellini beans all’uccelletta on The Cooking Channel’s show, Extra Virgin. It’s a classic Tuscan dish, where the beans are cooked in a similar fashion as one would small birds, that is, seasoned with sage or, as in this case, with fresh bay leaves.

We enjoyed this dish a lot; but after experimenting with it, I developed my own recipe, using sweet Italian pork sausages and canned crushed Italian tomatoes rather than fresh cherry tomatoes.

Enjoy this dish all year round, served with crusty Italian bread to sop up the sauce.

2 tablespoons olive oil
8  sweet Italian pork sausages
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced into chunks
1 28-ounce can crushed Italian tomatoes
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
5 fresh bay leaves
small pinch fennel pollen (optional)
2 handfuls fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat a sauté pan large enough to hold the sausages in a single layer over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to heat. Once hot, add the sausages and brown on all sides, for about 10 minutes total. Remove the sausages from the pan to plate and reserve.

Add the garlic, and sauté just until golden. With a wooden spoon, stir in the chopped tomatoes and crushed red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. (When seasoning, be aware that the sausages may already contain salt.) Lower the flame, and cover the pan with a lid, simmer for about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have thickened to a sauce-like consistency.

Add the browned sausages (and any juice left on the plate), the beans, bay leaves, and optional fennel pollen to the thickened tomatoes. Stir well and simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes.

Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with the chopped parsley before serving.

For those interested in the original Cooking Channel recipe, here’s a to that recipe.

Wine Pairing: Chianti Classico, Sangiovese, Merlot