Grilled Tuna


When it comes to pure flavor, I’d have to say that tuna, raw or cooked, is my favorite fish. As a true beef lover, I find tuna the perfect substitute when trying to eat healthy. Because I truly enjoy the flavor of this fish, I like to prepare it with a minimum of ingredients and cook it as simply as possible.

My go-to recipe for this “king of the sea” is “Basic Grilled Tuna” in Mark Bittman’s Fish: Fish: Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking.

The recipe calls for marinating a thick tuna steak (1.5 to 2 pounds) in a high-quality soy sauce and olive oil marinade for an hour or less and then grilling it on a hot grill or under a broiler, and basting occasionally with the marinade. After five minutes, the steak is turned and you start checking for doneness by cutting into the steak with a thin-bladed knife.

He warns that tuna should not be cooked to the well-done stage as it will continue to cook after its removed from the heat.

After the first turn

The first time I prepared this recipe, I overcooked my tuna. Now I turn my fish after about 3 minutes on a hot grill pan and then cook it for about 2 minutes on the other side. Rather than using a knife, I keep my eye on the sides of the steak and remove them before the rare middle is cooked. You can see the band of “rare” tuna in the photo above.

Although Bittman provides a recipe for an optional ginger-soy dipping sauce, I prefer to serve the tuna plain with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a lemon wedge.

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc

Roast Chicken Stuffed with Zucchini and Cheese


Back in the day when the Food Network seemed to care more about food than personalities and featured cooks who could teach rather than stars who entertain, Sara Moulton was one of my favorites. Her style was similar to Julia Child’s: instructive and encouraging.

This past weekend, I was happy to discover that she has a new show on PBS, Sara’s Weeknight Meals. I watched her prepare a roast chicken stuffed under the skin with zucchini and cheese with such nonchalance that I had to make it myself. I thought it would be perfect for supper on Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish New Year.

Roast Chicken Stuffed with Zucchini and Cheese Adapted from Sara’s Weeknight Meals

1 medium zucchini (about 1/2 pound), grated coarsely, about 2 cups
Kosher salt
1/2 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped fine (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped fine
1 1/2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
2 slices firm white bread, pulsed in food processor or blender to make 1 cup of fine crumbs
1/4 cup whole milk ricotta
Freshly ground black pepper
One 3 1/2 pound chicken

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 450°F.
2. Toss the zucchini with ¼ teaspoon salt and set it aside in a strainer to drain for 15 minutes.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it is golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

The zucchini with the onions

4. Squeeze the zucchini by small handfuls to remove excess liquid. Discard the liquid and set the zucchini aside.
5. Stir the thyme and well-drained zucchini into the skillet and sauté for 2 minutes over medium heat; transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and set aside.
6. Add the bread crumbs, the Parmigiano-Reggiano, the ricotta, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to the zucchini mixture. Add salt to taste.

The finished stuffing
The finished stuffing

7. Place the chicken, breast-side up in a shallow roasting pan or skillet. Gently slide your fingers under the breast skin and loosen the skin on the breasts and thighs. Do this slowly to avoid tearing it. Rub the skin with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
8. Using your fingers, stuff and spread the zucchini mixture evenly under the loosened skin of the chicken.
9. Truss the legs of the chicken loosely with kitchen string.

Trussed and stuffed
Trussed and stuffed

10. Roast the chicken for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and roast the chicken for 20 minutes. Cover the chicken loosely with foil and roast for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until a meat thermometer inserted into an inner thigh registers 165°F.
11. Remove the chicken from the oven and set it aside for 10 minutes before carving.

Here’s a link to the original recipe: Roast Chicken Stuffed with Zucchini and Cheese. It has a recipe for an optional sauce and suggests accompaniments.

Wine Pairing: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir

Grilled Pork Chops with Onion Marmalade


With a distinctive chill in the air, yesterday seemed to be a harbinger of fall. In fact, it was so chilly last night, that we took supper indoors for the first time since May. Fortunately, earlier in the day, I had found a recipe for Tuscan pork chops on John Fodera’s blog, Tuscan Vines, that I was planning to prepare later this year, but with the change in weather, I decided to prepare it now.

John’s recipe tops thick grilled pork chops with what is essentially a marmalade of caramelized onions spiked with some hot chili peppers. The hardest part of the preparation is waiting for the sliced onions to transform into their caramelized goodness and being tantalized by their sweet aroma.

The caramelized onions

I followed the recipe pretty closely, halving the quantities as I was preparing for two. However, I chose to simmer the onions covered for the first 30 minutes of cooking and then browned them uncovered for the last 20 minutes or so. I also toned down the heat using only one chili pepper and I added a teaspoon or so of a thick balsamic vinegar to lend some acidity and complement the sweetness of the sauce.

Chops on the grill
Chops on the grill

If you’re entertaining, you can easily prepare the onions ahead of time and then reheat them gently as you cook the chops. But do not try to rush the onions, otherwise they will taste more burnt than caramelized.

The onions would also make a great topping for steaks, chicken, or even bruschetta.

Wine Pairing: Sangiovese

Chicken Sautéed with Bay Leaves, Rosemary, Garlic and Onion


I’m often asked which is my favorite Italian regional cuisine. And although my heritage is Neapolitan and Sicilian, and I love the hearty cooking of Tuscany, the exquisite dishes of the Veneto, and the aromatic braises of Piemonte, Lazio is my first choice. There’s something of about the earthiness of Roman cooking, its subtle use of spice and herbs, its tantalizing fried plates, and incomparable pastas that bring be back for visits either by traveling or by cooking.

Indeed, when I cook Roman more often than not I feel like I’m back in the Eternal City at one of my favorite trattorias or al fresco cafes. That’s how I felt last night, as we dined on a delectable pollo in padella, literally “chicken in a frying pan.” This simply prepared dish uses a minimum of ingredients to yield a sauté of chicken so aromatic with fresh bay and rosemary and coated with a silky sauce flavored with onions, garlic, and white wine.

My source for the recipe was one of my go to books for Italian cuisine, Cooking the Roman Wayby David Downie. Although sadly out of print, it’s still widely available online and even as an ebook. In fact, the Kindle version on Amazon is 99 cents, a small price to pay for book that’s not only a source for authentic recipes but for guided tour of Rome and its culinary traditions.

Pollo in Padella Adapted from Cooking the Roman Way

3 pounds skin on-bone in chicken thighs
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 whole fresh bay leaves
3 heaping tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
3/4 cup Italian dry white wine, preferably Frascati

Pat the chicken dry and trim off and discard any excess fat.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in a heavy sauté pan large enough to accommodate the chicken in a single layer. When the oil is hot, add the chicken thighs skin-side down and season the exposed side with salt and pepper. Over medium-high heat, brown the chicken well on both sides, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Chicken browning
Chicken browning

Transfer the chicken to a bowl with a slotted spoon and pour off all the fat and oil from the pan.

Return the pan to the stove and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and the onion. Over medium heat, sauté the onions, stirring often, until the onions become translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté stirring for 1 more minute stirring to avoid the garlic getting brown.

Stir in the bay leaves and 2 tablespoons of the rosemary.

The onion, garlic, and herbs
The onion, garlic, and herbs

Add the chicken, one piece at a time, along with any remaining juices, turning them to coat with the oil and the herbs. Sauté over medium heat for one minute. Add the wine, and bring to a boil to evaporate it for 1 to 2 minutes, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.

Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of rosemary, lower the heat to medium-low, and simmer covered for 45 minutes. Turn the chicken once or twice during this time.

Remove the bay leaves and serve immediately with the pan sauce.

Wine Pairing: Frascati, Montepulicano d’Abruzzo

Pizza Crust IV


My quest for the perfect pizza continues. But after last night’s attempt, I’d say that I’m pretty close to achieving my goal. A few weeks ago, fellow food blogger, Diane Darrow, sent me a link to what I believe to be the best recipe so far for my pizza dough. And so far, I’m sticking with it.

However, my last two posts on pizza switched the focus from the dough to the cooking medium and highlighted Breville’s “Crispy Crust” pizza oven. This counter-top appliance yields very good pizzas with a nice balance between the crisp and chew factors. But after experimenting more with this oven, I felt that its size limited me to making smaller pizzas, about 10 inches in diameter, if I wanted to achieve a balanced crust.

After my first post about the Breville oven, Ms. Darrow wrote to me, saying that she had discovered another tool that promised even better results than the Breville. Last week, she posted a story about it on her blog, Another Year in Recipes.

Named  “The Baking Steel,” it’s a 1/4-inch thick slab of steel weighing 15 pounds that’s preheated for 45 minutes in a 500° or 550° oven. Like a pizza stone, it provides a hot surface on which to bake a pizza, but does so at an even higher temperature.

Baking Steel
Baking Steel

Following Diane’s post, I read more about the steel on Serious Eats. It provided directions for achieving excellent results with the steel by cooking the pizza in the prescribed preheated oven on the second highest rack, but right before putting the pizza into the oven, you turn the broiler to high. Serious Eats has a richly illustrated story on this method.

After reading both blogs, I thought that the steel’s 16” x 14” inch surface would allow me to make larger pizzas, so I went to the manufacturer’s website and ordered one. It arrived the next day.

Last night, I used it for the first time. I’m a convert. It worked as advertised and delivered the best pizzas I’ve made to date: one Margherita, pictured above, and one mushroom, pictured below. I was hesitant to cook the pizzas so close to the broiler so I placed the steel on the third position in the oven. And although they took about 6 minutes more than those on Serious Eats, they were perfectly cooked with an even better balance between the crusts’ crisp and chew factors.

Mushroom pizza
Mushroom pizza

I’m sure that I shall experiment further and next time I will probably take the plunge and move my steel to the higher rack.

One word of caution: if you’re like me and don’t have an air-conditioned kitchen, between the pre-heating and the baking, it does get quite warm in there.

I recommend reading both blogs to learn more about this tool and, if you’re still interested, going to the manufacturer’s website.

Shrimp Marinara with Spaghetti


As of late, quick-fix dishes seem to be dominating our weeknight meals. More often than not, they’re dictated, not only by my schedule, but by what’s in the market and how many extra ingredients I’ll need to pick up. Having over five items kicks me off the express check-out line, so 4 is my maximum number of secondary ingredients.

Last night’s supper is a case in point. Peeled and deveined shrimp caught my eye at the market. I knew I already had half a can of chopped tomatoes sitting in our fridge, so I thought: shrimp marinara with some pasta. The shopping list evolved from there: parsley and spaghetti were the only other ingredients I needed to purchase as I already had plenty of olive oil, garlic, herbs and spices at home. I was out of the market in 10 minutes. (Pity anyone who stands in my way as I race through the aisles.)

If you start with putting up the water for your pasta and prep and cook as it comes to a boil, you can have shrimp marinara on the table in about 30 minutes. Here’s my recipe:

Shrimp Marinara with Spaghetti

2 small garlic cloves, sliced thin
1/4 cup extra-vigin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Calabrian red-pepper flakes (Calabrian red pepper flakes have a lot of heat; you may need to use more or less depending on the type of pepper flakes you have and how spicy you like your sauce.)
16-ounce can chopped Italian tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup chopped parsley
8 ounces spaghetti (I recommend a spaghetti that has flavor and texture. Rustichella d’Abruzzo is my favorite.)

Prepped ingredients
Prepped ingredients

1. Put up the water for the pasta.

2. In a large skillet, over medium low heat sauté the garlic with the red-pepper flakes in olive oil. When they become fragrant and the garlic turns just a very pale gold, add the tomatoes, oregano, salt and pepper.

The garlic and red-pepper flakes
The garlic and red-pepper flakes

3. Continue to cook on medium low and after the tomatoes come to a slow simmer, cook for 15 minutes, string occasionally.

4. At this point, the water for the pasta should be at a boil. Add a handful of salt to the water and add the spaghetti. Cook, following package direction for al dente.

5. While the pasta is cooking, add the shrimp to the sauce, raise the heat to medium and cook until the first side turns pinks, around 3 minutes. Turn the shrimp and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

Shrimp cookiing
Shrimp cookiing

6. One minute before the prescribed time for al dente, using tongs, transfer the spaghetti to the skillet with the shrimp, reduce the flame to low, and toss the spaghetti to coat with the sauce. Off the heat, sprinkle with the chopped parsley and serve.

The spaghetti coated with the sauce

Wine Pairing: Pecorino, Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Sauvignon Blanc

Grilled Fennel Sausage and Peperonata


I cannot count the number of times I’ve prepared Italian fennel sausages. Last night, however, influenced by some cooking show, I opted to grill rather than fry them. Not as fortunate as the show’s chef, who used an open fire, I was limited to a stovetop grill pan. Yet despite this restraint, I’m happy to report that this grilling method yielded thoroughly cooked links that were delectably moist and juicy.

To grill the sausages, I made a shallow slit, about a 1/4-inch deep, lengthwise along one side of each sausage and spread it slightly open to expose the meat. I then placed the sausages slit-side down on a hot grill pan over medium-high heat and cooked them for 5 minutes. When they were nicely browned, I turned and cooked the sausages for about an additional 5 minutes.

I served the sausages accompanied by this classic peperonata inspired by my Neapolitan aunt.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 bell peppers, sliced into 1/4-inch wide strips (I prefer red, yellow, and orange to green)
1 large sweet onion, sliced lengthwise
3 small cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Kosher salt
1 tablespoon dry Marsala

In a large sauté pan heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the sliced peppers and cook them, tossing occasionally, over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, or until they start to become tender and slightly charred.

Add the sliced onion and garlic, sprinkle with some salt, and cook them with the peppers, still over medium-high heat, for about another 10 minutes, again tossing occasionally, until golden brown. Add the Marsala, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. and cook for an additional minute or so. Transfer to a serving bowl.

Pairing the peperonta with the grilled sausages makes a perfect weekday supper as we start to enter fall.

Wine Pairing: Barbera d’Alba, Syrah

Pizza Crust III


A Saturday night without guests for dinner offered us a chance to play with our new Breville pizza oven which I wrote about in my post last month. Rather than changing too many variables, I used the same NY Times recipe as I did the first time I used the new “toy.” However, to improve the balance between the crisp and chew factors, I made 10-inch rather than 11- or 12-inch pizzas and adjusted the amount of sauce used.

I found that making smaller pizzas gave me the perfect amount of chew without decreasing the pizzas’ crispness. I cooked one of the pizzas at the highest temperature (the “thin” setting) for 7 minutes and the second on at a slightly lower temperature (closer to the oven’s “medium” setting) for about 10 minutes.

Both pizzas were very good; but, as the second pizza was sauced a tad more heavily and had a longer cooking time, we thought it was better than the first. The extended cooking at a lower temperature allowed the sauce to develop more flavor and the edges to cook a little more evenly.

The second pizza
The second pizza

Some other variations from last month’s pizzas included using smoked mozzarella and topping one of the cooked pizzas with some wild arugula. Using the smoked cheese added a meaty flavor to the pies, which was perfectly complement by the wild arugula topping on the second.

One side note: when we purchased the oven at Williams-Sonoma a couple of weeks ago, it was $149. Last week, it went on sale for $129. We returned to the store with our emailed receipt and without any hassle they refunded the difference.

Wine Pairing: Lambrusco, Chianti

Pasta Piselli


When my brother left home for college, my mother, while proud of her first born’s academic accomplishment, was sad to see him go. (I, however, was glad to finally have a bedroom to myself.) From that first September until his return for Thanksgiving, a day never went by when mom didn’t say how much she missed him. So when he came home for the holiday weekend, that first night she prepared his favorite dish, pasta piselli, pasta with peas, a recipe that reflected her own Sicilian heritage.

The extreme pleasure he exhibited when she brought it to the table—and consumed multiple portions—is probably why she continued to prepare this pasta every time he returned home not only from college and graduate school but even after he entered the Foreign Service and came back from posts abroad. It was always the first course for his first night back.

My brother has been asking me to re-create this dish, so last night I decided to give it a go.I must admit, I came pretty close. My only disappointment was that I was unable to find ditali, the only pasta shape my mother would use for her pasta piselli.

Our Mother’s Pasta Piselli

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced thin vertically
Freshly ground black pepper
1 16-ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1.5 cups frozen peas
8 ounces ditali or other small pasta

In a 3-quart heavy-bottomed sauce pan with a lid, place the olive oil and onion with a pinch of salt and cook uncovered over medium-low heat until the onions are softened and turn a pale gold.

The cooked onions
The cooked onions

Add the tomatoes with their juice, salt and pepper to taste, and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Add the peas, stir, and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and continue to cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The peas should be well cooked, but not mushy.

The peas added to the sauce
The peas added to the sauce

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in well salted water, following package directions for al dente. Cook for one minute less than indicated. Reserve one cup of the pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta and transfer it to the pan with the sauce. Cook for 1 minute, stirring to coat the pasta with the sauce. If too thick add some of the reserved pasta water.

Transfer to a warmed serving bowl and sprinkle with grated pecorino cheese.

Serve with additional cheese on the side.

Wine Pairing: Negro Amaro

Chicken Fricassee with Lemon and Rosemary


Although my family preferred to dine at home for Italian food, we would on occasion patronize a local neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn named Michael’s. This past summer, after a visit to our parents’ graves, my brother and I, prompted by nostalgia, thought we would return there with our spouses for lunch.

When we entered, we were amazed at how little the place had changed; the son of the original proprietor still remembered us even after a 25 year absence; it was still elegant, with white tablecloths, polished stemware, and attentive waiters dressed in dark suits and ties. Even the menu was as I remembered it, allowing my brother and me to pick out parents’ favorite dishes as well as ours.

Mine was always their lemon chicken on the bone, a fricassee with small bone-in pieces of chicken, perfectly browned and napped in an intensely flavored lemon sauce and always served, even today, with sautéed string beans and a potato croquette.

Last night, I tried to re-create this dish—but only with a modicum of success. I based my recipe on a recipe from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. However, I used a chicken cut into 16 pieces as opposed to the 8 called for by the recipe and I did not follow the original recipe’s directions for cooking the breast meat for a shorter time than the dark. After browning, I cooked the entire batch of chicken for close to 50 minutes. Consequently, some of the pieces of white meat were not as moist as I would have liked them to be. Finally, the amount of sauce I wound up with was considerably less than I had expected, despite using more wine and lemon juice than was called for.

Nevertheless, the final dish was more than edible and both of us went back for seconds. The flavor of the sauce was extremely close to what I was aiming for and the dark meat was both moist and flavorful. Before long, I shall attempt this dish again and hopefully will have more success—perhaps another visit to Michael’s in Brooklyn will help.

Fricasseed Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon Juice
Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking

3 pound chicken, cut into 16 pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 2-inch sprigs fresh rosemary
3 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
Fresh-ground black pepper
1/3 cup dry white wine
4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon
Grated zest of 1 lemon

Wash with cold water and thoroughly pat dry the chicken

Choose a lidded sauté pan large enough enough to eventually accommodate the chicken in a single layer without overlapping.

Place oil and butter in the pan over medium-high heat. When the butter foam subsides, put in the chicken skin-side down. Brown the chicken well on both sides. Add the rosemary, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, turning the chicken from time to time. (At this point, Hazan says to remove the breasts and set aside. I left all the meat in the pan.)

Chicken with the rosemary and garlic
Chicken with the rosemary and garlic

Add the wine, and bring it to a brisk simmer of about 20 seconds. Then lower the heat to cook the chicken at a very low simmer. Place the lid on the pan, leaving it slightly ajar. Cook for 40 minutes (Hazan calls for returning the white meat to the pan at this point), occasionally turning the pieces to ensure even cooking. Cook for at least 10 minutes more, until the thigh meat is tender. While the chicken is cooking, check the liquid in the pan. If too low, add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water.

After adding the lemon juice and zest

When the chicken is done, remove from heat and transfer the pieces to a warm serving platter, using a slotted spoon. Tip the pan and spoon off all but a little bit of the fat.

Add the lemon juice and zest to the pan and place over medium-low heat to deglaze the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape loose any brown bits on the bottom and the sides of the pan. Pour the pan juices over the chicken and serve at once.

We served the chicken with a simp couscous and steamed green beans.

Wine Pairing: Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc