My co-authored effort with Frankie Avalon, The Frankie Avalon Italian Family Cookbook, has just come out. It is jam-packed with wonderful Italian-American recipes, and that means food for everyone in the family to savor again and again. This recipe for a sweet-tar, moist limoncello pound cake is based on the one from his Mom's recipe box. I am never without a bottle of limoncello in the freezer--it is a refreshing way to end a meal, and a wonderful ingredient in desserts like this. Hmmm. Just writing this makes me want to bake one again. The recipe follows...
I often swap (swipe?) recipes with (from?) my dear friend Beth Hensperger, who has written almost as many recipes as I have over the years. OK, we're neck and neck. But the main reason I bring up the Babe of Baking is cornbread. Both of us were raised on a not-very-authentic version of the Southern classic that used canned corn as the moistening agent. This cheap and cheerful ingredient was always in my family's kitchen cupboard, and it never occurred to me to turn my nose up at it. (I was certainly raised to eat with was put in front of me, anyway, with the exception of liver and onions.) The canned corn infused my Mom's cornbread with straight-off-the-stalk goodness. So, here it is the end of the corn season, and I overbought (as usual) at the market. Faced with a mountain of corn, it struck me that I could puree some kernels with sour cream to approximate the canned corn, and go from there. Here's what happened...
It's been over a dozen years since I first had this perfect summer dessert while researching my KAFFEEHAUS book in VIenna. At Hans Diglas's cafe, one of the most venerable spots in the center of the city near St. Stephen's, I saw a big tray of layered cake in an old-fashioned metal baking pan, topped with red currants and meringue. Hans shared the recipe for the book, and I adapted it for more readily available blueberries. Is this the perfect Fourth of July dessert? I think so!
I am the human equivalent of a mutt, with roots in Hawaii, Portugal, Ireland, Liechtenstein, and Spain. Each branch of the family identified itself through its cooking, and with two Portuguese grandfathers, that country's cuisine showed up a lot. Where I grew up in California, in the East Bay, has a huge Portuguese community. Recently, on a FB page celebrating my California hometown of San Lorenzo, there was a big discussion about one of our "local" specialities--vinho d'alhos.
Chicken Savoy is a popular dish at many Italian restaurants in my area. How popular? There are people who call it “the unofficial state dish of New Jersey.” Mamma mia! Take that Italian hot dog! (Don’t know what an Italian hot dog is? I’ll tell you later…)
When you have lemons, make lemonade. When you have beautiful, fresh-off-the-farm, golden yolked eggs with gorgeous, naturally hued, make…rice pudding. The eggs were a gift from my friend and cooking teacher Sue Sell, and they were so pretty that it was difficult to find the resolve to crack them open. (Check out the photo to see how the yolks contributed to the yellow color in the finished dessert...and yes, that is a feather.) But why rice pudding?
Mixing culinary metaphors isn’t really my thing, and I like my cooking straight-up authentic (and tasty). But, last night I applied a Mexican cooking tradition to my Italian pizza. No, I didn’t just add jalapeños.
Enchiladas can be sauced in many different ways—rancheras, molé, suizas, verdes, and more. A dish of enchiladas sauced with two different sauces is called enchiladas divorcadas, or divorced. I couldn’t decide what topping to make for our Friday night pizza, having tomatoes, broccoli, ricotta, and mozzarella at hand, and I didn’t want to do a mash-up. My solution was to make divorced pizza—a white broccoli on one side, and tomato and mozzarella on the other.
Here's another Italian specialty that I've learned to make in the last few years...perhaps proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks. It's meat and cheese pie, an Easter specialty loaded with cold cuts to celebrate the return to eating meat after a Lent-long fast. My version is based on the one from Patsy's Italian Family Cookbook. I spent many hours at Patsy's watching Chef Sal and his crew making their old-school dishes that have made the restaurant famous for over 70 years. My version is actually streamlined, as I used a four-cheese pizza mix and sliced cold cuts instead of the individually prepared ingredients. The dough is easy to make, thanks to instant yeast (you don't have to worry about the water temperature). The pie goes by many names--Pizza Gaina or Pizza Chena (both dialect variations of Pizza Piena, which is Italian for "filled pie") or Pizza Rustica. No matter what you call it, it is delicious. I am always surprised at how easily is comes together.
More than baked ham, more than roast lamb, my must-have Easter dinner tradition is coconut layer cake. Its annual appearance on our holiday table goes back to my childhood. My mom and our neighbor Ardi thought nothing of staying up all night designing 3-D cakes, and Easter always featured a funny bunny with white jelly bean teeth and shredded coconut fur. (Yes, the fur and frosting was often tinted with food coloring.) I'm all-grown up, and now I prefer my coconut cakes for their flavor rather than their cuteness factor. When working on TOMMY BAHAMA'S FLAVORS OF HAWAII, I recreated the piña colada cake that is a favorite at their restaurants. This is a truly fabulous cake, with a white chocolate mousse frosting, tender yellow cake, crushed pineapple, and a generous splash of rum. (If serving to kids, use non-alcoholic rum-flavored beverage syrup.) <Photo by Peden + Monk from FLAVORS OF ALOHA, available only at Tommy Bahama stores, restaurants, and www.tommybahama.com.>
I'm not Italian. Not a drop. But I have worked with some incredible (one might even say iconic) Italian cooks, including Sal Scognomillo at Patsy's Restaurant in New York City (Sal would want me to say, "NOT the pizza place!"), Frankie Avalon, and Carrabba's Restaurants. When I lived near Hoboken, I bought my zeppole at none other than Carlo's City Hall Bake Shop, then, as now, the Cake Boss's place. I have cooked and eaten so many zeppole that I must have achieved Honorary Italian Status by now. Here is my recipe, featured in the new Patsy's Italian Family Cookbook, which is available for preorder at amazon.com, and will be published on March 24...just in time for Italian Easter!