Tag Archives: Aunt Anna

My best manicotti recipe

25 Apr

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This all began, as so many good things do, with a call to Aunt Anna in Queens. It was Easter Sunday morning and she was in her kitchen preparing dinner. I was at home here in Maine.

“What are you cooking anyway?” I asked after we’d been chatting for quite some time. “You never mentioned.”

“Right now, my meatballs,” Anna said a bit distractedly. “The manicotti I made yesterday. I’m just taking them out of the refrigerator now.”

And for days and days these were the only words that I could hear. It had been a while since I’d made manicotti. It was time.

A quick text to my friends Laura and Bob netted a nice tin of fresh ricotta from the excellent Lioni Latticini in New Jersey—and I was off and running. Thanks to my aunt.

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Thin crepes are the key to good manicotti, the thinner the better. That means the crepe mix has to be super light and so mixing it in a blender is best. (I’ve included the full list of ingredients at the end.) A super hot omelette pan doused in butter is the way to cook the crepes. I keep melted butter on the stovetop and apply it with a bristle brush before pouring out the mix for each crepe.

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To make thin crepes you must barely cover the pan’s surface with the mixture. We’re not talking pancakes here, we’re talking just-thicker-than-paper type stuff. After the mix is set and drying flip it over with a spatula. If your pan is properly heated this won’t take long at all. (I pour the mix straight from the blender into the pan, by the way. That way I can add more milk to the mix as things thicken up, which they will.)

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Here’s what the cooked side should look like. After flipping the crepe it only takes maybe 30 seconds to finish the other side.

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This is about how thick you want your crepes to be. That’s a blue spatula I’m holding behind one of the crepes; you can see the color coming through, right? Nice and thin!

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These crepes can be piled on top of each other without sticking. And if you aren’t making the manicotti right away the crepes can be refrigerated for a couple days. I refrigerated these overnight, wrapped in a roll using wax paper.

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This is a pretty traditional filling, made with fresh ricotta, fresh mozzarella and such (again, the full list of ingredients is below).

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A simple fold from one side and then the other does the trick.

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Lay a light dose of tomato sauce in a baking pan, then line the manicotti up, like so.

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Add more sauce on top, cover in aluminum foil and throw into the oven, preheated to 375 degrees F. Remove the foil after 30 minutes and continue baking for another 15 minutes or so.

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These manicotti are super light and very delicate—a real favorite around here, in fact.

The only thing that could have made them better this time would be to share them with the woman who put the idea into my head in the first place. Hopefully it won’t be too very long before we’re able to see each other again.

Manicotti Recipe

Makes at least two dozen manicotti, likely more than that

For the crepe

2 cups all-purpose flour

4 large eggs

2 1/2 cups milk to start (more as needed)

Pinch of salt

Mix ingredients together in a blender until fully incorporated. It should be the consistency of cream, NOT pancake batter. Add milk and blend more along the way if the mix thickens, which it will.

For the filling

2 lbs ricotta, preferably fresh

1 lb fresh mozzarella

1 egg

1/3 cup grated cheese (I use a blend of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino)

Pinch of nutmeg (though a couple pinches is better)

Salt and pepper to taste

Empty ricotta into a large bowl. Grate the mozzarella into the same bowl. Add all the other ingredients and mix thoroughly. If very stiff add a little milk to soften a bit.

The eggplant that saved Christmas

19 Dec

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Christmas Eve is spent with my extended family in New York, but Christmas Day is for my wife Joan’s outside of Boston. Only three of us are in attendance, and so we’re talking about a much, much quieter affair.

Two Christmases ago my mother-in-law Gin shocked us by announcing that Christmas dinner would be supplied not by her but by a nearby Chinese restaurant known as Su Chang’s. I was informed of this well before the Christmas-morning drive from New York to Massachusetts, allowing ample time to brood over so enormous a break in holiday protocol.

Never had I eaten a Christmas dinner that wasn’t prepared by someone I loved and who loved me. Ms. Chang, if such a person exists, could not possibly be included in this group.

At around 4 pm Gin asked me to call over to the restaurant and place our order. The line, however, was busy. Very busy.

One hundred seventy redials on multiple phones and several other attempts at reaching the restaurant later it became apparent that Ms. Chang would not be providing our Christmas dinner after all. 

“I don’t think this is gonna work,” I announced finally, aware that Gin’s infrequently used kitchen housed none of the provisions required to prepare a meal, let alone one suited to a holiday.

The three of us just sat there in silence.

After a few uncomfortable moments I went to the kitchen and had a look around. There was milk, butter, a few other odds and ends in the fridge; the cupboards were pretty much bare. Alone in a small clay bowl next to a pristine toaster oven were three garlic cloves.

That’s when it hit me.

“I can make an aglio e olio,” I announced. “There’s plenty of pasta out in the car.”

There was indeed. No visit to New York at Christmastime (or most any other time, for that matter) does not include a food run to D. Coluccio & Sons in Brooklyn, and so the trunk of our car was overflowing with staples of all types. These included (but by no means were limited to) dried pastas, some lovely anchovies, and several tins of fine olive oils, all that was necessary to make an aglio e olio.

Not exactly a Christmas feast, I know.

“Well, actually,” I heard my wife say, to my ear rather tentatively. “Hm, I wonder…”

I poked my head out from the kitchen.

“You wonder what?”

She smiled.

“We’ve got Anna’s Christmas gifts in the freezer, remember?”

And out of nowhere a peaceful calm came to me. Someone that I love very dearly, and who loves me, would be providing this holiday’s meal after all.

Christmas had been saved!

Inside Gin’s freezer, you see, were the Christmas presents Aunt Anna had given to us only the night before. One was a whole stuffed chicken that she had stewed in tomato sauce, the other a tray of her fantabulous eggplant parm.

“I’m tired of running around trying to buy you two presents,” Anna sighed, fetching the unwrapped gifts from her freezer. “So I decided to give you what i know you really like.”

Both the chicken and the eggplant were frozen when Anna gave them to us, and our intention was to keep them that way until we were ready to devour them. Gin’s freezer was merely a place to store the gifts before returning home to Maine the following day.

However, and as they say, desperate times…

“I’ll run out to the car and get what I need for the pasta,” I said putting on my hat and coat. “You guys can decide what else you want to eat.”

My money was on them choosing the stuffed chicken but when I returned the bird was still cooped up in the Frigidaire. Anna’s eggplant parm was in the microwave defrosting.

I have never known my aunt’s eggplant to garner tepid reviews and this time was no different. Gin liked it quite a lot; she even kept the leftovers. Dammit!

Still, she was far more amused by the eggplant’s mere presence in her freezer—and on her dinner table.

“We’re eating Christmas dinner from the trunk of a car,” she laughed. And laughed. And then laughed some more.

After we’d finished eating I called Anna to tell her what had happened and to thank her for saving our holiday. As is so often the case our conversation was brief but very much to the point.

“You’re not supposed to eat Chinese on Christmas anyway,” she scolded me. “What’s wrong with you? Sei pazzo?

“I love you too, Anna,” I told my aunt before the line went dead and she was gone.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Thanks are owed

21 Nov

To me, the holidays wouldn’t be the holidays without these two wonderful women.

That’s my Aunt Anna on the left and Aunt Rita on the right. By the look of things I would say that they are taking a well-deserved break from feeding a whole mess of us at some family get together long ago.

Time has altered their appearance a bit. Rita will be 90 very soon and Anna isn’t too far behind.

Each lost her husband at a young age. For decades now they have lived together, currently in an apartment in Queens that is just above Cousin Joan’s and near to several other members of our family.

My aunts are about as close as any two people can be. I know marriages—good ones—that aren’t nearly as inspiring.

Anna and Rita are in my heart always, but never moreso than around this time of year.

I am lucky to be a member of the Christmas Eve celebration they host each and every year. It is literally a feast—the Feast of the Seven Fishes to be exact, totally worth clicking on and checking out—and I would no more miss it than I would lop off my right hand, or even that other one.

For a long time I used to wonder when the holidays might finally, inevitably lose their allure. After all, the years have a way of grinding away at the starry-eyed idealism that’s required to truly love this time of year.

But I haven’t grown at all weary. And in a very large way I owe this to the optimism and love of these two extraordinary women.

I am over-the-moon thankful to them for that.

Happy Holidays everybody.

How to make Genovese sauce

25 Sep

The origin of this sauce is unclear.

Though its name implies a specialty of the port town Genoa, the capital of the Liguria region, good luck finding it anywhere near the place. Rather, the onion-based ragu can be gotten in the Campania region of Italy, specifically around the province of Naples.

Don’t ask me why.

Anyhow, my family’s roots just happen to be planted around Naples. And so when the time came to use my newly harvested garden onions to try making this Genovese sauce, I did the sensible thing to seek guidance: I dialed up my Aunt Anna.

“Didn’t I just talk to you a day or two ago?” she asked.

Anna and I speak regularly but not this regularly.

“Yeah, but I forgot to ask you about this sauce I’m in the middle of making.”

“A what?”

“A sauce. I think you used to make it when we were kids.”

After repeating the word sauce four times and spelling it twice, it was clear that my dear aunt and I were getting nowhere together very fast.

“I don’t understand what you’re saying. Here, tell Frank.”

Cousin Frank is Anna’s son in-law, what with him being married to her daughter Josephine. The two of them just happened to be having lunch with both Anna and Aunt Rita when I called.

“Your aunt isn’t wearing her hearing aid,” Frank said by way of introduction. “I honestly don’t know how you two manage to talk on the phone at all.”

It occurred to me to say that the 300 miles separating my aunt and me doesn’t leave us a lot of options, but I was literally in the middle of getting the ragu started for a dinner party later that same day.

Time was of the essence, as this is the kind of ragu that must be cooked for hours or not at all.

“Just ask her if she used to make a pasta sauce that uses a huge amount of onions, and no tomatoes whatsoever,” I told my cousin. “It’s also got meat in it but the onions are the big thing.”

Dutifully Frank relayed my query, though he too had to repeat himself to be understood.

“She’s shaking her head ‘no’,” Frank told me. “And she’s about the grab the phone from my hand, so goodbye, say hi to ….”

“You’re making a tomato sauce without tomatoes?” Anna cried. “What are you, crazy? Why would you do that?”

“Not tomato sauce, Anna. It’s made with onions and meat and it’s Napoletana so I figured you might know it. I’m making it right now, in fact.”

“You have a recipe?” she asked.

“No, that’s why I called you, to see how you might have made it. I’m just kinda winging it here.”

“You’re singing? I thought you were cooking.”

This is about the time I told Anna that I had to go.

“If it turns out good I’ll give you the recipe. Give my love to Rita. And put in your freaking hearing aid, would you.”

“I love you too” is all I heard before my aunt hung up and was gone.

One day, hopefully many many years from now, I am going to miss these conversations.

Whether they make any sense or not.

Anyhow, these are some of the onions from my garden. I wanted to cook something where they would be a central ingredient, which is how the Genovese ragu came to mind.

Start with a good bit of olive oil and around half a stick of butter.

Once the butter has melted add 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of veal stew meat and brown. Then remove the meat and set aside. (Beef or pork would work fine as well.)

After removing the veal add three finely diced carrots, four diced celery stalks and maybe five chopped garlic cloves (I actually used seven). Sauce until softened.

Then add in the veal.

And then add three pounds of sliced onions.

At this point you’ve got a choice of adding some kind of stock or white wine. I went with around a quart of freshly made chicken stock.

Now add some salt and pepper to taste, incorporate, and cover the pot. Turn the heat to around medium and simmer for a few hours, checking and stirring periodically. The onions will release a lot of moisture, and over time they will completely break down. It’s unlikely that you’ll need to add any other liquid at all, but do so if necessary.

This ragu cooked for around four hours. It’s on the thick side, as I believe it should be, but decide for yourself how moist you’d like it. As you can see, the long cooking time didn’t just break down the onion but the veal, too.

As for which pasta to use, aim towards the hearty, not the delicate. I made these mafalde nice and thick and they worked out fine, but something like a rigatoni or paccheri, or even ziti would be perfect.

It turned out pretty well and so I’m going share the recipe with my aunt.

Hopefully she’ll be able to hear me this time.

Anna’s rice pudding

13 Jan

Our story begins, as so many of them do, at a not-altogether chance encounter with a family member on the afternoon of Christmas Eve last.

“Open your mouth, Meatball, I made Anna’s rice pudding,” commanded Cousin Jennifer, pointing a half-filled spoon at my person and approaching from a distance of seven or so feet. “It’s not any good but I want your opinion anyway. I’ve been waiting for you to show up.”

I have never known Jennifer, daughter to Cousins John and Susie, to be the bossy type and so her aggression was unanticipated. Even Aunt Laura, her grandmother, whom we both were visiting on this holiday and whose diminished health leaves her senses somewhat compromised, looked surprised.

More shocking still is that Jennifer had “made” anything at all. So far as I am aware my cousin’s stovetop is little more than overflow storage space in her small apartment-size kitchen. A story circulates that she once cleared off a burner in order to bring a bit of water to a boil, for tea I was told, but no evidence of this exists, and nobody believes the account anyway.

And yet, here we were, in Laura’s living room, surrounded by other family, not to mention all the beautiful Christmas cookies and candies lined along a sideboard and available for all to enjoy.

Now, I love my cousin very much; let’s be clear on this. Her spirit is generous, her heart full. Being spoon-fed by her hand, if only for a taste or two, was more an intimate familial moment than a culinary one, defined not by the quality of Jennifer’s cooking but by her desire to share the experience with, of all the many fine people in her orbit, me.

“Well?” she said watching as the first bit of pudding made its way around the inside of my mouth. “It’s terrible, right.”

It was nothing of the kind and I said as much.

“Tastes like Anna’s rice pudding, all right. You did good, Jen.”

Just then a second spoonful arrived at my lips.

“But?” Jennifer challenged as I accepted a second taste of her experiment. “C’mon, just say it.”

For someone with so little knowledge of things culinary my cousin proved to know more than I had credited her with. Her rice pudding might have tasted like Aunt Anna’s but the texture… Well, it was all wrong—and she knew it.

“Okay, it’s maybe just a little bit dense,” I offered delicately. “But only a little, can hardly notice.”

This was a yellow cream-colored lie, of course. On the density scale Jennifer’s pudding was in the eighty percentile whereas our aunt’s might sit more in the forty range. She simply had overcooked the pudding, that’s all. At least in my view.

“For a first time out you did real good,” I said encouragingly. “Maybe just cook it a little less next time, or at a lower flame. More importantly, don’t give up. You can do this.”

Arriving back home to Maine after the long holidays I received a text from Jennifer about an unrelated topic, which prompted me to scroll through past messages we had shared throughout the year. I stopped cold at this picture of her with Aunt Anna. They were in Anna’s kitchen some months ago and had decided to say hello to me by sending this photo. “Wish you were here” was their message.

I am not readily moved to emotion and yet this simple, out-of-focus, poorly lighted, not in the least remarkable picture pretty much left me helpless. Certainly its message did. And so I went to my kitchen and did the one thing that I knew would bring the three of us together again: I called my aunt, got her recipe and made her rice pudding.

What else could I do?

Anna’s Rice Pudding
Serves 4-6 people

1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup rice
Pinch of salt
8 ounces heavy cream
3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup raisins

Add the milk, rice and salt to a saucepan and turn the heat to medium; stir frequently so that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom.

In a bowl beat the egg yolks and incorporate with half of the cream.

When the milk comes to a boil turn the heat to low and allow the rice to cook at a slow simmer for around 40 minutes or so, or until the rice has absorbed most of the milk. (Don’t allow the milk to completely evaporate; this will stiffen the rice too much.)

Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and the rest of the cream (the cream that was NOT added to the egg yolks).

Add the egg yolks and cream and incorporate.

Cover the bottom of a serving tray with the raisins and pour the pudding over it.

Allow to cool, sprinkle with cinnamon and serve.

Anna’s baccala & potatoes

22 Feb

Rarely are there surprises when I sit down to a meal with my family. Not when it comes to the food that’s served. I live several hours away from them, you see, and so when I visit their inclination is to prepare my favorite foods, not experiment with new ones. (For the record, I am totally down with this strategy. It is exactly how I want it to be.)

Every once in a while, though, Aunt Anna likes to throw a curve. Take this salt cod dish. Baccala is a staple in our family. On Christmas Eve Anna always prepares it two different ways: one baked with cherry peppers, another shredded and tossed with garlic and olive oil and herbs and served as a cold salad. It has been this way for decades now. And so when a new version with tomatoes and potatoes turned up a couple Christmas Eves back I wasn’t the only person at the table to take notice.

“What’s this?” asked cousin Josephine as the serving bowl touched the bright red holiday table, positioned amidst the many traditional seafood dishes we all expect to be present.

Jo, I should mention, is Anna’s daughter. Christmas Eve is her birthday. She and I often sit next to each other at this holiday’s dinner table. Jo and Anna, who lost her husband at a very young age, lived in the apartment above mine when we were growing up and so Jo has always been more of a sister to me than a cousin. This is probably more information than you need or care about, I’ll admit. But my point is this: If Josephine wasn’t expecting this new baccala dish on our traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes menu then that was really saying something. After all, she and her mother have cooked and baked and eaten together for a lot of years. How could such a thing happen?

Long story short, and as often is the case with my dearest aunt, the answer remains a mystery.

“Do me a favor,” Anna said after I and several others echoed cousin Jo’s query about the new dish. “Just shut up and eat before it gets cold.”

Saute an onion, a couple garlic cloves and around a quarter pound of pancetta in olive oil until the onions have softened.

Add a large potato that’s been sliced like so …

… some salt cod that’s been properly soaked to reduce its salt content …

… and a can of tomatoes. Then simmer at medium heat for around an hour or so, longer if you wish.

Don’t thank me, thank my aunt.

Just don’t ask too many questions.

Aunt Anna’s stuffed eggplant

8 Jul

Sometimes a little misunderstanding can be a good thing.

Take these stuffed eggplant. They were quietly simmering on my Aunt Anna’s stovetop in Queens the other day, waiting for me to arrive in town for the long holiday weekend.

I just didn’t know about it.

“You’re coming over, right?” Anna had said when I’d called from the road to check in. “I cooked.”

“You cooked?” I asked judiciously, cueing up to pay the toll on the Mass Pike. “I thought we were taking you out to eat.”

This was not the first time my mother’s sister and I had miscommunicated. (Hint: One of us needs to invest in a hearing aid. I’ll be a gentleman and refrain from stating publicly which one.)

“You want to take me out,” Anna said, a bit testily I thought. “What for? I just told you that I cooked. Can’t you hear?”

With age I have learned that sparring with my dear aunt, however amusing, usually proves fruitless. Besides, I’d pick her cooking over most restaurant chefs’ any day.

“What time do you want us over?” I asked. “And what can we bring?”

“You come when you come,” Anna told me, ignoring my offer to contribute to the meal. “We’re here.”

I estimated an arrival time at her apartment, which she and Aunt Rita share, then said goodbye to my aunt. However, before I could hang up the cell she was back.

“I made eggplant,” Anna blurted out. “You might not like it, though.”

The toll collector handed back change for a five (No, I do not have an E-ZPass, what’s it to you!) and I rolled up the window and moved on.

“Why won’t I like it, Anna?”

Silence.

“Anna? The eggplant. Why won’t I like it?”

“I didn’t say you won’t like it, I said you might not like it. Maybe you will. How should I know? I have to go.”

These are the stuffed eggplant and the fusilli that my aunt served to My Associate and me, and Aunt Rita and cousin Joan that evening.

And this is the first of three — count ’em, three — plates that I plowed through.

Anna is a gifted cook in so many ways, but her eggplant dishes set her apart from anybody I have ever known. These stuffed eggplant, cooked in a simple marinara sauce, were light as air and damned near as good as her  Old School Eggplant Parm. Which is really saying something.

Whatever gave my aunt the idea that I might not enjoy this dish will have to remain a mystery. Because no matter how many times I asked her to explain herself that evening, all she ever said was, “Shut up and eat.”

Which I did. Happily.

Anna’s Stuffed Eggplant
Recipe

Note from Anna: “Yeah, I know. There are no measurements here. Just eyeball everything, okay. It’s very hard to screw up a dish as simple as this. Even my nephew can do it.”

Whole eggplant
Eggs
Grated Romano cheese
Breadcrumbs
Parsley
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil for frying

Cut eggplant in half lengthwise, remove pulp and dice (do not remove the skin)
Saute the pulp in olive oil until soft
In a bowl, beat eggs and then add the cheese, parsley, salt and pepper
Add the cooked diced eggplant to the egg mix, then add enough breadcrumbs until mixture holds together (do not allow the mix to become overly dry)
Scoop mixture into the eggplant halves
In a frying pan heat olive oil then place eggplant halves skin side down and cook for around 3 minutes; gently flip and cook the other side for the same amount of time
Place the eggplant in a pot of tomato sauce and cook at a gentle simmer for around 45 minutes

Gramercy Tavern baked clams

9 Jan

A not quite ironclad tradition that My Associate and I share around the holidays is an extended (and always lovely and satisfying) lunch at The Gramercy Tavern in New York, in the bar area specifically. This past holiday was an “on” year for our tradition. Which brings us to these clams.

I had chosen them off of the menu, as an appetizer, something to accompany the bubbly that the lovely woman seated next to me was so enjoying. I did this with some trepidation, as all baked clams to me are judged against two no-less-than-stellar versions: my Aunt Anna’s and Don Peppe’s.

Anna’s and the Don’s are the most traditional of baked clams. The Gramercy’s are certainly not that (scallops are used as an ingredient in the stuffing), but they are very, very good nonetheless.

A few days after arriving home to Maine after Christmas with the family I was dispatched to the fish market to gather a few items, among them a bunch of clams. Seems that my lunch companion at the Gramercy had taken note of how well I had enjoyed my appetizer. She had also received “The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook” as a gift days earlier, and so, well, here we are.

Enjoy your clams. I did.

Gramercy Tavern’s Baked Clams
Recipe
Reprinted from “The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook

• 1 cup white wine

• 1 shallot, sliced, plus 3/4 cups minced shallots
• 3 garlic cloves, smashed, plus 2 tablespoons minced garlic
• 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus a few stems
• 20 large cherrystone clams, cleaned
• 1/4 cup olive oil

• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter

• 1 1/4 cups minced onions
• 1 1/4 cups minced leeks
• 1 1/2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced
• 2 teaspoons thyme leaves

• Salt and pepper

• 1 3/4 cups panko or dried breadcrumbs

• 7 ounces sea scallops, chopped
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

• 5 cups rock salt
• 1 lemon, cut into 8 wedges

1. In a large pot, bring the wine, 1 cup water, the sliced shallots, 2 of the smashed garlic cloves, and the parsley stems to a boil over high heat. Add the clams, cover the pot, and steam until they open, 6 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the clams to a large bowl and discard sediment.
2. Remove the clams from the shells and save half (10) of the shells. Cut the clams into quarters and transfer to a small bowl; cover and refrigerate. Separate the 10 reserved shells and rinse them. Strain the broth into a small container.
3. Make the filling. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onions, leeks, minced shallots, minced garlic, ginger, and 1 teaspoon of the thyme and cook until the onions are softened, 12 minutes. Reduce the heat, pour in the reserved clam broth, and simmer until the pan is almost dry. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer onion mixture to a large bowl and set aside to cool.
4. In a large skillet, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the panko, the remaining teaspoon of thyme, and remaining smashed garlic clove and toast, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Season with salt, discard the garlic, and transfer panko to a medium bowl.
5. To finish the filling, add the clams, scallops, chopped parsley, and lemon juice to the onion mixture, season with salt and pepper, and mix well.

6. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spread the rock salt in a large baking pan.

7. Gently pack the filling into the reserved shells. Cover the packed clams evenly with the browned panko, lightly patting to help them stick. Nestle the clams in the salt. Bake just until hot, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

Anna’s stuffed peppers

26 Aug

August used to be when two or three carloads of family members descended on my house. They brought boxes of edible, drinkable gifts with them and for four or five days we would all kick back and have a really swell time.

Well, I don’t know who I pissed off the last time, but we haven’t had one of these big get-togethers for two summers now. Which means that I haven’t been able to drag my Aunt Anna to the Portland farmers market. Or cajole her into picking up a giant load of peppers so that she can stuff them for her favorite nephew.

Lucky for me I have watched Anna plenty throughout the years. Because this summer, just as last, I have been on my own when making these peppers.

Anna usually uses green frying-type peppers, but I went with red. These are sweet peppers, by the way, but you can use hot if you prefer.

Chop up a bunch of garlic and capers, then add some oregano or other herbs if you prefer.

Remove the pepper’s stem, make a cut from top to bottom and clean out the seeds. Then add some of the garlic and caper mixture.

Add an anchovy fillet or two. (If you don’t like anchovies then I’d just use more of the garlic and caper filling, but I can’t vouch for how it’ll turn out because I am a big fan of the little fishes.)

These eight peppers are ready to go and they’re about right for a quart-size jar.

Place the peppers in the jar, top side up, and cover with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and white vinegar. The exact mixture depends on personal taste. We go with either three parts oil to one part vinegar, or two to one sometimes.

You can store the peppers in a cool place or in the fridge. Some people start eating them after a few days, but I let them sit for a few weeks at least. And they’ll last a particularly long time in the fridge.

This batch of peppers is from last summer. I found a jar of them in the fridge downstairs behind some olives that were curing. They were delicious, and the peppers still had firmness to them.

Maybe I’ll even hop in the car and deliver some to my Aunt.

Anna’s Day

2 Aug

I was born into a tightly knit family. I’m lucky that way. Most days I really do hate living so far away from them all.

This isn’t one of those days.

It is Aunt Anna’s birthday, see, and I am wishing her a happy one in a very public forum. My mother’s sister will not take kindly to this display. In fact, she’ll be mad at me for drawing any attention to her at all.

But, hey, there are 300 miles separating us at the moment. What’s she gonna do, smack me? Besides, Anna is in her eighties now. If I’m lucky she’ll forget all about this by the next time I see her, even though I am hoping that the next time I see her will be very soon. (Easy there, Annie; that’s a joke.)

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, even for just a little while, Aunt Anna is already known to you. You have been treated to her recipes for the perfect Easter grain pie and Easter meat pie, even her fabulous pasticiotti. You might also have witnessed her step-by-step instructions for making the best baked clamsstuffed calamari, and old-school eggplant parm. Not to mention the absolute feast that she and Aunt Rita have put on every single Christmas Eve of my entire adult life.

I have asked Rita to fire up her computer and show this to Anna today. I’ve also decided not to prolong my aunt’s discomfort by describing in greater detail how deeply I love her, or how important to me she has been and still is.

I owe the woman that much on her birthday.