Lunch at Nonni Laura’s
I’m a life long Italo-phile so it’s a real bonus that my hubby happens to have an Italian Nonni who’s still cooking up a storm at 93. Nonni Laura and I have always connected around our interest in food and cooking, she often calls to share recipes and always comes to every family event with jars of sugo (or polpette, or minestone or risotto or sherry wine cake….) for all of us, as well as platters piled with cookies.
On a recent afternoon, my husband spent the afternoon making minestrone soup with her and they were nice enough to capture it all on video, so not only do you get to meet the one and only Nonni Laura, but now you too can make minestrone like a true Italian grandma.
Yeah, Chicken Parm!
Nonni Laura in the Kitchen
In my last blog post, I introduced you to the one and only Nonni Laura who showed you (via this video) how to make a humongous pot of minestrone, Italian grandma-style. Yum yum!
I wanted to share another of our very favorite Nonni recipes: this time ooey, gooey chicken parmesan, a true Italian-American classic…. and a meal near the top of my kids’ all time “most requested” list. It’s pretty hard not to love that magical combination of rich tomato sauce, melty cheese, herbed breadcrumbs and juicy chicken.
This particular version of chicken parmesan is mostly Nonni’s recipe, but with a few added tweaks and shortcuts by me to make it a bit more doable for busy weeknights. [The recipe recently appeared in the “Fast and Furious Weeknight Cooking” column for the San Jose Mercury News.]
Hope you’ll give it a try…BTW the leftovers make killer sandwiches!
Get the recipe for Nonni’s Quick Chicken Parm.
Nonni hugs are the best!
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Here’s something tasty to eat while you’re awaiting the return of luscious summer fruit. We love our apples, pears and oranges, but somehow they just don’t inspire the way those buckets of cherries and perfect ripe-tart-juicy nectarines do. But then again these spiced, wine-poached pears are pretty great. They’re tender and sweet, with hints of clove and cinnamon, and exotic, earthy aromas provided by a bit of leftover wine. Glossy and gorgeous, this is an old-fashioned kind of dessert, the kind your grandmother might have made — especially if she was Italian. In fact making these always gets my hubby thinking about his Nonni.
We’re very excited to announce a new collaboration with Bay Area Parent. As all of you moms and dads in the area already know, it’s a super handy print and online resource for finding activities, classes, kid-friendly events, and even summer camps — not to mention lots of useful articles on a whole variety of parenting issues from “kids and cell phones” to “finding the perfect preschool”.
Each month we’ll be contributing our favorite easy, kid-friendly recipes for Bay Area Parent’s “Feeding Your Family” column. For our first article for the April issue we chose a light and fresh take on chicken piccata. Our version stays classic with the tangy flavors of lemon and capers, but we’ve ditched the cream to make it a lighter and more everyday recipe. Hands down this is one of our favorite dishes to make whenever that craving for zingy lemon hits…. and it’s a perfect meal to welcome spring, especially when you serve it alongside tender, bright green asparagus.
Click here for our “Light and Fresh Chicken Piccata” recipe on the Bay Area Parent website as well as a Q&A about how Simran and I got started together on this foodie adventure as well as some thoughts about cooking with and for kids. Stay tuned….Simran and I are already hard at work fine-tuning some great recipes for future issues!
I think I’ve checked out Todd Selby’s “Edible Selby” about a dozen times from the library (perhaps I should finally breakdown and buy a copy for myself!) This beautiful book takes you behind the scenes and into the minds of some of the most interesting chefs and artisan food producers around the world. The combination of fantastic food, gorgeous photography and sketchbook pages really takes me to my food “happy place” and makes me suspect that Todd Selby has the best job in the whole world. My kids love perusing this one with me too.
Simran knows I am a total wanna be Italian, so Elizabeth David’s classic book, “Italian Food” about the ingredients and regional cooking traditions of Italy is an essential reference which I can’t believe I’m only discovering now. It’s hard to imagine that when she published this book in 1954, authentic Italian cuisine was virtually unknown in this country. Things have certainly changed for the better in that regard!
I have a little handwritten cookbook where I jot down recipes and details of tasty meals and if you were to flip through this little book you’d find that a contender for the most dog-eared page is the one that contains this biscotti recipe. I got the recipe from Tim’s grandmother who got it from her friend Ann, which means it has the “Italian nonna seal of approval” squared. I’ve made this recipe dozens and dozens of times and it has never failed to deliver perfect, dunkable biscotti which are wonderfully crisp but not so hard that you worry about breaking any teeth. They are great for little teethers, for grown up kids and especially for avid, obsessed coffee drinkers like myself. I love the classic anise flavor and never feel too compelled to experiment much beyond that, but it’s one of those recipes that can be a great canvas for improvisation which makes it a nice baking project for kids. Lend a hand with putting the basic dough together and then stand back and let the kids come up with their own creative (and hopefully delicious) dried fruit, nut and spice combinations…. I’m just guessing here, but I have a hunch Miss Ria’s biscotti concept would include a generous scattering of chocolate chips! Continue reading
One of our favorites as far as pasta sauces go is summery, bright green pesto Genoevse (basil, garlic, pinenuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil). When we start to see cherry blossoms on the trees and get a whiff of spring in the air (like right about now….) I start counting down the days until we begin to find giant bunches of fragrant Italian basil at the farmer’s market. My kids have gotten past the aggressively green hue of pesto Genovese and happily scarf it up and I always keep a special, secret little hoard in the way back of my freezer just for me.
Luca and I did not spend the Lunar year school holiday feasting on dim sum and exploring the amazing collection of cultural treasures at the Asian Art museum as we had planned. In fact there was not even a chopstick in sight. We woke up and the lure of grassy slopes and ocean breezes was just too strong so our year of the snake celebration found us instead driving north across the Golden Gate Bridge to Point Reyes where we hiked, explored a Miwok village and ate a super delish lunch at Osteria Stellina.
We haven’t made it to Flour + Water, the much hyped San Francisco pasta hot spot but we’re inching our way closer with a recent visit to Salumeria, Flour + Water’s new little brother at 20th and Florida’s Streets. Salumeria as you might guess from the name, is an artisan Italian deli where you can find a hand-picked selection of cured, meats, cheese and condiments, but it’s also a worthy eat-in or take out sandwich destination. In other words, Salumeria is our new latest excuse to drive across town to the Mission.
While my heart still belongs to SF’s old school Italian delicatessens (Molinari’s in North Beach, Lucca in Marina and Luca Ravioli in the Mission), Salumeria has plenty to drool over and the stylish surroundings and cool neighborhood are a pretty nice treat too.
- 2-3 daily sandwich specials, salads, soups, antipasti and cheese plates. We split one of the daily sandwiches featuring housemade salami, mortadella and a tasty briny-mustardy tapenade with a perfect little kick. But one look at the chicken salad made us wish we had tried that too. The sandwiches are about $10 but they are big enough to share with a friend possibly (hopefully!) leaving you enough room to try one of their other offerings.
- Salumeria’s deli counter is an antipasto platter’s dream come true. Think house made salami, antipasti and a hand-picked selection of cheeses, oils, honeys and other goodies.
- Grab and go or dine-in in style. Salumeria borrows Central Kitchen’s dining room during lunch so there’s ample seating if you decide to have a sit down lunch. The industrial, concrete fountain entertained my little squirmer while we waited for our food (happy mom!) and unlike many places we go, there was plenty of room to roll the old stroller in and stow it in a quiet corner.
- If you drop by Salumeria on Saturday, look for the Weekend Pasta Project. It’s a pasta kit created by the team at Flour + Water containing all the components and instructions to make a stellar pasta creation at home. A recent kit included tagliatelle, braised pork, summer squash, tomato confit and pinenuts. Just say yum!
Nearby places to eat, shop or play:
- Pop in for a little art at Southern Exposure is just down the street. The gallery is open noon to 6 (closed Sunday and Monday), and features the work of up and coming Bay Area artists.
- Just on the other side of the 101 freeway, The Potrero Hill Community Garden is a great place to take in views of the Mission and Twin Peaks. The kids will probably be interested to know that the garden stands on the site where the famous “Goat Lady” of Potrero Hill used to graze her herb of 18+ goats in the 50’s (there’s more about the Goat Lady on the garden’s website).
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Have you ever had one of those ultimate meals — one your mind wanders back to, even years later? Tortellini in brodo at a little restaurant in Bologna (I can’t even remember the name of the place!) ranks in there as one of the best things I have ever eaten. A few humble tortellini swimming around in some broth — but somehow impossibly delicious. Tim says his grandmother’s cousin Alina used to whip up homemade tortellini for lunch whenever they came to visit her in Lucca, Italy. I regret that I never had the chance to sample them. You can’t get much better than homecooking from an Italian nonna!
So, peeking into my refrigerator the other day and seeing a half of a package of gyoza wrappers and a few pieces of prosciutto, I got the inspiration to take a try at tortellini. It’s really not too hard but it does take some time, so better saved for when you’re not rushed to get dinner on the table. You can do some of it in advance (the broth, the filling) and it’s a nice way to use up extra roasted meat you might have on hand. This definitely falls into the category of something extra special to cook for people you love! Most kids love simple, uncomplicated food, so this should be a big hit.
This will make 100+ tortellini. You can freeze the extra tortellini on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper and transfer to a freezer safe container once they are frozen.
- 1/2 pound chicken (breast or thigh, your choice)
- 1 small onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk celery
- 2 quarts chicken stock
- Several slices proscuitto and/or mortadella
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- Pinch of nutmeg
- 1 egg yolk
- ~100 Fresh pasta squares (wonton wrapper will do)
Extra Chicken-y Broth
I got a little inspiration in the broth department from Charlie Trotter’s “Egg Drop Soup with Ginger-Braised Chicken” recipe from the “Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home” cookbook. He makes a super flavorful broth by simmering chicken in stock and using the resulting braising liquid for the final dish.
- In a hot pan, sear the chicken for a few minutes on both sides until golden.
- Roughly chop 1 small onion, 1 carrot and 1 celery stalk and add to the pan, cooking 5-10 minutes until caramelized.
- Add 2 quarts chicken stock and simmer 30 minutes or so or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken.
- Put the stock through a strainer and skim off the fat. Or to make things easier make the stock the day before, strain and refrigerate, removing the fat after it has cooled.
- Remove skin/bones from the cooked chicken and finely mince. (BTW: In lieu of or in addition to the chicken, you could substitute any combination of cooked meats you might have on hand… a good opportunity to use up leftovers)
- Add a few slices of minced prosciutto and/or mortadella, one egg yolk, and a cup or so of grated parmesan cheese, and just a teeny pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. You could add well-drained ricotta or whatever herbs or seasonings you desire. Mix until well combined. Since all but the egg yolk is cooked, definitely taste and adjust the seasonings — you could even mix in the egg yolk after tasting if you’re concerned about it.
- Fill each pasta square with a tsp of filling. Lightly wet the edges and fold in half to form a triangle. Press to seal making sure there are no air pockets. With the triangle point facing up, bring the 2 bottom corners together around your finger and pinch to seal. Gently fold back the triangle point (the one that was facing up). Place on a kitchen towel without letting the tortellini touch. I used circular gyoza wrapers just because I had them and it worked out fine. Homemade pasta if you really have some time on your hands, would be phenomenal, of course.
- Here’s a video if you want a quick little video tutorial on folding tortellini.
- Heat the broth. If you want you can throw in a handful of peas and some steamed, diced carrots (I know, not traditional, but I’m always trying to get more vegetables on the table).
- Cook the tortellini in well-salted water for 8-10 minutes.
- Spoon the cooked tortellini into bowls and ladle the broth (with the optional vegetables) over. Add some grated parmesan cheese on top.