Potato Pie – A Recipe For Busy People

cropped-cropped-DMO_014211.jpg  My Mom’s Sicilian Potato Pie for Busy People

When I was a kid growing up in the late 50s and early 60s, my mom held down a full time job.  This was a little unusual at the time as working mothers was sort of a new breed.  In addition to her 40 hours a week job and tending to a family, she also cared for an aging mother who lived downstairs from us.

Mom had a full plate, yet never complained and believe it or not never failed to have a quality dinner on our table.  She always planned ahead and prepared many dishes, sauces and cooking stocks on the weekend to use during the week.

The Supporting Cast in Gracie's Sicilian Potato Pie

The Supporting Cast in Gracie’s Sicilian Potato Pie

I know I spend a lot of time here talking about the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet and how my mom’s cooking reflected that style many years ago.  This recipe is a bit of a diversion, as its loaded down with eggs, cheese, and ham.  Consider making this on your cheat night!

Below is a recipe we enjoyed weekly and can come in handy when you are in a pinch for a quick meal.  From “7 Days of Italian Cooking – Gracie’s Guide to Everyday Meals”

 Potato Pie

I had almost totally forgotten about this dish till I went looking through my mom’s old recipes book.  This was one meal I think she took real enjoyment in making.  Not a lot of prep time needed and everyone, even my picky sister enjoyed Mom’s Potato Pie.

  • 2 lbs. Potatoes                                                
  • 4 tbs. grated Romano or Parmesan
  • ½ lb. shredded or cubed mozzarella                             
  • 2 tsp. chopped Italian parsley
  • 2 thick slices of ham                                      
  • ½ cup bread crumbs, chopped
  • 1 thick slice pancetta, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste (I love Sea Salt)
  • 6 large eggs

 Clean potatoes and boil in salted water until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes.  Let the potatoes cool, peel and mash until smooth.  In a large bowl add the potatoes, the mozzarella, ham, pancetta, eggs, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper.  Mix well.

Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

Butter an 8×8 baking dish and sprinkle bread crumbs to cover lightly the bottom of the dish.  Save some bread crumbs for the top.  Place potato mixture in the dish and now sprinkle the remaining bread crumbs over the top.  Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Finished Product

Finished Product

 I have a real picky eater at home and both my wife and I are busy with work.  This dish has bailed us out on all fronts many times.  I always think back to my mom and marvel had she managed to pull everything together.  I guess life was simpler back then.


Want more of Gracie’s Secret recipes?  Click the ad below for her “7 Days of Italian Cooking – Gracie’s Guide to Everyday Meals.”

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Gracie’s Rice Balls – A New Year Treat

My Mom always started the New Year with a special appetizer to ring in the celebration. I remember the first time she made rice balls, I swore I wouldn’t like them.  Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

LZ98_001_0016_11DM  Unfortunately mom’s recipe for rice balls never seemed to have made it in print form.  As with many of her specialties she made them from memory.  Rice Balls or Arancine di Riso or as my mom called them Rice Croquettes have their origin in Sicily where they were often sold by street vendors.

My mom stuffed her croquettes with mozzarella cheese and loved putting these out on New Year’s Eve.   There was always a few family members that celebrated with us and of course someone was always looking for food.

When I had my Specialty Shop we use to stuff them with either mozzarella or sausage and peppers.  When visiting Sicily a few years back I saw the stuffed with peas, meat sauce or a cheese sauce.  Our croquettes were usually made in a traditional Sicilian manor, about two inches in diameter, but you can make them with just about any filling or size you want.  Ham, prosciutto and bacon are also common stuffing.

Here’s a recipe I found in “Enoteca, Simple, Delicious Recipes In The Italian Wine Bar Tradition.”  I made a few changes, but for the most part it’s author Joyce Goldstein’s creation.

Ingredients (makes 12 to 16 two inch croquettes):

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped saffron threads, steeped in 1/4 cup of hot water for 15 minutes
  • 1 tsp. salt or more to taste (I use sea salt)
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 tbsp. grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 12 to 16 cubes of fresh Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1 tbsp. chopped fresh sage
  • 3/4 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
  • Grape Seed oil for deep frying (my preference for deep frying)

Combine the water, saffron, and salt in s saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the rice all at once, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.  Simmer until the rice has absorbed all the water and cooked through but still sticky, about 20 minutes. Stir in eggs and Parmesan and season with salt and pepper.

 Click Here for Gracie’s Product Review

and the best Saucepan for making these Croquettes


Remove the pan from the heat and spoon the rice out onto a baking sheet, spreading it out evenly to cool it quickly.  Refrigerate till cold but not hard.

To make the Croquettes:

Roll the cheese cubes in the sage to coat evenly, and spread the breadcrumbs on a plate.  Take a spoonful of the rice into your hand and with your finger make an indentation into the rice.  Tuck a cheese cube into the indentation and smooth over with the rice making a round two inch ball.  Dip the balls into the breadcrumbs, making certain to cover them evenly.  Place the croquettes on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Repeat until all the rice is used up and transfer to refrigerator until you are ready to fry them.  They can stay refrigerated for up to 24 hours.

Rice Croquettes ready for frying.
Rice Croquettes ready for frying.

To Cook The Croquettes:

Pour the Grape seed oil to a dept of 3 inches into a deep saute pan and heat to 350.  Now I prefer Grape seed oil because it has a high smoke point making it a good choice for sautéing, stir frying or baking.

Read our earlier post on the Benefits of Grape Seed Oil.

Click Here

Add the Croquettes, a few at a time to the hot oil.  Getting the oil hot is key, otherwise the Croquettes will not cook properly and can break up.  Lift them out of the oil a few times with a slotted spoon so that the cheese will have time to melt in the center.  This is a great tip I learned form Goldstein’s book.

Continue to fry the rice balls for 6 to 7 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove with your slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain.  You can keep them warm in the over while you cook he remaining croquettes. Serve them hot and I always have some tomato  sauce or Sunday Gravy to dip them into.


Want more of Gracie’s Secret recipes?  Click the ad below for her “7 Days of Italian Cooking – Gracie’s Guide to Everyday Meals.”


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The Christmas Tree Story and Gracie’s Baked Ziti

I love the tradition behind a live Christmas Tree as much as anyone, and my story is of a very special Christmas many years ago.


fpx122212-07  Every year it seems to be the same story.  My wife and I along with my son and daughter head over to the local firehouse to purchase our Christmas Tree.  The action begins the second we get into the car.  It starts with one of the kids claiming it’s their turn to pick out the tree.  An argument immediately erupts and this happy, jolly occasion turns into a “Why do we bother doing this each year” affair.

This year promised to be very much the same.  My daughter had returned home from her second year of college the night before and was excited to pick out the tree.  She reminded my son the it was her turn and he surprisingly agreed.  I had seen this ploy of his before  and knew his fight was not over.  He would shoot down every tree she picked out.

The following evening we take the short drive to the firehouse and begin the process of grabbing the perfect tree.  In the car they reach a pact and decide to make the trip fun.  I don’t believe this for one second, but my wife reminds me they are growing up and hopefully more mature.

I’m still not certain about this love affair the kids are having and wait for the fireworks to begin.  I walk over to a fireman friend in an attempt to stay away from the impending confrontation.  At this moment I cannot help but think back to a very early time in my life when the tradition of having a Christmas Tree in the house was put to the test due to a death in the family.

It was November of 1956 and I’m five years old.  My grandmother (my father’s mother) had passed away kind of unexpectedly.  I don’t remember the exact circumstances behind her passing but I clearly recall my father’s grief.  Returning home after the funeral, he announced that in keeping with tradition we (he) would need more time to grieve and that there would be no Christmas Tree or lights displayed on the house this year.

My sister and I did not know what to say.  The disappointment was clearly etched on our faces.   I remember my mom pulling him aside and trying to convince him to let us have a normal Christmas but my father remained firm in his decision.  As the days marched quickly to the holiday and our friends were continuously talking up Santa and Christmas my sister and I now became fearful that even Mr. Claus would not stop at a house without a Christmas Tree.  Our Christmas love was fading.

Back then my father owned a tiny stationary store and employed a local kid from the neighborhood.  Harold was 19 years old at the time and getting ready to join the armed services.  My sister and I regarded him as an older brother and my parents treated him like one of the family.  Harold would spend nearly every Sunday with us and loved  my mom’s cooking.

My father, still shaken by my grandmother’s passing, had Harold close the store on many evenings.  A few days before Christmas he stopped by the house after his evening shift to  give my father the keys.  Christmas was definitely in the air as a light December Snow had settled onto the streets and sidewalks of the neighbor.  He walked into the house handed my father the keys and asked. “Hey Pat, why no tree, and where are the lights?”

The silence that filled the room was upsetting.  “Why don’t you let me take the kids out and pick up a tree and when I come back I’ll get the lights up?  Really Pat, it’s Christmas for goodness sake.”  I didn’t know what to expect, but for the first time in  many weeks, I saw my father crack a half smile. He reached into his pocket for a few bills, passed them on to Harold and said, “Sounds like a good idea kid, why don’t you do that.”

My sister and I had our coats, hats and gloves on in a split second and raced to the garage for one of our sleights.  We meet Harold in the front yard and began to sing Christmas Carols as we made our way the few blocks to a spot where they were selling trees.  We only hoped that there would be a good one left.

Word had spread quickly in the neighborhood the weeks before about my dads refusal to get a tree and word spread even quicker that we were finally going tree shopping.  A few friends and cousins meet up with us and our Christmas Tree trip turned into a posse of kids and carolers celebrating the season.  Before we left the house my mom had pulled Harold aside and asked if he was hungry and assured him she would get started on making his favorite, a Baked Ziti (Recipe below).

The trip felt like it took forever and I worried that a good tree would still be available.  We arrived at the lot just as the snow ended and a bright winter sky filled with stars pointed my sister and I to the tree we wanted.  We returned home, just as the Baked Ziti was coming out of the oven.

Harold and my father went to work on the lights while we decorated the tree.  What hours before was only a wish shared with a bedtime prayer, now transformed our home into the visible wonders of the Christmas Season. The joy we all showed also seem to transform my dad, filling him with a holiday spirit that would stay with him the rest of his life.

Filled with this memory, I became distracted and barely noticed my wife and kids at the register, squaring up their tree purchase.  “Come on dad we’re set to go.  What do you think of this one'”  as they held the tree up for my inspection.  “Wait a second” I said “we’ve only been here a minute.  Where’s the fight, the argument, you’re breaking tradition.”  “We both love this one and besides its time to start a new tradition of making this trip fun with pleasant memories,” said my mature daughter.

Almost on cue a light snow began to fall through the still bright December sky.  My wife sharing my surprise with the kids, said “Looks like this could be a good Christmas.” “Christmas is always good” I replied.

Gracie’s Baked Ziti: 

Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti Ingredients:

  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 pound Ziti pasta
  • 2 cups of Sauce (more if needed)


 1.    In a large bowl combine the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt, pepper, eggs and 3/4 of the mozzarella cheese.

 2.    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and start boiling 4 cups of salted water.  Add the pasta and cook until not quite al dente.

 3.    Drain the past and return to the pot.  Combine drained pasta with the ricotta cheese mix and 1 cups of sauce.  Mix all well.

 4.    Cover the bottom of a good size casserole dish with some of the remaining sauce and layer the pasta into the dish.  Add the remaining sauce evenly and top with shredded mozzarella.

 5.    Bake for 20 minutes or until the Mozzarella is melted and lightly browned.  Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Gracie’s Tip – Go out of your way to find fresh Ricotta Cheese.  Any Italian Market will be sure to carry fresh Ricotta.

Happy Holidays Everyone!



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photos by: & robot-girl

What I’m Making on Christmas Eve

 LZ98_001_0038_11DM  “As a child I never did understand why we had to eat fish on Christmas Eve and why there had to be seven different kinds.  I was not a big fish fan and most of my cousins felt the same way.  As the entire family gathered to celebrate we often made faces as Baccala and Mussels and Tilapia fillets adorned the table.  We put up with this mainly because it was Christmas Eve and we didn’t want to upset the adults.  From Gracie’s Christmas Eve Recipe Book – Night of the 7 Fishes

As I got older I really began to love that tradition.  I made my best attempt the past years to pass that along to my children as well.  However, like me at their age, they  make faces when the seafood is brought out and ask if I made pasta, or pesto or gnocchi.  So with that, my “Night of the & Fishes” has turned into 3 fishes and a bunch of other stuff.  Here’s what I’m making:


As with just about ant special occasion we start out with Gracie’s Farmer’s Antipasto.  I talked about this in my Thanksgiving post, so if you missed it or need a refresher,  Click Here

     Next up Shrimp Wrapped in Prosciutto.  I love this dish and for some strange reason have not made it in a few years.  In my Christmas Eve Recipe book I talk about how you need to make sure you make enough.  If you have any big eaters coming over, keep an eye on them as this dish will quickly disappear.


This is one of those dishes that you need to buy according to your needs.  If you having 20 people than make 40 .  The below ingredients will make enough for 10 people, unless of course you invite me over.

  • 20 Jumbo Shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 20 thin slices of Prosciutto

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.  You may have to make this in stages, so in a large sauté pan warm the olive oil and add the shrimp.  Sauté quickly until they turn pink, about 2 minutes.  Remove from the pan and add white wine to deglaze, soaking up the brown bits on the pan bottom.  Remove the pan from the heat.

Wrap each shrimp in a piece of Prosciutto and place on a baking dish.  Place in the oven to help seal the juices from the meat over the shrimp, about 2 minutes.

      Meanwhile reheat the pan juices and arrange the shrimp on a serving platter and top with the pan juices.  The recipe says to serve immediately, which should be no problem as your guest will be lining up waiting.

First Course (Primo):

In a traditional Italian meal the first course or Primo usually consists of something heavier than the antipasto but lighter than the main dish.  It is almost always a hot dish.  My second daughter married and settled in Alabama some years ago, but always comes North for Christmas.  Her one and only request is for Gnocchi in Pesto Sauce.

Need our great Pesto Recipe with Gracie’s secret ingredient, then CLICK HERE!

Along with the Gnocchi, there are others who need a special dish.  So I’m planning a simple pasta with Marinara Sauce to keep my son happy and Linguini with White Clam Sauce, to get me in another seafood.  Here’s our Recipe:


• 4 tbsp. olive oil
• 3 tbsp. butter
• 4 cloves chopped garlic
• three 6.5 oz. cans of chopped clams
• 1 1/2 cups of reserved juice from the clams
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
• fresh grated Parmesan
• salt and pepper to taste
• 1 lb. Linguini

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté the onions and garlic until softened about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the reserved clam juice and the wine – raise the heat, and bring it to a vigorous simmer, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Begin cooking the Linguini in a pot of salted water.

Drain the linguine when it’s done al dente. Taste the sauce for salt, then add the clams, the linguine, and the parsley, and simmer together for 5 minutes, until the sauce is mostly absorbed. Serve with grated Parmesan

Round Three (Secondo):

Depending on what region or area of Italy you originated from this is usually considered the main or most important course.  Think meats like pork, stew, steak or sausage.  On Christmas Eve it’s seafood.  My Choice this year Sole Stuffed with Crabmeat.  Here’s the recipe from Gracie’s Christmas Eve Recipe Book – Night of the 7 Fishes.

Ingredients -Serves 4 to 6:                    

  •  6 Fillets of Sole about 6 ozs. each
  • 1 can flaked crab meat*
  • 1 small onion – finely chopped
  • 4 celery sticks –  finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp. of butter
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/4 tbsp. paprika

* For purist go for the flaked crab meat.  Mom often times used imitation crab meat sold in frozen one pound packages.  Very hard to tell the difference, but a lot cheaper.


Chop the onion and celery into fine pieces.  Sauté the onion and celery with butter in a frying pan until the vegetables are soft and tender.  Add parsley to the frying pan and stir in breadcrumbs and crab meat, together with lemon juice.

Grease the bottom of a good sized baking dish with butter.  Spread the crab meat mixture over the sole fillets and roll them up, placing them in the baking dish seam facing down. Sprinkle with paprika and add a dab of butter atop each fillet roll. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Side Note:If you can’t get Sole, Tilapia was a good substitute.

So that pretty much wraps up my Christmas Eve.  Of course there will be many side dishes, usually vegetables or salads and plenty of desserts.  When it’s time to head on over to church, everyone is making excuses or faking a deep sleep.

I truly wish you the best wishes this Holiday season and whatever you are celebrating  I hope it’s filled with Joy, Love and Peace!

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7 Gifts for the Wine Lover

Here are 7 gifts (one for each day of the week) for the Wine Lover in your life.

  Day One:  Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2011– Even if your a semi wine enthusiast you know Caumus Cabernet Sauvignon.  Rich, smooth and just flat out good, you can drink this now or any time in the next 10 years.  Very cellar worthy.  Wine.com has it for $69.99.  CLICK HERE to order NOW!

Franciscan Magnificat & Harry London Dark Chocolate  SALE: $68.75 Shipped w/code: MAGNIFICAT  Day Two:  Franciscan Magnificat & Harry London Dark Chocolate: Here’s something truly special for that special person in you life.  Magnificat is one of the original Meritage blends in California, a wine Franciscan has proudly crafted since 1985.

Harry London dark chocolate squares have a delicate, smooth & creamy feel and taste. Each individually wrapped chocolate square is a perfect treat. There are approximately 12 squares per box.  $85.94 CLICK HERE to order NOW!

California Wine Tour Wine Gift Basket  Day Three: California Wine Tour Wine Gift Basket $99.99.  Celebrate the Holidays with California wine country lifestyle.  You get three delicious wines – a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Merlot – and an assortment of gourmet foods. This gift arrives in a beautiful basket tied up with festive ribbon.  CLICK HERE to order NOW!

Tough Dame Diva Kit w/ Medium T-Shirt  Day Four:  Tough Dame Diva Kit $59.99 – Here’s what you get:

1 Red brick Cellars 2009 Tough Dame Cabernet Sauvignon

1 Tough Dame Ladies Fitted t-Shirt (S,M,L and men’s XL

1 Box of Harry London Chocolate Squares (dark 12 pieces)

1 Box of Harry London Chocolate Squares (espresso 12 pieces)

CLICK HERE to order NOW!

Tuscan Trattoria Italian Wine Gift Basket  Day Five:  Tuscan Trattoria Italian Wine Gift BasketOf course we had to suggest something Italian.  Nestled in a five-quart stainless steel colander are ingredients for savory Italian pasta dinners. Two types of pasta and two classic sauces are paired with Banfi Col di Sasso, a Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. For dessert, chocolate chip biscotti are included.  CLICK HERE to buy NOW $59.99

  Day Six:   Viva Italia! Italian Wine Collection – OK, so once I start with the Italian stuff I can’t stop.  This six packs of Italian wines is a nice mix and combines six bottles representing the best wine growing regions and varieties of Italy. A diverse collection for the Italian wine lover.  CLICK HERE to order NOW!

  Day Seven:   Riedel Swirl Gift Set – Buy 4 Glasses, Get Free DecanterRiedel: “The Swirl collection embraces a care-free, relaxed attitude. Wine-friendly with everyday appeal, named for the ease with which it allows you to swirl your wine, the Swirl collection offers a rippled shape with subtle grooves that help guide the wine around and around the vessel. This gift pack includes 4 Swirl red wine glasses plus a free gift of a Swirl decanter.” ON SALE NOW AT $57.94

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Christmas Eve – Night of the 7 Fishes

The Thanksgiving plates were no sooner off the table when mom began thinking about Christmas and the family’s Christmas Eve celebration, which always featured 7 fish dishes.

The following is a excerpt from my most popular eBook – Gracie’s Christmas Eve Recipe Book – Night of the 7 Fishes.  Many of you own a copy, but if you don’t it’s yours FREE this month just by subscribing to this site.  The sign up form is located in the top right side bar.

From Gracie’s Christmas Eve Recipe Book – Night of the 7 Fishes

“As a child I never did understand why we had to eat fish on Christmas Eve and why there had to be seven different kinds.  I was not a big fish fan as a kid and most of my cousins felt the same way.  As the entire family gathered to celebrate we often made faces as Baccala and Mussels and Tilapia fillets adorned the table.  We put up with this mainly because it was Christmas Eve and we didn’t want to upset the adults.

As we got older the tradition took on a new significance, especially since we learned to appreciate the many fish offerings our parents put before us.

Don’t want to subscribe, but still want a copy of the eBook.

CLICK HERE – Available at Amazon for $2.99


I did some research into the Seafood/Christmas Eve connection and came up with some reasoning behind the tradition.  First off; the fish only on Christmas Eve is a custom mainly in the southern part of Italy and especially in Sicily.  Northern Italians rarely celebrated the Eve in this fashion

The fish only deal has more to do with politics than with preference.  Like the old ritual of meatless Fridays, the reasoning is pretty much the same.  You see sometime in the early centuries of Catholicism, pressure was placed on the Vatican to recognize the plight of fishermen and the significance they played in the new testament.  In order to provide an economic lift to this industry, one day a week (Friday) was set aside to abstain from meat.  Translation, eat fish.  That same pressure was later added to Christmas Eve.

Another school of thought has it that since Christmas Eve is the evening before a holy day, abstaining from meat is expected.  Again, very big in the Southern part of Italy where, you guessed it, fishing was and still is a huge industry.

So why 7 fishes and not 5 or 9 or 11.  Indeed many regions do celebrate with different numbers but 7 is the most common.  Reasons vary from 7 days in the week, to 7 days of creation to the 7 sacraments.  Whatever the reason, Christmas Eve for many Italians is indeed special and enjoyed by eating fish.

LZ98_001_0038_11DMWithGracie’s Christmas Eve Recipe Book – Night of  the Seven Fishes ,” we share with you some fantastic seafood selections, that are good not only on the holiday but year round. We also talk about some wonderful memories of how we made the Night of Seven Fishes special.”

Here’s a recipe that didn’t make the book.  Buon Appitito!

Lemon Garlic Marinated Shrimp:

Gracie loved shrimp and when she took the reigns at Christmas Eve you could bet there was at least 2 shrimp dishes.  She would have loved this one from www.eatingwell.com.


  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 1/4 pounds cooked shrimp


  1. Place garlic and oil in a small skillet and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Toss with shrimp in a large bowl. Chill until ready to serve.

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.
Even with all the seafood on Christmas Eve I stick with Reds.  I prefer a smooth Pinot Noir to start the evening, usually with the shrimp dish.  As we move into more complicated offering that may have a rich sauce, I take out the big guns and opt for a Brunello.  I always, in keeping with the motherland, have something from Sicily.  A Nero d’ Avola fits the bill
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Judy Rogers and the Zuni Cafe Roasted Chicken – A Tribute

“It was pretty clear, the food you eat every day is the most important food. This is what we do at Zuni.”

Judy Rogers

Judy Rogers, co owner and head chef at San Francisco famed Zuni Cafe, died at the age of 57,  earlier this week from complications associated with Appendix cancer.  If you never heard of Judy Rogers or were not fortunate enough to own a copy of her “Zuni Cafe Cookbook”  you have really missed out.

In the above quote Ms. Rogers is referring to her earliest influences while living with a family of renowned chefs in France as a 16 year old exchange student.  This chance occurrence started her on a career devoted to taste, cooking and the simple enjoyment of food.

Ms. Rogers’s cooking over years was renowned for its simple ingredients and the use of locally grown products.  Not considered a trend setter, but if you ask me this idea of simplicity, combined with a rustic local flavor is where the food industry seems to be at in recent years.  Take a look at the rise in community Farmers Markets.

Much of the influences and food styles that Ms. Rogers favored can be, in my opinion, considered Mediterranean or old school, old world cuisine.  Her signature dish Zuni Roasted Chicken with Bread Salad speaks directly to this style.

Her recipes and cook book will serve as a lasting tribute and her influence on American cuisine and the American Restaurant scene will forever be felt through her style which can be described as simplicity through precision.

Below is the recipe for Zuni Roasted Chicken, as seen in “The Smitten Kitchen” blog and adapted from the cookbook the Zuni Cafe, San Francisco .  Do yourself a favor and make this dish, along with the bread salad, as soon as possible.

Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken:

  • One small chicken, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2-pounds
  • 4 tender sprigs fresh thyme
  • marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • A little water

Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough — a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.

Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Prepare your oven and pan: [Day of, total time is 45 minutes to 1 hour]

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle (we used a 12-inch cast iron frying pan for a 3 1/2 pound chicken). Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Roast the chicken: Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.

Rest the chicken: Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. You can let it rest while you finish your side dishes (or Bread Salad, below). The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Serve the chicken: Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two. Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste — the juices will be extremely flavorful.

Cut the chicken into pieces, spread on the warm platter (on top of the Bread Salad, if using).

    Zuni Cafe Bread Salad
Adapted from the Zuni Cafe, San Francisco

  • Generous 8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried currants plumped in 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon warm water for ten minutes or so
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
  • 1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part
  • 2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water
  • A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried

Preheat the broiler. Carve off all of the bottom and most of the top and side crusts from your bread (you can reserve these to use as croutons for soup or another salad). Tear bread into irregular 2- to 3-inch chunks, wads, bite-sized bits and fat crumbs. You should get about 4 cups.

Toss them with just a tablespoon or two of olive oil, lightly coating them, and broil them very briefly, just to lightly color the edges. If you’d like to toast the pine nuts (recommended) you can put them on your broiler tray as well, but watch them very carefully — they cook quickly!

Combine about 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this tart vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.

Heat a spoonful of the olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold them in, along with the pine nuts, if they were not already mixed with the bread scraps from the broiling step. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again.

Taste a few pieces of bread — a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well.

If you’re going to serve the salad under the roast chicken (recipe above), you can pile the bread salad on the serving dish you want to use and tent it with foil. If you want to serve it separately, do the same, but in a 1-quart shallow baking dish. Hang onto the bowl you mixed it in — you’ll use it again.

Place the salad in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time, for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Tip the bread salad back into the salad bowl. It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again.


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Memories Of An Italian/American Thanksgiving

When it came to food the Thanksgiving celebration in our home was a little over the top.  Usually by the time we got to the turkey, everyone was ready for a nap.

This was not an unusual occurrence in most Italian America families.  Food, being of the utmost importance was certainly celebrated at Thanksgiving.  It was also a time when the Holiday traditions kicked off.

LZ98_001_0028_11DMFirst off, was my grandmothers kitchen table with the leafs added was moved to the living room, where it will stay through the New Years celebrations.  That table would get a workout, between the holiday celebrations, Sunday meals and many a family card game.

The fireplace which was rarely used, would see its first flame on Thanksgiving and remain a steady fixture until the Holidays ended.  Afterwards the flue would be closed till next year.  Grandpa didn’t like the heat going out the chimney.

The Friday after Thanksgiving the lights came out and the house at 7 Monroe Street took on a new look.  Truly a special time with special memories and the Thanksgiving meal kicked it all off.

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First thing to hit the table was my mom’s antipasto.  She labeled it “The Farmers Antipasto,” don’t ask me why, she just did.  Nothing fancy just basic stuff all thrown in together.

LZ98_001_0011_11DM The bottom of her platter was covered with Genoa Salami, sliced very thin.  Next came her three cheeses cut in chunks.  Parmigiana Reggiano (the good aged stuff), Sharp Provolone and aged Asiago.  On top of all this was jarred mushrooms, artichokes hearts and red roasted peppers.  Throw in all the juices from the jars, and add some black and green olives and you got the Gracie’s Farmers Antipasto.

See our tips for making the right Thanksgiving wine choice!

After the Antipasto it was soup time.  Usually something out of the ordinary and I distinctly remember a Pumpkin Soup gracing many a Thanksgiving meal. Soup dishes gone, it was Pasta time and at Thanksgiving there was no holding back.  Check out Gracie’s Stuffed Rigatoni recipe that appears in “7 Days Of Italian Cooking – Gracie’s Guide to Everyday Meals.”  This was indeed a meal unto its self and believe me we took a half time break after this dish.

The Filling:

  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk Ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 lb. shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 lb. diced Panchetta
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste 

Cook the Rigatoni in a pot of salted water until almost al dente.  Remember they are going into the oven to cook further.

Add all of your ingredients for the filling into a large bowl and mix well.  Remove the rigatoni from the water and drain.  My mom use to rinse the rigatoni in cold water, but I just try and let them cool down enough to work with

Carefully stuff each rigatoni with the mix and arrange in a casserole or baking dish.  I put a little gravy on the bottom and cover the top with more sauce.  Cook in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Make sure the rigatoni does not dry out by adding sauce over the top if needed.

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“Who’s ready for the Turkey,” my mom would ring out and most of the time everyone was too full to respond.  It didn’t matter, out come the turkey and stuffing, sweet potatoes, Italian style green beans, corn casserole, cranberries sauce and mashed potatoes.

We all did our best to get through that meal, but the leftovers lasted a week and I didn’t even begin to talk about the desserts.

I always said Thanksgiving is about the “F” words, Food, Family and Football.  I hope you all enjoy this great Holiday and wish you well for the remainder of the year!

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5 Tips for Finding the Right Thanksgiving Wine

Finding the right wine to serve with all those different foods on Thanksgiving is not as easy as you think.  Here are 5 tips to help you make the right selection!


Tip # 1 – Pick a Wine you Know and Like: 

With holidays and special occasions many of us try and find the right wine that pairs naturally with the food we’re about to eat.  Unfortunately at Thanksgiving this creates a bit of a challenge since there are so many different foods, taste and flavors.  My advice, is to stick with wines you know and love.  Take the guess work out of the wine choice and relax with a familiar favorite.

Tip # 2 – Avoid that Special Aged Wine:

If you are like me you probably have a special wine sitting in your basement cellar waiting for the right occasion to pop open.  Thanksgiving comes along, you bring the wine out, tout its greatness to your guest and bingo, it’s bad.  Either spoiled, beyond its peek or seepage has let to a disappointing taste.  Avoid this disaster by playing it safe, pick something with less age.

Tip # 3 – Don’t Go Overboard:

I know it’s Thanksgiving and we’re all happy to begin the Holiday season, but there is no reason to go overboard on your wine purchase.  I have been to Thanksgiving dinners where there was more choices than there were side dishes.  Chances are your guest enjoy wine, but may not be overly knowledgeable and will like whatever you put out.  Stick with one or two grape varieties and limit the number of producers.  I always have a couple bottles of Red Zinfandel by a producer I like and usually a California Pinot Noir.  Add a white  and I’m done.

Tip # 4 – Decant the Good Stuff:

OK, so you’re ignoring Tip # 2 and going with that special selection you been saving.  You’re confident the wine is good, there is no visible sign of seepage and you have taken extremely good care of this wine since the day you purchased it.  Go one step further and decant the wine at least two hours before you intend to use it.  An aged selection or a wine with a lot of structure needs to breathe before your enjoy.  This one tip alone will really improve the wine experience.

Tip # 5 – Go for Balance:

Like I said before, there are a lot of different taste, smells and flavors with the Thanksgiving meal and it takes a wine with good balance to stand up to this feast.  When making your purchase ask for a balanced wine.  You don’t want a wine that is overly fruity or very high in tannins.  You want the a smooth wine that does not compete with the food but compliments the food.  A good wine shop should be able to point you in the right direction.

I hope these tips help you wine experience not just with Thanksgiving but throughout the Holidays.  If you thought I was going to let you leave without making a suggestion or two, you haven’t been around this site for too long. The wines below are available at Wine.Com and will ship today if you order NOW!!

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Ravenswood Teldeschi Vineyard Zinfandel 2011

Winemaker’s Notes:

Teldeschi Zinfandel’s powerful aromas of black cherries, coffee, caramel, and vanilla as well as other sweet dark fruit scents, combine to create the classic character of a great Dry Creek Benchland Zinfandel. Rich flavors of sweet cherry liqueur, vanilla, and smoke lead to a ripe, dense, long, moderately astringent, and bright fruit finish.

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Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2012

Winemaker’s Notes:

Spicy, lush black fruit of Alexander Valley. Briary and raspberry flavors, along with structure, of cooler Dry Creek Valley. Balanced and elegantly structured.

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Spellbound Petite Sirah 2012

  • Winemaker’s Notes:

    Intensity of color, rich black and brambly fruits, vanilla bean and roasting coffee aromatics are complemented by remarkable approachability in our Spellbound Petite Sirah. The wine is crafted to unleash dark and luscious characteristics, while managing tannins to deliver an opulent and juicy Petite Sirah. This lush yet easy-drinking wine provides intense berry character, with superb texture you will find in none other than Spellbound Petite Sirah.

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    Potato Croquettes Stuffed With Goat Cheese

    My mom would make Potato Croquettes whenever she needed to fill out a meal.  We sometimes had then 2 or 3 times in a week.  It didn’t matter – they were so good my sister and I would fight over them.


    It was Restaurant Week in my home town earlier this month and my wife and I decided to take advantage and try a new Mediterranean place that people had been buzzing about.  It was a pretty cool deal, for $30.00 you got an appetizer, a main course and your choice of dessert.

    When I first glanced at the menu I saw Potato Croquettes with goat cheese as an appetizer choice.  I started telling my wife how Gracie would make them all the time, and how my sister and I would polish off whatever she put out.  Of course she knew this, as I tend to tell stories over and over again.  Hmm, maybe that’s why I like blogging.

    Potato croquettes

    So my obvious choice for an appetizer was the Potato Croquettes served over melted goat cheese.  The combination was truly amazing and when my wife asked for a taste, it brought me back to how my mom used to make me share, against my will, with my sister.

    So that evening I came home and searched the internet to see if I could find a recipe that resembled this dish.  Although I was unable to come up with an exact match I did come up with a combination that I think you will not only enjoy reading about but preparing as well.

    Let’s start with Gracie’s Basic Potato Croquettes Recipe:

    • 1 lb. potatoes
    •  2 tbsp. grated cheese
    • 1 egg
    • 1 clove of minced garlic
    • 1/2 tsp. fresh chopped Italian parsley
    • 1/4 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • 1/2 cup flour – more if needed
    • 1/2 cup olive oil

    Clean potatoes well and boil with skins till tender.  Drain, cool, peel and mash the potatoes.  Mix the potatoes with the grated cheese, egg, garlic, parsley, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. 

    Here’s the new part (borrowed in part from foodnflavors.com):

    Begin by rolling each croquette into either a cylinder or an oval.  Mom went with a oval I prefer a cylinder.  With you finger work a piece of goat cheese into the center and roll again.  Continue this process until you finish off the mix or in my first go with this, run out of goat cheese.

    Little disks of goat cheese

    Roll in flour and saute in  moderately hot oil until golden brown on both sides.  Vegetable oil works best.  Check to make sure the goat cheese doesn’t escape from the cylinders, but if some does run out it’s no big deal.

    To be safe, heat the oil to 180C and only place a few croquettes at a time in the oil.  Between batches wait until the oil returns to the 180C temperature  This will help to ensure that they will  not burst.  Move the croquettes to a tray layered with paper towels.

    For a real treat, serve with the Balsamic Mayo we featured in our Balsamic Blog last week.  Here are the basics of that mayo again, in case you missed it or click here.

    • 3 eggs,
    • a teaspoon of  Balsamic Condimento
    • juice of half a lemon

    I am truly sorrow I don’t have any photos of the finished product, as my camera was not working right.  I do promise that if Santa brings me a new camera, I will take some quality shots of this dish and do a re-post.

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