Category Archives: Food

A very Good Friday

For a Neapolitan, thoughts of Easter conjure up the extended family enjoying a lovingly prepared and eagerly devoured feast. Not least among the delicacies is the pastiera, an essential part of Easter, a dessert that no Neapolitan table would be without.

A certain man I know well came of age in Capri, a mythic island in the Bay of Naples. Despite emigrating from Italy 73 years ago and living in the U.S. ever since, Capri has always been an integral part of him. During this past Easter Week Sal was especially overcome by nostalgia. In his fantasy he savored the pie redolent of orange blossoms and cherished memories, and he mentioned his longing to the people closest to him. Covid has whetted separation from family and friends and unbridgeable distances to a constant, bitter sting.

I called a pastry shop on Arthur Avenue, an Italian section of the Bronx, where shops and restaurants offer every sort of Italian food: mozzarella and parmigiano, salami and prosciutto, broccoli rabe and radicchio, cannoli and, wait for it– pastiera! The bakery’s website vaunted their shipments to every part of the country.

Imagine my dismay to learn they shipped cookies, but not pastiera, because of its fragility.

On Wednesday a former colleague of Sal’s told him to expect a package the following day. He wondered what it could be, and a part of him wished it would be a pastiera, even knowing that couldn’t be.

Imagine Sal’s delight when he found a package on the doorstep next morning– and it contained not one pastiera, but two! His former partner, sharing a craving for the same dessert, had sent one for Easter and one for the freezer.

Later on Thursday, Sal received notification of a shipment from Italy that would arrive on Friday. He was stumped, not having the slightest idea who the sender was, or what could possibly be in the package.

Finally, the parcel arrived. It was a pastiera, shipped from Naples by his nephew, who jumped at the chance to alleviate the longing of the uncle he loves so much.

Neapolitan Pastiera


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Make your own ricotta

Easy, fast and delicious

I’ve done a lot of experimenting in the kitchen in the time of Covid. Today I’m going to share Melissa Clark‘s instructions for making homemade ricotta. Why make ricotta, you ask, when it is so easy to buy? As Melissa says, “Because you can!” It is amazingly tasty and costs less than store-bought.

For the first try, make a small amount to see if you like it. This recipe yields about 1-½ cups.

You will need cheesecloth. Fold into four thicknesses and drape over a colander leaving a large overhang, so that when you pour the ricotta in to drain, the cheesecloth won’t fall in. Set the colander over a large bowl, but one that doesn’t let the colander touch the bottom. If the colander rests on the bottom, it will sit in liquid and it won’t drain.


  • 1 quart WHOLE milk (it makes a difference)
  • ½ cup of heavy cream
  • ¼ cup of whole yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-½ teaspoons of lemon juice.*

Put everything into a large pot over medium-high heat and whisk to blend. When it begins to boil, lower to simmer and stir occasionally so it doesn’t stick.

Watch for bubbles along the edges. The curds will begin to form. Pour into your prepared colander. (If you like large curds, simmer another 1-2 minutes.) Drain until it looks like ricotta. Voilà!

You can save the whey for other uses, including a facial.

*Or vinegar: white wine, distilled or cider

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Another day in the time of Covid

img_2079Feeding  the cats was first on the agenda this morning.

I was hungrier than usual, so I took time that I usually don’t, to make myself a cappuccino and a slice of buttered olive bread. Then laundry, then a Zoom call.

A friend was coming for lunch at noon. We had planned to sit outside, social distancing, of course, but the summer sun has given way to autumn chill. We would have to improvise a Covid-safe setting indoors.

We began to prepare a pizza rustica, one of my husband’s specialties. He makes the filling, and I do the crust. Unless it’s a very special occasion, I don’t make the crust from scratch. I let the bottom crust thaw a little, then pierced it all over, intending to blind-bake it.. An idea came to me for a new way to make the crust hold its shape. I set an empty pie pan on the raw crust, and in lieu of pie weights (mine had disappeared), I sprinkled the pan with pebbles I’d collected on the beach.

Meanwhile, I began making a chocolate mousse with a recipe I found last night. Wonder of wonders, it had only two ingredients, bittersweet chocolate and water, and the author, Melissa Clark, assured me that it would take all of 10 minutes.


First, I had to break the block of chocolate into pieces that would melt in the water. Do you know how hard a block of chocolate is? I began to chop last night and made some headway with a hammer. My husband had a better idea. He used a knife as a chisel and was much more successful. In the morning, I combined the water and chocolate, put it on the stove and hoped it would be okay on its own while I took care of the pie crusts. I prepared two bowls, a large one with ice and a second, smaller bowl inside. Though Melissa said the chocolate would melt quickly while being constantly whisked, mine was pokey. We should have chopped the chocolate into even smaller pieces.IMG_1396

The bottom crust held its shape beautifully. I assembled the pie, filling it with the eggs, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and tiny pieces of soppressata that my husband had prepared. I gingerly placed and sealed the top crust and slipped it into the oven. By this time, it was 11:30, and our guest was due at 12. The pie usually bakes for at least an hour and has to rest for another 10-15 minutes.

Back on the stove, the chocolate was still lumpy. I continued to whisk. Finally, it was smooth, ready to be whisked in the cold bowl that was waiting for it. I whisked and I whisked, this time using an electric immersion blender. It was tedious work, though the chocolate smelled wonderful. When it failed to become thick and fluffy, I melted more chocolate as Melissa suggested. While it was melting, the beaten chocolate in the cold bowl hardened. It clearly had to be melted again. Using the bowl as the top of a double boiler, I stirred and stirred until the chocolate liquified and showed no remaining lumps. By then, it was 12 o’clock. Out with the electric whisk. Again. This time, the chocolate gained close to the right consistency.

I filled the first dessert cup. Looked fine. For the second one, I realized I had to remove the bowl from the ice and work very quickly. The chocolate was a little thicker and harder. For the third, I had to dig into the stiff chocolate with the spoon. The leftover chocolate was very solid.

The pizza rustica was in the oven for an hour and a quarter. By then, it was close to 1:00. Our guest must have forgotten or scrambled the date or was very late.

Much later, she called and apologized profusely. She told me the date was on her calendar, but she forgot to look. I laughed. I’ve done that too.

My husband and I enjoyed a delicious lunch, followed by the virtual activities we are obliged do in the time of Covid.

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Palermo Journal: Life is sweet

Sicilians are famous for their desserts; they have a greater variety than the other Italian regions. They owe this distinction to the Arabs, who ruled Sicily for over 200 years and greatly influenced the island’s culture, cuisine and agriculture. Among the many foods and plants the Arabs introduced are citrus fruits, almonds, cinnamon, apricots, pistachio, pomegranates, sugar cane and watermelon, all of which feature prominently in Sicilian desserts.

So the signs were unmistakable. From our first breakfast in Palermo, we knew we were in Sicily. On a table laden with pastries there was a plate with empty cannoli shells and a bowl with creamy ricotta filling— Palermanitan DIY. In Sicily, cannoli are not pre-filled, because the shell gets soggy. (N.B. English speakers: “cannoli” is plural. One cannolo, two cannoli.)

We stepped out of the hotel into a land of cannoli, granita and ice cream.

IMG_3525I love cannoli and it was too early (for us) to have ice cream, so my eyes gravitated immediately to a store named Cannolissimo. They sell mostly cannoli, and they make them to order from a counter the width of the doorway and the store itself.

Custom cannoli

First, choose the shell: two kinds of plain or lined with chocolate or two other flavors. Next the filling: ricotta or ice cream, each with six flavors. What would you like sprinkled on top? You have seven choices.

We discovered ice cream heaven on our first night. Cappadonia had opened just two weeks before. The ice cream was the best we’ve ever eaten. The chocolate was to die for and the cantaloupe sorbet could have stood in for the melon with prosciutto.

Antonio Cappadonia

Antonio Cappadonia is the proprietor. The staff calls him “Maestro,” and so he is. He explained to us his process for making chocolate ice cream using only organic ingredients. Antonio insisted we taste his sorbet, which he makes only with fresh fruit that he himself selects, only when it is in season.

Tiziana and D’Amico

Il D’Amico and Chris with their new friend

Cappadonia is evidently an expert in human relations as well. It took months for him to put together his “team,” the out-going, gregarious and affectionate staff that serves the ice cream. They befriended us, kissing us when we arrived and again when we left.

No evening thereafter was complete for the team or for us without an ice cream fix  and warm hugs on all sides. Italians, especially in the South, open themselves to strangers, but I think they must not like strangers, because they rapidly transform them into friends.

Granita completes the trio of the most popular street sweets. You tell the vendor what flavor you like, and he pours flavored syrup over shaved ice. Granita is reputedly very refreshing in the heat, but it is too sweet for my taste.

Legend surrounds the invention of ice cream. Marco Polo may have brought it from China in the 13th century, though the emperors of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE) are believed to have been the first to eat “a frozen milk-like confection.” Italians are always players in the fanciful (or not) history of ice cream.

Some believe it was invented in Sicily and taken to France by Catherine de Medici when she married King Henry II. Others attribute it to a Sicilian in the 17th century who opened the first café in Paris and there introduced gelato, the Italian version of sorbet, to the French public.

The Arabs, who ruled Sicily from the ninth to the eleventh centuries, drank an icy refreshment flavored with fruit juices. They called it sharabt, which later became sorbetto in Italian and sherbet in English.

It wasn’t until the 17th century that sorbet as we know it evolved with the addition of sugar. A Neapolitan is said to have written the first recipe for sorbetto. He also added milk to it, creating the first real ice cream.

Suffice to say that ice cream is so loved that everyone wants credit for introducing it to the world.

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When the cornucopia is empty

On the eve of Thanksgiving, we prepare to celebrate that most American of holidays. Most of us will enjoy children and grandchildren, in-laws, extended families and dear friends. Most of us will sit together at tables heaped with the traditional roast turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry and other relishes, a token green vegetable, pumpkin and apple pies— well, you know, more than we can possibly eat.

IMG_0834Most of us, but not all of us. I was asked to write about hunger in America— a sobering experience. I met people at food pantries and soup kitchens; saw others lined up on the sidewalk, waiting for a lunch bag; and visited people who depend on Meals on Wheels for both sustenance and brief human contact.







 As We Celebrate Thanksgiving, Many Still Go Hungry

On the farmstands, harvest colors of crimson and gold compete for attention. The leaves boast their last, gorgeous hurrah, and the bounty of the fields compensates for the lengthening nights and intensifying chill. Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and with it anticipation of warm reunions with friends and family and the traditional groaning board.

But not for everybody.

Continue reading at Women’s Voices For Change

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Dreaming of Cuba

1955 Chevy on El Malecón in Havana, Cuba, with El Morro Castle

1955 Chevy on El Malecón in Havana, Cuba, with El Morro Castle

When I was growing up, I spent a part of every year in Cuba with my Cuban family. I almost remember — I heard the stories so many times — standing at the railing of my grandmother’s balcony when I was two years old. Pushcarts teeming with fruit and vegetables, others with knives and cutlery, yet others piled high with many-hued fabrics, each vendor hawking his wares with a distinctive cry, kept me pressed against the railing, fascinated by the colors and the sounds. When my grandmother saw something she needed, she’d lower a basket on a rope so that the vendor could fill it with mangoes and papaya or bacalao (salted codfish) or sacks of black beans and rice. Then she would hoist the basket back up, remove the groceries, count out the pesos she owed and send the basket with the money back down to the peddler waiting below.

I remember a Havana that was noisy and garish, rhythmic and musical. At dinnertime it was redolent with the smells of ropa vieja, picadillo, arroz con pollo, tostones, frijoles negros and the like. Bananas grew in the backyard. At 11 in the morning, we had a break at school and ate pastelitos de guayaba, flaky pastries filled with guava paste that I still savor and crave today. I remember the incomparable beaches and the people who loved me.

That was before Fidel’s triumph. During the long decades that followed, my memories persisted, even as the distance between them and harsh reality continued to grow. Today I’m reading Havana Nocturne, T.J. English’s account of the seamy, violent and thoroughly corrupted underbelly of the beautiful city in those halcyon days. Cuba is very much on my mind as it is for many in the wake of the rapprochement between Pres. Obama and Raúl Castro. In the weeks to come I will be reconciling nostalgia and history as this new era unfolds.

Photo by James Seith Photography

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No more mold, ctd.

6-day-old berries, 5 days after thermotherapy

6-day-old berries, 5 days after thermotherapy

Friday I bought two pounds of strawberries. One was totally gone and two had soft spots. I took them out and refrigerated the rest. On Saturday I treated them as described here. They stayed out on paper towels overnight. On Sunday they went back into their berry basket (with holes) and the refrigerator.

On Wednesday I examined the remaining berries. Slightly wrinkled, as to be expected, but not a spot on any at all, let alone mold!

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No more mold on your berries

MacedoniaA change of pace — With so many hot issues to choose from and very little left of a full and eventful day to do them justice, I’m making an abrupt detour to offer a tip for lovers of fruit, especially berries, instead.

Who hasn’t bought a basket of luscious strawberries that begin to spoil before they can be eaten? Whether ruby raspberries picked under the hot summer sun or blueberries from a hothouse that are nevertheless welcome in the dark of winter, there is a simple way to make them last until every one of them can be enjoyed.

It’s called thermotherapy — treating them not with chemicals, but with heat. As counterintuitive as it sounds, a brief hot bath goes a long way towards killing the mold spores that thrive on the damp skins of berries, stone fruits and grapes.

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