Pasta with Lemon Sauce alla Sorrentina

One evening in Sorrento, we enjoyed dinner with friends in a local restaurant. Sorrento is famous for lemons. We all had tagliatelle with lemon sauce. Superb!

As I often do, I have tried to duplicate this dish. I didn’t quite succeed.  Only the food in Italy tastes like the food in Italy. But I did concoct something rather good.  Here is the recipe:

For 2 -4 servings:

1/ 2 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 cup pine nuts

2 lemons

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 – 1 teaspoon honey (to taste)

Dried savory and sea salt to taste

1/2 pound pasta of your choice

Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet until it just covers the bottom. Just enough to keep the pine nuts from sticking. Next toss the pine nuts in pan until lightly browned. Set aside.

Slice one lemon into very thin rounds. Squeeze the second one.

Melt butter in same skillet. Add the savory and salt and cook for about one minute.

Add the sliced lemon and sauté until caramelized and soft. Add lemon juice, honey and white wine. Simmer to blend flavors.

In the meantime, cook pasta of your choice according to package directions. Drain and add to the lemon mixture. Top with pine nuts.

Black Friday Penne alla Vodka

We are spending Thanksgiving at home this year.  Like a lot of our friends, we are doing a lot of cooking and experimenting with new takes on old recipes.

Like most Catholic families, we grew up waiting to eat leftover turkey until the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Friday was fish day.  In a way, I like to continue that custom.  Not for traditional reasons, but because we like to have something light the day after.  Also, we crave tastes that depart from the traditional holiday fare.  So, I set out to make a dish for Black Friday – black pasta with squid.

Our friend Antonio made this for us in Naples.  He pointed out that there they don’t use pasta that has been tinted black.  For Neapolitans, it’s the sauce.  It’s a very spicy tomato sauce made with cuttlefish that has its ink sac intact. 

Since cuttlefish is hard to find here, I use fresh squid and add canned squid in its own ink.  This year, I could not find it where I usually shop.  Since this is not the time to be going from store to store, I decided to improvise. 

So here is my recipe for Black Friday Penne alla Vodka made with shrimp and black caviar. 

Like most of what we make, dinner starts in Jim’s herb garden.  This time of year it’s rather depleted, but I did procure some lovely savory and thyme.

For four servings:

1/2 pound of penne (I recommend green/spinach penne, if it’s available.)

24 shrimp

1/4 cup vodka

1 cup minced onion

2 cups chopped Campari tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Thyme and savory

4 tablespoons black caviar, divided

Sauté shrimp and set aside, keeping warm.

Set about 2 tablespoons of minced onion aside. 

Heat the olive oil.  Add the seasonings.  If you don’t have fresh herbs, use about ½ teaspoon of dried – or, of course, to taste.  Marjoram is a good substitute for savory.

Add the tomato and remaining onion in olive oil until the onion is translucent and the tomatoes are soft. 

Meanwhile, cook the penne according to package directions.

Add the vodka to the sauce and cook for a few minutes.  You may want to puree the sauce at this point. 

Add 2 tablespoons of caviar.  Just a note – the caviar will not turn the penne as black as does the squid ink.

Drain the penne and add it to the sauce in the pan.   

Divide the pasta among four plates, top each with six shrimp.  In the center of the shrimp, add a dollop of caviar and some minced onion.

Buon appetito

End of Summer Pesto

Summer is almost over and we are missing Italy and our friends there.  All we could do this year was watch videos of the empty Italian cities and people singing from their balconies.  A friend emailed pictures of the deserted streets of Naples, adding that, “A populace that doesn’t observe laws, now is observing the law.”

This is a street in Naples as we were accustomed to seeing it.

Another friend sent the link to a documentary about doctors and a hospital fighting Covid-19 in northern Italy.  All this has brought us to tears.  Yet, the Italian spirit endures.

It goes without stating that we couldn’t travel this year.  I know it is frivolous to lament a missed vacation.   Sometimes I feel that all that can be said about the direness of this epidemic has already been said.  I have nothing more add.  It is a sad and frightening time for everyone.  Isolated, we all yearn to see our families and friends. This plague touches us all, and we are doing what we can to brave it.

Yet here in Long Island life seems to go on.  Especially in Jim’s garden.  As if to assert, “See, I will continue to nourish you,” his herb patch is thriving.  The basil has never been so lush.  One of the ways I could use all this basil was to make pesto sauce.

I know well that there are many versions of pesto online and they result in a wide variety of sauces.  Some years ago when I bought some fresh basil at the local farmers’ market – more basil than I knew what to do with.  I muddled my way through making pesto and we loved it.  I wrote down what I did and have followed this recipe ever since.

It is simple, comprising only five ingredients – basil, pignoli nuts, olive oil, garlic and pecorino romano.  (I leave out salt, which everyone may add as they prefer.)

Thinking of how the Mediterranean diet is healthful and realizing these ingredients are all implicit to Italian cuisine, I did my best to discover the nutrition benefit for each one.


Basil:      An anti-inflammatory and an anti-bacterial.  It is rich in vitamin A and likewise contains vitamin K, potassium, manganese, copper, magnesium, and iron.


Pignoli Nuts:  Contain monounsaturated fatty acids and might help  reduce bad cholesterol, while increasing the good.   They are high in vitamins E and B complex and an excellent source of minerals as well.

  [Jim says these might break the budget.]


Olive Oil:        Also helps prevent inflammation and maintain cholesterol balance.  It too is high in vitamin E.

Garlic:             Also a source of minerals potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium and in vitamins B6 and C.  When cut, the bulbs generate allicin, which aids in reducing risk of heart disease and may be an anti-bacterial and anti-viral.

[Jim says that Italians have always known that garlic is good for everything.]

Pecorino romano:        I checked out for information on this sheep’s milk cheese.  They say it enhances the immune system and even those who are lactose intolerant can eat it.

[When I originally made pesto, I couldn’t have dairy products, so I served the pecorino on the side.   Everyone added as much as they wanted. ]

So it is with hopeful thoughts of delicious food and friendship that I offer my recipe for pesto.

First, if you are fortunate, you just go to your herb garden and pick basil.   Be sure not to take the whole plant. Cut it with clippers right above the small leaves at the bottom of the stalk.  That way, the plant keeps growing rather than going to seed.   If you don’t have room outdoors, buy a pot of basil and nurture it.  It will flourish in an apartment too.


Second, have your significant other grate the cheese.


Now, to create the sauce:

2 cups basil leaves                                                      1/2 cup pignoli nuts

1/4 cup olive oil                                                          3 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup pecorino romano, grated                                Salt to taste

Place basil, pignoli nuts, garlic and salt (if you wish to use it) in a blender or food processor.  Slowly puree while adding olive oil in a steady stream.

Put pureed mixture into a bowl and add the grated cheese.

Yield:  1 cup.

Enjoy with pasta or on gnocchi.  Or with anything you like.




Buon appetito

West Virginia Italian

August was a busy month.  It is usually a month to stay home, go to the beach and tend the garden, but this year we traveled.  No, we did not go to Italy – we got as far as England where there are Roman ruins, but before that we went to Morgantown, West Virginia.  It is a place of some architectural gems.


Early 20th Century building whos façade has become modernized with neon.


I am from Morgantown and lived there the first nineteen years of my life.  There was an Italian community there, although except for the older Italians who had emigrated from various parts of Italy in the early 20th century (My father came from the Cilento region.), it seems to me that we were assimilated; we considered ourselves West Virginians.


The old Metropolitan Theater, formerly a movie house, now a performance space


First of all, I would like to dispel any misconceptions of West Virginia.  It is not a southern state.  In fact – and I asked my old friends and the volunteer in the Morgantown History Museum who agree – we think that people who consider West Virginia to be a part of the south don’t know their American history.  West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1863 because it chose to remain a part of the Union, and considers itself a northern state.  Nor is the culture particularly southern.  West Virginia never really had a plantation economy; its industries were forestry and coal mining.  These attracted protestants from Ireland in the 18th century, and later people from Wales, Eastern Europe, and Italy.  This seemed to be the ethnic make-up of Morgantown when I lived there – all were proud of their heritage, but still West Virginian.


Detail of early 20th century building on High Street


Morgantown is home of West Virginia University and once was a rather wealthy town. It boasted several glass factories — Jacqueline Kennedy chose glassware for the White House from one.  There was Morgan Shirt Factory which produced Ralph Lauren, Ellen Tracy and Van Heusen apparel.  There was also Sterling Faucet, which, as the name indicates, made faucets.  I was saddened to learn that these industries are gone now, just memories documented in the History of Morgantown Museum.

Old stone building, formerly a bank, lather a clothing store, now housing souvenir shops and a radio station


I love this building.


It stands on the corner of High Street and Pleasant Street and, when I was little, housed a pharmacy called Moore and Parriot.  The pharmacy was owned and run by two Italian-American women, Mary Angotti and Anne DiNardo.  They were friends of my mother.  Mary Angotti was the pharmacist.  This was in the 1940’s and ‘50’s.  There have always been enterprising Italian-American women!

And, yes, Italian men worked in the coal mines. I don’t remember much coal mining in and around Morgantown when we were growing up – and I asked my friends who agreed and said that more mining was done in the southern part of the state. Nevertheless, there was some.   Frank Liberatore, a friend of my father, was killed sometime in the 1940’s in a mine collapse.  His widow Maria supplemented her Workmen’s Compensation by taking care of children – me included.

She taught me how to make pizza when I went to visit her one day.

“Come in,” she said.  “I made pizza.”   Her pizza was different from what we knew of in pizza parlors.

“But there’s no tomato sauce or cheese.”  I was confused.

“Oh, this is the pizza.”  She offered me a disc about six inches in diameter, with browned onion and salt.  “You put whatever you want on it.”

It was delicious!  When I make pizza, I always think of her.  Indeed, I used this recipe when we got back to New York – to make pepperoni rolls.

Pepperoni rolls are a West Virginia-Italian invention.  I had had them when I was growing up, usually from Aunt Jenny’s bakery on Walnut Street, and sometimes from Pike’s on Pleasant Street.  I was a little surprised when I moved to New York that no one here had ever heard of them; then I forgot about them.

Then I found Morgantown Magazine in our hotel room.  “The Pepperoni Roll, from A to Z,” an article written by Mary Wade Burnside explains that this dainty was developed in West Virginia as a lunch that coal miners could take with them down in the pits.  Ms. Burnside also tells us that there is a book written about the pepperoni roll – The West Virginia Pepperoni Roll by Candace Nelson.  And since the book mentions that they could be made from pizza dough, I decided to make some for my family.

I tried to make them as I remembered them with thin slices of meat rolled up in plain bread.  However, the article indicates that the making of pepperoni rolls has become an art with variations and permutations according to one’s preference. You can access Morgantown Magazine and more information about pepperoni rolls at  In the meantime, here is my recipe:

Pepperoni Rolls  

6 oz. thin sliced pepperoni                                                         ½ cup water

1 pack dried yeast                                                                         1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt                                                                               1 additional cup water

2 Tablespoons olive oil                                                                 2 cups + flour

Extra flour for kneading dough


The beginnings of pepperoni rolls


Put ½ cup warm water into a large mixing bowl.  The water should be about 100ᵒ F.  If it is too hot, it will kill the yeast.

Sprinkle the yeast and sugar on the water.  Cover bowl and let stand for about a half hour, or until yeast begins to bubble.

Add the olive oil and salt to the yeast mixture.  Then begin to add the flour, about 1 cup at a time until you have a smooth dough that forms a ball and does not stick to the surface of the bowl.

Flour your counter or table top and remove the dough from the bowl and begin to knead.  You will have to knead for about 15 minutes, adding flour as necessary.  When little blisters begin to form in the dough, it is ready.

Lightly grease the bottom of the bowl with a little olive oil and put the ball of dough in.  Turn once to make sure both sides of the dough are oiled.  Cover and let stand for about an hour.

When the dough has doubled in bulk, punch it down and let it sit for about 10 minutes.

Flour your work surface and roll the dough into a rectangle.  (You can do this in batches.)  Cut rolled dough into squares of about 6 inches. (or larger if you prefer)

Spread the pepperoni slices on each square and roll like a jelly roll.  Tuck in the ends.  Place the rolls on a greased baking sheet and let them sit for 15-30 minutes – until they have risen but are not too big and airy.

Bake at 350ᵒ F. for about 30 minutes.  They are done when nicely browned and sound hollow when you tap them.

This should make about a dozen larger rolls, or two dozen smaller ones.


Pepperoni rolls ready to eat


Not only did I re-discover pepperoni rolls while staying at the Hotel Morgan, we also were served a new version of the classical Manhattan – the Black Manhattan.

What does this have to do with being Italian?  Well, it’s made like a traditional Manhattan, but instead of sweet vermouth, this drink calls for an amaro di Averna, the bitter liqueur from Sicily.


You can use either rye or bourbon (We used Bulleit rye), amaro di Averna and a dash or two of bitters.


Jim mixing Black Manhattans



Black Manhattans ready for a toast




Cheers!  Squisito!












Good Friday, Salerno and Pastiera

The kitchen smells scrumptious with wafts of lemon, vanilla, cinnamon and custard.  I have made pastiera, an Easter tradition I have come to of late.  Another taste of Naples that we have made our own.  I didn’t grow up with this luscious dessert, although Jim did.

The first time I ever tasted pastiera was in Salerno.  It was Good Friday and we decided to have an adventure.  We would go from Naples, fifty or so miles south to the Cilento region.  There we would try to find my father’s town, Campora, and visit my cousin Maria who still lived there.  It seemed like a short distance, but getting there was not so simple.

We took the train from Naples to Salerno, a charming port that butts up against mountains.  Salerno is Naples’ equal in richness of history, but its opposite in spirit.  Salerno is a quiet, clean city that scintillates when the sun hits the harbor.  It is at the end (or beginning) of the Amalfi Coast, but is unfortunately overlooked in favor of Sorrento or Positano.


So far so good; however, getting from Salerno to Campora, we found we would have to rent a car, since there was scarcely any public transportation.  This was easily done, but before heading to Campora, we decided to see a bit of Salerno.  We didn’t have much time – only a couple highlights, but what we did see was noteworthy.

We wandered around the historic center, straying into courtyards and peering at antique fountains.





Thus, we came upon the Medieval Aqueduct.  We read on the historical marker that it was built in the ninth century and was called “Devil’s Bridge” because it was said to have been built in one night with the help of demons.

During the ninth century Salerno was under Lombard rule, but not Naples.  The Lombards were a Germanic tribe that invaded Italy in the seventh century.  Their rule stopped just beyond Salerno, never reaching Naples, which was still nominally part of the Eastern Roman Empire, although really an independent dukedom.  (Yes, the Empire still existed, ruled from Byzantium.)



















Next, we made our way to the Cathedral of St. Matthew, originally built around 1070’s, when all the south of Italy had been conquered by the Normans.  (The Normans conquered England during the same century.)














The cathedral was completely re-built after having been destroyed by an earthquake in the seventeenth century, but bell tower dates back to the thirteenth century.  The cathedral is said to house the tomb of the Apostle St. Matthew. 















After so much sightseeing and before our long winding drive to Campora, it was time for lunch.  We found a restaurant near the train station (and also close to the car rental office) and there I had my first taste of pastiera that Good Friday in Salerno.

The next Good Friday we were in New York again.  Hunting through my cookbooks, I found a booklet called “Great Recipes” that had come in the mail in 1983, and included a recipe “Neapolitan Wheat Pie (Pastiera Napoletana)”.  I found wheat berries in Little Italy, although I had to ask for “grano” because they didn’t know what wheat berries were.  I felt right at home.

So, I have been making pastiera for Good Friday ever since and would love to share the recipe.  Since I am dairy intolerant, I have included non-dairy substitutions.  The recipe is not difficult, but takes time, so I make a few days before I want to serve it.  The flavor only improves.

Neapolitan Wheat Pie (Pastiera Napoletana

Wheat Berries

1 cup wheat kernels                                        1 cup milk or soy milk

2 tablespoons sugar                                         2 strips of lemon zest

  1. Soak the kernels in water to cover overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the kernels, place in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes or until wheat is tender.  Remove from heat, let stand at room temperature, covered for about 1 hour.
  3. Next, drain the wheat of any remaining liquid. In a saucepan, combine the wheat with the milk, sugar, and lemon zest.  You can add a pinch of salt, if desired.  Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, stirring often, until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Transfer to a shallow bowl to cool.  Discard the lemon zest.

In the meantime, make the

Pasta Frolla

2 cups all-purpose flour                                               ¼ cup sugar

½ cup lard or coconut oil, chilled                               1 egg yolk

½ cup milk or soy milk

  1. In mixing bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Cut in the lard or chilled coconut oil and work quickly with fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal.

2,         Beat egg yolk and milk together and stir into the flour mixture.  Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic foil and chill at least 20 minutes.  (While the wheat berries and milk are cooling.)

Next step:

Crema Pasticcera

3 egg yolks                                       ½ cup sugar (or less, according to taste)

¼ cup flour                                          1 cup milk or soy milk

2 strips lemon zest                               ½ teaspoon vanilla

  1. In a pan mix the egg yolks and sugar; gradually add the flour and mix well. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly with a wire whisk until the mixture is liquid and smooth.  Add lemon peel and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until mixture thickens.  Let it “puff” once or twice but do not really boil it.  Remove from heat, discard lemon and vanilla and set aside.

Putting it All Together

1 pound ricotta, drained or 1 pound non-dairy cream cheese

6 eggs at room temperature, separated (You can also add the egg white left from the Pasta Frolla.)

2 tablespoons finely chopped orange peel

1 tablespoon finely chopped candied citron

½ teaspoon cinnamon

  1. Butter a 10-inch springform pan. Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Reserve one-third of the Pasta Frolla and roll out the remaining dough into a circle large enough to cover the bottom and sides of the prepared pan. Let the dough overlap but trim all around evenly.  Chill.
  3. If you are using ricotta, strain it through a sieve. Place ricotta or non-dairy cream cheese in a mixing bowl, stir in the sugar and beat until creamy and smooth.
  4. Add the 6 egg yolks one at a time, then all the remaining ingredients except the egg whites.
  5. Fold in the Crema pasticcera and the wheat berry mixture.
  6. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold into the ricotta/non-dairy cream cheese mixture. Spoon into the chilled pastry shell.
  7. Roll out the reserved dough and cut into ½ inch wide strips. Arrange stripps in lattice-fashion on top of pie.  Fold overlapping dough all around pie and seal strips in.
  8. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cover pie loosely with aluminum foil and continue baking 10 to 15 minutes longer.  Remove pie from oven and cool on wire rack.

Note:  To develop its full flavor, this pie should stay overnight in a cool place or be refrigerated.

  1. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature.



Lentils for the New Year

Since it’s not yet Twelfth Night or Little Christmas, it’s not too late to say, “Happy New Year.  May this year bring good health and prosperity.”

We celebrated New Year’s Eve with friends, Bob and Elaine and Anna and Donato.  Anna noted that this was the 17th anniversary of our friendship – hers and mine.

Anna and me on New Year’s Eve

I met Anna and Donato for the first time a few minutes into the new millennium – at the start of the year 2000.  I was at a New Year’s party hosted by one of my best friends.  There were five couples and me, a widow.  When Anna and Donato joined us, I became the 13th at table.

Anna brought with her a great pot of lentils and cotechino, a special Italian sausage that is eaten with lentils at the very beginning of the New Year.  Anna explained that it is the custom of her native Rome and it is supposed to bring money in the coming year to those who partake of the dish just after midnight.  New Year’s Eve was traditional a fast day, a day in which Catholics do not eat meat, so lentils with cotechino must wait until just after midnight.

Anna is a good cook and the lentils were delicious.  She promised me that I would become rich in 2000.  She was right – I met Jim on February 13, 2000.  (I now consider 13 to be my lucky number.)  So, I am offering a recipe guaranteed to bring good fortune – New Year’s lentils.  Again, this is not a recipe I learned in Italy, but it’s history is definitely Italian.

This is my own version, to which I will add the cotechino for New Year’s.  If I want a meatless dish, I just omit the sausage.

½ can flat anchovy fillets, including the oil

            2-3 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves of garlic

1 large onion, diced

2 carrots, diced

2 stalks of celery. diced

2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 teaspoon each allspice, coriander, cumin, marjoram (or more to taste)

1 cup dried lentils, rinsed

4 cups water

1 lb. cotechino  (You can but this at an Italian butcher shop.)

  1. Sauté the garlic, the herbs and spices, and the anchovy fillets in the anchovy oil and olive oil.
  2. When garlic is soft add the vegetables and enough water to keep them from burning.  Sauté the vegetables with the garlic and herbs, stirring frequently, until they are tender.  Add the lentils and about 3 cups of water.
  3. Cover and cook for about an hour, again stirring frequently.  Add all or part of the remaining cup of water as the lentils become thick.  This part is left to the discretion of the cook:  some prefer a more liquid lentil dish than others.  So, use your judgment, according to your taste.
  4. If you’re making this for New Year’s, at this point, you add the cotechino.  (If you don’t want to include meat, just follow the next step.)
  5. Cook uncovered for about another half-hour.  If you feel that the lentils are too hard, cook longer.

Anna says that the tradition is that lentils will bring money in the coming year.  I feel that although I didn’t necessarily have more money, I did receive good fortune.  So, I wish you all good fortune, whatever it means to you.

When we returned from our New Year’s Eve celebration, we all enjoyed a very small bit of the lentils and cotechino that Anna had made.

Anna, me, Elaine, Bob, Jim and Donato

Happy, healthy and prosperous 2017

Christmas Eve Eel Stew

Merry Christmas!  And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, please accept our wishes for a Happy Chanukah, Good Yule, or even the joyful renewal of the coming year.  My offering is a recipe that is most unusual.  It did not originate in our travels to Naples, although our recent visit sparked Jim’s memory of his mother’s Christmas Eve eel stew.

We have never spent Christmas in Naples.  We come back to New York to celebrate various holidays with our families.  Christmas now begins early in Naples and I was a little surprised.  We visited Salerno on October 31st, a quiet holiday just before All Saints’ Day (November 1st), when people visit cemeteries to leave flowers or other offerings for loved ones who have passed on.  Salerno was quiet, yes.  But the Christmas decorations were up and ready to usher in a holiday that was still about two months away.  The weather was still warm, and in the sunshine along the coast it felt like summer.  The narrow streets farther inland, however, were dark and windy, foretelling the winter.

Christmas lights in Salerno

There was more heralding of Christmastime in Naples.  Returning to our apartment in Naples, we walked along Via Tribunali.  We came to a street that we had passed many times before – it seemed to be more of an alleyway than a street – but for some reason, unknown to us, we decided to go along Via Trinchera just to see where it led.  It led to the Largo dei SS Apostoli

Largo SS Apostoli

and a very plain-looking church that we read was built by Constantine upon a former Temple of Mercury.


When we entered the church, we were dazzled by its baroque chapels.  And in one of those chapels, was a presepio.


The presepio is a grand Neapolitan tradition.  It starts with the Nativity – the Holy Family, of course, along with the magi, shepherds and angles; but includes the people of Naples.  There are pizza bakers, pastry makers, woodcutters, folks of the village eating in cantinas or drawing water from a well.  Families add to this scene every year.  And it ascends.  Like going up a mountain.  This presepio signaled to us that Christmas is coming and we would soon be going to our other home.

And the idea of Christmas caused us to think of our own upcoming Christmas Eve celebration and reminded Jim of his mother’s eel stew.  He told me the following story:

“Every Christmas eve my Mother, following her family tradition of seven fishes, would prepare a Fish Stew whose main ingredients were eels and fennel (including lots of the feathery tops).  The recipe was her Mother’s and a long standing tradition.

Of course being familiar and disgusted by slimy, wiggly eels that I used to catch in traps on LI Great South Bay, I and my brother gave her lots of grief about eating any.  In the end for traditon s sake we held our noses & had a bite.  That was hard to do.

Fast forward 40  years or so, just after Christmas and also after my father’s funeral, I visited my Mom’s house upstate.  After an early morning ride I arrived around noon and as I entered her kitchen there was a delicious odor coming from a pot on the stove, I asked if I could have a taste.

Her indignant immediate response was NO!!  Not after you & your brother gave me all that grief many years ago.  The she said it was her families Ell Fish Stew from Christmas Eve.

So I begged.  Delicious food is wasted on the young, etc. etc.   She relented and it was truly wonderful.

One of my regrets was not thinking to get the recipe then.  Many years later I polled all the family cooks, it was not to be found.”

Our project for this Christmas Eve became the attempt to duplicate eel stew.  Working from Jim’s memory and checking the internet for ideas and suggestions, we came up with something that approximates his recollection, but is still a work in progress.

First, because we are back in New York, we went to Chinatown to buy live eels.


Once they were killed and cleaned,


we set out to cook them as follows:

1 lb eel.

1 tablespoon of olive oil

4 cups fennel, bulb and fronds only (make sure that the tops are light green and fluffy)

1 medium onion

4 cloves of garlic

¼ cup fresh parsley leaves

½ teaspoon of dried oregano

3 tablespoons additional olive oil

1/16 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 cup white wine

3 cups vegetable broth or water

Salt to taste

Cut eel into one-inch pieces and sauté in 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salting to taste.  Cover pan and set aside.

Using only the tender bulb of the fennel, slice it thinly.  Remove the fluffy leaves from the stalks and add them to the bulbs.

Thinly slice the onion.

Mince the garlic and sauté it in 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the herbs and onion.  Cover the pan and continue cooking over medium heat until the onion slices are transparent and parsley is wilted.  Add the sliced fennel bulb and fronds and the white wine.  Cover and cook over medium heat. This dish is meant to be eaten with a spoon, so make sure there is plenty of broth.

When fennel begins to soften, add the broth.  Cook until the fennel is tender.  Put stew in a serving dish and top with the sautéed eel.


The stew is not exactly as Jim remembers it, but he says it is close.  We’ll keep trying.  He said there is definitely no tomato as there was in every recipe for eel stew we found on the internet.  His sister recalled having a lot of thinly sliced onions in the stew, and Jim said his mother would use onion and garlic together.  (I have been told that Italians don’t mix these two, but the Italian woman who taught me to make sauce had no objection when I mixed them.)

We enjoyed our Christmas Eve eel stew and will keep trying to improve it.

Have a very joyful holiday!

Christmas in Northport

Thanksgiving Caponata

My first Thanksgiving with my new wife’s family.  My wife is famous for her pumpkin pie, her mincemeat pie and her sweet potato cupcakes – all made with traditional New World  ingredients setting off “Olde England” traditions.  They are gracious, my wife’s family.  They suggest I bring a traditional Thanksgiving dish of my own.  I agree.

“What are you bringing?” they query.


“What’s that?”

“A lovely concoction of eggplant and other things.”

“It’s Italian?!”

“An old family recipe I learned from my landlady in Naples”

“That’s not traditional.”

“Depends of where the tradition originates.  For me the tradition of being thankful originated when I was living in Naples.”

I was an art student wandering through the churches and museums of the most artful city in the world.  I had rented a small apartment in an old palazzo in Via Pisanelli and often Gina the landlady would invite me to come down to her apartment for dinner.

Strada Pisanelli

In Naples Thanksgiving Day is just another Thursday.  The day before I had attended a sculpting class and afterward I wandered around the Historic Center looking at guglie.

Guglia in Via dei Tribunali

I had never been one for sentiment, but something about the chill that had only just now crept into the air and the recent appearance of chestnuts in the open air markets made me thing of roast turkey and stuffing.

There was no question of returning “home” for Thanksgiving – no time and no money foreclosed that option.  So when Gina asked me why I looked sad, I told her about Thanksgiving and said I felt the lack of celebration that year.

“Tomorrow we will have something special for dinner,” she promised.

Gina was famous for her caponata.  Every guest who came to dinner requested it.  It was always a little different every time she made it.  When asked for the recipe, Gina willingly gave it, but because she always improvised, so that when her friends made caponata it was always different from hers.

The next day, Thanksgiving, Gina went to her favorite vegetable market in the Spanish Quarter.

Buying Vegetables in the Spanish Quarter

I brought Gina a swordfish steak from the market on Via dei Tribunali,

Swordfish for sale in Via dei Tribunali

and hung around her kitchen and watched her while she prepared that and the caponata.  All the while we sipped some excellent Lagrima Christi. 

Since I have a very good visual memory, I was able to duplicate the Thanksgiving caponata and it has been my traditional offering ever since:

First, cover the bottom of a heavy 2-quart pot with olive oil (about 1/2 cup) and heat it.  When a drop of water sprinkled on the oil sizzles, it is time to add oregano, red pepper and parsley – lots of it – and a little salt.  (All this is to suit your taste.)

Next in this mixture of oil and herbs sauté 4 cloves of minced garlic, 2 ribs of celery and ½ green pepper, all chopped up.  Cook until the vegetables are soft and translucent.

Add 4 medium salad tomatoes, chopped.

When the tomatoes have melted and the mixture seems like a sauce, add one medium eggplant, diced in about one-inch pieces.  Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  The time it takes depends on the eggplant, but it’s usually ½ to 1 hour.

When eggplant is cooked, add 2 tablespoons of wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of raisins, 2 tablespoons of capers in brine, and ½ cup olives, green and/or black.  Cook another 10 minutes just to let the flavors blend.

If you let the caponata sit several hours before serving it, the flavor improves.  You can even prepare it the day before.

I am thankful to Gina for this delicious dish and for all the other wonderful things she made for me.

I told my wife’s family that I am famous for my Thanksgiving caponata, but I never give out the recipe.

© Antoinette Carone 2016