Onion Tears

We have a family recipe book that I started about 30 years ago — with copies given as Christmas gifts that year. I got my Aunt to help me write-up my Nonna’s recipes, and added my mothers’ and my own.

But today I was trying to remember what kind of onions Nonna used to saute for sauce. And I realized there was no one left to ask. It brought my sister’s death to such poignancy it took my breath for a moment. I’m it now. Three generations of women consolidated in one tired, fairly worn-around-the-edges, nearly 66 year old woman.

And I still don’t know what kind of onions she used for sauce.


stracciatella-6While homemade broth was simmering yesterday, I suddenly remembered a favorite quick lunch my Nonna made when I visited. Her homemade chicken broth, tiny noodles (pastina, flakes, or tiny circles) with an egg-grated cheese mixture drizzled in as it boiled. Quick, easy, nutritious, and easy to digest.

Some recent and persistent stomach issues are making me dig deep for comfort foods! By the way, it was delicious!


  • About 2 cups chicken broth (of course homemade is best) per person
  • small pasta shapes cooked right in the broth
  • Beat 1 egg per person with about 1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano (I use a combo)
  • When pasta is al dente, pour the egg mixture slowly into the simmering soup, stirring quickly with a fork.
  • Some variations: add fresh chopped parsley, grated carrots, or chopped spinach.


Wake Me in October

My Father, undated

September is a really tough month for me.

The 7th was my husband Dennis’s birthday (he would have been turning 58).

My father’s birthday was the 13th. My Nonna’s the 16th, and my cousin Lisa’s was the 19th.  All gone. 

On top of that, the anniversary of my father’s death is the 18th, and it will be two years on the 20th since Dennis died.

Yikes! No wonder I just want to take a long nap.

Dennis, about 2006

Artichokes? Really?

LOTS of artichokes

My lasting contribution to blogging seems to be artichokes. No. Really.

As many of my fellow-bloggers do, I track the number of visits to my site, and the search terms most frequently used to find my entries.

Hands down, the winner is some variant of “artichoke” — pictures of, photos of, recipes about, артишоки, globe, heart, artyčoky, Italian….

So on the theory that if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…. I herewith give a short version of the history of my favorite vegetable (if you don’t count olives as vegetables).

Wild Artichokes are still found in north Africa, where they are said to have originated. According to Wikipedia, the “Arabic term Ardi-Shoki (ارضي شوكي)…means ‘ground thorny.'” While lot of other cultures ate them, naturally, it was the Italians who perfected their use [from the history of the universe, according to ME].

Globe artichokes are like the gorgeous guy pictured at right. They are a real pain to prepare, but are worth every pricked finger. Select heavy, compact heads, without a lot of discoloration. 

Wiki also points out that “When harvesting, [artichokes] are cut from the plant so as to leave an inch or two of stem. Artichokes possess good keeping qualities, frequently remaining quite fresh for two weeks or longer under average retail conditions.” 

Artichokes have been on the expensive side for the last few years, and thus fresh ones are something of a luxury around here. Maybe more home gardeners will begin to grow them — it would be lovely to pick them up at the local farmers’ market this summer!

Two real beauties

“Apart from food use, the Globe Artichoke is also an attractive plant for its bright floral display, sometimes grown in herbaceous borders for its bold foliage and large purple flowerheads (Wiki).”

And, as you can see, they are also attractive with cats.

One of Nonna’s ways of making artichoke frozen hearts (when fresh were out of season) was to batter and fry them.

I never made these, but I remember them well from my childhood. 

these look like Nonna's

Cook a package of frozen artichoke heart according to directions.

Pat them dry, then dip in an egg batter (I believe this was nothing more than an egg beaten with a little flour, grated cheese & breadcrumbs).

Fry in medium-hot olive oil, drain, and serve with lemon.

Happy eating!

Playing Around with Artichokes

Even though I’m in pre-surgery mental mode, food still can grab my creative attention.

I’ve been playing around in my head with artichokes — not the gorgeous and expensive whole globe guys, but the more mundane and accessible canned artichoke hearts. I’ve written up two simple recipes that I really enjoy.

The first needs a food processor to make satisfactorily, but it is so delicious on bread, or as a quick pasta sauce:

Artichoke-Olive Tapenade a la Laurie

1 can artichoke hearts
1 cup green stuffed olives
1/2 cup black pitted olives (can be kalamatas for a stronger flavor)
1 clove garlic (or more to taste)
a handful of basil leaves (fresh is best, but I have some frozen in vacuum bags that works)
1/2 can diced tomatoes or 1 medium fresh tomato
enough extra-virgin olive oil to mix
salt & pepper to taste
Start with the olives and pulse a little in the food processor. Add the remaining ingredients, pulsing briefly to achieve a semi-smooth texture. Use just enough oil to help bind the ingredients.  Keeps in the fridge for a few days,  but it never lasts long at my house.
You can vary this with other ingredients, like grated cheese, capers, or red peppers. 

You can tell I have a thing for both olives and artichokes.  Here’s number two. Equally quick to make.

Olive-Artichoke Macaroni Salad

4 cups freshly cooked elbow macaroni (still hot)
1 can artichoke hearts, quartered
3/4 cup green stuffed olives, halved  (quartered if large)
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup chopped marinated red peppers
1 tablespoon capers
1 glove minced garlic
Italian seasoning mix to taste
olive oil and lemon juice to taste for dressing
Mix all the ingredients into a large bowl, then stir in hot pasta and add any additional oil and lemon juice needed to make moist enough.  Serve warm or chilled.  Serves 4.
To make this a main dish salad, add a can of “tonno” which is italian-style light tuna packed in olive oil. 
To quote my Nonna, “mange, mange, tutti fa benne!” (Excuse the mangled Italian. It means, roughly, “eat, eat, everything’s good!”)

Arancini Redux

I made them. They sort of held together. I used too much egg for the amount of rice, and they were too soft to hold their shape in the oil — gravity 1, Laurie 0.  However, lopsided nor not, they were delicious — though not perfect. I have enough egg & rice mixture left to fry up a couple more before bed.  There’s something missing in the seasoning. I’m not sure what is missing, since my taste memory of Nonna’s “orangini” is 30+ years old. I think perhaps a sharper grated cheese and perhaps a little touch of garlic, some paprika in the breading…. but I was close.

After I get the right flavor, I’ll worry about pretty.



"Arancini," from Wikipedia's Wikimedia Commons. Found thanks to the magic of Google.

This photo is a wonderful serving bowl full of “arancini” — fried rice balls — that were one of my childhood favorites. Nonna didn’t make these often because, after all, they weren’t pasta!  But I adored them and could eat an amazing quantity, even as a small child.

Nonna’s recipe was very simple — and of course, devoid of measurements.  Cook the rice, chill it overnight (not Uncle Ben’s because it wasn’t sticky enough). Mix in several beaten eggs and a good amount of grated cheese (Romano or Parmesan). Form the rice into an orange-sized ball in your palm, and in the middle add a small mound of chopped mozzarella, cooked baby peas and finely chopped ham. Cover over with more rice mixture. Coat with seasoned breadcrumbs and fry tenderly in olive oil (or half olive oil, half Crisco) to come half-way up the rice balls in a heavy skillet. Turn often till they look perfect.  Drain on brown paper grocery bags (even though I now carry re-usable ones, I store several paper ones for just this purpose). Serve either with tomato sauce or plain.  Just delicious!

The first, second, third, and fourth times I made arancini, they fell apart in the oil and made a mess — but still delicious. I tried a stickier rice, and it helped a little Then I tried making them more like croquettes. Then I tried converting them to a rice/cheese casserole.  Now, armed with some new ideas, I’m going to try the original form again.

Over the years I found out that Nonna — while she never forgot how to make a dish — sometimes forgot to share an ingredient or a step. I’m going to try to roll the rice ball in egg-whites before breading to see if they hold together better. I suspect that this might be the missing step.  I’ll let you know.

More Artichokes

I started thinking how much I love artichokes. Fresh ones are an expensive treat, of course, and even frozen or canned artichoke hearts can be pricey.  But I do love to liven up quick dinners with them.  One of my favorite suppers is to make a veggie-filled tomato sauce for pasta:

While the pasta water comes to a boil assemble the following:

1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 can nice organic tomato sauce (if you don’t have homemade)
1 can quartered artichoke hearts
1/2 can sliced black olives
1/2 cup sliced green stuffed olives
handful of pignoli nuts
chopped basil
minced garlic
a little salt
a splash of each red wine and olive oil

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and saute pignoli nuts and minced garlic until golden, add wine and heat through, then mix in remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered until pasta is al dente. Serve with grated cheese.  Makes enough for leftovers!  Other vegetables such as diced zucchini, mushrooms, greenbeans, ccut up broccoli, cauliflower, etc., can be added.  Red Kidney beans, garbanzo beans, or others can also be included.

How about this one:

1 can quartered artichoke hearts
1 zucchini, diced
1/2-3/4 cup italian seasoned breadcrumbs
handful of grated cheese
enough olive oil to make breadcrumbs moist
paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley

mix together in an ovenproof pan, then toast in the oven at 400º for about 10 minutes, stir, then broil ’til top starts to brown.  Serve sprinkled with lemon.

This recipe is one of Nonna’s served at many a Sunday dinner.

2 packages of frozen artichoke hearts, prepared according to package and drained
1 clove thinly sliced garlic
sprinkle of salt
generous pouring of olive oil
juice of 1 lemon

Let artichokes marinate in the other ingredients until cooled to room temperature and serve.


artichokes-globeI’m about to make stuffed artichokes like my grandmother did. Take a couple of large, heavy artichokes, trim them and then steam them in an inch of water for about 45 minutes. After they cool enough to touch, dig out the choke and remove any ugly bits on the outside. Make a stuffing of breadcrumbs (Nonna used Progresso Italian Flavored, so that’s what I use), grated cheese, parsley, enough good olive oil to make a crumbly mixture.  Then push small spoonfuls of the breading down amongst the leaves and into the center of the choke.  Sprinkle with a little paprika for color. Then bake covered in the oven (on about 350º) for about 1/2 an hour. Remove covering and continue to bake until the top is slightly browned.

They are awesome!