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Happy Holiday Table!

Spaghetti alla pescatrice e finocchio

Spaghetti alla pescatrice e finocchio

Yes I am still around, just had a busy few months and writing took a backseat. If you're interested in finding out what kept me so busy, I just finished writing and end-of -year-recap newsletter which you will receive soon. This year, I had to pare down from last December's 12 Days of Christmas recipes extravaganza. For the 2015 Holiday table I am sharing 2 recipes, a pasta with monkfish for Christmas Eve and a rabbit with olives which can make a lovely dish anytime throughout the season.

I developed and taught both these dishes while leading my food tour of Maremma last September. More details on it and on upcoming tours for 2016 will be in my newsletter, or you can email for details.

Just one more reminder: cooking classes make great holiday gifts, check my newsletter for details on where I will be teaching in 2016.

Please enjoy the merriest of holidays!


Spaghetti con pescatrice, finocchio e pinoli tostati al profumo d’arancio

Spaghetti with orange scented monkfish, wild fennel and pine nuts sauce


for 6 to 8 people

3 sweet yellow onions

2 cups wild fennel

1 whole monkfish of about 3 pounds, skin off

(or fillets will do in a pinch and skate or a small bass can sub for the monkfish)

salt and pepper to taste

grated zest of one orange

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 cup pine nuts

1 pound box spaghetti


Slice the onions in very thin half moons.

Clean and wash the fennel very well. Dry it and chop it quite finely.

Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper.

Reserve 1 tablespoon of chopped fennel and one pinch of grated zest.

Heat the olive oil in a shallow, wide mouth sauce pot add the onions, all but the reserved fennel and zest and a generous pinch of salt.

Slowly soften everything over gentle heat for about 20 minutes, until the onions appear translucent and quite soft.

Raise the heat and add the monkfish. As soon as the color of the fish changes to whitish, deglaze it with the white wine.

When you no longer smell the acidity of the wine, add 1 cup of water, turn the heat down and cover the fish.

Braise it slowly until the eyes are sunken in the orbits and the flesh is falling off the skeleton, it should take about 30 minutes.

Check it often and add a little bit of water to the bottom of the pot if it looks like it’s sticking or too dry.

In the meantime, toast the pine nuts on low heat until they are gold, appear oily and you can effortlessly smell their distinctive flavor.

Remove the fish from the pot being mindful to let all the liquid, onions and fennel fall back into the sauce.

Pick the flesh off the bones and spine. There will be some gelatinous parts that come from the spine and fins, keep them as they will make for just the right sauce texture.

Also, do not forget to pick the cheeks and all the tasty little bits off the head.

Return the bits of fish to the pot and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, just so that all the ingredients come together well.

Adjust salt and pepper.

Drop the spaghetti in salted boiling water and cook quite al dente, about 4 minutes less than the recommended time.

Strain the pasta from the water using tongs or a handheld strainer and add them to the pot with the sauce in it.

Add a bit of the pasta cooking water and finish cooking the pasta with the sauce, tossing and turning all the while.

You might need to add a little more pasta water, but do so gradually as to not overcook the pasta.

When the spaghetti reaches your preferred toothsomeness, sprinkle with olive oil, turn off the heat and toss with energy.

The oil and starch in the cooking water will bind, giving the dish just the right creaminess and moisture.

Scatter the toasted nuts on the pasta, toss and transfer to a warm platter.

Dust with the reserved fennel and zest and serve right away.


Very tasty rabbit

Very tasty rabbit

Coniglio alle olive in teglia

Stove top rabbit with olives

for 4 people

1 rabbit

salt to taste

1 cup black olives with pits

2 sage sprigs

2 wide strips orange peel

2 garlic clove

olive oil

1/2 tablespoon grated orange zest

1/2 cup red wine

1 cups hot chicken stock

pepper to taste


The day before making the dish, have the butcher cut your rabbit in 8 to 10 pieces.

Salt the pieces generously, cover and refrigerate.

When ready to start cooking, remove the from the refrigerator and place on the counter to come to room temperature.

In the meantime, rinse the olives well and place them in a small bowl. Squeeze them lightly with your fingers to loosen the flesh.

Pick the leaves off 1 sage sprig and rub them and the orange peel strips between your palms to release their essence. Smash the garlic clove without peeling.

Add the rubbed sage and orange and the smashed garlic clove to the olives then cover everything in olive oil. Leave to marinate while you get the rabbit started.

Mince the garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt and mix with the grated zest.

Pick the leaves off the remaining sage sprigs and rub them between your palms to release their essence.

Select a sauté pan wide enough to accommodate the rabbit pieces in one comfortable layer. Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in it and add the zest and garlic mince.

Set on gentle heat and add the sage leaves. Soften very gently for 2 to 3 minutes stirring often to prevent burning and sticking.

Add the rabbit and bring the fire to medium to brown lightly on both sides, still stirring to ensure the garlic doesn't burn.

Raise the heat to high and deglaze with the wine. When you no longer smell the acidity, but just the sugar, pour the stock all over the meat.

When the stock start boiling, lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan.

The rabbit will need to cook for about 20 minutes at a lively simmer. It will get quite tender. You will have to return to it often to ensure it is not burning nor sticking and has a bit of liquid on the bottom.

In the meantime, remove and discard the garlic clove from the olives and pour out some of the excess oil. Stir them into the rabbit.

Braise for another 10 to 15 minutes, adjust salt and pepper. Transfer the rabbit pieces to a warm platter and pour the cooking liquid over them. Serve warm to hot.

Note that there should be a good amount of slightly dense sauce. If it seems too liquid, remove the rabbit and keep it warm by covering the warm platter in aluminum, let the sauce boil a little longer to thicken slightly before pouring it on.

Classic Italian: Chicken Cacciatore

When I sent Nancy DeStefanis an email confirming that she was signed up for the Pomodori!~Tomatoes in the Italian Kitchen workshop at the Italian Consulate she asked that I include chicken cacciatore in the line up. If you know Nancy, you also know that she's a larger than life local hero, committed to the welfare of great blue herons and underserved youth and that she's not one to whom one can say no.

"Alla cacciatora" means hunters' style in Italian, and therein lies the problem: there are about as manyversion of this dish as there are hunters in Italy. I narrowed it down to one with tomatoes, given the class's subject matter and Nancy also said her mom's had mushrooms and I so happened to have a jar of dried porcini sent straight from Umbria by a friend.

May I present then, my version of chicken cacciatore. Enjoy!

By the way, if you are free this Saturday, Nancy is leading a heron's nesting watch in Golden Gate Park.


Pollo in umido alla cacciatora

Chicken braised with tomatoes and mushrooms

for 4 people

1/4 cup dry mushrooms (ideally porcini)

1 smallish chicken cut in 8 pieces (about 3 pounds, or you can also use thighs)

salt to taste

1 carrot

1 celery stalk

1 medium yellow onion

2 slices pancetta

2 very ripe large tomatoes

olive oil

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup dry red wine

pepper to taste

Soak the mushrooms in hot water.

Season the chicken pieces generously with salt and leave on the counter to come to room temperature.

In the meantime, chop the carrot, celery and onion finely.

Mince the pancetta into a paste.

Score the tomatoes and immerse them in boiling water for about 30 seconds.

Fish them out of the pot and run them under cold water. Peel them, remove the seeds and chop them into a rough dice.

Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and add the carrot celery and onion with the bay leaves and a generous pinch of salt.

Soften over medium lively heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often.

Transfer the aromatics to a dish and set aside.

Add the pancetta to the same pan and let render for 2 to 3 minutes.

Brown the chicken pieces in the pancetta in one layer. Do this in batches if needed.

Return all the chicken to the sauté pan and deglaze with the wine.

Once you no longer smell the acidity of the wine, return the carrot, celery and onions to the chicken.

Drain the mushrooms and squeeze the excess water, add them to the sauté pan.

Save the liquid in which the mushrooms have soaked and filter to eliminate dirt, if necessary.

Sauté everything for another 5 minutes. Add the diced tomato pulp.

Bring to the boil then turn down the heat to a low simmer.

Cover and braise gently for about 30 to 35 minutes, occasionally checking for water.

If necessary, add small amounts of liquid. The water in which the mushrooms have soaked is perfect for this.

When the chicken is tender but still compact and not falling off the bone, arrange attractively on a platter and cover to keep warm.

Adjust salt and pepper in the sauce and stir over the heat for a few minutes.

Pour all over the chicken and serve immediately.

Discover hydroponic waterboarding, travel to Italy and eat tomatoes filled with rice and basil

For those of you eager for my recipes, feel free to skip today's anecdote about family life, but do click here to join me on an adventure to DISCOVER MAREMMA, one of Italy's best kept secrets. The trip is scheduled for the 3rd week in September. My 5th grader told me Thursday morning he needed a total of 20 small potted plants of 4 different kinds to conduct and experiment that would start exactly at 12:40pm.

We rushed to the local garden center to acquire the plantlings while I prodded for details. Ernesto and his classmates had devised 4 different hydroponic environments in which to observe how the same plant reacted. Why 5 of each then? He needed a control living in an ideal environment, he then explained the numbers/letters cross referencing grid he drew to chart the progress of the trial.

The ideal environment? "Soil, of course", Ernesto said. Then he gathered a couple of different kind of vinegars and asked that we stop to get a sports drink on the way to school. By Tuesday, I should know exactly what age balsamic is best to kill an organic basil plant in 48 hours or less.

Boston Participation medal
Boston Participation medal

This charmingly fallacious study in plant waterboarding may have in part been inspired by my excitement about Caleb Harper's CityFarm project, at which I got a first row look last week when I spoke at MIT MediaLab as one of the panelists who considered the intersection of tradition and innovation in large scale food production.

Plants waterboarding

Plants waterboarding

If I can get my kid to forego the vinegars and sports drinks, our loft might even see its own vertical farm soon. In the meantime, I managed to save one of the basil plants for this oven friendly tomato dish I so adore.

Pomodori al riso con patate

Rice filled tomatoes with potatoes

for 6 people

6 round cluster tomatoes

salt to taste

1 garlic clove

lots of fresh basil leaves

9 tablespoon rice

olive oil

2 to 3 medium size yellow potatoes

pepper to taste

Wash the tomatoes and cut a thin disk off the stem side of each tomato. Set the disks aside as you will use them later as a lid.

Using a melon baller or a small spoon, remove the pulp and seeds of the tomato, leaving a shell of skin and flesh. Salt the interior of the tomato shells and place them open side down to drain on paper towels.

Discard the harder parts and save the softer, more liquid part of the pulp.

Chop the garlic roughly and tear the basil leaves with your hands.

Place the saved tomato pulp, garlic and basil in the food processor or blender. Add a quantity of water equal to about 1/3 of the liquid you already have and 1/4 cup olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and blend for a couple of minutes

Peel the potatoes and cut each in 8 long wedges. Season them with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Spoon 1.5 tablespoons of rice in each tomato shell, then fill to the brim with the blended tomato mixture. Mix using the back of the spoon and top with more liquid if needed.

Arrange the tomatoes in a baking dish lined with parchment paper and cover each with the "lids" you set aside.

Stick the potato wedges in between the tomatoes. Sprinkle with some salt and drizzle with olive oil. Everything should be quite snug in the baking dish.

Bake at 350˚F for about an hour. The rice and potatoes should both be thoroughly cooked and the tomato skins a little wrinkly. They are best served between warm and room temperature and are a perfect midnight snack.


  • My mother taught me that the best tomatoes for this are what I know as costoluti-meaning they have costole-ribs. See their picture below, if you find them. most definitely use them, as their sweet flesh and thin skin definitely pays off.

For Susan: fegato alla veneziana Liver in the style of Venice

Posting from Boston today, where I have been invited to speak on a panel focusing on why it is important to maintain the flavor of traditions when scaling food production and how to to do it. My focus is on the why, obviously, and I am very excited to be in a group that includes industry leaders and scientists who work tirelessly to bring good, healthy food to as many as possible at the right price.

Oh and of course I had lobster last night and a bouquet of Mother's Day flowers from the delightful young man who looked me up after reading an interview with Chicago's Italian American newspaper Fra Noi and invited me here. Last but not least, I am staying steps away from the famous park where ducklings were made way for.

Enough about me, though, as this is for Susan.

Dear Susan-of course a great Southern woman like you would ask for a liver recipe!

I hope to see you soon in my classes again, until then, here is the recipe from my Facebook post.



Fegato alla veneziana

Venetian style calf's liver

for 4 to 6 people

1 pound sweet onions

1 scant handful parsley

1/2 stick butter

1/4 cup olive oil

salt to taste

1 pound calf’s liver in 1 piece

pepper to taste

1/2 cup very hot beef stock


Slice the onions quite thinly. Mince the parsley.

Over lively heat, melt the butter into the oil in a sauté pan. Add the onions and parsley with a very generous pinch of salt.

Sweat for about 5 minutes stirring often then cover and bring the heat to medium low.

Continue braising for about an hour, checking often to ensure the onions are not sticking to the bottom and adding a bit of hot water if necessary.

In the meantime, cut the liver in 1/8” slices. Note that this is easier to do if you chill the liver in the freezer until it begins to harden without being actually frozen.

Season the liver slices with salt and pepper and set aside.

When the onions are ready, arrange the liver slices on them and cook for 2 to 3 minutes on each side.

Mix in the stock, adjust salt and pepper and serve right away with grilled buttered bread and lemon wedges.


  • You know I am all for subbing, but this dish really needs the delicate sweetness of calf's liver
  • As I was researching this dish, I saw a way to turn its leftovers into more deliciousness: weigh how much you have leftover then grab an equivalent measure of room temperature soft butter. Mix and process into a paste in your favorite small kitchen appliance. To make it even fancier you can push through a sieve and get that high end restaurant velvetiness we so prize in this type of preparation
  • I have yet to try this, because the original dish is so good there are never any leftovers and also because the richness of it sounds like something best left for a holiday table

Pollo alle Olive ~ Chicken with Olives

On Thursday night, I rented the beautiful Naked Kitchen on Valencia and taught a class of 35 delightful people how to turn an evening of cooking into boisterous fun among friends. Today's featured chicken was a last minute addition for those who preferred not to eat pork. It is simple and my husband adores it, yet I had not made it in some time and couldn't recall ever teaching it in one of my classes, yet all who had it raved about it and I was reminded of how it came to be.

It has been a favorite since 1988 when, not even 25 years old, I created it for a man I was sure I would marry. As it turned out, even back then, my instinct for food was far superior to my understanding of men.

Ted, the fellow in question, eventually married my beloved friend Olivia-aka the risotto queen, while I tortuously found my way into Ted's best friend John's imperfectly perfect arms.

Before you get all hot and bothered expecting salacious details...there are none. There was no overlapping, no hair pulling, no fisticuffs nor duels. The only strife happened at Olivia and Ted's wedding, when they could not agree on whose side I would stand-he won.

Today the four of us are still bonded by a deep, unquestioning affection and a long shared history of joys and sorrows, disappointments and successes.

Chicken and olives continue to be part of the never-ending conversation that is our friendship.

Olivia, Teddi, Johnny: here's to love and friendship. And yes it is forever.

Pollo alle olive in teglia

Stove top chicken with olives


for 6 to 8 people

1 chicken

salt to taste

1 cup black olives

4 sage sprigs

2 wide strips lemon peel

1 clove garlic olive oil

1 small green garlic stalk (or 1 clove garlic)

grated zest of 1 lemon

splash white wine

2 cups hot chicken stock

pepper to taste


The day before making the dish, have the butcher cut your chicken in 10 pieces and skin them. Instruct them to keep the back, as it will impart great flavor to the final dish.

Salt the chicken generously, cover and refrigerate.

When ready to start cooking, remove the salted chicken from the refrigerator and place on the counter to come to room temperature.

Rinse the olives well and place them in a small bowl. Squeeze them lightly with your fingers to loosen the flesh.

Pick the leaves off 1 sage sprig and rub them and the lemon peel strips between your palms to release their essence. Smash the garlic clove without peeling.

Add the rubbed sage and lemon and the smashed garlic clove to the olives then cover everything in olive oil.

Mince the green garlic to a paste with a generous pinch of salt and mix with the zest. Pick the leaves off the remaining sage sprigs and rub them between your palms to release their essence.

Select a sauté pan wide enough to accommodate the chicken pieces in one comfortable layer. Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil in it and add the lemon/green garlic mince.

Set on gentle heat and add the sage leaves. Soften for 4 to 5 minutes stirring often to prevent burning and sticking.

Add the chicken pieces and bring the fire to medium to brown lightly on both sides, still stirring to ensure the garlic doesn't burn.

Raise the heat to high and deglaze with the wine. When you no longer smell the acidity, but just the sugar, pour the stock all over the chicken.

When the stock start boiling, lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan.

The chicken will need to cook for 30 to 35 minutes in a lively simmer. It will get quite tender. You will have to return to it often to ensure it is not burning nor sticking and has a bit of liquid on the bottom.

Discard the garlic clove and pour out some of the excess oil from the olives then add them to the chicken.

Braise for another 10 to 15 minutes, adjust salt and pepper. Transfer to a warm platter and serve.


  • I prefer to use back olives for this. Gaeta, nicoise, taggiasca, Kalamata will all work. Even the sun dried or roasted ones are suitable, though they will give a slightly different flavor
  • Use green if you prefer, the flavor will be tangier but still delicious and I'd probably go with an herb like marjoram or oregano
  • Either way: leave the pit in, it does make for a better flavor
  • Use a cast iron pan, if you have it
  • Crack the chicken back in half before adding it,  as cracked bones give depth of flavor to stews

Greens of spring: scafata or vignarola?

Not so long ago, I posted a picture on my FB page of a springy vegetable stew , one that my mother used to make with the pickings of our vegetable garden every Easter. It showcases fava beans, artichokes, shelling peas, spring onions and baby chards or baby romaine lettuce at their peak. The choice between a) chards or b) romaines depends on your heart being rooted in Umbria or Tuscany-in which case you'd select option aand call it scafata, or your devotion to Rome steering you to option b-which would make the stew a vignarola.

I don't prefer one or the other version, as mom would make it according to market availability and whim, but I did have several requests for the recipe in the picture, so here it is.


Scafata or Vignarola

Artichoke and spring greens stew

for 4 people:

1 lemon

4 medium sized artichokes

1 pound unshelled fava beans

1 pound shelling peas

2 spring onions

1 bunch of baby chards or 2 heads of baby romaine lettuce

1 sprig marjoram

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


Cut the lemon in half and squeeze its juice into a bowl of cold water. Drop the squeezed half lemons in the bowl.

Clean the artichokes. Remove the outer tough bitter leaves until about 2/3 of the outer circle of leaves are a lighter, somewhat yellowish green.

Slice off the darker top tip of the leaves. Pare the outer part of the bottom and peel the stems. Finally, slice off a very thin layer from the bottom of the stem.

This procedure is called turning, as for each phase of it, your knife will circle around the artichoke.

Halve each turned artichoke and remove the hairy choke if necessary. Cut each half in half again.

As they are ready, drop the artichoke quarters in the lemon water to prevent them from browning.

Shell the fava beans and the peas.

Cut offthe green top of the onions then cut in 8 wedges if they have a roundish bulb or just slice lengthwise if they are the narrower kind.

Carefully rinse the chards to eliminate any grit or, if using baby romaines, cut in quarters and rinse well.

In a shallow sauce pot pour the oil, than arrange all the vegetable snugly. Season liberally with salt and pepper and top with the marjoram.

Cover the pot and place it on low heat. The vegetables will release much moisture in which the vegetables will gently braise.

Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until everything is soft and well balanced. Adjust salt and pepper and enjoy at any temperature.


  • Depending on the size of your artichokes you might have to cut them in 6 or 8 wedges or maybe just in half if smaller. If using baby artichokes you can leave them whole
  • The fava beans only need to come out of the pod, you do not have to peel every single bean
  • Spring onions are not to be confused with scallions, which are the very thin, available-year-round green onions. Spring onions are the young, firm fleshed, uncured, sweet tasting onions that are available in the very late winter and spring
  • To make this dish more substantial, you can render some cubed pancetta in the oil before adding the vegetables and serve the stew on thick slices of toasted country bread
  • The flavors in this dish make it a perfect complement to roasted lamb

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 9: polpo

Today is fish day. No it will not be 7 fishes, rather just one veeeery long cooking octopus. Below are pictures of what is happening in my kitchen as I write.

Merry Christmas!


Polpo alla Luciana

Braised octopus


for 6 to 8 people

3 to 4 pounds octopus

salt to taste

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 handful parsley

1 ripe large tomato-if in season

OR 2 or 3 canned tomatoes

OR 2 tablespoon tomato concentrate

2 garlic cloves

pepper to taste


Lightly sprinkle salt on the octopus and place it in a Dutch oven. Add the olive oil and wine.

Rinse and add the parsley, stems off.

Chunk the fresh tomato or smash the canned one with your hands. Smash and peel the garlic. Add them to the rest of the ingredients-or add the tomato concentrate.

Season with pepper-or red pepper flakes if you want to give it a kick.

Seal the pot with a layer of parchment paper and tie it around its circumference with kitchen twine. Cover tightly with the lid and place over the lowest heat your stovetop can dispense.

Cook slowly and lovingly for 3 to 4 hours, or more if you have a big octopus, without ever opening and unsealing the pot.

Bask in the fragrance until you deem it ready.

Open and drain the octopus from its water. You can serve it as is, cool it and make a salad with it, mince it for a pasta sauce.

Whatever you do, keep the stock it has produced so we can use it for our days of leftover fun.


  • This is an old Italian classic, there are versions that use onion and/or celery for a richer stock
  • I have made this also without wine, or using basil in the summer
  • A pinch of oregano adds a delightful dimension
  • The stock will be rather intense so do not add salt or reduce, otherwise you will not be able to use it
  • Lastly: a picture of my child and some of his cousins after having eaten spaghetti with a sauce from the recipe above last summer in Tuscany
Topini che mangiano il polpo della zia Viola
Topini che mangiano il polpo della zia Viola

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 5: cappone bollito con 2 salse

I am a little off with my countdown, I just realized. If my limited math skills serve me correctly, 12-5=7 but 25-20=5. Instead of cramming 7 recipes in 5 days, we will continue our journey past Christmas to make the best out of leftovers. And nothing produces better leftovers than the capon my mother unfailingly poached every Christmas. In case you are wondering, a capon is a chicken whose renounces his manhood-possibly not willfully-tobecome larger, fattier, tenderer, juicier and much more flavorful.

I am lucky enough that in San Francisco, I actually get to pick which butcher will do me the honor of purveying the ingredient without which Christmas just isn't Christmas for me, elsewhere in the US capons might not be terribly common, so order it in advance from your specialty butcher.


Cappone bollito con 2 salse

Poached capon with 2 sauces


for the bird

1 onion

6 cloves garlic

2 celery stalks

3 carrots

2 leeks

1 lemon

2 to 3 bay leaves

6 to 8 peppercorns

1/2 cup white wine

1 handful coarse salt

1 capon


for the salsa verde

1 tablespoon capers in salt

1 clove garlic

1 bunch parsley

1 lemon

3 to 4 anchovies fillets

thick slice stale country bread

olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

splash of vinegar


for the salsa gialla

1 pinch saffron

3 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons butter

1 pint capon stock

1 egg yolk

juice of 1 lemon

salt and pepper to taste


Peel the onion and spike it with the cloves. Peel the celery and carrots. Remove the green leaves from the leeks. Score them along the middle and remove the dirt under cold running water. Cut 2 slices from the lemon.

Fill a pot with water big enough to hold the capon fully submerged. Add the spiked onion, celery, carrots, leeks, lemon slices, bay leaves, peppercorns, wine and salt and bring to a boil.

Turn the heat to a simmer and lower the capon into the water. It will need to poach gently until very tender, for about 1 hour.

While the capon is cooking, make the sauces.

For the salsa verde: rinse the capers off the salt and soak them in hot water.

Pick and wash the parsley leaves, dry them well.

Smash and peel the garlic.

Grate the zest of the lemon and juice it. Drain the anchovy fillets from the oil.

Remove and discard the crust off the bread slice. Tear the remaining soft part in chunks.

Place the parsley, garlic, zest, juice, anchovies and bread chunks in the food processor bowl.

Drain the capers and add them to the food processor.

Lock and start processing while adding oil in a thick stream. Keep the motor running until you have a homogeneous paste.

Transfer to a bowl adjust the balance of salt, vinegar and pepper. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The salsa gialla will need to wait until the capon is almost done as you are using the stock in which it is poaching.

Ladle a pint of capon stock out of the poaching pot and filter through a paper towel.

Crumble the saffron threads in between your thumb and index finger into a small sauce pot and toast it gently for 2 to 2 minutes.

Add the flour and very lightly toast for 2 to 3 minutes, whisking it around constantly.

Add the butter, It will melt with the flour and saffron into a deliciously fragrant, golden roux to which you will add the hot stock in a thin stream, whisking continuously.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens and emulsifies well.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the yolk and lemon juice.

Adjust salt and pepper and transfer to a cool container right away to avoid curdling the yolk.

When the capon is ready, drain from the stock and cut as you would a chicken.

Arrange in a shallow bowl with a few ladlefuls of the stock on the bottom to keep warm.

Place the capon in the middle of the table with the 2 sauces alongside it.


  • A capon can easily serve 10 to 12 people, for a smaller party, you can use a chicken
  • The stock is like a chicken's to the Nth power, you will have a lot since the capon is quite large, keep it for a myriad other uses
  • Keep the vegetables in the stock, we will use them in our Christmas leftover project

The 12 days of Natale, recipes for the Italian holiday table. Day 1: Timballo di pasta

Holiday cheer is uncharacteristically late in our household this year. Decorations just appeared this morning and the tree is yet to be trimmed-or purchased, for that matters. I figured I can at least be timely with gifting. My gift to all of you, the marvelous audience who has supported me from the inception of my teaching career and still cheers me every step of the way, will be a recipes every day between here and Christmas to give an Italian flair to the table of your winter holidays.

From the rapid and simple to the lengthy and laborious, these dishes are born from the marriage of traditions and creativity always at work in my Italian kitchen in California and they are the flavors without which the joy of Christmas just does not taste as it should.

Let's start the journey with timballo di pasta alla napoletana, an elaborate pie filled with egg pasta in a richly flavored ragout. It was part of last Sunday night's program at 18 Reasons and I posted a picture of it on instagram. I got so many requests for the recipes, it became the inspiration for these series of posts, thus the obvious choice for day 1.

This stunning dish shows up in many different incarnations in Neapolitan cuisine. I chose this version because it houses both animals found in Italian holiday meals: the pig and the chicken. The chicken moves sideways, plucking the last crumbs, making way for the pig that forges ahead, undeterred symbol of renewal and the advent of a new season.

Enjoy and share.


Timballo di pasta alla napoletana

Neapolitan style pasta pie


for a 9 to 10" spring form

for the shell

400 grams flour

200 grams butter

3 eggs

2 tablespoons sugar

pinch of salt


for the filling

1/2 cup dried porcini

1 small onion

1 small carrot

1 small celery stalk

2 mild Italian sausages

1 pound mixed wild mushrooms

salt and pepper to taste

lard (or olive oil)

1/4 cup pistachios

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup marsala

1/2 cup chicken livers

1/4” thick ham slice

1.5 quarts whole milk

3 tablespoon flour

3 tablespoon butter

1 pound egg tagliolini (or other egg pasta)

1.5 cups grated parmigiano


Make the dough for the shell by mixing the flour, diced butter, 2 eggs, salt and sugar. Work quickly. Divide it into 1/3 and 2/3 giving each piece a thick disc shape and let rest for about an hour wrapped in the fridge.

Soak the porcini in boiling water. Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery. Take the sausages out of the casing and crumble it with a fork. Clean the mushrooms and slice them thinly. Strain the porcini and set the soaking water aside. Chop them roughly.

In a sautèe pan heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of lard. Add the onion, carrot and celery with the cinnamon and a generous pinch of salt. Soften them until golden, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the sausages and mushrooms. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes over lively heat, stirring them often to ensure they do not stick to the bottom of the pan.

While the sausages and mushrooms are cooking, chop the pistachios finely and add half of them to the sausages and mushrooms.

Deglaze everything with half the marsala and when the alcohol no longer smells acrid, adjust salt and pepper, transfer to a large bowl and set aside

Wash the chicken livers well with water and vinegar, rinse them and dry them carefully with paper towels. Generously season them with salt and pepper. In a skillet over lively heat, brown them in 3 tablespoons of very hot lard.

Deglaze with the remaining marsala. Lower the heat to medium and continue cooking for 10 to 15 minutes, until the livers are fairly firm to the touch and slightly pink inside. If they seem too dry during the cooking process, add small amounts of hot water to moisten. Chop them roughly and add them to the sausages and mushrooms.

Dice the ham quite finely and add it to the chicken livers, sausages and mushrooms. Set everything aside.

To make the béchamel, start by heating the milk.

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, toast the 3 tablespoons of flour for about 2 to 3 minutes, whisking it continuously.

Still whisking, add the 3 tablespoons of butter in it and cook for about 5 minutes into a golden and fragrant roux.

Slowly whisk in the hot milk, pouring it into a thin stream. Continue whisking over medium heat until the sauce starts thickening. It will come to a boil and then shrink back as it thickens.

Cook for an additional 5 to 8 minutes, never letting up on the whisking. Now taste it: you should not detect flour, if you do, cook the sauce a little longer. Adjust salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

Line the bottom of the spring form pan with a circle of parchment paper of the same diameter as the pan. Brush the sides of the pan with butter and dust them with flour. Move around to ensure they are well coated in flour then shake off the excess.

Roll out the two discs of dough to about 1/4”. Use the largest one to line the pan. Place the smallest on a plate and put them both back in the refrigerator.

Cook the pasta VERY al dente in salted boiling water, about 3 to 4 minutes less than the suggested cooking time.

Drain loosely and transfer to a bowl. Dress with the meat sauce, 2/3 of the béchamel and half the grated parmigiano. Toss well and pour into the spring form pan. Cover with the smaller disc.

Seal and crimp all along the edges of the pie. Whisk the remaining egg with 3 tablespoons of cold water and use it to brush the top of the pie. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes in a 350˚F preheated oven.

Let stand for 10 minutes before springing it out of the form. Serve while still piping hot with the extra béchamel, grated parmigiano and pistachios on the side.

March 19: saints, fathers and oxtails

Papà L'Unità anni 70
Papà L'Unità anni 70


The day I turned legal for a scooter I pleaded with him for one. He stalled. I rounded my most doe-like eyes and asked "Don't you trust me, daddy?" knowingly straddling that line between sweet and indignant which I knew would tug at his heart and mind, both of which, I also knew, had to be in concord for him to cave.

"I'll always trust you - he answered - I just do not trust others." I was more tenacious than he was mistrustful, and eventually I got my scooter.  The other promise, the one to always trust me, he always kept without question.

The last time he visited New York's Memorial Hospital in 2004 for his cancer treatments, he asked for my company. I flew in from San Francisco, glowing and round with 7-months of baby in my belly. I asked him what he wanted. He said he had been jonesing to cook coda alla vaccinara - Roman style oxtail stew and that he wanted to do so in a clay pot.

My belly and I taxied all over Manhattan, chasing what we needed. Each tool finally found, each ingredient successfully purveyed seemed to keep the fast approaching end of my father's life at bay. Somewhere in there, I found the time to acquire the perfect dress for an oxtail-eating pregnant woman: a form-fitting, tobacco brown stretchy sheath with a big and bright red dot positioned to showcase my round stomach.

After I returned, victorious, to the apartment father was renting just a block away from Sloan Kettering, we made a round of overseas phone calls to various expert sources: mothers, aunts, sisters, cooks trained by grandmothers. I organized the information and sat in prenatal yoga pose with a book, aware that my father did not feel kindly toward interferences while cooking. He asked me, instead, to make the coda, an unusual show of trust for anyone who knew my father, and yet for me one more link in the chain of the unspoken emotional and intellectual chemistry which had always gathered the two of us.

My father and I in NYC, 1986
My father and I in NYC, 1986

The dish turned out exquisite, as love is always a surefire ingredient for the success of anything in the kitchen, I say. We sat and ate and chatted, forgetting why we were where we were. I spilled a forkful of coda right on the red dot of my oxtail eating dress while we were laughing, for reasons I now forget. The stain never came off, but I kept wearing the dress all the way through labor pains and delivery, as if that dot in my dot rooted the future into the world of love I was reared in.

March 19 is Fathers' Day in Italy, aptly celebrated the same day as St.Joseph's, who, for Italians, defines the no-matter-whatness of fatherly love. Sweet fritters and beignets of all sorts and flavors are made all over the country. But for me, coda alla vaccinara will always be the dish to which I celebrate the extraordinary luck of being born my father's daughter.

Coda alla VaccinaraOxtail in celery and tomato sauce

Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 10.45.52 PM
Screen Shot 2014-03-20 at 10.45.52 PM

for 6 people 2 small onions 4 cloves 2 carrots 1 head celery 2 bay leaves 3 peppercorns salt 1 oxtail 1 beef cheek black pepper 2 tablespoons fatback 1 garlic clove 1 handful parsley 2 tablespoons lard 2/3 cup red wine 1 cup tomato puree

Peel one onion and spike it with the cloves. Peel and chunk one carrot and one celery stalk. Place the vegetables in a pot with the bay leaves, peppercorns and a small handful of salt. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil.

In the meantime, chunk the oxtail and cheek and rinse them. Mince the remaining onion, carrot, garlic clove, parsley and fatback together.

Place the meat chunks in the boiling water and when the water comes back to the boil, fish them out. Pat dry them and generously season them with salt and pepper.

Melt the lard in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the oxtail and cheek and brown gently to a golden color.

Remove the meat chunks and add the minced ingredients with a generous pinch of salt. Saute until soft and lightly caramelized.

Put the oxtail back in the saucepan and deglaze everything with the red wine.

Dilute the tomato puree in a pint of warm water and pour over the tail. Cover and braise very gently and slowly for 4 hours.

In the meantime, tear off the outer fibrous celery stalks until you are left with the inner heart, the stalks of which are thinner, tenderer and a greenish to yellowish white in color.

Cut each tender stalk in half lengthwise then cut each half stalk in 2" sticks. Boil the celery sticks in the same boiling water where used to blanch the meat. Drain and set aside.

Four hours into the braising, add the cooked celery and put back on the low, gentle heat for another 30 to 45 minutes.

Transfer the meat chunks to a warm serving platter and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm.

Let the sauce rest for 10 to 15 minutes, then skim the fat that floats to the surface. The sauce should be dense, dark and VERY flavorful sauce. If it seems too thick, dilute it slightly with 1 or 2 tablespoons of the blanching water.

Pour the warm sauce over the meant and serve. Note that leftovers can be picked off the bones shredded and served as a sauce to rigatoni topped by grated pecorino.


  • You can save the outer stalks of the celery for uses in soups, stocks, gratins, salads, etc. If you can find it, Chinese celery (known as sedano fino in Italy) is ideal for this dish. It is tenderer than its regular big brother and has a smell more similar to celery seeds and celery root. It is sometimes available in farmers’ market or local ethnic markets.
  • Coda alla vaccinara is a peasant dish made with what the tables of rich families disdained. Discovered by the aristocracy, it saw the addition of some rarefied ingredients.
  • There are later versions that include one or all cocoa powder, pine nuts and raisins. Purists scoff at those, though in my opinion and experience, they can be perfectly delicious. I listen to my mood when I cook: if it feels chocolaty and nutty and raisiny, then I yield to it. When in a more somber disposition, I stick to the basic recipe.
  • If you add cocoa powder (2 tbsps for the above proportions) mix it with a few tablespoons of the blanching water and stir into the hot cooking sauce before it drapes the meat on the platter. Raisins and/or pine nuts can be added in a quantity that suits your taste for them at the same time as the boiled celery sticks.