Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can't Buy Me Love (part 3 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    This was something new.  Parenting was Ma and Pop's duet.  Ma wasn’t expecting Liz, her new sister-in-law, to join their act and make it a trio.  Aunt Liz continued with my job interview.    
    “Can you type, Sweetie?”  
    “Sure, Aunt Liz.” 
    Annoyed that I actually had a skill, Ma scrambled for something to end my blossoming typist career.  “Tina, you have homework.  You don’t have time to waste.” 
    I was determined to become a typist.  “Ma, ple - ease?”
    Liz added what she thought was the deal maker.  “It’s real work experience.”

    Aunt Demi wasn't impressed with my career choice.  Crocheting furiously, she muttered, “She’s going to earn money to waste it.  Netta, you want her to do that?”

    Ma quickly glared at Aunt Demi.  Now it was becoming a quartet?  Annoyed at yet another relative involving herself in what Ma considered to be strictly her own business, Ma glanced at her new sister-in-law.  Then she looked at me and said, “Hmm...  When you see how hard it is to earn money, maybe you won’t be so eager to waste it.  Alright.” 

    I couldn't believe how well this was working out.  “Thanks, Ma.  When do I start, Aunt Liz?”
    “This week.  Sweetie, after you buy that ticket, be sure to put what’s left in the bank.”  Ma nodded.  Aunt Liz smiled at Ma.  Returning to me, Aunt Liz said, “We’ll expect you to do a neat job.  We have to be able to count on you.  You have to do the work every week.”   
    I was willing to clean Aunt Liz's house.  Heck, I would wax the bowling alley.  “I will.”
    Ma reasserted her authority.  “Don’t forget your homework.”
    “I won’t.” 

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Linguine with Spicy Shrimp and Tomato Sauce, Anna Sultana's zalza pikkanti (Fish in Caper Sauce, Maltese Style)

I wanted something simple.

It's been getting warmer and I didn't want to stay indoors cooking.  Sometimes the recipes in Entertaining with The Sopranos try to make a recipe sound like more than it is.    

Carmela cut up large shrimp.  If you've got small ones, leave them alone or they'll disappear.

Carmela's Linguine with Spicy Shrimp and Tomato Sauce didn't have too many ingredients.
To be honest,  It isn't much of a recipe.  

Basically, here it is:

1 pound pasta
Before you drain the pasta, save some of the cooking water to thin the sauce if it's too dry.

In a large pot combine
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
a pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Cook about 3 minutes.

Stir in
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
28-ounce can of Italian peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
a pinch of salt
Simmer about 20 minutes.

Stir into the sauce
1 1/2 pounds of shrimp
Cook 1 minute.   
Mix the pasta into the sauce.
Serve immediately. 

The title called for linguine but in the recipe she said 'or spaghetti'.  Okay... a simple tomato sauce with shrimp on pasta.  

Ma never cooked shrimp.  In Malta, lampuki is the most popular fish.  Well, we were in College Point on Long Island.  There bluefish was easily available.  When we went for our Sunday drives to Sheepshead Bay, Pop could buy bluefish fresh from the fellows who liked to go fishing, but who didn't like to eat that stuff.  This was in the 60s, when real American men ate meat.  

Ma sometimes cut the cleaned fish into slices, dipped them in seasoned flour, fried them and served them in what she called piquant sauce, zalza pikkantiZalza pikkanti was a little more work than Carmela's sauce.  It had onions, tomato paste, olives, sugar, vinegar, capers and, of course, garlic.  Ma served the fish either hot or cold, depending on the weather and our schedules. 

If you've just gone fishing or fish is on sale, I think it's alright to serve the fish, cut up, in Carmela's sauce.

Carmela's recipe is easier.  I'd make it again.  With any pasta I have on hand.

Another recipe down.  Sixty-five more to go. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Can't Buy Me Love (part 2 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    Yeah, right.  As if I didn’t know what that meant.  

    My parents had it down to a regular routine.  Pop knew that we children were his wife’s responsibility.  When he was being asked to give a second opinion on any child rearing matters, Pop knew he was expected to say "No".  A "Yes" answer from Pop was a definite no-no.  Ma knew that.  Pop knew that.  And I sure knew that.    

    Their ‘Ask your Pop’ routine had kept me from other forbidden American pleasures, such as peanut butter and bubble gum.  But this was important.  I had a plan.  

    Desperate for Nadia to straighten my hair and save me from spinsterhood by getting me married to George Harrison, I forged ahead.  “Uncle Des gave Nadia money for her ticket.  I’ll need-”
    Ma cut me short.  “We don’t have money to waste.”
    I went to plan B.  “Can I do some chores, earn some extra?”

    Ma looked at me as if I had beetles crawling on my head.  “You expect me to pay you for helping in your own home?  You saw those...  bugs on Ed Sullivan.  You don’t need to go.”

    Thinking that a lack of money was the actual problem, Liz tried to help.  “That reminds me...  If it’s alright with you, Annie...  We need to hire someone to type our bowling league’s scores.  We can pay Tina.” 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Carmela Soprano's La Pastiera, Anna Sultana's Qassatat ta I-Irkotta (Small ricotta pie, Maltese Style)

There was one more Easter recipe in Entertaining with The SopranosLa Pastiera, also called Pizza Gran and/or Easter Dessert Pie, was another cheesecake in a latticed crust.

I had some candied citron and orange peel left over from making hot cross buns, so I figured I'd go for it.  

What is it with Carmela's fillings?  This cheesecake called for 4 ounces of hulled wheat.  In the cheesecake, not the crust.

No, I'm not going to make any comments about ingredients in cheesecake recipes.

Deciding this would be a learning experience, I bought some hulled wheat.  Maybe it's supposed to help keep us regular.  Her dough was another artery clogger with 3 eggs.  The filling calls for another 4 eggs, so you get the idea.  If that scares you, too, go to my pie crust recipe.  Carmela's a killer in her own way.

Ma's Qassatat ta I-Irkotta - small rikotta pies - are a lot simpler to make.  And healthier.  For a half dozen, you need 2 eggs.  Okay, to be fair La Pastiera uses 470 g of ricotta, while Qassatat uses 250 g.  But still...  another 3 eggs in the crust? 

Qassatat are also easy to pack and serve at picnics.    

La Pastiera was no big whoop.  I wouldn't make it again.

No, I'm not going to make any comments about ingredients in cheesecake recipes.

Another recipe down.  Sixty-six more to go. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Easy 2 Egg Spongecake by Margaret Ullrich

Strawberries are appearing in the markets.  Pick up some, along with a carton of heavy cream (or your favorite whipped topping) and make

                        EASY 2 EGG SPONGECAKE
crisco 8 inch square 
   or 2 8 inch round pans          
preheat oven to 350º           
1 8 inch square    30 min.  
2 8 inch round      20 min.

beat until light and thick
2 eggs
beat in 
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
heat to boiling point 
1/2 Cup milk
1 tablespoon margarine
beat into egg mixture
sift together
1 Cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
beat into egg mixture only enough to blend

pour into prepared pan(s)
cool, inverted, 1 hour

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Can't Buy Me Love (part 1 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    When I carried a chair into the kitchen, Ma asked, “Who was on the phone?”  
    “Nadia,” I mumbled.  As if she didn't know.
    Ma sighed.  “You two will be deaf.”  Ma followed me to the dining room to see if there were any nuts left for the men to eat.

    I didn't just have nuts on my mind.  “Ma, this is important.  The Beatles-”
    “What?  We have bugs?”
    “No, Ma.  THE BEATLES."  God, sometimes she could be so dense.  I spoke slowly, "We saw them on Ed Sullivan.” 
    Aunt Demi snorted.  “Again this Ed Sullivan.”  

    Ma said, “We see a lot on Ed Sullivan...  How does that guy keep six dishes spinning at the same time?”
    I tried to keep Ma on topic.  “The Beatles are going to sing in Shea Stadium.”
    Ma didn’t understand.  “During a baseball game?”
    “No, Ma.  It’ll just be them singing.  That's not important.  Can I go with Nadia?”   

    Aunt Demi didn't like the sound of this.  She didn't think much of her brother Demi's wife or her whole nationality.  Aunt Demi had been in Malta during the Big One, and she still held a grudge against Italians.  She was crocheting real fast.  “Is Des or that wop... er... woman taking her?”
    I tried to impress Aunt Demi with Nadia's and my new found maturity.  “No.  Just the two of us.”

    Aunt Demi was shocked.  “Girls going out without a parent?  Hmmph.”
    Ma saw we were heading for trouble.  She took the easy way out.  “Ask your Pop.” 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Pasta Piselli, Anna Sultana's Ross il-forn (Baked Rice, Maltese Style)

Back to regular meals.  

One nice thing about Entertaining with The Sopranos is there are actually a few recipes you can use for an ordinary meal.  They're easy on the stomach and the budget and don't take too much time to prepare.

Pasta Piselli is a no-brainer.  Really easy.  Okay...  Carmela's back to tearing up fresh basil leaves, but parsley leaves can be used instead of basil.  You just need basic staple ingredients: onions, frozen peas, elbow macaroni, Romano cheese and 3 eggs, mixed together, served hot, all in one pot.  A comfort food. 

Almost like Chinese fried rice.

Speaking of rice, Ma's old budget favorite Ross il-forn is an all in one pot, comfort food.  I admit it takes more time to make than Pasta Piselli.  About an hour.  But, that's oven baking time.  

If you're having company and the chicken is looking a little small, you could whip this up to serve as a first course.  Or you can prepare Ross fil-forn and freeze it for an emergency meal to microwave when you're running late.

Ross il-forn is one of those 'what do I have in the house' recipes.  I've seen recipes calling for ricotta and others for milk.  Some are picky about the tomato sauce recipe and others allow you to use some leftover tomato sauce.  The chopped 2 or 3 rashers of bacon give it its distinctive flavor.

Basically Ross fil-forn is uncooked rice baked in a tomato meat sauce which has been mixed with something dairy and beaten eggs, then baked.  Fil-forn means baked.

I have to admit Carmela's recipe is quicker.  I'd make it again.  Especially in the summer, when I don't want to use the oven.

Another recipe down.  Sixty-seven more to go. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Healthy Pizza Rustica (Ricotta Pie, Maltese Style)

Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

I received a few e mails with healthier versions of Carmela's Pizza Rustica.

Here is Maria D.'s recipe.

                        Pizza Rustica

grease 9 inch spring form pan          
preheat oven to 400º           
bake 45 min. 

with electric beater mix
1 pound ricotta cheese
1 1/2 Cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon extract
beat until smooth
set aside
sift together
3 Cups flour
1/2 Cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
cut in
1/2 Cup margarine or 3 oz. oil
pour in
1/2 Cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
mix quickly 

Knead 5 turns on a floured board
add more milk if dough is too stiff to roll

Use 2/3 of dough for bottom crust 

Roll out remaining dough 
cut into 1/2 inch strips

Pour cheese mixture into pan
Form lattice top
bake 45 minutes or until brown
cool on a rack

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Holidays Mean Trouble (part 9 - by Margaret Ullrich)

    Ma wasn't the only one who ignored the new holidays.

    Aunt Demi believed the Maltese calendar had enough holy days and holidays.  She would not allow Mother’s Day to be observed in her house.  When her children brought gifts, she ignored them.  She just thought her children were trying to get her into a good mood before they asked her for something.  

    Following Aunt Demi’s example, Ma was always suspicious when we brought home our creations.

    “Sure, sure.  Mother’s Day, of course, special sure...  We’ll see,” Ma grabbed the coffee pot and retreated to the kitchen.

    Aunt Demi huffed and worked on her crocheting.  After a few minutes, she muttered, “Who needs this...  Mother’s Day?  We have enough work to do with all the feastdays the church stuck us with.  You trying to kill this woman with holidays?  Netta, you’re not doing anything for this garbage, are you?”

    Ma left the safety of the kitchen and returned to the war front.  Hoping to avoid a fight between her sisters-in-law, Ma tried to change the subject.  “Madonna.  Where does the time go?  Peter, Charlie and Vinnie have been playing bocci for an hour.  They’ll  be hungry.”  

    While Liz copied a recipe, Ma went to the kitchen to prepare a snack for the men.  “Tina!  Get off that phone and put these chairs away!”

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Carmela Soprano's Easter Bread, Anna Sultana's Figolli (Easter Bread, Maltese Style)

Sometimes flipping through Entertaining with The Sopranos is a real blast from the past.  I have quite a few Sicilian relatives.  The photo of Carmela's Easter Sweet Bread on p. 133 brought back lots of Easter memories.

Nice Easter memories.

Every extended immigrant family has a spiritual/cultural center, one family where everyone gathers for important and festive occasions.  Aunt Betty and Uncle Joe's home was the heart of our family.  We always gathered there for holidays.

Aunt Betty's mother, Nonni DiNoto, supervised the holiday meals.  Easter wouldn't be complete until she carried a glistening golden brown loaf of Easter Sweet Bread, a huge braided loaf decorated with colored eggs, and a Colomba di Pasqua.

We always avoided the eggs.  They had a weird green circle around the yolk.  I was reassured when I read in Entertaining with The Sopranos:
Nobody ever eats the eggs, but store the bread in the refrigerator just in case. 

After a few years, we stopped gathering at Aunt Betty's house.
At home Ma followed our Maltese traditions.  Our Easter dinner menu was similar.  But, instead of making a Colomba, Ma baked a figolli, a Maltese sweet bread with a marzipan filling.  

A figolli was harder to make than a Colomba.  The dough was rolled about one centimeter thick.  Then Ma cut the dough into pairs of figolla with a figolla cutter.  They looked like a large letter J, but the stick part ended in a fish’s tail.  

On one side of a figolla Ma spread jam and marzipan.  Then she covered it with the identical shape, as if she was making a sandwich.  After the figolli had been baked and cooled, they were covered with colored icing and piped royal icing.  Then a decorated Easter egg was placed on top of each figolli.  For the final touch a cardboard woman’s face was inserted into the mound of the J.  

The odd thing about Ma’s traditional figolli was that it was a mermaid.  I asked Ma why a mermaid and not a dove.  She said, “I don’t know.  It’s our tradition.”

Well, you can’t argue with tradition. 

Happy Easter!! 

Another recipe down.  Sixty-eight more to go.   

Friday, April 2, 2010

Anna Sultana's Torta ta' l-Irkotta / Easy Maltese Ricotta Pie

Okay...  I received a few e mails asking for Ma's healthier version of Carmela's Pizza Rustica.  

Relax.  It's really easy to make.  Plenty of time to make it before Easter.

                        Torta ta' l-Irkotta

grease 9 inch pie pan          
preheat oven to 400º           
bake 30 min. 

400 g flaky or puff pastry
line the bottom and sides of the dish
with 3/4 of the pastry
mix together
400 g ricotta
3 large eggs
season with salt and pepper
spoon mixture into the pie dish
Cover the mixture with the remaining pastry
brush with milk or beaten egg
prick all over with a fork
bake 30 minutes or until brown

Easy, no?