Scampi Appetizer "Alla Buonavia" -
Clams Casino -
Baked Clams Oreganata -
Italian-American Lasagna -
Italian-American Meat Sauce
from Chapter 1
Among the many things
Italians brought with them to this country is their love for
antipasti-those little bites to nibble on before the meal. An antipasto
can be as simple as prosciutto e melone, affetati (an assortment of
sliced, cured meats), or a lemony seafood salad. Or it can take up the
better part of a table with a display of vegetables that are grilled,
pickled, tossed in vinaigrette, broiled to golden brown, or fried; fish
that has been cured, preserved in oil or salt, tossed in a salad, or
made into a terrine; as well as all kinds of cured meats, cheeses,
legumes, salads, and crostate (savory pastries). Whether simple or
elaborate, an antipasto is meant to stimulate the taste buds and start
the gastric juices flowing with an assortment of flavors, textures,
colors, and aromas.
At home antipasti were usually made up of
food that could be found in the cupboard-cured, marinated, smoked,
dried, or otherwise preserved foods and meats, and an assortment of
dried or aged cheeses. In Italian-American restaurants of the 1970s and
'80s, "antipasto" meant a plate of prosciutto, salami,
cacciatorini, cheese, roasted peppers and all kinds of
vegetables-artichokes, giardiniera, pickled mushrooms, assorted olives,
beans-tuna in oil, anchovies, and hard-boiled eggs. All this would be
dressed with some virgin olive oil and wine vinegar. Today, antipasti
include a whole repertoire of hot preparations and salads in addition to
these traditional favorites.
It is easier than ever to present an
authentic family-style antipasto at home, because it is easier to get
traditional products imported from Italy. Prosciutto, whether from Parma
or the type of prosciutto known as San Daniele, from Friuli-is the king
of any antipasto assortment and can now be found across the United
States, as can many imported Italian cheeses, cured fish, and
vegetables. The surest way to capture the flavors, colors, and textures
of a culture is by using authentic products. If you take a bite of
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or taste a drop of aceto balsamico
tradizionale, there is no doubt in your mind, or on your palate,
that you are eating Italian. Use that to your advantage and search out
these authentic products, which will bring your table that much closer
to Italy. And remember that cooking techniques are also important to the
authenticity of a dish. In this chapter I share with you some of the
antipasti that have become my favorites.
SCAMPI APPETIZER "ALLA BUONAVIA"
This appetizer was very
popular at my first restaurant, Buonavia, which opened in 1971. It was a
time when lots and lots of chopped garlic was used in Italian-American
cooking. If you like a milder garlic flavor, use crushed or sliced
garlic cloves instead, and remove them from the dish before you serve
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing dish
cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 pound extra-large (about 25 to the
pound) shrimp, completely shelled, deveined, and cut crosswise into 3
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
dry white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper
6 slices Italian bread (about 1/4 inch thick and 2 1/2 inches
wide), toasted and kept warm
1 lemon, cut into slices
chives and/or parsley sprigs, optional
Makes 6 servings
this dish, high heat and speed are essential. Make sure the pan is good
and hot when you add the shrimp and that it is wide enough to hold all
the shrimp pieces in a single layer (so the pan doesn't cool down as the
shrimp go in). And be sure to have all your ingredients right by the
stove-once the shrimp go into the pan, it's "full speed
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet,
over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, shaking the pan, until light
golden, about 2 minutes. Raise the heat to high, add the shrimp, and
toss until they are bright pink and seared on all sides, about 2
minutes. Stir in the chopped chives, then add the wine, butter, and
lemon juice. Bring to a boil, and boil until the shrimp are barely
opaque in the center and the sauce is reduced by half, about 2 minutes.
Stir in the chopped parsley and crushed red pepper. Season with
Place a piece of warm toast in the center of each of six
warm plates. Spoon the shrimp and sauce over the toast, drizzling some
of the sauce around the toast. Decorate the plates with lemon slices,
and with the parsley sprigs and/or whole chives, if
The restaurant business is tough on family life.
Joseph, my son, was only four years old when we opened our first
restaurant, Buonavia, in Forest Hills, Queens. He would spend many days
playing on tomato boxes, and when he got a little older, he would make
pocket money by standing on a milk crate and helping with the dishes or
the preparation of the day's vegetables. But he did have his rewards,
and a plate of clams casino was one of his favorites.
36 littleneck clams
4 tablespoons finely chopped
fresh Italian parsley
2 red or yellow bell peppers, roasted and
peeled as described below, cut into 1-inch squares
bacon, cut into 1-inch squares
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
dry white wine
Makes 6 servings
You can prepare the clams
right in their baking dish up to several hours in advance and bake them
just before you serve them.
Preheat the oven to 450’
Shuck the clams as described on page 7, reserving the clam
juice and arranging the clams on the half shell side by side in a 13 x
11-inch baking dish. Strain the juice through cheesecloth or a very fine
sieve into the baking dish. Sprinkle some of the parsley over the clams.
Top each clam with a square of roasted pepper. Cover the pepper with two
squares of bacon. Using about 3 tablespoons of the butter, dot the top
of each clam with about 1/4 teaspoon butter. Cut the remaining butter
into several pieces and tuck them in and around the clams in the baking
dish. Add the wine and remaining parsley to the baking dish.
until the bacon is crisp and the pan juices are bubbling, about 12
minutes. Arrange clams on a warmed serving platter, or divide them among
warmed plates. Pour the pan juices into a small saucepan and bring to a
boil on top of the stove. Boil until lightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.
Spoon the juices over the clams and serve
Two Ways to Roast a Bell
Roasting peppers imparts a subtle flavor to them, softens
the texture, and removes the skin-which some people find hard to digest.
Here are two ways to roast a pepper. Whether roasting green, red, or
yellow peppers, choose thick-fleshed peppers that are boxy in shape-they
will char more evenly and be easier to peel.
Turn the gas burners
on high and, working with a pair of long-handled tongs, place the
peppers on the grates, directly over the flames. Roast the peppers,
turning them as necessary, until evenly blackened on all sides, about 8
minutes. Remove the peppers, place them in a bowl, and cover tightly
with plastic wrap. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 40
Or place a rack in the uppermost position and preheat
the oven to 475’ F. Put the peppers on a baking sheet and roast
them, turning as necessary, until all sides are evenly blackened, about
12 minutes. Remove the peppers to a bowl and cover tightly with plastic
wrap. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 40 minutes.
peel the peppers: Pull out the stems and hold the peppers upside down,
letting the seeds and juices flow out. Cut the peppers in half
lengthwise and, using a short knife, scrape away the blackened skin,
ribs, and remaining seeds.
BAKED CLAMS OREGANATA
This is a tasty dish adored by many
people. Shucking the clams is easy, if you follow the directions on page
7. And it beats steaming them open, which toughens the
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
36 littleneck clams
1/2 cup dry white wine
tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons unsalted
butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper,
2 cups coarse, dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated
1/4 cup cubed (1/4-inch) peeled and seeded
tomatoes (see Note below)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably the
Sicilian or Greek type dried on the branch, crumbled
1 lemon, cut
into thin slices
Makes 6 servings
I always add diced fresh
tomato to this dish, because I think it contributes a little freshness.
Now is the time to try to find the
Greek or Sicilian oregano dried
right on the branch-it makes a difference. Many Greek and Italian
groceries will have it.
You can buy powdered hot red pepper, but
I like to chop up the flakes myself.
Let the oil and garlic steep
in a small bowl 30 minutes to 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 475’
F. Shuck the clams as described on page 7, reserving the clam juice.
Strain the juice through cheesecloth or a very fine sieve into a 13 x
11-inch baking dish. Add the white wine, 1 1/2 tablespoons of the
parsley, the butter, and half of the crushed red pepper.
deep bowl, toss the bread crumbs, grated cheese, tomatoes, 3 tablespoons
of the garlic-infused oil, the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped
parsley, the oregano, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
until thoroughly blended.
Top each clam with about 1 1/2
tablespoons of the bread-crumb topping, packing it down tight. Set clams
in the prepared baking pan and drizzle the remaining infused oil over
them. Bake until the pan juices are bubbling and the bread crumbs are
golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer the clams to a warm platter or
divide among serving plates.
To keep the bread-crumb topping
crunchy, spoon the sauce from the baking dish onto the plates-not over
the clams. Serve immediately, garnished with the lemon
To Peel and Seed Tomatoes
Use this method
with either plum or round tomatoes. Bring a large pot of water to a boil
and set a bowl of ice water near the stove. Cut the cores out of the
tomatoes and cut a small x in the opposite end. Slip a few tomatoes into
the boiling water and cook just until the skin loosens, 1 to 2 minutes
depending on the tomatoes. (Overcooking will make them soggy.) Fish the
tomatoes out of the water with a wire skimmer or slotted spoon and drop
them into the ice water. If necessary, let the water return to the boil
and repeat with any remaining tomatoes. Slip the skins off the blanched
tomatoes and cut the tomatoes in half-lengthwise for plum tomatoes,
crosswise for round tomatoes. Gently squeeze out the seeds with your
hands. The tomatoes are now ready to dice or cut as described in the
2 pounds fresh or packaged whole-milk ricotta cheese
Italian-American Meat Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds lasagna noodles
2 large eggs
2 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 pound mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh, sliced thin
Makes 12 servings, plus leftovers
I am always telling you not to add oil to the water when you cook
pasta, because it will reduce the adherence of sauce to the pasta.
Cooking long, flat pasta--like these lasagna noodles--is the exception.
They have a tendency to stick together when they cook; the oil will help
prevent that. Inevitably, some noodles will break. Save the pieces; they
will come in handy to patch the layers of lasagna.
You'll notice in the meat-sauce recipe that the final consistency of the
sauce should be fairly dense. Following that pattern, I suggest you
drain the ricotta first, to remove a lot of the moisture. Removing
excess moisture from the ingredients will result in a finished lasagna
that is more compact and intense in flavor.
You may assemble the lasagna completely up to a day before you serve it,
but don't cook it until the day you plan to serve it. Lasagna tastes
better and is easier to cut if it is allowed to stand about an hour
after it is removed from the oven. It will retain enough heat to serve
as is, or, if you prefer, pop it back in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
My favorite way to serve lasagna is to bake it and let it stand 3 to 4
hours. Cut the lasagna into portions, then rewarm it in the oven.
Line a sieve with a double thickness of cheesecloth or a basket-type
coffee filter. Place the ricotta over the cheesecloth and set the sieve
over a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or up to
1 day. Discard the liquid that drains into the bowl. Make the meat
Bring 6 quarts of salted water and the olive oil to a boil in an 8-quart
pot over high heat. Stir about one-third of the lasagna noodles into the
boiling water. Return to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook the pasta,
semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 8 to 10 minutes.
While the pasta is cooking, set a large bowl of ice water next to the
stove. When the lasagna noodles are al dente, remove them with a wire
skimmer and transfer to the ice water. Let them stand until completely
chilled. Repeat the cooking and cooling with the remaining two batches
of lasagna noodles. When the cooked noodles are chilled, remove them
from the ice bath and stack them on a baking sheet, separating each
layer with a clean, damp kitchen towel.
While the noodles are cooking, beat the eggs with a pinch of salt in a
mixing bowl until foamy. Add the ricotta and stir until thoroughly
blended. Preheat oven to 375° F.
To assemble the lasagne, ladle about 3/4 cup of the meat sauce over the
bottom of a 15 x 10-inch baking dish. Arrange noodles lengthwise and
side by side so as to cover the bottom of the baking dish and overhang
the short ends of the dish by about 2 inches. (A little "cut and paste"
might be necessary. Also, the noodles will most likely overlap in the
center of the dish. That is fine.) Spoon enough meat sauce, about 2
cups, to cover the noodles in an even layer. Sprinkle the sauce with 1/2
cup of the grated cheese. Arrange a single layer of noodles crosswise
over the cheese so they overhang the long sides of the baking dish by
about 2 inches, trimming the noodles and overlapping them as necessary.
Spread the ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles. Arrange a single
layer of noodles lengthwise over the ricotta, trimming the noodles as
necessary. Arrange the sliced mozzarella in an even layer over the
noodles. Spread 1 cup of the meat sauce over the cheese and sprinkle 1
cup of grated cheese over the sauce. Cover with a layer of noodles,
arranged lengthwise. Spoon enough meat sauce, about 2 cups, to cover the
noodles in an even layer, and sprinkle the sauce with 1/2 cup grated
cheese. Turn the noodles overhanging the sides and ends of the dish over
the lasagna, leaving a rectangular uncovered space in the middle. Spread
a thin layer of meat sauce over the top layer of noodles. Sprinkle with
the remaining grated cheese. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake
Uncover the lasagna and continue baking until the top is crusty around
the edges, about 20 minutes. Let rest at least 30 minutes or up to 3
hours before cutting and serving. To rewarm a lasagna that has been
standing, cover it loosely with foil and place in a 325° F oven until
heated through, 15 to 45 minutes, depending on how long it has been
Pasticcio is the Italian word for things that are put together in a
messy fashion and in no particular order. In Italian cuisine, the same
word is used to describe baked pasta dishes layered with different kinds
of sauces and fillings. This pasticciata is made with layers of crepes
and spinach-ricotta filling.
ITALIAN-AMERICAN MEAT SAUCE
Sugo di Carne
Two 35-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)
6 to 8 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
5 to 6 meaty pork neck bones (about 3Ú4 pound)
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
4 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably the Sicilian or Greek type dried on the branch, crumbled
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup tomato paste
3 to 4 cups hot water
Makes about 8 cups, enough to fill and sauce Italian-American Lasagna (page 156) or to dress about 2 pounds pasta
If you have trouble finding ground pork, or if you prefer to grind your
own, it's really very easy. (And if you buy a piece of bone-in pork to
grind, you'll have the bones you need for the sauce.) Remove all bones
and gristle from the meat, but leave some of the fat. Cut the pork into
1-inch pieces, and chill them thoroughly. Grind about half at a time in
a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse, using quick on/off
motions, until the meat is ground coarsely.
In my region of Italy, tomato paste is usually added along with the
onions to caramelize a little bit. But around Naples, and the rest of
southern Italy, tomato paste is stirred right into the sauce. Tha's how
I do it here.
When the sauce is finished simmering, you can pull the meat from the
bones and stir it into the sauce, or you can do what I do--nibble on it
while the sauce perks away. This makes quite a bit of sauce--enough to
feed a small crowd and have enough left over to freeze in small
quantities for a quick pasta meal for one or two.
Pass the tomatoes and their liquid through a food mill fitted with the
fine disc. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4- to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add
the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8
minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, dump in the
garlic, and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2
minutes. Add the pork bones and cook, turning, until lightly browned on
all sides, about 5 minutes. Add the ground beef and pork and season
lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the meat
changes color and the water it gives off is boiled away, about 10
minutes. Continue cooking until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes.
Add the bay leaves and oregano, then pour in the wine. Bring to a boil
and cook, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the pot, until the
wine is almost completely evaporated. Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in
the tomato paste until it is dissolved. Season lightly with salt. Bring
to a boil, adjust the heat to a lively simmer, and cook, uncovered,
stirring often, until the sauce takes on a deep, brick-red color, 2 to 3
hours. Add the hot water, about 1/2 cup at a time, as necessary to
maintain the level of liquid for the length of time the sauce cooks.
Skim off any fat floating on top and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
The sauce can be prepared entirely in advance and refrigerated for up to
5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
Tomato paste is the essence of tomato in a concentrated form. I use
tomato paste to bring an intense tomato flavor to a dish, or when I want
the sweetness and mellow flavor of tomato without the acidity of fresh
tomatoes. I also add tomato paste to soups, braised meat dishes, and
slow-simmered tomato sauces for a rich color and complexity of flavor.
The next time you make a roast, dilute a tablespoon of tomato paste in a
cup of hot stock or water and add it to the pan. It will give the roast
a bit of color and a lot of taste.
Traditionally, tomato paste is made by spreading very ripe tomatoes on a
wooden board to dry in the sun. As they dry, the tomatoes are turned
daily and spread out on the board, like plaster of Paris, until most of
their water is evaporated. During the drying process, the tomatoes'
acidity is greatly reduced and their flavor and sweetness are
intensified. Today, tomato paste is dehydrated in commercial plants by
boiling the tomatoes down, then drying them in a slow oven.
To give tomato paste a nuttier flavor, I like to caramelize it by
cooking it in oil along with vegetables before the other ingredients are
added to the pot. And, to get the most out it, I like to cook it longer
than I would fresh or canned tomatoes.
Excerpted from Lidia's Italian-American Kitchen by
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
Copyright 2001 by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. Excerpted by
permission of Knopf,
a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt
may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.