Pumpkin and Pasta? Now That’s Italian!

Pumpkin Pappardelle with Pumpkin and Poppy Seed (4) Pumpkin is an ideal bland food with a distinctive taste. That’s a good thing because it means you have to do something to the pumpkin to make it palatable and delicious. Typically, pumpkin pie is a solution, but nowadays it’s going into all kinds of things from beer to cookies.

Pumpkin is a member of the Cucurbitaceae and winter squash family (its Latin binomial is Cucurbita pepo) and when it first arrived in Europe following its discovery in the New World after Columbus’ voyages it did not impress. The Sicilians, for example, thought so little of winter squash such as pumpkin, they even have a derogatory saying about it: “Sali mitticinni nà visazza conzala come vuoi è sempre cucuzza” (Add a lot of salt and seasoning because squash it always remains).

There are four basic species of Cucurbitaceae. Pumpkins or squash are easily hybridized so the range of colors and shapes is quite varied and it is difficult to tell one variety from another, resulting in many cultivars. If you are interested, a thorough and concise description of all the squashes can be found in my book “Mediterranean Vegetables.” READ MORE

Sicily’s Eggplant Ceviche for Summer

wright-eggplantseviche1-580x385 The end of summer offers the cook a wealth of sparkling fruits and vegetables for culinary transformation. One of my favorite dishes this time of year is a Sicilian preparation called mulinciana a schibecci, or eggplant ceviche.

I don’t make this often because it’s labor intensive, but when I do I make a good amount because it can be eaten as an antipasto, on top of pasta, smeared on a toasted square of bread, or on top of pizza. For me, this dish captures an essential Mediterranean taste, one you will not forget.

If you know caponata, you will recognize this preparation as they are in the same family.

You probably know of ceviche as the famous appetizer of lime-marinated raw fish. I once read that it was introduced to the United States from Peru by restaurateurs.

But ceviche is nothing but a Mediterranean method of preserving raw fish. The Spanish word ceviche and the Sicilian word schibecci both derive from the older Spanish escabeche, a word that means “marinated fish.” READ MORE

Chile Blast Off Spaghetti

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Every once in a while I'm eating alone and I'm not testing recipes and I consider going out for a pizza or something similar.  Then I am suddenly overcome with the desire to eat something very specific--a craving-- that I simply must satisfy that … [Continue reading]

Want Authentic Clam Chowder? Can’t Go Wrong with Cape Cod.

Clam chowder

Of all the foods I get defensive about, clam chowder is high on the list. There are certain preparations that are so iconic, established and regionally rooted that I think it’s nonsense to say “oh, there are many interpretations.” In fact, I … [Continue reading]

It’s Real Fettuccine Alfredo. It Never Used Cream.

Fettuccine Alfredo (Lazio) (3)

The rise and fall of fettuccine Alfredo is a story of a simple dish taken from its home and embellished with flourishes before sliding into culinary familiarity, dullness and bastardization. Although it has its roots in Roman cuisine, it is … [Continue reading]

Pork Belly Roasted with Honey Balsamic Glaze Makes A Delicious Appetizer

Pork Belly, honey-balsamic roast (3)

Pork belly as it is sold by butchers and supermarkets includes the skin, fat layer, and some thin muscle streaks from the sides and belly of the hog. Belly is not stomach, but literally the belly. It’s most common use is as bacon. Bacon is the smoked … [Continue reading]

Techniques for Cooking Fish Don’t Have To Be Intimidating

Baked Swordfish with Golden Crust (CAWCOM) (2)

One of the oddest questions I get when serving fish is, “Does this fish have bones?” My answer is always, “Assume it does.” I answer that way to encourage people to eat slowly, to eat as if it does have bones, because all fish have bones. Even when … [Continue reading]

Colorful Summer Salads Make the Most of Heirlooms

Purple Caulifower, Yellow Sweet Pepper, Tomato Salad

Think of the platter as a palette, and your vegetables as swaths of paint that fill in the color of the canvas. This is what every August provides as our tomato plants and other garden vegetables are going crazy and this means we should be thinking … [Continue reading]

Summertime Raw Sauce for Pasta

Fettuccine with Raw Sauce (CAWCOM) (3)

A delightful way to prepare pasta for a hot summer day is to toss it with a raw sauce or what the Italians call a salsa cruda.  Summers can be too hot for full-fledged piping hot food so a raw sauce can come into play.  It is exactly what it sounds … [Continue reading]

Juicy Figs Stuffed in Tomatoes Make a Summer Appetizer

Tomato Stuffed with Fig, Prosciutto, and Mint (CAWCOM) (2)

Our figs in California are so abundant and delicious that throughout the summer we dream all ways of using them.  This particular preparation is wonderful as an appetizer to a barbeque party.  The tomatoes I call for are a cultivar called Carmelo, … [Continue reading]

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