Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End "Little Italy www.morewinelesswhines.com
Cooking, Travel

Boston’s North End: Italian American Mecca

Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End "Little Italy www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bricco Panetteria in Boston’s North End “Little Italy

The greatest cities in the United States boast melting pots of cultures, which evolved from wave after wave of immigrants calling US soil their new home.  What do I think is the best part about these melting pots?  The food (and people, too)!   In Boston, there is a concentrated area of Italian Americans that would be called “Little Italy” in other cities, but is known in Boston as the “North End.”  There are tiny little shops, many of which have been passed on from generation to generation, all along the narrow, winding streets of the North End.

I was fortunate to spend the coldest winter day in Boston walking and eating my way through Boston’s Italian American mecca with my husband, his family and close family friends on Michele Topor’s Boston Food Tour.

We started our tour at a Panetteria, or small bread bakery.  There was a tiny little alleyway, which led to a single door, which led down a narrow staircase, to the panetteria counter!  We all purchased a loaf of bread – our bread of choice had prosciutto inside!

Bricco Panetteria in Boston's North End "Little Italy     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bricco Panetteria in Boston’s North End “Little Italy

We then made our way to Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, where we sampled olives, balsamic vinegar, saba, olive oils, prosciutto, and cheeses.

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Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, Boston's North End    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bricco Salumeria and Pasta Shop, Boston’s North End

We made our way through the winding streets to an authentic Italian pastry shop, Maria’s Pastry Shop.  It was old school Italian, with the best cannoli I have ever had (and, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, I am not even a big cannoli fan)!  Please note, if you ever want to experience good cannoli, with a crunchy fried dough shell and a sweet cream or ricotta filling, you better go somewhere where they fill the shells to order!  I didn’t photograph them, but Maria makes incredible marzipan, sfogliatelle and lobster tails (the pastries, not the crustaceans).

Maria's Pastry Shop, Boston's North End      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Maria’s Pastry Shop, Boston’s North End

Maria's Pastry Shop, Boston's North End    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Maria’s Pastry Shop, Boston’s North End

Maria's Pastry Shop, Boston's North End      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Maria’s Pastry Shop, Boston’s North End

We enjoyed the sights, smells and tastes inside of Monica’s Mercato and Salumeria.  The shop is family owned, as Monica’s son told us during our visit while he pointed to photos of his mother that adorned the walls.  “My mother taught me everything I know about cooking and food.  I started my first food shop/restaurant when I was 16 and just kept working from there to where I am now.”  My husband commented that if he lived in Boston’s North End, he would eat an Italian sub a day, every day, from Monica’s.  There is also a really compact Mercato featuring pizza downstairs, which is also where they make all the bread for the upstairs Mercato (Notice the wall made out of wine corks in the background.  Wouldn’t that be a fun endeavor to take on with friends?  “Ok, team, now this is going to be hard work, but we need to drink a few hundred bottles of wine this year so I can start the wine cork wall.  Ready, set, go!”)

Monica's Mercato and Salumeria, Boston's North End     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Monica’s Mercato and Salumeria, Boston’s North End

Monica's Mercato and Salumeria, Boston's North End       www.morewinelesswhines.com

Monica’s Mercato and Salumeria, Boston’s North End

Monica's Mercato, Boston's North End      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Monica’s Mercato, Boston’s North End

At the fresh produce market, I learned the difference between a male and female eggplant.  (Look for the one with a dot on the bottom, not a wide flat line.  The eggplant with the dot is a male and will have less seeds, thus being better for Italian American dishes such as Eggplant Parmesan).  We also visited a wonderful wine and liquor store, an incredible coffee, spice and herb store and learned so much more. This little post does not even scratch the surface on the shops and restaurants that fill the North End.   I hope that some day you will go to the North End yourself and experience the same lovely food tour my family enjoyed!

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Cooking

Orecchiette with Asparagus, Pancetta and Lemon

Orecchiette with Asparagus, Prosciutto and Lemon      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Orecchiette with Asparagus, Prosciutto and Lemon

If you give an Italian American a bowl of pasta, he will want for nothing more.

Years ago my mother made a Cooking Light Recipe that involved pasta (bowties or spirals), asparagus, lemon & pancetta.  I added a few ingredients to the dish over the years, but, like many recipes, we just stopped making it after the change of seasons.  Then, my sister-in-law recently raved about a dish that sounded just like the one my mother used to make, this time by the Barefoot Contessa.  When my husband and I came home from an eight hour car ride and were deciding on “what to do” for dinner, we came to a simple conclusion:  try to recreate the pasta dish from years ago!

Orecchiette with Asparagus, Prosciutto and Lemon       www.morewinelesswhines.com

Orecchiette with Asparagus, Prosciutto and Lemon

Orecchiette with Asparagus, Pancetta  & Lemon

1 box orecchiette (or other small to medium shaped pasta)
1 bunch asparagus, rough ends removed, tender parts cut into 1.5″ pieces
4 oz pancetta, finely chopped
10 oz baby bella mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
2 lemons, juiced
Romano cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orecchiette to boiling water. Set timer for 4 minutes less than the box instructs to cook the pasta ‘al dente.’ (For example, the De Cecco brand of Orecchiette says to cook the pasta for 11 minutes. I set my timer for 7 minutes.) When the timer goes off, add the asparagus and stir. Continue boiling, 3-4 minutes longer. Drain, reserving up to 1/2 c. of the starchy pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Once hot, add pancetta and sauce until sizzling and starting to crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove pancetta to a large serving bowl for the pasta. Add a little more olive oil to the pancetta drippings in the pan if needed and return to medium heat. Add mushrooms to the pan with sea salt & pepper to taste. Sauté 5-6 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender.

Combine the orecchiette, asparagus spears, pancetta, mushrooms, garlic and juice of 2 lemons in a very large bowl. Stir in a drizzle of olive oil, as needed. Add reserved pasta water if pasta seems too dry. Stir in Romano cheese, beginning with 1/4 cup. Taste pasta and add freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste. (Be very careful that you do not add too much salt!)

Serve with freshly grated Romano cheese.

Enjoy!

Orecchiette with Asparagus, Prosciutto and Lemon        www.morewinelesswhines.com

Orecchiette with Asparagus, Prosciutto and Lemon

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Cooking

Achieving Balance in the New Year: Mushroom Soup with Greens

Mushroom Soup        www.morewinelesswhines.com

Mushroom Soup with Greens

I will be honest with you.  I struggle to find balance  – among work, graduate school and home life – between travel and rest – between my dietetics undergraduate training and my ill-acquired grownup habits.   It is a continual process, one which forces me to look forward and strive to improve each day.  I’ll take the struggle over complacency.

While trying to improve the foods my family cooks and eats together, I found this unusual Mushroom Soup in Jean-Georges:  Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef.    I am constantly on the prowl for a creative spark to jump-start a cooking session – and this cookbook has done wonders for my culinary prowess.  See the Sautéed Chicken with Green Olives and Cilantro + Chive Oil recipes on this blog as evidence.

The soup, along with other recipes in the cookbook, achieves a harmonious balance of colors, textures and flavors.  What better way to usher in the new year?

Mushroom Soup before adding broth      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Mushroom Soup with Greens before adding broth

I started the soup by making a rich mushroom ‘broth’ on a Sunday.  Then, I assembled the actual soup for dinner on a Monday night.  The final brief cooking &  ‘assembly’ went quickly.  It is not until all the ingredients come together at the last minute that you will agree with me and go “ahhhh, this WILL be delicious!”

Ingredients for Mushroom Soup (note, the broth is in the bowl and was made ahead of time)       www.morewinelesswhines.com

Ingredients for Mushroom Soup (note, the broth is in the bowl and was made ahead of time)

Mushroom Soup with Greens
Recipe from cookbook Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four Star Chef

For the broth:
2 lbs button mushrooms, rinsed & coarsely chopped
4 oz shiitake mushrooms
4 T. unsalted butter
sea salt
4-6 shallots, roughly chopped (~1 c.)
6 garlic cloves, smashed (ok to leave skins on)
4 thyme sprigs

For the final soup:
2 T. minced shallots
1/2 c. fresh or frozen and thawed peas (Optional – I did not use)
2 tsp. walnut or hazelnut oil
2 T. soy sauce
freshly cracked black pepper
1 T. port
2 c. mixed salad greens
2 T. toasted breadcrumbs (I used Panko)

1.  Heat a deep skillet over high heat and add butter, chopped button mushrooms and a tiny bit of sea salt.  When mushrooms release their juices, add shallots (chopped), garlic & thyme.  Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, 5-10 minutes, or until mushrooms are brown.  Add 6 c. water.  Keep heat at medium-high to high and cook at a steady boil for 30 minutes, until reduced by half.

2.  Pour mixture through a strainer, pressing on mushroom mixture to release all juices.  Keep broth warm.  (Broth can be made up to 2 days ahead of time in a covered container:  Cool broth by putting strained broth on top of an ice pack or nest in a larger bowl filled with ice cubes, then transfer to the refrigerator).

3.  While broth is cooking, place 2 T. butter in a skillet, turn heat to high and add minced shallot and shiitake caps.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes.  (Optional:  If using, add peas and cook for 1 minute at this time).  Turn off the heat and stir in walnut oil and 1 T. soy sauce.

4.  If needed, reheat broth.  Season with remaining 1 T soy sauce, cracked black pepper and port.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

5.  Place greens in individual bowls and spook shiitake mixture over them.  Add bread crumbs.  Pour soup over ingredients in the bowls and serve warm.

Enjoy!

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Prosciutto Cups : A New Year’s Appetizer to Wow the Guests

Prosciutto Cups

Prosciutto Cups

Let me tell you a not-so-secret secret.  Come closer or someone else will hear!  It is really simple to throw a great New Year’s Party.  Don’t try too hard.  Stick to friends, family, appetizers, the best wine and champagne.  Make your food FUN – not stuffy!  There is something tantalizing about any food you can hold in your hand, banishing fork and knife to a dark kitchen drawer, including skewered treats, BACON WRAPPED WATER CHESTNUTS, toothpick appetizers, phyllo pastry cups, lettuce wraps and more.  Ever heard of a little high brow- a little low brow?  What about – a little classy – a little trashy?  These fit the description – Fancy bacon made into a bowl!  Perfect!

The Don cutting the prosciutto into little bites

The Don cutting the prosciutto into little bites

Given this information, is it really surprising that I take such joy in prosciutto cups?  They are simple enough to make.  All you need are some mini muffin tins and prosciutto.  Borrow a few tins from an aunt, friend or neighbor if you don’t own any. It starts with the prosciutto.  Go to an Italian deli or your local deli (if you are lucky).  Have the person behind the counter thinly slice some good prosciutto for you.  You don’t need to go overboard and get the best prosciutto from Italy.  If you buy some of the ‘really good stuff,’ save it for eating raw, wrapping around breadsticks/freshly sliced melon/chicken tenders or served atop pizza.  Get a decent, mid-priced variety.

The Don placing the prosciutto into mini muffin tins

The Don placing the prosciutto into mini muffin tins

Prosciutto Cups

Preheat oven to 375 F.   Spray mini muffin tins with cooking spray.  Cut each prosciutto slice into 3-4 pieces, width wise.  Wrap each piece in the muffin tin to form a cradle or little bowl.  Bake in preheated over for 15 minutes, or until starting to crisp but not burn.

Using a spoon or your hands, remove crisp prosciutto cups and transfer to a serving plate.  Fill with fresh pears, crab, cheddar cheese & chives, etc.  Get creative with your fillings.  I won’t tell you what to do for this one.  Have fun – get fancy and bake an egg in the prosciutto cups if you dare!  Serve immediately.

Happy New Year, friends!  I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015!

Prosciutto Cups with Fresh Pears

Prosciutto Cups with Fresh Pears

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Gardening, Travel

Christmas at the Phipp’s Conservatory in Pittsburgh

If you are ever in Pittsburgh and love flowers, take time to visit Phipp’s Conservatory.  I have visited the conservatory with my husband and his family during multiple seasons over the past few years.  Each visit has been unique.  Several years ago, we toured during a Chihuly glass exhibit. Last fall, we sat through an Indian spice session in the Indian Rain Forest exhibit and then toured the Center for Sustainable Landscapes.  This year, we visited during the winter display featuring decked out Christmas trees, poinsettias galore, a “snowman” wedding made out of air plants (bromeliads) and more!  Enjoy the photos below – don’t ask me the names of all the orchids because I couldn’t tell you!

One of the decorated trees at Phipps Conservatory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

One of the decorated trees at Phipps Conservatory

Norfolk Pine, Paperwhites and Hydrangeas at Phipps Conservatory      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Norfolk Pine, Paperwhites and Hydrangeas at Phipps Conservatory

Beautiful Display at Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Beautiful Display at Phipps Conservatory

Staghorn Ferns + More in a large wire hanging basket at Phipps Conservatory www.morewinelesswhines.com

Staghorn Ferns + More in a large wire hanging basket at Phipps Conservatory

Bridal Bromeliads at Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bridal Bromeliads at Phipps Conservatory

Succulent Christmas Tree    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Succulent Christmas Tree

Air Plants in all their glory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Air Plants in all their glory

It'll be a Blue Christmas without you!   www.morewinelesswhines.com

It’ll be a Blue Christmas without you!

Beautiful spin on a classic boxwood garden with a poinsettia twist at Phipps Conservatory   www.morewinelesswhines.com

Beautiful spin on a classic boxwood garden with a poinsettia twist at Phipps Conservatory

www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com www.morewinelesswhines.com

Phipps Conservatory - Poinsettias, Cyclamen, and more!     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Phipps Conservatory – Poinsettias, Cyclamen, and more!

Bromeliad ring bearer at Phipps Conservatory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bromeliad ring bearer at Phipps Conservatory

Bromeliad bride with Bouquet at Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Bromeliad bride with Bouquet at Phipps Conservatory

Eco bears at the Phipps Conservatory    www.morewinelesswhines.com

Eco bears at the Phipps Conservatory

A light display meant for nighttime at the Phipps Conservatory     www.morewinelesswhines.com

A light display meant for nighttime at the Phipps Conservatory

 

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Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

The start of a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce www.morewinelesswhines.com

The Start of a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

I am not too proud to admit that sometimes I just do not like bell peppers.  Maybe it stems back to frozen paninis in college that, once reheated in the microwave, left a bad, stale pepper aftertaste all day during class.  Regardless, I have been timidly trying main courses and side dishes that utilize bell peppers.

One recipe that is on my “To do” list is a classic Romesco sauce.  As a stepping stone to making a Romesco, I tried this Roasted Red Bell Pepper Sauce by Laura Calder of the Cooking Channel.  This recipe is absolutely wonderful!  I have served it with my Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter, Whole Roasted Chicken, and Quesadillas, to name a few.  I think it would be great as a little soup “shooter” with a cheesy puff pastry twist for dipping.  Just ideas.  Try it.  You will like it – regardless of whether or not you are a big pepper fan or not!

The peeled, seeded red bell peppers       www.morewinelesswhines.com

The peeled, seeded red bell peppers

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Original recipe by Laura Calder of the Cooking Channel.

2 red bell peppers
2 T. olive oil
1 shallot, minced
3 T. white wine (I used some Chardonnay)
6 T. chicken stock (I used Turkey stock that I had frozen/leftover from Thanksgiving)
juice from 1/2 a lemon
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F (My oven has been set at either 400 or 450, depending on what else I am roasting). Set the papers on a cooking spray lined baking dish and roast for 20 minutes. Turn peppers with tongs & roast an additional 15-25 minutes, until flesh is soft and skin is browning in spots. Place immediately in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside 10 minutes to “sweat.” Remove plastic wrap, and gently peel and seed the pepper with your hands (Be careful! Peppers will be warm!) Tear or cut into strips/pieces and set aside.

Heat a small saute pan over medium heat. Add oil. Once hot, add shallot, stirring occasionally, until translucent and soft, about 3 minutes. Add white wine and cook 1 minute. Add stock and cooked red pepper. Cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Pour into a small food processor or blender. Season to taste with lemon juice (1 tsp at a time), sea salt & pepper. Serve warm or cold. Enjoy!

The start of a roasted red pepper sauce        www.morewinelesswhines.com

The start of a roasted red pepper sauce

Easy Ingredient Prep for Roasted Red Pepper Sauce        www.morewinelesswhines.com

Easy Ingredient Prep for Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter, Sautéed Spinach & Roasted Red Pepper Sauce www.morewinelesswhines.com

Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter, Sautéed Spinach & Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

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Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter, Sautéed Spinach and Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter, Sautéed Spinach & Roasted Red Pepper Sauce     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter, Sautéed Spinach & Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Simple and delicious.  If you like scallops, try this recipe.  If you’ve never eaten scallops before, start with this recipe.  The trick is to use high quality scallops that are free from additives.  One of the local grocery stores had a special on Peruvian Bay Scallops, so I used them instead of the traditional kind.  (These are smaller than regular scallops -think the size of a nickel-quarter instead of a half dollar) and cook very quickly.  I found several recipe variations using a simple combination of butter, olive oil, lemon juice & thyme, but the best one was from Bon Appetit.

Try to space the scallops out in the pan so they are not overly crowded or touching when you first sauté them.  I should have cooked up the scallops below in two batches to obtain a better crust, but I was impatient.  (Note:  they still turned out fine and tasted incredible).

Dinner - not too fancy, but really good     www.morewinelesswhines.com

Dinner – not too fancy, but really good

If you like pairing your food with wine, there are two New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc labels that I really like right now.  One is “90+”, which is like the Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s private label brand for the wine world.  The other wine is called “Wild South.”  I tried both of them at wine tastings first and then with these scallops.  Delicious!

Sautéing the Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Sautéing the Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter

I made these scallops for dinner on a Sunday night and they took me less than 10 minutes to prepare.  I served these with sautéed spinach, lemon orzo & a roasted red pepper sauce.  Everything was excellent (except the orzo)!   The recipe for the roasted red pepper sauce is coming soon!

Sautéing the Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter www.morewinelesswhines.com

Sautéing the Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter

 

Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter

Many variations on this recipe exist, but I will give credit for this one to Bon Appetit

1 lb. sea scallops, side muscle removed
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 T olive oil
2 T. unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 sprigs fresh thyme
juice from 1/2 a lemon

Place sea scallops on a paper towel lined dish. Top with a second paper towel to draw out any excess moisture. Let sit for 5 minutes. Sprinkle tops of scallops with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat a large skillet over medium to medium high heat. Add oil. Once hot, add scallops, salt & pepper side down. Cook, undisturbed, 3 minutes. Sprinkle tops of scallops with sea salt & pepper. Turn scallops using tongs. Add butter and thyme to pan. Continue cooking, spooning pan sauce over scallops, until scallops are cooked through, about 3 minutes longer. Stir in lemon juice. Serve scallops with the pan sauce.

Easy Prep for Brown Butter Scallops      www.morewinelesswhines.com

Easy Prep for Scallops with Herbed Brown Butter

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