Phil's International Flair

Welcome to the June issue of Seasoned Cooking and to Phil's International Flair! This month I have chosen Italian cooking as the subject matter. All of us, at one time or another, have eaten Italian food whether it be pasta, lasagna, or some other type of Italian dish. For most of us it is a favorite. Italian food is particularly suitable for children. How many of us have seen a child who does not like spaghetti? Not many no doubt!

Having some relatives that are Italian, I have been privy to some rather good recipes and cooking techniques of genuine Italian origin. The use of appropriate spices is very necessary to Italian cooking, with garlic, basil, marjoram and oregano being used extensively. So, in cooking Italian style, one is free to use these spices somewhat liberally. Rosemary and fennel seed are also used in Italian cooking to a large degree, however one should be less liberal with these as they contain oils that can easily overpower a dish. Ciao!

The recipes presented this month are but a small yet diverse collection of the recipes in my yet-to-be-published book, Phil's Family and Friends Cookbook. Feel free to email me at with your comments and requests. Be well and good eating!

Now, on to the recipes!

Cooking Italian

Lasagna

One of the more traditional Italian dishes, lasagna is usually prepared for a large number of people. However, it also is well suited for freezing and eating throughout the week for those that are on busy schedules. Here is my favorite recipe for lasagna:
  • 1 lb. ground round
  • ½ lb. mild or hot Italian sausage
  • ½ large yellow onion, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large can tomato sauce
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large can tomato paste
  • 1 large can black olives, diced
  • ½ lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • ½ tsp. oregano
  • ½ tsp. basil
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ tsp. savory
  • ¼ tsp. marjoram
  • ¼ tsp. rosemary
  • ¼ tsp. crushed fennel seeds (if desired)
  • Salt and pepper to taste (optional)
  • 2 lbs. mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup grated Romano cheese
  • 2 lbs. ricotta cheese
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried tarragon flakes
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 Tbls. olive oil
  • ½ tsp salt for cooking pasta
  • 1 lb. extra wide lasagna noodles

First begin the meat sauce by simmering the ground round, Italian sausage, onion and garlic in a skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until browned. Drain and discard the excess grease.

While the meat is browning, begin the tomato sauce. In a pot, put the sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and black olives. Bring to a simmer over low heat. When browned, add the meat to this mixture. Next, add the oregano, basil, bay leaves, savory, marjoram, salt and pepper to taste. Be easy on the salt and pepper as the meat and Italian sausage tends to be somewhat salty and spicy in itself. Eliminate the salt and pepper if this is your first attempt at lasagna, or if you are in doubt. Simmer the sauce for at least 3 hours over low heat, uncovered.

Prepare the cheese mixture as follows: grate the mozzarella, parmesan and Romano cheeses. Separate and reserve about 1/3 of the mo cheese. Put the ricotta cheese in a mixing bowl and mix in the remaining grated cheeses. Add the parsley and tarragon while mixing.

When the sauce has simmered for three hours, add the mushrooms and simmer for an additional half an hour. After the mushrooms have been added to the sauce, begin the pasta.

To cook the pasta, bring about 1 gallon of water to a boil in a large pot. Add the ½ tsp. Salt and the 2 tablespoons oil. This oil will help to prevent sticking. Boil the pasta for 10 minutes and drain. Rinse the pasta with hot water and separate the noodles with your hands.

With all of these preparations done, you are now ready to make the lasagna. Have a large casserole dish ready. Cover the bottom of the casserole dish with some of the sauce. Now lay a single layer of the noodles over the sauce. Cover the noodles with the reserved mozzarella cheese. Lay another layer of noodles over the mozzarella and cover the noodles with the ricotta cheese mixture. Top this layer with more of the sauce. Put on the final layer of noodles and cover these with more of the sauce. Bake the casserole in the oven at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Finally, put the remaining mozzarella cheese on top and bake an additional 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, garnish with addition parsley flakes, and cool for 15 minutes. Cut into 3 to 4 inch squares and serve.

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours

Brajole

These are Italian style stuffed beef rolls that can be served as either a side dish or a main course. They are also quite suitable as appetizers or to serve for a party dish. This recipe comes by way of my oldest daughter Bridgett and her grandmother Rose who is full blooded Italian. Enjoy!
  • 3 lbs. Rump roast, trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick across grain
  • Stuffing (see below)
  • Marinara Sauce (see below)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

Brown the slices of beef in a skillet with the olive oil and set aside. Once the slices have been browned, fill with stuffing and hold together with a toothpick. Arrange the rolls in a baking dish and cover with the Marinara sauce. Bake at 375 degrees for 1½ hours and serve.

Stuffing
Use a basic turkey like stuffing as follows:
  • 12 oz. regular bread cubes plus cornbread cubes, with seasoning mix
  • 4 oz. pine-nuts
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 diced apple

First brown the nuts and other ingredients in a saucepan so they soften and the flavors blend. Add the seasoning mix before putting into the bread and add broth as directed. You want medium moisture content.

Marinara Sauce
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 4 cloves pressed garlic
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 Tbsp. oregano
  • 1 Tbsp. sweet basil
  • 1½ tsp. tarragon
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. sage
  • 3 Tbsp. dried parsley
  • 1 tsp. savory
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 32 oz. tomato sauce
  • 16 oz. crushed tomatoes
  • 2 cans Italian style stewed tomatoes or 4 cups fresh chopped roma tomatoes
  • ¾ cup thin 1" slices bell pepper (yellow or red preferred)
  • 1½ cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 16 oz. can olives, chopped
  • ¾ cup zucchini (optional)
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1½ Tbsp. brown sugar
  • ½-1 cup red wine
  • 4 to 6 Italian sausages (hot or mild to taste)

In a large pot, pour the olive oil, onions, garlic, and spices. Sauté ingredients to break the flavor. Add tomato paste and continue to sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes and chopped tomatoes. Next, add peppers, mushrooms and chopped olives. Then add baking soda, brown sugar and red wine.

Brown 4-6 Italian sausages in a skillet (I like few hot, few regular), and add them to the sauce. Cook the sauce for at least two hours before serving. This sauce can be used on pasta of any type, or on top of other dishes manicotti. You can double this batch and freeze some for later.

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Spaghetti

The old Italian favorite. There are many variations upon this theme, but here is a basic recipe that is suitable for most occasions:
  • 1 lb. spaghetti noodles
  • Water for boiling noodles
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 3 cups Marinara sauce
  • ¼ cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

In a large pot, put about 1 gallon of water and add the salt and olive oil. Bring to a boil over high heat and then add the noodles, making sure to separate them as they are placed into the water. Stir and allow the water to return to a boil. Boil for approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente (this means firm but not soft). Remove noodles from heat and drain in a colander and rinse with hot water. Drain and serve immediately with hot Marinara sauce over the top, or you can toss the noodles with the sauce before serving. Garnish with grated cheeses and serve with Caesar Salad and garlic bread.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Manicotti

This recipe is another of Italian origin, and has been passed into our family by Rose Borrello, the grandmother of my oldest daughter, Bridgett. Rose is of pure Italian heritage and this recipe exemplifies the quality of original Italian cooking. The quantities listed below are adequate to serve six adults with a hearty appetite.
  • 2 lbs. ricotta cheese
  • ½ lb. jack cheese (grated)
  • ½ bunch fresh parsley (finely chopped)
  • 1 egg (slightly beaten)
  • 1 Tbls. black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. oregano
  • ¼ tsp. sweet basil
  • 1 box (32 shells) jumbo manicotti shells

While pasta shells are boiling, mix all other ingredients thoroughly in a bowl to form the cheese mixture. Take care not to overcook the pasta. After the pasta is done boiling it must be rinsed with cool water and shells must be opened to original form. This can be tricky as the shells may break or tear if you are not careful. You may proceed to stuff each shell with a heaping tablespoon of cheese mixture. Arrange stuffed shells in a casserole pan. Bake covered at 325 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve with Marinara sauce over the shells.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

Chioppino

This recipe comes from a previous work associate of Italian descent. This dish is usually made in large quantity and served for a family get together or special occasion.

Some ingenuity can be used in this recipe. The addition of a cut and cleaned lobster, mussels, oysters and other types of fish or shellfish can make the dish richer and heartier. Choose what is fresh. Lobster tails can be cut into pieces before adding to the stock, and the claws can be thrown in whole. A larger variety of seafood is preferred when serving a larger group of people. The hot sauce can be increased or reduced according to taste. Salt and pepper may also be added to taste.

  • 2 or 3 crabs, cleaned and cut
  • ½ to 1 lb. peeled shrimp or prawns
  • ½ lb. cod fillet
  • ¼ lb. scallops
  • 1½ lb. fresh clams, scrubbed (in the shell)
  • 2 large onions, quartered
  • 3 bell peppers, quartered
  • 3 small cans tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbls. oregano
  • 3 Tbls. fresh chopped parsley
  • ¼ bottle hot sauce
  • 4 Tbls. olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic

Put all of the ingredients in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for ½ hour and serve with garlic bread.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 45 minutes

Mostaciolli

This recipe has been handed down for several generations through relatives on my mothers side of the family. The original recipe stemmed from one George Manfreddi. George was a kindly hunchback with a talent for cooking like few men ever know. George always cooked his sauce for at least 3 days, and, he started with fresh tomatoes. The recipe presented here doesn't need to be cooked that long because canned tomatoes are called for. Three to four hours cooking is a minimum however. The longer that the sauce is cooked, the better it will be. If you happen to have fresh tomatoes, then use them in this recipe and cook the sauce longer. Bear in mind that the longer the sauce is cooked, the better it will be.

The sauce is what makes this dish unique is the lamb sauce. We always make a generous amount of this dish because it makes excellent leftovers. In fact, it seems that this dish tastes better the next day, when the flavors have had an opportunity to blend. The quantities in this recipe are for a substantial portion, capable of serving 12 adults, but don't underestimate the ability of children to put heaping quantities of mostaciolli into their bellies. It is always better to make too much than too little of this dish.

This dish, as with most Italian dishes, goes well with garlic bread and a green salad. Feta cheese also goes well with this dish as a rich accompaniment.

  • 2 lbs. mostaciolli noodles
  • 2 lbs. lamb meat (neck meat, shank, leg of lamb, or low priced chops may be used)
  • 6 large cans Italian tomatoes (other tomatoes may be used)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbls. sweet basil
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • ½ tsp. marjoram
  • ½ tsp. summer savory
  • ¼ tsp. thyme
  • ¼ tsp. rosemary
  • 8 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 medium diced onion
  • 4 Tbls. heart of celery leaves
  • ¼ tsp. crushed fennel seed
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbls. butter

Brown the lamb meat over medium heat in a large pot with the olive oil, adding the salt and pepper to taste. When the meat has browned, add the onion and garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.

Next, add the tomatoes and any liquid, basil, oregano, marjoram, savory and celery leaves. Crush the fennel seed and add to the pot. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the bay leaf and Worcestershire sauce.

Allow the sauce to simmer for three hours, stirring every 20 minutes or so. After the sauce has simmered for three hours, check the meat for tenderness and use a spoon or fork to remove any bones from the sauce. Next, use a potato masher to crush the tomatoes and meat into the sauce and continue to simmer until the sauce thickens. If desired, add a can of tomato paste to aid the thickening process. Finally, add the butter and melt it into the sauce, stirring thoroughly. Simmer the sauce for an additional hour. Add a few more cloves of garlic at this point if you like the flavor.

While the sauce is in the final stages of cooking, prepare the noodles according to the directions on the package, or boil them in salted water with a little olive oil for 11 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix the noodles and sauce prior to serving and top with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Serve and be complemented!

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 4 hours

Chicken Cacciatori

This recipe has been derived from a variety of sources and modified to suit my own particular tastes. Sometimes called "Hunter’s Chicken", this dish is nearly a meal in itself and can be prepared to serve a large number of people. One chicken can easily serve 6 people.
  • 1 Whole chicken cut into pieces
  • Flour for coating chicken pieces (about 1 cup)
  • Salt and pepper for coating
  • ½ cup olive oil plus ¼ lb. butter for frying chicken
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 lb. can tomato puree or whole tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • ½ cup Marsala wine (Cream Sherry may be substituted)
  • ½ lb. sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tsp. dried basil leaves or 1 small bunch fresh chopped basil
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. dried marjoram
  • ¼ tsp. dried rosemary leaves
  • ¼ tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • ¼ tsp. dried summer savory leaves
  • ¼ tsp. dried tarragon leaves
  • 1 lb. spaghetti cooked al dente

Salt and pepper chicken pieces and coat thoroughly with flour. Melt butter with olive oil in skillet. Fry chicken pieces over medium heat until golden brown. As the pieces become cooked, remove them from the skillet and set aside in a pan or plate. In the remaining pan drippings, sauté the onions and garlic until translucent, about 2 minutes. Now add the tomato paste and puree and stir thoroughly. Add Marsala wine and stir until hot. Add spices, stir and then return chicken pieces. Simmer for 10 minutes and then add the mushrooms.

While the sauce and chicken is simmering, bring a pot of water to boil and cook spaghetti for about 8 to 10 minutes (al dente). Drain the spaghetti and serve on plates. Top with the chicken and mushrooms. Top with grated Parmesan cheese if desired and enjoy with garlic toast and a green salad.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour

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