Staten Island Food And - See what's cooking……

Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’


December 16, 2009

Christmas Eve Dinner – Stuffed Calamari


3674654343 b8f6a74a50 m Christmas Eve Dinner – Stuffed Calamari

Stuffed Calamari

Calamari may be the Rodney Dangerfield of the restaurant world, just not getting the respect it deserves. – Ron Ruggless

You call it squid, I call it CALAMARI.

Growing up an Italian-American on Staten Island, Christmas Eve dinner had an abundance of seafood. This tradition was based on the Feast of the Seven Fishes (La Vigilia Di Natale). I don’t remember if there were 3, 7 or 12 fish dishes served but I do remember eating a lot of seafood. There was also lasagna, ravioli and linguini. This was all followed with black coffee (espresso) and dessert: pingulatta, sfinge, cheesecake, pastries and cookies. So much for following the true tradition of La Vigilia!

Did You Know?

Some theories behind the significance of the number seven in the Feast of the Seven Fishes represents:

The Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church – baptism, penance, Holy Eucharist, confirmation, marriage, holy orders and the sacrament of the sick

Seven hills of Rome

The seven days it took Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit

I’m not sure which one it is but the number seven is a historical number.

One of my favorite seafood dishes is STUFFED CALAMARI. This succulent squid is a tender and delectable dish. I rediscovered this dish two years ago when I was going through my grandmothers recipe cards. The recipe looked something like this……



Garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, Parma cheese

Crushed tomatoes

More garlic

Once again grandmother did not write the recipe down well. This is actually a testament to the cooking prowess of our grandmothers. All they needed was a short outline of a recipe to make these multiple generational food memories. Where I have many detailed cookbooks to teach me “how to cook”(and I still screw up!) They knew how to cook! It was in their blood.

I piecemealed the recipe together and tested various versions. In the end I was sick of calamari. Thank God it’s not expensive.

Ah! When I did finally get it right I had a grin from ear to ear. The dish reminded me of the same meal at my family’s Christmas Eve dinner. I am proud to share this family recipe. It is easy to make. Please let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!


Serves 4-6


2 lbs. of calamari tubes (cleaned)

2 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes

2 cloves of chopped garlic

1 tsp. sugar

Water (use one of the 28 oz. tomato cans)

Salt and Pepper

1/4 to 1/3 cup grated Imported Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 tsp. garlic powder

Stuffing Ingredients

½ loaf of white bread

2 tsp. parsley

¼ cup of grated Imported Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and Pepper

A little extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 can of crabmeat (not that fake Krab stuff)

In a large pot, sauté garlic in oil heated over medium heat, about three to five minutes (do not brown). Add crushed tomatoes and season with the sugar, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and garlic powder. Add the water a little at a time till the sauce thickens to your liking.

Rinse the calamari tubes under cold water and drain well. Take the stuffing ingredients and mix together in a bowl. Stuff each calamari tube half way. This is important. If you over stuff the tubes will pop when they are cooking in the tomato sauce. Use toothpicks to close the opening of each tube. Add the tubes to the tomato sauce and bring to a boil then lower to a simmer. Cook about 11/2 to 2 hours.

Serve over a bed of linguini. Don’t forget the Italian bread to mop up the tomato sauce. Enjoy!

 Christmas Eve Dinner – Stuffed Calamari


December 13, 2009

Christmas Dinner-Lasagna alla Bolognese


300px Lasagne Christmas Dinner Lasagna alla Bolognese

Image via Wikipedia

“A few simple ingredients can create such a complex symphony of flavors.” – Mario Batali, Italian cooking god

All throughout my childhood I remember having pasta on major holiday’s like Christmas and on every Sunday. I had pasta coming out my ears! My mother would have that pot of ragu sauce, I’m sorry GRAVY, cooking every Sunday morning before I even ate my breakfast.  Ah, just the thought of the sauce simmering for hours with meatballs (polpette) and sausage just makes my mouth water. This is no different than most Italian-American Staten Island or Brooklyn families. Just like that damn clear plastic that wrapped the furniture! If you don’t understand just email me, I’ll explain.

My family made Lasagna alla Napoletana more often than the Bolognese version. Lasagna alle Napoletana is the more common version everyone knows. It consists of ragu (tomato meat sauce), ricotta, mozzarella and polpette (meatballs).

What is the difference between Napoletana and Bolognese?

Lasagna alle Bolognese is lighter, more elegant and refine than the rustic and robust Napoletana version. I love them both equally. The Bolognese version uses a ragu but not ricotta, meatballs or mozzarella. Instead the recipe calls for besciamella sauce. Otherwise known more commonly by the French name BECHAMEL sauce.

Besciamella or béchamel sauce is a white sauce. According to Wikipedia,It is one of the mother sauces of French cuisine. It is used as the base for other sauces. It is traditionally made by whisking scalded milk gradually into a white flour-butter roux (equal parts clarified butter and flour)”. Be careful when making the roux it’s like napalm. If you don’t understand you’ll learn fast when you get it on your hands. OUCH!

Since the besciamella sauce makes a lighter lasagna you can eat twice as much. It’s just that good!

The other sauce involved in the recipe is the BIG RAGU! No not Carmine Ragusa from the 70’s sitcom Laverne and Shirley the meat sauce. Madonn’!

Ragu is the very essence of being an Italian-American Staten Islander.  We are expected to be able to make a good ragu sauce. Most families on Staten Island will have their version of Ragu. They all will be different but yet similar. Shit! Now I sound like Yogi Berra, “I made a wrong mistake”.

Ragu Bolognese like any Staten Islander’s family ragu recipe will all include some kind of meat, soffritto (finely chopped aromatic vegetables like onion, celery, carrot and garlic, or combination of two or more in butter or oil) and some tomato stuff. It takes quite a long time to make a good ragu sauce. For simplicity sake please use whatever ragu sauce you want. It pains me to even post this but if you have to…Uh…. but only if you have no other choice…youcanbuyajarfromthesupermarket. Ouch! I wrote it as fast as I said it. I think I just offended the Italian cooking gods or my grandmother is going to put the mal occhio (evil eye) on me.

Excuse me. I digress. (What was that sound? A wheelchair? as Grandma sneaks behind) Anyway the following is (Who’s that? Nonna?) the recipe for Besciamella sauce (No! No! Grandma! Noooo!) Sauce and Lasagna alla Bolognese. (Va fa Napoli! Farewell Tony!) Mangia!

Besciamella Sauce

Makes about 3 cups


4 Tbsp. unsalted butter

3 Tbsp. all purpose flour

2 cups hot milk, not boiling

1 tsp. nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter. DO NOT BURN! Add the flour and stir constantly while cooking (be careful this is the roux or napalm) until the mixture begins to bubble, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Gradually stir in the hot milk and return to the stove on medium-low heat. Stir continuously until it comes to a boil.

Reduce the heat to low and simmer, continuing to stir for another 2-3 minutes or until thick.

Stir in the nutmeg

Season with salt, pepper

Lasagna alla Bolognese

Makes 8 servings


2 1/2 lbs of lasagna pasta, De Cecco or Barilla brands are best

2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Ragu of your choice (don’t piss off my Grandmother)

8 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

3 cups besciamella sauce

Prepare the pasta as per the packaging. Do not over cook! Al dente!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Assemble the lasagna in a 10” by 20” lasagna pan or two 9” by 12” pans. Spread a layer of ragu over the bottom and top with a sprinkling of Parmigiano, a layer of pasta, a layer of besciamella, another layer of pasta and continue repeating until all the ingredients are used up. Finish by topping the lasagna with besciamella and Parmigiano.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the edges are bubbling.

Another way is to check if it’s cooked is to insert a bamboo skewer (or tooth pick) in the middle and if it pull’s out cleanly it is cooked.

Hint: If the lasagna browns too much while cooking cover with tin foil.

 Christmas Dinner Lasagna alla Bolognese


December 11, 2009

Sfinge – A Sweet Christmas Treat



 Sfinge   A Sweet Christmas Treat

A Christmas Treat


A Sfinge by another name would be…. Zeppoli?

Can you even pronounce the word  SFINGE? What about SFINCIONE? Do you know what it is (I gave you a clue above)?

I bet you do and I know you will love it. I’ve been lucky enough to have eaten this lightly fried Italian pastry (fritters) for years. It is easy to make and reminds me of Christmas. Most important of all the kids love them!

The above photo is a quick batch of small Sfinge I made the other night. The aroma of sugar and cinnamon permeated  the house. This Southern Italian pastry is more commonly known by it’s generic name ZEPPOLI. I’m not talking about the belly bombs that are sold at the San Gennaro festival in Brooklyn every year. This family recipe goes back many generations to Sicily. It’s authentic.

The Sfinge batter is sweet and eggy. Sfinge should be grease-free, light and airy. The size varies from small munchkins to the size of a softball. The dessert sfinge can be stuffed with custard (Sfinge Di San Giuseppe) or the savory version which is stuffed with anchovies and breadcrumbs. This basic dessert recipe is easy and it is delicious. Enjoy!

Rosetta’s Sfingi

You will need a deep fryer, dutch oven or 3 – 4 1/2 quart saucepan and a candy/fryer thermometer

Vegetable oil, enough to fill at least 3 – 4 inches in your deep fryer, dutch oven or sauce pan

1 cup of all purpose flour

1 large egg

3/4 cup of whole milk

1 tsp. baking powder

2/3 cup of confection sugar

1 Tbsp. cinnamon

1/2 cup of honey

Heat the oil in the dutch oven/ deep fryer or saucepan to 350 degrees.

Warm the honey over low heat in a small saucepan.

Whisk together the flour, egg, milk and baking powder together in a small bowl. Refrigerate for 1 hour until thickened.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in another small bowl. Set side.

Once the oil reaches 350 degrees use a tablespoon to drop the batter into the oil (to ease the batter off the tablespoon spray it with Pam). Do not put to much batter into the oil. Keep an eye on the oil’s temperature. Overcrowding will cause it to drop to much. Cook each sfinge 2 – 3 minutes until golden.

remove with tongs and drain on a paper towel.

While the sfinge is hot dip in the honey and then dust with the sugar mixture.

Serve warm with espresso or cappuccino.

 Sfinge   A Sweet Christmas Treat