Tag Archives: Italian cuisine

Alfredo you can count on at the last minute

After you’ve spent a few hours nurturing and crafting your homemade pasta, the last thing you want to do is labor over the sauce.

That never seems to stop me, because I forget how I don’t want to labor over the sauce. So it is usually the last thing I do. As a result, I’ve developed a fairly straight-forward, very flavorful alfredo that I can whip together — last minute — and not ruin the homemade pasta-making effort.

Here’s the recipe:

Fettuccini Alfredo


  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 garlic clove, minced
  • ½ tsp. chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. of nutmeg
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¾ cup grated mozzarella
  • Splash of fresh lemon
  • Freshly chopped Italian Parsley, basil and sage
  • Salt to taste


  1. Melt butter in medium pan
  2. Add the garlic, chili powder, nutmeg and sauté for 2 minutes
  3. Add cream and bring to a simmer, stirring often
  4. Add parm cheese and let thicken, about 8 minutes
  5. Stir in mozz cheese, until blended smooth and thick, if too thick add a tbsp of milk
  6. Finish with splash of lemon; fold in fresh herbs until blended. Serve over pasta immediately

Notes: the mozz isn’t essential. It thickens it and gives a soft contrast to the harsher parm, so I use both. But this sauce is pretty good no matter what you toss in it. For example, you can skip the folded herbs and just mix in pesto into the spices before the cream is added and make a creamy pesto. You can use sun-dried tomatoes. You can use chopped green olive. It’s really fun to experiment.


Recipe: The art of old school fettuccine

A couple of days ago I extolled the virtues of making your own pasta. Then it dawned on me that what if… just what if, someone read that and thought, “you know what?! I’m going to try it.”

I felt an immediate twinge of guilt because I know what lies ahead. Google “making pasta” and you’ll get a ton, A TON, of recipes that say, “it’s so easy!”

Well, it’s not.

But do not be discouraged. Remember the wise wisdom of Jimmy Dugan? Say it with me now, “if it was easy, EVERYONE, would do it! It’s the hard that makes it great.”

So I decided to add one more recipe to the incessant clutter that tries to walk you through the steps of making your own pasta, and to do it realistically.

For starters, let me be specific about this hard/easy thing. It is easy once you get the hang of it. Pasta has only four ingredients. You can’t really screw it up, so even your less-than-Effin-Artistry pastas will taste good. We love eating our failures in the Test Kitchen.

The hard is in the artistry. Learning the feel of the dough. Learning to roll it consistently. Learning how far is too far to let it dry. This is a long recipe that goes into all the pitfalls. You only have to read it once. Then boil down the key parts when you make it. I hope it helps you have an enjoyable successful time of it.

I am still evolving in all of this. But I’m getting better. I keep at it. So follow these steps and enjoy. I couldn’t be more thrilled if you try making dough on account of these posts. And please, click in the reply and let me me know the good, bad and the ugly of your work. If I screw you up here, I want to hear about it!

Let’s get started.

1) Make room. – pasta is not meant to be confined. Clear the counter tops, remove the knicknacks and give yourself a good, clean work space. As you can see here, I have a massive Italian made platter I use and even that doesn’t keep it all contained.


Next: pour two cups of flour and a hefty teaspoon of salt in the middle of your work area. Right on the counter is fine, or in a large glass bowl, or like I did on my platter.


Then crack two eggs into the well. Let’s take a minute to talk about this well thing. First time I did it, poosh, the hens broke out of the chicken coop and raced down my sloped counter to hide underneath the God forsaken microwave. That’s when I decided to use the platter to guard the eggs from escape. Since then I’ve gotten better at the well. The key is to use your other hand to swoop the edges as you mix the eggs up. It’s a bit tough to explain, but as you slowly whip the eggs you incorporate part of the dough with the right hand. With the left you push up the edges of the well to keep it all contained. If you run out of room, push down in the middle of the well to compact it a bit and have it all sink down deeper into the well. Make sense? If not, reply below and I’ll make a video or something. It’s not hard… just takes practice! Or maybe I’m just a slow learner.

Next, put four tablespoons of hot water into the well. (Remove your rings… they get all buggered from the dough and never clean up right). Now push from the outer edges into the middle. I use my fingers like a rake dragging the thing into a pile like I’m piling up leaves. It gets a bit messy here, which is really fun. Once it starts to come together start to shape a ball. I like to add two more tablespoons of water here just to make sure it all incorporates. I prefer sticky dough to dry because its easier in my opinion to add flour as I knead it then it is to add water.

Next, knead.

Next, knead.

Next, KNEAD. A word about kneading. A mindset is needed when it comes to kneading. This is the stuff. This is not a chore. Don’t try to avoid it. Embrace it. Get those hands working, smooshing and bashing and pulling and patting and let your mind fly to whatever heights it needs to climb, unfettered by the chaos of the day. So many recipes try to avoid kneading. They use food processors and dough hooks and “no-knead” tricks. But kneading is just playing with Play-Doh, which we did for hours as a kid.

I’d go about ten minutes. There’s no specific time here. This is the thing that will evolve over time. Eventually you’ll notice the dough turns more silky than grainy and that’s what you want.

NEXT: This is important if you ask me and I’ve never seen it explained in a recipe. Make a dough ball. Sounds easy I know, but when I was 15 and worked in a Mafia-owned pizza parlor, they wanted the dough a certain way and we made sure we did it the way THEY WANTED IT. Turns out this was important. They wanted it with no broken edges so when you toss out the pizza, the crust stays together. To do this you have to form a good, cohesive dough ball. I liken it to tying off a balloon. Wrap your right hand thumb and forefinger in a loop around the mid-section of your dough ball. Then softly twist the dough in your hand as you bring your thumb and finger together toward the top of the dough ball. You’ll end up with what looks like the end of a balloon at the top. Push this into the dough and smooth it out. Whaalla. You’ll have a seam-free dough ball. (If someone is so gracious as to try this, please contact me and let me know if this A) made sense, and B) worked?!)


Now take the dough and wrap it in plastic for an hour. This is perfect break time, which as you can see above, I used to make a powerhouse energy smoothie! Delish.

An hour later break out the pasta roller. I prefer the kind here, a simple old-timey gizmo with a hand crank. I know there are all kinds of motorized ones, but I like my dough to be machine-free. Here’s where you take advantage of all that space you cleared. Divide your dough balls into six different ones all about the same size and weight in your hand. You can feel that they are close enough. I again go back and make perfect little dough balls,”tied” off at the top, six more times because I like playing with dough and those scary pizza parlor guys banged it into me.

Once you have the dough balls cover them back up with the plastic wrap to keep them from drying out while you work the dough into sheets.

The basics of working into sheets is straight forward. Set the machine to the widest slot and run the dough ball through four times. This just wakes up the dough. I have learned to take a bit of care to send it through the machine straight. This helps keep the sheets straight at the end. Ruler straight isn’t necessary. Some waggle is fine and creative looking. We’re not machines. Our pasta should reflect it. Crank the machine down a notch at a time until you get to the second notch. Now you’ll have a nice long sheet of pasta running from one hand through the crank and caught by the other hand. Lay it out on the platter or counter or hang from the rack and dust it in flour. DONE! (Note: I’ve done some stopping at the third notch so they have a bit more chew and actually I like it. But officially, whatever that is, fettuccine is supposed to be on number 2. You decide!)

Do this five more times with the next five balls. If something goes awry don’t sweat it. Mash it all back into a ball and start over. It’s pretty forgiving.


Notice I’m using a pasta rack to dry the noodles, but you don’t have to. I go back and forth. I prefer to just lay them on my platter, dust them with flour and put a tea towel (tea towel… HA… I’ve been reading too many recipes. What the hell is a tea towel? I use dish rags my daughter dyed to make pretty) over them. But I do use the rack too. Either way. (Shrug). In fact, I used both ways this time.

Here’s one of those key things they don’t tell you. You want the dough to sit a bit before you cut it. It stiffens which makes it easy to cut and less sticky when you’re done. BUT don’t let it get hard. Stiff, but not hard. Got it? Probably not, but once you do it a couple of times you will. Hard will crack and splinter going through the cutter. Stiff will cut delightfully.

One at a time slide the pasta sheets through the cutter part of your pasta roller. (If you want to be artsy here you can cut them with a big chef’s knife and make them different widths, which is pretty cool, but eh… I like the crank-y cutter thing). I like to drape the pasta off the machine so I can crank with one hand and catch the pasta with the other. This is not necessary. You can let it all drop as it cuts. But I like to catch it so I can lay it out on the big platter and dust a bit more flour on it so it all doesn’t stick. When I do this I feel like I’m being unnecessarily anal. So take it for what it’s worth.


Once its all cut put some flour on your hands and riffle through the pasta lightly letting it all fall spread out on the platter or counter or a baking pan, sort of like your fluffing through hair. This helps the sticky ones fall apart and keeps them from globbing up in the water.

Now the water. Let’s get serious here. This is important. Don’t use a small pan. I don’t get this whole chuck pasta in water and that’s all there is to it thing. You need a big pan of water. You need a pretty healthy pile of sea salt. You need that water to get to a roiling boil. Don’t do anything until you have those three things. Then you slide your noodles into the water, give them a swirl and let them be for about three minutes.

Take a 1/2 cup of the starchy water out of the pan before you dump it. Then strain the noodles. Don’t rinse them because the starch helps the sauce stick.

Then put the noodles back in the big pan and let them just briefly feel the heat of the bottom of the pan. Then put some of the reserved water as they cook. Next add the sauce and let it heat together for a minute before serving.

Sauce? What sauce you say?

I’m glad you asked. Check back in a couple of days for a good Alfredo sauce recipe.

Comfort food well named on cold, gloomy day

I don’t have many bad days of late. Even the not-so-great ones, like one I had recently, are pretty OK. It’s just the mindset I’ve taken on. Perspective shapes most everything. I have worked to shape my perspective toward gratitude. It works.

But that still doesn’t mean I don’t need a little boost now and again. I have an arsenal of things — little things — that can boost my mood or straighten out a flagging perspective. I have a positive thought army that I repeat to myself. I have my balancing things I wrote about earlier. I also have my comfort foods.

It’s important not to use food as a drug, to soothe or to binge and all that. But that doesn’t mean a good plate of robust warm food can’t still warm the soul on a cold, gloomy day. We’ve had quite the weather lately. Snow covers the landscape. Our driveway was blocked for two days by a rather unaware thorn of the flesh. Four degrees is cold, really cold. A walk in 12-degree weather isn’t quite so sunny even when the sun is shining.

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So I countered the climate with warmth of my own, the old Italian staple, chicken parmigiana. It may seem involved or elaborate, but its neither. For Italians it’s akin to chicken soup or meatloaf for middle Americana. Take out a couple of chicken breasts, whatever cheese you have handy (I like provolone), some leftover sauce from pizza night and whip up this truly comforting dinner that will surely help your perspective stay positive. You can’t help but smile when you eat it.

Don’t get intimidated by the three bowls. It looks messy but its a snap, no worse than cleaning up the morning cereal bowls. Put flour in one, whip an egg with some half n half or milk or cream in the other and bread crumbs in the last. Add garlic powder, parsley, chili powder and sage to the bread crumbs.

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Heat a little olive oil on the pan and set out a cooking dish next to it, with some sauce on the bottom of the pan.

Then take each breast and pound it a bit with the mallet. Dip it into the flour, then the egg, the bread crumbs, then right into the heating olive oil. Repeat three times (one for me, one for my bride, one for me for lunch the next day — strangely my wife doesn’t really eat leftovers. It’s one of those cold wars I’ll never fully understand but have come to accept). by the time you get all three in the pan, flip the first. It should have a nice golden brown crust. Flip the next two. Take the provolone and put it on top of the chicken. Wait a minute, then transfer each to the baking dish. Cover the chicken with more sauce. Now slice some fresh basil if you have it (which you really should always have). and sprinkle the basil over the chicken. Toss it into a 350 oven until the meat thermometer says they are the right temp (I usually pull at 160 and let stand for a few minutes to reach the desired temp of 165. Some argue for 180 with poultry, but I beg to differ. Don’t trust me though. Don’t get sick on my watch).

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Slice some bread to dip in olive oil, make up a salad (in my case I made a spinach and romaine salad) and youre done. I baked some sweet potato fries to go with my comfort food, but pasta of course, or anything you want really.

Little things make big changes in our perspectives. Perspective can make all the difference in how you live in each moment. So who says a little comfort food can’t change the world? For a moment, it changed mine.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Reply below. I’d like to start a list. Thanks!  Continue reading Comfort food well named on cold, gloomy day

Italian Zen garden has plenty of flour

I once tried pruning one of those little juniper trees. I basically turned it into a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. I like those sand pits with the little rakes that sit on top of desks, but my little recycled desk hasn’t enough room for my coffee cup. Pretty much everywhere I’ve lived I’ve had a fish tank or a fish pond just to sit and watch and decompress, but the pond is frozen solid under a blanket of unlikely snow and I didn’t get around to putting fish in it when I built it in October anyway.

The point? I like having a way to what I call, “zen out.”

For two decades Happy Hour was my favorite method, but thanks to 53 months and counting of sobriety I need a more permanent plan. So imagine my surprise when I rediscovered a truly wonderful way to zen out… and then eat something truly wonderful when I’m done.

I’m talking dough. I’ve truly rediscovered dough lately, and its like rediscovering my high-school pen pal twenty years later and realizing I’ve known my soul mate all along. There’s something about working with dough that settles me. I like the process of combining. I like the elusiveness of it, how each batch takes on a personality of its own. I like the multitude of outcomes — pizza crust, pie crust, cookies, coconut bread or my soul mate’s favorite, peanut butter banana bread– that each distinct batch of dough can become.

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I mostly like kneading the dough. My mind floats into a peaceful nothingness as I work the dough around and around in my hands. The process reminds me a bit of what I loved so much about wine (besides the more obvious reasons). It’s alive. It changes and keeps changing until eventually it declines and decays unless consumed. It’s art with a shelf life, sort of like us humans when you get right down to it.

I’m constantly in pursuit of the perfect dough. I pursue it knowing it will never come. But I still find myself mesmerized when I watch the process, like when I cut in butter to certain types of dough and it transforms from powder to crumbles to cohesiveness.

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I like the liveliness of how dough responds to touch.

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I like how it then leaps to life when left alone.

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When I was a kid one of my all-time favorite foods was Nonie’s fried bread. The dough would rise all night and then she’d fry it up in olive oil for breakfast. We’d put ricotta cheese and her raspberry freezer jam (sooooo EFFin deliciouussss!) on it. Next to Nonie’s raviolis, nothing is better.

When I grew up, I decided to start making it for myself.

“How do you make the dough Nonie?” I asked.

“Eh.. just get the frozen dough. It’s easier,” she said.

I took it at face value, even though from the age of 15 I was working with dough every night, spinning it above my head as I hand-tossed pizzas. I never really put two and two together that fried bread and pizza used the same dough. I bought the frozen dough in the orange bag that hasn’t changed once in 30 years and made fried bread for my kids as they grew up. They got older and I passed on the same message to them. Get the frozen dough, it’s easier.

Only now do I realize how much better something can be even if its not easier. I’m not just talking taste, because for fried bread, those frozen dough balls are really good– even if not so great for pizza. I’m talking about missing out on the process.

Nonie had a right to tap-out from making dough. She was retired and had spent a lifetime making ravioli dough six days a week for the restaurant her and my grandfather and my mom and my aunts and uncles all helped run. (I still have the proud burn scars on my foot from the restaurant kitchen when Nonie was babysitting me). They made raviolis by the thousands; the recipe from her says the serving size is 1,000 raviolis. For her dough was work. Hard work.

But for me its the opposite. Dough is a timeout from the work. It dirties my hands so I can’t pick up the cell phone or bang the keyboard. I lets my mind get lost and take a break. It zens me out like few things can.

Today in the mail a thick, heavy envelope arrived. I opened it up and found a clear white bag with no label. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. My 00 flour from Italy arrived. The silky fine powder is like the orchid of my zen garden, truly exceptional. I’m going to wait until a particularly anxious day before I break it out and make my own pasta from it….


Oops, drifted off there for a moment. Anyway, there’s plenty of flour in my zen garden, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Bitter pill doesn’t have to be bitter

For all our wonderful culinary stylings, Italians eat some weird shit. Yes, the food is exceptional… full of flavors and aromas and mostly full… as in you get stuffed. We really don’t do light. Still, we live long lives. My Nonie, who I mentioned in my last post, lived until she was the vibrant age of 95. She never really had an ailment until the final sickness that checked her into the hospital and a week later took her away. I knew then that God needed her. After all, who was going to lead the others in cooking the wedding feast of the lamb?

Still, all that being said, Italian food isn’t all sauces and cheeses and breads and olive oil. It’s also using every bit of the turkey including the neck, wings and heart. It’s shots of annisette that is about the only alcohol I don’t miss now that I’m sober. It’s a ridiculously pungent lettuce called Radicchio that tastes a bit like a foot… one that kicked you in the cheek. But why do I ramble and digress and filibuster so? Because this week the test kitchen took up one of the bitterest Italian treats, popular this time of year as a cultural-chic-ey thing that folks buy each other to be cultured and unique until they actually taste it. It’s an Italian sweet bread called Panettone. And frankly, its awful. My son once wrote that only panettone would be served at his funeral so everyone would be sufficiently sad. A family email chain jumped the shark three times and just kept on going with all the discussion about the origins of this godforsaken “treat.” But my mother loves it and I wanted to make her some for her birthday. I also wanted it to be edible. Hence, the test kitchen challenge.

I began with some research, starting with my Nonie’s recipe:


Suffice to say, this is direct from the old country. (If you need help translating the Italian, let me know). But too often the fruits in the panettone are from the old country as well, or at least taste 100 years old. And that distinct, bitter flavor — anise — simply had to go in my version.

I made up a loaf, cut it into slices and mailed samples of it to relatives in three states, most of whom had spent the week before deriding anything panettone. The reactions are in from most everyone and I haven’t heard a complaint. My wife actually tried it, knowing it was panettone. My son actually liked it, but that took some deception! Getting both to judge proves nothing is beyond the artistry of this Effer… uh…you know.

“I like it because it’s more like bread than a scone. Yumm,” my son wrote.
After I told him it was panettone he wrote back “uh… what makes it panettone.”
Skeptic that he is, I confirmed I used all the required ingredients, including dried fruit (in this case cranberries with pomegranate juice) and citrus zest. I did not use anise, which as I said, I find to be the most disturbing of ingredients. Stylistically I used low pans, like pie pans instead of the prototypical tall panettone mold, which I don’t have (though I am going to use a metal tin can as a mold for display next time I make one for a present… more on that in just a sec) Why anyone would buy a mold, let alone the bread itself, is distinctly for this is beyond me.

The finished result won the seal of approval from a family of Italians and their non-Italian significant others. Unlike many of my test kitchen creations, this one actually scores high on the artistry.

Next I made my mother’s present, the true — and truly rare — lover of panettone. I wrapped it up pretty and gave it to her at family brunch:

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But the final verdict came a couple days later. My mom said it was wonderful. What more can a test kitchen effort hope for?!

Favorites from the Panettone email chain:

“I think we found a winner for the annual panettone giveaway”…

“I think I just threw up in my mouth…”

“Wasn’t it the wedding he wanted it served at???”

“Considering I am a small, but mighty, part of the wedding, panettone will have no place on the menu. Sorry not sorry.”

“Maybe it was supposed to be a wedding gift?!”

“You are uninvited if you bring that rat poison around…”

“What if you pick out all those little dried fruit things?  What exactly are those?  How long ago could it actually be considered fruit?”


“If you remove the century old fruit and find a cake that’s light and fluffy, that’s called bread. It’s definitely not panettone.”

Effin Arist: “Just last night, I was organizing my four notebooks of various recipes that I have (I know…. I need help. organizing four notebooks? and who spends nearly six hours over two nights organizing while ignoring his beautiful wife??? Sigh…) and what did I find???

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

GRANDMA NONIE’S RECIPE For PANETTONE! It’s like she was the judge, ruling from heaven to all the panettone haters out there (yes, I mean all of us!) to say, “Eh… it’s goooood.” (dismissive wave of the age-spotted hand)… “you should tryyyyy it.”

“Can’t argue with nonie!”

“Oh, to think that Nonie was looking down on this conversation.  Maybe I was channeling her like the Long Island Medium.  Oooo, that would be cool.  I was thinking about how it could be that the non-Italian in the family actually liked an Italian specialty while all of you with strains of Italian blood running through your veins were such downers on it.”
“I think the Panettone thread has “jumped the shark” when the pastor’s wife is becoming the Long Island medium.  just sayin…”
But no it didn’t jump the shark… it went on and on… nothing stirs up the family like the weird shit we eat. I told you…
Then much later… the final words (for now):

“I happily concede the panettone challenge. That bread was freaking tasty!!
Effin artist indeed.”