Tag Archives: Italian

{ Pasta Puttanesca }

Pasta Puttanesca with Grated Parmesan Cheese

After having dinner at La Stalla (read post below), I met up with my girlfriend Jennifer to go out and celebrate St. Patty’s Day in the typical fashion of chugging Irish Car Bombs and drinking pints of green beer! And since Jen and I are always looking for an excuse to dress up themed (cowboy hats to country concerts, Santa hats at Christmas time, ect…), we used St. Patty’s Day as an excuse to rob party city of everything green and sparkly. In major cities, where there are large celebrations for St. Patty’s Day, girls decked out in green apparel like this are the norm. However, we found out that in small rural towns (such as the one we live in), people are not as crazed about drinking holidays and don’t feel the need to get dressed up…at all. I didn’t even see people wearing green tee shirts! That being said, you can imagine just how much Jen and I stuck out in the crowd with our glitter green top hats! We got dirty looks from girls who wanted the attention, and free drinks from the boys giving us the attention. Long story short, our St. Patty’s Day shot glass necklaces were rarely hanging from our necks and certainly put to use, and we ended up requiring a ride home (top-of-the-morning to you dad!) after just two short hours at the bar.

Once we got home, I went scavenging for food and was bitterly disappointed that I had no leftover Puttanesca from dinner. Nothing other than more Puttanesca was going to satisfy drunk-food craving and so I set about to make my own from scratch (much to my mother’s dismay when she say the stove in the morning, with dried linguini caked onto the burners). I make this Puttanesca dish pretty frequently, because it is super easy and relatively inexpensive.

Puttanesca means “food of the whores” in Italian, because it was a staple dish among the poor made with cheap ingredients commonly stocked in the pantry. I choose to make my Puttanesca without anchovies, although they are commonly used in traditional Puttanesca dishes and can be added to my recipe. Tonight, I modified by recipe slightly by adding mushrooms and substituting arugala with baby spinach based on what I had available in my house. The dish turned out incredible, and certainly hit the spot.

If you want a little bit of protein, feel free to add some sliced chicken breast over top the dish! Otherwise, serve hot with Pecorino cheese and enjoy.

{ Ingredients }

  • 8 ounces linguini pasta
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • ½ cup pitted Spanish kalamata olives
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped or 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (less if you don’t like spice)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh arugala (or baby spinach)
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

{ To Make the PastaBring a large pot of water to a boil, and add 2 tablespoons salt. Add pasta and cook according to directions on package.

While the pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium flame. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add the parsley, olives, capers, oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes to skillet and sautee for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and juices and simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in arugala (or baby spinach) and simmer for 1 minute more, until the greens wilt slightly.

When the pasta is done, drain it and return it to the skillet, combining with sauce. Top with grated cheese and additional red pepper flakes for spice.

**Tip: Do not rinse the pasta after draining it because the sauce does not stick as well to the noodle. The starch is necessary and binding so do not rinse it off.

Tossing the Linguini in with the Puttanesca Sauce

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La Stalla ****

La Stalla from the Outside

215.579.8301
18 Swamp Road
Newtown, Pa 18940

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The thing that I take most for granted living in Miami, is the abundance of incredible restaurants. This is not to say that I don’t eat at them enough—because I do eat out a lot—but I just have become so accustomed to there always being a delicious food option of any variety at every price point. You want French food? There is a hole in the wall French bakery that can satisfy you with the best croissants and brie sandwiches for less than $5 (Le Royal). There is also a little brasserie in the grove that serves the best ceasar salads for $12 (Le Bouchon du Grove). Or you can splurge and enjoy a truely memorable foie gras and braised short rib burger for $30 (Db Bistro Moderne). And Cuban food? Well you can get that delicious anywhere, for either dirt cheap, cheap, or accurately priced. The only type of food that I believe Miami lacks in variety is Chinese. It’s weird, Miami only does upscale Chinese. There is no greasy, grungy, make you feel sick to your stomach (but all at the same time delicious) kind of Chinese food. Then again, this could be a great step in the evolution of American eating habits, so I won’t really complain—although I do crave my oil-drenched Lo Mien from time to time!

But enough of my tangent and back to the point! It wasn’t until this spring break that I realized just how fortunate I am as a foodie to be living in Miami. I’m back in Philadelphia for break and when my parents asked me to pick a place for dinner tonight, I suddenly realized that all the options were Italian. I love a good pasta dish and marsala sauce, but I also like to switch things up a little, and I just had Italian with Jen last night. But faced with choice of Italian or Italian, I chose my second favorite Italian restaurant (after Domani Star, where I ate last night) and decided on La Stalla located in Newtown.

La Stalla is more conducive than Domani Star for large parties, so we usually eat all of our special occasion meals here. Both the food and service are predictable and consistently good, and the atmosphere is cozy and elegant. Wednesday nights are a fun night for people watching, since all the divorcees have their big “off night” from the kids and tend to post up at the bar, decked out in their most cougar-ish attire. It’s dinner and a show.

To start, my family always orders the Tuscan Table which is an antipasti spread complete with Sharp Aged Parmesan Cheese, Grilled Asparagus, Roasted Portobello Mushrooms, Roasted Red Peppers, Marinated Hot Peppers, Kalamata Olives, Marinated Artichoke Hearts, and Beans in Vinaigrette. This plate is also accompanied by warm Tuscan Bread and herbed dipping oil. It is usually the highlight of the meal for me because I can pick at all the different flavors while I sip my first cocktail and read over the dinner specials for the evening. My mom and I have even come just for drinks and the Tuscan Table before, because it is that good! My family’s other favorite appetizer is the Mussels in Spicy Red Sauce, which are killer…enough said.

My Selections from the Tuscan Table

Tonight I ordered one of my favorite pasta dishes here—the Penne Puttanesca, which is Penne Pasta sautéed with Kalamata Olives, Capers, Onion, Parsley, and Cherry Tomatoes in a White Wine Pomodoro Sauce. I typically like to switch out the penne pasta for a linguine, because I like twirling my pasta (silly, I know), but tonight I had the penne and it was just as delicious. The sauce is a light red sauce and the capers and olives add just the right saltiness to the dish. Bets of all, the food at La Stalla is always burn-your-mouth hot! Even the dishes are blistering hot, so there is no pressure to eat in a hurry before your food gets cold.

Penne Puttanesca – Penne Pasta sautéed with Kalamata Olives, Capers, Onion, Parsley, and Cherry Tomatoes in a White Wine Pomodoro Sauce

My dad also ordered a pasta dish for his entrée and got the Farfalle e Gamberi, which is Bowtie Pasta sautéed with Shrimp, Grape Tomatoes, and Garlic in a Blush Pomodoro Sauce. I would never order a seafood pasta as my own entrée, but I had a few bites of his and loved it. The sauce was simple and delicious and they certainly weren’t scant with the shrimp either! My dad and I also split a side order of Broccoli Rabe with Sautéed Garlic, which was phenomenal. They added a ton of garlic which took away from the bitterness of the legume, and it wasn’t weighed down with oil so it felt nice and light.

Farfalle e Gamberi – Bowtie Pasta sautéed with Shrimp, Grape Tomatoes, and Garlic in a Blush Pomodoro Sauce

Broccoli Rabe with Sauteed Garlic

My mom dared to be different and ordered the Pork Chop Special, which was served with Roasted Potatoes and Broccoli Rabe. She was disappointed because the meat was well over-cooked and after a few bites decided to send it back and order a pasta dish as well. She ordered the Farfalle Mascarpone, which is Farfalle pasta sautéed with Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Grape Tomatoes tossed in a Creamy Mascarpone Cheese Sauce. The dish was rich, as expected, but the flavors were spot on and the pasta was perfectly cooked. It was an upscale macaroni and cheese, and it certainly delivered the same comfort. I was also impressed by how quickly they managed to get her new dish to the table. She waited no more than 8 minutes, and they gladly took the Pork Chop off the bill.

Pork Chop with Broccoli Rabe

Roasted Potatoes

Overall, La Stalla is a great place for a romantic date or a large group celebration, a cozy indoor meal or a relaxing meal out on the garden patio, and the outdoor bar scene is great during the summer with bocce ball courts not far off. I would recommend the pastas, and note that you need to specify that you only want a half order if you choose not to do the meal family style. My family is not good at sharing food and so we never do family style!

 

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Domani Star *****


Chocolate Pudding Pots

215.230.9100
57 West State Street
Doylestown, Pa 18901

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Spring break—it is the time of year where college students across the country descend upon vacation resorts such as Cabo, San Juan, Miami, Cancun, and other sunny locales to partake in much debauchery, which usually results in wicked hangovers, unsafe sex practices, interesting photographs (which usually inhibit ones ability to obtain employment post-college), peeling and splotchy skin, a burning sensation when urinating, post-spring break alcohol withdrawal, and of course, great memories! Everybody does the aforementioned spring break at least once while in college, but only the crazies desire to do it twice. Instead, I decided to head home for spring break this year, back to freezing cold Philadelphia. Rather than packing swimsuits and tanning oil, I packed my wool sweaters and suede boots. It sounds a little miserable to most, but you have to remember that I go to school in Miami…I’m on spring break all year!! I need this time to relax and recover, and that’s exactly what I have been doing. I got home a few days ago and my schedule since has been sleeping, waking to eat moms home cooking, napping due to food coma, mid-day cocktails with my best friend, napping due to mid-day drinking, blogging, and eating out at my favorite restaurants. I am living the dream, while most other college kids are being served watered down sugary drinks at all inclusive resorts where they can’t drink the water or eat the food due to sanitation problems. Not jealous one bit!

Not only am I eating while at home, I am eating like a queen! After a few martinis yesterday, my friend Jennifer and I decided to go out for dinner. We were a tipsy and decided to splurge on a good meal, as food is never too expensive when you’re drunk! We headed over to Domani Star located right in the center of Doylestown. It is an Italian restaurant that has been one of my favorites for years. They serve both lunch and dinner, and now more recently even brunch (although, I think dinner is their specialty!). They have a small indoor dinning room, with bar seating available, as well as outdoor side-walk seating for when the weather is nice (which it is not yet!).

In light of the recession, Domani Star now offers a pre-fixe dinner menu on weeknights, which includes your choice of an appetizer, entree, and dessert. Unfortunately, the pre-fixe menu items are not the same as the regular menu, but there is a very decent selection. Jen and I both ordered from the pre-fixe menu, which has a set price of just $24 (thank you Domani for the recession prices!). We both ordered the Bruschetta, which is grilled Tuscan bread rubbed with fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil topped with fresh diced tomatoes and herbs. The portion is enormous, more like half a loaf of Tuscan bread and the flavors are incredible. My only suggestion is do not order this if you are on a date because the garlic will repeat on you for the rest of the evening. Even if you brush your teeth? Yes. Not even Listerene will get rid of the taste. But it is delicious and worth eating if you are spending a night alone or just with friends watching a movie, as I did.

Bruschetta – grilled Tuscan bread rubbed with fresh garlic and extra virgin olive oil topped with fresh diced tomatoes and herbs

For the entrée we also ordered the same thing—we are best friends so we are a lot alike. We got the Chicken Francese, which is boneless chicken breast dipped in egg batter and then cooked in a white wine lemon sauce, served over top golden Yukon whipped potatoes and grilled asparagus. The portion was just perfect and the food was piping hot, even the plate was burning hot! The chicken was tender and juicy and the sauce was fairly light on butter, which was a refreshing change for franchese. The asparagus were super delicious and all the stems were already cut off and the Yukon potatoes were to die for. Domani Star has by far my favorite mashed potatoes. They are incredibly rich and laden with butter and calories, but they are simply delicious and worth the calorie splurge. I actually order my entrees here based on whether or not they come with the potatoes. Sadly, it is generally the deciding factor!

Chicken Francese – Boneless Chicken Breast Cooked in White Wine Lemon Sauce, Served with Yukon Whipped Potatoes and Grilled Asparagus

For dessert, we ordered the Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Homemade Whipped Cream and the Warm Bread Pudding served with Bourbon Sauce and Fresh Berries. Jen and I both agreed that the bread pudding was the star of the two, but it was certainly rich and the two of us didn’t even finish the one small piece. Of course, this is because we were also sharing the chocolate cake, which was good but not exceptional. If you are luck enough to go on a day when they are serving the Chocolate Pudding, you must order it because it is the most incredible dessert ever for a chocolate lover!

Warm Bread Pudding served with Bourbon Sauce and Fresh Berries

Warm Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and Homemade Whipped Cream

Although the menu changes seasonally and frequently at Domani Star, the one item that never comes off the menu is their Polpettine dei Bacaro di Venezia, which are their famous homemade meatballs made with beef and veal meat, served lightly breaded and fried golden brown with lemons, herbs, and Parmigiano cheese. This is the menu item to try at Domani Star and it gets it’s name because it is served the same way that meatballs are prepared in the wine bars of Venice.

Polpettine dei Bacaro di Venezia – Homemade Meatballs made with Beef and Veal, served Lightly Breaded and Fried Golden Brown with Lemons, Herbs, and Parmigiano cheese

 

My other favorite appetizer from the regular menu is the Polenta e Gorgonzola, which is an oven roasted polenta cake with creamy Gorgonzola sauce, and fresh rosemary. It is a little bite of heaven. It is rich but the portion is small so it is not overwhelming or too filling to have with an entrée. My mom and I usually order one to share before our meal!

If you do go for lunch, I recommend ordering one of Domani’s sandwiches, which are always served on grilled Tuscan bread and accompanied by with either pasta salad, mixed greens, or french fries. I usually order the Grilled Vegetable Sandwich or the Pork Tenderloin Sandwich. If you are in the Doylestown or Bucks County area, I would highly recommend Domani Star for a great Italian restaurant, which is also BYOB!

Breaded Pork Sandwich served on Grilled Tuscan Bread with French Fries

 

 

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Perricone’s Marketplace and Cafe ***

Baked Brie En Croute with Apricot Glaze and Slivered Almonds Served with Fresh Fruit and Crackers

305.374.9449
15 SE 10th Street (at South Miami Ave)
Miami, Fl 33131

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The whole Miami club scene is great, but it is certainly not conducive to catching up with your best friend that you haven’t seen in a while. Of course, it is also not conducive to many other things either, such as; relationships, a sober productive lifestyle, maintaining good grades in college, and having your voice in the morning…but it’s fun and so we willingly sacrifice these things. But after showing Jen the whole South Beach spectacle on Friday night, I really just wanted to spend Saturday somewhere low-key where we could actually talk…without yelling over house music and getting elbowed by fist pumping DJ groupies!

I figured that Brickell would probably be the best spot to grab dinner and then drinks, since everything is within walking distance and knowing Jen’s love for seafood pasta, I decided to go the Italian route. Il Gabbianno is my favorite Italian restaurant in Brickell (and so far in Miami for that matter), but after all the shopping we did during the day, we decided to go for a slightly cheaper option (aka more money for drinks afterwards!). Perricone’s in Brickell is both a restaurant and an Italian market. It looks tiny from the front, but don’t be fooled because once you walk through the market, the entire back opens up to an enormous outdoor seating area. It is half enclosed, but the ceiling opens up for just the right amount of fresh air!

I love Perricones because it isn’t stuffy…it’s causal and delicious Italian for an affordable price. If you’re wondering why I only give it three stars then, allow me to explain. Perricone’s is good, and the atmosphere is nice, and the price is reasonable, but the food is very basic and uninspired and the red sauce is very inconsistent. I always enjoy my meal, but never really feel like it is exceptional. I do give Perricone’s three stars though because it is a pleasant dinning experience and they have the most incredible Baked Brie En Croute Appetizer, which is an entire wheel of brie baked in puff pastry with a warm apricot glaze and slivered almonds, served with fresh fruit and precious heart-shaped crackers. It is really fabulous and a must have for the table to share. Even when no one will share with me, I order it as an entrée for myself because it is the best thing that I have had there yet. Of course, this is very difficult to mess up, considering how easy it is to make (see my recipe if you want to try!), but it is still delicious and nice to have someone do the work for you. The heart shaped crackers are so cute too!

As expected, Jen ordered the Seafood Linguine in Fresh Scampi Sauce, with sautéed gulf shrimp, scallops, muscles, and calamarie for her entrée. The sauce was really nice and the seafood was generous, she loved it! I was just jealous because her dish came out piping hot, and my Chicken Parmesan with Penne Pomodoro was only luke-warm, at best. The temperature of my food is one thing that I am very, very fussy about (I hate food to go because it’s not hot enough, and I microwave my dishes to get them hot before putting food on them) so this was a problem for me. But they gladly took it back and warmed it up, in addition to taking it off the bill. I was glad they did too, because even after they made it hot, I still wasn’t thrilled with the dish. The piece of chicken was really thick, resembling a chicken breast more than a chicken cutlet. I tend to like my chicken parmesan pounded out real thin so that the bread crumbs flavor every bite. Also, the red sauce tasted kind of smoky. I’m not sure if it was burnt or if they used liquid smoke to flavor the sauce, but I wasn’t a fan.

When I go back to Perricone’s again, I am going to stick to the baked brie appetizer and order one of their salads as an entrée, which seemed to be a very popular trend there. Overall, I like Perricone’s but it’s not the place I would send someone wanting an amazing Italian meal. It’s definitely good (no Olive Garden for sure), but I am hard on it because a) I am Italian and b) there are so many other fabulous Italian restaurants in Miami to choose from. Although I have not done blog posts on all of them, I suggest (starting with my favorite): Il Gabbiano (Brickell), Scarpetta (Sobe), La Loggia (Downtown), Joeys (Wynwood), Prime Italian (Sobe), and I hear that Café Abbrachi (Coral Gables) is also fabulous and it is on my to-try list!

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{ Fusilli with Creamy Mushroom Pea Sauce }

Fusilli with Pancetta and Creamy Mushroom Pea Sauce

I am always talking about food. When I go out and get drunk, I make friends by talking to strangers about food. When I meet someone of a different ethnic background, I establish common ground by talking to them about their culture’s food. When I get together with my closest friends and family, we bond over meals discussing our most recent culinary endeavors. I really do live my life all things food, and I believe it is one thing that connects us all—I mean everyone needs to eat, right?

By having a basic fundamental understanding of several different types of cuisine, I find that I can relate to almost any person and/or culture. And when someone starts talking to me about food, forget it! I get all sorts of worked up into a passionate discussion, obnoxiously waving my hands around as I go off on a million words per minute tangent. I think my boss genuinely fears when customers at our restaurant ask me for recommendations because he knows that I won’t be working during the half hour that I spend detailing every dish on the menu. Of course, you can probably also imagine how excited I get when people ask me for recipes! I love sharing great food with people, and was beyond excited when I received request for an Italian recipe this past week. It felt great knowing that someone actually wanted to hear what I had to say, and wasn’t just directed to my blog via facebook out of boredom. So I went through my recipe binder and pulled out a favorite pasta dish of mine—Fusilli with Pancetta and Creamy Mushroom Pea Sauce. This recipe makes for an awesome main dish or even side dish for meats. It is super easy to make and requires very little ingredients, so you won’t be spending a fortune at the grocery store!

I got this recipe out of an Eating Well Magazine a few years back and it caught my eye because it was a creamy pasta dish that was relatively light on calories. I love a good cream sauce, but try to stay away from them because I know just how many pounds a plate of alfredo sauce can set you back in your diet. This pasta dish is satisfying like a regular cream sauce but is much lighter and therefore in my opinion much more enjoyable. It almost like a macaroni and cheese crossed with an alfredo…its divine. The mushrooms add a great earthy flavor to and the spice of the cracked black pepper is a must!! Of course, you can always substitute the frozen peas for fresh English shelled peas, but I keep it simple and just cook the frozen ones out with the pasta.

Just be very careful not to burn the garlic when cooking this dish, so constantly be stirring the ingredients (especially after you add the mushrooms) and make sure the heat isn’t too high. Also, remember when cleaning mushrooms not to run them directly under water. To properly clean a mushroom, dampen a paper towel and gently wipe off the mushrooms. If you run a mushroom under water, it will absorb too much water and not cook properly.

This recipe will make enough for about 4-5 people, based on a 2 cup serving size. Enjoy!

{ Ingredients }

  • 8 ounces pasta (I use Fusilli)
  • 3 cups frozen peas
  • 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces prosciutto, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups quartered crimini mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • ¼ cup whipping cream
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

{ To Make Pasta }Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and peas and cook until tender. Strain.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and cook prosciutto until it begins to brown, about 3-5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring until fragrant (careful not to burn!), about 30 seconds. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their juices and most of their liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and stir to coat. Add wine and let simmer for 1 minute. Add chicken broth, return to simmer and cook, stirring until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream and pepper.

Add the peas and pasta to the pan and stir to coat.

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Modo Mio *****

Bucatini All’Amatriciana with Pancetta and Parmesan Cheese

215.203.8707
161 W Girard Avenue
Philadelphia, Pa 19123

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Although the streets of South Philly do not have the glamour typically associated with Rome, the ethnic neighborhood definitely boasts some of the best Italian food in America. Several generations of Italian immigrants have settled in South Philadelphia, sharing their cuisine and selling their groceries on the curb of 9th street, which is known as the Italian Market. On this narrow and crowded street you can find stores such as Di Bruno’s Bros. for the best cheeses and olives, Sarcone’s Bakery for freshly baked breads, and Isgro’s Pasticceria for cannolis that are literally, to die for! Of course, there are also some truly amazing and authentic Italian restaurants too! Since I am always on the hunt to find great Italian food (as it is my favorite kind of food to eat), I was very excited when my mom told me that we would be trying Modo Mio on Girard Ave for a family dinner. It was highly recommended by one of my mother’s Italian friends and it also had really great online reviews.

Upon arriving at the restaurant, we walk in and find that we are the first diners of the evening. But when we asked to be seated at different table, we quickly found out that we would not be the only diners of the evening; every table had already been reserved. So we took our seats and got to interrogating the waiter, which is what my mom and I do at every meal (of course, while my dad rolls his eyes in annoyance!). We ask what dishes are most popular and which ones are house specialties. We ask about the business and the background of the owner and/or chef. And we also try to find out the best way to order at each restaurant. Our waiter at Modo Mio suggested doing the “La Turista Menu,” which is a four-course meal composed of an appetizer, pasta, entrée, and dessert. And for the price of just $33, none of us could resist! The best part was that it was not a pri fix or limited menu. You got to order off of the regular menu and select one item of your choosing from each category. But before we even had the opportunity to order, food was already being brought to the table. We received a plate of complementary Bruschetta Toasted topped with Grilled Eggplant and Cinnamon as well as Fresh Grilled Ciabatta Bread with Homemade Ricotta Cheese and Olive Oil infused with Porcini Mushrooms. My mom always says that you can judge a restaurant by the quality of its bread, and you better believe that we all got pretty excited for our entrees after trying this stuff. It was amazing! The ricotta was as creamy and smooth as butter and the olive oil had a tremendous earthy flavor from the mushrooms. The bread was also fantastic with a nice crispy crust and a soft warm center. The eggplant bruschetta was unique because of the cinnamon spice, but I thought it was a nice touch that rounded out the flavors well.

Grilled Bruschetta with Eggplant and Cinnamon

Now that our appetites were going, we got to ordering our courses. For my appetizer I had the Creamy Potatoes with Lump Crab and Sweet Roasted Red Peppers. I was unsure as to how it was going to be served, and I was pleasantly surprised when it came out on top of more of that delicious bread!! It was definitely a rich appetizer, but it was too good to leave any behind. The crabmeat was abundant and not overshadowed by the potatoes. The roasted red peppers were perfectly placed atop the whole dish, and they added a great sweetness to every bite. I also tried the Mussels in Spicy Red Sauce, which were so tender and the best that I have ever had out! The sauce was great with salty capers and just the right amount of red pepper flakes for heat. My sister ordered the Egg Dipped and Fried Mozzarella Grill Cheese Sandwich with Lemon Caper Sauce, which I thought would be the grand-daddy of all grill cheeses, but I was disappointed by the strength of the lemon sauce. I thought it was too pungent and overwhelmed what could have been a really great dish. My other sister, Hannah, ordered the Calamari Stewed in Red Sauce with Capers and Olives. I thought it was good, but still prefer crispy fried calamari (call me unrefined…but at the end of the day they taste better to me!). I also had a bite of my dad’s Seared Scallop atop Fried Chickpea Pancake. The chickpea pancake was fabulous and so was the scallop, but the portion was rather small for my liking.

Calamari in Red Sauce with Capers and Olives

Fried Mozzarella Grill Cheese Sandwich with Capers and Lemon Sauce

My favorite course of the meal was the pasta! The next time I go to Modo Mio, I am going to ask to order two pasta dishes instead of an entrée. I ordered the Buccatini Amatriciana, which is a thick homemade spaghetti with pancetta in a spicy red sauce. The pasta was actual perfection, from texture to cook time, and the sauce was very nice. It was rich (and a bit oily) because of the pancetta, but worth every calorie! The Gnocchi with Porcini Mushrooms, Peas, and Pancetta in Gorgonzola Sauce was also rich, but undoubtedly the best gnocchi I have ever had the privilege of tasting. They were soft delicate pillows of potato and pasta that melted in your mouth. I was also pleasantly surprised by the gorgonzola cream sauce, which in some miraculous way tasted light! The purses of gnocchi were not swimming in sauce, but lightly coated in it, which was nice. I think that this is the must-try menu item at Modo Mio. My other favorite pasta dish was the Carmelli Pasta Purses filled with Taleggio Cheese in a truffle-rosemary butter sauce. This dish was probably the richest of all the pasta dishes, but also really, really, good. Taleggio cheese is very strong (sometimes called the “stinky cheese”) but when it is melted and gooey, it is delicious. My least favorite pasta was the Lasagna topped with a Fried Egg. I thought it was too rich to even taste good. The plate was covered in oil and the fried egg was just too much. I only had one bite and found that I couldn’t get the greasy feeling out of my mouth, so I would have been disappointed to have ordered this as my meal.

Homemade Gnocchi with Peas, Pancetta, and Porcini Mushrooms in a Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

For my entrée I ordered Skirt Steak with Green Olives and Fried Chickpeas. Although it was cooked perfectly, and tender and juicy, I thought it was way too heavy after all the previous food that I had eaten. I enjoyed the finely chopped green olives atop the steak, but the fried chickpeas, which were done in little flattened strips (an Italian version of the French Steak Pomme Frites) were far too oily. I only had a couple of bites of my entrée, and would have been satisfied without it. I would definitely recommend ordering a fish as an entrée, because it is on the relatively lighter side. My dad ordered the winning entrée, which was Grilled Swordfish with balsamic caramelized onion, golden raisins, pine nuts radicchio, smoked mozzarella, and rosemary pangrattugiato. This flavor packed entrée, just seems to melt in your mouth. It was by far my favorite entrée.

Grilled Swordfish with balsamic caramelized onion, golden raisins, pine nuts radicchio, smoked mozzarella, and rosemary pangrattugiato

Grilled Skirt Steak with Green Olives and Fried Chickpeas

And last but not least, DESSERT! The four courses add up to a lot of food, but please make sure that you save room for dessert because it is worth stuffing yourself uncomfortably for. My family decided to sample 1 of every dessert rather than each ordering our own, so that we could have a greater variety. We had Flour-less Chocolate Cake (very dense and tasty), Torta Della Nonna (with orange flavor and shaved caramelized apple topping), Chocolate Hazelnut Pie (dense, rich, deep nutty flavor, delicious), Panna Cotta with Cranberries (the panna cotta had no vanilla flavor and was dull, the cranberries were too sweet and too syrupy), and Tiramisu (one of the best tiramisu’s that I have ever tried, fabulous!). If I were to go back again, I would order the Torta Della Nonna or the Tiramisu and definitely stay away from the Panna Cotta.

 

Assorted Desserts at Modo Mio

I honestly think that this is one of the best food deals to be had in the city. Not only is it a lot of food for a reasonable price, but it is also incredibly delicious! I would love to go back, and would highly recommend it to others.

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{ Tiramisu Cupcakes }

Tiramisu Cupcakes with Mascarpone Frosting and Cocoa Powder

This year I am celebrating Christmas at my house in Philly with just my immediate family and my nagymama (meaning “grandmother” in Hungarian). But just because we don’t have a lot of people coming over, doesn’t mean that we aren’t making a big production out of the food situation. Every family has their thing, and ours is certainly food—the Von Trapps sang and the Bajeks cook! My mom had the holiday menu planned out weeks ago, but the stress of actually making it all didn’t surface until today, Christmas Eve. Why is it so stressful, you wonder?

It’s a simple answer. Four women, one kitchen—not enough room for everyone to do their respective food prep. Now our kitchen is far from small with two ovens, a six-burner Viking stove top, and an eight-foot refrigerator that resembles a walk-in closet (told you we were food people!), but tensions get high when sharing space and utensils. Of course all four of us have to have the same favorite knife! While us women slowly kill the Christmas spirit in the kitchen arguing over who is entitled to use the knife first, my dad retreats to the garage where he has been devising a squirrel proof bird-feeder for the past month or so (since the holiday cooking began actually). That tells you just how heated the kitchen gets…my dad would actually prefer to stand out in the freezing garage trying to solve bird hunger than be among us. However, the peaceful Christmas spirit is always revived once we all sit down at the table to eat together (partly because we can’t be fighting while we are eating!). We say a prayer, and then enjoy all of the delicious food that we have slaved over (even the birds are eating well this Christmas, thanks to the efforts of my father!).

This year I was in charge of dessert, and I decided to do a modern spin on an old classic—Tiramisu but in cupcake form. Tiramisu is a traditional Italian dessert made of biscuits dipped in coffee, layered with a whipped mixture of eggs and mascarpone, and flavored with liquor and cocoa. It’s so divine that it literally translates as “pull me up,” which is exactly what it does with each and every delicious forkful. Trust me, there is no emotional crisis that a large piece of tiramisu can’t improve…for a foodie like me, at least! I figured that everyone in my family could use a little bit of tiramisu joy this season and sure enough, it worked. They were light and fluffy and tasted absolutely fabulous.

First, I made the cupcake batter, which requires a whole vanilla bean. These can be expensive at most supermarkets (especially whole foods, which costs about $10 for 2 beans), so I recommend going to your local baking supply store. I got mine at a baking store by my house and only paid $1 per bean…big price difference!!

As I always suggest when making cupcakes, use an ice cream scooper to distribute the batter evenly among lined cupcake pans. In fact, I even have two different sized scoopers, one for my regular cupcakes and one for my miniature bite-sized cupcakes. The minis are always a hit at parties because they are so easy for people to pop into their mouths, and you can always manage to find room in your belly for a mini even at the end of a big meal!

Once the cupcakes have fully cooled, you need to brush the tops with the marsala-coffee mixture, which gives the cupcake a great light spongy texture. (It also can help correct a cupcake that is slightly overcooked, because it adds the needed moisture). I suggest using a silicon brush, and do not be afraid to really brush it on generously because it prevents the cupcake from drying out, and the syrup adds such a great flavor! Believe it or not, the mixture will actually soak through to the center of the cupcake and you will get a taste of it with every bite. If you are making the cupcakes the night before you intent to serve them, do up to this step and then store in an airtight container, refrigerating overnight.

The mascarpone frosting is so simple, as long as you make sure that the heavy cream is whipped long enough to form stiff peaks! If you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, do not walk away while the cream is beat or it can become over beat and then grainy. Yuck! Oncethe frosting is finished, I pipe it onto the cupcake tops and then dust with a little cocoa power for decoration. They are tremendous! The recipes for the marsala-coffee syrup and mascarpone frosting follow the basic cupcake recipe.

{ Ingredients for Cupcakes }

**Makes about 18 cupcakes

  • 1 ¼ cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon course salt (Kosher salt)
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
  • 4 tablespoons (half stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, cu into pieces
  • 3 whole large eggs, and 3 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 ounce (shot) marsala wine
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup + 1 Tablespoon freshly brewed strong coffee

{ To Make CupcakesPreheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Line cupcake pans with cupcake liners. Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Heat milk and vanilla-bean pod and seeds in a small saucepan over medium heat just until bubbles apprea around the edge (not a boil!). Remove from the heat. Whisk in the butter until melted, and let stand for 15 minutes. Strain the milk mixture through a fine sieve into a bowl, and discard the vanilla-bean pod.

With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk together whole eggs, yolks, and 1 cup sugar. The set the mixing bowl over a pan of simmering water, and continuously whisk by hand until sugar is dissolved (rub between fingers to check) and mixture is warm, about 3 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. With an electric mixer on high speed, whisk until mixture is fluffy, pale yellow, and thick enough to hold a ribbon on the surface for several seconds when whisk is lifted.

Gently but thoroughly fold flour mixture into the egg mixture in three batches; stir 1/2 cup batter into the strained milk mixture to thicken, then fold milk mixture into the remaining batter until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups (using ice cream scooper!), filling each three-quarters full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until centers are completely set (test with toothpick) and edges are light golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool completely before removing cupcakes.

To finish, brush tops of cupcakes evenly with coffee-marsala syrup (directions below); repeat until all or most of syrup has been used. Allow cupcakes to absorb liquid 30 minutes. Dollop frosting onto cupcakes; refrigerate up to overnight in airtight containers. Dust generously with cocoa powder just before serving.

{ To Make Marsala-Coffee SyrupCombine the coffee, marsala wine, and 1/4 cup sugar in bowl and stir until sugar is dissolved.

{ Ingredients Mascarpone Frosting }

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted

{ To Make Mascarpone FrostingBeat the heavy cream with whisk attachment of electric mixer on medium speed, until stiff peaks form. Do not over beat or the cream will be grainy! In a separate bowl whisk together the mascarpone and confectioners’ sugar. Gently fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture, until just combined. Use immediately.

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