Recipes and Ramblings in Italy

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Recipe of the Week (May 18, 2015)

Posted by William Abruzzo on May 18, 2015 at 10:10 AM

Carduni e’ Pomodori in Grattinate (Cardoon and Tomato Casserole with Crispy Breadcrumb Topping)


        This week's recipe takes us to Sicily. Cardoons are a type of thistle related to the artichoke. Thye are native to the Mediterranean basin and are a popular vegetable in Italy. In fact, the cardoon has been cultivated on the Italian mainland and Sicily since the days of the Roman Empire. The cardoon looks like an enormous bunch of celery with pale green stalks and feathery leaves. You are sure to see them on display for sale at Palermo's famous Ballaro and Vucciria marketplaces. If you find them at your local vegetable market, be sure to take some home. For a taste of Palermo, try them baked in a casserole with tomatoes and topped with breadcrumbs.





Cardoons (1 large bunch -about1 ¾ to 2 lbs)


Country Style Italian Bread (3 thick slices)


Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (1/3 cup and more for sprinkling)


Eggs (3 extra large)


Flour (for dredging)


Olive Oil (for drizzling)


Corn Oil (for frying)


Whole Peeled or Diced San Marzano Tomatoes (1 can -28 ounces)


Spanish or Vidalia Onion (1/2 small)


Garlic (3 cloves)


Basil (1 ½ tbs -chopped, pressed firm)


Oregano (1 ½ tbs -chopped, pressed firm)


Black Pepper (to taste)


Salt (to taste)




        Chop the onion, garlic and herbs. Coat the bottom of a medium sauce pan with olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Then, add the diced tomatoes and all of the juice from the can. Slosh ¾ cup of water around in the can and add it to the sauce pan too. Add the herbs, season with black pepper and salt, and simmer the diced tomatoes on a low burner for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, grate enough bread for 2 cups of crumbs loosely packed. Place the crumbs in a mixing bowl, stir in 1/3 cup of grated cheese, and then drizzle with olive oil. Toss the breadcrumb mixture so that it is uniformly moist and fluffy and set the bowl to the side.



        Next, prepare the cardoons. Remove the stalks from the bunch and discard the hard inner core and small inner shoot. Strip all of the large leaves from the stalks. Use a paring knife to scrape the small leaves from the edges, and then peel off all of the stringy outer fibers (just as you would do with celery). Chop the stalks into 3 inch chunks. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water boil, add the cardoons to the pot, and boil for 25 minutes.



        Drain the cardoons in a colander and allow them to cool for a few minutes. Place the cardoons on your work surface, gently press them flat, and then pat them dry. Beat the eggs with a splash of water. Dredge the cardoons in flour, dip them in egg, and then pass them through the flour a second time. Place ½ inch of olive oil in the bottom of a large deep frying pan. When the oil is hot, fry the cardoons until golden brown, and then set them on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.



        Spread some tomatoes on the bottom of an 11 by 8 ½ inch, 2 inch deep, baking dish. Add a layer of cardoons, spread some tomatoes overtop, sprinkle lightly with grated cheese, and then add a second layer of cardoons. Spread over the remaining tomatoes, and then sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over top. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown on top. Serve hot. Serves 4 to 6 adults.

Categories: Appetizers, Snacks, Soups, and Salads, Vegetable Dishes

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Reply Coco
10:07 AM on July 2, 2015 
I agree, but it would take just as long to make eggplant parmigiana. This is a good alternative to eggplant.
Reply Francesco
7:23 PM on June 23, 2015 
This takes a long time to make but is so good. This is definitely worthwhile to make. I can find cardoons at my supermarket, so I am lucky but I think this would be good with other veggies also.

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Bill's Cooking Tip of the Month

Roll Out Pie Dough with Ease Using Plastic Wrap

This is an old trick I learned years ago from my mother. The next time you bake a pie, roll out the dough between sheets of plastic wrap. This will prevent the dough from sticking to your rolling pin and will make it easier to transport the dough from your work surface to the pie dish or baking sheet.

Cover your entire work surface with plastic wrap and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Turn the dough onto the wrap, pat it down to 1 inch thickness, sprinkle it lightly with flour, and then cover it with a second layer of wrap. Roll out the dough to just less than ¼ inch thickness and remove the top layer of wrap. Lift the dough using the bottom layer of wrap, turn it on to a lightly greased pie dish or baking sheet, and then remove the wrap. Its quick and easy! 

Tips on Italian Ingredients

 Frying Tomato Paste Enhances the Flavor and Adds Depth to Your Dish

Many recipes direct you to stir tomato paste into a sauce, soup or stew. However, frying the tomato paste first fully develops its flavor and eliminates any raw or metallic taste. It is a quick and easy way to enhance the flavor of your dish. Tomato paste should always be added at the beginning of a recipe, rather than at the end. This allows its flavor to marry with the dish. Add it immediately after sautéing your aromatics in olive oil or rendered fat. When the aromatics are soft, push them to one side of your pot or frying pan. Place a dollop of tomato paste on the other side, tilt the pot or frying pan to pool the oil around the tomato paste, and let it gently sizzle for about 2 minutes.  After the tomato paste has fried, incorporate it into the aromatics and then add the liquid and other ingredients to complete your sauce, soup or stew. 

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My Italian Heritage

 My Great Grandparents, Vita and Onofrio Abruzzo, from the town of Santa Margherita di Belice, Sicily pictured here with my grandfather Vito "Bill" in the center.

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