Category Archives: Menus and Odes

An Ode to Orvieto

Back when I was in college, I studied abroad in Italy on a minor in black and white photography.  Little did I know that my time spent in an art school in the sleepy town of Orvieto would inspire me with ever so many culinary delights.  Simple lunches consisted of ingredients considered haute in the states – fresh porcini mushrooms, black truffles, fava beans and homemade gelato.  All was washed down with a crisp, luscious white wine called Orvieto Classico (with a recipe dating back to Ancient Roman times).  It was a dream.

As a recent ex-pat of New York City, I’ve made fast culinary friends here in Phoenix, many of whom are voracious foodies.  As a means of treating them to the delights I tasted and experienced in Orvieto, I decided to prepare a full-on feast celebrating the dishes that managed to stay imprinted in my memory.  Incredibly, FoodBuzz felt that my plan was lovely enough to include it in the 24×24 for July 2011 – a monthly event showcasing posts from 24 Foodbuzz Featured Publisher bloggers from around the globe during a 24-hour period. The moment I found out the good news, it was on like donkey kong.

This menu celebrates fresh ingredients highlighted as stars of simply prepared dishes – fava bean bruschetta shines with the addition of salty pecorino and floral mint.  Fresh tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms take the stage as a reminder of an Orvieto lunch favorite.  And I can’t forget the dish that made me question all I’d known about pasta up until the first time I tasted it – drunken pasta cooked in red wine until purple with a blond oxtail ragu (no tomatoes!)  Madness, but delicious all the same.  A sliced tenderloin of beef with creamy artichokes serves the main course, a stunner for anyone with expensive tastes and a limited budget.  Dessert is a glorious scoop of bacio gelato, an addictive combination of dark chocolate and hazelnuts. And for a last taste, the most beautiful digestivo with a homemade limoncello that will impress the pants off of anyone you deem worthy enough to try it.

For a play-by-play of the culinary goodness that occured in my 24×24, click on the links to the individual recipes below. Each one has a lovely history attached, and cooking them again for the folks here in the lawless desert reminded me of how blissful it can be to take a little time to celebrate the ingredients that inspire and amaze.

Crostini di Fave

Buttery fava beans and fruity olive oil get their swerve on in this luscious topping for crunchy toasts.

Tagliatelle with Porcini Mushrooms

This tangle of fresh pasta, mushrooms, wine, butter and parmesan is trouble.  Like eat the whole bowl with no regrets kind of trouble.  I completely authorize your using your fork as a weapon to keep away anyone who wants to steal a bite.

Drunken Pasta with Blond Oxtail Ragu

The drunken bit refers to cooking the pasta in red wine, which gives it a gorgeous garnet hue.  And the blond reference in the ragu means no tomatoes – just fall off the bone beef slow simmered with veggies and more wine.  Oh so good and well-worth trying.

Beef Tenderloin with Artichokes in Bechamel

The beef tenderloin is treated rather simply with just a smattering of salt and pepper, but then the lily is gilded with an accompaniment of artichokes in cream sauce.

Bacio Gelato

Creamy and decadent, here I use the clutch recipe from Ciao Bella to get the job done.

Homemade Limoncello

This one takes time to mellow into happiness, but if you leave it alone to do its thing, you’ll be rewarded with golden nectar from the gods.  Or at least that’s what it tastes like after you’ve knocked back a few chilled glasses of the goodness.

Gorgeous Greek Feast

Please don’t attempt this feast with a small group – you’ll be full to the point of explosion, outdone by the amount of leftovers, and without room for even the mere thought of dessert. That all being said, break out that naughty and nice list of yours, and start calling the sweeties, because this is a menu that serves as a celebration in and of itself. I love this lineup of hearty greek dishes in that they are easy to prepare and keep well if you want to make everything ahead of time. In addition, the menu is weighted towards the vegetarian options (only the pastitsio and dolmades have meat, and both can be made without), thereby pleasing crowds of all appetites and dietary restrictions.

Mixed Greens with Gorgeous Greek Dressing

For the gorgeous greek dressing, you’ll want to whip up a simple greek salad to go with it. Start with a bed of romaine, iceburg and red leaf lettuce. Top with halved cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, rounds of cool cucumber and purple kalamata olives. Crumble some salty feta on top and serve with the dressing.

Baklava Sundaes

As for dessert, if you are short on time (or not interested in baking), pick up a baklava (or baklava bites) from your local grocery or greek market. Crush a few pieces of baklava with a fork and top with a scoop of haagen daas vanilla ice cream (or other rich vanilla brand). Top with a little honey and a pinch of ground cloves.

Whatever you decide to do, and whomever you choose to invite, make sure ouzo is invited to the party as well, and that you have a stack of old plates ready to throw in celebration of the perfect feast. OPA!


Simple Summer Barbecue

I actively eschew the cold – if anyone was born to relish in the blissful summer, it was me.  Sunkissed skin and bare toes.  A swing or two in the hammock or a walk along the sandy shore.  And dad firing up the grill next to the side porch, with the lot of us sitting on the steps (dogs included), sipping a cold beer waiting for the meat to finish up.  I live for those days.

This menu is not only a celebration of those lazy summer evenings when we’d tuck into thick steaks seared on the grill, but also an ode to the perfect produce of the summer.  Farmer’s market tomatoes, string beans, potatoes and greens all have a home in bright and glorious side dishes.  Rosemary works as both a flavoring and a utensil. And the skill required to prepare this meal is minimal – feed a few or a dozen with little to no effort other than chopping a veg or two and flipping on the grill. And that’s not even including any delegation – get some mark to shuck your corn or snap your string beans and you’re living easy. Which is entirely what summer is all about.


Spring Has Sprung Feast

I’m definitely a sucker for cooking out of emotion – when the long winter subsides and the earth can’t help but start blooming, why wouldn’t I cook with the brightest ingredients celebrating the season.  This feast was an impromptu Mother’s Day din din, but really, it could be a weekend supper or an early evening al fresco celebration.  It’s light enough to evoke the feelings of spring, but comforting enough to feel like a big ol’ hug and a pair of pajama jeans.  The best part about this particular menu is that is it can be prepared without too much work – just a whole lot of puttering around the kitchen with no real urgency at all.  In fact, it’s rather simple to delegate tasks to folks for this one, so feel free to make use of idle hands in getting this feast to the table sooner.  Regardless of what you do, know that you’ll have 6-8 happy feasters tucking into a meal replete with all of the spring bites they could possibly handle – sweet, crisp, salty, tart, bubbly and above all, wondrous.  Let the feast begin!


Feast of the Seven Boars

Cannot even begin to tell you how much I adore this menu.  Yes, it is a challenge and yes, you’ll probably want a couple of hands to help with the staging, prep and cooking.  But it’s well worth the effort in that it is no less than glorious.

The concept of the Feast of the Seven Boars was born as both a riff off of the Feast of the Seven Fishes and an excuse to pay homage to one of my favorite proteins, wild boar.  Without all of the religious undertones, our feast was focused on the loving and careful preparation of an ingredient so worthy of a spotlight.  While both beef and poultry are offered as myriad unique cuts and varieties (you’ve got your kobe, your poussin and your capon at the grocery store down the street), pork is offered as a bland, flavorless option with both the fat and the taste bred out in one fell swoop.  As far as I’m concerned, “the other white meat” campaign is a form of sacrilege.  It’s no wonder that so many Americans eschew the idea of eating pork, what with the options in front of them so horribly tasteless.

I had a silent celebration the moment I spotted wild boar in the online store for Marx Foods – thoughts of what to do with 17 pounds of wild boar shoulder roast in all its rosy glory was blissful.   Rather than give in to the giddiness, I got to work crafting a series of recipes that would make good use of the meat.  Given that it holds up to cooking, I decided to go with braises, roasts and ground preparations to showcase the tender, meltingly gorgeous meat.

Many of the recipes were born of my time spent in Orvieto, a champion of a city in terms of featuring wild boar in the best of preparations.  Recipes were slightly tweaked to make room for the boar, like my Post-Thanksgiving Stuffed Mushrooms with boar in lieu of sausage, and boar instead of pork in the bolognese and meatballs.  We bolstered the meat feast with seasonal veggies like miner’s lettuce, stinging nettles and fiddlehead ferns.  We also had some help from the experts, to include Eric Ripert’s Cinghiale Dolce Forte and Ciao Bella’s Straciatella Gelato.  We rounded out the meal with a bottle of chilled limoncello, bowled over by the fact that boar was such a special treat rather than a shop standard.  Oh, well.  Someday.  But until then, consider gathering a group of hungry foodie friends, some wild boar and a few days of sheer dedication for one of the most glorious pay offs in terms of feasts.  Mangia!


Casual Easter Menu

For many, Easter (and the end of Lent) means lamb, but in our family Easter always meant ham.  Mom was usually on the task of prepping the ham with cloves and halved oranges, and Dad was in charge of carving – whomever was circling around the kitchen during carving time was lucky enough to get a small bite before the ham made it to the table.  Now that my sister and I are grown, it’s usually my parents pug and puggle that vie for a bite of ham.

As soon as I learned to make a bechamel, a task learned from my mom and her homemade mac and cheese recipe, I became enamored with the ways in which butter, flour and milk could be coaxed into a luscious sauce.  One of my favorite uses of my tinkering with bechamel was a recipe for potatoes au gratin.  Tender potatoes layered with a velvety cheese sauce were baked in my parent’s Le Creuset dutch oven until tender.  The dish became the perfect accompaniment to the ham and thus, an Easter favorite.

I’ve rounded out the menu with some tastes of spring that require little to no effort.  Frozen lima beans and mint become a silken puree for crostini.  Spinach, eggs and bacon are dressed in a tart buttermilk dressing.  Tender asparagus spears are dressed with a bright and zippy gremolata.  Finish the meal with the simplest, most gorgeous lemon curd muffins – they are way impressive in terms of looks and people will be hard-pressed to believe how easy they were to construct.  Whether you celebrate Easter, the bunny, the onset of spring or just a tasty slice of ham, this feast is comforting on all levels.


Feast of the Seven Fishes

Holidays are about traditions – both making them and breaking them.  Given my wide splay of ethnic background, it tends to be the case that I manage to do both of these things each and every year with a slightly different celebration that meets one of our many traditions.  I feel like this is the way it is with most of us – over time we build up a collection of various customs that are an amalgamation of all of our traditions put together.

This year, we decided to give a shout out to Sicily (both my husband and I are of Sicilian decent) with the Feast of the Seven Fishes.  A custom with origins in Southern Italy, a series of fish dishes (and no meat) are prepared for Christmas Eve.  The number of dishes varies – some say it’s seven for the seven sacraments, or 10 for the commandments.  It’s at the point now where people come up with a number of dishes between 7 and 15 and assign a biblical association for that number.  At the heart of the celebration is a gathering of family and friends for a delicious meal and (hopefully) fine company.

One of the must-haves for the Feast of the Seven Fishes is baccalà or salt cod.  In another cultural twist, our Feast of the Seven Fishes contained two preparations of baccalà in the traditional Brazilian manner (called bacalhau), fried into small balls and baked with garlic, onions, potatoes and hard boiled eggs.  There’s something about the blended traditions that truly makes it a holiday for me.

If you’d like to get on a little fish action yourself and create a new family tradition of your own, here is the road map for our Feast of the Seven Fishes.  Have fun with it, add as many or as few fish as you’d like, and chow down Sicilian style.


Cold Seafood Salad

One of my husbands early memories was of his father making a special seafood salad at Christmastime.  He did a little research and found a close version online, that we adapted to make it like the one he knew as a child. I’m lazy and I don’t like to spend my entire life cleaning seafood, so we purchased the squid pre-cleaned and the octopus pre-cleaned and cooked at Whole Foods (the octopus was in the Seafood Salad area of the store).  The rest of the goodies are poached in a flavorful liquid of herbs and vegetables and then tossed with a light vinaigrette and crisp veggies.  Despite the sheer number of ingredients, this is one of the most beautiful things you can put on your table.

Bolihnos de Bacalhau

These croquettes of salt cod are crispy and light on the outside, and tender and moist on the inside.  Soaking the cod for a goodly while gets rid of the fishiness and elevates the taste of this festive, bite-sized treat.

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

Growing up so close to the Chesapeake Bay, blue crab is more of a right than a privilege for me, and what seafood feast would be complete without it.  These dainty suckers leverage lump crab for sweetness and claw meat for cost efficiency.  The seasoning is traditional, eastern shore, crab cake style, as yet another shout out to the land of my ancestors.
Recipe for Crab Stuffed Mushrooms


Fettucine al Langostra

Who doesn’t love lobster?  Strangely, my sister doesn’t.  But this incredibly simple and delicious preparation of fettucine with tender lobster meat was gobbled down by her and won her praises.  If that’s not a Christmas miracle, then I don’t know what is. Use good egg fettucine for the pasta and fresh basil to brighten things up.  To save time during the feast (since you are cooking most everything at once), I used a jar of Rao’s Arrabiata sauce, which is delicious, but way too expensive at $9 a jar.  I found a bottle of White Linen Gourmet Marinara at Costco for $4 that actually tasted BETTER than the Rao’s – no joke.  If you go that route, just make sure to add a heavy dose of crushed red pepper for kick.

Linguine alle Vongole

Linguine with white clam sauce, for me, is comfort food at its best – it doesn’t take a hell of a long time to prepare, it’s got a healthy dose of garlic and red pepper for kick, and at the end of the day, who doesn’t want to tuck into a mound of tender pasta. I use my Poorman’s Linguine with Clam Sauce for this one, but add fresh clams to the mix.  Simply heat some olive oil and garlic in a saute pan and when hot, pour in a cup of white wine.  Add a pound of small clams (I use manila clams) and pop a lid on the pan.  Let steam in the wine garlic mix for a short 5 minutes and then scoop out the open clams and put them on top of the pasta.  Discard any clams that haven’t opened after cooking.
Recipe for Linguine alle Vongole


Bacalhau Gomes de Sá

Though this dish is Portuguese in origin (Porto to be exact), it’s a favorite among Brazilians as well.  The dish was supposedly created by a wealthy cod distributor’s son, who after being disowned, was forced to work in a restaurant.  His legacy was this dish, a delicious combination of cod, tender potatoes, sautéed garlic and onions, and topped with hard boiled eggs, olives and parsley. This recipe reminds me of whenever my great grandmother would come into town with heaps of bacalhau ready for the cooking.  Upon her arrival, it was a sure thing that Gomes de Sá was going to be prepared shortly thereafter.

Tuna (or Swordfish) with Gremolata

Nothing says majesty like fresh fish with a lovely topping of lemon, garlic and herbs.  Simplicity is the focus, so the freshest of fish is necessary in this one – get sushi grade (or Grade #1) tuna, or the brightest, firmest fillets of whatever you’d like.  While you can spread the fish with the gremolata and then broil them, with the tuna I like to sear them in a pan to control the doneness (I like the steaks rare) and then slather the hot fish with the lemon mixture so that it melts into the fish. Gremolata is traditionally a combination of lemon, parsley and garlic, but here, I add rosemary instead of the parsley as it is hardier and holds up to the many other bold flavors at this feast.
Recipe for Swordfish with Gremolata


Sauteed Cavolo Nero

Called black kale or dinosaur kale, this leafy green is a fabulous taste sensation for anyone that loves bitter greens.  Plus, it matches up with the sweetness of the seafood and sauces with outstanding strength.  This recipe comes straight from one of my favorite foodie websites,, and utilizes orange juice, garlic and onion to create the most perfectly rounded flavors in this dish.  A major keeper, I didn’t even have to tweak this recipe one bit, which absolutely NEVER happens when I’m in the kitchen. If you have any leftovers, you can fold them into a delicious soup, like a Caldo Verde (Portuguese Sausage and Kale Soup) or a Ribollita (Italian Kale and White Bean Soup with Croutons).
Recipe for Cavolo Nero at