Paccheri with Peas & Barese Sausage Al Forno and the Value of Blogger Friends

It’s raining on this first day of spring. Not a cleansing healing  rain , but a gloomy one to me anyway. It’s like the world is crying. Japan, Wars both declared and not, The Middle East, unemployment, and even this cutie Knut who


decided to pack it in and leave us. Life is hard and no ever promised it would be easy. But our dreams , determination, faith and friends sustain us through the journey.When you don’t have those, you have nothing. I’ve been thinking of my friends, both real and virtual. Also how lucky I am to have many of virtual friends turn into real friends. They inspire , help, and lend a a shoulder to you in your hour of need. I’ve been thinking about Jeanne who lost her  beloved father this week, Marie who always has an encouraging word  , Barbara who has turned from more than  a web developer to a friend. There are many more friends real and virtual out there who are always there with tips, leads, and humor. These friends bring comfort to my life. You can say I’m in a contemplative mood these days.But I’m lucky to have my circle.

A good dish always soothes a troubled soul. Marie took me to Caputo’s at long last. Any ennui I felt lately vanished as we roamed the cheese room, and pasta aisles.Nobody knows Italian American food like Marie. She directed me to to the right purchases with advice on how to prepare the items.

So this Sunday as I wait for my Certain Someone to come back home from a business trip abroad, I  cobbled together this rich and comforting dish baked al forno ( in the oven). Using fresh Paccheri ( a large rigatoni) and Barese sausage ( small narrow sausage flavored with garlic and parsley, no fennel) simmered in white wine and finished off in the oven. Lots of cheese and heavy cream, lightly seasoned with nutmeg, and peas for spring.

Before the recipe I want to announce the winner of the $100 giveaway from US Wellness Meats. Congratulations Cheryl Lee Ferguson.I will email you with instructions to claim your prize.


Paccheri with Peas & Barese Sausage Al Forno

  • 1 package of fresh Paccheri or Rigatoni
  • 2 cups shredded Mozzarella
  • 3/4 lb Barese sausage
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 qt heavy cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • grated nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. Boil salted water for pasta.
  3. In a skillet simmer your Barese until gray in color and almost done.
  4. Place sausages  on a baking sheet and brown in oven until done ( about 10 minutes ). Cut into small bite size pieces.
  5. Reduce oven temperature to 350 F.
  6. Boil Paccheri until al dente ( about 6 minutes). Remove from heat and drain.
  7. In a bowl beat the three eggs with heavy cream. Add salt and pepper. Season generously  but carefully as cream dishes diminish salt in flavor.
  8. In a another large bowl combine drained pasta, cream and egg mixture, Mozzarella Cheese  and chopped sausage.
  9. Place combined mixture in a baking dish or casserole . Top with shaved Parmesan,   a sprinkle of grated nutmeg,salt and pepper.
  10. Bake at 350 for approx 45 minutes to 1 hour. The cream egg mixture should not run if pierced with fork and the dish should be bubbling.


Musings on Rome

The city of Rome has always fascinated me. I remember my mother coming back from her honeymoon with my stepfather with fabulous clothes, clothes, cosmetics, and magazines she had purchased there. One day I would get there, I vowed. In my teens I was captivated by Princess Luciana Pignatelli’s vintage The Beautiful Peoples Beauty Book, full of musings on growing up and life in Rome, beauty secrets of La Dolce Vita, and diet advice ( from an glamorous Italian perspective). Even today the book is a good fun read, as I thumb through my well worn copy, picked up in garage sale long ago. The book provided even more fuel for my desire to go to Rome one day to see the Beautiful People. When I looked up my late great uncle Bob Curtis, after my mother’s death, I had found he longer lived in Rome, but in Vienna. I put visiting Rome on a back burner. Certain Someone had also had had a longstanding desire to go to Rome as well. When Bobs good friend Renate , informed the family of a memorial/ommagio for Bob in September, we knew we had to go.

What can I say that hasn’t been said about Rome? It’s amazing, fabulous, and really makes a person feel small and mortal. Like an ancient woman, people still flock to her and find beauty, wisdom. Naturally with any tourist destination there is a side of cheesiness that can be avoided. You walk and realize the thousands of years that have passed, and those who stood in the very spot. For a lover of history and art it’s a dream come true, but overwhelming at times. One would need many visits to get a handle of Rome.The old mixes with the modern way of life beautifully and amusingly. Its a common site to see a pack of “suits” on mopeds ,with cigarettes, at a traffic stop as they commute through the city for work. Luckily I had a full agenda with a little time for site seeing thrown in. I finally got to meet NYC Caribbean Raggaza for an upcoming interview, see old friends of my uncle Bob, meet new ones and family I hadn’t met before. I even got to meet the leading figures of Italian modern dance. The Ommagio was wonderful with students and colleagues of Bob, and their students giving outstanding performances in Afro dance, which my uncle brought to Rome decades before.

Certain Someone and I took full advantage of our time and made it count. Acting like unashamed tourists, we got on a 48 hour hop on , hop off bus tour to get acclimated to the city and really assess what we wanted to explore future. Rome is pretty compact and once we found our way, it was nothing to walk back to hotel while taking it all in.Who measures time and distance amongst such beauty? While not openly very religious, I loved seeing Certain Someone’s reaction and captivation in the Vatican. St. Peters leaves one breathless.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. I think our favorite church was an unassuming from the outside ,Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri, which we discovered in our final few hours in the city. It was one of the elderly Michelangelo’s last projects which incorporates modern day works of art within.

As this is food blog, I would be remiss not discuss the food. Oddly , while he food was good, we weren’t overwhelmed. Armed with suggestions from the high to low end, we just didn’t have that food revelation moment. The best bites were off the cuff while sampling salamis and other pork products in a shop , an odd pizza, and a few scoops of gelato here and there. One of the best, but overpriced dinners was on the Via Veneto at a place called the Café de Paris, ironically. I liked the place for the outstanding service (after dismal service at some other locations), excellent presentation, and the historical fact that La Dolce Vita was filmed on that very spot. It seems to had a notorious reputation until recently.Don’t let the fact that the menu was in Italian, English and Russian, and the cheesy guys racing their white Ferrari’s up and down the Via Veneto put you off. The food really stood up to my critical palate. I regret I didn’t get to dine on the famed Roman Jewish cuisine. We went to the traditional tratorria’s, to more high end restaurants, and a few tourist traps out of hunger and convenience in between. Feeling odd about my Rome dining experience, I asked friends why I was underwhelmed. The response was that while Roman food was good, it’s not the destination for great Italian food like Florence, or Tuscany. Having talked about my views with others, they voiced the same opinion. So I wasn’t to off in my views but I feel weird voicing it.

One question that baffled Certain and I was why most of the public toilets we encountered in Rome were seat less. I hadn’t seen this in any other place I traveled, and neither had he( we travel a lot). I found my answer here.

A week is Rome isn’t enough. I really need to come back and explore and eat more. Like a smart wise woman, Rome doesn’t reveal all she has on the first date.

Shrimp Risotto

I made this recipe for shrimp risotto a few months ago when Fava Beans were full on in season. If you made it today I suggest perhaps substituting fresh shucked peas or maybe even fresh garbanzos . I see the fresh garbanzos in the local Latin markets all the time. If one were to tabulate the top all time carb loaded comfort foods, risotto would be right up there. The beauty of Risotto is that’s a vessel for all sorts of protein and ingredients. The possibilities are endless. With fall approaching imagine the butternut squash risottos coming along. One of my favorite risottos is one made with Barolo wine with shavings of cheese. I must make that for the blog one day. I’m getting into an Italian frame of mind as Certain Someone and I are leaving for Rome  next month. I’m literally counting the days and hours. Aside from a sleepy border town on my way driving to Lugano, I have never really been to to Italy.

A proper Risotto, which is actually Northern Italian in origin, requires a semi soft grained rice like Arborio, Carnaroli, or less common Vialone. These rice varieties are high in starch content and more glutenous. For this Risotto I used Carnaroli, which is pricier than Arborio, but preferred for risotto. The grains cooks soft , yet retain their shape and firmness throughout the process.The key to Risotto is to slowly simmer your rice and ingredients while slowly adding small batches of liquid stock, while constantly stirring.The effort yields a rich, creamy and satisfying dish. Yet its not complicated at all. I like to use leftover risotto to make a breaded fried rice ball called Arancini. Imagine a dinner al fresco with some cold crisp Prosecco to wash it all down with.


Shrimp Risotto

  • 2 1/4 cups Carnaroli  rice
  • 3-4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cups fish or vegetable stock *I made my own from leftover fish bones and heads after filleting.
  • 1 lb fresh , deveined, shelled shrimp  coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cups broccoli florets
  • 1/4 cup shelled Fava beans or peas
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • White Pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  1. In a skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium high heat until melted.
  2. Add minced garlic and soften.
  3. Add Carnaroli rice and heat for a few minutes to allow the flavors of the garlic and oils to coat to the grains. Stir while cooking.
  4. Add salt, pepper,thyme.
  5. Add about 3/4 cup of the stock as it slowly simmers while stirring. The rice will absorb the liquid.
  6. Add the raw shrimp that has been chopped coarsely, broccoli, and shelled fava beans or peas. Stir into rice mixture and add another cup of fish stock.
  7. Continue to add the remaining liquid slowly , as the rice absorbs the liquid as you stir constantly.
  8. The shrimp will lose its opaqueness and turn pink as the rice cooks slowly and takes in the liquid.
  9. Serve hot with grated Parmesan cheese


Giardiniera. It’s a Chicago Thing.

I have a co worker who is a self described Giardiniera addict. We could go on and on about it. She’s one of the few kindred spirit’s I have found, that derives pure pleasure in salty acidic relishes. What is Giardiniera you ask? Well prior to coming to Chicago over ten years ago, I had never heard of it. I would get my heat and acid kick from the East Coats versions of crushed peppers on my submarines and cheese steaks, etc.

So naturally with the Mid West’s summer bounty upon us, and my refrigerator running over with heads of organic cauliflower, peppers, celery,carrots and such, it was time to attempt some Giardiniera. For my first attempt it was pretty good. The co-worker expert said it was Freaking Good’“and wanted some more. The beauty of this recipe, is that you use whatever you have laying around. If  you like your Giardiniera mild, add sweet peppers only. If you like some heat and spice go crazy with the Serrano’s and Jalapenos.After all Giardiniera means “Woman Gardener” in Italian.

To Process or Not?

I went ahead and processed mine in a water batch or my dishwasher method, as I was taught  last year). There is some traditional debate on whether this is safe or not (dishwasher method).If you  do a traditional water bath (the safest method), only do so for minimal time (like 3-5 minutes). At first I thought they didn’t seal, but they did the next day. The veg was still nice and crunchy. I still kept all my jars in the fridge to be safe, rather than sorry, and I’m just about out. If you don’t process, consume within 2-3 weeks and store in the refrigerator.



Makes 5-6 pint sizes

Total time 4 days to process

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 bunch celery
  • 4-5 large carrots
  • 2-3 Red or hued sweet peppers
  • 4 Jalapenos or more or less to taste. Not seeded!
  • 4 Serrano’s . Not seeded!
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon dried minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon Italian Herbs mix (dried oregano, basil, etc)
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup Kosher Salt
  • 1 part Vegetable or Canola oil (to cover)
  • 1 part White Vinegar (to cover)


  1. Sterilized jars, and lids. 1 pint size
  2. Clean and chop all your vegetables.Be sure to leave seeds from the heat peppers (Jalapenos and Serrano’s). In a non reactive container with lid, our salt  on vegetables and cover with cold water. Cover and store 24 hours in the refrigerator.
  3. Drain salt water. At this point you may rinse if you find the veg salty. I  like salt, so didn’t. It was just fine. In another container mix your 1 part Vinegar to 1 part Oil with the remaining spices. Mix well and make sure its combined or emulsified.
  4. Sterilize Jars and Lids. Pack the vegetables into clean sterilized jars and cover with the oil /vinegar mixture. Seal and either process in a water bath, or store in the refrigerator.
  5. If you process, let rest after process for 12 hour until sealed. If not sealed, follow instructions from jar manufacturer to reprocess, or store immediately in the refrigerator to consume within 2-3 weeks.
  6. Either way , once complete let, the jars rest for at least 2 days until consuming to allow the flavors to merge.


Suggested Uses:

  • Chicago Beef Sandwich
  • Relish Trays
  • Antipasto  trays
  • Pasta Salads
  • Submarines
  • Pizzas
  • Accompaniment to Charcuterie
  • Or just plain out the Jar