Thursday, January 13, 2005


I used to be married into a wonderful Italian family. My mother-in-law, Maria, was from a town in Abruzzo called Capestrano, among the Appennine mountains about 70 miles northeast of Rome. I left the marriage as friends with all, and my ex happily provided some of her mom's recipes.

The following two make a good combination for dinner, but we used to have the soup alone as a main dish. I often make the lasagna for company or parties, and it's always a winner. This past weekend I made a caesar style salad from Alton Brown's recipe, and it was a perfect accompaniment. I skipped the croutons as we had more than enough starches, so there was some puddling in the salad bowl, but nobody minded. I also found it needed more of the kosher salt than he calls for.

Minestrone recipe

2 carrots, sliced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can dark red kidney beans
1 large white potato, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 – 3 stewed tomatoes (optional)
2 handfuls, elbow macaroni

Put all ingredients except macaroni in a 5-quart pot. Add 3-4 quarts water, 2 tbsp. olive oil, salt, pepper and parsley (fresh if you have it) to taste. The less water added, the thicker the soup.

Bring to boil and simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Add macaroni, bring to boil, and continue boiling until the elbows are done. If possible, let it sit for 15 minuts before serving. It's great the next day too.

Maria's Abruzzese Lasagna recipe

2 lbs ricotta
1 lb mozzerella, grated (or buy already shredded)
1 cup grated romano or parmesan
4 large eggs
1 lb lasagna noodles
4 cups tomato sauce

Preheat oven to 375º

In a large bowl, mix the three cheeses and the eggs together well.

Cook the lasagna noodles (see notes).

In a 13" x 9" pan (preferably glass), spread a little sauce on the bottom, then cover with four noodles slighly overlapped. Divide the cheese mixture into fourths, with one "fourth" a little smaller than the others.

Spoon one quarter of the mixture onto the noodles and pour one quarter of the remaining sauce on top. Mix the sauce into the cheese with your fingers and spread evenly.

Add three more layers of noodles, cheese and sauce in the same way. Thus, on top you'll have the last, smaller portion of cheese with sauce. Make sure the top layer of noodles is well covered with the mixture. On some layers, you may need an extra piece of noodle across one short end of the pan to fully fill out the layer -- just make sure not to run out of noodles.

Place lasagna in the oven and a cookie sheet on a rack below the lasagna in case of spillover.

Bake for 45 minutes, and let rest for 30 minutes before serving. Serves 10.


I prefer whole milk ricotta and mozzerella, but you can use part-skim.

I do not care for "no-boil" noodles. The trick with regular noodles is not to overcook them -- boil until supple, about 6 minutes -- and then lay out in a single layer on cookie sheets to cool.

I've found this recipe works fine with very meaty sauces, and with marinara or chunky vegetarian sauces.

Leftovers taste great, and you can also freeze individual servings.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Coconut Shrimp

For a quiet New Year's Eve at home, I made this simple but exotic dish. The recipe comes from the Princess Kaiulani Hotel in Honolulu and appeared in a now out-of-print cookbook from Sheraton hotels.

Since we were having this as a main dish for four, I doubled the recipe. The large shrimp I bought were about 30 per pound. This is a fine size; you can go larger if you wish but I wouldn't go smaller.

I found that it takes much longer to prep the shrimp (even after peeling) than to fry them. Next time, I will do all the dredging and rolling before starting to fry. The shrimp fry very quickly. I used standard issue vegetable oil for frying. Getting the temperature just right so the shrimp brown nicely is important. I didn't use a thermometer, but heated the oil until nearly smoking and then adjusted up and down as I did the frying. I used a large cast iron pan with enough oil to just cover the shrimp, and fried batches of up to 10 shrimp. For the doubled recipe, I would definitely use two pans next time. One reason is just to get it done faster, but I also found the oil got rather funky by the last two batches and really should have been changed -- the earlier batches were crisper and more attractive.

Bella handled the cocktail sauce. The recipe calls for standard cocktail sauce with crushed pineapple added. She went for something more interesting. Using ketchup as the base, she added dollops or spoonfuls (sorry no measurements -- do it to taste and substitute at whim) of hoisin sauce, grapefruit marmalade, pineapple juice and horseradish.

The shrimp were accompanied by jasmati rice and a green salad. The doubled recipe provided generous main dish servings for four. A single recipe would make a great appetizer for 5-6.

Shrimp Ono Nui (Coconut Shrimp)
1 pound large (raw) shrimp, peeled
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
3 cups shredded coconut

Dredge shrimp in flour, then in eggs. Roll the shrimp through shredded coconut, covering them thoroughly.

Deep fry shrimp at about 375º until they are brown. Drain on paper towels, then arrange on a platter.

Serve with cocktail sauce to which crushed pineapple is added according to taste.