Every year, we host a Halloween party for our younger cousins. Some of them are getting too old to dress up, but no one is too old for crafts (not even their parents). So, this year we turned the backyard into a pumpkin patch and painted (and glittered) to our heart’s delight. We were a mess, but it was so much fun no one cared. It didn’t hurt that Zio Pasquale (my papa’) was teaching the kids how to make wine and giving out cups of grape juice (really, it was grape juice and not yet wine). Some of the kids found it too sweet. Others loved it. Combine the juice with the many, many cupcakes in which we indulged and you get one big sugar high. We used all that energy for creating magnificent works of art. You can see all the pumpkins and the artists (and even the wine making) by visiting the “Pumpkin Painting Party” photo album. Happy Halloween!
My cousin Greg married Renee over the weekend, and it was a great excuse for my mom’s side of the family to get together. (Send your well wishes to the newlyweds, see their photo, and check out my blog on how marriage means maturity on the About.com Newlyweds site.) Most of us live in the New York metropolitan area, but we had to travel to Michigan for the wedding. It was quite a journey. Some people, including my eighty-something grandparents and my Godson Nicholas (above at a Grand Rapids, Mich. restaurant with me), were very courageous and traveled all together in an RV. It takes 16 hours to get to Michigan from New York, and they spent all that quality time…together…in a camper. And my grandfather Rocco insisted on bringing broccoli rabe. Imagine the farts that flew in those cramped quarters.
I refused to take that route for the obvious reasons. I opted to travel by plane to Chicago with my mom Regina and sister Rosaria. After a stop in Chicago, where we walked passed the Sears Tower (because it’s not called that anymore) and had to go back and inhaled some good grub, we took to the road. We drove what was supposed to be four hours to Grand Rapids, Mich. A wrong turn and disfunctional GPS had us take six hours. But we laughed all the way. It set the tone for wedding weekend.
While the weekend included smelly feet, a need for an enema, and incessant text messaging (when we were right next to each other), there was also playing peek-a-boo with the babies, kisses for Uncle Gino, and Chicago-style, stuffed, deep-dish pizza. What more could a nice Italian girl want? To see what I’m talking about, visit the “Greg & Renee’s Wedding” and “Portraits – Greg’s Wedding” photo albums.
Back in September my husband surprised me by taking me to sample the tasting menu at Il Mosaico, the restaurant at the five-star Manzi hotel in Ischia, Italy, the island off the coast of Naples that is the home of my husband and my ancestors. With two Michelin stars, Il Mosaico offers nouvelle cuisine at its best. Chef Nino Di Costanzo is a true artist who makes dishes that are as beautiful to the eye as they are delicious. I loved the food and the experience so much that I’ve gone on a writing frenzy about the chef’s table; I wrote a blog for the About.com Newlyweds site about how couples could splurge on tasting menus for date night or anniversary celebrations and an article that will appear both on the ItaliansRus Web site and in an upcoming issue of the La Voce newspaper, which is dedicated to Italian Americans in Las Vegas. For more Manzi madness, and my own personal photos from the night at Il Mosaico, visit the “Dinner at Manzi” photo album.
Gnocchi, pasta made with potatoes, has always been a friend of mine. Gnocchi, the best of it anyway, melts in your mouth and serves as the perfect carrier of sauce. My favorite sauces are brown butter with sage (which goes nicely with the potatoes in the gnocchi) or tomato sauce with mozzarella, which is also known as “alla Sorrentina.” Gnocchi and I are BFFs who go back a long way, but it wasn’t always a simple relationship.
I was frustrated with gnocchi. It’s hard to make the potato pasta from scratch. The first and last time my mother tried her hand at gnocchi, she seemed to have done a great job. Then, she popped her delicate gnocchi into the pot of boiling water and they would simply disappear. It was magic. Actually, she probably just didn’t use enough flour, which does make the gnocchi heavier. She had good intentions. But the trick is to get a feel for the gnocchi. After lots of practice, you start to realize just how much flour you need to keep the gnocchi light but also keep them in one piece. Ever since my mom’s gnocchi blunder, we always keep a box of pasta nearby in case our gnocchi doesn’t make it.
Making gnocchi is a wonderful distraction and probably even reduces stress (once you get past the practice stage that is). One Sunday morning recently, I set out to make gnocchi. (To view photos, visit the “Gnocchi alla Sorrentina” photo album.) I’ve gotten pretty good at it over the years. I use instructions and the recipe from Lidia Bastianich. To make them alla Sorrentina, I used my own recipe. I basically made a marinara sauce (minus the onions), boiled the gnocchi, put the gnocchi in individual baking dishes, smothered it in mozzarella and put it in the oven until the cheese was melted, bubbling, and slightly brown.
My next goal: To try Bastianich’s recipe for butternut squash gnocchi, which appeared in a recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine. My mouth is already watering.
Please share your recipes with my readers at the About.com Newlyweds’ Recipe Exchange. I can’t wait to see them!