Wednesday, September 24, 2014

"Under The Tuscan Gun" Pop-Up Dinner

Have you ever attended a pop-up dinner? If you're not familiar with them, it's kind of like a supper club, where an up-and-coming chef cooks for a small group in a home, or in an underutilized restaurant space. This one was held in a small cafe in Brooklyn, not far from Prospect Park, with twinkling lights greeting us as we arrived. We ate simple, but delicious food, from start to finish, including these mascarpone and amaretti cups (recipe at the end of the post).

 And who was the chef, you might ask?

Recognize this handsome fellow? It's Gabriele Corcos, otherwise known as "The Tuscan Gun" on social media and as the co-star of a show on the Cooking Channel called "Extra Virgin."

 He's also married to this lovely woman - Debi Mazar - co-star of "Extra Virgin." You may remember her from her role in the movie "Goodfellas" or from the HBO series "Entourage." She, along with Giulia, one of their two adorable daughters, stopped by to greet the diners and drop off some food for Gabriele, (so he doesn't have to eat the same thing for all 10 nights that the pop-ups were held).

If you've ever seen "Extra Virgin," one of the things I enjoy most about the show, (aside from the recipes and the scenery in Tuscany) is watching the close bond between all members of the family. You couldn't miss it at last week's dinner either.  No qualms about PDA here (public display of affection). 

 OK, so on to the food - and drink - starting with a favorite of mine - aperol spritz.

Next came a plate with three different appetizers - one more delicious than the next: pecorino cheese drizzled with honey and red pepper flakes; white bean and pancetta bruschetta, and beef tartare served on a grilled lemon slice. Never having eaten raw beef, I was skeptical but gulped down the bite-size portion in one shot. Wow, the tartness of the lemon complimented the hand-chopped filet so perfectly. If it always tastes this good, I wonder what took me so long. I'm now a convert to beef tartare.

Lentil soup has long been a favorite of mine, and Gabriele's version did not disappoint, with pancetta and parmesan rinds added for flavor. 

 Gabriele came out before each course to give a little background and explain what we were eating. Here he is readying one of the pasta courses (yes, there was more than one). Can you tell he's happy in the kitchen?

This pasta was dressed with a "finto" or "fake" sauce, originating with farmers who wanted the full body and flavor of a red sauce, but who couldn't afford the meat. It was laden with chunks of carrot, onion and celery and red wine added color and depth.

 Next came pasta alla gricia, one of my favorites whenever I'm in Rome. It's made with guanciale, from the cheeks of the pig, and was tossed with pecorino cheese and sage leaves. 

Porchetta, imbued with the flavors of rosemary, garlic and fennel seeds, was the star of the main course, but the side dishes held their own too - grilled endive with gorgonzola and peperonata with potatoes.

 A refreshing salad of arugula, fennel, olives and orange slices provided a light finish.

The vibe was fun and lively, and with about 20 people present, it was intimate enough to converse with nearly everyone, but not so crowded that it became too noisy. 

 Gabriele was so friendly and gabbed with everyone.

Including me.

His sous-chef Anthony Michael Contrino did a fabulous job on everything from drinks to dessert.

Actually, the entire staff was friendly and helpful to a person and made the evening run effortlessly (or so it seemed to us diners.)

Everyone at our table was practically moaning over the dessert - mascarpone and amaretti cups - and we finished up with digestivi shots of limoncello and Averna. 

After hearing that all the recipes from the dinner were in Debi and Gabriele's cookbook "Extra Virgin,"    I had to buy a copy and prepared what will be served for dessert tonight when friends stop by for dinner.

For all you folks in the New York City area, Gabriele is planning another series of pop-up dinners in Brooklyn in October. The best way to find out details is to follow "Under The Tuscan Gun" on social media, like Facebook or Instagram. Don't miss it!   

Mascarpone and Amaretti Cups

From the cookbook "Extra Virgin" by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar


  • 3 eggs, separated

  • 2 ounces sugar

  • One 8-ounce container mascarpone

  • Salt

  • 1 1/2 cups roughly crumbled amaretti cookies

  • 1 shot brandy

  • Cocoa powder

  • Shaved dark chocolate, for garnish

  • Fresh seasonal berries, for garnish

  • Fresh mint, for garnish


Mix the egg yolks with half the sugar until you obtain a creamy light mixture. (I had only supermarket eggs, not farm fresh, so I cooked the egg yolks and sugar on top of a double boiler, whisking until they got thick.- Ciao Chow Linda) Work the mascarpone in a separate bowl using a wooden spoon, making sure you eliminate any lumps, then add to the eggs and continue to mix well. 

In another bowl, mix the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the remaining sugar until they reach a somewhat firm peak, and then fold them into the mascarpone. 

Add the cookies to a medium bowl and stir in the brandy (just until moistened, you don't want them soggy). Add a dash of cocoa powder. Divide the cookie crumbles into the bottom of 6 glasses. 

Add the mascarpone cream to a pastry bag and pipe the cream into each glass. Top with a sprinkle of cocoa powder and shaved dark chocolate. Garnish with a few berries and a sprig of mint. 

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Peach and Blueberry Crostatas

Keep your strawberries, your apples, your kiwi, your plums. If I had to choose only one fruit to eat for the rest of my life, it would be peaches -- fresh summer peaches from a local orchard. Peaches that are juicy, fragrant and oozing with sweetness. The trouble is, that goodness is available for only a short time longer here in the Northeast U.S. So I'm taking full advantage of the rest of the season and eating them every chance I can get in any form I can get -  stuffed and grilled, poached in a sugar syrup,  or as ice cream or sorbet. Peach pie is also a favorite, but these individual crostatas are a lot easier to make and taste even better. There's no worry about soggy crusts or gloppy, thick filling from too much flour or cornstarch. The filling is nothing more than peaches and brown sugar. Purists, feel free to eliminate the blueberries and load up on more peaches, if you like.

Roll out the dough until it's thin - not paper thin, but less than 1/4 inch thin. This recipe makes four individual crostatas (actually crostate is the plural, if you want your Italian lesson for the day).

Fill them with the blueberry and peach mixture and gather the edges toward the center. Brush with an egg wash.

Bake at 400 degrees on a low oven rack and after about 20 minutes, you'll have a gurgling fruity delight to serve. Don't worry if some blueberry or peach juices escape. If you're using a Silpat mat, you'll be able to easily wipe it off. Otherwise, place a sheet of parchment on your baking pan first.

Eat it warm or let it cool. Either way, it'll be hard to resist this dessert.

Bring on the peaches while they last!

Peach and Blueberry Crostata

(makes four)


1 cup flour

8 T. butter, cut into large pieces

2 T. sugar

1/2 t. salt

1/4 cup ice water

1 egg, beaten


3 medium size peaches, sliced

1 cup blueberries

1/4 cup brown sugar

Mix the flour, sugar, salt and butter in a food processor, until it resembles coarse sand. Add the ice water until it starts to hold together. Bring it out onto a board and roll into a ball. Flatten the ball, then cut into four pieces. Roll out each piece until it's very thin (less than 1/4 inch) and about eight inches in diameter. Mix the sliced peaches, blueberries and brown sugar and place on the center of the four pieces of pastry, on a parchment lined or Silpat-lined baking sheet. Bring the outer edges toward the center and brush with a little of the beaten egg. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until browned on the outside.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Quinoa

It's the end of summer, and my vegetable garden looks as tattered as a scarecrow's shirt, but it's still providing me with those end-of-the-season tomatoes. Some of them went into plastic bags whole (yes, whole!) and are stashed in the freezer, awaiting soups and stews I'll get to this fall and winter. If you've never tried it, it's simple. You can take out one or two from the plastic bag, run under cold water and the tomato will be simple to peel. Cut into chunks, or leave it whole, and toss into a recipe for some extra color and flavor. 

But before you stash all those late summer tomatoes into the freezer, give this recipe a try. 

Tomatoes stuffed with rice are a classic Roman dish, and my friend Frank has a great recipe for them, on his blog, Memorie Di Angelina.  This recipe however, uses quinoa instead of rice. 

Start out by slicing off the top of the tomato, then scooping out the interior. (Save that pulp and juice and strain it to use later.)

Mix the cooled quinoa and swiss chard (or spinach or kale if you prefer) with cheese and seasonings.

Stuff the tomatoes, and pour a little of the tomato water in the dish.

Sprinkle with a little more of the cheese and bake.

Baked Tomatoes Stuffed with Quinoa

printable recipe here

8 medium size tomatoes

1/2 cup quinoa

1 cup water

1 T. olive oil

1/4 cup onion, minced

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 heaping cup swiss chard (or spinach), roughly chopped

parsley, basil, minced

salt, pepper

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

1/2 cup asiago cheese

olive oil for drizzling

Scoop out the inside of the tomatoes and set aside in a colander, over a bowl. Press out the liquid, tossing aside the seeds and pulp (This part is optional, but I like to surround the tomatoes with the tomato water when I cook them.) Sprinkle some salt on the inside of the emptied-out tomatoes and turn them upside down over some paper towels to drain.

Cook the quinoa by adding it to the water and let it come to a boil.  Let it come to a simmer, cover and let it cook until the water is absorbed, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let it cool slightly. In the olive oil, sauté the onion until translucent, then add the garlic clove and swiss chard. Sauté until swiss chard is wilted. Add the seasonings. Mix the parmesan and asiago cheese together in a bowl, and set aside about 1/3 cup to sprinkle on the top when you put the tomatoes in the oven. Add the other 2/3 cup to the quinoa mixture.

Place the stuffed tomatoes in an ovenproof baking dish and top with the 1/3 cup cheese. Optional: Surround with 1/2 cup tomato water. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake at 425 degrees 1/2 hour or until top is browned. If it gets browned too quickly, lower the temperature to 400 degrees.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Cherry Tomato Crostata

Sometimes friends ask me if I really cook all the things I post on Ciao Chow Linda. Well, yes, I explain, and lots more too. Some of the things I cook turn out to be less than blog-worthy though, and that included a tomato ricotta tart I made a couple of weeks. It looked lovely, but the crust wasn't cooked all the way through, as you might be able to tell from the photo below:

  I tried again with the same crust, this time rolling the dough really thin, using a freeform, crostata shape instead of the removable bottom tart pan.  I decided to skip the ricotta cheese in favor of caramelized onions, gruyere and parmesan cheese. And I went with cherry tomatoes, since I still had so many ripening in the garden. (OK, I admit it, aside from the crust, this is an entirely different recipe from the first tomato tart.) The cherry tomato variety I've been growing - "black cherry" - has a darker hue and a sweeter taste than the bright red ones more commonly seen in the markets. But any cherry tomato variety will do for this recipe - even yellow ones. You can cut the tomatoes in half if you like, but this time around, I left them whole. 

Caramelized onions - one of my very favorite foods - are a key component of this dish - . I've always thought that the next time I put my house up for sale, I'd ignore that advice from realtors to infuse the house with the smell of freshly baked bread or chocolate chip cookies. Nope, for my money, you can lure prospective buyers better with the intoxicating aroma of onions sautéeing in olive oil or butter. Bake this crostata for the open house and you might be able to seal the deal. 

The crust is really special too - it's imbued with the goodness of parmesan cheese, fresh herbs and cracked black pepper. Roll it out thinly, then layer the cheeses and caramelized onions on top, leaving about two inches all the around the perimeter for crimping. 

Scatter some fresh herbs (in this case, oregano and thyme) and place the tomatoes on top. 

Bake at high heat (425 degrees) but keep an eye on it near the end, covering the edges of the pastry with aluminum foil if it looks like it might burn.

I served it as a main course, along with romano beans and fresh sweet corn. But this would work great as an appetizer too, cut into smaller pieces.

Cherry Tomato Crostata

printable recipe here


1 cup flour

1/4 cup cornmeal

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1 T. finely minced fresh herbs (thyme, oregano or sage)

1 t. salt

1/2 t. freshly cracked black pepper

1 stick cold butter

1 large egg yolk, beaten with 3 T. ice water

Place the flour, cornmeal, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and sage in a food processor and pulse until mixed well together. Add the butter in small pieces until the mixture looks like coarse sand. Add the egg yolk and water and mix it just enough until it starts to hold together. If it looks too dry, add more ice water as needed. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap in plastic, then place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. (It freezes really well too.)


1 large, sweet onion (about two cups sliced thinly)

1 T. olive oil

1 cup freshly grated gruyere cheese

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

2 dozen cherry tomatoes (more or less, depending on how big they are)

fresh thyme

fresh oregano

Cook the sliced onions in the olive oil - slowly - until they turn golden brown. This will take at least 1/2 hour, maybe 45 minutes. Let them cool slightly.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a thin round - about 1/8th inch thick and about 14 inches in diameter. If the dough is too thick, it won't cook all the way through.  Transfer to a large cookie sheet or baking dish.

Spread the cheeses onto the dough, excluding about two inches all around the circumference. Place the caramelized onions over the cheese, then scatter bits of the fresh thyme and fresh oregano over that. Top with the cherry tomatoes, then bring the edges toward the center and crimp together as you go. Bake in a preheated oven at 425 degrees for 1/2 hour. If crust gets brown too quickly, lower the heat to 400, and cover the edges with strips of aluminum foil.

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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lobster Corn Chowder

I know what you're thinking -- Who needs a bowl of chowder laden with calorie-heavy cream? Well, you do, that's who, once you taste it. When you consider that the entire recipe's got only a half-pint of cream (832 calories) and it serves at least eight people, it's really not so bad. The only problem is that the chowder is so good, you'll want more than one serving. Still, add a green salad to feel virtuous and it's ok to eat two bowls if it's your entire meal.   

Are you convinced?  Then get ready, get set, and get two lobsters. Cook them yourself or ask your fish market to do it for you (undercook them because they'll cook more in the chowder).

Once they're cool, remove all the lobster meat - hold the shells aside for the broth.

Next, you need to shuck six ears of corn and remove all the kernels from the cobs, using a sharp knife. Please make this recipe now while fresh corn is still so sweet and delicious.

Then throw the cobs and the lobster shells into a pot of boiling water and let it perk away for 1/2 hour to an hour.

While that's happening, sauté the veggies in some olive oil.

Follow the directions below and you'll end up with this creamy chowder redolent of all things wickedly wonderful. Assuming you're not serving it to vegetarians or lactose intolerant folks, get ready to attain "most favored status" in your household.

And if what you're looking for is a halo above your head, top each serving with a beautiful, meaty lobster claw.

Lobster Corn Chowder

makes about eight servings 

Two lobsters (1 to 1/2 lbs. each)

8 cups water

6 ears corn

1 large or 2 small leeks, chopped finely

1 T. olive oil

1/2 large red pepper, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1 cup white wine

2 cups cubed potatoes (I used small fingerling potatoes)

1/2 pt. heavy cream

fresh thyme, parsley, chives

1/4 t. paprika

salt, pepper

Boil or steam the lobsters, or have them cooked for you at your fish market. Undercook them by five minutes (or ask the fish market people to undercook them because they'll also get cooked again in the chowder.) Let the lobsters cool until you can handle them, then remove all the meat from the shells. Cut the lobster meat into bite size chunks, keeping some of the claw meat intact to lavish on a favored bowl of soup for a special someone, if desired (that could be YOU!).

Shuck the ears of corn and set aside. Take the corn cobs and the lobster shells and put into a pot of boiling water. Let it boil at a high heat for at least 1/2 hour, preferably an hour. Strain the liquid from the solids. You should be left with about six cups of liquid, but it could be more, or it could be less, depending on how vigorous the boil was. You'll want at least four cups, so if you've got less than that, add more water and let it boil a bit more. If you have too much water, let it boil a bit more to reduce- you get the idea.

In another pot, place the olive oil, the leeks, red pepper and celery. Let them sweat until limp and cooked through.  Add the white wine and let it come to a boil, then lower to a simmer for a few minutes. Add about four cups of the cooked lobster/corn broth to the pot with the sweated vegetables. Add the cubed potatoes and cook until almost softened, maybe another 10 minutes or so. Add the corn, the seasonings and taste. Pour in the cream and simmer for a couple of minutes more, then remove about two or three ladles-full (about 1 cup or so) of the chowder and place in a blender to pureé. You'll use this to help thicken the chowder. Pour the pureéd chowder back into the larger pot, then finally, add the lobster meat. Cook for only a couple more minutes, taste seasonings and adjust if necessary.

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