Dog Days of Summer

It’s June 30, 2012, and yesterday here in Atlanta the temperature broke 106º. It was so hot, the weather forecasters warned anyone with respiratory issues, all seniors and small children to stay inside with air-conditioning.

So begins the dog days of summer.

I remember as a kid living in Brooklyn during the hot summer months; the tar in the streets would become so soft, we were able to scoop enough of it up to fill our bottle caps to make shooters to play skelly.

What is skelly you ask? Simply a game where you draw a game-board with chalk on the street and go through a series of boxes to the center box, all the time trying to keep your opponent from beating you. You would use your fingers to shoot your bottle cap in the correct order through a series of boxes. Each time an opponent came too close, you would try to knock them out of the game.

We’d spend hours in the hot sun playing this game, handball, kickball, stickball, stoopball, hide-and-seek, Johnny on the pony and other city games. Back then when we were kids, the heat didn’t bother us as it does now that we’re adults. I guess having fun outweighed everything.

It’s days like this when it’s so hot, the only thing that will cool you down is a nice cup of lemon Italian ices. For my money, the best Italian ices were from Alba’s on 18th Avenue in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn and Ralph’s on Staten Island.

My sister-in-law Carol lived off of 18th Avenue; she may still be there. When we lived on Staten Island, we’d drive across the Verrazano Bridge to bring my mother-in-law to visit Carol and we’d stop at Alba’s to get Italian pastry and ices. I especially loved their strawberry ices because there were chunks of fresh strawberries in it. Alba’s made everything from scratch with the freshest ingredients.

When not venturing over to Brooklyn, we’d go to the original Ralph’s Italian Ices, which was across the street from my favorite pizzeria on Staten Island, Denino’s. We would take my sons to Denino’s for pizza, and when we were finished, we’d walk across the street and stand on the longest line you could imagine just for a cup of the best lemon-flavored Italian ices ever! Joe and Andrew liked chocolate, but to me the lemon ices were the most refreshing.

Ahhh, the memories!

So, to cool you down, I offer you a quick and easy lemon Italian ices recipe. Enjoy

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup of sugar
3 cups of water
3/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Zest from a lemon

PROCEDURE:

In a saucepot, bring the water to a boil.
Slowly stir in the sugar to dissolve.
Remove the pot from the stove.
Add the lemon juice and zest.
Stir to ensure all is mixed well.

Transfer the mixture to a square metal cake pan and place in the freezer.

After an hour, take the pan out of the freezer and with a fork, scrape the mixture from the center to the outer part of the pan.

Place it back in the freezer and then take it out again in another hour to repeat the scraping process.

Make sure the mixture has a more powdery texture; you don’t want it to become a block of lemon-ice.

It should be ready to enjoy after 2 1/2 hours.

I think I’ll go make it now!

Chocolate Ravioli

I know I’ve been absent for a while. Life got the best of me. I’ll do my best not to let that happen again.

A few weeks ago, my mom was in Florida and was staying at my Uncle Tom and Aunt Fran’s house. I spent Memorial Day weekend there, and while we were at the dinner table the conversation centered around Nana’s cooking  and then it suddenly turned to Nana’s chocolate ravioli.

You read right; Nana used to make chocolate ravioli. This was one of her go to dessert recipes.

Mother and Uncle Tommy were trying to remember the recipe and bantered back and forth about whether or not she filled them with just chocolate. I searched for chocolate ravioli recipes on the web, and found more variations than you can shake a stick at!

After talking to Aunt Liz and Uncle Steve on the phone, the general consensus was that she filled them with semi-sweet chocolate. Aunt Liz insisted that she added chestnuts and a little honey. As a matter of fact; I caught hell for not including chestnuts and honey in the below recipe.

I love roasted chestnuts, but not mixed with my chocolate! A little Nutella, yes!

At any rate, everyone agreed that they wish they’d written her recipes down, and I couldn’t agree more. Although I helped Nana with her cooking during the holidays, I didn’t write them down either. A lot of her recipes are in my head, and with this blog, it not only serves to share remembrances of her and my family, but also forces me to recall her recipes and put them to paper. In this way, others can try her recipes and keep them and her spirit alive.

I’m sure this chocolate ravioli recipe would be delicious regardless of what other ingredients you add to the chocolate filling. Some filling options include Nutella, mashed banana or raspberry preserves. Again, Nana added chestnuts and a little honey to the chocolate.  The possibilities are endless, but for this recipe, I’m sticking to just plain chocolate.

And now; Chocolate Ravioli!

Ingredients:

For the Dough:
1 cup of flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon of olive oil
Pinch of salt

For the Filling:
1/2 cup of heavy cream
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

Other ingredients:
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Vegetable oil (or canola) for frying the ravioli

Assembly:

Making the Dough:
Place flour on flour board (or on counter) and make a well in the center
In the center of the well, add beaten eggs, oil and salt
Slowly pull flour into the center until all of the dough is mixed
Knead until dough is elastic
Cover with a linen towel and let it rest for about half-an-hour

While the dough is resting, it’s time to make the filling

Place the chocolate chips into a large mixing bowl

Heat the heavy cream in a saucepan over medium heat

Slowly add the heated cream and stir until all of the chocolate is melted

Set aside to cool and firm up – you can also place the bowl in the freezer for about 10-15 minutes

Now, it’s time to roll out the dough to for the chocolate ravioli

Roll dough with a rolling-pin to about 1/8” thickness
Spoon a tablespoon of the chocolate mixture on the dough, spacing about five inches apart
Fold dough over to cover the chocolate
With a small glass, cut the ravioli

* You can use a pastry wheel and make square ones

Using a fork, press down around the edges to seal

Let rest a few minutes

Heat vegetable oil in a large pot

Drop a few ravioli in the hot oil and fry until golden brown

Let cool and drain on a wire rack

Once cool, dust with confectioner’s sugar

* You can also try baking the ravioli on a baking sheet in a 350-375º oven (you’d have to give the dough a little egg wash) for about 10-15 minutes

** Another option is to add melted chocolate to the dough mixture for double the chocolate pleasure!