Ambrosia Salad

Summertime is a great time for backyard barbecuing, and enjoying summer fruit and light salads.

During the summertime, my aunt Liz made ambrosia salad whenever they’d barbecue in the backyard. It was a hit, because it was sweet and refreshing – even Nana liked it!

Nana didn’t use condiments, no ketchup on her burger; no mustard or relish either. And, God-forbid you offered her mayonnaise! She didn’t like sour cream; and even though she’d not tasted any of those condiments, her attitude was that she wasn’t going to start because it was all junk. She may have had a very valid point!

One thing she did enjoy, was Valarie’s string-bean casserole. For the longest time, she ate and it until she overheard Val telling someone what was in it (sour cream)-then it was “no thank you” from that point on!

Nana did like Aunt Liz’ Ambrosia salad – she didn’t know that there was heavy cream and sour cream in it – I think she thought it was just milk.

Anyway, here’s a nice, refreshing Ambrosia salad for those nice, hot summer evenings.


  • ½ – 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 3 cups mini marshmallows
  • 5-6 clementines (or mandarin oranges if clementines aren’t available)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh pineapple (or from the can if you can’t get fresh) (I reserved some of the juice and added it in)
  • 1 cup grated coconut
  • 1/2 cup grapes (red, white or a combination of the two)
  • 1 cup toasted, chopped pecans (or walnuts)
  • 1/2 cup drained and rinsed maraschino cherries


  • Place the cream into a large mixing bowl and whip until you get still peaks (if you have a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, all the better)
  • Fold in the sour cream and combine until well mixed.
    • Add the marshmallows, orange, pineapple, pecans (or walnuts) and stir to combine.
    • Fold in the cherries and coconut – mix well.
    • Transfer to a glass or ceramic serving bowl, cover and place in the refrigerator for 2 hours before serving.



Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipe

It’s that time again – Thanksgiving. Time to start shopping for all of the great food you’re going to over-eat. Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce or relish, sweet potatoes, salad, cake, cookies, pastries; the list goes on and on.

In our family, Thanksgiving was an all-day affair. When we lived in Brooklyn and then in Brentwood, NY, we’d all gather at Nana’s at 12:00 in the afternoon; and we wouldn’t leave the table until nearly 8:00 that night. Usually, Uncle Tommy was the first to push himself away from the table to get himself, aunt Fran and my cousins ready to go back to his house.

Anyway, we’d sit at the table at 12:00 or 1:00 pm and start with the antipasti. That included all of the traditional Italian cold cuts, sausage with mushrooms, caponata, olives, bread, etc. Next came the pasta with sauce, meatballs, sausage, braccioli, bread, etc.

After the pasta, we’d take a 30 minute intermission so uncle Tommy could carve the turkey and all of the women could start dishing out the rest of the food for the table. This main course usually had turkey, baked white and sweet potatoes, 2 bowls of vegetables, stuffing, salad and anything else Nana made that day.

After the main course, Nana brought out the fruit and nuts. After the fruit and nuts, out came the dessert with regular coffee and espresso. And, let’s not forget the vino!

Sometimes it seemed like the feast was never going to end.

The entire day consisted of the entire family at the dinner table talking, laughing and eating.

Nana’s stuffing was the best stuffing I’d ever had. Unfortunately, I never got her recipe, but I do have a stuffing recipe that I’ve used that has never let me down.

Preheat oer to 350 degrees

2 cups finely chopped celery
1 small finely chopped onion
4 cups herb-seasoned stuffing croutons
3 cups cubed cornbread (trust me-it’s good!)
2 tsp. sage
2 tsp poultry seasoning
3 eggs – beaten
1 large container (14-16 oz) chicken broth (I use low-sodium)
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup melted butter (I use unsalted)

Saute celery and onion in the butter until tender
In a large mixing bowl, combine herb-seasoned stuffing croutons, sage, onion and celery
Next, pour the beaten eggs and chicken broth (a little at a time) over the mixture.
Now, add the cornbread and gently fold it in, making sure all of it is moist (you may need to add more broth)

Pour mixture into a 9×13 greased pan (I usually do it with butter)
*NOTE: You can also use two 8×8 pans and bake them for 25-35 minutes
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes

Happy Thanksgiving!

Spaghetti with Mixed Vegetables

I mentioned before that my beloved brother Jeffrey was a vegetarian. From the time he was born, he shunned meat. One of his best recipes was his spaghetti with mixed vegetables. Whenever I used to take my boys to visit him in Manhattan, you can bet if he was cooking, it was going to be either pasta with marinara sauce, or vegetables added to make it even more hearty. In honor of his 61st earth day and 5th angel day (August 30), here’s Jeffrey’s Spaghetti with mixed Vegetables. Enjoy


6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 can of tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup of white wine
2 tablespoons Italian Blend Seasoning
2 zucchini, peeled and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup frozen peas 
1 cup frozen string beans
1 eggplant, peeled and chopped in small cubes

1 pound of spaghetti
fresh basil, coarsely chopped
grated Parmesan cheese to taste

In a large skillet, sauté garlic in oil till golden brown.
Add tomato paste, parsley, onion, salt, pepper, white wine and Italian Blend.
Stir well. Simmer a few minutes.

Lower heat and add zucchini, carrots, peas, string beans and eggplant.
Simmer over medium/low heat 15 to 20 minutes till all veggies are cooked.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and a little salt to the water. Cook spaghetti al dente. Drain.

In a large serving bowl, mix pasta and veggies. Sprinkle the top with chopped basil and grated Parmesan cheese.

Add warm Italian bread.

Serves 4 – 6

String Bean Salad for 4th of July

July 4th signifies an important day in American History – It’s known as Independence Day, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, PA and declaring independence from Great Britain.

I was recently asked if Independence Day is celebrated in Italy. The answer is NO. It IS an American Holiday.

That doesn’t mean that my family didn’t celebrate; we did. We ate hot dogs, hamburgers and potato salad; but we also ate sausage and peppers, pasta salad, string bean salad, followed by Italian pastries, such as cannoli and drank espresso.

Growing up in Brooklyn, NY was especially fun because of the different nationalities living on my block. As children, we had sparklers; our parents set off fireworks on the street, and we ran through the water from the fire hydrants. It was a happy and simpler time.

If you’re planning on having a barbecue this year, I’d like to suggest something Italian to add to your menu.

Italian String Bean Salad


1lb. fresh string beans – be sure to remove the ends.
2 cloves finely chopped fresh garlic
1/2 finally chopped small onion
1small can of pitted black olives
1 tbsp. fresh chopped basil
1 tbsp. oregano
Salt and pepper 
to taste
1/4-cup extra virgin olive oil

1/2-cup balsamic vinegar

Pinch of sugar


Rinse fresh string beans to remove any dirt.
Fill a 10 qt. pot halfway with water and place a metal steamer in bottom of pan.
Layer string beans on the steamer.
Turn heat to a medium setting.
Steam until slightly crisp, and bright green in color (7-10 minutes).
Remove steamed string beans from pot and plunge into very cold water (5 minutes).


In a large bowl, add finely chopped garlic, onion, oil, vinegar, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and sugar and whisk vigorously.
Add string beans and mix together.
Add olives and mix again.
Place string bean salad in the refrigerator and let it cool about 30 minutes, taking it out to mix again before placing it back in the refrigerator for a final 30 minutes.
Be sure to mx it again when you take it out of the refrigerator to serve. 

* You can also substitute red wine or white wine vinegar for the balsamic.


Chicken Risotto for My Dad Who Hated Chicken

Today is June 6, 2014 – D-Day. It marks the 70th anniversary of the Allied Invasion on the beaches of Normandy, France; and a day that changed the course of World War II.

Today also marks what would have been my dad’s 86th birthday. It’s been more than 23 years since he died, and not a day goes by when I don’t think of him. What I remember most is his quiet ways; his laid-back, non-assuming personality; his amazing intellect and common sense.

My dad loved Italian food, and despised chicken. He’d go to great lengths to avoid eating it. The other day, my mother and I were reminiscing how he’d mutter under his breath his disdain for the bird while carving it.

When Daddy was going for his treatments for his throat cancer, he spent Monday through Thursday with Jeffrey. Jeffrey would accompany Daddy to his treatments and then they’d have lunch together. Since Jeffrey was a vegetarian, it was easy for them to avoid chicken at all costs. Thursday afternoons, I’d go to Manhattan where Jeffrey lived to pick up my dad and bring him back to New Jersey to my house.

He’d spend the weekends with me, playing with the boys, listening to his beloved classical music, reading his beloved New York Times and trying to avoid chicken.

One time, I made Chicken Risotto. I knew how much he didn’t want to eat it, but I also knew that if I prepared it in such a way as to mask its taste, he just may go for it. So I made sure to cut the chicken so small that it was completely blended, so that all he tasted was the rice and cheese. I’m happy to say that he enjoyed it and mentioned it to my mom when he talked to her on the phone.

And now, here’s the recipe in honor of my Daddy who hated chicken!

.    2 tbsp. olive oil

.    1/2 lb. mushrooms, cut into thin slices any kind

.    2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into cubes

.    5 cups low-sodium chicken broth

.    1/2 cup chopped onion

.    2 cups Arborio rice

.    1 cup grated Italian cheese (Locatelli, Parmesan)

.    3 tbsp. Italian seasoning

.    Salt & Pepper to taste

.    OPTIONAL: 1/4 cup white wine

In a large 12” skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent

Next, add mushrooms and cook until light brown

*You may need to add another tablespoon of olive oil at this point

In the same pan, add the Arborio rice and sauté until coated with oil.

Finally, add the chicken, and Italian seasoning; stirring until chicken is cooked

Now, add 2 cups of chicken broth and lower heat to simmer.

This is where it gets hairy!

You need to continue stirring this mixture to be sure the rice doesn’t stick and the broth doesn’t get absorbed too quickly.

Keep adding the stock, a little at a time; keeping the rice and chicken moist.

Once all of the broth has been added, turn the heat off and let it sit until all of the broth has been absorbed, continue stirring.

Once all of the broth has been absorbed, add the cheese and mix completely.

Add additional seasoning to your taste

  • Have additional grated cheese on the table for those of us who are cheese addicts.

Serve with warm Italian bread


Nana’s Easter Pie

As you know, growing up in an Italian household meant that all memories centered around family gatherings enjoying a meal. It didn’t have to be a holiday; Sunday dinner, someone’s birthday, even watching the game on TV was reason enough to be with the family and enjoy an abundance of good, homemade Italian food.

The Italian word for abundance is abbondanza. The Italian word for good food is buon cibo, and the Italian word for family is famiglia.  

Most importantly, the way to say an abundance of good food with the family is l’abbondanza di cibo con la famiglia. I want you to practice saying that.


Every year at Easter-time, Nana made her a-pizza! It was a delicious meat and cheese pie-kind of like an Italian version of quiche. Every year I’d help her make this Easter pie, and the smell of it baking would permeate throughout the house. It was so delicious, and rib-sticking; a meal unto itself.

Nana had a huge wood board; I think it was made by my grandfather for her to roll out her dough. She also had a old broom handle that she used instead of a rolling pin. Both the board and the broom handle developed a dark patina from decades of rolling out dough. Let me tell you, my grandmother was one strong woman! She could lift that board up onto the table without any help from my uncles, and when it came time to roll out the dough, no help needed. She even had strong hands; she’d squeeze my hand and put a hurting on me! 

When the holiday’s roll around, I think of Nana and miss her more than usual. Remembering her and all of the wonderful food she made, and all of the things she said and did brings a smile to my face. What a wonderful legacy she left for us!

This Easter pie is a delicious meal in itself, and I’m happy to share it with you.

* 1 lb. all purpose flour (Nana used Gold Medal)
* 2-3 eggs beaten (1 additional egg will be needed for the egg wash)
* 2 sticks of salted butter (Nana used Breakstone’s)-cut it into small pieces
* a little bit of milk may be needed for mixing the dough

Place a rack in the center of the oven and pre-heat to 350 degrees

* 1 lb. whole milk Ricotta
* 1 lb. fresh Mozzarella
* 2 additional eggs beaten
* 1/4 cup grated cheese (I mix Locatelli Romano with Parmigiano Reggiano)
* salt and pepper to taste

(Cut all meats into cubes)
* Ham
* Proscuitto
* Sopressato
* Sausage (cooked)
* (Optional: Pepperoni)

1. Pour flour onto your work surface and make a well in the center
2. Pour the beaten eggs into the center
3. Add the butter
4. Mix together until dough firms (here’s where you may need some milk to help with the mixing) Nana used her hands to mix and knead the dough – set aside
5. Mix together Ricotta, Mozzarella, grated cheese, beaten eggs, salt and pepper
6. Once the ricotta is blended, add all of the meats into it
7. Roll out the dough and place over a 9″ pie pan
8. Add cheese and meat mixture
9. Cut excess dough from around the edges of the pie pan
10. Roll out another bit of dough and place on top of mixture
11. Cut off excess dough and pinch sides together to seal
(Optional: cut dough into strips and place on top of mixture in a basket weave pattern)
12. Brush egg wash on top of crust

Bake in 350 degree oven for an hour
Let cool, slice and serve with a nice Italian salad
Store in the refrigerator – will probably keep for a week, unless your hungry family finishes it before then!

Easter pie