November 16, 2009

old school italian favorites

Lately, you could not pay me to eat sweets! I guess because I am baking so much now I almost never want to eat the stuff. This is probably a good thing. A sweet tooth has plagued me all my life, until now. I can totally leave it and I crave savory dishes full of flavor and texture.

So I've been cooking from a new Cook's Illustrated special edition called Italian Favorites. I would link to their website, but they just make you pay for looking at their recipes and that's annoying. You might as well subscribe to the magazine and have something to keep --or better yet, just buy one every once in a while when it looks appealing like I do.

I have a love-hate relationship with the magazine. I love the in-depth recipe testing and they always get everything right. But sometimes making a simple dinner from the magazine makes me feel like I'm doing research on a dissertation (all over again) and I need to read every single word of the two-page single-spaced essay. And that's no way to enjoy yourself in the kitchen.

But the Italian favorites issue is a keeper. My aunt, who is also an avid cook, came to visit me recently and then went on a wild goose chase looking for a back issue because she wanted to make everything in it. I called up the magazine and had it sent to her house. It really is a good one. Some of the 'Italian favorites' I've tried are the above 'Chicken Marsala'. I veered from tradition and made it with Cinzano instead of Marsala, but it was close enough and very good. I also made the Spaghetti Puttanesca, which I make all the time but this one was different. It added anchovies to the usual olives, capers and tomatoes which I thought worked well.

I also made the 'pork chops with vinegar and peppers' and it was surprisingly good. It, like all of the recipes in this issue, reminded me of things I ate in my childhood. My mom made pork chops just like that and the chicken Marsala was probably served in all of the old hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurants we ate in growing up in Las Vegas. There are recipes for Fettuccine Alfredo and Chicken Piccata, Penne alla Vodka and Shrimp Fra Diavolo. It doesn't get any more old-school Italian-American than that!

One dish I am definitely going to make as soon as I find the time is 'braciole': Italian stuffed steak --a Southern Italian classic. My aunt nearly lost it when she saw that. She told me stories of all the wonderful Italian dishes my grandmother (who died when I was 5) used to make when she was young and dating my mom's brother. She told me of nights when she would come to dinner and just watch her cook and then eat the most delicious things. We went through old boxes of my mom's and grandma's recipes while she was here, stopping after each one so she could tell me a story about how they made it.

old italian women (not my relatives) courtesy of

While I may not be able to re-create those family recipes exactly as they were, at least I can attempt some old Italian favorites in my own home and pretend that I was there. Thanks, Cook's Illustrated. You're not so bad after all.


  1. Joy, Please, PLEASE make the Braciole. I had it once, growing up in New York, one of the few efforts my non-italian not-so-good cook mom made really well---and sadly only one time!!!

  2. hey! i just saw the new food tv holiday best thing i ever ate-they had a sandwich at the Patterson in tenn. the elvis..looked very strange but strangely yummy! and a bacon wiskey with a big round ice cube- try it and let me know!

  3. Where is the recipe for the pork chops?

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  5. Sorry I have not responded everyone! Nancy, one day I *will* make the braciole and let you know how it turns out. Tiff, yes, I have had that sandwich and that drink! the patterson house is great. And Goldy, the pork chop recipe was from Cook's Ill. but I can give it to you if you send me an email so I have your address.

  6. Oh, what a wonderful adventure you are on! Last year, my husband and I hosted an Italian themed dinner at our home. After trying all kinds of fancy-ish dishes, we came to love (and serve) Sunday Gravy, braciole, and pasta for the main course. Oh my goodness was it marvelous beyond imagine! The Sunday Gravy has become a weekend staple for good reason. Enjoy!

  7. I am looking for an old italian roast recipe that had an oily shredded carrot sauce that was served with it. I've been looking for this recipe for forever and any help would be so appreciated.

  8. Hi- thanks for reading. I once made an
    Italian style pot roast that sounded similar to what you are describing. The recipe came from a Cook's Illustrated, though I can't remember which issue or year. Sorry! Try googling "Italian style pot roast"?