Category Archives: Random Things

New & Improved Majella Home Cooking Coming Soon….


Stunning, isn’t it?  If you follow this blog, then you might recognize this view of La Majella from my dad’s village of Salle in Abruzzo.  Over the past month, I’ve been working with a good friend and web designer, along with a talented graphic artist, on a new and improved Majella Home Cooking website.  This is the view from his “office” – yes, I’m jealous, but I also love the synergy.  I feel as if his inspiration is flowing from the very place from which mine is rooted.  The new site will feature improved recipe search capabilities, information about catering and special events and eventually, recommendations for my favorite places in Italy.  During the transition, the site will be offline for a few days so please be patient while we work to bring you a new and improved Majella Home Cooking.  Meanwhile, please continue to follow me on Facebook and Instagram.  A presto!  Michelle

National Pasta Month – Orecchiette

Handmade Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and anchovies

Handmade Orecchiette with broccoli rabe and anchovies

October is National Pasta Month and many would agree that pasta is Italy’s preeminent contribution to the culinary world.  Italian food scholar Oretta Zanini De Vita writes, “To me, this heritage is an Italian gift to gastronomic culture on a par with what the Florentine Renaissance gave to art.” (Professor De Vita also dispels the widely held belief that Marco Polo brought pasta to Italy. In fact, evidence of pasta exists in Sicily around 800 AD, nearly 500 years prior to Marco Polo’s return from China.)

Italy’s regional pasta tradition mirrors the peninsula’s socioeconomic history. The prosperous North is home to the delicate egg-rich “tajarin” of Piemonte and the rich meat-filled “tortellini” of Bologna while the struggling South nourished its peasants with “orecchiette” in Puglia and “sagne” in Abruzzo, made with only flour and water. While prosperous Northern Italians had the means to enjoy pasta as a “primo” between the appetizer and the meat or fish course, as a teenager, my father used to devour half a kilo of pasta for lunch every day because that’s all his family could afford. (I often wonder how many pounds of pasta I’ll need to cook for my own family when my three boys are teenagers.)


A humble dough made of only semolina (Durum wheat) and water

Years ago, my husband and I dined at the acclaimed and utterly fabulous Cibreo in Florence. Lauded for its creative spin on Tuscan cooking, the restaurant is also known for the chef’s intentional omission of pasta from the menu. Although we thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated our dining experience, we couldn’t help feeling as if something was missing among the elegant courses. After all, what is a truly great Italian meal without even a small dish of pasta?


Orecchiette con le Cime di Rapa

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

Fresh orecchiette – Puglia’s famous little ear-shaped pasta – have a toothsome texture and unique hybrid flavor between dried and fresh pasta (they’re made from semolina, water and salt – eggs, once considered a luxury, are not used in traditional pasta-making in Puglia).  The most classic condimento – and my personal favorite – is broccoli rabe (also known as rapini or cima di rapa in Italian), garlic and anchovies and topped with toasted breadcrumbs (cheese was another luxury for Southern Italian peasants).

Serves 6

For the orecchiette:

  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1½ teaspoons of sea salt
  • 2½ cups semolina flour (Durum wheat flour)
  • All-purpose flour for the work surface

For the condimento:

  • 2 lbs broccoli rabe, stems trimmed, and cut into 2-inch pieces (leaves and florets)
  • 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing at the end
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 3-6 salt-packed anchovies (depending on how strong an anchovy flavor you’d like)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Toasted breadcrumbs or grated cheese for serving

MAKE ORECCHIETTE:  Stir together water and salt in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer) until the salt has dissolved.  Add semolina in a stream, beating with an electric mixer at medium speed until a stiff dough forms, about two minutes.  Transfer dough to a lightly-floured (with all-purpose flour) work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Cover with a large overturned bowl for at least 30 minutes.   Line 4 trays with dry kitchen towels (not terry cloth) dusted with semolina.  With a knife, divide dough into 10 pieces and leaving the remainder of the dough covered, roll one piece of dough into a long rope about ¾ inch thick.  Cut the rope into ¼ inch pieces.  Dust your thumb with some flour and press down on each piece of dough, pushing away from you and twisting (flicking) your thumb slightly to form an indented curled shape like a little ear.  Transfer formed orecchiette to the lined trays and repeat with remaining dough.  Allow the orecchiette to dry for at least 30 minutes before cooking or freezing.  (They freeze extremely well.  Place the trays directly in the freezer and transfer the orecchiette to ziploc bags.)


PREPARE ANCHOVIES:  Hold the anchovies under cold running water and gently rub off the salt with your fingers.  Pat them thoroughly dry with paper towels and transfer them to a cutting board (preferably not a wooden board so that the smell won’t permeate the wood).  Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, make a small incision along the bottom side and run your knife along the length of the anchovy.  Gently peel back the top portion of the anchovy to reveal the backbone on the bottom portion. With the tip of your knife, gently remove the backbone and cut off the tail.  Finely chop the anchovy fillets or mash them to a paste in a mortar and pestle.Condimento

If the flavor of salt-packed anchovies is too strong for you, you can soak them in milk for a few hours in the refrigerator after rinsing them to remove the salt.  Rinse the anchovies again to remove the milk before filleting them.


MAKE CONDIMENTO:  Set olive oil over medium-low heat in a wide skillet until shimmering.  Add the cloves of garlic, stirring occasionally until the garlic is browned on all sides.  Remove the garlic from the oil and discard or reserve for another use.  Add the chopped anchovies to the oil, lower the heat and, stirring frequently, allow them to cook until they seem as if they’ve dissolved or become part of the oil.  Turn off the heat and add the crushed red pepper, if you’re using it.  Reserve until you’re ready to dress the pasta.

COOK AND DRESS THE ORECCHIETTE:  Place a large pot of salted water to boil.  When the water has reached an active boil, shake the excess flour from the orecchiette in a colander, add the pasta to the pot and return to a boil.  (Meanwhile, set the skillet containing the anchovies over medium-low heat.) With a ladle, reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water (even if you don’t use it all).   After the pasta has cooked for 4 minutes, add the broccoli rabe to the pasta pot and allow them to cook for one minute.  Drain the pasta and greens and add them to the skillet that contains the anchovies, along with about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water (or more if it appears too dry).  Toss well and allow it to simmer for about minute.  Turn off the heat and transfer to a large serving bowl.   Drizzle with some more olive oil and serve with grated cheese or toasted breadcrumbs.   Buon appetito!

Marcella Hazan and My Life as a Lawyer

The late great, Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, who passed away at 89 years old last weekend, had a profound effect on the way Americans approached Italian food.  I’m no exception.


Throughout my life, despite efforts (and threats) by my Italian-born mother and grandmothers, I was completely indifferent to cooking.  I loved to eat.  I loved good food.  I especially loved good (as in real) Italian food.  However, I had no idea how to cook and little interest in learning.

I became engaged to my husband while I was in law school and like two kids in a candy store, we abused our  “zapping gun” and registered for the best kitchenware and gadgets Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel had to offer – Le Creuset, All-Clad, Wustof, Mauviel, etc.  I recall hearing my dad’s cousin Dora remark at my bridal shower, “Wow, she got a lot of kitchen stuff.  She must really like to cook.”  I then heard my mother sneering behind me.

Right after our honeymoon, my new husband and I moved into an apartment in Chelsea and I started my job as a first-year associate at a large Manhattan law firm.  I began working 70-hour weeks in a stressful post-9/11 economy and it didn’t take long before I felt jaded by the long hours and lack of personal fulfillment of corporate law.   My beautiful new kitchen equipment remained untouched as I ordered take-out to the office nearly every night.

At the same time, however, any time I needed a break from document review and SEC compliance checks, I found myself surfing the Internet for Italian recipes.  One day, I searched, “best Italian cookbooks” and that’s when I discovered Marcella Hazan.  I ordered “Essentials of Italian Cooking” online and had it delivered right to my office.  I remember the day it arrived – its light green cover, which has since become oil-stained and tattered, was shiny and creaseless.  No glossy, over-styled photos – just a few diagrams and illustrations to support Mrs. Hazan’s meticulous instruction and fluid prose.  I carried that volume back and forth to work every day and read it on the subway, during lunch breaks and at bedtime.  Mrs. Hazan, with her insistence on simple techniques and fresh ingredients, got through to me in a way that my poor mother never succeeded despite their shared cooking philosophy.

I finally broke out the new cookware, with Marcella as my guide.  Cooking – Marcella Hazan’s brand of honest regional Italian cooking – became my singular release from a stressful, unsatisfying career (a career I would eventually give up years later to do the very thing she taught me to love).  For one of the first dinner parties I ever hosted, I prepared Mrs. Hazan’s “Braised Carrots with Capers,” a side dish I’ve served at every holiday and event I have since hosted.  Simple, thoughtful Italian food – the very epitome of Marcella Hazan.  La ringrazio dal cuore, Signora Hazan.  Riposi in pace.

Sweet carrots slowly braised in olive oil and a bit of water and finished off with salty capers - I call these, "carrots, elevated"

Young, sweet carrots slowly braised in olive oil and water and finished off with salty capers – I call these, “carrots, elevated”

Braised Carrots with Capers

From Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan (verbatim)

For 4 servings

  • 1 pound choice young carrots
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt
  • Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill
  • 2 tablespoons capers, soaked and rinsed if packed in salt, drained if in vinegar

Peel the carrots and wash them in cold water.  They ought to be no thicker than your little finger.  If they are not that size to start with, cut them in half lengthwise, or in quarters if necessary.

Choose a sauté pan that can accommodate all the carrots loosely.  Put in the olive oil and garlic and turn on the heat to medium high.  Cook and stir the garlic until it becomes colored a pale gold, then add the carrots and parsley.  Toss the carrots once or twice to coat them well, then add 1/4 cup water.  When the water has completely evaporated, add another 1/4 cup.  Continue adding water at this pace, whenever it has evaporated, until the carrots are done.  They should feel tender but firm when prodded with a fork.  Test them from time to time.  Depending on the youth and freshness of the carrots, it should take about 20 to 30 minutes.  When done, there should be no more water left in the pan.  If there is still some, boil it away quickly, and let the carrots brown slightly.

Add pepper and the capers, and toss the carrots once or twice.  Cook for another minute or two, then taste and correct for salt, stir once again, transfer to a warm platter, and serve at once.

Pappardelle with Roasted Butternut Squash, Pancetta, Mascarpone & Sage

Photo with package

A few months ago, my friend, the wildly talented food blogger, Adri Barr Crocetti, sent me the link for Delverde’s “Dish Your Blog” recipe challenge. The artisanal pasta company is based in Fara San Martino, on the other side of the Majella mountain from my village of Salle.  Delverde has been my preferred pasta brand for years and I commonly see packages of Delverde pasta lining the pantry shelves of my discerning neighbors in Abruzzo as well.Delverde badge

Inspired by a pasta dish I enjoyed in Florence this past summer, I selected Delverde’s Pappardelle Nests and paired the wide pasta ribbons with a condimento of sweet roasted butternut squash, salty pancetta, sautéed shallots and fresh sage. I finished the dish with a little trick I learned from a trattoria on the Oltrarno – a dollop of mascarpone. The Italian cream cheese gently marries the sauce to the pasta without the weightiness or “milky” taste of heavy cream. It’s a lovely and luscious homage to fall flavors and would work equally well with Delverde’s Rigatoni or Mezzi Rigatoni.  Buon appetito!

Photo with ingredients

Pappardelle with Roasted Butternut Squash, Pancetta, Mascarpone & Crispy Sage

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

Serves 4

  • One 1½ pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into a 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 12 whole sage leaves
  • 1 package of Delverde N°83 Pappardelle Nests (250 g)
  • 3 ounces diced pancetta
  • 2 shallots, very thinly sliced
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of mascarpone
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving

Preheat the oven to 425°. On a medium, rimmed baking sheet lined with a silicone liner or parchment paper, toss the squash with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and a teaspoon of salt. Roast for 15-20 minutes, tossing once, until lightly browned and tender.

While the butternut squash is roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. At the same time, in a large skillet over moderate heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the sage leaves and fry until crisp, about 20 seconds. Gently transfer the sage leaves with a fork to a plate lined with paper towels, sprinkle with sea salt and set aside.

    Crispy, fried sage leaves give a slight crunch to this creamy, luscious pasta dish

Crispy, fried sage leaves give a slight crunch to this creamy, luscious pasta dish

To the skillet, add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat until lightly browned, stirring often, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta from the skillet and set aside.  (Doing so will prevent the pancetta from becoming too chewy.) Next, add the shallots, ½ teaspoon of salt and several grindings of black pepper to the skillet and cook until the shallots are soft and caramelized, stirring often, about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the reserved pancetta and roasted squash to the skillet and set aside while you cook the pasta.


When the pasta water reaches a boil, cook the Delverde Pappardelle Nests for 5 minutes (two minutes less than indicated by the package instructions as you’ll finish cooking the pasta “in padella” – in the pan – along with the sauce). Drain, reserving one cup of the cooking water.

To the skillet, add the pasta and reserved cooking water and cook over moderate heat, tossing gently, until the sauce is thickened and the pasta is al dente, about 1-2 minutes; season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Turn off the heat, stir in the mascarpone and gently toss until it is incorporated throughout. Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl or to individual bowls and top with the crispy sage leaves.  Serve the pasta with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Buon appetito!


This recipe is posted as an entry in the Delverde DISH YOUR BLOG recipe contest to try to win a trip to NYC.  Some entrants may have received free sample products in addition to the opportunity to compete for the prize.

All That You Can’t Leave Behind in Abruzzo

Salle Arriverderci

After nearly six weeks (and just as many pounds gained) in Abruzzo, I’m back home in New York.  Each time I leave Italy (something I detest), I feel as if I’ve left behind a little bit more of my soul (the dramatic nature of this statement is not lost on me). I gaze out my kitchen window into my yard and squint hard, as if this action will materialize the Majella’s peaks right here in Queens, NY (more hyperbole).

Although my husband rightfully urges me not to go around blabbing that our trip was too short, I suspect that deep down I’ll never be fully satisfied until I can call Italy my home.  However, before I left Abruzzo this year, I vowed not to focus on what I was leaving behind, but instead, on what I could take back with me so here goes:

Cestino di ortaggi

Vegetables from my parents’ plentiful garden

Know where my food comes from – One of the very best meals I prepared in Italy was a simple summer minestra.  There was nothing particularly revalatory about this dish.  Its beauty lay in the fact that I could trace the origins of each and every single ingredient:  red garlic from Sulmona, onions, potatoes and chicory from the pastora (shepherdess) in Salle Vecchio, chick peas from Abbateggio, olive oil from Tocco da Casauria, crusty bread from Sant’Eufemia a Maiella.  Although “local” is not yet the norm in the States as it is in Italy, more and more farmers’ markets and specialty food stores are demonstrating an increased commitment to offering local products.  Now that all three of my kids will be in school full-time (can you hear the angels singing?), I’m planning a weekly date with the farmers!

Merenda with friends

A beautiful crostata of homemade plum preserves made by my friend Giulia of Country House Casale Centurione Manopello for a late afternoon merenda at an event we co-hosted with Abruzzo4Foodies called Abruzzo Country Cooking

Embrace simple pleasures – When we stay in Abruzzo, we feel as if we live there.  We clean the house, tend to mundane chores, try to keep our boys from hanging from the chandeliers, and struggle to work from home just as we do in New York.  However, the laidback pace and serene landscape lend themselves to the enjoyment of simple everyday pleasures.  A midmorning espresso.  A glass of wine with lunch.  A friendly exchange with unknown neighbors.  Merenda with friends. An evening passeggiata.  Real life is not vacation, but making time for even one of these simple rituals each day may help me stay in an Abruzzo state of mind.

Step outside my element from time to time – Our best friends in Abruzzo are a family of four who always push us outside our comfort zone.  A highly educated couple from the port city of Pescara, they moved to Salle, a small mountain village of 350 inhabitants, after their first child was born.  They wanted to live closer to nature and raise their children in a peaceful, country community. Roberta and Francesco constantly challenge this city gal and her brood with treks in the unspoiled mountains, forests, rivers and seas of Abruzzo.  My heart pounds as I hike up and down unfamiliar, rugged terrain to reach our destination, but it’s exhilarating and the raw natural beauty that awaits is worth every ounce of fear.  (And after nearly losing my Havaiana flip-flop in quicksand during one of our excursions last summer – Francesco dug his entire arm into the dense mud in order to retrieve it – I finally bought the right kind of shoes for trekking!)


My heart was racing as we hiked down the steep, overgrown trail to the Fiume Orta from our home in Salle, but look what awaited me.

Take advantage of the myriad food events in New York City – Although we don’t have a sagra every weekend feting the glories of ‘ndrocchie pasta or ventricina salami, there is no shortage of gastronomic events here in food-obsessed NYC.  I also have a few ideas of my own to introduce New Yorkers to the specialties of my beloved Abruzzo.  Stay tuned for details 😉

Abruzzo products

Trying to extend my trip with these beautiful products from Abruzzo

Bring home precious little bits of Abruzzo – On my dining room table you can presently find the contents of two large suitcases filled with artisanal pasta, oil, grains, legumes, honey, jam and spices from Abruzzo. Here’s recipe in which I use dried chick peas cultivated at Agriturismo Pietrantica in the peaceful mountain village of Decontra. Although these aren’t available in the US, my friends at Gustiamo sell wonderful imported chick peas from Umbria. Buon appetito!

My Minestra

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

Serves 4-6

This is not a brothy minestra so go ahead and  showcase your fresh vegetables without feeling as if you’re eating a steaming bowl of soup in the dead of summer!


  • 1 lb of dried chick peas
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 3 large potatoes, diced into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 lb chicory or other leafy greens such as Swiss Chard or escarole
  • 2 teaspoons of sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

To cook the chick peas:

Rinse the chick peas with cold water and place them in a heavy-bottomed stainless steel, cast-iron or clay pot.  Add water to cover by an inch and allow them to soak overnight, but preferably for at least 24 hours.

Without changing the water (this makes the beans creamier), add the bay leaves and 2 tablespoons of olive oil, cover and allow to reach a slow rolling boil. (If the beans appear to have soaked up a lot of the water, add another cup or so of cold water before you start cooking).  Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook slowly, with the lid sitting slightly askew.  Stir frequently and be careful not to scorch the bottom.  Cooking time will vary anywhere from 1 to 2.5 hours and will depend on the freshness of the beans.  (Tasting is the only way to know that they are done.)  Add one teaspoon of salt in the last 10 minutes of cooking (adding salt before then will make the beans tough.)  Drain the chick peas and reserve (they can stay in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, covered.)

To prepare the minestra:

To a heavy-bottomed stainless steel, cast-iron or clay pot, add two tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until shimmering.  Add the garlic, onion, celery, carrot, one teaspoon of salt and several grindings of black pepper, lower the heat to medium low and saute, stirring often until the vegetables begin to soften and caramelize, about 6-8 minutes.  Add 6 cups of water, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil.  Add the potatoes and chick peas, reduce the heat to medium low and for 10 minutes.  Add the chicory or other greens and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and the chicory is cooked through.  Remove from the heat and drizzle the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve with crusty bread and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino cheese.  Buon appetito!

Extra Two Cents:  

To make this dish heartier, add some fresh Italian sauaage. Prior to sauteing the vegetables, remove the meat from the casing, add a tablespoon of oil to the pot over medium heat and saute until browned, stirring often and breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon — thus “crumbling.”  Remove it from the heat with a slotted spoon and reserve.  Add an additional tablespoon of oil to the pot and proceed as directed above.

Food Adventures in Italy

Backyard view from our home in Salle, Abruzzo

Backyard view from our home in Salle, Abruzzo

Domani si parte!  We’re flying out tomorrow and will spend the next five weeks in Italy. This summer trip is particularly exciting for me as it is my first as a food blogger.  I’ll roam around Firenze for a few days in search of the best pappa al pomodoro and then head down to Abruzzo for innumerable culinary adventures, among them:  a class in seafood cookery on a trabocco in the Adriatic town of Vasto; a food walking tour in the medieval village of Guardiagrele; visits to farms and artisanal producers of typical prodotti abruzzesi;  a day-trip to the unspoiled Tremiti islands; and last, but not least, my very first cooking class in Italy alongside two special friends and collaborators.  So if you find yourself in or around Abruzzo or have friends or relatives visiting or living in the area, I invite you to join us on Saturday, July 20th for a day of Abruzzo Country Cooking.

Spaghetti alla chitarra is on the menu at Abruzzo Country Cooking

Spaghetti alla chitarra is on the menu at my cooking class, Abruzzo Country Cooking

I personally can’t imagine more inspiring subject matter on which to write so I hope you’ll join me as I bring La Majella to you.  A presto!  Michelle

P.S. – I’ll post photos on Facebook frequently so if you haven’t done so already, go ahead and “Like” my page.  Ciao!

Mandorlata di Peperoni – Finding Sicily in Abruzzo

Mandorlata di peperoni, a sweet-and-sour Sicilian chutney of roasted peppers and almonds

Mandorlata di peperoni, a sweet-and-sour Sicilian chutney of roasted peppers and almonds

The ethnic composition of many Americans resembles a patchwork quilt – I have friends whose children are Colombian and Algerian; Korean, German and Welsh; Dominican, Cuban and Irish. They have (mostly) affectionate anecdotes about the clash of cultures and the challenges of adapting to the customs of the families into which they married.

When I was growing up, my home wasn’t a battlefield of countries, but of Italian regions. My Abruzzese father and Siciliana mother immigrated to the US with their respective families and met in Astoria, Queens in the early 1970s. When they married and had me, I benefited from exposure to the rich traditions of both regions and was fortunate to have learned from them true Italian rather than dialect. On the flip side, my parents were fiercely proud – and more than occasionally competitive – of where they came from. After an argument, they’d mutter politically incorrect stereotypes under their breaths and disparage each other’s dialects (Abruzzese was declared “rough” and Sicilian “un-Italian”).

Their lowest blows were directed at the regional cuisine of the other. From my father: “Non mi piace tutta quella roba dolce che fanno loro” – “I don’t like all that sweet stuff they make.” And from my mother: “Ma cosa cucinano loro? Solo carne arrostita e pasta – niente particolare” “What do they even cook? Only roasted meat and pasta. Nothing special.”

My mother's hometown of Caltabellotta, Sicily

My mother’s hometown of Caltabellotta, Sicily

Even now, after nearly 50 years of living outside of Italy and 40 years of marriage, they still instinctively side with their own. Just last month, when I purchased a few good bottles of Italian olive oil and conducted a little taste-testing, the stuff barely made it to their lips before each proclaimed the oil from his and her respective region the winner.

Because my family has a house in my dad’s village, I’ve spent a lot more time in Abruzzo than I have in Sicily. Although she’d never admit it, I know it ever-so-slightly irritates my mom that my days are now spent with La Majella on the brain at every pass. I can sense it in her subtle suggestions of Sicilian dishes for my catering menus and in her overly-enthusiastic praise of my caponata (a dish my father, of course, deems “troppo dolce” – too sweet).

View of La Majella from my dad's village of Salle in Abruzzo

View of La Majella from my dad’s village of Salle in Abruzzo

My parents’ regional tensions somehow followed me to the Let’s Blog Abruzzo conference earlier this month. In a village perched high in the mountains of Abruzzo, after telling a new acquaintance where my parents were born, she nodded knowingly in response, and said, “Ah, si, sembri molto Siciliana” – “Yes, you seem very Sicilian.” I could literally feel my mother’s beam of smug satisfaction projecting across the Atlantic (and when I posted the woman’s observation to my mom’s Facebook wall, my dad commented in reply, “E’ impossibile” – “It’s impossible”). The very next day, while enjoying a quintessentially Abruzzese lunch of timballo and arrosticini with the brilliant and charming journalist, Judith Harris, I found myself jotting down Judith’s beautiful recipe for mandorlata di peperoni, a Sicilian chutney of sweet peppers and almonds.

So just as mothers have a way of following you wherever you go, Sicily – and by association, my mother – found me in Abruzzo. I know how desperately she wishes my grandfather had never sold her family’s parcel of land that was blanketed in olive, almond and apricot trees and I, too, wish we had a family home in Sicily like we do in Abruzzo. I haven’t been to Sicily during my adult life and lately, I feel as if my mother’s native island is calling me to come and discover my other half. Hopefully, my mom and I will take a trip together next spring, but for now, I’ll have to settle for this Sicilian mandorlata di peperoni, which somehow made its way to me via Abruzzo.

Mandorlata di Peperoni

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking © as adapted from Judith Harris


  • 8 mixed red, yellow and orange bell peppers, left whole
  • 1/3 cup almonds, roasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
  • ¼ cup golden raisins
  • A few leaves of torn basil

Preheat a broiler or light a grill. Place the peppers, skin and stems left intact, on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Roast or grill, turning occasionally, until the peppers are shriveled and their skins are completely blackened and charred. Remove the peppers to a paper bag and seal the bag until the peppers cool. Peel and clean the peppers, discarding the skins, seeds, stems, and inner white membranes. Cut the cleaned peppers into ½ inch strips.

To a saucepan, add the peppers, almonds, sugar, vinegar, salt, tomato sauce and raisins. Turn the heat to medium-low, and allow to simmer, stirring frequently, until the sauce and vinegar have evaporated, about 5-7 minutes. Remove to a glass or ceramic bowl and allow them to cool. Cover and let the peppers sit for at least 8 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator, so that the flavors meld together. Return to room temperature prior to serving. Garnish with torn basil and a drizzle of good olive oil and serve with crusty bread. Buon appetito!

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