Tag Archive | "Brothers"

Let’s Raid the Fridge Like Real-Life Grown-Ups

Let’s Raid the Fridge Like Real-Life Grown-Ups



You may have guessed by now that my family uses a lot of jars. It’s true. There have been times, when groceries were low, when jars were the only thing you could find in our fridge. Sauce, pickles, green tomatoes, eggplant and peppers, olives—they were all staples, crowding the top shelf behind cloudy glass.

The first thing we’d do when our parents left my brother Joey and me home alone was head for those jars. Don’t ask why. It’s not like we weren’t allowed to eat from them when they were home. Maybe there was something about getting them all out at once, downing pickles without constraint, chasing them with shots of giardiniera, cramming forkfuls of pickled green tomatoes before the sound of the garage door ripped through our joy. It was all very exhilarating. This was our idea of misbehaving.

There was one jar I’d never touch during our refrigerator renegades: My parents’ Sicilian green olives. Despite a full-on obsession with olives, I ignored these mossy green orbs completely. They were the bitter, gross things adults ate. I wanted olives from a can. The black shiny pitted guys that I’d stick on my fingertips like puppets and make dance around the kitchen table. I couldn’t imagine wasting stomach space on those cracked green monstrosities when there were canned olives to be had.

Then, at some point around middle school, I changed my mind. It was right around the time I discovered the joys of salted sardines. My parents make a salad with these olives, onions, and sardines that stinks like a salty fishy vinegary mess—offensive and glorious. It was the nucleus of our Sunday night lunches, and the thing that finally got me to appreciate their olives. But I hadn’t had the olives, or thought about them, in a good ten years.

Not until my mom called last week with some news: “Your dad just brought home sixteen pounds of olives.”

“Uh, why?”

“He bought a whole case. Straight from the tree! He’s going to cure them, like we used to. Don’t worry—I’ll take pictures. You can put them on your blog!”

That’s right: my 63-year-old mother, who didn’t know what a blog was until I told her about mine, is now brainstorming content for me. Bless her. But her enthusiasm got me excited to cure my own, so I snagged a pound from their stash. Now I just need Joey to visit from Rhode Island so we can raid the fridge, eating from every jar, like real grown-ups.

Cracked Sicilian Olives


1 pound fresh green olives (in season around September, October, and November)
Approximately 2 gallons spring or mineral water
6 tablespoons salt

1. Crack each olive, but not too hard. Just give them a moderate thwack with a brick or meat tenderizer. Tuck each one into a dishtowel when cracking to keep the juices (olive oil?!) from splattering.

2. Submerge the cracked olives in spring or mineral water, cover, and set aside. The only real work required now is in changing the water twice a day until the bitterness is gone. Three days of water-changing should do it if you like them pretty bitter. I soaked mine for six days and they still have some bite. Taste a little piece each time you change the water. When you like it, they’re done.The secret to keeping them from turning brown, according to my mom, is soaking them in spring or mineral water. Whatever is in our tap water (too much chlorine?) just doesn’t sit well with these olives. They’ll still get dark around the edges where they cracked, but most of the olive will stay green in mineral or spring water.

3. At this point, you can find a zillion recipes online for seasoning the olives, but we keep it simple, even at this stage. When you’ve removed enough bitterness, put the olives in mason jars with more spring or mineral water and two tablespoons of salt. Done. You can even reuse the last batch of water they were soaking in to make the brine. Season the olives when you’re ready to eat. Mix them with olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, and thinly sliced red onions. Then call me over. I’ll bring the bread and sardines.

Posted in Recipe IndexComments (5)

(Great) Grandparents, Crab Pasta, and The Guy Who Used to Sell Seafood from an Ice Cream Truck

(Great) Grandparents, Crab Pasta, and The Guy Who Used to Sell Seafood from an Ice Cream Truck

My grandparents bring a certain magic with them wherever they go. It’s the kind of magic that comes with 85 years of living, an impeccable memory, and so many stories to tell that they jump at you before they can even walk through the door. One minute you’re talking about traffic on the Verrazano bridge, the next they’re telling you about the year it was completed, how they were still living uptown across the street from the Knickerbocker Brewery, my grandmother practicing English with her upstairs neighbor so she could help my dad with his homework. Lately, I just want to sit with them and soak up everything. They have so much in them—stories, skills, recipes, everything—that I often panic at the thought of letting that all slip away, undocumented and one day gone. And I don’t care how many times they tell the same story, because a new detail is revealed with each telling.

Such is the case with pasta and crabs. We’ve heard my grandmother tell a story about bringing blue crabs home one night and leaving them in the kitchen to cook the next day. The story goes that they woke up the next morning, and the crabs were all over the kitchen, climbing the walls, on top of the refrigerator, in the bathroom. My grandfather spent the morning chasing them down with gloves and tongs, everyone laughing and screaming and forgetting what they were going to do with them in the first place.

That’s the most we’d heard of the crab story, until last weekend. By an unexpected twist of fate, our whole family was in NJ for the day. Husband Joe (Joe S.) and Brother Joe (Joe G.) were scheming a crab bisque recipe first thing Sunday morning when our grandparents appeared on the front porch for a surprise visit.

After much excitement and cuddling between Nonna and my niece Sofia (they’re overwhelmed with joy at being great-grandparents), Joe S. and Joe G. unveiled the crab bisque plans. Never mind the fact that they don’t know what a bisque is. Talk of crab immediately evoked the “runaway crabs in the kitchen” story. Only this time, we got two new, crucial details:

When Nonno finally pulled the crabs off the walls, they made a pasta sauce with them.


They got the crabs from the guy who drove around Brooklyn selling local seafood from a truck. Like the ice cream man, only with crabs, clams, oysters, and other Godly creations. Can you imagine? Talk about a Brooklyn that is no more…

With the story in full force, we had to make the crab pasta sauce. Bisque Schmisque. We had Nonna right here, eager to revive a dish she hadn’t made in decades. Bisque who? And what perfect timing—we got to use our homemade sauce! Here’s the recipe, straight from Nonna, with a little help from the Joes. I stood back and discussed the philosophy of life with Sofia, who, at three months old, is quite wise. I did break for photo ops, of course.

Spaghetti with Crab Tomato Sauce
1 dozen blue crabs
¼ cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large white onion, sliced into moons
salt and pepper to taste
1 32-ounce jar tomato puree
dried or fresh oregano to taste
dried or fresh basil to taste
1 pound spaghetti

First, wash the crabs. If they’re still alive and kicking, submerge them in ice water. The ice will sedate them so you can handle them without losing a finger. Leave the crabs whole and scrub off any visible dirt. A few rounds of rinsing will get rid of any hidden gunk.

While the crabs are soaking, prepare your sauce.Coat the bottom of a very large pot (big enough to hold the crabs) with olive oil. Add chopped garlic and sliced onions. Season with salt and pepper.  When the onions begin to soften, stir in the tomato puree. Season with oregano, basil and more salt and pepper to taste. Leave everything to simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the flavors start to combine.

Once the crabs are calm and clean, plop them into the sauce. Be careful! Use tongs to avoid getting splashed with boiling hot sauce. At this point, Joe G. covered the pot and shook it to coat the crabs in sauce. You can do that, or just mix them with a giant wooden spoon.

Now just leave the pot to boil so the crab flavor blends with the sauce, about 30 minutes, on low to medium heat. When the sauce is about done, cook the spaghetti. I’ll spare you these steps if you already know how. If you’re still working on your pasta-cooking skills, try these great instructions. Remove the crabs from the pot and toss the spaghetti with half of the sauce. Use the remaining sauce to top each plate of pasta before serving. We ate the crabs separately, which was fun for about five minutes. In truth, eating whole crabs covered in tomato sauce is messy and annoying. I’m sure kids would love the opportunity to coat themselves in sauce, but we boring adults gave up pretty quickly. The rest of the dish was worth every trouble, though. Especially when eaten in a houseful of family.

Posted in SaucesComments (3)

The Secret to Adolescent Fame, and Passing Calculus: Pickled Eggplants and Peppers

The Secret to Adolescent Fame, and Passing Calculus: Pickled Eggplants and Peppers


I’m going to let you in on a family secret. It involves jars and eggplants and peppers. Sometimes green tomatoes, but not today. Lots of vinegar and salt. Garlic, garlic, garlic. And some other stuff. Sounds innocent enough, right? But these simple ingredients, when combined, create our family’s secret culinary weapon: Pickled eggplants and peppers.

It sounds strange, I’m sure. I don’t know how pickled vegetables became such an important part of our family makeup. But over the years they’ve become just as important—if not moreso—than jarred tomato sauce. They graced our dinner table every night when we were growing up. My brother Sal mastered the art of making them go with anything. I wouldn’t be surprised if he snuck them into his breakfast cereal when we weren’t looking. Tucked them under his pasta. Crammed them into his chicken rollatini. His meal of choice as an adolescent was chicken cutlets swimming in ketchup and a pile of this stuff. Much to my parents’ glee, they could get us to eat anything as long as it was accompanied by pickled vegetables. It’s probably the reason we now eat everything, with or without the pickled stuff.

Just as I was mildly taunted for our tomato sauce stash, I was mildly famous at school for these pickled beauties. Around sixth grade, my girlfriends were over, poking around the refrigerator and asking what everything was, when they stumbled on a jar of pickled green tomatoes. They looked particularly revolting because the olive oil freezes in the fridge. The laughing kicked in. The “eww gross, what do you do with those” inquisitions that plagued my youth. Then they tried them. And suddenly, I wasn’t such a loser. In fact, I was even a little bit cool. The green tomatoes were such a hit that other kids started asking about them in the hallways, making requests for jars, their moms calling my mom for the recipe. When I was in high school a boy did my calculus take-home exam in exchange for a jar. I’m not kidding.

I hung out with the old gang last week for my best friend’s engagement party, and the jars actually came up in conversation. Jackie, who I hadn’t seen in a good two years, pulled me aside and said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about your mom’s pickled vegetables.” I’m glad some things never change.

Of course, I never learned how to make them. For nearly three decades, I’ve greedily inhaled my favorite condiment by the jarful, never once asking my mom for the recipe, never even caring to know. Thankfully I’ve seen the light, and I will never look back. I made three jars this week with my mom’s daily phone guidance. Two are for me, and one is for my brother Sal, the master appreciator of this fine art form.

Pickled Eggplants and Peppers

The technique for pickled green tomatoes is slightly different, but alas, we’ll have to wait until next summer for that one. I think eggplants and peppers are better anyway, but I’m sure a playground brawl would break out if I said that in certain company.

2 eggplants
2 red, orange, or yellow bell peppers
4 tablespoons salt
1 cup white vinegar
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
4 tablespoons olive oil

1. Peel the eggplants and slice them into 1/2-inch rounds. Cut each round into small strips, about 1 inch long and ¼ inch wide. Slice the peppers into strips about the same size.


The eggplants will shrink to around ¾ their size after the salt extracts water from them. Peppers are heartier, so they won’t break down as drastically. Keep this in mind when deciding how small to cut your pieces. Peppers are fine at any size. Eggplants are more appetizing in smaller strips. Too big, and they start to look like slugs in the jar. Not appetizing, I promise you.

2. Put the cut eggplants and peppers in separate bowls. Cover each with 2 tablespoons of salt and toss until the vegetables are entirely coated. The eggplants start to break down within minutes. The peppers won’t look as affected, but don’t worry. Cover and set aside for 24 hours (refrigeration isn’t necessary).

3. The next day, drain the vegetables and rise briefly if you don’t want them too salty. I don’t rinse them—their saltiness is half their beauty. The other half? Vinegar.

4. Return the eggplants and peppers to their respective bowls and cover with enough white vinegar to keep them submerged, about ½ to ¾ cup for each bowl. Cover and set aside for another 24 hours.

5. Drain the vinegar and squeeze out any excess. The eggplants will have soaked up most of it; squeeze it out if you don’t want to be overwhelmed. Don’t worry about losing the vinegar flavor—it’s truly in there, no matter how much excess you squeeze away. Drain the peppers, which will still be pretty crisp.

6. Now the true magic begins. Combine the eggplants and peppers in a large bowl and season with garlic, shallots, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Top with enough olive oil to coat everything, about 4 tablespoons. I included spice quantities in my ingredients list, but that’s just a formality. It’s truly a free-for-all at this point. Season it to your liking. I personally went garlic crazy and used 10 cloves. I did not regret it. It’s your show—there’s no way to mess this up.

7. Once everything is combined, pack the mess into mason jars. One 16-ounce jar fits a little less than 1 eggplant and 1 pepper. This recipe yielded about 3 jars.

Posted in Recipe IndexComments (3)

An Ode to Brothers, Mothers, and Lunch: Tuna with Oranges and Lemon

We spent last weekend at a lake house in the Berkshires celebrating my sister-in-law Katherine’s birthday. Our days involved floating on the lake, beer and ribs on a pier, hiking, ice pops, fondu, a living room dance party, and pistachio cake. All in all, the perfect weekend away from the city. It was the first time I’d seen my brother Joe since I started Pomato Revival last month. He’s read it a few times, I’m told, but he has some catching up to do.

“You should read it,” I told him, “because, well, it’s about you. And us. And everything you grew up with. I think you might be interested.”

“Well, have you written about tuna, oranges, and lemons yet?” he asked, as he worked through his memory bank of traditions. This reminded me of one of the great things about my brothers: they’ve lived the same life as me, only from an entirely different perspective. Same memories, different filter. And thank God. How could I have forgotten tuna, oranges, and lemons??? It’s one of our favorite lunchtime secrets, invented by our mom on a summer afternoon. In fact, if you could take a summer afternoon and put it in a plate, you’d end up with this.

The recipe for tuna, oranges, and lemons emerged at lunch one day, when my mom tends to take whatever’s in the fridge and give it her Sicilian momma’s touch. I spent a good number of years thinking it was embarrassing and weird…the kind of thing I’d never want a friend coming over and seeing us eating. I just wasn’t sure what was considered normal sometimes, and even though this salad is delicious it always made me uneasy when thinking of how the outside world would respond. Tuna? With oranges and lemons? Who and what are you people??

But I’ve come a long way, thankfully. Now I’d wear sandwich boards to publicize this meal. I’ve been a fool, but I’m making up for lost time.


Tuna with Oranges and Lemons


1 can of tuna in water

1 orange, peeled and cut into half-inch wedges

1 lemon, peeled and cut into half-inch wedges

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


Mix the tuna with orange and lemon wedges. Drizzle with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. The more olive oil, the better. Toss. Eat with toast, or on its own as a salad. Dream of Sicily.


Posted in Recipe IndexComments (0)

Say Hello