Dinner from Federal Hill with love!

When I take off for a few days to a new place, I am always looking for something fun to bring home. My 11-year old son always asks if I’ve brought something for him, and he’s usually non-plussed with my foodie finds, wishing instead for a toy or a trinket, but I think this time, even he liked my souvenir!

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of going on a great foodie tour of Providence, RI with a few of my chef friends. We met early on Saturday morning on a gorgeous sunny day to tour the Italian neighborhood of Federal Hill with Chef Cindy Salvato.

Chef Cindy Salvato


Chef Salavato was an instructor at Johnson and Wales for many years and she was a wonderful guide for our tour. She had recently had knee surgery so she soldiered along on crutches, God bless her, and she shared with us the rich Italian culture of this small neighborhood on the hill that is full of gems! We got great information, enjoyed great humor and fabulous food tasting, and had a perfect tour guide! I highly recommend checking out Cindy’s tours if you are ever in Rhode Island.

We began at Antonelli’s which I posted about last week ( the little store on the square where you choose your own live chicken) which is where I got my fresh quail eggs. Then we moved on to Tony’s Colonial which was a fabulous little Italian market. It’s not a huge place, but the shelves are just full of wonderful little Italian gems. Artisanal pasta in all different shapes, rich tuna packed in oil, herbs, spices, incredible olive oils and balsamic vinegar, olives, jams, tomatoes… you name it! There was a deli counter with beautiful homemade “take out” and sausages and cheese. Oh it was wonderful!

Chef Salvato taught us about choosing REAL Italian ingredients that hold a special certification, Denominazione di Origine Protetta, or D.O.P. It’s not authentic unless it says D.O.P. on the label! We had an interesting discussion about San Marzano tomatoes and how even if the can says “San Marzano” they aren’t the real deal unless the D.O.P. symbol is on it.

Look for the D.O.P.!


Some of the SM tomatoes used by the Foodnetwork chefs are NOT the real deal, but are SM TYPE tomatoes that are grown in Florida not Italy. Be careful out there! (By the way, Wegmans has a store brand of San Marzano tomatoes, and they are indeed D.O.P.! That’s why we love Wegmans!)

Cindy also talked about the pasta making machines that make the pasta we consume here in the US and that the mass-produced pasta is fed through Teflon coated die so that the surfaces are smooth, but “artisanal” pasta is made with old fashioned bronze dies which are rough and give the pasta some rough surface area for the sauce to cling to. Sure enough, looking at the pastas at Tony’s they were rough and a bit craggy.

So on to my dinner connection to Federal Hill. After the tour, I went back to Tony’s Colonial to do a little shopping and came home with some great artisinal pastas including a bag of artichoke pasta! They are beautiful little green leaves of pasta flavored with artichoke. MMMMM!

A shrimp scampi-ish dish with an addition of sauteed shallots and a good handful of fresh basil was the perfect foil for my little artichoke leaves. The pasta cooked to perfectly al dente and had the mild earthy flavor of artichokes that really complimented the sweetness of the shrimp and the tart, bright lemon. The underside of each leave was mottled and bumpy which did hold the delicious lemony shrimp infused sauce…OH YUM! It was a 20-minute dinner from start to finish and so very satisfying! Luckily there is some left over for my lunch today!

In the end, it wasn’t a t-shirt or a plastic New England lobster that my son had hoped for, but the whole family enjoyed my little gift from Tony’s which of course is the whole point of bringing home a souvenir, right?

If you can go to a great Italian market, buy some artisanal pasta and check out the difference that the rough surface makes, but if you only have the brand name pasta, either way, you’ll enjoy this recipe!

Shrimp with Garlic, Shallot and Lemon over Artichoke Leaf Pasta
Serves: 6 servings
3/4 pound artichoke leaf pasta, orichietti or other flat shaped pasta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/3 cup fresh Italian basil, chiffenade
zest of one medium lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
¼ c of dry sherry or dry white wine
1/8 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

Prepare pasta per package instructions. Meanwhile prepare shrimp. Season shrimp with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes, then add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add the shrimp and saute until the shrimp have just turned pink, about 3-5 minutes, stirring often. (Don’t cook the shrimp until they are done as you will finish cooking them with the pasta!) Remove from the heat, add wine or sherry, return to the heat and cook for one minute to cook off the alcohol. Then remove the pan from the heat and add the parsley, basil lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon slices, and red pepper flakes. Toss to combine. Keep the pan in the wings…it’s not done yet!
When the pasta is just cooked, drain it, reserving some of the pasta water, and add it to the skillet with the shrimp. Toss and continue cooking for one minute until the pasta is coated with the sauce and cooked to al dente. Add a bit of the pasta cooking water if needed to “loosen” the sauce if the pasta seems to absorb it quickly.

Always serve your pasta on a platter or a very shallow bowl so that the sauce doesn’t puddle to the bottom! Enjoy!

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Cook Whatcha Got Challenge Dinners #1 and #2

Our first challenge dinner was Monday, and yes I am posting today…Thursday. A visit from a lovely stomach bug de-railed the challenge for a few days, but I’m back in the kitchen and ready to tackle my pantry and freezer!

Monday was MLK day and my husband and kids were all home for the holiday. The kids all had basketball practice at different times during the day and I had promised my girls a shopping trip to use some gift cards that were burning holes in their animal print wallets so whatever dinner was had to be quick and easy to reheat for different meal times! Oh the joys of a busy household!

For Monday’s dinner I had some cooked chicken breast, a partial bag of Italian blend shredded cheese, and fresh basil. In my freezer was a small container of oven roasted tomatoes from the summer. It all came together in Chicken Parmesan Calzones!
I had the morning at home which gave me time to make some delicious whole wheat Italian bread dough. After an hour of rising time, it was beautiful!

I rolled the dough thinly, filled them sealed them and baked on my pizza stone. I cooled them quickly and put them into the fridge and everyone heated a calzone (or 2!) in the oven and helped themselves to a beautiful salad of Romaine, fennel and Navel oranges w/ an orange and shallot vinaigrette. It was quick and easy! there were a few calzones leftover that became the lunchbox envy of my kids friends!

Tonight’s challenge dinner had to be on the light side since I am just easing back into my kitchen. I have two partial boxes of Arborio rice in the pantry and that sounded so good today! In my freezer, I had a big bag of shrimp shells that I have been saving and adding to for awhile, as well as a bag of easy-peel uncooked shrimp and a partial bag of peas.

The recipe comes from a favorite cookbook of mine called ‘Risotto, More Than 120 Recipes for the Classic Rice Dish of Northern Italy’ by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman. I bought this cookbook many years ago, loved it, used it and decided I could find recipes online or from my imagination, and then I sold it at a book sale or garage sale four or five years ago. STUPID! Oh how I missed that cookbook, it was a great inspiration for ingredients and when teaching people how to make risotto it is a great primer! So when I was in Boston to meet Chef Jacques Pepin, and I saw a copy for sale, I bought myself a new copy! My husband thinks I have some sort of pathological need to acquire cookbooks, but this one is one I really love and I am so glad to have it back!

So back to tonight’s recipe. First, I made a shrimp broth using all the shrimp shells, some onion, celery and parsley that I simmered slowly for about 20 minutes. I strained it and kept it warm to make my risotto.
Meanwhile I peeled my bag of shrimp (saving the peels to start my new bag for next time!).

Risotto is actually very easy to make, it just takes some time and patience. You MUST use Italian rice (Arborio or Carnaroli), it has a higher starch content which is what makes risotto…well, risotto! You wouldn’t use risotto to make sushi, nor should you use sticky rice or long grain rice or brown rice for risotto. It just doesn’t work!

You begin by heating the brodo (broth)to a low simmer. It must be hot to add to your rice so it cooks uniformly! Then you prepare the soffritto, the aromatics like onion, leek, peppers, celery which change according to your recipe. For the shrimp risotto, the soffritto is just onion and garlic in some butter and olive oil. Saute until soft and add the Arborio rice (riso) and cook it for a minute or two in the soffritto to coat it and begin to cook it. And finally, adding the hot brodo to the pan 1/2 cup at a time ( I use a soup ladle), simmering and stirring often. The trick is to wait until the liquid is almost completely absorbed before adding more broth. A true risotto takes about 18 minutes until the broth is absorbed. The ‘condimenti’ for tonight is shrimp and peas. Depending on your recipe the condimenti can be added at the beginning, middle or end of the recipe. In this case, the shrimp will go in about 12 minutes into the cooking time so it is just cooked through when the risotto is ready, and the thawed peas will go in about 2 minutes before it’s ready so that they are still vibrant green and have a good texture.

Depending on what you read, some authors suggest saving a small amount of broth until just before serving to insure creaminess, while others say to add a pat of very cold unsalted butter and some Parmesan cheese. I did both!

Ahh, this is comfort food at it’s best! All from my own pantry and freezer! We served this with a nice fresh salad and some rolls from the freezer that were reheated. It was a lovely dinner!

Take a minute to see what my chef friends are cooking for the challenge this week! Great ideas and recipes!