Monday, March 3, 2014

Penna Vodka!

As we enter the holy season of lent, I wish everyone a Happy Carnevale, Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or whatever you choose to call it. Most Italians keep the tradition of Lasagna on this day, but any robust and richly flavored pasta will satisfy everyone at your table! In that spirit, I am sharing my Penne Vodka recipe. This is EASY to make! Enjoy!

1 pound penne
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 scallion, sliced
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (I use Tutta Rosa or San Marzano, any other tomatoes are against the "Camille Law!")
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup vodka (buy a high quality brand to keep in your kitchen so that it is always on hand for this recipe as well as others!)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cup freshly grated cheese (I use Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

In a large pot, boil water for the penne. When water begins to boil, add salt liberally. Let water return to a boil, and cook penne to al dente. While water is boiling and the penne is working, warm the olive oil and butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Sprinkle in the crushed red pepper and allow to sizzle as it flavors the oil and butter. Add the garlic and scallions and cook until tender. Pour in the crushed tomatoes, and stir the ingredients together. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper and bring to a lively boil for three minutes. Pour in the vodka, lower the heat and allow the sauce to simmer until the penne is ready. Pour the heavy cream into the simmering tomatoes and vodka and stir in to create a creamy sauce. Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain the penne. Add the penne to the sauté pan.

If your saute pan is not large enough to hold all the penne, then return the pasta to the pot and pour in the sauce from the saute pan. Toss in the grated cheese and parsley and mix the sauce and penne very well. Add the reserved pasta water, as needed. Add more grated cheese to your liking. You may also garnish with basil for color. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lucy's Rice Pudding!

Lucy and Her Rice Pudding

It is often said that one must love to cook in order to be a good cook. However, I do firmly believe that any person who does not particularly enjoy time in the kitchen can still offer enjoyable edibles to please their family and friends. One can also signal that a lot of love was put into the preparation of the dish. This pretty much sums up the cooking scenario when it comes to my sister, Lucy.
In our family, Lucy is the serious business mind, and I am the creative wild child. While we are known as a perfect pair for hosting large formal parties and charity functions, we each support a different side to the project. Lucy handles the finances and the organizational tasks, and I breathe excitement into the theme of the event. Suffice it to say, it is always quite a ride for everyone involved.
My sister will often tell people how she prefers not to step into the kitchen. A restaurateur for over thirty years, she has an adoration and educated knowledge of fine food, but she would rather have somebody else do the cooking as opposed to herself.
In spite of my sister’s lack of culinary enthusiasm, she has mastered more than one dish and especially one in particular. Lucy makes the best rice pudding I have ever tasted. The recipe was given to her by a long ago colleague named Nellie Rothstein. My sister was so taken with the rich creamy taste that boasted such pure ingredients, that she was determined to make it her signature dessert in all the following years.
Lucy did master that pudding, and as the years went by it was greatly anticipated by our family and friends for our many gatherings. I still recall a Thanksgiving project that my son, Christopher, did for his teacher when he was a little boy. He was asked to list all the things he was grateful for during the holiday season of giving thanks. He listed his family, friends, toys, and games. The very last item on the list was “and Aunt Lucy’s rice pudding!”

1 cup Carolina rice
2 cups cold water
2 quarts and 1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

In a large pot, bring rice, water, 2 quarts of milk and sugar to a full boil. Lower to a simmer for forty five minutes while stirring constantly. Rice should be soft. Stir in eggs, remaining milk, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Bring to a complete boil. Lower to a simmer for five minutes while stirring constantly. Remove immediately from heat and pour pudding into a deep casserole dish. Sprinkle a bit more cinnamon on top. Cool completely and refrigerate. Serve cold.
Camille’s tip: It is best to make this recipe the day before as the pudding will settle into a desired and creamy firmness. 

Irish Soda Bread

            As a little girl, I attended St. Patrick's Elementary School in Brooklyn, NY. There I was with my olive complexion, pitch black hair, dark eyes and a very Italian name. This meant that I couldn't fake being Irish every month of March, even if I were so inclined. However, March rolled along every year, and my family enjoyed the St. Patrick's day season along with our many Irish friends.
             My Aunt Pauline would cook up huge pots of corned beef and cabbage. In salute to our Italian heritage and in honor of the fact that St. Patrick was a Roman, she also prepared green spinach pasta. I always thought that was a stroke of genius on my aunt's part.
             Aunt Pauline would also serve warm melt-in-your-mouth Irish soda bread, and it quickly became a favorite for our whole family. As we are Italian, Irish soda bread was not something we baked ourselves. We always purchased it from the local bakery. As I grew older, this did not sit well with me. I simply had to bake this favored bread myself.
             During my feverish desire to uncover the best Irish soda bread recipe on the planet, my dear friend Joan Lane, and her daughter Mary Ann were happy to present their recipe, which had a story of its own.
            Joan and her husband, Bill, were friends with the Hayden family. Mary Ann told me that the “Hayden Irish soda bread” was the very best recipe she had ever encountered and the taste was incomparable. 
            However, before finally sharing their recipe, years ago, the Hayden family was very secretive on the best way to bake Irish soda bread. Bill Lane cajoled, pleaded, and asked for years, but the Hayden Family refused to reveal the delicious details to him.
            Decades passed by, and one evening, Joan and Bill were in the company of Mrs. Hayden. Bill was determined to finally get that recipe. He spent the evening helping Mrs. Hayden enjoy quite a few drinks. Happily imbibed, Mrs. Hayden, under Bill’s guidance, finally and graciously gave him the recipe.
            I baked this soda bread  many times in my kitchen, and each time I was not disappointed. In fact, I was quite elated! The crust comes out to a deep golden hue. The warm inside of the loaf is buttery, with the moist flavor of rich raisins and caraway seeds. My thanks to the Lane family, and also the Hayden family.

I wish all my readers a happy and safe St. Patrick's Day!  

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
1 cup raisins
1 cup currants
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 eggs 
1 cup milk

In a bowl, stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. Cut in vegetable shortening with a pastry cutter. Rinse raisins and currants with water. Shake a little flour over them. Add them, along with the caraway seeds, to dry mixture. Beat eggs. Add milk to eggs, and then slowly add to dry mixture. Mix well and form into dough. Place dough in a round glass baking dish or standard loaf pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for fifty minutes.