Recipe: Pasta a la Gandolfini

June 21, 2013

James Gandolfini, who passed away at a tender young age of 51 this week, was an actor who played film and TV characters that were bigger than life.

More often than not, they were the “Bad Guys”. But from all accounts I have heard, especially from those who knew him personally, Gandolfini was a kind, gentle and generous man that respected everyone who he worked with. I never met him. I wish I did.

Gandolfini will always be known for his role in playing the modern-day Italian-American New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano, a thug with a heart, a family man, and a man with considerable weaknesses and great personal demons.

He was brutal, as a Mafia Don should be, but he commanded respect and he was obviously a guy that appreciated the good things in life. Like Gandolfini.

So for Gandolfini, who like his alter-ego Tony Soprano also grew up in the Garden State, in the exact Bergen County area I lived in for 22 years, I wanted dedicate a dish to him.

This is what I came up with — a  pasta twist on the classic Italian-American sausage and peppers that is seen in summer festivals and pizza restaurants as a sandwich all over the New York and New Jersey metro area.

But like Tony Soprano, this one has a bite.

The recipe is also somewhat heart-healthy as it only uses a small amount of oil. Given the circumstances of Gandolfini’s passing, he’d probably not want you to go the same way.

This dish calls for fresh ripened tomatoes (plum, if you can get them) and fresh basil. Don’t even bother to make it unless you have these.

Pasta a la Gandolfini

Servings, 2

1/2 Box of Dried Pasta (6oz) , Whole Wheat preferred

3/4lb  fresh Italian sausage, hot or sweet. If sweet add chile pepper flakes.

1 Tbps Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 White Onion, sliced

1 Red Bell Pepper, sliced

4 or 5 Cubanelle Peppers, sliced

1 Habanero Chile or other very hot chile pepper, fresh, julienned

4 Garlic Cloves, julienned

1 cup diced ripe tomatoes, preferably a variety from your garden

1 handful of fresh basil leaves (also from your garden)

Grated Parmigiano Cheese to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste


Cook pasta of your choice in salted boiling water to al dente consistency while you prepare the condimenti.

Remove sausage from casing if using links. Brown in large non-stick pan and drain to remove excess fat. Set aside in large bowl.

Using a silicone basting brush, brush a scant amount of olive oil in the pan, saute the onions and peppers of each type individually, adding to the bowl with the sausage as soon as you get some char marks and is just barely cooked.

Add the rest of the oil to the pan, along with the sliced hot chile pepper and garlic. Stir for 30 seconds then add the tomatoes. Once again, just cook until they barely wilt. Add the reserved ingredients back to the pot.

Reserve about 1/2 cup water when you drain the pasta. Add the pasta and the water to the pan and toss to combine with other ingredients.

Remove from heat, add the basil, black pepper & cheese.  Toss and serve.

NJ Dining: Holsten’s

June 20, 2013

With news of James Gandolfini’s passing, I thought that I would pay respect to the man by bringing back some older content about the restaurant that will always be remembered for the place where the iconic TV series that defined the actor’s career met its end.  — JP

NEW: Click for Hi-Res Slide Show

1063 Broad St, Bloomfield, NJ
(973) 338-7091

Web Site:

Holsten’s, as depicted in the final scene of The Sopranos. (HBO)

There was a time back in the not so distant past where the typical activity for dating teenagers on a Friday or Saturday night was to head down to the local Ice Cream Parlor or Malt Shop, sit down at the counter, share an Ice Cream Soda or a malted with a hamburger and fries, and then go out and see a B picture at the drive-in. As my grandparents and my parents used to tell me, there once were many such malt and ice cream soda shops, but few of these American originals survive today.

One such place that seems to have resisted the destruction of these quaint landmarks of the 1950’s is Holsten’s, in Bloomfield. Opened in 1939, going there is literally like being sent back in a time machine to observe the social habits of pre-WWII and 1950’s American youth. The menu of ice cream treats and food items it serves are totally retro.

This is not by design like one of the newer established 50’s chains like Johnny Rockets or Cheeburger Cheeburger, but because it has ALWAYS been that way — it is the Real Deal in every respect. The prices are also remarkably cheap, and while there only are about a dozen or so varieties of ice cream, all of them are made in-house and are very fresh.

Holsten’s Storefront.

You don’t need to be the Jersey mob boss to appreciate the old-time ice cream at Holsten’s. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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Florida Dining: Jersey Dawg

June 11, 2013

Jersey Dawg Food Truck
(305) 582-8849

Web Site:

Twitter: @jerseydawg201

Jersey Dawg Food Truck, parked in the Shell Station on the corner of Cypress Creek Road and Powerline in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

I’m frequently asked, “Is there life after Jersey?”

It was almost one year ago that Rachel and I packed up what remained of our belongings and set forth in a Volkswagen to South Florida. We got on the New Jersey Turnpike, and drove until it became I-95.

A week later, we found ourselves in the Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach area. Which we now call home.

I’ve made my choice and I’m very happy with it. The weather is fantastic, I have a lovely home. The food down here is great. I have no complaints.

Well, maybe one or two.

There are certain types of food items that are either difficult or impossible to find in South Florida. You either have to go to great lengths to get them, or they just plain do not exist. And there’s certain things I fully accepted I would never have again, unless I returned home.

Like New Jersey-style hot dogs and sliders.

I mean, you don’t even think such a thing would exist here, so you don’t go looking for it. Sure, we have some really good burger and dog places. We even have a food blogger down here that specializes in it. He’s practically a celeb.

But these are substitutes and not full-blown replacements. The only way you can replicate this kind of food is to have the exact ingredients and to prepare it exactly the same way. By someone who is intimately familiar with such things.

So when I heard about Jersey Dawg, a new food truck that recently started doing Jersey-style hot dogs and sliders, I couldn’t wait. I hadn’t had either one in a year.

Yes, fairy tales can come true. It can happen to you. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more. 

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NJ Dining: Strip House Strip Steak

December 4, 2012

Nothing gets my glands going like a good piece of meat! Marbleized, thick, and rare – it’s the stuff Pavlovian dreams are made of!

Hot From The Kettle has been inside many kitchens, but few have left me in an absolute state of salivation like Chef Bill Zucosky at the Strip House.

The Strip House is located in the award-winning Westminster Hotel in Livingston.  Decked out in red, black and velour, the Strip House might be the setting for scandalous affair, but it is always the place for a phenomenally satisfying meal and excellent cocktails.

Chef Bill taught me how to cut the Strip House’s signature strip steak.  Check out the video!

NJ Dining: Hunger Construction Food Truck in Montclair

November 6, 2012

From taco’s to Thai food,  New Jersey  food trucks are establishing a loyal and well-fed following.

Hot From The Kettle® caught up with the Hunger Construction crew while their big red truck was parked near Mountainside Hospital.  Owner, Aaron Rosenzweig, along with fellow potato heads, Shegan Rubin and Mav Bell, stuffed our spuds with chunky pastrami, hotdogs, cheese sauerkraut and more!

If you’re a first timer, be advised, there are no forks to be found on the Hunger Construction truck. The method for attacking these giant spuds is most definitely, head down and go!

Just how big are the spuds? Big, I tell you! Aaron purchases fifty pound bags of potatoes with the lowest count available from Restaurant Depot.

Priced from $5 – $8 dollars, one stuffed potato is certainly enough to satisfy the most voracious eater.

If you want to know everything about Hunger Construction, check out John Lee’s article from last month. Remember to follow Hunger Construction on Twitter at @hungerconstruct.

Want to get on board the food truck! Watch the video below and visit the gallery for more pics from Hunger Construction!

NJ Dining: Strip House in the Westminster Hotel in Livingston

October 3, 2012

It’s the setting for a scandalous affair – dim lighting, crimson banquets, red velour sofas, and black and white photos of sultry stars.  The Strip House, in the Westminster Hotel,  smacks of refined bordello chic, and tastes as decadent as its décor implies.

Baked Alaska

The menu at The Strip House boasts the usual steak house offerings, Iceberg salad, oysters, potatoes prepared a variety of ways, crispy onions, and steaks with bones big enough to take home to the dog! In the era of New American cuisine, a steak house runs the risk of becoming staid and dare I say, boring. But under the direction of Executive Chef, Bill Zucosky, flawless execution and dedication to highest level of quality and service, has distinguished the Strip House from the steak house herd.

Read all about the cocktails, the bone-in filet mignon and 24-layer chocolate cake on Hot From The Kettle.

NJ Dining: Lunch at Bar Cara & Tasting Menu at Blu

September 27, 2012

For those who don’t know, take heed: Ryan DePersio’s Bar Cara makes great pizza! The dough at Bar Cara undergoes a 24-hour cold ferment – like any great pizza dough should – and has a nice flavor profile that is noticeable and a light lift.
Then, there’s the Burger Americano priced at a very reasonable $10. Much has been said about burgers in New Jersey, and  I have my own personal favorite, but Ryan’s ranks right up there with the best. Bar Cara uses a special blend of beef, brisket, short rib, and sirloin. And can we say, toothsome?
Read more about the Bar Cara lunch, including charred octopus with crisp sunchoke, and the best-ever pistachio ice cream, on Hot From The Kettle.
Next, Blu, a small, darkly lit, BYO in Montclair is the perfect place to indulge a sinfully delicious meal.  Chef and owner, Zod Arifai, never appears in the dining room, but works wizardry from the kitchen, weaving textures and tastes into an all-but-irresistible spell.
When you are in the restaurant of a renown chef, like Zod Arifai, it’s best to let him have his way with you- opt for the chef’s tasting menu!   Read all about the  nine-course degustation on Hot From The Kettle.

NJ Dining: Lebanese-French Fusion at Uncle Moustache

September 21, 2012

I stumbled into Uncle Moustache one Saturday afternoon because my daughter liked the name.  I’m glad she did, since that wonderful afternoon I’ve returned to Uncle Moustache at least six times for brunch, lunch and dinner.

So what’s behind the funny name? The owners, of Uncle Moustache, Chef Wisam El Masri and Ali Lyoussi, are dedicated, charming hosts, and the former managerial team of  Uncle Moustache in Manhattan.

Read more on Hot From The Kettle.

Ribs Within: The Taste of Victory

August 5, 2012

For those of you watching Chopped: Grill Masters I wanted to bring back a great post about Doug Keiles, one of my best buddies and who is appearing on the show as a competitor this evening.

For the past year, I’ve have had the privilege of being able to photo-document the inner workings of Ribs Within, a New Jersey-based BBQ team run by my good friends Doug and Laura Keiles.

Last weekend, Doug and Laura achieved something they have wanted for a very long time. They won the Grand Championship at Grillin’ on the Bay, a Brooklyn-based grilling contest.

Also Read: Ribs Within Wins “Grillin’ on the Bay”, March 26 2011. (

Also Read: Grillin’ on the Bay 2010 (Off The Broiler)

Nineteen teams competed on a bitter cold, 25-degree day in five separate categories.

While I was not able to attend this year’s contest as I did last year, I did attend the practice session at Doug and Laura’s home in Hillsborough the weekend before. As to not tip off the competition as to the team’s winning strategy, I did not post the photos here until now.

Here you’ll see all the winning dishes, as well as a few that were possible candidates for entry but didn’t make it.

Ribs, which won first place at the contest. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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NJ Dining: Taqueria Autentica

August 1, 2012

On a recent, lazy, hazy summer day, the Lil’ Kettles had a hankering for tacos. But the Lil’ Kettles didn’t want the tacos Mommy makes. They wanted tacos “like the ones we had in Mexico, Mommy!”

Just about one year ago, Michael Natiello opened Taqueria Autentica, the brick and mortar version of the very popular food truck by the same name. Hot From The Kettle was at Taqueria Authentica for their Grand Opening and Elizabeth Palmer raved about it!

So, the Kettle’s made the journey out of Montclair, and over to 1035 Broad St., Bloomfield for authentic tacos.  Read more on Hot From The Kettle.