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

Directions:

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

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

Web Site: http://www.holstens.com

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: http://www.jerseydawg.com

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: Chef Patrick Pierre-Jerome Returns to Montclair

April 30, 2012

Church Street has long been called  “the gem” of Montclair; blossoms, boutiques, benches, and great breakfast! But one thing seemed to be missing. Restaurant enthusiasts have often lamented – albeit secretly -the absence of a world class chef on this picturesque, pedestrian friendly street.  Gastronomes can now rejoice over the arrival of acclaimed chef, Patrick Pierre-Jerome.

I had the opportunity to sample a few of Chef Pierre’s new dishes.  Read all about the tasting on  Hot From The Kettle!


NJ Dining: Empanada Mania

April 29, 2012

Empanada Mania
62 S. Washington Ave., Bergenfield NJ
(201)322-2150

Web Site: https://www.facebook.com/EmpanadaMania

Empanadas. The glorious deep fried pastry pocket filled with juicy Latino goodness. We’ve shown you the magic art of how they are made. And we’ve also shown you Empanada-themed restaurants. 

Finally, the empanada craze has reached Northeast Bergen county: Bergenfield.

Also Read:

Empanada Mania is a small shop owned by Galo Grijalva, a long-time resident of Bergenfield. The store makes every single empanada from scratch, deep fried to order from fresh ingredients. The menu is specialized to the empanadas, plus ceviches and chili which are served only on Fridays.

Empanada Mania storefront on Washington Avenue in Bergenfield.

Are you ready for some fresh fried empanadas? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below.

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NJ Dining: Daryl

April 15, 2012

Daryl Restaurant
302 George Street, New Brunswick, NJ. 08901
(732) 253 7780

Web Site: http://www.darylwinebar.com

Local New Jersey food blogger Melody Kettle recently did a great write up of all of the restaurants of Zod Arifai, the Albanian-born rock n’ roller turned rogue self-taught chef whose establishments have been getting tons of critical acclaim.

In Late February I was invited with a group of other food writers/bloggers to dine at Daryl, the wine bar in New Brunswick where Zod has taken over as Executive Chef.

I have dined in the past at Zod’s other restaurant, Blu in Montclair. Many of my peers are of the opinion that it is one of the most creative and best fine dining establishments in all of Northern New Jersey.

While I agree that the quality and creativity is definitely there, as is Zod’s technical skill, Blu just isn’t my speed. I think there’s just too much going on with the food, as if the place is Zod’s mad scientist laboratory.

I’ve had some major and heated arguments with folks about the place, and I’ve been accused of being closed minded.

While I do enjoy modern cuisine interpretations, ranging from the deconstructivist to molecular gastronomy, I personally tend to prefer cuisine that is more straightforward and which isn’t trying to break the light speed barrier or re-invent the wheel.

Blu is more of the second type, so stylistically it doesn’t tend to resonate with me as well. This is more of a personal preference thing, and not a reflection of the quality of the restaurant.

So I was actually relieved when I found Daryl to be more down to earth in concept — small plates, pastas, meat and fish to compliment the restaurant’s wine list and beverage program. And it also is conveniently located very close to the State Theatre, so if you are going to see a show there, it’s an ideal dining venue.

Daryl’s main dining room.

Daryl is a modern, but earthy restaurant which will please foodies and wine enthusiasts alike. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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NJ Dining: Nosher Rye

April 14, 2012

Nosher Rye
51 West Allendale Road, Allendale, NJ 07401
201-995-1204

Web Site: http://www.nosherrye.com

Huge multi-decker sandwiches on soft rye bread. Chopped Liver. Knishes. Sour Pickles and Coleslaw. Black Cherry sodas and Egg Creams.

Yeah baby, I know what you want. 

To me, it sounds like the opening lines of a phone sex conversation. But let’s face it, for many of us Jews, the stomach is our sensual organ of choice. And for those of us of Eastern European extraction, the Ashkenazim, the deli is the cultural center of our sensual universe, much like the synagogue or the temple is our soul.

But as we all know, the delicatessen is a dying breed. They are expensive to run and the pleasures they offer are not appreciated by many.

Also Read:

So I was pleased to hear that a new Kosher-style delicatessen had opened in November of 2011 in nearby Allendale. Managed and owned by Steve Vaccari  (who  also owns Goldberg’s Bagels in Wyckoff) the 48-seat restaurant offers the traditional Jewish deli we all know and love with a few extra tweaks to fit modern tastes. Vaccari has also brought in a dream team of seasoned deli men with decades of combined experience in order to make it a quality operation.

I say we skip the foreplay and get right down to business, shall we?

Cue the Klezmer porno music. You’re about to get your deli groove on. Click on the “Read the rest of this entry link below” for more.

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NJ Dining: Everything you wanted to know about Nowruz as a foodie

March 23, 2012

The Vernal Equinox marks the start of Nowruz — an ancient festival celebrated by people of Persian descent. While many modern-day Persians are muslims, the festival is really a purely Persian/Iranian one rather than a religious one, and it has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years.

That makes Nowruz one of the oldest celebrated festivals in all of  modern civilization. In fact, the Jewish festival of Purim as well as several others may be based on Nowruz. Nowruz is also celebrated by Zoroastrians, the Bahá’í Faith and various other religions and cultures.

Officially, Nowruz marks the beginning of the new year in the Iranian calendarHowever, the main takeway for foodies is that this is one of the best times of the year to sample Persian cuisine.

I’ve written about Persian food a bit on Off The Broiler in the past, although I consider myself fairly new to it. The ingredients and flavors are exotic and very different from other cuisines in that part of the world, so it’s a real treat when you can find restaurants that do serve it.

Also Read:

This year, the center for all Nowruz activity was held on March 18 at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Seacaucus, New Jersey.

The festival was held in the main ballroom, and boy was it buzzing with activity. There were merchants galore, the place was utterly stuffed with people, the room was pulsating with throbbing Iranian disco music, and there was at least four restaurants and catering businesses represented serving all sorts of Persian food.

The smells, the sounds and the atmosphere were intense.

Ready for some food fit for a Persian king? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more

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NJ Dining: Candlewyck Diner

February 26, 2012

Candlewyck Diner
179 Paterson Ave, East Rutherford, NJ 07073
(201) 933-4446

Web Site: www.candlewyckdiner.com

See the complete photo gallery (50) on Flickr

Let’s do a bit of foodie word association. If I say “Jersey” the next word should be… Diner.

At a classic Jersey diner, you would expect to see folks like this.

And table scenes like this.

and food like… this.

And for 42 years, that’s exactly the kind of stuff that the Candlewyck Diner in East Rutherford served. That is, until the owners decided to give the place a total makeover, and raise the bar on Jersey Diner food.

For more great Jersey diner fare, click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below.

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Menorah-rama

December 5, 2010

Last night, my wife and I were privileged to be invited to the home of Sid and Shuey Horowitz, a couple that has been collecting Chanukah Menorahs (Chanukiyot) for about 40 years. In the last 15 years or so, the couple has invited over 100 people to their home during Chanukah (Hanukkah, if you prefer the alternative transliteration) for a large party in which dozens of Menorahs are lit, and guests are encouraged to bring their own.

The entire operation is very well organized — the garage of the Bridgewater, NJ home is converted into a Menorah shrine, with fire-proof tables set up along the three walls.

Want to see all of these lit? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

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