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Nana’s Traditional Italian Easter Bread

Nana’s Traditional Italian Easter Bread

When I was growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, we would always visit my Sicilian grandparents in Sacramento for Easter. My nana didn’t speak or write English very well, but boy that woman could COOK. She made this traditional Italian Easter Bread each year, and I couldn’t wait to dig into it. Whenever I see it now, I remember my sweet little Sicilian nana bringing it to the Easter table.

No that is not a giant egg in my hand, it’s an orange, silly!

A Sicilian Easter Tradition

Now as an adult I know the correct name for this simple bread is Pane di Pasqua (literally translated as “Easter Bread”). What always amazed me as a kid was how my nana got those dyed Easter eggs into that bread! Of course, I didn’t realize you color the eggs raw, and then weave them into the Italian Easter Bread before baking. The eggs cook in the oven right along with the bread, and turn out as perfectly hard boiled (baked, actually).

Pulling the Italian Easter Bread apart is the most fun part, especially for kids. Since the dough has been braided and forms an Easter wreath of sorts, the eggs are tucked in about the braids. When you pull the bread apart, the braids unwind and loosen the eggs. All around each egg, the colors of the dyes have usually bled a little into the bread dough. Each piece ends up soft, slightly sweet and multi-colored. So much fun for a kid!

Italian Easter Bread ingredients

We dyed the eggs the night before so they were ready to weave into the Italian Easter Bread.

How to Make Italian Easter Bread

My Nana never wrote down recipes, so we had to watch her carefully and then scratch down the proper ingredients and measurements on a nearby pad while she made the dish. Her recipe and directions for making Italian Easter Bread are super easy, but it does take a while to make.

Whenever you make bread from scratch, you have to let the dough rise for a bit. I like to get the recipe started so the bread can rise, and then go on and do something else in the mean time. After all, I end up with an least an hour to kill. Plenty of time to watch an episode of Game of Thrones. Or depending on your sense of humor, Gay of Thrones is a hilarious watch as well.

Here’s the recipe – I had to modernize and improvise a bit for current tastes.

Ingredients

½ cup milk, warmed slightly

¼ cup sugar

1 packet active dry yeast

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp orange zest

½ cup orange juice

2 eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1 tbs anise seeds (optional)

6 raw eggs, dyed various colors

Optional Icing

1/4 cup powdered sugar

1/4 tsp almond extract

1 tbs milk

1/4 cup slivered almonds

Even the Easter Bunny gets into the act when we make Italian Easter Bread at our house.

 

In a small bowl dissolve the sugar in the warm milk. Add the yeast, mix well and set the mixture aside.

While the yeast is taking action, mix together 3 cups all-purpose flour and salt in a large bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the orange juice and zest, eggs, melted butter, and anise.

orange zest

Orange zest is my nana’s secret ingredient in this Italian Easter Bread recipe.

Add the yeast mixture and orange juice mixture to the flour, gently stirring together (do not overstir).

Add the remaining flour to the dough a little at a time, mixing until the dough forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, until soft and smooth. Place the dough in a clean bowl, and cover the with a kitchen towel.  Set the bowl in a warm (70-75F), draft-free place to rise for about an hour or more.

Dividing bread dough

Dividing the Italian Easter Bread dough into three equal parts with my handy thingy from Sur la Table.

Check the dough, and once it has doubled in size turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces and gently roll each into an 24” rope. Pinch one end of all three ropes together and braid the strands loosely. Shape the braid into a ring and place on a baking sheet. Weave the dyed, raw eggs into the braid. Let the ring rise until puffy and nearly doubled, 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Italian Easter Bread unbaked

When you weave the eggs into the bread dough, make sure they are anchored and don’t roll off!

Near the end of your rising time, preheat the oven to 350F. Bake the bread for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.  Let the bread cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Optional: When bread is completely cooled, mix together powdered sugar, almond extract and milk in a small bowl. Drizzle mixture over bread, avoiding the eggs. Sprinkle almonds on top of drizzle in order to stick.

Serve by allowing guests to pull apart bread in pieces. Eggs can be peeled and eaten alongside, or saved for later.

Italian Easter Bread Pane di Pasqua

Italian Easter Bread, or Pane di Pascua, is one of my favorite childhood memories of Easter with my Sicilian Nana.


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Making Pasta at Sur la Table Cooking Class

Making Pasta at Sur la Table Cooking Class

Last week my colleagues at work and I had a chance to attend a really fun Sur la Table cooking class, a fun kitchenware store located in the nearby mall. Most of us had never been to a cooking class before, so this was a virgin experience for me and others. It was a total blast and a great bonding experience. Plus, we made delicious Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu. We even made our own pasta noodles.

Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu

Our finished Fettuccine Ragu was delizioso!

Ultimately, we made this whole menu:

  • Classic Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons
  • Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu
  • Tiramisu Gelato

(And no, this is not a sponsored post – just sharing because it was fun and delicious.)

Sur la Table Cooking Class

At the back of the store, there is a giant exhibition kitchen where the Sur la Table Cooking Class sessions are held. Judging from the look of their weekly class schedule, this is a very popular thing to do. As we arrived, the cooking school staff handed us aprons and told us to wash up. Just like mom used to say!

cooking class couple at Sur la Table

Getting ready to make Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu

We situated ourselves in groups at cooking stations around the room, and waited for the Chef to signal it was time to start. They may have been a little wine poured during this set-up period, and we may have had to send someone out for more bottles. Like I said, it was a bonding experience.

How to Make Tiramisu Gelato

Just the way I like it, we made dessert first. Chef explained we would start with the gelato because it needed time in the freezer to firm up. As we mixed the ingredients, I felt my arteries hardening. Main ingredients included whipping cream, egg yolks, sugar and mascarpone cheese (yum). From there, we mixed in lady fingers, Kahlua, espresso and some other goodies. There’s more to the prep, but it ended up in the freezer looking delicious.

people in kitchen at Sur la Table Cooking School

My work colleagues cooked up delicious Tiramisu Gelato at Sur la Table Cooking School

How to Make Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu

Ok, I’m an Italian boy so I should know how to do this right? Well, even I learned some new tricks. The caramelized onions with sherry was a nice touch, and something I haven’t done before. Of course, the making of the pasta noodles was really cool since I have never done that either. There is a great place in San Diego where I buy my fresh pasta called Assenti’s. They make many different kinds of pasta noodles, all in house and so fresh and delicious.

Sur la Table Cooking school ingredients

Another view of the ragu ingredients before we started the sauce.

For purposes of this post, let’s assume you have the noodles already.

Sausage and Carmelized Onion Ragu Recipe:

(with credit to Sur la Table and a few of my own edits)

  • 1 lb mild Italian Sausage, with casings removed
  • 2 Tbs unsalted butter
  • 2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 large garlic gloves, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup cream sherry
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped, juice reserved
  • 1 Tbs minced fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn
  • Pasta noodles

To prepare ragu:

To a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add sausage and cook until browned, using a wooden spoon to break into pieces. Remove sausage from skillet and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Add butter and onions to the skillet and cook until deep golden brown, stirring often for 20-30 minutes.

ragu ingredients to make pasta sauce

As we sous chefs got ready to prep our ingredients for the ragu, Chef Douglas gave us some important instructions.

Add garlic and red pepper flakes to onions and stir. Add sherry to mixture and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Once sherry has reduced, add the sausage back to the skillet, and add the broth, tomatoes and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower heat to simmer, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To cook the pasta:

Chef taught us that regular dry pasta noodles have water in their recipe, which is why they turn to mush if you overcook them. Fresh pasta noodles are just flour, eggs and olive oil, and they do the opposite when overcooked – they get tougher. Fresh noodles only need 2-3 minutes to cook al dente, while dry noodles make take 8-12 minutes depending on the type. Either way, bring a salted pot of water to boil and add noodles to cook, stirring constantly to avoid sticking together. When cooked, drain the pasta and add save about a cup of the pasta water.

To serve:

Transfer the pasta to the the skillet with the ragu, and toss well with tongs. Add reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce as needed. Divide pasta among bowls, garnish with Parmesan and basil, and serve immediately.

Delicious and easy!

Fettuccine with Tuscan Sausage and Caramelized Onion Ragu

Our finished Fettuccine Ragu was delizioso!

Making Pasta Noodles

The process was fun in a group, and I enjoyed making pasta noodles together. Judging from the number of steps to make the dough, and then more steps to flatten it and cut it into strips, I don’t see this in my near future. I have the friendly Assenti Brothers to do that for me. However, I will say that fresh noodles just taste SO MUCH BETTER.

 


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Mama Bailey’s Lemony Chicken Piccata Recipe

Mama Bailey’s Lemony Chicken Piccata Recipe

I make my mom’s favorite family recipes all the time, a legacy of her Italian upbringing and my half-breed desire to keep that connection alive. One of my kids’ favorites from Nana’s Cookbook is her Lemony Chicken Piccata Recipe.

Fresh ingredients for chicken piccata

Fresh ingredients for my Lemony Chicken Piccata recipe were sourced mostly from our local farmers market.

 

Traditionally, chicken piccata is known for its capers and white wine sauce. Sometimes a little lemon juice is added for flavor, but our mom was a BIG lemon fan. Her version includes the juice of two large lemons, and boy is it delicious!

Mama Bailey’s Lemony Chicken Piccata Recipe is actually pretty easy to make even though there are several steps. Although mom made hers with chicken breasts, I prefer boneless and skinless chicken thighs for more flavor. I’ve gotten this recipe down to a quick and easy method, which I am happy to share with you here.

lemony chicken piccata flavor ingredients

Fresh squeezed lemon juice, capers and chopped Italian parsley are key ingredients in my Lemony Chicken Piccata recipe.

 

Mama Bailey’s Lemony Chicken Piccata Recipe

(serves a small herd)

  • 2 lbs boneless/skinless chicken thighs, flattened
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tbs fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbs fresh basil, chopped
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 2 large lemons, juiced
  • ½ cup capers
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 ½ cups Italian bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper
  • 1-2 lbs pasta of your choice (depending on how many people you are feeding!)
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Prepare the chicken

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a frying pan, pour ½ cup olive oil and set on low heat.

Flatten the chicken thighs between two pieces of wax paper, using a kitchen mallet. (If you don’t have a mallet, you can use the flat bottom of a small pot.) Pound the chicken flat to about an inch or so thick.

breading chicken for piccata recipe

The three part breading process is critical to the chickens flavor and crispiness.

 

In three separate bowls, put the flour, scrambled eggs with salt and pepper, and bread crumbs. Dip each piece of chicken into the flour to coat, then the egg mixture, then finally coat with bread crumbs. Raise the heat on the frying pan to medium, and cook each piece of chicken until browned on each side. Add olive oil as needed to keep the pan bottom well coated for frying. When browned, place the chicken into a 9×13 baking dish. Set aside.

chicken thighs frying

Breaded chicken thighs are fried crispy in olive oil before adding the other ingredients.

Create the sauce

 

In the same frying pan, add another ½ cup olive oil. Cook the onion and garlic until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the wine, lemon juice, parsley and capers. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another 2-3 minutes to combine flavors.

making chicken piccata

Now that the sauce has been cooked, pour it over the cooked chicken and pop into the oven.

 

Pour the sauce over the chicken breasts, making sure to spread evenly. Sprinkle with basil and pop into the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes. When you remove the pan, the juices should be bubbling.

While the chicken is in the oven, cook the pasta, drain and put back into the pot. Coat with about ¼ cup of olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking.

chicken piccata in baking dish

Straight from the oven, this Lemony Chicken Piccata is tangy and crunchy.

Plate It Up

 

First put a healthy scoop of pasta on the plate, then top with pieces of chicken and ladle juices over both. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese if desired, and serve with a side vegetable like broccoli rabe or asparagus.

chicken piccata ready to serve

And voila! The finished and plated chicken piccata looks quite delicious.

 

I hope you enjoy Mama Bailey’s Lemony Chicken Piccata Recipe as much as our family does!

Family of cooks @2Dadswithbaggage

For such a little woman, Mom was a dynamo – particular in the kitchen. Miss you Mom!


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Pasta With Zucchini Blossoms Recipe

Pasta With Zucchini Blossoms Recipe

Years ago we traveled to Italy with my parents, Triton’s mother, and my brother Chris on a tour from Venice all the way down to Sicily. While in Rome, we stopped into a little trattoria near the Vatican for lunch. I ordered the most amazing pasta dish made from zucchini blossoms and a touch of saffron. When I asked my mom to recreate it back home,  she made up this Pasta with Zucchini Blossoms recipe. And for you vegetarians in the crowd, this one is meatless!

cooking with zucchini flowers

Fresh from the farmers market, zucchini flowers are slightly sweet and so delicious.

Zucchini blossoms have become more popular recently, popping up in restaurants across the country. We particularly love the Stuffed Fried Squash Blossoms at Cucina Urbana in San Diego, made with lemon ricotta stuffing. But seldom have I seen these blossoms featured in a pasta dish other than in Rome (and my mama’s kitchen).

While shopping at the farmers market recently, I found an organic produce stand selling zucchini blossoms. The woman working the booth said she has not seen them sold elsewhere, and she had convinced her family members to sell the blossoms while in season. I readily bought up two baskets full, eager to make my mom’s version of this pasta favorite.

sliced zucchini rounds with flowers

I used a mandolin to slice the zucchini, but any old knife will do.

This is a very subtle dish. The blossoms give this pasta a fresh garden flavor, and the saffron and thyme add something almost sweet in taste – almost. Combined with the cream sauce and cheese, the end result is surprisingly simple and light.

Pasta with Zucchini Blossoms Recipe

Since zucchini blossoms are seasonal and only available in late Spring and early Summer, be on the lookout for these gems. These are typically the flowers stemming from the plant that do not have a squash attached. Combined with fresh pasta (we get ours from Assenti’s Pasta in San Diego), this dish is out of this world!

Pasta With Zucchini Blossoms

Years ago we traveled to Italy with my parents, Triton’s mother, and my brother Chris on a tour from Venice all the way down to Sicily. While in Rome, we stopped into a little trattoria near the Vatican for lunch. I ordered the most amazing pasta dish made from zucchini blossoms and a touch of saffron. When I asked my mom to recreate it back home, she made up this Pasta with Zucchini Blossoms recipe. And for you vegetarians in the crowd, this one is meatless!

Course Main Course
Keyword Zucchini
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 4 people

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion sliced into thin strips
  • 3 small zucchinis cut into rounds
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 small lemon grated zest
  • several saffron threads crushed
  • fresh thyme chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 - 15 zucchini blossoms trimmed and halved lengthwise (I bought 2 baskets and came home with 16)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 lb fresh pasta we prefer linguini for this recipe
  • 1 1/2 cups grated romano cheese
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley

Instructions

  1. Boil large pot of salted water for pasta, but don’t cook it until the last minute because it will only need 1-2 minutes. Fresh pasta cooks f-a-s-t!

  2. Combine 1/4 of the olive oil with onion, zucchini, salt and pepper, and cook until tender – about 3-4 minutes tops. Stir in the vegetable stock, lemon zest, saffron and thyme and heat until just bubbling. Adjust heat to low and add cream and zucchini blossoms, mixing gently as blossoms wilt.

  3. Cook pasta al dente and drain, immediately returning pasta to the pot and adding butter, 1 cup of cheese and the other 1/4 cup of olive oil. Stir and spoon into bowls. Ladle zucchini blossom mixture over pasta and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Add a pinch of parsley on the top and serve with crusty bread and a nice glass of Italian rosato (rosé).

Just like in Rome! Or at least in my mama’s kitchen.

 

happy senior couple on gondola in Venice

Mom was proud of her Italian heritage, and we were able to visit Italy as a family for a grand tour.


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Italian Stuffed Zucchini Recipe

Italian Stuffed Zucchini Recipe

My mom was a resourceful cook, creating delicious meals with limited resources. She grew up in a poor family of Sicilian immigrants, and learned to cook from my nana by adapting recipes from the Old Country to more modern American ingredients. Mom taught me many of her secrets, and I’m happy to share with you one of our family favorites – Italian Stuffed Zucchini Recipe.

preparing globe zucchini for stuffing

Any type of zucchini can be used, and we like globe zucchinis because they look so cool.

 

Summer is the perfect time to make this dish, since zucchini is in abundance at farmers markets and backyard vegetable gardens. Although you can make this recipe with any type of zucchini, I found the globe zucchini variety at our local Little Italy Mercato. They are fun to hollow out and use as natural cups to hold all the cheesy goodness.

Italian Stuffed Zucchini Recipe

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Start with four good size zucchini. Whether you have globe zucchini or the regular type, hollow them out like you would a pumpkin at Halloween. Set aside the insides – we will use them in the recipe.

stuffed globe zucchini

Hollowing out globe zucchinis, we stuff them with a mixture of sausage, mushrooms, cheese and other goodness.

 

Mom would plop the hollowed zucchini in a pot of boiling water for 2-3 minutes to soften them. I have skipped this step once or twice when making this dish. It really depends on whether you want to enjoy the finished product with a knife and fork, or more softened like a casserole.

Gather the following ingredients:

  • 4 zucchini (globe or regular)
  • 1 lb. Italian sausage (best freshly made from the butcher)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 medium (or 1 large) portobello mushroom, cubed
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (mom made her own but who has time for that?!?)
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (I used a mix of Italian cheeses readymade from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 cup romano cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbs chopped parsley
  • 2 tbs chopped basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

 

portobello mushroom ingredients

Any mushrooms can be used in this recipe, and we prefer portobellos for their flavor and flair.

 

Take the sausage out of its casing, crumble and fry in a pan with oil, onions and garlic. Add mushroom and insides of zucchini, cooking until just tender. Combine the sausage mixture in a bowl with bread crumbs, egg parsley, basil, salt and pepper. Stuff the zucchini until heaping, and place in a greased baking dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 125-30 minutes or until tender.

caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes

As a nice side dish, we love to serve sliced heirloom tomatoes topped with buffalo mozzarella and chopped fresh basil.

Serve with a dash of parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of fresh basil.

 

rototilling the vegetable garden 1971

Mom was willing to tackle anything when I was growing up, including this rototiller sesh getting our vegetable patch ready for planting zucchini and more.


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Sicilian Pasta with Fava Beans Recipe

Sicilian Pasta with Fava Beans Recipe

This delicious Sicilian Pasta with Fava Beans recipe was passed down through generations of our family from my great grandmother, who lived her entire life in Castelvetrano, Sicily. My nana made it for me when I was little, and it was by far my favorite pasta dish for my entire childhood.

I would sit in her love-filled kitchen, perched on a booster seat on top of one of her yellow naugahyde chairs. She would bring me a delicious bowl of soupy Pasta cu Favi (in the Sicilian dialect) and I would tuck in for a feast. When I make it now, I feel her love and it takes me right back to that kitchen in Sacramento long ago.

fava beans at Little Italy Mercato

Three baskets full of fava beans was just the right amount to bring home from the farmers market.

Fava Beans

Fresh fava beans are in season only for a few weeks in early summer, and now’s the time to find them at your local farmer’s market. We’re fortunate to live near San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood, where the Little Italy Mercato takes over several blocks every Saturday morning. Strolling through the Mercato is always a treat for the senses, and I typically come home with some delicious ingredients. This time it was fava beans!

fava beans being shelled in the kitchen

Preparing the fava beans for cooking is a bit of a chore, but entirely worth it.

Fava beans take a little bit of preparation before they can be cooked. After removing the beans from their shells, they have to then be peeled. Once the outer casing is removed, the tender green meat inside is sweet, delicious and slightly nutty in flavor. Believe me, it’s worth the work.

shelled fava beans

Once shelled, the fava must still be peeled to reveal the sweet inner bean.

Sicilian Pasta with Fava Beans Recipe

This recipe is really quite easy – I hope you like this dish as much as I always have.

Sicilian Pasta with Fava Beans Recipe

Sicilian Pasta with Fava Beans was one of my childhood favorites.

  • 1 1/2 cups shelled and peeled fava beans
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • 1 lb fresh pasta (my nana always used orecchiette or shell pasta)
  • 2 tbs chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • lots of grated romano cheese (lots)

Set a pot of water to boil for cooking the pasta noodles.

In a pan over medium heat, combine 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the diced onion and cook until tender. Add garlic, salt, pepper and chicken stock, heating until just beginning to bubble.

Cook pasta al dente. Drain and put back into the pot, adding the other 1/4 cup of olive. Stir and set aside.

Add fava beans to bubbling pan, cooking for 2-3 minutes until just tender. Do not overcook or you will get mush!

Combine fava bean mixture with pasta, stirring well. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle generously with cheese and add a bit of parsley for garnish. Serve and enjoy!