the Hot Italian

It sounds like a come-on, doesn’t it? But I’m talking about spicy Italian cooking here! Now, I’ve done things like spaghetti,  lasagna, and pizza. Sandra, the Feisty Italian chef told me some things about Italian food that I didn’t know. First, pizza isn’t real Italian food. That’s like chow mein isn’t real Chinese food either. The second thing Sandra explained was that Italians only eat lasagna on feast days. I was too ashamed to mention what a horrible thing the Thai have done to spaghetti sauce (ketchup is the main ingredient. Shudder.).

I went grocery shopping for ingredients mainly at Trader Joe’s on Broadway. On Wednesday afternoon, I picked up ciabatta bread, basil, eggplant, peppers, tomato paste, romaine lettuce, fresh mozzarella cheese, and rigatoni all for just $19.02. At Fairway I got a jar of hot cherry peppers, two 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes, a zucchini, and dried parsley. I decided to treat us to sparkling apple cider so that came to $14.96. I bought four chicken breasts with the bone-in and skin-on @$1.99 per pound and a small bottle of apple cider vinegar for $1.00. The cost of the meal came up to just over $40.00.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to cook from an Italian so I bought this coupon from AmazonLocal for a three course Italian meal for up to four people cooked right in our apartment for $99.00.  AJ invited his friend Robin. Then The Feisty Italian cook Sandra Catena came on Thursday afternoon to the Teeny Tiny Apartment. Sandra proceeded to show us how to make a delicious home-style Italian meal in two hours. I learned the difference between EVOO and OO. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is the most expensive and is very light and delicate, best suited for salads. Olive Oil is better for cooking. So here it is.

The Hot Italian: A Three Course Italian Meal (by Sandra Catena, The Feisty Italian)

Romaine Lettuce Salad with Vinegar and Oil
1 pound romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1 loaf Italian bread (e.g. ciabatta)

Rigatoni Pasta with Marinara Sauce and Vegetables
1 pound rigatoni
1 cup mozzarella cheese, coarsely chopped
Salt
Olive Oil
2 quarts water
Olive oil

Marinara Sauce
1 medium eggplant
1 medium zucchini
1 yellow bell pepper
1 orange bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 onion, minced
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
8 whole fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped (1 teaspoon dried)
1 sprig fresh oregano (1/4 teaspoon dried oregano)
1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes (peperoncino)
Olive oil

Chicken with Hot Cherry Peppers
4 chicken breasts (skin on, bone in)
1/4 cup salt
4 cups water
1 (16 oz) jar hot cherry peppers

  1. Brine chicken breasts in cold water to cover and 1/4 cup salt for 2 hours before cooking.
  2. Peel off the leafy top of the eggplant and cut off both ends. Make 3 horizontal cuts in the eggplant from the bulbous end at the bottom. Make 3 vertical cuts in the eggplant. Slice into thin strips. Cut off the top and bottom of the zucchini. Split it in half lengthwise. Split each length down the middle. Thinly slice each length crosswise. Put in a large bowl and set aside. Slice the peppers into thin strips. Add to the bowl and set aside.
  3. Mince the onion and the garlic.
  4. In a large pot, put the tomatoes and tomato sauce. Cook on high heat until it is bubbling. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes or until thickened.
  5. In a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, onion and garlic. Cook over medium heat for 2 minutes to develop the flavors.  Add the cut-up vegetables. Toss and stir until thoroughly cooked through, about 20 minutes. Spoon the vegetables and liquid into the tomato sauce. Add the parsley and and oregano. Do not wash out the skillet.  Let the marinara sauce with vegetables cook an additional 20 minutes or until thickened. Turn off the heat.  Add the whole basil leaves and stir.
  6. To the (unwashed) skillet add the chicken and peppers with liquid. Cover and cook over medium heat, turning chicken occasionally, until cooked, about 35-40 minutes. Remove the skin and discard. Cook’s Tip: I would reduce the cooking time for the chicken to 25-30 minutes or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165˚F on an instant read thermometer. Insert the thermometer in the thickest part of the chicken.
  7. Cook one pound of rigatoni in a large pot of water seasoned with a teaspoon of olive oil and salt. Cook as directed on the package. Drain. Put about a cupful of pasta in a medium bowl. Spoon marinara sauce over and toss in a few chunks of the mozzarella cheese.
  8. Coarsely chop the lettuce. Add the vinegar and olive oil and toss to coat thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with slices of ciabatta bread.

To serve, start with the salad and the bread. Then proceed to the pasta. Fill a bowl with a cup of rigatoni, a ladleful of marinara sauce with vegetables, and a tablespoon of mozzarella cheese.  Serve the chicken last. The salad was crisp and tart. The pasta was superb; al dente and the sauce, mm-m! It was infused with fresh vegetable flavor–rather like a ratatouille. Oh darn. I forgot to take a picture of the chicken when it was cooked. I was so hungry, I was halfway through the pasta when I remembered to take a picture of it. After the pasta I was too full to eat more than a mouthful of chicken. Today, AJ ate all the leftover chicken so I have no pictures of it at all!

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