March 31, 2010

A Labor of Love

What is spiedini? I will tell you. It is beef sirloin that has been sliced painfully thin, pounded into submission, breaded, stuffed and rolled onto a toothpick with a bay leaf and quickly broiled to produce the most satisfying two bites of heaven you will ever know. It is essential to be aware of the many steps that go into to creating these lovely morsels. Because it is only after experiencing the slicing, pounding, breading, stuffing and rolling (for just two bites!) first hand that you come to understand that to make spiedini is truly a labor of love.

Our family makes spiedini for very special occasions (at Christmas, assembly lines are formed and Generals are appointed), and only for our dearest friends. Truthfully, if you’re not related to us, there is very little opportunity to actually procure one of these suckers. There is one particular party that my parents give every year where I am called home and Nonna is actually flown in to help with party preparations, including the making of the spiedini. The invite list is selective and usually consists only of my parents’ closest friends and trusted colleagues… You see, when my family invites you into our home, really what we are doing is inviting you into our kitchen.

Of course there was this one year where my dad’s friend and colleague came, along with his wife, and camped himself out right in front of the spiedini platter for the entire party. There were no left-over’s the next day. We would later come to know this man’s true colors, and all I have to say about that is, to this day, I’m reluctant to serve spiedini to anyone outside of the family. In fact, as I’m writing this, I hesitate to even share with you the recipe.

However, I have the ability to be reasonable on this subject. I can recognize that it would be unconscionable to allow one (or in this case two) bad persons to ruin the spiedini experience for the masses. So I give to you this recipe with a pointed warning, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but this in no way means you should feed them spiedini.


Thick sirloin steak, trimmed of fat
Two bunches of green onions, chopped
2 or 3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
Genoa salami, chopped
Good quality Italian breadcrumbs
Olive oil
Bay leaves

In terms of the amount of meat used for this recipe, I’m afraid you will find my guidelines very unhelpful. We rarely make spiedini for less than thirty people, so generally we end up with about half a cow’s worth of sirloin. For the purposes of this blog, I used about 2 lbs of meat, which made enough spiedini for me and Tom for dinner, and an afternoon snack the next day…

Slice the sirloin against the grain into about 4 inch long strips. Pound out the strips so that they are barely a ¼ of an inch thick. The pounding portion of the spiedini-making process is extremely therapeutic, which is why I suspect my Dad has become the family’s official speidini pounder- to cope with being the lone Polish guy in the midst of 100 crazy Italians. He even has his own mallet.

Oil and bread the sirloin slices, and lay out in one layer on a large baking sheet covered with tin foil.

Proceed by placing a piece of onion, tomato and salami on each breaded slice.

Roll the breaded slices as tightly as you can, securing the roll with a toothpick. Two spiedini to a toothpick separated by a bay leaf. Nonna will tell you to make sure the bay leaf is sticking up…it makes the toothpick prettier.

Broil rolled spiedini on the toothpicks 3-5 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Sprinkle with some kosher salt. Be aware of who you’re serving these to, and enjoy!

March 20, 2010

The Pope's Garden

Lately it feels that I have been doing a lot of waiting- waiting for spring, waiting for opportunities, waiting for changes. But sitting around and waiting for the things you want is not a wise idea. As Nonna’s mother used to tell her, “I want, I want, I want! This tree does not take root even in the Pope’s garden!” (Because, clearly if such a tree existed in a garden, that garden would have to belong to the Pope)

Anyways. A couple of weeks ago, to escape the funk I found myself in, I decided that I needed Crema for breakfast. Crema is the dessert our family makes when a.) People want cannolis but we’ve run out of Nonna’s cannoli shells, b.) The ratio of cannoli stuffers, to cannnoli eaters is 1:40, or c.) We don’t like you enough to feed you cannolis.

This was a go-to dessert for my Great Grandma Tocco who had twelve Sicilian children to feed. I don’t know how Grandma Tocco would feel about my making Crema for breakfast, for two, but the moral of my story is this: You might not always get what you want, but you will get what you need, especially if what you need is Crema.


The nice thing about Crema is that it is super easy to make and it feeds a lot of people, making it the perfect dish for dinner parties. Because the custard is egg-based, you really shouldn’t serve this dish after three days. That would be a bad idea.

1 cup sugar
½ cup flour
4 TBLS cornstarch
2 egg yolks
4 cups whole milk
2 tsp vanilla extract (the real stuff)
2 tsp almond extract (again, the real stuff)
2 packages of Sara Lee pound cake (found in the frozen dessert isle)
2 milk chocolate candy bars roughly chopped
A pinch of Italian cinnamon
Marciano cherries, halved (enough to cover the surface so each “piece gets a couple of cherries)
Amaretto Liqueur

Slice the shortbread into roughly 1-inch slices. Cover a baking sheet with the slices. Douse the amaretto liqueur onto the shortbread.

In a decent sized stockpot combine the dry ingredients.

Heat 2 cups of milk in the microwave to warm it through (do not let it boil!).

Beat the egg yolks into the remaining 2 cups of milk and pour into pot. Add the warm milk. Whisk constantly over low heat until the mixture becomes the consistency of pudding.

Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla and almond extract.

Pour the warm custard onto to shortbread and spread evenly. Sprinkle the chocolate over the custard and place on the cherries.

Store in fridge with wax paper placed gently on top.

*If enjoying Crema for breakfast, I highly recommend adding a mimosa to the experience.