There are many kind of mothers in the world...


Some are beautiful; some are miraculous; some are obsessive; some are caring. Some, we dare say, are sexy. This month, we celebrate our own mothers and the mothers around us. To life and to love!



I'm thinking about my mother as I write this, and remembering back to Napoli so many years ago. My mother would wake me up when it was still dark outside on Saturdays and drag me onto the bus with her to go to the flea market. We had to get there early so that we could paw through the clothes and find the best stuff. The market opened at 6:00am, and my mother and I were first at the table, lifting up shirts and pants and sweaters, gauging what would fit whom, trying to bring back something for everyone. When we found something particularly nice, mamma would hold it up to one of the men who hovered behind the table, watching with eagle eyes to make sure that nothing got pinched.

She would haggle and bargain with the men, and I always got embarassed, because I thought I was too cool for that, but I sure did need the clothes. Blue jeans were the most prized item on the tables. My eyes lit up whenever I found a pair, and if they were faded or ripped or too big, no matter. As long as I had a pair in my possession, I could find a way to make them fit. Putting on blue jeans was like putting on confidence. I thought people would be blind to the cracked belt that held them around my hips and the way the butt sagged in the back, because they were blue jeans, plain and simple. They made you cool.

Shoes were a different story. We could only afford cheap plastic slip-ons, the equivalent of paper socks. Within minutes of putting them on, your feet started to sweat, and they made obscene sucking sounds with each and every step. After a few days of swilling around in the heat, our toes developed little white patches around the sides. Most of the time, I just went barefoot.

But you know what? I had so much hope in my heart in those days - it was almost bursting out of me. I just knew that I was going to have a great life. Today, I have all kinds of expensive shoes, with labels like Prada and Gucci and Ferragamo, and I truly enjoy wearing them, but I don't think any one of them has made me happier than the first day in a new pair of plastic shoes. It just goes to show you that you can be happy no matter what.

An open letter to my Mamma:

I love you always, but I'm expressing it today because this is the day that is dedicated to you. Even though many times I fail to tell you so, I want you to know that you give me serenity and you give me comfort. Best of all, you gave me life. At times I might not deserve you, but I'm so happy to have you. Thank you for being there for me. I'm singing for you today - I know I can't keep a tune, but the feeling is there! ~Your baby.

May is the best month of the year. Why, you ask? Well, because May is the month of roses - and Mother's Day - and, of course, my birthday. How much better could it get (for me, at least!)?

This May is going to be especially fine. I'm taking off in a few days for a birthday trip to Europe. I'll be starting off in Paris, and then on to Napoli to see Mamma, and then we'll end up in Capri for a little relaxation near the water. I love to travel, and I feel lucky that I've gotten to do so much of it lately. Travel stimulates the senses and makes a person feel a little more alive.... I always come back with lots of new ideas and fresh energy.

For all of you mothers, I've included several recipes that would be perfect for a Mother's Day Brunch. I hope that you have someone (or several someones) to cook for you and that your day is a special one.

I know that there are mothers of all kinds out there - new mothers, foster mothers, stepmothers, and those hoping to be mothers - and I salute you all. It isn't easy to help bring a child into the world and raise it, and no matter what role you're playing in that, I think that you are doing a fantastic job.

For those of you with mothers nearby, don't let the day pass without doing something kind to show her that you care! Make it count... the hours and years pass, and you never want to have regrets. Cherish the moments you have with your mother; give her a big hug, and better yet - make a meal for her that you know she'll enjoy (and do the dishes, too!). Cooking for someone you love is so personal and screams: I love you, and I thank you for bringing me into this world!

Ciao until next month ~


P.S: Don't forget to pre-order your copy of the Stinking Rose Restaurant Cookbook! To celebrate the publication of the book, I'll be making appearances all over the Bay Area, at places like Draeger's, Nob Hill, and Dean & Deluca, where I'll be cooking and signing books. I'll let you know exact dates in the next issue of the newsletter, and hopefully I can meet some of you in person!

Check out the Web Site!

Heading Home...
In a few short days, I'll be going home to Mamma in Napoli, and also spending time on Capri Island. I'll have lots of pictures and stories for you when I return!
Discover Capri!


Pounded Chicken Breast with a Fontina/Asparagus Center

Despite three months of continual rain, some of the asparagus managed to survive, and I'm starting to see bundles of gorgeous green shoots at the market. In this recipe, you'll pound out a chicken breast and cover it with grated fontina, capers and blanched asparagus spears, then roll it up and cook it for a beautiful and very "springy" dinner.

1 large (8-10 ounce) chicken breast
1 heaping tablespoon capers
3 asparagus spears, blanched and cooled
1/2 cup grated fontina cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
Mixed baby greens
Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, for garnish
Toasted black sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

Lay the chicken breast on a hard work surface or cutting board. With your fingers, open up the breast until it lays flat. With a small paring knife, make several shall cuts into the breast to encourage it to flatten even further; cover with a layer of plastic wrap. Using a mallet or the back surface of a saucepan, flatten the meat until it is about 1/2-inch thick. Remove the plastic wrap.

Sprinkle the breast with cheese and capers, leaving about 1/2-inch of clear space around the sides. Lay the asparagus spears lengthwise across the chicken.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and mustard; when a creamy mixture forms, add the lemon juice and sugar. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle the mixture atop the chicken breast. Carefully roll the chicken up, lengthwise, taking care to seal the edges with the tip of your finger. If the "roll" seems shaky or likely to fall apart, tie a piece of cooking twine around each end to keep it together.

There are several options for cooking. If you want a crispy crust on the outside, you may fry the chicken in 2-inches of vegetable oil for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until the meat turns golden brown and crispy around the edges.

If you want a light, delicate texture, you may steam the roll by placing it in a bamboo steamer over a skillet of boiling water. If neither of those options sound appealing, simply warm two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over high heat and sear the chicken on both sides, then lower heat to medium and cook through.

When the roll has finished cooking, remove from heat and place on a clean cutting surface. Slice the roll in half crosswise, then slice each half diagonally along the length. This will create four beautiful diagonally-shaped pieces.

Place a heap of mixed greens on each plate, and arrange two pieces of stuffed chicken breast on each plate. Arrange the tomatoes around the edges, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Enjoy immediately!

Veggie Vendors at the Ferry Building

Italian Easter Bread: Casatiello

This is one of my Mamma's best recipes - a traditional Neapolitan bread that we make during the springtime. The flavors of this bread can vary greatly by the age of the cheese used and the type of salami used... an aged Parmigiano gives a sharp, nutty flavor, while a spicy salami will add a bite. Play with it to suit your tastes. It can be as festive or as simple as you want!

2 cups lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 package dry yeast
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons coarsely grated Parmigiano
1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 c chopped dry salami
1/4 c chopped pancetta
8 whole large eggs
Coarse sea salt

In a deep mixing bowl, combine the water and sugar. Sprinkle the dry yeast over the top. Let it sit for about ten minutes, until the surface of the water becomes foamy; that is a sign that the yeast is active and working. Add the flour and salt, stirring to combine, and form the dough into a ball with your hands.

On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough for about five minutes. Slowly incorporate the last 1/2 cup of flour, using firm, smooth strokes. When all of the flour has been incorporated, and the dough is pliant and elastic, form it into a ball. Place the dough into an oiled bowl; cover and let rest in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, or until it has raised to double.

Remove the dough to a floured work surface. With the palm of your hand, gently punch the dough down and divide it into two equal parts. Put one part aside, and flatten the other piece into a rough rectangular shape. It will be uneven; that is fine. Brush generously with olive oil. Sprinkle the surface of the dough with the grated cheese, pepper, salami and pancetta.

Roll the dough lenthwise into a tube to cover the fillings, and curve the tube around to make a circle. Place into an oiled bundt pan. You can use a jello mold or a brioche mold as well - whatever oven-safe container that you have handy. Oil the pan even if it has a nonstick coating.

Take four whole eggs and place them equal distance from each other on top of the bread. Don't press them down too far, because as the bread bakes, it will rise up around them. Repeat all of the same steps with the second piece of bread dough.

Place the bread into a cold oven for 5-6 hours or overnight. Just before baking, remove the pan from the oven and preheat the oven to 400 F. Cook the bread for one hour. Remove from oven, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Serve immediately, or save for later!

Check out the Step-by-Step Recipe on the blog!

Pastiera (Neapolitan Easter Cake)
My mother still makes this cake when I go home to visit. She bakes it on a large sheet pan and cuts it into small, thick squares. She often tucks a piece into a napkin and makes me take it with me when I leave to run an errand...that's an Italian mamma for you... never wanting anyone to go hungry. Even though I usually write recipes that serve two, this is an exception: this will make enough pastiera to feed a crowd! Make some for your neighbors or your extended family - spread the love around...

1 pound angel hair pasta
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
10 eggs
3 cups milk
1 teaspoon orange water
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bring a deep pan of salted water to a boil, and crumble the pasta into the boiling water. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until al dente. Drain the water and add 2 cups of sugar to the hot pasta, stirring well. Let cool; you want the pasta to be cool enough that it doesn't cook the eggs, which you'll add in the next step.

Crack the eggs over the sugary pasta, and use your hands to combine everything together. Add the milk, orange , and vanilla, mixing until an even, soupy mixture is formed.

I like to divide the mixture into a couple of different baking dishes, for variety. You might choose two 9-inch pie pans, or one larger lasagna-type dish plus two small dishes - whatever you'd like. Divide among baking dishes, spreading with a spatula to a depth of about 2 inches.

Bake the cakes for 50 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. If you have any smaller pans in the oven, watch carefully for signs of darkening around the edges. Turn oven off and let the pans cool in the oven for an additional 15 minutes. When completely cool, about 45 minutes, place a large serving dish over the top of the baking dish and gently turn upside down, letting the cake fall on to the plate; then repeat this by placing another plate atop the cake and turning it again so that the cake will be face up.

This is a very simple, rustic cake. I like to slice it and eat it with my fingers. It makes a great accompaniment to espresso, or fresh fruit, or it makes a great snack when you're on the run!

You may notice that in the picture above, there is a cup with dried fruit and one with toasted walnuts; I was thinking about adding them, but decided to keep the recipe traditional (simple and plain) at the last minute. If you'd like to add nuts or dried fruit, be my guest!

What's up next month?

Just to whet your appetite... Next month, I'll guide you through making a lovely panacotta topped with a sweet-tart raspberry coulis, surrounded by espresso foam.

Look for the e-mail in your Inbox! In the meanwhile, be sure to visit my new blog for updates and new content.

And if you like what you're reading, forward this e-mail to a friend... the more the merrier!

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