Thai Red Curry Chicken

Today I want to make a departure from my memories of Lista’s Italian Cuisine and write about a dish that I have become very fond of and often make at home: Thai Red Curry.


Several years ago my wife and I joined some friends to celebrate a birthday at one of the popular local Thai restaurants. At the time I was familiar with the typical Americanized versions of Asian cuisines like Chinese take-out and Sushi — but had never tried Thai food. That day I was introduced to pa pia sod (spring rolls), tom kha koong (coconut soup), phat thai (stir fried rice noodle), and phanaeng gai (chicken curry).

Since then we have frequented that Thai restaurant, and have tried many dishes, but my favorite is always one of the curries with coconut milk. So after eating curry time and again at restaurants; and after I did some research about ingredients and methods, I came up with my own version of Thai Red Curry (kaeng phet) that I can make at home and I think is pretty darn good. Admittedly, I have not endeavored to make the curry paste from scratch since there are some very good products available at the grocery store.

For my family, we like that Thai cuisine is primarily gluten free, and can be vegetarian and paleo friendly (depending on what you eat). For us it can be a healthier choice when eating out and when looking for something different at home. Although some items on a Thai restaurant menu have added sugars (often used to balance out the spiciness) you can choose to leave out the sugar when making curry at home — which is great for those of us that want to eat sugar free. Since Thai curries are traditionally served with jasmine rice which has a higher glycemic index (73) you might be better off with a long grain white rice (50) or basmati rice (53) if you are watching carbs.

There are a few ingredients in this recipe that you might not have in your pantry but really make for an authentic tasting curry:
Coconut Milk — I have been using Goya brand because I can find it without added gums and thickeners (which we prefer not to eat). I also choose to use coconut oil since I believe it has heart healthy benefits (this can be a controversial subject so I leave it up to you) plus I like that it adds to the coconut flavor in the curry.
Red Curry Paste — This is vastly different than curry powder which has a primarily Indian flavor profile. I have been using Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste which I find to have a good flavor and mild heat (the 4 oz jar would make 2 batches of curry).
Fresh Garlic and Ginger — To amp up the store bought curry paste. Although Thai cuisine calls for galangal a close cousin of ginger but a truly different thing; I find ginger is much easier to find in the grocery stores.
Fish Sauce — Made from fermented anchovies, this is one of those pungent, umani based products that only works in certain applications — however, without fish sauce the curry will not have that traditional Thai taste or aroma.
Thai Basil — Thai basil is different than Italian basil or “sweet basil.” Thai basil has smaller thinner leaves and purple stems, and imparts a distinctive ‘licorice’ flavor which just adds to the curry’s unique taste. (In a pinch you can substitute sweet basil or a pinch of star anise).

So now you should be ready to make Thai Red Curry. You can use a wok to cook this dish or use a large heavy, deep sided skillet (which I prefer). If you prep all the ingredients ahead of time and then start cooking… it literally takes minutes to finish this dish. Cooking the rice will probably take longer than making the curry. The recipe below is for Red Curry Chicken but you can use beef, pork, duck, shrimp, tofu, or just vegetables if you want.

Thai Red Curry Chicken

Prep time: 15-30 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 4

1 TBSP Coconut Oil
pinch Red Pepper Flakes (optional)
1-2 cloves Fresh Garlic – minced
1 TBSP Fresh Ginger – peeled and minced
2 TBSP Prepared Red Curry Paste (more or less to taste)
1-2 TBSP Brown Sugar (optional)
1 lb. Boneless Chicken Breast – sliced into thin strips
1 large White Onion – peeled, cut in half and sliced
1 (25.5 oz) can Coconut Milk
1 large Red Bell Pepper – seeded and thinly sliced
1 large Zucchini – halved lengthwise and sliced
1/2 lb. Long Thin Green Beans (haricots verts) – fresh or frozen
1 cup Thai Basil (or sweet basil) – washed and left whole with stems
2 TBSP Fish Sauce – or to taste (optional)
1 TBSP Corn Starch dissolved in 2 TBSP water (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Steamed Rice for serving
Lime wedges for garnish (optional)

1. In a large heavy bottom, deep sided skillet heat oil on med high, add pinch of red pepper flakes (if using), minced garlic and minced ginger and cook until fragrant. Stir in Thai red curry paste and brown sugar (if using) and cook for 2 minutes.
2. Add sliced chicken breast and sliced onion to pan, stir fry until chicken turns white about 5 minutes.
3. Pour in coconut milk, stir to incorporate with curry paste and bring to a simmer.
4. Add bell pepper, zucchini, green beans, and Thai basil to pan and stir to cover with curry sauce. Stir in fish sauce. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
4A. Optional — 
if you want sauce to have thicker consistency, add corn starch and water mixture and simmer another 5 minutes or until thickened.
5. Taste sauce and if needed adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve over hot cooked rice and garnish with lime wedges if desired.

There you have it, my version of Thai Red Curry Chicken (kaeng phet gai). This recipe is for a mild-medium red curry — if you like your curry hot and spicy add more curry paste or a couple sliced red chilies with the seeds when cooking. Taste and adjust to your liking.

If you prefer a protein other than chicken, try beef sirloin (partially frozen) that is thinly sliced across the grain… or thinly sliced pork loin… or peeled and deveined raw shrimp (added at the end with the vegetables). You can also use firm tofu either fried or unfried… or add extra veggies like eggplant, squash, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, etc. 

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Italian Chicken Cutlets

In our home like many Italian-American homes we ate lots of breaded cutlets. Whether it was veal, chicken, eggplant, or pork (a particular favorite of my Dad’s) anything breaded and fried was especially delicious.

In Italy, cutlets or cotoletta are slices of meat (usually milk fed veal) that are breaded and fried in butter or olive oil. Traditionally cotoletta was cooked and served with the rib bone still attached, while scaloppine was served boneless. Today many dishes are prepared with a thinly sliced or pounded boneless cutlet called cotoletta a orecchio di elefante (elephant ear cutlet) — and chicken is now as popular as veal. While we often think of Italian cutlets being served alla parmigiana with a tomato sauce and cheese, there are other popular preparations that involve a butter sauce (milanese); wine based sauce (scaloppine), or lemon based sauce (piccata).

In fact, parmigiana (covered with tomato sauce and cheese) was originally from the Campania region and traditionally made with eggplant (melanzane) not veal or chicken as is popular today in America.

During the Lista’s Italian Cuisine years, one of my favorite meals on the menu was veal cutlet alla parmigiana with a side of… french fries! (Yeah, like I’ve said before I had a definitely more American palate in those days.) Of course veal cutlet was one of those meats that was too pricey to feed a family of seven, so at home we more often ate chicken or pork cutlets.

When I raised my own kids it was Italian Chicken Cutlets that was the hands down favorite. Whether served alla parmigiana with sauce and mozzarella — or as a more mundane entree served with potato and vegetables, the kids loved it when breaded chicken was on the menu. And the great thing about breaded cutlets is that you can use a less expensive cut of meat and through the tenderizing and breading process elevate and extend it to make a really nice presentation.

It seems whenever I buy boneless skinless chicken breasts at the supermarket, they are gigantic! (I wonder what happen to all the normal sized chickens.) So, when making chicken cutlets I typically buy the humongous breasts and slice them in half through the middle (i.e. butterfly them) so I have 2 breast shaped pieces. Then I place them in a gallon size heavy duty zip-top bag and pound them out with my meat mallet until they are uniformly between 1/2 inch and 1/4 inch thick. This ensures the cooking process will be quick and even.

As I’ve written before, I really don’t like to deep-fry anything at home, so I like pan frying these cutlets. Make sure you use a deep, heavy bottomed skillet or frying pan when cooking with hot oil. Allow the oil to reheat between batches so your cutlets don’t get greasy. To avoid burns, use tongs to place the cutlets in the hot oil, turn them, and remove them. I find it best to drain the cutlets on a plate covered with clean newspaper which absorbs the excess oil but doesn’t make the cutlets as soggy while they wait.

And I don’t make many breaded items anymore since we are basically Gluten Free all the time, but I can still make the cutlets using GF bread crumbs (store bought or homemade) — not exactly the same texture as wheat flour bread crumbs but it works if you need to avoid gluten. To make home made gluten free bread crumbs use 4-6 slices gluten free bread and toast them until golden brown. Place on paper towels and allow to cool completely. Break the toast up into pieces and place in bowl of food processor with metal blade. Pulse until uniform fine crumbs are achieved. Place in a mixing bowl and add 1-2 tsp Italian Seasoning and 1/4 tsp garlic powder — combine thoroughly and use as you would store bought crumbs.

Note: If your family likes chicken fingers and chicken nuggets, you can cut the breasts into strips or chunks and follow the same breading and cooking techniques to make them homemade.

Italian Chicken Cutlets

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10-20 minutes
Makes: 4 cutlets

2 large Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts – butterflied
4 TBS All Purpose Flour (regular or Gluten Free)

2 Eggs – beaten with 2 TBSP water
2 cups  Italian Seasoned Bread Crumbs (regular or Gluten Free)
1/4 cup Grated Romano Cheese (optional)

1/2 cup Olive Oil (or as needed)

1. Place each breast on a cutting board and using a long sharp knife, held parallel to cutting board,  butterfly the breast by making a lengthwise cut through the entire breast leaving two even pieces.
2. Place each cutlet in a large zip-top bag and using a meat mallet (flat side) on a flat surface, gently pound the cutlet in the bag until about 1/2 to 1/4 inch thick. Continue until all 4 cutlets are uniform size.
Add flour to another zip-top bag and shake each cutlet to lightly coat. Placer on platter in refrigerator until ready to bread.
In one shallow bowl scramble the eggs with 2 TBSP water.
In another bowl place the seasoned bread crumbs mixed with Romano cheese (if using).
Dip each floured cutlet in the egg wash and then place in the bread crumbs. Press the cutlet into the bread crumbs; turn over and press into the crumbs on other side. (Repeat pressing into crumbs on both sides until evenly coated.) Remove breaded cutlet to a platter or rimmed baking sheet. Continue same process with remaining cutlets.
Heat the oil in a deep, heavy bottomed skillet on medium heat until oil is shimmering and a drop of water sizzles.
8. Using tongs, gently place each cutlet in the hot oil (don’t crowd the pan) and cook on one side for about 3-4 minutes. Gently turn over with tongs and cook on other side for another 2-3 minutes. Test cutlet with an instant read thermometer to make sure they have reached at least 165 degrees F. Remove to a paper lined plate to drain. Continue to cook until all cutlets are done.
9. Serve cutlets plain or topped with a sauce of your choice. 

There you have it, Italian Chicken Cutlets, a Lista family favorite! These cutlets are so versatile, pretty quick to make, and sure to please almost everyone. Cutlets can be served as an entree or sandwich… they can even be cut into strips to top a dinner salad.

The cutlets can be made using boneless chicken breasts or thighs, and can be made with veal, pork, or even beef. The same process can be used to make eggplant cutlets or even portabella mushroom cutlets for those that prefer no meat. (Of course you wouldn’t need to pound the eggplant or mushroom caps with a mallet.)

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Poker Night Chili con Carne

I love a good bowl of chili and my Dad made a pretty good chili that was a popular lunch item on the menu at Lista’s. In those days we called it “Chili con Carne” (chili with meat) — I guess to differentiate it from the chili made without meat, which I never heard of until the vegetarians came to power. And our chili had beans, mostly dark red kidney beans, because that’s how every self respecting chili was made in the Northeast, after all we were in Brockport, not San Antonio!

Chili con carne was also a staple in our house growing up, but it was the standard stuff made with ground beef, onions, beans, and an envelope of French’s Chili-O seasoning mix. Still it was pretty tasty and about the only time we ate Fritos corn chips for dinner. 

When I had my own family, I made chili con carne every week because my kids just loved it (as long as I didn’t put any diced tomatoes in it… chunks were very taboo with my kids). And I definitely served my chili with corn chips — and cheddar cheese on top.

Now getting back to my Dad; after the restaurant closed in 1980, Dad started his second career at SUNY College at Brockport. And when Dad retired from the college, he started hosting a weekly poker night with some of his former co-workers and old friends. Now my Dad was a darn good poker player and I’m sure he enjoyed the game — but the truth is his main deal (pun intended) was to whip up a regular buffet of eats for these guys. Dad made sandwiches, and dips, and cheese trays, and brownies… and he always made a batch of his chili con carne. And I think the guys liked the chili most of all.

I’m not much of a card player myself, so I never sat in on Dad’s poker games (although my brothers did from time to time) but I had occasionally been at the house when the guys were coming in and hear them rave about the food Dad provided. Dad was always happiest when he was cooking and serving food to people who truly appreciated it. I guess that’s one thing he passed down to me.

As I was making the chili for this post, it occurred to me that the recipe has a lot of 3’s in it. 3 pounds of ground beef, 3 vegetables, 3 types of tomatoes, 3 primary seasonings, and for this version 3 kinds of beans. I think this recipe is a good basic chili and would appeal to most palates (not too spicy, no exotic ingredients, no odd flavors). Of course like any recipe on this site, I’m working from my memories of how we did things at Lista’s or how my Dad taught me to make things, so always feel free to tweak the recipe to your own taste and preferences.

Poker Night Chili con Carne

Prep time:  15 minutes
Cook time:  60 minutes
Serves:  6-8 

3 lbs. Lean Ground Beef
1 large Onion – diced
1 large Green Bell Pepper – diced
2 stalks Celery – diced
1 (6 oz) can Tomato Paste
1 (10 oz) can Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilies (such as Rotel) – drained
1 (28 oz) can Crushed Tomatoes
2 rounded TBSP Chili Powder (or to taste)
1 rounded TBSP Ground Cumin
1 1/2 tsp Dry Oregano
1/2 tsp Granulated Garlic (optional)
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper or more to taste (optional)
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 (15.5 oz) can Red Kidney Beans – drained and rinsed
1 (15.5 oz) can Pinto or Cannellini Beans – drained and rinsed
1 (15.5 oz) can Black Beans – drained and rinsed

1. In a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat, cook uncovered, stirring the ground beef until completely crumbled and no longer pink – about 15 minutes. Drain grease and return meat to pot. Reduce heat to medium.
2. Clean and dice the onion, green pepper and celery and add to the cooked meat and continue to cook and stir until vegetables are tender – about another 15 minutes.
3. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, oregano, garlic (if desired), and cayenne pepper (if desired) – stir to incorporate and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for another 15 minutes.
Note: to amp up the heat increase the chili powder and cayenne pepper to your liking.
4. Add drained and rinsed beans, stir gently to combine, reduce heat to low and cook until heated through – about 15 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste.
5. Serve as is or with your favorite toppings (such as corn chips, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, sliced jalapenos, sriracha, etc.).

There you have it, Poker Night Chili con Carne. Whether you make it for the Big Game or family game night this chili will be a winner. I find it easy to prepare on top of the stove, but if you prefer to use your slow cooker just cook the ground beef as in step #1 – add the  meat and rest of the ingredients to your crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours. My Dad often made the chili a day ahead and reheated it in the crock pot for poker  night. And if you have leftovers they will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Friday Night Fish Fry

This weekend I joined my wife, her sister, dad and stepmom for a Fish Fry at a local restaurant. As many of you know, Friday Night Fish Fry is a dining trademark in the Rochester NY area. As long as I can remember it was a regular Friday tradition for people all around our community to go to any number of restaurants for this iconic fish dinner. Traditionally served during the Lenten season (the six week period leading up to Easter Sunday) a typical Rochester area Fish Fry consists of a battered or breaded haddock fillet (the bigger the better) served with french fries, coleslaw and tartar sauce. Over the years this classic Friday night menu item has become available any day of the week; and it has made it’s way onto menus of most restaurants, taverns, and grocery stores… even Chinese take out places feature Fish Frys. Today practically any place that has a deep fryer will feature a Fish Fry.

During those few years that I worked for my Dad at Lista’s Italian Cuisine, the Friday Night Fish Fry was truly an anchor to our financial week. From age 16 to 18 I was given the task of fryer cook on Friday nights. It was my job to produce the hundreds of fish frys that left our kitchen. It was a fast paced, greasy, stinky job but I really loved it and I was darn good at it! I can still remember the feeling of looking out the pass-through into the dining room and seeing the throng of people lining up — every table full, people waiting to cash out, people waiting for a table, and a line outside the door and literally down the block just waiting to get in. It felt both thrilling and overwhelming to see all those people and knowing that the greatest number of them would be counting on me to cook their dinners.

We had two large deep fryers at Lista’s — one fryer was used for french fries, veal cutlets and a variety of other non-fish items; while the other was exclusively dedicated to the battered haddock. We would remove the fryer baskets and cook the fish right in the heated vat of vegetable oil. Each portion of fish was hand dipped and laid in the hot oil, allowing it to cook until golden brown and piping hot. Then it was plated with the requisite french fries and coleslaw and passed through to the harried waitstaff. During the busiest hours it was almost impossible to keep up with the demand… and on one occasion I was so intent on keeping up I actually grabbed the fish from the fryer with my bare hand just to get it on the plate! 

At Lista’s we featured battered fish frys and used only the finest boneless, skinless, Icelandic haddock fillets. At first we didn’t use beer in our fish batter (since we didn’t serve alcohol) but in the latter years we began to serve beer and wine and so added beer to the batter recipe. We also served a special Grade A, extra long french fry with a cut that was somewhere between a standard 1/4″ x 1/4″ cut and a steak fry. The fries had to be as impressive as the fish itself. Plus our coleslaw and tartar sauce were house made using family recipes that were far superior to the commercially made products that many places used.

Above is a picture of my Dad’s recipe box and his hand written recipe card for fish batter — can you tell how much it was used? This box is one of my most prized possessions and one of the few remnants of my days working with Dad at Lista’s.

So, in tribute to the good old days of Lista’s I’m featuring two recipes today, the first is the original Lista’s Fish Batter and the second is the original Lista’s Coleslaw. Give them a try with some good quality haddock and french fries and create your own Friday Fish Fry at home.

Lista’s Fish Batter 

Prep time: 5 minutes + resting time
Yield: about 2 cups

1 Whole Egg
1 cup Whole Milk
1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt

1. In a suitable mixing bowl, whisk together the egg and milk until completely combined and frothy.
2. Add in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk until smooth.
3. Allow batter to rest at room temperature 5-10 minutes before using (this give the leavening time to activate and makes the batter crispier).

To fry fish: Start by patting dry the fillet with paper towels, dip the fillet in the batter completely and remove from batter allowing excess batter to drip off into bowl. Gently place the battered fillet into a large pan with approximately 3″ of hot (350 degree F) vegetable oil – about 1 1/2 quarts. Fry fish until golden brown on bottom (about 2-3 minutes) and flip over using tongs — allow to fry on other side until golden brown (another 1-2 minutes). Remove from hot oil with tongs and drain on a plate covered with several layers of paper towel. Keep warm while frying other fish fillets. Serve with french fries and the coleslaw below.

Lista’s Coleslaw

Prep time: 15 minutes
Wait time: 15-30 minutes
Serves: 4-6 servings

1/2 head Green Cabbage (about 1 – 1 1/2 lbs)
1/2 tsp Salt
1 large Carrot
1 TBSP dry Parsley Flakes
1/2 cup Real Mayonnaise (like Hellman’s)
1 TBSP Sugar
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

1. With a very sharp knife, slice the cabbage as thinly as possible and set in a large mixing bowl (or you can use a slicing attachment on a food processor if desired). Sprinkle cabbage with 1/2 tsp salt and let rest.
2. Grate the carrot on the large holes of a box grater and rinse quickly in a wire strainer under cold water; squeeze out water, and add to cabbage in bowl. (The rinsing is optional but it prevents the coleslaw from turning too orange colored.)
3. Add the parsley flakes, mayo and sugar to the bowl and mix thoroughly until well combined and everything is coated with mayo. Cover and refrigerate at least 15 – 30 minutes until cabbage has released some moisture. Stir coleslaw and season to taste with salt and pepper just before serving. Great with a Fish Fry or other home style meal.

There you have it, Lista’s Fish Batter and Lista’s Coleslaw — just right for your own fish fry. Although we only used haddock at Lista’s you can use any mild white fish for a fish fry. The batter works great for chicken nuggets, onions rings, or other similar foods too.

I hope this post brings back some memories for those of you that were fortunate enough to enjoy a fish fry at Lista’s Italian Cuisine. I would love if you shared your memories in a comment on this blog.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”

Lista’s Escarole Soup


Happy New Year 2018!  The Lista family had a wonderful time celebrating the Holidays and now we are all hunkered down weathering the sub-zero temperatures and battling the ever present “white stuff.” Of course, while waiting for the inevitable break in this cold snap, I am looking for ways to warm us up with great winter recipes.

One of my absolute favorite cold weather recipes is a soup that many people today would call “Italian Wedding Soup” but when I was growing up we simply referred to it as Escarole Soup… or more commonly just “scarola”.

This soup is another familiar recipe from the Campania region of Italy, and was a Lista family favorite frequently made by my Grandma, my Aunts, and my Dad. I can remember watching my Dad make “scarola” and being fascinated by the way the greens would be so voluminous until they hit the simmering broth, and then they would wilt down to almost nothing… and I absolutely loved that this soup was made with those tiny hand-rolled meatballs! I also recall, occasionally, Grandma would beat an egg with a handful of grated cheese and drizzle it into the soup at the very end, stirring it gently to form thin shreds of egg throughout — just amazing!

For me, Escarole Soup is one of those quirky dishes that doesn’t follow the culinary norm. But the combination of a light chicken broth with hearty meatballs really works — as does the use of the delicate pasta (acini de pepe) in contrast to the other sturdier ingredients — and the tender greens that counterbalance the firm bite of the meatballs. It’s actually this contrast and balance that gave the soup its misunderstood moniker of “wedding soup.” Contrary to popular belief this soup is not served at Italian weddings nor is its sole purpose to give the new couple stamina for their nuptial bliss.

In truth, the name “wedding soup” is more of a mistranslation. In Italian, the soup was originally minestra maritata (married soup) which is a reference to the flavor produced when the broth and greens are combined or “married” together.

I have heard that in some Italian-American families, this wonderful dish is also called “healing soup” because it is often made when someone is sick, knowing that the nutrient rich broth and veggies will provide comfort and nourishment to speed up recovery… one friend told me she always prays for the sick while rolling the meatballs as an added benefit.

Lista Family Escarole Soup

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes 
Servings: 6-8 servings

– For the Meatballs –
1 pound Lean Ground Beef

1/4 cup Italian Seasoned breadcrumbs
1 large Egg
1 clove Garlic – finely minced
1/4 cup Fresh Parsley Leaves – Chopped
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino Romano
1 tsp Salt
1/2 tsp Black Pepper
– For the Soup –
1 TBSP Olive Oil

1 medium Yellow Onion – diced
1 stalk Celery – diced
2 large Carrots – peeled and diced
8 cups Chicken Broth (homemade preferred)
1 cup Acini di Pepe or Ditalini Pasta
1 large bunch Escarole – rinsed and coarsely chopped
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano for serving
Crushed Red Pepper for serving (optional)

1. Place all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Form the meat mixture into ½ inch meatballs, and place them on a platter or cookie sheet. Wrap them with plastic wrap and refrigerate them until ready to use.

2. In a 4 quart soup pot, heat the oil over med-high heat and cook the onions and celery until just tender about 5 minutes. Add the chicken stock, turn to high and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and keep soup simmering.
3. Gently drop the meatballs into the soup and let cook for 5 minutes. Add the pasta and carrots and let everything simmer for about 10 more minutes.
4. Add the escarole and simmer for another 5 minutes until wilted. Add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with a generous sprinkle of grated Pecorino Romano cheese (and some crushed red pepper if desired). 

There you have it, Lista Family Escarole Soup.  What a beautiful combination of flavors and ingredients to warm body and soul (and maybe to cure what ails you!) Serve the soup with some fresh Italian bread or even better toasted Garlic BreadI hope you try this soup as a quick family meal or  share it with friends at your next gathering.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”


Bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew)

Q. What do sauerkraut, wild mushrooms, prunes, and marjoram have in common?
A. They are all essential ingredients in my version of Bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew).

Bigos is often considered the national dish of Poland, and is one of those ethnic dishes where each family has their own variation. Most recipes for Bigos will include white cabbage or sauerkraut; wild mushrooms, and lots of meat including smoked sausage, pork or ham, beef, and sometimes poultry or game like venison, boar or rabbit. This is definitely not for the Vegan crowd!

Bigos is definitely one of those recipes that has many ingredients and takes time to prepare and cook. But don’t let that keep you from attempting to make this stew since the result is a beautiful, rich, heart-warming pot of family tradition. 

Although historically Bigos is cooked in a kettle over an open fire, today it is prepared in the oven or more conveniently in an electric slow-cooker.  (I use one of  those counter top electric turkey roasters.) The slow cooking give the flavors a chance to meld together and allows the meats and vegetables to cook down to a thick, hearty, deep flavored stew with a moist but not “wet” or soupy consistency. Traditionalists say you should not stir Bigos, but keep it in layers (I usually stir mine toward the end of the cooking). Some families cook the Bigos for several hours one day, cool it over night (sometimes wrapped in newspapers and left outside on a cold night) and then reheat for several hours the next day before serving. Like many good ethnic recipes it is much better the next day and gets better with age.

So, what’s a third generation Italian-American doing blogging about Bigos? Well, my wife’s family is Polish and for the past several years I have been making Bigos for our annual Wigilia (Christmas Eve supper). Although Wigilia is traditionally “meatless” featuring a variety of  traditional fish, noodle, and vegetable dishes — our family has indulged the younger members by adding a few meats, like home-made kielbasa and my Bigos. The recipe below is 1/3 of what I typically prepare for Wigilia — but it is a good amount for a family and will fit in a large 7 to 8 quart slow cooker (crock pot).

Bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew)

2 TBSP Bacon Fat or Butter or Olive Oil
1 lb. Sauerkraut (from a bag or jar) – rinsed and squeezed dry

1 large Yellow Onion – cut in half and thinly sliced
1/2 small White Cabbage – thinly sliced or shredded

2 Carrots – peeled and shredded
6 Pitted Prunes – chopped
1 Granny Smith Apple – peeled, cored and chopped (optional)
½ lb. Fresh Mushrooms – sliced
1 pkg. Dried Mushrooms (found in many grocery stores) – soaked, drained & chopped
1 can Petite Diced Tomatoes – drained
1 TBSP Paprika, or to taste

2 tsp Marjoram, or to taste
1 tsp Granulated Garlic, or to taste
1 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper, or to taste
1-2 Bay Leaf
Salt to taste (be careful to taste since kielbasa and sauerkraut can be salty)

1 lb. Venison (I count on my hunting friends) – cut into 1” cubes
1 lb. Beef Chuck (i.e. pot roast) – trimmed and cut into 1” cubes
1 lb. Pork Shoulder (i.e. pork butt roast) – trimmed and cut into 1” cubes
1 lb. Smoked Kielbasa – sliced into ½” rounds
1/2 lb. Smoked Ham (optional) – cut into 1” cubes
1 cup Dry Red Wine – traditionally Madeira (I use whatever I have)
Beef broth – as needed to keep moist but not “wet” while cooking

1. Preheat oven (if using) to 300 degrees F – or preheat slow cooker on high.
2. In a large heavy frying pan, cook sauerkraut and onions in butter, oil, or bacon fat until just starting to brown. Stir in cabbage until wilted (abut 5 minutes) and transfer to slow cooker or large roaster.
3. Layer the shredded carrots, prunes, apple, (both) mushrooms, and tomatoes over the cabbage.
4. Mix paprika, marjoram, garlic, pepper and allspice together in a small bowl. Sprinkle half spice mixture over cabbage.
5. Add the sliced sausage and cubed ham in a layer over the vegetables.
6. Add the venison, pork and beef (in that order) in layers over the sausage.
7. Add bay leaves and season with remaining spice mixture. 
8. Add at least 1 cup liquid (½ wine and ½ broth) – add more (1 cup at a time) as needed during cooking to keep moist but not wet.
9. IN OVEN: Cook covered at 300 degree F for 3-4 hours, stirring once every 1-2 hours.
    SLOW COOKER: Cook covered on high for 5-6 hours, stirring only once after 3 hours.
10. When finished the Bigos should be very thick, moist and meaty – not like a soup or gravy type stew. Serve Bigos in a bowl with some Polish rye bread or traditionally with mashed potatoes on the side. Przepyszny! (Yum!)

There you have it, my third generation Italian-American version of Bigos (Polish Hunter’s Stew). Like me, you may have to make it a couple of times to get the ingredients and seasoning to your particular taste, but I hope you enjoy this incredible Polish traditional dish. Even if it doesn’t end up on your Holiday table, give it a try soon… and from my family to yours Happy Holidays!

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”


Dan’s Porchetta

My Dad, Vinnie Lista, was a true pork aficionado… he loved everything pork. Whether it was a chop, steak, tenderloin, cutlet, ribs, sausage, ham, bacon or any of the many charcuteries produced from the humble pig — Dad enjoyed them all. But his definite favorite was a simple roast pork, and often for a Holiday, instead of traditional cured and smoked ham, Dad would roast a fresh ham (which is the same shank or shoulder cut but not brined or smoked). So growing up I learned to appreciate the savory versatility of that “other white meat.”

Over the years I have made many different pork dishes, but one that I have come to really appreciate is the distinctly Italian Porchetta.

Porchetta (pronounced por-ketta) is a traditional Italian roast made from a boned whole pig — stuffed with fennel, garlic and other seasonings, heavily salted, and cooked over an open fire for up to 8 hours. The result is a crispy, fatty, juicy, salty, spicy, savory bundle of meaty deliciousness! 

authentic Italian porchetta (online image)

Originating in Central Italy, porchetta is one of those regional foods that has cultural significance and is considered a prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale (PAT) and is closely governed by the Italian Ministry of Agriculture. Porchetta is popular throughout Italy and is often associated with celebrations. Porchetta is a common street food in Rome and is often sold from food carts or vans, especially during festivals and Holidays.

Porchetta came to America with early twentieth century immigrants and has become extremely popular in Philadelphia where it is often sold as “roast pork” sandwiches served on a roll topped with cooked greens or broccoli rabe and sharp provolone cheese.

One of the characteristics of porchetta is the crispy roasted fat and skin (cracklins) that form on the outside and keeps the meat moist and tender. Many scaled down recipes (you’re probably not going to roast a whole pig) use pork belly wrapped around a pork loin — but my version uses the readily available and inexpensive pork shoulder roast (often called pork butt or Boston butt) which has enough fat to make it work.

This recipe takes a little work to butterfly the roast, season, marinate, and roast… but it is well worth the time and effort.

Dan’s Porchetta 

Prep time: Note this is a 2 day process – active prep 30 minutes
Cook time: 2-3 hours 
Serves: 6-8 depending on size of roast

5-8 lb. Bone-in (or boneless) Pork Butt Roast
Extra Virgin Olive Oil – as needed
Coarse Sea Salt – as needed
Coarse Ground Black Pepper – as needed
3-4 cloves Fresh Garlic  – minced
1 tsp Fennel Seeds – crushed
1 tsp Rosemary (fresh or dry)
1 tsp Sage Leaves (fresh or dry)
1 tsp Lemon Zest (fresh or dry)
1/2 tsp Oregano (fresh or dry)
1/2 tsp Crushed Red Pepper
Butchers Twine or 100% cotton string

1. If using a bone-in roast (least expensive) — use a sharp thin blade boning knife to remove the blade-bone being careful not to cut all the way through the meat. Then butterfly the roast so it opens up into a long rectangle — you may need to cut through some of the thicker parts as well (photo #1 above). You can find videos on how to debone and butterfly a roast on YouTube… or ask the butcher to butterfly it for you.
2. Lay the butterflied roast, fat side down on a large cutting board or your counter covered with parchment paper. Using a sharp knife score any thicker part or connective tissues to make it cook more evenly. Rub entire side of roast with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
3. In a small bowl combine minced garlic, fennel seed, rosemary, sage, lemon zest, oregano and red pepper (I used all dry herbs/spices) – sprinkle evenly over the roast.
4. Starting at the short end without the fat cap – roll the meat tightly, jelly roll style, until you have a tight roll with the seam on the bottom or side and the fat cap on top. With a very sharp knife, score the fat cap in a cross hatch pattern without cutting into the meat itself. Using butchers twine or 100% cotton string (or unflavored dental floss in a pinch) tie the roast every 2 inches (usually 2 or 3 ties) as in photo #2.
5. Place tied roast in pan (I use a disposable aluminum pan) and place in refrigerator loosely covered with parchment paper to age overnight.
6. Take roast out of refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking. Rub outside with olive oil and seasoning generously with salt.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
7. Place the roast in the preheated oven, center rack, for 15 minutes to sear the outside. Reduce oven to 300 degrees F and roast undisturbed another 2-3 hours until an instant read thermometer reaches at least 165 degrees. Remove from oven (photo #3) and let rest for 10 minutes before carving (photo #4).
8. Serve the Porchetta with mashed potatoes & pan seared Brussels sprouts. Magnifico!

There you have it, my version of Porchetta… I think my Dad would have loved this for Christmas dinner. Don’t be scared off by the extra work to make this, it really goes together easily. And although we don’t make it often, it is always a delicious treat, and leftovers make great Philly style sandwiches — just be sure to get some good sharp provolone from the deli to make it authentic.

Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”