Recipes from Across the Table

The Dante family’s restaurant in Boston’s North End is called “Paradiso,” after the third volume of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.  In Paradiso, Beatrice leads Dante through the spheres of heaven.  Early on, believing that she has shown him more than he can comprehend, she tells him “sedere un poco a mensa.” She wants him to sit awhile at her table and digest all that he has seen.

Throughout Across the Table, the Dantes are sustained by Rose’s belief that there is no pain that cannot be eased by a homemade meal, such as those you will find here.

Orecchiette con Prosciutto e Piselli
When Toni’s fiancé comes to Sunday dinner with the family to discuss the wedding, Rose puts care, as always, into the meal. As she says, “It was important to me that Bobby see that Italian food was more than smothering everything in tomato sauce and melted mozzarella.”

1 lb. orecchiette pasta
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped into small dice
1 cup baby peas
1 cup diced cooked ham
2 cups heavy cream
Grated Parmigiano
Salt and pepper

Prepare orecchiette as directed.
Sauté the onion in butter over medium heat until soft.
Add peas and ham, stirring to mix with onions.
Add heavy cream, blending with ham and vegetables until gently bubbling. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Drain pasta. Place in serving bowl and add sauce, stirring to mix. Serve with grated Parmigiano.

Stuffed Artichokes
When Rose gives birth to Al Jr. in 1942, Al is on a destroyer somewhere in the South Pacific. To comfort her, her mother brings Thanksgiving dinner to the hospital. Included in the bounty she spreads out for her daughter is a dish that graced the table at every holiday meal when I was growing up—stuffed artichokes.

4 large artichokes, with stems
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 cup breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Parmigiano cheese
Olive oil

With kitchen shears, trim the tip of each artichoke leaf straight across. Slice off the stems of the artichokes close to the base so that artichokes stand upright.
Peel the stems and chop into 1/8” dice.
Mix the chopped stems with the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic and cheese.
Add olive oil to hold the mixture together.
Spread open the top of the artichoke, forming a cavity, and stuff with the breadcrumb mixture. Add more stuffing between the leaves.
Arrange stuffed artichokes in a heavy pan. Drizzle with olive oil.
Fill the pan with about one inch of water.
Cover the pan and bring water to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes, checking to make sure that water has not evaporated (add more if necessary).
Artichokes are done when a leaf can be pulled off easily.
Eat by pulling off one leaf at a time and scraping teeth along the inside of the leaf.

Braised Rabbit
I first ate rabbit when I lived in Italy and the cook at the Torre di Bellosguardo, where I lived, introduced me to a realm of edibles—like battered and fried zucchini flowers—that I had never encountered before. When I moved to the North End of Boston, where Across the Table is set, rabbit was a staple that could be found at any butcher. The following dish, served at Rose and Al’s wedding, is rich and aromatic.

1 rabbit, about 3 pounds, cut into serving pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
1 small onion, minced
1 small stalk celery, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
2 small bay leaves

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot. Brown the rabbit pieces and remove to a platter.
Add onion and celery and sauté until softened.
Add garlic and continue sautéing until onion and garlic are golden.
Return rabbit to pot and add tomatoes and wine, stirring and scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot.
Add herbs.
Cover and simmer for about 35 minutes, until rabbit is cooked through.
Serve with fettuccine or other flat noodle.
Serves 4.

Chicken Salmi
When Rose needs to orchestrate an important conversation, she stages it with food. Determined to rescue Al from the depression caused by his war injuries, she takes him to an isolated beach north of Boston, recreating with sun and a spicy meal the early days of their marriage on the island of Trinidad.

What my mother called “chicken salmi” when we were growing up is a pungent dish, simmered for hours so that the chicken falls off the bone. She didn’t leave the recipe, and I couldn’t find one in my search through my cookbooks. But here is a close approximation, recreated with the help of my sister and my Aunt Rita.

1 chicken, cut up into pieces
Olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup red wine
¼ cup Harvey’s Bristol Cream
¼ cup water
1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
1 tablespoon dried basil leaves
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in a heavy pot and brown the chicken pieces.
Add the remaining ingredients, cover the casserole and simmer for one hour.
As Rose explains, this tastes even better the second day, when the flavors have had a chance to meld.

“Meatball Soup”
The meal served at Rose and Al’s wedding reception begins with a minestre, a light soup. As children, we called this “meatball soup” because of the miniature meatballs bobbing in the midst of the greens, and we definitely preferred to have more of them in our bowls than escarole. As an adult, I was struck by how iconic this soup is when I made it one evening for a visiting friend whose family comes from the same region of Italy. Like Proust’s madeleine, the aroma and flavor as he tasted it brought him back to the table of his childhood.

Chicken broth (see below)
Turkey meatballs (see below)

Chicken Broth
3-lb whole chicken
3 quarts water
3 stalks celery, cut into large chunks
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 large onions, peeled and quartered
½ cup parsley, coarsely chopped
2 large bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Place chicken in cold water and bring gradually to a boil, skimming the scum. Add celery, carrots, onions, parsley and bay leaves and simmer for 2-3 hours.
Remove the chicken and allow to cool. When cool, discard the skin, pull the meat from the bones and set aside for another purpose.
Strain the broth through a sieve, pressing the vegetables to extract juices.

Meatballs
1 lb ground turkey
2 eggs
1 cup stale Italian bread soaked in water and squeezed dry
½ cup grated Parmigiano cheese
½ cup chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together by hand until well blended. Shape into small meatballs about 1 inch in diameter.

Composing the Soup
1 head escarole, rinsed and cut or torn into bite-size pieces
Optional: 2 eggs beaten with ¼ cup Parmigiano

Bring the strained broth to a boil.
Add escarole and meatballs and return to a boil.
Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Add optional egg-and-Parmigiano mixture, stirring quickly in a circular motion to form threads, and cook for another minute.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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