Monday, September 7, 2009

Potato Salad Memories

Labor Day marks the end of picnic season for my family. One brother starts the grill and makes hamburgers and hot dogs and Italian sausage. Another brother marinates a London broil and adds it to the mix. I made deviled eggs and chocolate cherry cake. My mother made a big bowl of potato salad.

My mother makes potato salad often during the summer, but this batch was special. She used my grandmother's recipe. It takes the better part of a day between boiling potatoes and eggs, grating the eggs and the onions so they meld into the dressing, chopping celery into quarter-inch dice, cutting potatoes into precise cubes. Every step requires precision.

I have watched my grandmother and now my mother make this potato salad for close to fifty years, but I can't replicate it. When I go to the store, I can't remember which brand of mayonnaise my grandmother always used. I can't get the timing right for the potatoes. They are either crunchy or mushy. I can't judge how much egg and onion to add. It just doesn't taste the same.

Tasting that first forkful of my mother's potato salad today brought back memories of my grandmother standing in front of the sink in her blue seersucker apron. I could see her scraped knuckles around a wooden spoon folding mustard and mayonnaise into the potatoes, onions, and eggs. I can hear her asking me to taste to see if there is enough salt or if it needs more mustard, even though I know it's already perfect, just like the potato salad my mother made for us today.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Goodbye, Sheila

Sheila Lukens was perhaps the single biggest influence on me as a new wife. I poured over The Silver Palate Cookbook every week as I planned menus. She inspired me to make every meal special. 

Over time, her recipes adjusted to fit a healthier lifestyle, and I followed her lead. It was never a sacrifice to eat better when using Sheila's recipes. 

I will miss her.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Vacation dining

Dining out, for me, is a special treat, no matter how often we indulge ourselves. I'm torn between wanting a Cheers experience (a place where everybody knows my name) and trying a new place. Last week when we were on vacation, we had a chance to do both. 

In Albany, we revisited Tandoor Palace, a quiet Indian restaurant on the corner of Lark and Madison. It's an artsy area, and there is no off-street parking. In fact, there's a sign on the door that warns customers away from parking in the nearby Dunkin Donuts lot. We should have realized that when we found an empty spot on Madison, it was too good to be true. After a delicious and relatively inexpensive meal, we discovered a $65 parking ticket on our windshield. That more than doubled the price of our chicken tikka, vegetable biryani, and paswari naan. We won't be going back to Albany.

In Fishkill, NY, we discovered a cluster of restaurants on Main Street. There were two Italian restaurants,  a steak house, an Irish pub, and a Thai restaurant. We checked out the menus as we strolled past each.  We paused in front of Locando, debating which cuisine we wanted to try when Nasi, the owner of Locando, invited us to come in. Nasi sat down with us, explained the specials, told us a little about himself and the restaurant, and even offered to substitute broccoli rabe for mashed potatoes when he learned that I'm Italian. The quality of the food matched Nasi's hospitality. We started with a salad caprese. Fresh mozzarella slices topped garden tomatoes and basil that were drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil. Nasi chose an excellent chianti for us to drink with the meal. It was modestly priced and complemented the meal perfectly. House salads were included in the price of entrees. Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers held up to a creamy balsamic vinaigrette. For his entree,  Gary chose the fillet of sole special. The sole was stuffed with baby shrimp and topped with a large shrimp garnish, then plated with a dozen clams. I chose the spinach ravioli in a wild mushroom sauce. I'm partial to ravioli, and Nasi's interpretation was delicious. By the end of the meal, we were content. We plan to go back to visit Nasi next summer so we can enjoy both the delicious food and Nasi's gracious hospitality!

Now we're home, and I'm back in the kitchen. After a visit to the West Chester Growers Market on Saturday morning, I have an abundance of fresh veggies so cooking in a pleasure. I think tonight we'll have zucchini with fresh corn and basil as a side dish. It's time for me to get cooking.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Visit a country fair this summer

Last night, my husband and I visited the Goshen Country Fair. It was his first time--he is usually teaching a graduate course that week--and only my second. However, for both of us it brought back memories of other fairs when we were children.

At the entrance to the fairgrounds were the big rides, rides that tumble and rides that spin, rides that make you scream and rides that make your stomach do back flips. For me, it's more fun watching those rides than participating. The kiddy rides were farther away from the entrance, and these reminded us of our children racing from one to the next, getting more and more excited and tired as the evening wore on until one of them had a melt down and we had to head home.

There were also games of chance that I remembered. Win a stuffed animal. Win a bottle of soda. Win a glass. Win a trinket that will take up space until someone finally tosses it in the trash.

Merchants take advantage of captive parents, setting up stands to remind us of the home improvement projects we have been longing for. Do you want a new kitchen? Do you need a new roof? Are solar panels in your future? Come to the fair and put your name on their list of potential clients to call.

Local politicians are there, too, to kiss babies and shake hands. How can you vote against the gal or guy you talked to at the fair?

The fair showed its country roots, too. There were goats and cows on display, local 4H projects, a surprise in the Philadelphia suburbs. There were vegetables and flowers on display as well, huge lumpy potatoes, giant zucchini, twisted carrots, Mason jars of dried corn, vases of fresh-cut zinnias and marigolds and lilies.

But the best part of the Goshen Country Fair is the food. The Goshen Fire Company makes killer donuts, and you can buy them plain or covered in cinnamon or powdered sugar. They are tender and sweet, a perfect treat. 

Take an evening this summer and go back in time. Visit a country fair and be a kid again. Or at least you can feel like one!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Italians of a certain age might remember festivals during the summer. These events were a combination holy day and block party. They involved the entire community. I remember the Feast of St. Anthony. Aunt Catherine and Aunt Mary, my grandmother's sisters, both had houses on the parade route. The combination of location and love ensured a day of family, fun, and food.

My father would pile all of us into the car early in the morning so we wouldn't miss a minute of the festivities. First there was mass, and afterwards, men of the parish carried statues of the saints and the Blessed Virgin out of the church and up the hill to St. Anthony's Lodge. The statues were draped in sashes, and on the parade route, people pinned bills to the statue of choice. To my young eyes, it looked like a saintly beauty pageant. I thought the number of bills showed which statue was the most popular or most powerful. 

Everyone followed the pageant to the lodge. The grounds were transformed into a carnival with rows upon rows of stands, each featuring a different game of chance or type of food. My favorite was the balloon game, where for a quarter, anyone could shoot five darts. If you hit a balloon, you won a plastic necklace. If there was a ticket inside the balloon, you won money. I wouldn't know about the money part, but my neck was heavy from all the cheap trinkets I won. Even though my father only gave each of us a dollar, his uncles and their sons made sure we had enough money to keep us entertained all day.

Then there was the food. The wives of lodge members were the best cooks ever. They made cakes and cookies and pies. But even as a kid, I knew the dolci were mere fluff compared to the sandwiches. And the king of the sandwiches was the veal scaloppini. I'm still searching for the perfect recipe that melds tender veal, green peppers, sweet onion, fresh mushrooms, and tomato gravy into the perfect filling for the perfect roll, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, with just enough oomph to keep the precious veal from tumbling to the ground. If you have a recipe for veal scaloppini that you are willing to share, please post it. 

In the meantime, you can find me testing sandwiches at the shore.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


One of my favorite songs as a teenager was "Marrakech Express." Something about that bright and bouncy tune made me want to travel to Morocco. When my then fiancee and I were planning our wedding, we even toyed with the idea of honeymooning in Marrakech. While that never panned out, I've always been fascinated by northern Africa.

Maybe it was that fascination that I pulled me into Marrakech last weekend. We were visiting friends in northern New Jersey. It was too wet to hike, so we make the trek to Montclair for the annual museum fundraiser, Art in the Park. There were four tents with crafts from the region and beyond, another tent for kids crafts, and a caravan of food trucks.  It was a soggy Sunday, and after a few hours browsing the craft stalls, we were chilled and tired. Marrakech proved to be the perfect antidote. 

The restaurant has two dining rooms, and we opted for the inner sanctum, separated from the main dining room by a beaded curtain. The tables are low and surrounded by banquets covered in orange and gold striped pillows. Our waitress delivered baskets filled with warm pita wedges and bowls of tappenade, tangy and garlicy and redolent of olives. The menu offered a wealth of choices for vegetarians and carnivores. While we waited for our meals to arrive, we were served sweet mint tea from individual silver pots and poured into clear classes.

Our entrees included bouillabaisse, a tagine of lamb and prunes, brochettes of chicken and lamb served with zalouk (eggplant with garlic and tomatoes) and a salad, couscous de ma mere au poulet (couscous with chicken breast, raisins, chick peas and caramelized onions), and traditional Moroccan couscous served with vegetables. Each plate was attractively arranged, and every choice was delicious. My couscous de ma mere was a perfect blend of sweet and savory, with enough couscous for a second meal. 

None of us had room left for dessert, but that just means we'll have to return. 

We had a chance to ask the chef for his recipe for tappenade. He told us to put olives in a food processor with a little garlic and extra-virgin olive oil to taste. I blended a combination of canned black olives with pitted Kalamata olives, and the result was delicious. It's an easy appetizer to keep on hand for drop-in guests or for any sudden snack attacks. It will take you straight to Morocco without the hassle of boarding a plane.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Birthday Cakes

Photo: A Martha-Stewart inspired cake for my mother

I love birthdays, especially other people’s birthdays. One of my earliest memories involves my grandmother’s birthday. My parents had decided to throw a surprise party for her, and they felt to make it a true surprise, they had to act as if they had forgotten her birthday altogether. To my innocent sensibilities, their plot bordered on cruel and unusual punishment, certainly not deserved by my grandmother who lived with us, cared for us, and always, always, always remembered everyone else’s birthday. So, with the craftiness of the very young, I got up as soon as I heard my grandmother in the bathroom, knocked at the door with feigned urgency, and spilled the beans. I can still remember sitting on the edge of the commode, swinging my restless little legs,  telling her that she shouldn’t worry, we didn’t forget her birthday, we were going to have a party, and the cake was hiding in the dining room in the china closet.

Even that young, I knew the essence of a good birthday was a wonderful cake, a fantasy of frosting and filling. One year, my mother made a pound cake completely covered in butter cream flowers. She set the bar for the birthday cakes I wanted to make. They had to be beautifully crafted. They had to have a theme, a theme that matched the birthday boy or girl. And, most of all, they had to be delicious.

I soon took on the challenge of baking birthday cakes myself. My mother made everyone else’s cake, and it seemed inherently unfair that her cakes should come from a bakery. It didn't matter that I was only thirteen. It was well past time that my mother should get a home-made cake. So, with secrecy in mind, I asked my father to take my mother shopping while I baked for my mother. She always made chocolate cakes, but she herself preferred vanilla, so I decided to make a vanilla concoction with a lemon filling. I called my mother’s Aunt Jean to get her famous recipe for butter cake. I combed through my mother’s worn cookbook for a recipe for a lemon filling. I was ready.

The cake itself wasn’t that hard to make, even if I used every bowl in the kitchen. While I waited for it to cool, I started on the filling. The recipe said to "cook until thickened, about five minutes." With very little experience in what a “thick” filling looked like, I stirred for over an hour without it achieving the desired consistency. I put the cake together carefully, frosted the cake with white icing, wrote “Happy Birthday Mom” crookedly on its face with Wilton’s decorator’s icing from a tube, and waited for the applause when dessert was finally served.

The applause never came. The filling had hardened to a cement-like consistency, and only one of my five brothers was even willing to taste this excuse for a birthday cake. Not only was this a cake with a shape only a mother could love, it tasted terrible.  It was bad in every sense of the word. Did that stop me? No! I kept baking, and with experience and cake-decorating classes, I'm the official family cake maker, especially for my mother's birthday.

To this day, the most popular birthday choice is my mother's famous devil's food cake. Here's the recipe:

Mom's Devil's Food Cake 
3 cups flour 
2 cups sugar 
1 cup cocoa 
2 teaspoons baking soda 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 ¼ cup vegetable shortening 
1 cup boiling water 
1 cup buttermilk 
2 large eggs 
1 teaspoon vanilla   

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, pour the boiling water over the shortening and allow the shortening to melt and the mixture to cool slightly before adding it to the dry ingredients. Add water and shortening and remaining ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until thoroughly blended (2 minutes with a hand mixer). Pour an equal amount of batter into each of the prepared pans. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick comes out clean. Frost with your favorite icing. The cake can also be baked in a 9x13 inch pan, increasing the baking time to about 45 minutes.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Family Recipes

Photo: My daughter eating a meringue in Florence

Do you keep a bookshelf in your kitchen? If you do, you might understand my problem. I suffer from an embarrassment of riches in the cookbook department. I love to read cookbooks the way some people love to read mysteries--I savor the list of ingredients, ponder the strategies proposed (to sift or not to sift?) and wonder how the finished dish will taste. In addition to shelves and shelves of cookbooks, I also subscribe to way too many cooking magazines, and heaven forbid I should toss out even one. My print subscriptions are augmented by recipes that come from emails and websites. So what exactly is my problem? How do I keep track of all my recipes? 

The short answer is that I don't. There are recipes that melt away from my repertoire without my notice, and there are recipes that I want to try that I can't locate in the blizzard of books and clippings and magazines that drift around my kitchen. If I'm lucky, I'll rediscover a cherished find when I flip through the pages of an old magazine or cookbook or when I look at a menu from a particularly memorable meal. It's hard to tell how many former favorite dishes have been lost forever.

The most vulnerable recipes are the dishes passed down from my great-grandmother. She came from Italy as a young bride, illiterate, so she did not have a chance to write down her recipes for posterity, and she died when I was only five. Before my grandmother died, my brothers and I were able to get her to prepare many of our favorites while we watched, taking notes on measurements and on the smells and textures. We wanted to preserve our food heritage and pass it on to our children and theirs. We each had a piece of that pie, but we never had a chance to put it all together.

Then, for one of my brother's weddings, I compiled a family cookbook. The presentation wasn't particularly special, just a computer print out, and it was far from complete, but with each recipe I included a brief story. Over the next ten or fifteen years, as we'd remember a favorite dish I would add it to the file. If someone discovered an error, I'd go back and make a change. Every few years, I printed out new copies and distributed them to my family. When we realized that the book did not include the recipes for the traditional seven fish dinner we always eat on Christmas Eve, I spent hours in consultation with my mother. How often did she change the water for the dried fish for the bacalla soup? How many pounds of flour did she use to make the crispelles, the lighter-than-air rustic fried bread? As we talked, I scribbled down as many details as possible, knowing that some day it will be my turn to cook this important meal myself. 

Last winter my daughter asked for an electronic copy of the family recipes. I was ecstatic! She was finally interested in cooking, my little girl who seems to be allergic to everything even vaguely related to kitchens and cooking. However, she had an even bigger surprise for me. With the assistance of her boyfriend, she took the humble family recipe book and turned it into a masterpiece. She scanned old photographs and sifted through the thousands of photos in her own electronic album to select the perfect pictures to illustrate the events and the food. She went through every recipe and made the format consistent throughout. Her boyfriend updated the index and helped with formatting. After days of work, she sent the updated file to Apple to produce a hard-cover volume of the family cookbook, and she gave a copy to my mother and to me for Mother's Day.

The story of the family cookbook didn't end there. Last summer, my mother took the entire family to Italy. We stayed in a bed and breakfast just outside Rome in Frascati, a charming hill town at the end of the metro line. It was the family reunion of a lifetime, and it gave us lots of time to eat, to drink, to share stories, to take pictures. Once again, my daughter went to work with her camera and her computer. For Christmas, she created a custom family cookbook for each of her uncles so they have a masterpiece to call their very own.

While this cookbook has not solved my problem of keeping track of all my recipes, it has ensured that my family will remember the dishes that mean the most to us. 

How do you organize your recipes? Let me know!

Here is my daughter's favorite family recipe. It's a comfort soup that you can whip up from pantry staples in under 20 minutes.

Pastina Soup
(We pronounce it pash-tin-a.)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, cut in two pieces
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ancini de pepe (tiny, peppercorn-shaped pasta)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 cup grated locatelli cheese
freshly ground black pepper
additional cheese for garnish

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Turn up the heat to high and add the water and salt. Allow the water to come to a full rolling boil. Reduce to a slow simmer for 5 minutes to allow the water to become redolent of garlic. Return to high heat. When the water comes to a full boil, add the ancini de pepe, and lower the heat to medium to prevent the water from boiling over. Cook for 9-11 minutes (it should be al dente). While the pasta is cooking, beat the egg and cheese together. When the pasta is al dente, remove the garlic and slowly whisk the egg/cheese mixture into the hot soup. Take the pot away from the heat, cover, and allow the soup to sit for a few minutes to allow the egg to finish cooking. Immediately ladle into two soup bowls, add a grind of pepper to taste and a touch of additional grated cheese.
Makes 2 servings

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Healing Powers of Chicken Soup

On April 19, 2008, the Philadelphia Flyers were playing the Capitals in Washington for a berth in the Stanley Cup finals, and our son had tickets for the game. He and his buddy agreed to drive as far as Greenbelt to take the Metro so they didn't have to contend with DC traffic. The Flyers lost that game, but it was early and the weather was beautiful, so the two guys did some sightseeing in the capital before heading home. They weren't all that familiar with the public transit system, so they retraced their steps to get back to the metro stop near the stadium.

Neither our son nor his friend saw it coming. Just as they were getting ready to go underground, a gang of boys in their mid-teens came up behind them. They hit our son and his friend at the same time, fracturing our son's jaw and giving his friend a concussion. The attackers ran off, but a good Samaritan saw the attack and dialed 911. The police arrived on the scene in minutes. They corralled a group of black teenagers and asked our son and his friend to identify their attackers. Our son told the police that he never saw their faces. How could he recognize someone who came up behind him? As he bled, the police insisted he make an identification, but our son was unwilling to point the finger at someone just so the police could make an arrest. He told us later that they were mere kids, and his word could put an innocent person in jail for a long time. Finally, the police allowed our son and his friend to get into the waiting ambulance and head for the nearest trauma center.

The attack occurred on Saturday evening. It was close to midnight before our son was admitted to the hospital. Because his friend "only" had a concussion, he was released. Hospital rules said that only family could stay in the room, so our son was alone, and his friend had to find a place to stay since he was in no condition to drive home. Fortunately, he has a cousin who lives in DC, and she was able to put him up for the night. 

The next morning, his friend called us using our son's phone. He wasn't very coherent, but it was clear that our son was hurt. Because he is over twenty one, no one could tell us the extent of his injuries. We feared the worst, and headed toward the hospital, armed with a list of phone numbers of doctors we could call on a Sunday morning. I don't know what we would have done without a cell phone.

The doctors we called all agreed that it was better for our son to get treatment in Washington rather than drive the three hours home. Their logic frightened me: they said that the doctors in DC had much more experience with fractured jaws, especially those caused by a slug to the face. It turns out, the doctors were right. We learned that the surgical staff in this one DC hospital treats at least one broken jaw a day, usually more, whereas the medical staffs in our suburban hospitals seldom saw this type of injury at all.

Our son had to wait until late Monday afternoon for surgery. The word fracture can be used to describe a wide range of injuries, but in our son's case, it meant that his jaw was sheared in two and the force of the blow had severed the nerve that runs inside the bone. Because of their extensive experience, the doctors were able to repair the break from inside his mouth, leaving only a quarter-inch incision along his jaw where they had to insert a screw to secure the metal plate. To stabilize the jaw, they wired his teeth together. While he was in severe pain for weeks and an area of his face from the middle of his bottom lip down remains numb to this day, he suffered no brain damage. 

During the eight weeks when his teeth were wired shut, our son lived on a liquid diet. Lest you get too excited about the prospects of a diet of enforced milk shakes, any temperature extremes were uncomfortable, and when the doctors said liquid, they meant liquid. Even melted ice cream was too thick for him to sip. At five ten, our son only weighed about 140 pounds to begin with. He was lean and wiry from climbing at the rock gym. After eight weeks, he lost over twenty pounds, and he was outright gaunt.

When we told our family and friends what happened, everyone asked the same question: Why? The boys weren't wearing ostentatious Flyers hats or jerseys, and even if they were, the game had ended hours earlier and the Flyers had lost that game anyway. No one tried to take their wallets or their watches. Is it possible the attackers mistook them for someone else? It's hard to tell because we never found out who was responsible. It seems our son and his friend were in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the sights of a mob who had nothing better to do and something to prove to the world or to themselves. They showed us that they were anonymous and dangerous, capable of attacking two men at least a decade older and leaving those men helpless.

During the hours we waited for surgery and the eight weeks of recovery, I realized more than ever that it is impossible to protect our children from random acts of violence. As a parent, there was little I could do except sit by and watch my son's pain. That, and make chicken broth, one of the few foods he could enjoy during his recovery. The act of making the soup helped me as much as it helped my son. Bringing the pot to a boil, skimming off the foam, chopping the vegetables, and waiting were all therapeutic. It helped to know that I was doing something to ease his hunger if not his pain.

A year later, our son is almost back to his pre-attack weight, and he is finally back to climbing. He even joined a co-ed soccer league this spring. He has not shied away from attending sporting events. In fact, he and the same friend went to the final game of the 2008 World Series, the two night event. He has never questioned his decision to refrain from identifying his unseen attacker. Maybe his reluctance to point a finger changed the life of someone the police had lined up. In his heart, he knows that putting someone in prison wasn't going to reform anyone.

Here is my recipe for the chicken broth that sustained our son and me during his recovery.

Fortified Chicken Broth
1 large can Cottage Inn chicken broth
1 3-pound whole chicken, with neck but with heart, liver, and gizzards removed
2 large onions, peeled, cut into quarters, with a whole clove studded into each quarter
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces
3 large ribs of celery, chopped into 2-inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
4 large springs of Italian (flat leaf) parsley

Place whole chicken and neck in large pot. Add canned broth and add enough water to cover the chicken. Bring to a full boil. While waiting for the pot to boil, cut up the vegetables, and remove any foam that rises to the surface. 

After the liquid comes to a full boil, add the vegetables, herbs, peppercorns and salt and return to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer and allow to cook for at least two hours to extract as much of the energy from the chicken and the vegetables. Continue to remove any foam that rises to the surface. Cool slightly, then strain the broth through two layers of cheese cloth to clarify. Discard the vegetables. Reserve the meat for another purpose. Cool before refrigerating. Chill overnight, and remove the fat that rises from the top. Reheat to serve. Use without 3 days.

This broth can also be used as a base for many soups, if you are not feeding someone on a liquid diet.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Eggs for Easter

When my brothers and I were growing up, spring and Easter always came hand in hand. In anticipation of the season and the holiday, my mother and grandmother cleaned the house from top to bottom, changing the heavy drapes for criss-crossed sheer curtains, steam cleaning rugs, dressing the furniture in flowered slipcovers. My brothers and I always had brand-new outfits that we wore to church on Easter Sunday, there were pots of lilies and hyacinths and azaleas wrapped in pastel foil for my mother and grandmother, and the Easter Bunny always hid huge, cellophane-wrapped baskets filled with candy. In the center of each basket was an enormous chocolate-covered egg inscribed with the name of its owner. We itched for mass to be over so we could go home, tear into our baskets, and search for hidden eggs, both hard-boiled and plastic, the latter stuffed with yet more candy. We had all given up chocolate for Lent, so after 40 days, our sweet tooths were ravenous.
It is no surprise that I wanted to continue this tradition with my own children. However, my husband and I had made a decision about their upbringing early on. We wanted them to have a healthful diet, and twenty-five years ago, that meant substituting carob for chocolate. Sugar was out, honey was in, and children weren't even allowed honey until after they were a year old. Somehow, an Easter basket filled with carob-coated raisins and peanuts and bear-shaped bottles of clover honey didn't have the same cachet as the baskets I remembered. So, throwing caution to the wind, a certain bunny was allowed to deliver baskets containing candy in many shapes and every size. The baskets bulged with bonbons--foil-covered chocolate eggs, egg-shaped peanut-butter cups, dark chocolate crosses stuffed with marshmallow, pastel candy corn, yellow and pink marshmallow peeps, robin-blue speckled malted milk eggs, mini chocolate eggs covered in bright candy coating. In the center of each basket loomed a large chocolate bunny, almost as big as the kids themselves. Although both our daughter and son questioned the existence of Santa Claus early, they never doubted the Easter Bunny was real. What else would explain the flood of candy after a year-long drought?

These chocolate orgies have always culminated in a big Italian Easter breakfast with the extended family. The centerpiece of the meal is still the frittata. To say a frittata is like an omelet is like saying that Penn State is just a college. Like the chocolate eggs of my youth or my children's Easter bunnies, the frittata dominates the table because of its size. When I was a child, my grandmother always made the frittata, and my father's first question was always, "How many eggs this year?" Back then, when there were nine of us at the table, her answer was usually a number in the low thirties. The other ingredients vary from region to region, but we follow the same recipe that my great-grandmother brought with her from Italy, which my Italian cousins still make. Now that the family has expanded to include spouses and grandchildren, there are some changes. Instead of my grandmother, my brother makes the frittata. Instead of thirty eggs, he uses at least fifty. He stands over the stove for over an hour, gently stirring the eggs to create a masterpiece for our family, just like my grandmother and her mother.

Over time, our children's taste in candy has changed. They are looking for quality, not quantity in their sweets, so the Easter Bunny now limits her shopping to Eclat Chocolate. However, the Easter highlight is still the frittata. Here is a rendition for smaller families to enjoy.

Easter Frittata
12 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
several generous grinds of fresh ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
zest from one large orange, finely grated (about 1 tablespoon)
3 tablespoons freshly grated locatelli cheese (you may substitute other sharp Italian cheeses) plus additional for garnish
1 cup ricotta cheese
1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
orange slices for garnish

Break the eggs into a large bowl. Beat until well blended, and add the salt and pepper. Stir in the parsley, orange zest, and grated cheese. Gently add the ricotta cheese, but do not completely incorporate it into the egg mixture. You should see small pieces of ricotta floating in the beaten eggs.
Heat an 8-9 inch frying pan over medium heat, and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Test to see if it is hot enough by adding a small cube of bread. If it sizzles, the oil is ready. Remove the bread cube. Carefully add the egg mixture to the hot oil. Allow the egg to start to get firm before gently moving the cooked egg to the center of the pan. Continue to stir gently to move the cooked egg into the middle, but not so often to create scrambled eggs. When the frittata is firm and almost cooked through, either flip or broil the frittata .

Option 1: Flip the frittata--Cover the pan with a plate that is slightly larger than the pan. Carefully invert the pan and plate, shaking the pan gently to move the frittata onto the plate. Remove the pan. If there are any bits of egg remaining on the bottom, remove them with a spatula. Clean the pan with a generous wad of paper towels. Return the pan to the stove, add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and return to temperature before returning the frittata to the pan, uncooked side down. Allow it to finish cooking without stirring. Gently shake the pan to keep the frittata from sticking. Continue cooking until the bottom of the frittata is lightly browned.
Option 2: Broil the frittata--Preheat the broiler when you add the egg to the pan. Move the pan with the frittata under the broiler until the top is golden and the egg is cooked through.

When the frittata is completely cooked, slide it onto a serving platter. Sprinkle generously with grated cheese, and surround the dish with orange slices.

Serves 4 to 6 people.