Warm And Tangy Tuscan Hummus

Warm And Tangy Tuscan Hummus
“In Tuscany, white beans are more than just ‘the poor man’s meat’; they’re a whole way of life. – Lori Zimring De Mori, – Saveur

You think Italian food, you think pasta. But us paisans know that beans are just as traditionally significant in the old country. Rome early 1500’s – enter beans by way of import from the new world. Italians took to the taste, incorporating the legume into their everyday meals. Some included, beans and escarole, minestrone, beans and gravy, pasta e fagioli, sauteed cannellini with sage drizzled in homemade olive oil, beans and seasonal vegetables from the countryside garden.

In Tuscany  “pane e companatico”—bread and something to go with the bread, was the commoners food most evenings. Cannellini beans, famously grown in Tuscany, were often the “to go with” ingredient. Highly nutritious, easy to grow and inexpensive were main factors in the beans’ widespread popularity in Italy.

Rockaway power couple Katherine Kordaris and Bobby Carnevale.
Rockaway power couple Katherine Kordaris and Bobby Carnevale.

Last week I was invited to my friend Katherine’s birthday party. I was looking forward to celebrating with her and seeing friends I haven’t connected with since the fall. Katherine and her husband Bobby are the raddest, loveliest people and therefore they are a Rockaway power couple. And so, I anticipated they’d have a lot of attendees. I needed to take that into consideration when deciding on what appetizer to bring. This party situation called for an affordable,  “feed the mass” dish with “wow-factor.”  I flipped through my rolodex memory of recipes. It stopped at Warm and Tangy Tuscan Hummus. The rich and buttery flavor of this spread is attributed to the lightly toasted pignoli nuts. The warm flavor is accented by a burst of tangy charred lemon juice. Experiment with different herbs but my preference is fresh parsley and thyme.

I hesitate to be braggy but I need to say that people were ranting and raving about the hummus! A few party people hovering over the spread were intrigued by my use of cannellini beans. My friend Rob said, “Paula, it’s better than Sahadi’s.” I was so overwhelmed by the complement that I had to excuse myself and regain my composure in the bathroom. This is a must make…

Paula’s Warm and Tangy Tuscan Hummus

16 ounces canned cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
2 lemons
2 cloves garlic
¼  cup tahini
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, and more for the topping
2 tablespoons ice water
¼  cup parsley, finely minced and more for garnishing
¼  cup pignoli nuts, divided
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste (be liberal with it)
Ciabatta for dipping

Instructions: Char both lemons over a flame on the stove. Use the juice of one in the hummus. The other is for garnish. Lightly toast the pignoli, set some aside to top the dish. Place all ingredients in a food processor. Puree until smooth. Check the taste. Add more garlic, herbs, salt, etc. as needed. Serve in a shallow 9 inch dish. This way, you have a nice space to dress the top (wow-factor), with the fresh herbs, nuts, spices, lemon and olive oil. Alternatively, save for later and store refrigerated up to 7 days and garnish before you serve.

tagged in italy, recipe, recipes

The Mustachioed Little Man

Bialetti Moka Express

The Bialetti mascot with his index finger held up as if ordering an espresso. In Italian he is called l’omino con i baffi – “the mustachioed little man.” The mascot is a caricature of Alfonso’s son, Renato Bialetti by Illustrator Paolo “Paul” Campani. Source Wikipedia

A friend broke my red Cuisinart drip coffee pot several months back! I started using a spare pot I had that I don’t like… actually I hate it. Yup, it is possible to hate a coffee machine. All this time I was trying to figure out what my next move was. I was thinking a pour over, then I was back to a 12 cup drip. When I took coffee classes at Greenhouse Cafe, I learned about the Aeropress method, maybe that…

Finally about three weeks ago, the internet’s alarming, yet smart algorithms put it all together for me – The Bialetti Moka Express. With one click, I knew this beautiful Italian vessel was my new coffee dream come true. The Moka is an iconic, Italian brewing pot/method developed in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti, an engineer of the time. He wanted to bring the caffè of the bar into the home. Caffè bars were for men only. Bialetti’s invention revolutionized coffee culture in Italy, especially for women. They could now gather with friends in their homes, enjoy coffee and socialize. Still today the Moka is widely used in homes throughout Italy and Europe. They say,  “No Italian kitchen is complete without a Moka.”

This is so interesting…  Bialetti was inspired by washwoman (lavandaie) he’d seen doing laundry. In the 1900’s the lisciveuse was used. The wash tub is filled with water, soap and soiled clothes. The bucket has a central steel tube. It is placed over a fire. When the water boils, it enters through the tube and distributes the soap and hot water. This function uses vapor pressure and that is how the Bialetti Moka also works.

Italians value aesthetics. And we are hopeless romantics. So learning Alfonso’s vision for the Moka design was inspired by the robust figure of his wife, does not surprise me. The 8-sided shape mimics the silhouette of his love – her broad shoulders, narrow waist, her arm on her hip (handle) and her pleated skirt. 

It’s simple to use. Unscrew the top, place the water in the bottom chamber, pack the coffee in the filter, close and place the pot on the stove at low heat. Open the top and you can see the coffee coming through the receptacle in a stellar performance. Once you hear the “sizzling” sound end, the coffee is done. 

Moka is named in honor of the city Mokha in Yemen, famously known for its delicious coffee. Coffee brewed in a Moka pot is very strong. It’s espresso-like texturally but lacks the foamy quality and richer taste. The Aluminum vessel keeps the coffee steaming hot. If I’m in a hurry in the morning, I add water to cool it down. And so you now have an Americano. But the best for me is when I have time to savor the ritual of making this traditional Italian caffè. It evokes a feeling of simplicity. A conventional way of living sounds right to me these days. To be sure, I’ll never again go back to a coffee pot made of plastic.

Since ordering my Moka, I’ve discovered specialty designs – a red one (to match my kitchen) a cute vintage green pot, a red and green Italian flag version that would be perfect for Christmas time, and good Lord… a Dolce & Gabbana Bialetti, inspired by the carretto siciliano –  the elaborate, colorful donkey-drawn carts native to Sicily. I can’t handle this beauty… How many Bialetti’s is too many?

Source: bialetti.com, Wikipedia


tagged in coffee

Roasted Apples With Hazelnut, Bitter Chocolate, And Lemon Zest

Cooking With Italian Grandmothers 2

It’s feast or famine with freelance work. Right now… famine. For that reason, I’ve decided to go deep into organizing my home – like every draw, closet, and corner. It feels good to purge. It also feels good to know I have five whisks, three crock pots, four pizza cutters, and six very cute measuring spoon sets, among other multiples, I don’t remember buying.

I’m pretty much done with the kitchen. Now I’m tackling the office. I’m going through my books with the intention of donating 20%. Alas, I’m having difficulty letting go but it’s time to find new homes for How to Tame a Beast in Seven Days and I Could Pee on This. As I’m going through the “keep or donate” process, I realized I have a multitudinal of cookbooks, 22 actually. I need to be using these beautiful books. I decided to bring some in the kitchen so they’re in sight and handy.

I came across one of my old favorites, Cooking With Italian Grandmothers by Jessica Theroux, The book gathers recipes, traditions and the wisdom of female elders from around the world.

Cooking With Italian Grandmothers 1

Since the “Halloween chocolate fiasco,” I can’t stop eating sweets and so, aptly I find myself flipping through the dessert section. I found a delicious sounding – not too unhealthy – treat with apples, nuts, and chocolate. All boxes checked. The Author describes, “These are the most delicious roasted apples I have eaten, with the bitter chocolate (typical of Northern Italy) and lemon zest adding depth and brightness. I highly recommend using a bar of chocolate with 80 percent cocoa content for this recipe, and a tart fruit, such as the Granny Smith.”

Roasted Apples With Hazelnut, Bitter Chocolate, And Lemon Zest
By Mamma Maria, Italy
(Serves 6)


  • 6  firm baking apples (such as Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Crispin, or Pippin)
  • 1/4 cup sugar (divided)
  • 1/4 cup soft unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
  • 2 tsp lemon zest ( minced)
  • 2/3 cup hazelnuts (finely chopped and toasted)
  • 1/3 ounces chopped dark chocolate (80 percent cocoa)
  • 1 cup Marsala wine (divided)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a small baking dish, roughly 8 by 10 inches.
  2. Slice a thin layer off the bottom of the apples and discard; this levels the apples so  they have a stable base during roasting. Slice 1/2 inch off the tops of the apples, and set the tops to one side. Peel the apple bases. Using a small teaspoon, scrape out an inch-diameter core from each of the apples, making sure not to cut through the bottom of the apples.
  3. Mix together the butter, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, lemon zest, hazelnuts, and chocolate. Spoon this filling into the center of the apples, mounding any extra on top. Drizzle the exposed apples with the ¾ cup of the Marsala and cover  with their tops. Pour the rest of the Marsala over the apples and sprinkle them with the remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar.
  4. Bake for 45-60 minutes, basting the apples with the hot Marsala a few times during their roasting. The apples are done when a toothpick can be inserted into them easily. Serve warm, with Marsala spooned over the apples and whipped cream on the side.

This quote from Mamma Maria resonates with me as it describes how I learned to cook, beside my Mother in the kitchen, “You just watch and spend time. You lend a hand. Maybe the first time you make a mistake, then the second time you do it right. It’s not that you are “taught.

tagged in dessert, italian, recipe, recipes

Car Talk

I had three car situations happen in the past two weeks. The car struggle is real. I don’t know much about them. I’m bad at maintaining them – renewing registration, tickets, oil change (how do you read that sticker?), random missing license plate, cleaning it, etc. I do know, I need my 2005 Chrysler Pacifica to transport plants in the spring, to buy 12 foot skeletons on a whim, to go thrift store shopping and non-negotiable… to see my mother once a week on Long Island.

The first car chronicle…  I’m not the best driver, yet I managed with success to navigate everywhere on my recent trip to Puerto Rico! As many of you Rincon folks know, the roads in PR have major potholes, phone navigation is spotty and road signs are not always present. On top of that, I was driving with my rental surfboard on the roof. I learned how to use those foam things and ratchet straps to secure the board! This may not sound like a big deal but it is for me. With the variables mentioned above, I’m feeling really great about my Puerto Rico driving record. Maybe I’m not a bad driver after all…

Enormous, muddy pothole on the way to Wildo surf break, no problem
Enormous, muddy pothole on the way to Wildo surf break, no problemo.

The second car story begins at JFK. I was exhausted from the overnight flight out of Aguadilla so I decided to cab it. I get in and tell the guy I’m going to Rockaway Beach. He was very polite. A few minutes go by and he tells me that it was meant to be that I entered his cab. He said we’ve met before… in a past life. He goes on to tell me that he’s from Pakistan and that he’s a life coach. He asked me my name and then said, “Paula, have you found love?” Strangely, I felt very comfortable talking with this man. In a half lucid state, I engaged in his conversation. His name is Jeffery. He tells me that conflict and lies cause anxiety which perpetuates grief and pain.  We need to free ourselves of those traps, he continues. If we find axiom we will find peace. He goes on about how mathematics is directly correlated to our happiness and that I can find the formula. 6 years ago he attended a week long seminar on Dianetics. There he was enlightened and discovered pure truth. He also met the love of his life in a conference room.

As I was leaving the cab, Jeffery gave me his phone number and said he knows of a great Indian restaurant by Laguardia airport. He said to text him and he and his wife would enjoy having lunch with me sometime (I love NY).

Lastly, two days after my 42nd birthday, I learned how to put air in car tires. They say it’s never too late to learn. It goes like this… I left the house heading to my parents for a belated birthday dinner when I noticed the car tires were very, very flat. I got irrationally frustrated. I started cursing wildly. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents.

But then, I thought of Jeffrey, the scientologist, life coach cabbie… how would he handle this roadblock?  I needed to reset and erase the content of my reactive mind. I took a few deep breaths. I texted my father and told him about the tires. He said, sometimes tires go flat in the winter if you don’t use the car. Who knew? Apparently a lot of people, because they responded to my Instagram story, where I shared my struggle at the gas station.

13 dollars in quarters and two unnecessarily long youtube videos later, I successfully filled the tires. And I made it to my parents house for eggplant rollatini and birthday cake!

Learning new things and opening yourself up to different people and ideas (cultish or otherwise) feels right for me this year. I’ve started a list of accomplishments and skills I’ve learned so far in 2023. Let’s see how far I can go.

tagged in cars, surf