Focaccia with Figs and Prosciutto

If your acquaintance with figs so far has been the familiar Newtons, you’re in for a delicious surprise—fresh figs.  Soon to appear in northeast markets, fresh figs, with their honey sweet flavor and soft texture, are worth seeking out.  Luscious, yet fragile, they should be eaten no more than a couple days after purchase.  They should feel soft to the touch, yet not mushy. Store carefully in refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before eating.

Probably the most popular are the purplish Black Mission figs with light pink flesh.  Calimyrna figs have a yellowish skin with a pale amber flesh.  Kadota figs have green skins with a rosy-colored flesh and are less sweet than other varieties.

This lovely appetizer makes a perfect introduction. (Serves 4)


A 3 1/2 by 7-inch section of focaccia

Large handful of fresh pea shoots

3 T extra virgin olive oil

1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

Salt and pepper

8 fresh figs, rinsed and stems removed

8 oz. prosciutto di Parma, thinly sliced


1. Cut the section of focaccia into two 3 1/2-inch squares.  Cut each in half horizontally. Toast in a 400 degree oven for 2 minutes.

2. Toss pea shoots with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Set aside.

3. Slice figs vertically into quarters.

4. Place each focaccia square on a small plate.

5. Top each with a small bunch of pea shoots.

6. Arrange 8 fig quarters around pea shoots in a pyramid shape (see photo).

7. Divide prosciutto and arrange around focaccia squares.

Photographer Bill Brady


Everything Old Is New Again: Beef Wellington

Beef Wellington

This dish goes back to the kitchen of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, famous for having won the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 against Napoleon. This version was filled with a truffle paste instead of the mushroom duxelles used here and was wrapped in a standard pastry dough instead of puff pastry.

The dish made a resurgence in the 1960’s because former President Nixon was very fond of it.   The White House served it at every state dinner during his tenure.

Today British chef Gordon Ramsey has made it a signature dish.  It makes a very impressive entrée and is easier than it looks.  Try it as an alternative to the Sunday roast or for a romantic dinner.

Ingredients (6-8 servings)

For duxelles:

1 ½ lbs. white button mushrooms

2 medium shallots, peeled and roughly chopped

3 large cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves only

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For beef:

3 to 3 ½ lb. center cut beef tenderloin, trimmed

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 T Dijon mustard

12 thin slices Parma ham (or prosciutto)

1 lb. puff pastry*

2 eggs (beaten for egg wash)


1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a food processor, pulse the mushrooms, shallots, garlic and thyme until finely minced.  Sauté in a dry non-stick skillet until the mushrooms give up most of their liquid, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

3. Pat dry the beef tenderloin and tie in 4 places with butcher’s twine to hold together in the cooking.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Salt and pepper generously.

4. Coat a heavy-based skillet with oil and sear meat over medium high heat on all sides including the ends.

5. Remove from skillet, cut twine and smear all over with Dijon mustard.  Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool.

6. Lay out an 18-inch length of plastic wrap and shingle 12 pieces of Parma, slightly overlapping forming a rectangle that will completely cover the tenderloin.

7. Using a rubber spatula, smear the duxelles over the completely cooled tenderloin and then wrap it in the Parma.  Cover with the plastic wrap twisting the ends  tightly to hold the tenderloin in a log shape.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

8. Heat a rimmed baking sheet in oven.

9. Prepare the puff pastry by rolling it out on a lightly floured surface to form a rectangle long enough to envelop the tenderloin and wide enough to fold over the ends.  Trim any excess.

10. Seal edges with egg wash and tuck under enclosing the tenderloin completely like a package.  Puff pastry often comes in two sheets.  Just slightly over lap them.  Brush top and sides with egg wash.

11. Using the tip of a paring knife,  cut a few slashes across top to allow steam to escape** or make a series of parallel cuts on an angle about an inch apart which will give an attractive design after the baking.  Sprinkle with coarse salt, if desired.

12. Place the tenderloin seam side down on the hot baking sheet and roast in upper third of oven for about 45 minutes until an instant read thermometer registers 125 degrees.  Let rest for 10 minutes before carving into thick slices.

*I prefer Dufour all butter frozen puff pastry.  You can find it in food specialty stores.  Thaw out in the refrigerator overnight before rolling out.

** You can also cut decorative shapes out of any excess pastry to decorate top.  Brush egg wash on these.

(Recipe inspired by Gordon Ramsey)

Fit for a Brit

by Victor Ribaudo

Fish & Chips

I believe British foods receive a bad rap.  All that talk of bland, boring and boiled.  Nonsense!  Oh sure, the taste traditions of England don’t sport chiles and oregano, I’ll grant you that.  But variety is truly the spice of this guy’s life.  I like balance.  So British classics definitely hold a place in high regard on my “favorite things to eat” list.

You’re not going to believe this, but Mom always prepared a British inspired meal on New Year’s Day.  I know, what does a Brooklyn Italian woman know of such things?  Well, she held that after the garlicky seafood dishes of Christmas Eve and the saucy lasagna of Christmas Day – not to mention the repeat of spicy seafood on New Year’s Eve – we needed a break.  Relief, as she put it, from the gastronomic revelry and much consumed antacids associated with our Italian holiday repasts.  She turned to the Brits.

Rib roast

Mom began the meal with a consommé. Not necessarily British, but she felt it was a fine base.  She then proceeded with a beautiful Beef Wellington.  For those not familiar with this dish, it consists of a tender filet steak, coated in duxelles (chopped mushrooms and herbs, lightly sautéed) and then wrapped in a flaky puff pastry.  To accompany the Beef Wellington, she treated us to a Yorkshire Pudding.  A thin flour, egg, butter and milk batter was poured into a greased pan and then baked.  She often added to the batter some of the drippings that remained in the pan after searing the beef fillet for the Wellington.  Scrumptious.  Buttered carrots, steamed broccoli and a fresh salad also adorned the table.  A truly wonderful meal, and very British.

Shepherd's Pie

Mom had something there.  So I took it a step further and began to incorporate British favorites in my culinary adventures all year long.  For instance, Shepherd’s Pie.  This is a hearty casserole lined with cooked chopped beef or lamb and any choice of vegetables, which is then topped with buttery mashed potatoes and baked.  I mean, how could you go wrong with that?  Or Fish and Chips – battered cod that’s deep-fried until golden and served with steak-cut, french fried potatoes.  I add a brown beer to the batter for authenticity.  Of course, I never serve a tartar sauce alongside.  I keep it traditional with a sprinkling of quality malt vinegar, just as the Brits have been doing for decades.

Leg of Lamb with Spring Vegetables

You must also try Bangers and Mash – or pan-seared sausages placed over mashed potatoes and ladled with onion gravy.  Simple and savory!  I’ve also been known to serve unsuspecting guests a hearty Steak and Kidney Pie.  Yes…diced beef, kidney and onion cooked in brown gravy and covered in a nice crust.  Try it.  You won’t be disappointed.  And every once in a while my breakfast buffet will include Kippers and Eggs.  Don’t be alarmed.  A kipper is simply herring that has been salted and cold smoked.  A nice alternative to smoked salmon.  Reminds me of the breakfasts served to estate guests in those old British mystery novels.

So you see, British food isn’t boring at all.  Please purchase a good cookbook devoted to the topic – you’ll love the “High Tea” treats.  And be sure to try Phyllis’ recipe for Beef Wellington above.  It’s outstanding!  Let us know how you like it.  Until then, cheers!

Photographer Bill Brady
Written by Victor Ribaudo
Recipe by Phyllis Kirigin
Food Stylist BrianPreston Campbell
Blog syndicated at the

A Regional Taste of Italy

Food writer par excellence, Victor Ribaudo, offers this lovely tribute to his beloved Italy.  Food photography by the incomparable Bill Brady. What a perfect introduction to my recipe for Northern Italian lasagne, the following post.

Italy. One country, yes. As for one cuisine, well, that’s another story. After all, Italy was only united in 1861. No wonder regional dialects are, in some places, still spoken among family and friends.

It’s also no surprise that each region has developed its own particular style of cooking. As for myself, I grew up in a Southern Italian household. Lots of the same fare you are no doubt familiar with. Nevertheless, the Sicilian half of my heritage did introduce me to some not so familiar flavors, as “typical” Italian cuisine goes.

But I get ahead of myself.

Let’s begin at the top of the boot. Northern Italy is a beautiful part of the country. Lots of pastures, mountains, lakes and coastal areas. The cuisine here does not live and die for the tomato. In fact, you’ll find many similarities to French cuisine in these parts. Brown sauces, buttery dishes, truffles, bacon and other cured meats, such as speck…as well as dumplings and yes, sauerkraut. Of course, rich polenta – a corn meal mush – rules in Northern Italian fare as well. That’s not to say that they don’t enjoy pasta. Nevertheless, a good polenta served with your ossobuco in Milan…well, there’s nothing more satisfying.

SHI Symbol Blog Taste of Italy Bill Brady Victor Ribaudo FiresideOB00170

To be more specific, each region within the Northern Italian geography lays claim to certain specialties. Venice, for instance, loves its risotto. This is a rice dish usually served with fish or seafood, but often adorned with peas or beans. I enjoyed a particularly good one at an outdoor café, with a view of vivid flowers billowing from neighboring window boxes. Quite a treat!

Milan, and the Lombardy region, is famous for its single pot stews, pumpkin filled ravioli and yes, of course, vitello Milanese – a breaded and sautéed veal cutlet served with a squeeze of lemon. Simple, but actually very exquisite. In Liguria, the focaccia takes center stage. Basically a pizza dough, it’s rolled out and baked with a variety of toppings, such as olives, tomatoes and cheese. I found it everywhere, including Portofino, one of my top 10 most romantic getaways. But that’s another article.

As we move down the map, we enter what is often considered Northern Italy but is actually the Central part of the country. In many respects, the cuisine here is similar to that of its Northern counterpart, but there are some specialties that one must indulge in when visiting.

Tuscany is its most famous region, and here you’ll enjoy a multitude of hearty dishes. One in particular comes to mind. While traveling the verdant Tuscan countryside, we happened upon a vineyard that served us a spectacular dinner with wine pairings. It was here that I was introduced to ribollita, a gorgeous vegetable soup thickened with day old bread, and served with a hefty pouring of extra virgin olive oil. Glorious! This is also a very pastoral region, so when there, be sure to indulge in the beef. Tuscan steak is a much beloved choice, simply pressed with peppercorns and grilled to perfection. The olive oils here are also famous. Be sure to sample when traveling.

SHI Symbol Blog Taste of Italy Bill Brady Victor Ribaudo SanRocco_00023

Emilia-Romagna, featuring that jewel of a city, Bologna, is a region rich in cured meats and cheeses. Reggiano-Parmiggiano, Prosciutto di Parma, Mortadella – sound familiar? My favorite dish while visiting was lasagna – prepared the Central Italian way with a creamy béchamel and luxurious Bolognese sauce (unlike the ricotta and tomato ragout this Southern Italian grew up with.) Simply outstanding.

Lazio, home of everyone’s eternal city, Rome, boasts a very robust cuisine. Take pasta alla carbonara, featuring a rich sauce of guanciale bacon (from the pig’s jowl or cheeks), onions, egg and cheese. Or pasta all’amatriciana, a spicy dish laden with tomatoes, guanciale bacon, cheese and crushed hot pepper. Hearty indeed!

SHI Symbol Blog Taste of Italy Bill Brady Victor Ribaudo Pasta4586Now to the South of Italy. Here, tomatoes and pasta reign supreme. So do the olives, peppers and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Depending on where you’re situated, seafood is also a common ingredient.

Let’s begin with Campagna, and its shining city of Naples, because everyone loves it. From the noted Posillipo section to the romantic Isle of Capri. Everyone adores the cuisine, as well. In fact, this is the cooking that most Italian restaurants here in America feature. Lots of pastas with all types of tomato sauces are the main feature.
SHI Symbol Blog Taste of Italy Bill Brady Victor Ribaudo FiresideOB00171Seafood also plays a major role here, especially clams, mussels, crabs and calamari. Oh, don’t forget the pizza. A simple margherita, with buffalo mozzarella, marinara sauce and fresh basil, is shear heaven.

Puglia is famous for its olives and orecchiette (ear shaped pasta). I actually had one of my most delicious food experiences here, in a small town near Bari. Orecchiette pasta – perfectly al dente – dressed with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, sausages and broccoli rabe (a bitter, turnip-green type of vegetable) was so marvelous that I’ve insisted on having it at least twice a month since.

SHI Symbol Blog Taste of Italy Bill Brady Victor Ribaudo SanRocco_00031

Basilicata – my Mom’s home region – and Calabria, to the South, offer lots of hearty, tomato-based dishes, many featuring fresh vegetables. Ciambotta comes to mind. One of my grandmother’s favorites, this is a stew of fresh tomatoes, potatoes, onions – and well, just about any veggie – that is served as a side dish, sprinkled with grated Reggiano- Parmigiano cheese. You’ll love it. Lamb is often on the menu in my Mom’s home town of Ferrandina, studded with pockets of garlic and rosemary and roasted, often on a spit, or braised in stews. Very rich. You’ll also find that that spicy peperoncini peppers are used here more so than in other regions.

SHI Symbol Blog Taste of Italy Bill Brady Victor Ribaudo Calamari_00056

At the bottom of the boot lies Sicily, my Dad’s turf. The cuisine here is in many ways different than that of the other Southern regions. That’s because of the many influences past conquerors have had on this beautiful island. Greek, Norman, Spanish and Arab visitors have all influenced the cooking of these hearty people. So you’ll often find raisins, saffron, nuts, cinnamon and nutmeg throughout the savory offerings, as well as the sweet. Some of my favorites? Arancini are softball sized rice balls, filled with a center of chopped meat in red sauce, peas and mozzarella cheese, then breaded and fried to a golden-orange color (that’s how they got their name, meaning “little oranges”). Or pasta ch’i sarde e finocchio. This unique dish combines fresh sardines, wild fennel leaves, saffron, raisins and pine nuts with pasta. It is often topped with toasted breadcrumbs. See, I told you…different.

SHI Symbol Blog Taste of Italy Bill Brady Victor Ribaudo Italian Ingredients2290

Well, I’ve really only touched the tip of the iceberg, or boot, if you will. The point is, nonetheless, that eating Italian is so much more than a meatball sub. It’s an experience of regional – and epic – proportions. I hope you get to enjoy the journey. And be sure to send a postcard or two!

Victor Ribaudo

Photographer Bill Brady
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell


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