Monthly Archives: October 2009

Saffron Rice…Don’t Forget to Remove the Bay Leaf!

Hello Friends. Have I told you about Gran Fran’s Saffron Rice with Shrimp? It is truly extraordinary. I cannot recall a time without it showing up on a large buffet set out for friends and family. There is some idea in my brain that it was always included in group parties, but I don’t recall it being made as a main course until we were grown.But, beyond the loveliness of the dish, I do know that I will always hear Gran Fran’s voice in my head, loud and clear “You can make a nice dish of Saffron Rice with Shrimp, but don’t forget to remove the bay leaf.” She said this with a warning in her voice that matched only her request for us kids to cross the street when a dog we didn’t know approached us.

I suppose she is right. The bay leaf can be sharp and doesn’t really taste all that good. But, the flavor it lends to a recipe is immeasurable.

So, in closing on this little post, enjoy the following dish. Simple to make, serves many and is generally enjoyed by a host of different palettes.

But “Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf.”

Saffron Rice with Shrimp

serves 6 as a main course


  • 2 cups Rice
  • 5 cups Water
  • 6 Boullion cubes
  • 1/2 cup White wine, Vermouth or Pernod
  • 2 cloves Garlic, quartered
  • 4 Tbsps Butter
  • 1 tube Saffron
  • 1 Bay Leaf
  • 1/4 Tsp Fennel Seeds (if you have them on hand)
  • Salt, Pepper and Red Pepper Flakes to taste


  • Bring water, boullion, garilc, butter, saffron and bay leaf, fennel, pepper and red pepper flakes to a boil in a large nonreative pan.
  • Once it has reached the boil, reduce the heat to medium and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or so.
  • Add the rice to the liquid. Bring to a boil again. Stir rice and reduce heat to medium/low to achieve a simmer.
  • Cover closely with a fitted lid, and simmer for 21 minutes or until all the liquid has been absorbed.

Sauteed Shrimp for Saffron Rice


  • 1 Lb. Shrimp, cleaned and deveined, tails off
  • 2 Tbsps Butter
  • 1/4 Tsp Fennel Seeds
  • 1 Lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/4 cup White Wine, Vermouth or Pernod
  • Salt, Pepper, Red Pepper Flakes to Taste


  • Heat nonreactive skillet over high heat.
  • Add butter herbs and spices and lower heat a little somewhere between medium and high. Sautee for 1 minute.
  • Once butter has melted, add shrimps. Sautee until opaque, about 4 minutes.
  • Remove shrimps from pan.
  • Turn off the flame. Add wine, lemon juice and zest to pan and turn the flame back on the medium. Reduce the liquid by about half, scraping up the brown bits in the pan at the same time.
  • Pour the liquid over the shrimp.
  • Stir it all together with the rice and ENJOY!
Posted in bay leaf, butter, fennel, garlic, pernod, rice, saffron, shrimp, vermouth | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Caternia, Maria and Francesa

Growing up, Gran Fran spent many hours in the kitchen with her mother (Mary aka Maria, depending on whether or not she was more Italian or American that day) and her grandmother, Caterina. Below is a little bit of history on Gran Fran’s grandparents.

Recipes will follow! xoxo Gran Fran, we love ya!

My grandfather Francesco Sabato Natale Sansone was born in Santa Barbara, Cerasso, in Salerno, on a Saturday, Christmas, December 25. (Look at his name, girl!).His family was extremely poor; as one of the oldest sons, he had two brothers and a couple of sisters, he was expected to provide for them. With that in mind, he set off in steerage; compared with the retelling of his experience aboard ship (and later that of his wife, my grandmother,), the journey portrayed in the film The Golden Door seems like a walk in the park. In the U.S., he found “rooms” near his paesani—they were all from what each called bella paese mia–(he lived above a live poultry market on 20 St. near Fourth Ave. in what was then known as South Brooklyn, but is now considered Park Slope South or Greenwood Terrace). He bought a shovel and set out to do construction work—as a day laborer. Mostly, he worked on building the subway.Francee (fran-chee) was considered a man of letters—having completed the fifth grade in Italy– and was an avid reader of Il Progresso, one of Generoso Pope’s newspapers.He enjoyed reading the paper while sitting outdoors and smoking a DeNobili cigar. His greatest achievement—besides being a father to his six kids—was his role in organizing and collecting money for the Mass, the parade, and the feast of St. Michael. His good grey suit, with the committee button pinned on, was saved for the occasion.
My grandmother Caterina “Ninuccia” DiFiore was born in Rutino, also in Salerno, on October 15. The family was dirt-poor. Her oldest brother had emigrated to the U.S. and lived —where else– on 20St.across the street from the live poultry market. She came to the U.S., when she was 17, accompanied by her second-oldest brother, Angelo, Zi Angelo. Ninuccia, a diminutive of Caterina, had no education at all, and could neither read nor write. Until she died at age 94, she had mastered only her own signature, which herkids and grandkids taught her so she could sign her unemployment checks—she was a seasonal worker, a seamstress, working doing pieceworkat home and in a factory. When she came to the U.S. she was fleeing not only poverty, but also, a persistent suitor whom her folks wanted her to marry. On the pretext that she would return, she left Rutino wearing a locket, he had given her. She wore the locket when she married my grandfather in 1916.
Both were hard workers who were deeply devoted to their children and would still try to better the situation for those “over there.”They sent packages of clothing, Mass cards when a relative died, and money whenever possible.But there was one void in their lives. They never saw their parents again.
And at my grandfather’s feast, they and their friends cried unashamedly when one of the of the would-be sopranos would begin to sing; “Mama, solo per te, la mia canzone vola…”
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Julia Child Rocks

I am here in San Francisco on a cool Saturday night watching a show created in NY called “Julia Child Memories: Bon Appetit” and it’s fabulous.

They have chosen a good number of her original episodes of “The French Chef” to re-air alongside some commentary from her fellow chefs. It’s amazing to see her style of cooking show vs. the style of today’s TV chefs. She is truly having a conversation with you, the viewer. The pace she moves is not hectic and there is minimal cutting away to shots of ingredients while she cooks.

The first part of the show is featuring her Omelette episode. She made approximately 6 versions, before going into her dining room where she had a portable burner set up and where she continues to make more omelettes for a dining room party. All the while, she is making a running commentary about who she is cooking each omelette for. Fascinating and real.

Here is a link to the PBS/Julia Child page where you can view some of the episodes:

She is most awesome.

Bon Appetit!

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A {Fig} Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Yet another excellent installment in the Gran Fran birthday lead-up.

I have included a recipe from my own kitchen using figs, as I don’t ever recall her cooking with them. Rather, they were served alongside Prosciutto di Parma and maybe some almonds.

From Gran Fran’s Lips to Your Ears:
My brother moved to Oklahoma City to plant a fig tree. He plans to bring a bit of Brooklyn Italian to the home of the Cherokee, the Choctaw, and the Chickasaw. He’s lived without a fig tree for well over half a century, but now that he’s retired the view from his West Side condo lacked tangible proof of his childhood.
For him and for me, the longer we’re grown-ups, the more magnetic is the lure of childhood. And I yearn for those things that spelled home and comfort, and miss the loving embrace in the hefty arms of a strong solid grandma, a neighbor’s pat on the head and her admiration of my dark thick curls as I take a walk—a passegiatta—with my grandfather, and even the cheek-scraping kiss of the rosey rotund (very flabby armed) cumare with her whiskery chin. Those who peopled our childhood are now gone, but I continue to search out the scents, foods, and traditions that I grew up with so I can share them with my children and so that I can remind myself of where I came from –a Brooklyn neighborhood teeming with street-level stores, open cellar doors, ill-lighted tenement hallways, and a fig tree in every backyard.
Now every August I search greenmarkets to find a green cardboard container filled with figs. I touch the fruit and it yields enough to expose its seeds and its sweet sticky scent. And I’m in Brooklyn, sitting on a folding chair at the curb eating the sweet fruit and planning what I’ll wear to the first day of fourth grade.
Fig Puff Pastry Tart ala Gran Fran’s Daughter
adapted from Bon Appetit, 1993
  • 1/2 17 1/4-ounce package (1 sheet) frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1 egg, beaten to blend (glaze)
  • 7-ounces of nuts, pulverized in a food processor
  • 3 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup apricot jam (any jam works well here, experiment a little!)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Sliced assorted fresh fruit (such as kiwi fruit, strawberries and figs)
  • Preheat oven to 400°F.
  • Roll out thawed pastry square on flour dusted work surface to 9 1/2-inch square.
  • Pull edges of dough up slightly, to form a higher edge then the center of the tart.
  • Brush edges of square with egg glaze.
  • Pierce center of pastry all over with fork.
  • Bake until pastry is golden brown about 25 minutes.
  • Melt jam with ginger in heavy small saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, blend nut paste and cream in processor until almost smooth. Spoon almond filling into center of tart and spread evenly. Bake 5 minutes.
  • Arrange fruit decoratively atop tart, and brush jam glaze over fruit.
  • Place back in the oven for 10 minutes until fruit has softened.
  • Enjoy!
Posted in almonds, apricot jam, figs, giner, nuts, strawberries, tart, walnuts | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment