Pittsburgh Restaurant Week: Matteo’s in Lawrenceville

I finally decided that I wanted to participate in Pittsburgh Restaurant Week (PRW). So with my fellow food blogger friend Terri Dowd, we headed to Matteo’s in the Lawrenceville section of Pittsburgh. The restaurant features mainly Italian cuisine as well as serves seafood and steak.

We were intrigued by the PRW menu, we studied it and were excited by what was offered. Terri and I are both of Italian heritage and going out for Italian food is not something we do. We were hungry for PRW meal, we were ready to eat at Matteo’s.
With the help of social media we tweeted at Matteo’s that we coming in for diner. To our surprise, the restaurant replied to our tweets.

chefmatt

(from L.), Nicky D., Chef Matt Cavanaugh, Terri Dowd

When we arrived and placed our drink order, we told our very friendly waitress about our tweeting experience and that we were here for Restaurant week. To our surprise, the chef Matt Cavanaugh came out to meet us and say hi. For a couple of foodies, this was beyond cool. We asked him for his personal recommendations and based our menus selections on that.

We ordered from the PRW menu, so Terri and I ordered different dishes so we could share and sample a variety of foods.

All of the food was delicious. We sampled so many dishes, so I am just going to list my favorites of the evening.

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Beans & Greens

The Beans and Greens- it was a blend of greens with some banana peppers, onions, beans and Italian sausage. This appetizer has some delicious heat to it and has the most beautiful broth. The grated Italian cheese that garnishes the tops adds the perfect salty flavor to this dish.

Chipotle Lime Mussels- Mussels cooked with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, lime juice and garlic. Honestly what is not to love about this dish? The mussels were cooked perfectly in a slightly spiced sauce. There was nice blend of spice yet it was not over powering, it was a sublime dish. I ate far too many of these little gems, but honestly they were so good.

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Porcini Capelletti

Porcini Capelletti- this amazing pasta dish was mind blowing. The pasta was in a delicate butter sauce and on a bed on baby spinach and topped with sun-dried tomatoes. There were plenty of mushrooms throughout this dish, yet the flavor didn’t overpower the pasta. Great and favorable dish.

Chicken Saltimbocca –Pieces of tender chicken in a brown Marsala sauce. Oh my goodness, this was so delicious. The sauce was light tasting and complimented the chicken. It was cooked perfectly. I wanted to take the bread at the table to mop up the sauce on my plate, but I was dining in public and I thought better of it.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

Tiramisu- This dessert was a perfect ending to this feast. Yes we managed to eat to share a piece of this delicious dessert, it came recommended by the chef. When he told us that his wife makes all of these desserts, how could we say no? It was great tasting and was not overly sweet. There was no better way to end this meal.

I was glad I finally made it to Pittsburgh Restaurant Week and looking forward to the next one.  I was oh so happy that I went to Matteo’s, I will definitely be back!!!!

Matteo’s
3615 Butler Street, Lawrenceville
Check out Matteo’s at http://www.matteospgh.com

Here is the Pittsburgh Restaurant Week link http://pittsburghrestaurantweek.com

Matteo's on Urbanspoon

 

 

Ricotta Cheese: A New Twist on an Old Favorite

ricotta3 (3)first appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh on 5/ 23/14

When I think of ricotta cheese, I have fond memories of my childhood. I would see it used in various dishes and desserts that we ate. I can remember sneaking a few forbidden mouthfuls of this delicious delight from the colorful containers. I just loved the creamy texture and the pure taste of it. Ricotta cheese is something that I enjoy to this very day.

I remember hearing about people in the family who would use ricotta cheese on bread, kind of the way butter would be used. I always preferred the spoon out of the container method, but it was something that stuck with me. As I got older, I did notice that some restaurants would use a “ricotta-like” spreads on sandwiches. I had not encountered a place that offered the unadulterated cheese as a sandwich option. I still had not seen a restaurant that gave ricotta cheese out with the bread baskets at the start of dinner, but I know it existed because I had heard murmurs of this occurring.

I realized that people were soon making their own ricotta cheese, and this is on my list of things to try. I have had really good homemade ricotta cheese and I must tell you it is out of this world. There are a few commercial brands that I favor, but if I can get the homemade kind I will go with the latter.

I like the small curd and the creamy taste of the homemade kind, so I realized that this must be the reason people are putting it on bread. So I knew that I just had to try it. I will tell you that it is truly amazing and I can see why this is done. The combination of the Italian bread with its softened center and crusty exterior joined with the delicate taste of this mild creamy cheese, it is an absolute peasant delight.

I wanted to see what I could add to this bread and cheese platform without altering the pure and basic flavors that made it so wonderful. I soon realized that this would become the base for many different concoctions. I could change this into a sweet or savory treat, I like how easily this worked with many kitchen staples.

By adding cinnamon and sugar, or seasonal fresh fruit and honey it became breakfast treat or a dessert. Adding good olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper (or crushed red pepper) to a piece of bread with ricotta cheese, it becomes a great snack or the perfect light lunch. Adding a layer of sliced tomato, fresh basil and olive oil, it becomes the perfect warm weather meal. Serve it as part of an antipasto platter with a mix of other hard cheeses and cured meats, it becomes the perfect dish to serve as an appetizer.

The possibilities are endless of what you can do with ricotta cheese and bread. You are only limited by your imagination and tastes.

Ricotta cheese will continue to be one of my favorite cheeses to eat. I like to eat it on a good piece of bread. Try using it on toasted or grilled bread, you will definitely begin to think of a new way to dress your carbohydrate group.

Ricotta cheese is still great for baked ziti, stuffed shells and cannoli, however this simply marvelous peasant cheese can stand on its own and be used in recipes other than the classic Italian American dishes.

I am sharing my recipricotta4e for my Tomato & Basil Ricotta Bruschetta. This is a very forgiving recipe, use whatever brand of ricotta cheese you like. Make sure that the tomatoes are ripe and use your favorite type. Adjust the seasonings to your taste, play around with it and have fun.

 

I hope you enjoy it.

Buon Appetito,
Nicky

Nicky D Cooks Tomato & Basil Ricotta Bruschetta
Ingredients:
Ripe Tomatoes
Fresh basil
Ricotta Cheese (about 1 ½ c)
Loaf Italian bread (baguette style), thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Directions:
Thinly slice the tomatoes and lightly season with salt and pepper. Set them on a paper towel to absorb any extra moisture.

Spread a dollop of ricotta on each piece of bread. Sprinkle with a tiny bit of salt and pepper. Drizzle a little of olive oil. Next place a slice of tomato on the bread and a basil leaf or two. If you want, add a splash of Balsamic vinegar here.

Serve immediately.

A side note-the bread can also be toasted in a 400 degree oven until lightly browned, this adds a nice texture to the bread.

Nicky D Cooks is the owner and operator of Nicky D Cooks Authentic Handcrafted Italian Biscotti and Pizzelle.

Follow her on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/nickydcooks

Her website can be found at http://www.nickydcooks.com.

Also, check out her Facebook page @ http://www.facebook.com/nicky.d.cooks for more information and great recipes.

 

Giada Returns to Pittsburgh

On Sunday, April 27, Giada Valenti will be back in Pittsburgh for her new show, From Venice With Love. Giada is performing again at the Cabaret at Theatre Square in Downtown.

Giada 2

The Venice born, international singer and songwriter will be performing on stage with her band. The show is described as “being taken on a romantic journey with the singer as she performs her renditions of American and Italian hits from the 60s, 70s, 80s” as well as many recent contemporary songs.

Giada’s warm and brilliant vocals, combined with the soft harmonious sounds from her band, make for a show that will make you want to fall in love again with love.
As a person who has been to a Giada Valenti performance, I can attest that it is a concert that you will never forget. The intimate setting for the venue is a perfect one for allowing her gregarious personality shine through. Giada is able to interact with her audience, and make a real connection with them.

Giada has a way of creating a very unique and special relationship with her audience. She describes her fans as “my angels” and has a very devoted following. Giada makes her audience feel as though they are part of her family, and she is singing only for them. The passion that she has for her fans is evident in her performance. Her genuineness is sincere and it comes through when she sings; it is simply amazing to see.

Giada has been busy since her last visit to Pittsburgh. I was able to catch up with Giada to hear what new adventures have been happening to this international star.
She had a new CD released last month in the U.S., entitled “My Lullaby”. It is a collection of songs that she wrote herself. The songs were recorded in the Netherlands and Belgium, and mixed and mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studio in London. The CD was released a few years ago in Europe where it did very well. Due to the many requests from her fans in America, she decided to release it here as well. The CD has been well received and the “response of the media has [been] incredible“. She owes her success on this CD to her fans. She told me that “some of them even flew from over the ocean to be at some of my concerts in America, and some travel far to be there… from all over the USA…that is so special to me… I adore them”.

Giada Valenti has been featured on many of the national television stations including NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS. This year she was featured on ABC’s coverage of the prestigious Columbus Day Parade in New York City. She represented Italy on the Red Carpet of the parade and according to Giada “it was an honor” to do this. It was her 8th year being part of this celebration. Giada sang a song from the legendary composer Henry Mancini titled “Meglio Stasera”, a song from the movie “The Pink Panther”.

Please check out the link below to watch this great performance.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-ZbRx9i20M

Aside from an already busy work schedule this past year, Giada also had time to help support numerous causes. She and her band play many benefit concerts throughout the year.

Recently she was in New York doing a concert in support of the Children’s Home of Poughkeepsie. According to Giada it was “a very special cause and an incredible successful night…the [Children’s]Home of Poughkeepsie is doing such an incredible job providing a safe and nurturing environment to at-risk children and families in the Hudson Valley “.

Giada is also involved with the project Operation Wellness Warriors, a division of David Lynch Foundation. The organization supports Veterans and First Responders. This one is special for Giada, because “being the daughter of an Italian police officer back in Venice, I have such a deep and sincere respect for people in the public service and I’m so honored to be part of this”. Giada stated that there will be “many events planned” thought this organization and “the first one will be May 1st in Staten Island NY”.
As always, Giada was also kind enough to share with us one of her recipes, RISI E BISI. This is a regional Venetian dish and is one of her personal favorite. Giada likes to cook this dish because it is simple to prepare.

This recipe is light and is a perfect dish the spring. A big thank you to Giada for sharing this recipe, Grazie Giada!!

I hope that you enjoy it.

Buon Appetito,

Nicky

Please be sure to check out Giada Valenti in Pittsburgh
http://trustarts.culturaldistrict.org/production/35216/giada-valenti
From Italy With Love, featuring Giada Valenti
Sunday, April 27 at 7:30PM
Cabaret at Theatre Square
655 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

For more info, videos and music samples please visit Giada’s websites here below:
www.giadavalenti.com
www.facebook.com/giadavalenti
www.twitter.com/giadavalenti

RISI E BISI by Giada Valenti
Ingredients for 4 Peoplegiada3

2.2 lbs of fresh peas
07 oz of rice Vialone or Arborio (1 and half little espresso cups per person will my grandmother say!!)
2 oz of butter
1.5 oz of bacon
1.5 oz of parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
67.5 fl oz of chicken broth
grated parmesan cheese
1 spring onion
salt and pepper

PREPARATION “RISI E BISI”

Shelled peas and wash them well. Peel, wash and chop the parsley. Heat the chicken broth. Prepare the sauce: Put the chopped bacon in a pan, half the butter, two tablespoons of olive oil, chopped parsley and spring onion sliced.

Fry for a few minutes, then add the peas and let simmer, wetting them with a few tablespoons of broth.

Pour the hot broth into the bowl, and when it will resume boil, add the rice and let it cook, stirring often.

Five minutes before removing the rice from the heat, taste and season with salt and pepper, add the remaining butter and three tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese and stir well.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day

first appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh on 3/18/2014

zeppole4Buona Festa di San Giuseppe, Happy Feast of St. Joseph.

St. Joseph’s day is celebrated on March 19th. It is a Catholic feast day commemorating the life of St. Joseph. He is the Patron Saint of several regions in Italy and therefore is the protector of many Italian and Italian-American people.

In the Italian –American community that I grew up in, this was an important feast day. When families gathered together to celebrate this holiday, you were honoring the saint that watched over you, your family and many times the birth land of your relatives. It was a day when you were particularly prideful about your Italian heritage.

In many families as an homage to the Catholic Church, children were often named after Roman Catholic Saints. In many Italian families, so the story was passed down through my family, a child was always named after St. Joseph.

Growing up, we were always mindful of the importance of March 19th. We were taught not only to understand the religious significance of the holiday, but the broader meaning of this day as well. For many of us in the Italian-American community, the pride we felt about hearing stories about our relatives coming over from Italy and finding a better life for themselves and their families in the United States, this was a day of reflection on such accomplishments.

For us, a typical St Joseph’s day was a simple celebration, you went and visited relatives who were named after this saint, and wished them “Happy Name Day”. You wore red colored clothing and ate Italian food for dinner. After dinner you would have an Italian pastry called a Zeppole for dessert.

Every family had their own twist to this holiday, but this is how we did ours. It is a pretty sublime celebration. The holiday seemed to revolve around the food and the symbolism of the feast day.

We were lucky because we had a relative named after this saint in our immediate family. My grandmother’s name was Josephine, her Italian name was Giuseppina but everyone called her Josephine or Jo.

We would make the pilgrimage to Nana’s house every March 19th to wish her a “Happy St. Joseph’s day and Happy Name Day”.

There was always so many people coming over and wishing her well on her special day. Everyone always had some piece of red clothing on. Nana always wore her special red scarf for this day, it was only brought out on this special occasion.

zeppole2We would all gather for at her house and have dinner. I will always remember the vast amounts of Zeppole’s that people brought. Every time someone came over, each one came in with a new box of Zeppole from the bakery. That was the fun part because each bakery had a slight variation on this dessert.

I realized that when I speak about Zeppole, there are many different variations of this treat. I am talking about the classic Neapolitan version of this dessert.

What is a Zeppole? Zeppole (pronounced ZAY-poe-la) is a St. Joseph’s Day Cream Puff. The shells are pastry dough, like that of a cream puff. They can be baked or fried then filled with cream. The filling can be traditional custard or a cannoli like (ricotta) filling. It is garnished with a sweetened cherry and dusted with powdered sugar.

A traditional Zeppole is piped through a pastry bag so it has the disincentive ridges in it. The shape of the Zeppole is important. It is round and fashioned after a carpenter’s tool because St. Joseph was a carpenter. This is how you can distinguish it from other desserts.

They taste just like cross between creampuff and an éclair, but so much better. Honestly, words are just not able to describe this luscious treat. Weather you eat them baked or fried, with a cooked cream or ricotta filling, they are just a heavenly treat.

Perhaps due to the fact they only come out once a year, and when they are gone you have to wait until next year. Maybe that is what makes them so delicious. I am not sure, but I highly recommend that you try them if you can.

So on every March 19th, this is what I do. I whip up a batch of Zeppole, make a delicious Italian meal and wear red. We all gather around the table, have a big family dinner and have a Zeppole in Grandma Jo’s honor.

I have learned through the years how to make these tasty treats and I wanted to share my recipe. The recipe is for the basic Zeppole shell is a simple one. I fill it with chilled vanilla pudding mixed with whipped cream. You could also fill it with a cannoli style filling or a cooked cream.

A Zeppole is a perfect ending a St. Joseph’s day meal. Remember you don’t need to be Italian to celebrate this this holiday or make this dessert. Like Grandma Jo used to tell everyone, “we are all Italian on St. Joseph’s day, now come and eat a Zeppole”.

Try a Zeppole if you have never had one, you might just like it.

Buona Festa di San Giuseppe to all.

Mangia Bene,

Nicky

 

Cream Puffs

From the Betty Crocker Cookbook

1 cup water

1/2 cup butter or margarine

1 cup Gold Medal® all-purpose flour

4 eggs

Heat oven to 400ºF. In 2 1/2-quart saucepan, heat water and butter to rolling boil. Stir in flour; reduce heat to low. Stir vigorously over low heat about 1 minute or until mixture forms a ball; remove from heat. Beat in eggs, all at once; continue beating until smooth.

On ungreased cookie sheet, drop dough by slightly less than 1/4 cupful’s about 3 inches apart. Bake 35 to 40 minutes or until puffed and golden. Cool away from draft, about 30 minutes.

I don’t pipe the dough through the pastry bag, if you have one you can use it to get the perfectly round and ridged shape like they do at the bakeries.

To make the Zeppole: Cut the shells in half, scoop out any soggy dough. Spoon in the filling, garnish with a maraschino cherry and dust it with powdered sugar.

Nicky D Cooks is the owner and operator of Nicky D Cooks Authentic Handcrafted Italian Biscotti and Pizzelle.

Follow her on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/nickydcooks

Her website can be found at http://www.nickydcooks.com.   

Also, check out her Facebook page @ http://www.facebook.com/nicky.d.cooks for more information and great recipes.

Replicate Your Favorite Pittsburgh Restaurant Dishes at Home

first appeared on ciao pittsburgh (2/21/2014)

I admit it, I love to collect cookbooks. I buy them and I read them like I would any other book that I own. I have been doing it for many years now and have quite an eclectic collection of books.

I am always looking to expand my cookbook repertoire. I was very excited when I saw that the Pittsburgh Chef’s Table: Extraordinary Recipes from the Steel City, was finally published.  It is the second book written by the bloggers from eatPGH. This book is magnificent! The pages are filled with incredible recipes and mouth-watering pictures from some of the best chefs and restaurants in the city.

The book is more than just a cookbook, it is a culinary map of the city. It showcases the epicurean diversity that has always made Pittsburgh a great city to eat in.

The chef’s stories are witty and engaging. They provide an insider’s perspectives into some of the best eateries in and around the city. What stands out is the assortment of the chefs and stories that are in it. The spectrum runs from top tier eating establishments to bakeries, pubs and gastro pubs, cafes, deli’s and food trucks.

The recipes that the chefs have shared range from the simple to the sublime. Many of the recipes can easily be duplicated by a home cook. There are a vast array of them so readers have a variety to choose from.

Showcasing the gastronomic potpourri in the city is a definitely a theme in this book and it is evident in the recipes that are presented. There are the familiar recipes for foods like Beans and Greens, Macaroni and Cheese, Post Roast and Mashed Potatoes and Tomato-Fennel Soup and Chocolate Bread Pudding. If you want something more challenging there are recipes for Pâté De Champagne, Roasted Butternut Squash Chocolate Ravioli with Lobster Basil Cream Sauce and Duck Cannoli with White Chocolate Cardamom Beurre Blanc, Candied Orange Peel & Pistachio Dust. 

There are appetizers, main course, desserts and cocktails recipes to choose from. This book covers it all.

The women of eatPGH have created something special with this book. It is an amazing cookbook and coffee table book; it a visual depiction of the diverse food scene happening in Pittsburgh. The food culture is changing in the Steel City, it is morphing and ever expanding. Many of these new chefs are putting Pittsburgh on the map and are making a name for themselves in the culinary community.

Yes, Pittsburgh will always have their traditional foods: Pierogies, Primanti Brother Sandwiches, Iron City Beer and Chip Chopped Ham.  These are the foods that helped define the city and the people in it. However, Pittsburgh is just so great that you can have these staples and at the same time have a blossoming food scene. It is a great time to be a foodie in the Steel City.

In the book, I was instantly drawn to the Pittsburgh classic Italian American dish, Beans and Greens.  Growing up we only made a dish like this but we called it Escarole and Beans. We only used escarole- no other greens in our dish and small white beans. Also our dish was a soup, or soup like and served as a soup course. When I first arrived in Pittsburgh, it was then I discovered my beloved Escarole and Beans had a new name: Beans and Greens.

I discovered that this dish was it not a soup and it was served as a side or as a meal. It has a variety of greens in it and that cannellini bean were used in it. What I loved most about the people in Pittsburgh, they were bold and took my beloved childhood dish to another level of deliciousness- sometimes cured Italian meats or Italian sausages were added. After my first bit of this dish, I became hooked.

It is a quintessential Italian peasant dish; simple, minimal ingredients cooked together that will give you a delicious flavorful meal.

I do adore this classic dish and I will go out of my way to get a good plate of it. Pittsburgh has so many iconic foods, but to me Beans and Greens is one of the best foods that this city has to offer.

I make my own version of Beans and Greens, but I decided to make it Pittsburgh style.

I used a combination of fresh baby greens (kale, spinach, chard) and escarole, the blend of these really makes the dish flavorful. I like the small white beans, but cannellini beans may be substituted. I small amount of stock is required, but if you want to make this soupier add more stock. If you have some cooked Italian Sausage, throw it in because everything taste better with sausage.

This is a very forgiving recipe, so have fun with it. It is a quick meal that is perfect to make anytime.

I hope that you enjoy it.

Mangia Bene,

Nicky

 Nicky D Cooks Pittsburgh Style Beans and Greens

4-6 cups of fresh greens

2-3 Tbsp. olive oil (2 times around the pan)

3 Cloves garlic (1 minced and 2 whole)

1 14 oz. can organic white beans, drained and rinsed

¼ cup chicken stock

Salt & Freshly ground black pepper

Crushed Red pepper (optional)

Freshly grated Italian Cheese

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium low heat. Add the whole garlic until the garlic becomes golden brown- remove and discard the garlic.

Add the greens and stir to coat with the oil. Add the minced garlic and the red pepper flakes, sauté for a minute or two. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the greens begins to cook down. Now add the beans and cook for a few minutes until beans have absorbed some of the oil.

b&g1Add the stock, season with salt and pepper and cook until the beans are heated. Garnish with the grated cheese.

To Serve:

Garnish with more grated cheese and red pepper. Serve with a slice of good crusty Italian bread to make it a complete meal.

Nicky D Cooks is the owner and operator of Nicky D Cooks Authentic Handcrafted Italian Biscotti and Pizzelle.

Follow her on Twitter @ https://twitter.com/nickydcooks

Her website can be found at http://www.nickydcooks.com.   

Also, check out her Facebook page @ http://www.facebook.com/nicky.d.cooks for more information and great recipes.

NFL PLAY 60 Training Camp

This post appeared on Ciao Pittsburgh (1/17/2014)

I will be teaching another cooking class at the Heinz History Center and I am very excited about this one. 

On Saturday February 1st the NFL PLAY 60 Training Camp is coming to the Heinz History Center.

Play60The NFL Play 60 is the National Football League’s health and fitness campaign to encourage young fans to be active for at least 60 minutes a day.

There will be various activities football themed activities happening throughout the museum that day. This event is presented in partnership with the Pittsburgh Steelers and sponsored by Dick’s Sporting Goods.

I will be in the Weisbrod Kitchen Classroom, doing live cooking demonstrations. The theme of the class is healthy and fun tailgating and party foods.

I will do Italian American inspired foods which include Mini Caprese Salad Bites, Grandma Rosie’s Italian Bread pizza, and Game Day Pizzelle.

Yes, there will be plenty of samples of these tasty treats to try! I promise it will be a good time for all who come.

The NFL PLAY 60 Training Camp will be held at the Heinz History Center on Saturday, February 1, 2014 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. For more information, follow this link to the Heinz History Center events page.  

Or contact Sarah Rooney at 412-454-6373 or serooney@heinzhistorycenter.org.