Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Episode 9: The Bitch in the Kitchen Meets the Mob

I'm a true crime junkie. I don't mind admitting it. It started when I was a little kid watching old gangster movies with my Dad and eventually led to a bookcase that holds dozens of true crime books. I slip quotes from The Godfather movies into everyday conversations. And yes…one of the cookbooks in my collection is "The Mafia Cookbook" by Joseph "Joe Dogs" Iannuzzi. Sure, he's technically a rat but I'll tell ya – rat or not, the dude's rockin' his kitchen, for sure.

I did a little reading on Joe Dogs - who apparently got his nickname because he was (is?) a big fan of going to the dog races – and from what I've found, this is the basic story…Joe was born in New York in 1931. His dad was a bookie and took him along on his weekly collections. Tom Mix, the cowboy star, was apparently one of his more prominent clients. He would give little Joey a silver dollar every visit. Mama Iannuzzi divorced Big Joe in 1945. Right around that time, little Joey got arrested for the first time. He eventually enlisted and served in the Korean War ("Korean Conflict" my eye…it was a war) as a decorated Marine. Got stabbed in the thigh by a bayonet and was honorably discharged. He became good friends with Tommy "T.A." Agro, a soldier for the Gambino crime family. By the early 70s, he was part of T.A's crew, eventually becoming his top enforcer. By the mid-70s, Joe Dogs was running South Florida for the Gambinos. Activities included extortion, robbery, rigging horse races, drug trafficking, labor racketeering & loan sharking. Through whatever course of events that transpired, Joe Dogs ended up owing T.A. a bunch of money and T.A., not appreciating that, nearly beat him to death with a baseball bat. And thus, a rat is born. Joe Dogs teamed up with a deep-cover FBI agent and by the time "Operation Home Run" was brought to a close, Joe Dogs had helped the Feds get more than a dozen mobsters, including Tommy Agro. He also appeared as a star witness at 5 major mob trials and entered Witness Protection. Like I said…he's technically a rat, but the dude has some great recipes. I used 2 of them for Sunday dinner and to keep with the Italian theme, I turned to Giada DeLaurentiis for dessert.

Couple of notes on this: The red pepper flakes & cayenne are my addition; Joe Dogs doesn't use them in these. And I gotta tell ya, I'm tired of trying to measure things that I don't normally measure…so from here on out, the rule is this…a "pinch" is my thumb & index finger. A "two-fingered pinch" is my thumb & two fingers, etc.

Joe Dogs' Shrimp Scampi – Gourmet Style

  • 2 pounds shrimp – rinsed, shelled & deveined
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed & minced
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper (to taste)
  • Two-fingered pinch red pepper flakes
  • Two-fingered pinch cayenne

In a large saucepan, melt butter over low heat until bubbling. Don't let it brown. Add garlic, shallots & red pepper flakes and sauté until limber, about 3 minutes. Add shrimp & cook on both sides until pink all over, about 4 minutes. When shrimp are done, remove from the pan and set aside. Add cayenne, pepper & cream to pan and stir vigorously. Return shrimp to pan & toss to coat. Pour onto warm serving platter & sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately with rice or noodles. Serves 6.

Joe Dogs' Spaghetti with Garlic & Olive Oil

  • 4 quarts cold water
  • 4 tablespoons salt (sounds like a lot, I know…but this is your ONLY shot to actually add flavor to the pasta)
  • 1 pound spaghetti or linguine
  • ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 6 cloves garlic, crushed & finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Two-fingered pinch red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Freshly grated romano or parmesan, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain & let stand in pot, adding ¼ cup olive oil & tossing to prevent pasta from sticking. In a large pan, add the rest of the olive oil, garlic & red pepper flakes and sauté until garlic is golden. Add cream & whisk well. Add pasta & black pepper to pan & toss until it's well coated with sauce. Place on warm platter, sprinkle with grated cheese & serve immediately. Serves 4-6.

Giada's Fig & Almond Tart

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled & cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons ice water
  • 3 ½ ounces almond paste, at room temperature, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 6 large or 12 small fresh figs, sliced, stems removed or 20 dried figs, reconstituted (simmer them in water for 5 minutes)
  • ¼ cup apricot jam

Combine the flour, 2 tablespoons of the sugar, lemon zest & salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until blended. Add the butter & pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With the machine running, gradually add the water until moist clumps form. Turn the dough onto a work surface & form into a ball. Flatten into a disk & wrap in plastic wrap. Chill 1 hour.

In a clean food processor bowl, combine the remaining sugar, almond paste, mascarpone, vanilla & honey. Blend until smooth.

Position oven rack in center of oven & preheat oven to 400°F.

On a large sheet of parchment paper, roll out the dough into an 11-inch circle. Transfer to a large, heavy baking sheet. Spread the almond filling over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Arrange the figs on top of the almond filling. Spoon jam over figs. Fold the dough border over the filling to form an 8-inch round, pleating the crust loosely & pinching to seal any cracks in the dough.

Bake the tart until the crust is golden, about 40 minutes. Place the baking sheet on a rack to cool for 10 minutes, and then slide a metal spatula under the crust to free the tart from the parchment. Transfer to a platter & serve. Serves 6-8.


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