Category: Italian (Page 1 of 2)

My Favorite Meal At Broders’ Cucina Italiana

 Broders’ Cucina Italiana’s Eggplant Special Pizza has been my favorite pizza for almost ten years.

I worked behind the deli counter at Broders’ during my first year after college. As employees, we were given opportunities to nearly everything from the menu and learn about the Italian food products sold in the restaurant. How are you supposed to answer customers’ questions about the menu or communicate a genuine enthusiasm foods if you haven’t tried them? Broders’ gets this.

Even though I ate a lot of food from Broders’ while I worked there, I never got tired of it. The Eggplant Special pizza was my favorite then and it is now.

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You Should Probably Try The Mucci Juice

We used to complain about the 3.5 hour commute between Minneapolis and Fargo. When we moved to North Iowa, we still complained about the two-hour commute to Minneapolis. Now, we live a 9.5 hour drive away and remember how we used to complain. The drive takes most of a day, but is still cheaper than flying (and we can take the dog) so we make the best of it. Podcasts, music, and corn nuts get us through.

Friends and readers still ask me for dining suggestions as they prepare to visit the Twin Cities for various occasions. We’ve lived away for about four years, now. Restaurants have come, gone, and changed. It’s impossible to keep up. On our visits back, we often lean towards our old favorites like Broders and Bangkok Thai Deli. Our time is so limited that we have time for maybe one nice dinner out and it’s really hard to decide where to dine.

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Hot Salami At Gioia’s Deli

Head cheese on The Hill.

On my recent day off, I decided to search for another “only in St. Louis” specialty for lunch. My last quest brought me to Mai Lee for a St. Paul sandwich. Having lived in St. Louis now for almost six months, I was overdue for an Italian sandwich on The Hill, our city’s historic Italian community. There are many Italian delis here. Everyone seems to have their favorite sandwich along with their their favorite St. Paul Sandwich and frozen custard and gooey butter cake. I suppose it’s similar to asking a Minneapolis-St. Paul resident for advice about where to find their favorite Jucy Lucy about which I’ve gotten into online brawls.

This quest started at Gioia’s Deli (pronounced joy-a). According to Gioia’s website, they’re the “oldest family owned business on The Hill and have been serving hot salami (Salam de Testa) since 1918. Their deli is even built from wood and brick leftover from the 1904 World’s Fair. On Gioia’s website you’ll find a regular menu and secret menu with extra deluxe combinations involving meats and garlic cheese bread. Hot salami is a big deal here. The deli makes this meat specialty daily from pig head parts like noses and snouts, and serves slices warm on sandwiches. Hence, the hot salami gets its name from its temperature, not spiciness. You can watch Andrew Zimmern catch some of the sausage-making process on this Bizarre Foods episode.

Gioia’s was packed when I arrived for an early take-out lunch. Everyone seemed to know exactly what they wanted and how they wanted it. The employees were friendly and directed me through the process of ordering, waiting for the sandwich to be prepared, adding condiments, and heading to the cash register. I chose the Spicy Daggett filled with hot salami, coppa, capicola, cheese (I chose mozzarella), and giardiniera and served on toasted garlic-pepper cheese bread ($8.25).

As a “healthier” counterbalance, I also ordered the Iron Man made with a hollowed-out baguette, turkey, all of the vegetables, and spicy mustard.

The hot salami sandwich was our favorite. The meat was thickly-cut, unctuous, and tender. Nothing like the salami lunch meat circles of my childhood. The coppa and capicola added a slight kick and the chunky pickled peppers cut through the richness. Layered between toasted Italian bread with the perfect softness and chew, this was pretty much the perfect sandwich.

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The Iron Man turkey sandwich tasted healthy. . . it’s hard to follow hot salami. I certainly wouldn’t want to. Both sandwiches provided us each with lunch for the next day, or, in my case, breakfast.

In conclusion, the Hot Daggett was a hit that I’d return for soon. I’ve never tasted anything like it living in MN, ND and IA. Next time, I’ll take advantage of their “Word of the Week” offer where the deli emails a secret word each week for $1-off a sandwich. After I posted a photo of Gioia’s hot salami sandwich, folks chimed in to say Gioia’s makes their favorite version. Other sandwich suggestions included the hot salami from Adam’s Smokehouse and the Amighatti’s Special from Amighatti’s.

Tell me about your favorite Italian Sandwich. Have you encountered Hot Salami before? Who makes your favorite sandwich on The Hill?

My Recipe For [Relatively] Easy Chicken Parmesan

We’re fans of meat cutlets. There’s really not much to dislike about thin, breaded, pounded-out pieces of meat cooked until crisp, unless you don’t like meat, that is. I used to only order breaded meat cutlets dishes at restaurants instead of preparing them home because I feared they’d be too messy or cumbersome. Then, we made breaded cutlets so often in culinary school that I lost my fear.

Thanks to my year in culinary school, I can practically prepare many foods in my sleep. These include soup, tuna salad, and pie crust which I avoided for 28 years. The same applies to breaded foods. I really do think I can assemble a proper breading station with my eyes closed.

Once you feel comfortable preparing a breaded meat cutlet, you can make a variety of dishes. Besides Chicken Parmesan, we like schnitzel which I’ve made with pounded-out pork. And if you ever visit a Mexican restaurant that serves tortas, try ordering one with a thin and crispy slice of beef milanese.

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My First Homemade Lasagna & Our Favorite Garlic Bread

For as long as I’ve known my husband, I’ve never made lasagna.

I’m the cook of our relationship. I’m guessing you’ve assumed as much by now. He’s easy to please when it comes to food and doesn’t often request certain meals. However, he has requested lasagna and, until now, I’ve never been able to bring myself to make it.

I think it’s because we ate so much lasagna in my household growing up. We ate all types of lasagna from the Stouffer’s variety with the sweet, orange sauce and cottage cheese curds to pans my mom made herself. It probably appeared in our dinner rotation once a week. While I don’t remember not liking it as a child, I haven’t wanted to make it as an adult. Heck, I worked at Broders’ Cucina Italiana during my first year out of college and didn’t even eat their lasagna.

The tides began to turn this past winter when I found myself enjoying a version my cousin recently made at family gathering. And finally, when my husband inquired about homemade lasagna at the start of an especially busy work week, I finally decided to honor his request. I adapted Lidia Bastianich’s recipe for Italian-American lasagna and made a few changes so that it was simpler to make.

Now that I’ve embraced lasagna again, it’s earned its rightful place in our dinner rotation. The leftovers were especially welcome at the end of a work day, and they tasted as satisfying as the first day.

A Cook’s Notes

For just the two of us, I divided the recipe in half and baked the lasagna in a 11 X 7 pan. It made six servings that we enjoyed over the busy week. Much of the lasagna-building process is up to your discretion. Build each layer as thick or thin as you’d like. For example, I went lighter on the cheese. Lidia recommends letting the finished lasagna sit on the counter for a few hours and reheating the squares when it’s ready to serve. I found one hour sufficient and served it from the pan with the extra sauce. There’s really no wrong way to build a lasagna. Just do whatever fits best for you.  

I served our lasagna with my favorite garlic bread and a tossed green salad. 

Lasagna With Meat Sauce
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s recipe for Italian-American Lasagna.

11 X 7 baking dish
Lasagna noodles (About 3/4 of a pound)
Olive oil
1/2 pound ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 lb. mozzarella, thinly sliced (I used one small ball of fresh mozzarella)
Parmesan cheese, grated

Meat Sauce:
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 bay leaves
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
About 1/2 cup of dry red or white wine
35 oz. of crushed tomatoes
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Pinch of sugar


To begin, start the sauce. It will taste better the longer it simmers.

  1. Saute the onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt until the edges start to brown. 
  2. Add the ground beef and sausage and saute until browned. Remove any extra fat drippings.
  3. Add the garlic and briefly cook until fragrant but not browned. 
  4. Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes. 
  5. Add the bay leaves and oregano. Try to remember to remove the bay leaves before assembling the lasagna. 
  6. Deglaze the pan with wine and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pan into the sauce. 
  7. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt and black pepper to taste, and a pinch or two of sugar. 
  8. Allow the sauce to simmer for as long as you are able, or until it turns rustier in color. This could take 2-3 hours. If you don’t have time to simmer the sauce for hours, it will still be fine. Longer cooking lessens the tinny taste from the canned tomatoes. You could also use your favorite jarred tomato sauce. 
  9. Keep tasting the sauce while it simmers and adjust the seasonings accordingly. You may want to add more salt, pepper, sugar, and/or wine. 
  10. If the sauce becomes too reduced, add water. 
To prepare the other layers
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous dash of salt and small drizzle of olive oil.
  2. Cook half of the noodles at a time until they are pliable but undercooked (about seven minutes). 
  3. Shock the noodles in ice water.
  4. When the noodles are completely cool, place them on a sheet pan and rub with a light coat of olive oil so they don’t stick together. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
  5. Whisk together the ricotta and egg. Season with salt. 
To assemble the lasagna:
  1. Heat oven to 350-375 degrees F. 
  2. Ladle enough sauce into the bottom of a pan to generously cover the bottom of the dish.
  3. Layer three noodles into the dish, lengthwise. It’s OK if they slightly overlap. Trim a little off the edge for a better fit.
  4. Ladle a thick layer of sauce over the noodles. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. 
  5. Add a noodle layer.
  6. Spread the noodles with the ricotta-egg mixture. Use your best judgement about how much cheese to spread. You may want to use less than the full amount. 
  7. Add a noodle layer.
  8. Add the sliced mozzarella cheese. If it’s fresh mozzarella, sprinkle it with a little salt. Cover with sauce and sprinkle Parmesan cheese.
  9. Add a noodle layer.
  10. Cover with sauce and sprinkle more Parmesan cheese. 
  11. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover. If the top looks a little dry, add more sauce and Parmesan cheese. Bake for 15 more minutes. 
  12. Allow the lasagna to sit before cutting into squares. Serve with any extra sauce. 

My Favorite Garlic Bread
French bread, split
Olive oil
Garlic, minced
Herbs, whatever you have on hand. I used dried basil and marjoram. 
Black pepper
  1. Combine butter and a little olive oil in a small dish. Add minced garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. 
  2. Heat until the mixture is spreadable. 
  3. Spread on both cut sides of the bread. Put the bread back together and wrap in foil. Bake at 350 degrees F. until heated through. 
  4. Cut and serve. 
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