For nearly 20 years, Mary Ann Esposito has been the major promoter of Italian cooking in the USA, just as Julia Child was to French cooking. Although Mary Ann stands about a foot shorter, like Julia she’s a born educator, always willing to share knowledge and expertise.
For nearly 20 years, Mary Ann Esposito of the PBS cooking series “Ciao Italia" has been the major promoter of Italian cooking in the USA, just as Julia Child was to French cooking.
Although Mary Ann stands about a foot shorter than Julia, like Julia she’s a born educator, always willing to share knowledge and expertise. She possesses a constant curiosity about the origins and the nature of foodstuffs, and has a discriminating palate. And just as everyone called Mrs. Child by her first name, Mrs. Esposito’s warm manner invites all to do the same.
On “Ciao Italia,” she educates and elucidates, carefully demonstrating every aspect of a recipe. Today’s young cooks discovered Julia at the movies, learning that beef stew looks nicer, tastes better, if you pat the pieces of beef dry and give them space to caramelize in the pan. More and more of them are tuning in to Mary Ann as she coaches them in Italian culinary techniques.
At the recent taping for the upcoming season, she and husband, Dr. Guy Esposito, unpacked the van while chatting with the crew. Then they set to work placing equipment, reading over recipes and walking through camera shots. Calm, smiling and organized, she pulled out a set of heirloom placemats and discussed how they would be used during the course of the show. In the next breath, she enlisted me to clean mushrooms. I don’t think I’ve ever concentrated so intensely on specks on a mushroom. I cleaned, sliced, and friseed leeks, making sure that they were perfectly golden.
In the foreground, Mary Ann discussed the freshness of scallops with Chris Porter, owner of Patriot Lobster Company, and the camera.
“I asked a fisherman on the dock how he liked to prepare scallops. He plucked a plump looking scallop from its shell and popped it right into his mouth! If it’s fresh, I guess there is not much you have to do to enhance its flavor. Buy dry scallops … that have not been water injected.”
Three recipes follow. I already have a double portion of the cranberry relish tucked into the refrigerator for Thursday’s feast. On Wednesday, I’ll make the Nutella-mascarpone-banana tartlets to place alongside long-treasured desserts on the table. They have all the makings of a future classic, added to the table this year, and anticipated for many more. I’m saving the scallop recipe as a starter for a winter dinner in front of the fireplace.
Makes about 2 cups
Adapted from Mary Ann Esposito’s “Ciao Italia” Web site: Thanksgiving recipes.
1 pound cranberries, washed and drained
1-1/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 cup diced California dried apricots
1. Combine the cranberries and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium; cook until the cranberries begin to burst. Add the salt, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon juice. Continue cooking until the mixture thickens.
2. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the apricots. Let the mixture cool completely. Transfer to a jar; refrigerate until needed. It will keep for weeks.
CHOCOLATE, HAZELNUT, AND BANANA TARTLETS
Makes 4, easily doubled or more
Adapted from “Five-Ingredient Favorites.” This is as decadent as cheesecake with barely a fraction of the work.
1 sheet purchased puff pastry
1 cup Nutella
8 ounces mascarpone cheese at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 banana, sliced
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Roll out the sheet of puff pastry onto a clean work surface and into a 12x14-inch rectangle, cut out four 6-inch circles from the rolled dough. Press and line each of the circles into four individual 3-inch tartlet pans with removable bottoms.
3. Place the tartlet pans on a baking sheet and poke each shell with a fork all over the surfaces to prevent puffing while baking. Bake the tatlet shells for 7 to 8 minutes, or until they are nicely browned.
4. Remove the tartlet pans from the oven and allow them to cool completely.
5. In a medium bowl use a hand mixer to whip the Nutella and mascarpone together with the sugar until well blended.
6. Place a layer of banana slices in the bottom of each cooled tartlet shell, then spoon the Nutella mixture into the shells. Refrigerate for several hours before serving.
SCALLOPS IN VINAIGRETTE
Carpaccio di Cappesante
Makes 4 servings
Adapted from “Five-Ingredient Favorites.”
4 tablespoons good quality rice, sherry or champagne vinegar
4 tablespoons honey
fine sea salt, to taste
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 pound large sea scallops
1 cup thinly sliced leek rings
1 cup sunflower oil
1. Whisk together vinegar, honey, salt and dry mustard in a medium size bowl. Slowly whisk in olive oil until a creamy consistency is obtained. Stir in thyme leaves; set aside.
2. Cut each scallop crosswise into four rounds. Add the scallop rounds to the dressing and toss gently. Divide and plate four salad dishes with the scallops and spoon some sauce over each one. Set aside.
3. Heat the oil in a small saucepan to 375F. Add the leek rings and fry until golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper. Divide and top each salad with the fennel; serve immediately.
Linda Bassett, author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai,” teaches American regional cooking and international cuisine at Massachusetts' North Shore Community College. Reach her by e-mail at KitchenCall@aol.com.