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Today’s Special: The Super Sloppy Joe

22 Feb


I’ve been criticized by some since I’ve started this site for endorsing unhealthy eating habits and foods. Of course I deny this vehemently. All the vegetables, starches, fish, fowl, meats, and all their byproducts I’ve covered here over the years are maybe not the best choices, but certainly not the worst. Most of the restaurants discussed in these electronic pages serve food prepared lovingly by moms and pops from recipes handed down from generation to generation. What could be bad about that?

But to satisfy the few who do think I should at least give a nod to what is considered healthy food, I offer today’s special, a self proclaimed super food.

Some of the menu choices at the super food establishment I entered were wraps and salads, burgers made from either “100 percent grass-fed bison” or “homemade veggie burgers,” “power plates,” like the “lumberjack,” a chicken breast with roasted vegetables over brown rice with either lentil or chili soup, and entrees like quinoa turkey meatloaf, tofu stir fry.

My body not used to super food components, I was wary of a harsh reaction to them. I did not want to suffer a health food overdose. So after a long deliberation, remembering happily the sloppy Joe’s of my youth, I choose the “bison sloppy Joe.”

I was expecting this.

I was expecting this.

It came out very quickly. Encased in a cardboard-like whole wheat wrap. I was hungry and quickly tore it in half and took a bite. The let down was immediate. The taste memory in my brain was bitterly disappointed. This was nothing like the Manwich I remembered so fondly. There were black beans, cannellini and kidney beans inside along with brown rice and a scant amount of undressed cole slaw. If there was a barbecue sauce as advertised, I couldn’t taste it.

I got this.

I got this.

My mouth needed lubricating after the very dry, bland bite—the only flavor was from the unfortunate gaminess of the bison. I reached for my bottle of water and drank half of it.

I got this.


For me to continue, I had to find something to give the wrap flavor. I asked for sauce and was given a green, cilantro/jalapeno hot sauce. I doused the wrap liberally with the sauce and almost miraculously it became edible.

Maybe it was the perceived goodness of the ingredients, or maybe I was just getting used to the unfamiliar, healthy taste of the wrap, as I worked on the second half of the wrap I was beginning to actually like what I was eating. I did, however, need the rest of my bottle of water to wash it down

Green hot sauce helped.

Green hot sauce helped.

I can’t really testify to the health benefits of the super food sloppy Joe wrap as opposed to, maybe, the pepper and egg hero at Parisi’s (The Hero of Mott Street ). Only our nutritionists know what constitutes a super food, and they seem to change that definition hourly. So though I have no proof to the superior nutritional qualities of what mom and pop prepare, I will continue to patronize their establishments and keep the faith that oxtail stew or ox tongue and tripe among other things will one day appear on that super food list.

Neck Bones’ Fat Tuesday Red Beans and Rice

12 Feb

Red Beans

Memorable food moments in film have been well documented. One of my favorites occurs in the 1978 masterpiece from filmmaker Les Blank, Always for Pleasure, the documentary about Mardi Gras traditions in New Orleans. In the film there is a particularly memorable scene, at least to me, where New Orleans’ native, singer, Irma Thomas recites her recipe on how she makes her red beans and rice. “First you need a large pot…at least five quarts…”

irma thomas

I’ve seen the film numerous times, but only on video and that scene has always made my mouth water. Now if I ever had the pleasure of viewing Always for Pleasure at a screening where the filmmaker was in attendance and employed his gimmicky, yet sadistically ingenious technique of “Smellaround;” the addition of the actual aroma from a big pot of red beans and rice being cooked within the theater itself, the gurgling from my stomach would probably drown out the dialogue from the screen.

Instead, the film motivated me to make red beans and rice according to Irma Thomas’s recipe. I was able to find a copy of the recipe in a 1986 book called Totally Hot! The Ultimate Hot Pepper Cookbook, by Michael Goodwin, Charles Perry, and Naomi Wise (Dolphin Doubleday). The recipe, adapted by Les Blank from Irma Thomas’ recipe is much more complicated than what she recited in the film. Hers was brief and simple. I made Les Blank’s recipe from the book. The result, however, for whatever reason, was a slight disappointment.

Since then I’ve tweaked the recipe borrowing much from it, including an enormous amount of garlic. Irma Thomas suggested using a half head.  Blank, who made another masterpiece in 1980, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, centered around the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, so we know where he stands on the benefits of the “stinking rose,” calls for a full head.


For what I made, I used probably three quarters of a head of garlic, In Blank’s recipe, a smoked ham hock is called for and that is what I used when I made his recipe. Thomas, in the movie suggests  using “seasoning meat of your choice.” My choice for this batch of red beans was Andouille sausage. Also instead of using a big pot on the stove, I switched to a crock pot hoping the consistent, low temperature would produce better results. Beyond those changes, I’ve left much of the other red beans and rice basics intact.

So here, for your Fat Tuesday pleasure is the Neck Bones rendition of Irma Thomas’s version combined with Les Blank’s Always for Pleasure red beans and rice.


2 cups of dried red beans (one pound bag)

6 cups of water

1 lb of Andouille sausage (any other garlicky smoked sausage will work too), sliced.

2 medium onions (about 2 cups worth) chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

2 ribs of celery, chopped

6 tablespoons of minced garlic (or just mince a head—depending on the size of the head)

1 tablespoon of creole seasoning*

½  teaspoon salt

Cooked white rice

Green onions, a.k.a  scallions for garnish

*If you don’t have creole seasoning, you can add ½ tablespoon each of black pepper and cayenne pepper or more cayenne than black, depending on your spice preference.

Beans soaked overnight

Beans soaked overnight

If you are a reader of Fried Neck Bones…and Some Home Fries you know I prefer the easy to the difficult when it comes to my own cooking. Following that philosophy, I rarely use dried beans going the lazy route with canned beans as a substitute. For this recipe, however, I think dried beans are best because of the very long cooking time involved. So soak the beans in water at room temperature overnight and then pour off whatever water remains and rinse them again in cold water.

Put the beans in a crock pot or slow cooker and cover with the water.

Quickly sauté the sausage to cook off a bit of the fat. You don’t need to do this; you can just throw in the sausage and the excess fat will just add more flavor of the beans, But if you want to limit your fat intake somewhat, either sauté it and drain with a slotted spoon, or boil it briefly first and then add to the crock pot.

Andouille sausage

Andouille sausage

Cook the onions, celery, and bell pepper for about three minutes in the grease from the sausage and then, again with a slotted spoon, add it all to the crock pot.

Toss in the minced garlic and the Creole seasoning.

Garlic going in.

Garlic going in.

Turn the crock pot on low and cook for about eight hours until the beans are so soft they meld with the cooking liquid giving it all a creamy consistency.

Looking for that creamy consistency. Not quite there yet.

Looking for that creamy consistency. Not quite there yet.

Serve over cooked white rice and sprinkle with chopped green onions.

Red beans and rice

Red beans and rice

Enjoy with a cold beer or maybe borrowing from another Fat Tuesday celebration, this one in Brazil, with a cold caipirinha, the recipe for the cocktail can be found here A Lime Cut Three Ways: The First Cut .

And for more pleasure while you eat and drink on this Fat Tuesday, below is the trailer for Always for Pleasure:

Eat Your Luck

31 Dec

Every New Year’s there’s another food I’m supposed to eat that will bring me good luck. I think I’ve tried them all.

New Year 1

I’ve done the Southern thing with the black eyed peas.

Southern luck thing.

Southern luck thing.

I’ve even tossed in a ham hock to make sure the Hoppin’ John concoction would be more effective.

The ham hock luck guarantee

Ham hock luck assurance

Based on something I read,  I once tried collard greens on New Year’s.

Collard greens

I can’t say that eating greens brought me any luck. And I know if I ever hit the numbers, I would have remembered. Whatever, the greens were delicious…and healthy too.

Collard greens

As long as you have your health….

The Italians have their superstitions too, that’s for sure. I bought into the lentils and sausage scam a few times thinking that maybe by eating them on New Year’s,  the following year would be truly remarkable.

A lucky legume?

A lucky legume?

If the year after the lentils and sausage was particularly amazing, I can’t remember.  Not that it mattered. They were so good I would eat them again even if they meant a mess of bad luck.

Eating fish on New Year’s is another superstition. I tried that one too.

Eat a fish head, get good luck.

And you would think that eating a fish’s head would give me some serious good luck mojo.  Sadly, though the fish head was memorable, any luck derived from eating it was not.

Since I’ve tried them all, this year I’m going with something not even on the New Year’s luck radar.

fried dough1

And I promise, if I have a particularly bad year, I’m not pinning it on fried dough.


When it comes to luck,  in reality that old sports cliche, “you make your own luck” is probably most  true. Just make sure that whatever luck you make tastes good.

Happy New Year!

A Recipe for the 4th of July: 2012

3 Jul

Last year at this time I posted a recipe for the 4th of July. It was for the simple grilled hot dog on a bun: A Recipe for the 4th of July.  This year I am adding a side dish that complements the tube steak like no other: Barbecued baked (that aren’t baked) beans.

Like I do in so much of my limited cooking, I choose the easy path to the hard. I like to cut corners. I admit to being lazy at times. But I try to do it without sacrificing too much flavor or quality.

As I’ve discussed in the previous posts I’ve called  The Fazool Trilogy, The quality of most beans from a can as compared to dried, is, in my estimation, minimal.  And that miniscule difference just does not justify the extra time and effort in soaking and then cooking the beans. So I cut that process out. Just make sure you drain and rinse the canned beans in cold water before using them.

I’m lazy, but not this lazy.

Some might say if you are going to be lazy, go all the way. Just buy a can of pre-made baked beans. And to be honest, there are one or two that aren’t too far off in taste. Nothing a little doctoring won’t shore up. But by doing it the way I’ve chosen, you can control the flavor; the sweetness, salt content, and even add a few tricks of your own into it.

For my version of barbecued baked beans you will need the following:

2 15 or 16 ounce cans of small white beans*

2 strips of bacon, diced

1 medium onion, chopped.

2 tbs molasses

2 tbs brown sugar

1 cup of ketchup

1 tbs of yellow mustard (the cheap, glow in the dark kind).

1 tsp of Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp of apple cider vinegar

2 cups of water

Dash or two of hot sauce.

Salt and pepper to taste

*The traditional bean of choice for baked beans is the Navy bean. Some recipes call for the “Great Northern” bean while others prefer the pinto bean. Any of the above, as long as they are about pebble size, will suffice and absorb the flavors of the barbecue sauce.

Rinse the beans in cold water and strain.

Rinsing the beans.

In a large saucepan, cook the bacon until the fat renders.

Add the onion and fry in the bacon fat for about five minutes or until softened.

Softening the onions in the bacon fat.

Pour in the water and deglaze the bottom of the pan.

Add the ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar.

The liquid ingredients getting ready for the arrival of the beans.

Stir and bring to a boil and then simmer for about ten minutes.

Add the beans.

Cooking down the beans.

Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about a half hour or 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid is cooked off and thickened to what resembles a barbecue sauce.

Drop in a few dashes of hot sauce.

Stir again and serve.

The baked beans not only are one of my favorite side dishes for a barbecue, they also make a delicious topping to a Fourth of  July hot dog.

The Fazool Trilogy: Part Three

9 May

Of the Italian-American all star bean trio I have written about in the Fazool Trilogy, it is this dish that most refer to when they speak in that slang my high school Italian teacher reviled, “fazool.”

And in honor of my high school Italian teacher’s pet name for me, “pigrone” or lazybones, I’ve titled my version of pasta e fagioli accordingly.

It’s not just because I was a lazy student  in my high school Italian class that I’ve named the dish this way but because, by using canned beans instead of dried, which require soaking and then cooking on their own, I’ve cut a huge corner in preparation. I’m all for cutting corners in cooking if the results are pretty much negligible either way. And in my experience, I find little difference between taking the time to soak the dried beans instead of using canned. Certainly not enough to warrant the extra time and effort.

Unlike pasta e ceci, and pasta lenticchie, my grandmother did not make pasta e fagioli much for me. I remember her serving heaping bowls of it to my grandfather at lunch when he would come in from gardening, construction, house painting; whatever  handy work he was doing at the time. I don’t recall my brothers and I being forced fed what my grandfather ate heartily. Maybe she assumed that we would totally reject the concept of the pale cannellini bean and rather have a tuna fish or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And looking back now, that’s a shame. As a result, I came to my appreciation of pasta e fagioli later in life.

When they say “fazool” this is what they mean.

My grandmother, I do know, made pasta e fagioli with the legume of choice for the dish, the cannellini bean. I have known Italians, however, who swear by the kidney bean when making their “fazool.” To me that changes the dish completely, but who am I to judge anyone on their fagioli preference?

All of the bean dishes in the Fazool Trilogy are unique and not just because of the type of bean. The first in the Trilogy, Pasta e Ceci, is more like a pasta dish; the pasta being the dominant part of the dish with the chick peas folded into the pasta.

In the Fazool Trilogy: Part Two, Pasta e Lenticchie, the lentils are the main attraction while the strands of broken spaghetti fill out and balance the dish by adding much needed starch to the heftiness of the lentils.

Pasta e fagioli, at least the way I like to make it, is more like a soup, or stew, than the other two. And because it has a more liquid consistency, unlike the others, I add a little meat flavoring, chopped smoked ham or pancetta. If you want to keep it meatless, you won’t lose much; the same can be said with adding meat to the other two in the Trilogy.

What follows below is my pretty standard, and hopefully not too difficult, recipe.

Lazybones Pasta e Fagioli


1 tbs of olive oil

2 cans of cannellini beans, (15-16 ounces) drained and rinsed.

1 medium onion, chopped fine

1 celery rib, chopped fine

1 medium carrot chopped fine

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp dried oregano

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

3 to 4 cups of chicken broth (beef broth works too)

2 cups water

1 tsp salt

1 28 ounce can of diced or chopped tomatoes with juices (I like pieces of tomato in my broth, so I usually go with diced or chopped; sometimes crushed is just puree)

3 ounces smoked ham, pancetta, or bacon (I prefer the first two to bacon just because bacon’s strong flavor influences the dish more than I like, but it still works. For this batch I’ve used smoked ham).

1 secret ingredient (that’s not so secret anymore, to find out what it is, refer to The Fazool Trilogy: Part Two.)

Secret ingredient

8 ounces of a small pasta shape (I like ditalini, but small shells, elbows, and tubetini also work).

¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

Grated Parmesan cheese

The pasta of Pasta Fagioli

Heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven or wide bottomed pot over medium-high heat.
Add the ham, pancetta or bacon and cook until it browns lightly, around 5 minutes.

Chopped smoked ham

Stir in the onions, celery, and carrots, until they are softened. Around 7 minutes.

Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and oregano, stir for about 1 minute.

Pour in tomatoes and the secret ingredient that’s not so secret anymore and bring to a boil.

Pasta e Fagioli minus the pasta and the fagioli.

Add the broth, water, 1 teaspoon salt, beans, and bring to a boil and then simmer for about ten minutes.

Drop the pasta into the pot and cook until it is a minute from being al dente. Timing depends on the pasta shape and brand; check the package. (Beware of overcooking the pasta; you don’t want mush).

Turn off the heat, stir in the parsley, ladle into bowls, and add the desired amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Pasta e Fagioli

Like the others in the Trilogy, Pasta e Fagioli is best served with a crusty bread and a green salad.

Thus concludes the Fazool Trilogy, however, I am always open to suggestions and ideas on how this series can be continued and transformed into epic status. So please don’t hesitate to comment with your fazool insight.

The Fazool Trilogy: Part Two

30 Mar

Part Two of the Fazool Trilogy features a dish that I have never seen on a restaurant menu anywhere. And I wonder why? Thankfully, my grandmother, known in the family as “Nanny,”  introduced me to the tiny legume and the hearty, almost meat-like broth it made when cooked and then combined with broken bits of spaghetti.

When I would call to say I was coming over for lunch, she would say, “I’ll make lentichhie. Or ceci.” (Pasta e Ceci). The pasta part was a given.  She would serve a big bowl  with her homemade loaf bread and a salad; the lunch would fortify me easily until dinner.

As I have said, there were never any written recipes.  And back when I was younger, I didn’t really pay attention to what went into Nanny’s meals. It was the end result that was my only concern.

So now  I’ve tried my best to recreate her simple, Calabrese dishes. There always, however, seems to be something missing. I can never exactly duplicate what I remember. Still, I get close enough to continue trying.

Pasta e Lenticchie

1lb bag of dried lentils (Some use the fancy French lentils, but fancy was not in Nanny’s vocabulary;. She used, and so do I, the basic green, most inexpensive lentils).

1 onion-diced

2 garlic cloves-minced

½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf

6-8 cups chicken broth or water, or a combination of both. (The more liquid, the soupier the dish, which, in this case, is not a bad thing. It just depends on your mood and taste).

1 cup plum tomatoes, chopped, juice retained.

½ lb of spaghetti, broken into 1 inch pieces (you can also use tubetti, ditalini, or small elbows)

4 tbs olive oil

Salt and pepper

Grated pecorino Romano or Parmesean  Reggiano.

1 secret ingredient (the picture of which, you will find below).*

Name that ingredient.

Rinse the lentils in cold water a few times to remove any dirt or grit.

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil.

Sauté the onions until soft; about five minutes over medium heat.

Add the garlic and thyme for another one to two minutes.

Toss in the lentils and sauté for about a minute.

Pour in the chicken broth/water and the tomatoes.

Add the bay leaf.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer.

Cook for about 30-40 minutes, or until the lentils are soft, but not mushy.

You can add the spaghetti and cook it with the lentils, but I prefer to cook them separately.

So, in another pot, boil water and add the spaghetti pieces. Cook until al dente, drain, but reserve a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid.

Add the spaghetti pieces and the remains of the pasta cooking liquid to the lentils.

Stir, and cook for another minute or two.

Scoop into bowls.

Top with grated cheese and a little chopped parsely.

Enjoy with crusty bread and a salad

Pasta e lenticchie

*You correctly guessed the secret ingredient as a parmesean Reggiano rind. I  really don’t know what the rind adds to the dish; many include one when they make Sunday sauce and pasta e fagioli (Part Three of the Trilogy  to come).  If nothing else, the rind imparts a salty, aged flavor to the creation that maybe is just in our heads. Or maybe not. If you have one lying around, toss it in. It won’t hurt the dish.

The Fazool Trilogy: Part One

1 Mar

I had an Italian teacher in high school who was about four and a half feet tall. She had gray-hair she wore in a strict conservative bun and dressed like a Sicilian widow. She was no-nonsense in class and compensated for her diminutive size by never hesitating to come down hard and loud on a slacker. Her pet word for me was “pigrone,” or lazybones. She was also a stickler for classic, traditional Italian; no dialect, and definitely no Italian-American slang was tolerated. Whenever she heard the hated, vulgar misuse of her native Italian, she would spew venomously: “It’s fagioli. Not ‘fazooool.’ It’s capicola, not ‘gabagool!’ And this was way before Soprano’s speak made the slang even more popular.

Just getting some sun while waiting for an order of gabagool.

I don’t know where my teacher is now, but I hope she doesn’t mind too much that I’ve titled this series, The Fazool Trilogy. I promise I’ll never utter such an abomination in public.  What follows is part one of the trilogy.

Pasta e Ceci a la Nanny

After my grandfather died, I would try, whenever my schedule permitted, to visit my grandmother for lunch. If it wasn’t a Sunday, when lunch was red sauce, polpette and other meats, the lunch would usually include some sort of pasta and bean combination. My grandmother, we called Nanny, knew that I loved her pasta e ceci (pasta with chick peas); one of the few in the family, besides my grandfather, who did.

So a big hearty bowl would be waiting for me which I would devour much to my Nanny’s pleasure. Nothing made her happier than having the food she prepared devoured.

Now Nanny is also gone and with it the recipes that were in her head alone…she never wrote any down.

Over the years I’ve done my best to re-create her dishes, including pasta e ceci.

The recipe that follows is my version and incorporates the lazybones label I earned in my high school Italian class. I cut a few little corners, but the result, I found, really hasn’t suffered.

This is what you’ll need.

1 15 ounce can of chick peas, preferably Italian*

1 garlic clove, sliced thin

½ cup of chopped onion

½ tsp of dried oregano

¼ teaspoon of dried hot red pepper flakes

¼ cup of olive oil

¾ pound of dried pasta (medium shells, pipette, or any other medium-sized cut)

½ cup of grated parmigiano Reggiano or pecorino Romano.

Salt to taste.

Chopped parsley for garnish

*Where I’ve cut a huge corner is using canned chick peas instead of dried. I’ve done the bean soaking thing and though it is slightly more economical, I find it not only time consuming, but sometimes, for whatever reason, you end up with beans that never soften. And maybe it’s my unsophisticated palate, but I really don’t notice a major difference in bean quality or taste; certainly not enough to justify the effort. Though some canned beans are better than others, but I’m not naming names.

Drain the beans and rinse with cold water.

Heat the olive oil on a medium flame and then add the onion. Sauté for about three minutes or until the onion softens. Add the garlic and cook for about two more minutes. Toss in the oregano and red pepper flakes and toast for one minute. Add the beans and a quarter cup of water.

Simmer all on low.

Pipette: the preferred pasta cut for ceci.

Meanwhile, boil a big pasta pot full of water. When it boils add salt and the pasta. Cook until al dente or a minute less and then add the pasta to the saucepan with the chick peas. Scoop in about three tablespoons of the pasta water to the chick peas and cook together for about another minute or so. Toss in a quarter cup of the grated cheese, mix, pour into a big bowl and garnish with the parsley.

There should be enough to feed four adults. Sprinkle more cheese into your individual bowl if desired. Serve with a salad and a hard crusty bread. Devour heartily

Pasta e ceci a la Nanny

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