Her cooking wowed Martha. Will she wow you?

Italy native Eleanora Scarpetta came to prominence about five years ago when she wrote a letter to Martha Stewart claiming that she could teach the domestic goddess a thing or two about canning tomatoes and about Italian-American food in general. Intrigued, Stewart's producers visited the Connecticut housewife and were immediately taken by her home-style cooking methods and outstanding results. They invited her to appear on Stewart's TV show, where she was such a hit that they invited her back a dozen times. Now, Scarpetta has collected her family favorites and Italian-American classics in her debut cookbook, “Eleanora’s Kitchen.” She was invited on “Today” to talk about the book and to demonstrate some of her dishes. Here are the recipes for those, as well as a couple of others:

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Serves 4 to 6 Servings
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Serves 6 to 8

Many years ago, on Arthur Avenue [a Little Italy in The Bronx section of New York City], there was a vendor who sold his wares out of his horse-drawn wagon. He’d ride up and down the avenues selling fresh produce, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Frutti! Verdure!” All the housewives would come out — in their housedresses, aprons, and sometimes with rollers in their hair — clutching their purses and wallets. Whenever my mother found Italian peppers (called frevarelli in Neapolitan dialect) that were fresh enough to suit her taste, she’d proudly show them to her neighbors. They would wonder what she was going to do with them. When the aroma of her sweet stuffed peppers wafted through the building, their question was answered.

1. Use a small sharp knife to cut off the stem end of each pepper. Remove the seeds, leaving the peppers intact.

2. Hold the bread quickly under cold running water. Squeeze out the excess water, then tear or crumble into small pieces and set aside.

3. Beat the eggs, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the oregano, 2 of the pressed garlic cloves, and the black pepper in a large bowl. Mix in the diced tomatoes, cheese, 1/4 cup of the celery, the parsley, anchovies, and moistened bread pieces. Mix in the bread crumbs.

4. Stuff the peppers with the mixture, dividing it evenly among the peppers.

5. Heat the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and the remaining 3 pressed garlic cloves in a very large skillet over medium heat until the garlic just begins to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato puree, the remaining 1/4 cup celery, the basil, and the salt and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes for homemade puree and about 20 minutes for canned tomatoes.

6. Add the peppers to the tomato sauce, so that they are lying flat. Cover and simmer for 40 to 45 minutes. Serve hot.

I like to serve this as a side dish to … pork loin roast, simply prepared grilled steak, or grilled or pan-fried pork or veal chops. Or serve for lunch with a generous chunk of hearty Italian bread.

Sweet Lemon-Ricotta Pie with Brandied Cherries Eleanora Scarpetta

Serves 8 to 10

The “ricotta lady” would walk door to door through our town of Cervinara [in Italy] with fresh ricotta in a basket nestled in a turban perched on her head. “Ricottella! Ricottella!” she would sing out as she hawked her wares. My mother used it in a variety of dishes, including this light, custard-like pie that we enjoyed at Christmas and Easter. She included orange and lemon zest in her recipe; I like to add lemon liqueur and sambuca for extra flavor. The brandied cherry topping is sublime! I use dried cherries when fresh ones are not in season. And this dessert is also delicious without any topping at all. Don’t wait for a holiday to make this pie; it is delicious any time of year.

To make the pie

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and adjust the rack to the middle position. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan and set aside.

2. Beat the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, sambuca, lemon zest and juice, orange zest and juice, vanilla, and lemon liqueur in a bowl with an electric mixer or in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Add the ricotta and blend again until very smooth and creamy. (Note: It is important to beat the mixture until there are no lumps to ensure that the pie is silky-smooth.)

3. Transfer the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until the tip of a knife comes out clean when inserted in the center.

4. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature on a baking rack. Cover loosely with foil and refrigerate for several hours, until cold and set.

5. Remove from the springform pan and place on a serving platter or cake plate.

To make the brandied cherry topping

6. Combine the brandy and the sugar in a medium saucepan and simmer uncovered until reduced by half. Add the cherries and simmer for 10 minutes or until the cherries have softened. Set aside for 15 to 20 minutes. Drain, then scatter the brandied cherries over the pie.


For a lower-calorie pie use skim-milk ricotta and 3 eggs instead of 4. For a nut crust pour 1 1/2 cups nuts (I like to use a combination of walnuts and hazelnuts) into a food processor or blender, and process until finely chopped. Transfer the nuts to a bowl and mix with 1 egg white. Spread this mixture on the bottom of the buttered springform pan, then top with the ricotta batter. Bake, cool, chill, and garnish as the recipe directs. For a chocolate topping omit the Brandied Cherry Topping and top the cooled pie with 1/2 cup finely shaved semisweet chocolate.

I like to serve this as a side dish to … pork loin roast, simply prepared grilled steak, or grilled or pan-fried pork or veal chops. Or serve for lunch with a generous chunk of hearty Italian bread.

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