Mary's Family Kitchen

Good Eats and Fun Treats from the Mountains of North Jersey

Fresh Faboulous Pesto from the Garden

From this…


To this…

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Homemade pesto from the garden!

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I love pesto! Its really a bright green thing of beauty. All of these ingredients can stand alone, so combined together, it’s a match made in heaven! The fresh taste (not to mention the smell) of basil blends with just a few simple ingredients, and in 5 minutes you have a quick and easy dish that’s not just delicious but versatile too. Right now with all the fresh produce available to us, why not take advantage and make this fresh, nutty no-cook sauce that has it all.

Today at Rogowski Farm in Pine Island, N.Y., I picked up some gorgeous fresh pepper greens:


And some Basil from my container garden (plus a little extra from the farm):


Its bright green color and peppery taste got me thinking: While I’m making basil pesto, why don’t I try the same recipe with pepper greens?

I decided to use toasted pecans in place of pine nuts for a different taste. Well, perfection can’t even describe it. Pesto doesn’t have to be just basil! It’s extra peppery bite tasted spicy and fresh. As I was tasting it (for quality control of course) I nearly finished half of it! Very addictive.

So if you have extra herbs or greens, using this simple recipe mix and match them along with different nuts and grating cheeses and you will have on hand your own truly unique pesto. I believe kale and arugula pesto are in my future!

On a side note, If a green is particularly pungent, I would probably mix it with a milder green such as parsley.

Fresh Fabulous Pesto


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Time to make the pesto!! 🍃🍃🍃🍃🍃🍃🍃🍃

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Makes approximately 2 cups.

Recipe can be halved for a smaller batch.

  • 8 cups fresh basil, cleaned and dried
  • 6 cloves fresh garlic
  • 1 cup pine nuts ( toast if you want a slightly nuttier flavor)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup pecorino romano cheese grated ( I like  Locatelli )


Food processor or blender

In the bowl of the food processor put all the basil, garlic, pine nuts, salt and cheese.


Fit lid on top . With the blender or processor running, slowly pour the oil through the top in a stream. Process until the oil is emulsified with the basil. That’s all there is to it!


A few tips~ Add a little less oil to make your pesto great for spreading on  sandwiches. Its fabulous with grilled chicken and fish. It’s equally wonderful mixed with a little mayo as a dip but, my current favorite way to eat it is to spread it on warm toasted Italian bread with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a thin slice of tomato sprinkled with a little salt and pepper. One last tip, to toss with pasta or to stir into soups or even Sunday Sauce use the full cup of oil.

Pesto will turn brown fairly quickly, so immediately use or pour into a container, drizzle the top with olive oil to keep air out and the vibrant green color in.

I usually store my pesto in plastic containers. This year, my friend and fellow foodie (and fabulous photographer) Tracy Bodoni O’Connell (from Tracy O’Connell Photography on Facebook); shared with me this great idea of storing and freezing my pesto in mason jars! Genius! The jars are freezer safe (Check the brand you are using before freezing) and does a fabulous job of keeping air out. I also love this idea because it not only looks beautiful, but it also can turn into a great hostess gift that you have on hand. A little ribbon or raffia and you have an instant gift.


As I’m writing this post I have these beauties looking at me!


They started here at the farm:

And now, I get to enjoy them everyday. They may be my favorite flower!



Korean Barbecued Beef (Bul-Kogi)

I L-O-V-E this recipe. I’ve been making it for 20+ years and it never disappoints me or the friends and family I’ve served it to over the years.

The marinade is so versatile. While it works perfectly with beef (I like flank steak, but feel free to substitute any cut of beef you like), I have used it with chicken as well as an array of vegetables. Portobello mushrooms work really well as a vegetarian option.

Tonight I’m leaving the flank steak whole, but for company, it looks fantastic sliced thin and weaved onto a stick, then barbecued. Cooking the “steak on a stick” version takes only 35-40 seconds for each side. The beef marinates beforehand, so there’s next to no wait from grill to table!

Let’s get started!


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Korean Beef Barbecue! Dinner Tonight!

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  • 2 pounds of flank steak. Score the steak diagonally.
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame seeds
  • 3 green onions (scallions), finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4-cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4-cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. beef stock or sherry
  • 2 Tbsp. Hoisin sauce
  • 2 tsp. black pepper

Put sesame seeds in a pan and toast slightly over low heat. Combine the toasted sesame seeds in a bowl.

Add the minced green onions, minced garlic, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, sugar, beef stock or sherry, hoisin sauce and pepper.

Stir the marinade and pour over the steak. Make sure the meat is well covered on both sides. Cover and refrigerate 4 to 12 hours.

Preheat grill. Remove steak from the marinade. Pour the marinade into a small saucepan, bring to a boil. Reduce to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat, set aside and keep warm.

Place steak on the grill and and cook to desired doneness, about 6 minutes per side for rare.

Place on a platter and let set 5 minutes before carving. Cut the steak across the grain into thin diagonal slices. Serve with the warm delicious marinade.

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Barbecued Korean Beef with Yellow Rice and Broccoli

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Fig Glazed Roasted Beet Tart with Whipped Bleu Cheese and Rosemary

I’ve been going to farmer’s markets for years. I am lucky to live in such a rural area, rich with hundreds of acres of rolling hills dotted with farms. The beauty of my town and its surrounding area never bores me, even after 32 years. I never tire of it.

This year I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture).  I go every week to my beloved Rogowski Farm in Pine Island, N.Y., in the Black Dirt region, to pick up the freshest produce you have ever seen. As I drive there I’m always so excited to see what Cheryl will have waiting for me. It’s different every week. For me it’s like Christmas in July!

This week one of her many goodies were beets. I decided these beauties needed to be showcased in a gorgeous tart.

Before we get to that, look at this view. I am a lucky girl:

The many other goodies I picked up:

Alright, now to the recipe:

Fig Glazed Roasted Beet Tart with Whipped Bleu Cheese and Rosemary


  • 3-4 beets, greens cut off (Save to cook them for later – They’re delicious) roasted, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 package Puff Pastry, thawed (I use Pepperidge Farm)
  • 1/2-cup bleu cheese, crumbled
  • 8 ozs. cream cheese, softened to room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons of half and half
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2-cup fig preserves
  • fresh rosemary, chopped for garnish


Roast the Beets

On a parchment lined baking sheet place your scrubbed and trimmed beets.Drizzle with olive oil.  Place another sheet of parchment paper over beets, and fold parchment paper to make a packet. Roast at 350*F. for 1-2 hours according to the size of the beets. Roast until fork tender. Remove from oven, Set aside till cool enough to handle. When cooled you can peel the skins off easily with a paring knife. Slice into 1/2″ rounds and set aside.

Make the Cream Cheese

While the beets are baking lets get the whipped cream cheese done. In a medium bowl combine the bleu cheese, cream cheese, half and half and minced garlic. Whip with a mixer on medium speed till combined well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

*If you have a cracker nearby, smear some of this whipped deliciousness on that for a tasty treat.

Put it all together

In a small saucepan heat the fig preserves till melted and set aside. Now for assembly.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Unfold the puff pastry onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. If using a tart pan, lay the puff pastry on top, press into tart pan and trim the excess pastry off. If you don’t have a tart pan you can make it into a rustic tart, sprinkle the cookie sheet with a bit of flour, roll out the pastry into a 9-by-11-inch rectangle. Score (don’t cut through) a half an inch from the edge, all the way around. When assembling, leave this part clear of filling and as it bakes it will make an edge.

Fill the pastry with approximately 1/2″ of whipped cheese mixture, next,  layer the beets in any pattern you wish. Brush the top with the melted fig preserves. Put into hot oven.

Bake till the pastry is golden, approximately 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and brush another layer of fig preserves on top, sprinkle with chopped rosemary. Let cool slightly. Remove tart from pan onto serving platter, and garnish with rosemary if desired.

Because this tart can be served warm or at room temperature, it makes a wonderful appetizer for entertaining, especially at the holidays, – the colors are so festive! It also makes a great lunch with a side salad.


Good Ol’ Beef and Mac

Sorry this post was late, The family and I were visiting my brother in South Carolina, and a 4 day vacation extended to 7! The good news is I have a lot of new inspiration for my blog, Stay tuned!!

This is my go-to beef and mac recipe for those busy nights, or when you have ground beef and just can’t think what to make with it! Be warned, it’s not the healthiest of recipes, but I can tell you it’s one of the tastiest!! It’s great for a crowd, or over a baked potato, if you just use the beef part of the recipe. For me, I like to scoop some on a tortilla chip! Feel free to add some hot sauce, if you would like some spice, anyway you make it, it’s going be delicious!

These are all the ingredients your going to need. Quick, simple and soon to be one of your go-to meals too!


  • 3- Lbs, 80% ground beef, browned and drained
  • 28-oz. can diced tomatoes ( I use the one with basil, garlic & oregano)
  • 2- 10-3/4 oz. cans tomato soup, (I use Campbell’s)
  • 2- tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1-12-oz. package American singles
  • 1- Lb elbow, or any other small macaroni, cooked according to directions, drained, and 3-Tbls. butter added, set aside


Place ground beef into a large pot and cook until it is brown and no longer pink. Drain off excess fat. On medium heat, add the diced tomatoes, tomato soup and 1 cup of water. I put the water in the tomato soup cans to get out any bit left. Then add the Italian seasoning and stir, as the mixture is simmering add the cheese slices, they will melt perfectly as the sauce heats them up. Reduce to simmer and cook 10 minutes. Serve over your buttered pasta.

**Optional- complete your dish with shaved pecorino romano cheese and chopped fresh parsley. Serve with salad and some toasted crostini, if desired. Enjoy!

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My "go to" meal on busy nights Good Ol' Beef and Mac!!!!

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Creamy Dreamy Rice Pudding

Life Is Short – Eat Dessert First!

This rice pudding is just a luscious, decadent dessert~There is something comforting & old-fashioned about it, yet it can stand up to a luxurious dessert like creme brulee . It is the perfect ending to this weekends 4th of July festivities! Dress it up in little shooter glasses, or spoon into 4 oz. mason jars to make a portable dessert for a picnic or to take to a party this weekend. Anytime I have served this creamy deliciousness  I have gotten off the charts raves!! Try it and let me know what you think!!!

Creamy Dreamy Rice Pudding


Part 1

  • 7 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups heavy cream (Substitute at your own risk – This is what puts the dreamy in creamy!)
  • 1 cup white rice
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar

Part 2

  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 eggs-beaten
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla


Part 1:

Put milk, cream,rice and sugar into a 6qt. pot. Stir on medium heat (with lid half on), simmer for approximately 1 hour stirring occasionally. If it seems like it’s about to boil over reduce heat a bit. Everyone’s stove works a little differently.

** Tip~ while the pudding is cooking, whisk together all your part 2 ingredients in a separate bowl, except the vanilla and set aside.  After an hour remove from heat. It will appear like thick milk.

Part 2:

Take cream/egg mixture and temper*.

*How to Temper: Custard bases aren’t hard to make they just need an extra step to keep the eggs from scrambling. Whisk the hot creamy rice mixture into the cold egg mixture gradually in 1/2-cup increments, to “warm up” the eggs. About 3 cups worth. Now you can add the tempered egg mixture to the hot cream/rice mixture without having to worry about your eggs scrambling.

Then add your tempered egg mixture into the pot of hot creamy rice. Put the pot back on medium heat and stir till the custard bubbles. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Chill. Cover with parchment (or plastic) directly on top of the pudding so a “skin” doesn’t form. Sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy!

Eggplant Balls

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Eggplant Balls

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This is such a great recipe – it’s just so versatile! You can substitute these tasty morsels as a meatless meatball in your pot of Sunday Sauce, (See recipe from previous post), or on top of a delicious plate of pasta, or you can put them on top of a salad, skewer them as an appetizer with a dipping sauce of your choice, or how I like to eat them – I just pop them in my mouth after they have cooled slightly – nothing else needed. These little gems can stand alone!

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Eggplant balls with sauce, or not! Dinner Tonight!

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Eggplant Balls


  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, (plus extra for frying),  I use extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pecorino romano cheese (plus 1/2 cup for dredging)
  • 1-1/2 cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs (plus 1/2 cup for dredging)
  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh thyme


In a large frying pan, heat oil and saute garlic until fragrant.

Add diced eggplant. Eggplants are like sponges, and it will almost immediately soak up all the oil from the pan. So I sometimes drizzle a bit on top as well.

Add the water and cover, and reduce heat to low and “steam” the eggplant until it’s very tender.

Remove cover and stir to “dry out” slightly. Then transfer to a large bowl and cool it to room temp.

*If you add the rest of the ingredients when the eggplant mixture is too hot, it will scramble the eggs – trust me on this one. 😉

When cooled, add the eggs, one cup of the cheese, 1-1/2 cups of bread crumbs, the parsley and thyme.

Mix it all together. I use my hands, but if you do, be prepared because it’s going to get sticky!

Let sit for 10 minutes for the bread crumbs to absorb the eggplant mixture. In the meantime, prepare your dredging station.

In a separate plate, add 1/2 cup cheese with 1/2 cup of the breadcrumbs and mix together. Using a 1″ ice cream scoop fill with the eggplant mixture, roll in the breadcrumbs .

Heat a frying pan on medium with approximately 1/4 of olive oil and fry the eggplant balls until golden brown on both sides.

*You could also put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer, and bake them at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.


Let’s start with some Sunday Sauce

Whether you call it gravy or sauce doesn’t really matter, what does matter is that it tastes really GREAT!

Maybe I’ve taken making Sunday sauce to the extreme, but I have a ritual of sorts which brings me right back to my  best childhood memories.

It all began at a place we affectionately called “the back of the store.” The kitchen behind my grandparents’ butcher shop was where our entire family gathered ritualistically every Sunday – as well as most other days – for great food and lively conversations (sometimes too lively), and always ended with playing cards, cigars outside, espresso and anisette.

My grandpa Louis Napolitano (middle) in front of the Savoye Meat Market on Kennedy Blvd. in North Bergen, NJ sometime around 1930.
My grandpa Louis Napolitano (middle) in front of the Savoye Meat Market on Kennedy Blvd. in North Bergen, NJ sometime around 1930.

In an effort to pass tradition to my children, onions and garlic don’t hit my pot until I have certain must-haves in place. So let’s set the mood!

1. I set my Pandora station to Traditional Italian Radio. It plays all the classics – Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Louie Prima…You get the idea.
2. Get on your favorite apron.
3. Pour yourself a jelly jar glass of your favorite wine. My favorite is Cabernet Sauvignon.

Now we’re ready to start cooking! Trust me, this is going to be fun!

Sunday Sauce



  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped fine
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small package of sweet Italian sausage (about 8-10)
  • 1 small package of hot Italian sausage (about 8-10)
  • Meatballs (recipe below)
  • 6 spare ribs
  • 7 cans crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
  • 14 oz. water
  • 1- 6-oz. can of tomato paste
  • Red wine (enough to fill up empty paste can twice)
  • 1 heaping tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 t. allspice
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley (save this until the end)
  • grated pecorino romano or locatelli cheese


Start the sauce

In a huge pot (I prefer stainless steel) on medium, saute onion in olive oil.


When the onion is translucent, add garlic (Be careful not to burn or you will need to start again). Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the crushed tomatoes, paste, water, 1 can’s worth of red wine (the other is for deglazing the meatball and sausage pan later), brown sugar, and allspice.

Let simmer on low while preparing the sausage and meatballs.

Cook the sausage


Heat up a large frying pan on medium-high.

Put the sausages in a large frying pan and add enough water to just barely cover them. Heat the water until it boils then lower to medium for 10 minutes. Drain the water.

Now, in a new pan, add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and brown the sausages.

Once they are browned, cut the hot sausages in half and leave the sweet sausages whole (this way you can tell which are which). Remove sausage and set aside. Don’t wash the frying pan, we will use the same pan to cook the meatballs.

BONUS: Cook the ribs

Ribs are optional, but the pork adds really great flavor. My grandfather used to add different cut of meat he had available for different flavors – everything from ribs to braciole to tenderloin. It’s really simple: Just brown, and add to the sauce to give it a little something different. The more meat, the better.

Cook the meatballs

  • 3 lbs ground chuck (I use 85%)
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 heaping cup Italian flavored breadcrumbs
  • 3 slices of white bread soaked in water (drained, not squeezed)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 c. fresh parsley chopped or a combination of half parsley and half basil
  • 1 c. grated pecorino romano or locatelli cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped very fine


Place all ingredients into a large bowl and mix (You could use a wooden spoon, but I just get in there with my hands).

Shape into medium-sized balls. I use an ice cream scoop to make the meatballs a uniform shape, then roll them into a ball with my hands. I also like to make a few mini ones (I like to call them “testers” – nothing will ever taste better).

Fry gently in olive oil until lightly browned, drain on paper towels, then toss directly into sauce to finish cooking. **Except for the testers, you will want to eat them now! For quality control of course 😉


Finish the sauce

Take the last can worth of wine (6 oz.) and deglaze the pan of all the delicious bits and add to your already decadent simmering sauce. (Deglazing is just a fancy term which means to add liquid to your pan so you can loosen and use every morsel of browned food to your dish).

Now add all of the meat back into your pot with the sauce.

Add parsley and turn down to low. Let sauce simmer until done, about 3-4 hours.

As everyone an tell you, sometimes I over-do it. ;)
As everyone can tell you, sometimes I over-do it. 😉

Tasting is always encouraged, and this is where you can make the recipe to suit your own tastes. For example add salt, pepper, red pepper for spice, other browned meats, extra wine, etc. Of course tasting with fresh Italian bread is always a good way to go…quality control of course!

Serve over your favorite pasta (I use thin spaghetti or rigatoni), and top with grated Parmesan if desired. Enjoy!

A tidbit about meatballs…

On Sunday afternoons, we used to pack up and go to the Jersey Shore sometimes, as a kid I used to marvel at everyone around us with their sandwiches. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t having spaghetti and meatballs sitting in the sand, like us. They didn’t know what they were missing! True story – Good old Grandma and Grandpa 🙂

Me, my grandpa (left) and my Grandma, who we called Grandma-Ma, about 1965.
Me, my grandpa (left) and my Grandma, who we called Grandma-Ma, about 1965.

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