Ciao’d with a cup of mulled cider.


Just as a rose smells sweetest before its demise, autumn flaunts its fleeting nature. This season of tailgate picnics (see you soon, CU Buffs!) and leaves crackling underfoot urges us to recognize time’s ephemeral quality and to treasure each moment.

After sending off our son to his freshman year of college with exhortations along the lines of “Best 4 years of your life!” my husband and I returned to a house resounding with silence. Rather than answering the morning (every morning) call, “Hey, mom, I can’t find my Vans/backpack/car keys,” I sit with my cup of coffee and gaze at the garden. The autumn wind rustles through the trees, their branches becoming barer with each passing day. The wind seems to have sucked the energy out of the house, too.

Teenage boys exude distinct energy. It’s all consuming, lurching from pound-my-chest masculine bravado to outright immature silliness. One evening in August, I heard Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl blaring from the speakers in our yard and my son’s friend shouting over it, “Happiest song of the summer!”

Okay, let’s take a step back, shall we? Brown Eyed Girl was written in 1967. We listened to it in college, and it was throwback even then. But some things gloriously transcend time. Brown Eyed Girl is a song about youth, growing up, and okay, it’s about “making love in the green grass,” too. It is a paean to memory. It’s nostalgic. How perfect that the boys would be playing this song on the cusp of their yet-traveled adventures.

I will miss that riotous and richly textured boy energy. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, though. I can already hear their voices trilling in the crisp autumn air. I smell their weed, oh I mean chicken katsu from the Hawaiian take-out place. I feel the pleasant softness of well-worn sweatshirts when we hug, and I see them tossing lacrosse balls (and dice for beer die). I can taste their joy.

In the meantime, speaking of ephemeral, the last of the season’s tomatoes hang heavily on the vine. My friend harvested hers this week and bestowed me with a basket of red, ripe treasures. I’m a bit tired of Caprese salad and gazpacho, so I took an autumn spin and made tomato bread pudding. Layered with cheese and laced with herbs and garlic, it’s just the thing for a warm, cozy dinner.

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Bread pudding is traditionally made from stale bread. If you have it, great. If not, a fresh crusty baguette or country loaf will do just fine. If you’re the traditional sort, toast the fresh bread slices in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

½ pound country bread, sliced about ½-inch thick
3 large, ripe, tomatoes, sliced (about 1 pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
3 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 ounces Fontina or Gruyere cheese, grated (about ¾ cup)
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
4 large eggs
2 cups milk (low-fat okay)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish with olive oil or butter.

Layer half of the bread slices in the baking dish. Top with half the tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and half the herbs and garlic. Top with half the cheese. Repeat the layers.

Beat together the eggs and milk. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and pour over the bread and tomatoes. Bake until puffed and golden, about 50 to 60 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Adapted from The New York Times.

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Ciao'd after a day at the races.


Gratinato is the Italian word for gratin, a French dish baked in a shallow pan and topped with something that browns to gratifying crunchiness, such as breadcrumbs or cheese. In this recipe, I used both. Classically, potatoes cook to creamy lusciousness under the topping, but truth be told, any vegetable or pasta (think macaroni and cheese) can play the starring role. In this rendition, I topped zucchini with panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) for an extra dose of crispy and tossed them with fresh (semi-soft) Asiago cheese and a kiss of Parmesan. The gratinato makes a fresh yet earthy side dish for grilled or roasted meats and poultry. I eat it on its own for lunch, too.

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 2 1/2 pounds medium zucchini (4 to 5), sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 cup thinly sliced green onions (about 5), white and green parts
2 garlic cloves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup hot whole milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1 cup panko
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup grated fresh Asiago cheese

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Grease a 2-quart shallow baking dish with 1 tablespoon of the butter.

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are just translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost tender, 4 to 6 minutes. 

Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the flour. Add the hot milk, basil, and mint and cook until the liquid thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Combine the panko, Asiago, and the remaining Parmesan. Sprinkle on top of the zucchini mixture Dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, cut into bits, and bake until bubbly and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. If the topping browns too quickly, cover the baking dish with aluminum foil. Remove the a minute or two before taking the dish out of the oven.


Ciao'd while toasting the return of football season. Go Giants. And Broncos. 



I cannot take credit for this recipe in its entirety. My friends at offer a recipe for Truffled Tallegio and Mushroom Pizza on their site. It was created by Paul Grimes for Gourmet magazine (RIP. Sad face) in 2008. I have adapted the recipe a bit but not enough to take credit for as my own. Here are the few changes I made simply based on my preference:

Instead of 3/4 pound of the one cheese (Tallegio or Fontina) in Gourmet's recipe, I call for 1/4 pound of each of three cheeses: Tallegio, Fontina, and fresh Mozzarella. Gourmet's recipe calls for "sliced mushrooms" without indicating variety. The the mushrooms Gourmet photo look to me like the common variety rather than an assortment that includes wild mushrooms. I used a combination of wild mushrooms and cremini mushrooms on my pizza. Finally, Gourmet offers the option of drizzling the finished pizza with truffle oil. While this is a beyond delish finish, I suggested fresh thyme which is more in line with the 4 PM Fix concept of using pantry ingredients. 

Regardless of the pizza you choose to prepare, you can be assured that the recipes are super simple, quick, and #dolcevitadelish. Plus, pizza is always a good vehicle for promoting family time. My 17-year-old son helped me prepare mine. Go figure. 

Epicurious, Gourmet and Paul Grimes get first billing. Here's the link again to the original recipe.

And here's mine (it's in the photo above):

Serves 4

1 pound pizza dough
Olive oil, for brushing dough
½ pound sliced mushrooms, assorted varieties
¼ pound chilled Taleggio cheese, rind discarded and cheese sliced
¼ pound chilled Fontina cheese, rind discarded and cheese sliced
¼ pound fresh mozzarella, sliced and each piece patted dry
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

Put a large heavy baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven, and then preheat it to 500ºF.

Stretch out the dough on a lightly floured surface (do not roll it) into a shape (rectangle or oval or completely organic) approximately 16 by 13 inches. Don’t stress it. Transfer to a parchment-lined tray or baking sheet. Poke the dough all over with a fork. Brush with a bit of olive oil.

Slide the dough along with the parchment onto the hot baking sheet. Bake until the top is puffed and both the top and bottom of the pizza is beginning to turn golden, about 10 minutes.

Remove the pizza from the oven and prick any large bubbles. Top the crust with the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the cheese on top.

Bake the pizza until the edge of the cheese has browned and the cheese is bubbling, 8 to 10 minutes.  Scatter the thyme on the pizza. Serve immediately.  Recipe adapted from Gourmet|epicurious.