May 17, 2018

Italian Aphrodisiacs (it's food-related)

Named after Greek love goddess Aphrodite, aphrodisiacs were identified by early civilizations and cultures that associated potency and virility with power and prosperity. Their fascination has lingered over millennia. Though science has yet to prove a link between rumored "romance remedies" and increased sexual performance, aphrodisiacs still thrive.

Sex can drive humans to brutal solutions. The extinction of the northern white rhino is due in part to the fine powder made from its horn which is considered a potent aphrodisiac. Other nonsense includes consuming animal testicles and turtles' eggs. Lack of evidence aside, the massacre continues.

Instead of decimating endangered species, the best way to heighten a romantic experience is simply to browse your pantry. Though science may shrug, some enzymes and vitamins contained in everyday foods do lend varying stimulant effects.

Italians like to think of themselves as fantastic lovers, ascribing their sexual prowess to their mamma’s cooking. If you agree, here's an alphabetical index of Italian aphrodisiac ingredients to include in your next date night menu.
Continue Reading →

Mar 18, 2018

Northern Italian Recipes

The Alps, Apennines and Dolomites –– to mention a few Italian mountain ranges –– where the temperatures are cold year round, are the home of extraordinary cuisine.

Italian mountains have strong cultural identity. Traditions and economy are based on farming, cheese making, and woodworking. Tourism began growing in the early 20th century and expanded after World War II to become the dominant industry. But in montagna, sumptuous traditional cooking can be just as important as ski slopes.

While olive oil is a staple throughout Italy, butter takes on greater importance in the mountain uplands. Local cuisine has Hapsburg and French influences. Climate, politics and geography all contribute to a lesser-known but rich array of food. Here are just a few Alpine specialties.

Continue Reading → Go North, food lover as appeared in The American Magazine

Feb 14, 2018

Meatballs and more

You may have caught on to my meatball obsession. Beyond consuming ridiculous amounts of cheese, the lure of leftovers reused to make polpette is, culinarily speaking, what defines me. Eating meatballs hurls me back into childhood bliss, they are my Proustian madeleines.

Meatballs and more Photo © Serious Eats

Small morsels bound together by a little starch and an egg go such a long way. Polpette are fun and easy to make, and equally fun and easy to eat.

Rolled in breadcrumbs and fried, baked, steamed, drowned in sauce––whatever the cooking method, polpette are sensational fridge-cleaners. In my family we eat meatballs at least once a week.

Homemade veal meatballs browned in butter

When I was living in Naples 18 years ago, my boyfriend at the time would have me over at his family's house for lunch quite often. The highlight of the week was on Tuesdays, the day his Nonna made meatballs. Her fried polpette will go down in history as some of the best I've ever eaten.

I can't feel like I'm truly in Venice until I bite into the meatballs served as cicchetti at Ca' d'Oro alla Vedova, a legendary bacaro in the Cannaregio neighborhood. The suspicion of minced garlic, the soft chewy interior revealed under the crisp, breaded crust is enough to make my mouth water at the thought...

meatballs Ca' d'Oro alla Vedova photo © Aperture Tours

In Rome, when not making my own, I embark in impossible-to-find parking in Borgo Pio just for the lemon veal polpettine served at Romolo alla Mole Adriana.

We're carnivores, so the meatballs I make at home use leftover bollito, or ground veal, some are made with fish even. Those who love beef tartare or carne cruda all'albese are served their raw chopped meat in the shape of a patty and variably dressed with taggiasca olives, capers, minced onion, mustard and so on.

Meatball madness doesn't stop at meat however, infact vegetarian polpette are just as popular in my household. Think winter broccoli croquettes, or a personal favorite, polpette di melanzane, eggplant vegetarian meatballs: a recipe published 8 years ago that's still one of my most popular posts to date.

In South Tyrol I learned how to make Knödel, the Alpine version of matzah balls, which––if you think about it––are "meatballs" made with bread. Similar bread-recycling is found in a typical Abruzzo peasant recipe called Pallotte cacio e ove, where instead of costly meat, bread and grated pecorino are bound together with beaten eggs. These are then braised slowly in a rich tomato sauce and served piping hot along with a glass (or five) of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wine.

pallotte cacio e ove photo © In Cucina con Max e Andre

In the realm of bite-sized fried balls, I cannot forego mentioning the universe of arancini and supplì made with rice, or baccalà and potato croquettes and the famed olive ascolanestuffed olives from Ascoli!

But polpette don't have to be exclusively savory.

Sweet dessert polpette are a sinful treat. One of my favorite ways of repurposing leftover panettone is shredding the crumb, wetting it with some milk and squeezing out the excess moisture before mixing the "dough" with an egg. I shape small bite-sized balls and place them on a greased cookie sheet. In the hot oven they go briefly to develop a golden crust, so no more than 5-7 minutes at 350°F. And it's suddenly Christmas all over again.

Feb 5, 2018

If I had a restaurant...

This is what it would be like.

My latest contribution to The American Magazine is a glimpse into a fantasy world in which I am the cook and owner of a small neighborhood restaurant in Rome.

illustration by Suzanne Dunaway

My heavy blue canvas apron has a white torchon tucked at my waist, it is wet. I have just finished cleaning the kitchen after dinner service, and my bones ache a little. The metal surfaces shine and the air is redolent of duck ragout and brown butter.

When it rains in Rome, people come into the restaurant mainly seeking shelter. Aficionados growl at these walk-ins who unknowingly steal their customary tables. Take Signor Roberto, for example. He comes in, like clockwork, every evening at 7:30 p.m...

Continue Reading → Notes from da Lola as appeared on The American Magazine in Italia

Dec 7, 2017

Dad's favorite dishes

I need to write. Writing is my preferred form of therapy. My father has flown away, and I still can't believe it's true.

I'm grieving and I have no idea how to do it. My emotions overlap and my heart aches. I can't make any sense of what's happening. FYI You're in the wrong place if you're expecting to read a cheerful post.

What follows is a moment of intimate reflection, of deep therapeutic writing that I'm putting out there in the universe (secretly, I'm hoping Dad will read it and smile, from wherever he is right now).

Although we did have time for our goodbyes, for whispered I love yous, and no remorse of anything left unsaid, there are so many other moments that I would have wanted to share with you, Dad.

I would have wanted to see the look on your face when reading the dedication of my first book to you.

Your reaction to the wink in the camera I gave as I joked about eating blue cheese (which you hated) on the gorgonzola segment of my show.

I would have loved E. to hang out with you more, and finally play that golf match you two have been talking about for years.

I so wanted to take you to the Navy museum in Anguillara on lake Bracciano, you would have loved it!

I wanted one more walk on the beach together. One more granita di caffè at Tazza D'Oro. One more impromptu softball game in Santo Stefano di Sessanio together. One more.

Just like this blog started eight years ago as a journal of thoughts followed by recipes, today I'm honoring the memory and the greatness of my Dad by assembling an ideal menu made up of all the dishes he loved, the majority of which were Italian––or so I like to think. I'm going to cook them all for him.

So here goes, Dad, I hope you enjoy it.

Prosciutto e Melone – Dad, you loved this classic Italian hors d'oeuvre. If prosciutto was unavailable, you'd sprinkle salt on your cantaloupe. This created the same perfect umami contrast. You often told a story of your Navy days in the Philippines. One of these memories was of you and a fellow officer riding on a boat to a local's house. It was a sweltering hot day. In the distance you saw the woman whose house you were headed to standing on the jetty, holding a jug of what looked like pulpy orange juice. You hated pulpy orange juice more than you hated blue cheese. A mix of disgust and fear of being impolite when declining to drink the beverage washed over you. Imagine your surprise when you soon realized the contents of the jug was crushed cantaloupe melon! You said you didn't let anyone else have much of it. Eating melon will never be the same for me. I will always smile and think of you with every bite.

Primo piatto
Anything al Pesto – You had this thing with pesto sauce. When you'd come visit us in Rome, this was always your first pasta choice. I remember this one time you came to visit when E. was 2 and for the welcome dinner I made gnocchi al pesto for you, a classic go-to and, modestly, a personal showpiece. Well, that night the gnocchi turned out to be a disaster: a collapsed, sticky mass sunken at the bottom of the pot. I fished it out and attempted dressing it with my homemade pesto sauce, which somehow had oxidized and looked dark gray instead of bright green. You ate a full helping of it and feigned appreciation, but I could sense the effort each time you swallowed a bite. Maybe you would have rather eaten my pesto lasagna. Damn, I wish I had baked that for you instead.

Secondo piatto
Scaloppine al limone – I think these were your favorite over saltimbocca alla romana. Whichever veal cutlet recipe it was, the competition was close. I remember how you savored each bite, carefully cutting small portions with your knife and fork, eating them slowly in order to make the joy last.

Remember that great Christmas we all celebrated together in Rome, when Amy and the Anderson gang came over, and we celebrated Christmas Day all together ice skating and then dining in my small apartment? Well, the day you arrived from the airport we went out to eat at La Scala. I'm pretty sure your entree was scaloppine al limone that night.

Insalata di finocchi e rucola – You taught me to enjoy shaved fennel bulb and arugula salad. You'd order this side dish at the restaurant, or enjoy eating it at home when you lived in Italy while married to Mamma. The simple condiment, a thread of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a few turns of the peppermill was all it needed. One side dish we would never dream of serving with lunch when you were in town was broccoli. In a later time of your life you actually did come around to eating broccoli, but as long as I can remember, you hated the stuff as much as you loved mangling its name, "brrrahcklee!"

How I loved your voice, Dad. It was deep and melodious. When I'd curl up on your chest as a little girl, scared or crying for some reason, you'd breathe out with a deep, vibrating hum. That sound was so soothing and calming. It was like Om, but better.

Focaccia – I'm so bummed that the restaurant Cesarina is no longer what it used to be in the Seventies. You always said how amazing the food was: authentic dishes from Bologna (a sad lack of which we suffer in Rome), courteous service, a legendary Felliniesque host and the balloon focaccia.

You loved that flatbread! Maybe more for the show than the actual taste. The large rolled out dough was baked so that it would puff up into beach-ball size and then swiftly sliced horizontally to obtain two large discs. What I'd give to see you working your way through one of those again.

Ricotta e caffè – I don't know how you learned about this typical Roman dessert. It's not really a dessert, it's more of a snack for mid-afternoon merenda, but you loved to eat it at the end of the meal. You'd scoop a couple spoonfuls of fresh sheep's milk ricotta – a Rome specialty – and use a fork to mix it with powdered coffee and sugar. I have a image of you flattening out the resulting beige paste and leaving fork marks all over the surface, and then slowly lifting small bites of it. Sometimes there'd be bread involved too. Or cacao powder.

One thing you were on the other hand very swift at eating was gelato. You adored your Italian frozen delight, and in particular tartufo. Given the amount of tartufo you ingested during your time living in Italy made you a virtual shareholder at Tre Scalini. You ate gelato so quickly that you'd get terrible brain freeze and would moan in pain holding your temple with one hand while wolfing it all down with the other.

You were never a drinker. I remember you sometimes ordered non-alcoholic beer, but that fad didn't last very long. I don't think you ever drank liquor regularly. There's a story told in the family of when you went to ask my Grandfather for my mother's hand in a Paris restaurant. Waiting to approach the subject during the meal, table manners included sipping some wine. You were in France, what did you expect? When the waiter arrived carrying a 1955 bottle of Château Haut-Brion swaddled like an infant, you accepted a glass but before toasting poured half a pint of Evian in it to water it down. The waiter nearly fainted and I don't know how Nonno reacted. Mom may have kicked you under the table.

I'll end this meal with a treat I know you loved. I made it myself and E. whipped the cream, so there's snow-white spatterings everywhere, including on the kitchen ceiling. We froze the espresso coffee in a shallow tray and scraped it several times to the desired texture. It's not summer, but in heaven there are no seasons, so enjoy. Don't rush it, though.

Those interested in learning more about my Dad's amazing career, can read this beautiful obituary published on the Hollywood Reporter.

Buon appetito, Dad
your Doodah