Nov 30, 2009

Involtini al Pomodoro recipe

Cooking trends chase each other like waves, and those who follow the fashions accuse people who prefer traditional regional cuisines of granite immobility. Rather than that, you’ll agree that Italian regional cooking displays continuity, and when the current finger food fad or fusion sushi fashion is long forgotten, people will still be enjoying the traditional family dishes. Like for example, involtini.

Involtini are made all over Italy. But this very easy meat recipe from le Marche is one of my favorite regional unfailing meat roll-ups.
Image courtesy of Forchettina

12 veal or tender beef cutlets, flattened (total weight 500 gr = 1.1 lb)
150 g (3/4 cup) prosciutto, sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly cut into slivers
400 g (2 cups/14 oz) unseasoned canned tomatoes, crushed
1 glass dry, white wine
A small bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (optional)
A bunch of fresh basil
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

If your veal cutlets are more than 1 cm (1/3-inch) thick, gently flatten them out with a meat tenderizer or the blade of your kitchen knife laid flat.

Take the prosciutto, chopped parsley (if you're using it) and a slivers of garlic and combine them, seasoning with salt and pepper. Spread the “filling” over the slices of veal and roll them up, using a couple of toothpicks to hold each involtino shut.

In a skillet large enough to hold all the involtini in a single layer, sauté them in olive oil over a gentle flame, turning them carefully.

When the involtini are evenly browned, pour in the wine and let it evaporate. Add the tomatoes and cook for 20 minutes. If necessary, reduce the tomato sauce by raising the temperature, but in that case remove the involtini from the pan to avoid overcooking. Right before serving them hot, sprinkle the involtini with freshly hand-torn basil leaves. Remember to remove toothpicks before devouring all with crusty bread to sop up the dribbly sauce.

Wine? A nice Conero red or–for those of you who are white wine lovers–a nice Verdicchio di Matelica.

Nov 26, 2009

A special letter for Thanksgiving

I got a letter yesterday.
Not an ordinary missive. And certainly not an exclusive one, but still it made me smile. I got a letter from President Barack Obama yesterday. And it made me happy.
I'll attach a copy of it here for you to read, in case you didn't get one from him too.


Tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, Americans across the country will sit down together, count our blessings, and give thanks for our families and our loved ones.

American families reflect the diversity of this great nation. No two are exactly alike, but there is a common thread they each share.

Our families are bound together through times of joy and times of grief. They shape us, support us, instill the values that guide us as individuals, and make possible all that we achieve.

So tomorrow, I'll be giving thanks for my family–for all the wisdom, support, and love they have brought into my life.

But tomorrow is also a day to remember those who cannot sit down to break bread with those they love.

The soldier overseas holding down a lonely post and missing his kids. The sailor who left her home to serve a higher calling. The folks who must spend tomorrow apart from their families to work a second job, so they can keep food on the table or send a child to school.

We are grateful beyond words for the service and hard work of so many Americans who make our country great through their sacrifice. And this year, we know that far too many face a daily struggle that puts the comfort and security we all deserve painfully out of reach.

So when we gather tomorrow, let us also use the occasion to renew our commitment to building a more peaceful and prosperous future that every American family can enjoy.

It seems like a lifetime ago that a crowd met on a frigid February morning in Springfield, Illinois to set out on an improbable course to change our nation.

In the years since, Michelle and I have been blessed with the support and friendship of the millions of Americans who have come together to form this ongoing movement for change.

You have been there through victories and setbacks. You have given of yourselves beyond measure. You have enabled all that we have accomplished–and you have had the courage to dream yet bigger dreams for what we can still achieve.

So in this season of thanks giving, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude to you, and my anticipation of the brighter future we are creating together.

With warmest wishes for a happy holiday season from my family to yours,

President Barack Obama

Image courtesy of
Nicole de Lagrave

Happy Thanksgiving!
Wishing you'll spend it like me around a table, embraced by friends, family, love and laughter.


Nov 14, 2009

What not to cook for picky guests

I haven't blogged in a while and I've missed it. But the thing I have done the least is cook, let alone have friends over for dinner. I am finally back in a less remote part of Abruzzi and I have moved into a sweet little attic in the centro storico, where I will soon be entertaining guests and colleagues for delicious meals. Can't wait to get my stove fired up and my pots and pans rocking over the flames.

But when inviting relatively new friends over for a meal, the good host has to keep in mind that not all guests share the same tastes, obviously. Not all the folks I'll be having over in my place are hearty soup fans, or carnivores like me. Not all may love raw fish or offal. Some will cringe at the sight of squid ink risotto, and some will be suspicious before liver crostini and octopus.

So I've decided to make out a list. An index of the most off-limits foods to serve at a meal. When designing the menu for a diverse group of guests, one must take into consideration many elements. Seasons of course, and locality of the foods served. But also ethical choices, idiosyncrasies, whims and food trends. The best part of a meal with friends is seeing the smiles on their faces as they mop the remnants of sauce from their plate. That's a sure sign of a culinary success.

Here are a few things you should avoid cooking for your pickiest friends.
Lamb. Subject to culinary and ethical foibles. If you're in Italy around Easter, it's another story.

Eel. Are you up to cutting them up alive? That's how it's done apparently. And decapitating them won't work because the nervous system keeps the chopped parts jolting for a further 15 minutes.

Lobster. Your guest will be aware that you have tossed them alive and screaming into boiling water. Consider that.

Carbonara. Very easy dish but so hard to prepare well. The danger between "raw scrambled eggs" and "quick setting cement" effect is a very fine line. Especially if you're planning to make it for more than 4 people.

Horse meat. Seriously, would anyone ever serve horse meat at a dinner? Don't think so.

Brains. Delicious deep fried veal brains are best eaten at the reaturant. Serving them for dinner at home flirts with cannibalism.

Cucumber. Strangely very unpopular.

Rabbit. The British have a huge problem with rabbit. For them it's a pet, for us Italians it would be like serving cat stew.

Liver. Vegetarians keel over at the table, hygene integralists object to it being the filter of all the chemicals fed to cattle, others still haven't gotten over the childhood shock of the first bite. It is also very difficult to cook: if served rare it is bloody and horrific, if well-done, too leathery.

Shellfish. Many are allergic.

Snails. I love the way the French prepare them, but that's me...

Raw fish. Harder to prepare than cooked fish. When deciding for a plate of "crudo" one must consider its absolute freshness, one's own carving ability, the correct serving temperature, which kind of fish to purchase, etc.

Frogs. Many of your guests have played with them when they were children. Some other romantic and optimistic may have even kissed one.

Kidneys. Cooking them requires the utmost expertise. And in case of failure, the outcome is a horrible taste of... well, urine. Eww!

Octopus. Tentacles freak people out, especially non-Mediterraneans.

Veal. The cruelty to the calves has made it very hard for folks to eat veal. But not here. The Italian farming industry is different, no chaining, no force feeding, no horror.

I'm making a nice plate of spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino tonight. Shall I count you in?

Nov 1, 2009

Diary from set - Abruzzo

When I was told we were moving to a remote location to film the latter part of the movie, I didn't really think it was going to be that remote. But actually, I have come to learn that some parts of this land are still incorrupt. Virgin. And far removed. Extrasolar far removed in some cases.

I initially imagined myself walking the snaking cobble-stoned alleys of a quaint medieval Abruzzo village perched on a high windy mountaintop, with little old ladies dressed in black nodding as we city slickers passed by, and elegant gents wearing their hats before a shot of grappa and a smoky hand of briscola. And Castel del Monte is all that. And much more, thankfully. But it is remote as remote gets.

We are surrounded by beauty and nature as far as the eye can see. Fast racing clouds chase the sunlight over the rolling hills and valleys below. High, barren mountains of neolithic matter loom above us, shining brightly in the thin air and brightest of sunlights. Where forests cloak elevated surfaces, the autumn leaves show off their auburn colors with flamboyant pride. The earth shakes every once in a while, reminding us of the April tragedy that has changed the people around here forever.

The air smells clean. I wake to chirping birds in the early morning. And yesterday we spotted a pack of wolves behind the restaurant during lunch break. The skies have been benevolent and have not rained (or snowed) upon us too bitterly. The town folk is friendly and politely astonished at our barbaric invasion. The everyday food and wine is Out of This World, and hanging out with a fun crew makes the hard work a little easier.

But there is no Internet.
Very little cell phone coverage.
No cable TV.

The only Wi-fi available is in the main Production office, which is a public place I can have access to after a 12-hour day and for a limited time frame. Oftentimes the choice between blogging or catching up on my electornic mail and a hot shower falls for the latter. And so I have failed to keep up. I fearfully open my flooding inbox once a week when I return home for the weekend. I have a hard time responding to all those who seek a word with me. Even spam is beginning to give up on me. Haven't chatted on Skype in eons. Blog etiquette out the window. Readers perplexed. Those spoiled by my thrice-weekly posts have not heard of me in months. The weekly appointments with my guest chefs at Be my guest are at a standstill.

I am home for a long weekend, and the playtime, bathtime and cuddletime with my son is momentarily on hold (he's snoring). So I take advantage of this little moment before slipping into bed next to him and inhaling his sweet smell before falling asleep under the covers of my bed–and not the hotel bed I am calling home for most of the week–to apologize for the long silence. And to ask you to bear with me.

I am eating astounding local and unusual things, learning of new interesting Abruzzo wines, traditions and food lore for my journal. And I am keeping notes. I will return to blogging routinely in 3 weeks when the film's principal photography will come to halt before taking off again for another chapter after the holiday season.

In three weeks I promise I will make up for the lost time on these pages and pledge to tickle your appetite again soon.

For now you'll have to make do with my Archive.