Mar 31, 2009

9 layers

A meme to peel aways the layers of you. A few more hints of me.


LAYER 1:
  • Name: Eleonora (Lola) B.
  • Birth date: May 2, 1967
  • Birthplace: Bennington, VT
  • Current Location: Eternal City
  • Eye Color: Green
  • Hair Color: Chestnut & Honey (with more grey everyday)
  • Height: 1,66m (5'44")
  • Righty or Lefty: I write with my right, but my political orientation is left (I'm peeling away more than I should here)
  • Zodiac Sign: Taurus


LAYER 2:

  • Your heritage: Italian-American
  • The shoes you wore today: Italian leather sneakers with heels
  • Your weakness: Food
  • Your fears: Anything that is potentially dangerous for my son's health, hapiness and freedom
  • Your perfect pizza: Michele ai Tribunali's (Napoli) Margherita: tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil, olive oil and a thick, charred crust
  • Goal you’d like to achieve: I’d like to see my book on the shelf


LAYER 3:

  • Your most overused phrase on AIM: I'm still trying to figure out what AIM is
  • Your first waking thoughts: Thank you, God, for this babe sleeping next to me
  • Your best physical feature: Feet, but I'm reconsidering my smile
  • Your most missed memory: My adolescent summers in Positano, carefree and innocent


LAYER 4:

  • Pepsi or Coke: Neither, I drink wine. Water if I'm sick
  • McDonald’s or Burger King: Neither, I don't do fast food
  • Single or group dates: I haven't dated in eons, but I definitely date "one on one"
  • Adidas or Nike: Whatever, I'm not into brands
  • Lipton Ice Tea or Nestea: Homemade iced tea
  • Chocolate or vanilla: Chocolate, no brainer
  • Cappuccino or coffee: Cappuccino and espresso


LAYER 5:

  • Smoke: I did for a few years, then I stopped the day I found out I was pregnant, and never started again
  • Cuss: Like a sailor
  • Sing: Loud
  • Take a shower everyday: And I indulge in a bath whenever possible
  • Do you think you’ve been in love: Have I?
  • Want to go to college: It'll be one of the things I do before it's too late
  • Liked high school: Very much
  • Want to get married: Some day...
  • Believe in yourself: Finally
  • Get motion sickness: A lot less than I used to
  • Think you’re attractive: I have my good days
  • Think you’re a health freak: I believe in heathy foods, but I don't exercise...
  • Get along with your parent(s): Of course!
  • Like thunderstorms: My son is scared of thunderstorms, so I love them only because I get to cuddle him and soothe him to sleep
  • Play an instrument: Sadly, I only play the kazoo


LAYER 6: In the past month…

  • Drank alcohol: Oh yes
  • Smoked: No
  • Done a drug: Popped some Advil
  • Made Out: Not in the past month, no
  • Gone on a date: Don't rub it in
  • Gone to the mall?: I suffocate in malls
  • Eaten an entire box of Oreos?: On a regular basis
  • Eaten sushi: Not recently, no
  • Been on stage: Yes, a sound stage
  • Been dumped: Not this month
  • Gone skating: As a teen, yes
  • Made homemade cookies: Made them yesterday
  • Gone skinny dipping: Yes, in Mexico one wild summer of 15 years ago
  • Dyed your hair: No but I need to get the grey out
  • Stolen Anything: No, stealing is horrible!


LAYER 7: Ever…

  • Played a game that required removal of clothing: No, damn it
  • Been trashed or extremely intoxicated: Yes
  • Been caught “doing something”: Never
  • Been called a tease: Yes
  • Gotten beaten up: No!
  • Shoplifted: No!
  • Changed who you were, in order to fit in: Once, with a man of my youth. Swore to never again.


LAYER 8:

  • Age you hope to be married: When the right man comes along, whatever age I'll be
  • Numbers and Names of Children: 1 wonderful son, 3 years old
  • Describe your Dream Wedding: On a boat, at sea
  • How do you want to die: In my sleep, 100 years from now
  • Where you want to go to college: Somewhere stimulating, and that will accept middle-aged students
  • What do you want to be when you grow up: 41 and still trying to decide. Anything that involves writing and eating would be grand
  • What country would you most like to visit: right now it’s Australia, I've never been


LAYER 9:

  • Number of drugs taken illegally: two
  • Number of people I could trust with my life: I would say three
  • Number of CDs that I own: Do I actually have to go and count them? Many.
  • Number of piercings: One in each ear lobe, old school
  • Number of tattoos: Zero, but I'm considering getting one
  • Number of times my name has appeared in the newspaper?: I have no idea
  • Number of scars on my body: One
  • Number of things in my past that I regret: Only one, but I'm not telling what it is

Want to peel off some layers?

Mar 30, 2009

Mellow Yellow Monday #12

Regata Storica, Venice
September 2003




See more yellow at
Mellow Yellow Monday






I ♥ my friends

I received this lovely heart award from Rosaria.


Thank you, grazie amica mia. You're the generous Maestra who watched me take my first baby steps in the grassy meadow of blogland. Now we gently stroll, arms locked (not the painful one). We smile and scribble on.

I would like to pass the award on to some very special bloggers:

Erin @ Woman in a Window
Tessa @ An Aerial Armadillo
Sallymandy @ The Blue Kimono
Mandy @ Fire Byrd
FF @ French Fancy
Sujatha @ Blogpourri
Susan @ MY2K
Giorgio @ Man of Roma

I don't know if I can award more than 8 people, but I have many more winners on my heart list. The newly met Laura, Pyzahn, Janet, Renee, Vanilla (and Attylah), Karen, Scintilla, Chef Chuck... the list is endless.
And then there are my beacons, my darling co-winner friends, the lovely: Lori ann, Natalie and Angela, plus Arlene, Beth, Distracted by Shiny Objects, Coleen, and many more. You are all wonderful!

Grazie

Mar 29, 2009

Making Homemade Pasta From Scartch

Cookbooks may tell you how, but the best way to learn how to make fresh homemade pasta, is being taught by a friend. Someone you can observe, the person to question shamelessly as the eggs and flour become an art form from bare hands. One you silently accost to absorb the moves and the inherited skill, in order to make your own rustic "pasta fatta in casa."

Theoretically, the first step is reading the do's and dont's of how to make pasta from scratch in erudite manuals. This I fear may only confuse you. Some recipes call for no extra yolks, some add a nip of water, some omit the salt. In my humble opinion, the actual hands-on (no pun intended) technique needs human guidance. Your Pasta-Petrarch should demonstrate the steps to a personal approach, illustrate how to properly blend the elements, how to knead lovingly, and how to shape it all into a galaxy of dinner possibilities: fettuccine, ravioli, tagliatelle, lasagne, tortellini...


So here I am. I know, ideally I should be from Emilia Romagna and in my mid-seventies, but this is the best I can give you. I make my friends and family very happy with my dishes, and when these involve fresh homemade pasta, the bliss-factor is raised tenfold. I have learned this magical art by absorption. I grew up watching my grandmother nonna Titta make home-style pasta, so my credentials are good. I've spent numerous childhood hours watching her bent over the squared 4-ft wooden board, kneading a golden orb of dough the size of a soccer ball. Dusted with flour head to toe, she'd twirl and play her rolling pin like a teenage majorette. I was always in awe as the thin layer of pasta was rolled like a giant burrito and then cut into curly tagliatelle ribbons or thin, blond angel hair. I soon began to emulate her, and I have been practicing pasta for quite some time now.

It's a gesture of love to serve a meal entirely made by hand. It also makes the cook feel omnipotent, a bit of a show off. Tripping on a pasta-from-scratch-high you feel invincible, you push your limit, confident that now you can accomplish anything in the kitchen. Like I did today, for example. I ventured in a full-fledged 4-course meal for 6 hungry epicureans.

I crafted my tagliatelle while I prepared the sauce to dress them appropriately,

...breaded and fried 12 schnitzel-type veal cutlets for our second course,

...cooked 2 different vegetable side dishes (creamed pumpkin and stir-fried broccoli) and baked dessert. I refused to do the dishes and now I'm here moaning about how tired I am, but you should have seen the smiles on those faces.

But let's get back to business. Here is nonna's recipe, transcribed and translated straight from her tattered and handwritten recipe journal, one of my most precious belongings.

300 g (1 1/2 cups) flour, possibly "00" + more for dusting
3 eggs
2 yolks
A very small pinch of salt

You'll need to work on a flat surface, possibly wood or marble, as long as slightly dusted with flour. Other essentials are, a rolling pin (again preferably wooden), and a little patience.

Wash your hands and beware, it’s going to get messy. And quite sexy.

Empty the flour on the work surface in a mound, and dig a hole in the middle, building a crater. This is the "a fontana" technique, literally "in a fountain manner." Now drop the eggs and the yolks in your crater and sprinkle the salt.


Start beating with a fork at first and as the mix begins to blend, dig in with your hands and knead that baby.
Image © robysushi
Image © winedharma

It will not be at all homogeneous at first. Knead regardless of messy, sticky onset. Fold the dough over and flatten with the bottom part of your palm several times.
Image © lafataartigiana.blogspot.com

Be persistent, the love you put into this part of the process ensures best results. Keep at it until the dough reaches a smooth and satiny texture. It should never flake or dry, if for some unknown reason this should happen, add another egg, NOT water. The result at the end of this sensual massage is a large, heavy ball of dough. Lay it to rest in a bowl dusted with flour, while you take a 30 minute break.
Image farinadigio.eu

Well done, you have dough. Now, mentally prepare for the hardest part, flattening the dough with your rolling pin into a thin layer.

On a large enough unpolished wood surface - like a butcher’s block for instance - or your marble counter top, spread a large quantity of flour. This will avoid stickage. Dust it over your rolling pin and hands as well, gymnast-style. Place the ball of dough in the middle of your board and flatten it gently with your hands, avoiding finger holes. Any deep depression in the dough can cause air bubbles. And we don’t want those.

Start using your rolling pin, exercising very little pressure at first and slowly picking up force as the dough gradually flattens. As the surface begins to expand, images of the ‘old blanket’ saying will come to mind. You’ll find that rolling vertically will produce a long narrow up and down strip; compensating with horizontal strokes, your shape will instantly stretch into an opposite elongated oval. Keep going, don’t give up, and mostly don’t flatten the dough too thin. You’ll need a maximum thickness of a couple millimeters (about 1/8-inch).

To make fettuccine you simply roll up your flattened dough like a burrito and cut 1cm slices, about 1/3 of an inch.


Unravel the coils, dust with a bit more flour or polenta (cornmeal) and award yourself with a tall drink.

Tagliatelle are a bit wider (and thicker), Pappardelle are the widest, about 2cm (2/3-inch). Cutting lasagne requires a firm hand and geometric eye when shaping equal-sized rectangles. My guideline is a 10 x 15cm postcard (3” x 5”).

Maltagliati (which are great for hearty soups) means "badly cut", so you can go crazy and cut away any shape you like as long as in similar size range.

Tip: Cook fresh homemade pasta in plenty of lightly salted water at a jacuzzi-type rolling boil. Stir with a wooden spoon or a long fork quite often. This will ensure the pasta to remain springy and not clump together in clusters during cooking.

Drain your masterpiece and slather on the sauce, whatever that may be (after all that hard work you can start with a simple Burro & Parmigiano: 1/2 stick of butter and a fistful of grated Parmigiano, an awesome flavor duo), and graduate to ragù later.

Bravo!


Thank you Laura. There's a chair here at my dinner table with your name engraved on it.


Mar 27, 2009

The Arrosto Assessment

I noticed I've posted quite a number of recipes for fish, desserts, soups, vegetables, and pasta since I started blogging. Not to mention my love affair with cheese. What was missing so far was a proper carnivore's weekend entree. One to be made patiently and for the entire family, one that requires time and that will spill delicious aromas in the rooms near the kitchen.
The Italian word for roast is arrosto, a term that encompasses so much more that a mere cooking technique. It is an adjective, a noun, an onomatopoeic poem.


My mother’s theory is that if you can properly roast meat, you’ve learned how to cook. This was my 'test paper' when I first left home and had my mom over for lunch, what feels like a million years ago. My graduation to grown-up world.
I remember that day: the anticipation, the frenzied behavior, my nervous attempts to make it all perfect. Shopping for the right ingredients, assembling her favorite flowers and maniacally cleaning the house, readying it for her inspection. Not that she's much of a cleanliness freak, or someone fixated with order or form, but I wanted her first impression to be speckless. I wanted to prove that I could not only manage a home on my own, but that I could make one mean roast, too.
In Italy women leave the nest not upon going to college, but once married off to a husband. A man who - in a time not so distant in the past - would mainly be looking for a duplicate of his mother. I was 22 and single, my American side bludgeoning for autonomy. Through the conflict that ensued, I translated the energy into cooking and trying to reproduce my mother's and grandmother's culinary art.

So there she sat, eating quietly. She had a second helping... promising - I thought to myself, as I scanned the room for decoration debacles. I knew things were looking good when she sopped up the roast drippings with a chunk of bread, raising her eyebrows. My heart was pounding, and I'm sure she was feeling under examination too; but that didn't stop us from finishing our food, casually chatting and laughing (three elements of a perfect meal) as we always do.
The final Cordon Bleu moment came when she looked up at me with the most radiant of smiles and said, "La mia bambina ha superato la maestra!" My little girl has outshined her teacher.

My mother, Emi
1969



I passed the test. Here's how I did it back then and how I still prepare my Arrosto today:
  • 1 boneless pork rib end roast, weighing about 1kg (2lbs)
  • 5 rosemary sprigs
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
Preheat oven at 160°C (320°F).
Trim away any fat from the roast and lace it with butcher’s twine to help it maintain its shape. Rub the meat with olive oil, and salt and pepper, massaging in the elements with love. Weave the rosemary twigs between the meat and the kitchen string, and place the prepared roast in the oven, using a high-rimmed oven pan (juice collecting is a must here).

Bake for an hour or until fork-tender. The meat must be well done but not overcooked, this will depend greatly on the size of the roast and oven power; it will be done when you stick a skewer into the middle and the juices run clear. A trick is to fill the drippings pan (one level beneath the roast pan) with water to maintain a good moisture level in your oven.

Remove the roast to a wire rack and let it cool for 15-20 minutes. This is an important step, juices tend to concentrate in the innermost part of the roast. By slicing it straight out of the oven, you would end up with a very watery and unattractive arrosto. Letting it rest allows the fluids to redistribute in the peripheral tissues and render a firm, juicy slice.

Discard the twine before carving. I usually serve my pork roast with applesauce and a side order of pan-fried string beans tossed with a clove of garlic, a fistful of toasted breadcrumbs and a thread of olive oil. "Il vino," you ask? Oh, what the heck, go with a Brunello di Montalcino, you deserve it! That or any rich, tannic red.


Buon appetito!

Mar 26, 2009

E's flowers


My son brings me flowers. Every afternoon, his babysitter takes him for a walk in the nearby playground. He meets his posse there, and they conjure battles of laughter and castles of sand.
Some days, I creep up to the fence and spy on him, unaware of me in his carefree frolic. He then senses me, somehow, and he laughs running to me, bewildered.

Every day, he returns home from the playground with a sweaty wad of wild flowers for me. The first thing his melodious little voice squeals as he bursts through the door is ,"Mamma, fiorellini per te!," mommy, little flowers for you. Every day, the same sweet ritual: we toss out the dead ones with a kiss and replace them with the new ones in a small Moroccan shot glass filled with Roman, mineral-rich tap water. Every day, my son brings me flowers. My son, mio figlio. Anyone who has kids, knows what it feels like every time those two words surface on our lips. A whispered miracle.
This is a small note I wrote upon discovering I was pregnant with E., my son. In the 9 months of pregnancy I left it suspended and came back to it occasionally, updating its contents, and finally wrote the ending on the night before my scheduled C-section.

I smile now, re-reading it. It is a child speaking to another.

A miracle happened, it was that afternoon of sun, love and tears,
the last time I made love to your father.
That's when you happened. When you chose me.
Sun, ocean, light, ecstasy, words of love and promises of memory.
Africa blessed us.
The sky smiled.
The wave crashed.
The flowers winked.
A gust of wind moved the branch.
A distant seagull soared and brought the plan of you.
Dropped you off in my womb and life began within me.

My nipples are not burnt-sienna.
My bump doesn't sport the dark line down the middle.
My skin is incredibly soft now. My nails, falcon talons. Hair silky and smooth.
The libido's subsided, I thought I was going insane at one point.
The hunger has shifted from sex to food. I want lots of it now, and all smothered in butter. I crave not chocolate, but frothy Guinness.
I pee every 30 seconds.
My ankles swell and my lips are constantly chapped.

But I love it.
I love feeling as you move within me. A flutter of bird's wings.
I love seeing you on the ultrasound screen, turning away and showing the doctor your wee ass.
I love you, E.
I have become secondary. You, my promise, have won first place.
You are my happiness and my worry.
I have always been afraid of pain, of needles, of disease, terrorized by the unsung spasms of labor.
Now I live to avoid you pain.

You will be a man, one day.
A wonderful man. One who brings flowers.
I'll try to make you happy. Show you the beauty of life and the world whole.
I'll always be there for you. Mio piccolo cuore.
You are the most important part of me. My reason. My life. My completion.
My son.
I smile every time I think of you. Your every slight move, makes me laugh out loud.

Are you speaking to me, from inside?
Are you comfortable?
Are you bored? Are you warm enough in there?
Do I crush you when I sleep, rolling to one side?
Do you have feelings?
Do you love me?

Happy Love Thursday

Mar 25, 2009

Fiori di Zucca Fritti - Fried Zucchini Blossoms

There have been millions of words written on the zucchini flower. The forerunner of the ever-burgeoning mottled cylinder, is edible. More than edible, they're delicious in an Earth Mother kind of way.

©E.Baldwin

That which some just chuck away as waste, can in fact become this delectable antipasto, or be part of a pasta condiment or even a salad element (I never disdain fresh flowers tossed in with my salad greens). Now that they're starting to bud on farmer's markets everywhere, gather those blossoms while you can and prepare for yet another true Roman taste bud epiphany.


15 zucchini blossoms 
4 salted anchovy fillets (optional) 
200 g (1 cup) mozzarella, diced 
100 g (1/2 cup) unbleached all purpose flour 
Sparkling water or beer, chilled
Oil for frying 
Baking soda 
Salt

Trim pistils and stems off the flowers, paying extra attention not to break them, they are very delicate. Wash the blossoms carefully with water and baking soda, rinse with plenty cold water and pat dry with paper towel.

Cut the mozzarella in strips and finely chop the anchovies (if you're using them). Stuff each blossom with some mozzarella and a dab of anchovy mash, and uncork a bottle of white Colli Albani wine.

In a mixing bowl, blend a glass of chilled sparkling water, flour and salt until fluffy and add a pinch of baking soda for an even lighter batter. If you like you can use chilled beer in place of the sparkling water.

Dip the stuffed flowers in the batter open side up and deep fry in scalding olive oil in small batches, until golden.
Briefly park on paper towel and serve hot with the remaining wine, if any is left.


Mar 24, 2009

Once upon a time...

...there was a sea of fishes. The Mediterranean’s fish, its stories and also the problems it faces will be the focus of Slow Fish 2009, to be held April 17-20 in the Genoa Fiera’s new Pavilion B, designed by Jean Nouvel and facing the sea. A chance to shop at the Market, and explore local gastronomic traditions at the Taste Islands and Seafood Osterias.

Slow Food Presidia will describe products and production methods to be discovered and protected, while in-depth discussions of topical issues will take place during the Water Workshops. At the Enoteca,visitors can taste the best wines to pair with seafood, and at Street Food and the new "Fishwiches" area one can find out how even fast food can also be good, clean and fair.

I quote the event's website welcome message:
"It might seem provocative, but the main theme of Slow Fish is the right to pleasure. In the midst of so many dire warnings about the state of our seas, among all the prohibitions we have to remember to stop species like bluefin tuna and swordfish from becoming extinct, now more than ever Slow Food feels the need to give priority to its legendary trademark principle, the right to pleasure."

If all goes according to plan, I might be able to attend. I'm looking into one of the event's workshops. The "Navigating Markets and Kitchens" Master of Food is organized to provide the public with the tools needed to choose, fish and cook seafood to perfection. Each course is divided into two lessons. The first focuses on shopping, and includes an introduction to the sea system and the supply of caught, farmed and frozen fish by a team of experts. The second involves practical food preparation and tasting. There will also be time for some dolphin watching and coastal marine ecology tours of the area's marine protected oases, reaturant scouting, and excursions to Cinque Terre, Portofino and Camogli. Cant' wait.

I'll be your blogland correspondent; gathering news, recipes, local specialties, zero nautical mile-impact guidelines for seafood eating and much, much more. Keep your fingers crossed.

Mar 23, 2009

Mellow Yellow Monday

Kalk Bay, South Africa - fish market
May 2005




See more photos at
Mellow Yellow Monday



ciao

Cute cutlery

I don't need an iPhone. I'm not into flat-panel TVs or fancy hi-fi sound systems. My iPod is an old "black and white" scratched model, and I had to replace the headphones because my toddler flushed the old ones down the toilet. I'm not much of a gadget freak, but there are some toys I can't do without. Primarily kitchen utensils, vintage tin boxes, maps and the contents of my tool box. I have a thing for home improvement paraphernalia, yes. I waltz into a hardware store and have diffculty leaving empty-handed. I once bought a cordless drill set and a paint stripper, and the two guys at the cash register thought I was either darkly sexy, or else a serial killer in dire need of disposing of a body; because they couldn't stop staring, mouths agape.

I have recently come across two very interesting items, while surfing the web. They are useful, fun and downright genius.
Anyone who has had to go through the thrice daily feeding ritual with a baby or toddler knows how aggravating a fussy eater can be. You often have to resort to flights of fantasy (and literal ones too) just to get them to open their mouths.
So the first solution is get them an "Air Fork One," a fork shaped like an aeroplane that provides a much needed prop (no pun intended) for finicky eaters. Mealtime will become fun, feeders making jet noises and flying the load straight in.


The second genius idea tool I will be getting E. is a 3-piece cutlery set designed like construction vehicles. Each piece is shaped like some kind of cool digger, so the tot can have a ball excavating mashed potates, bulldozing peas or spearing carrots with a forklift.

Both images courtesy of iwantoneofthose.com

E. will finally get to play with his food without being scolded. And mommy can relax, flying her own food over her fantastical maps.

Mar 22, 2009

Sundays spent satiating

Sundays in Italy mean family. They speak of tradition, repose and morning Mass. Sundays gather the family around the table for communal weekly updates, sports events (mainly soccer) and convivial merry.


As my son and I skip down the flights of stairs of our apartment building on our way out, we walk past Signora Rosetta’s door, inebriated by the smell of tomato sauce simmering on her stove. That divine perfume then wafts over and mingles with our downstairs neighbor Gina’s veal cutlets. And so forth, in a Babylon of aromas all the way down, all good, all Sunday-like.

Every Sunday lunch, my little boy E. and I go to my mother’s house, which is a 5-minute walk from our home. Wearing a nice blouse or a new pair of trousers, to honor our host, we head out. Mamma likes that kind of stuff, she also loves it when E.’s hair is combed with a tidy part on the side. A rare image, E. defines tousled. We breathe in the morning air and take a nice stroll to our favorite cafe, buy the paper, chat with people from our neighborhood. A Sunday ritual. We may go to Mass if we feel inspired, otherwise we head straight for the pasticceria (pastry shop) and pick up a tray of assorted bigné, cannoli, sfogliatelle, éclairs etc. sold by weight and wrapped in gift paper, tied with curly ribbons.

We always arrive early, at my mother’s house. That too is part of a Sunday habit. All members of the family each chip in with the housework, helping in the kitchen, airing out the bedrooms, watering the flowers on the terrace. Every time I walk in the house where I have been raised, I am immediately overcome with a warm, reassuring feeling. Back to the womb. The aroma of my mother’s cooking returns me to all my childhood memories. The incidental music of the TV broadcasting the usual Sunday shows, the smell of fresh flowers. My mother’s books, her dust, her Persian rugs. The chandeliers, the framed black and white photographs, the Steinway grand piano. It’s all there, unchanged, thank God.

And then that which she is most proud of: la tavola, her table. It is a festive occasion, and she honors it beautifully by setting an impeccable table. She always prouds in laying a crisp embroidered linen tablecloth, ironed to perfection. China plates, double glasses – for both wine and water – shiny silverware and matching fabric napkins. Mamma cooks for two days in preparation for her family feast, and she prouds in displaying her efforts. The beverages are always served in glass (and not the bulky plastic) bottles. The wine is always chosen wisely to pair the food, and there’s alway an extra dessert, usually homemade.

My mother makes it a point to pick the best ingredients, priding herself in finding seasonal variations, local and organic staples. She cooks it lovingly, employing all her generosity, and enjoying the creative process. She provides for us, not merely nourishment and great tasting foods, but an on-going, weekly display of love.


For this year’s edition of 5 Minutes for Mom’s Ultimate Blog Party – my first – I will share with all participating home cooks, mothers, and daughters of great ladies before them, my mamma’s signature Sunday dish, the one she is most fond of. It his her pièce de résistance; whenever she prizes us by making it, it is in fact a party. I have watched her make homey dishes like these countless times, as I grew into the mother I am today, and never once has she or her fabulous fares disappointed me.
The authentic Italian Sunday lunch tradition lives on in my mother’s hallmark Tagliatelle al Ragù. Pull up a chair and let's eat.

This recipe is a classic. It results in the creation of an intensely flavorful, rich meat sauce to serve over home made tagliatelle, and dusted with lavish amounts of grated Parmigiano Reggiano. My mother starts preparing it early in the morning and allows it to simmer, very, very slowly for many hours, at least three and ideally four.
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 1 small onion, cut into same size dice as carrot
  • celery stalks, cut up into same size dice as carrot and onion and in the same amount
  • 650gr (1 1/2 lbs) ground beef and veal total (small variations from this weight are not significant)
  • 200ml (1 cup) whole milk
  • 200ml (1 cup) dry, white wine
  • 1 kg (28-oz can) whole or crushed tomatoes, San Marzano would be great
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 300gr (3/4 lb or 1 1/2 cups) tagliatelle. If you decide to make your own homemade pasta, the outcome will be a million times better. And those eating will feel even more loved by you.
  • Salt to taste
  • Lots of Parmigiano, grated
It all begins with an empty, heavy-bottomed, medium to large sized pot. If you have a Dutch oven, that is ideal. Place the oil and butter into the pot and bring to medium-high heat.
Add the diced battuto (carrot, onion and celery trinity) and stir to coat well, allowing vegs to soften for about 6 minutes. Hark! Do not brown the onion or celery, they need to simply wilt.
Next, add all the ground meat to the pot. Here is where the most work is involved. Using a large wooden spoon keep breaking up the meat into smaller and smaller pieces as it cooks. Do not brown it too much or dry out. Don’t let it sit in the hot shortening on the bottom of the pot and sear. Keep moving it around; it should just lose its color. Keep working on the meat and keep breaking it up into smaller and smaller pieces. It should also begin to smell wonderful.
When the meat has lost all its pink color and is reduced to minuscule bits, pour in the milk and turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Stir well and allow the milk to completely boil away. When that happens, you should only be able to see the olive oil and butter between the meat pieces and vegetables, and no more milk. This will take about 20 minutes.
Now add the white wine and evaporate it too.
Add the tomatoes. Empty the entire can into the pot and use a wooden spoon to break up the whole tomatoes into large chunks. Season with salt and nutmeg, stir well and turn down the heat to a very gentle simmer, only the occasional plip, plop! bubble should come to the surface. Do not cover. Allow the sauce to simmer slowly for 3 to 4 hours, stirring occasionally; and to fill the rooms of your soul with warmth, love and a terrrific aroma.

If you're pressed for time, or making home made pasta feels too big a task right now, you can decide over dried or fresh commercially sold tagliatelle, the only requirement is they be rough-surfaced and quite thick (at least 3 mm, 1/8-inch).
When the sauce is almost ready, bring your salted gallon of water to a rolling boil. Cook the tagliatelle, then drain them al dente, saving some starchy cooking water.
Return the pasta to the empty stewpot and add about a cup of meat sauce to the cooked tagliatelle and stir well. This only colors the strands lightly, but we’re not done yet. Serve the coated tagliatelle in individual soup bowls, spooning the divine Bolognese sauce over each and dusting with copious amounts of grated Parmigiano.
Mamma uncorked two bottles of Chianti today, and the first roaring toast was to the never-ending party she throws, come Sunday at lunch.

The ABC of me

Here's another popular meme I had fun with. It may be of aid to others reading (and to myself, writing) to get a clearer glimpse of who I am.

A - ADVOCATE FOR: Preserving planet Earth. This single prototype is the only one we’ve got and it is obviously rebelling against us. We are guests of this mighty host, and we’re feasting on it like a swarm of ravenous parasites. I don’t need charts and statistics to believe in Global Warming. I’ve seen with my own eyes what it has done to both Mount Kilimanjaro and the Perito Moreno glacier. In thirty years I have watched my beloved crystal clear, emerald Mediterranean Sea become a puddle of polluted murky water.

B - BEST FEATURE: I have great feet. They are sexy and always well groomed. My tootsies have always received many compliments, gifts (toe rings and kisses) and indecent proposals by foot fetishists.


C - COULD DO WITHOUT: Winter! I abhor the cold. My Mediterranean blood has nothing but disdain for the months of November through March in the Northern Hemisphere of this planet. The warmth of the sun is life.

D - DREAMS & DESIRES: Are they not one in the same? Those things that I longingly desire inevitably find their way into my open-eyed dreams and, very often, many things surface subconsciously in my reveries that I am astonished to discover I really do desire.

E - ESSENTIAL ITEMS: Essential? As in absolutely necessary; indispensable?
1) Labello lip balm and Carmex: I suffer from cronic dry, flaky lips.
2) My laptop. I am a compulsive writer. And often logorrheic in my scribblings.
3) My DVD player. It is sadly dying of old age, and soon will have to be replaced. Whenever I play a disk on it, all the voices are squeaky and the shadow of a dark vertical band runs down the middle of the screen.
4) Music. I need music to sustain me during the blues, and a little rhythm when I’m feeling apathetic. Whenever my iPod’s battery runs low or dies in the middle of a song, I weep.
5) Stories: Books. Movies. Songs. Poems. Fables.

F - FAVORITE PASS TIME: Writing. This applies even when I pen nothing but total crap. Still, I write. It is my therapy.

G - GOOD AT: My job. All modesty aside, I am one of the top-ranked quadri-lingual script supervisors in the Italian film business. It’s a challenging occupation, one laden with responsibilities, and designed for methodical multitasking, well organized and orderly folks. I’m damn good at my profession.

H - HAVE NEVER TRIED: Sky Ddiving, bungee jumping, para-sailing and free climbing. Anything that involves putting serious distance between me and the earth terrifies me.

I - IF I HAD A MILLION DOLLARS: I'd retire. Buy a house below the equator on a beach somewhere. Visit Africa twice a year. Store some away in an account with a ridiculously high interest rate. Travel. And if there’s any left, open a restaurant on the above mentioned beach.

J - JUNKIE FOR: Chocolate. I’ve been called a ‘chocoslut’ and a ‘cioccolata snob’ and yet… I care not.

K - KINDRED SPIRIT: My dear pal Michela whom I’ve only just known four years, and my darling Laura, who’s been my school mate and close Friend since we were 6 years old. But my veritable soul twin is Emi, my mother.

L - LITTLE KNOWN FACT: My grandfather was a prominent Italian filmmaker, one of the founders of Neorealism.

M - MEMORABLE MOMENT: January 26th, 2006 – 3:38pm, the day my life changed and I gave birth to E.

N - NEVER AGAIN WILL I: Allow a lover to trample on my dignity.

O - OCCASIONAL INDULGENCE: Professional Ayurvedic massage. I will upgrade this to a full week in a beauty spa in Bali as soon as aforementioned point I) happens.

P - PROFESSION: I once had an actual profession, I was a graphic designer. But I gave it up for a totally crazy desire to follow my dream of working on a film set.

Q - QUOTE: "Immortality. I notice that as soon as writers broach this question they begin to quote. I hate quotation. Tell me what you know." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

R - REASON TO SMILE: My son, E. the 3 year-old truck driver, construction engineer, helicopter pilot, poet.

S - SORRY ABOUT: Apologizing. I do it too often and it drives people crazy. (Sorry.)

T - TELL A SECRET: Not happening. Secrets can’t be told.

U - UNINTERESTED IN: Gossip in general. Specifically re Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and the like.

V - VERY SCARED OF: Vampires, demons and severe thunderstorms. Ever noticed how really, really bad things happen to people during thunderstorms, especially in horror movies?

W - WORST HABIT: I text while I drive. I know, I know…

X - X MARKS MY IDEAL VACATION SPOT: Impossible to say! Out of all the places I have been to date… probably South Africa. The country is amazing and it has beautiful landscapes and beaches, bewildering skies, fabulous wine, crazy good dining options and insane amounts of wonderful wildlife.

Y - YUMMIEST DESSERT: Anything that involves chocolate is guaranteed to give me a foodgasm.

Z - ZODIAC SIGN: I’m the quintessential Taurus by the traditional zodiac. My rising sign is Capricorn. According to the Chinese calendar, I am a Sea Goat.

What's your alphabet?

Novità in bloggolandia

Ho iniziato un nuovo blog di recensione e critica di ristoranti, si chiama FORCHETTINE. È la realizzazione di un vecchio sogno di bambina, leggete il primo post per saperne di più. Il primo ristorante recensito è un'osteria in provincia di Pisa. Andiamoci insieme, ho già prenotato per tutti.

Mar 21, 2009

Recovering in the sun


The worst part about having a cold is not the stuffy nose, tight chest, thundering cough; it's not being able to taste anything! My sense of gusto (taste) is totally dormant, the palate is momentarily on strike. Foods are all the same, only their different textures and temperatures differentiate them. My life has therefore very little meaning these days.

Fortunately, today the Roman sun is blazing. A bitter tramontana (North) wind, which started howling late last night, has swept all stormy clouds away, and now the air is incredibly clear. From up high on any one the seven hills, the view is spectacular.


E. and I took a long, wonderful walk around the centro storico, and negotiated a steep climb up the steps of the Cordonata to the top of the Campidoglio (Capitoline) hill. We skipped, chasing pigeons and dodged tourists on the piazza designed by Michelangelo, drawing the immense star-motif on the pavement with our feet.

We climbed back down and strolled around with nowhere specific to go, ambling amid flower stalls and open-air markets. We did some grocery shopping, and then treated ourselves to a nice aperitivo at one of my favorite Monti cafes. I had a cocktail called Bicicletta (bicycle) made with Bitter Campari, freshly squeezed OJ on the rocks;

while my son snacked on a banana and mineral water. We returned home laden with tasty deli goods. And just in time for lunch.
Since today I also learned how to put a watermark on my photos, that counts as yet another reason to celebrate. So I popped a bottle of spumante and whipped together something to nibble on while E. lunched on his favorite: tiny potato gnocchi dressed in creamy pesto and cow’s milk ricotta. Here’s the recipe for today’s menu: Crostini con Spuma di Mortadella


Image © lafilibusta

For 12 crostini:
200 gr (1 cup) mortadella
50 gr (1/4 cup) mascarpone
20 gr (2 tbsp) fresh cream
50 gr (1/4 cup) Salt-preserved capers, rinsed (OPTIONAL)
Unsalted butter
Chives
Good, crusty homestyle bread

Cut the mortadella in small shreds and whir it in the blender with the mascarpone and the cream, to obtain a frothy spread.
Cut 12 slices of bread, each 1/2-inch thick, and toast them slightly. Smear each with a thin veil of butter and slather on the spuma di mortadella generously.
Garnish with chopped chives and–if you wish–a couple of capers.

Mar 20, 2009

Torte & Tortelli

A little food porn from the storefront window of Gargani, the Bulgari of Roman gourmet grocers.















Featured in this first picture:
  • Upper left-hand corner: the delectable tortellini Maletti with a prosciutto and Parmigiano filling. Notice how the pasta dough is bright yellow, you thank the farm hen and her organic eggs for that.
  • Above, center: ricotta and spinach ravioli, homemade by a local pastaio artisanal manufacturer
  • Upper right-hand corner: organic pesto sauce sold by weight
  • Middle: tagliolini all'uovo, fresh egg pasta, coarse and delicious thick angel hair-type
  • Lower left-hand corner: "caramelle," pasta dough 'candies' made with spinach, stuffed with Fontina cheese and ground walnut meats.
  • Below, center: mini potato gnocchi (the size of a thimble)
  • lower right hand corner, hand made Ligurian trofie (perfect marriage with above-mentioned pesto)














Second photo illustrates:
  • Upper left-hand corner: semolina gnocchi (typical of Rome). These are discs of polenta-style cooked semolina, and they are usually prepared by broiling them in the oven to form a crispy butter and grated Parmigiano crust.
  • Above, center: capellini (angel hair) egg pasta nests
  • Upper right-hand corner: reverse angle on aforementioned tortellini
  • Middle: assorted fresh homemade egg pasta, sold by weight
  • Lower left-hand corner: mini multi-colored potato gnocchi (tomato and spinach added to the potato flour mix)
  • Below, center: "caramelle" pockets stuffed with a pumpkin and crushed amaretto filling
  • Lower right-hand corner: regular potato gnocchi















And now, onto dessert. The following 2 pictures display:
  • Assorted crostate tarts (apricot marmalade, Nutella, blackberry jam, custard and pinoli (Italian for pine nuts), mixed dried fruits, etc. Notice the price in the foreground, €16,00 per kilo (hence the Bulgari nickname)
  • Marron glacées (candied chestnuts with a caramelized violet flower on top)
  • Fruit tarts, with prevailing strawberries (out of season, really...)
  • Salame di Cioccolato, a decadent chocolate dessert. For the recipe, see my rendition here
  • Antichi (way, way in the far back), a confection inspired by an ancient Roman recipe: baked pastry baskets filled with honey, almonds, raisins and pine nuts
  • Pastiera, the quintessential Neapolitan Easter cake made with wheat, ricotta and just a drop of orange blossom essence
  • Apple strudels, they come in any size, shape and form
  • And away, hidden in a far nook, a majestic bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, a damn fine Champagne















GARGANI
Viale Dei Parioli, 36/b
00197 Roma (RM)

06 8078264

06 8079012

Fellow eaters forage inspiration




March 15, 2009

In Rome, the Academy Learns to Cook
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL

Rome

SCHOOL dining halls generate powerful memories, but often not the kind you want to remember: Matted scrambled eggs. Wilted lettuce. Infamous casseroles that seem to have no identifiable ingredients.

For decades, the dining hall of the august American Academy in Rome hewed to the tradition that has long underpinned higher education — fine libraries coupled with awful food — even though it is housed in an exquisite villa overlooking this ancient city, in a country renowned for fine, fresh ingredients. Each year, the academy presents its coveted Rome Prize for a year of study to several dozen scholars and artists. But ask former fellows what they associate with this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and they often pounce on the food.

“The food was genuinely dreadful,” said Kristina Milnor, a classicist at Barnard College who was a fellow in 2004, recalling a watery rabbit stew containing stringy bits of meat. “Twice, my friend got the rabbit head on his plate. It became a joke: Is this lucky, like getting the coin in the pudding, or unlucky, like a bad omen?”

Worse still, administrators noted that many of the fellows, who are supposed to cross-pollinate ideas during their year in residence, had stopped coming to meals. “If people aren’t coming because the food is terrible, then the kind of exchange we want to encourage just doesn’t happen,” said Carmela Vircillo Franklin, the academy’s director.

So two years ago the academy challenged Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and her team of chefs to lure fellows back to the table. The academy wanted its new food service to be in line with its conservation goals, Dr. Vircillo Franklin said, so ideally, it would be a cafeteria that could feed the 50 to 70 scholars and their families each day with nutritious food that was mostly local, leaving a minimal environmental footprint.

The model has been tried before — Ms. Waters has been a pioneer in the field — but rarely with such immersion. Some universities, like Yale, now offer sustainable-food options in their dining halls. Ms. Waters has been collaborating with Berkeley public schools to create a lunch program in which students learn to grow and cook local produce and consume it in their cafeteria.

And in what is perhaps the most visible show of her devotion to the concept of sustainable eating, Ms. Waters has publicly urged Barack Obama to set a national example by bringing more healthful food to the White House — including an on-grounds vegetable garden. The president recently hired the Chicago chef Sam Kass to further that idea.

The academy, with its small size and proximity to the Italian countryside, has run with the concept. It now offers a menu that mainly relies on ingredients that are delivered by local farmers, grown on the academy’s sumptuous grounds, or foraged by the academy’s fellows in field trips to local meadows and forests. All food scraps are composted and not much is thrown away. In a town where residents talk a lot about food, the new food at the academy quickly became the talk of Rome, and a dinner invitation became a coveted commodity.

Keeril Makan, a composer from M.I.T. and a current fellow, had four friends to dinner on a recent night. They were among the 70 people seated at the long wooden tables in the villa’s dining room.

“When you tell them the chef’s from Chez Panisse and the location is so beautiful, everyone wants to come,” Mr. Makan said.

The transition wasn’t exactly effortless, said Mona Talbott, the chef Ms. Waters deployed for the task. “When we first looked in the kitchen, we found cryo-bags of vegetables that could stay there for months and precut frozen fish,” she said.

But she said the work has paid off in unexpected ways: “We came with a mandate to create a new model for institutional dining — to change the culture of institutional food so that it’s seasonal, nutritious and local. But it has become more than I ever expected. We have created a real community.”

Indeed, food has now become a group project at the academy, an almost irrational center of its intellectual life. Perhaps the highest compliment is that one of last year’s fellows in music composition has returned — this time to intern in the kitchen.

On a recent afternoon, a group of volunteer kitchen assistants — fellows as well as some visiting relatives and friends — sat in the dining room schmoozing about art, life and food as they shelled walnuts for an upcoming meal. “Oh, remember the day when the oranges came?” said Rosa Lowinger, an art conservation fellow from Los Angeles and volunteer nut peeler.

Meals are centered on what nearby farmers are growing. The kitchen’s principal supplier, a traditional farmer named Giovanni Bernabei, delivers whatever produce looks good in his fields. His portrait hangs over the kitchen, a kind of culinary pope.

Though fellows are appropriately appreciative of art and literature, the arrival of a new food season is a big deal here now. Most restaurants in Rome will serve caprese all year, but you won’t find tomatoes at the academy in the winter; they are not in season.

Little goes to waste. The hedges at the academy provide bay leaves. The nuts from its trees are used to make noccino, a liqueur. The fellows pick olives from which to make oil. And the academy’s garden — which used to contain flowers — now overflows with salad greens, radishes, herbs and peppers. The fellows maintain the garden.

“To feed artists and scholars is amazing since they appreciate the process and connect with the passion,” Ms. Talbott said.

Like many of the fellows, Andrew Kranis, a New York city architect, said he would take the culinary lessons home when his fellowship ended: “It’s about doing the right thing environmentally and getting nutrients you wouldn’t get elsewhere. I’m going to be thinking a lot more about what’s local and where the seeds come from.”

One recently arrived fellow, George Hargreaves, the landscape architect who designed the Sydney Olympic Park, said he was thrilled to be eating food that is inspired by the owner of Chez Panisse, the most sought-after table in his home city, Berkeley. All the more so, because the night they arrived the menu included a not-so-Mediterranean meal of pulled pork and greens that reminded Mr. Hargreaves of his Southern childhood.

The dining room is clearly now the place to hang out, even though all fellows have kitchens in their apartments at the academy, and can cook at home if they chose.

Cathy Lang Ho, a designer from New York, said, “The fact that the food is so good brings us together — a lot of the social life happens around meals.” She sat at one of the academy’s communal tables with her husband and their toddler son, Rio.

As the adults chatted over local roast fennel and free-range chicken, Rio, fixed in his booster seat, scavenged his parents’ plates for strips of fried potatoes that were made with — what else? — the academy’s homemade olive oil.

Mar 19, 2009

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

March 19th is the day of San Giuseppe. On this festive occasion, the Catholic Church honors Joseph, Mary's husband and one heck of a dedicated foster daddy. I like to think that for this reason, Italy conjunctively celebrates Father's Day, and these delicious fritters are the traditional festa fare.

People named Giuseppe are especially lucky here in Italy. On the day of San Giuseppe, their onomastico (saint name day) is enthusiastically celebrated throughout Italy. So auguri to all the Giuseppe, Peppe, Peppino, Beppe, Joseph, and Joe!

San Giuseppe also is the name of these festive zeppole. Pastry shops and local friggitorie – typical deep-fried food stands – churn them at an astonishing rhythm: that's because eating zeppole on March 19th is another one of those traditions that must be observed. 

The dough for Zeppole di San Giuseppe is prepared similarly to that for choux, a.k.a. bigné. The main difference lies in the zeppole's lower butter content (healthier) and the cooking procedure: while bigné are baked in the oven, zeppole are instead deep-fried (action which nullifies previously attained health benefit). But why worry about calories? It's Father's Day. time to celebrate.
As promised, here's the recipe, Rosaria.

For the zeppole (yields about a dozen):
200 gr (1 cup) all purpose flour, sifted
200 ml (1 cup) water
4 medium eggs
1/2 tsp cornstarch
100 gr (1/2) butter, softened
Salt

For the creamy filling:
4 leveled tbsp flour, sifted
The rind or 1 small, organic lemon, closely trimmed of white pith
150 gr (3/4-cup) sugar
A vanilla bean (slit open lengthwise and scraped), or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
The yolks of 4 very fresh eggs
500 ml (2 cups) whole milk
2 tbsp confectioner's sugar
A handful of Amarene (sour cherries stored in syrup)

The first thing you should prepare is the custard crema pasticcera. Boil the milk with the vanilla and the lemon peel. 

In the meantime, lightly whisk the yolks and the sugar in a large mixing bowl to obtain a frothy mixture. Add the flour and keep stirring with a wooden spoon for roughly 4 minutes. Fish out and remove the vanilla pod (if you're using it) and the lemon rind, and combine with the eggy mixture in a deep saucepan.

Continue cooking the custard over mild heat until it barely reaches a slow boil. Count to 120 while stirring constantly and it's done. Note: depending on your eggs and milk, the crema pasticcera may thicken to the proper consistency before it boils. It should reach a point where it roughly resembles the texture of commercially sold firm yogurt.

Transfer the crema pasticcera to a bowl and let it cool, gently stirring it often to keep a "skin" from forming across the top.

Now onto the zeppole. Set the water, butter and a pinch of salt to heat, and when bubbles form on the bottom of the pot (it shouldn't come to a full boil) add the flour in one single swoop and stir constantly with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes. 

Remove from the stove and transfer the mixture to another clean vessel to allow it to cool at room temperature. Stir in the eggs one by one into a smooth, firm and homogeneous dough.

Cut 5-inch squares of parchment or oiled paper, and place on a large work surface.
Stuff the dough in a Ziploc bag and snip off a corner of it, using it as a "sac à poche" pastry chef's pocket. Squeeze out the dough to form 3-inch doughnuts and rest each on the parchment paper squares, keep in the fridge for another 20 minutes.

Frying the zeppole is tricky. Neapolitans insist on this procedure, and I'm reporting it as instructed by an eminent homemaker. 
You need 2 separate frying pans on the burners: in one the oil is warm, the other it is piping hot. In the first warm one, the zeppole puff up and detach from the paper, in the second they turn golden and crisp. 
I suggest you fry 2 zeppole per pan at a time, removing them as they reach the desired golden hue. 

Drain on a paper towel and cool before garnishing: slit them open and slather with your custard, recomposing the "sandwich" on a serving plate. Complete with a dusting of confectioner's sugar and a couple of syrupy amarena sour cherries per fritter. Park on your lap and prepare for ecstasy.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.

Image © Sarti del Gusto

Mar 18, 2009

Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino

Mangiamaccheroni - courtesy of FXCuisine.com


Ciao!

I've decided to serve up one of my favorite easy home-cooked recipes. It is The Italian cook's ode to simplicity. I love it so that I have named my blog after it, Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino.

"Aio e oio," like we say in the Eternal City, is a classic Roman institution. It's made with very few basic ingredients, so it works as a perfect fix when the pantry's empty and no one's bothered to go grocery shopping.

2 garlic cloves (or more to taste), finely chopped
1 dried peperoncino red chili pepper, crumbled, or more to taste (don't overdo it)
50 ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
500 g (1.1 lb) spaghetti 

Bring a gallon of salted water to a rolling boil and cook the spaghetti.

Meanwhile sauté minced garlic and peperoncino in the oil until the garlic begins to tan. Remove skillet form the stove, you don't want the garlic to burn and turn horribly bitter. 

When the spaghetti are just shy of being al dente, drain them well, transfer them to the flavored oil skillet and toss them for a few minutes to blend flavors, again over vivacious heat.

Please do not serve dusted with grated Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano. Some folks do, including some Romans. I don't.

Buon Appetito!

Mar 17, 2009

In defense of my vice: eating

How did I start? Survival. It all started with me sucking formula from a graded bottle. I then matured to stuffing handfuls of seafood risotto in my 2 year-old mouth, and now that I have grown into a skilled eater, I have reaped numerous satisfactions in the kitchen and generated a bad relationship with my scale. It reads oddly high numbers, especially after gastronomic epiphanies and wine tasting classes. I am a slave to my palate.
As an enthusiast gourmand and proud glutton, I will never quit the exaggerated abuse of food, whatever the midriff consequences. My addiction to the delectable governs me. I pledge my loyalty to the oyster and the tagliatella. I worship the simple tuber and the sophisticated truffle. I pay obeisance to the heirloom tomato, the noble garlic and complex extra virgin olive oil. I am one with the calamari and the bufala. My deep-burrowing Italian roots intertwine with the origins of my past-life Aztec adoration for chocolate. Unhindered, I stand by my vice, feeding its craving and honoring it exuberantly three times a day.

Happy St. Paddy's Day!

Mar 16, 2009

Mamma's Pasta e Ceci

Susan from Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy and Marc from No Recipes are co-hosting a fun event called Dinner and a Movie. This month's installment features the 1987 Norman Jewison film Moonstruck. In Italy this film was called Stregata dalla Luna.

I remember watching this film and drooling over its many food-related images. The sequences taking place in Brooklyn restaurants, the fornaio oven (tended by a young Nicholas Cage) churning warm Italian rosette buns and sfilatini baguettes, home-cooked meals and one particular scene where Cher and Olympia Dukakis (playing her mother) prepare breakfast during a heated conversation: eggs fried in a crumbless slice of sourdough bread, a dash of tomato concentrate, a jug of freshly brewed coffee and sizzling strips of greasy bacon. Hardly the Italian iconic prima colazione that first comes to mind, but oh, so yummy looking. Most of the comedy’s dialogue scenes take place with the family gathered around the kitchen table, and Grandpa dispensing wisdom and humor with each bite.

I wish to honor that same homey Italian family tradition that fills my household, by contributing my mother's famed Pasta e Ceci. The Italian thick creamy chickpeas mixed in with pasta is among my favorite soups for all seasons. A steaming bowl can replete lost energy and warmth in frosty winter nights; while the chilled version refreshes with each spoonful during sweltering Roman summers. My mom's rendition is by far the best I've ever tasted, and I know my ceci.

4 cans (200gr / 14 oz each) chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans), rinsed
2 tbsp unbleached flour, leveled
2 garlic cloves
2 sprigs rosemary
1 liter (1 quart) vegetable stoc
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 pot of water
150 gr (3/4 cup) maltagliati or mixed pasta

Prepare a mazzetto odoroso (or, bouquet garni) by placing the rosemary and the garlic in a knotted cheesecloth or gauze.
Whir one of the cans of chickpeas in the blender and set aside.
Put all the ingredients – except the stock and blended ceci – in a large stewpot, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer lightly for 1 hour over a gentle flame, seasoning to taste.

In a small saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons each of olive oil and flour and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly over very low heat. Add 1 ladle of vegetable stock to obtain a creamy, white sauce. Stir this into the simmering soup, along with the blended chickpeas. Remove the herbal pouch and add the pasta, cooking it directly in the soup, until done. Serve piping hot with a thread of raw olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.

Note: For the cold, summer version, simply reserve 2 cups of creamy broth aside, cool the soup down before refrigerating, and then add the re-hydrating broth back before serving (otherwise the pasta will continue to absorb the liquid long after cooking and become too cement-like).

Image © 101cookbooks


Loretta Castorini: Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been two months since my last confession.
Priest: What sins have you to confess?
Loretta Castorini: Twice I took the name of the Lord in vain, once I slept with the brother of my fiancee, and once I bounced a check at the liquor store, but that was really an accident.
Priest: Then it's not a sin. But... what was that second thing you said, Loretta?

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