Oct 31, 2011

Burger obsession

The dream starts with me ordering an "Original" at Louis' Lunch in New Haven.

It's 1 a.m. and the place is still bopping. The smell of sizzling meat wafts from the grills. As I sink my teeth in the warmth of the bun and meet the juicy Black Angus ground sirloin, short rib, and brisket combo with its flavor-lending 20 percent fat, slow motion droplets of rare beef drippings fall with a silent splash on the plate before me.

I wake with a gasp. Dream over. Sad to say, I am in Rome, where no burger tastes as ambrosial.

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Oct 27, 2011

Mozzarella fritta recipe

Image © PiccanteDolce

Fried food.

I can't get enough of it.

Rome is big on fried things, and my favorite diet sin is ordering fritto misto all'italiana and doing serious damage to my arteries.

I've posted recipes of many of the elements that compose this fabulous deep-fried dish: Mozzarella in Carrozza, Arancini, Panelle, Zucchini blossoms, Olive Ascolane, fried sage leaves and even fried custard.

But there's one component of fritto misto all'italiana that I love above all else, and that's fried mozzarella. A crisp, cunchy golden crust that conceals a hot, melty and milky filling. Just writing about it makes my mouth water.

When I get the craving for some mozzarella fritta there are two things I can do: hop down to the trusted pizzeria next door and get two orders to go; or fry some myself. Here's how I do it.

2 bocconcini of mozzarella di bufala (bocconcini are the 3-inch balls)
2 eggs, beaten
Flour for dredging
Breadcrumbs mixed with a small pinch of polenta (cornmeal)
Vegetable oil for frying

Beat the eggs in a bowl, and heat oil in a large frying pan. If you are the lucky owner of an electric fryer, I envy you.

Cube the mozzarella and dredge in flour. Then dunk in the egg wash, coat well with breadcrumbs, and fry until golden.

Drain on paper towel, dust with a pinch of salt, and serve immediately.


Oct 23, 2011

Picchiapò recipe

Picchiapò recipe
Image © Gina Tringali 

I recently had the pleasure of meeting with work buddies Gina and Brette over a hearty plate of this fabulous stew during what was supposed to be a serious business meeting. We roared with laughter, downed a mezzo litro of the house wine, burned our lips with the fiery red peperoncino flavoring the sauteed cicoria ripassata, and sopped our plates clean with warm chunks of pizza bianca.
Of course we were planning future food tours and comparing past culinary travel experiences, so food was the recognized topic at the center of our conversation.

Picchiapò has a funny name, it could easily translate to "beat just a little" but I'm guessing the etymology lies elsewhere. This is a typical Roman cucina povera dish, and one that naturally involves recycling of leftovers, namely bollito. Each family makes their own, so there is no official recipe. This is the one I've always known, shared by true trasteverini Romans.
If you remember seeing the 1974 Ettore Scola masterpiece C'eravamo tanto amati, friends Vittorio Gassman, Nino Manfredi and Stefano Satta Flores eat picchiapò at a trattoria.

After boiling beef muscle and bone for 3 hours with celery, carrots, onions studded with cloves and whatever else you add in your bollito to make good meat stock; and then letting it rest overnight, you can finally proceed to making your own personal variation of picchiapò. Here's mine.

500 g (1.1 lbs) leftover boiled beef or veal, possibly not too lean - roughly chopped
2-3 yellow or red onions, finely chopped
400 g (2 cups) canned tomatoes, crushed
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 peperoncino chili pepper
1 bay leaf
Extra virgin olive oil
2 glasses of dry, white wine
Salt to taste

Wilt the onions with 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide saucepan. Pour in the wine and let it evaporate while the onions turn a nice golden color.
Add the tomatoes and spices/herbs, and let cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sauce should reduce somewhat.
Fold in the leftover chopped meat and let it simmer gently for another 7-10 minutes.
Serve hot alongside mashed potatoes, or sauteed seasonal greens.

Oct 17, 2011

Carne Cruda all'Albese recipe

Image © cookalmostanything

When I utter the word veal, I see my US and UK friends' and clients' faces twitch just a bit. Even the hardened carnivores find it sometimes hard to stomach.

Foreigners associate veal with the horrid, inhumane treatment and cruelty perpetrated on young male calves. While in Italy, veal is a very common staple meat product, almost more so than beef.

This typical fall/winter Piemontese recipe, which comes specifically from Alba – land of prized red wine and exquisite white truffles – is designed to be made with veal. If you absolutely cannot stand the idea of veal, you can make this very easy and simple tartare with beef.

400 g (14 oz) veal breast or beef tenderloin (have the butcher carve the meat wafer thin)
1 garlic clove, peeled
The juice of 1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and black pepper
White truffle (optional), shaved

Finely chop the meat with a very sharp knife. Do this shortly before serving the meat.

Season with with salt and cracked black pepper.

Dress with a thread of olive oil, and some freshly squeezed lemon juice

Using the tines of a fork, pierce the clove of garlic and use that to toss the seasoned meat.

If you're lucky enough to have some white truffle standing by, shave some on top.

Serve quickly before the lemon marinades and "cooks" the meat.

Good with warm toasted bread, a crisp arugula salad, and a waterfall of fruit-forward red wine.

Oct 13, 2011

Shopping with chef Angelo Troiani

Last week the second episode of the video-interview series Chef a chi? I get to spend quality time in some of Rome's best restaurant kitchens, to study and learn what happens backstage.

Interviewing Angelo Troiani

This month's installment features a whole day spent with Angelo Troiani, Executive Chef of renowned Rome dining institution and Michelin star studded Il Convivio Troiani.

We met at his fishmonger's shop, and learned where the catch of the day and wonderful seafood served on the Convivio's menu is sourced, as well as an impromptu snack of fresh Tsarskaya oysters. I had never eaten oysters at 10 am before, let alone in summer. But this variety is cultivated in cold Brittany sea waters, and their pulpy marine flesh is exceptionally well-balanced with a sweet aftertaste, and totally milk-free.

Interviewing Angelo Troiani and Paolo Giobbi

Then we proceeded to meet Angelo's trusted purveyors at the Roma Farmer's Market, and learned about wonderful local varieties of tomatoes, beans, broccoli, and other produce from Azienda Agricola Paolo Giobbi, plus interesting conversations with producers of locally pressed olive oil, amazing artisan salumi and cheeses.

Heavy with bulging canvas shoppers and stacked crates, we headed to the restaurant kitchen where we met the team and witnessed the early stages of the day's work. Bread being made, a meeting during which the day's menu is designed, tasks and chores are assigned. As we observed the phases of many signature dishes, seeing them come to life in the able and caring hands of the chef and his brigade of young assistants, we drooled with delight.

Interviewing Angelo Troiani in his kitchen at Convivio Troiani

We parted as the last crates were being delivered, and the first reservation calls for the dinner service were ringing the phone off the hook.

Watch the interview ➔

Oct 9, 2011

Couscous recipe

When friend and inspired editor Margo of Travel Belles invited me to participate in her once a month column featuring a recipe from around the world, I immediately and enthusiastically accepted. For my first submission, I wrote about Tunisian Couscous...

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Oct 4, 2011

Positano for the weekend

Positano for the weekend

It's October, I should be pulling out scarves, sweaters and rain gear; polishing apples and sweeping dried leaves from the doorstep, stowing away summer clothes and beach towels..

Not me.

I'm rubbing aftersun lotion on my brown shoulders after a spectacular secret weekend escape in Positano with my little boy.
Positano for the weekend

We packed a small tote, left on the hush hush and spent two fabulous days swimming, relaxing in the sun, eating seafood and meeting friends in what is said to be the warmest Fall season in 150 years.

Positano for the weekend

We like to catch the Laurito shuttle early, before the crowds. It's a 5 minute sail south of Positano, and the red fish ferries its lido patrons every half hour, despite what's painted on the fish (every 60 mins.)
Positano for the weekend

We found a spot on the rocky beach and waited for Laura to arrive from Amalfi. It was a real treat to finally meet in person after almost two years of knowing each other via web.
Positano for the weekend
Positano for the weekend - mozzarella grilled on lemon leaves Da Adolfo

We ate lunch on the terrace at Da Adolfo, and it was laid back and delicious as usual. I always have the house specialty, a mozzarella antipasto, which is grilled on wild lemon leaves... very tasty. We also slurped zuppa di cozze, sopped up the juices with a loaf of crusty bread and downed a caraffe of chilled white wine with chopped peaches bobbing in it.
Positano for the weekend

After bidding arrivederci to Laura, we were swept away on a friend's motoscafo, and we laughed in the sun, giddy with acceleration and high on beauty.

Positano for the weekend

More snorkeling and swimming at "il germano," a rock formation said to resemble a German soldier's profile. The water is deep deep blue, with patches of emerald green, and the mountains reflect on the surface.

Positano for the weekend

We returned to Positano in time for aperitivo and...
Positano for the weekend

Positano for the weekend

My son couldn't believe it, and neither could I. Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" tune kept ringing in my ears.
Positano for the weekend

...and dinner of course!! Paccheri are a regional type of broad, tube-like pasta whose name means "slaps." These were made with sautéed scampi, and just a few fresh tomatoes thrown in the pan. The Buca di Bacco holds cooking classes in the restaurant kitchen, taught by the charming Executive Chef Andrea Ruggiero. I'd like to join one before the hotel closes for the winter.
Positano for the weekend

One last swim before heading back home yesterday. I have to keep reminding myself it's October.
Positano for the weekend

Ciao Positano, a presto!

Please head over to Ciao Amalfi! for Laura's exquisite reportage of our Laurito rendezvous...