Mar 30, 2011

Spring, finally (time to make rice salad)


Yes, it's officially here.
Jumpers and overcoats get pushed to the bottom of the closet, with cool cotton and light linen beginning to forward in the frontline. Grassy patches are dotted with small daisies, and the balmy Roman air is swirling with pollen and sycamore fuzz (my heart is with you, allergic subjects. This time of year's not equally welcomed). I love spring. Clocks are wound forward, granting longer hours of sunlight; hormones surge and everyone looks happier on their scooters and bicycles.

I like to welcome the onset of primavera with exaggerated enthusiasm, spending lots of time outdoors, rolling around in damp grass with my toddler, and anticipating classic summer recipes.
Quintessence of these (and thrifty re-use of leftovers) is INSALATA DI RISO, a chilled pasta salad, where rice is used instead of the pasta, and many finely chopped ingredients are tossed in for flavor.

Image © Corbis
I've made this recipe extra rich to give you an idea of what can go into Insalata di Riso. Feel free to tone it down, substitute other things, or adding more for variety, according to your taste. One ingredient I commonly find in this preparation is mozzarella. As much as I like the milky pasta filata cheese, and pair it to almost anything I can think of, I somehow find it inappropriate in this preparation. But that's just me.


300 gr (1 1/2 cups or 5 fistfuls) parboiled rice (the grains should not stick)
Either: 250 gr (1 cup) oil-canned tuna, drained and shredded
Or: 2 hot dogs, cooked and sliced in flat buttons
100 gr (1/2 cup) slab of regular deli ham, diced
100 gr (1/2 cup) Fontina or Swiss cheese, diced
50 gr (1/4 cup) black olives, pitted and sliced
1 dill pickle, diced
2 ripe, peeled, seeded tomatoes, diced (optional)
50 gr (1/4 cup) artichoke hearts in oil, diced (optional)
1-2 tablespoons cooked peas (optional)
1/2 yellow bell pepper, minced
2 hard-boiled eggs, sliced or quartered (optional)
1 tablespoon capers (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
50 gr (1/4 cup) olive oil or light mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt & pepper to taste

Cook the rice in lots of boiling, slightly salted water. Rinse it with cold water, drain and let it cool off. Meanwhile, assemble the remaining ingredients. Once the rice has cooled, combine all the chopped ingredients, rice and dressing in a large serving bowl, and chill the salad in the refrigerator.

My favorite variation is a posh rice salad made with rice, smoked salmon slivers, 2 types of caviar (red and gray) and steamed, shelled baby scampi. I toss everything with a bit of mayo and chill before serving. It's very good.

Mar 26, 2011

Post Meridiem Cappuccino (screw the etiquette)


I'm a cappuccino person.
And I confess, I do cappuccino after 11 a.m.

It's the American in me, although I don't drink cappuccino as dessert at a restaurant, after a meal of say, fried calamari and puttanesca. Italian coffee fundamentalists insist having cappuccino after 11 a.m. is sacrilege (tsk tsk tsk, "all that milk on a full stomach!" headshake). But if the mood is right, the foam is thick, and the barista is an artist, I will indulge in the occasional afternoon cap.

This pictured above is one of the best cappuccinos I've had in a while. Just don't tell Giovanni, the man who's been pouring my breakfast at the counter and saving me a warm cornetto for the past 12 years.
This here is the work of a gentleman named Luigi Santoro, and his caffeinated expression of creative skill is hard to beat. Flavor, texture, aroma... perfection in 5 sips.
The name of his little hole in the wall cafe says it all.


Locals flock here in droves to savor Luigi's artistic cappuccino, but also for the kosher/parve breakfast pastries; for the pastrami sanwiches (yes–you read correctly, my American expat friends: PASTRAMI-stuffed pizza bianca), and Roscioli bakery products. Besides superior quality ingredients and coffee beans, exemplary craftsmanship, and cordial service, prices are convenient too–considering the centro storico. In my neighborhood, at least, nobody sells cappuccino for €1.

Before each Context foodie walk I lead in the area, I always stop by here to coat my upper lip with creamy coffee deliciousity. Regardless of what time it is.



Bar Del Cappuccino
Via Arenula, 50
Tel. +39 06 68806042
Bus 63 – 271 – 630 – 780 – Tram 8

Mar 23, 2011

You know Easter is approaching when...

...gourmet shops and delis begin to stock chocolate Easter eggs.

Walking home from the bus stop, I always peek in the store windows at Gargani. Today the view was completely blocked by a single shipment of chocolate eggs. Why so much of it, you ask? Easter chocolate is a big thing here!
Besides roast lamb, Pastiera, hard boiled eggs, salame corallina and cheese-bread, Italians also consume huge quantities of chocolate for Easter. Mini egg-shaped truffles, gold chocolate bunnies, dark chocolate bells, and the classic hollow eggs that come in every size, and each bearing a trinket surprise inside.
The ones pictured here in particular, are Swiss dark choclate coated in ground Piemonte hazelnuts. I know even if the boxes are sealed, because this is the one sure place I find my Noccior.
Soon much of the contents of these boxes will populate homes across Italy, make children smile, and deposit ruthlessly on thighs nationwide.
Bring it on.



Mar 20, 2011

Micro-cars, and the attitude therein

The season has officially begun. Travelers are here, and my foodie walks are in full swing again, thank you God. I hosted two this week, the last one yesterday, Saturday. Italian Father's Day–a time I usually spend with family, possibly scoffing Zeppole di San Giuseppe.

As I was driving back home—jolty-legged from 4 straight hours of walking (OK, and eating, chatting and eating some more); preoccupied that my little boy's temperature was kept under control, and tired from the week's other 387 chores, appointments and errands—I happened to pull up at a traffic light, behind one of these.


Now, if you don't live in Italy, these expensive little toy cars may be obscure. But they are virtually everywhere here, and especially popular in Rome's more posh neighborhoods. As opposed to other two-seater vehicles, like Smart cars, these are 50 cubic centimeter "quadricycles," built in light fiberglass, and driven much like mopeds and scooters by kids 14 and older. Without a licence.

According to current legislation, a light motorized quadricycle must reflect the following standards: a weight not exceeding 350 kilograms (700 lbs), a maximum speed of 45 kph (28 mph) and a maximum power of 4 kW (5.6 hp).
But after a series of deadly accidents in April of 2010, there has been continued tightening of regulations for under-age drivers, with the introduction of a license system, and a mandatory 12-hour traffic school attendance. The course should cost between €120 and €200, and is due to cover all practical and theoretical aspects of driving, as well as providing training in emergency procedures.
If you've ever been surrounded by a swarm of these speeding contraptions—or worse, hit by one whose brakes have suddenly gone kaput (something that apparently happens quite often)—you too will embrace the new legal ordinance.

Typical micro car situation, posh neighborhood, 5 p.m. on any given weekday/weekend
  • Loud music thumps from exaggerated sound system.
  • Engines that have been tweaked to increase speed and power, roar mercilessly (illegal, since there are age limits per each cc increment).
  • Average young driver smokes cigarettes, while texting on iPhone, while driving.
  • Average passenger is doing the same (except driving).
  • Micro cars tend to cluster and drive very fast to wherever they are going, often racing each other in traffic (while texting on iPhones and smoking cigarettes).
  • Cutting off, overtaking in an intersection, and running a red light often come as built-in accessories.
  • Both driver and passenger give attitude and customarily flip other protesting drivers in the event of above mentioned situations.

Before investing in a micro car, you should know that:
  • Micro cars induce plenty of teen PDA.
  • The seating limit is hardly ever observed.
  • Parallel parking a micro car is a misnomer.
  • Micro cars are very expensive (broadly ranging from €14,000 new, to €4,000 used).
  • Insurance premiums for micro cars are very expensive (€900 – €200 per semester, according to region, worse in the southern regions).
  • Micro cars are not environment friendly, although some "electric" models are now being manufactured.
  • No airbags, no anti-lock braking system, no reverse back-up sensors, reduced steering and suspensions, lightweight body, small tires, poor traction control system.
I wrote this as a precautionary measure in case my son, 10 years from now, thinks he can ask me for one.

Si amore, pedala!
(Sure, babe. Keep pedaling)

Mar 18, 2011

Fruttini ~ frozen delights


Don't you love these?

They're called FRUTTINI, and they're a clever little dessert. The concept is easy, fruit pulp gets scooped out, made into sherbet or gelato, which then returns back in the empty fruit peel, in the form of delicious, chilled filling!

The one portrayed above is a typical citrus display of fruttini, but the seasonal selection is virtually boundless. I've seen fresh frozen and gelato-filled pears, strawberries, whole pineapples, melons, figs, grapes, apricots, bananas, papayas, a huge watermelon at a party, and then chestnuts, walnuts... and even fennel, radishes and onions!

The futtini-mania has picked up momentum over the years, and I'm sure they've become popular overseas too. There's an artisan gelateria, Matteo Napoli (fruttini's presumed inventor) that sells them online–but ships to Italy and Europe only.

There are plenty of sherbet recipes on the web, I found this one particularly easy, that's of course if you own an ice cream maker. I don't, so what I do for "homemade" fruttini is even better.

I purchase the best quality artisan gelato I can find in flavors corresponding to what fruits I have in the house. I then scoop out the pulp from my fresh fruits and use it for fruit salads or marmalades. All I have to do then is simply fill the emptied fruits with the purchased gelato. It's easier to do with fruits that have a thicker rind, and I'm not trying this trick with kiwi fruits ever again.

I store the self-assembled homemade fruttini in the freezer and take them out 10 minutes before serving.

Furba, eh?

Mar 14, 2011

Crostini Tricolore

Mazzini ~ Cavour ~ Garibaldi

On March 17th 2011, Italy will celebrate 150 years of its unification, which led to the birth of the country as a nation. It was only after WWII that Italy's borders were re-written on today's maps, but 1861 was the pivotal year in a labored process that unified territories previously ruled by many different (and mostly foreign) sovreignties.
All this came with a cost, there were wars, bloodshed, poverty and revolutions. This period of Italian history is known as il Risorgimento, which means "the resurrection," an era of deep awakening for people from all ends of the boot-shaped peninsula who sided together to depose "the invaders" and claim full independence.
Some Italian politicians are not happy with this celebration, insisting on their separatist agenda. But let's not get into that, now.  I'm fully embracing this celebration to honor the memory of those who died for Italy's freedom and unification. If you want to know more about Unità d'Italia, check out this article on Wikipedia.

There are special events promoted all across the country to celebrate Italy's 150th Unification, myriad exhibits, theater and ballet openings, concerts, sport happenings, street artist performances, book readings, guided visits of major churches and sites, light shows and fireworks. You can find the full calendar of events, both nationwide and for major cities, HERE.

I was invited by Manu to participate in a special 150 Unification Party, a delicious recipe link-up. Please visit her site to see more celebratory posts by participating food bloggers, and join in the fun!

I'm contributing a simple CROSTINI recipe, one that employs typical Italian ingredients and that celebrates the colors of the Italian flag: green, white and red.


Ingredients for 2 servings:
1 cup fresh heirloom tomatoes (whatever variety grows locally in your area)
1/2 ciabatta, baguette or sourdough loaf
100 gr (1/2 cup) fresh mozzarella di bufala
A bunch of fresh basil
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper

Dice the mozzarella, draining away milky whey as you chop.
Dice the tomatoes, discarding seeds and juice. Season them with a little olive oil, a small pinch of salt and a few basil leaves. Leave to marinade for 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 360°F
Cut the bread loaf open lengthwise, to obtain two open faces.
Sprinkle each with the seasoned tomatoes and mozzarella, and drizzle with a thread of olive oil.

Place the dressed bread on a cookie sheet and place it the oven for about ten minutes. Here’s why: you want to melt the mozzarella and bake the bread just a bit. If we were to simply stick the pan under the broiler, the cheese would melt and bubble very quickly but the bread might get soggy from the dressing's moistness. After ten minutes, crank on the broiler and finish off the crostini for a few minutes.

Adjust seasoning and serve garnished with more torn basil leaves (cutting them with a metal blade kills the flavor).



Buon Appetito e Auguri, Italia!


Mar 8, 2011

Happy Women's Day!



In Italy it's a common habit to give mimosa to women on March 8.
Mimosa is the symbol for Festa della Donna, which is what we call International Women's Day here. I don't know why this worldwide festivity isn't actually celebrated in the United States, but in Italy it's very important.


Today is the day when women of all ages are most pampered with lots of extra attention, organize girls' nights out, drink plenty of cocktails, receive gifts and–mostly–flowers, in particular, the pillowy and aromatic yellow mimosa.

This year, the MiBAC Ministero per i Beni e Attività Culturali––the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities––is celebrating Festa della Donna by offering women free admission to all state art establishments (museums, archeological sites, libraries and archives) many of which have inaugurated special exhibits, unscheduled openings, guided vists and women-themed events. The slogan for this happening is "Cosa sarebbe l'arte senza le donne?"––What would art be without women?




Happy Festa della Donna!
How are you celebrating the speical women in your life?

Mar 1, 2011

Boscaiola

One of my readers recently requested I illustrate this preparation, and share the recipe. Boscaiola (which rougly translates to, "in the woodsman's manner") is a fall season condiment for fresh pasta, usually pappardelle–the broader fettuccine ribbons–made with porcini mushrooms and mild sausage.

But boscaiola is also a rich pizza topping, and a delectable one at that.
Image © hungryjenny

In the pasta sauce, sometimes bacon is used instead of the sausage. I've seen tomato puree, black olives and heavy cream added in some renditions too. Mine is simple, "leaner" (who am I kidding?) and quite easy to make. Porcini mushrooms are the key ingredient, so if you can't get fresh ones, in addition to whatever wild or cultivated kind available in your area, you can use dried porcini mushrooms, which when revived in lukewarm water lend a rich, heady flavor.


500 gr (1.1 lb) pappardelle type pasta
400 gr (2 cups) porcini, or any wild/cultivated mushrooms available in your area
50 gr (1/4 cup) dried porcini mushrooms
100 gr (1/2 cup) luganega-type Italian sausage, casing removed and flesh crumbled
200 gr (1 cup) baby peas, thawed if frozen
1 clove of garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Dry white wine
Salt & pepper
1 tablespoon Italian flat leaf parsley, minced
Freshly grated Parmigiano cheese (optional)

Clean the mushrooms, brushing the dirt away from the stems with a wet sponge. Separate the caps from the stems, and cube both.

Steep the dried mushrooms in warm water for 20 minutes, then mince them, and add them to the rest of your cubed mushrooms. Strain the steeping liquid, because it most probably contains sand, and keep it aside for later.

Blanch a cup of baby peas and set aside.

In a casserole, sauté crumbled sausage and garlic in a tablespoon of butter and a splash of olive oil. When the sausage has rendered most of its fat, fold in all the chopped mushrooms and a glass of wine, and simmer over a gentle flame for about 30 minutes. Ten minutes into the cooking, add the strained peas. Depending on how much moisture the mushrooms release, you may need to add more wine. Some use 1/2 cup of heavy cream instead, at this point.

Whatever liquid you choose to moisturize the sauce with, this is the time to bring 3 gallons of salted water to a boil. When the sauce is close to being ready, boil the pappardelle. Drain the pasta al dente, season with the sauce, and garnish with very little parsley. For those who like it, a dash of grated parmigiano is always a good thing.

Image © tastingmenu.com


Buon appetito.

Share!