Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Parting Shots


The first time I tasted a tomato in Italy, it was like no other tomato I had ever tried. Sweet, sun-kissed, and alive with flavor.

It was like the first time I saw some of Rome's most famous spots. Unforgettable. Breathtaking. Beauty that changes your life if you let it.


Fountain at Piazza Navona


As a visitor, it's easy to be overwhelmed by the crowds and people-watching and miss some of the majesty of this city. Living here, the distractions are even worse. You really have to pause, take a few deep breaths and look again. Sometimes I'll be off somewhere in my mind, then I turn the corner and it hits me. This is Rome.




Even a neon sign becomes romantic.



This week as I met with friends to say goodbye, I realized that my connection with this city and its people will always be strong. Arriving here 6 months pregnant, it honestly felt like the whole city was waiting to meet Roman. Now strangers touch Roman's hair when we walk by in the stroller. Sure, I don't know where their hands have been and part of me wants to be angry, but Romans have such warmth, especially when it comes to children that I have to smile. Three separate shop owners shed tears saying goodbye to us, and not because of the money they will lose due to our departure. It's because once you befriend a Roman, it's a serious friendship.

I became a mother here. That will always be my link to the Eternal City.


But saying goodbye is also exhilarating when I think about what's around the bend. The kisses and hugs from the people who know me best in the world and who will welcome us home and feed us. See you soon from greener pastures.

Addio Roma, ti voglio bene assai. Goodbye Rome, I love you very much.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Eleventh Hour Farro Salad


I know we're getting close to the move when there are just a few drops left of olive oil, enough butter for the remaining two slices of bread. Half used bags of pasta, grains and nuts are waiting anxiously to see what their fate will be over the next few days. We've done this so many times now that I've gotten really good at not wasting anything. My trips to the market are quick and light, since I can now count the meals I'll be preparing in Italy on one hand.


Emptying out my cupboards, I've haphazardly created a few favorites. For breakfast, we've been enjoying a porridge made of amaranth, quinoa, millet, oats and wheat germ. I soak the grains over night and cook them the next morning in plenty of water for about 25 minutes. Then I stir in butter, cinnamon and honey, sometimes a grated apple. Even little Roman likes it, which is a huge relief since it's so rich in fiber, protein and iron. Another breakfast of gladiators.

Today for lunch, I used up our farro, celery, carrot, raisins, pine nuts, hazelnuts, and our crema di balsamico, a concentrated form of balsamic vinegar. It's wonderful drizzled over a salad for a tangy, slightly sweet dressing. Farro is an ancient type of wheat and it's very popular in Italy. In fact, Italy is one of the few countries that still grows farro. It goes in soups, salads, becomes flour used to make breadsticks, breads, pasta, even cookies and cakes.

Eleventh Hour Farro Salad
If farro is not readily available in your area, try this salad with wheat berries or brown rice. I love the combination of crunchy celery and nuts and the sweet raisins. Makes a great lunch or side dish for grilled chicken.

2 cups farro
3 carrots, grated
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts
crema di balsamico
olive oil

Cook the farro according to package instructions. In a large bowl, combine carrots, celery, hazelnuts, raisins, pine nuts and cooked farro (still warm). Drizzle with the balsamic cream and olive oil, salt and pepper if you like.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Pasta, Made in Italy


In the kitchen of the average Roman of my generation you will likely find boxed pasta and jars of store bought pasta sauce. People are busy. They work, they fight the city's chaos to and from work, they have personal lives. Their mothers and some fathers may be excellent cooks, but a lot of this knowledge did not get passed along. The Slow Food Movement may have originated here in Italy, but in modern households, handmade pasta is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Last week, the prospect of leaving Italy having made my own pasta only once started to weigh heavily on me. So I called nonna Elena. When she came over, I was already eagerly weighing the flour. I measured out 200 grams of grano duro (ground durum wheat flour), mounded it up, and made a crater into which I cracked two eggs - one then another.




With Elena supervising, I incorporated, kneaded, rolled, dried and cut the pasta. Then for the next three days straight, I did it all again.


Elena taught me this trick, where you roll the pasta as I'm showing here, folding both edges in towards the center. Then cut even strands of fettuccine and slide the knife carefully underneath the pasta.



When you lift up the knife, the long strands should unfold beautifully.


We ate ours with a typical Roman cacio e pepe. Sharp pecorino romano cheese and black pepper, toasted in the pan for extra heat. This is on the menu of virtually every Roman hostaria; however I must admit, I've never been able to eat an entire plate full. I find it overly strong, too heavy, and overwhelmingly salty. I prefer to make it at home so I can control the amount of cheese and make it more palatable to my taste.


Now I have graduated. I can go forth and make fresh pasta in the New World. Plates and plates of it. Friends, family, get ready!

Cacio e Pepe for spaghetti or fresh pasta
Adapted from Bon Appetit
For 2

The secret to releasing the flavor of the black pepper is to toast it in a dry pan first. Purists would probably serve their cacio e pepe with spaghetti, albeit from a box.

6 ounces of pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, tagliolini or other)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used less butter and added a swig of olive oil.)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more, to taste
3/4 cup to 1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese

Bring a large pot of water to boil for your pasta. When it starts to boil, add enough salt so that if you (bravely) dip your finger in, it tastes like the sea. Be sure to keep the pasta al dente.

Meanwhile, toast the black pepper in a dry sauté pan for about one minute. Add about 1/4 cup of your pasta water to stop the pepper from cooking, then add the butter and stir to melt. As soon as your pasta is cooked, add it to the sauté pan and turn off the heat. Coat the pasta with the butter and pepper and sprinkle in the cheese, mixing it all together gently. Add more pasta water if the sauce seems dry, and serve.

IMG_6589 - Version 3

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Corn and Quinoa Breadsticks

We're at the mad dash to the finish line, with just two weeks left in Rome. I'm filled with that bittersweet feeling I get before I leave a place. While I'm trying hard to empty my cupboards without wasting anything, I am also shopping for things I've never made, with some less common ingredients. On Friday I bought one small sheep's brain from the butcher. It looked so strangely cute and curiosity got the best of me. I shared half of it with my father in law who gobbled it down. I had to practically choke down my half because I'd hate to think that poor sheep gave his brain to be thrown out, but I was too grossed out to even wash the pan.

Then in the market last week I saw a man selling fresh black truffles and though I've had them in restaurants, I had never actually seen them for sale. Black truffles. Fresh pasta. Oil, garlic, hot red pepper, and the aromas of Umbria rose from the pan in a dizzying haze of aromatic steam.


And although the aroma blew me away, the taste did not. I followed the instructions of the man I'd purchased them from. Heat olive oil in a pan with garlic and hot pepper, shave in some of the truffle, remove garlic and hot pepper, cook pasta, toss in pan, shave over the rest of the truffle. When we sat down to eat, P took a taste and jokingly said "Maybe they were just rotten acorns" because the rich truffle taste we were so looking forward to took a distant back seat to the pecorino romano we sprinkled on top, that saved the day. I can accept a little disappointment when the fresh pasta is really good.


Another night we had risotto with zucchini flowers. Risotto is a regular at our dinner table, most frequently made with usually with porcini mushrooms. For two years I had been eyeing the zucchini blossoms and for some reason I had never purchased any. I grilled the guy at the store for ideas that did not involve frying. "You can also make them with pasta or risotto," he told me, the other Italians within hearing distance shaking their heads in agreement.


Beautiful little specks of orange, but for some reason, my risotto turned out less creamy than usual. Fine, I can deal with less than perfect.


The idea for these grissini (breadsticks) came from some that I purchased from a fair trade store here in Rome. They have quinoa flour, corn flour, sesame seeds. I'm always eager to try alternatives to white flour especially when it's something Roman might like to nibble on. So I found a simple breadstick recipe and went ahead at converting it to use the flours I wanted to use. The result was very close to what I had purchased and the flavor even better. The dough was sticky to roll out and I had to give up a good portion of the "control" I tend to like to exert over everything in my universe. This was a good exercise for me.


I guess the point of all this is that sometimes despite my best intentions, my best efforts, things come out just OK. Pretty good. Good enough. Edible. And I have to accept it and let it be. It's all still worth the effort and chances are, it will turn out better next time. No one's perfect, right?

Corn and Quinoa Breadsticks
Loosely based on this recipe from Food.com

Stored in an airtight container, these should keep for a few days, but mine were best once cooled out of the oven. These are full of iron (corn flour and quinoa are both high in iron.) And I love the unique flavor of the sesame seeds combined with these flours.

1/4 cup warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
a pinch of sugar
1 1/4 cup corn flour
1/2 cup quinoa flour (I ground quinoa in my coffee grinder)
1/2 cup unbleached flour (amount will vary)
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water with the sugar and let sit for about 5 minutes until foamy. In a large bowl, combine the corn flour, quinoa flour and unbleached wheat flour along with the salt and 2 tablespoons of the sesame seeds. Add the yeast, the 3/4 cup warm water and the olive oil. Stir until combined and then turn out onto a floured board or countertop to knead. Add additional white flour if it is too sticky to work with your hands. (Mine was.) Knead until well incorporated. Oil your bowl and place the ball of dough in the bowl, covering it with saran wrap or a moist dish towel. Let this sit for about 2- 2 1/2 hours until it has tripled in size.

Turn the risen dough out onto your board again and divide it into six portions, then cut each portion into 4 or 5 pieces. Cover the unused portions with a dish towel to prevent drying.

Preheat the oven to 400 (f) and grease 2 baking sheets with olive oil. Place the remaining cup or so of sesame seeds in a plate with some additional salt. Work one piece at a time, rolling it on the countertop into a strand about 12- 14 inches long and place each one on the oiled baking sheets rolling to coat in the oil. When they are all made, one at a time, roll them in the sesame seeds. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn them over to brown on both sides.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Positano and Acqua Pazza

In April, we spent a weekend in the seaside town of Positano on Italy's Amalfi Coast. This charming, colorful town is still peaceful in the early Spring before the temperatures rise and sun worshippers descend upon it by the time Summer hits.


John Steinbeck wrote an essay about Positano in 1953 and I think he says it best, "Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn't quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone."


We spent the weekend playing with rocks on the beach and watching the town awaken from winter's repose. Roman followed the one small delivery truck around on the beachfront as it delivered seafood to all the restaurants.


We ate our fish grilled or in Acqua Pazza, (literally "crazy water") a simple Neapolitan way of preparing fish. I recreated the dish when we got home so our thoughts could linger in Positano a little longer.


On another note, today is the one year anniversary of this blog so I thought I'd introduce myself a bit better if you've been following me. You may have seen photos of Roman on the blog as he's grown from 8 months to his present 19 months. Aside from documenting our second year in Rome, part of the fun of this blog is that it has been a collaboration. I cook and set up for the photos and my husband shoots them. He is rewarded for his time in good meals. We'll soon be leaving Italy but the blog will continue as we explore new vistas. Hope you'll stick around to see what we create.


Pesce all'Acqua Pazza

You can use any fish you like for this recipe, whole or in filet. I used Mediterranean sea bass.
I have chosen to list the ingredients without quantities for this recipe because you are entirely free to add as much or as little as you want, and make it to your taste.

Olive oil
(Optional onion, carrot, celery)
Cherry Tomatoes, cut in half
White wine
(Optional anchovy and/or capers)

Sauté the chopped garlic in olive oil and add the cherry tomato and other vegetables if using as well as an anchovy (optional) and let it dissolve with the vegetables. Add white wine and water, place your fish in the sauce, cover the pan and cook until the fish is done. At this point, remove the fish to a platter and continue to simmer the sauce uncovered to reduce it. Pour the sauce over the fish and serve. Crusty bread works well for mopping up the sauce.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Fast and Slow- Rabbit Ragù and Wild Asparagus


Sometimes life goes so fast, a whole season can go by and looking back it's a complete blur. At times I'm thankful for that, if it's been a difficult period, at least in retrospect it's over quickly. But other times, things are so good I just want to savor them and I feel I'm wrestling with the hands of the clock to stop them from turning so quickly.

In the kitchen, I feel there have been months on end where I've rushed through meal preparation. There are times I barely chew my food and eat standing up in the kitchen. None of these behaviors are fitting of a person who loves to cook and eat. I'm working on changing, slowing down. I sing when I cook to make sure that love goes into the meals I make.


Yesterday I made a slow cook sauce for pasta or polenta with rabbit, white wine, rosemary and plenty of finely chopped onion, celery, garlic and carrot. Our apartment building smelled so good. I love it when such delicious scents emanate from my kitchen.

At the market, the "wild" (farmed) asparagus looked right at me and smiled, so I of course brought some home. With a main course that takes almost 3 hours to prepare, I was looking for a side dish that could be made in about 3 minutes, and these thin asparagus, sautéed quickly in olive oil, salt and pepper were the answer.


The recipe for the rabbit ragù is very similar to the Wild Boar Ragù I made several months ago. I served the sauce over egg pappardelle, the traditional pasta for ragù of this type. And although the name derives from the verb pappare, (to gobble up) I did my very best to slow down and enjoy every rich bite.


The sauce is even better the next day, so make ahead if you can, or hope that there are leftovers to enjoy. There were a handful of asparagus left that I ate cold with a squeeze of lemon juice and some marinated sardines on top. Now that's something to savor.

Rabbit Ragù

1 whole rabbit, cut into pieces
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 carrots
1 stalk celery
leaves from 1 branch of rosemary
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 bottle white wine
salt and pepper

If you're lucky enough to have a butcher, have him (or her) cut the rabbit into pieces.
In a food processor, finely chop the onion, garlic, carrot, celery and rosemary.
Heat a large sauce pan over medium heat and add the vegetables. Add some salt and cook for about five minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir well. Place the rabbit pieces in the pan. (Optional: brown the pieces before you start the vegetables; I did not.) Add the wine and enough water to cover the rabbit pieces. Set the kitchen timer for 2 hours. Simmer uncovered for the first hour, stirring and turning the rabbit pieces occasionally. After the first hour, cover the pan and check periodically. Use a wooden spoon to start to break up the pieces and separate the meat from the bone. After two hours, remove the rabbit and allow it to cool. Then shred the meat and put it back into the pan with all of the vegetables. When ready to serve, cook your pasta and serve the ragù with a sprinkling of pecorino romano cheese, if you have it.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...