Saturday, July 24, 2010

Insalata di Farro e Borlotti

Every once in a while I see some intimidating vegetables in the market. I'd like to think I know my way around a produce stand- know how much to ask for, and what to do with it when I get home. But sometimes I see things in Rome that I don't have the first idea what to do with. It's nice to have this selection and be able to learn new things! The locals are happy to share insight into their cuisine and often argue with each other over what kind of advice I'm receiving. When I asked how to make Roman-style artichokes, some of the merchants got into a hollering match about how much garlic and how long to cook them. At least we're keeping things lively.

I've been eyeing these gorgeous beans for a while. Romans use borlotti beans in hearty soups, and I'll keep that in mind for the winter with a nice beef stock, but for now, a cold salad would really fit the bill. The merchant who sold them to me explained that Romans serve them with a little onion, olive oil, celery and tuna-fish. That, I decided, I would not subject my family to. Tuna is the one thing that appeared on everything in Tunisian restaurants (pizza, pasta, salad, appetizers, you name it) plus there is no more tuna to be found in the Mediterranean. I would do something different with these beans. I told the lady I was thinking of serving them with farro, which happens to be another staple in Roman cuisine used since Ancient times. She gave me a look as if to say "why on earth would you change it, I just told you the recipe." I even think she wanted to take her borlotti beans back.

The result was a nice, healthy summer salad. When cooked, the borlotti beans lose their speckled pink appearance, and take on a mauve color. Roman also enjoyed the grains and the beans, although it was a lot of fun to throw, too. We ate it all up and never got around to taking a photo. I'm not sure about the availability of farro (spelt) in the U.S. It's one of my favorite grains, so ask at your health food store if they carry it.

Farro and Borlotti Salad
serves 4 as a side dish

You need about 1 cup of beans. Use dried beans and cook them, or use jarred (from a can as a last resort, if you can guarantee the quality, but beware that they put some nasty stuff in the lining of cans)
1 cup farro or spelt
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1/4 red onion
juice of 1 lemon
olive oil

Cook the farro in abundant water for 15 minutes, drain and cool. Add the beans. If using fresh borlotti beans, you will need to cook them in abundant water for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, dice the red onion and soak it in the lemon juice. This is an important step that reduces the bite of the onion, if you mind that, like I do. Combine the beans, farro, diced celery, a few swigs of oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Fig Milkshake

I first ate a fresh fig in Portugal at age 19. I loved them instantly. They are such a mysterious fruit with their interior jewel like appearance. Then, while living in Tunisia, I discovered the beautifully scented fig trees along the route I used to walk, near the president's palace. The trees give off a sweet smell that hangs heavy in the air and makes you nostalgic for things you've never known.

Every year I look forward to seeing fresh figs arrive in the market. Figs are so versatile, lending themselves well to both sweet and savory uses. They are wonderful eaten by themselves, paired with prosciutto or cheese, baked in a tart with chocolate and almonds, sliced on a simple bed of greens with oil and balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of goat cheese. It almost seems like a crime to throw them into a blender for a milk shake. But they are plentiful and inexpensive right now, at least in Italy, so I thought I'd give it, or them, a whirl...

In case you are new to figs, they are pretty perishable when fresh. If you are not going to eat them the day you buy them, (considering they are ripe) store them in the refrigerator. I always peel my figs, easy to do when they are very ripe, you can peel them by hand. Otherwise, a sharp pairing knife does the trick.

Fig Milkshake
(makes 2)
In a blender, combine:
6 Figs
1/2 Banana
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon honey

This would make a nice popsicle too. I forgot to add, Roman really loves figs. He digs his hand in and scoops out all the flesh. He thinks figs make a nice leave-in hair conditioner too.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Quinoa "Confetti" Salad

Roman and I feel like we're on house arrest with this heat. Rome is really no place for a wee-one this time of year. To make things worse, lately, contractors have been redoing the floors in the apartment above ours. They are supposed to stop from 2-4 pm but they are not respecting building rules. Today I stomped upstairs with one hot, sticky baby, looking pretty haggard myself, to ring the bell and ask them to (please) stop. They stopped for five minutes, then started drilling on the terrace. They might as well have been drilling a hole through my skull. And this is why we're planning our escape this weekend to an organic agriturismo. I know, life's rough.

So, at 4:30, I strapped said tired, sticky baby (did I mention he has 4 teeth coming in on top) into his stroller to go a-strolling to the food store. Even though it was the heat of the day, we really needed to get out, plus I had not a crumb in the cupboard for dinner. On the walk, I was thinking about how unbalanced our meals have been lately. I feel like I'm always scrambling to throw something together and get Roman bathed and to bed all by 7 pm. When was the last time we ate a grain other than pasta? I got to thinking about quinoa and how Roman would be able to scoop that up quite easily by the handful. He feeds himself, and delights in everything I give him now, by the way!

Most places on the planet right now it's too hot to stand for very long over a stove. I conjured up this summery, colorful salad that requires minimum sweaty kitchen time. It has texture with the little pearly quinoa, crunch from the pumpkin seeds, and depth of flavor with grilled onions and sweet potatoes. I served it up with some wild smoked salmon and avocado slices, a meal rich in omega 3's and protein.

Roman threw a lot of the quinoa on the floor and wiped some in his hair, but actually ate a fair amount. Sorry, no photos to share of that.

Quinoa "Confetti" Salad
serves 6

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 sweet potato cut into rounds
1 red onion cut into rounds
3 tomatoes
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon minced parsley
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
olive oil
salt, pepper

Bring 1 cup quinoa to boil in 2 cups of water. Reduce heat to simmer and cover, cook for 15 minutes. Cool. Meanwhile, in a grill pan (if you have one, if not you could grill outside, or even broil these), grill the sweet potato and the red onion. When cooled, dice both vegetables. Seed the tomatoes and dice. Combine all of the above ingredients, along with the lemon zest, juice, olive oil (you need about 1 tablespoon of oil), parsley, salt, pepper. Chill the salad before serving.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Art of Baking

It's hot in Rome. Maybe not as hot as the East Coast of the United States, but it's Eternal City hot. The pollution is worse with the heat and we're stuck inside again. Baby Roman is uncomfortable. All his teeth are coming in at once and he won't be put down. We're waiting out the month of July until we can escape the city for the sea in Sardinia.

About six years ago I met a Canadian artist named Julia Gilmore at the Baltimore Art Festival. I have been following her work ever since, hoping to one day purchase one of her paintings. Since I am not baking right now, I thought I would share Julia's artwork. She paints a lot of different subjects, with a unique retro/vintage vibe. I'm particularly in love with her images of desserts. They conjure up images of how I think birthdays are supposed to be celebrated- with layer cakes, moist, chocolatey and with plenty of frosting.

I hope you enjoy her artwork as much as I do. I'd love to bake a four-layer cake in the fall. For now I think I'll settle for a cold gelato.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Watermelon Granita with Mascarpone Citrus Cream

I've talked before about little Roman's popularity on the streets of Rome. For one he's a baby, a cute baby, and that gets him major points. We have gained some notoriety in our neighborhood- the tall American girl carrying her 20 lb baby in a front carrier, his legs covered in super hero leg warmers. Now that it's summer and too hot, Roman sits proudly in his bright orange bugaboo stroller. As one of Roman's fans (the butcher) put it "neanche il Papa sta così bene," by which he meant "Not even the Pope has such a nice ride."

We do all our food shopping on foot, so I shop almost daily and sometimes more than once a day. It guarantees us outings, but I have to manage how to tote the baby and the groceries. So when it occurred to me that the 4th of July was upon us, I decided to do something with watermelon wondering all the while how I'd manage to get it home! Luckily we found one small enough to fit under the stroller. Then I felt grateful that in this heat I am not still carrying around a watermelon in my belly like last summer...

I've always wanted to make a granita, the shaved frozen ice italian dessert. I've also been wanting to make something with mascarpone- the extremely rich triple cream cheese used in tiramisu. I thought about all the red, white and blue desserts that people concoct for picnics and cookouts- thus the blueberries. I know technically watermelon is more pink, but it comes close enough for this expat. Happy 4th!

Watermelon granita
from the Food Network

4 cups watermelon (seeds removed)
1/2 cup sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Puree until smooth. Pour into a shallow, wide pan and freeze for 1 hour. Rake mixture with a fork and freeze for another hour. Repeat one more time and then rake and serve in cups.

Mascarpone Citrus Cream
1 cup mascarpone cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
water as needed

Blend or whip all three ingredients and add water as needed to reach the consistency of greek yogurt. Serve a dollop with the granita, along with blueberries for garnish.
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