Italian Cooking & Language Blog

Fare La Scarpetta means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread.

What else could you ask for?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cowgirl Creamery in Washington, D.C.

A big fan of cheese, I was happy to hear about the Cowgirl Creamery in Washington, D.C.

Since I know where to find scamorza in D.C., I started by asking about pecorino, the soft eating (non-grating) kind found in any Florentine restaurant. It is usually served as an appetizer accompanied by local honey. While the Cowgirl Creamery didn’t have it, the salesperson offered me some similar cheeses to try and explained that soft pecorino doesn’t travel particularly well.

When I asked if the fresh ricotta would last over a week, I was told no. While these, perhaps negative, responses would have turned someone else off, I was happy to hear them. The salesperson was honest, knowledgeable and didn’t push me to buy the most expensive cheese in the store. I left with a smile and a four dollar, reasonably sized chunk of pecorino romano to grate over pasta.

Why not eat more cheese? Choose one from the Cowgirl’s Library of Cheese. I might try this “wasabi disk” next time.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Last minute preparations? You might be interested in last week’s post about planning your dinner.

Eat well, enjoy your family and have a great week!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


I love scamorza cheese. I really do. On pizza, in omelets, baked into pasta, melted over chicken or just eaten on its own, with or without a cracker. It is my favorite cheese.

The best part about living an urban area again is that I can buy scamorza almost anywhere. I’ve found it at high end gourmet stores and the regular ole’ Giant Supermarket.

Eat some scamorza today.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Thanksgiving: Avoid the Drama

It is almost Thanksgiving, but if you follow food magazines and blogs, you’ve been thinking about it for some time. If you haven’t, don’t worry.

If you are hosting Thanksgiving, you might be overwhelmed trying to figure out how to put together a feast. You could try to cook your turkey like some NYC chefs (everything from pre-carving to adding chicken stock as the meat is cooking) or you could search on Epicurious for recipe suggestions, including a video on how to carve the turkey. Many home chefs, of course, appreciate the chance to revisit family recipes, perhaps interspersed with a few new ones.

The key to a successful, and enjoyable, many-dish-dinner is to make a plan and stay relaxed. Some tips:
1. Write out a menu and decide who is preparing which dish.

2. Add times to the menu: work out when the dishes should be served and then figure out when they should be prepared.

3. If you are sharing one, smaller kitchen, as we will be doing this year, decide who gets to use the kitchen at what time. (There are always a lot of emotions and personalities together for a holiday, so this will help to eliminate some of the inevitable drama.)

4. Shopping the day before Thanksgiving is not the best idea. If you can, make a shopping list early and start to integrate the non-perishable into your regular shopping list. This will help to spread out the cost and make that final, big shopping spree less heavy to carry up the steps. If something needs to be ordered, be sure to order it in advance and schedule the pick-up.

5. Be prepared for last minute changes. Maybe someone arrives at your door with another pie instead of a vegetable dish. So what? Remember that the holiday is mainly an excuse to get together with loved ones and be together. So enjoy the time together.

Other tips for organizing a great meal? Please share in the comments section below.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Swing's Coffee Roasters

My husband and I were addicted to Mighty Good Coffee – freshly roasted and delivered to our door the next day – in Ann Arbor. I loved Espresso #46 while my husband preferred the Black Diamond Dark Roast. Yes, we are two picky coffee drinkers with his and her coffee makers: mine an Italian moka and his a Cuisinart drip machine.

When we moved to Washington, D.C., I wasn’t convinced that we’d find freshly roasted coffee that we liked. Happily, I was proven wrong by Swing’s Coffee.

I stopped by the coffee house recently and was overwhelmed by the aroma of the coffee. It was almost hard to imagine that they weren’t roasting on-site. As a surprise for my husband’s birthday, I bought the darkest roast (French Roast) and the blend with the best name (Rock Creek, named after the creek and city park close to our apartment.) We’ve been brewing the coffee at home for the last week and we love the rich, nutty flavors. Even though I usually prefer an Italian caffe’ to American drip coffee, these two coffees are rich enough that I enjoy them almost as much as my usual espresso.

The historic M. E. Swing Co. began roasting coffee in 1916. Today, coffee drinkers can go to the roasting facility in Alexandria or their coffee house by the White House in the District (1702 G Street N.W.). Sure, Swing’s coffee costs more than Mighty Good’s, and won’t be delivered in town free of charge, but it is something to try and enjoy on special occasions. A continued happy birthday to my husband!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Leftover Risotto? Make Arancini!

Following up on last week’s risotto, let’s say you make too much of it. (The dried rice is deceptively small-looking in the pot. Just wait until it absorbs the broth…) Now what will you do what all that rice?

Make Arancini!

Arancini are essentially fried rice balls. They are classically made from a mushroom and pea risotto, although any risotto with cut-up vegetables could work well. The middle of the ball is stuffed with a piece of mozzarella. Here is a great recipe for the risotto and arancini from Giada De Laurentiis.

Arancini are becoming easier and easier to find in more traditional pizzerias. Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza in Tenleytown serves them (see photo above.) While they were smaller than the ones I remember eating in Naples, they were just as delicious. You can also find them at 2Amy’s Pizzeria near the National Cathedral.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Preparing Risotto

Risotto takes a little longer to prepare than pasta, but it is just as flexible as a base for your own invention. Of course, there is the Classic Milanese Risotto and the southern-inspired Lemon Risotto, but you can also use whatever you have on hand to flavor the rice.

Essentially, you need Arborio rice, broth and some vegetables or herbs. Instead of leaving the rice to cook in a covered pot, you slowly add the hot broth and mix the rice regularly until it is fully cooked (about twenty minutes.) I find the quiet stirring to be an almost meditative experience. So, instead of cursing the fact that you didn’t decide to simply boil pasta, enjoy the moment. For a more exact, basic recipe, see this New York Times article.

The other night I used leftover chicken soup (the chicken itself gone, but the flavor still in the broth) as the liquid for my rice. I didn’t have enough, so I added some water to the pot. When the rice was finished, I added a bit more salt, pepper, crushed red pepper and dried basil to help adjust the flavor. It probably would have been better to have removed the carrots, onions and leeks from the soup and start with new vegetables, but I left them in. (Previously uncooked vegetables would have better maintained their shape and hardness.)

Making risotto requires two pots: One for the broth and one for the rice. In the rice pot, I started with olive oil and artichoke hearts. Next, I quickly sautéed the rice in the artichoke mixture before slowly adding the soup. Once the rice was completely immersed in the liquid, I stirred the mixture until it became drier and needed another ladle or two of liquid. I continued like that until the rice was cooked.

The resulting risotto was a variation on vegetable risotto. I served the risotto with a dash of extra virgin olive oil, crushed red pepper, and freshly grated pecorino romano. For a vegetarian version, use vegetable broth or stock. For a vegan version, hold the cheese. The entire dish is gluten-free. No matter what you do, the result will still be creamy (because of the starch in the rice.) If it is the first time you are making a similar dish, you might want to follow this Artichoke and Parmesan Risotto recipe.

When I took a cooking class at Trattoria Zibibbo in Florence, Italy, with chef and owner Benedetta Vitali, she stressed the importance of sautéing the rice quickly in olive oil before adding the broth. This helps to ensure that the rice will retain its shape and won’t become too gooey (a very formal cooking term) as it is cooked. (For more tips and recipes, see her lovely cookbook Soffritto.)

What’s your favorite risotto dish?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sage Advice

Thank you to a friend who recently shared bags of wonderful herbs from her garden with us. What a treat for these apartment dwellers! To help make the fragrant leaves last longer, I refrigerated, froze and cooked with some of them. I started with the sage leaves.

For best results with any herb or vegetable in the fridge, I always add a paper towel or two to the open plastic bag of vegetables. This will help to moderate the moisture in the bag. You could also use a paper bag or cloth towel. Don’t wash the vegetables or herbs until you are ready to use them.

I froze a small plastic bag of sage leaves after cleaning them and separating the leaves from the stems. Once they were dried on a towel, I put them in a small plastic baggie and lightly pressed the air out, labeled the package and stored it in the freezer. These frozen leaves will be great for soups, pasta sauces and marinating meats or vegetables throughout the winter.

With some of the fresh leaves, I again cleaned and dried them before adding a handful of them to olive oil with a touch of salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and crushed garlic. This is a great salad dressing and marinade that will store for a few days in the fridge. (If the leaves are wet, the olive oil can potentially grow mold.) I poured some of the dressing on an avocado salad and used the rest to marinate pork chops.

What do you do with your herbs?