Italian Cooking & Language Blog

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

What else could you ask for?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

This year, as I plan our menu, my mind turns to those who passed this last year. As some of you know, this has been a very hard year for our family because we lost many loved ones.

At Aunt Dora’s funeral in April, a friend said that soon after his mother died, he continued to pick up the phone to try to call her. It was both a habit and a wish. Another friend who lost her longtime partner was only part joking when she that she wished she could just Google to find out where he is now.

I have the same instinct to want answers and continued intimacy.

I haven’t spent Thanksgiving with my aunt since I moved out of New Jersey in 2008. My parents have travelled to spend the holiday with my husband and I first in Michigan and now Washington, D.C. While I spoke with Aunt Dora almost every day around noon, on Thanksgiving the call would be earlier and last longer. She’d ask to speak with everyone and then check on the menu. She’d ask not only what I was making, but how I was making it. And she’d joke that I should save her a turkey wing, her favorite part of a bird she otherwise disliked.

Aunt Dora was always my go-to person when I had kitchen disasters. Even when I called from Italy, she walked me through hamburger patties that were falling apart and ruined caramel sauces that wouldn’t unstick from my pot. She was a confident and generous home cook. While she would sometimes laugh at my questions (there were, after all, some funny problems), she would always (eventually) answer me seriously. 

I wish I could call her to wish her a happy holiday. She’d end the conversation by asking, as she always did, “When am I going to see you again, kid?”

While there is no longer an answer to that question, there is a menu and turkey to attend to. She would expect me to. And the things I do, starting with cooking, keep her memories awake in my actions and thoughts. It is far from being the same as it was, but it is what we have. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Moka Express: Italian espresso coffee at home

Every morning, I prepare Italian coffee (what we can “espresso” in America and the Italians call “caffe”) in my Bialetti Moka Express. I think I’m as addicted to the ritual as I am to the coffee itself.

My mokas last a few years each. And a new one is reason for celebration! It feels good to start even fresher than usual in the morning.

There is a certain art to making coffee in this pot. Fill the basket with espresso ground coffee (coffee that is ground much thinner will clog the machine.) Do not pack coffee down in order to squeeze in more coffee (this will make it harder for the pressurized water to push through the grinds.) On the stovetop, the flame shouldn’t be larger than the base. (At least two friends I know have melted the plastic handle with a much stronger flame. That’s always disappointing. And a mess.) For more details on how to prepare the prefect tazza (cup) and other Italian stovetop coffee pots, see this Under the Tuscan Gun video

After you’ve finished your coffee, be sure to let your pot cool off before opening it. You can run cold water over the pot while holding it by the handle. After making the coffee, the earlier pressure might make it hard to open the pot. The bottom container has flat sides. In the sink, balance the machine on one side in order to open it more easily.

The moka, a simple metal construction, requires easy cleaning. That is to say, cleaning without soap. Never put your moka in the dishwasher or use dish soap on the metal. A thorough rinse with hot water will clean your moka. Be sure to let it stand open in order to fully air dry after cleaning it.

To help eliminate any buildup or polish the surface, soak your moka in baking soda and use a clean sponge to wash the pot down. To help make yours last even longer, you can also buy the necessary replacement parts.

Help support this blog and buy your moka through our Amazon store. 

What kind of Italian coffee pot do you use? Do you have a favorite coffee roaster?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Buono!: Carbonara Sauce

Thank you to a reader for the Buono! question about carbonara sauce. She wrote, "I'm fascinated by carbonara recipes (egg yolks vs. whole eggs/ cream vs. no cream or broth). Would love to read how you do pasta coal miner's style."

I followed this recipe for carbonara sauce from Under the Tuscan Gun almost exactly. (Don't you love those two? Their videos crack me up.) I didn't have any spaghetti on hand, so I used a package of strozzapreti pasta (whose name translates to, "priest choker." Yikes.)

This creamy sauce is known as "coal miner's style" because the black pepper flakes look like the (hopefully apocryphal) coal that flaked off of the miners when they prepared these simple dishes. Traditionally, there isn't any actual cream in these sauces. The creaminess originates from the combination of grated cheese, slowly cooked eggs (mostly yolks), fat from the pork and water. The recipe calls for the water to come from the pasta water (the water serves to thicken the sauce because it is starchy from the pasta.)

You know I'm not a purist. I invite you to change the recipe anyway you see fit. If you are hesitant to lightly cook (and eat so many) egg yolks, you can cheat and use cream. Substituting broth for the water would add more flavor, although I'm not sure that's necessary with the garlic and pork. I wouldn't use too much broth because without the starch, it might thin the sauce too much.

If you choose to use a lower fat pork (bacon, pancetta or guanciale), you might need more oil in the sauce. I used a thin, lower fat bacon and added some extra olive oil. Butter or margarine could work, too.

A friend emailed me her mother's recipe for this dish and it included vegetables (mushrooms and peas.) I imagine that the result is delicious and I look forward to trying that in the future. I also think we would have enjoyed some hot pepper (dried or fresh) on top.

Next time! There's always a next dinner.

What's your secret to a good carbonara sauce? Share your answer below in the Comments section.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Save Counter Space with a Cookbook Stand

It is the little things that make all the difference. Literally. We have a very little kitchen with very little counter space. While I’m cooking, there’s no room for a cookbook.

I’ve been balancing cookbooks on the top of my toaster oven (not a good idea while its on) or running to check them in another room.

We finally came up with the idea of a cookbook stand that hangs on the wall. A fantastic (and perhaps obvious) easy solution to the problem.

You can find this and other items in my Amazon store. Thank you for shopping there and supporting this blog. 

What have you done to make your kitchen more user-friendly?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Buono!: Bolognese Sauce

Onions and garlic sautéing

Bolognese sauce simmering

Dinner is served!

Welcome to Buono!, a new series where you ask questions about Italian food and I answer them the best I can. Learn more about Buono! here.

In response to a reader question, today I’ll help simplify Bolognese sauce. This is a red meat sauce for pasta that originated in the city of Bologna. I first learned how to make this sauce properly in a cooking class run by chef Benedetta Vitali in her restaurant Zibibbo in Florence, Italy (she still offers classes and I’d highly recommend them.) You can find her recipe in Soffritto, her lovely cookbook named after the onion, celery and carrot mixture that begins many Italian dishes. This recipe from Anne Burrell on the Food Network is fairly similar. 

As you’ll learn in this series, I don’t actually cook by the book. Most nights I don’t have time to do everything the exact traditional way. I use what I have on hand to save time and money.

With that in mind, here are the key elements of my Pasta Bolognese Sauce recipe. Feel free to alter it however you see fit.

Pasta Bolognese Sauce for Four Hungry Folks
1 yellow onion diced
2 cloves of garlic diced
3 tablespoons of olive oil
2 lbs of lean ground beef
3 14.5 oz. cans of diced tomatoes
¼ cup of (cheap, but tasty) red wine
2 bay leaves
salt, pepper, hot pepper to taste

While it would be proper to start with a soffritto, I usually just start with onions and garlic. So, with that in mind, let's get started. In a pot, slowly sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until the onion pieces become mostly clear. While a large saucepan with a heavy bottom would be ideal, I use a pot I bought at Ikea over five years ago. It works fine, as long as you keep the heat low so that the olive oil doesn’t burn.

Add the beef and slowly brown it. It is more traditional to use a beef, veal and pork mixture, but you can use whatever meats you prefer. You can buy a package with the three meats mixed together, buy them separately or squeeze out the pork from sausage casings for pork. Some friends like to use ground turkey because it is leaner. I like the heartier taste of the beef.

Once the meat is brown, add the three cans of tomatoes. Fresh Roma tomatoes would be optimal, but I usually use canned tomatoes. Again, canned Roma tomatoes are great, but no one has complained with my Target brand canned tomatoes. There, I said it. I sometimes shop at Target.

To get all of the tomato goodness from your can, run a little water in each can and swish it around before pouring it into your pot. You’ll be boiling the sauce down and a little extra water won’t hurt.

Now pour in the wine. This step isn’t obligatory, but it does help to thicken the flavor and sauce. Some folks will add sugar here to help counter the acidic flavor of the tomatoes. The sugar in the wine will do this for you, too.

Add a bit of salt, pepper, hot pepper and the bay leaves. Bring the sauce to a boil and then lower the heat to a low simmer. Since it is such a thick sauce, it will need to be mixed regularly (every twenty minutes or so) and, as it settles, it will start to bubble and splash a bit.

Let the sauce simmer for about two hours. Your goal is to boil down the water and thicken the sauce. If the meat is fully cooked and you like a more liquid sauce, then don’t boil it too long. You can always add more water (or wine or broth), if you like.

Serve over al dente pasta: spaghetti or your favorite pasta that can hold a heavy sauce. Garnish with grated cheese. While I’m lax about the soffritto, I’m firm on this point: Freshly grate your own cheese. The cheese sold on a shelf far from the refrigerated section doesn’t taste like cheese. It needs its own category. Buy a hand grater like this or this or  toss the chunk of grating cheese (parmesan or  pecorino romano) into your food processor the day you are serving the dish. 

If you have leftovers and start to get bored with eating the same dish again and again, try adding a scoop or two of ricotta in your re-heated pasta. You could also bake it with a layer of mozzarella on top of the pasta and meat sauce.

You can freeze extra sauce, if you’ve made too much and want some more for later. I don’t recommend freezing cooked pasta. It gets quite mushy when it is defrosted (I’ve tried.)

I look forward to hearing how it goes!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Introducing Buono!

I’m very excited to introduce a new series entitled Buono! I’ll be taking reader questions about Italian cooking and answering them here. For more details, check out the new Buono! page

Upcoming recipes: Bolognese Sauce (red meat sauce), Cannoli, Stuffed Peppers and Meatballs. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Prosciutto, Fig & Arugula Salad

It was such a good eating summer that I’m still thinking about it. Not only did my mother make the most wonderful fried zucchini flowers, but she also prepared Mario Batali’s recipe for grilled fig and prosciutto salad from his cookbook Simple Italian Food. Lightly grilled figs, olive oil, rosemary, parsley, arugula, and balsamic vinegar made this dish perfect.

There were fresh fig trees growing outside of my apartment on New York University’s campus in Florence, Italy.  I would pick a few and eat them fresh and whole. Those were the days. Of course, I was on duty 24 hours a day and lived on campus, but, the figs! The figs!

I’ve seen them in supermarkets around Washington, D.C., late summer and early fall, but they never look spectacular. Or, they do and they are terribly expensive. Have you found a great market for figs?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Tuscany in Photographs: Photographer Melabee Miller's new book, "Tuscany June 2011"

Congratulations to my mother, photographer Melabee Miller, on her new book Tuscany June 2011!

This book is a collection of what she saw through her camera’s lens this summer in Tuscany. She took a watercolor class in the countryside and traveled around the region.  In total, she documents four towns: Radda in Chianti, San Gimignano, Siena and Florence. (Yes, I'm as jealous as you are.)

Preview the book to see a sample of the pages. There are classic images, like those of the Florentine duomo’s dome, and more intimate, original views that you’ve likely never seen before, such as  carved, architectural details.

This book is the next best thing to traveling to Tuscany yourself. That is, traveling with a curious guide who reveals beauty even in the texture of the cobblestones.

Purchase the book here. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Serving of Food Literature?

Not only am I an Italophile, but I am also a writer and writing coach. Food, as you might imagine, finds its way into my poetry and memoir. To prepare for an upcoming (and now sold out) memoir writing class I will be teaching at Politics & Prose, a bookstore in Washington, D.C., I’ve been reading more examples of memoir. You might be interested in reading yesterday’s writing coach blog post on Garlic and Sapphires, the secret life of a critic in disguise by former New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl.

What food literature, memoir or otherwise, have you read and enjoyed? 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Zucchini Flowers Take 2

Our neighbors have zucchini growing in their front yard. Every morning I see those lovely flowers open to the sun. Every morning I think about stealing them and bringing them back to my kitchen.

Of course, that wouldn’t be right. I just don’t understand how it is right for them to let the flowers bloom and die as if the only prize from a zucchini plant is the zucchini itself.

Last August I blogged about my mother’s zucchini flowers and shared her recipe. This September I simply want to remember the taste of the zucchini flowers my mother made this July. She grew the flowers herself, cleaned them (after the above picture with the bugs was taken) and fried them up.

Zucchini flowers are hard to find. When I do find them in a market, they are often wilted. I did see zucchini flowers listed on a pizza at Comet Ping Pong in D.C., but that seems like too heavy of a dish for such a delicate flower. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eataly, New York City

Eataly, a marketplace, restaurants and bookstore, is an amazing collection of Italian food and kitchenwares in New York City. Friends have been raving about it since it first opened about a year ago. Have you been there? I finally visited this summer.

The organic vegetables, cured meats, stark white cheeses, imported pastas and sauces, gorgeous four-color cookbooks, coffee bar, gelato stand and more reminded me of my time in Italy. I wanted to stop for lunch, then shop in the market and carry my prizes down to D.C. and re-create my Florentine life.

Wait. That never was my life. I never ordered a $95.00 Porterhouse steak for two at dinner or stocked my kitchen with an Alessi citrus squeezer.

Oh, well. I did enjoy a little food sight-seeing and being reminded of how some people lived in Italy. I left Eataly with a very cute tin of cinnamon candies that I bought mainly because of the very cute tin and I wanted a souvenir. 

Unlike Eataly, Italy taught me how to simplify. There are few things that a good kitchen truly needs. (Today I’d vote for a moka and a good knife.) It is possible to grow fresh vegetables, buy locally (not buying locally wasn’t always an option in a market) and make do with what we have. And wow, can we make do with a little flour, water, yeast and salt… 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Il Cantuccio in New York City and Florence, Italy

(New York) Storefront

(New York) Interior

(New York) Florentine schiacciata with prosciutto di Parma and cheese

(New York) Mixed cookies: "Brutti ma buoni" with almonds, chocolate, fig and apricot 

 (Florence) Mixed cookies

(Florence) Marta

A friend called recently to talk about how much she wants to return to Florence, Italy. Of course I agreed. While the streets of New York City might look more like Milan (in places),  Il Cantuccio is a portal to Florence on Christopher Street.

Il Cantuccio, with stores in both cities, sells the most delicious cookies (much like biscotti, but softer, so you don’t have to dip them in vin santo or coffee to save your teeth.) In the New York store, you can also try the most amazing panini. 

Read the New York Times review for more reasons to stop there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rizzoli Bookstore in New York City

The Rizzoli bookstore is one of those old school, New York City bookstores with dark wooden bookshelves and hand painted decorations on the ceiling. That is to say, it is a beautiful bookstore.

They carry many books that the Rizzoli publishing house puts out, but also many others. If you are looking for literature in Italian, including children’s books, Italian cookbooks or Italian language learning guides, this is the place to shop. They also have a number of shelves of Italian language magazines that you can’t find most places.

Of course, it isn’t the cheapest bookstore around (would that one carry Italian poetry in the original language?) and I kind of wished I had brushed my hair again before walking in. That said, it is a lovely place to browse and they had a large number of discounted, more affordable books. Considering the high price of imported books, though, their high prices are fairly understandable. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Stuffed Calamari - boiled, not broiled

I often start with a recipe from the Silver Spoon cookbook and then adjust it as necessary. That’s just what I did when I made these stuffed calamari: I looked at the recipe and then called my mother.

The recipe called to broil the stuffed squids, but that didn’t sound familiar. Here’s my mother’s foolproof advice for avoiding overcooking the squid: Fully cook the freshly made marinara sauce and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat and quickly add each stuffed calamari so that they are fully submerged in the sauce. Let them cook for about five minutes and then take them out.  


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fresh Pasta in Washington, D.C.: Pines of Florence, an Italian Restaurant

We haven’t found many restaurants in Washington, D.C., that serve fresh pasta, although we have found delis that sell it. (Prove me wrong and tell me what I’m missing in the Comments section below.)

Pines of Florence in Arlington, Virginia, specializes in southern Italian food and fresh pasta. Ok, so the name doesn’t match the food exactly, but the pasta was still light and delicious as only fresh pasta can be.

We had the Fettuccini Alfredo and a special, Lobster Ravioli. Each dish featured fresh, homemade pasta.

Che buono! I look forward to returning to try the other fresh pastas. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Italian Bread: Focaccia with Olives and Fennel Greens

I’ve really been enjoying making bread this year. For this focaccia, I mixed in not only olives, but also fennel greens. We had a bunch of this lovely, light herb in a recent CSA delivery.

The end result was delicious although, admittedly, the flavor of the fennel greens was mostly missing. Ok, it was entirely missing. The greens throughout the bread made the surface more visually appealing, but it did nothing for the flavor.  

Perhaps the bread was too thick or the olive taste too strong. It did seem a little like a waste of such a lovely herb. I was told, too late, by a friend that I should have used the fennel greens in a prepared pasta with them and sardines. This recipe from Mario Batali’s restaurant Babbo looks delicious. Next time.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pizza Dinner in D.C. at Comet Ping Pong

I love Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Washington, D.C. You can play ping-pong (or browse a few doors down to Politics and Prose bookstore) while you wait for a seat.

My husband and I recently had the Yalie pizza with clams and the Stanley pizza with sausage. We ordered local beers, that is, local to D.C. and Michigan, where we used to live, and finished the evening with some ping pong. (No one won since we didn’t keep score.)

To learn more about Comet, watch their feature on Diners, Drive-ins, Dives. The Yalie pizza is prominently featured. Notice what fresh, simple ingredients go into their pizzas. I was happy to learn that they make their own ricotta, sauce, and more.

The moral of this story? Eat more Comet pizza. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Italian Movie: Passione

The movie Passione, by John Turturro, seemed like a movie I would like. I know, I’m a sucker for all Italian movies, but this one seemed right on target: A musical documentary about the history of music in Naples. Cool.

Not withstanding a positive review on Salon, I could barely sit through the entire movie. Turturro was the audience’s guide through the historical and contemporary musical world in Naples. Unfortunately, his introductions were broad, and while positive, mostly devoid of facts.

The movie was primarily a series of staged and overdone music videos, not impromptu performances as the scenes would try to portray. Yes, yes. I know that Naples has a particular “spirit.” Still, the entire piece felt forced.

Alas. Not everything Italian or Italian-American is perfect. 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Italian Lunch at 2Amy's Pizzeria

We don’t go to 2Amy’s Pizzeria nearly enough. Here’s why we should change that: The food is fresh, very Tuscan (even if they advertise that they are very “napoletano”) and the environment is lovely.

Here’s what we ate on our last visit:
Artichokes (off the ‘specials’)
Deviled eggs with green sauce
Stuffed pizza (Ricotta, grana, salami, prosciutto, pancetta, tomato)
Caffe macchiato
Cookie plate

This recipe for the Carciofi alla Guidia (Roman Jewish Artichoke), looks a lot like what we had. I look forward to trying to make it at home one day.

Everything was delicious. In fact, I’m hungry again just thinking about it. Who’s free for lunch?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cannellini Bean & Fennel Salad

We recently found fennel in our Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA ½ vegetable share. Fennel is a bulb that tastes like licorice and is quite popular in Italy. Admittedly, I'd never bought it before, although I ate it regularly in Florence, Italy. 

This fennel was light and even a little spicy. It added a summery crunch to our white bean salad. To make your own, mix together cannellini beans, sliced fennel, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. I imagine that freshly seared tuna would turn this appetizer into an entrée. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Language Bookstore: Tempo Book Distributors in Washington, D.C.

Tempo Book Distributors in Washington, D.C., has a wide collection of books to help you to learn a second language. If you are looking to support an independent bookstore, buy your dictionaries, workbooks, travel books and more in their store or online. When I recently visited their store, they had a strong collection of Italian language books. 

What have you purchased at Tempo Book Distributors? 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Italian Movie: The Double Hour

I’m a sucker for anything in Italian. When I was living in Italy, I was a sucker for anything in English. (I’m sure there’s a term for folks like me.) I will admit that my husband and I recently saw The Double Hour simply because it was in Italian.

The Double Hour's trailer shows speed dating, intense love with sad overtones, robbery, murder, suicide, illness, and more. I generally shy away from murder mysteries or thrillers, but since it was in Italian, of course I saw it (although we made it an afternoon showing, to mediate the fear factor.)

I was surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did. As the New York Times review of the movie adeptly explains, there were some surprising twists and turns throughout the plot. I am still thinking about the early plot clues and the ending.

If you are learning Italian, watching movies is a great way to practice your skills. Most, if not all, Italian movies shown in the United States have subtitles in English. If you stream or rent Netflix movies, you can usually change the subtitles to Italian. Listening to the language while reading it (even if it isn’t 100% the same), helps you to improve your comprehension of the language.

What Italian movies have you enjoyed? 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Favorite D.C. Area Italian Restaurants?

When you crave true Italian food, where do you go in the D.C. area? So far, these are my two favorite places:

2Amys, close to the cathedral, offers a wonderful array of cheeses, cured meats and pizzas that I haven’t seen elsewhere in the area. La Strada, in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, features fresh pastas.

I imagine I’ve been missing out on countless other places. Where do you go out for Italian food?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Practice Italian by Watching Italian Television

A good way to learn a second language is by integrating it into something you already enjoy doing. For example, watching sports, movies or other television programs in Italian. If you are bored while you are watching/reading/listening to something, well, you know how that will turn out.

Mad About Italy offers us links to popular Italian television stations. You can stream them live the way you can many television programs in English.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Cin Cin!

Italians clink glasses and happily cheer, “cin cin!” On birthdays, they offer their “auguri” and the hope for “Cent’Anni!”

Today, the day after my birthday, I’d like to offer you, my readers, a “cin cin” and a “grazie” for returning weekly to read about Italian and Italian-American food, language and culture.

I’d also like to share a list, in no particular order, of foods that I love. Emphasis on the word “love.”

What are your favorite foods?

Spicy popcorn shrimp
Homemade bread
Dolcezza’s mint ice cream (Washington, D.C.)
My husband’s homemade tortilla chips
Sweetwater Café’s ginger fizz (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
Pesto made with basil from my mother’s garden
Blue Moon Café Margarita’s (Bronxville, New York)
Biscuits and gravy
Reese’s Pieces
Mighty Good coffee (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
My father’s fettuccine alfredo
Tuscan pecorino cheese (not hard, not soft)
BGR Joint Burgers (Washington, D.C.) 
Sorrento’s fried calamari (Elizabeth, New Jersey)
Chinese steamed pork dumplings
Two Amy’s rice balls (Washington, D.C.) 
Bagel Chateau bagels (Westfield, New Jersey)
Chocolate truffles
Fresh mozzarella
La Pietra Olive Oil (Florence, Italy)
My friend Lisa’s deviled eggs (Florence, Italy)
Aunt Dora’s double-chocolate chip cookies
Crostini Fiorentini
Triscuits, with salt, of course
Shorts Beer (Michigan) 
Double cream brie
Fresh figs (Sala Consilina, Italy)
Casa di Trevi’s ravioli (Roselle Park, New Jersey) 
Garlic bagel chips
Gala apples
Smoked scamorza cheese
Fish in Greece
Garlic mashed potatoes
Zingerman’s chocolate bread (Ann Arbor, Michigan) 
Ouzo on our honeymoon (Starting in Athens)
Sandpiper’s Black Raspberry Ice Cream (Greenport, Long Island)
Fresh avocado with olive oil, salt and pepper
Large soft pretzels
Caper leaves on Greek islands
Lentil salad with goat cheese
Palak paneer
Almost anything in New Orleans
Amish market donuts (South Jersey)
Orzo cooked in broth and left to swell overnight
Mrs. Field’s recipe for banana bread
Salted matzo with butter
New York City white pizza
Trader Joe’s jalapeno crunchies
My grandmother’s egg salad on a bagel
Swing’s coffee (Washington, D.C.) 
Linda's chocolate pudding pie
Pasta with shrimp and lots of garlic & olive oil
Onion rings

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

D.C. Area Italian Language, Food & Cultural Organizations

I have been gathering websites for D.C. area Italian language, food and cultural organizations. See below for some of the highlights and scroll down through the links on the right for the permanent list.

I’m sure that I am missing some. Perhaps you can help? Have you taken a great language class in the area or attended an Italian language, food or cultural event? Let me know below and I'll add the links into the resources.

Grazie mille!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

CSA: Cremini Mushroom Pasta

This season we joined a CSA: The Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative. Every Wednesday, we pick up a half-order of fresh vegetables. The trick is to decide what to cook with these surprise treats. Since most of the items are organic and quick to grow soft, they should be eaten quickly. I often default to quick pasta sauces.

Tender golden cremini mushrooms were in the recent batch. While water was boiling for pasta, I sautéed the mushrooms in olive oil, salt and pepper. I added dried thyme and walnut pieces. After mixing the sauce with the cooked pasta, I plated our portions. We each opted to add some freshly grated cheese and a few hot pepper flakes. Ecco! An easy pasta dish fit for a couple of work-worn adults.

The trick to managing the CSA vegetables is to think creatively. Take a look at the vegetables, your pantry and imagine what might taste good together. Once you start experimenting and feel comfortable in the kitchen, you can look through recipes in your cookbook or online and then riff off of them. You never have to follow a recipe exactly. Trust your instinct, what you have on hand and save your budget from adding drips or drops of expensive foods that might not be necessary.

What have you prepared recently with your CSA or Farmer’s Market treats? 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bread Making

Making bread might sound intimidating, but it really isn’t. The good news is that it seems – and tastes – impressive every time.

If you start with a basic recipe, you can tweak it according to your taste and the ingredients you have on hand. I recently followed this Epicurious recipe for Portuguese Farm Bread.

I brushed the resulting loaf with extra virgin olive oil and then added kitchen-garden-grown (although frozen) rosemary, pepper and large salt on top before baking it on a pizza stone. I always toss down a little corn meal on the pizza stone before I place the unbaked, shaped dough on it in the oven. Like with making pizza or calzone, this makes it easier to remove from the pizza stone after it is baked.

The result? A delicious loaf whose slices went well with a pasta dinner to fare la scarpetta the sauce, then for sandwiches the next day for lunch and later for breakfast toast.

Homemade bread doesn’t last as long as store-bought bread, but you can always cook half the dough and then save the other half in the fridge until you’re ready for it a few days later. If that’s still too much for you and your family, you could freeze the left-over dough for another day. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nasto’s Olde World Desserts

Nasto’s ice cream desserts remind me of many childhood desserts in Italian-American restaurants. For my Dad’s birthday, we put candles in Spumoni wedges and sang “Happy Birthday.” The dessert was a hit, even if not an actual cake.

Just in case that wasn’t enough dessert for our party of six, we also picked up a selection of fresh fruit sorbets in the shell and Tartufo ice cream balls filled with peanut butter. The peanut butter was my favorite – it was like a cold and milky Reese’s Pieces.

A quick drive to their store in Newark, New Jersey, and you’ll find your freezer filled with treats.

Auguri, Babbo!