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?