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, April 30, 2012

Arborio Rice from Bob's Red Mill

As I described in a recent Buono! post about risotto, risotto is commonly made with the short-grain, high starch arborio rice.

The other day, I prepared Bob's Red Mill's arborio rice and followed their basic recipe. Well, maybe "followed" is too strong of a verb. As I often do, I started with a recipe and made some adjustments along the way.

This time I substituted olive oil for butter and chose not to add the peas. Instead, I started the dish by sautéing the onion with sliced kale. Then, I put the kale on the side (so as not to overcook it) and continued the recipe. I added the kale to the cooked rice at the very end. At that point, I seasoned the dish with rosemary and sage. I served the risotto topped with pine nuts, olive oil and freshly grated cheese and hot pepper flakes. 

The lesson about altering a recipe? Once you are comfortable with a dish (the general cooking time, necessary components, like the rice to broth ratio here), make the necessary changes to cook the dish that you wish to eat.

Full Disclosure: I received the rice for review from Bob's Red Mill (thank you!); I was not compensated for this post. All opinions here are entirely my own.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Buono!: Polenta

Dinner polenta with carrots, kale and white beans

Breakfast polenta toasted and topped with a fried egg

What’s the difference between corn meal and polenta?
The price.

Yes, that was a polenta joke and, like many jokes, it offers some truth. Polenta is corn meal, which means you can purchase cheap corn meal instead of an imported version with the Italian word polenta and serve the same results for less money.

A reader recently wrote to ask about my favorite polenta recipes. While the name sounds unappealing, I usually start with the recipe for “Corn Meal Mush” on the back of the Quaker Yellow Corn Meal container (you can find a similar one here) and add a little olive oil and spices. 

The trick when cooking corn meal is to avoid the lumps that can easily form. The fine grain cooks quickly and clumps at the same speed. Try starting with the corn meal in the water before you heat it or mix half the water with corn meal and then add the mixture to the boiling water slowly. The classic approach is to slowly pour in the corn meal into the boiling water while mixing rigorously with your other hand. 

I recently tried the Polenta with Beans and Vegetables recipe from Michele Scicolone’s cookbook The Italian Slow Cooker. This dish combines polenta with white beans, kale (or a similar green, leafy vegetable) and grated carrots. (Read the whole recipe here through Google books). It was delicious and super easy. I do admit that I peaked in on it a few times and stirred it. I couldn’t resist. I served it in a bowl topped with olive oil, hot pepper and freshly grated cheese.  See the picture above.

Leftover polenta in the fridge becomes a dense block. When you store it, make sure to flatten out the top (with a spoon) so that you can better slice it later. After refrigeration, the result is much like the tubes of cooked polenta that you can purchase.

So, the next day you have a block of polenta. After slicing, the result looks a little like slices of bread, right? You can serve it like bread, too. Above, you’ll see that I toasted it and topped it with an egg for breakfast. You can also fry or bake the slices and top them with anything you like (think of it like bruschetta and add tomatoes, or olives or … you decide.)

What is your favorite polenta recipe?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Andiamo!: Preparing For Your Trip to Italia! (Politics & Prose Bookstore)

I’m looking forward to teaching Andiamo!: Preparing For Your Trip to Italia! at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., on May 21st.  Register and purchase the books through the bookstore.

Andiamo!: Preparing For Your Trip to Italia!
In this class, we will cover everything you need to plan your trip to Italy: travel tips, restaurant / market etiquette, basic phrases, and more. Come with questions and a notepad. A resource list with suggested books, websites and more will be shared---as well some Italian cookies and coffee.

Monday, May 21
1 – 3 PM
Price: $40/35 members
Recommended (but not required) books:
Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, Fred Plotkin
Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best, Louise Fili and Lise Apatoff
Books are discounted 20% for class participants.

Chloe Yelena Miller fell in love with Italy and the Italian language after spending her junior year abroad in Florence through Smith College. She later returned to Florence for three years to work for New York University’s campus abroad. Bilingual, she teaches Italian language and cooking. Her family emigrated from the town of Sala Consilina (SA) to New Jersey in the 1800’s and now she happily returns to Italy as often as she can. She blogs regularly about Italian language and cooking here:

Please let me know if you have any questions (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan

Clearly the title of this book, The American Way of Eating, doesn't seem like it fits with the Italian-theme here at Fare La Scarpetta. But being that we are obsessed with good eats, specifically Italian or Italian-American ones, we should also be obsessed with where our food comes from.

In this book of investigative journalism, McMillan goes undercover picking food in California's fields and then working at both Walmart and Applebee's. Through her personal story, the stories of those around her and her extensive research, she gives readers insight into the state of our food from when it is growing, processed and served, while considering the human impact on the workers (labor and health issues) every step of the way. She writes:

Wages, health care, work hours, and kitchen literacy are just as critical to changing our diets as the agriculture we practice or the places at which we shop. (...) Just as we ensure that water and electricity gets to nearly every American, it makes sense to ensure that every American access fresh and healthy food, too.

Hell, if she pissed off Rush Limbaugh, she must be onto something.

If you are interested in reading and writing, visit my writing and writing teacher's blog.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!

Gigantic Italian Chocolate Easter Egg (and some extra cookies)

I can't visit The Italian Store without picking up my favorite cheeses: 
Fresh mozzarella, fresh ricotta, Tuscan pecorino and smoked scamorza

This is orzo (barley) coffee, which is naturally decaf.
This brand is marketed to your child (bimbo), 
since, of course, he wants to drink coffee with the adults.

Easter, like St. Joseph's Day, calls for a special trip to The Italian Store in Arlington, Va. After living in Italy, Easter isn't complete without a giant chocolate Easter egg or a Colomba cake. Two years ago I had a lot of fun making an Egg and Swiss Chard Pie, which I might try again. And, of course, I'll be dyeing eggs to decorate them (and eat egg salad sandwiches for a few days.)

What are your favorite Easter traditions and where do you find your favorite specialties or ingredients?