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, July 30, 2012

Bake Your Own Focaccia: Why go out?

Homemade focaccia topped with black salt & rosemary

Simple tomato salad with olive oil, garlic, salt & pepper

King Arthur's Italian-Style Flour

Focaccia is a flat bread found throughout Italy. I have fond memories of stopping at a bakery in Florence for a black-olive dotted focaccia. 

For this homemade bread, I followed the “light-as-air focaccia” recipe on the back of the bag (which is similar to this “no-fuss” recipe, minus the cheese) King Arthur’s Italian-Style flour is low in protein, which means the recipe needs less water. I topped the bread with dried rosemary and black salt.

The recipe was easy to follow and particularly quick. After the bread cooled, I dipped it in a simple tomato salad: tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. And that’s really all a girl needs for a day of poetry writing and editing

Full Disclosure: I received the flour for review from King Arthur Flour (thank you!); I was not compensated for this post. All opinions here are entirely my own.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Find Perfect Pizza Stone: Check

Homemade whole wheat crust topped 
with a cherry tomato marinara, mozzarella and fresh rosemary

Homemade whole wheat crust topped 
with a cherry tomato marinara, mozzarella, parmesan and garlic

I had been buying about three pizza stones a year because they crack down the middle. Giant, end-of-the-world-earthquake-style cracks. 

I would buy an inexpensive stone and leave it on the oven's floor to maintain the oven's heat. This probably dried the stone out, causing the crack. Of course, I also used the stone to cook pizza (sometimes cheating and buying the dough) or calzone

I was right to have high hopes for the Emile Henry Pizza Stone, and not just because it is red and the sweetest stone I’ve ever seen. Glazed, with handles to easily transport it, the stone can be used on the grill or in the oven (bake or broil.) The glazed surface won't scratch if you slice the pizza right on the stone and it can be washed with soap and water. The website says it can be placed in the dishwasher, but I’ll vote for washing it by hand to help protect it.

I did a little jig after baking two, thin-crust pizzas on this stone. While I put cornmeal on the pizza peel to transport the pizza without everything sticking together, I didn't have to put any cornmeal on the stone. The pizza slid right off of the stone with considerably less mess than I usually have after baking a pizza. That is to say, no mess. And those hard, black spots from burn cheese that melted off the pizza and landed on the stone? They washed right off off the stone.

Obvious, yet important, warning: As you'd expect, the stone's handles were very, very hot when we took the stone and second pizza out of the oven to try slicing the pizza directly on the stone. 

This stone would make a lovely platter on the table and keep food warm, too. I’m thinking of baked appetizers for a dinner party… who’s in?

Full Disclosure: I received the stone for review from Emile Henry (thank you!); I was not compensated for this post. All opinions here are entirely my own.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gluten-free food options: Italian dishes and more

Baked zucchini stuffed with gorgonzola cheese & 
topped with almond meal

Udi's gluten-free bread toasted on the grill

Gluten-free appetizer: Grilled green figs wrapped in proscuitto

Based on a very informal scroll through Facebook, it seems that more and more friends are eating gluten-free diets. I tried the diet for about a week in order to be better equipped to answer questions about gluten-free meals.

Gluten is naturally occurring protein found in wheat and related flours. Some people have a medical reason to avoid gluten. There are claims that the diet, similar to a low-carb diet, helps followers to lose weight while offering other medical benefits.

With some advance planning and attention to labels, it is possible to eat an entirely gluten-free diet without giving up delicious meals.

Here are some easy & naturally gluten-free meal ideas:

Omelets with veggies
Fruit smoothies 
Oatmeal with fruit and nuts

Apple sauce
Hummus with sliced carrots or peppers

Lunch or dinner:
Polenta (try my simple recipe), rice, potatoes, or quinoa with veggies, meat, fish, and poultry (a favorite was baked chicken with an almond meal coating)
Risotto (try my kale risotto recipe)
Vegetarian or meat chili with gluten free chips (the Target brand organic, flax seed chips are gluten-free)

Rice pudding
Ice cream
Fruit & cheese

There are also the gluten-free versions of regularly "gluten-y" meals (that's a real word, right?) We liked Trader Joe's gluten-free waffles, but found Trader Joe’s gluten-free corn penne much too hard. Their instant mac and cheese was the same ("rice pasta & cheddar.") Find a full list of Trader Joe’s gluten-free products here (their prepared goods are much cheaper than what you’ll find at a regular, gourmet or natural foods market.) Trader Joe's carries Udi's sandwich bread, which we really liked. 

I do admit that I didn’t invest in trying gluten-free flours to try preparing baked desserts, pizzas or breads. For more recipe ideas, check out Elana's Pantry.

What are your favorite gluten-free resources?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Domori Chocolate

Domori chocolate is amazing.

I'm not just saying that because my friend's lovely husband, Gianluca Franzoni, started the company. I'm saying that because every time I have some, I both hoard the chocolate and try to eat it quickly so it doesn't have time to get old/hot/cold or otherwise less than perfect. That's not easy to do.

With little sugar and high percentage of cocoa, the taste is truly chocolate, not additives. Many of the chocolates are single blend, which means you can taste the subtle differences between them.

Since I probably won't share my stash with you, you can buy your own through ChocosphereAmazon and many local specialty shops, like Zingerman's in Ann Arbor.

Read more about the company and the founder's historic and current connections to Venezuela, the origin of most of the chocolate.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cold Salad Weather

Video clip from Good Morning, Vietnam

Washington, D.C., is hot in the summer. Last week it was over 100 degrees for a few days. And of course there was that storm. It is still too hot out, especially for those still left without electricity.

If you aren’t ready for a raw food diet, I recommend preparing simple, cool salads. I’ve been making a lot of them recently. I'll start by preparing a whole grain or two (barley, quinoa, whole wheat couscous, etc.), then sautéing vegetables from our CSA and finally mixing everything together in different combinations with various dressings. My favorite dressings tend to have a combination of olive oil, lemon, salt, pepper and fresh or dried spices like garlic and chipotle chili pepper.

When I was living in Florence (which is not known for cool, fresh summers), I ate a lot of salads like these, as well as pasta, tomato, caprese and green salads.

Since this is the year of health (for food and writing), I’ve been using more whole grains than white pastas. Thanks to some amazing friends’ birthday presents, I now have a great collection of whole grain cookbooks. You can find them listed here

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