Italian Cooking & Language Blog

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

What else could you ask for?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Spaghetti & Meatballs

What is more classic Italian-American than Spaghetti and Meatballs? When I need a little comfort after a long day, this is the kind of dish that I prepare. You don’t need a strict recipe and can usually find what you need in your cupboard. If not, you can alter the recipe and it still usually comes out well.

Growing up, my great aunt would make spaghetti and what she called “gravy” (like most good Italian-Americans did.) She served it along with a steaming bowl of braciole, meatballs, ribs and sausages that had cooked slowly in the sauce. With a heavy dose of grated cheese, we were set to eat a messy bowl of whatever meat we picked out of the bowl with long, metal tongs. All talk would stop and the sound of forks twisting long strands of spaghetti on spoons would begin.

Healthy? No. Delicious? Always. While I never saw anything like it served in northern Italy, it reminds me of home.

I don’t follow a recipe, but this Food Network one looks good. Last night, I used a mixture of ground pork, beef and veal. I added eggs, salt, pepper, breadcrumbs, crushed red pepper, dried oregano and dried basil. I cooked them on the stovetop in a cast iron pot, turning them carefully with two spoons as they cooked on their sides.

I made a few changes based on what I had available:
I used Japanese panko breadcrumbs since I didn’t have any regular ones. I would have preferred onion or garlic, fresh basil and fresh oregano, but I was also out of that. Finally, I served them with linguine instead of spaghetti, since that’s what we had. (We are moving soon and I’m working hard to finish what we have in our pantry!)

Some tips:
Like the Food Network recipe suggests, my great aunt always says to soak the bread crumbs in milk first to soften them. (I’ve never done this mostly because I never have enough time.) I find that some meatballs in restaurants are too hard and this is because they don’t always use bread crumbs. (I’m allergic to corn syrup and this also means that most meatballs have corn syrup hidden in the bread crumbs.)

Don’t try to use meat that is too lean because then the balls will fall apart as you cook them (just like hamburgers do.) You can bake and drain your meatballs to make them a little healthier. You can reduce fat by not cooking them in the sauce. If you decide you like the taste of the sauce with the meatballs, then try making it in advance, refrigerating it and then easily skim the fat off the sauce.

I cook the pasta in whole, long strands. Some chefs like to break them in the middle so they better fit in the pot. If you put them whole into boiling water and quickly stir them down, then they will cook evenly. I think that short pieces of spaghetti are hard to eat because you can’t twirl them on your fork. (And twirling them on your fork is the best way to ensure that you find memories of the sauce on your shirt if you forget to tuck your napkin under your chin!)

After you drain the pasta, be sure to toss it with either a little olive oil or some of the liquid from the sauce. This will stop it from sticking together when you want seconds or you are ready to save it for leftovers.

Don’t forget to serve your dish with freshly grated cheese. I prefer a salty pecorino romano. I also like to add some extra crushed red pepper, but that depends on how spicy you like your dinner.

Enjoy! What are your tips for great meatballs?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Markets in Florence, Italy

When you visit Florence, Italy, don’t miss the markets. Stray beyond the heart of the city for a truly Italian (less touristy) experience. Here are some photographs from the Mercato delle Cure.

Mangia, mangia!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Godó in Florence, Italy

Godó is a lovely neighborhood restaurant in Florence, Italy. It is in Piazza Edison at the bottom of the hill that goes up towards the town of Fiesole. There is a bus stop across the street, which makes it an easy location to get to.

I decided to order the pear and pecorino ravioli that were served with a zucchini flower pesto. My mother has many zucchini flowers in her garden and usually fries them in a light flower and cheese batter. I rarely see them on menus and was curious about a new manner in which they could be prepared. This pesto sauce was creamy and was a nice addition to the pecorino and pear flavors. Was it too heavy of a dish for a sweaty, July afternoon? Probably, but it was worth it.

We started with the very Tuscan sliced, cured meats with crostini (bread with liver and polenta with mushrooms) and ended with a cool cheesecake topped with a raspberry sauce. Overall, a great meal with both traditional and modern dishes on the menu. Buon appetito!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Caper Leaves: Mystery Solved!

The Greek Store in Kenilworth, New Jersey, has the coveted caper leaves! Thanks to my mom for checking with them.

I should have thought of them first. This expansive store on the main street in town carries every imaginable Greek item from olive oils to prepared dishes. In fact, when planning my Greek-themed wedding shower, my mother and friend found everything they needed here. It was a delicious afternoon.

Can’t wait to drive up from D.C. and fill up the trunk!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Greek Caper Leaves

We did our best in Greece to ask locals for restaurant recommendations. A taxi driver recommended “The Dolphins,” a restaurant on – literally right on – the Akrotiri Beach. That’s where we had our first salad of pickled caper leaves. The salty flavor and smooth surface was delicious on that hot day overlooking the beach. It tasted almost exactly like caper berries, except the texture was different. With some bread on the side, it was perfect.

I had never heard of eating caper leaves and imagined they’d be hard to find Stateside. We bought one jar of caper leaves on Santorini and are now afraid to open it. In typical Chloe’ fashion, I’ll probably hoard it until it goes bad. I should have learned the Mediterranean lesson to enjoy life in the moment!

I think they might be even harder to find than I thought. An internet search didn’t find them for sale at particular gourmet markets (Whole Foods, Zingerman’s, Morgan and York, Foodzie, Balducci’s, etc.) or through more general searches.

So, aside from growing capers ourselves and pickling their leaves, does anywhere know where I can find them?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Beach Reading: Eat Pray Love

Ok, I bought “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert in Milan, not on the beach of a Greek island. I’d finished everything I’d brought and needed something for the flight home back to Detroit.

The book is divided into three parts, as the title suggests, and moves from Italy to India to Bali. (I’m sure you can guess which section was my favorite.) It was a quick, enjoyable read that integrated the author’s personal story with what she learned about each culture, cuisine and the religious practices.

Food is the focus of the first third of the book. One of my favorite scenes was when she is given advice about where to eat pizza in Naples:

But he is Neapolitan, no question about it, because before I left Rome he gave me the name of a pizzeria Naples that I had to try, because, Giovanni informed me, it sold the best pizza in Naples. I found this a wildly exciting prospect, given that the best pizza in Italy is from Naples, and the best pizza in the world is from Italy, which means that this pizzeria must offer … I’m almost too supersticious to say it … the best pizza in the world? Giovanni passed along the name of the place with such seriousness and intensity, I almost felt I was being inducted into a secret society. He pressed the address into the palm of my hand and said, in gravest confidence, “Please go to this pizzeria. Order the margherita pizza with double mozzarella. If you do not eat this pizza when you are in Naples, please lie to me later and tell me that you did.”

I’ve been teaching memoir and writing memoir recently, so I was interested in reading a more popular book that will soon be a movie. (Watch the trailer.) Its success lies in the very personable narrative, the author herself, and the foreign experiences she shares frankly with the reader. The tone is conversational and entertaining.

If you are interested in writing memoir, food related or not, or are a beginning poet, you might be interested in my upcoming online creative writing workshops this summer.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Food in Greece and Italy

I’m scratching my head as I try to figure out how to summarize the amazing dishes we ate in Greece and Italy during our honeymoon. Should I start with the creamy lemon sauce on stuffed grape leaves we tried in Athens? Or the crawfish cooked in a garlic and ouzo sauce on Santorini? What about the osso bucco in Milan?

I can only think of broad, sweeping adjectives to describe the dishes. Delicious! Great! Amazing! And what do they offer you? Nothing, really. As I organize my notes and photographs, I will share them with you along with addresses and helpful travel information.

For now, I will start with the bilingual cookbook that I picked up in Mykonos. The book, “Mykonos – Tastes and Traditions” published by Eikon offers wonderful explanations of the traditions followed by recipes paired with photographs. We haven’t been home long enough for me to cook many dishes, but I did try the Zucchini Pie and it was delicious: grated zucchini baked with bread crumbs, feta cheese, eggs, mint and other herbs.

In Greece we ate stuffed grape leaves, moussaka and other traditional Greek-American restaurant favorites, but we also tried many new dishes, too. From this island cookbook, I look forward to trying the sausages cooked in cognac, wild chicory salad and coconut rolls.

More in the upcoming weeks…