Italian Cooking & Language Blog

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

What else could you ask for?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Italian Store in Arlington, VA

I used to live within walking distance from Casa di Trevi, an amazing ravioli store in Roselle Park, New Jersey. Since we moved here a few weeks ago, I was on a quest to find great ravioli, fresh or frozen, in Washington, DC.

This was a very short-lived quest. Close to DC in Arlington, Virginia is The Italian Store: an amazing market with take-out in a strip mall with easy parking. The name, in bright green neon lights, is exactly right. Every imported and fresh Italian product you might want is on their shelves.

Last night we had double-spinach ravioli: spinach dough filled with ricotta cheese and spinach. Nicely packaged in a two-tier box to avoid breaking, they were delicious. We started with an appetizer of pecorino from Siena, fresh bread and freshly made taralli (bread sticks) with hot pepper. Other than the small, round loaf of fresh bread with lighter dough and crust than I’d expected, everything was delicious.

Even though I wanted to buy more ravioli (crab, lobster and porcini versions were calling my name), cheeses like scamorza and fresh ricotta, salamis, fresh sauces (the clam and the pesto sauces looked great) and a few bottles of wine, I was brava and limited my purchases yesterday. You know, to have an excuse to go again. Soon.

When I stopped by The Italian Store around lunchtime, there was a crowd lining up for their apparently famous pizza and Philadelphia Style Subs. I look forward to trying them one day.

Hungry yet?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

This Semester’s Cooking Challenge

I need to be a clever cook this semester. I was recently hired to teach two early morning writing classes at George Mason University. And when I write, “early,” I mean it. My first class, which meets three times a week, starts at 7:30 am. This means that to make it on time with some leeway for possible traffic, I should probably leave the house everyday at 6:00am. It is only about 20 miles away and against most commuter traffic, but it is still a densely populated area which means that the traffic risks are great. I’m a natural early bird, but that’s early for anyone.

So, I’ve transitioned back to someone who changes out of her sweatpants to leave the house regularly. For the last two years I’ve been teaching just about 100% online. I gained time by eliminating a commute and therefore had more time to cook. The challenge this semester is to still find time to grocery shop, make two interesting and healthy meals a day to eat at home most days and pack some lunches, while still getting everything done. I’m sure you know what I mean.

I couldn’t be more excited to return to the classroom. I enjoy teaching online and will continue to do so, but I discovered that I’m someone who misses having a regular reason to leave the house and talk to people face-to-face. A combination of the two – online and in-person teaching – sounds perfect and I'm excited about it.

Most people have this challenge that I’m returning to. In the past, I remember making sure there were a lot of leftovers, freezing extra portions and sharing the shopping, preparation and cleaning with my husband. I look forward to sharing quick recipes and some tricks.

What are your tricks?

Monday, August 23, 2010


I hate to be persuaded or even pursued by advertisements, but I was curious when I saw that World Market was having an eat, pray, love sale. I wanted to see their Italian treats.

And that’s how I found Illy coffee’s canned drink “Issimo,” (cappuccino, caffĂ© or latte macchiato.) I know, coffee in a can sounds gross, un-Italian, American at its worst, and silly when I can just buy Illy’s coffee and prepare my own cappuccino in a moka on the stovetop in just a few minutes.

But yet, at the risk of losing my Italian citizenship, I will admit that I quite like it. It is tasty without being as sweet or burnt-tasting as a Starbucks coffee drink. Chilled, it is refreshing on a hot August day.

While the website suggests it isn’t available within fifty miles of our home in DC, it is at World Market and according to a friend, at CostCo, too. I’d be curious to know where you find the best price. I’ll be waiting here slowly getting wired on the caffeine I probably shouldn’t drink.

I promise this is not an advertisement.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Zucchini Flowers

I grew up relishing in the fact that I ate flowers. I felt a little like a monster for eating something so pretty, but that didn’t stop me.

My mother’s garden has always been rich with zucchini flowers. She serves them fried, as she remembers Italian-American relatives doing when she was young. The recipe is simple and a little different every time, depending on the ingredients she has available.

She picks the blooms in the morning and stores them in the fridge in an open plastic bag. With one paper towel thrown in to control the moisture, they usually last a few days. When she has enough, she’ll clean them, stuff them with a small piece of mozzarella and then coat them in a batter of milk, flour, egg, grated cheese (pecorino romano), fresh basil, salt and pepper. After lightly frying them in extra virgin olive oil, the mozzarella is melted and the batter is crispy. A perfect appetizer.

When you make them, be careful frying in olive oil since the oil burns quickly. To produce even crispier flowers, the cookbook from the Florentine restaurant Garga suggests adding beer to the batter.

To make other dishes with the zucchini flowers, I like to slice the petals and sautĂ© them lightly in olive oil with salt and pepper. It makes a lovely light pasta sauce or even dipping sauce for fresh, sliced bread. I had them recently in Florence as a pesto sauce, but I haven’t tried making this yet.

Here are some good tips from the LA Times on how to choose, store and prepare zucchini flowers.

What is your favorite recipe with zucchini flowers?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Publishing Your Cookbook

Not only do I love to eat and whip up tasty meals, but I am a poet who teaches writing. On my writing blog, Chloe Yelena Miller, I posted a piece about cookbook writing. You might be interested!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Washington, D.C. Restaurants

As you know, we recently moved to Washington, D.C. And we’re hungry. The kitchen isn’t completely unpacked yet and we are looking for great restaurant and grocery store recommendations.

Hope you’ll share your favorites in the Comments section below.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bomber Restaurant, Ypsilanti, Michigan

We've landed in D.C. and I'm still thinking about Michigan...

By now you know how much I love breakfast. The Bomber Restaurant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, serves piled-high breakfasts. The interior is pure WWII and the dishes can only remind me of any NJ diner worth its salt (high compliment from a Jersey girl.)

It has been on Food TV and received accolades over the years. All I know is that this was one of my favorite breakfasts while living in Michigan over these last two years:

Sunrise Biscuit
Open faced biscuit, layered with sausage patties, choice of two eggs, American cheese, topped with country gravy. Served with a side of breakfast potatoes.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sweet Dreams Pizza @ Silvio's Pizzeria in Ann Arbor, Michigan

Silvio’s Pizzeria in Ann Arbor, Michigan offers a dessert pizza. “Sweet Dreams” pizza is a stuffed pizza with nutella and pastry cream. Need I say more? The creamy filling inside the crunchy crust is perfect.

The restaurant, tucked away in the back of the first floor of a building on N. University, has recently been expanded. You can sit at the pizza-bar or at a table next to the wall of planted herbs.

You’ll love all of chef Silvio’s pizzas, from the sausage and rapini to the traditional Capricciosa. Whatever you do, be sure to save room for dessert.

PS: We are moving to Washington, D.C., this week. The blog will return on Friday. Keep your fingers crossed for a smooth move.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Olive Oil

I use olive oil for everything from frying breakfast eggs to dipping breads at dinner. We buy jugs of extra virgin and light olive oil whenever it is on sale. But what are we buying, exactly? NPR recently ran the quick piece, “Your Olive Oil May Not be the Virgin it Claims,” reminding me of the controversy.

There have been many reports over the last few years that packaged olive oil is mixed with other kinds of olive oil and the labels (and therefore prices) are inaccurate. In 2007 the New Yorker ran Tom Mueller’s investigative piece “Slippery Business” on this situation in Italy and the United States, since so much olive oil is exported.

There is work to patrol the olive oil industry domestically and internationally. What can we do to be sure that the label – and price – on what we buy is accurate?

It isn’t exactly clear, but there are a few things you can do. You can try buying from local businesses, but that means that you have to live somewhere that the climate is prime for a good olive oil to be produced.

I like to rely on the looks and taste of olive oil. There are many different kinds and you’ll start to notice the differences as you try them. Instead of going for the most expensive kind, choose the one you like best. I tend towards the deeper flavored Tuscan-like olive oils. There are many Spanish olive oils that taste similar, but cost less.

Here are some tips when you buy olive oil:

Hold the bottle up to the light. Notice how deep the color is and how thick the liquid seems to be. If it flows quickly, then it is a thinner olive oil. I like a greener, thicker olive oil.

If the bottle is opaque or green tinted glass, then you can’t easily see the olive oil to note its color and thickness. I try to stay away from these, unless I’ve tried them before.

Interested in flavored, dipping olive oils? These tend to cost more. Why not make your own by mixing some hot pepper or other herbs with olive oil? Be sure to only mix dry herbs. If you use fresh herbs and they are still wet then there is a chance of the mixture growing moldy without refrigeration. If you do refrigerate it, it will need to be warmed before using because it will harden.

What are your favorite olive oils?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Homeade Magic Shell for your Ice Cream

It is summer and you want an ice cream cone with Magic Shell poured over the top scoop. Or, maybe you are weirded out by the very idea of Magic Shell and don’t know what chemicals could possibly make it harden the way it does.

I’ve always tried to ignore the “how” of Magic Shell and just enjoy my treat. I no longer have to ignore anything. Instructables describes how to make homemade Magic Shell. That’s right, you can make chocolate harden on your ice cream without crazy chemicals. I can’t wait to try this.

What kinds of flavors are you going to add?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Learning a Language Online

Thanks to a friend for bringing my attention to the recent New York Times article Learning a Language From an Expert By Peter Wayner. The article links to some great resources for online language communities. Has anyone tried these services? Some of them are set up like social networking sites and seem like they’d be both fun and useful.

The internet offers streaming radio, newspapers, social networking, movie rentals and subject-oriented chat rooms in any language. That is to say, everything that we have in English, but in your target language. By reading about and even discussing something that interests you in a second language, you have the opportunity to be engaged, learn something new about the culture and subject while practicing your language skills.

Not sure what something means? You can cut and paste words that you don’t know into online translators or dictionaries. You can respond and be answered on various websites. You will learn how to better understand contemporary usage and even slang, which would be hard to do in a formal textbook. The formal textbook still has a place, of course, since you’ll want to understand the grammar and history of a language and culture.

What sites have you found most useful?