Monday, August 31, 2009

Italian/ Spanish Food

As I mentioned before, Gian Luca and I love tapas. Last week, as we were eating at Solera, we both commented that we could probably make tapas at home. So yesterday, we tried.
I bought Gian Luca a tapas cookbook for his birthday and browsing through we realized that Italian food is very similar to Spanish food. One easy similarity we found were tostadas, or as we say in Italian, bruschetta.
Traditional bruschetta is actually just toasted bread with fresh garlic rubbed right on it, though the most popular version of bruschetta is done with diced tomatoes, garlic and basil. Today, we see more and more variations of bruschetta and why not, I mean, who doesn't love toasted bread topped with delicious ingredients.
Obviously, the Spanish love this too because they have a variety of Tostadas in their repertoire.

Gian Luca and I made two kinds: one with prosciutto and gorgonzola ( a trend in our kitchen nowadays) and the other with porcini mushrooms and mozzarella. As we were eating we both agreed that these easy crowd pleasers would be great for large cocktail parties. Now if we only had a bigger apartment...

Prosciutto and Gorgonzola Bruschetta
8 slices long thin crusty bread ( we used a bagette)
8 slices of Prosciutto
8 teaspoons of gorgonzola
extra virgin olive oil.

Place bread on a baking sheet and grill under the broiler for 5 minutes ( flipping the bread over once while cooking). Drizzle olive oil over the hot bread.
Top with prosciutto. Place a teaspoon of gorgonzola on each piece of bread. Fold the prosciutto over the cheese. Place under the broiler for 3 minutes.
Serve warm.
Serves 4

Porcini Mushroom and Mozzarella Bruschetta.
8 slices of long thin crispy bread
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms ( Chopped)
1 1/2 cups button mushrooms( chopped)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 clove of garlic, chopped
7 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
1/2 cup grated mozzarella cheese

Soak the dried porcini mushrooms in 1/2 cup of water for 30 minutes. Strain and set aside.
Place bread on a baking sheet and grill under the broiler for 5 minutes ( flipping the bread over once while cooking). Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the hot bread. Set aside.

Heat 5 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add garlic and sautee until golden.
Add chopped all the mushrooms to the oil and cook until all the oil is absorbed. ( about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and spoon the mushrooms on top of the grilled bread. Sprinkle with parsley and mozzarella. Place under the broiler for an additional 5 minutes ( or until cheese gets golden brown). Serve warm.
Serves 4

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Ode to a Fig

When I was a teacher I'd have my Creative Writing students write odes as an early exercise in description. We'd read many examples from famous writers, including the master of odes, Pablo Neruda, who wrote tributes to just about everything. So this morning, I was shocked to find that he did not write an ode to a fig.
I can only conclude that the Nobel Laureate could not find the words to describe such a delicacy. Or maybe he was too busy eating the ancient fruit to worry about writing about it.

I won't try to create poetry here, but I will say that there is no fruit that I love more than a fig. The fruit itself is plump and round and hangs in abundance on its tree.

Cut in half, it reminds me of a Van Gogh painting, with its tiny swirls reaching toward the sky. The neutral flavor works well with sweet or savory dishes; it pairs amazingly with cheese and honey, or prosciutto, like we had the other night.

The other thing that I love about figs is that they ripen at towards the end of summer, signifying the sweet transition into the crispness of fall. It's no wonder that the Italian slang for cool ( like a cool guy) is Fico, or fig.

Figs Wrapped in Prosciutto

8 fresh figs
4 slices of prosciutto
4 teaspoons of gorgonzola cheese
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Place vinegar in a small saucepan over low heat until reduced to a thick syrup ( this should take about 5 minutes).
Cut an X in each fig ( but don't cut all the way through). Add 1/2 teaspoon of cheese into each fig. Cut the prosciutto in half lengthwise and wrap it around the fig.
Drizzle with the balsamic reduction.
Serves 4

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Girly Girl

I have four older brothers so growing up I could have gone one of two ways: I either could have been a tom-boy, playing street hockey with my brothers, or I could have been a girly girl, constantly wearing a dress, or more accurately, a tu-tu.
As you can guess by the name of this post, I was the latter. Yes, at any point during my childhood you would have found me ballet dancing around my bright pink bedroom, playing with my mother's make-up or teasing my hair. And though I've grown up, I still have an affinity for high heels, dresses and all things that make me feel like a woman.

Tonight, I am getting together with some people from my writers' group, and since we're predominantly female, I've made Zuccarini, the girliest cookies around.
These Italian sugar cookies are topped with lemon butter cream and mounds of flaky shredded coconut which reminds me of taffeta.

My mother always made these cookies especially for me, and as I was icing these last night, I thought of the last time we made them together.
On the night before my bridal shower my mom, mother-in-law, best friend and I all sat at my mother's kitchen table, icing these cookies and laughing. Even though I was alone in my kitchen yesterday, I felt connected to these women who are so monumental in my life.

So the next time you are getting together with your girlfriends, whip a batch of these up. I guarantee everyone will love them.


1 1/2 sticks of butter
1 cup of sugar
6 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons of baking powder
3 1/2 color cups flour

for the icing:
3 cups powdered sugar
1 stick of butter ( softened)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons milk

1 bag of shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Cream the butter and sugar, then add eggs one at a time. Beat well. Add the vanilla and mix well. Slowly add in the flour and baking powder. Mix until incorporated. Drop teaspoons of dough onto a greased cookie sheet two inches apart. Bake for 6 minutes or until the bottoms are slightly golden. Place on a cooling rack.

For the icing:
Mix powdered sugar, lemon, butter and milk together in a large bowl until smooth. At this point you can divide the icing into a few separate bowls and add food coloring into each bowl. My mother usually makes one pink bowl of icing and one pale green. She leaves the last one white for a nice array of color. I like mine all white, like little snowballs.
Ice cookies and top with shredded coconut.
Place cookies in an air tight container and they will last 4 days.
You can also freeze the cookies in an air tight container and defrost them at room temp two hours before serving. ( or you can eat them frozen like I do).

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lift Me Up

I am not a fan of Tiramisu, but it is my husband's favorite cake, and since yesterday was his birthday, I planned a little surprise which involved secret phone calls, emails, lies, liquor runs and driving twelve miles for some cookies. Let me explain.
Gian Luca loves having people over so it was only natural that I invite some friends over to share the tiramisu, but planning a surprise for the person who lives in the same house as you is extremely difficult ( especially when you live in a one bedroom apartment). I sent a few secret emails to our friends and prayed that no one would leak.

To make matters worse, you cannot buy alcohol in Minneapolis on Sundays. So on Saturday I needed an excuse to go out and buy some. I arrived home with a brown paper bag, holding the rum needed for the cake, and a bottle of Prosecco, which I quickly stashed under the bed.

Thankfully, Gian Luca had to work in his lab on Sunday, giving me enough time to make the cake. But first I needed the dry lady fingers or Savoiardi cookies which were impossible to find in any of the four supermarkets that I went to. One cashier gave me a lead about an Italian specialty store in St. Paul which might have them. I plugged the address into my GPS, buckled my seat belt, and headed out for the drive.

Twelve miles and a few wrong turns later, I was at Cossetta's buying my Savoiardi, mascarpone cheese and two bottles of my favorite bitter Italian soda Sanbitters ( I deserved them!).

Back at home I assembled the Tiramisu, covered it and let it rest in the fridge.
When our friends arrived at 8:30 Gian Luca was so surprised.

Tiramisu literally means "lift me up" probably due to its creamy center or the soft pillows of whip cream piled on top. But to me, the most uplifting thing about this easy no bake dessert was seeing the smile on Gian Luca's face when I placed the tray in front of him. Mission accomplished.

( This is my mother's recipe and the same one that she serves in the restaurant)

16 oz Mascarpone cheese
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 cups heavy cream
4tbsp powdered sugar
1 bag (24 ) savoiardi cookies (dry Italian Lady fingers) ( you can also substitute from fresh lady fingers if you cannot find the dried)
1 shot (4 oz) rum
1/2 cup cold water
3 shots of espresso coffee
1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Put Rum, espresso and cold water into a bowl for dipping. Soak half savoiardi in the mixture for a moment and layer on the bottom of an 8X8 baking dish. Set aside.
Beat egg yolks and granulated sugar together until the mixture is bright yellow. Add mascarpone cheese and stir to incorporate. Don't over beat. Pour half of the mixture on top of the lady fingers and use a rubber spatula to smooth it out. Soak the rest of the savoiardi and layer on top of the mascarpone cream. Cover with the rest of the mascarpone. Set aside
Beat heavy cream and powdered sugar together until whipped. Put in a pastry bag ( or zip lock bag with the end cut off) and squeeze on top of the tiramisu in a decorative way ( I like making little pillows). Sprinkle cocoa powder on top. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours.
Serves six

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Picture the scene: its 10:30 pm and I am about to start baking cookies when (gasp) I realize I only have two sticks of butter in the fridge. I already promised to make Chocolate- Chip cookies and Lemon cookies for a BBQ tomorrow. I have three options: 1) make only one batch, 2) go to the 24 hour grocery store in the sketchy part of town, or 3) improvise.
Of course, I choose option 3.
I did a quick scan of the fridge and saw that I had the two sticks of butter, crisco, sour cream, plain yogurt, eggs, and 1/2 a lemon. My pantry was stocked with everything I needed to bake: four, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, vanilla. So I thought for sure I'd be able to come up with something.
Working off of the recipe on the chocolate chips bag, I modified a few things, took a deep breath, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. The result: the most moist chocolate chip cookies I have ever eaten. These babies are like little cakes! So light and fluffy.

For batch #2 I promised to make lemon cookies, so I adjusted the recipe a bit, added some honey and lemon zest and made little lemony pillows which Gian Luca loved. We had to restrain ourselves from eating too many. After all, it was midnight when I finished baking.

The recipes:
Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cookies:

1 stick salted butter, softened
1 tbsp crisco ( or other vegetable shortening)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup plus 1 tbsp packed brown sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp plain yogurt
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 bag semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease cookie sheets and set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the butter, shortening and sugars together until light and fluffy. ( you can do this with a mixer or by hand). Add the egg, and vanilla extract; beat until well blended. Add the sour cream and yogurt and fold together until well blended. Stir in the four mixture until fully incorporated. Add the chocolate chip and stir.

Drop tablespoons of dough 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.
Bake on middle rack for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer cookies immediately to a cooling surface.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Honey Lemon Sour Cream Cookies

1 stick salted butter, softened
1 tbsp crisco ( or other vegetable shortening)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbsp plain yogurt
1 egg
Zest of 1/2 of a lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease cookie sheets and set aside.
In a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together; set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the butter, shortening, sugars and honey together until light and fluffy (you can do this with a mixer or by hand). Add the egg, and vanilla extract; beat until well blended. Add the sour cream,yogurt and lemon zest and fold together until well blended. Stir in the four mixture until fully incorporated.

Drop tablespoons of dough 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.
Bake on middle rack for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer cookies immediately to a cooling surface.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Hole in My Umbrella

It's been raining in Minneapolis for two days and as I walked home from work this afternoon a steady drip tapped me on the head despite the fact that I had an umbrella. By the time I arrived at my house the bottoms of my jeans were soaked, my shoulders only slightly less so.
But I had big plans for dinner.
I stopped by the farmers' market on my way home and bought four Japanese eggplants and six ruby red beets. Inspired by two fabulous bloggers who wrote about beets this week, I wanted to roast mine in the oven and eventually toss them with mixed greens in oil and balsamic vinegar. Since the oven would already be on, I planned to stuff the eggplant with ground turkey meatballs and bake them until golden. Nothing would be better on a damp night.
Things don't always go as planned.
Instead, I pulled the beets too early and they are hard and taste like dirt ( probably because I didn't scrub long enough) and Gian Luca and I are both mildly scared that we will wake up with food poisoning from the slightly undercooked turkey ( after an hour of baking you'd think it would be cooked).
Walking home rain-soaked I should have planned a different menu; one that involves dialing a number and letting someone else do the work.
But oh well. There is always tomorrow to try again. I'm hopeful, even if there is rain in the forecast.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lasagna: Layering it to make a finished product

The final step to making lasagna is by far the most satisfying, because you can see it finally come together.
If you are organized and place all of your ingredients out in front of you, you can layer the lasagna while cooking your pasta. As I said before, the pasta cooks very quickly, so if you do decide to multi-task with this, you have to work quickly.

I like to add sausage to the lasagna so before layering it ( usually around the same time that I make the besciamella sauce, I sautee 1 lb of Italian sausage in a small frying pan. You don't need to put any oil in the pan, just remove the sausage from its casing and turn up the heat. Every once in a while break up the sausage with a wooden spoon, so that you get small crumbles as a final result. You want the pieces nice and brown and fully cooked.

Once everything is set you are almost ready to start layering. I usually place the sauces and sausage in separate bowls and have my baking pan all ready to go.

First, place a small layer of meat sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. This will prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom. Place one layer of cold pasta in the dish, cover with meat sauce, besciamella, and a thin layer of sausage, top with another layer of pasta and repeat the steps until the baking dish is full.

If you are going to freeze the lasagna do so at this point ( before baking the lasagna).

preheat oven to 400 degrees
Place the baking dish on a sheet pan ( sometimes the sauce leaks out during cooking) and put them in the oven. Bake for 35 minutes. Add a layer of grated mozzarella cheese to the top of the lasagna. Bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until golden brown on top.

remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes. Cut and enjoy!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Lasagna: Making the Pasta

Making homemade pasta is quite therapeutic. If you like to cook, you simply must try it.
The lasagna requires ultra thin layers of pasta, so while my grandmother used to roll it out with a rolling pin, I prefer to use a pasta roller. Kitchen Aid now makes a pasta attachment for their mixer but I still like my little table-top roller, which allows me to control the dough and get a little arm workout at the same time.
But before we start rolling it out, we need to actually make the dough.
Here goes:

3 cups of flour
2 large eggs
a pinch of salt
2 tbsp water

On a clean work surface, form a well with the flour. Crack the eggs into the well and add the salt. With one hand only crush the egg yolks and begin incorporating flour from the inner part of the well. ( this will prevent the egg from spilling out onto your work surface) Once the egg is incorporated with the flour use both hands to add the rest of the flour. Knead the dough together until you have a slightly dry ball. The dough should not stick to your hands at this point. If it is too dry, add the water and knead a bit more. Cover the ball with a large bowl and clean off your work station. Once clean, add a bit more flour to the surface so you can begin rolling out the dough.

Cut 1/8 of the dough off of the ball. Cover the rest with the bowl again. Squeeze dough in your hands to form an oval shape. Feed the oval in the pasta roller on setting one. If the pasta is too sticky dust with flour. Roll the pasta through settings 1-6. After setting six you should have a fairly long sheet of pasta. Cut this into smaller sheets, about 8 inches long. lay these on a floured surface, making sure that they do not touch each other. Repeat for all of the dough.

While rolling out the dough, bring a large stockpot full of water to boil. Add 2 tbsp salt and a glug of olive oil to the water.

Once the pasta has been rolled out add a few sheets to the boiling water. The pasta cooks very quickly ( about 2 minutes) and will float to the surface when done. Set a bowl of cold water in the sink and add the pasta to the water to stop the cooking process. Leave the pasta in the cold water until it is layered in the lasagna.

Lasagna: The first steps

On Friday we had a dinner party and earlier in the week, I had decided to make lasagna for it. My lasagna, which is really my mom's lasagna, is not just dinner; it is an event. And though it is all made from scratch and a bit time consuming, it is really very simple to make. It can also be made ahead of time and frozen for up to a month, making it perfect for dinner parties ( especially work night dinner parties).

The first step to lasagna is to make the sauce.
For this particular version of lasagna we need two sauces: Meat sauce and Besciamella sauce. The recipes are exactly the right amount to make a large lasagna ( for 8 hungry people).
We'll start with the meat sauce ( which, incidentally is actually vegetarian, but, meat can be added for a more robust flavor).

Meat Sauce:
2 28oz cans of tomato puree
1 small onion
1 carrot
1 stalk of celery
1/4 cup of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp fresh basil leaves ( chopped)

Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery ( this can be done in a food processor).
Heat olive oil in a large stockpot and add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook until golden, stirring occasionally. ( This should take 3-4 minutes).
Add the tomato puree plus one can of water per can of tomato ( just fill the can after adding the puree to the stockpot and add the water).
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer on medium heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Add basil to the sauce and allow to cool before using it in the lasagna.

yields 8 servings

The sauce will keep in the fridge for 4 days and can be frozen for up to 6 months. I always keep some in freezer.
If you like Bolognese sauce or Ragu, just saute some ground meat until brown and add to the sauce.

Besciamella Sauce

This sauce is slightly more involved but don't worry, its worth it. I usually make this sauce the same day that I am making the lasagna because it tends to thicken and doesn't keep well in the fridge.

1/2 stick butter
1/2 cup of flour
2 cups of warm milk
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Warm milk and set aside.
Melt butter in a medium stockpot. Add flour and stir together to form a rue ( this allows the flour to "cook" so the sauce will not be clumpy).
Add warm milk and nutmeg and stir slowly until thick. ( try to stir the milk in only one direction). Once thick, add the cheese, salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate. Remove from heat and set aside.

The sauce will tend to thicken as it cools. If it is too thick, add some pasta water when you start cooking the pasta.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Happy Birthday

Today is my Dad’s 75th birthday and though we are not able to go to New Jersey to celebrate with him, I figured I’d pay him tribute with a little blog entry.

If you’ve been reading, you know that my dad is quirky. He cooks Italian Style Hot dogs and can belt out any operatic tune on demand. He has a roaring laugh and a warm smile. His heart is as big as it gets; he is always willing to give himself fully to others, and with five children that is no small feat. Even though we are all adults now, we still go to him for help.

My dad also has a few vices, both of which he has passed down to me. He loves salt and coffee. When I was a child, he’d reach for the salt-shaker, stating “There’s not enough salt in the Siberian salt mines to satisfy me,” and I’d laugh and nod along, shaking salt onto my plate with a heavy hand. It drove my mother crazy.

His second vice, good strong espresso, is one that both my brother Joey and I have inherited. Joey takes it to a whole new level, drinking seven to ten espressos per day. Like my dad, I cap myself off at three.

Before getting married, I had the pleasure of moving back into my parents’ house. Moving home as an adult has all kinds of implications, but, to me, the experience was invaluable. I got to enjoy my parents as adults and as friends. Like with my other friends, most of our laughs we shared over coffee.

I was teaching high school English at the time, so I needed all the caffeine I could get. I’d wake up at 5:30 am to get to work by 7, brewing the ten-cup espresso pot so that when my parents woke up, the espresso was already waiting for them.

At around 4pm my dad would announce, “I just made coffee” when he heard me at the door. We’d have our second cups together recounting the events of the day.

Finally, after dinner, I would brew the third pot, pouring myself a strait one while my dad reached for anisette and made his corretto.
So today, even though I am not with my dad, I brewed myself an afternoon pot, poured myself a cup, and picked up the phone to hear about his day.

How to make an Italian Espresso
( you don't need to go to Starbucks anymore)

You can make Italian Espresso even without a fancy machine. Most people in Italy make espresso at home with a stove top espresso maker. There are many different brands out there, but I like a Bialetti for its dependability, and exceptional quality.

Once you have the espresso maker, actually making the coffee is simple. Just fill the bottom of the maker with cold water until it reaches the steam valve, place the funnel into the bottom and fill it with espresso ground coffee*. Screw on the top and place the maker on the stove top on medium heat. Depending on the size of the maker coffee will be ready in 3-5 minutes. You'll know when its done because the entire top will fill with delicious espresso and your kitchen will smell better than Starbucks.

* There are many different types of espresso sold in supermarkets today. Some popular brands are LaVazza, Illy, or, my favorite, Cafe Bustelo

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Orange Polenta Cake

I admit it, I have no willpower. I do try, but every morning, as Gian Luca is eating his moist plump scone slathered with Nutella, I can't help but want a bite. Or two.
But, the reality is, I'm not supposed to eat sugar (I'm hypoglycemic) and despite the desserts that I sneak once in a while, I have to forgo the sweet start to the day.

Breakfast is always a challenge. I'm a big fan of oatmeal, but its August for God's sake, and I just can't stomach another warm bowl. I've tried to make homemade sugar free granola bars but without butter or sugar they come out like think horse feed. I don't do sugar substitutes because I just don't like the artificial taste, and I can't really have white flour either. Is there anything I can eat? I just want something semi-sweet that my husband and I can both dunk into our coffee in the morning.

I think I nailed it.
We both love oranges and polenta, so why not use them in a cake? I tweaked a recipe by Mario Batali to suit my no-sugar needs and it actually tastes great. I can't wait to dunk it into tomorrow morning's coffee.

Orange Polenta Cake

makes 6-8 servings

2 large oranges
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup Agave syrup ( or substitute 1 cup sugar)
1 cup corn meal
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch round cake pan with a drop of olive oil. Set aside.

Using a grater, zest both oranges. Juice the oranges and place in the same bowl as the zests. Add the olive oil and set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and salt until frothy and light ( about 2 minutes). Slowly beat in agave ( or sugar) and continue beating for two minutes.

Sift the flour and baking soda together. Add to cornmeal and slowly add the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Stir to incorporate. Fold in the citrus zest mixture until incorporated.
Pour into greased pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool to room temperature.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Eating Like Italians

Today we ate lunch like Italians (possibly because two of the three people eating actually are Italians). Our two hour- long meal began with pasta at 2 pm. The table was set with a lime green linen tablecloth and large plates rested under shallow bowls. These plates were not under liners. They would be used for the next course: roasted pork with grilled onions, broccoli rabe and roasted potatoes. If that was not enough, a bowl of fresh peaches and apricots rested at the end of our large table. Ice cream waited in the freezer.
We paced ourselves through the ravioli and approached the meat with the endurance of marathon runners. But by the time I ate half a peach I became the runner who stops short, clutching her side and collapsing in a chair. The boys plowed ahead. After the fruit, they tackled espressos which rejuvenated them for dessert. They shoveled through big bowls of the ice cream, licking their spoons at the end.
By nine pm my stomach was once again growling (though I did not expect it to). Gian Luca felt the same way, so we decided on having a light dinner. We called Stefano (our friend who arrived from Italy yesterday) because we figured that he didn’t have any food in his apartment. He came over and we settled around the table for round two.
This time Gian Luca cooked a broccoli and onion frittata, I made arugula and gorgonzola salad and Stefano cut the bread. It smelled so good that we couldn’t wait to sit down and eat. (Which is why there are no pictures again today—Sorry!).
After dinner the boys sang traditional Italian songs and, for a moment, I thought I was once again living in Rome.
Speaking of Rome, tomorrow we are invited to our friend Silvia’s “Pesto Party”. Silvia is from the eternal city and settled here about five years ago. Who knew there were so many Italians in Minneapolis?
Anyway, I just finished baking a dark chocolate and orange cake to bring tomorrow. I promise a recipe, pictures and a posting!

Friday, August 7, 2009

On Tenderness

I was on the bus today and I saw the most tender scene. A mother was feeding her little daughter from a bottle. The girl must have been nearly two, maybe a bit too old to be eating from a bottle, but I am a bad judge of age, especially since I could not see the baby's face. In fact, from where I was sitting, the only thing I could see of her was the tiny doll she held in her arms.
I was struck by the doll, mostly because of the scene. Here was a child so young that her mother was feeding her, yet she clutched the doll like it was her own child. In essence, this child felt the same intrinsic need as her mother: to care for another.
Of course, for me, caring for people always comes by way of food. It is just how I was raised. You cannot enter into my mother's house without being offered something to eat. My aunts are the same way. Whenever I go to Italy to visit them I avoid bringing my skinny pants, because I know that I will be force fed until even my biggest pair are a bit snug.
I used to scoff at this force feeding, but now I see that behind all the food is a message of love. Food is a means of transporting this love into tangible terms. A way to connect with others and to give yourself to them.
This weekend we are entertaining a guest from Italy. He arrived this afternoon and tonight, for the sake of time, we went out for pizza. But I am already planning tomorrow's menu, so that even though he is thousands of miles away from home, he will feel welcome at our table.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Yay for Tapas

I am a sucker for Tapas, mostly because I love eating a variety of different foods and picking at small plates between sips of wine. If I could always eat that way I'd be a happy girl. Knowing this, my brother Luciano took me to the award winning Tapas bar, Amada for my birthday last April. Shortly after, my friends took me to Bar Ferdinand, a Philadelphia favorite for my Bachelorette party. Besides the vast array of food, I got to wear a crown, so I was pretty much in my glory that night.
Last night, Gian Luca took me to Solera for dinner. I was a bit skeptical, thinking that nothing could be better than Amada or Bar Ferdinand, but Solera beat them both for one simple reason: the tasting menu.
Solera gives diners the option of ordering Tapas ala carte, or from one of three tasting menus: Tradicional, Seasonal, or Nuevo. Since Gian Luca and I are both traditionalist who have eaten Tapas in Spain, we opted for the Tradicional.
The tasting menu features eight small plates and must be ordered for two. Gian Luca was worried that there would not be enough food, and since we both wanted to try the rabbit with roasted peppers off of the Nuevo menu, we ordered an extra dish.
Our feast began with smoked salmon with white asparagus and capers. The slightly tart lemony flavor of the salmon worked well with the capers. We were off to a good start.
Next came a bruschetta topped with puree of Serrano ham, quince honey and sheep's milk cheese. We loved the new approach to serving Serrano ham, and wondered how exactly the chef was able to puree the meat.
The third plate was my personal favorite. Baby clams with a roasted tomato puree topped with blanched almonds. The fire roasted taste mixed with the blanched almonds is one that I will certainly try to imitate, possibly on a pasta. I'll keep you posted.
The next four courses hit us in a wild progression. Grilled mushrooms topped with a softly poached egg, grilled Spanish and Portuguese Sausages served with a chilled white bean flan, Chorizo and Goat cheese stuffed Dates, and Veal Meatballs with a parsley chimichurri sauce. By the time that the grilled Chorizo and hot green peppers arrived we were both so full that we couldn't even taste it. Our server was nice enough to wrap up all of what we couldn't finish (and, mixed with some scrambled eggs, it made for an amazing brunch this morning.)
Now that I'm thinking about it, I am almost positive that, we were serendipitously brought an extra plate of braised duck served on puff pastry. No wonder we couldn't eat everything.
We did, however, loosen our belts to make room for dessert. I could have eaten anything on the menu, but, in an attempt to remain semi-light, we chose the apricot gazpacho with leche fritta ( fried milk) and citrus creme. Served in a bowl with a grilled apricot, this was a deliciously sweet ending to a great meal.
This morning, as we drank our coffee, we decided that the only bad thing about Tapas is that it is too difficult to recreate for two people. This prompted us to want to have an end of summer Tapas party in our tiny apartment. So, if anyone has recipes to share, please send them my way!