29 March 2011

Quinoa With Zucchini, Pancetta & Tomatoes

I am unfamiliar with quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) but had been seeing it quite a lot lately in the internet that I had to venture on my own too to find out about this seemingly healthy pseudocereal that's high in protein.  It is not available in the regular supermarkets so I found it in a gourmet shop with food from across the globe in the next town. My quinoa box traveled all the way from Bolivia. 

Pea & Veal Risotto

After a hectic weekend of children's parties & picnics, a hiatus from cooking would have been a treat.  I was just thinking of preparing a simple pasta of parmigiano reggiano (Italian parmesan cheese) & extra virgin olive oil that both my kids love, but my one-year old slept before lunch.  When she dozes off at that time, I usually savour the tranquil in the kitchen and enjoy whipping up something without being rushed by hungry kids.  I was deliberating whether to stick to my original plan and relax while she's sleeping or devote the only quiet time of the day tiring myself out in the kitchen.  I was delirious.  I chose the latter.   It's because I opened the refrigerator.  When I do that, I get stuck.  I quickly scanned what contents are in dire need to be eliminated.  Nothing.  In the freezer, my eyes landed on a piece of recently frozen emergency veal fillet that I had been saving for my one-year old in case I cook something she cannot eat.  Then I saw a package of frozen peas.   The prospect of getting that rest is shelved.

27 March 2011

Linguine al Nero di Seppia (Cuttlefish Black Ink)

Linguine al nero di seppia, the pasta that takes out the ugly part of everyone.  While eating this, we couldn't decide who was the ugliest.  With our mouths & teeth completely blackened, it was horrifying for our one-year old to be on the same table with us.  She couldn't decide whether to cry or laugh along with our poor attempts to make fun of each other.  The poor kid was petrified that her whole family turned into black-mouthed sinister looking characters.

26 March 2011

The Porchetta of Ariccia

When you think of Ariccia, you think of porchetta and viceversa.   In fact, that's exactly what crossed my mind when I thought of visiting the town.  Porchetta is the iconic traditional pork specialty of central Italy, especially the towns of Ariccia of the region of Lazio and Norcia of the Umbrian region.  It's a savoury roasted whole pork, deboned, and stuffed with an abundance of salt, aromatic herbs, garlic & pepper.  It can be eaten as a main dish or served in a panino or sandwich.  All over central Italy, you can find white food vans selling porchetta.  

I love porchetta when there are cracklings, some fat around the meat & a shameless amount of cholesterol in it.  I can't help it because try as I might, I can't eat the lean part.  It tastes too dry.  I eat it like a main dish, slightly warm & sometimes drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  Or I eat it in a panino.  Either way, it is divine.  

Ariccia is a nice, quiet town that's just about 30 kilometers from Rome.  It is located in the Alban Hills and is among the towns of Castelli Romani.  It had a strong significance to the Ancient Roman history particularly because of its ties with the goddess Diana.  The earliest findings prove that the city had existed in 8th to 9th century B.C. 


25 March 2011

MyCityCuisine - A Wiki Project

I was recently contacted by Mycitycuisine to help look for contributors for their project.  It speaks about the traditional foods from different cities and countries all over the globe.  It's a fundamental source of gastronomical information that every traveler needs. 

My connotation of traveling is exploring the sights & local kitchen of my destination.  Getting information about the sights is fast & easy but acquiring basic knowledge about what culinary treats a place has to offer entails too much time searching for food suggestions at myriad sites, wondering if they are even reliable.  Mycitycuisine solves all these with one click.

So if you have something to contribute about a local gastronomy, wherever that might be, join in and make this project grow.  Find out how and share your knowledge.

"MyCityCuisine is a wiki project. Its goal is to help travelers discover the local food from around the world. Food has always been an integral part of the local culture so, naturally, tasting local food is often high on most traveler's to-do lists. However, until now, there was no single comprehensive source providing this particular information for cities around the world.
"What should I order?", an inevitable question faced by all travelers sitting in a restaurant, in a foreign country. MyCityCuisine is a project to create a free, reliable and up-to-date guide to the most original and tasty local foods from different countries of the world. This is an open project, so we encourage everyone to contribute to it."

24 March 2011

Mezze Maniche Giganti With Spinach, Raisins, Almonds & Sundried Tomatoes

When I mix too many ingredients together, it can mean that I am running out of creative juices.  My main objective in this recipe is to deplete the new big bag of spinach that has sprouted in my refrigerator.  My husband has been taking home colossal packages of greens lately.  And with those packages, he bequeaths to me the problem of cooking them all up within a couple of days.  It's not easy when you have two kids who have an aversion to eating leftovers.  Even if they loved the food I served in one meal, they will instantly give a duad of whines & complaints when they see a repeat.

23 March 2011

Prosecco & Creme de Cassis Poached Pears With Lavender

After using the lavender flowers with the strawberry risotto, I was totally stimulated in using them again for another dish.   I wanted something sweet this time.  My eyes landed on my kids' remaining pears in the kitchen fruit bowl.  They are their fruit of the moment & the only kind they recognize apart from the occasional strawberries that we buy.   Conscience-smitten but continuing on because of curiosity, I checked around the internet if my idea was plausible. Gathering my ingredients, I happened upon a bottle of Creme de Cassis, a remnant of my last forage of something special while in France.  It is a dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants.  Mainly used for the French cocktail kir, it seemed to be a good candidate to replace the juice the recipe was asking for.  I did some modificatons to the recipe that I found fitting as to how I want the pears cooked. 

It is ambrosial, worthy of all positive adjectives.   It's reminiscent of the preserved peaches that was cooked in white wine that we bought once from a small local producer of a town we visited.  Only these pears have a more intense taste that the Creme de Cassis induced.  My kids tried it and left me with just bits to relish.  They practically polished off the whole plate!   I did another batch that night with enough pears for the whole family to enjoy.  This is really worthy of your time & effort.  If you cannot find the Creme de Cassis, substitute it with blackcurrant or raspberry syrup. 

Strawberry & Lavender Risotto

Immediately after trying the wild strawberry & basil risotto, I had the urge to do this classic strawberry risotto.  I added a twist of lavender flowers seeing that my plants are full of novel flowering buds. Cooking the two main ingredients together created an intoxicatingly wonderful scent of spring in the kitchen.  It made me yearn for the warmth much more than ever.

Wild Strawbery & Basil Risotto After a Trip to Nemi

The weather is warmer, the sun is always shining and no one has been sniffling for a week now.  Our  winter hibernation is coming to an end.  The prospect of seeing the town of Nemi pulled us out of our torpidness.  It is about 40 kilometers away from Rome and overlooks Lake Nemi, a volcanic crater lake.

22 March 2011

Strozzapreti With Prawns & Asparagus

I like my pasta cooked al dente and strozzapreti is a kind that never fails to maintain the firmness I look for.  For that reason, I can be quite strict in following the number of minutes in cooking any kind of pasta.  One of my indispensable companions in cooking pasta is the timer.  To be truthful, I find it irksome to keep on checking the pasta every minute to check if they're already cooked or not because I burn either my fingers or my tongue. 

19 March 2011

Broccoli Rabe & Salsiccia Lasagna

Broccoli rabe is called cime di rapa or broccoletti in Italian. It is most represented by the Puglian region of Italy and best known with their local pasta dish orecchiette con le cime di rapa.  I have a longstanding dislike of bitter vegetables but this one threw me off.  It is actually not that bitter, just a very slight trace that sometimes leaves you in wonder if the acridity was actually there.

17 March 2011

Green, White & Red Salad

17 March 2011 marks the 150th year of Italy as a united country.  In commemoration to this, my husband, my son & I each have our designated assignments.  My husband prepped our son about the country and its unification as requested by his teacher.  My son made an Italian flag.  While I prepared the most classic of all Italian dishes - the tomatoes, greens (rucola, lettuce or basil) & mozzarella salad.  The three colors of Italy.  Green, white & red. 

Preparing this plate is very easy.  Put together the mozzarella, tomatoes & basil, rucola or any other kind of salad.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil & sprinkle with salt.  I have a penchant for daterini tomatoes for their intese sweetness & flavour so I suggest using them if you find them.  They cost more than the other types of tomatoes but they are worth every single cent that you added.  Another kind that's good is the vesuvian.  They are grown in the area of Mount Vesuvius in Naples and have a high concentration of minerals from the volcanic soil.  And of course the pachino cherry tomatoes from Sicily, valued for their sweetness & intense flavour too.

Vesuvian tomatoes with mozzarella  basil.

Daterini tomatoes with lettuce & mozzarella.

16 March 2011

Farro With Pancetta & Salsiccia

I thought that integrating cereals to my kids' diet would be a difficult task but I was proven wrong.  My kids eat them with relish and my picky 5-year old even excitedly runs to his place in the table when he sees that I cooked cereals.  I cook farro (emmer wheat) almost like how I cook barley with very slight differences but for now I will discuss farro. 

Oven-Roasted Sea Bass With Oranges, Tomatoes & Olives

When I cook fish, my hands move faster than my brain.  I automatically grab a handful of cherry tomatoes, a pack of olives, a bottle of capers, a bunch of parsley, a bottle of extra virgin olive oil & white wine.  These ingredients have permanency in my kitchen.  They go very well together so the aspect of thinking is not a requisite. 

14 March 2011

Sauteed Veal Strips With Rucola & Parmesan

This recipe is the annex of the veal rolls with Marsala, pistachios & rucola.  The meat I used here are the strips that were taken away from the rolls to make them perfectly straight.  There are a lot of possibilities but this came to mind quickly because the ingredients are on hand.

The strips of meat that remained from the veal rolls yielded an abundant plate for one person.  This is a literal quick dump & saute' dish.  The ingredients cook very fast.  As always, best if eaten immediately. 

Veal Rolls With Marsala, Pistachios & Arugula

While waiting for my turn to order at the butcher's, I scanned the prepared meat on display. I spotted a batch of beautifully assembled skewered meat with very green veggies, cheese & breadcrumbs.  Upon closer look, I saw that the veggies were arugula.  The spiraled arugula & veal inspired me to make some veal rolls of my own.  I added some unplanned veal to my list and asked the butcher to slice them as thinly as possible.  Doing my mental checklist, I have fresh arugula at home & pistachios to replace the bland breadcrumbs.

13 March 2011

Fun Kiddle Meals 5

I recently discovered two blogs of moms who prep up their kids' meals just like I do, namely Cute Food For Kids and Crafty Moods.  Unanimously, we try to win our kids' appetites by arming ourselves with cookie cutters, edible knick knacks & a lot of creativity.  

Octopus-shaped boiled wurstels (hotdogs).  Inspired by the octopodes of Cute Food For Kids & Crafty Moods.
In my last foraging in the baking supplies of a big supermarket, I was able to find some colored gels for writing on food, food coloring & other kiddie food decors.   For the initiation of my most recent acquisitions, I used the colored gels on my son's plate of salmon & thin bread.  Nothing special, just some doodles, but I was excited like a kid when I finally concluded his plate with some color for the first time and called him to the kitchen table.  

Boiled flower wurtsels (hotdogs).
He looked at his plate sceptically and asked what the colored things were.  After explaining to him what they were, he said he doesn't want his food touching them.  I looked at him in disbelief!  All kids love these sweet colored gels!  I think the point was that the colors looked so artificial.  I remember a couple of kids of our friends some years back.  They were not touching the little cakes that were a tad too pink.  They told the parents that they were not eating them because they were too pink.  

Swedish thin bread & smoked salmon.
One thing I noticed about Italian children is that they are not attracted to the usual colorful food that are aimed at them.  The effect, on the other hand, is the opposite.  In all the children's parties I have attended, I never encountered any colorful food. They are all in their natural colors.  So I guess I should toss the idea of food colors. 
Robot - spinach roll with ricotta & pistachios and spinach parmesan balls with pear & almonds.

12 March 2011

Layered Potatoes With Speck & Bechamel Sauce

I concocted this recipe about a decade ago in the Swiss Alps.  After having an unforgettable potato gratin in a restaurant, I had to recreate it for lunch in our rented chalet the following day.  I wasn't able to replicate the precise taste but I think I was able to come up with something delightfully good.

Everytime I serve this to the parties at home, this dish gets depleted fast.  Serve warm when the cheeses are still oozing out.  Just thinking about it makes me want to do this dish again!

Fresh Zucchini Salad With Dried Rose Petals & Lemon Zest

When I saw the salt with dried rose petals, I immediately knew where to put it.  It was like the missing piece to a puzzle.  I have been ruminating lately about trying out a fresh zucchini salad but I wanted something delicate that can go with the seemingly fragile taste of raw zucchini.   The rose petals & lemon zest topped with lemon flavoured extra virgin olive oil made the simple salad complete.  It was very summery & light.  I had been waiting for a summer break in winter.

11 March 2011

Potato & Chocolate Cake Balls

I never thought potatoes can be mixed with chocolate and be considered as a cake.  It was just an idea that at first seemed absurd but as the recipe took shape, I was amazed at the result.  It was excellent!  You don't even realize that what you're eating is actually mashed potatoes.  There is no trace of its taste at all.

The Monasteries of Saints Benedict & Scholastica in Subiaco

The Monastery of St. Benedict from the road.
If ever I am asked which church is the most beautiful I have been to in Italy, I would have a difficulty in replying because in every church I have visited, I always leave wide-eyed in awe with its beauty & history.  There is a conservative average of 3 churches (this is based on my own mental statistics) per town, even if the town is just a few streets big and the population is less than 200.   I have been to more than a hundred towns & cities here so that would make about 300 churches at the minimum.  At some point, I ask myself, don't they already look the same after seeing one after the other?   My memory is not something to be proud of but I remember most of the churches vividly.  

The Monastery of St. Benedict is one of them.  It is one of the most beautiful & peculiar churches I have ever seen.  Founded around year 500 by St. Benedict, the church was carved in the mountain, covered with frescoes & comprised of different levels.  There are actually two churches inside with several different chapels, all built in different periods, the last of which is from the 14th century.  

Another monastery nearby is the Monastery of St. Scholastica, who happens to be St. Benedict's twin sister.  Two saints in one family.   Amaranthine calm in their household.   Fortunate parents.  While in Subiaco, St. Benedict founded twelve small monasteries.  Among these, the Monastery of St. Scholastica is the only surviving one and is considered the oldest Benedictine monastery in the world.

These monasteries are located just outside the town of Subiaco, some 80 km. away from Rome.  

With the introduction done, you can continue reading about it in their site at the Benedictine Monasteries of Subiaco

The Monastery of St. Benedict

The upper church.

The holy steps.  There was a wedding going on when we went for our second visit.  You can't take pictures inside but...
The lower church.
The Monastery of St. Scholastica as seen from St. Benedict's Monastery.
Monastery of St. Scholastica.  You can't go around freely.  There are free tours that are conducted regularly in the mornings and in the afternoons. 

The co-cathedral of the town of Subiaco.
The first time we went there, we bought our lunch in the town's delicatessen and had a picnic.  These are typical olives with spicy (not so much though because our son can eat them) condiments. 
A panino (sandwich) of prosciutto crudo & cheese.

A cake called salame del re (salami of the king).   It's a sponge cake roll with a hazelnut-chocolate spread, similar to Nutella.
On our second visit there, we tried the recommended restaurant of the Monastery of St. Scholastica.  Their daily full menus are fixed so don't try ordering something else when you are inside.  The menu is composed of appetizer, pasta, main course, side dish, dessert, wine & water.  The food was basically good.  The restaurant is a part of the hotel that is housed in the premises of the monastery.