29 August 2011

Concord Grape Cake

The uva fragola (concord grapes) commingling with the heat created an intense saccharine smell that permeated the entrance of the supermarket.  It hits you instantly as soon as you walk in.  The only natural thing to do is to look for the source of that alluring fragrance and grab yourself a share of the dark purple grapes in clear boxes.  Apparently, I wasn't the only one who fell into this little scenario.  The rack of the concord grapes was already almost empty. 

26 August 2011

Perline di Mozzarella, Tomatoes & Basil (Insalata Caprese)

Beautiful perline di mozzarella (mozzarella pearls).  I never saw them so small before.  I don't need to say that they immediately disappeared inside my basket while food shopping.  True, I have been searching the mozzarella section of every supermarket I go to the past months, looking for the mozzarella ciliegine to no avail.  They are the size of cherry tomatoes. 

24 August 2011

Farro Tomato Soup with Pancetta & Mussels

My camera is "sick" and is presently under the knowing hands of some "camera doctors" who can make it work again.  It's my son to whom I gave the responsibilty of taking it to Canon service center, guided by my husband.  Ten (LONG) days, they said.  This will be a very long wait for me.

I had the food prepared on the table ready for my improvised amateurish photoshoot when the camera wouldn't click.  Error 99 it says.  I tried again and Error 99 kept on glaring at me.  It says to turn the camera on and off, take away the battery and try again.  Error 99 still wouldn't let up.  I couldn't believe it!  Can it be that session I did with the vitelotti gnocchi when the camera got a bit powdered with flour that killed my camera?   But then it still worked after that.  

I felt so dejected.  I went to my husband with clear desperation written all over my face and told him the problem.  He always solves the problems I get myself tied up to, maybe he can do some magic or input some logic to my already desperate position.  He clicked, opened, changed CF cards, batteries, lenses and finally he said that it seems that there is a problem with the shutter.  Damn, there really is a problem and it's even a Saturday so I even had to wait for Monday when the service center opens.   I grabbed my old camera & his camera to continue shooting.   It's just not the same.  I was really attached to that camera. 

I've been feeling so uninspired all week that I was just meaning to cook my old recipe of farro with pancetta minus the salsiccia.  It takes an hour and a half to cook so I had the luxury to sit down in front of the TV while waiting.  One kid is playing outside and one is napping.   There was silence.  I tuned in to a cooking program that was featuring a pasta dish with mussels.  It's nice to hear what they were saying and to be able to follow something for once.  Kids & watching TV just don't go well together. 

I am not particularly big on mussels but for some reason I found the mussels in the program I was watching so compelling.  I was restraining myself from running to the fish shop to get myself some.  I already have dinner cooking, what am I thinking?  Then I thought that it should be good to mix it with the farro I am cooking.  It would mean that there will be an interval in the cooking.  I have to turn off the fire after the farro is cooked and start it again when I have the mussels.  That's not really proper isn't it, but I was really keen in having some mussels on my dinner plate.  

When there's a will, there's a way.   I found the mussels in the nearby supermarket and resumed my cooking as soon as I got home.  I cooked them for another 20 minutes with the farro until the mussels opened.  Then I thought of making it more soupy than the usual way I cook the dish.  I had one big saucepan of mussels that looked so irresistible.  The taste was something else too!  I felt like a child enjoying her prize lollipop.

Farro Tomato Soup with Pancetta & Mussels

Serves 4
  • 250 grams farro perlato (pearl emmer wheat ), ready to be cooked
  • 200 grams mussels, cleaned
  • 150 grams pancetta affumicata, diced
  • 400 grams tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, halved or crushed
  • Marjoram
  • Parsley, finely chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt 
  • Pepper
  1. Sautè the diced pancetta, garlic & marjoram.  When the pancetta attain a brownish color, add the onions and cook until golden.  
  2. Add the tomatoes & parsley.  Cook for an hour on low heat.  Keep a pot of hot water beside the saucepan.  When the sauce is drying out, add some hot water when needed. 
  3. Add the farro.  Cook for 15 minutes on low heat.  Stir frequently.  Take away the garlic.  
  4. Add the mussels & cover.  Cook for another 15 - 20 minutes.
  5. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil before serving.  Sprinkle with fresh parsley.

23 August 2011

Gigli with Grapes, Zucchini & Mint

Twice in Tuscany and we went home empty-handed. We were in dire need to restock our table extra virgin olive oil as our son pointedly told us.  He and his baby sister are firm believers of pouring drizzling oil on their food before proclaiming them edible.  Extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano are staple to them. From their very first food, they have comprised the daily diet given by their pediatrician. They didn't shake off the habit anymore. Thank God, because it's something very good for them. One of my son's favorite snacks is bread drizzled with oil.  I like having bread with oil at times but not as a daily treat. Come to think of it, I don't have the right to complain because it's a miracle that a kid would actually prefer to eat something so healthy rather than those sugar and conservant loaded snacks disguised as yummy-looking goodies.

20 August 2011

Vitelotte Potato Salad with Blue Cheese, Pancetta & Tomatoes

The good news is, my wooden crate of violet potatoes is almost empty.  That means I am ending my series of violet potato recipes pretty soon.  Two more recipes lined up then I am totally done.  I will have them again this winter, when the French ones arrive.

After doing a number of dishes with these beauties, I have learned that they are not meant to be roasted in the oven.  No, absolutely not.  I grilled some salsiccie and potatoes, regular & violet, the other day. The regular potatoes came out good, as always and the big surprise was, the violet ones died along the way.  They were not edible.  They were unrecognizable.  They were awful.  What a disappointment.  I also tried potato soup that didn't do justice to these violet wonders.   The potato soup came out of mediocre quality, not bad but not great either.  Conclusively, they are perfect for making gnocchi al burro e salvia (butter & sage), and good with salads & mashed potato pancakes

19 August 2011

Mashed Vitelotte Potato & Pistachio Pancakes with Blue Cheese Sauce

Oftentimes, I find myself stuck with a substantial amount of leftover boiled potatoes.   Cooked potatoes don't really last long so I have to hasten any exploration of possibilities.   I had been hovering on the idea of doing potato pancakes.  Gosh, there are a lot of ideas online!   It's a traditional plate of Germany and other Eastern European countries.  Problem is, they are made with grated uncooked potatoes so I was already at a bad start.  I was on my own.  Leftover mashed potato pancakes can be done though as I searched on.   That's good enough for me.

18 August 2011

Palm & Smoked Salmon Layers

Here's a brief intermission from my violet potatoes before I tackle them again.  Last time I checked, smoked salmon was in the list of "edible foods" of my five-year old. When I served these, I found out that his smoked salmon days were over. He moved on to the fresh version. Talk about fickle-mindedness. Soon I will have to refer to him as the six-year old. He is already preparing to add another finger to his five finger demonstration of his age. When I do that to him when he asks how old I am, I get tired flashing both hands so many times that his eyes bulge out with a beaten expression. "Mommy, you just beat me with the age." Dear child, if you only how nice it is to still be able to count your age with your fingers without using them more than once. 

Yes, I was just going back to the salmon. This is a very simple and straightforward idea for an appetizer.  A looker but no big surprises tastewise.  What you see is what you get.   In the recipe, I wrote that the minced salmon is to be mixed with the minced chives & lemon.  The ones I prepared don't have any chives mixed with the salmon because my husband has a perplexing relationship with garlic, onions and their relatives.   He gets derailed when he needs to buy any of them.  "Who, me?  Why?  Are you sure?  Do I have to?  Is it important?"  That's his sure-fail way to weasel his way out of buying them. Imagine this. He uses the disposable gloves to get them from the racks, dumps them straight to a plastic bag and wraps them well with two bags to try to eradicate the smell.  He holds them only with the tips of his thumb & pointing finger, with the gloves on.  Oh dear. 

Palm & Smoked Salmon Layers

Serves 4
  • 100 grams smoked salmon
  • 6 palm heart sticks
  • capers
  • 1/2 to 1 lemon, juice
  • chives, minced
  • round food shaper with the same diameter as the palm heart sticks
  1. Cut the palm heart sticks to 1 inch discs.  Set aside.
  2. Mince the smoked salmon.  Mix it in a bowl with the lemon juice & chives.  Use the amount of lemon according to your taste.  
  3. Place one palm heart disc flat on a plate.   Put the food shaper on top of it and put a small amount of minced salmon mixture in it.  Press a bit to maintain the shape.  Take away the food shaper slowly.
  4. Place one caper and a small piece of chive on top.  Press them lightly on the salmon so that they don't roll off easily.
  5. Repeat until you finish all the other ingredients. 

    15 August 2011

    Scamorza & Anchovy Crostini

    I still don't understand fully well the difference between the bruschetta and the crostino.  In Rome, crostini are laden with melted soft cheese, usually mozzarella or scamorza and other ingredients on top.  The Tuscan ones, on the other hand, are commonly topped with liver pate',  vegetables, beans, eggs, etc.  They can actually be considered bruschette in Rome already.   Every region has something different to say about it so it's better not to touch that subject.   I live in Rome so I will write about what I know.

    14 August 2011

    Vitelotte Gnocchi al Burro e Salvia (Butter & Sage)

    With the small wooden crate still almost full of vitelotte potatoes in the kitchen,  I have no choice but to keep on cooking potatoes until I exhaust every single tuber.  Maybe at the end of this week, I will be so fed up of these potatoes that my violet potato phase will be history. 

    12 August 2011

    Summer Vitelotte Potato Salad

    If only you know how much I have looked for these potatoes for such a long time.   I was even ready to pay €30 for a couple of kilos coming from London.  Yes, I was that desperate.   Just before I clicked on that beckoning PAY button, I re-thought about it and my husband jumped in to the rescue.  He worked his wonders in looking for a vendor in Italy.   I resignedly informed him that I had been trying for months but there is no seller in this country that is mentioned on-line.   Tick-tock-tick-tock.  The PAY button is getting nervously lonely.   "Got it!"  Did I hear right?  I obnoxiously told him that he must have found the potatoes that are grown in the north of the country that are always mistaken as the vitelotte.  While saying that, I curiously peeled my eyes away from the PAY button in my computer, scared that it might hide from me.  "It is vitelotte!"  And the vendor is even a couple of hours drive away from Rome.  Then he found another one.  How can that be?  He put my months-long search to a shame.  5 minutes was all it took him!   Armed with the phone number, he was able to order 5 kilos for me for €20 and they can even deliver them to us to a vegetable shop nearby without paying for any shipping.  Still expensive for potatoes but much more acceptable than the English ones.    I immediately emptied my online shopping cart and sighed with relief.  

    Grilled Pepper & Mozzarella Pasta Salad

    It is one of those hot lazy days when I didn't want to confront the heat of cooking.   The only ingredient involved with fire & heat is the pasta.  For the rest, I was home free.  Of course, if you are one of those people who can tolerate heat, you can also grill the peppers yourself instead of using the bottled ones.   I am one of those flowers that wilt fast when I stay too long in the heat of the kitchen during summer.   During the long heat waves in the past summers, I literally closed down my kitchen only after learning from the other women that they had long abandoned their own kitchens.   They were looking at me strangely like I was some sort of a kitchen Mother Theresa for still continuing to cook in spite of the heat. 

    My cupboards' principal contents are the ones that I mixed this pasta salad with.  Olives, capers, tuna & grilled peppers.   The basil were freshly picked from my own plants and the mozzarella were freshly bought.  I can't keep them long in the fridge because they are fresh and don't last long.  And well, they won't keep long under the watchful eyes of my husband.   If Sesame Street has Cookie Monster on the loose, I have the mozzarella version at home.

    Cold pasta salads are wonderful fresh, healthy & easy options for summer meals.  You can mix anything that you have at hand and you can prepare them much in advance.  I cooked a normal pasta dish for lunch so I just cooked more pasta than we needed and prepared the cold pasta salad in the afternoon.  Just don't forget to mix the extra virgin olive oil with the pasta before leaving it to cool or you will end up with one colossal pasta ball that will refuse to separate.  I let it sit with the condiments to absorb the taste and voila!   I was cool as an icicle when dinner came.  No harried-mom look for once.

    The quantities of the ingredients depend solely on you.  You can modify it according to your taste.  You know how it goes.  The more ingredients you put, the tastier it becomes.

    Grilled Pepper & Mozzarella Pasta Salad

    Serves 4
    • 300 grams short pasta (I used mezze penne rigate.)
    • Salt
    • Extra virgin olive oil 
    • 250 grams bottled grilled pepper, drained & chopped
    • 3 tablespoons capers, preserved in vinegar (If you are using the ones preserved in salt, rinse first under the tap, give a light squeeze & soak in white wine vinegar for about 10 - 15 minutes.)
    • 1/3 cup olives, chopped
    • 1/4 cup basil, chopped
    • 200 grams mozzarella, squeezed lightly to send away water & diced
    • 180 grams canned tuna, drained
    1. Boil some water for the pasta.  Add the salt when it boils then add the pasta.  Cook according to the cooking time suggested in the package.
    2. When cooked, drain immediately & run under cold tap water to stop the cooking.  Drain.  
    3. Mix with extra virgin olive oil to avoid sticking to each other.  Let it cool.
    4. Add all the ingredients to the pasta and mix well.  Add more extra virgin olive oil if still needed.  Season with salt.

    10 August 2011

    Passion Fruit Parfait with Moscato Wine & Vanilla

    When I was acquainting myself to Italian cooking years ago, I encountered this series of Italian cookbooks Cucchiaio d'Argento (Silver Spoon), flipped through the pages, hoped, sighed, considered, sighed long and finally put it back in the shelf.  I didn't buy it.  The recipes seemed so good but too difficult for a novice like me.   It is, after all, the bible of Italian cooking.  Note taken.  I left the herculean ones to the restaurants.  

    I found some passion fruit in the produce section of the supermarket last week and almost squeaked with delight.  I think I really squeaked anyway.   I had been wanting to try my hand at making some passion fruit semifreddo (parfait) for so long.  Being an exotic fruit and so hard to come by in this part, I bought some passion fruit vines years ago hoping that they will bear the egg-shaped fruit.  The flowers are very beautiful but the species I got is NOT the one that produces the good fruit!  Sure, they are edible, if you like eating paper.  So I have these vines scattered about bearing useless oval-shaped fruit.   

    I searched the internet for a recipe and found one after about an hour.  There were not so much to choose from.  I had all the ingredients, just less than what was written in the recipe.  I even had a bottle of Moscato wine which I found at the back of the shelf in the pantry.  I had to tweak a bit here and there to compensate for the lack of quantities.  10 PM was really not a decent time to go out food shopping.  In the middle of cooking, I realized that I was following a recipe of Cucchiaio d'Argento.   I almost abandoned the recipe midway, disheartened by my lack of confidence.  Va bene, I will do it, my confidence jumping back in.  

    The recipe says to wait for a full day in the freezer before serving the semifreddo.  Excited and agitated as I was, I took it out the following mid-morning and tried it. If I am good at dancing, I would have done some elaborate dance moves.  Yes, it was good!  And it even came from the cookbook that I had eluded for years.

    Passion Fruit Parfait with Moscato Wine & Vanilla

    Serves 4
    • 4 eggs, separated
    • 70 g. sugar
    • 5 passion fruit
    • 30 ml. Moscato di Pantelleria wine (Or any muscat dessert wine.  Original recipe asked for Moscato d'Asti.)
    • 1 vanilla pod (Optional.  I added this one.)
    For the sauce:
    • 60 g. sugar
    • 60 ml. water
    • Moscato di Pantelleria wine (Or any muscat dessert wine.  Original recipe asked for Moscato d'Asti.)
    1. Cut the fruit in half.  Empty the shells using a spoon.  Put the pulp with the seeds in a sieve and gently squash them to get the juice out.  Set the seeds aside to use for the sauce.
    2. You have to do the mixture in bain marie so have 2 cooking pots prepared to put one on top of the other.  The bottom pot should be slightly bigger in dimension than the one on top.  Fill the bottom pot with water then put the smaller pot on top of it.  Boil the water in low fire.
    3. Mix the egg yolks with 50 g. sugar.  When the mixture becomes homogenous, add the passion fruit juice and 30 ml. Moscato.  Mix frequently.  Don't let the mixture boil.  When it is already mixed thoroughly, set it aside to cool.
    4. In the meantime, whip the egg whites until stiff.  Add 20 g. sugar and whip for 5 minutes.   Add the passion fruit mixture slowly.  Put the mixture in a plum cake pan lined with saran wrap.  Leave in the freezer for at least one day.
    5. To make the sauce, put together the seeds, water, sugar and the vanilla pod (optional) used for the semifreddo mixture (rinse & dry first) in a cooking pot with very low fire.  Cook for 40 minutes.  Add some Moscato wine if it becomes too dense.  Set aside.
    6. After at least one day, take out the parfait from the freezer, slice and serve with the sauce.
    7. The parfait becomes soft fast so take them out right before serving. 

    07 August 2011

    Minty Green Risotto

    Green vegetables in the fridge being continually ignored is unforgivable! I'm bad, I know.  I keep on procrastinating the day I will tackle the greens.  Doesn't anyone have THE lazy days like I do? My vegetable compartment was brimming with healthy ingredients and being lazy as I am, I sometimes hope (Did I just say hope?) that they are not there.  Instead I was hoping that there are some cooked food waiting for me to just reheat.  But I am never that lucky. 

    So before I regret not cooking the vegetables at all, I took them all out of the compartment.  I happened to notice that they are all green (This proves that I am a great observer.) and when I looked out the window, I also noticed my mint plants blooming with beautiful GREEN leaves.  Out I went with my little lady toddler to gather some mint leaves.  In the process, I taught her to associate the scent with its name.  She said, "Enk".  Most of the words she says all sound the same to me.  I tried "menta".  "Enkh".  It still sounds the same to me. 

    I already did a pasta sauce with this combination before and I remembered that we loved it. The mint delicately dominated the different flavours of the dish and it tasted so summery.  I also took out my small bottle of crushed pistachios from Bronte, Sicily, a small town that produces the best pistachios in the country. It's like playing the game "touch the color - green".  It was my favorite game when I was a kid.  I could also touch the Matcha green tea canister but the recipe was already becoming a hodgepodge of tastes. 

    One of the things I learned in cooking the Italian way and immediately adapted is to put less ingredients as possible. You lose track of the taste you are attaining if you put too many things together.  I remember watching a cooking show from another country about grilling meat when the cook put together not less than 30 ingredients together. I was astonished to see the amount of things he has dumping in his marinade.  What was he doing?  I changed the channel immediately. 

    Minty Green Risotto

    Serves 4
    • 250 g. Arborio rice (or any rice good for risotto)
    • 500 g. zucchini, minced
    • 300 g. asparagus, minced (tips left intact)
    • 1/2 cup mint leaves, minced
    • 1/2 onion, minced
    • 2 tbsp. pistachios, crushed
    • 1 cup white wine
    • 1 liter hot vegetable broth
    • salt & pepper
    • knob of butter
    • extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, grated
    1. Boil a pot of vegetable broth.
    2. In another pot, sautè the onion in extra virgin olive oil.  After 3 minutes, add the zucchine, minced asparagus and the tips.  Cook for 15 minutes.
    3. Add the rice.  Toast for 5 minutes.
    4. With a higher flame, add the wine.  When the alcohol evaporates, turn down the flame again. 
    5. Ladle the broth to the risotto little by little, making sure the risotto doesn't dry up.  Stir frequently so that the rice will not stick to the pot.   Add pistachios.   Season with salt & pepper. 
    6. Turn off the fire when the rice becomes al dente.   Add a knob of butter & parmigiano reggiano.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive.  

    06 August 2011

    Mezze Penne Rigate with Tomato Chicken Sauce

    One compliment for something I cooked is already enough to make me happy but to get three consecutive ones from the same person made me positively giddy.   I was brimming with confidence to confront another challenge in the kitchen.  My kitchen is the main location of a continual duel between me and the food.   I'm not always the winner there.  I sometimes go out of my reign with my tail in between my legs.  

    I had no more ideas coming on what I was going to do with the shredded boiled chicken in the fridge that I used to make the chicken stock for the chicken noodle soup.   The drab looking meat staring at me didn't give me fireworks in my brain to start something for dinner.

    05 August 2011

    Chicken Noodle Soup

    It's true that when you are feeling low and fighting a temperature, you would just like someone to tuck you in bed with a hot bowl of chicken soup.   I had a fever the other day and I was obsessively wishing for a hot bowl of soup.  So as soon as I felt better, I went straight to the kitchen and concocted this simple recipe to perk me up a bit. 

    03 August 2011

    Pasta with Sardines (Pasta con le Sarde)

    Sicily has taken over me, myself & I.  I would just like to jump on a plane and get this Sicilian craving over and done with.  This pasta is an iconic dish of Sicily that originated in Palermo that had spread all over the island then to the rest of Italy. It's like a virus!  But whether that part of Italy is just a few hundred kilometers away from its heart, no one can do it like how they do it in Palermo. Geez, just like any of Sicily's dishes anyway. That alone is the perfect reason to pack your bags and get yourself the real thing!

    01 August 2011

    Granita al Caffè

    This has got to be the simplest & easiest dessert (breakfast in Sicily) I ever made.   All you need is three basic ingredients and you are off to enjoy one of Sicily's best.  Well, to be more exact, a copy of Sicily's granita, because nothing can really compare to the ones that you eat in the island itself.  I don't know why, the ones we get in Rome or whatever part of the country cannot come close to the real thing.

    After doing a series of granita al limone (lemon), granita alla pesca (peach) & different flavors of gelato the whole month, my husband suggested that I make the simplest & his favorite breakfast in Sicily.  Granita al caffe'.  When we has young, he would switch between the lemon & coffee variety eaten with a brioche, a typical lightly sweet soft Sicilian bread that is eaten with granita or gelato. 

    I prefer churning the granita in the ice cream maker rather than scraping the ice manually because it can get very hard to scrape.   I cannot keep on calling my husband everytime I feel like having a glass.  Aside from not wanting to bother him, he will find out how much I eat!  The granita al caffe' is so good that I tend to forget that it's done with pure coffee.  I limit myself to 3 - 4 times a day to replace my regular espresso during the day. 

    The right opportunity to prepare it came the other day when my husband's relatives were coming for lunch.  They said it was good but it needed more coffee.  I was amused.  Sicilians and their granite!   They can never be strong enough.  


    Granita al Caffè

    Serves 4
    • 1-1/2 cups espresso coffee (not brewed coffee)
    • 1/2 cup white sugar
    • 2 cups water
    1. Mix the water and sugar in a saucepan with low flame until sugar melts.  Do not make it boil.  Let it cool.
    2. Mix the syrup and coffee and mix well.  Transfer to a container and place it in the freezer.  Mix every half an hour to avoid solidifying.  
    3. If you are using an ice cream maker, transfer the liquid to the ice cream maker and let it freeze & churn until the granita reaches the right consistency.   Your aim is to break the ice crystals not to make it too frothy so don't leave it in the ice cream maker too long.  Transfer to the freezer until you are ready to serve.  

    Sauteed String Beans, Tuna & Cashew

    After buying "some" tuna, this is another dish I was able to come up with.  I think I exaggerated in the amount that I felt a jolt of guilt that I didn't leave enough for the others.   No, I am not a hoarder, I just get a little bit excited at times at the food shops.

    It is time to refresh the menu at home.   This delicious & tasty dish has an Asian twist and is best eaten with plain white rice.    My one-year old is a white-rice junkie.   She will drop anything for a bowl of white rice drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.   Good healthy choice but it stops there.   Anything mixed with her rice gets dumped on her neighboring plate which happens to be my husband's.   She's already quite efficient with her fork that she gets to fish out anything that's not the same color or size as her rice.  This time I tricked her.  I put her string beans & tuna in the electric chopper and mixed it with her rice.  After a complaint here, there, on the wall, on the floor & heaven knows where, she finally waved the white flag and ate.