Grandma’s Cabinet: Unconventional home remedy for a stressful day

I must admit, this has to be the most unorthodox and unscientific home remedy in history. Still, it works every time! Let’s pretend you’ve had a really stressful day…work is driving you crazy, the weather is not cooperating, you are feeling less than ideal. All you want to do is go home, put on your comfy sweatpants and curl under your blanket. I do it all the time…with the added bonus of having my kitty Diego snuggle with me. My favorite part of these days, however, is running home to make my mom’s perfect Riso e Prezzemolo – Rice and Parsley.

Parsley is a fun little spice, vegetable and herb. It is said that Apigenin, a chemical found in parsley, has anti-cancer properties, it fights bad breath when chewed and parsley seed extract can help lower blood pressure.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 potatoes
  • A handful of Italian Parsley, chopped and some for garnish
  • 1 vegetable bouillon
  • 2 cups of Arborio rice
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • hint of extra virgin olive oil

As long as you have good potatoes, this dish won’t fail. It just cannot fail. Peel the potatoes, dice them and set aside.

Now the parsley. A fresh bunch is preferred, and the great flexibility of parsley is that it freezes beautifully. The amount of parsley in this dish is absolutely subjective. I love my rice to have tons of parsley, my husband, on the other hand, prefers it with a light sprinkle of fresh parsley. Once you have decided the right amount of this leafy green, finely cut it and set aside. This will be added to the boiling rice almost at the end.

The secret to this dish is the vegetable bouillon. I usually use a store-bought one (as pictured below), although I am experimenting with a homemade version. More to come on this, so stay tuned!

Add the diced potato to a pot with hot water. Before the water and the potatoes are brought to a boil, add the bouillon.

After the bouillon is in the pot, stir it quickly so that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Once the water boils, add the rice. I use a 1 cup per person, although that makes for quite a bit of rice. Arborio rice is perfect for risotto and works great for this dish as well. No need to rinse the rice before adding to the water.

Once the rice is added to the boiling water, turn down the heat and let it cook slowly for 10-15 minutes, or until tender. Do not overcook the rice, like I did multiple times, or you’ll have mushy rice and not broth.

Add salt and pepper to taste, stir it and add the parsley and serve it with grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a hint of extra virgin olive oil. It’s that easy. Not only will this dish make you feel so much better, but you’ll want to make it again and again. I usually make a big batch,  store it and bring it with me to work the next day. It makes for a superb quick lunch.

I hope this recipe will help you with your stressful days. I’d love to hear what are your go-to recipes to relief stress. Personally, this dish represents everything I want when I am down. It also reminds me of my mom at the stove, making it for us in the pit of an icy winter in Milano.

Out and About: My parents’ orto in Los Angeles

It’s been quite a while since my last post. My apologies. I have done some traveling, some eating, cooking. It’s been an interesting summer, but I am back and ready to roll.

Our first stop was Los Angeles. My cousin Federica, her daughter Gaia and husband Alessandro traveled from Italy for their first U.S. vacation. I hadn’t seen them since our wedding in May 2010 and since Federica and I are really close (she is the older sister I never had), it just felt right to hop on a plane and spend some time together…plus, the last time I was home was Christmas. Either way, it was a win-win.

One of the things I love coming home to is a plentiful garden, l’orto. My grandma Pierina and grandpa Piero used to tend to what I used to call “a little forest:” carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants, cabbage, you name it, they were growing it. My parents are keeping up this family tradition.

After only a few minutes in the garden, we had at least 20 big carrots, a couple of bunches of green onions and tons of lettuce. It never really hit me until I found myself without an orto, but getting my hands (and knees) dirty is divine: the cold and wet soil underneath my fingernails, the occasional snail slowly making its way through the arugola patch. It’s an almost invisible microcosm, a grounded cycle of life.

These tomatoes were juicy and so much tastier than the ones I usually buy at the local grocery store. These fantastic fresh veggies didn’t go to waste, they went right into our bellies! My mom and dad made a simple, yet sensational, veggie soup, much like a Minestrone.

Our tomato bounty. Can you imagine a fresh Caprese salad with these and Mozzarella di Bufala? That’s right. I dream of it at times.

Aside from the orto, the garden sports an impressive spread of citrus trees: two orange trees, one lemon and a grapefruit, too. Every summer morning, my brother and I used to make homemade orange juice. Of course we complained and our—well, at least my less-than-optimal arm strength, would only produce a couple of drops. Nonetheless, we never got sick – no fever, sore throats, no flu. This summer, we all pitched in and collected pounds over pounds of oranges, and even little Gaia got into the game.

A homemade garden is a healthy, communal and revolutionary notion. It brought my family together, enhanced my desire to learn how to cook and made for a better life, plain and simple.

Of course, a Los Angeles vacation could not be complete without its stunning sunsets. Cooking with family is good for the soul. Do it and do it often.

Kobi Levi food-inspired shoes

It’s Friday and the weekend brings good and happy thoughts. Although we are impatiently waiting Hurricane Irene, Francesco and I are actively house hunting and, of course, cooking up a storm. So, expect some delicious fajitas all’italiana coming your way. Yes, this post is really random, but let me explain. I have two weaknesses in life: chocolate and shoes. Imagine my delight when I discovered these!! Kobi Levi is a freelance designer and, obviously, pure genius.

The banana peel shoe. Fantastic. It will go with anything in my closet, because, really, do you need an excuse to wear a pair of these? (Image)

Tea or coffee cup? Who cares. Amazing. (Image)

The coffee or tea cup even in black. (Image)

Not a food-related shoe, I know, but I couldn’t resist. (Image)

Pardon. Again. But, hello? I want a pair now. (Image)

Lessons from Julia Child

We have a bit of Julia Child in all of us. What I love most about Mrs. Child is her fervent humor (witty and pointed). While I was reading My Life in France, her book with Alex Prud’Homme, I began thinking about my own food related memories and heritage. I grew up in a family of excellent and inventive cooks—mom is a champ baker (her crostata is to die for) and dad is an unafraid alchemist, mixing ingredients and revising recipes without a hint of anxiety. I have only recently rediscovered the sheer pleasure in making a meal from start to finish. Pity. In college, I relied on Ramen instant noodles, processed, really-bad-for me, so-called food. Sure, I’d add in the ever-present pasta dish. Sad. It was only when I began cooking for two that I realized I needed to get over myself and learn how to cook properly. Hence, my infatuation with Julia.

Image

Interestingly enough, Julia Child is not well-known in Italy. I actually never heard of her before moving to the United States some 10 years ago. Is the never-ending feud/rivalry between Italy and France to blame? Not sure, but I am disappointed to have met Mrs. Child so late in the game.

I am a romantic at heart and I found the book melancholic, but exciting at the same time. From Julia and Paul’s arrival to Paris in the Blue Flash, their oversize, very American Buick, to their farewell to France many years later, I was transported back in time. Reality seemed to stop, at least for me. I have been to Paris before (it is my favorite place on earth), but I would give anything to go back and see it through Julia Child’s eyes; to navigate the streets of the city of lights with her, a braccetto, cheerfully stopping at our favorite butcher to pick up the ingredients for the glorious Boeuf Bourguignon.

Needless to say, I ordered Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After dreaming about Julia’s life and kitchen in their first grandiose apartment in Paris, I was hooked. The recipes’ butter content is something I will need some time and training adapting to…but I will try anything once. I’ve always wanted to master the art of brioche making and now I have my chance. No more excuses. Until next time, Bon Appetit! (Image)


Saffron risotto with shrimps

I have a love affair with saffron. It may be because it appears in many dishes from my region, Lombardia—best known is Risotto alla Milanese. In my humble opinion, saffron marries perfectly with risotto, but I have used it in pasta sauces, vegetable medley and as a marinade for either a nice halibut filet or a juicy rib eye steak.

For this recipe, I ventured a bit outside my comfort zone and purchased precooked, frozen shrimps from the new, pimped out Whole Foods Market in Charlottesville. It may look intimidating, but this dish is a breeze. I promise.  All you need is 1 1/2 cups of shrimps (any size will do), garlic, good white wine, 2 packets of saffron, 4 cups of Arborio rice (for 4 people), 1 cup of vegetable stock, salt and pepper. See? Nothing too fancy.

After washing the shrimps…and making sure they are all devenied, get out the best tool in the kitchen: the pressure cooker! It will cut the cooking time in half. No joke.

Mince the 3 cloves of garlic and place them in the cooker with some extra virgin olive oil. Roast the garlic for 3 or 4 minutes, or until golden. Add the cut and cleaned shrimps and the saffron and cook for about 2 minutes. The saffron that I use is from Italy and was sent to us by Francesco’s parents. I use two packets or the equivalent of 2 teaspoons. Mix the ingredients until they all look uniformly orangey. Call me crazy, but I just LOVE the color of saffron.

Add the Arborio rice and cook all the ingredients for 5 to 10 minutes. Now comes the fun part. Add the wine, and don’t be alarmed if it makes all kinds of noises and smoke. Stir it until the rice is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the vegetable stock and make sure the liquid covers all the ingredients.

Add salt and pepper, taste it and cover it up. Cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Once it’s ready to serve, sprinkle some Parmigiano Reggiano and let it melt. Buon Appetito!

Vocabulary:

Risotto – rice

Zafferano – saffron

Aglio – garlic

Gamberetti – shrimps

Out and About: Peach picking at Chiles Peach Orchard

What a gorgeous day in Charlottesville: warm sun and gentle breeze. The perfect weather to go peach picking. After a fun morning at the City Market, my good friend Emily and I trekked to Crozet, Virginia to Chiles Peach Orchard. Picture the green hills of Central Virginia, sun bathed peach trees, families pic-nicking and acres of pretty green hills. Here are some pictures of our fun day. Enjoy!

Emily is an experienced peach picker!

Look at this peaceful landscape…who wouldn’t want to spend some time in the sun in this place?


I picked about 10 pounds of peaches. How many peach cobblers can I possibly make? Emily gave me a super tasty recipe for a spicy peach salsa. Stay tuned. We’ll blow your minds.

Chiles Peach Orchard is open from April through Thanksgiving and it might be the best kept secret in town – at least for me!

An enthusiastic and friendly picker!

Grandma’s Cabinet: home remedy for the summer cold

There is probably nothing worse that getting sick—the down-on-your-knees sniffling, coughing-up-a-storm kind of ill—in the summertime. Got the idea? That is what happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I wouldn’t know how I happened to get that sick. We spent the weekend in a breathtaking estate in Warrenton, Virginia for the wedding of our good friends Jeff and Marla. We enjoyed seeing old friends, ate good food, took a scenic bike ride, wept at the ceremony, danced at the reception, got sick. In that order.

Image

I’ve had the idea of introducing this new section of the blog for a while, but I couldn’t find the right time. Well, now the time has found me. Grandma’s Cabinet will feature all the home remedies my grandmother Piera and my aunt Cesarina (and my mom Patrizia for that matter) have taught, concocted and given me through the years.

The simplest, and may I say the most effective, is the remedy for the summer cold: a cup of hot milk (don’t heat in the microwave, let it simmer slowly in a small pot) with a spoonful of honey right before bed. It’s not a secret remedy, but it has worked for me every time and I found that the better quality the honey, the better the results. To that end, I only use local honey from nearby Virginia farms: a rich, flowery taste that lingers in your mouth.

Give it a try and let me know if it works for you!

Cookies on my mind

It’s the weekend, folks! Time to get ready for the “sweet talent of doing nothing”—Il dolce far niente. (Yes, I watched Eat, Pray, Love last night…comments on the movie are for a different post….), and a proper dolce far niente is supported by food, namely cookies…with chocolate (the more, the better).

After a hard, grueling week at work, what’s better than a sweet, chocolaty treasure to nurture the soul? Well, add in a big hug and nothing even comes close.

{Photo}

And for the record, yes, I deserve a cookie. Maybe even two.

Food Reads: I’ve got some reading to do

I have been in a food coma for some time—the food book kind of coma. I obsessively check the latest arrivals at the local used book stores (Daedalus and Read it Again Sam) for a possible addition to my wordy arsenal. I’ve got eight books waiting for me and one that I am currently thoroughly enjoying: Julie Powell’s Julie and Julia, My Year of Cooking Dangerously: An honest and raunchy account of life between Julia Child-derived meals. Right up my alley. Love it.

So, I’ve got some reading to do and in no particular order:

-Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food

Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life by New York Times food writer Kim Severson

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (who, by the way, will be in Charlottesville in October with none other than Eric Ripert)

Ruth Reichl‘s Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me With Apples

The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace

Best Food Writing 2009

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipe from Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg (of Orangette, one of the best blogs around!)

Phew! That is is for now.Or maybe not. Any books I should add to this list?

Out and About: Jazz Brunch at Commander’s Palace

On the day of our first wedding anniversary, our good friends Farah and Lee brought us to one of New Orleans’ most renowned restaurants for a unique experience: Jazz Brunch.

Commander’s Palace is an institution, voted most popular restaurant by the Zagat guide in 2009. We were escorted to our table by a suited gentleman. We walked through the busy kitchen and by the smell of it, I knew we were in for a delicious treat. The menu was pure decadence. After a quick read, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer amount of dishes I wanted to try out: Oysters, crabs, cheviche. For appetizers, I decided to go with the quintessential New Orleans treat—and the recommendation of the cordial, animated staff.

Oyster & Absinthe “Dome” – Plump P&J oysters poached with bacon, artichokes, Absinthe and a splash of double cream ~ Presented under a flaky pastry shell.

When Farah’s appetizer reached the table, I was jealous. The shrimps were fresh and spicy, the texture of the remoulade was perfect.

Wild Shrimp Remoulade “Moderne” – Spicy boiled shrimp with Tabasco mousse, crispy brix, Creole remoulade and salt cured lemon zest.

Before we dove into each entrée, the meal took a musical turn. As per tradition, a jazz band goes around the restaurant’s various rooms and plays jazzy tunes. At time, the players invite the customers to join in the fun and that’s exactly what happened to me.

The band came around and I found myself dancing, with my napkin in the air, around the room with Lee.  It’s called Jazz Brunch for a reason! (Yes, that’s me with my friend Lee).

Picking an entrée was like choosing the perfect pair of shoes: You wanted the make the smartest decision. Being in New Orleans, I decided to order something that I would not so easily find in Virginia, so I went with a soft shell blue crab, fried, on a bed of greens with a poached egg smothered with Hollandaise sauce.

The crab was perfectly married with the sweet and tangy Hollandaise. I had never had a whole fried crab before. It didn’t taste like anything I have ever eaten before and the more I think about it, the more I’d love to eat it again and again.

Farah also picked fish: Griddle Seared Gulf Fish – Butter roasted artichokes, asparagus, pequillo peppers, grilled eggplant and tiny tomatoes with brûléed citrus & lemon-thyme vinaigrette.

Francesco went with the only non-fish dish on the menu: A beautiful beef filet adorned with a poached egg and a myriad of extraordinary sauces. The meat was so tender, it blended with the smooth texture of the egg and accompanied white sauce.

As if this wasn’t enough, we still had dessert. Commander’s Palace, it turns out, is known for its bread pudding souffle. Farah recommended it, we listened and agreed: It was insanely good.

The pudding was rich and velvety and the occasional raising gave it an unexpected crunch. Yet, the star of the dish, according to Francesco, was the luxurious whiskey cream—which was carefully served at the table, when the souffle was still warm.

In order to try another specialty, I picked something reminiscent of an American classic—strawberry shortcake with local strawberries and handmade whipped cream. The cake was soft, moist. The whipped cream was light and with a hint of vanilla. The strawberry syrup was rich, but not too sweet.

This was most likely the richest and most satisfying meal of my life. Great food is hard to come by, and good friends are even harder. Farah, Lee and the carefully prepared food made our first anniversary simply unforgettable.