A cold cuts butcher’s shop. Carnivorous or not, that is one good looking spread. My preferred combination is prosciutto crudo with cantaloupe during steaming summer months.
Although slightly lactose intolerant, I cannot resist a hearty Fontina or a creamy Crescenza.
AND ESPECIALLY THIS.
Well, this is what I dream at night. Parmigiano Reggiano is, in my humble opinion, the perfect cheese. And as you may have noticed, we Italians use it in just about every dish – there is even Parmigiano ice cream.
For the last five years, Francesco and I spent Christmas either with friends in Virginia or with my parents in California. Great times were had, awesome meals were eaten, but spending Christmas in Italy is the ultimate nirvana – (and he had not spent December 25th with family in all these years). So, early in the summer when we begin our vacation planning for the year, we looked at each other and went straight to the computer. We opened our preferred cheap flights website and typed: FROM: Washington Dulles TO: Rome. In a heartbeat, it was done. We were going to Italy for Christmas! (And extra nirvana: my parents and brother would be there as well!)
My mind, of course, went straight to Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day lunch. It’s just how I am wired; I associate holidays, and memories, with food. Since we were spending the holidays with my in-laws, I was curious to find out their Christmas tradition. In my family, the biggest celebration happens on Christmas day and lunch is usually an unforgettable feast with local food from the Lombardy region: polenta, chiodini mushrooms and some sort of meat – Panettone and Pandoro covered with a mascarpone cream were a must for dessert. Talk about watching your weight.
As it turns out, my in-laws’ biggest culinary feat usually happens on Christmas Eve. Dinner is served around 8pm and the menu is predominantly seafood based. (Poor husband of mine hates fish of all shapes and sizes….he had to settle for pasta al pomodoro).
Just remembering the dinner gives me goose bumps. I was served a myriad little bites of perfection: pan-fried mussels, a polenta-based shimp cocktail served in a small terrine covered in a spicy tomato and chili sauce, fried codfish and my ultimate favorite, steamed octopus served with salt, pepper, parsley and a drop of olive oil.
There are not many things I don’t like, but that night, what was put on my plate made me quiver. Francesco’s dad painstakingly sliced smoked duck breast and elegantly placed it on a buttered toast. So, imagine my face when I was presented with four slices of bright red meat and was encouraged to take a bite.”Thanks, but no thanks?” I reluctantly put that thing in my mouth and chewed. Oh God, what was I thinking? It was borderline idyllic. The flavor practically burst in my mouth, overtaking, as if for just a moment, my senses. More, please!
First course, as if the appetizers didn’t fill me up enough, consisted of pasta with a delicate tomato-based sauce with tuna and black olives. Don’t let the simplicity fool you. First, the olives were from the olive tree that greets you as you step into my in-laws’ front yard. They were tangy, salty and mixed well with the subtle flavor of the cooked tuna.
The dinner was much more than just a meal. Sitting at the large wooden tables were four generations of my husband’s family, talking over each other, critically dissecting the food in front of them. There was something personal about each of them in their food. The olives were my mother-in-law’s great conquest; the codfish, a family recipe my husband’s aunt revived for the occasion; the polenta-shrimp cocktail, a last-minute genius concoction by my father-in-law.
It’s clique to say that the only way Italians really talk to each other is through the food they prepare, but I found it to be true. Especially during the holidays. So much history, emotions and feelings in those dishes that I, for once, learned a bit more about them without opening my mouth. Well, I actually open my mouth to eat the food, but what I meant is….you get the point.
Desserts were varied and without a doubt too caloric, too full of this or that, but who cares. I was in Italy, enjoying a restaurant quality meal and was not about to chicken out on the best part.
My mother-in-law’s juicy peaches with simple syrup and a healthy dose of whipped cream made my night. Gorgeous to look at and quite easy to make – a fresh alternative to boring chocolates or ricotta cakes. But there was more.
Panettone and Pandoro are the staple Christmasy desserts, but Francesco’s grandma, Luisa, had a trick up her sleeve. She made il rotolo, a favorite among my husband and his brothers.
It’s not a hard dessert to make and it takes less than 30 minutes to make, but oh boy…it went fast. One word: Nutella. A rolled cake dough with Nutella blissfully embracing its inner parts. I could have eaten just that and I would have been a happy camper. Really. With Nutella around, I lose control.
If you think that Christmas is the end of your food-related fantasies, think again. December 26 is still a holiday, Santo Stefano, and you eat like you have not stuffed yourself to the brim for two days. Tortellini in brodo was served, probably my favorite dish of all, with lasagne (a much better result than my attempt) cold cuts and more desserts.
Our time spent in Milano with my family was also filled with food and related food coma. I was starting to doubt I would fit into my jeans at that point, but when you are in Rome, do as the Romans do, right? So I kept going. The food from the Lombardy region is much different than that of the Lazio region, where Rome is located and where Francesco is from. Our cuisine is heavier, simpler, often made from leftovers, very little seafood and lots of meat and potatoes.
My favorite dish in all the land happens to be very heavy, impossibly unhealthy. It’s called Pizzoccheri: it’s whole wheat pasta with cabbage, spinach, potatoes and a boat load of different cheeses. The more, the merrier.
We actually drove three hours to try the so-called best pizzoccheri in Lombardia. Oh, and to see my cousin and her family. We were deep into Valtellina, a valley in Northern Lombardy bordering Switzerland, following unbeaten paths, getting lost and finding our way back, when we finally arrived at a small, unattractive barn with a trattoria sign hovering over its door.
The service was family style: you eat what the cook has prepared for the day and that’s it. You don’t like it? Too bad. After a few appetizers, the moment I had been waiting for arrived. A steaming plate of pizzoccheri made its way to my seat at the table. I have eaten my parents’ pizzoccheri and loved it every time, but this was from another planet. The cheese, real Fontina cheese from Valtellina, was gooey, it melted in my mouth like cotton candy. It was superb and I am not exaggerating. Major success. I went home full and happy.
Needless to say, our trip was fantastic. Spending time with family and eating good food is my kind of fun.
There are so many delightful things about fall, but one of my favorites is what I call food hibernation – the canning and preserving of the ripe spring and summer foods that we will inevitably miss. San Marzano tomatoes are it for me. I cannot have enough during the hot summer months and I emotionally long for their return in winter. Good things canned tomato sauce was one of the first “recipes” I learned from my mom.
2 pounds of ripe San Marzano tomatoes (but you can use Roma tomatoes)
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 big onion or 3 shallots
Salt & Pepper
OPTIONAL: a splash of white wine
– Jars and lids –
I think an easier recipe cannot exist. Here is how it works. First of all, you will need a tall, non-stick pot, just like mine. Next, your mise en place: thoroughly wash the tomatoes, dice the onion or shallots, and have salt and pepper shakers handy.
Now, the tomatoes. I like to cut them in half to see whether there are any areas that need to be discarded. It’s better to do this extra step, then to have to throw away precious sauce. Add the extra virgin olive oil, let it heat up for a couple of minutes and add the onion/shallots and let them cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft.
Add the tomatoes. This process usually takes some time, but the good thing is that you really do not have to continuously stir or look after the sauce. It’s like magic. NOTE: To make the sauce extra flavorful, I usually add a splash of white wine with the onion/shallots.
While the tomatoes cook, get the jars and lids ready to be filled. With two pounds of San Marzano tomatoes, I can easily fill more than 6 12 oz cans.
Once the tomatoes are cooked through – the pulp is visible and their water is boiling – they are ready for the next step: the food mill. There are a lot of different food mills on the market and it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. The most important thing is to keep in mind that you need to crash a significant amount of tomatoes.
Pour a good spoonful of the tomatoes and start working the food mill until all the sauce or juice is extracted and is in the bowl. Repeat until all the tomatoes have been crushed. It is at this point that you are ready to can the sauce. Fill each jar to the brim and close its lid extremely tight. Repeat it until you have no more sauce. In case you have some leftover sauce that won’t fill a jar, put it aside, refrigerate it and use it for some fresh pasta sauce.
Once the jar are full, place them in a saucepan with a little bit of water. Turn on the heat and let the jars “cook” for about 25 minutes. This step ensures that the jars will be properly sealed.
NOTE: While the jars are in the boiling water, they may rattle and make a bit of noise. One tip from my mom is to add a towel in the water within the jars. The water boil and you won’t hear a thing!
Let the jars cool and you are done. It is really this easy.
Happy canning! Let me know how your favorite canning recipes! Buon Appetito!!
— Food is always on my mind – what to cook for dinner, what to buy at the grocery store, what to get at the farmers market, how to get fresh produce into every American kitchen. But I never actually sat down and asked myself, as a human being and as a journalist, does food writing really matter? And luck would have it that Michael Ruhlman answered this tricky question for me.
As he writes,
Because food is all around us, everywhere, easy and cheap, we’ve taken it for granted. Do you ever stop to wonder how it is that you can buy pea pods 365 days a year, whether you live in Maine, Montana, or Manitoba? Few do. The fact is, most people don’t think about food until they don’t have any. Then it’s pretty much all they can think about.
And we don’t think about food obsessively until it starts making us sick, which is what has happened in this country. Our food is making us sick in myriad ways. Our toddlers develop allergies unheard of when we were growing up. Children develop a type of diabetes once seen only in late adulthood. Obesity is rampant. And because of this we’ve become so hyperconscious of what we eat that we believe all kinds of nonsense. Dieticians once preached that eggs were bad for you–eggs! People far and wide still believe that fat is what makes you fat and that cutting salt and fat from one’s diet will make a healthy person even healthier. The way we produce food is destroying the land, polluting rivers and oceans, debasing the animals we raise for food and the workers who slaughter and process them. Nothing good comes from shitting where you eat, and this is what America has been doing for half a century.
So true. We have become detached from our primary resource and are now dependent on quick, unsavory meals that are deprived of any nutrient. Processed. Unremarkable. Frankly, ugly. Where did the art of cooking go? How about the art of eating even? We, as a society, should rethink our priorities.
— I have a soft spot in my heart for both of these men and now that they are debuting a new PBS show, well, I obviously cannot contain my excitement. Anthony Bourdain and Momofuku’s David Chang’s ‘The Mind of a Chef” follows Chang during travel and, of course, what is going on in his head. Chang is a visionary. I cannot wait to set my eyes on Season One.
— Speaking of another man I adore, The New York Times recently asked Jose Andres to show off his library. With more than 1,500 books, there are a few gems: 1825 first edition of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s “Physiology of Taste;” (his favorite) and a notebook that belonged to Thomas Jefferson’s chef, Honoré Julien, that dates back to 1795. Reading Andres is always a pleasant experience.
Any interesting food read you would like to share? I’d love to hear from you!
La lasagna is without a doubt one of the most well known Italian dishes. It’s like an old legend depicting the beginnings of Italian cuisine. It is also an art and as such, it comes with artistic freedom: there isn’t a right or wrong way to create the dish; you have your secret recipe and I have my recipe and grandma has her recipe. It’s the circle of life.
I have learned making lasagne from my mom, who, in turn, learned from her mom…. you get the drift. Every family in Italy adds a slight twist to the original recipe and it is not an exaggeration to say that each lasagna tastes a little bit different – more besciamel, less Parmesan cheese, a pinch of oregano, etc.
Without further ado, here is my family recipe. (Mom and dad have graciously agreed to be hand models….)
The Lissoni/Canzi Family Lasagne Recipe
1 large onion
1 pound of ground beef
1 box of pasta for lasagne (I would recommend making it from scratch)
As much besciamella as you like (recipe follows)
2 cans of whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano are by far the best)
a splash of white wine
Salt and pepper
First things first. Water in a pan. Pan on the stove. Add Extra virgin olive oil. Dice an onion. Add the onion to the oil and let it brown nicely. The base for a lot of Italian pasta sauces is this simple. Let the onions cook for about 5 minutes or until tender and brownish.
Once the onions are the perfect combination of tenderness and color, add the ground beef. We choose a leaner meat option, but you can choose the level of fat your heart desires. Let the beef cook until brown and well mixed with the onions. It is at this point that white wine comes to play.
Add white wine to the ingredients and gently stir until the remnants of the beefy goodness stuck to the bottom of the pan is finally incorporated. It is serious deliciousness. Next, add the cans of tomatoes and stir. There is a lot of stirring involved in Italian cooking – whether you like it or not, you stir pretty much everything.
Next, add the diced celery and carrots to the tomato-beef-onion goodness and let it cook for about 10 minutes. You can add as much or as little (even nothing, nada, zip) of either of these veggies as you prefer. I, for example, LOVE celery and would add pounds and pounds of it, but Francesco is not a big fan. Compromise? You betcha. Results? Still yummy.
Italian cooking is as much as about ingredients as it is about love. No joke. You can add your own secret ingredients to any dish and you’ll always have a spot-on meal. That is the main reason I love my culinary culture: I love to improvise and with a dish like lasagne, I can be as creative as I want to be.
Before going any further, preheat the oven at 350F. And now, my favorite part: besciamella. The light, fluffy, buttery sauce is, no surprise, French. It’s so simple, I often wonder why I don’t use it in more dishes or just eat it out of the pan.
Essential ingredients: butter (of course), milk, flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Melt 1 stick of butter in a medium sauce pan. Add 1 cup of flour slowly whisking continuously to avoid clumps. Warm 1 liter of milk and add it to the butter/flour/milk mixture. Cook the sauce for a 10 minutes and add salt, pepper and nutmeg as desired.
Once the besciamella is thick and creamy, add it to the tomato sauce and stir until well incorporated.
After mixing the sauce it’s time to build the dish. Lay a generous spoonful of sauce on the bottom of a dishpan (foil, ceramic or glass) covering the entire area. Add a layer of pasta sheets. Cover each layer with shredded mozzarella cheese. Repeat 2 or 3 times and on the last layer, add the mozzarella and a pinch of Parmesan cheese.
Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake for 25 or 30 minutes in a 350F oven. Once cooked, let it rest for 5 minutes and serve hot.
With the new house have come new noises at night, new hiding spots for Diego, adjustments to a new routine and a fantastic grassy backyard completed with a fish pond (and a waterfall, no less).
Although I grew up with a vegetable garden and parents who believe in growing our own food (and grandparents who were farmers), I never actually spent any time asking important questions about gardening or growing food. All I thought I needed to see veggies grow were seeds, or plants, sun and water. Oh, was I mistaken. Sure, sun and water are the fundamental ingredients for a bountiful garden, but knowing what type of soil you have is just, if not more, as important. Good thing luck was on my side: My garden rests on very fertile land!
The trick now is not screwing it up. The gorgeous raised/rock beds already inhabited our yard, so we can’t take credit for them, but the happy and sprouting greenery is definitely our doing.
I went a little veggie-plant crazy, but I believe we have the beginning of a great produce season. First off, three plants of zucchine and one of watermelon. I’ve probably said this over and over, but watermelon is one of my favorite foods, ever. It won’t be easy for the little plant to grow, but I am giving it my best care (and I am happy to report it is doing just fine).
A vegetable garden cannot be complete without basil (can you imagine how many jars of pesto I will make by mid-summer? I can hardly wait!) The vegetable I completely lost my mind with is tomatoes. I have 8 plants of many different types of tomatoes: Roma, grape, heirlooms. The scent of their leaves is so distinct, strong but not overwhelming. I am in love with my tomato plants.
Ah, lettuce: the best summer treats. We have two kinds in the garden: a buttery one (my favorite) and an arugula look-alike, perfect for a little spice aftertaste.
And mint: a request from Francesco. As they say….when life gives you mint, make Mojitos!
Of course, my favorite flower…the daisy.
One of my favorite features of the backyard is our fish pond: 19 koi and beautiful waterlilies, I take it as a sign of good luck. May be garden force be with you! 🙂
When I was in middle and high school, I had many pen pals scattered around the world: Ukraine, Sweden, United States…and probably more. I wanted to learn English so badly, I would search and search for those youngsters who were looking for the same thing I was: a listening ear in a foreign language. I would share with them thoughts about life, about my family, my pets (Lola and Puffo, my two cats and Suomi, my loving dog); I delved into the music I listened to (mostly rock, highlighted by my passion for Nirvana) and asked more questions than it was probably acceptable.
Forward that 15-20 years later and I have found the perfect 21st century exchange experience: Foodie Penpals – an amazing program created by Lindsay at The Lean Green Bean. It’s exactly what it sounds like: You are matched with another foodie around the U.S. and you have about 10 days to send them a box of goodies (either store-bought or home-made) along with a nice, written note.
I was matched with Colleen from Michigan, to whom I sent a box to, and with Connie, a great mom from Boscobel, Wisconsin. When her package arrived, I was completely unprepared. It was sitting on my front porch, staring at me. I was so giddy inside. The feeling I felt as a child when I saw a letter from my pen pal in the mailbox came back, times 100.
Connie outdid herself –and put my box to shame!
Everything in her box was delicious: Apple Jelly (homemade!), Asparagus Spinach Dip Mix (insane!), canned tomatoes and zucchini (unbelievable!), chocolate chip cookies, crackers, honey (one of my favorite things on the planet), dry chocolate mint for brownies (!!!) and a brochure of Boscobel.
What I absolutely loved about this program was getting to know Connie: everything she works hard for on her farm turns up in the kitchen, and by the small garden I try to maintain, I can attest that it is hard work! The flavors of her canned deliciousness were and are (I am savoring all of them so that they don’t run out too fast..) incredible: it almost feels like I am in her garden, picking tomatoes and zucchini with her. And that’s the beauty of cooking from scratch.
So thank you Connie for this unbelievable box of goodies!
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If you are interested in participating in the program, here are some details about Foodie Penpals directly from Lindsay:
-On the 5th of every month, you will receive your penpal pairing via email. It will be your responsibility to contact your penpal and get their mailing address and any other information you might need like allergies or dietary restrictions. -You will have until the 15th of the month to put your box of goodies in the mail. On the last day of the month, you will post about the goodies you received from your penpal! -The boxes are to be filled with fun foodie things, local food items or even homemade treats! The spending limit is $15. The box must also include something written. This can be anything from a note explaining what’s in the box, to a fun recipe…use your imagination! -You are responsible for figuring out the best way to ship your items depending on their size and how fragile they are. (Don’t forget about flat rate boxes!) -Foodie Penpals is open to blog readers as well as bloggers. If you’re a reader and you get paired with a blogger, you are to write a short guest post for your penpal to post on their blog about what you received. If two readers are paired together, neither needs to worry about writing a post for that month. -Foodie Penplas is open to US & Canadian residents. Please note, Canadian Residents will be paired with other Canadians only. We’ve determined things might get too slow and backed up if we’re trying to send foods through customs across the border from US to Canada and vice versa.
If you’re interested in participating for June, please CLICK HERE to fill out the participation form and read the terms and conditions.
You must submit your information by June 4th as pairings will be emailed on June 5th!
*If you’re from somewhere besides the US, Canada or Europe and want to participate, send me an email and I’ll see if we get enough interest this month!
My name is Colleen and Chiara has graciously allowed me to write a guest blog for her site! I am super excited but please bear with me, this is the first time I have ever done something like this.Chiara and I met through a program called Foodie Penpals. If you aren’t familiar with Foodie Penpals….each month you are assigned a name to send a small package to and another person gets your name. Chiara sent to me this month and the penpal I sent to was in California. I thought the best part was going to be thinking about and collecting everything to send to my foodie penpal….that all went out the window when my package arrived!!
I swear Chiara and I must have been BFFs in a past life, she couldn’t have put a better box together for me!!
Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies?!?! Are you kidding me?!?!? I.Am.In.Love. Those cookies were seriously the best thing I have ever put in my mouth!!
Chiara asked me a little bit about myself and I told her that I loved sweet and salty combos and that I was currently training for my first 5K. Included with the BCC Cookies was a huge Hazelnut and Milk Chocolate Bar! She also included a package of SuperFood and Fruit Leather. So So Good after a good training session!!
My favorite by far (well, except for those darn cookies!!) was the can of Home Cooked Virginia Peanuts (I had to rip them from my husband’s hands!)…don’t even get me started on the Carrot Chips she sent. I’ll admit I was leery of them at first but I honestly had to tear myself away from them!!
Thank you so much for the amazing package Chiara!! I loved everything!!!
I’ve always thought that cauliflower and white beans were meant for each other. If you ask why, however, I cannot answer you. Cauliflower strikes me as a sophisticated vegetable, whose flavor pleases a strictly learned palate. White beans, on the other hand, are my kind of vegetable: clear and direct. What you see is what you get (in terms of flavor). Marrying the two could go either way: happily ever after, or a painful divorce.
So, on a stormy night, I opened my fridge and looked in. Staring at me was a head of cauliflower….passed its prime. Since Francesco is away on business, I decided to try something new. I grabbed the few ingredients and made up a recipe as I went along. This is how the love story unfolded.
1 head of Cauliflower
1 can of white Cannellini beans
3 cloves of garlic
1 cup of chicken stock
1/2 cup of milk
1 teaspoon of nutmeg
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
First things first: the head of cauliflower shouldn’t be massive. A nice, medium size will do the trick.
To give the soup a little depth of flavor, I decided to roast the cauliflower before cooking them. Turn on the over to 400F and, at the same time, oil an oven pan. Chop the head of cauliflower into small pieces, wash them thoroughly and place them in the oven pan. Drizzle more extra virgin olive oil, add some salt and pepper to taste and roast them until light brown and tender (about 30 minutes)
Next, open a can of Cannellini beans (my personal favorite) and wash them a couple of times. Set aside.
Next, finely chop 3 cloves of garlic (or less…I love garlic and I tend to go overboard with it) and a shallot. You can use a yellow onion, but I think shallots are sweeter and perfect for this soup. Oil a pot with extra virgin olive oil and add the minced garlic and shallots. Cook them for 4 or 5 minutes or until golden.
While the cauliflower is in the oven, add the beans to the pot (with garlic and shallots) and cook for a couple of minutes. Once the cauliflower is tender and golden brown, add it to the pan with the beans, garlic and shallots. At this point, taste and add salt and pepper if necessary.
Once the ingredients are added to the pot, let them cook for 5 minutes. I added 1 teaspoon of nutmeg to increase the depth of flavor and because, to be honest, nutmeg is my ultimate favorite spice. You can add as much or as little as you wish…or leave it out altogether. I have to say it was a perfect addition.
After the nutmeg comes the liquid. I added 1 cup of chicken stock and 1/2 cup of milk to the pot. You could add butter for a creamier soup. Cook the ingredients and the liquid for 25 minutes, covered, stirring occasionally.
Once the soup is the consistency of your choice, puree it with a hand blender until silky smooth. Add a touch of extra virgin olive oil and serve it hot. Buon Appetito!
I’m back and I am here to stay. It has been quite a while since my last post and boy, things have changed in my life. I left one job, found two amazing jobs, bought a house, painted every room (thanks to Francesco and my dad) and moved…all in one month. Whew! Of course, there are still boxed everywhere, but the kitchen….arguably the most important room in the house, is all set and ready for some cooking!
The hardest thing to decide was the color of the walls, and not just for the kitchen, but for the master bedroom, for the dining room, the bathroom, because once it’s painted…it’s permanent…at least for a year (that was and still is a deal I made with myself). So, we went from this…
To choosing a sage green color that matches the granite!
We absolutely love our kitchen! We can both cook uninterrupted and have already made a few of our favorite dishes: gnocchi, pizza and even a cheese souffle. We have been hard at work. Now, instead of wishing a bigger, better kitchen, I wish for better cooking skills! That, however, can be fixed.
Although the house is still in a state of disarray (boxes and bags in the entryway, my clothes and shoes in suitcases) and are still missing some key components: i.e. dining table and chairs and a bed for our master bedroom!!!!, the short drive home from work is one of the happiest moments of my day. I get to open the door and run to the kitchen to prepare lunch or dinner. (Maybe now I can try new recipes?)