Italian Archive

Monday, January 6, 2014

parmesan broth with kale and white beans

parmesan broth with kale and white beans

This soup is the very best thing I ate in December, which is saying a lot for a month that involved the purchase of at least 4 pounds of butter. And it didn’t involve any of them. I know, I know — that’s crazy talk.

cheese rinds by the pound
smash some garlic

We had a last-minute dinner party in December, last minute enough that I basically ran to the store that morning and bought everything then cooked straight through until dinner. This is not my style. I’m a dinner party planner; rushing makes my skin crawl. But if there could be an upside to it, it would be that by planning the morning-of, necessary adjustments could be made due to the facts that 1. It was snowing very hard outside, thus, soup was in order. 2. A vegetarian friend (that’s not so strict that cheese is off the menu) was able to make so my beloved chicken stock was out for a base, but I wanted something equally magnanimous.

what you'll need

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Monday, November 4, 2013

spinach and egg pizzette

spinach and egg pizzette

This, this mash-, roast-, horseradish-, bangers-, crisps-, and goose fat-free, is one of my favorite things I ate while I was in the UK, and it’s not even British. Technically speaking, it was from a Venetian small plates restaurant, although I came to associate meals with generous helpings of gorgeously cooked spinach with the UK, as it appeared, to my delight, on so many plates. I had spinach tangled with a duck breast at a gastropub in what felt like the middle of nowhere, spinach in small tufts on another pizza (this one alongside a perfect pint) my first jet-lagged night in town, and a perfect amount of spinach at a pub on a Sunday afternoon, kissed with the horseradish sauce that had been ladled, to my glee, over my roast, but this was my favorite.

wilting the spinach
wilted spinach, to drain and squeeze

Here, spinach that has been wilted and squeezed, is re-plumped, so to speak, with creme fraiche, parmesan, salt and pepper, and is generously spread over a tiny pizza. An egg centers on this pile (and sometimes around it, at least in my kitchen) and the whole mess is baked together until the edges of the pizzette are brown, the spinach is tender, with a slight gratin-like effect, and the egg is white at the edges and just-runny-enough in the center and I think it might be my perfect meal. I would have it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner almost any day of the week (also in the rain, on a train, on a boat, with a shark…) and now that I’ve discovered that glorious late-season spinach still exists at markets around here, I might just make it happen.

squeezed fistfuls of spinach

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Monday, August 19, 2013

rice-stuffed tomatoes

rice-stuffed tomatoes

Guys, we should definitely, definitely talk about these. Here, I’ll go first: I think it’s essential that you not let another tomato season pass without making them. I realize that you might imagine rice-stuffed tomatoes to be something unappealing. Maybe you had a cold, stomach-turning one at a buffet wedding too many years ago that its squidgy horror should still be fresh in your mind, and yet. Maybe you cannot imagine why anyone would consider rice stuffed inside a tomato to be something noteworthy, being just rice and tomatoes, possibly two of the most generic foods out there. Maybe you’re waiting to hear what I dolled these up with to make them interesting — was there bacon or cheese or caramelized onions? Did I amp it up with whole grains or kale? Maybe I cooked an egg inside, like that one time? And maybe you’re going to be disappointed when I tell you that I added nothing, just about nothing at all, and that’s the best thing about them.

red and yellow medium-large tomatoes
take just a little off the top

I started obsessing over rice-stuffed tomatoes a year ago. At the time, I loved them because they felt to me like the essence of simple Italian and Mediterranean cooking, this idea that you don’t need to lay 16 outside flavors onto things as simple as seasonal tomatoes and plain rice to make them taste amazing. You could coax the maximum flavor out of them with seasoning, by toasting the rice, by cooking them with a tiny amount of onion and garlic in olive oil then slowly in the oven. But, at the time, I never told you about them because they made me a little sad. At the time, I was moping that the family vacation to Rome — a place I imagined did a fine job with these throughout tomato season — we’d been trying to take for as long as we’d been a family had gotten postponed again due to all of those real-life things that have the nerve to get in the way of a good time. I mean, I know that sometimes as a grown-up you don’t get to do everything that you want, but I was starting to question the point of working all of the time and spending scrupulously if it didn’t, at least every few years, lead to things we really wanted?

grapefruit knives make pretty, clean cuts

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Monday, June 24, 2013

espresso granita with whipped cream

granita di caffe con panna

One of my favorite desserts on this planet (yes, we’re going for High Melodrama today, also, it’s that wonderful) is affogato, which translates from Italian as “drowned.” The lucky drowner is top-notch vanilla gelato, and it is draped in a single shot of freshly-pulled espresso. I see you arching your eyebrows and you are full of questions, aren’t you? Isn’t that horribly bitter? Doesn’t it melt the ice cream? How can it be your favorite dessert if it has neither butter nor chocolate with it? All are legitimate concerns but the thing is, when it’s done right — and there really is a magical balancing point between the volume of ice cream and the amount of espresso, that is, sadly, rarely achieved — the resulting mess is a semi-slumped mound of cold and sweet vanilla cream with a trench of faintly bitter latte around it. It is the ultimate grownup dessert — sure, you get the ice cream you’ve been angling for after dinner since you were 3.5, but you also get a bracing hit of espresso, just enough to keep you up past your bedtime, you know, when all the fun begins.

espresso granita, unsweetened cream

Of course, we’re not going to talk about affogato today because, well, you already know how to make it now. Instead, we’re going to talk about the cups of granita di espresso con panna we fell head over heels for in Rome, which reminded me of an inversed affogato. Instead of unsweetened espresso coating sweetened creamy gelato, it’s the coffee that’s icy and sweet and the cream that’s plain and soft. The result is the same contrast of bitter versus sweet, soft versus icy that I love in affogato, but stacked in a cup that you can eat with a spoon as you wander the ancient cobblestoned center of Rome on blazing hot day when even the dapper businessman we passed along the Tiber was licking a gelato cone with the utter abandon of a kid. (Rome, you are wonderful.)

looking upkeeping the kid out too laterush hour in romefrom villa borghese to piazza navonasweet balloons and an e-reader at the vaticanthis is a pizza flour delivery little wanderertonnarelli cacio e pepe

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Monday, February 18, 2013

italian stuffed cabbage

italian stuffed cabbage

Prior to November, what I knew of stuffed cabbage rolls were limited to the Jewish/Eastern European variety, which I make the way my mother-in-law does. I hadn’t given it further thought because as far as I was concerned, it was never broken, and needed little improvement, and when there’s little room for me to tinker in the kitchen, I quickly lose interest. But if I had, it might have occurred to me that cabbage, being one of the ultimate peasant foods, has probably been wrapped around meat that’s been ground and then stretched (always budget-minded, those peasants) with other ingredients and cooked in a sauce in a zillion different ways over the centuries. And oh, the fun we might have been having this whole time.

peeling the savoy
big floppy cabbage leaves

As it turns out, it could be argued that any region that can grow large cabbage leaves is indeed stuffing them with something. The most cursory of Google searches leads one on a tour of Greek lahanodolmathes, stuffed with ground beef and rice and covered with a traditional egg and lemon (avgolemono) sauce; French chou farci, stuffed with beef or pork, sometimes mushrooms, wrapped in large layers of cabbage leaves and served in wedges; Polish gloabki, or “little pigeons,” with pork and beef, and rice or barley (sigh); Slovak holubky or halupki; Serb or Croatian sarma with (hold me) sauerkraut and ham hocks, and Arabic mahshi malfouf which adds lemon juice, cinnamon and mint (swoon) to the usual ground meat and rice medley. And guys, I’m just getting started. The idea that there are this many ways to fall in love with stuffed cabbage torments me, and leaves me daydreaming about a Westeros-length winter wherein we could audition each one.

quickly blanching the cabbage leaves

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