Italian Archive

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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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

pasta and white beans with garlic-rosemary oil

pasta, white beans, garlic-rosemary oil

If you have a thing for chocolate, the world is your oyster. On this very site, 86 of the just over 800 recipes boast a significant chocolate component and entire sections of bookstores will be happy to fill in any cravings I missed. If you have a thing for bacon, the internet would be overjoyed to find you places to put it, zillions, even, although I’d proceed with caution before auditioning a couple. But if you have a thing for something slightly less of a prom king/queen ingredient, say, tiny white beans, well, it can be tough. It’s not there are no uses for them, it’s just that when you’re very much in love, there are never enough ways to be together. And if you’re me — someone who sometimes ups and makes a mega-pot of white beans just because you feel like it, presuming you’ll find things to do with them later — you sometimes end up scrambling, yanking down nearly every cookbook in your collection but still coming up bereft of uses outside the well-trodden soup-and-salad territory.

sometimes i cook beans and figure out why later

So tell me: What are you favorite uses for beans outside the ever-popular realm of chili, tacos, soup and salad? Really, I’m hankering for more inspiration. I ended up finding some — but never enough — in this month’s Bon Appetit, in a stack of pasta recipes you will find it impossible to choose among from Sara Jenkins of Porchetta and Porsena (and green bean salad, sigh) fame. I was so charmed by the short tubes of pasta with chickpeas, I made it almost immediately but maybe it was because I’ve overdone it on chickpeas this month, but I kept thinking it would be nice with something… daintier. And considering that it is an established fact (um, in Italy, where I suspect both my white bean and artichoke obsessions could roam free) that white beans, garlic, rosemary and olive oil are a combination sent from above, I had a hunch they’d be happy here too.

parsley, garlic, onion, carrot, celery

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

gnocchi in tomato broth + more book tour

gnocchi in tomato broth

I realize that when it comes to January Food — carrot sticks, soup, legumes and other things I suspect, what with it being the third week of the month, you are already tiring of — gnocchi, thick dumpling-like pasta made from potatoes, hardly makes the cut. It’s, in fact, not even invited to the party, having no place among the sweatband-ed, pumped up, high-topped aerobicized… okay, maybe my brain went straight past “earnest attempts at resolution-inspired rebalance” to a Richard Simmons video, circa 1982. These things, they happen.

readying the tomato broth
a hearty tomato soup's elegant leavings

But a kale-apple-ginger smoothie, gnocchi is not. And yet, this dish from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is one of my favorite things to make after a month of holiday gluttony because it is both light and filling, yet warm enough for the coldest day. The thing with gnocchi is that it’s so plagued by a reputation of being bad for you that it’s presumed that if you’re eating it, your arteries/girth/sense of proportion must already be doomed so let’s just ladle on the blue cheese, okay? And, indeed, most restaurants will serve it with butter, cream, cheese and other rich ingredients, such as truffles, probably with more butter. It’s not my thing; I think such preparations wreck the delicacy that’s at the heart of perfect gnocchi, which is featherlight, dumpling-like and best appreciated in a puddle of intensely flavored broth. It’s true: I turned the Italian classic of gnocchi and red sauce into a riff on matzo ball soup, and I’m not even a little sorry.

a snowdrift of riced potato

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Sunday, February 12, 2012

lasagna bolognese

lasagna bolognese

This, this is my culinary Mount Everest. This twenty-layer striation of noodles, ragu, béchamel and cheese, repeated four times and then some took me more than five years to conquer. To be honest, six years ago I didn’t know what it was. Sure, I had heard of lasagna but I wasn’t terribly fond of it because I don’t much care for the texture of ricotta once it has baked. (Ricotta, I’d argue, is best rich, fresh, and cold on toast.) But I was galloping through a post on an Italian food blog and I stumbled upon a parenthesised side-thought that stopped me dead in my tracks. It said something along the lines of “I don’t know whose idea it was to put ricotta in lasagna but… shudder.” And I thought, but wait! What’s supposed to go in lasagna? But there was no answer, so I set out to find one.

minced mirepoix (love this step)
browning the meat, vegetables

Lasagna alla Bolognese is an epic dish. Oh sure, it looks like an ordinary broiled mass of cheese, pasta and meaty tomato sauce but it’s so much more. To make it as I dreamed from that day forward I wanted to, everything gets a lot of love and time. The ragu is cooked for hours. The béchamel (ahem, besciamella), although the simplest of the five “Mother Sauces,” is still a set of ingredients that must be cooked separately, and in a prescribed order. The pasta doesn’t have to be fresh, but I figured if I was going to do this, I was going to really, really do this and I wanted fresh, delicious sheets of pasta to support the other cast members I’d so lovingly craft. And the cheese? There’s just one, Parmesan, and it doesn’t overwhelm.

simmered and dreamy

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