Italian Archive

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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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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