Category Archives: Italian

It Was Time for Lunch.

I came home this afternoon from having spent most of the morning at banks, so I was already cranky and kind of depressed, on top of being ravenously hungry. It was time for lunch. It was time for comfort lunch. So I started prepping my favorite comfort ingredients – pasta, garlic, cheese, and pancetta. And then I looked in the fridge and found another zucchini and some more green beans, leftover from the CSA haul this week.

Liiiiight bulllllb.
(from “Despicable Me?” Anybody? Anybody? Bueller?)

Before I knew it, I not only felt a thousand times better about my day, but I also had a delicious, kinda-healthy lunch. I guess you could make it without the pancetta, but I don’t want to think about it. 😉

 

It was just perfect with the Italian lemonade, too. Magnifico!

I also just posted the recipe on the Recipes page. Enjoy these last few weeks of summer with some good food!


Dinner & A Movie

Of course I eat my green veggies …

photo 1 (12)…just cooked in pork fat …

photo 2 (14)…covered in cream sauce…

photo 3 (9)…and served over pasta.

(give me just a little credit … the reason it looks kinda thin is because I used skim milk. But then there was alllllll that cheese I dumped in there …)

 

Since it is finally streaming on Netflix now, I figured I’d take advantage of a night with no plans and cook a lovely pasta dish and watch my favorite Italian movie (and definitely one of my all-time favorites):

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The pasta was really good, all joking aside. I started with a base (other than the pasta) that is one of my mother’s Thanksgiving go-to’s: green beans and onions sauteed in bacon. Only for mine, I used pancetta, green beans, and asparagus, then skipped the onions and went for loads of garlic instead. She also tosses hers in balsamic vinegar – I tossed mine in “light” cream sauce.

In the spirit of my most recent culinary adventure in homebrewing (we’re currently brewing our first batch – an IPA), I had a glass of Sam Adams Latitude 48 IPA with this little creamy pasta concoction. It cuts through the cream and cheese and pasta heaviness beautifully.

My main preoccupation lately has been getting ready to start the first batch of homebrewed beer with my friend Lisa, so that’s where most of the latest updates are. If any of you readers out there have any experience in homebrewing, I’d so appreciate your feedback! And for those of you who have no idea about homebrewing, you can read it and laugh at our mistakes while learning some new vocabulary. Fun for everyone!


Cucina Miniscula

Long story short – I consider myself to be, more or less, an Italian home cook. I can cook a few Spanish dishes, a few French, a couple of Greek ones, even a couple of English ones (are there more than a couple? haha). But I really find myself constantly drawn to ingredients & techniques that are, above all, Italian.

I may or may not have Italian or Italian-American ancestry. There’s a lot of myth and mystery alike about that in my family. So I may not have an Italian-sounding name like Giada or something, but I can’t deny there is some kind of strong spiritual connection between Italy and my tiny kitchen (ahem … anyone know the patron saint of chefs/cooking?). Perhaps I should change the name of the blog to Cucina Miniscula.

Today, since I’m the latest person I know to give up cable in the name of financial stability, I was perusing the Cooking Channel website, and came across this: The Italian pantry essentials. I had been meaning to write a post on my own “pantry essentials” for quite some time, so when I came across that page, I thought: There’s no time like the present. And so, in no particular order, and without further ado …

Lemons. I’m never without lemons, or at the very least, lemon juice. North Carolina isn’t a big citrus-growing region, so I figure I might as well buy them year-round if they’re going to have to come from California anyway. I buy them by the bagful. There are very few things, in my opinion and experience, that a little lemon zest can’t improve. Tuna salad? Pasta with seasonal veggies? Warmed up Chinese leftovers? Even vanilla ice cream (trust me – just a dash, it’s amazing, and very Italian) takes to a bit of lemon like a fish to water. It’s my favorite way to make a dish taste like summer – my favorite time of year.

Pasta. I’m going to learn to make my own fresh pasta this summer. I bought the machine and everything. In the meantime, I always have some decent storebought dried pasta. Lately I’ve gone back to the less-waistline-friendly “white” pasta, but I still keep the whole wheat stuff around. There’s something very comforting about knowing that no matter what else happened that day, or how little cash I have at any given moment, there’s always a comforting bowl of pasta a few minutes away at home.

Grains. Ever since I read Food Matters, I’m a huge believer in the power of whole grains. My personal favorite is farro. I’ve even started eating farro for breakfast with a bit of yogurt!

Olive Oil. Until recently, I didn’t pay much attention to the varying degrees of quality in olive oils. I’m still generally fine with whatever the supermarket has (even their in-house brand is good enough for me), but I recently had my mind opened to the wonderfulness that comes with a truly beautifully crafted, delicious olive oil. NC foodie folks, I suggest you check out Green Gate Olive Oils on Stratford Road in Winston-Salem (or down in Pinehurst). They are super-nice, you can taste olive oils and balsamic vinegars all day long, and I promise you’ll find a new favorite ingredient. Plus – olive oil is SO good for you!

Vinegar. I literally have five different kinds of vinegar in my cabinet right now. My most-used is probably balsamic (currently enjoying the heck out of a red apple balsamic from Green Gate!), but one of my most popular dishes lately has been a potato salad that uses Champagne vinegar. And I’m not sure where I learned this; it might be some kind of subliminal message from Mama Italia, but … a few dashes of balsamic vinegar in homemade tomato sauce will make WORLDS of difference.

Pork. In various forms. I’m not into many actual pork dishes (although my own mamma made an awesome pork Milanese last week when my brother and I visited – molto bene!). But I have found pancetta to be a nearly-indispensable starting point for some seriously good eating. Hell, I cook it up with scrambled eggs for a bacon-and-eggs treat, and it’s a well-known fact among my friends that the only I’ll eat melon is with prosciutto wrapped around it.

Spices. Easily the most overcrowded section of the pantry (isn’t it like that in every home cook’s kitchen?), but there are a few can’t-live-without-‘em, must-have go-tos here. Fresh garlic, obviously. Usually a couple of shallots (I use them so much more frequently than regular onions that I keep ‘em with the garlic in the spice cupboard). Red pepper flakes, powdered cayenne pepper, paprika, dried oregano & thyme, bay leaves – those are the ones I actually have to replace because I run out, not because they’ve been in there forever.

Stock. Almost always chicken, and almost always homemade. Making stock is possibly the simplest kitchen task there is. I usually buy chicken whole or in bits other than breast cuts, so there’s often a good bit of “breaking down” to do before I actually prepare a dish or put things away in the freezer. Those broken down parts are what stock is made of! It’s so much better than canned, and it’s classic “waste not, want not.”

Cheese. Much like the selection of vinegars & olive oils in my pantry, I usually also have quite a variety in the fridge at any given time. I have yet to find an Italian recipe involving pecorino Romano that I don’t absolutely love, and you can’t beat a few slices of good Cheddar with a bit of good bread for a simple midday meal.

Butter & flour. I put these two together because I use them together, more often than not. Bêchamel sauce (aka mac & cheese – I’m fancy like that), cream sauce – all those classic, decadent European sauces start with a roux of butter & flour. For me, lately, the basic roux has been a springboard into discovering all kinds of flavors for sauces, casseroles, and more.

Tomato. I realize this is the one perishable (well, maybe other than cheese) on my list, but I’m really including puree, canned, crushed, whatever. Like I said about pasta, there aren’t many easier, faster, or more comforting quick meals than pasta and tomato sauce, and with a box of pasta and a can of tomatoes in my pantry, that comfort is never more than a few minutes away.

Last, but certainly not least …

Beer and/or wine. Actually, it’s rare that I’ll have both on hand. I am not a big believer in “saving” wines for “special occasions,” or whatever other silly reasons. If there’s wine in my house, it’s going into my belly one way or another. There are always two glasses of wine out when I’m cooking – one for me and one for whatever’s on the stove. As for beer, I’ve long acknowledged that I have beer-snob tendencies (although, still can’t beat dollar-domestics night at the local bar …), and this summer is the summer when I put my snobbery to the test as I learn about and attempt home brewing with my best friend Lisa. Much “taste testing” of different brews and styles has happened over the last few weeks and I think we’re actually going to try and make our own very soon.

 

On a somewhat related note, my dear friend and fellow blogger Healthy Mika just recently posted her entry into the “ABCs of Food” trend that’s making the rounds. As always, her post is excellently written, insightful, down-to-earth, and downright inspiring. And if you peruse her blog carefully you may get to see several embarassing photos of yours truly.

Buon apetito!

photo 4 (5)

photo 3 (7)


“That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”

I have visited Italy once in my entire life. And I only visited one place – Rome. I was there as a student on holiday, which meant I was broke. I also hadn’t yet come to appreciate food and cooking as much as I soon would. So the food I remember the most from my very brief time in Rome is gelato.

Just to give you an idea where this story is going, there’s been an explosion in gelato joints here in the last year or two, including one in my neighborhood. And I’m not denying, gelato is delicious. But in these last couple of years, it just so happens that I’ve been way more interested in actual food and learning about actual food – Italian and otherwise – than in jumping in the hipster, gelato-flavored bandwagon.

You may remember a post I wrote a while ago on the classic Roman dish, cacio e pepe. The more I have researched and read about Italian cooking, the more I’m drawn to traditional Roman fare. I love its simplicity, and the fact that it relies on so few ingredients, yet demands such high-quality. I love that it’s been truly “traditional” for centuries – it seems like the meaning of “traditional” changes a lot depending on how much food the restaurant is trying to sell.

Personally, I have no claims to any real, substantial Italian heritage. I come from a family of storytellers, and there is a story or two among some of us about some distant connection to Italy. I’ve never been able to really believe it. But maybe there’s something to be said for the fact that I seem to be drawn to Italian food and Italian cooking and Italian dishes. I didn’t learn to make gnocchi from an Italian grandma, or grow up eating simple peasant soups – nothing so dramatic. But when I think about my favorite ingredients, such as the ones I cooked with this evening, I have to wonder.

Pasta alla gricia is, like cacio e pepe, a classic, traditional Roman dish, and like its cousin, it’s ridiculously simple (and ridiculously good). I read up on it before I got ready to cook it, even though I knew I didn’t have the ingredients on hand to make it authentically. I learned that it’s actually not traditionally made with pancetta, but with guanciale, but I wouldn’t have the faintest idea where to even ask for guanciale around here, not because I’m snobby, but because I’ve never had it, never seen it, and I’m pretty sure my go-to “butchers”  (one of which is Harris Teeter, y’all) haven’t either.

Pasta alla gricia

You should cook this dish because the base is pancetta and olive oil. Seriously, what could be better? How can you go wrong? You start with pancetta and olive oil and you add pasta and cheese. Do I need to keep trying to explain why this dish is amazingly delicious??

Someday I’ll go back to Rome and eat in an actual trattoria and order this. But for tonight, a crazy-cold night in January, with a nice cold craft beer (Bell’s Amber Ale, in case you’re wondering) … this’ll do nicely.


A Brief Intermission

Wow. I really need to get some balance back into my life! I’ve been managing to juggle everything really well (and still cook dinner most nights, of course), but for the sake of my health and sanity I’ve been trying to get more sleep by going to bed earlier, which usually means no blogging after dinner. 🙂

I’ve made a lot of dinners since I last posted, plus yesterday was my birthday (lots of food-related fun), and of course there’s Thanksgiving coming up. I’ve got plenty to post about all of it, but for right now, here’s a look at what I’ve been up to in mon petite cuisine lately.

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Pizza, pizza

In case you hadn’t noticed from reading the other posts on this blog, I tend to cook according to themes. I get an idea in my head and I mess with it and play with it and cook it until I lose my taste for it (literally and figuratively). And lately that theme has been pizza.

I will confess, it started with an overwhelming craving for pepperoni pizza. Domino’s thin crust, to be specific. But last week when this craving hit, I was also feeling guilty for not having spent much time in the kitchen since school started up again. So, I didn’t call Domino’s. I went to the supermarket. And it was sooooo good.

I made several other variations throughout the week (including an AWESOME margherita pizza, with campari tomatoes and window-garden-fresh basil. It was gone before I could snap photos though. 😉  Oh, and if you’ve never tried making your own, customized, homemade pizza, just look for store-made dough in your supermarket. I have been pleasantly surprised to to find it at most of the big chains around here, and most even have both white and wheat dough.

Tonight, I found myself not yet tired of the pizza theme, but decided to try a stromboli instead. Actually, I have to admit, I’m not really sure what the difference is between a stromboli and a calzone. As far as I know they’re both just rolled up pizza! I’d welcome any comments clearing this up for me. 🙂  Anyway, I used chicken & garlic sausage, the olive oil & red chile base, touch of grated Parmesan and pecorino Romano, and a couple more of those campari tomatoes.

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And once again I’m looking forward to lunch tomorrow.


Cacio e pepe with scallops

Molto bene!!

Cacio e pepe with whole wheat capellini pasta and sea scallops, preceeded by fried eggplant with creamy tomato dipping sauce.