Category Archives: Italian

Berries bite back

IMG_1887One of the things I love about traveling is that it forces me to try new foods and new combinations of familiar foods.  I am forever grateful for Italy for introducing me to a surprising combo that stole my heart, fragole con aceto balsamico — fresh strawberries drizzled in balsamic vinegar.  Most of the time, it’s served as a dessert, but paired with the peppery bite of arugula and the amazingly tangy taste of plum tomatoes, it makes a wonderfully simple lunch on a summer day or a stunning accompaniment to grilled steak or chicken.

Strawberry and Tomato Salad

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Lunching in Tuscany

20140531-155554-57354274.jpgIt’s just starting to get hot here – like 100F hot – and thankfully the humidity hasn’t kicked into full steam mode.  Still, it’s hard to think about eating anything heavy, especially in the middle of the day.  And, who wants to slave over an oven or range when you’ve escaped the heat outside?

A few cans, a few minutes at the cutting board, and presto chango —

Insalata di Tonno e Fagioli (Tuna and Cannellini Bean Salad)

Now, pour yourself a nice, chilled white wine and pretend you’re in Tuscany!

The fat cat’s favorite

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My mom used to love Garfield.   I could never get past the incongruity of a cat who loved lasagna.  But, maybe I had never had a really good lasagna.

I love the idea of lasagna.  Pasta, sausage, cheese, tangy tomato sauce… an easy, filling meal perfect for low fuss entertaining.

Unfortunately, it is an immune system nightmare, with one land mine after another.  I see it on menus and secretly pine for a dish with so many things I can’t have.

Then, one cold evening, I came across GF lasagna noodles at my neighborhood organic market, and I knew my lasagna-less days were over.  This lasagna is more Italian-American inspired than it is Italian; I’ve never been a huge fan of traditional sugo alla bolognese and béchamel.  Like most lasagne, it tastes even better after a day or two.  Of course, Garfield would never let it sit that long!

Like buttah

Pan-seared Scallop, Proscuitto, and Asparagus Pasta with Beurre Blanc Sauce

Good things can happen when you set aside your doubts – like how good can a French sauce based on butter really be without the butter.  Pretty darn good, it turns out.

I blame it on the pasta.  I’m sure the scallops, proscuitto, and asparagus would have been magical enough on their own, but I wanted pasta.  And the pasta was whispering to me, “you know what would taste really good with this…” So, there you have it.

Pan-seared Scallop, Proscuitto, and Asparagus Pasta with Beurre Blanc Sauce

It tastes like…

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Over dinner in Cape Town one evening, the conversation turned to holidays, and one of my friends asked why Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving.  I’m not sure I had a good answer, but the next question had me truly at a loss for words – what does it taste like?  It was a good question.  I can describe what it taste like with other things, but the meat itself, not so much.  Because, it doesn’t taste like chicken…at least not to me.

When I first moved to Italy, I was surprised to see more turkey in the poultry section at the large supermarket than there was chicken.  I never imagined it was popular anywhere for anything more than Thanksgiving dinner, a sandwich filling, or as the dry, bland substitute for a fattier, more flavorful meat.  Then I was introduced to fresh sage, and it was like I discovered a whole new bird.

I’ve made saltimbocca (cutlets sautéed Roman-style with sage and proscuitto) with veal and chicken, but my absolute favorite way to enjoy it is with turkey.  I still don’t know quite how to describe the flavor of turkey by itself, but when it tastes so good this way, why describe anything less?

Saltimbocca di Tacchino alla Romana shown served with fresh gnocchi and pan-fried zucchini.

Fluffy Pillows

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Once you try fresh, homemade gnocchi, you’ll never want to go back to the dense, store bought kind.  The real deal are pillowy, tender dumplings.  They are filling without being too heavy.  Scared of making your own pasta?  Don’t be.  This is a great way to start.

Now, how about turning that homemade pasta into a weeknight dish that will impress your friends or family?  The primo piatto Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, a melt-in-your-mouth blend of soft dumpling, light tomato sauce, basil, and gooey mozzarella is your answer.   This is comfort food, Campanian style.

Buon Appetito!!!

Bubba Forgot Scampi

“Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.” Forrest Gump, 1994

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Imagine how long Bubba’s list could have been had he known of the all the ways shrimp and prawns are prepared around the world, from Italy to Mozambique to Thailand and everywhere in between.  I love cooking with them; not only are they versatile, but they cook so quickly, they are great for days when you don’t want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Without a doubt, my favorite vegetable to pair them with is zucchini, so when I had a craving for garlicky scampi but wanted something lighter than pasta, I decided to fill roasted zucchini with them, but these shrimp would also be great over zucchini “pasta”.  Of course, if you want more substantial meal, you could always float your zucchini boat on waves of linguine.

Zucchine Ripiene con Gamberi all’Aglio (Zucchini Stuffed with Garlicky Shrimp)

Say My Name

When it comes to food names, I’m torn. I mean, “weeping tiger” salad sounds so much more exotic (and, therefore, more tasty, right?) than spicy beef salad. But, when the name doesn’t give you a clue to the ingredients, how adventurous are you willing to be? Then you have names that practically list every ingredient, which could almost make you rule out trying the dish just because one of the ingredients didn’t make you swoon.

Comfort food is like your favorite pair of worn-in jeans and the quilt that’s been passed down for a couple of generations and seen better days; it makes you feel good even if its not much to look at.  It doesn’t need a fancy name, thank you very much.   In Italy, pastas dishes are usually named based on their contents, hence penne rigate con salsiccia, funghi, piselli, e panna.  If you want to call it “cena pigro della nonna (Grandma’s Lazy Dinner),” that’s between you and her.

Fine dining on a furlough budget

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Isn’t it riduculous to think of how much high end restaurants ask us to pay for dishes that took so little money, effort, and time to make?  You could easily find this salad on one of those menus.

Since it has been insanely hot and humid in DC this last few weeks, the thought of eating anything heavy for dinner is about as appealing as slaving over a hot stove for any length of time.  Ready in minutes, this dish combines the five flavors (salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami) in a light, but filling salad.  You could use spinach, but I like the bite of the peppery arugula.  Don’t have scallops?  It works really well with shrimp, too!

Pan-seared Scallops and Crispy Proscuitto on Arugula with Sun-Dried Tomato and Caramelized Shallot Vinaigrette

Ready to convert?

It’s not that I ever hated kale.  Until I lived in Italy, i’m pretty sure that I’d never seen it much less tasted it.  This dish sold me for two reasons, the layered flavors and how quickly it came together.  Oh, and did I mention its healthy, satisfying more than 35% of the RDA of Vitamin A, almost 20% of Vitamin C, and almost 30% of Iron all while offering 17g of protein, 11g of fiber, and only 6g of fat .  More importantly, the leftovers – if there are any – taste even better.

Pasta with Sausage, Kale, and Cannelini Beans

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