Pesto Performance: An Inspired Culinary Solitude

I seem to be getting the hang of this ‘living alone’ thing. I am trying to avoid getting to comfortable living in my own filth with no one around to tell me what to do, as eventually the housemates will be back from the winter holidays. Nonetheless, without the immediate pressure to CLEAN EVERYTHING IN THE HOUSE, I have had some time to experiment with recipes and cooking. As I’ve been lamenting in previous entries, the ominous freezing rain outside the window is a deterrent from walking through the streets, enhancing the romanticist perspectives we Americans have of the Italian world.

OK, enough philosophy. Yesterday I was feeling inspired and perhaps a bit ashamed that I am here in Italy studying gastronomy with absolutely no cooking skills (well some, but… nothing to call home about). I said to myself, enough salad, enough sandwiches, “Michelle you’re going to make yourself a grownup meal.” I needed to act quickly as these bursts of culinary inspiration are few and far between.

It was a pasta night. I rushed to the grocery store, bought myself some fusili pasta, sundried tomatoes soaked in oil with capers, cannelini beans (white beans), goat cheese, fresh bread, and a bottle of Cabernet. What did I make?? Only the best pesto pasta in the history of man…of course.

Ingredienti

Whoever said cooking for yourself is a depressed, reclusive, liar. Of many of the nights I’ve had in this house, I have to say that last night might have been one of the most entertaining. If I was going to make this huge expansive dinner for myself, I was going all out. I put the music on in the kitchen (Italian of course), put water to boil on the stove, and with the flick of the flame my night of culinary excstasy began!

Rather then explaining how delicious my meal was, I figure it’s more important to share the wealth and give you my recipe for the world’s best pesto pasta.

Sassy Solidarity Pesto:

Ingredients:

  • Fusilli Pasta (100g/person)
  • Sundried Tomatoes (to taste, I used about 4 big ones)
  • Salt: To taste
  • 1/2-1 TBSP Coarse Salt (for pasta water)
  • Pesto Sauce (I used Barilla)
  • 1/2 can Cannellini Beans (Italian white beans)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large clove red garlic
  • 1 small finely diced onion

1) Put water up for boil. It’s always nice to do this first because by the time your finished chopping and preparing your veggies the pasta is ready to be put in the pot. Do not forget to add salt to your water or your pasta will taste really bland

2) Finely chop garlic and onion, put into pan with olive oil. Saute until onions become translucent (In Italian the onion/garlic/olive oil saute is called a Soffritto and makes up the base of any good hearty pasta sauce.

3) Take 4 large sundried tomatoes and chop coarsely. I used sundried tomatoes from a jar filled with oil as these are more tender, but normal dry sundried tomatoes should work just fine.

4) Once onion/garlic mixture is ready add beans and sundried tomatoes to the pan, add a bit more olive oil to prevent burning, as well as a pinch of table salt.

5) Is the water boiling? Good. Put your fusilli in the boiling water until it reaches Al Dente (about 9-10 minutes)

6) Drain pasta and place into a large bowl. Add veggie/bean mixture from the pan, and a goccio (drop) of olive oil. Mix well.

7) Add 2-3 large spoonfuls of pesto sauce, and as much goats cheese* as you like (I added a lot because I like my pesto pasta super creamy). Mix. *Some prefer not to fully mix in goats cheese as it might be tasty to leave it in large creamy chunks.

8) Serve. Mangia like you’ve never Mangia-ed before.

My Pesto Masterpiece

I don’t know if my wine choice (Cabernet) was what a Sommelier would recommend with a pesto dish, but I’ll speak from personal experience that I thought it complimented the meal quite nicely. The fresh bread wasn’t too bad either. In a full, partially drunken stupor, I fell asleep feeling fulfilled and utterly satisfied. I was under the impression that I didn’t have the capacity to cook, but the truth of the matter is I just have ‘Kitchen Fright’

Ah, another night in the Grassroots Gourmet household, and another recipe for the books. Sadly what awaits me now is the aftermath of cleaning my kitchen…but I’d say it was well worth the mess. 😉

Buon Ingrassamento! (Happy Weight Gain!)

“Home” for the Holidays

Despite the fact that everyone has dispersed themselves to various parts of the world for the seasonal holidays, I am the lone Jew in Parma on Christmas. Hah! Nonetheless, there are some perks to this situation. A) I get the entire house to myself B) ….. Yeah there really is no second pro to this situation.

Yesterday, feeling a bit homesick and nostalgic for something familiar, I decided to rent the new Woody Allen film “Whatever Works” on iTunes and cook myself up a nice hearty meal in the winter weather. Though I don’t have a photograph of the final result I highly recommend trying the concoction I made because it was completely delicious and totally hit the spot.

I made an American/Italian omelette, an impromptu creation, that ended up being a groundbreaking gastronomic experience. (despite my hyperbolized description)

Here’s the recipe:

Michelle’s Christmassy Omelette:

  • Finely diced yellow onion
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • Half Yellow Bell Pepper, Diced
  • Handful of quartered baby tomatoes
  • 2 slices of cured meat (I used Bresaola which is almost impossible to find in the US)
  • 2 Eggs
  • Salt
  • Grated Parmigiano Cheese

1) Sautee onions and garlic with some olive oil in a pan until the onions become translucent and your house smells like an Italian Trattoria

2) Add in other veggies until they are relatively well cooked, tender to the bite

3) Add in your cured meat of choice (bacon can work as well)

4) In a separate bowl, crack 2 eggs, beat with salt and a grated cheese (amounts depend on personal taste)

5) Add eggs to vegetables, let cook until tender

6) Top with a little grated cheese and freshly cracked pepper

7) ENJOY

Alright folks, off to do some holiday shopping in -2 degree weather.. Can’t wait. *ahem* Going to Tuscany to celebrate Christmas with a friend of mine, will update soon.

Merry Christmas, Happy Channukah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy New Year!!!

Aperitivi: Expensive Drinks, Free Food

Though the price of a drink may be significantly higher in Italy than in the US (get used to this because if you’re like me your drinking habits are perpetually increased when in any European country) Italian aperitivo is more than a pre-diner drink, but rather a pre-dinner experience.

What do I mean? Well, when ordering your typical aperitivo beverage, it comes accompanied with various snacks for you to munch away on. These snacks can be as simple as little pieces of focaccia with sliced meat, to pieces of pizza or elaborately constructed mini sandwiches. In the United States, this kind of luxury would add an extra sum to your bill; however here in Italia, eating is the way of the world, and of course comes as part of the experience.

Aperol Spritz, Prosecco, and my Aperitivi Snack Buffet

Aperitivi is a common cultural practice amongst Italians, any dinner date is usually prefaced by this custom as it is a nice way to settle into the mood. But not just anything is ordered for an aperitivo. For example it might be strange if you ordered a scotch on the rocks at 5pm as your before dinner drink, unless of course your dinner partner is someone you’d rather not accompany.

Some examples of typical Italian Aperitivi:

  • Aperol or Campari Spritz: Aperol or Campari (bitters), Prosecco (sparkling wine) and soda. Aperol is a bit sweeter than Campari and my pre-dinner beverage of choice
  • Glass of wine, typically Prosecco
  • Crodino: Another type of bitter

While ordering more than one aperitivo can be typical, considering these before dinner dates can last hours, if you don’t eat any of the complimentary snacks this can lead to a before dinner drunk, which can ultimately become funny and/or embarassing depending on your company. I speak from experience.

Well, off to continue my lushy indulgences. It’s ok though, I am simply immersing myself culturally. Existential self searching if you will. HAHA!

Anthony Bourdain: My Sexual Inspiration

Pardon my honesty for this entry’s title, but that is the only description that comes to mind when I look at the photo below.

As I continue to eat my way through Italy, expanding my waistline as days pass… I come across photos such as this that increase my other forms of biological appetites..

Mr. Anthony Bourdain, thank you for being disgustingly sexy.

Mr. Anthony Bourdain: Chef, Writer, Sex Machine

That is all..

Typical Parmasean Cuisine: A Winter Specialty

As I sit in my apartment, staring out my huge Romantic era glass windows, I am sheltered by the absolute freezing cold that lurks outside. To be fair my California blood has a much lower cold threshold than other parts of the world, but nevertheless…37 degrees is cold.

Each region in Italy has its own typical cuisine, based upon available products and cultural history. Sometimes these cuisines can vary greatly even between bordering cities. NOW, while regional specialties of Parma have become sentimental favorites, they can tend to become a little repetitive and heavy, as every restaurant in this city seems to feature these specialties on their menu.

Some examples of typical Parma foods:

  • Torta Fritta con Salumi: A fried dough pocket typically eaten together with prosciutto and parmasean cheese. This is such a prized specialty here in Parma that many restaurants even advertise it as some sort of celebration. This is eaten more typically in the summer but it can be found year-round.
    Torta Fritta
  • Tortelli d’Erbetta/Zucca: Tortelli, a stuffed pasta similar to ravioli, is a family favorite here in Parma. The most typical fillings to find in this area are Erbetta: herb and Zucca: pumpkin. The herb variety is usually mixed with ricotta while the Zucca is usually just a puree. The Zucca ones are so sweet they sometimes are served with crushed Amaretti cookies as a garnish, though these are a littttle too much on the sweet side for me. They are served with a butter sauce and fresh grated Parmagiano cheese

    Tortelli d'Erbetta doust in butter and cheese...mmmm cardiac arrest

    Cappelletti in Brodo: A very typical winter dish. Cappelletti, meaning little hats in Italian, are small refilled pasta that can look something like what Americans think to be tortelini. They are usually stuffed with ham, cooked to Al-Dente in chicken broth,  and served like a soup with grated parmigiano cheese.

    Cappelletti in Brodo
    As the weather gets colder, heavier the meals get, and subsequently the heavier I get…. as you can see I might be making a weight-loss New Years resolution this year…

Baking Challah: The Smells of Home

After an entire week of eating cured meat and other various pork-inspired foodstuffs, my inner Jew was feeling guilty and I needed to redeem myself. The best way to do this? Bake a Challah!!! I went to the grocery store, bought myself some onions, rosemary, and garlic to add to my bread in order to make a truly bold and aromatic loaf. I figure, if I’m going to take the time to make the thing, I may as well make the house smell good in the process.

I was afraid, very afraid, to make this bread because I am not yet comfortable with my kitchen here in Italy. First of all, while the apartment is large and beautiful, the kitchen appliances provided are out of the Stone Age… For example, In order to turn on my oven, it’s no easy flick of a switch, I have to pull a Sylvia Plath, sticking my entire head in the oven in order to put fire into a small hole in the furnace to start the heat…. yikes

Nonetheless, I added my ingredients, waited patiently for the bread to rise, and finally the dough was ready, braided, and prepared for the heat.

Ready for the Oven!

I love to bake, It calms me down, and the smells of fresh bread bring me internal peace… (Since when did I become so domestic?!)

Anyway, after it finished baking, which was a horrifying 45 minutes because I couldn’t tell if the oven was hot/cold/just right, my masterpiece was finished!!! And it turned out amaaaazinggggg. The house smells like Murray’s Bagels in New York City!! A scent I thought I would never experience in the country of Catholicism.

Onion, Rosemary, Garlic Delish Challah

The recipe, my personal creation, is as follows:

Ingredients:
1 medium yellow onion diced
2 red garlic cloves
2 tbsp Rosemary
4 cups type 0 flour
1/2 cup olive oil plus more for greasing
3 small eggs plus 1 for glaze
2 tbsp seasalt
2 Tbsp Sugar
1 1/3 cups water
1 package dry yeast

1)Combine yeast, warm water, and 1 tbsp sugar in a large bowl. Allow yeast to sit until it gets foamy.

2)Whisk in oil, remaining sugar, salt, and eggs (one at a time) into the yeast mixture.

3)Add onions, chopped garlic, and rosemary into flour mixture. Make sure these ingredients are well distributed.

4)Slowly add flour into the wet mix until the dough can be handled well enough for kneading

5)Knead dough until smooth on a floured surface

6)Place dough into a well greased bowl and cover with a warm towel. Leave in a dry cool place for at least an hour to allow the dough to rise until it doubles in size.

7)Punch down dough and let rise another half hour (meanwhile you might want to start up the oven 375 degrees because if you put bread into an oven that’s not hot its an absolute tragedy)

8)Braid dough (hopefully I don’t have to explain how to make a braid… It’s not exactly rocket science)

9)Use remaining egg to brush over the entire bread, make sure it is well covered in egg as this allows creates the sexy golden brown exterior..

10)Depending on your oven, 375 is usually the standard temp but it can be a little lower if your oven pan is black…watch the bread and see. Bake for roughly 45 minutes or until golden brown.

11)When your house smells like Judaism, your Challah is ready to eat….but let it cool a couple of minutes

I am going to eat my bread with a cup of coffee while watching Annie Hall… this is my tribute and attempt at repentance after a week of absolute blasphemy. Happy Channukah!