Authentic Italian Cuisine: Where Americans Go Wrong Pt.1

Though the late 1800s-early 1900s marked the boom of the popularity of Italian cuisine in the United States, with the immigration of many Italian immigrants into America, the authentic recipes these immigrants had brought over from the ‘mother land’ have significantly changed with the passing of time. Many of these recipes can no longer be considered ‘Italian’ at all, but rather ‘Italian-American’.

I remember the first time I looked at a menu on Italian soil, overcome by a feeling of ignorance and shock to how little I knew about a cuisine that was once as familiar as a hamburger and french fries. Despite language barriers, there were pasta varieties I’d never even heard of, sauces that seemed completely alien, and pizza toppings that seemed completely insane. It was at this moment I realized, “We Americans have got it all wrong”.

In America, “Italian” dishes that we cherish include:(just to name a few)

  • Spaghetti and Meat Balls
  • Pasta Alfredo
  • Some of our favorite pizza toppings: Chicken, Pineapple, Canadian bacon, broccoli, BBQ sauce

Reading through an Italian food news site (www.NewsFood.com) I came across an article about Spaghetti Bolognese, a dish that doesn’t exist in Italy.. according to the article. But why?

‘Bolognese’ is a type of meat sauce that comes from the city of Bologna, here in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. Spaghetti is never served with this type of sauce, but rather Tagliatelle a cut of pasta typical  from Bologna

Tagliatelle Pasta

For a list of other pasta varieties click here

Anyway, though SPAGHETTI alla bolognese doesn’t exist… (and surely spaghetti and meatballs will never ever ever ever appear on a menu in Italy) Tagliatelle alla bolognese is one of the most delicious and typical dishes to come out of the city of Bologna.

Tagliatelle are thin strips of egg-based pasta, similar to fettucine

Tagliatelle alla bolognese

Americans, let us transform the “Italian” food that we eat in the United States.

Here is a recipe for traditional Tagliatelle alla bolognese

This is the beginning of a huge transformation in American eating, I feel it in my limbs!!!

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!)

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!

Cherries and Mouth-gasmic smoothies: It’s summertime!

Well folks, it’s cherry season yet again southern California. Which means, now is the perfect time to head over to your farmers markets and buy them by the bucketload…

Cherries!!
Cherries!!

How could you resist a huge bowl of slightly crunchy and seductively sweet organic cherries grown locally during their prime season??

Sure they are available year round, but you can definitely tell the difference in taste during their off season. Have you ever bitten into a cherry that tasted kind of like…rubbery water? Was it in December?

Though cherries are delicious on their own… I particularly like to include them in my famous fruit smoothies, and I know their famous because uhm… this random guy came up to me in the supermarket and asked for my autograph…*ahem* whatever it’s not important.

Here’s the recipe for my delish smoothies though, cherries are an essential ingredient.

Grassroot’s Gourmet Cherry-Berry ‘Mouth’gasm
Serves 4: (or one if you’re really thirsty….)

2 scoops soy vanilla icecream (I like soy delicious or soy dream)

1 banana

1 cup cherries (make sure to take the pits out)

1/2 cup blueberries

1 cup strawberries

2tbsp lime juice (key ingredient)

2 cups ice

Place ingredients into blender and blend until smooth-ified.

So go out there and buy some cherries (and beets and sour plums) because, ’tis the season! God how I love summer and its amazing produce…

Healthy Chocolate Chips, A Sunspired Sweet!

Shopping at the supermarket can sometimes be a dangerous endeavour. Weaving in an out of isles chock full of obesifyingly delicious and tempting treats. I may, however, have found the cure to  my intense calorific cravings: Sunspire Natural Chocolates.

Sunspire Chocolate Chips
Sunspire Chocolate Chips

Sunspire chocolates are all organic and grain sweetened.

-“Michelle, did you just say grain sweetened?”

Indeed, indeed I did. 😉 These babies don’t use refined sugar that is overprocessed and stripped of nutritional value, but by no means does this indicate a loss in taste. In fact, I actually enjoy the grain-sweetened chips more than regular chocolate. They have a deliciously rich and earthy taste that’s lacking from your typical Hershey’s.

Plus, eating this stuff isn’t going to boost your blood-glucose levels to a Kamakazi-esque demise. They are such a healthy alternative that Chef Jason Graham of world famous Cal-a-Vie spa uses them in his cookies for spa guests.

No, I am not being paid to endorse Sunspire (though this would be nice!!!!) but I just thought this product could be appreciated by more people than just me (as a pour half the bag of these chocolate chips down my throat, Gluttony? indeed.)

You can even use the chips to bake, which is nice considering my after graduation life is going to consist of living with my parents and baking copious amounts of cookies to ease the pain of unemployment. haha oh the cynicism is running hard this morning.

Anyway, the company makes more varieties of their chocolate chips including caramel, peanut butter, and even white chocolate. They have single-serving candy and chocolate bars too.

ISNT THAT EXCITING?! AREN’T YOU MOTIVATED STOP WHATEVER YOURE DOING AND RUN TO THE GROCERY STORE TO BUY SOME RIGHT NOW?!

haha. sorry folks, sometimes life is just a little too entertaining. but seriously, this stuff was a great find, check it out.

Ah, and a recipe, to leave you with something sweet: Taken from the Sunspire website.

Sunspire® Chocolate Chip Cookies

  • 8 oz. (2 sticks) organic butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup organic brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup organic sugar
  • 2 extra-large organic eggs
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 vanilla bean, split in half
  • 2 cups organic all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • Sunspire Chocolate Chips – Organic Chocolate Chips, White Chocolate Chips or Grain Sweetened Chocolate Chips
  • Optional: Chopped pecans, walnuts, macadamia nuts or coconut. You can also replace the butter with an 8 oz. jar of Maranatha® Macadamia Butter for a great dairy free cookie.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine in a large mixing bowl, softened butter and sugar. Cream until a silky texture appears. Add eggs and vanilla into the sugar and butter and mix thoroughly.

    In a separate bowl mix together flour, baking soda and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until completely incorporated.

    Now add your favorite Sunspire Chocolate Chips and other ingredients, if you wish. Bake for 9-11 minutes on an un-greased baking sheet. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy!

    Enjoy!

    No Cooking Necessary: The Raw-Food Revolution

    Fad diet or healthy lifestyle change? The Raw Diet has created a new relationship with the food we eat; Americans should love going raw because it allows the convenience of not having to cook at all. But what is the raw deal?

    Being that I’m in San Francisco for the week, I thought it would be appropriate to write about one of the diet trends that continues to sweep this city. The Raw Diet.

    This is an entirely different echelon of Veganism folks. Like regular vegans, raw eaters do not eat meat or dairy products; however, the raw diet takes things above and beyond by requiring everything come from unprocessed and processed plant foods (beans, nuts, fruit, veg, grain, etc.)To go along with the ‘raw’ theme, raw eaters do not prepare their foods with temperatures exceeding 116F. Why? This seems like quite the arbitrary restriction.

    According to raw eaters, cooking food diminishes its nutritional value 10 fold as valuable enzymes are destroyed with high temperatures; enzymes that assist in the digestion/absorption of food.  Essentially, sucking the life out of the ‘life-food’. I guess it would make sense why most people with a Western diet are victims of various dietary and digestive issues…are we cooking the ‘hell-th’ out of the foods we eat?

    Health Benefits of the Raw Diet:

    • ^ Energy
    • ^ Radiant Skin
    • Weight Loss
    • Decrease in embarrassing digestive problems
    • Reduced risk of heart disease (the raw diet is significantly lower in saturated fat than the regular Western Diet.

    Also, eating raw doesn’t necessarily you are restricted to eating the most boring foods of all time. Not only can you purchase interesting and delicious heirloom fruits/veg at your local farmers market (*nudge, nudge*) but restaurants all over California are coming out with new and interesting raw menus to cater to this growing new gastronomy. Raw food can be gourmet? Fo’ Realz?!

    Life Food Gourmet "burger"
    Life Food Gourmet "burger"

    This is a raw ‘burger’ made to look like your greasy mystery meat patty.  Instead of the fat and health problems, the raw burger is made out of beans and grains, providing the hearty meat taste with a healthy twist. No reason to fear fruits and vegetables anymore, they can be prepared in more ways than simply lifeless on a plate.

    Granted there are many benefits to the Raw Diet, it is a difficult one to maintain. If you are thinking about beginning the journey to raw-ify your life, make sure to consult a doctor and make the transition slowly…you don’t want to shock your body into submission. But I promise in the end your intestines and colon will thank you 😉

    The diet is also what we would consider a low-carbon diet due to its lack of meat, dairy, and foods that require serious processing. The only carbon producing part of this dietary equation comes from the methane gas produced by…you after a feeding frenzy on beans and raw vegetables (you might want to date other raw eaters so at least this becomes a mutual understanding).

    So the answer to my original question?

    -The Raw diet might seem like a passing fad soon to join the diet graveyard of past-Hollywood ‘miracle’ diets, but a raw eater would beg to differ. According to the movement (yes, I’ll call it a movement) eating raw is simply a means to reconnect with the ways that humans ate in the beginning of time, when diets consisted mostly of fruits and vegetables with very minimal cooking. Evolution proved this one to be a success folks 😉

    Here’s a recipe to start your raw life off right. Thanks to The Daily Raw Cafe Blog

    Strawberry Panna Cotta with Blackberry Compote (aka YUMMMM)

    Strawberry Panna Cotta with Blackberry Compote
    Strawberry Panna Cotta with Blackberry Compote

    Blackberry Compote

    6 oz blackberries
    2 T agave nectar
    1/8 t sea salt

    Marinate blackberries in agave nectar and sea salt in the refrigerator for two hours (overnight is best).

    Place two 4-inch springform pan (without the bottoms) in the freezer on top of saucer plates or dessert plates. Chill for an hour.

    Strawberry Panna Cotta

    1 c strawberries, cleaned and stemmed
    Juice of 1 lemon
    1/4 t sea salt

    Marinate strawberries in lemon juice and sea salt for an hour.

    2 c cashews, soaked for an hour
    1/4 c water
    3 T agave nectar
    1 t ground flax seeds

    Blend cashews, flax seeds, agave nectar adding water one tablespoon at a time until cashews are blended well. Add strawberries and remaining water until very smooth and firm

    Pour mixture into chilled 4-inch springform pan. Chill in freezer for 2 hours to set.

    Carefully remove molds from panna cottas. Leave it on the saucer plates and put in the refrigerator overnight. Let stand at room temperature 5 minutes to soften slightly. Serve panna cottas with compote.

    Alright folks, back to my San Franciscan getaway, hummus and Birkenstocks anyone?