Friday, October 25, 2013


On Monday, I went to Ipercoop, which is one of the larger Italian supermarkets around here, armed with my list of ingredients that I needed for this week's dinners. This was the first time since I've lived here that I was able to walk into an Italian supermarket and leave with everything on my list. Smoked scamorza? Got it. Fresh cakes of yeast? Right there, next to the butter. Veal cutlets? How thick do you want them? Prosciutto? Come on, challenge me. Gaeta olives? Don't need 'em. They're already in my fridge.

It was so refreshing. Maybe I need to cook all Italian food for the rest of my time here. It's a hell of a lot less stressful than trying to conjure pot roasts and duck breasts and exotic spices. It's tricky, though, because a) No diversity gets old fast and b) Italians cook better Italian food than I do. If I want good Italian, it's more satisfying to go out to eat. Well, first to hire a babysitter, then to go out and eat, because meals don't start until 8, and last for several hours here. I see myself getting much more invested in my Italian cookbooks once I'm stateside, as I try to reclaim the glorious food I ate here. And then I won't be able to find smoked scamorza or fresh yeast. Oy.

Last night I made La Tiella di Gaeta Con Le Cipolle (pg 86 of Rome). Technically, this beast is supposed to be an appetizer, but since I don't have a bar-full of people to feed, we had it for dinner. It's a mixture of ricotta and scamorza cheese, eggs, and herbs, wrapped up in a yeast dough.

This took a while to make, but really wasn't very difficult. The dough was easy to work with. The recipe is for a 12 inch cake pan. I don't own one that big, so I had lots of extra dough.
I made the top crust too thick, and it threw off the crust-to-filling ratio.
Matt kept asking why I baked him a cake for dinner. My glares did not dissuade him from calling it "Dinner Cake." Then he decided it tasted like bacon (from the smoked cheese) and eggs, and he started calling it "Breakfast Cake." I'm pretty sure what he meant was, "Wow, honey, this is beautiful. Thanks so much." Grumble, grumble.

Perhaps I shouldn't take issue with the fact that this book of Roman recipes keeps having recipes from other parts of Italy. Gaeta is closer to Naples than it is to Rome. Guess I shouldn't complain - wherever it's from, it tastes good. 

Conclusion: Liked it. It was nice to be able to cook the whole thing, start to finish, while Charlie was at school, and not have to worry about getting dinner ready later, since it's meant to be served cold or room temp. This thing is waaay too big for just two people to eat, though. This would be good for a brunch or a buffet table, to feed a horde of people. I dropped a big wedge off at a friend's house this morning. Waste not!

Earlier in the week, I made Saltimbocca alla Romana (pg 127). I'm a huge saltimbocca fan. If you don't know, it's veal (or I've also made it with chicken) wrapped in prosciutto and sage, then pan-fried. Toss some white wine into the drippings, cook it down, and enjoy.

Matt thought that this version was too salty, and said he preferred Virginia Willis' chicken recipe from Bon Appetit, Y'all. There isn't any salt added to this, so I'm curious to try Virginia's recipe with the ingredients available here, and see if he still thinks its too salty. Maybe it's the prosciutto. Matt claimed that veal is inherently saltier than chicken, but that sounds silly to me. Maybe I'm wrong.

I prefer Virginia's recipe, because she layers it as chicken, sage, then wraps prosciutto around it. It magically adheres after dredged in flour. I worried the first time I made it that it would all fall apart, but it didn't. This recipe has the sage on the outside, and everything needs to be sewn together with a toothpick. It also says to trim the prosciutto to the size of the veal. Yeah, right. Much fussier.

Conclusion: Liked it, but I'll stick with my normal recipe, because it's more straightforward.

Lastly, Insalata Di Finocchio (pg 78). Shaved fennel, topped with orange slices, olives, and olive oil doesn't sound like that intriguing of a mixture, but it was quite refreshing. Not something I'd crave, but if I had all these ingredients laying around, I'd make this again.

Conclusion: Just okay. Better than I expected. It doesn't have enough salty or enough sweet to provide that delicious sweet/salty contrast. It could use some oomph, but I'm not sure how to provide it.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Clearing the Slate

I've accrued a backlog of recipes from Rome that I've cooked, but haven't posted about. None were exceptional, so I'm just going to blast 'em out.

Conchiglie alla Caprese (pg 105) takes all the delicious elements of a caprese salad, adds capers, olives, and anchovies, then dilutes the whole thing with pasta. The best part of a caprese salad is the flavor union of mozzarella, basil, and tomato. It may not be impossible to get all three of those things in one forkful once pasta is thrown into the mix, but it doesn't happen organically.
Conclusion: Just okay. Bland. I bought the cute little trulli house-shaped pasta during my Columbus Day trip to Alberobello, which you can read about here.

Insalata Rossa (pg 151): snoozefest. Tomatoes, carrots, green onions, basil, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil do not come together as more than its individual pieces.
Conclusion: Just okay.

Pollo alla Romana con i Peperoni (pg 144), or Chicken with Tomatoes and Sweet Peppers, is the standout. The drumsticks didn't take on much flavor, so they were just normal drumsticks, but the sauce and the peppers were out of this world. I could have eaten a giant bowl of rice drowned in sauce (crisped prosciutto, a glug of white wine, tomatoes, oregano, with the soft peppers added in at the end), and been perfectly happy. No chicken necessary
Conclusion: Really liked the sauce and peppers.

I saw some parsnips (a rarity) at the Commissary last week, so I snagged them, without a plan. Feast has a recipe for Maple-Roast Parsnips (pg 25). Holy mother of God. These things are candy. Nigella says in her intro that she used to use honey and has changed it to maple syrup because it's "sweetness (is) less cloying." I can't even imagine how sweet the honey ones must have been, because I could barely make myself eat these. I am sure Charlie would have liked them, but he refused to put one in his mouth. I gave up after an hour and a half. He informed me he wanted to go to bed hungry, and so that is what he did. Grrrr.
Conclusion: Disliked. If Charlie had eaten them, I'd make them again in the future, but since he didn't, I won't. Too sweet.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Worth Shredding a Cabbage For

My brain works pretty slowly sometimes. Feast includes a bunch of recipes for ways to use up leftover turkey. I always hover over these recipes, and then move on, as leftover turkey is not something I generally have around the house (and frankly, I can't get enough stuffing-turkey-cranberry sauce-sweet potato sandwiches, so it's unlikely I'd ever need to turn to this section for its intended purpose.)

The last time I flipped through the book, the thought finally came to me that, oh yeah, I could just use a rotisserie chicken.

Took me long enough to figure that one out.

Because it would use up the head of red cabbage I had in my fridge, as well as some old (and mostly gone-bad) radishes, and the last of my Tropean red onions, I immediately settled upon Red Seasonal Salad (pg 59).

Shredding cabbage is the hardest part of this recipe. It's one of the tasks that I hate most in this world. I threw many a teenaged hissy fit when my mom would tell me to shred a cabbage for cole slaw. I hate cole slaw. It felt like punishment to stand over a bowl with a vegetable peeler, paring that big honkin' cabbage down. That said, if one must eat shredded cabbage, I agree with my mother that it should be shredded with a vegetable peeler. No one wants to chew on thick shreds of cabbage. The only way to get them to a nice, graceful thickness is to do it by hand.

Perhaps it's because I'm totally deprived of Asian food, but I loved this recipe. Red onion, red chilis, and garlic take a bath in rice vinegar, fish sauce, lime juice, oil, and sugar for a bit. Add shredded chicken, let it sit some more. Add the cabbage, then radishes and cilantro. Boom.

Because I didn't think my bedroom would be stinky enough after this meal, I also added a can of white beans.

For the record, Matt wasn't nearly as impressed by this as I was, so it could well be that my addiction to crunchy things, and the fact that I haven't eaten fish sauce in a long time prompted my undying love for this dish.

Conclusion: Loved it.

Also, several weeks ago, I made Ritzy Chicken Nuggets (pg 238), from the "Kiddie Feast" section. It's chicken breadcrumbed with crushed Ritz crackers. It's exactly what you would expect: aka, pretty tasty. My one complaint is that the instructions say to take the chicken from a buttermilk bath, shake off the excess, and put them in the Ritz crackers. They didn't stick to the chicken well, once in the pan. I much prefer my standard flour-->egg-->bread crumb method. The buttermilk DID make the chicken nice and juicy, though.
Charlie loves breadcrumbed chicken. It's the only way I can get him to eat chicken. He ate this, too, but didn't seem any more enthusiastic than normal, so I think I'll stick with my usual recipe, because I prefer it.

Conclusion: Liked it.

FFwD: Boeuf a la Mode: Thwarted

I had every intention of cooking this week's French Fridays with Dorie recipe on time. The weather is turning slightly chilly here, and some sort of pot-roastey thing sounded pretty good. I went to the Commissary on Monday to buy any of the three cuts of beef that Dorie suggests, but...
Empty. The meat section was completely bare. I think it's funny that there are rows of barbeque sauce lined up sporadically. Here, put some bbq sauce on your...nothing.

Beef is exorbitantly expensive at Italian supermarkets, and does not come in the cuts we Americans would expect. There are a lot of very thin-cut slabs of beef. Nothing roastable. Cows aren't really local here, which I suppose explains the high prices. When I want beef, I rely on the Commissary. "Rely on" may be too strong a word. When I want beef, I drive 40 minutes to the Commissary and hope that they're in stock.

For what it's worth, this has nothing to do with the government shutdown. This is the worst I've seen it, but the meat section has been pretty poorly stocked whenever I've gone for the past few weeks.

A friend tells me the shelves were in decent shape when she went yesterday, so hopefully I'll be able to make Dorie's beef next week.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Chicken and Zukes

Everything sounds so much more exciting in Italian. Last night, I made Zucchine a Scapece (pg 74 of Rome). Fry thin rounds of zucchini in olive oil until they're golden and soft. Mix them with raw garlic, salt, red wine vinegar, and mint leaves (though i used basil, because I didn't have mint), then let them sit in the fridge to cool for half an hour.

These missed the mark for me. Italians are very good at frying vegetables (I'm thinking of  you, eggplant) so that they're creamy and perfect, and you don't feel like you're eating three cups of olive oil, even if you are. As I ate these zucchini, I felt like I was eating three cups of olive oil. It lubed up the whole inside of my mouth and throat. Ew.

Conclusion: Just okay. I wouldn't make this again.
That chicken tastes better than it looks.
However, Petti di Pollo in Padella was both excellent and easy. Score! There are some overly fussy instructions that I ignored. "Remove the small fillet (tender) from the chicken breast and save it for another use." For real? I don't think so. I left my breasts intact (that sounds wrong). I also used a box of chicken broth, rather than making it from scratch.

Marinate the chicken in a mixture of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rosemary, bay leaf, salt, and pepper, for two hours. In my case, they marinated for two days, with no detrimental effects. The instructions say to use a bit of the marinade to oil the pan you'll cook the chicken in, but mine turned to blood clot consistency as soon as it hit the hotness. Ew. I wiped it off, used a swirl of olive oil, and carried on. After five minutes per side and a few minutes of sitting, I had perfectly salted, juicy, rosemary-flavored chicken breasts. Add chicken broth to the pan, scrape up the browned bits, then pour over the sliced chicken breasts.

Conclusion: Loved it. Perfetto! Matt rarely comments on dinner, but he went out of his way to compliment this.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

FFwD: Salad Nicoise

Unfortunately for purposes of writing an interesting post about the Salad Nicoise that I prepared this week for French Fridays with Dorie, nothing about it was especially dramatic. 

The only thought running through my head as I prepared the salad was, "Oh man. Matt is not going to be happy when he gets home and sees what's for dinner." I mean, he'll eat salads, but he generally considers it to be part of a larger meal, not the meal itself. And this one looked so boring. At least, it looked boring to me. I found myself apologizing for the lameness of the dinner when Matt got home. He shrugged and said, "Eh. It's salad. With tuna." And he was right. It was salad. With tuna.
The lettuce is topped with green beans (groan. I hate them, but I ate them), capers, olives, anchovies (double groan. I omitted them), potatoes (watching my carbs. I omitted them), tomatoes, shallots, and oil-packed tuna. I drizzled some balsamic reduction on top, because why not? I expected the tuna to be gussied up in some way, but it wasn't. Out of the can and onto my plate.

Maybe it lost all it's Nicoise magic when I omitted the anchovies and potatoes. The salad was dull, but I'm happy it prompted me to try oil-packed tuna. As far as I could tell, that's the only style they sell at my Italian supermarket, and it is not the cheapo lunch item that I'm used to. My can cost me nearly 4 euro (5.5 dollars), but it was worth it. It was much fresher smelling than Bumblebee or Chicken of the Sea. I never knew that a can of tuna didn't have to smell like a can of tuna. I'm a convert.

I doubt I'll make this salad again, but I'm going to load up my cabinet with my new pricey canned fishies.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Who and the Whatsit?

We've been home from France for a week and a half now, and I've been sick the whole time. Charlie caught it (not as bad as me), and it was only yesterday that we both felt well enough to get dressed and leave the house--him to school, and me to the supermarket. Prior to that, we (and by "we," I mostly mean Matt) have been throwing meals together with what's available in the house. It's been a vegetable-free existence.

Anyway, on Sunday, I told Matt that we had all the ingredients for Rigatoni con Guanciale e Cipolla (pg 101 of Rome). He'd cooked the recipe earlier in September, the night we got home from Tropea. I'd mentally flagged it prior to our trip, because it specifically calls for Tropean red onions. Let me tell you, Tropeans are very proud of their onions. They even use them to flavor ice cream.
If a torrential thunderstorm didn't chase us back to our car after lunch, I definitely would have tried some.
Anyway, we stopped at a roadside stand to buy a bag of onions on our way back to Naples. Know what Tropean red onions taste like? Red onions. Somewhat milder, but it's really not that big of a difference. (Sorry, Tropeans. No offense.) Matt says he thinks it's like a mix between a red onion and a shallot. I don't really know what that means. Point is, you could totally make this with normal red onions, and it would be just fine.
I accidentally deleted my pic of the food, so here's one of Tropea instead.
I haven't personally made this, but Matt has now made it twice. He does it fairly quickly (within a half hour), so it must not be too complicated.

The onions are wilted with a good amount of white wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, and salt, then set aside. Crisp pancetta, then add the onion glop, and set aside. Add cooked pasta, then a pile of pecorino romano, and what you've got is a delicious salty, sour, sweet bowl of carbohydrate goodness. It's addictive.

Why is a recipe that calls for Tropean onions present in a book of Roman recipes? I have no idea. Tropea is a solid seven hours south of Rome, and I've never seen their onions in Naples. Maybe Rome has a Tropean onion pipeline.

Conclusion: Love it. I've eaten more than my fair share each time Matt's made this, and both times, I wanted more.