Friday, October 23, 2009

What's for Lunch?

Salad! It's my go-to for a quick and healthy lunch. No recipe here. I just start with a base of greens, and then add whatever cheese, nuts, fruit, and veggies that I think go well together and/or look fresh at the market. Fruit in a salad seemed strange to me at first. My wonderful friend Jenny convinced me otherwise. Just try it once and I think you'll be hooked. Dried fruit such as cherries or cranberries are also tasty. And, I toast the nuts to bring out their flavor and to add richness to the overall taste.

For the dressing, I keep it super simple. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar go well with every combination. If balsamic vinegar is too strong, try a white vinegar. In the summer, I like olive oil and lemon. I’ve been known to mix it up every now and then with a Dijon mustard lemon one. Here are the fall combos that I’ve been creating lately.

Salad #1:
Mixed greens
Parmigiano Reggiano
Toasted pine nuts

Salad #2:
Mixed greens
Feta cheese
Toasted walnuts

Salad #3
Mixed greens
Grana Padano cheese
Toasted pine nuts

And as a side to round out the meal- fresh focaccia bread I bought in the am from my neighborhood bakery.

Buon Pranzo!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What's for Dinner?

The other night we had carbonara. That’s right, more pasta. We eat tons! Carbonara is a common weeknight meal for many Italians and I've read that the dish originated in Rome. It’s fast, easy, and super tasty. While it's not the healthiest... sometimes you just need to indulge... I like Giada De Laurentiis’s version and it’s another one from Everyday Pasta. Traditionally, it’s made without cream, though this recipe includes it. The secret ingredient is……well I won’t spoil the surprise for you. Michael calls it the Italian version of “breakfast for dinner”. He’s right – bacon and eggs.

Cinnamon Pancetta Carbonara
Serves 6

  • 6 ounces pancetta (about 6 slices), chopped
  • 2 ounces of bacon (2 to 3 slices, chopped) (I only used pancetta)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 ½ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 18 ounces fresh fettuccine (I sometimes use tagliatelle)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (I leave out the salt. The pancetta has plenty.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (I didn't use these because I can't find chives in Italy...)

  1. Cook the pancetta and bacon in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat until almost crisp, about 5 minutes.
  2. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and sauté until the meat is crisp and golden, about 2 minutes longer.
  3. Turn the heat to low.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, cheese, and egg yolks.
  5. Add the cream mixture to the pan with the pancetta and cook at a very low simmer, stirring often.
  6. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until it is just tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally.
  7. Drain the pasta and add it to the cream mixture with the salt and pepper. Continue cooking over very low heat until the sauce coats the pasta thickly, about 3 minutes. (Do no boil.)
  8. Transfer the pasta to a large, wide serving bowl. Sprinkle with the chives and more cheese.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What's for Dinner?

Baked tortellini is one of Michael’s many favorites. This recipe is from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis, a birthday gift from my dear friend Eddie. It’s actually really easy once you have made your tomato sauce. I follow Giada’s basic marinara recipe and usually make a large amount, so it’s ready for the next time. There's also mascarpone cheese left over and I use it to make tiramisu.

Cheesy Baked Tortellini

Serves 4


  • Olive oil
  • 2 cups marinara sauce (store-bought or homemade; see below)
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (I used 1/8 cup dried parsley)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (I used 1 teaspoon of dried thyme)
  • 1 pound purchased cheese tortellini (I used tortellini with prosciutto)
  • 2 ounces thinly sliced smoked mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly oil an 8x8x2-inch baking dish or 4 individual gratin dishes.
  2. Whisk the marinara sauce, mascarpone cheese, parsley, and thyme in a large bowl to blend.
  3. Cook the tortellini in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes.
  4. Drain and add the tortellini to the sauce and toss to coat.
  5. Transfer the tortellini mixture to the prepared baking dish or dishes.
  6. Top with the smoked mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.
  7. Cover the dish or dishes with foil and bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the cheeses on top melt, about 10 minutes.

Giada's Basic Marinara Sauce

Makes about 2 quarts


  • 1/2 cup EVOO
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  1. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
  4. Sauté until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour
  6. Remove and discard the bay leaves.
  7. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What's for Dinner?

Minestrone soup...

This one is full of both veggies and flavor. The beans make this vegetarian meal extra filling. My favorite thing about making soup is that I do all the work once. I get at least two, sometimes three meals. The best part of this soup is the parmigiano cheese topping. Make sure you have good bread for "mopping". I've read that Italians consider bread their fourth utensil.

This one is also from Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book.

Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons EVOO, plus some for drizzling at the table

  • 1 onion, 3/4 chopped, 1/4 finely chopped

  • 4 garlic cloves

  • 2 carrots, shredded

  • 4 celery stalks from the heart, chopped

  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano

  • Salt and pepper (I actually did not use any salt)

  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained

  • 1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained

  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained

  • 2 to 3 sprigs to fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped

  • 1/4 cup tomato paste

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

  • 4 cups vegetable stock

  • 1 bunch of kale or chard, thick vein removed and leaves coarsely chopped (I used spinach)

  • 1/2 pound whole wheat elbow pasta (I used regular pasta shells)

  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for topping

  • 1 loaf of crusty bread
  1. Heat a soup pot over medium heat with 2 tablespoons of the EVOO.

  2. Add the chopped onion to the hot oil but reserve the finely chopped 1/4 onion.

  3. Add the garlic to the onions along with the carrots, celery, and bay leaf.

  4. Season with the red pepper flakes, marjoram, and salt and pepper. (I left the salt out.)

  5. Saute to soften the vegetables, 8 to 10 minutes.

  6. Add the beans.

  7. Season with salt and pepper and the rosemary. (I left the salt out.)

  8. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for 2 minutes, or until the paste smells sweet.

  9. Stir in the wine, cook for 1 minute, then stir in the stock and 2 cups of water.

  10. Wilt in the greens and bring the soup to a boil.

  11. Add the pasta and cook to al dente, about 8 minutes.

  12. Adjust the seasonings.

  13. Serve bowlfuls of the soup topped with a drizzle of EVOO, a sprinkle of finely chopped raw onion, and Parmigiano. Use bread for mopping up your bowl.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

What's for Dinner?

That was the daily question I asked my mom when I was a child. Lately, she asks me!

I love food. Good food. Real food. Now, I love to cook food. I had an interest in the art before we moved to Italy, but with all the amazing produce, meat, and cheese I’ve caught the Italian passion for food and mangia. The second most frequently asked question I get is “What do you cook in Italy?” I have decided to share with you what I've been making.

The other night I made mushroom and leek spaghetti. This was actually the first recipe I used from Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book after I received it for Christmas. It tasted wonderful and we really like the combination of thyme with the wine cream sauce. At that time, I was unfamiliar with leeks or their Italian translation, so I left them out. I’ve never cooked with them but when I saw some at this week's market I thought I would give them a try. The added texture and green color was nice, but I do believe in this case, we actually prefer this dish without them.

Here it is for you to taste and remark. Try it with and without the leeks and leave a comment to let me know which you prefer.

Serves 4

  • Salt

  • 1 pound whole-wheat or whole-grain spaghetti

  • 1 1/2 pounds mixed mushrooms - shiitake, crimini, any that catch your eye at market

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), (eyeball it)

  • 2 leeks

  • 3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves or 2 teaspoons dried thyme

  • 1/2 cup dry white wine

  • 1/2 cup cream

  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Romano, for topping

  1. Heat water to a boil for the pasta, salt water, drop in pasta and cook to al dente.

  2. Wipe mushrooms clean with damp towel. Remove woody stems. Thinly slice the mushrooms.

  3. Heat a large deep skillet with EVOO over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook until deeply golden and tender, 10 minutes.

  4. While mushrooms cook, halve the leeks lengthwise. Cut off a couple of inches from tough tops. Trim off root end. Thinly slice the leek then vigorously wash in a large bowl of cold water, separating all the layers to free of grit. Let leeks sit a few minutes then lift out of the water and dry on kitchen towel.

  5. Add leeks to mushrooms along with garlic and season with salt, pepper and thyme.

  6. Cook 3-4 minutes more then add wine, reduce half a minute then stir in cream and heat through.

  7. Toss pasta with mushrooms and adjust seasoning. Top with grated cheese at the table.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Michael and I were very lucky to have the opportunity to attend this year's 176th Oktoberfest in Munich, compliments of his company. All arrangements including hotel, festival reservations, and transportation between the hotel and the fest were made for us. We only had to show up and have fun. And we did.

We arrived to our hotel late Thursday evening, just in time for a traditional Bavarian dinner. There were sausages and sauerkraut, a mix of grilled meats, potatoes, and of course beer. A special treat was the group of musicians, in traditional Bavarian dress, that played and sang late into the evening.

The next day we took the train to the center of Munich. Before heading over to the Theresienwiese fairground, we walked around downtown. In Marienplatz, we stood in awe of the beautiful town hall. We were lucky to catch the 11 am happenings- bells rang, the carillon music played and wooden mechanical dancers performed for the hundreds of onlookers with cameras.

We roamed the streets taking in the mix of old and new architecture. We came upon the Odeonsplatz, a large beautiful square. There was the Feldherrnhalle, a building with three massive arches and statues of army generals and lions. I made a comment like "That looks like the outside of the Uffizi in Florence." Not thirty seconds later, one of the members of our group said "That building was modeled after one in Florence." I would have never known that, if I hadn't been to Florence first. :) We gazed up at the Theatinerkirche, a catholic church that is very Italian. The yellow color evoked feelings of terra cotta houses with clay tile roofs. Then, it was on to the' fest.

A little history....Oktoberfest occurs each year in the city of Munich. It lasts about 2 weeks, running from the end of September to the beginning of October. The first 'fest was a wedding celebration for Price Ludwig and Princess Therese in 1810.

D' Wisen, as the locals call it, was basically a huge carnival scene. There is a reason it's called the largest public festival in the world. Fourteen beer "tents" (or more like beer buildings), rides, and games were everywhere. It was surely overwhelming to the senses. Many people had on traditional Bavarian dress- dirndls for women, lederhosen for men. Bavarian flags- a blue and white rhombus pattern were all over. I was amazed with the size and scale. What impressed me most was that everything was constructed from the ground up especially for Oktoberfest. Ah...German engineering.

The beer tents were each sponsored by a brewery and were massive! They had a band stand in the center and raised seating along the perimeter. We had reservations for the Schottenhamel tent, the biggest one of Oktoberfest, seating around 6,000 inside and 4,000 outside! The only size of beer served is 1 liter and I felt like I was at a big frat party. There was a oompha band and lots of singing, mostly shouting, of drinking songs. "I am Prosting! I am Prosting!" The beer was quite good, easy to drink.

During the afternoon, we walked the grounds. We played some games and went on some tame rides like a slide and carousel. There were plenty of crazy rides that we avoided...We paused for a much needed cup of coffee and traditional Bavarian sweets. I unfortunately can not remember their names....

In the evening, we had another reservation at the Weinzelt or Wine Tent. This one was smaller than the first though still grand. It also had a band but they played rock and pop rather than oompha and polka. We had a big spread of meats, sausages, sauerkraut, dried tomatoes, cheese and pretzels for dinner and of course more beer. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves- drinking, eating, talking, and dancing late into the night. It was certainly an experience unlike any other and we had an awesome time.