30 August 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Pretty Peppery

SARONNO, Italy – There is no shortage of pasta salad recipes on the internet, but today’s pasta salad has a bit of a twist, it contains cooked green peppers. It’s not unusual to find peppers in pasta salads, they are an essential ingredient in Italian cooking along with tomatoes, pasta, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, but cooked peppers, that's something else.  
Lots of Pastas for Pasta Salad
But peppers were not always part of Italian cuisine. They were brought to Europe after Christopher Columbus discovered America by the Spanish and Portuguese who had been sent to the Americas to claim land for Spain.

The Spaniards began bringing back to Europe some of the vegetables they saw the Aztec Indians of South America eating, vegetables like peppers, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, beans, pumpkins and squash, which none of which the Europeans, including the Italians had ever seen before. Like tomatoes, when pepper plants were first introduced in Europe, the Europeans thought peppers were poisonous and only used them for ornamental purposes. Today, three-fifths of the vegetables that we eat today originally came from the land of the Aztecs, the people Columbus named Indians. He was a little bit confused you see, and didn’t know where he was. He thought he had landed in the East Indies, instead he was in what would later be named the Americas. 
   I Pepperoni Sono Troppo Belli
Mediterranean Pasta Salad

Serves 6

5 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound (500 grams) farfalle (bow-tie) pasta, freshly cooked, rinsed, drained
1pound (500 grams) cooked deveined peeled shrimp, cut lengthwise in half
½ cup finely chopped sweet red onion
½ cup each of diced red, green and yellow peppers fried in olive oil and garlic
 3/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil

Mix the farfalle, shrimp, onion, and (cooled to room temperature) fried peppers in a large bowl and toss to mix. Add additional olive oil if needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

You can also add crab meat, mussels, chopped hard sausage, cooked and cubed chicken or turkey breast, chopped fresh tomatoes, black olives and scallions. Pasta is the most wonderful food, it’s like a blank canvas, happy to take on whatever you want, or whatever you have on hand, to add to it.

Insiders Tip: Here in Italy Italian cooks start frying peppers (and onions) in a little olive oil and after they have cooked for several minutes, they add a half a ladle (more or less) of hot water to the pan and cover it. They let the peppers (or onions) steam over low heat, and when they are soft they take the lid off of the pan and in a minute or so the peppers, or onions, start frying once again.

I confess I steam both peppers and onions in a covered dish in the microwave before I fry them. The flavor may not be as intense as doing it the Italian way, but it saves me time and the bother of having to hover over the stove watching the pan for the right time to remove the lid. Just don’t tell anyone I told you this. I wouldn’t want my darkest, deepest cooking secrets to get around.

26 August 2012

LIFE: The Pot Holder Guy


SARONNO, Italy – One subject that never fails to intrigue me is why some people find it easier to adjust to living in a new country than others. I have a couple of theories on the subject, starting with this: it’s easier to adjust if you are the person making the decision to live in that country. From the ex-pats I have met in the 22 years I’ve lived in Italy, this has been true just about 98 percent of the time.
 That's Diane on the Left
One exception was Diane, one of my Italy “daughters” that I wrote about back in April 2011. Diane is an all American girl, born and bred in Florida, with a breezy personality and a backbone made of steel. As if facing a new culture wasn’t difficult enough, imagine trying to do it with three babies under three, a large house to manage and a husband who works 16 hours a day. But she never gave up. 

While Diane never learned to speak Italian, it didn’t seem to hold her back. Were there things she didn’t understand? If you ask her she’d say tons of them, but she approached every situation with a positive attitude and a smile that even the grumpiest of the grumpy Genovese could not resist.
Italian Kids Living Their Italian Life
I thought about her the other day when I found a video on You Tube posted by an American who lives in the Dominican Republic. He claims the reason ex-pats give up on living abroad is because of cultural fatigue. While he makes some valid points, for me, he seemed to be the one suffering from cultural fatigue, but you can judge that for yourself. His theory is that some ex-pats are worn down by the never ending challenges of everyday life, and this results in cultural fatigue.  He uses some pot holders he bought at a local market as an example. 

He says when he bought the pot holders, he had an expectation of what he could do with them – i.e. pick up hot pots, but the reality of the situation was that when he picked up a hot pot with the pot holders, the fabric melted. He then thought that perhaps he had used the wrong side of the pot holder to pick up the pot, and tried it again. This time the pot holders didn’t melt,they stuck to the pot.
 Could be Anywhere in Italy
Now you may not think this incident in itself is significant. So he bought pot holders and they turned out not to be good, why doesn't he just throw them away and move on. Except, as he rightly points out, things like this happen a hundred times a day. You approach a familiar situation, in his case buying a couple of pot holders, with the expectation that they are going to do what in your logical mind pot holders are designed to do, help you handle hot pots, and when they don’t, it is frustrating. 

Multiply those frustrating incidents over a period of time and you end up with cultural fatigue and an overwhelming desire to just get back to where ever your normal is.  Simply put, you just get  tired of trying to figure out things that you know you know, but now, in your new environment what you thought you knew turns out not to be right and so you have to figure out what all those things that you thought you knew actually mean in your current culture.  
 Author Elaine Sciolino
I recently read an interesting book entitled La Seduction – How the French Play the Game of Life, written by an American journalist, Elaine Sciolino.  Sciolino lives in Paris and was the Paris Bureau Chief for the New York Times, so she knows a thing or two about living abroad. What struck me the most about her book was how similar the French and Italians are, although neither would ever admit it. Behaviors that I had always thought of as ‘so Italian’ were popping up on every page. And, closer to the point, so was the rationale the French use to justify certain actions and behaviors that she, as an American, still can’t wrap her head around. 

She’s been in Europe longer than I have so I don’t think it’s a matter of time, I think it’s a matter of acceptance, and a matter of choice. You can laugh at the differences, like the time Gary, Chris and I got stuck in an elevator with a real estate agent and instead of calling for help, he called his wife to tell her he was going to be late for lunch. It was the nosy old ladies of the building – every apartment building in Italy is required to have at least one – to fetch the fire department and rescue us from the dangling coffin size elevator. Or you can mentally strangle the twit which doesn’t solve the problem either.   
 La Seduction Could Easily Be La Seduzione
Not only did the real estate agent not apologize to us for being inconveniently stuck in the too close for comfort elevator, he didn’t even offer to drive us back to the real estate office, leaving us to fend for ourselves in a city he knew was not our own. He dashed out the door, visibly upset because it was almost 2 PM, an hour past his lunch time.  

I realized after reading Sciolino’s book that somewhere along the way I have given up getting upset over things I can’t change, especially Italian things. I wish some ex-pats I know would do the same, they wouldn't be quite so miserable. Speaking for myself, I can’t imagine living anywhere else but Italy in spite of incidents like the one with the real estate agent, and after all these years I’m happy to say that I am still madly in love with this Italian life, even if it is frustrating at times.

By the way, the pot holder guy’s name is Andy Lee Graham and here is his cultural fatigue video.
 

23 August 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Color Me Yellow

SARONNO, Italy - Here’s a bit of midsummer madness I picked up the other day. The word sorbet comes from the Arab word sharbet, which means sweet snow, which in turn comes from the Arabic verb sherber, meaning to sip. This interest in sorbet stems from a super easy recipe I found for lemon sorbet, my favorite, that I'd like to share with you today. Sorbet, as you probably already know is made using only sugar, water and flavoring, and is so easy to make it
 The Appian Way to Rome
is not surprising that it has been around much longer than ice cream. In the 1st century A.D. it’s said that the Roman Emperor Nero positioned his slaves along Rome's Appian Way  and they would pass  buckets of snow hand over hand from the mountains to his banquet hall where it was then mixed with honey and wine. It sounds a little farfetched to me as it’s a long way from the mountains to the center of Rome, which is very hot in the summer, and unless they could pass those buckets faster than lightening it's highly unlikely the snow would have arrived in any condition to be used for anything edible. But they do mention putting snow and ice in storage rooms below ground so that they could use it in the warmer months of the year. That’s a bit more plausible.
 Watermelon Granita
The Italians also came up with granita, which is sort of like sorbet but different. The difference is in how it is frozen and in the texture you end up with. In the recipe below it says to stir the sorbet with a hand whisk every 10 minutes or so if you are not using an ice cream machine, in order to avoid ice crystals from forming.  If you want to make granita instead of sorbet, stir the same mixture with a fork in order to get a more coarse texture – which for granita is the desired consistency.
 Fluorescent Colored Water Ices
And then there is water ice or Italian ice which is basically the same thing but with a higher water content which results in a texture somewhere between sorbet and granita. If Italians spoke English instead of Italian they would all be called snow cones or shaved ices, which are basically cups of crushed ice topped with a flavored syrup, but since they don’t, every little change, no matter how inconsequential, in the texture of frozen water with added flavoring gets its own name.
 Lemon Sorbet
Lemon Sorbet

Ingredients

Serves 8
•    2 lb lemons (1 kilo)
•    2 cups water (1/2 liter)
•    ½ lb sugar (250 grams)
•    2 egg whites (optional)

Prepare a simple syrup with the water, sugar and thinly-sliced lemon peel, taking care to avoid the white part of the peel as it is very bitter.  Boil the water, sugar and lemon peel for 5-6 minutes, then cool completely. Strain the syrup into a bowl, using a thin mesh strainer. Squeeze the lemons, strain the juice and add the strained juice to the simple syrup. 

If you have a ice cream maker, add the sorbet base to the machine and run the machine until the sorbet has reached the desired consistency.

If not, put the mixture into a bowl and place it in the freezer for 10 minutes. Then remove the bowl, and use a whisk to break apart the ice crystals. Return to the freezer for 10 minutes and repeat the whisking process every ten minutes to avoid ice crystals forming, until you reach the desired consistency.

If you want a fluffier sorbet, you can add two egg whites, whipped to form stiff peaks, when the mixture begins to solidify. Fold in the egg whites carefully using the whisk from the bottom up.

I don’t know why but lemon sorbet makes me think of long, lazy lunches under leafy chestnut trees somewhere in the hills of Tuscany, sitting around the table, talking about the this and that of daily life, and enjoying a beautiful day in the country. Sigh.

19 August 2012

LIFE: Bombs Away

Liguria, The Targeted Area
SARONNO, Italy -  On Friday, 10 August, 2012 a 500 pound (227 kilos) aerial bomb was found in Genoa. It was uncovered in the Bettolo quay in the city’s harbor during a dredging operation to expand the port facilities. All terminal traffic was halted. The red light was on for all ships, including cruise ships and ferries. Then an evacuation of the area was ordered as the Port Authorities arranged for the disposal of the 70 year old bomb identified as an American made AnM64. Once the bomb, which contains about 200 pounds (91 kilos) of the explosive TNT, was neutralized, it was transferred to a nearby quarry for detonation.
 Port of Genoa
The following Monday, August 13th, a 250 lbs. (114 kilos) aerial bomb was found in the harbor of Sestri Levante, and once again, as in Genoa, the sea around the discovery site was cordoned off and sea traffic was brought to a halt. This time the location of the bomb was dangerously close to Sestri’s two beautiful bays: the Baia delle Favole (Bay of Fairy Tales) named in honor of the Danish writer of fairy tales Hans Christian Andersen, who lived in Sestri Levante in 1833, and the Baia dei Silenzio, (Bay of Silence), commemorated by the flamboyant and romantic British poet Lord Byron who declared  it a piece of paradise on earth.

In charge of the bomb removal operation is the Deputy Vice-Prefect of Genoa, Paolo D’Attilio, the same man who, last year, oversaw the removal of three other unexploded aerial bombs found in the seaside town of Recco. Most notable of the three was the bomb that weighed 1,0000 lbs. (550 kilos).That bomb, the 1,000 lb. bomb, was discovered on Sunday, 13 January 2011 and 5,000 local residents had to be evacuated before the authorities would even touch it.
Bird's Eye View of Recco
There are many other relics of World War II in Liguria, none quite as dramatic as the 1,000 lb. bomb found in Recco, but still grim reminders of the death and destruction that ravaged the now peaceful and beautiful sea side region. It started in February of 1941 with the announcement by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill of an imminent all-out attack on Genoa. Before it was over more than one thousand tons of bombs would be dropped on the city of Genoa and other towns along the sea.

The Italians had built twenty-five stone artillery bunkers into the hills creating a fifty kilometer line of defense along the coast between Genoa and the city of La Spezia. I first saw them when I took a boat one Sunday morning from Genoa Nervi, where I lived, to Portovenere in Cinque Terre. But the twenty-five artillery bunkers against more than one thousand tons of bombs were about as effective as pitting a fly against a fly swatter.
Cathedral of San Lorenzo, Genoa
You can still see one of the bombs that was dropped from a British plane (and didn’t explode) in the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genoa’s historic center. It’s on display in the right hand corner of the Cathedral as you walk in the door. It’s hard to imagine just how big – and scary -  an aerial bomb really is until you stand next to it.

In the end, the Italians did come through for the Allies.  By 1944, the Americans had landed in Sicily and were making their way up the boot to liberate Genoa,  but they were still more than 100 kilometers away when a group of civilians, daring the crossfire of German artillery, captured the city's radio station and informed the world that the city was in their hands. Even worse news for the Germans came when their division en route to Genoa was waylaid by another group of partisans.
 Bay of Silence, Sestri Levante
In the face of further humiliation, at 9 a.m. on the 26th of March 1944, the German General Gunther Meinhold, commander of the Wehrmacht in Genoa, surrendered to the partisan group, the National Liberation Committee (CLN) for Liguria, and Genoa became the only Italian city where the Nazis surrendered to the partisans before the U.S. Army arrived. It was also the first time a fully equipped army corps ever laid down its arms to civilians. 

The Genovese paid a heavy price for that honor. Out of 20,000 partisans, 2,500 died and approximately 2,700 suffered serious injuries, and every time another aerial bomb is uncovered, the people of Liguria shudder, remembering the horrors and the glory of those days.

16 August 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Simply Dee'licious

SARONNO, Italy - Even though wild greens are more of a spring vegetable than a summer one, you can often find them in the marketplace even during the summer months. In the spring, the fields in Italy are peppered with wild radicchio, erbe di campo, dandelion greens, wild lettuces, ciccoria, strighi and many more,  ready to be picked, cleaned, cooked and devoured. Yum.

Butcher Eataly, Torino, Italy
My father used to scour our lawn looking for young, tender dandelion greens for salad. He only cut leaves that didn’t have flowers or flower stalks as he said they were pass their prime. He only wanted the young, tender shoots, and when they made their way to our dinner table, there was no doubt he had chosen well.  

Here in Saronno I often see people scouring the fields behind their condominiums or stopping along the side of a road to walk through a field in search of edible greens.  There are probably delicious bitter greens growing right outside your door too, you just have to look for them.

One green that is found both in the wild and cultivated is cime di rapa. I think it’s called broccoli rabe or rapini in the United States, and it may have other names as well. It’s easy to identify as it has medium size green leaves and tiny broccoli like flowers. Just so I don’t get confused, I’m going to call it cima di rapa.
One of the most treasured Italian recipes is cime di rapa and orecchietti from that little bit of heaven on earth called Puglia, and another is today’s recipe, cime di rapa con salsiccia, cime with sausages.

Cima di rapa con salsiccia is a simple, easy recipe to prepare, almost as easy as cold pea soup http://thisitalianlife.blogspot.it/2011/08/auntie-pasta_25.html which is still high on my list of not just easy, but downright delicious Italian recipes. The basic idea is to clean and blanch the cime, sauté the sausage, put the two together 'come Dio commanda', as God ordains, as they say here in Italy and …… eat.
 Cime di Rapa aka Broccoli Rabe


CIMA DI RAPA WITH SAUSAGES
Ingredients
1 clove of garlic
1 kilo (2 lbs) cime di rapa
2- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 peperoncino (or sprinkle of red pepper flakes)
500 grams (1 lb) spicy Italian sausage
To prepare cime di rapa with sausages start by cleaning the greens: wash them well and eliminate the stems and leaves that are not good. Cut the leaves in pieces, but keep the broccoli like tips whole (1-2).  Put the greens into salted boiling water for 5 minutes (3), then drain them.  

 In the meantime, cut the sausages into small pieces (4) and put them in a non-stick pan to brown (5). After a few minutes ass a couple of spoonfuls of the cooking water from the cime di rapa (6).  

Finish cooking the sausages (7). Peel and slice the garlic clove, and if you are using a whole red pepper, cut it into small pieces (8). In a frying pan put the extra virgin olive oil. Then put the garlic and half of the hot red pepper pieces in the frying pan and lightly brown the garlic. Then add the boiled cime (9) and let it cook in the garlic, red pepper infused oil for a few minutes, turning often. Serve hot with the crispy, brown sausages and enjoy.

You can also cut the sausage into smaller pieces and cook everything together in the same frying pan. Serve with some crusty Italian bread, a bottle of hearty red wine and you have a quick and easy and very dee-licious summer meal.


12 August 2012

LIFE: Lake Como Blues

SARONNO, Italy – It's hard to imagine a more romantic plac than Lake Como. The lake is ringed with tiny ancient stone towns and exquisite villas set deep in lush park-like settings, built to house the rich, the royal and the famous. The luxuriant beauty that surrounds the lake has inspired lovers, poets and musicians down through the ages. It’s hard to imagine not being captivated by the seductive watercolor landscape, the majestic mountains, the sapphire blue lake, tree lined promenades, and the heady scent of jasmine and honeysuckle that floats in the air?
Lake Como
For 19th century writers and composers, no place on earth could compare to the beauty of Lake Como. Percy Bysshe Shelley was so charmed by the 16th century Villa Pliniana, in the lakeside town of Torno, that he tried to buy it.  " It surpasses in beauty everything I have ever seen hitherto,"  he said. The French writer, Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovery, wanted to live and die in Como and opera maestro Giuseppe Verdi wrote the best parts of La Traviata while staying in Cadenabbia with his live-in-lover, opera singer Giuseppina Strepponi. 

Fast forward to this century and we find Richard Branson, Donatella Versace, Michael Shumacher and George Clooney all owning villas on Lake Como, with rumors flying that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were also looking to buy in the same neighborhood. 
 Lake Como
In other words Lake Como was so drop-dead gorgeous that nary a mortal could pass that way and not be seduced by its beauty. And that included the town of Como as well. At least it used to include the town of Como. A few years ago, the town council decided it was going to address the problem of the lake overflowing onto the street and into the main piazza of the town of Como. The flooding problem was not serious, it only occurred  every few years, and once at the most during the winter season. I saw it happen only once in the 10 years I have been going to Como. When it did happen they would close off  a small part of the lake road for a couple of hours, but by nightfall the lake would have receded and everything would be back to normal again. Things like that happen when towns are built along the edge of lakes and other bodies of water, it’s normal. But the town of Como wanted to do something about it.

The plan was to re-do the lakefront, raise it up, which theoretically would prevent the lake from overflowing on to the road and into the piazza. The first thing they did was build a high wall along the lakefront, which meant that you could no longer see the lake. A small piece was left open near the maritime station, but even that was semi-enclosed off with tall metal fences. That was about four or five years ago.
 Lake Como
A few years ago they completed the project, but it didn’t work. They had to redo the project.   Then they had to redo the project again, with each re-do costing the townspeople mucho money. I was in Como yesterday and it’s still not done. The wall is still up and tourists are still wandering around, looking  at the ugly brown wooden wall that totally blocks just about each and every view of the lake, and scratching their heads. You could almost read their minds – this is where George Clooney bought a villa? Why?  And why didn’t someone tell us it was like this? Why did we spend time and money to come here?  

Who can blame them? Not even the townsfolk are happy. I stopped to buy a bottle of water at one of the mobile trucks set up in the park, and talked for a few minutes with the owner, Nilla. She said the whole project is a disgrace and somebody, no names mentioned, made a lot of money from a totally unnecessary project and the even more unnecessary re-do projects that followed.  She also said that they have a new mayor now and he has solemnly promised that the project will be completed by next year. She didn’t sound convinced, but then again it wasn’t the first time she’s heard that line.
 Lake Como
In spite of all of my grumbling, and the combined grumbling of the townspeople, if truth be known, there is a bright side. Apart from the fact that if you get out of the town of Como the lake is its same beautiful self, but if you are only there for an afternoon or just want to hang out in Como town and enjoy the beauty of the lake, do not despair for I’m going to let you in on a secret, a big secret. I’m going to tell you where to find one of the most beautiful lake walks in the town of Como.

The easiest place to start is in front of the maritime station. Stand facing the lake, and turn to your left and follow the brown fence until it ends. You’ll find yourself in a park. If you walk into the park, toward the lake, one of the things you will see is a large monument to Como born Alexander Volta, the guy who discovered the volt. From the Volta Temple, keep going to your left and you’ll be on a street that runs between the back of the soccer stadium and in front of the Como Yacht Club – stay with me now. Just past the Yacht Club, and to the left, is the Como Aero Club, the only seaplane school in Europe, go past the Aero Club staying to the right for just a few more steps, still following the lake shore and you will come upon the most spectacular lake walk in the world. 
 Lake Como
If you take that path there is no doubt that you too will be seduced by beauty the likes of which you have never seen, you will fall in love with Lake Como, you will fall in rapture, you will go home blathering endlessly about having found heaven on earth. Too bad nobody ever talks about it, or tells anybody about it – but if you have the courage to get off of the beaten path, I guarantee you will be inspired.  

09 August 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Summer Sizzle

SARONNO,  Italy - Mediterranean summers can sizzle and according to Italian dieticians, our bodies need a different balance of foods than the ones we consume during the cooler months. The latest Italian magazines are full of articles on how important it is to eat healthy and well, to use seasonal produce, and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. To prove their point they publish page after page of slim and sleek Italian beauties romping on the beaches along the Italian Riviera or sunning themselves poolside at posh Sardinian resorts. 
 Posh Sardinian Resort
You are what you eat write the experts. The condition of your skin, your hair and your overall appearance depends on your diet, and for that reason Italians are always super aware of what they eat and drink. Foods rich in potassium  (tomatoes, beans, lentils) and magnesium (fish, spinach, broccoli) are particularly important in the Italian diet because those minerals help our bodies to recover water and salts lost during sun exposure. Here are some other hot weather tips they suggest to keep you beautiful and healthy under the summer sun.

1. Don’t skip meals. It’s better to eat three meals a day plus two snacks. Lunch time in Italy is 1PM, dinner time is 7 PM. Snack time is 11AM and 5PM.  Children in particular need to eat more often during the summer to maintain their energy and nutritional levels. Ice cream is OK in the afternoon, but a slice of pizza or focaccia is preferred for the morning snack.
2. Eat less to avoid overloading your digestive system - and gaining weight.
3. Eat what is in season. Choose fresh summer fruits and vegetables, avoid highly spiced foods and processed foods. Grilled lean meat and fish are good choices.
4. Ice cream is good for you, as is yogurt and cheese. All in moderation of course.
5. Avoid sugary carbonated drinks, they are especially bad for children.  Adults should avoid excessive amounts of alcohol. 

So what’s good? I like pasta salads. Pasta is the most wonderful food, it’s like a blank canvas, happy to take on whatever you want to add to it. The only ingredients that don’t work are vinegar and lemon juice, pasta salads do not require either one of them, in fact the acidity works against the flavors. It’s best to just use good quality extra virgin olive oil and if you want, some fresh basil or finely chopped rosemary.
A Little of This, A Little of That
 PASTA SALAD   
 INGREDIENTS
Serves 4
150 grams carrots
120 grams of Swiss (Emmental) cheese
1 slice of mortadella or boiled ham
400 grams of fusilli pasta
200 grams peas (fresh or frozen)
450 grams zucchini
180 grams cherry tomatoes (Perini preferred)
2/3 tablespoon chopped parsley
Salt (Q.B.*)
Extra virgin olive oil (Q.B.)
Fresh ground pepper (Q.B.)

Finely chop the parley and set aside (1). Wash and chop the tomatoes (2), wash and peel the carrots and cut them on the diagonal as shown in the photo (3). Set aside the tomatoes and carrots.
Wash and trim the zucchini, cut into strips and then cube (4). At this point blanch the vegetables, fill a pot of water, add salt and bring to a boil. Put the carrots in the boiling water for 3 or 4 minutes, scoop out with a strainer and put into a dish and set aside (5). Using the same water, do the same with the zucchini letting them cook for 5 or 6 minutes before scooping them out, draining them and setting them aside (6).

Then blanch the peas, but only for 2 minutes. Then drain them and set them aside (7). Be careful not to over salt the water you are blanching the vegetables in. Cut the mortadella or ham and cheese into chucks and set aside (8-9). 

At this point cook the fusilli pasta al dente. When they are cooked, scoop out a half a cup or so of the cooking water and set that aside. Drain the pasta and then either run it under cold water or put it in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Drizzle a very small amount of oil over the cooked pasta to keep it from sticking, (10) and set aside until it is cold. Put the tomatoes, (11) and the cheese and mortadella (12) into a large bowl.   
Add the parsley (13), the zucchini (14) and the peas (15),

then the carrots (16). Then add the pasta (17) mix it all together and add the olive oil, salt and pepper. If your pasta salad seems a little dry you can add a spoonful or two of the cooking water you set aside earlier to the mix. 

*Q.B. Quanto Basta – to taste.

05 August 2012

LIFE: Postcard From Lake Garda

SARONNO, Italy –  Woke up this morning, took one look out the window and thought – ‘this is a carpe diem’ day, it is a day to seize the moment and get out and enjoy this beautiful Italy that I live in. Today I’m heading north to the Lake District, specifically to a town called Gardone sul Garda on Lake Garda.  Unfortunately I can’t take you with me, but I hope you enjoy the photos and the short video from Lago di Garda Magazine.


  And one short video.

Buona Domenica a tutti.

02 August 2012

AUNTIE PASTA: Fettucine Papalina

SARONNO, Italy - This sophisticated version of spaghetti alla carbonara is quick and easy, and if you read the list of ingredients you know it is going to be delicious. The dish is called fettuccine papalina, a papalina being a cap with ear flaps. There's no proof the cap had anything to do with the dish, but there must have been some connection between the cap and the fettuccine, or the cap and the cardinal, or the cardinal and the fettuccine, some kind of a connection somewhere, don't you think?
 Ahh, the wonderful restaurants of Rome
The story of how this dish originated is one you have heard before and will likely hear over and over again throughout Italy. The story is always the same: a bishop, a cardinal or even the Pope himself visits a town or a restaurant and a local cook creates a special dish for the occasion; or, the bishop or cardinal or the Pope asked for a special dish in honor of something or other. Fettuccine alla papalina falls under the second story line.

It was created in the late 1930’s when the Papal Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, who would later become Pope Pius XII, asked the restaurant that prepared the meals for the Vatican to prepare a special dish that reflected traditional Roman culinary traditions.
 Pope Pius XII
The restaurant cook looked around his kitchen, and decided that if there was one dish that reflected traditional Roman cooking, it was spaghetti carbonara. But how could he keep the spirit of the recipe when it had so few ingredients, spaghetti, eggs and cubed guanciale (pigs cheek and jowl)? He decided to replace the guanciale with the highest quality prosciutto crudo he could find, and to boost the flavor even more, he chopped and fried an onion to add to it.  Then he added cream, a real luxury even in those pre-war days and there it was, fettuccine alla papalina.

There is another story line regarding the naming of a dish, that sometimes gets me into trouble, strozzapreti. Strozzapreti are thick spaghetti with a tomato and smoked pancetta sauce. Strozzapreti literally translates to ‘priest choker’, which I’m sure came about because the peasants in Lazio were getting sick and tired of the local priests knocking on their door every Sunday right about lunch time, but since they could not take direct action, they would stand silently by and hope for the best. I admit that is pure speculation on my part, but if you think about it, if they were happy to see the priests at their door, how come they didn’t name the dish ‘abbraciapretti’,hug a priest? I’m not saying that's how it happened, I'm just saying there’s a possibility, that’s all.

 Fettuccine alla Papalina
 Ingredients (2 servings)

250 grams fettuccine
80 grams butter
½ finely chopped white onion
200 ml heavy cream
60 grams parmigiano reggiano
100 grams proscuito crudo
3 eggs
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the prosciutto crudo into strips (1) and then into cubes (2); then peel and finely chop the onion and cook it in butter untili it is soft and transparent (3).  


As soon as the onion is cooked (but not browned) add the proscuitto and let it cook for less than a minute (4). In a separate bowl, first beat the eggs and then add the cream (5) and then beat the eggs and cream together (6). 

Once the eggs and cream are well mixed, add the parmigiano and set the bowl aside (7). In the meantime cook the fettuccine. When they are al dente (8), drain them and put them into the frying pan with the onion and prosciutto crudo (9). 

Mix all the ingredients together and then turn the heat off. At this point add the cream, eggs and parmigiano, mix well and serve immediately with a little freshly ground pepper. 

There is another version of this recipe using small cubes of boiled ham instead of proscuito crudo, and peas that is also very good.