growing up italian

Growing up Italian: I “Pasta” like my Grandma

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Giuseppa was her name. My grandmother on my dad’s side was a vertically challenged (barely 5 ft tall) feisty and sweet lady.

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Camera shy, Nonna has taken very few pictures.

Giuseppa was totally the opposite of my Grandma on my mother’s side.

See my other blog http://eugenedailynews.com/2014/09/growing-italian-abominable-biscotti/

Nonna Peppa, like we confidentially called her, wasn’t into fancy clothes or shoes. She never wore make up. I can’t remember a day when her hair had any other color other than the one of a cloud on a sunny day: a pristine white with hues of light baby blue.

Her hands were weathered by years of hard manual labor. As a young child, she had to wash clothes in the dead of winter at the public “lavatoio” or wash house.

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This meant that she had to break the ice sheet first, with her little fist. She then grew and had 3 children, a husband and a farm to tend.

Self advancement was not a word she knew. She was brave, resilient and compassionate, but she could barely write. Peppa spent her life raising 3 children and running the household.

Nonna Peppa was the quintessential Domestic Diva. Untouched by any glamour, grounded like any matriarch.

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I didn’t get to spend much time with Nonna since she was always busy running a small feed store. However, holiday time was when our family gathered around her kitchen table in front of a huge fireplace. The Caminetto (fireplace) was the size of a walk in closet. One step up from the rest of the living room, with two wooden benches, one on each side of the fire pit. The walls around it were pitch black from years of wood burning. I did spend countless hours staring at the fire. Hypnotized by the flickering of the flame and inebriated by the smell of it.

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Fireplace similar to the one at Nonna’s

What I remember about Nonna Peppa’s cooking is its frugality. Simple dishes that didn’ t lack in taste though. She also wasn’t taking no as an answer. No fussing, no being picky or finicky. Lamb’s brains or cows tong were just food. Delicious, as I remember it.

I grew up eating anything that was placed in front of me. I developed both an appreciation for food and a curiosity for cooking.

Nonna forte’ was pasta: homemade noodles, that is. I believe that I learned most of my kitchen frugality from her. By osmosis, almost..watching her and eating her delicious creations. Simplicity, after all, is the ultimate sophistication.

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Today, I would have made Nonna Peppa proud. I made Spinach pasta dough with Quail eggs, shaped it two ways, and prepared a simple sauce to go with it. Can’t wait for leftovers!

Here’s how to stretch a batch of pasta, Nonna’s way.

[gn_box title=”SPINACH PASTA DOUGH makes enough for 4″ color=”#0A3″]
DSCF6706 Tacconi or Quadrucci (Square) are the pasta shape I use in soups.

INGREDIENTS

200 gr flour ( more if needed)

2 lg eggs (or 12 quail eggs)

a pinch of salt

1/4 C wilted spinach, drained and chopped

Elbow Grease :)

DIRECTIONS

Make a well with the flour and crack the eggs inside it.

DSCF6692 Quail eggs: get crackin’!

With a fork, start breaking and beating the eggs, keeping them inside the well, add the salt.

11080945_10203597601436113_1159515510680398071_n Incorporate the flour as you go.

Now add the Spinach (wilted and minced)

DSCF6694 Things get messy!

Now it’s “Elbow grease” time. Add all the flour to the egg mixture and create a paste.

Keep kneading for 10 to 15 minutes~adding flour~ until the dough is smooth, not sticky and smells like fresh pasta dough.

DSCF6697 Here it is, the dough.

Cover the dough and let rest for about 30 minutes.

Then, if you are using a pasta machine, roll out the dough to a medium setting (#5 on an Atlas machine).

Then trim the strips of pasta into rectangles, trying to waste as little dough as possible.

KEEP THE TRIMMINGS ~ this kind of pasta is called MALTAGLIATI

DSCF6712 these “scraps” of dough are great as pasta in a simple sauce.

Now proceed to cut the large rectangles into squares of about 1″ in diameter.

DSCF6701 Tacconi

So, we got two different pasta shapes with the same dough!

You can dry the Tacconi, but we can eat the Maltagliati right away.

BROWN BUTTER AND SAGE SAUCE (Burro e Salvia)

Ingredients

4 Tbs of butter~Unsalted

Fresh Sage to taste (I used about 10 leaves)

DIRECTIONS:

Place the butter in a large pan (eventually you will have to toss the pasta in there, so plan accordingly on the size) and add the sage leaves.

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Constantly stirring, brown the butter until it’s honey color.

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Remove from heat.

Cook the pasta al dente and strain it. Toss the pasta into the butter and sage to coat.

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Garnish with grated cheese.
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Until next time, Mangia! and Ciao!

Growing up Italian: The taste of Memories

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My Paternal Grandfather (Nonno) Alfredo was an extremely talented man. A visionary, an entrepreneur, a leader. A little too far ahead for his own times, industrious, frugal and lover of all~things~perfect.

Born at the very beginning of the century, he died in his 80s having survived two wars, the hardship that went with those, and having seen the economic boom in Italy after WWII. It is, infact, during the ’60s that he started a company in which he was actively involved well after my father took over and Nonno was “technically” retired.

He loved the people, things, and ideas in his life deeply in a non~pompous kind of way. He had strong passions, and amazing hobbies like making Violins!

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Nonno was a skilled Violin Maker: Maestro Liutaio.
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Nonno with Uto Ughi, famous Italian violinist and Conductor. Uto was a fan of Nonno’s Violins.

 

He lived his life in a meaningful way, fostering life-long friendships, and valuing his family circle. He was a busy man, even after my grandmother died well into their 60 years of marriage.

Nonno ate healthy, made his own wine, raised his own chickens, and grew his own garden. He taught me how to pick wild herbs, like Pimpinella (Burnet) which is super delicious in salads. A few years back I planted Pimpinella in my garden here in Oregon,to add a splash of cucumber~like taste to my salad, and some pleasure from my childhood sense memories.

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Pimpinella. It grows everywhere!

We would pick Dandelion Greens and Wild Chicory (Cicoria selvatica or Dente di Leone or Tarassaco). He would make  infusions, I liked it wilted with bread. Now, I use Dandelion flowers to enhance the look of my salads…see!? Told you my Nonno was ahead of his time!

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Wild Chicory and Dandelions. More than just pretty wild flowers

From him I learned to accept some things as simply “facts of life”: Life, death, work.

Some other things, he said, we can control, and we can put our two cents in: what we eat, what we do, how we spend our time.

My Nonno rode his bicycle everywhere. He was a very tall distinguished gentleman, who wore a Fedora hat every day of the year. He wore different hats throughout the year: A lighter one for summer, or a woolen winter version. He always wore a long sleeve shirt and a jacket, with shiny leather shoes.

When he rode the bike in winter his attire would see the addition of a cashmere vest,under which he layered a few sheets of newspaper so he would “keep the cold out”. I love that.

He suffered from  kidney stones and he would spend a week every year at the “TERME di Fiuggi” near Rome, known in Italy for its history and various healing properties.

Nonno Alfredo seemed to be living unperturbed. He wasn’t as generous with compliments as he he was with criticisms. He didn’t dispense laughter, or physical affection. His presents were meant to impact one’s life in the long run like a savings account in which my sister and I could put our “birthday money” and save it for College, or ~his best gift ever~ his knowledge.

Being a little child and copiously learning life skills from him, in retrospect, was the greatest legacy a grandparent could have left behind, he left to me, a gift that keeps giving, and I hope never to end.  From Nonno Alfredo I inherited my love for Espresso, for anything homemade, for good wine, cats, tomatoes, pasta and a sweet tooth.

Spring time was special for me and Nonno. He would know when to plant the seeds, and transplant the tomatoes in the garden. He would know that the fragile new plants would fear the early summer chilly nights. So, Alfredo would ride his bicycle  back to the garden in the evening and cover each plant with a bucket, and ride back in the morning to uncover them.

With Nonno I had the best tomatoes of my life. Ripe and warm from the sun. Sweet like a carefree day.  There is not a summer that goes by that I don’t think of him, his long tapered fingers showing my the fruits, and …the buckets.

His “Cuore di Bue” or Oxheart type tomatoes were juicy, meaty, creamy and sweet.

They were the best just rubbed onto a day~old bread slice, with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt.

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Pane “Strusciato” with fresh tomatos, a drizzle of EVOO, balsamic reduction, sea salt and fresh Oregano from the garden.

Great memories, to me, taste like Tomatoes and grapes. A culinary syllogism if you wish.

For as much as Nonno loved tomatoes, he did enjoy a good glass of homemade wine at every meal. “Bevi vino campi cent’anni” he used to say:  “Drink wine and you’ll live to 100”

Spaghetti was his favorite, second only to my Grandmother’s homemade noodles. As a child I did enjoy the occasional sip of wine, here and there. I distinctly remember the sharp flavor of the UVA CORNICELLA ( the variety of grapes called Cornicella) or Table grapes, Uva da tavola that we had growing everywhere, seemed like, around the house.

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1967, My Godfather Gabriele is holding me in the backyard. You can see the vines to the left and just behind me. Uva Cornicella!

 

Uva Cornicella
Golden green in color, large, juicy, crunchy…super delicious eaten right off the wine in a hot summer day.

The vines are long gone, leaving more room for a car port with far less maintenance.

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Me, in 1989 walking under the pergola of grape leaves in the backyard.

The memories, though, are still alive. Leaving behind a sense of nostalgia for that girl who was happily raised on espresso and wine and who  now is  a middle aged woman with a superb appreciation for both.

So, even if my Nonno would not have waisted some good  housemade “vino da tavola” (table wine) on a pasta sauce, I do!

It tastes rich, delicious, unique. It tastes like the backyard of my childhood, my Nonno’s cellar at the end of summer, and my Grandma’s kitchen on a Sunday.

[gn_box title=”PASTA AL VINO ~ DRUNKEN PASTA” color=”#D03″]DSCF6612 This is how memories taste to me, these days.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 1lb of Spaghetti like DeCecco
  • 4 to 5 Cups of good Red wine (or white)
  • 6 T EVOO
  • 3 cloves of galic, minced
  • 3/4 C diced Pancetta
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Red pepper flakes~optional
  • Finely chopped Parsley and Grated Pecorino Cheese to garnish.

DIRECTIONS

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the pasta for 3 to 4 minutes ONLY!

While pasta is cooking, add the wine to a second large pot, and bring it to a boil.

Drain the pasta well, adn add it to the pot with red wine and continue to cook and additional 6 to 7 minutes, or until the pasta il “al dente”.

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While the pasta is cooking in wine, in a frying pan, heat the oil and cook the pancetta to crisp. Add the garlic, stir well and remove from heat. It should be very fragrant.

Season with chili peppers if desired.

Drain the pasta once more of whatever wine is left (most will be absorbed by the pasta, though) add the pasta to the pancetta and oil. Toss well to coat for about 1 minute.

Garnish with Parsley and Cheese. Serve immediately.

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Until next time, Mangia! and Ciao!

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For more of my recipes do not forget to check my previous posts on EDN here:

http://eugenedailynews.com/author/purple13/

or go to my FB page

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Growing-up-Italian/1495225440728606?ref=hl

Ricotta Citrus Pancakes and Orange Rosemary Marmalade

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A breakfast so good, I could eat it all day long :)

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A plethora of citruses

Blood Oranges..ohh how much I love them! It’s pretty much the only citrus I purchase this time of the year. With their bright ruby red color palette, they bring a ray of cheerfulness among the darker winter months.

I had a bowl of fruit that didn’t get used in a timely fashion, so I made Marmalade! It is delicious, rich, fresh and mostly, something that has a myriad of applications.

I would use this Marmalade on Salmon, Pork, and of course…..Pancakes!

So, here we go, Breakfast never tasted this good.
[gm_box title=”Whole Wheat Ricotta Pancakes~ NO Sugar, NO butter~ with Citrus Rosemary Marmalade” color=”#AA0″]
(Marmalade recipe adapted from the Herbfarm cookbook)

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For the MARMALADE you need to start A DAY BEFORE.

INGREDIENTS (makes about 3 quarts)

  • 2.5 lb Oranges (I used blood oranges)
  • 2 large Meyer lemons (I used a regular lemon and a tangerine)
  • 6 C cold water
  • 6 C granulated sugar
  • 1 C Coconut sugar
  • 1 C Demerara sugar
  • 6 (6in) sprigs of fresh Rosemary
  • 2 star anise

Directions:

Wash and wrap the rosemary in a cheesecloth. Close tightly with twine.

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Wash oranges and lemons. Slice in half vertically, place cut side down, then slice into thin slices.

I instead cut them into chunks because I wanted larger pieces, personal preference, I guess.

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Place citruses in a large pot and cover with the water. Let soak at room temperature for up to 24 hours. This releases the pectin and softens the rind.

The next day, bring the pot to a boil and boil for 30 minutes. Stir in the sugars, star anise, and the rosemary bundle and cook on low heat, stirring often, until the Marmalade has gelled, about 2 hours.

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Remove rosemary bundle from the marmalade.  Store in clean jars, refrigerated OR can it.

Now, it’s pancakes time!!

PANCAKES RECIPE (makes about a dozen)

Ingredients

  • 1 C plus 2 T Whole Wheat White Flour
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • zest of a citrus (I used orange)
  • 2 T liquor (I used Grand Marnier)
  • 1/2 Vanilla (I used vanilla powder)
  • 1 1/2 C Whole milk Ricotta
  • 1/2 C Vegetable oil
  • 1/2 C Whole milk
  • 3 eggs
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DIRECTIONS:

Mix the dry ingredients.

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Mix the Ricotta cheese with the milk and the vegetable oil. Then add the eggs.

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Now add the liquid to the dry and mix thoroughly. Add the zest and liquor.

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The batter is very thick. As it gets thicker with time, you can add more milk.

Cook the pancakes, about 1/4 C at a time.

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Enjoy!!

Top the pancakes with the Marmalade and enjoy. No syrup needed!!

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Until next time, Mangia! and Ciao!

For more recipes, follow me on https://www.facebook.com/pages/Growing-up-Italian/1495225440728606?ref=hl

 Or check my other stories on EDN here: http://eugenedailynews.com/2014/09/growing-up-italian/

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Growing Up Italian: You are going to be in hot water….soon!

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Recently I’ve found myself into hot water, really into it, and I never felt happier!

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Hot water pastry, Rosa’s style

Ever since the Etruscan times, then the Romans, mixing flour and water has been very popular. To these days, an ancient Etruscan stove top bread called Torta al Testo is still part of the Umbrian diet.

For a full recipe of the Torta al testo see my previous post:

http://eugenedailynews.com/2014/09/growing-italian-home-jewel/

In Roman times, the dough was not there to eat, rather to preserve the juices and the aroma of the meat it was used to wrap. Later, in the 14th century, fats and dairy made their way into the dough. One could say it was the ancestor of our shortbread.

During Medieval times the dough was important to preserve meats, fruits and a variety of other fillings. In fact, the dough was even shaped from the inside, like a pot. Filled, and then covered with a dough “lid”.

So, why I’m getting so excited about some water and flour mix?

Well, this dough has a special quality. It works really well holding liquids. Do you have a runny chicken pot pie? do you have a stew that you want to bake? some cheese mix? This hot water pastry can handle it.

Easy to prepare, tough, delicious are just some of its qualities. This pastry dough will quickly turn out to be your new BFF in the kitchen.

Try it with your favorite savory pie filling. You will get into hot water, too, very fast!

[gn_box title=”HOT WATER CRUST PASTRY Enough for one 8in pie” color=”#385″]

Ingredients:

  • 250 Gr of flour (high gluten)
  • 60 gr Butter~ unsalted
  • 50 gr Lard
  • 1 t salt
  • 100 gr water

Directions:

Place the flour in a large bowl.

In a small saucepan, over low heat melt the lard, the butter and the salt.

The fats should be melted by the time the water boils. When it does, pour it over the flour and start mixing.

DSCF5642 The dough as it first comes together.

At this stage the dough will be really warm, uneven looking, and quite..gooey.

DSCF5644 Not pretty….but wait!

Before you even attempt to work with this beauty, you have to let it come at room temperature. So, shape it in a ball, flatten it, cover it and let it rest.

It will take about 1 hour…..Have some wine!

..speaking of which, this is what I used with my meat pie. It goes really well with pork. It’s great for cooking, and has a fantastic price point. Open the bottle and let it air a little to breath. The wine will improve, and you will be pleasantly surprised.

2013 Pinot Noir from Underwood.

DSCF5984 Sometimes Inexpensive wines can be a pleasant addition to your meal.

After the hour has passed, lightly dust a board with flour. Divide the dough in half and reserve one half for the pie “lid”.

Now the dough is ready to be rolled out to be filled with your favorite recipe.

Here is what I did. Flour a wooden board, lightly.

Roll out the dough into a circle of about 6 inches larger than the base of the pie pan you need. The extra dough will go to cover the sides of the pan.

Then, fold the dough upon itself to reduce its diameter so that it can be lifted to be placed in the pan.

DSCF5779 Once you have transferred the dough inside the pan, carefully unfold to fit the dish

Keep unfolding the dough over the pie plate/pan rim

DSCF5782 Keep unfolding to cover the pan with the dough

Since the dough is so rich in fat, no need to grease the pan!
With your fingers make sure the dough adheres to the surface gently. Now, remove the excess dough.

DSCF5786 This is how I do it

Press and roll the rolling pin on the surface of the pan. It will cut the dough upon contact.
Remove the excess dough and keep it for garnishing the pie, if you like.
Place the pie in the refrigerator to firm up, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375F…

…or have some more wine…

DSCF5787 The dough is quite forgiving. It can be kneaded again DSCF5789 The Hot water Crust pastry can be fun to play with

Alternatively, you could also make individual meat pies.

DSCF5649 Little meat pies are great too

Then, do not forget the lids. They need to have a hole in the center, to allow the air to escape. Also, in the original version, some broth gelatin is poured back into the pie from the same hole.

This is how I shape mine

DSCF5650 I use a cake decorating tip to cut the steam holes in my mini pies

In the end, the sky is the limit. Fill the crust with what you want. Shape it like you want.

You can brush the top with cream or egg wash. I sprinkled mine with herbs, too.

DSCF5794 ….and bake it like you mean it!

The baking time will depend on how big your pie is. Mine took about 1 hour, while the mini pies took about 30 minutes.

I’m confident this recipe will become your “go~to” dough~ favorite pretty soon. When you are pushed for time, or planning on something different.

The Old Hot water pastry dough is the NEW way of baking, trust me.

DSCF5802 Savory or sweet both are delicious when made with this dough

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Until next time, Mangia! and Ciao!

For more recipes head for the EDN archives or

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Growing-up-Italian/1495225440728606

Growing up Italian: Black is the new … Pasta

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Why do I love squid ink so much?

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Squid ink Fettuccine, my production, tonight

Maybe because it instantaneously brings me back to childhood memories of family dinners at the coast in Italy.   Maybe because its unique smell, recalls the one of the Venetian lagoon, so dear to me. Or maybe, just because it has a distinctive and subtle ability to enhance almost any seafood dish? Whatever is the reason, today I couldn’t wait to come home from work and relax making some homemade pasta for dinner; and I made a sexy looking one, too!

With the sun shining bright, some Italian music playing, a good glass of wine….ohh…right! The wine!!

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the wine I am using tonight. Photo by Sarah Tunnell

It really is great when one is able to drink and cook with the same wine, isn’t it? Tonight I opened a bottle of 2013 Territorial Pinot Gris. It screamed for some fresh seafood, so I obliged.

For more information on this wine, go to Here!

Without further ado, I got my pasta board out and started the routine.

First I gathered the ingredients. I have a special tab in my pantry that reads “unusual”. So, that is where my squid ink resides. While reaching for it, I pulled out some black garlic and black sesame seeds….because, you know, I like my dinners to be color coordinated.

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The dinner in black: garlic, squid ink and sesame seeds.

Then I make the dough for pasta, while the dough rests, I can tackle the sauce. Finally it all comes together at once.

Ready?

[gn_box title=”FETTUCCINE WITH SQUID INK IN A WHITE WINE AND CHERRY TOMATO SAUCE, TOPPED WITH SCALLOPS AND BLACK SESAME SEEDS” color=”#55F”]

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It’s a mouthful but you will thank me later.

PASTA DOUGH

Ingredients:

  • 200gr AP flour
  • 2 lg eggs
  • 1 pkg of squid ink (available on line…or in Venice :) )

Directions:

Place the flour on a wooden board (wood is best). Make a well in the center.

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Carve a little crater in the pile of flour and place the ingredients inside.

Add the two whole eggs to the well, and the squid ink.

Now, it is about to get messy…

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quite a sticky situation

Beat the eggs and the ink while ~at the same time~ adding the flour to the mix, little by little pulling it “in” from the sides.

When the egg mix starts to get sticky, then you can use your hands to work the ingredients together. You might not need to use all the flour. Trust your judgement.

The dough needs to come together, just a little sticky, but not too much. And..YES…your hands will be a mess, keep going. It’s like play dough!

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Unlike markers, this black comes off really easily.

Now, the workout part: start kneading the dough for 10 minutes. The stretching of the dough is what will make the difference later.

You are done with your kneading when pressing a finger into the dough, it will bounce right back. Cover the dough with a bowl, and let rest 30 minutes.

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I use this glass bowl to cover my pretty dough.

It’s time for another glass of the Pinot Gris!

To roll out the dough, cut it in about 5 little pieces and roll it out in the pasta machine.

I like my pasta on the thick side, so I stopped at setting #6 on an Atlas brand one.

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Let the strips of rolled out dough rest for a few minutes to dry before you attempt to cut them into fettuccine.

When the dough is a little dryer roll the strips through the widest pasta setting of the pasta machine.

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A pasta dryer is a good investment.

Place a large pot of water on the stove. While you wait for it to boil, start on the sauce.

PASTA SAUCE

Ingredients: ( For the quantity of noodles as in the above recipe)

  • 2 Tbs Butter ~unsalted
  • 2 Tbs EVOO
  • 2 cloves of garlic (or black garlic) sliced
  • Thyme (optional)
  • 1 Cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 400 gr large scallops
  • Zest of a citrus
  • 1 C wine ( Territorial 2013 Pinot Gris)
  • Salt to taste
  • To garnish: Black sesame seeds or finely chopped parsley

DIRECTIONS:

Place the Olive oil and butter in a sauce pan, add the garlic. When the garlic starts to fry lightly, add the cherry tomatoes and cook on medium high. Taste for salt.

Let the tomatoes soften up, then add the wine.

Let the wine cook down and evaporate, while softening the tomatoes even further.

The sauce is done when almost all the wine is evaporated. Add the citrus zest (and thyme if using) Set aside.

When the water (see above) is boiling dump the pasta( but keep the pasta water) at once and cook briefly, about 2 to 3 minutes. Meanwhile melt some butter (or olive oil, or bacon fat) and when hot, sear the scallops. No longer than 2 minutes per each side. Taste for salt.

Drain the pasta into the sauce and toss to coat over medium heat.

Arrange the pasta on a plate, top with the scallops. Sprinkle with black sesame seeds or parsley. Serve immediately.

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Until next time:

Mangia! and Ciao!

For more of Rosa’s recipes, go to EDN archives or my blog:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Growing-up-Italian/1495225440728606

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up Italian: More than a pie, It’s a Spaghetti Pie!

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Wine and Food compliment each other, enhance each other. Sometimes they are opposite in taste (spicy / sweet) and that is ok, too. Like marriages or friendships, is often a fine balance that makes them work.

I recently started attending a wine pairing class, and met Sarah Tunnell. Yes! The Frugal Wine Gal from EDN is taking my same class. Sipping wine, and tasting food together, has inspired us to create a joint effort (very little effort, to tell you the truth) and co-write a piece.

This is the result of our first attempt. She is the Wine Gal, I’m the Food Dudette….what a hoot!

Julia Child said ” I love cooking with wine~I even put it in the food”

So do I! …and good wine I use. Possibly I like to drink the same wine I use in my dish, and viceversa. Life  is too short to drink cheap wine, and our food is only as good as the sum of its main ingredients. Even a simple plate of pasta, can become an experience on its own. In fact, imagine a regular pasta dish that goes to the “beauty parlor”….it  becomes a Spaghetti Pie!

DSCF2658 Meat Spaghetti Pie, a slice of Italy in your kitchen.

Something so good, one can’t stop eating. Something so beautiful, one can’t stop looking…guaranteed.

Now, the Spaghetti pie is not for your everyday meal. It’s reserved for special occasions, since it is quite time consuming to prepare.

Also, it’s versatile that it could be done with or without meat. Even the vegetarian version is quite impressive, and definitely, incredibly tasty. For this recipe I chose to use ground Lamb since I has some triumphant Sangiovese wine from Oregon. Yes, from Oregon~Remy Wines 2012 “Ciel du Cheval” Sangiovese, to be exact. This incredible wine, made right here in McMinnville won me over at the first sip. It seems to find its perfect pairing in this culinary cornerstone of the Italian Cuisine. It was born to accompany memorable gatherings.

image Sangiovese! Photo by Sarah Tunnell

MORE ON THIS WINE ON Wine Pairing with Rosa Mariotti

So, turn the volume up, get your favorite music blasting, invite some great friends over. Open a bottle of Sangiovese, and make the Spaghetti pie.

YOUR Big Night just got better!

[gn_box title=”Spaghetti Pie” color=”#3B5″]

Ingredients for a large pie for 8 people

2 lb Pasta. (Thin spaghetti or Angel Hair pasta)

3/4 lb of Grated Parmigiano cheese

1 stick of butter

1 lb of Tomato sauce ~ I use Mutti’s in a bottle of 700gr

2  lg bunches of fresh basil

1 lb of Fresh mozzarella cheese~ sliced about 1/2″ thick

About 4 eggplants~ sliced and fried

8 oz of breadcrumbs

EVOO, salt and pepper to taste

For the MEAT Sauce:

2 lb Ground Lamb

4 cloves of garlic

1 small onion

1/2 to 2/3 C Sangiovese Remy 2012 Ciel du Cheval

Directions:

Butter a large round baking pan (10 to 12 “) with high sides. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Pre heat the oven to 375F.

Prepare the meat : In a medium saucepan, saute’ the diced onion and the minced garlic with 2 T olive oil and 2 T butter. When the onion starts to caramelize,add the ground lamb and brown the meat thoroughly. Deglaze with the wine. Let the wine evaporate, and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it generously and cook the pasta very al dente, since the pasta will cook again in the oven.

(Al dente: the pasta should cook about 2 minutes less than what indicated in the package)

Drain the pasta and toss it with the tomato sauce, the remaining butter and the Parmigiano cheese. Spread the pasta onto a baking sheet to cool. Stir the noodle every so often to make sure they fully absorb the sauce and get coated.

Once the pasta has cooled enough you can handle it, start draping it around the pan, filling the bottom with it, leaving the excess to fall out of the pan, like in the picture below.

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Spaghetti coat the pan and are ready to be “stuffed”

Now the fun begins!

Pour yourself another glass, and star layering the eggplants on the bottom of the pan coating the sides, too.

20141129_152746 Layers of goodness! Photo Courtesy of Kirk Koenig.

You might have extra eggplant slices, so pick the nicest and longest ones for this step. You can thank me later :)

Place the basil leaves over the eggplants, and then the sliced mozzarella.

Top with the meat.

Now, pressing lightly, fold the tips of the eggplant slices towards the center of the pie, like in the pictures below.

10930992_10203310676983181_2605188723035951685_n Crating a masterpiece? you betcha!

If you are making a VEGETARIAN Spaghetti pie, omit the meat step, and use some fresh cherry tomatoes instead.

Now, fold the hanging spaghetti over the eggplant and press firmly. Dust with breadcrumbs and dab with little pieces of butter.

Bake at 375F for an 45 min to an hour, covered with foil. After an hour, remove the foil and keep cooking until crisp for another 10 minutes.

Wait 10 minutes before unmolding.

Then, you should get something that resembles this:

DSCF2652 Hello Gorgeous!

If it does, pour yourself another glass of Sangiovese. You are now officially a step closer to Italianhood!

Wait until the pie cools a few more minutes before cutting into it.

Slice like you would do for a pie, top it with some more cheese and serve it sprinkled with some good EVOO.

Wasn’t this fun? I think so, too!
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Until next time, Mangia and Ciao!


For more of Rosa’s recipes don’t forget to “Like” the “Growing up Italian” page on Facebook.

Growing Up Italian: The Travel Bug

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Italians abroad are everywhere, seems like. Loud, stylish, insubordinate, rule-breakers-tourists. Then, there are the travelers. Respectful, conscientious,curious and educated.

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I like to think I always belonged to the second category. Just like when growing up, at our condo at the coast, Mom would always tell me to walk silently, so that the noise would not bother the people downstairs during the quiet hours.

To travel is a privilege, and I was fortunate enough to take full advantage of it at a fairly young age, when I got myself a job in a travel agency. Can I say “great perks”?!

The downside is that, decades later, I realize how unprepared I was and how much of it I missed during my experiences abroad. All and all, being exposed to so many cultures has made me a more tolerant person for sure. Extensive travels helped me get a better prospective on life, and a mellower attitude.

It didn’t happen overnight, though. It started in the early days of Summer 1974, when I went on a field trip to Rome. The two hour journey from my hometown Perugia to the Old Roman Forum helped  shape my life forever.

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Roma, Foro Romano. End of the school year field trip.1974 I’m the one on the far left.

I still remember the checkered white and red dress I wore that day, tied in the back with a girly bow. I also wore white cotton socks and black shoes with a little chevron pattern on the front. I was in company of my classmates. The Roman Forum was our playground for the day. I’m sure we had knowledge of the history of the place. However, exploring the ancient ruins, climbing the giant Roman pieces of white marble like they were common boulders, was exhilarating.

(one can’t do that anymore)

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The columns to the top right are where I was standing on my other picture. Roman Forum- Divo Giulio Temple

Touching something that had stood there for centuries, observing the majestic constructions, was such an eye opener for me. Right then and there, I felt the urge to know more, to want to see more. What else, in the eyes of an 8 year old girl, could it be so fascinating? I wanted an answer.

In high school I got to go to France. During that trip, I also discovered the even our taste buds giggle when they have something to be excited for. I discovered that trying new flavors is fun! And so my young persona got shaped: I got the irresistible curiosity to see, and taste more of the world. In Montmartre I had a young gorgeous African French woman draw my portrait. I always wondered, over the years, if she ever became the famous artist she wanted to be in 1985.

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A French Souvenir

My serious travels begin in the early 90s. Back then it was fun to fly. No one asked you to remove your shoes or your jacket. Nobody cared how much Listerine you carried with you.

Even in economy class, passengers were treated better than today. I remember receiving goodie bags with warm socks, a sleeping mask, toothpaste and toothbrush…not to mention a paper menu with our food choices, and REAL silverware!

Another thing I remember is that, upon landing, especially on long intercontinental flights, passengers applauded the crew to celebrate the journey, and as a way to thank them for the safe flight. Nowadays, we barely pay attention to the safety reminders before take off, and upon landing we hurry like cattle through a cattle-shoot. We have lost the sense of appreciation in favor of the one of urgency. Too bad.

Italians also travel in groups. In packs like wolves, not out of insecurity, but as another occasion to spend time with the loved ones, and increase exponentially the fun factor.

There is always a clown in the party, always one who’s super-organized, someone who knows all the best places to eat….an Italian traveling group doesn’t need Google :)

My destinations of choice would include a beach, of course. Possibly pristine and off the beaten path.

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Maldives,Indian Ocean, Bodufinolu island. 1990
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Zanzibar (land of a thousand spices) Tanzania, 1996

 

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Roatan, Honduras. Swimming with Dolphins.2006
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Cruising the Caribbean, 2006

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Oahu, Hawaii 1994

 

And then, of course, there is always something new to try in the food department!

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Retsina, a wine that has been made for 2000 year. Cyprus 1995

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Who can resist a fresh pineapple? Hawaii 1994

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Or looking like a deer in the headlight when wanting to choose a restaurant in Hong Kong. 1991

One cannot have a favorite place until one has seen them all. This is my motto.

So, when in doubt, travel! Now, I don’t have an unlimited budget. I work hard and travel cheap. I don’t plan ahead. I found out that “winging it”  is the best way to get to know the real world, avoiding the tourist traps. The best experiences,the most memorable just happened to me by chance.

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Mosque in Dubai. 1996

 

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Valley of Queens, Egypt. 1995

 

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Sahara Desert 1995

When I travel, I often have to give up with the fact that my hair won’t always be perfect. Actually, BAD HAIR DAYS are an EVERYDAY occurrence. Especially for a naturally dry-curly-hair girl.

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Great wall of China. 1992. Humidity, I do not like thee, neither does my hair.
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The Higher the hair the closer the sky :) New Mexico 2000
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If I grew a beard I would look like… (New England. 1993)
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Afro look in Four Corners 2011
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And eventually, in my old age I learned. Get a bandanna girl! Horse shoe bend, Page 2012

The other thing I don’t worry about when I travel, is my look. Frumpy is ok. Oversized means comfortable. Color coordination? Seriously? No, thanks, not a priority. Then, there are always those times when your suitcase doesn’t make it. If there is any chance of that happening on a trip, you can be sure that the only suitcase that doesn’t make it to its final destination…is MINE!!

At times, I had to wear men’s shirts or pants. Or a long dressy skirt to go into the forest, or a fancy suit to go horseback riding…..To make matter worst there seemed to be someone ready with a camera to capture the moment as a constant reminder of the WARDROBE-MAJOR-FAIL-DAY, and a good inspiration for a big laughter afterwards.

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Wearing men’s swimsuit trunks in China. 2004
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Well….I match a vase! ..the pants were on sale at the shop in the hotel! China

 

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I remember thinking: “Seriously? Are you taking a pic? Like wearing a long pareo shirt in the forest is not enough?” :) Zanzibar spotting the Red Colobus monkeys
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Borrowing a t-shirt to visit the Yucatan. Mexico 2004

 

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This one takes the cake: Horseback ride in Tunisia having to wear a white suit. 2002…and there is always that frizzy hair of mine.

Despite all of these clothing-adversities, I never missed a bit. In reality, I think that when one puts the desire to learn and to explore over his/her personal wants, that is when one becomes really a traveler.

In conclusion, when I look back at my life so far, I think “I can’t believe I got to do that!” and I smile. That distant day in the summer of 1974, when I got the travel bug, I promised myself to always keep this sense of wonder. The thirst for exploration comes always with the utmost respect for the place I visit. I want to tip-toe through the world, leaving minimum traces, and if possible, my wish is to leave it a better one for others to ejoy.

For my first 50 years, I think I’ve done a good job. Let’s see what the rest of my life brings! Work hard, play hard, and remember:

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Love this quote!

No matter how far I go, “Home sweet home” comes to mind every time I return. Sleeping in my own bed is priceless, and much appreciated. A good cup of coffee in the morning, and the ability to return to my kitchen are also treasured possessions.

In every place I visited, from Honk Kong to Zanzibar to Hawaii, I have been able to find an Italian staple: PIZZA.

Not that I would eat Italian when I travel, but upon returning home, a good Pizza is what I want. Mom’s dough recipe is easy, quick and tasty. As for the toppings, I typically choose a simple one of tomatoes, olive oil, oregano and capers. Cheese optional.

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DSCF1650 Marinara Pizza: my favorite!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 1/2 c AP flour
  • 3/4 C whole milk
  • 1/3 C olive oil, no substitutions, pleas
  • 1 heaping tsp of baking powder
  • a pinch of sugar
  • 2 tsp salt, kosher or sea salt

DIRECTIONS:

Mix all the ingredients and knead quickly to make the dough come together.

Roll it out to about 1/4 ” thickness (the thicker the crunchier-however I like it also thick)

Poke with a fork and top with your favorite ingredients.

Bake at 400 degrees until the top starts to bubble and has some golden brown color around the edges. I also check the bottom of the pizza to make it’s crunchy-liscous :)

Bakes approximately 30 minutes.

10348436_10202730769285851_8277639978498842289_n Mushrooms and Olives are a nice addition, too.

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My travel days now are few and far between. However, pretty often,I remind myself that I’m living in another Country after all. Then I look at things with gratitude, and differently, like if I were a traveler again. Sometimes we take for granted the beauty we see everyday.  Wherever you are, may your sense of wonder and curiosity never leave you. Even if you just explore your neighborhood.

This, is really a wonderful world!

Mangia! Enjoy!!

Growing up Italian: It’s all Greek to me, today :)

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When one lives in Italy, the neighboring countries are just that. Places that seem so far away from Oregon, were just “around the corner” from me, while growing up.

Many European capitals are reachable in less than 3 hours, with a quick flight from Rome.

Take Greece, for example.

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Mediterranean philosophy

What do most of the southern countries have in common with Italy?

Attitude, I would say!

While  Northern Europe is notoriously over-productive and over-efficient, the further south one goes, the more these characteristic seem to fade with the sunshine. In  Greece, the days are spent away from the heat. Life happens early in the morning, or late in the night. Lazy summer days are embedded in the Mediterranean genes, and the survival mode must kick in. Why rush, why worry? A good “siesta” in the middle of the day, away from the heat, seems such a good idea!

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Restaurant in Mykonos Island
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Not my first choice of seating on a hot summer day, but still charming Greek restaurant

I’m sure it was plenty hot last time I went to Greece, in the summer of 2012. However, I do not recall that. I, on the other hand, have fond memories of the feelings this special place evoked.

It seems like I would always find a shady breeze,  a cozy spot whenever I needed one, and a good refreshing drink, or some amazing food.

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Zorba, the Greek. I swear one couldn’t make this one up!

Of course, finding a pergola overlooking the Aegean Sea made my heart sing. By now, you all know how much I love pergolas and the sea.

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This place was magic, and the food was even better.
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What’s not to love about the Greek Islands? Mykonos’ iconic windmills.

My favorite Greek Island is Santorini. With its sensory overload of colors, smells and right amount of “personality”, this place is nothing short of magic. A vacation in Santorini is as surreal as it gets: we could sit outside all day, staring at the bay, calmed by the rhythm of the waves, caressed by the sea breeze, and just …be.

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One of the many places in Santorini to rest, refresh, rejoice.

Why am I writing about a summer vacation in the dead middle of winter, you might ask?

I had to clean my refrigerator, I will say. Funny how our brais work, by association. Spinach, feta and pinenuts: Spanakopita.  From there, the floodgates of memories opened up. Then, the rest is ….recipe.

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Bright colors and sunshine to match in Santorini

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DSCF4947

(Spinach and Feta pie)
Serves 4

Filling Ingredients

  • 2 lbs fresh spinach
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 T butter
  • 1 lg shallot, minced
  • 10 oz feta cheese crumbled
  • 1/2 C grated Parmigiano cheese
  • 1/3 C pine nuts (optional)
  • 1/3 C chopped parsley
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/3 C white wine
  • For the assembly:
  • Olive oil and a brush
  • 14 sheets of Phyllo dough at room temperature
  • 2 T heavy cream and butter to finish

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare the filling.

Place the oil and butter in a large saucepan. Add the shallot and saute’ until it caramelizes.

Deglaze with wine, and let it evaporate almost completely.  Add the spinach a little bit at a time and wilt them. Keep going until you have used up all the spinach.

I don’t blanch them because I believe some flavor washes away with the water. This way, all the flavor stays in the dish!!

Now taste for salt and pepper. Add the nutmeg to taste (I use about 1/2 t)

Toss in the feta, pine nuts, parsley, Parmigiano cheese, and blend.

DSCF4927 This is how the filling should look  before adding the eggs

Wait until the mix is cool enough and then fold in the eggs. Set aside.

Assemble the dish

Butter and flour OR use breadcrumbs, a 9″ round cake pan.

(You could also use an 8×8 brownie pan)

DSCF4916 Butter and breadcrumbs help release the pie

Now let’s tackle the Phyllo dough.

Since the sheets of Phyllo are quite fragile, I keep the stash covered with a moist towel while working with one of the sheets at a time.

Carefully place one sheet on the pan, and brush it with oil. (not too much)

DSCF4923 I overestimated I “little” on my oil consumption :)

Repeat with 7 more sheets of Phyllo, alternating the direction of the sheets. Do not worry about the dough that hangs from the pan at this time.

DSCF4924 This is what the bottom of the pan looks like at sheet #3. a mess :) Keep going!

Now spread evenly the cooled filling onto the pan.

Repeat the layering of 7 more sheets of Phyllo on the top.

Brush the top of the top layer NOT with oil but with heavy cream. Score lightly the surface.

I chose a diamond pattern, but it doesn’t matter. Freestyle cooking is encouraged!

DSCF4929 Extra dough. If you feel like being an overachiever you could sprinkle it with sugar and butter with cinnamon and bake it… I just tossed it.

At this point you can trim the edges of the pan, and get rid of the extra dough.

DSCF4936 Diamond shaped incisions.

Place the pan in the center of the oven and bake at 375F for 45 minutes or until the top turns nice and golden.

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Let the pie cool and then serve it.  Vegetables never tasted this good. Pinky swear.

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Until next time: mangia, enjoy, and ciao!

Growing up Italian: My Little Christmas Story

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I am a September baby. That means that, by the time my first Christmas rolled around, I was barely 3 months old. Clearly, I don’t remember a thing. Fortunately, my Dad was wise enough to take pictures.

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December 1966. My first Christmas and tree

It seems to me that some ornaments we used well into my 30s were already in existence in this photo.  Also, our Nativity scene has been a staple in our household. None of the figurines ever got broken, lost or mishandled. Year after year, each decoration emerged from the darkest spot in the attic, carefully wrapped. It was always a surprise, like we had never seen those pieces before.

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My second Christmas. Mom is pregnant with my little sister, due in February. It is 1967.

Within a few years, the family expanded. I got a sister in 1968 and shortly after a cousin, Carlo, and his little sister Chiara.

In the early ’70s, Christmas became really fun, and I was old enough to remember!!

My  aunt Pompilia’s house had a huge living room with textured ceramic tiles floor, fancy tapestry on the walls, paintings and ceramics.

She would decorate a huge Christmas tree with lights so bright we, the kids, would be mesmerized.

Then, there was the long communal table that would accommodate the family… and then some.  Aunty would bring out the best of linens and starch them to perfection. She would also use the dishes she had received as a wedding gift. A grand-occasion sort of thing.

The food was great, homemade Tortellini with capon broth, a roast, vegetables and of course the kids favorite: Pandoro or Panettone for dessert.

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Typical Italian Christmas desserts: Pandoro and Panettone

After dinner it was “play time”! The sugar overload didn’t help our parents. Mom, being a teacher was always the most patient. We had a  Bingo game without numbers but with animal pictures. It was our favorite.

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After dinner Animal Bingo. Me, Mom and my little late cousin Carlo.

Those were the happiest times as a child. Then, this big night tradition faded over the years.

We took for granted the fact that no matter what, our little world would always stay the same, so we decided to explore…

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Celebrating with a fancy dinner in Ostra, Ancona, with the late Luca and his family.

When we were old enough to drive and cook, we decided to join different parties. In my twenties I dated an eclectic gentleman, Luca, with a natural sense of elegance, eloquence and an innate passion for food. We didn’t know it back then, but we were “growing up foodies”.

Luca’s parties, like his persona, remain unforgotten, long after his premature death at the age of 30.

At Luca’s cooking was fun, but plating in antique ceramics and dressing up for dinner was even better.

Then again, life seems to complete a full circle and end up the way it started.  Getting “older” I longed to spend Christmas with my birth family, again. After I moved to Oregon, I tried to go “home for the holidays” as much as my finances would allow it. The same nativity set would be out and brought back to life by mom’s loving hands.  Mom would also decorate our short, old, beaten up synthetic tree, and place it on the  same spot every year, and  “just because” we would also have a real tree in the atrium.

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Home for the Holidays, the tree in the atrium, 1999. Ready for the new Millennium.

Sometimes, my travel bug would prevail and I got to spend the Holidays abroad. Sadly, even the most exotic of places didn’t feel like real holidays, even with the most adorned tree, I would still miss my little beaten up-synthetic one.

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Oahu: Hilton Hawaiian Village. December 25th, 1998.

Now that most of the family is gone, celebrating doesn’t seem so important, I’m happy having a quite day at home, lazy as my cat, doing what I love the most: cooking.

The recipe I’m enclosing today was a winter favorite of ours.

When time is of the essence, this is still one of my go-to dishes:  Mom’s Zuppa di Ceci. Tuscan Garbanzo beans and bacon soup. ( My mom was born and raised in Tuscany, moved to Umbria for work when she met my father) This soup is so easy to make, and even easier to love. Healthy holiday comfort food, if there is such a thing. The ease of preparation doesn’t sacrifice its flavor, though.

So if you have been a little “naughty” in the food department, this dish is perfect : it will help you make peace with your caloric intake gone sideways.

A good hearty dish, that brings me back for a few moments to my childhood in Italy: to my days at aunt Pompilia’s  living room, to the smell of the fresh Christmas tree and homemade pasta. I meet that part of me that never left it.

[gn_box title=”Moms Minestra di Ceci (Tuscan Chickpeas soup)” color=”#379″]
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Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 can of Garbanzo Beans or 500 gr of dry beans, soaked and cooked
  • 2 cloves of garlic- whole
  • 3 T of EVOO (divided)
  • 1/4 C white wine
  • 1 T tomato paste
  • 2 slices of thick bacon thinly sliced
  • 2 T finely chopped fresh rosemary plus one large sprig
  • Parmigiano cheese and olive oil to finish the dish

Directions:

Drain the beans.

With an immersion blender puree the beans right into their cans. Set aside.

Warm up 1 Tbs of oil in a large pan, add the garlic.(you could remove the garlic later upon serving the soup)

When the garlic starts to brown, add the bacon and saute’ until it starts to get crispy. Deglaze with the wine and let the wine reduce by half. Add the tomato paste and let it cook until turns to a dark burgundy color.

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Now add the pureed tomatoes and fill both cans back with warm  tap water, pour that too into the mix. Add the minced and sprig of rosemary.

Simmer for about 30 minutes on low heat. Taste for salt and pepper.

Serve drizzled with olive oil and Parmigiano cheese.

Alternatively, you can add some croutons or toasted bread.

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Sometimes simple things can bring us so much pleasure.
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Enjoy! Mangia and Ciao!

Growing up Italian: My American Family Part 2

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Here is what I learned from life: Diamonds are NOT a girl’s best friends. FRIENDS are.

I know, truth can hurt, and don’t get me wrong…I like the bling bling, too. When it comes to real life, though, everybody needs a very close friend. A BFF as they call them now.

I have only  a few very close friends, but I know I can count on them. Next week we will be celebrating the biggest “family holiday”, and I wanted to acknowledge some of the people I consider my adopted family here. Take MJ for instance.

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Vacationing in Roatan. Spring Break 2004

I’ve been friend with MJ since 2002. Before then, she was just an acquaintance of mine, whom I had met through a common friend. Then, my life changed.

There was a point where I was “broken”, coming out of an abusive relationship.

With no loving place to be, no home, no self esteem, no positive outlook on life, I remember those days as just “surviving” not “living” days.

MJ offered me help and shelter, and a solid shoulder to lean on. Now, isn’t this better than what ANY diamond would have done for me? I think so! :)

MJ is the kind of person that helps people leading them to solve their own problems. She doesn’t just give you the fish (one time solution) she teaches you how to fish (long term solution). A mentor would be the appropriate term, I guess.

Probably, I won’t be the same person as I was before my divorce, but it’s ok. I’m a better person! I don’t take so much for granted anymore, and my “needs” have replaced my “wants”.

MJ taught me that success is the best form of revenge, and the most empowering, and polite, too!

MJ is a self-made woman herself. Raised as a non-working housewife, she can cook, clean and crochet. Then, as life takes funny twists, she was also left alone, raising a child.

She put herself through major schooling, and she became a well known Realtor  and Property Management guru in town.

To this day, even though “semi-retired” her passion on “recycling” houses remains, and she is really good at it. She has vision and a determination that won’t quit! With that she has been able to provide awesome rentals in town for the last 30 years.

When we take day trips to Portland, chances are we won’t stop at Nordstrom’s, but Rejuvenation Hardware, or the RE-Building center on Mississippi Ave  are a must!!

MJ’s philanthropic nature goes back to those days “when she didn’t have two dimes to rub together” but she decided to help other women so they wouldn’t have to go alone through the same hardship. She is one of the founding members  of WOMENSPACE!

Now, her list of accomplishments goes on and on; while she remains  untouched by her personal success, she doesn’t shy away from wanting to help others constantly.

MJ also enjoys life and a semi-retirement. She loves to travel, and she is a great travel companion!

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Cruising the Mexican Riviera, 2006

Road trips, Caribbean cruises, Europe…we have done it all over the years. Loads of fun.

When Mom came to visit in 2003 MJ hosted a welcome dinner reception for her. Needless to say : a friendship was born that night, and  a greater bond between the two of us.

My favorite memory though, is of the summer we went to Italy together in 2005. While I had to come back for work a week earlier, she stayed with my mom for a few extra days.

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Visiting with mom on the balcony of our house at the Coast . Senigallia, Italy, 2005

Now, my mom did NOT speak English, and MJ did NOT speak Italian. I would call on a daily basis to check in with those two, and see what they were up to.

I would talk to mom who would say “MJ told me that….” and MJ would say “..well…your mom told me that…” ???? apparently a little French, a little Norwegian and a lot of hand gestures can  make the difference. They had a blast!

The connection MJ made with my Mom was something I will treasure for the rest of my life.

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MJ and my Mom shopping in Assisi. Italy, 2005

Afterall, she is the closest thing to a mother I have. Someone who lets you make mistakes, but doesn’t judge you based on the outcome, and loves you no matter what. She encourages self-improvement through higher education, and she is there “cheering” all the way. Like when I got a second degree in baking. Also, MJ is the one who brings you chicken noodle soup when you are sick, or comes to the attorney with you to make sure you ask the “right” questions.

When our friendship developed, we started having “dinner and a movie” nights at her house.

She would cook, I would bring a movie. Then the nights evolved to “girls nights in” since I could not afford to go out to restaurants. Eventually, we settled for “pity parties”.

Oxytocin building gatherings, that involve a lot of gourmet food, and -of course- antioxidant grape juice! At the beginning it was just the two of us. New year’s eve lobsters Thermidor, or Thanksgiving take out when she was bedridden because of a back injury.

Now, our parties are well sought-after and we don’t seem to be able to manage to have less than 6 or 8 guests! Maybe is the food, but I like to think it is our shining personalities!!

As I said MJ is a great cook. Our impromptu get together, though, imply that there is no time for grocery shopping. Not a problem,as long as there is Martini on the rocks. Also, there is always something in the pantry we can work with…or the freezer.

The recipe I’m sharing today is one we perfected during our several get- together over the years. It is as simple as it it delicious.

Life’s accomplishment and successes need to be celebrated of course, but  some  “Blahh” days need too!

So, next time you feel down, call up a friend, have a “pity party”. Life is good! Just like that!

[gn_box title=”MJ perfect BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP (aka Pity Party soup)” color=”#253″]

598557_3946803864028_1658855151_n Creamy and delicious: Butternut squash Soup!!

– Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 Med. Butternut squash, washed, cut in half, seeds removed.
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • 2 T oil and 2 T butter
  • 1/2 C white wine (plus more for drinking while you cook :) )
  • 2 cartons of prepared broth (chicken, or vegetable)
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • Sour cream to garnish, balsamic reduction or croutons or….whatever you like!

Directions:

Pre heat oven to 400F

Cut the squash in half and fill the cavities with thyme, rub the cut side with oil.

Place the two halves face down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or-better-a silicone pad if you have one.

Bake for 1 hour. The skin of the squash will blister and will become dark or even black. It’s ok.

Remove from the oven and let cool while you make the base to the soup.

Alternatively you could roast the pumpkin the day before and finish the soup a day later.

In a 4 qt saucepan, heat the butter and the oil. Add the onion and sweat it until translucent.

Add the celery. Cook until soft about 10 minutes on med-low heat.

Deglaze with wine.

Carefully scoop the pulp out of the butternut squash and into the saucepan. If the squash has created a crunchy film on the cut side, use that too.

Add 1 Carton of the stock or more if needed. Enough to cover the pumpkin. Also depends on how soupy you want the dish. Only one carton will make the soup really thick,

Add some thyme and simmer the soup on gentle heat for about 30 minutes.

Adjust tasting for salt and pepper.

Remove soup from the heat, and with an immersion blender (if not available puree in batches in a regular blender) puree the soup. Taste one more time and serve warm.

Garnish with sour cream, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction

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Until next time, mangia! and Ciao!