Pizza with prosciutto, rucola, and shaved parmesan

IMG_1910We are the country of exaggeration. The USA is the land of “bigger is better”. We have our McMansions, our bigger cars, and “gulp”-sized drinks. And we haven’t even mentioned the portion sizes at many of our restaurants. . . “all you can eat”, “unlimited pasta”, and serving sizes that come close to the daily recommended caloric count of an entire day. . .

Marco and I have food as a hobby, and in particular, Italian food is our specialty. Italian cooking is often minimalist in its approach with less ingredients over many. Subtle flavors favored over bold. Simple fresh ingredients with food made in the home. No where is this more clear than in the pizza!

Pizza in Italy is worth the trip itself. . .pizza dough made by the pizzaiolo, topped with fresh mozzarella, then garnished with the finest local products (sausages, mushrooms, vegetables), fired quickly in the wood fired brick oven, and served to your place at the table in its entirety. The crust is so thin, flavorful yet not overpowering the flavors on the top. The mozzarella is creamy, salty, and a savory balance to other toppings. The garnishes spread throughout as a touchstone of flavor without a constant bombardment.

As I noted in a recent post, Matteo is now our pizzaiolo! We don’t have a wood-fired brick oven stove. We haven’t quite mastered the thinness of the Italian crust. But, we do a fine job of enjoying a home-made pizza with simple, fresh ingredients. The items pictured above recently went into the pizza below!

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Matteo enjoys a similar one at a local restaurant and wanted to re-create his own version. He made the same dough from an earlier blog post (click here). He added a little tomato sauce (remind me, I have to post Adelina’s tomato sauce recipe), then the mozzarella.

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Then, once it came out of the oven, he topped it with very thinly sliced prosciutto.

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Next, he topped it with rucola and shaved Parmesan and here is the result:

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Hope you try it and enjoy!

Zucchini wraps

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Marco posted the photo above on his FB page this week and the response was huge. . . many likes, requests to “send me the recipe”, some comments that “Mark should post this in his blog”!, a few. . . “teach me to cook”! . . . and even an “I’m coming over”! He doesn’t quite remember where he discovered the recipe. . . but, since our version is in Italian, we think he found it on FB from one of our Italian FB friends.

Here it is. . . simple, good ingredients, and tasty!!

Ingredients (serves 4):

  1. 2-3 zucchine, not too little
  2. 2 eggs
  3. flour for dusting the zucchine
  4. 1/2 pound of tomatoes
  5. 8 oz. of fresh mozzarella
  6. 3 Tablespoons of grated Parmesan
  7. salt
  8. Canola oil for frying

Process:

  1. Wash the zucchine and cut lengthwise, in thin slices
  2. whisk the eggs, add salt
  3. dip each zucchine in the egg mixture, coat by dipping in a plate of flour
  4. fry in the heated oil, cooking both sides (2-3 minutes each side or until golden brown)
  5. dry on paper towels
  6. cut the tomatoes and mozzarella into slices
  7. place the zucchine on a work surface, place a slice mozzarella, then a slice of tomato and continue until at the end of the slice
  8. place with the open side down onto a backing pan
  9. sprinkle with the grated cheese
  10. cook 5 minutes at 380º F so that the mozzarella “becomes very exquisite” (translated from the Italian recipe)!!!

Enjoy!!!

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara

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What’s not too love about bacon, eggs, and pasta!? Marco doesn’t like American breakfast for dinner. . . but I always remind him that Spaghetti alla carbonara is the same thing! Eggs, bacon (pancetta), and toast (the pasta). . . and this is one of his favorites! Simple flavors, easy to make, and . . . in moderation, not unhealthy (is that a double negative???).

Marco and I landed in Milan last summer, rented a car, and drove straight to one of our favorite restaurants in Cremona, Trattoria Liberty (click here) to have a plate of Spaghetti alla Carbonara. However jet-lagged and travel weary, we just couldn’t wait to taste the simple creamy combination of guanciale, egg, cream, Grana Padano, salt and pepper. The carbonara with a nice glass of red wine. . . what a way to know that we arrived in Italy!

And, if you wonder why we didn’t drive right to Adelina’s house for her carbonara, she wasn’t home. . . she was in the Alpes gathering porcini with Matteo! Typically, when Adelina asks us what we would like to eat for our first meal in Italy, we choose the Spaghetti alla carbonara. It is comfort food. It is delicious. It is satisfying!

Believe it or not, while the ingredients are simple, there are many ways you can make carbonara. Mario Batali actually settles the yolk of an egg on top of each portion (check it out here). Typically guanciale is used in Italy. This is the cured cheek pork. Here, we often use a pancetta that Trader Joe’s sells where it is already diced up into pieces that are just the right size for this dish. Some recipes call for cream, but we usually omit that and simple have whisked eggs as our base in the sauce. Adelina, Marco’s mother, adds shallots with the sautéed pancetta but we usually omit that. It adds a sweet to the savory of the pork but we prefer without the shallots. You get my point. . . you can play around with the ingredients and make a carbonara that suits you!

Here is the recipe for the Belluardo-Crosby carbonara in the photo above:

Ingredients:

  1. 10 oz. of Spaghetti
  2. sea salt for the pasta water
  3. 3 eggs
  4. 1/3 cup of grated Grana Padano (or Parmesan)
  5. salt and pepper to taste
  6. 2 plus tablespoons of olive oil
  7. 1 package of the Trader Joe’s diced pancetta (or 4 oz diced pancetta)

Process:

  1. start the pasta water, add a generous amount of sea salt and cook the pasta al dente (click here to see more about salting the water)
  2. while the pasta is cooking, sauté the pancetta in the olive oil
  3. whisk the eggs together
  4. add salt, pepper, and the grated cheese
  5. when the pasta is close to being done, add the pasta by straining from the water into the pan of pancetta (while keeping the pan on low heat)
  6. stir all together, adding a bit of the starchy water (from the spaghetti pot – if needed – you don’t want it watery, but the starchy water can help to thicken the sauce – if unsure, try without adding any water)
  7. pour the egg mixture over the spaghetti and stir right away
  8. you want to get a nice creamy consistency without letting the egg cook too much!
  9. plate and enjoy!

Serves 4

 

 

Farmer Marco

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One of my favorite things about visiting Italy in the summer is enjoying the fresh vegetables from my suocero’s (Father-in-law) garden or l’orto! Every day at lunch and dinner time, he goes out to the back yard vegetable garden and picks the vegetables to eat with the meal. Talk about local and organic. . . you can’t beat food grown in your back yard and freshly picked.

In the early days of my union with the Belluardo clan I was introduced to a strange new treat. . . fried zucchini blossoms! (In the beginning I resisted. . . we American’s don’t eat flowers)!!! I tried them and now I consider these a delicacy that I look forward to when Adelina stuffs the blossoms with mozzarella and anchovy (another thing I would have never eaten) to produce a yummy delight!

This Fall we purchased a Tower Garden from a representative here in Salem. We researched the possibilities, informed ourselves of all the work involved, and decided to garden inside our home during the winter and out on our roof deck during the warmer seasons. All this effort has paid off such that most evenings, one of us heads up to the roof deck landing and picks fresh gourmet lettuce varieties for a local and organic salad!

Lettuce from our garden:

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The Tower Garden was easy to build:

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 Close up of lettuce:

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I often mention my favorite book on healthy aging, The Blue Zones. It is a study of several places in the world where a statistically significant number of people live healthy well into their 90’s and even 100’s. The book summarizes the 9 major lifestyle habits that were common to the centenarians. One of these was the “plant slant” or a focus on eating foods that come from plants (vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, and nuts). Additionally, many of the people studied were still cultivating their own gardens and eating foods grown in their yards.

The nutritional literature often calls this the Mediterranean diet with a focus on fish, vegetables, grains, fruit, nuts and seeds, and, of course, olive oil and moderate consumption of dairy, wine, and meat. The Italian food that we cook, inspired Marco’s mother,  often falls in this category. Our roof deck garden helps us as we enjoy our “mediterranean diet” with the fresh vegetables that we grow with our own hands!