Spaghetti con le cozze

This is a fun period to write my blog as my suocera (mother-in-law) Adelina is now visiting us for a month! For those of you who follow my blog religiously, you’ll know that she is the inspiration for many of the cooking posts and she teaches me the basics of Italian cuisine. Of course, Enzo is with us too. He is my suocero (father-in-law). For many, the idea of the in-laws living in one’s space for a month at a time is a horror story, for us, it is an enjoyable experience!

Adelina invented the recipe pictured in the photo above based on her love for the Italian classic, spaghetti allo scoglio. Scoglio means rock, particularly a rock along the sea. So, the variety of recipes for spaghetti allo scoglio include local varieties of shell fish (the sea food found among the rocks). The two basics that are in most recipes are clams and mussels. Other crustaceans  are used based on the season and the availability in the market.

Before getting to the recipe, I want to share a trick that Enzo brought from Italy. While we were at work one day, he went around to all the squeaky door hinges in the house and silenced them. And, of course it did it with a fine Italian extra virgin olive oil. I never would have thought of that, but he went around, put a small amount of olive oil on a paper towel and gently massaged it into the hinges. He assures me that the oil doesn’t have to be extra virgin. . . but trust me, it’s nice to have quiet doors.

Back to our recipe. . . I asked Adelina how she decided to make the scoglio this way and she said “because it came into my mind”! I followed up with another question and she said, “because I wanted pasta and mussels, the clams here aren’t good in pasta.” Notice how her Italian origins came out. She’s going with the scoglio idea but using the best of the local. She’s right that the clams around here might be great for frying, but they are not as nice as the small Mediterranean clams called veraci.

So, here’s what she made for us:

Ingredients: (serves 6)

  • 16 ounces of spaghetti
  • 10 ounces of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes pureed in the food processor
  • 1 pound of cozze (mussels)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • a pinch of red pepper
  • parsley

Process:

  1. place the cozze in a pot for 3-4 minutes without water so that they open up
  2. set aside to cool
  3. heat oil, add garlic till lightly browned
  4. add the pureed tomatoes and water (filtered) of the coze and reduce (20-30 minutes)
  5. add pinch of red pepper
  6. leave some of the cozze in shells and take the rest out
  7. just before adding the boiled spaghetti, add the cozze
  8. when the pasta is al dente, put it in the sauce, and add about 1/2 cup of water from the cooked pasta and some parsley
  9. cook a couple of minutes in the sauce with the heat on medium for a couple of minutes for the pasta to take on the flavor of the pasta

Buon appetito!

Cauliflower doesn’t have to be boiled and bland

 
Here’s a fun new way to enjoy cauliflower! This recipe is adapted from a recipe for a pasta al forno that I found on the New York times web site by Fred R. Conrad (click here). He makes it as a dish that is prepared on the stove top and then baked in the oven. I made it that way once and it was good with the addition of bechamel, but we preferred it this way, simply made as a pasta sauce to which the penne is added.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 10 ounces of dried penne pasta
  • 1 medium head of cauliflower
  • olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
  • grated Parmesan cheese

  

Process:

  1. steam the cauliflower until soft
  2. boil and salt the water and cook the penne
  3. heat olive oil in a pan and add sliced garlic, red pepper flakes and lightly brown the garlic
  4. add the cooked cauliflower pieces, capers, and sage
  5. when the pasta is cooked, add to the sauce, add some grated cheese, stir, and serve

  

Buon appetito!

Live work play

IM001963Italians generally live minutes from their work and minutes from all of their family and friends. It makes for a nice lifestyle where family, friends, and work are close by.  It is common to return home from work, shower, rest and relax before heading out to socialize with co-workers and other friends on a work night. Sunday lunches are a traditional time for folks to gather for a leisurely family home-cooked meal. And, the stress-free commute with extra time to sleep is a nice bonus for one’s quality of life.

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How long is your commute? In my last job, my commute was an hour and a half each way! So that was three hours a day and fifteen hours per week! I convinced myself that the time was well-spent. I listened to NPR when driving, all the while stuck in traffic and dealing with the frustrations of driving in a major metropolitan area. I looked at FB and caught up on my work emails while taking the train and the subway. And, I convinced myself that I was “de-stressing” from my busy work day.

It’s no wonder that we are seeing a move back to cities, where people can live and work and play in the same local space. Millenials are even giving up cars in favor of urban living and access to ride sharing and other shared driving options. Empty-nesters are selling sprawling suburban homes in favor of compact condos near restaurants, museums, and a walkable social life. City centers and neighborhood gathering places are making a come-back! Some would even say that the American mall is dying!

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Lesson six in my favorite book on healthy aging, “The Blue Zones:  9 Lessons for Living Longer” is “downshift” and it is about taking the time to relieve the inevitable stress of life. It is about taking time for self and others and not being caught up in the rat race of a frenetic fast-paced life. The author studied 7 parts of the world where people are living into their 90’s and 100’s with health and quality of life. He points out that some stress is normal in life, but constant exposure to stress can cause an unhealthy amount of inflammation in the body.  “Small amounts of stress can be good – – for fighting off disease, helping us heal, or preparing us for a traumatic event. But when we chronically trigger inflammation, our bodies can turn on themselves. . . Slowing life’s pace may help keep the chronic inflammation in check, and theoretically, the related disease at bay” (Buettner, 2012).

The Italian lifestyle affords the kind of downshift that Buettner discovered in all the blue zones. It provides a nice life-balance, living in the daily moments of life, balancing family, friends, and work. This, along with the other 8 lessons from the blue zones promotes healthy aging.

Window shopping, Italian style

One of the things we love about our visits to Italy is the slow stroll through city centers. The window shopping is a feast for the eyes, taking in the colors, styles, and design in the store front windows. In addition, the displays never distract from the view into the stores to see the beauty within.

Check this view of a kitchen store, a simple but diverse collection of supplies in the store front with a clear view to a packed cornucopia of kitchen gadgets.

And do we need more enticement to buy cookies than we already have?

Even in the economic crisis that Italy has been in since ’08 the stores may change more often as businesses close down, but the simple elegance remains. Every morning the store owners sweep the sidewalk in front of their shop. The windows are squeaky clean each day to offer a shiny glimpse into the store. Function combines with form ensuring an artistic experience.

One of our favorite places to window shop is Verona. Check out this photo where the streets are paved with marble.

Cremona, being the birthplace of the violin has over 100 violin shops, another simple and elegant design to grace the workshop windows.


Penne with shrimp and brandy cream sauce

Ingredients (serves 4):

  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 16 medium shrimp
  • 1 tomatoe diced (for a nice variation, not pictured here)
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 10 ounces penne
  • Salt to salt the pasta water

Process:

  1. in a large pot, generously salt the walter and bring to boil
  2. while the water is boiling, the sauce can be made, so begin by heating the olive oil
  3. add garlic and lightly brown
  4. add the shrimp and cook till pink (tomatoes would be added now)
  5. add the brandy and gently simmer, boiling off the alcohol
  6. add the heavy cream
  7. salt ant pepper to taste (QB, quanto basta)

And here is another photo of the finished product.

Buon appetito!

Orecchiette con broccoli

There is a plethora of information out there about diet and nutrition. There are fad diets and cleanses. There are marketing gimmicks and entrepreneurs eager to make a buck. And there is a variety of science supporting “super foods” and other eating styles to sustain good health. I try to read many of them, but it’s more than a full-time job keeping up!

As you’ve seen in other blog posts, my favorites are the one’s that boil down to common sense strategies that our grandmother’s might have suggested. Food author Michael Pollan has 7 words and 7 rules for eating. He states, “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” (click here to see the 7 rules). Another common guideline is to eat a variety of foods, avoid processed foods and have a “plant slant”. And you all know my favorite book about healthy aging, “The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer”. Dan Buettner studied the places that people age healthy into their 90’s and 100’s. After analyzing 7 distinct communities around the world, the wisdom boiled down to this:  eat till you are 80% full, eat less meat and avoid processed foods. The people in the blue zones didn’t typically stop eating meat altogether, just not in the quantities we are eating in America.

Here is a recipe that Adelina makes. It does have two small anchovies, but you can make it without if you really want an all plant-based meal. It has a great flavor and might even be a way to get those kids and others who normally don’t like vegetables to eat some. The flavors are nicely balanced so that the spices do not overpower the flavor of broccoli. We keep our portion to healthy amounts so that the recipe of 10 ounces of pasta makes 4 servings. We serve with a salad which makes a nice quick healthy meal – even for a weekday night!

Ingredients:

  • broccoli head
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • A pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 anchovies
  • 10 ounces of orecchiette pasta
  • salt “QB” (quanto basta or to taste)
  • grated Parmesan cheese

Process:

  1. In a large pot, generously salt the water and bring to boil
  2. place the broccoli and boil till soft to the knife
  3. meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the oil and sauté garlic, red pepper flakes, and anchovies till garlic is lightly browned
  4. strain the broccoli and add to the saucepan, salt the broccoli to taste
  5. add the pasta to the boiling water and cook 9 minutes
  6. add the pasta to the broccoli sauce and stir
  7. add grated parmesan to taste and stir  

Buon appetito!!