Summer sandwich 

On our recent trip to Provence we re-discovered a favorite simple lunch, the baguette sandwich; it consists of a baguette, mayonnaise, pieces of chicken, fresh vine-ripened tomatoes and some green leafy lettuce. Served with some chilled Rose and you have a nice summer meal. We made the one pictured above last weekend. I was ready to a nice French butter-roasted chicken at home, but, instead, we picked up a roasted chicken at Whole Foods.

Fortunately, we live next door to an artisan bakery, so the baguette comes freshly made that morning from A. J. King Bakery here in Salem. It does make all the difference because a key ingredient to this simple sandwich is the baguette. Of course, fresh tomatoes and a good mayo help! Perhaps the one place we can slack a little is the lettuce, except no iceberg!!!

Bon appetite!

Another summer favorite: Penne with shrimp, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes

For those of you who follow this blog faithfully, you notice that pasta asciutta (or the pasta most of us make with the dry, store-bought pasta) is an easy dish to make. Typically, you start a sauce in the pan, boil the salted water, cook the pasta and, then, when the pasta is al dente, you join pasta with the sauce and “ecco (there)“, you have a nice dish. In restaurants, we pay $22 dollars or more for this, while, I hope you now see, that with some practice and a good sauce, we can all eat like an Italian!

It is often said in our fast-paced lives, “I don’t have time to cook!”, yet, most of the pasta asiutta recipes are made in about 20 minutes give or take. Depending on the chopping and preparation needed, this ballpark time means that a pasta dish is prepared as the main item on the menu, a salad or vegetables is served alongside, and you have a healthy meal start to finish in 30 minutes.

The other critique that might come from my focus on pasta is from we diet-consumer-conscious-types that think we must avoid carbs. I don’t pretend to be a nutritionist, but, it seems to me from all of my nutrition reading, the issue is with the quantity, not the pasta itself. All of our recipes suggest 70 grams of pasta asciutta per person. We do this because, for us, we are eating it as the main course along with salad and/or vegetables. Italians have eaten pasta once or twice for generations and it is only recently (with the increase in processed foods, sodas, etc. . .) that they are beginning to gain weight and have some of the other problems associated with straying from their traditional Mediterranean diet.

This pasta asiutta with shrimp, tomatoes, and red pepper flakes is one of our favorites in the summer when the tomatoes are at their vine-ripest and local! I show the ingredient list based on two people, but feel free to adjust any item up or down based on personal preference. If you’re making this as a traditional first course, you can simply make less pasta per person. 

Ingredients:

  • 12 medium shrimp
  • 1 tomato chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil and perhaps a tablespoon of butter
  • Parsley
  • 140 grams penne or farfalle

Process:

  1. Heat the olive oil and butter (if used) in the pan and gently sautee the garlic and red pepper flakes
  2. add the shrimp and cook until white and pink
  3. add the tomatoes and cook about 2 minutes
  4. add the white wine and simmer till the wine is burned off, about 10 minutes
  5. add the parsley, reduce heat, and keep warm until you are ready to add the pasta
  6. add the pasta, stir, and serve

Buon Appetito!

Insalata Caprese, a simple dish for a hot summer day

Marco and I love the heat! We were just in Cremona where there were many hot, humid days well into the 90’s F. Despite these temperatures, we sat outside to eat at our favorite restaurants. Even more so, we ate our favorite meals: spaghetti alla carbonara, risotto Liberty, and all kinds of pizza; these are nice Fall and Winter dishes that promote warmth throughout the body! We did feel the warmth and sweat and, we are hesitant to admit, but it was a little too hot for us!

The Italians around us were mostly eating lighter meals crafted for the hot days of summer. One of The Bella Vita Blog readers recently emailed and asked if I might offer some lighter dishes for when it is just too hot to cook or eat the heavier meals. Our favorite summer dish is the Caprese Salad. It is often served as an antipasto, but we also love it as a light meal with some nice bread!

I often talk about the beauty in the simplicity of Italian cooking. Here is a great example. The Caprese Salad takes tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and some olive oil and this becomes a simple, beautiful, and tasty dish. Find some fresh vine-ripened tomatoes and cut into thin slices. Use fresh mozzarella that has soaked in water, slice, and place on top of the tomatoes. Pick some fresh basil, tear into small pieces, and place them on top of the mozzarella. Then, sprinkle salt and pepper, drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and you are ready to enjoy.

The Insalata Caprese originates from the Island of Capri, off of the coast of southern Italy. It was crafted with the colors of the Italian flag in mind. There are many variations on the theme, but in Italy you won’t find too much divergence from these 4 basic ingredients. Here and there a balsamic might be added, but try without and taste the natural sweetness of the tomatoes!

Caprese is so simple to make but the work is in the shopping. It is best when the tomatoes are ripe and preferably served room temperature. The juice of the ripened tomatoes mixes with the oil to create the sauce. If you can find mozzarella di bufala, great, but if not, be sure it is fresh mozzarella that is stored in water. For the basil, use the largest of the leaves to get the most flavor. The tomatoes and mozzarella are the key ingredients, but a nice fruity olive oil will add to the overall flavor (click here and check out an article about olive oil tasting).


Buon Appetito!

How to enjoy an easy and tasty Grigliata (Italian BBQ)

 We’re back from Italy and back to cooking! While it’s fun to eat out. . . we love our hobby and are rearing and ready to delve into cooking simple Italian meals with fresh ingredients.  The photo above has red peppers, zucchini, eggplant, and a new addition to us, fennel. I was inspired to grill the fennel while in Italy at a restaurant which served a grilled fennel as a side to some grilled seafood.

One of our favorite things to do in the summer is to grill on the roof deck! We simply create a marinade of olive oil and garlic, lightly brush it on the vegetables and the bread and grill. We add a seafood or meat and it’s a meal! The highlight is always the bread! Nothing better than a grilled garlic bread! Start with the vegetables, grilling for about 4-5 minutes per side, then, grill the bread (about 2 minutes per side), and finish off with the meat or seafood.

Buon Appetito!

Macedonia di fragole

 
One of the nice things about staying with our relatives in Italy is the back-yard garden. At every meal, we eat something from the garden; the food is organically grown, freshly picked, and wonderfully tasting! Today, we ate a cold farro salad with grilled vegetables from the garden, shrimp, tuna, olive oil, salt, pepper, and freshly picked tomatoes.

The Mediterranean diet of Italy includes fruit following the main meal. Usually, it is a seasonal fruit. Adelina and Enzo have strawberry bushes in the back-yard garden, so, at this time of the year, we often enjoy a Macedonia di fragole (strawberries). It can be made with all types of fruit in season, but my favorite is just strawberries!

I asked Adelina for the recipe and she gave me her knowing smirk (she’s used to this American asking for written descriptions of her creations) and proceeded to tell me, once again, that “there is no need for a recipe”! She showed me the pan for boiling water and sugar (4 or 5 spoons). Once the water is cooled down, she said to pour it over the strawberries. Then, all that remains is to spritz some fresh lemon over the top, mix and let it sit for a half hour or more before enjoying.

I performed a little internet search of Italian sites and found various ways to make the fruit salad; some simply sprinkle enough sugar to cover the fruit and then spritz fresh lemon, stirring and letting it sit. In this version, if it is too sweet you add more lemon juice, if too bitter, add a little more sugar. 

Other versions involve wine. On the Divina Cucina web site, she uses only white wine and sugar over the fruit (click here to see her recipe). Adelina used to use white wine but now sticks to the simple syrup recipe. She also said that she heard that using red wine is better than white because it “esalta il gusto” of the strawberries. I guess this means that it enhances the flavor but I love the italian that literally means the flavor of the strawberries will be “exalted” by the use of red wine!

Buon Appetito!

The City of the Violin

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the violin was created, but Cremona is commonly credited with being the “birthplace of the violin”. While no one instrument maker “invented” the violin, it was born over years of people dedicated to their craft of shaping fine pieces of wood into beautiful instruments of music. Cremona is the place where the schools of violin makers thrived and the workshops were passed on from generation to generation.

Today, we toured the violin museum in Cremona. It was our second time there and each time I take away a new appreciation for the history of the violin. The most known and valued instruments to come out of Cremona are the Stradivari violins. He worked here from 1644 to 1737 creating over 1000 instruments, 650 of which survive today. While it is difficult to value in dollars, the most recent sale of a Stradivari violin was for $12 million.

One fun display at the museum was a video showing, with red dots, the growth of violin workshops throughout the world from 1533 till 1937. This photo below doesn’t do it justice, but it was interesting to see the concentration of shops first in the Cremona area, then spreading throughout Europe, on to the States, to Japan and China, with an outpost even in Australia and South Africa.

The tradition of violin making is strong once again in Cremona as there are now over 100 workshops around the city. The Italian word for the violin workshop is liuteria. Here are just a few photos of some of the places where the violin-making tradition of Cremona is being kept alive.

Each Sunday at noon, the “Cremonese”, Antonio Stradivari’s violin masterpiece from 1715 is taken out of its museum storage and played by a maestro. The violins are played regularly to preserve them properly. This Sunday we will go with Matteo to hear il Cremonese in the newly created auditorium at the museum.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with one more photo of the torrazzo and duomo of downtown Cremona. . .