We had a lovely dinner last night with friends who share our passion for Italian food. Actually, Rob is a chef! Andrea and Rob are in the process of buying a restaurant and B & B. Rob made us braised beef pepato, a spaghetti squash al forno, and a salad. He mentioned a PBS series, “Italy Unpacked” that we watched the next day. A quote from a restauranteur in Milan when speaking about simple quality ingredients says “I like the material too much to destroy it”.
One of our favorite restaurants in Cremona is Hosteria 700 (click here). It is housed in a 19 century palace so there are high ceilings, elaborate detail, and a grand elegance to the rooms. The ambiance is historic, but the food is modern. Their specialty is risotto. My favorite is one named after the restaurant. It is called Risotto 700 and has speck, rucola, and smoked cheese (I posted about it here). Marco’s favorite when we go there is a risotto with truffle cream and thin slices of smoked goose breast.
Another excellent restaurant in Cremona for risotto is Trattoria Liberty (click here). My favorite there is the risotto with shrimp, rucola, and scamorza fumicata. Fumicata means smoked and this is a smoked Italian cow’s milk cheese that is similar to mozzarella. Without having the recipe from the restaurant, Marco and I re-create this risotto at home following the basic risotto recipe and adding the three ingredients.
Risotto is a great Fall and Winter dish that, aside from the preparation time, takes about 20 minutes to cook. It is a warming dish while preparing due to the need to be stirring often and then it warms the inside when eaten hot. We usually just use olive oil when making risotto, but feel free to use butter instead and/or a combination of both. The ingredients are simple and the flavors are delicious.
Ingredients (serves 4):
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- half of a yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 cups carnaroli rice (or arborio)
- 1 cup of white wine
- 4-5 cups of chicken broth
- 12-16 medium shrimp cut into bite sized pieces
- scamorza fumicata
- cup of chopped rucola
- sauté chopped onions in olive oil until soft, but not brown (8 minutes)
- add rice and sauté for additional 5 minutes stirring often
- add wine and let it boil off
- add 1 ladle of chicken stock and cook the rice slowly
- as the chicken stock dries out, add more broth until rice is cooked (about 10-15 minutes)
- add one more ladle of broth with the shrimp and cheese and let simmer until it evaporates
- add a thin slice of cheese to melt on each serving dish
Our friend Raylene asked us the other day, “do you guys really make all of your meals from scratch? No processed, pre-prepared foods???” The answer is yes! We don’t have any pre-made meals in our house. There are no frozen meals. And, we haven’t even been to a McDonald’s (or any fast food) in 12 years. . . and when we used to go, it was only on the way to visit friends, along the highway!
I have to say, however, that we have struggled lately with the Sunday night dinner. After cooking throughout the weekend and eating a hearty Sunday lunch, we are ready for a break. We know we want something light and easy, but we have come up blank lately.
Then, one Sunday night, Marco remembered an Italian basic from his childhood. . . stracciatella! All it needs is some chicken broth, eggs, parmesan, and parsley. In Italian it’s basically called rag soup due to the little rag-like shapes (stracci) that form once you stir the eggs into the simmering chicken broth. It can also be considered the Italian version of the Chinese egg drop soup.
So, yes Raylene, we cook from scratch even when we feel stumped. . . it just requires my favorite word. . . simplicity. It’s also pretty healthy and comforting. It has the protein from the eggs and warmth from the chicken broth. We add a green vegetable to give us extra vitamins and minerals. It’s a gentle farewell to the weekend and a an uncomplicated preparation to face the new week with simple goodness.
- 1 quart of chicken broth
- 4 eggs whipped up
- 1/3 cup parmesan
- 1-2 Tablespoons of parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon
- simmer the chicken broth
- slowly pour egg mixture in
- add parsley and salt
- can add freshly ground pepper if you like
- also, can add a green for some veggies (baby spinach, cress, rucola, etc. . . )
- click here if you want to watch video of making the soup
I work with couples in my role as a therapist. As you can imagine, one of the many tasks in this kind of therapy is to facilitate a space where the two individuals learn how to communicate effectively with one another. Any time two people come together, there are bound to be disagreements. Couples that make it work are able to listen to one another and respect each other, often coming to places of compromise.
Marco and I usually do a pretty good job at communicating. We have the added challenge of coming from different cultural backgrounds, Italian and American. Many times, this blog illustrates the ways this brings us to places of compromise. Some are still works in progress, like his recent decision to serve us octopus stuffed in a bottle for this Christmas Eve!!! He found a recipe for Carpaccio di Polipo. I keep giving him a hard time about this and he razzes me about how American palettes are so boring and unadventurous. . . like who wouldn’t want those tentacles stuffed in a plastic bottle then sliced thin???
The recipe pictured here is one of the ways that my American palette has adapted over the years. This recipe calls for Gorgonzola. Now, for many Americans, this is a strong stinky cheese that challenges the upbringing of eating the orange-colored Kraft “american” cheese that we eat. But, two things are important to mention. First, the reality is that I have grown to love recipes that incorporate this cheese. Second, the Italians use Gorgonzola Dolce for their recipes. This is not always found in the States but, if you are able to buy it, you will taste the difference. Gorgonzola Dolce (Sweet) is a milder version of this cheese that still has the intricate and tasty qualities of the “stinky” cheese.
The sauce for this pasta consists of two main ingredients, Gorgonzola Dolce and toasted walnuts. We used the Gnocchi Sardi that I wrote about last week (click here) but you can use any pasta shape that allows good surface space for the sauce to bond. Simply melt some chunks of cheese in a pan of a tablespoon or two of heated olive oil, add the toasted walnuts and combine with the cooked pasta.
In Italy, as in all cultures, recipes are handed down from generation to generation, from mothers to daughters, and from fathers to sons. Many of the recipes in this blog come from Adelina, who taught us how to make our favorite foods from her table. She, in turn, learned these recipes from her mother and from generations of mothers feeding their families all throughout Italy.
Enzo, Marco’s father, also plays an important role. He is often in the background, ready at a moments notice to lend a helping hand. If Adelina is making her stuffed zucchini blossoms, Enzo is out in the backyard shed deep-frying the tasty delights to crispy perfection. If we are having a grigliatta, Enzo is out in the back yard barbecue, grilling the meats. And, whenever Adelina makes pasta, silently and with barely a word passing between them, Enzo performs the pasta dance with Adelina; a carefully coordinated production with finesse.
In our house we enjoy homemade pasta on a regular basis from the simple semolina flour recipe that you can find here. Matteo is the next generation to learn. Here he is seen making gnocchi sardi. Marco makes the pasta and Matteo comes down from his “lair” to press the pieces of dough against the lightly floured grooved board to make these wonderfully shaped bite-sized pieces of pasta.
It’s a fun family project that promotes time together. Marco and I sometimes help making the shapes, but I am counted upon to follow along, swooping in to clean up as we cook! And, of course the sit down meal is the reward for all of our hard work. We enjoy these gnocchi sardi with a creamy sauce of Gorgonzola Dolce and walnuts, but you can enjoy them with any of your favorite sauces.
Here’s what we do with leftover meat. . . we freeze it, and then when we are ready, we defrost it and make meatballs (polpette) for dinner. It’s a great way to get rid of the leftovers without the guilt of throwing food away and without having to actually eat “leftovers”! Then, served with some salad and bread, it’s a quick weekday meal that is both hearty and healthy.
Adelina made these for Marco growing up. He has always been the one to make them in our family, but, recently I tried making polpette. It just takes some leftover meat that is ground up in a food processor. Pulse the food processor so the meat is ground up but not too fine. I ended up with 2-3 cups of ground meat but you can play around with the quantity. Throw a potato in the microwave and mash it up into small pieces. Add a 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, an egg, one minced garlic clove, and mix all together. If the meat already has flavor and spices, leave it the way it is or add some salt and pepper and any other spices that you like. If the consistency is too moist, add some bread crumbs. Otherwise, make into meatballs, roll the balls in bread crumbs, and they are ready to cook.
Simply heat up EVOO on medium high until hot but not smoking and cook 2-3 minutes on each side until nicely browned.