January 20, 2012
An alternative and popular technique for cooking pasta is to cook it as if it were a risotto, adding water a little at a time. It does require slightly more attention than the normal method, and certainly cannot be applied to all sauces, but it is more convenient for an easy weekday dinner, since it really is a one pot meal. It is all the more surprising that I never used it while I was living at home with my parents, and only started when my partner told me of his favourite way of making pasta with chickpeas.
The technique works particularly well for two categories of sauces: seafood sauces, where the starch in pasta actually binds an otherwise too thin sauce, and legume-based pasta, and I make all of them like this now . It is a bit like making a pasta e fagioli, but with less water so you can eat the end result with a fork. It is particularly forgiving, since you don’t have to stir that much, provided the food does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
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November 16, 2011
This is not exactly the post I had in mind when I decided I had to share this soup with you. While living with my parents I was not cooking much at all, and I was not cooking the type of food I crave daily. That food, after a few days of feasting on cheese, was essentially one: soup, loaded with vegetables, legumes, fibers, spices, herbs, chillies, hot, filling, easy to digest. I am addicted to that feeling of a warm and full, but not overloaded, belly. I then decided that to celebrate the control I was going to regain in my kitchen and my life, I’d share a lot of soup recipes, whether from blogs, books, or my own fantasy. We all need more soup in our life.
So when I made this soup whose recipe I found in Smitten Kitchen, and it exactly what I had been craving for: hot, filling, spicy, comforting, great leftovers… I thought I finally was starting to get it. I had the first soup of a long series of soups to share.
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August 1, 2011
I think the best Italian food that never makes it abroad are the soups. I guess it must be because they don’t look glamorous enough to be included in Italian restaurants (and anyway, I still have to find an Italian restaurant abroad nearly as good as some restaurants in Italy), and they are that good because of difficult to source ingredients. If you have travelled in Tuscany and had a chance to eat any of the soups there, you know what I am talking about. They redefine the somewhat boring concept of soup: they rely on arrays of vegetables, herbs, heirloom pulses and grains, little bits of meat, and of course olive oil, to produce drop-dead-gorgeous flavours and textures. And it is not only Toscana of course, although my favourite ones are from there.
Last weekend I went to the local market with a fresh pair of eyes, determined to try something new. I have realized with a bit of a shock how lazy I have been in my food choices. I like carbs, vegetables and fruit. I’ve tried all the funny looking vegetables at the Vietnamese shop, always have at least three varieties of rice in my pantry, and have eaten all the types of organic, wood-oven bread they sell at the market. On the other hand, I don’t like meat, especially if I can’t identify what is in there, so I have left the huge selection of Wurst and Aufschnitt (cold cuts) largely unexplored. Also, I don’t like vinegary food very much, so no Gewuerzgurken (pickled cucumbers), Sauerkraut, and the endless ready-made salads on sale. But I know this is mainly laziness, cooking with what I’m comfortable with instead of pushing my boundaries a bit to discover new flavours.
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July 26, 2011
Summer is gone astray here. It rains and rains and rains. There are no chances to enjoy my favourite activities at home, which are two. I have a shared garden that nobody else uses, where we can have barbecues. We had no opportunity for a barbecue since last month. And then, I have a terrace above my head. I rarely go there, surely not in winter when it is covered with snow. But the views are great and it faces west, so sitting there in the evening with one of the excellent German beers and something to nibble on is a great way to unwind after a working day. There are a couple of challenges involved though: making sure the bare wood on the floor is not wet or humid, which requires this rain to stop for at least a couple of days; trying to convince the cats not to jump down from the roof; and managing to climb the very steep ladder down even after a beer. Which makes the snacking part vital. The food must be easy to carry (you need at least one hand to climb up that ladder, so one trip for the beer and one for the snack), it must be tasty, it must be healthy because I can’t keep on putting on weight, and then you have to have some dinner, right?
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June 21, 2011
My lifestyle lately has been a bit weird. My partner is travelling a lot because of work, and I’ve been mainly alone with my cats, spending weekends off to reach him wherever he is. I’m still trying to put together my thoughts on all the things I’ve seen. I’ve seen a lot of friends, and this always feels good. I guess a positive side of this crazy lifestyle of ours is that, although there is no place I can go to where all my friends are, there are a lot of places where some friends are. That’s good, isn’t it?
In this period I cooked much less at home: I am not used to cooking for myself alone, although I like to try now and again some ‘extreme’ experiments when no one is there to watch. Being out at weekends means that long, complex projects are not feasible. I ate out many times when travelling. I had really great food, and the funny part is that all of it was ‘ethnic’ food, although I was travelling around Europe. For someone coming from Italy, whose food is indeed seen as ‘ethnic’ in the rest of the world (the first time I found they store Italian ingredients at Tesco in the ‘world’ section, I did not know whether to laugh or cry, it just seemed so weird to me), this is very positive. There is much more in Italian cooking than greasy pizza and overcooked pasta, and this is true for all other food of the world. I felt a tangible wave of energy coming from these restaurants. They were all original, with high quality ingredients, populated by locals and by co-nationals alike (my number one criteria for choosing ethnic food when I don’t have recommendations).
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May 13, 2011
This salad looks a bit demure. It can be given a makeover with a nice presentation, on special occasions, but some people will keep thinking it is just another boring vegan blob. As if someone had invited also the ugly sister to a dinner party just to please the beautiful one.
It does not smell particularly strong – maybe a whiff of sour and mint if you go really close, but when it is at room temperature, it does not really hit.
And then you taste it, and it explodes. It smacks you in the face with smokiness, then unfolds its complexity as you chew through it. Fresh and sour notes come in, then meatiness and a hint of sweetness as you tackle the lentils, while the slightly bitter, crunchy, nutty walnuts predominate as you chew them last.
The heart of this salad is smoked aubergine, the one used for baba ghanoush dip. I had never smoked an aubergine before starting to learn about Middle East food. I always thought the natural destiny for an aubergine, the right, glorious end for its charming black beauty, is to be deep-fried in olive oil. More often than not I ended up playing it down, pan roasting it in cubes with just a bit of oil, roasting it in the oven, cut into wedges, or even grilling it, sliced. A defeat for taste.
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May 9, 2011
It is again that time of the year where white signals of smoke dot the valley.
Germans love grilling. Even at Christmas markets there is always a grill stand, with a spectacular round grill hanging from the ceiling, suspended over glimmering charcoals. They grill the much-loved Wursts in all varieties, but also Frikadellen (the über-fatty original of hamburgers), and pre-marinade steaks, mainly pork. There was a recent article on the local newspaper about how local political representatives decided to volunteer for grilling for charity – the CDU, the right-wing, conservative party, has decided to take care of the Würstchen, while the SPD, the more left-wing party, is going to barbecue pork steaks. Whether the Greens were offering a vegetarian option was not reported, but highly unlikely in my opinion. It was specified however that in order to simplify the organisation, the public should bring the drinks – that is, beer. Both parties are quite moderate in their positions anyway, and the newspaper made it clear that no political connotation would be given to food choice. Here is the picture appearing on the original article:
Another different grilling contribution is given by the numerous Gastarbeitern (guest workers) of Turkish origin who live here. I recently read a book written by a German-Turkish journalist, who grew up in Duisburg, a stone’s throw away from where I live. The title is sweet – “Einmal Hans mit sharfer Soβe”, Hans being the archetypical German boy. The title can be translated as : ‘A Hans served with hot sauce, please’. A phrase you’d use to order a kebab. Such a pretty way to capture the author’s torn identity between being German and Turkish, especially when it comes to finding the right man. She herself does not cook, but devotes pages and pages to her mom’s epic cooking and her dad’s equally epic barbecues. Allegedly in Berlin the Turkish habit of grilling in all spaces of public green, particularly in front of the Parliament, has caused some initial grumbles among the Germans, who, after an adjustment period, have actually joined the Turks in their grilling frenzy.
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April 22, 2011
“Mare o montagna?”
“Seaside or mountains?”
A common conversation topic, from an era where cheap air travel was not available and exotic destinations were out of reach.
In Italy we are spoiled: we have a huge choice of breathtaking landscapes and touristic destinations, to suit any taste. Seaside or mountains was a serious question, more of a lifestyle choice than a mere preference. Both had renewed health advantages and sought-after entertainment options, both had shortfalls and limitations. I’m pretty sure that the famed Italian TG1 (the leading news on TV) still airs a couple of times every summer an innovative service over the advantages of spending your holidays in one place as opposed to the other. Year after year the same footage, the same phrases: I can see them neatly folded, ready to be taken out of the archives at the appropriate time, together with ‘the festivity diet’, ‘heat wave alarm’, ‘Arctic frost alarm’, ‘la Maturita’ this year’ (high school diploma), and ‘Internet will make your child sick’. Reassuring, in a way.
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March 20, 2011
I have to admit it. I am a serial spice buyer. I need to have them all. I cannot read about a spice and not have it. I want spices with the avidity of a collector.
There is a childish pleasure in rummaging through the messy closet that contains them all, in their unappealing plastic bags. At my mum’s home spices dwell in a neat, dedicated part of a drawer. Each of them is stored in a tiny tin or glass jar, collected over the years. Many spices have been there for ages, literally. I know my mum shares my fascination for spices, but quite frankly there is not that much room for spices in an Italian kitchen, so she buys them and they stay there until they grow tasteless. They have to fight for space with dried herbs, which my parents not only like, but also enjoy foraging themselves: one year I counted eight types of dried oregano, then there are wild juniper berries, myrtus, rosemary, sage, and let us not even start with caraway (which nobody likes, but is real fun to pick up). Now and again my mother will venture in a spiced recipe, with mixed outcomes: I still remember a vegetable strudel with coriander seeds she had read about somewhere. The coriander was whole, and it was the only spice, and it was a lot. I thought I hated coriander for years, and wondered how people could eat it. I did however like curry. I did not even know that curry was not ‘one’ spice. It came in jars, sometimes it was more pungent, others a bit bland, and it had the brightest colour. There was one dish we made with it: a Talismano dish with chicken and prawns cooked in coconut milk (we always used real coconut because you could not find canned coconut milk) and curry, served with ‘Indian rice’, o ‘riso all’indiana’ – which I was convinced referred to native Americans, for some reason, when I was a child.
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March 5, 2011
Have you ever tried sprouting beans? I hadn’t until about a month ago. I was intimidated, with all the times I had forgotten beans into their soaking water and they fermented, by the expensive and complicated looking sprouting kits at the organic store, and, last but not least, by the fact that some sprouts are poisonous. I have never understood how sprouting works, other than it is an incredibly complex process, involving structural changes in the biochemistry of a seed, which means that what you eat is going to be different. In most cases, better.
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