Sunday, July 24, 2016

Italian Food--Eat Your Heart Out

It's the heart of summer.
It's triple-digit hot.
So of course it's time to cook Italian food over the stove.

After the trip of a lifetime to Italy this spring, I promised to cook Italian this summer. I decided to learn to cook from the best, Marcela Hazan, and her cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking full of essential, need-to-know recipes of, well the classic dishes of Italian cooking.

Update: I have made over three dozen recipes from Marcela's book.

Newsflash: Marcela does not disappoint.

Newsflash P.S.: My jeans are getting snug because I am eating so much good food but still! I cannot stop cooking and eating Italian!

I made and ate Marcela's fresh carrot salad (Directions: shred the carrots, toss them with salt, olive oil, and lemon.)  Verdict: Amazing. It will re-energize your love for carrots.

I made and ate her Cubed Eggplant (Directions: Soften eggplant; Cube eggplant; Eat eggplant.) Verdict: Fabulous. It will make you ask: "Eggplant, where have you been my whole life?"

I got so inspired by Italian food that I veered from Marcela to experiment on my own. In an effort to get my daughter to eat more vegetables, I made creamy peas. Instead Mr. Wonderful and I arm-wrestled over who would eat her peas. It was our first argument in years. If you want to make this recipe, be sure to double it.

I made and ate a tomato and fennel hot casserole twice. It was so good I only remembered to take a picture after I'd eaten most of it the second time. Verdict: It's the best way to enjoy all this summer's tomato bounty.

I've made more dishes, but right now the kitchen and Marcela are calling me to get back to cooking and eating. So until next time, friends: Buon Appetito!

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Thanks for the Memories

The sun is shining, the pool water is 78 degrees, and there aren’t any home improvement projects on the horizon. Ahhh. Finally a relaxing day in our suburban California paradise. Here I come pool! What, I thought, could spoil this idyll? 

“You should replace your roof,” our 86 year-old neighbor called out from the perch of his lawn chair.
“Good morning, Harold,” I said plucking the newspaper from the driveway. “But our roof is fine.” 
“Your roof’s at least seven years old,” he said eyeing the shingles on our house as if he were a California Highway Patrol stopping a drunk driver on St. Patrick’s Day. Ever since Christmastime when Harold and Norma had gotten a new roof for their house, the 86 year-old had become the self-styled expert at home coverings doling out advice as he saw fit. Like now. “You should replace it.”
“Thanks, Harold, but it’s fine.”
“Oh,” he shrugged. “You want your roof to fall in? Well that’s your business.”

Months ago when the fear and excitement of the weather phenomenon known as El Nino was sweeping California bringing promises of wet weather and an end to the drought, a bajillion Golden State homeowners got their roofs redone. You couldn’t walk down a street where there wasn’t at least half a dozen homes getting their roofs stripped and re-shingled. Harold and Jean were two such eager homeowners. Since our elderly neighbors had witnessed the entire history of our house from our moving in day stretching back to the California Gold Rush, we asked them how old our roof was. 

“It was just redone,” Harold had said at the time. “About a year or two before you got here.” Which comforted us, giving Mr. Wonderful and me the confidence not to re-roof our house in the pre-El Nino rush. 

But now in one morning stroll to fetch the paper, our roof had aged becoming seven years old? Hmmm. Maybe Harold’s memory was off?

Taking the baby out for a walk I saw our 85 year-old neighbor in the driveway.
“Afternoon, Norma—”
“Harold’s wrong about the age of your roof,” she said hauling grocery bags out of her car.  
“Excuse me?”
“You roof’s at least ten years old.”

I found this nugget of information disturbing for several reasons: 1) Our neighbors discussed our roof’s history when we weren’t present; 2) Kids grow up fast, but our roof was aging faster than my child; 2) and 3) I still wanted to get in the pool but the pressure of buying a new roof was inserting cracks into my perfect summer idyll. Maybe Norma’s memory was off?

By the time I returned from the park with a sleepy baby, I saw both our elderly neighbors standing in their front yard, with another man wearing a fedora, staring at our house.  

“Hi Harold, Norma—”
“This is my brother, Steve,” Norma said hitching her thumb towards the hat-wearer in their threesome.
“And they’re both wrong,” Stephen said. “Your roof is over 25 years old.”
“What?! But they said—”
“Forget what we said,” Harold said tapping his head. “The memory is going. For both of us.”

And in one fell swoop my perfect summer day became frenzied with googling “new roofs”, “shingle roofs”, and “cool roofs”. So much for enjoying our pool. The idyll was gone. Arrrggggg. Harold and Norma, thanks for your memories.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Yankee Doodle Dandy Easy Pasta Sauce

Happy Fourth of July! The day we celebrate all-American things like independence, fireworks, barbecues, and ... pasta?

Yes, in my Summer of Italian... Food Porn, even the most American of holidays has an Italian food connection. And of course it's pasta.

In the 1700's young British men of the wealthy classes traveled to Italy to polish off their formal education and to make them more worldly. On this so called Grand Tour they hiked the ruins of Rome, explored the pleasures of Venice, and ate the latest pasta dishes of the Boot peninsula, which in the 18th century, was macaroni.

Returning to England, these young men were enamored with all things Italian: the rip-roaring history; the high fashion with tall, decorated wigs; the classical architecture; and the delicious food... like macaroni. To be fair, anything would taste delicious to young Britons raised on Marmite and haggis. But I digress. Other older, less worldly Britons liked England being English and derided these internationally-minded young men as foppish dandies before the label "foppish dandy", existed so they took to calling them "Macaronis". Sort of like how we call today's instagram-ing, bacon-loving population under 35, "Hipsters".

In the 1700's, the British in Britain looked down on American colonists as being uneducated, rough-around-the-edges and home-spun. I mean, who did these colonists think they were trying to fight a war against the mighty British army? Therefore, during the American Revolution, British troops made up a song to make fun of this uncouth American.

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it Macaroni

Yankee Doodle keep it up,
Yankee Doodle Dandy 
Mind the music and the step,
And with the girls be handy.

The song posits that the American Yankee thinks he can be a classy Macaroni just by putting a feather in his cap. How ridiculous! If he wants to be a Macaroni, he needs to go to Italy and see those sights, wear that fashion, eat that delicious food! 

When the American soldiers heard the song they LOVED it, dismissing the derision and embracing the plucky, rough-around-the-edges Yankee who took on, and beat the grand British army for American independence! 

In honor of the daring pasta-loving attitude of our Yankee Doodle I have an Easy Pasta Sauce recipe for your next pasta meal of linguine or fettuccine (but not macaroni!). Of course it has tomatoes, which are very American:

Yankee Doodle Easy Pasta Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove of garlic (chopped fine)
1/2 a large onion (white, yellow or red chopped fine)
28 ounces (794 grams) tomatoes or tomato sauce (I use a sauce can from Trader Joe's)
1/2 cup full/heavy cream (for whipping)
Parmesan cheese (grated)

Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Add the onions; once the onions are soft (3-4 minutes), add the garlic (2 more minutes). Add the tomatoes or tomato sauce. Once this is warm (2-3 minutes), add the cream. Stir thoroughly (2-3 minutes). Pour over freshly boiled and drained pasta. Sprinkle with a spoonful of Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. 

Buon Appetite, Yankee Macaronis!

Finally, in honor of this American Day of Independence I continue my annual tradition of reading the (surprisingly short!) Declaration of Independence today. Here is a link to this bold Declaration of Independence that was signed in Philadelphia on this day 240 years ago. 

Happy Birthday America!