Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring asparagus lasagna (lasagne agli asparagi)

I know it is spring when:
I feel the constant urge to buy fresh flowers to brighten up the apartment
It is design week in Milan
Every pigeon, butterfly, ladybug and cat around me is doing it
I can't stop photographing the wisteria outside my window (see last post)
My solitary early morning run suddenly gets crowded
I start cutting 40 little nails and toenails 2x a week instead of 1x (is it just my kids' overall growth that is so affected by hot weather?)
I stop wearing socks, but keep an emergency pair in my handbag (fancy!)
Every previously hidden nook and cranny of the apartment is visible and screaming "clean me!"
Asparagus, and other veggies make their appearance at the market
How can you tell it is spring?

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Guessing game

Any idea what this is?

Oh, did you get distracted by the beauty outside my kitchen window? I do too, constantly.
Every spring, when the wisteria blooms, I open the windows, breathe in the fragrance and take a million pictures. I have the same identical pictures from the last seven years (which those of you who follow me on Instagram - unfortunately for you - already know).

Never mind that that plant is a major pain in the butt the rest of the year: it is invasive, it is destroying the fa├žade of the building, it gets gnarled in the mechanism of our rolling shades (breaking them more than once). It manages to somehow grow through our window frame. To top it all off, a bird colony has nested right over our window. At first I was excited, but that changed quickly when they started crapping all over my window panes, window sill and all the leaves beneath their nests. They squabble and fight all the time and chirp in an eerie hitchockesque manner in the middle of the night.
Not to mention the branches are bare and gnarly and full of bird droppings in the winter too; or that it is so overgrown in the summer, barely any daylight gets into the kitchen. Or that every year an army of guys with saws invade my apartment to prune it, leaving a mess of leaves and broken branches and yes, bird s**t, all over my kitchen to clean up.
But it is beautiful for two weeks a year, I'll give you that.
Back to my initial query. Do you know this vegetable?

Before cooking

Monday, April 7, 2014

Gratin di sardine con pomodori e capperi (or sardine gratin with tomatoes and capers)


The other night  our youngest had a meltdown little moment right before dinner, the kind only a four year old can regale you with. The kind that makes you wonder if you are plain dumb or if you missed something crucial because it takes you totally by surprise and you have no idea why it is happening.

The scene: the children's room. Toys strewn all over the floor. Dinner is about to be served.

The rule: whoever makes a mess, cleans up. When the job is too daunting for a four year old and a little overwhelming for him to tackle on his own for organizational reasons, we help and also give him some general guidelines (put all the animals into the green box, all the lego pieces go into the blue box).

Action: my husband gives him a hand; they seemingly work together in harmony and the job is soon done. Dinner is on the table.

Next thing we know, our son turns into a raving, screaming, three-headed monster. He starts throwing all his neatly stowed away boxes and toys all over the floor again, putting them the way they were before the clean-up.

Aha, you are thinking, he wanted to do it himself, he wants to assess his independence, Daddy shouldn't have rushed him.


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thoughts on the Table podcast, introducing... me!

Today's post is a little different and was quite unexpected for me too.
A few weeks ago I had the honor of meeting Paolo, the talented blogger behind 'Quatro fromaggio and Other Disgraces on the Menu', in person while he was visiting Italy. Paolo's blog accurately describes authentic Italian cuisine in an effort to preserve it from the horrors often inflicted upon it abroad.
We had a real Neapolitan pizza, or as close as you can get to one when not in Naples, and a long chat, which continued at my place in the form of a podcast.

You see, a while back Paolo started a new section on his blog called 'Thoughts on the Table', podcasts in which he chats with chefs, scientists and bloggers about everything and anything food. So when he contacted me before his trip and suggested recording a podcast together, I felt very honored to be included in such a crowd.
I cannot begin to tell you how uncomfortable I was initially: I am that person that needs to record my voicemail message over and over because I invariably crack up every time I start speaking into a microphone (yes, he actually had a portable mike on him). Also, we had not prepared any questions beforehand, so we were totally improvising. Thankfully Paolo has experience working in radio and was a great host, making me feel right at home (forgive the pun) and as a result I only found myself cringing once or twice while relistening to myself (the first time being upon hearing my recorded voice... ugh!).


To listen to us, click directly onto the logo or here to go over to Paolo's, or hop on over directly to iTunes.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Eataly megastore opening in Milan - a step-by-step visual tour

Last week Eataly opened the doors of its long-awaited megastore to the Milanese. While there has already been an Eataly store in Milan for years, its size and visual impact were somewhat underwhelming when compared to some of its counterparts in locations like Turin, Rome, Genoa and New York.
I, and apparently many others given the lines stretching across Piazza XXV Aprile, was curious to see how Oscar Farinetti, its founder, had transformed a much-beloved cultural landmark, the Teatro Smeraldo, into his Milanese flagship store. Over the years I had spent  many a memorable night at concerts and shows in the theater's auditorium and even more very early mornings partying underneath the theater in a club that was a well-known hangout for the Milanese movida.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

All natural, no-sugar peanut and pistachio butter cookies

I have been seeing recipes for these natural peanut butter cookies around for a while now. When I saw Monet post about them the other day, I knew my time had come. She has a beautiful baby daughter so I knew the recipe would be wholesome, but she is first and foremost a wonderful baker so I was certain these cookies would be really good besides being healthy.
That is a must in my book. My idea, and those of you who have been reading my blog for a while have heard me preach this before, is that if you are going to make a dessert or something sweet you might as well go the whole way and make something worth the calories you are ingesting. Otherwise, if you are on a health kick or trying to lose a few pounds, skip dessert altogether and have some fruit or yogurt instead.
 There are cases, however, when this does not apply, like feeding your kids afterschool snacks that are so good they won't really be able to tell they are naturally sweetened and full of wholesome ingredients.
So even though I still stand by my belief that a chocolate fudge cake should be a buttery, sweet, dense affair, if the result of a recipe is a lovely tasting cookie that satisfies a craving without going way overboard, why not?
With this batch of cookies I finished the jar of pistachio paste I told you about in my last post. I also used up that almost empty jar of peanut butter I had lying around for more time than I care to remember. It worked out perfectly, since I didn't have enough of either to make a whole batch of just one kind, and how do you split an egg in half?
Both cookies are delicious because they are so incredibly full of nutty flavor and they are just sweet enough, with that touch of salty that keeps you wanting more.

See how chewy these are on the inside? Mmmmmh...
 The peanut butter cookies are crumbly and dense, perfect to have with a cup of coffee or a big glass of milk. The pistachio cookies have a completely different texture, moist and chewy and rich. They are sweeter because I had added some sugar to the paste (ok, so there is a little sugar in the pistachio cookies, but if you want to make these 100% without sugar, pistachio butter would work just as well) and are fabulous with a cup of unsweetened tea in  my book. The different texture is the result of several factors: i) I used more pistachio paste than PB because I wanted to finish the jar, ii) the pistachio paste was not as dense as the PB, iii) the pistachio cookies baked as long as the others but they were a bit bigger in size.
To make the two different batches, I followed Monet's basic instructions but divided the egg mixture into two bowls. Then I added the different nut pastes into each and split the dry mixture between the two. It makes for a little extra work and more bowls to wash but this way you won't end up with a huge amount of cookies if you are making both. If making just one kind, use a whole cup of the nut butter of choice and use just one bowl for dry ingredients and one for wet ingredients.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

All-natural homemade pistachio pudding

Remember the pistachio ice cream of our childhood? It came in big tubs and had a light, almost flourescent green hue. It was very sweet and tasted more like almonds than pistachios, although it didn't taste much like almonds either if we are really being honest.
Pistachio ice cream, or pistachio gelato, is a different world nowadays because Italians take their pistachios very seriously. It is a darker, more natural shade of green, almost a sage green.The not-too-sweet, a-touch-salty incredibly creamy custard is usually interspersed with chopped pistachios that add texture and flavor. It is often made with pistacchi di Bronte, the best the country has to offer although in some gelaterie you can choose between Sicilian, Californian and Iranian pistachios.  I wasn't kidding.

I recently received two large packs of pistachios as a gift: my sister-in-law had been to Bronte and my father-in-law brought back some amazing Iranian pistachios from the Middle East. Everytime I open my cupboard and see them lying there I feel a pang of guilt, because I still haven't used them.
So finally, a couple of weeks ago, I made some pistachio paste. It is actually just the pistachio butter from the linked recipe with a little added sugar (no butter), so follow the indications for making the butter.
And then it just sat there.
I will be honest: I am scared of both the pistachios and the paste. I am trying to loose some weight and pistachios are just one of those things I don't want to be around. I know they are nutritious and full of healthy fat and that I could have them in my breakfast granola or yogurt or as a snack. But you know how it is... you start with one and before you know it you have had about fifty.
As a result making gelato, my first instinct, is out of the question, because there is NO.WAY I can resist that.
And then yesterday, on a whim, I finally settled for pudding. I though it would be a good solution for the kids and not as much a temptation for me. Little did I know...
So pudding it was. I started surfing the web for a recipe and was astonished at the quantity of dessert recipes I found that used packaged pistachio pudding base. It seems that,  unlike the ice cream of the '70's, green pistachio pudding full of food coloring and goodness knows what else, is still very popular, at least abroad. Who knew?
Then I finally came across a recipe on Joy the Baker that actually used homemade pistachio paste.
I'm thinking next time I can avoid the butter, because really, there are enough healthy oils in the nuts.
I unfortunately could only have a spoonful from each child (you know, just for equality's sake) and was really blown away by the outcome. It  was silky and smooth, not too sweet and full of flavor. 

Milk, eggs, sugar, pistachios and a thickening agent... that is all you will need. This is pudding the way your grandma would have made it... the flavor is incredible, the color is natural (if you want it even greener, just get rid of the peels) and it took only 15 minutes (although I did make the pistachio paste beforehand)!
Pistachios are pretty easy to find anywhere, and any upscale store sells pistachio paste or butter if you are too lazy to make it, so you have no excuse! Throw away that package of pistachio pudding mix and try this.