A Travellerspoint blog

Making meatballs!

A great cooking class, so much delicious food

Yesterday, I took one another cooking class - one of my birthday presents. We made so much DELICIOUS food, and it was definitely a menu I will be making again. On the menu:

- Pumpkin Lasagna
- Pasta e Fagioli (bean and noodle soup)
- Marinara Sauce
- Meatballs
- Gluten-Free Bitter Chocolate Tart

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The kitchen was buzzing, because several things were going on at once. I will try to separate the different recipes, but to set the scene, there were 13 of us working in a rather small kitchen on all sorts of different things. The pumpkin lasagna had several different parts, starting with the pumpkin layer. Huge chunks of orange squash were grated and put in a large pot with some salt. Its very watery, so it needs about half an hour to cook. ANybody who has tried to make pumpkin pie from scratch knows that you need extreme patience while it boils down.

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On another burner, we started a bechamel sauce, or a traditional French cream sauce. It begins with equal parts flour and butter - a rue - cooked to golden over medium-low heat. The cream sauce is seasoned with salt and white pepper, and some nutmeg. The lasagna was layered with pasta, pumpkin, bechamel, and parmesan cheese - its important that the pasta, if you are purchasing it, is a good quality and is very thin. We didn't cook it, but the liquid from the two types of sauces cooks the pasta in the oven and makes the noodles flavorful.

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We baked it until it was bubbly and the noodles were cooked through - about 25 minutes. It was like a big plate of fall, a flavor I have missed since I've been in Italy.

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The Pasta e Fagioli we made was in the traditional Tuscan way, but this soup is made in different styles all over Italy. The basics are cannelloni beans and some sort of pasta. I have had it when its a good chicken stock with the beans and pasta cooked in it, but the Tuscan style is a blended soup. We started with the white beans and their cooking liquid. It takes time to make this with dried beans, but it turns out way better than when you use canned beans. They are just too smushy and their starch content is all off... Anyway, the pot of beans and cooking liquid is then blended with canned whole tomatoes - for some flavor, but largely for the nice pink color that it creates. We cooked short pasta in this soupy mix, but to be honest, I don't even need the pasta in this style, its just so darn scrumptious as is!

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In Italy, one of the basic cooking methods is infusing olive oil, and this case was no different. We put a bunch of olive oil in the bottom of a pan with several whole garlic cloves and several twigs of rosemary over low heat (its important that you don't turn the heat too high because the garlic will burn and turn bitter. Nobody likes bitter garlic sauce). Once the tomatoes and beans have been pureed with a stick blender, we mixed in the flavorful oil. It is served with parmesan cheese and new olive oil over the top. Today is grey, and I have to say that I don't mind it. Such a good meal for a cold night... not that Italy is cold.

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The tomato sauce was simple. I have become a fan of how Michelle makes her sauce, which also includes hot pepper flakes in this oil, so it become a bit spicier - perfecto! When you can smell the garlic, you dump a bunch of canned whole tomatoes into a pan, with the tomatoes chopped roughly. Then it just cooks until its thickened up. Then, you salt it and maybe add pepper if it needs it. Over winter break, my plan is to make a bunch of this delicious sauce and can it in glass ball jars. If you want some, just let me know!

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The tomato sauce is not the star of the dinner, but its a crucial player to the meatballs. As some of you may know, meatballs have become the bane of my existence in the kitchen. My otherwise extraordinarily happy and patient boyfriend has this tick when he eats a meatball that he doesn't approve of... he sucks his teeth. He tries not to, but I can tell immediately the difference between a sub-par meatball and a perfect one (and on the other end, the ones his grandmother makes). I made ONE good meatball, ONE time, and since then they have been varying degrees of not that good, and I was determined to figure out their mystery. We started with ground beef, and added parmesan cheese and parsely, chopped bits of mortadella (next time I will swap it for bacon), bread that had been soaked in hot milk and then squeezed dry, eggs, salt and pepper. Then we mixed!

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We rolled them into little balls, a bit bigger than golf balls, and rolled the balls in flour (next time, I will season this too).

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We fried the meatballs in oil, until they were a dark golden brown all over.

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Then, we put them in a baking pan, and poured our homemade sauce over the top, and baked the meatballs until the sauce bubbled. The texture was right, but I think the flavor could use just a little work... I think I would add some lemon zest, or something spicy, or basil...I DON'T KNOW! I still haven't figured out the meatball just yet, but I am one step closer!

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For dessert, we had one of the best chocolate cakes of my entire life - and its totally safe for celiac! Its made from sugar and butter and melted good quality chocolate and eggs - WONDERFUL! First, the eggs were separated and the yolks and the butter were beat in with the melted dark chocolate, and the sugar was beat with the egg whites until they were fluffy. The two bowls were folded together, and half of the batter was baked to a delicious chocolate tart, and the second half was spread on top after it was done baking as a mousse frosting. If you are squeamish about eating uncooked eggs, you could easily bake the entire batter, and cover it with a dark chocolate ganache - just as gluten-free, and equally delicious!

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Posted by Traveling Spoon 01:21 Comments (0)

Happiness

On my plate, in my life

I love living in my host family - we laugh a lot, and we eat like kings. I just wanted to give a recap of some of what I have been treated to recently. Firstly, new linens, possibly the cutest in the world:

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So soft and cuddly! Its a wonderful comforter. We have also had a ton of new dishes. I love that Michelle makes new foods every night - totally my style. One night we had penne arrabiata, a spicy tomato sauce, as a primo, covered in freshly grated ricotta salata. For the next course we had spiced ground lamb wrapped in phyllo dough, baked polenta, green salad and tomato salad. We rounded out the meal with a cheese with truffles in it... exquisite...

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Another night, we started with pasta in brodo, or little star pasta in chicken broth. We had cotechino, a traditional Italian sausage served at Christmas time. Its kind of like kielbasa, but a bit fattier and its just perfect with tons of mustard! We had it with salad and baked potatoes, both covered with new oil (still amazing) and salt and pepper.

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A few days later, dinner started with asparagus risotto, covered in parmesan cheese. We then had pork roulades, rolled around fontina cheese and a piece of prosciutto, served with roasted mushrooms and artichokes in a port wine sauce. We had roasted fennel with cheese, a sort of gratin Michelle is fond of, and bread. Of course, we had a delicious wine with the meal. For dessert we had homemade apple cake with fresh whipped cream and apple butter. I miss New England the most when I think of the apple and pumpkin flavored things that I'm sure are all out over there, but this was a nice reminder of home.

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Another night we started with potato and leek soup, with new oil and croutons and parmesan cheese. We had homemade poached salmon and homemade mayonaise. We had more roasted fennel - I can't get enough of it - and a delicious kind of Sicilian coleslaw with anchovy sauce.

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Just last night, we had yet another scrumptious meal! Pappa e Pomodoro, a type of bread and tomato soup to start us off, and shepherds pie and bruschetta!

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Even my teachers help us out with goodies. On Thanksgiving, one of my American professors who I had two classes with first took us to the Fransiscan order at San Marco - totally beautiful, before the cafe across the square for some pasteries!

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Posted by Traveling Spoon 05:12 Comments (0)

Cooking Class in Italian

I need more work on my pasta-making skills

I took a cooking class in Italian with a group of advanced Italian speakers. On the menu:

- Homemade tagliatelle
- Homemade tomato sauce
- Spinach and onion frittata

We started with the pasta, by mixing an egg into pasta flour (its a little less ground than all-purpose), and kneading the dough as we incorporated more flour.

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Then, we rolled it out thin:

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Once it was thin enough, we folded it in three, and cut strips:

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We dropped it in a pot of boiling water, and let it cook for 5 minutes before we drained it, and tossed it with the sauce!

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During the process of making the pasta, we made our tomato sauce. We cut fresh tomatoes into large chunks, and tossed them into a pot with garlic that had been warming in olive oil, and fresh basil.

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The end result? Delicious!

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We also made a frittata, with a mountain of onions and a few zucchini. We sliced both thin, and tossed them in a pan with garlic and oil, and cooked them until they were soft:

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We poured scrambled eggs mixed with parmesan cheese and cracked white pepper over the top, and let the bottom brown until there is a nice crust (it makes it easier to flip!)

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Yummy! I can't wait to cook it with friends at home! I'm hoping I can figure out a way to make gluten-free pasta for RNB - it shouldn't be too hard, just a matter of practice.

Posted by Traveling Spoon 04:40 Comments (0)

Walnut Cake, Blueberry Steak

Turning 20 in Italy

It was my birthday on Thursday, and this weekend was an absolutely lovely way to usher in a new decade!

Wait, let me not get ahead of myself... first things first. Michele is an amazing cook. I've said it before, and I will say it again. Every night at dinner is a new and wonderful treat, traditional to tuscany or traditional to Italy. Last Tuesday we had Pasta alla Casa, one of her inventions with tuna and tomatoes and basil tossed with spaghetti for the primo, mountains of steamed asparagus doused in new olive oil and sprinkled with cracked pepper, and chicken provencal with tomatoes and olives and paprika for the secondo

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Wednesday night, a preface to my birthday, we had penne tossed with ricotta and zucchini and peccorino for the first course, and yummy meatballs with different sauces for the second:

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I can't wait to bring this tradition back with me - there is something unbelievably comforting about knowing that there is a hot meal waiting for me at the end of the day that I find a great deal of peace in. I am so excited to make all sorts of delicious pasta and delicious roasted vegetables, and of course I am so excited to eat it all with a few glasses of Chianti.

My birthday dinner was lovely, it was really for me and Chelsea (whose birthday is today) and everyone chipped in to help. In attendance were Michele, Vieri, me, Chelsea, Kristen (a friend of Chelsea's from home), Michi and a friend of hers from her language program. Michi, my Japanese host sister, made beautiful origami napkin roses.

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Dinner started off with a saffron and sausage penne with fresh sage and rosemary. It had a similar flavor combination as the risotto I made a few weeks ago in cooking class. I loved it! The sage and rosemary really complimented the sausage, and I had never had any type of pasta like it.

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For the next course, we were in for a total treat. Michele started making eggplant parmesan before I woke up, stewing the tomatoes for the sauce and salting the eggplant to get all the extra water out of it. It was SO worth the time, it was delicious! We also had buttered peas with parsley and roasted pork and roasted beef. We started the night with Prosecco, and moved to red wine for the main meal.

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The cake was wonderful - I am getting the recipe from Michele. It was a walnut cake, and it was deliciously moist and rich even though she swears that there is no butter in it. She served it piled high with lightly sweetened fresh whipped cream. Chelsea and I blew out the candles (the first time staggered, the second time in tandem) and cut the cake together as well. We had a wine called Fragolino, which tastes like fragole (or strawberries).

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Michi and Michele and Vieri had also gotten Chelsea and I wonderful gifts. Michi gave us a calendar for 2012 - perfect, because my fat cats calendar ends in December - with recipes for 12 traditionally Tuscan first course, including Ribollita and other favorite soups. Michele and Vieri got us each a beautiful Swarofski crystal necklace, with a heart-shaped pendant. It was a lovely dinner party, but the night was not over...

Chelsea, Kristin and I met up with another friend, Sara, for drinks. We ended up playing kings with a drink I had never had before called a Japanese Iced Tea - yes, it looks like the toxic waste from the Simpsons, but it tasted delicious (and was really strong). We didn't even realize that a friend had come along from home!

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Friday, Alicia came into Florence. Naturally, we ate the best of the best all the time. We started off with a cappucino, and ended up at I Raddi for lunch - where both my mother and father have been - with some delicious wine and pasta.

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We walked around, and caught up on each other's lives, before we went to an Enoteca, or wine bar, for an early evening toast:

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For dinner, we went to Acqua al 2 - a place known for its blueberry steak. Alicia started off with a spinach pasta, while I tried their salad sampler which came with Greek salad, Caprese (tomatoes and fresh mozzarella tossed in pesto) and a balsamic chicken salad (sorry the photo is so blurry, they had the lights down low). And then we tried the blueberry steak - AMAZING!

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The next day, I forgot my camera, but there were 2 new culinary discoveries to mention. First, I finally went to I Due Fratellini, a wonderful hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop with delicious creations. Check out their menu (try not to drool on your laptop) http://iduefratellini.com/immagini/EnglishMenu.pdf. We also went back to my favorite restaurant - Trattoria da Ginone - for dinner. I tried their ossobucco, and I was in heaven. It was flavorful and tender and I wish I could order it again - alas, seasonal menus are delicious but fleeting. It was a great weekend with a great friend! All in all, I couldn't have asked for a more relaxed way to usher in my 20s, even if I did miss everyone from across the pond.

Posted by Traveling Spoon 09:05 Comments (0)

Roma

The Vatican, the Colloseum, the Roman Forum and the Parthenon

Rome! Its super beautiful. First we went to the Vatican museum to see some of the most famous pieces of art in existence:

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Yep, that's the Sistine Chapel (shhhhh! I'm not supposed to have these photos!).

We also saw St. Peter's Basilica - this thing is HUGE and GORGEOUS. As a point of reference, il Duomo - the Florentine monolithe - could fit INSIDE St. Peter's. DSCN2351.jpgDSCN2352.jpgDSCN2357.jpgDSCN2360.jpgDSCN2361.jpgDSCN2362.jpgDSCN2363.jpgDSCN2365.jpg DSCN2349.jpgDSCN2350.jpg

Later, we saw the Fontana di Trevi - we made a wish at 11:11 at 11/11/11. A SUPER WISH.

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We also walked up and down the 175 Spanish Steps:

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For dinner I had some phenomenal pasta carbonara - YUM!

The next day, we saw the Colloseum:

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All roads lead to Rome... unless you are already in Rome, and then the roads lead... um...

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We saw the Roman Forum:
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And the Parthenon:

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And for lunch, I tasted another Roman classic - bucatini all'amatriciana. Its a long, thick spaghetti-like tube with a tomato sauce that has rendered bacon bits in it... tasty tasty! I also tried some ricotta and pesto pizza (delish, from a place called zazá pizza).

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AND THE BEST COFFEE OF MY ENTIRE LIFE. Caffe con panna - coffee with cream - is a true Roman delicacy. A strong, balanced espresso with a giant mountain of cool, lightly sweetened, home-made whipped cream... I got it from the best place in Italy (and therefore I would argue the best place in the world) Caffe San Eustaricho. A great end to the trip to a WONDERFUL city!

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Posted by Traveling Spoon 07:09 Comments (0)

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