Saturday, July 23, 2022

When in Rome!

Is there a better place than the Eternal City? Everyone should go at least once in their life. It is truly breathtaking and dripping with history. We checked into the Hotel Hiberia located in a palace in the historical center of Rome. The lovely gentleman at the front desk said, "I have given you a room with amazing views!" I thanked him and when we entered our room I was shocked to say the least! Not only did it have views of almost all of Rome's landmarks, it was a corner room with two windows, and the view from the bathroom was just as stunning! My daughter and I now joke that it will always be the best bathroom in the world! Haha!

After a long day of walking and enjoying la dolce vita, we were starving! I knew exactly what I wanted, one of Rome's four classic pastas, "Cacio e Pepe!" Cacio is a local Italian word meaning cheese from the Latin word caseus. So it's basically pasta with Pecorino Romano, black pepper and mixed with pasta water to emulsify into a mesmerizing sauce of simplicity. However, don't let the minimal ingredients fool you into thinking it's easy! It's all about technique and practice!

We ate at L'Hostaria Boschetto in the Monti District. With it's charming stone arches and everything porcini, I highly recommend visiting! I ordered the Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe to see what all the fuss was. Verdict? Delicious! In fact, the couple next to us asked what I ordered and they nodded in satisfaction saying, "It is the best!"

Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe from L'Hostaria Boschetto.

I've been testing every recipe out there to achieve the best version for the home cook. I tried one where you toast the pepper then simmer in pasta water, but found it unnecessary. One fidgety one that alternated heat from simmer to off, then on again, etc. only to have the cheese separate into a total disaster! Also, any recipe that calls for olive oil, cream, or anything else would have the Romans throw you in the Tiber River! Romans have an intense loyalty to their culinary traditions! In fact, one of Stanley Tucci's Searching for Italy shows featured a restaurant that used half Romano and half Parmesan in their Cacio e Pepe. Gasp! Turns out the Roman's refuse to eat there and it's just for tourists basically now.

After all my testing, I have decided that Katie Parla's "Cacio e Pepe Leonardo Vignoli," from her book Tasting Rome, is the best and easiest to achieve the desired result. While the pasta cooks, you add a ladle full of starchy pasta water to the grated cheese in a large bowl with the pepper and mix. When the pasta is cooked, transfer to the bowl, stirring constantly, adding leftover pasta water as necessary to achieve a smooth sauce. Remember the pasta will continue to absorb water so it's better to be a little more on the "wet" side. The classic pasta for Cacio e Pepe is tonnarelli, which I picked up while there. If tonnarelli is not available, buying a high quality spaghetti (not Barilla or Cervasi) is very acceptable. The strands should look a little scruffed up by the bronze dies to help the sauce adhere. Good luck!

*If you want to practice making a single serving use 3 oz pasta, 2 oz Pecorino, and 1/4 tsp black pepper!*

Simplest ingredients!

Cacio e Pepe di Leonardo Vignoli

Turned out great! Finally!

Serves 4-6 

Ingredients:

1 pound high quality tonnarelli or spaghetti
2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano (I recommend purchasing Locatelli Grated Pecorino Romano. I am usually a stickler for freshly grated, but it's a very hard cheese!)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

*Do Not Add Salt except for the pasta water. Pecorino is Very Salty!*

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Salt the water. When the salt has dissolved, add the pasta and cook until al dente.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of the Pecorino Romano, the pepper, and a small ladle of pasta cooking water. Using the back of a large wooden spoon, mix vigorously and quickly to form a paste. (Personally, I have found that adding a regular size ladle of water or two and whisking to a cream soup consistency works just as well.)

When the pasta is cooked, use a large strainer to remove it from the cooking water and quickly add it to the sauce in the bowl, keeping the cooking water boiling on the stove. Toss vigorously, adjusting with additional hot water a tablespoon or two at a time as necessary to melt the cheese and to obtain a juicy sauce that completely coats the pasta.

Plate and sprinkle each portion with some of the remaining Pecorino Romano and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Recipe from Tasting Rome, by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill.

*I like Chianti with this recipe.*

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Wine Doors and Pizza Napoli 1955

I am recovering from Achilles tendonitis after visiting my beloved daughter in the Renaissance city, Florence. What a beautiful city that escapes the modern aesthetic, choosing to live in it's past of medieval and Renaissance history and breathtaking art. I last visited Florence 24 years ago, and I can say nothing has changed! As Emiko Davies says in her lovely cookbook Florentine, " In every nook and cranny, history seeps out onto the well-trodden stone streets and into the every day."

The first time I visited, I was just out of college, newly married, and surprise pregnant with my first daughter. Although it was very early, I was not able to enjoy the wine culture of Florence. Total bummer. Although, this time I was ready for a party and my 19 year old daughter was able to celebrate with me! Perhaps the best time I have ever had! 

I have to admit the weather was a little chilly and rainy the entire trip, with the exception of Rome (which I will post about soon). With umbrella up, I was surprised to stumble upon the most lovely wine door! Completely by accident! These small stone arch doors, which are supposed to mimic the noble Renaissance palazzos to which they are attached, sold wine to passerby's to help struggling aristocratic families sell wine from their vineyards. Brillante!

I happened to stumble onto the wine door on my way to Pizza Napoli 1955, located Via Dei Neri 73/R, 50122, Firenze, Italia. Tired, wet, and hungry, I was met with a chair to rest, glass of wine, and the BEST pizza I have ever had! The best part is that when my pizza de bufala arrived in all it's pillowy glory, it was heart shaped! So delicious! I highly recommend checking it out if you are ever able! Anyway, when I got home I searched how to shape a heart pizza! I still use my go to My Basic Pizza Dough and this video! Mine didn't turn out as good as Pizza Napoli, but they've got 67 years experience! Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K0H0-hb9RY

(This is Pizza de Rossa, my daughter's favorite!)

Friday, April 15, 2022

Rabbits, Eggs, and Simnel Cake

In ancient times, Easter was celebrated in honor of the spring or vernal equinox, symbolizing the end of winter (death) and the rebirth of life, as well as the importance of fertility. The word Easter is believed to have originated from the Anglo-Saxon goddess of dawn, Eostre, from whom "east" (where the sun rises), "Easter," and even the female hormone "estrogen" got its name. Eostre's feast day was held on the first full moon following the vernal equinox. Eostre's two symbols were the hare (one with a particularly high libido) and the egg, which symbolizes the possibility of new life.

In European folklore, when wild hares abandoned their nests, they were sometimes taken over by plovers, who would lay their eggs in them. The locals would then find the eggs in the bunny nests. Further, in the 16th century, we see the appearance of the "Easter Bunny" in German writings. The legend said that if good children built a nest out of their caps or bonnets, they would be rewarded with colored eggs. The legend was then brought to America in the 18th century, by German immigrants.

And finally, I must mention the "Simnel Cake," eaten during Easter in the UK, Ireland, and other European countries. Simnel cake is a type of fruit cake, made with a layer of marzipan or almond paste baked in the middle of the cake, and topped off with a ring of eleven marzipan balls, said to represent the true disciples of Jesus (Judas is omitted), and sometimes a ball in the middle to represent Christ. I don't care for simnel cake, but I do have a sublime recipe for "Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries." This recipe from Shelley Wiseman is a light buttermilk cake, filled with a layer of mascarpone cream, and topped off with very sophisticated Sherry-spiked berries. I love this cake so much, it may be my absolute favorite! It makes the perfect ending to any Easter celebration!


Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries

Serves 8-12, (cake and cream can be made a day ahead, store cake covered at room temperature)

Ingredients:

For the cake
2 cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising), like Swans Down
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk

For the berries
1/2 cup Fino (dry) Sherry
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups mixed berries, cut if large

For the cream
8 ounces mascarpone (1 cup)
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar

Directions:

For the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with oven rack in the middle. Butter a 9" round cake pan (2 inches deep). Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, then butter the parchment.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Beat together the butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. With mixer at low speed, beat in the buttermilk until just combined. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, mixing after each addition until just combined.

Spread batter in cake pan, smoothing top. Rap the pan on the counter several times.

Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of cake to loosen, then invert onto a plate. Discard the paper and reinvert cake onto rack to cool completely.

Macerate the berries
Bring Sherry and sugar to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put berries in a bowl and pour hot syrup over them. gently tossing to coat. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.

Make cream and assemble cake
Beat mascarpone, cream, and sugar in a large bowl using cleaned beaters until mixture just holds stiff peaks.

Halve cake horizontally with a long serrated knife. Carefully remove top half and reserve. Put bottom half on a plate, then spread evenly with all of the cream and replace top half. Serve with berries. It's Fantastic!