An EDD-ters Tour of Italy – Rome

Buon giorno! Or should I say, buon appetito!

I’ve just returned from a magnificent trip to Italy where its sights, smells and tastes continue to imprint themselves on my culinary consciousness every day. And although I’ve only just scraped the surface of what Italy offers in terms of its proud but also surprisingly simple cuisine, one thing is for certain – ingredients are tantamount to the Italian experience. Whether they are foraged at their peak like the porcini’s or favolosi’s that were in season or roasted until caramel-ly sweet like the chestnuts I ate hot off the street, every ingredient, every cook used in every pizzeria, caffeteria, rosticceria, or osteria was prepared with love and respect.

Food across the board in Italy was fresher, more flavorful, and for lack of a better word, more “real.” The higher quality ingredients Italians use are not only apparent in how beautifully red-ripe the San Marzano’s look; you can bet that tomato is going to have the fragrant grassy sweet flavor and aroma that makes a tomato a tomato. Remember what that used to be like?

Of course this isn’t news for a lot of you, but I can’t stress enough the startling differences I tasted in such simple foods as tomato foccacia, arugula salad, or pork sausage as during my travels in Italy. Flavors popped and delighted and lingered. And it was wonderful.

Rome

Pizzerias of all kinds were everywhere in Rome. Whether the pizzas are oval, circular, or square, they were deliciously adorned with all manner of fresh toppings and glistening green extra virgin olive oil. They glittered like jewels behind those glass cases, except these ones you can eat! My favorite – sliced porcini with cherry tomatoes – was one I ate on the go from this little place near the Trevi Fountain.

This was the first hot food I ate when I touched down in Rome, and I craved the combination, especially the juicy meaty porcini’s, throughout the entire trip!

Babbo’s

As we were challenged with only a few days in Rome and had not strictly established where to have dinner every night, there were bound to be some misses in the bunch. We decided to wander around our hotel neighborhood after a very full day that included the Colosseum, St. Peter in Chains, The Roman Forum and A LOT more walking all over Rome. We settled on a bustling place called Babbo’s.

The most memorable parts of my dinner at Babbo’s were the long colorful dreadlocks on the zia taking our order and two Chinese tourists – the pair strangely Abbott and Costello-ish – wolfing down their pasta like some niu rou mien back home. The skinny one ate twice as fast as the chubby one and would spend the rest of the time watching the other eat (was that disgust I saw in his eyes)? Hilarious.

The food was uninspired, but I appreciated the freshness of the ingredients and the place was energetic and bustling, making for some fun people watching. The complimentary Vin Santo and cantuccini after dinner was appreciated as well. 🙂

Ristorante Pizzeria “Andrea”

Finally, a revelation.

Frustrated with not being able to fully capture Rome on our palettes and leaving for Tuscany later in the day, the Fates intervened and we stumbled upon this neighborhood trattoria and al forno pizzeria. I saw fresh made pasta in the window, and a warm soul of a woman (Andrea) chatting with some locals sprinkled about, and took one last chance.

Feast your eyes on some of the dishes that filled our souls.

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One of these I actually end up eating again on our last day in Italy. Can you guess which?

Yep, it was the fresh homemade fettucini della casa d’Andrea. The pasta is tossed in Andrea’s own mushroom and truffle cream sauce – each noodle luxuriously but not overzealously coated with an emulsion of these wonderfully complementary ingredients.

The traditional Roman bucatini amatriciana was fully dressed in a robust zesty tomato sauce – each hollow noodle bursting with sauce as one chewed the smokey bits of pancetta. The trippa a la romana – another traditional Roman dish – was also sensational. If you like honeycomb tripe, this dish is so rich, rustic and homey. Plate me up some trippa a la romana and a big hunk of shatteringly crusty bread, and watch as it seems I’m sinking into an invisible hot tub.

The proscuitto di parma in the salumi misti was so delectably sweet and so incredibly fresh, I pretty much hogged the entire portion for myself (sorry Jordan!). The little anchovy stuffed peperoncino was a spicy surprise along with each piece of cured meat as well. I should mention Andrea came by whilst we were enjoying ourselves to say hello and also pick some fresh peperoncino from the planter hanging above our heads.

I was tempted to stalk her as she returned to the kitchen, then beg her to teach me everything she knew. At least the fettucini, please Andrea!? But I chickened out. I figured there was no way I wasn’t coming back here before we left Italy, so I would have another chance. Mwahaha.

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Now, with our bellies full and crooked grins across each of our faces, we were ready to leave Rome and set off in our mini-Mercedes rental car on the A1 out to Tuscany.

Next up: Siena, cooking at the Castello di Tornano, and Florence!

New Food Pix! Dim Sum Yum

New gallery of luscious dim sum from Shui Wah in Chinatown Chicago!

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On the menu:
Cha Sui – Chinese BBQ pork
Char Sui Bao – BBQ pork bun
Yeung Qi Dze – Shrimp stuffed eggplant
San Juk Guen – Vegetable stuffed bean curd roll
Fung Tsow – Steamed chicken feet
Gow Gee – Pan-fried pork potstickers
Shao Mai – Pork and shrimp dumpling
Law Bok Gow – Pan-fried turnip cake
Har Gow – Shrimp dumpling

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Shui Wah Chinese Cuisine
2162 S Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 225-8811

Meals from the Pantry: Pork involtini stuffed with spinach and ricotta, sauce “alla cacciatora”

After our boisterous “Tour of Italy” dinner party where we bribed our friends with an authentic Tuscan meal if they sat through a picture slideshow of our Italy trip, I had plenty of pork scallopine left from the Scallopine alla Chianti (pork cutlets in a Chianti reduction with rosemary and juniper), and spinach ricotta filling from the fresh ravioli with butter and sage we cooked.

So on the drive home from work today, I had only one thing on the mind for tonight’s dinner: involtini!

Involtini are like a “roulade” if you’re familar with the term. They are thin slices of meat rolled with a mixture of cheese, egg (to bind), and really any combination of other ingredients you may want. It’s great especially if you’ve got leftover ingredients like I did.

Pork involtini stuffed with spinach and ricotta, sauce “alla cacciatora”

Ingredients
8 thinly pounded pork loin cutlets (1/5″ thick)
1 green pepper, julienned
1 medium to large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons capers (optional)
1 28-ounce can of tomatoes, whole or crushed
1/3 bottle of dry red wine
1 teaspoon crushed chile flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh black pepper
Spinach ricotta filling (see below)

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Spinach Ricotta filling
1 pound fresh spinach, blanched and finely chopped (with water completely squeezed out) – substitute frozen chopped spinach
1 pint or 15 ounces of whole milk ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 cup of finely grated parmigiano-reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl, add spinach, ricotta, egg, parmigiano, and a little salt and pepper. Combine all together well.

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Prep the Pork!
Lay out a piece of pork. Then dollop a couple tablespoons of filling to the middle and spread an even layer on the pork so that it’s easy to roll and filling doesn’t squeeze out. Try to leave a little uncovered pork on the other end. Then take the end nearest you and roll it up. Secure the roll with a toothpick so that it lays flat and doesn’t open up.

Roll up all the involtini and lightly season all around with salt and pepper.

Time to Cook!
Heat saute pan or skillet to medium-high, and add enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the pan. When pan is hot, add the onions and peppers and saute for 2 minutes, then add the garlic. Continue to cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn, until the vegetables soften and begin to caramelize. You should also see some nice brown bits on the bottom of your skillet as well.

Pour the red wine over the vegetables. Enjoy the sizzle! This will loosen the brown bits allowing you to scrape them all up. After deglazing, turn the heat down and simmer the wine and the vegetables until about 1/2 the liquid is cooked off.

When sauce is ready, crush the whole tomatoes into pulpy pieces and add them and the tomato puree into the sauce. I like to gently crush the tomatoes directly in the can (don’t be rough, you’ll be covered in juice!) and pour the whole thing in. Add capers, oregano, and chile flakes. Season with salt and some fresh black pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly. Bring sauce back up to a simmer.

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Heat another skillet on medium-high heat and add enough extra virgin olive oil to generously coat it. When it’s hot, add the involtini and lightly brown them on all sides. You don’t want to cook the involtini through, just put a nice color on each one. Each should take only a couple minutes.

When they are ready, nestle each one in the pan with the sauce. Try to cover them with some veggies and sauce. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until sauce has thickened a bit and pork is cooked.

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Serve involtini with the yummy veggies and sauce on top. Don’t skimp! Generously sprinkle grated parmiggiano on top if desired.

Chow down!

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10 2010

Like Pumpkin or Pistachio? Try Labriola’s gelato!

2 words: Labriola Bakery. It’s out in the western suburbs of Chicago in Oak Brook.

Not only does this bakery and cafe bake their own ridiculously good breads (ciabatta, pretzel rolls, baguettes, oh my!), and offer excellent brick oven pizzas and burgers, they also have authentic gelato.

Feast your eyes on their seasonal flavor: pumpkin!

Unlike other places that offer a pumpkin-flavored creamy frozen dessert that’s bright orange and pretty much tastes like vanilla, Labriola’s pumpkin gelato tastes like cinnamon-spiked pumpkin pie mousse. The luscious pumpkin flavor lingers on your tongue while the strong cinnamon effervescences up the back of your throat!

They’ve got a modest but good flavor selection including Hazelnut, Belgium Sugar Cookie, Chocolate, Stracciatella, Tiramisa, Tartufo (with rum), and Pistachio (of which I picked up a heavy pint).

Yum. 🙂