Tag Archives: Italian food

Orecchiette with zucchini and parsley

Every easy pasta recipe I know, for future reference (part 1)

This post is inspired by my experience last Friday of going from, “I’m going out for dinner with friends” to “Ok, change of plans: I’m hosting dinner with friends” to “What the heck, I’ll invite more friends” to “Hang on a second, what am I even going to cook for these people??!” over the space of a few hours.

I mean, pasta, obviously, that’s pretty much the full extent of my cooking skills, but it’s amazing how my mind blanks when it comes to the question of what to put on said pasta.

So here, for future reference, are some dishes I know I can cook at short notice that are still nice enough to serve up to other human beings.

  • Orecchiette with cime di rapa (turnip greens): This is what I made on Friday. It generally requires a trip to the shops since I don’t usually have fresh orecchiette or turnip greens on hand, but it’s dead easy: Get a big pot of salted water on the burner. In a frying pan on very low heat, do a good amount of olive oil with finely chopped garlic and anchovies and some chili paste, leave it to go all soft and flavoursome. Wash and chop the turnip greens, put in the boiling water, give them a few minutes to soften then add the orecchiette. Once cooked, drain, and then toss together the pasta, greens, and the garlicky-anchovy-y oil. Add salt to taste. (Here’s a recipe with actual quantities and cooking times; in Italian but it has lots of pictures.)
  • Pasta with radicchio and olives: I wrote about this before. It’s my winter comfort food. I don’t think it’s “authentically” anything, besides, you know, delicious, but whatever.
  • Puttanesca: Not going to look for a recipe to link, since the whole spirit of this is to throw together whatever tasty things are lurking in your fridge/cupboard: tomatoes, olives, capers, anchovies, chili.
  • Carbonara: I keep those supermarket tubs of pancetta bits in the freezer along with a bag of pre-grated parmesan/similar cheese for carbonara emergency dinners. PRO TIP FOR LIVING IN ITALY: if you’re in conversation with a group of people from Rome and there’s a lull, try asking them how many whole eggs vs egg yolks you need to make carbonara for four people. Assuming you have an hour free for the ensuing discussions, that is.
  • Zucchini “carbonara”: I learned this from a friend in Florence who cooked it for an easy Sunday lunch once. (Ugh, I know, that sounds like something you’d read in a tedious food memoir, but it really happened.) Thin slices of zucchini, cook in olive oil until soft. Meanwhile, cook your pasta. Toss everything together along with eggs and cheese like you would a carbonara, add fresh parsley and black pepper. (Here is a fancier recipe for basically the same thing; in English.)
  • Potato pasta: This isn’t as quick as the others, but I’m reasonably likely to have all the ingredients on hand and it involves double carbs, which endears it to me forever. I do something in between this recipe (in English) and this recipe (in Italian) except I’m lazy about washing up so I do it as a one-pot dish: cook the potatoes until they’re just at the point where you can stick a fork through them, then add the pasta and a bit of hot water/stock to the same pot, stir occasionally and/or add more water as needed until the pasta’s cooked. (It will take longer than the cooking time given on the pasta packet.)

What’s your favourite easy recipe?

 

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Apparently I do nothing with my free time but eat. I see nothing wrong with that.

My clothing choices the past couple of days have been determined entirely by “what options do I have that involve elastic waistbands”. Probably because since Thursday, I’ve done nothing but eat…

  • Thanksgiving. In this case, a Friendsgiving, or more accurately, a Bring-A-Friendsgiving, which ended up being 30 people. I have no idea how anyone puts on dinner for 30 people. I say this even after being a last-minute rope-in kitchen hand and seeing the process in person. In fact, I think I have even less of an idea now than I did before. As far as I can tell, it involves some awe-inspiring advance preparation, a great deal of teamwork on the night, and probably some miracles. (And, let’s face it, a good bit of running around like a headless chook.)
    20151126_215216 (640x467)

    So. Much. Apple pie.

    Somehow in between all the running around, I managed to eat a vast quantity of turkey and stuffing and green bean casserole (green bean casserole 4EVA) and sweet potato casserole and apple pie and pumpkin pie. And then took leftovers home for Friday. Yessssss.

  • Bicerin for Saturday lunch. Bicerin is a traditional Torinese hot drink that borders on a dessert: a layer of espresso under a layer of thick drinking chocolate under a layer of cream. Traditionally, you don’t stir these layers together and the drink evolves as you go along, going from the milky top layer to the slightly sweet chocolate layer to the final kick of the espresso. It’s rich and warming and perfect for late November, but there’s probably a reason most people wouldn’t consider it to be a lunch in itself. I REGRET NOTHING.
  • Bagna Cauda. The Piedmontese dish you either love or you hate — the divisiveness coming from the fact that it’s a sauce made of garlic and anchovies, served with raw vegetables. I’m on team “love it”. 

    It’s a very traditional dish, so much so that the regional government of Piedmont has an info sheet about it (in Italian). The vegetable choices are also dictated by tradition, and it turns out that if you’re in a vegetable market holding a bag of celery and a bag of cardi and you’re buying a bag of jerusalem artichokes, the stallholder will chuckle and say, “I see you’re making bagna cauda.”

    In case you’re thinking Garlic and raw vegetables sounds healthy, I will also point out that we had five different desserts, which is my favourite side-effect of going to a group dinner with people who all feel they ought to bring something to share.

    (This weekend I learned the English for cardi is “cardoons”, but I refuse to believe that’s a real word and will continue borrowing the Italian. I know I have rolled my eyes in the past at people who insist on borrowing words when English ones exist, but come on. “Cardoon”?)

Dinner flash mob in Turin

3 things I’ve learned in Italy

Before I moved to Italy, I imagined that after a couple of years, I’d be fluent in the language (ha!), I’d have learned to cook lots of amazing dishes (I had takeaway pizza for tea tonight), I’d understand Italian politics (ehhhh… maybe it’s beyond understanding?) and I’d be riding around on a Vespa (obviously I’d never seen traffic here).

But I’m not completely wasting my time, and here are three things I’ve learned:

1. How to appreciate traditional food.

Not always, I admit. My pizza this evening was from the place downstairs from me that is run by a Chinese family and sells pizza and Chinese food. (An obvious combination, right?) Definitely not generations of a family from Naples, each son learning from his father how to prove the dough and mix the tomato paste.

But I think it’s fair to say that in Italy, “This is just how my grandmother made it!” is high praise for food. I’m only exaggerating a bit when I say that food from the next town over is crazy foreign food that you might eat once a year at a food festival. There are special foods for not just Christmas and Easter but a whole bunch of saints days, as well as the seasons, and the idea of eating something at the wrong time of year is inconceivable.

Traditional doesn't mean "no fun" - this was a dinner-eating flash mob back in summer.

Traditional doesn’t mean “no fun” – this was a dinner-eating flash mob where everyone wore white, that I happend across back in summer.

All of which is quite novel for me. I’ve never quite worked out how to answer, “What dishes are typical to where you grew up?” which in Italy is a perfectly good get-to-know-you question, but in Australia makes no sense. And when I go back to Australia, I love that there are Mexican and Indonesian and Vietnamese and Thai restaurants all within walking distance of my parent’s place. But I’ve become quite taken by the idea of having a well-defined cuisine, that you’ve cooked and eaten so long that you understand it perfectly.

(Note that I’ve learned to like this idea, sadly I’m a long way off from being able to cook…)

2. How to interact with small children.

Confession time: I’m not naturally a children person.

If you’re a friend of mine and you have kids: your children are wonderful and I legitimately like them.

But I have a hard time thinking of anything to say to people about their babies other than, “yup, that sure is a baby.” Toddlers mostly remind me of tiny drunk people. Supposedly if you’re a woman, your hormones are meant to make you want babies. All my hormones have ever made me want is carbohydrates.

Before I moved to Italy, I mostly just ignored children, which is easy enough to do; they’re generally pretty low to the ground. But I got here, and everyone is nuts about kids. People strike up conversations with toddlers in the supermarket. Teenage boys (!) coo at babies on the bus. No-one has a problem with kids being around, even in museums and restaurants.

So I suddenly found myself in this environment where interacting with peoples’ kids is just a thing you do, like greeting shopkeepers or using your umbrella if it’s even a tiny bit rainy. And it turns out it’s a skill you can develop. (Unlike the umbrella usage, which I’ve never got the hang of. Holding an umbrella up takes effort, why bother when it’s just drizzly?)

Also, toddlers really are like tiny drunk people: you can keep them entertained with the stupidest things and you’ll get bored long before they do.

3. How to wait.

I got a good lesson in this one earlier this week. I’d received a bill for garbage collection services, and Tuesday, the day before it was due I went to the post office to pay it. I would have gone earlier, but the week before, I didn’t get around to it, and the Monday was a public holiday.

Turns out, everyone in Torino got the bill at the same time. And it’s payable only at the post office.

So I get to the post office, and I’ve got ticket number 190. They’re currently serving number 103. At a rate of about 1 per minute.

Yes, I really did spend 90 minutes waiting to spend 1 minute paying a bill.

I won’t say I enjoyed the experience, but it certainly taught me patience.

Festival delle Sagre, Asti, Italy

The time I ate donkey meat – festival delle sagre

“Does asino mean what I think it–”

“Sure does.”

“Alrighty then. How many plates shall we get?”

Asino is Italian for donkey, and the context was a food stall selling meat-stuffed pasta. I’d gone with some friends to the Festival delle Sagre — the Festival of Festivals — a weekend food festival in Asti, south of Torino. Imagine an agricultural show/county fair with a ferris wheel, but with almost all the exhibits being food stalls. There must have been at least 50 of them. And not nasty showgrounds food. Each stall featured one or two freshly-made dishes, the local specialties of villages in a region known internationally for its food.

And now add in the fact that every stand has wine, typically included in the price of food. And you can buy an empty glass that comes with a holder so you can wear it around your neck as you walk around. Genius!

WINE HOLDER

WINE HOLDER

As soon as we’d arrived, we realized we were going to need a strategy for all this. We started with a reconnaisance — walking around, sussing out what options there were. Truffle risotto! Polenta with wild boar! The options were dizzying. By the time we were halfway through our recon run, it was getting hard to not buy everything in sight.

Once we had the lay of the land, we decided on our first stop, which was by far the highlight of the savoury options — friciula, a fried bread-y-pastry-y thing, with fatty pancetta. It came recommended to us, and it was a good call. Fat and starch and salt and everything delicious. “It’s funny, everyone back in England seems to think Italian food is healthy,” said S. We looked at what we were eating and laughed.

Hard at work serving wine to wash down the artery-clogging goodness.

Hard at work serving wine to wash down the artery-clogging goodness.

Our second stop was the agnolotti d’asino, the donkey pasta. I have to admit, I’m not really a huge meat eater and while I could tell the pasta was different to others I’ve had, I don’t know how much was the donkey meat and how much was the flavourings they used. It was tasty, but. And a good discussion starter — if horse is ok to eat, why not donkey? Or to go a step back towards Australian thinking — if cow is ok to eat, why not horse…?

While we were walking around, thinking about what to get next, we hit on the optimal food-finding strategy: hang around the central area where the tables were, look at what other people are eating, and if it looked good, ask them where it was from. It was through this, plus a discussion of whether polenta is similar to ugali, that we ended up with polenta and wild boar stew. (The verdict: polenta is not like ugali, but it is good.)

At this point we were extremely full. “No you finish the polenta; no you; no really, I can’t” level of full. We had to make some serious decisions about desserts. I think we got it right: zabaglione (custard but amazing custard made with wine not, like, custard powder custard), and “chocolate salami”, which is possibly the best chocolate slice I’ve ever had (it doesn’t contain salami, if you were wondering). Two very different options, both delicious.

It was a happy sleepy train ride home, full of food and wine. We are so doing this again next year.