Carnival’s Greatest Treat: Frappe & Castagnole

ImageWe may still be a good few days away, but Carnival is already among us!!  And what a great holiday it is!  All around the world, floods of colorful masks and costumes come out into the streets and parade festively until the day of Lent, traditionally a time of fasting and reflection.   In Italy, we have one of the voted best festivals in the world, in the beautiful city of Venice. Milllions of people come together from all over the globe to take part in these celebrations! And since we’re Italian, you don’t really think we would forget about the food factor, would you? During carnival, Italians will eat, at any time of the day, unlimited quantities of what we in Rome call frappe and castagnole.  Across the peninsula you will find they have different names, but regardless of what anybody calls them, there is just nothing like them.  And the best thing is that you can literally find them everywhere!! Continue reading

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Blissful Whole-Wheat Banana Muffins

DSCN8948-3When you start your own website/blog, you have to be prepared to work on A LOT of different aspects of it.  So besides being author, photographer and co-chef of Quattromani, I am now also in charge of SEO (for those of you who don’t know that stands for search engine optimization).  Don’t feel bad, I only found out recently myself! To be honest, when you’re doing something you love, and especially when you see something you created continue to grow, you  really don’t feel like it’s a chore, or something you HAVE to do.  Actually, it kind of works perfectly, ’cause at least now I finally have a valid excuse for being on Facebook all the time!

I spent all of last night working on perfecting our brand new, fabulous facebook fan page, which so many of you so kindly decided to follow (THANK YOU!!), and all the while, I was thinking of the perfect recipe to celebrate the birth of yet another bit of Quattromani.
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The Real Italian Lasagna

DSCN8879-2This might sound funny but, while I still sometimes need to stop and think how long a hard-boiled egg needs to be boiled for, I could literally make lasagna in my sleep.  Sauce, pasta, sauce, cheese, pasta, sauce, cheese, pasta, sauce, cheese…yep, it’s that simple! Sure, you have to actually make the sauce before you can spread it over the pasta and under the cheese, but I promise, anyone can do it! Like most mouth-watering Italian dishes that seem way too incredibly delicious for any normal being to recreate them, well, it is!

I’ve lived in four different cities and three different countries, and in each one of them I was also known as “The Lasagna Queen”. Great nickname, right? Not!  So since this morning I woke up with an overtaking desire to make lasagna, I guess the time has come for me to pass on my super secret lasagna recipe…and my nickname too!

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Pineapple and Pastry Cream Pie

DSCN8856-2The other day my sister was at work.  Just a typical day at the radio station, nothing out of the ordinary.  A couple of songs, some senseless (albeit entertaining) chit-chat, traffic updates, another song…you get the idea.  And then, suddenly, a familiar voice.  And not just any voice [my sister would say]!  The one and only, the grand, pastry God…Luca Montersino.  If you’ve been to any of the Eatalys around the world, you may (should!!) know who I am talking about, and you might understand why we refer to him as the God of all things sweet! But, alas, I do understand that not everyone is as food-crazed as we are, not everyone chooses to just hang at Eataly instead of the mall, and not everyone falls asleep reading cookbooks instead of novels.

We are not as strange as I make us sound, I swear!

In the years spent testing, trying and adapting recipes, my sister will always tell you that when it comes to cakes, Luca Montersino’s techniques are unbeatable.  Plain and simple.  He is the pastry God, after all.  And since we never really had a nonna that made us cakes and brought them over for Sunday lunch, we had to make up for it with our own creations.
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Pan-roasted Salmon with Sicilian Broccoli and Anchovy-Rosemary Sauce

DSCN8802-2With the holidays in the way, and all the “only-on-Christmas” food we’ve been consuming lately, we forgot just how much we love our salmon.  Yes, we have posted on salmon before, but that was almost a month ago, so I’m pretty sure the blog etiquette will allow it!  Today, after our morning workout and gardening session, we thought we would give our freshly-worked muscles an extra boost with a nice little protein filled dish…with veggies on the side, of course!

I’ve already told you how much we love to cook, but what I haven’t told you is that there is something [or someone] that we love even more.  Say hello to Jamie Oliver.  While I was learning to cook [and while my sister was trying to brainwash me into becoming a foodie -at which she succeeded in every way, shape and form-] the one question that was most often heard flying around the house without a shadow of a doubt was, “how did Jamie do it?” And that wasn’t a hard one to answer either, seeing as we own pretty much every cookbook he has published…ever!  Wife and kids aside, the fact that he is young, attractive, British, oh! and literally obsessed with Italian food has inevitably made us love him even more! We’ve seen him cook on his cooking shows, we’ve watched him take over on MasterChef Australia (of course!!) just by entering the room, and we’ve tried cooking an innumerable amount of his recipes.

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Artichoke Risotto

DSCN8784-3My sister and I are obsessed with a show.  A lot of shows, actually, but one in particular.

MasterChef.

And for some reason we don’t really like MasterChef Italia, or MasterChef UK, or even MasterChef US.  But we just can’t get enough of MasterChef Australia!  As far as the food goes, all the contestants from all the countries manage to come up with some incredible looking (and tasting, I’m sure) dishes.  But be it the good looking lads, or the amazing judges that you can’t help but love, MasterChef Australia is one of those shows that we would choose over anything!

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Quick and Easy Coffee Cake

DSCN8687-2-2The first time I had coffee cake I was about seven years old.  Our parents brought us to the States for the first time ever to meet all our American family.  It was Christmas, so [since it only snows in Rome during freak winters…so never] for the first time in our lives we were going to have a real[ly] white Christmas!! So a 9-hour flight later we landed at JFK International Airport in New York and drove up to Montclair, New Jersey to see the first batch of cousins!  A couple days later we left NJ and headed north to Providence, Rhode Island.  To the eyes of a seven year old who hadn’t seen snow in years, you can imagine what it could have looked [and felt] like!! We walked into my aunt’s house and it just got better! Picture the initial scenes of the first “Home Alone” movie.  Mom, dad, aunts, uncles, sons and daughters-in-law, grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews…the whole nine yards!! Maybe a bit overwhelming when you’ve grown up with a small-ish family, but when the time came for presents…overwhelmed would be a massive understatement!!

Moving on, a few days after Christmas my uncle decided we should go down to Florida…by car! My aunt flat-out refused and jumped on a plane the next day.  We drove for three days.  We stopped in Washington DC, drove through the Carolinas, visited an old friend of my mom’s in Savannah, Georgia and finally reached our destination…the warm and sunny Sanibel Island, Florida.  Overall, the trip was great…albeit a bit crowded.  But the thing that I remember the most is eating what my mom claims, to this day, is “the best coffee cake in America” (something she ate all the time growing up in NY), to the point of feeling physically ill!

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Shame on me

Ball Park

A few months ago I went to New York City, and you know what i forgot to eat? A hotdog from a hotdog cart!!  My sister almost blew a fuse when she found out [if it were up to her she would go there just to eat!]  So when I got to the cinema today and literally walked into an [ok, not so] authentic NYC hotdog cart…I just couldn’t resist.  If you think walking into a movie theatre with a jumbo popcorn and coke is awesome…try walking in while biting into a perfectly striped hotdog, with complementary ketchup and mustard running down your hand.  Attractive? Not so much.  Satisfying? You wouldn’t believe it! So after a 2 hour something long movie, and a hotdog followed by [can I just have a “taste” of your] nachos and popcorn, I can party-in-my-tummy say…

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Lavender and Lemon Soufflé

language_of_flowersThe best books often turn out to be the ones that you thought you would never read in the first place.  This summer I kept coming across a book called “The Language of Flowers”.  Everybody seemed to be reading it but I never paid it much attention, despite the countless positive reviews from friends and family.   I was in the middle of reading a science fiction trilogy at the time, which inevitably placed me in a completely different mind zone.   Over the Christmas holidays we visited some friends for a night of food, wine and card games, and the first thing I noticed as I walked through their door was the book.  I gave in to the greater power and picked the book off the shelf before I left.   Needless to say I started it that same night, and the next day I flipped the last page in tears, begging for more.

The Language of Flowers follows the life of Victoria, abandoned at birth, and forced to move from one foster home to the next due to her inability to connect and communicate.   At 18, old enough to seek independence but with no money or job, Victoria finds shelter in a public garden of San Francisco surrounded by the flowers that she has lovingly cared for and grown over the years.   As a child she had been taught the language of flowers, and as a young woman they became her sole form of companionship and mode of communication.   Following a series of fortunate encounters, Victoria’s life makes its way into the life of another tormented character, and the only one who sharesher passion so deeply.   The Language of Flowers is the tale of two lost souls, whose passion for flowers and understanding of a language known by few brings them together in a tear-jerking and deeply emotional story.

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Finger Food Appetizers

You know what they say: when the going gets tough, the tough get cooking. No? Yeah well that’s what I say. So since the going is tough and, this year, the holidays are really kicking my ass, I say let’s finish with a bang! Literally. It’s New Years Eve tonight, so like (almost) every year, we’ve organized a little party. But because we’re Italian, and everybody knows how much we like to eat, it’s going to be yet another “let’s eat until we drop” kind of party (and please, God let it be the last)!! However bitter our ever-growing stomachs may be about this…I’m psyched! One last hurrah for 2012, and one last occasion to get together, cook and play cards until our wallets bleed out!

I’ve always loved New Years Eve. But that’s because I’ve always spent it with the right people. None of the dance ‘till you drop and miss the fireworks stuff. Just the plain old (but good old) eat, drink, laugh, play and just generally enjoy each others’ company until midnight, when you all get to watch amazing fireworks and wish each other a Happy New Year! That, I love. So this year it’s going to be no different. We’ve gathered up a group of friends (big shout out to all of those who don’t live in Rome, sadly) and we’ve brewed up quite the dinner menu.

So, just to get you drooling a little, and make you wish you’d had the idea, here’s some appetizers that we thought up for the occasion.

FAVA BEAN AND PECORINO CHEESE  TARTLETS

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Pomegranate Cocktails

DSCN8485-2-2Like every year, a few days before Christmas we visit our aunt and uncle in the countryside. It’s kind of a yearly ritual. They don’t spend Christmas in Rome, so we have our own Christmas meal before they leave for the mountains. Now, Christmas or no Christmas, every time we visit them, we end up leaving with a car so full of everything they could possibly give us that there’s barely room for whoever’s last to call “shotgun”! This time round, it just so happened that their pomegranate tree needed picking. And since they were leaving – AND they hate pomegranates – they decided to generously donate them all to us! We now literally have pomegranates everywhere. Some were immediately eaten by me, we used some as decorations, and yet we still had a ton of pomegranates to consume. And so we had an idea.

Whether you have a pomegranate tree that needs to be picked, or you just so happen to find some juicy looking pomegranates while doing some food shopping, here’s an idea you can use for any type of occasion.

Open your pomegranate and remove all the seeds, trying to avoid as much of the surrounding white skin as possible. Now that you have all your seeds separated, you can find various ways of squeezing the juice out of them. We just so happen to own an old-school juicer; one of those machines our grandparents used to use to squeeze the juice out of mirto berries, which they would then combine with pure alcohol, to make the famous Italian Mirto! Continue reading

Salmon and Radicchio Puff Pastry Parcels

DSCN8432-2-2Back to the Christmas traditions, Italians believe it is custom that on Christmas Eve you must eat a fish based meal. But have you ever wondered why exactly everyone seems to follow it unquestionably? I have. Which is why this year, twenty-three fishy meals later, and in honor of our blog, I decided it was finally time to find out!

The answer actually comes from the Christian tradition, which on Christmas Eve most Italians claim they cherish dearly (you know, St. Peters’ and all). According to the New Testament, Christmas Eve is one of the most sacred days of the year, and the idea behind NOT eating meat is based on the principle of austerity; abstaining from “rich” food, that was commonly associated with feasts! So in order to follow tradition and avoid meat, the cop-out was to substitute it with fish!! Some would say genius!

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Joy to the Gingerbread Man

DSCN8389_2For those of you who have been following since the very beginning, you may remember me mentioning our Italian American origins. Up until now we’ve been focusing on rather Italian-ized dishes. But now that Christmas is finally here (and American Christmas is a lot more fun and colorful than Italian Christmas), we’re finally bringing out some of the cool stuff! So with Bill Crosby’s “White Christmas” blasting throughout the house, we decided it was the perfect day to make Gingerbread cookies!  Take out your rolling pins, your cookie cutters, and most importantly your hot chocolate…and lets get baking!!!
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God, I love Gnocchi

DSCN8317 copy 2-2-2I love it when my sister makes fresh gnocchi! Mainly because I get to stick my fingers in the soft and squishy potato mixture! If you’re already thinking, “crazy alert!!”, you’ve clearly never felt it before, and let me tell you, you’re missing out!! Remember the 90’s, when everyone had one of those rubber balloons filled with flour, which you could pull and tug and mold into any shape, until they unexpectedly burst in your face, always at very inopportune moments I might add (I was on the school bus…twice!) Despite the embarrassing moments, those little flour explosives felt awesome between your fingers.

Making gnocchi is not for the faint of heart. It takes the four P’s: practice, patience, persistence and potatos!! The most important thing is that once you start, you can never give up. Stay calm and keep adding flour to that mixture until you’re happy with the consistency. The hard part about gnocchi is that at best, they can be light and delicate, but at worst, they will be dense, rubbery and stick-to-your-palate inedible (if they even make it that far!). Using the wrong ratio of potatoes to flour may leave you with lots of broken bits and pieces floating around in the boiling water. Continue reading