Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Little Bit of Thanks

I celebrated an early Thanksgiving with my mom this year. We won't be together on the actual day, and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday so skipping it just wasn't an option.

This year there's a lot to be thankful for, my time in school in Italy ranks high on that list. And so we gave thanks by paying homage to my favorite dish from Emilia-Romagna: tortelli di zucca (pumpkin ravioli). Saveur is my trusted guide for authentic recipes, and so I turned there first. Though I had never made tortelli before I have certainly eaten them enough to be suspicious of the Saveur recipe. Chock full of ingredients it was a far cry from the simple sumptuousness of the tortelli di zucca I've eaten.

I did some more searching and found recipes that sounded more like I expected. These recipes, not surprisingly, were mostly in Italian. I also did some substituting (gingerbread for amaretti, mustard spiked apple butter for mostarda). These are tortelli di zucca meets Pennsylvania. In any case they were absolutely delicious, tasting closer to the real thing than I expected.

Thank you Parma, if you taught me nothing else, the tortelli di zucca was for sure worth it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Italian Food and...French Wines?

Last night I braved the cold winter winds (they're always worst when they first appear) for the "Great Wines from France" Slow Food Philadelphia dinner at Penne, close to Penn's campus. I was slightly skeptical of the decidedly Italian menu accompanied by-duh!-French wines. Having just returned to the States from Italy less than one week ago it is especially painful to eat some of the "Italian" food available.

This was certainly no the case. The classics were executed brilliantly, mushroom risotto and porcini sauce for instance. And the twists had just enough innovation, while retaining their age-old wisdom. The Orange Olive Oil Gnocchi were perhaps the best example of this. The gnocchi had that perfect pillowy texture indicative of quality (I should know considering both of my attempts at gnocchi were so gummy they were perhaps closer to Jell-O) with the intrigue of orange. The orange flavor was decidedly distinctive, so much so that I spent many of my bites trying to figure out exactly how it was accomplished. Orange flower water? not assertive enough. Orange zest? but there were no specks, though towards the end I found one. Potatos boiled with orange peel? possibly...

After all that guessing, after re-examining the menu today, I think that it was literally orange olive oil that did the trick. Not orange and olive oil as I had originally read it. In any case it was delicious. The rest of the meal was equally successful the wines perfectly complementary much to my skepticism. The wine highlights were a Chateauneuf du Pape from Chateau La Nerthe, 2002. It was spicy with the richness of stewed plums, cloves and caramel. Eqully delightful was a Vendanges Tardives Gewurztraminer from Trimbach, 2002. The aroma was unlike any other I've had, and the taste was unparalleled. Because it was preceded by four wines my memory of its precise organoleptic qualities is blurred. All I remember is it was delicious.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Preparations for a Pauper's Christmas

Back from Italy for good now, and enjoying a simpler life: that of the unemployed. While I spend much of my day looking for jobs I have also assigned myself some fun. That is being unemployed, and having just graduated I have no money. For those very same reasons there are many to whom I owe much thanks. Since I cannot thank them in a monetary (therefore gift) way, I have decided to use what I already have. That being an insatiable desire to create foods.

So this year I'm making everyone on my list a Christmas basket of homemade goodies. I won't reveal all of them because many people reading this will also probably be getting one. But to whet everyone's appetites are my homemade marshmallows. Normally I'm not one for sugary junk food, but homemade marshmallows just seem the ultimate in luxury. They are also so far from their raw ingredients in shape and form their creation seemed impossible. And that is what peaked my interest.

So I went through some recipes on the internet and decided on Martha Stewart's. What Martha doesn't tell you (and I should've figured out for myself) is how sticky and difficult marshmallow is to work with. It formed a sticky white mass that overtook my mixer's beaters and oozed out onto the bowl and stand. It stuck to anything that touched it, even if it was just for a second. After the fact I read another recipe which recommends placing the marshmallow in oil coated plastic. Next time I'll try that.

This time with it's sticky gooey mess, I did outsmart Martha on one account. And that is the cutting. After the marshmallow is poured into the pan and dusted with confectioner's, Martha left you hanging. When I went to cut them after they sat out the requisite night, the mix was still soft and gooey enough to trip up the knife, make it sticky, and render the squares misshapen blobs. Dipping the knife in warm water after each cut, like they do with spoons in ice cream shops, worked miracles. If only I had thought of it sooner.