Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Recipes on demand

Just for fun: restaurant we ate at in Rome

OK, by popular request I am posting 2 of the recipes I blogged about last: The Balsamic Chicken & Mushrooms and the Panzanella (Bread Salad). A word of advice, it really pays to use good balsamic vinegar! I didn't know there was such a thing as "good, better, and best" vinegar- but there is! We learned from some of our friends also living in Italy, then experienced it firsthand on our honeymoon. So naturally, we found it in the budget to buy a $17 bottle of Balsamic from the region of Modena (sold in our commissary like it was no thing! I love Italy!) And this is an above-average vinegar for Italy...the good stuff is aged for decades and costs over $75 or more. Anyway, not to be a condiment snob, but if you have the option, go for "better."

Recipes modified from:

Changes I made:
- used 3 cloves of garlic (hello, I had a kilo!)
-did NOT pound chicken, but rather cut into large strips as recommended by another person in the reviews
-use the wine instead of broth if able! Gave a really good flavor


Note: I made a large salad to eat for several days...if doing this, keep the bread separate! It was delicious on day 1, but after that I had soggy bread salad (i.e. not delicious). So, let your common sense lead you where mine didn't: even stale bread that soaks in a vinaigrette overnight gets soggy :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Italy lately

Well, in the past few weeks I have learned that I will need to blog much more often in order to keep up with all the new experiences, tastes and culinary adventures I've had. My kitchen has seen a lot of new foods this month, and I'm sure my google history is full of searches for ways to use my latest market impulse purchase. For example, I had been eyeing some Italian Squash in our commissary for a few weeks, and finally gave in. It looks like a cross between pumpkin and butternut squash so I assumed it could be cooked the same (it can). For my first attempt I just roasted it with a little olive oil and salt and pepper because I wanted to get a sense of it's natural flavor as best I could. It almost had a sweetness like carrots, to me. I also think this would be wonderful mashed with a little butter and cinnamon...and brown sugar.

And I can't forget about the garlic! Our house has smelled like garlic for the past 3 weeks I am certain. My first use was in what I call Italian Salsa- just chopped tomatoes, garlic, basil, s&p. I eat it by itself but it can served on top of toasted bread like bruschetta. I've grilled fish with garlic (well Chris has), roasted whole garlic cloves, made garlic vinaigrette dressing, a delicious balsamic mushroom sauce (recipe to come), and a traditional Panzanella (Tuscan bread salad, which is a way to use leftover-almost-stale bread). I'm even freezing some garlic as an experiment to see how it holds up. A funny sidenote (and this is either the dietitian or the hypochondriac in me; I'm not sure which): I stubbed my toe on a cabinet yesterday and it wouldn't stop bleeding. I think garlic (a natural blood thinner) is affecting my ability to clot blood. Hmm..maybe Italians have more durable bandaids.

Italian Salsa 

 (Pre) Grilled Salmon with lemon, dill and garlic

 Panzanella (bread salad)

Balsmic Chicken and Mushrooms (my fave!)

 And while I can sing praises of Italian food all day, I must be fair and say I've had my share of dislikes. The seafood that everyone raves about was, well, not to my taste. I'll try anything once- so seafood risotto sounded so promising! But after a few bites of octopus (not in the form of fried calamari), my stomach informed me that I was done. For some odd reason, it began to resemble intestines.  

Seafood Risotto
Now it's just rice with octopus..eww.
Another dislike: I'm still not loving these Italian so-called breakfasts. During our recent trip to Rome, our hotel boasted of a "breakfast buffet." I should have known better, since I have yet to see a breakfast that doesn't look like a pretty dough-nut, but again, the word 'buffet' reeled me in. Below is our breakfast buffet:

But I must end on a good note, because at the end of the day, right down the street I can get the absolute best Pasta Siciliana at a cute local restaurant near our home. It's penne with eggplant and tomato sauce, and Naples' buffalo mozzarrella cheese. It is just delightful!

Pasta Siciliana

Friday, July 1, 2011

A little Garlic goes a long way...

...but a LOT of garlic goes a really long way! Another day at the market and another lesson learned: when the man says 1 kilo of garlic, you get 1 kilo of garlic. That’s right, I came home with about 2 lbs of garlic for the price of 1 Euro! Seemed like a steal until I realized I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do with it all. TGFG (Thank God For Google).

I know garlic is used in everything here in Italy, and I am a-ok with that, but before I walk around breathing garlic fire (or at the very least scare my husband away), I wanted to know: is garlic freeze-able? How can I store it?  If for some reason I can’t manage to use all 4 large heads of garlic, will it be a waste? In the back of my mind I imagine a little Italian old lady chasing me down the street and cursing me for wasting such a jewel, if I were to allow it to go bad before using it all.
Of course I can roast them whole and they are delicious by themselves..but, like I said, I have a lot of garlic. So I sought the help of my cookbook library and came across a Garlic Puree, which can be stirred into things like mashed potatoes or pasta sauces. (Now I just need my Magic Bullet to arrive any day now). Then in my email box today I received a monthly newsletter I subscribe to that had a recipe for Basil and Garlic Tomatoes. What a coincidence, I bought a kilo of cherry tomatoes today also!
All ingredient amounts here are flexible…obviously I increased the garlic J It’s best to let the mixture sit at room temperature for at least an hour to absorb the flavors. Eat by itself, on toasted bread, or as an easy pasta mix-in!  I had planned to drizzle with olive oil right before eating, but it didn't need it!

Basil & Garlic Tomatoes
  • 3 cups quartered cherry tomatoes (or any good tomatoes chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (unless you like big chunks- I don’t!)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • ¼-1/2 tsp salt  
The jury is still out as to whether or not garlic is freeze-able. According to my credible google search, it is possible, but may not keep quality-wise. Oh well. 3 cloves down, 57 to go (there are usually 10-15 cloves in a head, fyi).