Thursday, February 26, 2009

MORE ABOUT PARMIGIANO

Parmigiano 006After reading my PREVIOUS POST about Parmesan cheese, Art said to me "Didn't you hear me ask the guy how much each wheel weighed?" Obviously not - I must have been comparing some cheeses at the time. Anyway, the man at the cheese counter told Art that each wheel weighed about 40 kg. - about 88 pounds!

Additionally, one of the blocks of cheese I bought came with an informational brochure with this information: It takes 16 liters of milk to make 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) of Parmigiano, and each wheel of parmesan contains 600 liters of milk, which more or less corresponds to the 40 kg. Art was told. In addition to being way too heavy to lift, at an average price of €15/kg, that would make each wheel worth about €600, or $780! At that price it's easy to understand why whole wheels of parmesan are used as payment for various things even today.

A timely post from THE ITALIAN NOTEBOOK gives more information about the value of parmesan.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

PARMIGIANO REGGIANO

The other day at the IperCoop we were asking the guy at the cheese counter about different types of cheese. He was very knowledgeable and helpful, and we made our selections. Parmigiano 008As I got ready to walk away I noticed what he was getting ready to do: break open some wheels of parmesan so he could wrap and price them. I should have asked about how much an average wheel weighs, but of course I didn't think about it at the time. Depending on the age and the brand, we can get parmesan cheese anywhere from €10 up to maybe €25 per KILO, which averages out to about $6 to $15 per pound - which is why I usually take a big chunk of parmesan back with me to the states!


Parmigiano 001

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

WHERE'S THE TOMATO JUICE?

When we moved to Italy we knew we'd leave some familiar things behind. We also knew we'd bring some of those hard to find items with us; items like chocolate chips, cheddar cheese, seasonings for fajitas - you know, life's essentials. One of the things I never expected to have difficulty finding here in Italy was tomato juice.

I'm not a coffee drinker. Never have been, never will be. I do however love orange juice and for years that was my standard beverage at breakfast. At some point I decided that orange juice had too much (natural) sugar in it, so I switched to tomato juice. It wasn't hard to switch because I LOVE everything tomato.

Now here we are in Italy, the land of the tomato, the place where there are more canned, jarred and boxed tomatoes in the grocery than you can possibly imagine. Whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, cut tomatoes, tomato sauce and paste, both double and triple strength. I honestly don't know how the average Italian decides which tomatoes to buy - is one brand better than another? Is it better to start your tomato sauce from whole tomatoes rather than from sauce?
Despite the oeverwhelming choices in the canned tomato aisle, when you get to the fruit juice aisle it's a whole other story. Our local Coop has stopped carrying bottled tomato juice, although you can still get pear juice and carrot juice and pineapple juice, along with scores of other choices.
When we were at the IperCoop last week I checked to see if they still had tomato juice on their shelves and yes! they did! It was a big splurge, but I bought a six pack of bottled tomato juice, and this is what I got - 6 small bottles like the ones labeled pesca (peach).

In case you can't tell, the package next to the 6 pack of bottles is a 6 pack of juice boxes, and these juice boxes are much smaller than the ones we have in the states. I don't know how much the juice boxes hold, but those tiny bottle of tomato juice hold 125 ml, or just over 4 ounces. FOUR ounces! That's half a cup, or about 2 good swallows! And at €1.80 ( about $2.00) for those six miniature bottles, well, you do the math! I don't know what I paid at Kroger for the 64 oz size tomato juice when I was in Louisville, but I'm sure it wasn't anywhere near $5.00, which would be the equivalent price per ounce.

I don't know why Italians drink so many other fruit juices but NOT tomato juice. It was never something I thought I consider a splurge here in Italy!

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

ITALIAN FAVORITES

Two of my favorite things about Italy all in one photograph: the Duomo in Florence and gelato!

Duomo reflection_01

Thursday, February 19, 2009

DRAWER DETAILS

Here are the drawers I wrote about yesterday:


Drawers


In the top drawer I have what I use most often - my skillets, pots, measuring cups and Pyrex casserole dishes, along with some extra pot-holders, trivets and flame tamers.

Top Drawer


The bottom drawer has my larger stock pot and dutch oven, all the lids for my pots plus most of my bakeware: pie pans, bread tins, roasting trays, etc.

Bottom Drawer

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

RECIPES WITH PUMPKIN

While we were in the states I thought I'd make:

Pumpkin Quiche

500 gr (about 1 lb) pumpkin, roughly cubed
200 gr (2-3) sausage, chopped
3 eggs
1 small yellow onion
Handful of pinenuts
Parmigiano, grated
Savory pastry sheet (such as for a quiche)
Milk

In a small frying pan, cook the chopped sausage til almost done. Take off heat.

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Place the savory pastry dough in a 9” pie pan.

Chop the onion and sauté with 1 Tbsp. of oil . While the onion is cooking, roughly cube the pumpkin. When the onion starts to turn translucent, add the pumpkin chunks. Cook about 10-15, until the pumpkin will break down easily with spoon but is not mushy. Mix in sausage until evenly distributed.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with a splash of milk until frothy. Grate in a small amount of parmigiano and mix, adding fresh ground pepper.Spoon half of the pumpkin mix into the baking pan. Pour egg mix over, and then spoon the rest of the pumpkin mix in. Sprinkle a handful of parmigiano and some pine nuts on top, and bake for about 40 minutes

This recipe is a winter staple in our house, and although I can still buy pumpkin at the grocery I usually have some in the freezer. It's easier to buy a few whole pumpkins, roast them then freeze for later use. I used some of the pumpkin for pies at Thanksgiving and the rest will be used either for this quiche or for pumpkin soup.

Of course I didn't have any pumpkin in the freezer in Louisville, so I headed out to Paul's, the local fruit and vegetable market. I was surprised when they told me they didn't have any pumpkins because the season was over. I know they use a lot of local produce but still figured they'd have pumpkin. I guess for most Americans once Thanksgiving is over they don't think about pumpkins anymore.

My next stop was Whole Foods. I knew they'd have suppliers from all over the country and was sure they'd have some fresh pumpkin. Wrong! Obviously I wasn't going to find fresh pumpkin at my local Kroger, so I just gave up the idea of making the quiche. Imagaine my surprise when I walked into the Super WalMart one day and saw an entire display of fresh pumpkins! I'm not really sure why they had them, but at least next time I'll know where to look!

I'd seen several recipes for risotto with pumpkin and had printed them out. I had this recipe:

Pumpkin and Sage Risotto

1-1/2 cups of rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)
2 cups of fresh pumpkin cubed (or butternut squash)
6 tbsp butter
6 cups of chicken broth
1+ cups of water
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3/4 cup of dry white wine
3 tbsp of fresh chopped sage
1/2 cup of fresh grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Heat chicken broth in pot and keep warm.

In a separate pot, melt 4 tbsp of butter and sauté chopped onion and garlic
When the onions are translucent and tender, add the rice stirring until coated with the butter, about 3 minutes.

Add white wine and stir until absorbed by the rice. Stir in 2 cups of broth and pumpkin. Continue stirring until liquid is absorbed.

Add an additional cup of broth and chopped sage. Continue adding broth 1 cup at a time as liquid is absorbed and continues to cook. Prior to adding last cup of broth, test pumpkin and rice for doneness: Pumpkin should be tender and rice should be chewy not crunchy.

Add remaining cup of broth, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese and 2 remaining tbsp of butter stir until absorbed but still moist.

Serve with remaining parmesan cheese

For the two of us that recipe sounded like it would make too much, so I'll save it recipe for when we have company and today I'm going to make this recipe:

Risotto di Zucca Gialla (Rice with Pumpkin)

2 young leeks
extra virgin olive oil
chili pepper flakes
1 lb pumpkin
salt
1 c Risotto rice, arborio, canaroli or vialone nano
3 cups boiling water (or broth)
1 cup water
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese.

Clean the leeks and finely slice. Place in pot with extra virgin olive oil, enough to cover the bottom of the pot. Cut the pumpkin into small cubes and let cook with the leek. Salt to taste and sprinkle with chili flakes.

When the leeks are carmelized and the pumpkin tender, about 10 minutes, add the rice. Stir to mix well and "toast" the rice.

Add 2 cups boiling water (or broth). Salt to taste. Cover and let cook for 14 minutes.

Uncover and stir. The rice should be cooked and the liquid absorbed. Add 1 cup of additional boiling water (or broth) and the grated parmesan cheese. Stir until the liquid is absorbed. This will create the perfect creaminess, without adding cream. Stirring releases the starch in the rice and binds with the liquid and cheese to create the PERFECT NON-STIR RISOTTO!

I don't have leeks so I'll just use a yellow onion instead, and I will use some chicken stock instead of plain water. I think I'll grill a couple of sausages or pork chops to go with this for a perfect winter lunch.

Update: remember the other day when I was going to add some pesto to my Tuscan bean soup? I did add the pesto and although it tasted fine, neither of us thought the soup really needed anything else, so next time I won't bother!

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

LET THE ADVENTURES BEGIN.....

While we were gone we heard through the grapevine that some of our friends were anxious for us to return to Italy so I could start blogging about wonderful Italian adventures and post new recipes. Now I'll admit that our time in the states wasn't exactly news-worthy, nor was it what the blog is really all about. I only posted for two reasons: 1. just to let everyone know that we were still around, and to tell those who were interested about Art's recovery from surgery, and 2. to keep my blog somewhere in the blogoshpere just because our house for sale info is on it.

Other than Art's hip replacement surgery and our discovery of how important it is to floss EVERY SINGLE DAY, I guess the biggest news was the weather. After having a few days that felt like spring we also had days where the temperature dropped to 0ºF - that's ZERO Fahrenheit, or about -18º Centigrade. And then of course there was the ice storm that paralyzed the entire region, completely shut down the city of Louisville and delayed our return to Italy by nearly a week. By the time we got back to Italy we were definitely ready for some Italian-style adventures ourselves, but once again the weather is conspiring against us.

If you've been reading this blog for a while you know that I'm convinced there is no such thing as 'normal' weather anymore, and I doubt whether anyone under the age of 50 has ever experienced four distinct seasons - at least in their proper order. Just as temps in single digits and ice storms aren't normal for Louisville, neither has the weather here in Italy been normal either. We've had one of the wettest winters in recent history, and that's saying something since winter is when we get most of our rain. After last year's relatively dry and mild winter, this year is of course the total opposite with cold and rain - even hurricanes, or at least hurricane-force winds in the south of Italy. Tonight the temperature is expected to drop to 28ºF, which is about -2ºC - not exactly normal for us. Did I mention that the wind seems to be blowing a lot here too? I guess that's what keeps bringing us more rain, and trust me, with weather like this you don't exactly want to visit a medieval hilltown where the wind is blowing the freezing rain right through you and those charming streets of stone are indeed slippery when wet!

In the week we've been home we've made a few forays down to Marsciano for some shopping and to take care of business. We've checked out the new PENNY MARKET, a German grocery chain with incredibly cheap wine and selected bargains if you know what to look for. We also had lunch one day at the newly re-opened and relocated Nestor's Pizzeria. As you may recall Giuseppe and Mara were unable to come to terms with the former owners of the pizzeria (who we ran into at the Post Office the other day), so that old location now sits empty and Nestor's was forced to find a new location, remodel, then wade through all the bureaucracy that Italy is so rightly famous for.

The new Nestor's is right on the main street of Marsciano, just before you get to the hospital, which is a great location. Unfortunately it's also a tiny little place so there's no inside dining, just take-away. In addition to pizza they do still offer some pasta dishes, fish, chicken and a selection of drinks, but what we went there for was more than just the great food, we went for the ambience, for the camaraderie. We're glad that Giuseppe and Mara have finally reopened and wish them the best, but we're so sad that we won't be able to take our friends down to Nestor's for a pizza and some great hospitality.

As for recipes, well, nothing too adventurous yet. I roasted two chickens so that I can make Chicken Salad With Pecans and Craisins, and I made a big pot of ragu, (meat sauce). I used some of the ragu with spaghetti for lunch today, and the rest I'll save for a nice big pan of lasagna for a dinner party. Lasagna is one of the few pasta dishes that doesn't require me to be up and down during the meal cooking and draining and mixing the pasta with the sauce.

After the chickens were roasted I made broth from the carcasses and I think I'll try a new soup recipe I've been saving for a while. (Did you know that when making chicken broth if you leave the skin ON a yellow onion the broth will be a much richer color? I just learned this little secret a few weeks ago!) Although I haven't made this myself, we originally had this soup at a friend's house and liked it so much I requested the recipe. Some people love soup as a winter dish, but unless it's a really hearty, substantial soup I don't have much use for it. This soup, with the addition of the beans, should warm you AND fill you. With a rostisserie chicken and store-bought chicken broth this dish will be even quicker and easier.

Chicken soup 004Tuscan Chicken and White Bean Soup

2 tsp Olive Oil

2 leeks, cut into 1/4" rounds (about 2 cups)

1 red onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage (or 1/4 tsp dried)

2 - 14 oz cans chicken broth

2 cups water

1 - 15 1/2 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

4-6 sun-dried tomatoes, finely chopped

1- 2 lb roasted chicken, skin removed and meat shredded

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the leeks, onion and garlic, stirring often until soft, about 3 minutes. Stir in the sage and continue cooking another 30 seconds. Add the broth and the water, increase the heat to high, cover and bring to a boil. Add the beans, chicken and sun-dried tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 5 minutes.

Serves 6

Until the weather warms up and/or clears up, I don't think they'll be too many adventures to write about, but I hope whereever you are you're staying warm and eating well.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

LUNCH AND THE ANSWER!

Yes we're back in Italy but still, it's central Italy and it's February, so the weather is nothing to get excited about. So far we've seen the sun peek through for a few minutes each day, and the rest of the time it's been cloudy, dreary and cold! This is the sort of weather that makes me want to turn on the oven and cook up some comfort food.

Today I was inspired by a another blogger, Sandi over at Whistlestop Café Cooking. Her recipe for Lemon Caper Chicken sounded like an interesting way to jazz up boring old chicken breasts, and it seemed like the perfect accompaniment for a lemon risotto recipe I wnated to try.

The only way to get bone in, skin on chicken breasts around here is to buy a whole chicken and cut it up. All I had on hand was boneless, skinless chicken breasts and I think the recipe would have been much better with a bone in breast. Never-the-less, the chicken was good, and the risotto the perfect compliment. Here's the risotto recipe, and for those who think the cream is just too decadent, if you can find Land O' Lakes fat free cream you could save a few calories in the process!

Lemon Risotto

2 shallots
1 rib celery
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/3 cups Arborio rice
Approximately 1 quart vegetable stock
1/2 unwaxed lemon, zested and juiced
Needles from 2 small sprigs fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 egg yolk
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan, plus more, for garnish
4 tablespoons heavy cream
Freshly ground pepper, preferably white
Salt to taste

Finely chop the shallots and celery. Heat half the butter, the oil and the shallot and celery mixture in a wide saucepan, and cook to soften the mixture for about 5 minutes, making sure it doesn't stick. Mix in the rice, stirring to give it a good coating of oil and butter. Meanwhile, heat the stock in another saucepan and keep it at the simmering point.

Put a ladleful of the stock into the rice and keep stirring until the stock is absorbed. Then add another ladleful and stir again. Continue doing this until the rice is al dente. You may not need all of the stock, equally, you may need to add hot water.

Mix the lemon zest and the rosemary into the risotto, and in a small bowl beat the egg yolk, lemon juice, Parmesan, cream and pepper. When the risotto is ready - when the rice is no longer chalky, but still has some bite - take it off the heat and add the bowl of egg/lemon mixture, and the remaining butter and salt, to taste. Serve with more Parmesan if you wish.

And now, the answer to yesterday's question about the gadget I brought back from the states. Did you know what it is? Here's the picture one more time:


Gadget


And the answer is.........

It's a handy-dandy spoon-holder that clips on to the edge of a pot! Janie, you were right!


Spoonholder

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

HOME AT LAST!

Now that we're finally back home in Italy we can breathe a sigh of relief. When the ice storm struck Louisville last week we checked the forecast and said a prayer before we rebooked our flight. USAir would let us reschedule the flight because there was a storm warning, but they would only let us schedule it within the seven days following our original date. In addition to the forecast we also looked at the flight schedules and weighed our desire to get home against what was most practical. Eventually we settled on a departure date of February 3rd, thinking that the predicted snow wouldn't be serious enough to cancel our flights.

Just as predicted, the weather warmed up over the weekend, melting the ice and much of the snow. The roads were in pretty good shape, so even if it colder and we had some snow we were confident the worst was over. Sure enough the temperature dropped well into the 20's and on Tuesday morning we woke up to new snow on the ground.

When we checked into the airport the agent agreed with us that snow wasn't a problem, so we relaxed and settled in at the gate. We knew we had plenty of time to eat the sandwiches I'd made for lunch. When a gate agent made an announcement asking who was making a connection in Philadelphia, warning bells went off in my head. Although we never did find out the reason, our flight was expected to be two hours late and the agent was trying to make flight changes if possible. Because ours was an international flight the agent decided to take care of the domestic connections first - why, I don't know. Eventually he did get back to us, but by that time it seemed that our only option - flying to Charlotte, and then taking another flight to Philly - had just left the gate.

We asked what our options were: could they at least get us to Philly then put us up for the night if we missed the flight to Italy? Could they get us to Philly on another airline? Should we just rebook the entire trip for the next day and go back to my sister's house? We were told that if we did get to Philly but missed the flight to Rome USAir wouldn't pay for a hotel since the delay was weather related. Hmmmm....they put us up for not one but TWO nights when a horrific storm had caused us to miss a flight two years ago. We thought if ALL the flights were delayed perhaps our flight to Rome would still be waiting for us even if we got there late, but the agent told us that 99% of the time international flights take off as scheduled. (I find that number a little hard to believe, but anyway...) The agent did search other airlines, but since none of them have hubs in Philly the choices weren't great and none would work for us. We'd just about decided to go back to the main ticket counter and re-book the flight for the following day when something told us to just get to Philly. Our friend Nedra was coming in to Philly on a flight from San Francisco and would arrive at 7 p.m. She told us we could stay at her house, so that seemed to be the logical solution. At least we'd be there, and with this 99% statement we figured we'd be sure to go the next day.

We moved to a different area to eat our lunch and make some phone calls. Just as we started to eat we were paged back to the gate! Now what??? For whatever reason the gate agent had continued to search other possibilities and told us we could fly to Atlanta on Delta then take the Delta flight to Rome! Wow! We had no idea they'd even consider doing this, but we immediately said yes and headed over to the Delta gate.

We had about thirty minutes before the flight boarded, so I asked the gate agent a few questions. My main concern was the 75 minute connection time. Knowing how large the Atlanta airport is I wondered if we'd be able to get to the international gate in time, and if we missed the flight to Rome would anyone be there to help us. I was afraid that at that point Delta would say that we weren't really their responsibility, and that USA would say that they'd handed us over to Delta.

The two Delta agents assured me that #1, 75 minutes would be plenty of time for the connection. She showed me that we only had to go to the next concourse over rather than the full length of the airport, as usually seems to be the case. Both agents also assured me that we were now their customers, and that they wouldn't desert us, so what else could I do but relax?

Just as she had predicted, we had plenty of time to make the flight to Rome, and although the plane was nearly full it was fairly uneventful, save for a few minutes of turbulence. No screaming babies or talkative drunks, no out of service toilets or surly flight attendants...on the contrary, the flight crew was very friendly and helpful and were always smiling! Wow!

One of the reasons we like to fly USAir is because their flight to Rome arrives around 8:30 in the morning, allowing us plenty of time to get back to Umbria before we crash from lack of sleep. The Delta flight got us into Rome ahead of schedule, before 8 a.m., thanks in part to a good tailwind. Even more amazing was the fact that all of our luggage had made it from USAir onto our Delta flight so we were good to go! We took the train from Fiumicino to Tiburtina where we had to wait for our train for Terni, but once we were in Terni we felt like we were already home! Janine was waiting for us at the station in Marsciano, and it didn't take long to get unpacked. Not having to deal with a suitcase full of dirty laundry is really nice!

Unfortunately our thermostat, which had acted up right before we left, apparently bit the dust while we were gone and the house was below 50ºF! After a quick call to the technician they arrived in about two hours and confirmed that the thermostat was the problem. Unfortunately the replacement thermostat they had with them didn't fit in the space of the old one so they showed us how to turn the caldaia on and off manually and suggested that we call an electrician to get the right size thermostat. Now if we can just get a hold of Elvio, our electrician we won't have to go outside to turn the heat on and off, but at least we're home safe and sound! Last night, in our own bed, with our heated mattress pad to keep us nice and toasty we slept great! Going away is nice but coming home is even better!