Thursday, October 29, 2015

Baby Spinach and Arugula Pesto Pizza

The recent news on red meat causing cancer has been scaring the bejesus out of us lately so we have carefully looked at the amount of red meat that goes on our dinner table in the evenings. We don't eat a lot even though maybe twice a week we'll have fillet mignon which we love marinated but other than that it's usually chicken or turkey breast. My sweetheart does however love his prosciutto so we are eventually going to have to get rid of that habit as well.

I also love to put ground beef in my pasta recipes like lasagna or bolognese sauce but I mean, these really aren't huge quantities of meat we're talking here. We do however know that we should be eating more veggies so in an effort to increase our veggies in an appetizing way, I thought I'd try adding some baby spinach and arugula on my pizza.

I made the dough in the same way as my first pizza post so you can find my dough recipe here.

When the dough was ready I stretched it out onto a baking sheet and if you find it difficult to stretch it out, just be patient with it and use your finger tips to gently press it out. Leave it sit for a bit (maybe 2 minutes) and stretch it out some more. It takes a little bit of patience, but I promise it will stay put eventually! LOL.

I layered a good amount of pesto sauce on the pizza like so...

And baked it in the oven for about 10 minutes. I then removed the pizza and placed some mozzarella cheese on top and put it back into the oven for another 5 minutes or until the crust starts to brown.
Now you can prepare your spinach and arugula. I used a mixed green salad which included spinach and arugula as well as Valerian greens (which I can't get enough of by the way)! I washed the mixed salad well and tossed it with some olive oil and freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, not thinly grated as you would put over pasta but shredded thick. Add some salt to your liking to the mix.
I placed it on top of the pizza and served it. I loved this because it was very filling and if you like mixed salads you're sure to love this. I hope you'll try it out and let me know.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Cavatelli Pasta with Mussels and Clams

Cavatelli is a type of small pasta that is usually made by hand. Wikipedia says they are shaped like tiny hot dog buns lol (I thought that was amusing). I don't usually make my own pasta because it takes time and patience. I learned how to make handmade orecchiette pasta from my Italian aunts but with working full time and all making my own pasta becomes rather time consuming....
Soooo I simply buy mine.
In Italian this dish is called Cavatelli ai frutti di mare or fruit of the sea cavatelli pasta. The fruit of the sea being the mussels and clams. As I said in my post on the Mediterranean Diet, When using fresh seafood, Italians don't like to cover up the taste because they say (and rightfully so) that if the fish is fresh there is no need to cover up the taste. If it's not fresh, it won't taste like anything therefore more condiments are necessary to add more flavor.
So for this dish I bought:
  - one kilogram of fresh mussels and clams and washed them well.
 - one package of cavatelli pasta
 - fresh parsley
 - extra virgin olive oil
 - one clove of garlic
 - one jalapeno pepper
The hardest part here is to prepare the mussels and clams. After washing them well you want to open them up in a pan. So turn the heat on medium and in a large pan add the mussels and clams together so they open up, cook and release the water that is in the shells.  The water they release is fundamental to the dish and is what gives the cavatelli pasta the typical "taste of the sea" so once the shells open you can turn off the heat. Do not over cook them or they will get too chewy. They should cook for no longer than 10 minutes.
Now remove each mussel and clam from their shells and set aside in a separate bowl, leaving only a handful with shells for decorating the final plate. Make sure to save the juice from the shells!! In another bowl or container filter the juice with a napkin to remove any sand that might have been in the shells.
Filter juice with a napkin and sifter

Remove the mussels and clams from their shells and set aside

Now you can start to bring the pasta to a boil adding only about a teaspoon of salt to the water because the  juice from the clams contains the majority of the salt. The past must not cook too much.
My cavatelli had a total cooking time of 4/5 minutes therefore I left them to boil for just one minute and then transferred them to the pan where I heated the clove of garlic and jalapeno pepper in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
Drain the pasta and add it to the pan. Finish off the cooking time of the pasta in the pan by adding the juice that you previously filtered and set aside.
Stir well and at this point you can add the mussels and clams.

Mix everything well adding the chopped parsley and heat until the pasta absorbs the water from the clams.

Now you are ready to serve!
 Buon appetito!

Monday, October 26, 2015

My thoughts on Halloween and Roasted Pumpkin Recipe

Well, it's almost Halloween and I still haven't carved my pumpkin yet. I'm happy to say that Halloween is getting much more popular in Italy. About 10 years ago it really wasn't that known at all. Nonetheless, I always carved my pumpkin each year and put it out on the balcony. The neighbors probably thought I was practising some form of witch craft when I first came here lol because they didn't even know what a jack-o-lantern was. But now they know and I love teaching the children of the neighborhood how to carve or paint a pumpkin and now we even get trick-or-treaters that stop by our house :-)! I love it because it takes me back home.

Halloween was so much fun for me growing up. Those are the kind of memories that stay with you always. I had the best costumes and loved dressing up and putting makeup on because it was really the only time that my parents let me go all out with the makeup.

Italy isn't completely on the Halloween band wagon yet because the Roman Catholic Church sees it as a "Pagan" holiday but I personally don't look at it as a pagan holiday. For me Halloween is a fun children's holiday that has left me with many fond childhood memories so if I ever have children, I choose to let them create the same happy memories that I have created.

One thing I have never seen here are pumpkin patch rides. The picture above is of my sister Cathy that my mom sent me the other day. The home for disabled children that she stays at is such a wonderful institution. They take all the children out every year to a pumpkin patch and it's always such a good time for them! My first post was dedicated to my sister Cathy. You can read a little about that here if you want. Look at that gorgeous hair color! Sometimes I wish I would have never started coloring my hair... Natural hair is so much healthier...
So, I will be making my jack-o-lantern sometime this week and I'll make sure to post a picture of it. I don't get overly creative but I like to switch it up a bit through the years lol! There are such great ideas on the Internet.
I would love to do something like this with teeth. I think these are so cute. It looks a little complicated though. I'll have to try it out and see...
Moving onto the roasted pumpkin...
There are so many pumpkin dessert recipes but pumpkin is also really good served as a side dish and this particular side dish would be perfect for any Thanksgiving dinner for example. Oh and when I say really good...I mean like REALLY good.  I mean so good that after I made this I ate it all like right after taking the pictures... Yes, that good.
Cut the pumpkin into really thin slices. and grill them.
  As you place the grilled pumpkin on your serving dish drizzle each layer with a little olive oil, some thinly sliced garlic cloves and cut up jalapeno peppers and salt. Do this in layers and once done mix up the pumpkin a bit to coat each slice. 

 This is also delicious served on a slice of toasted bread or bruschettas. I hope you'll try it out and let me know what you think!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sourdough starter - "Pasta Madre" Part 2

So I started the Part 1 post saying that I was dreading writing it because of how complicated it would be to explain. That post is one of the most popular posts on my blog.  Today I post Part 2 and am so happy because I'm proud to say that my sourdough is complete after a little over a month. 

The foto above is right after refreshing it. 

And this is my PM after 4 hours from the refresh. 

How did I know it was ready, you ask?  My "teacher" Alessandra (she's the expert by the way and the one who taught me everything) noticed. I would send her pictures before and after refreshing the dough every night and she told me that it was almost ready. One evening she told me to refresh the PM and instead of throwing away the remainder of the sourdough, try making a loaf of bread to see if it rises. So I followed step by step what she told me. I will give the details in another post but I basically mixed about 150gr of PM with a cup and a half of water, added about 500gr of bread flour and placed it covered in my oven (with only the light turned on) for the whole night. So it was left to rise from 11:30pm to 6:30am.

Here it was before leaving it to rise. When I woke up the next morning I went straight into the kitchen to see what had happened. Did it rise? Maybe my PM is not ready yet? What if it's no good? These were all questions that were running through my head before getting out of bed. Well friends, this is what I saw when coming into the kitchen...

The dough was overflowing!! It was sooo ready! I felt like a little girl on Christmas morning! I called my friend Alessandra at 7 am and sent her the pictures. She was even more surprised and happy than I was! Do you guys realize that there are no artificial yeasts here? There is nothing other than flour and water basically and the dough rose like this?!? It really is a magical thing. 

So I made my first sourdough bread. It's not the most wonderful bread to look at but ohhh the taste! 

Making the bread takes some practice and I will dedicate a whole post on that with a step by step tutorial but it turns out delicious I can assure you! There are somethings that I would like to improve for example the height and the shape but I know that that is pretty much trial and error. 

So I've been practicing using my sourdough for more than just bread. It can be used in place of artificial activated yeasts for all recipes. 

Yesterday I made homemade croissants and we had them for breakfast this morning. Just yummyyyy! 

I'll also post about those next week as well. 

So there you go, I wanted to update you guys on my Pasta Madre and wish everyone a blessed Sunday :-) 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Nosy People

I guess this is my Friday contemplation post but I felt like publishing it today. The thing that gets on my nerves more than anything is nosy people. The people who don't mind their own business and want to know everything about you without having any type of right in knowing. Those nosy questions get on my nerves so much because I am a very private person and if I don't say something in the first place that means I don't want you to know... simple.

Some people are just over the top nosy and it is really annoying and rude to me. In Italy especially in the south this nosiness is quite customary. Don't get me wrong everyone is very kind and generous but sometimes they just want to know about all the little details of your life and I find it strange because I couldn't care less about the details of their life so I don't understand what the big deal is with my life... you know? I mean it's not that I don't care, I just respect their privacy.

Everyone has a story and everyone makes the choices they make for their own personal reasons. Unless I'm paying you for therapy I really don't care for your opinion on my life choices thank you very much... I'm 33 years old I think I'm capable of living my own life.

So I don't want this post to be just about me venting about rude people who don't mind their own business but to all those people who feel the same as me, here are some helpful tips to avoid nosy questions.

  • Let the person know that you feel uncomfortable answering certain questions. Some people may not realize that an innocent question is too personal so just graciously let them know that you feel invaded. Most people will appreciate your honesty and respect your privacy.

  • Shift the focus. If you find people starting a conversation that you see going in the direction that you don't want it to go, start talking about something else and change the subject. They'll get the hint...

  • Don't feel like you have to cave in just to be polite. They're not being very polite by asking you personal questions so don't feel "bullied" into answering them. Simply say you're in a rush and leave it at that.

  • Give vague responses. Beat around the bush or give "politician responses". Answer the question indirectly, for example when someone asks how much money you make. Answer something like, "money is not very important to me" or talk about the economy or job market or be funny and answer "enough to pay my taxes!".

  • If someone asks you about your relationship status and you don't feel like talking about it ... "it's complicated" and leave it at that.

  • Another tip is not to lie to the person asking questions just simply answer in a way that makes them understand that you don't feel like talking about certain things, or respond saying "I'll let you know" or "I'm not sure", etc.
People love to gossip. Magazines and paparazzi make loads of money off the lives of other people and if you think about it, it is rather pathetic and depressing. I even enjoy reading a gossip magazine from time to time when I'm waiting to get my hair done at the hairdresser but I'm never one to pry in the lives of people that I meet or work colleagues because a) it really doesn't interest me and b) I don't think it's polite.

I think that if someone wants to share personal information with me, they will tell me directly without me prying into their lives. If I trust someone I will open up to them eventually but the more I see someone wanting to know about my business, the more I turn the other way.

I found this article very interesting from the MannersMentor website:

"The word because is powerful. It can act as its own complete explanation. No one is quite sure why, but social experiments have proven it true. It probably goes back to the days of our childhood when mom or dad’s answer to our question “Why?” was simply “Because.”

There was a study that involved having a young lady ask the person waiting in line to use the copier at a large public library if she could please go ahead of him or her in line. When she asked if she could cut in front and gave no explanation, only 60% of the people let her go before them.

When she added a reason to her request (“My class starts in ten minutes and I have to have these papers to complete my assignment”), more than 90% said, “Sure, go ahead.”

Here’s where it gets interesting. When she asked to go ahead of others and gave this reason: “May I please step in front of you because I need to make some copies?”, more than 90% of the people also said, “Yes.” Her only reason was “because,” which really isn’t a reason at all. This tidbit is useful to remember anytime we’re pressed by someone for additional information. Take for instance a coworker asking, “No really, why are you taking next Thursday off?” You could answer, “I’m taking a personal day, because I need the day off.” Or, when asked why you’re not going to a party, you could say, “Because I’m not able to attend.” Again, just keep in mind your tone of voice. It’s also OK to simply say, “I’d rather not say” or, “That’s private,” especially if you believe the person is trying to intimidate you with his or her question. "

What do you guys think about this topic?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Asparagus Risotto

I realize that I don't post a lot of gluten free recipes and that's simply because it's not something that I pay much attention to in my cooking. This is something that I am grateful for because I know quite a few people that are affected by celiac disease and it is not something that should be taken lightly. A cousin of mine was actually diagnosed with celiac disease in his late 40's and he has eaten pasta and pizza for pretty much his whole life. All of a sudden he began having terrible stomach pains and was not able to keep anything down and no one could figure out what was wrong until they ran some tests and found he suffered from celiac disease. It's funny, well not actually funny, but you know what I mean, when he was getting sick his wife and mother kept giving him vegetable broth with small pasta or pastina which is what is typically given in Italy to those who have the stomach flu or some sort of virus and must eat light. So the more they gave him this pastina the sicker he got and no one understood why.

I'm sure you can imagine that it's a little complicated trying to eat gluten free in this country. I don't think there is any other country in the world that loves its gluten as much as Italy does. Eating out becomes a real problem because from what I understand cross contamination is the biggest issue. Not so much the ingredients but the mixing of utensils that carry gluten on them for example using the same spoon that you used for boiling pasta in a gluten free dish contaminates that dish and the person gets sick.

When I was in the States this past April, I noticed that every menu had a choice of gluten free meals that you could choose from. Here it's not that prevalent unfortunately. Italy has been getting better accustomed to gluten free eating but not nearly as much as the States has. Most first course dishes are pasta based and many second courses are usually breaded or floured. One first course that is almost always gluten free is risotto. I've posted a Pumpkin risotto recipe before and I'm proud to say that I make a pretty spectacular risotto. So I added a gluten free label to my blog posts so that any readers I have that don't eat gluten aren't immediately turned off by my blog title...

The procedure is pretty much the same for most risottos. The main ingredient varies but the process is the same. I almost always use organic vegetable broth. When I do risottos with seafood I sometimes will use a fish based broth but for the most part vegetable is my go to broth. I always add a teaspoon of butter in the end and if not seafood based, I always add parmesan cheese. I saw a funny post on Instagram the other day and it basically sums up my feelings on parmesan cheese...

So this asparagus risotto is another one of my favorites and I'm happy to note that it is gluten free!

Gather your ingredients together (serves 2):

 - one cup of rice
 - about 15 asparagus stalks
 - a cup of parmesan cheese
 - one small onion
 - about a liter of vegetable stock
 - 2 tablespoons of olive oil
 - one teaspoon of butter
 - salt and pepper to taste

Cut up the asparagus in small rounds leaving the tips intact and discarding the white stems.

Sauté the onion in olive oil and add the asparagus. Simmer with some white wine and after about 10 minutes remove the tips and place to the side. The tips are much softer than the rest of the stem and you don't want to overcook them.  We will add them again during the last 5 minutes.

Add the rice and begin adding the broth a couple ladles at a time and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the tips of the asparagus, the parmesan, butter and pepper. Taste to see if it needs more salt and make sure not to overcook the rice or else it will get mushy. 

That's pretty much it! Now you have yourself an exquisite gluten free ....and vegetarian....Italian first course dish :-) Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet is among the healthiest in the world. When I lived in the States I was a really bad eater. I loved all that junk food that is so popular in the States and that is really bad for your body. I loved all the fast food places with my favorite being Arby's, close second Taco Bell and coming in third Dairy Queen. My college roommate and I would stay up late studying and then make a trip down to the 7-11 and buy ranch chips and dip and just snack on those while studying. Our last stop on the weekends after going out would be either the local 24 hour diner or the pizza place at 2:00am before going to sleep. We had terrible eating habits. Then we decided that we wanted to start the South Beach Diet and that lasted like a whole 2 weeks and then we just threw in the rag and gave up.

When I moved here I was left with no Arby's, no Taco Bell, no Chinese, no Ranch dressing nada. There was instead an abundance of fresh organic veggies that I had never heard of before like rabe, chicory, leopoldia comosa or lampascioni. I hated all of those things. My aunt would come home every day from the piazza where she would buy fresh vegetables from the farmers that would sell their produce in crates picked fresh from their land. My Aunt goes to the piazza every morning and buys fresh fruits and veggies for the day. It is so much cheaper here than in the States too. She would make soups using fresh garden vegetables and fresh fish. They would make pasta dishes with fresh octopus and muscles and every day after lunch they would have fruit. In summer it would be peaches and fresh figs, in the winter there were apples and oranges and tangerines.
And when they cooked they wouldn't drench things in butter but they would "drizzle with olive oil" and lemon juice or vinegar and when I told them about how Red Lobster makes the best shrimp scampi and lobster with a delicious buttery garlic sauce they explained that if the fish is fresh, it should never be covered up with condiments. The fish gets covered in condiments when it is frozen and has lost its "sapore di mare" or "taste of the sea".
So I learned to eat fresh steamed sea bass with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh parsley. Butter pretty much got substituted with olive oil for everything and red meat was not as easily accessible as fresh fish. The meals were simple but genuine and it took me a while to get accustomed to it. A tomato and carrot salad served on a "frisa" which is a type of hard bruschetta soaked in water to soften it up was the dinner of choice of many of my relatives. (side note - I hate those frisa's by the way...It's been over 10 years since I've been here but do not give me a raw tomato on anything or else I will throw it back at you - end side note).
This is a frisa in the photo above. It has the shape of a bagel but is very hard and tastes like hardened bread. It gets soaked in olive oil and water and is usually topped with a tomato salad that can include carrots, onions or olives.
I have SLOWLY gotten accustomed to eating more greens and fruits and cooking with olive oil as opposed to butter. And I also have been eating much less red meat since living here. I have always, and still do to this day, LOVE a good rare steak. I am a meat and potatoes girl at heart and will always be but I know that it's not the healthiest way to eat and I have really grown to appreciate how good oven roasted bell peppers and spicy roasted zucchini and pizza stuffed with chicory and capers can be.
This weekend we made a delicious pasta dish that I would have never in my right mind have eaten when living in the States....but I can assure you that today I go nuts when someone makes this for me and it's a dish that gets made a lot in my house. It seriously has become one of my favorite pasta dishes. My honey doesn't care much for it because all he really wants is tomato pasta (ugh.) but he'll eat it from time to time.
This is a typical recipe of the Apulia region which is located in the "heel of the Italian boot". It is a simple pasta with broccoli rabe which I know they sell in the States because my mother makes it a lot and I know she finds it easily over there.
Broccoli rabe has A TON of health benefits. It is rich in glucosinolates, which the body converts to cancer-fighting sulforophanes and indoles. Studies have shown that these compounds are particularly effective against stomach, lung, and colon cancers, and recent studies have documented that it protects against breast and prostate cancers as well.

Just a 3 1/2-ounce serving of broccoli rabe provides your body with more than half the daily requirement of vitamins A and C, which fight off dangerous free radicals that can cause damage to your body's cells and are both rich in antioxidants. The dark green color also indicates that it is a good source of folate, which protects against birth defects and heart disease, as well as potassium, fiber, and calcium.

I won't elaborate on the recipe step by step because it really is very elementary. You must first clean the rabe and wash them well. Cut off the thick ends. The pasta gets boiled together with the rabe in the same pot. The rabe gets put in first and left to boil for about 10 minutes and then the pasta gets thrown in.

Once the pasta is cooked it is transferred to a pan in which you heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a clove of garlic, about 3 anchovies in oil and a cut up jalapeno pepper.

Make sure to save some water from the pasta and rabe and add a little to the pan.

Mix everything well and serve with a glass of red.

I also made a beautiful loaf of bread that day and it was soooo good warm from the oven.
(Ti ringrazierò sempre per i tuoi preziosi consigli Alessandra.)

I know that the pasta might not look very appetizing and I'm sure that if I was still in college and someone showed me that picture I would probably say "Eww no thanks" but trust me when I say that if you force yourself to eat more greens, in the end, your body asks you for them and you become hungry for them. That's what happened to me. The more I ate junk food, the more I wanted it and now the more I eat greens, the more I want those and the less I want junk food. Its funny how our body works isn't it?
Be healthy and love your body.