Monday, September 15, 2014

FIGS ARE HERE ☞ ROASTED FIGS

Do you still have figs around? If you do, I applaud your restraint for not having eaten them yet. It took a massive effort in self control for me to store a dozen figs in order to make this second fig recipe of the month (find the first one here or just scroll down to see my previous post). Since this summer is being especially gracious with its temperature, I turned the oven on and did some roasting. FIG ROASTING.

Out of the oven.

Now, if there is one cookbook I find myself recommending again and again is All About Roasting by Molly Stevens (gifted to me by my incredibly intuitive husband a couple of years ago). It's a wonderfully informative book that explains the science and beauty of roasting and then provides very reliable basic and also sophisticated recipes to roast meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit. The recipe that struck me like a divine and life-changing apparition was this "Orange-Scented Honey-Roasted Figs". I followed the light.

So here they are, a panful of figs drenched in orange juice and honey and then sprinkled with black pepper. They come out perfectly caramelized and spicy, while retaining some of their chewiness. The pan juices, red and sticky, are a delight.

I served the figs with vanilla ice-cream, which is the most obvious choice, but I still have two children under four and I'm lazy, so I'll work on something more interesting next time. (I was thinking about a polenta dessert.) What I would like to try is swapping the orange juice with wine, perhaps a Grecante I once found at The Italian Store. I'll let you know what happens.

On ice-cream.

You can find the original recipe in All About Roasting, otherwise this one from Bon Appétit should do.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

FIGS ARE HERE ☞ FIG TART

I'm just going to come out and say it. I don't care much about fruit. In fact, if I didn't have children, I would probably never buy it. Does that make me a monster? Yes, it does. So what.

There is one fierce exception to my indifference to fruit: Figs. I love figs and I could eat dozens at a time. They are beautiful, they are sweet, they are luscious, and they bring me back to blissful childhood afternoons, sitting on a fig tree branch with a couple of friends and gorging on the fruits. Interestingly, the fig is one fruit whose seasonality seems to be respected both in Italy and the United States. You find it just twice a year, at the beginning and at the end of the summer. Italian figs are usually bigger, with a thicker skin that can be easily peeled off.

Come to me, my darlings!

You can only imagine my joy when I found a recipe for a "Brown Butter Fig Tart" in John Besh's My New Orleans: The Cookbook, a wonderful book I found at my father-in-law's during a winter visit (a great review here). I immediately copied the recipe on a piece of paper, and then sat on it for months until figs became available.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

TWO ITALIAN MOTHERS, BLINDED BY FOOD AMBITION

I just spent two happy months in the company of my sister and her two wonderful kids, aged 10 and 12. We had a great time between summer camps, the beach, and bowling nights, but there was one issue we struggled for the entire vacation: What to eat? I have to say, my sister and I are both blessed with children who eat everything and are happy to experiment. The real struggle was to find a common denominator between our assorted demands for healthy food. We are both very health-conscious Italian mothers, after all, which means we want to provide only the best for our children so that they will, hopefully, never leave the house. 

In the flowchart below (and what a great flowchart it is), I've listed all of our joint food requirements for our summer together. I start with the basic requirements and then go into each subset. Our resulting diet is detailed at the very end. Let me know what you think.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A MID-SUMMER SNOBALL MIRAGE

In late July, my family spent a week in Fenwick Island, a lovely coastal town sandwiched between the romantic charm of Ocean City, MD and the austere beauty of Bethany Beach, DE. We were joined by my sister and her two kids, aged 10 and 12. After lying on the sand on a particularly sunny morning, we dared order a "Snoball", which is shaved ice topped with flavored syrup served in a styrofoam cup. We were hoping it would taste like a Sicilian granita, the heavenly inspiration for what you call "Italian ice": It did not.

Because of my sugar-free credo, I didn't order a Snoball for myself. I did, however, taste everybody else's: watermelon, orange, chocolate, and bubble-gum. As the kids sprinted to play in the water under my sister's watchful eyes, I slipped into a nauseated sleep. I'm sure it must have been the combination of the sugar, the synthetic flavoring, and the heat that introduced a strange and unsettling vision that haunts me to this day, and that I will recount to you now in this post.


Shortly after falling into my sugar coma, I woke up to find a plump, tanned woman in a black bikini sitting right next to me and looking towards the ocean. I had no idea what she was doing there, and I thought she was sitting a little too close, but there was something reassuring about her so I didn't protest. She was sitting against the sun in silhouette, so I could only catch glimpses of her face. What I could see is that she was probably in her mid-sixties, with long wiry grey hair and thick dark eyebrows. Her belly was big, round and smooth and the color of a cappuccino, and so were her thighs and arms. I remember thinking she actually looked like a giant smoked scamorza.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

YOU'RE READING MY DIARY/2

INVASION OF THE MICROBIOME SNATCHER

Over the past year or so, I've be reading more and more reports about how science is now examining how our thoughts and behavior may be dictated by our gut flora (read here and here). To clarify: We always thought stress caused our intestinal problems, but it might be the opposite. This news is truly fascinating to me, and also creepy, if you consider the implications. In fact, if I were a journalist I would sensationalize these findings more. I just can see the titles: "Evil bacteria: At last, scientific proof for demonic possession" or "We found the human soul, and it's made of yogurt".

Thursday, June 19, 2014

DRIVE YOUR ITALIAN HOSTS CRAZY #3: THE WORLD CUP EDITION

The world's heaviest Ferrero Rocher
Usually, I don't watch soccer. The reason being that 1) I never really cared and 2) I was scarred forever when in 2004 the general manager of my local team, Venezia, was caught by the police with a bag with €250,000 IN CASH received for intentionally losing a match. Venezia was then punished by having to play forever somewhere completely inoffensive like the Baby&Tots Itsy-Bitsy Soccer League for Fun, Fun, Fun. Or something like that.

However, every 4 years my soccer soul awakens and stirs like that of a moulting cicada in DC. I resurrect from my soccer slumber and for a month straight I live and breathe World Cup. This frenzy is shared by all my fellow Italians, of course, which brings me to the third rule of the Drive Your Italian Hosts Crazy series.


Monday, June 2, 2014

1/2 CUP SUGAR: CORNMEAL COOKIES OR ZAETI


You might remember that my family is now basically sugar-free thanks to Dr. Lustig and his anti-sugar campaign (YEAH, THANKS). I say "basically", because we still want to make room for the occasional treat, such as an unmissable dessert at a good restaurant, a cup of fresh gelato, or a homemade sweet that is as fun to make as it is to eat. We try to break The Rule a couple of times a month, and then we make sure to flog ourselves with a cat o' nine licorice ribbons.




In this regard, Italian sweets have become a perfect solution, since many of them tend to rely on less sugar than the American ones. In fact, I found that many recipes rely on 1/2 cup sugar, and that includes cakes. Mind you, these do not originate as healthy sweets: They are genuine recipes with no claim other than deliciousness. So here starts my 1/2 CUP of SUGAR series, for sweets that still need to be consumed in moderation, but should not hurl you and your family into leptin annihilation. (For this last comment, refer to Dr. Lustig's Youtube lecture linked above.)

The first recipe is for Zaeti (or Zaleti), the traditional Venetian cornmeal cookie. They are rustic and crumbly, like a hearty shortbread. They contain raisins, but sometimes also pine-nuts. I know them mostly shaped like diamonds—or to be more precise, like rhomboids—but they can be flat and round, or plump and oval. I made them both with coarsely-ground cornmeal and with finer one. I must say I prefer them on the coarser side, but medium-coarseness will leave some hard corn bits. Readers with dental crowns and fillings: Watch out.

Venetians usually have Zaeti in the afternoon, accompanied by a sip of white wine, but I'm not one to put limitations on their consumption. So if you prefer to stuff some in a paper cup and eat them in the car on your way to work, you have my blessing.

The powdered sugar is not really supposed to be there. Oh well.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

GENIUS INVENTIONS FOR PARENTS

Those of you who don't know me well might be surprised to learn that I have an amazing talent of coming up with genius ideas for new products and business ventures (really, though, you shouldn't be that surprised). Since I became a mother three years ago, my ideas have focused more on making parenting easier, so here are 5 genius ideas for products that I hope will see the light sooner than later. I hope you like them enough to invest in their creation and distribution. (Call me.)


1. INST-A-RAIL

Imagine this, but on all sides of the bed
and remote-controlled.
Co-sleeping is all cute and cozy, but what happens when either baby or parent is awake? When the "co" in "co-sleeping" goes missing, you need the INST-A-RAIL. It's a remote-controlled system of rails that come up on all sides of the beds (very silently, of course) so that you can safely leave your child asleep in your bed alone or let him/her frolic on the sheets while you sleep. Perfect for babies who have learned to roll over, scoot, crawl and/or exercise. I know I presently need this at least twice a day.