Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Image of plated chestnut-flour pumpkin ravioli.
Here I am with a recipe that has been wiggling in my brain for months: pumpkin ravioli made with chestnut flour. I LOVE chestnut flour. I bought it for the first time a few years ago from The Italian Store, and I've used a few times to make linguine and crepes with great success. Chestnut flour has a mellow, sweet, nutty flavor that is subtle and unexpected. It produces a pasta dough that is tougher than the usual dough for egg pasta, but it also cooks very well and maintains a good bite, so it's worth every extra pound of pressure you need to apply to your rolling pin and pasta maker.

The pumpkin/chestnut idea became suddenly urgent when last month, on a whim, I bought a peanut pumpkin that a DeadChef follower and cooking expert later defined as "the MOST delicious pumpkin ever for pies and everything else". This is the kind of comment that gets me really excited, of course. Unfortunately, days passed and I couldn't get to my ravioli thanks (really, THANK YOU) to a string of unforeseen, disheartening sh*t, including Microbee (the youngest) getting sick and throwing the entire family into a weeklong nightmare of tears, snot, insomnia, and recrimination. When I finally judged myself ready for my peanut pumpkin, I realized with great horror that it had rotted from the inside and was completely inedible. To make things worse, my farmer's market was not selling them anymore. Which brings me to my new motto:

Image of motto, "Good things rot for those who wait".

I had to give up on the best pumpkin in the world, but I wasn't giving up on my ravioli vision.
So I immediately drove back to my farmer's market and purchased another pumpkin. This time, I chose a Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, because if I couldn't have the best, then I wanted another with a similarly evocative name. The Cheese Pumpkin didn't disappoint—well, it did disappoint in not tasting like actual cheese, but I knew the name was due to its shape—it is a more velvety and sweet version of a butternut squash, and decidedly more delicious. 

While the pumpkin was roasting in the oven, I worked on the chestnut-flour pasta dough, and then rolled it out, stretched it, filled it, and cut it despite the slightly unnerving attentions of my very defiant and mechanically-obsessed Minibee (the oldest).
Step-by-step ravioli making. Image of thinly-rolled pasta dough, dough with bits of filling, hands pressing dough on filling, hand using pasta cutter to shape ravioli.
The pasta cutter in the last pic belonged to my maternal grandma. It's my amulet.

I'm happy to report, the final ravioli were a total delight, sweet and creamy and absolutely perfect for fall. We served them topped with melted butter, grated Parmigiano, and a little black pepper, and added some leftover cheese pumpkin cubes aside. It took a whole afternoon with the constant sabotaging by my kids, but when there's a pot of buttery ravioli at the end of the parenting tunnel, nothing can stop me.

Two close-up of chestnut pumpkin ravioli. Second image shows open ravioli with filling oozing out.



for the filling:

2C roasted pumpkin (with EVOO and kosher salt)
1/2C grated Parmigiano Reggiano
freshly ground black pepper

for the pasta:
1C chestnut flour

1C unbleached all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp EVOO
2 eggs
1 egg white (for sealing the ravioli)

2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4C grated Parmigiano
freshly ground black pepper

  • Peel and cut your pumpkin in small pieces. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and roast in a 375F oven until fork tender. Let cool.
  • Mash the pumpkin with a potato masher if you like to keep some of the original texture (and heartiness), otherwise, puree until smooth in a food processor. 
  • Stir in the Parmigiano and the pepper.

  • Mix the two flours in a bowl and stir in the salt and EVOO.
  • Add the two eggs and mix first with a fork and then, when the dough starts to come together, with your hands, until you obtain a compact, elastic dough that is not sticky. If the dough is still dry and crumbly, sprinkle with water until you reach the desired consistency.
  • Cover and let rest of 30 minutes.

  • Roll out the dough with a rolling pin or with a pasta machine until very thin. If you never used a pasta machine before but want to start now, check out these instructions.
  • My ravioli were 3X3'', because I wanted to have a little filling in the center and some room for the pasta itself to breathe (you get to enjoy the chestnut flavor more). If you want the same, cut the pasta in 3'' wide strips and place a heaping teaspoon of filling every 3''.
  • Brush with egg white (mixed with a couple tablespoons of water) along the edges and in between the filling heaps.
  • Place another strip of pasta on top and cut the edges of each piece with a pasta cutter.
  • Place the finished ravioli on a floured kitchen towel and sprinkle with flour.

  • Melt butter in a nonstick pan.
  • Cook the ravioli in gently boiling water for 2–3 minutes. Be delicate: they are.
  • Serve the ravioli, about 5 per portion, topped with melted butter, black pepper, and Parmigiano.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Dolce di San Martino, a Venetian traditional giant cookie
As you can see, pastry lettering is not my forte. 
One of the greatest challenges and joys of being an expat parent is keeping up with traditions from home. The challenge comes especially when my Venetian calendar demands a specific sweet to be consumed on a specific date, and I realize I have to f*cking make it myself since there are no Venetian bakeries from where I could just purchase said traditional sweet (remember Easter?). Well, today is San Martino (Saint Martin), a strictly Venetian holiday that is celebrated with the Dolce di San Martino, a gigantic cookie covered in candy and shaped like a knight riding a horse. The cookie shape is inspired by the legend of San Martino. Children, gather round and listen.

It was a horribly cold and windy November 11 many centuries ago, and Martin was riding on his horse, shrouded in a warm cloak lined in sheep wool. Along the muddy way, he encountered a poor old beggar covered in rags. So Martin got off his horse, cut his cloak in half with his sword, and shared it with the old beggar. As Martin rode on, the cold wind subsided, the clouds dissipated, and the day became warm and sunny. And that was the beginning of the so-called "Summer of San Martino", or the handful of warm and sunny days that often grace our early Novembers.

It is not clear how San Martino's act of charity became linked with the traditional decadent mega-cookie, but as a child I didn't question (and, truth be told, I don't really care even today). I loved unwrapping my Dolce di San Martino and breaking off a limb from the Saint or his horse to eat in perfect merriment. That was the extent of my celebration, but you have to know that traditionally children also walk around Venice banging on pots and pans demanding money or candy while singing an adorable song that ends with the curse THAT YOUR PIG MAY DIE if you don't give them anything—I guess it's still cute as long as they haven't joined a gang yet.

Today, I want my children to experience the same joy, so I made my own Dolce di San Martino. I traced down the outline from the web (straight from the monitor, because drawing is another of my non-skills), applied it on a sheet of 1/4''-thick shortbread dough, cut along the outlines, and then baked knight and horse for 20 minutes. Then, under the enchanted gaze of my oldest child, I decorated with cheap colored icing and chocolate chips. And for today, my job as a Northern Italian mother is done.

Check out a fancy Dolce di San Martino here.


2 C all-purpose flour

1/3 C sugar
3/4 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
zest from one lemon
1 stick of COLD unsalted butter (in chunks)
2 large eggs

  • Draw and cut out the outline of the San Martino on a piece of cardboard or construction paper. I used this one
  • Heat oven to 350F.
  • With an electric mixer, mix together the dry ingredients.
  • Add the lemon zest, the butter, and the two eggs and mix together until they come together in a ball.
  • Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • Roll out the dough on parchment paper to a 1/4'' thickness, and cut out the San Martino using your cardboard outline.
  • Transfer the San Martino with the parchment paper on a cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until it just starts to brown around the edges and the center is just firm.
  • Let the cookie cool down, then decorate with icing and candy. You should definitely use icing to glue chocolates still in their wrapping (see here). I didn't have any and I regret not buying them.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


A bidetFor my birthday, my mother-in-law gave me one of the best gifts an expat Italian could ever dream of: a handheld bidet for our American toilet. It was promptly installed by my husband, and we've been enjoying a very welcome freshness ever since, many times a day. Yes, a handheld sprayer is not a proper bidet, but it's the closest thing I'll ever get to one in my tiny bathroom. I am so happy about this gift, I realized I needed to have a few words with you, dear reader, and hopefully turn you into a bidet convert. Now, I know Americans can be a little squeamish when we talk about this, once an American friend literally covered her ears and started jumping up and down and singing not to hear my eulogy of this adorably essential indoor spring. (Sorry, Americans, but I have to say it: Those founding Puritans sure did a number on you!) So I thought I'd write a Q&A to answer all of your burning questions so you don't have to bring anything up yourself.

Q: What is a bidet?
A: A bidet is a low basin with a faucet or a flushing rim (not preferred) situated in the bathroom. I've read 97% of Italian homes have one. The remaining 3% never have overnight guests.

Q: When do you use it?
A: After going to the toilet (mostly number two), before/after love making, during your period, and whenever you feel like it.

Q: ...
A: I know what you're about to ask: No, a daily shower is not enough. Unless you time the aforementioned activities around your morning shower or regularly take multiple showers per day, you do need a bidet.

Q: Well, I still think it's gross.
A: *eye-roll and sigh* I think I need some help. Read what these Italians have to say about this.
Bidet, always and forever. Honestly, I have no idea how you can live without it. I think it's the most genius invention in history. Is it possible that we are the only ones who use it? A., Crafter  
I can't live without it. If there's isn't one, then I always pray there's a tub or a handheld shower. C., Theater critic
I think the bidet is at the same time an object of design and an extremely gratifying practice, and I would add also a great topic of conversation among friends. It will decorate your bathroom as well as solve a sluggish conversation. And in any case, being clean and in order (down there) can eliminate embarrassment and lead to unexpected joys. A., Attorney
Hurray for the bidet, fresh water, and menthol intimate wash! So that when you're done you feel like you have someone else's [genitals]. R., DJ and philosopher

Q: "Methol intimate wash"?!?
A: Don't worry about that now. Yes, we have a "intimate" soaps, but menthol is not required. Anyway, focus. See how these people are obsessed with the bidet? The feeling of freshness and cleanliness a bidet gives you is something you can't take back.

Q: So what do you do when you're abroad?
A: Italians, your turn.
Bidet is like a great love that you take for granted and that you only realize you miss when it's no longer there, i.e. when you are abroad. This with the exception of Japan, when the bidet is integrated in the toilet, but that's another story. M., Executive Courier
I live abroad, and I've been using the sink instead for over 12 years, standing on the tip of my toes. It's awkward, but it's the best solution for me. I've never seen a bidet in the countries I've lived in, with the exception of Spain. I have to admit is great to rinse your feet, too, or to let your young children entertain themselves, but I've learned to live without it. B., Entrepreneur and muse
I can't believe the idea of the bidet hasn't spread to the rest of the world??? Why can't the world realize the superiority of the bidet? Anyway, when I travel I always carry a cargo of baby wipes. F., Travel guru and It Girl
When I'm abroad I use wipes. If I'm in a house or a hotel, I'll use the shower, but being fundamentally lazy and very sensitive to cold, I think that's torture. A., Crafter
Q: I don't know... I lived without a bidet for my entire life. I think I'm fine.
A: Then I have the ultimate question for you. Imagine you are walking down the street on your way to a nice dinner. You trip and fall—face down in dog shit. Would a simple tissue be enough for you? Or perhaps you'd prefer a baby wipe? Or do you wash profusely with soap and water?

Q: ...
A: I rest my case.