Monday, January 09, 2006

Italy on $50 A Day and No Pizza

We have a houseguest over from Minnesota these days. It’s funny since Gabriel (originally from Geneva, Switzerland) never got ANY visitors from home (or anywhere else for that matter) while he was living in Minnesota but now that we’re in Milan, we’ve literally had dozens. Minneapolis is far more beautiful than Milan, but Milan is near so many great things: Lake Como is basically a suburb, the Shakespeare cities, Verona and Mantua, are about 2 hours away from here. Venice is 3-1/2. Minneapolis is pretty much in the middle of a lot of corn.

Our houseguest, Marcy loves Italy for its design industry and photo-worthy landscapes, but the wonderful food, pasta, pizza, anyway, the “primi piatti” are out of reach since she’s allergic to wheat. It’s a shame to be in Italy with this restriction since meat here isn’t all that stellar. This is a country that has perfected veal, which to me is just beef made to taste like chicken. What’s the point? A product they call “Roast beef” is sold in supermarkets in paper-thin slices made to be fried into shoe-leathery bits. Well, there’s always the fish.

I shouldn’t be so negative. The food is great here even if you can’t eat the pizza. So, we planned to have a dinner party and introduce Marcy to some of our Italian friends. The goal was to create a whole meal with no flour or any other wheat product and also no garlic. Polenta was out too since evidently it also can contain some wheat flour. Planning dinner was kind of neat actually. I felt like I was on “The Splendid Table” with Lynne Rossetto Kasper thinking up a dish with nothing but the ingredients in somebody’s fridge. My first thought was a dinner of Indian curries served with a basmati rice pilaf but then Marcy reminded me about the garlic and I decided to go Persian. I’ve heard that Persians never use garlic in their cuisine but that has also been contradicted. Anybody out there know? Anyway, this dish turned out wonderfully! It’s called “Fesenjan”. The recipe, being tailored for American kitchens (and supermarkets) calls for chicken rather than the traditional pheasant. My butchers had pheasant, so I went orthodox on this one. I got my pomegranate syrup from a local Middle Eastern pastry shop called Al Buraq. I'd bet the cranberry juice concentrate suggested in the recipe would be really tasty as well.

Last Night's Dinner Menu:
  • Rice Soup Avgolemono (with an egg-lemon juice thickener)

  • Gabriel’s Spezofai (Greek Loukaniko sausage sauteed with onions, green peppers and tomato)

  • Fesenjan with simple basmati rice pilaf


2 cups uncooked basmati rice
1/2 tsp whole cumin seed
1/3 cup raisins
1 tbsp butter

Rinse the rice in water 4-5 times taking care not to break the grains. Drain completely. Place the butter, cumin and raisins in a medium to large lidded pot over medium heat. Sautee the mixture until the raisins have puffed and the cumin is fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the drained rice plus 2-1/2 cups of water. Cover immediately and allow to come to the boil, reduce heat to low and cook covered for 15 minutes until the rice has absorbed all the water and there is a slight frying sound. Let covered pot off the heat for 5-10 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork before serving.


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