Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pan-Mediterranean Summer Dinner

It was only the heat and coincidence that created this chilled dinner as we sit in 33C/90F weather, but it's heartening to me to eat it after reading the New York Times, Ha'aretz and La Repubblica papers today, not to mention this Anthony Bourdain article about Beirut (read it to the end or you'll think Bourdain's an ass, he's not). I'm feeling down and rather pessimistic about the Middle East and about humankind, in general. Some of the people who have written about this make me feel hope for the future, though.

This dinner was not intended to mean anything. But as I look at the Baba Ganoush (at 12:00), my Middle Eastern flatbread, the Greek Melitsanosalata and the Italian Caprese salad, I want to see harmony here. I almost feel naive as I say that out loud since I can think of 100 reasons why there isn't peace. Music to feel powerless by: Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?" from the album Armed Forces.
There's a silly (but I loved it) novel by Tom Robbins called "Skinny Legs and All" about a Jew and a Muslim who open up a Mediterranean diner together. There are some people who I read today who embody this fraternal feeling, a respect for each other and a recognition of their side's part in the destruction. I hope they prevail.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Gobagool - Capicollo

I've written a lot about cool dishes to serve on hot summer nights. Gazpacho, Baba Ghanoush, Melitsanosalata, Steak Tar Tar and Summer Vegetable Terrine are all great ways to make yourself cool at a July or August meal but if you're feeling really lazy and you don't want to actually make anything, you can always rely on a great, cool antipasto plate with "gobagool" and some crusty bread.

In Chicago, an antipasto plate always included green and black olives, marinated vegetables, an array of sliced cheeses and capicollo a.k.a. gobagool. I just love this salume and need to keep only small amounts in the house for fear of consuming a kilo of it in one sitting. Gobagool seems to travel really well since the stuff I get in Chicago is as good as the stuff here in Milan. I suppose the real test of authentic, local gobagool would have to take place in Central or Southern Italy as it comes from Tuscany, Umbria, Calabria, Puglia, Basilicata and Campagna, but not Lombardy where I am. If you want a primer, "Gobagool 101", go here. Otherwise, go down to your neighborhood Italian deli or pork store and get yourself some.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Mafalde Photos

Today, I can post photos!! But also I forgot to mention the Mafalde connection with Argentinean comics. There is a wonderful old comic strip named "Mafalda" that resembles Peanuts a lot but with a lefty bent. The title is also the name of its really smart 6 year-old main character. Mafalda's creator is a genius called Quino (pronounced KEY-know). I don't know if they have translated Mafalda into English but they do have the Italian version! At left, you see the package of Mafalde (plural of Mafalda) pasta.
and here, the finished dish sans parmesan.
And now, I've got to get me some lunch. Bon appetit, everybody!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Gianfrancesco’s Mafalde With Fresh Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

My friend, Gianfrancesco is a great no-nonsense cook. He has an array of simple and delicious dishes he makes quickly when he’s in his Milan apartment away from his family home. One of these is mafalde pasta with roasted red pepper sauce. Mafalde (see photo) are the narrowest lasagna noodle you can imagine but are eaten like regular spaghetti. Their ruffled edges hold the sauce remarkably well.

In the summer, I like to keep heating the house to a minimum, so we leave the oven aside (as much as possible) and eat lots of salads, Mediterranean tapas/mezze that are served chilled, but sometimes, this is not substantial enough. In those cases, I go for pasta with fresh sauces. The only heat you generate is with the boiling pasta water and the dish that comes to table is less hot than one with a cooked sauce. If you’ve already gone to the market and roasted all your peppers and eggplant (hopefully outside on the barbecue grill) then this dish takes only the time it takes to boil water and cook the pasta.

Here’s the dish:
(for 2)
about 8 ozs mafalde pasta (if you have appetites like ours)
1 medium-sized garlic clove
4 medium-sized basil leaves
1 roasted, peeled and seeded red bell pepper
salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
1 tbsp very good olive oil (it stays raw here so you can really appreciate the good stuff)
lots of Parmesan or Grana Padano

Set a large pot of water to boil. In a small food processor, place the garlic and basil. Whiz around for 5 seconds until they’re in small pieces. Add the pepper and any juices that may have accumulated. Check if the water’s boiling, if so add pasta and cook according to package directions. Mine said 9 minutes. Whiz the sauce again until you have a uniform consistency. Music to whiz peppers by: My all-time favorites, The Pixies’ "Wave of Mutilation" on the album, Doolittle, home to their only hit, "Monkey Gone to Heaven", which is nowhere near as sublime as this tune right here. (BTW If you don't have this release, run, don't walk to your nearest record store and demand it!) Add the salt, pepper and olive oil, whiz once more to incorporate. When the pasta is done, drain it very well, and plate with a dollop of sauce in the center sprinkled with cheese.

(Having problems getting Blogger to put pictures up, will add them asap)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Cuor di Bue Tomatoes

The cuor di bue, to me is the #1, big momma, grand Pubah of tomatoes. It's got very thin skin and almost no seeds, so it's loaded with delicious tomatoey flesh. It is as tasty as the Brandywines I grew back in Minnesota but here in Milan, they're sold at every open-air market in the summer. They are the best tomato for about everything from salads to sauces. In the photo you see here is quite a puffy example of the variety; they're often more pearlike with a narrow top and plump bottom. Seeds are available on many UK websites and some Canadian ones but I haven't seen them in the States and US seed sites seem hard to find. If anybody in the States needs seeds, let me know!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Tag! I'm It

I have always been jealous of other bloggers getting tagged for a meme. It seemed like getting invited into a club, being somehow included. This is my virgin meme effort thanks to Lea at Copperpots. Thanks, Lea!
Here are the categories:

Five Things in My Freezer

1. Two "ice" cubes of pureed chipotles en adobo (awaiting chipotloe shrimp!)
2. Three plastic water bottles filled with beef stock (awaiting the next risotto)
3. One package of artichoke hearts
4. Nine (of a box of 10) of the cheapest, nastiest chocolate-covered ice-cream bars (which will remain until we move)
5. Enough dough for 2 servings of black, squid ink pasta

Five Things in My Closets
(like most Italians, I have no closets, just an armoire)

1. Hanging on the inside of the left door, Gabriel's tie collection
2. Hanging on the inside of the right door, my scarf collection
3. The extra weight inserts of my adjustable wrist/ankle weight set (awaiting my future hard-body status)
4. "The Tingler" Have you ever tried this?
5. A down sleeping bag

Five Things in My Car
(again, no car but I've got a bike!)

1. 1 speed
2. A front and rear basket
3. (At times) waste paper that rude people put in my baskets
4. (When I'm headed for work) my computer and briefcase
5. (When I'm headed back from the market) huge bags of fruits and veggies in both baskets.

Five Things in My Purse

1. Keys
2. A metal cigarette case that I use as a wallet
3. A non-functioning electronic phone book
4. Ponytail holders (a must)
5. My (fake or real?) Gucci change purse that my oldest friend, Debbie gave me for my 16th birthday. (Who cares if it's fake or real, it's lasted me for 2 decades!)Thanks, Deb!

Five People to Be Taggeg Next:

1. a.c.t at Into the Pot
2. June at Bread, Water, Salt, Oil
3. Melissa at Hello, Melissa!
4. Rowena at Rubber Slippers in Italy
5. Scott at Needs More Garlic

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Steak Tar Tar

On a roll and feeling invincible after my run-in with raw pancetta, I got gutsy and went for the gold. Steak tar tar, a.k.a raw hamburger. Granted, you douse it with booze and lemon juice and a whole bunch of other stuff to make it go down easy (actually it was really delicious and I can't wait to have it again) but it's still raw beef from whatever part of the animal they make burger from.

Gabriel had been talking about making this for years but never did until last week. Could the delay have been due to my weak, "um, o.k., honey" with subsequent discussions about pathogenic bacteria and the big salmonella (or was it e-coli?) outbreak that hit Chicago when I was a kid? You wouldn't believe what they described on the evening news back then. Anyway, here in Europe I've eaten all kinds of things that most Americans would fear. You know about the pancetta but there was also the roast lamb that lay unrefrigerated over night before roasting, and the yogurt that Gabriel forgot in his office for two days then left in our fridge, which I ate without knowing where it had been. But each time I tempt fate and the gods of botulism, I win.

So here it is: The Steak Tar Tar "recipe". If you have a good butcher who will grind some whole beef for you, you shouldn't have a problem.

There's about a half a pound of meat in the center surrounded by (going clockwise starting from 8:00) freshly-ground black pepper, chopped white onion, chopped chives, chopped tomato, grainy mustard, capers, lemon wedge. Top left is (clearly)salt and top right, a shot of rum.

Mix all the condiments that you like into the beef and eat almost as if it were a spread on crunchy toast. Music to eat Steak Tar Tar by: New Zeland dance band, Salmonella Dub.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Le Musee du Quai Branly

I have to admit to having done very little cultural tourism this time around in Paris. We did check out, however the newest museum in town, dedicated to non-European art and anthropology, the Musee du Quai Branly. This museum houses "the entire collections, staffs, and libraries of the musees de l'Homme and des Arts de l'Afrique et l'Oceanie...thus making it the principle museum for presentation, research, and teaching, 'a place of hommage to nonwestern societies and of the sharing of cultures still too often misunderstood'"

Unfortunately, I found the collection (what was included over what was not) to be ill explained, so I still don't know the museum's mission. So much for sharing of cultures too often misunderstood. It's pretty bad to come out of a museum experience thinking, "what was the point of that?" especially if finding out the point was your main goal of visiting. We entered and exited the rear of the building so when Gabriel brought me around to the front to show me the facade, I 50% forgave the Musee. Look at this building! In reality the plants are more lush than what I've been able to record here for you. The Musee du Quai Branly's architects, sure knew what they were doing.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

More Parisian Hospitality

The three times we've gone to Paris we have enjoyed the kindness and hospitality of people who are almost family. Two of those people are Marie and Ines (sorry Ines, I can't make accents work in blogger!). Each of them has hosted us in their spare rooms in the past and they both made us lovely meals this time around. Ines prepared a delicious lunch of chilled keftedes (lamb meatballs with Greek herbs) and a Greek salad which hit the sun-beaten spot after our flea market excursion to Clignancourt. Sadly, I had no camera that day. What you see above is the end of Marie's wonderful dinner party. She came up with a fruit and port wine pairing that was particularly good. Quarter a small melon, scoop out the seeds, fill the indentation with fresh raspberries then pour about a teaspoon of port wine on top and you'll see what I mean. Oh, and if you have a raspberry-melon colored tablecloth to go with, all the better.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Ever since I attended a Romance Literature and Cultural Studies conference in Chicago years ago, I have been intrigued by the Chateau of Versailles. A French presenter described how Louis XIV would have picnics on the grounds and would have teams of well-hidden servants providing all the food and drink his guests needed without their presence being detected. Imagine "waiters" hiding in tree boughs attached to pully systems to that they could descend upon guests' wine glasses to replenish the drink as if by magic. Apparently Louis wanted an image of unadulterated privilege and elegance. The sight of a lowly servant would have ruined the spotlessly glorious ambiance. This sort of thing goes on a lot in advertising today but, thankfully Versailles has been cured. Here, I give you, Versailles Gardens with Workers.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Petit Dejeuner

Gabriel loves a big Saturday breakfast on the weekends. It's not the English breakfast with sausages, bacon, eggs, beans, grilled tomato, etc. etc but a sort of Swiss thing with "oeufs en cocotte" (soft-boiled eggs), an array of cheeses (here you see clockwise from top: St. Marcellain, Pont L'Eveque, and some kind of goat cheese) toast, coffee and orange juice. This was a weekend staple in Minneapolis but in Italy we almost never have this because Gabriel, cheese expert accustomed to great varieties in Switzerland, finds that most Italian cheeses kind of taste the same. Not bad, mind you, just uniformly salty and pleasant, the key word being "uniformly". So in Paris, we broke out the wonderful (if smelly) raw milk cheeses, the really buttery butter (yum!) and the award-winning baguette (literally!)and went to town. Both on this vacation and our honeymoon, we were priveledged enough to stay in a friend's vacant apartment in the 14th arrondissement very near a bakery that has won the "Best Baguette of Paris, 2004 as well as the "2nd Best Baguette 2003". It's a lot of fun to wait in line there first thing in the morning with all the other people in the neighborhood and get your baguette, petits pains au chocolat and any other pastry that you fancy.

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