Thursday, July 29, 2010

Padellata of shirmp and vegetables

You'll get a kick out of this. Or at least I'm getting a kick out of it, so I'm going to pass it on to you. I'm writing this post using a high speed connection on a high speed train traveling between Milano and Napoli. It covers 724 km. in 4:25 hours, including a 15 minute stop at the Rome train station. Is actually mind boggling to zip through the countryside at such high speeds, speeds that peak at 355 km/h in galleries. The train itself, of course, it's pretty damn sweet, with a nice restaurant and bar wagon and power outlets for each seat, even in second class where I'm sitting. Rumor has it that in first class, other than having even roomier and comfier seats, they serve you complimentary drinks, including mimosas —a tidbit of information that has made me long for first class like never before.

See, a mimosa would greatly help me right now as I'm sitting only a few feet away from the world's most annoying 9 year old boy. Seriously, he just cannot shut up and, get this, he not only talks non-stop, he whines non-stop. Which is a lot worse, if you ask me. Good thing that in 40 minutes we'll be in Napoli, and then off to the ferry that will take my best friend and I to Ischia, a gorgeous island in the Med where her family has a vacation home. I'm really looking forward to a few days of sun, relax and, of course, her grandma's cooking.

Last night, before leaving for my minivacation, I had the usual problem of getting rid of all the contents of my fridge, so I thought I'd make a nice healthy meal to prepare myself for the journey and, most of all, to my alarm going off at 5 a.m. to catch the 7 a.m. train to Napoli.

(Serves 2)

1 zucchini
1 red bell pepper
1/2 red onion
1/2 egg plant
2 cups shrimp, peeled and deveined
Extra virgin olive oil
Crushed red pepper
1 clove of garlic

Heat olive oil in a pan, mince garlic and saute it in the oil until fragrant but not burnt. Add vegetables, season with salt and saute until crisp tender. Season with crushed red pepper.

Add shrimp to pan, saute for a few minutes, about 5, making sure not to overcook the shrimp.

Top with torn basil if you like, and serve immediately.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Viva la movida madrileña!

Do you ever feel an instant connection? It doesn't matter if it's with a person, a place, a certain ingredient, a cocktail. You have this almost overwhelming yet calming feeling that you have found your match and that life, after all, it's going to be ok.

In my life I experienced a very small number of such connections, and yet I remember and cherish each one of them. I cannot tell you how long had it been since my last epiphany, let's just say that —finally— a few days ago I had a new one. I wasn't in Madrid for six hours and, already, I absolutely adored the place. Everything about the city, about the neighborhood, the food, the people, the drinks and —I hate to use the word because nothing sounds nuttier and more tree-hugging than the word "energy", but I'll use it anyways because in Madrid even using the word energy seemed ok— the energy is so rich, charged and charging, that I instantly thought "I want to live here."

Food, of course, was a very prominent part of my vacation. I cannot even go five miles away from my house without managing to find a new ingredient or a favorite wine bar, so imagine what happens when you unleash me in Madrid. Madness is what happens. And a very happy, constantly semi-drunk me. As my best friend describes it, locamente borracha, which loosely translates to "stupidly drunk", and yet doesn't even begin to describe the happy stupor in which I found myself as I was taking in the amazing views and the even more amazing food and drinks. Potatoes with salsa brava, a tomato-y, spicy concoction that is a a staple of Spanish cuisine made my taste buds sing. I kid you not.And that was only the beginning.
Mixto iberico, aka pork galore, also ranked very high in my all-time-favorite snacks. I think I ate the equivalent of a whole pig while I was there, and loved every second of it. I cannot say that this kind of nutritional plan is particularly easy on the waistline, but it tastes so heavenly one can only do one thing. Eat more of it.
Cerveceria 100 Montaditos, the best deal on earth. Every tapas on the menu is either 1 or 1.20 Euros and, get this, if you order at least one montadito (tapas) your huge beer half liter beer, which usually goes for a whopping 2 Euros, will cost you only 1 Euro. I was practically in heaven. Not to mention that the food itself was more than good, it was amazing. Jamon serrano, jamon iberico, tortilla madrilena with salsa brava, pate and berry jam, smoked salmon... you name it.
Let's not forget about the drinks, of course. The mojito pictured above was probably the best mojito I have ever had in my entire life, and that includes the two years I have spent bartending in Florida and making what, at the time, I thought was the best mojito on the planet. Well, little did I know that in a cozy, yet air-conditioned, bar on Calle Espiritu Santo in Madrid I'd find a bartender that makes a mojito that is better than mine. The bar is called Lolina Vintage Cafe and, a part from the stellar cocktails, the place is absolutely adorable. As the name suggests, it was entirely furnished and decorated using vintage prints, furniture and pictures from the 60s and 70s, which goes together perfectly with the whole barrio (neighborhood) of Malasana, where the bar is located, sort of a Spanish version of Montmartre or the Village, with indie music stores and independently owned boutiques.

Can you see why I want to go back to Spain as soon as possible?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Special celebratory Mimosas

No, I didn't get a job. Nor have I won the lottery. Especially if the latter had happened, I highly doubt I would be standing in my living room taking pictures of my cocktail as it inevitably gets warm. No. You'd probably see me disappear into the sunset, off to travel the world, with a truckload of champagne following me around.

Alas, I have not found a job yet and neither have I won the lottery. The reason I'm celebrating is that tomorrow I'm leaving for the first of many mini-vacations that I'm taking this summer. I figured that, since I'm not exactly swimming in cash, many short trips would be easier on the wallet than one long one. I also figured that it would be easier to find partners in crime for short journeys as opposed to finding someone who has always dreamed of —say— spending a month exploring the Arctic Circle.

So tomorrow, my best friend and I are leaving for a four day trip to Madrid, something I'm extremely excited about for two reasons. The first one, and more obvious one, is that I've never been to Madrid before and I can't wait to be there to take in the sights, eat the food and drink the wine. The second one is that her and I haven't been on a trip together for almost ten years, but I'm sure we'll have just as much fun as we did in London in 1996 or California in 1999 or any of the other trips we took together throughout the years.

So off to Madrid we go tomorrow, with a convenient 7 a.m. flight. Which means that today I'm trying to get the house half way organized and myself halfway ready for the trip while drinking Mimosas with a twist: blood orange juice and rosee champagne. Aren't I fancy?

Other than that, my summer has actually shaped into something interesting, while my house has pretty much morphed into a youth hostel, as I host all kinds of friends, old and new, and travel with them. Seriously, when Tommy told me he wasn't coming here in August anymore it was the biggest bummer ever. Little did I know that him coming at the end of September instead would open up my summer to a myriad of possibilities and fun. So here's to positive thoughts. And to making the best out of what life handles. Whether it's a change of plans or a batch of blood oranges.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ratatouille pasta with shaved ricotta salata

So many recipes, so little time. Literally. Between cookbooks, cooking magazines and food blogs, mt list of must-try recipes is getting ridiculously long and one day doesn't go by without me finding yet another one. Because I'm a huge dork, I have recently started a Word file on my computer with all these recipes and where I saw them and every time I look at it, besides feeling like said huge dork, I also have a feeling that if I stopped adding recipes and started making one out of the list every day, I would probably get through it by 2012, just in time to make it before the Mayan end of the world.

Case in point, pasta with ratatouille. The seed was planted when I read about a ratatouille pasta on Emily's blog. Then, a few days later, I saw another recipe for a ratatouille pasta on a magazine. Last but not least, I saw one on the menu at one of my favorite restaurants. I knew I had to try and make it. There are several things that I like about this recipe. First of all, it's easy, fresh and tastes like summer —I guess all those ripe fragrant veggies and basil will do that to a dish. Then there is the fact that it's a classic "let's clean out the vegetable drawer recipe", not much in the sense that you can throw any vegetable in it, but when your favorite veggies are zucchini, peppers and eggplants... well then it's a perfect match for you. And third, I love making ratatouille and, if I make too much of it, I now know that I can make a delicious pasta with the leftovers. 

The addition of ricotta salata —a saltier, harder version of regular ricotta— gives a little more flavor to the dish and pairs incredibly well with fresh basil leaves.


Serves 4

1 pound rotini
1 red pepper
1/2 eggplant
2 small zucchini
10 ounces canned chopped tomatoes
1/2 red onion
Basil leaves
A tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
4 ounces ricotta salata, shaved

Cube all vegetables. Heat up a little olive oil in a pan, add onion, suatee until fragrant, then add the rest of the vegetables and cook, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes.

Add chopped tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, then cook for another five minutes.

In the mean time, cook noodles according to package directions. When they al dente, drain and add noodles to pan. Mix well to combine. Season with more olive oil, if needed, then sprinkle with shaved cheese, basil leaves and thyme.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Of carpaccio and memories

Memory is tricky. And I'm not talking —as many of those who know me might think—of the kind of memory trickiness that makes you remember your fifth grade best friend's phone number —236024— and not how Faraday's cage works when your Physics professor asks you in the 11th grade.

I'm talking about a different kind of memory. I'm talking about the truest, more pure kinds of memory. The kind that is spontaneous. The kind that is not summoned. The kind that is, pretty much, a mere reflex.

Take a simple red plastic comb, resting on a wooden shelf, next to a vintage shaving kit. I rested my eyes upon it for a few seconds tonight, as I was drying my hair. And all of the sudden I felt an odd wave of affection towards both them cheap comb and the vintage shaving kit. They used to sit by the bath tub in the house where I grew up, and I used to see them on a daily basis. What I found funny tonight, as I was trying to get excess water out of my hair, is that I've been here since April 22nd, and only tonight, more than two months later, did I notice these memorabilia from my childhood. Of course the house I'm staying at right now is not that same house I grew up in, because in the mean time my parents have moved —here first, to the US afterward— but this house in Switzerland is filled with a lot of random objects that belong to them and that, for one reason to another, didn't quite make it to the "let's take these to Florida" list.

Nevertheless, they are cool. Nevertheless, they make me feel cozy, and happy, and somewhat safe in the knowledge that you can indeed come and go, and travel around the world, and then come back to find that some things have never really changed. Like my grandma's china in the cabinet or a picture of a 5-year-old me staring at me from a frame that is almost 25 years old. The house, although not big especially by American standards, is literally permeated with my parents' and grandparents' history.

For crying out loud, I cannot even go to the bathroom without remembering when my mom used that red comb to comb my hair ("Don't tell dad, we used his comb or he'll complain that we leave hair in it") or when, as a teenager, I would still my dad's super sharp, three blade razor hanging from the the little vintage shaving stand to shave my legs ("Mom, don't tell Dad, or he'll complain that the blades are dull").

Then there are all the other rooms. The bedroom where I sleep, in the very same bed I slept in back then. Some glasses in the kitchen that actually pre-date me. The Encyclopedia Britannica, mocking me from a shelf in the living room: you'll never know enough, as I mock her back: you'll never be updated enough.

All these trips down Memory Lane, of course, have some effects. One is that, never before I've felt more like a teenager than I do now. And I'm not only talking about the lack of job and the bizarre sleeping habits. I have also started eating like a teenager again. And before you picture me scarfing down McDonalds and washing it down with gallons of coke, let me tell you: I never ate crap when I was growing up. But I did eat a lot more pasta then I have eaten later on in my 20s and these days I'm eating tons of it again. And I'm loving it. Which explains why I've been posting so many pasta recipes lately. The other related effect is that I have been cooking Italian recipes only, like they were going out of style. No Asian food. No Mexican. Very unlike me, but —hey— it's the truth.

So here's another one. A non recipe really, since all you have to do to make carpaccio is buying it, placing it on a large dish, cover it with arugola and shaved Parmesan and drizzle it with salt and olive oil. But it's delicious and definitely worth trying.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Penne with Calabrese style pesto

Surprises. You either like them or you don't'. I don't. And that isn't because I'm sort of grump that doesn't enjoy the spontaneous moments in life. Au contraire, I don't like surprises mainly because I have some type of sixth sense that tells me there is something going on —a surprise namely— and because I'm generally such a hopeful, positive person I tend to imagine said surprise to be something awesome, something a lot more awesome than what it actually is. And that, my friends, means that when I'm face to face with said surprise I have to act all happy and cheery, much like when I was nine and my great aunt gave me a house plant for my birthday. I mean, can you imagine being nine, hoping to get some cool Lego or a cuddly teddy bear, and getting a begonia instead? But of course I had to act all happy about it because my mom, from across the room, was giving me that "look happy" look. Faking happiness is not my style, but sometimes, alas, especially when it comes to surprises, one has to do it.

The other aspect I don't like about surprises is the suspense. Don;t you hate it when you walk into a room and everyone in it is on to something you don't know? They look at you, all expectant and barely able to contain themselves, and then —of course— someone yells "Guess what?"

Seriously, spare me the guessing. I loathe guessing. But you have to do it anyway, because they are relentless and everyone calls you a party pooper if you don't. So I guess. My guess usually is "you just got a promotion!", said with genuine enthusiasm and a tiny little hint of envy. Nope. I never guess it right. These days, because my friends are apparently getting old of the sudden, the only possible answers to their guessing game are either "We're getting married" or "We're having a baby". And since I'm not a wedding or a baby person there goes my "look happy" face, the one I learned to make when my great aunt gave me house plants for my birthday.

Of course there is such a thing as a good surprise, one that doesn't involve secretly planned birthday parties or guessing what happened. As it often happens in my life, most good surprises come from the kitchen —either mine or someone else's— or, in this case, from a cookbook I bought a while ago when I realized I was missing my cookbooks like crazy. Yes, people, the two things I miss the most about Florida are my boyfriend and my collection of cookbooks. 

Anyhow, when I think of pesto, I usually think of the traditional Ligurian kind made with fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic and olive oil. Little did I know that other regions —Sicily and Calabria for example— also make their own versions of it and use it over pasta or over toasted bread. The following recipe hails from Southern Italy, from Calabria, and let me tell you, it was so good it made me want to go there...

Serves 4

3/4 pound penne pasta
3 garlic cloves
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp capers
10 black olives, pitted
10 sun dried tomatoes
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
A bunch of basil

Cook pasta according to directions. In the mean time wash and cube the cherry tomatoes. Place garlic, pine nuts, capers, olives, basil and sun dried tomatoes in a mixer and pulse until you obtain a coarse paste.

Heat olive oil in a large pan, sautee cubed cherry tomatoes for a couple of minutes, add the garlic and basil mix and season with salt if needed.

When pasta is cooked al dente, drain it, add it to the pan, sautee for one minute, stirring to combine with sauce and serve immediately.  

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Wandering Cook turns 1 today!

...and this, in case you are wondering, it's me turning one many, many years ago. The one on the left is my great-aunt Maria, while the one on the right is my grandpa Andrea. I had never noticed how perplexed I look in this picture —I'm guessing either the cake or the flame had caught my attention while my mom was talking this picture. My blog and I don't share the same birthday, nor we have the same chubby cheeks, but I couldn't come up with a better image for a first birthday because, unlike many other bloggers out there, I really didn't feel like making a cake to celebrate the fact that I actually followed through for once in my life and kept writing for a whole year.

I have many good reasons for not wanting to make make. If you want to hear a couple of them, here they are:
I'm lazy.
I don't overly like cake.
Who the hell was going to help me eat a whole cake since I live by myself?
Good reasons, right?

Anyhow, when I posted about risotto alla milanese exactly a year ago I had no idea what writing a food blog would be like. I wasn't even sure I was going to keep doing it for a whole year because I know myself and I know how fast I lose enthusiasm and interest in things. But I kept writing and posting about food and about my life as the days turned into weeks and months, and as life kept happening around me. Many things have happened in these 12 months —some very good, some very bad, some insignificant, some life-changing—but food, and cooking, have always been there for me, making happy moments even happier and making the sad and crappy ones more bearable. And then, of course, there's you, my readers, that have come to read me and left comments that kept me cooking and writing even when I didn't much feel like blogging.

So thank you, to all of you, wherever you are.


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