Showing posts with label Florence. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Florence. Show all posts

Friday, May 31, 2013

Spaghetti alla carbonara

by Sheila Connolly

Eat your hearts out:  I'm in Italy.  If all goes as scheduled (she says, checking the itinerary that somebody else put together) today I'll be in a villa somewhere north of Florence, touring the Chini pottery museum and listening to lectures on Renaissance Humanism and Italian Villas of the Renaissance, or "chilling out" or taking a siesta (both items included on the schedule).  And eating a lot.

When I was growing up my mother did not cook anything ethnic.  It's a wonder she cooked at all, since her mother never learned.  She did well with meat/starch/veg, but there were seldom sauces involved.  I don't think I saw her make a basic spaghetti sauce until I was well into my twenties.

She and my father ate out (now and then we kiddies would be included, on our best behavior), but mainly in "Continental" restaurants in New York.  When we children were included we'd go to Trader Vic's (pupu platter!) or occasionally Mama Leone's (where Ed Sullivan was said to dine, not that we ever saw him).  For lunch it was The Women's Exchange or Robert Day Dean's or Rumplemayer's.  On a couple of memorable occasions, we were taken to Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Hotel. Apart from the pupu platter I can't remember anything I ate at any of them.

Isn't it a wonder I grew up loving to cook?  I'll be the first to admit that I didn't "get" it until my first trip to Europe, the year I was 21.  I didn't visit Italy until the following year, but I'd broken the ice by then.  One seminal moment that I remember well:  stopping at a street vendor for an ice cream, on my first day in Florence.  I had no clue what half the flavors were, so I boldly said, "nocciola."  One taste and I knew immediately:  hazelnut.  In fact, incredible hazelnut.  It was amazing, and I've never forgotten the Italian word. In fact, about the half of my Italian vocabulary comes from food terms (the other half is from art history, although one is seldom called upon to use terms such as chiaroscuro or sfumato in ordinary conversation). 

Most of the Italian cooking I've done comes from only one or two well-used cookbooks:  the Sunset Italian Cook Book (1972), which I bought first, and Marcella Hazan's The Classic Italian Cookbook (1973).  I'll admit I haven't been very adventurous, and the recipes I've used most often have been for pasta sauces (I gave you one for a vegetable cream sauce in an earlier post here) or simple pasta dishes.  Once my household discovered pesto, we've eaten it once or twice a month.  Spaghetti alla carbonara is another favorite.  (Guess what:  my husband makes both!)  They're quick and simple dishes, as long as you have the ingredients (fresh basil is a must for pesto!).

Spaghetti alla carbonara is a handy recipe because you can use up all the bits and pieces of sausage, bacon, ham, etc., that you have on hand.  If you want to be authentic, you can use prosciutto or pancetta, both more widely available in American markets than it was back when I started making this.  One more note:  this dish involves raw eggs.  Ideally the heat of the cooked spaghetti will cook the eggs.  There have been concerns about the safety of undercooked eggs, but I think these have been addressed by people who raise chickens.  If you have any issues, you might want to avoid this dish, but if you're an "over-easy" egg eater, go for it!

Spaghetti alla carbonara

¼ pound mild pork sausage
¼ pound prosciutto/pancetta/ham, diced
4 Tblsp butter
½ pound spaghetti (half a box, usually), cooked and drained
½ cup parsley, minced
3 well-beaten eggs
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Black pepper

Dice the meat and sauté it in half the butter over medium-low heat (you don't want it to be crisp).

Cook your spaghetti according to your taste.  Drain it and return it to the cooking pot, then immediately add the cooked meats, the rest of the butter, and the parsley.  Mix to blend.

Quickly pour in the beaten eggs and lift and toss to coat the spaghetti evenly.  Sprinkle on the cheese, add pepper, and toss again.  Serve immediately.  Mangia!

I am informed that on my trip I will have the opportunity to sample regional Italian delicacies such as farinata, garganelli, trofie and sgabei.  I have no clue what they are, but I'll find out!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mushroom Risotto!

Holiday Grind_Paperback

Big congrats and a woo-hoo! to Cleo Coyle for the release of HOLIDAY GRIND in paperback! A fabulous mystery—and you’ll love the recipes in the back. Pick up extra copies for the holidays! They make great gifts!

* * *

And don't forget to enter Krista Davis's COOKIE CONTEST. [See link on right.]

* * *

You may remember that my husband and I took a trip to Europe this past September. I had a lot of high expectations for this excursion and I can say, without a doubt, that the trip exceeded all my hopes. It really did.

You know how Cleo says "Eat with joy"? Let me tell you, we did. A lot. Oddly enough, neither of us gained weight. I think that had to do with all the walking and stair-climbing we did. But that's a subject for another blog.

We hit several countries, but our last stop was Italy. Can I just take a moment to say the food was spectacular? France wins the bread wars (couldn't get enough baguettes) but Italy wins overall.

When Curt and I compared our top three meals during this entire trip, the one I'm about to talk about hit both our lists (as did another fabulous dinner on the island of Burano). The one I want to talk about today was in the Tuscan hills overlooking Florence.

We had joined a tour group in Italy and although we could have navigated Italy on our own, there's a lot to be said for not having to deal with traffic. But the best part, by far, was zipping to the front of every line at every major attraction, whether it was at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence to see David, or at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, or at the Coliseum in Rome. The line for the Vatican was crazy long.

But I digress.

Back to dinner in Florence.

Our chef, Emile, greeted us in the parking lot and our tour guide, Gianfranco translated. While we sipped wine and chatted amongst ourselves, we admired the gorgeous landscape and heard all about the dinner Emile was about to create. As an added bonus, Emile promised to prepare mushroom risotto while we watched.

Wow. Wow. Absolutely delicious.

When we got home, I decided I'd be brave and attempt making risotto too. Heck, before Emile prepared it, I had no idea that I'd be looking for arborio rice at the grocery store. Nor that it came in a box, rather than a bag like normal rice.

See, this trip provided even more culture than I'd expected!

I didn't take notes while Emile cooked. Why not? Because I wanted to enjoy the experience. And when I cook at home I like to experiment. When I'm baking I measure and I'm careful to follow instructions. When I'm cooking, it's a whole new - and open - ball game. I just play.

Back home I got my hands on a couple of risotto recipes. Taking them, and adding what I learned from watching Emile, I came up with this. It was a huge hit and I can't wait to make it again. This particular variety is completely vegetarian. The recipes I found online were based in chicken stock, but I wanted to use vegetable stock so my veggie daughter could enjoy it, too.

Here's the one thing I'll warn you about... when I was about halfway through making this, I realized how much I do not like the smell of vegetable stock. I was worried that smell would make the risotto taste bad. But my worries were unfounded. By the time I added all the liquid, that weird smell had dissipated and the risotto tasted absolutely great.

One other warning... once you start adding liquid, you'll have to stir it constantly until it's done. There's no walking away to check email while this baby's cooking.

Have I scared you off yet? I hope not. It really isn't difficult, and I found it kinda fun.
Ready for the recipe?
Thanks to a variety of online sources, and our wonderful chef, Emile, here it is ...


This makes a *lot* of risotto. A whole lot. I made this as a side dish for 6 people and had half of it left over. But, as friends and family will tell you, I always prefer to have more than not enough...

8 cups of vegetable broth (Emile made his own. I cheated and bought it ready-made)
2 glugs of olive oil, give or take, plus more olive oil later
1.25 lbs portobello mushrooms, halved and sliced
1.25 lbs white mushrooms, sliced
3 shallots, diced
2 cups arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine (I used Chardonnay)
salt, pepper to taste
Handful of chopped chives
8 - 10 TBSP butter (I used more)
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the vegetarian broth until it's very hot but just short of boiling. Keep it hot the whole time.

Pour the two glugs of olive oil into a very large, deep pan. Heat oil until warm, stir in mushrooms and cook, stirring from time to time, until they're dark and soft and have given off their liquid. This takes a while.

Prepare a skillet by heating one glug of olive oil and adding diced shallots. I used an electric skillet that worked incredibly well. Emile used handheld skillet over a flame. Looked cool, but I'm not nearly as accomplished as he is. The electric skillet was a good choice for me. If you use one you don't have to turn it on much past 200 degrees. Any higher and it all cooks too fast. Keep it low.

Once shallots are softened and the oil is starting to sound hot, add rice and stir quickly to coat them all. As soon as the rice is covered, and turning golden, add wine and stir constantly. Keep stirring until the wine is absorbed. As soon as it is, add a ladle-ful of broth (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup) and stir, again until absorbed. Lots of stirring. Keep stirring. Add more ladles of hot broth, stir, let it be absorbed, repeat, until all the broth is gone.

Turn off the skillet/remove from heat. Add mushrooms and their liquid. Add butter. Add chives. Add parmesan.

Add salt and pepper if needed (ours didn't) and serve.

I wish the pictures had come out better. Trust me, it looks a little funny up there, but on the plate -- and better yet, on the palate -- it's fabulous. Hope you enjoy. This sounds like a lot of work, but it really isn't.

I can't wait to get back to Italy. But in the meantime, I'll have to make do with homemade foods like this one. Tough, huh?


Grace Under Pressure, first in the Manor House Mystery series
Buffalo West Wing, coming January, 2011, fourth in the White House Chef Mystery series