Monday, June 25, 2012

Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe + giveaway

One of Rome's iconic dishes is spaghetti cacio e pepe. It's deceptively simple with few ingredients - spaghetti, pecorino romano cheese, cracked blacked pepper and pasta water. I've eaten it at several places in Rome, but no where prepared better than at Roma Sparita, a restaurant in Trastevere. If the weather is warm, sit outdoors in the piazza overlooking the beautiful church of Santa Cecelia. 
The pasta arrives at your table heaped in a frico - a bowl made from grana padano or parmigiano cheese. Making a frico is easier than it seems - follow the directions here. But making a good cacio e pepe is not as easy it you'd think. You could end up with a gloppy, gooey mess, as I did on my first try. Or you could end up with a sublime creation, like the one at Roma Sparita. So I thought I'd ask the chef himself -- Maria Biondi -- who came out and told me how Anthony Bourdain swooned over the dish while filming an episode of "No Reservations." Biondi said the episode was all on YouTube.   

But I later found out, it's not. Unfortunately, the episode has been pulled from YouTube, so I couldn't see the preparation. When I called the restaurant to tell them, I spoke to Ugo, the owner, who gave me the list of ingredients, noting that Roma Sparita uses a little bit of butter to the sauce, a most nontraditional addition. Still no detailed measurements, though, but Kathy at Food Lover's Odyssey, has an excellent post abut the recipe, including a recipe she recreated after an invitation to the restaurant's kitchen to see the dish made. Check it out on her blog.

photo courtesy of Food Lover's Odyssey 

The rest of the meal was just as delicious as the pasta, starting with battered and fried zucchini flowers, prepared in the traditional way -- stuffed with mozzarella cheese and a touch of anchovy. You'll find directions here on making them here.
I was feeling quite full after the pasta, and decided to skip a second course. After seeing the giant portion of osso buco at the table next to mine, I was glad I held off. But there was still enough room for some dessert - a warm apple crostata served with gelato. Perfetto!
OK, now for the giveaway. Who wants a cookbook featuring classic Roman recipes? Just leave a comment at the end of this blog (not in an email), with some way (blog url or email address) for me to contact you if your name is picked in the random drawing.

Click here to connect with me on Instagram and find out what’s cooking in Ciao Chow Linda’s kitchen each day (and more)

Cacio e Pepe alla Roma Sparita

(Serves 2 people)

Half pound spaghetti
About 6 cups well-salted boiling water
For the “sauce”:

About 1 1/2 cups (2 large ladles) boiling pasta water
1 tablespoon freshly, coarsely grated pepper, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons butter
1 3/4 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for garnish

For the Parmesan bowl:
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Regiano cheese
To make the Parmesan bowl, spread a very thin layer of the cheese onto a slightly warmed non-stick pan in the form of a circle, about six inches in diameter. (The cheese should slowly start to melt when you place it into the pan.) Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling. Using a spatula, slide the cheese circle out of the pan and onto a turned over bowl. (To create a pretty bowl like that at Roma Sparita, it’s best to use a mold/bowl that’s not higher than 2 inches, letting the excess fan out with creases at the edges.) Use tongs to press the cheese, only while it’s hot, down or out, as you like. Cool while you make the pasta.
Cook the pasta according to the directions for that brand. When the pasta is not quite cooked, about 3 minutes before you would normally take it out of the water, add the boiling pasta water, the butter and the pepper to a hot saute pan. Add the drained pasta to the pan and toss through the water mixture until the pasta absorbs almost all of the water. Remove from the heat, and add the grated cheese to the pasta. Quickly stir the cheese into the pasta. Place into the Parmesan cup and garnish with more grated cheese and freshly grated pepper, to taste. 

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sauteed Squid

I've mentioned before that "Le Mani In Pasta" was our favorite local restaurant when my husband and I lived in Rome's Trastevere neighborhood. It has remained so on all my visits back in the last six years.  I've never had a disappointing dish there - from the fish to the meats to the pastas and desserts. Their mussels and clams in a winey broth is hard to beat and I always order it as a first course, not just because it tastes so great, but because it also takes me back to an idyllic time in my life.
On this last visit, I went with a couple of friends, and one of them - Kathryn  - ordered the sauteed squid. Of course I had to have a taste, and that was all I needed to know that it was perfect - not tough, not undercooked, just simply and expertly cooked. I love battered and fried squid rings as much as the next gal, but it's nice to eat squid a different way too. One of my favorite methods (a Christmas eve requirement) is stuffed squid baked in a tomato sauce. You can find that recipe here.  At Le Mani In Pasta, the squid was neither deep fried nor baked in tomato sauce - just prepared with a light coating of fine bread crumbs and a quick saute in olive oil. A squirt of lemon juice at the end imparts the perfect acidic touch. I tried to duplicate the dish at home, and while it wasn't exactly the same, it was close, and it did bring back a little bit of la bella Roma for a brief moment.
Start with the squid. It's easy enough to find already cleaned at the fish market. I cut it into small pieces, but you can choose to leave the bodies whole if you like.
Place the pieces on a plate smeared with olive oil and some salt. Flip the squid pieces to coat with the olive oil, then sprinkle some fine bread crumbs all over.
Heat a heavy skillet, place a few tablespoons of olive oil into the pan, then add the squid pieces, cooking briefly for a few minutes on each side. Don't worry if the pieces curl as you're cooking. It's hard to avoid that so just press it down with a fork or spatula.
Serve with a squirt of lemon juice and a sprinkling of minced parsley. 

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Hydrangea Cupcakes

Last night I dreamed I found a miniature dinosaur in the suitcase I unpacked from my recent trip to Italy. (I'll return to sharing more posts and recipes from that trip shortly.) Anyhow, so this was a real dinosaur in my dream - kind of like a tyranosaurus rex, but cute like that little gecko on those tv insurance commercials. Relieved that it just miniature, and unsure what to do, I locked it in a room and went back to sleep. The next morning, I opened the door and the dinosaur had grown tenfold, and it wasn't so cute anymore. I slammed the door shut and called animal control. Then I woke up and had a cupcake with Miranda by the hydrangea bushes. 

You know Miranda, don't you? I use as my email address for this blog not because I have a real daughter named Miranda. No, my real daughter's name is Christina, and while it's a lovely name, I've had a twinge of regret over the years in not naming her Miranda, linking it with the Shakespearean connotation in my last name (you'll have to figure that one out.) So when we put in a fountain a few years ago, I seized the opportunity to call her Miranda.

OK, so back to the cupcakes. I don't normally eat cupcakes for breakfast, but this dinosaur business was an emergency that called for a little sugar catharsis. My friend Dede got the ball rolling a few days ago by giving me some lovely pink and lilac hydrangeas that I arranged in a vase with my own blue flowers. That was all the impetus I needed to make the cupcakes I saw on the blog Glorious Treats a while back. One baking and I had enough for guests Friday night, Saturday night and Father's Day too.

After you've baked your favorite cupcake recipe, make the frosting. I used a basic buttercream frosting and colored it using liquid supermarket food coloring. If you want more color choice (and less dilution of the frosting), buy the paste food dyes available from cake decorating shops. I was too impatient to make the extra trip to the store.

Use a pastry bag and place two colors inside. Then with a number 2D decorating tip, squeeze the little florets all over the top of the cupcake.

You'll end up with something like this if you use the two tones of color:

Or you can opt for a single color like this. I added the pink to a bag that wasn't quite empty, so I got a few edges that were a slight lilac color too.

Try it while hydrangeas are in season and set a pretty dessert table. 

More Italy posts coming soon!

This recipe for chocolate cupcakes is an old tried-and-true recipe from Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake and makes a great layer cake too.

Chocolate Cupcakes (24 cupcakes)

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 eggs

  • 1 cup milk

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • 1 cup boiling water

Line muffin tin with paper liners.  Heat oven to 350*F.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla.  Beat on medium speed for one minute.

Stir in boiling water (the batter will be thin, don’t worry, this is right).

Fill liners 2/3 full with batter.  (I usually put the batter into a large measuring cup with a pour spout, and then pour the batter into the liners.)

Bake cupcakes for aproximately 22-24 minutes.

Cool completely on wire rack before frosting.

Buttercream Frosting (for 24 cupcakes)

4 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2-3 tablespoons milk or light cream

Assorted food colors 

Using a No. 2D decorating tip, place two colors of frosting inside a pastry bag, and pipe "flowers" all over the top of the cupcake.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cooking Cavatelli with Fabio in Rome

Rome has at least 50 museums where you can see everything from paintings to pasta, and I've spent a fair amount of time in a majority of them over the years. But I've learned that when you're traveling, it's nice to step away from museums sometimes and do something a little different. Something different... something fun... something delicious. That's what I did in between museum-hopping, boutique shopping and hunting down new gelato shops. There are many cooking classes to choose from in the Eternal City, but this one is conducted by a chef -- Fabio Bongianni -- not in a restaurant, but in his own home nearby the Spanish Steps. Come on now, how often do you get a chance to peek inside an apartment owned by a noble family that dates back to the Renaissance and Middle Ages? That family would be the Colonna family, who supplied a pope and many political leaders over the centuries and who are the owners of one of the largest private art collections in Rome at the magnificent Galleria Colonna.

So I signed up and even though I've shopped in many of Rome's less touristy-markets, I had fun tagging along as Fabio began the day by choosing vegetables in the Campo dei Fiori market.

Next stop was the old Jewish ghetto for some meat.

And some fish too. Can you tell Fabio has a good sense of humor?

We walked to his apartment on via Gregoriana, passing by the monumental Trevi Fountain.

Fabio stripped off his good shirt, we all put on aprons and got to work.... cutting fish....

pounding chicken...

making two kinds of pasta - one with eggs and flour for the ravioli, and one with just flour and water for the cavatelli.

Some people worked on squishing cooked potatoes through a ricer for the gnocchi:

Rolling out the cavatelli took a bit of practice but people caught on fast:

We ended up with a tray like this:

The ravioli were stuffed with ricotta cheese, zucchini that were cooked and mashed, parmesan cheese and an egg to bind everything together:

Fabio was an expert at tossing everything in the pan.

The best part was the eating. Three primi: ravioli dressed with butter, sage and parmesan cheese:

Cavatelli with cherry tomatoes, sea bass, olives and capers and a sprinkling of bread crumbs:

potato gnocchi with eggplant, tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella cheese.

Meat and vegetables too - chicken cooked two ways -- sauteed with a coating of breadcrumbs and olives, and braised in balsamic vinegar; baked eggplant, fried zucchini and ricotta "balls."

For dessert, we headed to one of Fabio's restaurants -- "That's Amore" and celebrated the birthday of one of the young and lovely participants with cake and coffee.

If you're headed to Rome and are interested in taking a class from Fabio, click here for more information. He plans to move his cooking classes from this apartment however, so I can't guarantee you'll be eating in this lovely dining room -- or gazing at the view of St. Peter's from his bedroom. (Yes, we were all invited in. His wife is very tolerant... to a point.) But you'll have a great time no matter where it's held -- and a delectable meal at the end.

 Grazie mille Fabio per una giornata divertente.

Fabio's cavatelli with sea bass, cherry tomatoes and olives

printable recipe here


For the pasta:

10.5 ounces of water (about 1 1/4 cups)

21 ounces of flour (about 2 1/2 cups)

2 pinches of salt

Fish stock:

1 medium white onion

1 stalk of celery

1 medium carrot

1 clove of garlic

1 pinch salt.

2 sea bass

For the Sauce:

1 package of cherry tomatoes

1 c white wine

1 clove of garlic




Black olives

Pour flour on working surface and make a fountain with a hole in the middle of the flour. Pour the water into the middle of the fountain then add a little flour at a time with the tip of the fork. Keep beating and when all the flour is mixed and you have a dough consistency, knead the dough by pressing and folding gently with your hands. Now, work the dough with palm of your hands – holding with the left hand and pressing with the right, then fold the dough over and turn. Repeat this process for 5 minutes. Let the ball of dough sit for 30 minutes in the fridge.

Take your ball of dough and divide it into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, lay the dough out on a lightly floured surface and divide it into quarters again. Take a piece of the divided dough (now and 1/8 of the original amount) and roll it into a long tube 1/4 inch in diameter. Divide the tube into pieces 1 inch long with either a pastry cutter or a knife. Now this is the fun part. Using the edge of a butter knife or pastry cutter, with the device at a 45 degree angle, press on each piece of dough and pull across the length of it. You find that the motion causes the dough to curl up the edge of the impliment. If you don't get it at first, don't be discouraged. Just keep working with it using different amounts of pressure on the dough and eventually you'll get into the grove.

Debone the sea bass and use the bones for your stock. Place the bones in a pan with 1/8 c of olive oil and one clove of garlic. Then add the onion, celery and garlic to the pan to Sautee for a few minutes. Next add 2 cups of cold water and 2 pinches of salt. You need enough cold water to completely cover the ingredients so add more cold water if needed. Simmer for 20 minutes. Then drain the stock and save for the later step.

Saute cherry tomatoes cut in halves in a pan with one clove of garlic. Cook until the cherry tomatoes start caramelizing then glaze with white wine. Cook the cavatelli in boiling water until it floats. Add the pasta to the pan with the cherry tomato and white wine. Add the chopped sea bass and fish stock then cook until the sauce reduces. Reduce until you reach a nice creamy sauce.

Remove from the heat and serve with black olives, capers and fresh parsley sprinkled on top.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Missing Italy

I've been back for only a few days and I'm already missing all the places I visited in Italy -- from the mountains of Abruzzo ... to the beaches of Anzio...

From Rome's well-known tourist sites...

to some hidden gems shown to me by a curator friend at the Palazzo Barberini... 

From working with a serious but fun-loving group of writers at the "Italy, In Other Words" workshop...

To shopping time with them at the ceramics town of Castelli...

From the dazzling mosaics at Santa Maria in Trastevere of Christ the shepherd and his sheep...

To an encounter along the ancient sheep trails in Abruzzo with a modern-day shepherd and his dogs tending his flock...

From all the kitsch-y souvenirs along the streets of Rome...

To looking for real treasures in the city's antique shops...

From a concert with the fabulous Abruzzese folk musicians DisCanto...

To the incomparable Riccardo Muti conducting Attila at Rome's Opera House...

From my rustic room at Sextantio that still looked as it did in the middle ages:

To the beautiful patio of my blissfully quiet Rome hotel room.

From churches in far-flung places...

To participating in mass from behind the altar at St. Pietro in Vincoli, seated in a choir stall with a view of Michaelangelo's "Moses."

From the wonderful food I ate - cooking with Fabio in his Rome palazzo:

To watching Liliana make her spaghetti alla chitarra in Santo Stefano di Sessanio:

From pizza:

to pasta...

to meat...

to fish:


and gelato too:

....How could I not still be longing to be back in this beautiful country and the people I spent time with in the last few weeks? Once I'm caught up with things on the home front, be on the lookout for future posts about recipes, sights and sounds I encountered during the last few weeks -- and a giveaway too. Stay tuned .... 

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