Romanesco is like the Lady Gaga of broccoli.
Unapologetic, captivating, a bit peculiar. Certainly there isn’t a more stylish vegetable.
With its kaleidoscopic spires and minarets, it looks like it could be some kind of architectural coral from the ocean floor…or Mars. The fractal nature of broccoli romanesco’s structure is quite stunning, and what’s even more remarkable, the number of spirals on a head of romanesco is a Fibonacci number.
Sometimes called “Roman cauliflower” the lineage of the vegetable indeed goes back to cauliflower, and it has the same texture of cauliflower, but the flavor is closer to that of broccoli, except more subdued.
As I pondered how to cook this beautiful head of romanesco, my mind landed on another classic Roman dish, Cacio e Pepe, traditionally a simple and satisfying spaghetti dish adorned with just Pecorino Romano cheese, black pepper, and some olive oil.
I have a special place in my heart for Bologna. It is where I spent my junior year of college, and it is where my young impressionable eyes were opened to many life lessons, namely:
- A girl can never have too many shoes — especially well-made, sexy Italian ones
- The best way to learn a foreign language really is to get a foreign boyfriend.
- Drinking a bottle of cheap wine before getting on a train is never a good idea
- Gelato is good for you. Swear.
- Cooking is easy if you start with good ingredients.
In Bologna I watched my Italian flat-mate, Mariangela, magically transform fresh veggies and produce into mouthwatering meals, often with the help of nothing but salt and olive oil. Granted, it was grassy-hued liquid gold EVOO pressed from her family’s hand-picked olives in Calabria…but still, the simplicity was a revelation.
Sometimes your lucky stars align and you find yourself in a secret garden tucked away in a medieval Italian town where a man named Mario stands, stretching fresh mozzarella before your very eyes.
Our friends Frank and Mike invited us to a gig they were playing at the lovely Rosso Vino Giardino in Perugia. As luck would have it, there was a special mozzarella making/tasting event as well that evening.
Pasta Puttanesca roughly translates as “pasta in the style of a whore” – no doubt an enterprising whore who’s a little salty, a little spicy, and has plenty of bite to her. You may be wondering how this dish got its colorful name. Legend has it “ladies of the night” would lure customers into houses of ill repute with the enticing aroma of this sauce simmering away. Alternately, they would make this for themselves because it was a quick and easy meal that wouldn’t take much time away from their biznaz.
Quick, easy, cheap, delicious…qualities any busy working girl/harlot could appreciate. Pasta Puttanesca makes a great spur-of-the-moment meal because it can be thrown together using ingredients in your pantry.
Life does not suck right now. Nope not one bit. Could this be related to that stunningly beautiful and serene vista pictured above? Why, yes, in fact. There is a direct correlation. As I sit here typing this, the Mediterranean sun is shining bright and strong, the aroma of freshly pulled caffé is wafting up from the bar downstairs, and there is only one thing on my agenda today: decide which gelateria I’d like to patron later this afternoon.
(Do you hate me? Maybe just a little?)
The best part? I am here for 2 months! (Do you hate me maybe a little bit more now?)
There are some things in life that are just meant to be together: peanut butter and jelly, cookies and cream, and yes, melon and prosciutto. Who would’ve thought that fruit and meat would go so well together, but it does. Sweet juicy cantaloupe and salty cured prosciutto bring out the sweet and salty best in one another.
When Chris first told me about Melon and Prosciutto Risotto, my eyes widened in disbelief that I had not thought of this brilliant idea sooner. It made perfect sense. Take the classic combo of melon and prosciutto, and reinvent it via a creamy divine risotto.
Mama mia, the result was just beautiful. The risotto starts out like a risotto typically does — by softening an onion in some butter and oil, toasting off the Arborio rice, and then adding a generous splash of white wine before simmering broth is added bit by bit until the risotto is creamy and each kernel has a nice toothsome chew to it.
Now here is where the magic comes in. To the risotto, we now add cubes of ripe cantaloupe, ribbons of paper-thin prosciutto, and a shower of parmigiano.
Huh. Cauliflower. Who knew it could be so delicious?
We were three dishes into our meal at Bibiana when we were struck by the pleasures of this humble vegetable before us.
Did you ever notice how Italians are able to make simple veggies taste so unreasonably delicious? Part of it is undoubtedly the Grade A olive oil they use. Another part is their restraint, which allows the ingredient’s pure flavor to shine.
This particular contorno of cavolfiori was robust and full of flavor. Florets of cauliflower were roasted with sweet garlic, briny anchovies, and gilded with fruity olive oil. As each little cauliflower tree disappeared into my mouth, I plotted my strategy on how to recreate this dish at home. (More on that later.)
Holy Smokes. This Eggplant Parm is friggin amazing. I was sitting at the kitchen counter back home in NJ, hunched over a Tupperware container holding what might as well have been hidden treasure. I ate quickly, stealing furtive glances at the door. I’m a thief. This eggplant parm wasn’t meant for me.
My big brother T had come home as well to help me plan my bridal shower menu, and well, there are a few things that are a given whenever we go home. 1) My mom makes us drink healing potions of Chinese herbal teas and soups (that’s for another post), 2) We start our diet of a bagel a day, and 3) Our Italian childhood friends bring us leftovers from our #1 most requested dish – homemade Eggplant Parmigiana.
It sounds funny now that I write about it, but yes, it’s true, my brother and I each have our own eggplant parm suppliers.
Spaghetti and Meatballs. Doesn’t that sound good? Simple. Classic. Comforting. Makes me want to curl up on the couch with a big steaming bowl, a bottle of wine and some old movies. It’s the little things in life.
She positively raved about how good this tomato sauce is. And stupid easy. Literally, just three ingredients: canned tomatoes, onion, and butter. You don’t even need to chop the onion. Simply peel it and cut it in half. In it goes with the tomatoes and the secret ingredient to all things delicious (butter), and let it simmer. The result is really something phenomenal.