Tag Archives: italian

spaghetti & meatballs with a vegan (and gluten free!) twist: zucchini spaghetti and beanballs with fresh marinara + vegan ‘parmesan’ cheese

zucchini spaghetti and vegan beanballs

I came home the other week with a book called “Raw Food Detox Diet,” and I’d be lying if I said that James didn’t look just a wee bit petrified.

No, I am not on some fad diet (nor do I think the raw ‘movement’ is a fad, but I digress), but you may have noticed I’ve again been slightly scarce around here lately, and that’s because now that we are settled in to our new-ish house and hometown, we’ve been up to our usual hijinx of visitors, entertaining, eating, and drinking. We had visitors staying with us for a solid 4 weeks straight (not all the same ones, mind you), and when people arrive to your new spot the last thing you want to do is go to bed early and eat salad.

No. You’ll want to go wine tasting, and while we’re at it — toss in a cheese plate. You’ll have a hankering to make baby back ribs (3 separate times!), throw marinated flank steak, spatchcocked chicken, and lamb burgers on the grill, and whip up a ‘vodka bolognese’ (with beef and pancetta) as a birthday dinner for a dear friend. There will also be cake at said birthday dinner, and a morning spent mixing up fresh bloodies to enjoy poolside. There will be a lot of indulgences, and not much restraint. The Diem will be Carpe’d, every single day, to the absolute very fullest extent.

So after lots of meat, cheese, wine, beer, and bread (because I failed to mention the brick oven pizza place down the road we’ve been hitting up on the reg), I was left feeling a bit bleh. I, by all natural inclination, am not a huge meat eater, and after feeling like I consumed more animal products in a month than I have in some entire seasons passed, I began to feel a bit queasy.

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the conundrum: eggplant parmigiano with spaghetti squash, three cheeses, and a simple tomato sauce

eggplant parmigiano with spaghetti squash, three cheeses, and a simple sauce

The problem with making ‘light’ versions of ‘bad’ foods is that I am inevitably disappointed; sure, I use Greek yogurt in place of sour cream (all the time, really), I try to cut the amount of oil in my salad dressings by using more vinegar, and I’ll try to occasionally squeeze in some low fat coconut milk, even if I know I like the regular kind so much better.

eggplant parmigiano with spaghetti squash cheeses

Bikinis, they require these sorts of sacrifices, no? (And of course this one that I’ve got my eye on is no exception. #hellotreadmillivemissedyou.)

eggplant parmigiano with spaghetti squash whole

eggplant parmigiano with spaghetti squash

But what I really mean is that when I’ve got a hankering for something, like, say….eggplant parmigiano, I’m not about to try and grill it, stuff it with fat-free cottage cheese, and eat it on a rice cake to try and get my fix. (I’ve got nothing ‘gainst rice cakes, but come on.)

eggplant parmigiano with spaghetti squash fried eggplant

eggplant parmigiano with spaghetti squash simple sauce

At best, eggplant parmigiano is nothing short of transcendent; crisp, melty, silken, and gooey in the best way that gooey can be. At worst – and, actually, most of the time – it leaves more than a little to be desired. Greasy, oil-sodden stacks of eggplant deep-fried with too much breading, elastic-y plastic-y mozzarella cheese, and a snarl of limp overcooked linguine. Not to be Debbie-Eggplant-Downer, but I rarely treat myself to a plate of it while eating out, because there is nothing more frustrating than setting yourself up for disappointment and order-envy.

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a weekend project, sweet + simple: decadent and creamy homemade ricotta cheese

I realize that by prodding you to spend your precious weekend hours tinkering around in your kitchen to make something that you could very easily purchase at the market, I risk you clicking on that little red “X” up on the corner of your screen and never looking back.

Why the heck would you want to make cheese?  The one thing that maybe you thought had been permanently relegated to being acceptably store bought – one of the few items you might serve at a party that had been safely out of the dreaded reaches of the question, “Oh these are sooooo good — did you make them yourself?

(Because who hasn’t sheepishly nodded towards the bakery brownie container after being met with this terrible question before?)

The thing is that you just can’t buy something as delicious as ricotta that you make in your kitchen with your own two hands — it just doesn’t exist (or at least not where I’ve been shopping).

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gave it a shot: broccoli rabe & lemon fritto misto with roasted red pepper yogurt sauce

Since our big move out West, I’ve taken to picking up monthly copies of what is fast becoming a favorite read of mine: Sunset Magazine.  I’ll admit that the first few times I handed my copy over to the cashier I felt a bit like a phony – p’shaw! little ole’ city-slicker me fronting she knows anything about living amongst mountains and cacti?! – but now it’s second nature, and outside of planting daydreams of owning a farm or shredding fresh powder in Utah (!), I can wholeheartedly say I am a more adventurous person for it.

I peeled back February’s cover (which tortuously boasted a seascape of the Hawaiian town of Hana – I’m not quite that far West, I’m afraid) and eagerly devoured it’s innards, stumbling upon a recipe for a broccoli rabe fritto misto that immediately caught my eye.   ‘Fritto misto’ very literally defines something that has been cooked ‘in fritter,’ and up until now it has also defined a favorite appetizer that I had previously left to the professionals.  I guess it had never crossed my mind to make it at home, but really, the idea is simple: take something fresh and delicious, cloak it in a light savory batter, and fry it until it’s crazy delicious.  I think that checks every box in the book, no?

A quick scan of the short (short!) instructions and the list of simple ingredients revealed a recipe that looked super approachable (and dare I say — even do-able on a weeknight) nothing like what could be a precursor to the fussy tangles of lightly crisp vegetables or seafood that arrived whenever I’d order such a dish at a nice restaurant.  As we had some easy pork chops on the menu that were already marinating in a buttermilk brine (to come!), I threw caution to the wind and some broccoli rabe in my shopping cart.

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accented properly: salsa verde

One of the things that has always bugged me about Giada DeLaurentiis is her affinity for saying very Italian words in the middle of a very English sentence in very exaggerated Italian.

“And today, I am going to make a special “REE-GAA-tone-ay!” pasta with a chunky “bol-ohn-YAY-SAY!” and some homemade “ree-GOAT-AH!” cheese….and for dessert, a delicious spread of homemade “BEES-GOHT-ay!” cookies and a very special “ah-mah-REY-TEY!” coffee surprise!”

I mean, I get it. I do. You were born in Italy. You speak fluent Italian.  You were probably brought up eating amazing and authentic Italian food, and you can undoubtably homemade “ree-GOAT-AH” me under the table any day.  But forcing words in that grating and over-enunciated-know-it-all way makes you sound like you should be slanging pies at Grimaldi’s, not explaining how to properly layer a veggie lasagna to a mostly American crowd.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Grimaldi’s, I love Italian accents, and I am all about not dumbing things down for any uncultured American ears.  But the sudden and jerky interspersal of tricked out Italian words in the middle of a calm and non-accented sentence just doesn’t jive with me.

Then last week, I made salsa verde.  And I can never make fun of Giada again.

“We are having ‘SAL-sahhh VERRR-day!’ tonight!” is all that came out of my gab, over and over…and over again.  It’s just so fun to say! Why deadpan the boring “why yes dear, we are having some green herb salsa over scallops this evening” when you can have “SAL-sahhh VERRR-DAY!” time?!

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turkey sausage ragu with eggplant and kale

Sometimes I have a wee bit of an irrational tendency to purchase certain, um, necessary items on a whim with no idea whatsoever what I’ll do with them.

I’m not talking about pairs of ridiculously impractical but ohmigahdgorge heels, or teeny tiny clutches that I can barely fit my lip gloss in (though I’ll fully admit my restraint is not exactly 100% in that arena either).  I’m talking about food items; random ingredients and gadgets that I have no current use or need for – just yet, that is.

In the last month I have purchased a pouch of aleppo pepper, a tin of fennel pollen, a bag of cinnamon chips, pink Himalayan sea salt crystals, a strawberry huller, a two-pound package of white miso paste, and a rainbowed assortment of organic frosting dye colors (yeah…for all of those colored and frosted cakes I plan on making…!?).  Not exactly the ‘essentials,’ if you will.

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Less Popular, Equally Delicious: Seared Scallops with Romesco Sauce over Sauteed Red Chard

Everyone knows Pesto.  He’s, like, the totallysuperpopularkid who drives the coolest car and gets all the chicks.  He lends fresh ‘mutz’ and tomato sandwiches his garlicky green kick and sits prominently atop pizza in warm basil-y pools.  He’s spread thickly on garlic bread, he’s perched proudly atop crostini, and he gussies up boring potato salads.
He splashes himself over fettucine, he curls up around gnocchi, and he’s firmly entrenched himself inside tender and thin-skinned ravioli. He’s the homecoming king, he’s captain of the football team, and his reputation oft precedes him: he’s awesome, but ubiquitous, and at times tiresome and expected.

But what about his shy cousin, Romesco? Romesco is Pesto’s lesser known red-hued relative who spends more time lurking in the shadows than basking in the limelight. Fundamentally they’re very similar, but topically – you’d never guess.  He’s a bit more mysterious, not quite as popular, but still undeniably cool in his own right.