Saturday, March 19, 2011

Saturday, March 19 Cooking Contest in Italian class

Leo is set to go home on Monday, but he's still not feeling very well. We talked by Skype this morning. His doctors are letting him go home for two weeks and then he needs to return for more Chemo. He sounds depressed to me.

I'm not sure what is going on, as I have been left out of any news of Leo's health, other than what he trys to text me. Maybe this is a Florentine cultural privacy situation or at least this family's characteristic of minimizing or maybe it's just a case of heads in the sand. Or worse perhaps they don't know true love and compassion. Or lastly, they dislike me so much, this is my punishment. At this point I am feeling numb and helpless. The students have written me to ask for updates. I tell them what I can. It's difficult and heart breaking. I'm trying to focus my anger on the cancer, on the distance that separates us and not on the people. It's not easy because I want to wake them up to see and treasure Leo, who has always been unappreciated for his genius and sweetness.

So, when Leo was available to talk this morning, I was already at ICC (Italian Cultural Institute) for my weekly high spot: Italian Lessons. Today was our last of ten sessions.

Michele (Me-key-a-lay) was a little late this morning, so I kept Leo on the phone and entered the small classroom. It was then that I had an idea! I kept the phone line open and Leo was able to listen in for about 15 minutes, until my Skype phone credit ran out. I pantomimed to Michele if it was ok. He knows our situation. He nodded si, not a problem.  Leo later texted me that he really loved his time with our class.

These last two Saturdays we have been in the Istituto's well-stocked kitchen. In past four series of 10 language classes I have taken with Michele, he has set aside two Saturdays and we have made gnocchi and pasta dishes, using his mother's recipes. (Michele was born in Rome, where his mother still resides.)

This session, he decided to have a cooking contest. He divided us into two teams, with each team secretly choosing a recipe of their choice. Today was awards day! Which team would win, based on organization, taste and presentation? Michele was a tough judge, being Italian. He knows what contemporary Italian food is supposed to taste like.

The first team made a dish I have eaten in Cinque Terre. Michele was unfamiliar with it. Except for the excess of garlic, as Americans seem to love, it was very authentic.

My team made a recipe from Sardegna and a dessert from Sicily.

Who won?  We all did!  Michele brought each of us a prize, which he pulled out of a big bag:  packet of good coffee, two types of biscotti, a spice package and a package of tortellini pasta. 


Pesto in the style of Cinque Terre

(Four servings)

1 small russet potato, peeled and cubed into half inch chunks
120 g fresh french green beans, pointed ends cut off
Pasta of choice: 200 g trofie or tagliatelle (fresh or dried)

DeCecco Pesto Genovese Sauce (serves 6, freezes well)

Fresh basil
Garlic, one clove
1T. pine nuts (roasted)
6 T grated cheese (Parmigiano or mix of Parmigiano and Romano (Pecorino)
Sea salt

Start a pan of water boiling to cook pasta. Salt the water with sea salt.

In another pan, boil the potato chunks until almost tender. Add green beans and cook together until potatoes are done. Drain and set aside.

Time the pasta cooking to coincide with the potatoes cooking.

Prepare the pesto:

Using a small blender or mortar and pesto, grind the garlic, basil, salt and pine nuts into a paste.  When the paste is smooth, gradually add in the cheese. Stir in olive oil.

Add cooked vegetables to drained cooked pasta.  Toss with a generous amount of Pesto Sauce.  Turn into platter and drizzle with a little Pesto for presentation.

My team cooked this recipe from Sardegna

Pasta Sarda with Clams (Fregola con Arselle)
Serves 4

400 gr clams in the shell, cleaned and steamed with chopped garlic
(Can use frozen cooked and seasoned with garlic, clams from Trader Joe's)

150 gr fregola or other pasta
1/4 c olive oil
1/2 c white Wine
Dash of red pepper flakes
4 fresh parsley sprigs, chopped
150 gr boxed Italian diced tomatoes or one large fresh tomato, chopped
Sea salt

Place the cooked clams in a sauce pan. Add wine, oil, red pepper flakes and tomato.
Simmer over low heat.
Cook the pasta, according to package directions
When the pasta is done, mix with clams and top with chopped fresh parsley.


Black Rice with Chocolate and Pistachios (Riso Nero ai Pistacchi)

(4 servings)

200 g black rice
120 g dark semi-sweet chocolate
Dash of ground cinnamon
50 g powdered sugar (optional)
30 g pistachios
Whipped cream

Cook the black rice in water equal to double the amount of rice.  Let boil 25 minutes, watching and stirring. Do not let the rice boil dry.  Add water as needed.  It should be tender and creamy.  Remove from heat when done.

Add chocolate and cinnamon and sugar to taste.  Mix well.

Serve warm, topped with whipped cream and a spoonful of pistachios

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

February 22

Good news today.  The physical therapist told Leo that his weakened leg was a little better today.  Plus the doctor said his blood tests look very good or 'ottimo' as Leo wrote.

Yesterday I was homesick for Italy, Leo and my Italian family.  I've had a butternut squash on the counter for a few weeks, so I decided to make Ravioli di Zucca (Butternut Squash Ravioli).

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Makes 24 large ravioli
200 g fresh ricotta,
½ c grated fresh parmigiana
1 egg
1 small butternut squash

A few hours before making the ravioli, prepare the squash.  Cut the squash in half and lay in a baking pan, cut side down.  Add a small amount of water to the pan. Bake 375 F. for 45 minutes until it feels very very soft when stuck with a knife. Let the squash cool down on a counter space (out of the water). Scoop squash meat from the skin and squeeze out any excess water.

Begin preparing the pasta.

250 g flour
3 eggs

Use dough to number 6.

Make strips. 1 T ricotta

Fold over. Pat with fingers. Cut edges with ravioli cutter. 1 x 1 ½ inches

Irregular sizes are ok. Slide onto board. Put onto lightly floured pan and sprinkle flour on top. Recycle cuttings.

Place in lightly boiling water. Careful…they open.
Cook 5-6 minutes.

Saute fresh sage leaves and butter in a saucepan. Add cooked ravioli and lightly toss.