Lentils are Coins: Let’s Eat a Million

Close up of Lentils

Lentils

When I lived in Rome my Roman roommate (and soul sister), Enrica, made lentils for lunch one day. In Italy you can get lentils in a can, pre-cooked, like you buy baked beans here. They’re called lenticche in Italian. Enrica emptied the can into a small saucepan and heated the lentils. Then in a small saute pan she heated a little olive oil, added a garlic clove, and cut a few slices of bread into small triangles and fried them to crispy. We each sat down to a bowl of hot lentils topped with crispy garlic croutons. It was, actually, heaven in a bowl.

Lentils are adorable. Have you ever really looked them over? What a sublime invention of nature. So it’s no surprise to me that they represent the possibility of good fortune and prosperity. That they are the go-to traditional meal of New Year’s Eve in Italy. That they are the little horn-blowers to ring in the new year and make everyone rich (well, if not in moneta, in spirit).

On that night, lentils are also accompanied by sausage or cotechino or zampone. To make my life easier I just go for the Italian sausage (already made, bought at the store).

The resulting concoction (of supposedly homey and unsophisticated ingredients) is downright exciting. You feel you are finally having the meal that your body is craving and that your soul scurries up from the depths of you rushing like a very happy puppy for the mana you have (finally) fed it.

If lentils resemble coins, and therefore symbolize the potential for a bigger bank account, well, then, all the better.

Here’s how I make this Happy New Year treat (note: any ole time is perfect as well).

Ingredients

Ingredients

Peel two carrots and slice into rounds. Cut 2 stalks of celery into half-moons. Peel an onion, cut it in half and cut into thin half moons. Saute this mirepoix in a couple of tablespoons of hot olive oil in a medium saucepan.

Mirepoix sauteing

Mirepoix sauteing

When softened, add 2 cups of rinsed lentils. Let them get coated and hot. Add a 1/2 cup or so of dry white wine. Let it evaporate. Then add 4-5 cups water (or broth). Stir, season with salt & pepper. Add a little aleppo or crushed red pepper flakes.

All in the pan

All in the pan

Let simmer for about an hour or so until lentils are soft. I partially cover the pan.

When done add a small 8-oz can of “tomato sauce” the kind you can just buy or any tomato sauce you have. Simmer a few minutes more.

Contadina tomato sauce

Contadina tomato sauce

Meanwhile, heat about an inch of water in a medium saute pan till boiling. Add 3 Italian sausages. Poke them with a knife in a couple of spots. Let them cook, with water simmering, until no longer pink.

Sausage in pan

Sausage in pan

Let water evaporate and add just a bit of oil and let sausages brown and cook through. Place pan under broiler if you like for more browning. When done, cut into rounds.

Golden Sausage

Golden Sausage

I have to add the Enrica part, too. In a small saute pan (or use the pan the sausage cooked in using the leftover oil) heat some olive oil. Add a couple of peeled, smashed garlic cloves. Then add a couple or three slices of bread cut into small triangles or squares. Saute till golden and crispy.

Croutons

Croutons

Put it all together: In each serving bowl, add a couple of ladles-full of lentils, a few rounds of sausage, a sprinkle of croutons, and (optional) some fresh minced sage. Grated pecorino is a nice topping at the table, but it’s perfectly lovely without.

Happy New Year!

A serving of lentils

A serving of lentils

Fav Nashville Eats: Mangia Nashville

porchetta sandwich on black carbon bread

porchetta sandwich on black carbon bread

I’ve got a new favorite sandwich. Porchetta (I’ll explain), broccoli rabe, caramelized onions, on black bread. Yes, black. Not pumpernickel. Black. As in carbon charcoal black bread. Good? YES! It’s only at Mangia Nashville.

Nick Pellegrino started Mangia Nashville while hitching a ride at the Cool Cafe in Franklin. On Friday and Saturday nights he’d take over that meat n’ 3 restaurant to stage an elaborate Italian multi-course feast complete with feet-tapping music (and indeed, everyone gets up to dance) while Coppola’s The Godfather played on the screens. Each course was served family style with 2 or 3 offerings of appetizer, main course, and dessert.

Wonderful success. So wonderful, he’s moved his happiness-generator to Melrose. Now, the place is all his. Mangia Nashville on Craighead just off of 8th Avenue still jumps every Friday and Saturday night with a seasonal fixed course menu of spectacular, authentic Italian dishes.

BUT! During the week, for lunch or for dinner, you can wander in and enjoy his special menu of panini, focaccia, and spuntini. Huh? Panini (sandwiches); Focaccia (thick, individual pizzas); Spuntini (favorite appetizers from across Italy).

One ingredient really stands out…it’s the killer (as in: “how do you make it taste so good?”) porchetta. Prochetta is a pork roast filled with herbs and garlic. Traditionally it is the young suckling pig, skin and all, but Nick’s is pork-belly-wrapped shoulder (including crispy skin). It is so moist and yummy.

My first run-in with porchetta was in Rome in the 1970’s. There’s a huge flea market there on Sundays at Porta Portese. I was making my way through the crowded market, buying scarves & shoes at great prices, hanging with my family…

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

1974 trip with family at the Porta Portese Sunday flea market

…and there in the middle of the market was a man with a simple cart and a huge roast porchetta. He was selling sandwiches. Carving porchetta onto Roman rosetta rolls. The sandwich remained my Dad’s favorite food of Rome. Juice dripping down our arms while vendors shout “Saldi! Sadli!” (Sale! Sale!).

At Mangia I had porchetta on a roll of black bread. That bread was way too intriguing to pass up. And it’s delicious– it doesn’t taste like the carbon that makes it black…it just tastes good! And this carbon ingredient is supposed to be healthy for you, too. So why not?

Nick told me he was inspired by black carbon bread he had in Rome. He asked the Roman who served it how to make it and got an incomplete answer. So he came home and figured it out himself. Success! (And Yay for us.)

Mangia Nashville’s focaccias are about 8 inches — white or black bread. And the choice of toppings read like an encyclopedia of all luscious Italian tastes: arugula, mozzarella, prosciutto, artichoke hearts, sausage, swiss chard, pesto, roasted tomato, pancetta, ricotta salata, roasted garlic, and on and on….(drooling).

verdure focaccia

verdure focaccia

I also tried the pannelle. This from the list of “spuntini” appetizers. Panelle are Sicilian chickpea flour fritters. I make them in class sometimes. The version at Mangia is soft and decadent served with a chili sauce.

panelle

panelle

So, yes, come to enjoy the big weekend parties (reservations please). Or go during the week. There’s a full bar with great selections (and, of course, Italian beer, too) (AND–NY throwback–Manhattan Special espresso soda). Lunch, dinner, drinks and a hang. There aren’t too many sincere & authentic Italian joints in town. I highly recommend this one!

Will the real Alfredo please stand up?

My Dad with his father from Sicily, his stepmother from Sicily, and his sister Vera

My Dad with his father from Sicily, his stepmother from Sicily, and his sister Vera

My Dad’s name was Alfredo. Alfredo Bernani Ernani Licitra (I might be missing one name). He was named after a character in the Verdi opera “La Traviata”…Alfredo Germont.

But dad was not the inventor of Fettuccine Alfredo. (Neither was Signor Germont.)

Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo

There are a couple of Alfredo’s running around Roman Italian history who say they created the dish. And two restaurants in Rome (not too far from each other) are named “Alfredo” …each claiming to be the originator.

An Alfredo restaurant in Rome

An Alfredo restaurant in Rome

If you’re in Rome you may as well try them both. If you’re not in Rome here’s a recipe for you to try.

When I teach Fettuccine Alfredo in my cooking classes people are surprised to discover the recipe has no cream. No. Cream. It’s a creamy dish. But you don’t use cream.

So how does the pasta get so lusciously creamy?

Butter.

butter

butter

And parmigiano.

parmigiano

parmigiano

And pasta water. That’s it.

pasta water

pasta water

There’s a little finesse to acquire. The right softness of the butter. Adding the right amount of cheese and pasta water. At the right moment. Enthusiastically tossing.

Becoming a master happens fast. And then you get to eat it, too.

True Fettuccine Alfredo 

1 lb. fettuccine

½ lb. unsalted butter (2 sticks), room temperature

2 – 2 ½ cups grated parmigiano

salt & pepper to taste

Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt. Add fettuccine. Stir with a large fork (to keep strands from sticking together) until the water comes back to a boil.

Meanwhile, slice the butter into thin pats and lay them out in the bottom of a large shallow serving bowl. Hold bowl over boiling water to soften butter (not melt it).

Cook fettuccine until al dente. Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water. Drain pasta.

Place the drained pasta on top of the butter and sprinkle 1/4-1/3 cup of the cheese on top. Using a large fork and spoon (or two forks) toss the pasta quickly, coating it with the butter and cheese. Add some of the pasta water—about half. Continue to toss. Add more cheese, sprinkling it lightly, tossing, sprinkling lightly again. Add the other half of the water. Keep tossing until the pasta is coated in the creaminess of the butter-cheese-water combination. Add more water if it’s too thick of a mixture. Taste for seasoning. Add some black pepper. Serve hot.

Rome: umbrella pines and ruins

Rome: umbrella pines

The Tastiest Cauliflower Ever

cauliflower

cauliflower

October. Time for cauliflower. Our local Nashville farmer’s market had piles of cauliflower at their Friday night market this weekend (and tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, peppers, sweet potatoes, and yes, pumpkins). But that huge cauliflower at the top of the bunch called my name.

I was thinking of October 2011. When I brought a small group of Nashville cooks to Rome, Italy. They met my long-time friend Malena who lives there. She and I went to college together in Rome during the 70’s and have never lost touch. Her daughter, Eleonora, is my godchild. I hadn’t seen Eleonora for many many years, but that autumn we met while in Rome and I was giggly with her beauty and presence. Seeing mother and daughter together thrilled my soul.

Eleonora and Malena in Piazza Navona

Eleonora and Malena in Piazza Navona

My group and I cooked in our rented apartment, toured the city, and sampled the local restaurants. Malena showed us some of her favorite places and one night came over to cook a favorite seasonal Roman dish. And that’s just what I cooked tonight with our local farmer’s cauliflower.

She had brought a cauliflower, in season then in Rome. A loaf of bread. Orecchiette pasta. And some garlic. This dish is rustic, homey, satisfying, nourishing, and unforgettable. You wait for October to have it. Even tho you can get cauliflower other months of the year, it’s in October that this dish belongs. It’s where it tastes its best. In October your body absorbs it seamlessly and your taste buds sink into a kind of comfy-couch of flavor.

Of course, I tweaked this a bit. Malena sautéed the bread in a fry pan. I toast it in the oven. Tonight I didn’t have orecchiette pasta, I used tagliatelle. These differences don’t make much difference. All GOOD. Here we go…

Get a pasta pot of water to a boil. Trim cauliflower of stem and leaves. Cut into flowerets.

cauliflower flowerets

cauliflower flowerets

Salt boiling water and add the cauliflower flowerets.

boil cauliflower

boil cauliflower

Let the cauliflower boil. Let it boil. We want to get it soft, almost mushy.

boiling cauliflower

boiling cauliflower

About 6-8 minutes into the cooking, test the cauliflower for softness. If it breaks when pressed with a wooden spoon add the pasta.

tagliatelle

tagliatelle

Boil until pasta is cooked.

Meanwhile, tear a nice loaf of Italian bread into bite-sized pieces. (Note: Malena, and I’ll bet most Romans, only use the soft inner part of the bread for this. I add crust and all.) Lay out on a foil-lined sheet pan. Toss with some olive oil and rough chopped garlic (about 2 cloves).

torn Italian bread

torn Italian bread

Season with salt and pepper and toast in a 375 degree oven for about 5-7 minutes until browned and crisp.

Before draining the pasta and cauliflower, reserve about a half-cup of pasta water. Transfer drained pasta and cauliflower to a serving bowl.

drained pasta and cauliflower

drained pasta and cauliflower

Toss drained pasta and cauliflower with a few drizzles of olive oil. Add the toasted bread.

add toasted bread

add toasted bread

Toss with a little more olive oil. Sprinkle grated parmigiano. Season with salt if needed. Season with black pepper. Add a bit of pasta water if it needs a little moisture.

pasta with cauliflower and toasted bread

pasta with cauliflower and toasted bread

Serve, passing cheese and pepper at the table.

your serving of pasta and cauliflower

your serving of pasta and cauliflower

my serving of pasta and cauliflower

my serving of pasta and cauliflower

Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum.

delicious!

delicious!

Pasta with Cauliflower and Crispy Bread

Serves 4-6

1 large head cauliflower, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 lb. pasta, ziti or orecchiette, or your favorite

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 loaf of Italian peasant bread, or similar

¼ – ½ cup olive oil

½ cup grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Season water with salt and add the cauliflower pieces.

Meantime, tear up the Italian bread into bite-sized pieces.Toss bread with about ¼ cup olive oil, and the minced garlic. Spread out on a sheet pan and bake until golden and crispy. Set aside.

When the cauliflower is tender add the pasta to the pot. Cook until al dente. Reserve a cup of pasta water.

Drain pasta and cauliflower and transfer to a serving bowl. Cauliflower should be broken into small pieces and almost like a cream. Add the bread and cheese. Add a little olive oil. Add some pasta water if too dry. Check seasoning and add salt if needed…and a little pepper. Serve with extra cheese on the side.

 

 

 

Peas, Roman-Style

Rome Umbrella Pines

Rome Umbrella Pines

Give me anything Roman-style and I’m happy.

Food, architecture, culture, coffee, personality, shopping, cafes, trattorie, character…just the feel of the air, even that makes me happy. The sound of the traffic. The feel of the cobblestone streets (the stones they call sanpietrini). The fountain around most corners. The markets. Yes, si, si, si.

Campo Dei Fiori Market

Campo Dei Fiori Market

So peas Roman-style are equally alluring. I learned this from a professor of mine when I went to school in Rome. It was common to trade recipes while passing in a hallway between classes. Eating is a frequent subject. I say trade recipes, but I really mean was told recipes. At that point in my life I had few to trade, but I was all ears for anything…Roman.

Cafe in Rome

Cafe in Rome

It’s an easy recipe and whenever we make it in my classes (or at private cooking parties) people LOVE it. I use frozen petite peas, but if you’ve got your hands on fresh by all means. I imagine regular size peas–frozen or fresh– work just as well, but I’m a petite pea fan (must be from my childhood days when peas came from the Le Sueur can).

Peas, Roman-Style

Peas, Roman-Style

Peas, Roman-Style

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, cut into thin half-moons

1/4 lb. pancetta, diced, or torn into small pieces

1 lb. petite frozen peas (you don’t have to thaw them first)

1/4 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth

salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a medium or large sauté pan. Add the onion and pancetta and cook until onion is softened and pancetta is cooked thru. Add the peas. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer (if it isn’t already simmering). Add the wine or vermouth. Let evaporate. Season with salt & pepper. Cook for a few minutes more (5ish). Finito.

sampietrini in Rome

sanpietrini in Rome

Where My Spaghetti Frittata Came From

My Apartment Building in Trastevere

My Apartment Building in Trastevere

I just entered the address I lived at in Rome and got a street-view image from Google. That is so wacky!

I lived there many years ago with a Roman woman named Enrica (at first she was Grazia, but then changed her name to Enrica). She became like a sister to me. Enrica grew up in Rome then moved out of her parents’ house when she was 17 to live on her own. In those days (and maybe even these days) nobody did that. You leave your parents’ home when you get married. Even her brother who got divorced moved back in with his parents.

Enrica’s parents disowned her because of that independent move. But they eventually re-owned her. She was a suffering free spirit if you can imagine that. But we knew how to giggle together all night long.

We’d go on walks at midnight through Trastevere’s small streets. She’d know friends to visit at that hour and we’d enter homes with full, but quiet, parties in deep conversation, music playing, cigarettes smoking, giggling.

Enrica wasn’t an avid cook, but there are a few dishes she made without thinking that really stuck with me. Spaghetti Frittata is one of them.

Spaghetti Frittata

Spaghetti Frittata

At first I couldn’t imagine that it could be any good. But one day she mixed up a couple of eggs with last night’s spaghetti (sauce and all), put it in a frying pan with olive oil and suddenly it turned into a round perfect “cake”…and the taste: oh, yeah…nothing crazy about this idea. Try it!!

Spaghetti Frittata

4-5 large eggs

about 2 cups leftover spaghetti, already sauced (any sauce)

¼ cup grated cheese (pecorino or parmigiano)

salt & pepper

4 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven broiler.

Lightly beat the eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Add spaghetti and cheese. Season with salt & pepper. Mix well.

Use a medium-sized skillet with a metal handle. Heat oil in skillet over medium high heat until hot. Add the egg mixture and spread out to evenly cover skillet. Lower heat to medium and let cook until the bottom is set. Place skillet in oven under broiler for about 4 minutes until golden.

IMPORTANT: remember to use a potholder when taking out the skillet…it’s easy to forget you have an oven-hot skillet and just grab the handle as if it was on the stove. After skillet is out of oven, leave pot holder on handle as a reminder.

Loosen frittata with a spatula and slide onto a dinner-sized plate. Cut in wedges like a pizza. Serve warm or at room temperature.

See what I mean?

Here’s earlier me in always-earlier-than-most-cities (by 2000 years) Rome:

with some nuns at the Trevi Fountain

with some nuns at the Trevi Fountain

donning my disguise in front of a garlic truck

donning my disguise in front of a garlic truck

Lentils are Coins: Let’s Eat a Million

Close up of Lentils

Lentils

When I lived in Rome my Roman roommate (and soul sister), Enrica, made lentils for lunch one day. In Italy you can get lentils in a can, pre-cooked, like you buy baked beans here. They’re called lenticche in Italian. Enrica emptied the can into a small saucepan and heated the lentils. Then in a small saute pan she heated a little olive oil, added a garlic clove, and cut a few slices of bread into small triangles and fried them to crispy. We each sat down to a bowl of hot lentils topped with crispy garlic croutons. It was, actually, heaven in a bowl.

Lentils are adorable. Have you ever really looked them over? What a sublime invention of nature. So it’s no surprise to me that they represent the possibility of good fortune and prosperity. That they are the go-to traditional meal of New Year’s Eve in Italy. That they are the little horn-blowers to ring in the new year and make everyone rich (well, if not in moneta, in spirit).

On that night, lentils are also accompanied by sausage or cotechino or zampone. To make my life easier I just go for the Italian sausage (already made, bought at the store).

The resulting concoction (of supposedly homey and unsophisticated ingredients) is downright exciting. You feel you are finally having the meal that your body is craving and that your soul scurries up from the depths of you rushing like a very happy puppy for the mana you have (finally) fed it.

If lentils resemble coins, and therefore symbolize the potential for a bigger bank account, well, then, all the better.

Here’s how I make this Happy New Year treat (note: any ole time is perfect as well).

Ingredients

Ingredients

Peel two carrots and slice into rounds. Cut 2 stalks of celery into half-moons. Peel an onion, cut it in half and cut into thin half moons. Saute this mirepoix in a couple of tablespoons of hot olive oil in a medium saucepan.

Mirepoix sauteing

Mirepoix sauteing

When softened, add 2 cups of rinsed lentils. Let them get coated and hot. Add a 1/2 cup or so of dry white wine. Let it evaporate. Then add 4-5 cups water (or broth). Stir, season with salt & pepper. Add a little aleppo or crushed red pepper flakes.

All in the pan

All in the pan

Let simmer for about an hour or so until lentils are soft. I partially cover the pan.

When done add a small 8-oz can of “tomato sauce” the kind you can just buy or any tomato sauce you have. Simmer a few minutes more.

Contadina tomato sauce

Contadina tomato sauce

Meanwhile, heat about an inch of water in a medium saute pan till boiling. Add 3 Italian sausages. Poke them with a knife in a couple of spots. Let them cook, with water simmering, until no longer pink.

Sausage in pan

Sausage in pan

Let water evaporate and add just a bit of oil and let sausages brown and cook through. Place pan under broiler if you like for more browning. When done, cut into rounds.

Golden Sausage

Golden Sausage

I have to add the Enrica part, too. In a small saute pan (or use the pan the sausage cooked in using the leftover oil) heat some olive oil. Add a couple of peeled, smashed garlic cloves. Then add a couple or three slices of bread cut into small triangles or squares. Saute till golden and crispy.

Croutons

Croutons

Put it all together: In each serving bowl, add a couple of ladles-full of lentils, a few rounds of sausage, a sprinkle of croutons, and (optional) some fresh minced sage. Grated pecorino is a nice topping at the table, but it’s perfectly lovely without.

Happy New Year!

A serving of lentils

A serving of lentils